Fergal’s Top Pop Picks 2018 (Part One)

Fergal Corscadden, guitarist with Derry noisy boys the Gatefolds, has, like one of his heroes Hunter S Thompson, little respect for deadlines. December’s request for 3 musical highlights of the year finally showed up this week, there were 4 & blimey it was long. I’m not complaining, it’s worth the wait & yer man’s unpredictability is one of the reasons we are friends. Here’s Part One of Fergal’s picks.

So much great music in 2018 and thankfully an album which came along and clobbered me over the head…in a good way. IDLES’ debut “Brutalism” was one of my favourites of 2017 & their sophomore effort , “Joy As An Act Of Resistance”, released  in August 2018, is like a free hug from the Bristol UK based quintet. It’s difficult to write about this album without getting a whole lot emotional. Embrace IDLES’ angry & positive responses to the modern malaise of toxic masculinity, death, self-hatred, tabloid bile, all that crap & passive approval is just not enough.

 

Image result for idles joy as an act of resistanceThe  motorik backline of my new favourite drummer Jon Beavis (sorry, Sean Feeney) and bassist Adam “Dev” Devonshire combine with the screeching guitars of Lee Kiernan and Mark “Bobo” Bowen, a fellow from Bangor NI, to provide a succinct, sharp, breakneck backing to match the lyrics of frontman Joe Talbot. IDLES’ direct, no bullshit approach has been labelled Punk though middle aged veterans of the Punk Wars, self-appointed keepers of the flame, have been quick to shout “Fake”.  “For the last time, we’re not a fucking Punk band” said Joe in 2018 & he should know.

 

“The mask of masculinity is a mask that’s wearing me” (“Samaritans”). From the opening track “Colossus” through “Never Fight a Man With a Perm”, “Samaritans” & the one about the coked-up bankers at a funeral (“Gram Rock”) IDLES approach the dilemma of the modern male with alacrity, confidence & GREAT songs. The cover “Cry To Me”, “Love Song” &”June” are concerned with personal trauma. “I’m Scum” & “Television” with the false imagery of UK mass media. “Danny Nedelko” is about the immigrant you work alongside, the one who brings Eastern European beer when he comes round your house to watch the football. The guy who isn’t here to steal your job but, just like you, is playing the hand that Life has dealt the best he can. It’s brilliant & it goes like this…

 

 

This album is passionate and positive. Its delivery is ferocious and the message is powerful; we need to stop being so hard on ourselves and, focus on how we can help those who suffer from mental health problems, especially where this can lead to suicide and/or other fatalities; fight against toxic masculinity. The openness of Joe Talbot’s songs, his promotion of the idea of vulnerability and how we should access this more in our lives really does ring true to many men in our currently fucked up society. This is a necessity!

 

Related imageUnity, against the odds, onstage & online, is promoted by the group. Live shows are wild testimonies of the connection between the audience & the group they have adopted. I’m a badge-wearing member of the All Is Love:AF Gang Facebook group, a space where fans are encouraged & able to relate their own vulnerability to like-minded people who will listen. The band acknowledge this community in interviews, just don’t ask what AF means! I have my ticket to see IDLES in Belfast in April with my band/soul mate Joe Brown. Joe lost his best mate, his Dad, in 2018 and I know he has connected with this album just as much as I. “I am my father’s son, his shadow weighs a tonne”.

 

“Rottweiler”, the closing track, is an attack dog fuck you to the trash-tabloid, sick, daily rags in the UK. This is the song they end their gigs with featuring an instrumental blitz,  letting rip in a sinking ship descent into fucked up effects. “Joy As An Act of Resistance” has been well received & the IDLES snowflake is becoming an avalanche. These are tough times for many people, someone has to resist & someone has to provide Joy. See you in Belfast. All Is Love. Don’t Go Gently !

 

 

In 2015 Brian Christinzio, who goes by the name of BC Camplight, was in a good place & that place was Manchester, England. BC had relocated from Philadelphia & was releasing his third LP. “How to Die in the North” addressed the mental health & substance abuse issues that had made living in the USA a problem. Things went well both personally & professionally until visa trouble brought more severe disruption. “Deportation Blues” chronicles the effect this had on his life.

 

Image result for bc camplight deportation bluesBack in his parents’ Philadelphia basement, separated from his girlfriend, his dog & his band & revisited by old demons provided Brian with the ammunition for “Deportation Blues”. So far so bad but help from his Italian grandparents got him a visa, a return to Manchester & a chance to make the record in more friendly surroundings. The material may be brooding & fractious but BC’s musical sensibilities has produced a collection of “catchy dark Pop tunes” that is a delight. “I’m Desperate”, with its busy Suicide-inspired keyboard & bass, had an instant impact & is one of my favourite singles of the year. Hattie Coombe’s haunting chorus,  “and, I want to know…when you gonna come home, when you gonna be here, when you gonna come back…”, provide a lovely counterpoint to the upbeat music.

 

 

This is an album of great variety of genres & textures, serious, personal subject matter & songs that linger. The opening title track, a jaunty number who’s high harmonies are interrupted by synth swirls & squelches sets the tone. “Welcome a stranger into your world” indeed. Next up “I’m In A Weird Place Now” stomps along over a pumping bass line, a different influence every 15 seconds maybe, even a touch of brass band, coming together into the Modern Pop of which BC Camplight & Tame Impala are masters.

 

Image result for bc camplight 2018The contrast between the melancholy lyrics & the surprising sounds, the bold tempo changes is what makes the album so intriguing & interesting. “When I Think of My Dog” (“I think of someone who loves me, and the rent is on time…”) & “Midnight Ease” are touching ballads. “Fire In England” a whopping big Pop song. “Am I Dead Yet?”, the most Psych song on the record, sounds like Mercury Rev, John Lennon, Flaming Lips and Talking Heads got together, smoked several joints and drank whiskey till the wee hours. This is a good thing, obviously. “Deportation Blues” has a wonderful breadth of imagination & emotion. The catharsis involved in its making rings true, the balancing of so many musical influences & moods so assured. The closing “Until You Kiss Me” is a little  bit of yearning beauty. “I’m not leaving until your breath and mine collide”. Give it a spin.

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Bit More Soul (January 1969)

So how long have I been just a click away from the Billboard R&B Chart archive? No matter, I’ve found it now & that sound you hear is my purr of contentment as I cruise the weekly Top 30 or, even better, Top 50 from past years, marvelling at just how many great songs were around at the same time. Let’s start with January 1969, 50 years ago, when Marvin Gaye’s classic “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” held the #1 spot for the whole month.

There were 3 other Tamla Motown releases in a distinguished Top 10 for January 18th 1969, I’m guessing that it had been pretty much the same every week for the past 5 years. Stevie Wonder was there & so were the Temptations, on their own & again with Diana Ross & the Supremes. 11-20 included the Delfonics’ “Ready Or Not Here I Come” & “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone, both certainties for the 1000 Best Soul records of the decade (not a real list but give me an hour & I’ll get back to you). OK, pick a number between 1 & 50… any one of them will be just fine.

 

 

Related imageAt #3 is Clarence Carter’s “Too Weak To Fight”. We never really got Clarence over here until the sentimental “Patches”, his only UK hit, came around in 1970 but, across 68/9, he was enjoying a consistent run of R&B chart success & crossing over to the mainstream Pop chart. Born without sight Clarence graduated with a degree in Music from Alabama State College in his hometown of Montgomery. He was already a fixture at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals when bigger record labels, hearing that the writers, musicians & producers there had got it going on, sent their own established artists along to grab some of that swampy Southern Country Soul. Carter’s records were picked up by Atlantic & the higher profile led to “Slip Away”, his second 45 on the label, selling a million copies.

 

My good friend Mitchell  kindly gave me his compilation of the “Best of C.C.” because I played it so often & took such delight every single time. “Too Weak…” is one of a string of songs featuring Clarence’s strong baritone, yearning in the heartbreak tunes, a lascivious chuckle in the…er…racier ones. The now famous Alabaman session players made it funky, gritty & sparkling. They made it sound easy too but if it was then everybody would have been doing it. There was a new name in the small print on the back of the album sleeves. Guitarist Duane Allman had shown up at FAME with his band Hour Glass & found himself hired. Duane brought his precocious Blues talent along, check out Clarence’s “The Road To Love”. Further on down that week’s chart, at #16, he was inventing Southern Rock on Wilson Pickett’s blistering “Hey Jude”.

 

 

Image result for the impressions this is my countryChicago was well represented in the Top 10 too. Producer Carl Davis, a man who knew what was what, removed Barbara Acklin’s vocals, added piano to the backing track & released “Soulful Strut”  (#6) by Young-Holt Unlimited, formed by the rhythm section of the successful Ramsey Lewis Trio. Davis’ newly founded Dakar records discovered a new star in Tyrone Davis. “Can I Change My Mind” (#4 up from #15) was an update of the classic Windy City sound, loping rhythms, vivacious horn & string arrangements, as smooth as Pop-Soul could get. Jerry Butler, a hit-maker for over a decade, went to Philadelphia to work with a hot new writing/production team.  “Are You Happy” (#10) was the third single taken from the resulting all killer no filler “The Ice Man Cometh” LP. Jerry enjoyed revived fortunes, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff had a calling card for their talents which they parleyed into their own Philadelphia International label &, pretty much, world domination in just a few years.

 

Image result for curtis mayfield civil rightsWhen Jerry Butler left the Impressions for a solo career he maintained his relationship with Curtis Mayfield, the kid he had met in his church choir. Curtis had songs to spare for his pal, the acts at Chicago’s Okeh label & his own vocal trio. The Impressions’ progress from perfectly harmonious Gospel to equally euphonic Soul was as influential as any other African-American music of the time. In Jamaica the 3 Wailin’ Wailers were listening closely while up in Bearsville New York their “Keep On Pushing” album featured on the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home”. Like many young Americans Curtis was affected by & involved in the Civil Rights movement & his lyrics came to reflect the changing times. “This Is My Country”, #8 on the chart, the title track of the first LP released on his own Curtom label, tells it like it was, pertinent then & still is now & is an absolute gem.

 

 

OK, that’s the Top 10 pretty much covered. Let’s look further down at the page for the week’s new entries. A big favourite round here, “Grits Ain’t Groceries” by Little Milton, scrapes in at #50. “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry & Mona Lisa was a man!”. Right On! Further up at #41 Arthur “Sweet Soul Music” Conley entered FAME Studios to cover Paul McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” but you don’t want to hear that. I’m afraid there’s very little Soul to be extracted from this piece of cod-Reggae fluff & not even Duane Allman’s guitar contribution can add much value. So then Pop Pickers (heh, heh) in at #44 it’s…

 

Related imageTammi Terrell experienced great commercial success in 1968 when “You’re All I Need”, her second collection of duets with Marvin Gaye was released. The young Motown Mod was the perfect foil for sharp dressed Marvin, the label’s major solo star solicitous of their ingenue. A clutch of bespoke songs provided by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson added further class to an already classy pairing. Unfortunately Tammi was unable to fully enjoy her hit records, in October 1967 she collapsed onstage with Marvin & a brain tumour was diagnosed. After a first surgery Tammi was able to return to the studio but was never well enough to perform again & her health quickly declined. She died in March 1970 aged just 24. In January 1969 her only solo LP was released. “Irresistible” compiled the 11 tracks, just 30 minutes of music, that she had recorded for Motown between 1965 & 1968. I’m sure that Hitsville had plans for the new star & that with material tailored to her alluring voice & personality more success was inevitable. We’ll never know that now.

 

Image result for tammi terrell this old heart of mineHearing the Isley Brothers’ version of “This Old Heart Of Mine” will always be my youth club madeleine. Dancing until almost bedtime on nothing stronger than a can of Vimto & a packet of Oxo flavoured crisps. Walking that little girl home because well, she lived just round the corner from me. Tammi’s version, recorded in 1966, produced by two of the writers, Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, will never hold the same resonance but if ever you need a classic, uptempo, floor-filling stomper, “the Sound of Young America”, then you’ve come to the right place.

 

 

It’s 1969 OK (Brit Psych January)

One of my favourite places to hang out on the Interwebs is the Marmalade Skies website, “the home of British Psychedelia”. Their “Remember the Times” section is a month-by-month diary kept from January 1966, when David Jones changed his name to Bowie for the Lower Third’s “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, to November 1975 & the release of “Golden Years”, the lead single from his “Station to Station” album. It’s by no means a definitive guide more a labour of love to collate information & clippings from the music press of the time. The great & the good are included alongside the not so much & every page reminds you of those you still love & those you have forgotten. Here’s three from January 1969, 50 years ago!

 

 

Dave Davies…that’s the legendary…was, in 2003, placed 91st in Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. You are having a laugh! On all those great Kinks records, whether it’s the power chords of “You Really Got Me” & “Till the End of the Day”, the raga drone on “See My Friends” or the indelible introductions to “Waterloo Sunset” (“the most beautiful song in the English language” & I’m not arguing) & “Lola”, Dave found the perfect guitar sound to complement & enhance brother Ray’s lyrical social realism & satire. In the mid-60’s artists were judged by the success of the latest single release, a couple of missteps & they could be history. Ray wrote & sang the words but Dave, just 17 when the group had their first #1, made a significant contribution to the distinctive, commercial, hit-making sound of the Kinks.

 

Related imageIn 1967 Dave, still only 20, wrote 3 songs for “Something Else”, the group’s 5th LP. “Death of a Clown”, a co-write with Ray, was released as a single with his name on the label & became a Europe-wide hit. The possibility of a parallel solo career was considered. His Kinks commitments, they were busy recording the first of their concept albums “The Village Green Preservation Society”, obstructed any lengthy promotional activity & the following releases,, all quality work, were less successful. When “Hold My Hand”, the fourth single, bombed Dave left the solo stuff alone, tracks for a never finished record turning up as b-sides (the splendid  “Mindless Child of Motherhood”) or bonus tracks on re-issued LPs. I’m sure that he was happy being the other Davies in the Kinks but it’s a pity that there was not more of his own songs about because he was a very talented young man. Jah bless the Kinks & Dave Davies.

 

 

The Locomotive, from Birmingham, were a strange one. Many Brum Beat faces had passed through a changing line up before keyboard player Norman Haines took the reins & the band were studio ready. Norman, like many young white boys in the Second City, took a liking to Ska & the group’s first single, a Soul ballad, had a rather clumsy version of Dandy Livingstone’s “A Message to You Rudy” on the flip side. The self-penned “Rudy’s In Love” was a much more capable attempt at Jamaican music. It received wide airplay & reached the lower reaches of the UK Top 40. The group were sent to Abbey Road studios to record an LP with young producer Gus Dudgeon but by the time they arrived in that London they were a very different proposition.

 

Image result for locomotive band“Mr Armageddan” (spelling?) is a portentous slice of Hammond organ heavy proto-Prog. My 16 year old self was impressed by the record’s ambition, the music scene was changing & we thought that the simple 3 minute Pop song had had its day, it hadn’t thank goodness. Nowadays I don’t buy those “physician to the wind” lyrics but “Mr Armageddan” sits well on any compilation of early British Psych nuggets. The audience & the record label were a little confused by the drastic change of direction & the LP “We Are Everything You See” was delayed for a year. By 1970 other groups were doing this sort of thing with more subtlety or, unfortunately, in some cases even less. Locomotive broke up & anyway my ears were turned towards the new music coming from the USA. Prog Rock – “mention “The Lord of the Rings” one more time I’ll more than likely kill you” !

 

 

I bought my copy of Eric Burdon & the Animals’ “Ring of Fire” in 1973 from the Monastariki flea market in Athens back when that Greek Diagon Alley sold more fleas than cheap Hellenic souvenir gewgaws. In a musty basement I found a pile of old 45 records & a mountain of vintage glossy cinema lobby cards. I told my companion that this must be the place, I would play nice & that she could collect me back here in an hour or two, maybe three. Man, I was as happy as a clam at high water & I didn’t even get to that dark corner over there where they sold the Gremlins.

 

Related imageEric had been around & making an impression since the British Beat Boom began. For the Animals, a Geordie R&B combo, signing a record contract & moving from Newcastle to London must have seemed a big deal. When your second single becomes the hit of 1964 & you’re met at New York’s JFK airport by a motorcade of convertibles with a model in each of them then things had definitely gotten crazy. In the following 2 years the Animals responded with a string of very good Soul-Blues Pop records. A couple of the original members had fallen by the wayside & when the others asked where all the money had gone the short, strange trip was over. Eric, quite rightly rated as a charismatic vocalist, put his name in front of a bunch of New Animals, moved to California, wore some flowers in his hair & created a brand of muscular Psychedelia that many people, including myself, found very appealing.

 

“Ring of Fire”, yes the Johnny Cash one, was taken from the double album “Love Is”, Eric’s 5th release in the 2 years since the demise of the original Animals. Not surprisingly there were no new songs left so cover versions it is then including one by new members Zoot Money & Andy Summers off of the Police. Perhaps this dramatic charge at a Country classic lacks subtlety but there are some good songs on the record particularly Traffic’s “Coloured Rain” & a splendid River Deep Mountain High”, extended into a tribute to Tina, featuring sterling work on the electric piano by Zoot. At the end of 1969 the band got out of Japan sharpish after death threats from the Yakuza & that was it for Eric Burdon & the Animals. I was a fan of the first Animals, who wasn’t? I enjoyed the zeal of the newly converted to Psychedelia second incarnation. In January 1969 my best friend & I didn’t have big record collections & “Love Is” was on heavy rotation round at our houses.