Imagine a story that starts with a fanatical Jam fan in the town of Atherstone who draws pictures of the band’s album covers in his exercise books during lessons at school and fantasises about being in his own band. Imagine that kid forty years later turning to his right at Islington Assembly Hall and seeing Paul Weller making a guest appearance with the band, Stone Foundation, that the kid has played with and believed in for a huge chunk of his life. Now that would make a great story, wouldn’t it? Bloody right it would, especially when the kid is Neil Sheasby, known to fans of Stone Foundation for his gritty on-the-road diaries spilling all the gory details (and the pleasant surprises and triumphs) of life in a band in the 21st century.

Brother Sheas (as Paul Weller refers to him) is a natural storyteller, who’s never short of an opinion and has the knack of pacing the narrative perfectly, in a style that captures perfectly his spoken delivery and with an ability to deliver the killer punchline when it’s needed. I’m not going to spoil the book for you by retelling the stories – I mean, the whole point of this is to make you want to buy it and read it. The only spoiler I’m going with is that the story stops short of the formation of Stone Foundation (which I’m guessing will come with the second volume).

The story “Boys Dreaming Soul” tells is of passion for music, passion for the right clothes, riotous times and bad behaviour, life in a small working-class town (and I can relate to most of those) and a lifelong friendship that comes to define both of the people involved. Neil’s deadpan delivery is perfect for the music business anecdotes, but he’s equally effective with the serious business, and there’s a fair amount of that as well.

This book will make you laugh; it might make you cry. If you’re interested in music at all, and why are reading this if you aren’t, you’ll be fascinated by Neil’s stories of his various bands and nights out at music industry schmoozefests and the memories he evokes with playlists for each chapter of the book (Neil loves a playlist). He’s a very engaging author and he’s created a compelling memoir in “Boys Dreaming Soul”. It’s a story of complete commitment to an ideal whether times are good or bad, happy or sad. And it made me realise we were at the same gig in Nottingham thirty years ago.

It’s available at the main online stores but why not try here first. It’s out now.

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.

Carnabys ScrollerThe Carnabys at Barfly; don’t mind if I do. I tried to remember where I’d seen them before. Well, it was a while ago at Hard Rock Calling in 2013, but we hadn’t crossed paths since; time to put that right. Before the main event, Hoodoo Daze put in a good shift with a blend of psychedelia and big guitar riffs harking back to early Pink Floyd at times and a bass player who threw some serious Peter Hook shapes. Good response, but you could feel the anticipation ratcheting up as The Carnabys prepared to launch into their set. The audience at the front of the stage was buzzing even before the band finished their last minute tuning checks and launched into “Great Dane in the Graveyard”.

It all went a bit chicken oriental after that with a mass of bodies jumping up and down in front of the stage as the band locked in to the pulse, with drums, bass and guitars meshing perfectly at breakneck speed before Jack Mercer’s powerful vocals soared in over the wall of sound. And that’s just the first thirty seconds. The set was a mix of songs from “No Money on the Moon” (including “Breathing”, Is That My Baby”, “Come Over, Come Stay”, “SNIKS” and “Where I’d Rather Be”) and the upcoming 2016 album (including “Great Dane…”, “Elizabeth” and “Peaches and Bleach”) and the almost obligatory Bowie tribute, a rip-roaring version of “The Jean Genie”.

There’s a certain retro feel to this band; you can draw a straight line back in time through The Carnabys and The Jam and to The Who. The all have the same energy, good tunes, great playing and a definite London vibe and attitude. There’s a bit of rock in and some late seventies power pop, but the mix of melodic bass lines, two guitars and some frantic, almost Moon-like, drumming creates the kind of excitement I thought had died out after Two Tone. They’ve got the tunes, the stories, the ability and the moxie; let’s see what 2016 brings.

And just a word of consolation to Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band (or three-quarters of it) who should have played before The Carnabys but were reshuffled to the late slot. They should have been playing to a full house, but lost out when the venue almost emptied after The Carnabys finished their set. Shame really, because Dana’s a great songwriter and the band was on good form.

The new album from The Carnabys is scheduled for release later this year.

 

Kris Delmhorst TitleYou have to admire the faith and dedication of musicians who fly across the Atlantic to spend their evenings playing to small audiences around the UK in an effort to get some recognition for their music. Kris Delmhorst and Hayward Williams completed their eleven days/eleven gigs UK tour at Green Note in Camden on Sunday with a couple of sets to warm the heart of even the most cynical of old gig warriors (and there were a few of those in the crowd).

The evening started with a short solo set from Hayward featuring mainly songs from his most recent album “The Reef”, including “Helping Hands (If I Go Under)”, “Beginnings” and the album’s closing song “Under Control”. Even without the band arrangements from the album versions the songs were strong and punchy (the guitar backing on “Beginnings” sounding a lot like The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”) and Hayward’s laconic musings between songs about his home town of Milwaukee and various other subjects were perfect for a London audience.

After a short break, Hayward was back to join Kris for most of her set, strapping on the electric to supply a bit of extra weight to the arrangements and some very nice fills as well as some assured harmonies. The interaction between the two performers kept the audience involved between songs, particularly when Hayward took a break as Kris performed songs from earlier in her career and had his guitar “stolen” while he was off-stage.

If you haven’t heard of Kris Delmhorst, she’s a singer-songwriter who was born in New York, but now lives in Massachusetts, plays a variety of instruments, and writes songs about her life and the lives of those around her which she delivers in a laid-back style relying on interesting themes and melodies to deliver her message. “Blood Test” is her first album since 2008 and, unsurprisingly, features heavily in her live set. The musical arrangements on “Blood Test” aren’t overblown so it’s relatively simple, with a bit of creativity, to make them work with two voices and two guitars. Lyrically the album leans towards the re-evaluation that life events force on you, and that was reflected in the songs included in the live set.

The set opened with the low-key reminiscences of “Blood Test” and worked through “Saw it All” (with some lovely guitar fills from Hayward), “Bees”, “Homeless”, “We Deliver”, “Little Frame”, “Temporary Sun”, “92nd Street” and “Lighthouse”, all performed as a duo. To take a break from the new material, which the audience seemed to be pretty familiar with anyway, Kris threw in a few older songs including “Freediver”, “You’re No Train” and “Magic” (a song from her album of Cars covers).

This was the first time Kris has visited the UK since 2008 (just before her daughter was born) but I’m fairly certain it won’t be another seven years before we see her again. Judging by the response of the audience, I’m guessing that Hayward Williams gained a few fans for his solo set and for riding shotgun for Kris. It was the kind of gig that sends you out into the cold spring evening with your own personal glow.

“Blood Test” is available now on Signature Sounds or Kris’s website.

“The Reef” is available at CDBaby.