Back For The Weekend (Wreckless Eric/Len Bright Combo)

My musical weekend began on Thursday evening with a rip-roaring session on BBC 6Music by the Len Bright Combo. The band were using their stint for Marc Riley, off of the Fall, as a rehearsal for their one-off comeback gig the following night at the Lexington on the Pentonville Road. You know it, the nice looking pub just up the road from the Angel. The iPlayer & the “listen again” facility offered by the Beeb is undoubtedly a useful tool. For an organization which is paid for by my & my fellow countrypersons’ hard-earned, the prevailing vainglory while offering Internet services seemingly aimed at 14 year olds is less engaging. Praise Parabrahman then for Fire Records who have allowed us to enjoy the full 90 minute gig on the Y-tube. (We’re Crosby, Stills & Nash…You’re not fucking Young !”…great heckle)

“Selina Through The Windshield” is not, according to those who were paying attention to the Combo on their first time around, the best of LBC’s recorded output. Now these same sources, having had 26  years to reconsider & this scorching new version to savour, are using phrases like “glorious racket” (isn’t that one of mine ?) & “thrilling pure sound”. By Jove, he’s got it ! These noisy men made 2 LPs. The debut has been described as being  “soaked in reverb, sounding like a cross between The Kinks, the Velvets, early Who and Joe Meek’s wildest productions”. If that don’t get your motor running then thanks for dropping by & get on back to downloading that Lorde stuff.

The guitarist Wreckless Eric, for it is he, had seen his contemporaries,Nick Lowe, Costello, Graham Parker & others, find a way to make the music pay. Eric Goulden’s approach was admirably lo-fi but he was not helped by having that most awkward of drinking dilemmas, two hands & only one mouth. In 1984 there was no record deal with little idea or inclination to push it along. A move to Chatham in Kent brought contact with a scene which shared the DIY ethic & a love of 60s garage bands. Joined by two-thirds of the admirable Milkshakes, drummer Bruce Brand, bassist Russ Wilkins, the Len Bright Combo recorded the first LP in 2 days for just £86 ($141). They may have played a church hall or a pub near you & you never knew it. Eric was enjoying being in a band, making loud music but there was never any plan to any of it. One time there were Belgian TV cameras pointed at the Combo while they played.

Fire Records have re-released the 2 LPs this month. It is the reason for this fantastic gig & it is an opportunity to hear records which gracefully & naturally capture a sound that others spend much time & money hoping to do similar. I can do no better than Allmusic’s review of the first LP, ” Experience it in person, however, cranked up loud with your mind’s eye wide open, and it’s records like this that make music worth hearing. And nothing else will sound so great for days”. Yeah Man !

For the next decade Eric became a rock & roll gypsy, different bands on different labels. He lived in France, wrote a book, the guy who wrote “Whole Wide World”. Since 2006 he has recorded 3 lovely LPs with his lovelier wife, the talented singer-songwriter Amy Rigby. 2012’s “A Working Museum” is bright, funny, playful & packed with great tunes. “Days Of Jack & Jill”, Eric’s reminiscence about his grandparents’  shop, his childhood visits in a pre-Beatles world is the third from the record to make this blog. It’s a winner.

At sometime in the future a musical archaeologist will dig up all of Eric’s music (almost 40 years already). She will brush off the dust, place it in order & context. Historians will be mystified how such a quality body of work could be produced in almost complete anonymity, neatly side-stepping any hint of success. I asked a man with a mission to spread the word which of Eric’s past work he would recommend. So, “The Donovan Of Trash”, “Bungalow Hi” & “12 O’Clock Stereo” ? No me neither. If there is not enough time in your days for such tomb raiding then the 3 LPs by Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby are 21st century essentials So, what is this, a staring contest ?

Eric & Amy have quite an e-footprint, their blogs & F-book pages being as low key, funny & interesting as their music. I really do hope that there will be more music to come from them. While Eric is in the UK he is also playing a few solo gigs. One of these, on Thursday, is in the hometown of my correspondent/adviser/fanatic. Here is Eric’s cracking cover of “Sweet Jane” that my friend released on his own label but it is his fanboy’s escalating excitement which is going to require medication if he does not calm down in the next 48 hours. He’s going to have a great night.

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We’ll Make ‘Em Turn Their Heads Every Place We Go (Ronnie Spector)

Those Amy Rigby songs on “A Working Museum”, the new LP by her &  husband Wreckless Eric are pretty, pretty good. I always look favourably upon any woman from the relatively recently civilized parts of our planet who combines the perspicacity & the luck to marry a British man anyway. There are 6 solo LPs by Ms Rigby, that’s a lot of music to investigate. I am, though, the man for the job & in no time at all I was listening to & loving this cover version of this song of hers.

Ronnie Spector…2 words guaranteed to increase the heart rate of men of a certain age. When, in 1963, as lead singer of the Ronettes, she sang “Be My Baby” the queue that formed was a long but far from orderly one. The girl groups of the 1960s made some great & enduring pop music. The Ronettes were royalty & Ronnie  the Queen. Their sound has inspired & influenced across the rock & roll generations, from Brian Wilson to Amy Winehouse. “All I Want” is on the 2006 LP “Last of the Rock Stars”. On that record the Raveonettes “Ode to L.A.” is a cool Scandinavian homage improves when Ronnie enters for the 2nd verse & steals it. Composers & contributors to the LP include Keef, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Raconteurs, Johnny Thunders & some Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

This was a repeat of earlier LPs. You want to work with Ronnie Spector ? Another long queue, don’t trip over Springsteen & a Beatle !

Ronnie’s marriage to Phil Spector meant, among other things, a withdrawal from music. In 1971 a 45 was released on Apple. “Try Some Buy Some” uses the same backing track Spector produced for George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”. It may be projection on my part but the vocal lacks the predication of the early hits. The obsessive control freakery of her husband may have worked studio divination but it had an adverse effect on people.

“Say Goodbye To Hollywood” is from 1976. It is produced by Silvio Dante/Steve Van Zandt & has backing from the E Street Band. It is the only Billy Joel song you will ever get to hear around these parts too. Ronnie had escaped from Spector’s asylum & obtained a divorce. The stories told by herself & others are haunting & awful. Eventually someone was going to get killed. She made irregular recordings in a number of styles but none regained the earlier commercial success. There are some good songs &, man, Ronnie Spector walks onto a stage & it is hers. Tina Turner was able to turn her career around but that was very carefully managed & meant a move into the middle of the road. Ronnie was never going to put in the work that Tina did & that 2006 LP did not get a US release for 3 years. I guess that she was just too tied in to the “Wall of Sound” & those great records from a more innocent time.

Well, I’m no different, so I have to include the beautiful, bee-hived, elegant trio of young New Yorkers from when they were at the top of their game. The Ronettes only had 1 Top 10 hit in the USA but they left an indelible impression on our music, just as they did on the Beatles, the Stones & every British teenage male when they visited in 1964. The girl groups of the 60s made great music & we all have our different favourites but at the hub of the sound, the look, the appeal, is Ronnie & her girls. Here is Brian Wilson’s delight on hearing Ronnie’s version of “Don’t Worry Baby” & then, all together now, WHOA-OH, WHOA-OH-OH-OH.

She Probably Lives In Tahiti (Wreckless Eric Amy Rigby)

A couple of weeks I was excavating for the standards of the British New Wave led by the mavericks of the Stiff label. “Whole Wide World” by the amiably ramshackle Wreckless Eric is an undoubted classic of the species. I saw Eric on the Stiffs tour, I bought his first LP & wish that it was still around because “W.W.W” was not the only good track on that vinyl beauty. I decided to check for Eric’s later work, I knew that he was still around & gigging with his wife, Amy Rigby. Then, before I was able to get any handle on his sporadic recordings over the last long times along comes this absolute cracker from right about now.

Well OK. It’s Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, “Rebel Girl Rebel Girl” from “A Working Museum” released in October 2012 & a terrific Byrds-pop sound all lo-fi & lovely. I will make it lovelier now by telling you the song is a tip of the hat to Hazel Dickens, the American bluegrass singer/activist, & to Poly Styrene off of X Ray Spex (“Oh Bondage…you know it !) who both unfortunately passed away in the same week in April 2011. It’s Amy’s song & of her 6 solo LPs I only know the splendid, & finely titled, track “Dancing With Joey Ramone”. Her debut “Diary of a Mod Housewife” is another smart title. Mmm…one more for the list to check out.

I had approached Eric’s work a little randomly & what I was hearing I liked. Eric was in the great Len Bright Combo…who knew ? So I asked a man, who I knew was a fan of the man, to point me in the correct direction. His messaged reply was not only the very thing but it turns out that my contact has actually released a Wreckless Eric record on his own label. Ask the right question of the right person & away you go. The first recommendation was a solo LP made in 1991 after Eric had been in other bands. I had heard some of “The Donovan Of Trash”, liked what I heard & wondered why it had taken me so long.

“Joe Meek” is a tribute to the 1960s wunderkind of early British pop music who’s pioneering ingenuity & experimentation created worldwide hits for,, among others the Tornados & the Honeycombs, from a North London flat while the folks downstairs banged on their ceiling. An explosive cocktail of both work & personal problems resulted in debt, depression & a tragic death aged 37 in 1967. Eric’s song tells the story, the swirls & washes of the “Telstar” sound a fitting accompaniment. “The Donovan of Trash”, made with the Medway maverick Billy Childish, is a record fit to sit at the same table as that debut.

There is plenty of other work to discover. “12 0’clock Stereo” recorded as the Hitsville House Band & “Le Beat Group Electrique” from 1989 are 2 LPs that I have been pointed towards. However it is the 3 records by Eric & Amy that will take my immediate attention because loosehandlebars is all about the 21st century, all about the Now…and again.

Now that is great ! Amy’s song about the pair’s meeting is as smart as you want & the video is just the sweetest, funniest thing I have seen this year. the first record has a song called “The Downside of being a Fuck Up”. Take it from me there are a couple.

Currently my friend Wilko Johnson is receiving a tsunami of love & respect after the bad news about his health. It comes from the best of intentions but for 30 years Wilko played in small halls to small audiences despite being, as I wrote here last year, a national treasure. There are others who have pursued the road less traveled, translating their individuality even eccentricity into fine work. In music there’s Robert Wyatt & Kate Rusby, poetry John Cooper Clarke, art Ralph Steadman & in cinema Mike Leigh. None of these artists aim for the mass market but their essentially British qualities are undervalued in this country. Wreckless Eric Goulden has probably no intention of being considered alongside such company but his laconic often cynical lyrics, his rough and ready take on pop music deserves to be heard more widely & to be celebrated.

Here’s Eric’s version of the Clash’s “The Crooked Beat”. rare, ramshackle & respect !