Temptations Bout To Get You (Soul March 1969)

`OK, the Billboard R&B chart from 50 years ago. The first two weeks of the month found James Brown, “Soul Brother Number One”, “Mr Dynamite” or, my favourite,” the Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk”, enjoying yet another #1 record. “Give It Up Or Turnit Loose” marked the 8th time he had made the top of the R&B chart & there were to be 9 more,  incredible. The next chart toppers were The Temptations & “Runaway Child Running Wild” was their 9th single to do so. A striking thing about the listings for the 22nd of March was that at #2 was a singer who had played a major part in the previous success of the Motown vocal group.

 

 

Image result for david ruffin magazine coverThe authentic star power of David Ruffin, a man comfortable in the spotlight, & the dramatic swirling “My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)”. David was fired by the Temptations in June 1968. The story of the split has been told by many sides (books of varying quality, an awful TV movie) & he never comes out too well in the telling. Money, drugs & ego are all well & good but do tend to be a volatile mix. Wanting to alter the name of the group to “David Ruffin & the…” was never going to fly with the 4 other members who had all been Temptations longer than he had. He was the featured vocalist on “My Girl”, “I Wish It Would Rain”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” & others you know, so that’s who he is, a great talent & he had made his contribution.

 

Image result for david ruffin magazineAfter an awkward standoff between David, who announced he was fronting a new group, & Tamla Motown blocking appearances by them, he signed to the label as a solo artist. The whistles & bells were pulled out for the debut single & “My Whole World…” is from the top rank of Motown Chartbusters. The subsequent LP is a great showcase for Ruffin’s unique rough-hewn voice, earthy, still sweet & never too harsh. There are plenty of echoes of past glories, songs & stories of thwarted & lost loves, though not by Smokey Robinson or Norman Whitfield. The label’s fabled quality control could have insisted on a little more work on them. Things were changing in Detroit, Marvin & Stevie were taking control in the studio, Whitfield & the Temptations had their “Psychedelic Soul”. A little extra was needed now & the next 45 from the record, “I’ve Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved”, was not as successful.

 

 

Eugene Record had been plying his musical trade in Chicago for a decade. His group, the Hi-Lites became the Chi-Lites & the patronage of producer/label head Carl Davis placed his compositions with other artists from the Windy City. Eugene had co-written & produced the hit instrumental “Soulful Strut” for Young Holt Unlimited & March 1969 was the month that things really started going right for him. At #10 “Give It Away” was the first hit for the Chi-Lites. They were able to maintain this success &, a couple of years later, were right up there with those new groups from Philadelphia. This wasn’t the only reason for celebration. A couple of rungs higher, at #8, was another of Eugene’s songs.

 

Image result for betty everett there'll come a timeBetty Everett made enough of an impression between 1963-65 for her label Vee Jay to issue a “Very Best of…” LP. “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)”, that’s the one that everyone knows but there were other notable ones, popular Soul dance hits, delicious duets with Jerry Butler. Vee Jay’s financial troubles left her stranded & it wasn’t until 1969 that she could do it properly again. The lush, swaying “There’ll Come A Time” & the rest of an album packed with good tunes & arrangements, shows Betty to be assured, effortless & versatile. She may not have been as distinctive as some of the more prominent female singers of the day but she did everything with class & caught your attention every time.

 

 

The highest new entry this week was “I’ll Try Something New”, the second single from the high profile (a TV special!) collaboration by Diana Ross & the Supremes & those Temptations again, in at #23. There were other entries from big hitters Gladys Knight & the Pips, Aretha Franklin & Sam & Dave. You got me when it comes to Debbie Taylor, Vernon Garrett, Laura Greene & Johnny McKinnis but I’m getting on it. All very good I’m sure. In at #44 was another enduring, talented vocal group & I never miss a chance to listen to the Dells.

 

Image result for the dells hallways of my mindAfter having their first hit in 1956 the five piece Dells barely troubled the charts while establishing a reputation as a live act. Signing with the Chicago label Chess they were matched with songwriter/producer Bobby Miller, the outstanding, innovative arranger Charles Stepney & their fortunes changed. The guys in the backroom brought the best out of the powerful baritone of Marvin Junior, the startling range, from tenor to falsetto, of Johnny Carter & three others who had known just how the backing vocals went since the days of Doo-Wop.  The uptempo, uplifting “Hallways of My Mind”, an intoxicating Chi-town mix of brass, strings & voices, is from a chain of fine records, Soul belters, last dance smoochers, imaginative takes on the  classics. Whatever the Dells turned their voices to worked. I have an e-friend who rates the Dells alongside any of the great American vocal groups & she’s not usually wrong about most things.

 

A couple of years later Bobby Miller moved across to Tamla Motown to ride shotgun on the next record by David Ruffin. David had become something of a problem for the label &, in 1971, a perfectly good collection of songs, all sequenced & with a catalogue number, was shelved. (It wasn’t released for over 30 years). The resulting eponymously titled LP, his third, matched his voice with tailor-made material that did justice to Ruffin’s growing maturity. See what I did there, I finished this thing by bringing it back to the beginning. I don’t just make this stuff up as I go along y’know, I said I don’t just…

 

 

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Multi Kulti (African Music)

New delights on the Y-tube are harder to come by when you have been looking as long as I have. That’s no big problem, there’s a pile, a substantial one, of remarkable uploads by great artists that I am happy to revisit. A current time travelling favourite sets the controls to the 3rd of December 1978, the night I saw Peter Tosh play at the Manchester Apollo & I am able to listen to that very concert…lovely. This week, searching for a song that got a lot of play round our end, I found it…

 

 

George Darko, high quality & in good form, with a couple of infectious songs including “Hi-Life Time” the sound of the Summer of 1984. A fine inclusion on our dance party tape alongside Grace Jones’ “Pull Up to the Bumper” & “Just Be Good To Me” by the SOS Band. There was a lot of African music around in the 1980’s. It was marketed as “World Music” but I was & still am with the late, great Bill Hicks when it came to those pettifoggers, “Quit putting a goddamn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet”. Good music can come from anywhere though probably not France (joke!). South Africa’s Bhundu Boys, backed by DJ Jon Peel, played everywhere. We saw the two Nigerian superstars, Fela Kuti closed a Glastonbury festival with his amazing troupe of dancers & musicians while we were definitely under dressed in Hammersmith when London’s West African community put on their finery to welcome King Sunny Ade.  George Darko made his records in Germany, Burger-Highlife, an immigrant style & fashion. He was from Ghana & we were learning more about that country.

 

Image result for george darko highlife timeMy friend Mitchell & I worked at a small warehouse with three Ghanaians, all good people. Paul was urbane, had lived in Accra, Paris & London, a citizen of the world, avuncular Ben asked my mate to marry one of his family so that she could stay in the UK, Mitch declined. Emmanuel, Mani, was a gentle, kindly barrel of a man, lunchtimes were filled with his stories of witchcraft in soccer, the time James Brown came to town (Soul to Soul 1971), sharing his wife’s delicious & generous portions of fufu. They invited me to a Saturday night hop with a star Pop singer from back home. Myself & three friends rocked up to a community centre in Stockwell, South London & were welcomed by our workmates & their friends, which was like everybody in the place. The music was fine, drink was taken, we didn’t go on stage to thrust money down the singer’s shirt &, thanks to the attention paid to my blonde companion, we were never short of dance partners. Good music with good people is a fine time wherever you are in the world. There was enough difference about the Ghanaian Pop concert for it to be a new experience.

 

 

Image result for youssou n'dour posterI can’t check for every African artist who caught our attention, that would be a list but I must feature two whose work included outstanding records, among the best of the decade from any continent. From Senegal Youssou N’Dour, with his group Super Etoile de Dakar, was the young star of the Sahel & beyond.  It says here that “Immigres” came to the UK via Virgin in 1988, I must have had the earlier French release…get me! The 4 track LP is a wonderful blend of Afro-Latin drum rhythms, the fluid guitar of Jimi Mbaye & vibrant brass, a setting for Youssou’s affecting, emotional vocals. I’m not familiar with the Wolof language but I believe the songs are about the African diaspora in Europe. Whatever, the songs are perfect & Youssou N’Dour was on his way to a long successful career & to becoming the most celebrated artist from that continent.

“Immigres”, recorded in Paris, received some criticism for its use of synthesizers. These are young, creative, imaginative & ambitious musicians enjoying the tools available in a modern recording studio. What are they supposed to do, bang some sticks together? Have a word with yourself.

 

 

Image result for salif keita posterIt was the local library on the Walworth Road, up near the Elephant & Castle, you know it, that put me on to Malian music. A record by the fantastically named Super Rail Band Orchestre Du Buffet Hôtel De La Gare De Bamako sounded like the most fun to be had in any railway station in the world & I taped it before returning the album (Libraries! Cassettes!, jeez the olden days eh?). Salif Keita, an albino ostracised by his family, started with the Rail Band before achieving success with Les Ambassadeurs. Political unrest forced a move out of Bamako, the capital of Mali, & in 1984 Salif settled in Paris where, three years later, he recorded the LP “Soro”.

 

“Soro” takes all the modern technology it can get. Senegalese producer Ibrahima Sylla & French arranger Jean-Philippe Rykiel employ swirling synthesized keyboards to enhance traditional instruments & modern grooves. It takes a master to impose himself on such a strong framework  & the Golden Voice of Mali is up to the task, forceful or beguiling as the material demands. “Soro” is the sound of modern Africans & “Soureba” still hits the spot every time.

 

In 1988 we had such a good night at a Don Cherry concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank, a few beers in the busy bar of the National Film Theatre, a comfortable & acoustically superior auditorium, that we decided to take a chance on the other gigs there by international stars. We were the only ones in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s audience unaware that the Pakistani Qawwali singer was already a superstar. His unique vocal range, his ability to convey the rapture & devotion of his religion made us believers for the evening, in awe of such a talent. At the same place, the same time just a week later we were beguiled by the London debut of a guitarist who made us consider just where much of the music we listened to & loved had originated.

 

Image result for ali farka toureHad Ali Farka Toure, another Malian musician, ever heard John Lee Hooker? Don’t know, don’t care. Another outstanding singer, his stripped back music, electric guitar & accompanist Amadou Cisse on the dried gourd Calabash percussion, was mesmeric, almost drone-like, still vibrant & absolutely engaging. It sounded like the African Blues & great Blues at that. How had such sonic transatlantic conveyance happened? Could we be hearing the source of a sound that we regard as American or is there a universal rhythm & feeling that humans will embrace & express wherever the heck in the world we happen to be? Mind blown!

 

Of course I’m aware that when it came to African music I was a tourist . I didn’t know my Amharic from my Igbo, any of the languages & the cultural nuances. I do know that the Rhythm is gonna get you & I was got. The purity if Youssou’s voice, Salif’s grandeur, George Darko getting me out on the floor was proving to be of more interest than much Western music of the time. All I have to do now is click here & it’s the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 28th of March 1988 & Ali Farka Toure is playing a great concert. Oh Yes!

Different Strokes For Different Folks (Soul February 1969)

Last month’s post on the Billboard R&B chart of 50 years ago was such a blast to write & hang about with. Spoilt (or is it spoiled?) for choice there were songs that had been favourites for all that time, other winners that I had discovered later & ones that had been forgotten or missed. I’m sure that moving it forward a month to February will prove to be just as rewarding. (Spoiler – it does, or I would be wasting our time here).

 

Tyrone Davis had his moment at #1 at the beginning of the month before being overtaken by Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”, the first of 3 of that multi-talented group’s songs to top both the Pop & the R&B charts. When I listen to them I’m still delighted & now a little surprised that such immaculate, innovative, positive music, up there with the best of its time, became so widely popular. The attraction of this archive is more than nostalgia, something was happening, Soul music knew what was going on & each chart, all the way down to number 50, is packed with creative, exciting records.

 

 

Image result for johnnie taylor take care of your homeworkAt #2 is Johnnie Taylor, the wonderfully named “Philosopher of Soul”, with “Take Care Of Your Homework”. 1968 had been a terrible year for his Stax record label & its hometown Memphis. The death in a plane crash of its major star Otis Redding hit the company & the music world hard. The Lorraine Motel was used by artists visiting the studio, in April the assassination there of Martin Luther King was a tragedy that shook the world. The sale of their distributor/supporter Atlantic Records got messy & Stax lost control of their back catalogue. The 3 million copies sold by Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” album was a major boost to a label that needed one but before that Johnnie’s hit single “Who’s Making Love” kept the label in the game & showed that there was still talent at the East McLemore Avenue studio.

 

Related imageTaylor had made some great 45’s with the team of Isaac Hayes & Dave Porter. They were busy with their own albums & a new trio of writers calling themselves We Three provided Johnnie with “Who’s Making Love” a story of playing away & paying the price, his biggest hit yet & the first of 17 straight Top 20 R&B hits. “Take Care of Your Homework” is more of the same, a forceful vocal with a classic Stax backline of the immaculate Booker T & the MG’s with the blaring Memphis Horns…tasty! Johnnie kept up with changing styles & tastes & was back at #1 in 1976 with “Disco Lady. He never really made much impression in the UK but any “Best of…” selection will include a couple of songs you know & a whole lot more that you should know.

 

 

“Cissy Strut”, the only instrumental in the Top 10 (at #9),  is the opening track from the debut album by the Meters, a glorious gumbo of rhythm & groove by the house band on so much good music from down south in New Orleans. Further down, in the lower reaches of the Top 30 there are 4 non-vocal tracks in succession. Young-Holt Unlimited had their last week on the chart with “Soulful Strut” as had Jimmy McGriff whose Hammond organisation Soul-Jazz was straight from the fridge. Cliff Nobles & Co were an odd one. “Switch It On” was a galloping variation on their big hit “The Horse”, Cliff was the group’s singer & didn’t feature on the songs that sold. Then there was this little beauty.

 

Image result for hugh masekela riotHugh Masekela’s coming to America, from South Africa via London, was ostensibly to further his musical education. Already a prominent musician back home the deteriorating political situation after the massacre of 69 people in Sharpeville led to his friends & supporters getting him the flip out of Joburg. At the start of 1967 his trumpet solo for the Byrds on “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star” was as cool as it gets. As his own music assimilated his new environs he incorporated R&B & Pop into his African Jazz rhythms. A partnership with his producer/friend Stewart Levine brought, in 1968, “Grazing in the Grass” to #1 on the Pop charts.

 

Image result for hugh masekela 1969With such a background Masekela was bound to be affected by the struggle for civil rights in the USA. Throughout his life there was always a political dimension to his music whether instrumental or vocal. 1969’s album “Masekela” included a “Blues For Huey”, at the time Huey P Newton, a founder of the Black Panther Party, was imprisoned on charges which were later dismissed. “Mace & Grenades” & “Riot”, released together as a single, were commentaries on events in Vietnam & the USA. What a rhythm “Riot” is, the repeated guitar motif underpinning Hugh’s distinctive trumpet playing. In Jamaica Keith Hudson produced a fine Reggae version while just last year Earl Sweatshirt’s dense & personal “Some Rap Songs” finds some resolution with a song by a man close enough to his family to be “Uncle” Hugh. “Riot”, built to last.

 

 

The highest new entry of the week is “My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)” the debut solo single by David Ruffin, the former Temptation. Another time for David, maybe next month. In at #47 was Edwin Starr, another from the Motown roster, who was enjoying his return to the chart after 3 years away. “25 Miles” retains its impact 50 years on & plays over the opening scene of “Bad Times at El Royale”, a smart move to get you interested in a smart new movie.

 

Image result for edwin starr 25 milesEdwin’s early records with the Detroit label Ric-Tic were so much part of that city’s trademark sound that I could not have been the only one to have assumed that he was already with the Tamla Motown organisation. “S.O.S.” & “Headline News” were essentials in any DJ’s  set in mid-60’s UK. “25 Miles” took such liberties with Wilsoon Pickett’s 1967 track “Mojo Mama” that the songwriting credits were adjusted accordingly. Edwin’s forceful vocal matched to that driving Motown beat made for an irresistible mix. While this mini-skirt packed clip is as Mod As F… the audio isn’t the best. You can hear the full power of the song by clicking this. “25 Miles” put Edwin’s name back in the frame & he took his chance. On the opening track of his next record he asked a question, gave the answer that we all knew was the right one & found himself an enduring worldwide hit. “War! What is it good for ? Absolutely Nothing! Say it again y’all”.

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.

 

 

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.