Booker T & The MGs – live at The Strand, Redondo Beach, Los Angeles

I got lucky. At the Oktoberfest in Munich I met a friendly young woman. It was a brief chat and we were both heavily steined. After many letters, the following April I was staying with her amazingly hospitable family in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles; a six-month stay including paid work, delivering hair products and picking up cheques. I was driving around Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, Malibu and Melrose Avenue. Yeah, I got lucky.

That six-month stay included three months of travel across the States, so I saw enough to say two things. It’s an incredible country to visit but I’d never want to live there permanently. Amongst dozens of great memories a few were musical. A very friendly face gave me a tape of The Grateful Dead, one side American Beauty, the other Workingman’s Dead. I played it loads in my beaten up Honda Civic and Truckin’ loved it. That beaten up Civic took me all the way to Beale Street and Graceland in Memphis and New Orleans for the Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Radiators and Robert Cray stand out, and B.B King is memorable only for the horrific after effects of a colossal bowl of dodgy Cajun gumbo. Oh, the pain.

I saw Santana play at the Greek Theatre in L.A. That was special, though with daft, unrealistic expectations I remember being disappointed they weren’t as stunning as their live stuff on Moonflower which blew me away a couple of years earlier. Lastly, and most memorably, I saw the Stax house band, the Memphis soul originators and ultimate groove legends Booker T & The MGs at The Strand on Redondo Beach. I saw the billboard advertising the gig and I remember doing a double-take and thinking… THE Booker T & The MGs? Oh yes!

Booker T Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass and Anton Fig on drums. I was living the dream.

It was dark, it was smoky, it was emotional and everything I hoped it would be. I’ve seen Dylan and The Who in their later years and they bored me shitless. I was faintly nervous going in, but on that stage Booker T & The MGs were still the ultimate groove. That ‘60s sound was alive and totally happening. Green Onions, Time Is Tight, Hip Hug Her, Soul Limbo, Melting Pot… zero disappointment, maximum R&B.

World Party – ‘Goodbye Jumbo’

Before the summer of 1990 I’d travelled abroad a bit. Jersey, Switzerland and Spain hardly made me a globetrotter, I was still selling tracksuits, cricket bats and using the gym far more than was good for my health. On a boy’s holiday in Spain where amigo Simon was working, we hatched a plan. Simon planted a seed. “Who fancies travelling?” he asked. “Me! Me! Me!” replied I. I paraphrase profusely, but a few months later we were off, and with us came our new favourite album, World Party’s Goodbye Jumbo.

We had a VW Camper, we had a van full of music, we had a map, Lenny Kravitz and The Who Maximum R&B t.shirts, and we were wearing sunglasses. But as we set off on a three-month trip across Europe it was Karl Wallinger’s sunshine, foresight and relentless positivity that were sending us on our way. Way Down Now highlights his Beatles obsession, with the eco aware, playful Lennon-esque lyrics and his love of the Stones with the glorious “woo woos”

“The clocks will all run backwards
All the sheep will have two heads
And Thursday night and Friday
Will be on Tuesday night instead.

And the times will keep on changing
And the movement will increase
And there’s something about the living, babe
That sends me off my feet.

There’s breeding in the sewers
And the rats are on their way
They’re clouding up the images of my perfect day.

And I know I’m not alone
And I know I’m not alone
And I know I’m not alone”

Karl Wallinger’s work with The Waterboys and World Party’s epic single Ship Of Fools had already shown his immense talent, but whilst Private Revolution showed some signs of brilliance, its follow up Goodbye Jumbo showed nothing but. He was another crazy talented maestro; a writer, performer and multi-instrumentalist whose influences glow throughout the music rather than define it. The album flows rhythmically, melodically and like our trip across western Europe, it brings back nothing but sunshine memories.

Goodbye Jumbo is perfect pop with faint psychedelia and large dollops of ‘60s folk. It’s hugely uplifting yet at its heart is the sublime and sorrowful story of love lost, And I Fell Back Alone, which despite its lament did nothing but add to the emotional ride. Put The Message In The Box, Show Me To The Top, Love Street and Sweet Soul Dream are luxurious and captivating, and just listening to Karl Wallinger just encourages smiles.

Mixtapes were our musical medium, with a splattering of essential albums and as we’d pull into campsites our music choice would accompany our arrival. We’d wind down the windows and treat our new neighbours to some Hendrix, Marley or Led Zep. Music was ever present. Some albums take you straight back to a time and place, and Goodbye Jumbo takes me straight back to our VW Camper and that joyful summer of 1990.

The Spoons

By early ’86 and with the Charivari DJ residence established, I was feeling, for the first time, very much a part of something. Bournemouth in the mid ‘80s had a fantastic alternative scene, underground but everywhere, if you knew where to look. My friends, cohorts and co-habitants Simon and Gary were in Sketches Of Utopia, one of many quality bands playing the local pubs & clubs. They and many others played Charivari, who hosted a variety of acts as wide as the stage was small, including Julian Clary & Fanny The Wonder Dog aka The Joan Collins Fan Club and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Yes, a wide variety.

Charivari attracted the most eclectic bunch of heady non-conformists you could imagine. The rockabilly and psychobilly scene was particularly prominent, but the colossal mix of style and musical orientation on show illuminated the place. The club seemed to crackle with possibilities. Watching an eager couple fuck fully clothed on a seat less than ten feet from me was not something I was used to. Neither was catching a fella shooting up, though at least that was confined to the toilets. Three original local bands in particular did it for me in 1986: The Swis, The Vibration Doctors, and following a gig at The Third Side Club featuring the debut of a certain Lance Riley on vocals, The Spoons.

I’d known Lance briefly before The Third Side gig, and judging by the turnout that night he’d invited half of Bournemouth to see them play. With a heavy ‘60s sound and hooks that could kill, The Spoons became my local Fabs. Stylistically, Lance was a Jim Morrison, Bryan Ferry and Roddy Frame hybrid, Phil was Revolver era John Lennon. Mark, Aftermath era Keith Richards and Budgie, Black And White era JJ Burnel. Make-up didn’t go missing. Paisley was everywhere. These were the mainstays of ’86 Spoons. On drums Steve was replaced by Nick who was replaced by Simon, and after a year or two Mark left too, but in ‘86 and into ‘87 The Spoons, like dozens of others, were MY local band.

My love of lists has always included all-time favourite bands, and for a year or so The Spoons were in my Top 10. Fucking ridiculous, but there they were at about No.8 just behind The Doors and ahead of, I dunno, The Byrds. Whist Lance was in his element as king strut out front, Budgie didn’t need to make any effort to look cool. But it was Phil, aka Hugo Slater that demanded attention. Duelling Rickenbackers with Budgie, Phil was THE main man, as much Lou Reed as Lennon, he was the chief bard, harmoniser and funny as fuck. Posers, the lot of ‘em, but they were seriously good, so all that peacocking just enhanced their appeal.

Sinner, She’s Yesterday, Show Me How, Valentine… their songs had an aura, a riff-heavy mix of all things groovy; an indie tinged mix of Beatles, Zombies and Loaded era Velvets. As great as the songs were, they shone all the more due to the vocal skills of Lance Riley. Looks count for nothing if you sound like Simon Le Bon, but Lance oozed Bryan Ferry class and had a voice to match his waistcoat. Velvety. The Spoons were too ‘60s to jump on the Roses and Mondays bandwagon, ultimately peaking in ’89 under the brief management of U2 producer, Steve Lillywhite, with appearances on MTV and VH1 with their first single Show Me How. But, following Phil’s imminent departure, it was all but over. In hindsight, as fab as The Spoons were, a place in my Top 10 bands of all time might now be a struggle, but if there’s a list of Top 10 from Bournemouth, The Spoons would be nudging the top.

Marvin Gaye – ‘Anthology’

By early 1982 my love affair with the Top 40 was all but over. I still consider 1979-81 to be a fantastic era for music; blessed with the energy of punk, lyrically influenced by the societal issues of the day and stylistically inspired by 60s, ska and roots – at least the stuff I loved anyway. By ’82 synthesisers and emotionless new romantics with fake plastic sentiment had replaced Dexys, The Jam and The Specials. Fuck that. I was looking elsewhere for inspiration and musical kicks. I was heading back to the 60s.

Marvin Gaye was next. A few of his singles were well known to me inspiring me to make this 3-disc mountain of classic Marvin my next purchase and new obsession. It contained everything from his early Motown releases up to and including gems from his classic What’s Going On, the tracks from which soon became my focus. Marvin Gaye sung like an angel, oozing laid-back cool. Duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tami Terrell just brought smiles, epitomising happiness through perfect vocal harmony. But it was those later tracks that I couldn’t resist – this was cool with a conscience – groundbreaking for the Motown hit factory.

Once more this was my classroom. Inner City Blues, What’s Going On and Mercy Mercy Me raised my conscience, despite being penned ten years previously these issues were still real and even more relevant. “Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas, fish full of mercury / What about this overcrowded land / How much more abuse from man can she stand?” And this music was beautiful; notes were gently caressed, beats were blessed, flowing with ethereal refrain and Marvin’s vocals… stunning, soulful and sublime.

My love of Marvin Gaye still remains after more than 30 years. He led the way in developing black music both musically and politically, changing attitudes and beliefs whilst influencing his and future generations. I look at this album cover and I feel joy, I feel awakening and I feel love.