It would be an understatement to say that this has been an eventful year for the Music Riot team. Steve Jenner has had two books published in late 2018, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” and “On the Radio” (with his brother Paul) and we thought it was a perfect opportunity to showcase some of his past Music Riot escapades and demonstrate the sheer quality of his writing, not to mention his enthusiasm for and knowledge of Popular Music. Just sit back and enjoy some effervescent music writing.

 

Setting the scene

Here’s an example from one of the books published this year, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight”, a collection of live reviews, some of which initially appeared in Music Riot. This was from a review of a Brian Wilson show:

‘My mate can drink 3 pints of lager through a straw in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.

According to some, this makes him a ‘legend’.

Brian Wilson is regarded by many as a ‘genius’.

I would argue these labels have caused problems for both men and have probably influenced their behaviour and probably not in a good way.

Sheer enthusiasm

It’s a prerequisite for membership of the Riot Squad that you’re enthused to the point of obsession about popular music. The wordplay’s quite impressive as well:

Elvis Fontenot – an explosion of manic cajun and punk–zydeco energy. The outside area at The Cock is long and quite narrow and so if you find yourself at the front, they are In Your Face in a big way. A gurning bundle of leering, squealing, careening, lurching riot, they are Big Fun. Combining the pace of a Ska band and the intensity of punk with squeeze box and scrub–board tricks and tuneage born on the bayou, this was full of vivacious kick and naughtiness but with extremely high standards of musicianship and let’s hear it for the sound man who kept the whole thing in beautiful balance. Absolutely the best thing at the Festival so far. Mama’s Got A Squeeze Box. Somebody Sign These People – Now.

Photo courtesy of John Hayhurst.

Hilarious similes

Steve has a very creative turn of phrase. This reference to the drum sound is from a piece about the John Fogerty gig at the O2, referring to some ‘issues’ the sound crew was having during Steve Miller’s set. Steve made the comment during the set, then gave it a quick road-test later when we were backstage talking to the band. You know it’s a good line when it Makes The Band Laugh:

The keyboards, which would play an increasingly important part in the set were virtually absent; the guitars lost in a quite horrible swamp of all the things I do not appreciate which sometimes seems to be ‘the way it is done’ when an American band plays a stadium rock gig. The drums sound like someone is throwing an empty filing cabinet down a lift shaft; the bass is an intrusive, rubbery Audio Prevention Scheme.

Social campaigner?

A very serious point made in Steve’s grumpy, irascible old codger voice. It’s an old technique, sing humour to make a serious point, but he does it so well:

Venues, promoters and bands themselves often bemoan the relative lack of female punters and offer various socio – politico – entertaino(?)- reasons for this. The truth is much simpler. There are not enough bogs for women. It is not rocket science. As a bloke you cruise past, cheerfully unzipping before you so much as reach the door, whilst the queue for the ladybogs has already lit a campfire and are preparing a bivouac for the night. And it’s not even a good chortle for the average bloke; they’re tricky blighters, these women. I know. I’ve been kept by one as a sort of house pet for the last forty years or so. As a token bloke, they hold you personally responsible for all life’s discomforts and they take it out on you as a representative of the foul brood who have brought them to this ignominy. Please, ye great and ye good, if you make one resolution this year, it has to be more ladybogs in music venues. And High Five to you, too.

The important things in life

If you’ve read any of Steve’s work, you’ve probably seen a reference to beer. He enjoys a beer; proper cask-conditioned, hand-pulled beer, not cold, fizzy gnat’s pee. He enjoys a single malt as well and I could tell you a story about drinking Jack and coke after a DJ gig, but I think that has to wait a while. Anyway, back to bitter:

Now, when I go out to see a band, I like a beer. To be honest I like a beer when I don’t go out to see a band as well which is why I also have problems with 4 (Tight seats in venues – Ed). But for the sake of the good Lord, why, why oh why do some venues insist on dishing up five – count them – five – draught lagers AND NO BITTER? WHY?? Take the O2 Indigo as exhibit A. Gorgeous venue. Excellent sight lines, marvellous acoustics, washroom facilities you could picnic in – and NO BITTER! My most recent visit there was to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul and what a breathtaking gig that was. But it also happened to coincide with the night when the Guinness was ‘off’. (What does that even mean? It was past sell-by? It was giving off a sulphurous odour? WHAT?) And so we were offered a wide range of near-identical fizzy light brown chemical substances which could loosely be described as ‘lager’ (and don’t even try to tell me British Bud isn’t ‘lager’). I wasn’t expecting an array of twelve real ales and a couple of nice porters, but – not even John Smith’s, the last refuge of the scoundrel? Bah and humbug.

Photo courtesy of John Hayhurst.

I recently saw a 15 year old Ford Mondeo which had just been resprayed Brilliant White and which was reclining resplendently in the pub car park. I have very rarely seen a consumer durable which screamed ‘OOOOHH! LOOOOK AT MEEE!!’ with quite such intrusive insistence and neediness. Hold that thought. I will return to it in a short while.

Jo Harman was the proud owner of the ‘early doors crowd shuffles in, a bit grumpy as they’ve just got in from work and haven’t yet got over the shock of the price of a beer’ spot in what Mr. M. describes as ‘The Enormodrome’ because yes, I’m back at my least favourite venue in the land, the Eauchew.

And something seems to have happened to her. A few years back I seem to recall a series of sharp, soulful single releases ending up persuading me to programme her on the A-list of ‘our’ couple of commercial radio stations so I was probably in a minority in being intrigued to hear what she might have to offer. Unfortunately, this appeared to be a sort of Joni Mitchell / Carole King hybrid with added ‘soul’; which strangely seems to have the opposite effect, making it seem an even more sterile experience in a half-empty big shed. Keyboard player who accompanied her wasn’t a lot of help either. The irrepressible Robert Elms had a few minutes previously claimed ‘we were the lucky ones’ in catching her set. I must confess I didn’t exactly feel like a lottery winner as a consequence. I wasn’t quite sure what she was trying to achieve and to be honest I don’t think she achieved it short of a polite but lukewarm reception at the end of the set.

The reason her set was truncated and she was introduced with seemingly indecent haste was that things appeared to be running late, which in a time-sensitive, virtually automated venue like the O2, Just Can’t Happen. And so when The Steve Miller Band hit the boards, the sound was still pretty much all over the place. Anyone suffering from a gluten allergy would have been poleaxed; it was glutinous, sticky, thoroughly unbalanced and really quite horrible to begin with. The keyboards, which would play an increasingly important part in the set were virtually absent; the guitars lost in a quite horrible swamp of all the things I do not appreciate which sometimes seems to be ‘the way it is done’ when an American band plays a stadium rock gig. The drums sound like someone is throwing an empty filing cabinet down a lift shaft; the bass is an intrusive, rubbery Audio Prevention Scheme. Which is a blooming shame as the band set off at a fair old lick with ‘The Stake’ and, to quote SM himself, ‘a bit of magic’ – ‘Abracadabra’. Iwannareachoutangrabya. Apart from the fact that if you tried you’d have to get past the white Mondeooh, look at me, go on, look at me – rhythm section.

I must admit I am of the persuasion which tends to believe great bass playing in an ensemble rock setting you barely even notice; it does the job, it hangs it all together, it doesn’t ‘make you notice’. And as for those drums! Whole rows of people felt bottom leave chair momentarily as the hammer came down. And we were sitting hard by the mixing desk; gawd help the benighted souls heading for the stratosphere where the sound is suspect at the best of times.

Anyway. It’s the Blues Fest and we’re going to hear some and the band treat us to “Mercury Blues” and “All Your Love”, an Otis Rush song, and the main man explains to us why and how he has more right than most to sing it. He’s a great raconteur; very unassuming and self-effacing and with that sort of laconic West Coast sense of humour which is at once likeable and engaging. And from that it’s Space Cowboy, and a real ‘oldie’ in “Kow Kow Calqulator”, still muddy but at least the vocal, which is great, starts to assert itself. Steve Miller has a really listenable voice; it rocks, but with just that edge of sweetness and West Coast smoothness that radios have loved for years. Not only that, but jukeboxes, too. Back in the day on both sides of the Atlantic, having a juke-box friendly sound really got you through to people when they were at leisure and unusually receptive to music; and “Take The Money And Run” is one of these and it spat its way sharply across the floor of the O2 towards me – and as it did I can remember having played it just once, then drilling out the hole ready for slamming it on the ‘Union’ jukebox, where it was played until it went grey with wear. Whoop – whoop!

“Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Serenade from the Stars” were standouts from the mid-section of the set and despite the depressingly overplayed ‘Thuds’ and rumbles from the rhythm section, the quality of the mix did improve. The keyboards started to assert themselves and the quirky ‘synthesizer’ FX and the trademark guitar ‘wolf whistles’ started to join Miller’s voice and the excellent harmonic backup to make the gig sound more like…The Steve Miller Band. “Fly Like An Eagle” is a great song, always was and is one of those that just refuses to date; very much like “Swingtown”, which is such an oddball, really, but just works brilliantly as one of those jukebox 45’s, or as a ‘top down’ radio cruiser; and we’re off into the Solid Gold Hits section of the show (and thanks be to the lord that the sound has continued to recover) as we blast through “Rock ‘n’ Me”, which should be the first track every on ‘Drivetime’ CD compilation ever produced and “The Joker”, complete with album cover back drop on the big screen. This song had a strange time in the UK; first released on Capitol Records back in the early seventies, it did OK but didn’t set the country alight whilst it raced to the top in the States and most of Europe; but it went to number one in the early eighties and thereby righting a strange historical anomaly when the record company reissued it once the band had seriously broken through and already had a string of Big Ones for Mercury / Phonogram.

Encore time and they thrash through spirited versions of “Jungle Love” complete with the FX – and “Jet Airliner” which just so suits the ‘double track’ vocal style and purposeful ‘drive’ of the song. And by the end these guys had the vast majority of the arena on their feet – as many had been from about half way through the set – and they had underlined the thing that experienced All-American Bands do best; they know how to put on a show in a stadium, they know how to pace a set, they know how to work through the obstacles that get in the way. And despite my clear annoyance about the sound, I’d have to say they were ultimately worth the entry fee alone.

Don’t tell the Festival organizers though because they’ve booked some bloke called John Fogerty as tonight’s main Turn after the bingo.

John Fogerty. The songwriter, frontman and main driver behind the hits of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty and Co. climbed to the top of the rock ‘n’ roll pile in the US and indeed a position of considerable prominence across the rest of the world when the market was extremely competitive. Playing at Woodstock, the guy is a true all-American music hero. Going back to the ‘jukebox’ theme again, Fogerty virtually made the 7-inch piece of black plastic his personal territory as his hits blasted out of virtually every jukejoint, bar, drive-in, and yes, radio speaker grille across the greater USA. Despite being very much “Born On The Bayou”, by making direct, impactful and Damn Loud tunes based on (in the main) classic rock ‘n’ roll structures straight out of the ‘fifties, his band criss-crossed the states in a dizzying dash to take the music to the people. And he played everywhere and all the time. But he had things to say as well, about which more later.

And so at the age of 73, the main man positively leaps onto the stage in London’s ‘Enormodrome’ to find thousands upon thousands already right with the programme -‘737 Coming Out Of The Sky’ – and we’re playing in a “Travelling Band”. Bedecked in a jacket even more attention-grabbing but considerably less intrusive than Steve Miller’s rhythm section, he smiles sharkishly at the assembled multitude and launches that amazing, insistent, hot-knife-through-butter voice. He looks like a man who KNOWS he’s got what the people want and he ain’t afraid to use it.

“Green River”, “Hey Tonight”, “Up Around the Bend”, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain”. I’m already exhausted by the intensity and we haven’t even started yet. Band and JF are performing with total energy and conviction and seem to be having a great time as well. The extremely young horn section – especially the sax player – swing and sass with fruity verve and give the tunes the extra dimension they sometimes need to ‘lift’ them to the place where they deserve to be; and he’s a great storyteller as well, grinning throughout he thanks the audience at every turn and tell stories of Woodstock, guitars, family, travel, love and strife. It’s all there.

Most bands who are still fortunate enough to enjoy the experience and guile of a 70+ year old main man usually have to adopt ‘coping strategies’ to eke out the energy and resources of the man it is actually all about. This can entail band solo spots whilst the main attraction has a rest and a change of clothes; a harmony section which sweeps in like a Huey chopper sweeping in to rescue a struggling Marine battalion in the Mekong Delta once the ‘voice’ starts to fade; no such strategies with the goodly Mr F., who holds his bandstand throughout. He SINGS these songs. They are not ‘easy pieces’ to sing; they require sustained power, accuracy and clarity, and there’s no hiding here. He is, however, given a bit of moral support by the appearance of one of his sons, Tyler, who sweeps in to sing “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Psycho” in a good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll tear-up; and indeed Shane Fogerty, who stays on stage throughout and is, in his own right, a phenomenal rock guitar player. And the enthusiasm is just so infectious; you just can’t help grinning from ear to ear. It becomes clear that what’s happening here is a joyous celebration of a career which has defined American rock and roll for more years than seems possible, but not in a ‘curated’ kind of way. This is Some Party.

This is followed by a sober, testifying “As Long as I Can See the Light” and a quick trip down the “Mystic Highway” before it’s party time again as there’s another of the bewildering number of guitar changes and we’re off down to New Orleans. “Born On The Bayou”, surely one of the most atmospheric and downright creepy songs of the genre, gives way to a giggly, jiggly “Don’t Mess With My Toot Toot”, “Jambalaya” and a killer version of Gary US Bonds “New Orleans”. Well, take me to the Mardi Gras. The unfeasibly youthful brass section all head off into the audience playing their heads off whilst Bob Malone, who plays an absolute captain’s innings on a double-edged battery of keyboards – leaping from one to the other with demented energy – but it’s on stuff like this you start to realize quite how versatile this guy is. Rolling, barrelhouse Fats Domino piano? Here you go….and how about a bit of squeeze box…? Anything else? And this all fattens the sound out and makes it fill every corner of the vast O2 in a set which is rapidly becoming a Masterclass in Just About Everything.   

A whole bunch of bands could learn a thing or two about set pacing here as well. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” is more contemplative fare – but again, another enormous hit which everybody has heard and the audience goes into singalong mode. That’s the way you do it.

Oh, and just in case anybody’s missed this one, this man wrote one of the most important songs in the world, ever. Nothing like a big statement, is there? Especially when it wasn’t a massive hit for him personally. But just imagine what Live Aid 1 would have been like if The Quo would have hit the stage to kick off proceedings and it had all been a bit….meeah? Yep, “Rockin’ All Over the World” is One Of His. Few, if any, have captured the essence of the joys of a touring rock band so succinctly and effectively. Apart from Fogerty himself. ‘Playing In A Travelling Band’. More than one hit song about rain, more than one hit song about life on the road. Blessed is the ballpoint that scribbled on the fag packets that led to those little beauties, I would contend.

And we’re not done. “Down On the Corner” is one of those tunes which just lit up the gloomy doomy turn of the sixties into the seventies. Some managed to keep it simple, kept writing songs for everyone. Bring a nickel, stamp your feet. “The Old Man Down The Road” is another of Fogerty’s admittedly serial reinterpretations of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q” but it’s none the worse for that and “Keep On Chooglin” is an irresistible invitation to have a right good Choogle, complete with spectacular guitar pyrotechnics and another guitar change. And speaking of pyros……Lawdy Miss Clawdy! You could feel the heat generated by the flash-bangs back here by the mixing desk, and the drummer did well not to melt on the spot as great gouts of napalm sprang upwards. Oh – and have you noticed? No griping about the sound. The horrible ‘stadium’ drum and bass combo which so compromised Steve Miller’s set was suddenly clean, clear and unobtrusive, but hard-driving and taking no prisoners. In fact once they’d got the voice balance on JF’s voice during the set opener, you could just forget about it, which is how it should be (but how I feared it wouldn’t be given the earlier problems).

An angry and prescient “Fortunate Son” – ‘it ain’t me,’ indeed – led to an admission that a ‘rather nasty curfew’ was about to descend upon proceedings and so I was left feeling the non-appearance of “Hot Rod Heart” was a bit of a miss but in the context of what we’d already been treated to it would indeed be positively churlish to complain.

So, “Bad Moon Rising” – a fitting bookend to “Fortunate Son” predictably brought the house down (I mean, what a song. What A Song. Two minutes or so spent listening to that at any time of day is never time wasted) and then “Proud Mary” kept on turnin’, and the band went off to a rapturous response, Fogerty smiling the smile of a man who Knew as he turned to look at the mayhem his songs and performance had, once again, created. The applause had barely faded when the roadies were already breaking down, the band were being hustled through the labrynth, and, desperately trying to ignore the jetlag which they had spent the last couple of hours or so denying, contemplating that early flight to Dublin for the next gig the very next day. Rockin’ All Over The World? Playin’ In A Travellin’ Band? You bet. As Long As He Can See The Light, Keep on Chooglin’ Mr. F.

Damn. Why ARE Americans SOOOO good at this sort of thing? Especially this bloke and the band he has built around him. And don’t even bother mithering me with any of that ‘ah, but is it the Blues?’ nonsense. Isn’t even a consideration. Willy and the po’ boys are playing, bring a nickel, stamp your feet. Or Don’t. Your choice.

W138If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have sought out this album, but there’s a perverse enjoyment in stepping out of your comfort zone and finding out that the world hasn’t ended. The press release didn’t help by referring to Chris’s work as a revival of traditional fiddle music; it’s not so much a revival as someone carrying the torch to pass it on to the next runner. What Chris does, with style and impeccable technique is to create original tunes and songs based on (mainly) British and Irish folk styles with the occasional modern twist. He does a lot of it as well; this is his second album in three months. It’s music that’s created to make people dance, but the sheer quality of the playing and the strength of the melodies means that you don’t have to be whirling around a barn to feel its power. Be warned; it will make you tap your toes, at the very least.

The sleeve notes very helpfully identify the various dance forms each tune’s associated with so you can give yourself a little online lesson in Gaelic music (I did and I know the difference now between jigs, reels and hornpipes – I managed to work out the waltz for myself) while appreciating some truly outstanding ensemble playing featuring fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bodhran, flute, penny whistle and uilleann pipes. The three vocal pieces on the album are a pretty accurate summary of what this album is all about; “Wicklow” and “Cape Horn” have pastoral Irish and seafaring lyrical themes that are straight out of the folk tradition, while “Small Wonder” retains the traditional stylings with modern lyrical references. “Cape Horn” is a great example of the of the influence of Celtic music on modern styles; you can hear similarities to John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, which was in turn influenced by traditional Celtic-infused early American music. There’s also a very slight nod to Chris’s Irish heritage with the beautiful lament “Gibraltar 1988”; if you don’t get the reference, just stick the title in a search engine.

This album is a fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern, with Chris Murphy’s fiddle taking centre stage as the ensemble creates a backdrop with their intricate melodic patterns. I might not be dancing, but I’m certainly listening.
“The Tinker’s Dream” is released in the UK on Teahouse Records (THR003) on Friday January 27th.

It’s time to move away from albums, gigs and photos for a while and take a look at some of the music-themed books that have kept me sane on buses, trains and planes during 2015. By sheer chance, I’ve managed to pick out quite a nice variety of styles and themes, so the selection staggers from light-hearted memoirs through serious autobiography to high technology and serious crime (no, I don’t mean the new Coldplay album). So, as ever, in no particular order, here we go.

How Music Got Free“How Music Got Free” – Stephen Witt

There’s a myth that’s been perpetuated about the origins of the current situation where we have a generation that won’t pay for music and a generation that doesn’t even recognise the concept of paying for music. What Stephen Witt’s book achieves is a comprehensive demolition of the myth that file-sharing came about because of some sort of people’s revolution where millions of like-minded people decided to share their digital music collections. This well-researched work picks out the various converging paths ultimately leading to the digital devaluation of music. The book explores the bureaucracy that bedevilled the adoption of a standard compression algorithm, the greed of the major music labels as they rushed into the highly lucrative CD market, the failure of the majors to react to the phenomenon of file compression (and increasing online transfer speeds which made sharing a viable proposition) and the outright criminality involved in stealing and counterfeiting masters from CD pressing plants. It’s a fascinating but ultimately depressing book.

Detroit 67“Detroit 67: The Year that Changed Soul” – Stuart Cosgrove

Stuart Cosgrove has picked out a pivotal year in the history of Motown and imposed a structure of a chapter per month (it works pretty well) which sets the upheavals at Motown against a backdrop of riots in Detriot, unrest in the police force and a general national malaise. Berry Gordy plays a central role in the well-known story of Diana Ross’s advancement at the expense of the other Supremes (and the expulsion of Florence Ballard), but Stuart Cosgrove delves deeper into the sickness at the heart of the company, dealing with the unease of major artists and the ultimate defection of the Holland/Dozier/Holland writing/production team. The book goes far beyond music biography by showing these events in the context of a city in meltdown with riots on either side of the racial divide and a brutal, corrupt police force fanning the flames. It’s a fascinating read, although there are far too many typos in the Kindle edition.

Fortunate Son“Fortunate Son” – John Fogerty

Confession time: the first song I performed in public was Creedence’s “Up Around the Bend” in a school band which included some good musicians and a future nuclear physicist, and me. I was a fan from an early age. “Fortunate Son” is John Fogerty’s attempt to put the record straight after accusations and counter-accusations, suits and counter-suits with his former band members Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. The book is unflinchingly honest throughout; John Fogerty isn’t trying a whitewash here. He owns up to his mistakes and errors of judgement and this gives him the right to expose others’ lies and hypocrisy. It’s difficult not to empathise with him in his battles with Saul Zaentz and the former Creedence members: he wrote the songs, after all. “Fortunate Son” pivots around John Fogerty’s meeting with his second wife, Julie, who brought order to his chaotic life and pushed him back towards popular and critical recognition. It’s good, it’s honest, it’s straightforward and it’s delivered in an authentic John Fogerty voice.

Unfaithful Music“Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink” – Elvis Costello

Declan McManus has an awful lot of stories to tell and, not surprisingly, he has a gift for writing and storytelling. “Unfaithful Music…” is a cracking read, giving an insight into the creation of some wonderful music, and life in the music business bubble. The book doesn’t follow a straightforward chronological structure; it’s much more like a conversation in the pub with each observation triggering another digression. There are some difficult events to deal with (the Stephen Stills/Ray Charles incident for example) and they’re all dealt with in a very matter of fact way. The book skips over some big chunks of Elvis Costello’s life, but the ones he does tackle are done with honesty and candour. The names that crop up as the story unfolds are a history of popular music, but this never feels like name-dropping, they’re just people who happen to have been around at certain times. This is a wonderful book.

Rock StarsRock Stars Stole My Life” – Mark Ellen

Mark Ellen’s memoir is a breezy and self-deprecating run through a life as a pop journalist, radio presenter, TV presenter and publisher. He gives an inside view on life at the NME in the seventies, The Old Grey Whistle Test and the Live Aid broadcast, all delivered in a jaunty style that’s very easy to read. He’s met and worked with some amazing people (again, it’s all matter-of-fact rather than name-dropping), but being a member of Ugly Rumours with Tony Blair takes some beating. Most of the book is fairly gentle humour, smiles rather than guffaws, but Mark Ellen saved the best for last. His account of the mayhem aboard Rihanna’s ill-conceived and farcical round-the-world-in-seven-days tour made me laugh out loud. The entire book’s funny, but this piece was hilarious.

If you don’t see anything you fancy there, Chrissie Hynde’s “Reckless” and Bob Harris’s “Still Whispering After All These Years” are both well-written and interesting biographies.

 

Bob Malone TitleWe’re big fans of Bob Malone here at MusicRiot so when I got the chance to meet up for a chat on the final night of his UK tour it was a bit of a no-brainer. Bob’s been in the UK for three weeks touring in support of his “Mojo Deluxe” album and the “Mojo Live” DVD and The 100 Club gig was the climax of a hectic tour schedule. So a very noisy 100 Club dressing room is where we got the chance to talk about old pianos, New Orleans and Southside Johnny, among other things:

 

Allan – So it’s approaching the end of the tour and we met on the first night in Southend. How has it been since then?

Bob – It’s been great; a few funky gigs, a few spectacular gigs and we’ve worked hard. We had a couple of nights where we didn’t have gigs but we still had a radio show or a long drive; we’re a hard-working group.

Allan –Have you had any particularly good gigs?

Bob – This one’s definitely gonna be a good one and Keighley Blues Club, that was a really great crowd and Scotland as well, and we also played on the Isle of Wight.

Allan – I remember when we met in Southend you were talking about Italian audiences.

Bob – They’re full on, right out of the box, from the first song.

Allan –Do you notice any differences in the audiences around the UK?

Bob – Well it sometimes takes three or four songs here. The north is different from the south, as you know. I didn’t until I did these long tours here; England was just England like people think America is just America but here it’s five different countries with completely different cultures.

Allan – Have you played The 100 Club before?

Bob – No, but its reputation precedes…

Allan – How does that feel?

Bob – It feels good. I was soundchecking with the grand piano earlier and the sound engineer had footage of Paul McCartney playing that same piano.

Allan – I think it’s great to see it with the lights up and look at all those great photos around the walls of the people that have played here in the past.

Bob – I love places with history like this; you feel like you’re part of a continuum.

Allan – You’re promoting the Mojo Deluxe album at the moment. What kind of a reception has the album had?

Bob – I think it’s the most press and radio I’ve had on anything I’ve done and it’s my twentieth year of making records, so I’m happy with that.

Allan – After doing what I think of as the day job with John Fogerty, how does this compare? It must be a huge culture change.

Bob – It’s different. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years; this is what I do, and I’ve been playing with John for almost five years now. With this, so long as the sound man is competent I’m happy. Everyone thinks it must be weird to go from small crowds to big crowds, but it really isn’t. As long as it’s a good musical experience and you’re connecting with an audience; that’s why we play. You can’t really control the size of the crowd and also when I do this it’s a mission; when I play with John it’s his gig. I’m lucky to be there but it’s his gig. I get my solo but other than that, it’s all about him and I’m just in the background.

Allan – Trying to avoid the pyrotechnics…

Bob – Trying not to burst into flames during “Fortunate Son”, exactly.

Allan – So when you’re out doing your own stuff, here and in the States, what would be your ideal band line-up?

Bob – The ultimate, when I’m not touring; when I’m LA, and I don’t have to put people in hotel rooms would be a nine-piece band. I just did a DVD, which I did the way I would like to do it and I had three female background singers, percussionist, drums, bass and guitar. I do a lot of stuff with horns as well, for years I had a horn section, so it would be a nine to eleven piece band and a second keyboard player would be great, to play the organ parts. (If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that the total number of musicians is only eight, but there’s a slide guitar player on there as well. I hope your heart isn’t broken by that omission Marty Rifkin.)

Allan – On your own tours, particularly in the UK, you rely on the venue providing the piano. Have you had any horror stories with that in the past?

Bob – Well, usually I carry a digital piano for when there’s no real alternative, but most of the places I play now, if there is a real piano, it’s usually in good shape, but I’ve been to places that had a hundred year old upright and some of the keys didn’t work but I kind of like to play those anyway, just for the challenge. It’s like going in the ring with this old piano and fighting it to see who wins. I love real pianos because they all have personality; the digital ones are handy and they’re light and they don’t go out of tune, but they don’t have much of a personality. They get the job done.

The one in Southend, that’s got some issues. It’s got some broken strings; it’s one that I fight to the death but I like playing it because it’s an old Bösendorfer.

Allan – I did notice a few problems at the soundcheck that night…

Bob – It needs a rebuild, but still I’m glad to see it.

Allan – You’re classically and jazz trained; was there any one thing that turned you into a rock/blues pianist?

Bob – The rock thing came first. One of those things was hearing “Sergeant Pepper” for the first time, so it’s you guys, it’s your fault. Then I heard Billy Joel and Elton John and not very long after that the New Orleans thing, which blew me away, and then Ray Charles and I became a huge student of that stuff but the rock stuff was always there.

Allan – Were you singing right from the start?

Bob – I started singing when I was fifteen probably. I started singing because I wanted to impress a girl I had a crush on. I just played classical piano but “Your Song” by Elton John was the first thing I ever sang in public; I thought ‘She’ll love me if I sing this song’. I was a terrible singer, some people still say I am, but I learned to work with what I have.

You write songs and there are obviously lots of people with better voices than me but when you write songs you have a story to tell and people always respond to the story and sometimes you’re the only person that can tell it.

Allan – We’ve had “Mojo Deluxe” this year, so what’s next on the agenda.

Bob – Well, I’ve got this DVD coming out and the audio from that was so good, we’re thinking of putting that out as a live record next year and I’ll make another new record, so I’ll probably get the live one out next year and in 2017 I’ll have a new studio album. I’ve got to get realistic about this; I’ve got about half the songs I need for another record.

Allan – I interviewed Southside Johnny in July 2014 in London…

Bob – Southside Johnny was also one of the big things in my youth and I should mention this because growing up in New Jersey, we all knew Southside Johnny. This was the 80s and you couldn’t hear that kind of music on the radio at all and so my first real exposure to r’n’b, blues, horn section kinda music was Southside and I learned from that and went back and figured out all the other stuff. He was huge for me.

Allan – When I interviewed him at Shepherds Bush Empire last July, we spoke about his new album “Soultime!” and he said they were aiming to get it out for Christmas 2014 and that finally came out in August this year.

Bob – Yeah, that’s about right. I toured here last year and I had half of “Mojo Deluxe” out as “Mojo EP”. We had finished recording and it was half-mixed and there were some problems and we couldn’t get the other half mixed in time and the promoter said ‘The whole thing is you have a record out for this tour; we can’t get any press without a record’ so we had half a record out as an EP, just in the UK for the tour.

Allan – And that worked really well as a sampler for the album.

Bob – And by the end of last year the whole thing was done but then we needed a three month ramp for the release date to get it publicised and I was touring through the spring, so we just put the whole thing off and it came out almost a year later. That’s how it works. There are so many factors; if you have a lot of money involved, you can get things done a lot quicker. On a limited budget, you still need time to publicise, so you often end up delaying.

Allan – One final question; do you have one song that tears you up and gets you really emotional?

Bob – Yeah, “One for my Baby”, the Sinatra song; that one kills me every time. It depends on the day; it could be something else on another day.

Allan – Thanks very much, Bob.

And there you go; a private audience with the great Bob Malone, who was as entertaining offstage as on. Since we spoke, I’ve had a chance to watch the “Mojo Live” DVD and it’s superb, capturing the magic of a one-off performance absolutely perfectly. It has great performances from all of the musicians and it’s a whole load of fun; keep an eye out for it.

Federal CharmSo, on to the second part of our mid-term report, and it kicks off with a band that the Riot Squad saw live a couple of times last year. Federal Charm released their debut album in 2013 and have been on the circuit trying to reach as many people as possible with their melodic blues/rock. This year they’ve also been recording their second album which is ready for release in the Autumn to coincide with a major support tour with Joanne Shaw Taylor in September and October. We’re looking forward to reviewing the new album and the live shows will definitely be worth seeing.

Phil Burdett

Phil Burdett

Phil Burdett’s album “Dunfearing and the West Country High” (again from Drumfire Records) was another MusicRiot favourite last year. It was the first part of Phil’s “Secular Mystic” trilogy, and a work of rare beauty. The second part of the trilogy, “Shaky Path to Arcadia”, is due to be released in late summer/autumn 2015 and based on the songs that the Riot Squad have heard so far at a couple of gigs in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, this is shaping up to be another classic. There’s also the first part of an acoustic trilogy which may be released later this year, but we’ll tell you more about that later.

 

Southside 26 JohnnyDid we feature anyone from New Jersey? We did? Now that’s a surprise. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes have a new album which should be released later this year and that’s always something we look forward to here at Riot Towers. The album’s called “Soultime!” and the band has been previewing some of the songs at shows over the summer in the States; apparently they’re sounding pretty good. The one snippet we’ve heard from the live shows, “Spinning”, sounds like The Jukes at their very best with the band cooking on gas and the horns blowing up an absolute storm.

Bob MaloneBob Malone’s also from New Jersey, although he lives in California these days. We reviewed the “Mojo EP”, which was a sampler for his “Mojo Deluxe” album, last year. After a year of touring the States with John Fogerty and Europe with his own band, “Mojo Deluxe” is just about ready to go and he’ll be touring the UK later this year in support of the album. If the album lives up to the standards set by the EP, it should be a little bit special. As for the live shows, you really should get along to see one of those; we’ll give you some dates later in the year.

That’s it for the bands we featured in the predictions for 2015 and so far it’s looking pretty good for all of our selections. In the third and final part of the report, we’ll bring you up to speed with some of the great bands and artists we’ve seen for the first time this year who we think you’ll be hearing a lot more of.

Please tell me it hasn’t come round again already; drunks on public transport, pubs packed with once-a-year drinkers and a demand from MusicRiot to cobble something together for their inane end of year feature. Damn, Christmas again and I hate Christmas unless I can sack a widow on Christmas Eve. But wait, I can see a chink of gloom poking through the bright lights; it looks like John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revisited are opening legal hostilities again, so I think a festive five music lawsuits is about as much fun as I can hope for.

John FogertyJohn Fogerty

The man in the lumberjack shirt and his CCR ex-buddies are kicking legal lumps out of each other again and nobody really knows what it’s all about, but there are plenty of lawyers involved and onstage pronouncements and press conferences and a whole flamin’ media circus. Just bear this in mind guys; whoever wins, all the lawyers get paid.

But that’s not the most interesting lawsuit John Fogerty has been involved in, oh no. He sold the rights to his songs to his former label Fantasy (headed by the infamous Saul Zaentz) to escape from label (don’t try that one at home boys and girls) and go solo. So, Mr Fogerty gets a bunch of songs together and releases the album “Centerfield”. Happy ending; not quite. The litigious Mr Zaentz sues on the grounds that the album’s opening song, “The Old Man down the Road” plagiarises a Creedence song, “Run Through the Jungle”, which Zaentz holds the copyright for. He wasn’t too chuffed about the song “Zanz Kant Danz” (later changed to “Vanz Kant Danz”) either. So what could be more stupid than suing someone (unsuccessfully) for copying their own song?

Neil YoungNeil Young

Well, David Geffen had a pretty good shot at it in 1983 with Neil Young when he sued him for not sounding like his previous records. After signing one of the most contrary artists in rock (or maybe just a guy who follows his own artistic vision), he decided, after three albums he didn’t like, to sue Shakey for submitting ‘uncharacteristic’ music for release. Maybe it was a bit of a coincidence that the albums weren’t selling. You have to wonder where David Geffen had been living during the seventies if he hadn’t realised that Neil Young didn’t give a stuff about following commercial trends. They eventually kissed and made up and Shakey went back to his spiritual home at Reprise records.

So that’s one case of a label suing an artist for sounding too much like themselves and another case of a label suing an artist for not sounding like themselves. Where else can the stupidity go? Well, back in time a decade or so.

George HarrisonGeorge Harrison

After the Beatles, the quiet one was quickly out of the blocks with the triple album “All Things Must Pass” and the single “My Sweet Lord”. Three weeks after the release of the single, George was hit with a lawsuit alleging that the single plagiarised the Chiffons single, “He’s So Fine” (big in the US, not so big in the UK). It took five years for the case to come to court and George was found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism”, which cost him over half a million dollars. What you have to ask is how come no-on spotted this similarity? “All Things Must Pass” was co-produced by Phil Spector, who was very much part of the American teen scene in 1963 when “He’s So Fine” was a hit. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t spot such an obvious similarity. So, how many more ways could lawyers invent to make money out of the music business. How about “Where there’s blame there’s a claim”?

Ozzy OsbourneThe Metal Suicides

Jumping back to the eighties again, in 1988 the parents of a teenage fan tried to accuse Ozzy Osbourne of causing the death of their son, claiming that hidden lyrics in “Suicide Solution” had caused their son to take his own life; the suit was dismissed but it didn’t mean that the suicide blame game was over. In 1990, Judas Priest were taken to court by the parents of two teenagers who, after a drugs and alcohol binge, attempted a suicide pact. It’s interesting that no-one was trying to sue any brewers, distillers or dealers for their part in the events. Just ask yourself again who benefitted from these legal cases; I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t the parents or the bands. Ok, it’s Christmas, let’s try to end on a slightly happy note.

Spandau BalletSpandau Ballet

It all started off so well; a bunch of school friends got together and formed a band in the seventies. The band caught the New Romantic zeitgeist with their first single in 1980 and everything was looking good; who needed lawyers and contracts? Well, in this case it might have been a good idea (I never said I had to be consistent) because any memories of verbal agreements vanished after the band became famous. In 1990, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble sued for a share of the booty, claiming that their contributions and a verbal agreement entitled them to a twelfth of the royalties. The case was dismissed and the non-Kemp Spandaus faced huge legal bills, but that wasn’t the end of the affair.

In 2009, the guys resolved their legal issues and got back together to tour again as Spandau Ballet; well, it is Christmas and we should have a happy ending really. There’s a lesson there as well; at this time of year, everyone goes to the pub and maybe that’s what the Spandaus and all of the other people mentioned here should have done. Forget all of the lawyers, go and have a few beers and sort all of your problems out.

Merry Xmas.

Title picSo Southend-on-Sea on a Sunday night and what’s happening? Well, the Bob Malone Band is playing at the Railway Hotel, that’s what. So you obviously want to know what’s so special about the venue and the performer, don’t you?

Southend has a thriving local music scene and the Railway Hotel is positioned firmly at the centre of that scene, featuring local talent and artists touring the UK. The venue isn’t a highly-polished chrome and mirrors palace; the priority here (apart from the excellent food) is live music. If you want anything else, then you’re in the wrong place. The management team excel in putting together a varied selection of live acts and providing a performance environment which is perfect for artists and audiences.

So, Bob Malone time. Bob has been working as a professional musician for around thirty years since graduating from Berklee, playing keyboards for a very impressive list of rock names while doing his own thing, touring with a small band and releasing six albums (and counting). The UK tour which ended at the Railway Hotel was in support of a UK-only EP which is a sampler for the upcoming seventh album.

The stage at the Railway is about the same size as a postage stamp, which makes for a cosy performing environment, particularly when most of the stage is occupied by a Bӧsendorfer grand piano, but the multinational band (Paul Carmichael on bass, Stefano Sanguigni on guitar and Marco Breglia on drums and backing vocals) just got on with it, although Paul Carmichael had to play most of his superb basslines with his back to the audience.

From the opening chords of “Why Not Me?”, Bob’s engaging manner between songs and his blues growl have the audience eating out of his hands, and that’s before you hear his superb piano playing, particularly on the skewed ragtime of “Chinese Algebra”. You can find any amount of versions of this on YouTube, but the live performance with a good band is something else. The set was split between material from the new “Mojo EP” (including “A Certain Distance”, “I’m Not Fine” and the audience favourite “Rage and Cigarettes”), older original material and a few high-profile covers. Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” is the first of the covers and the set ends with a version of The Faces classic, “Stay with Me”. It’s the end of the set and the end of the tour and the guys (particularly Bob and Stefano) are having great fun trying to be even looser live than Rod and the boys were in the 70s. I could happily listen to Bob on his own doing the New Orleans piano, voice and stomp box thing, but Paul’s fluid, funky bass, Stefano taking a few solos and Marco supplying the beat and some lovely backing vocals are the icing and the candles on the cake.

I’m only guessing here, but I suspect that Bob Malone could live quite well on the proceeds of the day job, playing live and in the studio with people like John Fogerty, and living in the bubble created by that lifestyle. Instead he chooses to do his own thing, recording his own work and taking his live band out on the road, driving a white van from town to town and playing in venues where the equipment’s held together by gaffer tape. I have the greatest admiration for anyone who chooses to step between those two worlds to pursue their own musical vision, whether it’s financially viable or not (the fee for the night at The Railway was a bucket collection from the audience). As long as some performers are true to their own vision and keep doing gigs like The Railway, we’ll all know that individualism lives on and the corporate monster hasn’t got complete control. I can’t wait for the new album now.

Bob Malone CoverBob Malone’s one of those musicians that you know you’ve heard about, but you’re not sure where or when; it didn’t take long to find out. Just have a look at his Wikipedia entry for a start. He played keyboards on five songs on one of my favourite albums of 2014, John Fogerty’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone”, and that’s a pretty good recommendation. He’s also a singer, songwriter and arranger who has already released six albums and “Mojo EP” is a UK-only sampler for his upcoming album “Mojo Deluxe”.

With a pedigree like that, you would expect the playing on the EP to be high quality and you won’t be disappointed. With support from Mike Baird (drums), Jeff Dean (bass) and Bob DeMarco (guitars) and a few guest appearances, the playing and arrangements are always on the money. Bob’s voice is perfectly suited to the styles and songs on the EP. He can power out the rock and blues in a raucous style, but also sounds totally convincing on the slower songs, particularly the gospel/blues cover of the Ray Charles song “Hard Times”.

The first track on the EP, the stomping “A Certain Distance”, pulls you in with an electric piano riff and pumping, mainly root-note bass to drive the song along, and it’s one of a couple of songs  that explore the gap between musicians (and maybe creative artists generally) and the rest of the world. The brooding, menacing “Toxic Love” is a slow blues which builds slowly from a foundation of bass and drums by adding layers of slide, guitar and keyboards to create a swampy, bayou feel with a hint of early Creedence Clearwater Revival. “I’m Not Fine” is the second of the songs that deal lyrically with the role of the professional musician and the artificial bonhomie of the music business, and it’s boosted by some fine unison guitar and keyboard playing plus some powerful backing vocals from Lavone Seetal and Sarah Nolan.

The ballad “Paris” turns the old romantic cliché on its head as the beauties of the city are listed but can’t compare with being back home with the one you love; it’s a nice sentiment but, after rejecting one cliché, it reinforces another by introducing an accordion to create a Parisian ambience. The final track, “Rage and Cigarettes”, is a warning about the dangers of becoming embittered by allowing circumstances to take control of you, rather than the opposite, and it’s pulled along nicely by an overdriven five note slide guitar hook and a melodic bass line; this is one that you just know you want to hear live.

Bob Malone has brewed up a heady mixture of rock, blues and New Orleans soul over the years and “Mojo EP” is a perfect sampler for the upcoming “Mojo DeLuxe” album. If you want to see him live, you can find his UK tour dates for the next four weeks here. We’ll see you at the final show in Southend.

“Mojo EP” is out on 01 September 2014 on Delta Moon Records (DMR 007).

How about this stripped-down version of a great John Fogerty song? Recorded live in Clerkenwell:

Looking forward to their “Tilt the Moon” EP at the end of August.