Saturday 29 June 2013

Saturday Scratch #26 - Hugh Mundell

In the Summer of 1977, Hugh Mundell stopped in at the Black Ark studio to record two sides with melodica genius Augustus Pablo in the producer's chair, 'Why Do Black Man Fuss & Fight' and today's featured tune, 'Let's All Unite'. Both cuts were released as singles and would eventually find their way onto the following year's LP, 'Africa Must Be Free By 1983'.

Hugh Mundell wrote his own songs and was already a remarkably assured artist by 1977, all the more remarkable when you consider that at the time of this recording he had only just turned 15 years of age. A friend, the toaster Jah Bull, describes Mundell as '...a very young youth at the time but a very serious youth. When I say serious I mean he was like a likkle man, not a likkle boy.'

In October 1983, Hugh Mundell's house in Kingston was burgled and while the guilty party was caught and jailed, the perpetrator's brother later confronted Mundell on the street, shooting and killing him.

Previously on Saturday Scratch.

Thursday 27 June 2013

The Rolling Stones

It's only Thursday morning and already there are discussions about the possible contents of The Rolling Stones setlist at Glastonbury this coming Saturday. Really? Surely it will be a crowd pleasing hits set - and why shouldn't it be? I don't foresee any Springsteen-style fan requests, magic-markered on pieces of cardboard, being gathered up by Mick for impromptu consideration. Nor any odd, painfully obscure, rarities appearing in the running order for the satisfaction (sorry) of Stones geeks and completists.

All that being said, if the band should unexpectedly lurch into the following tune on Saturday evening, this correspondent's ears would certainly prick up.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Down By the River

After the ankle returned to full working order, following my little mishap in April, I initially restricted myself to walking only on country lanes and paths - good solid flat surfaces that presented little risk of another painful twist. Gradually though, I've carefully reintroduced a series of favourite local circular walks that wander off-road and down along the uneven surfaces beside the river.

There's one particular spot on the riverbank that I can't pass without at least pausing for a moment, though quite often I will stand there in silent contemplation for several minutes. It's a very simple outlook along a straight passage of what otherwise is a fairly meandering river, but for some reason it rarely fails to imbue me with a tremendous sense of well-being. If my camera is to hand, I'll invariably take a photo in an attempt to capture the moment - and fail to completely. For this reason I have dozens of shots from the same spot. Here's yesterday evening's effort, not bad, but you should've been there.

Monday 24 June 2013

Bobby 'Blue' Bland R.I.P.

One summer evening in 1982, at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, I had the great good fortune to spend some time in the company of Blues royalty in the form of a triple headed concert bill that featured B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Bobby 'Blue' Bland. The three giants played individual sets, Hooker, beneath a single spotlight, on a bare stage with just his guitar and stamping foot for company, while King fronted a large, gregarious, well-groomed band, though in truth, it was Bland I was mainly there to see. I'd recently become enthralled by a series of his albums from the 1970's, 'Come Fly With Me', 'His California Album' and, best of all, 1974's 'Dreamer', thereafter working my way backwards through his catalogue and discovering his, often majestic, Duke recordings of the 1950's and 60's.

At the conclusion of the show back in 1982, the three legends gathered on stage to perform a short series of songs together, to rapturous applause. The highlight of the evening came a little earlier for me though, when Bobby Bland led his own modest band through a terrific reading of 'St James' Infirmary'. Here, to mark his passing, is his sublime 1961 recording of the song.

Two more great Bobby 'Blue' Bland tunes are featured on these fine blogs, here and here.

Friday 21 June 2013

Denis Jones

Denis Jones throws the Dick Van Dyke notion of a one man band out of the window and is surely some kind of technical genius, embellishing his songs with loops, pops, crackles and beeps created live and in the moment. Yet for all the inanimate gadgets and gizmos on display, a resolutely human heart beats at the core of his songs.

Jones hasn't added to his tally of two long players since 2010's 'Red + Yellow =' (available to hear with associated visuals here), this though, is an absorbing live reading of 'Beginning', the perversely titled closing track from his 2007 debut album 'Humdrum Virtue'.

Thursday 20 June 2013

James Gandolfini R.I.P.

Today we heard the terribly sad news that James Gandolfini, star of The Sopranos, one of the greatest TV series to come out of America, has passed away very suddenly at just 51 years of age. This evening i'll drink a glass of red in his honour, but for now I salute him with my morning espresso.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

I've spent the past couple of days mulling over just how many superlatives I can get away with using in a piece on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's concert at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. Whatever my allocation, though, it could never be enough.

Overcoming a personal antipathy of the 'stadium experience', this was my first Springsteen show in ten years, my first show since the band suffered the devastating losses of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons and was a joyous and moving celebration of those who are gone and those who remain. 

We got 'the hits'. We got newer songs, in vastly superior versions to their recorded counterparts. We got audience requested fan favourites. But what those of us lucky enough to be there will always remember, is that we got a quite staggering performance of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' - the whole LP, start to finish.

From the many shaky clips of the show available to view on YouTube, here is the intense reading of 'Lost in the Flood', an audience request, originally released on 'Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.', Springsteen's 1973 debut.

Friday 14 June 2013

Lightning Strikes #5 - Dennis Brown

The range of it's catalogue was diverse, eclectic and downright odd in places (and I've only scratched the surface over the past five days), but Lightning Records greatest commercial successes and critical acclaim came with their many licensed reggae releases, usually from the Joe Gibbs stable and most notably with the Number One hit 'Uptown Top Ranking' by Althea and Donna. So with that in mind, it's only fitting that I conclude this little trawl through the Lightning records in my own collection with a classic reggae selection.

'Money in My Pocket' by the late Dennis Brown was originally issued in Jamaica on Joe Gibbs Music in 1978, before gaining a UK release on Lightning the following year. I initially had every intention of posting the full 12" version, complete with a brilliant and uncredited toast by Prince Mohammed (check it out here), but recently came across this wonderful live vocal performance from Top of the Pops and instantly knew it had to be the one. How great is this?

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Lightning Strikes #3 - Jet Bronx & the Forbidden

Day 3 of a haphazard look at singles from my collection on the Lightning Records label, finds us in December 1977 with 'Ain't Doin' Nothin' by Jet Bronx & the Forbidden. It's a red vinyl 7" that I still notice in charity shops and at car-boot sales from time to time, so I assume that the 'limited edition' may have run to substantially more than the 15000 indicated on the sleeve.

The band is a handy one to keep in mind should you ever find yourself in the position of putting together a pub quiz, as their guitarist, and composer of this catchy little number, is the aforementioned Jet Bronx, also known as Loyd Grossman - yep, that Loyd Grossman. I wonder whatever became of that old punk?

Monday 10 June 2013

Lightning Strikes #1 - Lucy

Flicking through a box of my old 7" singles recently, I was surprised to find how many releases I owned on Lightning Records. Lightning was a Warner Brothers sponsored independent label in the late 1970's, with no uniform profile, releasing novelty singles, proto-NWOBHM, Rock & Roll reissues and second division punk alongside cutting edge reggae from the likes of Culture and the mighty Prince Far-I.

From Monday to Friday this week I'll be featuring a single a day from my box, as originally released on the Lightning label. First up is Lucy with 'Really Got Me Goin'', one of two 1977 singles that form their entire recorded output. A quick glance at existing photos of the band tells you a great deal about the period; unfashionable beards, flares and long hair rub shoulders with ripped tee-shirts, short back & sides and drainpipes - not to mention a glammed up bassist with something of a Steve Priest fixation. It was a confused time! One gets the distinct impression of a band caught between two stools, forced by the changing musical climate to 'punk' their sound up a bit, resulting in a somewhat clunky, but enjoyable approximation of the burgeoning genre .

Guitarist Phil Collen went on to find fame and fortune with Def Leppard - who'd have thunk it?

Saturday 8 June 2013

Saturday Scratch #25

At the very moment that all the tiny newborn balls of fluff, flapping and screeching behind their parents, need it most, we've once again been forced to severely reduce the supply of bird food in our garden. The reason? A very ingenious rat. It stretches, it jumps, it climbs, it dislodges, it prises open and it devours. No matter what lengths we go to to put the feeders in out of the way and out of reach locations, Mr Norvegicus outwits us, usually in broad daylight while we sit just a few feet away and watch. Why do we just sit and watch? Because he's actually pretty impressive in his cunning and guile and also because if we chase him off, he just waits until we are safely back indoors before recommencing his endeavours. He's a clever little thing and certainly a lot less ugly than the gnarled bruiser we had in the garden last year.

So, for the time being, we've removed all but a couple of the bird-feeders, which are hung from the middle of the washing line for maximum inaccessibility, in the hope that our unwanted guest will grow frustrated and wander off to explore pastures new. He's just doing his thing, I certainly don't want to kill him, merely dissuade him and reduce the risk of him getting into the house if we happen to leave the back door ajar.

Here's Scratch in 1977, talking about a very different kind of rat.

Previously on Saturday Scratch

Thursday 6 June 2013

Flip It! #1 - Earle Mankey

Earle Mankey was guitarist with the pre-'Kimono My House' Sparks, but in 1973, when Ron and Russell relocated to the UK, Mankey stayed in LA and began a long career in record production that continues to this day. Along the way he's twiddled the knobs for such artists as The Long Ryders, The Three O'Clock, The Dickies and Concrete Blonde, in addition to engineering albums by Elton John and The Beach Boys.

Mankey the performer has reappeared only sporadically since the Sparks days, one 7" single, 'Mau Mau',  on Bronze Records in 1978 and two mini-albums in the 1980's being the sum total of his output. Look out for a copy of 'Mau Mau' on your travels, it's a good tune, but not as good as the brilliant 'Crazy' on the flipside.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Gaz Coombes

'One of These Days', a gorgeous, if slightly sinister, new single from Gaz Coombes, enhanced by an equally unsettling video.

Monday 3 June 2013

Recognise Your Age

I appeared in a few, inevitably shambolic, infant school nativity plays when I was very young, but Christmas 1969 was the real beginning of my glittering showbiz career. I played the snowman in the school production of, erm, The Snowman - no, not that one. This little play was, I believe, cooked up by one of the teachers, though it no doubt shared some of the values and themes of Raymond Briggs' 1978 book and subsequent 1982 film, albeit minus all the flying and the dulcet tones of Aled Jones. After this, I went on to feature in many a future school play and also joined some pals in the local amateur dramatic society (though we all called it the drama club).

In 1973, the drama teachers were preparing one the school's occasional variety shows and were looking for a musical item to slot between two spoken word pieces. My mates and I, having not a musical bone between the four of us, got together and suggested we mime to a pop hit of the day, the original choice being '20th Century Boy' by T.Rex, with yours truly as Marc Bolan. As T.Rex were something of a one-man-band, performance wise, we gradually came round to the idea of The Sweet as an altogether more colourful proposition.

'At 13 they were fooling....'

My memory is that the show ran to three performances. One to the rest of the school, one for the parents and a third that was open to the general public. Me and my pals, dressed up to the nines, myself in the Steve Priest role wielding a mock bass made in woodwork, mimed to 'Hell Raiser' and, well, not to put too finer point on it, we went down a storm! So successful were we, that for every show, play and pantomime at school and the drama club over the next 2½ years, we were invited to reprise our little act, which we did, to often memorable effect.

Between 1973 and 1975, in addition to 'Hell Raiser' we mimed to 'Blockbuster', 'Ballroom Blitz', The Six Teens', 'Burn on the Flame' (when a teacher played the wrong backing tape!) and 'Turn it Down'. The best of the lot, though, was 'Teenage Rampage', which we performed for five consecutive nights as a musical interlude in a pantomime in 1974, the audience noise behind the song providing a great fake atmosphere.

(Here I am in full-on dramatic guise in a play written by myself and three friends. In this scene, bitten by something unknown, I had turned into a werewolf and proceeded to kill everyone in grisly fashion, wasting lashings of fake blood in the process. Good, wholesome, family entertainment folks!)

In addition to my ridiculously heavy, solid wood bass, we also made two microphone stands (one held together by gaffa tape so that our 'Brian Connolly' could 'break' it over his knee, rock vocalist style) and some fake drums, all of which seemed convincing to us at the time, but in retrospect looked exactly as you would expect them to, made by a bunch of 13 year-olds in their woodwork classes!

For each successive show I (with help from Mum) tried to find more and more garish and outlandish clothes to wear, which were invariably complimented on the night by the make-up department going to town on my face with ever increasing relish, with the result that I often looked less Steve Priest and more Alice Cooper. As well as performing these little fake musical excursions, the boys in 'the band' also had roles in all the productions, so they were busy nights for us, after full days at school. On more than one occasion I walked home, exhausted, through the streets of Walthamstow in full Steve Priest costume - what was I thinking?

Are you ready Steve?

'Sweet Drama', as we were imaginatively christened by one of the teachers, came to an end in 1975 when my family moved out of London. Myself and my chums were all getting into prog by then and would have quite happily performed as 'ELP Drama' if anyone had asked, but after one last 'Turn It Down' we were done, as indeed was my youthful foray into the dramatic arts. I never stepped on a stage again.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Another Keeper

Frustrating though it is to have a ever increasing list of blog-posted tunes and iPlayer radio programmes awaiting my attention while my laptop's speakers are out of action, it is proving great fun to poke about in boxes of records and CD's that have remained unopened and inaccessible for over 2 years. My attention is currently focused on a couple of boxes of 7" singles - and what treasures I'm rediscovering! I'm supposed to be thinning the collection out, but, as you can imagine, there ain't a lot of that goin' on!

Here's the quite wonderful debut single by Plush, 'Three Quarters Blind Eyes', released in 1994.

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