It’s looking like this feature might have legs. After a moving contribution from Danny Schmidt, Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation was next to send a contribution over in our direction with his usual incredibly quick turnaround. We were expecting something special here, because Neil has seen a lot of gigs (and also played a lot), so this was always going to be something a bit special, and it also has the best closing line ever. So let’s hear about Prince’s “Lovesexy” tour at Wembley Arena.

 

Tuesday 26th July 1988, Wembley Arena – 

I still find it hard to comprehend that Prince is referred to in the past tense, another true original innovator lost. It’s like a curtain closing forever, a nail through the pulse of musical history. Prince & Bowie both passed in the space of only a few months…the likes of which we will never witness again, their gift was unique & unrepeatable. Thankfully it unfolded in our lifetime. Our very own Mozarts I suppose. 

I get asked a lot about the best gig I’ve ever seen, a common topic amongst the social narrative especially after a few looseners in the pub. Now, I’ve been to my fair share, seen most of the bands & artists that I’ve wanted to, some on several occasions. I’ve been very lucky in that respect, I’ve had countless “right place/right time” moments. Probably never more so than watching Prince turn the cavernous Wembley Arena into what felt like an intimate dancehall on his “Lovesexy” tour of 1988. 

I was fortunate enough to see Prince tons of times, he was never anything less than mesmerising (ok, “Batman” tour was a bit shit but still there were THOSE moments). His arrival back in the UK in ‘88 was eagerly anticipated as he’d cancelled the previous year’s dates for the “Sign O’ the Times” tour. I was so disappointed I didn’t even muster up the momentum to return my ticket for a refund. I decided to keep it as a souvenir of a non-event and make do with watching the film of the gig a hundred times over (“please wear something Peach or Black” was the instruction on the stub) 

I managed to blag freebies for the Wembley gig via my record shop connections and myself & Hammy found ourselves nestled next to Pop royalty for the night – well, Bananarama sat behind us, the singer from The Adventures to the left and directly to my right hand side Lloyd Cole was seated, studious in spectacles, scribbling notes into an A5 writing pad all evening (I did enquire at one point if we should expect Commotions dance routines on his next tour but he just grunted and ploughed his head back into his jotter) 

Even Prince’s presentation and re-arrangement of the building was unique for the time, I think he was the first artist I saw set up in the centre of the venue and perform on a 360 degree circular stage, both Stevie Wonder & Anita Baker gigs followed suit very soon after, it made for the perfect spectacle. The “Lovesexy” tour not only featured the irrepressible Cat (remember her?), the stage in the round also came complete with a Ford Thunderbird automobile, multi-level trellis staging, a fountain and a basketball court!

Despite selling out every night it’s reported that the huge production costs resulted in the tour making zero profit…did he care? 

It was pop/funk/rock genius all rolled up into one of the most explosive performances I’ve ever watched. Master showmanship channelling prime time James Brown, Little Richard, George Clinton…musicianship that would leave most others standing (he’s easily the best guitarist I’ve ever heard) and of course…those songs. Let’s not overlook that marvellous run of recorded output and that of course is only what we have heard, thousands of recordings from that period remain in the vaults, unreleased. No one could keep up with him. The 80’s were defined by his soundtrack as a backdrop.

Find me a more complete piece of work than the sprawling epic that was “Sign O’ the Times”? Virtually faultless. “Parade”, “Around the world in a Day”, “Lovesexy”… just ridiculously amazing records. I used to study those albums, I think I played Prince at some point each & every day for at least 5 years. I carried a cassette of “Sign O’ the Times” album in my pocket everywhere I went for almost a year. “Purple Rain” was probably a red herring, he had so much more…could turn his funk & flavour in any direction and make it seem effortless and after a global success he wasn’t afraid to do a musical U-turn and take risks.

Ever the entertainer, he still didn’t play or pander to the gallery. He made his own rules, determined not to be typecast.

That night in July 1988 he was unstoppable, in his absolute prime. The show was relentless, it reached unthinkable, extravagant heights, unachievable by any else’s standards. I vividly recall one moment clear as crystal……..

Prince was off on a guitar workout, in itself a bona fide shock of electricity; he could play, really play…in an instant his solo peaks to dizzying heights, he throws the guitar around his back, struts off in 5″ high heels down a stage ramp somehow managing to drop to the floor doing the splits in full flow whilst still hurtling towards his microphone, he arrives at the edge of stage, spins round in a pirouette, boots his mic stand away from him, drops for one more session of the splits then leaps back up to catch his microphone in perfect time to start singing the next verse…all of the time the guitar stays intact…it was undoubtedly the coolest 60 seconds of my gig-going experiences; even Lloyd Cole put his pen down.

Layla ZoeLayla Zoe blurs the distinction between rock and blues; although this live workout has shades of quieter emotion too (“The Lily” for example, which brings out the sweetness in Zoe’s voice). The set relies heavily on her most recent work, 2014’s “The Lily” and unfortunately, the Belgian crowd seem unfamiliar with those tracks. However she kicks off with ‘”I’ve Been Down” where she sings ‘… gotta get my act together…’ in what could be a tribute to either Janis Joplin or The Doors (“Been Down So Long”), she then seamlessly slips into forward gear with a 180 degree turn to “Pull Yourself Together”, a vehement musical rant that shows Zoe’s voice to full effect. Another angry highlight is “They Lie”, ‘They’ being the political establishment; if not exactly nailing her colours to a particular mast, Layla and band remind us that there are plenty of reasons to wake up and protest and you can almost hear her long hair whipping the microphone.

The difference between this album and the last is not just its alive quality, but that “The Lily” co-writer and axeman extraordinaire, Henrik Freischlader is absent, instead replaced by Jan Laacks. It would have taken a skilful and confident guitarist to audition for such an intricate set of tunes, but I have to say, if I had doubts previously, Laacks more than manages lead guitar duties, even if he tends toward more straight-ahead rock sensibilities on the whole.

It’s a big listen, clocking in both discs at about the same length as a feature film, and maybe a brave release given its coverage of her most recent album, only a few of older tracks and ending with three covers (Lennon/McCartney’s “Let It Be”, “Yer Blues” and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” with a more relaxed jazz vocal in places; it’s twenty minutes long). But thankfully it’s not a “Greatest Hits: Live” which can so often result in overworked arrangements to stop the band nodding off. “Live” is a great listen but you might want to take it in in halves. As often happens, with live sets, three of the tracks come in at over ten minutes, for which you maybe had to be there. However, this outing on disc certainly makes me hope that she does a dedicated UK tour sometime soon.

It feels like this release is more of a confirmed fan’s date; newcomers should certainly dip into this album, but I’d probably recommend an earlier studio session or to just buy a ticket and get lost in the bluesy world of Layla Zoe.

“Live at Spirit of 66” is out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-46).

Our next contributor plays saxophone with Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes but also released a strikingly good album this year as part of the New York Horns which is one of Allan’s albums of the year. When we asked him for a High Fives piece, here’s what he came up with. We think you’ll like this.

5 Horn Sections That Changed My Life

As a saxophone player, one of my absolute favorite ways to make music is with other horn players. Give me a trumpet or two, a couple of other saxophone players and a trombone to add some love, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lotta fun. If the rhythm section is the meat and potatoes, and the vocalist is dessert, then the horn section is the salt. We bring out all the other flavors and make everything oh so much sweeter.

In thinking about the subject matter for this best-of list, it quickly dawned on me that I had MANY more than five examples that I could draw upon to make my point. So many that I almost gave up! After some careful consideration though, here’s five of the horn sections that have changed my life through their contributions to the music:

Count BasieCount Basie Orchestra

THE swingin-est band in the history of jazz. Count Basie’s band emerged in the 1930’s in Kansas City, and became the de facto definition of foot-stomping swing with their penchant for shouting blues, riffing head arrangements, and an infectious groove that just made you want to dance. The jazz traditions of “riffing” and “head arrangements”, while not originating with the Basie band, were certainly developed and forwarded onward by the band. Many of the riffs, licks and phrases that you will hear modern horn sections play can trace some or part of their lineage back to the Basie band. Check out “The Atomic Mr. Basie” (1957) and “Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings” (1956). Two of my all time favorite Basie albums.

The JB HornsThe JB Horns/Horny Horns

James Brown redefined popular music. He also redefined the role of the horn section in popular music. Prior to his influence, horns would generally have a more melodic role -- playing melodies and generally being in a “lead” role. The late swing and early jump blues bands often were led by horn players and under the vocals the horns played a large supporting role, remaining a mostly harmonic underpinning. James changed all that. The horn section under James Brown became another rhythmic instrument, driving and propelling the groove. With snapping rhythmic pulses and repeating motifs, the horn section was another texture in the rhythm section, adding propulsion and rhythmic intensity. Check out “Mother Popcorn”, “Super Bad”, “Soul Power” and “Cold Sweat” for classic examples. The JB Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis) also were a fixture of P-Funk and Bootsie’s (Collins) Rubber Band, as the Horny Horns.

Memphis HornsMemphis Horns

Growing up in North Carolina, in the southern United States, it was inevitable that I was exposed to the music coming out of Memphis, Tennessee and especially STAX Records. Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, aka the Memphis Horns, are one of the most recorded horn sections in history. If you’ve heard “Dock Of The Bay”, “Soul Man”, “Hold On I’m Comin’”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Takin’ It To The Streets”, “Let’s Stay Together”, “Born Under A Bad Sign”, “Knock On Wood” (and countless other hits), then you’ve heard the Memphis Horns. They appeared on virtually every STAX recording, backing Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Carla & Rufus Thomas and an endless list of others. Not only were they a staple of the Memphis scene but could also be found as part of the Muscle Shoals scene, and on recordings with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.

Tower of PowerTower Of Power

No modern horn player that plays funk, soul or R&B hasn’t heard of or spent time studying TOP. Bursting onto the scene in Oakland, CA in 1968, Tower saw its peak success from 1973 to 1974. The band continues to tour extensively to this day, playing hundreds of shows every year across the world. The horn section has been featured on countless recordings by artists as diverse as Little Feat, Graham Central Station, The Monkees, Santana, Elton John, John Lee Hooker, Rufus, Rod Stewart, Huey Lewis and the News, and Aerosmith and has come to define a punchy, modern and funky style of writing and performing for horns.  Check out “Tower of Power” (1973) and “Back to Oakland” (1974) for the definitive TOP experience.

SeawindJerry Hey/Jerry Hey Horns

While not a horn section unto himself, Jerry Hey has probably written more horn arrangements for hit songs and albums than anyone else in the business. As part of the Seawind Horns, Jerry was brought to the attention of Quincy Jones. That relationship led to Jerry’s writing for some of the biggest names in the industry. His credits as an arranger include albums from Michael Jackson, Brothers Johnson, Donna Summer, Rufus, George Benson, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Earth, Wind and Fire , Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, and the list goes on… Two of my favorite albums that feature Jerry’s writing (and the Jerry Hey Horns) extensively are Al Jarreau’s “Jarreau” and “High Crime” (Check out “Imagination”!) and likely my all time favorite Jerry Hey arrangement (and performance) is from Michael Jackson’s “Workin’ Day And Night” (“Off The Wall”).

I could go on and on… there are so many great horn sections, players and writers out there, making incredible music. Hopefully this list will give you some food for thought and a good place to begin to explore the horn section legacy. Enjoy!