Jim Stapley TitleI reviewed Jim Stapley’s debut album in May and since then I’ve been waiting for a chance to see him sing live. Kenny Jones rates him very highly and so do many musicians I know. Actually that’s an understatement; the ratings usually start at ‘great singer’ and finish at somewhere north of ‘fuckin’ awesome’. But I’m not taking anyone else’s word for it; I want to hear it for myself and that’s why I’m blanking the curry house touts on Brick Lane in the pouring rain to get to 93 Feet East. And I’m soaked because umbrellas really aren’t rock ‘n’ roll, are they?

The opening act is Johnson-Jay (who later reappears as guitarist in the Jim Stapley Band) performing with Jennifer Clarke as The Junipers, a two guitars/guitar keyboards duo. It’s a lovely laid-back set with strong songs and superb harmonies throughout, particularly the closer, “Can’t Take it With You”; a perfect start to the evening. Jay Scott and the Find come roaring out of the blocks for the second support set but, and this is just my opinion, don’t really consolidate as the set progresses. Sorry guys, maybe I just really wanted to see Jim Stapley. So, nearly six months after hearing the album for the first time, I’m about to hear that voice live.

Even as the band do the final preparations (placing the set lists and drinks), it’s obvious that there’s a great camaraderie there and they get a real buzz out of being together. From the relatively low-key opening bars of “Out of Sight” with drums and acoustic guitar, you know that it’s a great band out there and that they’re stoked just to be there doing what they do best. It’s difficult to pick out individual performances from the band because it’s all about showing off the songs and providing a solid platform for Jim’s stunning rock voice to soar to the heavens. At a time when vapid mediocrities are hyped to the hilt and superlative proliferation has become a way of life, it’s such a great feeling to hear a real rock singer with plenty of soul working with such a tight, professional band. Jim’s voice harks back to the 70s and singers like Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant but there’s also a soulful edge which takes it in to the territory of Steve Marriott, Frankie Miller, Joe Cocker and maybe even John Waite. I’ve heard a lot of great singers, live and on record, and Jim Stapley is right up there with the best.

The set is perfectly paced and features almost everything from the debut album, “Long Time Coming” plus the non-album song, “Somewhere” as Jim and the band switch easily between styles and dynamics. The power ballad “Laid to Waste” is followed by the slower “Heartstrings” (both on the first single) before the first out-and-out rocker “My Way Home”, which is followed by the country stylings of “Shield”. “New Religion” builds from a solo piano backing to a huge full band sound with gospel backing vocals and then it’s into a cover of “We Found Love” which Jim and the band tackle very much in their own style (juge for yourself from the clip) before blasting into the 80s style “Made of Stone”, with its massive guitar riff and epic chorus.

The wind-up to the big finish starts with “Hurricane”, a slow ballad with another big chorus, builds up with the album opener, “No Good Reason” (and another monstrous guitar riff) before “Breaking Out” begins with an acoustic intro, builds as the band join in and finishes with everyone (particularly the backing vocalists pushing it to the limit. And that’s yer lot, apart from a quick chat with the man himself on the way out. Turns out he’s also a bloody good bloke.

So, I’m going to make some recommendations for you. If you like great rock music and appreciate a true rock voice, you should check out “Long Time Coming”. Then you should buy a copy at a decent record shop or here. Then you should find out when they’re playing near you, get a ticket and prepare to be amazed at the quality of the band and Jim Stapley’s astounding voice. That’s not too difficult, is it?

I know this might come over as a bit ungrateful, but I’m really hacked off by the way copies of albums are distributed by some promotion companies. I know it’s 2014 and I won’t be flown Business Class to LA while hoovering the gross national product of Colombia up my nose to interview the latest semi-literate rock wannabe, but surely it’s not unreasonable to want decent sound quality on album review copies. For anyone who’s even slightly involved with the music business (or any creative industry) it’s obvious that it’s incredibly difficult to make a living out of creativity these days; we all understand that. This isn’t nostalgia for a golden era when music journalists were worshipped and every artist’s ability was recognised and they were rewarded accordingly; it’s always been a business dominated by the need to cash in as quickly as possible, dominated by pond life who would sell their grannies for a Snickers bar, and you can find the evidence in virtually every music biography. You might not like the robust methods of Peter Grant, but at least Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones saw some financial rewards from Led Zeppelin.

So where was I? Oh yeah, promotion copies. I know margins are tight and it’s difficult to quantify the benefits from sending out physical review copies, but there has to be a better way than transferring a bunch of MP3 files. I always prefer something that pops through the letterbox rather than into the inbox, but that’s not just me being old-fashioned. With a physical copy, you get the writer credits, possibly the lyrics and, if you’re really lucky, some sleeve notes from the artist; with an electronic copy you get a press release (if you’re lucky), maybe a photo and a few hyperlinks. I don’t mind doing a bit of research but if you’re reviewing a really new band, chances are that the website looks good but tells you zilch and the only other stuff you can find is YouTube “videos” filmed on the singer’s friend’s phone; it’s not helpful. I don’t even mind getting back to the promotion or PR company to request more information, but I have a piece of advice for you. It doesn’t matter how clearly you think you’ve worded your request, it will take at least three more attempts to actually get the information you need from the intern who’s been delegated the task of dealing with incoming email. And just bear in mind that you’re trying to get the review out before the release date.

And you know who’s to blame, don’t you. We all are, because we’ve all bought in to the hype about digital music reproduction and then compression of file sizes so we can carry our music collections around in our pockets. I’ve got nothing against portable media players as first line of defence on public transport, but how much of that stuff do you actually listen to? I bet you have songs on playlists that you skip every time they play. What’s that all about? So, now we all accept compressed formats that work for the industry because they don’t have any overheads like retail and physical storage space to worry about and they can keep copies of everything that’s ever been digitised, unless the artist refuses to play ball (take a bow the surviving members of Pink Floyd), and nothing is ever out of stock or deleted. There’s an added bonus; you don’t get patronised by a shop assistant when you buy something that’s even remotely commercial and you can have great fun trying to work out which algorithm recommended Ed Sheeran and One Republic for you. And because the transactions are all electronic, its’ easy to record sales and streams for chart purposes. A friend of mine got to 298 on the singles chart because a couple of people were heard whistling his song at a bus stop.

Seriously though, a physical review copy would be great; some of us can even play vinyl but CD’s still ok (and it fits through the letterbox), but an electronic copy isn’t the end of the world if it’s in an uncompressed format. It takes slightly longer to download, but it’s a better quality than its compressed and stunted sibling and, as a bonus, you could send an electronic press release and a jpeg of the artwork. See, it’s not really that difficult, is it?

Long Time Coming EdThere’s a bit of a buzz going on around Jim Stapley at the moment and, on the evidence of “Long Time Coming”, his debut album after over ten years as a professional musician, it’s more than just hype. He’s been highly recommended by Kenney Jones and the album has been produced by the legendary (over-used term, but justified in this case) Tony Visconti. Taking the album as a whole, it feels like a showcase for Jim’s prodigious vocal talent across a fairly wide range of styles and, in those terms it’s very effective.  There’s no doubting that Jim has a great rock voice; he can do everything from heartfelt ballads to the wails of Percy Plant and it all sounds totally convincing. And he plays keyboards and guitar on the album as well.

The core band for the album is Jim, CJ Evans (drums), Tom Swann (bass), Ricky Glover (electric guitars and vocals), Johnson-Jay Mewik-Daley (electric and acoustic guitar and vocals). Tony Visconti steps in with some string arrangements and vocals while additional keyboards and horns are courtesy of Josh Phillips (Hammond) and James Arben (tenor and bass sax). Last but not least, the string quartet is Rachel Dawson, Sarah Tuke, Polly Wiltshire and Catriona Parker and Mollie Marriott, Rachel Leavesley and Jessica Morgan are the additional backing vocalists. If you think the name of the first backing singer sounds familiar, you’d be right; Mollie is the daughter of the late Steve Marriott.

The album opens with all guns blazing; “No Good Reason” has a guitar riff straight out of the 70s (or the Black Crowes) and a massive chorus underpinned by power chords and it’s followed by “Laid to Waste” which changes the mood with an acoustic guitar intro and a string quartet. “Hurricane” is a power ballad which culminates in a kitchen-sink ending, while “Heartstrings”, possibly the first single from the album, is a reflective piece with acoustic guitar, strings and harmonium supplying the backing.

“New Religion” and “My Way Home” both have a slight country tinge while “Made of Stone” moves the influences forward to the 80s with a massive chorus and a lead vocal/guitar riff duet towards the end. “My Own Worst Enemy” is another ballad with strings before three songs, “Out of Sight”, “Grey Matter” and “Breaking Out” which open with acoustic guitar intros before building up to big finishes. The final song, “Shield”, closes out the album on a low-key note with finger-picked acoustic guitar, brushed drums and cello laying the foundations.

It’s not difficult to pick out Jim Stapley’s influences on this debut album; he’s emulating some superb singers. What is astounding is that he can do it all, he sounds equally at home with the ballads and the all-out screamers and I know from musicians who have worked with him that he can do it live as well. If there’s a niche in the market for a new rock god singer (and let’s face it, most of the originals have collected their bus passes now), then he might just be the man for the job. Maybe the lyrics could move away from the standard rock themes of bad women and finding yourself, but that’s relatively unimportant compared to the superb musicianship and quality of the singing on this album.

This is a very assured debut album, packed with quality playing, singing and instrumental arrangements and should certainly get Jim Stapley’s name out to a wider public whether it’s through Radio 2 (it’s ok, it’s acceptable now) or specialist rock stations. Either way, it may have been a long time coming, but I think we can safely say he’s arrived now.

"Come Back" - Sullivn

“Come Back” – Sullivn

We’ve been giving you a few teasers about the Bandhouse organisation over the last year or so and now things have moved on a little and ideas have been translated into material ready for release.  I must admit I was confused when I saw the title and the artwork for the debut Sullivn single “Come Back”.  I thought for a few seconds that it was a cover of the 1984 Wah! single and, to be fair, the picture of singer John O’Sullivan does look a bit like mid-80s Pete Wylie.  Anyway, it’s a John O’Sullivan original and sounds nothing at all like the Wah! song;  it’s also very good.

On this single, John is joined by Simon Goudarzi and Joe Shimmin (guitars), Jon Mar Ossurarson (drums), Layla Kim (keyboards) and Sjur Opsal (bass) and despite featuring five musicians and a vocal, there’s actually a lot of space in this mix because none of the musicians overplay their parts.  The structure of the song is very simple; it’s a lost-love and missed opportunity ballad with a simple chord pattern which relies on the performances and arrangement to make it work.

The song opens with just a lead vocal and keyboard chords (and slight hints of guitar) for the first verse before the drums thunder in and the song gradually builds up to a full-on 70s style power ballad with the injection of a couple of prog-influenced breakdowns where John delivers some very effective Percy Plant-style wails just behind the guitars before coming to a close which is almost a cappella with just a touch of guitar harmonics.

The song is strong and you can’t fault any of the performances here, particularly the vocal which manages to convey fractured and splintered emotional intensity without ever quite losing control; never an easy balance to strike.  As a debut single, this is a statement of intent from Sullivn; I’ve heard more material in demo versions which suggests that this is just a taster for upcoming material; I’m looking forward to hearing more of it.

And don’t forget to keep an eye on MusicRiot for details of the Radio (in my) Head project in the next few weeks.

Out now as a free download (for a limited time).