Imagine a story that starts with a fanatical Jam fan in the town of Atherstone who draws pictures of the band’s album covers in his exercise books during lessons at school and fantasises about being in his own band. Imagine that kid forty years later turning to his right at Islington Assembly Hall and seeing Paul Weller making a guest appearance with the band, Stone Foundation, that the kid has played with and believed in for a huge chunk of his life. Now that would make a great story, wouldn’t it? Bloody right it would, especially when the kid is Neil Sheasby, known to fans of Stone Foundation for his gritty on-the-road diaries spilling all the gory details (and the pleasant surprises and triumphs) of life in a band in the 21st century.

Brother Sheas (as Paul Weller refers to him) is a natural storyteller, who’s never short of an opinion and has the knack of pacing the narrative perfectly, in a style that captures perfectly his spoken delivery and with an ability to deliver the killer punchline when it’s needed. I’m not going to spoil the book for you by retelling the stories – I mean, the whole point of this is to make you want to buy it and read it. The only spoiler I’m going with is that the story stops short of the formation of Stone Foundation (which I’m guessing will come with the second volume).

The story “Boys Dreaming Soul” tells is of passion for music, passion for the right clothes, riotous times and bad behaviour, life in a small working-class town (and I can relate to most of those) and a lifelong friendship that comes to define both of the people involved. Neil’s deadpan delivery is perfect for the music business anecdotes, but he’s equally effective with the serious business, and there’s a fair amount of that as well.

This book will make you laugh; it might make you cry. If you’re interested in music at all, and why are reading this if you aren’t, you’ll be fascinated by Neil’s stories of his various bands and nights out at music industry schmoozefests and the memories he evokes with playlists for each chapter of the book (Neil loves a playlist). He’s a very engaging author and he’s created a compelling memoir in “Boys Dreaming Soul”. It’s a story of complete commitment to an ideal whether times are good or bad, happy or sad. And it made me realise we were at the same gig in Nottingham thirty years ago.

It’s available at the main online stores but why not try here first. It’s out now.

Natalie Tena of Molotov Jukebox

…….. and helps keep me sane.

This has even more been the case since my gallbladder recently tried to kill me and I spent several days in a hospital ward with absolutely nothing to do.

I loved recorded music for many years and while studying my HND I started to go to live events. This was how I discovered live and recorded music affected me in a way nothing else does. I felt like Jack-Jack in Pixar’s “The Incredibles” when Kari, his babysitter, puts him in his highchair. She puts on a Mozart CD and says ‘It’s time for a little neurological stimulation’. When she presses play, Jack-Jack stops being distracted, sits up, suddenly becomes focused and it releases his inner powers. This is how music makes me feel. On a normal day, I usually listen to at least one album on my own in the car, this helps me dispel the stresses of the day and calms the deeper turmoil of being the head of my family. Before her life changing accident and subsequent cancer treatment my wife and I jointly shouldered the chores and usual trials and tribulations of life. The disability she has been left with restricts her ability to do a number of things. I’ve taken on those things too.

During college, and the years after, I went to many music performances and enjoyed getting wrapped up in the atmosphere of the performance and of being in a crowd of like-minded people. My wife gets the same feelings from music but also going to see her football team play. As with live music, watching on TV is enjoyable, but being there is infinitely more.

My somewhat eclectic tastes in music – influenced by my brothers’ liking for electronica and the indie band music of the nineties – were powered in my 20s by being able to go to nearly 100 events and having access to multiple independent music stores, as well as the wonderful HMV (our local branch still survives and I bought some more CDs only the other day). Since the demise of many independent music shops I’ve found new music via a number of sources. Steve Lamacq and Lauren Lavern’s Radio Six Music shows (DAB only);music festivals; working with Caffè Nero Live, Talentbanq, Success Express Music and Laurel Canyon Music. Even through social media with the many artists I’ve connected with and through my photography.

As an early adopter of CDs, because I found I could listen to them at home, in the car and on the move, I’ve been collecting CD since I left college and now have access to over 15,000 songs via my iPhone, thanks to iTunes Match. Even today I get CDs, having discovered, through the death of a friend, that a digital only library dies with you rather than being passed on to your heirs.

Out of all of those albums there are a few that are so well produced and written, that paired with my Jaybird wireless ear buds, I am transported into a deep rich soundscape, enveloping my senses and soothing my mind whilst stimulating my inner self. I can’t express why the following give me this feeling – they simply do.

 

Love Over Gold                                                        Famous Blue Raincoat

The Hunter                                                                      Sunday 91

Deleted Scenes…                                                          Revolute

Soft Control                                                                    Tragic Kingdom

Travelling Heart                                                             Elastica

On                                                                                       Carnival Flower

Southside                                                                          Gorillaz

Vienna                                                                                  So

How Men Are                                                                       Addict

 

 

 

 

 

Version 2.0

Not the complete list. However, I think it demonstrates a diverse mix of artists, genres and decades. What I like about the above is not their similarities but how diverse the styles are. However, the common elements are the commitment by the artists, engineers, technicians and producers to produce a dynamic and engaging performance.

An interesting thing to note for Jennifer Warner’s beautiful album: The Hunter, is I find the cover of the Waterboys classic song ‘The Whole of the Moon’, although an acceptable cover, sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the amazing production and feel of the rest album. My understanding is this was done to be the launch single.

Supermarkets selling CDs led to the death of independents by offering very popular CDs at lower prices stealing sales from independents. But they aren’t interested in low volume established acts or new unproven acts. However, if you get involved in the resurgence of the live music scene, you can experience emerging acts with all their passion and drive, in an intimate atmosphere. I’ve been to many smaller venues in recent years, and these are the melting pots for future major acts, I’ve seen new bands at several of the venues the global phenomena such as Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall started playing at to only a handful of people.

Michael Butterworth

Steve Jenner’s third book “Loud, Proud and Illegal” is an insider’s view of a fascinating period in British social history when revolt against an increasingly unpopular government was manifested in many ways, some of them linked and following similar trajectories. The rave movement on the dance scene and pirate radio were two aspects of this civil disobedience that had close links and some synergies. Broadly speaking, both movements developed from small-scale barely-legal, operations, escalated rapidly, attracted the wrath of the authorities and eventually became legitimate commercial enterprises. 

“Loud, Proud and Illegal” concentrates on the development of pirate radio in the East Midlands, particularly Nottingham, and carries the authenticity of an author who was part of the phenomenon as broadcaster Jake Burnside. The government of the time was keen to portray pirate broadcasting as lawlessness supported by and supporting other even more heinous types of criminality, but, without getting too deep in to spoiler territory, radio piracy was a civil, not a criminal, offence when the phenomenon started to explode across the country. And to balance this up, it’s fair to say that there was an element of mischief involved with some broadcasters. 

Besides giving us ‘fly-on-the-wall’ access, the book also gives us the benefit of the insights of a highly-respected radio professional as Steve draws parallels between the pirates of the sixties, who forced the BBC to create Radio One as a station that appealed to an emerging market, and the pirates of the late eighties/early nineties who opened the door for the final wave of local UK commercial broadcasting licences. And, you couldn’t plan this, but this book is published just after a bloodless coup has removed most of the local content from the local commercial radio franchises, leaving the majority of those franchises in the hands of multi-national broadcasters. 

As always, Steve’s style is direct, punchy and authoritative. The beauty of “Loud, Proud and Illegal” is that it combines the gritty reality of pirate broadcasting with a penetrating analysis of the situation that led to rise of the pirates and an inside view of the vision that converted illegal operations into successful business models. Original pirate material indeed.  

You can buy it here.

 

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

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

But WHAT a legacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there it ends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Scott; thanks Walkers. I blame Gary Lineker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Allan was a bit chuffed to get his first big festival photo accreditation this summer for Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire. It was perfectly timed to coincide with a complete weekend shutdown of rail services through Oxford during the hottest weekend but it takes a lot more than that to stop a determined photographer. When he eventually made it there, well, we’ll let him tell you about it.

 

OK, Friday night and the first band to play in the dark with stage lights was Stereo MCs. Had to be done really. It was a bit of a nostalgia thing; loads of memories of my DJ days in the late eighties/early nineties. From the outset, it was obvious that Rob Birch is still a hugely charismatic and dynamic frontman. I think this just about captures it:

Last set on Friday night was UB40. I saw UB40 on their first national tour when they supported The Pretenders on tour across the UK in 1980. They were fired up, they wanted to succeed and they sounded amazing. Nearly forty years on, it’s a very different story; there are two UB40s touring and neither’s convincing. This version is pretty pedestrian, but they have one secret weapon – Brian Travers. I’m sure he wouldn’t claim to be the best sax player in the world, but he knows how to sell it:

Saturday night was busy (although Alanis Morissette decided not to allow any press access for her set) and the Songbird Stage was the place to be. Obviously Mavis Staples was a do-not-miss, but PP Arnold was another. You would think she’d never been away; she sounded fabulous and looked like this:

Sunday afternoon on the Pleasant Valley Stage; anyone for a bit of Deacon Blue? Definitely; I saw them a couple of times in the very early days and I loved them. It’s partly a Scottish thing, but it’s mainly a music thing. They have great songs and they have the experience to sell them on a festival stage. You never know, Ricky might do a bit of politics. Actually you do know, he will. Anyway, he’s looking pretty pumped these days:

Sunday evening headliners – Squeeze. We go back a long way; I saw Squeeze for the first time at Dundee University Students’ Association; there were more people on stage than in the audience and it was still a great gig. I’ve photographed them on occasions forty years apart (I know, I don’t look that old) and I still love those Difford/Tilbrook songs. This time, it was Yolanda Charles that really caught my eye:

As ever; songs, not singles. These songs are all from albums that we’ve reviewed this year (that’s Stone Foundation ruled out again – sorry guys). There’s something else, apart from greatness, that links all these choices; they’re not the only songs from the albums they feature on that could have made this list. The albums are all wonderful pieces of work taken as a whole, but they all feature at least two standout tracks that would have been seen as singles in a different musical era. There were difficult choices but ultimately it had to be whittled down to five songs. In no particular order, here are Allan’s favourite five songs of the year; the songs that made his heart soar or made him cry, but definitely made him hit the repeat button.

 

“The Last Song” – Dean Owens

Just to be contrary, it’s actually the first song on the album, ”Southern Wind”, which was a collaboration with Will Kimbrough. One of the things Dean and Will bonded over was their love of Ronnie Lane, whose influence is all over this one. Having heard it live a few times, where it tends to appear towards the end of the set, confirms the power of the song and allows Dean to riff on repeated choruses by throwing in lines from, for example, “Ooh La La”. It’s fun and it’s memorable; if you don’t love this, you’ve got icicles for ventricles.

 

“Love in Wartime” – Birds of Chicago

Absolutely gorgeous. This clocks in at about the six minute mark but you just want it to keep going. It’s one of those that seduces you in with a gentle intro then builds and builds to the first chorus. And by that time, you’re hooked; you’re there for the duration. Maybe there’s a nostalgia thing there; the feel, the chord progressions are a lot like classic mid-seventies era Bob Seger. The melody’s hummable, the harmonies are superb and it’s hugely uplifting. I dare you not to be moved by this.

 

“Out from Under” – Michael McDermott

This is a song where you just have to accept the Bruce Springsteen comparison because this is a stadium rocker in the mould of “Born to Run”. It’s a monstrous ‘wall of sound’ production driving along by pounding, relentless floor toms and a huge full band arrangement. In the context of the album, it’s the song that represents the start of the upward turn in Michael’s rehabilitation and the uplifting lyrical message is carried along on the tide of a widescreen musical setting. Taken out of the context of the album, it’s a song that FM radio in the States would have been all over in the 80s – not just a powerhouse arrangement, a potent message as well.

 

“Son of an Immigrant” – Gerry Spehar

A perfect example of the song that leads you in a certain direction before pulling the rug from under you and twisting the point of the narrative. It’s not just an example of a clever narrative trick; like the rest of the album, this is a powerful commentary on the current state of the USA, and its current leader. The song has a very clear message; if you go back far enough almost everyone’s an immigrant in the land of the free. Like “Out from Under”, it sits perfectly within the context of the album without needing that context to shine as a great song.

 

“The Shape of You” – Rod Picott

Sometimes a song just needs to find the point in your life where it fits. This one happened for me on the Tube on the way back from a gig at Green Note. I’d already heard it a few times but this time it suddenly hit home. It’s about the realisation that someone has become a part of you. In this case because that person has gone, but I guess the image works if they’re still around. The song opens with the image in the title, then develops that image. It’s a really simple idea but beautifully effective. The arrangement’s sparse, with mainly acoustic guitar and vocal with some very subtle Will Kimbrough guitar atmospherics just lurking in the background. Delicate and gorgeous.

There are many other songs that could have been on this list; there’s so much incredible music out there, but these were the ones that were buzzing around my consciousness when I put this together. Have a listen, and I hope you enjoy.

The High Fives feature just wouldn’t be the same without a contribution from Our Friend in the North. Steve J has been a very busy man this year, reviewing loads of gigs for us while working as a radio presenter in the Peak District and somehow manging to publish a couple of books as well, “On the Radio” with his brother Paul and a solo effort, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight”. They’re both cracking reads (subtle stocking-filler hint here) and our totally unbiased view is that you should get hold of a copy of each for your nearest and dearest. In the meantime, here’s Steve’s reaction to hearing some of his classic 45s (ask your nan) performed live.

High Fives. This year has been the year of classic singles – LIVE!! So I’ve picked my fave live performances of five classic singles that I’ve experienced this year, bookending from ‘I’m Not In Love’ to ‘Is This Love?’ See what he did there? Certainty into uncertainty. Metaphor for the year, n’est-ce pas?

 

“I’m Not in Love” – 10CC

A beige, plastic-labelled 45 on Mercury Records. A night out at The Opera House in Buxton. Nearing the end of a storming set and the lighting changes. Suddenly, I become aware of an effect which has been more or less redundant all night…a cutaway mirrorball, throwing darts of seventiesesque silver light in elderly lovers’ eyes and randomly piercing the sudden dark blue wash which had swallowed the stage. And with stunning clarity and instant recognition, the keyboard strikes up for one of the most perfect, flawless and in a way, perplexing lurv songs of all time. And it’s all there. The ambiguity in the title, suggesting despair or disdain or something in between (Disappointment? Disenchantment? Take a look into this lovely audio mirror; see what bounces back) and all wrapped up in that rich electric keyboard swirl which at times sounds like it is emerging, dripping, from between the trees. And can the CCs pull off the stunning build up of layer upon layer of vocal harmonics before it all dissipates in a crystalline sprinkle of sparkly synth? Sure can. Sure do. Four or so minutes of suspended animation. Perfect.

 

Travellin’ Band – John Fogerty / Creedence Clearwater Revival

Ain’t nothing fancy about this; a UK-release blue-labelled Liberty Records mono 45 cut like the San Andreas Fault and heavily worn with spiral striations due to jukebox wear (the arm skims the toast rack of records, reaches down, grabs, makes a wear imprint and over time, your 45 will fade from shiny black to shimmering grey) with a stomped-out middle and a triangular black centre piece. And a night out in the former Millennium Dome in London. But what a way to start a set. This ain’t no polite calling card; this is a ‘blow the doors off’ statement of intent. John Fogerty rips into the opening tune with the ferocity of a storm-force wind. Rasping and what even for then was uncompromisingly ‘dated’ sax gives way to the foghorn honk of Fogerty’s amazing vocal. You can read millions of pages about what it was like to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle; or you can listen to this for about two minutes twenty seconds and get the whole story. You’ve paid for it. And you’re having it.

 

2-4-6-8 Motorway” – Tom Robinson Band

Red and salmon pink-labelled EMI demo 45 stamped ‘Factory Copy; For Demonstration Use Only’. And as tended to happen with the ‘airplay’ samples, it’s a Porky Prime Cut alright, tyre-wall black and uncompromisingly deep. Wherever it plays, it cuts the air like a knife. Pop tune meets rock anthem meets The New Wave (sort of). Probably the most out of context of all TRB’s output (with the exception of a few plain duffers on the second album) it is the Show Closer all century long, ensuring an enthusiastic crowd stick around for the encore and are Up For It. As a song it just screams to be hit hard, and sung with lust for life and played with drive and passion. And at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, that’s what it gets as the Tom Robinson Band roll back the years and suddenly we’re all somewhere else, sometime else.

 

“Rock ‘n’ Me” – Steve Miller Band

Another beige plastic-labelled Mercury Records 45. Another drivetime classic meets live anthem. But this one is very ‘American’ as we return to the Drearydomeydrome, London, once more. This just ‘drives’ along on vinyl, with the singer’s voice sounding as artificial and as ethereal as Fogerty’s is to sound ‘real’ and very much Of This World about half an hour later, same place, same night. This is as much a tribute to the fine art of producing recorded sound as it is to it being a mighty fine, well-arranged song. And after an early evening where the sound sold Steve Miller and the Millermen seriously short, it was good to hear the whole thing come together and produce three minutes of unadulterated joy, which evoked top-down, hedonistic, Californian sunshine of various kinds just as vivaciously as the little unassuming vinyl disc did when it first lit up my grim Scottish tenement flat as I first played a demo copy to myself on a horrible little autochange record player way back in (I think!) 1976. Keep On Rockin’ Me, Baby.

 

“Is This Love” – The Wailers / Bob Marley and the Wailers

Island records multi-coloured label 45 with the lurid green palm tree in the foreground, and with the centre knocked out for use as a Jukebox copy, my “Is This Love?” is a well-travelled audio file. I’ve taken it out on more gigs than The Beatles, The Stones and The Who have played put together and sure enough it bears all the scars of wear, tear, spilt beer, exposure to sunshine on outdoor gigs, grit in between the single sleeve sides, greasy buffet fingers and sub-zero storage. Old-school DJ abuse, in short. As do The Wailers, who continue unsteadily but utterly charmingly into the future, carrying Bob Marley’s live legacy with them. Both on the 45 and in the Manchester Academy, the song and the way it is delivered contains enough space to walk around in. Space. Clarity. No clutter. And those chord progressions and the odd squirt of squealing lead guitar every now and then. And that drummer. Live, just as on the record, strolling, loping along as if it’s the easiest, most natural thing on earth. (Try it some time! I stand in awe of most musicians due to my own limited abilities but reggae drummers….well.) On stage as on vinyl, sunshine, but more than that, a hope bordering on a belief that love can indeed triumph over all, and that peace will be the outcome and unity will be the end result; which lasted about as long as it took for me to walk outside into the typecast Manchester rain and for some bloke half my age and twice my size to attempt to kick me swede in whilst waiting for a taxi. And the compliments of the High Fives to you, too.

I know, I know; we’ve said this before. The Riot Squad loves the way that artists taking part in this piece stamp their individuality on their contributions – you never know what you’re going to get. We’ve had a huge variety already this year including Dean Owens’ American tour highlights and Track Dogs’ UK tour discoveries and we’re just over halfway through December. In this particular piece, Gerry Spehar, whose “Anger Management” album blew Allan away this year, has taken the opportunity to say thank you to some of the people that have made a difference for him in 2018. Gerry’s kept this very simple, so we’re going to respect that by not including any distracting visual images. And thank you Gerry.

 

Thank You High Fives  2018

 

Robert Mueller and the American justice system for giving me hope.

My kids, grandkids and other family for giving me roots.

Ellen for mending my broken wings.

Paul, Tommy and the other fine musicians for polishing my soul.

Geraint, Allan, Bill, Kim, Mike and other promoters, reviewers and stations for making it smile.

 

Allan is a huge fan of Rod Picott. He loves the last two albums, “Fortune” and “Out Past the Wires”, he’s seen him live and was gutted to miss Rod’s latest appearance in London in the spring of 2018. Rod can sing and play with the best but, beyond anything else, he’s a storyteller; the characters in “Out Past the Wires” will be appearing in a volume of short stories in the near future. So it’s absolutely no surprise that Rod’s High Fives for 2018 are literary picks. He’s also very thorough, so he provided all of the cover artwork to use in this piece.

 

“The Flame” – Leonard Cohen

This is Cohen’s final piece of work and in fact he died before finishing. “The Flame” is a loose collection of poems, drawings and lyrics from his later albums. Most of the drawings are of Leonard himself with his aged and jowly face surrounded by small sometimes mystical phrases. The book is revelatory in showcasing the familiar syllabic repetition in much of Leonard Cohen’s work. It’s surprising to see the rhythmic patterns emerge over and over as they bring the reader to a sort of trancelike state. The familiar themes are all here. Love, loss, sex, death, aging and the mysterious relationship Cohen had to life itself. “The Flame” is a wonderful book and an intimate look inside one of the great artistic minds of the last fifty years.

“Gone ’Til November” – Wallace Stroby

This noirish crime fiction novel grabs you from the beginning and Stroby masterfully drags the reader along into a fast-paced mystery that never lets up. This is not the kind of fiction I’m usually drawn to but the “Gone ’Til November” characters are so vivid and the story so compelling that I couldn’t put the book down. The plot unfolds much like a great film and is just as cinematic. Simply – great crime fiction worthy of Elmore Leonard comparisons.

Substitute – Nicholson Baker

The genius of Nicholson Baker can’t be overstated. “Substitute” is a 719-page memoir of Baker’s tenure as a substitute teacher in the public school system of the state of Maine. Baker does something in his writing that is absolutely unique. He writes as a person’s mind works without any nod to plot and without any hint of manipulation. It is a wild and strangely compelling trick that keeps you wondering where his words will go next. There are untamed swings of thought that keep you on your toes the entire time. “Substitute” is basically every thought Baker had during his 28 days as an on-call teacher. Baker’s observations are so sharp and his empathy so present that this project is an incredibly moving journey through what should be incredibly pedestrian territory. In lesser hands this book would never work. A stunner.

Paris Trout – Pete Dexter

This novel is straight up my alley – dark southern gothic filled with vivid intense characters and rich brilliant prose. “Paris Trout” is simultaneously dark, violent and comic and the novel goes places you do not see coming. The main character himself is a racist, wife-abusing storekeeper in the dreamy small southern town, Cotton Point, Georgia. Dexter reveals our common flawed humanity through the townspeople’s reaction to a tragic incident brought on by Trout. Such vicious narrative requires a deft hand and Dexter never leaves the reader in doubt as he drags you into deeper and deeper water.

Trampoline – Robert Gipe

This illustrated novel is a work of absolute genius. The narrative is so vivid that I can recall the story as if I have seen a film. That’s saying something. The book follows the life of wry, restless fifteen-year-old outsider Dawn Jewell. Woven into her story is a larger narrative that addresses the brutal nature of strip mining in her small Appalachian Kentucky town. Gipe’s own loose, scratchy inked illustrations are a marvel of economy and power. The drawings of Dawn are often accompanied by a few carefully chosen words that reveal her inner mind and the conflict therein. Your heart will break for Dawn as she navigates her small world and the inevitable collisions that come with her finding her way to some kind of peace inside the chaos around her. This book is a game-changer we seldom receive in fiction.