Stephen Fearing’s thirteenth solo album’s very personal and, at the same time it’s also political, but this isn’t just one for the social theorists because those elements are inextricably linked with the musical settings for the songs. Three of the songs on the album are named for people and there’s a strong vein of nostalgia running through the lyrical and musical stylings of “The Unconquerable Past”, although this isn’t by any means wallowing in the past; it’s much more of a realisation that there’s always a danger of dismissing older musical styles as no longer relevant in the headlong rush to be on-trend. It’s not a new thing, those wonderful old cynics Becker and Fagen nailed it in their own beautifully sleazy way in “Hey Nineteen” in 1980: ‘Hey, nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin, she don’t remember the Queen of Soul’.

To come back to Stephen Fearing, this album is a bit of a departure from his solo material in that, at times, there’s a full rock band behind some uptempo tunes, one of which, “Christine”, goes way back to classic rockabilly styling and it’s a lot of fun. The other notably uptempo song, “Stay with Me” has its roots firmly in drivetime rock that Bob Seger seemed to knock out for fun in the late seventies.

If there’s one theme above all others pulling the album together it’s empathy, particularly where people with differences are dealing with harsh and unforgiving society we live in today. “Sunny” is a great example as the story is gradually revealed of a transgender individual leaving home to eventually find a relationship that works. The writer isn’t judging, and preaches the same tolerance in “Someone Else’s Shoes”; we should always try to understand the pressures someone else is facing rather than rushing to condemn.

Personal highlights are the poignant “Emigrant Song”, co-written with Andy White, dealing with the conflicting tensions of moving and looking back at happy memories, and the title song, with the message that we are products of our past but we don’t have to be defined by it. The album closes out with “No Country”, a solo acoustic ballad that positions the troubadour as a citizen of nowhere at all.

“The Unconquerable Past” is a collection of ten high-calibre songs performed with quality and taste that will make you tap your feet and make you stop and think. Not a bad combination.

“The Unconquerable Past” is out in the UK now in various physical and digital formats of Fish Records (FRCD03).

This is the second time Track Dogs have crossed our paths at Riot Towers and it was always going to be an interesting experience. The line-up of Garrett Wall, Dave Mooney, Howard Brown & Robbie K. Jones (two Irishmen, an Englishman and an American, which sounds like it’s just waiting for a punchline) is resident in Madrid and created a bit of a buzz across European festivals last summer. There’s a reason for that; they’re great players across a range of instruments and three of them take lead vocals on the album as well as creating some lovely vocal harmonies; and that’s before we even start on the quality of the songwriting.

From the 2018 album “Kansas City Out Groove” we learned that you can rely on Track Dogs for esoteric influences and exotic arrangements; “Fire on the Rails” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the band’s own extensive line-up of instruments, guest artists supply banjo, fiddle, mandolin and strings to create different textures and tonal colour. The net for the esoteric influences seems to have widened since their previous album; “Better Off On Your Own” is driven along by African rhythms and punctuated by a chorus that leans so heavily on the off beat that it’s firmly into reggae territory. The trumpet’s in evidence pretty much throughout the album, evoking South American sounds, muted melancholy and even hinting at easy listening at times on, for example, “On the Last Night”, which subversively creates a deliberately unthreatening arrangement for a song about the apocalypse.

There’s a tribute to Freddy Mercury in “And the Piano Sings” which has the catchiest of catchy hooks and a perfectly-formed trumpet solo, but the band save the best of the left-field inventiveness for the album’s final song. “All Clapped Out” (a play on words) is a cappella throughout with all the percussion coming from handclaps and footstomps and the harmony from the four voices. It’s novel and interesting and it rounds off the album perfectly.

“Fire on the Rails” continues where “Kansas City Out Groove” left off; packed with invention, unusual textures, hooks and memorable melodies. It’s out on in the UK on Friday January 24th on Mondegreen Records (MGR0120).

It’s the first album review of 2020 and we’re gently easing our way into the new decade. “Ohbahoy” (the title is taken from the name of Miles’ imaginary childhood friend) is an example of how to create a varied and very listenable album full of hooks without ever having to resort to vocal or instrumental pyrotechnics. The building blocks of this album are very simple hooks and riffs; the clever thing is the way the jigsaw is put together to create something that’s much more than the sum of the parts.

 

You won’t get very far into the album before realising that Miles has another useful songwriting talent; he knows how to take an influence and turn it into something that sounds vaguely familiar without sounding like a complete steal. And it’s not a criticism. I have a huge admiration for the musical magpies of the world; the people like Jeff Lynne and, more recently, Guy Chambers who recognise the tiny snippet that makes something work and morph it into their own compositions. The album’s opening song, “Hands Up”, is naggingly familiar, suggesting a distant relationship to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” (and Steve wasn’t above nicking a riff or two himself, “Rock ‘n’ Me” for starters). The trick with this game is to blend the influences into something completely new, which is exactly what Miles does. There are nods in the direction of many influences, Tom Petty (particularly in the uptempo rocker “Overpass”) and the Beatles jump out instantly, but there are undertones of The Cars, Steve Miller, ELO and probably many others.

There’s a lot to like about “Ohbahoy”. It’s a bunch of strong songs that’s interpreted by a band with enough talent and versatility to make four-part harmonies, twin guitar workouts and perfectly-judged horn parts sound like just another part of the day job. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might just be a bit tasty live as well.

“Ohbahoy” is out now in the UK.

Allan reviewed Sam Baker’s album “Horses and Stars” this summer. It took him a few listens, but when he got it, he really did get it. Sam’s songs are powerful stories of the everyday triumphs and tragedies of ordinary Americans, ‘the single mothers, the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the widows and the guilt-ridden’, the people getting on with their lives whatever challenges are thrown in their direction. These are the real stories of contemporary America. So we were obviously pleased when Sam agreed to make a contribution to the 2019 High Fives feature with the music that he listens to while he paints (and some references to the background of these pieces). As a bonus, we also have an example of Sam’s artwork.

 

Miles Davis

Sketches of Spain (with Gil Evans)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sketches_of_Spain

 

Miles Davis

Kind of Blue

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kind_of_Blue

 

John Coltrane

The Gentle Side of John Coltrane

 

Bill Evans

Sunday At the Village Vanguard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_at_the_Village_Vanguard

 

Sam Cooke

Anything he sings especially with the Soul Stirrers

 

And some of Sam’s artwork to go with the list….

What makes a great venue? Well it’s certainly not the size – have you ever really enjoyed an arena or stadium gig? There are all sorts of factors involved; sound, light, programming, staffing, ambience, and the list goes on. The best venues make decisions about how they want to define themselves and focus on getting this absolutely right and they understand that this approach will always involve compromises. We asked Allan to pick out his five favourite venues from the viewpoint of a music fan and a photographer. Here are his thoughts on the venues he’s worked in this year, as always, in no particular order (and not always in London).

Green Note, Camden

It’s been winning awards for years now; that doesn’t happen without a good reason (or several good reasons). It’s difficult to know where to start with the plaudits; the programming is an esoteric mix of styles, which I won’t even attempt to classify and the sound is always excellent. If there’s a power cut (which happened a few years ago) the venue is small enough for bands to play unplugged. The staff are friendly and helpful and it’s what’s known to artists as a listening room. Generally speaking people are there to listen and the conversations stop while performers are on stage. There’s also a downstairs space which is even more intimate (with a capacity of about 20). And only five minutes from the Northern Line.

The Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

It’s been interesting over the last couple of years to revisit Leek (where I lived for about a year in the nineties. Pretty much everything I say about the Foxlowe applies to the town and to their annual Blues & Americana festival as well. The building, which was opened in its current guise in 2011, relies on volunteers to deliver its programme of music, performance, film and education. This doesn’t mean it’s unprofessional; professionalism is a characteristic that doesn’t necessarily depend on remuneration. My visits to The Foxlowe have been mainly based around gigs, but centre arranges exhibitions, show films, hosts private functions and has a very nice café serving freshly-cooked food. Sometimes it’s good to escape from London, and Leek is one of my favourite places to do just that.

The Bedford, Balham

The Bedford in Balham has been a grassroots live music venue since the late sixties and hosted early-career gigs by U2, The Clash and, more recently, Ed Sheeran. More recently, it’s had a new lease of life following a major refit and the good news for music fans is that a significant portion of the expenditure was on the performance space at the back of the venue. The sound is great and the lighting’s interesting. Even better is the news that the legendary Tony Moore is still programming the live music and Caffe Nero is holding regular unsigned there. I suspect most people won’t be aware of the commitment to new talent displayed by Tony and Caffe Nero’s Pablo Ettinger. Both of these people go above and beyond the call of duty in their support of new music. If you needed a bit of icing on the cake, it’s one of very few places where you can shoot photos from the balcony around and above the stage. Lovely jubbly.

The Roundhouse

And back to Camden again, although the pedants will probably it’s closer to Chalk Farm, and The Roundhouse. It opened in 1966 with a Pink Floyd, was derelict for nearly 15 years from 1983 and is now a successful charity promoting the arts. Each time I’ve shot there, the staff have been incredibly helpful (even when I’ve occasionally bent the rules) and it has that friendly feel you get when you have large numbers of well-trained and enabled volunteers. It’s another perfect demonstration of professionalism that doesn’t rely on money changing hands. It was always one of my aspirational places; I would walk past on my way to The Barfly or The Monarch and imagine how great it would be if I could shoot there. It’s always a great experience.

The Camden Chapel

Still in Camden and there’s now somewhere that’s more intimate than Green Note. There’s a room at the top of the London Irish Centre that was used as a chapel by immigrant Irish workers (the confessional is still there). The capacity is about forty and most of the seating is in the form of beanbags and cushions. I’ve never been in a venue (even Green Note) where more respect is given to performers. This has to be down to the stance taken from the opening night onwards (and made very clear by compere Ray Jones from Talentbanq, which supplies the artists) that while people are on stage, everyone else is quiet. Simple, really. I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the lighting setup for photographers, but I’ll also admit that one of my favourite shots of 2019 was taken at the opening night of Camden Chapel – go figure.

There are two venues that could easily have made this list. Only a few weeks ago, I visited The Electric Ballroom for the first time for a Stone Foundation gig; great experience from start to finish, everything was right for a live music experience. Also 229 on Great Portland Street which has not one but two venue spaces, both superb in different ways; one intimate space and one with a full-size stage, both lovely spaces. There was a time earlier this year when a friend asked me if I was paying rent there.

Our next guest contributor is Richard Bolwell; we’ll let Allan tell you about him. ‘I first met Richard at a Sound of the Sirens record launch in London and since then we try to meet up for a beer when he’s shooting a gig in town. Since that meeting he’s started up his own website MNPR Magazine packed with news, reviews of live and recorded music from all over the world and, of course, photos. He’s a cracking live music photographer and, in common with most people who have that vocation, is passionate about music. He’s also a bloody good bloke’. We don’t know if it demonstrates in-depth knowledge of their subject or it’s just showing off, but both Allan and Richard managed to shoe-horn Weissenborn guitars into their High Fives pieces.

I have a soft spot for the violin, especially when used in the crossover, upbeat Celtic Punk-rock/folk genre. This image is of Hannah Johns from the Weston-Super-Mare based band ‘The Leylines’ at the beautiful Carnglaze Caverns near Liskeard in Cornwall, a disused slate mine. Many of the images from the gig feature the beautiful surroundings of the ancient cave, but I was pleased to be able isolate Hannah and capture her in all her glory and in ‘the zone’.

My job as a concert photographer (and I am reluctant to call it a job because of the sheer enjoyment I get from it) takes me to many places, and leads me to cover many genres of music. This image of Nashville based country-blues singer-songwriter Austin Jenckes is typical of the style I have developed over the years. There is only so much you can do when the artist is a sitting down with just a guitar and his voice for accompaniment, but I feel this image captures the sheer emotion of the song, and the sheer force of his voice, another example of the artist being in ‘the zone’.

I am a huge supporter of new music, and up and coming talent, so let me introduce Charlie Louise, a young singer-songwriter from Cornwall. Charlie has the voice of an angel, and can silence a crowd with just a piano, or a guitar, and her voice. The nature of my work takes me to many a dive-bar, with less than favourable lighting. Whilst taking this image of Charlie, I was blessed with beautiful lighting, and was able to capture this image of the young songstress. Although there is no instrument present in the image, I feel the simplicity, and the negative space I composed in the framing adds to the overall feel of the shot. Charlie was performing as part of an ‘Introduces…’ series, and this image invokes great memories of a great evening of local talent.

This image is from the same gig as the previous Charlie Louise shot. As previously stated, the lighting was particularly good that night, but this black and white conversion really showcases the mood and atmosphere of the gig. The subject in question is Tom Bushin from Devon based alt-indie rock band The Kaizens who were playing a special gig with the Devon Youth Orchestra. Another reason for my love of the image is that it is reminiscent of the iconic Kurt Cobain from way back when.

Again, this tight headshot and use of negative space is indicative of my photographic style. This image of Wille Edwards was taken during his recent solo tour, raising money for, and awareness of, the homeless crisis sweeping this country. Edwards is the frontman of internationally acclaimed acid-roots rock band Wille and The Bandits and it’s rather rare to see Wille playing solo, let alone doing a full-blown solo tour. I had the pleasure of following Wille on this tour, and there were so many images I could have chosen from, 5 of which will be auctioned to raise money for his chosen charities. Again, as a singer-songwriter, seated during his performances, there are only so many angles and shots one can capture. Edwards has a strong, deep, husky voice, and this shows the emotion and heart he puts into every song and every note on his signature Weissenborn lap slide guitar.

We think this will the last episode of the Allan-showing-off saga, but there are no guarantees. This time, again from a very interesting range of venues we have Allan’s selection of five favourite colour shots of female artists from 2019. And he’s managed to sneak in an extra one as well, but we think he just about gets away with it.

 

 

Basia Bartz (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

Did you know that I absolutely love Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band? I think I may have mentioned it at some point. When I got the opportunity to shoot them on a concert stage at The Roundhouse, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Each member of the band is interesting to shoot, but they often play on smaller stages where it’s difficult to pick out one person without any distracting background; not a problem at The Roundhouse. Three songs and out – also not a problem, this came from the opening song of the set and it captures the real Basia, picked out in proper stage lighting, giving it 100%.

Tori Sheard

This was the first time I saw Tori this year. The second time was a daylight gig, which was ok, but this shot was from a Caffe Nero unsigned artists night at The Bedford in Balham with proper stage lighting. Tori’s songs are gentle and contemplative and that’s the essence I was trying to capture; the moment when Tori was totally into the song and the exposure and focus pull your gaze towards her face.

Hjordis Moon Badford (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

I’ve seen this band a lot of times and never really been happy with a photo of Moon (or H as she’s also known). She’s always tucked away in some dimly-lit corner of the stage, but not this time. At The Roundhouse, there’s nowhere to hide. The backlighting around the hair was the bit that I was actually trying to do, but the beam of blue across the shot was just a bit of good luck when I had everything lined up.

Lady Oracle

Lady Oracle, or Lady O, or Nadine is the lead singer with Houndstooth, another band that I’ve shot many times now. The reason I’ve shot them so many times is that they’re incredibly interesting visually; in the words of Derek D’Souza (long-time Jam and Paul Weller photographer) there are loads of ‘blink and you miss it’ moments with the whole band. This shot was taken at the new Hard Rock Hotel at Marble Arch and I’m just going to say that the lighting there is a challenge – let’s leave it that.

Natalie Duncan

I respect Natalie Duncan hugely. She has huge talents as a writer, player and singer and is determined to pursue her own musical vision and play the game her way. The limited contact I’ve had with Natalie personally gives me the impression that the only thing she cares about is her music; anything else better just join the line. It’s been a few years since I last photographed Natalie, the opportunity to get some shots as she did a Friday lunchtime outdoor gig at Hay’s Galleria in London as part of a series of gigs arranged in conjunction with the Talentbanq organisation. The weather gods were smiling on us that day and I managed to get in close and capture some of the intensity of Natalie’s performance. If you get the technical stuff right, Natalie is one of those people that will give you the shot.

Natalie Duncan encore

Another bonus ball for you. I don’t really see this one as gig pic, but I like it. All of the Hay’s galleria gigs were staged in front of the David Kemp sculpture ‘The Navigators’, which is so striking that I knew I had to work it in to a shot somehow. It took a few minutes playing with the different angles, but the shot finally took shape. It was only ever going to work with a keyboard player, creating the impression of controlling some diabolical machine from a console in front of them. If you’re ever near London Bridge station, go and have a look at the sculpture; it’s worth a few minutes out of your day. And check out Natalie Duncan on whichever platform you use to access music.

 

Just let me be completely serious here, the whole idea of reviewing albums and gigs and doing live music photography is something I wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years ago. Whatever gods you believe in, I will thank them for this opportunity. Every album I hear or gig I go to is another bonus and I truly appreciate it; I’ve made many friends as a result of doing this and had some wonderful times. Every year for the last five years or so, I’ve had few moments that stop me in my tracks and they’re still coming. Here are a few from 2019, in no particular order.

 

Mavis Staples @The Roundhouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Mavis; that was Cornbury Festival last year. This was different; it was the full-on show, the proper gig experience. Proper soundchecks, full-length sets and not having to dash off to shoot another band after the first three songs. And it didn’t hurt that the support for Mavis’s two gigs in England was Stone Foundation, my favourite current UK soul band; they rose to the occasion, powering through a tight set and grabbing the attention of an audience that had mainly come to see Mavis as part of the Innervisions Festival. I’d managed a couple of decent shots of her at Cornbury, but you never pass up an opportunity to photograph a legend again. Three songs from the pit, including a few that I’m still happy with, and then what? Get to the mixing desk, stand in front of it and enjoy the force of nature that is Mavis Staples and her band. The songs always had power, the band are totally on it and Mavis’s voice is undimmed by age. What a night.

Interviewing Graham Parker

Bit of context here. As a student in the late seventies (I know, you work it out), I had access to a lot of gigs and I was just getting into gig photography (Olympus OM-1, if you’re interested). I spent a fair amount of time as a DJ with current MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner. As a DJ at that time in Students’ Unions, you got a lot of freebies. One of the freebies that grabbed my attention was an EP by Graham Parker called The Pink Parker EP (the original limited edition was on pink vinyl) and it ignited a life-long love of this guy’s music. He’s now one of several musicians that I’ve photographed at an interval of four decades; you get the picture, I’m a fan.

Cutting to the chase, in February of 2019, a Graham Parker tour celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the album “Squeezing Out Sparks” was announced and one of the dates was The Foxlowe Theatre in Leek, one of my favourite small theatres in one of my favourite small towns, coincidentally the current hometown of Mr Jenner. Tickets were bought and as the year went on, I thought it might be a good idea to collaborate with Steve on an interview with GP if we could swing it. Turns out (with the intervention of Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation), we could. So, on Friday October 22nd in Leek, I found myself sitting with my oldest mate Steve Jenner opposite Graham Parker with a microphone between us. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, you can listen to it here:

It’s the first time I’ve been happy to use an interview as a podcast, rather than transcribing the whole thing. It was a bit of moment.

Sam Tanner album launch @The Half Moon

Heard of Sam Tanner? You really should have, he’s the man. Sam sings, writes songs and plays keyboards, but that really doesn’t do him justice. He’s the funkiest keyboard player I’ve heard, his songs are incredibly powerful and then there’s the voice. As a keyboard player and soul singer in the UK, the obvious comparison is Paul Carrack. I’ve seen both several times and I have to say my money’s on Sam. I first got to hear of him as a member of Mollie Marriott’s band, then as member of Brother Strut (check out this Ed Sheeran cover) before bumping into him at various gigs around town. All of that talent and it turns out he’s a really nice guy as well.

For the launch gig for his solo album he pulled out all the stops (thinly-disguised organ player gag) with a full band, horn section and backing vocalists (Mollie Marriott and Izzy Chase). This was a quality line-up with the kind of players that could follow any changes and sounded incredible. Sam was on top form vocally and even dealt with audience members talking in his trademark gentle way: “If you’re going talk along, can you do it in B flat because that’s the key the next song’s in…”. Superb band, superb vocals and lovely atmosphere; I floated back to Putney station.

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band @The Forum

While I’m ‘fessing up to all the bands I love, I can’t miss out Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band. I love these people as artists and as people. In October, I saw the band three times. Each gig was special in its own way, but a support set at The Forum with a full house was a huge opportunity. The band supported Polish eighties punk band Kult who still have a huge following in the UK. It can be difficult playing support to a band with a hugely partisan following, but Dana had a secret weapon (besides having a great band). Fiddle player Basia is Polish and did various links and introductions in her home tongue, which the audience loved. It’s a fabulous feeling to see one of your favourite bands get a rapturous reception at a big gig on their own manor. I suspect I’ll be at a few more Stolen Band gigs in 2020.

Poetry

I know it seems unlikely, but I got back into poetry. Over the last few years, I’ve become a fan and friend of the songwriting colossus that is Phil Burdett. It’s been no secret that Phil’s had some issues over the last few years and working on his poetry is something that’s been therapeutic. This year, Phil published a volume of poetry and prose (it’s very good and you can buy it here) and launched it at The Railway Hotel in Southend-on Sea with a performance featuring spoken word and songs aided and abetted by his long-time collaborator Steve Stott, playing the usual mandolin and fiddle. I’d forgotten how good it is to hear poetry performed live and wasn’t remotely surprised at the way Phil aced his first live recital. And the songs with Mr Stott sounded bloody good as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Ralph Dartford supported Phil with the launch of his latest volume, “Recovery Songs” and also went down a storm. The audience was perfect; totally silent during the performances and noisily appreciative at the end of each piece

And there’s still more. A few weeks later, Ralph launched (no pun intended) his volume, “Recovery Songs” from a floating bookshop on the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross, supported by Phil and Steve. Not quite such a captive audience, but great to see people walking along the towpath stop to listen. Those two volumes are probably the first new poetry I’ve bought since “The Mersey Sound”. Another bonus was that I had the chance to have beer with some very interesting musicians, which is a theme that crops up elsewhere in these High Fives. There might be a good idea buried somewhere in that.

Nostalgia and a record

I can’t resist a bonus ball this time, inspired by the Graham Parker interview. In the same year that I first saw Graham Parker, I also saw a band from Birmingham that I’d heard a lot about, The Steve Gibbons Band. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to interview Southside Johnny at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March to discover that Steve Gibbons had been added to the bill at short notice. Forty-two years isn’t my personal record for length of time between gigs I’ve seen an artist at; it ties with Brinsley Schwarz as a member of his band and as a duo with Graham Parker, but it’s quite impressive. My options for beating that record are pretty limited now; I think it might come down to seeing Ian Gomm or Billy Rankin again – just sayin’ guys, there’s a record to be broken here… To make everything perfect on the day, the interview went really well and the gig was absolutely storming. I love this job.

All images except Phil’s book cover courtesy of yours truly.

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost a year since “Trouble Holding Back”, Helen Rose’s debut album, was released. We gave a cautious thumbs aloft despite Allan having a fit of the grumps about covers of “When the Levee Breaks”. Anyhow, Helen has kindly offered a contribution to this year’s High Fives with suggestions of the best places to watch the sun set in New Orleans. I just love the way creatives respond to this challenge. Life with this feature really is like a box of chocolates.

There is nothing like a Louisiana sunset. One of my favorite activities is sitting by the Mississippi River, listening to the bountifully deep music that echoes in the flow of this beautiful body of water. So here are 5 of my favorite ways to watch the sunset over the Mississippi:

1) Bout an hour before the sunsets head on over to Hanks, Wagners or the New Orleans Food Co-op to pick up a few bottles of Gingeroo (or any drink of course that suits your fancy- turmeric tea is a favorite of mine). Gingeroo is a  rum, ginger and sparkling cane juice drink made by our local rum distillery – Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. They now have a Strawberry-roo that makes any excuse for a day-drink beyond acceptable. Then scoot your boot on over the L9 bridge to the levee. The sounds of the kids and dogs running happily, the NATCHEZ and CREOL QUEEN river boat calliope playing, and the colors of the sky take you back to a simpler time and calm your mind- filling your heart with the wild wonder that is the city of New Orleans. We once watched a Pelican swim upstream for two hours… and you already know, from that day on our sweet Pelican has been immortalized within a song.

2) Head on over to Bayou St. John, a gorgeous local neighborhood here in N.O. then getchyerself a romantic early afternoon Mediterranean meal at Thousand Figs and a bottle of wine at Swirl (next door) and take a stroll on the bayou to enjoy the sunset and the light filtering through the Spanish moss dressed live oak trees.

3) This one is a little more daring and the timing must be right in sync with the seasons as it takes place on a busy road and you don’t want to hit traffic happy hour. The bridge over the train tracks on N. Claiborne in the St. Claude neighborhood has an impeccable view of the sunset and the surrounding neighborhoods. If you have a strong imagination and a bit of street smarts in your pocket- you can walk over the bridge imagining the sound of the cars as if they were the breeze by the river. Perhaps only for those who find beauty in industrial grunge. Recommended for those looking for a thrill rather than a relaxing sunset experience.

4) Crescent Park runs from the Bywater to the French Quarter. You can walk from Bartholomew St. to the French Market after some delicious BBQ at The Joint, brisket and mac & cheese highly recommended, they have great iced tea, cocktails and Daquaries to go along with your wandering. Take a walk over the Rusty Rainbow and visit Euclid Records and buy my album on the way.

5) A trip to Natchez, MS is a lovely way to listen to all of the new musicians you just discovered in the Crescent City and/or go back in time and dive into the music of the great musicians who graced this part of the earth and came before us influencing most of the music we love. Head on down to the bar “Under The Hill Saloon”, sit in the rocking chair and hear the riverboat play while watching the great Mississippi River as she winds down her day and sun kisses you goodnight. The musical “Showboat” was filmed here, and Mark Twain had an apartment on Silver Street under the hill. It is a deep experience indeed.

 

As you may have read in my review of Steve’s most recent book “Loud, Proud and Illegal”, he’s sold the commercial stations he part-owned to another company and found himself more ‘retired’ than he was earlier in the year. Didn’t last, though and he now finds himself presenting ‘Lovetown’, a selection of love songs, for a couple of hours between 11PM and 1AM five nights a week on Staffordshire Moorlands FM community station Moorlands Radio before flipping over to the digital-only service on Moorlands Xtra for the  next two hours. Not only that but another couple of nascent stations have offered him the same slot on their stations, provisional upon them being awarded licenses next year, in effect syndicating his show in different parts of the country and others are showing an interest. 

In order to celebrate this he’s listed fifty of his fave FM-friendly love songs on his ‘Broadcast Brothers’ Facebook page. Not being one overburdened with the work ethic these days, he’s sent the top five from this list in as his ‘Lovetown’ High Five this year.

 

5.Brenda Russell: “Piano in the Dark”

Very, very spooky this. This was the tune that was playing as I left the car headed for the Clifton tower block flat where I came within minutes of being Done for pirate broadcasting. (See Broadcast Brothers: On the Radio). It was also the scene of a weird one. The Clifton flats studio was draped in copious amounts of white material to deaden the sound a bit; and they only moved when the doors opened to let in the next presenter. So if those drapes moved significantly, you knew someone had just been admitted to the premises – and if this was unannounced, it was scarper time. I was playing this late one night coming towards the end of a show long forgotten now, with the legendary Josh in the studio with me feeding me the ad tapes. Suddenly, the drapes billowed, and we looked at each other…there was no-one to let anyone in, and neither of us had. ‘Funny,’ said the sadly now-departed Josh. ‘That happened the other night when we played this as well……’ Atmospheric, beautifully recorded (is that Michael McDonald I can hear in back?) and boy does she ‘sell’ this song. And with the tinkling of those ghostly ivories, every time I hear this I can’t help but think of all the pirate presenters and ‘staff’ who are no longer with us. And they are legion.

4.The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows”

The first line of the lyrics is the most complete statement I’ve ever heard about the Lurv Thang in a song. You’ve got the strength balanced against the vulnerability; you’ve got the conviction versus the doubt. And you’ve also got the greatest production genius ever to draw breath, Brian Wilson, dragging all sorts of kit in through the studio door to deliver something where the marriage between killer tune, bullseye lyrics and sympathetic production has never, ever, seemed closer. It is perfect.

 

3.Linda Jones: “(For) Your Precious Love”

This was recorded by Jerry Butler of The Impressions in his usual controlled and dignified fashion. It was a decent sized US hit and their version is well worth a listen. But oh my my, approach this version with asbestos gloves. This is anything but dignified and in control. This is THE ‘torch song’ incarnate. This woman sounds absolutely driven beyond the normal compass of human emotion. The scream approaching the end is just brutal and she nearly loses control of the whole thing in the last few bars. Again I say DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS if you are doing break-up numbers. And do not listen if you’ve had a drink. It is quite rare now as a vinyl and you will have all on to find it in this country but it is all over t’internet. Biographical detail; she died at the age of 27 whilst sleeping between shows at the Harlem Apollo at her mum’s house. A long-time diabetic, she may well have slipped into a diabetic coma.

2.The Righteous Brothers: “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”

This is the most played record on American radio, ever. Let me say that again. Most. Played. US Radio. Can you even begin to imagine how much this has grossed? But you can see why within the first few bars. It is all there. The sullen accusation, the descending scale on the brass and strings, the doom – laden ‘wall of sound’ courtesy of Phil Spector and company, the despairing admission to himself that no matter what he does, It Is Over. The interplay between the near – hysterical falsetto of the late Bobby Hatfield – chalk another one off due to the Peruvian Marching Powder – and the deep, aching heartbreak of Bill Medley playing off against each other and the final ‘breakdown’ of the orchestra arrangement before the end you’ve got an immortal three minutes or so; even though you know the final plea ‘Bring Back – That Lovin’ Feelin’ has and will fall upon ears that have already gone deaf.

1.Billy Paul: Me and Mrs. Jones.

‘We gotta thiiiiing going on’. Billy Paul pulls off the impossible here. On the face of it here, this is a seedy little tale about some furtive and probably sordid mutual extra – marital. And yet. The problem here is that you can’t help but be dragged into the tension, the yearning, the hurt and the difficult decisions. So much so that you find yourself identifying with and sympathising with the protagonists, against your better nature. Without Billy Paul’s stella vocal performance, which would have been reduced to the very ordinary by the classic ‘Barry White’-style delivery, this would have been just so-so and you be excused for walking away from it saying ‘serves ‘em right’. But the jazz tones in his staccato, top-end delivery mesh so beautifully with the near-glissando string arrangements, which meld with the horn section and just drift effortlessly with little sprinkles of audio angel dust here and there. And then there are the backing vocals to consider. How can anyone imbue the word ‘Thiiiiing….’ with so much soul power. Part jazz, part soul, all Philly dreamboat, this, for me, is the best FM radio love song of all time. Released in 1972, it got to number 12 in the UK top 40 and number 1 on Billboard in the US. Billy Paul died about three years ago, aged 80. But, I suspect for many years to come, he will still have a thiiing going on.

Quick footnote: Our guess is that you’ll know four of these songs really well. If you haven’t heard the Linda Jones song you really should listen to it; it has the power of Millie Jackson at her very best. Obviously, as Steve says, don’t listen if you’re feeling fragile.