Thursday, 3 September 2015

Chelsea Bridge

We stopped in a lovely little hotel on Sunday night in Leeds called The New Ellington. Tucked away in the legal quarter of the city and only a five minute walk from the station, it ticked all the boxes and much of the ground floor bar and dining area was adorned with classic black and white photographs of jazz greats. No prizes for guessing whose image took pride of place weighing in at, as it did, six feet square. Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington is probably one of only a handful of musicians who, in the twentieth century continually evolved, never stood still, and took their art form in ever far reaching new directions.

But even geniuses need sidemen. And Ellington had the very best; Ellington, it's probably fair to say, owed much of his early success to composer, arranger, lyricist and pianist Billy Strayhorn. He wrote Take The A Train and Lush Life and many other classics. He also penned Chelsea Bridge - around the time saxophone colossus (and one of my favourite players) Ben Webster was in Ellington's band. When Webster went solo he still dropped it in his set. Interestingly Strayhorn wrote the tune after seeing a Turner painting of Battersea bridge and misnamed it. Maybe if he'd known the mnemonic for remembering the order in which London bridges cross the Thames, he'd have nailed it.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

I hate roller-coasters

In the same way I used to like snow and now can't stand the sight of the stuff, my passion for roller-coasters too has all but vanished. The events of the Bank Holiday weekend just gone could be likened to a roller-coaster ride; although the subject matter is too harrowing to discuss here, I can't thank the two women pictured (they know who they are) enough for all their love and support.
Thank you - I love you both dearly.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Top Coppers


It's not often I watch BBC3; I guess I don't match their photofit demographic. However, we found Top Coppers this week on the iPlayer and have already got the first two episodes under our belts.

Imagine Starsky and Hutch meets Father Ted and you're halfway to getting it. It's a cop show that's more Life on Mars than The Sweeney, more Inspector Clouseau than Philip Marlowe. Its two main protagonists, John Mahogony and Mitch Rust, are trying to clean up Justice City and in the course of so doing are given silly things to do. Very silly things.

If you've had a bad week I promise you that Top Coppers is the antidote. And if you've had a brilliant week, then this is the icing on your already brilliant cake.


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Don't be Daft

For those about to funk, we salute you
I'm indebted, as ever, to The Number One Son for pointing me in the direction of this little nugget. It's from the Bootsy Collins stable so you know it's got pedigree. And if they ever take off their crash hats for long enough, I'm sure those Daft Punk boys would be tipping it the wink too. It being the inspiration behind their entire canon and all. Allegedly.

Zapp - More Bounce to the Ounce

Saturday, 22 August 2015

EPesque

Coming soon in EP format

When The Number One Son came up on Wednesday for Curry Night (more on that story later), he could see, from the CDs piled high and wide next to the Hi-Fi in the kitchen, that his old man had mostly being listening to Teenage Fanclub. In particular Grand Prix and it's baby brother EP, Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It.

When I told him that Grand Prix was probably their finest hour and isn't it a shame that the band probably all reside in nursing homes now in various parts of Scotland, he replied 'It's not as good as Bandwagonesque.' 'Yes it is' I came back with. 'Of course it is.' 'But Bandwagonesque is a masterpiece' he said. 'It's got the same chord progressions as The Beatles. It's made for you dad.'

I sat him down and told him that I had had real struggles with this album he was getting so worked up about. I had taken it out of its sleeve so many times to play and rarely got past track four or five. I found listening to it hard work. The tunes weren't there, the jangly guitars weren't there. It was turgid.

'I demand you listen to it again' he said. 'And I demand that you like it.' He never actually said that last bit, but he was thinking it.

Anyway, next day I put it on in the car. I'd got loads of places to be so I listened to it five times straight on Thursday. All the way through.  And four times yesterday. All the way through.

I'm a firm believer in starting an album with all guns blazing. Hit them with your best shot. And then build on it. Don't dither around. So what do The Fannies do on Bandwagonesque? In their defence they come out of the traps with The Concept. It's got that tongue in cheek swagger that wants you to know where it's getting its reference points from. It's all seventies and Freebird. What does come through loud and clear is that fellow Creation stablemate Noel Gallagher, not for the first time, would nick this (and the remnants of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird), put some strings on it and and turn it into Whatever.


And then we get the pointless musical interlude. Satan - A wall of guitars feeding back that just grates and doesn't in anyway help the smooth passage from Track One to Track Three: December is actually a cracking little song. Some jangly guitars (how could I have missed them first time around?) and a tune to boot. Is this the same album I listened to in 1991?

What You Do To Me could easily have been written for The Monkees. I can see Micky Dolenz singing the shit out of this. However, the handbrake is applied and Track Five, I Don't Know, is instantly forgettable and you wonder what it's doing here in the first place.

Star Sign starts in the studio next door and fades in majestically. Now I'd have opened the album with this. It's funny how many bands get running orders wrong. Yes, this has got Side One Track One written all over it. And now it all gets annoying again (my 20 year old memories are coming back to haunt me): Metal Baby, Track Seven, should never have made the cut. Ditto the next one up Pet Rock.

Sidewinder tries, it really tries, but again it's nothing more than a B-Side punching above its weight. Alcoholiday, terrible title, terrible song and then we have Guiding Star. Guiding Star should have wrapped up proceedings. It could have closed the album nicely before everyone packed up and went home: a touching little thing that doesn't deserve to be followed by the limp instrumental that follows.

Is This Music would sit well on a Scottish regional affairs programme in the seventies. Think Nationwide, north of the border. Grampian TV could have commissioned the first 30 seconds of this and everyone would've been happy.

Summing up then. As you can see I've not really reviewed it in an orthodox way, more of a when the doctor taps his little hammer on your knee to gauge your reaction kind of way.

Bandwagonesque has its moments. It was a work in progress that led to bigger and better things. Much better things. But it showed promise. And if the band can be persuaded to come out of their nursing homes long enough, I know that next year marks the album's 25th Anniversary, so the chances of them playing this album from start to finish in a concert hall near you is a real possibility.

However, to these ears Bandwagonesue is a so so album with a really good EP in there waiting to be heard in the right order.

1. Star Sign
2. The Concept
3. December
4. Sidewinder
5. Guiding Star

So when they regroup next year, they could play the EP and Grand Prix in full. Sorry James, I did try.

And before the hate mail comes in, I know this is their homage to Big Star, but Denim did it much better the following year (1992) with their stunning Back in Denim album. Go and check that one out, why don't you?




Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Sit-down Currie

When Del Amitri released Twisted in 1995, Justin Currie rode shotgun with me in my Laguna for nigh on 50,000 miles: such was a. the sheer audacity of their (never bettered) album and b. the crazy mileage I covered in the year following its conversion to C90 and admittance to the Renault's tape deck. (Where it lived 'till I got beam ended one Friday night on the M1 at Leicester Forest East.)

Following the accident I never really played the album again. New car, new set of tunes - Dodgy had just released Free Peace Sweet, and I parted company with the Del boys.

And then, last weekend, I found this on Youtube: Justin Currie on his own - the other fella (the one who looked a bit like Lemmy) had gone, leaving our man alone on a stool singing such a beautiful song that it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up now - twenty years ago I'd be pulling the car over to have a little weep. In fact, thinking about it, that's exactly what I did do the first time I heard Driving With The Brakes On.

Hey little sister, what have you done?

The Bromley Contingent
Jane Cheese, Billy Idol's sister (pictured second left), was the inspiration behind the monster solo hit it gave her lip curling brother back in nineteen eighty something or other. Jane's Twitter account makes me laugh: 'Not much to say, but I'm Billy Idol's sister.'

And Mr. Idol himself was the inspiration for this most inspiring of cover versions. I love it.




Monday, 17 August 2015

Martin Heaton

I feel honoured that Martin Heaton, award winning songwriter and stalwart of the local acoustic scene, is in the same Songwriters Circle as me. But whereas I may come up with a new song once in a blue moon, Martin, I'm convinced, lives in the Brill Building - such is his amassed output of blinding new material.

So, Martin, what music was in your house when you were growing up?

My dad played the piano a little - mainly Methodist hymns and, although he couldn't sing, he liked to listen to Paul Robeson 78s on the wind up gramophone. Mother was a very good singer and sang all day, every day - mainly traditional Scottish folk songs: my first memories are of me on her knee on the hearth by the fire waiting for the bread to rise as she sang The Skye Boat Song.

What was the first single you bought with your own money?

It had to be and was Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind.

Can you remember your first gig?

At the age of thirteen or fourteen I was going to school youth clubs and every now and then they'd have a dance night: on these occasions one or two likely lads would be allowed to perform. I can remember singing Colours by Donovan - but I didn't get paid! That would come later when I'd sing with Joy, my older sister, at the local folk club.

Nail your colours to the mast - Rock & Roll, or Folk?

I'm a big fan of people like Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, so, I guess I'll have to say Folk Rock.

How old would you have been when you first picked up a guitar?

About thirteen and it belonged to my sister's boyfriend. She loved folk music and always had a good guitar player on her arm. In fact, one of them took time out to show me a few chords and even sold me one of his old guitars: it was a 1957 Sovereign which I paid £3 for and still own to this day.

You write from the heart - is there a piece of you in all your songs?

I think a lot of my songs are about personal experiences. Although I try and avoid this, a lot of things that have happened in my life seem to have been quite significant in one way or another: that's when the autobiographical thing creeps in. I am, by nature, a very truthful and honest person, so to write or sing anything other than that would be wrong. So, yes, most of them have me in there somewhere.


What sort of venues do you prefer playing?

A cosy cellar bar with candles on the tables is ideal for me - you get instant feedback from the audience and they're good fun to play. But you can't beat the pure sweat and excitement of a 200+ venue or outdoor festival when you're opening for a big name. More CD sales, too!

Beatles or Stones?

I've never liked The Beatles* - I was brought up on Bob Dylan, Pete Seger and Joan Baez. But the Stones always figured large in my life. More exciting, more rebellious.

Saturday night record?

My Girl by Otis Redding.

Sunday morning record?

Richard Thompson's Tear Stained Letter. The eight minute live version.

Ketchup or Brown Sauce?

Marmite.

Do you share your bag of sweets on a long train journey?

No!

*A big thank you to Martin for taking the time. However, his bold faced admission that he never has and never will like The Beatles meant that this blog post very nearly ended up in the waste paper basket!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

'Tonight's the night when I go to all the parties down my street'

A number of years ago I was trying to fix up an interview with the reclusive Joe Jackson. A few email exchanges with his management company in Germany was as near as I got and, ultimately, I was told the media shy Jackson was 'unavailable at this present time'.

I remember being a pit hacked off but, hey, his loss. One of the questions I had in my little black book for him went something like this: 'Do you still go to all the parties down your street, or are you more of a tea pot and telly man these days?'

Joe, if you're reading this...


Friday, 14 August 2015

It's all good

If I had to take an educated guess, a wild stab in the dark if you will, it's probably safe to say that a fairly high percentage of my readership is familiar with Breaking Bad. That being the case, I'm also assuming (a dangerous word, I know), that the majority of that demographic will also be acquainted with its delicious spin-off series Better Call Saul.

I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet found Season 1 over on Netflix, other than to say it's every bit as good as its theme tune played by Nottingham band Little Barrie. Season 2 is promised for 2016. Man, that's gonna drag.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Falling in love again

Everybody fell in love with Clare Grogan in the eighties. And I was no exception. How could you not? She was a film star (Gregory's Girl), a pop star (Altered Images), even a TV star (who can forget Kochanski in Red Dwarf? Her and Lister were like Bacall and Bogart in space. Sort of). In short, she was gorgeous.

When you count how many records she sold with Altered Images you soon run out of zeros on your calculator. And yet, when you ask her how much money she saw from her none too shabby pop career, it's a sum not far off the square root of fuck all. Now that the dust has finally settled on that part of her life (it took some of the best legal brains in the land nigh on twenty years to divvy up the spoils) Grogan netted a grand sum of two bob and a conker. And she's not bothered.

I'd love to say she told me this over a cup of coffee in her local Starbucks in Crouch End but, alas, it was just one of the nuggets that came out of her splendid interview with Mark Ellen and David Hepworth on the latest Word in Your Ear podcast. That and opening for Siouxsie & The Banshees on their 1980 tour at the tender age of seventeen.

And when she spoke so movingly and so passionately about her young daughter and the whole adoption process, I fell in love with her all over again.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Eanie Meany

Blaring out of the Guitar Cavern late yesterday afternoon at full tilt was this lost classic: I had to dig deep into my brain's filing cabinet to retrieve the young scally's name. But retrieve it I did. Jim Noir. Please don't think I'm using the term scally in a pejorative sense by the way. I confess to knowing nothing about him other than he makes, or certainly used to make, mighty fine records.
And none finer than Eanie Meany.




Thursday, 6 August 2015

Sending Semaphore Signals

HELP?
Nah. NUJW!

Released in the UK on 6 August 1965, Help! is fifty today.

Semaphore was never their strong suit.