Monday 25 February 2013

The Rhine Oaks

I recently picked up a copy of 'Rolling with the Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook', a compilation on Ace Records. Many of the selected performances on the album are familiar, Lowell George's 'What Do You Want the Girl to Do' and The Pointer Sisters' 'Yes We Can' for example, although The Judds version of 'Working in the Coal Mine', serviceable though it is, strikes me as an odd inclusion.

One tune previously totally unknown to me, however, was 'Tampin' by The Rhine Oaks - and what a belter it is. 'Tampin' was recorded in 1969 as a one-off single by Allen Toussaint himself, accompanied by members of New Orleans' finest, The Meters, which explains its lugubrious grooviness. Worth the price of admission alone I'd say.

Friday 22 February 2013

Version City #7

Well this is interesting. It's neither an alternative take or cover version, yet still it differs from the original....which actually it is! Confused? Me too. You won't be surprised to hear that technology is not my strong point, but there appears to be a bit of software out there that allows the individual notes within a tune to be digitally manipulated - a sort of DIY remix tool. To demonstrate, an anonymous online presence has taken the all too familiar 'Losing My Religion' by REM and amended many of the minor chords to major and the result is a revelation. Love the band though I do, it's been a very long time since I've felt the need to listen to the song, but I've been playing this 'new' interpretation on and off all day. See what you think.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Christmas (slight return)

We're just back from the, much delayed, concluding section of Christmas 2012. Traditionally we visit Mrs S's Dad & Gran on Christmas day and then her Mum & Step-Dad for a few days in the run-up to the New Year, but illness, inclement weather and sundry other commitments conspired to delay the second of our Christmas dinners by a full two months. Right now though, we are stuffed to the gills with stodgy food, salty snack-treats and raspberry cheese cake, all washed down with lashings of Rioja.

There was also, of course, the small matter of outstanding pressies and Mrs S's Mum did us proud - half a dozen bottles of Rioja (did I mention we like Rioja?) and a DAB radio. We listen to a lot of radio around the house, which, up to now, has been by means of a laptop, but after we'd arrived home and donned our loosest clothing to allow our full, groaning stomachs a little comfort, I unboxed and set up our new DAB. Following a short period of fiddling and cursing, the tunes came booming forth in superb sound quality, one of the first being 'Gangsta' by tUnE-yArDs, which I played to death in 2011, but hadn't heard in a while. It still sounds crazy, unique and magnificent. Here's a great live version that shows how it's all done. Now, where did I put that Milk of Magnesia?

Saturday 16 February 2013

Saturday Scratch #21/Version City #6

Quite often on Saturday Scratch, I attempt to shine a light on a lesser known gem or overlooked nugget from Lee Perry's back pages. Today's tune, however, is an unarguable, stone cold classic, from what is, in all probability, the strongest vocal album produced by Scratch. The album is 1977's 'Heart of the Congos' by The Congos and the track is the adapted and updated traditional song, 'Fisherman.'

I've chosen this particular piece as a way of introducing another musical favourite of mine, Micah Blue Smaldone. Micah started out playing in bands from America's hardcore punk scene in the 1990's, but by the time of his solo debut, 'Some Sweet Day', in 2004 he had become what can best be described as an old-timey acoustic folk-blues troubadour. Since then he has released two further studio albums, the magnificently titled 'Hither and Thither' and 2008's deep and dark 'The Red River', in addition to the 'Live in Belgium' EP in 2007. His extra curricular activities betray his increasingly neo-traditional folk leanings as evidenced in his ongoing collaboration with Fire on Fire and his mid-noughties work with Death Vessel.

I will delve further into Micah Blue Smaldone's oeuvre at a later date, of that you can be sure, but for the time being check out his inspired live reading of that Congos classic.

Thursday 14 February 2013


My closest pal in my formative musical years was George. He, I and a select group of like-minded chums would collectively take our first tentative steps into the mysterious worlds of Prog, Kraut and Heavy Rock, learn the intricacies of air guitar and spend many happy hours banging our heads in unison while resting our thumbs comfortably in the belt-loops of our flared jeans.

Initially, however, George's favourite group was Sweet and together we saw the band on four occasions. Twice at the Rainbow in the March and December of 1973, again for Brian Connolly's UK swansong at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978 and finally, for old times sake, the three piece Sweet (sorry, couldn't resist) at the Lyceum in 1981. 

We had long-since been savvy enough to flip over every successive Sweet single, to reveal a self-composed and usually full-on rockin' nugget tucked away on the b-side. 'Man From Mecca', 'Done Me Wrong Alright', 'New York Connection', every one a gem, but at that first Rainbow gig, the show, their performance and sheer musical ability was a total a revelation to me, when compared to the exotic looseness of the T.Rex live sound that I'd experienced just 4 months earlier.

Sweet were an incredibly important band for me, George and the rest of my pals. They represented a kind of musical stepping stone, bridging the gap between the perceived frivolity of the pop and glam of our playground days and the altogether heavier, more grown-up form of rock we would go on to explore.

11 years ago today, drummer extraordinaire Mick Tucker died from leukemia aged 54 and four days ago was the 16th anniversary of Brian Connolly's passing at the age of 51. Here's a terrific pre-Andy Scott tune from 1970, featuring Brian and Mick to the fore.

Wednesday 13 February 2013


I believe I actually had the concert ticket in my hand, before I was made aware that guitarist Jan Akkerman had taken leave of Focus on the eve of the tour in support of new LP 'Mother Focus'. The gig in 1976, featuring Philip Catherine in Akkerman's stead and, future member of Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour Band, David Kemper on drums, was a subdued affair and, judging by the size of the audience, I'd say that more than a few tickets had been returned when word of the personnel change got around.

In spite of it's perception as one of Focus's minor works, I retain great affection for 'Mother Focus', however the band's fortunes subsequently fell away sharply and within a year they would, bizarrely, be working on an LP in cahoots with 1960's trouser-splitter P.J. Proby.

Monday 11 February 2013

Robyn Hitchcock

There is nothing to quite match the elation of feeling well again after a brief spell under the weather. It's a glorious sensation, enhanced still further by a new release from one of my all-time musical heroes, Robyn Hitchcock, with a tune right out of his top drawer.

'Rock and Roll is an old man’s game now, so I’m staying in it.'

The first glimpse of 'Be Still' came courtesy of an informal pub rehearsal video that appeared online towards the end of 2012 and featured Terry Edwards, Green Gartside from Scritti Politti and Bedders from Madness amongst others. Here though, is the finished article and the first taster of 'Love From London', Robyn's new album, due on March 3rd, which also happens to be his 60th birthday.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

I Wanna Be Well

Mum would always say that when I was a kid, she was easily able to tell if I was genuinely unwell, or just trying to pull a fast one in order to get a day off school. If I was really ill I would simply take to my bed and sleep. And sleep. And sleep. In that regard I haven't changed a bit. On Sunday evening I went to bed a little off-colour and didn't re-emerge until mid-morning Tuesday, feeling as though I'd spent the previous 36 hours being trampled by a herd of elephants. A short period in an upright position was all I could manage, before I flaked out once again for a further 10 hours of sweating in snoozeville.

With the passage of time, however, two further telltale signs of actual, as opposed to feigned, illness have become apparent, alas 45 years too late to be of use to Mum.

 1) Music - I just can't listen to it if I have any vaguely flu-like symptoms running around my system. I occasionally allow the background chatter of Radio 4 to permeate my fevered dreams, but it's the only time in my life that I find music actually painful. 

2) Coffee - My love of the bean is well documented, but not when I'm sick, oh no. At that point, my beverage allegiance switches mysteriously, instantly and totally to Earl Grey Tea. Worryingly, it shows no signs of switching back just yet. 

It's Wednesday evening and this '48 hour' bug has long overstayed it's welcome. Now I wanna be well. (For obvious reasons I can't enjoy Da Bruddas right at the moment, but I trust you will.)

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Reg Presley R.I.P.

I've emerged, sweating and blinking, from my sick-bed this morning, to be confronted with the sad news of Reg Presley's death. In my current state of disrepair I'm struggling to string words together, so to mark his passing I'll leave a fine tune, some legendary studio banter (warning - rude!) and a suggestion that you check-out a short piece by David Hepworth that says much about lazy journalism in the Wikipedia age.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Nic Potter R.I.P.

At the end of every month I head over to the BBC's Been and Gone page to check out those who have....well, checked-out in the last 30 days. While the household names will usually get a mention on the Radio 4 news, there are always others whose passing goes practically un-noted. So it was while reading the BBC's round-up of significant, but lesser-reported deaths in the month of January, that I learned of the sad demise of the musician and painter Nic Potter.

Nic is best known for his two brief tenures with Van Der Graaf Generator and his his much longer association with Peter Hammill's solo work, but he also played with Rare Bird, The Misunderstood and Chuck Berry in addition to maintaining a long solo recording career and forging quite a reputation as an visual artist.

Here's the classic 'Refugees' from 1970's 'The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other', featuring Nic on bass.

Addendum: Read Peter Hammill's tribute to Nic Potter here.

Friday 1 February 2013


I wish I could furnish you with lashings of information about Oliver Doerell and Stephan Wöhrmann, who together constitute Swod, but I appear to have accumulated their entire recorded output, since initially picking up on them in 2006, without actually discovering much about the parties involved.

All I can say is that their music marries analogue and electronic instrumentation, is often cinematic and always beautiful. Sometimes it's urgent, sometimes it meanders and sometimes it seems barely there at all. Here, from the urgent end of their scale and with more than a nod in the direction of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, is 'I Am Here'.

Swod - Drei - I Am Here (city centre offices) by pdis_inpartmaint

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