So Scott Walker (Engel) walks off into the sunset having lit up the world with a voice of such depth and resonance music itself was hardly big enough to hold it in.

In my capacity as radio bloke for High Peak I had the honour of interviewing Walker Brothers founder John Walker (Maus) at the Buxton Opera House back in what was once regarded as The Day. Scott Walker wasn’t a subject you touched on much; Scott had gone off to start a solo career back in 1967 and there had been a few temporary reunions when the bank balance got a bit squeaky but, by 1967, Scott Walker had pretty much ‘outgrown’ the Walker Brothers formula and had started a lifelong walk on the musical wild side, starting with working his way through the darkness and despair of the Jaques Brel songbook and eventually recording albums including music that many regarded as barely recognizable as ‘songs’.

But WHAT a legacy.

I will admit to a prejudice here; I believe about twenty of the best minutes to come out of the sixties came from The Righteous Brothers. “Lovin’ Feelin” is the single most played choon on American radio and there is a reason for this. And check out “Soul and Inspiration”. And that wasn’t even produced by Phil Spector.

And if that’s what floats your boat, you can’t resist The Walker Brothers. Similarities there are a-plenty; none of them are Brothers to each other and none of them were really called Walker (or for that matter, Righteous). There is truth in the rumour that The Righteous Brothers were so named when a punter in a predominantly black audience they were performing for declared ‘that’s righteous, brothers’.

There is no truth in the rumour that The Walker Brothers were so named by a punter enjoying a potato-based cheese and onion snack food.

Each was fronted by a deep-voiced, achingly soulful lead singer who could make walls weep. But Scott Walker had RANGE. How does he do the ‘la dee dah baby babys’ at the end of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More” in that register when he starts off ‘Loneliness….’ With both voice and soul locked in a cellar somewhere? Not to mention a heart-breaking heartbeat ‘late’? And don’t even talk to me about clever tricks by the knob twiddlers; this was 1966. The world was still black and white and mono. England were in the process of winning the World Cup and studio kit was still operated by blokes (and yes, I do mean blokes) in shop coats.

Each recorded ballads; but managed by harnessing soul and raw power to rise above the cloying sentimentality of many gainfully employed by the genre to create something that would Last. And I’m not talking James Last here.

Each needed voices that could do battle with and soar above, below and around the orchestra of angels; transcendent string arrangements that blow the top of your head off.

Each had mahoosive hits in the sixties but still had enough in the tank to come back and shake the tree many years later.

Both had to tolerate the dorkish demands of the pop business at the time, had to do tooth-rottingly bad TV appearances, pour out their little drops of genius whilst TV studio audiences yawned and scratched themselves, and being compelled to record some stuff which they were ill advised to record. And that’s being polite.

But there it ends.

If The Walker Brothers had kicked it in the head after “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More”, their place in the history of recorded music would be cemented; but they didn’t. Check “My Ship Is Coming In”. More Righteous than the Righteous, and that’s saying something.

And “Make It Easy On Yourself”. Their version is better than The Impressions version. And that is the only time you will hear me say that about ANY song recorded by The Impressions (Actually, no; check out “For Your Precious Love” by Linda Jones but for goodness sake NOT after you’ve had a drink; you WILL weep openly for half an hour at least. You Have Been Warned.)

And then, that album they recorded in the mid-seventies for GTO Records. Hit with a Tom Rush song, “No Regrets”. They did it, some say, as a bit of a contract fulfillment job, in order to get on with the things they REALLY wanted to do. But goodness me, on very few occasions has a song been so heavily sold to the listener by being heavily undersold. It sounds like they can’t be bothered…but in delivering it so, it reeks of the world-weariness of the genuinely Tired.

My fave beyond these has to be “The Electrician”.

Anybody who can make a song about the ‘work’ of a CIA torturer an enjoyable listen has pretty much escaped the usual constraints of the music biz, I think it fair to contend.

And after that he never came back, really. Numerous collaborations with the likes of Jarvis Cocker et al. Lots of years off. Lots of tracks which I will cheerfully admit were well beyond me. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t any good or worth a listen; they just didn’t do much for me. I’m at heart a radio man; can’t resist a good hook, no matter how you dress it up.

Thanks Scott; thanks Walkers. I blame Gary Lineker.

One thing to say right from the start, Danny Schmidt is a superb songwriter; a songwriter’s songwriter if you like, practised in the alchemy of creating gold from, well, algebra, statistics and string theory for a start. Unlikely base metals maybe, but Danny Schmidt’s no ordinary singer-songwriter; he’s a poet, a physicist and a metaphysicist. Keith Richards might claim that you just have to pull songs out of the air, but Danny Schmidt is proof that great songs can be honed and crafted till they shimmer if you have the insight, the inspiration and the skill.

Danny Schmidt’s songs cover a wide range of subjects and styles; he’s convincing with the wordy, technical songs (the album’s title track, for instance) and also has complete mastery of the personal, confessional style that tops and tails “Standard Deviation”. The album has wonderful examples of both of those styles; the title track combines a slightly unconventional love story with an interest in various modern scientific concepts. Also, and Danny doesn’t labour this in the lyrics, he highlights the differences between the relationship between the statistical concept of the normal distribution and the day-to-day us of the word ‘normal’. The lyrical beauty of the song is enhanced by a gorgeous arrangement building up to the entrance of the celestial choir towards the end of the piece.

The song that tops the album, “Wait Til They See You” is exactly the kind of song that a doting father writes about his miraculous and beautiful baby daughter while the closer, “We Need Another Word” asks a serious question about whether the word ‘miscarriage’ is appropriate as a description of a harrowing personal ordeal faced my millions of women every year. I think he has a point. “Bones of Emotion” is an exploration of the of the turbulent undercurrents of a family gathering at Christmas, while “Newport ‘65” is a deceptively straightforward look at Dylan’s move away from conventional acoustic folk, which highlights the dangers of being seen as a prophet – acolytes crave certainty and react badly when that certainty is taken away.

“Standard Deviation” is a great example of the songwriter’s art; songs covering a wide variety of styles and topics set in arrangements that make them sparkle and shine.

The album is released in the UK on Friday March 29th on Live Once Records (LOR CD 10) and Danny will be touring the UK in May.

Meanwhile, just bury yourself in this:

The press release for “Savage on the Downhill” majors on authenticity. Yep, I think we get that. The album absolutely oozes authenticity; maybe it’s the detail in the descriptions of the frontier lifestyle, maybe it’s the affinity for the land, maybe it’s just the searing honesty of the lyrics telling stories of old age and empty nests, poverty and single parenthood, and thwarted nostalgia. Maybe it’s the raw power and stark melancholy of Amber’s voice. Or it’s all of these things twisting together and taking on the added strength of musicianship that’s not showy but creates a perfect backdrop for a strong set of songs.

There’s a little bit of twang in the mix occasionally, but Amber’s style is much more elemental and old-country; more Patsy Cline than Taylor Swift. The musical stylings enforce this; a couple of songs are in waltz time, and the haunting atmosphere and fills come mainly from harmonica and pedal steel.

Amber Cross’s great achievement on “Savage on the Downhill” is that she distils the songs down into their purest form. She tells unapologetic stories of hard times and difficult situations but she’s not asking for our sympathy or even understanding; she’s just telling it like it is. The stories she’s telling are basically her observations of the things she sees around her and it’s not always pretty. And which songs are the standouts?

The standard cop-out is that it’s all good but, if arms were being twisted, “The Lone Freighter’s Wail” is a gorgeous song gently echoing Shakey’s “Harvest Moon”, but it’s not typical of Amber’s lyrical themes. “Tracey Joe” is an uncompromising story of a single parent trying to do the best for her son (with a chorus that you just can’t shake off) and the title track vividly conveys the excitement and the menace of the contest between predator and prey. Then there’s the haunting melancholy of “Echoes”, where two parents find constant reminders of children who have flown the nest.

If you like your roots music served plain and simple, with great stories, strong melodies and arrangements, then “Savage on the Downhill” is definitely for you.

The album’s released in the UK on Friday March 22nd and Amber will be touring the UK and Ireland in April.

I-95; almost two thousand miles from Maine to Florida, if you’re Southbound like J.P. Soars. Not as well known as Route 66, but here’s a coincidence; I’m reading a guitar player’s memoir at the moment (next review up) which references I-95 extensively. And Southbound? Well that’s heading towards Florida and who wouldn’t, particularly in the winter? The title song’s a road song, plain and simple, in the age-old tradition; it’s the story of touring musicians, road dogs, and it’s the most straight-up, no-nonsense song on the album. No matter how sophisticated your tastes and influences get, it’s always fun to throw in a few loud riffs and fills

J.P. Soars is no average blues player. Great players don’t allow themselves to be defined by one genre; blues/rock might be at the centre of “Southbound I-95” but it doesn’t define it. And before we move on, there are fifteen songs on the album, but the funky “Sure as Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me” crops up in ‘explicit’ and ‘clean’ versions (‘bullshit’ becomes ‘BS’) and “Arkansas Porch Party” reappears as the muted background for a hidden track.

If you’re this good, you don’t just keep recycling the same old licks; you keep moving on and soaking up more and more esoteric influences which then resurface in your work. You might do the Albert King and Muddy Waters covers (and J.P. does “When You Walk Out that Door” “Deep Down in Florida” with style and conviction) but there’s a lot more to it than that. Some of the stylings are fairly standard; “Southbound I-95” opens with a surf-punk guitar sound (think Dick Dale meets Link Wray, “Shining Through the Dark” is sixties pop-soul with a hint of “Hey Baby” while “The Grass Ain’t Always Greener” channels “Great Balls of Fire” and the Gary Bonds stomper “New Orleans”.

Things get a bit more esoteric with the mariachi horns adorning “Deep Down in Florida”, the surf meets Perez Prado sound of “Across the Desert” and the strangeness that is “Troubled Waters” which opens like Lynyrd Skynyrd before morphing into an Eastern-influenced instrumental breakdown with a banjo taking the sitar part and back into Southern rock again.

In a world where the hopes of megastardom as a blues/rock player are minimal (apparently there’s only room for one Joe Bonamassa at any given time) and you have talent to burn like J.P Soars, then you just have to follow your vision and go where it leads you. On the whole, this is a hugely entertaining album; it sounds like everyone’s having a great time and the playing is phenomenal – give it a listen.

Release date Friday March 8th .

And enjoy this:

What a wonderful thing it is to be able to go, ‘yeah, I’ll have a bit of that’ when you’re in your local having a pint. So happens the promoter of the local folk club was in. So happens he’s a long-time mate of Steve Gibbons. Turns out he’s persuaded him to play an unplugged solo gig upstairs at the intimate but absolutely luverly (if we overlook the early-closing bar) Rainbow Room at the Foxlowe Centre in my current and I suspect final hometown of Leek.

I haven’t seen him in 42 years, ever since I did the support rock ‘n’ roll themed disco and compere duties on a gig whilst he was touring Scotland just as his cover of Chuck Berry’s “Tulane” was in the top forty, having briefly made it into the top ten.

So, yeah, I will have a bit of that, thank you very much.

Said promoter, Dave Rhead, is also opening for SG tonight. This is brave of him as he has just fallen base over apex, stone cold sober and in full public view, over a local pavement. He’s well banged up and does well to hobble through “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and Anthony Toner’s lovely “Always Meeting my Cousins at Funerals”. To add insult to injury he managed this just outside Specsavers. Maybe he should….

When I last saw the Steve Gibbons Band they were absolutely in their pomp, top of their game. Huge great P.A. system, all the paraphernalia of a band signed to a major record company with a hit single and album in “Rollin’ On”. And he’s just finished a tour of parts of Scandinavia with a full band, so his trip to Leek for this solo low-key ‘unplugged’ set was clearly going to be something of a ‘gear change’ for him.

But he’s a trouper, is Steve Gibbons. His Dylan Project has kept playing gigs, he still packs them in on full band gigs, has played a number of big festivals in recent years, as well as solo and unplugged events like these. He is, to quote Pete Townshend, ‘road-worn’ but he cuts an elegant and dignified figure as he sets up to go.

First song is one of his early ones from the sixties. He was around in The Uglys and The Idle Race and the Dominettes before that – and the Dominettes can trace lineage back to 1960. This guy has been at it All Day. As far as I can discover, this is his first song recorded for a major label – “Wake up my Mind” was out on Pye back in 1965. Didn’t do much over here but went top twenty in Australia. They all count.

He then heads off into “The Chain” from “Maintaining Radio Silence” and “Wild Flowers” where the Dylanesque phrasing comes through and a lovely love song for Valentine’s Day, “Still in the Dark”. Can’t Get Next To You, Babe. The mystery of relationships and all that malarkey. “Graffiti Man” was an amusing aside from his observations of Birmingham life, and “Down in the Bunker” was a song that indeed took me back.

“I Got Chuck In My Car” finished off the first half of the set with more than a little nod to Jerry Reed’s “Tupelo Mississippi Flash”, a former hit single of his (apart from the fact that it’s a song about Elvis). More about that one, though, later.

Time to reflect.

The Steve Gibbons Band hit serious paydirt for probably the first time in the period 1976-1979; and he was by no means a young man by then. He was the right man at the right time, in many respects; rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly were enjoying a resurgence, even amongst home-grown acts, and his energetic and fleet-footed reworking of Chuck Berry’s “Tulane” sort of bridged the gap between rock ‘n’ roll revisited, punk energy levels and pace and the (by then) rapidly fading pub rock scene. Also; it kind of fitted the zeitgeist. The Fonz. Grease was just about to hit VERY big. “American Graffiti”. Showaddywaddy selling truckloads, and here comes Shakin’ Stevens…..you get the picture.

But he was a whole lot more than that. In the second half of the show he began mining the rock ‘n’ roll roots as only someone who had been playing music and listening to all that amazing stuff first time around can. I honestly believe you don’t HAVE to be American to understand how great rock ‘n’ roll works (but it helps) but if you’re not, what helps a very great deal is if you were ‘around’ when these great, great songs were new to the world. And for that you really don’t need to be born in the fifties, like me; you need to be born in the forties, like Steve Gibbons. And through most of the second half of the set, he showed us how true that is. Starting with “Hey Buddy” dedicated to Buddy Holly, “Memphis Flash” (please see above!) dedicated to Elvis including a sneaky peek at “That’s Alright”, the drug mule song “Mr Jones” the roots of American rock ‘n’ roll music are laid bare by the dry, dust-bowl voice and the simple but authentic guitar chops.

The problem is – if you were born in the forties, you’re knocking on a bit now, and whereas age might have done really interesting things with his voice, he freely admits it hasn’t done him any favours in the memory department, so there are occasional meanderings and excursions, sometimes between songs, sometimes during a song, but on the rare occasions this happens he manages to scrape it all back together again and keep moving.  Be under no illusions; his performance wasn’t perfect – as you might expect from someone carrying very many years on his back. But what he brought to the party meant you were absolutely forced to overlook that and to do otherwise would just be plain churlish.

This guy was more ‘Americana’ than many who currently wave that particular flag decades before anyone so much as mentioned the word. A point which is subtly underlined when he swoops into Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, Bo Diddleyfies “No Spitting on the Bus” (which might sound like Americana but is about as English in content as a pint of mild) and “Man in the Long Black Coat”.

Bizarrely, events are interrupted by the drawing of a raffle, before he draws the evening to a conclusion with a moving rendition of Rick Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou” before being called back for an encore during which he wanders amiably through Chuck Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee”. Somewhere I imagine Dave Berry has neglected to start his gig with “Memphis Tennessee” but has decided to sing “Tulane” instead. The universe must be kept in harmony.

Yes.

Speaking with him afterwards was an absolute delight. He signed my 45s and indeed the page of our book where the Steve Gibbons Band gets a mention so I’m well chuffed. So the guy who toured America with The Who, and has shared stages with the likes of Lynryd Skynryd, ELO and Little Feat quietly packed his personal kit away, no doubt already contemplating the next stop on the seemingly endless road in whatever incarnation presents itself to him. Because that’s the deal.

Steve Gibbons is one of Britain’s last real troubadours who link directly back to the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll in the UK – had hits during (arguably) its most turbulent and explosive times – and yet whose voice and presence recall a world and a culture many miles removed.

If that moves your soul, catch him while you can. If not, well, your loss.

Well, what do we have here? An ‘intimate’ venue just off the main city centre which may not be big but it is clever. Great, wide stage, fabulous sight lines, fairly shallow standing-only area, nice uncluttered bar with efficient staff and fair prices away to the side but in the same room.

Perfick.

You come to see a band here – and they are In Your Face; so it really lends itself to ‘you’re having it’-type performances.

Which is what we get from The Skids from the get-go. Support band Borrowed Time are well-chosen for the task and get the crowd seriously warmed, especially with their song “Borrowed Time” which I suspect struck a chord with quite a few in the room.

But, The Skids.

Oh My Goodness.

On they come – and on guitar, Big Country main man Bruce Watson. I had seriously not done my homework on The Skids – I figure sometimes it is best just to go out, grab a beer, and see what you get. One of the great pleasures of doing this gig, for me, is not being over-prepared and therefore, everything comes as a surprise. And for me, this was a gig full of pleasant surprises – and because I hadn’t done my homework I wasn’t expecting that because This Lad Can Play A Bit. Last time I saw him, he and the Big Countryfolk were being supported by The Osmonds on the night when the toothsome pair for some reason neglected to go ‘whinny, whinny’ during “Crazy Horses”.

But I digress.

Richard Jobson is, first of all, in great nick. Whilst no longer in the first flush of youth, he still has great bundles of energy and seems to have taken care of himself down the years. Self-deprecating to a fault, though; rips it out of himself for terrible dancing – and then hurls himself about the stage all gig long, just as he did ‘back in the day’ as a sort of cross between a Northern Soul floor cruiser and a demented Highland flinger – and he’s a big lad to be doing that kind of thing. And the voice; if anything, this guy sings better now than he did then – and his voice is a quite fabulous vehicle for the anthem-rich body of work which is The Skids songbook.

And we get them all tonight and more besides.

“Animation” kicks off and it is so full of hooks even if you hadn’t heard it before you’d still find yourself attempting to sing the lyrics. Followed in breathless short order by “Of One Skin”, which came into my life one day via a demo 4 track EP entitled “Wide Open” and is a real stunner; you didn’t get many ‘punk’ songs back then which had changes of pace, complete ‘breakdown’ sections etc, etc and STILL a killer hook. And straight into “Charade”, another hit tune which got them loads of Radio 1 plays and folks like me up and down the country playing it whenever the opportunity presented itself. You just couldn’t not play it. The hooks get in, you can’t get ‘em out. It’s an earworm at a time when there were plenty of bands with ‘attitude’, and some who could actually play, but not many who could write a live anthem that was a turntable hit as well and not have some people accusing them of ‘selling out’. Now that is a clever trick – and to perform it 40 years on or so with so much venom and bite is nothing short of exceptional.

From “Burning Cities”, their latest on No Bad Records “Kings Of The New World Order”, and “One Last Chance” slotted well into the set, definitely sounded like ‘Skids songs’, and didn’t let up on the momentum one bit. Quite a few ‘heritage’ bands could learn from Jobson and Co about the fine art of introducing new songs into a set. Many musicians of a certain age publically bemoan the unwillingness of live audiences to ‘accept’ new songs in a set which is largely nostalgic – but The Skids proved it can be done, it can be done in such a way that the new tunes can be used to add interest to a set and engage the audience even more – so let’s have no more of that negative talk, eh? The new ones went down well here tonight in Derby and they deserved to do so.

Then a stunningly-performed triple; the breakout track, “The Saints Are Coming” – and after this you could be forgiven for looking to the skies to see if indeed they were – the amazingly prescient “Working For The Yankee Dollar” – a sort of “Not Born In The USA” for us careworn non-Americans who grew up still paying off the lend-lease bill; and “Hurry On Boys” – singalongajobbers in turbodrive on this one.

A couple from “The Absolute Game”, “Woman In Winter” and “Circus Games” were served with the awesome top 20 hit “Masquerade” as a chaser. Once again I fail to see how anyone cannot fall under the spell of this thunderous track, played, once again, with strident freshness and verve. Word here for the rhythm section. You didn’t know they were there. In a good way. Not a foot wrong all night.

And the ground rumbled (OK so I just noticed the rhythm section) and Mr Jobson declares, ‘well, it’s now or never…’ and doesn’t, surprisingly, launch into what would have been a highly incongruous version of the Elvis Presley classic, but the Greatest Hit, “Into The Valley”. Lyrics are so obtuse you can’t really sing along to this one but hey, it doesn’t stop you trying. La la la la la, la la la la la. Rock classic? Yep. Should it be on more ‘drivetime classic’ CD compilations and playlists. All Day Long, my friend. Sometimes the ‘labels’ we put on things don’t help and don’t work. Sometimes our compartmentalizing of stuff leads to miscarriages of justice. This should have been a number 1 hit.

I did my bit. Virgin had stopped sending me free stuff by that time. So I bought a copy. If you were ‘around’ then – and didn’t – I blame you, personally, for the fact that this didn’t happen.

“Happy To Be With You” and “TV Stars” bring the contractual part of the proceedings to an end and rather than head off to the back of the building for no apparent reason just to traipse back on again, the band elected to stay put and deliver a rousing encore without the need for a breather; and, seemingly just for the hell of it, the band run with my ‘Elvis’ idea and produce a killer version of the Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and The Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get?” before finishing with “The Olympian” and a spirited reprise of “Of One Skin”.

The two-guitar attack of Bruce and Jamie Watson combined with the rock-solid rhythm section and the strident vocals of Richard Jobson are an incredibly strong proposition. If you haven’t been to see these guys in a long while, then you should. They are the Real Deal and can and do deliver the goods as they should be delivered.

Backstage after the gig and briefly reminiscing with Mr Jobson about a gig they did in Dundee where I was compere and DJ guy back in ‘78, I suggested to him the band really should be playing far bigger venues than this. He smiled wryly at that; the band have played many large festival gigs in this incarnation but it is quite clear they feel happier – much happier – when playing indoors, to be playing the kind of gig where the crowd are right there, right down the front and totally free to leap all over each other, throw beer all over each other and enjoy the sheer joy in this stuff.

And long may they continue to do so.

It’s a phrase that first was first heard in feminist politics in the late sixties – “The personal is political” – and it’s just as applicable in the USA today. Jess Klein’s latest album, “Back to My Green” is the culmination of a period of turmoil that was both political and personal; a new relationship (and marriage) and a certain presidential election in 2016. Both of those things had a massive impact on Jess Klein’s work, and her upheaval is definitely our gain, pushing her out of her comfort zone and into new ways of writing and recording. A stripped-back, raw set of songs morphed over time into a band sound which even stretched to a couple of sixties-style string quartet arrangements.

The album’s rough trajectory is from the personal through the personal/political and back to the more contemplative personal as the album closes and, although the title track has a powerful message, the personal and political strands are knitted together inextricably in the album’s longest and hardest-hitting song “New Thanksgiving Feast” which ties highly personal childhood reminiscences to ancient fishing rights, Native American pipeline protests and the ‘taking the knee’ national anthem protests spreading through American sport. It’s a heady mix and underlines a theme that’s increasingly common in Americana today; depending on whose figures you believe, ninety-nine per cent of Americans are descended from immigrants. Jess Klein only has go back two generations to find that link (a bit like POTUS really, but I bet Jess’s father didn’t attract the ire of Woody Guthrie). “Blair Mountain” also combines the two strands, looking at the impact of rapacious mining on the economics and ecology of a small town while “Gates of Hell” rails at the lunacy of life in the land of the free in the early twenty-first century.

Which brings us to the title song, positioned in the middle of the album. The message is that there can be an escape from the madness if you find the right place. I’ve focussed on the lyrical content, but Jess has also created some memorable melodies and the band creates musical settings that allow each of the songs to shine. The album is studded with interwoven personal insights and social comment married to great tunes. I’ll take that any day of the week.

“Back to My Green” is released in the UK on Friday February 22 on Blue Rose Records (BLU DP0727) and Jess is touring the UK in April-May 2019.

Ok, a couple of little stories for ya from Shepherd’s Bush Empire. First one’s from 2010.

Backstage at a Jukes soundcheck, I was loitering waiting for Southside Johnny to arrive for an interview and trying pretty unsuccessfully to pretend I wasn’t nervous. I mean why would I be, this guy had only been a hero of mine for over thirty years and this was my first interview with him. Think about something else, listen to what’s happening down on the stage at the end of the soundcheck. So I did and it was unusual; it was Jeff Kazee singing something I had never heard at a Jukes show. Jeff had missed the European mainland leg of the tour because of a family bereavement and was doing his first gig in London. Fast forward about four hours and that little bit of distraction comes back to hit me like a sledgehammer as Jeff lets out his feelings in the most public way with a heart-rending, tear-jerking version of “Many Rivers to Cross”. If you wanted a definition of catharsis, this was it; it would have melted a heart of stone. Did I cry? And then some, and I wasn’t on my own. It was the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced at a gig, and that’s a lot of gigs.

Skip forward just a year to October 21 2011. The Reverend Harold Camping had predicted (for the second time) that the world would end on that day. On stage at the Empire, it was beginning to look like he might be right. From the start of the set, there were complaints from the band about the monitor mix and just as the crew got that sorted out, another gremlin raised its head in the shape of Glenn Alexander’s guitar amp; it wasn’t amplifying. You’re on stage, the set’s just catching fire and suddenly your equipment blindsides you. Take losing your wi-fi for an hour and multiply it by a hundred; you’re getting close to the level of frustration on stage left that night. Long story short, it took three amps before the glitch was solved; the only problem now was to get the gig back on track, so what would the mainman do. The mainman called a Sonny Boy Williamson tune, “Help Me”, throwing the spotlight back at Glenn to harness his frustration and kickstart the show; which it did, with a vengeance. That’s a great band and bandleader in action right there.

And, honestly, it’s not for everyone. If your thing is a setlist that’s been rehearsed to within an inch of its life, absolutely note-perfect and with a synched lighting plot (and I’m honestly not knocking that) this isn’t the gig for you. However, if you want a set that’s unpredictable, packed with powerful vocal and instrumental performances and great tunes, this definitely is for you. And I haven’t even mentioned my favourite combination yet. Cheese and onion, sweet and sour, trouble and strife don’t even come close – it’s horns and Hammond, Hammond and horns (see, it’s even alliterative). The recipe’s pretty simple; get seven of the best live musicians you can find, make sure they know all of (ok, most of) the songs and give them plenty of opportunities to express themselves. When those guys are Jeff Kazee (keys), Glenn Alexander (guitar), John Conte (bass), Tom Seguso (drums), John Isley (sax), Chris Anderson (trumpet) and Neal Pawley (trombone) each performance will be special and different. Now, that I will go see and hear any time.

So why am I telling you all of this now? Easy, there’s a couple of those increasingly rare opportunities to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in the UK on a mini tour in March 2019. The band’s playing Glasgow (St Luke’s) on March 19th, London (Shepherd’s Bush Empire) on March 22nd and Holmfirth (Picturedrome) on March 23rd and 24th. Why two gigs at The Picturedrome? Because the first one sold out – obviously the North of England knows about good music. These UK gigs are precious because it ain’t cheap to bring an eight-piece across the Atlantic and you never know how long it is until the next tour.

So get yourself some tickets for one of the remaining shows and treat yourself to one of the best live bands in the business. What will they play? I don’t know and, most likely they don’t know, but it will be special and it won’t be anything like the set they played the previous night. See you at The Bush.

 

Humour me for a minute. Every so often, a piece of work like this comes along (it’s not just an album it’s a project, maybe even a concept) where every aspect and detail is absolutely perfect. The humouring bit concerns my particular slant on the project. MusicRiot’s gig team, The Riot Squad, are big fans of Dean Owens, the UK representative on the project, so forgive me if I spend a bit of time on Dean’s contribution. It’s fair to say that Dean’s solo material has a strong sense of location; he writes about the area and the people he knows, just like Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh in their novels and short stories. It’s also fair to say that he’s always been willing to push the boundaries in his collaborations, spreading out into traditional Scottish folk ballads as Redwood Mountain with Amy Geddes, rockier material with his occasional band Deer Lake and his consistently excellent work with Will Kimbrough (more about that later).

Buffalo Blood is something else indeed. Dean teamed up with his Nashville friends and collaborators Neilson Hubbard, Audrey Spillman and Joshua Britt, along with sound engineer and photographer Jim DeMain to spend two weeks deep in the New Mexico desert feeling the forces of previous lives played out there while writing and recording  fifteen songs that tap into the echoes of centuries of betrayal, exploitation and alienation of the Native American peoples. And it’s not just the songs; there’s video and photography as well. The incredibly ambitious aim of the project is to immerse the listener in five hundred years of Native American experience. What’s truly incredible is that they actually succeeded. “Buffalo Blood” is an album that will entrance you, engage you and enrage you; maybe it will even make you take a serious look at the history of the indigenous peoples of the American continent. That’s what can happen when creative artists follow their instincts and beliefs and just create; I can’t imagine any of the major music providers bankrolling this project, but I believe “Buffalo Blood” has a real shot at commercial success; it’s that powerful.

The songs were recorded live outdoors in the desert, the wind and animal noises contributing to the feeling of immersion in an environment that retains echoes of centuries of struggle. The quality of the songwriting is consistently high across the album as Celtic, European and Native American influences combine to create a perfect musical backdrop for a message that is still relevant (Standing Rock ring any bells?).

The album has a narrative flow; it moves from the original contact with European settlers through time to the closing lament “Vanishing World”, which is perfectly suited to Dean Owens’ plaintive voice. This album is a classic, carrying a very potent message through the medium of haunting melodies and flawless performances; get it on your wishlist.

If you needed the album to be ground-breaking in any more ways, it’s the first UK release on the Eel Pie Records label and it’s available as a vinyl gatefold double album or digitally from Friday February 15 (EPRLP001)

Breaking news – Dean Owens won UK Song of the Year at the UK Americana Awards 2019 for the title track from his 2018 “Southern Wind” collaboration with Will Kimbrough. And that’s not the only good news from the Buffalo Blood camp; Neilson Hubbard produced “Southern Wind” and also Ben Glover’s “Shorebound” (UK Album of the Year winner) and “Rifles and Rosary Beads” for Mary Gauthier, who won International Artist of the Year and is up for a Grammy this year. Not a bad haul, and that’s before “Buffalo Blood” is released.

If you need any more recommendations for Buffalo Blood, try this:

First impressions; sometimes you can stake your life on them and sometimes… Well, this was one of those. The opening song, “Let’s Go Back in Time, Man”, screamed out ‘Rockabilly Revival – again’, and we’ve all seen too many of those built around mediocre pop bands. But the album’s twelve songs long, so let’s not be too hasty. Guess what? By the second song I’d admitted to being a bit premature and by the end of the album, the message had hit home; the title of the first song’s ironic and this is about viewing a mid-twentieth century musical phenomenon through a twenty-first century lens. Forget the revival, this is how Rob’s rockabilly rolls in 2019.

Now, with the best will in the world, some of the original UK rockabilly bands were characterised more by enthusiasm than expertise; that’s definitely not the case with Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra. These people can play and what they are is much, much more than a skiffle band with better gear. And maybe rockabilly isn’t really a wide enough description for the scope of their work. Just look at all the incongruous elements.

The second song, “There’s a Hole Where my Pocket Used to Be” combines  a Spaghetti Western ambience and choral refrain with a Theremin and a clever lyric built around the number six. Don’t look for too many predictable where Rob Heron’s concerned. Song number three, “Life is a Drag”, combines lyrics about the joys of cross-dressing with a jazz arrangement, an accordion solo and lead guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Les Paul record. And so it goes on – “Une Bouteille de Beaujolais” evokes a Paris café with an accordion solo, a gypsy Django feel and wine references. You wouldn’t find either of those two songs in a Crazy Cavan set.

That’s not the end of the invention by a long way. “Fool Talkin’ Man” has a Gallic Jacques Brel feel with some atonal touches creating a slightly menacing feel while the title song has the feel of a seventies American TV theme married to a lyric about unwanted gentrification in our cities. And even if the album’s closer, “Double Meaning, Double Entendre”, is based on a fairly thin premise, it’s still good fun and there’s always a place for that. Give it a listen; even better, go out and watch them on their upcoming tour.

“Soul of My City” is released on Tea Pad Recordings (TPCD006) on Friday February 1st, 2019.