I have to introduce this one myself; I’ve known Steve J since our first day at University in Dundee. You’ll be able to read about it in his memoir coming up soon, and possibly mine when I create a spare few weeks to write it (so not in the immediate, then…). We have a lot of things in common, but love of music is right up at the top of the list. I’ve loved Steve longer than I’ve loved my wife (and that’s a long, long time) and I’m flattered that he’s given me a couple of mentions here. No money changed hands but there was the matter of a copy of “Eminent Hipsters”, although I think he earned that for his lovely speech at my significant birthday a few weeks ago where he even surprised me when he said that I’d done a DJ support for John Peel in Dundee. How do you forget you’ve done that? Anyway, I always love to read his work so here you go (oh, it’s Allan, by the way, but you’ll work that out anyway). Take it away Mr J:

It’s been an odd year. Because I haven’t been around as much as I would like to have been due to various personal stuff and because of various things that have happened, I’ve not been as receptive to new music as I might have normally been and so I found myself going back. Way back…..and remembering stuff.

The Sweet

I’ve reviewed this so I won’t spend ages repeating myself. Read the review from the Holmfirth Picturedrome. If you want to inhale the seventies, hold it in and exhale slowly, have a night out with this bunch. We Just Haven’t Got A Clue What To Do. It’s ugly, a bit awkward, exuberant and a bit tacky. It’s a Teenage Rampage Now. Now. Now…..Rebel Rebel…

The Doobie Brothers (Photo by Dan Harr/Invision/AP)

The Doobie Brothers

A lot is said about Americans. Some of it is very critical. Some of it is very fair. Some of it misses the things they are Really Good At. You want sparkling, harmonically – perfect, every single tune you want we’ll play, give the people what they want magical, without a note out of place, without a single bedraggled harmony, with a repertoire which would embarrass The Eagles, these are the lads. Oh my God it was perfect. Even when the house lights at the O2 decided to send a subliminal message to the massed ranks of 50 something males to go for a pee, they still came on and slaughtered 20,000 with pitch perfect “Listen to the Music” and “Long Train Runnin’”. Time in a Bottle.

Roy Wood

One of the great joys of being a director of a couple of commercial radio stations is on the odd occasion you get a good lig. Roy Wood was kind enough to open our Derbyshire Dales / Staffordshire station, Ashbourne Radio in 2008. He lived nearby at the time and as we’d virtually had a standing order to buy his singles in the seventies, we were just overwhelmed to be sitting next to him and shooting the breeze with him whilst preparing to play “Flowers in the Rain” by the Move just as Radio One had for their first tune. Didn’t quite work out that way due to technical reasons which are part of a forthcoming book, as it turned out; but anyway, we were delighted to be Roy’s guests at the Buxton Opera House a few weeks back.

Once onstage he explained to us that he’d fallen for that 4 – saxophone rock n roll thing, hence the rock n roll band – and it was for life. Jeff Lynne clearly thought otherwise and went all fiddles and everything and fair play to him – it did, after all, work out Quite Well. But you can just see the parting of the ways in that simple transaction; you do the strings and stuff, I’ll do the saxophones and we’ll see how it pans out. See you, mate. And so The Move split and became ELO and Roy Wood’s Wizzard.

But first…..’Going to a Party, meet me on after school…..’ and Roy hits the audience with The Move’s 1972 top five hit, “California Man”. Straight off the back of that into ‘Ball Park Incident’ – and we’re off and running.  Yes of course he plays bloody Christmas Everyday, what do you want for your money? But it’s a whole lot more than that. Great musicianship from a band who can really rock n roll and a guy who really understands how it works. A master musician, still turning his trick with pride and rightly so; and hugely, hugely respected by those who feel just every now and then, we Brits did actually get to the very heart of the matter. I mean. Did you ever hear a better impersonation of Bill Haley and the Comets than “Are You Ready to Rock?” With bagpipes?

Graham Parker

Very weird, this. MusicRiot Ubersnapper Mr A McKay and I saw this guy in action in Scotland when we were DJing there back in the seventies – we did a support gig with him and Allan took some ace shots of him in action.  We also sat with him and the rest of The Rumour – his stunningly soulful band – whilst he watched himself on Top of the Pops singing “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions” in the TV lounge in the venue before he went on. Which is a very strange feeling.

Even stranger as we both watched him performing as Special Guest of Stone Foundation at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire a mere 40 years later. He negotiated his way through a back-catalogue of his greatest hits and should-have-been-hits, in an acoustic stylee, and then came on during the final stages of Stone Foundation’s victorious headline appearance to light up the proceedings with a blistering version of ‘(I’m Gonna’) Tear Your Playhouse Down’, courtesy of Ann Peebles via Paul Young.

This was a classic case of ‘it’s the songs, stupid’. Much though Graham Parker is a great singer and can wrangle the soul out of a lyric like few others, at the time he was accused of writing chants and slogans rather than songs. Oh, really? Try “You Can’t Be Too Strong”, or “White Honey”. He had hits, he toured successfully, he did all the stuff you’d expect a successful writer and musician to do. But he was undoubtedly sold short by a music business that didn’t quite know what to do with him. I profoundly hope that one day soon, whilst he remains the sprightly and able musician he is now, he will tour with a full-on soul band with a wicked horn section, cracking rhythm section and all that that implies. Whether or not that means a reformation of The Rumour remains to be seen. Never say never again. Please.

Donald Fagen

A night out with Mr McKay to the O2 as part of an amazing cultural long weekend with the maestro of the telephoto. We had both been fans of the darkly amusing Don and Walt show since probably about 1972 when we both bought copies of the life – changing ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Rikki Don’t Loser That Number’ a year or so later. ‘Send it off in a letter to yourself’ i.e. post yourself a joint, you’re unlikely to get nicked.

Funny.

He’s in his late sixties now and his long time partner in crime, Walter Becker, has just died. ‘That’s something I’m just gonna have to live with’, he explains to us at the O2 with typical understatement (with huge undercurrents.)

Send It Off In A Letter To Yourself.

Donald Fagen’s newly ‘solo’ Steely Dan ‘Organisation’ is a sort of jazz/funk  collective which regularly kicks into gear and plays extremely direct and passionate ‘Dan’ classics; occasionally it meanders around, jazz noodles a bit, picks up the thread, plays a stunning version of Fagen’s solo “New Frontier”, and strips the paint off of “Peg”. I can’t help feeling the lack of “Do It Again” and “Rikki” should be punishable by at least a mild flogging and not performing “FM – No Static At All” whilst in the presence of broadcasting royalty is of course unforgivable. However  and despite Fagen’s understandable breathlessness, they blast through “My Old School” with something approaching venom and give “Reeling In The Years” a poignant and heartfelt airing which brought more than the odd tear to the eye, I’ll tell thee. Ironically.

Have you had enough of mine?

Fair enough. The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand.

Steve Jenner December 2017

Mike & the Mechanics ScrollerValentine’s Night in Buxton. You can’t get a table for a pre-concert meal without somebody thrusting a bunch of roses up your nose and insisting sir has the pink almond parfait cluster as a starter and you can’t get to the bar for snoggers, both the partnered and the furtive. Why do we keep foisting these ridiculous American celebrations of nothing in particular upon ourselves? Anyone for Black Friday….!

Gratitude, then, that tonight there’s a very trad Brit serving at the Opera House and not some awful American import. Bah, humbug.

Ben McKelvey has the task of opening for the rude mechanicals tonight and he’s clearly still trying to get over the shock of being asked to do so. His debut album “Life and Love in England” did rather well on the I-Tunes songwriter chart and you can see why. There are a couple or three contenders in his short set, hammered out with gusto and conviction on acoustic guitar, voice and tea-chest, including the rather lovely “Sunday”. Ben McKelvey inhabits a somewhat overpopulated sector of the musical universe and it is difficult to cut through the mediocrity and the ‘heard-it-all-before’; but he’s refreshingly honest, clearly delighted to be given a shot at playing some decent venues on a ‘proper’ tour and worth a listen.

And so, we present – Mike and the Mechanics. Pretty much an FM radio staple in the UK. They have been since the late 80’s. They seem to have been built on the same principle as Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, in that the Mechanics seem to change and adapt to personnel changes and the requirements of that whilst also adapting to the demands of the songs which Mike Rutherford is writing at the time, with a variety of collaborators.

The first point to note is that if you’ve come out to revel in a night of Genesis nostalgia, this probably won’t be for you. There are Genesis tunes in the mix; specifically two tonight, “I Can’t Dance” and “Land Of Confusion” but their own repertoire is too wide and varied to become overly taken up with that; both songs were extremely well played but felt rather like a crowd-pleaser for the many Genesis fans in the audience; indeed, at one point Rutherford, rather endearingly, referred to Genesis as his ‘school band’. There was also a brief interlude where Andrew Roachford, now one of the Mechanics, sang his big solo stadium anthem ‘”Cuddly Toy”; the rest, however, was an interesting mash – up of Mechanised classics and tracks from the forthcoming album “Let Me Fly”.

If I might be permitted to deal with the matter of “Let Me Fly” first, the tracks from this which were given an airing seemed extremely tidy and show yer man Rutherford still knows how to pen a tune which flatters the FM medium beautifully; “The Best Is Yet To Come”, “Are You Ready” and the gloriously optimistic manifesto title track “Let Me Fly” are well worth a listen, preferably in an open-topped car (serving suggestion).

The Mikes’ classic hits are played with verve and a tremendous ear for detail and are a timely reminder that Mr Rutherford knows the difference between an airplay confection of the highest order (eg. “All I Need Is A Miracle”; check the intro. Music radio hour-starter all century long, trust me) and a stadium anthem (eg. “Word Of Mouth”). And of course the show-stopper, “The Living Years”, which I suspect is probably a ‘Desert Island Disc’ for a massive number of people who would only claim to have a passing interest in music. And in fairness, I think this is probably the biggest greatest achievement of Mike and the Mechanics; without a screamingly strong or obvious image and with a devoted but understated fan base, they do attract an audience who, along with the expected Genesis diehards and fans enjoy the music, don’t necessarily think about it too much, wouldn’t claim tribal allegiance to any particular ‘type’ of music or specific band, but like what they like and they like this. A bit like being an ELO fan, I suppose.

Probably the greatest compliment I could pay to the current line – up is that the phenomenal talent that is Paul Carrack is not missed in the slightest. Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford bring an excellent rock / R’n’B balance to the songs and Roachford definitely adds a whole slice of soul to tunes which, in their studio manifestation, might to some ears appear as a little sterile on occasion. On “Get Up” they even seem to create a sort of Sam and Dave vibe – and when Roachford disappears off into a seemingly-effortless vocal ‘fill’, the ghost of Sam Cooke suddenly enters the room. Which might appear to be a bit weird in the context of this kind of party – but the apparition is strangely appropriate and indeed welcome.

And that’s pretty much what you get; an extremely professional, fabulously well played body of largely original but familiar hit music and some nice new tunes thrown in. If you’re looking for ground-breaking creativity, probably not for you, but only the most churlish would be unmoved by the remarkable musicianship, finely-crafted songs and careful onstage recreations of productions of the highest standard. They’re touring the length and breadth for the next thirty dates and if you miss them, it’s your loss. I will also admit I might now wish to catch Andrew Roachford on his solo tour this autumn.

 What’s not to like?