Something About England (2019)

Image result for boris johnson cartoon scarfeIt has, it seems to me, been a bad year to be English. The fissure caused by the UK’s narrow decision to separate from our European neighbours generated a level of intolerance, bigotry & nostalgia for an illusory past that saddens me. The election of our very own graceless, mendacious, racist, anti-democratic oaf marks a rejection of the post-war consensus, an attempt to distribute the resources of an affluent industrial nation more equitably, to the benefit of so many of the less advantaged of our country & a step closer to Hobbes’ view of society where Life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. You had better grab what you can while you can. That’s not what I like about being English, not what I celebrate about the British.

 

Our government’s ignorance, duplicity & manipulation of the Northern Irish alongside a dismissal of the objections in Scotland has progressed the likelihood of the break-up of the United Kingdom. I wish my Irish & Scottish friends all the luck in their brave new futures but find little pleasure being left with this rump of self-harming ragged trousered misanthropists & gangster capitalists intent on selling England by the pound. At our best the British are resourceful, innovative, inclusive, self-deprecatory & progressive. Blake, Watt, Dickens, Stopes, Pankhurst, Bevan, the Beatles, George Best, Monty Python, the Clash & many more, they’re my kind of people. In 2019 I have taken it where I found it, here’s some English music.

 

 

Image result for robyn hitchcock andy partridgeRobyn Hitchcock & Andy Partridge, both born in 1953, have mutual musical interests & influences, The Beatles, the Kinks, Pink Floyd when Syd Barrett was around, the whimsical reverie of British psychedelia. Robyn has continued to make interesting records throughout this decade, often with the help of Peter Buck off of REM & other American friends. I’ve bought the last two, “The Man Upstairs”, warm & charming, was included in my picks of 2014. After a stunning run of albums with his group XTC Andy released 6 volumes of “Fuzzy Warbles” demos & since then the pickings have been slim. The last we heard from him was a song for the Monkees in 2016 then, two years later, cover versions of Syd’s “Apples & Oranges” & the Bonzo Dog Band’s “Humanoid Boogie”. The pair had collaborated before on just the one song for Hitchcock’s “Ole Tarantula” & now we’re treated to a whole 4-track EP.

 

Related image“Planet England” is what I was rambling about up the page. It’s creative, perspicacious &, running at 17 minutes, does not overstay its welcome. I said I was familiar with Hitchcock’s recent offerings while I listen to the late records of XTC more than any of the other 1980’s Beat groups. The more I listen the more I love the light lysergic touch of Andy’s harmonic & melodious flourishes & adornments. It’s good to have him back. The title track (starting at 11.10) is a gentle, nostalgic maybe (can that be avoided at our age?), certainly affectionate commentary on the English “oxygen inside our blood”. Ending with the sound of rain “Planet England” is my favourite of the year. Sir Raymond Douglas Davies off of the Kinks can be proud of his influence & legacy.

 

 

Image result for kate rusby philosophers poets and kings reviewWhen this Brexit brouhaha has settled (the English Civil War?) I’m moving 12 miles due West to the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire where, after a hard day’s work for an honest day’s pay, we’ll gather at the Jessica Ennis Memorial Hall & listen to the music of Kate Rusby. I love “the Barnsley Nightingale” & this year’s “Philosophers, Poets & Kings”, her 17th album, continues to showcase her flawless voice & taste in a mix of traditional & modern (an Oasis song!) Folk. Enhanced by the production & tenor guitar of Damien O’Kane it’s a delight & a beauty. Respect is paid to the British Folk Rock legacy with a version of Fairport Convention’s “Crazy Man Michael”, the self-penned “Halt the Wagons”, a commemoration of the Huskar Pit disaster where 26 working children perished, will bring a tear to the most hardened. The sprightly horse opera “Jenny”, an update of the ballad “Creeping Jen” makes the cut here but really any track will do. Kate Rusby is a treasure.

 

 

 

 

2019 saw the welcome & worth the wait return to recording for David Berman. It had been over 10 years since his group, the Silver Jews, had released the last of their six albums of lo-fi, country-tinged indie rock, music that has worn very well over time. Original member Stephen Malkmus was more successful with his other group Pavement while David, with an assortment of musicians, chronicled his good times & bad times with a fine turn of phrase, a sardonic humour & a Pop sensibility which had you singing along with choruses after just a couple of hearings.

 

Image result for david bermanAnd so it is with “Purple Mountains”, a set of songs artfully & honestly crafted, fractured cowboy chords with a little more polish in the production, to get to the point & get its hooks in you. David was obviously not in a good place to write these songs, affected by the death of his mother & estrangement from his wife, despondent probably doesn’t go far enough. Unfortunately just a month after the album’s release he took his own life. For a while the record was a difficult listen, it may have been Berman’s extended suicide note. It’s the quality of the music, songs as good as “All My Happiness Is Gone”, “Snow Is Falling In Manhattan”, “She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger”, that has kept me reaching for the album & appreciating its dark humours. “Storyline Fever” is a jewel, that should have been played on the sort of radio station I would listen to.  

 

 

 

Related imageRoom for just one more. I’m still working my way through Prince’s 6 CD & DVD super deluxe edition of “1999” while the attractive & definitive “G Stands For Go-Betweens: Volume 2” is beyond my limited means so my re-issue of the year is “You’re the Man” by Marvin Gaye. The collection was promoted as a “lost” album from 1972, more than a little disingenuous. Marvin was top of the world Ma after the monumental “What’s Going On” re-defined the possibilities of Soul music as activism. The soundtrack “Trouble Man” (1972) & the intimate, erotic “Let’s Get it On” (1973) confirmed that he was entering his imperial phase. “You’re the Man” collects singles, released & shelved, studio out-takes & collaborative experiments from a time when Marvin was flying high, hesitant & conflicted about what was happening brother & where his music was going.

 

Image result for marvin gaye 1972We get the political, “The World is Rated X” & the title track, both excellent & the personal. “You Are My Special One” would not be out of place on “Let’s Get It On”. It was written & produced, like 3 others here, by talented Motown staff writer Willie Hutch. Two  songs , including the rather wonderful Marvin/Smokey Robinson tune “Symphony”, have had respectful modern re-mixes. A couple more reach back to his pre-“What’s Going On” Pop-Soul sound, he was not going to use them. My selection here is the final track “Checking Out (Double Clutch)”, a deliciously funky jam made with bandleader Hamilton Bohannon. The common denominator is the wonderful voice & thoughtful , soulful sensibility of marvellous Marvin Gaye.  “You’re the Man” documents an interesting period in a great singer’s career. Many of the tracks have appeared on other anthologies but it’s just fine to have them all in one place.

 

 

They’re Gonna Be Big (Joe Brown 2019)

It’s a long-established loosehandlebars tradition that around this time of the year my good friend Joe Brown, bassist of Bam Bam & the Calling & the Gatefolds, points us in the direction of some fine, fine music made in the past 12 months. Joe has a serious family issue on his mind at the moment & while these are his choices the words are mostly mine. If I going to be in a double act then there’s no finer partner than Mr Brown.

 

 

Image result for fontaines dc dogrelFirst up it’s got to be “Dogrel” by Dublin’s Fontaines DC, an instant classic. I  haven’t been as impressed & delighted by a debut album by an Irish band since my hometown boys the Undertones & That Petrol Emotion’s “Manic Pop Thrill” hit the racks. I know more than a little about thoughtful young Irishmen, there are three of them cluttering up my house this Christmas. To hear a group articulate what it is to be young & Irish so excitingly & eloquently is something to take pride in. It’s not so long ago that the members of Fontaines DC were cool, cool kids on the curbstone scene. United by their love of poetry, conversation & US garage-punk music of the 60’s they’re touring the world & raising a ruckus wherever they play.

Related imageComplemented by propulsive yet still melodic guitars the assertive, repetitive Beat poetry lyrics are delivered in declamatory shout-speak by born frontman Grian Chatten. “He spits out, Brits out, only smokes Carrolls” (an Irish brand of ciggie) from “Boys in the Better Land”, everybody in Ireland knows that guy & an atmosphere of “ready steady violence” (Liberty Belle) is a perfect description of a young man’s night out in any city. It was a memorable evening when I saw them play in Belfast, a night when a stinking majority turned England blue. A set encompassing gentrification, greed, hope & hopelessness was the perfect soundtrack. It will be interesting to see where Fontaines DC go from here. I’m waiting & “Dogrel” will be at the front of the stack for a long, long time.

 

 

Image result for murder capital sandinosIt’s been a fine year for music from Dublin. The return of the influential Girl Band after four years away with the uncompromising, tumultuous “The Talkies” was always going to be noteworthy. It was another five-piece group with another debut that really caught my ear. The Murder Capital’s “When I Have Fears” wears its Post-Punk influences proudly. Joy Division, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds & sometimes Echo & the Bunnymen. Why not?

Whether sombre (“How the Streets Adore Me”) or raging (“Feeling Fades”) the album is always dramatic often epic. The raw, personal lyrics accompanied by strange, surprising sounds. This year the M.C. came to my hometown, Derry, to my bar of choice, Sandinos, to promote the launch of the album. It was the Summer, a lunchtime gig. The contrast between this deep, dark, truthful music & the sunlight streaming through the windows made for a unique, affecting experience.

 

 

 

Image result for sleaford mods eton aliveEarlier in the year there was a new Sleaford Mods LP & that’s been a big deal for a while now. “Eton Alive” is the duo’s fifth studio record & things are changing. Andrew Fearn’s sonic designs remain minimalist while certainly incorporating more diversity into the loops (Talking Heads…anyone?). Jason Williamson still does the best line in social super-realism, angry even nihilistic & accurate about life at the sharp end of Austerity Britain. This time around the rants have slowed a little, as a man approaching 50, in a successful band, his concerns are different to those he had 5 years ago. There are songs about consumerism, emotional as well as economic repression, questioning just where the hedonism of his generation has gotten them. “Two lines on the table at a fucking funeral for somebody who got sick of two lines on the table” (“Top It Up”) Boom!

 

More contemplative even anxious (see “Subtraction”) perhaps but the personal is still political & Jason can still turn a disdainful phrase that is concise, often funny & hits exactly where it’s aimed. “Eton Alive” is a damned fine piece of kit. It’s still a world I recognise & live in, it’s a voice we need to hear. In an interview Jason said, “I’m still of the opinion that it’s going to get really bad before it gets better – if it ever gets better.” I was having that conversation just yesterday.

 

Er…is this on? I think that I can safely say that Joe & myself are hardly experts on the British Grime scene. However when I hear Slowthai’s “Doorman”, spitting lyrics over an insistent backing, I hear the influence of Sleaford Mods. Nominated, like Idles & Fontaines DC, for the meaningless Mercury Prize, he delivered the televised performance of the year. The BBC couldn’t blank the “Fuck Boris” tee shirt, chose to ignore Slowthai swinging a dummy severed head of our soon to be Prime Minister, then the vapid host, Lauren Laverne, immediately distanced her employer from such shenanigans. Too late, he’d made his point.

 

Is Rock And Roll The New Bowls? (Danny McCahon 2019)

It’s always a great pleasure to receive the end-of-year reflections of Danny McCahon. This year he provided the words to enhance the sights & sounds of a comprehensive curation of the vibrant 1970’s & 80’s music emerging from his locale, Inverclyde, Scotland. Danny was a face on the scene back then & he still gets himself out of the house to check on the good stuff that’s around today.  

 

“I hope I die before I get old,” sang Roger Daltrey about his generation, and it seems my generation has found the cure for getting old – get the band back together.

I spent the vast majority of 2019 as a 60 year old. Back in 1965 when Pete Townsend penned that anthemic line for The Who that would have been considered well and truly over the hill – by the raucous mods causing mayhem in the towns and cities of the UK, anyway. A time for white flannels, blue blazers and a cream tea after a sedate game down the bowling club.

My generation of Punk Rockas who followed in the path of rebellion hewn by Pete, Roger and their mates doesn’t seem to be ready for the Werther’s Originals just yet.

In the early months of this year, for a reason I have yet to discover, my home town got all reflective about the local music scene of the seventies and eighties with the upshot being that one of the most successful outfits conceived in the area got back together to play their first gig since the early eighties.

 

 

Image result for the cuban heels glasgowThe Cuban Heels were formed in Greenock in 1977 by school mates Davie Duncan and Laurie Cuffe with John Milarky who had wriggled out of Johnny and the Self Abusers before they morphed into Simple Minds. Signed to Virgin after a line up shuffle, they released a series of critically acclaimed singles and one album then disappeared. When they resurfaced for this year’s show it was obvious the fans hadn’t forgotten them and the four-piece featuring founder members Cuffe and Milarky stormed through an energetic, high-paced set to a full house. There was none of that “here’s one off our new album” nonsense in this set. No, it was all the hits and the fans’ favourites including 1981 single, Walk on Water.

 

 

When it comes to “The Sound of Middle Aged Scotland” 2019 newcomers Fat Cops have to appear on the list. Featuring Glasgow’s most popular moptop Robert Hodgens, known to the wider world as Bobby Bluebell, the band is full of people my mum might say are ‘old enough to better’ including on keyboard, J.K. Rowling’s other half & comedian Al Murray, “The Pub Landlord”, stepping out from behind the bar to sit behind the drums.

Image result for fat cops bandA couple of packed-out introductory live gigs in Glasgow were followed by appearances around Scotland and the audiences got it. ‘It’ in this instance being fun. The band could be accused of showing off its record collection in its set of originals, but what a record collection. And by the time they crank out the opening bars to their debut single, “Hands Up! Get Down!” everybody is ready to do just that.

 

Back in 77 when The Cuban Heels were talking about putting a band together, there was already a three-piece striding out in Cuban heels around the country. The Jolt, with their sharp suits and punky sound, were often referred to as Scotland’s answer to The Jam – they even ended up signed to Polydor – but by the time the second generation of mods mounted their scooters in 1979 all the members of The Jolt had moved off in different directions.

Around the same time, like in the rest of the country, young punks would gather in the record shops of central Glasgow. Graffiti and Bruce’s were my favourites, but others used Listen – a well-established local chain where I had bought the first Ramones album and Anarchy in the UK before I knew punk was a thing. One of the staff at Listen went by the name of Mickey Rooney and while we were all Clash mad, to my eyes Mickey always had a Velvet Underground thing going on. A few years later, after I’d gone and done some other stuff, Mickey came on to my radar again with his band The Primevals, Glasgow’s own garage punks.

 

 

Image result for the elevator mood jim doakYes, there is a point to this reminiscing. This year Jim Doak from The Jolt and Mickey from The Primevals released a disc of bedroom doodlings under the banner of The Elevator Mood and it has been a highlight of my car listening in the closing months of the year. Veering close to jazz at times and evoking pictures of Brian Eno’s laboratory at others, with psychedelic vibes rubbing grooves with punk rhythms, this is a DIY rock record made by two pals who’ve spent their lives listening to everything and anything, absorbing the good bits and sharing their influences.

There are many highlights on the 13-track disc and “Flower (for Matthew Bloomer)” is one that gets my toes tapping every time.

Covers Of The Rolling Stones (Aftermath)

In April 1966 the Rolling Stones released “Aftermath”, their 4th (well, in the UK anyway) LP, a marked departure from the previous three in that all 14 tracks were composed by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. The repertoire of every British Beat Boom group was a mix of Rock & Roll & R&B favourites, often new US songs were quickly covered & became bigger hits than the original on both sides of the Atlantic. After a couple of years this was a little played out & a second wave of groups (the Kinks, the Who) included talents who, like Lennon & McCartney, wrote their own songs. “Aftermath” came between “19th Nervous Breakdown” & “Paint It Black”, self-penned smashes. Now there were these fresh potential hits. Just like new LP’s by those Beatles & that Bob Dylan there was a queue, a long one, to cover these songs.

 

 

Image result for chris farlowe thinkChris Farlowe had an inside line to the new songs by Mick & Keith. In 1965 the singer signed to the new Immediate record label founded by Andrew Loog Oldham, the publicist-turned-Stones manager, by their side in the rapid elevation from “England’s Newest Hitmakers” to one of the biggest groups in the world. Farlowe’s version of “Think” was released as a single in January 1966, four months before “Aftermath”. Produced by Oldham, Jagger & Richards & isn’t that the Stones’ singer on the closing backing vocals, Farlowe’s strong mature voice set off with a brassy, sassy, Soul arrangement. There’s no doubt that Chris had one of the most distinct voices around but his debut LP,  “14 Things to Think About”, is a little heavy on big ballads that had been done better elsewhere rather than the bluesy Soul to which he was more suited. “Think” made the Top 40 in the UK, next time around another “Aftermath” cover & he hit big.

 

Image result for chris farlowe mick jagger“Out of Time” is one of the strongest tracks on “Aftermath”, Brian’s light, imaginative marimba introduction leading into Mick’s restrained vocal & an instantly memorable chorus. Chris, produced by Jagger, gave it the Big Beat treatment & made the UK #1 spot in July 1966. It was perhaps an over reliance on the Stones connection, an easy option, that prevented Farlowe consolidating such a success. There were three more 45’s by Jagger-Richards, “Ride On Baby”, “Yesterday’s Papers” & “Paint It Black” which all missed the Top 30. He got first crack at Mike d’Abo’s “Handbags & Gladrags”, a great song which sure sounded like a hit but wasn’t. When Immediate folded in 1970 he became a voice for hire with Prog bands Colosseum & Atomic Rooster. In 1966 groups performing original material was the thing, that’s why the Stones moved away from the R&B covers. British singers like Joe Cocker & Rod Stewart were appreciated for their individual interpretations of discerningly selected material. This came a little too late for Chris Farlowe.

 

 

Related imageTime was when the Searchers were bigger than the Stones. After an apprenticeship which, like the Beatles, included a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, they were caught up in the Mersey Mania &, under the guidance of producer Tony Hatch at Pye Records, 3 of their first 4 singles were UK #1 hits (the 4th “Sugar & Spice” was only #2). The departure of bassist Tony Jackson, lead vocals on the earliest hits, had no real effect & with 3 US Top 20 songs in 1964 the group were part of the British Invasion. Their harmonies & John McNally’s 12-string jangle were an influence on the upcoming Folk Rockers. “When You Walk in the Room” was a perfect Pop record & there were a few of those around in 1964. A dependence on other people’s songs in an industry where you were as only as good as your last record meant that it was difficult to keep up.

 

Image result for searchers take it or leave itAfter 1965’s “Goodbye My Love” the Searchers were no longer hitting the UK Top 10 & when drummer/harmoniser Chris Curtis, on & off stage a strong personality, left the group they lost a little individuality. They were looking for more modern material but covering a Stones song was still a little surprising. “Take It or Leave It”, gentler than the original & pleasant enough, just failed to reach the UK Top 30. Subsequent singles, in a variety of styles, made less impression & the Searchers were finding gigs on the cabaret circuit. Later these progenitors of Power Pop found a new, deserved lease of life with Sire Records. I caught a show of theirs in the early 80’s before an appreciative young audience. They did all the old hits, “Needles & Pins” was demanded twice, an evening of melodic Mersey Beat was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

 

 

Related image“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”. Andrew Loog Oldham’s Situationist mischief positioned the group as the evil twins of the Beatles. Long hair, being rude to journalists & peeing in public was rebellious enough but the band’s recreational drug use made them a target for the Sunday tabloids & Scotland Yard. After a raid in February 1967 the following June Mick & Keith were sentenced to 3 months & a year in prison respectively. Meanwhile Brian had been charged with possession in May. The Who, prompted by Pete Townshend, pledged their support by rush-releasing a double A-side of Jagger-Richards songs, the first, they said, of a monthly series for as long as the pair faced doing time.

 

Image result for the who under my thumb

 

“Under My Thumb”, possibly the most misogynistic of the “Aftermath” songs (there’s a few but the Stones disliked everybody not just women) was covered first by Wayne Gibson, a favourite in the Soul clubs up North & finally a hit in 1974. In the US rock & roller Del Shannon made a pretty good stab at it. Released on June 30th 1967 the Who’s version is a rush propelled by Keith Moon’s drums while, with bassist John Entwistle away on honeymoon, Pete plays everything else including those great stabs of fuzz guitar. The single, coupled with “The Last Time” was both the first & last in the series as in July Keith’s conviction was overturned & Mick given a conditional discharge. Still, it’s the thought that counts & it was a pretty great thought.

 

 

Related imageOK, there’s room for one more & this is from 1979, hardly jumping on the Stones bandwagon but my what a track. Ellen Foley had duetted with someone called Meatloaf on “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” from something called “Bat Out of Hell” which I believe was quite a big deal. Like many attractive, intelligent American women she was an Anglophile & chose two experienced British musicians to produce her debut LP “Night Out”. Ian Hunter & Mick Ronson were touring & recording together after leaving successful bands, Mott the Hoople & the Spiders From Mars respectively, & they did a fine job.

 

Image result for ellen foley mick ronson

Ronson, Foley, Jones, Hunter.

Mick Ronson (that’s the great…) was no stranger to a crunchy Keith Richards riff,  there’s  “Rebel Rebel”, “Jean Genie” & that’s just a start. “Stupid Girl” is a full-on Glam assault & it’s great to hear. In fact Ronno’s guitar flourishes & perfect solos allied to Hunter’s attachment to a bit of Rock & Roll drama makes for a most listenable album. Ellen became romantically involved with Mick Jones off of the Clash & on “Spirit of St Louis” (1981), recorded after “Sandanista”, she was backed by the band. With 6 Strummer/Jones songs included that’s definitely one to check out.

Too Old To Die Young (Frannie Moran 2019)

We are honoured to welcome a new contributor to the blog. Frannie Moran is a man of fine good humour who is most passionate about the things that matter to him, his family, his friends, music & an esoteric Irish sport which may or may not involve the use of sticks, I’m not sure. I am sure though that this will not be the last we’ll hear from him because when this good old boy gets going…

 

I’m nearly 60 years of age, seen a lot, listened to a lot, felt a lot, unfelt a lot too. Had my fair share of ups and downs but the one thing that has kept me going through this adventure known to most of us as Life is the music. The music man, to paraphrase The Grateful Dead, even in times of great depression ” The Music Never Stopped ” So, I have been kindly asked by loosehandlebars to pen a few words regarding my musical highlights of 2019 and this where the headline becomes relevant. I for the most part play safe, I am slow to succumb to the charms (or otherwise) of new sounds. I gathered up a select group of favourite artists between the ages of 12 and 19 and like a faithful puppy dog I have remained forever loyal to these guys.

 

 

Image result for van morrison the prophet speaksThis brings me along nicely to the most recent release by Van Morrison entitled “3 Chords And The Truth”. Now I worship at the altar of Van and have done for a long, long time. His recorded output over the last 15 years or so has been decidedly patchy notwithstanding the fact that there are certain gems to be found on every record, “Behind The Ritual” from “Keep It Simple” a fine example. but at last we have a Van record whilst not exactly replicating the brilliance of “Moondance”, “Veedon Fleece” or “Into The Music”, it keeps the listener engrossed throughout it’s 70 odd minutes. Maybe it’s the presence of Jay Berliner, the guitarist from all those years ago on “Astral Weeks”, on a number of tracks that evokes the wave of nostalgia that I felt on hearing the album. This is the first ” modern ” Van the Man record that I have repeatedly played since acquiring it and on “Dark Night Of The Soul”, well, what can I say, all the old magic is there, goose pimples down the arms, always a good sign.

 

 

Related imageWe lost J.J. Cale a few years back and a little light went out in my life, cue 1977 and a drunken excursion to a wee village called Ballycastle about 18 miles from my home town of Ballina, Co.Mayo, into O’Connors pub and I knew Laurence would have something if not new at least something worth hearing and true to form he put  “Troubadour” by the aforementioned J.J. on the turntable, now Cale had been recording from maybe 1970 or thereabouts but I had never heard of him, instantly “Hey Baby” had me transfixed, I became a lifelong fan so imagine my delight when I heard that there was to be an album of unreleased tracks to be with us devotees fairly shortly and sure enough along came “Stay Around”. J.J. never messed with the formula and this one proved an instant delight. Laid back, country/bluesy grooves, like the man never left us and “Winter Snow” in particular epitomises the man’s understated brilliance

 

Image result for rory gallagher statueTo my chagrin it was a very dull year for me on the live front, circumstances, weddings, bar mitzvahs, christenings, ya know the drill, family commitments, things that cost freakin’ money. Fortunately, since 2002, in my adopted home town of Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal (pop 2,299), every June Bank Holiday, a festival celebrates the life & music of our favourite son. The death of Rory Gallagher in August 1995 was a bleak day for lovers of great Blues-based, guitar-driven Rock & Roll. His “Live In Europe” (1972) was, for the young teenager, a psychic blast, primal in a way Glam Rock could never be. From humble beginnings the efforts of  a group of young, enterprising lads now attracts crowds of up to 12,000, Blues enthusiasts from across the world, to the oldest town in Ireland to hear Rory tributes & bands of reputation playing their own music. It has become a monumental success and has a major artistic and socio-economic influence on the town.

 

 

Image result for ballyshannon rory gallagher festival 2019From 2002 to my retirement in 2011, I policed this event along with my Garda colleagues. This my friends was hardly a chore, never had to make an arrest, the people who attend always gladden my heart, it’s a sorta Hippie experience, I would’ve done it for nothing. I have met and made great friends with people from all over the world who like myself were there for the music and the spirit of the great man, Rory Gallagher. That & copious amounts of fine Guinness! I have been able to see Mick Taylor, Wilko Johnson, Eric Bell & many more in the Big Top. A three day ticket will set you back 75 Euros, that my friends is  value for money. This year the headliners were Wishbone Ash, a band I have loved since I heard the opening bars of “Blind Eye”. These days it’s sorta Andy Powell and associates, didn’t really matter, they are all supreme musicians. For an hour and three quarters they tore up the place. Like most phone clips this does not really do them justice but believe me, they rocked.

 

The pubs are packed, live bands of the highest calibre play every night & the gigs are free, yes free, sure where would ya get it !! Next June two legends, Walter Trout & Horslips are returning & we look forward to the first appearance of Eric Gales. As always there’ll be fun, frolics & some mighty impressive rock n roll so do yourselves a wee favour, get over to Ballyshannon next June Bank Holiday weekend. Here’s a taster from this year.

 

 

Well folks, that’s about it, don’t get me wrong, of course I listen to new music, all forms really and I’m really digging 70s roots reggae at the moment but as the saying goes ” Ya cannot teach an old dog new tricks ” or can ya? Ye all keep on rockin’, thanks for reading.
OK! It’s everybody over to Mr Moran’s in 2020. Bring your tent ‘cos I’ve got first dibs on his spare bedroom. That’s all you need as I’ve heard that Frannie has a very well stocked drinks cabinet.

 

 

 

Doing Our Thing On The Friendship Train (Soul December 1969)

The #1 song on “The Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations” (I wonder what that means) through December 1969 was a valedictory single by Tamla Motown’s most successful artists, indeed one of the biggest groups of the decade. The label were making plans for the 1970’s & those plans included separating Diana Ross from the Supremes.

 

 

Image result for supremes someday we'll be together advertIn fact “Someday We’ll Be Together Again” was slated to be the first solo single by Ms Ross. The Detroit trio had enjoyed 11 previous #1 hits on the Pop chart (you probably know them all) but 1969’s releases had not proved to be as popular & that’s no way to say goodbye. “Someday..” was the final 45 to have “Diana Ross & the Supremes” on the label & it added to that list of chart toppers. The Supremes performing “Baby Love” were the first young, stylish African-American women I had ever seen on UK TV. The bespoke hits, provided by Holland-Dozier-Holland, just kept on coming. In 1967 the Modtastic “The Happening” was a sure fire smash by international superstars then troubled & dissatisfied Florence Ballard was ungraciously replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Backing vocals on the records were increasingly provided by session singers & next time out the psychedelicised “Reflections” had Diana’s name as first billing.

 

Related imageDiana, Mary & Cindy, all gussied up & glittery, made their customary appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” to promote “Someday…”. It’s poised & polished but the performance lacks producer Johnny Bristol’s ad-libbed interjections of encouragement which added grit, depth & drama to the record. The song is a remake remodel of Bristol’s 1961 original recording with his duo Johnny & Jackey, a much simpler, almost Ska-like affair. It’s an appropriate conclusion to such a remarkable run of success. Diana’s solo debut was coming along the following year & there were rather hopeful plans to make her into a Hollywood star. Mary Wilson continued as the only original member of the Supremes & there’s a run of memorable 45’s to come. Despite all the personal positioning & politics between the women & the label there’s no doubt that the Supremes were not the same without Diana & equally no doubt that they were sensational.

 

 

Image result for gladys knight friendship trainAt #6 on the chart was another Motown act, another female with her name at the front of the group. Gladys Knight & the Pips were an established name, particularly for their impeccably choreographed live performances, before they signed for the label in 1966. Producer Norman Whitfield made good use of Gladys’ urgent delivery for “Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me” (a big UK hit), “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” & “The End of the Road” but she never shook the feeling that Motown were not providing the material & promotion that others received. The fantastic, funky “Friendship Train”, assertive & affirming, a different “calling out across the nation” this time, written by Whitfield & Detroit stalwart Barrett Strong, is certainly one from the top shelf. Beautiful Gladys & the equally attractive Pips sang the song when they were the star turn on the first syndicated episode of “Soul Train” in October 1971. A fine start to the show’s 35 year long run.

 

Image result for gladys knight buddah records advertGladys Knight & the Pips remained with Motown when the corporation moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. Their records continued to make the Top 10 of the R&B chart. The album featured Gladys’ strong, emotional vocal interpretations of popular ballads. 1971’s “Standing Ovation” included “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, “Fire & Rain”, “The Long & Winding Road” & others while the dead-stone Northern Soul classic “No One Could Love You More” was overlooked. In the final week of 1972 the group released “Neither One of Us (Wants to be the One to Say Goodbye)” a massive hit, their farewell to Motown having refused a new contract & finding the love they deserved at Buddah Records. In 1974 “Neither…” was awarded the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or a Group. Gladys Knight & the Pips were already on a journey to even bigger things aboard the “Midnight Train to Georgia” which won Best R&B Performance on the same night. Woo-Hoo!

 

 

Image result for betty everett been a long timeFurther down those Cash Box listings for December 13th 1969, at #41, was a track by a singer who had been enjoying a revival in her fortunes this year. Betty Everett had left Mississippi for Chicago in 1957 while still a teenager. Her biggest success came in 1964 with the vibrant super-catchy “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” while the more atmospheric “You’re No Good”, “Getting Mighty Crowded” & duets with Jerry Butler established her accomplishments across a range of styles. Betty & Jerry were the crossover stars of Vee Jay, an R&B label whose diversification led them to having the 4 Seasons & the Beatles, the biggest acts around on their roster. The logistics of pressing & distributing truckloads of vinyl & a mountain of cash in the hands of an owner with a weakness for the casinos in Vegas became a recipe for financial chaos & bankruptcy. It would be some time before Betty’s career was back on solid ground.

 

Image result for retro styleFinding a home at UNI “There’ll Come A Time” (1969) is a showcase for Betty’s mature talents. The slower songs aim for & come pretty close to the sophistication of Dionne Warwick while distinctive Chicagoan arrangements, sweeping string & punchy brass, keeps it soulful & the quality high. The title track, co-written by Eugene Record off of the Chi-Lites, put Betty Everett back on the R&B chart. “Been A Long Time”, not on the LP, was plucked from the “Ice On Ice” LP by her friend Jerry Butler in partnership with young writing/production team Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. This fresh, talented pair were breaking on through & this modern uptempo treat is yet another sign that their time was coming.

 

Well, this is the final monthly selection from the R&B charts of 1969. It’s been nothing but a pleasure revisiting these 50 year old tunes, truly from a Golden Age of Soul. My only problem has been that every month great tracks haven’t make the cut. I’ve not taken a look at the charts for the new decade but I’m pretty sure it will be the same mix of classics, rediscoveries & others that are new to me. Looking forward to that.