Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester

Thousands of young girls and boys and their families went for a night out of music and pleasure. This is what we call innocent fun. A twisted mind from, as I write, God knows where, decided to destroy innocence last night. It's happened before. It's happened before here and in mainland Europe and most certainly throughout the rest of the world. Every time it happens we should mourn. Every time it happens we should get angry. Every time it happens we should pray people find the strength the carry on. Personally, I'm sick to the back teeth of it all and can't even begin to think about fripperies like music anymore. Probably just like most ordinary, powerless people, I just don't know what to do. God bless all those caught up in this latest act of evil.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

I've Got My Own Album to Do (No.1)


Welcome to the world of the solo project. There was a time when it was almost compulsory for a band member to come to the conclusion that their creative energies could no longer be confined to the limits of the group situation. Most obviously, the lead singer, with their ego massaged by the adulation of the crowd, would feel the need to spread their wings and prove that their songwriting chops were at least the match of the lead guitarist. Then the guitar picker himself (it was almost bound to be a bloke, after all) would realise that his genius was probably wasted on the rest of the band, so he'd better get an LP of his own done. All well and good (or not) and you knew you were in for a real treat when the bass player or the drummer did their own thing as well. All this time, no doubt, the keyboard player would be composing a symphony to be performed by robots on ice. You remember all this, I'm sure. Does it still go on? I expect you know of modern day examples that I'll only be too pleased to look into but, to start, let's go back to the halcyon days of this nonsense which did, on occasions, produce some worthwhile stuff but so much junk you had to wade through in the meantime. Sorting the good from the grim is going to be a bit of lottery. Jump in.

I suppose much of this sort of thing started here, with George Harrison's first extra curricular project, Wonderwall Music, composed for Joe Massot's film, Wonderwall (1968). Harrison took the chance to further expand his interest in Indian Classical music for a number of the pieces but also threw a variety of styles into the mix,.It adds up to quite an oddball collection which, to be fair, were written as a soundtrack, so maybe we shouldn't judge this one too harshly.


Drilling a Home (1968)

An album that you can judge all the way to Hades and back if you like is Keith Moon's Two Sides of the Moon, recorded with the assistance of various LA drinking buddies and released in 1975. A fine example of everything nobody asked for. What a wonderful drummer.



In My Life (1975)





Sunday, 14 May 2017

Let's All Go to Church: Corey Harris

Corey Harris playing two blues classics, both associated with Mississippi Fred McDowell. First, 'You Got to Move', which the Stones also covered on Sticky Fingers.


You Got to Move

Next, here's Corey's lovely version of 'Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning', a song also recorded by legends like Rev. Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson, among others. Find it on Harris's 1995 album, Between Midnight and Day. 


Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

Friday, 12 May 2017

Friday Confessional: Rush


I'm not much of a subscriber to the idea of the musical guilty pleasure - you either like something or you don't and my taste is superb (ha-ha) - but I'll admit there probably are some things that for most discerning listeners are pretty much beyond the pale and this is somewhere you may find them.

I was a big Rush fan in the mid-70s. They went the way of all flesh for me when punk kicked them into touch and I never caught up with them again. I believe they went a bit flabby with some fancy-pants progness, which has never necessarily  put me off but I wasn't tempted. When they first came to my attention they were pretty much Led Zep impersonators on helium with some tasty licks, gradually getting more pretentious via their sci-fi concept, 2112, and I let them go after A Farewell to Kings in 1977. I'm still very fond of that record, so here's this Friday's confession - their interpretation (of sorts) of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan'. You had to be there. Please indulge.


Xanadu (1977)

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Before XTC they were Helium Kidz

I love the music of XTC and, more particularly, the songs of Andy Partridge. That's not to knock Colin Moulding - he's written some corkers - but the mind of Andy Partridge should be declared a national treasure. If I believed in the honours system I'd say he deserves a knighthood and a seat in the House of Lords but, as it stands, I'll just state that he's up there with Lennon, McCartney and Ray Davies as a songwriter and quite probably more creatively fecund than any of them ever were. Why is he not generally recognised for his genius? Well, he did give up playing live gigs in the early 80s, which didn't help XTC's commercial progress and the band effectively went on strike through much of the 90's due to a dispute with Virgin and it could also be that people don't know a great thing when they hear it. Whilst XTC ground to a halt by 2006, Andy continues to keep the juices flowing, particularly through his occasional collaborations with the likes of Harold Budd and Peter Blegvad. It would be wonderful if he gifted us with some more of his pop classics but I suppose we shouldn't be greedy. For this first in what could well be a long and very occasional series of AP related posts, we'll go right back to the start and find XTC as Helium Kidz in '74, blasting their way out of Swindon.


Adrenalin (1974)

Monday, 8 May 2017

Beside the b-side: Wizzard

Wizzard, under the mad-prof leadership of Roy Wood, often pushed the boat out when it came to the pop experiment, so the fact that they tried to turn themselves into Led Zeppelin on the reverse of 'Angel Fingers' should hardly surprise. What is a little surprising, however, is the fact that this was not Wood's doing but the creation of bassist, Rick Price. Very convincing, too. Rick is married to Diane Peters* of Peters & Lee infamy.


You Got The Jump On Me (1973)

*Addendum: I f***** this one up. It should read Dianne Lee...I could never tell them apart!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Let's All Go to Church: Milton Estes and His Musical Millers



'House of Gold', a tune variant of 'Lost Highway', was written by Hank Williams but not released under his name until 1954. The song was first recorded by Nashville's Milton Estes and His Musical Millers in 1949 and released on the Coral label. I know very little about Mr. Estes and his partners but I do believe they were sponsored by a flour company, hence the name. They did things that way back then.


House of Gold (1949)

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Elston Gunnn's 115th Dream: Bob Dylan, Cardiff UK, 3.5.17



Sometime in the late 1950s, a young Bob Zimmerman dreamed of becoming a rock and roll star like Little Richard. He formed primitive bands which wailed their way through what were probably a bare handful of garage jams and significantly fewer actual live performances. One of those gigs was a brief appearance of the Golden Chords at Hibbing High School, where the plug was quickly pulled on their racket after Bobby had ruined the pedals and damaged the keys on the school piano. Well, that's how the story goes: it's quite possibly all true. A short while later, the ever ambitious young chap manged to talk his way into a very brief stint as Bobby Vee's piano player where he appeared under the name of Elston Gunnn (yes, three n's in Gunnn) Big time, Bob, big time. Needless to say, it didn't last and Mr. Zimmerman went on to reinvent himself as the saviour of folk protest, a gig which he stuck at for a couple of years. I was thinking about all this as I watched Bob Dylan and his superb band return to Cardiff last night.

At precisely 7.30 pm, Bob and the boys trouped onto the stage at the Motorpoint Arena to enthusiastic applause from the audience who, these days, are provided with seats from which to witness their hero in all his odd pomp. All very civilized but I do miss the old hours of queuing and the rush to get as close to the front as possible. Still, at the age most of us are now, thank heavens for small mercies and the chance to maintain at least some dignity. My own vantage point pleased me more than I'd feared, being in a block on one of the rising sides, not too far back, with a very clear view of the man himself.

First up was 'Things Have Changed', which was played at quite a gallop and, ironically, has been the opener for at least a couple of years now. Immediately, it was clear that Bob is in very good voice indeed. Of late, he has grown more and more into his catarrhal growl, which he employs as an extension of his regular gruffness, contrasting with some recently rediscovered lighter vocal tones. Throughout the whole concert Bob's voice was undoubtedly the best I've ever heard it in live performance and arguably the best its been in all the years of the Never Ending Tour. There was little strain and much expressiveness, which often added layers to already multifaceted songs. To go through the entire set-list would be laborious but I'll mention my own highlights of a night that was mainly focused on material from recent years with a reasonable sprinkling of the Standards from the last three covers albums. Having said that, things really started to swing with a roaring 'Highway 61 Revisited' which Dylan sang whilst standing with legs wide at his mini-grand piano. With his playing high in the mix I could see young Elston Gunn having a fine old time as he hit those keys with, perhaps, slightly more aplomb than he did back at school. There was a brilliant moment in 'Spirit on the Water' where he may have imagined he was channeling Thelonious Monk when it turned out that the spirit of Les Dawson had shown up instead: when you walk a 'razors edge' this is going to happen from time to time.

There were also wonderful renderings of 'Tangled Up In Blue', 'Pay In Blood' and a take of 'Early Roman Kings' that sounded like Muddy Waters and his band had just popped in from Chicago; much harder and blood-filled than the album version. Of his own songs, 'Love Sick' and a surprisingly jaunty 'Desolation Row' really hit the mark. Now, for me, the tunes from the Great American Songbook, though splendidly performed, are starting to out-stay their welcome. My favourites were 'I Could Have Told You' from early in the set and the closing 'Autumn Leaves', which always sounds truly heartbreaking but I could have lived without the rest and 'That Old Black Magic', whilst expertly played by the band, almost sounds like a joke. The regular punctuation of these tunes in the set, whilst possibly adding some contrast, sometimes, for my ears, punctured an increasing emotional build up that only Dylan's own songs can maintain. Still, that said, all were sensitively performed and when Bob is striking poses centre stage, I'll forgive him anything. An encore of 'Blowin' In The Wind', nicely performed but I can think of at least a hundred other tunes I'd rather hear, and a storming 'Ballad of a Thin Man', with Bob once again legs akimbo at the keys, saw the evening close all too soon.

The encore (poor visuals, good sound)


At the grand age of nigh-on 76, it's hard to imagine that this show can last for very much longer and, thus, I found myself with a little lump in my throat as dapper Dylan, in full riverboat gambler threads, left the stage after a brief 'line-up' at the end. No, of course, he never spoke to us or hardly acknowledged our presence but those who complain seem to confuse Dylan the artist with an all-round entertainer. This is what he does, take or leave it. For me, it's more than enough. I think Elston Gunnn would be happy too.

Set List

1. Things Have Changed (Bob standing at piano)
2. To Ramona (Bob sitting at piano)
3. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob standing at piano)
4. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob sitting at piano)
5. I Could Have Told You (Bob center stage)
6. Pay In Blood (Bob standing at piano)
7. Melancholy Mood (Bob center stage)
8. Duquesne Whistle (Bob sitting at piano)
9. Stormy Weather (Bob standing at piano)
10 Tangled Up In Blue (Bob center stage then sitting at piano)
11. Early Roman Kings (Bob standing at piano)
12. Spirit On The Water (Bob Bob sitting at piano)
13. Love Sick (Bob center stage)
14. All Or Nothing At All (Bob center stage)
15. Desolation Row (Bob standing at piano)
16. Soon After Midnight (Bob standing at piano)
17. That Old Black Magic (Bob center stage)
18. Long And Wasted Years (Bob center stage)
19. Autumn Leaves (Bob center stage)
 
  (encore)
20. Blowin' In The Wind (Bob sitting at piano)
21. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob standing at piano)



Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Spencer the Rover

This lovely folk song tells the tale of a prodigal father and husband who takes to the road in search of better things only to find that what he really needs is the love of his family. Its origins probably date back to at least the mid-19th century with numerous versions found in the south and south east of England though it could well have begun life in Yorkshire (note reference to Rotherham).

'Spencer the Rover' has been recorded by many artists, including Shirley Collins, Robin Dransfield and The Albion Dance Band but it has probably been most famously preserved by the Copper Family of Sussex.


Spencer the Rover (1955)

The Coppers were peerless collectors and performers of the most exquisite English folk songs; you'll find the best of their early recordings on their collection, Come Write Me Down (Topic).

If the trad. approach of the Coppers isn't quite to your taste, try John Martyn who recorded it for his 1975 LP, Sunday's Child, though this is from a contemporaneous Peel Session.


Spencer the Rover (1975)

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Let's All Go to Church: Arizona Dranes

You don't have to be a believer to enjoy the thrilling power of the great gospel singers and Arizona Dranes, apart from having the best name in the genre, was one of the very first professional gospel singers to be recorded and become more widely known to the general public. This blind singer from Texas had a finely distinctive vocal style which she often accompanied with her own lively piano licks. Her recording career only lasted a handful of years with her final sides released in 1928. This is a great example of her work which was released on the Okeh label. 




Lambs Blood Has Washed Me Clean

Read and listen here.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

British Sea Power




Bad Bohemian (2017)

The favourite contemporary band of this parish released a long awaited new album at the end of March, their first LP proper since 2013's Machineries of Joy. Not that they have been idle in the past four years, what with regular live shows, brass band link-ups and various soundtracks but it's good to have them concentrating on the bread and butter again. After a long association with Rough Trade, the band have now set up their own Golden Chariot label, so this singularly independent gang can potentially pursue an even more idiosyncratic course in the future. Hopefully, the wheels of finance will continue to turn for them enough to keep the wolf from the door.

Let the Dancers Inherit the Party, the sixth regular album release from the group, whose roots rest in England's Lake District, is full of fine hooks, soaring melodies and all round indie rock splendour with enough peculiar twists to mark it out above and beyond your normal indie thing. If you have any prior knowledge of their work, the chances are you'll accept they may well never be able to top their debut turn, The Decline of British Sea Power (2003) (which for this correspondent rates with the very best debuts of all time - indeed, the very best albums of all time, full stop) but I think you'd agree its definitely a grower and will probably sit happily alongside Open Season and Do You Like Rock Music? as time passes. Punchy, full of colour and contrast and just plain enjoyable, if there was any justice in the world BSP would be massive but perhaps we are secretly glad they are small enough to feel like we belong to their special club. Eight out of ten.

How my heart leaped when my ticket to catch them at the opening show of their just completed tour arrived through the letter box. A few minutes later, having shared the good news with the family, I was informed we had already booked seats to see something called Rent that same night and I, as the only driver, could not duck out of it. Consequently, I missed the, by all accounts, superb live action. O, the tears.


Keep On Trying (2017)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Beside the b-side: The Style Council

Guess my favourite Paul Weller project?
The Style Council are so often derided these days but give me the lightness of touch and sheer joie de vivre of his work with Mick Talbot and co. over either The Jam or the solo years. I know there were probably as many creative misses and dead ends as actual flourishing beauties but at least he loosened up and grooved a bit. Jazz-lite? Sure. Blue-eyed soul? Somewhat. But it was a lot of fun often spiced with genuine political passion.

Early SC saw a series of fine singles which when flipped over regularly revealed a plethora of shades from Weller's palette. Take this lovely tune hidden away on the back of 'Walls Come Tumbling Down'.


Spin Driftin' (1984)

Mick Talbot provided this gracefully meditative instrumental which you could find backing the 7" 'Long Hot Summer'.


Le Depart (1983)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Tony 'TS' McPhee

Just as I start banging on about expanding the scope of this here place, along comes what? Yes, friends, a classic tune from the '70s! I know - but I've been playing the album from whence this comes a fair bit of late and I just could not resist sharing. As this has to come in two parts, I'll shut up and let the music do the talking.


The Hunt Pt.1 (1973)

Tony McPhee was, of course, the head fellow of fabulous psychedelic blues-rock band, The Groundhogs but this electro experimental blast comes from his solo LP, Two Sides of Tony McPhee (1973), which, back in the old days, obviously really did come on 'two sides' of vinyl but also presented two aspects McPhee's creative spirit, with a side of wonderfully primitive country blues in the style of Fred McDowell and then the madness of 'The Hunt' on Side 2. This anti-hunting piece took its place alongside The Groundhogs' 'Sad Is The Hunter', which you'll find on Hogwash (1972). Good man, Tony.


The Hunt Pt.2 (1973)