Archive for the ‘Song of the Week’ Category

Lambchop – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Monday, August 14th, 2017

An extended version of my review for the Nottingham Post.

Lambchop are a melancholy, mesmerising band. The Nashville group rarely tour, even in tonight’s stripped down trio version. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person there who’d waited over twenty years to see them. Indeed, they’re my main reason for buying a ticket for Green Man this year (not that I needed much encouragement), before this tour was announced. Frontman Kurt Wagner sets up the laptop which will supply synths and drums. ‘I’ll be checking my email throughout the performance.’ Before opening with Writer, he tells the crowd, ‘It’s just us now, we can’t rely on governments’.

The set mixes songs from delicious recent album – possibly their best – Flotus, with its mild Krautrock vibe, and tunes from their long career. For two numbers, Wagner slouches in front of the microphone, an oddly arresting performer with jerky, minimal hand gestures. Three songs in, he dons a guitar for Flotus’s 18 minute The Hustle, affecting even in sadly truncated form.

Other treats include the obscurity Randi from the extended version of early classic Thriller, the first record of theirs I bought, from 1997. That play on Michael Jackson is appropriate, for soul infects Lambchop’s unique sound. There’s a lot of Philly and more than a hint of Al Green in Wagner’s delivery. The vocal effects used are, at times, reminiscent of Kanye West. There’s also something very hypnotic about their sound. A peaceful, laid back vibe runs against barbed, enigmatic lyrics.

Surprisingly, they only play their finest song, Flotus’s In Care of 8675309, in response to an audience request, as an encore. (I know that critics aren’t meant to get involved with the show but, yes, it was me who called out for it, astonished that they hadn’t played it already, and I’m delighted I did, as they didn’t do it at Green Man). It’s their Desolation Row and, also, their catchiest tune. Tonight, it gets a full, impassioned arrangement. The day after Charlottesville, Wagner gives the line ‘Can we take the next ride to your demonstration?’ particular anguish.

More of a career retrospective and less of a Flotus oriented set than I was expecting (I confess that, big a fan as I am, I didn’t recognise every numbers & a trawl of setlist.com tells me that the set varies every night), Lambchop didn’t disappoint (Well, The New Cobweb Summer would have been nice – maybe on Sunday). The place wasn’t as packed as I expected, but that’s August for you. On keyboards, Tony Crow was in sparkling form and told some corny jokes (I will try to recycle the one about Matt’s penis). Matt Swanson’s bass guitar was understated, yet utterly distinctive – hear him play and you know it’s Lambchop. We missed support Roxanne De Bastion, but she  joined them for the 90 minute set’s closing cover of Prince’s kinky classic When You Were Mine – odd to hear a posh English voice on this, but it worked. Lambchop were well worth the long wait and I look forward to seeing them again on Sunday. If I have the time and energy, I’ll do another Green Man blog (which replaced the Glastonbury blog, always the most popular feature on my website – update: Lambchop were great. Apart from the first four numbers, their setlist was entirely different from the one reviewed here. In place of a blog, here’s a link to my Facebook album). Here’s the biggest obscurity from last night’s show.

Lambchop – Randi

Holiday Reading

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Stuart Cosgrove’s 2016 Detroit 67: the year that changed soul is primarily about Motown (the label was based in Detroit until 72) and, as such, complements Nelson George’s classic history of Motown, Where Did Our Love Go? the rise and fall of the Motown sound. Like that book, there’s a lot about The Supremes (this was the year that Florence Ballard left the group). There’s also plenty about my favourite Motown group, The Temptations, although, curiously, he doesn’t mention that the classic five line-up recorded and released one of the (possibly the) best Motown live albums that year, Temptations Live! Another odd omission is that, according to the introductory essay in the 1967 box of the Complete Motown Singles (my companion listening while reading this), Motown had a sales convention in Detroit that year, as riots broke out. The riots are discussed at great length, but the convention isn’t mentioned. Minor carps, for this is a gripping, informative read which weaves in a great deal of social history, especially where it interacts with the music scene (for instance, John Sinclair and the MC5 were kicking out the jams motherfuckers! in Detroit at the time). Highly recommended.

Anthony Cartwright’s new The Cut is a fascinating, beautifully written, commissioned novella that takes an oblique look at Brexit via two starkly contrasting characters, Grace and Cairo. It’s a great read and has one of those endings that requires you to reread the beginning (or maybe the whole, short book). Cartwright’s Black Country is as compellingly drawn as ever and this one, if not his best (try Heartland first) will undoubtedly add to his ever-growing reputation.

The other novel I finished, Tony and Susan, was twenty-odd years old and had been retitled in the light of the success of the film based on it, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, which is the name of the novel within the novel by Austin Wright. The film very closely followed the book within the book, which is sparsely written, tightly plotted and uncomfortable to read/watch. The ‘real’ sections are longer and somewhat different – it’s rather easier to write about someone reading a novel in a book as against a movie. A modern classic, maybe. I’ll certainly be checking out more by Austin Wright.

Finally, I devoured a book about book collecting, by the redoubtable author and film critic John Baxter. Critic Ian Penman put me onto the out of print A Pound of Paper, because of the stuff in it about collecting Graham Greene first editions, which I do, in a small way. Funnily enough, I had a good chat with the singer/songwriter John Murry after his terrific Rough Trade instore at the weekend. He’s also a bit of a Greene collector, and had enjoyed Baxter’s book. Even if you’re not, Baxter has loads of great stories about living in London, LA, Paris and elsewhere, the legendary book scout (and guitarist) Martin Stone, and much more. So thanks for the recommendation, Ian.

It was only a short break so, a pile of New Yorkers apart, that was my poolside reading, except for a novel by scriptwriter Paul Bassett Davies which I started reading on my Kindle on the plane and am now 2/3 of the way through. At first I thought it was rubbish (sorry, Scott). It’s undoubtedly uneven, but if I read fifty pages of a book, I always finish it. Moreover, I still need to know how this odd novel (which the publisher sent me for free) turns out. It’s called Dead Writers in Rehab and the narrators include Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Wilkie Collins, Hunter S Thompson and… eh, Doctor Watson, plus a couple of equally fictional contemporaries. Some are voiced rather more successfully than others, but it is, undeniably, a fun read (update: until you reach the last 10%, which is, frankly, dire). Oh, and John Murry’s second album, A Short History of Decay (named, he told me, after this book) is terrific. Here’s a cheerful little number from it.

John Murry – One Day (You’ll Die)

Garry Tallent, Kevin Montgomery & thoughts on Election Night: The Glee Club, Nottingham

Monday, June 12th, 2017

This is an extended version of the review that appeared in Saturday’s Nottingham Post with a few added comments about the election.

Quite a coup for Glee and promoters Cosmic American Music to get Bruce Springsteen’s bass player on election night. Tallent is the only remaining original member of the E Street Band (unless you count the boss himself). A youthful 67, Garry might seem old to be launching a solo career, but Bruce isn’t touring. And no expense is spared. The Tennessee Terror has brought along renowned singer/songwriter Kevin Montgomery to open for him. Montgomery, whose dad used to partner Buddy Holly, pays tribute to Holly with ‘Heartbeat’ (especially touching for my companion, who used to write for the series) and a lovely ‘Flower of my Heart’. He does a nice Bruce cover, too, the relatively unknown ‘I Wish I Were Blind’,  but it’s his own songs that shine most. Close your eyes and you could be listening to early Eagles ballads.

Unlike Montgomery, Garry Tallent doesn’t have a great voice, but he has a terrific, six-piece band. Particularly guitarist Eddie Angel, a veteran with craggy good looks that could see him cast in Twin Peaks. We get an instrumental before Garry takes the stage with ‘Bayou Love’. That title tells you a lot about what to expect: rockabilly with an occasional Cajun bent. Accordion and violin feature. The album’s called Break Time and that’s what Garry’s on: a break. He’s having fun with old friends, including Christy Rose on occasional vocals. Songs have titles like ‘Ants in Your Pants’ and ‘Ooh La La’. Lightweight, yes, but none of the songs drag on and the band’s enthusiasm is infectious.

I have to confess that my mood for the evening was greatly lifted when I popped to the loo at ten and turned my phone on. I’ve been a bit of a nay-sayer re Labour’s electoral prospects under Corbyn. However, he had a brilliant campaign, while May was worse than anybody could have possibly imagined. Even so, she seemed bound to win and inflict untold further damage on the country. Instead, the exit poll said it looked like we were heading for a hung parliament, which is how it turned out. And Corbyn, a man who never wanted to be party leader, much less PM, is now poised for one more push. Good luck to him. And us. Pity that my own vote had to go to the odious Chris Leslie, a lightweight lickspittle imposed on Nottingham East by Gordon Brown, whose leadership election campaign he had run. Instead of keeping quiet in the wake of the result, or eating his words as so many others (and I) have done, Leslie went on the Today Programme to say that Corbyn’s victory wasn’t good enough. He seemed to think that his own, massively increased majority was a personal one. Clive Lewis today described him as a ‘sad, lonely, bitter man’ and I won’t add to that, except to say that I hope I won’t be asked to vote for him again. To face his constituency party after this he’d have to be more brass necked than the PM. And with that, back to the gig and the present tense…

Both Montgomery and Tallent make play of being in a comedy club, telling jokes, sending themselves up. Tallent, too, does a Buddy Holly song. He tells good stories about working with people like Duane Eddy and Robert Gordon. He does two songs he wrote with Southside Johnny. He also pays tribute to Chuck Berry (with a strong pastiche and a shout out for Chuck’s last album) and Levon Helm, whose Band number ‘Move To Japan’ closes the main set.

The highlights of the evening, for me, are three instrumentals. Mid-set we get a terrific version of The Shadows’ Apache and The Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run, both featuring Eddy Angel to great effect. For the third and final encore of the hour fifty show, they pull out a number they’ve not done before, but pull off to perfection: The Tornados’ ‘Telstar’. Wonderful.

Everybody’s Girl – Kevin Montgomery

Telstar – The Tornados

 

Buttress, Collishaw, Simons & Sleaford Mods

Monday, March 6th, 2017

It was World Book Day last week and I meant to spend the evening in a bookshop, celebrating the life of my friend, the writer Derrick Buttress, who died in December, aged 84. But hospital duties prevailed so I was represented by the video I took of one of his readings. Derrick was the last of the generation of Nottingham writers that included Stanley Middleton and Alan Sillitoe. Derrick, a modest man, would never have put himself in their company. He was, however, just three years younger than Alan (he was born in Broxtowe in 1932) and, though he got his start in writing even later than Stan did, his work was as much infused with Nottingham working class life as Sillitoe’s. He studied English in his late 30s and, from his early 40s, had plays produced on Radio 4 and on BBC TV. He began to publish poetry in, I think, 1991.

John Lucas’s Shoestring Press became Derrick’s publisher at the start of this century, which is when I got to know him. His 2004 memoir Broxtowe Boy, which I’ve been rereading, is widely considered a classic and the 2007 sequel, Music While You Work, which picks up the story when Derrick was 14, is also well worth tracking down. Most of all, I think, he was a very good poet. I could never get him along to read at Jazz and Poetry, as, these last few years he wasn’t much for going out in the evenings. But I was at his last, early evening launch, at Lee Rosy’s a couple of years ago. The collection’s title, ‘Welcome To The Bike Factory’, might suggest that Derrick’s main interest was recording a bygone industrial life – which would be fine, but there was more to Derrick than that. After he died, I discovered that when he became a secondary school teacher, in his forties, he did his teaching practice at the same school where I taught for ten years, Rushcliffe Comp in West Bridgford. John Lucas has just done a limited reprint of Broxtowe Boy, with Derrick’s annotations. Five Leaves Bookshop may have a few copies left.

I wasn’t able to be at Five Leaves for Stephan Collishaw’s book launch either, as I was teaching, but I did read his third novel The Song of the Stork last week. It’s a beautifully written second world war story, set in Lithuania. Not the sort of thing I’d normally pick up if it weren’t by a friend (I’m not big on war novels or films), but I’m very glad I did. The style is spare, almost YA in tone, which is appropriate as it is told entirely from the point of view of fifteen year old, Yael, who turns sixteen during the course of the novel. Yael is Jewish and hiding from the Germans, who would send her to a concentration camp. She seeks shelter at the run-down, remote cottage of a strange mute, but initially he will not help her, for that would mean execution for him. This is a powerful, beguiling story, almost fable-like in tone, and quickly draws you in. It’s been way too long since Stephan’s second novel, Amber, and I hope that, now he’s back in the groove, the fourth won’t be far behind.

I’d heard that one of my favourite novelists, J.David Simons, had decided to retire from writing novels after the excellent An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful four years ago. So I was delighted when I found out that this was not the case. Indeed, he’s landed up with my publishers, Freight, which means that I got an advance copy of his new novel, which is out on Kindle now and in paperback later this month. I devoured A Woman of Integrity over the weekend. It’s a hard book to put down. Simons gives the story of two women, one born on the first day of the Twentieth Century, the other a present day actress in her early 50s with a Hollywood career that is starting to fall apart. The life of Georgie Hepburn is told largely through a first person account which we’re discouraged from entirely trusting. It would be unfair to say too much about her life, which early on involves Hitchcock, silent movie acting and the dawn of the talkies, for it is full of surprises. Laura Scott is portrayed from her own point of view in the third person. She’s a Gillian Anderson/Kristin Scott Thomas style actress – not quite as successful but recognised wherever she goes. Her last boyfriend, Jack, was a kind of Hugh Jackman figure and the reader builds up a lot of curiosity about him. Then an attractive American documentary maker turns up and wants Laura to play Georgie in a film. But first they have to get access to her archive.

Simons’ Glasgow to Galilee trilogy is very serious work and may well turn out to be what he is most remembered for. By comparison, A Woman of Integrity is a jeu d’esprit. Simons is clearly out to have fun, a point emphasised when Laura goes to see Jack in a movie based on Simons’ previous novel, and notes that the producers have knocked twenty years off the hero’s age so that Jack can play him. This is a delicious, hugely enjoyable, very satisfying read that deserves to be a best seller. If I’m asked for holiday recommendations, it’ll come top of the list. Pacy, full of great characters, with multiple twists and surprises, it’s brilliant for the beach or if you need cheering up.

But if you need to vent your rage at the state of the world, as I often do, I’d recommend the Sleaford Mods’ fourth album, English Tapas. Early evening Saturday I went with my brother and his partner to see their instore album launch at Nottingham’s Rough Trade. We squeezed into the back of the small area in front of the stage, the front half of which was a beer throwing mosh pit, while they played most of the new album and ‘T.C.R.’  This and new track B.H.S. were the highlights of a manic set. Odd only to be able to see their heads but we did avoid having beer thrown over us. Jason apologised for messing up one new number and threw in an extra one at the end, ‘Jobseeker’, which led to a full stage invasion (see the screengrab above by @tanyalouiseray on Twitter). Anyway, don’t get out much at the moment, and that forty minutes of madness was just what I needed. I’m looking forward to seeing them again twice this year, at the Green Man festival and at Rock City in November.

Talking of Twitter (I know that some non-Twitter users read my feed in the box on the side left), always the early adopter, I’ve now been on there for ten years. In celebration (and in order to generate a few more reviews), we’ve halved the price of my latest book, Provenance: new and collected stories, on Kindle, to a mere £2.99. That’s a tenner less than the print version, which is still available from Shoestring Press’s website or at all good bookshops.

Here‘s the video for B.H.S.. What are the Mods doing in a books blog? Well, if you were lucky enough, you did get a large pamphlet with the new album, documenting every Mods gig to date before they forget them. They do say that they’re bound to have left a few out. Indeed, missing from the list is the first time I saw them, supporting Scritti Politti at the Rescue Rooms on August 2nd, 2012. I’d never heard of them but my mate Mike Atkinson urged me to turn up early and, as so often, he was right. I gave them their first review in the Nottingham Post. It’s no longer on line, but here’s what I wrote:

Early arrivals were treated to Sleaford Mods’ sardonic take on modern Nottingham. This duo – shouty vocalist and tape machine – have echoes of The Fall, John Cooper Clarke and LCD Soundsystem. They feature the most authentic Nottingham accent since Gaffa’s Wayne Evans. Check them out.

Here’s one they did earlier.

Sleaford Mods – Jobseeker

Witchi Tai To

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

For once, this month’s post is, literally, a song of the week, one I discovered on Sunday. It’s become such an earworm since then that I felt bound to investigate it. Thanks to a review on excellent The Second Disc reissue review site, I decided to check out the complete singles and B sides of Harpers Bizarre, a US ’60s group who still get played a fair bit and recorded plenty of interesting songs. I’ve grudgingly enjoyed their stuff, much of which seemed to veer rather too close to easy listening, until recently a rather despised genre. The best example of this is their hit version of Feelin’ Groovy which, I now find, features instrumentation from the legendary LA Wrecking Crew.

I played through the 26 tracks in three goes, discovering some pleasures, some forgettable versions of show tunes (‘Anything Goes’ anyone?) and the like. The last few numbers, naturally, were from the group’s decline, and of less interest, but then I heard this song. And, straight away, I had to hear it again. Then I had to find out where it came from.

Witchi Tai To was written by Jim Pepper, a Kaw-Muscogee Native American saxophonist who played in early jazz-fusion groups and later with greats like Paul Motian before dying, aged 50, in 1992. Between 1965 and 1968 he was in a band with guitarist Larry Coryell, Free Spirits, that combined free jazz with Native American music. After Coryell left, the remaining band, briefly, became Everything is Everything. They released one album and one single, Witchi Tai To, an early FM hit, which got to number 69 on the charts in the USA.

It’s a haunting song, that – according to one story I found online, is based on a chant handed down to Pepper by his grandfather. If anyone can tell me the meaning of the title, I’ll update this post. You can hear the Everything is Everything version here. There’s also a 1983 version by Jim Pepper, which is well worth a listen, as it brings in much more of the jazz and Native American elements that one can feel lurking in the original. The most well known version is by a duo called Brewer and Shipley, who are still around. For me, their rendering (also from 1969) loses something essential, while the Harpers Bizarre single has a mysterious, psychedelic element that lifts it into greatness. But it wasn’t a hit for them and, in 1970, after two years without bothering the charts, they disbanded. Their last album, which this is on, was the first where they played their own instruments. But they had some help. The delicious guitar solo, such an essential part of this but not the other versions, appears to be by a brilliant, young Ry Cooder. Figures.

Update: my old pal Mike Atkinson has a UK single of this, also from 1969, which he informs me was the first single ever released on the Charisma label. It’s by the daftly named Topo D. Bil and features Legs Larry Smith, Roger Ruskin Spear, Chris Squire and Keith Moon among others, and it’s not bad. Not a hit, of course. Listen Legs Larry Smith, Roger Ruskin Spear, Chris Squire and Keith Moon among others. Have a listen. There’s also a version by John Schroder, which is on Spotify, that I was alerted to by Andy Lewis on Twitter. It’s OK, but still misses the sweetness and mystery of the Harpers Bizarre version.

Harpers Bizarre – Witchi Tai To (mono single version)