A Boy And His Record Player.

Image result for dansette viva record playerI’m pretty sure that I was a well-behaved child but I must have been particularly good in 1963 because, at Christmas, Santa showed up with a brand new Dansette record player. Result ! It was quite a technological update in our house. We rented a black & white TV but didn’t have a radiogram, the radio/turntable combo disguised as 1950’s furniture, just a valve-powered radio. Oh yeah, our cylindrical “space-age” Hoover Constellation vacuum was pretty sleek but the sound was monotonous. My new present seemed very modern, the 3-speed deck, the 10 disc stacker for multi-play, 2 knobs, on-off & “tone”. I even loved the smell of the thing, the smell of youth & freedom (how did they do that?)

 

 

Image result for twist and shoutOf course in December 1963 I was not the only one who had caught the Beatle Bug. There were 4 new 7″ records to play & half of them were by the Fabs. The current #1 hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (“She Loves You” was still at #2), “This Boy” on the flip side, looked sharp in its familiar green Parlophone paper jacket. The “Twist & Shout” extended play, 4 tracks from the debut LP “Please Please Me” with a photo cover & its wonderful, raucous title track. The other 2 E.P.s were part of the Mersey Mania too, 4 more McCartney-Lennon songs by Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas &, for my younger sister, a Freddie & the Dreamers selection.

 

Music was not a big thing for my parents, they were old anyway, Mum was 30! They were however sussed enough & kind enough to realise that it took more than just 4 discs to make a record collection. They found somewhere, a second-hand shop, a friend, y’know I never asked, a stack of around 25 very assorted 45s from the early years of the decade. 1963 may have been my Year Zero, when all that came before was suddenly old-fashioned, but there were some classic tunes in the pile, ones that showed that  “Love Me Do” possibly wasn’t the start of it all, that were played many times & are still favourites.

 

 

Image result for freddy cannon palisades park“Palisades Park” is the story of finding love in a New Jersey amusement park told in under 2 minutes. With its rocking arrangement featuring a distinctive hurdy-gurdy organ, screams from the roller coaster, descriptive lyrics energetically delivered by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, this record, originally a b-side, is sharp enough to shave a sleeping mouse without waking her! British travelling fun fairs were exciting enough, the chance to win a goldfish, tattooed love boys spinning girls on the Waltzers or standing up on the Speedway, the first place I heard our new music played as loud as it ought to be. I could only imagine what “a swinging place called Palisades Park” was like. “You’ll never know how great a kiss can feel till you stop at the top of a Ferris Wheel” Well actually I do now & she thought it was pretty romantic of me. Freddy Cannon put me on it, thanks man.

 

The song was Freddy’s third million selling record. Written by Chuck Barris, later the host of US TV’s “The Gong Show”, it was one of a string of stomping Pop-Rockers. I was not the only one listening to Freddy & I can drop an impressive list of names to prove it. In 1981 the great American comedian Andy Kaufman starred in an episode of “Midnight Special”, he introduced Cannon as “one of the most creative forces in 1950’s Rock & Roll”. Freddie performed “Tallahassee Lassie” his first hit from 1959, a thunderous version of which was included in Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s live set & was covered by the Flamin’ Groovies in 1972 then by the Stones on the 1978 “Some Girls” sessions. In 1988 “Palisades Park” came round again when Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band included it in their set then, in the following year, the Ramones recorded their own version. Heavy hitters all & they got good taste.

 

 

Image result for the four seasons big girls don't cryNow I did know “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons, who didn’t? After a couple of years of trial, error & different names the vocal group got it right in 1962 when “Sherry” was a US #1 & a worldwide hit. Guided by producer Bob Crewe who wrote the songs with group member Bob Gaudio they repeated the success with “Big Girls…” & “Walk Like A Man”. The 4 Italian-Americans from New Jersey & New York updated 1950’s Doo Wop into Teen Pop, blending propulsive drum beats with smart vocal arrangements showcasing the unique falsetto lead of Frankie Valli. “Big Girls…” like all their singles was artfully crafted to be instantly memorable. A new Four Seasons record came on the radio you knew who it was, you listened & millions bought them.

 

Image result for the four seasons 1964The hits just kept on coming despite the British inundation of the charts in 1964. Vee Jay, their record label, hit financial troubles, swamped by the demand for Beatles & Four Seasons records. A move to a bigger concern soon added “featuring the “Sound” of Frankie Valli” to their name. With an ear to the changing times they released Dylan’s “Don’t think Twice It’s Alright” under the pseudonym The Wonder Who? No one was fooled, Valli’s voice was too distinctive & it made the US Top 20. Everyone has a favourite hit song of theirs, mine is the Spectoresque “Rag Doll” because I’m a sucker for Baroque arrangements & “sad rags to glad rags” stories of girls from the wrong side of the tracks. (Whatever & wherever that may be).

 

 

Image result for buddy holly it doesn't matter anymoreIn 1963 I didn’t know much about Buddy Holly & the day the music died in February 1959. I was sure that this disc, the infectious “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” teamed with the sad & beautiful “Raining In My Heart”, was a serious piece of kit, evidence of a striking talent. Over the following year the Rolling Stones had their first UK Top 10 hit with the shave & a haircut Bo Diddley beat of Buddy’s song “Not Fade Away” while the Fabs included his more delicate “Words of Love” on “Beatles for Sale”. Buddy Holly was not the only artist from the Olden Age of Rock & Roll introduced to me by these two eminent groups. Prompted to further investigation I discovered that “It Doesn’t…” was a posthumous hit for him. In just 3 years of recording before he died in that tragic plane crash at just 22 years of age the young Texan & his band, the Crickets, epitomised & defined the new music. On “That’ll Be The Day”, “Rave On”, “Maybe Baby” & more, it’s a list & I’ve missed out your fave) there’s a teenage exuberance, rocking but still melodic music for & by a new generation.

 

Image result for buddy holly peggy sueIt was obvious how much pleasure I found in music & Dad put out the word at his work, a massive steel plant employing thousands, that any unwanted records would be welcomed at our house. That’s how I took possession of a pile, like hundreds, of 10″ fragile shellac 78 rpm discs (a rotating stylus revealed a needle to play them). They were not all to my taste but “Peggy Sue”, Buddy Holly’s hit from 1957, was a marvel. Repeated plays of this record did not dim my wonder at the urgent paradiddle percussion of Jerry Allison, Holly’s idiosyncratically yelped vocal & the wild, perfect 15 seconds of strummed guitar that can hardly be called a solo. What technological alchemy captured such enthusiasm & imagination so faithfully in the groove of a record? If you are too young to know Buddy Holly’s music then you know the drill.

 

This Xmas, 55 years after Santa came through, I was with my sister & 3 brothers & mentioned that I was writing my memories of our old Dansette. Each of them nodded & smiled with approval. When I left home at 18 the record player stayed & the younger ones, with big brother out of the way, were able to make their own musical discoveries. We were by no means poor but there was not a lot of spare cash around. It must have been a stretch for my parents to spring for such an expensive present & so kind of them. I know for sure that its arrival changed my life & that it brought much, lasting pleasure to all the family. Yeah, I think we did get our money’s worth from that lovely thing.

Danny’s Small Screen Big Shows (2018)

We are pleased to welcome noted Greenock dramatist Danny McCahon back to the blog. A professional highlight for Danny in 2018 was the debut performances of his play “Where’s Lulu”, about the Scottish songstress, to wide acclaim. On a personal note he cut a fine figure in his kilt at the wedding of his eldest daughter Anna. She has two sisters so we look forward to Danny’s legs getting further outings in the future.

 

Telly’s crap, innit? Come on, we’ve all said that. This year, this month, probably this week. And the older I get the more I’m saying it. But . . .

If we believe life is made up of a series of moments, some planned, some surprising and some that kick us right in the emotions, tiny moments in drama are the stuff of entertainment. It might be a witty line, a withering look or a cunning stunt that embeds a moment, a scene, a movie in that part of our being where we store our favourites. More and more I am finding those moments, for me, are underpinned with music.

 

Related image“Almost Famous” might be one of my favourite movies and top among its moments is a scene on a bus where a group of band members and liggers remember why they love each other: a rousing, untidy singalong version of an Elton John song. Then there’s that moment in “A Knight’s Tale” when we realise that the 14th century revellers’ dance accompaniment is segueing into Bowie’s “Golden Years”. This year I enjoyed the Getty kidnap series “Trust” and when people asked what I was enjoying about it, I regularly found myself saying ‘great cars, great music’. “Trust” used well placed period tunes to enhance the action, but the series I think used music best were a bit more subtle with their soundtracks.

The outstanding show of 2018 for me was “Killing Eve” and its unobtrusive music, much of it drawn from David Holmes’s Unloved album “Guilty of Love”. That marriage of sound and image proves for me that TV did not die in the 20th century.  is everyone’s favourite Lauren speaking to Mr Holmes about his part in creating the hit series.

 

 

Image result for babylon berlin bryan ferryWe all love Roxy Music, aye? We’re a bit less sure of Ferry’s solo work, aren’t we? One thing that courses though all of his collective opus is a hint of decadence, a decadence in a time that might never have existed beyond the unreality of vinyl or celluloid. This year Netflix lured us back to the Weimar Republic of pre-war Germany with “Babylon Berlin”. I didn’t find the series quite as enthralling as many of my friends, but I did like the big choreographed night club scenes. I loved the music, especially when it threw up a new arrangement of a song I’d held dear since my teens. And it seemed the most natural thing in the unreal world of TV when Mr Ferry himself cropped up entertaining the decadent Berliners with an orchestral version of Roxy’s “Bitter Sweet”. He looked so at home, like he had found the fictitious place his songs had been searching for all these years.

 

 

Image result for the young offenders tv seriesCloser to home, in time space and reality, two of my favourite comedy series in 2018 have come out of Ireland. I am yet to meet a single person who was not charmed by the young characters in “Derry Girls”, but something further south captured more of my attention. And my heart. Coming of age comedy “The Young Offenders” follows the trials and tribulations of two wee rascals learning to cope with life in Cork. It has its hilarious moments but is shot through with real humanity and the viewer can’t help but root for Conor and Jock. If the lads have a nemesis it’s the local nutter Billy Murphy. Like a kid with a scab they just can’t leave him alone and, like a picking a scab, they just keeping making their relationship with Billy more intense and more dangerous. One outstanding moment has music at its heart, music by Cork’s own The Frank & Walters. Billy has hijacked a bus full of passengers, including our heroes, and having run out of ideas of what to do with it, he leads a singsong.

 

 

Go on, tell me that’s not brilliant telly.

Joe Brown Puts You On It Again (2018)

Joe Brown is the O.G., the Original Guest contributor to our end-of-year blogs. It’s not just because the bassist of Bam Bam & the Calling & of the Gatefolds is my good friend he is also a man with impeccable musical taste. Joe & his lovely family have had a tough end to the year & it’s very kind of him to take the time

 

I will not forget 2018 for a long time, in fact I never will. I lost my father at the end of August & you just cant understand the impact that has until it comes your way. I didn’t understand…I do now. All I have to say here is that folk are fantastic. As a very big hitter, Joe Strummer, once said “Without people you are nothing”.

 

 

Image result for bodega bandMy first selection from the year’s best is from Brooklyn’s favourites, mine too, Bodega & their fantastic debut “Endless Scroll”. The record takes inspiration, without copying from Wire’s “Pink Flag”, a Post-Punk classic & a shoo-in for inclusion in my Best Albums Ever if we ever get round to doing that thing. The 5 members of Bodega have been around in other bands & this time they drew up 12 commandments to keep them on the right path. These include “no fluff”, “no vocal effects” & “no pizza-core”  (an ethos of playing rock music that’s like, ‘We’re drinking light beer, eating pizza, and we’re going to rock’ ”). With all that you know it’s going to be serious & it’s going to be original.

 

Sticking to this “route of honesty” the record is a collection of personal songs reflecting their life in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “Name Escape” nails the local bars & music scene where trying hard to be different and unique, everyone ends up looking the same. Produced by Austin Brown, off of the great Parquet Courts, Bodega’s short, sharp songs of gentrification, technology & city life is as good as 2018 got.

 

 

Courtney Barnett needs no introduction from me. Back in 2015, when I included her debut “Sometimes I Sit & Think Sometimes I Just Sit” in my “best of” selections, she probably did. That record gained the Australian a world-wide audience, even a Grammy nomination. Last year’s collaboration with Kurt Vile, “Lotta Sea Lice” was a fine pairing, a couple of friends jamming & finding some good songs. This year’s “Tell Me How You Really Feel” includes the song “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”. There was a lot of expectation around this record & Courtney, always self-aware, knew it.

 

Image result for courtney barnett 2018Pop on its own and Grunge on its own doesn’t cut it much for me. Put em together and what have you got…bibbidi bobbidi boo! Courtney and her band tip their hats to bands like Nirvana & Pavement & still have enough spiky riffs of their own to keep it fresh. Her conversational lyrics are concerned with her new standing but she ain’t complaining, just concerned about doing it right & she does. On “Nameless Faceless” she recalls an internet troll’s taunt “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you”. “But you didn’t” is the reply & she’s right. The album includes guest appearances by the Deal twins, Kim & Kelley, from the Breeders. They joined her onstage when I saw Courtney play live this year…a fantastic gig.

 

 

Image result for viagra boysLastly but not at all leastly  Viagra Boys exploded into my ears a few months ago, Their album “Street Worm” is probably my favorite of the year along with Idles “Joy as an Act of Resistance ( I’ve stepped aside on that one to a fellow Viagra Boy, there’s two of us you know). The six-piece, from Stockholm, Sweden, are up there with The Fall, Sleaford Mods, Moon Duo, y’know all the top acts. Vocally I hear a John Spencer/Bill Callahan crossover then there’s the sax appeal, I became instantly addicted. In a year we lost game changers Aretha, Pete and Mark E some come along and provide inspiration. Innovation is the key, Viagra Boys ooze it, we’re off to see them in the capital, Dublin, in 2019. I’m already counting the sleeps. In the meantime how about the brilliant & hilarious putdown of misdirected masculinity that is “Sports”. Until next year…Peace.

 

The View From The Cheap Seats (Steve Pittaway 2018)

The first of our guests this year is our live correspondent Steve Pittaway. You know that guy you see at every decent gig in the Midlands…that’s him. Next time you see him say hello & buy him a drink…make it two!

I was asked to write about my top three gigs of the year & I knew what two of them would be. I also knew that they had been reviewed by people who said things about them in far better ways than I could. After careful consideration I realised that some of my favourite live moments of the year had come via support bands, so let’s make 2018 the Year of the Underdogs.

I don’t see every support act at every gig. I can be that guy who leaves the bar 5 minutes before the main act takes the stage & I’m cynical (grumpy?) enough to dismiss openers with “they sound like somebody else who did it so much better”. However, on these three occasions I was impressed enough to want to spread the word about them.

The first of these are The Staves on First Aid Kit’s “Rebel Heart” tour at the O2 Academy in Birmingham on the 7th November. The Staves have been around since 2009, releasing two major label albums. They comprise of three sisters Jessica, Emily and Camilla Staveley–Taylor (no guessing where the band name came from). Labelled as an Indie Folk Trio, they have roots in the folk tradition what really sets them apart is their harmony singing. It seemed brave to open the set with “Hopeless” sung acapella showcasing the quality of their individual & blended voices.

Image result for the staves 2018

Guitars & keyboards were added for “Next Time, Next Year”, the backing vocals cleverly becoming part of the instrumentation and harmonies once again sweeping you away. “Tired As Fuck”, as the title suggests, hits a little harder, the music more muscular, insistent, hypnotic vocals. The real surprise of the set was their cover version of The Waterboys’ “Whole of the Moon”. I always liked the song, was fortunate enough to see The Waterboys perform it on the “This is the Sea” tour, but over familiarity has lessened its joy for me. The Staves arrangement of it blew me away. The hairs on the back of my neck standing up, you could have heard a pin drop as it stunned the audience into silence. As the song ended someone shouted out “That was amazing”, he wasn’t wrong. Their all too brief set ended with an older song, “Mexico”, from their first album , harmonies once again weaving throughout the song and leaving the crowd well warmed up for the headline act.

Back in Birmingham on December 6th, the O2 Institute this time for Buffalo Tom, five unassuming twenty something lads shuffled on stage grabbed their instruments and began playing a song which could have been written in the late 60’s by a West Coast psych band. The interplay between the three guitarists, alternating lead & rhythm without stepping on each other was instantly attractive. This sounded like it was worth my time. The song finishes,the singer mumbles into the mic. I assume he said what the band were called but I didn’t catch it. Back home the Google informed me that I had been watching Sunstack Jones, already on to their third album, mastered by the Verve’s guitar hero Nick McCabe on the Coral’s Deltasonic label.

Image result for sunstack jonesThis is North West Coast Pop Psych, a Liverpool lysergic crew influenced by Love & the Doors, continuing a tradition reaching back to Echo & the Bunnymen, the Pale Fountains, Teardrop Explodes & others. They played a strong set, a touch of Stones swagger, plenty that was closer to California than Merseyside. High quality melodic songs were complemented by memorable harmonising. They left the stage to well deserved applause but I was left wondering how many people actually knew who they were as they did such a poor job of promoting themselves. They deserve to be heard by a wider audience and are proof that the guitar band isn’t dead yet!

The Near Jazz Experience were the support band that I went to see rather than the headliners, the Nightingales, at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham on 2nd October. The NJE, have, in existence since 2010, are friends & former bandmates Terry Edwards, seasoned session saxophonist, Mark Bedford, the bassist for hit-makers Madness & Simon Charterton, ex Higsons, on drums. A monthly residency at the Indo in Whitechapel, London progressed from improvised jams into actual songs. In late 2017 they recorded an album & “Afloat” is a very fine piece of work.

Image result for near jazz experienceThe announcement of NJE’s tour with the Nightingales was a rare opportunity to see the trio play outside of London. one that I couldn’t miss. They hit the stage running with what was their debut single “Knife Edge” the rhythm section locked in, providing space for Terry to let loose with his horn. The song is one funky groove and if it doesn’t make you move then nothing will. Next up is “Two Sax” which is exactly what it says on the tin, Terry weaving his magic on two saxes, one alto and one tenor, at once. The solid backbeat and fluid bass let Terry play the melody line on twin saxes and then switch between them. It has to be seen to be fully appreciate the skill involved. I’m not usually a dancer but this has me moving my feet. Terry addresses the audience to tell us that what the NJE essentially do is play Jazz on rock instruments. They certainly do and what masters they are at it. The set continues and gets more infectious with its balanced rhythms and flowing bass lines and twisting sax. During the song “6 8” the audience are called upon to participate when Terry starts handing out shakers to the crowd who are encouraged to join in which adds to the whole upbeat nature of the set. The band finish with their version of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” that is a rollicking rollercoaster of a ride that leaves me grinning from ear to ear. Everyone should sample the NJE live, the joy to be had is off the scale.

Pick Of The Pops (2018)

The best I can say about 2018 is “well, that went quick”. The lack of will of the British political class to approach a crisis which could have us cooking & eating our shoes in 2020 with neither realism nor clarity is dispiriting. The rise & normalisation of extreme views is alarming. These loudmouths need a sharp one upside the head & I trust that the day will soon come. Personally I have visited too many doctor’s surgeries & hospital consultants this year. Any number of scans have established that my vital organs are present but are not all correct. The diagnosis is that I’ve not been very well. A shout to my friend Mollie who this week bids farewell to her teenage years. Her resolve in the face of the daily grind of poverty & the threat of homelessness, still finding time to raise my spirits, provides much-needed & appreciated perspective.

 

Any road up, the music continues to soothe the still savage, now more delicate breast & here are just three of the best of the year.

 

 

Image result for bill ryder jones 2018It’s a long time since I have been as smitten by a new record as I am by “Yawn”, the 4th solo outing from Bill Ryder-Jones, his first since 2015’s outstanding “West Kirby County Primary”. “There’s a fortune to be had from telling people you’re sad” sings Bill on the opening track & if melancholy was money then he would be quids in. The album is no wallow in his or others’ misery. Bill has had his share of mental health problems &, as his songwriting abilities have developed, his lyrics are contemplative yet considerate, wry & real. He’s from Merseyside, it doesn’t do to be too sensitive.

 

Bill’s uncomplicated, melodic songs are matched to a background wash, spattered with surprising guitar surges. There’s a depth that brings to mind Low’s “Things We Lost In The Fire” (2001) & that’s a good thing. A couple of the more restrained tunes are no more than laconic variations on the “Sweet Jane” riff & no-one can have too much of that. The appeal may not be immediate but “Mither”, the 4th track, sits you up & lets you know that there is something good going on here. An outstanding work, I can’t get enough of it. Try “Don’t Be Scared, I Love You” a couple of times & you will be singing along all day. .

 

 

It’s been 6 years now since Ry Cooder’s last phonograph recording. With “Election Special” (2012) the guitar virtuoso was labelled an activist, a protest singer, largely because few other white musicians were so overtly taking notes & naming names. Anyone listening to Ry’s more recent work knew that his social awareness, present throughout his 50 year career, was becoming more pronounced. His taste & technique makes Cooder my favourite guitarist. His choice of material from across the 20th century has been educational & pertinent, always a pointer to the abiding ability of music to raise the spirits.

 

Related image“The Prodigal Son” is a return to the musical curatorship of his earlier records. 3 of the 11 tracks are originals, the rest drawn from Blues & Gospel artists, particularly the latter, he so admires. The opening “Straight Street”, a Pilgrim Travelers’ song from 1955, sets the scene, the song receiving a respectful, energetic & imaginative revival. The four-piece band, including son & co-producer Joaquin on drums, provides stripped down arrangements, allowing space for Ry’s peerless musicianship. Backing vocalists include long-time assistants Bobby King & Terry Evans, the final sessions for Terry who unfortunately died in January.

 

Cooder recorded Blind Alfred Reed’s “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Time & Live” on his 1970 debut album. It is still, along with an updated “Vigilante Man”, an apposite inclusion in his live show. Reed’s “You Must Unload”, recorded in the noted Bristol Sessions of 1927, is a modern anti-materialist hymn & one of my favourite American songs. Ry’s version is just beautiful, one of the songs of the year. “The Prodigal Son” is a great, I might say exquisite, record, a moral, honest, human commentary on the (same as it ever was?) world today. Ah go on, have another one & look at that Ry Cooder go!

 

 

OK, three is the magic number around here but please allow me to make a couple of honourable mentions of records that have made 2018 a better place. Idles second record “Joy As An Act Of Resistance” is angry, belligerent & will be endorsed by at least 2 of my guest contributors this month. I’ll just say that we can’t have enough Joy or Resistance in these times. “Double Negative” by Low (them again) is a challenging listen, not one to put on the turntable when entertaining friends but possibly a masterpiece. Oh yeah, Lee Perry’s “The Black Album” gets played a lot too. My final selection is music that is familiar to me, a record that has given much pleasure since its release.

 

 

Image result for jason isbell and the 400 unitJason Isbell has been at the front of the stack for 5 years now. There is probably a generation of roots-based American artists that I would enjoy but just haven’t heard because Jason’s high-quality stuff is enough for me when I need that sort of thing. “Live From The Ryman” captures him & the 400 Unit on their 2017 tour, the tracks a selection from his last 3 records. Those great ones from his time as a Drive-By Trucker, “Decoration Day”, “Outfit” & “Goddamn Lonely Love”, showstoppers all, don’t make the cut. On stage the band rock a little harder, taking the opportunity to stretch out & discover just how good these songs are. Jason’s wife Amanda Shires didn’t make last year’s trip to Europe, when she does join in her instrumental & harmonic contribution adds texture to an already fine unit. She’s around for this one, “The Last Of My Kind” from his last record “The Nashville Sound” is an epic as is the take on “Wooden Ships” they played when joined by David Crosby at this year’s Newport Folk Festival  & Jason Isbell is a major American artist. Whatever he does next, I’ll be there.

For The Love Of Pete (Pete Shelley)

The shocking, premature death of Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks on the 6th of December upset myself & many others. His smart, vulnerable, romantic lyrics matched to a crisp, exhilarating, distinctive sound made for Pop-Punk perfection which, as you know, retains its spark & appeal 40 years on. My friend Raymond Gorman, himself a guitarist/songwriter of note with That Petrol Emotion & The Everlasting Yeah, posted this thoughtful, personal tribute on Facebook. It deserves a more permanent place than a social media feed & Loosehandlebars is not only that place but also pleased to welcome a new contributor.

 

 

Image result for buzzcocks howard devotoBuzzcocks meant the world to me when I was young and I got to meet Pete on more than a few occasions. Always truly lovely, sweet, funny and happy to chat. Imagine meeting your heroes and you find out they’re as wonderful as you thought. He even gave me his phone number but I was always too starstruck to actually ever call him. Bassist Steve Garvey was always a real gent to us/me as well. The records they made before the initial split with Martin Rushent, the best producer whose contribution should not be overlooked, were perfect.

 

 

THAT SOUND. I learned to play chords playing along with the Ramones but my playing really came on more when I started to play along with Buzzcocks. I had a small practice amp and a cheap crappy Satellite guitar (straight from Kay’s catalogue which I bought using my paper round money – £1 for 100 weeks). and suddenly I could play all the spidery lead lines on “Another Music in a Different Kitchen”. I grew up in a very macho, violent environment and I wasn’t like that so Pete’s vocals and lyrics weren’t alien to me plus I’d already been softened up by Bowie and Bolan. For someone who wrote poetry in secret (yeah like I’m gonna advertise that as a teen in Derry, Northern Ireland!)

 

buzzcocksI thought for the first time that maybe I could maybe give lyrics a go too. After all as Pete once said himself: “I never knew there was a law against sounding vulnerable.” Buzzcock’s heyday didn’t last that long. I remember when they started to go out of favour and was incredulous when “You Say You Don’t Love Me” wasn’t their biggest single to date and even though their star waned I still bought all their other records and the C81 tape too for “I Look Alone”. When That Petrol Emotion were looking for a singer we put an ad in New Musical Express and one of the influences we looked for was Buzzcocks.

 

 

Related imageTPE covered “Fiction Romance” when I was still the singer and later we also did a faithful but killer version of “Nothing Left”. Our label was called “Noise-A-Noise”. What is “Can’t Stop” but John and I trying to write a Buzzcocks song?? So it’s sad that Pete’s gone. I was pleased to read in an interview that he still liked champagne and seemed to be in good form. It’s wonderful that he was able to make a living for so long and in no way complained that they should have had more success. He was a true punk (with a library card) and a true trailblazer of the DIY spirit that fuelled that movement. He helped me find my own voice and a raison d’etre. He was also a seeker of truth. I learned of his interest in Eastern philosophy and the Zen tradition and then read up some myself. He was erudite and articulate. Highly intelligent but suspicious of intellectualism. More than anything though he was a bloody brilliant and talented human. I’ll miss him loads. “Everything is and that is why it is” will be the line.

Put On Your Wig Woman (Junior Walker)

As the 1950’s headed towards the 1960’s songwriter Berry Gordy was doing nicely from his connection with singer Jackie Wilson (Berry wrote “Reet Petite”, “Lonely Teardrops” & others) while having a shrewd eye on the business of music through an involvement with talent he found in his hometown Detroit. His Tamla label released its first disc in 1959, the Miracles’ “Shop Around” became its first million seller the following year & the Motown Record Corporation would soon stake a claim to be “the sound of young America”, as big an influence on the decade’s popular music as the British Beat explosion.

 

Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeWe all know the great stars signed to the label, Marvin, Stevie, Diana & the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations. There were plenty of other acts who benefited & contributed to the Motown sound. That driving beat of the house band, the Funk Brothers, matched to a melodic & lyrical acuity & urbanity placed African-American music firmly in the Modernist movement of the decade. Pop Art…you betcha! Junior Walker, a saxophonist, a little older than the others, never really adhered to the Hitsville formula but he & his All Stars enjoyed much success because their distinctive, individual style was pretty irresistible.

 

 

Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker, born in 1931, was playing in bands in Battle Creek, Michigan, 120 miles east of Detroit, in the mid-1950s. The All Stars played both kinds of music, the Rhythm & the Blues, tenor sax playing Junior being influenced by the Jive of Louis Jordan & the Jazz of Illinois Jacquet (great name). The band signed with Harvey Fuqua, a singer turned label head, whose hits with the Moonglows, the classic “Sincerely” & the extra classic “The 10 Commandments of Love” were as good as Doo Wop got. Harvey was Berry Gordy’s brother in law & when he joined the family company he took his roster with him. The second 45 issued under the growing Motown umbrella found Junior Walker & the All Stars at the top of the R&B charts & in the Pop Top 10, a list that was pretty much all British Invasion & Tamla.

 

Image result for junior walker roadrunnerOn “Shotgun” (coming up later) the band were augmented by a Funk Brothers backline, including the peerless bassist James Jamerson. It’s a Soul Explosion, the honking sax, call & response vocal shouts & a demand that you dance urgency is the trademark of Junior Walker & the All Stars. Gritty is not the adjective most associated with Detroit at this time, these guys were, they found an audience & Motown let them do their thing. “(I’m A) Roadrunner”, the 4th Top 10 R&B 45, was written by ace team Holland-Dozier-Holland, another injection of Soul adrenaline, a super smash. King Curtis & Cannonball Adderley were masters of Soul/R&B saxophone & Junior Walker was not only just as groovy but his records were a whole lot of fun.

 

 

Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeThe major influence of the label on the artist was to point him towards the cupboard where they kept their back catalogue. First, in 1966, Marvin’s “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)” & “Money (That’s What I Want)” were Walkerfied. The following year H-D-H’s hit for the Supremes, “Come See About Me” was given a gutbucket revival, guaranteed to pack out any dancefloor anywhere. In the UK Junior Walker was a major Mod favourite. His records may not have made Top of the Pops but were played on the pirate radio stations & were essentials for any DJ in clubs (in my case youth clubs) all over the country. The ones already checked, “Shake & Fingerpop”, “Pucker Up Buttercup”, the killer “Shoot Your Shot”, it’s becoming a list & we knew them all.

 

In 1969 Walker & his producer Johnny Bristol, an ally since before Motown, changed it up & had a big success. “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, written by Bristol, Fuqua & staffer Vernon Bullock, was recorded in 1968 for the “Home Cookin'” LP & released with some reluctance by the label. It’s slower paced, the edges are smoothed, the vocal more featured & it sold a million. Followed by a fine cover of the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” this new style kept Junior in the game, away from the golden oldie circuit in the new decade.

 

 

Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker came out of the Jumping Jive R&B tradition & found his place in Soul music. He had international success with his records & the evidence is that his live shows were not to be missed. If, in June 1969, you were at the Fillmore West in San Francisco for the All Stars/Grateful Dead double bill then I am jealous. The group were regular, popular visitors to the UK & this clip (in colour!) of their 1967 gig at the Ram Jam Club, you know it, on the Brixton Rd, above Burton’s & the gas showroom, yeah you know, is just wonderful. Junior & his band, Willie Woods, guitar, James Graves, drums & Vic Thomas, organ, (bassist unknown) blow up an absolute storm. If I ever get this time machine finished then look out for me in the audience the next time you watch this lovely thing.