Sunday, 19 April 2015

"MAGIC ONION" by THE LOVELY EGGS (2015)

After a couple of years mooching about the house not doing much, everyone’s favourite grin and grunge crackpots, the Lovely Eggs, are back with a new single, album and tour.

“Magic Onion” is the super 45 taster, accompanied in the best Lovely Eggs tradition by a suitably colourful and wonky video which you can see above. The tour began on Friday and ends on 9th May, with an official launch party for the album, This Is Our Nowhere, taking place at the unlikely venue of London’s Jazz Café on Thursday 7th May.

All that is exciting enough but even more so personally as Holly and David Egg have very kindly asked me to spin the platters at the launch party. Any tourists wandering in to the Jazz Café expecting an evening of New Orleans Dixieland or 70s style jazz fusion are going to be, well, confused I guess with songs about magic onions, green beans, beef bourguignon and sausage rolls thumbs. Bring it on. Just don’t expect an encore… 

For all your Eggy goodness, check out their site at The Lovely Eggs.

The Lovely Eggs play the Jazz Cafe, Camden on Thursday 7th May 2015 with support from Doglegs. Tickets here.  

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

IN MEMORY OF PERCY SLEDGE


For a man with only one genuine hit record in the UK today’s announcement of Percy Sledge’s passing, aged 73, still garnered significant attention with coverage on the major national news programmes.  But “When A Man Loves A Woman” wasn’t any old hit was it? It’s one of those songs, nearly fifty years old, which occupy a special place, woven into the very fabric of our lives.

Percy made plenty of other great records too of course: “Warm and Tender Love”, “Take Time To Know Her”, “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road”, “The Dark End of The Street”, “It Tears Me Up” and enough others to fill plenty of Best Of compilations no home should be without, but that record was the one.

I only saw Percy live once, back in 2011. That might’ve been his last London visit. I’m increasingly conscious to make the effort to catch people like Percy these days, whilst there’s still time to show appreciation in person. He was on a Soul Revue type show at the South Bank and the main reason I went. What I wrote at the time now looks, I hope, like a nice tribute to such a likeable fellow.

“Percy Sledge entered the fray wearing a tuxedo and what looked like a scouse calm down/calm down wig. If Eddie Floyd earlier in the week at his London show made a mockery of his passing years, fellow Alabaman Sledge had no qualms about playing the elder Soul Man. “People ask me, Percy Sledge, how come you talk so much when you used to just burn it up on stage. Well, I tell ‘em, I need to get my breath back”. He flashes that famous gap toothed grin of his and gets away with anything, including a bizarre, and very funny, Ride Your Pony type dance to one song. I can’t believe though he ever burned it up on stage even as a young man. The churchy chord changes to his expressive ballads had a different quality, dramatically described by Gerri Hirshey in her 1984 book Nowhere To Run as “his voice sliced through stone, bronze and petrochemical ages of human love”. Time has eroded some of the edge but he was sweet and “Take Time To Know Her” and “Dark End of The Street” were great to hear. “Nights in bloody White Satin” less so, but “When A Man Loves A Woman” was the big money shot and didn’t disappoint. Never have I seen a man fall so gingerly to his knees. He clambered up, did a false exit, milked the standing ovation, and was gone.”

Now he’s gone for good. Night Percy. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

THE STAPLE SINGERS – FREEDOM HIGHWAY COMPLETE (2015)


Fifty years ago today, on Friday 9th April 1965, the Staple Singers were recorded during a service at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church. This was no pop concert or rock and roll circus, but as Pops Staples gently reminded the congregation from the start, they were there to worship and sing God’s praises. Despite the presence of recording equipment, “We’re not here to put on a show.”

The resulting 44 minutes album, Freedom Highway, was released on Epic and featured 11 tracks, mixed for radio with much of the ambient noise from the church edited out. It’s been a difficult record to get hold of, unavailable for years, but has now been afforded a new release with the complete 77 minute/18 track service intact and, importantly, with every ahem, hallelujah, handclap and cry from the assembled Chicagoans left in the mix loud and clear. It’s wonderful to hear Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis in their natural environment and the effect they have.

The Staples had been recording for over a decade and their biggest commercial success was still further down the road. Freedom Highway captures them at a transition point where they expanded their repertoire from old spirituals and traditional songs (“Samson and Delilah”, “When The Saints Go Marching In”) and Pops’ own worship songs (“Build On That Shore”, “Help Me Jesus”) to include folk music (“We Shall Overcome”) and more excitingly the beginning of their own topical freedom songs which now added commentary and a soundtrack to the civil rights movement.  

A series of attempts to march from Selma, Alabama in response to the killing of civil rights worker Jimmie Lee Jackson began on 7th March 1965 and culminated two and half weeks later with 25,000 protestors at the capitol steps in Montgomery to hear an address by Dr Martin Luther King. The events stirred Pops to write “Freedom Highway” and it was performed days after completion here at the New Nazareth Church. The stirring performance and the reaction from those present already made it already sound like an anthem. “Made up my mind, and I won’t turn around” sang an impassioned Mavis. She's still singing it to this day.

Backed with Pops’ guitar, Al Duncan on drums and Phil Upchurch on bass, the Staples put on an incredible show, no matter what Pops said. Their voices come from deep within in their soul - whether singing in a mournful style or rejoicing and rattling and shaking the pews - and the interaction with the congregation warm and frequently funny.  Pops though, for reasons best known to him, announces that after two beautiful children he had Mavis. “She was so ugly. I looked at my baby and I could hardly eat, she almost took my appetite”.

Quite what Mavis made of that heaven only knows but one man who wasn’t happy that evening was Rev. Hopkins who counted contributions to the collection plate during the mid-session interval. “This is awful. We’ve got less than 75 dollars. You know this is not right”. Rev. Hopkins had to practically beg, plead, cajole and embarrass to raise a hundred dollars. “We don’t charge anything but we must have some more money. The Staple Singers are one of the best groups in this country. This is their home. If anyone should support the Staples Singers, Chicago should.” He finally got it but rued “Sure takes a lot of time trying to raise money in a Baptist church.”

This whole CD is a pure delight from start to finish and puts the listener right there, up close and intimate with the Staples. I don't have a religious bone in my body, it matters not, this is powerful, moving, heartfelt music and, lest we forget, fun. What more could one ask? As Pops Staples says, “I want to make Heaven my home, but I want to enjoy myself a little down here too”. Amen.

Freedom Highway Complete by the Staple Singers is available now, released by Epic Legacy Recordings. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

FRED WESLEY & THE NEW JB’S at STAND!, FAIRFIELD HALLS, CROYDON


There’s nothing like having a quick nosey at Fred Wesley’s discography to make one wonder what they’ve done with their life. As musician, band leader, arranger, composer and producer Fred has shaped the sound of funk on hundreds of recordings with James Brown, the JB’s, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Parliament, the Horny Horns and many, many more.

In his 2002 autobiography, Hit Me, Fred: Recollections of a Sideman, Wesley calls himself “the greatest sideman in the world” – which in fact underplays his contribution, he isn’t just a horn player - but now he’s centre stage, perched on a stool, master of his own small but perfectly formed empire.  The moment he blows his trombone the sound is as instantly recognisable as a JB scream or a Bootsy Collins bass run. Fred Wesley only doesn’t have the funk, he is the funk. His New JB’s aren’t new anymore, this current line-up has mostly been in place many years and it shows in their tight groove.

The JB’s classic “Damn Right I Am Somebody” underlines Fred’s a man in his own right; “Bop To The Boogie” is an early invitation for audience participation - “Bop to the boogie, boogie to the bop, bop to the boogie, bop bop” - which looks ridiculously easy written down yet many (or maybe only me with my stiff honky ways) fail to master; there’s Fred’s favourite track from the Horny Horns 1977 LP A Blow For Me, A Toot For You – “Fourplay”; Fred takes a lead vocal on Earl King’s “Trick Bag”; and Dwayne Dolphin takes a bass solo in “No One But You Baby” as his boss looks on and appreciates with a knowing nod. No sign of any fine for bum notes or clumsy dance steps.

The line between jazz and funk is thin one and on that line sits jazz-funk, which always strikes me as the musical equivalent of a lager-top: a less satisfying, watered down, compromise. Well, that's my take; I can't warm to it. There are a few numbers which epitomise jazz-funk and the audience get a little distracted during the one love song and shout for “Pass The Peas”. Don’t worry, says Fred, it’s coming. He’s been around long enough to know how to pace a show and bring it to the boil.

“Breakin’ Bread” from the first Fred Wesley and the New JB’s album is an odd song - early rap with a hint of country funk - but gets folk involved once more and leads into the final run of three massive JB’s tunes: the aforementioned “Pass The Peas”, “Gimme Some More” and “Doing It To Death”. These are what the crowd came for and they burst back into life as if transported back into the midst to the late-80s Rare Groove explosion when these tracks caught a second wind and became some of the biggest club tunes around. Fred has small pocket of south London tightly in his control as people are movin’, groovin’, doin’ it. To quote again from Hit Me, Fred: “The black people were dancing very well, as usual, and the white people, as usual, were enthusiastically doing the best that they could do.” Thank you Mr. Wesley. 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

THE JEWEL GOSPEL SINGERS - "MY GOD DON'T CHANGE"

Easter Sunday, ‘bout time we done got religion. 

These five young ladies are the Jewel Gospel Singers from Richmond, Virginia and are seen here belting out “My God Don’t Change” on TV Gospel Time in the mid-1960s.

Can’t say I know much about the Jewel Gospel Singers other than they were Doris Anne Allen (singing lead here), Henrietta Doswell, Ernestine Jackson, Ellen Rose and Anne Gardner and released three albums on Savoy Records between 1963 and 1966. TV Gospel Time was a half hour show broadcast by some NBC affiliated channels on Sunday mornings across 49 episodes between 1962 and 1966.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

MARCH PLAYLIST


1.  Wynonie Harris – “Keep On Churnin’ (Til The Butter Comes)” (1952)
“First comes the milk/ then comes the cream/ takes good butter to make your daddy scream/
Keep on churnin’ ‘till the butter comes…” shouts Mr. Harris.

2.  Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated – “Preachin’ The Blues” (1965)
Adapted from Robert Johnson’s 1936 recording, Korner plays a bouzouki by sliding a door key along the strings and Phil Seamen adds “African-style” drumming. Mississippi blues goes Greek via Ealing. Album (above) kindly donated to the cause by Monkey Snr. 

3.  The Answer – “I’ll Be In” (1965)
The Answer were from Berkeley High School, California and the snappy garage-twang of “I’ll Be In” plus the moody blues with a hooky chorus flip “Why You Smile” made this a great double-sider for White Whale records.

4.  Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery – “Night Train” (1966)
All aboard! From their album The Dynamic Duo, Jimmy and Wes are joined by a swinging 16 piece big band. James Brown would’ve loved the result.

5.  The Byrds – “You’re Still On My Mind” (1968)
The recruitment of Gram Parsons turned into only a short-lived affair but only eight months after The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the Byrds displayed their massive bollocks in releasing the full-on country album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, to a 1968 market. “You’re Still On My Mind” was written and released by Luke McDaniel in 1959, and with lyrics about honky tonk jukeboxes, “an empty bottle, a broken heart, and you’re still on my mind” was surely an influence on Merle Haggard whose “Life In Prison” is also covered on the record.

6.  Steve Stills & Al Kooper – “Season Of The Witch” (1968)
The Super Session album credited to Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills is slightly misleading as not all three played together. On side one Kooper and band are joined by Bloomfield; and on side two it’s Kooper and Stills. Both are great but Stills nicks it on points thanks to making Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” sound like Buffalo Springfield meets the Monkees; the phasing frenzy on “You Don’t Love Me”; and then this eleven minute epic in which Donovan invents the jam session. Especially love the bit when the (over-dubbed) horns come in.

7.  MC5 – “The American Ruse” (1970)
If ever there was an album which failed to capture the essence of a band, it’s the MC5’s Back In The USA; scorn of their thrilling sonic power as a live act it’s bafflingly thin sounding record. That said, taken on its own merits, I do still like it as a Chuck Berryesque rock and roll record and “The American Ruse” hinted at what the band were truly like.  

8.  The Last Poets – “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution” (1970)
Warning: Care should be taken when playing The Last Poets eponymous LP as the liberal use of the N-word (and F-word) could cause misunderstanding with neighbours. Three angry voices of East Harlem, symbolically formed on what would've been Malcolm X's birthday and led here by Omar Ben Hassen, taunt and call the bluff of their people.

9.  Leon Spencer – “Give Me Your Love” (1973)
Organist Leon Spencer’s Where I’m Coming From album for Prestige features two original compositions plus dead on the heavy funk versions of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, Four Tops’ “Keeper of the Castle”, Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” and this rumbling take on Curtis Mayfield‘s Superfly classic.

10.  New Order – “Weirdo” (1986)
New Order’s 1989 Technique is one of my very favourite albums. So much so I’ve always felt their others records noticeably inferior but after digging out Brotherhood the other day it’s not as far off as I remember. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

THE WHO HITS 50 at the O2 ARENA, LONDON


The buzz of riding a Lambretta is one of life’s great pleasures. It doesn’t matter where it is but I always get an extra kick when cruising through the streets of Shepherd’s Bush and specifically along the Goldhawk Road. In my little semi-fantasy world it is still the mid-1960s, this is the heart of Mod territory, and local band The Who are playing later for the umpteenth time at the Goldhawk Social Club. Although The Who are known as a Shepherd’s Bush band, Roger Daltrey was the only one who genuinely lived there. In The Who documentary, Amazing Journey, Pete Townshend called him “the king of the neighbourhood”.

This scruffy stretch of the capital has, as far as I can tell, remained- until now - largely unchanged. Cooke’s Pie and Mash Shop – the one in Quadrophenia - has clung on since 1934; the interior of Zippy Café a couple of doors down is every inch an abandoned Wimpy bar; Goldhawk Road tube station remains little more than a rickety shack; and, best of all, the Goldhawk Social Club has only tweaked its name slightly to the Shepherd’s Bush Club and now displays a blue Heritage Foundation plaque honouring The Who. With the likes of Cooke’s now sold to developers of Shepherd’s Bush market these are the last knockings of the area as it currently stands.

I rode past the Goldhawk again this weekend, exactly fifty years from when The Who walked through the hanging plastic drapes in the club to play a gig on Saturday 20th March 1965 after hot-footing it from attending the opening show of the Tamla Motown Revue at the Finsbury Park Astoria. I know, what a night, lucky bleeders. I wasn’t there rabbiting amongst the West London Mods from the Bush, Acton, Notting Hill, West Drayton, Paddington and so on but I did, honestly, see The Who yesterday.

The O2 Arena in Greenwich is less than fifteen miles from the Goldhawk but they could be on different planets and as gig experiences go they couldn’t be much more different. No chance of bumping into Pete Townshend having a piss here in this soulless corporate "village". The O2 is a 20,000 capacity venue and not one of those people, as far as I could tell, was blocked on amphetamines.  Prescription drugs, now that’s different. When folk scuffled to the loo, they rattled. Unlike Keith Moon and John Entwistle, not everyone died before they got old I’m pleased to say.

Of course, I wouldn’t usually dream of attending one of these huge cavernous monstrosities, but then again I can probably only count on my thumbs the bands I like who’d be able to fill somewhere like this, The Who being one. This was part of their The Who Hits 50 tour; supposedly their last extended jaunt around the globe. They’ve said this before so I won’t hold them to it. Half a century gone and it’s still too early to say farewell.

For over two hours straight Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and some other blokes put on hugely enjoyable show. Roger and Pete were in a relaxed mood; jovial and offered plenty of expletive-ridden between-song banter creating an almost intimate atmosphere despite the grand scale. Roger played the affable, one-of-the-lads role and Pete switched from serious artist to money-accumulating rock star. When Roger thanked everyone for coming, “It woulda been really boring without ya”, Pete quips back “And we’d be a lot poorer”. He also said we’d paid three thousand pound a ticket, which wasn’t too far off.

They earned their dough though, playing a mostly predictable set with a few surprises chucked in. Pete mentions it’s supposed to be a hits show. “All four of them,” he says, “plus the three from CSI, and two rock operas”. That “I Can See For Miles” wasn’t a huge hit - “it’s a great song” - obviously still rankles and it’s plain to hear way. Some of the other earlier singles like “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute”, as much as they made brilliant records, sounded slightly plodding in comparison the more complex later material.

“Love Reign O’er Me” was emotional; the mini-Tommy brilliant, still to my mind The Who’s pinnacle; the double whammy of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is as good as big venue music gets. “Slip Kid” was unexpected; as was “So Sad About Us”; and “A Quick One, Whilst He’s Away” a welcome knee-trembler.

They’ve got to pace themselves these days so Roger’s microphone twirling was kept to minimum and Pete’s feet didn’t leave the floor although there was plenty of windmill action. Roger, bless him, couldn’t always hit the notes (it’s an unforgiving occupation being a lead singer in a shouty rock band; no one’s gonna notice a few bum chords or missed timings elsewhere) and he mentions the set list is a challenge emotionally as well as having to remember all Townshend’s lyrics. “Why couldn’t you write some easier songs?” he asks Pete. “Because I’m an intellectual,” came the reply, “you fucking cunt.”

The staging behind the band was superb. I always roll my eyes when people start talking about what a band’s backdrop and graphics and lighting was like – so bloody what? – but in this environment draping a union jack over a Marshall stack ain’t really gonna cut it, so hat’s off: these were a stylish and imaginative series of animations that complimented the songs. Some were very fancy and expensive looking yet the funniest was the simplest.  After Townshend gave his account of writing “Pictures of Lily” about wanking to old Lily Langtry postcards, the song is performed in front of a giant Keith Moon dressed in a wig and black bra. Should also say Zak Starkey’s “vision of ginger” behind the drums didn’t go unnoticed either. A nice touch.

After a closing “Magic Bus”, Roger apologised for a few gremlins throughout the show. For all the high-tech nature he appeared a touch put out he’d been given a B harmonica instead of a B Flat for “Baba O’Riley” and then suffered unwanted feedback with his harp during the last song. “But who gives a shit?” He’s fooling no-one this time. Roger Daltrey loves The Who and is fiercely proud of them. I love them too; they’re the kings of any neighbourhood. 
205 Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush