There’s no other way of saying this; 2020 has been an awful year and it’s been hard to take any kind of consolation from it. Anyone in the world of music has had to look long and hard to take any positives out of this situation. For many of us, it’s been an opportunity (or maybe a necessity) to look in the rear-view at some of the things we did in the past; gigs that we went to, albums that we bought and people that we met. I’ve moved around the country a fair amount and, in the era before media players and streaming, I had to limit the music I could move around with me. I’m not saying I was limited to five albums or, later, CDs, but these are albums that always made the cut and they’ve still had the same comfort blanket value through two lockdowns. In chronological order:

 

“Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3” – Various Artists

I know; it’s a compilation, but what a compilation. This was the soundtrack of my teenage years; every youth club disco, every party, every time I went to a friend’s house, this album was there. It was perfect timing, with a 1969 release just at the time that I really started to listen to music properly and had a few quid from my paper round to actually buy records.

The Chartbusters series started in 1967; if you’re a cynic, you might accuse Motown of trying to recycle material but it is the music business and it’s fair to say that this series was packed with hits. It was basically a singles industry at that time, so a compilation from a successful company made a lot of sense. So why Vol. 3? Well, the sleeve design evolved as the series progressed, reflecting current social themes, but Vol. 3 was the one where the designers nailed it; it’s simple, bold and incredibly striking and the musical content lived up to the standard of the design.

If a sixteen-song album starts with Marvin Gaye’s “Grapevine” and ends with Smokey’s “Tracks of my Tears”, there’s a lot of wiggle room for the other fourteen songs. Throw in a couple of Stevie Wonder classics, The Temptations’ “Get Ready” and Edwin Starr’s “Stop Her on Sight” and you’ve already got a classic compilation. Take a look at the entire album and it’s studded with classics and minor classics. That’s why it will always have a place in my elite albums.

“Aja” – Steely Dan

I bought this the week it was released in September 1977 and took it with me to Dundee for my second year at University. I was in a shared room, but it was with Kev, my room-mate from my first year. We both played guitar and had some musical tastes in common; thankfully Steely Dan was one of those shared tastes. “Aja” was played a lot and we may have smoked some recreational substances, which may have enhanced the listening experience. In my final two years, I had my own room and, again, “Aja” didn’t stay in its sleeve very long. It was starting to look a little worse for wear. You can read the next part of this story in this piece; I don’t want to do it in detail again here. Let’s just say it burned “Aja” into my consciousness and since that time the album’s been a constant companion.

I’d been a Dan fan since the early days and, by this time, I knew to expect the unexpected but this album was something else. They had seven beautifully-constructed and slightly sleazy songs (ok, maybe more than slightly sleazy) and spent studio time with the best session musicians in the world putting together versions of the songs, picking out the seven favourites for the album. They started as jazzers playing rock and with “Aja” they arrived at jazzers playing jazz or maybe jazz-funk; going back to their roots. Like all of the albums mentioned here, this should be in everyone’s collection. It was certainly in the collection of the next band.

“Raintown” – Deacon Blue

I’m Scottish; I’m proud to be a Scot and I used to love the times when the music industry radar periodically located Scotland on the UK map. The mid-to-late eighties was one of those periods; Deacon Blue were one of the bands to be signed and they’re still recording and gigging today. I saw them at Cornbury a couple of years ago and they sounded great with songs covering a period of thirty years. The band members mostly have new day jobs now; Ricky Ross is a radio broadcaster and Dougie Vipond is a TV presenter with BBC Scotland, but that’s all irrelevant when the sticks click and the band fires up.

I bought “Raintown” on vinyl originally and I still have that copy now. The title song was a tribute to Glasgow that spliced Blue Nile with Springsteen to create a wide canvas sound that came to define the band. As much as I loved that song, and the anthem “Dignity”, it was “When Will You (Make my Telephone Ring?)” that I connected with. It was a soul song (they even had Jimmy Helms on BVs) and it was over the top and gorgeous. It was part of an album that you needed to listen to from start to finish (turning over the vinyl halfway through), because you wouldn’t want to miss out on the opener “Born In a Storm” or the yuppie tale “Chocolate Girl”.

And you know that the Steely Dan connection is “Deacon Blues” from “Aja”, obviously.

“His ‘n’ Hers” – Pulp

When the Britpop wars broke out, I was missing in action. Why would anyone hitch themselves to bands that were so obviously influenced by sixties pop. Oasis was The Beatles without the subtlety and Blur was an arch Goldsmiths-enabled Kinks tribute band. We had to be better than that and I’d already committed myself to a band that had much more in common with the East Midlands surroundings I knew as a teenager. The band was from Sheffield and the songs reflected life in the North Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire/South Yorkshire area; Blur and Oasis were copying sixties bands while Pulp felt much more like a musical interpretation of Stan Barstow’s short stories.

“His ‘n’ Hers” was the breakthrough album: it wasn’t the album with the anthems that followed it and turned Pulp into an arena and Glastonbury-headlining band. “Different Class” featured “Common People” and “Disco 2000”, both complete bangers and remixed to within an inch of their lives; as much as I loved them, I still identified much more with the characters and the narratives of “Lipgloss”, “Babies”, ”Acrylic Afternoons” and “Do You Remember the First Time?”. This is still my favourite Pulp album and probably my favourite ‘Britpop’ album.

“Protection” – Massive Attack

Only a few months after “His ‘n’ Hers” and so different. If Sheffield defined Pulp, then Bristol defined Massive Attack. The first Massive Attack album “Blue Lines” three years earlier was already firmly embedded in my consciousness. “Unfinished Sympathy” was a classic single and Shara Nelson had a perfect voice to front up the songs. Massive Attack wasn’t a prolific band (quality rather than quantity) and by the time “Protection” came along, Shara had moved on, replaced by a mix of singers and rappers including Tracey Thorn, Tricky, Nicolette and Horace Andy. Along with close neighbours Portishead, Massive Attack defined trip-hop, mixing influences from hip-hop and dub, creating a sound that was both ambient and punchy.

The title song has always pushed my buttons; it’s gorgeous. The bass is thunderous (particularly for a slow ballad), while the guitar, keys and vocals are all crystal clear with a shimmering touch of reverb. The mix is full of space and all of the individual elements stand out. And there’s Tracey Thorn’s almost effortless but incredibly powerful vocal. It’s a classic song and it sets the tone for the album; loads of punchy bass and spacy, dubby mixes – trippy even. The kind of music that might accompany a spliff or two. Which takes us back to my second selection.

Andy Fleet came to our notice earlier this year when his album “The Sleepless Kind” popped through the letterbox and immediately went on constant play in the CD player. Andy’s a consummate pianist, playing across the musical spectrum from classical to jazz and all points between and many of his songs are inspired by the stories of the musicians who play for us every night in bars, theatres, clubs and auditoriums and the lives that they lead on and off the bandstand. Give the album a listen after you’ve had a look at Andy’s lockdown lifesavers:

 

Coffee

The first thing I think about when I wake. My Italian La Pavoni espresso machine never fails to lift me every time and I get anxious when I’m away and unsure of where morning coffee is coming from. 

 

 

 

MotoGP

I’ve been riding and following motorcycle racing for over twenty years and it’s the best show in the world -- full of speed, danger, bravery and masterful skill. The characters and back stories make it the most fascinating race series in the world and we were treated to a near full programme in 2020. Top job,

 

Nailing a Chopin Nocturne

I love playing classical piano and work on it daily. The challenge and magic of Chopin keeps my musical spirits up when I’m struggling with my own writing. 

 

Playing Poker with my daughter

Probably not what I should be teaching my daughter !!! but she loves it and it’s a great way to spend some quality time together away from music, work and social media. Just a pack of cards. It inspired a new song actually -- Cards on the Table -- look forward to recording that one. 

 

Pilsner Urquell -- Czech Lager

Developed a real taste for this beautiful Czech lager this year, makes regular lager taste very average. I keep things sensible but 2020 has been trying … I heard someone say earlier this year “They had better open the pubs again soon before we turn into a nation of alcoholics!” 

Photo by Jen Squires

We reviewed Stephen Fearing’s thirteenth album, “The Unconquerable Past” earlier this year, during the period when live music was still happening and COVID was a tiny cloud on the horizon. It feels like we were in a different universe. Anyway, we loved the album and we were really pleased when Stephen agreed to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives feature at the end of a difficult year for anyone involved in the world of music. Like many musicians, Stephen has retained his optimism and belief that however bad things get, music can always help you to get through the day.

 

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.” — John Lennon

 

I’ll be honest and say that I am STILL struggling to fully “come to grips” with this year. As ever, there are so many things to be grateful for amidst the tatter of what was “supposed to be”, and I’m happy to report that the glass is definitely half-full and even possibly topping itself back up (Biden/Harris and news of “The Vaccine” seem to have arrived at the party together).

However, my high fives will all go to music, the touchstone that has always been my bedrock and this insane year is no different. 2020 – Music saved my soul.

 

1            Nashville – “ On The Road Again ” -Willie Nelson. The year started out with a bang as I travelled south to Nashville to appear with my hairy brethren – Blackie and The Rodeo Kings – at The Bluebird Cafe and The Grand Ole Opry (at The Ryman ).

Coincidentally, I was working my way through Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary which just made walking out onto that stage even more magical and surreal. This was a hell of a way to start what was shaping up to be my busiest year of music making, with a solo release (The Unconquerable Past) and Blackie’s new Warner Bros. 25th anniversary release ( “King of This Town” ). I was looking to log some serious air miles and play my face off.

2            Europe – “On The Road Again ” -Willie Nelson.

By the middle of February I was in Europe finishing up some solo dates and a series of much-anticipated shows with my Danish pals – The Sentimentals. I met these fantastic humans two years ago through our mutual friend Jonathan Byrd who generously shared their contact with me when I enquired about his “Scandinavian connection”. What started in 2018 with some shows in Denmark grew into this 2020 tour with performances in Denmark, The UK, Holland and Germany. Here we are backstage at Meneer Frits in Eindhoven – The “greenroom” is off the kitchen… One of my projects this winter is to mix and edit the show we filmed and recorded that night. Stay tuned.

3            “No one lives forever Who would want to

But you’re too soon gone

Too soon gone” – Jules Shear and Stan Szelest

My Mother warned me that there would come a day when I would see my heroes begin to “shuffle off this mortal coil”. The 2020 list of those who have left us is  staggering – Vera Lynn, David Olney (who doesn’t want to go out like David Olney?), Lyle Mays, Little Richard, Helen Reddy, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Pointer, Toots Hibbert, Jerry Jeff Walker, McCoy Tyner, Eddie Van Halen, Justin Townes Earl, John Prine… The loss is poignant but the point is just how much each of these great artists left behind for us to cherish.

Early in March when things were just starting fall apart, I went for a drive with my daughter (16) and had the pleasure of introducing her to the music of Bill Withers – she is surrounded by music and had heard some of his classic tunes but hadn’t fully joined the dots so to speak. Watching her really feel the pocket on tunes like “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)” or “Keep On Using Me” was a great feeling. Bill Withers’ has always been like comfort food to me and as a white-on-white kid living in Ireland, his music taught me a great deal about honesty, compassion and things like how Black Lives Matter. Such a generous spirit – Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…

4            – “My hands are turning numb But I still gotta strum

My Velvet guitar” – Alejandro Escovedo

2019 was the year that legendary Canadian luthier Linda Manzer presented me with my new Manzer “Cowpoke”, the sister to the guitar I have been playing (almost daily) for the past 30 years. It’s a long story, but way back in 2006, a man named Gerry Hayes (Gerry and I had become pals when he came to gigs in the Ottawa Valley region) passed away suddenly and left me his beloved ’79 Manzer. If you want to know the whole story, watch my conversation with Linda entitled “30 Year Cowpoke” on YouTube, but to cut to the chase, that gift from Gerry started the ball rolling on a gorgeous new instrument which I received late last year. A new hand-built guitar requires significant break-in time and the silver lining for me in my “lockdown” has been to play the Cowpoke daily and hear how slowly but surely, the new sister surpasses the old. #bittersweet

5            “I’m stuck in Folsom Prison

And time keeps draggin’ on” – Johnny Cash

OK, I know I’m about as lucky as one can get in these pandemic- lockdown times. I live in “The Garden City,” on an island in The Pacific, in a country where our Govt. has seen fit to provide supplementary income for almost all of us… so I’ve really got nothing to complain about and I do my best not to. Instead, I dug into live-streaming early on but am now devoting my time to sharpening my skills, writing, playing, taking online courses for recording + video-editing software and trying to knock things off the endless list of fix-or-build DIY.

Around our old queen of a house (oh and I really got into the sourdough bread thing). I know how lucky I am and though I struggle with bouts of depression, it’s mostly a passing thing. However, so many in my industry are in dire straits, struggling to keep their heads above water. I am most grateful for my audience and feel privileged to be a part of this great music biz family… mostly I just want to help any way I can. So earlier this year, I created a video with some pals to try and funnel some much needed $$ to an organization dedicated to helping Canadians in the biz. I urge you to go find a similar group in your neck of the woods and see what you can do to help.

For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need Somebody to lean on.

Our first High Five of 2020 comes from Neil Sheasby songwriter and bass player with Stone Foundation. It’s become a bit of a ritual now and this is Neil’s seventh consecutive contribution to this end of year celebration – and it’s always the first one to hit the inbox. Lockdown and Lockdown Lite have caused major problems for Stone Foundation; they’re a working live band and virtually everything apart from a weekend of socially-distanced gigs in the Midlands has been cancelled/postponed. The band has pushed on with the release of its 2020 Top 40 album “Is Love Enough?” and they’re now working on the next one, proving that this year doesn’t have to be defined by the negatives. Anyway, over to Neil:

2020 – A new decade, boundless opportunity, a fresh optimism prevailed. Even its digits seemed to herald in some futuristic promise of a new dawn. Wipe the slate clean of social media tribalism & recent divides over the political warfare of nationalism, Brexit and the lack of a clear, forward, progressive vision. 

2020 – The turning of a new page. Positive thinking. A restoration of respect. And then…

Do I need to go on? Rip it up & start again. It’s good to try and dig out a few simple pleasures here once again for the annual High Fives feature…

1) I’ll begin in the obvious place. Music. This year’s soundtrack. Thankfully music always has the ability to inspire and lift you; in the most testing of times, especially so. The real surprise package of the year came courtesy of the most unlikely of sources, an album called “Pleasure, Joy and Happiness” by Eddie Chacon.

Previously a name unknown to me (at least that’s what I presumed), I’d chanced upon this record whilst navigating my way around Spotify and it just immediately drew me in. It’s sparse, direct and soulful. Of course I naturally assumed it was a new artist, that’s the problem with platforms such as Spotify, you don’t get that much info about a release but I’ve never been shy of doing a bit of homework and it came as a great revelation that Eddie Chacon turned out to be Eddie as in one half of naff 90’s chart toppers Charles & Eddie who had a global smash with “Would I Lie to You” in 1992.

Eddie had abandoned the music industry in the intervening years and this was his humble return after 30 plus years away. I think his story made me love the album even more…

2) Due to the circumstances I’ve had even more time to read and have really enjoyed books such as “Yeah Yeah Yeah” – Bob Stanley’s epic journey through the story of modern pop music, I thought Pete Paphides’ book was a glorious reflection, Chris Frantz’s “Remain in Light” I enjoyed even if it veered off the beaten track factually somewhat, and more recently I tackled John Cooper Clarke’s biography which possibly gets my vote for book of the year (musically related at least) 

 

 

3) TV highlight – “The Queen’s Gambit”

What a refreshing series! Beautifully cast and filmed, stylish down to a tee. Great story, great script. Wonderful acting and even managed to make Chess seem hip. 

Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it.

 

 

4) An indulgence on my part I know but this was a major highlight in an otherwise uneventful 2020…the rise and return to top flight football of my beloved Leeds United. Obviously it had been a long time coming (16 years to be precise) and it took an Argentinian bespectacled genius who perches on a bucket to enable a path back to glory. 

It’s been a revelation watching football again under Bielsa and reignited my love for the game. I’m so happy for my kids too, they never wavered in their support for Leeds but I’m sure there were times when they must have thought “why do we support this lot Dad?” 

Hopefully Leeds Utd can remain in the top flight of English football now and continue the ascent. Promotion to the Prem was a big moment in our house. I really can’t wait for the Trans-Pennine skirmishes with Man Utd again. 

 

5) Recording. Although our touring schedule has been decimated it has meant more time and opportunity to create & write. Our last album “Is Love Enough?” was actually completed quite some time ago so since then we’ve been chipping away at writing the next one. Lockdown just probably accelerated the process so we have been able to begin the recording of what may well become another Stone Foundation record, it’s been good to fill the void with creativity and keep the wheels in motion in that respect.

Obviously we all sincerely hope that there’s a way back to gigging as we have always known it without compromise or restrictions, it’s important we don’t get sold down the river under the guise of a “new normal”, we are all social animals and we need that communal connection. 

It’s what SF events thrive upon. 

My son Lowell (who’s 17 now) is studying music production at college and he’s been working on his own music through lockdown so I’ve been helping out and collaborating on that too which for me has been like starting out again as a teenager, learning new & different ways to create and record, all done in his bedroom too. The spirit prevails and the baton gets passed on…I like that. 

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.