Neil Sheasby’s had quite a year this year. Not only has Stone Foundation gone from strength to strength (without even releasing a new album), but he’s become an author with the first volume of his memoirs, “Boys Dreaming Soul” hitting the bookshelves this year. When the call goes out for High Fives contributions, Neil’s always one of the first to reply, which is why he’s always at the top of the list when we publish. Here are Neil’s thoughts on some of the things that have crossed his personal horizon in 2019:

 

Touring

I never thought I’d be saying this but I appear to have re kindled a passion for touring over the past few months. Gigging and touring are two separate beasts, the gigs I can handle, in fact it’s fairly obvious to anyone who comes along to see Stone Foundation that it’s an enjoyable experience for us all, there’s certainly no going through the motions routine in evidence. Usually though that 90 minute release upon stage is sandwiched between endless hours of travelling & hanging around, but alas you barely get to see anything of the destination except for a hotel room, dressing room and a stage (I’ve been to Hamburg six times and I still couldn’t tell you anything about it except there’s a decent kebab house opposite The Mojo Club) 

Anyway, at some point over the past twelve months I have begun to appreciate and embrace my time spent on the road more. We began the year by doing a gruelling jaunt across Germany & Spain, the gigs were fantastic but the miles we had to put in, especially zig-zagging all over Espana were undeniably exhausting (I think the promoter had routed our tour by throwing darts at a map).

However, whilst this almost literally killed me off, the subsequent dates back here in the U.K. felt as though it was a bus trip up to Baddesley Ensor. A doddle in comparison. The summer tour of forests supporting Paul Weller was a bona fide high, not just hanging with him but the crowds! Wow! What a reception we received too. It felt like another corner turned, the bar once again raised and our music making a connection with folk who’d never seen us before. I loved every second of it and to add to my enjoyment even more I got the opportunity to take my son Lowell out on the road with us and for us both to share what unfolded was indeed a real solid bond. 

Our most recent tour reaped the benefits of this exposure and I’d go as far to say that the November gigs were some of our best yet, certainly the most enjoyable for us all. I’m now looking forward to a new decade, new challenges, new chapter and lots more new music. I’m buoyed and excited for the future. 

 

Page Turners

As you’ve probably gathered by now I’m an avid reader of music biographies, I don’t even have to really appreciate the subject’s career; I’ll pretty much read anything music-related (Phil Collins, for example) 

I think there’s been some great page-turners of late. I really enjoyed both the Brett Anderson books (whose music I could take or leave), Will Birch’s fine assessment of Nick Lowe and enjoyable biogs from Elton John, Debbie Harry & Andrew Ridgeley. 

Obviously it was also somewhat of a landmark achievement for me to finally get my own book “Boys Dreaming Soul” published and into print this year. I’m glad I decided to put it out there as the response and reaction to it has been humbling. I’m considering following it up but it’s just a case of assigning the time to do it as it’s a fairly hefty project to take on but enjoyable and cathartic nonetheless.

 

Music

I think it’s been an exceptional year for new music. If I remember correctly last year I told you how I was embracing Spotify playlists and all I was discovering via that medium, and that has just continued to turn up so much new incredible music and artists. 

The Colemine label is excelling in great new soul music and even established contemporary labels such as Daptone have spread their wings somewhat with releases by artists such as Doug Shorts. I thought the Michael Kiwanuka album was another winner too, a proper listening experience from start to finish. Durand Jones and The Black Pumas also showed a way of presenting soul by avoiding the cliches. 

In other areas I really enjoyed albums such as Nick Cave’s latest and the Lucy Rose LP that came out at the beginning of the year. 

 

Vision

I recently watched The Irishman. I’d read mixed reviews, mainly bemoaning its length but all those movies were three hours plus (Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas, Casino etc…) I’m not sure people have the patience or attention span they used to; I guess we have social media to blame for that? I found the film kind of emotional to witness, with what will surely be the last hurrah for the greatest actors of our  generation; De Niro, Pacino, Pesci and even Harvey Kietel all under the genius direction of Martin Scorsese.What a journey and what an incredible collection of talent, the likes of which we will never see again. I thought Pacino in particular was amazing. 

The Joker was also a masterclass in acting, I caught it at the cinema and it blew me away. A great intensity to Joaquin Pheonix’s performance. It’s fantastic to see an upsurge in thought provoking and challenging movie making. 

 

The Beautiful Game

I can’t say too much about this subject because I’ll end up cursing their season again but I have rekindled my love and passion for football over the last few years (I’m not sure it ever dwindled to be honest), it’s mainly due to Leeds United’s turn of form under the guidance of Bielsa, he’s a maverick and a visionary but most of all he’s a hell of a lot of fun, right down to the bucket he rode in on. 

I sincerely hope this is our time, the city is rocking and buzzing with optimism, investment and finance to make the giant leap into the premiership is all in place, it would be heartbreaking to fade away again post-Christmas and return to the merry go round of a managerial circus and also lose this incredible crop of young players. It’s the hope that kills you eh? 

I’m also catching a few Adders games when I’m not touring with the band and that non-league action still enthralls me. If you haven’t witnessed an away game in Burbage on a freezing cold Wednesday night in December, clutching a Bovril then you haven’t lived…

One of the bands that the Riot Squad has supported for a few years now is Stone Foundation. Live and on vinyl, they are the real deal; great songs, rock solid rhythm section (that’s the stone foundation) and some superb horn arrangements. Founder members and songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby are a formidable partnership and also a pair of diamond blokes. Among other things, Neil Sheasby likes to do a bit of writing as well, and what he writes is always worth reading, so imagine how chuffed we were at Riot Towers when this piece came through less than two hours after we asked him if he’s like to contribute to High Fives again this year. What a star. 

Michael Kiwanuka – “Love & Hate“

 michael-kiwanukaIt’s such a complete piece of work from beginning to end, it’s in no desperate rush to impress, it just unfolds and works its way into your subconscious. It’s also hard to pin down to one genre, it’s a soulful record but equally embraces subtle elements of Rock, I certainly hear a Pink Floyd thing going on in there too. 

To encompass all these elements, have a social narrative and then still be an accessible pop record is no mean feat to pull off. 

Best album I’ve heard in a few years. 

 Phill Brown – “Are We Still Rolling?”

phill-brownI’ve read some great books this year. I really enjoyed Tim Burgess “Tim book two” as it turned me onto a lot of music that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have arrived at. 

I was given the Phill Brown book by a friend who thought I’d like it. Phill was (& still is) a recording engineer whose working life in studios started in the mid 60’s with sessions at Olympic Studios including The Stones right through to those remarkable Talk Talk albums “Spirit of Eden” & “Laughing Stock”.

The inside stories on both the artists involved and indeed the creation of the records is fairly priceless. I found it fascinating to read up on the creative process of pieces I adore like the first couple of Robert Palmer solo albums or tales of Traffic and a rather reclusive Stevie Winwood. 

Again it put me on a path of discovery, a chapter was dedicated to the making of Murray Head’s 1972 concept album “Nigel Lived”

I’d never heard it, didn’t even know of it prior to opening this book. 

It’s like a buried treasure somewhere between “Odyssey & Oracle” and “Dear Mr Fantasy”. 

It sold zero and sank without trace. 

 Josef Leimberg – “Astral Progressions”

josef-leimbergThis was something that our merch guy Pete had been banging on about for a while but as there is no physical format as yet of the album, it took me a short while to get around to hearing it, but once I did I found myself running back to listen to it constantly. 

He’s a trumpeter & composer who has worked recently with Kendrick Lemar & Erykah Badu but has now branched out and created his own thing which, as the title suggests, is a jazz fusion thing. The vocal tracks are pretty amazing too, it is a sort of continuation and development of the style that Kamasi Washington impressed with last year. 

It’s a real rewarding listen, powerful 21st century music. 

“The Get Down” (Netflix TV Series)

The Get Down

The Get Down

I wasn’t that impressed by the pilot of this but once I locked into the TV series I really thought it worked. 

“The Get Down” documents that period of New York City in the late 1970’s just as disco’s smouldering embers are being laid to rest and the City is on the verge of bankruptcy. A new art emerges, as always with the best movements it starts from the streets. The birth of Hip Hop told through the lives, music and art of a young street gang in the south Bronx. 

I thought the main actor, Justice Smith, was wonderful, the show had its fair share of critics but I really, really enjoyed it and look forward to picking it up again when the second series returns in 2017. 

 William Bell, Union Chapel – July

 neil-basher-and-neilWe (Stone Foundation) didn’t really do that many gigs this year as our priority lay with writing, recording and ultimately completing a new album for 2017. 

Our appearance as support for William Bell back in July turned out to be an evening that will live long in the memory, not so much for the gig itself but for the fairly surreal circumstances that we found ourselves surrounded by. 

Not only did we get introduced to William and have the opportunity to talk at length but we also had the good fortune of rubbing shoulders with both Paul Weller and Nick Lowe who were both in attendance. 

I always find it heartening to find that these people are just music obsessives and have principles and motives that are no different to that of our own. I don’t think you ever lose that sense of wonderment, that fan thing. It is fundamentally why we started playing and creating music and it never diminishes even if you’re Paul Weller or Nick Lowe. 

Music is an incurable sensation. 

Long may it reign o’er us…

Hope You're Happy Now TitleWhen an artist writes that their latest album is influenced by Willie Nelson’s “Phases and Stages” and that they wanted to ‘make an old-school record that’s about quiet stories and steel guitars’, my attention’s well and truly caught. Throw in the fact that Grant Langston is based in Bakersfield, California (he’s a bit too raw to fit in with the Nashville scene and sound) and the expectations are running high even before I discover that the album was recorded live in the studio. So, does it live up to those expectations?

The album opens with “Drive”, which tells the story of two loners hooking up in a bar and features some lovely plaintive pedal steel. It’s almost the archetypal ‘two lonely people’ song, but the idea of giving the finger to the world adds just a little edge. “The Nonsense” and “Breaking Hearts” are both breakup songs, the first is uptempo and focusses on the social and financial manoeuvring involved in a divorce while the second explores the situation from the viewpoint of the wronged husband descending into alcoholism (another old country theme). “Fading Fast” wouldn’t sound out of place (vocally or instrumentally) on a singer-songwriter album in the early seventies, with a melancholy tale of denial as a relationship disintegrates, emphasised by a lovely, languid slide solo. So far, it’s almost straight-up country, but with a few hints at a harder lyrical edge.

“Born to Ride” is an electric piano-driven slice of boogie (Californian rather Southern), and the shimmering beauty of the pedal steel intro to “The Only One” leads us into relatively familiar unrequited love territory; it’s a nice slice of melancholy with some female backing vocals to add to the pathos. “The Trigger” is stripped down to the bare essentials of acoustic guitar and solo vocal as we’re taken inside the mind of an outsider who has committed an atrocity and given reasons why we might all share the blame. It’s a powerful message emphasised by the minimalist setting. “Don’t You Dare” is a series of admissions of guilt from the male partner in a relationship, with a little lyrical twist in the tail; whatever else he did, he always loved her. “All That I Can Do” is pure melancholy; it’s minimalist and desperate and the only way the mood can go from here is up.

And it does because the last three songs are all fairly light-hearted affairs. “I Work Too Hard” is an uptempo generation gap song with a nice lyrical twist at the beginning which sends us momentarily in the wrong direction before exploring the relationship between a hard-working father and his slacker son. “Me and the Misses” deals with a relationship which works despite, or perhaps because of, mutual incompatibility. The closing song, “Me and Margaret”, could be the logical progression from the album’s opening song as the two characters meet in a bar before going on to become serious drinking partners; it’s a honky-tonk which is horrific and hilarious at the same time.

Grant Langston’s laconic delivery and the laid-back arrangements on “Hope You’re Happy Now” focus the attention on the strength of the songs and they’re very strong indeed. His songs are in the country idiom but it’s twenty-first century country and it has the simplicity and realism that characterises the songs of writers who have been able to bridge the pop-country divide, such as Nick Lowe; it deals with the poetry, triumphs and tragedies of everyday life, working on a level we can all relate to. This is a little classic.

Hope You’re Happy Now” is out now on California Roots Union.

Grant has made the decision not to stream this album and has given his reasons in an open letter on his website. You really should read it.

Product DetailsCash Back” is the second album to be released by Dean Owens in 2012, following “New York Hummingbird” earlier in the year and it’s built around a really interesting idea; a tribute to Johnny Cash on what would have been his 80th birthday comprising songs written by, or covered by,  Johnny (with one very notable exception).  It’s also a tribute to Dean’s good friend and mentor, the late Bob Delacy. 

The concept’s great, but the finished article is even better; Dean has tackled songs written by some songwriting legends including Jagger and Richards, Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”), Kris Kristofferson (“Sunday Morning Coming Down”), Johnny Cash himself and our old Riot Towers favourite Nick Lowe (“Without Love”) and the result is a well-rounded, beautifully played and engaging set of songs.

The playing throughout the album is beautiful, particularly Will Kimbrough’s guitar (and various other instruments) and supports Dean’s plaintive tenor voice perfectly.  It’s difficult to pick out highlights from this set because there isn’t any padding, but I’ll give it a try.  The album opens with the lively 1968 Jagger/Richards song “No Expectations” featuring some great playing throughout from Will Kimbrough and has a similar feel to Albert Lee’s “Country Boy” (but a bit slower) before moving in to the more laid-back “A Little at a Time”(which also appears later in a stripped-down bonus version).

The album as a whole is a demonstration of the variety in Johnny Cash’s work, but never more so than in following the heartbreaking, poignant “Give My Love to Rose” with the jaunty nastiness and casual violence of “Delia’s Gone”.  Well, this is the man who sang “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”.  The traditional ballad, “Wayfaring Stranger” moves the tempo up a few notches from the Cash version and you realise that Paul Weller probably started “Wild Wood” from the same source.

Towards the end of the album, there’s a sequence of songs by truly great songwriters such as Nick Lowe, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and David Allan Coe (who wrote the Johnny Paycheck classic ”Take This Job and Shove It”) which almost bring the album to a close.  The first bonus track is a version of “I Walk the Line” which contrasts the original’s baritone growl with Dean’s more vulnerable tenor as the song bounces along for the first three verses.  To add drama to the fourth verse, you might expect a trucker’s gear change or a tempo shift but instead Dean shifts the vocal up an octave towards the top of his range for an even more dramatic effect.

Which leaves one song to tell you about.  As a songwriter, Dean was always going to want one of his own songs on the album and it’s fair to say that it’s a belter.  “The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin” is as good as anything else on the album, framing the legendary prison appearance within the story of a death row inmate who was at the show and keeps it as a memory he treasures above everything else on his way to the chair; Johnny would have been proud of this one.

If there’s a country music fan in your life (or someone who likes great music, whatever genre), this album will make a great surprise present for them.  Even better, get out and see Dean performing live on his next tour in the spring of 2013; you won’t regret it.

“Cash Back” is out now on Drumfire Records (DRMFR013).

Product DetailsIf there’s one thing that I really admire in musicians it’s the ability to survive; to come through the periods when you’re terminally unhip and still want to play, write and sing.  It needs incredible self-belief and, sometimes, sheer bloody-mindedness (before we even talk about talent) to keep going in an increasingly tough business.  If you’ve been writing, performing and recording for over 40 years and you’ve had a hand in songs as diverse as Ace’s “How Long”, Squeeze’s “Tempted” and Mike & The Mechanics’ “The Living Years” and The Eagles have covered one of your songs, then you deserve at least a fair hearing.  So, Paul Carrack’s back again in 2012 and he’s sounding better than ever.

There are no bad, or even indifferent, tracks on “Good Feeling”; they’re all good and there’s stacks of variety in the in the styles and arrangements of the songs, but one thing makes this collection essential listening.  Paul Carrack still has an astonishingly soulful voice; my good mate Steve J reckons he could sing the telephone directory and you would pay to listen and I don’t think he’s far off the mark.  On top of that, he’s a great Hammond player and there aren’t many better instruments to accompany a great soul voice.  The songs on this collection are a combination of Paul Carrack originals, collaborations with other writers and covers of songs by writers as diverse as Nick Lowe, Bruce Springsteen and Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It’s a great tribute to Carrack’s songwriting that his own songs are as strong as the covers although the best song on the album (my opinion here) isn’t one of his own, although it’s a great pick from a relatively unknown band.

The album opens with the Sam Cooke-tinged “Good Feelin’ About It” which, unsurprisingly, is a feelgood song and it’s followed by the Chris Difford collaboration “Marmalade Moon” bursting in with a horn section which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Southside Johnny album.  The album flits effortlessly between musical styles, from the laid-back funk of “Nothing Without You” to the early Motown feel (including Stevie Wonder style harmonica) of “Time to Move On” to the pure 60s pop of the Goffin/King cover “When My Little Girl is Smiling”, which is very reminiscent of his 80s cover of the Jackie de Shannon classic “When You Walk in the Room”.  The Nick Lowe and Bruce Springsteen covers (“From Now On” and “If I Should Fall Behind” respectively) both evoke the original performers while bearing the stamp of Paul Carrack’s incredible voice.

In my (almost) humble opinion, there are 2 songs which define the album and push it out of the Paul Carrack comfort zone.  “Make It Right” is a cover of a lovely Tinlin brothers song with lots of minor chords and a slightly discordant riff, while “Long Ago” (a collaboration with Swedish songwriter Chris Antblad) could be a Brian Kennedy boy band single, but with grown-up lyrics.  Any album of songs by Paul Carrack is going to be worth listening to, but these 2 songs take “Good Feeling” in a slightly different direction, introducing a hint of atonality on the one hand and a pop sensibility on the other.

If you’ve never heard of Paul Carrack, this is a cracking introduction and if you’re already converted, “Good Feeling” might just give you a few surprises.  Great album.

Release date 24/09/12.