Saturday, September 1, 2018

TRIO: West, Bruce & Laing

purchase [Whatever Turns You On ]

When SMM checked into the Trio theme back in 2010, Darius wrote up Strange Brew by Cream. After the Cream trio broke up, Clapton and Baker moved on to Blind Faith, which included Steve Winwood.

Jack Bruce teamed up with two members of Mountain to form a band called West, Bruce & Laing. West, previously from Mountain, [Nantucket Sleighride]  apparently earned the <Mountain> moniker on account of his rather large size.

Ostensibly one of the famed late 60s super groups, WBL produced a trio of albums between '72 and '74 before folding;  a trio of albums in a trio of years. As a super-group, they signed the largest contract of the time - a $1 million deal with CBS for the three albums. As with much of Mountain's repertoire as well as a fair amount of Cream's, the music a pretty heavy. And it wasn't just their music that was heavy.

Their first album, Why Dontcha did reasonably well, but by all accounts their heavy use got in the way of potentially better quality work. The posted song is from the second of their studio albums but as far as I can tell it is from the much later reincarnation of the band with Jack Bruce's son.

Monday, August 27, 2018


I'm just back from a Folk Festival. As many of my posts might reveal, I am quite a fan of trad.arr. and enjoy an occasional immerse in it. Towersey is a small village in Oxfordshire that has been having such a shindig for over 40 years, this being the 45th. I hadn't been since the 25th or thereabouts, since which time it has moved a little down the road, to an agricultural show ground near Thame, named, I guess, after the river. Like many things, the definition of folk is a an increasingly broad church; the economics of these events require bigger names than any purist folkie might want to expect, which is fine by me, so this weekend included Big Country, Beth Orton and the Proclaimers, who filled the big tents, whilst the more hard core material filled in the gaps at smaller stages. (For the record, of those three names, Big Country were dire, arguably unsurprisingly as their lead singer and songwriter took his own life over a decade ago, I gave the Proclaimers a wide berth, if not far enough to avoid the massed du-de-du-dus bleeding into my beer, across the other side of the site, and Beth Orton was charming, a gauche elfinesque figure with an acoustic guitar and an intense electric guitarist to her side, revelling in his effects pedals.) There was also a fine set by the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, which could have been my theme today but, sorry, it isn't.

Which is all a very long preamble to what is, a celebration of possibly the biggest band on the folk circuit proper. Who weren't even playing. And aren't a trio. Or weren't.

Show of Hands have ascended, modestly, to folk royalty during their 31 year career, starting off as a showpiece for Steve Knightley's songs, aided and abetted by ex-Albion Band alumnus, Phil Beer, on anything with strings and second vocal. However, knowing they needed to get in on the folk club circuit, they added enough traditional songs to get their foot in the door. Avowing a deliberate punk DIY ethos, they started as they meant to go on, turning up with their own P.A. and  lighting, avoiding agents and booking fees, arranging their own gigs for a take of the door. A model that has since become far more widespread, giving both control and consistency, with the next step being ownership of their own publishing and, in turn, their own label. Starting off with cassettes and an honesty box, a loyal following has seen these acorns grow, if not overnight, certainly surely and steadily, until now having sold out the fabled Royal Albert Hall on at least 5 occasions, and with 25 albums behind them, ranging from new songs to old songs, instrumentals, covers and collaborations, they can, literally, call their own tune. Adding Miranda Sykes, on double bass and 3rd vocal, in 2004, she has added both a top and bottom end to their sound,  and they now tour and play more often as three than two.

You'll be wanting some music, I suppose. It is difficult to choose, so wide and varied their output. I have seen them play perhaps a dozen times, impressed always by Knightley's strong vocals and his ability to pen a keenly political take on country matters, whether the c be in capitals or otherwise. More than once his espousal of rural concerns, such as the pricing out of locals from living in their own villages, have led to front page controversy. Phil Beer just leaves me gobsmacked, such is his mastery on fiddle, guitar or mandolin, often all in the same song. (And, fact fans, as well as his sterling work as Ashley Hutching's aide de camp in the 80s Albion Band, it is also he who plays fiddle and mandolin on the Rolling Stones' "Blinded by Love". ) I confess I didn't at first see why Hart was needed until my most recent sighting of the band, earlier this year at another festival, the rather more and decidedly grungy Bearded Theory, where they went down an absolute belter with the audience of grizzled ex-punks and crusties. Hart gave a sufficient and robust solid anchor to allow Knightley and Beer to individually, vocally and instrumentally, soar. Here are 4 songs, from various stages of their existence, 3 originals, 1 cover, it being their masterful transplantation of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" from the west coast to the west country.

"Galway Farmer" was actually written by Steve Knightley, but, so ubiquitous has it become on the folk club circuit, it has made it's way into a songbook of "traditional" irish ballads!

"Country Life" gained the band a fair amount of notoriety for the no holds barred lyric, but little compared to that of the song below, "Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed." Can you guess what it is about?

Though not, I believe in the above clip, when playing this song live, the second verse mention of a 'Deadhead sticker' is often switched for a 'Bellowhead sticker', Bellowhead for a while being the biggest buzz in the UK folk scene. SoH have outlasted them.

If you like what you see and hear here, here is a bigger clip, a live streamed recording from 2016's Shrewsbury Folk Festival, where Knightley is also a patron.

And if you want more, go here or here.