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.

It’s the fourth day of the 2018 High Fives series and the contributions from songwriters and performers are starting to come in. it’s always good to have something from Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with Deep Blue Sea and all-round nice guy. It’s great to see that Graeme has completely embraced the High Five brief – just five of absolutely anything. And there’s even some Shakespeare for you as well. All photos courtesy of Laurence Harvey.

What subject can I pick? Allan will have the gigs sewn up for sure. I think I did albums and musicians before.  I guess my answer is easy – it’s what I am doing right at this very moment. Or rather, it’s what I should be doing – but I am letting Allan’s request for an article distract me. Song writing.

I first thought I’d write a note about my favourite 5 songwriters – but none of them have written anything new this year – and it’s 2 years since Leonard decided to write no more. So I thought I’d write a little about some Deep Blue Sea songs – it might be self indulgent, it might be a bit arsey? But surely it’s not as bad as scoffing an entire tin of Quality Street tho of course, I might do that too.

2018 has been a year of writing songs. Deep Blue Sea started to write as a unit when Dre and Amanda joined Iago and me in March 2018. In the space of 3 months we got together, did a few gigs and then recorded a live album featuring 5 songs that were written in that 3 month creative burst. Since then we’ve probably written about 15 more and we’re in the studio over December and January recording them for a new album in 2019.

Seems like a good idea to take a look at the 5 songs we wrote over that 3 month period. I’m hardly qualified to go into great depth on the music – and the lyrics are totally open to interpretation – but here goes a few words of waffle and title tattle – feel free to disagree. One over-arching observation. A band is a relationship. Relationships start with an intensity. These songs happened fast and are part of the glue that we’ve created – part of the DNA of DBS. I hope you like this little tale –

“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Rock Star Status

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – There’s no point now cos everbody’s famous

It’s nobodys fault But everybody hates us – It’s nobodys fault  But nothings gonna save us

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – A little applause and admiration

15 seconds of adoration – A lethal dose of adulation

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – A pocket full of dreams and a ticket to Vegas

Hold on tight, you’re making the papers – O/D-ed celebrities are coming back to plague us

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – VIPs in the Palace of Gratis

Take a little taste of the breathing apparatus – A finger on the pulse of the phallic operators

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

All we ever wanted was Rock Star Stuff – Everything now and it’s still not enough

Keep it coming cos we’re Rock Star Tough – Keep it coming til we choke on the stuff

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

So, Iago had this little Stonesy type riff- except as always with Iago – the chords were weird, wired and inspired. I’d been to an art exhibition in Dulwich and there had been a painting I really liked. Couldn’t afford it of course, but there were some postcards of the painting free – so I took a couple. Got home later that day and looked at the picture. Surreal dreamscape with horses. Turned it over and the title was “All I ever wanted was Rock Star Status”. I knew I had a title. The lyrics flew onto the page – it was a job stopping them. When Dre started working on the melody she noticed nothing really rhymed very well. There’s the language barrier for you. You say Status and I say Status!!! We compromised. What’s it all about? You tell me. I’ve been wondering. Oh, by the way, the artist, Kate Pritchard, who painted the picture, came to see the band at our gig last week at 100 Club!!! Circle complete. That was a total new experience for us both – and a really good one. Life eh?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

 

 

Dark days take pride of place – For the little girl with the smiling face

A smile that hides  – uncertainty

If her face seems so serene – Her hands betray a silent scream

And doubts about  – her sanity

Worlds of distorted noise – Distraction drinking drowning boys

Shaking shame  – and regret

Touch and  hold and then let go – Of something in her overcoat

One thing not – broken yet

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 

Black clouds hang down the face – of the little girl with silent grace

Reaching out for – sanctuary

Beneath the stones and dusty bones – words are falling all alone

To mourn – dignity

Might have seen might have beens, hopes are only dusty dreams

Bitter pills – memory

Moments passed nothing lasts, out of reach fading fast

Time kills – vanity

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 

She’s

Thrown in all directions – blown by recollections

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Drawn to all confections – torn by rare infections

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 “I have almost forgot the taste of fears; The time has been, my senses would have cool’d To hear a night-shriek.”

 Trev Turley writing a review of this song in Blues In Britain called the groove “invisible reggae” – I dunno what it means – but I like it 🙂

 I was driving along in the old band van awhile back, listening to the radio. There was a book review programme on and people were talking and I wasn’t listening until someone said “oh, her, the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it’s no more than you’d expect.” I knew I had a title for a song, but I didn’t know what the person meant by “no more than you’d expect.”

I got to thinking about a friend of mine who I am very happy to say is on the other side of the tunnel from her period as a manic pixie, but there was a time when several friends and I worried about this frail and beautiful butterfly. We saw her floating, we saw her shine and shimmer but we couldn’t do much to shelter her from the storms inside. She was fighting battles we had no weapons. 

 I wanted to try and capture the idea of a moment in time with her – where words don’t always mean what they appear to mean, where things tail spin off into other moments – the uncertainty at the core of a person in turbulence.  I’m so glad she’s still my friend. And in the weirdest ways the manic pixie dream days are not over but no longer laced with the threat of a long, long night.

The Thrill of It All

 

 

The little girl doesn’t know

If she’s alive anymore

No sense of fun – nowhere to run

Once there was a time

Happiness was no crime

Now she’s in a cage – No passion or rage

 

As the light starts to fall

 

She’s walking on the edge

Of everything unsaid

It hurts just to feel, doubt what is real

Standing by the side

Of the days of her life

See the falling tide – what’s left behind?

 

As the light starts to fall

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 

Here under the Sun

Hopelessly undone

How can feelings grow – From seeds she didn’t sow

Mem’ries made of  pain

She cannot explain

A hand in the flame – the nameless game

 

As the light starts to fall

know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 This song grew in the playing. Iago’s guitar solo can take us off anywhere. When Amanda got into the song and the feel of it – she started to push things and take risks. If you listen to the live album, there’s a few moments where we could all really fall on our collective bums as we get perilously close to the edge. I think that’s the one of the great things I love about playing in the band – we are a band. And I think we all love the risks. Nobody stays calm – we’re all in it together. Dre’s melody to the chorus transformed this song. It would not have been on the album if she hadn’t have lifted something special out of the void. I co-wrote the lyric with Emma Holman. I think she put some truly heartfelt emotion into the words and thank her for sharing. 

 Hole in your Soul

 

 

It’s only when u get here  u know this place exists

you’ve taken the wrong turn round every bend and twist.

u finally hit the bottom you have  one more thing to learn

no going back, this is the point of no return

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

When the vital spark of life in ev’ry leaf and tree

Is passed un-noticed By eyes that do not see

You look into the darkness – seek solace out of light

Cut out all sensation  – Taste and touch and sight

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

I climbed the highest mountain and looked down to the sea

I saw the miracle of life spread out in front of me

I look on all the beauty of night becoming day

When I saw that nothing moved me, I turned and walked away

 

You turn away from friends turn away turn away

Close down your heart. Nothing more to say

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

I climbed the highest mountain and looked down to the sea

I saw the miracle of life spread out in front of me

I look on all the beauty of night becoming day

When I saw that nothing moved me, I turned and walked away

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

“I begin to be aweary of the sun, And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone.”

It will come as no surprise to anyone who vaguely knows me that I am a massive Bob Dylan fan. This lyric started life as a Bob type song. The bridge part “I climbed…” – it’s not often that I will say something like that – something I haven’t done. I haven’t climbed the highest mountain to look down to the sea – and I’m prepared to wager that Bob hasn’t either – but it’s something he would claim to have done. So if you are going to tell a porkie – tell a big one, like Bob 🙂

Lyrically, for me, it’s a dark night of the soul song. Make of it what you will. Sara (our previous drummer – from The Pearl Harts) liked this one a lot – said it reminded her of Muse.  The line “This is the point of no return” was meant to have two meanings – but I realise one meaning is far more obvious than the other and unless I add an explanatory note, no one will see it. And who would be so tedious as to add an explanatory note? Duh!!!

All Our Yesterdays

 

 

Welcome to the great escape

No one’s gonna stop this big break

There’s a raging battle

Every single night

Someone’s give me half a chance I’m gonna set this place alight

So long to my sad old days

Don’t look back to those old ways

There’s a storm inside

Burning up my soul

Someone give me half a chance to make my life a whole

 

And the radio plays songs from a different day

Sing that song all night long wash your blues away

And the DJ plays All our yesterdays

So we say This one’s for the runaways

 

Welcome to this point of view

Somethings changed somethings new

Now we’re out the dark

Out into the sun

Some will stay and fade away but we are gonna run

 

And the radio plays songs from a different day

Sing that song all night long wash your blues away

And the DJ plays All our yesterdays

So we say This one’s for the runaways

And the DJ plays

All our yesterdays

So we say

This one’s for the runaways

So we say

This one’s for the runaways

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.”

This wee tale started life as a song I was writing with the ace guitarist Chris Walker while Chris helped keep the band afloat for a year or so, for which I am eternally grateful. It wasn’t easy keeping things going – but we had commitments to honour and he’s a great guy. We also had a dear friend Louise Davies making sure we kept the flame alight – she didn’t give either of us any other option. I nicked my own lyric to drop into Iago’s infectious confection of rockabilly roll. A song called All Our Yesterdays with a rock and roll groove seems to be made for each other and it’s kind of as close as we get to a bit of light relief. This is Dre’s favourite dancing song – which is great for her – cos she can dance – but the other two people standing on stage beside her both have 2 left feet!! We try not to fall over. That is the lesson for today folks. Dance, laugh, be happy, it could be so much worse. Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the floor and…..try not to fall over.

(all the quotes are from one small page of Macbeth

– the Scottish play – a nod to the McKay:)

GraemeIt’s always good to shoot the breeze with Graeme Wheatley from Little Devils and it’s great that he wants to share some of the highlights from 2015 with us. It’s been a chequered year for Graeme and Little Devils with a superb album to get behind and some recently-announced personnel changes; the Riot Squad are looking forward to the 2016 line-up. Graeme makes an unnecessary apology towards the end of this piece; whoever we are and however we do it, we’re all trying to promote music we love and there’s a place for all of us. So, let’s get on with it and hear what Graeme has to say.

 

Well, the time is upon us – the end of the year draws close and it’s been a topsy-turvy world for Little Devils – so if I may take this offer of writing a “High Fives” article – I will draw a veil over the low fives – and stay positive and mention 5 good things that happened this year.

 

Peter OliverGigs

We had many great gigs this year – really enjoyed Doncaster Blues, Norwich Blues, Maryport, Colne and lots more festivals and lots of gigs – but if I had to pick out one gig, it would have to be Dock Rock in Hartlepool. This festival is organised annually to celebrate the life of a good friend of mine. Peter “Dock” Oliver. It’s organised by his wife and one of his close friends and it’s been my privilege to play there the last two years. It keeps Peter in my mind and gives me a chance to meet many mutual friends, play for them, chat and remember our friend. So, my heartfelt thanks to Gillian and Neil for giving me this chance.

 

The Storm Inside“The Storm Inside”

We recorded “The Storm Inside”, pressed it, released it and toured to promote it all within the first 5 months of 2015. It was amazing to see it reach No 1 in the IBBA play lists for May and to stay there for June! We were knocked out at the reception. We put heart and soul into the music. Belief in what we were aiming at, commitment into getting it as good as we could make it. The art work was our concept, every word and very note was sung and played knowing we were doing the best we could, the mixing, the mastering, the tea making and the mixing of the G&Ts – we did it all – especially the G&T bit.

 

Louise DaviesLouise Davies

I dunno where she came from! Back in January Louise Davies didn’t exist. Simple as that. There wasn’t a person called Louise Davies in our world. Then I met Bill Mead of The Sharpees. Bill can talk for England, and in one of his monologues about what I needed to do to move the band forward he mentioned this person he knew who could maybe help a bit if she liked the music (and if I somehow passed her “human qualities” assessment). A tentative “friend request” was extended. Then the storm broke – and it was a hurricane. How such a small person can generate so much activity I dunno. Whirling dervish springs to mind. Within maybe two months Louise was championing the band, playing our back catalogue on her radio show on Radio Seagull, promoting us at our gigs, speaking to agents around the world, telling everyone we were actually better than sliced bread – not just the best thing since – and in every other way – looking after us. We were honoured she accepted when we asked her if she would manage us. Since then, I have been given my instructions on a daily basis, I am kept in check, advised, encouraged, praised and slapped in equal measure! Louise is another pintsized powerhouse – I seem to be drawn to them! This, for Little Devils, has more than anything else, been the year of Louise!!! We are eternally grateful for the support, belief, advice, efforts and tireless bloody-minded hard work she has put in – long may you run.

 

Blues MattersBlues Matters & all the music supporters

Now this is a bit cheeky, praising a music magazine in a music blog! But, come on. We are all grown-ups and it’s a wide world. I just wanted to say a big thank you to Alan Pearce for having a lot of faith in Little Devils. He signed us to Kross Border Rekords, promoted the band, booked us at Colne and Skeggie and on a regular basis, calls me up and chews the fat. The guy is dealing with health issues, but through all of that stuff, he keeps his enthusiasm for music burning bright. He’s juggling a stack of different things that would tire a fully fit person – but he’s battling on with determination, energy and commitment. And I just want to take my hat off and say well done Alan. We are Spartacus. (And of course, there’s a load of space for Blues In Britain, The Blues Magazine, Music Riot, Blues in the South, BluesDoodles and all the other believers and dedicated enthusiasts of music – we are all in the same boat – let’s get rockin’).

 

Little DevilsLittle Devils

I am not going to say anything about the hard times we’ve had. This is high fives – and so – even tho’ this is kinda a review of 2015, I am going to have a sneak peak towards 2016. Last night, the new line up had our first rehearsal. Now, I dunno how people are gonna react. We are going to walk out on stage next week and introduce Mags Supel on vocals and Chris Walker on guitars with the usual suspects, the Pintsized Powerhouse, Sara Leigh Shaw on drums and what’s his name on bass. Mags has a thousand and one lyrics to learn, melodies, arrangements, dance steps, choreography and conjuring tricks (no – obviously not – but it must feel like that!) and Chris has 11 notes to learn – all of which, he assures me, he’s played before. At least once. It is a daunting task. Frightening. But listening to Chris play last night, I smiled. Listening to Mags getting her head around the vocal and then adding her own touches, I nodded. Yes, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be great. So, out of the ashes, in December 2015 into the brave new year, Little Devils rise. Having new people come in, full of enthusiasm and commitment is, in itself, energising. Two days ago, for the first time in maybe 4 months, I had to jump out of bed, grab a guitar and quickly get down a new song that had just been delivered to my head via wherever. This is how it starts….

Storm Inside TitleOK, we should have got this out a little bit earlier but after a launch party for the album, which had a higher bodycount than the Leeds-Chelsea 1970 Cup Final replay (although the gig was more entertaining), and a deluge of albums being released at the same time, things got a bit congested. Anyway, we got there in the end and it was well worth the wait. “The Storm Inside”, the fourth Little Devils album, is the work of a band at the top of their game both as writers and performers. The band has built up quite a following on the live blues circuit in the UK and Europe with their unique sound and the energy and quality are captured well on “The Storm Inside”.

The foundation of the band’s sound is the rhythm section of Graeme Wheatley (bass) and Sara Leigh Shaw, aka the Pintsized Powerhouse, (drums); whatever the style or tempo, they do the business while still leaving the space for Big Ray (guitar) and Yoka (vocals) to do their bit. It’s a bit of an understatement to call Yoka a singer; she has a huge dynamic range, dealing equally well with the belters and the ballads but she has a few more weapons in the armoury. The first is that she plays saxophone, which isn’t unknown in blues bands and adds another lead instrument to the mix. The second is that she plays flute, which is very unusual in a rock context (unless you count Jethro Tull and Focus). Apart from having a bit of prog baggage, the flute works really well, its clear tones cutting through over-driven guitar tones very effectively to add an unusual texture to the band’s sound.

There’s a bit of a concept feel to the album as well, as it’s topped and tailed by storm-themed songs. The moody and atmospheric “Storm Warning” opens with slide resonator guitar and harmonica while the album’s closer “Heavy Weather” is a slow blues featuring Yoka’s flute. In between, you get another twelve tracks ranging in style from the traditional slow blues with a big guitar solo of “My Perfect You” (the first single from the album) to the Motown rhythms of “Stand”, featuring horns from Penny and the Pounds and the country blues of “Cold”.

It’s easy to see (and hear) why Little Devils are carving out such a niche for themselves with their live and studio work; they do all of the things that you would expect a good blues band to and then they sprinkle it with their own magic ingredients to create something a little bit special. Whether it’s a sax or flute solo, or even Graeme Wheatley’s growling vocal delivery, there’s always something a little bit different going on to set this band apart.

“The Storm Inside” is out now on Krossborder Rekords (KBR 2015/3).

Another one of the albums we’ve been waiting for this year is the new one from Little Devils. That’s coming out in a few weeks but, until then, we’ve got a little taster for you. “My Perfect You”, the first single from the album, is blues in the classic tradition, featuring a stunningly powerful vocal from Yoka and some paint-stripping guitar work from Big Ray.

 

We’ll tell you all about the album as soon as we get our hands on a copy.

 

Jar Family TitleOk, some life lessons for music lovers from tonight. First, if you get a chance to go and see a band (even on a school night), do it, because life’s too short. Second, when a mate recommends a band, go and see them. Third, the escalator at Angel station is the longest on London Underground and I’m not getting any younger; running up any escalator is for the young and fit, as I discovered. So, pulling all of this together, my mate Paul in Middlesbrough (closely followed by Graeme Wheatley from The Little Devils) told me I should have a look at The Jar Family, who were playing at The Islington.

The Jar Family is another example of a group of people who have realised that the music business as we knew it doesn’t exist now. A bunch of players and songwriters from the Hartlepool area decided that the best way to get their songs heard was to work together as one unit drawing on the creative input of all the members. After a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice, they’ve come up with something really special which Teesside has known about for a while and the rest of the country is just beginning to catch up with.

The band members are: Max Bianco (vocals, guitar, harmonica, percussion), Dali (vocals, guitar, slide guitar, percussion), Richie Docherty (vocals, guitar, percussion), Chris Hooks (vocals, lead guitar), Keith Wilkinson (bass, vocals) and Kez Edwards (drums). If that sounds like a lot going on, it’s even busier when you put them on a stage, with the look of a Victorian street gang infiltrated by Tim Burgess. There’s a lot of movement between songs as the three singers take turns centre stage and guitars are swapped around, but it’s smooth and professional in a way that reflects the amount of work they’ve put in over the last few years.

The set opens with the latest single “In the Clouds” and rattles through a mainly uptempo set including “World’s Too Fast”, “Machine”, “In For a Penny”, “Footsteps”, “Paint Me a Picture”, “She Was Crying”, “Moya Moya” and “Tell me Baby” before a two-song encore of “Debt” and the appropriate closing stomper “Have to Go”. There are plenty of committed fans in the audience who have made the journey down from the North-East but by the end of the set, the rest have been won over as well by a combination of a varied bunch of songs delivered in ever-changing instrumental settings by a very tight and solid group of musicians, but that still doesn’t tell the full story of The Jar Family’s appeal and why they’ve built up such a fanatical following so far.

There are a couple of things that single this band out from the crowd. The band members interact with their audience on and off stage in a way that creates a shared experience; this isn’t about us and them, it’s about everyone together. The other thing is the songs; they’re accessible (whether they’re raucous or quietly melodic) and the lyrics deal with themes that most of us can relate to our daily lives. When you put a group of people like us on stage singing songs that could be about us, it’s a difficult combination to resist, particularly when the vocal and instrumental performances are so good. I understand what all the fuss is about now.

 

There was a time earlier this year, when I was hobbling around with the help of a crutch, when I thought that I would have difficulty scraping together five gigs that I’d actually seen; how wrong was that? It’s been difficult to narrow this list down to five, so I think there might be a few honourable mentions as well. So, in absolutely no order at all are my favourite live shows of 2014.

Jim StapleyJim Stapley Band at 93 Feet East

Jim Stapley’s debut album almost made my top five albums, but there was absolutely no doubt about this live performance. Jim has a phenomenal soulful rock voice and he has pulled together a superb band to deliver the songs live. This was an album launch gig featuring virtually all of the album “Long Time Coming” (plus a cheeky cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”) and, despite atrocious weather and a half-full venue, Jim and the band gave it everything. The songs were strong, the band were cooking on gas, but what a voice.

 

Stone FoundationStone Foundation at The 100 Club

Towards the end of a very busy year for the band, this was an appearance at the annual Delicious Junction bash and another headline slot at The 100 Club with a set based solidly on the “To Find the Spirit”. All of the band members are great players but, despite the solos, this isn’t about individuals, it’s about the group; it’s the perfect combination of a locked-in rhythm section, keyboards and horns. It was also a chance to see how the new members Gareth John (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Rob Newton (congas) had bedded in. It’s fair to say that the horns sounded better than ever and the congas added a little bit of icing on the cake. It was a great set from the band and a stomping encore of “Jumping Jack Flash”. Enough said.

YokaLittle Devils at The 100 Club

Yeah, The 100 Club again and it’s blues Jim, but not as we know it; Little Devils are fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist (sax and flute), Yoka. The rhythm section of Graeme Wheatley and Sara-Leigh Shaw (aka the Pintsized Powerhouse) built a solid base for Big Ray’s guitar and Yoka’s vocals and instrumental solos. The quality of the playing alone would put this gig up there with the best this year but this is also great fun; the band obviously enjoy themselves and the audience will always pick up on that. Great performances and big smiles all around the room; that’s a pretty good combination for a great night.

Federal CharmFederal Charm and Ian Hunter’s Rant Band

This was the final night of the Ian Hunter tour and the audience was in a party mood. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Federal Charm but they seem to get better every time. They got a huge cheer when they strolled on to the Shepherds Bush Empire stage and powered their way through thirty minutes of melodic blues rock featuring their powerful cover of “Reconsider” before making way for Ian Hunter. What a legend; played for two hours and kept the audience spellbound throughout, and the voice still sounds great. We even got an appearance from Mick Ralphs for the encore. Top night.

Gary BondsGary Bonds, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes

Now this sounded like a great idea. 60s legend, and big influence on the Asbury Park scene teams up with Southside Johnny for a UK tour; I’ll even pay for tickets for that. Albany Down, despite a ten-second soundcheck, got the audience nicely warmed up for the main event which was a set from Gary Bonds (with some help from Southside) and a set from Southside (with a little help from Gary Bonds), both backed The Asbury Jukes. As ever, the superb musicians (Jeff Kazee, Tom Seguso, John Conte, Glenn Alexander, John Isley, Chris Anderson and Neal Pawley) fitted together perfectly and reacted instantly to any curveballs thrown by Southside. Seriously great players but they know how to have a bit of fun as well. They’re a great attraction as The Jukes, but Gary Bonds just tipped it over the edge.

It was incredibly difficult to narrow this down to only five gigs and there are a few more which deserve honourable mentions. I saw Vera Lynch three times (including their final gig at The Barfly in Camden and a gig in a Shoreditch shop window), The Kennedys and Edwina Hayes at Green Note and Dean Owens and Black Scarr on Eel Pie Island and all of those were great nights. Here’s to many more in 2015.

 

The next contribution is from Little Devils. They do a lot of touring around the UK and Europe and bass player Graeme Wheatley has shared some of the more surreal things that can happen when a bunch of musicians are on their travels.

theprioryhotel[1]February: Dover Priory

A venue that appears to be part of a David Lynch movie. The gig was as wild as ever – the audience barely human by the end of the night. The lovely but completely incomprehensible landlord, Eric, said something like “Your room is a bit cramped and the door doesn’t lock properly” I expected nothing less. In true David Lynch fashion, I probably expected worse – and so – it was no surprise when I went up to bed several drinks later – that I found I was in a storage cupboard. The drinks had had their effect and so, finding a mattress that was at least on something of an angle less than vertical – I hit the sack. 15 minutes later, the homicidal maniac from the movies burst thru the door and said something like “What the fuck are you doing in here? Your room is next door – this is the cupboard!” Fortunately, Eric is the soul of discretion and has only told every single musician who has played the Dover Priory since this happened.

TrambluesJune:Tramblues Festival Antwerp

We were met by the host and introduced to a lovely person called Vee who explained that she was there to look after us for the whole of the evening and that, in true Belgian style, all food and drink was free for the entire evening. Being the true professionals that we are, nary a drop of alcohol passed our tightened lips pre-performance. However, post-performance is another thing – and the Devils went for it! Big time at the festival and then at the after festival party – way into the wee hours. At around 4.00am we were sitting outside of the party taking the air and trying not to fall over from a seated position, when the host re-appeared with the wonderful idea that the Little Devils could close the party with a wee jam session!!! All we can say is thank God the audience were in a similar state and no one had a camera!

MaryportJuly: Maryport Festival

Just prior to setting off for the festival, Ian, the organiser, called to ask if we could squeeze in an extra show. Money talks – so we readily agreed – the extra payment meant we could eat! What we didn’t quite realise was there were now 3 gigs on one day followed by a fourth on the day after. Each gig on the Saturday was incredible – the audiences really carried us along on a wave of frothy bluesy enthusiasm and energy – each gig we raised the roof and played til the money ran out! A knackered bunch of Devils crawled into tents at about 2.00am after playing for around 9 hours. Next morning we jumped up and prepared to launch ourselves once more into the fray – but – there was a problem. Somewhere along the way, Yoka had left her voice behind! 9 hours of bluesy belters and raunchy rocking had taken its toll – there was nothing there. We ladled honey and paracetamol in generous doses into her and poured port and brandy onto the broken larynx – and the show went on. We managed to make the last gig and a great time was had by all – even if some of the songs were more instrumental than usual!

JimiOctober: Isle of Wight Weekender

We played an acoustic set in the afternoon which somehow managed to set off the fire alarm – but this didn’t dampen spirits, and the evening set went down a storm. We finished the final number and the drummer had no choice but to make a swift dash for the loo; so as not to keep the audience waiting, we started part one of the encore without drums for the first verse or so. Or so we thought. First verse came and went. Ditto chorus. Then the second verse and chorus and still no drummer. Eventually, young Alan appeared and tore through the crowd to manage to get back for the middle 8 – he had been imprisoned in the loo by a couple of members of the audience who, with the assistance of a lot of alcohol, had decided this was a great prank. They reconsidered after getting the evil eye from Big Ray!

The Hope TavernNovember:The Hope Tavern

We arrived in Market Rasen as the gentle folk of the town were quietly enjoying their Sunday lunches. Barely a murmur broke the pleasant afternoon atmosphere and we too picked up on the sentiment and quietly got our lunches and sat down to enjoy the pre-gig feast. “Anyone say Grace?” I innocently asked. “Thank Fuck for Food!” said the angelic Pintsized Powerhouse in a loud and clear voice….. There was a prairie tumbleweed moment amongst the good people of Market Rasen – fortunately followed by laughter!