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.

 

 

A producer, a photographer and two musicians walk into a pub. Sorry, there isn’t a punchline to this; it’s just what happened. A quick pre-Christmas beer with some music business friends to chew the fat; what do you think we talked about? As always with these semi-unplanned sessions something good came out of it. We’ll leave it to Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with the band Deep Blue Sea to tell the story, enhancing it with some music trivia. You might want to start this piece whenyou have about an hour to spare because it’s a bit addictive, especially after Riot Towers made a contribution,

 

Sitting in The New Cross House pub the other night with Allan McKay (something that could very easily become habit forming), we were talking about his series of guest articles “High Fives” in Music Riot – sign up now if ya haven’t already!

I’ve written a few before and always like rambling on about whatever, so I was happy to quickly volunteer to write one for this Christmas – even before Allan gave me my first pressie of the year – even if I had no idea what to waffle on about.

We were with Iago Banet, a guitarist from a band that I’ve heard are not that bad and we were talking about a gig we did a few weeks ago. Our singer, Dre Smith, had lost her voice and we were doing the gig as a 3 piece – playing songs we’d never played before. I proudly boasted that I’d sang the entire lyric to “Blinded By The Light” by Brucie without a single rehearsal. Allan asked if I liked Manfred Mann’s version or the original best, then Iago reminded me that after 3 attempts we’d had to abandon “All Along The Watchtower” because I kept getting the first line wrong!!! Pride comes before…

Anyway, this conversation led to the topic of this High Five.

Five covers that I think are better than the original.

Only my opinion here – but when I got to thinking about it – there’s maybe 20 or 30 I could muse about. So, I thought I’d kick it off with two people who I consider to be un-betterable – but concede that in these two occasions, they are bettered.

 

Song 1

All Along The Watchtower – Bob Dylan – Jimi Hendrix

OK, if you know me at all, you may have heard me at sometime mention the name Bob Dylan. He’s the cat, the verbal acrobat-tery, the lyrical dexterity and temerity in all sincerity. A couple of weeks ago we were playing Bude R&B Festival, which involved a good 4 hour drive back and forth. Amanda Dal, our wonderful drummer, asked me, unprompted, to play the three albums Bob recorded in 1965 that “invented Rock Music as we know it”. Much to Iago’s horror. So we had a great journey back and forth listening to Bob. It’s Amanda’s turn next, so I am going to get 4 hours of singer songwriter LP. The fact that she’s a ringer for Bob makes me favourable disposed to her from the get go – so – I’m ok with this!

Anyway, some people say (fools that they are) that any cover of a Bob song is going to be better than Bob’s version. BUT THEY ARE WRONG!!!! This has only ever happened once in the whole wide universe since the beginning of time. And only one person could a done it. Jimi. Y’know, I’d love to be able to wipe the tape and hear Jimi’s version of Watchtower again for the first time. Can you remember that moment? I can’t. But listen to it now. The swagger, the invention, the sass, the sheer coolness.  Four minutes of perfect cool. If Jimi hadn’t recorded it, would we remember the original? Was it just a fairly average track on a subdued and pared back album from Bob who might have been wondering at the time where he was going next. Recorded in 1967 after the “fall” it was a total turn away from the more blues inspired electric albums and a return to his more folkie side, but Jimi took this track, rocked it up, funked it up and delivery to my mind one of the greatest little guitar pop songs of all time.

Oh, BTW, the title of Bob’s album, John Wesley Harding. It was named after a Texan outlaw of that name – only they spelled it wrong!!! He was called John Wesley Hardin.

Compare and contrast:

 

Song 2

Nothing Compares 2U – Prince – Sinead O’Connor

I was a big Prince fan. Still miss the guy. He might have had demons and might have been just a tad obsessed but look at the catalogue of pop songs. Inventive, fun, joyous, rude, rock and raunch and lovesexy. He made pop a bit dangerous, a lot of fun and a lot of cool – combined a bit of Jimi, a bit of Marc, a bit of James Brown and a lot of genius. Until Sinead covered this song I would not have thought anyone could touch the little chap at his own game. I kinda thought Prince songs were indelibly stamped with Prince’s logo. You can’t touch this….

I wuz wrong. The frailty and fragile nature of the song fits Sinead and both somehow meld. She is the song, the song is her. That just doesn’t happen very often – if at all. That revolting phrase “you owned it” churned out on brain dead TV talent shows ad nauseam for once applies. You can’t think of the song without thinking of Sinead and vice versa. They might be so entwined that it overshadows her career.

OK, that’s two down and just to sum them up, nobody else has done a cover of a Prince song better than Prince and ditto Bob. Argue away, I’m not listening.

Compare and contrast:

Song 3

With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles – Joe Cocker

This is weird. The Beatles FFS? The greatest band ever. The greatest song writing partnership of the 20th century. The band that wrote the book (and the sequel). Have you heard some of the covers? “Hey Jude, Hey Bing”? Trust me, it was an album. My dad had it. Can you imagine the scene in our house? He was a jazz musician and I think he made this one attempt to be down with his son. He’d spent some futile time trying to tell me that all of this pop music stuff was nonsense and real music would eventually come into its own and Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington et al would be on Top of the Pops (Pops in this case being hep cat chat for Dads). Suffice to say most covers are cheesy in the extreme or just for shock value with nothing of value added. From Matt Monroe to Siouxsie Sioux. But, Joe? That voice. That presence. That simple honesty and stripped back truth. It’s a song, dare I say, that Paul didn’t really think was the Dog’s Bs so he suggested that Ringo sang it as a little bit of fun “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” and the whimsy fitted the feel of Sgt Peppers. But it was far from a stand-out track.

Now, fast forward a mere year or so. On stage at Woodstock and Joe says “the title of this song says it all”. The song is imbued with something more. A part of the hippy dream is captured in the performance. It’s a time piece. Oh and that voice? Come on. Just go have a listen. Band ain’t too bad either.

Song 4

Respect – Otis Redding – Aretha Franklin

Like Joe, this cover takes the song into places the original didn’t. Like the others too I guess. But with this one, you start pretty high up – with that voice, Otis. A voice that can quite easily make you cry. My Girl? Try A Little Tenderness? I Been Loving You Too Long? I’m tearing up now. And I’m a tough guy…

But Aretha takes a lyric that just might veer towards a bit misogynistic these days – y’know, man works all day – comes home to little lady cooking for him and expects a bit of R – E – S – P – E – C – T – and she makes it the first bona fide feminist mega hit defining moment of the decade. Oh yeah, and it was her major first hit after 10 years fighting against “the man”!!

What Aretha did changed the world. A cover version of a pop song changed the world? Yes, that’s what I said. Made a massive difference to the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. The impact of this little pop song can’t be ignored. That’s how deep my love is.

Oh, BTW, Otis didn’t really like the cover – but learned to live with it when the dosh rolled in – and also – listen to his version – most people think the lyric “R – E – S – P – E – C – T find out what it means to me” is part of the original.

Song 5

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Robert Hazard – Cyndi Lauper

For years I’d thought Prince wrote this especially for Cyndi. Someone told me some Fake News and I never questioned it. It’s a great song and it seemed believable. It’s my wife’s favourite “getting ready for Friday Night” song – so I had to include it for her.

There’s not a great deal to say about it other than, in Cyndi’s hands and voice, it’s perfect pop. In Robert Hazards? Well, have a listen to the song below. My main question is, How did Cyndi hear this very very average song and say “I can make this song a mega hit that will last generations and become Graeme’s wifes’ favourite “getting ready for Friday Night song” for all time”? I dunno the answer but one thing I will point out is, the song lasts 2 minutes and 30 seconds and the actual track lasts 4 minutes and 30 seconds. And by strange coincidence, when my wife says she’ll be ready in 15 minutes… you can fill in the rest.

Just before I trot off to have a mince pie, there were a couple of things I considered but rejected and hopefully some of these will incite you to invective 🙂

  1. Leonard Cohen covers – it’s easy to say other people sing them better than Lenny. That’s not the point. We can all say a photograph of a tree looks more like a tree than a Van Gogh painting of a tree. I don’t know where I’m going with that – other than Lenny is the Van Gogh of pop – funny, sad, dark, deep, tortured and Chaplinesque – there’s a crack in everything – that’s how Lenny gets in. I like his cracks. In his house there are many flaws – all of them interesting.
  2. Led Zeppelin – when you actually claim to have written all your covers yourselves – it doesn’t apply.
  3. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a gravelly voice – don’t be silly (Sir Rodney).
  4. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a lovely voice – as above.
  5. The Blues – it’s totally impossible to compare Crossroads – Robert Johnson to Cream. Both are wonderful in their own way – and I bet you can think of lots more examples. So, off you go, your challenge is now to name 5 blues songs that have brilliant originals and brilliant – but significantly different – covers.

Many thanks to Allan for allowing me to stop work for 3 hours to write this 🙂

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, if the fates allow.

Cheers

Graeme

Written before the election December 2019 (I might not be in such a frivolous mood after that).

Sorry Graeme, but we need to have the last word here (not about the election, not even going there), especially after squeezing in two High Fives in one piece, but we did mention another song, which was a band covering their own song. Thin Lizzy’s “Nightlife” version of “Still In Love With You” should have pushed all the buttons as a duet between Phil Lynott and the wonderful Frankie Miller, but it was a bit of a mid-tempo plodder. Someone obviously worked out that it was a potential anthem, slowed it down, stuck a truly wonderful Brian Robertson solo in there and, voila, rock classic.

Well, we’re hoping to bring you some great photos from some of the best live music photographers on the circuit as part of this High Fives season, but until then you’ll have to make do with another selection from our resident snapper, Allan McKay. This time he’s picked out a selection of colour shots of male performers from a widely varying range of venues.

 

 

John Crimes (Jaxhill)

This was taken at Leek Blues and Americana festival in October of this year. This is a great community event staffed by volunteers and features a stack of free events in the town’s pubs (there are a few of those) plus a small number of ticketed events, over a period of 6 days. The smaller events are interesting because they don’t usually have any stage lighting, so it’s about playing the hand you’re dealt. Turning away from singer Mike Gledhill, I noticed that John was beaming out this 100—megawatt smile. Press the shutter button and there you go.

Maceo Parker

This shot was from Maceo’s show at The Roundhouse as part of the Innervisions Festival in 2019. Why do I like this festival? Easy, you can go home at the end of each gig, have a shower and sleep in your own bed. This shot was a combination of planning and luck. I saw Maceo place the wooden ‘Love’ sculpture on the stage and thought that there must be a way of working it in to a shot. After trying the sculpture on its own and as an out-of-focus foreground, Maceo walked to the back of the stage and there was the shot. I like to take away a lesson from every gig. The lesson here was that LED stage lighting and a shaven head isn’t a great combination.

Martin Harley

Leek Blues and Americana again, and this was the first ticketed event of the festival at the wonderful and intimate Fowlowe Theatre. I’ve photographed Martin before, but usually in much smaller venues, acoustic, and with upright bass player Daniel Kimbro. This time he was leading an electric trio and, apart from the Weissenborn songs, playing standing. The combination of those things with the heavily-modified Stratocasters created opportunities for some images that were very different from past gigs. And there’s a bit of the lead guitarist thing going on there as well. Combine that with decent stage lighting and you’ve got a shot.

Lewis Bewley-Taylor (Hardwicke Circus)

Hardwicke Circus is cracking young band from Carlisle with great songs, bags of energy and presence, and a hint of early seventies-era Stones. They’re managed by the legendary Dave Robinson and they’re always worth seeing live. This shot was from the newly-refurbished Bedford in Balham. It’s always had a reputation as a great music venue and it has one huge bonus for photographers; it has a balcony over the back part of the stage allowing you to shoot from above, which works well for drummers and keyboard players. The shot was made by the seventies prog-rock setup and the carpet and the use of an unusual viewpoint. You really want a bit of trivia don’t you? The band’s name is taken from a traffic island in Carlisle.

Jim Maving (Dean Owens and The Southerners)

Taken at The Exchange Theatre in Twickenham. Jim is a stunningly good guitar player who has spent some time recently working live with Dean Owens and Tom Collison. Jim isn’t keen on being photographed, but was good enough to tell me that he liked the shots I’d done at this gig. The thing that I really like about this shot is that it captures some of the intensity of Jim’s playing and the purple stage lighting (not normally my favourite) works really well with Jim’s silver hair.

 

You may have heard this before, but one of the things we love about this feature is that musicians and creative artists generally will always put their own spin on it, as we quickly realized seven years ago when this feature started. Allan reviewed Kristina Stykos’s album “River of Light” in April this year and loved it. Kristina has a studio background, so we’d kind of expect some studio-related favourites from her. We weren’t disappointed with this insight in to the recording process she specializes in. And this one goes all the way to eleven (well six actually) – we did warn you about these creatives.

 

For the DIY musician who doubles as his or her own recording engineer, here are my five “must-have” items for the studio, plus a bonus.

 

HP Mixers

A frustrated band mate in headphones is your worst enemy. Don’t let anyone ever yell at you again that they need more … anything. With these five handy knobs, care of Furman, each musician can design their own custom headphone mix, and turn themselves up until it’s distorted, if that’s what they prefer. Set it up in advance in Pro Tools and, voila. You’ll save your hearing … and your sanity.

 

Clipboards

I can’t emphasize enough the usefulness of old fashioned clipboards to organize handwritten notes during sessions. Paper and pen are always the most reliable tools for jotting down quirky issues, superlative takes and guerrilla settings. Your computer doesn’t remember everything, nor should it have to. There is nothing worse than that feeling of “What the heck did we do?”, after the fact.

 

Guitar Picks

After years of recording guitars, you probably have collected a lot of guitar picks off the floor. This lovely origami-paper pick box never ceases to delight. When someone can’t find their own pick, the mood is one of serving hors d’oeuvres. And as you can see, a pick box also doubles as a receptacle for dice, dog licenses, and antique NYC subway tokens.

 

String Gauge Chart

I try to be helpful if someone has just broken a string. Time is of the essence in the studio, and when the mood is right, no one likes being the one holding things up. But for some reason, not all packaged strings tell you what note they are. If you want to be smarter than the average guitar player, this cheat sheet will help you avoid falling prey to unnecessary moments of awkward confusion.

 

Album Plaques

Discmakers used to offer these plaques free to studio partners, as a “thank-you” for doing business with their New Jersey manufacturing plant. Well, like everything else in life, once they’d hooked us on the idea, they started charging for them. Although it pisses me off, I always buy one, to visually commemorate the arduous journey that completing an album represents. Everyone who comes in the studio loves to look at them.

 

To-Do List (bonus) 

In case of boredom, or so that we don’t take ourselves too seriously as artists, we keep this to-do list in the tracking room. It reminds us of the many things yet to do, and look forward to, that have nothing to do with anything music related.

Our most regular contributor Steve Jenner, did a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll pilgrimage in late 2019 to get back to the roots of the music he loves, both as a listener and a radio presenter. Here’s his take on his favourite destinations on the tour taking in the rhythm ‘n’ blues and rock ‘n’ roll landmarks of America’s South.

 

 

STAX, Memphis

The heavyweight champion as far as I’m concerned. The range of exhibits is just breathtaking, the stunning range of photographs, the specific instruments which grace the museum, the fact that they’ve got a restored version of the jukebox I have in my house…and the fact that the building itself just reeks of the opportunity it represented as an oasis of creativity and inter-racial harmony, the unifying factor being music, makes this place a pilgrimage, an education and a re-affirmation of the love which brings you here in the first place. Flight cases stamped ‘Isaac Hayes Movement’. Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s bass, Steve Cropper’s Telecaster. The pride with which WattStax is celebrated tells you all you need to know. This is the label where uncompromising soul music finally ‘gotten over’. Sell your goods and chattels and GO. The facility continues to do sterling work in the community changing lives for the better; but get selfish here. You WILL enrich your own life.

 

Sun Studios, Memphis

It would be sooooeasy for this to disappoint….but it doesn’t. Still a working studio, it actually feels like it. Not sure why they feel the need to play a Van Halen track as you ascend the stairs to the studio and small exhibition but once you’re up there…oh man. Where else are you likely to be within touching distance of a white-label demo of the first rock ‘n’ roll 78 RPM record, ever (Jackie Brenston, “Rocket 88” and I’ll brook no argument on this one.) The kit, the instruments…the room itself…and THAT microphone. The one the originators lit the blue touch paper to the cultural revolution with. Go, wait until the guide leaves the room, grasp the mic that launched a million hits and sing, as badly as you will, at least one line of a lyric that was recorded there. For me it was the first line from Billy Lee Riley’s “Red Hot”. Choose your weapon. And you will never feel the same again. I feel like some gold dust came off that mic and it hasn’t worn off yet and I don’t think it ever will.

Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Memphis

It takes the breath away. The range and depth of artefacts alone would reduce a grown man to tears if they were piled up in the corner under an old tarpaulin but the presentation, sequencing and ‘staging’ of the exhibits means you can hardly tear your eyes away from anything, anywhere. From huge chunks of ancient radio station to detailed explanations of how key artists ‘became’, you just can’t afford to miss this one and it makes a Transatlantic trip worth the ticket price alone. And then you step outside and you’re a couple of hundred yards from Beale Street. And you are walking with your feet ten feet off.

Gracelands, Memphis

I expected this to be much, much more tacky and a lot less interesting but still felt I just had to go. ‘I have reason to believe we all will be received in Gracelands’, right? Well, yes but it just shows what I know. Gracelands, the house, was actually a monument to a remarkably ‘normal’ life and if we disregard the loads of cars and a couple of planes, otherwise what might seem a reasonable wish list of toys for a top-end lawyer. And it seems quite small, ridiculous although that statement may appear, but very homely in a ‘seventies’ sort of way. Absolutely fascinating; and the garden of rest, where his mother, father and other family members are committed along with Presley’s remains is a real place of peace and reflection. The museum needs more energy than you’ve got in the Memphis heat to get through it all; and the range of costumes, cars, toys and paraphernalia is mind-boggling. House might be relatively modest…but he liked his transportation toys, did Elvis. And the costumes tell the story of the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll icon…who eventually went more ‘showbiz’ than showbiz itself. The true price of fame on an unprecedented scale, displayed alongside the attendant rewards; a parable for our times which sadly, many STILL don’t seem to have understood.

RCA Studio B, Nashville

Despite not being the greatest devotee of Jim Reeves, it cannot be denied that RCA Studio ‘B’ in Nashville has seen the recording of more hits than most big labels see in a lifetime from all sources. Most of Elvis’s biggest sellers were recorded here. Dolly Parton, Bobby Goldsboro, Charley Pride…on and on it goes. And once again you can cut the ‘atmosphere’ with a knife. I DID hear, and sense, the ghost of Elvis here. It was a throwback to 4AM, April 4th, 1960 when Elvis was recording “Are You Lonesome Tonight” here…in the dark. Ask her nicely and the studio guide will throw the light switch off and play you the original reel-to-reel of the original recording. ‘Saw the ghost of Elvis…then I watched him walk right through…’

All photos courtesy of Sue Jenner.

This witness protection programme isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; we managed to find our arch-miserablist in a pub in Basildon this week just in time to get his opinions on the perfect storm of the end of a decade and a general election. We blew the whole years’ hospitality budget on Stella and rum and black, but we think it was worth it. Just a word of warning, there’s some fairly fruity adult language here. And it’s an opinion (or set of opinions) from one end of the political spectrum. If anyone wants to reply to this with opposing viewpoints, we’ll happily publish it. Let’s light the blue/red touchpaper and go.

Really; it’s been ten years of Tory misrule. Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? And it looks like the narrative is ‘Everything’s screwed; vote for us to unscrew it’. But didn’t you just screw it up in the first place? ‘Get Brexit Done’ – because about 39% of the eligible electorate voted for Brexit. That’s not anything close to a majority. And how many of those were conned by the £350m a week back into the NHS – I’m calling BS here. Forget about the fact that benefits come back into the UK economy from the EU. The aim of the Tories always is and always has been to systematically unpick the welfare state in general and the NHS in particular. You were conned and now the extremists have been given the upper hand. What do I think of that?

And what about the head knob, the unelected Prime Minister who suspends Parliament when it suits his agenda, can’t remember how many kids he has, buys water cannons that are illegal in this country that have to be scrapped at a huge loss and approves grants for British businesses to his American ‘friend’. You’ve all been conned by a toff who takes nothing seriously and only ever does anything if it benefits Bojo the Clown. He doesn’t care about you, or your friends, or your family. All he wants is your vote. As John Cooper-Clarke said ‘They can’t find a good word for you. I can; twat.’
And the skulking coward refuses to do interviews with journalists who might give him a bad time. He even hides in a fridge to avoid an interview with the arch-Tory sympathiser, Piers Morgan. Just the kind of person that you want to have as Prime Minister, yeah?
Over to you, Brian, Freddie, John and Roger:

The Tory cabinet; yeah, we can all feel that we’re represented there, can’t we? What a bunch of Matt Gossers. I mean, it’s difficult to pick out a lead Jeremy Hunt here, but the front runner has to be the bad Dickens caricature, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Yeah, the one who has a little nap on the front bench during a crucial debate. You think he cares about someone on Universal Credit in Hartlepool? No, if you’ve read this far, you obviously don’t. Have you noticed that he’s been seriously inconspicuous during this election campaign. Why do you think that is? J R-M, this one’s for you:

Spin, fake news, alternative facts. It’s strange how these are mostly coming from the blue side of the electoral divide (88% apparently). Who’s funding it, who’s really spreading it? We’ll probably never know, but there was a bit of official reaction from Dominic Raab (resigner, not remoaner) when the Tories changed their Twitter account to make it look like an independent fact-checking site. He said “no one gives a toss about social media cut and thrust”. FYI Dom, I do give a toss; I think most of my friends do too. Graham Parker did as well, when he wrote this very prophetic song about four years ago:

What do all of these privileged muppets have in common? They have absolutely no understanding of the life that we all lead every day – zero, nada, zilch, sweet FA (and that’s not the Football Association or Fanny Adams). This is all a game where they make decisions and don’t have to live with the consequences. Real life isn’t about making a point with a soundbite in a debate and looking smug about it. Most of us don’t spend our lives in the Oxford Union and the decisions that are made by this privileged bunch affect all of us. Here’s their theme song:

Merry Christmas and it’s your round. Stella and rum and black’s fine, thinks.

Jess Klein’s album “Back to my Green” was released in February 2019, which seems like a really long time ago now. We loved it then and we love it still, which is why we were really pleased when Jess agreed to contribute to our 2019 High Fives feature. Here are some of Jess’s highpoints from 2019. Bit of a spoiler here, the last one might make you think you have something in your eye.

 

Touring Florida

In January, I went on tour in Florida. I hadn’t toured Florida in a couple years and never outside of Tampa. The venues were all new to me and I had no idea what to expect – would anyone show up? It turned out my friend, the songwriter Grant Peeples (who had also connected me with some of the venues) told a bunch of people to come see me play. John Fullbright, who was touring Florida the prior week, mentioned my name to his audience from the stage and told them that they should come see me. Thanks to one of the promoters, WMNF in Tampa invited me on air twice in one weekend. WSLR in Sarasota pushed my show there. Every show was packed. Those were just gifts my fellow songwriters, the promoters and radio DJ’s decided to give me. They didn’t have to. I came home feeling so blessed. Creative community is powerful.

 

David Byrne’s American Utopia tour

Seeing David Byrne’s American Utopia tour: a 12-piece band playing and dancing like one rhythmic body, led by lanky, quirky David Byrne. “Burning Down the House”, “Road to Nowhere”, “Once in a Lifetime”…They covered Janelle Monae’s tribute to black lives lost to police brutality, “Hell You Talmbout”.   Byrne and his incredible band created something even bigger than the sum of their parts. My brain was screaming, “Look what humans can do!!!” It felt like the roof was about to blow off.  

 

First Sunday Revue

My husband, Mike June and I launched the “First Sunday Revue” here in Hillsborough, North Carolina where we live. The first Sunday of each month, we get our band together and play a no-cover afternoon gig at our local, the Nash St. Tavern. Nash St. is on the divier side, the sound is weird, it is not fancy. But I have never felt so loved as I do when we play these shows. People come every month, they bring their friends, they dance (all folksingers know, getting an audience to dance is a rarity). They yelp and cheer for more and leave looking happier than when they came in. We do too.

 

Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat

In October, I taught at the Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat in Nashville. The twelve students and three teachers (Wyatt Easterling, Korby Lenker and I) all stayed in one big country house outside of town. It was 24-7 writers and writing. You literally could not avoid the creativity and inspiration with so much of it flying around. Wyatt, Korby and I co-wrote a song together and it’s pretty damn good. Getting paid to just talk about what I love to do, and to help other songwriters through their processes was like a dream come true for me. I could do that all day every day.

 

Mike June

A couple weeks ago, I came home after a long, exhausting day. It was part of a long, exhausting week. Mike June sat me down and said, “I wrote a song about you today”. He walked over to the piano and played something so beautiful and simple and loving, all the crap fell away. That’s love. He had also cooked my favorite dinner (roast chicken with potatoes and Brussel sprouts). I was a mushy mess, realizing I have this human being as my partner. Love is everything.

Well, we gave Allan a free pass with his photos this year and he’s split the black and whites into male and female artists. Here are the female artists:

Midori Jaeger

This was shot at Pizza Express in Holborn at a gig to launch Daisy Chute’s latest single “Give Thanks”. I’d shot Midori before (at another Daisy Chute gig) and I knew what I was trying to capture this time around. She did a solo mini-set where I got in close, but this shot was taken from further back and it works because I think it captures Midori’s look and something of her personality. I have to say at this point that some of the artists are connected in various ways. Here’s Midori.

 

Karen Grymm-Regester (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

Heard of Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band? You should have; they’re one of my favourite bands. I love the songs, but I really love photographing the band because they’re always visually stunning. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the lighting is, at least one member of the band will create a really striking image. I wish I could say that I patiently waited for Karen to create the finger shadows, but it wouldn’t be true; I only saw the three stripes when I was editing, but I knew then that it was a special shot.

Hannah Wood (Sound of the Sirens)

What can I say about Hannah? She’s half of Sound of the Sirens, another one of my favourite bands. I love photographing the band; Hannah and her oppo Abbe Martin are equally photogenic and I always come away from one of their gigs with interesting shots. This one at Canary Wharf was a little bit special. The lighting helped because it was just at the point where there was some daylight and the stage lighting had just kicked in. It looks a bit like a really high shutter speed to freeze the action, but it was actually Hannah frozen in a moment that she had created. Just pleased I was ready for it.

Barbara (Basia) Bartz (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

I know; another Stolen Band member. I love this band (see above) and I almost feel like a stalker now at their gigs. I probably like this one because most of my shots of Basia are action shots and this looks quite contemplative. And there’s a little connection here that I discovered earlier this year. Basia’s a good friend of Midori Jaeger (above), who I photographed for the first time earlier this year.

Natalie Shay

Natalie’s another artist that I’ve seen and photographed many times. I realised earlier this year that I didn’t have a good shot featuring her characteristic flick of her very, very long hair. So, on a Saturday evening in May this year I set out for the Leake Street vaults under Waterloo Station on a mission to get the hair flick shot (which has absolutely nothing to do with “Allo, Allo”). The lighting was minimal but just good enough, so I managed to get a result. A bit of a single-minded expedition maybe, but it’s a welcome addition to the portfolio.

Putting aside the fact that all of these five people are incredibly photogenic, they have something else in common; they’re all absolutely lovely people that I always look forward to meeting.

 

 

 

 

This started the way the best features do, as a conversation in the pub. We’ll let Allan take it from there.

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the pop music book; if the song’s on its last legs and you still need another thirty seconds or so to get you up to the optimal time for radio play, then you deploy one the producer’s most potent tactical weapons – the trucker’s gear change. In its most basic form, the whole arrangement shifts up a tone or a semitone, to grab back your attention before the chorus repeats and fades. Usually, it just happens once, but that depends on how desperate you are (or how weak the song is). You might even get some clever stuff going on to get from one key to the next; when that happens, you get all classical and call it a modulation. What do they sound like? Let’s start with an absolute clunker.

“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston

Considering the quality of the musicians available to producer David Foster, this TGC is bone-jarringly unsubtle; there’s no attempt to pretty it up by repeating a riff in the new key or moving through a few passing chords. Oh no; old key/bang/new key – we’re done. As if that’s not enough, there’s a whole bar of almost complete silence before the melody crashes back in again, maybe David Foster thought that the average listener couldn’t remember which key the song was in after 4 beats. Who knows; anyway it’s a crash/bang/wallop of the highest order and you can hear the teeth grinding off the flywheel:

“Love on Top” – Beyonce

OK, we’re now well and truly in the era of digital recording and production and it’s much easier and quicker to manipulate sounds. You can do a TGC with a mouse-click. If it’s so easy to do, why not do loads of them – one is good, two must be better. Beyonce co-produced this with Shea Taylor, so she’s sharing the blame here. In the last ninety seconds of the radio edit there are four, yes four upward key shifts as the chorus is repeated. It makes you wonder what it would be like if the key shift just kept repeating. As it happens, someone thought of that. Here it is with fourteen upward shifts:

 

“The Snake” – Al Wilson

Ah, the old Northern Soul classic. Fans will remember that one of the UK pressings of this song had a cover of the John Fogerty classic “Lodi” on the b-side. That’s not relevant, just me showing off. Sometimes you can get away with a few stick shifts if you’re building up to the climax of the song and that’s what happens here. At the end of the second verse, there’s a bass riff which is then repeated a tone higher and you’re in a different key. It’s not just a chorus repeated in exactly the same way but higher, it’s part of the process of moving the story along. And the same device is repeated at the end of the third chorus into the final verse as the song reaches its dramatic finale. Maybe I’m biased, but I think this is part of the arrangement of the song and that keeps it out of Room 101:

“Heat Treatment” – Graham Parker & the Rumour

You might think that any key change part way through a song would be agreed with the writer; it ain’t necessarily so. This was the title song of GP and the Rumour’s second album “Heat Treatment”, released in 1976, the same year as his debut “Howlin’ Wind” (two albums in a year and incessant gigs; musicians grafted in those days). Partway through the song, there’s a modulation; it’s quite musical – a two-bar horn section phrase takes the song up a tone. It’s not lumpy but it does the job fairly quickly. The problem is that it’s not part of generating extra excitement, just the opposite. It takes the song into a bass riff breakdown and the groove has to be built up again from scratch. Graham Parker made his feelings about it known when the album was remastered for CD; his sleeve notes refer to it as ‘that abusive key change’. Fair enough.

“Up the Junction” – Squeeze

This was the title track from the second Squeeze album, with a tip of the hat to Nell Dunn who wrote the novella of the same name. Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were just beginning to realise their potential as songwriters and Jools Holland was still their keyboard player. This is a key change that is about as far from a trucker’s gear change as you can get. It’s a modulation that reflects a downbeat turn in the lyrics through a ten-bar bridge using minor chords before dropping a whole tone for a more upbeat verse and then, paradoxically, going back up by a whole tone for the downbeat final verse. Difford and Tilbrook characteristically messing with the conventions. Bits of “Up the Junction” trivia? There are no choruses and the title of the song doesn’t appear in the lyric until the last three words:

Another album that Allan loved this year was Bob Bradshaw’s “Queen of the West”. You can see just how much he loved it here . There’s just a chance that it might appear as one of his top five albums of 2019 – who knows? “Queen of the West” isn’t just a bunch of songs sequenced in some sort of order, it’s an album where the songs fit together to tell a story from different of points in time with serious and sometimes comic styles. It’s an album you really should check out; make sure you set aside an hour and listen to it from start to finish. So we were more than somewhat pleased when Bob replied to our contributions shout-out with five of his favourite Americana songs from 2019:

 

Tyler Childers – House Fire

 

So simple yet so right, with a mostly-acoustic production that starts off huge and keeps building.

 

Lillie Mae – You’ve Got Other Girls for That

 

 

Quirky, edgy, beautifully sung.

 

Tim Gearan – Future of the Past

 

 

Tim Gearan’s characteristic complex, wry wordplay in a wonderfully loose atmospheric production.

 

Kassi Ashton – Violins

 

 

Funny as hell, not a wasted word in a perfect verse/pre-chorus/chorus build-up -- great roots slide guitar.

 

Caroline Spence --  Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes

 

 

I’m a sucker for playful mid-tempo songs as good as this one.