Getting to Birmingham by boat is a bit of a struggle. You have to cover a lot of water the day you set out, as you have quite a few miles of ‘badlands’ to get through before you reach the ‘safety’ of the city centre and Gas Street Basin, which is extremely lovely. Not to mention a steep watery climb up to the summit almost underneath the city itself, which in heavy rain, constitutes something of a challenge. But it is extremely lovely in the way the BBC think ‘heritage’ is really lovely and consequently it is worthwhile getting slightly off the beaten track once safely moored up and in possession of your weekly spending money.

About 600 yards off said ‘beaten track’ stands The Prince Of Wales, an old-school city boozer selling pies, pints and on occasion, there’s a ‘turn’, often at slightly odd times of day and it is with some surprise we stumbled upon a spirited, reggaefied version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” pouring out of the door. Intrigued, in we went, to be confronted by a pretty much full house of late Sunday afternoon drinkers all giving it plenty and a six piece band (on average) grooving away in a most delightful way. Pete Hyde and The Vieillards may be past the first flush of youth – indeed ‘Vieillards’ are old folks, rather than some strange mythical wossname born on the bayou, but they are warm, sinuous and very much ‘alive’ live musicians. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching the living embodiment of the lyrics to Dire Strait’s “Sultans Of Swing” as this bunch weaved effortlessly through reggae to blues standards such as “The Thrill Is Gone”, classics like “Summertime” and some rock n roll standards, many illuminated with fine, fruity saxophone fills provided whilst said musician wandered off to the bar, almost as an afterthought whilst ordering a round. Indeed, at one point he was interrupted mid-noodle by someone who had just walked in off the street to enquire where the bogs were (note to person; if you’re going to creep into a pub to enquire the whereabouts of the rest room without purchasing a beverage, perhaps best not to broadcast this by interrupting a band member whilst about their business, even though your business may appear equally pressing) and evocative, rich keyboard work reeking of Booker T Jones at times, Dr John at others, shades of Georgie Fame also.

And not just the flipping obvious in the repertoire. As well as Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road” which is very easily played badly but in this case wasn’t, we are treated to his lesser known but equally lovely “Cleaning Windows”. And the crowning glory for me, Ry Cooder’s magnificent “Little Sister”, complete with that wonderfully ‘aged’ and rubbery guitar sound and fabulously complimentary harmonies.

One of those marvellously ‘accidental’ Sunday gigs where you really didn’t need a drink to appreciate what was going on – but it was very thoughtful of the management to provide some. Bit more Ry Cooder and perhaps some more Toussaint, and maybe some Lee Dorsey perhaps, would have been nice but they’re musicians, not a human jukebox. And between sets, how wonderful to hear Smokey, The Crusaders, The Temptations, etc., underlining the importance of the stuff played in and around a live band’s set to maintaining a groove. And they played for a couple of hours or more. Sultans of Swing, in very deed.

4 Stars and a bit.

Steve JThis is one that’s always worth waiting for. Steve Jenner’s a Director/Presenter for Ashbourne Radio and High Peak Radio and his occasional pieces for MusicRiot are always entertaining and packed with insider insight. This is Steve’s brief summary of the highlights of 2015.

Blimey -- it’s nearly Christmas and everything and I ain’t done nuthin. And I promised Allan a High Fives. OK; here we go.

 

Georgie FameBest old guy doing a live set – Georgie Fame

I went to the O2 for BluesFest 2015 and Georgie Fame was playing in the afternoon in what amounted to the foyer. We only just missed him being inducted into his town’s Hall Of Fame when we headed North for our tour of same on our boat during the awful summer but the tickets had sold out so it was a rare treat to see him in London.

He is possibly the coolest 70 year old in the world. He plays this huge organ thing and plays the bass bits with the foot pedals as there is no bass player. He did some lovely Ray Charles bits and did his classic “Yeah Yeah” annexed to “Green Onions” which predictably had me blubbing but also did a gorgeous, and I mean gorgeous, version of ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ with a couple of nods to “Sitting In The Park” which I would have crawled miles to hear. Yer Man Georgie, he understands.

Yes, he looked grumpy and shouted at some guy who filmed him for a bit too long in order to post some awful clip on the Tube but at the end of it a fine band, fronted by one of music’s originals, played a fine set in the capital to an audience balanced finely between the diffident and the knowing. I rate it as one of my finest half hours of the year. You can do what you like.

Soultime TitleBest Album – Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes – “Soultime!”

Oh, just listen to the bloody thing. It is gorgeous. The more you listen to it the more you realise it is a work of genius. In a soulless year, it drips soul, and hunger and desperation and love. Yes, I do use the four letter word in terms of the raw soul excavations of these musicians. So it isn’t sexy in conventional terms. I read Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches’ while I Iistened to this with a Vietnam reflex but you can do what you like. But do listen to it.

Ian Siegal ScrollerBest Live Set – The Ian Siegal Band

He really was the best of a very good bunch at the Prudential Blues Fest 2015 at the O2. He also did the best line in put-downs for those who chose to carry on bowling in the adjacent alley. The Blues Band came a close second.

I first interviewed Ian Siegal on a pirate station in Nottingham in the very early nineties. When he arrived at our studio he was in a bit of a state but hey, was he special.

And many years later, he remains so. His band picked their way through James Brown to Cajun through to and perhaps more significantly chicano rock ‘n’ roll, and the blues kept rearing its exceedingly ugly head. He’s older now than when I saw him last (Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings in Buxton) but he’s also a sadder and wiser man. And that just feeds them blues. I loved it and was proud to see him take London by storm, which he did. You can do what you like but if you don’t catch this guy and his band in 2016, you is missing out and you deserve to.

Frank SkinnerBest broadcasting jolly – RadioCentre inviting me to the Radio Academy Hall Of Fame Dinner and Presentation in Birmingham

And why should I say so? Because I sat on the next table to Frank Skinner, who was inducted, and was introduced by Adrian Chiles, and both of them were hilarious. Also Pete Tong and Victoria Derbyshire and Nihal Arthanayake, but to be honest it was all about Frank Skinner who was cripplingly funny. It is indeed strange how some folks who ain’t really radio broadcasters, become so. Also I got to meet inductee Tony Butler, the guy who Invented and I mean invented, the football radio phone in. Radio phone-in question eg; ‘What is green?’ After 2 hours – Answer – ‘Grass, Tony’. ‘Correct’.

Wonderful. The guy is A Legend. Sony Lifetime Award 2007. Born 1935. You can do what you like but if you manage to do it as long as this guy did, well, power to you.

Ben E KingBye 5 2015

Ben E King.

Loads of contenders this year and you can do what you like -- but I have spoken.

“Stand by Me”. Statement of pride, solidarity, and faith in people. He was lead singer with The Drifters around the time of “Save the Last Dance for Me” and was one of the Atlantic soul stable who sang with dignity, class and quality. He also gave a significant proportion of his earnings to local charities.

I was on the guest list in Derby in 2013 when he toured with Gary US Bonds. Time stopped during “Stand by Me”, but during “Spanish Harlem” I almost burst. Timeless, timeless beauty, you see. And it is slipping away. And here comes 2016.

And there’s your High Five for this year.