Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Last Couple of Weeks (as an Alphabet) – Week 8 : 2021

You’ll maybe not be surprised to learn that life hasn’t taken a dramatic turn from Boredom Boulevard to Liberation Lane, however, we are getting there I think. So stirring through the ashes of the last couple of weeks I thought I’d report as an alphabet..

Africa

For those who’ve stayed awake through my blogs you’ll remember I’ve been typing up the story of Eric Blackburn. His unique life started as a farmer’s boy in war ravaged Hull at the age of thirteen. We progressed from him becoming an orphan, through to firing steam trains, completing National Service and then back into the depressing clutches of post war British Railways. After 126,000 words I’m now writing up the adventure of his going to work for East African Railways in Tanganyika in 1954. There are some wonderful stories contained within. I shall be sorry when we get to the end of this remarkable journey

Birthday looms

I’m a long time past celebrating but being surrounded by females means that cards and felicitations will abound. If there is anything of interest in this decrepitude then I am officially about to become and Old Age Pensioner. Rishi Sunak hwill cough up my State Pension at the age of 66. I promise not to spend it at the first shop (as they’re still all shut.)

Car washing

The weather has been desperate, which has undoubtedly helped the R rate to fall but it has stopped me washing the cars, not least the Morgan. However after a long spell of zero degrees I was able to get out there and wash them. I even noted a woman on the street washing a car as Anna and I were walking past. I did remark to her that it was unusual to see a woman car washing to which I was quickly reminded that “you said that to her last time.” (Repetition holds no fear for me.)

Daytime TV

It would be disloyal to point out that the present Mrs Ives is quite a fan of iPlayer and Netflix during daylight hours but I couldn’t possibly incriminate her. However, it is a sad option for lots of folk given the lack of alternatives. Instead I slip upstairs to compose this type of brilliant missive (cough).

Esther Rose

This New Orleans resident’s latest album turned up in my inbox from Country Music People and it’s a a super record. You can check out my considered thoughts on this American Country confection by clicking the link.

Flat refurbishment

After the departure of the last tenants our inspection revealed they had irretrievably damaged the carpets we installed only 20 months before. There were seven such separate marks and were impossible to remove (as I think the food was oily, which doesn’t work well with a wool carpet.)

Other parts of the property were in need of upgrade eg. heating, shower enclosure and hob. So we have been energetically spending horrific sums transforming the property to something superior. Not all the work was acceptable, see below! Can you believe you’d fit a radiator that would stop the door shutting? Needless to say after a discussion it was moved!

The market is quiet as a result of the time of year and lockdown. We hope it’ll not be too long before we get new, more considerate/careful, residents.

Grower’

The Favourite Eldest Daughter is lucky to hold the prestigious (unpaid) job of being my sub-editor on my album reviews (that make it on line or into the Country Music People magazine.) Her grammar is first class and is an invaluable help. On one album this month I suggested that several plays made the album more familiar and all the better for that: it was a ‘grower’. At her insistence I was instructed to delete the word and Google the phrase. Apparently this colloquially now refers to men’s genitalia. And worse now that the internet algorithms have kicked in and I receive unwanted adverts for natural enhancing supplements!

House buying

The Favourite Eldest Daughter (her again) and husband (Matt) have got onto the ‘ladder’. After the haggling, surveys and compromises it’s theirs. Anna and I hope we’ve been helpful, albeit at a lockdown distance to Manchester, with some advice based on understanding properties and human nature. Frustratingly we’ll not be there to help them move in.

Jab

Yup, I got a text and took the first opportunity to receive a dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They are getting on with things very efficiently in York, the organisation for parking, queuing and then stabbing was exemplary, I even got a sticker, what more could you want? The only reaction was a sore arm the next day but otherwise great.

Lainey Wilson

This time served Country chanteuse has paid her dues and eventually found a big record label and a top notch producer who’s fashioned a terrific contemporary Nashville Country album. I loved it and the link to my review is here.

Mac Leaphart

A good question might be how come so many ‘Records Of the Week’ after none for so long Tony? I still keep getting quite a few albums and I may even write a review but they’re not good enough for my site. However like the others above this is a fabulous discovery of John Prine meets Boo Ray. The link is here.

News Coverage

As a news junkie then even I’ve had my fix for a long time to come. Coronavirus is the only story but what is there to left to tell? Vaccines, mental health implications, quarantine regimes, schools opening/shutting, illegal gatherings etc. on a never ending loop. A lot of folk are ‘incarcerated’ in their homes living in fear, I know some and a contributory factor to their mental state must be this diet of media misery. The real ‘story’ is that the vaccine is being brilliantly rolled out and that an end is sight. Of course we’ll have to live with the disease (forever?) and some will continue to be desperately vulnerable, but there again isn’t this something we knew all along?

Out Of Towners’

We have a daily exercise regime that saw yours truly jogging the other day plus we both like to get some steps in and stride out around the village. Being rural there was never a lot of folk to bump into. Now we have people driving out into the country in considerable numbers with push chairs and dogs. Of course they are entitled to do this but we’re finding car parking jams, dogs off leads chasing around and ‘private – no entry’ areas being entered and footpaths being turned into quagmires.

Dogs off their leads can be a threat to the local deer or hares. Let’s hope they forget our village when this is all over and they can stroll nearer their homes.

Old Photos

I’ve tidied up my digital photos on my computer, I had thousands of duplicates. However we’ve reached into the loft and Anna has been sorting through the older non-digital types of photo. There are some gems like the, grumpy, Favourite Youngest Daughter with her mother.

An old school friend, John Graeme Varley, dug out a couple of me from the late 1970s. I was quite good looking once wasn’t I! The bloke under the flat hat reading the broadsheet is the former Member of Parliament for Thurrock, Tim Janman. As I remember we’d attended a party in Camden then slept overnight outside the flat in my car before going back in for breakfast in the garden the next morning. Kids eh?

Queuing

With our general forbearance during the pandemic we’ve got used to the protocols of social distancing that delay our everyday lives. Posting a parcel at the Post Office can see you on the pavement whilst limited numbers are only permissible inside the shop, the same for the Chinese takeaway in Copmanthorpe (but in the dark and cold), the artisan bakers in the centre of York with a line of, say, 15 folks in front of you where the millennials are out for a morning coffee and croissants, the central York household waste site where they seem to ‘come and go’ about enforcing social distancing so that you can either drive straight in or hang about for 20 minutes whilst someone empties a Luton van in front of you. The one queue I didn’t mind was the one at the vaccination centre.

Recycling a bike

The Favourite Youngest Daughter briefly worked at Decathlon at Surrey Docks in London about 10 years ago. She espied a discounted folding bike and rang to see if I wanted it. I did and she lugged this 15kg bike on the Tube and onto the train for me. How she carried this block of iron, and survived I will never know. Sadly, despite her heroism, it lurked in the garage for most of this time and I decided in a world of bike shortages to give it away to a shop in York that calls itself ‘Recycle’.

Spring weather

The snowdrops and daffodils are out and there are other buds starting to sprout, the days are getting noticeably longer and the weather occasionally hits double figures. Every bike ride, and there’s been a few, has been done on wet and muddy roads, this means you and the bike get filthy; warmer weather dries the road. This really uplifts my spirits and despite not trusting the fact that we are past the worst I’m starting to feel happier times are ahead.

Twitter

There’s quite a debate on line about black footballers being racially abused. It’s awful. Twitter allows people to post vile abusive comments anonymously. I don’t think any footballer or politician is to be protected from criticism, cynicism or mockery, that’s life and free speech. However, steps to reveal these abusive people by preventing anonymity is the first step. From here they can be pursued for breaking the law eg. race hate speech.

Porky Upton

I’ve taken one of Eric Blackburn’s anecdotes and created a blog about his exciting night in Withernsea with this veritable fireman and his dancing feet. It’s a great story and insight into 1950s Hull. Follow the link

Viewing

Amazon Prime gave me ‘The Professor and The Madman’, a plot that involved an English language dictionary, a schizophrenic 19th Century US Army surgeon and Winston Churchill. Yes quite! It was an engaging two hours. Sadly Netfix’s ‘Call My Agent’ Season Four was only six episodes long and ended in a bit of a shambles but pencil me in for the spin off whenever it comes. ‘The Dig’ was based around the true story of finding some Viking treasure in Suffolk. The ‘true’ bit stopped at the relationships between the protagonists, the main female character’s age and, oh yes, the outdoor sex.

Sara Watkins

Yet another Record Of The Week. I was a bit unimpressed when the magazine sent me this children’s album. However quality will out and it’s a beautiful affair of tunes you’ll know and dreamily performed for your delectation and delight. The link is here.

Zoom (and me)

Winter involves going to York University to complete an evening class. Over the years I’ve done the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Irish history, creative writing etc. This winter I plumped for “Writing about the World: Contemporary Forms of Creative Non-Fiction”. Given my blogging and album reviews I thought it relevant. I only lasted two nights was, basically, reading up some passages of different types of non-fiction and then discussing them with other course members on Zoom and then reporting back. Every week a group would read out, in front of the whole class for a critique, something you’d written as homework. Oh dear, what a drag. The course members seemed homogeneous serial course attenders, some were bores who wouldn’t shut up and others were away with the fairies about what they hoped to do with a future project. In other words there was little or no meaningful instruction just a talk shop. I decided I’d wasted my money but I might as well not waste my time.

The Ballad Of Porky Upton

I am typing up Eric Blackburn’s hand written notes of his life. Eric lives in East Yorkshire with his wife, Shirley. Eric’s nicely into his 90s. He started work at the age of 13 as a farmers boy during WW2 in ravaged Hull. Pursuing a love affair with steam trains he managed to change job and start on the railways as a porter and eventually progressing to the footplate as a fireman and sometime driver. On this ‘journey’ he endured all that Hitler could rain on him in blitz bombing raids (and collecting the spent ordnance!), rationing, the loss of both of his parents, completing National Service before emigrating to East Africa to work on the railways in Kenya and Tanganiyka (Tanzania). His story is very much a joy for anyone interested in the detail of steam trains but some of the stories about American soldiers posted in Hull, his first day on the footplate experiencing a suicide on the rails, derailments and the odd wonderful insight into the everyday life on the railways is a delight. Here is an extract, enjoy.

“For many years after the war a popular Saturday evening entertainment was a dance held at Withernsea, for which a special train was provided, and to which many of East Hull’s young flocked. So as to not fall foul of strict Sunday entertainment laws, the dance ended at 11.55am. By which time many of the young men, fuelled by alcohol, had gained a reputation for some rowdy, but usually good natured, behaviour, often wishing to climb aboard and drive the engine. And whilst the train was in motion, for a bit of fun, frequently pulling the communication cord, bringing the train to a halt. A trick especially prevalent when arriving on the outskirts of Hull. This gave them the opportunity for a short cut home and extended the running time considerably.


One of the perks of the job was free entry to the dance, and whilst I have never learned the pleasure of dancing, I had no intention of missing an evening’s free entertainment. Also tell me, what else is there to do on a Saturday evening in post war Withernsea? To that end, by wearing a clean white shirt, clean blues, and a pair of polished leather shoes, I made myself presentable.

I had a trouble free run to Withernsea with an London Midland Scotland style 4MT and on arrival ran around the train and in preparation for our eventual departure, ran down to Withernsea’s solitary and rather distant water column and filled the tender tank. Whist this engaged I noticed the fireman’s injector water valve leaking half a pipe of water. Jiggling the valve handle failed to cure the defect, and this was to have serious consequences later that night. Returning and coupling to the train I settled the engine down for its long wait by screwing the hand brake hard on. Fixing the reverser in mid gear and opening the cylinder drain taps. At the same time I instructed my fireman, one Porky Upton (so called for his rotund figure) to let the front of the fire to die out, but build a substantial back end, ready to push down and spread before our departure. With our duties fulfilled, the dampers closed and the jet shut off, we left to sample the delights of the nearby dance venue.

Now Porky, unprepared for the dance floor, had come in his stout working boots. And before long was making his mark on the dainty feet of whoever dared to dance with him. Inevitably the supply of girls dried up, and Porky came and sat beside me, complaining of his boots and the damage they were inflicting. I cannot now remember now who’s idea it was, his or mine, but in next to no time he had expropriated my shoes, and though they were several sizes too large, was, not without some difficulty, but with gay abandon, happily steering them around the dance floor.

And so, lost in a world of music and jollification, the evening wore on until by 11pm my thoughts turned to preparing the engine for our return trip. With these thoughts came a memory of the leaking water valve and its drain on the tender tank. In particular I dwelt on the probable long delays inflicted by mischievous passengers on the way home. “Come on Porky”, I called. He was in possession of my own shoes remember, and without them I was helpless. Porky in the meantime, getting on famously with a bit of hot stuff, who in turn seemed to fancy a bit of rough, chose to ignore me, until in the end I had to turn nasty. By which time it was approaching train time. Swapping footwear we dashed to the engine to find it slumbering away with only a half a glass of water, and less than a 100 on the clock. A quick check showed a significant loss from the tender tank, and with the probability of a long delay looming, and a lack of water points between Withernsea and Hull, I decided to ‘lowse off’ and arrange a run down to the water column for a top up. In the meantime Porky, having pushed the back end down and spread it around the grate was, by taking advantage of a tender of good quality hard steam coal, busy shaping up a sound and serviceable fire.

Back on the train I found the Station Master in full uniform, as if to emphasise authority, demanding to know what the delay was about? I had a ready answer in the two delinquents wishing to climb aboard and drive the train. At the same time pointing out neither he nor I knew when we might finally arrive back in Hull, and in those circumstances, every drop was precious. In any case I had decided to leave before the Station Master made further enquiries. It was a bold, and on the face of it a mad insane decision which would put all the passengers at risk. For because a low steam pressure, when I blew the train brakes off, I could only raise three inches of vacuum against a working minimum of eighteen. Leaving me with little or no braking power. To work a train with less than 18 was against the rules, and might seem just about as foolhardy an action as was possible to undertake, and if discovered would surely cost me my job, if not a charge of serious criminal negligence. But as a young man made of stern stuff, I weighed things up with a cold calculating and confident eye. And without further preamble I left.

The return trip had only two booked stops. The first Marfleet, a small urban station on the eastern extremity of the city and then Southcoates Station serving the busy Holderness area. Except on the most congested lines, the most humble of freight trains could expect a clear run through, and I anticipated no less from the signalmen. Giving Porky and myself ample time to raise steam and water levels, and restore full braking power before our first booked stop. And if, as expected, we experienced out of course stops, these would give Porky more breathing space.
Praying the brakes had improved during our stay, I opened the regulator. My luck held, and with a clean bright fire to raise steam quickly, I left Withernsea behind. Before long the fun and games commenced with some joker pulling the communication cord. This occurred several more times between Withernsea and Marfleet. To the accompaniment of raucous laughter and discordant singing, and though this was Sunday, they were definitely not hymns. I made a perilous journey in the dark each time, to identify which tell tale disk was turned, followed by an equally perilous climb to return it to its running position.

Between Marfleet and Southcoates Stations the railway skirted the eastern edge of the city. It was along this stretch that most of the communication cord applications occurred, when the east Hull worthies applied the brakes. Giving them a golden opportunity of a short cut home across the tracks. After a night of high drama, the curtain fell at Southcoates Station. Here a long delay took place, and whilst peering down the dimly lit platform for the ‘Right Away’. I became aware of a young lady, although I use that term with some reservations, being escorted along the platform draped in railway overcoat. It transpired later she had been discovered in a state of undress. Many of her outer garments being thrown willy-nilly out of the carriage window as the train progressed. Whether this was the result of that iconic game strip poker, heavy petting, or a hot flush, remains a mystery. She seemed to take it in good part, so all’s well that ends well.”

Record Of The Week # 108

Sara Watkins – Under The Pepper Tree

Multi-instrumentalist Watkins has recorded an album of standards for children….no, no please bear with me it’s wonderful. I must admit on getting the brief from the magazine I wondered what I’d done to upset the mothership. However parking all reservations I dipped in. Covers can be a corruption of your favourite memories but if you look at the track listing it’s certain that at one time or another you’ll have sung several if not all of the songs on the album. If you’re a parent you may have also crooned these songs to placate a fractious offspring in the backseat or as you lie on a bed in the early evening, fighting the pulling powers of sleep, whilst your little precious shows no signs of wearying.

Watkins has a beautiful ethereal voice that immediately sounds like a mother singing to a child with all the tenderness that might have. She’s joined by several guests throughout including Nickel Creek and I’m With Her on a couple of songs. The arrangements are delightful and the sound is acoustic, lush and entirely enchanting. The album progresses seamlessly with the mood maintained throughout as if raising the volume or changing the gentle acoustic accompaniment might spoil the moment (or wake the child).

It’s an age old eclectic selection of songs ranging from The Beatles (“Goodnight)”, Harry Nilsson (“Blanket For A Sail”), Disney films (“When You Wish Upon A Star” and “La La Lu”) and Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Edelweiss” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”). Two songs are original compositions; several of the rest have become standards because of their original performance on the silver screen. It’s easy to imagine this whole album as some sort of soundtrack. It is the quality of the melodies that are the lasting impression and the aspect that makes this enduring rather than a one off project for a younger audience.

After starting at a young age in the music industry Watkins made her name in Nickel Creek where terrific string musicianship and vocals ensured their permanent place in the pantheon of premier roots folk acts. They split permanently over a decade ago but occasional reunions are common and she regularly plays with one of the band members, her brother, Sean. Other projects including touring as part of The Decemberists and the trio, I’m With Her. It wasn’t a big stretch to follow another muse, not least as the mother of a toddler. It’s beautiful.

Record Of The Week # 107

Mac Leaphart – Music City Joke

Mac Leaphart is new to me and one of the most delightful discoveries I’ve recently had. The recruitment of Brad Jones  (Hayes Carll, Chuck Prophet, Over The Rhine amongst many) as producer is inspired and Leaphart’s accompanying notes, with the album, talk of Jones being a demanding task master who extracted the best out of him. Leaphart has constructed 10 superb stories, some allegories, with exceptional americana country tunes. He’s also the possessor of winsome tubes that reminded me of Boo Ray or Ryan Bingham.

‘She got knocked up and kept on drinking / Smoked a half a pack a day / She didn’t want that baby / But, she had him anyway’ are the first words you’ll hear on “El Paso Kid”, about a child who didn’t have an auspicious start in life but was determined to beat adversity. This story is played out to a traditional country tune with Will Kimbrough playing acoustic guitar and Fats Kaplin weaving sonorous delight on the fiddle. Kaplin has played with a lot of country and americana royalty including John Prine. That connection is pertinent as Leaphart’s lyrics and sound are redolent of this master’s work. 

“The Same Thing” is about unrequited love. Over a picked acoustic guitar, and Kaplin now on pedal steel, Leaphart ruefully observes her at a distance: she’s happy, and in the company of another. The tender melody is quite the heart breaker. However humour permeates the album whether wry, deprecating or off beat. Irony is evident on “Blame on the Bottle” where a walking bass drives this country stomp, with Kimbrough adding electric guitar licks.  In the song an old hell raiser friend has now discovered the Lord and been convinced of the evils of alcohol to the extent that Coca Cola is his tipple. Leaphart points out that the whiskey didn’t pour itself in the first place! Off beat is “Ballad of Bob Yamaha or A Simple Plea in C Major” where he assumes the persona of a Japanese acoustic guitar that longs to be played properly. (Worryingly I have a Yamaha acoustic guitar that no doubt feels the same.)

“That Train” barrels along with a Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks era feel with fiddle and shuffling rhythm doing the heavy lifting. Leaphart describes the arrangement as ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ with a full band including mandolin and harmonica. “Every Day” is a paean to his wife who he describes as the ‘breadwinner for our family’; whilst he pursues his art she’s keeping food on the table, not a piece of support he’s overlooked.

This is a complete gem; to think he had to crowd fund the project with no record label support is a surprise. Over a decade he’s paid his dues and this, his fourth album, just goes to show that life isn’t fair. He deserves a large commercial break with this.

Record Of The Week # 106

Esther Rose – How Many Times

Sonically this is an upbeat record, in contrast to the slough of despair that apparently inspired the album. Rose’s third long play release comes on the back of a tough couple of years as regards matters of her heart. However, as you listen closely to songs about failed relationships, the lively americana country tunes roll out. She has the melancholy resignation of a woman who’s been passed up and is now moving on to her next lost cause. She’s quite a collector and relays the stories with honest reflection and deprecation. Her voice is occasionally (and interestingly) off-tone and fragile but mainly fits the mood and her range carries the arresting tunes.

“How Many Times” has her standing in the shower until the water runs cold and taking pills to cope with a broken heart. This single release has her voice over a snappy snare beat whilst the fiddle plays around a chorus of voices to make the melody a little country. “Keep Me Running” is a pacy highlight with the fiddle of Lyle Werner again to the fore. All the tracks on the album are underpinned by an upright bass and give the album an acoustic feel. Throughout Laura Cantrell came to mind because of the short personal stories and the type of acoustic country and roots she purveys.

“My Bad Mood” is a two-step over the insistent snare that sees Matt Bell’s pedal steel come to the fore. Max Bien Kahn’s picks some tasteful electric guitar on “When You Go” – ‘Well I guess your little lie was the last of our goodbyes’.On Songs Remain over a gentle acoustic backing she sings wistfully  ‘Black coffee and bacon fat / You’re an inner city lumberjack / Yeah, a country boy through and through / I think that’s why I fell for you’. “Are You Out There” is made more tender-hearted by the dance tunewhich accompanies more rejection. Againmore male departures and sad Saturday nights at home. Another two-step finishes the album as the band strike up a lively rhythm on “Without You” and Rose serenades us with a splendid melody. Despite more lovers left behind whilst she’s on the road, she seems to be bearing up.

There’s not a misstep here, not least helped by an accomplished band, accessible lyrics and considerable songwriting talent. It’s a very engaging and consistent album. If this pleasing 40 minutes is the result of a dysfunctional love life then I hope she continues using songwriting as her therapy.

Record Of The Week # 105

Lainey Wilson – Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’

After three years of living in a caravan, hoping for a break in Nashville, Wilson is starting to get traction. The album includes earlier single releases. A check on the internet sees her being identified as ‘one to watch’. This isn’t her first release but now there’s discernible momentum, with a major record label behind her.

She has an expressive and mellifluous voice often backed by harmonies on the chorus. The backing doesn’t lean on traditional instruments and is a pop rock confection with the odd acoustic guitar and mandolin. If that isn’t enough country for you then her voice and breadth of sounds compensate. The triumph of it all is that the ‘session musician catatonic contribution’ with its digital homogenous hard brittle finish is absent and in its place vibrancy, authenticity and funk. It’s hook-drenched and radio friendly.

The alchemist is Jay Joyce: he is amongst the doyen of country producers with Ashley McBryde, Eric Church and Brothers Osborne on his CV. And you can see how His earlier rock career influences his contribution, thoughtfully applied rather than the usual bro-country torpor. Lyrically it tumbles into Nashville storylines of small towns, drinking, partying, ‘single and free’, ended relationships and knee bending for the legends of country music including the song “WWDD” (What Would Dolly Do?).

“Neon Diamond” is a sing-a-long rock song made country by Wilson’s delicious Louisiana drawl and delivery. She eschews wedded bliss (and the ring) for a night on the town – ‘my left hand ain’t interested in anything but a drink’. “Sunday Best” tells us ‘right now forgiveness ain’t something I can find’ with drink easing the pain: but more importantly this is wickedly funky with a bass line that should also be bottled. “Small Town, Girl” also has a memorable bass line with an outlaw vibe and the combination of a great melody, voice and wailing electric guitar solos elevate it all. 

The mood is taken down to something more reflective and slower with “Dirty Looks”, where such censure comes about as she gets amorous in public. On “Things A Man Oughta Know” the electrification gets dialled down. A sensitive and heartfelt lyric that encapsulates her voice inside a belting melody, whilst a tasteful and bluesy guitar adds depth before a mandolin ends this too soon. Things are wrapped up with “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’”, an admission of guilt that she wears her heart on her sleeve with no filter: the declaration is about a relationship and its honesty. It sounds like after all the fun and braggadocio that’s preceded this she’s signing off being deadly serious. The hypnotic locomotive insistent beat and the harmonies are compelling. 

I reckon this is an end of year pick already. I hope she soars.

Record Of The Week # 104

Midnight Flyer

If this album was a person it’d be banging on your door shouting ‘Let me in’. After gaining entry it’d barrel past you with an impressive swagger. It has it all – a great vocalist with a unique voice, a tight accomplished band and great tunes. However on its release in 1981 it flew beneath the radar and it’s only a 2020 remaster that introduced it to me. It originally appeared on Swan Song Records. This was a label set up by Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. By all accounts not an easy man should you ruffle his feathers. This former bouncer and wrestler became a most feared and respected rock band manager. The record label hosted Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Dave Edmunds and Sad Café. Maggie Bell, the Scottish lead vocalist, was on the label prior to Midnight Flyer. She was the female equivalent of an early Rod Stewart with rough, whiskey soaked tones, capable of a fearsome roar and a blues diva’s interpretative talents. 

Bell came to prominence with a band called Stone The Crows in 1970. Other outings included an appearance on Rod Stewart’s 1971 break through album Every Picture Tells A Story: she’s the female vocalist on the title track. Other claims to fame are as the chanteuse on “No Mean Streets”. This was the theme to the 80s TV detective series Taggart. One way or another she may be a familiar voice to you. I saw her with Stone The Crows at a festival at Charlton Athletic’s ground (with The Who topping the bill). It was another 44 years before I saw her again in Hull with Dave Kelly (from the Blues Band) on acoustic guitar. She was a small frail figure who looked a little bewildered in the small and closely packed club, nevertheless, it was good to see her still in fine voice and making a living. 

Hull 2018

It’s everything I love about rock: ballsy vocals, blues piano fills, incendiary guitar breaks and a solid rhythm backing of bass and drums. I was so taken that I ventured onto Discogs and bought a second hand copy of the original vinyl. If it were a glass of wine the bouquet gives hints of 70s Joe Walsh, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones and Little Feat. However there are some commercial 80s touches with the arrangements and melodies that may have been an attempt to get wider airplay.

“Hey boy” is a rip-roaring honky tonk boogie at a pace that takes your breath away. Whilst your attention is drawn to Bell’s vocals, you’ll love the sympathetic, tight and rocking band that chugs, squeals and thunders behind her. Antony Glynne’s electric lead guitar is razor sharp and delights with more flourishes and darts than D’Artagnan’s sword. Tony Stevens’ bass coupled to Dave Dowle’s drumming provide a rhythm platform of real drive. The difference often comes with John Cook’s keyboards whether electric or piano: he gives the whole sound more bluesy shades with repeated honky tonk runs. 

“In My Eyes’ is as near as you’ll get to a ballad as the band slow to a subsonic pace and Bell croons majestically. “Do You Want My Love” has a catchy chorus, no doubt written to order to tempt chart recognition. “French Kisses” is a funky blues rocker with Lowell George slide guitar, bliss. In fact the whole album is tuneful; the band members composed the whole album.

The title track “Midnight Love’ with synth keys sounds American with clear distinct bass lines and splashy drums. Eventually a long piano intro delivers “Rough Trade’ and the last track on the album. Over this accompaniment Bell gives us a tour de force. A vocal that soars, a vocal that draws us in and a vocal that confirms her as one of the all time great female rock vocalists.

Sadly they didn’t last and went their separate ways. How this album didn’t spawn a great career is a real mystery. I’m so glad I found it*.

*Gratitude to the Mighty Jessney on Vixen 101’s Nothing But The Blues who brought this album to my attention