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

Meanwhile“Meanwhile” -- Part Time Heroes

Whilst this is completely new to me and probably the best album I’ve heard in 2014, it actually got released back in 2008 but pretty much passed everyone by. I first heard the track “Shadowlands” on Jamie Cullum’s Jazz show that airs on Radio 2; my ears pricked up immediately and I instantly sought out the album, which is a gem, not a duff track on it. They use various vocalists and it certainly has a contemporary jazzy feel to it but I also hear echoes of Terry Callier and lots of other stuff going on. It’s destined to be one of those lost classics, certainly worth investigating for sure.

Carleen_AndersonCarleen Anderson at Ronnie Scott’s

I didn’t get to as many gigs as I would have liked to this year due to Stone Foundation’s hectic schedule throughout 2014. The one that really stood out head & shoulders above everything else I saw this year was Carleen Anderson’s performance at Ronnie Scott’s at the start of the year. She is (still) such an underrated talent with an exceptional vocal range, obviously we (Stone foundation) were very fortunate to have Carleen grace our last album where she contributed an amazing vocal to one of our songs called “When You’re in My World“. She is an amazing songwriter and arranger too; her new material is just outstanding, as good as anything she has ever written and I really hope it sees the light of day sometime soon. It was an inspiring evening and one that will stay with me.

Eminent Hipsters“Eminent Hipsters” -- Donald Fagen

I’ve been reading a lot this year, much more so than usual, I have no idea why, perhaps I have been looking for inspiration to kick start my own scribblings again; I’m 12 chapters in to my first book but kind of stalled once again really due to other commitments but I hope to pick up the trail again come the new year and get it finished. This book by Steely Dan main man Donald Fagen was a real treat, his words danced from the pages. It covers all the cool hipster characters that influenced his own inevitable style, it also covers his late college years in New York where he first met Walter Becker his co-founder and musical partner in Steely Dan. It’s a very funny book too, especially in the latter chapters when documenting his time on tour recently with Boz Scaggs & Michael Mcdonald. It brings to life the up’s and down of the anxieties and indignities of life on the road in the most brilliantly humorous way.

Ana_MatronicRadio DJs

This year I rediscovered the joys of the radio. A couple of programmes in particular really inspired me. Ana Matronic’s Disco show that aired on Friday nights for six weeks on Radio 2 was a real winner; she didn’t so much play obvious disco musak in the sense of the naff, cliched sound you would imagine but focussed on the real grooves of that period such as the influential Salsoul sound and some of the orchestral arrangements that people like Barry White popularized with Love Unlimited and also the wonderful world of Gamble & Huff and that whole Philly thing. It introduced me to a lot of new stuff that I hadn’t heard previously like Francine McGee’s “Delirium”; I also ended up buying the whole works, a box set of Philly stuff. Don Letts’ show on 6 Music has also turned me on to a lot of new music too; only last night I heard something by Jaga Jazzist called “Made for Radio” that had my attention from the off. I think it’s great to know that there is still some really thoughtful radio still being aired and made; long may it continue. It’s how I first got inspired, by listening to Peel on a transistor in my bedroom when I should have been doing my homework; I guess in many ways I was………

No Deal“Space is the Place” -- Yusef Lateef / Melanie De Biasio “No Deal”

I’ve been gravitating towards a more jazzy sound over the past couple of years. I’ve kind of not lost interest but put Guitar / Rock music on the back burner for a while; it’s not what I want to inform me when it comes to my own writing at the moment. I’m more pre occupied with space in arrangements; this Yusef Lateef track kind of personifies that mind set. I’ve heard a lot of great new music too this year but mainly in a pop vein like the Jessie Ware album & that Jungle single “Busy Earnin'” which I really liked. Also one of my favourite new albums and discoveries of this year has been the Melanie De Biasio album “No Deal…”; she is a classically trained flautist from Belgium who has a tremendous voice too. It’s a great record and one that also exemplifies my love of space in the music. It’s not in a hurry to impress; it creeps up on you. In saying all of this I must admit that I was impressed with Ryan Adams’ spectacular return to form on his last (self-titled) LP; the production and sound of it is incredible. It sounds like “Rumours” which is a tough task to pull off.

Ok, call me obsessive if you like but as well as listening to a lot of albums and going to as many gigs as I can, I also read the odd book or two about music and popular culture and many of those are worth sharing with anyone who checks out MusicRiot regularly.  This list was difficult to pin down to five from the start, but it became even more difficult on Christmas Day when I was given a copy of the Donald Fagen memoir/tour diary/article compilation, “Eminent Hipsters”.  So I guess that’s a pretty good place to start.

“Eminent Hipsters” – Donald Fagen

Eminent HipstersWhere do I start with Donald Fagen?  With Walter Becker, he was half of one of my favourite 70s bands, Steely Dan and then went on to release the classic solo album, “The Nightfly” in 1982, followed (not too closely) by “The Kamakiriad” in 1993.  You’ve probably guessed by now, I’m a bit of a fan.  “Eminent Hipsters” is partly an explanation, through a series of articles, of the factors which influenced the Steely Dan sound (cool jazz, cop dramas and wise-ass comedians) and the Donald Fagen solo sound (science fiction and mid-century paranoia).  If you love the music, you’ll be fascinated by these observations about its roots.  The second part of this slim volume is devoted to Fagen’s diary from the 2012 “Dukes of September Rhythm Revue” tour which is, by turn, snarky, moving, insightful and downright hilarious.

Donald Fagen writes in an instantly-identifiable style betraying a debt to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which sneaks in when describing Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as getting :”out of that cab on Fifth Avenue in a black dress and pearls in the early morning, I wanted to sip her through a straw”.  It’s beautifully written and you can get through it in a few hours; it takes 170 pages to deliver a message that most rock biographies take at least five times as long to get over.

“Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star” – Tracey Thorn

Bedsit Disco QueenIf Donald Fagen’s prose style is easily identifiable, then Tracey Thorn’s is even more so.  I’m always impressed when musicians get this right (Peter Hook and Luke Haines also do it particularly well) and, from the first paragraph, this is pitch-perfect ‘Popstar Trace’.  The book takes us from the Marine Girls beginnings through the EBTG false starts and eventual success to the beautiful Massive Attack vocals (I’m biased, but you should read about the origins of the modern classic, “Protection” here) and the worldwide Todd Terry-remixed success of “Missing”.

Tracey’s style is perfectly self-deprecatory; you never feel a hint of false modesty and the mentions of famous musicians are always very matter-of-fact, including the story about waiting to pick the kids up from school and being shouted at by George Michael from a Range Rover.  This is a wonderful memoir from a genuine pop star.

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop” – Bob Stanley

Yeah,Yeah,YeahIt’s obvious from the outset that this is actually a companion piece to the classic 2012 St Etienne album, “Words and Music”.  The album was a voyage through the history of British pop music and the book is an extended verbal remix of the ground covered by the album.  What’s equally obvious is that Bob Stanley is both an enthusiast and an insider, which gives him a unique perspective on his subject.  He aims to show the links between different styles using not just the music, but also sociological and technological developments.  If you’re interested in the history of pop music and you’ve done a bit of research, you might disagree with some of his pronouncements, but it’s a big book and you’ll probably agree with ninety per cent of them.

The book takes the first NME chart in 1952 as its starting point (which is logical and not controversial) and the end of vinyl as a chart force in 1993 as its end point, when the first Number One singles not to have been released as a 7” single or (a few months later) on vinyl at all topped the charts (if you want to know what they are, you can buy the book ).  It’s a slightly more controversial choice but still with a logical basis for someone who grew up in the age of vinyl.  The book has an authority derived from Bob Stanley’s experience as a writer and member of a very successful pop group but never slips into the socio-cultural academic approach of, for example, Simon Reynolds.  The theme that underpins everything else in this book is that Bob Stanley is still a fan who wants you to come round and listen to his records, and that makes this an unmissable book.

“Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues” – James Fearnley

Here Comes EverybodyI’ve always been a fan of the “inside story” biography, particularly those that aren’t ghost-written attempts at cultural revisionism.  This memoir by James Fearnley is, at times, brutally and crushingly honest about members of The Pogues and he doesn’t spare himself either.  The book begins by setting the scene with Shane MacGowan’s departure from the band in 1991 before moving back to Fearnley’s initial meeting with MacGowan at an audition for The Nips in 1980.

The book is a (mainly) unsentimental account of the rise and fall of The Pogues from the viewpoint of someone close enough to see everything but with enough distance to retain some objectivity.  From the chaotic managerless beginnings through the unpopular but successful stewardship of Frank Murray, the story is underpinned at all times by MacGowan’s unpredictability and seemingly random self-destructive urges.  James Fearnley tries very hard to balance the singer’s inexcusable behaviour against the genius of the songs, but it’s up to you if you buy that line; I certainly don’t.  My only criticism is that James Fearnley spends a little too much time trying to emphasise the fact that he’s a writer and occasionally introduces unnecessarily florid prose to prove it; putting that aside, it’s still a winner.

“Sounds like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital” – Lloyd Bradley

Sounds like LondonBear with me for a minute here; this will all make sense presently.   Earlier this year I read “How Soon is Now?: The Madmen and the Mavericks who made Independent Music 1975-2005” by Richard King.  It’s a very good book and a must for geeks like us, but it attracted a lot of criticism because it didn’t touch on the black music scene.  Richard King was even accused, pathetically, of racism in some quarters; you might even have read about it.  Personally, I prefer to read authors who write about subjects they understand and that really inspire them; if Richard King didn’t have the expertise, contacts or inspiration to write about the black music scene, then Lloyd Bradley certainly did.

The title is a little misleading; there’s very little about pre-1950s black music, and it also deals with regional English offshoots from the London scene but those aren’t criticisms, just observations.  The reason for the comparison with Richard King’s book is that one of Lloyd Bradley’s recurring themes is that black British music has always developed and prospered healthily out of the mainstream when produced and distributed independently.

Once the book reaches the point where Lloyd Bradley can introduce interviews with the players who made black British music happen (the steel pan players, the jazzers, the sound system pioneers, the Britfunk players and the mainstream crossovers Eddy Grant, Janet Kay, Jazzie B and the rest), the narrative really takes off with stories of the sound systems and records being sold out of the back of a car and distributed around the country in the same way.  Lloyd Bradley takes us through calypso, ska, reggae, lovers rock, dub, britfunk, 98 bpm, trip hop, jungle, d’n’b, UK garage, dubstep and grime along with a host of short-lived one-way streets with an unassuming and easy authority that is very seductive.  If you want an introduction to black British music, this is the book for you.

OK, spoilers alert; I’ve relented.  I’ll tell you that the chart-toppers Bob Stanley refers to in 1993 and 1995 respectively are Culture Beat’s “Mr Vain” and Celine Dion’s “Think Twice”, but you should still read the book.  Actually you should read all of these books.