This Week’s Pick Of The Pops (New Music)

It’s not even the middle of the month but this can’t wait. In March my head was more than turned, it was spun around, by 3 new LPs all of which made it into my collection & will be played for a long time. This week it’s been 3 individual tracks, clear, crisp, just 3 and a bit minutes each, that have been doing the trick. I’m not sure that any new lovely 7″ vinyl discs are still being manufactured, there’s probably not a radio station that’s going to pick up on these very same songs so I’m going to put them somewhere where I can easily find them & I can play them to my heart’s & ears’ content. That would be here then…

 

 

This is, for me, genuinely exciting. It’s been 20 years since the last new music from Peter Perrett. “Woke Up Sticky” (1996) was released as P.P & the One & that came 16 years after the last studio LP from his group the Only Ones. Peter’s affection for serious drugs is well chronicled & has hindered continuity in his musical creativity. It is a measure of just how good he can be that 39 years after we first heard “Another Girl, Another Planet”, the one song of his you all know, we are still enthusiastic to listen to any music he wants to make. In those uncertain, monochromatic, early-Thatcherite years when the 1970’s became the 1980’s the Clash provided political idealism & calls for unity while the Only Ones soundtracked a cogent, more personal reaction, acerbic cynicism leavened by heart & humour. “Why Don’t You Kill Yourself”, that was meant to be funny.

 

Related image“How the West Was Won” is recognisably Perrettian, verse, chorus & a blazing guitar solo. A slow “Sweet Jane”/”If Not For You” riff, the Velvets & Dylan, classic Rock influences. The lyrics are a forthright, caustic condemnation of the Evil Empire, the verse in praise of a Kardashian rear-end seems a little incongruous but it’s making me laugh. There was a planned LP when the Only Ones reunited in 2008 but steroid use for  a lung condition led to Peter’s voice developing a helium-tinge & it never happened. It’s great to hear him sounding so much stronger. This is the title track from a new LP, backed by his sons Jamie (guitar) & Peter Jr (bass), produced by Chris Kimsey whose long CV includes co-credit on many Rolling Stones records. 10 new songs to come, it’s gonna be good. Domino Records, 30th June 2017, say hello if you see me in the queue.

 

 

A new track from Jason Isbell will always cause a stir round our yard too. It’s a taster for “The Nashville Sound”, a new LP due to surface on June 16th (man, I’m going to have to save my pennies!). “Southeastern” (2013) & “Something More Than Free” (2015) deservedly placed Jason at the forefront of American singer-songwriters after over a decade of honing his craft with Drive-By Truckers & on 3 earlier solo records. The blend of Country, Blues & Soul influences is perfectly balanced. His getting clean, his marriage to Amanda Shires, gave him great material & his skill at translating the personal into something sympathetic & more universal made for 2 great records. Jason’s doing well, he gets awards, he’s playing bigger halls. I know people who like this kind of thing but don’t know this music, he should be flipping massive !

 

Related imageSo, if I’m going to listen to anyone sing about Trump America then it’s Isbell. “Hope the High Road” is no call to arms, more an acknowledgement that many people are feeling pretty pissed about the way it went down in 2016, that “there can’t be more of them than us” & well, let’s hope things get better.  I’m reminded of the anthems Springsteen & Jackson Browne used to write & if “Hope…” lacks the authority of those then these are different, less certain times. The new record is credited to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, his touring band who have all played on the last 4 LPs. Maybe, as he says, “I’ve sung enough about myself”, Jason is smart enough to know that relying on autobiographical lyrics for a third time could be one too far. The postman brought me tickets for his Autumn tour today so c’mon, let’s get Summer over & done with !

 

 

OK, after a couple of artists I have followed for some time here’s something that I was only recently put on to. Ette’s “Attack of the Glam Soul Cheerleaders (Part 1 & 2), (how could I resist that title ?) is from last summer’s “Homemade Lemonade”, a collaboration between Carla Easton & Joe Kane. “Attack…”‘s  bustle, brio & catchiness (I’m still on a Pop poetess Shirley Ellis kick at the moment) brought to mind the early records of the Go Team & I liked that. 2016 was a busy year for Carla, her band TeenCanteen released their debut LP “Say It All With A Kiss”. Just one look at the 4-piece group’s videos that’s all it took.

 

Image result for teencanteenTeenCanteen have been around Glasgow since 2012. Carla’s voice is strong, individual & her songs are equally impressive. Their C86 lo-fi indie take on the Wall of Sound has echoes of the classic girl-group sound (Oh yeah, the 4 members of TC are all female) & the retro/modern balance is just right. They have a Sunshine Pop charm & you can never have too much of that. “Millions”, with its crying that is so Shangri-Las, is in the shops on the 22nd of April, part of a 4 track EP “Sirens”. In a parallel universe where the attraction of a 3 minute blast of pure pop music has not been diminished “Millions” would be the follow up to 2 or 3 big hit records (here’s one of them, “How We Met (Cherry Pie)“) & I wouldn’t have to carry on about just how good they are.

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Better Late Than Never (Motown Hits)

In March 1965 a series of 6 four track EPs marked the establishment of the Tamla Motown label in the UK. Previous releases had been through London American, Fontana, Oriole & finally Stateside. The assembly line at Hitsville USA in Detroit was sustaining 5 subsidiaries, Tamla, Motown, Gordy, Soul & V.I.P. The same writer/producers, the same musicians, a unique & successful operation, “the Sound of Young America”. There were 43 singles on the new label in the first 9 months. They couldn’t all be chartbusters, weren’t all by the great stars of the roster. Sometimes it took a little longer for the record buying public to catch on to some of the gems from Tamla Motown.

 

 

Image result for isley brothers soul on the rocks“This Old Heart of Mine” by the Isley Brothers was the #1 record of my youth club years (that’s the ones immediately before I could get served in pubs). The debut Motown release for the Brothers, January 1966 in the US, March in the UK, it was their only Top 20 hit in the US for the label & scraped into the Top 50 over here. If you were not already out on the floor then you certainly were before Ronald started singing. Over two years later the song was still being played in the great Soul/Ska sets I attended in the upstairs rooms of bars. A re-release saw it become a Top 3 hit, another smash for the crack Holland-Dozier-Holland unit. Trouble was, for Motown, the Isley Brothers had already left the label before this success.

 

“The Isleys’ wild call & response songs “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had been picked up by the British Beat Boom & the group were a little too rugged for the sophisticated Detroit sound. The first LP for Motown had heavy involvement from H-D-H but 3 of their songs were a little second-hand having already been hits for others. On the “Soul on the Rocks” LP (1967) the A Team were absent & , while talented people were around to produce, the Isleys were dissatisfied with with the material & promotion they received. Motown went back to an old hit “I Guess I’ll Always Love You” & it did well again. “Behind a Painted Smile” had not been considered as a single in 1967. By May 1969 it & other stomping Isley tracks were favourites in the Soul clubs. This dense, dramatic classic, a perfect blend of impassioned vocals & the driving Funk Brothers rhythm section (James Jamerson, Benny Berrigan ?), Joe Messina’s fuzz guitar became a Top 5 hit. The Brothers Isley were more popular in the UK than at home until “It’s Your Thing”, on their own T-Neck label, scored their biggest sales yet. A couple of years later resistance was futile as their expanded family band just took over.

 

 

Oh yes ! The Elgins only got the one shot at Motown. The LP “Darling Baby” (1965) was produced by Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, again featuring song’s by Detroit’s most talented songwriting trio with 4 covers of Atlantic hits as the filler. The title track & “Heaven Must Have Sent You” were R&B hits but there was to be no second LP from the group. In 1967 singer Saundra Mallett Edwards left the group & though she was replaced just look at the clip, from “Swingin’ Time” & you will see why she was missed. “Swingin’ Time” was a music show out of Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. They got some great Motown acts as guests & the surviving Y-tube clips are worth searching out.

 

Image result for the elgins heaven must have sent youBy 1970 columnist Dave Godin had identified a North-South divide in UK Soul fans. While Funk began to carry the swing in the USA “Northern Soul” fans were more interested in crate-digging for obscure uptempo dance records from the mid-60’s. In 1971 the 6 year old “Heaven Must Have Sent You” was re-released, broke out of the clubs & was a Top 3 hit. In the Spring of 1971 Stevie Wonder released “Where I’m Coming From”, Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”, Diana Ross, no longer a Supreme, was filming “Lady Sings the Blues” & plans for Motown to leave Detroit for Los Angeles were in advanced stages. The success of “Heaven Must…” showed that the public still wanted to dance & sing along to those classic Holland-Dozier-Holland, themselves no longer with the label, songs OK…♫ I’ve cried through many endless nights, just holding my pillow tight. Then you came into my lonely day, with your tender and your sweet ways. ♫ Smashing !

 

 

 

Image result for r. dean taylor there's a ghost in my houseCanadian R Dean Taylor signed for Motown as a songwriter & recording artist in 1964. The records didn’t go so well but writing credits kept his name in the frame. There was a Marvelettes track with Norman Whitfield, a Brenda Holloway A-side with Frank Wilson. In 1967 “7 Rooms of Gloom” was the 4th single from the 4 Tops greatest LP “Reach Out”. It was the B-side, “I’ll Turn to Stone”, with the credit Holland-Dozier-Holland-Taylor (that’s good company to keep), which became a dancefloor favourite. A dramatic self-produced single from that year, “Gotta See Jane”, written with Brian Holland, failed at home but reached the UK Top 20 in 1968. With the departure from the label of the great trio Motown’s production staff had to step up to keep the hits coming. Taylor had co-credits on two singles by Diana Ross & the Supremes, “Love Child”, a #1,& “I’m Living in Shame”. You know more R Dean Taylor songs than you thought you did.

 

In 1970 R Dean moved to Rare Earth, a label Motown set up for white artists. He scored with “Indiana Wants Me” an odd song about a murderer chased & caught by the police. It was his only US success but we hadn’t finished with him yet in the UK. Back in 1966 he had recorded “There’s a Ghost in my House”, another track with that impressive H-D-H-Taylor credit. Another irresistible Motown stomper that went missing at the time, it became a staple of Northern Soul DJ sets & reached the Top 10 in 1974. That’s 3 Top 20 hits for R Dean Taylor, an individual Motown talent.

 

All 3 of these songs were resurrected by the Northern Soul scene but you didn’t have to be a regular at the Casino or the Twisted Wheel to appreciate & enjoy them. The scene was big in the early 1970’s, these rediscovered breakout hits received wider radio play & sold to a bigger audience. We were listening to Sly, Marvin, the Isleys, Funkadelic, the new sounds of Black America but the fact remained that you could not beat a bit of classic Tamla Motown to make your weekend go better.

Out Here On The Perimeter (Prince Far I/Creation Rebel)

ARTEFACT DESCRIPTIONWell, look at this ! I have not seen this poster since…I have never seen this poster before… but I made the gig on the 23rd of April 1979. There were only the 3 of us going to see Prince Far I when we were usually team handed for any chance of a good night out. Not only was it a Monday, the night best spent relaxing on a saline drip after a bloody good weekend & an hallucinatory first day of the working week but also the gig was in Stockport . We were in Manchester, only 7 miles distant but a long way away.

 

I was good with the small turnout, just me & 2 young women, always a good balance. S was my girlfriend…ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with ? That’s her. J was a new friend who, at a time I needed good friends, was as solid as a rock without me ever having to ask. We were in Janet’s car for the first time. I wonder how good a driver she would be ? She, like myself, liked to get high. Hey, it probably improved her driving…probably. She had only just splashed her cash on the vehicle to make her commute to work easier. Fortuitously Janet worked in Stockport so she knew the way.

 

Image result for prince far iThis journey into the unknown was being undertaken because a chance to see Prince Far I was too good to miss. Reggae, you know it…the music that goes chang-a, chang-a, was moving on up in the late 1970s. Bob Marley & the Wailers’ popularity had opened ears to the Rastafarian inspired Roots music from Jamaica. At house/blues parties we heard Dennis Brown & Gregory Isaacs. Dillinger, Culture & Burning Spear featured in Punk DJ sets while John Peel, the national treasure of British music radio, always attracted to the outre & the surprising, played the latest Dub plates & plenty of Prince Far I. His first LP “Psalms For I” (1975) was simply that, a voice of thunder intoning sacred songs over simple, similar rhythms. “Under Heavy Manners” followed in 1977, less religion more politricks. Whether Far I’s proselytising was sacred or secular he convinced you to sit up & listen.

 

So, put yourself in Ray’s Place yeah. Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic, that’s the definition of cheesy. I’m not the guy who’ll make cracks about Stockport & sophistication but it was a faded aspirant nightclub & there was a good reason why I avoided joints like this. In Manchester we had the Apollo & the Free Trade Hall for the bigger gigs (no 20,000 seat arenas then). The Factory/Russell Club in Hulme was the perfect post-Punk hangout, rough & ready with the best music of the time right in front of you. If you just wanted a beer, a band & a night with your mates then you went to see Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds at the Band on the Wall in Swan St. OK, this was…er, different but the company was good, the bar was open until 2 a.m. & we had a “Reggae Spectacular” about to start. Happy Days !

 

 

Image result for creation rebel 1979The show, known as “Roots Encounter”, was quite special. Creation Rebel took the stage & made themselves comfortable. they were staying for the whole night. The band already had their own LP “Dub From Creation” (1978), rhythm tracks recorded in Jamaica, polished in London. The addition of drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott, through the Far I hook up, added class, Dr Pablo’s melodica made for a distinct sound. With subsequent releases Creation Rebel would find their deserved place in our collections, usually finding the turntable at around 1 a.m. after a night of smoking it up. Tonight they were the backing band, first for the toaster Prince Hammer then vocalist Bim Sherman.

 

Natty dread was taking over Ray’s Place. The hard edges were softened by rhythms that demanded that you dance. The crowd were moving together at the front of the stage & everything felt a little warmer. Adrian Sherwood was a young fan with a talent for mixing tracks & for getting things done. He was already involved with all of the acts on tonight & after a couple of false starts he formed his own label, On-U Sound. Sherwood had intriguing & experimental thoughts on production & the label soon became a hallmark of quality, its varied output of Reggae & beyond always worth investigation. Tonight was his idea of how a Reggae show should go, Creation Rebel stretching out & taking up the slack between sets, the music never stopping. A good idea it was too.

 

 

Image result for prince far iWhen the star of the show arrived onstage there was definitely a surge of energy in the place. The man had presence, his individual growl serious & impressive. He described himself as a “chanter” rather than a toaster, whatever it was it worked. Creation Rebel were dubbing it up, heavy on the bass to match the lyrics. Prince Far I trod his own path & I was reminded of another unique talent, Captain Beefheart. There can be no higher praise. I have no idea what songs he played, refreshments had been taken & I was having a time. I’ve included “Message From the King” here because I love the combination of Prince & Culture’s Joseph Hill. If you have the time & the inclination towards fine music then check the Peel Session from June 1978 which gives a better idea of what we heard on the night.

 

There’s a lot of Prince Far I’s music about. His alliance with Adrian Sherwood worked to their mutual benefits, Far I got his records released & Sherwood gained access to Jamaican artists recorded by the Prince. Between 1978 & 1981 4 chapters of “Cry Tuff Dub Encounter” were produced alongside a couple of other LPs in each year. In 1983 Prince Far I was shot & killed during a robbery at his home in Kingston Jamaica. He was a great loss to not just Reggae music & his lyrics continue to stir & inspire today. I was privileged to be able experience his live show. It was worth visiting Stockport after all.