Graeme’s been contributing to this feature since 2015 and all of his contributions have been entertaining. We all know that it’s been hard to find positives over the last two tears, so we really appreciate the effort that’s gone into this one to pay homage to Charles Dickens with the presents of Christmas past and a Christmas yet to come. It’s a great memoir from a working musician and songwriter and we’re honoured to be publishing it here.

Present Number 1 – Abbey Road.

This was a present from my best friend’s parents to me when I was a nipper. I think it was 1970, probably years after it was released. But that didn’t matter to me at all. Music was timeless then. I was into the Beatles before I knew anything about music. Before I knew why it mattered. Maybe their music WAS why it mattered. Dunno, cept this was my first “grown-up” album. So grown up and in pristine condition that it was allowed onto my Dad’s enormous stereo player rather than just my Dansette. So I heard it loud and clear. Time and time and time again. I’d lie on the floor, speakers to either side and vanish. OK, it’s not a perfect album. In particular, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a stinker and Octopus’s Garden is a bit desperate. But the rest? Paul’s bassline on Come Together might be as significant to bassists as Sunshine of Your Love or Under Pressure – sheer genius. Here Comes The Sun? I Want You? Oh Darling? Something? All great songs. Then there’s the Medley. I’d never heard anything like it at the time. It was weird and wonderful to me. This was the first album where I was starting to think of myself as wanting to be a musician songwriter and I listened with ears that were trying to fathom what was going on. I must have learnt a million things from this album cos I must have listened to it a million times, but the one thing that springs straight to mind for this High 5 is hearing a love song that finds a clever way to say “I Love You” without being obvious.

“Something in the way she moves….. something in the way she moves ME”.

Thank you George. I learnt something from that.

Present Number 2 – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

This was also a Christmas present given year a few years after it was released. I had no idea at the time that the subject matter of the album was also the subject matter of Something but the cry of pain across the whole of the album resonated with me and my discovery of blues music which was picking up pace at that time. I was heading backwards into my Dad’s record collection finding he had Bessie Smith performing one of the tracks from Layla “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and my friend and I were trawling the record shops of Newcastle looking for old blues albums to listen and learn more about this fascinating music that spoke to us from another world. From the howl of Layla, the sob of Bell Bottom Blues, the wasted grief of Have You Ever Loved A Woman?, the torn soul of Thorn Tree In My Garden, I heard songs being used to communicate deep feelings lyrically and musically. I didn’t know how to do that, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. Just couldn’t put it into words or find the right notes! Sometimes you have to live a little.  Or a lot. But maybe not so much that 3 years of heroin addiction and 15 years of alcoholism is required to get over it. The first thing that comes to mind from this album now is again a new way of saying the old things. “There’s a thorn tree in my garden, if you know just what I mean”.

Present Number 3 – The Futurama Mk111

My first electric guitar. It was second hand and cost a whopping £25.00. I think I was vaguely aware that you got more guitar second hand than new. I have only ever bought one or two new guitars since. It came in a case and with a bottle of Selmar guitar polish. I was never the best guitarist, but I had the cleanest guitar. I can still recall the aroma of opening the case and smelling Selmar guitar polish. As heady a perfume as Sunday Dinner gravy, Fish and Chips, and all the other great aphrodisiacs. But here’s the thing. I’m left-handed. Now, I know Paul McCartney played left-handed, I must have even seen pictures of Jimi Hendrix playing his strat upside down. I probably hadn’t seen pictures of Albert King playing his Flying V upside down with the strings also upside down, and I don’t think that would have helped any. When I sat down and took out the cleanest guitar in all the world and my hands went one way and the guitar neck went the other, I sat and thought as my head swam. I’d persuaded my parents to buy me this guitar because my life depended on it. I couldn’t now go to them and say “err, I have a problem”. The guitar, to be honest, was already something contentious. It was being played on TV and Radio by people like said Mr Hendrix and other persons not on the family Christmas card list (you know who you are). My family were all old school trad jazz or even music hall. I was already swimming a little far from shore. So, I took the left arm and attached it to the neck of the guitar and the right hand was taped to the body of the guitar and I said to myself, get on with it. I think I was 14. We played our first gig when I was 16. We were awful. We split up after our second gig. Musical differences between us and music. It’s been on and off ever since.

Present Number 4 – Gibson Thunderbird

I can’t recall when I made the change permanently from guitar to bass. I know why I made it. Cos my best friend was 100 times better than me on guitar. So it was easier to change than remind myself every time we played. In my defence, I’d always really loved Paul and Jack. Great songwriters, singers and players. Then along came Andy Frazer, Phil Lynott, James Jamerson, Flea, Sklar, Carol Kaye and so many more into my line of vision and inspiration. It never really bothered me that Paul played bass with a plectrum. He was the bassist in the greatest band in the world and had written the greatest pop songs that will ever be written. I broke my wrist snow-boarding many years back and so, ended up using a pick more and more myself.

I have bought and sold many basses. Hofner Violin Bass, Gibson EB0, Rickenbacker 4001, Fender Jazz, Kramer, Status etc. This one will be the last one. I had to venture into the dark dangerous underworld in order to rescue it. It was held captive in a stygian dungeon called North London. I found it wounded and wasted and managed to carry it to safety and civilisation, South London, of course, and hence straight to the local Vet for shots and restorative care. (a shout out to John Procter – luthier of this parish – https://johnprocter.com/ ). What makes it so special? Dunno really. The Fender Jazz and the Status are easier to play. Almost all of them are lighter. It’s just iconic. I love the look. Are there any major bassists who have played one? John Entwhistle springs to mind. He also modified it into a Fenderbird. I just think it appealed cos of it’s total lack of obvious appeal! Anyway, what’s done is done. It has gotten under my skin like it or not.

Present Number 5 – The No Nukes Concert DVD

OK, this is the Ghost of Christmas Presents To Come. I have asked Santa for this pressie this year, but I dunno if it’s gonna be under the tree. I think I’ve been a nice boy all year. Christ, there’s not been much chance to be anything else! I am hoping it will be there on Christmas morning but the tree is currently still in the loft, so, who knows? If he’s checking his list once or twice, he ought to know this. Brucie was probably the last of the 20th C great songwriters to overwhelm me. I’d been overwhelmed by John and Paul, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen at various points. I think I’d been aware of Bruce but pre Darkness on the Edge of Town, he’d seemed less relevant to a kid in a small town in the industrial north of England. But then, through the airwaves, I heard something.

“Badlands, you gotta live it everday,

let the broken hearts stand, that’s the price you gotta pay

keep pushing til it’s understood

The Badlands start treating us good.” The guy across the water was as miserable as me. And as articulate as Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello. I learnt a lot more about songwriting. And then I saw him and the band. Nothing really prepared me for that (maybe Rory Gallagher). Three hours plus of sheer soul, glory, rock and roll. Delivered. I have never seen a better gig. Seen some I’d put up alongside it, but never bettered. Not by Brucie either I’m sorry to say. For me, and this is just for me, The River is a dreadful album. Too many awful fillers. I felt very let down by that album. So, it’s with Great Expectations that I’m looking forward to Christmas morning to be looking back to 1979!!

Now, what if I’m disappointed with the concert?

What if, on review, I decide that Abbey Road isn’t as good as I originally felt?

What if I decide that I can’t accept the genius of Layla with the foolish old man that Eric Clapton seems to have become and have to lay it aside?

What if my fingers get so stiff from lack of use, that I accept my playing days are over? In that case, I have prepared here for Allan my list of 5 Rules of Songwriting THAT CANNOT be broken under any circumstances, they are, in order of importance, as follows:

Graeme Wheatley’s a bit of a veteran of the High Fives thing; his first contribution was in 2015 and his band has had three names since then. They’re now ColorColour and the line-up really works; Amanda (drums), Iago (guitar) and Dre (vocals) fit together perfectly and the latest album “Strange Ways” (under the band’s previous name of Deep Blue Sea) is packed with great songs built around interesting subjects. How does a song about the Cable Street anti-Fascist protests sound? It works for us. Like all musicians, Graeme’s been incredibly frustrated by the COVID restrictions and, like most, he’s tried to find the positives:

 

When Allan McKay asked me if I’d like to write a High Five for 2020 my head spun! What could I do to find 5 high points of 2020? Had there been as many as 5?

Normally, 5 great gigs or 5 fun moments at gigs, or 5 silly things at gigs, or 5 weird things at gigs, at gigs, at gigs, at gigs……

Last year, I think I selected 5 cover versions of songs that were better than the originals. While I was doing that, I also selected 5 cover versions that should never have been recorded. Things like Paul Young’s version of Love Will Tear Us Apart. Of course, this year, the list is blown out of the water by William (The Shat) Shatner’s new album – every track of which is a travesty. Which I think maybe just about sums up 2020. But I can’t add to the woe. It’s got to be high 5 not low. Not this year.

So, I’ve not been to a gig since March at the 100 Club. Our band, ColorColour, has not been together in a studio, bar, venue or anywhere other than online since then. We’ve written songs, tried recording over the interweb, even made some clips of new songs and old songs and bits and bobs and Dre and Iago have been able to do some solo broadcasts and recordings and Amanda and I have recorded some drum and bass things but really the band has been in suspended inanimation “Another year over, and what have we done?”  

So, wracking the old grey stuff for 5 high points from this mother of all “anus horribluses” (intentional mis-spelling) – I stumble on something in the gloom. 5 things to look forward to in 2021?

 

  1. The vaccine – I am not going to listen to conspiracy theories – if you stand next to a 5G mast after having the vaccine you turn into a werewolf – whatever – I’m a big Warren Zevon fan – gimme the shot Doc – soon as you can – but not before anyone who needs it more than me gets it. I can wait in line behind the Keys – the people who have kept us going – the people who deserve a whole lot more than a clap – pay these people what they deserve you snivelling toads. Meantime, I’ll listen to some music and dream of the day we all go out to play.

Here’s my choice of music while I’m waiting for my shot.

I’m waiting for the man

 

  1. Standing in a crowded venue with loads of people watching a great band blasting out some rock and roll – nuthin fancy – nuthin too clever – all together – good times. Pushing to the bar, getting a couple of cold ones, standing, eyes closed, rocking back and forward, can’t get that smile of my face – it’s only rock and roll – but I like it. Start me up. I’ll be jumping like Jack, we can spend the night together. Remember, it’s just a shot away.

Gimme Shelter

 

  1. There will be parties. Dancing in the street. It’s not like we had to go to war to win this one – but people have done great things – small things and big things. And I know there will still be more tears. But someday, there will be tears of joy mixed with the tears of sad remembrance. And I want to focus on 5 good things coming down the line. So, yeah, sure Brexit will screw us up even further and prices will probably go up even more and my lovely band of gypsies from round the world will find it harder to go play in places where we wanna play but we will find a way and even if they charge us £20.00, we’re gonna party like it’s £19.99

 

  1. So, the last film I saw at the Peckhamplex (best cinema in London, or at least Peckham) sometime in February 2020 was JoJo Rabbit. We went twice. And bought the DVD. I always loved this song off The Vindicator album but in this film it became even better. Pointless to say it was my favourite cinema outing of 2020 cos it was probably my only cinema outing – so I’ll say it is one of my favourite films of all time – I don’t have to wait another 10 years to decide. It’s up there with another few hundred that make me laugh and cry and feel the human condition open and revealed. If you haven’t seen JoJo Rabbit, you need to. Now. I’m not saying it’s a Christmas movie, but it will work at Christmas just as well as any time. Give yourself a treat, we can all do with another yippie ky-aye.

Everybody’s gotta live

 

  1. Now you can say I’m a dreamer – but I’m not crazy – I know we aren’t going to get back to Woodstock. Those times are gone – and to be honest – I’m going to stick my neck out here and say – I’m guessing the toilets were pretty basic – and the whole concept of washing hands while singing Happy Birthday is probably not compatible with the 60s festival thang but:

 

someday

not too far away

we will stand in a field

there will come a time

the sun will shine

there will be wine

and chills down the spine

and upon a sign

standing in line

hands waving, yours and mine

some perfect day

not too far away

 

So, till we meet again, may you stay forever young, and if by chance you don’t know the band, let a little ColorColour into your life right here www.colorcolourband.com

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.