Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Version City #59 - Velvet Crush sing Dillard & Clark


Gene Clark released a steady stream of great music throughout his post-Byrds career, sometimes in cahoots with one of a succession of collaborators. At the tail-end of the 1960's, Clark teamed up with Doug Dillard to produce two albums, 'The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark' in 1968 and 'Through the Morning, Through the Night' the following year. Sandwiched between these long players was the non-album single 'Why Not Your Baby', a beautiful song written by Clark, with as an emotionally devastating a lyric as you'll ever hear.

Gene Clark died in 1991 at the tragically young age of 46. Three years later, Velvet Crush, produced by Mitch Easter, paid a fine tribute to the man with a cover of 'Why Not Your Baby' on their 'Teenage Symphonies To God' LP, released through Creation Records.

She wore a blue dress when she walked in the room
And in her eyes the look I saw was filled with gloom
Is this the question I would answer all too soon
Come tell your friend what's wrong with you

Why don't you call me your baby anymore
Am I so changed from some strange love that went before
Is this the change of mind that I've been designed for
Why not your baby anymore

Those words we spoke they only seemed to block our way
The truth rang out when you called me and called my name
I don't know what I can do or I can say
Your good friends also find a way

Why don't you call me your baby anymore
Am I so changed from some strange love that went before
Is this the change of mind that I've been designed for
Why not your baby anymore

Dillard & Clark - Why Not Your Baby

Velvet Crush - Why Not Your Baby

Monday, 20 March 2017

Spake He With His Dying Breath, 'Life Is Done, So What Is Death?'


With the passing of Chuck Berry over the weekend, Jerry Lee Lewis (81) and Little Richard (84) are now the last surviving original rock 'n' roll pioneers. Chuck of course was unique among his contemporaries, by virtue of the outstanding poetry of his lyrics. Newly recorded material is due for release later this year, but the last album Berry issued in his lifetime was 'Rockit', way back in 1979, a record that concluded with the extraordinary spoken word 'Pass Away'. In 1986 Chuck and Robbie Robertson sat down in front of a film crew to document an even more extraordinary performance of the piece.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Intro to Nowhere


The success of the Britpop movement in the 1990's persuaded the major record companies of the day to throw money at many bands who fit the required profile, in an effort to keep a good thing rolling along. A lot of bands were signed - some good, some merely derivative, but few of them were given any time in which to properly develop. In previous decades, artists might have been allowed two, three or even four albums to learn their craft and find an audience, but by the mid-90's if success wasn't immediate, bands would invariably find themselves out on their ear pretty sharpish. I was taken to see many 'next big things' by effusive record company reps who sang their praises long and loud, at least until the first couple of singles flopped, at which point they were quietly forgotten about - and it was on to the next 'next big thing'. It was a particularly nerve-wracking time to be in a newly signed band, for whom Britpop must have been both a blessing and a curse.

Jaguar were one such band. Led by singer and guitarist Malcolm Carson, they were signed to Warner Brothers in 1997, with a clutch of promising singles following in quick succession. These, I remember, were promoted vigorously by Warners, though to little avail. After an enforced name change (to Carson) and in spite of some success in Japan, by the time their album 'A Vision' appeared, the writing was already on the wall - band and label parted company, then the band imploded altogether. (If you'd like to journey back to 1998 to check out the album, a YouTuber has uploaded the whole darned thing here). For me, the most impressive Jaguar tune is quite unlike anything on 'A Vision', it's a dubby instrumental entitled 'Intro to Nowhere', tucked away as the 4th track of a CD single. If the band had been given the freedom and opportunity to develop, perhaps we would've eventually heard more music of this quality from them.

Jaguar - Intro to Nowhere

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Howlin' Wolf


Thanks to his imposing physique, as a young man Chester Burnett acquired the nickname Big Foot Chester, before ultimately earning immortality as Howlin' Wolf. In the 1930's, Wolf gained musical inspiration from contemporary performers such as Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sonny Boy Williamson II and even played with the legendary Robert Johnson, while his trademark howl emerged as a result of failed attempts to approximate Jimmie Rodgers' signature 'blue yodel'. Many of his classic recordings throughout the 1950's and early 1960's were written by the great Willie Dixon, though my own favourite Howlin' Wolf track is 'Tired of Crying', an obscure self-written oddity, which for 15 years I only owned on 'From Early 'Til Late', a poor quality 1979 bootleg LP of unissued and alternate recordings. The song eventually became more widely available when it was included on a couple of official career retrospectives in the mid-1990's.

'Tired of Crying' was recorded in the Summer of 1969, a one-off studio run through, before being abandoned and, for all intents and purposes, forgotten. Cues are missed, instruments are out of tune, the speed varies dramatically and the melody bears a more than passing resembalence to the masterful 'Smokestack Lightning', which was written and recorded by Wolf 13 years earlier. But it swings so effortlessly. And those horns are so deliciously woozy and off kilter. It sweeps me up every time I hear it. Sometimes I ponder that if Wolf had perservered with the song for a little longer, perhaps we'd have a better, more solid performance to enjoy. Those thoughts pass quickly though. In spite of all its imperfections, because of all its imperfections, 'Tired of Crying' sounds just about perfect to me.

Howlin' Wolf - Tired of Crying

Monday, 13 March 2017

Version City #58 - Bob Dylan sings The Mississippi Sheiks

My first guitar, April 1963.

Regrets, I've had a few...and aside from all the many thoughtless things I've said and done throughout my life, one of the very biggest regrets is never having learned to play the guitar. I've always had tunes spinning around my noggin with no means of letting them out and when I was younger, would scribble reams of (admittedly rubbish) lyrics, for songs that I knew could never be completed. I had chances to learn the instrument, but just didn't apply myself - something I now bitterly regret. My last real opportunity was in the 1990's, when my girlfriend at the time bought me a guitar and paid for a couple of lessons. My tutor was brilliant. He cut to the chase, asking me what exactly I'd like to be able to play. 'This', I said, putting on Bob Dylan's cover of the 1931 Mississippi Sheiks song, 'Blood in My Eyes'. After two lessons, a little progress, followed by frustration, distractions and despair, I put down the guitar and stupidly never picked it up again.

Mississippi Sheiks - 'Blood in My Eyes'

Friday, 10 March 2017

Hideaway

On Wednesday afternoon, just half an hour after I'd read through C's brilliantly vivid post concerning her recent grisly encounter with a sparrowhawk (here), I went downstairs to make a coffee. On my way back up, I paused at the back window overlooking the garden and the marsh beyond, to take my first slurp. It was at this point I noticed the silence. The garden and sky above are usually busy with birdlife coming and going in a constant whirl of activity, but at that moment there was not one sparrow, tit, pigeon, starling, dove, dunnock or finch to be seen - or heard. I ran my eyes around the neighbouring rooftops and along our fence. Then I saw it. The very slightest movement. A well camouflaged sparrowhawk biding its time, on the lookout for a late lunch. For once my camera was nearby and I fired off a single, hopeful, shot in the general direction of the mass of greenery that blankets the fence towards the end of the garden. Can you see her?


No? I couldn't at first either. Hang on a moment, let me zoom in.


There she is. She may have been very still and very quiet (and very hidden!), but news of her presence had clearly spread through the local population - she was out of luck. It's been well over a year since we had an actual sparrowhawk kill in the garden, though sparrowhawks themselves are rarely far away. I heard a commotion in the sky not that long ago and looked up to see a large group of crows bullying and hectoring a lone sparrowhawk who appeared stubbonly reluctant to leave the area. Endlessly hassled and hugely outnumbered, it finally swooped off and away to find some peace and quiet.

Like C, we recognise some of our more frequent garden bird visitors and bestow (usually unflattering) names upon them - Stumpy, Lumpy, Dangle, Peg-Leg, Patch etc. Unlike poor old Limpy over at C's place however, for now at least, all the regulars remain present and accounted for.

The Soundcarriers - Hideaway

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Red Gold & Green #15 - Rico


Rico Rodriguez was famously adopted by the ska revival movement in the late 1970's, playing with The Specials and eventually releasing two albums under his own name on the 2-Tone label. Prior to that, by the time he recorded the excellent 'Man from Wareika' for Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1976, Rico was already a 15 year veteran of the the UK ska and reggae circuit. The US release of the album made history by becoming the only reggae LP to be issued on Blue Note Records. A dub version of 'Man from Wareika' was released in 1977, though this has been tough to track down in recent years. In 2016 Island did the right thing and reissued both albums as a double CD with 14 bonus tunes from the period - it's a highly recommended set.

Rico - 'Man from Wareika'

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Revolution Starts at Closing Time


After visiting both of my Aunts in London for a couple of days, I spent Saturday evening in deepest Essex with two of my oldest friends. There was a time when we would spend two or three nights a week putting the world to rights and arguing about music over a succession of warm beers in the corner of a smoky pub, steadily growing less coherent as the hours wore on. But that was 35 years ago. These days, it's a logistical nightmare to get the three of us together, in spite of the fact that we live less than 70 miles apart. In fact Saturday was the first time we've all been in the same room for over 18 months. Though the alcohol didn't flow in quite the way it used to - one of my pals was driving and I had a bit of a dicky tummy - it was a joy to catch-up. We put the world to rights and argued about music just like the old days, but most of all we laughed - a lot.

In the halcyon days of the early 1980's, this was our anthem.

Serious Drinking - The Revolution Starts at Closing Time

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

BNQT


There has been a slew of bands in recent years, who seem to consider the use of vowels in their moniker an unnecessary luxury. Take BNQT (pronounced Banquet) for example. BNQT are something of an indie supergroup, whose line-up draws from Midlake, Band of Horses, Grandaddy, Travis and Franz Ferdinand. Their debut LP, 'Volume 1', is due at the end of April and is introduced by the Midlake-heavy 'Restart'. (More info here)

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