Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Ten of my favourite albums over the past . . . years (in no particular order). No 10 Blow By Blow by Jeff Beck

It would be dishonest of me to claim ‘I’m a Jeff Beck fan’ because I’ve only heard (checking his discography on Wikipedia) a lot less than half of his released recordings. And I’ve only ever bought four of his albums, and I really didn’t like one of them. Beck, Bogert & Appice were billed at the time as — it was all the rage for a while and most of us believed the bullshit — ‘a supergroup’. They released only two albums before disbanding.

I bought the first Beck, Bogert & Appice, and soon wished I hadn’t. It was curiously dull, and just now listening to the tracks on Spotify I can report that it’s still curiously dull. It seems I’m not the only one to think that because the band’s Wiki entry does claim the record baffled and disappointed fans because it didn’t capture the force and verve of their live performances. But, well, that was bugger all good to me.

All I knew was that the bloody record I had bought was curiously dull. It still is. Whether its follow-up, a live album, was any better I don’t know because on the strength of the debut album — their only studio album — I couldn’t be arsed to find out.

I first got to know Jeff Beck not with his work with The Yardbirds — I would be hard pushed to say what he did with that band and can’t even remember consciously listening to them — but from his singles Hi-ho Silver Lining and Beck’s Bolero.

Both were blasted out on Dundee University’s students’ union jukebox with monotonous regularity, along with Something In the Air by Thunderclap Newman, Say A Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin, In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry and several more. With such enforced repeated listening every last song on that jukebox except for Say A Little Prayer strayed very close to becoming bloody irritating, and Beck’s two tunes, which are really nothing special at all and verge on ‘novelty records’, were no exception.

Then at one point I heard Truth, the first album by The Jeff Group and liked it a lot and bought it. The line-up on that album and Beck-Ola, it’s follow-up, had Rod Stewart on vocals (never a bad thing) and Ronnie Wood on bass. It is still worth listening to, though Beck-Ola isn’t really that good, and so I didn’t bother with the final two albums.

Then came the band Beck, Bogert & Appice and their album of the same name, and why I bothered buying that, though I did, I really can’t think. More to the point after the disappointment of Beck-Ola and the ‘supergroup’ album, I can’t for the life of me think why I went on to buy Blow By Blow (today’s featured album) and it’s follow-up Wired (just as good). But I did, and I’m very glad I did.

To this day both stand out in my mind, and I can’t even — thank the Lord — trace a hint of kinship with the music on them and the close-on ( for me) dross of the ‘supergroup’ album. I mean it takes a certain gift to make Stevie Wonder’s song Superstition boring, but BB and A managed it.

Like all the other albums I’ve so far featured, Blow By Blow (and Wired, for that matter) doesn’t have one duff track. To ‘modern ears’, the funky clavinet (played by an uncredited Stevie Wonder) might date it a little, but hey-ho, any more complaints?

The track you can hear here, Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers, was written by Stevie Wonder and to my ears is beautiful. Beck had and has such total control over his guitar and playing that, like most such gifted players, he makes it sound easy. Easy? Try it.

Why I didn’t bother to check out any of his work after Wired I really don’t know, and I can’t even offer a plausible explanation. I did, though, once go to see Beck play live, but in the event I dind’t hear or see much of him at all. About 30 seconds, in fact.

It was early 1974 and the gig was in Edinburgh somewhere or other, in cinema or a former cinema* next to or behind which was a cemetery (which comes into the story). I was living in Dundee at the time, and I and my then girlfriend Shelagh hitched down to see Beck.

Before we went in we, as one does, had a couple of cans of McEwan’s extra strong lager each and a couple of spliffs (and, sssh, don’t tell my children who both think I’m a saint). Suitably high, we then went into the gig. Beck and his band were already playing and all I can remember his going up to the first floor balcony (presumably where our seats were) and then opening the door from the corridor to the balcony and being hit — quite literally (©P Bailey) — by a super, super-thick wall of sound. It was physical. Ever stuck your hand out of a car window travelling at more than 30mph and ‘feeling’ the ‘body’ of air? It was like that. It almost took an effort to push through it on to our seats.

Whether the booze and dope magnified the sensation I don’t know, but with a few short minutes (No! ©T Potter. A minute is a minute is a minute!) I felt very, very ill and ran outside to the cemetery where I spent next hour or so throwing up. No comment on Beck’s playing, of course.

*NB Courtesy of the net and how any number of nerds will record for posterity any amount of shite, I can report that the gig was by the ‘supergroup’, Beck, Bogert & Appice, and it was at the Caley Picture House, Lothian Rd., Edinburgh, on January 29, 1974 (a Tuesday, apparently and the Caley Picture House is now a Wetherspoons. Well, what isn’t these days?). The gig was recorded and released as a live two-CD set called The Last Live In Scotland 1974.

And if you listen very carefully to the first track, you can hear me puking violently in the next-door cemetery. Well!

And that is it, people. I hope you enjoyed my choices.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Ten of my favourite albums over the past . . . years (in no particular order). No 9 Chimeradour by Jeff Lang

I like to claim ‘I like all music’, but that’s not really true. I draw the line at schmaltzy shite, ‘show toons’ and some classical music. That last would include the Bruckner I have so far heard and almost all of Wagner.

I can’t remember who said ‘A little Wagner goes a very long way’, but someone should if it hasn’t yet been said officially. Other gibes I like are one by Thomas Beecham — that’s right, of the cold and ’flu remedy Beecham’s though he decided on a different course in life — who observed that ‘Wagner has his moments, about one every 15 minutes’. And even Jim Naughtie (formerly of Radio 4’s Today) a keen Wagner fan once admitted that ‘you listen to 20 minutes of Wagner’s music, look at your watch and realise the piece started only five minutes ago’.

But enough bile.

I also thought I didn’t like folk and country music. My ears were eventually opened a little to the attractions of some country music by my guitar tutor; and once I realised there’s more to folk — a lot more as it happens — than all that finger-in-the-ear wailing about the past by Britain’s folk revivalists (who now insist we call it ‘roots’), I got to like much of it. A great deal of the folk I like comes from abroad and British folk is still a sore point for me, though I have mellowed.

But even then, when I was invited to go to a gig by the Australian ‘folkie’ Jeff Lang, I took some persuading. Actually, Lang who describes his music as ‘punk folk’ is about as far from the finger-in-the-ear wailing revivalist ‘roots’ crowd in their shapeless drab sweaters and straggly beards as you can get. And thank the Lord for that. And thank the Lord that I was finally persauded.

For many years commuting back home to Cornwall from London on a Wednesday night, I stopped off at a pub in the Somerset village of South Petherton to watch Champions League football, drink a glass of red or ten and smoke a few La Paz. And as you do, I got to know several folk there, one of whom was Paul.

Paul was a social worker in his early 60s who and a Labour supporter. I am unaligned politically (and prefer it that way because I like to be able to speak my mind and don’t like being obliged to talk shite and defend ‘my party right or wrong’) and pretty much in ‘the centre’, but it soon became apparent that I was to the left of Labour-supporting Paul. But that is another irrelevant detail.

Paul professed to be a fan of folk music and one day asked whether I might like to go to a Jeff Lang concert at the well-known Half-Moon, in Putney, West London. Don’t worry about the folk angle, he said, he’s a great guitarist. The gig was on a Wednesday night when I usually drove home, so the plan was that Paul would make his way to London and we would meet in Putney, and afterwards drive back out West and I would drop him of at South Petherton.

For the gig we were joined by another friend who likes music, and I’m so glad I went. Lang really is a one-off. Back in Australia he has his own band, but for his (I think) annual tour of Europe he performs on his own.

Well, I say ‘on his own’, but he uses an array of gadgets, mainly loopers, to produce a sound that really must be heard to be believed. Put baldly like that your heart might sink, but Lang is certainly not a slave to electronic gadgetry, but makes it work for him. The music and what he can produce comes first. And he is some guitarist. Quite apart from that he writes and sings some very interesting songs indeed and has a great voice.

The track here is one of my favourites from the album I am featuring, Chimeradour. But I particularly like the sinister quality he gets into the song and the sense of dread felt by a young lad who is not too sure what is going on and fears the worst. The other songs on the album are equally as good. Lang is worth checking out.

PS I wrote about Jeff Lang in this blog at the time.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Ten of my favourite albums over the past . . . years (in no particular order). No 8 Amandala by Dave Fiuczynski

I came across Dave Fiuczynski by chance but I’m bloody glad I did. For once this might be touted as an album which, if it didn’t exactly change my life, did set me off on a new path and getting to know other performers and their music, simply by googling Fiuczynski’s sidemen and seeing what they were up to and who they played with.

OK, doing that still leaves you within quite a narrow field, but there is still good stuff to get to know.

I came across Fiuczynski quite by accident. When iPods were just getting going and becoming all the rage but commanding very high prices (as all Apple products do and were being bought by folk who work on the principle that if you’re being charged through the nose, it must be good! Er, not necessarily, sunshine, but that’s for another time) I got interested. What all my music in a small gadget like that and I can carry it all around? Bloody hell!

Well, after the hell of tape spooling out of your Sony Walkman (or it’s cheapo Saisho rip-off) once too often, it was a godsend. The downside was the price: I’m not one of those dicks who will pay £100 for a £5 pencil just because it’s good a sodding white apple printed on it. (The same is true of T shirts: three for £8 from Asda is good enough for me rather than one for £40 which is identical except for a tiny Ralph Lauren logo of a polo player on the upper left which informs your idiot peers that like them you have more money than sense.)

One day I was in North Devon on a National Trust ‘working holiday’ (i.e. you do hard work for nowt but earn the gratitude of the nation) for a travel piece for the Mail, when on the mini bus back to where we were staying I noticed one of the other guys wearing which led into a small gadget like an oversized USB stick. What’s that, I asked him. An MP3 player he told me. And that’s when discovered how you can listen to music on the go without taking out a mortgage because Apple are such shysters.

The first one I bought — and this was at least 20 years ago — was not very sophisticated, had little memory, and a bugger to use: lose your way in the various menus and you were there till next Christmas trying to get back out. Oh, you could change the ‘colour of the display’ but was that worth it? Yet it did the job and bonus was it came with a voucher to download several tracks for free.

I looked up jazz tracks and among them saw the name the guitarist Dave Fiuczynski. It was one of the ones I downloaded and I liked it. In fact, on the strength of it I decided to buy one of his CDs — and Amandala was the one I chance upon, chosen pretty much at random.

Ironically, though the music he produces as a rule was absolutely nothing like the track of conventional jazz I had downloaded with my voucher (and nothing by Fiuczynski I have since heard — I’ve bought about five more of his albums — is remotely like that track). But I loved it. In an odd sort of way it was music of a kind I’d been waiting for all my life.

Furthermore, if I was a better guitarist and formed a band, Fiuczynski’s music is exactly the kind of music I should like to play. Admittedly, it is marmite, but then you can’t win ’em all. If you like this, check out his other stuff, it’s just as good.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Ten of my favourite albums over the past . . . years (in no particular order). No 7 Purple Rain by Prince

One morning, at about 7.30pm, at 45 Milner Road in Kings Heath, Birmingham, in the early 1980s I was woken by my clock radio to a song which grabbed me immediately.

Just as when in that station cafe in Rho I had heard the song Superstition from Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, I distinctly remember thinking: what IS this? Who IS this? Got to find out!

The song was When Doves Cry, and that memory is still as strong and powerful as though it happened yesterday. I can even still see the clock radio to the right of my bed.

The trouble is — as I have just found out while checking up on dates — its complete bollocks. My fond memory of first hearing When Doves Cry is what we bores call — and IF your luck is out will pontificate on at length — ‘a false memory’. It isn’t a memory. It couldn’t have happened. It is something I have made up.

In that memory (though this is not part of it, but what I deduce from my memory and my life at the time) I get up and go to work as usual in Colmore Circus at the Birmingham Evening Mail, no doubt that fabulous song still ringing in my ears, not to be forgotten for the rest of the day.

But it couldn’t have happened: in November 1982 I had left the Evening Mail and landed job (the most boring job in the world) on Power News, the staff newspaper of the then Central Electricity Generating Board.

When Doves Cry wasn’t released for another 20 months in July 1984. And by then I was living at 33, Norlan Drive, Kings Heath, Birmingham, after shacking up with girlfriend in Oxford Road, Moseley, Birmingham for a year. Where I certainly wasn’t — because I could not have been — when When Doves Cry was released was in Milner Road.

The memory is strong, still strong, but you can’t argue with time and the calendar,and quite why I created such a detailed false memory I don’t know and can’t guess.

Ah, the beauty and innocence of totally unnecessary detail. It features a lot in those long-winded, Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces upmarket US magazines are so fond of printing:

‘It was just after 5.45 on a dark and snowy Montana morning. The winged peskies nesting in the pines outside his cabin were still silent. He calmly slid two slugs into the stock of his favourite .85 404 Dietrich-Wurlitzer. He could taste that second Java blend cup of arabica which jacked him up every day. He lit up his third Philip Morris. He had just one thing on his mind: murder.’

You know the kind of thing. No doubt the taps in the bathroom of the Oxford Road bedsit were from the special B&Q Windsor range which even then were hard to find and thus had a certain cachet, but almost 30 years on, there’s no way I can check (and I feel even less inclined to do so than you feel inclined to hear all about it).


That song was the first Prince song I heard, and I’ve been a fan ever since. It was from the album Purple Rain which features today, but is not the song I’m featuring. As I’ve said before about the other albums, there is not a single week track on Purple Rain, but Darling Nikki stands out and it’s the one you can hear here. Oddly it’s almost a musical hall song (if you get what I mean).

Purple Rain was the first album I bought, except I didn’t buy it as an album but as a cassette. I went on to buy many more Prince albums, although certainly not all of them. Those who don’t know Prince might think that he was just another funk merchant, but he actually produced music in many other genre, or used some of their characteristics.

There’s not much to say about Prince which hasn’t been said a million times before, so I won’t. Not all of his songs grab me as much as others do, but Prince a ‘just average’ is always streets ahead of most other people ‘being good’. He really was a one-off.

One last point I will make, merely because I haven’t yet heard it remarked about Prince pretty much ever, is that he had a great sense of humour. It was quiet an unobtrusive but it was there. And you get the feeling that however seriously he took his work and art — he must have been a perfectionist — you never get the feeling he took himself too seriously. And that is quite rare in folk at his level.

One finally irony of Prince’s life (and death) is that he didn’t ‘do’ drugs like pretty much the rest of the music industry (many of whom make a fetish out of it like that dickhead Lou Reed). ‘What you putting up your nose / is that where all your money goes’ he sings in Pop Life.

Yet he became addicted to the painkiller Vicodin which he had started taking because all the trolloping around on stage in platform soles had done his hips in. And according to a the Minnesota justice system he inadvertently been taking counterfeit Vicodin that was laced with fentanyl.

One of the greats. I like to think he’s now somewhere in the beyond chewing the fat with Mozart. Who knows?

Friday, 8 May 2020

Ten of my favourite albums over the past . . . years (in no particular order). No 6 Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

I’m sure like me everyone reading this can recount several instances in their life which they, for one reason or another, believe they will never forget. These moments don’t necessarily have to involve deep emotion, like the death of a close relative or friend or when you first met the woman or man who became a love like no other for several years. I could tell you about several moments which oddly stick out in my memory for no very good reason at all.

As for turning points in life, well I tend to take those with a pinch of salt. They are more the stuff of novels and cheap films and TV documentaries than anything you and I might be familiar with. But I do have one memory which does not exactly signify ‘a turning point’ but which did set part of me — the ‘musical’ side of me, if you like — on a new and more welcome path.

After graduating in July 1972, I worked at Thames Carpet Cleaners in Henley-on-Thames (though my duties were strictly helping unloading and loading the vans and helping to fold cleaned carpets) for several months before I spotted an ad in the Daily Telegraph for English teachers in Italy. I applied and the following January was off to Milan where I lived for the next five months.

The guy I worked for, a New Zealander called Russell Rob, was something of a shyster. Not directly, mind, but oddly he told lies when lies were just not necessary, though, as I discovered, also when they were. He told me, for example that his ‘language school’ in Italy employed several people, some in Milan, more in Rome. But it wasn’t true: I was his only ’staff’.

More seriously, he also tried to diddle me out of a substantial sum of money my father had lent me (to pay for three months deposit on a flat and three months rent in advance). Because it was almost for me to open a bank account — Italian bureaucracy was a nightmare and, I gather, still is — my father had transferred the money to his bank account. Finally, I found a room in a flat and no longer needed the money and wanted to pay it back to my dad as soon as possible.

But would Russell Robb cough it up? Would he fuck. And he came out with all kinds of excuses and lies to put it off. One lie involved the ‘sudden death’ in a scooter crash of a friend, so we would have to cancel a planned trip to Geneva (where is account was) to get the money. After too much shilly-shallying, I had said I would go with him to Geneva even though he insisted we would have to go by the super-duper bullet train (or something) which only had first class (and so would cost a bomb). Fair enough, I said. The following day ‘his friend died in the scooter crash’.

Actually, there then did come one of those turning points in life about which above I’ve been a bit snooty and dismissive: finally I knew I had to bring matters to a head. So at one meeting I asked him directly (with these exact words): ‘When do I get my father’s fucking money?’

The thing is that up till then, in the 22 years of my life so far, I had thought of myself as essentially rather timid and someone who disliked confrontation. Really? Suddenly — and with pleasure — I realised that just wasn’t true: confrontation? Bring it on! And I did get my — or rather my dad’s money — within days after months of faffing around.

What’s that got to do with Stevie Wonder’s album Innervisions? I’ll be honest: nothing at all. But I so rarely get to tell that tale, a tale, moreover, in which I shine.

Some of the people I taught were Italians who worked for Honeywell in Rho, about 12 miles north-west of Milan, so I took a suburban train out there for the lessons. And one day, on my way back to Milan, I was in the station cafe waiting for my train when a track came on the jukebox (remember them?).

From the very first bar it electrified me. I distinctly remember thinking: THIS is the kind of music I want to listen to from now on, not all that on-the-beat, four/four heads-down rock crap which was then making a comeback. OK, there was other ‘white’ music around but you take my point. The heady days of innovation were past and what with oil crises and industrial unrest it was back to basics in many ways. It was quite noticeable.

The track was Superstition by Stevie Wonder. ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ of the catchy tunes such us Uptight (Everything Is Alright) had grown up.

Now that track is on another album, Talking Book. The album I am featuring here was the first I bought by Stevie Wonder and still my favourite, Innervisions, its follow-up. I didn’t buy it immediately after hearing Superstition, not for another 12 months, in fact, when it was his latest and most talked about. But I loved every track, which, as with all the other albums I am featuring, hit the spot.

Talking Book and the follow-ups to Innervisions, Fulfullingness First Finale (not the cleverest title I’ve come across) and Songs In The Key Of Life, also have many great tracks (though to this day I’m not as enthused by Isn’t She Lovely as most) and I like many just as much as those on Innervisions, but I’d bought Innervisions first and it still has top spot. And of the tracks on Innervisions He’s Misstra Know-It-All, the one you can hear, stands out.

Then what happened to Stevland Hardaway Morris? Well, who knows? I either bought or simple somewhere heard The Secret Life Of Plants and was baffled and unimpressed: the music was so ordinary. And, as the man sings, the thrill had gone.

I just didn’t bother checking out any of the albums that came later and don’t regret it: the fact that those five early 1970s albums (before Talking Book came Music Of My Mind, not brilliant, but good in parts) are now referred to as from the ‘classic period’ and those that came afterward as ‘the commercial period’ should tells us a lot. It was during the ‘commercial period’ that we got the oddly bloodless Boogie On Reggae Woman and that complete shit abomination of a song Ebony And Ivory (which, to be fair, has more of Paul McCartney’s schmaltzy fingerprints on it than Stevie Wonder’s lyricism).

Since then Mr Wonder, Little Stevie Wonder as was seems to have done very little. Oh, well.