THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ LIKE THE REAL THING, BABY

Now, I’m not much given to reviewing the telly; but on this case I’ll make an exception. The BBC 4 screening of ‘Everything – The Real Thing Story’ revealed an astonishing period piece and a real journey back to the most seminal year in my life, 1976.

I was an eighteen-year-old gigging jock working a balance of my own mobile gigs with Paul and agency gigs via New Junktion Discotheques, or NJD, probably the busiest and most prolific DJ agency in the East Midlands. We worked hard then; three gigs a day was not uncommon at the weekend, then lugging tons of vinyl around in clapped-out vehicles born in the sixties whilst wearing an evening suit in the middle of summer.

For me, it will always be the summer of an unloved sling-out single the other jocks didn’t want anything to do with but I loved; “Dancing Queen” by Abba – and a frantic charge to the top almost in spite of a total lack of cool. But it was also the summer of Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Barry White, Billy Ocean, Philadelphia International…and in July, one single punched to the top on the dreadfully old-fashioned Pye Records, and stayed at number one for 3 weeks during that hottest of hot summers. Just like when Cliff finally got a handle on that authentic American rock ‘n’ roll sound with “Move It” back in the year I was born, finally, in 1976, a soul band emerged who sounded slick enough to be American and to this day I only think they made it to the top because nobody found them out until it was too late – apart from the fact it was a stonking tune, of course…and they were Scousers.

Scousers.

Let’s just give this some context here. This is a bona fide black British number 1 single during a year where singles sold in industry-defining numbers. And this at a time when casual racism of a different kind to that encountered today was absolutely endemic. If you were black British, it just wasn’t happening for you. And they did it. They got to number 1 in the UK and stayed there for three whole weeks.

The Real Thing. “You To Me Are Everything”.

Paul worked with these guys on a few occasions as did most of the working jocks I grew up with including the Legendary Barry Jarvis and many more besides. They will always remain fixed in our memories, though, for the time Paul and I were broadcasting from the Newark Festival site as Newark FM about 20 years ago, and they were on the bill and played an amazing set. But for me the follow – up, “Can’t Get By Without You” always sits within the piece of flint I call a heart because, at the time, me and the future Mrs J were parted for the first and so far only time in our lives so I could clear off and Get Clever Somewhere, and at the time we had no way of knowing if/when that would be coming to an end. (And the usual dribbling lust stuff about wanting to live together when you’re 18 and it is the mid-seventies and you both live miles apart, that sort of thing.)

They started life as The Chants and were spotted by Paul McCartney, who arranged for The Beatles to back them on a number of occasions. They became The VPs (Vocal Perfection; I know, not the best name you’ve ever heard) and were re-named The Real Thing after their long-time manager, Tony Hall, had an epiphany moment when looking at an old Coke advert strapline. They got on ‘Opportunity Knocks’ with the unlovely Hughie Greene, a sort of prehistoric ‘X-Factor’ for those too young to know, and won, and even had a minor hit, but the record business just didn’t know what to do with a black British act in 1972.

They dropped the covers, released another single, which scraped the top 40 and even got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ but Savile, ‘just for fun’, reversed the band and song name intentionally as a jolly jape and nobody clocked the name as a consequence and that was that. But the club scene was changing and so was music. They grafted away, making commercials and jingles for production hotshot Jeff Wayne who was working on a little album which did alright in the end…”War Of The Worlds”. Their voice parts were eventually dropped from the album but the meeting did lead to them being introduced by Wayne to teen heart-throb David Essex who was on a hot streak which started in 1972 with UK top ten ‘Rock On’. They backed him in the studio and on tour and were transformed by their American tour with Essex. They dropped the matching suits and dance routines schtick and started picking up credible column inches from magazines like Black Echoes and Blues and Soul Magazine.

But that don’t pay no bills.

A few more singles stiffed and they finally met producer / songwriting team Ken Gold and Mick Denne in the spring of ’76. They’d written this little tune called “You to Me Are Everything” in about ten minutes. Simple beyond belief, it just hits the spot as a song, written by a man, for a woman he just can’t do enough for and therefore knows he’s on the ‘vulnerable’ list.

And the rest, as they say…

It was released to no great fanfare on 14th May, 1976. The band, consisting of the Amoo brothers, Eddie and Chris, and their childhood friends Dave Smith and Ray Lake, were potless at the time. Chris Amoo was so broke that when the single broke into the top 40 a few weeks later, he couldn’t afford the bus fare to his manager’s office. The Jenner lads nipped down to Frank Sisson’s record shop in downtown Hucknall and invested in a copy. Chris Amoo now had his bus fare.

It climbed to number 22 on the UK chart, with a bullet, the next week.

My diary tells me that between us we played 8 gigs that week. That’s how it was. We played it every night. Clubs, restaurants, pubs, weddings, you name it.

Gathered round the radio on Thursday…it’s up to number 5.

Next week, it’s at Number 1. And it stayed there for three whole weeks in the face of huge competition. Should have been massive in the States but a truly horrible cover by Frankie Valli murdered the single’s sales potential there.

The follow-up, “Can’t Get By Without You”, was only prevented from going to the top by, you guessed it, Abba.

Home to Liverpool and here come ‘The Black Beatles’, which probably didn’t help much.

The first British Rock and Pop awards took place in November 1976. They won ‘Best New Group’.

Then they released their third single. It did OK enough to persuade them that writing their own stuff wasn’t a bad idea. But as American acts had learned over many years, just because you got to number 1 doesn’t make you exempt from ‘stop and search’.

Feeling increasingly straitjacketed by ‘the hits’, they produced “4 from 8”, as in Liverpool 8. And it was a whole bunch more funky and socially aware and less ‘poppy’ than ‘the hits’.

Pye spent a fortune promoting it and it stiffed. The gritty album sleeve was years ahead of its time for a UK album by a soul band and evoked the spirit of Marvin’s “What’s Going On”. The country would next hear from Liverpool 8 when Toxteth exploded in riots a couple of years later.

They admit they were a bit naïve. Radio playlisting is a binary choice. Play that. Don’t play that. That’s a hit. That isn’t. Programmers don’t spend ages losing sleep on the sociological implications of a song on popular music radio. Does it programme well? Is It A Hit?? Is pretty much the sum total of the consideration.

So, even though it didn’t do it at the time, “Children Of The Ghetto” became a slow burner, eventually getting the recognition it deserved and being covered by the likes of Courtney Pine and Mary J. Blige on the way to becoming accepted as the courageous ground-breaker it truly was.

“Whenever You Want My Love” got them back on the chart and on more familiar territory and that led to films like ‘The Stud’ with Joan Collins. This gave them a very dodgy disco hit with the truly awful “Let’s Go Disco” which to be the fair to the band they freely admit was just pish. I remember opening the envelope from the record company to find this in it, I played it once and binned it straight off. You’re better than that, lads.

A couple more minor hits and then another stonker, the stellar “Can You Feel the Force”. I’ve still got two 12 inch copies of this, one on horrible coloured vinyl and one being the exceedingly rare Jon Luongo remix version which would probably change hands for a few bobs given the right buyer. And then came the eighties, electro, new romanticism and suddenly they were yesterday’s news. And an astonishingly ill-advised tour of South Africa did their reputation No Good At All.

And then, a lifeline. One the likes of which has never been thrown to a band on this scale before or since.

Ten years after “You to Me Are Everything” was released, a ‘decade remix’ was issued. And, to the band’s astonishment, it went storming into the top ten.

The record company did the same with the band’s other old hits. Same thing happened. It was as if the summer of ’76 was being relived ten years later. Very weird. What wasn’t weird, though, was that by now, these lads were seasoned veterans who knew how it all worked and they weren’t about to make the same mistakes again. With the exception of original band member Ray Lake, who, struggling with inner demons which appeared to some to have roots in his early life in ‘care’, disappeared further into an abyss of drug-taking, eventually resorting to crime to feed his drug habit. He left the band in 1991, eventually succumbing to what some believe was an intentional heroin overdose nine years later. He was just 48.

The three remaining members, Chris and Eddie Amoo and Dave Smith continued gigging, gigging, gigging as The Real Thing; and as I’ve already mentioned, boy, did they play a blinder at the Newark Music festival when we were encamped there with Newark FM. It was also good to see fellow ‘Newarkee’, Leee John of Imagination, arguing their case during the documentary.

The film, directed and produced by Simon Sheridan, is played with a completely straight bat; it is an old school, unmessed – with documentary film with some cracking old footage and a melting pot of socio-musical wisdoms.

Sadly, older brother Eddie Amoo passed at the age of 73 shortly after the documentary was recorded. But Chris Amoo and Dave Smith are somewhere in the world right now being The Real Thing. Doing Everything. And That’s Not A Bad Thing, I would argue.

 

 

I wish I could give an exact date for this one, but I can’t and, as you’ll see, things got bit vague towards the end of the evening. I’m going for late ’78 (autumn term at Uni). It was probably November because it was bloody cold – who am I kidding it was cold virtually all the time I was in Dundee. I was at home in Mansfield between mid-June and October; whatever sun there was I missed it. Anyway, I arrived back in early October to be greeted by Steve Jenner, the very same Steve J that reviews live music (remember that) for Music Riot to this day. After the customary pub lunch of beer and a Scottish mutton pie (lukewarm on the outside, volcanic on the inside), Steve invited me to grab a handful of the summer promos that I had missed out on. One of them was the Chris Rea debut, “Whatever Happened to Benny Santini”, which I took a bit of a shine to, particularly the title song.

It got better; Magnet Records was putting a lot of oomph behind Chris Rea. They’d snagged a support slot on a tour by the newly-reformed and resurgent Lindisfarne, capitalising on their Top Ten single “Run for Home” and they were playing the Caird Hall on a Saturday night. Did I fancy being on the guest list? I did, but there was a little bit of a problem; Frankie Miller was playing at the Students’ Union that night and I didn’t want to miss that. I was sure I could work something out.

I got into the Caird Hall, did the guest list thing and took my seat in the balcony. Just after Chris Rea started his set, someone took he seat next to me and introduced himself as Chris Rea’s personal manager. No false modesty here, but it was obviously a slow night if a students’ union DJ was top of the VIP list. I wasn’t complaining.

We watched Chris Rea’s set, chatting between songs (as I vainly tried to grab a halfway decent photo) and at the end of the set, I was invited backstage to meet Chris, who was still wearing the Scotland football top that he’d worn on stage – that was a smart move, appealing to patriotism in Dundee. He was a good guy and gave me another copy of the album, this time with an autograph. I still have that album. That was followed by a quick visit to say hello to Lindisfarne before their set. After a very quick knock on the door, we walked into a frantic attempt to hide the jazz fags before the band realised it wasn’t a bust. Introductions done (nice guys again), we ventured back to the balcony.

A couple of songs into Lindisfarne’s set I had an idea. Why didn’t we both take the ten-minute walk up the road to see Frankie Miller? There wasn’t even any hesitation; let’s do it. After being entertained by Chris Rea’s team for a while, it was my turn for the hospitality now. Frankie Miller at that time was hot; his albums were good, but the live experience was something else. The band (which included Paul Carrack) was on fire and Frankie had just scored his biggest hit with “Darlin’”, which pointed in a new direction that the live set hadn’t yet taken; it was still rock and soul in equal measures and I’ll take that any day of the week.

So now it was my turn to use my DJ and entertainments crew influence. The gig was sold out (full house, if you like) and I really didn’t fancy drinking warm Tennent’s from the can bar. I grabbed a key for the unused fifth floor balcony, which had three massive advantages over the Union’s main hall. The view of the stage was perfect, the sound was pretty good (for a big box of a room with a high ceiling) and, most importantly, it was a few metres from the fifth floor bar and a good selection of beers served in proper glasses at the right temperature. It wasn’t the Royal Box, but it felt like it that night; sensational band at the top of their game and a steady supply of bevvies. I even managed to sneak away (after making sure that the beer supplies were adequate for my ten minute absence) to grab a few shots of Frankie from the wings before settling down to enjoy the gig and the beers.

You’ve probably guessed that it got a bit messy after that; a students’ union bar is a really good way to stretch out the per diems, and we worked really hard to get through that day’s allowance, wearing a path through the floor tiles to the bar. Great gig, great company and a thumping hangover the following day; does that sound familiar to anyone? It’s over forty years ago and about 500 miles away but hearing Frankie’s acoustic anthem “Drunken Nights in the City” takes me back there every time.

And the signed copy of “Whatever Happened to Benny Santini” and all of the Frankie Miller vinyl albums have survived eleven house moves.

Danni Nicholls

This time it’s the turn of  Graham Jackson to tell us about the gig of his life. Graham’s one of those people with a huge amount of experience of the music business and artist management, but he also has something that’s much more important; he’s one of the good guys. He’s one of the people that you always want to bump into at a gig because he’s a  great person to have a beer with and catch up on what’s going on. Like all of the contributors to this piece he’s passionate and knowledgeable about music and able to articulate this passion and knowledge  with the written and spoken word. He takes a pretty good photo as well; the title shot here is one of his. Let’s hear about Graham’s memorable gig:

Saturday 26th August 2017, ‘The Women’s Circle’ gig at Tønder Festival in Denmark – a moment that has stuck in my mind since, a moment even now on reflection gets my heartbeat racing. I was there as Tour Manager for the wonderful UK singer/songwriter Danni Nicholls.

Tønder is a beautiful town in the Region of Southern Denmark with a population of around just 7,500 situated on the southern border with Germany – to get to the festival, the transfer is actually quicker from Hamburg in Germany than from Copenhagen in Denmark, still a good few hours but a chance to see the countries.

Tønder Festival is an incredibly friendly annual festival held on the edge of and around the town of Tønder, the music based on Folk, Roots, Traditional and Americana genres. Smaller stages offer intimate gigs in places like the Old Mill and the Pump House, along with artists such as Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Sturgill Simpson, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Runrig, Mary Black and The Mavericks, to name a few, featured at some point in history on the main stages in Tent 1 and Tent 2.

So the scene was set for The Women’s Circle that was to be staged in Tent 2, always a popular feature with wonderful female singer/songwriters in the round. But this year, there was a real buzz about the gig that was to happen, so much so that a last minute decision was made to remove the seating to increase the capacity. Nearly an hour before it was to go live, Tent 2 was heaving with some 2,500 people crammed inside, ten rows deep outside as more tried to get in. The air was high with expectancy, this transmitting itself back stage.

The five female artists invited to perform were Dorthe Gelach (Denmark), Laura Mo (Denmark), Kaia Kater (Canada), Tami Neilson (New Zealand) and Danni Nicholls (UK) – none had met each other before but I could feel a bonding happening between them. Though the tension was building, a relaxed vibe was going on, helped by the Festival organisers arranging a birthday cake for Danni!

I took my place in the photographer’s pit, sitting next to me was Maria Theessink, the Artistic Director for the Festival.

Not knowing what each was going to sing and play, the artists listened to each other, taking it in turn as their selection of songs complemented and flowed together, drawing the audience in – incredible that so many people can listen intently and respectfully to the stories being told and to the music, clapping in time at the right time (the unique ‘Danish Clap’?), then bursting into applause and cheers that could be heard across the town. Each of the ‘Women’ was creating a stunning show, seemingly effortlessly and so natural, an absolute credit to themselves and their art, a total joy for the audience.

Then the ultimate moment came for me, Danni singing ‘Ancient Embers’, a favourite song of mine from her latest album ‘The Melted Morning’. She did not disappoint. Introducing the song about ‘self-love’ that she said she “wrote for myself”, the humour and sentiment producing a huge cheer and applause from the attentive audience. Then the performance, goodness, the whole place was electrified, I have never known a feeling like it – goose bumps, the spine tingling …it was  incredible. At the end, the noise of appreciation was stunning, it brought tears to my eyes. I turned to Maria, she was the same, we just smiled and nodded to each other as if to say, “yep, that was a moment”.

I have been to special shows such as Pink Floyd at Earls Court, totally magical for the music, the lighting and the atmosphere, I never thought anything would surpass that, but there in Tent 2 at  the wonderful Tønder Festival, something special happened, a ‘never again moment’.

It is so difficult to put in words, I guess you just know it and feel it when it happens, it is personal, I am sure each of us has had such a moment.

Graham Jackson – GJ Artist Services (www.gjartistservices.co.uk)

I’ve been to many great shows, but my first proper concert is still one of the best. 

I was at college in Cardiff when this amazing singer/songwriter emerged out of the airwaves with a sound so different to anything I’d heard before. Her lyrics, poetic verse and the whole sound just blew me away. So when I saw in the NME that she was touring her second album and was playing in the city, I couldn’t wait to get tickets – something I’d never done before. 

The concert was in April, just before the end of my time in Cardiff, so the timing could not have been more perfect. I had been to St David’s Hall earlier in the year for a lecture, so I already knew what an awesome space it was, but was completely unaware of how incredible the concert was going to be. 

So, the evening of my first proper concert came around, I was buzzing. To see an international musician play her music live was just so exciting. I found my seat and waited for the lights to go down. 

To sit in a space with 2,000 people and experience a unique live performance was a spine-tingling event. The sound was perfect and to feel the music as well as be enveloped by it was something I fell in love with.

I couldn’t tell you how long the concert was, as it was just an incredible journey with such a soulful human being. 

Three songs that stood out for me and gave me goosebumps were: ‘Luka’, a powerful song/poem about child abuse, ‘The Queen and the Soldier’ about vulnerability and ‘Tom’s Diner’. The latter was just such a special moment, in front of two thousand people, Susanne Vega stood there all alone and sang this amazing song about her observations of life in a New York coffee shop – the accompanying hush that descended upon the auditorium and this lone voice filling the air was electrifying. 

An interesting fact about Tom’s Dinner. When the MP3 algorithms were being developed, they thought they had nailed it, until they tried to reproduce Tom’s Dinner, apparently the results were horrendous and they had to go back to the drawing board. Here is a link to an article about MP3’s and the sound engineers test piece that broke it.

When we’re inviting people to contribute to our occasional features, there are two questions we ask. Do they have experience of the subject? Can they write about it in an interesting way? Ray Jones, CEO of Talentbanq , formerly Business Development Director at Time Out qualifies on both counts. He is passionate about live music and he knows how to write. It’s also fair to say that he’s seen a few gigs as well. So here’s what he came up with when we asked him to write about a memorable gig (and we certainly will be inviting him back):

 

“The Windshield Wipers Slapping Time” – it was pouring as we waited in line to board the ferry to the Isle of Wight. 

“I’ll take the 4×4” said my mate Bilko – and thank God he did. We were about to experience mud that made Glastonbury look a picnic. Fortunately we were also about to experience one of the best festival lineups of all times. The American Trilogy with nightly headliners – Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and The Boss.

With the ferry queue moving slowly – my 16 year old son CJ – heading for his first festival with dad, jumped out of the car with Bilko to get hot coffees.  “Forward” shouted the guy from P&O so I jumped into the front and drove onto the ferry – and sailed away – without them.

The first of many memories from that wonderfully soggy weekend. Cars were being towed INTO Car Parks – tents were afloat on a sea of mud and wellies were getting stuck in the quagmire. And yet in amongst the mud, the blood and the beer were the smiles of people soaking up GREAT music.  

Tom Petty on Friday night was a masterclass. The discomfort of rainwater trickling down our backs ignored as we took in the genius on stage.

I can’t remember when we saw Black Stone Cherry but they ripped it up, while the steamy wood-chip floor of The Big Top marquee seemed to be fermenting.

We met up with more friends. I have known Damian since we walked to primary school together. He and his wife were in one of those pre-sited Yurts. That’s the equivalent of The Ritz at IOW – and we did not let them forget it.

We partied quite hard to Madness on Saturday and Noel Gallagher was a fine warm-up on Sunday for what happened next – and that’s really what I had to share.

I’ve seen The Boss at Wembley, Hyde Park, The Olympic Park, Paris on the 4th of July and most memorably in his home state of New Jersey, but when he and the East Street Band walked out on stage at IOW2012 something magic happened.

The next three hours are a blur of singing, hugging, drinking, dancing and total admiration for a man and his band that delivered way beyond 100%.

We were exhausted when Mr Springsteen announced with a broad smile “We have a fucking boat to catch”

I have no idea if he made it because he broke into a massive, firework-festooned finale of “Twist and Shout” that had about 100,000 people partying in a way I had not seen at a festival before.

As we walked back to our tent my son said “Hey dad, this weekend has been the best thing I’ve ever done”

You can’t buy memories in Harrods! But you can make them at great festivals.

Thanks to wonderful people like John Giddings at Solo and Sarah Handy at Hard Rock I have many more memories of good times spent on the Isle of Wight, but those stories will have to wait. Maybe Music Riot will invite me back. 

And here’s a little bonus from The Boss:

 

 

It’s looking like this feature might have legs. After a moving contribution from Danny Schmidt, Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation was next to send a contribution over in our direction with his usual incredibly quick turnaround. We were expecting something special here, because Neil has seen a lot of gigs (and also played a lot), so this was always going to be something a bit special, and it also has the best closing line ever. So let’s hear about Prince’s “Lovesexy” tour at Wembley Arena.

 

Tuesday 26th July 1988, Wembley Arena – 

I still find it hard to comprehend that Prince is referred to in the past tense, another true original innovator lost. It’s like a curtain closing forever, a nail through the pulse of musical history. Prince & Bowie both passed in the space of only a few months…the likes of which we will never witness again, their gift was unique & unrepeatable. Thankfully it unfolded in our lifetime. Our very own Mozarts I suppose. 

I get asked a lot about the best gig I’ve ever seen, a common topic amongst the social narrative especially after a few looseners in the pub. Now, I’ve been to my fair share, seen most of the bands & artists that I’ve wanted to, some on several occasions. I’ve been very lucky in that respect, I’ve had countless “right place/right time” moments. Probably never more so than watching Prince turn the cavernous Wembley Arena into what felt like an intimate dancehall on his “Lovesexy” tour of 1988. 

I was fortunate enough to see Prince tons of times, he was never anything less than mesmerising (ok, “Batman” tour was a bit shit but still there were THOSE moments). His arrival back in the UK in ‘88 was eagerly anticipated as he’d cancelled the previous year’s dates for the “Sign O’ the Times” tour. I was so disappointed I didn’t even muster up the momentum to return my ticket for a refund. I decided to keep it as a souvenir of a non-event and make do with watching the film of the gig a hundred times over (“please wear something Peach or Black” was the instruction on the stub) 

I managed to blag freebies for the Wembley gig via my record shop connections and myself & Hammy found ourselves nestled next to Pop royalty for the night – well, Bananarama sat behind us, the singer from The Adventures to the left and directly to my right hand side Lloyd Cole was seated, studious in spectacles, scribbling notes into an A5 writing pad all evening (I did enquire at one point if we should expect Commotions dance routines on his next tour but he just grunted and ploughed his head back into his jotter) 

Even Prince’s presentation and re-arrangement of the building was unique for the time, I think he was the first artist I saw set up in the centre of the venue and perform on a 360 degree circular stage, both Stevie Wonder & Anita Baker gigs followed suit very soon after, it made for the perfect spectacle. The “Lovesexy” tour not only featured the irrepressible Cat (remember her?), the stage in the round also came complete with a Ford Thunderbird automobile, multi-level trellis staging, a fountain and a basketball court!

Despite selling out every night it’s reported that the huge production costs resulted in the tour making zero profit…did he care? 

It was pop/funk/rock genius all rolled up into one of the most explosive performances I’ve ever watched. Master showmanship channelling prime time James Brown, Little Richard, George Clinton…musicianship that would leave most others standing (he’s easily the best guitarist I’ve ever heard) and of course…those songs. Let’s not overlook that marvellous run of recorded output and that of course is only what we have heard, thousands of recordings from that period remain in the vaults, unreleased. No one could keep up with him. The 80’s were defined by his soundtrack as a backdrop.

Find me a more complete piece of work than the sprawling epic that was “Sign O’ the Times”? Virtually faultless. “Parade”, “Around the world in a Day”, “Lovesexy”… just ridiculously amazing records. I used to study those albums, I think I played Prince at some point each & every day for at least 5 years. I carried a cassette of “Sign O’ the Times” album in my pocket everywhere I went for almost a year. “Purple Rain” was probably a red herring, he had so much more…could turn his funk & flavour in any direction and make it seem effortless and after a global success he wasn’t afraid to do a musical U-turn and take risks.

Ever the entertainer, he still didn’t play or pander to the gallery. He made his own rules, determined not to be typecast.

That night in July 1988 he was unstoppable, in his absolute prime. The show was relentless, it reached unthinkable, extravagant heights, unachievable by any else’s standards. I vividly recall one moment clear as crystal……..

Prince was off on a guitar workout, in itself a bona fide shock of electricity; he could play, really play…in an instant his solo peaks to dizzying heights, he throws the guitar around his back, struts off in 5″ high heels down a stage ramp somehow managing to drop to the floor doing the splits in full flow whilst still hurtling towards his microphone, he arrives at the edge of stage, spins round in a pirouette, boots his mic stand away from him, drops for one more session of the splits then leaps back up to catch his microphone in perfect time to start singing the next verse…all of the time the guitar stays intact…it was undoubtedly the coolest 60 seconds of my gig-going experiences; even Lloyd Cole put his pen down.

Just like you, The Riot Squad is going crazy at the lack of live music at the moment. We published a piece by Allan in February (just over three weeks before lockdown) celebrating the anniversary of his first gig in 1974. It was really popular and it was followed by a piece celebrating Steve Jenner’s first gig. After three months of musical famine we thought it would be good to ask some of our contributors and some of the artists we’ve reviewed in the past to write about a memorable gig that they saw or played. First out of the blocks was Danny Schmidt. We’re huge admirers of Danny’s work; he’s a gifted, erudite and passionate singer/songwriter (check out the review of his recent brace of singles “A Prayer for the Sane” and “2020 Vision”) and we’re delighted that he’s agreed to share this memory with us:

 

Danny Schmidt by Theo Looijmans

One of the most memorable live shows of my life was the night I saw Eric Johnson at Steamboat in Austin, TX on August 28th, 1990.  I remember the date distinctly because it was the day after Stevie Ray Vaughan died.  Having grown up in Austin, I was a massive fan of both Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  They were two of my biggest guitar heroes, and I saw them live every chance I got from the time I was old enough to attend live shows.  And while their styles were vastly different, they were two branches descended off the same Jimi Hendrix-influenced tree.  And as I understood it, they were each huge admirers of the other’s work, if not close personal friends.

In 1990, Eric Johnson’s star was really ascending quickly, and he played two sold out nights, back-to-back at Steamboat, and I had tickets to both nights.  The first night was striking because Eric’s management team had upped the production value (and theatrics) of his live shows by having him enter the stage to a huge laser and smoke show, for several minutes, while he improvised riffs with his signature guitar tone, hidden from our view within the visual spectacle.  And the guitar built the crowd into a frenzy before the smoke cleared, leaving Eric in a literal star of lasers and a single blinding spotlight from behind, full-on Guitar God, shredding the room from his monolithic place at the center of the stage.  It worked my teenage self into an ecstatic state of guitar delirium.  That was how the first night of the two-show stand began.

Late that night after we’d all gone home and gone to sleep, in another part of the country, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s helicopter crashed, ending his life tragically, at the age of 35 years old.  We all learned of the news first thing the next morning.

The city of Austin was crushed, devastated.  The town was silent and shocked.  I felt hollow all day, in disbelief.  That night, I had to drag myself to Eric’s show, night #2 at Steamboat.

Instead of smoke and lasers and high drama, Eric took the stage silently, no lights, no effects, no roaring feedback guitar, no PA announcer welcoming him to the stage.  No one really knew the show was even starting.  Instead, he just shuffled to the mic, more of a fragile slumped human being than a guitar god.  And instead of shrieks of guitar, he gave a quiet, humble, candid, unrehearsed, vulnerable, heartfelt tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.  He just told the crowd how much Stevie had meant to him, and how much his work had meant to him.  The speech ended when he didn’t have anything else to say.  He just stood in silence for an extra few awkward seconds, and then turned and picked up his guitar.

He then proceeded to draw fire from the strings, and fill the room with a whirlwind of sadness, madness, grief, angst, fury, exhaustion, all of it.  He brought Stevie Ray’s Texas flood to life inside the walls of Steamboat. 

Eric is truly a virtuoso.  His technical skills are legendary, and even the hyperbolic statements about what his fingers are capable of doing on the strings are understatements.  Some have questioned his musicality and the emotional connection to his songs, or the inaccessibility of his music sometimes.  But on that particular night, we all bore witness to what’s possible when a bon afide virtuoso is channelling a well of emotion from the depth of his broken heart to the tips of his mythical fingers. 

It was an experience that literally left us all speechless.  As much as I remember Eric’s actual playing that night, I remember the faces of my two best friends who were with me at the show even clearer.  Between every song we would look at each other and try and utter some sort of statement expressing how amazing it was what we had just witnessed.  And instead, we could only stammer nonsensical sounds at each other, unable to form actual thoughts and words.  And instead we would just hug or high-five.  And then Eric would fire up the next song.

To this day, I can’t properly articulate the power and energy which swirled around the room that night, emanating from the stage, from Eric’s guitar, from Eric himself, with no theatrics . . . just a true master and a room full of open ears meeting together to share a night of grief and celebration.  For me, that night set the bar for what’s emotionally possible throughs the kinetic power of music.

 

Was this crowd hard?  They would have crucified Barabbas as well, but that’s Dundee for you.

 Once again, I blame Steve Jenner for this one. He couldn’t be satisfied with making us perform behind the decks with a semblance of professionalism on our own territory.  No, he had to go out and get us gigs in Beanoland as well; which is why I found myself doing a gig at the Royal Centre Hotel on a Tuesday night in January.  Now, if that’s not a sought-after gig, I don’t know what is.  A gig to die for, and I nearly did.

Despite my reservations (and they were many and varied), I allowed Steve to persuade me that this would be good for my personal development as a DJ, would help to improve relations between town and gown and more importantly would generate extra beer tokens.  The gig was going pretty well.  OK, none of the local virgins were importuning me to indulge in post-performance amorous antics but, equally importantly, nobody had threatened to panel my coupon for me.  Not a bad compromise.

This wasn’t a dancing gig.  The idea was to get the crowd in the mood to visit the hotel’s nightclub, Teazers, when the bar closed.  I was doing pretty well, perhaps too well because they weren’t starting to drift through to the club yet and closing time was approaching.  I tried to get in as many requests as I could and I thought I was worth a 2-0 lead with 5 minutes to go.  So the last record’s crucial; I need to give them something to remember me by and I succeeded only too well.

I’d already called last orders at the bar and I cued up something that I was positive they wouldn’t have heard a DJ play there before; once again my reasoning was perfect.  As I wished everyone good night and hoped that they would pay a visit to Dundee’s premier nitespot, Teazers, I hit the play button on the final track of the Queen album “A Night at the Opera” which was Brian May’s multi-layered guitar instrumental version of “God Save the Queen”.  Very ironic, I thought; a reference to the end of a night at the pictures.  The irony works on so many different levels.

I think I single-handedly set back town and gown relations by 20 years that night.  I was in the saloon and the bad guy, probably Jack Palance had just kicked open the doors.  Within 2 seconds all conversation stopped and every pair of eyes in the place was on me, pouring out a hatred that went all the way back to 1314 (and I don’t mean quarter past one).  I got a few boos and whistles but, thankfully, no physical violence was visited on my frail and puny body.  I heard a few remarks like “student poof” and “English wanker” (now that’s ironic on more than one count because I strongly resent being labelled English).

Fortunately I escaped with my life on this occasion for 2 reasons; the lure of the dancefloor and the fact that the only place to top up the alcohol level was the nightclub.  I learned 2 valuable lessons that night: don’t play any version of “God Save the Queen” (unless it’s by the Sex Pistols) in Scotland; and, never underestimate the ability of a crowd to turn from happy punters to a brooding, malevolent mob with murderous intent at the drop of a stylus.  The manager wasn’t very happy.  Mind you I wouldn’t be a ray of sunshine if I’d had to contend with 40 years of being called Willie Rasch (his real name, seriously) and that was the end of my brief but tempestuous career as a student ambassador to the good people of Dundee.

I still think Jenner should have known better than to think we could do these gigs and escape with our lives.  I say this because of something that happened on our second full day in Dundee.  We decided to sample some of Dundee’s finest hostelries in search of some foaming Scottish ales for some lunchtime refreshment and visited one of the pubs down by the docks; “The Gauger”, I think.  Steve made his way to the bar, which was pretty quiet, and spent about 5 minutes trying to order beer in his best East Midlands accent.  The penny finally dropped.  I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to sit down.  Assuming the broadest Fife accent I could muster after 8 years away, I said those words which would be repeated many times over the next 3 years: “A pint of 80/- and a pint of Tennent’s please.”  Within 30 seconds, 2 foaming pints appeared in front of me and were dispatched in short order before moving on to somewhere a little more welcoming and tolerant. I wish I’d tried to pay with an English fiver.   I’m as guilty as the next person of refusing to let history go (unless the next person’s a member of Settler Watch) but I wouldn’t let it get in the way of making a living.

Even the best of us get it wrong sometimes (or make slight misjudgements). Mr Jenner himself nearly provoked a riot in the Tav Bar by playing a stirring Hughie Green version of “Land of Hope and Glory” to bring the evening to a very hostile close.  And there’s no way of denying that one because it was immortalised on a TDK cassette and is now available on shiny digitally remastered CD. I like to listen to it now and again because it makes me feel a little bit better about my own brush with the baying nationalist mob in the Royal Centre.

It’s not the first single I ever bought, but this is my first memory of the combination of music and film, a couple of decades before the pop video and MTV took hold. Where do you think the least likely place would be to see (and hear, because you certainly bloody heard it) a Scopitone film clip of a huge sixties tune. An instrumental that managed to imprint itself on my consciousness because it’s a cracking, ground-breaking tune and for another unrelated reason I’ll revisit later. That place was a pit canteen on the east coast of Fife and the tune was “Telstar” by The Tornados. Unlikely? Maybe, but true nevertheless.

It seems unlikely now, but at that time, nearly sixty years ago, the Fife coast between Kirkcaldy and Methil was a string of mines ripping coal out from underneath the River Forth. The Michael Colliery in East Wemyss was just one of those mines, providing work for the community and blackening the coastline. South-west of Kirkcaldy and north-east of Methil the beaches were golden; between those two towns, the coast was a uniform black and it’s just beginning to recover now, fifty years after the mines closed.

The villages along this stretch of coast, Dysart, West Wemyss, Coaltown of Wemyss, East Wemyss, Buckhaven (Buckhyne if you’re a true Fifer) and Methil were mining communities and the pit canteen was as much of a social hub as the local pub or club. I don’t know about The Frances in Dysart (or The Dubbie as we knew it) or The Wellesley in Buckhaven, but The Michael in the early sixties had a Scopitone video jukebox and it was the eighth wonder of the world. My introduction to this wonderful device changed my life forever.

In a small village and tight-knit community, news spreads quickly and the installation of a jukebox that showed films had as much of an impact as the Cuban missile crisis. Security at the Michael site was non-existent and anyone could walk in to the canteen, so why wouldn’t you just do it, even at the age of seven. Obviously, I didn’t have any money to feed the Scopitone beast when I made my first visit to its lair, but it didn’t matter; someone with incredibly good musical taste had already fed the monster. I looked the Scopitone in the eye and waited for a reaction.

Exciting doesn’t really do it justice; the sound that came out of that beast was breath-taking and it was combined with film of The Tornados and a satellite launch. Like most jukeboxes, the tube amplifier was powerful and definitely not subtle. It was all about excitement and maximum impact; combine the pulsing sci-fi sound effects and the ascending organ pattern of the intro leading up to the eruption of the main melody with a shot of a Saturn I thrusting upwards into space spliced with shots of the band performing on 16mm colour film and you have something that, for me, was literally out of this world. From that moment on I was hooked. I liked the pop music of the time when I got to hear it on the radio or on a small black and white TV, but this was something completely different; it was loud, it was visceral and impossible to ignore. I knew that I wanted more of it, and I still do.

It was only years later that I understood the significance of Telstar’s creator, Joe Meek, in pop history, but I knew at the time that I had heard a glorious noise and I was desperate to hear more of the same.

Le Scopitone was a French invention that achieved limited success despite its great potential as a promotional tool. It was bulky but reasonably reliable, although the number of songs was limited compared to an audio-only jukebox and production costs were obviously much higher where film was involved. Also, Scopitone never managed to lure the real superstars of the time to the format. It managed to survive until 1978 (only three years before the official launch of MTV) when it succumbed to the new, more cost-effective, video tape. I hope Le Scopitone had the same effect on others as it had on me.

Let’s get back to “Telstar” and the other association that explains why I love this tune so much. From about the age of five, my dad took me to Bayview (where the terraces were made of railway sleepers and gravel, with the odd crush barrier) to watch our local team East Fife, hoisting me over the turnstile so it wouldn’t register and he wouldn’t have to pay for me. A huge part of the ritual is applauding your team on to the pitch as the run-on music plays and you can probably guess by now what the run-on music was at Bayview. Fifty-five years and more (and a few relocations) have passed since then, but my team is still East Fife and they still run on to “Telstar” at New Bayview on the banks of The Forth. Some things don’t need to change or be improved.

And I still love to listen to “Telstar”, preferably my 7” vinyl copy. The anticipation as the stylus touches down and, the crackles and scratches and the rush as the intro builds up all take me back to that day in a pit canteen in East Wemyss, a lifetime ago.

Finally, a couple of pieces of trivia for you. The legendary Clem Cattini played drums on “Telstar” and George Bellamy (father of Muse’s Matt) played rhythm guitar – did you ever wonder where “Knights of Cydonia” came from?

 

We think this one deserves a bit of explanation. Mike Butterworth, good friend of the Riot Squad and  bloody good bloke, was recovering from a very serious illness when we launched 2019’s High Fives in December last year. He still managed to write about a compilation of his favourite live performances of 2019 and give us some cracking images from each gig, just a little bit late. Then things started to get a bit complicated as we had problems with file compatibility and junk folders. Anyway, we decided last week to have one final attempt to get it all sorted out; it seemed appropriate to be celebrating live music at a moment in time when we hadn’t had any for nearly two months and no prospects of any in the immediate future. Over to Michael:

In spite of a forced three-month absence from the music scene, it has been another great year of music. Following the independent music scene again this year has bought me to explore more new venues and artists, as well as catching up with some I’ve known for a while.

Louise Marshall and the Brethren @ PizzaExpress Live, Holborn

The year started with another new venue for me, PizzaExpress Live in Holborn. We celebrated 10 years of Success Express Music and the first Birthday of Talentbanq.

 

 

Louise, who I’ve known for a number of years thanks to the diversity of The Cornbury Music Festival, I saw was also playing in a couple of weeks. Most of the performances I’ve seen, were as part of other artists’ bands, but this time I had the privilege of seeing her perform with her own band. 

Louise has a smoky voice, the by-product of fiery passion, that lilts between octaves, smouldering in the embers of truth’s tinderbox.

The evening covered both of her own albums which included lots of daring ideas that are perfectly executed, especially a new twist to The Bee Gees classic – Chain Reaction – 2 up-tempo tunes showing her mainstream Soul/Pop skills, mixed in with a collection of gems that shows her soft side, written especially for her daughter Alicia, ‘First thing in the morning’ & ‘You’re my Princess’. The Album name, Beautiful, is dedicated to Louise’s husband Danny, who also plays sterlingly in both the brass ensemble and solo performances.

“Valentine Moon”, a track written by Jools Holland and Sam Brown, adds the icing to this varied performance, with Marshall showing her true northern roots.

The Brethren, that night, consisted of a group of talented musicians who deliver sheer perfection every single time they perform, without fail. Carlos Hercules on Drums, Mike Brown on Lead Guitar, Luke Smith on Keyboards, Orefo Orakwue on Bass, and Karl Vanden Bossche on Percussion.

These guys have toured with George Michael, Belinda Carlisle, Marti Pellow, Jimmy Cliffe, The Eurythmics & Lulu. Karl is one of the leading percussionists in Europe, and has played for the likes of Robert Palmer, Simply Red, Joss Stone, Sade, Blur, Natasha Bedingfield, Steve Winwood, Gorillaz, Mark Ronson, Nigel Kennedy and many more. In the summer Karl appeared at Glastonbury as part of Damon Albarn’s super group ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ Including Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen.

Louise herself, also tours extensively with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and has worked with Beverley Knight, David Gilmour, Michael Ball, Robbie Williams, Bryan Ferry, Ronnie Wood, Sam Brown, Russell Watson, Steve Winwood, and Paul Young, to name a few.

Grace Petrie @ SJE Art, Oxford

Grace began performing in 2006 as a solo vocalist and acoustic guitarist, and self-released an eponymous album that year, followed in 2007 by second album “Feeling Better”. In 2010, the advent of the Conservative-led coalition government following the (UK) general election influenced Petrie, who is a socialist, feminist, and lesbian, towards an increasing emphasis on politically focused songwriting, from a left-wing perspective. She made her debut appearance on Glastonbury‘s Leftfield stage at the invitation of Billy Bragg in summer 2010, and widely praised third album “Tell Me A Story” followed, including signature song “Farewell to Welfare”.

It was interesting to see her performing her, two-part set, in a church. However, the sellout crowd really appreciated her perspective on the world and the irony of the venue given her outlook on life. What I found particularly interesting was the contrast in pace and delivery between her fierce, punchy and fast paced protest song which were very reminiscent of her mentor Billy Bragg and her light and beautiful singing voice she has during her more personal songs.

In spite of performing a solo acoustic set in a big venue, she captivated the audience and got them to join in the chant of “You Pay Nothing You Get Nowt” from “You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys”.

Katey Brooks @ St Pancras Old Church

For better or worse, it’s hard to imagine a songwriter with a deeper well of life experience to spill onto her lyric-sheet. Katey’s troubled childhood in a religious cult, her debilitating illness in her twenties and the shattering loss of her mother and her best friend: all were blows that might have swallowed up a lesser character. But music was the balm, and it was always made on her terms – evidenced by Katey’s early decision to reject a place at the star-making BRIT School and walk her own path.

Katey performed her new album in the amazing setting of St Pancras Old Church. With her full band, the incredible acoustics really suited her beautiful, clear and powerful voice.

Katey’s scars and redemptions are poured undiluted into the new material of REVOLUTE, inviting all who hear it to wear their pasts on their sleeves without shame. Written and self-produced by Katey herself – with a beautiful and intimate mix from Paul Quinn – these songs run the gamut of genre, but are bound together by their emotional honesty. The standard is set by “Never Gonna Let Her Go” haunted yet rousing, this gospel-soul single hums with defiance as Katey kicks out against past shamings for her sexuality.

“All Of Me” is a wrench of a breakup ballad, pairing sparse guitar with intimate vocals, and slow-burning to a gospel-flavoured conclusion. “We The People” offers a moody stomp and a salute to a lover who’s moved on, while “Golden Gun” is a glowering standout, with choppy guitars and a lyric full of emotional violence, Katey’s voice soaring as the song escapes its moorings.

Already released as a single to blanket acclaim, “In Your Arms” is an intimate moment, with Katey’s almost-operatic voice and shimmering guitar locked in unison. “The Sweetest Things” has folky fingerpicking and a nakedly honest vocal that reminds us that “sometimes the sweetest things were meant to pass you by”. And on an album of personal truths, Katey isn’t afraid to turn her observational powers on the social landscape, with the impassioned soul of “Burn It Down” reminding women in the #MeToo era that victimhood is not their fault.

“Jeremiah” is a beautiful piano-led ballad that sails to the stars, while “Call Out” is a stunning moment of quiet defiance (“Don’t let anybody take you down”). “In Light Of You” combines ethereal guitar with treasured memories of a departed loved one – then throws a curveball as it breaks into a double-time groove. Finally, there’s traditional standard Trouble So Hard, here utterly owned by Katey, with ghostly chords and a vocal that never stops building.

 

“REVOLUTE” isn’t just an album – it’s an awakening for both artist and listener.

KT Tunstall @ Cornbury Music Festival

I’ve been a long time fan of KT Tunstall and 2019 saw her return to The Cornbury Festival with her all female band; Mandy Clarke on bass and Cat Myers on drums.

Her first album “Eye to the Telescope” was released fifteen years ago and inspired by her late father. It was such a fresh new sound for me and I was so glad she still play songs from it in her set. With various events in her life she found her self on her own and moving to Tucson, Arizona. This is where wrote Invisible Empire/Crecent Moon a different album and perspective from her earlier work.

“There was literally a rebirth of me as a happier, more thoughtful, more self-aware person with different priorities in my life. Writing and recording ‘KIN’ was a real unexpected pleasure; it was a way back in, to rediscover that feeling of purpose in going out and playing a gig for people, and essentially being a purveyor of joy for the night, whilst managing to tap into that deep sense of personal fulfilment in the process. Playing live is definitely a kinetic meditation for me.”

What else did Tunstall know in that moment on the Tennessee grass (not that kind!)? That her new album would be her ‘body’ album. That it would be called ‘WAX’. The title a nod to the viscous pungency of one of the body’s natural substances. “Wax evokes colonies of bees, candlelight, the material that the first long-playing records were made of”, she explains, “but more than that, wax is produced inside your own head. You unconsciously create it, and then weirdly that same basic substance has been used for centuries to make the most lifelike replicas of human beings. It has a life glow to it. It sticks to you. We have these strange, ancient connections and relationships with wax. How odd is it that the body produces all these substances from all these holes!” laughs this stoutly down-to-earth singer, songwriter and guitarist.

Finally, KT Tunstall knew how “WAX” would sound. “I knew before I started writing that I wanted it to be an electric guitar record. It had to be visceral, about the physical, and the weight of that, and the obstacles of that. It’s a record about human-ness, which we so often just write off as ‘flaws’.

KT Tunstall and her band, motivated by ethos of the new album ‘WAX’, gave an energetic and joyful performance, with mixture of her classic songs and the new.

Lots Holloway @ Hard Rock Hotel, London

Lots Holloway, is a talented young singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Creating emotional and infectious music with a warm and vintage feel; Lots is inspired by the sounds of the 60’s and 70’s.

Holloway writes authentic and genuine music based around guitar and piano; with lyrics that immediately connect and strong melodies that stay with you long after you first hear them.

Lots has been independently releasing music throughout 2019 and along the way has been garnering support from music publications such as Clash and Wonderland Magazine, who have quoted Lots as ‘a true star in the making’ and ‘a vivid pop newcomer’. She has also seen strong support from BBC Introducing London’s Jess Iszatt, who described herself on air as a “big fan” of Holloway, with a love for Lots’ “raspy tone”.

Lots’ on stage presence is second to none; a compelling performer, with a silky voice. Holloway also plays with a full band but is an enchanting and captivating performer, even when stripped  down to a solo acoustic set, as she was at The Hard Rock Cafe.

As well as covering George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’, which was appropriate having just had a cameo appearance in Emma Thompson’s film of the same name, oh and it was Christmas too. She performed a couple of new songs including ‘Bones’ a reflection on the then cold weather.

Finishing the links with these artist, Lots has also worked with KT Tunstall, just a couple of days before, in a writing workshop led by KT.

These are just a few of the many amazing performance I’ve seen this year. Another great year of live music. Once again I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and discovering new and amazing artists.