This isn’t so much an obituary as an appreciation of a great player and arranger who didn’t necessarily get the credit from the public for everything that he put into the success of UB40. RIP Brian Travers.

Saturday February 16th 1980 was another one of those musical epiphanies. The university circuit was a crucial part of the plan to break new bands and Dundee University Students’ Association was part of that circuit. We booked acts that went on to be huge for ridiculous money (Tom Robinson Band at £250); I didn’t know how lucky I was until I graduated and didn’t have access to those gigs any more. This particular night was going to be good; we had The Pretenders headlining. They had already had three hit singles, including “Brass in Pocket” which went all the way to the top. I loved the album and couldn’t wait to see them, but I had a big surprise coming.

The Pretenders had a very black and white thing going on at that time (apart from Chrissie Hynde’s red leather jacket) and the overall vibe was studied cool. I’d heard the buzz about the support and was curious to hear them live. I’d been a fan of reggae and ska through my teenage years, but it was a whole new ball game when the UK-based bands started to break through, so UB40 looked interesting with double A-side single “King”/”Food for Thought” to be released imminently. From the opening seconds I was completely blown away.

The contrast with The Pretenders couldn’t have been greater. It was a laid-back and monochrome four-piece rock band against an eight-piece reggae band in riotous colour with a huge desire to succeed. UB40 really wanted it and they had political messages they wanted us to hear as well. There was something going on wherever you looked and you couldn’t take your eyes of the stage. Brian Travers was a player who defined the band’s sound, playing melodica (not unusual in reggae at the time) and tenor sax (a bit more unusual). “Food for Thought” was built around an incredibly catchy sax hook that you couldn’t ignore. I was instantly converted, bought the album “Signing Off” when it was released and the follow-up “Present Arms”, which had a harder musical and political edge. I even took a chance on trains over Christmas to go to a gig at Birmingham International Arena where the other acts on the bill were Elvis Costello, Rockpile, Squeeze, Madness and The Selecter. I saw the band a few more times over the years, including the 2010 “Signing Off” thirtieth anniversary tour, but I only really understood the importance of Brian Travers to the band when I photographed them at Cornbury Festival in 2018.

There were now two versions of UB40; this one was fronted by Duncan Campbell as singer. I know I’m not the only one to make this observation; this looked like a band that were taking the big payouts while they still could with phoned-in performances, with one exception. Brian Travers was on fire; he didn’t just play well, he was a showman who was working really hard to sell a package that was way past its sell-by date and mired in controversy and bitterness and just about succeeding. I didn’t envy him that job but he gave it everything. Brian Travers was still the livewire performer that I saw thirty-eight years earlier in Dundee; that’s how I’ll remember him.

He died on August 23rd after a long battle with cancer.

The Guardian published an article a couple of weeks ago by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans about the state of the music business in the light of Brexit, streaming and downloads. It’s an interesting read as far as it goes and it set the cogs whirring about why we got here, where we go next and will it be better or worse, or just different.

In my lifetime, the music business has been turned upside down. In the seventies, bands went out on tour to build up a following and to promote singles and albums, which is where the real money was. If you’ve survived this long and remember all this, bear with me, it’s worth getting some historical context. No internet, no mobile phones, only three TV channels and (until October 1973) no commercial radio. So you were left with the pirates like Caroline and the erratic reception of overseas stations like Luxembourg to let you know about new music. And the music press…

Every week I bought the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds and my paper round meant I could sneak a look at Blues & Soul and Disc/Disc and Music Echo as well. By 1973, with a bar job and a Saturday job with an entertainment agent booking acts for local pubs and clubs, I had a few bob to spend on some of the music I was reading about. Add the cost of my print habit to the cost of buying an album (about five percent of the average weekly wage in the mid-seventies) and being into music was a real financial commitment (even if you took the risk of doing a few temporary swaps with your mates to dip into their choices).

Buying music in the seventies wasn’t just an investment in listening to a piece of music. You exchanged your hard-earned (cash of course) for something physical that you carried home in a bag before lowering it on to the turntable, gently caressing the vinyl with the stylus and waiting for a glorious noise to erupt from the speakers. But let’s just rewind that a few minutes. If you bought an album and you were taking public transport home, you had the chance to look at the album artwork as well. A good album sleeve was so much more than a bit of on-shelf advertising; a twelve-inch square format created opportunities for quality photography and graphic design to enhance the musical content of the package. When it worked, it was an extra visual dimension to a piece of aural art:

Dark Side of the Moon – Artwork by Hipgnosis

When it didn’t, it looked a lot like this (which proves that you can’t get it right all the time):

Tormato – Artwork by Hipgnosis

The gatefold sleeve doubled up the visual real estate (exploited perfectly on Thin Lizzy’s “Live and Dangerous” double album with a shedload of Chalkie Davies pics all over the outer and inner sleeves of the album):

Designers started to exploit die-cut sleeves and all sorts of interesting innovations; PiL’s “Metal Box” looked really clever, but only if you hadn’t seen The Small Faces’ “Nut Gone Flake” packaging twelve years earlier.

The visuals were only part of the album experience; you could get a lot of text on a sleeve, particularly if you had a printed inner sleeve or three as well. There was all the obvious geek stuff; musicians involved, instruments played (or not played if you were Queen) and lyric sheets, but some bands made a real effort; UB40’s cover for the first album “Signing Off” in 1980 was a copy of the unemployment benefit attendance card, they’d been filling in before they broke through. Ten years later, Squeeze released a live album with a boxing concept, “A Round and A Bout” with a little bonus – they listed every gig they’d done between 1974 and 1990 on an insert with the album. Thanks guys, you’ve no idea how useful that’s been to me over the years. Seriously.

I’m sure you get the message by now. During the first vinyl era, the experience was about much more than just listening to the music. You could carry an album around at school as a sign of your taste and discernment and to impress the other gender (I pitied the guys who carried Groundhogs and Genesis albums, but that’s Darwinism for you). It was a bit like creating a mixtape a few years later and a playlist many years later. Or drinking bottled designer lager in the eighties. If you were a fan of music in the seventies or eighties you were committed and attached to it; it had a financial and emotional value. And it had a longer lifespan; since the mid-nineties, the norm is for singles and albums to achieve their highest chart position in the first week of release, but fifty years ago the climb to the top of the charts could take weeks (and probably a few bulk purchases in chart return shops to help it along).

This isn’t a dewy-eyed, rose-tinted trip down memory lane. The seventies and eighties weren’t perfect; the music business was still a business, but it was one where labels invested in bands with a view to development over several years. A moderately successful band writing their own material could make a living for a few years with royalties on sales, radio, juke box and club plays and independent labels were few and far between. Things are a bit more polarised these days; the business only supports guaranteed winners and everyone else has to do their own thing. Time for a bit of a polemic: the technology that enabled the digital revolution degraded our experience of music. Listening to compressed audio on inadequate playback systems is the norm for most people now, despite the vinyl comeback, and the majority of listeners don’t pay any attention to artwork, credits or sleeve notes. We’ve walked blindfold into accepting a gradual erosion of the musical experience in the name of progress and fashion. We also have at least one generation that doesn’t believe in physical musical formats and certainly doesn’t believe in paying for them.

Fortunately the same digital technology that devalued music by making no-degradation copying possible, then compression, along with affordable storage and massive improvements in internet bandwidth, have enabled affordable home recording. Technological improvements cut both ways and musicians are a resourceful bunch; if you can’t get a deal with a major label, what have you lost? You don’t need access to a studio; you can set up at home. You don’t need access to a major label’s mastering and pressing facilities; you can find any number of those online. You don’t need a distribution network; you can load your music up to download and streaming services and make peanuts, or you can sell CDs and albums on your website by mail order and alongside other merchandise at your gigs.

In normal times, this isn’t a bad business model; you might be able to stay afloat if you have another job, have good merchandise to sell on tour, or both. And along comes lockdown; no gigs and no pop-up shop opportunities. I wish I could honestly say that I recommended live streams, but it’s not for me; I really miss the eye contact and (selfishly) I miss the opportunity to take pictures at gigs. If it works for you, that’s great; enjoy it and make a contribution; I’ll be waiting for the moment when live music re-emerges after this terrible disease is brought under control.

Me, I’ll continue to avoid the mainstream by buying (in order of preference) vinyl or CDs directly from artists’ websites, from independent record shops and at gigs. Two people I know have opened vinyl shops in the last few years and both are succeeding despite the current trading situation; long may they continue.

And that resourcefulness and creativity that musicians always demonstrate wasn’t going to be stifled by any number of lockdowns; no way. All of those skills developed and equipment bought to set up home studios have been subtly repurposed to enable musicians to collaborate by sharing audio and video files online. I don’t know any musicians who see this as an ideal situation, but, like solitaire, it’s the only game in town. After nearly a year and millions of audio files bouncing around the internet, albums that were in progress have been completed remotely and albums have been conceived, gestated and born. It doesn’t matter how difficult you make life for musicians (or artists generally), they will always find an outlet.

Whenever we reach the new normal, whatever that may be, spend your money in a way that benefits the people making the music you love. Buy physical copies of music either directly from bands or from independent record stores – there are loads of them. Most importantly, get yourself out to as many gigs as possible. I’ll see you at the front.

Ray Jones – CEO Talentbanq

Today’s High Five contribution is from someone who’s had a huge impact on the independent music scene in London over the last few years. As Business Development Director at Time Out he hosted the Time Out Rising Stars events at various London venues including Jazz Café and 229 The Venue, showcasing new talent and creating great nights out. After leaving Time Out, Ray became CEO of the start-up enterprise Talentbanq whose mission is promote and represent independent musical talent in London. Talentbanq was launched officially three years ago at 229 The Venue and has been promoting artists and events around London to critical acclaim (and full houses) ever since. Until COVID hit in March 2020. We all know the impact the virus has had on live music over the last ten months, despite the best efforts of Ray and some of the people mentioned in his contribution. Here’s Ray’s thank you to some of the people promoting grassroots music:

Thanking Champions of Grassroots Live Music Scene

At this extraordinarily difficult time I wanted to give a High Five to just a few of the people who champion the grassroots live music scene.

I have to start with Immy and Risa at The Green Note. This Camden hideout is beyond special. The tiny stage, the slightly higgledy-piggledy furnishings, the totally bonkers second tiny venue in the basement, the bifold toilet door and just about everything about the place. It’s all magic – especially the music. Immy and Risa are custodians of authenticity.

Perhaps the only thing wrong with The Green Note is that it’s not a short walk to The Spiritual Bar.

Raphael Pesce has truly created a spiritual home for musicians. This is a place for kindred spirits to meet. It’s a safe space with a small stage where audiences go to listen, to discover, to adore.

Next I’m heading south of the river. To Balham in fact, where Tony Moore provides one of the best stages in Britain for rising talent. Tony is a legend – and not just because of his history with Iron Maiden and Cutting Crew. No, it’s because he knows more about promoting live music than most on the planet. To talk with him is humbling – and to present a show at the recently refurbished Bedford is such a buzz.

Tony Moore

I want to give mention to special people who each deserve their own paragraphs but I think these high fives are meant to be brief.  Kate Jones ( Busk London ) Vin Goodwin ( Big Night In ) , Harriett JW ( Secret Sessions ) , Katie Smith ( Front Room Songs ) , Neil March ( Fresh on the Net ) Kate Bond ( This is Wired ) Ian Forteau ( So-live ) Ilana Lorraine ( Sessions 58) Dom Chung ( Soho House ) Joy Warmann ( Imaginary Millions ) Sep Cole ( Pizza Express ) Karen D’Arcangelo ( Vibe Village ) Alex Kerr-Wilson ( Discovery 2 ) Peter Conway ( Nashville Meets London ) Rob Lewis ( Richer Unsigned ) Beth Keeping ( Write Like a Girl ) Isi and Lewis ( The Round Up ) and Louise Wellby at Jam Sandwich. Apologies to those not listed. It’s not easy remembering stuff during the lockdown !

One lady worthy of special mention is Lorraine Solomons of Success Express. She was first mentioned to me by The Carnabys when I was running Rising Stars at Time Out. Lorraine is a tireless champion and promoter of new music and independent artists. She is a prolific promoter exuding passion and enthusiasm. From Omeara to The Strongroom to The Century Club – Lorraine is there. And where she goes, music goes too. 

Lorraine Solomons

Before writing a book rather than a post I am going to close by saluting the youngsters coming through – and at the same time pay due respect to promoters outside London.

I choose Alice Banister ( and Jake Etches) at Hope Valley Promotions, Manchester.

Watch out for those names. They have energy, ambition and refreshing ideas.

It’s so great to see a new generation of promoters fearlessly coming into a business currently suffering such trauma.

Alice Banister

Live music will return and I hope all of those mentioned above will be there plus a whole army more.

We like Stage Door Guy here at Riot Towers. We had a copy of his latest album in 2020 which arrived just before things got really hectic towards the end of the year and we didn’t have time to get a review out. It’s a cracking album; the production is as raw as it comes, working perfectly with the post-punk/post-blues poetry packed with American musical references and very British lyrical references, particularly to Manchester bands. It’s somewhere between bonkers and brilliant and it spent a long time on the office stereo in November. Stage Door Guy is two people, Adam Brody (performer, writer and singer) and CJ Williams (guitar player) and each of them has shared their High Fives with us.

Adam

Over the last 8 years we have been organising an event called ‘Cocaine for Christmas’ in little basement venues in South East London. Always supported by some of the finest musicians in London. The event is named after our Xmas song we released many years ago (can be found on all streaming sites as can our recently released 2nd album ‘Wroclaw’) and is actually a love song about a broken heart and spending Xmas alone. We always have a packed room full of people singing heir hearts out to this song. It’s sing-a-longa Stage Door Guy. Of course, this year was different. We didn’t believe it would happen and then we got contacted last minute by a local venue, the New Cross Inn. London was in Tier 2. The venue capacity was halved. People seated. Table service. Masks. The staff were amazing. At short notice we got The Nathan Osgood Trio and The Jujubes to play. Two wonderful, wonderful bands. We did our little set and, as ever, it finished with ‘Cocaine for Christmas’ It felt like the whole room needed this sing-song. It felt communal. Everyone in that room of course had taken some risk just by being there. We all had measured that risk but I have never heard the song with so much meaning and passion. I guess at some point during this pandemic all of us have felt alone and isolated. We have all been increasingly atomized and his felt like a communal howl.

CJ

Witnessing Biden win the US election, in the company of friends and an incontinent greyhound with a broken leg. The dog had the broken leg, not me. The dog was also doped up to the eyeballs on painkillers, whereas I was supping champagne.

Adam

 I was lucky enough to have a little break with my partner in Cornwall towards the start of winter. We travelled with our pandemic dog. A Greyhound that my partner had fostered and then adopted from Romford Greyhound kennels. Jackflash was a former racer retired last December 6 wins out of 22 (we found that out from the code tattooed inside his ear). Greyhounds often have difficult lives in the racing world. Jackflash was nervous and wary when we first made his aquaintance. But it was about 4pm, it was cold and we were on a completely deserted beach. Finally, we let Jackflash off the lead!! And the joy of watching that dog tear across the beach was something that will stay with me forever. Unrestrained and absolute in his happiness. After that we sat in an empty restaurant overlooking the beach and momentarily the world felt all right.

CJ

Recording whoops and hollers for a song using a Tascam recorder ‘in the field’. Bunch of us stood in a small park in Forest Hill, safely spaced, and made it sound like a beach party.

Adam

Two albums I have enjoyed over the last year, one of which has made a lot of lists and the other less so (although it was well-received) are Fontaines DC’s, ‘A Hero’s Death’ and Jim Bob’s ‘Pop Up Jim Bob’

I like the vocal delivery and articulation in the Fontaines DC album (odd I know to mention articulation but so many vocalists eat up the lyrics they have spent so long working on) and the Jim Bob album I just find tremendous fun. Looking at the world and reflecting on the fact we might be fucked. It’s political in a world where artists are a little afraid of the political and prefer the personal.

CJ

Being dressed as a tree for the “Stop Your Whining” video. I got many compliments for my portrayal. (See video below)

Adam

For the last 12 months when you leave my partner’s flat you have to slam the door. There seemed to be nothing else that could be done. Sometimes it took 2 or 3 slams. She lives on the 2nd floor of a 3 storey building.and the slamming must have been infuriating for the neighbours. I am not known for my DIY. My brain doesn’t do logic or detail. However, a week or so ago I noticed a little latch on the lock which you have to press in every time you close the door. The slamming stopped. The door closes smoothly. This has been one of my greatest triumphs in life, never mind just this year.

CJ

The annual SDG ‘Cocaine for Christmas’ gig at the New Cross Inn, with everybody singing the lyrics to the song and everybody really feeling it: “It’s cocaine for Christmas, how hard can it be, to find me some solace, and good company…”

Adam

In the first lockdown, in the summer heat, I started reading again in the front yard. I absolutely appreciate the context. Compared with many people who had families to worry about, difficult relationships to deal with, idiot landlords or letting agents (idiot letting agents I have plenty of experience with) and deep financial worries. Within that context I was lucky enough to sit in my front yard, leave the phone switched off and read ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy. What an absolute joy – a beautiful and heartfelt tale of the Windrush generation. Sadly, all so relevant in the last few years. Not only was the book a highlight of the year but my concentration began to return. As a child I used to read for hours on end but that had reduced year on year until I was only really capable of reading for 15 minutes in between train and tube journeys in London but now I was reading again for hours. My attention once more returning to a tie before the phone became a master and I became an algorithmic consumer.

CJ

The nicest couple ever who let us rehearse in the basement of their coffee shop, and even let Adam lock up. Amazing kindness.

Here’s another one of our second wave of 2020 High Fives. The band CHOPCHOP hails from Brighton and are described variously as out there, a mad crew, part jazz/prog/post-punk/hip-hop and funk, led by a mad Galician performance poet. Here’s how they managed to get the best out the dogpile that was 2020:

We started 2020 fully pumped up as the album we’d been working on for the last few years, “Everything Looks So Real”, was ready for launch and we had a tour lined up. All set to go with our new guitarist, Ade, we played two very sweaty and raucous gigs to kick this off – a Baba Yaga’s Hut gig at the Moth Club in Hackney and the other our album launch at the Hope & Ruin in Brighton. By the third gig however – at Worthing’s Bar 41 – whipping up a room into a sweaty mess was starting to feel distinctly jarring, as the seriousness of the pandemic was starting to set in.  The venue has one wall that is covered in acrylic fur and there was the uncomfortable sensation that to come close to it was akin to running through a field of Covid grass with your arms wide open.  Then shortly afterwards there was the realisation:  we might not be doing this for quite some time, and yes – rest of the tour has got to go in the bin. So, not such a high five this, but to rewind to the start – our debut album finally came out, it went down well – so yay to that! 

Xelís, our vocalist, is originally from Galicia in Spain, and as the worrying news of daily rocketing cases there was coming in, and the prospect of the first lockdown loomed, it came to crunchtime and he took one of the last flights out to be with family and friends. So with the band now spread far and wide we tried at first to play and write together online, but it just didn’t work as a live thing – too laggy and disorientating no matter which app we tried.  Abandoning that we instead went for ’email tennis’ – each of us starting a track and adding sections and passing it on. This felt like it unveiled a whole new load of dynamics and ideas that wouldn’t usually surface – so that’s been a definite upside to the whole thing.  

Outside of music we were all looking for ways to keep ourselves stimulated – for me I found it in walking and discovering parts of the outskirts of Brighton I hadn’t come previously across in my 25 years here. One favourite walk was to Coney Wood, where I came across this fungus which resembled almost identically a pork pie on a log.

It was a year with no big road trips or far-flung adventures, so any bit of magic or mystery close to home became extra special. Towards the end of the summer I was looking out to sea and spotted a man emerging from the water cradling what looked like a very heavy and brightly coloured object.  It turned out to be a 3 foot high Ganesh, which must have been cast into the sea as part of the Hindu Chaturthi ritual that usually happens in September. A crowd gathered round as the man hauled him up the beach and set him down on the pebbles, everyone charmed by this unexpected visitation. What was nice was that he stayed there for a month, with people leaving gifts and going to say hello, then come the high tides in October he was taken back by the sea, with just a few fragments of him left, smashed on the promenade.         

In Galicia, Xelis is better known as a writer than for his CHOPCHOPing, and November saw the release of the first translation into English of one of his books: Feral River – a collision of all the stories with a river as protagonist that have inspired him over the years.  

Around this time we were also able to go to a couple of low-key gigs in town, one a Miles Davis tribute in a church, and the other a VR gig-cum-immersive theatre experience at our favourite venue, The Rose Hill, who have also started a label and released our album, Everything Looks So Real.  The feeling of excitement that you were at an actual real-life gig was immense, and a good reminder of how precious a thing live music is. 

With all of us back in the same country, and with Xelis post-quarantine, we were able to resume our weekly rehearsals. In a year when there was often a feeling of disconnect with others, and where events came mediated through screens, it was a real salve to be in a room playing and creating with other live humans.  This was also the year we welcomed Ade properly into the band and it was exciting to hear the new ideas he was bringing in every week. Come the new restrictions in mid-December this all had to be knocked on the head of course, but while they lasted these sessions were the thing I was most looking forward to every week, so let’s call them High Five 5! 

Photo – Emma Falconer

After a bit of a break for a festive lockdown, we still have a few 2020 High Fives for you. The first is from Margate-based alt-folk duo Lunatraktors, who are choreographer, performance artist, percussionist and tap-dancer Carli Jefferson and singer and researcher Clair Le Couteur. The two bonded in Prague over a conversation about the possibilities for folk music after the apocalypse (obviously) and formed Lunatraktors in 2017. Here are some of Carli and Claire’s favourite moments from 2020:

Photo – Andrew Hastings

Number one has to be Moonfest, a big show we put on back in March as part of Margate Festival. We designed and made the set, curated a lineup of amazing Margate acts we know, and arranged a new version of ‘Moonstruck’ (from an Edwardian musical). It was an incredible turn out, with hundreds of people of all sorts, really bringing the Theatre Royal to life. Lockdown happened almost immediately after, so this was just in the nick of time. We still meet people on the beach who say it was the only big show they saw in 2020!

Photo Dana Goodburn-Brown

Two has to be our heritage commissions. It’s great that we can still do this kind of project even when we can’t perform to live audiences. We absolutely love working between fields – folk music, fiction, history, museum and gallery shows, etc. Researchers found that bones hidden in the wall in Folkestone church are over a thousand years old and almost certainly of Eanswyth, Britain’s first female saint. We were asked to make a piece about her life and death, which we performed at the museum. That’s led to another song-and-dance we’re working on now about a household god from Roman Britain (part of Ten Songs for a Lar). There’s also exciting things coming next year about a huge hoard of ancient bronze discovered on the Kent Downs, and Merlin’s sleeping army in Wales…

We’ve had a lot of cancelled bookings, of course, but the silver lining was much more time and energy to spend in Space Sequoia (aka The Preservation Room), a recording studio in the ancient countryside near Canterbury. It was amazing to find Julian Whitfield at Space Sequoia. He really understood what we were trying to do, so we decided to co-produce the record with him. He put up with our obsessional approach, sitting in on every mixing and mastering session to get the exact sounds and textures we were searching for! We’ve been working on a lot of new material and new sounds for our second album, and decided to release a taste of that on our Bonefires EP, which came out in October. We even got to have a socially-distanced release gig at Elsewhere in Margate.

Photo – Screaming Alley

We got to make our first proper music video this year, produced by Screaming Alley, a mad cabaret night in Ramsgate we perform at a lot. They hired a camera crew for us to make a film for ’16,000 Miles’. We had this vision that being a settler turns everyone into a tool of colonialism, so it made sense the protagonist of the story was Jack Hammer. We’re both really into animism, that all objects have spirit and agency in the world. We’ve loved Jim Henson’s work all our lives, and are really inspired by artists like Jan Švankmajer. We drew the storyboard, art directed the shoot, made and animated the puppets, and co-edited it too. It’s gone down really well with some of our smallest fans, and has inspired us to continue making more of our own video work in-house. It’s proved we are capable of producing that kind of work for ourselves.

The big one for us has to be finishing The Missing Star, our new album coming out on May Day, 2021. It’s felt really satisfying to complete something when so much else is up in the air, especially because the record is so connected to Brexit and COVID and the mess the UK is in. The music processes a lot of rage and grief about national identity, transforming some dark experiences into something very different. It’s a concept album in a way – a psychic road trip through British and Irish heritage – and we’ve done all the artwork and design, as well as recording all the instrumentation, arranging everything, writing the lyrics. We lost some tours in France this year, but we think this record will resonate with our listeners in the UK, in Europe, and further afield: it’s a record about apocalyptic change, about re-thinking who we are, and that seems like the right thing to share with people now.

“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”…Gerry Marsden, front man of Gerry and the Pacemakers, died yesterday, aged 78.

Gerry and the Pacemakers took a rejected Beatles song, which had also been turned down by Adam Faith, and turned it into the first of a string of 3 UK Number 1 hits on the bounce, culminating in “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Along with The Beatles, they were right at the spearhead of Merseybeat.

As such, and as a son of Toxteth, he would always be associated with the town of his birth and it was in this context I enjoyed my one and only meeting with him. My brother Paul had cause to work with him in a live context on occasion but a few years ago whilst working as a national press and media officer with the Plain English Campaign, I attended a dinner with him on the occasion of his award of an honorary doctorate from Liverpool John Moores University.

The ceremony took place in Liverpool’s huge and impressive Catholic Cathedral and afterwards we were at dinner and I found myself sharing tables with him and playwright and ‘Brookside’ creator Phil Redmond.  Queen guitarist Brain May, who was vice chancellor at the time, was also present. Gerry was charm itself, very entertaining and good company, just like the simple, smiley pop songs he took to the top of the charts.

But of course “You’ll Never Walk Alone” became a monster song, with far greater relevance than as a UK chart-topper for a Merseybeat group. And to an extent, so did “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, which I can remember singing drunkenly along to with a bunch of mates on a retirement ‘do’, whilst swaying from side to side on such a ferry, on our way to drinking the Wirral dry one afternoon.

And for me, his finest recording was the American top ten and last big UK hit, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, which I absolutely will play next Sunday on my Caroline Flashback show on Sunday. Radio Caroline was instrumental in ‘breaking’ these hits, they were absolutely typical ‘beat boom’ songs of the period, emerging with that first great rush of offshore pirate radio; so it is only right that I should.

Gerry succumbed to a short illness not connected to COVID 19 in hospital. A blood infection had caused problems with his heart, which, following a triple bypass had, yes, a pacemaker fitted.

Gerry and the Pacemakers fitted that classic marginally pre-Beatles ‘beat group’ mould. They had a run of big hits, expanded into big production ballads with their main man looking for a career either on the stage or the telly as an all-round entertainer and when that started to dry up, made a good living out of cabaret and revivals and sixties package tours. Because at the end of it, try as they might, they couldn’t quite break out of being frozen in time, in a particular moment of social and musical history. 

Our contributor Steve Jenner now presents a two hour show on Caroline Flashback every Sunday morning between 8 and 10 am.

Here’s an interesting Christmas Eve take on the High Five theme. Art Terry is a singer-songwriter and musician from Los Angeles whose songs explore sexuality and black politics. He also hosts a radio show ‘Is Black Music’ on Resonance FM. What makes Art’s contribution slightly unusual is that it’s a celebration from someone who’s managed to have a fairly good year against the background of the virus and other plagues. That has to be good for  the last High Five before Christmas. Over to Art:

 

 

High Five 1

My family is originally from Tennessee, so when I was offered January gigs in Nashville I said ‘Hell Yeah’! It was my first time playing in the South. Both my parents are from small towns in Tennessee and met in the great music city of Nashville, where the High Street still has a drum set and guitar player in every window.
It had been 10 years since I had visited their small towns close to the Appalachian mountains. So after the Nashville gigs I waved goodbye to the rest of the band and took a Greyhound bus there. I hung out for a week and discovered a lot about myself and my heritage. 
Here is a photo of my grandma I found buried in some of the family treasures there. I was told the lady on the left was my grandmother. And the lady sitting down used to like the way my grandfather cooked possum and sweet potato.

 

High Five 2

During the spring lockdown, my partner Helena Smith shot and posted a video of me performing a new self-penned song each day for 52 days consecutively. The highlight of it was when my daughter Naomi arrived from Sweden to isolate with us. She sung with me and helped us conceive the videos during the final 10 days.
On day 48 we did a song about how rare and fleeting are the moments we have been able to spend together. It was only after I saw the video playback that I realised Naomi was fighting back tears while she was singing with me.

 

High Five 3

On August 1st every year, the Black community in London march from Brixton to Downing Street to demand the government stop the continuing African Holocaust which began 400 years ago, and start reparations.
This year they took a different tack and occupied Brixton on the day instead. For my radio show that week, we did special programming around the event, including interviews with Esther Stanford-Xosei, one of the movement’s most eloquent speakers.
But the coolest part was taking over Brixton and marching in the streets with so many hundreds of people from different cultures and communities.

 

High Five 4

I really admire Extinction Rebellion. They are bringing awareness to the most important thing on the planet. And that thing is the planet itself. One day I went to take a look at the beautiful Happy Man Tree in Hackney which is in danger of being cut down because of lazy and misguided planning.
  I couldn’t help but get involved with this passionate campaign and played a outdoor benefit gig there for the tree. After I finished one of the arborists (tree surgeons) offered to rope me and pull me up high into the tree to do an encore. OMG what a life changing experience. To be up there to see what only the birds normally see. Up close in the trees limbs, so beautifully balanced and longingly extended. I stood in the tree with my guitar singing songs for 20 minutes. Close to the sky, far from the ground. That evening I felt like the tree entered my dreams.
  Since then the Happy Man Tree has been named Tree Of The Year 2020 by the Woodland Trust. That has not deterred Hackney Council and its clumsy Berkeley Homes developers from their plans chop it to pieces. So please help if you can.

 

High 5 Five

It seems the end of every year is its own highlight. We like to end with a bang by celebrating the holidays. I love Christmas, and just like most things in life, the best part is the music. I’ve always wanted to contribute to all the great Christmas songs written, and for the last few years I have been working on my own. This year, thanks to the incredible genius of my producer Raphael Mann, we created one. It is titled “It Ain’t Christmas”.
It is a Christmas song for 2020 about how much we have missed each other this year, and will miss each other this Christmas. Merry Christmas.

Art Terry released his album “Sex Madness” this year on CD/Vinyl and digitally on his own Alt Soul label.

It’s fair to say that music’s a lifetime’s work for Kimberley Rew. From his first band The Waves in 1975 through Robyn Hitchcock’s Soft Boys to a long stint with Katrina and the Waves and his 21st century incarnation as a member of Cambridge band Jack, with his partner and bass player Lee Cave-Berry. He’s written a fair few songs along the way as well. We reviewed his retrospective “Sunshine Walkers” in September of this year and we highly recommend it; it’s packed with perfectly-crafted examples of the songwriter’s art and laced with a very wry British humour. Here’s Kimberley’s take on this strange and tragic year:

 

1.

There is a singing, writing and arguing husband and wife team called Kim and Lee, from Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK, then St Ives, Cambridgeshire, which we prefer because it’s not so vibrant.

Kim and Lee have been members of a rock band called Jack for twenty years. Jack is the stage name of Roger, and hence his band, deriving from his signature song, Screaming Lord Sutch’s Jack the Ripper. Roger, Lee and Kim attend the Wednesday Session in Cambridge on March 11 2020. We all get ‘flu-like symptoms. Roger tests positive for Covid-19, and dies in hospital. Lee and I recover. Lee and I get special permission to attend Roger’s funeral, which the rules stipulate is immediate family only. As a matter of interest Lee subsequently tests positive for Covid antibodies, I don’t.

Roger’s 6- and 8-year-old grandsons write a tribute song to Roger titled Black Ribbon (after the trademark ribbon on Roger’s Panama hat). They record it with Lee, Kim and drummer Tony. Watch this space!

 

2.

Kim and Lee have been the house band for the Cambridge, UK based John Wright’s Wednesday Session for twelve years. The fact that it’s John Wright’s session, not our own, is a great advantage because it means Kim and Lee don’t have to turn up absolutely every week, sometimes going on expensive holidays to Aberystwyth, Cromer, Weston super Mare etc.

To supply some background; for many of those years the session is based at the Boathouse in Cambridge, but the licensed trade being what it is, landlords change frequently and eventually there comes one who says she doesn’t like live music, so we have to find a new home. The Session moves to the Station Tavern. It is tense when we arrive as on the telly, England are playing football (soccer) to decide whether they will remain in the World Cup. We lose, and the football fans drift away morosely. We hastily set up, the session is a cracking success, then a letter of complaint arrives from the hotel next door. We move to the Brook in Cambridge.

In the ensuing lockdown, after the second to last live Wednesday Session on March 11 2020, Lee uses her technical ability to continue the Wednesday Session from our front room, streaming live to Facebook. The two of us do half an hour, then the ‘headliner’ does his or her half hour from his front room. Our regulars rally to the screen, with messages saying hello to each other, the weekly session having been their social glue; strangely also, scattered enthusiasts from around the world start to join the social group.

Come the summer and slight easing of the rules, we, and several mosquitos, relocate to the gazebo in our garden. John Wright is reinstated, also Tony on the (very quiet) drums, plus whatever ‘headline’ act. A neighbour complains about the noise. Lee protests on Facebook. Nick from The Plough in Shepreth reads this and invites the Wednesday Session to the Plough. He has built a marquee in his garden, with a stage, and stoves like space rockets which radiate smoke. After a few weeks ritzy silk curtains appear too.
We have another lockdown. We relocate to inside the empty pub. Nick is determined, in the face of having to limit the number of his customers, seat them out in the cold etc, to keep the live music happening. His sound, light and technical streaming crew eventually outnumbers the band (tho they responsibly leave two metre gaps between themselves of course), and it includes Justine, landlady of the Flying Pig in Cambridge, who is also determined to keep live music going, and if she can’t do it in the Flying Pig that night, she’ll help to do it in the Plough.
Go to Facebook and type in The Wednesday Session; watch an old one (they stay there for ever until they mysteriously disappear), or watch live at 8 30pm on Wednesday.

 

3.

without Lee there would be no Kim

no one would’ve ever heard of him

confined to the marginalia

brief success then instant failure

(this rhymes if you say it in a British accent)

Lee’s smile is the driving force

and her thumping bass of course

it’s why every week we’re there

tho she often cries ‘what shall I wear’

but then everyone says ’that was fun!’

so let’s do some more in 2021!

 

4.

In 2020 a coffee table book appears called 1001 Songs. Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves (written by Kim) isn’t in it. But it is in a coffee table book called 1001 Singles. Kim isn’t listed as a ‘notable alumnus’ of his school, Harrow County Grammar. But he is down as a ’notable alumnus’ of his college, Jesus College Cambridge.

 

5.

When you have finished buying Tunnel into Summer by Kimberley Rew (featuring Lee Cave-Berry) because 2020 was its 20th anniversary; and Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys (featuring Kimberley Rew) because 20+20 was its 40th anniversary (this one IS included in the companion volume ‘1001 Albums’), don’t forget to buy the latest Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry compilation, ‘Sunshine Walkers- The Best Of…’, available now, a collection 21 tracks heading into 2021! 

Earlier this year, we reviewed “Twang” by The James Oliver Band. He’s from a long line of Welsh guitar wizards he has a lot in common with, including the ability to inject a bit of humour into their music. Anyway, Allan loved the album and would have been really happy to see the band play live. And then COVID reared its ugly head and all bets were off. For someone breaking through and relying on live performance to do that, lockdown was the worst thing that could happen. As you can see below, James has made the best of it. Here are his High Fives:

 

Photo by Mick Schofield

Hi. For those who don’t know me, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist from South Wales, following in the footsteps of the likes of Dave Edmunds, Mickey Gee and Man. My debut solo album Twang came out in April and has done way better than I would ever have thought, which makes up for going from playing 250 gigs a year to a mere handful. It spent five weeks at number 1 on the Amazon Blues Chart; got three plays on BBC Radio 2 from Cerys Matthews (keeping the Welsh flag flying!) loads of press and reviews. Just a shame I couldn’t really support it on the road.

 

 

Photo by Beverley Oliver

I started my YouTube channel in March for something to do, and since then I’ve gained 10,000 subscriptions and over 5 million views. Also got positive comments on social media from Albert Lee, Bill Kirchen, Greg Koch, Kenny Vaughan and the legendary John ‘Drumbo’ French from Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. A real buzz to be recognized by some of my heroes. People might not associate me with Beefheart’s music from the stuff I play, but he’s absolutely one of my favourites. I even genuinely like Trout Mask Replica!
 

 

Photo by Mick Schofield

During lockdown I’ve also been lucky to have lessons from Eric Klerks of The Magic Band and, in a different style, one of the masters of the Telecaster (my guitar of choice too) Redd Volkaert – two major influences on my guitar playing. They’ve really helped me improve as a guitar player.
 

 

 

Many of my friends know I’m a huge Pirates fan, especially their guitarist Mick Green. I was asked by Romek Parol and BJ Anders to join a band called Gibson Martin Fender, which is the title of a Pirates’ track. Romek and BJ played with Green in the ’90s. They made 3 records with him and toured the world. It was put on hold because of COVID, but I’m looking forward to playing my Mick Green licks in this cool side project.
 

I had the shock of my life earlier in 2020 when I won the UK Blues Federation’s Emerging Artist Of The Year Award. I hope to be a Re-emerging Artist in 2021…!

 

 

 

 

And by way of a bonus here’s a video clip for you as well:

James oliver band stay outta trouble official video – YouTube