BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS.
Over the last fifty years, many bands have been formed at university or college. Many of these bands went on to hone their sound on college and university circuit. However, only one of theses bands went on to release their debut single and album on their college’s record label. This might sound fat fetched, but it’s not. Stow College in Glasgow has its own record label, and it’s where Belle and Sebastian first came to prominence twenty years ago.
It was back in 1996, at Stow College, in Glasgow that Belle and Sebastian were formed. The band was formed by two students, Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David, and was named after Cecile Aubry’s 1965 book Belle et Sebastien. Since then, many members have joined and left the group, one of the most influential being, Isobel Campbell, who joined in 1996 and left the group in 2002, singing vocals and playing cello. Other members include Chris Geddes and Sarah Martin.
Whilst at college, in 1996, Belle and Sebastian recorded some demo tracks with the college’s music professor Alan Rankin. Yes. That Alan Rankin, formerly the keyboardist and guitarist in The Associates alongside the late Billy Mackenzie. The demos came to the notice of the college’s business studies department, who each year, released a single on the college’s record label. Belle and Sebastian, by then, had recorded a number of songs, enough to fill an album. Having been so impressed by Belle and Sebastian’s music, that year, the label decided to release an album, called Tigermilk.
Tiigermilk, which was produced by Alan Rankin, was recorded in just three days. Only 1,000 vinyl copies were pressed, and the album was released in June 1996. Tigermilk was well received and the album sold out quickly.
Nowadays, the original copies of Tigermilk are collector’s items, and prized possessions amongst Belle and Sebastian fans. Little did the members of Belle and Sebastian realise who prized copies of Tigermilk would become, However, following the success of Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian decided to make a career out of music.
Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David decided that Belle and Sebastian would become a full-time band. Soon, further members joined the band. Isobel Campbell joined on vocals and cello, Stevie Jackson on guitar and vocals, Richard Coburn on drums and Chris Geddes on keyboards.
If You’re Feeling Sinister
After Tigermilk’s success, the group signed to Jeepster Records .in August 1996. Just four months later, Belle and Sebastian were preparing to released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister. It had been produced by Tony Doogan, who would play an important part in the Belle and Sebastian story.
On 18th November 1996,If You’re Feeling Sinister was released and went on to reached 191 in the UK. Since then, the album has been certified gold. That’s not surprising, Many people believe that this is Belle and Sebastian’s finest album. Indeed, American magazine Spin, liked the album so much, that they put it at number seventy-six in their top one-hundred albums released in the twenty year period between 1985-2005. Rolling Stone magazine put the album in its list of essential albums of the 1990s.
After the release of If You’re Feeling Sinister, the group released series of E.P.s during 1997. The E.P.s were Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light. Dog On Wheels featured four songs that were recorded before the formation of Belle and Sebastian. It reached number fifty-nine in the UK charts. Lazy Line Painter then reached number forty-one in the UK charts, before 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light became the group’s first top forty single, reaching number thirty-two in the UK charts. That was the start of the rise and rise of Belle and Sebastian.
The Boy With The Arab Strap.
September 1998, saw Belle and Sebastian release their third album, the Tony Doogan produced The Boy With The Arab Strap. It reached number twelve in the UK charts and was certified gold. Unlike previous Belle and Sebastian albums, Stuart Murdoch doesn’t feature on vocals. Instead, they’re shared amongst Isobel Campbell, Stevie Jackson and Stuart David. The album received mixed views from the music press. Long time supporter of Belle and Sebastian, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice praised The Boy With The Arab Strap, while others weren’t as impressed. However, since its release, many people, myself included, believe The Boy With The Arab Strap to be Belle and Sebastian’s finest hour. Despite the success of The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian changed direction musically. However, before that, Tigermlk was released.
Three years after Tigermilk was first released, Belle and Sebastian’s debut album was rereleased by Jeepster in 1999. This made sense. Belle and Sebastian’s fans wanted a copy of the band’s debut. However, when Tigermilk was originally released, only a 1,000 copies were pressed. They were now collectors’s items. So a decision was made to reissue Tigermilk. It reached number thirteen in the UK, and was certified gold. With a new millennia fast approaching, Belle and Sebastian were one of the rising stars of British music.
Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant.
Two years after the release of The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian returned with Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant. It was the second album to be produced by Tony Doogan, would become Belle and Sebastian’s music successful album.
Released to critical acclaim in June 2000, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant reached number ten in the UK and was certified silver. Across the Atlantic, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant became Belle and Sebastian’s first album to chart. It reached eighty in the US Billboard 200. This was as a result of a change in direction from Belle and Sebastian.
Their music is best described as chamber pop. Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Present has a much more laid-back, mellow sound. The tempo is slower, while vocals are shared amongst band members. Then there’s the strings. They’re used more extensively. Sadly, this was the last album to feature founder member Stuart David. For their next album, Belle and Sebastian would try their hand at writing a film score.
Although Storytelling was both Belle and Sebastian’s fifth album, it was their first film score. Released in June 2002, the album reached just twenty-six in the UK and15o in the US Billboard 200. This was hugely disappointing, although not as disappointing as what happened next.
Only six minutes of the thirty-five minutes of music recorded by Belle and Sebastian made it into Todd Solondz’s movie. It sounds as if the experience was somewhat frustrating for the band. They had problems communicating with Todd Solondz. Worse was to come.
Belle and Sebastian were about to lose one of their most important members… Isobel Campbell. Having released and toured Storytelling, Isobel Campbell left Belle and Sebastian. She decided to pursue a solo career. Many critics wondered what effect this would’ve on Belle and Sebastian? They came back, but briefly, were different band
Dear Catastrophe Waitress.
Much of the summer of 2003 saw Belle and Sebastian recording their sixth album. Losing Isobel Campbell wasn’t the only that had changed since the release of Belle and Sebastian previous album. No.They had left Jeepster, and signed to Rough Trade. Tony Doogan was also replaced as producer. His replacement was Trevor Horn. This seemed a somewhat strange decision.
Previously, ex-Buggle Trevor Horn had been an award winning producer and songwriter. Recently, though, he had been working with Charlotte Church and Lee Ann Rimes. Considering Belle and Sebastian were one of the hottest indie bands, they seemed strange and awkward bedfellows. It seemed Trevor Horn had been brought in to polish of the band’s rough edges. Rough Trade, a supposed indie label, were polishing away part of the group’s charms. Many onlookers were horrified, afraid of the direction Trevor Horn would take Belle and Sebastian.
In some ways, those fears were justified. Gone was the folksie, melancholy, chamber pop of Belle and Sebastian’s roots. These fears were justified. Dear Catastrophe Waitress was the polar opposite of previous albums. Replacing Belle and Sebastian’s trademark sound was the slick, poppy charms of the Trevor Horn produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress. It was an album that divide the opinion of fans and critics.
Before the release of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, critics gave the album favourable reviews. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic were won over by the new sound Belle and Sebastian showcased on Dear Catastrophe Waitress, but stalled at just twenty-one in the UK and eighty-four in the US Billboard 200. Despite this Dear Catastrophe Waitress was certified gold, and was was nominated for an Ivor Novello award. However, despite the positive reviews Dear Catastrophe Waitress received, thankfully, Belle and Sebastian and Trevor Horn never renewed their acquaintance when they released their next album, three years later.
Between the release of Dear Catastrophe Waitress and 2006s The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian kept busy. In 2005, they released a twenty-five track compilation entitled Push Barman To Open Old Wounds. Featuring a series of E.P.s Belle and Sebastian had released, critics adored the album. Hailed as vintage Belle and Sebastian, they were crowned the best indie band. Very different from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds was the Belle and Sebastian their fans knew and loved. Push Barman To Open Old Wounds wasn’t Belle and Sebastian’s only release during 2005.
No. Belle and Sebastian released their first live album, If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican. Released in December 2005, this allowed Belle and Sebastian to revisit their 1996 album If You’re Feeling Sinister and rectify what the band believed to be the mistakes of the original album. That night in September 2005, Belle and Sebastian took the Barbican by storm, playing an encore lasting over an hour. This encore would prove to be somewhat prophetic.
The Life Pursuit.
When Belle and Sebastian released The Life Pursuit in February 2006, it proved to be their most successful album. The Life Pursuit was produced by Tony Hoffer, who previously, produced Air, Turin and Beck. He was a much better fit than Trevor Horn. On its release, critical acclaim accompanied The Life Pursuit, which reached number eight in the UK and number sixty-five in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in another gold disc for Belle and Sebastian. Funny Little Frog then gave Belle and Sebastian the biggest hit single of their ten year career. Despite that, it would be four years until Belle and Sebastian released their next studio album.
Following the release of The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian headed out on tour. They were now well versed in the album, tour, album, tour routine. To ensure their fans didn’t forget them, Belle and Sebastian released The BBC Sessions in November 2008. A double-album, the first disc featured many songs that featured Isobel Campbell. These songs had never been heard before. So for fans of Belle and Sebastian this was a real must have. As for the second disc, it features Belle and Sebastian live in Belfast, which sees the group cover Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town. While The BBC Sessions kept Belle and Sebastian’s fans occupied, the group recorded their most successful album to date.
Belle and Sebastian Write About Love.
October 2010, saw Belle and Sebastian released their eighth studio album. Entitled Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, it was the second Belle and Sebastian album produced by Tony Hoffer. Recorded in Los Angeles, rather than Glasgow this surprised some people. Tony’s decision to take Belle and Sebastian out their comfort zone worked. He was proving to be the perfect foil for Belle and Sebastian’s foibles. Featuring contributions from Norah Jones, Sarah Martin and Carey Mulligan, Belle and Sebastian and friends struck musical gold.
Reaching number eight in the UK, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 200. Critically acclaimed and a hit worldwide, this was a long way from recording Tigermilk in three days as part of a college project. Belle and Sebastian were indie Queens and Kings. Despite this, the continued to things their way.
While many bands would’ve headed straight back into the studio and had a followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love release A.S.A.P, this isn’t the Belle and Sebastian way. No. Not only do Belle and Sebastian do things their way, but they care about their fans. So, whilst taking their time recording a followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, they’ve released a nineteen track retrospective, The Third Eye Centre.
This nineteen track retrospective, The Third Eye Centre, features rarities, remixes, B-SIdes, non-album tracks and tracks from E.P.s. The music spans Belle and Sebastian’s career. There’s tracks from albums produced by Tony Doogan, Trevor Horn and Tony Hoffer. Bonus tracks sit side by side with remixes, while B-Sides and charity singles. In some ways, The Third Eye Centre allows the listener to hear another side to Belle and Sebastian. The Third Eye Centre was the perfect amuse bouche until Belle and Sebastian released their ninth studio album.
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance,
Work began on Belle and Sebastian’s ninth album back in 2014. By then, the members of Belle and Sebastian had written twelve tracks. These tracks would become Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which somewhat surprisingly, was produced by Ben H. Allen III.
This was a strange, and somewhat controversial decision. Many people thought Tony Hoffer, who produced Belle and Sebastian’s previous album, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love would return.Belle and Sebastian Write About Love was the second Belle and Sebastian album produced by Tony Hoffer. The first was The Life Pursuit. Tony seemed to bring out the best Belle and Sebastian. However, this being Belle and Sebastian, it’s always a case of expect the unexpected. After all, previously, Belle and Sebastian hired Trevor Horn, who gave their music a slick, polished sheen. So maybe, bring in Ben H. Allen III to produce Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance would work?
Some sceptics had their doubts. After all, Ben H. Allen III’s C.V. showed that previously, he had produced Animal Collective and Washed Out. This was very different to Belle and Sebastian. However, maybe, Belle and Sebastian and Ben H. Allen III would prove a potent partnership.
For their ninth studio album, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, Belle and Sebastian penned twelve tracks. Much of the recording took place in Atlanta, Georgia with producer by Ben H. Allen III, .Additional recording took place at other studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota and at Glasgow’s Castle Of Doom Studios with Tony Doogan. He’s previously, has produced four Belle and Sebastian albums. However, they were very different to Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance.
When Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance was released on 19 thJanuary 2015, mostly, the reviews were favourable. Critics noted that Belle and Sebastian were still, among the most talented modern day songwriters. However, critics noted the Belle and Sebastian’s music had been given a makeover, They headed for the dance -floor on several tracks, before returning to their more traditional sound, that took shape over their first four albums. After that, Belle and Sebastian became musical chameleons.
Belle and Sebastian have their own unique sound. It took shape on the quartet of albums produced by Tony Doogan. From 1996s If You’re Feeling Sinister, through 1998s The Boy With The Arab Strap, Fold Your Hands Child, 2000s You Walk Like a Peasant and 2002s Storytelling, Belle and Sebastian’s trademark sound gradually take shape. Then came the Trevor Horn Dear Catastrophe Waitress. That was a one-off.
Tony Hoffer then produced 2006s Belle and Sebastian Write About Love and 2010s The Life Pursuit. However, Tony Hoffer didn’t return for Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. Instead, Ben H. Allen III took his place on what’s a quite different album from Belle and Sebastian.
Before the release of Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, it was hard to imagine Belle and Sebastian ever making a dance album. However, with Belle and Sebastian, never rule anything out. They’re a contrarian band, always determined to do things their way. This includes making a dance album. It’s interspersed with Belle and Sebastian’s more traditional sound.
This means the sound that took shape between Tigermilk and Storytelling. The music on these albums showcase the literary and musical talents of Belle and Sebastian. They’re wordsmiths extraordinaire. Each song features lyrics that are cerebral, eloquent, emotive, joyous, melancholy and poignant. Beauty is feature of many of the lyrics. However, others are full of pathos and sadness, and relentlessly tug at your heartstrings. Especially when delivered by Stuart Murdoch, Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson. However, Belle and Sebastian are no one trick pony.
Far from it. They’ve been making music for twenty years, and that music has evolved since 1997. Belle and Sebastian are musical chameleons, who constantly reinvent their music. This ensures their music stays relevant. It also seem that Belle and Sebastian enjoy being taken out of their comfort zone. Maybe that’s why they’ve worked with so different producers, some of which have seemed a strange fit for Belle and Sebastian. However, those who have followed the band’s career aren’t surprised.
Belle and Sebastian have always had a contrarian streak. They’ve alway been determined to do things their way, and can never be described as a corporate band. Far from it. Belle and Sebastian do things their way, or not at all. if they want to change producer or direction musically, so be it. Similarly, if Belle and Sebastian decide to take four or five years to release an album, so be it. There’s a reason for this. The members of Belle and Sebastian realise that there’s more to life than music.
They’re one of the few bands whose members put the band on hold on hold to spend time with their family. Only Belle and Sebastian could do this. That’s why they’re a one off, and so many people hold them and their music dear. That’s been the case since Belle and Sebastian released Tigermilk in 1996. Twenty years later, and Belle and Sebastian are still going strong. They’ve released nine studio albums, three live albums and two compilations since 1996. These albums feature the inimitable and chameleon-like Belle and Sebastian, as they constantly reinvent their unique brand of enchanting music in their search for musical perfection.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS.
JOHN ILLSLEY-LONG SHADOWS.
Nowadays, life is very different for John Illsley. The former Dire Straits bassist lives in the New Forest, where he lives with his wife, their young family and two dogs. John it seems, has taken to country living. So much so, that when his local pub came up for sale, he decided to buy it, purely to safeguard its rustic charms. This is very different to what life was once like for John.
At one time, John Illsley was a member of one of the most successful bands of the seventies, eighties and nineties,..Dire Straits. They released six studio album and three live albums between 1978 and 1995. These albums sold in excess of 100 million copies, and resulted in Dire Straits becoming one of the biggest bands. Sadly, nothing lasts forever.
In 1995, Dire Straits quietly disbanded. By then, the only remaining original remembers were Mark Knopfler and John Illsley. Dire Straits’ swan-song was Live At The BBC on the 26th of June 1995. This meant that Dire Straits had fulfilled their contractual obligations to Vertigo. Not long after this, Mark Knopfler and John Illsley embarked upon solo careers.
Now twenty-one years later, and John Illsley has just released his sixth solo album Long Shadows on Blue Barge Records. It’s the much-anticipated followup to John’s critically acclaimed 2014 album Testing The Water.
For Long Shadows, John wrote the eight tracks on the album. These tracks were recorded at three studios, including Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studios, Room Aith A View Studio and A Bay Studios. That was where John and a a few of his musical friends got to work.
When work began, John’s core band was augmented by guest artists. This meant that the lineup changed from track to track. The rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Paul Beavis, John on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, Fender bass and vocals and guitarists Phil Palmer and Simon Johnson who added slide guitar and mandolin. Robbie McIntosh aded slide guitar; Steve Smith grand piano, piano, Wurlitzer and Taurus bass pedal and Guy Fletcher switched between Hammond organ, electric piano and synths. Adding strings were violinists Everton Nelson and Ian Humphries; violist Bruce White and cellist Caroline Dale. The backing vocalists included Jess Greenfield, Dee Dee Illsley and Jess Illsley. Once the sessions were complete, Long Shadows was ready for release.
Long Shadows opens with Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out), a melancholy piano lead instrumental. A string quartet add a wistful hue, while John’s acoustic piano combines with the piano. Together, they create a truly beautiful, melancholy track.
In The Darkness is a song that sonically, harks back to Dire Straits. A guitar shimmers, and chimes before the rhythm section lock into the tightest of grooves. Subtle, cooing harmonies sit atop the arrangement, before John’s worldweary vocal enters. He sings of how the internet can seduce people in various ways, including becoming radicalised. John’s lyrics are cinematic and cerebral; “he was searching for a reason, maybe looking for a reason, a desire to get involved.” Sadness fuels John’s vocal, as he ruefully delivers the lyrics. Soon, he’s singing: “as his fingers did the talking, to a faceless entity, with promises of endless pleasure and a route to ecstasy.” When the vocal drops out, the piano, rhythm section and searing guitar combine with cooing harmonies. Later, when John returns, he warns: “he’s on a road to hell,” and offers an alternative: “let the light shine through,” on this poignant, cinematic and cerebral song.
As the rhythm section combines with guitars on Comes Around Again, again, sonically and stylistically there’s a nod to early Dire Straits. Even John’s vocal has a similar lived-in vocal quality to Mark Knopfler. There’s a sadness in John’s vocal as he sings of someone who: “left your family and your home…for this godforsaken place.” The arrangement is slow and understated as the rhythm section, crystalline guitars and harmonies combine. A slide guitar weeps, while acoustic guitars and a mandolin are added. Later, John cautions that:” you’ll always need a friend,” and offers hope that: “it’s not over till its over, it Comes Around Again.” As he does, John showcases his talents as a singer, songwriter, storyteller and musician.
Washes of guitar reverberate, as if weeping on There’s Something About You. These guitars accompany John’s vocal, while subtle drums provide the heartbeat. Shivering cymbals add to the atmospheric arrangement; before an acoustic guitar is plucked and joins whispery harmonies. Later, the electric guitar shimmers, and adds to the slow, atmospheric backdrop to this needy, hopeful paean.
The introduction to Ship Of Fools is almost dreamy. Just a glistening, shimmering guitar, rhythm section and subtle, distant washes of Hammond organ combine with an acoustic guitar. They usher in John’s lived-in vocal. Frustration fills his voice as he sings of the bankers who almost brought down the British banking system in 2008. They’re the: “monkeys who walked away Scot free.” All the government did was to: “invite them in for a cosy chat.” Now with nothing to stop this happening again, the: “Ship Of Fools goes round again.” Disbelief and frustration fills John’s voice. Meanwhile, the arrangement is understated and bluesy, as the rhythm section, chiming guitars, Hammond organ and harmonies accompany John. They play their part in another cerebral song full of social comment.
Straight away, Lay Me Down reminds me of J.J. Cale. It’s a much more uptempo track, with the rhythm section driving the shuffling arrangement. Guitars and harmonies join the rhythm section. By then, John’s vocal is needy as he asks: “Lay Me Down under whispering trees, feel the warmth of the summer breeze, I think you understand, I wanna be your man.” As the arrangement becomes jaunty, chiming guitar licks and washes of Hammond organ join the harmonies. Then as a blistering guitar solo cuts through the arrangement, John and cooing harmonies combine, on this hopeful paean. It’s a fusion of Americana, blues, boogie, folk and soulful harmonies.
There’s no drop in tempo on Long Shadows. Bristling, choppy guitars are to the fore, while the rhythm section and swirling Hammond organ power the arrangement along. John’s vocal is understated and lived-in, as he sings: to me you always made some sense, it was self-defence, you leave a Long Shadow, straight and narrow.” Meanwhile, his band create the tightest of grooves. The band never miss a beat, as they showcase their considerable skills. Especially as a blistering guitar solo is unleashed, and sits above the arrangement. Later, the story has begin to take shape and John is much more certain, and sings: “only game in town that’s making sense, it was self-defence.” With its cinematic sound and a mixture of mystery and intrigue, it’s a truly captivating track.
Close To The Edge closes Long Shadow. There’s a drop in tempo, as briefly, the arrangement becomes atmospheric. Just the rhythm section and smoky Hammond organ combine before a bristling, chiming guitar is added. It’s the signal for John’s thoughtful, probing vocal as he sings: “you tried to climb a mountain, now you’re climbing walls instead.” Soon, John’s wondering if it’s worth the risks? “Getting Close To The Edge, hanging by a silver thread, is best to toe the line, or go where angel’s tread?” As he delivers the lyrics, the arrangement is rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while the Hammond organ and Wurlitzer join crystalline guitar. Later, John warns: “there’s a club the call heaven, where your credit card’s declined.” However, a rueful, John reflects: “you tried to climb a mountain, now you’re climbing walls instead.” John it seems, has kept one of the most poignant songs until last on Close To The Edge.
Eighteen months after the release of Testing The Water, John Illsely returns Close To The Edge, one of his finest solo albums. The master storyteller works his way through eight songs that ebb and flow beautifully, as the listener is taken on a journey by John Illsley.
From the beautiful, melancholy Morning, the songs on Long Shadows are variously atmospheric, beautiful, cerebral, cinematic and melancholy. They’re also captivating and full of mystery, intrigue and social comment. John also introduces the listener to a cast of characters on Close To The Edge, and proceeds to tell their story. Other songs are full of social comment. This includes In the Darkness, where John tells how people can be seduced by the internet. Then on Ship Of Fools, frustration fills John’s voice, as he remembers the bankers who took Britain to the brink in 2008, yet went unpunished. However, two of the finest songs are the paeans, There’s Something About You and Lay Me Down. John it seems is capable of switching between styles and tempo.
That is the case throughout Long Shadows. John Illsley showcases John’s versatility, and his talent as a singer, songwriter, musician, producer and bandleader. Seamlessly, John combines elements of Americana, blues, boogie, country, folk and rock on Long Shadows. Sometimes, John and band sound not unlike Dire Straits. Then on Lay Me Down, John seems to draw inspiration from J.J. Cale. These musical genres and influences combine to create Long Shadows. which is without doubt, one of the best albums of John Illsley’s solo career. Long Shadows is also proof that, the old ones are the best. That there is no doubt about.
JOHN ILLSLEY-LONG SHADOWS.
Paul McGeechan, it’s fair to say, is a veteran of Scottish music. After all, he’s spent over thirty years making music. His career began in 1982, when he was cofounded the short-lived, but much missed Friends Again.
Friends Again’s recording career began in 1983, when they released the first of eight single and EPs. Then in 1984, Friends Again released their one and only album, Wrapped and Unwrapped. Alas, there was no followup to this minor classic, and the Friends Again went their separate ways.
The former members of Friends Again went on to form two of the most important and influential bands in Scottish music. Love and Money was formed in 1985 by James Grant, Neil Cunningham, Stuart Kerr and Paul McGeechan. Meanwhile, Chris Thomson went on to form The Bathers. Both of these bands would make their mark on Scottish music.
Love and Money.
A year after they were formed, Love and Money released their debut single Candybar Express in 1986. Although it only reached fifty-six in the UK charts, Candybar Express found its way onto playlists on both sides of the Atlantic. Things were looking good for Love and Money.
All You Need Is…Love and Money.
Later in 1986, Love and Money released their debut album All You Need Is…Love and Money. It had been produced by veteran producer Tom Dowd; and featured a slick, polished sound and carefully crafted songs. This included future favourites like Candybar Express, River Of People and the heart-wrenching paean You’re Beautiful, which Paul McGeechan and James Grant penned. Critics praised Love and Money’s debut album, and forecast a bright future for the band.
Alas, despite the quality of All You Need Is…Love and Money, the album failed to chart. However, a small crumb of comfort was that Dear John and River Of People were minor hits.
Strange Kind Of Love.
Two years after the release of their debut album, Love and Money returned with their sophomore album Strange Kind Of Love. It had been produced by Steely Dan’s producer Gary Katz. Making guest appearances on Strange Kind Of Love were Toto’s.drummer Jeff Porcaro and Donald Fagen. The result was another album of slick, sophisticated and cerebral pop and rock.
Strange Kind Of Love was an album that oozed quality. It was a cut above much of the music being released in Britain in 1988. Proof of this were songs like Halleluiah Man, Strange Kind Of Love, the Paul McGeechan penned Jocelyn Square, Walk The Last Mile and Up Escalator. Unsurprisingly, critical acclaim accompanied the release of Strange Kind Of Love. Love and Money’s luck was changing.
Halleluiah Man was chosen as the lead single, but reached just sixty-three in the UK. Elsewhere, the single sold well in Europe and Oceania. Helped by the success of Halleluiah Man, Strange Kind Of Love went on to sell over 250,000 copies worldwide. Love and Money it seemed, had arrived.
Dogs In The Traffic.
Their star was definitely in the ascendancy. After the release and success of Strange Kind Of Love, Love and Money were asked to support musical luminaries like BB King and Tina Turner. This helped raise the band’s profile and introduce their music to a much wider audience. However, three years would pass before Love and Money returned with their third album, Dogs In The Traffic.
It had been recorded in Glasgow and London. This time, though, Love and Money co-produced Dogs In The Traffic. They worked with two separate co-producer. This included Steve Nye of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Tony Phillips. The result was a quite different album.
Critics felt that James Grant had come of age as a songwriter, and the much more understated arrangements were the perfect accompaniment to his vocals. Among the highlights of Dogs In The Traffic were Winter, My Love Lives In A Dead House, Cheap Pearls, You’re Not The Only One, Looking For Angeline and Whiskey Dream. However, the album’s highlight was the soul-baring, Sometimes I Want To Give Up, with its despair filled vocal. Critics hailed Dogs In The Traffic Love and Money’s Magnus Opus, and later, it would become a classic Scottish album. Given the reviews, surely Dogs In Traffic would more than match the sales of Strange Kind Of Love?
Alas, despite its quality, intensity and cerebral and emotive lyrics, Dogs In Traffic wasn’t a commercial success. Neither of the singles troubled the charts, and Dogs In Traffic was the last album Love and Money released on a major label.
By the time Love and Money released their fourth album Littledeath in 1993, Bobby Paterson had left the band. Love and Money were also without a record label. They had left Fontana after the release of Dogs In Traffic. So they made the decision to release their new album Littledeath independently.
Littledeath was released through the Glasgow based Iona Gold label. Although it was a much much more low profile release, the quality remained. Songs like I’ll Catch You When You Fall, Pray For Love and Love Is Like A Wave were proof of this. However, given Glasgow’s illustrious industrial past, The Last Ship On The River was a poignant and beautiful song. It showed that Love and Money were still a potent force.
While Littledeath was well received by critics, the album didn’t sell in the same quantities as previous albums. Only 25,000 units were sold, which was just ten percent of what Strange Kind Of Love sold. This was hugely disappointing.
Even more disappointing was Love and Money’s decision to disband in 1994. After nine years and four albums, Love and Money were no more. Keyboardist Paul McGeechan decided to join a new band, Cowboy Mouth.
Joining Paul McGeechan in Cowboy Mouth were Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson, Grahame Skinner and Michael Slaven. The group was formed in 1994, and released two albums on Marina Records. Their debut album was Life As A Dog.
Life As A Dog.
It was recorded during three days at three different studios in Glasgow. The Glaswegian alt-rockers worked their way through songs like Headlights, My Life As A Dog, I Won’t Let It Happen Again, Bad Poetry and Breakdown. Once these songs were recorded, they became Life As A Dog.
Elements of rock, country and folk combined on Life As A Dog. It was released on Marina Records in 1994. Although well received, commercial success eluded Cowboy Mouth’s debut. So they returned a year later with their sophomore album Love Is Dead.
Love Is Dead.
Just like their debut album, Life As A Dog, Love Is Dead was recorded at three Glasgow studios. Stylistically, Love Is Dead was similar to its processor. However, this time around, Cowboy Mouth produced Love Is Dead. Once it was recorded it was released later in 1995.
On 1st November 1995, Life As A Dog was released. It was a strong and cohesive album. Songs like Melanie, My Beautiful Dream, Summer Runaway, The Colour Of Spring and Love Is Dead showcased a talented band. Alas, when commercial success eluded Love Is Dead, Cowboy Mouth called it a day in 1995.
By then, Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson and Paul McGeechan had formed a new group, Sugartown. Just like Cowboy Mouth, it had signed to Marina Records. Sugartown released their debut album Swimming In The Horsepool in 1995.
Swimming In The Horsepool.
Just like the Cowboy Mouth albums, recording took place at Riverside Studios, Busby and also at the Keyroom and CaVa Studios in Glasgow. Joining Sugartown, were a few of their musical friends, who augmented the core group. The result was an album carefully crafted songs.
When Swimming In The Horsepool was released, critics were impressed with the album. It was a mixture of new songs and cover versions. The new songs that stood out were Secondhand, This Is Not For Me, Desert Bloom. The covers of The Velvet Underground’s I’m Set Free came complete with a slide guitar solo from Michael Slaven; while Willie Nelson’s Valentine was given a makeover. Despite the reviews, and the undeniable quality of Swimming In The Horsepool commercial success eluded the album. For Sugartown this was a disappointing start to their career. Meanwhile, Paul McGeechan was adding a string to his bow.
Paul McGeechan decided to embark upon a career as a producer. This made sense. Paul McGeechan has worked with some of the best in the business, including Tom Dowd and Gary Katz. Watching two of top producers at work was part of his apprenticeship. So was co-producing Dogs In Traffic and Littledeath. Now Paul McGeechan embarked upon a career as a producer.
The Production Years.
Having made the decision to embark upon a career in production, it wasn’t long before Paul McGeechan was asked to produce an album. Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson had decided to embark upon a solo career. She needed a producer and chose Paul to produce her debut album, The Dreaming Sea. It was released in 1996, and marked the start of Paul McGeechan’s production career.
A year later, and Paul McGeechan was asked to produce former Ricky Ross’ sophomore album. The Deacon Blue frontman released his album New Recording in 1997. The same year, Sugartown returned with their sophomore album, Slow Flows The River.
Sugartown-Slow Flows The River.
When work began on Slow Flows The River, there had been a couple of changes. One was that Paul McGeechan would produce Slow Flows The River. Given Paul’s new career as a producer, this made sense. Given Paul produced the album, it also made sense that he mixed it. Once Slow Flows The River was complete, it was released later in 1997.
Sadly, it was a familiar story for Sugartown. Again, quality shawn through on this album of country, folk, pop and rock. Among the standout tracks were The Look In Your Eyes, Sad Eyed In The City, I Won’t Let You Go Again and a cover of the James Grant penned Are You With The One You Love. Despite the quality, and positive reviews Slow Flows The River failed to find the audience it deserved. This was a familiar story for Paul McGeechan.
It had been the case with Love and Money, Cowboy Mouth and now Sugartown. So it was no surprise that Slow Flows The River was the last album Sugartown released. They became another of Scottish music’s best kept secrets. Meanwhile, Paul McGeechan worked on over fifty projects between 1997 and 2011.
After the release of Slow Flows The River in 1997, worked with the great and good of Scottish music. This included working as producer, remixer, recordist, mixer and musician. It seemed artists across Scotland had Paul’s number on speed-dial. He was one of the hardest working men in Scottish music; working with Ricky Ross, Capercaillie, Bill Wells, Isobel Campbell, The Pearlfishers, James Grant, Justin Currie, the BMX Bandits, Karen Matheson, Emily Smith, Kris Drever and Roddy Hart. It wasn’t just Scottish artists Paul McGeechan worked with. English folk singer Kate Rusby worked with. However, one phone call he thought he would never receive came in 2011.
Love and Money Reform.
In 2011, Love and Money decided to reform to for what was billed as “one night only.” Love and Money were going to play a one-off show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of Celtic Connections 2011. Quickly, the show sold out, and when Love and Money made their comeback in their hometown, they received a rapturous reception. That night, they worked their way through two entire albums, Strange Kind Of Love and Dogs In The Traffic. When Love and Money left the stage that night, a seed had been planted.
In December 2011, Love and Money’s comeback continued. This time, they played another hometown show, but chose the Clyde Auditorium. So successful was the show, that Love and Money decided to record their fifth solo album, and first since 1993.
The Devil’s Debt.
Unlike previous Love and Money albums, where recording took place at one or two studios, The Devil’s Debt was recorded at twelve studios in Glasgow and in the West of Scotland. This time around, Paul McGeechan played a major part in the recording of The Devil’s Debt. He cowrote The Desired with James Grant, and added keyboards. However, Paul also engineered, recorded and mixed the album, and co-produced it with the rest of Love and Money. Once it was complete, it was released in October 2012.
The Devil’s Debt was launched at a preview show at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut in Glasgow. Critics liked what they heard, and The Devil’s Debt received positive reviews. Love and Money’s first album for nineteen years had been well received and found an audience with fans old and new. Not long after this, Paul McGeechan’s thoughts turned to a project he had been contemplating for several years, Starless.
This was nothing to do with Love and Money. Instead, Starless was the brainchild of Paul McGeechan. It was a project he first contemplated couple of year before the Love and Money reunion. It was only after the Love and Money reunion, that Paul decided to return to songwriting. The songs he wrote would find their way onto the Starless album.
Newly reinvigorated, Paul sat down at his keyboard and wrote Fuadach, Misty Nights and Jura. He would also eventually write three track and cowrote five other tracks. This included Starless, where Paul and Bobby Henry cowrote the lyrics; and Solitude where Paul also added the music to Bobby Henry’s lyrics. Paul’s other contributions included writing addition music to Surge Of The Sea; composing the music that accompanies Marie Claire Lee’s lyrics to Whispered Reason, No. 2 and adding the music to John Palmer’s lyrics to Yellow Midnight. These compositions would form the basis for Starless.
By then, Paul McGeechan had secured funding for the Starless project from Creative Scotland. Paul had approached them with his vision of a project that incorporated elements of Scottish-Gaelic traditional music, pop, rock, an element of theatre and even The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The final piece of the jigsaw would be a cast of singers and musicians that Paul had worked with. They were on Paul’s wish-list. Convincing everyone to take part, was another matter.
Paul knew it wasn’t going to be easy. However, he was well known within Scottish music, having worked with everyone from traditional Scottish singers to folk, pop and rock artists. Many of the people on Paul’s wish-list were people he had worked with. Others were friends or contemporaries of Paul’s. This included two singers who were at the top of Paul’s wish-list.
The first was Paul Buchanan,The Blue Nile lead vocalist. This was someone Paul McGeechan had admired since the release of The Blue Nile’s debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops. So Paul McGeechan got in contact with Paul Buchanan. Then it was a waiting game. However, after three months, Paul Buchanan got in touch to say that if he liked the song, he was onboard. Sadly, the other name at the top of Paul’s wish-list unavailable. This was former Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser. Her ethereal vocal would’ve been perfect for the project. Alas, it wasn’t to be. However, some other big names signed up to join the Starless project.
This included The Bathers’ lead singer Chris Thomson, former Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson and Scottish folk singer Julie Fowlis. Both Karen and Julie had worked with Paul McGeechan. So had Kris Drever of Lau. He adds backing vocals on Apocalypse, which is one of two songs where Kaela Rowan takes charge of the lead vocal. Paul spent time matching singers to songs, and chose Marie Clare Lee, Kathleen McInnes, Andrew White and Gwena Stewart to add the vocals to other songs on Starless. At last the ‘cast’ was in place for Starless.
By now, another four songs had been penned. Kaela Rowan cowrote Apocalypse, Andrew White penned Within These Walls and Ewan Robertson wrote the words to Duthaich Mhicaoidh. It was arranged by Paul McGeechan. Now his band could get to work.
No longer are albums recorded in one studio. So, Starless was recorded at various studios in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. This included Waterside Production, CaVa Sound, Chem 19, Watercolour Music, NCL and the studios at the University of The West of Scotland. These studios were where Paul McGeechan began what was the most ambitious project of his career.
When the sessions began, Paul played keyboards, synths, Hammond organ and took charge of much of the programming. That was except for Fuadach and Surge Of The Sea, which Mark Sinclair was responsible for. Bassist Ewan Vernal played on much of Starless; while other musicians played on just one track. This included accordionist Colin Train and harpist Mary Ann Kennedy who featured on Surge Of The Sea. Finn Lemarinel played acoustic guitar on New Green World; while Martin Bond added guitars on Misty Nights and Paul’s son, guitarist Joshua McGeechan stars on Apocalypse. However, the sessions at Waterside Studios were only part of the Starless story.
In Prague, at the Smecky Studios, Paul travelled to record the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s string session. He had previously worked with them on Love and Money’s 2012 album The Devil’s Debt However, this was quite an undertaking. So Paul had brought some friends along. Paul and Pete Whitfield arranged the strings; while Richard Hein conducted the strings and James Fitzpatrick produced the session. Once the session was complete, so was Starless,..almost.
All that remained was for Paul to mix Starless. By the time the mix was complete, Paul had been involved in just about every part of the process. He had written, arranged, recorded, played a part in the engineering of Starless and had produced the album. Starless which had been Paul’s idea, all these years ago, was now ready for release on Marina Records. Now critics and record buyers would have their say on what was a hugely ambitious project, one that would take time, patience and persistence to realise, Starless.
Fuadach opens Starless. Bells chime, and a choir sing what sounds like a gaelic psalm. By then, melancholy string sweep, and add to the cinematic sound. Meanwhile, drums crack and Paul’s piano play. Although its twinkling sound meanders, plays an important part in the sound and success of the track, it’s the strings that steal the show. They’ve a cinematic quality and produce a heart-achingly beautiful sound.
Starless features Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile. His worldweary, lived-in vocal is perfect for the lyrics: “I’m faithless and fallen, careless and loving, deeper and dark, like your eyes in the rain.” By then, swathes of strings have swept in, and join synths, a bubbling bass and crisp drums. Karen Matheson adds backing vocals. They’re a perfect foil to the troubled troubadour. His hurt and heartbreak seems very real. Especially as he sings: I prayed down the angels, took a walk down to Central, washed up and gentle, like a song in the rain.” Again, there’s a cinematic quality, and it’s possible to imagine a heartbroken figure aimlessly walking in the rain to Central Station, in Glasgow. Maybe he’s not heartbroken: “I’m saddened without you, maybe that’s not true?” There’s maybe a reason for this: “in a Starless sky, one shutdown moon, here in the city, we fall in love too soon.” Despite this, despairingly Paul sings: “I can’t get out of this,” on what’s an emotional roller coaster, featuring a vocal tour de force from Paul Buchanan.
Urgently, washes of jagged synths accompany Marie Clare Lee on Whispered Reason, No. 2. Her tender, heartfelt vocal has an ethereal quality that’s reminiscent of Jerry Burns. It’s perfect for this mysterious paean. This becomes apparent as Marie Clare sings: “I have seen your face, in the darkness I know this place, I wait for you so long, I am calling you to my heart.” Meanwhile,bubbling bass joins, a chiming guitar, eighties drums and keyboards. Harmonies add the finishing touch to this dreamy ballad floats along. Its ethereal beauty washes over you for three magical and mesmeric minutes.
A myriad of otherworldly sounds open Apocalypse, as Kaela Rowan delivers the vocal. Her vocal is tender and impassioned as she sings: “here comes Apocalypse, as I kiss you on the lips, I don’t care if the world falls apart, living life from the heart.” By then, strings slowly sweep in, and are joined by slow hypnotic drums and the bass. Later, when the vocal drops out a crystalline guitar joins the swells of strings. By the time the vocal returns, they’ve become lush and are the perfect accompaniment to Kaela’s vocal on this beautiful, poetic paean.
The sound of waves breaking on the beach opens The Surge Of The Sea. Karen Matheson, Julie Fowlis and Kathrine MacInnes, who sing in Gaelic, share the lead vocal. This they do, against a backdrop of the lushest strings. Meanwhile, the vocal is delivered slowly, thoughtfully and with a poignancy. Later, drums and backing vocals join the swells of strings as they sweep. Deep in the mix, the bass plays, while thunder cracks. Soon, the vocals drop out and the tempo drops. This adds to the drama and emotion, before keyboards and a flourish of harp is added to this beautiful, cinematic track that’s the musical equivalent of a widescreen production.
Solitude marks the return of Marie Lee Clare. She delivers the lyrics against what begins as an understated arrangement. Not for long. Soon, the strings swell and drama builds. Marie Lee’s vocal combines power and emotion. Sadness, guilt and longing combine as the strings take centre-stage, before the track takes a brief diversion via trip hop. By then, the vocal is needy and almost despairing, as if Marie Lee is resigned to a life of loneliness and Solitude. It’s a truly poignant track, that tugs at the heartstrings.
The piano lead Within These Walls was written by Andrew White. He delivers an emotive and impassioned vocal. It’s accompanied by sweeping, swirling string, the rhythm section, and keyboards. However, it’s the strings that play a leading role. They dominate the arrangement, and are yin to the vocal’s yang. Soon, seesaw strings quicken, adding a degree of drama, as Andrew delivers a soul-baring vocal. Then the arrangement flows along, strings cascading as Andrew almost lives the lyrics. Later, a curveball is thrown when sci-fi synths make a brief reappearance, in another powerful and emotive example of balladry.
Distant, ethereal synths are joined by a picked guitar as the understated arrangement to Misty Nights unfolds. It ushers in Chris Thomson’s vocal. He too, dawns the role of troubled troubadour. “Sure as east meets west, she’s in her summer dress, young musicians on their knees.” Chris paints pictures of a beautiful, bewitching, siren, but urges caution: “the song she sang was ageless, strange her beauty lies, parade of joy confound us, beware how sorrow flies.” Later, as a piano, strings and the bass accompany Chris, there’s sadness in his voice as he remembers: “the darkened sky, the laughing eyes, a tender kiss, the lost good-bye, the fallen years that cling to me.” These are some of the best, and most moving lyrics, on a track full of heartbreak, sadness and melancholia.
Duthaich Mhicaoidh features a vocal from Julie Fowlis. She delivers the lyrics in Gaelic, as strings sweep. They dominate the arrangement. However, that’s all that’s required to compliment Julie’s beautiful, emotive vocal on a track, where less is more.
Jura closes Starless and features Kaela Rowan. It’s a track that’s meant to last nearly six minutes. Just swathes of the lushest sweeping strings accompany the vocal. They produce a beautiful sound, emotive sound. Meanwhile, Kaela delivers an ethereal scat. Sadly, by 1.41 the vocal disappears. Then a hidden ‘track’ appears. For the next four minutes an avant-garde soundscape, full beeps, squeak, chirps and crackles meanders along, showing another side to Starless. This is a quite unexpected way to end the most ambitious project of Paul McGeechan’s musical career.
Starless is a project that Paul McGeechan conceived over seven years ago. It was only after the the Love and Money reunion, and the release of their latest album The Devil’s Debt in 2012, that Paul’s thoughts turned to Starless.
Paul knew it was an ambitious project, and one that would take time, patience and persistence to realise. However, this he realised, was the time to make the Starless project reality. So having compassed music of the music on Starless, Paul enlisted a few friends.
Soon, Paul had a cast of some of the most talented singers in Scotland. This included not just pop and rock vocalists, but traditional singers. Many of these had been in the music industry as long as Paul. He knew the, and had worked with them. Now they were part of the cast of Starless, which Paul would direct. These veterans were joined by newcomers, and together they made Paul’s Starless project reality.
Playing a starring role were The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, Marie Clare Lee, Julie Fowlis, Andrew White and Chris Thomson of The Bathers. That’s not forgetting the contribution of the string section of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Their contribution to Starless was huge.
The strings provided an emotive backdrop throughout Starless. They swept the arrangements along, and in the process framed the vocals. What was unusual was that the strings dominated the arrangements, rather than the usual instruments that feature on a pop or rock album. However, Starless was no ordinary album, and Starless is ordinary group.
Instead, Starless is more like a musical collective, where there is room for the lineup to evolve. This means, that if Starless release future albums, their lineup won’t necessary be rigid, and any number of vocalists and musicians will play their part in the future success of the collective. Who knows, maybe Paul will be able to convince Liz Fraser to lend her ethereal beauty to future albums. Not that there was any lack of ethereal beauty on Starless.
Indeed, ethereal beauty and troubled troubadours with worldweary vocals join lush strings in producing an almost flawless album. That album is Starless, which features stars aplenty, that shine bright and made Paul McGeechan’s Starless project a reality, and a resounding success.
VASHTI BUNYAN-STILL ONE Of MUSIC’S BEST KEPT SECRETS.
It was back in 1965, that Vashti Bunyan’s musical career began. She looked destined for great things. Sadly, that proved not to be the case. Five years after her career began, Vashti Bunyan released her debut album Just Another Diamond Day in 1970. It failed to chart. This lead to Vashti Bunyan retiring from music. Nothing was heard of Vashti Bunyan for thirty-two years.
Then in 2002, Vashti Bunyan made a comeback. However, another three years passed before Vashti released her sophomore album Lookaftering in 2005. Another nine years before Vashti released her third album Heartleap, in 2014. Since then, the only music that Vashti released was Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind-Singles and Demos 1964 – 1967. It was released in 2015, fifty years after Vashti’s career began. Back then, Vashti was in love with music. Little did she think that she would ever fall out of love with music. However, she did. During that period, Vashti became one of music’s best kept secrets.
For thirty-two years, Vashti Bunyan was one of music’s best kept secrets. Vashti’s music was almost unknown outside of a small, loyal coterie of music lovers. This included a new generation of folk singers, including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Their careers were influenced by Vashti Bunyan, and especially, her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day.
Five years after Vashti’s career began in 1965, she released her debut album Just Another Diamond Day. It was well received upon its released on Phillips, in 1970. Sadly, Just Another Diamond Day failed commercially. This lead to Vashti retiring from music. She was gone, but not forgotten.
Over the next thirty-two years, gradually, Just Another Diamond Day found the audience it deserved. It was reappraised by a new generation of music lovers and critics. They realised that Just Another Diamond Day was a long lost classic. This resulted in Vashti Bunyan making a welcome return to music in 2002. The story that began in 1965, picked up where it left off in 2002.
Vashti Bunyan was just twenty when she was “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham. This wasn’t the direction Vashti envisaged her career heading when she left her London home and headed to the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, an art school at Oxford University.
The dreaming spires of Oxford University weren’t for Vashti Bunyan. It was a familiar story. Vashti failed to turn up for classes. Eventually, Vashti was expelled from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. For Vashti Bunyan, this proved to be the start of a new chapter in her career.
Aged just eighteen, Vashti headed to New York. This was 1963. Bob Dylan had just released his classic album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Vashti discovered Bob Dylan’s music. The gateway to Bob Dylan’s music was his opus, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Having immersed herself in Bob Dylan’s music, Vashti realised what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She wanted to be a musician.
So Vashti headed home to London. It was there that she encountered Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones’ manager. He spotted Vashti’s potential and became her manager. In June 1965, Vashti Bunyan released her debut single as Vashti.
This was no ordinary single. It was a single penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind had originally been released by The Rolling Stones on 13th February 1964. Just sixteen months later, the Jagger-Richards’ penned Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind was released in June 1965 on Decca. For Vashti, this was an inauspicious debut. It failed to chart. Maybe her sophomore single would fare better?
It wasn’t until May 1966, that Vashti Bunyan released her sophomore single. This was Train Song. Produced by Peter Snell, Train Song was released on Columbia. Lightning struck twice. Train Song disappeared without trace. For Vashti, her nascent musical career seemed to have stalled.
For the next two years, very little was heard of Vashti. Her only appearance was on The Coldest Night of the Year, a track from Twice as Much’s sophomore album That’s All. That proved to be an ironic title, as that’s all that was heard from Vashti during that period of her career.
Although Vashti released other songs for Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records, they were never released. For Vashti, this must have been disappointing. Maybe that’s why Vashti and her then partner, Robert Lewis, decided to head off on a road trip.
This was very different to Jack Kerouac’s legendary road trip in On The Road. Vashti and Robert headed off to the Hebridean Islands by horse and cart. That was where singer- songwriter Donavan, a friend of Vashti, had planned to established a commune. This trip proved to be inspirational for Vashti.
During the road trip to the Hebridean Islands, Vashti wrote the songs that featured on her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. It would be produced by Joe Boyd, who Joe met at Christmas, 1968.
It was through a mutual friend that Vashti and Joe Boyd met. When Joe saw the songs, he immediately offered Vashti the chance to record an album of her travelling songs for his Witchseason Productions. However, this didn’t happen immediately.
Just Another Diamond Day.
A year later, in 1969, Vashti returned to London to record her debut album Just Another Diamond Day, with Joe Boyd. Vashti had no band. This didn’t matter. An all-star folk band would join Vashti on Another Diamond Day.
This included Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol from Fairport Convention. They were joined by the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson. The final piece of the jigsaw was string arranger, Robert Kirby. Just like Joe Boyd, Robert Kirby would go on to work with Nick Drake. Before that, they worked on Just Another Diamond Day, which was recorded at Sound Techniques Studios, in London. Just Another Diamond Day was then released in December 1970.
When Just Another Diamond Day was released in December 1970, it was well received by critics. They appreciated Vashti Bunyan’s new sound. She was now a fully fledged folk singer. This suited Vashti. Just Another Diamond Day veered between pastoral, ethereal, lush, understated, rural, melancholy, cerebral and cinematic. Sadly, when Just Another Diamond Day was released, it failed commercially. Vashti took this badly.
She retired from music after the commercial failure of Just Another Diamond Day. At first, Vashti stayed in one of The Incredible String Band’s Glen Row cottages. After that, Vashti moved to Ireland, and then settled in to Scotland. For the next thirty years, Vashti settled into family life. She had three children. As her children grew up, little did Vashti realise that somewhat belatedly, Just Another Diamond Day found the audience it so richly deserved.
Since her retirement in 1970, gradually, Another Diamond Day found the audience it deserved. It was reappraised by a new generation of music lovers and critics. Among Just Another Diamond Day’s fans, were a new generation of musicians who had been influenced by Vashti Bunyan. They realised that Just Another Diamond Day, which was reissued in 2000, was a long lost classic. Eventually, Vashti Bunyan decided to make a welcome return to music in 2002.
This started with Vashti making guest appearances on Piano Magic’s 2002 single Writers Without Homes. Two years later, Piano Magic and Vashti collaborated on the Saint Marie E.P. This was just the start of a string of guest appearances and collaborations Vashti made.
Vashti’s next collaboration was on Devendra Banhart’s 2004 album Rejoicing In The Hands. This was quite fitting. Vashti is credited as the Queen of freak folk. Devendra Banhart was one of her disciples. It was a case of two generations of freak folk collaborating. This wasn’t the last of Vashti’s collaborations.
A year later, Vashti worked with another band who were influenced by her music. This was Animal Collective. Vashti appeared on their 2005 E.P. Prospect Hunter. However, the most important release for Vashti in 2005 was her sophomore album Lookaftering.
It had been a long time coming. Thirty-five years to be precise. However, eventually, Vashti made a very welcome return to the studio. The result was her sophomore album Lookaftering.
On Lookaftering, Vashti was joined by some of the artists she had influenced. This included Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. A familiar face was Robert Kirby, who played such an important part in Vashti’s 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. He played trumpet and French horn on Lookaftering, which was released in October 2005.
Just like when Just Another Diamond Day was released December 1970, Lookaftering was released to critical acclaim. Lookaftering was released to an appreciative audience. Understated, ethereal, cerebral, beautiful and ruminative, Lookaftering was a return to form from a reflective, philosophical Vashti. Older and wiser, Vashti Bunyan had matured with age. Surely, it wouldn’t be long before Vashti released her third album?
That’s proved not to be the case. Nine years have passed since Vashti released Lookaftering, Valerie released her third album Heartleap in October 2014.
Heartleap features nine songs written by Vashti. She plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by a small, talented band. This includes strings courtesy of Fiona Bruce, Ian Burdge and Gillian Cameron. Guitarists Garth Dickson and Andy Cabic are joined by Jo Mango on kalimba and dulcimer. Saxophonist Ian Wilson also plays recorder. Devendra Banhart, who featured on Lookaftering, makes a welcome return, adding backing vocals. These musicians played their part in the recording of Heartleap.
When Heartleap was released, critics hailed the album as a return to form from Vashti Bunyan. Thirty-five years after turning her back on music, and twelve years since she stepped back into the limelight, the Queen of Psych Folk was back, and better than ever.
Across The Water opened Heartleap, and is a mixture of ethereal beauty and melancholia. This set the scene for the pastoral beauty of Holy Smoke. Mother then features a reflective Vashti, as remembers her mother sitting playing her piano and smiling. Sadness and melancholia fill Vashti’s voice on this beautiful autobiographical song. Very different is Jellyfish, a dreamy, lysergic song. It gives way to Shell, a captivating song, where Vashti veers between storyteller and philosopher. Imagery and metaphors are omnipresent as a worldweary Vashti delivers cerebral lyrics. That’s the case on The Boy, where the lyrics are moving, and have a cinematic quality. Vashti’s lyrics paint pictures in your mind’s eye. So do the lyrics to Gunpowder, another reflective song, where a rueful Vashti sings of love and love lost. Blue Shed features just a lone piano accompanying Vashti, who longs to be alone. There’s a change of mood on Here, a beautiful, joyous paean, which features a whispery vocal from Vashti. Heartleap closes with the title-track, where Vashti’s breathy vocal, delivers beautiful lyrics that are akin to a stream of consciousness. This crowned Vashti Bunyan’s comeback album Heartleap, an album that could’ve and should’ve transformed her career.
Sadly, when Heartleap was released in October 2014, the album passed most people by. . Despite its undeniable quality, Heartleap failed to find the wider audience it deserved. For Vashti this must have been frustrating. Especially considering the quality of music on Heartleap
Heartleap was an album that oozes quality and ethereal beauty. That’s the case from the opening bars of Across The Water, to the closing notes of Heartleap. It’s best described as dreamy, melancholy, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, cerebral and wistful. Elements of ambient, folk, jazz, freak folk and psychedelia can be heard during the ten songs on Heartleap. They only last thirty-four minutes. However, Heartleap is thirty-four flawless minutes of music. Despite this quality, Vashti was destined to remain one of music’s best kept secrets.
The potent and heady brew that is Heartleap showcased Vashti Bunyan’s considerable talents. Sadly, however, Heartleap is only Vashti Bunyan’s third album. After the commercial failure of her debut 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day, Vashti turned her back on music.
It was thirty-five years until we heard from Vashti Bunyan. She released Lookaftering in 2005. Many thought Vashti was back for good. She flitted out of our lives for another nine years. Although she dabbled in music, she never released another album. That was until 2o14.
Aged sixty-nine, Vashti Bunyan decided to release her long awaited third album Heartleap in October 2014,. For her legion of loyal fans, this was good news. They’d lived in hope that Vashti would release another album. With each year that passed, it looked like we’d heard the last of Vashti Bunyan. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Twelve years after the release of Lookaftering, Vashti Bunyan has returned with Heartleap. It was a career defining album. Heartleap surpasses 2005s Lookaftering, and comes close to rivalling Vashti Bunyan’s lost classic Just Another Diamond Day. That’s how good an album Heartleap was. Anyone who was familiar with Vashti’s music wasn’t surprised about the quality of Heartleap.
Vashti Bunyan was always a hugely talented singer and songwriter. That was the case in 1970, when she released Just Another Diamond Day. Sadly, Vashti Bunyan was ahead of the musical curve. When Just Another Diamond Day failed commercially, she turned her back on music. Gradually, though, a new generation of music lovers, critics and musicians discovered Just Another Diamond Day. Belatedly, Vashti Bunyan was receiving the critical acclaim that her music so richly deserves.
Sadly, though, outside her loyal coterie of fans, Vashti Bunyan is largely unknown. Most people are still unaware of the trio of albums Vashti released between 1970 and 2014. Just Another Diamond Day, Lookaftering and Heartleap are best described as true hidden gems, that have yet to be discovered by the wider record buying public. Maybe, one day soon, a much wider audience will discover the musical delights of Vashti Bunyan, and no longer will she be referred to as one of music’s best kept secrets?
VASHTI BUNYAN-STILL ONE OF MUSIC’S BEST KEPT SECRETS.
CANNED HEAT-ONE MORE RIVER TO CROSS.
On March 8th 1973, Canned Heat released their ninth album The New Age. It proved to be their Liberty Records’ swan-song. After six years and nine studio albums, Canned Heat left Liberty Records. The band had managed to negotiate their release from their Liberty Records contract. This left Canned Heat free to sign for Atlantic Records.
Later in 1973, Canned Heat were preparing to release their tenth studio album One More River To Cross, which was recently reissued by BGO Records. One More River To Cross would be Canned Heat’s first album for Atlantic Records. Canned Heat were hoping that One More River To Cross was the start of a new era for the band. They had changed since they were formed in Los Angeles in 1965.
Canned Heat’s roots can be traced to a community of blues collectors in Topanga, California. They had been meeting at Bob Hite’s house for some time. The blues aficionados listened to music, and traded records. Then in 1965, some of the people who attended the group decided to form a band.
The initial lineup featured vocalist Bob Hite, Alan Wilson on bottleneck guitar, Mike Perlowin on lead guitar, bassist Stu Brotman and drummer Keith Sawyer. With the lineup complete, all that was needed was a name. Eventually, they named their new band Canned Heat, after Tommy Johnson’s 1928 song Canned Heat Blues. However, within a matter of days, the lineup changed.
Mike Perlowin and Keith Sawyer both dropped out. This was a huge disappointment for the nascent band. Fortunately, guitarist Kenny Edwards, a friend of Alan Wilson agreed to replace Mike Perlowin. Drummer Ron Holmes agreed to join until permanent replacements could be found.
Fortunately, a friend of Bob Hit’s was between bands. Henry Vestine had been sacked by Frank Zappa for “excessive drug use.” However, Henry Vestine was a talented and experienced lead guitarist. So he joined Canned Heat; and it was agreed that Henry Edwards could remain on a temporary basis. Soon, though, Henry Edwards left Canned Heat to form The Stone Poneys with Linda Rostadt. With the lead guitarist role filled, all that was needed was a new drummer.
Canned Heat found their new drummer in Frank Cook. His previous employers included jazzers Charlie Haden, Chet Baker and Elmo Cook. With their second lineup complete, Canned Heat set about honing their sound.
By 1966, Canned Heat were playing in the clubs of the L.A, and were a popular draw. Their sets included reinterpretations of blues numbers. Canned Heat were keen to promote blues music, which had fallen out of fashion. That was until the British Invasion groups began to promote its merits. Just like Canned Heat, they appreciated the blues and recognised its importance in modern music. It certainly played an important part in Canned Heat’s music as they played in the clubs of L.A. Later in 1966, Canned Heat recorded what should’ve been their debut album.
In the summer of 1966, Canned Heat hooked up with bandleader and producer Johnny Otis. He produced the twelve tracks that Canned Heat recorded. This included covers of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful and John Lee Hooker’s Louise. Once the album was recorded, Stu Brotman announced he was leaving Canned Heat. Worse was to come.
What should’ve been Canned Heat’s debut album lay unreleased until 1970. By then, Canned Heat were a successful band. So Janus Records decided to release the twelve tracks as Vintage Heat. It’s the only Canned Heat album to feature the lineup of Bob Hite, Alan Wilson, Frank Cook, Henry Vestine and Stu Brotman. After Stu Brotman’s departure, the search for a new bassist began.
Despite Canned Heat not having a permanent bassist, they still managed to secure a management contract with Skip Taylor and John Hartmann. Then in March 1967, Canned Heat finally found a permanent bassist in Larry Taylor. He had previously been a member of The Moondogs and had worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Larry Taylor made his debut on the band’s eponymous debut album, Canned Heat.
Just month after the classic lineup of Canned Heat was finalised, Canned Heat began recording their debut album for Liberty Records in April 1967. Calvin Carter the former head of A&R was drafted in to produce what became Canned Heat. He was well qualified, having previously recorded albums with Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker.
Recording of Canned Heat took place in L.A., with twelve songs being recorded. Eleven of them were cover versions, including Muddy Waters’ Rollin’ and Tumblin’, Willie Dixon’s Evil (Is Going On) and Robert Johnson and Elmore James’ Dust My Broom. The only track penned by Canned Heat, was Bullfrog Blues. Once the twelve songs were recorded, Canned Heat would be released in July 1967.
Before that, Canned Heat were due to appear at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, on June 17th 1967. Canned Heat pulled out all the stops, and produced one of the best performances of their two year career. Critics struggled for superlatives to describe Canned Heat’s performance. The twin guitars of Henry Vestine and Alan Wilson stole the show; while Bob Hite’s powerhouse vocals came a close second. Critics agreed, that Canned Heat had a bright future in front of them.
Following their successful appearance at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, Canned Heat released their eponymous debut album in July 1967. Canned Heat reached seventy-six in the US Billboard 200, and in the process, launched the band’s career. Everything seemed to be going almost too well.
Already, drugs had entered the equation. Over the next few years, drugs would become a problem with Canned Heat. It earned them a degree of notoriety, and the reputation “the bad boys of rock.” One of the first incidents was when the band were arrested and jailed in Denver, Colorado on a possession charge. With Canned Heat in jail, their manager Skip Taylor had to sell the band’s publishing rights to Liberty Records’ to raise the bail of $10,000. It was a costly mistake, and cost Frank Cook his place in Canned Heat.
Replacing Frank Cook was Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra. He made his debut on December 1st 1967 at Long Beach Auditorium. That night, Canned Heat and The Doors shared top spot on the bill. This was the debut of the classic lineup of Canned Heat.
Boogie With Canned Heat.
Just six months after Canned Heat released their eponymous debut album, they returned with their sophomore album Boogie With Canned Heat. It was the first album to feature the classic lineup. By then, each member of Canned Heat had adopted a nickname. Canned Heat now featured Bob “The Bear” Hite, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Henry “Sunflower” Vestine, Larry “The Mole” Taylor and Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra. They made their debut on Boogie With Canned Heat.
By then, Canned Heat were writing more of their own songs. They wrote four of the ten songs. Other songs were written by members of Canned Heat. Bob Hite penned Whiskey Headed Woman No. 2; Henry Vestine contributed Marie Laveau and Alan Wilson wrote An Owl Son. Alan Wilson also cowrote On The Road Again with Floyd Jones. It would play an important part in rise and rise of Canned Heat.
When Boogie With Canned Heat was released on 21st January 1968, it was to critical acclaim. The album epitomised Canned Heat’s unique sound. Loose limbed jams and Canned Heat’s trademark boogies rubbed shoulders on Boogie With Canned Heat. This found favour with record buyers when Boogie With Canned Heat reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200. That wasn’t an end of the success.
Boogie With Canned Heat included what’s without doubt, Canned Heat’s most famous single, On The Road Again. It reached the top ten in the US Billboard 100. The success of On The Road Again further cemented Canned Heat’s reputation was one of America’s top bands.
Living The Blues.
After the success of Boogie With Canned Heat, there was no resting on their laurels for Canned Heat. They returned to the studio and recorded their part of third album Living The Blues. It was a double album with a twist.
The eight songs on sides one and two were recorded in the studio. They were a mixture cover versions and original songs. The covers included Charley Patton’s Pony Blues, Jimmy Rogers’ Walking by Myself and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s One Kind Flavour. Canned Heat penned nine part suite Parthenogenesis. Bob Hite wrote Sandy’s Blues and Alan Wilson wrote My Mistake. Alan also wrote another of Canned Heat’s best known songs, Going Up The Country. These songs were recorded between August and October 1968, at .D. Sound Studios. However, the two lengthy jams on sides three and four Refried Boogie I and II were recorded live at The Kaleidoscope, Hollywood, This mixture of studio and live songs became Living The Blues.
When Living The Blues was released in October 1968, the reviews of this sprawling double album were mixed. The experimental nature of Parthenogenesis seemed to catch critics on the hop. They didn’t seem to know what to make of this genre-melting collage. However, one track stood out on Living The Blues, Going Up The Country.
When Living The Blues was released, it reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-five in the US R&B charts. The lead single Going Up The Country seemed to speak to a generation, and it reached number eleven US Billboard 100, and number one in twenty-five countries worldwide. Later, Going Up The Country became the unofficial anthem to Woodstock. That was still to come.
Before that, Canned Heat enjoyed a triumphant end to 1968, when they played at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. To crown what had been a barnstorming performance from Canned Heat, they were joined by Bob Hope sitting a atop an elephant. It was a surreal sight, but proof that Canned Heat were now one of the biggest bands in America.
Canned Heat returned to I.D. Sound Recorders Hollywood, in May 1969. They recorded eleven tracks that became their fourth album Hallelujah. Canned Heat wrote two tracks, while individual members of the band wrote most of the tracks. Alan Wilson contributed four tracks, Change My Ways, Time Was, Do Not Enter and Get Off My Back. He was quickly becoming Canned Heat’s songwriter in chief, and played an important role in Hallelujah.
Canned Heat released their fourth album, the blues based, Hallelujah on July 8th 1969. Again, the reviews were mixed. They ranged from favourable to positive. However, again, there was no consensus on Hallelujah. Despite this, Hallelujah still reached thirty-seven on the US Billboard 200. This in part, was a result of Canned Heat taking Woodtstock by storm. Before that, the classic lineup of Canned Heat was no more.
Just after the release of Hallelujah, Canned Heat were due to play two nights at Fillmore West. On the first night, there was an onstage altercation between Larry Taylor and Henry Vestine. After the show, Henry Vestine left Canned Heat.
With Canned Heat a man down for the second show, Mike Bloomfield and Harvey Mandel filled the void left by Henry Vestine. They jammed onstage with Canned Heat. So impressive were their performances, that both men were offered a place in Canned Heat. However, it was Harvey Mandel that agreed to join Canned Heat.
Harvey Mandel made his official Canned Heat debut in August 1969. Canned Heat played two nights at the Fillmore West, in preparation for their performance at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place between the 15th and 18th August 1969. Canned Heat were booked to play on the 16th August 1969. Logistically, the only way for Canned Heat to arrive was in a helicopter. They flew over what was a heaving mass of humanity. Having arrived by helicopter, Canned Heat took to the stage as the sun set. Their legendary set included some of their greatest songs, including On The Road Again and Going Up The Country, which became the unofficial anthem to Woodstock. As they left the stage, it was apparent that Canned Heat were one of the stars of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
1969 had been both an eventful and momentous year for Canned Heat. They had lost a member of the classic lineup of Canned Heat, then were one of the stars of Woodstock. By 1970, “the bad boys of rock” had been booked to tour Europe. With some time to spare, Canned Heat decided to record their fifth album, Future Blues.
Canned Heat headed to Village Recorders, where they were due to record nine songs. This included covers of Eddie Shuler’s Sugar Bee; Charley Patton’s Shake It and Break It; Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s That’s All Right (Mama) and Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Stick Together. Canned Heat penned So Sad (The World’s In A Tangle) and Future Blues. Alan Wilson who was still Canned Heat’s songwriter-in-chief wrote Skat, London Blues and sadly, prophetic My Time Ain’t Long. Once the album was complete, it was scheduled for release in late summer 1970.
Future Blues was well received by critics. They praised the album, calling it Canned Heat’s best albums of recent years. With critical acclaim accompanying its release, Future Blues was released on August 3rd 1970. However, Future Blues stalled at fifty-nine on the US Billboard 200. This made Future Blues Canned Heat’s least successful album since their eponymous debut album. The only small crumb of comfort for Canned Heat and Liberty Records, was that Let’s Work Together reached twenty-six in the US Billboard 100. By then, Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel dropped a bombshell.
The two men announced that they were leaving Canned Heat not long after the release of Future Blues. Larry Taylor joined John Mayall’s band, and Harvey Mandel followed in his footsteps. This left just drummer Adolfo de la Parra, vocalist Bob Hite and guitarist Alan Wilson.
Hooker ’N’ Heat.
After the departure of Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel, guitarist Henry Vestine rejoined Canned Heat. Replacing bassist Larry Taylor was Antonio de la Barreda. He had previously played alongside Adolfo de la Parra in Mexico. This new lineup of Canned Heat entered the studio to record an album with veteran bluesman John Lee Hooker.
Canned Heat had met John Lee Hooker at an airport in Portland, Oregon. When they got talking, the members of Canned Heat told John Lee Hooker they were longtime fans of his music. It turned out that apparently, John Lee Hooker just happened to be a fan of Canned Heat’s music. So they decided to record an album together.
This would be no ordinary album. Instead, Hooker ’N’ Heat was a sprawling double album. It was recorded at Liberty Records, in Los Angeles, with Bob Hite and Skip Taylor taking charge of production. John Lee Hooker wrote or cowrote every song on Hooker ’N’ Heat. Some of the songs, featured just John Lee Hooker. On other tracks, Canned Hat were reduced to a backing band on Hooker ’N’ Heat. Once Hooker ’N’ Heat was completed, the album was scheduled for release in January 1970.
Between the completion and release of Hooker ’N’ Heat, tragedy touched Canned Heat in September 1970. Just after the completion of the Hooker ’N’ Heat, Alan Wilson attempted to commit suicide when he drove his van off a a cliff near Bob Hite’s home in Topanga Canyon. Fortunately, Alan Wilson survived. Sadly, not for long.
After years of bravely battling depression, Alan Wilson’s life came to an end on the 3rd of September 1970. Alan Wilson was found dead on a hillside at the rear of Bob Hite’s Topanga home. The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates. When the other members of Canned Heat were told of Alan Wilson’s death, they believed that he had committed suicide. It was a huge blow for the rest of Canned Heat. They were grieving over the loss of a not just a bandmate, but a friend.
Despite the death of Alan Wilson, Canned Heat were due to tour America, Australia and Europe. Then they had a studio time booked to record a new album. So Joel Scott Hill, who had been a member of The Strangers and Moby Grape was drafted in to replace Alan Wilson. Then in January 1971, Hooker ’N’ Heat was released
Reviews of Hooker ’N’ Heat were mixed. However, critics agreed that Canned Heat had returned to their R&B roots. Some of the songs varied in quality. Especially some that featured only the veteran bluesman. Two of the poorest songs on Hooker ’N’ Heat were Send Me Your Pillow and Drifter. However, things improved when Canned Heat joined the fray. Together, they formed a potent partnership, and suddenly, Hooker ’N’ Heat was a very different album. Despite this, Hooker ’N’ Heat stalled at seventy-three in the US Billboard 200. Normally, this would be regarded as disappointing. However, given the death of Alan Wilson, this hardly seemed to matter. Some things mattered more than music. The loss of a friend was one of them.
Live At Topanga Corral.
Later in 1971, Canned Heat belatedly released the first live album of their career. The band had wanted to release a live album for several years. However, Liberty Records who Canned Heat were contracted to, weren’t interested in releasing a live album. Despite this, Canned Heat’s manager Skip Taylor managed to get Canned Heat’s live album released.
Skip Taylor took to Liberty Records a recording of five tracks. They he said, had been recorded at the Topanga Corral during 1966 and 1967. That wasn’t strictly true. The recording was of a concert that took place in 1969, at the Kaleidoscope. When Liberty Records heard that Live At Topanga Corral had been recorded in 1966 and 1967, they allowed Canned Heat to release the album on Wand Records.
When Live At Topanga Corral was released, the album was well received by critics. It featured the lineup of Bob Hite, Alan Wlson, Henry Vestine, Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra. They open the set with Bullfrog Blues, and work their way through Sweet Sixteen, I’d Rather Be The Devil, Dust My Broom, Wish You Would and When Things Go Wrong. Sadly, despite being one of the best live recording of Canned Heat, it failed to find an audience. However, it’s a fitting farewell to Alan Wilson. Their next album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was the start of a new era for Canned Heat.
Historical Figures and Ancient Heads.
Having released an album in January 1971, Canned Heat closed the year with the released of their eighth album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads. It was released in December 1971, and was the first album not to feature Alan Wilson. Joel Scott Hill was given the job of replacing Alan Wilson on guitar. His were big shoes to fill.
Alan Wilson was more than a musician. He was also a songwriter. On Historical Figures and Ancient Heads, Canned Heat penned just the one song, Utah. The other seven songs were cover versions. Among them, were Jessie Mae Robinson’s Sneakin’ Around and Jimmy Rogers’ That’s All Right. They were recorded by Canned Heat, and a few friends.
This included Little Richard on the Skip Taylor and Richard Wayne Penniman penned Rockin’ With the King. Harvey Mandel returned to add lead guitar on a cover of That’s All Right. Charles Lloyd joined Canned Heat when they covered his song I Don’t Care What You Tell Me. Producing Historical Figures and Ancient Heads were Skip and Jim Taylor. Once the album was complete, it was released in December 1971.
When Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was released, the reviews were mixed. Some critics felt Canned Heat were no longer the same group. While they still were still able to boogie with the best of them, Canned Heat seemed to have lost their bluesy roots. However, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was not without merit.
Cherokee Dance and Utah were regarded as the highlights of the album. Both songs found their way onto FM playlists. Another highlight of Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was Rockin’ With The King, where Canned Heat joined forces with Little Richard. They proved a potent partnership. Despite this, and Cherokee Dance and Utah finding their way onto FM radio, the album stalled at a lowly eighty-seven in the US Billboard 200. Historical Figures and Ancient Heads became the least successful album of Canned Heat’s career. Surely, the only way was up?
Following Historical Figures and Ancient Heads, all wasn’t well within Canned Heat. Joel Scott-Hill and Antonio de la Barreda seemed to have developed an attitude problem. This lead to drummer Adolfo de la Parra threatening to quit the band. Fortunately, he was talked out of leaving Canned Heat, and instead, the insurgents exited stage left. This meant another change of lineup for their next album The New Age.
The New Age.
Joining Canned Heat for their ninth album The New Age, were rhythm guitarist and vocalist James Shane, keyboardist Ed Beyer on keyboards and bassist Richard Hite. Bob Hite’s brother would slot into the rhythm section alongside drummer Adolfo de la Parra and rhythm guitarist James Shane. They headed to The Record Plant in Los Angeles to record The New Age.
For The New Age, nine songs were chosen. Most of them were new songs, which were penned by members of Canned Heat. The only cover version was Lieber and Stoller’s Framed. Bob Hite penned Keep It Clean, Don’t Deceive Me and Rock and Roll Music. However, the new recruit came up trumps. Ed Bayer wrote You Can Run, But You Sure Can’t Hide and Election Blue. James Shane went one better, and wrote a trio of songs. This included Lookin’ For My Rainbow, So Long Wrong and the biker anthem Harley Davidson Blues. It would become a favourite of Canned Heat fans. That was still to come. Before that, Canned Heat had an album to record.
When recording of The New Age began at The Record Plant, Clara Ward joined Canned Heat. Her vocal features on Lookin’ For My Rainbow. Sadly, this was the last recording of one the most successful gospel singers. She joined the latest lineup of Canned Heat, as they tried to get their career back on track.
Despite the best efforts of Canned Heat and producer Skip Taylor, The New Age wasn’t the start of a new era for Canned Heat. The album wasn’t well received. One critic in particular, was less than impressed. Lester Bangs savaged The New Age. His over the top review was regarded as “disrespectful,” and Lester Bangs was sacked by Rolling Stone. However, the damage was done.
Other critics took a much more balanced approach to The New Age. They pointed out highlights like Lookin’ For My Rainbow and the biker anthem Harley Davidson Blues. However, when The New Age was released on March 9th 1973, the album failed to trouble the charts. Worse was to come for Canned Heat.
They were now heavily in debt. Skip Taylor was desperately looking for a solution to the problem. That’s when it’s alleged that Skip Taylor advised Canned Heat to sign away all their future royalties to Liberty Records and United Artists’ recordings, and in return, Canned Heat would be allowed to sign to Atlantic Records. If this was the case, it would prove to be one of the worst deals in the history of music.
One More River To Cross.
Having negotiated a release from their Liberty Records’ contract, Canned Heat signed to Atlantic Records in 1973. They began work on their tenth studio album One More River To Cross. However, Canned Heat’s time at Atlantic Records got off to a bad start.
Bob Hite and Henry Vestine were about to use a vending machine at Atlantic Records. Suddenly, the pair began to argue, and brawl began. Now two members of Atlantic Records’ latest signing were fighting amongst themselves. While this didn’t present Canned Heat in a good light, surely things would improve?
For The New Age, ten songs were chosen. Again, they were a mixture of cover versions and new songs. Among the cover versions were Daniel Moore’s One More River To Cross, plus Charles Calhoun and Joel Scott Hill’s classic Shake, Rattle and Roll. Just like The New Age, there was also another Lieber and Stoller song, I’m a Hog for You Baby. The other cover version was entitled We Remember Fats. Canned Heat planned to work their way through eight songs penned by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew in just five minutes. This would be a remarkable feat. However, this was just part of the story of One More River To Cross came.
The rest of One More River To Cross came from the pen of Canned Heat. L.A. Town, Bagful Of Boogie, Bright Times Are Coming and Highway 401 were credited to Canned Heat. Bob Hite wrote I Need Someone and James Shane penned You Am What You Am. These tracks, plus the cover version became One More River To Cross.
Rather than recording One More River To Cross in L.A., it was decided that the album be recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, in Sheffield, Alabama. That was home to Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. They would produce One More River To Cross.
At Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Canned Heat’s rhythm section featured drummer Adolfo de la Parra, bassist Richard Hite and rhythm guitarist James Shane. Henry Vestine played lead guitar, Ed Beyer played piano and Bob Hite took charge of the lead vocals. Joining them, were drummer Roger Hawkins and keyboardist Barry Beckett. The final piece of this musical jigsaw was the Muscle Shoals Horns. They added a new dimension to Canned Heat’s sound, on One More River To Cross. It was completed and ready for release later in 1973.
One More River To Cross was released later in 1973. It wasn’t just Canned Heat’s Atlantic Records’ debut, but their tenth studio album. This was a remarkable feat, considering Canned Heat only released their debut in 1967. A lot had happened since then. The lineup had changed numerous times, there had been countless drugs busts and controversies aplenty. However, only one Canned Heat album failed to chart. That was their previous album The New Age. Sadly, One More River To Cross followed in its footsteps. Since then, One More River To Cross has been regarded as a truly underrated album.
Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett’s approach to production was a refreshing change from previous albums. One More River To Cross opens the album, and is a slice of joyous good time blues, boogie and Southern Soul. It’s propelled along by Canned Heat’s rhythm section and the Muscle Shoals Horns, while solos from lead guitarist Henry Vestine and Barry Beckett on Hammond organ come close to stealing the show. This sets the tone for the rest of One More River To Cross.
L.A. Town has a much more laid back and loose sound. Horns, piano and guitar play a leading role, as Bob Hite strolls through the lyrics. Canned Heat combine blues, R&B and boogie. The ballad I Need Someone finds Canned Heat at their most soulful. It almost harks back to Alan Wilson’s needy, hopeful vocals as Canned Heat seamlessly combine blues and soul. Then on Bagful Of Boogie, Canned Heat do what they do so well, and unleash a bluesy slice of boogie. Very different is Lieber and Stoller’s I’m A Hog For Your Baby. Canned Heat throw a curveball, before sashaying their way through this genre-melting reinvention of I’m A Hog For Your Baby. After this it was all change.
You Am What I Am starts life as a funky jam, before Canned Heat add elements of R&B and blues. There’s more than a nod to Dr. John, on what’s without doubt one of the highlights of One More River To Cross. From there, Canned Heat give Shake, Rattle and Roll a makeover, combining rock ’n’ roll, R&B, blues and rock. Meanwhile, The Muscle Shoals Horns prove the perfect foil for Canned Heat’s good time sound. Then Canned Heat drop the tempo on the Richard Hite penned bluesy ballad. Its late night sound is another of One More River To Cross’ highlights. Highway 401 is another track where Canned Heat showcase their considerable skills. Powered along by the rhythm section, Canned Heat roll back the years on what’s a reminder of their glory years. Sadly, that’s nearly the end of One More River To Cross. All that remains is We Remember Fats, which finds Canned Heat working their way parts of eight Fats Domino songs in just five minutes. Somehow, Canned Heat manage this, and One More River To Cross finished on a high.
That’s another reason why One More River To Cross is one of the most underrated albums Canned Heat released between 1967 and 1973. Canned Heat seemed to have been reinvigorated by the change of studio and producer. Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett seemed to encourage Canned Heat to loosen up, and play with new found freedom. Canned Heat sounds as if their enjoying themselves, on what was one of their best albums of recent years.
One More River To Cross found Canned Heat seamlessly combining musical genres. They combined blues and boogie with funk, R&B, rock and Southern Soul. Ballads, blues and boogie sat side-by-side with funky jams, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. There was something for everyone. Alas, One More River To Cross failed commercially, and possibly, became one of the most expensive albums in music history.
Especially if the allegations that Skip Taylor advised Canned Heat to sign away all their future royalties to Liberty Records and United Artists’ recordings, so they could sign to Atlantic Records were true? After the commercial failure of One More River To Cross, Atlantic Records cut their ties with Canned Heat. Their relationship with Atlantic Records was brief and potentially ruinously expensive.
If the allegation regarding future royalties are indeed true, then Canned Heat were very badly advised. The decision to trade their future royalties, for their freedom, backfired and backfired badly. Who knows how much this cost Canned Heat in lost royalties? Even today, the cost of One More River To Cross continues to rise. That’s why One More River To Cross is one of the most expensive albums ever recorded. It was recently rereleased.
BGO Records recently released a remastered version of One More River To Cross. The reissue of One More River To Cross comes complete with two bonus tracks, The Harder They Come and Rock ’N’ Show. They’re a welcome addition and are further reminder of Canned Heat’s Muscle Shoals’ sessions, and what’s one of the most underrated albums of Canned Heat’s career, One More River To Cross.
CANNED HEAT-ONE MORE RIVER TO CROSS.
At this time of year, most people’s thoughts turn to holidays. Some people are easily pleased, while others struggle to find the perfect holiday. They spend an inordinate amount of time flicking through holiday brochures. Part of the problem though, is the amount of choice. However, one group of people seem to be neglected by holiday companies,…music lovers.
For many music lovers, their ideal holiday would one that takes them to one or some of their favourite musical cities. After all, many musical cities await the intrepid musical tourist in America and Europe.
Memphis, and it’s remembered as the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, the home of Elvis Presley and later, Southern Soul. Philadelphia is famous for Philly Soul and to some extent, disco. Chicago for many people, is synonymous with Chess Records, eclectic blues, soul and house music. That is not all.
New Orleans gave the world Dixieland and R&B, Seattle grunge, Plainfield P-Funk, Washington Go-Go and New York hip hop and disco. Then there’s Detroit, which is famous for Motown and techno. Across the Atlantic, Britain and Europe has given the world their fair share of musical genres.
Liverpool gave the world The Beatles and Mersey-beat. The Midlands was the birthplace of heavy metal. A decade later, Coventry spawned T-Tone. Over the English Channel, Europe has been a musical hotbed.
One of France’s most famous musical exports was ye ye. It was born in Paris. A decade later, Euro Disco was born in Munich. Another German city, Dusseldorf, is famous for electronic pop music. That has been the case since the late sixties.
Since then, Dusseldorf has had a rich and vibrant music scene. It has been home to Michael Rother, Neu!, Wolfgang Reichmann, La Dusseldorf, Der Plan, Daf, Teja Scmitz, Die Krups, Rheingold and Pyrolator. They’re just some of the artists that feature on Groenland Records’ new compilation Electri_City 2. This sixteen track CD will be released on 12th August 2016 on CD and vinyl; and is a further reminder of the city’s rich and illustrious musical history.
Opening Electri_City 2 is Abendlicht by Wolfgang Reichman. His career began in 1966. He was a member Kraftwerk and Neu. After that, he became a member of Düsseldorf based band called Streetmark. Then in 1977, Wolfgang embarked upon a solo career. His debut album was 1978s Wunderbar, which was released on Sky Records. One of its highlights is Abendlich, an elegiac, shimmering and pulsating fusion of ambient, Berlin School, experimental and electronica. Tragically, by the time Wunderbar was released, tragedy had struck.
One evening in August 1978, two men approached Wolfgang Reichman. For no apparent reason, they stabbed him. That night, Wolfgang Reichman’s career was cut tragically short. Streetmark was released posthumously, and is a reminder of a hugely talented musician, who had a bright future ahead of him.
Nowadays, Neu! are regarded as one of the most important, influential and innovative bands in German musical history. Still, their influence continues to influence a new generation of bands. That is despite releasing just five albums. Their fourth album was Neu! ’75, was produced by Neu! and Conny Plank. It was then released on Brain Records in 1975. By then, Klaus Dinger’s role in the band had changed.
Klaus had moved from behind the drum kit, and was playing guitar and adding vocals. Adding the Dinger beat on Isi is Klaus’ brother Thomas Dinger. He plays an important part in the success of what’s a poignant, but mesmeric and thoughtful track. It opened Neu! ’75, which is Neu!’s most underrated album. Alas, it was the last album Neu! released for twenty years. They split up after the release of Neu! ’75, and only returned in 1995 with the controversial Neu! 4.
In 1980, Rheingold released Fluss as a single on Welt-Rekord, an imprint of EMI. Fluss was a catchy and memorable fusion of New Wave, Krautrock, indie rock and electronica. It also featured on Rheingold’s 1980 debut eponymous album. This was the first of three albums Rheingold released between 1980 and 1984. After that, nothing was heard of them until 2007. That’s when Rheingold decided to make a comeback. However, one of their best singles is Fluss, which helped launch the career of Rheingold, who are one of Germany’s best kept musical secrets.
Munich born Robert Görl was a member of Der Plan when they were founded in 1979. However, he left Der Plan after their first release. By 1983, he had reinvented himself as a solo artist and was signed to Mute. When Robert Görl released Darling Don’t Leave Me as a single, it found Robert duetting with Scottish diva Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics. Together they create a memorable, dance-floor friendly slice of sophisticated synth pop. It also featured on Robert Görl’s 1984 debut album Night Full Of Tension, it featured Darling Don’t Leave Me.
Die Krupps are a bands whose music has constantly evolved. Standing still wasn’t an option for them. Instead, Die Krupps constantly sought to reinvent their music. Their music ranged from noise, EBM, industrial and then during the nineties, headed in the direction of heavy metal. Back in 1982, Die Krupps released their sophomore album Volle Kraft Voraus! It’s an impassioned ballad where Die Krupps combine fusion of electronica, Krautrock and synth pop. In doing so, they showcase their versatility and determination to constantly reinvent their music.
Most people won’t have heard of Teja Schmitz. That’s not surprising. They only released the one single, Säuren Ätzen Und Zersetzen in 1981. In keeping with the spirit of ’76, there was no label involved. Instead, Teja self-released Säuren Ätzen Und Zersetzen. Alas, this backfired, and since 1981, the single lay undiscovered.
Then in 2013, Snowboy Records released Säuren Ätzen Und Zersetzen as a limited edition of 200. The following year, Säuren featured on Groenland Records’ Electri_City compilation. Two years later, and Studieren features on Electri_City 2. It’s another innovative track, where Teja Schmitz pushes musical boundaries to their limits. Elements of avant-garde, Berlin School, dub and electronica combine on Studieren to create a groundbreaking track that was way ahead of its time.
The DAF story began in 1978, when the band were formed in Düsseldorf. They released six albums between 1979 and 1986. Sadly, after six albums DAF called it a day. That looked like the end of the DAF story. DAF made a comeback in 2002, and releasing their seventh album Fünfzehn Neue DAF Lieder. However, many critics believe DAF released their best music between 1979 and 1986
By 1982, DAF were enjoying a rich vein of form, and were about to release their fifth album, the Conny Plank produced Für Immer. One of its highlights was the single Kebab-Träume. It’s a fusion of synth pop, electronica and experimental music. Add to this a post punk vocal, and the result was DAF at their genre-melting and groundbreaking best.
Pyrolator’s career began in 1979, when he released his debut album Inland. By 1981, Pyrolator was ready to release his sophomore album Ausland on Ata Tak. It featured Max, which was a musical melting pot of influences. Everything from electronica, synth pop and hip hop combines with avant-garde and Krautrock. The result is a truly captivating and carefully crafted track, that should have listeners looking for a copy of Ausland, to see what other delights await discovery.
In 1976, La Dusseldorf released their eponymous debut album on Nova Records. La Dusseldorf’s had been founded by Klaus Dinger after Neu! split-up in 1975. Neu! had just released Neu 75, but the album wasn’t a commercial success. This resulted in Neu! splitting-up.
A year later, Klaus Dinger returned with his new band La Dusseldorf. It featured Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. They released their eponymous debut album in 1976. It was produced by Conny Plank and La Dusseldorf. On its release on Nova Records, La Dusseldorf wasn’t a commercial success. Despite this, La Dusseldorf is a vastly underrated album. Somewhat belatedly, it’s receiving the recognition it so richly deserves. La Dusseldorf is one of the album’s highlights. It’s a driving, anthemic and hypnotic fusion of Krautrock, post punk and avant-garde.
Belfegore were a short-lived gothic new wave band who were formed in the early eighties. They went on to released two albums and several singles between 1983 and 1984. Their debut album was A Dog Is Born, was recorded at Can’s Inner Space Studios, and was then released on the Pure Freude label in 1983. Mensch Oder Gott opened the album, and showcased Belfegore’s gothic new wave sound. So impressed were Elektra, that they signed Belfegore.
Having signed to Elektra, Belfegore released All That I Wanted as a single. It became a hit on US college radio. Sadly, there was no happy ending. After the release of Belfegore’s 1984 eponymous sophomore album, the band split-up. That’s despite being so close to making a commercial breakthrough. Mensch Oder Gott is a reminder of the nearly men of German gothic new wave.
Der Plan were founded in 1979 and were together until 1993. During that period, they were responsible for some truly groundbreaking music. They constantly changed direction, as if afraid their music would cease to be relevant. In 1983, Der Plan released Gummitwist as a single on WEA. It has much more commercial sound than some of their tracks. It’s a memorable and hook-laden mixture of synth pop, electronic and new wave, that shows another side of Der Plan.
Liaisons Dangereuses only ever released the one album. That was their 1981 eponymous album, which was released on the TIS label. It was an album of pioneering music, some of which, was way ahead of its time. That’s the case with Etre Assis Ou Danser, which is one of the highlights. It’s propelled along by a drum machine and synths, before a post punk vocal is added to this fusion of synth pop, new wave, experimental and industrial. However, strip out the vocal and there’s a proto techno sound. Alas, Liaisons Dangereuses wasn’t a commercial success, and there was no followup. That’s a great shame, given Liaisons Dangereuses’ ability to create innovative music like Etre Assis Ou Danser.
A new name to most people, will be Topolinos. Their lineup featured Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag who would go on to enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim with Propaganda. That was still to come.
Before that, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag were members of the all female new wave group Topolinos. It was formed by Sabine Wolde of Croox in the early eighties. Before long, Topolinos headed into the studio and in 1982, one of Topolinos’ tracks, Mustafa featured on Ink Records’ 1982 compilation Partysnaks. It was the perfect showcase for new, and up-and-coming artists. This included Topolinos. They combine avant-garde, electronica and synth pop with Eastern influences on Mustafa. Despite their undoubted talent, commercial success eluded Topolinos. Propaganda however, was a different story, and transformed the careers of Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag.
It was in March 1981 that Die Lemminge released Lorelei as a single. On the flip side was Im Himmel, a genre-melting track. Die Lemminge combined elements of ambient, avant-garde, experimental and electronic music. The result is an understated, thoughtful and strangely melodic track.
It’s no exaggeration to describe Michael Rother as one of the legends of German music. He’s been a member of three of the most innovative German bands, Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia. This is what many people remember Michael Rother for. However, that is only a part of the Michael Rother story.
Michael Rother has also enjoyed a long and successful solo career. So it’s fitting that it’s a track from Michael solo career that closes Electri_City 2. Karussell is from Michael’s 1977 debut solo album Flammende Herzen. It’s the finest album of Michael’s solo career; with Sterntaler coming a close second. One of the highlights of Flammende Herzen is Karussell. It combines Michael’s Krautrock roots with elements of ambient music, and features a guitar masterclass. For anyone yet to discover Michael Rother’s solo albums, Karussell is a perfect starting place. That is the case with many of the artists on Electri_City 2.
For many people the Electri_City 2 compilation will be a musical voyage of discovery. The fifteen tracks, plus the hidden track on Electri_City 2 will just be the start of this musical journey.
They’ll decide to dig deeper, and explore the back-catalogue of the artists on Electri_City 2. They’ve all played a part in the Dusseldorf’s rich musical history. Some of the alumni of Dusseldorf’s music scene, including Michael Rother, Neu!, La Dusseldorf, DAF and Der Plan went on to enjoy long and successful careers. Sadly, commercial success eluded some of the artists on Electri_City 2, and it’s only fairly recently that their music has started to find a wider audience. That’s thanks to the release of compilations like Electri_City in 2014, and the follow-up Electri_City 2.
Groenland Records’ new compilation Electri_City 2 will be released on 12th August 2016. It’s available on CD and vinyl, and is a fitting followup to Electri_City. So much so, that Electri_City 2 is even better than its predecessor. That is despite Electri_City being one of the best compilations of 2014.
Electri_City 2 is lovingly compiled and eclectic compilation of music from one of Germany’s musical cities, Dusseldorf. Everything from avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, experimental and industrial music sit side-by-side with Krautrock, new wave, post punk and synth pop. Often, several musical genres melt into one on the one track. The result is often a groundbreaking, genre-melting track. Some of these tracks were way ahead of their time. Indeed, it’s only now that the importance of this music is being recognised. Other tracks were truly innovative and went onto influence several generations of musicians.
Especially groups like Neu!, La Dusseldorf and guitar virtuoso Michael Rother. They’re true musical pioneers, who were leaders not followers. Nearly forty years later, and their music continues to influence yet another generation of musicians. That’s the case with many other artists on Electri_City 2. They all have one thing in common. That’s that their career began in one of Germany’s musical cities, Dusseldorf. Electri_City 2 is a lovingly compiled reminder of Dusseldorf’s illustrious musical past.
TIM MAIA: WORLD PSYCHEDELIC CLASSICS 4: NOBODY CAN LIVE FOREVER: THE EXISTENTIAL SOUL OF TIM MAIA.
Tim Maia was unlike most singers. Not only was he hugely talented and charismatic, but each day, he lived life on the edge. Defiantly, Tim Maia lived each day as if it was his last. By then, he was a cult hero in his native Brazil; and was living life in the fast lane. He was enjoying living hedonist lifestyle. Life was for living seemed to be Tim Maia’s motto.
Realising that he was only here for a visit, Tim Maia embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Occasionally, Tim Maia’s chequered lifestyle sometimes caught up with him. Most of the time, this didn’t affect his music. That’s why nowadays, Tim Maia is regarded as one of the most talented Brazilian singers of his generation. A reminder of this music can be found on the recently released Luaka Bop compilation Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul Of Tim Maia. It documents and celebrates the almost surreal and sometimes psychedelic life and adventures of Tim Maia.
Tim Maia couldn’t have timed the release of his debut alum Tim Maia better. It was 1970, Brazilian music was about to reach the peak of its popularity. To help consolidate the music’s popularity and get people talking about it, what was needed was an artist whose personality wasn’t just larger than life, but bigger than that. In Tim Maia they found just the artist.
Here was a man who was married five times, had six children and spent time in prison. Then there was his rock and roll lifestyle. Copious amounts of drugs and alcohol were part of Tim Maia’s diet. Whether this played its part in Tim joining a cult obsessed by UFOs is unknown. Yet despite Tim’s obsessive pursuit of hedonism, excess and a rock and roll lifestyle, he still managed to make some incredible music. Despite the quality of this music, mention Tim Maia’s name and people will say Tim who? That’s a great shame, because not only is Tim’s life a compelling story, but his music deserves a much wider audience.
By 1970, Tim Maia was twenty-eight, the eighteenth child in a family of nineteen. Aged just six, Tim earned a living delivering homemade food, which his mother cooked. This would be the nearest Tim got to an ordinary job. Having learnt to play the guitar whilst a child, Tim’s musical career started at aged fifteen. He formed his first band The Sputniks. Then two years later, Tim headed to America, believing this was the land of opportunity.
With just twelve dollars in his pocket and unable to speak English, Tim arrived in America. He called himself Jimmy at customs, and bluffed his way into the country, saying he was a student. Living with extended family in Tarrytown, New York Tim worked various casual jobs and augmented his meagre earnings by allegedly, committing petting crimes. Soon, he learnt to speak and sing English. This lead to him forming a vocal group The Ideals, who recorded one of Tim’s songs. Having planned on never returning home to Brazil, things went wrong for Tim in 1964. He was caught in a stolen car in Daytona, Florida. After serving six months in prison, Tim was deported back to Brazil. Even then, Tim Maia liked living life on the edge.
Now back in Brazil, Tim Maia had to kickstart his nascent musical career. During his time away from Brazil, times and music had changed. Then Tim had a break, when Elis Regina became entranced by his song These Are the Songs. It had been released as a single, but she she asked Tim to duet with her on the song. They recorded the song in English and Portuguese, and the song featured on Elis’ 1970 album Em Pieno Veroa. This gave Tim’s career a huge boost.
Recording with such a famous Brazilian singer lead to Tim signing a recording contract. His debut eponymous debut album Tim Maia, spent twenty-four weeks on the Brazilian charts. His music was something of a game-changer for Brazilian music. Never before had soul and funk music been combined with Brazilian music. Now soul and bossa nova and funk and baiao became intrinsically linked. They intertwined. Two nation’s musical styles and heritage’s became one. It was a fusion of cultures and musical genres. This musical melting pot marked Tim Maia’s entrance to Brazilian music.
Soon, Tim Maia was at the vanguard of a new musical movement, Black Rio. This new Afro-Brazilian musical and cultural movement was heavily influenced by the American civil rights movement. However, for Tim party politics didn’t interest him, but partying did. He was at heart a pleasure seeker, a hedonist and out to enjoy life. For Tim, music wasn’t about changing the world, but having a good time.
Ever the contrarian, each of Tim’s albums were entitled Tim Maia. He wrote and recorded in English and Portuguese. Maybe by writing songs in English, Tim had an eye on crossing over into the American and European markets. Then in 1971, flushed by the commercial success of his debut album, Tim decided to head to London. In London, Tim celebrated his newfound success. There he enjoyed the rock and roll excesses. Drink and drugs were his way of celebrating his success. One of the drugs he discovered, like many had discovered to their cost, would prove to be his undoing.
In London, Tim discovered L.S.D. He became an advocate of its supposed mind opening qualities. He took two-hundred tabs of L.S.D. home to Brazil, giving it to friend and people at his record label. Little did Tim know, but this was like pressing the self-destruct button. Three years later, in 1974 and just as Tim was finishing his fifth album, he discovered and joined a religious cult, the cult of Rational Energy, who fixated on UFOs. Tim was now clean-shaved, dressed in white and no longer drank, ate red meat, smoked or took drugs. Always in his hand was a mysterious book. Even his music changed. From his fifth album Racional, Tim’s music reflected the change in his personality and character. While his voice improved from Racional, the lyrics made no sense. Then in 1976, Tim quit the cult.
When Tim quit the cult, after Racional Volume 2, he’d fallen out with its leader. He felt duped and wanted the two Ratconal albums destroyed. His music changed from his first post-Racional album, entitled Tim Maia, released in 1976. From 1976 onwards, Tim Maia continued to release albums through the rest of the seventies, eighties and nineties. While albums kept on coming, his shows were hit and miss affairs. Sometimes he’d turn up, play an outstanding set, other times he’d play a mediocre or shambling set. On many occasions, he’d fail to turn up. He returned to is rock and roll lifestyle, living life to the fullest.
His final album was Nova Era Glacial, released in 1995. Sadly three years later, Tim died in March 1998. His shows and behavior had become predictable since his 1976 post-Racional comeback. Since his death, Tim Maia’s music has been a well-kept secret, spoken about in hushed tones. Like many maverick musicians, Tim Maia’s story sees myth and reality become intertwined. Truth and reality become one, just like his music was fusion of influences and musical genres. You’ll realize this, when I tell you about some of the highlights of Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia.
As Que Beleza which opens Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia, is a horn driven funky track, begins where Latin music, jazz and classic rock combines. Horns add funk and jazz, while the percussion adds an authentic taste of Brazilian music and searing, soaring Santana-esque guitars add a rocky, Latin twist. Tim’s vocal supplies the soul. His vocal is heartfelt, delivered in Portuguese, with dramatic horns replying to his call. It’s a compelling, captivating melting pot of influences and musical genres, that’s the perfect introduction to Tim Maia’s music. Not only does it whet your appetite, but leaves you hungrily wanting more, much more.
Of the fifteen tracks on the compilation, Let’s Have a Ball Tonight epitomises Tim’s carefree, hedonistic attitude. He makes it clear politics, aren’t his bag. Instead “love is the answer.” He combines funk, soul, psychedelia and Latin music. His half-spoken, emotive vocal is sung against an arrangement that’s a slow, fusion of styles. There’s even a bluesy sound to the tracks, where the rhythm section, chiming guitars, percussion and Hammond organ prove the perfect foil to Tim’s vocal, which references Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, gospel and soul music. Soon, he’s like a preacher, winning over and converting the nonbelievers. This is the track, that’ll win converts to Tim Maia’s music. One listen and they’ll become believers.
Given how American soul music influenced Tim Maia’s music, I wonder whether Brother Father Mother Sister is Tim paying homage to the hottest house-band of the seventies, M.F.S.B, known as Mother, Father, Sister, Brother. With cascading strings, chiming guitar’s that pay tribute to Philly’s finest, this is one Tim’s Magnus Opus. His vocal is deliberate, accentuating and annunciating the lyrics. If you listen carefully, you’ll realise these lyrics are some of his best. Combine all this, and not only is this a track that’s soulfulness personified, but it’s dance-floor friendly and infectiously catchy.
Nobody Can Live Forever sees pounding drums and percussion combine, before a Hammond organ ushers in Tim’s Jimi Hendrix style vocal. Tim’s delivery has a similar, deliberate style. As Tim sings “Nobody Can Live Forever,” the lyrics take on a poignancy, given his early death. The band fill the space left by his vocal, using waves of gloriously, repetitive, pensive rocky licks. Moody, thoughtful and melancholy, this track is all that and much more, including outstanding.
I Don’t Care sees another side to Tim Maia when the track opens. There’s a moody, despairing sound before the arrangement bursts into life. Tim, openly defiant unleashes a vocal that’s cascades, soulfulness, despair and bravado combining. The arrangement is similarly dramatic and wistful. Strings sweep and swirl dramatically, horns rasp emotively and the rhythm section build the tension. They provide a fitting backdrop to a vocal that’s tinged with desperation, but openly defiant. In many ways, it’s poignant, given it could be almost autobiographical.
Over Again is a much more uptempo track. Percussion, keyboards and rhythm section combine before Tim’s vocal enters. There are similarities to Terry Callier and Tim Buckley in Tim’s vocal. Accompanying Tim are tight, sweeping harmonies, that are the perfect foil to his vocal. They match him for soulfulness. Joining them are the lushest of strings, bursts of blazing horns and an atmospheric wailing Hammond organ. The finishing touch are the rhythm section, which provide the track’s heartbeat, adding bursts of drama. It’s a glorious combination of soul, funk and rock, where Tim Maia lays bare his soul for all to hear.
My final choice from Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia is The Dance is Over. Fittingly, features one of Tim’s most heartfelt, emotive vocals. It’s as if the lyrics are personal, describing Tim’s life and attitude to it. Flourishes of cascading strings are key to the arrangement, before after a minute, a Hendrix style guitar solo is unleashed. Not only does this grab your attention, but sets up Tim’s vocal. Although melancholy mingles with hope and hedonism, you wonder who the real Tim Maia is? Is he really this hedonistic, thrill-seeker who seemed hell-bent on living life on the edge, or was he someone who in reality, was insecure and introspective and was looking for answers?
Listening to Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia and researching his life, I’ve come to the conclusion that like many maverick singer-songwriters, Tim Maia was touched by genius but fundamentally flawed. He could’ve, and should’ve, been a huge star. Sadly, something held him back. It stopped him from receiving the commercial success and critical acclaim his music richly deserved. This was music shaped by a multiplicity of musical influences, genres and of course, his lifestyle. His music is a compelling, captivating fusion influences and musical genres. Everything from soul, funk, jazz, rock, bossa nova and baiao thrown into Tim Maia’s mystical and psychedelic musical melting pot. Similarly, Tim’s lifestyle including drink, drugs, multiple-marriages and imprisonment all shaped and influenced Tim Maia’s music. It’s then given a stir by one of music’s true maverick’s, who on the verge of critical acclaim and commercial success, made a couple of decisions he would later come to regret.
The first of these was Tim’s dalliance with L.S.D. in 1971. If that was his first mistake, his second was definitely, his decision to join a cult derailed his career. Maybe if Tim had never celebrated his success in London, then things might have been very different. Somewhat ironically, given the amount of music Tim Maia recorded and released, the two albums he recorded during his time with cult, have gained cult status. These two albums, were just a snapshot of his career, but one that affected his future. After leaving the cult, Tim continued releasing music, but his live shows became unpredictable. They were either outstanding, mediocre or didn’t happen. All this fueled the mythology that surrounds Tim Maia. In a cruel and tragic twist of fate, Tim Maia died young, like many maverick musicians. He was just fifty-five when he died in 1998. Since then, the mythology and rumors surrounding Tim have increased, as has his popularity.
Now belatedly, Tim Maia’s music is enjoying an Indian summer. So for anyone yet to discover the delights of Tim Maia’s music, then they’ve a majestic, musical journey ahead of them. The best place to start is quite simply Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia. It’s the perfect primer and introduction to a Tim Maia, who lived life on the edge, exuberantly reveling in the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle. Maybe without living his life in the way he did, his music wouldn’t have been either as memorable, magical, eclectic and timeless. So maybe we should be thankful that Tim Maia was both touched by genius and fundamentally flawed. .
TIM MAIA: WORLD PSYCHEDELIC CLASSICS 4: NOBODY CAN LIVE FOREVER: THE EXISTENTIAL SOUL OF TIM MAIA.
WILLIAM ONYEAEBOR MUSICIAN AND MAN OF MYSTERY.
Enigmatic. That’s the perfect word to describe synth funk pioneer, William Onyeabor. He is, without doubt, one of the most mysterious and elusive musicians. There’s a good reason for this, Much of William Onyeabor’s life is shrouded in mystery. After releasing eight albums between 1978 and 1985, William Onyeabor became a born-again Christian. He turned his back on music and refused to talk about his life or music. In some ways, this has helped perpetuate the myths surrounding William Onyeabor.
With William Onyeabor refusing to discuss his past, numerous rumours surrounded his life after music. Rumours were rife about what happened next. Some believe William studied cinematography in the Soviet Union, then returned to Nigeria, where he founded his own film company, Wilfilms. Then there’s the rumour that William studied law in England, then became a lawyer in his native Nigeria. Others believe William became a businessman in Nigeria. According to other people, William worked for the Nigerian government. No-one can say with any degree of certainty. The only person who knows what happened next, is William Onyeabor.
William Onyeabor however, isn’t for telling. Thirty-nine after William Onyeabor found religion, and turned his back on music, he’s still refusing to discuss his past. This means still, little is known about Nigerian music’s most enigmatic musicians, William Onyeabor. The effect this has, is to perpetuate the myth of William Onyeabor. He’s a a musical riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Sadly, one that looks like never being solved. There’s no clues in William Onyeabor’s biography.
Trying to write an accurate biography of William Onyeabor is almost impossible. Especially when William Onyeabor refuses to talk about his past. There are some things we can say with a degree of certainty. The first is that growing up, William Onyeabor was a talented musician.
William Onyeabor was born either in 1945 or 1946. Nobody knows. Only William Onyeabor and he won’t say. He was born and brought up Enugu, in the Nigerian provinces. Growing up, William Onyeabor showed an interest in music.
Soon, William was hooked. Music began to play a bigger part in his life. Before long, he realised listening to music was one thing. He wanted to make music. So he decided it was tine to learn how to play an instrument. It’s thought that the first instrument William learnt to play were keyboards. That was his musical weapon of choice. Before long, it became apparent that William Onyeabor was a talented musicians. Some people thought that when William Onyeabor left school, he would make a living out of music. They were in for a surprise.
When William was a teenager and ready to leave high school, it’s thought he was awarded a scholarship to study cinematography in the old Soviet Union. That may, however, be one of the myths surrounding William Onyeabor.
Anyone who has a copy of William Onyeabor’s 1977 debut album, Crashes in Love, will see he is described as an American and French trained filmmaker on the back cover. Crashes in Love is allegedly the soundtrack to the film of the same name. It’s meant to have been made by William’s own film company Winfilms. That however, is another of the controversies surrounding William Onyeabor.
On his return to his native Nigeria, William Onyeabor founded his own film company, Winfilms. Between 1977 and 1985, when William’s career was at its height, people speculated whether Winfilms released any films? It was known if Winfilms had even released a film? Since then, efforts have been made to trace whether Winfilms released any films. There has been no trace of Winfilms releasing any films. That includes Crashes in Love. It’s billed as “a tragedy of how an African princess rejects the love that money buys.” However, another company William Onyeabor founded was more active and successful.
Winfilms wasn’t the only company William Onyeabor founded. No. A subsidiary of Winfilms, Wilfims Records released William Onyeabor’s eight albums. They were recorded at Winfilms Recording Studio in Enugu, Nigeria. William Onyeabor’s debut album was 1978s Crashes In Love.
Crashes In Love.
Crashes In Love was released in 1978 on Wilfims Records. This was supposedly a soundtrack album. However, no trace of the film Crashes In Love has ever been traced. That’s not the only mystery surrounding William Onyeabor’s debut album Crashes In Love.
Seemingly, there are two versions of Crashes In Love in existence. There’s what’s known as the electronic version. It’s essentially a remix album. The four songs have added drumbeats. Then there’s the original version.
The original version of Crashes In Love has just five tracks. It opens with the ten minute spic Something You’ll Never Forget. After that, the music continues to be funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Especially Ride On Baby and Crashes In Love would showcase William Onyeabor’s trademark sound. However, with two version of Crashes In Love being released, it seems even mystery surrounds William Onyeabor’s debut album.
Following his debut album, William Onyeabor released his sophomore album Atomic Bomb in 1978. Featuring the Winfilms Resident Band, Atomic Bomb was groundbreaking, genre-sprawling album. Released on his own label, Wilfilms Records, William Onyeabor Atomic Bomb was a career defining album further established William’s reputation as a pioneering musician.
Atomic Bomb is one of those albums where there’s no weak tracks. It just oozes quality. From Beautiful Baby to the defiant, social comment of Better Change Your Mind and Atomic Bomb, William Onyeabor unleashes a series of musical tour de forces. They’re just three reasons why William Onyeabor would be hailed as one of the most innovative musicians with Nigeria in the late seventies. So is the understated, spacey lo-fi funk of Shame and I Need You All Life.
For the recording of his third album Tomorrow, William Onyeabor headed to the familiar surroundings of Wilfilms Studios Limited, Awakunanaw, Enugu. William had written another five tracks. They would feature what was his trademark sound.
Essentially, this was funk and soul fused with a pulsating Afro-beat beat. Sometimes, the female backing vocal took the music in the direction of gospel music. Especially when they sung call and response with William. The music was joyous and irresistible. What made William Onyeabor’s music stand out, were the banks of synthesisers. This was very different from most of the music coming out of Nigeria.
William it seemed, was determined to stand out musically. Tomorrow and Fantastic Man are proof of this. This is Why Go To War, one of many ant-war songs William recorded. His music had a social conscience. It was also evolving with each album. There was no chance of William Onyeabor standing still. That wasn’t his style. He was determined his music would continue to evolve. That would be the case as a new decade dawned.
Body and Soul.
For the cover of Body and Soul, William Onyeabor dawns a while suit and bow tie. This makes him resemble Lou Rawls. So when you drop the needle on The Way To Win Your Love, you’re expecting a slice of the smoothest soul. You’re in for a shock. It’s all beeps, squeaks from the music and sound-effects department of Wilfilms Ltd. Add to this stabs of horns and hissing hi-hats. After that, soul, funk and Afro-beat melt into one. This is the case right Poor Boy, Body and Soul and Believe In God, which provides a clue to William Onyeabor’s future.
Five years after the release of Body and Soul, William Onyeabor would become a born-again Christian. Was the release of Believe In God a hint of the direction William Onyeabor’s life was leading? He was certainly known for his anti-war songs and social conscience, but religion was apparently a new thing. Believe In God was just a hint that William Onyeabor was changing.
Just like Body and Soul, the cover of Great Lover is akin to a homage to the album covers of giants of American soul. William Onyeabor dawns a tuxedo and top hat on Great Lover. Wearing a watch that’s the size of a dinner plate, William Onyeabor looks urban and debonair. This is very different to the younger version of William Onyeabor that headed to the former Soviet Union to study cinematography. The image William Onyeabor is also very different to the reality of his life.
By 1981, when he released Great Lover, William Onyeabor wasn’t exactly a giant of Nigerian music. He was enjoying a modicum of success. However, he wasn’t one of Nigerian’s most successful musical exports. So it’s no wonder rumours continued to surround this mystery man. However, one thing wasn’t in doubt, William Onyeabor’s talent.
That’s apparent on the genre-hopping Great Lover. Elements of Afro-beat, Afro-Cuban, funk and soul melt into one during this concept album. Just like his previous albums, William Onyeabor is determined to innovate. He manages to do that on an album that’s soulful, funky and tinged with the influences of three continents.
In 1982, William Onyeabor was ready to release his sixth album, Hypertension. It marked a change of direction from the man they called a musical chameleon, William Onyeabor. He fused Afro-beat, funk, psychedelia, rock and even a hint of soul. This musical melange also so songs of praise and protest songs sit side-by-side. Hypertension was William Onyeabor his eclectic best.
From the opening bars of The Moon And The Sun, what was probably William Onyeabor’s most eclectic and ambitious album proved a musical mystery tour. After The Moon And The Sun gave way to Papa Na Mama and Hypertension, William’s social conscience shines through on Politicians. They’re far from William Onyeabor’s people. They’re to blame for Nigeria and the wider world’s problems. This impassioned track closes William Onyeabor’s most eclectic and innovative album Hypertension.
Little did anyone realise it, but 1983s Good Name would be the penultimate album William Onyeabor released. Good Name is a truly compelling album. Although it only features two tracks, where elements of Afro-beat, electronica and funk are fuses, these two tracks speak volumes.
On side one, William almost dawns the role of a preacher. The message he preaches is about Love. That he believes leads to peace, harmony and happiness. Then on side two, Williams sings about the importance of good name. It he believes is better than silver and gold. William reinforces this message by singing: “no money, no money, no money, Nn money can buy good Name.” Looking back, this could be seen as the beginning of a change in William Onyeabor. Maybe this was the start of William Onyeabor turning his back on music?
Anything You Sow.
If Good Name gave a hint of what was about to happen, Anything You Sow spelt it out in large letters. Given the title, Anything You Sow, it looks as if William was changing. Maybe he was on the verge of a spiritual awakening and was questioning the world around him? This would explain songs like When The Going Is Smooth and Good, This Kind Of World, Anything You Sow and Everyday?
A fusion of Afro-beat, funk and soul, the changes in William’s life didn’t affect the quality of music on Anything You Sow. William was continuing to push musical boundaries. He was determined, maybe even fearful of releasing music that didn’t evolve. There was no chance of that. Similarly, there was no hint of what was about to happen next.
Looking at the back cover to Anything You Sow, William Onyeabor continued to give an impression that Wilfilms Limited was an important, thriving company. It wasn’t a case of what Wilfilms Limited did, it was case of what they didn’t do. Their services were listed as “recording and record manufacturing industry. Music, video and film producers.” They also had within their portfolio of business interests an office, factory and recording studios within the Wilfilms Complex. To the onlooker, it looked like William Onyeabor was on his way to building a business empire on the back of his recording career. Surely, the last thing he was about to do was walk away from music?
1985s Anything You Sow was William Onyeabor’s final album. After that, William Onyeabor turned his back on music. He became a born-again Christian. Since then, he has refused to discuss his music or his past. Both his musical career and his past are another country. Since then, rumours, myths and speculation have surrounded William Onyeabor.
One of the most controversial parts of his life was where he studied. Which side of the Iron Curtain did William Onyeabor study? Originally, he claimed to have won a scholarship to study cinematography in the former Soviet Union. Then on his 1977 debut album Chains Of Love, which was the alleged soundtrack album, William Onyeabor claims to have studied cinematography in France and America. Just like the rest of his life, William Onyeabor refused to speak about this period of his life. So tight lipped is William Onyeabor, that ge wouldn’t even confirm if he had ever made a film. As a result, allegations of the Russian connection in William Onyeabor’s life refuse to go away.
This is all part of rumours, mystery and speculation the Nigerian synth funk pioneer, William Onyeabor. As a result, for far too long William Onyeabor has been one of music’s best kept secrets. Not any more.
Over a seven-year period, William Onyeabor released eight innovative and inventive, groundbreaking, genre-melting albums. On each of these albums, was music that was way ahead of the musical curve. Everything from Afro-beat, cosmic funk, gospel, jazz, post-disco, proto-house, psychedelia, reggae, rock and soul was thrown into the melting pot by William Onyeabor. The music on William Onyeabor 2 is the work of a musical visionary. That’s no exaggeration.
After all, how many people could successfully mix sci-fi synths with soul and jazz? William Onyeabor could, and does on Let’s Fall In Love. Then on Fantastic Man, William like a mystic, foresaw the changing of the musical guard. The ghost of disco passes the musical baton to Chicago house. This fusion of post-disco and proto-house demonstrates the versatility of William Onyeabor.
Indeed, William Onyeabor’s music evolves throughout the period between William released his 1978 debut album Crash In Love and 1983s Good Name. Whilst other artists were churning out albums of similar music, William was pushing musical boundaries. He wasn’t content to stand still. His nine albums are proof of this.
From 1980 onwards, his music evolved. It became much more reliant on synths, keyboards and drum machines. Sometimes, it’s best described as futuristic, with a sci-fi sound. An example of this is Let’s Fall In Love, from his 1983 album Good Name. Buzzing, sci-fi synths are key to the track’s futuristic sound. To this inventive track, somehow, William welds soul and jazz. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but does. In a way, it’s just one example of the genius of William Onyeabor, which was lost to music after his 1985 album Anything You Sow.
That William Onyeabor turned his back on music, is music’s loss. Who knows what heights of innovation and inventiveness William Onyeabor might have reached? As a result, William Onyeabor 2 is a reminder of an elusive and enigmatic musical visionary.
WILLIAM ONYEAEBOR MUSICIAN AND MAN OF MYSTERY.
GURU GURU-GURU GURU-VINYL EDITION.
By the late sixties, the members of many British and American bands were well on their way to becoming multi-millionaires. Especially groups like The Beatles and Rolling Stones. They had been at the top for the best part of a decade, and were now enjoying wealth beyond their wildest dreams.
To look after their wealth, these groups employed accountants, investment companies and tax advisers. They ensured that their clients minimised their tax liability and became even wealthier. It was changed days. No longer were the angry young men angry. Instead, they were affluent and aspirational. Where had the spirit of rock ’n’ roll gone?
It was alive and well, and living in Heidelberg, Germany. That’s where The Guru Guru Groove, who later became Guru Guru, had been formed in 1968 by drummer Mani Neumeier, bassist Uli Trepte and guitarist Eddy Naegeli. However, even The Guru Guru Groove hadn’t started off as a rock ’n’ roll band.
Instead, The Guru Guru Groove’s roots were in the German free jazz scene. They had previously worked with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer. Drummer Mani Neumeier was also a stalwart of the German free jazz scene, and already, had won a several prizes. However, by 1968, when The Guru Guru Groove was born, its members were embracing psychedelic rock.
The three members of The Guru Guru Groove had been won over by American and British psychedelic rock. Jimi Hendrix and Franz Zappa had inspired Mani Neumeier, Uli Trepte and Eddy Naegeli. So had The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. These bands inspired not just The Guru Guru Groove, but Amon Düül, Can and Xhol Caravan. They would play an important part in the nascent, but burgeoning German music scene of the late sixties.
Unlike the American and British rock scenes, commune culture played an important part in the German music scene at that time. The three members of The Guru Guru Groove lived in a commune in the Odenwald region, where they experimented with various hallucinogenic drugs. Many of The Guru Guru Groove’s early concerts took place in communes. Soon, though, The Guru Guru Groove were a familiar face on they university circuit.
The Guru Guru Groove organised concerts with the Socialist German Student Union. This wasn’t surprising. Like many German bands of this period, The Guru Guru Groove were politically to the left. They were essentially a socialist band, who unlike many of their American and British counterparts, had a social conscience. This became apparent during concerts.
Concerts organised by The Guru Guru Groove and the Socialist German Student Union were spectacles. The band didn’t just take to the stage, play a few songs then say their goodbyes. Instead, members of The Guru Guru Groove read political texts between the songs. Sometimes though, the concerts descended into near anarchy. This didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was the music.
It was a fusion of free jazz, avant garde, psychedelia and rock. The three musical alchemists combined elements of these disparate genres, wherever they played. Sometimes, this included prisons, where The Guru Guru Groove introduced inmates to their mind bending sound. By then, they were well on their way to becoming one of the leading groups in the German underground scene.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Change was afoot. The Guru Guru Groove became Guru Guru, who would become one of the leading lights of German music. Guru Guru’s lineup would also change twice. Guitarist Eddy Naegeli was replaced by American Jim Kennedy. Then Ax Genrich was drafted in to replace Jim Kennedy. By then, Guru Guru’s lineup featured drummer Mani Neumeier, bassist Uli Trepte and guitarist Ax Genrich. This is regarded as the classic lineup of Guru Guru, and the one that recorded their debut album UFO in June 1970. It’s recently been reissued on vinyl by Play Loud Productions.
When Guru Guru entered the studio for the first time, Julius Schittenhelm who was a producer for the Ohr label, and his wife Doris must have realised that they were about to record what was, no ordinary band. Guru Guru were far from a power trio, featuring drums, bass and guitar.
The three members of Guru Guru unpacked, and setup a wide array in instruments and electronics. Drummer and vocalist and Neumeier added cymbals, gongs and a tape to his setup. Bassist Uli Trepte added various electronic items, including a transistor radio, mixer and intercom. New guitarist Ax Genrich added an array of effects pedals, including an Echogerät Pedal. Ax and the rest of Guru Guru were determined to record a debut album nobody would forget.
So it proved to be. Guru Guru released UFO on the Ohr label, later in 1970. It was released to almost overwhelming critical acclaim, and hailed as a groundbreaking fusion of genres and influences. These growing reviews lead to UFO selling reasonably well, and launched Guru Guru’s career. They’ve released over twenty studio album over a forty-three year period. The first of these albums was UFO.
Stone In opens UFO. Ax’s searing, Hendrix inspired psychedelic guitar cuts through the arrangement. Its effects laden sound dominates the arrangement. The rest of rhythm section are left playing supporting roles. Briefly, Mani’s improvised vocal flits in and out. By then, Guru Guru are in full flow. Mani’s urgent drums join with Uli’s bass in driving the arrangement along. They’re still not equal partners. Not when Ax is unleashing a mesmeric, spellbinding solo. His fingers fly up and down the fretboard, as Ax delivers a guitar masterclass. It’s a stunning start to UFO, which showcases the combined talented of the classic lineup of Guru Guru, as they make their recording debut.
Sci-fi sounds arrive from the distance, before Girl Call bursts into life. Ax’s bristling guitar, a buzzing bass and crashing cymbals join with pounding drums. There’s even a burst of feedback. Quickly, Ax tames the tiger, before taking centre-stage. He unleashes another scorching, psychedelic solo. Then the baton passes to Mani, who showcases his trademark drumming style. Uli’s bass matches him every step of the way. As the rhythm section power the arrangement among, the Ax man returns. Soon, he spraying blistering, machine gun licks above the rhythm section. Seamlessly, Ax combines speed and accuracy, as the musical shaman works his magic on a psychedelic, rocky opus.
Literally, Next Time See You At The Dalai Lhama explodes into life. Guru Guru dive feet first into the track, with Mani and Uli creating a hypnotic, mesmeric groove. This allows Ax to unleash another barnstorming solo. Mani’s determined not to be outdone, and powers his way round his kit. Neither is Uli. The three members of Guru Guru raise their game. Elements of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath shine through. So do elements of avant garde, free jazz, psychedelia and progressive rock. Guru Guru play with confidence, swaggering their way through this genre-melting soundscape.
UFO finds Guru Guru at their most inventive. They utilise the array of electronic that they took into the studio. The briefest bursts of guitar make an appearance as Guru Guru improvise. Elements of avant garde, experimental and musique concrète shine through, as Guru Guru eschew traditional song structure. What follows is a cinematic soundscape, where the listener supplies the script to what sounds like a journey. That journey is on Guru Guru’s UFO, as they take the listener to an unknown destination.
A droning sound arrives from the distance on Der LSD-Marsch, which closes UFO. Like the previous track, Guru Guru improvise. This time, they create a lysergic soundscape. It’s dark, moody, eerie and ominous. Washes of guitar shimmer, while otherworldly noises squawk. Later there’s a series of beeps, as if Guru Guru’s UFO has landed, and is about to be impounded at. After that, Guru Guru return to a much more traditional song structure. Ax’s guitar references both blues and psychedelia. Mani’s pounds and powers his drums, while Uli’s bass runs match him every step of the way. However, stealing the show is Ax, who was the final piece of the jigsaw. His addition was a masterstroke. Not to be outdone, Mani unleashes another solo where his jazz roots are apparent. Later, Guru Guru become one, as they bring to a close their debut album. It’s Ax who steps forward and delivers another psychedelic solo, as Guru Guru close UFO with a flourish, and in the process, make their mark in German musical history.
UFO was one of the best debut albums of the nascent Krautrock era. Nowadays, UFO is still regarded as a Krautrock classic, and is, without doubt, one of Guru Guru’s finest albums. That’s no surprise.
The lineup of Guru Guru that played on UFO, is regarded as the classic lineup of the band. This lineup were together until 1975, when former Kollective guitarist Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel replaced Ax. However, between 1970 and 1975, Guru Guru released eight albums. This includes 1971s Hinten, 1972s Känguru and 1973 Guru Guru and Don’t Call Us, We Call You. By then, Guru Guru were on a roll, and releasing some of the finest music of the Krautrock era. This music found a wider audience that many other Krautrock bands.
That’s why, forty-three years after the release of UFO, Guru Guru released Electric Cats in 2013. This meant that they had released over forty studio and live albums. Guru Guru were still going strong after six decades and several changes in lineup. The one constant was drummer and vocalist Mani Neumeier, who nowadays, is regarded as one of the finest German drummers of his generation. He’s made a lot of music since UFO in 1970.
UFO is a timeless Krautrock classic, which features the classic lineup of Guru Guru. Seamlessly, the three musical alchemists fuse avant garde, blues rock, free jazz, musique concrète, progressive rock, psychedelia and rock. The result is a truly groundbreaking journey, where gradually, Guru Guru show their inventiveness.
Rather than dive in feet first with one of the more experimental tracks, Guru Guru showcase their considerable psychedelic talents on Stone In, Girl Call and Next Time See You At The Dalai Lhama. It’s only then that they introduce the listener to their most experimental music on UFO, and the the first half of Der LSD-Marsch. Guru Guru it seems, have been breaking the listener in gently, and educating them. Only then, are they ready to hear Guru Guru at their music inventive and innovative on two groundbreaking soundscapes. These two tracks show another side to Guru Guru, which references the group’s free jazz roots. UFO particularly, finds Guru Guru improvising, and pushing musical boundaries to their limits. In doing so, Guru Guru proved pioneers.
Even today, Guru Guru’s influence an be heard on the latest generation of Norwegian musicians. Many of them, seem to have been influenced by groups like Guru Guru, and are picking up where they left off. It seems that Guru Guru’s music lives on through a new generation of musicians; and through a new generation of music lovers who have discovered their music.
Many of those who are discovering albums like UFO, weren’t even born when the classic lineup of Guru Guru made their first tentative steps into the recording studio. They recorded what became a timeless Krautrock classic, UFO. Part of its success is down to Guru Guru’s latest recruit, Ax Genrich. His addition to Guru Guru was a masterstroke, in what was a musical marriage made in heaven UFO.
GURU GURU-GURU GURU-VINYL EDITION.
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND AT FILLMORE EAST-VINYL EDITION.
There aren’t many bands who make a commercial breakthrough with a live album. That, however, is what happened to The Allman Brothers Band. Their third album, 1971s At Fillmore East, which was recently reissued as part of Universal Music’s as six-disc box set The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings, was a game-changer. At Fillmore East reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum, and in the process, transformed The Allman Brothers Band’ career.
Just two years previously, brothers Duane and Gregg Allman founded The Allman Brothers Band in Jacksonville, Florida. The pair had been involved in music since they attended high school in Dayton, Florida. Gregg was first to get the music bug. Then when Duane discovered music, he bought a guitar and set about mastering it. Before long, he quit high school, determined to make a living out of music. The Escorts was the first step on that road.
Not long after founding The Escorts, one of Gregg’s friend introduced him to R&B and soul. Gregg was hooked. Soon, The Escorts began to incorporate R&B and soul into their sets. Then in 1967, The Escorts made a breakthrough.
The Escorts were playing in St. Louis when a Los Angeles’ based music executive heard them. He suggested they move to Los Angeles and change their name to The Hour Glass.
Taking his advice, The Hour Glass. headed to L.A. That’s where they recorded two albums. Sadly, neither 1967s The Hour Glass, nor 1968s Power Of Love proved a commercial success. As a result, a disillusioned Duane left L.A. to make a living as a session musician. Gregg wanted to embark upon a solo career. However, the contract with Liberty meant this wasn’t possible. So Gregg stayed in L.A. For the first time in a year, the brothers were apart.
The only time the two brothers worked together, was when they produced 31st of February. They were a Florida based rock band, featuring Jacksonville Florida natives’ Scott Boyer, David Brown and Butch Trucks, who later, would play an important part in The Allman Brothers Band story. Before that, Duane was well on his way to establishing a reputation as one of the best session guitarists.
Having left Los Angeles, Duane travelled to Muscle Shoals, where he became the primary guitarist in Fame Records house band. Duane accompanied some of the biggest names in R&B and soul music, including Aretha Franklin, King Curtis and Wilson Pickett. Then after Duane suggested Wilson Pickett cover The Beatles’ Hey Jude, he was offered a five year recording contract. So, he began putting together a band.
Duane’s new band included Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby. Soon, drummer Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson was recruited. Not only did Duane get a new drummer, but a place to stay. He moved into Jai’s house on the Tennessee River. Bassist Berry Oakley was next to come onboard Duane’s nascent band. Duane asked Berry to jam with his new band. However, this was very different to most bands around in the late-sixties.
Duane decided that his new band should feature two lead guitarists and two drummers. This didn’t please Rick Hall at Fame Records. He wasn’t impressed with the way Duane’s new band were approaching the recording sessions. So, Rick Hall offered Duane’s group’s five year contract to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records and Phil Walden, who formerly had managed Otis Redding. Phil was looking for rock groups to manage. Duane’s new band fitted the bill. Especially when Rick Hall was only asking $10,000 for their contract. Little did Rick Hall realise he’d sold what would’ve been his most successful band for $10,000.
Disillusioned with being a session guitarist at Fame Records, and playing the “house sound” day in, day out, Duane moved with Jaimoe to Jacksonville in early March 1969. As soon as he was settled, Duane sent out an invitation to local musicians that if they wanted to join his jam sessions, they were welcome to do so.
These sessions resulted in Dickey Betts of The Second Coming becoming The Allman Brothers Band second lead guitarist. Butch Trucks, who had been a member of 31st Of February, who Duane co-produced less than a year earlier, became The Allman Brothers Band’ second drummer. Keyboardist Reese Wynans briefly joined the band. He was however, replaced by Gregg Allman on 26th March 1969, who could also play keyboards. After a few months where the band’s lineup is best described as fluid, this was the lineup of Duane Allman’s yet unnamed band that moved to Macon, Georgia.
The reason for the move to Macon, was that’s where Phil Walden was going to base his Capricorn Records’ label. It was in Macon that The Allman Brothers Band met two of their most loyal lieutenants, roadies ike Callahan and Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell, a former disabled Vietnam veteran. Red Dog help fund the band by giving them his disability checks. Meanwhile, The Allman Brothers Band were ‘bonding.’
These ‘bonding’ sessions took place at The Allman Brothers Band’ self-styled Hippie Crash Pad and the Rose Hill Cemetery. That’s where they consumed copious amounts of psychedelic drugs, wrote their early songs and rehearsed. Then on the 30th and 31st May 1969, The Allman Brothers Band made their debut, opening for The Velvet Underground. This was the start of the rise and rise of The Allman Brothers Band.
The Allman Brothers Band.
In August 1969, flew to New York, where they were meant to record their eponymous debut album, The Allman Brothers Band Band with Tom Dowd. Unfortunately, the man who had produced Aretha Franklin, Cream and John Coltrane was double booked. Finding someone of the the calibre of Tom Dowd was almost impossible. Adrian Barber, an Atlantic Records’ engineer was given the job of producing The Allman Brothers Band Band Band. This was his production debut. For a new and up-and-coming band like The Allman Brothers Band, this was a big risk.
For The Allman Brothers Band Band, Greg Allman, who was now the principal songwriter, had written five songs. The other two tracks were cover versions. This included The Spencer Davis Group’s Don’t Want You No More and Muddy Water’s Trouble No More. These seven songs were recorded between the 3rd and 12th September 1969. Less than two months later, The Allman Brothers Band Band was released.
On November 4th 1969, The Allman Brothers Band Band was released, reaching just number 188 in the US Billboard 200. The Allman Brothers Band Band had sold just 35,000 copies. This was disappointing. Especially considering the critics response to The Allman Brothers Band Band.
Critics gave The Allman Brothers Band Band positive reviews. They were won over by this unique fusion of blues, blues rock and rock. The Allman Brothers Band Band critics forecasted, had a bright future in front of them. How right they were. Southern Rock was about to be born, and The Allman Brothers Band were its founding fthers.
Having failed to secure the services of Tom Dowd first time round, The Allman Brothers Band got their man for Idlewild South, their sophomore album. It was recorded between February and July 1970, while The Allman Brothers Band were on an extensive tour. As a result, three different studios were used to record Idlewild South.
Recording of Idlewild South took place at three studios, including Phil Walden’s new Capricorn Studios in Macon. Then as the tour continued, other sessions took place at Criteria Studio, Miami, and Regent Sound Studios in New York. That’s where Tom Dowd produced Idlewild South, The Allman Brothers Band sophomore album.
Idlewild South featured seven tracks. Just like their debut album The Allman Brothers Band Band, it was a mixture of original songs and cover versions. Gregg wrote Don’t Keep Me Wonderin,’ Please Call Home and Leave My Blues at Home. He also cowrote Midnight Rider with Robert Payne. Dickey Betts contributed Revival and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. The only cover version was Willie Dixon’ blues’ classic Hoochie Coochie Man. These seven tracks became Idlewild South, which earlier this year, Rolling Stone called one of the forty most groundbreaking albums of all time.
On Idlewood South, Southern Rock was born. The Allman Brothers Band were its founding fathers. Only in later years, did critics and cultural commentators realise Idlewood South’s significance. On its release on 23rd September 1970, Idlewood South was released to critical acclaim. A new genre had just been born, so Idlewood South was a truly groundbreaking album. This was reflected in the record sales. Idlewood South reached number thirty-eight on the US Billboard 200. The Allman Brothers Band were on their way.
Atlantic Records, realised this. They encouraged The Allman Brothers Band to move to Los Angeles. Despite telling The Allman Brothers Band they could be one of the biggest groups of the seventies, they were content to stay in Macon, Georgia. However, within a year, The Allman Brothers Band’ lives were transformed.
At Fillmore East.
In between the recording of Idlewild South and At Fillmore East, Duane Allman had worked with Eric Clapton on his side project. Derek and The Dominoes.
Duane, who had been a huge fan of Cream, had been asked to work with Eric Clapton on his Derek and The Dominoes’ album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. For Duane, this was a no-brainer. He met Eric Clapton after a show, and the pair jammed all night. Straight away, it became clear the pair were musical soul mates.
During the recording of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs Duane and Eric Clapton became firm friends. Once the recording was completed, a reinvigorated Duane, returned to The Allman Brothers Band. All wasn’t well though.
For much 1970, The Allman Brothers Band toured America. At first, they travelled in a Ford Econoline van. Given how long The Allman Brothers Band tour was, this wasn’t practical. They would play over 300 concerts during 1970. So, they bought a Winnebago, which they nicknamed the Wind Bag. However, the first cracks were showing.
Some members of The Allman Brothers Band were struggling with drug addiction. Money was so tight, that the band were struggling to make ends meet. Things got so bad, that one night, when a promoter failed to pay the band, tour manager Twiggs Lyndon stabbed and killed him. For The Allman Brothers Band things weren’t looking good. Then their fortunes improved during 1971.
Legendary promote Bill Graham had always been a fan of The Allman Brothers Band. They first played the Fillmore East in 1969, when they opened for Blood, Sweat and Tears. Then in 1970, The Allman Brothers Band opened for Buddy Guy and B.B. King at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. After this, they opened for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East. These concerts were crucial in establishing The Allman Brothers Band reputation as one of the best up-and-coming bands. By 1971, however, The Allman Brothers Band were the finished article. They were ready to make the next step.
Bill Graham would play a big part in the rise and rise of The Allman Brothers Band. This began when Butch Trucks mentioned to Bill Graham that The Allman Brothers Band were frustrated recording studio albums. Their next album, The Allman Brothers Band hoped, would be a live album. This would allow The Allman Brothers Band to stretch their legs, as they jammed and improvised. So, Bill Graham made this live album happen. It became At Fillmore East, which will be reissued on vinyl as a double album by UMC on 22nd July 2016.
A contract between The Allman Brothers Band and Bill Graham was drawn up. Bill Graham proposed that on the nights of March 11th, 12th and 13th 1971. For each of the five concerts, The Allman Brothers Band would be paid just $1,250. However, there’s a reason for that. The Allman Brothers Band weren’t the headline act.
The bill also featured Johnny Winter and The Elvin Bishop Group. The headline act was Johnny Winter. However, on the final night, The Allman Brothers Band would close the show. With the contracts signed, The Allman Brothers Band brought Tom Dowd onboard to produce At Fillmore East.
Over three nights, The Allman Brothers Band combined their trademark brand of blues, country, jazz and rock. This was something that no other band were doing. The Allman Brothers Band were musical pioneers. That’s apparent from the moment they walked onstage At Fillmore East and work their way through an eclectic set.
Over three nights, The Allman Brothers Band took to the stage five times. Each night, they played a set the featured between six and ten songs. Seven of these songs feature on the reissue of At Fillmore East.
Each night, the set-list At Fillmore East changed slightly. Some songs, however, were staples of The Allman Brothers Band’s sets. Among them were Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues, Muddy Waters’ Trouble No More, T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday, Wille Cobbs’ Don’t You Love Me and Elmore James’ Done Somebody Wrong. However, it wasn’t just cover versions The Allman Brothers Band’ played At Fillmore East.
The Allman Brothers Band featured some talented songwriters. Their songwriter-in-chief was Greg Allman. He penned Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and Whipping Post. Dickey Betts contributed In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Hot ‘Lanta was credited to The Allman Brothers Band. Each of these songs were showcased during the five concerts At Fillmore East, where The Allman Brothers Band’ fortunes were transformed.
Over three nights and five concerts, the founding fathers of Southern Rock, The Allman Brothers Band went from contenders to title-holders. They blew away Johnny Bishop and The Elvin Bishop Band. The Fillmore East’s audiences only had ears for The Allman Brothers Band, as seamlessly the fused musical genres. Elements of blues, country, jazz and rock melted into one, as The Allman Brothers Band won friends and influenced people. No wonder.
For the three nights At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band were at the peak of their powers. Over the past two years, they had honed their sound. By March 1971, this group of experienced and talented musicians were playing as one. Although they had only been together since 1969, The Allman Brothers Band had played 300 concerts during 1970. So, they were much more experienced, practiced and talented than similar bands. What also helped is that in Duane Allman, they had a guitarist who could have been one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock music. Dickey Betts, The Allman Brothers other lead guitarist, was the perfect foil for Duane. They brought out the best in each other, and played an important part in the Live At Fillmore’s success. Before that, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records had to be convinced to release At Fillmore East.
When Phil Walden of Capricorn Records first spoke to Jerry Wexler about releasing At Fillmore East as a double album, he dismissed the idea. He asked why The Allman Brothers Band wanted to release what was essentially an album of jams? Phil Walden, The Allman Brothers Band’s manager explained that the band didn’t see themselves as a studio band. No. They were more of a live band. Eventually, Jerry Wexler agreed to release At Fillmore East as a live album. There was a but though. At Fillmore East should be sold at the price of a single album. For The Allman Brothers Band, this would prove expensive.
When At Fillmore East was released on 6th July 1971, it was to overwhelming critical acclaim. Critics hailed Live At Fillmore East The Allman Brothers Band’s finest hour. It was much more representative of The Allman Brothers Band. In some ways, their two previous studio albums didn’t do The Allman Brothers Band justice. At Fillmore East was Southern Rock at its finest, taking diversions via blues, country, jazz and rock. Record buyers agreed.
On its release At Fillmore East reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. This transformed The Allman Brothers Band’s career. Sadly, there was a twist in the tale.
Riding high on the commercial success of At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band were no longer struggling to make ends meet. They had money to burn. This wasn’t good for a band with a drug problem. By October 1971, having completed their third studio album, Eat The Peach, Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, and roadies Robert Payne and Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell realised they had to do something about their drug problem. So they checked into the Linwood-Bryant Hospital to undergo rehab. That should’ve helped the situation. Sadly, for Duane it didn’t.
On 29th October 1971, Duane Allman was returning to the Linwood-Bryant Hospital from a trip to Macon. He was driving his motorbike at high speed when, he swerved to avoid hitting a flatbed lorry. This resulted in Duane hitting the back of crane. He was thrown off his bike. It then landed on top of him. With the motorbike on top of him, Duane skidded ninety feet along the road, all the time, the motorbike was crushing his internal organs. Despite being rushed to hospital, Duane Allman was pronounced dead a couple of hours later. The Allman Brothers Band founder and guitarist was just twenty-four.
After the death of Duane Allman, The Allman Brothers Band decided to continue as a quintet. The first thing the five members of The Allman Brothers Band had to do, was finish Eat A Peach, which would become The Allman Brothers Band’s third studio album.
Eat A Peach.
When Duane died, The Allman Brothers Band had just finished recording Eat A Peach. It was unlike any of their three previous albums.
On Eat The Peach, songs recorded in Criteria Studio, with producer Tom, between September and December 1971 sat side-by-side with live recordings, including Mountain Jam, a thirty-four minute jam that took up sides two and four of Eat The Peach. This ten track album became The Allman Brothers Band’s most successful album.
On its release on February 12th 1972, commercial success and critical acclaim accompanied Eat The Peach. Critics hailed the album a Southern Rock classic. Record buyers turned Eat The Peach into a million selling album, when it reached number four in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in another platinum disc for The Allman Brothers Band. For a band in the throes of drug addiction, this was quite an achievement.
After the release of Eat The Peach, The Allman Brothers Band bought 423 acres of land in Juliette, Georgia. Nicknaming it The Farm, this was a dream come true for bassist Berry Oakley. He had long talked of the band living communally. Sadly, the dream didn’t last long.
Berry Oakley missing his fallen comrade, started drink heavily and take excessive quantities of drugs. He lost weight, direction and ambition. Then on 11th November 1972, Berry Oakley was looking forward to leading a jam session the next day. However, he got high and drunk. Then he decided to go for a ride on his motorbike. Three blocks from where Duane Allman lost his life, Berry Oakley’s motorbike hit the side of a bus. Declining hospital treatment, Berry Oakley returned home, became delirious and died from a traumatic brain injury. Berry Oakley was buried next to his fallen comrade Duane Allman. His dream was over.
For The Allman Brothers Band, Eat The Peach marked the end of an era. It was the last time the original and classic lineup of The Allman Brothers Band can be heard. Although they continued to release albums the commercial success soon dried up.
1973s Brothers and Sisters reached number one on the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum. The followup Win, Lose Or Draw reached number five on the US Billboard 200, and was certified gold. After that, only 1979s Enlightened Rogues was certified gold. By then, The Allman Brothers Band were in what seemed like a perpetual state of chaos.
Just like the early days, drug abuse was at the heart of the problem. That was nearly the end of the commercial success. Most of The Allman Brothers Band’s albums failed to scale the heady heights of At Fillmore East, Eat The Peach and Brothers and Sisters. However, when The Allman Brothers Band made a comeback as the nineties dawned, 1994s Where It All Begins was certified gold. That was the end of The Allman Brothers Band’s commercial success. Where it all began was with their landmark live album At Fillmore East.
Since its release in July 1971, At Fillmore East is regarded as one of the greatest live albums ever. Rolling Stone magazine included At Fillmore East in its 500 greatest albums of all time. That is quite an accolade. Not as much as the US Congress choosing At Fillmore East as one of city albums to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2004. By then, At Fillmore East had attained classic status, and is perceived as part of any self-respecting record collection.
For anyone who has yet to discover this classic album, then now is the chance to do so. UMC are reissuing a newly remastered version of At Fillmore East. This however, is is no ordinary remaster. Instead, At Filmore East has been remastered by Kevin Reeves who remastered Idlewild South in 2015. Again, the album is transferred to 192kHz/24-bit audio, and then cut on copper plates using Abbey Road Mastering’s Direct Metal Mastering lathe. At Fillmore East is then pressed onto heavyweight vinyl. The result is a welcome reissue of a classic live album, At Fillmore East, which will allows newcomer to The Allman Brothers Band experience the original album in all its glory.
At Fillmore East is an introduction to the founding fathers of Southern Rock, The Allman Brothers Band at the peak of their power. Over the three night in March 1971, The Allman Brothers Band played five concerts At Fillmore East. These groundbreaking concerts transformed The Allman Brothers Band’s career, and turned them into the Kings of Southern Rock.
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND AT FILLMORE EAST-VINYL EDITION.
CAMERA-PHANTOM OF LIBERTY.
Ever since the late-sixties, Berlin has been home to some of the most innovative bands in German musical history. That was the case from the time when all the freelance musicians in the city found their way to Zodiak Free Arts Lab, in West Berlin. That was a meeting place for members of Can, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra, Cluster and Neu! Some of these bands even honed their skills on the stage at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab; before embarking upon a musical journey that saw each group release several classic albums. Since then, Berlin’s music scene has always been rich and diverse.
So much so, musicians from all over Germany made their way to Berlin. They saw the city as Germany’s cultural capital. That is still the case today.
Nowadays, musicians travel from all over Europe to Berlin. They’re determined to tap into the city’s cultural capital, in an attempt to further their career. What many newcomers to Berlin discover, is a city with a thriving music industry.
Many record companies have chosen Berlin as their headquarters. Similarly, many recording and mastering studios are housed in Berlin. This makes the city the perfect place to form a group. That’s what three young Berlin based musicians decided to do.
Franz Bargmann, Michael Drummer and Timm Brockmann founded Neo-Krautrock group Camera. They were soon making an impression on Berliners.
Especially given Camera’s propensity for putting on impromptu gigs in public places. Camera would turn up, plug in their instruments and play. This got the attention of Berliners. Soon, they were talking about this new band, Camera, and their fondness for what were being called “guerrilla gigs.” Their pièce de résistance came at the after-show party for the German Film Prize. Cool as a cucumber, Camera turned up, set their equipment up and got the party started. All was going well until one of the security guards twigged that Camera hadn’t been booked. However, this situationist event resulted in publicity aplenty for Camera.
Critics and cultural commentators drew comparisons with the original Krautrockers. This was the type of stunt Amon Duul, Faust and Neu! would’ve pulled forty years earlier. One of the musicians responsible for similar situationist events was watching with interest.
Michael Rother the former guitarist in Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia had played plenty of similar impromptu gigs. He had a similar rebellious steak, and admired Camera for this…and of course their music.
So much so, that when Michael Rother was playing live, he asked Camera to open for him. Later, when Michael Rother was reunited with former Harmonia bandmate Dieter Moebius, Camera and Admiral vocalist Shaun Mulrooney were asked to share the stage with them. They took to the stage at the HBC in Berlin, on Ooctober 22nd, 2011. That night, Krautrock’s past and present became one. Since then, Camera’s star has been in the ascendancy.
Now, Camera are regarded as one of the leading lights of the Neo-Krautrock scene. Camera’s 2012 debut album Radiate was released to critical acclaim. Critics compared Camera to Krautrock legends Neu! and La Düsseldorf. This was high praise indeed.
Fittingly, given the comparison to Neu!, Camera Live at HBC was released later in 2012. It featured a trio songs Camera recorded with Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius of Harmonia. These songs had been recorded for posterity, and were a reminder of the night two generations of Krautrockers shared the stage. That night had been a meeting of musical minds. However, this was just another part of Camera’s musical adventure.
The next part of this adventure took place in 2014, when Camera released their sophomore album Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide. I is best described as a genre-melting album. Krautrock was merely a starting point for Camera, as they continually flitted between, and fused musical influences and genres. Just like Radiate, critical acclaimed accompanied the release of Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide. By then, Camera’s music was reaching a much wider interest.
The whole Neo-Krautrock movement had grown in popularity. Similarly, there was a resurgence of interest in Krautrock. Suddenly, a new generation were discovering the groups that had influenced Camera on their first two albums, Radiate and Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide. However, soon, two will become three when Camera release their third studio album Phantom Of Liberty. It will be released by Bureau B on 5th of August 2016, and marks the welcome return of Camera.
For Phantom Of Liberty, the three members of Camera wrote eight new tracks. They were recorded at various sessions during 2015 and 2016. The studio chosen was Kellerloch at Malzfabrik, Berlin. This was where Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide had been recorded. So drummer Michael Drummer, guitarist Franz Bargmann and keyboardist Timm Brockmann were returning to familiar surroundings. Producing Phantom Of Liberty with Camera, was Steffen Kahles. Eventually, the eight tracks were completed earlier in 2016. This left just two things to do.
The first was to mix Phantom Of Liberty. Emanuele Baratto had been chosen to do so. He mixed Phantom Of Liberty at Big Snuff Studio, in Berlin. That was where he mastered Phantom Of Liberty. Only then was Phantom Of Liberty ready for Camera to release.
Affenfaust opens Phantom Of Liberty. Squelchy, acidic synths combine with relentless drums and a distant, chiming, stadium guitar. They create a hypnotic, mesmeric backdrop. That’s until synths make an appearance, adding first light, then darkness and drama. However, at the heart of the arrangement are the Klaus Dinger inspired drums. They’re pounded and punished and occasionally, cymbals crash. Meanwhile, washes of futuristic, space age synths emerge from the arrangement. Later, the tempo begins to drop, and nearly grinds to a halt. Futuristic synths join radio chatter and rinsing cymbals as the arrangement meanders along, still sharing a myriad of subtleties, surprises and secrets. By then, the arrangement has taken on a cinematic quality, and sounds as if it belongs on a sci-fi movie.
The keyboards that open Fröhlichkeit wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies progressive rock album. They’re played quickly and accurately, before the drums power the arrangement along. It’s reminiscent of the classic Krautrock of Can and Neu! There’s the same mesmeric quality; which is interrupted by occasional flourishes and drum rolls. Soon, Camera are playing as one. Banks of keyboards buzz and add the melody. They veer between cinematic, futuristic, robotic, shrill and occasionally elegiac and ethereal. Sometimes, it’s as if Camera are providing the soundtrack to a journey, a la Kraftwerk’s Autobahn or Trans Europe Express. During this memorable and melodic journey, Camera combine elements of Krautrock, electronica and progressive rock.
Straight away, here’s an Eastern influence to Festus, as the arrangement meanders along. Lysergic drones join drums and percussion. Soon, a scorching, blistering guitar cuts through the arrangement. It doesn’t overpower the other instruments though. No. Instead, a bass prowls, while a myriad of otherworldly lysergic sound flit in and out this soundscape. It’s sculpted by Camera. Nothing is as it seems. Effects have been added to many instruments. Playing a leading role in this fusion of avant-garde, improv, Krautrock, rock and Eastern sounds are the drums, percussion, guitar and bass. They play their part in what’s a captivating and lysergic track that seems to have has been influenced by the music of the sixties and seventies.
Nevernine literally explodes into life. Effects have been used to shred Nirvana-esque guitars and keyboards. They’re hidden behind a fuzzy mask while the arrangement unfolds at breakneck speed. Powering the arrangement along are thunderous drums. Meanwhile, panning is used on the rest of the arrangement. Then some of the fuzzy mask is lifted. Soon, volcanic keyboards are playing a leading role, as they bubble and threaten to explode. The guitar is played with speed and accuracy, adding a rocky hue. By then, the keyboards sound as if they belong in a cathedral. They’re soon overshadowed by a machine gun guitar. It bristles and feedbacks, before Camera slow things down. As the drums drop out, it’s just the keyboards and thoughtful guitar than remain. Then when just the keyboards remain, this magical musical mystery tour is totally transformed, and meanders along to its genre-melting conclusion.
Deliberately and dramatically, keyboards play on Ildefons. Soon, though, it’s all change, as drums crack and lysergic synths join a scorching guitar solo. It cuts through the arrangement like a flamethrower. Meanwhile the bass locks into a groove with the mesmeric drums. Still the blistering guitar is playing a starring role. That’s until the space-age keyboards make a brief appearance. Then the baton passes to the guitar, before the ghostly arrangement begins to dissipate. All that’s left is the memory of Camera at their most inventive, imaginative and innovative. That’s why they’re regarded as one of the leading lights of the Neo-Krautrock scene.
Reindenken/Raus opens with two samples. Someone walks along a road, and then a car starts. This is a homage to Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Meanwhile, a guitar is plucked as keyboards play. Soon, though, the samples drop out. This is the signal for the rhythm section and futuristic synths to combine. They jam, playing with a fluidity. As guitars wah-wah, the synths follow in their footsteps, adding an atmospheric sci-fi sound. This harks back to the synth sound found on many seventies’ Krautrock, Berlin School and progressive rock albums. Later, synthetic harmonies add an elements of darkness and drama. By then, the arrangement meanders along, and its cinematic sound invites the listener to let their imagination run riot. Alas the track is almost over. That’s when the tempo increases, and synths chatter as if sending out a message. Maybe that message is that Reindenken/Raus is the highlight of Phantom Of Liberty?
Synths are panned on Tjamahal before drums provide a stomping beat. Soon, synth glide across the arrangement, which is a mass of bristling, shredded guitar, synths and relentless drums. They drive the arrangement along as synths buzz and beep. Still, the guitar has been mangled by effects. This works, and it plays a part in this stomping arrangement. By then, the synths veer between glacial and elegiac, to grinding and buzzing, to a futuristic sound. Along with the drums, they play starring roles in this irresistible, stomping, swaggering track.
Tribal Mango closes Phantom Of Liberty. Ethereal describes the arrangement, as drones carry the elegiac harmonies along. A dubby vocal sounds as if it’s carrying out some quasi religious ceremony. Then at 1.34 it’s all change. The bass is joined by synths and a spoken word sample from the Apollo space missions. Soon, it’s joined by the rhythm section and a Hendrix inspired guitar. Effects have been used heavily, and sometimes the guitar feedbacks. Other times, it chimes, rings out and wah-wahs, joining the hypnotic, relentless drums. Elegiac synths are added, while the sample chatters away. A blistering guitar solo is unleashed, and sits atop the rest of the arrangement. It’s akin to a jam, with the members of Camera showcasing their versatility, talent and improvisational skills. Everyone plays their part as they keep one of the highlights of Phantom Of Liberty until last.
Two years after the release of their sophomore album Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide in 2014, Camera return with the finest album of their career, Phantom Of Liberty. It’ll be released by Bureau B on 5th August 2016, and finds the Neo-Krautrockers release a career-defining album.
They take as their starting point Krautrock, and add to that, elements of avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, improv, progressive rock, psychedelia and rock. Seamlessly, Camera switch between, and fuse musical genres within the one track. Mostly, though, the hypnotic, relentless drums power the arrangement along. They’re reminiscent of Can, Neu and La Düsseldorf. Often, the drums sound as if they’ve been inspired by Klaus Dinger. Sometimes, the guitars have a Michael Rother influence. Apart from that, the influences are varied.
Among the groups to influence Camera, are Krautrock legends like Can, Neu, Krafttwerk and La Düsseldorf. That’s apart from on two tracks. Tthe drums on Tjamahal sound as if they belong on a Led Zeppelin album. They’ve a much heavier sound, and are not unlike what members of Led Zeppelin affectionately referred to as John Bonham’s hooligan drum sound. Then on Festus, the drums are much more understated. Mostly, though, the drums are to the fore on Phantom Of Liberty. However, it’s apparent that other artists and groups seem to have influenced Camera.
This includes Jimi Hendrix. He seems to have influenced guitarist Franz Bargmann, as he unleashes effects laden solos. Some of the keyboard sounds on Phantom Of Liberty wouldn’t sound out of place on seventies progressive rock albums. The keyboards play an important part in the success and sound of Phantom Of Liberty.
The keyboards are akin to a sonic pallet, which is used throughout the album. Often, the keyboards produce futuristic, space-age sounds. Other times, they produce ghostly, ethereal and elegiac sounds. This variety of sounds are part of Camera’s carefully constructed musical tapestry, Phantom Of Liberty.
Camera spent part of 2015 and 2016 recording, honing and completing Phantom Of Liberty. All Camera’s effort has been worthwhile. Not only have they recorded a career-defining album, but what’s without doubt, one of the finest Neo-Krautrock albums of 2016.
CAMERA-PHANTOM OF LIBERTY.
RICK REDBEARD-AWAKE UNTO.
Music has changed almost beyond recognition over the last fifteen years. One of the biggest changes is how long it takes an artist to release an album. No longer do artists release an album each year. That was the norm during the late-sixties and seventies. Indeed, some artists released two albums during a calendar year. A few even released three albums. Nowadays, we’re lucky if an artist releases an album every other year.
Suddenly, artists are spending two or three albums on album. Some artists spend longer on their supposed Magnus Opus, only to discover that music has changed and the album is no longer relevant. That has happened many times. Not to Rick Anthony, who recently, has been one of the hardest working musicians in Scottish music.
Many people will know Rick Anthony as the lead singer of Scottish indie rockers, The Phantom Band. They were formed in 2002, and after numerous name changes, settled upon The Phantom Band. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that The Phantom Band released their debut album.
By then, The Phantom Band had spent years honing their sound, and building a following. This they did the old fashioned way, touring the length and breadth of the country. However, by 2008, The Phantom Band were more than ready to record their debut album.
Recording of what became Checkmate Savage took place at Chem 19 studios in Blantyre, where The Phantom Band and producer Paul Savage got to work. The sessions began in early 2008, and over a period of several months, Checkmate Savage began to take shape. Once it was complete, the album was mixed at Franz Ferdinand’s Glasgow studio. Only the was Checkmate Savage ready for release.
Critical acclaim accompanied the release of The Phantom Band’s genre-melting debut album, Checkmate Savage. It was released on Chemikal Underground in January 2009, and reached number 181 in the UK album charts. Not only had The Phantom Band arrived, but a great future was forecast for them.
That proved to be the case. When The Phantom Band toured Savage Amusement, each night, they were playing to sell out crowds across Germany, France, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The Phantom Band were enjoying the fruits of seven years hard work. However, they couldn’t rest on their laurels.
So it was no surprise that The Phantom Band didn’t waste time, and returned to studio in early 2010. This time, the sessions didn’t run so smoothly. Fortunately, producer Paul Savage was able to steer The Phantom Band through these troubled waters. They weren’t the first, and would be the last band to experience the difficult second album. This was merely a blip.
When The Phantom Band released their sophomore The Words followed in October 2010, praise and plaudits accompanied another swaggering album of rock. Suddenly, The Phantom Band’s star was in the ascendancy.
Once The Words was released, The Phantom Band’s original drummer Damien Tonner left the band. After this, The Phantom Band headed out on tour, to spread their musical message. The tour began in early 2011, and lasted right through the summer months. After playing two shows in Glasgow in December 2011, The Phantom Band decided to enjoy some down time. This allowed each member of The Phantom Band to pursue solo projects.
No Selfish Heart.
This was when Rick Anthony decided to finish his solo album. He had been working on it since 2005. To finish what became No Selfish Heart, Rick didn’t head to one of Glasgow’s top studios. Far from it.
Instead, Rick eschewed Glasgow’s top recording studios, and took a different approach to recording No Selfish Heart. He decided split his time between his between two places. This included his flat in Glasgow’s West End, in the city’s artistic quarter and his parent’s house in rural Aberdeenshire. From a technical viewpoint, this isn’t ideal.
Neither his flat, nor his parents house had the equipment that Chem 19 had. So this meant that his album would have a much more lo-fi and intimate sound. Listen carefully and you can hear imperfections like a piano stool creaking. However, the intimate and familiar surroundings brought out the best in Rick, and allowed an outpouring of emotion. Rick’s sensitive and pensive side shawn through. Eventually, after eight years hard work, No Selfish Heart, a true musical labor of love was completed.
Now was time for Rick Anthony to dawn his alias Rick Redbeard. It’s akin to Rick Anthony’s alter ego. Rick Redbeard’s music is much more sensitive and pensive. Critics would remark upon this.
When Rick Redbeard came to release No Selfish Heart, it made sense to release it on Chemikal Underground. After all, it was the label that The Phantom Band’s were signed to. Released in January 2013, No Selfish Heart was released to widespread critical acclaim. Superlatives were exhausted by critics in an attempt to describe No Selfish Heart. The music showed a very different side to Rick, and they liked. Indeed, the critics marvelled at No Selfish Heart. It may have been eight years in the making, but it had been time well spend. Now some critics began wondering aloud when the followup to No Selfish Heart would follow?
Before that, The Phantom Band would release two more albums. The first of these two albums was Strange Friend. It was an album that marked a new new beginning for The Phantom Band.
When recording of Strange Friend began, The Phantom Band’s lineup had changed. Drummer Iain Stewart had replaced Paul Tonner. Nor was there any sign of producer Paul Savage. Instead, Strange Friend was produced by The Phantom Band and Derek O’Neill. He also engineered Strange Friend with Paul Savage. Once Strange Friend was completed, it was released in June 2013.
Just like their two previous albums, praise and plaudits accompanied the release of Strange Friend. Critics hailed Strange Friend the best album of The Phantom Band’s career.
Buoyed by the critical acclaim that accompanied the release of Strange Friend, The Phantom Band were already making plans to release their fourth album, Fears Trending.
There was a reason for that. The seven tracks on Fears Treading had already been recorded. They were recorded at Chem 19, during the same recording sessions as Strange Friend was recorded at.
When Strange Friend was recorded, there were still seven tracks left. The temptation for many bands is to release a sprawling, epic album. However, often that doesn’t work. After eight or nine tracks, the listener’s attention wanders. So, it made sense to keep the other seven tracks in reserve. They became Fears Trending.
When it came to choosing a title, The Phantom Band couldn’t resist some wordplay. They chose Fears Trending, an anagram of Strange Friend. It became The Phantom Band’s fourth album.
Fears Trending was released in January 2015, and proved to be the perfect foil for Strange Friend. Listening to Strange Friend and then Fears Trending, is akin to seeing two sides of The Phantom Band. Critics realised this, and lavished praise on Fears Trending. It showcased a versatile and talented band, who were now one of Scotland’s most successful bands. Despite this, the members of The Phantom Band still found time for their various solo projects. In the case of Rick Redbeard, this meant sophomore album Awake Unto. It was recently released by Chemikal Underground Records.
After recording two albums with The Phantom Band, it was time for Rick to return to his solo career. So he wrote eight new songs, and cowrote In My Wake with Andy Wake of The Phantom Band. Field Years was written by Rick and another member of The Phantom Band, Gerry Hart. These songs would eventually become Rick’s sophomore album Awake Unto.
Rather than head into a studio, Rick recorded the ten songs at a variety of locations across Scotland. These recordings took place between 2012 and 2015, and feature understated, sparse arrangements. They frame Rick’s vocal as he breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics to these ten poetic and cinematic songs. That’s why he’s been compared to Leonard Cohen and Bill Callahan, on what’s captivating and breathtaking album of music. Awake Unto.
Wild Young Country opens Awake Unto. It’s a country-tinged, piano-lead ballad. As the piano plays, Rick delivers a poetic, heartfelt paean. “Darling darling how would you like to dance around with me, tonight as naked as when we were born in candlelight dawn?” Accompanying Rick is an underrated arrangement. Just drums, a picked guitar and slow, thoughtful drums provide the backdrop as he delivers what’s a needy, hopeful paean.
Just a lone guitar accompanies Rick on In My Wake as the song begins to share its secrets. Again, there’s a poetic quality to the lyrics. However, here, they’ve a cinematic quality, as Rick paints pictures. Especially as he sings of: “prowlers wait in our wake, to see what we’ve made, and I feel the coldest wind of the winter blowing from my lovers side.” Later, Rick has transported the listener to the barren landscapes, and can imagine: “the fire roaring from the other side.” By then, just guitars and occasional harmonies accompany Rick on this atmospheric and cinematic songs.
After Rick counts himself in on The Golden Age, a guitar and banjo combine. They usher in Rick’s vocal, as he delivers a joyous, beatific vocal. Especially as he sings to his lover: “we’re in The Golden Age, let’s stay in The Golden Age.” Almost defiantly, Rick sings: “the world can bare its teeth, but if we live for joy and let not grief and worry mar the hours we keep.”Joy fills Rick’s vocal as guitars, banjo and harmonies accompany him. Later, the rhythm section help propel the arrangement along, before a blistering guitar solo is unleaded. It adds the finishing touch to what’s a memorable, joyous and anthemic song.
Understated describes the introduction to Unfound. A chirping acoustic guitar accompanies Rick on this contemporary folk ballad. Its roots can be found in traditional folk songs. A devoted Rick sings: “should you go to the dragon’s lair, I would follow you there, and should you never return from underground, I too will remain Unfound.” Later, Rick sings of: “a harvest of riches and lasting forgiveness, will rid us of your misery.” This adds to an element of mystery to a song which veers between a love song, to one that’s tinged with mysticism, mystery, drama and beauty.
From the opening bars of The Night Is All Ours, it’s apparent that something special is unfolding. The song sounds as if it’s been penned by Angelo Badalamenti for a David Lynch film. Guitars reverberate, while strings slowly sweep. Soon, Rick is delivering a heartfelt croon. He’s accompanied by a crystalline guitar, probing bass and harmonies. That’s not forgetting the lush strings. They provide the backdrop for Rick as he croons: “darling the day belongs to servants of another song,..the night is all ours, me and my baby sing.” It’s without doubt the most beautiful song on Awake Unto.
From the distance, the arrangement to Field Years draws nearer. The keyboard stem is played backwards. This works though, as Rick delivers a tender, thoughtful vocal. He long for: “a place to call my own, four solid walls made of stone, roof overhead happy.” Soon, he can imagine himself watching the changing of the seasons, and watching “wildflowers grow.”Soon, the listener can imagine and wants to share Rick’s rural idyll on another cinematic song.
Slowly and gradually Get Blood (Friendly) begins to unfold. It’s a fusion of country and folk where Rick is joined by Josephine Anthony. They duet, while a banjo, drums, accordion and guitar accompany them. Rick’s found happiness and is happy with his life. Compliments abound, including some backhanded ones. This includes the line: “you ain’t so pretty but you’ll do for me, you’ve a sadness that only I can see.” Despite this, Rick wouldn’t change it for the world in this genre-melting paean.
Yuki Onna is another cinematic folk song. Straight away, Rick is painting pictures as plays his guitar and sings of “a traveller walked the night alone, towards a distant fireside glow.” That was where he met a bewitching and mysterious woman. Or did he? “But in the morning she was gone-a ghost, a dream or something from the pure white snow he lay upon.” He’ll never know, nor will the listener.
It’s just an acoustic guitar that accompanies Rick on What Fine People, as the song unfolds. Anything else would be overkill. Rick’s vocal takes centre-stage, as he delivers the lyrics. As he delivers the lyrics there’s a sense of sadness and melancholia. Despair and disbelief are omnipresent as he sings: “what a fine fine people we are, robbing these graves from afar.” Accompanying Rick, is his trusty chiming guitar, which frames one of his finest vocals. He breathes life and meaning into his lyrics.
Closing Awake Unto, is Let It Rust. Chiming, meandering guitars and rat-a-tat drums usher in Rick’s vocal. Soon, it’s joined by percussion, ethereal harmonies and a bass. By then, memories of childhood have come flooding back. Suddenly, reality strikes. He wasn’t an “idealistic youth.” “When I was young I never did anything.” Instead, “my friends and I had dreams of living without dreams-running like a wolf pack through the trees, and then as gliding birds, we surrendered to the breeze.” That was then. Now life is very different. Rick compares it “to that old hotel, where you’d go to hate yourself.” Gone are any hopes and dreams he once had, as a defeated Rick delivers his vocal. Later, it’s replaced by a wash of swirling guitar, chattering percussion and lysergic harmonies. They add to what’s a poignant and cinematic tale where reality strikes and Rick is forced to face the truth. It’s another of the highlight of Awake Unto.
Three years after the release of No Selfish Heart, Rick Redbeard recently returned with his sophomore album Awake Unto. It was released by Glasgow based Chemikal Underground Records. Awake Unto is an album where Rick Redbeard has come of age musically as a solo artist.
Awake Unto a much stronger and more cohesive album than No Selfish Heart. Rick Redbeard spent three years carefully crafting the ten songs on Awake Unto. With the help of a few musical friends, Rick has wrote and recorded Awake Unto between 2012 and 2015. These songs were recorded at various locations across Scotland. However, many of the songs on Awake Unto have much in common. Not only are they beautiful, but they’ve a cinematic quality. Rick Redbeard paints pictures with his lyrics, and with his unique and unmistakable vocal, takes the listener on a musical adventure.
Although beautiful and cinematic describes many of the songs on Awake Unto, others are poignant, atmospheric, and tinged with drama, melancholy, mystery and mysticism. Other tracks are melodic and memorable, with The Golden Age best described as anthemic. Wild Young Country and Field Years are both heartfelt paeans from the pen of Rick Redbeard. He’s a talented songwriter, who has the ability to breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. As he does this, he often combines musical genres.
Mostly, though, Awake Unto is an album of folk music. There’s also diversions via country and pop, plus hints of rock and psychedelia. Awake Unto is also an album that’s the antithesis of most albums being released today.
Nowadays, many albums being released are almost disposable. Not Awake Unto. Instead, it’s an album of cerebral music, that’s evocative, expressive, poetic and thoughtful. Rick Redbeard is a musical philosopher, the troubadour who sings of hurt and heartbreak, love and loss, life and death. Poignancy gives way to pathos, while there’s a sense of melancholia on several tracks. Especially as Rick reflects on his life so far on Let It Rust. Rick’s vocal plays an important part in the success of that song. That’s the case throughout Awake Unto.
Most of the arrangements are acoustic. They’re understated and subtle. Despite this, the songs are intricate and multilayered. Subtleties, surprises and nuances await discovery from the opening bars of Wild Young Country, to the closing notes of Let It Rust. The ten carefully crafted songs on Awake Unto all tell a story, which is narrated by Rick Redbeard, Scotland’s latest troubled troubadour.
RICK REDBEARD-AWAKE UNTO.
DAN PENN-CLOSE TO ME-MORE FAME RECORDINGS.
Wallace Daniel Pennington was born in Vernon, Alabama on the 19th of May 1941. The Pennington family were respectable church going people. They were regarded as pillars of the local community. Each week the Pennington family attended church en masse. However, by the time Wallace Daniel Pennington was a teenager, he had turned his back on the church. By then, the future Dan Penn had discovered R&B, and had dreams of making a career as a R&B singer.
Wallace Daniel Pennington became the lead singer of a series of short-lived band, including The Mark V, The Nomads and Pallbearers. During his time with these bands, Wallace’s determination to forge a career as an R&B intensified. Each night, as he took to the stage, he combined power and passion. This would play its part in shaping Wallace’s raspy, lived-in, soulful vocal. It Wallace hoped, would feature on records in the not to distant future.
That proved to be the case. By 1960, Dan Penn was spending much of his time in the Quad Cities, Muscle Shoals area. He was also a regular visitor to Rick Hall’s Fame Records. That was where he recorded his first single Crazy Over You in 1960. On its release, Crazy Over You failed commercially. It was a somewhat inauspicious start to Dan Penn’s career as a singer. However, later, in 1960, commercial success came Dan Penn’s way.
Although Dan Penn dreamt of becoming a singer, he was also a songwriter. One of the songs the nineteen year old had written was Is a Blue Bird Blue? It was recorded by country singer Conway Twitty later in 1960. When it was released, it reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the Australian charts. For Dann Penn this was the start of a long and successful career as a songwriter.
During the rest of the sixties, Dann Penn went on to work with various songwriting partners. This included Rick Hall, Donnie Fritts, Quin Ivy, Marlin Greene and David Briggs. However, Dan Penn’s most successful songwriting partnership was with Chips Moman.
This songwriting partnership began in 1966, at Chips Moman’s American Studios. The pair struck up what became a relatively prolific and successful songwriting partnership.
They managed to write a lot of songs during what was a short-lived and incredibly intense songwriting partnership. Despite this, some of their songs were recorded by some of the biggest names in music; while other songs became timeless classics. This included James Carr’s Dark Side Of The Street and Aretha Franklin’s Do Right Woman. Others songs have been oft-covered. Among them are You Left The Water Running and I’m Your Puppet. These tracks have been covered by everyone from Barbara Lynn to Otis Redding and Irma Thomas. Sadly, the Dann Penn and Chips Moman didn’t enjoy the same longevity as other songwriting partnerships, and the pair went their separate ways. The Dan Penn and Chips Moman is one of the songwriting partnerships documented and celebrated in a recently released compilation.
This is the Dan Penn compilation Close To Me-More Fame Recordings. It was recently released by Ace Records, and is the sequel to their 2014 release The Fame Recordings. Just like The Fame Recordings, Close To-More Fame Recordings features twenty-four demos recorded by Dan Penn at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios. These are unlike most demos recorded during the sixties.
Back then, most demos were spartan and understated affairs. Often, it was just singer accompanied by a lone piano or guitar. Publishing companies and songwriters didn’t want to spend more than they had to. After all, the raison d’être of a demo is to sell a song. However, that’s not the attitude Dan Penn took.
For the twenty-four songs on Close To Me-More Fame Recordings, Dan Penn was accompanied by the Memphis Shoals Rhythm Section. This included David Briggs, Junior Lowe, Roger Hawkins and Jimmy Johnson, to name but a few. They accompanied Dan Penn on songs he had written with Rick Hall, Donnie Fritts, Quin Ivy, Marlin Greene, David Briggs and Spooner Oldham. These songs were recorded between 1963 and 1966, and most have never been released before. That’s until now, and the release of Close To Me-More Fame Recordings, by Ace Records.
By 1963, which is the start of the period that Close To Me-More Fame Recordings covers, Dan Penn was just twenty-two. Although he had penned his first hit when he was just nineteen, Dan Penn knew that he had much more to learn. So he continued to hang out at Fame Studios.
Each day, he could sit there, and watch and learn. It was akin to a musical apprenticeship. Dan sat there, and watched producer Rick Hall at work. Then one day, Dan was in Fame Studios when Otis Redding was producing Sweet Soul Music. As Dan sat in the control room with Rick Hall and Otis Redding, they continued to press play. The three men realised history had been made. Sweet Soul Music had the potential to be a classic. That was the also night that Rick Hall asked Otis Redding asked if he could sing a demo of You Left The Water Running?
This was a song Rick and Dan cowrote. Otis Redding agreed, as long as he liked You Left The Water Running. He did, with Dan adding backing vocals. This may have been the first demo Dan sang on, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Between 1963 and 1966, Dan Penn was a prolific songwriter. He cowrote songs with various songwriting partners, including Rick Hall, Donnie Fritts, Quin Ivy, Marlin Greene, David Briggs and Spooner Oldham. These demos were much more sophisticated than the demo of Otis Redding singing You Left The Water Running. Usually, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section accompanied Dan Penn.
That was the case on Close To Me, the song that opens Close To Me-More Fame Recordings, and lends its name to the compilation. It was written by Dan, and features doo woo inspired vocals. They’re joined by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section as Dan delivers a soul-baring vocal on this beautiful, soulful ballad. Dan also wrote Live and Let Live, which is a emotional roller coaster that heads in the direction of Southern Soul. These tracks show that on his own, Dan Penn was a truly talented songwriter. However, for much of his career, he worked with a songwriting partner.
Occasionally, this included Quin Ivy. Dan and Quin penned Without a Woman together. It’s a heart-wrenching ballad, where Dan embraces the role of Southern Soul man. Sadly, this is the only Dan Penn and Quin Ivy song on Close To Me-More Fame Recordings.
It’s a similar case with the Dan Penn and Donnie Fritts songwriting partnership. Only Do You Need It features on Close To Me-More Fame Recordings. Although Do You Need It is a needy Southern Soul ballad, Dan vocal sometimes becomes a vamp. This showcases his versatility.
This versatility is put to good use on two songs that Dan cowrote with another of his occasional songwriting partners, Marlin Greene. The pair penned Trash Man, another emotive ballad. Their other collaboration on Close To-More Fame Recordings is So Many Reasons, where Dan Penn sounds not unlike Sam Cooke. Indeed, So Many Reasons wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Sam Cooke album. So good is So Many Reasons, it’s one of Dan’s finest moments on Close To Me-More Fame Recording.
Another of Dans occasional songwriting partners was Marlin Greene. The pair penned Trash Man, another emotive ballad. Their other collaboration on Close To-More Fame Recordings is So Many Reasons, where Dan Penn sounds not unlike Sam Cooke. Indeed, So Many Reasons wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sam Cooke album.
Dan Penn and David Briggs cowrote a number of songs together. This includes It Hurts, a tale of heartbreak, which Dan brings to life. So much so, that he sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. Another contribution from Dan Penn and David Briggs is Diamonds, a poppy slice of soulful music. The Dan Penn and David Briggs songwriting team are joined by Spooner Oldham on I Need You. It’s a heart-wrenching ballad where Dan combines power and passion. In doing so, Again, Dan showcases his versatility as a singer
This is likely one of the lessons that Dan Penn learnt whilst under the tutelage of Rick Hall. They forged a successful songwriting partnership. One of their lesser known songs is Lovely Ladies. It’s a sassy stomper that’s very different to many of the other songs on Close To Me-More Fame Recordings. Rick Hall adds rasping horns and piano, as Dan struts and vamps his way through the lyrics. Dan’s version of Diamonds was the flip-side to Lonnie Ray’s Just As I Am, which was released on Fame in May 1965. Since then, Lovely Ladies has been hidden gem in Dan’s back-catalogue.
One man who most likely played on Lovely Ladies, is drummer Roger Hawkins. He and Don Covay cowrote I Can’t Stop (The Feeling Won’t Let Me). It’s in a similar vain to some of the music being released on Stax between 1963 and 1966. Sam and Dave and Otis Redding are reference points. Dan’s vocal is double tracked, and sometimes, he heads into James Brown territory as he vamps. It’s another track that showcases Dan Penn’s talent and versatility.
That’s the case on the thirteen tracks penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. They forged a successful and quite prolific songwriting partnership. The songs they wrote varied, and would’ve suited a variety of artists. Miss Personality was a vampish slice of Southern Soul, full of yelps and vamps. There’s more than a hint of James Brown in Dan’s delivery. Love Is a Wonderful Thing and Standing in the Way of a Good Thing sounds like the type of song Sam and Dave would’ve recorded. Both tracks find Spooner Oldham adding backing vocals, augmenting Dan’s lead vocal. That’s the case on Reaching Out For Someone, where Dan and Spooner prove a potent partnership.
Some of the best songs from the pen of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham are the ballads. This includes the heartfelt paeans I’ll Take Care Of You and Little Girl. Another of the heartfelt paeans is I Love Everything About You, which is reminiscent of Sam Cooke. She Ain’t Gonna Do Right and Downright Uptight Good Woman are both heart-wrenching Southern Soul ballads. Another slice of Souther Soul, is We’re Swinging, which features an impassioned, gravely and soulful vocal from Dan. You Really Know How To Hurt a Guy is another tale of heartbreak, where Dan wears his heart on his sleeve. He seems to come into is own on the ballads on Close To Me-More Fame Recordings.
Destroyed sees the tempo rise, as Dan Penn accompanied by harmonies, heads in the direction of the dance-floor. This shows another side of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham.
That’s the case with I Dig A Big Town. Given the lyrics and the title, I Dig a Big Town sounds as if it was written towards the end of the period covered by Close To Me-More Fame Recordings. The arrangement has a much more underrated, contemporary sound, where Dan reinvents himself. This is something that so many soul singers, songwriters and producers failed to do. They never enjoyed the longevity that Dan Penn has enjoyed.
Some six decades after his recording career began, seventy-five year old Dan Penn has lost none of his enthusiasm for music. The veteran singer, songwriter and producer inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in autumn 2013. That’s fitting, given how important a part Dan Penn has played in the state’s musical past. He’s one of the most successful songwriters Alabama has produced. Considering that Dan Penn originally wanted to be a singer, that’s quite ironic.
While Dan Penn spent much of the sixties writing songs for other people, he didn’t release his first album studio album Nobody’s Fool in 1973. Do Right Man followed in 1974. However, a quarter of a century passed before Dan Penn released his third studio album.
This was Blue Nite Lounge, which was released in 1999. Later that year, Dan released Moments From This Theatre a live recording which featured Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. The old songwriting partnership was reunited, roll back the years. Nine years later, and Dan Penn released a new studio album, Junk Yard Junky in 2008. Since then, Ace Records have released two compilations of Dan Penn’s music, 2012s The Fame Recordings and the recently released Close To Me-More Fame Recordings.
These two compilations feature a veritable feast of Dan Penn recordings from the sixties. Although they’re ostensibly demos, they’re a cut above the usual demos. Close To Me-More Fame Recordings features the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section in full flight, on twenty-four tracks recorded between 1963 and 1966. During this period, Dan Penn was honing his skills as a singer and songwriter. He was already a talented singer and songwriter. Dan Penn was also versatile singer, who could seamlessly switch between heart-wrenching ballads and more uptempo tracks. For a singer who was only twenty-five in 1966, Dan Penn could’ve and should’ve enjoyed more success as a singer than he did.
Instead, Dan Penn enjoyed more success as a songwriter. By the end of the sixties, Dan Penn had realised just how lucrative a business songwriting was. After this, Dan Penn’s career as a singer seemed to take a back seat. While he continued to record the occasional album, and play live, most record buyers remember Dan Penn for the classic songs he’s written. That’s still the case today. This is sure to change when they hear Close To Me-More Fame Recordings. Then they’ll realise that Dan Penn doesn’t just write songs, but sings them too.
DAN PENN-CLOSE TO ME-MORE FAME RECORDINGS.
MOGWAI-SCOTLAND’S POST ROCK PIONEERS.
Although Scotland have produced many successful bands over the past forty years, there aren’t many that have enjoyed the longevity, commercial success and critical acclaim that Mogwai have. They were founded in 1995, and since then, have released eight albums of pioneering post rock. That’s not forgetting the four soundtracks that Mogwai have been commission to write. However, that’s only part of the Mogwai story.
Just a year after Mogwai were founded, the nascent band founded their own record label Rock Action Records in 1996. Some of Mogwai’s early singles were released by Rock Action Records. It has come a long ways since then.
Nowadays, Rock Action Records is home to some of Scotland’s top bands, and bands from much further afield. Currently, Rock Action Records’ roster includes Mogwai, Errors, Remember Remember, De Rosa, Envy, Half Chimp and Sacred Paws. So it’s no surprise that Rock Action Records is now one of Scotland’s most successful record labels. Equally successful is the recording studio Mogwai co-founded in 2005.
This was Castle Of Doom Studios, which is situated in the West End of Glasgow. It was cofounded by Mogwai and Tony Doogan in 2005. Since then, the great and good of Scottish music have beat a path to Castle Of Doom Studios. So do artists from across the globe. That’s why Castle Of Doom Studios is now one of the most successful recording studios in Scotland. It’s also where Mogwai have recorded several albums. However, the Mogwai story began way back in 2001.
That’s when Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison first met in Glasgow. Four years later, they met drummer Martin Bulloch and formed Mogwai, which film buffs will remember, is a character from the movie Gremlins. Mogwai was always meant as a temporary name, but it stuck and was on the label of Tuner, their 1996 debut single.
Tuner was released to critical acclaim and the NME awarded it their single of the week award. Two other singles were released during 1996 Angels v. Aliens and Summer, which features on Central Belters. By then Mogwai were a quartet.
Guitarist John Cummings joined the band in 1995. He’s also something of a maestro when it comes to all things technical and is described as playing “guitar and laptop.” He was part of one of the hottest bands of the late nineties, Mogwai who released two more singles in 1997.
The first of these was New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 which features on Central Belters. It showed Mogwai growing and maturing as a band. NME agreed, and just like their debut single Tuner, New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 was won NME’s single of the week award. Club Beatroot the followup to was also well received by critics. This was the perfect time for Mogwai to record their debut album, Mogwai Young Team.
Mogwai Young Team.
For Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai brought onboard Brendan O’Hare the Teenage Fanclub’s drummer. Another guest artist was Aidan Moffat of Falkirk based band Arab Strap. He added the vocal to R U Still In 2 It. The rest of Mogwai Young Team consisted of instrumentals. Mogwai Young Team was recorded at Chem 19 studios and produced by two of Scotland’s top producers, ex-Delgado Paul Savage and Andy Miller. Once Mogwai Young Team was completed, it was then released on Scotland’s biggest record label, Chemikal Underground Records.
Before its release, critics were one over by Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai were hailed Mogwai as a band with a big future. Mogwai Young Team was a hailed as a groundbreaking album of post-rock. It’s just one reason critics forecast a big future for Mogwai.
That proved to be a perceptive forecast. When Mogwai Young Team was released on 21st October 1997, sold over 30,000 copies and reached number seventy-five in the UK. The Mogwai Young Team were on their way. However, a few changes were about to take place.
Come On Die Young.
A year later, Mogwai were back in the studio recording their sophomore album Come On Die Young. Much had changed. A new member had joined the band. Barry Buns a flautist and sometimes pianist, had played a few gigs with the band. They then asked him to become the fifth member of Mogwai. Violinst Luke Sutherland joined Mogwai, but not on a full-time basis. This wasn’t the only change.
Recording was split between New York and Glasgow. This time, they’d forsaken Chem 19 in Blantyre and recorded parts of the album in Rarbox Road Studios, New York. Some sessions took place in Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Producing Come On Die Young was Dave Fridman. For some critics, his addition changed Mogwai’s sound.
Some critics felt his production style resulted in a much more orthodox sounding album. However, personally, I felt that Come On Die You was part of Mogwai discovering their “sound” and direction. Come On Die Young is a much more understated, but also ambient, experimental, multi-textured and melodic. There’s a fusion of ambient, grunge and post rock on Come On Die Young, which was released in 29th March 1999.
On its release, Come On Die Young reached number twenty-nine in the UK. Mogwai it seemed were now on their way to finding their sound and fulfilling the potential evident on their debut album. This was apparent with tracks of the quality of CODY and Hugh Dallas s. However, like all innovative bands, Mogwai continued to reinvent their music.
This proved to the case on their eponymous E.P. Two of E.P.’s four tracks feature on Central Belters. This includes Stanley Kubrick, which was recorded in the exotic surroundings of Cowdenbeath in Fife. Burn Girl Prom Queen was recorded at Cava Studios, in Mogwai’s hometown of Glasgow. These two tracks were part of E.P., which further enhanced Mogwai’s reputation as post rock pioneers. So did their third album Rock Action.
Mogwai’s music continued to evolve on their third album 2001s Rock Action. More use was made of electronics on Rock Action. This was part of a process that would continue over the next few albums. There were even more layers and textures on Rock Action. It was as if Mogwai had expanded their palette. Seven of the songs were instrumentals, while Dial Revenge featured Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals.
Again, Rock Action was produced by Dave Fridman, while recording took place in New York and at Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Once Rock Action was completed, it became Mogwai’s first album to be released on Play It Again Sam.
Rock Action was released in April 2001, and proved to be Mogwai’s most successful album. It reached number twenty-three in the UK. Critics remarked upon how Rock Action wasn’t as dark an album as its predecessors. That didn’t mean that Mogwai’s view of the world had changed. They were still worldweary. That would become a Mogwai trademark.
Six months after the release of Rock Action, Mogwai returned with another single, The My Father My King. It was released in October 2001, and was described “as the companion piece to Rock Action.” A sticker on the cover bore Mogwai’s description of the single as: “two parts serenity and one part death metal.” That was about to change. Soon, they’d be happy people writing happy songs and making a breakthrough into the American market.
Happy Songs For Happy People.
Happy Songs For Happy People was released in 2003. Mogwai’s evolution continued. Their music continued further down the electronic road. Yes, electric guitars and a drummer were used, but synths were playing a more important role in Mogwai’s music. So were the addition of strings and a piano. They played their part in what was a much more understated album. Part of this change in style was a change of producer.
Tony Doogan was brought onboard as producer. He replaced Dave Fridman. Gone were transatlantic recording sessions. Happy Songs For Happy People was recorded at Cava Sound Studios, Glasgow. On its release in June 2003, Happy Songs For Happy People was well received by critics. Critics drew attention to I Know You Are But What Am I? and Hunted By A Freak, two of the album’s highlights. The critics also welcomed Mogwai’s latest change in style. So did record buyers.
While Happy Songs For Happy People only reached number forty-seven in the UK, it spent a week in the American charts, reaching number 182 in the US Billboard 200. After four albums, Mogwai had broken into the American market. Happy Songs For Happy People it seemed, was a landmark album.
Having made inroads into the lucrative American market, Mogwai didn’t rush their fifth album. It was released three years after Happy Songs For Happy People. There’s a reason for this. They were working on tree separate projects.
The first was their fifth album Mr. Beast. Then there was the first soundtrack they’d written and recorded. This was for the 2006 movie Zidane: A 21st Century Soundtrack. Mogwai also collaborated with Clint Mansell on the soundtrack to The Fountain. Although soundtracks were a nice sideline for Mogwai, their fifth album Mr. Beast was of huge importance. Especially, if it was a commercial success in America.
Recording of Mr. Beast took place at Mogwai’s new studio, Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. Co-producing Mr.Beast with Mogwai, was Tony Doogan. Between April and October 2005, Mogwai honed their fifth album. Tony Doogan and Mogwai co-produced Mr. Beast. After six months, Mr. Beast was complete. It was Mogwai’s most important album.
Everyone realised the importance of Mr. Beast. Mogwai were on a verge of breaking into the American market. Happy Songs for Happy People had got Mogwai’s foot in the door. Now was the time for the Mogwai Young Team to kick it in, and make their presence felt. That’s what Mogwai intended to do with tracks like Travel Is Dangerous,Friend Of The Night and We’re No Here. They featured Mogwai at their innovative and creative best. This trio of tracks were part of an album that would please critics, Mr. Beast.
On its release, it was mostly, to critical acclaim. Critics were fascinated at how Mogwai’s music continued to evolve. For Mogwai, standing still was going backwards. Groundbreaking music was what record buyers expected from Mogwai.
When Mr. Beast was released on 5th March 2006, record buyers found an album of innovative music. It climbed thirty-one in the UK. Across the Atlantic, Mr. Beast reached number 128 in the US Billboard 200. Mogwai were now one of Scotland’s most successful musical exports. They were certainly Scotland’s most innovative band. This was a title they weren’t going to give up without a fight.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.
Following the release of Mr. Beast, the other two projects that Mogwai had been working on, were released. The first was Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. The project came about in late 2005, when artist Douglas Gordon asked Mogwai to write and record a soundtrack to a film he was making about Zinedine Zidane, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Mogwai agreed, and this gave them their entry into the world of soundtracks.
Maogwai grasped this opportunity. They recorded Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait at Castle Of Doom Studios. At first hand, Mogwai had recorded ten tracks, which were produced by Tony Doogan. However, when the soundtrack was released, it came baring a secret.
Unlike Half Time, which features on Central Belters, the hidden track Untitled, is a twenty-three minute epic, featuring Mogwai at their most inventive. That was the case throughout Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Most critics realised this. A few, however, didn’t seem to ‘get’ Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. However, the critics that mattered, gave Mogwai the recognition they deserved when Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was released on 30th October 2006. Then less than a month later, the soundtrack to The Fountain was released on 27th November 2006.
The Fountain was a collaboration between contemporary classic composer Clint Mansell, string quartet the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai. To some onlookers, it looked like an unlikely collaboration. That wasn’t the case though.
Mogwai had spent December 2005 locked away in their Castle Of Doom Studios with producer Tony Doogan. Other parts of The Fountain project were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Then once the project was complete, The Fountain was released on 27th November 2006.
When The Fountain soundtrack was released, the reviews were positive. Mogwai’s contribution to the soundtrack had proved vital, while the Kronos Quartet proved a perfect foil the Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai’s lasted soundtrack had enhanced their reputation as the go-to guys for a soundtrack. That would their sideline in the future. However, before they released another soundtrack, Mogwai would release another two albums.
The Hawk Is Howling.
The first of these was The Hawk Is Howling. To ensure they kept their title of Scotland’s most innovative bands, Mogwai returned to the studio where it all began, Chem 19 in Blantyre.
Andy Miller who’d co-produced Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai’s debut album was chosen to produce what became The Hawk Is Howling. This was Mogwai’s sixth album and marked a first. It was Mogwai’s first album to consist of just instrumentals. Among them were I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead, The Sun Smells Too Loud, Batcat and Scotland’s Shame. They feature the post rock pioneers pushing musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. Once The Hawk Is Howling was recorded, Garth Jones mixed the album at Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow. After that, The Hawk Is Howling was ready for release.
The Hawk Is Howling was released on 22nd September 2008. Critics were won over by The Hawk Is Howling. There were no dissenting voices. This was one of Mogwai’s best albums. So, it was no surprise it sold well in the UK and America.
On its release, The Hawk Is Howling reached number thirty-five in the UK and number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. It seemed with each album, Mogwai’s music evolved and matured. This resulted in even more success coming their way. Would this continue with Hardcore Will Never Die?
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.
For their seventh album, Mogwai returned to Chem 19 Studios in Blantyre, where they hooked up with ex-Delgado Paul Savage. Since he’d produced Mogwai’s debut album, Mogwai Young Team Paul had established a reputation as one of Scotland’s best producers.
By then, Paul Savage had worked with everyone from Franz Ferdinand to R.M. Hubbert. However, it was a very different Mogwai Paul encountered. They were very different to the band who recorded Mogwai Young Team Paul. Their music had evolved and was continuing to do so. They’d matured as musicians and embraced the new technology. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was proof of this.
Here was an album of groundbreaking, genre-melting post-rock with attitude. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was also an album not short on humour. Poppy soulster Lionel Ritchie provided the inspiration for You’re Lionel Ritchine. There was also a celebratory sound to Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
The death of Scotland’s nemesis, Margaret Thatcher sparked celebration on Glasgow’s George Square. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, celebrated that great night again with George Square Thatcher Death Party. It was just one track on album of pioneering, post rock music crammed full of hooks, humour and attitude. Others highlights Mexican Grand Prix, Rano Pano and How To Be A Werewolf . With music of this quality, surely Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will couldn’t fail?
Before the release of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Rano Pano was released as a single. On the flip side was Hasenheide, which didn’t feature on Hardcore Will Never Die. . Things it seemed were looking good for Mogwai.
Yet again, Mogwai won over the majority of critics with Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. A couple of contrarian critics proved to be mere dissenting voices in the wilderness. Most critics realised that Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was one of Mogwai’s finest hours. Record buyers would agree.
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will reached number thirty-five in the UK and number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. For Mogwai, they were now into their third decade as band and had just enjoyed their biggest album to date. What next?
The answer to that was Les Revenants, a soundtrack to a French television series. Les Revenants or The Returned is essentially a television program about zombies. Unlike similar programs, when the “undead” return to the town they lived in, it’s as they were, not how most films portray zombies. Another difference was the way Mogwai were commissioned.
Usually, someone writing a soundtrack can see the film they’re writing music to. Not Mogwai. They were just shown a few scripts. Then they were given an overview of what the series was about. From there, Mogwai wrote thirteen of the fourteen tracks including Wizard Motor and Hungry Face. They’re two of the album’s best tracks. The other track on Les Revenants was What Are They Doing In Heaven Today, which was written by Charles Elbert Tilney. These fourteen tracks were recorded by Mogwai, who produced Les Revenants with Neil MacMenamin. Once Les Revenants was finished, it was released in February 2013.
Before Les Revenants was released an E.P. was released. It featured four tracks. That was a tantalising taster of what was to come. After all, Mogwai would approach a soundtrack like Les Revenants in a different manner. They wouldn’t do anything predictable. Les Revenants was a case of expect the unexpected. Critics loved Les Revenants and hailed the album as one of the best albums Mogwai had released. However, Mogwai had other ideas.
Rave Tapes features ten tracks which were written by Mogwai. These tracks were recorded at Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom Studios, in Glasgow. Producing Rave Tapes was ex-Delgado Paul Savage. He’s produced previous Mogwai albums and knew how the band worked. This was important, given Mogwai were at last, enjoying the critical acclaim and commercial success their music deserved. Work began on Rave Tapes on the 28th August 2013.
This was like the first day back at school. Mogwai were ready to begin recording what was their eighth studio album. The lineup of Mogwai has been settled for a few years. This included a rhythm section of bassist and guitarist Dominic Aitchison, drummer Martin Bulloch and guitarists Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings who also played piano. Barry Burns plays organ, piano and guitar. at Castle Of Doom Studios, Glasgow, Mogwai recorded the ten tracks that became Rave Tapes, which was released on 20th January 2014.
Rave Tapes was one of the most anticipated albums of 2014. The big question was, what direction Mogwai’s music would head? After all, Mogwai’s music never stands still. It’s in a constant state of evolution. That’s no bad thing. Standing still is akin to going backwards in Mogwai’s book. On Rave Tapes, Mogwai’s music continues to evolve. Musical genres and influences melt into one on tracks like Remurdered, The Lord Is Out Of Control and Tell Everyone I Love Them. However, one of the most prominent influences on Rave was Krautrock. Add to this ambient, avant-garde, electronica, experimental, indie rock and rock. We hear different sides to Mogwai on Rave Tapes. Whether it’s fuzzy soundscapes or kicking out the jams, Mogwai didn’t disappoint with Rave Tapes.
Critics agreed. Rave Tapes was released to widespread critical acclaim. Superlatives were exhausted in search of a fitting description of what many felt was Mogwai’s finest hour. Some critics wondered aloud whther Mogwai’s music was mellowing. Others felt that Mogwai were improving with age. Record buyers agreed.
When Rave Tapes was released on 14th January 2014, the album reached number ten in Britain and fifty-five in the US Billboard 200 charts. Rave Tapes became Mogwai’s most successful album in Britain and America. Elsewhere, Rave Tapes sold well across Europe. Mogwai were enjoying the most album of their three decade career. However, it would be two years before Mogwai released a new album. Before that, Mogwai decided to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in style.
In 2015, Mogwai were celebrating their twentieth anniversary. By then Mogwai were Scottish music’s elder statesmen, A lot had happened to them during the first twenty years of their career. Mogwai have released eight studio albums and three soundtracks. That’s not forgetting there’s countless singles, E.P.s and two remix albums. It was official, Mogwai had been one of the hardest working bands in music between 1995 and 2015. They were also one of the most innovative.
So it was no surprise that critical acclaim and commercial success accompanied the release of each Mogwai album. Suddenly, the Glasgow-based were enjoying success not just in Britain, Now was the perfect time for Mogwai to release Central Belters, a three disc career retrospective box set. Central Belters tells the story of the first twenty years of Mogwai.
With Mogwai not planning to release a studio album or soundtrack during 2015, Central Belters was a perfect stopgap. It was released on 23rd October 2015, and reached number forty in Britain, Central Belters sold reasonably well across the Europe, and was a perfect primer to the first twenty years of Mogwai’s career. The next part of Mogwai’s career began with a soundtrack album, Atomic.
Having enjoyed celebrating their twentieth anniversary during 2015, Mogwai got back down to business on 1st April 2016. That was when they released Atomic, their first new album in over two years. Atomic was Mogwai’s fourth soundtrack album,
During the summer of 2015, Mogwai had provided the soundtrack Mark Cousins documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise. It was aired on BBC Four, and was a very personal memoir of growing up in the nuclear age. Using archive film, Mark Cousins constructed an impressionistic cinematic memoir of what was a harrowing time.
Post rock pioneers Mogwai were commissioned to write the soundtrack to Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise. It was hailed as the perfect backdrop to Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise, which was a personal and poignant cinematic memoir. However, after the documentary was aired in the summer of 2015, Mogwai decided to rerecord Atomic.
At their Castle Of Doom Studios in Glasgow, Mogwai were joined be an old friend, occasional band member Luke Sutherland. Mogwai were also joined by Sophie, Robin Proper-Sheppard formally of The God Machine and Glasgow composer Robert Newth. Together, they got to work on on Atomic, which was Mogwai’s twelfth album since they formed back in 1995.
Once Atomic was completed, it was scheduled for release on 1st April 2016. Before that, Atomic was hailed as Mogwai’s finest soundtrack album, and a welcome addition to their discography.
On Atomic, Mogwai combine disparate and eclectic musical genres. Elements of avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica and experimental music are combined with indie-rock, Krautrock, post-rock and psychedelia. This results in a genre-melting, cinematic album. Atomic captivates and compels, and takes the listener on a musical journey. It veers between dramatic and dreamy, to surreal and lysergic, to beautiful, pensive and understated to melancholy and melodic. Other times the music is dramatic, moody and broody. One thing the music never is, is boring. That’s one thing that can never be levelled against Mogwai. Always expect the unexpected.
That’s been the case since Mogwai were formed in 1995. Since then, Mogwai have released eight albums and four soundtracks. Then there’s countless singles, E.P.s and two remix albums. Mogwai must be one of the hardest working bands in music. That’s not forgetting one of the most innovative.
For the last twenty years, Mogwai’s music has been ambitious, bold, challenging, influential and innovative music. It’s full of nuances, subtleties and surprises as Mogwai seamlessly combine musical genres. They fuse ambient, avant garde, classic rock, electronica, experimental, indie rock, psychedelia and Krautrock, to create their unique post rock sound. All the time, Mogwai continue to push musical boundaries to their limits and even sometimes, way beyond.
That’s why Mogwai’s music has continued to evolve. They’ve never been content to stand still. Mogwai never play it safe, and their music is never predictable. Leave that to lesser mortals, like Coldplay, Mumford and Sons and Ed Sheeran. While they churn out album after album of similar music, the Mogwai Young Team will be off on a new adventure.
Glasgow’s famous five’s latest musical adventure was Atomic, which was released on their own label, Rock Action Records. This was the twelfth album of Mogwai’s career. Hopefully, it won’t be long before Mogwai begin thinking about their next musical adventure. This isn’t the type of adventure Enid Blyton’s Famous Five once enjoyed.
Far from it. There’s no picnics, lemonade and bicycle trips. Instead, it’s Mogwai’s music adventures are a bit more edgy and gritty. That’s been the case throughout Mogwai’s twelve album and twenty-one year career. During their career so far, post rock pioneers Mogwai have continually created groundbreaking and innovative music. Let’s hope that will be case for a long time to come.
MOGWAI-SCOTLAND’S POST ROCK PIONEERS.
ALICE COOPER-THE WARNER BROS YEARS 1969-1983.
It was in Detroit, Michigan, on February 4th 1948, Vincent Damon Furnier was born. He would go on to become one of the biggest names in music, after changing his name to Alice Cooper in 1968. After that, Alice Cooper’s career has spanned five decades and twenty-six studio albums. This includes the fifteen albums released on Warner Bros. between 1969 and 1983. During the first fourteen years of Alice Cooper’s sometimes controversial career, he released some of the best music of his long and eventful career. However, when Vincent Damon Furnier was growing up, very few people could’ve foreseen that he would forge a career as a rock star.
Growing up as Vincent Damon Furnier life was very different. Vincent Damon Furnier grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where his father was a minister in the Church of Jesus Christ. When Vincent was eleven, he was already participating in church life. This was short-lived, and only lasted until Vincent was twelve.
By then, he was attending Nankin Mills Jr. High School, and was suffering from a variety of illnesses. This resulted in the Vincent’s father moving the family to Phoenix, Arizona.
Having moved from Detroit to Phoenix, Vincent attended Cortez High School in North Phoenix. After leaving high school, Vincent attended Glendale Community College, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. By then, Vincent’s musical career was well underway. It began in 1964, when Vincent and the members of the school’s cross-country team, formed a group The Earwigs.
They entered the annual high school talent show. The Earwigs performance saw the mime to various Beatles’ songs. Somehow, this was enough for The Earwigs to win the first prize. This was enough to whet Vincent’s musical appetite. Soon, The Earwigs were renamed as The Spiders. The newly formed group’s lineup featured Vincent on vocals; lead guitarist Glen Buxton, rhythm guitar John Tatum, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer John Speer. Mostly, The Spiders played cover versions of songs by British Invasion bands. This included The Beatles, The Who, Rolling Stones and The Kinks. Soon, though, The Spiders’ thoughts turned to recording their debut single.
Why Don’t You Love Me was recorded in 1965, and became The Spiders’ debut single. For the recording of Why Don’t You Love Me, Vincent had to learn the harmonica. On the flip side was a cover of Hitch Hike, which had given Marvin Gaye a hit. The single was then released on Mascot Records, which was owned by local music impresario Jack Curtis. He was a concert promoter, owned the Stage 7 club, where The Spiders had a residency. Things were going well for The Spiders, who were set to graduate high school in 1966. Having all graduated in 1966, change was on the horizon.
Michael Bruce replaced rhythm guitarist John Tatum. The new recruit played on The Spiders’ sophomore single Don’t Blow Your Mind. Although this was one of the first songs The Spiders had penned themselves, it went on to reach number one locally. By 1967, The Spiders’ star was in the ascendancy.
They were travelling as far afield as Los Angeles, to play live. It was around this time that The Spiders changed their name to Nazz, and released Wonder Who’s Lovin’ Her Now? On the B-Side was a song that would reappear later, Lay Down and Die, Goodbye. It would become an Alice Cooper favourite. Before that, drummer John Speer was replaced by Michael Speer, and Nazz relocated.
Like many bands before them, Nazz decided to move to L.A. From he birth of rock ’n’ roll, bands always moved to where the record companies, recording studios and prestigious clubs were. Nazz were no different, and decided moved to L.A. where they hoped they could attract the attention of a record company. However, there was a problem. Word got back to the members of Nazz, that Todd Rundgren had a also a band called Nazz. It had been around longer, so the members of Nazz had to come up with a new name. This was when Alice Cooper was born.
Many myths surround the naming of Alice Cooper. However, the most plausible was, that Alice Cooper was the name of a character in an American television series Mayberry R.F.D. It was shown on CBS, one of the biggest television networks. So in homage to Mayberry R.F.D., Nazz became Alice Cooper. So did Vincent Damon Furnier. The twenty-one year old singer, songwriter and musician saw the potential in adopting a persona. That persona, allowed him to portray various “characters.” This varied from album to album. However, with Vincent’s sense of theatre, drama, flamboyance and showmanship, this would prove crucial not just to the success of the band Alice Cooper, but later, his solo career. Before that, Alice Cooper the band, attracted the attention of Frank Zappa.
Ironically, this came after a particularly disappointing gig. Alice Cooper only played ten minutes at the Cheetah club in Venice, California. That was enough for Alice Cooper to clear the room. That was a disaster. However, for Alice Cooper, every cloud had a silver lining. Shep Gordon, who managed various bands, approached Alice Cooper. He realised that Alice Cooper had potential, and it was just a matter of guiding them, and pointing them in the right direction. This included arranging an audition with Frank Zappa, who had just founded a new record label, Straight Records.
Being a new label, Frank Zappa’s Straight Records were looking to build up a roster of artists. So Shep Gordon arranged for Alice Cooper to audition at Straight Records. The time of the audition was seven o’clock. What the members of Alice Cooper didn’t realise, was that they were meant to arrive at Frank Zappa’s house at 7pm. Instead, they arrived at 7am. This could’ve proved disastrous, but didn’t. After hearing Alice Cooper’s brand of psychedelic rock, Frank Zappa offered the band a three album deal, which they accepted. Now Alice Cooper could begin work on their debut album, Pretties For You.
Pretties For You.
Now signed to Straight Records, the five members of Alice Cooper began recording what became Pretties For You. Producing the album, were producers Ian Underwood and Herb Cohen. They oversaw the recording of thirteen tracks, penned by the five members of Alice Cooper.
This included the rhythm section of drummer Neal Smith, bassist Dennis Dunaway and rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce. They were augmented by lead guitarist Glen Buxton and Alice Cooper on lead vocals. That’s apart from on Sing Low, Sweet Cheerio, which features Michael Bruce on lead vocal. Throughout the album, effects are used extensively. They add to what Alice Cooper saw as an ambitious and innovative album of psychedelia. Guiding Alice Cooper through the musical maze that was their debut album were producers Ian Underwood and Herb Cohen. However, it was more than an psychedelic album.
Pretties For You was an album that had obviously been influenced by Pink Floyd. Especially, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. However, psychedelia wasn’t the only influence on Pretties For You. There’s also a jazz influence, on Pretties For You, as Alice Cooper experiment with various time signatures. Avant garde and experimental music influenced Alice Cooper as they worked on their debut album.
These eclectic influences lead to criticism of Pretties For You. For some critics, Pretties For You was just too left-field an album. They didn’t understand the eclectic influences that had shaped the album. Nor did they understand the constant changes in tempo and time signatures. Reviews ranged from unfavourable to mixed. This didn’t augur well for the release of Pretties For You. June 1969 saw the release of Pretties For You. The album stalled at 193 in the US Billboard 200. This was disappointing for Alice Cooper, who were about to receive some unwelcome publicity.
On September 13th 1969, Alice Cooper were playing at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. Mid-set, a chicken flew onto the stage. Alice Cooper thinking the chicken could fly, threw it off the stage. What happened next is unclear. Allegations were made that when the chicken was thrown off the stage, it was ripped to pieces. By the next day, newspapers were reporting that Alice Cooper had bitten the head off the chicken.
The next day, Frank Zappa phoned Alice Cooper to establish what exactly happened. Alice Cooper denied the story. Frank Zappa thinking that all publicity is good publicity, told him to admit to biting the head off the chicken and drinking its blood. This was the worst advice he could’ve given Alice Cooper. The story has haunted him, and has harmed his career. For many people, his name is synonymous with that story. Once the controversy had started to die down in 1969, Alice Cooper began work on their sophomore album Easy Action.
Despite Alice Cooper’s newly acquired hell raising image, he was in fact, a very different person. The title to Alice Cooper’s sophomore album, Easy Action, came from a line in West Side Story. It featured nine new tracks, penned by the five members of Alice Cooper. No longer were all the tracks credited to the five members of the band. Now, it was every man for himself, as work began on Easy Action.
The nine tracks tracks that became Easy Action were recorded between late-1969 and early 1970. Producing Easy Action was David Briggs. The change of producer was meant to bring a change in fortune for Alice Cooper. That wasn’t to be. When critics heard Easy Action, they weren’t impressed. Reviews were far from flattering of what was a commercial type of psychedelia. Later, even members of the band weren’t impressed with Easy Action. Drummer Neal Smith felt it resembled the music was more like a: “TV or radio commercial.” Part of the blame lay at producer David Briggs’ door. Neal Smith remembers “he did not help with song arrangement or positive input in any way.” It’s not surprising that when Easy Action was released, it wasn’t a commercial success.
Easy Action was released in March 1970, and disappeared without trace. Alice Cooper’s sophomore album sunk faster than the Titanic. With just one album left on their contract with Frank Zappa’s Straight Records, Alice Cooper needed a break.
Love It to Death.
Even Frank Zappa seemed to be having his doubts about Alice Cooper. He decided that Alice Cooper released a single before releasing what became Love It to Death. The song chosen, was I’m Eighteen, which showcased Alice Cooper’s new, hard-rocking sound.
This was the third single Alice Cooper had released, but the first to chart. I’m Eighteen reached number twenty-one on the US Billboard 100. Alice Cooper got the green light to record their third album, Love It to Death.
For the recording of Love It To Death, a new production team of Jack Richardson and Bob Erzin were brought onboard. Bob Erzin had earned his stripes producing the hit single I’m Eighteen. Now he and Jack Richardson had to hone Alice Cooper’s new sound. The one-time freak psychedelic band had reinvented themselves as a swaggering, hard-rocking band. Elements of hard rock and heavy metal melted into one, on Love It To Death. Every member of Alice Cooper had played a part in writing the nine songs. Alice Cooper wrote Second Coming, and cowrote I’m Eighteen and Is It My Body with the rest of the band. These tracks, and the rest of the album were recorded at RCA Mid-American Recording Center, Chicago and scheduled for release on March 8th, 1971.
Before that, critics had their say on Love It To Death. They were won over by Alice Coopers, swaggering, aggressive and ballsy hard-rocking sound. They were a group reborn sonically and stylistically. Om Love It To Death’s album cover, Alice Cooper wore dresses and makeup. This would prove controversial in the conservative parts of America. That didn’t seem to affect album sales. When Love It To Death was released, it reached thirty-five in the US Billboard 200. Having sold one million copies, Love It To Death was certified platinum. Elsewhere, Love It To Death proved popular in Canada and Britain. Alice Cooper’s career was well underway.
Having released Love It To Death on Straight Records in conjunction with Warner Bros., Alice Cooper’s three album deal with Frank Zappa was up. The members of Alice Cooper knew that to move to the next level, they needed the major label machine behind them. So they signed to Warner Bros. and began work on their fourth album, Killer.
Alice Cooper didn’t waste time before returning to the recording studio. They were keen to build on the success of Love It To Death. So Alice Cooper headed to RCA Studios, in Chicago to record eight new tracks with producer Bob Erzin.
Again, various members of Alice Cooper wrote or cowrote tracks. This included Alice Cooper, who cowrote five tracks. Among them, were ou Drive Me Nervous which Alice cowrote with Michael Bruce and producer Bob Erzin. He cowrote two tracks, and was quickly, becoming an important part of the Alice Cooper success story.
That success, if the critics were correct, would’ve ground to a halt. Many reviews of Killer were far from positive. Killer was seen as licking the cohesion of Love It To Death, and revisited the erratic sound of Alice Cooper’s first two albums. Robert Christgau had some strong words; referring the album as “surreal,” “theatrical,” and let us not forget “transvestite” trappings”. Adding to irony of Robert Christgau’s comments, are his comments about the weakness of Under My Wheels and Be My Love.
When the singles were chosen from Killer, Under My Wheels reached fifty-nine, before Be My Love surpassed this, reaching number forty-nine in the US Billboard 100. While neither single matched the success of I’m Eighteen, it was obvious that Alice Cooper were on the right road. Especially when Killer was released in November 1971, and reached twenty-one on the US Billboard 200. This was enough for Alice Cooper to receive their second platinum album. Could they make it three in a row?
Alice Cooper arrived at The Record Plant, New York early in 1972. They were about to begin work on their fifth album in three years. By then, Alice Cooper and the rest of the band were just twenty-four. Success had come quickly, and they were living the rock ’n’ roll dream. The Record Plant was one of New York’s premier studios. However, Alice Cooper were well on their way to becoming one of America’s biggest bands. A lot depended on their fifth album, School’s Out.
For School’s Out, Alice Cooper played a bigger part in the songwriting process. He cowrote seven of the nine tracks. This included cowriting the anthemic School’s Out with the rest of the band; and My Stars with Bob Erzin. Again, Bob Erzin cowrote two tracks on what’s loosely described as Alice Cooper’s first concept album.
School’s Out dealt with school, and coming of age. The album opener was the future Alice Cooper classic, School’s Out. It would reach number two in the US Billboard 100, number three in Canada and number one in Britain. Since then, it’s been a staple of Alice Cooper’s live shows. However, when School’s Out was released in June 1972, nobody realised how popular the single and album would become.
When critics heard School’s Out, they realised that it wasn’t just an album hard rocking music. There was a hint of glam rock, like on Killer, and a nod to art rock. Essentially, Alice Cooper were spreading their wings stylistically. That didn’t seem to matter. Reviews of School’s Out ranged from mixed to favourable. Partly, that was because some critics looked down on the theatre, drama and showmanship of Alice Cooper, and their live shows. It was only later that critics would rethink their opinions on Alice Cooper. So with disappointing reviews preceding the release of School’s Out, there was no hint that Alice Cooper were about to release the most successful album of their career.
When School’s Out was released, the record vinyl was wrapped in a pair of paper pants. This must have seemed like a good idea at the time. However, it later transpired that the material the paper pants were made out of, were flammable. By then, School’s Out was racing up the charts.
June 1972 saw the release of School’s Out, which reached number two in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in the third platinum album of Alice Cooper’s career. Elsewhere, from Canada to Australia, Europe and Britain, School’s Out found its way into the top ten. Alice Cooper were now one of the biggest bands on planet rock.
Billion Dollar Babies.
Just two months after the release of School’s Out, Alice Cooper began work on their sixth album, Billion Dollar Babies. By then, Alice Cooper were touring School’s Out. So the album was recorded in studios on both sides of the Atlantic with Bob Erzin.
Three studios were used to record Billion Dollar Babies. Sessions took place at The Galecie Estate, Greenwich and The Record Plant, New York were the two American studios Billion Dollar Babies was recorded at. Other sessions took place at Morgan Studios, London. A total of ten songs were scheduled to be recorded for Billion Dollar Babies. Of these ten tracks, nine were cowritten by Alice Cooper. Again, Bob Erzin collaborated on two tracks and added keyboards as Alice Cooper celebrated their good fortune.
The album title, Billion Dollar Babies, was a result of the money coming Alice Cooper’s way. After four years releasing records, the members of Alice Cooper were very rich young men, and able to buy whatever they wanted. Suddenly, people who previously, wouldn’t have looked their way, wanted to know them. This included women who wanted to date them; and men wanted to befriend them, hoping some of their good fortune would come their way. However, there was also a darkness to Billion Dollar Babies.
During Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper explored the sick perversions that some people have. The album titles hint at the darkness within Raped and Freezin’, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Sick Thing and I Love The Dead. Other themes included fear of dentists, horror and sexual harassment. This was all part and parcel of Alice Cooper’s most controversial album. How would critics respond to Billion Dollar Babies?
Ironically, Billion Dollar Babies received some of the best reviews of any Alice Cooper. Critically acclaimed described the reviews. The only criticism was that Billion Dollar Babies lacked an obvious single. That proved not to be the case.
Four singles were reeled from Billion Dollar Babies. Elected was the lead single in 1972, and reached number twenty-six on the US Billboard 100. Hello Hooray then reached thirty-five on the US Billboard 100 1973. No More Mr. Nice Guy reached number twenty-five on the US Billboard 100. The final single was Billion Dollar Babies, which reached number fifty-seven on the US Billboard 100. That didn’t matter though.
When Billion Dollar Babies was released on February 25th 1973, it reached number one in Britain and America. Billion Dollar Babies was certified platinum in America, and gold in Canada. Elsewhere, Billion Dollar Babies reached the top ten everywhere from Australia to Austria, Germany and Norway. In the Netherlands, Billion Dollar Babies reached number one. Alice Cooper had just enjoyed the most successful album of their career. Now they set about touring Billion Dollar Babies.
Following the release of Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper embarked upon an ambitious tour of America. Alice Cooper were all set to play sixty-four dates in fifty-nine cities in ninety days. This tour was meant to gross over $20 million.
Alice Cooper played each night against a set that would put many Hollywood theatres to shame. Each night, between forty and fifty road crew arranged 26,000 pounds of equipment. The list of equipment ran to page after page. Despite this, the concert which veered towards theatre and horror show, grossed only $4 million. This was disappointing for Alice Cooper. Worse was to come. The followup, Muscle Of Love, would prove to be Alice Cooper’s swan-song.
Muscle Of Love.
Following the success of Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper began work on the followup, Muscle Of Love. It marked a change of style and sound. Gone was the theatre of Billion Dollar Babies, to be replaced by a much more back to basics rock ’n’ roll sound of Muscle Of Love.
Recording of Muscle Of Love took place at Sunset Sound, Hollywood, The Record Plant, New York and The Cooper Mansion, Greenwich. That’s where the nine tracks were recorded. They were all cowritten by Alice Cooper. He was forming a successful songwriting partnership with Michael Bruce. They cowrote four songs, and cowrote another four with various songwriting partners. However,one man was missing, producer Bob Erzin.
For the first time since Easy Action, Bob Erzin was missing. The official line was, that he was recovering from an illness. However, later, Dennis Dunaway alleged that Michael Bruce had an argument with Bob Erzin when the producer refused to change the arrangement of Woman Machine. This argument lead to Bob Erzin splitting with Alice Cooper, and Jack Richardson and Jack Douglas replacing him. The result was a concept album, which was far from Alice Cooper’s finest hour.
Just like School’s Out, Muscle Of Love can be loosely described as a concept album. This time, the subject matter Alice Cooper claimed was ”urban sex habits”. Alice Cooper seemed to like to walk on the wild side, and shock conservative middle America. Critics were also shocked. Not at the subject matter, but the quality of the album.
Critics weren’t impressed by The Jack Richardson and Jack Douglas produced Muscle Of Love. Reviews ranged from the good, bad and indifferent. Only Creem gave Muscle Of Love a positive review. They seemed to see something nobody else did.
Muscle Of Love as a mixed bag was, and still is, one of the worst albums in Alice Cooper’s career. It’s down there with Alice Cooper’s sophomore album Easy Action. Neither Jack Richardson nor Jack Douglas were able to replace Bob Erzin. That became clear when Muscle Of Love was released on November 20th 1973.
On its release Muscle Of Love reached number ten on the US Billboard 200, and was certified gold. Elsewhere, Muscle Of Love reached number four in Canada, and was a minor hit in Australia and Britain. It was a disappointing way for the Alice Cooper story to end.
Members of Alice Cooper decided to put the band on hold. This allowed Alice Cooper to forge a career on television. Meanwhile, Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits was released in August 1974, and reached number eight on the US Billboard 200. This stopped people forgetting about Alice Cooper. So did the release of the feature film Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper, which featured footage of the band live. However, by then Alice Cooper were history.
Alice Cooper said farewell during a South American tour, which took place during March and April 1974. One of the highlights of the tour was playing un front of 158,000 fans in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This wasn’t the end of the Alice Cooper story. Far from it.
Alice Cooper returned in 1975, having changed his name officially to Alice Cooper. This meant there were no legal problems for him using his former band’s name. He was now touring as a solo artist, using what was now regarded as his real name, Alice Cooper.
Alice Cooper-The Solo Years.
Welcome To My Nightmare.
Having now embarked upon a solo career, Alice Cooper brought back Bob Erzin. He had been badly missed on Muscle Of Love. He wasn’t just a producer, but a songwriter, keyboardist and confident.
On Welcome To My Nightmare, Bob Erzin cowrote six of the ten tracks with Alice Cooper. He worked with various songwriting partners, including singer, songwriter, musician and ‘musical impresario’ Kim Fowley. Another songwriting partner was Dick Wagner, of Lou Reed’s band.
Many members of Lou Reed’s band accompanied Alice Cooper on Welcome To My Nightmare. It was recorded at the Soundstage, Toronto and the Record Plant, Electric Lady and A&R Studios, New York during the second half of 1974 and early 1975. Once Welcome To My Nightmare was complete, Alice Cooper’s debut solo album was scheduled for release in March 1975.
Prior to the release of Welcome To My Nightmare, critics received a copy of Alice Cooper’s debut album. Just like some of Alice Cooper’s previous albums, it was a concept album. This time, it was a musical journey through the nightmares of a child called Steven. Critics however, weren’t over impressed, and reviews were mixed. One mistake was the horns that punctuated what was a fusion of heavy metal, art rock and classic rock. They were in the wrong movie. However, rescuing the album were Devil’s Food, The Black Widow, Department of Youth and Cold Ethyl. Maybe, this quartet of tracks could kick-start Alice Cooper’s solo career.
Only Woman Bleed was chosen as the lead single from Welcome To My Nightmare, and reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100. Then Department of Youth reached a lowly sixty-seven and Welcome to My Nightmare stalled at forty-five in the US Billboard 100. By then, Welcome to My Nightmare had reached number five in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in the album being certified platinum. Across the border, Welcome To My Nightmare was certified double platinum. Meanwhile, Welcome to My Nightmare was certified platinum in Britain. It looked like Alice Cooper was about to enjoy a long and successful solo career.
Alice Cooper Goes To Hell.
For his sophomore album, Alice Cooper returned to the story of Steven, which began on Welcome To My Nightmare. The next part of the story unfolded on Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.
For Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, eleven tracks were penned. Nine were written by Alice Cooper, Bob Erzin and guitarist Dick Wagner. I Never Cry was penned by Alice Cooper and Dick Wagner; while You Chasing Rainbows was a standard penned by Harry Carroll, Joseph McCarthy. These eleven tracks would be recorded in three studios.
Just like Welcome To My Nightmare, some of Alice Cooper Goes To Hell was recorded at Soundstage, Toronto and at Record Plant, New York. Other sessions took place on the West Coast, at RCA Recording Studios, Los Angeles. Accompanied by a tight, talented band of top session players, and Bob Orzin producing, Alice Cooper recorded his second solo album, Alice Cooper Goes To Hell. It was scheduled for release on June 25th 1976, with an ambitious tour following.
All wasn’t well in Alice Cooper’s personal life. He had been enjoying the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle too much. Now, Alice Cooper was a borderline alcoholic. He revealed this on I Never Cry, which was tantamount to a confession via a rock ballad. This was something Alice Cooper had some success with.
Only Women Bleed, the most successful single from his debut solo album, Welcome To My Nightmare, had been a ballad. He was hoping that lightning would strike twice, when I Never Cry was released as a single. Just like Only Women Bleed, it reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100. This augured well for the release of Alice Cooper Goes To Hell.
Much however, would depend on the critical reception to Alice Cooper Goes To Hell. Just like Welcome To My Nightmare, the reviews of Alice Cooper Goes To Hell were mixed. It seemed that Alice Cooper had struggled to release a cohesive album. Only Billion Dollar Babies was seen as a cohesive album from Alice Cooper. That had been when Alice was with the band. Three years had passed since the release of Billion Dollar Babies. The portents were there.
On the release of Alice Cooper Goes To Hell on June 25th 1976, the album stalled at twenty-seven on the US Billboard 200. It was certified gold. However, these were worrying times.
Especially when Alice Cooper was forced to cancel his 1976 Alice Cooper Goes To Hell tour. He was suffering from Anaemia. Was his lifestyle catching up on Alice Cooper?
Lace and Whiskey.
There was more than a hint that this was the case, in the title of Alice Cooper’s third solo album, Lace and Whiskey. It was a concept album with a difference. Gone was the darkness of previous albums. To replace it, Alice Cooper adopted the persona of heavy drinking, hard living, comedic P.I. Maurice Escargot. Alice Cooper even dresses as P.I. Maurice Escargot on the back of Lace and Whiskey’s album cover.
On the back of Lace and Whiskey was the track listing. There were ten tracks, including eight written by Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner and Bob Ezrin. You and Me was penned by Alice Cooper and Dick Wagner; while Charles Underwood wrote Ubangi Stomp. These ten tracks would be recorded in four studios.
Lace and Whiskey was recorded at Soundstage, Toronto, Record Plant, New York and at RCA Recording Studios, Los Angeles. Other sessions took place a the Producer’s Workshop in L.A. With many of the same top session players that played on Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, Bob Orzin got to work producing, Alice Cooper’s third solo album, Lace and Whiskey.
April 29, 1977 was when Lace and Whiskey would be released. However, by then, critics had quite rightly, torn Lace and Whiskey to shreds. Essentially, Lace and Whiskey was a rock album. However, sometimes, Alice Cooper seemed to flit between genres. This included on the easy listening ballad You and Me, and the disco tinged No More) Love at Your Convenience. Neither could be described as Alice Cooper’s finest moment. Indeed, Lace and Whiskey was the worst album of Alice Cooper’s solo career…so far.
The lead single from Lace and Whiskey was You and Me, which somehow, reached number nine in the US Billboard 100. Then Lace and Whiskey reached just forty-two in the US Billboard 200. There neither a platinum nor gold disc this time round. Despite this, Alice Cooper embarked on his King of the Silver Screen tour.
It started off in the summer of 1977, and saw Alice Cooper return to the theatre of previous tours. There were even commercials between some of the songs. So popular was the tour, that it returned in the summer of 1978, when it was renamed the School’s Out For Summer tour. By then, Alice Cooper had climbed into, and out a bottle.
From The Inside.
In 1978, Alice Cooper celebrated his thirtieth birthday. Over the last couple of years, he had been to hell and back. He spent time in a psychiatric hospital, in an attempt to cure his alcoholism. This experience he revisited on what would become his fourth solo album, From The Inside.
For From The Inside, there was a change in songwriting partnership. The lyrics to six songs were penned by Alice Cooper and Bernie Taupin; while Dick Wagner and Alice wrote the music. Alice cowrote the other four tracks with various songwriting partners, including Dick Wagner and David Foster who cowrote the title-track. One name missing, was Bob Erzin.
The man who had been at Alice Cooper’s side for the best years of his career was missing. The last time Bob was absent, had proved disastrous, when 1973s Muscle Of Love proved to be the Alice Cooper band’s swan-song. Bob Erzin’s replacement was David Foster. Could he fill the void left by Bob Erzin?
David Foster and Bernie Taupin weren’t the only new names. Guitarist Davey Johnstone and bassist Dee Murray had previously been members of Elton John’s band. They joined Alice Cooper’s band to record an album that veered between classic rock to heavy rock and a much more poppy sound. Then there was the power ballad How You Gonna See Me Now? It was later chosen would as the lead single, and reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100. Before that, critics had their say on From The Inside.
Reviews of From The Inside ranged from mixed to favourable. This was an improvement on the disastrous Lace and Whiskey. However, still, Alice Cooper hadn’t released an album that was cohesive. From The Inside was still a mixed bag of songs.
This became apparent when From The Inside was released in November 1978. It stalled at number sixty in the US Billboard 200. Then when From The Inside was released as a single, it failed to chart. For Alice Cooper, this was a disaster. Those within the music industry wondered if Alice Cooper’s career was at a crossroads?
Despite the musings of critics and industry insiders, Alice Cooper headed out on the Madhouse Rocks Tour, which followed the release of From The Inside. From February to April 1979, Alice Cooper toured America, hoping that this would improve sales of From The Inside. That wasn’t to be, and Alice Cooper wouldn’t release another album until 1980.
Flush The Fashion.
After the Madhouse Rocks Tour finished in April 1979, Alice Cooper’s thoughts turned to recording his next album. It was a time of change for Alice Cooper.
Not only did Flush The Fashion sees a stylistic change from Alice Cooper. His music veered from classic rock to hard rock and even new wave. This was a first, but showed that Alice Cooper was determined to move with the times. To help him do that, he brought onboard new songwriting partners.
Six of the ten tracks on Flush The Fashion were credited to Alice Cooper, Davey Johnstone and Fred Mandel. Alice Cooper also cowrote Dance Yourself to Death with Frank Crandall. Along with a small, tight band, featuring just four musicians, Alice Cooper recorded his first album of the eighties, Flush The Fashion. It was released on April 28th 1980.
By then, it had been a long time since Alice Cooper had enjoyed a successful album. Gold and platinum discs were a thing of the past. According to critics, that would be the case for the foreseeable future. Flush The Fashion was a decidedly average album, featuring the good, the bad and the mediocre. That became apparent when Flush The Fashion was released.
Before that, Clones (We’re All) was released as the lead single, but reached just forty in the US Billboard 100. Then Talk Talk failed to chart. When Flush The Fashion was released, it stalled at forty-four in the US Billboard 200. This was disappointing. However, a small crumb of comfort came when Flush The Fashion was certified gold in Canada. Maybe Alice Cooper’s luck was changing?
By the time, Alice Cooper began recording Special Forces, he should’ve been buoyed by Flush The Fashion being certified gold in Canada. However, he was living a lie. Alice was in the throes of cocaine addiction. He was hopelessly addicted. So much so, that he recorded three albums, and can’t remember doing so. The first was Special Forces.
For the recording of Special Forces, Alice Cooper’s band had expanded to five. This included Duane Hitchings, who cowrote four songs with Alice. The pair also cowrote Vicious Rumours with two other members of the band, Erik Scott and Mike Pinera. In total, Alice Cooper cowrote nine of the ten tracks on Special Forces. The other track was a cover of Arthur Lee’s Love classic Seven and Seven Is. This track, and the rest Special Forces was produced by another new producer, Richard Podolor, who previously, had produced Three Dog Night and Stepponwolf. Could he rejuvenate Alice Cooper’s career.
The answer to that was no. Special Forces received mixed reviews. Stylistically, it was similar to Flush The Fashion, flitting between classic rock, hard rock and new wave. Just like Flush The Fashion, Special Forces was another decidedly average album. It was a long time since Alice Cooper had released an album that had critics reaching for superlatives. With each album, he seemed more like yesterday’s man. However, this wasn’t surprising.
Special Forces was the first of a trio of what Alice Cooper refers to as his “blackout albums.” So far in throes of addiction was Alice Cooper, that he can’t remember Special Forces. He probably can’t remember on The Tomorrow Show dressed in military fatigues. Alice Cooper looked gaunt, and a lot older than thirty-three. Viewers worried that this was a story without a happy ending.
When Special Forces was released in September 1981, it reached just 125 in the US Billboard 200. Elsewhere, Special Forces bombed. For Alice Cooper, and executives at Warner Bros., these were worrying times.
Despite that, Alice Cooper toured Special Forces. In Canada, Alice Cooper arrived onstage late. The Canadian audience, who had always been loyal to Alice Cooper, took umbrage. A riot ensued, and the show was cancelled. With sales slow and Alice Cooper’s asthma worsening, the tour finished in February 1982, and Alice Cooper didn’t tour again for four more years.
Zipper Catches Skin.
Following the end of his tour in February 1982, Alice Cooper began to think about what was his fourteenth album since 1969. Incredibly, he was only thirty-four. That was hard to believe. Alice Cooper looked ten years older. His lifestyle was catching up on him. It was also affecting his music. That had been apparent for a while. However, most of the time, Alice Cooper could remember recording an album. Special Forces was the first time that Alice Cooper recorded an album and can’t remember doing so. Zipper Catches Skin was the second in Alice Cooper’s “blackout” trilogy.
Stylistically, Zipper Catches Skin featured several changes in direction. Apart from the classic rock, hard rock and new wave of his last two albums, Alice Cooper added elements of pop punk and post punk. However, Alice Cooper had gotten to the post punk party late.
Other bands had pioneered the post punk sound from 1977 onwards. For Alice Cooper, however, post punk was new. He wanted to avoid the cliches that other post punk artists resorted to, on what would be lean, mean, stripped back songs.
Aiding and abetting Alice Cooper, were Billy Steele, Erik Scott and John Nazzinger. They penned Zorro’s Ascent. The Alice Cooper, John Nitzinger and Erik Scott songwriting team cowrote I Like Girls, Remarkably Insincere and Tag, You’re It. These songs were high on the sarcasm count. Make That Money (Scrooge’s Song and No Baloney Homosapiens was a track from the old songwriting partnership of Alice Cooper and Dick Wagner. They joined with Erik Scott to pen I Better Be Good and I’m Alive (That Was the Day My Dead Pet Returned to Save My Life). Along with a cover of Gary Osborn and Lalo Schifrin’s I Am The Future, these ten tracks became Zipper Catches Skin.
This time around, Alice Cooper’s band had expanded. Joining the rhythm section were four guitarists, a synth player, percussionist and backing vocalists. However, this was no ordinary band. They were tight, talented and determined to rejuvenate Alice Cooper’s career. That however, was easier said than done.
Midway through the recording of Zipper Catches Skin, Dick Wagner had enough. He didn’t like what he saw, and left. Dick described Zipper Catches Skin as an: “off to the races speedy album” and a “drug induced nightmare.” Many thought that he was exaggerating. However, he was later vindicated when the documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper was released and showed Alice Cooper smoking crack cocaine during the Zipper Catches Skin. No wonder Dick Wagner exited stage left. By then, Alice Cooper was coproducer of the second “blackout” album.
Zipper Catches Skin was being produced by Alice Cooper and Erik Scott; with Steve Tyrell producing I Am The Future. Despite this latest change in producer, still Alice Cooper wasn’t able to reach the heights of his debut album. Again, Zipper Catches Skin lacked cohesion, and was another mixed bag of songs. There were some good songs on the album. However, they were in the minority. This became apparent when Zipper Catches Skin released on August 25th 1982.
Despite Alice Cooper appearing on a television commercial for Zipper Catches Skin, it became the first album since Easy Action not to chart. Zipper Catches Skin was a long way from the days of million selling albums. Executives at Warner Bros. and critics wondered if these days were gone for good?
For Alice Cooper’s fifteenth album, Bob Erzin returned to try and reduce his old friend’s career. Six years had passed since the pair had worked together. Since then, Alice Cooper’s career had hit the buffers. Making a bad situation even worse, was that Alice Cooper had started drinking again. After several years sober, Alice Cooper had fallen off the wagon. He was showing no sign of climbing back onboard. This made the recording of DaDa hard work.
Despite seeing things that scared him away from the Zipper Catches Skin sessions, Dick Wagner returned. He collaborated with Alice Cooper and Bob Erzin on Former Lee Warmer, No Man’s Land, Scarlet and Sheba and Fresh Blood. The trio also cowrote Enough’s Enough, Dyslexia and I Love America with Graham Shaw. However, it was Bob Erzin who wrote the title track, which opened DaDa. Fittingly, Alice and Dick Wagner penned Pass The Gun Around, which closed DaDa. It was produced by Bob Erzin, who guided what was an experienced band through the recording of Alice Cooper’s fifteenth album, DaDa.
Just like many previous Alice Cooper album, DaDa is best described as a concept album of sorts. Thematically, DaDa is somewhat weak. It appears that the album’s central character Sonny, suffers from mental illness. This manifests itself in a personality disorder; and various personalities emerge through the album. Dada, which came complete with a Dadaist cover, was critics believed, a marginally better album than the two previous “blackout” albums. That was ironic.
Alice Cooper’s contract with Warner Bros. was almost at an end in 1983, when he released DaDa on September 28th 1983. It flitted between avant garde and experimental to classic rock, new wave and hard rock. However, Warner Bros., who had almost lost patience with Alice Cooper, didn’t seem to spend much promoting DaDa. This showed, when DaDa failed to chart. This was an ignominious end to Alice Cooper’s Warner Bros. years.
After fourteen years and fifteen albums, Alice Cooper’s Warner Bros. years were over. DaDa was the last album Alice Cooper released until 1986. During that three year sabbatical, Alice Cooper made every effort to get clean. This resulted in a brief resurgence in Alice Cooper’s career between 1986 and 1991. However, for many people, the best period of Alice Cooper’s career came between 1971s Love It To Death and 1973s Billion Dollar Babies. During that period, the four albums Alice Cooper released were all certified platinum in America. Even the Alice Cooper band’s swan-song, the rock ’n’ roll inspired Muscle Of Love was certified gold. Then when Alice Cooper embarked upon a solo career, things looked so promising.
1975s Welcome To My Nightmare was certified platinum, and Alice Cooper Goes To Hell was certified gold in America. These two albums were the finest albums of Alice Cooper’s Warner Bros. years. Other albums lack the quality of these albums. They’re mixed bags, ranging from the good, bad and indifferent. Even Alice Cooper’s trilogy of “blackout” albums feature some hidden gems. Even on his worst albums, there’s something worth hearing. It seems even in his darkest hour, Alice Cooper could produce something guaranteed to grab the listener’s attention. However, the best music of Alice Cooper’s career was released between 1971 and 1973 and includes a quartet of albums that includes Love It To Death, Killer, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies. They’re without doubt, the best of Alice Cooper’s Warner Bros. Years.
ALICE COOPER-THE WARNER BROS YEARS 1969-1983.
DEEP PURPLE-DEEP PURPLE IN ROCK-VINYL LIMITED EDITION.
Without doubt, the golden era for rock music was the seventies. That was when rock music came of age. It’s certainly when commercial success and critical acclaim came the way of Deep Purple. Between 1970 and 1975 Deep Purple enjoyed worldwide success. The album that started this run of commercial success was Deep Purple In Rock. It was recently reissued on marbled vinyl by Harvest as part of their Vinyl Collector series. Only 1,000 copies of Deep Purple In Rock were produced, and a reminder of one the most successful and hardest rocking groups of the seventies in their heyday.
Vying with Deep Purple for the title of Kings of seventies rock were Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Just like Deep Purple, they were hugely successful and hard rocking bands. They were also the hardest living living rock groups. This lead to them being known as the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.” The three groups seemed proud of their infamy, and wore it like a badge.
The “unholy trinity’s” penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. Excess and extravagance was an everyday occurrence. Similarly, chaos and carnage was omnipresent as the “unholy trinity” toured the world. Each group seemed to determined to outdo the other. Hotel rooms were wrecked, televisions thrown out of windows and copious amounts of drink and drugs consumed. This would ultimately come at a human cost later in the seventies with the death of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Until then, the party continued; and the “unholy trinity” continued to make what would be remembered as some of the best, and most memorable music of the seventies. They were living the dream. Especially Deep Purple, who had only been formed in 1968.
Deep Purple were formed in 1968 in Hertford. However, the story begins in 1967. That was when ex-Searchers drummer, Chris Curtis, contacted London based businessman, Tony Edwards, with a business proposition. Chris wanted to create a supergroup which he would name Roundabout. The idea behind the name was that the lineup was fluid. Members would come and go, on what was akin to a musical roundabout. Tony Edwards liked the idea and brought onboard Jon Coletta and Ron Hire. They named their new venture Hire-Edwards-Coletta (HEC) Enterprises. Now with financial backing, Chris Curtis started putting together Roundabout.
The first member of Roundabout was Jon Lord, a classically trained organist. He’d previously played with The Artwoods. Guitarist Richie Blackmore, who recently, had been working as a session musician is Hamburg auditioned. He too joined Roundabout. So did bassist Nick Simper, whose most recent band was The Flower Pot Men. Nick was a friend of Richie Blackmore. The two other members of Roundabout were also friends. Rod Evans was recruited as the lead vocalists. Previously, he was a member The Maze. Their drummer was Nick Paice. Nick became the final piece in the jigsaw. However, he was not the first choice drummer.
Originally, Bobby Woodman was meant to be Roundabout’s drummer. He was drummer when Rod Evans auditioned as vocalist. Richie Blackmore had seen Nick Paice playing before. Although just eighteen, Richie knew Nick Paice was a good drummer. So when Bobby headed out to buy cigarettes, Nick Paice was auctioned. Instantly, everyone realised Nick Paice was a better drummer. When Bobby returned with his cigarettes, he was no longer Roundabout’s drummer. However, at least Roundabout’s lineup was settled. Or so people thought.
Roundabout were kitted out with the finest equipment and lived at Deeves House in South Mimms, Hertfordshire. This was their home during March 1968. That was, until they headed out on a short tour of Denmark and Sweden. It was during this tour that Roundabout became Deep Purple.
It was Richie Blackmore that came up with the name Deep Purple. This was the name of his grandmother’s favourite song. That was the name he wrote on the blackboard, when everyone was asked to choose a new name for the nascent band. Deep Purple wasn’t the favourite though. That was Concrete God. However, the members of Roundabout decided against it. They felt the name was too harsh. So Roundabout became Deep Purple and began recording their debut album in May 1968.
Shades Of Deep Purple.
When Deep Purple entered Pye Studios, in Marble Arch, London Deep Purple in May 1968, they’d chosen ten songs for their debut album Shades Of Deep Purple. Seven songs were written by members of Deep Purple. The other three songs were cover versions. This included Joe South’s Hush, Lennon and McCartney’s Help! and Joe Roberts’ Hey Joe which is synonymous with Jimi Hendrix. These ten songs were recorded by the original version of Deep Purple. This included vocalist Rod Evans, drummer Ian Paice, bassists Nick Simper, organist Jon Lord and guitarist Richie Blackmore. Producing Shades Of Deep Purple was a friend of Richie’s, Derek Lawrence. Once Shades Of Deep Purple was recorded, it was released later in 1969
When critics heard Shades Of Deep Purple they weren’t impressed. Reviews were mostly negative. Since then, critics have rewritten history and most reviews of Shades Of Deep Purple are positive. Back in 1968, things were very different. Shades Of Deep Purple was perceived as unfocused. It was a mix of psychedelia, progressive rock, pop rock and thanks to Richie’s guitar riffs, hard rock. That was why many critics disliked Shades Of Deep Purple. Record buyers had different ideas about Shades Of Deep Purple,
Shades Of Deep Purple was released in July 1968 in America. It reached number twenty-four in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was no doubt helped by Hush reaching number four in the US Billboard 100 charts. Two months later, Shades Of Deep Purple reached number fourteen in Britain. For Deep Purple their debut album had been a commercial success and their lives transformed.
After the commercial success of the single Hush and Shades Of Deep Purple, Deep Purple were booked into a gruelling tour of America. Their American record company, Tetragrammaton, decided that Deep Purple should record another album. So Deep Purple headed into the recording studio in September 1968 to record The Book of Taliesyn.
The Book of Taliesyn.
Time was against Deep Purple. There wasn’t long before their American tour began. Deep Purple only had five new songs written. They had to rely upon cover versions to complete The Book of Taliesyn. Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Lennon and McCartney’s We Can Work It Out and River Deep, Mountain High completed The Book of Taliesyn. It was released in America in December 1968,
Just like Shades Of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn was a mixture of psychedelia and progressive rock. The only difference was it had a harder edge. Deep Purple’s trademark sound was evolving. Critics seemed to prefer The Book of Taliesyn. It received a much more favourable reception from critics. This was also the case upon the release of The Book of Taliesyn.
Released in December 1968, The Book of Taliesyn reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 200. Two singles were released in America. Kentucky Woman reached number thirty eight in the US Billboard 100 charts. Then River Deep, Mountain High stalled at number fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 charts. The Book of Taliesyn charted in Canada and Japan. It seemed word was spreading about Deep Purple. However, in Britain, The Book of Taliesyn failed to chart. That wasn’t the only problem Deep Purple would have.
By 1969, Deep Purple were becoming a tight, talented band. Onstage and in the studio, they were growing and evolving. This included as songwriters. Although they’d only been together just over a year, they were a much better band. They’d released two albums and toured constantly. There was a problem though. Which direction should their music take?
Some members of Deep Purple wanted their music to take on a rawer, harder sound. This didn’t please everyone. Lead vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper were in the minority. Organist Jon Lord, guitarist Richie Blackmore and drummer Nick Paice wanted the band to change direction. With the band split, this wasn’t the best way to prepare for the recording of their third album Deep Purple.
For Deep Purple, the band were keen to turn their back on cover versions. Deep Purple only featured one cover version, Donavon’s Lalena. The eight tracks were all written by members of Deep Purple. Just like their first two albums, Deep Purple would be produced by Derek Lawrence.
Recording of Deep Purple took place during a two-month tour. Deep Purple had ensured they had some free days where they could record their third album during January and March 1969. Recording took place at the De Lane Lea Studio, London. They were familiar with the De Lane Lea Studio. Previously, Deep Purple had rerecorded The Bird Has Flown there. So, they were familiar with the room. This allowed Deep Purple to work quickly. With their reputation in America growing, Deep Purple wanted their eponymous album released as soon as possible.
As soon as Deep Purple was recorded, Deep Purple jumped on a plane and headed back to America. They rejoined the tour of the country that had claimed them as their own. There was a problem though. Tetragrammaton, Deep Purple’s American label hadn’t pressed the album. Worse than that, the label had financial problems. Within a year, they would be insolvent and filing for bankruptcy. Already, this was affecting Deep Purple. Their manager John Colleta headed home. He decided that this would save on a hotel room. Things it seemed, couldn’t get any worse for Deep Purple.
On the release of Deep Purple in June 1969, the album had a harder sound. Elements of blues, progressive rock and heavy metal combined on seven tracks. The exception was The Bird Has Flown. It veered off in the direction of classical music. Mostly, though, Deep Purple’s trademark sound was evolving. How would critics and fans respond to Deep Purple?
Given the problems with Tetragrammaton, it’s no surprise that Deep Purple wasn’t a commercial success. Tetragrammaton couldn’t afford to promote Deep Purple properly. Despite generally positive reviews from critics, Deep Purple stalled at 162 in the US Billboard 200 charts. It failed to chart in the UK on its release in November 1969. At least Deep Purple charted in Japan. Things looked up when Deep Purple was certified gold in Germany. That was the only good news Deep Purple enjoyed.
The tension that was within Deep Purple bubbled over after the release of their third album. This lead to vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper being replaced. In came vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Little did anyone realise that this would later, be perceived as the classic lineup of Deep Purple. It was also the lineup that recorded the album that saw Deep Purple make a commercial breakthrough in Britain, Deep Purple In Rock.
Deep Purple In Rock.
With their new lineup, Deep Purple Mk II entered the studio for the second time. They made their recording debut on Concerto for Group and Orchestra which was a collaboration between Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. However, Deep Purple In Rock was the start of a new era in Deep Purple’s history.
Recording of Deep Purple In Rock took place at IBC, De Lane Lea and Abbey Road Studios. A total of seven songs were recorded. They were written by Deep Purple. These seven songs showcased the new Deep Purple. The music was heavier and more like what would be seen as their classic sound. This was essentially hard rock or heavy metal. It was after the success of Deep Purple In Rock that lead to Deep Purple being referred to as the third member of the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.
Deep Purple released Deep Purple In Rock on 3rd June 1970. This was Deep Purple’s first album to be released to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. It was the first Deep Purple album to reach the top ten in Britain. Deep Purple In Rock reached number four in Britain. In America, Deep Purple In Rock only reached number 143 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Elsewhere, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge commercial success worldwide.
From Europe to Argentina, America and Japan, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge success. This resulted in gold discs for Deep Purple in America, Argentina, Britain, France and Holland. For Deep Purple, Deep Purple In Rock was a game-changer. Their decision to change direction musically was vindicated. Now, Deep Purple were one of the biggest bands in rock music. This was apparent on Deep Purple In Rock.
Speed King explodes into life, opening Deep Purple In Rock. Deep Purple’s rhythm section are at the heart of the action. Ian Paice’s drums crack and pound, and with Roger Glover’s bass, drives the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Ritchie Blackmore unleashes a blistering, searing guitar. Ian Gillan delivers a powerhouse of a vocal on this slice of good time rock. This gives way Jon Lord’s psychedelic keyboard solo. Then a scorching guitar solo is unleashed at breakneck speed. When Ian’s vocal returns, briefly, he pays homage to Little Richard with a burst of Tutti Fruti. By then Deep Purple are in full flight. It’s an impressive sound, as one of the “unholy trinity” kick loose, and showcase their considerable talents before reaching a dramatic crescendo.
Just Ritchie Blackmore’s crunchy guitar opens Bloodsucker. It’s played with speed and precision before the rhythm section join the fray. So does Ian Gillan’s powerful vocal. He’s always in control. Even when his vocal gives way to a vamp that’s reminiscent of Jimmy Page. By then, Deep Purple are in full flight. Ian is swaggering and strutting his way through the lyrics. When his vocal drops out midway through the song, Jon Lord’s keyboards and Richie’s guitar take centre-stage. They unleash peerless solos as they feed off each other. This inspires the rest of Deep Purple. Somehow they raise their game. A hard Deep Purple are accompanied by a machine gun, vampish vocal from Ian. It’s the finishing touch to this swaggering slice of glorious über hard rock.
Understated keyboards open Child In Time. They’re played slowly and thoughtfully, taking care not to overpower Ian Gillan’s vocal. It’s tender and heartfelt, but grows in power and passion. When the vocal drops out, the rhythm section and cooing harmonies combine. Soon, though, Ian’s vocal becomes a powerful vamp as the momentum grows. Ian Paice sprays machine gun drums before Ritchie Blackmore unleashes a blistering, rapid fire guitar licks. By then, the arrangement is galloping along, all the time, gathering speed. It’s akin to a jam now. Deep Purple enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs. Jon Lord’s keyboard solo goes toe-to-toe with Richie’s guitar. That’s until the arrangement almost grinds to a halt. Then keyboards begin to rebuild the arrangement. They’re joined by Ian’s vocal, which is a mixture of drama and theatre. Later, harmonies add to the drama as the arrangement builds, before this ten minute hard rocking opus reaches a dramatic ending.
From the get-go, Deep Purple are rocking hard and fast on Flight Of The Rat. The rhythm section power the arrangement along, while scorching, blistering licks are unleashed. Ian Gillan delivers another swaggering vocal. By then, he had established himself as one of the top rock vocalists. Similarly, Ritchie Blackmore was one of the top rock guitarists, and his ability to play with speed, precision and accuracy is highlighted here. The same can be said of keyboardist Jon Lord. Meanwhile, the rhythm section anchor the arrangement, as Richie unleashes a succession of machine gun licks. There’s even a few funky licks thrown in for good measure. Then after the song almost grinds to a halt, Deep Purple are off and running. Drummer Ian Paice and Richie on guitar enjoy their moment in the spotlight, before the group reunite. They head for the big finish on what’s another epic track.
The rhythm section and guitar combine on Into The Fire. It’s slower than previous tracks, but is just as rocky and heavy. Especially as Ian Gillan delivers a gravelly, vocal powerhouse. Behind him, the deliberate arrangement features Deep Purple at their heaviest. Later when the vocal vocal drops out, a scorching guitar sits atop, the chugging arrangement. When Ian returns, he continues to unleash what’s one of his best, and most powerful vocals, as Deep Purple seamlesly fuse elements of blues, psychedelia and rock.
Drums set the scene on Living Wreck, before washes of psychedelic organ and scorching guitars enter the fray. They’re joined by another lived-in, throaty vocal from Ian Gillan. When his vocal drops out, washes and flourishes of keyboards join the rhythm section and scorching guitar. Midway through the track, the bass and keyboards add an element of darkness while searing guitars cut through the arrangement. Later, Ian who sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics, delivers a vocal masterclass. Then keyboardist Jon Lord steps forward and unleashes a breathtaking performance. His keyboards play an important part in the sound and success of Living Wreck, which is a truly timeless track.
Hard Lovin’ Man closes Deep Purple In Rock. Dramatic, rocky flourishes are followed by machine gun guitars and psychedelic keyboards. They’re joined by thunderous bursts that come courtesy of the hard rocking rhythm section. Equally hard rocking is Ian Gillan powerhouse of a vocal. Again, it’s reminiscent of Jimmy Page as it soars above the arrangement becoming vampish. By then, the arrangement is galloping along. Richie Blackmore unleashing guitar licks like a gunslinger. Jon Lord’s keyboards have a sixties sounds as he plays them with speed and precision. Sometimes he stabs at them, and they wail like a siren. Later, a searing guitar solo cuts through the galloping arrangement. It became a jam, before Ian’s vocal returns. Just like the rest of Deep Purple, he plays the role of Hard Lovin’ Man to a tee, as they take their bow on Deep Purple In Rock.
Although Deep Purple In Rock was Deep Purple’s fourth album, it was the album that transformed their career. Before Deep Purple In Rock, the only success the band had enjoyed was a gold disc in Germany for their third album Deep Purple in 1969. A year later, Deep Purple In Rock was released to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. It reached number four in Britain, but only reached number 143 in the US Billboard 200 charts. However, elsewhere, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge commercial success worldwide.
From Europe to Argentina, America and Japan, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge success. This resulted in gold discs for Deep Purple in America, Argentina, Britain, France and Holland. For Deep Purple, Deep Purple In Rock was a game-changer. Their decision to change direction musically was vindicated. Now, Deep Purple were one of the biggest bands in rock music. This success lasted until 1975.
Following Deep Purple In Rock, Deep Purple released another six albums between 1971 and 1975. These albums saw Deep Purple become one of the biggest bands in the world. This started when 1971s Fireball reached number one in Britain and thirty-two in the US Billboard 200. As a result, Fireball was certified gold in Germany, Holland and America. However, this was just the start.
Having made a breakthrough in America, Machine Head was released in March 1972. It reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in Britain. Across the English Channel, Machine Head was certified gold three times in France. In Argentina, Machine Head was certified platinum. However, Machine Head was most successful in America, where it was certified double-platinum. However, this wasn’t the end of Deep Purple’s commercial success during 1972.
On its release in December 1972, Made In Japan reached number fifteen in Britain and was certified gold. Made In Japan reached number one in Austria, Germany and Canada. In Norway, Made In Japan reached number seven. Then in April 1973, Made In Japan reached number six in the US Billboard 200. For Deep Purple, this resulted in even more gold and platinum discs.
Across the word, Made In Japan was a commercial success. After being certified gold in Britain, it was then certified gold in France. Made In Japan was then certified platinum in America, Austria, Germany and Italy. In Argentina, Made In Japan was certified double platinum. Just four years after they first formed, Deep Purple were one of the most successful rock bands in the world. This was set to continue.
When Who Do We Think We Are was released in January 1973, it reached number four in Britain and number fifteen in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in gold discs in America and France. Compared with Deep Purple’s recent success this was seemed slightly disappointing. To make matters worse, vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover left the band after Who Do We Think We Are. Deep Purple’s career looked like it was at a crossroads.
It wasn’t. The two departing members of Deep Purple were soon replaced. A then unknown David Coverdale became Deep Purple’s vocalist. Glen Hughes of Trapeze took over as bassist. They had big shoes to fill. However, with the help of the remaining members of Deep Purple, managed to do so during 1974. It was one of the busiest years of Deep Purple’s career.
Burn was the first of two album Deep Purple released during 1974. On its released in February 1974, it reached number three in Britain and number nine in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in gold discs in America, Argentina, Britain, France, Germany and Sweden. Then when Stormbringer was released in November 1974, it became apparent that Deep Purple had incorporated elements of soul and funk in their music. Despite this, Stormbringer reached number six in Britain and number twenty in the US Billboard 200. Stormbringer was certified gold in America,, Britain, France and Sweden. 1974 had been one of the most successful years of Deep Purple’s career. Sadly, 1975 was the beginning of the end.
When Deep Purple’s tenth album Come Taste The Band was released in October 1975, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had left the band. Replacing him on the album was Tommy Bolin. With this latest change to the lineup, Come Taste the Band still reached number nineteen in Britain and forty-three in the US Billboard 200. Come Taste The Band was certified silver in Britain, and gold in Argentina and Czech Republic. While Come Taste The Band didn’t match the success of previous albums, that was the least of Deep Purple’s worries.
Following the release of Come Taste The Band, David Coverdale and Glen Hughes left to form Whitesnake. This lead to Deep Purple splitting up in 1976. However, Deep Purple reformed in 1984. This lasted until 1994, before Steve Morse revived the Deep Purple name. However, Deep Purple never again enjoyed the commercial success they enjoyed between 1970 and 1975.
Deep Purple’s breakthrough album was Deep Purple In Rock in 1970. This was the start of five years of commercial success and critical acclaim. During that period, Deep Purple challenged Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath for supremacy as most successful and hard rocking band. There was also another competition going on. This was to see which of the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal” was the hardest living band. It was a close fought and hard won contest.
Over the years, Deep Purple’s penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. It came with the territory. This was after all, rock ’n’ roll during the early seventies. Chaos and carnage was omnipresent and expected as Deep Purple toured the world. This never seemed to affect Deep Purple’s music. Proof if any is needed, is Deep Purple In Rock. It features Deep Purple at their hard rocking, hard living best.
DEEP PURPLE-DEEP PURPLE IN ROCK-VINYL LIMITED EDITION.
BOO HEWERDINE-BORN E.P.
Music courses through Boo Hewerdine’s veins. It always has. The first job Boo Hewerdine had, was working in the warehouse of Andy’s Records in Bury St. Edmunds. However, Boo Hewerdine always had ambition beyond working in a record shop.
This first materialised when he formed his first band with a friend. Placebo Thing may have been a short-lived band, but it gave Boo a tantalising taste of life as a musician. Suddenly, he wanted to be making records rather than selling them.
The Great Divide.
Fortunately, he didn’t have long wait. Boo Hewerdine joined The Great Divide in the early eighties. They were another local band, but one that looked as if they were going places.
By 1982, The Great Divide had signed to a local Cambridge label, Wimp Records. Twenty-one year old Boo Hewerdine made his debut on the single Who Broke the Love Bank. Not long after this, The Great Divide caught a break, when Mike Scott of The Waterboys heard the band.
He thought that The Great Divide had potential, so recommended them Ensign Records. Executives at Ensign Records agreed, and signed The Great Divide. They went on to release a trio of singles on Ensign Records. Alas, commercial success eluded these singles. By 1985, Boo Hewerdine was back it all started for him.
With The Great Divide consigned to musical history, Boo Hewerdine was back working in a record shop in 1985. This time, Boo Hewerdine was behind the counter of the Beat Goes On record shop in Cambridge. While this allowed Boo to be around music, he hadn’t given up on his dream of making a living as a musician. So when Boo met jazz drummer Tony Shepherd, it looked like his time behind the counter could be coming to an end.
Originally, Tony Shepherd was a jazz drummer when he met Boo Hewerdine. While Tony sat in with other bands, like Boo, he was between bands. So the pair decided to form a new band, and The Bible were born. They drafted in Kevin Flanagan another former member of The Great Divide. Before long, The Great Divide began to make an impression locally.
Soon, The Great Divide were a popular band locally. They had quickly acquired a cult following. Word began to spread further afield about this new band from Cambridge. This was through word-of-mouth. So it was no surprise that a record company decided to sign The Great Divide.
The label that signed The Great Divide was Black Records, a Norwich based independent label. They released The Great Divide’s 1986 debut album Walking The Ghost Back Home. It reached number ten in the UK Indie Charts, and featured two hit singles. Graceland reached number eighty-seven in UK charts, before Mahalia reached number fifteen in the UK Indie Charts. Given the success of Walking The Ghost Back Home, it was no surprise that bigger record labels started to take an interest The Great Divide.
Eventually, The Great Divide decided to sign to Chrysalis. They began work on their sophomore album Eureka. The Great Divide had decided to produce the album with Pete Smith and Owen Morris. However, the initial sessions proved unsatisfactory for the band. It was then that their management suggested bringing country rocker Steve Earle onboard to produce Eureka. This worked, and the album was scheduled for release in 1988.
Prior to the release, the reviews of Eureka were positive. Despite this, the album stalled at just seven-one in the UK. For everyone involved, this was disappointing, considering how popular The Bible were. Surely this was a blip?
Just a year later, The Bible enjoyed the most successful single of their career. A rerecorded version of Graceland reached fifty-one in the UK. It looked like things were improving for them. Then Honey Be Good reached fifty-four in the UK. However, when The Bible released their third album Dodo, it failed to chart. Things were set to get even worse.
A year later, and The Bible split-up in 1990. After five years together, and a lineup that’s best described as fluid, it looked like the end of the road for The Bible. It wasn’t.
Since then, The Bible have reformed twice. The first time came in 1994, and the second in 2011. However, then Boo Hewerdine was a successful solo artist.
Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith-Evidence.
Once The Bible split-up, Boo Hewerdine decided to concentrate on his solo career. He knew the direction his career was heading. A meeting a year earlier had influenced the direction his music was about to head in.
This meeting took place in 1989, while The Bible were still together. That was when an A&R executive introduced him to New Country singer Darden Smith. The two realising they had much in common, decided to write and record an album together. Time was short though.
Somehow, Darden Smith and Boo Hewerdine managed to write and record an album in just nine days. This album became Evidence, which was released to critical acclaim in 1989. This was the first, but not the last time Boo would collaborate with other artists. By then, he would be a solo.
The Solo Years.
Now that The Bible had split-up, Boo Hewerdine embarked upon a solo career. This solo career began in 1990. Since then, Boo has released eight albums and a string of E.P.s. This includes the Born E.P. It was recently released by Reveal Records, and was a very personal record for Boo. He wrote the five songs at his father’s piano with his son Ben. The Born E.P is a welcome addition to Boo’s burgeoning discography.
Two years after the demise of The Bible, Boo Hewerdine released his debut album Ignorance in 1992. Critical acclaim accompanied the release Ignorance. It was a much anticipated and highly accomplished album of carefully crafted songs. However, three years would pass before the followup was released.
The reason for the delay, was that by then, Boo Hewerdine was writing for other artists. This included writing for Eddi Reader and Clive Gregson’s 1993 album Wonderful Lie. Since then, Boo has written songs for many successful artists, including KD Lang, Kris Drever, David McAlmont, Natalie Imbruglia and Alex Parks. However, this sometimes curtailed his ability to release albums quickly.
It wasn’t until 1995 that Boo Hewerdine returned with his sophomore album Worlds End. Just like Ignorance, praise and plaudits accompanied the release of World’s End. Buoyed by the response and success of World’s End, Boo released Baptist Hospital in 1996. Some critics felt that was the best album of Boo’s career. With album he seemed to be maturing and growing as a singer and songwriter. Like a fine wine, Boo was maturing with age.
So when Nick Hornby was looking for someone to write the soundtrack to the film adaptation of his book Fever Pitch, Boo got the call. The film was released in 1997, the same year that the film Twenty Four Seven was released. Boo and Neil MacColl had written the soundtrack. The other soundtrack that Boo penned for the television film Our Boy. For Boo, writing for film and television was a whole new world, and one he would return to later. Before that, Boo released a new solo album.
Three years had passed since Boo Hewerdine had released Baptist Hospital in 1996. He returned in 1999 with his fourth album Thanksgiving. It featured a guest appearance by Martha Wainwright. By then, Boo’s music was reaching a wider audience. That wasn’t surprising given the quality of songs on Thanksgiving. The Birds Are Leaving, Hope Is A Name, Our Boy, Homesick Son and A Long Winter showcased a talented singer, songwriter and storyteller. However, in 2002, Boo added another string to his bow.
This came about when Boo Hewerdine was asked to co-produce Eddie Reader’s album Angels and Electricity. Boo had written a number of songs for Eddi, but was now co-producing her albums. Soon, Boo was producing The Corrs, Heidi Talbot and Chris Difford. Along with his work as a songwriter, Boo was constantly busy. Sometimes, his solo career seemed to take a backseat. However, in 2001, Boo’s contribution to music was recognised.
In 2001, Boo Hewerdine was named as the Performing Rights Society’s songwriter in residence at The Song’s The Thing concert series in London. Boo had come a long way from when he was working in a record shop warehouse and about to form his first band. Now he was regarded as one of Britain’s top songwriters. He took to the stage during one of The Song’s The Thing concerts, and got the opportunity to showcase his skills as a singer and a songwriter. However, another opportunity for Boo to showcase his songwriting skills arose during 2001.
This came when Boo returned to the world of soundtracks. One of his songs featured in Christine Lahti‘s My First Mister. For Boo, this meant a whole new audience would hear his music. This couldn’t have happened at a better time, as Boo would released a new album in 2002.
Anon, which was released in 2002, was Boo Hewerdine’s first album of the new millennia. By then, Boo’s star was in the ascendancy. It seemed that every album he released was welcomed with open arms by admiring critics. His new album Anon was no different. Boo was consistently releasing albums of carefully crafted, thought provoking songs. That continued to be the case.
When Eddi Reader entered the studio to record her critically acclaimed album Sings The Songs Of Robert Burns, Boo Hewerdine was drafted in to co-produce the album. The result was one of the most successful albums of Eddi Reader’s career. It found favour with Burns aficionados across the world. Buoyed by the success of Sings The Songs Of Robert Burns. 2003 had been a good year for Boo.
It got even better when Boo’s song Different God was chosen to feature on the soundtrack to the film Intermission. After such a successful year, Boo’s thoughts began to turn to his solo career.
Two years later, and Boo Hewerdine returned with a new album in 2005. This was his sixth album, Harmonograph. Boo it seemed had the Midas touch, and critics heaped praise on Harmonograph. However, Boo it seemed, was in no rush to release a followup.
That wasn’t surprising. Boo Hewerdine now spending more time writing songs for other artists. He was also in demand as a producer. He also recorded a comeback album with The Great Divide. Money and Time was released in 2007. However, Boo hadn’t turned his back on his solo career.
Still, though, he found time to play live, and when he had the time, headed into the studio. The fruits of his most recent sessions were his seventh album God Bless The Pretty Things. It was released in 2009, and just like the albums the had preceded it, was well received by the critics. They lavished praise on God Bless the Pretty Things, which was a welcome, and some felt overdue addition to Boo’s back-catalogue.
Little did they realise it would be six years before Boo Hewerdine released another album. During that period featured on State Of The Union’s two albums. He wrote much of their eponymous debut album and shared the lead vocals with Brook Williams. This was the case when State Of The Union released their 2012 sophomore album Snake Oil. These albums weren’t the only albums Boo worked on.
When Kris Drever was recording his solo album Last Man Standing, Boo featured on the album. Last Man Standing was released in 2015, the same year that Boo released his long-awaited comeback album.
Open was released in 2015, and found Boo Hewerdine crowned the comeback King. He may have been six years since his last solo album, but the fifty-three year old’s comeback album had been well worth the wait. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Open. However, Boo’s fans wondered when they would hear from Boo again?
Little did they realise it would be so soon. Just a year later, and Boo Hewerdine recently returned with a new E.P. The Born E.P. is the first E.P. that Boo has released since Toy Box No. 2 in 2008. However, the Born E.P. is very different.
The best way to describe the Born E.P. is a very personal collection of songs. It’s a collaboration between Boo Hewerdine and his son Ben. They wrote the five songs at Boo Hewerdine’s father piano.Three of the songs, The Year That I Was Born, Bobby Fischer and Farewell were written by Boo Hewerdine.
Hometown and Swimming in Mercury were written by Boo and Ben Hewerdine. These five songs were recorded at Hub Studios, in Cambridge.
When recording of the Born E.P. began at Hub Studios, Boo played most of the instruments. The exception was the piano on Farewell. It’s played byBoo’s son, Ben Hewerdine. Producing the Born E.P were Boo and Chris Pepper. Once the five songs that became the Born E.P. were complete, they were ready for Reveal Records to release recently.
Opening the Born E.P. is The Year That I Was Born. A drum pounds, as if replicating a heartbeat. It sets the scene for Boo’s piano. Soon, he’s delivering a tender, thoughtful vocal, as he reflects upon 1962, “The Year That I Was Born.” He sings of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, President “Kennedy’s first State Of The Union Speech” and an uncertain future. Briefly, a bass synth pulsates, adding an element of drama. By then, Boo reflects upon “the trial in Jerusalem” and later, “the death of (Ernest) Hemingway.” Uncertainty and sadness it seems, are omnipresent as Boo’s vocal takes centre-stage. Meanwhile, the piano and synth play supporting roles. Later, Boo sings of “The Beatles in The Cavern, the cellar full of noise, all the post war girls and boys, in a world that might that explode.” Boo’s vocal is impassioned and heartfelt, before a vortex of ethereal, celestial sounds sit above the arrangement. Later, wonderment and hope join the uncertainty in what’s a beautiful, reflective song.
Hometown finds Boo in a reflective mood again. The arrangement is sparse as he plays the piano and sings. Straight away, he’s painting pictures; “down by the river where the birds don’t sing.” Soon, he’s singing of returning to his Hometown where he can be antonymous. However, he realises city life isn’t perfect: “they chain you up and call you free.” Still though, Boo knows: “I’ll return to my Hometown,” during what’s a carefully crafted, thoughtful cinematic song.
Hometown finds Boo in a reflective mood again. The arrangement is sparse as he plays the piano and sings. Straight away, he’s painting pictures; “down by the river where the birds don’t sing.” Soon, he’s singing of returning to his Hometown where he can be antonymous. However, he realises city life isn’t perfect: “they chain you up and call you free.” Still though, Boo knows: “I’ll return to my Hometown,” during what’s a carefully crafted, thoughtful, cinematic song.
The introduction to Swimming in Mercury is almost jaunty. Just a piano accompanies Boo’s vocal as he sings: “I was a boy growing in up in suburbia, you showed the future to me, skinny and pale, Swimming in Mercury.” By then, Boo has been transported back in time, as he delivers a tender, wistful vocal. He remembers: “we didn’t care, we went everywhere, Swimming in Mercury.” When Boo’s vocal drops out, the piano ensures the spartan arrangement seems to waltz along, all the time, painting pictures.
People of a certain age will remember the great Bobby Fischer. He was a chess grandmaster, who became the eleventh world champion. Many remember him for his titanic battle with Boris Spassky in 1972 in Iceland. In this piano lead song, Boo remembers, and in a way, pays homage to the man many chess aficionados regard as the greatest player ever. It’s a poignant song that brings back memories of late Bobby Fischer.
Farewell closes the Born E.P. It lasts just one minute, and features Ben Hewerdine on piano. He’s responsible for a sprightly and almost joyous track. It’s the perfect way to say Farewell, even to Boo Hewerdine’s Born E.P
Although the Born E.P. features just five songs lasting fifteen minutes, it shows what Boo Hewerdine is capable of. He wrote or cowrote the five songs on the Born E.P; played most of the instruments and co-produced it with Chris Pepper. Four of these songs are ballads, which are variously beautiful, cinematic, reflective and wistful. They find Boo Hewerdine reflecting on the first fifty-three years of his life. During those fifty-three years, Boo Hewerdine has spent thirty-three making music. The songs on the Born E.P. are a tantalising taste of what’s in store for newcomers to Boo Hewerdine.
Anyone whose yet to discover Boo Hewerdine, is about to embark upon a voyage of musical discovery. The Born E.P. which was recently released by Reveal Records is the first part of the journey. After, this the next part of the journey can be found on two further Reveal Records releases, Boo’s 2015 album Open and the compilation My Name In The Brackets (The Best Of Boo Hewerdine and The Bible). Along with Boo Hewerdine’s Born E.P, they’re part of what’s a veritable musical feast.
BOO HEWERDINE-BORN E.P.
JESSICA SLIGTER-A SENSE OF GROWTH.
When Dutch musician Jessica Slighter released her sophomore album Fear And The Framing in 2012, many people could’ve been forgiven for thinking that this was her debut album. After all, Fear And The Framing was the first album bearing Jessica Slighter’s name. While this was true, Jessica Slight’s solo career began two years earlier.
Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain.
That’s when the Oslo-based singer, songwriter and producer released her debut album Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain. It was released on Hubro Music in October 2010. However, rather than release Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain as Jessica Slight, decided to use the moniker Jæ.
Before the release of Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain, critics described the album as compelling and innovative. Ballads rubbed shoulders with avant-garde, folk, jazz and psych folk. Even the most hard bitten critic was won over by Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Jæ’s debut album in October 2010.
Upon the release of Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain, the album sold well. It introduced the record buying public to a talented singer-songwriter. Her popularity began to grow.
This was the case for the next two years. By then Jæ had attracted a cult following across Europe. She was also preparing to releasethe followup to Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain.
Fear And The Framing.
December 2012 was when the followup to Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain was scheduled to be released by Hubro Music. The album was entitled Fear And The Framing. By then, things had changed.
Jessica Sligter had decided to dispense with her Jæ moniker. Instead, she was about release her sophomore album Fear And The Framing as Jessica Sligter. Although this risked causing a degree of confusion, this decision paid off.
When critics heard Fear And The Framing, they drew comparisons with everyone from Linda Perhacs to Josephine Foster, to Scott Walker and Morrisey. Superlatives were almost exhausted in an attempt to describe Fear And The Framing. Words like atmospheric, bold, captivating and melancholy were used to describe the music on Fear And The Framing. It was music made by a musical free spirit. Jessica Slitter continued to flit between musical genres, mixing elements of folk and jazz with pop. Some critics remarked that Fear And The Framing was a much stronger album. It was also a tantalising taste of what Jessica Sligter was capable of.
Since then, critics and fans of Jessica Sligter have had to be patient. Four years have passed since the release of Fear and The Framing. Since then, Jessica Sligter has been busy. Jessica Sligter has toured and has been commissioned to write several pieces of music. This has resulted in Jessica Sligter collaborating with Wilbert Bulsink and with one of Norway’s top artists and composers Susanna. However, somehow, Jessica Sligter has managed to find time to write and record her third album A Sense Of Growth.
A Sense Of Growth.
After four years away, Jessica Sligter returns with what’s without doubt, the most ambitious and abstract album of her career, A Sense Of Growth. It was recorded in Seattle, a city better known for grunge, than the abstract, genre-melting soundscapes that feature on A Sense Of Growth. The seven new songs that Jessica Sligter has penned for A Sense Of Growth, find her “deconstructing the format of song based music.” To do this, she’s brought onboard a vast cast of guest musicians.
They got to work at Avast Studios, Seattle, with Jessica Sligter taking charge of producing A Sense Of Change. Accompanying her, were a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Dave Abramson; bassist Guro Skumsnes Moe and guitarists Håvard Skaset, Milky Burgess and Solmund Nystabakk. Andreas Stensland Løwe, Timm Mason and vocalist Randall Dunn all added synths. They were joined by Kevin Barrans on accordion and banjo, clarinetist Kristine Tjøgersen, violist Eyvind Kang, saxophonist Skerik and Sarah Jeffrey who played recorder. Vocals came courtesy of Jenny Hval, Kevin Barrans and Viljam Nybacka. Jessica Sligter played piano, synths and added vocals. Once the sessions at Avast Studios were complete, further recording took place at Malabar Studio, Oslo. Only then was A Sense Of Growth complete.
With A Sense Of Growth complete, Hubro Music scheduled the release of the album for July 8th 2016. That day, Jessica Sligter released the most ambitious album of her career, A Sense Of Growth.
Opening A Sense Of Growth is Surrounds, Surrounds Me. The introduction is both atmospheric and dramatic. Synths are to the fore. They’re variously jagged, crystalline and elegiac as this moody, cinematic soundscape unfolds. Meanwhile, a broody bass synth meanders across the arrangement. They join synths in setting the scene for Jessica’s vocal on this ballad. It’s akin to a confessional as she sings: “I went down to the city and tried to compensate for the loss that I’d caused, what a waste.” As Jessica lays bare her soul, synth strings, a sultry saxophone and viola accompany the drums that provide the slow. thoughtful heartbeat. Meanwhile, Jessica’s vocal is rueful, and full of guilt and sadness. Whatever she does, this guilt and sadness: “Surrounds, Surrounds Me” on what’s a heartachingly beautiful confessional.
Wherever You Go is another ballad; and one that not only showcases Jessica’s skill as a singer and songwriter, but as a producer. As the arrangement unfolds, it’s almost understated. Just a piano and the rhythm section combine before cascading strings accompany Jessica’s impassioned vocal on this paean. From the start,there’s doubt in her vocal: “I guess I could try to be part of some thoughts I could reconcile” This doubt continues: “I’ll go wherever you go, no worries, I imagine.” By then, Jessica combines power and emotion with sadness and frustration. She’s on an emotional roller coaster. Later, her vocal is multi-tracked, before her vocal becomes melancholy. Then later, a blistering guitar threatens to feedback. It’s reigned in, and adds an element of drama to what’s a wistful and cinematic ballad.
Distant drums join with a punchy rasping saxophone on A Sense of Growth. It’s is the first of two tracks to feature the vocal prowess of Jenny Hval. Jazz-tinged describes the introduction, before swaths of synths strings and multi-tracked vocals sweep in. They add an element of drama, before dropping out. Replacing them, are the drums and percussion. By then, another cinematic confessional is unfolding. It tells the story of how someone lost their “autonomy” and “found myself tainted and appropriated, stunned I gave all claims” Later Jessica admits “I lost my identity” and it seems confidence. It’s a heart wrenching story that Jessica and Jenny Hval make seem very real. Especially with as the two different parts of the arrangement flit in and out, one replacing the other. This results in a powerful and moving song, that reaches a poignant crescendo.
Just a wistful clarinet plays, as the bubbling sounds give way to a sample of running water. Soon, a galloping bass and drums join The Dream Dealer. Again, it features Jenny Hval. Her vocal is panned quickly, across the harmonies. That’s until Jessica takes charge of the lead vocal. It’s assured and feisty. Jessica’s vocal sits atop the galloping arrangement, as she dawns the role of The Dream Dealer: “I just supply them and demand is so high.” Meanwhile, the mournful clarinet, harmonies and the rhythm section combine as Jenny’s filtered vocal is panned. By then, the drums replicate the sound of a horse galloping along. This is in keeping with this song. So are the futuristic sounds that come courtesy of the synths. They add the finishing touches to what’s a truly inventive song that sounds as if it belongs on a 21st Century Western.
As The Smoking Tree unfolds, it has an understated, folk-tinged sound. Just a probing bass accompanies Jessica’s vocal. It’s perfectly suited to this type of song. So is the clarinet and harmonies that are added. The harmonies transform the song, and add a contemporary sound. Meanwhile, the lyrics are full of imagery from the past and social comment. Jessica’s vocal is dramatic, and starts ofd half-spoken before she sings of poverty and society divided into the haves and the have-nots.“An old woman asks me “coins to dance, then she and her man dance a dance of precarity, a jury of five, grinning and spitting sitting out rom the Gucci store.” With their rich and vivid imagery, and its fusion of folk and soulful harmonies The Smoking Tree shows another sides of Jessica Slighter.
A synth drones moodily, on Mercilessly Clear. Suddenly, a scratchy viola plays adding a cinematic sound to the drama of the drones. Then Jessica’s accusing, hurt-filled vocal enters. Soon, she’s combining power and emotion. Meanwhile, shrill strings and droning, bubbling synths meander moodily along as occasional drums punctuate the arrangement. They add a degree of drama to a powerful song that’s a mixture of music and theatre.
Run, Now! closes A Sense Of Growth. As a jagged, droning synth accompanies Jessica’s vocal, a banjo plays. Soon, she’s joined by harmonies as folk and country combine. They provide an almost minimalist backdrop for Jessica’s ethereal, emotive vocal. Occasionally, a drum pounds briefly, and later, a guitar wah-wahs. This adds a psych-folk sound. Meanwhile, synths and electronics add an avant-garde sound. Taking centre-stage are Jessica’s vocal. She combines power and emotion, while tight harmonies accompany her. While Jessica steals the show, the harmonies play their part in the sound and success of this genre-melting song. It’s ensures that A Sense Of Growth closes on a high.
While A Sense Of Growth features just seven songs lasting thirty-four minutes, it’s without doubt, the best album of Jessica Slighter’s career. Not only does A Sense Of Growth showcase a talented singer, but an equally talented songwriter and producer. Jessica’s talents as a singer, songwriter and producer have improved with each album. She’s made giant steps on A Sense Of Growth.
Partly, this is because Jessica Sligter reevaluated not just how she writes songs, but how songs are written per se. This allowed her to deconstruct and reconstruct the songwriting process. The result are seven captivating songs where Jessica lives and breathes the lyrics. She dawns the role of a storyteller, as she combines paeans, confessionals, and social comment with songs filled with hurt and pain. This includes the heart-wrenching title-track. Just like so many of the songs on A Sense Of Growth, it has a cinematic quality. Jessica dawns the role of director, and uses instruments and harmonies to help her tell these stories. This is hugely effective, and results in a truly compelling and innovative, genre-melting album.
Throughout A Sense Of Growth, Jessica Slighter flits between, and combines disparate musical genres. Everything from avant-garde, country, folk, pop, psych-folk and rock feature on A Sense Of Growth. However, sometimes, Jessica fuses various musical genres in the space of one song. This she does effectively. Sometimes, though, just the merest hint of a genre features on A Sense Of Growth. That’s the case with avant-garde and rock. Both merely play a walk-on part on the album. Regardless of this, Jessica’s ability to seamlessly combine musical genres and instruments is at the heart of A Sense Of Growth’s success.
Throughout A Sense Of Growth, Jessica Slighter uses an array of musical instruments like an artist would use his palette. However, Jessica’s choice of instruments is impeccable. She mixes and matches a variety of instruments. Some seem like unlikely bedfellows, but somehow, they work and combine create songs that are variously beautiful, cinematic, dramatic, emotive and moving. Other songs veer between elegiac and ethereal; to emotive and melancholy and sometimes, poignant and wistful. Each and every song on A Sense Of Growth is guaranted to stir an emotion and make the listener think. That’s why A Sense Of Growth is a career-deifining album from soncic inovator and explorer Jessica Sligter.
The Dutch born, but Oslo based singer, songwriter, musician and producer has come a long way since reelasing her debut album Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain, six years ago in 2010. Since then, Jessica Sligter has been winning friends and influenced people. However, it was Jessica Sligter’s sophomore album Fear And The Framing that saw many critics forecast a great future for her. That looks like being the case. A Sense Of Growth, which was recently released by Hubro Music, is a career-defining album, and the one that should introduce Jessica Sligter’s music to a much wider audience.
JESSICA SLIGTER-A SENSE OF GROWTH.
JAY STRONGMAN PRESENTS POPCORN HEARTBREAK 1958-1964.
Throughout musical history, songwriters always revisit certain subjects. Especially, angst, betrayal, heartbreak and love lost. Countless songs have been written about these subjects. That has been the case since the birth of popular music. However, for many music lovers, the late fifties and early sixties was a golden age for songs about heartbreak.
By then, America had shaken of the post-War gloom. Americans were now enjoying peace and prosperity. Fuelled by increased government spending, the American economy was booming. This was just as well, because each year, four million baby boomers were born. The future was looking good for the next generation of Americans.
Unemployment and inflation were at a record low. Meanwhile, disposable incomes were higher than ever. Americans were spending their newfound wealth on all manner of consumer goods. They also treated themselves to the new models of cars being built by GM, Ford and Chrysler. Many of these family cars were “borrowed” by young Americans as they made their way in life.
Unlike their parents, they had grown up in an era of peace and prosperity. These young Americans were able to borrow the family car and headed off to the drive-in, high school dance or local hop. Other times, they took the family car and cruised round town, or headed to a local block party. Providing the soundtrack to these adventures was the music playing on the radio.
Back then, Americans were able to enjoy an eclectic selection of music on the radio. As they drove around, young Americans switched between radio stations, enjoying everything from country, doo-wop, Latin, pop, R&B, rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll. Sometimes, music genres were fused, resulting in a new musical genre,..soul.
This occurred purely by chance, when artists combined elements of pop, country and gospel to create a nascent soul sound. Similarly, other artists combined R&B with doo-wop harmonies to create what was a forerunner of soul. While their constituents parts were different, the result was the same; med-tempo songs featuring lyrics full of angst, betrayal, heartbreak and love lost. They would prove popular for the next few years.
Especially between 1958 and 1964, which is the period a new Jay Strongman’s new compilation covers. Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 will be released by BBE Records on 15th July 2016. It documents an important period in American history where hope, change and fear were part of everyday life.
Between 1958 and 1964, many of the soulful songs on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 became favourites of young Americans. Many were high school students who should’ve been looking forward to the future. Sadly, by 1964, two dark clouds loomed large over America, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. America was about to change.
By 1964, war raging in Vietnam. A generation of young Americans were growing up fearing the draft. The thought of being forced to fight in Vietnam cast a shadow over their lives. Meanwhile, America was still reeling from loss of President J.F. Kennedy in 1963. No longer was there the same hope for the future. It was no surprise that America began to change.
So did American music. This began when the British Invasion groups arrived on American shores. Suddenly, American teenagers musical tastes changed. The soulful soundtrack of the last six years was usurped by the sound of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and The Animals. This wasn’t the last that was heard of the soulful sounds on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964.
Music is cyclical, and usually comes back into fashion. That was the case with the music on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964. It was rediscovered by Belgian DJs in the seventies, who looking for an alternative to disco.
The Belgian DJs realised that most of the disco tracks were far too fast for what they were looking for. So they cast their net further, in an attempt to discover mid-tempo songs for slow jive dancing. The mid-tempo,soulful song from a decade earlier fitted the bill the perfectly. They became the soundtrack to late night jive dancing. These soulful songs were interspersed with everything from ska to pop. This mixture of ska, pop and soul was known as Popcorn, after a song by the self-styled Godfather of Funk, James Brown. Twenty slice of popcorn feature on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964.
Among the twenty artists who feature on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 are Hillard Street, Varetta Dillard, Jesse James, The Gainors, Dolly Lyon, Brook Benton and Cindy Devereaux. That’s not forgetting contributions from Anna King, Johnny Wells. Timi Yuro and Lew Conetta. Each of these artists have their own tale of heartbreak to share on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964.
The most important songs on any compilation is the first one. Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 is no different. It’s imperative that the right song is chosen, as it sets the tone for the compilation. In those days of short attention spans, if the wrong song is chosen, often a potential purchaser will move on. Jay Strongman realises this, and had chosen well.
The song he’s chosen to open Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964, is Hillard Street’s River Love. This was a James Parker and Florence Keller composition. It was chosen to be Hillard Street’s debut single for Capitol. River Love was released in November 1958. It’s propelled along by Latin percussion, while shrill, cinematic strings and doo-wop harmonies accompany Hillard Street’s jazz-tinged, soulful vocal. This proves a potent and heady brew, and whets the listener’s appetite for the rest of the compilation.
Jesse James will be a new name to most people. That’s not surprising; as he only ever released the one single, Dreams Never Hurt Nobody. This was an Eddie Curtis composition. It’s a Lutz and Kipness Production, that was was released on Musicor in May 1961. However, commercial success eluded Dreams Never Hurt Nobody. That’s despite Jesse delivering a needy, lovelorn vocal, which is accompanied by a crystalline guitar, braying horns and quivering harmonies. They combine to create a song that epitomises everything that is good about the popcorn genre.
In 1962, Patsie Slater released her one and only single Yes You Did. Tucked away on the flip side was one of Patsie Slater’s compositions, A Tear. It was arranged by Bobby Smith. He’s responsible for an understated arrangement where jazz and R&B combine. It’s the perfect accompaniment for Patsie. She delivers the lyrics to this soul-baring ballad as if she’s lived and survived them.
Bubbling pizzicato strings set the scene for the vocal on The Gainors’ Tell Him. Already it’s obvious something special is unfolding. Suddenly, it’s 1963 all over again, and one can imagine this Van McCoy composition playing on car radios and jukeboxes. Alas, that wasn’t to be. When Tell Him was released on the Talley-Ho label in 1963, incredibly, this soulful and heartfelt plea failed commercially. Now fifty-three years later, it makes a welcome return on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 and is my highlight of the compilation.
Dolly Lyon’s Palm Of Your Hand is a jazz-tinged slice of R&B. It was originally released on Apollo Records in 1957. Sadly, it’s an all too familiar story. When the single was released in 1957, it failed to find the audience it deserved. After this the single became a rarity. Even during the popcorn era, collectors struggled to find copies of Palm Of Your Hand. However, in February 2011, the Popcorn label rereleased Palm Of Your Hand. Belatedly, a new generation of record collectors were able to rediscover this hidden gem. That will be the case upon the release of Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964.
Mention the name Brook Benton, and most people think of his cover of Rainy Night In Georgia. That’s just one single in a long and illustrious career. Way back in July 1960, Brook Benton was signed to Mercury Records and was preparing to release his new single Kiddio. This was a song Brook and Clyde Loverne had written. When Kiddio was released as a single, it reached number seven on the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US R&B charts. That is no surprise. Brook Benton’s phrasing and delivery is perfect. He delivers a tender, needy and heartfelt vocal on this jazz-tinged and soulful tale of heartbreak.
Cindy Devereaux is another artist whose career amounted to just the one single. This was a cover of Loverne’s Sing On Baby. It was released on Mercury Records in 1960. Doo-wop inspired harmonies accompany Cindy Devereaux’s coquettish vocal, as she delivers a feisty, powerful vocal.
On the 1st of April 1963, Anna King released You Don’t Love Me Anymore as a single on the Ludix label. Hidden away on the B-Side was The Big Change, a Dixon, Edwards, Weiss composition. It was arranged by Roy Montrell and produced by Ludix Productions. Despite being relegated to the flip side, The Big Change was another hidden soulful gem. Anna King delivers a heart-wrenching vocal that’s full of hurt and heartbreak.
Although Timi Yuro’s career only began in 1961, by June 1962, she was ready to release her fifth solo single. By then, she had enjoyed four hit singles. Her most successful single was her debut, Hurt. Not only did it reach number four in the US Billboard 100, but reached twenty-two in the US R&B charts. Since then, Timi Yuro had struggled to replicate the success of Hurt. So it was important that Timi’s fifth single got her career back on track.
The song chosen was What’s A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You). It was penned by Joy Byers and Clyde Otis, who produced the single. When it was released in June 1962, it reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100, but reached sixteen in the US R&B charts. Timi Yuro was back on track. That was no surprise. What’s A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You) featured a vocal that was a mixture of defiance, hurt, frustration and anger. This makes Timi Yuro’s vocal one of the most emotive on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964.
The final track of any compilation has to be a good one. It should leave the listener wanting more. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting through a compilation only to discover that the compiler has run out of good music. When that happens, it’s something of a damp squib. Thankfully, Jay Strongman has dug deep.
Closing Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 is Lew Conetta’s You Got Me Crazy. Theodore Conyers and Lloyd Pemberton cowrote the song, which was released on Decca in 1957. A desperate Lew Conetta delivers a needy, pleading vocal, as he lays bare his hurt and heartbreak for all to see. It reached a dramatic and memorable crescendo. Nobody will forget Lew Conetta’s You Got Me Crazy in a hurry.
That is the story of Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964. This twenty track compilation will be released by BBE Records on 15th July 2016. Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 takes the listener back nearly sixty years, and documents what was an important period in American history.
Having shaken off the post-War gloom, America was now enjoying peace and prosperity. This was the case in 1958, the start of the period that Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964. Some of the songs on the compilation may have provided the soundtrack as American teenagers cruised their local town, en route to hops, high school dances and block parties. However, within the six years, it was the end of the innocence.
In 1964, America was still reeling from the death of President J.F. Kennedy in 1963. The war was raging in Vietnam, and a generation of young Americans were growing up fearing the draft. The thought of being forced to fight in Vietnam cast a shadow over their lives. Gone was the hope that seemed to be omnipresent during the seventies. It was no surprise that America began to change. So did music.
The soulful sounding music on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964 fell out fashion until the seventies. It was only when Belgian Popcorn DJs are looking for an alternative to disco that they discovered the mid-tempo, soulful sounds on
These mid-tempo,soulful song from a decade earlier fitted the bill the perfectly. They became the soundtrack to slow dancing, late at night at Popcorn nights across Belgium. Before long, Popcorn nights weren’t just confined to Belgium, and they grew in popularity.
Nearly forty years later, and even today, there are still Popcorn nights being organised in clubs. This is testament to the music that is played at these nights. It’s truly timeless, and is a reminder of another musical age.A reminder of this music can be found on Jay Strongman Presents Popcorn Heartbreak 1958-1964, with its soulful songs full of angst, betrayal, heartbreak and love lost.
JAY STRONGMAN PRESENTS POPCORN HEARTBREAK 1958-1964.
ALICE CLARK THE COMPLETE STUDIO RECORDINGS 1968-1972.
The cream always rises to the top. This may be the case in some industries, but sadly, not in the music. Far too often, hype and image triumph over talent. Meanwhile, commercial success and critical acclaim eludes truly talented artists. Chastened by the experience, many of these artists turn their back on the music industry. They’re content to return to civvy street, free from a world populated by A&R executives, PR companies and radio pluggers. At least the artist knows that they gave it their best shot. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Now they begin the first day of the rest of their life.
This is what happened to Brooklyn born soul singer Alice Clark. Her career began in 1968, and was over by 1972. During that four year period, Alice Clark recorded just fifteen songs during three recording session. This includes two singles and her 1972 album Alice Clark. These songs feature on The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972. It’s a sixteen track compilation which was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records. The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972 is an introduction to one of the soul music’s best kept secrets, Alice Clark.
Very little is known about Alice Clark. Indeed, her story is almost shrouded in mystery. All that’s known, is that Alice Clark was born in Brooklyn, and shared the same manger as The Crystals. It was her manager that introduced Alice to singer-songwriter Billy Vera.
The meeting took place at April-Blackwood Music, who at the time, were Billy Vera’s publishers. That afternoon, Billy spent time teaching her some songs that he had written. These songs would be recorded in 1969.
By the time the recording session took place, Alice Clark had taken to occasionally phoning Billy Vera. However, Alice who seems to have been a private person, only ever made small talk. Despite this, Billy remembers: “I got the impression her home life wasn’t that great.” He remembers that Alice: “had kids and belonged to a religious order.” These are the only thing Billy can remember about Alice. However, what nobody who heard Alice as she made her recording debut will forget is…her voice.
For the 1969 session, Jubliee’s studio was chosen. Billy Vera who wrote and would produce the three tracks put together a tight and talented band. The rhythm section featured drummer Earl Williams, bassist Tyrell and guitarists Butch Mann and Billy Vera. They were augmented by trumpeter Money Johnson and backing vocalist Tasha Thomas. This was the band that accompanied Alice Clark on You Got A Deal, Say You’ll Never Leave Me and Before Her Time. Alice Clark delivered confident and assured performances. Two of these songs became Alice’s debut single.
With the three songs recorded, the Rainy Day label decided to release You Got A Deal in January 1968. It was a driving slice of soul, with a feisty, vocal from Alice. Horns and harmonies accompany Alice as she’s transformed into self-assured soul singer. The flip side was Say You’ll Never, a quite beautiful ballad. A number of radio stations began playing the song. Despite this, Alice Clark’s first single wasn’t a commercial success. It was an inauspicious start to Alice’s career.
Nothing was heard off Alice Clark until March 1969. By then, Alice had recorded her sophomore single. This was the George Kerr, Michael Valvano and Sylvia Moy penned You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me). On the flip-side was Arthur Mitchell and Eddie Jones’ Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed). The two songs were produced by George and Napoleon Kerr. This GWP Production was released on Warner Bros. Alice Clark was going up in the world.
Alas commercial success continued to elude Alice Clark. You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me), which became a favourite on the Northern Soul scene, features an impassioned, hurt-filled vocal. Just like Alice’s debut single, the B-Side was a ballad Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed). It features a heartfelt vocal where the secular and spiritual collide. Just like You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me), Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed) Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed) showcased a truly talented singer. Sadly, very few people realised this. Alice Clark was one of music’s best kept secrets.
For the next couple of years, Alice Clark was cast out into the musical wilderness. Then Bob Shad at Mainstream Records decided to take a chance on Alice Clark. Mainstream Records were moving into the soul market, are were signing artists. He decided that Alice Clark fitted the bill, and signed her to Mainstream Records.
Soon, work began on Alice Clark’s debut album. A total of ten tracks were chosen. This included a trio of Bobby Hebb songs, Charms Of The Arms Of Love, Don’t You Care and Hard Hard Promises. Among the other songs were Jimmy Webb’s I Keep It Hid; Petula Clark and John Bromley’s Looking At Life; Leonard Caston’s Don’t Wonder Why; Juanita Fleming’s Never Did I Stop Loving You and Earl DeRouen’s Hey Girl. The other songs chosen were John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Maybe This Time and Leon Carr and Robert Allen’s It Takes Too Long To Learn To Live Alone. These songs became Alice Clark.
With the material chosen, producer Bob Shad set about putting a band together. Apart from guitarist Ted Dubar, the identity of the rest of the band are unknown. However, Ernie Wilkins was drafted in to arrange the songs on Alice Clark. When it was recorded, the release was scheduled for later in 1972.
By then, three years had passed since a record bearing Alice Clark’s name had been released. You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me) had disappeared without trace upon its release in March 1969. Everyone must have been hoping that history wouldn’t repeat itself. Alas, it did.
I Keep It Hid was chosen as the lead single, with Don’t Wonder Why featuring on the B-Side. On its release, I Keep It Hid sunk without trace. Worse was to come. When Alice Clark was released, the album failed to find the audience it deserved. Very few copies of Alice Clark sold. That was a great shame.
During the three years that Alice Clark had been away, she grown as a singer. She delivers a soul-baring cover of Jimmy Webb’s I Keep It Hid. It’s full of emotion hurt. Looking At Life takes on a mellow, understated and jazz-tinged sound. Suddenly, the song takes on new meaning as Alice delivers a soulful and joyous vocal. There’s a sadness in Alice’s vocal on Don’t Wonder Why, as she delivers a rueful, wistful vocal. However, wistful gives way to hope on Maybe This Time, as she sings “maybe this time love won’t hurry away?” Meanwhile, soul and jazz combine. Never Did I Stop Loving You closed side one, and is a much more uptempo track, where the band kick loose, and Alice delivers an impassioned vocal powerhouse.
Charms Of The Arms Of Love picks up where Never Did I Stop Loving You left off. It proves the perfect showcase for Alice Clark as she delivers an assured and powerful vocal. However, on the horn driven Don’t You Care, Alice combines frustration and anger, and sounds as if she’s lived and survived the lyrics. On It Takes Too Long To Learn To Live Alone, Alice delivers a vocal full of hurt, heartbreak and pain. There’s almost a cinematic quality to this breakup song. Very different is Hard Hard Promises. Horns and a Hammond organ accompany Alice as she delivers an emotive vocal powerhouse. This showcases Alice’s versatility. Hey Girl closes Alice Clark. Elements of jazz, soul and funk combine as a lovestruck Alice brings her debut album to a close.
Sadly, there was to be no followup. After Alice Clark failed commercially, Alice turned her back on music. Never again did this talented and versatile vocalist return to the studio. Alice Clark was lost to music.
During her four year career, Alice Clark had recorded just fifteen tracks. They’re a mixture of beautiful ballads and uptempo songs. On each and every song, Alice breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Her delivers veers between heartfelt, impassioned and soul-baring, to assured, hopeful and joyous. It seems when Alice Clark stepped into a recording studio, she was transformed.
No longer was Alice Clark the quietly spoken young mother that Billy Vera remembers. Suddenly, the God-fearing Alice Clark disappeared, and was replaced by one that wore her heart on her sleeve. She was comfortable sings songs about love and love lost, and could breath life and meaning into songs about hope, hurt, heartbreak and betrayal. Despite her ability and versatility, Alice Clark commercial success and critical acclaim eluded Alice Clark.
Chastened by the experience, Alice Clark turned her back on the music industry. Nobody seems to know what happened to Alice Clark? Mystery surrounds this hugely talented singer, who should’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
By 1973, You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me) became a favourite on the UK Northern Soul scene. Apart from that, very few people had heard of Alice Clark or her music. It would be a while before this changed.
As the years passed by, a few copies of Alice Clark found their way into bargain bins. Curious record collectors who chanced upon a copy of Alice Clark decided to take a chance on this little known album. Having paid their money, they discovered one of soul music’s best kept secrets,..Alice Clark. They were the lucky ones.
Since then, Alice Clark has become a real rarity. Anyone wanting an original 1972 copy of Alice Clark on Mainstream, will need to search long and hard. If they can find a copy, it will take at least $500 to prise it out of the hands of its owner. That was until BGP, an imprint of Ace Records, recently released The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972. It features everything that Alice Clark recorded during that four year period.
The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972 features Alice Clark’s two singles and the ten tracks on her 1972 eponymous debut album. That’s not all. There’s also two tracks that weren’t released until 2010. They’re Before Her Time which was recorded at Alice Clark’s first recording session, and an instrumental version of You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me). Incredibly, these sixteen tracks on The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972 amount to Alice Clark’s entire back-catalogue. The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972 is also an introduction to one of soul music’s best kept secrets, and a singer who could’ve and should’ve enjoyed commercial success dn critical acclaim,..Alice Clark.
ALICE CLARK THE COMPLETE STUDIO RECORDINGS 1968-1972.