We think this will the last episode of the Allan-showing-off saga, but there are no guarantees. This time, again from a very interesting range of venues we have Allan’s selection of five favourite colour shots of female artists from 2019. And he’s managed to sneak in an extra one as well, but we think he just about gets away with it.

 

 

Basia Bartz (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

Did you know that I absolutely love Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band? I think I may have mentioned it at some point. When I got the opportunity to shoot them on a concert stage at The Roundhouse, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Each member of the band is interesting to shoot, but they often play on smaller stages where it’s difficult to pick out one person without any distracting background; not a problem at The Roundhouse. Three songs and out – also not a problem, this came from the opening song of the set and it captures the real Basia, picked out in proper stage lighting, giving it 100%.

Tori Sheard

This was the first time I saw Tori this year. The second time was a daylight gig, which was ok, but this shot was from a Caffe Nero unsigned artists night at The Bedford in Balham with proper stage lighting. Tori’s songs are gentle and contemplative and that’s the essence I was trying to capture; the moment when Tori was totally into the song and the exposure and focus pull your gaze towards her face.

Hjordis Moon Badford (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

I’ve seen this band a lot of times and never really been happy with a photo of Moon (or H as she’s also known). She’s always tucked away in some dimly-lit corner of the stage, but not this time. At The Roundhouse, there’s nowhere to hide. The backlighting around the hair was the bit that I was actually trying to do, but the beam of blue across the shot was just a bit of good luck when I had everything lined up.

Lady Oracle

Lady Oracle, or Lady O, or Nadine is the lead singer with Houndstooth, another band that I’ve shot many times now. The reason I’ve shot them so many times is that they’re incredibly interesting visually; in the words of Derek D’Souza (long-time Jam and Paul Weller photographer) there are loads of ‘blink and you miss it’ moments with the whole band. This shot was taken at the new Hard Rock Hotel at Marble Arch and I’m just going to say that the lighting there is a challenge – let’s leave it that.

Natalie Duncan

I respect Natalie Duncan hugely. She has huge talents as a writer, player and singer and is determined to pursue her own musical vision and play the game her way. The limited contact I’ve had with Natalie personally gives me the impression that the only thing she cares about is her music; anything else better just join the line. It’s been a few years since I last photographed Natalie, the opportunity to get some shots as she did a Friday lunchtime outdoor gig at Hay’s Galleria in London as part of a series of gigs arranged in conjunction with the Talentbanq organisation. The weather gods were smiling on us that day and I managed to get in close and capture some of the intensity of Natalie’s performance. If you get the technical stuff right, Natalie is one of those people that will give you the shot.

Natalie Duncan encore

Another bonus ball for you. I don’t really see this one as gig pic, but I like it. All of the Hay’s galleria gigs were staged in front of the David Kemp sculpture ‘The Navigators’, which is so striking that I knew I had to work it in to a shot somehow. It took a few minutes playing with the different angles, but the shot finally took shape. It was only ever going to work with a keyboard player, creating the impression of controlling some diabolical machine from a console in front of them. If you’re ever near London Bridge station, go and have a look at the sculpture; it’s worth a few minutes out of your day. And check out Natalie Duncan on whichever platform you use to access music.

 

Just let me be completely serious here, the whole idea of reviewing albums and gigs and doing live music photography is something I wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years ago. Whatever gods you believe in, I will thank them for this opportunity. Every album I hear or gig I go to is another bonus and I truly appreciate it; I’ve made many friends as a result of doing this and had some wonderful times. Every year for the last five years or so, I’ve had few moments that stop me in my tracks and they’re still coming. Here are a few from 2019, in no particular order.

 

Mavis Staples @The Roundhouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Mavis; that was Cornbury Festival last year. This was different; it was the full-on show, the proper gig experience. Proper soundchecks, full-length sets and not having to dash off to shoot another band after the first three songs. And it didn’t hurt that the support for Mavis’s two gigs in England was Stone Foundation, my favourite current UK soul band; they rose to the occasion, powering through a tight set and grabbing the attention of an audience that had mainly come to see Mavis as part of the Innervisions Festival. I’d managed a couple of decent shots of her at Cornbury, but you never pass up an opportunity to photograph a legend again. Three songs from the pit, including a few that I’m still happy with, and then what? Get to the mixing desk, stand in front of it and enjoy the force of nature that is Mavis Staples and her band. The songs always had power, the band are totally on it and Mavis’s voice is undimmed by age. What a night.

Interviewing Graham Parker

Bit of context here. As a student in the late seventies (I know, you work it out), I had access to a lot of gigs and I was just getting into gig photography (Olympus OM-1, if you’re interested). I spent a fair amount of time as a DJ with current MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner. As a DJ at that time in Students’ Unions, you got a lot of freebies. One of the freebies that grabbed my attention was an EP by Graham Parker called The Pink Parker EP (the original limited edition was on pink vinyl) and it ignited a life-long love of this guy’s music. He’s now one of several musicians that I’ve photographed at an interval of four decades; you get the picture, I’m a fan.

Cutting to the chase, in February of 2019, a Graham Parker tour celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the album “Squeezing Out Sparks” was announced and one of the dates was The Foxlowe Theatre in Leek, one of my favourite small theatres in one of my favourite small towns, coincidentally the current hometown of Mr Jenner. Tickets were bought and as the year went on, I thought it might be a good idea to collaborate with Steve on an interview with GP if we could swing it. Turns out (with the intervention of Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation), we could. So, on Friday October 22nd in Leek, I found myself sitting with my oldest mate Steve Jenner opposite Graham Parker with a microphone between us. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, you can listen to it here:

It’s the first time I’ve been happy to use an interview as a podcast, rather than transcribing the whole thing. It was a bit of moment.

Sam Tanner album launch @The Half Moon

Heard of Sam Tanner? You really should have, he’s the man. Sam sings, writes songs and plays keyboards, but that really doesn’t do him justice. He’s the funkiest keyboard player I’ve heard, his songs are incredibly powerful and then there’s the voice. As a keyboard player and soul singer in the UK, the obvious comparison is Paul Carrack. I’ve seen both several times and I have to say my money’s on Sam. I first got to hear of him as a member of Mollie Marriott’s band, then as member of Brother Strut (check out this Ed Sheeran cover) before bumping into him at various gigs around town. All of that talent and it turns out he’s a really nice guy as well.

For the launch gig for his solo album he pulled out all the stops (thinly-disguised organ player gag) with a full band, horn section and backing vocalists (Mollie Marriott and Izzy Chase). This was a quality line-up with the kind of players that could follow any changes and sounded incredible. Sam was on top form vocally and even dealt with audience members talking in his trademark gentle way: “If you’re going talk along, can you do it in B flat because that’s the key the next song’s in…”. Superb band, superb vocals and lovely atmosphere; I floated back to Putney station.

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band @The Forum

While I’m ‘fessing up to all the bands I love, I can’t miss out Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band. I love these people as artists and as people. In October, I saw the band three times. Each gig was special in its own way, but a support set at The Forum with a full house was a huge opportunity. The band supported Polish eighties punk band Kult who still have a huge following in the UK. It can be difficult playing support to a band with a hugely partisan following, but Dana had a secret weapon (besides having a great band). Fiddle player Basia is Polish and did various links and introductions in her home tongue, which the audience loved. It’s a fabulous feeling to see one of your favourite bands get a rapturous reception at a big gig on their own manor. I suspect I’ll be at a few more Stolen Band gigs in 2020.

Poetry

I know it seems unlikely, but I got back into poetry. Over the last few years, I’ve become a fan and friend of the songwriting colossus that is Phil Burdett. It’s been no secret that Phil’s had some issues over the last few years and working on his poetry is something that’s been therapeutic. This year, Phil published a volume of poetry and prose (it’s very good and you can buy it here) and launched it at The Railway Hotel in Southend-on Sea with a performance featuring spoken word and songs aided and abetted by his long-time collaborator Steve Stott, playing the usual mandolin and fiddle. I’d forgotten how good it is to hear poetry performed live and wasn’t remotely surprised at the way Phil aced his first live recital. And the songs with Mr Stott sounded bloody good as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Ralph Dartford supported Phil with the launch of his latest volume, “Recovery Songs” and also went down a storm. The audience was perfect; totally silent during the performances and noisily appreciative at the end of each piece

And there’s still more. A few weeks later, Ralph launched (no pun intended) his volume, “Recovery Songs” from a floating bookshop on the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross, supported by Phil and Steve. Not quite such a captive audience, but great to see people walking along the towpath stop to listen. Those two volumes are probably the first new poetry I’ve bought since “The Mersey Sound”. Another bonus was that I had the chance to have beer with some very interesting musicians, which is a theme that crops up elsewhere in these High Fives. There might be a good idea buried somewhere in that.

Nostalgia and a record

I can’t resist a bonus ball this time, inspired by the Graham Parker interview. In the same year that I first saw Graham Parker, I also saw a band from Birmingham that I’d heard a lot about, The Steve Gibbons Band. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to interview Southside Johnny at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March to discover that Steve Gibbons had been added to the bill at short notice. Forty-two years isn’t my personal record for length of time between gigs I’ve seen an artist at; it ties with Brinsley Schwarz as a member of his band and as a duo with Graham Parker, but it’s quite impressive. My options for beating that record are pretty limited now; I think it might come down to seeing Ian Gomm or Billy Rankin again – just sayin’ guys, there’s a record to be broken here… To make everything perfect on the day, the interview went really well and the gig was absolutely storming. I love this job.

All images except Phil’s book cover courtesy of yours truly.

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost a year since “Trouble Holding Back”, Helen Rose’s debut album, was released. We gave a cautious thumbs aloft despite Allan having a fit of the grumps about covers of “When the Levee Breaks”. Anyhow, Helen has kindly offered a contribution to this year’s High Fives with suggestions of the best places to watch the sun set in New Orleans. I just love the way creatives respond to this challenge. Life with this feature really is like a box of chocolates.

There is nothing like a Louisiana sunset. One of my favorite activities is sitting by the Mississippi River, listening to the bountifully deep music that echoes in the flow of this beautiful body of water. So here are 5 of my favorite ways to watch the sunset over the Mississippi:

1) Bout an hour before the sunsets head on over to Hanks, Wagners or the New Orleans Food Co-op to pick up a few bottles of Gingeroo (or any drink of course that suits your fancy- turmeric tea is a favorite of mine). Gingeroo is a  rum, ginger and sparkling cane juice drink made by our local rum distillery – Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. They now have a Strawberry-roo that makes any excuse for a day-drink beyond acceptable. Then scoot your boot on over the L9 bridge to the levee. The sounds of the kids and dogs running happily, the NATCHEZ and CREOL QUEEN river boat calliope playing, and the colors of the sky take you back to a simpler time and calm your mind- filling your heart with the wild wonder that is the city of New Orleans. We once watched a Pelican swim upstream for two hours… and you already know, from that day on our sweet Pelican has been immortalized within a song.

2) Head on over to Bayou St. John, a gorgeous local neighborhood here in N.O. then getchyerself a romantic early afternoon Mediterranean meal at Thousand Figs and a bottle of wine at Swirl (next door) and take a stroll on the bayou to enjoy the sunset and the light filtering through the Spanish moss dressed live oak trees.

3) This one is a little more daring and the timing must be right in sync with the seasons as it takes place on a busy road and you don’t want to hit traffic happy hour. The bridge over the train tracks on N. Claiborne in the St. Claude neighborhood has an impeccable view of the sunset and the surrounding neighborhoods. If you have a strong imagination and a bit of street smarts in your pocket- you can walk over the bridge imagining the sound of the cars as if they were the breeze by the river. Perhaps only for those who find beauty in industrial grunge. Recommended for those looking for a thrill rather than a relaxing sunset experience.

4) Crescent Park runs from the Bywater to the French Quarter. You can walk from Bartholomew St. to the French Market after some delicious BBQ at The Joint, brisket and mac & cheese highly recommended, they have great iced tea, cocktails and Daquaries to go along with your wandering. Take a walk over the Rusty Rainbow and visit Euclid Records and buy my album on the way.

5) A trip to Natchez, MS is a lovely way to listen to all of the new musicians you just discovered in the Crescent City and/or go back in time and dive into the music of the great musicians who graced this part of the earth and came before us influencing most of the music we love. Head on down to the bar “Under The Hill Saloon”, sit in the rocking chair and hear the riverboat play while watching the great Mississippi River as she winds down her day and sun kisses you goodnight. The musical “Showboat” was filmed here, and Mark Twain had an apartment on Silver Street under the hill. It is a deep experience indeed.

 

As you may have read in my review of Steve’s most recent book “Loud, Proud and Illegal”, he’s sold the commercial stations he part-owned to another company and found himself more ‘retired’ than he was earlier in the year. Didn’t last, though and he now finds himself presenting ‘Lovetown’, a selection of love songs, for a couple of hours between 11PM and 1AM five nights a week on Staffordshire Moorlands FM community station Moorlands Radio before flipping over to the digital-only service on Moorlands Xtra for the  next two hours. Not only that but another couple of nascent stations have offered him the same slot on their stations, provisional upon them being awarded licenses next year, in effect syndicating his show in different parts of the country and others are showing an interest. 

In order to celebrate this he’s listed fifty of his fave FM-friendly love songs on his ‘Broadcast Brothers’ Facebook page. Not being one overburdened with the work ethic these days, he’s sent the top five from this list in as his ‘Lovetown’ High Five this year.

 

5.Brenda Russell: “Piano in the Dark”

Very, very spooky this. This was the tune that was playing as I left the car headed for the Clifton tower block flat where I came within minutes of being Done for pirate broadcasting. (See Broadcast Brothers: On the Radio). It was also the scene of a weird one. The Clifton flats studio was draped in copious amounts of white material to deaden the sound a bit; and they only moved when the doors opened to let in the next presenter. So if those drapes moved significantly, you knew someone had just been admitted to the premises – and if this was unannounced, it was scarper time. I was playing this late one night coming towards the end of a show long forgotten now, with the legendary Josh in the studio with me feeding me the ad tapes. Suddenly, the drapes billowed, and we looked at each other…there was no-one to let anyone in, and neither of us had. ‘Funny,’ said the sadly now-departed Josh. ‘That happened the other night when we played this as well……’ Atmospheric, beautifully recorded (is that Michael McDonald I can hear in back?) and boy does she ‘sell’ this song. And with the tinkling of those ghostly ivories, every time I hear this I can’t help but think of all the pirate presenters and ‘staff’ who are no longer with us. And they are legion.

4.The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows”

The first line of the lyrics is the most complete statement I’ve ever heard about the Lurv Thang in a song. You’ve got the strength balanced against the vulnerability; you’ve got the conviction versus the doubt. And you’ve also got the greatest production genius ever to draw breath, Brian Wilson, dragging all sorts of kit in through the studio door to deliver something where the marriage between killer tune, bullseye lyrics and sympathetic production has never, ever, seemed closer. It is perfect.

 

3.Linda Jones: “(For) Your Precious Love”

This was recorded by Jerry Butler of The Impressions in his usual controlled and dignified fashion. It was a decent sized US hit and their version is well worth a listen. But oh my my, approach this version with asbestos gloves. This is anything but dignified and in control. This is THE ‘torch song’ incarnate. This woman sounds absolutely driven beyond the normal compass of human emotion. The scream approaching the end is just brutal and she nearly loses control of the whole thing in the last few bars. Again I say DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS if you are doing break-up numbers. And do not listen if you’ve had a drink. It is quite rare now as a vinyl and you will have all on to find it in this country but it is all over t’internet. Biographical detail; she died at the age of 27 whilst sleeping between shows at the Harlem Apollo at her mum’s house. A long-time diabetic, she may well have slipped into a diabetic coma.

2.The Righteous Brothers: “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”

This is the most played record on American radio, ever. Let me say that again. Most. Played. US Radio. Can you even begin to imagine how much this has grossed? But you can see why within the first few bars. It is all there. The sullen accusation, the descending scale on the brass and strings, the doom – laden ‘wall of sound’ courtesy of Phil Spector and company, the despairing admission to himself that no matter what he does, It Is Over. The interplay between the near – hysterical falsetto of the late Bobby Hatfield – chalk another one off due to the Peruvian Marching Powder – and the deep, aching heartbreak of Bill Medley playing off against each other and the final ‘breakdown’ of the orchestra arrangement before the end you’ve got an immortal three minutes or so; even though you know the final plea ‘Bring Back – That Lovin’ Feelin’ has and will fall upon ears that have already gone deaf.

1.Billy Paul: Me and Mrs. Jones.

‘We gotta thiiiiing going on’. Billy Paul pulls off the impossible here. On the face of it here, this is a seedy little tale about some furtive and probably sordid mutual extra – marital. And yet. The problem here is that you can’t help but be dragged into the tension, the yearning, the hurt and the difficult decisions. So much so that you find yourself identifying with and sympathising with the protagonists, against your better nature. Without Billy Paul’s stella vocal performance, which would have been reduced to the very ordinary by the classic ‘Barry White’-style delivery, this would have been just so-so and you be excused for walking away from it saying ‘serves ‘em right’. But the jazz tones in his staccato, top-end delivery mesh so beautifully with the near-glissando string arrangements, which meld with the horn section and just drift effortlessly with little sprinkles of audio angel dust here and there. And then there are the backing vocals to consider. How can anyone imbue the word ‘Thiiiiing….’ with so much soul power. Part jazz, part soul, all Philly dreamboat, this, for me, is the best FM radio love song of all time. Released in 1972, it got to number 12 in the UK top 40 and number 1 on Billboard in the US. Billy Paul died about three years ago, aged 80. But, I suspect for many years to come, he will still have a thiiing going on.

Quick footnote: Our guess is that you’ll know four of these songs really well. If you haven’t heard the Linda Jones song you really should listen to it; it has the power of Millie Jackson at her very best. Obviously, as Steve says, don’t listen if you’re feeling fragile.

 

 

A producer, a photographer and two musicians walk into a pub. Sorry, there isn’t a punchline to this; it’s just what happened. A quick pre-Christmas beer with some music business friends to chew the fat; what do you think we talked about? As always with these semi-unplanned sessions something good came out of it. We’ll leave it to Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with the band Deep Blue Sea to tell the story, enhancing it with some music trivia. You might want to start this piece whenyou have about an hour to spare because it’s a bit addictive, especially after Riot Towers made a contribution,

 

Sitting in The New Cross House pub the other night with Allan McKay (something that could very easily become habit forming), we were talking about his series of guest articles “High Fives” in Music Riot – sign up now if ya haven’t already!

I’ve written a few before and always like rambling on about whatever, so I was happy to quickly volunteer to write one for this Christmas – even before Allan gave me my first pressie of the year – even if I had no idea what to waffle on about.

We were with Iago Banet, a guitarist from a band that I’ve heard are not that bad and we were talking about a gig we did a few weeks ago. Our singer, Dre Smith, had lost her voice and we were doing the gig as a 3 piece – playing songs we’d never played before. I proudly boasted that I’d sang the entire lyric to “Blinded By The Light” by Brucie without a single rehearsal. Allan asked if I liked Manfred Mann’s version or the original best, then Iago reminded me that after 3 attempts we’d had to abandon “All Along The Watchtower” because I kept getting the first line wrong!!! Pride comes before…

Anyway, this conversation led to the topic of this High Five.

Five covers that I think are better than the original.

Only my opinion here – but when I got to thinking about it – there’s maybe 20 or 30 I could muse about. So, I thought I’d kick it off with two people who I consider to be un-betterable – but concede that in these two occasions, they are bettered.

 

Song 1

All Along The Watchtower – Bob Dylan – Jimi Hendrix

OK, if you know me at all, you may have heard me at sometime mention the name Bob Dylan. He’s the cat, the verbal acrobat-tery, the lyrical dexterity and temerity in all sincerity. A couple of weeks ago we were playing Bude R&B Festival, which involved a good 4 hour drive back and forth. Amanda Dal, our wonderful drummer, asked me, unprompted, to play the three albums Bob recorded in 1965 that “invented Rock Music as we know it”. Much to Iago’s horror. So we had a great journey back and forth listening to Bob. It’s Amanda’s turn next, so I am going to get 4 hours of singer songwriter LP. The fact that she’s a ringer for Bob makes me favourable disposed to her from the get go – so – I’m ok with this!

Anyway, some people say (fools that they are) that any cover of a Bob song is going to be better than Bob’s version. BUT THEY ARE WRONG!!!! This has only ever happened once in the whole wide universe since the beginning of time. And only one person could a done it. Jimi. Y’know, I’d love to be able to wipe the tape and hear Jimi’s version of Watchtower again for the first time. Can you remember that moment? I can’t. But listen to it now. The swagger, the invention, the sass, the sheer coolness.  Four minutes of perfect cool. If Jimi hadn’t recorded it, would we remember the original? Was it just a fairly average track on a subdued and pared back album from Bob who might have been wondering at the time where he was going next. Recorded in 1967 after the “fall” it was a total turn away from the more blues inspired electric albums and a return to his more folkie side, but Jimi took this track, rocked it up, funked it up and delivery to my mind one of the greatest little guitar pop songs of all time.

Oh, BTW, the title of Bob’s album, John Wesley Harding. It was named after a Texan outlaw of that name – only they spelled it wrong!!! He was called John Wesley Hardin.

Compare and contrast:

 

Song 2

Nothing Compares 2U – Prince – Sinead O’Connor

I was a big Prince fan. Still miss the guy. He might have had demons and might have been just a tad obsessed but look at the catalogue of pop songs. Inventive, fun, joyous, rude, rock and raunch and lovesexy. He made pop a bit dangerous, a lot of fun and a lot of cool – combined a bit of Jimi, a bit of Marc, a bit of James Brown and a lot of genius. Until Sinead covered this song I would not have thought anyone could touch the little chap at his own game. I kinda thought Prince songs were indelibly stamped with Prince’s logo. You can’t touch this….

I wuz wrong. The frailty and fragile nature of the song fits Sinead and both somehow meld. She is the song, the song is her. That just doesn’t happen very often – if at all. That revolting phrase “you owned it” churned out on brain dead TV talent shows ad nauseam for once applies. You can’t think of the song without thinking of Sinead and vice versa. They might be so entwined that it overshadows her career.

OK, that’s two down and just to sum them up, nobody else has done a cover of a Prince song better than Prince and ditto Bob. Argue away, I’m not listening.

Compare and contrast:

Song 3

With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles – Joe Cocker

This is weird. The Beatles FFS? The greatest band ever. The greatest song writing partnership of the 20th century. The band that wrote the book (and the sequel). Have you heard some of the covers? “Hey Jude, Hey Bing”? Trust me, it was an album. My dad had it. Can you imagine the scene in our house? He was a jazz musician and I think he made this one attempt to be down with his son. He’d spent some futile time trying to tell me that all of this pop music stuff was nonsense and real music would eventually come into its own and Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington et al would be on Top of the Pops (Pops in this case being hep cat chat for Dads). Suffice to say most covers are cheesy in the extreme or just for shock value with nothing of value added. From Matt Monroe to Siouxsie Sioux. But, Joe? That voice. That presence. That simple honesty and stripped back truth. It’s a song, dare I say, that Paul didn’t really think was the Dog’s Bs so he suggested that Ringo sang it as a little bit of fun “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” and the whimsy fitted the feel of Sgt Peppers. But it was far from a stand-out track.

Now, fast forward a mere year or so. On stage at Woodstock and Joe says “the title of this song says it all”. The song is imbued with something more. A part of the hippy dream is captured in the performance. It’s a time piece. Oh and that voice? Come on. Just go have a listen. Band ain’t too bad either.

Song 4

Respect – Otis Redding – Aretha Franklin

Like Joe, this cover takes the song into places the original didn’t. Like the others too I guess. But with this one, you start pretty high up – with that voice, Otis. A voice that can quite easily make you cry. My Girl? Try A Little Tenderness? I Been Loving You Too Long? I’m tearing up now. And I’m a tough guy…

But Aretha takes a lyric that just might veer towards a bit misogynistic these days – y’know, man works all day – comes home to little lady cooking for him and expects a bit of R – E – S – P – E – C – T – and she makes it the first bona fide feminist mega hit defining moment of the decade. Oh yeah, and it was her major first hit after 10 years fighting against “the man”!!

What Aretha did changed the world. A cover version of a pop song changed the world? Yes, that’s what I said. Made a massive difference to the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. The impact of this little pop song can’t be ignored. That’s how deep my love is.

Oh, BTW, Otis didn’t really like the cover – but learned to live with it when the dosh rolled in – and also – listen to his version – most people think the lyric “R – E – S – P – E – C – T find out what it means to me” is part of the original.

Song 5

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Robert Hazard – Cyndi Lauper

For years I’d thought Prince wrote this especially for Cyndi. Someone told me some Fake News and I never questioned it. It’s a great song and it seemed believable. It’s my wife’s favourite “getting ready for Friday Night” song – so I had to include it for her.

There’s not a great deal to say about it other than, in Cyndi’s hands and voice, it’s perfect pop. In Robert Hazards? Well, have a listen to the song below. My main question is, How did Cyndi hear this very very average song and say “I can make this song a mega hit that will last generations and become Graeme’s wifes’ favourite “getting ready for Friday Night song” for all time”? I dunno the answer but one thing I will point out is, the song lasts 2 minutes and 30 seconds and the actual track lasts 4 minutes and 30 seconds. And by strange coincidence, when my wife says she’ll be ready in 15 minutes… you can fill in the rest.

Just before I trot off to have a mince pie, there were a couple of things I considered but rejected and hopefully some of these will incite you to invective 🙂

  1. Leonard Cohen covers – it’s easy to say other people sing them better than Lenny. That’s not the point. We can all say a photograph of a tree looks more like a tree than a Van Gogh painting of a tree. I don’t know where I’m going with that – other than Lenny is the Van Gogh of pop – funny, sad, dark, deep, tortured and Chaplinesque – there’s a crack in everything – that’s how Lenny gets in. I like his cracks. In his house there are many flaws – all of them interesting.
  2. Led Zeppelin – when you actually claim to have written all your covers yourselves – it doesn’t apply.
  3. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a gravelly voice – don’t be silly (Sir Rodney).
  4. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a lovely voice – as above.
  5. The Blues – it’s totally impossible to compare Crossroads – Robert Johnson to Cream. Both are wonderful in their own way – and I bet you can think of lots more examples. So, off you go, your challenge is now to name 5 blues songs that have brilliant originals and brilliant – but significantly different – covers.

Many thanks to Allan for allowing me to stop work for 3 hours to write this 🙂

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, if the fates allow.

Cheers

Graeme

Written before the election December 2019 (I might not be in such a frivolous mood after that).

Sorry Graeme, but we need to have the last word here (not about the election, not even going there), especially after squeezing in two High Fives in one piece, but we did mention another song, which was a band covering their own song. Thin Lizzy’s “Nightlife” version of “Still In Love With You” should have pushed all the buttons as a duet between Phil Lynott and the wonderful Frankie Miller, but it was a bit of a mid-tempo plodder. Someone obviously worked out that it was a potential anthem, slowed it down, stuck a truly wonderful Brian Robertson solo in there and, voila, rock classic.

Well, we’re hoping to bring you some great photos from some of the best live music photographers on the circuit as part of this High Fives season, but until then you’ll have to make do with another selection from our resident snapper, Allan McKay. This time he’s picked out a selection of colour shots of male performers from a widely varying range of venues.

 

 

John Crimes (Jaxhill)

This was taken at Leek Blues and Americana festival in October of this year. This is a great community event staffed by volunteers and features a stack of free events in the town’s pubs (there are a few of those) plus a small number of ticketed events, over a period of 6 days. The smaller events are interesting because they don’t usually have any stage lighting, so it’s about playing the hand you’re dealt. Turning away from singer Mike Gledhill, I noticed that John was beaming out this 100—megawatt smile. Press the shutter button and there you go.

Maceo Parker

This shot was from Maceo’s show at The Roundhouse as part of the Innervisions Festival in 2019. Why do I like this festival? Easy, you can go home at the end of each gig, have a shower and sleep in your own bed. This shot was a combination of planning and luck. I saw Maceo place the wooden ‘Love’ sculpture on the stage and thought that there must be a way of working it in to a shot. After trying the sculpture on its own and as an out-of-focus foreground, Maceo walked to the back of the stage and there was the shot. I like to take away a lesson from every gig. The lesson here was that LED stage lighting and a shaven head isn’t a great combination.

Martin Harley

Leek Blues and Americana again, and this was the first ticketed event of the festival at the wonderful and intimate Fowlowe Theatre. I’ve photographed Martin before, but usually in much smaller venues, acoustic, and with upright bass player Daniel Kimbro. This time he was leading an electric trio and, apart from the Weissenborn songs, playing standing. The combination of those things with the heavily-modified Stratocasters created opportunities for some images that were very different from past gigs. And there’s a bit of the lead guitarist thing going on there as well. Combine that with decent stage lighting and you’ve got a shot.

Lewis Bewley-Taylor (Hardwicke Circus)

Hardwicke Circus is cracking young band from Carlisle with great songs, bags of energy and presence, and a hint of early seventies-era Stones. They’re managed by the legendary Dave Robinson and they’re always worth seeing live. This shot was from the newly-refurbished Bedford in Balham. It’s always had a reputation as a great music venue and it has one huge bonus for photographers; it has a balcony over the back part of the stage allowing you to shoot from above, which works well for drummers and keyboard players. The shot was made by the seventies prog-rock setup and the carpet and the use of an unusual viewpoint. You really want a bit of trivia don’t you? The band’s name is taken from a traffic island in Carlisle.

Jim Maving (Dean Owens and The Southerners)

Taken at The Exchange Theatre in Twickenham. Jim is a stunningly good guitar player who has spent some time recently working live with Dean Owens and Tom Collison. Jim isn’t keen on being photographed, but was good enough to tell me that he liked the shots I’d done at this gig. The thing that I really like about this shot is that it captures some of the intensity of Jim’s playing and the purple stage lighting (not normally my favourite) works really well with Jim’s silver hair.

 

You may have heard this before, but one of the things we love about this feature is that musicians and creative artists generally will always put their own spin on it, as we quickly realized seven years ago when this feature started. Allan reviewed Kristina Stykos’s album “River of Light” in April this year and loved it. Kristina has a studio background, so we’d kind of expect some studio-related favourites from her. We weren’t disappointed with this insight in to the recording process she specializes in. And this one goes all the way to eleven (well six actually) – we did warn you about these creatives.

 

For the DIY musician who doubles as his or her own recording engineer, here are my five “must-have” items for the studio, plus a bonus.

 

HP Mixers

A frustrated band mate in headphones is your worst enemy. Don’t let anyone ever yell at you again that they need more … anything. With these five handy knobs, care of Furman, each musician can design their own custom headphone mix, and turn themselves up until it’s distorted, if that’s what they prefer. Set it up in advance in Pro Tools and, voila. You’ll save your hearing … and your sanity.

 

Clipboards

I can’t emphasize enough the usefulness of old fashioned clipboards to organize handwritten notes during sessions. Paper and pen are always the most reliable tools for jotting down quirky issues, superlative takes and guerrilla settings. Your computer doesn’t remember everything, nor should it have to. There is nothing worse than that feeling of “What the heck did we do?”, after the fact.

 

Guitar Picks

After years of recording guitars, you probably have collected a lot of guitar picks off the floor. This lovely origami-paper pick box never ceases to delight. When someone can’t find their own pick, the mood is one of serving hors d’oeuvres. And as you can see, a pick box also doubles as a receptacle for dice, dog licenses, and antique NYC subway tokens.

 

String Gauge Chart

I try to be helpful if someone has just broken a string. Time is of the essence in the studio, and when the mood is right, no one likes being the one holding things up. But for some reason, not all packaged strings tell you what note they are. If you want to be smarter than the average guitar player, this cheat sheet will help you avoid falling prey to unnecessary moments of awkward confusion.

 

Album Plaques

Discmakers used to offer these plaques free to studio partners, as a “thank-you” for doing business with their New Jersey manufacturing plant. Well, like everything else in life, once they’d hooked us on the idea, they started charging for them. Although it pisses me off, I always buy one, to visually commemorate the arduous journey that completing an album represents. Everyone who comes in the studio loves to look at them.

 

To-Do List (bonus) 

In case of boredom, or so that we don’t take ourselves too seriously as artists, we keep this to-do list in the tracking room. It reminds us of the many things yet to do, and look forward to, that have nothing to do with anything music related.

Our most regular contributor Steve Jenner, did a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll pilgrimage in late 2019 to get back to the roots of the music he loves, both as a listener and a radio presenter. Here’s his take on his favourite destinations on the tour taking in the rhythm ‘n’ blues and rock ‘n’ roll landmarks of America’s South.

 

 

STAX, Memphis

The heavyweight champion as far as I’m concerned. The range of exhibits is just breathtaking, the stunning range of photographs, the specific instruments which grace the museum, the fact that they’ve got a restored version of the jukebox I have in my house…and the fact that the building itself just reeks of the opportunity it represented as an oasis of creativity and inter-racial harmony, the unifying factor being music, makes this place a pilgrimage, an education and a re-affirmation of the love which brings you here in the first place. Flight cases stamped ‘Isaac Hayes Movement’. Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s bass, Steve Cropper’s Telecaster. The pride with which WattStax is celebrated tells you all you need to know. This is the label where uncompromising soul music finally ‘gotten over’. Sell your goods and chattels and GO. The facility continues to do sterling work in the community changing lives for the better; but get selfish here. You WILL enrich your own life.

 

Sun Studios, Memphis

It would be sooooeasy for this to disappoint….but it doesn’t. Still a working studio, it actually feels like it. Not sure why they feel the need to play a Van Halen track as you ascend the stairs to the studio and small exhibition but once you’re up there…oh man. Where else are you likely to be within touching distance of a white-label demo of the first rock ‘n’ roll 78 RPM record, ever (Jackie Brenston, “Rocket 88” and I’ll brook no argument on this one.) The kit, the instruments…the room itself…and THAT microphone. The one the originators lit the blue touch paper to the cultural revolution with. Go, wait until the guide leaves the room, grasp the mic that launched a million hits and sing, as badly as you will, at least one line of a lyric that was recorded there. For me it was the first line from Billy Lee Riley’s “Red Hot”. Choose your weapon. And you will never feel the same again. I feel like some gold dust came off that mic and it hasn’t worn off yet and I don’t think it ever will.

Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Memphis

It takes the breath away. The range and depth of artefacts alone would reduce a grown man to tears if they were piled up in the corner under an old tarpaulin but the presentation, sequencing and ‘staging’ of the exhibits means you can hardly tear your eyes away from anything, anywhere. From huge chunks of ancient radio station to detailed explanations of how key artists ‘became’, you just can’t afford to miss this one and it makes a Transatlantic trip worth the ticket price alone. And then you step outside and you’re a couple of hundred yards from Beale Street. And you are walking with your feet ten feet off.

Gracelands, Memphis

I expected this to be much, much more tacky and a lot less interesting but still felt I just had to go. ‘I have reason to believe we all will be received in Gracelands’, right? Well, yes but it just shows what I know. Gracelands, the house, was actually a monument to a remarkably ‘normal’ life and if we disregard the loads of cars and a couple of planes, otherwise what might seem a reasonable wish list of toys for a top-end lawyer. And it seems quite small, ridiculous although that statement may appear, but very homely in a ‘seventies’ sort of way. Absolutely fascinating; and the garden of rest, where his mother, father and other family members are committed along with Presley’s remains is a real place of peace and reflection. The museum needs more energy than you’ve got in the Memphis heat to get through it all; and the range of costumes, cars, toys and paraphernalia is mind-boggling. House might be relatively modest…but he liked his transportation toys, did Elvis. And the costumes tell the story of the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll icon…who eventually went more ‘showbiz’ than showbiz itself. The true price of fame on an unprecedented scale, displayed alongside the attendant rewards; a parable for our times which sadly, many STILL don’t seem to have understood.

RCA Studio B, Nashville

Despite not being the greatest devotee of Jim Reeves, it cannot be denied that RCA Studio ‘B’ in Nashville has seen the recording of more hits than most big labels see in a lifetime from all sources. Most of Elvis’s biggest sellers were recorded here. Dolly Parton, Bobby Goldsboro, Charley Pride…on and on it goes. And once again you can cut the ‘atmosphere’ with a knife. I DID hear, and sense, the ghost of Elvis here. It was a throwback to 4AM, April 4th, 1960 when Elvis was recording “Are You Lonesome Tonight” here…in the dark. Ask her nicely and the studio guide will throw the light switch off and play you the original reel-to-reel of the original recording. ‘Saw the ghost of Elvis…then I watched him walk right through…’

All photos courtesy of Sue Jenner.

This witness protection programme isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; we managed to find our arch-miserablist in a pub in Basildon this week just in time to get his opinions on the perfect storm of the end of a decade and a general election. We blew the whole years’ hospitality budget on Stella and rum and black, but we think it was worth it. Just a word of warning, there’s some fairly fruity adult language here. And it’s an opinion (or set of opinions) from one end of the political spectrum. If anyone wants to reply to this with opposing viewpoints, we’ll happily publish it. Let’s light the blue/red touchpaper and go.

Really; it’s been ten years of Tory misrule. Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? And it looks like the narrative is ‘Everything’s screwed; vote for us to unscrew it’. But didn’t you just screw it up in the first place? ‘Get Brexit Done’ – because about 39% of the eligible electorate voted for Brexit. That’s not anything close to a majority. And how many of those were conned by the £350m a week back into the NHS – I’m calling BS here. Forget about the fact that benefits come back into the UK economy from the EU. The aim of the Tories always is and always has been to systematically unpick the welfare state in general and the NHS in particular. You were conned and now the extremists have been given the upper hand. What do I think of that?

And what about the head knob, the unelected Prime Minister who suspends Parliament when it suits his agenda, can’t remember how many kids he has, buys water cannons that are illegal in this country that have to be scrapped at a huge loss and approves grants for British businesses to his American ‘friend’. You’ve all been conned by a toff who takes nothing seriously and only ever does anything if it benefits Bojo the Clown. He doesn’t care about you, or your friends, or your family. All he wants is your vote. As John Cooper-Clarke said ‘They can’t find a good word for you. I can; twat.’
And the skulking coward refuses to do interviews with journalists who might give him a bad time. He even hides in a fridge to avoid an interview with the arch-Tory sympathiser, Piers Morgan. Just the kind of person that you want to have as Prime Minister, yeah?
Over to you, Brian, Freddie, John and Roger:

The Tory cabinet; yeah, we can all feel that we’re represented there, can’t we? What a bunch of Matt Gossers. I mean, it’s difficult to pick out a lead Jeremy Hunt here, but the front runner has to be the bad Dickens caricature, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Yeah, the one who has a little nap on the front bench during a crucial debate. You think he cares about someone on Universal Credit in Hartlepool? No, if you’ve read this far, you obviously don’t. Have you noticed that he’s been seriously inconspicuous during this election campaign. Why do you think that is? J R-M, this one’s for you:

Spin, fake news, alternative facts. It’s strange how these are mostly coming from the blue side of the electoral divide (88% apparently). Who’s funding it, who’s really spreading it? We’ll probably never know, but there was a bit of official reaction from Dominic Raab (resigner, not remoaner) when the Tories changed their Twitter account to make it look like an independent fact-checking site. He said “no one gives a toss about social media cut and thrust”. FYI Dom, I do give a toss; I think most of my friends do too. Graham Parker did as well, when he wrote this very prophetic song about four years ago:

What do all of these privileged muppets have in common? They have absolutely no understanding of the life that we all lead every day – zero, nada, zilch, sweet FA (and that’s not the Football Association or Fanny Adams). This is all a game where they make decisions and don’t have to live with the consequences. Real life isn’t about making a point with a soundbite in a debate and looking smug about it. Most of us don’t spend our lives in the Oxford Union and the decisions that are made by this privileged bunch affect all of us. Here’s their theme song:

Merry Christmas and it’s your round. Stella and rum and black’s fine, thinks.

Jess Klein’s album “Back to my Green” was released in February 2019, which seems like a really long time ago now. We loved it then and we love it still, which is why we were really pleased when Jess agreed to contribute to our 2019 High Fives feature. Here are some of Jess’s highpoints from 2019. Bit of a spoiler here, the last one might make you think you have something in your eye.

 

Touring Florida

In January, I went on tour in Florida. I hadn’t toured Florida in a couple years and never outside of Tampa. The venues were all new to me and I had no idea what to expect – would anyone show up? It turned out my friend, the songwriter Grant Peeples (who had also connected me with some of the venues) told a bunch of people to come see me play. John Fullbright, who was touring Florida the prior week, mentioned my name to his audience from the stage and told them that they should come see me. Thanks to one of the promoters, WMNF in Tampa invited me on air twice in one weekend. WSLR in Sarasota pushed my show there. Every show was packed. Those were just gifts my fellow songwriters, the promoters and radio DJ’s decided to give me. They didn’t have to. I came home feeling so blessed. Creative community is powerful.

 

David Byrne’s American Utopia tour

Seeing David Byrne’s American Utopia tour: a 12-piece band playing and dancing like one rhythmic body, led by lanky, quirky David Byrne. “Burning Down the House”, “Road to Nowhere”, “Once in a Lifetime”…They covered Janelle Monae’s tribute to black lives lost to police brutality, “Hell You Talmbout”.   Byrne and his incredible band created something even bigger than the sum of their parts. My brain was screaming, “Look what humans can do!!!” It felt like the roof was about to blow off.  

 

First Sunday Revue

My husband, Mike June and I launched the “First Sunday Revue” here in Hillsborough, North Carolina where we live. The first Sunday of each month, we get our band together and play a no-cover afternoon gig at our local, the Nash St. Tavern. Nash St. is on the divier side, the sound is weird, it is not fancy. But I have never felt so loved as I do when we play these shows. People come every month, they bring their friends, they dance (all folksingers know, getting an audience to dance is a rarity). They yelp and cheer for more and leave looking happier than when they came in. We do too.

 

Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat

In October, I taught at the Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat in Nashville. The twelve students and three teachers (Wyatt Easterling, Korby Lenker and I) all stayed in one big country house outside of town. It was 24-7 writers and writing. You literally could not avoid the creativity and inspiration with so much of it flying around. Wyatt, Korby and I co-wrote a song together and it’s pretty damn good. Getting paid to just talk about what I love to do, and to help other songwriters through their processes was like a dream come true for me. I could do that all day every day.

 

Mike June

A couple weeks ago, I came home after a long, exhausting day. It was part of a long, exhausting week. Mike June sat me down and said, “I wrote a song about you today”. He walked over to the piano and played something so beautiful and simple and loving, all the crap fell away. That’s love. He had also cooked my favorite dinner (roast chicken with potatoes and Brussel sprouts). I was a mushy mess, realizing I have this human being as my partner. Love is everything.