‘Theme To Robinson Crusoe’
The first music I remember hearing? Maybe the theme to Andy Pandy, The Woodentops or Bill and Ben. Watch With Mother was TV for pre-school kiddiwinks from ’53-’73 and that was me at the tail end of the ’60s when Farley’s Rusks was about as close to an obsession as I could get.
My family was not particularly musical; my Dad played drums briefly and unsuccessfully, but other than a period of a few years in the mid ’70s when I’d obsessively listen to the radio with my Pa, I was just left to get on with my addiction. Particularly during my teenage years, music had a profound impact on the development of my character, but there were a number of songs I remember from my early childhood which, when hearing back today conjure up lavish emotions.
The first music I remember hearing which had an emotional effect on me, is the theme music to the 1960s TV series Robinson Crusoe. I think I first heard this in 1972. I was six years old. I know I loved watching the adventures, but I have a strong recollection of loving the music even more, and was transfixed by the water lapping the shore on the end credits.
It sounded so sad yet so magical. But is it the music itself or the associated memories which make this still so unforgettable and inspiring? Well, I have no idea if I was a content six-year-old, so I’m not attaching this music to a particular period of happiness, although I’ve no doubt I was. To me, even now these beautiful strings sound like adventure, like a lifetime of hope and courage. I love simple strings in music. Used well they can bring tears to my eyes. Maybe the theme to Robinson Crusoe instigated that love.
Sweet – ‘Blockbuster’
To make it clear, this compilation will not be a list of my favourite music, more a list of musical memories which have had an effect on me; music which, when I think back, had a dramatic change to the way I thought or behaved. Music which has inspired me. No doubt much of this will indeed be my favourite music. That said, I would not put Blockbuster in my all-time top 100. Probably not my top 1000, but whilst it’s far from being void of melody and skill, its appeal to me is indeed, purely based on nostalgia.
When this hit Top of the Pops I was 7 years old. Why did I like it so much? Well, for a juvenile it was easy to sing along to, containing perfect lyrics for a boy of my age, but equally, if not more importantly for me was the fact that I looked like the lead singer, Brian Connolly. Obviously I didn’t but my bright blonde hair was exactly the same colour, which was enough.
I think I first started really enjoying ‘pop’ music around this time and I think this was my first ever ‘favourite’ single; in fact I think Sweet were the first band I remember liking and considered my favourite. Songs like Wig-Wam-Bam and Ballroom Blitz perfectly encapsulated the glam-rock era, which with the likes of Bowie and Bolan had two bona fide iconic figures, but hey, I didn’t look like either of them in 1973 so I was stuck with Blockbuster instead of 20th Century Boy or Life On Mars. Hey ho. Arguably, glam-rock was possibly the start of style over substance, challenged only in that respect by those gorgeous new romantics.
I remember watching this on Top of the Pops and the sense of awe and excitement that resulted. It’s a rip-roaring glam stomp. It’s as naff as hell and one of those tunes which rockers would dance to with shoulders bent forward and thumbs through their belt loops. Or was that restricted to the Quo? I remember singing, not dancing. “Aaaaaaah, aaaaaaah. You better beware, you better take care, you better watch out if you’ve got long black hair!” I had to start somewhere.
Manfred Mann – ‘Mighty Quinn’
Now, my dad was a plane-spotter – like a train-spotter, but with a slightly smaller anorak. He had dozens of books containing thousands of aircraft makes, types and registration numbers, and when he visited an airport and spotted a previously un-spotted plane, he’d underline it with his red BIC® in one of his books. I think he’s seen them all now. I went with him a few times, but I think I enjoyed the cycle ride to Hurn Airport more than the aircraft.
Anyway, I say this as in 1976 and 1977, with the help of my dad I became a song-spotter. Listening to the Top 40 singles chart was a must, but for a year or more just as, if not more important, was listening to (as nauseating as this is to write) Jimmy Savile on Radio 1. His Old Record Club featured Top Tens from the late 1950s onwards, and with the book of Hit Singles at the ready, when we heard a song, we’d find it, underline it, and put a ‘listened to’ date for reference. Unbelievably nerdy. They were hugely enjoyable weekly lessons in the history of pop music.
Unavoidably at such a young age, my dad’s personal taste was an influence, and the quintessential ‘60s pop nuggets from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band were a clear favourite of his, and subsequently mine. As an eager ten-year-old Ha Ha Said The Clown, Fox On The Run, Do Wah Diddy Diddy and My Name Is Jack sounded like melodic heaven, and amongst those in a flurry of chart hits was the Mighty Quinn. This was over forty years ago, and my dad, bless him, has retained his love of a radio sing-a-long, given the right song.
A few years later I purchased Semi Detached Suburban – a gem of a compilation – still loving the Manfreds, and hopefully at some point realising that my pick of the bunch was in fact penned by Bob Dylan, less than one year prior to this release. I was a very happy and contented soul in 1976, and those distant memories of Manfred Mann fill me with joy.
E.L.O – ‘Out Of The Blue’
By 1977 and with two years behind me of obsessive retro Radio I had developed a clear fondness for melody and harmony, though at the time it was probably more of a fondness for a song I enjoyed singing along to. Along with some cheese (I seem to remember enjoying Darts – Daddy Cool, Boy From New York City – immensely) as well as a host of ‘60s classics, I was still devouring swathes of music from the previous twenty years, still unaware of the current Top 40 charts.
It was during these years, and almost certainly listening to the Old Record Club that my love of music really began to sprout, set to grow at a rapid pace. I didn’t actually start ‘owning’ records ’til a few years later, but the first album I’d say was mine (although it wasn’t, it was my dad’s) was Out Of The Blue by the Electric Light Orchestra.
The album was, and still is, a gigantic, overblown, over-indulgent pop classic. Of course, I had very little knowledge of E.L.O prior to this album, and the fact that it was a ‘double album’ with an enormous multi-coloured space ship on the front must have impressed me too. But, I remember playing this album obsessively over a short period of time. Aged 11 I would still say sport (any and every) gave me the most pleasure in my young life, but this album and a radio show obsession, slowly but surely lead to music becoming my most beautiful infatuation.
Two years later, when E.L.O’s Greatest Hits was released containing eleven absolute gems, I probably played it more than this. Four years later The Beatles would become my musical obsession, but E.L.O’s multi-layered, harmony heavy Out Of The Blue was almost gentle opener, preparing me for the Fab Four. Jeff Lynne’s beautiful, lush production owed much to George Martin and it was the first time that listening to music would ‘take me away’. At the time I clearly had no clue about production techniques, or about rock and pop history, and whilst some may say it’s over-produced or a tad AOR, others will rightly say music is music and labels are for losers. For me, Jeff Lynne was just a genius songwriter.
Blondie – ‘Picture This’
By 1978 I was becoming a tad obsessed with music. I was 12 years old and music was connecting with me, beyond what was probably normal for a yet to be teenager. For as long as I can remember I’ve had an unhealthy love of lists, of numbers, of charts, collections and organised information. I think that may have started when listening to, and charting, the Top 40. I still live with a love of a list. By 1977 I was developing a bit of a crush, a growing infatuation, the following year I was falling in love with music.
In ’78 Gerry Rafferty, Ian Dury, E.L.O, Squeeze, Kate Bush, The Jam and The Boomtown Rats are bands and artists which evoke sweet, innocent memories, it was a time of huge excitement, a time of discovery. Other chart heavyweights like Paul McCartney, John Travolta & Olivia Newtron Bomb along with all sorts of disco were so ever-present that I was simply won over by persistent airplay. That said no amount of unrelenting Boney M would have the same effect.
At the end of 1977 and early ’78 with the punk era already on its last legs, the likes of Sounds and NME started using the terms ‘post punk’ and ‘new wave’. In simple terms post punk was more edgy and arty, new wave more accessible and ‘pop’ular. Those terms would stay around for the next couple of years, and along with 2-Tone would become my musical fixation. One band who emerged from the American punk scene and typified New Wave were Blondie. They were my first fix.
In 1978 Blondie released Parallel Lines. I didn’t own it at the time (and my dad wasn’t going to buy it for me to steal), but from the album came three singles that year, Denis, Hanging on the Telephone and Picture This. I loved Blondie, and perhaps my (along with millions of others all over the world) first ever popstar fixation was Debbie Harry.
It’s impossible to deny that when it comes to being ‘into’ a band or singer image plays a large part, especially when that band is Blondie and you’re at school, going through puberty. But, if Debbie Harry was an iconic figure, the singles too were equally seminal. This was perfect pop for the times. Stylistically sublime. I was visually and aurally gobsmacked. I could have picked any three of these Blondie singles from ’78, but Picture This was, and still is for me the best of the three. I remember trying to decipher the lyric after “Picture This, freezing cold weather…” Guessing lyrics and failing badly. Happy days.
Squeeze – ‘Cool For Cats’
40 years later I would still say 1979 was a fantastic year for pop music. Punk had all but been and gone, but it had revitalised popular music, giving it an energy it had lacked since the 60s. Ska and reggae, offshoots of the punk era, as well as a mod revival made its way into pubs, clubs and ultimately mainstream radio and into the charts. As a 13-year-old kid wearing sta-pressed, Fred Perrys and argyle jumpers I loved it all, soaking it up like my life depended on it.
Over the next two years Radio 1’s weekly Top 40 show on Sundays became my obsession. I created my own chart system, writing down the Top 20 every week, giving the no.1 position 20 points, no.2 19 points, no.3 18 etc. At the end of the year I made my own Top 20 singles chart from the accumulated points. My obsession with lists was also becoming a bit scary. By the end of 1980 if anyone gave me the title of a single from the Top 20 in ‘79 or ‘80, I could name the artist, every time. Some would say this was an early sign of me becoming a music nerd, and I’d probably have to agree.
Five bands dominated my desires in 1979, the first of which was Squeeze. Cool For Cats was their second album and I played it to death. It contained four singles, two of which Cool For Cats and Up The Junction were, and still are perfect examples of the song-writing brilliance of Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook. Like many new lyricists at the time, Difford & Tilbrook wrote songs about real life, real people and modern culture, but unlike many bands who were influenced by the dawning of the Thatcher-era and the mountain of political issues affecting the country, Squeeze wrote songs about people. And sex. Not sex as in your modern day sexist, image obsessed, body fascist bullshit. No. Cool For Cats was littered with innuendo, slang and stories of masturbation, desperation, infatuation, heavy drinking and unwanted pregnancies, all brilliantly linked together by razor-sharp social awareness. It was perfectly real, like a Ken Loach movie set to music.
Cool For Cats was a brilliant single. Lyrically reminiscent of a pubescent Ray Davies, musically bombastic in a London pub style. I turned 13 the week after its release, but it’s Squeeze’s next single that was the first song I remember being able to sing from start to finish. I guess I needed to be a teenager first. Strangely I remember a specific time too… in the changing rooms after swimming at school. It’s funny the things you remember. I felt quite adult, nervously reciting the lyrics, like I was narrating a grown-up story to school friends who I hoped would be impressed.
Up The Junction was clearly lyrically influenced by Nell Dunn’s 1963 novel of the same name, sharing the same gritty, working-class realism starting from its opening line “I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham”. Just looking at the album’s sleeve brings back blissfully happy, innocent, wide-eyed memories. Squeeze were a pop-obsessed pubescent boy’s dream. Give the dog a bone indeed.
Madness – ‘One Step Beyond’
40 years ago I was a spunky school kid sporting sta-prest and Fred Perrys, carrying an unhealthy obsession with pop and desperately trying to mimic my newly found idols. Madness’ debut album One Step Beyond was made for a boy like me. The brand new 2-Tone label was seen as the second wave of ska; coming off the back of punk it was faster and edgier than in its sixties heyday, and in most cases, due to the social unrest at the time, had a strong political lyrical edge.
One Step Beyond was released on the classic Stiff label but Madness were still a huge part of that early 2-Tone scene. That said, politics seemed to be the last thing on their minds. Unlike most of their ska revival counterparts Madness regularly swayed from the labels’ ska roots, blending rock’n’roll, rockabilly and ‘60s pop into their sound. Lyrically too the subject matter was more diverse, from schoolboy tales of playground antics and first loves to underwear thieves and random cockney patois. The stomping Night Boat To Cairo was my fave, just a glorious ska romp and learning the lyrics to sing along was a must.
As much as anything bands like Madness had a wonderful identity; beyond the tonic suits and loafers this wasn’t musical sophistication, but was something teenagers could instantly and totally relate to. I dived into the deep end consuming the music with a fevered passion of which only a 13 year-old is capable. This was an album way beyond its brilliant singles One Step Beyond, My Girl and The Prince, I could listen to it now and love it almost as much.
One Step Beyond was totally of its time, but nostalgia apart it is still a brilliant debut album. Looking back, I feel lucky to have been thirteen years old in 1979. Not just for The Jam, The Specials, The Selector, The Beat and the iconic 2-Tone scene, but the Top 40 singles chart, Top of the Pops, Smash Hits, Our Price, Cassette Players, now all long gone but I’d take those days over our current instant download culture any day. My love affair with Madness ended with the release of their third album, but Absolutely, and in particular One Step Beyond are iconic, brilliantly British pop masterpieces.
The Specials – ‘The Specials’
By late 1979 the musical mix of post punk and new wave was dominating the UK charts, whilst ‘the second wave of ska’ was also fast becoming part of the Top 40 countdown that by now, I was obsessed with. Of course there was dross too, but when isn’t there? Maybe there has to be the crap to fully appreciate the good stuff. If there’s one thing Thatcher can be credited with it’s inspiring a multitude of musicians, poets, and social commentators to wax lyrical; to pour scorn through their chosen medium.
Well, I was yet to read poetry or any literature beyond Smash Hits, Melody Maker or the NME, but one band who were a major part of my cultural learning, of my awareness of social, political and class issues were The Specials. Their eponymous debut album was a masterpiece, and would still rank as one of my favourite albums of all time.
Produced by Elvis Costello and released on Jerry Dammers’ 2-Tone label, The Specials was a dance mix of ska and punk; a brilliant homage to their musical heroes including covers of Dandy Livingstone, Toots & The Maytals and Prince Buster whilst capturing perfectly the angst and energy as well as inspiring the youth of the day. Unlike debut albums from Madness and The Beat (brief 2Tone label-mates) the album never veered towards pop, instead the social messages were as persistent as the ska rhythms. At 13 I was totally naive, but my eyes, ears and dreams were being opened up and fuelled by provocative, radical visuals and lyrics.
Political correctness did not exist in ’79 and the album is full of piss-taking and social spikes that seem wonderfully sharp compared to today’s banality, not that The Specials wouldn’t have given a shit anyway.
“I won’t dance in a club like this / all the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss” – Nite Club
“The only things you want to see are kitch / the only thing you want to be is rich / your little pink up-pointed nose begins to twitch / I know, you know, you’re just a little bitch” – Little Bitch.
Welcome to being a teenager. The Specials packed a mighty live punch and whilst I had to wait over thirty years to see them live, this album alone was enough to last three decades.
The Beat – ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’
By 1980 the ‘second wave of ska’ had firmly found its place in the UK charts. Madness, Selector, Bad Manners and The Specials were having major success, and it was The Beat with their debut album I Just Can’t Stop It who cemented my love of the dance craze. By the grand age of 14 I was already checking out the roots of my chart favourites, listening to soul, ska and sixties, fascinated and obsessed as I was by the history and the culture as well as the music.
The band’s first three chart singles were all taken from this stunning LP. Tears of a Clown, Hands Off She’s Mine and Mirror in the Bathroom were all classic Top Ten singles with the rest of the album littered with covers and blatant nods towards their ska and rocksteady pioneers. As with The Specials, much of The Beat’s own writing was heavily spiced with political and cultural references born out of Thatcher’s Britain. I loved the energy of Click Click and Two Swords as much as the dubby loose-limbed groove of Jackpot and Whine and Grine, and despite some of the overtly political lyrics and cutting social comment this was still most definitely a ‘pop’ album.
It’s with far more than a large dose of dewy-eyed nostalgia that I can listen back to I Just Can’t Stop It, and still love it. Along side other debut albums by The Special and Madness, I Just Can’t Stop It is the soundtrack to my 15th year. A year of happiness, in no small part due to the sheer energy and excitement of these albums. I remember a constant stream of innocent days full of naive and romantic positivity, and the sheer voyage of musical discovery was already an all-consuming passion.
Quite simply this is an exceptional album, brilliantly of its time and forty years later as socially relevant now as it was then. The lyrics I was devouring as a kid served as my social and political learning, missing as it was at school and at home. Forty years later my views have changed very little. A life well lived not being judged on capital gain, but one’s compassion towards others. That plus a distrust of the elite, questioning how indeed their capital was gained.
“You look like a government minister
Or a high ranking military officer
I don’t think you care
You’re just a big shot, yeah”
– Big Shot
The only down side – the putrid cover of Andy Williams’ Can’t Get Used To Losing You – despite Everett Morton’s perfect mellow ska beat. I didn’t like it then and don’t like it now. Anyway, kids, there’s never a bad time to give your social conscience a jolt, so stream, download or just get this album.
The Jam – ‘Going Underground’
For my 14th birthday The Jam released Going Underground, and much appreciated it was too. Prior to this No.1 single (straight in at the top spot; no mean feat at the time) I’d dug The Jam, but had yet to become a Weller obsessive. That was about to change. I was looking for inspiration, for excitement and a hero to worship, and like many other impressionable teenagers who sought a role model from their TVs, radios and record players, Paul Weller was that man. A good choice. A very good choice indeed. Paul Weller was a passionate, gobby, working class, mod-obsessed, Beatles-inspired super cool motherfucker.
Prior to Going Underground The Jam’s previous two LPs Setting Sons and All Mod Cons had gone by relatively unnoticed. I was still largely a singles kid, obsessed with Top of the Pops and the Top 40, and Strange Town and Eton Rifles in particular were singles that had already turned me on to The Jam. The financial restraints of a 13 year-old meant albums were few and far between (I probably had a dozen or so, and a bunch of oldies I’d nicked from my dad just to beef up my collection) and it was The Jam’s next album Sound Affects released in late 1980 which was the first of theirs to feel the sweat of my eager mitts. Going Underground was a perfect single; screeching guitars, thumping bass riffs, hammond keys and spat out harmonies, but it was Weller’s passion and cool that won me and thousands of others over.
“You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don’t get what this society wants
I’m going underground…”
See, kids, our heroes were people we could relate to, speaking for the common man and the kids on the street. They were largely untouched by the corporate system that pukes out most of your modern day ‘idols’. Yes, there were also your watered down pretty boys and girls with nothing to say – some people always care more for style than substance – but in 1980 pop stars weren’t part of the system, instead they sung out against it. Fuck, even UB40 had a political conscience, Signing Off being a brilliant dub-heavy statement of disillusionment. Going Underground cemented The Jam’s position as the biggest band in the UK in 1980. For an awkward sod like Paul Weller to reach such heights was a sign of the times. Shit was happening and Weller told it how it was. Soon, a certain John Lennon would become my obsession, but until they split in ‘82 Weller, Foxton & Buckler were my world.
Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’
When Searching For The Young Soul Rebels was released in the summer of 1980 the UK singles chart was littered with funk and disco; the golden age of both had had their day, but the likes of Chic, Diana Ross, Gibson Brothers, Detroit Spinners, Brothers Johnson and Odyssey were still hugely popular. Soul, however, was a far more distant memory. Not since the heyday of Motown had authentic soul acts really bothered the Top 40. Funk and disco were hanging in, ska and mod was in the middle of a massive revival and then along came Dexys Midnight Runners, bringing with them a new soul vision.
To me, a 14-year old who was soaking up anything and everything, soul was something I’d just dipped my toe into when Geno stormed to No.1 in early 1980. I loved it, the passion, the image, the brass and in particular Kevin Rowland’s uncomfortable, blue-collar cool. There There My Dear was equally magnetic, teaching me valuable lessons I’d never learn in the classroom.
“If you’re so anti-fashion why not wear flares instead of dressing down all the same”.
Soon (not soon enough) I’d be wearing nothing but second hand clobber. I went to work in a ‘trendy’ menswear emporium, but a few of us only laughed at those who simply, stupidly, blindly followed fashion. It was bands like Dexys who taught me to think for myself.
Searching For The Young Soul Rebels had so much to say, politically, culturally and from its opening minute of radio hiss and snippets of The Sex Pistols, The Specials and Deep Purple I devoured it as if my life depended on it, which at the time it pretty much did. Amongst blaring brass and cool keyboard stabs Rowland’s voice was brilliantly painful; harrowing, pleading, so different from what the charts were (by the time this album had its wicked way with me in 1981) becoming – a synthetic, soulless, new romantic upchuck. Whilst their hit singles were upbeat and immediate the album’s slower tracks are those that really reach the soul; The Teams That Meet In The Caffs, I’m Just Looking, I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried and in particular the brilliantly scornful Keep It.
For me the album was a springboard to soul and all manner of social references, but more than that it was a genuine inspiration and the more I listened the more I felt enlightened. That said, to love it and believe in it as I did was further evidence of not just a love of music, but an appreciation and acceptance of the fact that music was moulding my life, asking me as many questions as it was giving me answers. Soon I would be gorging on soul as part of an unrelenting 60s binge, but for now Dexys Midnight Runners were – much as Geno Washington was to Kevin Rowland – a perfect inspiration.
The Beatles – ‘1967-70 – The Blue Album’
It was the autumn of 1980. It was going to happen at some point, but it happened to be David Sax – a schoolfriend, county tennis player and Vitas Gerulaitis lookalike, big hair, headband and everything, who did the deed. I remember the day well, we’d already spoken fairly briefly about music, I mentioned my love of The Jam, he mentioned his love of Bob Dylan then he showed me his (his dad’s I presume) record collection. He showed me The Beatles. More importantly, he leant me the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums.
Of course I’d heard plenty of The Fabs before, three years of listening to the Old Record Club as a musically illuminating warm-up to the late ‘70s Top 40 chart on Radio 1 had taught me their hit singles. But these two double-players in their gorgeous entirety were like opening up an Aladdin’s cave of wow, of oh my fucking god, of life-changing aural pleasure. Quite quickly the 1967-1970 Blue album became my favourite, and whilst Disc 1 – Side 1 made my jaw drop the furthest, all four quarters left me stunned and ridiculously, beautifully intoxicated.
It felt like the previous five years or so had been a learning experience, the perfect elementary school lesson into the history of pop music, but my teachers had saved the best until now. I was perfectly ready not just for The Beatles, but also for everything that opened up to me as a result, musically, emotionally, and spiritually. Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day In The Life blew me away, the former remains the best song I’ve ever heard, but this felt like more than music. Yes, it was lyrics and melodies, but it brought out such emotions that it seemed to lift me, enlighten me, raising me up to an even higher level of musical love. The album was my musical Garden of Eden.
Most of the lessons at school were wasted on me. For good or bad it was music that moulded me, that shaped the way I thought, influencing beyond the norm the way I lived my life. During 1978-80 most of this influence had been quite direct, very real and easy to appreciate and attach to my own life – The Jam, The Specials, Madness and The Beat sung about shit that was happening and modern day discontent – The Beatles were a dream; a multi-coloured, multi-layered, psychedelic mind expansion.
The Beatles Blue album did more than open up my eyes and ears. It attacked my inner self too, developing a deeper more introspective part of my persona that was previously non-existent. I read little as a boy, but songs like Across The Universe were my paperback substitute:
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe / Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind / Possessing and caressing me / Jai Guru Deva. Om / Nothing’s gonna change my world…
The Beatles changed mine.
The Police – ‘Reggatta De Blanc’
The Police made great singles. I’d loved the three or four before Message In A Bottle and Walking On The Moon, but it was those in particular who made me part with my hard-earned paperboy pennies for this full length stunner. I played it to death, and not too soon after its predecessor Outlandos D’Amour.
It was around this time that I became overly concerned about my looks, my clothes, hair and my ability, or lack of, to attract the opposite sex. I was a playground playboy at kiss-chase when I was 10 or 11, but that early promise had faded badly through my early teens. I loved the mod look and the 2-Tone attire, but then these guys came along with random clobber and floppy fringes and when you obsess over an album and stare at its cover the image sinks in to your psyche. I plumped for sta-prest trousers and Argyll jumpers and a mid length mop. And random glasses. And a brace. Cool.
Regatta De Blanc was the first album I remember where my focus was on the rhythm, the blend of reggae and rock, and i became aware of an ability to use of my hands as percussive instruments. Tracks It’s Alright For You, Regatta De Blanc and No Time This Time sparked my love of a groovy drummer, and there weren’t many better than Stewart Copeland. Sting was cool, but in late 1980 I wanted to be a drummer. I wanted to be Stewart Copeland.
Thirty years later I’d be promoting gigs, managing live music venues, running rehearsal studios and I’d be surrounded by a bounty of instruments. I’d love to say I can play, but despite having rhythm, I have little patience and an inability to use both hands and both feet at the same time. I’ve also got long fingers but little dexterity. These are actually all shit excuses for really giving up too quickly, but soon I’d become a DJ… and that was good enough for me for the next thirty years.
I have a dreamy legion of musical memories from my teenage years, and constantly flipping this vinyl gem in my bedroom whilst hammering out its kaleidoscopic groove is right up there. Since my twenties I’ve had a love affair with France. Maybe Regatta De Blanc and Outlandos D’Amour planted seeds. But then again, non.
‘This Is Soul’
Listening obsessively to the likes of The Specials, The Beat, The Jam and Dexys for the previous couple of years, it was inevitable that those band’s musical roots were to follow closely behind in my own musical catalogue. 1960s and ’70s ska, soul and funk was about to hit me hard, and it all started with this vinyl gem released in the UK in 1968 – This Is Soul!
The album is a ‘best of’ from the Atlantic label, featuring Stax and soul heavyweights and mostly well-known nuggets. Like almost all my other second-hand vinyl purchases it came from Snu-Peas in Boscombe; still to this day a tiny, overstocked, gloriously dingy vinyl palace – my memory is shocking so where the money came from I haven’t the foggiest – pocket money perhaps, which would have been money very well spent. This album was stunning; a soul education which only enhanced my allegiance with school-friends who were sporting sta-prest slacks and Fred Perry tops with far more confidence than I could muster.
How best to describe This Is Soul? Emotional, inspirational, passionate, raw, cool and groovy as fuck. It took me another five or ten years to learn, but this album came from what was for me the golden era. In the mid 1960s popular music was evolving and challenging, drugs were having a beneficial effect on the music being recorded (if not on the musicians themselves), and American soul and rhythm ’n’ blues was riding high as an inspiration to bands, djs and music lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Soul just felt so wonderfully raw and real. Much of the Top 40 was horribly overly manufactured as those plastic New Romantics began appearing in droves. My hatred of those new ‘synthetic’ sounds was exaggerated by this new found love of 60s music, but I care as little for that now as I did then. What is soul? I’ll leave it to Ben E King…
“Some people really know / it’s deep down within us, it doesn’t show / soul is somethin’ that comes from deep inside / but soul is somethin’ that you can’t hide.”
The Kinks – ‘Golden Hour Of The Kinks’
By the dawn of 1981 regular trips to Snu-Peas, Boscombe’s dingy vinyl haven were becoming weekly fixes. Fingering through rows of soiled and pre-owned LPs would become an obsession, but the thrill of the chase for new music had hit me, hard. The Kinks had caught my attention with a handful of their 60s hits being regular plays on my radio channels of choice. I loved the production, the sound and feel of the likes of Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon that oozed a whimsical, multi-coloured and romantic, quintessentially English sound. It was the mix of Ray Davies’ genius as a songwriter coupled with the brash coolness of early hits You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night which tempted me into finding out more. A search for a Kinks album featuring these favourites and about twenty more lead me to Golden Hour Of The Kinks. A fine choice.
This second hand slice of vinyl became an ever-present on my music centre (turntable, tape player and radio all-in-one-state-of-the-art combo) for months, sharing heavy rotation with The Beatles and a whole heap of classic 60s bands. More than ever music was my tuition, and storytellers such as Ray Davies were making up for what was lacking in my academic education. Davies spoke with wit and insight about society, class, and the nation’s blind desire to aspire, to wealth not wisdom, to material success not happiness.
“Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la
The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he’s too scared to complain
Cos he’s conditioned that way
Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio
For seven shillings a week
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la…”
Never mind that playground fools mocked my love of The Kinks, to me Golden Hour Of The Kinks was like a book I just couldn’t put down, instead wanting to read it again and again. Davies sharpened my interest in 60s culture – with fanciful prose about dandy, attire-obsessed gentlemen and sexual experimentation – and gave me a cautiously romantic view of life. He wrote with cynicism but with positivity, musically drifting between luscious melodies, dreamy soundscapes and thrash, garage guitar. Over thirty years on and Waterloo Sunset is still one of my all-time favourites and “Sha-la-la” has still never sounded so good. I loved The Kinks. Still do.
‘Motown Chartbusters Vol.3’
On Valentine’s Day in 1970 this album was the first ever compilation to reach No.1 in the UK album chart. Eleven years later it was my vinyl introduction to the Detroit hit factory, Motown. From my ever-decreasing memory I vaguely remember purchasing it for two reasons – firstly the track listing (bearing in mind my junior knowledge of Motown) looked fantastic, and secondly the sleeve, in all its shining glory looked even better. Yes, I was an early sucker for an eye-catching cover.
Having subsequently purchased all twelve volumes I believe I managed to choose the best first. Having visited the original Motown recording studio in Detroit some ten years later it would be accurate to say black American music from around ’62-’72 became a fixation throughout my late teens and twenties. Much of what I was enjoying from UK bands at the time was influenced by many of the artists on this album, but more importantly it was the names behind the artists who created the inspirational sound and production that was so unique and uplifting. I didn’t yet know these names (most notably the songwriting genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland and producer Norman Whitfield), but I knew how this music affected me. Motown made me smile and it made me want to dance.
Featuring tracks from the mid to late 60s, I had my favourites. The cool and passionate calling of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Smokey Robinson’s timeless tear-jerker The Tracks Of My Tears. The relentlessly joyous Stevie Wonder and my album favourite (I’m A) Road Runner by Jr. Walker & The All Stars were and still all remain musical gems; masterpieces of songwriting and production. Berry Gordy’s Motown record label is possibly the most notorious success story in the history of the popular music industry. Why? Because of where the music came from, its sheer belligerent sparkle and ultimately how far it reached.
Smokey Robinson summed it up perfectly:
“Into the ’60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.”
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.
The Who – ‘Quadrophenia’
Emotionally, as a soon to turn 16 year-old, my internal thoughts, insecurities and voyage of discovery were just about to go into overdrive. The usual teenage dramas were prominent, fuelled and fanned by the music and lyrics that I was consuming daily with fevered gusto. Over thirty years on and I would say with some certainty that the one album that has done more to develop and change, to challenge and question, to confuse and ultimately to inspire me is Quadrophenia, The Who’s glorious homage to the Mod scene of the 1960s and Pete Townshend’s story of Jimmy’s own tortuous voyage of discovery.
I wasn’t and never have been a Mod, but emotionally, musically and stylistically I felt a connection, a solid bond, initially through The Jam and ensuing influences, but primarily through Quadrophenia, the film and this incredible album. By the time I saw the film I’d developed a love of soul, motown and much of the mod influenced sixties. Watching, and then listening to Quadrophenia was musically majestic, from the sound of the first waves crashing and Entwhistle’s thunderous bass, but emotionally it acted as a catalyst for an introspective discovery that I was already struggling to keep pace with. I devoured it. It challenged me, changed me and for all the questions it asked, it gave me an identity and in Jimmy a character to empathise with and to be inspired by.
Lyrically the album is full of confusion, of inner turmoil and insecurities. It’s about fitting in and the journey into adulthood, from the mind of a troubled soul, disillusioned by society, by people and friends he was desperate to identify with and gain respect from. At times it’s heartbreaking, at others brilliantly provocative, and as a shy 16 year-old wannabe cool-kid exactly what I wanted from an album.
Why do I have to be different to them? Just to earn the respect of a dance hall friend. We have the same old row, again and again. Why do I have to move with a crowd of kids that hardly notice I’m around? I have to work myself to death just to fit in. – ‘Cut My Hair’
Girls of fifteen sexually knowing, the ushers are sniffing eau-de-cologning. The seats are seductive, celibate sitting. Pretty girls digging, prettier women. – ‘5:15’
And amongst the angst, at times it was simply beautiful…
The beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real. – ‘Bell Boy’
Only love can make it rain the way the beach is kissed by the sea. Only love can make it rain like the sweat of lovers laying in the fields. – ‘Love Reign O’er Me’
The music is as affecting and constantly stimulating as the lyrics. From gentle strings and atmospheric coastal sound waves, into synthesised head-fucks and thunderous, climactic melodic orgasms. And Roger’s screaming… pleading, searching. The combination of Moon and Entwhistle’s monstrous rhythms and Townshend’s screeching guitars has never been more dynamic and impactful, whilst the perfect use of synths and sound effects adds depth and theatre.
If there is essential listening for a 16 year-old, this is it. Fuck X-Factor and The Voice, fuck Miley fucking Cyrus, fuck Justin Bieber and Wrong Direction. Fuck piss-weak manufactured bullshit… stick Quadrophenia on your ipod and go on a beautiful, intense and all-consuming departure from mindless banality into your real, emotional inner-self. Be inspired.
The Jam – ‘The Gift’
If I had to pick my favourite album by The Jam I’d have to go for All Mod Cons, but as a pre-pubescent 12-year old it came a few years too early. By 1982 and with my schooldays coming to an end, The Gift was The Jam’s sixth and final long-player and whilst not their finest, there were new sounds and new influences that felt fresh, leading to a voyage way beyond its eleven tracks.
Soul and Motown had already become regular visitors to my turntable, but The Gift introduced me to a whole new scene. I was about to discover northern soul. Weller was never shy of nicking a riff, and with Trans-Global Express he could be accused of daylight robbery. I had little knowledge of northern, and much less than that of World Column’s pounding So Is The Sun, but I, like many others I sourced Weller’s inspiration and used it as my own.
The Gift, in patches, was heavy on the funk, none more so than on Precious, a double A-side single with soul-stomper Town Called Malice and the band’s third UK No.1 single. With northern, funk and stabs of jazz appearing for the first time, it was an album less immediate than its predecessor Sound Affects, but more an exciting, eclectic mix of new, old sounds. Weller was clearly getting into his early mod roots, seeking out the jazz riffs and digging the French café culture. This was Weller’s first foray into a different kind of early 80s new romantic.
Whilst Weller was delving further into his mod roots and broadening The Jam’s sound he was still a master of writing a classic, and Carnation was up there with his best. Beautiful, inward looking and riddled with self-doubt, it struck a chord with my ever-growing shy and introverted softer side. Then, to counter that emotion I would crank up the volume to the max to bring in the album’s rousing finale, The Gift. Then I’d play it again, and again almost as if to instil its positive message and can do attitude to ward off my self-doubt and shyness. Not for the first time and certainly not the last Weller was shaping my outlook on life and the way I lived it.
“Move – move – I’ve got the gift of life
Can’t you see it in the twinkle of my eye
I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down
I gotta keep movin’ – I gotta keep movin’
All the time that gets wasted hating
Why don’t you move together and make your heart feel better”
– The Gift
‘The John Lennon Collection’
When John Lennon was murdered in December 1980 I confess to feeling little emotion, despite having been obsessing over The Beatles’ music for the previous six months. My Fabs devotion had only just begun, limited to the Red & Blue albums, just dipping my toes into what was to become a bottomless voyage of musical enlightenment. By the time The John Lennon Collection was released at the end of ’82, my journey had progressed rapidly with The Beatles becoming nothing less than an obsession.
Just prior to his death, Lennon released (Just Like) Starting Over, his first UK single for five years and alongside the re-released Woman, Imagine and Happy Xmas (War Is Over) his music dominated the radio and the singles chart for months. At the time these songs did little for me. Two years on and Lennon was about to become my hero. Those singles were familiar to me and I had grown to love them, but the sheer genius contained in this Collection had an intense and overwhelming effect on my psyche and my soul. They hit me deep.
I listened to the album in its entirety on repeat, skipping nothing. I wanted to devour it all. But there were four songs in particular that just blew me away, previously unheard that matched, if not outshone the brilliance of Abbey Road or Revolver. #9 Dream was the first, a gorgeously dreamy, string-laden beauty. There are artists whose voice is immediately off-putting, and then there are those, like Lennon, whose tone and timbre seem to reach into your subconscious. I’ve often wondered how music affects some people’s emotions more than others, and have always felt grateful for what I’ve perceived as a heightened personal response. It was around this time that music, and Lennon’s in particular, was reaching and affecting parts of me previously undiscovered. #9 Dream hit the spot perfectly.
Playing these songs back as reference is proving my point. Within seconds of the start of Mind Games my skin tingles and a feeling like no other rushes through me. So the brain releases dopamine, but why more for some than others? Whatever. I’ll love the consequences of this ethereal, orchestrated epic. I was too young to fully delve into the lyric’s story and full meaning, that was to come, but I remember: “Love is the answer and you know that for sure / love is a flower / you got to let it, you gotta let it grow” and I know how this affected me. I was very conscious of becoming more aware of my inner self.
The meaning behind the sublime Beautiful Boy was far more obvious, and amongst the intimate lyrics for his son, Sean, was a line that quickly struck a chord: “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” At 16 years old I could already relate to this and was a further intimation that I need to make the most of my life, and further encouragement to combat my shyness. Watching The Wheels is just gut-wrenchingly gorgeous, a heartfelt response and comeback to those who questioned his post-Beatles lifestyle, at times relatively reclusive though rarely out of the public’s conscious. Perfectly simplistic musically, but more than anything it was Lennon’s tone that got me, his intent and character straining through the lyrics.
John Lennon, despite his failings as a husband in particular, has been my hero ever since listening to this album. He had his faults like everyone else, but his humour, his humanity, his message of peace and love, and most of all his sheer genius as a songwriter and performer was, as a teenager surrounded by New Romantics and fake musical fluff, a very wise choice.
Curtis Mayfield – ‘Move On Up’
By the spring of ’83 I’d turned 17, and following a six-month stint in WH Smith in the stockroom and toy department I landed a plum job… a three-month secondment on the ‘Youth Opportunity Programme’ in Discus Menswear. At school, once I was out of shorts, I had a two-track mind: music and sport. Academic learning took a very distant back seat and suffice to say my post-school career ambitions didn’t amount to much. At 17, music was my life, and whilst a £25 per week YOP job at Discus was lacking in aspiration, socially it was perfect for me.
Soul was already a passion, and the likes of Booker T & The MGs, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield were heavy turntable players. The latter’s Move On Up was well known to me, and one night in the summer of ’83 the setting moved from my bedroom to the dancefloor. I’d already seen Quadrophenia enough times to become very familiar with not just the music, but also the dress code and the northern soul shuffle. I’d squeezed into a few clubs as a 16-year old, but this one night, in the Neptune Bar at Boscombe Pier was a biggie.
I was watching Mods, or kids like me who had aspirations to be an Ace Face, or at least not a third class ticket. I watched, observed, studied and knew the time had come to do my thing. Now, New Edition’s Candy Girl was No.1 in the charts, and a cool take on ABC by The Jackson 5, but a soul stomper it was not. But as clear as day I remember this tune, and talc, and shuffling loafers. I also remember Move On Up, a soul classic, and giving it my best effort, hugging the dance floor perimeter. I was still battling shyness, I was far from cool, but I don’t think I let myself down.
Over the coming years, as my confidence improved, so did my dancing. Move On Up became a very firm favourite, not least when watching The Agency, Bournemouth’s soul tour-de-force in the late ‘80s. From the opening double drum hit and iconic brass intro this song evokes so many happy memories. The extended version was simply prolonged, bongo-heavy joy, but as much as the music it was Curtis’ positive message that was the inspiration.
“Move on up and keep on wishing / Remember your dream is your only scheme / So keep on pushing.”
The Beatles – ‘Revolver’
Since that day in late 1980, aged 14, when best friend David Sax lent me his dad’s Beatles Red and Blue albums, the Fabs became my musical addiction throughout the ‘80s. Over that time I bought all their studio albums, and read as much as I could, with the focus being on the life of John Lennon. Philip Norman’s Shout stands out as my favourite read, and its heavy bias towards Lennon’s musical input over McCartney most definitely influenced my early preference.
My Beatles purchase history was urgent and incessant. I bought the Red and Blue albums early, and Sgt. Peppers too as it was widely regarded as THE iconic, groundbreaking album, although for me that was Revolver. I knew very quickly that discovering The Beatles was going to be a long journey, and despite soon realising that around ’65 was when it really started happening, I would love the debut Please Please Me regardless of, or more due to, its simplicity. Those vocals and in particular the perfect harmonies were more than enough.
All The Beatles’ albums are stunning in different ways, and the musical expansion, progression and resulting influence is unarguable. Abbey Road comes a very close second as my favourite album, with Harrison’s contribution matching that of Lennon & McCartney’s for the first time, but Revolver contained such genius, such a perfect mix of simplistic beauty and never-heard-before hedonistic musical head fuck that, well… it’s just one song away from being my all-time favourite album. Yellow sodding Submarine. Great film, shit song.
By 1965 The Beatles’ music was expanding as fast as their minds. By 1966, that altered state had advanced into hallucinogens, and the resulting Revolver was just a perfect blend of groundbreaking experimentation, ‘60s pop classics and harmony-laden ballads. Truly revolutionary, Revolver was more than an album of the times, it defined the times. Eastern philosophy and instrumentation were prominent, and pioneering recording techniques were not just used, but perfected. There’s nothing short of brilliant throughout the 14 tracks, with the one obvious exception.
What age is old enough to be able to fully appreciate Revolver? To surrender to the void. I was 17, I’d been listening to The Beatles obsessively for two years, and I was very ready. In Here, There and Everywhere and For No One you have McCartney’s melodic pop perfection, Eleanor Rigby is immaculate production with the Fabs replaced by George Martin’s genius string arrangement. She Said She Said oozes Lennon, but Harrison’s guitar and in particular Ringo’s drums elevate everything, and in closer Tomorrow Never Knows, the song is a psychedelic masterpiece, a multicoloured psychotrip into a Tibetan Garden of Eden. Musical utopia.
Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Greatest Hits’
Now I was earning my own pennies – a permanent job at Discus don’tcha know and where I’d met some fellow music aficionados – Snu-Peas was becoming my home from home. I don’t think I ever bought a vinyl LP from anywhere other than a second-hand shop, and Snu-Peas was a five minute walk from my front door; it was well stocked, well organised, stunk of musical history, and heaven for a classic vinyl junkie which I was fast becoming. In 1983 the Top 40 had become far less appealing than a few years previous, and more than ever my focus was on the musical past, not the present.
My love of soul and Motown was largely based on the groove, passion and pure gut-feeling, but more and more it was the melody, harmony and lyrics that were doing it for me. I’d heard Simon & Garfunkel plenty but had never given them the attention they deserved until I grabbed their Greatest Hits. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were melodic and vocal perfection who captured a mellow, harmonic grooviness that appealed to my ever-growing softer, deeper and more introspective side.
One year after school’s out I felt like I was growing up quickly; I’d left home, got a job, new friends, failing at girlfriends and more than ever my thoughts, feelings and outlook on life was hugely affected by the words emanating from my speakers. Simon & Garfunkel oozed whimsy and laid-back reflection, but within the perfect harmony were beautiful visions; soft, thought provoking and exquisitely descriptive.
“I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls.”
“And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies.”
– Kathy’s Song
“Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine,
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine,
Oh, and if you need a friend,
I’m sailing right behind,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind.”
– Bridge Over Troubled Water
In 1983 new romantics had all but had their day, but the heavy hitters remained, joined in the charts by the likes of Wham, Culture Club and Kajafuckingoogoo. Looking back, those pesky new romantics actually made some pretty decent tunes, but at the time I detested their fake sentiment, their shit clothes and more than anything their ‘pretending to play instruments that aren’t actually on the record’. Fake. Fake. Fake. Synthesisers and drum ‘machines’ were replaced by bass, guitars on drums on Top of the Pops and that made me more angry than it really should. Yes, I was becoming a music snob, but given the option of For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her or Club Tropicana I really had no choice.
The The – ‘Soul Mining’
By early ’84 I’d moved in to a flat with Simon & Gary, two other music obsessives. My social group was expanding, my social life was becoming highly interesting, and as much as Snu-Peas was my go to shop for records, Bizarre Bazaar was equally frequented for second-hand vintage clobber. With new friends came new influences, and one of us would have been the first to obsess about The The, and in particular two of the band’s early singles, This Is The Day and Uncertain Smile.
Whilst the 2-Tone and post-punk scene had all but gone, a few bands emerged which kept my interest in new music on high alert. The Smiths, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera’s fantastic High Land, Hard Rain were heavily played, and topping those for sheer magnificence and, eclectic, claustrophobic and intense beauty was The The’s Soul Mining. The album was full of new sounds; some repetitive, almost Balearic beats were way ahead of their time, others were more like an industrial take on electronic synth-pop.
Musically kaleidoscopic, this album really opened my ears and pushed me into unfamiliar sounds, and lyrically too, it was deeper, darker and more uncomfortable than much of what I’d heard before. I could though, comfortably listen to Uncertain Smile forever, and doing so nearly forty years later I’m taken straight back to my unrestrained excitement and insecurities. Matt Johnson’s fragile, breathy vocals, and unique storytelling mixed with the lush production and epic, extended piano outro by Jools Holland make this an absolute masterpiece.
“Peeling the skin back from my eyes, I felt surprised
that the time on the clock was the time I usually retired
to the place where I cleared my head of you;
but just for today, I think I’ll lie here and dream of you.”
The The released Infected and Mind Bomb in the second half of the eighties, both albums brilliant, and both made Matt Johnson one of my all-time favourite lyricists. Perfectly scathing of Thatcher and the consumerist west, his cynicism and anger enhanced my views on many things whilst opening me up to others.
On Soul Mining there were strong hints of what was to come: “I’m just a symptom of the moral decay / That’s gnawing at the heart of the country” – The Sinking Feeling. But, within an album of provocative new sounds and musical eccentricity it was Uncertain Smile and This Is The Day that soothed my ears and caressed my soul. Essential listening for anyone with a heart.
James Brown – ‘Sex Machine’
James Brown. The Godfather of Soul. Perhaps the only mother funkster able to make my hairs stand on end purely on a groove. By 1984 I was frequenting bars, clubs and dives and if there was a dude I’d love to dance to it would have to be James Brown. As a 17 year-old virgin it was the Maison Royale or The Outlook, as an impure, gel-haired, ‘tryin-so-hard-to-be-cool’ 18 year-old it was most likely the Centurion or posers paradise, Micawber’s. Compared to my compadres I was a sensitive, introverted soul, but as the months went by my confidence was growing as fast as my social life.
James Brown is a musical idol; a true genius who from his own childhood spent in extreme poverty became not just the pioneer of funk, but one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century. His early gospel and R&B roots produced some classics, but for me his five year spell as Soul Brother No.1 starting in 1967, producing a stream of stone cold masterpieces, is his undoubted peak. I had devoured Motown and soul, and now on the back of the legendary Superbad vinyl on K-Tel, funk was my new obsession and with it came my first JB purchase, the super cool part-live double LP Sex Machine.
From ’67-‘72 he recorded Soul Power, Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Super Bad, Cold Sweat, There Was A Time, Make It Funky, Get On The Good Foot, Hot Pants, Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose, Say It Loud – I’m Black & I’m Proud, Ain’t It Funky Now, Funky Drummer… everyone a absolute groove, thanks in no small way to Clyde Stubblefield and John ‘Jabo’ Starks, the most sampled drummers ever. An absolute star performer, JB influenced the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince with his stage persona and routine, as well as the intensity and length of his shows.
In 1984 I couldn’t get enough James Brown. For the previous few years the Top 40 had been littered with brit-funk; the likes of Level 42, Shalamar, Linx and Beggar & Co were all producing decent stuff, but my obsession with the late ‘60s and early ‘70s quickly lead me to Earth Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone, Brass Construction, Roy Ayers and the immense Gil Scott-Heron, whose The Bottle is the ultimate groove.
In 1984, and for many years after, I had no idea James Brown was capable of horrific crimes like domestic abuse and assault. I say this almost as a disclaimer. He’d fine or sack anyone who missed a beat or disobeyed his orders regarding drink and drug use. His own drug addiction would soon become horrific. On the flip, he actively supported civil rights organisations and advocated the importance of education for disadvantaged kids for who he was seen as a role model. For me, in ‘84 JB was THE MAN and as a performer his legend lives on.
The Style Council – ‘Café Bleu’
So, there were Jam fans from day one who dug the early stuff, the attitude heavy, Pistols-inspired In The City. Then there’s younger, late starters like me who were never part of that scene, who came along in 1980 when the funk was already creeping into the music. When The Jam folded it hit fans hard, and when The Style Council started there were many expecting The Jam part two. The Style Council were anything but, and thousands were gutted. Not me.
Sure, it took some time to adjust expectations, but with Weller I had to be open-minded, trust the man’s instincts, and like much of the best music, just give it time. The first EP release Introducing The Style Council was soaked in the new jazz sound that was clearly just the mod direction Weller was travelling. It had a few of the band’s early singles and set the tone for what was to come. The Jam were nowhere to be seen.
Café Bleu was the debut long-player and stylistically as well as musically it felt fresh, invigorating and totally transitional. This was no tipping a toe into a new sound; this was piano and Hammond heavy and just oozed coffee house culture. As much as Mick Talbot was the prominent visual foil to Weller’s cool, musically he shared that role with the rhythm boy wonder, 18 year-old Steve White.
The cool brushed snare on Blue Café and The Paris Match was as musically contrary to Rick Buckler as you could hear, and Talbot’s keys shared prominence with Weller’s guitar. Tracey Thorn and Dee C. Lee’s vocals soothed in a way Weller never could, but more than anything the album radiated an overwhelming air of positivity and hope; an uplifting tone which shone through even the weaker tracks, A Gospel and Strength Of Your Nature, which jolted the album’s flow.
For me, The Style Council peaked early. My Ever Changing Moods was that peak and follow up album Our Favourite Shop was equally as inspiring; again musically eclectic but with a more political tone. But by ’87 I’d lost the faith. My love affair with all things Weller was over… for a few years anyway.
Everything But The Girl – ‘Eden’
If there’s an album that brings back memories of 1984, my time in Christchurch in a new flat, with new friends, an ever-growing social scene and a Weller-inspired (who else) foray into jazz, it’s the sublime Eden by Everything But The Girl. Three jazz-juiced albums were released around this time which tickled my French fancy: The Style Council had introduced Café Bleu to a mixed reaction amongst Jam fans, and with Working Week’s Working Nights and La Varieté by Weekend, a smoky waft of French accordion café culture was the new thing.
We took this new thing seriously, seeking out a weekly modern jazz club in some remote country pub. We dressed up sharp, we applauded after each solo, and we were very European. I have never smoked cigs, but I was probably tempted just to complete the look. This was summer time, we were hip young cats who took boat trips in blazers along Christchurch quay, and we listened to Eden.
From the opening soothing brass, gentle rhythm and Tracy Thorn’s exquisite vocals…
“If you ever feel the time to drop me a loving line,
maybe you should just think twice,
I don’t wait around on your advice.”
…the tone is set. Each and Every One is a perfect opener; a beautiful, understated jazz groove with Tracy Thorn’s seemingly effortless, perfect tone. Everything on the album feels restrained and authentic, musically and lyrically, exploring the labyrinth of love’s complexities. Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn looked shy and unassuming, which to me made a pleasant change from most popsters from ’84, swaying gently, almost awkwardly with no hint of attitude.
At not long past 30 minutes Eden’s 12 tracks are packed sweetly tight. Another Bridge, Frost and Fire and the gorgeous Bittersweet evoke immensely nostalgic memories of exciting times. I was growing up fast amongst special friends. Gary, Simon, Lisa, Simon… thank you, those were the best of days.
New Model Army – ‘Vengeance’
With new friends came new musical influences and an ever-growing political awareness. Thatcher was at her full-tilt worst during the miner’s strike, backed up by her fully armed police ‘boot boys’. Mentally and morally impacted by the likes of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, the Glastonbury CND Festival, the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, my views were well to the left.
Someone must have mentioned New Model Army to me. I think it was Martin Common. Martin also introduced a few of us to something else at the time, and boy did we laugh. Aged 18 my gig history was limited to say the least, but I’d heard enough of, and about New Model Army to go to Bournemouth Town Hall to see them play as part of the Vengeance tour.
I was getting into jazz and reading Roger McGough and Billy Patten. I had never been a punk or anything near. So, the memory of entering that hall and seeing a sea of punks looking twice my age will stay with me forever, heightened massively when NMA let rip. I was literally blown away by the ferocity, the intensity and the anger, and lead singer/guitarist ‘Slade The Leveller’ had me transfixed. I was almost too in awe to take it all in, but I know I had to find out more, so I bought their mini-album Vengeance.
New Model Army reeked of anti-authority and anti-establishment. They were fucking intense. The album is immense from start to finish; I was aware it was louder, angrier, heavier and a huge musical diversion from what I’d been listening to. But I loved it, and played it LOUD. The chunky as fuck, thudding bass demanded it. Lyrically it had plenty to inspire me, and choruses to intoxicate…
“Is it a crime to want something else?
Is it a crime to believe in something different?
Is it a crime to want to make things happen?
To spit in the faces of the cynical fools”
– Smalltown England
“I believe in justice,
I believe in vengeance,
I believe in getting the bastard”
From the caustic opener Christian Militia and that trademark pounding bass, Vengeance is brilliantly relentless. New Model Army contributed massively to my rapidly expanding musical appreciation and social conscience. If there’s ever an album that encapsulates the feeling of the social disorder at the time, it’s Vengeance.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – ‘Rattlesnakes’
So, I was working in Discus, a ‘trendy’ menswear boutique, and I was shopping for clothes in Bizarre Bazaar, a grubby, dishevelled, glorious palace of second-hand clobber. My boss said I should smarten up in the shop’s trendy togs, saying I looked like a beatnik, which made me a very happy man. Job done, considering my influence of sixties style and culture was now mixed with a new roll-necked songster.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ Rattlesnakes was a huge influence musically, lyrically, and in the album’s all-encompassing fragrance and melancholy. It oozed masculine sensitivity, referencing a host of style and literary icons, which as an all too easily influenced 18 year-old fed my intrigue massively. I related to Lloyd Cole’s visually shy and faintly awkward persona, whilst his lyrics were clearly that of a deep-thinker, beautifully gushing what it felt like to be a young romantic.
“She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin and she’s sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan.” – Perfect Skin
At the time, Prefab Sprout’s Swoon was another gem of an album; musically exquisite, though with lyrics bordering on ‘trying too hard’, it was Rattlesnakes that was far more personally relatable. Lloyd Cole’s songs read like books, teeming with cultural references urging exploration, wrapped in such genuine timelessness that any accusation of pretentiousness is instantly dismissed.
Reaching a lofty No.65 in the Top 40 singles chart in late ’84, musically and lyrically Rattlesnakes is bordering on perfection…
“Jodie wears a hat although it hasn’t rained for six days
She says a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes
She looks like Eve Marie saint in On The Waterfront
She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance
She’s less than sure if her heart has come to stay in San Jose
And her never-born child still haunts her
As she speeds down the freeway
As she tries her luck with the traffic police
Out of boredom more than spite
She never finds no trouble, she tries too hard
She’s obvious despite herself
She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront
She says all she needs is therapy, yeah
All you need is, love is all you need
Jodie never sleeps ’cause there are always needles in the hay
She says that a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes
She looks like Eve Marie Saint in on the waterfront
As she reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance
Her heart, heart’s like crazy paving
Upside down and back to front
She says “ooh, it’s so hard to love
When love was your great disappointment.”
Rattlesnakes was the band’s finest work. Their two following albums, whilst being hugely playable and achieving higher chart success, lacked Rattlesnakes’ romance and emotional impact. The closer Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? squeezed out the last drops of an album loaded with depth and sentiment, an album which, like many other sensitive souls, seemed like it was released with me in mind.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Legend’
By the summer of ’85 our social life was gathering pace. At age 17 I was a shy boy with limited confidence having led a sheltered and comfortable life, certainly compared to my closest friends. Life had been relatively straightforward, and my character and personality was yet to blossom. At 19 I was playing catch up with much gusto. My mates were in bands, we were hitting bars, pubs and clubs and very quickly we found our spiritual home – Charivari at The Cabaret Club.
‘Charivari’ meaning: ‘a medley of discordant sounds’
Charivari was the brainchild of Toby Rose and Pete Young. In 1985 new romantics had all but vanished and the hip-hop and acid scene were yet to really kick in. Wham, Duran Duran, Madonna and Shakin’ Stevens were top of the pops and Bournemouth was crying out for an alternative club.
Charivari was packed on a weekly basis with nearly 300 mods, punks, goths, hippies, suedeheads, rastas, skinheads, rockabillies, beatniks and all manner of student alternatives who wanted to be amongst like-minded, wide-eyed music appreciados, and if there was one artist who seemed to be appreciado’d more than any other, it was Bob Marley. His music transcended barriers; be it musical, political or whichever youth cult you’d aspire to. The sheer joy of Could You Be Loved is futile to resist.
Legend had been released the year before and was the obvious go to album, even though most of the songs were at least faintly familiar to me already. Whilst the album showcases none of Marley’s early ska roots, it simply glows with love and empathy, pleading for kindness and unity in a world full of injustice and oppression.
Mention Jamaican culture and Rastafarianism and Bob Marley comes to mind immediately, and with a message of such genuine warmth and love, no other artist’s music has had such ability to bring people together. Whilst Bob Marley personifies reggae music, his music was enriched with funk and soul rhythms and pop melodies. His legacy lives on far beyond his music…
“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”
The Isley Brothers – ‘Forever Gold’
Ahh… The Isley Brothers. What a beautiful family of absolute dudes. Packed with killer singles during the early and mid ‘70s, the psychedelic funk & soul and blissed-out vocals are all perfectly captured on their ’77 release Forever Gold. Formed in the ‘50s, The Isley’s were legendary before any of these tunes were written, but that status went up a bunch of notches during the seventies.
These guys had earned their chops a hundred times over by the time That Lady was released in ’73, tutoring Jimi Hendrix from ’63-’65 who was a clear inspiration for the psychedelic guitar on many of these tracks ten years later. The absolute groove on these tunes, regardless of tempo, is impeccable, but it’s not just the groove, it’s the message and sentiment on tracks like Highways Of My Life and Harvest For The World which hit me just as hard.
Sometimes musically it’s the simpler the better that works, when just the most basic groove works best. Lennon was a master of that, and in so many songs it’s that simplicity that wins me over. Highways Of My Life got me for just that reason. Everything is beautifully simple, and just the faintest change in tempo mid-song just kills me.
Me and my amigos loved this album. In many ways it was the soundtrack to our time living together, summing up our brotherly love and sheer passion for a work of musical art. For me this was The Isley Brothers at their peak; pre-disco and groovin’ the hell out of the funk-rock. But, pinning a genre on Forever Gold is a waste of time. This ain’t no disco, R&B, funk or soul. This is The Isley Brothers.
Towards the end of 1985 I’d managed to land a plum gig, DJing at Charivari with my mate, Gary. We’d been regular punters for many months and had got to know Pete and Toby well enough to ask for a slot. A two-week trial doing the first hour led to a permanent residency and we fucking loved it. We could pretty much play whatever we wanted, but they knew our tastes, so we just played what we loved. What an absolute joy, and looking back, the opportunity to DJ to 275 young, musically receptive kooks, freaks and hipsters who shared a distaste for the mainstream was a bit of a life changer.
In ‘85 the destruction of Bournemouth pub, club and live music culture was years away. Outside Charivari, The Third Side, Whiskeys, Bacchus and Micawber’s became our most frequented watering holes, but there was no shortage of choice for alternative tastes. We were befriending musos and mavericks with gusto and around that time, mejor amigo Simon, a young dude with prodigious confidence, knew a character of much repute named Sandy, who was the singer in a band. A soul band. The Soul Band. The Agency.
From 2006 my business would be promoting local music, my passion for which started twenty years earlier with The Agency. Formed not many months before my first experience, these guys already seemed not just seamless, but masters of their art. Sandy was the front man; cool, pork-pied, sharp-suited, a mover and groover whose performance personified soul. Behind Sandy was Tim Holt aka Mr.Soul on rhythm guitar and a motley crew of absolute funksters who ripped it up every one of the dozens of times I saw them play.
The Agency had a tight as hell rhythm section with badass bass and toms & tablas as prominent as the full kit, and a lead guitarist who looked like a prog-rock god but like played like Ernie Isley. The icing on the mille-feuiile was the band’s own version of The Memphis Horns, a three, four or do I remember five-piece horn section. The band’s line-up was as fluid as the music, and years down the line Sandy left and Andy hit the front adding guitar and no less groove.
Playing a few of their own but mostly covers of soul, funk, R&B and Stax, The Agency cemented and enhanced my love of the likes of Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett and fed my desire to learn more. I danced my fucking ass off to these guys for the next few years, venue Little Peters was sweaty basement heaven and I soul-shuffled with as much mastery as I could muster. The band continued in various guises over the next three decades and may have stopped playing now. A 30 year anniversary gig stormed the Tivoli Theatre in 2015 and beyond that I’m really not sure, but fellas… 35 years later, thank you for your soul and inspiration.
Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Smash Hits’
Whilst my early teenage years around 1980 saw me primarily fixating on music of that time, by the mid ‘80s my focus on an earlier era was, if not deliberate, then blindingly apparent. I’ve always had a preoccupation with lists and numbers, and this obsession stretches to dates, so to be exact 1965-1972 was where I was very much at. Music from that era expanded, blossomed and created more genius than in any other period since, well, ever. Why? Well, drugs may have played a part. The talent and is always there amongst those lucky enough to be blessed with it, but for six or so years drugs really pushed that talent along.
Pot had a huge, positive, mind-expanding influence in the mid ‘60s, and in the late ‘60s acid had a similar, though far more creative effect. These drugs, for the large part, worked on many of the most influential artists of that era, and those artists influenced a whole new generation until the early ‘70s. Cocaine on the other hand, the most prominent drug around ’72-’73 had a more destructive effect. Death, primarily. Now, I’m simplifying things massively and I know there are many, many exceptions, the numerous ‘acid casualties’ and the abstention of Frank Zappa spring to mind, but that’s my theory (which I can expand on at much length if anyone’s interested) and I’m sticking to it. Which brings me on to Jimi Hendrix.
By the tail end of ’85 I’d heard Hendrix plenty, but owned nothing other than a scratchy as hell live LP. If I was DJing at Charivari then Hendrix has to be on the turntable. A visit to my second home at Snu-Peas set me up with Smash Hits by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. There were several different versions released, but the UK issue in 1968 included the singles’ A&B sides, plus other tracks from Are You Experienced. Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding achieved, created and turned on more artists in a two-year period than any other band in history, bar one.
Think psychedelia, the Summer Of Love, Monterey or Woodstock are one man reigns. In 1967 Hendrix was a beautiful guiding light, showing everyone the way to a higher musical conscience, and yes, drugs were a positive influence. As 1986 dawned, I got high on a few things, one of which was Smash Hits, a sunning, overblown psychedelic blues groove. Hendrix, for that two-year period was THE MAN. To quote Rolling Stone magazine: “His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil.”
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.
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.
Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’
The Wall was my Pink Floyd LP debut, and I loved it; dark, disturbing, intense and beautiful in equal measures, albeit a bit of a slog. More Floyd had to come, and it was probably Wish You Were Here before Dark Side Of The Moon simply due to what was in the racks at Snu-Peas on a particular day. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was also imminent too, but that’s a whole different kettle of far-out fish. Now, there are albums that simply have to be listened to in their entirety to be fully appreciated, with headphones on, eyes closed and mind open. Wish You Were Here is a perfect example.
With Syd Barrett seemingly ever present, the album is heavy with emotion. The effect of repeat listening was intense. The deeper you sank into its expanse, the more impelling and sensorial it become. Like a drug, and with this one the more the better. It demanded discovery. Scathing of the music industry that chewed and spat out Syd Barrett, it’s Wish You Were Here and Shine On You Crazy Diamond that cut the deepest; pure musical paradise with Gilmour’s guitar crying above a myriad of vocal and textural layers. Absolute heaven.
Well into my teens I had a dislike of synths in music, the blame for which sits squarely on the shoulders of the new romantics. As a youngster I needed music that hit me emotionally. I needed REAL music; nothing fake, I felt and needed passion and sincerity and so the synth pop bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s earned my blanket disapproval. It’s okay to be musically naïve through your teens, and thankfully over the years my mind and senses opened, and listening to Wish You Were Here was a huge part of that realisation. How could I dislike synths when they could be used so beautifully, creatively and yes, emotionally?
Wish You Were Here is a gut-wrenching homage to Syd Barrett. It’s four men pouring their hearts out. It’s deeply evocative, soulful and Pink Floyd’s second best album. Dark Side Of The Moon was next for me and would just nudge this from the Floyd’s musical summit. Just. It took me to be 20 years old to be able to put on my big boy trousers and love and obsess over an album heavy on electronics. That said, it’s Gilmour’s guitars and the impassioned vocals and sentiment that make Wish You Were Here a work of absolute genius.
Elvis Costello – Glastonbury CND Festival 1987
I’ve been to the Glastonbury Festival twice, first in 1987 and again in 1990. 1987 brings back much better memories due to the music, the sheer excitement and the love I felt amongst 60,000 mud-soaked revellers, in particular my comrades and fellow peacenicks, Gary and Simon. The latter supplied the transport. A 2CV. A cool choice, even when being gang-pushed up a muddy hill upon exit. In ’87 it was still the Glastonbury CND Festival, by ’90 the acronym was dropped, and that year I have no magical musical memories, although I do remember the Happy Mondays being shit and our total festival hash fund being wasted (not in a good way) on day one. That lump of rubber looked so real!
It intermittently lashed down both years, but the mud was nothing compared to the memory of the gut-wrenching stench emanating from the trenched pits of piss and crap. On the plus side, in ’87 we parked a few hundred metres directly in front of the Pyramid Stage, just because we could. I was yet to discover the magnificence of Van Morrison, so he passed me by, but I loved World Party’s album, Private Revolution. Karl Wallinger radiated much needed warmth and positivity, with Ship Of Fools sounding like a glorious stream of sunshine as the rain fell relentlessly. Julian Cope was at it too, aboard his climbing frame mic, rocking out World Shut Your Mouth, Trampolene and Teardrop’s Bouncing Babies.
So, Elvis Costello. We were fans. I owned Armed Forces and Get Happy and he was clearly an all round dude de force having produced The Specials’ iconic debut album. I played him plenty at Charivari and of all the acts playing at Glastonbury, he was the only one not to be missed. Here’s what I remember. He played solo, a mixture of classics and albums tracks, including a spine-tingling version of Shipbuilding. Mostly acoustic, never less than totally captivating he finished after about ninety minutes. A great gig, almost worthy of the entry money alone.
Encore one. Encore two. Encore three! A boombox assisted Pump It Up / Sign Of The Times mash-up. I’d have very happily walked away there. But, behind Elvis were large drapes covering the width of the stage. He pulled a cord, the curtains parted, and there were the fucking Attractions who immediately launched into Oliver’s Army. What’s the sound of about 30,000 people deliriously gobsmacked? Oliver’s Army was followed by an hour or more of full band action, including Watching The Detectives and climaxing with Instant Karma. Three hours of pure joy.
I loved Elvis Costello’s early stuff, Spike in ’89 was a big favourite, and ten years later came my most played Elvis album, his stunning collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory. An absolute masterpiece of classic songwriting. But, that evening, THAT moment as the band appeared and that classic piano intro kicked in… Oliver’s Army will always mean Glastonbury 1987.
Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’
Stevie Wonder. Where do you start? I think I remember my first vinyl purchase was The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie. At 12 years-old Little Stevie Wonder was an absolute dude, shining like a star on drums, bongos, keyboard and harmonica. Having binged on soul and Motown for a few years, I was totally aware of Stevie’s genius, and had worn out the grooves on Looking Back, his triple LP anthology that was a thorough compilation of ‘60s Stevie. Next was another comp, Original Musiquarium I, which upped the ante, showcasing his golden era during the ‘70s. But still the best was yet to come.
Songs In The Key Of Life was Stevie’s masterpiece. Preceded in the ‘70s by four absolute classic albums, it was an almost impossible ask to go one better, but Songs In The Key Of Life is more than an album, it’s a work of art, a visceral musical discovery, a perfect illumination into melody and musicality. Two years in the making, Stevie was still just 26 years old when it was released, and whilst the likes of George Benson, Herbie Hancock and dozens of jazz and soul musicians contributed, this was totally Stevie, having written, arranged and composed everything and performed more than one man should ever be capable.
Songs In The Key Of Life covers the same kaleidoscopic range of musical styles and it does human emotions, but you’re never in doubt as to Stevie’s sentiment; an appeal for love and humanity in a world of growing inequality and injustice. Stevie is at his absolute best in all senses. I Wish, Sir Duke and As show Stevie at his funkiest and most soulful, but whatever the song or style here it’s sense of joy and grace are completely overwhelming. Love is ever present, and whilst the whole double-album is an uplifting euphonic rollercoaster, I remember the LP one, side two just blew me away, and hey, Stevie’s drums are the highlight, oozing effortless soul.
Now, I Wish is a stone cold classic, and Summer Soft is an absolute beauty but I just couldn’t get enough of Knocks Me Off My Feet. There are three tracks on the album on which Stevie plays everything, and this is one.
“I see us in the park
Strolling the summer days of imaginings in my head
And words from our hearts
Told only to the wind felt even without being said
I don’t want to bore you with my trouble
But there’s sumptin’ about your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet”
I love everything about this song, but what killed me was Stevie’s drumming; it feels like he’s making love to the hi-hat, caressing it with such perfect subtlety… “I don’t wanna bore you with it oh but I love you, I love you, I love you”. Oh Stevie, you got me.
Songs In The Key Of Life was, and still is one of my all-time favourite albums. There are artists who inspire you to become a better person simply through their music. Stevie Wonder does that more than any other.
Van Morrison – ‘Moondance’
By 1988 I had developed an unhealthy relationship. Charivari had been my chapel of joy, but for a year or two it was the gym, or a swimming pool, or a very steep hill. My employ had changed too. Still retail, but I was selling cricket bats, football boots and tennis rackets instead of shit clothes. I’d go swimming before work, to the gym straight after and punched bags, skipped, did squats, pull ups, aerobics, ran up zig-zags at Bournemouth beach and generally anything to generate a pool of sweat. I was about to get as fit as fuck, but become a bore. Fitness became a shallow addiction. My passion for music however, was flourishing as much as my strength.
I’ve no idea how I came about Van Morrison, and Moondance in particular, but it was bound to happen at some point. I was aware of his legend and had dug his stuff with Them in the mid ’60s, but another beautiful musical discovery was about to unfold. I love Van’s story, his musical heritage and knowing he could be a cantankerous sod, up there with the best of them in his stubborn single-mindedness. Astral Weeks was a year or two down the line for me, and would rival Moondance for top spot, but Moondance was my first love, and for that reason alone, the best.
Moondance has a swing, a groove, it’s a beat more uptempo and a touch less dark than Astral Weeks and therefore slightly more accessible. I’ll listen to either endlessly, depending on my mood, but it’s the soul and the gorgeous overwhelming feel of Moondance that gripped me. Van’s lilt bleeds emotion, whether it be the subtle beauty of Crazy Love or the gypsy soul of Caravan.
“I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles
And the heavens open every time she smiles
And when I come to her that’s where I belong
Yet I’m running to her like a river’s song
She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love
She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love”
– Crazy Love
My Van Morrison catalogue would expand to double digits over the years with his ’74 live double LP It’s Too Late To Stop Now blowing my mind, but since this first purchase one song has remained my favourite. Into The Mystic has it all. The aura, the sentiment, the arrangement lifts me, coming as close as any song to affect me spiritually.
Then there’s the subtle simplicity and Van’s restrained passion, cut loose when the fog horn blows…
“And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows
I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it
I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float
Into the mystic”
The few times I’ve seen Van Morrison live have been a disappointment, but I’ll forgive him anything for the sheer beauty contained in his music, being one of those artists that just connects with your soul. Van, is indeed, the Man.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin II’
As the years went by bands and artists were being discovered at a rapid rate. With many it was just a matter of time, and some inexplicably took longer than others. Even after obsessing over music for forty years there are plenty I feel like I’ve missed out on, but some voices, or songs, or albums, despite repeat listens just don’t grab you, or just don’t grab you enough to persevere. Bruce Springsteen would be the most obvious of many for me, but who knows… there’s still plenty of time. At 22 years old I’d waited long enough to sink into Led Zeppelin, but when I did I went full tilt.
I bought Led Zep I, II, III and IV in quick succession, I’m not sure in what order, but I do know II was my pick of the bunch. Just. The iconic Whole Lotta Love set the tone, and immediately it was obvious (though I think I already knew) that this was four musicians at the top of their game; musicians who were borrowing from the past, but piling the groove, rock and psychedelia on to the blues. And boy, were they piling it on. Led Zep II was a gloriously heavy musical boogie, with a beautiful stench of 1969.
I could listen to Led Zeppelin II just for John Bonham’s drumming. In fact, if I could pick an all-star line up of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, Bonham would be on the sticks. He just had it all, and had it in spades. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page would come close to that group too, but that’s a whole different story. With Led Zep, for me it was all about the feel. Songs like What Is And What Should Never Be, Heartbreaker, Ramble On and Moby Dick would ebb and flow, with dramatic, screeching peaks pouring into deep, meandering troughs. Watching live footage of those early performances shows mastery and as much sexual energy as Plant’s pants could muster. All four were killing it.
Throughout my later years, when I’d deny ever having been a mod, many who knew me would titter at that suggestion. I’d DJ’d at sixties/mod clubs and soul nights, owned vintage Vespas and obsessed over Weller, soul and watched Quadrophenia more times than I can remember. Now, I love almost everything about the mod movement, but can a mod love Led Zeppelin? With all that leather and long hair? And Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Santana just around the corner? Now mod is far more than the music, but I always felt my musical and cultural tastes expanded at an early age, and felt it unnecessary to label myself.
Whatever. For me 1988 was Rumours, Moondance and a whole lotta Led Zeppelin. And the gym. Listening to Heartbreaker roll seamlessly into Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman) takes me right back to mixtapes and slogging up hills with my Walkman. Sweat and Led Zeppelin. A rightful mix.
Carole King – ‘Tapestry’
There are albums that define careers, even those as incredible as Carole King’s. One of the most successful songwriters of all time, having written dozens of hits for other artists including the classic (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Aretha Franklin and Pleasant Valley Sunday for The Monkees, both in 1967. Tapestry is her masterpiece, a stunningly blissful album, totally alluring for anyone with a heart, and particularly one that’s fragile.
In the early ‘70s the likes of Neil Young, James Taylor, Paul Simon and Randy Newman were writing deeply personal, introspective songs. There was a certain Laurel Canyon vibe in 1971, post-hippy and spiritual, songs capturing real life, acoustic with sparse musical arrangement. Tapestry, with Carole King living there at the time, captured that vibe perfectly. Unlike other troubadours like Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Tapestry’s lyrics were straightforward and unembellished. Carole King had a supreme gift in her ability to use simple phrasing, and the same talent to nail a sentiment, to capture the fragility of romance, relationships and love.
“Stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time
There’s somethin’ wrong here, there can be no denyin’
One of us is changin’, or maybe we’ve just stopped tryin’
And it’s too late, baby now, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin’ inside has died, and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, oh, no, no”
– It’s Too Late
From my teens and into my early twenties and largely influenced by the music I’d been listening to, I was becoming more reflective and ruminative, still dealing with shyness despite having a fairly lively social life. Tapestry struck a personal chord. That Laurel Canyon scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was primarily a stoned, laid-back amalgamation of blues, country, psychedelia and folk. It was the original Americana, and with the likes of The Doors, CSNY, Frank Zappa, Mamas and the Papas and Joni Mitchell all doing their thing, it was an era and musical landscape I dived into.
Tapestry is lyrically unguarded, bleeding the warmth and spirit of the early ‘70s, stripping back any fuss to fully expose the intense emotion and vulnerability. Carole King’s ability to write a near perfect album is matched by the overwhelming sincerity in her vocals and the jazz-tinged warmth of the production. For me this was, and still is an album almost impossible not to love.
Santana – ‘Moonflower’
Now I’m in my fifties I like to think of myself as musically open-minded. As the decades passed and my juvenile prejudices departed, I opened up to music I’d previously derided. That said, everyone has their personal likes and dislikes, and for most of my fifty odd years I’ve had an aversion to what I’m going to lazily call hair metal (let’s choose Whitesnake as an example) with shit songs full of fake sentiment. Similarly and around the same time guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen, whilst being technically brilliant, did not make music to or for my ears. Too much posturing and not enough soul. But that’s just me.
So, I say all that because Carlos Santana can gurn and throw rock god shapes with the best of them, posing with aplomb. But – and that’s a huge and very important but – he emanates soul and radiates sincerity. In 1989 I’ve no idea how Santana’s Moonflower came to me, but when it found me it blew me away. Released in 1977 it’s an epic, full-blown, four-sided spiritual voyage into a carnival fusion of rock, latin and jazz. Part live, part studio, it felt so warm I would hug the glorious, gatefolded beauty as I played it.
The three live tracks on side one: Carnaval, Let The Children Play and Jugando were new musical territory for me. I loved the euphoric and uplifting sound, like a fifteen piece band of amigos in full flow, rhythmically and magically in perfect harmony. I’ll Be Waiting followed the euphoria and is a perfect example of Carlos Santana radiating soul and sincerity. Just gorgeous. Side two continued the transcendental theme, but then somehow side three found another notch, somewhere in the clouds.
Santana’s version of The Zombie’s She’s Not There is unreal, with the mix of Carlos’ phenomenal guitar, wailing keys and electrifying percussion taking the song to a different world. We’re brought back down to heaven on earth with the sublime Flor d’Luna (Moonflower), only to be sent back sky high with Soul Sacrifice/Head, Hands & Feet, a 14 minute live jam and simply one of the best live instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Graham Lear’s drumming is astounding, but then so is everything. Virtuoso overload.
For me, sides one and three wore out my needle. The other two were great, and Moonflower ends with Savor/Toussaint l’Overture, another outpouring of Latin dynamism and flair, but the album rarely got a start to finish play in all of its near 90 minute glory. I was lucky enough to see Santana a couple of years later at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, but that’s another story…
Lenny Kravitz – ‘Let Love Rule’
In early 1990 I was still stuck on the 1960s. I was actually constantly looking all around me, searching for the good stuff. More often than not I ended up back in a familiar era. The mid ‘60s to mid ‘70s was, and still is, where it was at. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were pioneering the new sound, both were certainly influenced by soul and funk in particular, and both grabbed my attention. They were cool, I listened loads and liked lots, but that’s as far as it went for me.
An album that struck more of an emotional chord, whose flower child sentiment typified my own, was the debut long-player by Leonard Albert Kravitz, Let Love Rule. The blend of rock and funky reggae, heavily hippie-infused, felt loose and spaced out, like it was recorded under a fug of herbal haze. In 1990 Lenny was a complete dude, a musical maestro playing almost everything on the album; that dudeness was totally evident when we went to see him live at Kentish Town & Country Club. To say he lived up to expectations would be ridiculous restraint, he was fucking awesome, and whilst he’s subsequently (musically at least) fallen short, Let Love Rule was a ride.
I say fallen short, but could really go further. He made some decent tunes post 1990, but fame hit and instead of blossoming like Prince, he became a pastiche of himself, which could never be a good look. That said, Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Freedom Train, I Build This Garden For Us and title track Let Love Rule all oozed a mellow, blissed out psychedelic groove, and I just dug it. Lyrically the album pushed no boundaries, but it felt sincere, real and like Lenny Kravitz was gonna chop some Hendrix sized mountains.
It turned out that Kravitz was no voodoo child and no mountains were felled, but in 1990 Let Love Rule was one of the soundtracks to a summer of sizeable fun. An adventure was imminent, an idea hatched on the Costa Del Sol and planned with amigo Simon. We were going on a trip, and the start of four life-changing years of life spent mostly overseas.
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.
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 and 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.
R.E.M – ‘Out Of Time’
My six months in the States was a trip. It opened my eyes, opened my mind and as the months went by I was growing as a person. I came back with a lifetime of memories and I came back wanting more. I also came back with R.E.M’s seventh studio album, Out Of Time. Prior to late ’91 I’d paid little attention to R.E.M. I’d liked the singles Orange Crush, Stand and Get Up, but those previous six albums didn’t get a sniff. But, once I’d got my ears into Out Of Time those earlier albums came thick and fast.
Losing My Religion was a majestic piece of music, and Shiny Happy People was big fun. Both were played to death and by the time my obsession with the album kicked in it was the other tracks I gorged. Out Of Time catapulted R.E.M from cultish indie-rockers to stadium-filling rock stars. It also seemed as their popularity increased so did their credibility. No mean feat. The opposite would apply to their rival of ‘Best Band In The World’ at the time, U2. R.E.M would soon peak with Automatic For The People while U2 went up their own artistic arses with Zooropa.
Out Of Time was a perfectly varied collection of styles and sounds, from vivacious to maudlin the songs made for a brilliantly uneven listen. Country-tinged, immaculately produced and brimming with mandolins, violins and cellos it was another subtle musical invention and catapulted the band to glory and lofty esteem, aided greatly by the anthemic Losing My Religion and their near constant appearances on MTV.
In the early ‘90s Nirvana were massive and the UK chart, post-madchester and pre-britpop was loaded with house, techno, dance and pop cheese. R.E.M didn’t fit in to any new sound or trend; they were instead unique and incomparable. I had an instant soft spot for Mike Mills’ perfect harmonies, and with piercing emotion and sincerity Michael Stipe’s vocals demanded attention. The B-52’s Kate Pierson also worked wonders, particularly on the gorgeous folk-jangle closer, Me In Honey. For six months I binged all things R.E.M. I bought and loved their previous six albums as well as the R.E.M Companion: It Crawled From The South, which accompanied me on my next adventure. France.
Neil Young – ‘After The Goldrush’
Returning from the States I had most definitely caught a dose of wanderlust. I had no money, so working abroad was my only option. Mi amigo Simon was a Thomson rep, but whilst he was a natural entertainer I was a relative introvert. But I could dabble in French and I knew how to be nice to people, so a job as a rep for Keycamp in France was for me. Those six months turned out to be more fun than should really be allowed, sharing a campsite on Vias Plage with dozens of other reps and hundreds of friendly punters. But best of all I discovered three of my all time favourite albums.
Whilst it was through a girlfriend that I found these albums, I can look and listen back with no attached emotion. We had two seasons in the sun, a winter in Dublin and a month or so in Paris and I can very happily say, thank you for the music. Before we met I spent a few months working hard and partying harder. The most listened to album by far was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. We loved it and did the socks on cocks thing, because. But then peak season hit, and as the sun was at full strength with it came the start of a near thirty-year love affair with Neil Young. I heard After The Goldrush.
Neil Young has one of those voices. And yes, I loved it. Give me sentiment, give me sincerity, give me honesty and most of all hit my emotions with as much ferocity and ruthlessness as your words and music can muster. With After The Goldrush Neil Young delivered that with beautiful, unmerciful aplomb. Vocally, anguish reigns. That high-pitched, pained and tortured inflection adds huge weight to an album of angst, protest, social comment and fragile, tender love.
Tell Me Why is a great opener, but when the title track starts you know you’re going to be in deep. With Neil Young it’s all about the feel, and instantly it felt like an album to devour, with enough lyrical obscurity to provoke the imagination. But, as was my leaning, the more sombre and sorrowful the song, the more I loved it. There I was, partying my ass of in France and totally obsessing over something so beautifully, incredibly down.
“Someone should call him
And see if he can come out
Try to lose the down that he’s found
But only love can break your heart
Try to be sure right from the start
Yes, only love can break your heart
What if your world should fall apart?”
– Only Love Can Break Your Heart
“Everybody’s going out and having fun
I’m just a fool for staying home and having none
I can’t get over how she set me free
Oh, lonesome me”
– Oh Lonesome Me,
“When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over”
With Neil Young living in Topanga Canyon, the nearby Laurel Canyon vibe is everywhere, with an instrumental sparsity bringing the lyrics to the fore. An 18-year old Nils Lofgren was brought in to add guitar and piano, adding magic with little experience but perfect musical smarts, and as with most of Neil Young’s classic early ‘70s work everything feels so loose, so musically free and easy. It’s only Young’s trademark lead guitar that shows signs of strain, no more so than in his castigation of Southern racism and slavery’s disgusting legacy in Southern Man.
If there’s a more sublime and perfectly pained sound than Neil Young’s voice and guitar, I’m yet to hear it, and if there’s a more beautiful album than After The Goldrush, I’m yet to hear that too.
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.
Bob Dylan – ‘Desire’
So, in 1992 I discovered three incredible albums. Neil Young’s After The Goldrush, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Bob Dylan’s Desire. I used to make my own mixtapes. I had dozens and took them to France, but once these three incredible albums hit my ears my tapes took a back seat. All three dominated my headphones and were the soundtrack to my summer. Neil Young gave me sentiment, sincerity, honesty and hit my emotions with as much ferocity and ruthlessness as words and music can muster. Bowie was the ultimate musical stargazer, the supreme dreamer, romancer, chancer and whimsical rock earthling. And Dylan? The ultimate seductive storyteller and Desire was a book I couldn’t stop reading.
Obviously I was aware of Dylan’s legend, but Desire was my first album experience. The best stories take you places and paint beautiful pictures. They excite and exhilarate you, urging you to discover more. The opening track, Hurricane, did that and more. I heard it, dissected it, loved it and learned it. I read about Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, and read some more. The song does his legend perfect justice, with Dylan’s protest able to capture the injustice in a cinematic eight minutes, aided by Scarlet Rivera’s rampant violin and Ronnee Blakley’s backing vocals.
One of my many loves on Desire is the juxtaposition between Dylan’s vocals and his backing singers, Blackley and Emmylou Harris. Many songs, vocally at least, sound like one-takes with Blackley and Harris struggling to match Dylan’s rhythm, imperfect but utterly impeccable. With the exceptions of Hurricane and Joey, Desire is largely an album full of seductive folk tales, it blends and flows to create a beautiful whole, a romantic vision of outlaws, gypsies, drifters and gunslingers, set in some Mexican mountain wilderness. Accordions, castanets, harmonicas and Scarlet Rivera’s sumptuous violin act as colourful characters to the gypsy cowboy theme.
That gypsy vision radiates through songs like Romance In Durango, One More Cup Of Coffee and Black Diamond Bay. The former’s opening is literally searing…
“Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape.
Sold my guitar to the baker’s son
For a few crumbs and a place to hide
But I can get another one
And I’ll play for Magdalena as we ride.”
Desire was the first, and still my biggest Dylan love. Many more albums would follow, containing songs that would surpass these. But as with my biggest musical loves it’s the feel, the emotion, the warmth and the huge sense of taking you to a particular time and place, occupied by the most colourful and truly believable characters, that sets Desire apart.
Paul Weller – ‘Paul Weller’
The last Style Council album I bought was Our Favourite Shop in 1985. I loved it. I didn’t bother with Home And Abroad, the ’96 live album, and by the time The Cost Of Loving came out in the next year my near ten-year obsession with Paul Weller was over. The bland, sickly slick faux-soul was not for me. Ditto next year’s Confessions Of A Pop Group. By ‘90 and with no more Style Council, Paul Weller was no more on my mind, especially as I was otherwise engaged somewhere in a van in Europe. 1991 was the same, except swap Europe for the USA. But, whilst I was finding myself overseas, Paul Weller was finding his musical mojo having lost it somewhere he didn’t really belong. And find it he most certainly did.
I bought Paul Weller’s self-titled debut solo album at the tail end of ’92 whilst living in Dublin, a city with the same energy, spirit and passion as that fantastic comeback album. The Paul Weller Movement was the start, re-introducing Steve White on the sticks, and Brendan Lynch as a mixer, co-producer and beat-king. Weller had released Into Tomorrow in ’91 and my interest was instantly alerted. Uh Huh, Oh Yeh and Above The Clouds were released in ‘92 heightening my interest so by the time Paul Weller was released later that year I was all ears. I couldn’t wait.
Going into 1993 dance music was dominating everything. House, techno, garage, RnB, hip-hop and all sorts of cheese was stinking out the charts. Britpop was about to kick-off and shake shit up. Weller must’ve felt something in the air because his solo debut was perfectly timed, riding the wave of the blossoming acid jazz scene, and bands like Suede, Saint Etienne, Pulp and Blur who were making new music; a new British sound with more than a nod to the ‘60s. Paul Weller fitted right in, blending and mix of mellow and acid jazz rhythms with heavy riffs and, thank fuck, that forgotten Weller attitude and swagger. Most importantly, he was writing great songs again.
The singles set the tone with Above The Clouds perfectly easy groove matching the riff-heavy Into Tomorrow. Steve White was a brilliant blast of energy and skill with Bull-Rush, Round And Round, Amongst Butterflies and Bitterness Rising showcasing his prowess, and with the dubby trip-fest closer Kosmos the album felt brilliantly of its time. At the time for me these 12 tracks were more than a launch pad to Weller’s solo career, they recaptured my belief in the man himself, and when you’ve believed in an artist as much as I and a nation of other teenagers had done ten years earlier, that felt huge. It felt like our hero had returned.
Neil Young – ‘MTV Unplugged’
In March ’93 I returned to France with Keycamp, this time to Fréjus on the Côte d’Azur, to a smaller, more relaxed site than Vias Plage with more opportunity and need to speak French, which nearly thirty years later I’m still learning. In June that year Neil Young released his MTV Unplugged live album, and that was my beautiful summer earworm. Why I bought that and not Harvest or other ‘70s classic albums I assume was because I’d seen the MTV show in February, but regardless, I devoured its lavish simplicity.
Neil Young’s voice makes me shiver in a very, very good way. It’s totally unique like an about to crack falsetto. But it never does. It strains, sounds pained and gushes with emotion like the sound of tears singing. My senses die for it, as opposed to the low growl of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave who I’ve never been able to enjoy. My loss. On his MTV Unplugged album his voice is front and centre. Every song is performed in its purest form, with the likes of Mr Soul and Like A Hurricane and in particular Transformer Man almost unrecognisable from the original.
Performing songs from ‘67’s Mr Soul to tracks from Harvest Moon released in ’92 this was my second phase of discovery into Neil Young, following the previous year’s obsession with After The Goldrush. Listening to the album I had little idea about the origin of almost all these songs, so was listening with fresh and eager ears. There’s little on the album I didn’t love, but some songs hit me particularly hard. Mr Soul got me with simple guitar, harmonica and: “I was down on a frown when the messenger brought me a letter / I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her.” Such gorgeous torture.
Pocahontas and Stringman are both stunning through their musical restraint, leaving the anguish in Neil’s voice to heighten the intensity. The emotion increases on Like A Hurricane, performed on a pump organ the song just brought tears…
“You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer where the feelin’ stays
I wanna love you but I’m gettin’ blown away.”
Unrelenting, The Needle And The Damage Done and Helpless both keep the mood beautifully low, until the spirits lift and love, hope and happiness shine towards the set’s end. The harmonies on Transformer Man are angelic, matched on the adoring and sentimental homage to an Unknown Legend. I’d play that song to death, just to hear Neil sing: “I used to order just to watch her float across the floor.” Featuring Neil’s half sister Astrid on backing vocals and Nils Lofgren on autoharp, guitars and accordion, the band’s tone throughout is impeccable, his songs shone, and that summer my love for Neil Young just intensified. His down was just divine.
Nina Simone – ‘Here Comes The Sun’
I came back to Bournemouth from the south of France via a month in Paris in late ’93. I had just split from my girlfriend and I was a bit lost and a lot unemployed. Looking back, streaming tears on a crowded train back from Paris whilst listening to Neil Young’s Birds seems like a faintly masochistic thing to do:
“When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.”
Compared to the young, relatively shy, pale man who existed in early ‘90, the years I spent travelling and working abroad had changed me. I was more confident. I was happy with who I was. I had a raging suntan and a Brad from Neighbours kind of look. I’d like to think that look disappeared quickly but it probably hung around longer than the suntan.
So, what next? After an eventful few months of meeting some old friends and making some new, and playing some extremely good golf, I got a job. With MVC. The Music and Video Club, and I’d work for them for the next eleven years. Aged 27 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I had retail experience and a passion for music, so a job in a music and entertainment shop? Yeah, I might enjoy that. Enjoy it I did. Well, most of it thanks to the dozens of nerds, musos and funsters I’d get to meet and befriend. MVC took me to Bournemouth, Poole, Penzance, Fareham and Weymouth. I worked with many lovely and a few not so lovely folk, and my musical enlightenment was about to go up a few gears.
I have a strong memory at MVC, after just a few days in the job somebody stuck on a Nina Simone CD. I heard her incredible version of Here Comes The Sun and it blew me away. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard it before, though I soon realised there were endless other amazing songs, albums and artists I’d not heard and that would be a never-ending joy of the job. But Nina Simone stands out. It is a rare thing, hearing a Beatles song that’s better than the original, but here was one that managed that with its sheer, overwhelming beauty.
Nina’s voice is more than enough. But her tender piano, the brushes, strings and perfect percussion make this a sensory joy that radiates happiness. Those first few months at MVC were exciting times. Working in a record shop (okay, a CD, DVD and games shop) was, for a music nerd, a great place to be. But more than the music it would be the friends I’d make that would have a huge impact on my life. The travels had ended, but another ride had just begun.
William Orbit – ‘Strange Cargo III’
As 1994 progressed and more friendships formed, my out of work adventures escalated. The boorish ‘lad’ culture was everywhere, and Bournemouth’s roaring ‘80s pub and live music scene was fast changing to accommodate the booming wine bar and club culture. Dance music was dominating the charts; the late ‘80s acid house scene kicked it off before branching out into dozens of sub-genres and by ’94 it went from mainstream to literally underground, depending on where you were at.
For a few years in the mid ‘90s it’s true to say I ‘partied’. My first party was with my flatmates in autumn ’94 and I had a great time. The dance scene in Bournemouth was huge; Bump N Hustle became the king of clubs with the likes of Bob Povey and Jon Coomer playing the widest spectrum of the finest house music. Jazz Juice was an authentic and colossal night of ‘70s funk and disco, Big beat clubs were playing Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and all sorts from the Skint and Heavenly labels and the Hothouse and others were there for alternative, indie and britpop. Mod and soul nights were around too, one of which would soon become my second DJ residence. I went to them all, and I went with much gusto.
Those same lovely flatmates with whom I partied had fine taste. They played me Strange Cargo III by William Orbit. For those years of dancing my ass of at clubs of every variety, my perfect music to play when ‘unwinding’ would be this absolute gem of groovy ambient electronica. Listening to Time To Get Wize, The Story Of Light and his magnum opus, Water From A Vine Leaf takes me straight back to that flat and those happy, playful times. It brings a smile to my face.
Featuring the angelic Both Orton on vocals, Water From A Vine Leaf would be the one song that encapsulates those years of excess and indulgence. The mid ‘90s were heady and exhilarating times and William Orbit shines over all of it, like a soothing dreamscape of paradise. Strange Cargo I, II and Hinterland followed and added to his legend, but for me Strange Cargo III is where it was at. Press play, close your eyes, switch off and enjoy the bliss…
Jeff Buckley – ‘Grace’
There are some albums where I can remember the exact time and place I found them, or they found me. Or someone introduces it, like James whilst smoking his full strength Malboro in the processing room at MVC Bournemouth. He found it, shouted about it and from my recollection it was an escalation of appreciation from most staff members over the next few months. In September ’94 Jeff Buckley’s Grace hit quite a few of us very, very hard.
I had heard of his dad, Tim, but had yet to discover his music so I was unaware of that part of the family’s legacy. Grace is an album where elaborate superlatives are nowhere near enough. The music contained within the ten tracks is of such extraordinary quality that simply describing what you hear will always fall short. Of far more importance is the music’s overwhelming effect on your emotions, your soul and your senses. Goosebump level is always a good indicator of a great album and Grace scores ridiculously high on never-ending skin tingles. So, apologies, I’m going to fall short.
There’s something about Jeff Buckley that feels so undeniably veracious and real, and about Grace that feels so unquestionably convincing. Every single second of Grace sounds like he has to make it count, there’s not a moment where the intensity drops or the music lacks anything other than total conviction. Opener Mojo Pin is almost a tease, suggesting Buckley’s genius before the title trace Grace confirms it with a last two minutes that just erupt. The range of his vocals within these ten tracks is sumptuous, but to call Buckley’s soaring multi-octave vocals angelic or ethereal would be just too simple, just too lazy. The depth of emotion is everything, and it’s everywhere.
The album’s covers are impeccable. Lilac Wine, Corpus Christi Carol and Hallelujah do more than highlight Buckley’s vocal prowess; he’s taken great songs and with stunning arrangements made them his own, and as far as musical contrasts go in successive songs, Corpus Christi Carol into Eternal Life just shows Buckley’s full range. Eternal Life is the nearest Grace gets to grunge, but for me this rides all over the genre. It’s intense, thunderous, and utterly beautiful. Finally, Dream Brother sums up the brilliance of Grace. It has everything; a dreamy and transcendental feel which just radiates the sort of excessive depth that you just want to sink into.
Grace is my favourite album since the 1970s. That’s over forty years of great artists and albums, and this one tops the lot. David Bowie once claimed Grace to be among his favourite albums ever made, calling it the one album he would take to a desert island. Jimmy Page called Grace close to being his favourite album of the decade and Bob Dylan named Buckley one of the greatest songwriters of the decade. Says it all.
Jeff Buckley – live at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
Like any music fan I have been to my fair share of gigs. Hundreds became thousands once I started putting them on for a living. Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, The Who, Elvis Costello, Santana, R.E.M, Booker T & The MGs, Paul Weller, The Specials, The Flaming Lips were good, great or utterly glorious, but one name stands head and shoulders above these as the best live performance I have ever witnessed: Jeff Buckley at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth on 5th March 1995.
The Mystery White Boy tour took Buckley around the world, with the Wedgwood Rooms being his last UK date. An MVC collective travelled up en masse having discovered Grace towards the end of ’94, tingling with anticipation. The album was clearly beyond brilliant, but could Jeff Buckley do it live? Now, if trying to sum up his album Grace using words alone is tough, attempting to chronicle this gig with the articulation it deserves is an impossibility. But, after twenty-five years there are many things I remember, so I’ll do my best.
The Wedgewood Rooms was busy but by no means full, and I was stood literally two metres from the front of the stage, so five metres from Jeff Buckley. That sounds a bit creepy, like I wanted to touch or smell him, but his presence was so mesmerising I was riveted to the spot. He looked as cool as fuck rocking a drenched white vest and I was most likely drooling. Again, not creepy. Starting with Dream Brother, the set was most of Grace and included a few covers including a full-throttle version of MC5’s Kick Out The Jams and ended with the most jaw-dropping version of Hallelujah.
My over-riding memory of the set was its overwhelming intensity. On Grace, the exquisite Lilac Wine and Hallelujah are beautiful beyond words. Performed live the depth of emotion, helped by absolute silence other than Buckley’s vocals and guitar, was something I will never forget. Again, words can never be enough but that was the closest I’ve ever felt to a spiritual reaction. His band were stunningly good, being able to follow Buckley’s creative flow and as with the album, the musical contrasts were immense. Eternal Life matched Kick Out The Jams for opulent, mind-blowing ferocity.
When a brilliant album is played live you want the performance to do it justice. You don’t want to leave feeling like the band just couldn’t do it on stage. With Jeff Buckley that worry wasn’t just dispelled, it went way, way beyond my expectations. With his utterly tragic loss just two years later, I feel so unbelievably lucky and so blessed to have the privilege of seeing Jeff Buckley perform live. His beauty and aura shone as bright as his lustrous, prestigious talent.
The Jayhawks – ‘Tomorrow The Green Grass’
By the summer of ’95 and over a year into my MVC career I’d claimed the lofty title of assistant manager. Check me. The previous management team were big on country, and whilst Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks did little for me, and Shania Twain and Billy Ray Cyrus even less (nothing), there were other artists who the more alt or folk side of that road who grabbed my attention. Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Shelby Lynne I’d enjoy, but the album I fell for was Tomorrow The Green Grass by The Jayhawks.
From the first minute of the opening track Blue, the appeal of Tomorrow The Green Grass is all there. Glorious harmonies, stunning melodies and a mellow, rootsy guitar-based groove on top of reflective and introspective lyrics…
“Where have all my friends gone
They’ve all disappeared
Turned around maybe one day
You’re all that was there
Stood by on believing
Stood by on my own
Always thought I was someone
Turned out I was wrong”
The constant highlight is the perfect vocal harmony between Mark Olson and Gary Louris. I’d love singing along, alternating harmonies, partly because they sounded so gorgeous and also because the songs were so goddam good; downbeat but uplifting and perfectly produced with piano and strings accompanying the orchestra of guitars. The producer was a dude. George Drakoulias was an A&R man for Def Jam, discovering The Beastie Boys and L.L Cool J. He signed and produced The Black Crowes as well as Primal Scream, Tom Petty and a lengthy list as eclectic as they come.
The guitar solos are another standout, particularly on Miss Williams’ Guitar and the rousing closer Ten Little Kids; distorted and soulful but never overdone. But as is my way it was the more lyrically melancholy and heavy-hearted that grabbed me the most. Blue was great opener, but Two Hearts is the album’s emotional peak if only for the sad as hell ‘I’m lonely, I’m lonely, I’m lonely too.”
The album’s predecessor Hollywood Town Hall and its follow up Sound Of Lies come close to matching Tomorrow The Green Grass, the latter just missing the perfect harmonies following Olsen’s departure. Would I have ever heard The Jayhawks if I wasn’t working in a record shop? Almost certainly not. It almost (definitely) makes the hat-trick of redundancies worth it.
Paul Weller – ‘Stanley Road’
Following Weller’s musical resurrection with his debut solo album in 1992, his follow up the next year further enhanced his status. Wild Wood was a stunning album, a notable step up from Paul Weller it was heavier and more soulful, blending folk and psychedelic bluesy jams. Steve Craddock was in and adding the perfect musical foil to Weller’s swank and vigor.
For five or so years from ’94 I saw Weller live more than a dozen times, and he was never less than totally captivating. His passion completely dominated his live performances, riding as he was on the crest of adulation from not just the new wave of Britpop admirers but also his original Jam and Style Council fanatics. Weller’s devotion to his art is unquestionable and his influences are celebrated through his music, never better than on his classic ’95 release, Stanley Road.
Musically, those influences are all over the back of Peter Blake’s album cover: Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane figurines, Artetha Franklin, John Lennon, a dude on a scooter plus mod and Stax iconography. You know where he’s at. For me, Weller’s influences are right at home in my record collection and on Stanley Road they shine magnificently. That said, this is a Weller album through and through; heavy and soulful with a groove that has attitude pulsing at its heart. Changing Man is just a classic Weller single and with Porcelain Gods and Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters the voodoo groove is blues swamp perfection.
The groove becomes more soulful through Stanley Road and Broken Stones before the intensity returns on the glorious Out Of The Sinking. It’s all there; a rock and blues stomp with Yolanda Charles and Steve White’s rhythm matched by Carleen Anderson’s stunning gospel vocals. The slower, piano lead tracks are great, but for me it was all about the full band at full tilt, and that was at its peak on Whirlpool’s End, a live classic that showcased the skills of Brendan Lynch and rhythm king, Steve White.
Ten years later Paul Weller said: “Stanley Road was one of those perfect moments when everything slotted into place naturally. It was a dream… Initially I wanted to call the album Shit or Bust, because that’s how I felt about it. I put everything into it, emotionally and physically. It was the culmination of my solo career to date. I knew it was special. We had a playback and I could sense the excitement among the people listening to it.”
To me, in over 40 years over making music Stanley Road is Weller’s best ever album. He was idolised by two generations, he’d just split from his wife DC Lee and he was partying with much gusto. His creative juices were fully fuelled, no doubt stimulated by his contemporaries who looked up to him for inspiration, and boy did he deliver.
Nick Drake – ‘Bryter Layter’
Two years into my eleven-year MVC stint and the influences from work colleagues were coming thick and fast. Geoff had a big thing for folk: Fairport Convention in particular including members Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny. He was also a big fan of Nick Drake, who was unfamiliar to me at the time, though thanks to Geoff that was about to change.
I can’t remember if a particular album was recommended. I’m sure I checked out all three but it was Bryter Layter that I instantly gravitated to. Nick Drake’s personal story is so despairing it’s hard to ignore, though at the time I’m sure I had no idea of his isolation, depression or tragically early death. However, it was quickly apparent that he wasn’t the most contented soul. Nick Drake quickly led me to Tim Hardin and John Martyn, two others who constantly battled their demons yet through it all wrote and made some incredibly beautiful music.
Bryter Layter oozes refined and exquisite melancholy. Its occasionally upbeat jazzy ripple coupled with dreamy flute, sax and strings are pure bliss, but add Drake’s aching vocals and wistful, contemplative lyrics and you have a deeply beautiful album. That perfect melancholy drifts through the opening Introduction before the tempo lifts with the positively upbeat, lyrically perturbing Hazey Jane II. I’d like to think that the more upbeat musicality on Bryter Layter compared to Five Leaves Left and Pink Moon reflects a sense of optimism and positivity, but such was his reclusiveness that remains as much a mystery as the provocative lyrics.
The harmony between Drake’s faintly pleading vocals and John Cale’s viola on Fly tears me up, before another jazzy jaunt strolls along with Drake’s whispered, vivid lyrics on Poor Boy. Then, as near to musical utopia as is possible:
“I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never held emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you’re here
Brighten my northern sky.”
Northern Sky is lyrical and musical perfection. You know it comes from a fragile place, which adds everything to its stunningly poetic plea for love, and with John Cale’s sprinkling of magic musical dust it encapsulates everything that’s beautiful about Nick Drake. Bryter Layter sold in pitiful numbers at its time of release. Nick Drake didn’t want to play the game, but his delicate, mythical entity has grown to shine as brightly as his music.
Teenage Fanclub – ‘Grand Prix’
Bob, another close MVC compadre looked like Neil Young circa 1967. A very good start. He was also into his guitar-based indie, the best of which was Teenage Fanclub and for a long number of months I devoured their back catalogue. Their most recent release and focus of my favoured attention was the gloriously sparky Grand Prix. I’d liked but not really raved about much of the indie and Britpop around since the early ‘90s, but The Fannies… they were special.
The boorish Britpop thing was overhyped, but there were some great ‘90s indie bands for sure, The Charlatans, The Las, The Bluetones, Pulp, Primal Scream, Supergrass, Belle & Sebastian and Blur vs Oasis was a thing, but the band who won on songs alone was Teenage Fanclub. What sets The Fannies apart is that there’s zero attitude with them, that and the fact that no other band has a guitar sound so gorgeously uplifting. Grand Prix is packed with killer songs that just lift the mood, even with the more musically downbeat or melancholy the band’s shared vocals have such an overwhelming sense of optimism that all just feels good with the world.
Having listened to all Fannies albums pre and post, Grand Prix sounds like the band at its peak, with the democratic attitude to the songwriting and vocals reaping rewards. The guitar intro to About You sets the tone, and lyrically too as Grand Prix is, if anything a love album. There are killer lines throughout and on Sparky’s Dream “She painted pictures that never dried, always tried to keep the feeling alive” was The Fannies all over.
The opening guitars to Don’t Look Back are the most perfect thirty seconds, but the next twenty just tip me over the edge:
“If I could find the words to say
The sun shines in your eyes
So brighten up my city sky”
The Byrds and particularly Big Star shine in their music with the guitars just singing, enhancing the sentiment perfectly, never more so than in the magnificent Neil Jung, Norman Blake’s Grand Prix peach. For me it’s Gerard Love who wins gold on the songwriter’s podium with Sparky’s Dream, Don’t Look Back, Discolite and the gorgeous Going Places which makes my heart hurt.
Grand Prix is packed with exceptional pop songs, perfect harmonies and a guitar sound that just pours sunshine over everything. Songs From Northern Britain was their next, nearly matching the brilliance of Grand Prix, but in 1996 The Fannies gave my heart a gentle squeeze and put a whopping big grin on my face.
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.
Supergrass – ‘In It For The Money’
At the start of ’97 I made two notable purchases. A flat and a 1963 Vespa Sportique. I loved that scooter and the ride outs to the Isle of Wight and trips to the New Forest, Sandbanks and Studland. The flat in Westbourne Arcade was a good move. Fun times were had, mostly with MVC comrades and the odd bottle of JD. I was still DJing at Shake Your Mini and having a love/hate thing with much of the indie and Britpop, which, like Oasis’ Be Here Now was an overblown bore. But some bands were on it, and none more than Supergrass, whose second long-player In It For The Money was an absolute gem.
I Should Coco largely passed me by, but Alright was impossible to ignore being the tour-de-force that it was. In It For The Money is bookended by what is effectively an average intro and a below average outro, but what is contained within is all killer, no filler. Richard III should be the opener. Bam! Straight in. No messing. A more grown-up, edgier, harder Alright, it’s another classic, iconic pop single that delivers in deep, heavy spades. Tonight keeps the energy and tempo at max before Late In The Day takes it down a notch or three and wins just because of Gaz Coombes’ vocals.
Sun Hits The Sky wins best track of the album. Nah, best track of the year. This is Supergrass in top gear, in overdrive, at glorious downhill with no brakes full pelt. I’ve no idea what it’s about but it sounds like an exhilarating tour de force with added groove once Mick Quinn’s bass storms the last minute. Going Out has a touch of fairground ride about it with Gaz’s harmonised vocals with added brass before It’s Not Me, an emotive and self-reflective acoustic beauty that rains sincerity…
“It’s not me, no, no, not me,
But I don’t know what is
I try and find my peace of mind
But I know what I miss
Now it’s gone
Now it’s gone
Now it’s gone.”
The album chugs along with equal measures of melody and urgency before Hollow Little Reign, which sounds like a dreamy and faintly funky album finale. In It For The Money is an exhilarating ride of positivity, due in no small part to Gaz Coombes’ vocals it emanates everything that Britpop at its best was trying to be. It’s two tracks away from being a classic album, but for Sun Hits The Sky alone it does more than enough to remind me of a very sunny summer, of t.shirted, traffic dodging Vespa rides over to Shell Bay and Studland. Bliss.
Radiohead – ‘OK Computer’
I’ve never been the most ambitious person. No grand plans or aspirations, just a little comfort and finding happiness in experiences rather than material things. Most importantly I have to enjoy working. As Bob Dylan once said: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” I was enjoying my job at MVC but to increase the job satisfaction I wanted to manage my own shop. As that wasn’t available at Bournemouth or Poole I had to look elsewhere. I ended up in Penzance.
Living along the coast in the quaint and idyllic Marazion I lucked out on location. I was there for about nine months and during that time one album shines brightly in my musical memory alongside coastal walks, Vespa rides and jaunts over to St. Michael’s Mount. Radiohead’s OK Computer was an extraordinarily magnificent collection of fiercely intense, sometimes agonisingly sublime songs. Easy listening it was not, but most of the best albums aren’t. Thom Yorke seemed and sounded genuinely anguished, absorbed and suffocated within these songs. I absolutely loved it.
Their first album Pablo Honey was known to me by name only. Follow up The Bends I knew just because of the singles, which I liked but paid little attention to. But what was impossible to ignore and turned me most definitely on to OK Computer was their astonishing performance on Jools Holland’s Later… I think the album had just been released, so I and a queuefull of eager Penzance punters swept it up on the back of that performance.
Ok Computer is another of those albums where words don’t seem anywhere near enough to do it justice. Here’s a crappy stab… Complex, textured and ambitiously contemporary. A pulsating, guitar-driven voyage into the synthetic nature of ‘90s Britain. Alt-rock. Art-rock. Yada Yada. How does it make you FEEL? Or perhaps more relevant to OK Computer, how does it make you think?
It’s an album that begs for headphones, for the listener to be all consumed in its infinite depth, to fully commit to the ride. Clearly this was five men at their experimental peak, pushing boundaries and creating new sounds, but that’s Radiohead all over isn’t it? Constantly innovating, pioneering and futuristic. Always fucking with the music industry. Zero compromise. The best band since, well… OK Computer.
Cool, memories of an album without naming one track. That said, I loved this line from Paranoid Android…
“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy”
Air – ‘Moon Safari’
Having happily settled into my snug cottage fifty metres from the beach at Marazion overlooking St. Michael’s Mount, what I really needed was an album to complement the blissful, sleepy, laid-back mood my comfortable homestead gave me. Dark winter evenings in front of the log fire needed musical accompaniment. They needed some French invention. They needed the sublime Moon Safari by Air.
Since the late ‘80s the explosion of dance music into the mainstream had a minefield of sub-genres. I’d always had a soft spot for what I’m lazily going to call chill-out, but as usual you needed to find the good stuff, usually on a Café Del Mar compilation or something by D*Note, Nightmares On Wax or William Orbit. Now, Air were different. Electronic and most definitely ambient, soothingly jazzy, but above all these were great songs.
Dreamy and cinematic, the production was gorgeous, giving depth and soul to the vocoder, Mellotron plus myriad of synths and electric pianos. Opener La Femme D’Argent encapsulates that gorgeousness perfectly with Nicholas Godin’s bass playing the lead role. Soul is not a word I’d use to describe Sexy Boy. Kitsch, catchy and hit single would sum it up, but after too many listens I could do without it. All I Need and You Make It Easy feature Beth Hirsch on vocals; the former is pure bliss, absolute heaven, as seductively serene as it gets.
Kelly Watch The Stars was the band’s second hit single and I’d simply ditto Sexy Boy. For me, it was the album’s ability to sooth, to literally relax the mind and body that was its appeal. Kitsch for hit singles is fine, but give me the sumptuousness of Ce Matin La any day with its tranquil tuba and flickering strings and synths. Moon Safari completely won me over and was almost immediately followed by Air’s debut EP Premiers Symptômes released the previous year, as well as Alex Gopher and another French electro pioneer Étienne de Crécy aka Super Discount. For electro in the late ‘90s the French really had it going on.
Soul Jazz Records – ‘100% Dynamite’
The last few months of my joyful stay in Penzance met with a discovery of some classic new grits and grooves. I discovered 100% Dynamite, an absolute gem of a compilation form London-based Soul Jazz Records. These tracks were the real deal, the absolute cream of original Jamaican funky soul, ska and rocksteady by the likes of The Maytals, The Upsetters and the keyboard kid genius, Jackie Mittoo. Listening to, and being slightly blown away by the quality of the 14 tracks, it felt like my passion for funk and soul was being reignited, and better still it opened up a whole new world of Jamaican music.
The album featured ska and rocksteady versions of soul tracks I already loved. Aretha Franklin’s Rocksteady was given the full on ska treatment by The Marvells whilst Marlena Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto was given a more gentle reggae tingle by Phyllis Dillon. But, what grabbed my groove the most was Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s house band (and soon to be The Wailers) The Upsetters’ stonking ska blast of James Brown’s Popcorn. Hell yeah, the drums and bass, man… just one killer break.
The Skatalites were well known to me, but not keyboard king Jackie Mittoo whose Stereo Freeze is just another funked up ska stomp. Devouring 100% Dynamite got me searching for more, and it didn’t take long for more Soul Jazz comps to get me. A year or so down the line they released New Orleans Funk and Saturday Night Fish Fry and my obsession with funk and soul kicked in again, invigorated by the brilliance of Eddie Bo, The Gaturs and Roger and The Gypsies immense Pass The Hatchet.
For any fans of funk, soul or ska, if you’ve not found it already, do yourselves a huge favour and dive deep into the Soul Jazz Records back catalogue. Having merged with Studio One, many of the comps feature the label’s legendary history. 100% Dynamite is aptly named. Get on it, and the four blasts of Dynamite that followed.
Mercury Rev – ‘Deserter’s Songs’
I must’ve done an okay job in Penzance because a request to return nearer home and to a bigger shop was granted. Fareham was over an hours drive away and turnover was five times what it was in Penzance. I had a challenge and my work cut out, but I was back home. At the tail end of ’98 I had new colleagues, so new inspirations and new music. The first that grabbed me and sucked me in deep was the voluptuous Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev.
The album certainly has musical highs and lows, but the highs hit such incredible heavenly heights that the occasional and unnecessary musical interludes are easily forgiven. Jonathan Donahue’s alto tone matches Neil Young’s in its forlorn yet hopeful fragility, croaked over romantic, dreamlike tales and never better than in the luscious opener, Holes. A grand statement of intent, it was followed by a flow of lush orchestration, full of peaks and troughs, complementing Donahue’s exquisitely frail vocals.
Opus 40 is a work of art. The orchestrated crescendo that builds up to “Tears in waves, minds on fire / Nights alone by your side” is euphoric, before the dreamy Floyd-esque outro. Deserter’s Songs has many glorious peaks, the highest of which might just be the immense Goddess On A Highway, unbelievably written some ten years earlier when Donahue was a part of The Flaming Lips. The production, as with the whole album is perfection, peaking for the ecstatic, repeated chorus.
“And I know it ain’t gonna last
And I know it ain’t gonna last
When I see your eyes arrive
They explode like two bugs on glass.”
On the back laborious Britpop and the rise of what to me was nauseating nu-metal in the late ‘90s, Deserter’s Songs sound was a dark but beautiful breath of fresh air. The album catapulted Mercury Rev from relative obscurity to worldwide recognition, and rightly so. The album’s grand, psychedelic and symphonic sound seemed to act as a catalyst for the likes of Grandaddy and particularly The Flaming Lips who themselves matched and then surpassed the Rev’s critical acclaim with their next three rapturous albums. Deserter’s Songs came out of nowhere but was not a one-off, with follow up All Is Dream coming very close to matching its brilliance.
Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – ‘Painted From Memory’
My new car journey to work was at best, just under an hour. That meant I could listen to an album going to work, then another coming home. For a good few weeks in the Spring of ’99 I’d play an album mornings and evenings, no other album got a look in. That album was Painted From Memory by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. At 52 minutes it was tailor-made for my commute.
Now, I was a big fan of Elvis. From his classic singles in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, through to Spike and Brutal Youth in the ‘90s I loved his passion, his attitude and acutely culture-referenced songwriting. Burt Bacharach is quite simply one of the best songwriters of all-time. I Say A Little Prayer, This Guys In Love With You, Walk On By, Do You Know The Way To San Jose, Anyone Who Had A Heart… with Hal David he produced a legendary back catalogue, with Dionne Warwick being the main beneficiary of their combined brilliance.
On first listen Painted From Memory sounds like it could be Burt Bacharach songs sung by Elvis Costello, as the romantic nature of many of the lyrics appear fit Bacharach’s usual style. But it most definitely isn’t. Both lyrics and music are co-credited and for me it just enhanced my love of Elvis by a sizeable notch or two.
Elvis’ usual vocal style is strained, and when singing such emotive songs of love and loss that strain is intensified, and almost all of the time that works beautifully. On the very odd occasion a sweeter, Dionne Warwicker voice would smooth and sooth over the exemplary strings, gentle horns and perfect orchestration, but then when Elvis pleads: “Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness” on the beautifully sad This House Is Empty Now, it hits hard.
I Still Have That Other Girl is a crooner’s delight and Such Unlikely Lovers is just a gem, but nothing on the twelve tracks is less than exquisite, musicality wrapped around stunning songwriting and vocals. Commissioned for a film in ‘96 God Give Me Strength was the start of this perfect collaboration, with Elvis writing in his 2015 autobiography, “To have written a song like “God Give Me Strength” and simply stopped would have been ridiculous…” Another gorgeous song of a love lost, with clear roads it met with the end of my journey, the album seeing me home feeling somehow warmer, calmer and better with the world.
Doves – ‘Lost Souls’
As a person I did a lot of growing up in the ‘90s. That said, at times I probably didn’t act very grown up, but I’ve never given myself a hard time about sometimes partying a little too much. In many ways the ’90s was socially gluttonous and by the end of the decade the house scene was way past its best, Britpop was over and shit talent shows with shit judges were appearing. But, like a glorious homage to all that was to be celebrated as well as forgotten about the decade, Doves released Lost Souls, a masterpiece.
Since its release in April 2000 no other album has come close to the number of extended plays through my speakers as Lost Souls. The album feels like a ‘90s hangover, a beautifully reflective and euphoric comedown of epic, melodic proportions. Opener Firesuite lays it down; moody as fuck, dark and heavy with a deep, ambient groove it sets the tone brilliantly. The mood remains the same with the intense Here It Comes, and lyrically we instantly know where we are…
“This is a call
A call to all
It goes out to those who’ve been bad
And I should know
Because I’ve been
Yeah maybe once a week on Mondays”
Lost Souls contains such intensity, and a depth of feeling that you can just submerge yourself into. Nothing is hurried; everything rides along on a dense rhythm, thick with a warm, sometimes subdued glow. I’m already in deep by the time Break Me Gently does just that, and through to Melody Calls I’m riding that warm glow of claustrophobic tales on a sublime, faintly trippy groove. Catch The Sun is more direct, but no less intense, primarily due to Jimi Goodwin’s passionate vocals on top of a throb of rhythm and guitars.
The Man Who Told Everything is so beautiful it makes my soul ache. Goodwin’s vocal over the gentle, hypnotic rhythm is melodic perfection. When he sings of blue skies ahead it just breaks me. The Cedar Room is that melodic comedown, a hauntingly deep, dark and stunningly overwhelming seven and a half minutes, containing a chorus that stabs me in the heart every time…
“I tried to sleep alone
But I couldn’t do it
You could be sitting next to me
And I wouldn’t know it
If I told you you were wrong
I don’t remember saying it…”
Reprise sounds like the after effects of Cedar Room, like the music is coming to terms with what has come before and then it ends, seemingly smouldering in barely burning flames…
“Day after day and the life goes on
And I try to see the good in everyone
If I ever find myself here again
I’ll give everything”
Lost Souls is the best album of this millennium and I doubt very much I’ll hear a better one. Their follow-ups The Last Broadcast, Some Cities and Kingdom Of Rust were all superb, and if I were to carry on writing my musical chronicles would all feature as glorious highlights. But Lost Souls shines like a diamond at a time that the industry was about to sink into a cesspit of talent show bile. Just in the nick of time, a testament to the downfall of the ‘90s. The perfect album for the times.
The End. From the banality of X Factor to the beauty of Amy Winehouse.
After writing about 69 memories of music that I’ve either loved or helped to shape me as a person, the year 2000 and the release of Lost Souls by Doves is an apt place to end. Why, especially as a ton of amazing music has been released since? Maybe being made redundant three times from music shops I was managing gave me a long-lasting musical downer post MVC, Music Zone and Fopp? Nope, that sucked, especially losing my job on Christmas Eve at MVC, but I got over all three quickly.
Around the late ‘90s I rediscovered a passion for local (Dorset) bands. Inspired by impassioned promoters Solid Air I frequented many local gigs, becoming friends with many promoters, gig-goers and band members. From 2006 I’d end up running my own music promotion business, resigned to losing money along the way I realised very quickly that most of the music I was enjoying locally was better than the majority of crap that was finding its way into the slowly evaporating singles chart. Way too much of that crap had achieved sales and chart success on the back of the growing popularity of TV talent shows. I hated them intensely.
Popstars, Pop Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, Fame Academy, The Voice, X Factor and a bulging bunch of failures you’ve probably never heard of like Rock Rivals… have hugely contributed to not just the lowering of standards and expectations, literally discouraging ground-breaking creativity, but also by force-feeding that banal dross into our TV screens these singers and songs are what kids now aspire to be. Dull. Monotonous. Manufactured. And it makes me want to puke. I see these programmes as nothing more than money-makers for their inventors and as vehicles to enhance or extend the celebrity status of the show’s ‘judges’. Fuck that.
When I was working for Fopp in the mid 2000s there was a ‘charity single’ released by Simon Cowell’s X Factor. At the time a usual CD single would cost £1.99 or £2.99, rarely more. This X Factor ‘charity single’ – a lacklustre piece of dross with a shitty remix as a B-side cost £3.99. Now, big up Simon Cowell for making so much money for a worthwhile cause, right? But in very, very small letters on the back of the CD it read something like: £1 from sales of this single will go to the charity. So £1 to the charity and £2.99 to Cowell, because he needs it. To me, this typifies Cowell’s ideology. He’s in it for the money. The music is not even secondary, it’s a means to wealth.
I see the huge advancements in technology and the impact they have had on recorded music as a double-edged sword. To have an infinite amount of music available at your fingertips is clearly incredible, but not if it’s free. Having seen the energy, skill and commitment it takes to make amazing music, how can it be right for it to be free, or at best for the artist, a pittance? Why music, which has taken weeks or months of time and talent to perfect and not a painting, book or a meal at a restaurant, and why should streaming sites earn such a huge amount of money from music that others have created? Bands who have already achieved a level of success can obviously make money from live performances, merch and other endorsements, but the vast majority of bands who are just starting out or haven’t appeared on a shitty TV talent show? Yeah… here’s our music we’ve spent months creating. Take it. Money? Nah, it’s yours.
Now that all sounds a bit negative, which it is. Give me music before free downloads and fucking X Factor stuck their knives in any day. But, amazing, creative bands and artists exist as much as ever, it’s just they don’t appear on TV any more. Post 2000 I’ve loved Weller, Graham Coxon, The Bees, Belle & Sebastian, Richard Hawley, Radiohead, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Doves, Fleet Foxes, Kate Tempest and Kings Of Leon before they cashed in and became vacuous. But one artist stands out a mile. Amy Winehouse. When we received Back To Black in Fopp and I’d read the reviews of this amazing new soul singer, I was cautious and heavily reluctant to believe the hype. But instantly I could hear this was the real deal. Everything about it screamed of a brilliant and undoubted talent. For an authentic soul artist in 2006 the perfect vintage production was great to hear, but more than that it was the quality of the songs and her incredible voice that blew me away. Her loss is truly tragic.
Seeing Neil Young perform at the Hop Farm Festival and Brian Wilson at the Opera House were gigs I’ll never forget, as are some amazing times promoting, watching, and hanging out with local bands. Music remains a constant love, but now more than ever I find myself looking back rather than forward. Writing Melody Calls has brought back so many incredible memories, not just of the music but the people associated with those times. I feel blessed to have lived a life so entrenched in and indebted to the skill, passion and sheer genius of so many artists.
Thank you all and thank you for reading.