Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Part 4 - Let's Play Life...

As I mentioned in Part 3 - Flowers In The Dustbin, I started to play the guitar in 1977 mainly due to my discovery of Punk Rock and the offering of such sage advice from the likes of Alternative TV’s Mark Perry who said you only needed to know 3 chords and you could form a band.

The only problem with that was that you needed other people to form a band other than the "one man" type favoured three years earlier by Leo Sayer.

Fortunately my brother had an inkling to play the drums and my recollection tells me that at Xmas 1977 I received an electric guitar and small practice amp and my brother a snare drum and hi-hat and we promptly set to learning to play some of the songs we now knew should be simple to play cos, as people kept telling us, "them punk rockers can't play".

Well I beg to differ !

What I did discover was you really didn't need to learn the 3 chords previously demonstrated, you just needed to learn one chord shape, this one

If you are not, nor ever have been, a guitar player that diagram may look as indecipherable to you as a page full of a random foreign language. Hopefully, dear reader, you are a fan of the Ramones so I shall let Johnny demonstrate

That being a picture of the mighty Johnny Ramone playing the above diagrammed chord, commonly known as a barre chord.

The beauty of the barre chord is that if you move it up and down the fret board of a guitar the same shape becomes a different chord at each position. So at the first fret it is an F, at the 3rd fret a G, at the 5th an A and so on and so forth until you reach the dusty end of the neck. So you have a myriad of chords at your disposal all from learning to play one shape.

The down side of the barre chord is that for the inexperienced guitarist they are bloody difficult and excrutiatingly painful to play in equal measure. As you can see you are required to stretch one finger across the whole neck and hold down all the strings while at the same time using your remaining 3 available fingers to make the chord. Add to this using your thumb at the back of the neck to clamp down that stretched index digit and shifting that shape up and down the neck at a speed dictated by the punk rock we chose to play...well it bloody hurt and you had to persevere to make it sound anywhere close to acceptable. It may go some way to explaining why I have, in the ensuing years, avoided the use of barre chords whenever possible!

But persevere I did and my brother and I would wait for our parents to go out, set up the amp and drum kit-lite in the living room and thrash our way through such hits of the day as the Tom Robinson Bands "Up Against the Wall" and the Angelic Upstarts "Police Oppression". I'm certain at times it sounded bloody awful (oh those poor neighbours) but we were having a great time.

The next logical steps are two-fold; find the remaining members to make up a full band and then, write some of your own songs. We found a bass player who also played the saxophone and, calling ourselves "A Moment", we set to learning to play together. We played a few gigs at local church halls and at my 18th birthday party. But most importantly we started to write our own songs. I don't remember if it was the first one I/we wrote but a song called "Everything You Need" was born. I can't remember the words anymore but I can still play most of it.

(Actually I've just had a go and I can still play all of it. Now I wonder where the lyrics are ??? Oh yeah, we recorded it. I've just been up into my loft and retrieved a reel of tape containing the very first recordings we made. It's 30 years old, dated March 1981. Two songs are on this reel, "Happy Fields Of Thought" and "Everything You Need". I guess I need to get on to some people and try and get these songs digitised somehow. Watch this space)

Music became pretty much my reason for doing everything. Listening to it, making it, anything so long as it was music related. We went to endless gigs and dreamt about being as big as the bands we went to see. Hanging out and talking about how great your band was was almost as important as your band actually being great.

I don't remember when or how A Moment finished but by 1983 I was in another band called Pop Da Freak. I'd given up playing the guitar and just concentrated on being the singer. We dressed in leather and frills, wore make up and had vertical haircuts (well most of us did). We made a racket inspired by Joy Division, Magazine, Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground (or so we thought) and there's an example of it right here.

Pop Da Freak - Play Life For Keeps by russh29

I've always been really proud of that song. The lyrics were based on a book called "Ringolevio" by Emmett Grogan which if you have any interest in the 60's counter culture is a book you should seek out and read.

Pop Da Freak would have folded in late 1986 and by 1987 I'd formed yet another new band, The Libertines (got there waaaay before ya Doherty). What we were doing back then would have been described as sounding very C86, what came to pick up the all encompassing description "Indie", whatever the hell that is. We had a fine old time. We picked up supports with some well known bands, played some big shows and I finally got to do something I'd dreamed about doing since back when my first single was either "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me", "The Wanderer" or "Solid Gold Easy Action" (don't know what I'm babbling on about ? Have a look here) I GOT TO MAKE A SINGLE OF MY OWN !!!

The Libertines "Smith Is A Liar"

It was recorded at The Workshop studio in Redditch near Birmingham, with co-production duties handled by my brother, who had ditched the drums in favour of the guitar and was by then making records of his own on a major label and heading for "pop star" status. "Smith Is A Liar" didn't sell many copies (I still have boxes of them around the house if anybody still wants to buy one) and I never got to hear it on the radio but I had finally made a record of my very own.

Despite it's abject failure we did some gigs to try and promote it and even made plans to release a second single, which would have been this

The Libertines "Wolf!"

The Libertines - Wolf! by russh29

But by now I needed a little more security in my life. I was about to become a Dad and I needed a job. I'd done a few gigs pretending to be a roadie for my brothers band and they were about to embark on their first major support tour of the UK. They asked me to go with them as the roadie and offered me what was then a handsome sum to do it. So I told my fellow Libertines that was it and, 25 days after the birth of my son, embarked on my first tour as a roadie, something that would occupy me for the next 8 years. But that story is for another time...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #8

I've just had my first charity shop find !

I had to go into our little town to get some essentials (butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, digestives. Yeah! Essentials!) and decided to have a look in a couple of the local charity shops. Nothing in the first but in the second there were two boxes of singles. Unfortunately someone was at them before me and he seemed to know what he was looking for. He'd already pulled out a picture sleeved copy of the Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen" (see my recent post) and a record on the Blue Beat label but I couldn't see what that was.

He eventually moved on and I got to flicking through the first box. Not much in there but when I got to the second box this was right at the front

Yeah OK so it's not exactly gonna earn me enough to retire on but it was only 50p and in very fine condition.

R Dean Taylor moved from his native Toronto to Detroit in the early 60's and was hired by Motown as a songwriter and recording artist for their subsidiary label V.I.P. He released "There's A Ghost In My House" on V.I.P. in 1967. Co-written by Taylor and the legendary Motown writing team of "Holland-Dozier-Holland" and produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier it was a commercial flop, allegedly because Motown chose not to promote it well enough.

The single was picked up on in the early 70's by the Northern Soul scene and became so popular that Motown re-released it and R Dean found himself with a #3 UK chart hit in 1974.

So enjoy Mr R Dean Taylor and "There's A Ghost in My House"

P.S I found a copy of Gary Lewis & The Playboys "My Hearts Symphony" in the same box but I decided to keep that to myself...D'OH!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #7

You may recall that in Vinyl Adventures #5 I told you "I'm really not a lover of white guys trying to play "the Blues"". So what do we have here ?

The Skyliners were an (all white) Doo Wop group formed in 1958 in Pittsburgh and released their first single "Since I Don't Have You" in December of that year. It reached #12 in the US charts.

By May 1965 when "Everything Is Fine" was released the original group had disbanded and leader Jimmy Beaumont had transformed himself into something of an impressive soul singer. So yes, what we have here is an example of a white guy singing (rhythm &) blues...but hey! this is my Blog and if I can't contradict myself here then where can I ?

Again this is a B-side (the A-side being "The Loser"). It's a beautiful mid-tempo floater of a record kicking off with with a vocal intro over strummed guitar chords before it settles into being a laid back dancer replete with handclaps and fabulous close harmonies from the rest of The Skyliners. I can't remember where I first heard this (maybe at The Station Hotel nights in the 90's) but I've loved it since that first time and it's a thrill to get hold of such a great copy of it.

So all of you settle back and let The Skyliners "Everything Is Fine" brighten your!

Vinyl Adventures #6

It's something of a mystery that some Northern Soul nights are known as "Oldies" nights. This from a scene where the majority of the records played are from the 1960's. What is meant by this term "Oldies" is records that have been played at events for many years and have become very well known, even to people who don't follow Northern Soul.

A few years ago DJ Kev Roverts compiled a book, "The Northern Soul Top 500", which collected together what he described as the "definitive chart of the 500 top sounds that put northern soul on the map". You can view a list of the 500 here. These are the records you will likely hear at an "Oldies" night.

At number 95 in that list you'll find Spyder Turner's "I Can’t Make It Anymore", a well loved Northern Soul Oldie. But Spyder made many other great records, including this one

"You're Good Enough For Me" was the B-side to Spyder's debut single for MGM Records, a take on the Ben E King classic "Stand By Me". Spyder was none too happy with his version of "Stand By Me" telling Blues & Soul magazine that MGM "felt it was good enough. I didn't agree. I didn't like it but I wanted a record deal so I went on ahead and did a B-side for them."

And oh what a B-side! Spyder and his girly backing singers are to be heard chirping and stomping away while the band lays down a groove that just doesn't give up. The sum of all those parts results in a sublime dancer that fortunately was discovered languishing on the B-side by a group of soul crazed dancers and DJ's in the north of 1970's England.

Spyder Turner is still regularly playing live shows, writing and making records and does some acting too. I love "I Can’t Make It Anymore" but I'd much rather hear something like this played out than another played to death Oldie.

So give it up for Spyder Turner and "You're Good Enough For Me"...Yeah!

Vinyl Adventures #5

I don't know why but until recently I had always assumed that Arthur Alexander was white. Maybe it was because I had first come across his name in tandem with that of Mose Allison, who is white (I'm really not a lover of white guys trying to play "the Blues", although in Mose' defence his style is more Jazz). Maybe it was because the only music I knew by Arthur Alexander were insipid covers of "Anna Go To Him" by The Beatles and "You Better Move On" by the Rolling Stones. I've never been much of a fan of either of those groups. I'd much rather get my '60's kicks from the Small Faces, The Kinks or The Who.

I'm not much of a fan of Elvis Presley either, never have been. I can appreciate the importance of what he did at Sun Records but I'd much rather get my shots of '50's rock 'n' roll from Jerry Lee or Eddie Cochran or Little Richard.

So I'm therefore pleased to have recently discovered that Arthur Alexander was Afro-American, otherwise we might now be talking about a record featuring two of my least favourite things; a white "blues" artist performing, what became, an Elvis Presley hit.

As it is what we have is Arthur's 1972 original version of a song that Mr Presley took to #2 in the US a few months later. Legend has it that "The King" didn't much care for the song and was uncomfortable performing it even though it gave him his last US top 10 hit.

Arthur's version however thunders along. This is another record I came across thanks to the (sadly now defunct) Makin' Trax Blog that highlighted records that have, in the past, been played on the Northern/Rare Soul scene that might be ripe for revival and the copy I've bought is a white label promo with the same song on both sides (mono and stereo mixes) in practically mint condition. It's very "southern soul" in arrangement and style and I'm not sure how it's going to go down when presented to the dancers. Oh well I guess I'll find out at Telford Soul Club on November 12th.

In the meantime let me know what you think of of Mr Arthur Alexanders hunk-a-hunk-a "Burnin' Love"...enjoy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Part 3 - Flowers In The Dustbin

The 27th May 1977 is a date that should be writ large in mine, and many of my friends, memories, but even I had to do a bit of research to find out that that was the date upon which a record was released that can still have a very deep effect upon my mood to this day.

To continue our somewhat disjointed story...I’d progressed through singles and Glam Rock to actually going to gigs and the final piece of my musical education was waiting to be discovered. Where did I find out more about the music I liked, what was being released and when, who was playing gigs and where ? The answers to all my questions were to be found each week inside the approximately 60 pages of newspaper print, that would usually end up all over your hands and clothes. We’re talking the music press, the inkies as they came to be known.

At the time we are talking about, that being late 1976 or early 1977, Sounds, Melody Maker and the New Musical Express, or NME, were the papers that covered all things music, serious music that is, not pop which was taken care of by the likes of Jackie and other teen girl magazines which no self respecting glam rocker would be seen reading. Sounds was very heavy rock oriented and Melody Maker quite studious. NME was a bit out of my league when I was 14, I didn’t understand most of what was written in there, very literary.

I latched onto Sounds, not because I particularly like heavy rock but because it seemed the easiest of the inkies to understand. I started buying Sounds each week, scouring the news items and gig listings for any Slade related info. I don’t recall that I was reading the features, but I was learning about lots of bands and artists from the news items, ad’s and reviews. Inevitably some names began to stick out more than others and I began to read about bands with names like the Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Jam, The Clash, The Adverts and others who seemed to be causing quite a stir, being commented about as much negatively as positively and being described as Punk Rock.

From what I could make out from the items in Sounds, these bands played loud, basic, noisy rock music, maybe were not very proficient musicians but were attracting young audiences who were maybe somewhat disillusioned with the current music available on the airwaves of Britain’s only national music radio station...wunnerful Radio 1.

BBC4 recently began repeating Top Of The Pops from 1976. They still hold full archives of the shows from then forward and are showing them in full every Wednesday evening. It really is astonishing what crap was charting in 1976. If you’re feeling real brave try some of this rubbish:

Paul Nicholas - Reggae Like It Used To Be
Harpo - Movie Star
Rubettes - You’re The Reason Why
Slik - Requiem
Sheer Elegance - Life Is Too Short Girl

Is it any wonder Punk Rock happened ???

I did see a 1976 TOTP recently that opened with the Heavy Metal Kids performing their new single (at the time) “She’s No Angel”. It didn’t chart, I didn’t discover the Heavy Metal Kids until some time in late 1977 thanks to a Radio 1 In Concert broadcast which I only recorded for the performance by the support band, The Vibrators, but how I wish I’d seen that TOTP performance in 1976, it would have been a shining beacon in a sea of 1976’s pop trash.

I remember the summer of 1976, it was a bloody scorcher, day after day of endless sunshine and heat and hour after hour of The Real Things “You To Me Are Everything” and Wings “Silly”bloody”Love Songs” on the radio, and I’m sure me thinking that there must be something better than this to listen to. Unbeknownst to me that “something better” was simmering away in pubs and clubs in London in readiness for revealing itself to me in the spring of 1977.

So back to our narrative; there I was scouring Sounds for any Slade based news I could find and becoming more and more aware of these new bands that were popping up in the news and reviews pages. By May and into June 1977 the occasional mentions had developed into something of a firestorm mainly centred around the group known as the Sex Pistols.

All of 1977 saw the UK “celebrating” Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, 25 years on the throne, and the Jubilee Days of June 6th-9th saw a series of events in and around London with many people holding street parties on 7th June. Also on the 7th June the Sex Pistols held a party, on a boat sailing up and down the Thames, on which they performed, their new single. The boat was hauled over by police and many people on board were arrested. The boat episode was reported in the music press and the national press the next week. Fantastic publicity for their newly released single “God Save The Queen”, which had been unleashed upon the world on 27th May. Publicity enough for me to finally decide “OK let’s go and buy this Punk Rock record and see what all the fuss is about”.

So on my next trip into Birmingham, most likely on a Saturday, most likely to HMV on New Street, or Virgin on Bull Street, or maybe Inferno in Dale End, I don’t remember, but I do know I bought a copy of the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” along with The Stranglers “Peaches” b/w “Go Buddy Go” combination. When we got those records home, we played them, obviously, and the first time I played “God Save The Queen”....listen, I’ve written this up on here before, you can find out what happened here and for those of you too lazy to click the link I copy and paste here:

We dropped the needle on the groove felt like I was physically hurled across the room and pinned against the opposite wall for 3 minutes and 20 seconds. When it had finished I think I was in shock. It was like nothing I had ever heard before.

Did I really just hear that ?
People don't make records that sound like that.
Do they ?
They do ?

So I played it again....and again...and get the picture...just to reassure myself that I had heard it right. And I think I knew then that some things were never going to seem quite the same ever again

And astonishingly, that record still gives me a rush when I hear it to this day. Steve Jones opening guitar blast can instantly transport me back to that point in time when I first heard it and felt slightly awed, slightly frightened, slightly exhilarated and realised that things had just changed in a big way.

I never did become much of a fan of The Stranglers but the Sex Pistols 4 singles and 1 album are constant companions even now. I started buying other Punk Rock records by The Jam (who replaced Slade as my musical obsession), The Clash (I was lucky enough to meet Joe Strummer shortly before he passed away. A meeting that left a lasting impression on me), The Adverts (TV Smith’s music has stuck by me all these years and I can now count him amongst my acqauintances), X-Ray Spex, The Damned, The Ruts, Generation X and Siouxsie & The Banshees. I started to play the guitar because Alternative TV’s Mark Perry said you only needed to know 3 chords and you could form a band. Eventually I made a record of my own...but that tale is for another day...

Friday, September 02, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #4

It last. Exactly one month after winning the auction on eBay and much sweating on whether it was ever going to arrive, hanging around the front door waiting for the postman, it dropped through the letterbox this morning...phew!

Debbie Taylor seems to have become a singer in the same way as many great black American singers, via the church. When young she sang gospel in her fathers church and toured nationally as a gospel singer in her teens. Through this route she came to the attention of Decca records who released her first two singles during 1968. After parting company with Decca she moved to the New York label GWP.

I first came across "Don't Nobody Mess With My Baby" when it was released on a CD complitaion of GWP's output by Kent Records, "GWP: NYC TCB", and was struck by it's power from the very first listen.

Debbie released 3 singles for GWP through 1969. Then, in 1970, she released "Don't Nobody Mess With My Baby" on the GWP subsidiary Grapevine. It's a pounding piece of big city soul, custom built for the dancefloor and Debbie's vocal performance is nothing short of astonishing.

Unfortunately my copy arrived too late for me to spin it at our soul night last Sunday, but watch out on November 12th when Debbie will be ripping up the dancefloor at Telford Soul Club.

Good people, I give you Debbie Taylor and "Don't Nobody Mess With My Baby"...hell yeah !