Monthly Archives: December 2017

Record Of The Week # 35

December 28, 2017

 Average White Band – AWB

Despite seeing The Average White Band live then it wasn’t until sometime later that I really got into this majestic Scottish Soul outfit and bought their records. I’d seen them supporting Wishbone Ash; sadly like most support bands I’ve ever seen then I just wished them away so that my reason for being at the gig could start.

The ‘White’ album by AWB has folklore attached to it and is revered in many circles as one of the very best Soul albums ever released. This improbable collection of Scotsmen found themselves in the USA after recording this, their second, album which their then record label, MCA, subsequently had no interest in releasing. By this stage the band had played together for some time and their ‘sound’, song writing and machine precision tightness had been developed to such a degree that Los Angeles rather than Dundee came to mind.

After the blow of rejection then as luck would have it they met Jerry Wexler (of Atlantic Records and the mentor of Aretha Franklin) at a party. They had their tapes with them. He knew gold when he heard it and the band were despatched to Florida to record the album, again, with legendary Soul producer, Arif Mardin.

This 40+ minutes of Soul nirvana caught the USA by surprise after it’s release by the very ‘whiteness’ of the band. Black radio stations happily (ignorant of its Caucasian origins) played the singles. Inevitably black audiences streamed into venues to witness the music first hand. Considerable amazement followed as six badly dressed and very hairy pale Scots strode onto the stage. The disappointment soon passed as the act caught fire.

The album also caught fire and made it’s way to the top of the US Billboard 200 and spawned the funky single “Pick Up The Pieces” with its repetitive signature riff and chorus. This ascended all the way to the top of the US charts (it had initially failed to chart in the UK) and possibly more remarkable was that the song was an instrumental.

Classic Soul Funk groups had that telepathy amongst them. These musicians produced such a tightly produced sound – it propelled your hips and feet as if you were being physically prodded. So it was with Alan Gorrie’s thumping bass, the technically sophisticated yet hypnotic drumming of Robbie McIntosh, the silky, catchy and driving rhythm guitar of Onnie McIntyre interplays with Hamish Stuart’s lead guitar. Add the saxophones of Roger Ball and ‘Molly’ Duncan and you’re transported to Soul heaven.

Nine of the 10 tracks are originals. Gorrie and Stuart share the vocals. Their plaintive tenor falsettos are heart felt and pleading throughout. When they share a vocal then the fit and harmonies are as tight as the rhythm section.

Not all the songs are turbo charged. When they take it down with “Just Wanna Love You Tonight” strings are introduced. We hear of an assignation before lovers are parted with a long tour lying ahead. The vocals are expressive and mellifluous.

After the romantic interlude they find another gear seamlessly and speed is regained with “Keepin’ It To Myself”. A sax introduction makes way for Gorrie’s vocal. More heartbreak unfolds as he concludes that he’s not sharing his love after yet more disappointment.

Aside from the Number 1 single then most memorable is the cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do”. I always liked the lyrics that explain to a long-suffering wife why he’s not home.

There are some amazing British exports, like Rolls Royce. Just like the car then AWB were amongst our most refined, high quality, beautifully crafted and unique gifts to the world.

David Bowie, Pumps & Holiday In Handcuffs – Week 51 : 2017

December 23, 2017

So when are you mentally in the perfect place? A large glass of merlot, the fire crackling in the hearth and a boxset? Sitting on a park bench watching the kids on the swings as they whoop and scream? Well, mine would be on the bike rolling along through the countryside with a podcast keeping my attention.

I remember, on my rides in the USA, listening to various podcasts. Such was the pleasure that I can tell you where I was when I listened to  the Word podcast with Rick Buckler’s story about The Jam (Interstate 61 in Louisiana), Ashley Hutchings talking about Sandy Denny (Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee) or Nicola Benedetti on Desert Island Discs (Interstate 50, Kansas). I can also tell you that I was climbing out of Gilling East on Thursday up a 10% gradient hill when I listened to a podcast about a book on David Bowie (David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones). It was an enjoyable ride but the gears kept slipping on the bike and the temperature was hovering at about 1°C.

There was one hilarious story about Bowie’s relocation to Switzerland (to avoid UK tax and his drug dealers) that resulted in him living up a mountain. However one night at 5.30pm came a knock on the door. “Hello David”. It was Roger Moore! A delighted Bowie invited him in for tea and they got on so famously that drinks and dinner followed. The next day – knock, knock. “Hello David”. This continued to the point that around 5pm most nights Bowie extinguished the lights and hid under the kitchen table to avoid “Hello David”. By this time I was on the outskirts of York but with no feeling in my fingers.

Christmas brings stupid time pressures doesn’t it? We have a leaking shower pump and needed to have a plumber visit to replace it. Eventually in time these things get resolved. However, close to Christmas tradesmen stop working and the arrival of guests over Christmas meant resolution was important. I’m pleased to say that a plumber did turn up but with the wrong parts and then had to make various calls and depart to Plumb Center to get the correct bits. (I shouldn’t complain as I made quite a decent living latterly trying to help organisations stop this type of wasteful running around). You’ll be relieved to know that in any case I had a fall back plan of fitting a rose to a hosepipe and sluicing down close relatives outside the back door.

Famous Belgians anyone? I was drawn to the headline that Hercule Poirot and his fellow countrymen were now stopping the Telegram Service. Apparently, it was now only used by bailiffs! In an age where even sending Christmas cards by post seems beyond obsolete then I can well remember telegrams that came for our wedding and even some when I was at boarding school. In fact who doesn’t enjoy the pleasure of receiving a long informative letter from a friend through the post? Along with vinyl records, dandelion and burdock, people domiciled in the UK on Call Centre phone lines and Huddersfield Town, in the top division of football, then I reckon they may be back eventually. No doubt some Californian 19 year old entrepreneur will think that the joy of having a bloke perspiring in a uniform (after leaping from his motorbike) delivering a message on paper from someone in Papua New Guinea might be quite thrilling. He’d be right.

The BBC Sports Personality Of The Year came around and the public voted for Mo Farah. I can’t be bothered to watch it (nearly three hours of Gary Lineker?) but I do take an interest in the winner mainly because it can rank up there with The Eurovision Song Contest for stupidity. I note that Chris Froome with four Tour de France victories and One Vuelta victory didn’t get the nod. Ten years ago we’d have given him an Earldom, let alone a trophy, for what he has achieved on the bike. Clearly there’s the small matter of being a bit liberal with asthma medication to overcome. I hope he does. I have to say that as a Kenyan he’s done us proud.  

Before I stop talking about cycling then I must report on feline developments. I subscribe to a Facebook Forum for cycle touring and you get some ‘dumb as bat shit’ stuff on here but my latest favourite was the following question:

Needless to say that as most of the correspondents are American then several took this very seriously (apologies to any US readers!) I was concerned about the cat’s safety and enquired as to how it would wear a helmet? Someone logically answered that this wouldn’t be needed because they always landed on their feet. Silly me, of course.

A pre-Christmas family tradition of a team event saw the four of us travel to Whitby (Yorkshire coast). There were sharp divisions on where to eat and more importantly what to eat. The ‘I’m virtuous and eating like a mouse’ faction were having nothing to do with Fish & Chips or a Full English Breakfast. Eventually the ‘normal and eat anything’ wing reached an amicable solution and father got his full English whilst the tallest of the offspring had a  sausage sandwich. Meanwhile the ‘virtuous’ nibbled toasted teacakes. However, this visit made these pages as the eldest spotted Mr & Mrs Lawson perambulating around the town. Alison and Peter were visiting relatives from Edinburgh. Peter and I used to work together, probably shortly after decimalisation, but more importantly we have cycled a few thousand miles together in Europe. They were intercepted for a cup of tea and a catch up. A lovely additional Christmas present.

The gym has hideous vacuous pop music playing music and TV’s showing the types of thing that you always wondered who watched them. So as I’m stretching and stuff I’m drawn to a Christmas film (Holiday In Handcuffs) that has a scene where a daughter is pleading with her father not to tell embarrassing jokes, like he does with waitresses in restaurants, when her boyfriend makes a planned appearance. Funnily enough I know a man like that…

Merry Christmas.

Records Of The Year 2017

December 17, 2017

It was strange to be asked for my Top 10 albums of the year by the folk I write for. I’ve spent a lifetime poring over various lists every Christmas and now I had to submit mine! What is clear then you are conflicted as you compile the list: do you pick the most worthy, adventurous and surprising releases or something, a little more honest, that you’re likely to play again?

For me I decided to pick two lists. One is the stuff I enjoyed from 2017 releases. I think I can explain why I liked them so much and you may find it somewhere as a ‘Record Of The Week’ on the blog. The other list is a list of albums that I have bought and become absorbed with in 2017. Although you’ll note they are old; most are vinyl which were a complete pleasure to track down. Revisiting old albums and or artists is a joy – like meeting up with old friends. 

Eternal gratitude to Calvin Powers, The Mighty Jessney (Steve) and Duncan Warwick who gave me so much music that it was nearly overwhelming. With what I bought and what I received then I listened to circa 210 new albums (to me) this year. That’s in addition to my usual listening to older stuff. I seldom passed a charity shop or HMV in York without buying something. In addition I bought albums this year in Leeds, London, Vancouver, Calgary, Stuttgart, Helsinki, Nuremberg and I looked in every other holiday destination I visited!

Streaming doesn’t work for me with poor internet in Acaster Malbis and I have to admit to being a ‘collector’.

2017 Releases

  1.          John Moreland                                                   Big Bad Luv
  2.          Tyler Childers                                                       Purgatory
  3.          Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
  4.          Courtney Marie Andrews                                    Honest life                                      
  5.          The War On Drugs                                             A Deeper Understanding
  6.          Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real                                            
  7.          Miranda Lambert                                               The Weight Of These Wings
  8.          Lee Ann Womack                                                The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone
  9.          Hurricane Ruth                                                     Ain’t Ready For The Grave
  10.          Zephaniah OHora With The 18 Wheelers       This Highway                           

Bought & Enjoyed In 2017

  1. The Rolling Stones                                            Exile on Main Street (1972)
  2. Millie Jackson                                                   Just A Lil’ Bit Country (1981)
  3. Humble Pie                                                       Smokin’ (1972)
  4. 10cc                                                                   The Original Soundtrack (1975)
  5. Candi Staton                                                     Music Speaks Louder Than Words (1977)
  6. Vinegar Joe                                                       Rock ’n Roll Gypsies (1972)              
  7. Cat Stevens                                                       Tea For The Tillerman (1970)
  8. Marcia Ball                                                         Live! Down The Road (2005)
  9. The Average White Band                                 Put It Where You Want It (1975)
  10. Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin               Love, Devotion & Surrender (1973)

Record Of The Week # 33

December 2, 2017

The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street

As I’ve got steadily more into the Blues and Americana it became self evident that there is a lot to discover in The Rolling Stones’ late 1960’s and early 1970’s catalogue. My conversion started with Sticky Fingers. The 2016 Blue & Lonesome was confirmation that they were the real thing and their legend is built on some wonderful foundations. Exile, for me, was an overlong and messy confection. A double album with a couple of decent tunes on it?

My ‘Road to Damascus’ moment came when I was introduced (thanks Sooty) to a 2016 re-mastered vinyl version. The album was cut using specialist half speed mastering. This results in a superior high frequency response. So gone is all that mushy sound and now you can pick out the vocals and instruments. It was a revelation!

The album has a story beside the music. In 1972 the Stones became expatriates as they escaped British tax rates (top rate of 83%!), drug busts and contract battles. Keith Richards became a resident at Chateau Nellcôte near Villefranche-sur-Mer (Nice) in the South of France. It was here that the album was initially recorded. The stories abound about recording between 8pm and 3am most days and along the way Richards and half the musicians were high on heroin and booze whilst Jagger, Wyman and Watts made sporadic appearances to complete the record. Richards’ drug problems were so horrific that he was eventually banned from France, in 1973, for two years.

For all this then the Stones were in their pomp and magic came to pass. The album has that dirty bluesy rock n’ roll feel throughout and the irreverence and looseness suggests that they were beyond caring about the sensibilities of those more supposedly respectable.

The first of 18 tracks is “Rocks Off” a full throttle rocker with the horns and Nicky Hopkins’ piano driving it along. Maybe the listener starts to get a feel for the party that’s going on behind this:

“Feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.
Feel so mesmerized all that inside me.
The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.
Chasing shadows moonlight mystery.
Headed for the overload”

We’re on our way.

Mick Taylor was holding down the present day Ronnie Wood position. Possibly the most accomplished guitarist the Stones ever had. Less pleasing to Jagger, because of his disruptive drug fuelled behaviour, was Bobby Keys. However, immediately you can hear his saxophone giving the whole album a Soul feel. “Shake Your Hips” isn’t a Stones composition but a cover of Slim Harpo’s who wrote it in 1965. It’s hypnotic percussive rhythm would have an audience up immediately. However, they won’t be sitting down anytime soon as we move onto “Casino Boogie” (with Taylor’s beautiful outro solo) and then finish side one with “Tumbling Dice”.

Phew. Epic

Side Two starts with “Sweet Virginia”. A great Country Blues song led off by Jagger on harp. Following we have three throttled back ballads but someone steps on the gas on “Loving Cup”. Jagger lays into a gutsy vocal. The song had a subsequent controversy when their previous manager, Allen Klein sued them for royalties claiming that the song was written during the time they were under contract to his company. Very rock ‘n roll.

“Happy” opens Side Three. This is a concert favourite when Mick leaves the stage and Keith croaks his way through this song. Apparently on one recording day Richards came to the studio early before the other band members showed up, found a riff and they recorded it with subsequent vocals and instruments added later. “Ventilator Blues” is a funky thing and Mick Taylor has no doubt been privately educating his kids with a share of the royalties that came from composing this with Jagger and Richards. “I Just Want To See His Face” references Jesus and is like a Soul coda with call and response – so different and innovative. As is the gospel ballad “Let It Loose” with female chorus harmonies, distorted guitars and horns accompaniment with Keys (sax) and Price (trumpet) providing backing for the ladies to take this gem home. This has never been subsequently played live but has ended up on two film soundtracks. My favourite track on the album.

I can’t believe there is another side to go!

Side Four rocks out starting with “All Down The Line” that seems to be an arrangement that we hear a lot of in later albums.  Next the cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down (Blues)” is without doubt the best cover of this standard. The band light it up with howling harmonica and great muscular guitar passages. All other efforts by latter day Blues luminaries are damp squibs compared to this. “Shine A Light” apparently is about Brian Jones and started life under Allen Klein’s management and became another legal dispute. As in all these histories about the album and songs then you have to be sceptical but it is a fine rocker with gospel leanings and a wonderful vocal. “Soul Survivor” ends the journey and what a journey it is.

There is a lot to discover and love. If some of the immense anthems and commercial classics were the earlier phase then this was a ‘back to basics’ package. Given that Richards was operating on automatic for another decade, as his addictions led him by the nose, you do feel that Jagger took control and led them into a patchy future of hits and outtakes on future albums. This is possibly forgivable as who was pushing or buying Blues and Country Rock albums in the Eighties or Nineties? Whatever the facts then the later records are out there awaiting my discovery and dissection. Can’t wait.

Record Of The Week # 34

December 11, 2017

Hurricane Ruth – Ain’t Ready For The Grave

Ruth LaMaster, resident of St Louis, had three previous albums but wanted to move up a level with the next. To do this she persuaded drummer, Blues Rock producer and Grammy winner, Tom Hambridge, to lead the team. Magic ensued.  Tom Hambridge has sat in with many luminaries and recent production credits include Buddy Guy and Mike Zito’s last barnstormer, Make Blues Not War. She knew what she was doing with this recruitment.

The calibre of musicians is weapon grade with ex sidemen for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa. Hambridge places her up front; with that lungpower and charisma the results are fabulous. McMaster spends a lot of time on the road and it is no surprise the first track is “Barrelhouse Joe’s”. An easy swing rhythm tells you about ‘rolling till the break of dawn…’ and gives you a clue as to the type of night you might experience! Guitars and piano interplay.

“Far From The Cradle” (but we ain’t ready for the grave) allows the band to take it down for a 12 bar Blues. A wondrous guitar passage between Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley leads off before Reese Wynams, on piano, takes his solo. The song was inspired by her father and her start at his bar where she used to sing. In the meanwhile we hear McMaster sing the hell out of the song. “My Heart Aches For You” is more slow Blues, an organ grumbles in the background before a beautiful picked guitar solo allows her to step away from the microphone to catch her breath. Think of a female Bobby ‘Blues’ Bland.

McMaster can sing at any volume and shows mellifluous tones when the lights are dimmed or delivering a stadium raunchy bellow if the song demands it. Pace changes demonstrate the flexibility and ability of McMaster to own the whole spectrum of the Blues.

“Estilene” is lively heartfelt advice to a ‘preacher’s daughter’ to leave married men alone (as it won’t lead to a long happy love). Hey, Ruth this is the Blues, so what did you expect? Out of the 12 tracks then nine are originals co written between McMaster and Hambridge but there is no doubt about the origins of “Whole Lotta Rosie”. Vintage AC/DC gets an authentic rerun. McMaster’s vocal is terrific with the rap introduction before the band hits the Australian groove. With a true Bon Scott plaintive howl she kills it.

A Willie Dixon compliment about her voice led to the name. He compared her vocals to a hurricane. He called it right. She’s not particularly famous and says she’s ‘humble and hard working’. Maybe this heat inducing 53 minutes can propel her to greater things. 

Snow, The POTUS & Rugby League – Week 50 : 2017

December 11, 2017

The present Mrs Ives leapt out of bed this morning and threw back the curtains hoping to see snow. In fact I think it is another BBC pre-occupation. Lord, how they love floods, torrential rain, drought etc. It seems a way of keeping the BBC regions busy in posting footage of weedy little presenters stood in the middle of nowhere against a backdrop of falling snow whilst a Land Rover manfully drags a Vauxhall Corsa out of a ditch. So I’m not impressed. Well I wasn’t until I saw a Deliveroo bike rider spinning down a slushy road as large wet flakes descended on him as he wearily pedalled toward to some residential location to deliver a cold pizza. I like riding a bike… but respect.

I keep seeing references to one of my favourite boxsets – House Of Cards. The story being that Kevin Spacey has been sacked and it will now battle on without him. Frankly, it was out on its legs as regards the storyline before he was ‘outed’ as a sexual predator. However money talks and Robin Wright will soldier on with dwindling viewing figures.

The point I wanted to raise was that Hollywood seems to have many empowered females and men who Tweet or end up on platforms denouncing Trump, most things Right of Centre and sometimes worthy causes like land mines, African poverty and the like. They most certainly have now come out against Weinstein, Spacey and a whole raft of US TV personalities. Quite right too. But we need to cut to the chase as to the credibility of all these keyboard warriors on their own lives and the abuse around them in the industry.

Spacey and Weinstein must have been known, to men and women alike, as horrid and intimidating people who have abused, at will, for decades. Did it suit all and sundry to turn a blind eye to this appalling state of affairs? Of course it did! It all damages how interested I will be when their next Tweet tells me about some unbelievable political outrage.

As regards giving the old boy an outing I was instructed to point the Merc toward Chatsworth House near Chesterfield during the week. This splendid stately home was holding a Christmas market in the grounds as well as presenting part of the house with a Dickens Christmas theme. As expected there were plenty of opportunities to buy stuff. However, I have to report that after Anna’s skirmish with Chinese made products in Canada she is now very skeptical about all these ‘local crafts’. After leaving the House we found a farm shop on the Chatsworth estate and bought some delicious fresh produce. In fact the shop is nearly worth the drive alone.

Talking about celebrities then I went for a bike fit recently. Andy Fraser was the man who took all my measurements and then sat me on a bike jig and with lasers tried to get me set up right. So apart from learning that I am shrinking (don’t tell my youngest daughter who’s convinced I am a dwarf in any case), that I have one foot shorter than the other and have the hip flexibility of an oak tree it was all good. For the perspicacious amongst you then will note that he shares his name with a legendary bass player (of Free). So we got to discussing music and he plays in a band. They had their moments in the spotlight including playing a festival in Sandbach. At the said event they went on stage after Ray LaMontagne. I have to say that I have all the albums by this American Singer Songwriter; he’s wonderful. A quick look at Wikipedia revealed:

“In 2009 LaMontagne paid $1.05 million for a 103-acre farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts, the former residence of U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt, where he lives with his wife, Sarah Sousa, and their two children in the farmhouse built in 1830”.

Andy, it could have been so different.

So how many of you have been to a World Cup Final? The recent appearance of the England Rugby League team in the Final against Australia brought to mind my attendance in 1970. The Final was played at the Leeds RL Club ground. The game is noted for England’s defeat and it being an almighty punch up.

Must go and feed the huskies.