Tom Petty – ‘Wildflowers’

By the summer of ’96 I’d grabbed another DJ residency, playing northern, mod, soul and ‘60s beat at Shake Your Mini, a Bournemouth club for uh, ‘60s beatniks. It was a great gig and ten years after my first stint at Charivari I always thought: “if only I had all this knowledge and music back then.” My knowledge and collection had grown massively, but aged 20 I was young, ebullient and wide-eyed which was probably what they wanted, and aged 30, well, I wasn’t.

Anyway, back in MVC the next long-player to leave its love mark was the exquisite Wildflowers by Mr Tom Petty. I’d been a big fan for many years and loved most of his early stuff including his fab version of Thunderclap Newman’s Something In The Air. Unusually for a rock dude who made his name in the ‘70s he seemed to get better with age. His ’91 album Into The Great Wide Open included some absolute belters. Without even listening to his lyrics Tom Petty has one of those voices that leaves you in no doubt that he’s one of the good guys. He sounds like he sings from a heart of gold. That’s confirmed in the opening thirty seconds of Wildflowers:

“You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free.”

Wildflowers opens the album beautifully, and the fourteen tracks that follow never drop far from great, but six go way beyond that. It’s Good To Be King shows the brilliance of Petty’s simplicity with Steve Ferrone’s drums just gliding over the top of wistful dreamscape. Tom Petty described Wildflowers as his divorce album, saying “That’s me getting ready to leave. I don’t even know how conscious I was of it when I was writing it … it just took me getting up the guts to leave this huge empire we had built, to walk out.” Knowing that makes many of these songs hit even harder…

“Here comes that feeling I’ve seen in your eyes
Back in the old days, before the hard times
But I’m not afraid anymore
It’s only a broken heart”

– Only A Broken Heart

Hard On Me is just as beautiful, but no less sorrowful. Again, everything is musically simple, no fuss, just keys, guitar and drums caressing Petty’s sombre vocals. To Find A Friend is a perfect example of his storytelling genius. No airs or graces, just perfect picture painting that tugs at the heart, and those unhurried, succulent vocals adding even more depth. Ringo Starr wins on drums, too.

Vocally, lyrically, musically and melodically everything about Crawling Back To You is sublime. But as with the whole album it’s the overwhelming sincerity of Petty’s voice that adds the most.

“I’m so tired of being tired
Sure as night will follow day
Most things I worry about
Never happen anyway.”

– Crawling Back To You

Wildflowers may have saved the best to last with the exquisite Wake Up Time, which is quite something considering what has gone before. Rick Rubin is a colossal of record production whose stripped-down sound is perfect for Tom Petty. Of all the albums that are part of my musical chronicle that may be unknown to some, Wildflowers is the one I’d most highly recommend. The following Spring me ‘n Bob took a trip to Santorini and Wildflowers was the perfect soundtrack. I’d go as far as to say it’s Tom Petty’s masterpiece.

David Bowie – ‘Hunky Dory’

The summer of 1992, those were some of the best days of my life. But working for Keycamp wasn’t all sunshine and parties. Scrubbing groundsheets in a filthy tent in 100-degree heat with a hellish hangover is no fun. Digging trenches outside punters’ tents to drain away flood water. “How was your ten-hour drive? Welcome to your underwater holiday home.” is not an easy thing to say. But it was mostly sunshine and parties, and music. Incredible music. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory was next.

Bowie was a must-play at Charivari, but I was lazily restricted to his Changes One & Two albums, plus his ’67 self-titled debut. I don’t know why it took me so many years to check out more, but when I heard Hunky Dory, my Bowie-love rocketed. David Bowie is a musical genius, a rockstar in the truest sense of the world and a true visionary. The best albums scream their own sense of identity, and none scream louder than Hunky Dory.

It’s impossible to ignore Bowie’s stunning visual presence, but if it were, the album is still an evocative masterpiece, brilliantly flamboyant and kaleidoscopic. That said, these songs transcended the image, and throughout its 11 tracks never falls far from that lofty perfect perch. I loved it in its arty, cabaret-glam entirety but fell head over heels for the Velvets-inspired Queen Bitch and Kinks-esque Kooks. We must’ve had the 1990 re-released CD complete with four bonus tracks because Bombers was another favourite, showcasing Bowie’s avant-garde and cinematic genius…

“Seemed a good idea
To drop a bomb on the wasteland here
Only one man could be seen
And he was old and so serene
Captain sat in his deck chair
And the red light flashed, beware
Pilot felt quite big-time
As the bomb sailed through the air
Well, they danced and sang
When the bang went bang
When the lights popped out
And the smoke began to clear
It was positively queer”

Featuring the impossible-to-overrate-co-creator Mick Ronson in what was to become the Spiders From Mars, plus soon to be Yes mainman Rick Wakeman on piano, Hunky Dory was a voyage into music-hall decadence as seen through the mind of the ultimate musical stargazer; the supreme dreamer, romancer, chancer and whimsical rock earthling. Bingeing on Hunky Dory in the hot, French summer of ’92 coloured up my already sunny days. Alongside the narrative angst and inward-looking After The Goldrush, Bowie’s Hunky Dory was the most perfect overdose of musical and starry-eyed swagger.

Jackie Wilson – ‘The Soul Years’

I’d been a soul obsessive since picking up This Is Soul at Snu-Peas in 1981. Soul was the staple of my DJ set at Charivari, and intensified by my love of The Agency. By 1986 my ears had been focussed on the classic artists: Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. Also heavy on my turntable rotation was War & Peace by Edwin Starr, a glorious soul-stomper with hints of psychedelia that like Grease, had copious amounts of groove and meaning.

War & Peace also dipped into northern soul, and these tracks, plus the prompting of Pete Young guided me towards some new sounds and new labels. Pete made me a mixtape. They were a thing. The cassette was littered with northern soul classics and some stompers from the Kent label by the likes of Young Holt Unlimited and Johnny Otis, and best of all it turned me on to ‘Mr. Excitement’, the R&B and soul legend, Jackie Wilson.

My Top 5 all-time soul singers:

1. Jackie Wilson
2. Marvin Gaye
3. Aretha Franklin
4. Al Green
5. Otis Redding

Pete’s tape motivated me to check out a load of new, mostly northern soul singers, but it was Jackie Wilson’s The Soul Years that was my first post-tape purchase. Jackie Wilson is best known for the classic Higher and Higher and the 1957 single Reet Petite, a rock n roll staple nowhere to be seen on The Soul Years, which showcases Wilson’s vocal flair and prowess. Jackie Wilson’s stage performance was up there with the very best, but I was just blown away by the sincerity and sheer depth of soul on the likes of I’m The One To Do It, You Got Me Walking and the euphoric northern soul floor-filler, Because Of You.

Of the 16 tracks on Soul Galore, all but a few I’d play in a DJ set. But this was no ‘best of’. Jackie Wilson had huge success for ten years before these gems were recorded, but in 1966 he joined forces with Chicago soul producer Carl Davis, and began recording with Motown musicians including the legendary Funk Brothers. An absolute match made in heaven and this album is perfect proof. If there’s a singer who gives me goosebumps way beyond the norm, it’s Jackie Wilson. But on The Soul Years it’s the energy, the strings, the production, the songs, along side those stunning vocals. It’s all there. The complete package.

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.