Monthly Archives: June 2017

Record Of The Week # 22

June 29, 2017

|Tony Ives

Tyler Childers – Purgatory

Purgatory by Tyler Childers will be another candidate for those crowded end of year lists. Whilst Americana will claim him then this is proper Country before auto tune, rehab, radio and the major labels sanitised it. It is saturated with violins, guitars, banjo and tunes to die for. There is a lot of music out there to catch your ear but Childers, helped no end by the production of Sturgill Simpson and sound engineer, par excellence, David Ferguson, has been helped to release a fabulous record that show cases his talent brilliantly and hopefully this will put it above the rest on people’s play lists.

Sturgill Simpson is the latest Americana bright light after having won awards for his last album A Sailor’s Guide To The Earth and his association is quite an affirmation of Childers potential. Not only does his experience and talent come to the fore behind the desk but he brings along his band to play.

 Childer’s has paid his dues and these songs drip with life’s experiences and make for heartfelt stories that tell you about his early rebellious and often dissolute lifestyle. Like Simpson he hails from east Kentucky, a land of densely wooded hillsides, semi-trailer trucks hauling coal on narrow roads and no little deprivation. His picture of life comes against this backdrop and makes for a compelling listen.

He started singing “Feathered Indians” in 2014 as he made his living playing small venues but in 2017 it makes it onto disc. This lilting acoustic guitar melody, complimented by violin, is an awkward love song, possibly reminding you of Jason Isbell, Ray LaMontagne or James McMurtry, of a man who starts to emerge from wayward ways to see that something is worth reforming for:

“Looking over West Virginia smoking spirits on the roof

She asked ‘ain’t anybody told you that them things are bad for you?’

I said ‘many folks have warned me, there’s been several people try

But up until now there ain’t been nothing that I couldn’t leave behind”

The voice is his passport to stardom – demanding, tuneful, expressive and with a smidgeon of loud ‘Outlaw’ edge. “Honky Tonk Flame’, a straight down the line traditional Country song, pulls all this together and we have the troubadour drifting from bar to bar and suddenly finding ‘the love of a woman was all that he needs’; with this anchor then he’s more complete but:

“Still on the road ‘cause I ain’t good for nothing

Except writing the songs that I sing

Beating them strings like their owing me money

And chasing that honky tonk flame”

“Whitehouse Road” has that Steve Earle country rock chug and yet more talk of ‘running these roads’ with moonshine along the back roads of Kentucky. A belter of a track that really benefits from Simpson’s band behind him.

Like so many of these artists he is out on the road and even makes it to London in July playing some minor venue there. There is no easy way to fame but I’ve slowly pedalled up the rolling hills of east Kentucky, looking for predatory dogs (!), and seen the economic challenges and the schools proclaiming they are ‘drug free zones’. Not a place that has an easy future ahead. It may suggests that this is a new arduous route worth taking.

Purgatory, I feel, is the closing of a chapter. He sees his youthful path as full of missteps forming him but out of the darkness comes the hope. Childers and this album deserve a big future. 

Samantha, Sophie, Saul & Harry – Week 25 : 2017

June 23, 2017

One of the joys of being married to the opposite sex is the never ending review of your ‘plans for the day’. As most retired blokes know then apart from tasks that are weather related – scarifying the lawn, washing the car etc. then there are, blissfully, seldom any ‘plans’. Stuff just crops up and gets done.

This morning my wife enquired as to ‘what are you doing today?’ but expedited matters by running through my usual options – a bike ride was had yesterday, continuing to clear a moss and weed strewn path was unlikely due to a back strain and so all that was left was another activity that she particularly admires – my swearing uncontrollably at my rapidly slowing iMac.

She hasn’t realised that the pleasure in this latter activity is that it doesn’t answer back…

Negotiating something when you are not heavily concerned about the outcome is a luxury but a burden for those who are involved, inexperienced and do care. My youngest daughter and boyfriend have been buying a flat and as we are also putting some money in then they have had to suffer me having a view on the property and haggle.

They are acquiring a flat in Didsbury from a vendor who has refurbished and extended a large old house into eleven flats. The property has been shoddily restored and the vendor has ordinarily sold flats to very keen young people who are ‘hot to trot’ with the transaction and will respond to deadline threats despite issues to do with quality, installation and assurances. That just winds me up; in clarifying the detail and snagging has therefore been protracted against a backdrop of deadlines.

We’ve had a right to ask questions. Sophie and Harry have performed well if not a little stressed by our involvement. The exchange of contracts and deposit will take place against some minor brinkmanship. For me it is an insight into some cowboy and high-handed actions by the vendor. A sign of the times, I think.

After my absorption and delight at Breaking Bad I had to dabble with the spin off – Better Call Saul. What a fabulous box set and a superb script and amazing acting. Saul (Bob Odenkirk) is sublime. It’s been a joy and I have two Seasons to go.

So two brief holidays are in the offing, one with the love of my life… Samantha. She’s booked onto the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry and we depart in early July. Hopefully it will be dryer than last year when a canoe would have been more comfortable to navigate through Northern France in torrential rain. One epic morning last June saw Sophie and myself driving through flooded roads near Lille whilst the condensation was so great in the car that we had to stop!

Before that I’m off on a brief cycling tour up the Pennine Cycleway Route with an old pal. Three nights exploring our Industrial revolution heritage and the odd pint of bitter. Stay tuned.

Record Of the Week # 21

June 16, 2017

The Beatles – The Beatles (Double White) 

How could I go a year without a Beatles album amongst the selection? The challenge was to decide which one. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road or the Double White Album? I could pick any of them but the Double White (The Beatles) sticks in my mind as the one that had the most diverse selection of styles and genres and so provided an introduction to different music to my then young ears. Such is the mental imprint this gave that I can visualise the radiogram and room where I used to dig this out of its sleeve and play it.

The Beatles were able to move between genres with no critical comment or censure and I would say that this blessing meant that I embraced many sounds. I could run through each track of this 1968 record with affection as somewhere there is a brilliant riff, wonderful tune, experimental or surprising arrangements and freaked out lyrics that appealed to me. So lets talk about a few tracks.

Side One kicks off with “Back In The USSR”, clearly an anachronism in 2017 with BOAC and the Soviet Union long gone but at the height of the Cold War this intoxicating mix of Rock ‘n Roll, transatlantic air travel and the portrayal of Russians as humans was quite a thing for this 14 year old to absorb. Paul McCartney composed this as a supposed Beach Boys parody. However, the Chuck Berry influence dominates. Intriguingly Ringo Starr didn’t play drums as he quit the band briefly during their recording.

George Harrison composes “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with the magnificent Eric Clapton helping on Harrison’s Gibson Les Paul guitar. This was a coming of age for Harrison,  he started to compose more, rather than just play, and this might be seen as the best track on the album. The lyrics are certainly influenced by George’s reading Chinese philosophy at the time albeit at his mother’s house in Warrington! This was a typical Rock song paraded on both sides of the Atlantic over the next decade.

Paul McCartney’s  “Martha My Dear” has Music Hall styled piano, I just loved it. McCartney has never been constrained by being hip and this along with ‘Honey Pie’ bears no resemblance to Rock music. This inclusion legitimised my parent’s record collection as a catalogue of enjoyment and made me adopt the position that there are only two types of music – ‘good and bad’.

We have the acoustic beauty that McCartney became synonymous with in “Blackbird”. This is such a soothing and healing song with it’s metronomic beat, what lyrics:

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise”

If this is a memorable set of words then the story that “Rocky Racoon”, a British folk style tune, recounts is of a Dakota gun fight over a woman between two love rivals with wry humour.

Even Ringo gets to write on the album, his first solo Beatles composition “Don’t Pass Me By”. Ringo tracks were something you never looked for but usually his talented mates were often able to elevate anything he wrote to something tolerable. On this then there is a violin/fiddle solo. Which British acts were using this instrument in its US guise on their albums in 1968?

My wonder and education continued with “Yer Blues”, a John Lennon composition with a faithful blues treatment that inevitably brings George Harrison to the fore and he nails it throughout. In between passages of fluidity he makes it wail and screech. Delicious.

Even artists of this stature wouldn’t be allowed to sprawl on so many styles and indulgences over four sides of vinyl today. “Revolution 9” is a cacophony of sound and voice clips as they play with the capability of the recording equipment. This was not something that my record collection went near: until now.

After this musical journey we come to rest at the end of Side Four with “Good Night”, a song written by Lennon for his young son and sung by Starr. Lush strings turn this into a perfect lullaby and somehow is the beautiful and reflective ending the album deserves.

The Beatles are still revered around the world and not least in the USA. I have stories of asking Americans, on my bike travels, to identify three famous Britons only to have these guys regularly be named. We’re fiercely proud of them, a true gift to mankind.

(This was the last Beatles album to be mixed in mono and stereo. I have a mono version on vinyl. This was only originally sold in the UK. It shifted over 300,000 copies in the UK and so is ‘relatively scarce’. A quick look at Discogs sees my edition selling comfortably between £90 to £200. However, I’m not in a hurry to dispose of it anytime soon).

Record Of The Week # 20

June 14, 2017

Zephaniah O’Hora and The 18 Wheelers – This Highway

One of the delights of rummaging around for old vinyl is that you can find music, for a proverbial song, that you wouldn’t normally find and if you’re lucky then the original owner didn’t play it and so it is mint! I captured a Buck Owens Live at Carnegie Hall Concert gem recently and felt it was a real piece of luck as I was transported back to 1966. The same experience came to pass with this delightful release by the improbably named Zephaniah O’Hara with the 18 Wheelers.

With his producer and guitarist, Jim Campilongo, O’Hara recreates the sound of 1960’s Bakersfield and Nashville with an authenticity that would enable you to stick any of the tracks off this record on a Rock-Ola in a 1960’s Honky Tonk and not worry that someone might pick up that 50 years that have elapsed since the machine was loaded with Ernest Tubbs, Loretta Lynn, Red Simpson or Merle Haggard. To emphasis the point the album sleeve is also wonderfully retro.

Originally from that hot bed of Country & Western music (not), New Hampshire, O’Hara plies his trade nowadays in Brooklyn, NY. With his band then you can imagine them occupying a small corner of small bar as folk two-step in front of them.

The sound has that gentle Country & Western feel with pedal steel, from Jon Graboff, providing a beautiful embellishment and the band never pushes but backs the measured tenor of O’Hara. “I Believe I’ve had Enough” hits its stride and we hear O’Hara’s plan to take it easy whilst the guitar picks around him with a gentle honky tonk piano filling the gaps. The pace can vary and  “This Highway” takes things down and O’Hara croons his best Jim Reeves. “High Class Girl From The Country” sees Campilongo switch to acoustic whilst the pedal steel takes the melody. O’Hara tells us of her ‘chasing down those dreams and the years show on your face’. The full nine yards of 1960’s Country pathos. “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free)” is a lyrical gem, so dark against a bright and cheerful tune:

The roses I bought are on the floor

You tried to walk out the door,

This gun will keep you here with me,

I can’t let you go, even though I set you free

Needless to say we go on to talk about graves and the presiding judge. A three minute 32 second classic.

Apart from the unnecessary cover of the Sinatras’ “Somethin’ Stupid” with Dori Freeman duetting then these all appear to be original compositions and confirm that O’Hara and Campilongo love this era and sound such, that at a stroke, they could compile this collection. I love it and kudos to Round-Up Records for letting this see the light of day. Tell a friend who likes the old stuff: they will never be able to thank you enough.

Tears, Polls & 'Fascinating Problems' – Week 23 : 2017

June 12, 2017

Finishing off our breakfast at The Delaunay in Holborn Tim turned to a story about resuscitating his car, which wouldn’t start. He’d ask a ‘man who can’ to inspect and resolve the elderly Jag’s problem and eventually telephoned him to get the prognosis. As Tim said then the last thing you want to hear is “Tim, actually it’s a fascinating problem…”

His man went onto tell him that it was all to do with the “brains of the car, Tim”. Again Tim felt more anxiety and mystification. The ‘brains’ in this case was the ECU. Anyway £300 got the old girl to cough back into life.

That was a happier event but the week contained the burying of an old friend. I wrote about Jason and the final chapter saw us bury him in a beautiful little churchyard in Barnston, Essex. A very tearful and draining event made more difficult, for me, by the fact that in line with Sod’s Law it was also the date of another funeral 150 miles away (Steve) which I had to miss.

That weather behaved in Essex but it tipped down during the week as I headed up north to talk to the Easingwold Yorkshire Country Womens Association about my bike ride across America. It is still a pleasure to recount mountain ranges, churches, Kentucky dogs and the kindness of strangers. It seems that they are up for some music next year in my talk about cycling down the USA in search of the centres of American popular music.

I’ve been submitting record reviews to The Americana Music Show for some months and enjoying the experience of writing. Just as pleasing was to see my efforts on the shelves of W H Smith via the monthly magazine Country Music People. People comment that I’m able to do this stuff but it still seems that a bloke who spent his working career shuffling through Board papers and concerning himself with all things to do with kitchen cabinets wouldn’t now be writing about Americana and Country music for circulation in the UK and USA. Maybe I’m getting this retirement project sorted.

It doesn’t seem to be possible to fail to mention the General Election. No pre-result doubts about the result, no potential ‘nip and tuck’ and no doubt that it would be the inevitable confirmation of what you expected to happen. It was the 10pm Exit Poll forecast of a Hung Parliament that nobody expected. If my social media feed and news headlines are to be believed then the winner lost and the losers won. Whichever way then it isn’t to be business as usual and we’ll limp on for some time, at least, to see if it all works.

Lastly a picture of some cars! Anna and her friend Zelma arranged a drive up to The Sportsmans Arms in Wath-in-Nidderdale for a bite to eat and by way of reward the men got to drive their toys including a 1965 Triumph TR4 and an early 1970’s Triumph TR6. Great fun.

Record Of The Week # 19

June 6, 2017

Kaleo – A/B

I was watching a video of a chap cycling in Norway, in the sitting room, thinking that he had a very fine soundtrack accompanying his ride when Harry, my daughter’s boyfriend, appeared around the door and asked if I liked Kaleo? Kaleo were the Icelandic band playing electric blues rock on the video. Never heard of them!

Iceland has produced some fine popular music of late including Sigur Rós and Bjork. Granted, both are acquired tastes but nevertheless remarkable. Kaleo may shortly be seen as important. So who are these frozen Blues practitioners?

Starting in the west of Iceland in 2012. This four piece hangs off the singing and song writing of Jökull Júlíusson – a voice that is drenched in blues and can hold a melody beautifully with Sam Smith-esque falsetto and no little nod to Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. You may have heard them on adverts for Boots and Netflix and their relocation to Texas in 2015, as a base, meant that this album was recorded in Nashville, LA, Austin as well as sessions in London and Reykjarvik.

Released in 2016 we slide between authentic Delta blues to their more popular version of driving blues rock (“Hot Blood”, “Glass House”). However their signature sound comes with ‘No Good’ and the muscular Paul Rodgers style vocal fronts a wicked rumbling lead guitar and thumping drum. What a way to start the album! The electric lead guitar of Rubin Pollock is certainly a blues force and gives all the songs quite a soulful yet, on occasion, jagged edge.

“Broken Bones” begins with a 1930’s Alan Lomax inspired Press Gang chant. As the song develops again with that thumping bass drum accompaniment, it tells the story of a prisoner in chains looking to the Devil to set him free. “Way Down We Go” is more of the same, which is fine by me.

To add some variety they can mix it and the bright acoustic “Automobile” is a road song with mentions of San Diego, San Francisco and Mexico. Similarly the album closer, “I Can’t Go On Without You”, takes us out in a reflective mood and the beautiful love song showcases a terrific vocal.

It can be no coincidence that the polish and dynamics of an often multi layered sound comes from much of the production duties falling to Jacquire King. His cv includes Buddy Guy, Tom Waits, Kings Of Leon & The Editors. He has the feel and knows where to place the guitar in the mix for sure. Also it helps to be signed to the Warner owned Elektra label – an organisation with resources and clout to promote.

As a total package it is a triumph and note that it’ll eventually appear in the hippest of record collections.

Moores People Update 4

June 4, 2017

Steve Jessney (Group Design Manager) reminded me that he was a former employee! He is somebody that I have had a lot do with since about 2009. Anyone who looks at the web site will know that I have a passion for music and in addition I love podcasts. So back in the day in a trawl of the internet I came across, by chance, a podacst for Blues music and I recognised the name of the presenter.

Steve designed, with a team, furniture for Geo A Moore & Co and Moores International before leaving for MFI in the late 1980’s. This was a weird time when George Moore lurked at the top of Queen Mary House and was only occasionally sighted as he swept in and out. Weird because the top corridor staff created an impression that George was a celestial being and if you went upstairs then the corridor had radios playing to mask any noise of important conversations (?) being held within the inner sanctums.

I was the Group Purchasing Manager at the time and the components Steve specified we bought. I never knew of his love of the Blues and if he left me with anything then it was his job when he left, as I became the Group Purchasing & Design Manager. Steve now works as the Head of Technical & Design at Omega PLC.

Steve produces a weekly radio show for Vixen 101, which comes out of Market Weighton. This then becomes a podcast and as we speak I have over 8 days of the show stored on my iMac hard drive! The Show plays mainly new release Blues records but he dips into older stuff and regales us with seeing Derek & The Dominoes live in Scarborough every quarter. I love it and it follows me on my cycling trips as well as innumerable hours at home. I owe my sketchy knowledge of the Blues to him. If you like this genre then there is absolutely no better place to be.

With Jim Brady (Sales Administration, PS Sales & Installation) we dined with Wendy Looker (Sales Administration) and Sharron Street (Customer Care) near Saxton to shoot the breeze. I did suggest that photos of Jim in consecutive issues of the blog was not a good idea but the ladies insisted! Sharron works for the City & Guilds organisation in Wakefield. She runs the part of the business that monitors that standards are maintained by the companies that run the courses. A story about a record by reggae legend Prince Buster (‘Wreck A Pum Pum’) in Jamaica and the subsequent need for a cleansing trip to church by the visiting City & Guilds representative after the use of supposed foul language did highlight the cultural gulf that they straddle even in countries where we have a common language. Wendy is flourishing and full of excellent advice on all things healthy.

I had cause to catch up with Martin Appleyard (Export & Installation) recently and life sounds good. He’s now the Group Operations Director of DBD, based in Hemel Hempstead. This company supplies and installs upmarket German kitchens and appliances. He’s responsible for the installation of all this: but into every life a little rain must pour… he’s also responsible for overseeing their Health & Safety programmes and policy! Down time includes lots of cycling.

Winner of photo competition – both Peter Lawson (Supplies & Purchasing) and Philip Turnpenny (HR Director) got that it was David Moore (IT or was it DP Manager). Peter had the inside track, as he was on that holiday and it was his bike that David was leant against!

So who’s this? An unhelpful clue is that both Martin Appleyard and myself attended her wedding reception!

Al Jolson, Calvin Powers & A Corn Snake – Week 22 : 2017

June 4, 2017

Trundling through the Yorkshire countryside on my bike yesterday I was miraculously transported back to Florida thanks to the presenter, Calvin Powers, on the Americana Music Show podcast. He made reference to the Suwannee Roots Revival Music Festival in October and talked through the acts about to appear.

Usually it is hard to remember a day in your life in enormous detail but I well recollect passing through Suwannee County on a hot day in late August 2015 on my bike. After cycling down the USA and taking in its magical musical history I had got to New Orleans, duly worshipped, and was heading east to the coast to meet the family. In fairness another 700 mile bike ride from NOLA isn’t inconsequential but after the earlier adventure it would be a flat run to the coast and the hell, that is, Orlando.

To my surprise I enjoyed the ride more than I ever thought. This part of Florida bears no relation to its angry, busy and prosperous eastern ‘pan handle’. It was relatively flat, very wooded, lots of African Americans and not too wealthy at all but in an unexploited and rural way. In places though it was very quiet and had that Southern combination of lethargy and debilitating heat.

On such a potential day I left Tallahassee early in squally rain (they had said there would be implications from Hurricane Erika, gosh those crazy Americans worry about anything) and headed east into a dry afternoon of heat and emptiness. As the 76 miles for the day ground by then I found myself on the ‘Ray Charles Memorial Highway’. Here in the middle of nowhere I quickly discounted it was the great man’s asphalt but slowly as I got nearer to Greenville then it became apparent this is where the African American Rhythm & Blues legend had spent his early years, his mother’s home town.

So I ‘collected’ another musical institution – saw the monument and took the photos and continued east to a State Park where I hoped to camp. The camp was in Suwannee State Park. Again in my heat dazed brain then Al Jolson came to mind with ‘Swannee’, his first large commercial hit written by George Gershwin in 1919. This became a world wide famous song. Digging around finds that Stephen Foster first adapted the Suwannee river to ‘Swannee Ribber’ in his song ‘Old Folks at Home’. From here with the river in circulation George took the name for his song.

So with all this musical history amassed I argued with the Park Ranger about charging me the same price as an RV to pitch a miniature tent (without a hook up) in this parched forest ($24) for a night. It was good to be detained and argue because the air conditioning was delicious and I noted in a tank, within the Ranger’s office, was an imprisoned Corn snake. It lived off frozen mice and as I wandered out of the office, defeated, but consoling myself that I had just cycled past a nearby gas station that sold beer and also that my exorbitant fee would keep the snake in chilled rodents for some time to come.