'Secret Love' was composed by Sammy Fain & Paul Webster for the 1953 film 'Calamity Jane', Doris Day's performance becoming a No.1 single and winning the Oscar for Best Original Song the following year. A few other artists also took 'Secret Love' into the charts during the 1950's and 1960's, including Slim Whitman, Kathy Kirby and Billy Stewart, while the song has continued to prove popular with contemporary performers such as George Michael, Sinead O'Connor, Ry Cooder and k.d.lang.
My own favourite version of 'Secret Love' is by Nancy Wallace and was only released in minuscule quantities on a limited edition Rif Mountain CDr compilation in 2010. Her interpretation really is a thing of beauty. I've waxed lyrical about Nancy's music on these pages several times over the years and if you like what you hear, I would heartily encourage checking out her Bandcamp page.
Unless something really extraordinary occurs between now and December, 'Bright Phoebus' by Lal & Mike Waterson will be my reissue of 2017. On its original release in September 1972, the LP was met by a wall of anger and bafflement from a devout folk establishment that believed exclusively in the passing down of traditional songs from generation to generation and held no truck at all with singers who wrote their own material. That Lal & Mike's remarkable set of self-written songs were frequently, if indirectly, informed by that very tradition was a fact apparently overlooked by all but a very few, less blinkered souls.
During the course of its 40+ years of unavailability, 'Bright Phoebus' has steadily gained a reputation for being the lost masterpiece that it truly is. I've had an iffy quality bootleg CDr of the album for around 25 years and had long since given up any hope of ever holding a bona-fide copy in my hands, but thanks to the good folk at Domino Records, here it is. The full story of how the songs came to be written and how the recordings came to be made is brilliantly told by Pete Paphides in the accompanying booklet (read an excerpt here), plus there is also a deluxe edition of the reissue which includes a further 12 previously unreleased performances from the period.
If you have any interest at all in the English folk and folk-rock scenes of the late 1960's and early 1970's, you really do need to hear this album. Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, Ashley Hutchings, Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Dave Mattacks, Bob Davenport and Norma Waterson all lend their considerable respective talents to the recordings, which gives you some idea of the quality threshold we're talking about. And then there's the songs. It's all about those songs. By turns they're dark, desolate, mysterious, beautiful and even, as in the case of the title track, positively jaunty. I honestly can't recommend 'Bright Phoebus' highly enough.
The mysterious Dubwood Allstars originally released 'Under Dubwood' in 2012 and I featured it on these very pages at the time. When a mash-up works it can be an utterly inspired thing and here is one such example - Richard Burton's narration of 'Under Milk Wood' is laid over King Tubby's 'Ali Baba' riddim with spine-tingling results. Now news reaches me that a third repress of this unique single will be made available on August 4th. Read all about it and / or order a copy here.
New LPs these days, eh? Often released on limited edition coloured vinyl, usually with gratis downloads and sometimes even enhanced with enticing free bits and bobs - but how many arrive with a tea towel designed by a member of the band? Not many I'll be bound. My copy of 'Moonshine Freeze' did though. It's the 4th album by the consistently terrific This is the Kit, a band I've championed long and loud plenty of times in the past, so I won't bang on too much, other than to note that this time around they appear on the Rough Trade record label and are produced by long time PJ Harvey cohort John Parish. Buy it, is my frankly straight forward advice.
Here are Kate Stables and Rozi Plain risking pneumonia for our entertainment.
There had been singles, lots of them, but until then, any LPs that came my way were borrowed ones, hastily taped on my portable cassette player via a handheld mic, before being returned to their rightful owner at school the following day. On July 21st 1972, 45 years ago today, 'The Slider' by T.Rex was released. Three weeks later I bought a copy of the LP while on holiday in Dorset - I was 12 years old. Many hundreds of LP's have passed into and out of my hands since then, but that very first one is still with me - and shall forever be. It all started here.
In the Summer of 2015, I had the great good fortune to meet Tony Visconti, the producer of 'The Slider' (not to mention several other cornerstones of my record collection). I stuck out my hand, gripped his, shook it warmly and said 'Thank you', twice. 'What for?' he asked, smiling broadly. 'Everything', I said.
Jain's debut LP, 'Zanaka' was released in November 2015 and by February 2016 had already been certified Gold in her native France. This year she's been taking her record to the world with prestigious appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Later with Jools Holland and the BBC's Glastonbury coverage. 'Makeba', the second single from the album, is a sheer pop joy and the song's accompanying video is funny and clever, throwing visual tricks and puns into the mix here, there and everywhere. One particularly interesting twist worth keeping an eye on, is that the opening balloon popping sequence visually picks up from where the video for her previous single ('Come') left off, while the surreal 'painting a zebra' bit at the end is where the clip for her next single ('Dynabeat') begins.
The prolific Melbourne quartet Terry return with their second LP in the space of a year and a half, entitled 'Remember Terry'. We're hardly likely to forget them, given that in the same 18 month period they managed to put out a couple of fine EPs as well. The first taster from 'Remember Terry' is the irresistible 'Take Me to the City'. Is it just me who thinks that the opening riff is a nod to Prince? (Check out more music on Terry's Bandcamp page).
I received a letter from the DVLA recently, informing me that my driving license was about to expire, so I diligently filled in the renewal form and got a new ID photo taken. The difference between what I saw in the new photo and the one on my ten year old license was even more striking than I was prepared for. The face in the recent photo looks a bit like my Mum, a bit like my Dad - hell, I even see a bit of my paternal Grandmother, a woman who died in 1966 and I barely remember. When comparing the two photos, I was confronted with the stark reality of how obviously I've aged. Ten years gone, in the blink of an eye. Next stop 2027.
Michael Kiwanuka's recording career began in 2011, though I really got to grips with his music in 2016 with the release of his second LP 'Love & Hate'. This is Kiwanuka's contribution to Mojo magazine's 2015 various artist re-imagining of the 1975 Led Zeppelin LP, 'Physical Graffiti'.
In the middle of last week I had to walk into town to pick up my car from the garage. Along the way, I marvelled at the swallows swooping under the bridge and swifts screeching around the narrow streets at little more than head height. In amongst all this small bird action were the ever present gulls - looming from the rooftops, scavenging around waste bins and screaming from the skies. They are ridiculously fearless, intimidatingly huge, but largely harmless. In fact, until last week I would've said that they are totally harmless.
Heading down the narrow lane leading to the garage, I became aware of a large gull swooping back and forth a few feet above my head, all the while making that unsettling squealing noise. There were other gulls around and I assumed the noises were aimed at them. This one gull didn't seem to fly far from my vicinity though. Was I imagining that its angry screams were directed at me? I was pleased to arrive at the garage where I stepped inside and quickly forgot the whole brief episode.
After chatting for a while with the mechanics at the garage, they returned my key and told where they'd left my car. It's a small family run concern with very little space, so cars are routinely left in nearby streets and cul-de-sacs until collection. I'd been in the garage for around ten minutes and left distractedly fiddling with my key-ring. Instantly the gull swooped low over my head, screaming as it went. I was freaked out - it'd been waiting for me. I had a few hundred yards to cover before reaching my car and walked quickly, trying to stay close to an overhanging wall, but the screeching gull was never more than a few feet away from my head, ignoring all other pedestrians. I saw my car up ahead and broke into a slightly panicky jog to reach it, but the Hitchcockian swooping and screeching continued right up until the very moment I went to open the door, when the gull made its closest pass, directly over my right shoulder, unleashing a hefty dropping that missed me by about two inches, splatting down the side of the car and onto the pavement.
I was genuinely shaken up by the whole episode. Perhaps while walking down the lane, I'd unknowingly passed close to some fledglings and the gull was merely fulfilling its parental duties in protecting its offspring. I don't understand why it followed me for so long though - the car was a quarter of a mile from our first encounter. Plus it appeared to wait for me while I was in the garage - what's all that about? And then there was the parting gift that so narrowly missed me.
Unsurprisingly, Number One Cup's 'Divebomb' became an earworm for the next few days.
Winston Sparkes acquired the nickname 'King Stitt' in his youth, as a result of a pronounced stutter and later decided to adopt it as his stage name. In addition to the stutter, Stitt was born with a facial malformation, which led him to christen himself 'The Ugly One'. In spite of these setbacks, he became one of the most popular sound system deejays in Jamaica during the 1960s. After 10 years of live work, Stitt was offered the chance to make his own records by producer Clancy Eccles and a run of classic DJ cuts followed. If you know one King Stitt side it's probably the classic 'Fire Corner' released in 1969, but later that same year he teamed up with Lynford Anderson (a.k.a. Andy Capp) to record 'Herbsman Shuffle', a tune I've long been rather partial to.
Not long after uploading Tuesday's Halftime Report post, I was reminded of one glaring omission from the list of my most-loved LP's of the first six months of 2017 - Alasdair Roberts! He's a longtime favourite of this parish and his 'Pangs' album was rarely far from my ears in late February and indeed for much of March. I also saw him play a marvellous concert in support of the album around the same time. How could I forget Alasdair? My memory was jogged after stumbling upon an Uncut online review of 2017 thus far, entitled, ahem, Halftime Report. I'd like to say that I got to the title first, but it seems that theirs has been up on the Uncut website for a couple of weeks. Great minds think alike, apparently. The piece (here), written by John Mulvey, contains his 66 (66!) favourite LPs of the year so far. A couple of those titles can be found on my own list and more are somewhere on my radar, but several of Mulvey's selections are completely new to me. There's more research to be done, clearly.
Coincidentally, this isn't the only time I've crossed paths with John Mulvey's writing this week. On Monday evening I undertook a solo jaunt to the back room of a Cambridge pub, where Brooklyn duo 75 Dollar Bill blew the collective socks off of the 100 strong audience. Sue Garner provided excellent support, while the cherry on top for me personally was a short opening set from Cambridge's own primitive guitar maestro, C. Joynes. The 150 mile round trip completely knocked me for six, so the following day I failed dismally in my efforts to pull a few words together in praise of the previous evening's concert, but fortunately the aforementioned Mr Mulvey was also in attendance and had already posted a glowing review of proceedings on the Uncut site - read all about it here.
I've shared music by Alasdair Roberts, 75 Dollar Bill and C.Joynes in the past - and no doubt will again. So where to go for a tune today? Apropos of nothing at all, I'm going back to 1966 and a song that sounded utterly wonderful banging out of the radio at 7 o'clock yesterday morning. Crank it up.
Six months down - six to go. Over the past few days I've been taking stock of the newly released albums that I've dug the most during the first half of 2017. I came up with a list of 20 off the top of my head and narrowed those down to 10 after further consideration. So, in no particular order;
Flotation Toy Warning - The Machine That Made Us (Here)
Long awaited 2nd LP (13 years!) of wonky far-out chamber pop.
Richard Dawson - Peasant (Here)
'Medieval concept album' and 'most accessible work to date' aren't phrases often seen in the same sentence. It's a bloody masterpiece folks.
Peter Perrett - How the West Was Won (Here)
21 years after Perrett's last LP of new music, this sits comfortably with his very best work. Heartwarmingly terrific.
Sacred Paws - Strike a Match (Here)
Recent (and deserved) winners of the Scottish album of the year award, even though we're only at the half-way point. A poly-rhythmic post-punk joy.
Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse (Here)
Psychedelic Middle Eastern jazz. That'll do nicely.
Big Blood - The Daughters Union
The most recent missive from the prolific cottage industry, psych-folk outsiders is a 'pay what you like' download (Here), which is frankly ridiculous. Go grab it.
The Myrrors - Hasta La Victoria (Here)
Spiritual sonic explorations. '...unrefined, unrestrained and unforgettable'.
Joshua Abrams - Simultonality (Here)
Malian infused kosmische trance. I think I invented a new genre there.
Jake Xerxes Fussell - What In The Natural World (Here)
This passed me by on first listen, but I'm forever grateful to Ramone666 over at For The Sake Of The Song, who persuaded me to give it another spin. 'Transmogrified folk/blues koans' is the much quoted descriptor - and who am I to argue?
The Prophet Hens - The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys (Here)
'Melancholic songs about hope & despair, joy & regret, ambition & reality, coming together & drifting apart.' The Dunedin Sound is alive and well.
There are of course other albums I need to investigate further and many that I haven't checked out at all yet, but hopefully I'll get to 'em all eventually. Some of my favourite stand alone tunes so far in 2017 have yet to appear on album and I'm particularly looking forward to new full length releases from Low Chimes, Bas Jan, Pins, Nadine Shah, Girl Ray and Meatraffle. Let the second half commence!
Meanwhile, here's one from This is the Kit, whose new LP is due out on Friday.
Iggy Pop surprised us all in 2016, with his from-out-of-nowhere belter of an LP, 'Post Pop Depression'. This year, the focus of Iggy's attention has been on a series of guest slots on other artists records. Not all of them have hit the spot - I'm yet to be won over by the charms of his vocal on the Songhoy Blues track 'Sahara' for example, but elsewhere he's put in impressively intense performances on 'Aggrophobe' by Manchester's Pins and Oneohtrix Point Never's 'The Pure and the Damned'.