Friday, March 27, 2020


In the Madness

I'm going to stick with the sanity and sense delineation, not least as there is seeming so little about of late. And whilst this song may be about the madness of love, let's just enjoy the tune as we rue the madness of life. And, it's a good song isn't it? So what little seam of Laurel Canyon did it seep from, which L.A. valley, which neighbourhood in the SanFran diaspora about? Answer? None.

Lady Came From the South

Starry Eyed and Laughing were a british band of the 1970s. Yes, the 12 string jangle might seem to be that of the Byrds, and, yes, the name is most certainly lifted from a song by Bob Dylan, but it was in unglamorous Bedford, north west of London that the band first came together. And, whilst their roots were as a covers band playing the music of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Byrds, it could always be argued the signature instrumental timbre they lifted was that of the Searchers, doyens earlier still of the Rickenbacker electric 12 string sound. Unfortunately success never knocked that hard, and they seemed destined to be part of the ranks of second stringers, permanently second on the bill to the bigger hitters of the day.

Chimes of Freedom

First album, the eponymous SE&L, came out in 1974, and was an agreeable anglo-country-rock jaunt, with additional support from BJ Cole on steel to fill further out the sound. A year later and their second disc dropped, Thought Talk, but even with the weight of CBS records behind them, and a punishing US tour, supporting acts as disparate, with audiences ill-suited and prepared, as Weather Report, the J.Geils Band and Toots and the Maytals, they failed to crack much of a market overseas or at home. Limping on as the abbreviated Starry Eyed, abbreviated also to a 3 piece, they eventually disbanded in 1976.

Flames in the Rain

That might well have been that, but it wasn't. Rumbles of appreciation from longterm fans allowed the belated release of live material and of unreleased material and compilations, dripping out over the past 15 years, and all keeping the flame alive. So then, what of Tony Poole, the 12 string maestro of the group? He moved into production and helmed albums by, amongst others, Steeleye Span and The Men They Couldn't Hang, unsurprisingly both also bands I enjoy and have featured in these pages. However, the performing and writing itch was still extant in him, so it was a delight when I began to hear good words about a new trio, Bennett Wilson Poole. Robin Bennett, Danny Wilson (Grand Drive) and Tony Poole. Despite it being forty odd years since he left the stage lights, Poole is again chiming a glorious jangle based sound. Making a lot of happy men feel very old. And feeling alive.
With somewhat prescient lyrics that might very well fit with the madness of now.

Lifeboat: Bennett Wilson Poole (2018)

Laugh, whilst the nonsense unravels.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Non-Sense: Rubber Biscuit

The Blues Brothers: Rubber Biscuit

If you knew that the original version of this song was released in 1956 by The Chips, then a tip of my fedora to you. Because I suspect that most of us first became aware of this song from its recording and performance by The Blues Brothers, a band fronted by Saturday Night Live performers John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, and featuring some of the best studio musicians around. Their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues was a chart topping success, and both “Rubber Biscuit” and Sam & Dave cover “Soul Man” were top 100 singles—and their first movie was a huge hit, commercially, if not completely artistically (although, this is still one of my favorite scenes).

Some critics had reservations about the quality of the music—mostly focusing on Belushi, who sang lead on most songs—and whether or not it was a ripoff (or, as we might call it today, “cultural appropriation”). But others pointed out that Ackroyd and Belushi highlighted a number of obscure songs (like “Rubber Biscuit”), revived interest in the genre, and probably got more than a few performers and songwriters unexpected royalty checks or gigs. To quote the Allmusic review of Briefcase,

The guardians of popular music have always been entirely too reverent and humorless, however, and it wasn't long before they were leveling charges of rip-off against the Brothers and complaining that John Belushi couldn't sing as well as Otis Redding. So what?

“Rubber Biscuit” was Ackroyd’s showcase, and featured him on lead vocals. Ackroyd loved blues music and had performed it on and off since his college days, sometimes sitting in with the Downchild Blues Band in Canada, and even played the drums behind Muddy Waters at a show. Here's a video of Ackroyd performing with them at their 50th Anniversary show last year.

The song is filled with nonsense scat singing, interspersed with spoken comments by the singer. Interestingly, much like the song featured in my last Non-Sense post, “Rubber Biscuit,” despite its silliness—and it is silly—has an underlying serious message. It is about poverty and hunger—the spoken part of the lyrics refer to “food” such as a “wish sandwich,” which is “the kind of a sandwich where you have two slices of bread and you wish you had some meat,” or a “ricochet biscuit,” which is “the kind of biscuit that's supposed to bounce off the wall back in your mouth. If it don't bounce back, you go hungry.”