Jun 18, 2018

(RCA Victor Records LSP 10394, 1972)

Corky Siegel was born in Chicago in 1943 and musically influenced by Elvis, Chuck Berry, little Richard, Fats Domino, and everything eke on '50s and '60s radio. He had played tenor sax in a high school band that also featured Russ Chadwick, Siegel-Schwall's first drummer. Jim Schwall was also born in Chicago, a year earlier than Corky. He had started playing guitar in high school, influenced by the Weavers and other mainstays of the late '50s folk revival. He played in bluegrass bands, but also took on the influences of folk blues players including Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Pete Williams, lonnie Johnson, and Brownie McGhee. Siegel was barely 21 in 1964 when he met his fellow Roosevelt University music student in an elevator. Schwall was studying composition, Siegel was majoring in classical saxophone. That year, however, Siegel was introduced to the blues by a couple friends who played Dylan-style harmonica (one was Bob Buchanan, of the hit folk group the New Christy Minstrels).

While both played in the school's jazz band, Siegel hadn't noticed Schwall until he saw the guitar slung around his future partner's neck in the elevator. Siegel played a Wurlitzer electric piano with a makeshift bass drum and high hat cymbals underneath. Schwall had the same '50s era blond Gibson B-25 acoustic guitar—with an electric pickup literally bandaged over the sound hole—which he still uses to this day (though it's been rebuilt a couple times since he first acquired it in 1959). As The Two Man Blues Band, Siegel and Schwall auditioned for Johnny Pepper at Chicago's famed South Side blues club Pepper's Show Lounge. They were then, and still are, unique instrumentalists. An extraordinarily inventive harmonica player with a broad vocabulary of inimitable riffs and tones, he would alternate chunky folk-blues chords with Chicago blues single notes and throw in vocal groans and yips (listen to "Angel Food Cake," from final Vanguard album Siegel Schwall 70). His piano playing was likewise unorthodox: "Down In The Bottom," the Howlin' Wolf classic which opened the band's 1966 self-titled debut album, prompted a puzzled Wolf, who used to sit in with the band frequently and was Siegel's favorite blues Founding Father, to point out that he was playing the key piano part "backwards."

Schwall, who stayed with his sturdy acoustic Gibson because its "boxy" neck could withstand his punishing hard play, was similarly incomparable. His guitar lines attacked from all directions: up, down, sideways, diagonally predictably and from out of nowhere. His slide work, as on the heretofore unreleased "Easy Rider" or the slow blues buzz of Slim Harpo's "I'm A King Bee" from the band's second album Say Siegel- Schwall, was utterly dazzling; so was his mandolin play on that album's "Bring It With You When You Come." (His use of the mandolin as a blues instrument, incidentally, put him in the company of the late Yank Rachell and very few others in using the mandolin as a blues instrument.) After a few months at Pepper's, the band moved to Big John's on the North Side, where they took the slot previously occupied by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Now called The Siegel-Schwall Band, it had solidified a lineup also including bassist Jos Davidson-another Roosevelt student and Mike Bloomfield's bassist-and drummer Chadwick. Within weeks of their first Big John's gig, The Siegel-Schwall Band was discovered by Sam Charters, talent scout (or Vanguard Records, the venerable folk music label.

The author of The Country Blues and producer of such blues greats as Lightnin' Hopkins, Charters was immediately struck by the group's commitment, excitement, and innovative take on the traditional blues genre. He produced the songs on The Siegel- Schwall Band-a mix of covers by major influences like Howlin' Wolf and jimmy Reed with originals in a similar stylistic vein—in one take at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago. he album was released in 1966, just as the San Francisco music explosion was getting underway. Siegel Schwall soon became a big draw in the Frisco scene, sharing stages with virtually every major act from that period including Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. hey also mode inroads on the East Coast, at clubs like the Bitter End, and Steve Paul's Scene, where Tiny Tim used to open their shows and where the over of Say Siegel Schwall was shot. That album, released in 1967, as recorded in Vanguard's New York studio, using the downstairs washroom for an echo chamber. Jack Dawson, who had played bass in a Detroit band, had replaced Davidson, who left to pursue a career in social work.

Once again, the contents came from the band's set list and continued its founders' use of traditional blues as a base for contemporary expression. One tune, the slow blues "My Baby Thinks I Don't Love Her," would soon be embellished by composer William Russo in "Three Pieces for Blues Band And Symphony Orchestra." (Siegel Schwall would later record it with prominent fan Seiji Ozawa and The San Francisco Symphony for release on the Deutsche Grammophon label in 1973. Ozawa had conducted The Chicago Symphony in the late '60s and, like Charters, fell in love with the band after stumbling upon them at Big John's. They first performed with Ozawa and The Chicago Symphony in 1968, and would later appear with other orchestras; they even joined Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops in a concert televised on PBS.)

The Siegel-Schwall Band's 1972 album "Sleepy Hollow" was the progressive Chicago blues hand's second of five early '70s albums for the RCA-distributed Wooden Nickel label also the early home of Styx following four discs for Vanguard. It followed the quartet's 1971 self-titled album, which mixed studio and live tracks in essentially the same blues rock format of the preceding final Vanguard entry, "Siegel-Schwall '70". But "Sleepy Hollow" was all studio and showed the increasing experimentation within the blues format that would mark the band's final few years though it should be notted that Siegel-Schwall continues to reunite periodically for concert appearances, with the great Sam Lay replacing the late Shelly Plotkin on drums. The title track, then, seems to bear little resemblance to the Chicago blues form that the Vanguard Siegel-Selm all releases typified. Written and sung by Siegel, a piano and harmonica virtuoso of  remarkable invention and wit. The mellow tune was an appropriately lazy take on a relaxed rustic homestead  the complete opposite of the band's urban reality.

Other Siegel tunes included the fast-back "Somethin's Wrong," characterized by Siegel as a "blues polka": "Always Thinkin’ Of You Darlin'." Which offered a poppy slant on a standard blues shuffle; and "Hey. Billy Jean," written with Chicago Folkie Jim Post (formerly of Friend And Lover and "Reach Out Of The Darkness" fame) and demonstrating Siegel's "hoe-down blues" harmonica mastery. Schwall. who met up with Siegel in 1964 when both were music students at Roosevelt t'niversity in Chicago, was also a unique blues stylist, with an electrified (Gibson B-25) acoustic guitar. Here he's represented by some of his most memorable songwriting. Especially the immortal "Sick To My Stomach." which delightfully documented the nausea the singer experienced when jealously imagining his girl being with someone else. "Blues For A Lady" showcased his guitar prowess in the slow Blues format, while the shuffle of "You Don't Love Me Like That" juxtaposed Sehwall’s guitar work and Siegel's blues-harp play. Bassist Hollow Radford. who went on to play with Sun Ra, was ever the band's crowd-pleaser, thanks to his unrestrained soul on numbers like his lead track "I Wanna Love Ya." But the most telling track of the set was Siegel's "His (Good Time Band." The tribute to an exemplary musician who just didn't care to compete commercially, but was content enough to sit back and play his music solely for the love of it. surely spoke for Siegel-Sehwall—which in the late ‘60s and early '70s virtually owned the Midwest, yet disbanded at the height of its popularity to pursue other interests. Five of the nine tracks on "Sleepy Hollow" resurfaced last year on Varese Vintage's "The Very Best Of The Siegel-Schwall Band The Wooden Nickel Years (1971-74)." 

Say Siegel Schwall is followed in this set with four previously unreleased tracks. "Easy Rider" and "I Like The Way You Rock" are demo versions of late '60s earty '70s concert favorites, while "Don't Want No Woman" and "Sneaky Pete" are outtakes from the first Vanguard sessions. The third Vanguard album, Shake!, was also cut in New York, mainly as a collection of song demos. After its 1968 release, the band, which had toured heavily for two and a-half years, took a year off, returning in 1969 with a new rhythm section in Rollo Radford, who had played with Dinah Washington and Martha and the Vandellas, and the great Chicago blues drummer Sam Lay, who had played in Siegel's interim band along with guitarist Jim McCarty of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels fame. Drummer Shelly Plotkin was in place when Siegel Schwall recorded its final Vanguard album, Siegel- Schwall 70, at Paragon Studios in Chicago. Whereas the preceding studio albums could only hint at the exhilarating roller coaster ride of the Siegel- Schwall Band live, Siegel- Schwall 70 fully captured it in two concert performances: "Angel Food Cake" and Seawall's guitar masterpiece "A Sunshine Day In My Mind." They were recorded live at Chicago's premiere showcase dub The Quiet Knight, where the band now held court every Tuesday. To use a term evocative of the time, they had by now become a "boogie band" second to none, and almost every track on the album was a concert favorite.

Siegel, who currently fronts Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues, a Chicago-based blues-classical hybrid also featuring four string players and a tabla player. Schwall now lives in Madison, working as a high school teacher and part time social services worker when not planning a run for mayor. Radford, who went on to play bass with the likes of Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, and Sun Ra, is a special education teacher in Chicago, and also plays in jazz groups.  Plotkin, a master drummer, died of heart failure in 1990. Yet The Siegel Schwall Band remains "a bond in perpetuity," to use Siegel's designation. A reunion concert recorded in 1987 and released on Alligator Records returned Sam Lay to the fold, and found the group in lop form-and up-to-date, as the "Find yourself another hippie" line in "I Don't Want You To Be My Girl" was contemporized to "Find yourself another yuppie." They still get together occasionally, more than 35 years after their historic first Vanguard album. And so the Siegel-Schwall magic lives on, and with it, that special Siegel Schwall induced smile. It's all there in Siegel- Schwall's The Complete Vanguard Recordings and More, a deserved commemoration of the timeless talents of two immensely influential musicians-and more. Much more.

Jun 17, 2018

JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES - The Best Of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates
(EMI Gold Records 50999 228142 2 7, 2008)

It may surprise you to know that The Beatles were not the first British rock act to top the chart with one of their own compositions – that honour goes to Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, whose No. 1 hit, 'Shakin' All Over", is also the earliest British penned rock song to ever reach the US Top 20. Born Frederick Allbert Heath in WillesdenWillesden, North London on November 23 1935, Johnny was the youngest of Margaret and Ernest Heath's three children. He attended Wesley Road Secondary Modern School before going on to Willesden Technical College, and first became interested in music when an uncle gave him a banjo for his birthday. In 1956, together with some friends, he formed a skiffle group, who at various times were known as Bats Heath & The Vampires, The Frantic- Four, and The Five Nutters Skiffle Group. The group fared well in a handful of talent shows, which led to an appearance on the BBC radio show Skiffle Club and performances at the No.l skiffle venue. The '2 I's coffee bar in Soho.

When the skiffle train ran out of steam, the group had a few name changes before settling on Freddie Heath & The Nutters. Unlike many contemporary British rockers, Johnny also wrote songs. In 1959, George Martin produced the duo The Bachelors (Steve Keen & Rikki Gabin - no connection to the later Irish trio) singing 'Please Don't Touch', which Kidd composed with his manager Guy Robinson. Simultaneously Johnny was ottered a contract with another EMI label, HMV, and on April 18, 1959, the group recorded their version of that song with upand- coming producer Peter Sullivan, later famous for his work with acts like Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. It was while recording this track (it took 28 takes), and its equally exciting, written-inthe- studio, b-side 'Growl' , that the group learned that they would now be known as Johnny Kidd & The Pirates - a decision they presumed had been taken by either Sullivan or Robinson.

'Please Don't Touch' had more of a raw rock'n'roll sound than any other British record at the time, and their performance of it on BBC" radio's Saturday Club helped push it into the Top 20. Most unusually for a UK rock song it was covered in the USA by Chico Holliday (on RCA), and 22 years later revisited the UK charts by heavy metal heroes Motorhead and Girlschool. Johnny, who wore an eye patch and calf length cowboy boots on stage to enhance his pirate image, followed this hit with a beat rendition of the First World War favourite 'If You Were The Only Girl In The World' - recorded just days after the death of its composer George Meyer. The group then returned to the chart with a cover version of 'You Got What It Takes' penned by future Motown owner Berry Gordy Jr. At this time the Pirates had reduced to a trio consisting of Alan Caddy (lead guitar) Brian Gregg (bass), and Clem Cattini (drums). It was this line-up, with the addition of noted session guitarist Joe Moretti, that recorded their next single. The A-side was intended to be their rockin' revival of the 1925 favorite 'Yes Sir, That's My Baby', hut it was the "throwaway" b-side that went down in rock'n'roll history. They penned 'Shakin' All Over' in just six minutes at Chas McDevitt's Freight Train coftee bar in Soho the day before going into the studio on Friday the 13th May I960. Legend has it that the track, which features Moretti's playing the chilling guitar figure and classic solo, was recorded in just two takes. Johnny recalled "When we saw a girl who was a real sizzler we used to say that she gave us 'quivers down the membranes'. It was this that inspired me to write the song".

EMI instantly realised the track's potential and made it the a-side. The group launched it on Jack Good's TV show Wham!. It charted immediately and seven weeks later in August 1960 replaced Cliff Richard's 'Please Don't Tease' at No. 1. Incidentally, Cliff later recorded the song as did The Who, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Normie Rowe (who took it to the top in Australia) and Canada's Guess Who (who took it into the US Top 2O). Johnny's final I960 release was the haunting 'Restless' which narrowly missed the Top 2O. He returned to the Hit Parade the following year with the R&B song 'Linda Lu' but the next release 'Please Don't Bring Me Down', which owed more than a little to 'Shakin' All Over', failed to chart. It was soon after this that Brian, Alan and Clem thought thev were leaving a sinking ship and quit the Pirates - they would soon all be part of the Tornados, who had a transatlantic No. 1 with "Telstar' in 1962. Johnny's final release of 1961 was the 'Fever' flavoured 'Hurry On Back To Love', on which the Pirates were replaced by the Mike Sanimes Singers. It also sold relatively few copies.

By 1962 there was a new line-up of Pirates; Johnny Spence (bass), Frank Farley (drums) and Johnny Patto (guitar), who as the Redcaps had previously hacked Oh Boy! regular Cuddly Duddly. The group spent most of that year gigging around the UK and in Hamburg, where they starred at the prestigious Star Club. The cutlass wielding buccaneer and his band were particularly popular in Liverpool, where they often played the Cavern Club, where future Merseybeat stars watched and learned from their idols, and also topped the bill over The Beatles on a Mersey riverboat shuffle.

In January 1963 the group scored with their verson of A Shot Of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues' coupled with the equally popular 'I Can Tell', the first track to feature guitarist Mick Green who replaced Patto. That summer their new manager  Gordon Mills convinced them to record “Never Get Over You”, a catchy song he had written, and previously recorded with his group The Viscounts, which had a Merseybeat feel. Initially the group were not too keen as it was a little too commercial for them. However, it rocketed into the Top 5 and the similarly styled Mills-penned follow up 'Hungry For Love' also gave them a Top '20 entry, and a year later was used by The Searchers as the lead track on a Top 5 EP. The group's last chart entry came in 1964 with Always And Ever', which was based on the 19th century Neapolitan song 'Santa Lucia".  Later singles, including Kidd's versions of Jewel Akins hit The Birds & The Bees', The Miracles' million seller 'Shop Around', Marvin Rainwater's 1958 No.l ' Whole Lotta Woman' and an updated 'Shakin' All Over '65' sold only moderately well but this did not really affect Johnny's amazing capacity for pulling big crowds wherever he played.

In 1966, Johnny married long time girl friend Jean Complin and among his wedding guests were Tom Jones, Georgie Fame, and members of The Hollies and Pretty Things. In April that year The Pirates set sail without Johnny in search of more fame and fortune, and after that mutiny he put together The New Pirates (who evolved from Liverpool band The Avengers). He was very happy with the group and their live shows were very well received. As a Norfolk newspaper reported "Always a very visual performer, Johnny's voice sounded more powerful today than when this legend of British rock'n'roll was in the charts! ". However, tragically, soon afterwards, when driving back from a gig in Nelson, Lancashire, Kidd was killed in a crash near Bury.

'Send For That Girl', which Johnny had hoped would return him to the top, was released shortly after his funeral. Despite the fact that he had played such a pivotal role in British rock music, the single received little support from the British music media and, ironically, even the recently launched Pirate Radio ships turned a blind eye to the record. It seemed that Johnny's image and sound no longer fitted. Perhaps the reason was in his genes, he was too Gene Vincent and not enough Gene Pitney for the .swinging sixties set. Apart from all the A and B sides of all the group's singles, this top notch collection includes many noteworthy recordings that were not made available until after Johnny's death. Among the lesser known jewels are the group's distinctive interpretations of rock favourites The Fool', 'Let's Talk About Us', Dr. Feelgood' and 'Some Other Guy'. In addition, they offer unique treatments of 'Your Cheating Heart', 'Right String But The Wrong Yo Yo', 'You Can Have Her' and 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' (recorded three years before the Rolling Stones version!). Although they never had a hit of their own in the USA, they are held in high esteem there. Rolling Stone magazine summed up Kidd's group by saying "They were a prototype for the heavy metal guitar trios that they predated by nearly a decade", while other American critics pointed out that they were recording R’n’B songs long before the Beat Boom and British Invasion bands. This set plunders Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' vault and oilers you the very best of their recordings - and, if you'll excuse the pun, it's an album to treasure.

Jun 15, 2018

DAVID GRAY - White Ladder (IHT Records IHTCD001, 1998)

"White Ladder" is the fourth studio album by English folk singer-songwriter David Gray. It was first released in November 1998 through Gray's own record label, IHT Records, but failed to chart. On 1 May 2000, the album was re-released by Dave Matthews' label ATO Records and debuted at number 69 on the UK Albums Chart, before climbing to number one on 5 August 2001, more than a year later. "White Ladder" produced five singles, including the hit "Babylon", which ignited interest in the album and shot Gray to worldwide fame. Other singles released from the album were "This Year's Love", "Please Forgive Me", "Sail Away" and "Say Hello Wave Goodbye". "White Ladder" spent almost three consecutive years in the UK top 100, charting between May 2000 and March 2003. Its total charting time as of 2015 is 175 weeks, making it one of the longest-charting albums in UK chart history. It was massively successful in Ireland, where it spent six consecutive weeks at number one on the Irish Albums Chart and had sold 350,000 copies by 2002. It is currently the biggest selling album of all time in Ireland. "White Ladder" was the fifth best-selling album of the 2000s in the UK, selling 2.9 million copies. "White Ladder" has sold over 3 million copies in the UK, making it the eighth best-selling album of the 21st century and the 26th best-selling album of all time. The album has also sold over 7 million copies worldwide.

"White Ladder" was self-financed and was recorded in Gray's London apartment. To support the album, Gray toured the United States with the Dave Matthews Band, whose lead singer Dave Matthews released "White Ladder" in the United States on his label ATO in 2000 as the label's first release. Following the album's success, he toured the US and UK extensively between 2000–01 to promote the album. A hidden track, "Through to Myself", can be found in the pregap of the original 1998 IHT Records release (by rewinding from the start of "Please Forgive Me"). The US CD release does not include the secret track, but instead includes the audio bonus track "Babylon II", as well as an enhanced section which includes a mini-documentary with a live performance of "Babylon", a brief biography and web links. The Japanese release includes the bonus track "Over My Head", which also appears as a B-side on the 1999 "Babylon" single.

The cover of "Say Hello Wave Goodbye", originally by Soft Cell, features additional lines from the Van Morrison songs, "Madame George" and "Into the Mystic". "White Ladder" was originally released on Gray's own label IHT Records in November 1998. It spent six weeks at number one in Ireland, selling 100,000 copies in that time. By September 2001, the album had been certified 20× Platinum by the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) for sales of over 300,000; it remains the biggest-selling album in Ireland. It was only after its re-release in May 2000 on ATO Records that the album managed to chart in the UK, debuting at number 69 on the UK Albums Chart. On 5 August 2001, fifteen months after the re-release and almost three years after its original release, it reached number one. "White Ladder" has spent a total of 175 weeks on the UK Albums Chart. Aside from "Please Forgive Me," which charted at No. 72 on the UK Singles Chart, all other single releases charted within the Top 20: the re-released "Please Forgive Me" charted at No. 18, and "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" and "Sail Away" peaked at No. 26. "White Ladder" was the UK's fifth best-selling UK album of the 2000s. It had sold 2,940,575 units in the UK by 24 July 2011 and hit the 3 million mark in March 2015. As of June 2015, it is the eighth best-selling UK album of the 2000s.

In the United States, the album peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200, spending a whole year on the chart. The album earned Gray a nomination in the United States at the 44th Grammy Awards for Best New Artist. Reflecting on the success of "White Ladder" in 2010, Gray stated: "I still pinch myself when I think about it. That record will be there for ever. It just connected in such a big way with people. It was the period that came after that was difficult. I'm sort of seen as a pop artist. I'm dismissed as slight, I'd say, because of White Ladder." In Ireland, "White Ladder" was originally released on November 27th 1998, entering the Irish chart at #25. 61 weeks later, and for the first time, the album went to #1 on January 24th 2000, spending six weeks at #1, and subsequently spending much of the next four years in and around the top 10. It eventually went 23 x Platinum and remains the bestselling album in the Republic of Ireland; at one stage, it was said that 1 in every 4 Irish households had a copy of the album.

The year 2001 also saw the release of two compilation albums of Gray's early works and unreleased material, The EPs "1992-1994" and "Lost Songs 95-98", both of which followed "White Ladder" into the Top 20 in the UK Albums Chart. In November 2002, Gray released the follow-up to "White Ladder", entitled "A New Day at Midnight". The new release did not receive the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, but still went straight in at number 1, famously beating Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates's debut album "What My Heart Wants to Say" to the summit and selling nearly 150,000 copies in its first week of release. It went on to achieve platinum status within a year, eventually being certified four times platinum overall, and was the second-biggest selling album by a UK artist in 2002, behind Pop Idol winner Will Young's debut album "From Now On". "A New Day at Midnight" produced two further UK Top 30 hits in "The Other Side" and "Be Mine" and a minor US hit with "Dead in the Water".

David Gray's early music was in a contemporary folk-rock, singer-songwriter mode; his primary instrument was acoustic guitar, with occasional piano. 1996's album "Sell, Sell, Sell" featured some rock arrangements and electric instrumentation. Starting with the release of "White Ladder", Gray began to make significant use of computer-generated music to accompany his voice and acoustic instrumentation, a technique which differentiates him from many of his peers. "A New Day at Midnight" continued this direction, although lyrically it was darker in tone than "White Ladder" and the instrumentation much more downbeat. In the liner notes, Gray dedicated the album to his father, who died in 2001. Gray also provided vocals on the electronic-based band Orbital's 2001 single "Illuminate". Despite the move to more complex music, Gray has used small-scale, often home-based, recording methods and equipment and espoused a do-it-yourself approach to music production.


Jun 14, 2018

GRAHAM BOND + PETE BROWN - Two Heads Are Better Than One
(Chapter One Records CHS-R-813, 1972)

It was inevitable that one day Pete Brown and Graham Bond would work together. They had been friends going back to the early 1960s and the jazz poetry gigs where Pete, Mike Horowitz, Spike Hawkins and the other pioneers of performance poetry would vent their literary spleen backed by musicians on the lunatic fringes of the London jazz scene - including Graham, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Ginger Baker. For Pete, the Graham Bond Organisation was the best British band and he wrote his classic song 'Theme for an Imaginary Western' with the GBO in mind as they took the blues and R&B all over the UK in vans held together with hope and string to places where the music had never been heard. Pete had been writing songs for Graham and was to play in the last incarnation of the band, but it all fell apart before Pete could join.

In 1972, Pete's band Piblokto was winding down. Meanwhile Graham was in the process of being sacked from the Jack Bruce Band. They had been on tour, promoting Jack's album Harmony Row; guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall with saxophonist-surgeon Art Theman comprised the rest of the line-up. Graham was in modern parlance, 'high maintenance1 especially during the times when he was nursing a serious drug habit. Because of his medical duties, Art couldn't make the gig in Rome, which was unfortunate because he was the band's peace-maker between Jack and Graham. But it was there in the dressing room of the Teatro Boncaccio, that Jack got so exasperated with Graham that he ripped the sink out of the wall and threw it at him.

So Pete and Graham found themselves in limbo and decided to join forces. There were a couple of Piblokto gigs to do; one at the Seymour Hall in London and what Pete describes as a "very depressing gig in Southend, a terrible organ trio were the main event singing 'Knees Up Mother Brown' with a singer who was completely out of tune. We were in the psychedelic ghetto with about 18 people." For the new band, Pete brought in drummer Ed Spevock from Piblokto and bassist deLisle Harper from the recently disbanded Gass formed by Bobby Tench with drummer Godfrey McLean. Graham recruited guitarist Derek Foley from prog rock band Paladin with Graham's wife Diane Stewart on vocals. They got a record deal with Chapter One, a label formed by composer and conductor Les Reed who went into partnership with Wessex Studios and Donna Music Ltd. Most of the product was 'easy listening', light classical and a few comedy albums, but there was also a connection with Mecca Ballrooms who were looking to book some more progressive acts on their circuit.

The band had two managers, one was a 'silent partner'; the other a tough guy called Mick Walker. His brother is Savoy Brown's Dave Walker; back in the day, they played skiffle together in teenage bands going on to form the Red Caps who landed a record deal with Decca. Dave carried on in bands while Mick became a businessman, establishing the famous Rumrunner Night Club in Birmingham which later became the launch pad for Duran Duran. Maybe the writing was on the wall for Bond and Bond with their manager's opening remarks on meeting the band, "I've just seen Pete Brown and Graham Bond albums together in a remainder bin."

The album was recorded at Richard Branson's Manor Studios, engineered by Tom Newman who worked on Tubular Bells and at Wessex, one of Pete's favourite studios, but sadly sold to developers for housing in 2003. They began by recording an EP which featured 'Lost Tribe', 'Milk Is Turning Sour In My Shoes' and 'Macumbe' and then the tracks for the album. Unlike most British musicians of the times, Pete and Graham had a real affinity for digging into the grooves of a song and imbuing it with soul and funk feels strongly linked to Africa; Pete was a percussionist as well as a lyricist and singer - the Graham Bond Organisation had been driven by Ginger's strong African rhythms who had included Graham (and Diane) in his short-lived band Airforce. So amidst the welter of heavy rock and codclassical prog rock that dominated the British underground scene of the day, this album came from a very different musical sensibility and inspiration.

Between them Pete and Graham wrote most of the songs with contributions from deLisle Harper (nowadays an accomplished arranger) including 'Oombati'. One song, 'Colonel Fright's Dancing Terrapins' was recorded with a slightly different and earlier line-up featuring guitarist Mick Clark from the Clark Hutchinson duo. The song was inspired by some graffiti spotted scrawled on a French wall during a Piblokto tour; "Somebody asked what CFDT meant," says Pete, "it was probably some political slogan, but I just said, 'Colonel Fright's Dancing Terrapins', but we're in northern France so there is something in there about first world war tanks".

Songs like 'Lost Tribe' and 'Looking for Time' were an attempt to express the fact that musicians like Pete and Graham found themselves on the outside of the rock scene in the early seventies, just like they had done in the early sixties when they inhabited the demi-monde of be-bop and 'beat poetry' scorning and in turn being scorned by the jazz establishment. The playfulness in Pete's lyrics sometimes found its way into the music itself; '"Scunthorpe Crabmeat', has about a million time signatures - loads of stops and drop beats all over the place. Piblokto did a straight version of that, a straight shuffle. This was a bizarre, perverted version." As was 'Massed Debate' "a British pervert song" and Pete's homage to 'Arnold Layne'.

The song with the most interesting antecedence was Graham's 'Ig the Pig'. IG were the initials of the Los Angeles boss of a Mercury Records subsidiary label called Pulsar. During his time in the States in 1968, Graham found himself signed to this label along with Dr John and the Doug Sahm Band. With his reputed 'heavy' connections, IG was the guy who did his business at the point of a gun and was one day confronted by Diane (on behalf of Graham who was sick), Mac Rebennack and Wayne Talbot from the Quintet, all coming in search of promised cash. Now Graham, Mac and Johnny  Perez from the Sahm Band all had an abiding interest in the occult - and when they realised that no cash would be forthcoming, they got together to put a whammy on IG. The result? His wife caused a hit and run accident and IG himself was demoted to the ranks very shortly afterwards.

The band were a regular working outfit on the road with a small, but strong following of freaks and hairies especially at The Roundhouse and The Temple in Wardour Street, one of the last hippie outposts of the acid deranged and damaged. They were also signed to EMI in France who were very pro-active in promoting the band where Pete had always had an enthusiastic fan base - although how the band actually survived was a small miracle. Whenever Graham was driving, wheels had the habit of coming off. In fact most of the chaos of this band on the road had Graham at its core. They were in France doing 90 mph with a van full of gear and people, when a wheel rolled past them, "Oh, I think that's one of ours", said Graham. They spun off into a field and somehow Graham managed to bring the van under control before they all perished. With heroin in short supply, Graham would engage country chemists in a series of mumbles and hand signals which would produce varieties of noxious brews that only Graham could stomach. And e.erybody else's stomach turned at the sight of Graham tucking into a huge plate of bloody tripe straight out of a local meat market after an exhausting drive. Coming back through customs, Graham did his bit for Anglo-French relations with loud cries of "You won't find any drugs up my arse."

And it was drugs that finally did for the band. There was trouble anyway because Diane and the manager fell out, resulting in the singer being fired and bringing the fires of hell raining down on Graham's head. They were on tour in Leicester where Pete recalls, "this incredibly frightening woman appeared and gave Graham loads of acid and he did nothing but play feedback all night." The next night in Scarborough, Graham was hospitalised and they did this and the next gig without him and after that the whole band folded. This was to be Graham's last recorded album. His mental health was deteriorating as his obsession with the occult grew. After a spell in a mental hospital, his life ended tragically under the wheels of a London Underground train in May 1974. Pete went on to a renaissance career in both music and film, continuing to write with Jack Bruce, forging another productive partnership with ex-Man keyboardist Phil Ryan, recording albums on his own label, touring his band, working in the studio with an array of promising young talent and writing and producing films. He is currently working on his autobiography.


Jun 13, 2018

LEFT END - Spoiled Rotten (Polydor Records PD 6022, 1974)

The rain continued to fall on a September Friday evening in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. The thick air made the last chords of the last song ring on beyond their normal cry. It was over. The young rock group Cherry Paup had finished their last gig. Guitarist Tom Figinsky, keyboardist Fred Dolovy, bassist Rod Buckio and drummer Pat Palombo had come to the end of their four years together. They were billed as The New Teen Sensations from 1964 through 1969, from high school freshmen to now graduating high school seniors. Now, it was a time of passage from boys to men, from the dreams of rock & roll to the challenges of the real world from high school heroes to regular faces in the crowd. It was during a break at the Apartment Nightclub on Youngstown’s south side in the summer of 1972 that an articulate, brash, boastful and at times vulgar gentleman walked into the group’s dressing room. He announced himself as Steve Friedman and confidently told the group he wanted to manage them. At first, the guys took Mr. Friedman as just another hawker that was not to be taken seriously. But Friedman’s obvious knowledge of the music business and his arrogance were appealing to the group. After a couple of meetings, Left End had a management/production contract with Steven Friedman.

The group recorded more demos and Steve began meeting with record company executives in New York City. By October of 1972, Friedman landed the group a recording contract with Polydor Records. The contract gave the group a lucrative recording budget that included a minimum of two singles and one album a year for five years. Left End could choose any studio at which to record. The group unanimously selected Cleveland Recording in Cleveland, Ohio. Why?  Because that is where Grand Funk recorded its early albums with the great engineer Ken Hamann. The group finished its winter engagements while writing and testing new material for an album.  Polydor released "Bad Talkin Lady" on its label and the single began to sell nationally. In the late spring of 1973 Left End began recording their first album.  The group continued to perform during this period. The group recorded on Monday through Thursday. One night with a few guests on hand, someone noted the total chaos and mess at the large hotel dining table that had been created by sliding several tables together. There were beer bottles and mixed drink glasses lying on their side surrounded by stacks of china and half-eaten desserts. The guest said, “Boy, you guys are really spoiled rotten.” That was it, he perfect name for Left End’s first album "Spoiled Rotten". To fit the image, Dennis changed his name to Dennis T. Menass.

The "Spoiled Rotten" LP was released by Polydor Records in the late fall of 1973. It went to #1 on “Album Pix” charts in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia over night. The album picked up momentum and began to sell throughout the Midwest. Left End's live performances also picked up dramatically and they began playing concert venues to “standing room only” crowds. Steve Friedman strongly supported the group’s spoiled rotten image by equipping the group with dead frogs to throw into the crowd, ping pong ball firing canons and suckers with wrappers that boldly read “YOU SUCK!”  Below in smaller print it read Left End. The group did a mock slow ballad called, “Your Mine” or “The Pimple Song” in which a large weather balloon filled with water, whipped cream, and mustard was wheeled onstage in a small red wagon. At the end of the song Dennis T. Menass would burst the balloon and those against the front of the stage got the worst of the exploding pimple.

Battles on stage with giant gorillas and “staged” attacking fans that Dennis T. would subdue with beer bottles, whips and clubs became a standard. The press labeled them “Big Time Wrestling Meets Heavy Rock.” The group wore lavish “glam rock” costumes of bright silver, gold, black and red. When in New York City, the group would head to Greenwich Village and SoHo to find the most outlandish boots, belts, and leather outfits. Dennis T. would change outfits several times during a concert set. Certain songs commanded a special look. Of course, the group continued closing their shows with flash pots and pyrotechnics. Left End was known for their introduction tapes that were played prior to the group appearing on stage. These were comical thematic collections of live and taped recordings compiled by Thomas John and Jerry Starr of what was then WSRD FM Radio (The Wizard). These intros became very popular with Left End fans. The Cleveland press dubbed them, “The Monster That Ate Cleveland.”

Soon after the "Spoiled Rotten" album was released, Polydor released the single "Loser" from the album. The group began performing in large concert venues with the likes of the Eagles, the J. Geils Band, Brownsville Station, the New York Dolls, Trapeze, George Clinton and the Funkadelic Parliament, and dozens of others. Left End appeared in Rolling Stone, Cash Box, Billboard, Cavalier and other national magazines. They were frequently featured in local periodicals in the tri-state area. Polydor Records held a big reception for Left End after the group performed in concert at Cobo Arena in Detroit. The concert was a great success. Left End finished the set with the usual flash pots on stage and added a full blown fireworks display. The crowd went crazy and literally attacked the group. Later, at the reception for the group, Polydor executives, still buzzing from the concert, began to lay out plans for the group. Left End had captured the Midwest and there was great interest from east and west coast cities.Their plan was to take the group to Europe where it was felt that they would be an instant success and then bring them back here as “The Monster That Ate Europe.” Group members were floating on clouds anticipating their rise to greater stardom until communication with Polydor Records suddenly came to a halt.

Jun 12, 2018

THE RASCALS - See (Atlantic Records SD 8246, 1969)

In their first three years or so as recording artists, the Rascals had achieved almost as much success as was humanly possible for any rock band not named the Beatles in the mid-to-late 1960s. There had been about a dozen hit singles, three of them #1 smashes. There were major television shows, tours across the US and Europe, and Top Ten albums. There was relentless musical originality and invention, which found them expanding from the blue-eyed soul base that had made "Good Lovin'" a 1966 #1 single to psychedelia that brought in horn and string arrangements, as well as lyrics that incorporated both spiritual growth and social commentary. It all peaked with the liberation anthem "People Got to Be Free," which took over the #1 position for five weeks in the summer of 1968, and was part of their ambitious 1969 double album Freedom Suite (also issued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music).

With so little left to prove, the Rascals turned increasing attention toward business and social agendas that were not strictly tied to songwriting and recordmaking. Even as far back as 1967, organist and singer Felix Cavaliere had told Melody Maker, "We'd really like to go on a world tour in Japan, Turkey, Europe and even the USSR to spread a message of peace. It would be a world peace tour. The message won't be simple pacifism, it'll go deeper than that. It's lack of communication that leads to ignorance and war. On our travels we have found already that young people are really groovy all over the world. Although we're not fighters or anything, we would like to do our bit to get them together."

Though the Rascals didn't pull off such a global venture, they did something about as significant by announcing that their shows would feature half white acts, and half black acts - an important statement in a decade in which campaigning for civil rights was so vital, and all the more so coming from one of the few white acts with a sizable following among black audiences. "All our major concerts will be half black, half white, or we stay home," Cavaliere told Rolling Stone in 1969. "We can't control the audience, guaranteeing it will be integrated - and you better believe they're still segregated, if only by psychological forces that exist. But we can control the show. So from now on, half the performers will be black, half will be white. It was this way at the Martin Luther King Memorial we did recently at Madison Square Garden, and it was great." The group would also do benefits for UNICEF, Cesar Chavez, and the Long Island Tenant Farmers' Union.

While the Rascals' stage presentations had became more musically ambitious as well - including a performance with the American Symphony Orchestra at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey - they'd also be more selective in those. "We're limiting our engagements starting the first of January," Cavaliere informed Rolling Stone, shortly after the group had canceled an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. "We got tired of seeing producers approach good groups and say, 'Give us a fast three minutes, then split.' We figured we were at the end of the road. Television has let the musician down. The last strike showed that. So we aren't going to them any more. There are things more important than money. We've turned down or canceled other shows, too." In the same Rolling Stone article, Cavaliere announced plans to start a label for ghetto youth, Ki Records, adding, "I was asked once on a black radio station what a young Harlem kid could do to make it. I couldn't answer that question. Now I'm going to try. There must be dozens of brilliant young musicians in Harlem, in Watts, but how do they get out? Who is going to give them a chance?" On top of all this, Cavaliere was studying Eastern mysticism with Swami Satchinanda, described in Billboard as "a non-profit prophet who is helping the singer-songwriter by tranquilizing his lyrics."

Yet around the same time, the Rascals, or at least their management, were entertaining ever-widening commercial and business ambitions as well. In September 1968, Variety reported that manager Sid Bernstein had "agreements with two major filmeries for a picture in which the combo would act and perform pending his finding the right script. He has nixed three to date." Observed Bernstein in the same piece, "Sound of film can reach millions of people. If we did a soundtrack, we could double our annual gross, and if we appeared in the film, the figure would triple." Summarized Variety, "Bernstein is priming his act for everybody's ultimate goal, to be the 'American Beatles'...Bernstein feels that all that is preventing his act from reaching the summit of success is the attitude of the important 'underground' press who, according to Bernstein, regard 'the Rascals as teenyboppers.'"

Of course, to be the American Beatles - or to carry off such ambitious business/social plans, as the Beatles were themselves trying to do with Apple at the same time - has to be funded by the capital generated by hit records. And sadly, in 1969, those were in shorter supply in the Rascals camp than big ideas. None of their three singles that year made the Top Twenty, though the final pair, "See" and "Carry Me Back," came close. Both were included on the album released at the end of the year, See, but that likewise was a disappointment, peaking at #45. Nor did it expand the group's musical vision as markedly as each of the band's albums had since their 1966 debut The Young Rascals, retreating from the sprawling experimentalism of Freedom Suite to songs of mostly fairly conventional length and structure. Guitarist Gene Cornish had told Melody Maker in the late 1960s that "it seems to be a new direction each time we do a record," but on See, it seems the band, like so many of their peers at the end of the 1960s, were embracing a simpler sound more in touch with their roots. It was also apparent that Eddie Brigati's role in the group was diminishing; though he'd written most of the band's material with Cavaliere at their peak, and taken almost as many lead vocals as Felix, on See he doesn't have any leads at all, and his songwriting contributions are limited to just one co-write ("I'm Blue") with Cavaliere.

Viewed several decades later without the sky-high expectations listeners might have brought to a new Rascals LP in 1969, however, See reveals itself to have its share of solid tunes that play to the group's basic soul-rock strengths. "See" has a bubbling organ, pummeling rhythm, and train-whistle harmonies that would do the Five Americans proud; "I'm Blue" taps their skill at delivering a credibly Ray Charles-like number, something at which Cavaliere was especially adept at singing; "Carry Me Back" combined the gospel feel heard in several late-period Rascals singles with what was, for the group, an unusually country tinge; and "Real Thing" was a fine gospel-rock tune that perhaps would have made a better choice as a 45. And while the group had placed just one cover on their three previous albums, they dipped back into their most blue-eyed soul-soaked past with a cover of the Knight Brothers' 1965 hit ballad "Temptation's 'Bout to Get Me," with a dual Cavaliere/Brigati lead vocal.

Jun 11, 2018

AGNES STRANGE - Strange Flavour (RCA Victor Records PPL 1-8082, 1976)

Sometimes, albums become far more interesting because of their back story. Case in point: Agnes Strange. This heavy trio from Southampton, England, led by singer-guitarist John Westwood, somehow didn't make a splash on the early '70s boogie circuit despite their obvious similarities to beloved acts like the Groundhogs, Budgie and Status Quo. 

Despite some heavy names in their corner, including management company DJM (led by Dick James, who had made a mint off the Beatles' publishing) and A&R folks at Pye Records, some bad luck and inexplicable business decisions led them off course. Foremost among these was a fundamental misunderstanding of the term "pub rock," which led Pye to release Strange Flavour on a one-off label called Birdsnest, which was affiliated with a chain of theme pubs of the same name, owned by the beer manufacturer Watney's. 

The existing heavy rock audience at the time reacted much as straight-edge punks would if McDonald's and Sony BMG joined forced to release a hardcore album available only at fast food restaurants, and Strange Flavour disappeared without trace, as did Agnes Strange.Funny thing, though: it turns out that Strange Flavour is actually pretty good. Produced by Dave Travis, whose remarkably cheesy country albums from the '60s are much beloved by Anglo-kitsch collectors, and engineered by Colin Thurston, who was about a half decade away from his heyday as a name post-punk and new romantic producer, Strange Flavour is comfortably pitched between the old and the new, or at least the new iterations of the old.

 "Clever Fool" is a basic bluesy shuffle that would sound right at home on one of Dave Edmunds' Rockpile-era albums, while "Motorway Rebel" is tailor-made for the Foghat crowd, with its faux bluesy riffage and a hackneyed opening line "Well, I been to New York City/You know I been to L.A." delivered in a voice that screams that its owner has never been further west than Liverpool. On side two, things get a lot spacier, culminating in the epic freak-out "Children of the Absurd," complete with Pink Floyd-style sonar guitar pings and rampant wah-wah abuse. 

Westwood and his compatriots, bassist Alan Green and drummer Dave Rodwell, may not have been able to solidify a trademark Agnes Strange sound, but the "see if it works" variety and generally tasteful playing makes Strange Flavour an interesting listen for rock obscurantists and old boogie fans alike. This reissue features remastered sound, full liner notes of the whole odd story and four bonus tracks including the punchier 45 single mix of the anthemic opening track "Give Yourself a Chance". The album, originally released in 1975 on the UK BirdsNest Label, has been released in Germany a year later with a complete different cover on RCA Victor Records.

Jun 10, 2018

THE ARTWOODS - The Artwoods Singles A's & B's 
(Repertoire Records REP 4887, 2000)

The Artwoods were formed in 1963, and over the next two years became an extremely popular live attraction, rivaling groups such as the Animals, although, despite releasing a clutch of singles and an album, their record sales never reflected this popularity. Singer Arthur Wood, from whom the band took their name, was the elder brother of The Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood. He had been a vocalist with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated for a short period during 1962, simultaneously fronting his own group, the Art Wood Combo. When keyboardist Jon Lord and guitarist Derek Griffiths joined from Red Bludd's Bluesicians they re-christened themselves the Artwoods. Keef Hartley, formerly with Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, joined on drums in '64 and the band turned professional, secured a residency at London's 100 Club and gained a recording contract with Decca Records.

The intended debut single, a cover of Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man" was shelved in favour of a version of an old Leadbelly song, Sweet Mary". Although it didn't reach the Charts it got sufficient airplay to bring them a lot of live work, including an appearance on the first live edition of 'Ready, Steady, Go!' The second record, "Oh My Love", was another blues cover. Like it's predecessor, and subsequent releases, it failed to chart. The Artwoods were dropped by Decca at the end of 1966 and signed a one record deal with Parlophone, but "What Shall I Do" also flopped. Later in 1967 a final "one-off" single appeared on Fontana under the name "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" but by the time of it's release the Artwoods had effectively ceased to exist.

The Artwoods' early records today stand up well against the work of more successful groups such as the Stones, the Yardbirds or ironically, the Birds, who included Art's younger brother Ron. But at the time they came out, despite appearances on programs like Ready, Steady, Go! their singles never seemed to connect with the record-buying public. In live performance, on the other hand, it was a different matter. They had a virtuoso lineup, Lord'spiano and organ sound was a great complement to Wood's singing, Griffith's guitar work was tastefully flashy, and Keef Hartley was animated as well as powerful, with a big sound on the drums. Club audiences always knew they were good for a great show and the band loved playing live. Ultimately, in fact, the group's success in touring and their love of playing live may have hurt them. 

The 18 songs on this release, comprising the group's entire single and EP output, are some of the best British-spawned R&B of their time, and can stand alongside the best work of the Animals, Manfred Mann, or the Yardbirds in that vein. The Artwoods were a virtuoso outfit from the get-go, with a natural feel for the music as singers and players, whether they were working in the vein of Sam and Dave or Booker T. and the MG's, or just having fun in the studio as they do on several of the B-sides represented here. They were good at improvising in the studio and had a slightly more jazzy feel to their playing than a lot of their rivals -- their records are amazingly busy, between Jon Lord's piano and organ flourishes, Keef Hartley's very flashy drumming, and Malcolm Pool's extremely active bass work; what's more, on their B-sides, it's possible to hear the very beginnings of what became progressive rock in the hands of outfits like the Nice, at a point when the virtuosity was still focused on R&B and soul. Even their cover of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" works within the context of British R&B. 

The Artwoods treaded a fine line between Manfred Mann and Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, but they really sounded like no one else. There's not a bad cut here, even the trio of pop-rock covers ("A Taste of Honey," "Our Man Flint," etc.) that they hesitated to release at the time for fear of looking like they were selling out. The mastering is excellent, and if this were an LP, it's the sort of release purchasers would need more than one of because they'd wear out their first copies. 

Jun 9, 2018

OUT OF FOCUS - Out Of Focus (Kuckuck Records 2375 010, 1971)

On their eponymous second album, Out of Focus further develop their progressive jazz-rock sound, at the same time pushing in other directions as well. The rhythm section is still as upbeat and funky as ever, with those repetitive but odd rhythm patterns. There is now more sax in the mix, as well as the flute riffing, guitar wails, and chunky organ chords, with each instrument allowed ample soloing and no instrument over-dominant. If anything, this one dispenses with some of the heavy rock sound to get closer to the jazz influences. They slow down the pace on the strange folk song "It's Your Life" as well as the even stranger "Blue Sunday Morning" with its airy flute, church organ, and bizarre song narration. Lyrics are even sharper, whether ripping into the banality of television or the hypocrisy of religion, with the dark-edged humor more firmly in place. On the suite "Fly Bird Fly"/"Television Program," the group veers from soft to full in-your-face intensity while staying on a bouncy riff. On long tracks like this one and "Whispering," they throw a lot of variation over repetitive grooves to create mesmerizing jams that are both incredibly loose and far more focused than the average jam band. 

As Mario Rossi’s excellent liner notes make clear, by the summer of 1971 and the release of their sophomore album, the self-titled Out Of Focus, the band have quite dramatically eschewed the loose, amateurish rawness that characterised Wake Up! in favour of a more structured, professional approach. In it’s place, Out Of Focus have adopted a more jazz-rock oriented style in the songwriting. Neumüller has jettisoned the lead role for the flute on this album and he now shares his woodwind duties between flute and saxophone. I’ll come straight out and say it, however. I find the sax work on this album incredibly unsophisticated and grating. Neumüller demonstrates little mastery of the instrument but uses it extensively as a tonal layer in the arrangements, often in tandem with Hennes Hering’s organ lines and sometimes in unison with Drechsler’s guitar lines. Musically, I find it repetitive and unimaginative. Of course, I say this with the benefit of hindsight and the use across the decades of a sax by many rock and prog acts in thrilling ways. Let’s just say Theo Travis he is not. I suppose it stands as a legitimate experiment with a brassy, hard-bop sound that would come to ultimate fruition a year later on Four Letter Monday Afternoon. Nevertheless, what I’m hearing here is, to me, an annoying intrusion in some interesting compositions.

To speak in broad strokes, Out Of Focus have slowed down a lot. The tracks on this album possess a much more open sound, allowing their musical ideas more space in which to breathe. There’s a subtlety to the playing beyond the soft/loud dynamics of their debut. Many of the melodic sensibilities of Wake Up! have been retained but developed to offer a broader harmonic palette. Fly Bird Fly is a wonderfully tuneful example of the way in which they have reconsidered their songwriting. Everything is so much more controlled and restrained. This is particularly notable in Klaus Spöri’s much more delicate drumming and even more so in Neumüller’s vocal delivery. On this album he comes over as a heavy-lidded performance poet channelling Mick Jagger to vent his anti-establishment spleen; but he is distant, detached, almost astral in his sonic position and it’s a whole lot more palatable. What he is saying does now sound a tad juvenile, but back then, this was real and avowedly counter-cultural.

"What Can A Poor Boy Do (But To Be A Street Fighting Man)" offers a hint in its title. That we ought to expect something reactionary but it doesn’t actually manifest itself in this track. With its high-tempo, infectious and repetitive rhythm, this could just have easily have been on a Blue Note Recordings release a decade earlier. Or perhaps Out Of Focus were inspired by the De Patie/Freleng cartoons of The Pink Panther with Henry Mancini’s iconic theme tune because there are clear echoes of that too. I imagine that this must have been an audience favourite at the time, just because it’s fun. "It’s Your Life" also has its tongue in its cheek as it gently see-saws its way along like a children’s nursery rhyme, but with a lyric like “No more whipping your bottom/When you’re gasping, longing for it”, I don’t suppose it was in any way intended as children’s entertainment.

Things start to get serious with "Whispering", which is primitive and barely listenable unless you’re under the influence of psychoactive drugs. Essentially the same four notes again and again for its 14 minute duration; it’s as underground and dingy and seedy as I imagine 1971 Munich ever got. It still has its counterpart today in the kind of minimalist, downtempo techno you’ll hear in the chill-out rooms of dance clubs all over Europe. For me to get the desired effect required four HobNob biscuits eaten quickly and dry one after the other, no liquid to cleanse the palate, then lie back and let the sugar do its work. What a trip, man. Genuinely. This is what was great about the underground psychedelia of its day; played by heads for heads. It is shamanic and intoxicating if you can find the time and the mood to go with it. "Blue Sunday Morning" continues the lysergic theme with Jesus being bored in heaven and desperate to come down to Earth and partake of some weed, but by the time Television Program loops its repetitive, though likeable, motif round and round my head, I feel a little browbeaten. The biscuits have obviously worn off, and without those sugar-laden receptors in my brain firing off, it’s really quite difficult to keep focussed on the music.

Like "Wake Up!", this is undoubtedly a product of its times but it’s also something that can transcend those temporal boundaries and have some relevance for our modern anodised and commoditised ears. This album reminds us how great analogue can sound and once again, Ben Wiseman’s remaster superbly and faithfully recaptures the thrumming warmth of valves and the simple chemistry between five musicians. The fin de siècle doom-mongery of the debut has been replaced with a certain joie de vivre. Or maybe they were just on better drugs? They certainly seem to be having fun and enjoying what they are doing a bit more. As psychedelic albums go, this is one of the better ones I’ve heard. It also compares with some of The Doors early recordings. Just as Jim Morrison is ‘retiring’ to Paris after the recording of L.A. Woman, and four years after The Doors were asked to change the word ‘higher’ to the word ‘better’ in their rendition of Light My Fire on The Ed Sullivan Show, Out Of Focus are stoned out of their brains and carrying Morrison’s ‘scrambled-egg mind’ torch to a logical apotheosis. The Germans are more hardcore than I think the Doors could ever have dreamt of, even with Morrison in their midst, but they are also quite an influence on the Germans.

Jun 8, 2018

GALLAGHER AND LYLE - Love On The Airwaves 
(A&M Records AMLH 64620, 1977)

Gallagher and Lyle are a Scottish musical duo, comprising singer-songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle. Their style consists mainly in pop, soft and folk rock oriented songs. Their first recognition came in 1968, when they were signed by The Beatles to write for Apple Records' artists. They were founding members of the band McGuinness Flint and wrote the 1970 UK chart hit "When I'm Dead and Gone". In 1972 they formed the duo Gallagher and Lyle, whose fifth album Breakaway charted well and included the hit songs "Heart on My Sleeve" and "I Wanna Stay with You". Don Williams took their song "Stay Young" to No. 1 on the US Country charts. The duo split in 1980, but re-formed in 2010. Gallagher and Lyle have worked, jointly and individually, on records with, among others, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood, Joan Armatrading, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention and Jim Diamond. Artists who have released Gallagher and Lyle songs include Bryan Ferry, Elkie Brooks, Fairport Convention, Art Garfunkel and Joe Brown.

They joined forces in 1959, initially as members of a local Largs-based band, The Bluefrets. They began writing original material for the band, while Gallagher also co-wrote "Mr Heartbreak's Here Instead" for Dean Ford and the Gaylords (later to become Marmalade). When they were signed by Apple Records, they wrote for musicians such as Mary Hopkin ("Sparrow", "The Fields of St. Etienne", "International", "Heritage" and "Jefferson"). There was a rare one-off single issued on UK Polydor 56093 in 1967; "Trees" b/w "In The Crowd" issued under the name 'Gallagher-Lyle', which preceded their success as songwriters at Apple. They also backed singer James Galt, a friend of theirs from Largs, on two singles for Pye Records that are now highly prized by northern soul collectors: "Comes The Dawn"/"My Own Way" and "With My Baby"/"A Most Unusual Feeling", both of which were composed by permutations of Gallagher, Lyle and Galt. These tracks have appeared on various CD compilations of 1960s rarities. In 1970 Gallagher and Lyle were original members of McGuinness Flint, writing nine of the 11 songs on the group's debut album, including the UK Singles Chart success "When I'm Dead and Gone" as well as the follow-up non-album single "Malt and Barley Blues", both of which were produced by Glyn Johns.

They recorded a second album, "Happy Birthday Ruthy Baby", with McGuinness Flint, again writing most of the songs, before leaving to form the duo Gallagher and Lyle in 1972, signing to A&M Records after their initial solo album was first released on UK and US Capitol Records. They recorded four albums: "Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle", "Willie and the Lapdog", "Seeds" and "The Last Cowboy, again" under the auspices of Glyn Johns. But it was not until they teamed up with US producer David Kershenbaum for their fifth album "Breakaway", in 1976, that they charted again, with the hits "Heart on My Sleeve" and "I Wanna Stay with You", both of which reached Number 6 in the UK Singles Chart and also charted in the US. Their mellow sound was only briefly in vogue, and elusive further success (another minor hit in the UK was "Every Little Teardrop") prompted their split in 1980, by which time three more albums had been issued: "Love On The Airwaves" (which went silver in the UK), "Showdown" and "Lonesome No More". The latter was issued on Mercury Records; a further album recorded for that label, "Living On The Breadline", has never been released. The duo's original version of "A Heart In New York", which was to have been included on that set, appeared on 1991's compilation album "Heart On My Sleeve - The Very Best of Gallagher and Lyle". The UK Capitol and the UK A&M issue of their first album included their musical version of the poem "Desiderata". The US Capitol album is missing that track.

Graham Lyle formed his own publishing company Goodsingle Publishing (later to become goodsingle.com) in 1980, chiefly to administer his own copyrights, and began writing for other artists. His earliest post-Gallagher & Lyle compositions included the singles "Our Love" for Elkie Brooks and "Listen to the Night" for Climax Blues Band. Since then Lyle's songs have been recorded by some of the biggest names in music including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Etta James, Patti LaBelle, Anita Baker, Joe Cocker, Wyclef Jean, Fat Joe, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, The Neville Brothers, Hall & Oates, Kenny Rogers, Crystal Gayle, Jim Diamond, The Judds, Wet Wet Wet, Paul Young, Bucks Fizz, Eros Ramazzotti and Warren G, but it is for his work with Tina Turner that he has become best known. Lyle formed a new songwriting partnership with Terry Britten, and their hits included the Grammy-winning Song of the Year and Record of the Year "What's Love Got to Do with It ?" and the multi-Ivor Novello-winning "We Don't Need Another Hero" for Tina Turner; and "Just Good Friends" for Michael Jackson. He also recorded an album with Tom McGuinness, credited to the Lyle McGuinness Band: "Acting on Impulse" (1983), as well as a solo portfolio album, "Something Beautiful Remains" (2003). A solo single, "Marley", was issued on Red Bus Records in the UK in 1983, while "Taking Off" - a TV advertising jingle, co-written with prolific session keyboardist Billy Livsey and credited to the Lyle-Livsey Ban - was released on the Dolphin label in 1984 but only in Ireland, where it became a Top 20 hit.

Benny Gallagher is a featured artist and co-owner of OnSong (an internet-based record label) with Derek Wilson. Gallagher has released two albums as a solo artist – Benny Gallagher on Stage, and more recently At the Edge of the Wave. The latter set features his tribute to Robert Louis Stevenson, "Tusitala"; this song has also been included on the Greentrax CD "The Great Tapestry of Scotland", which was released in late 2012 to accompany the launch of what will be the largest tapestry in the world. Gallagher and Lyle sang and performed as members of Ronnie Lane and The Slim Chance Band on the hit single "How Come" and the ensuing album "Anymore for Anymore", and they have worked, jointly and individually, on records with Mary Hopkin, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood, Elkie Brooks, Joe Egan, Andy Fairweather Low, Gary Brooker, Dennis Coulson, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Champion Jack Dupree, Joan Armatrading, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention and Jim Diamond.

Other artists who have recorded Gallagher and Lyle songs include: Bryan Ferry, Colin Blunstone, Donavon Frankenreiter, Elkie Brooks, Fairport Convention, Fury in the Slaughterhouse, Joe Brown, Judith Durham, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Phil Everly, Ricky Nelson, Ringo Starr, Rita Coolidge, Status Quo, The Fureys, Lemon Jelly, and Jim Capaldi. The seeds for a reunion were sown in 2007 when both Gallagher and Lyle, as session musicians, appeared on an album by Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Tassone; this was recorded at London's Abbey Road Studios. In April 2009, the two Scots attended the opening of the Largs Heritage Centre. The following year, the duo re-formed. In October 2010 the pair staged two charity concerts in Largs in aid of Haylie House, a residential care home in the town. This was followed in June 2011 by 'The Big Gig', an all-star charity concert at Glasgow's Barrowland nightclub, in which they performed alongside Midge Ure, Jim Diamond and Marti Pellow. In September of that year, the duo appeared at the outdoor MOARE Festival in Faversham, Kent, which was headlined by former Average White Band stalwart Hamish Stuart.

2012 saw Gallagher and Lyle undertake their first tour since 1979, consisting of 9 dates at 8 Scottish venues. Their two dates at The Green Hotel in Kinross, a large golf resort, earned them the Mundell Music Award for Best UK Performance of the year, to add to their Tartan Clef Award for Lifetime Achievement, which they had received in November 2010. The soundtrack to the 2012 documentary film "We Went To War", directed by Michael Grigsby and relating the stories of three Vietnam War veterans, features the song "I Was A Soldier", which was written and performed by Gallagher and Lyle. In March 2016, Gallagher and Lyle performed together at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters' Festival. In November 2016, the duo returned to The Green Hotel in Kinross for four concerts. The summer of 2017 saw the duo perform as part of the 'Byre at The Botanics' season in St Andrews, and also at the Belladrum Festival in Inverness and the Albany Theatre in Greenock. In March 2018, the duo returned to Belfast to perform once more at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters' Festival.

"Caledonia USA", a musical based on the songs of Gallagher and Lyle, was staged in Largs in April 2016. Originally titled "When I'm Dead and Gone", it was subsequently retitled after a new song written specially for the show by Gallagher and Lyle. "When I'm Dead and Gone" was featured on the soundtrack of the 1999 British comedy-drama film East is East. British chick-lit author Lisa Jewell's 2010 novel After The Party makes reference to "I Wanna Stay With You". The late British comedian and broadcaster Kenny Everett staged an outrageously literal visual interpretation of "Heart on My Sleeve" on his BBC TV show in the early 1980s. The Variety Club of Great Britain has used "Heart on My Sleeve" to promote its Gold Heart Appeal.