Tuesday, September 27, 2022

THE ROAD: GOES ON FOREVER AND THE PARTY NEVER ENDS.

The mythological lure of the road has long attracted attention in way more than just musical memes. We’ll get to that in due course, but it got me thinking around the whole idea of a road trip. Like, what was the first? Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, came initially to mind, until I realised how shortsighted and narrow was my entry angle, remembering the Richard Thompson response: best songs of the millennia, or of all time, did not start with Sinatra. So that in mind, throwing out my net a bit wider, are we talking the Crusades; that was a sort of tour? Or Christ’s 40 day desert gig, did that count? I think a prime contender would have to be Ulysses, his 12 tasks and all that. Tack on the Trojan War and the tour is encroaching Dylanesque Never Ending logistics.

I could be getting carried away here, but it has an appeal. I wonder what was on his rider? And who ran the merch stall? And for all the buzz around Homer, the “official releases”, I’ll bet there were live sets and bootlegs, swapped in chariot parks, before the show. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone somewhere is still putting together a box set, the Ithaca tapes, perhaps. I’m sure I read about it on the Steve Hoffman forum.

So, as they, say. Robert Earl Keen. Whatever happened to him? Nothing bad, to be fair, as he still tours and plays, but, as with, say, Steve Forbert, so much early promise seeming never quite to be capitalised upon. From Houston, Texas, he hit the ground running in the mid 80s, with a signature stripped back sound, bluegrass style instrumentation, allied to rootsy modern folk songs, all sung in his gritty mournful moan. I loved it, and West Textures, his 2nd album was a bona fide delight. Still is, the songs rendered timeless by that old timey anchor. The song that entitles this piece is his best known song, but they all have legs. Heck, at that time, he, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith seemed an insurmountable triad of potential, at whose altars I knelt, in awe. So young and so much talent.

Keen  had a particular knack for a story song, with TRGOFATPNE being the prime evidence. I alway feel the idea for such long haul yarn spinning came from Bob Dylan, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts always coming to mind as the trigger to Keen’s muse.(I suppose, given the earlier paras written, due credit for all epics should maybe go to forbears from times long past, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for his Charge of the Light Brigade, Longfellow  for Hiawatha, or, logically, good ol’ boy Homer himself, but the tunes have been largely lost.) The relatively simple construct, the repetition and the loping propulsive rhythm together produce a suspension of time, the story taking the fill of concentration. Keen was able to show he was no one trick pony, mind, as his next album, A Bigger Piece of Sky, four years later, in 1993, had another cracker, Jesse With the Long Hair Hanging Down. With shock, I note this barely hits 3 and 3/4 minutes, it casting a way longer shadow in my memory, but, details, schmetails, this is still a saga song, just a wee bit shorter. 

Oft seen as his high water mark, A Bigger Piece of Sky, whilst it had its moments, never quite hit my spot as had West Textures. In truth, I sort of went off him a bit after that, as somebody told him his forte might be in humorous songs, an oxymoron by any definition, at least in my book. But he has plugged away, with 20 studio recordings to his name. I gather he is about to hang up his cowboy boots, making me sad I never caught him live. Indeed, of that 80’s trio of performers, Nanci was the only one who ever seemed much to visit the UK, seeing her a host of times between then and the mid 90’s. But I did get to hear one near swansong, as Keen covered a host of his traditional influences: here is what I thought about that album.

A final thought about Keen might be to thank him not only for my beloved West Textures, but also to his enlightening me to the presence and worth of anothe songwriter, one Kevin ‘Blackie’ Farrell, himself no stranger get to the long form song. The exquisite Sonora’s Death Row, covered by Keen on West Textures, is one of his, as is another of my favourites, Mama Hated Diesels, as performed by Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen. Farrell probably deserves a pice in his own right, memo to self, but it’s good to at least have the opportunity to namecheck him, until then.

May the road rise to meet you…….

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Road: What’s Your Name?

Lynyrd Skynyrd: What’s Your Name?
[purchase

Growing up in the 1970s, as I did, the life of a rock musician seemed pretty fucking cool. Especially the famous ones, who got to jet around the world, perform in arenas and stadiums, have all sorts of fun contract riders to attend to their every anticipated needs, and apparently make tons of money. (Although in reality, for most touring musicians, it wasn’t this great) It seemed like the essence of freedom (although it probably became a bit of a regimented slog at some point, or there wouldn’t be so many life on the road is a bummer songs.) Plus there were the drugs, which I knew could be deadly or at least damaging, but seemed like they could be fun in moderation. And the groupies. I’m betting that a large number of people who became rock musicians did so in some large part for the promise of sex, with a different conquest in every town. A concept which was different in the pre-AIDS era.

Which brings us to our featured song, 1977’s “What’s Your Name?” by Southern rock masters Lynyrd Skynyrd. I wrote a long piece about the band HERE, so if you want some background on them, including the whole Neil Young “controversy,” check it out, and we’ll still be here when you are done. 

The song, from the band’s final album recorded before the plane crash album (but released just after), Street Survivors, is based on a true incident (which did not actually take place in Boise, Idaho, however), when the band was thrown out of a hotel bar while on tour because, as the song says, “one of the crew had a go with one of the guests.” Repairing to their rooms, the narrator asks a woman (ok, a “little girl”) to join him upstairs for a “drink of champagne.” He’s not looking for a deep, meaningful relationship, but rather, as stated in the opening, he’s looking for “a little queen,” and he intends to “treat her right.” Which I think we can all agree, means sex. And, he’s not bullshitting her, either—he’s “shooting you straight,” about his intention. 

Fast forward to nine a.m the next morning, and our champagne quaffing musician is up suitably early to prepare for a 600 mile ride to the next show. Apparently, the night went well-as he says, “it sure was grand,” and offers to get his bedmate a taxi home. And he suggests that they get together when the band swings through town the next year. There’s only one real problem—he doesn’t remember (or never knew) her name, so he asks for this critical piece of information.

“What’s Your Name?” is a fun rocker, and reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, posthumously. 

Now, bear with me for a second. At the risk of blowing any feminist cred that I’ve achieved, I’d argue that by 1977’s standards, “What’s Your Name?” is fairly progressive, despite its hint of underage sex and anonymous coupling. As far as the underage part goes, I’m willing to consider that “little girl” is a term of endearment, not a literal description. And yes, it’s a bit sexist, but again—1977, and rock musicians. Secondly, I’d argue that the song depicts a fully consensual relationship—there’s no evidence that the woman was already incapacitated when the singer offers her champagne in his room, and he’s clearly “shooting her straight.” Third, the next morning, he’s complimentary and polite, offers to call a cab, and seems to sincerely want to see her again the next year. 

Look, I can also see how this could be interpreted differently (I found one source referring to the song as “perpetuating misogynistic fantasies”)—I’m not an idiot, and I have a wife and daughter (and mother-in-law) who graduated from women’s’ colleges —and by 2022 standards, there are certainly some issues here. But if you actually read some of the stuff linked to in the Cover Me piece about how (at least the pre-crash version of) Lynyrd Skynrd’s politics have been misinterpreted, again through the lens of the 1970s, I’d argue that simply tarring them as a bunch of sexists as a result of “What’s Your Name?” is at least a little bit unfair. I mean, they very well might have been a bunch of sexists, but not just because of the song.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

THE ROAD: TO NOWHERE

Less on, more been, my excuse is down to the scourge of IT. (Others may vary.) As far as I’m concerned, the IT superhighway can go take one. Sure, sure, without the gift of information technology, I could not be able to waste time you could be better spending elsewhere, let alone my own. But, jeez, don’t you just take the bastard for granted. My laptop recently caught a cold, and has been in the computer fever hospital, getting the best of not inexpensive attention. Meanwhile I am wrestling with my phone to pick up the slack. Which, are you with me, leads inevitably to this post. Ever done Blogger or Wordpress on your phone? The dogs within this lesser tool seem far better able to eat your homework than my usual medium. And much more willing, eager, even, to throw the lovingly chosen words into the ether. So, a lot of roads to nowhere between Run and Road. Or that there were a song to hang on that peg……

Oh, there is, it being a latter day jewel in the crowned (Talking) Heads of popular music. But you knew that. Talking Heads were always either better than their hype or never quite matching it, making for quite the paradox.


In the beginning came Psycho Killer, I still in awe and of a tremble to the above clip. I remember it well, on the UK televisual “inkie”, the Old Grey Whistle Test, or Whistle Test as us teenage bedroom groovers called it. David Byrne looked such a dork, in his slacks and preppy polo shirt, yet the menace he imbued into this hypnotic throb of a song was intense. With Tina Weymouth plugging away on bass, and the other two being, well, the other two, it was nothing short of apocryphal. At home the punks had to look scary, ‘this guy was the real deal.


The album, 77, was good, but not so good as to disappoint around how much better than the other tracks was Killer. Which sort of summed up the band, their albums tending towards one standout track, and then the rest. Their version of Al Green’s Take Me To The River did that for the next, Songs About Buildings And Food, great title, by the way, but I lost interest.

I missed out on several intervening years, or maybe switched off. Meanwhile folk were raving about that film and that video, but not me, my eyes were averted. In fact, it wasn’t until the featured song came out, that I came off my Talking Head road to nowhere. In truth, I suspect it was Tom Tom Club that re-engaged interest; I loved Wordy Rappinghood. 


Little Creatures came out four years after the Tom Tom Club had their brief turn in the sun. Uncertain why, but I really took to And She Was, the first single, swiftly followed, as it was, by Road To Nowhere. I was back on the bus, big time  so much so I duly bought also the next album, Naked. From which I fell right off, in dismay. Even ahead the unavoidable implosion of the band.

David Byrne has, of course, gone on and on, regrouping, regaining and retaining acclaim. The rest of the band less so. The Heads album was a huge letdown, despite the guest singers, and, despite the critical plaudits, I always struggle to see beyond the artifice in Byrne’s solo art. Not for me. I still seem always to see through the facade of world music inspiration and icon, only seeing the jerky nerves of the psycho killer. Which is as good as any a place to leave.

Perhaps my laptop will be repaired soon. Until then, follow me


Sunday, September 4, 2022

RUN: FOR HOME



Funny how it all comes round. I used to rant against this song back in the day. As a dyed in the wool afficianado of the original Lindisfarne line up, as eulogised here, I baulked as they went their separate ways, into Jack The Lad and the Lindisfarne Mk II. Erring always on the side of folkie, I was always going to find greater attraction with the former and shaggier offshoot. Even, if truth be told, the material was a bit meh.Whilst Lindisfarne retained the two main singers and the most prolific of the songwriters, I missed the other guys, and took offence. Alan Hull, that prolific writer, with his eye more on his burgeoning solo career, meant that Mk II were a pretty lacklustre ensemble, quietly breaking up after a couple of ill received albums. Jack The Lad  had fared little better, so, when the opportunity came to regroup for a one-off gig at Newcastle City Hall, the original five piece all leapt at it. That led to a reprise a year later and they decided to make it a going concern again in 1978.

But I hadn't kept up, had I? I thought the Lindisfarne that brought out this featured song, later that same year, from the presciently titled Back and Fourth album, was still the Mk II line up. Plus it was drenched in strings, making for far too much saccharine for me to imbibe. As the new engagement with success and the charts failed and faded, so the band again drifted out of my awareness. Sure, I knew they continued to play Newcastle City Hall on a regular annual basis, but, adding insult to injury, a version of Fog On The Tyne, the song, in cahoots with fellow Geordie, the footballer, Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne, was such anathema to my ears as to make their name mean nothing to me. (And, by golly, bad it truly was.)


As the years unfolded, the band began slowly to splinter once more. First Ray Jackson, the other vocalist and the harmonica and mandolinist left, then Simon Cowe, the wild haired guitarist. Yes, they were replaced, with, Hull even bringing in his son-in-law to help bolster the band. Little did he know how shrewd a move that might later become. Hull then died; a heart attack taking him far too young, but the band still played on, drafting in yet more new members. They then broke up in 2004, this time, one might imagine for good. However, remnants of the band, with even the odd original, still managed to tour under various guises: The Lindisfarne Story and Lindisfarne Acoustic being two of such, and the former resurrected the Newcastle City Hall shows. Ray Jackson, meanwhile, mindful of the legacy beginning to unravel, took the bones of those left and revived the band, proper. OK, he was the only original, but Dave Hull-Denholm, Hull's son in law, as mentioned, was considered continuity by proxy. On drums, in an unusual change of style, for him, was ex-Roxy Music thumper, Paul Thompson. Odd, unless you recall Roxy themselves hailed also from the North East of England too.

Give or take couple of years and Jackson, wearying a life on the road, sought an exit. Luckily, old mucker, Rod Clements, was waiting in the wings, taking control of the franchise. As the author of Meet Me On the Corner, their biggest hit, he had more right than many, Simon Cowe, the never more hirsute guitarist having now also died and Ray Laidlaw, the drummer, continuing to fly a flag for the Lindisfarne Story offshoot. Anyhow, cut to the chase, any good? I caught ‘em at  Wickham last year, the answer a resounding yes. Especially as they encored with the featured song!

Run!!

Friday, August 26, 2022

DON"T : NEED THIS PRESSURE ON (CHANT No. 1)

Actually, as the avid trainspotters will already have conjectured, and loudly, it is the other way around, it is Chant No.1 (We Don't Need This Pressure On), but how other the heck do I squeeze this stonking tune into the category? How can it be that this energetically funky slice of dance hall joy could come from the soon to be so very anodyne Spandau Ballet? And as for New Romanticism, whatever that was or might be, this owes more, musically, to the early posturing of Wham, themselves later capable also of saccharine drenched dreck.

I remember that time period well, as both myself and the media were scrabbling around to find the next big thing, although I dare say our parameters were somewhat different. I just needed something with a bit more wallop than the increasingly post punk power pop and new wave, each becoming overly formulaic and meh. I was still reading the inkies, Melody Maker and New Musical Express, so was open to all the hype available. I was watching the somewhat ludicrous appearance of the bright young things, hogging the limelight in and around that London town, a million miles away from the always less demonstrative Birmingham. (Altho' there were stirrings.....) The fashion didn't grab me, but, and they seemed the market leaders, that Spandau Ballet seemed to have an interesting take on combining styles and genres into an appealing musical mix.

The above, their first single, came out on Halloween's day, 1980. I liked. I can't remember whether I admitted that, but it didn't seem long before Chant came along, and it became OK to like the band. Heck, a lot of people were making that choice. I bought the debut album, not realising Chant wasn't on it. And, the singles apart, it was a tad underwhelming. Wiki now tells me that was on the second album, but that passed me by. I guess, as a newly married junior Dr, my earlier vice-like grip on the charts was losing some. So it was Gold and True that next alerted me to this band. Where had it all gone so wrong? Vapid, ainsipid ballads of the lowest common denominator, I couldn't distance myself quick enough. Of course, they sold zillions and they were everywhere. Snippets of later material came to my ears, but, the spell broken, they meant nothing to me.

Apart from being always in the playlist of any and every Gold, Platinum and whatever FM, easy listening halls of drain for children of the 70s and 80s, forever broadcasting in malls and waiting rooms, Spandau Ballet ceased to hold any consequence for me. I knew they had all sued each other, but more fool they. Until something strange occurred. In 2018, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason decided to get his hand back in, his day job seeming unlikely to be a thing again. He was eager to revive and revitalise the earlier late 60s and cusp of the 70s catalogue of his old band, and looked for an appropriate organ. His band, Saucerful of Secrets, named after the album, was that organ, but it was the line-up that surprised, featuring, as it did, in pole position, that of Gary Kemp. That Gary Kemp, the Spandau keyboards guy, and the writer of most their songs, the good, the bad and the indifferent. Here he would be employed on guitar and vocals. Interviews revealed him to be a true fan and, similarly, to be quite the scholar around that period of English music history. I went to see the band. They were great. HE was great, and my opinion jumped small buildings, further cemented by hearing his good natured podcasts, alongside Guy Pratt, another Secret Saucerman. Hell, his favourite record was/is Liege and Lief, the Fairport Convention record that effectively invented folk-rock. Suddenly he was again a good guy!

I still can't listen to much Spandau. But the early stuff, following my years of after the event prejudice, suddenly I can face their music and dance. That must be good, mustn't it?

Chant!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Don't: Don't You Want Me

 


purchase [ Dare ]

There was an article in The Guardian the other day about the influence of the C64 (that would be the mid 1980s Commodore 64 computer). The author was primarily focused on the (relative, for the times) quality of the games, but also mentioned the computer’s sound features. It is probably worth mentioning that we are talking 8-bit computing, but the C64 (and my choice back then - the ZX Spectrum) were tools that allowed some of us to compose/synthesize music on the cheap (and it sounded pretty cheap until I got my Amiga 500 with a copy of Deluxe Music.)



For those of us of that age, the Moog synthesizer was probably the best known by the public since it was more or less the first and had been around and established a name/market for “electronic music” since the 1960s.  By the 1980s (when people like myself were toying around with their home computers), professional musicians had some pretty cool electronic noise makers in their hands.

Although my 1960s childhood included listening to my parents’ Switched on Bach and an awareness of Turkish electronic composer Mimaroglu, I’m going to guess that it was the keyboards on Who’s Next that “enlightened” me. Sources suggest that this was one of the first uses of a synthesizer for more than backing sounds (says Wikipedia: “integral” as opposed to “gloss”). The year is 1971. Sure, Ray Manzarak was clearly using a synthesizer, as were the Stones and the Beatles, but the Who’s use was seminal for me.

By the time Human League was voted Best British Breakthrough in 1982, most rock/jazz  keyboards were outputting synthesized sound anyway. (it appears that there is a line dividing synthesizer from “synthesized keyboard” in that the former allows you to create your own sounds; yet, my limited research convinces me that a decent modern  “stage piano” is a “performance synthesizer”.




All this to provide background for the sound behind The Human League’s singular most famous song <Don’t You Want Me>. The group is categorized as a synthpop band - a musical form where the synthesizer is the main instrument. And while I am pretty sure that my mid-1970s self would have grossly panned the song (my go-to sound back then was Keith Jarrett style), I will admit getting a certain aural pleasure from hearing the song again and comfort from knowing I am not alone (Graham Parker and Rolling Stone magazines’ praises)

Don’t you agree that it is catchy? (160 million viewers of this clip would probably agree.)


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Don't: Beatles songs with Don't




purchase [ White Album ]

When it appears at the start of a sentence, don’t is a command - as opposed to its use mid-sentence, where it is more of a negation of a condition. Compare: <Don't love me> as opposed to <You don't love me> or <Don't do that> vs. <You don't do that>.


Of the <don't> songs in the Beatles' repertoire, it was "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" that got me started.


The “White Album” is quirky in a number of ways. Loudersound.com actually lists 50 things you need to know about it. Let me count a few. The minimalist cover was in itself a statement, particularly since it came on the heels of the rather gaudy cover to the Sgt Peppers album. Many of the songs were not recorded with all members of the band playing. Check out the link to loudersound for 48 more trivia about the album (I don’t want to appropriate their work, so click here)

Why Don’t We Do It in the Road (now there’s a title to test your knowledge of the rules of English capitalization!) seems to me to be quite representative of their mindset, again, in a number of ways. It is basically Paul and Ringo. The idea came to Paul in India, as did a number of the inspirations for the album. The “theme” (if said term is appropriate to a single line of lyrics) is as flippant as anything else on the album: Bungalow Bill, Rocky Raccoon, Warm Gun … It is also one of 2 songs on the album that have Don’t in the title. The song is an impressive example of how to expand something simple into something more: there is an argument to make about whether “it” could be more than what Paul saw that gave him the idea; there is the amusement that someone can “get away with” singing about “it”; there is the vocal expression that kinda culminates in the “from-the-soul” screaming line; there is the creative, abrupt ending 


Don’t Pass Me By, the other <don’t> song from the White Album is another McCartney/Starr recording without the other two, but with “crazy” violin from Jack Fallon (a one-off? is apparently a song Ringo wrote back in the early 60s.




Other Beatles’ don’ts include 


Don't let me down



Honey Don’t (Carl Perkins)



Don’t Bother Me (Them Beatles)



I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party (Acoustic Beatles Band)




Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Don’t: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Blue Öyster Cult: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
[purchase

For the second post in a row, I’m writing about a band that I know pretty much nothing about, although unlike Thunderclap Newman, Blue Öyster Cult had a career that spanned decades. Before I started to write this piece, literally the only song of theirs that I could name was our featured song, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” but after reading a little about the band, I realized that I also knew the song “Burning For You,” although I didn’t know that it was by BOC. 

If you are still reading this, despite the fact that I’ve basically told you that I’m ignorant about the subject, I appreciate your sticking with me. I’ll try to make it interesting and fun. 

Blue Öyster Cult was formed in 1967(!) at Stony Brook University, when critic, producer, music business executive, poet, college professor, and manager Sandy Pearlman heard a jam session and offered to manage the band. For what it is worth, Pearlman seems like a fascinating figure in music, and probably deserves his own post. Originally named Soft White Underbelly, the band’s sound started off psychedelic, but gradually moved toward hard rock. After cycling through a number of pretty bad names, they ended up as Blue Öyster Cult in 1971, derived from one of Pearlman’s poems. The umlaut was added later, but who came up with using the much-imitated diacritic is a matter of dispute. 

After recording two albums of material that was not released at the time, except for a small promo release of a single, the band’s self-titled debut album was released in 1972. They released an album a year, with increasing success, until 1976’s Agents of Fortune spawned “Reaper,” the single version of which reached 12 on the Billboard chart and was a fixture on the radio when I was in high school. The song was written and sung by lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, and not the band’s main singer, Eric Bloom. 

If you’ve made it this far, I’m pretty sure that you know what the song sounds like—you’ve probably heard it a million times. Because it is a great song. I remember someone at WPRB trying to convince me to listen to and play other Blue Öyster Cult songs on the radio, but I never really tried hard to listen to them (honestly, there were so many other artists, old and new, that grabbed my attention in those days). 

As Dharma explained, 

I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of [death] (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners. 

So, let’s talk about the cowbell. 

It was overdubbed on the original recording, and it is credited to drummer Albert Bouchard, although at least two other people have claimed to have played it. Whoever actually did, there’s no question that, as bassist Joe Bouchard (Albert’s brother) recalled, “It really pulled the track together.” And, of course, it became more famous in a 2000 Saturday Night Live sketch, in which Christopher Walken, portraying producer Bruce Dickenson (an actual record producer, but who had nothing to do with the song) demanded “more cowbell.” Apparently, the band loved the sketch. (As do my friends in the Princeton Class of 1983, who have adopted “More Cowbell” as an unofficial motto). 

Blue Öyster Cult has continued to tour and release music, with some personnel changes, to the present day, and currently includes both Dharma and Bloom in its lineup.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

DON'T: GO (HOTHOUSE FLOWERS)

Me, I bloody loathe Eurovision. Eh, say a whole continent across the pond, Eurovision? OK, the Eurovision Song Contest, to give it the full title, that yearly schmooze through all that's camp and kitsch, all the pop you can possibly bear, the pop that puts the pap in europop. It, like Strictly Come Dancing, a TV show about celebrities learning to dance, is now a very big thing in the UK, as we devolve further and further away from the continent. It hasn't always ben this way: a respectable and somewhat middle of the road song competition, wherein the countries of Europe compete for the honour of the best popular song their best writers can come up with, ballgowns and tuxedos required, an orchestra de rigeur. Pop music, 1950's style, that is. (Mind you, in those days Britain was far less the scourge it is seen by the rest of the continent, even winning from time to time.)

We used to watch it home, en famille, as a child, it's true, so I know all the smash hits from Cliff, Lulu and that ilk. Even good old Clodagh. It went on for hours, as the individual nations, "Good Evening from Helsinki", took ages to deliberate over the selection of tawdry songs. But one year I remember well. 1998. Hosted by the Irish in Dublin, as Johnny Logan had won the previous year, and they put on some craic for  the viewers waiting for the scores. A raggle taggle of ne'er-do-wells lurched onstage and played the best song of the night, a prime example of Celtic soul, with a pounding piano, some raw sawbones sax and a rousing chorus. "Don't Go", the singer pleaded and I didn't. I was glued.

Hothouse Flowers were already a thing in their homeland by that time, their debut release having been the then swiftest selling album in Irish chart history. I confess that, back then, I was too busy with Cowboy Junkies and The Men They Couldn't Hang to notice them at first. (Although, with it being also the year of Van working with the Chieftains and Mike Scott relocating to Spiddal for Fisherman's Blues, I should have had my ear closer to Irish turf.) But, once I heard them play that song at Eurovision, the second single from that first album, I was in. The band, based around singer and pianist, Liam Ò'Maonlai and guitarist, Fiachna Ò'Braonàin, two schoolfriends from an Irish speaking school in Dublin, and Peter O'Toole, not that one, a busker they met in the city and busking is how the band started their career.

For the next year or so they were everywhere, no summer music festival complete without their presence. A second album, not as successful but still worthwhile. Despite no shortage of original material, the best known song from it was a cover, a well received version of the Johnny Nash song, I Can See Clearly Now. They also, unbeknownst to many, contributed to and featured on the Indigo Girls' Closer To Fine. (Unbeknownst? Read uncredited!)

A third record and a bruising touring schedule had them pause for breath, in 1994, taking a collective year out. Or that was the plan, that year extending into four, the band shedding manager and additional members, the core three regrouping in 1998 for a different style, incorporating elements both of electronica and effects to an overall more organic and folkie based feel. 

Since then, and like many bands, they have never formally dissolved, reconvening sporadically, whilst undertaking separate projects apart, Ò'Maonlai having some solo success, particularly with more traditional fare. O'Toole officially left and later rejoined the band, and all three were present, in 2015, when I caught the band at Birmingham's Symphony Hall,  on a tour that took in the UK. Their distinctive tone was all the more characteristic as O'Toole, now playing as much guitar and bouzouki as bass, necessitated the addition of a second bassist, this time on stand up double bass. When both bassists play alongside, the assault is wonderful, as audiences at various festivals this summer, Glastonbury included, were able to affirm. Below is an interesting interview that gives an idea of their modus operandi.

And a taster for how they now sound. And look.


Don't go!!




Sunday, August 14, 2022

Thunder & Lightning: Some Loud Thunder

 



purchase- from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- [Some Loud Thunder ]


Another quickie. 

Due to the fact that - on the road - I have no access to my email sent folder, there's still time to put up one more donner und blitzen post. (We'll have the new theme up as soon as we get imminent support from Mr Becker.)

When I first heard "In This Home on Ice" from their first album, I was struck by the relentless drive/energy the band projected. I thought it was on The Late Show that I first saw Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but YouTube clips of what I think was that Jay Leno show have them playing a different song that night. And I cannot be sure that the year was as far back as 2005/6, when the song first came out.

I also cannot claim rabid following of the band's output since then (despite thoroughly appreciating the driving style I note), so it wasn't until today that I discovered that their 2nd album (of apparently 6) is titled specifically for our theme: Some Loud Thunder.

The Internet tells us that the title song from the album was inspired by front man Alec Ounsworth's wife. All songs from the album were penned by Ounsworth. A look at (a section of) the lyrics is informative and worth your time:

At the end of the quarry

I have dug a hole for all the world to see

A cannonball as big as the ocean could come from the sky and slap us all on the feet

But there's always more unless I'm mistaken

Tell me when do mouths close

And people gracefully retreat?

Home on Ice, studio version 


 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Thunder & Lightning: Thunder road (again)

 


purchase [ Born to Run ]

Faced with yet another theme where I have run the clock down to the buzzer, I am going to re-mention a song that I posted about in 2016. That *is* 6 years ago (what?), but - in addition to the time constraints, there are also just too many confluences to let this go.

-#1: an article I came across in the Washington Post last week about how TicketMaster's dynamic pricing algorithms have set some tickets for "man of the people" Bruce Sprinsteen's 2023 tour in the thousands of dollars - the question being "Does the boss know and/or care?

-#2: I am on the road yet again and continuing my somewhat disjointed first summer of retirement

-#3: I'm in New Jersey

-and #4: there have been thunderstorms almost every late afternoon here for the past week (par for the course along the East Coast if memory serves me right)

So, while, back in 2016 the clip I chose was the incredible version with Springsteen joining Melissa Etheridge on stage, here are some other performances of this wonderful musical story




THUNDER & LIGHTNING: CALL ME LIGHTNING

I have always found the idea of the Flaming' Groovies decidedly enticing and enthralling. Even before they ever came into my personal earshot. Long before, in truth. For a while, in the early thru' mid '70s they seemed to have a permanent feature in the inky pages of the hipper than thou UK music press, peddling a mythology that so appealed to my teenage fantasies. My understanding was that they had hopped over the ocean for some such tour or other, thereafter becoming stranded, destined to eke a basic existence in the bars and clubs of London. The truth? A little more prosaic.

Let's start now, as the band have still a footprint, although that may have faded with the death, in 2019, of original member, Ray Loney. Although he had left the band in 1972, he was deemed integral enough to be granted special guest status on the 2019 tour, during which he sustained the fall that precipitated his demise and possibly that of the band. He had kickstarted the band, a gaggle of snotty nosed brats in 1965 San Francisco. With an initial foray into the A Mighty Wind type folk music of that day, the Rolling Stones seemed a far more potent influence, and he linked up with teenaged guitar poser, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander, a school friend told to learn how to play the bass guitar. With Tim Lynch on 3rd guitar, alongside Loney and Jordan, and, eventually, drummer Danny Mihm, image was as much their calling card as their scuzzy and scuffed r'n'b, all chelsea boots, shades and attitude, snarled vocals, spiky guitars and harmonica, propelling an ugly, organic rhythm. Their debut, a home-recorded and released EP, Sneakers, came out in 1968. That got them a deal with Epic records and a somewhat chaotic first long player dropped the following year. The label dropped them and they spent the next year or so on the road, honing their craft and toughing up. Kama Sutra then picked them up, with their second release for that label, Teenage Head, hitting the zeitgeist, if not the charts. No less than Mick Jagger rated it highly, comparisons being made to the Stones own Sticky Fingers. Loney, with his heart more in the rockabilly roots he had always been in thrall to, here jumped ship. Which is roughly where we came in.

I'm Drowning (1968)

Dropped again by their label, and struggling to find another, it was the unlikely haven of the UK that threw them a lifeline, via the British division of United Artists. (The US end of the organisation had not been so enamoured.) With Chris Wilson, another youthful wannabe guitarslinger, drafted in to replace Loney, and whose musical preferences aligned more with Jordan, and a new drummer, it was off to Rockfield studios in Wales they headed. This was 1972. Dave Edmunds, himself having made no small waves in an energetic amalgam of 50s style and 60s melodicism, each with a keen rock rhythmic core, was hired to produce. With hindsight, the product they there produced was probably their finest hour, including, as it did, their perhaps best known song, Shake Some Action, not then able to see the light of day.

Shake Some Action (Remastered 1976 version of 1972 original at Rockfield)

But that promise came to nought, UA not liking so much their direction as they had thought, the deal dissipating into a pair of singles. Flailing around somewhat, the band oscillated, seeking further deals and shedding drummers at a pace. Action was ultimately released, albeit in re-recorded form, on Capitol, itself not without delay, down to internal brouhahas within that company. Meanwhile, record executive Seymour Stein was setting up his new label, Sire. Without it being a major, he had the knack of hitting on zesty acts with counter-cultural and counter-intuitive appeal, garnering a roster of hip acts. Ideal for the Groovies, who found themselves back in Wales and back with Edmunds. No wonder I thought they had never been away, and their 1976 album, of the same name, finally allowed the original 1972 versions of it and a couple of other songs from those sessions, along with some new stuff, to reach the record racks. With Sire then taken over by Warner Brothers, they now had some muscle behind them.

Shake Some Action (later version)

Plain sailing ahead? Well, no, this is the Groovies, remember, never much in favour with Lady Luck.Memebers started coming and going, although the Jordan, Wilson, Alexander trio kept a grip on the baton. Sire too bounced them in 1990, and even the aggressive management style of Elvis Costello manager Jake Riviera couldn't stop them flailing between labels, their image never quite that of the team in charge of their promotion. History tells us their style was power pop, just that nobody quite ever twigged that point at the time. Eventually, in disarray in 1991, with their catalogue scattered across multiple rights holders, they split. Perhaps just as their songs, courtesy appearances on any number of samplers and collections, were becoming better known.

Teenage Head (1971)

Fast forward a further few years. Since 72, Loney had remained in the music business, on occasion with other erstwhile members of the band. When the film, Clueless (1995) included Shake Some Action on the soundtrack, that was impetus enough for him to put the band name back into use, despite having had nothing to do with that particular song or that version of the b(r)and. Coaxing Jordan back into the fold and they were off. Over the next decade there would be sporadic appearances, usually just Loney and whoever he could find, sometimes with Jordan too. With that duo, a UK tour, in 2009, led to a serendipitous hook up with Wilson, himself now a UK resident, and the founder of the not un-Grooviesesque Barracudas, self styled surf-punks. Wilson, relishing in the reconnect, put out a run of solo albums, each recouping as many of the old gang as he could, with core member Alexander and various other ex-Groovies also present, alongside he, Loney and Jordan. One of these was even entitled It's Flamin' Groovy. 

Gamblin' Man (2013) - Chris Wilson feat. Ray Loney

By 2012 it seemed logical to go the whole hog, and the band were once again an item, with Jordan, Wilson and Alexander, but Loney again on the bench. 2017 even saw a new album, Fantastic Plastic. To be fair, consistency of both material and line-up was hard to maintain, and it was often a case of whomsoever was available, willing or present, as first Alexander again dropped out and, then, Wilson took a break. This was where Loney again popped up and in, if in a nominal guest role. 

End of the World (2017)

Is that it? Uncertain has to be the answer, at leat while Jordan and Wilson survive, arguably equally so Alexander. Wilson is now back home in the States, and has supposedly semi-retired. Jordan? Who knows, but, as the co-writers of their most famous song, never say never. 

Here's a live version featuring both of them, from 2013:


(What about the song in the subject, I hear you say? And yes, you are entirely right, it is more a shoehorn to get the Groovies into a post. And, yes, you probably have heard it before, it being a cover of the Who's first 1968 US single release. I found this version on one of the legion of dodgy compilations out there, cobbled together by various offshoots of various record companies, all trying to make a belated buck on the back of the Groovies. It appears on Replays: Groovies Greatest, a double CD I picked up for a couple of quid in a supermarket, and that reawoke my dormant interest in this unluckiest of bands. Here's the original version.)

Buy some Groovies!


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Thunder & Lightning: Thunderclap Newman

 

Thunderclap Newman: Something In The Air
[purchase

I suggested this theme during a summer thunderstorm, but when I started brainstorming ideas for a post, the band Thunderclap Newman jumped into my brain and wouldn’t leave, so there are no (other) storm references here. 

Like most people, I bet, I could name exactly one song by Thunderclap Newman, the wonderful “Something In The Air,” but no others. I’ve mentioned before the “classic rock radio” syndrome (although I’ve never called it that), where bands are remembered only for a handful of songs—or even in this case, for one song—and the rest of their discography gets forgotten. I’m sure you have your favorites, and I’ve even used “Something In The Air” as an example in an earlier post. I also knew that Pete Townshend produced their album, and that he played on it, under a pseudonym, although I didn’t know what that was (Bijou Drains). But that’s pretty much it. 

The band was assembled by Townshend in 1969 as a vehicle to support the songwriting and other talents of John “Speedy” Keen, who wrote “Something In The Air.” It was an unlikely crew: Keen, who had been a friend of Townshend's and a driver for the Who, had written “Armenia City in the Sky,” the opening track on The Who Sell Out. Townsend enlisted Andrew “Thunderclap” Newman, a postal worker and piano player, and 15-year-old guitarist Jimmy “No Nickname” McCulloch. They met at Townshend’s home studio, and the four recorded a single, with Townshend producing. 

It was a big hit in England, was in a couple of movie soundtracks, and was a minor success in the US, initially. Followup singles were less popular, but the success of “Something” led to the band having to do live performances, augmented by a drummer and bass player who was not Pete Townshend. The band’s album, Hollywood Dream, was released in 1970, to excellent reviews, but only modest sales. After some more touring, the band broke up in the spring of 1971. As Wikipedia noted, “The members of the band had little in common. In a 1972 NME interview, Newman said that he got on with Keen's music but not with Keen personally, while the exact opposite was true with regard to McCulloch.” 

Apparently, Hollywood Dreams is now considered a forgotten classic, with Allmusic stating, “So many bands have been hauled out of obscurity to be tagged the greatest secret you've never been told. Thunderclap Newman are one of the few who actually deserve that epithet.” I admit to only sampling a few tracks, and I have trouble getting past Keen’s reedy voice and the excessive music hall influences, but maybe it takes a few solid listens before the genius is revealed. And that’s why I’ve perpetuated the “classic rock radio syndrome” here, focusing on the one song we all know. 

McCullough went on to play with John Mayall, Stone the Crows, and, most famously, Wings, but died from heroin-induced cardiac arrest in 1979 at the age of 26. Keen’s solo career went nowhere, and became a producer, helming Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ debut, L.A.M.F. and Motõrhead’s first album (and appears on one of that band’s live albums) and was a session musician before leaving the music industry. Keen died of a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 56. 

Newman recorded an unsuccessful solo album and was a studio musician before retiring until 2002, when he formed the Thunderclap Newman Band, which toured until it disbanded in 2010. Newman formed a new band (which included Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh and the former drummer of Big Country), billed simply as Thunderclap Newman. In 2010 this group released an album, Beyond Hollywood, and toured from 2010-2012, with their last gig at the Isle of Wight Festival. Newman died in 2016 at the age of 73. 

And I’ve made you wait to the end to know why Andy Newman was known as “Thunderclap”—it was a nickname he received in school because of his playing technique.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Home: In the 60s



purchase [ Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme ]

purchase [ Deja Vu ]


 I've got Spotify, but not seriously. My only "playlist" is the plug-in USB for the car. That said, I would not likely (and haven't) added either of these to that device.

But they are a part of my musical background - and I appreciate them for the foundation they bring (brought, as I grew up). Simon and Garfunkel were how I moved from "folk" to "rock". CSNY solidified that transition.

If I remember correctly, Homeward Bound was a hit in 65-66 when I was in the US during my parents' home leave rotation. I was more or less just starting to 'tune in"/appreciate 'hit" music on AM radio and maybe some TV (Ed Sullivan?) I remember I already had a copy of Parsely,Sage ... and some Kingston Trio- my early forays into "pop" music.

That year - in the US - I began a collection of 45s. Red Rubber Ball... I Fought the Law....

As the 70s rolled ın, my musical awakening/tastes had changed. Among other life-changing events, I had heard <Are You Experienced> and <Electric LadyLand>. Plus  Janis Ian. But my LP collection at that tıme also included Smokey Robinson and Aretha. I had also actually seen Blind Faith , Little Stevie Wonder and the Supremes live in Seattle.

At the start of the 70s, I moved out of my parents' house at the age of 15 - to attend boarding school in a foreign land (the US). The Quaker boading school I had chosen was full-on anti-war, and so CSNY fit right in with "our" mindset. The school admin actually pro-actively arranged busses for students to travel to DC to join the protests.

Both <Our House> and <Homeward Bound> are too laid-back to qualify as 70s protest music, but they are emblematic of the times - in my mind. Not least of their qualities that I consider in that aspect are the vocal harmonies.

Ahhh...harmony ...




Saturday, July 30, 2022

HOME (IS WHERE THE HEART IS): CLIVE GREGSON

 Again, for me a no-brainer, if again bringing back to these pages a fella I have championed before. But with good reason, like Difford and Tillbrook last week, he has a canon of as quintessentially English songs as has anyone. Which, considering his home has been in the U.S. for most of the last 30 years is quite something. A touch of the "Home thoughts from abroad" tucked away in there, methinks, to which end he resembles that another quintessentially English songwriter, a certain Richard Thompson. (Again, sorry Jordan.....) Whose name will pop up again, here, as you will read, having, at one time, offered gainful employ to Gregson. But first, the song, a glorious song that defines that cliche of home being where you want it to be. It isn't stated whether the protagonist is leaving England or returning there from afar and, indeed, it doesn't matter. The feel of what that home might mean is underlaid by the wonderful brass arrangement, french horn (awkwardly), that mainstay and staple of the brass and silver bands of the north of England, with their rich and evocative tones. Shorthand for old England, the last century, and particularly, the 1950s, as the makers of Hovis bread knew so well.

Gregson has had an interesting time of it, somehow retaining the same slightly bemused air of how did I get here, whether playing to a packed hall with his briefly one to watch band, Any Trouble, to huge acclaim on the folk(ier) circuit in his much loved duo with Christine Collister, or to a handful of punters in his latter-day solo iteration, playing small venues, arts centres and coffee houses. Oddly, it seems in the last he seems most at ease, guaranteed an intent and enthusiastic audience for his vast compendium of songs and self-deprecating patter. But he has seemingly hung up his capos and retired. No huge song and dance about it, a solo farewell tour sufficing. OK, and the special release of no less than 8 albums, month by month, during 2020. Covering the many and varied bases of his output, each of the 8 is themed in way way or another, allowing you to pick and choose the Gregson you prefer. His website explains it better.

RT I mentioned above, this being one of the more inspired moments of the long and illustrious career of the ex-Fairporter. I may even have told this tale before, but, as an early adopter of Clive Gregson and Christine Collister, buying their initial release, a cassette, only available from the pair directly, I had been delighted to learn they would be playing support to Mr Thompson and his band, at a much anticipated pre-Christmas concert at the Birmingham (UK) Odeon, a cinema that doubled as a music venue, and then the best night out in the city. My first capture of Gregson since the demise of Any Trouble, the two put on a great show, captivating the audience with their acoustic charm, however much prompted they were for the more electric oeuvre of the main event. So, imagine my surprise when, after the interval, on trooped the RT band, resplendent with both Gregson and Collister, she on backing vocals and he on second guitar and occasional keyboards. Wow and indeed wow! (No less than Steve Gibbons, also in attendance, was overheard to comment how this wasn't his usual bag, but how astonishing he found it.) I have probably seen Richard Thompson more than about any other performer over my years, as an electric band and also solo, but that band was possibly his strongest, yes, even more so than the arc grade wallop of his current trio. But something happened, at some stage, between Gregson and his employer. After a few years of playing live and appearing on a run of records, their ways seemed to abruptly part. The first I knew of it was a somewhat coruscating review, I think in Q magazine, by Gregson of Thompson's Mirror Blue. Which did not feature him. But the song, 'Put It There, Pal', which was a scathing demolition of an erstwhile friend, on the later You Me Us, may have. In the lyrics. I have always wondered. Collister, by the way, stayed with Richard Thompson, and will often crop up, even now, as a special guest at his shows, perhaps less so now he has married again, and has a wife who can be his vocal foil.)

Rather than linger on this episode, let me concentrate again on the subsequent years, which take in this century. This has seen the rebirth of Any Trouble, on a couple of occasions and a pair of albums, it looking for a time that an annual re-union show might be on the cards. He has toured alone, almost incessantly, or so it seemed, with also a pleasing return to a male/female duo, teaming up for a tour and an album with Liz Simcock. I always hoped it was desire rather than financial necessity that kept him on the road. In truth, probably a bit of both, but, as a Nashville domiciled songwriter for hire, I hope his royalties are, at the least, worthy of his talent. 

As I researched this piece I remembered he had also, for a time, been a member of Nanci Griffith's band, as well as, later, a member of Plainsong. Later still he was  the musical director for Dennis LaCorriere, the voice of Dr Hook, which makes for a varied set of skills. I haven't mentioned, either, his phenomenal technique on guitar, acoustic and electric, his competitive soloing perhaps another factor in his ejection from Thompson's band. Their extended duelling on Tear Stained Letter was always nothing short of incandescent.

I don't know quite where Gregson's current home is. Or heart for that matter, but hope they are in the same place and that retirement is kind to him. So, thanks, Clive, for all you have given to my pleasure. 

Below is the other version of Home, by the CG/CC duo.

And a (slightly) more recent live version:

One more? (With guess who.....)


Clive Gregson selected discography.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Home: Yankee, Go Home

Richard Thompson: Yankee, Go Home
[purchase

This song has nothing to do with baseball, but regular readers of my writing know that I’m a huge Mets fan. Seriously, though.  And like most Mets fans, I hate the Yankees. Not just because of their long history of winning (as compared to the Mets’ shorter, but still long, history of mostly not winning), but because they, and many of their fans, are annoyingly arrogant about it. This season, the Mets appeared to have their strongest team in years, and despite some critical injuries, still are having one of their best seasons. 

And the Yankees are having a better season. 

So, when the two teams met earlier this week for a brief two game “Subway Series,” the psychological stakes were pretty high (and the competitive stakes for the Mets, who are not running away with their division like the Yankees are, were very high because they need to keep winning to hold off the Braves). The stands were packed with fans of both teams, and you could tell from the TV that CitiField was rocking. Both games were exciting, and while not perfectly played, there were big hits, great fielding, and clutch pitching. And lots of drama. 

And the Mets won both games. 

So, Yankee(s), Go Home. 

The teams will meet again in August for two games in the Bronx, and maybe my excitement will be tempered (although the worst case scenario now is a split of the season series), but when both New York teams are playing well, these games can be fun. 

The song, by Richard Thompson, of course has nothing to do with baseball at all. I believe that RT lives in New Jersey these days, so, if he follows local baseball, he could be a Mets or Yankees fan (or possibly even a Phillies fan, depending on where in Jersey he is), but I suspect that he’s more of a football fan (in the British sense of the word). Here’s an article from 2014 in which he claims to have become a Chelsea supporter (boooo!). He also mentions coaching his son, and I actually remember seeing his name in the AYSO coaching database back in my volunteering days. 

Instead, the song is an angry attack on American imperialism. Although it was released in 1988 on his excellent album Amnesia, the song is filled with dated references about American soldiers giving out silk stockings and chewing gum, and meeting girls in dance halls, but I don’t think that it is only about World War II, considering its references to burning effigies and gringos. Instead, it’s just a call for Americans to leave other countries alone. For the Yankees to go home.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

(NO PLACE LIKE) HOME: SQUEEZE


Neither the first nor, I suspect, the last time for me to feature Squeeze, a band who have given me as much pleasure as many, and continue so to do, over, gulp, their, so far, 48 year, and counting, career. Possibly now more of a heritage act, featuring Glenn Tillbrook and Chris Difford, plus whomsoever available from the rotating door of other members and additional hired hands, they still put on a stocking show, capable of pulling surprises out the hat and even, if not that much in the way of new material, the odd, unexpected and inspired cover version. To be fair, Difford, the deeper voice to Tillbrook's higher and clearer register, often just strumming his rhythm guitar quietly side stage, with a bemused expression on his face, doesn't always  bother. No lover of transatlantic plane travel, he has been known to sit out the max of world tours, even to the home of their reliable US fanbase, staying back at home in England. But Tillbrook has always done most the heavy lifting, as the main and lead voice, give or take Cool For Cats and the other episodic showpieces taken by Difford, as well as being a finely inventive lead guitarist. ( I often wonder whether the Difford free band attempt Cool For Cats, with it being one of their more popular songs? I guess I will find out one day.)

No Place like Home (1985): PLAY SECOND

Home was the obvious theme to parade this song, as it is and always has been one of my favourites. Home, and the awkwardnesses often thereof, has been a recurring feature in Difford's lyrics, his writing the epitome of kitchen sink drama, his songs often little soap operas. Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, the album for which is is drawn, came at a difficult junction for the band. Arguably at the peak of earlier success, maybe just past, the band had broken up following 1982's Sweets From a Stranger, the lure of bangles duo success having proven too strong. And why not? Being the authors of all the songs, why tag along a band to dilute the earning potential, even if the reality was more of internal friction and the "musical differences" that had already seen Jools Holland, very much a live focus of the band, jump ship an album or so before. But Difford/Tillbrook, the duo and the eponymous album, was not the golden egg hoped for, necessitating a return to the golden goose. Squeeze were reborn, and even Jools was back to help celebrate, if but for a while. (It wouldn't be long, sadly, before he again jumped ship, taking avuncular sticksman, Gilson Lavis, off with him to his R&B Orchestra.) In fact, bar the absence of erstwhile bassist, John Bentley, this was nearly the same line up as for Argy Bargy and East Side Story, the twin lodestones of the Squeeze magic, with Keith Wilkinson coming in to replace him, fresh from the Difford-Tillbrook enterprise.

Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti was a muted success as a reincarnation, 32 in the UK album charts. I don't think the US even noticed. The songs were largely a good deal more complicated than previously and struggled with a slightly clunky production, an if in doubt add more textures school of thought. So a lot of kitchen sink. This was very much the house style of producer, Laurie Latham, who also worked for Paul Young, the Stranglers and, notably, Ian Dury: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick was one of his. I remember frowning a little at the time I first heard Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, but the style grew on me. I guess, as someone with always an ear out for the bass guitar, which Latham clearly was too, given the prominence he gave Pino Palladino, JJ Burnel and Norman Watt-Roy elsewhere, I took pleasure in how high in the mix he placed Keith Wilkinson. This was the catnip that made me wonder, with time, whether this is their best album. Or favourite, as we writers mean when we say best. Tillbrook's voice is all over the place in the chorus, as the arrangement lurches about, barely holding together, an orchestra seeming to saw away in a different room and to a different backing track. I love it, and the marriage between it and the preceding track, Last Time Forever, is little short of perfect, the one seeming to lead into the other. (So, a word, play the clip below first, and then the one higher up the page, for full effect.) In fact, it was as these two tracks burst into my ears, more than likely in the car, driving, the result was an epiphany: Squeeze were back, back, back. The fact that the songs that then complete the disc were a little meh mattered not a jot, that was often the Squeeze way, where they tucked the filler and the songs by other than the two front men.

Last Time Forever (1985): PLAY FIRST

I actually got to see this line-up live, at around this time. I think it was at Birmingham's Powerhouse, a venue long gone. Previously the Locarno, it was a tacky dance hall in a the concrete monstrosity that built up around the top of Hurst Street. (Opposite Mr Egg, should anyone familiar be reading or remember, a fabled restaurant, open until the wee hours, and from the wee hours, selling all things egg, usually fried.) It was a terrific show and certainly blew the socks off the show I caught at Birmingham Odeon, a good few years before, between the debut and Cool For Cats, when they were still struggling a bit with image, uncertain if they were punks or new wave, going down the calibre tunesmithery as a result. And, in the times since, whilst good, they have never quite been that good. For good measure, here's how I found them about 6 years ago, within the content of Day 3.

Squeeze have a number of other songs about home in their canon. Indeed, home life, and all the twists and turns associated, form their most prominent feature, Difford possessing almost documentarian skills in evoking the joy and grief of the real grubbiness and shabbiness of suburban family life, of folk making the best of whatever life's allotted. Here's two more from lesser known and latter day releases. They could almost be about the same fella, objective witness and his own subjective interpretation.

The Day I Get Home (1991)

Jolly Comes Home (1993)

Well, I don't know about you, but revising these songs has put me in a truly nostalgic bent. and, like so many other bands I have decided I have seen enough of, I want to see them again. Well, next month I get part of that delivered, with Chris Difford playing a solo show at Wickham Festival, in Hampshire, UK.

No place, right enough!



Monday, July 18, 2022

Home: I Don’t Want To Go Home

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: I Don’t Want To Go Home
[purchase

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d been spending a lot of time preparing for my 40th college reunion, which was a lot of fun. But I want to talk today, a little, about our 25th reunion. At that time, although I was an active alumnus, in the sense that I went to reunions and sporting events and was proud of my college, I did little or no volunteer work for my class or school. In my mind, the reunion just sort of happened, and although I knew that classmates were involved in organizing it, I had no clue as to how much work it takes, and how hard it is to do it. I know now. Trust me, I know now. 

When I showed up at our 25th, in addition to receiving a uniquely beautiful garish jacket, I found out that our entertainment for one of the evenings was going to be Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I had always enjoyed their music, had played them occasionally on the radio during college, and was surprised that they would be appearing at our reunion. Typically, classes hire cover bands of various styles, and to my knowledge it was unusual to have a “name” band, even one whose best years seemed to be behind them, as entertainment. I later discovered that the band was paid for by a wealthy classmate, so that the cost was not passed along to the rest of us, which was nice of him. (This appearance appeared to set off a bit of an arms race among reunions classes, with appearances by acts such as Joan Jett, Duran Duran, Naughty By Nature, some version of the Beach Boys, and others until it seems that the University has discouraged this practice. Also, Phil Lesh played with his son, who was graduating, one year at an off-campus eating club, and Stanley Jordan joined in.) 

They were great, if a little loud under our tent, and the picture above is from his performance (and thanks to the classmate who provided me with this and other pictures from that night for our slideshow, because that was 2007, before everyone carried a digital camera in their pocket). 

Southside Johnny (John Lyon) and Bruce Springsteen met as young, aspiring musicians in the late 1960s, became close friends, and were both involved in creating the New Jersey/Asbury Park sound. A number of musicians played with both men, including Gary Tallent and Vini Lopez, who went to high school with Lyon, and Steve Van Zandt. But where Springsteen went on to become The Boss, Southside’s success was more limited. There are tons of articles on the Internet discussing their friendship, which continues, but I found one from 2012, an interview with Lyon, that seems to lay it out pretty clearly. According to that article, even in the early days, Lyon knew that among all of the musicians in their group, Springsteen stood out. As Lyon remembered, “He just had that presence where you couldn’t take your eyes off him.” Lyon described the difference between the bands: “He's got more straight ahead rock 'n' roll roots and I have more rhythm and blues roots. And I have a horn section and he doesn't." 

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ first album, I Don’t Want to Go Home, is excellent, and the title track, written by Van Zandt (who also produced the record), is maybe the band’s signature track. It’s a blusey, horn-drenched rocker, telling the story of someone who, well, doesn’t want to go home and face the fact that his love has left him. For what it is worth, I’m using a live version of the song, from the 1980 album Reach Up and Touch the Sky, because I like it a little better. 

Lyon has continued to perform and record pretty much non-stop with various lineups of the Jukes, solo, and with other side projects, but has generally flown under the radar. But, at least back in 2012, Lyons seemed comfortable with his career. As he said in that interview: 

I like where I am. I'm friends with a lot of these guys who have become big rock stars and it's not for me. I treasure my privacy and l like being left alone on the street. Garry Tallent and I were talking a couple of years ago and realized everybody pretty much got what they wanted. Steven always wanted to be active politically and to play music and now he's an actor as well. Bruce always wanted to make his music count for people. He carried himself as a person who has something to say, and still does. And I've always wanted to be as free and odd and eccentric as I wanted, because I'm just naturally that way - and I can. I haven't put on a suit for 40 years.