Steve’s been writing for us on an occasional basis for a couple of years now and his work is always worth reading. With this feature, the only stipulation we make is that the list is five items long (and we don’t always get that). Otherwise you can say whatever you like as long as the lawyers approve it. We all love going to gigs and we see a lot of live music and that’s great; we see things that we love. The downside is that the more gigs you go to, the more you see of the things that aren’t quite right. Here are some of those from Mr Jenner’s experience this year:

1) Beer – a tale of five lagers.

lager-lager-lagerNow, 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. 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.

2) Music Before The Event.

mixtape11Music selection before the band comes on can be a very mixed bag. This seems to vary between ‘let the roadies pick it, we couldn’t care less’, or ‘let’s put the support band’s album on, we couldn’t care less’ through to ‘I’m the bass player and I’m going to treat you to a selection from the very darkest corners of my record collection – a variety of tracks so obscure you’ll only just recognise them as ‘music’, and that means I’ve won….’ I feel pre – gig music choice is deceptively important. It sets the mood and tone and can almost be seen as a statement of intent. Try not to do any of the above. Might I suggest a suitable pre-set approach might be along the lines of; ‘these are the songs written by others that we wish we’d recorded, played by other artists we admire’. That’d do it, generally speaking. Special mention to Brian Wilson at Brighton who seemed somehow to have managed to persuade the ghost of the James Last Orchestra (ask your grandma) to record a medley of his greatest hits. Strangely mesmeric and it worked!

3) Support Band PA.

mixing-deskIt’s the oldest trick in the Guinness book of gig skulduggery – get your sound engineer to torpedo the mix for the support act. Sure helps you look even better when you come on. But really; do headline bands STILL need to be doing this to the poor souls who have ventured forth to warm up the crowd for them to entertain? We went to see Jools Holland at Ipswich Regent recently. The sound for the support band was so poor that even if my life depended on it I couldn’t tell you the name of the band or indeed the title of any of their songs. OK, maybe it was the band’s own fault, maybe it was nothing to do with the main act’s PA crew. But it still often is, and come on guys, we’re better than this. Especially when the support band has been hand-picked by the headliners because they think they’ve got something. There’s no kindness or even particular advantage in handing over a poisoned chalice. And why headliners keep referring to the poor dears as ‘Special Guests’ whilst abusing them thus is a bit of a laugh. If you were a guest in anyone’s house and they treated you like that you’d be on Facebook like a shot and don’t try to tell me otherwise.

4) Slim Seats (Is Not A Slide Guitar Player).

venue-seatingI’m sitting on my chair at the rather lovely MEN Arena. As big venues go, it is not a bad watch and very user friendly to get in and out of. If only the same could be said of the chairs. They seem to use this system where the ‘temporary’ seating in the auditorium kind of clips together in a very intimate way; and the chairs are slightly smaller than Ryanair to start with, and they are by no means alone in this. And, as luck would have it, a similarly ‘bonny’ bloke appears to be the tenant of seat K27, the seat which is cheek – literally – by jowl with The Author. Flopping down adjacent to me, spilling one of five types of homogenous lager on my arm and presenting profuse apologies through a mouthful of stadium dog, I’m already feeling my sixty – odd – quid entertainment experience is being compromised. Ken Dodd better be pretty damn good now.

5) (Ain’t Got Nothin’ But) The Ladybog Blues (Again Mama).

ladybogsVenues, 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.

double-take-scrollerThe promotion campaign for “Double Take” features some of the artists involved (Rod Stewart, Paul Carrack and Huey Lewis) talking about the first time they saw Frankie Miller. Now, that’s a great idea.

Freshers’ Week, Dundee University, 1976 and the first gig of the year was Frankie Miller’s Full House. I went to the gig with my new mate Steve (still a mate and writing great reviews for MusicRiot). The band were superb and we left the gig raving about Ray Minhinnet’s guitar work, Chrissy Stewart’s bass playing, but most of all about Frankie’s stunning soul voice. He started the ballad “With You in Mind” a cappella, and with perfect pitch, before the band dropped in underneath the vocal; I was completely hooked from that moment. I’ve seen an awful lot of gigs since then, but I’ve never heard a band that nailed it so completely, song after song.

So let me put “Double Take” into some kind of personal and historical context. As Frankie slowly fought back from the brink after a brain haemorrhage in 1994, you would hear occasionally from friends on the Scottish music scene about his progress; not frequently, but often enough to know that things were gradually improving, and it carried on like that until 2012 when word started to leak out that a project with Frankie’s old demo tapes was in progress. It’s taken over four years and probably a few unexpected twists and turns, but the final result is “Double Take”, nineteen unreleased Frankie Miller originals reconstructed from demo vocals, and all but one reimagined as duets with singers that wanted to be involved with the project. Although Frankie’s biggest chart hits (“When I’m Away From You” aside) were interpretations of other people’s songs, he also wrote a shedload of great songs for himself and other artists.

The nineteen songs on “Double Take” are pretty representative of Frankie’s songwriting output, covering soul, blues, rock, country and ballads. And that’s the staple diet of Scotland, right there; forget your deep fried Mars Bars. All of the songs have been arranged around the original demo vocals (with Frankie involved in quality control), but the quality of the voice is so good that almost everything sounds like a full-scale production. To be honest, given the choice, I’d rather listen to Frankie Miller demos than most singers’ finished product.

The guests on “Double Take” are a mix of megastars and people that Frankie knew and worked with in the past. Without listing the whole lot, how about Joe Walsh, Elton John, Kid Rock, Delbert McClinton, Kim Carnes and Willie Nelson. Add those to the ones listed at the top of the article and you’ve got a huge amount of respect across musical styles for Frankie’s work. Great news for fans of Frankie from the mid-seventies is that Full House appear on three songs in the middle of the album. “When It’s Rockin’” (with Steve Dickinson) is a horn-driven rocker, “Beginner at the Blues” (with Delbert McClinton) is a slow blues and “To Be With you Again” (with Kim Carnes) is a mid-tempo ballad. For a while there, I was back in that night in1976.

With so many songs and such a variety of arrangements, it’s difficult to pick standouts, but the gospel choir of “Where Do the Guilty Go” (with Elton John) and the country ballad “I Want to Spend My Life with You” (with Willie Nelson) are hard to beat, while the hauntingly simple “I Do”, with only Frankie’s vocal over a sparse arrangement is the perfect closer for the album.

This has been a long journey for some very dedicated people, culminating in an album that can only add to Frankie Miller’s legacy by bringing those powerful vocal performances to a wider audience and unearthing so many unreleased songs. This is a classic.

“Double Take” is out on September 30th on Universal.

Here’s a sneaky little peek for you:

Rude Boys ScrollerOK I’ll admit it. I’m in a bit of a 2 Tone loop at the moment. As part of “Tales From the Towpath” we struggled up the Coventry canal to, well, Coventry, and I can cheerfully admit I have never seen more rats or prostrate drunks on a section of canal than on the section between the junction with the North Oxford (Hawksbury for all fans of the genre) and the Coventry Basin – but we had set our hearts on visiting the 2 Tone village complete with the Coventry Music Museum. And after an extortionate taxi ride from the Coventry Basin, at which we duly arrived albeit not without incident.

And brilliant it was, too. The guys here clearly have a firm grip on the 2 Tone heritage, but at the same time they realised they wouldn’t pull in the ‘heritage’ funding without the general Coventry music stuff. So along with the 2 Tone saga – probably the world’s most accurate record of the last great working class youth music movement in the UK – you get everything you need to know about Frank Ifield and Vince Hill. Mock ye not; Four UK number 1 toons for Frank. Come back and laugh after you’ve managed likewise and I’ll listen to you. Until then, Look and Learn.

I did wonder if the irony of having his biggest hit being a cover of a toon most favoured by Teutons most likely to bomb your chip shop was lost on our Vince (“Edelweiss”, just in case you missed that one) but I dwell not on such matters.

Incredible number of One Hit Wonders, though. Jigsaw, Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours, King. Remember “Love And Pride”? Thought so. And what about The Primitives? There you go you see. The only area to produce more one hit wonders seems to be Wales. “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”. Anyway. Where was I?

Yes.

So, fully fired up on 2 Tone and having listened to very little else but old Trojan masters on the way up from Warwickshire to Staffs, we happened to chance upon The Swan at Stone. Somewhere between Coventry and here you cross the border into The North. The temperature drops by about five Celsius and it starts to rain with a near-professional intensity, and whereas in the beautiful south, the rain is warm, up here it is cold. I mean you wouldn’t call a town ‘Stone’ if it was in the South, would you. Course not. Stands to reason.

So we stopped at Stone and there are two things which make Stone exceptional. A Mexican restaurant called Chico’s and a superb real ale pub (at least it would be if they could just keep the beer a degree or two cooler) called The Swan which is about twenty yards off the Trent and Mersey canal, which do indeed sweep right though the middle of the town, and tonight they are hosting The Rude Boys, and you can guess the rest.

The Rude Boys have toured incessantly in various guises but are Staffordshire’s only serious 2 Tone /ska band. They start proceedings tonight with a melange of Paul Weller, kicking off with “Peacock Suit” and “That’s Entertainment” before morphing into a whole range of back catalogue stuff including more Jam (eg “Strange Town”), more Weller (eg “Changing Man”) and Style Council (“You’re The Best Thing”).

After the break they’re back with a mix of 2 Toners – particularly courtesy of The Beat and The Specials – and a chunk of true ska beat courtesy of Toots. They were very well received by a pretty full pub, for a Thursday night, and despite the occasional vocal frailty, Hank the bass player knew how to handle a fully-grown Rickenbacker, Ryan the guitar player knew his chops, and Neil the drummer hit the rimshots like a good ‘un. Some may say a classic pub night and not a lot else but for me this is your new British folk music. Make of it what you will. The Rude Boys are taking this into the future and are making a living out of it, and good for them I say.

They’re a good night out, especially if you’re in the mood.

City Funk OrchestraIt may be stretching a point to provide a ‘tales from the towpath’ where we had to catch a combination of trains and tubes to get to this gig, but hey, this is London after all – and unless you’re going to Dingwalls you really shouldn’t expect to float to a gig.

The crowd might have been a bit sparse for a Saturday night but a whole bunch of people had decided to spend another two hours of life watching Germany win on penalties after extra time. Clearly, in a week of surprises no doubt a predictable, nay, inevitable outcome was a comfort to some. But those who did so missed a storming, uplifting Saturday night out.

And that, in essence, is what City Funk Orchestra are about. From the get-go you just know you’re in safe hands. Within the first half a dozen songs we’ve had a slick, uptown “Back Together Again” where the blend of voices paid genuine homage to Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Not” featuring some real ‘period’ bass playing from the absolutely imperious Rick Mitra, a great version of “Love TKO” which took the pace down briefly before the first set ended with a very acceptable “Ain’t Nobody”.

The voices of Noel McCalla and Louise Warren matched each other beautifully, even if Noel was occasionally a little bit found out when ‘doing’ Barry White. Quite simply, he’s very competent in the lower register but he’s absolutely astonishing and has a genuinely soulful intensity when he heads up the scale. By the same token Louise was astonishing when she let fly at Aretha’s ‘Rock Steady’ but seemed a little at sea on material which perhaps needed a little more control such as Sister Sledge’s “Thinking Of You”.

High points of the set for me were a warm and sinuous version of Luther Van D’s “Never Too Much” and a crowd-pleasing “I’ve Found Lovin” which really rolled back the years for many of the assembled.

As already alluded to, the rhythm section of Rick Mitra and Geoff Dunn never missed a beat. Guitarist Nial Tompkins showed he was equally at home playing the funky scratch you need for the likes of “Good Times” alongside occasional pyrotechnic lead fills, and Gary Sanctuary on keyboards had his hands full providing the depth and breadth of backing needed to ‘trick’ the assembled into not missing a horn section – which is probably the main thing that was missing.

But you can only review what is there – and what was there was enough to have the floor full of dancers and a room full of smiley Saturday night. City Funk Orchestra go out there and Do The Deed. They really are a party on legs. The set may have been a tad predictable but what did you want for your money? And to be fair they were considerably less predictable than Germany on penalties.

Mad Larry ScrollerThere’s nothing quite like it is there? I mean, music. Sometimes it just creeps up on you and whacks you over the noddle when you’re least expecting it.

The game plan as I wander through England picking out the odd gig here and there was to catch Henry Cluney, of Stiff Little Fingers fame, who was due to play The Wheatsheaf, a pub in central Oxford, on the particular Sunday afternoon in question.

And I got there late and missed him. However, this being a sort of package bill straggling across Sunday afternoon into the evening promoted by local hotshots GiddyUp Music, I thought I’d swing by and at the very least grab a beer and an earful, the way you do.

Walk through the door of the authentically cramped and sticky-floored Wheatsheaf and suddenly you’re in pubrock heaven, circa 1975. Mad Larry and his band are on stage – well, more accurately just to the left of the bar – and are blasting through an incendiary “Drinkin’ Man’s Blues” which gives way to a cheeky and well-played reggae tune which I must confess I didn’t recognise and then an absolutely storming version of “You Keep A Knockin’” which would have shamed many of the pantheon of greats who have had a tilt at this one. We then get some self-penned ditties, liberally laced with tales of beer, drugs, naughtiness and more naughtiness, stirred in between a Bo Diddley, a BB King and all played with Feelgoodian pace and attack culminating in Mad’s album title track “Dirty Work” before a wham-bam encore featuring some exceedingly tasty guitar work by Dan Collis – who’s full-on ‘yer ‘aving it’ approach reminded me more than a bit of the late, great Gypie Mayo – and honking harmonica of the greasy, sleazy variety from Kevin Busby. Blooming great engine room as well; take a bow Ron Wyatt and Anthony Christmas on bass and drums respectively.

Despite this being the last set of a long afternoon, the pub was rammed with punters all grinning that silly grin you do when the beer and the live music combine most agreeably. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think of an occasion which more accurately summoned up the spirit of the pub rock RnB gigs of the mid seventies when, if you lived in the right bit of the country, you could stumble through the door you could hear music leaking from and catch The Kursaal Flyers, The Motors, The Feelgoods, Lew Lewis, Kilburn and the High Roads, and insert name here. The only thing missing was the nicotine and I don’t smoke. And I have to say that’s how I like my nostalgia; not in pre-packaged compilation form, but about a yard away from you, at ear-whistling volume, with some own recent tunes flung in for good measure (Mad’s album was released in 2014) and played with enthusiasm and conviction.

I implore all right-thinking people in Oxfordshire and thereabouts to beat a path to The Wheatsheaf whenever GiddyUp promote one of these jollies and indeed specifically to go see Mad Larry’s Band either here or when out and about elsewhere (they have been a regular guests of The Pretty Things just recently, which is no mean accolade).

Bit of a disappointment he didn’t do “Zoom” though. Or is that Fat Larry? And did he just lose weight or go mad as well?

Blues Summit ScrollerI have seen the future of rock n’ roll.

Ever feel that you’ve been ‘ad?

These two famous rock n roll misquotes sort of sum up my reaction to one of the strangest live music events I’ve ever attended anywhere. No – make that any kind of event, anywhere.

Indulge me a moment whilst I attempt to explain the venue. A convent, formerly the home to a silent order of four nuns, in an extremely quiet and secluded corner of England at a discreet distance from the bright lights and fleshpots of, err, Stroud.

Bands play on the altar of the convent chapel, replete with stained glass windows, and the obligatory(!) trombone wedged behind the altar and sewing machines and alarm clocks scattered around the huge stone windowsills.

The rest of this huge venue appears to be part hotel, part bar, part restaurant. The whole place has a sense of brooding oak darkness about it and the sleep of centuries of silence.

The chapel itself has around 100 or so seats arranged tidily on the chapel floor and further seats in the pews around the edge.

There appears to be no signage to speak of and getting into the venue is more by luck than by judgement, as is finding the bar as you wander around the gloomy, doomy corridors in search of a pint of 6X. Or absolution. Or both.

Eventually, showtime, and this is a very precise showtime as the show is being filmed.

The audience tonight appears to be about 30 people or so, many of whom appear to be here by invitation. By now, the casual observer would be wincing for the poor promoter who would undoubtedly be facing a night dedicated to St. Flatbroke, Patron Saint of The Unsustainable Loss.

So, Blues Guitar Summit take to the stage, unfeasibly close to the declared 9PM start time for rock n roll. The three – guitar attack of Chris Corcoran, Mal Barclay and Paul Garner  are very good value, having distinctly different guitar styles, having a wide and varied repertoire from blues shuffles to solid rock boogie-woogie tunes to four on the floor 50’s rock n roll and some classic gems, such as a very likeable version of “Tequila”, for example. The rhythm section, Jamie Lawrence and Robert Pokorny on slap bass and Gretsch sticks and pans form a solid and confidence-inspiring backdrop to whatever direction the assembled guitarists head off in. The voices are workmanlike and functional, as tends to be the case, but some of the playing is genuinely inspired and very enjoyable, especially “Crawl” and ‘High Heel Sneakers’.

But something feels, very, very weird – and it isn’t just the rather ‘creepy’ venue. The band are almost treating me like I’m not here. I feel like a sort of irrelevancy. And the reason why slowly begins to dawn.

We were told at the start of the show by the smiley, jolly MC that the show was being filmed, and streamed. Nothing unusual in that, perhaps, but what became rapidly clear was – that was the whole and only point. The kit being used to film, record and stream the gig was light years in front of virtually anything I’ve seen outside the BBC and the stage / altar lighting was clearly set up with this in mind. The venue claims to be the world’s first ‘pay-to-view’ subscription live venue. Punters, anywhere in the world, pay a fee to stream the show or pay a subscription fee to stream a sequence of shows – and, worldwide, there are sufficient numbers of fans of particular musicians or a particular genre of music to make this a viable exercise.

And therein lay the problem with the performance. The band were playing directly to the camera. I was just there to be another pair of clapping hands. My ten quid ticket purchase made not a jot’s worth of difference, nor my attempts to help support the venue by purchasing another pint of 6X. I felt rather like the telly equivalent of canned laughter.

So, if you like your Rock n roll without the muck, the stale beer and the piss, this is for you. Me? I felt a little bit like I’d been used as a prop. True, I was offered free pizza and drinkies afterwards and the staff and management of the venue were kindness itself but almost as soon as the band had finished – without an encore of course as the transmission end time had been reached (an ironic request for an encore was greeted with nervous laughter) – I felt a rather tremendous urge to leave. Ten minutes later given the lack of signage we were still trying to leave. Eventually we gave up and asked one of the management team where the exit was as we wished to leave; and was told, with jolly candour and good cheer, that they didn’t like it when people left and why not stay for some pizza, at which point my companions and I did actually start to do that odd run-walk thing they do in all the best horror films.

In summary, a good but sterile performance in a very strange circumstance. The Blues under laboratory conditions. Not for me.

Steve JThis is one that’s always worth waiting for. Steve Jenner’s a Director/Presenter for Ashbourne Radio and High Peak Radio and his occasional pieces for MusicRiot are always entertaining and packed with insider insight. This is Steve’s brief summary of the highlights of 2015.

Blimey -- it’s nearly Christmas and everything and I ain’t done nuthin. And I promised Allan a High Fives. OK; here we go.

 

Georgie FameBest old guy doing a live set – Georgie Fame

I went to the O2 for BluesFest 2015 and Georgie Fame was playing in the afternoon in what amounted to the foyer. We only just missed him being inducted into his town’s Hall Of Fame when we headed North for our tour of same on our boat during the awful summer but the tickets had sold out so it was a rare treat to see him in London.

He is possibly the coolest 70 year old in the world. He plays this huge organ thing and plays the bass bits with the foot pedals as there is no bass player. He did some lovely Ray Charles bits and did his classic “Yeah Yeah” annexed to “Green Onions” which predictably had me blubbing but also did a gorgeous, and I mean gorgeous, version of ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ with a couple of nods to “Sitting In The Park” which I would have crawled miles to hear. Yer Man Georgie, he understands.

Yes, he looked grumpy and shouted at some guy who filmed him for a bit too long in order to post some awful clip on the Tube but at the end of it a fine band, fronted by one of music’s originals, played a fine set in the capital to an audience balanced finely between the diffident and the knowing. I rate it as one of my finest half hours of the year. You can do what you like.

Soultime TitleBest Album – Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes – “Soultime!”

Oh, just listen to the bloody thing. It is gorgeous. The more you listen to it the more you realise it is a work of genius. In a soulless year, it drips soul, and hunger and desperation and love. Yes, I do use the four letter word in terms of the raw soul excavations of these musicians. So it isn’t sexy in conventional terms. I read Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches’ while I Iistened to this with a Vietnam reflex but you can do what you like. But do listen to it.

Ian Siegal ScrollerBest Live Set – The Ian Siegal Band

He really was the best of a very good bunch at the Prudential Blues Fest 2015 at the O2. He also did the best line in put-downs for those who chose to carry on bowling in the adjacent alley. The Blues Band came a close second.

I first interviewed Ian Siegal on a pirate station in Nottingham in the very early nineties. When he arrived at our studio he was in a bit of a state but hey, was he special.

And many years later, he remains so. His band picked their way through James Brown to Cajun through to and perhaps more significantly chicano rock ‘n’ roll, and the blues kept rearing its exceedingly ugly head. He’s older now than when I saw him last (Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings in Buxton) but he’s also a sadder and wiser man. And that just feeds them blues. I loved it and was proud to see him take London by storm, which he did. You can do what you like but if you don’t catch this guy and his band in 2016, you is missing out and you deserve to.

Frank SkinnerBest broadcasting jolly – RadioCentre inviting me to the Radio Academy Hall Of Fame Dinner and Presentation in Birmingham

And why should I say so? Because I sat on the next table to Frank Skinner, who was inducted, and was introduced by Adrian Chiles, and both of them were hilarious. Also Pete Tong and Victoria Derbyshire and Nihal Arthanayake, but to be honest it was all about Frank Skinner who was cripplingly funny. It is indeed strange how some folks who ain’t really radio broadcasters, become so. Also I got to meet inductee Tony Butler, the guy who Invented and I mean invented, the football radio phone in. Radio phone-in question eg; ‘What is green?’ After 2 hours – Answer – ‘Grass, Tony’. ‘Correct’.

Wonderful. The guy is A Legend. Sony Lifetime Award 2007. Born 1935. You can do what you like but if you manage to do it as long as this guy did, well, power to you.

Ben E KingBye 5 2015

Ben E King.

Loads of contenders this year and you can do what you like -- but I have spoken.

“Stand by Me”. Statement of pride, solidarity, and faith in people. He was lead singer with The Drifters around the time of “Save the Last Dance for Me” and was one of the Atlantic soul stable who sang with dignity, class and quality. He also gave a significant proportion of his earnings to local charities.

I was on the guest list in Derby in 2013 when he toured with Gary US Bonds. Time stopped during “Stand by Me”, but during “Spanish Harlem” I almost burst. Timeless, timeless beauty, you see. And it is slipping away. And here comes 2016.

And there’s your High Five for this year.

 

So, how was 2013 for you?  The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it.  Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos.  We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.

We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.  Quite a selection, really.

We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn,  Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well.  Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.

Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same.  The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well.  And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.

Well, we’ve had a couple of guest contributions from blues players so far; this one’s from someone who’s a big blues fan.  Steve Jenner is a director and drive-time presenter with  two radio stations in the North Midlands, High Peak Radio and Ashbourne Radio.  He also does media work for the Plain English campaign (defending the apostrophe, now that’s rock’n’roll) and loves messing about in boats.  He’s also someone with a great ear for a tune.  Steve was persuaded to contribute this piece by regular application of single malt whisky.  Over to Steve…

Now I’m quite happy to do this High Fives Album review for Music Riot but be warned, ye music industry at large; this has not been a classic year. There have been some great singles; some amazing live gigs; some very good songs, even, but it has not been a classic year for The Album. In a good year, some of these wouldn’t have made it. But you can only play the opposition who turn up.

So…..

Goin' to the Delta HFNumber 5 --  “Going to The Delta” SAVOY BROWN (Ruf Records)

Up until this morning this was “Magic Honey” by Cyril Neville (Ruf Records) but it has been pushed aside at the very last moment by another Ruf offering, Savoy Brown’s “Going To The Delta”. It probably isn’t as good an album as the Cyril Neville offering which does have some very sticky, sweaty moments like the title track and “Blues is the Truth” but the Savoy Brown offering just has The Swag about it; it’s a bit more nimble, a bit more bite where you want a bit of bite. It is almost entirely predictable, but if you’re a sucker for this kind of Brit R’n’B goes Stateside, it will probably cast a longer shadow over your CD player than it deserves. He’s been doing this sort of thing since 1965 but this album does sound quite fresh, in a rather dated and predictable sort of way. I love it.

Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da DaNumber 4 – “Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da” MADNESS (Cooking Vinyl)

It’s sort of like an old – stylee Madness album, this, with larger -- than -- life -- characters, London Beat type Skasville with a daft smile and too much to drink.  “My Girl 2” is an interesting one with what for all the world is a straight lift from The Fine Young Cannibals “Good Thing”, “Powder Blue” is an intriguing song and “Misery” is a stand out; Ooops -- have -- a – banana style good time music with fruity, nay, saucy brass and a greasy sense of fun. Releasing a new album when you’ve just attained “National Treasure” status must be a bit of a risk but, hey, the nutty boys pull it off. Repeatedly.

The Shocking Miss EmeraldNumber 3 – “The Shocking Miss Emerald” CARO EMERALD (Dramatico)

I’m with Mr Lister re Ms Emerald (Aynsley Lister chose a Caro Emerald album as one of his High Fives -- Ed). It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure this one; you just know if there was still Woolworth’s, it would be the pick to click for about 6 months on the instore moozak. As retro as a Lockheed Constellation and almost painfully contrived, it is also massive fun, just what you want to hear early doors on a decent night out, packing wonderfully naughty songs like “Liquid Lunch” and “I Belong To You” with the sardonic “Coming Back As A Man” and the absolutely splendid “Completely”, you’d have to be seriously serious not to crack a smile while this was on your radio. A very clever album, it steadfastly refuses to beat your head in with its own cleverness. Which is cool.

In TimeNumber 2 – “In Time” THE MAVERICKS (The Valory Music Co.)

Look! He’s picked the album by that line dancing mob, etc etc…well.yes. And no. This bunch suffer from Procol Harum Disease; unable to escape ‘The Big Hit’, they are doomed to live in its shadow. Look, you either get Roy Orbison or you don’t and if you don’t, don’t see why I should waste my time talking to you. This is great, sentimental, on occasion almost operatic, country rock’n’roll. Go on, listen to “Born to be Blue’. And you’ll either get it or you won’t.

And finally…the undisputed champion…

Same Trailer, Different ParkNumber 1 – “Same Trailer, Different Park” KACEY MUSGRAVES (Mercury Nashville).

“Same Trailer, Different Park”……..this woman is too young to sing of these things. “Merry Go Round” has to be song of the year -- it is so knowing, so battered by life, so damn tired by it all. And yet it manages to be witty, funny, beautifully observed and played with sumptuously understated perfection by a cast of angels. And that ain’t all; try “Silver Lining”, the album’s opening track for a whole truckload of emptiness, or “Follow Your Arrow” which wins the Rick Nelson “Garden Party” award for ‘do what you like ‘cos you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ Delicious. Would have made top five even in a classic year. Which to be fair, this ain’t.

And the next one please.  Steve Jenner is Managing Director and weekday drivetime presenter on Ashbourne Radio in Derbyshire (one of a handful of genuinely independent commercial stations left in the UK).  Steve has been a broadcaster for over 20 years and a DJ for much (much) longer and he knows a good tune when he hears one.  He’s also a bloody good bloke who doesn’t mind getting his round in.  As a man who knows about Phonographic Performance Licensing, he’s helpfully added the label information for each of the albums; and he’s ranked them 1 to 5 which none of the rest of us dared to do.

The Beach Boys – “That’s Why God Made the Radio” (Capitol)Product Details

This is either one of two things. A cynical last go at topping up the retirement fund by a bunch of coffin dodgers who ought to know better, or a hauntingly nostalgic and melancholy – soaked slice of harmony magic. Ok I’ve put it as my number 1 of the year so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if the title track doesn’t have you referencing back to summers long past and cars long gone to the breaker’s yard, you have no right to have been given ears. From the achingly beautiful opening sequence to the final track’s ode to transience, it is enchanting.

Paul Carrack – “Good Feeling” (Carrack UK)Product Details

This is either one of two things. A perfunctory and never less than professional run through of a handful of songs of varying quality, or a varied, extremely well performed set of well written and well chosen songs performed with love for the material, respect for the intended audience and a sure – footedness and confidence which only comes from year upon year of recording and touring with the very best. Ok I’ve put it as my number 2 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but from the second the searingly optimistic title track folds into the live tour de force “Marmalade Moon” to the point when it finally puts you down, you’re travelling alongside one of the best popular musicians this country has produced. And that’s ever. It’s an album that smiles at you – and means it.

Sandi Thom – “Flesh and Blood” (Guardian Angels)Product Details

This is either one of two things. An Americanised watering -- down of a once feisty and original Scottish songwriter and performer and her work, or a compelling and never less than sumptuous piece of work which has moments of incredible tenderness and beauty. Ok, I’ve put it as my number 3 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if you come across a more moving and despairing rendition of a song than the towering “Big Ones Get Away” (Featuring Buffy Saint – Marie on spooky vocal enhancement) or the swaggering Rickenbacker of “Sun Comes Crashing Down”, buy me a copy of whatever it is and I’ll call you a Big Fat Fibber. Gorgeous.

Deacon Blue – “The Hipsters”Product Details

This is either one of two things. A gauche attempt by a bunch of 90’s burnt – outs to recapture the glory days and trying hard but not quite making which is worse than not bothering at all or an out – of – nowhere, died – in – the – wool, very pleasant surprise. Ok, I’ve put it as my number 4 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if there was a better summer FM choon than the title track this year outside of the Beach Boys album I’m afraid it passed me right on by. “The Outsiders” is pretty damn tidy too. As is the first track….oh, just stick the whole thing on. It’s real Deacon Blue. Says so on the tin.

Seal – “Soul 2”Product Details

This is either one of two things. Yet another of those awful rob – a -- genre albums artists who are struggling a bit due to reasons personal or professional insist on releasing (or their record company shamefully leans on them to do so) when they run out of ideas or it is a masterclass in how it should be done by an expert practitioner at the top of his game. Ok, I’ve put it as my number 5 album so it’s pretty clear what I think and you can think what you like but if you hear a better version of “Wishing On A Star” – and I include Rose Royce in this – or the criminally underplayed  Smokey and the Miracles “Ooh Baby Baby”, (which isn’t quite as good as the original but hey, we’re tickling the toes of the angels here) I’ll refuse to buy you a copy of the new Rod Stewart Christmas Album. You have to be an exceptional talent to carry this sort of thing off. Well done, Mr Seal.

Many thanks to Steve for that great selection.  There’s another selection coming tomorrow; I wonder who that could be?