Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review: The Complete Them 1964-1967.

 There was a gap in my Van Morrison music. I only had one Them cd in my collection which was The Angry Young Them. I used to have some vinyl albums by Them but they disappeared years ago. When I saw that The Complete Them was being released I thought I would buy it so that I had all their work. When it arrived I found it was a very attractive 3cd package with some great photos. There is also a very informative booklet and I was very pleased to see that in the sleeve notes Van himself actually talks about his time in Them and how the songs came about. There are some very interesting anecdotes such as seeing the Downliners Sect at a club in London and he decided that was the look and the music that he wanted. Also how Mystic Eyes was inspired by Great Expectations.There is also the info that Bring 'Em On In came from a Rider Haggard novel but I can't see that myself. I think Van is quite proud of the work he did with Them.

 Disc 1 begins with the singles Don't Start Crying Now/One Two Brown Eyes, Baby Please Don't Go/Gloria, Here Comes The Night/ All For Myself,  One More Time/How Long Baby and Philosophy which was an EP track. Some of these songs are still in Van's repertoire to this very day although his voice is a lot different now. I think putting Gloria as the B-Side of Baby Please Don't Go was a huge mistake. As one of the great rock songs of all time I think it might have topped the charts if it had been released as an A-Side. One More Time was also a mistake because it simply wasn't single material and didn't trouble the charts at all. It was only The Stones which kept Here Comes The Night off the top spot. What a great record it was.

                                                                   The next 13 songs are the songs from Them's debut album The Angry Young Them. The first song is Mystic Eyes which I think is great. It would have been brilliant to have gone to the Maritime Hotel in Belfast and seen this song performed live. I think originally it was seven minutes long and evolved from a jam session in the studio with Van making the words up on the spur of the moment. The word mystic was to figure large in his subsequent career. The next track  If You And I Could Be As Two opens with Vans spoken voice talking about autumn leaves being on the ground. This is another image that would crop up again much later in his career.  Then it is Little Girl which is about watching a school girl on her way to school which might not be acceptable these days but you have to remember that Van was only a teenager himself when he wrote this song. It features the late great Pete Bardens on keyboards. He would re-emerge 13 years later on Vans Wavelength album. Just A Little Bit features some great saxophone and keyboards and great throaty vocals by Van. It wasn't written by Van, it was written by Rosco Gordon in 1959.I wonder if Van found it in his dad’s record collection. I Gave My Love A Diamond  written by Bert Berns and Wes Farrell is next and Bert as you know played a major part in Vans future career. This is a great slice of the British R & B sound of the sixties. Gloria  is next. For  Van to write it at such a young age is quite amazing. It brings Vans concerts to a rousing finale to this very day. You Just Can’t Win is penned by Van and mentions his London haunts such as Camden Town and the Tottenham Court Road.
 Go On Home Baby is another Berns/Farrell composition and Van sounds very Jaggeresque on this song. Of the three most famous British R & B singers of the 60's Jagger, Morrison and Eric Burdon I think Van sounds the best. Joe Cocker was also great when he arrived on the scene. Don't Look Back is a John Lee Hooker song that Van would continue to perform later in his career and his vocal on this song is excellent. I Like It Like That is a Van song and one of his lesser ones from this era in my opinion. I'm Gonna Dress In Black  follows and this has quite an Animals sound to me, the keyboards remind me of Alan Price on House Of The Rising Sun. It was written by Gillon and Howe. Gillon was the producer Tommy Scott. I don't think I have heard the song by anybody else so I assume it is a Them original. I know who wrote Bright Lights/Big City though it was Jimmy Reed in 1961.The Animals also recorded this song and it is great. My Little Baby is the third Berns/Farrell song on the album and to me the poppiest song with the rest of the group singing "Oh yeah" in the background. I like it though. Get Your Kicks On Route  66 brings the album to a close. This Bobby Troup song was performed by nearly every band in the 60's, most famously by the Stones and Van still sings it occasionally when he is in the mood. I think it is a shame that Them never made a live album when these songs could have been really stretched out. Disc 1 ends with ( It Won't Hurt) Half As Much. A single track from August 65.
 The first fifteen tracks on Disc 2 are the songs that made up Them's second album Them Again. It was released in January 1966 and produced by Tommy Scott and Van wrote five of the songs. I won't discuss every song because there are 68 tracks on the 3cd set and I will be here all day. Just a few points. On Call My Name Van sounds very much like Eric Burdon of The Animals. Equally the song I Can Only Give You Everything is very much like The Stones to my ears. I think Van was still finding his own voice at this stage of his career. I love the song Turn On Your Lovelight which reminds me of their brilliant performance at the NME Poll Winners Concert.  (See below for full performance) The version of I Put A Spell On You is also really good with the haunting saxophone but I'm not sure who plays it. My Sad Lonely Eyes is one of the best songs Van wrote in those early days in my opinion and shows his growing maturity as a songwriter. The cover version of this song by Maria McKee remains one of my favourite Van covers. There are also great versions of songs by Van's heroes Ray Charles and James Brown. I think It's All Over Now Baby Blue should have been released as a single because it remains one of the best versions of a Dylan song ever. I think it would have been a huge hit especially in view of the popularity of Dylan in the mid-60's. In Hey Girl  I can hear vague traces of what would emerge on Astral Weeks. Fridays Child  is another great song which shows the development of the young Van. In the sleeve notes Van describes it as Folk/Soul. This song was released as a single in 1967 as was the Paul Simon song Richard Cory. The Story Of Them Parts 1 &2 was also a single released long after Van had moved on. The last three tracks are all songs written by people who influenced Van namely Jimmy Reed, T Bone Walker and Jimmy Witherspoon and they all came from an EP released in The Netherlands where Them were really popular.

    Disc 3 is made up of demos, Sessions and Rarities from 64-67 and strictly for the hardcore of Van aficionados. The first four tracks are demos recorded in Belfast early in 1964 by Peter Lloyd before they were taken to London.This must have been the first time Van had been in a studio since he played sax on a recording in Germany when he was in The Monarchs. The most interesting thing for me on this disc is the six songs from Them's two appearances on the BBC's Saturday Club radio show. I remember tuning into this show myself as a kid. The presenter was Brian Matthew and you can hear him introducing a couple of the songs. Incredibly Brian Matthew still has a show on Saturday mornings 50 years later and he is now 88. The rest of disc 3 is various other takes and alternate versions of songs I have already discussed so I won't repeat myself again.
 I am really pleased that I bought this cd because it has filled a gap in my collection. In the notes Van said the best thing about being in Them was the time at the Whiskey A Go Go when The Doors also played there and it was good to go out on a high note. Them were bound to break up because they comprised of just one genius which was Van and he outgrew the others and had to move on but it was there that he learned his craft and Them left a legacy of some great songs.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: Tom Russell, Mesabi.

It was colder than moonlight on a tombstone this afternoon. I didn't mind though. I put the oven on in my kitchen and put my new CD on the music machine and had a nice time drinking wine and listening to some great music. The album is by Tom Russell and is called Mesabi. That was a new word to me so I looked it up and Mesabi refers to a huge range of iron ore deposits in Minnesota USA. That was a surprise  because this album has a very Mexican Tex/ Mex sound to my ears. I came across Tom Russell because a Facebook friend asked if I knew his work. I was in my local music shop ' Raves From The Grave' in Warminster on Friday and I asked if they had any Tom Russell. There was just one album in the Country Music section which was Mesabi. This album isn't country music as I know it though.

                                                        Mesabi is also the title of the opening song which I really like. It has references to Howling Wolf, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens but I think the song is a homage to Bob Dylan. It mentions Duluth and  'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' and Bethlehem I guess is the Bethlehem Steel Corporation and 'The Troubadour Kid' can be none other than His Bobness. As you know Bob came from Minnesota. The second track is When The Legends Die  which has lots of horse racing links such as Silky Sullivan ridden by Willie The Shoe ( Willie Shoemaker). It also mentions being drunk in the kitchen which I can identify with as I have spent many an hour drinking in the kitchen and playing music. I am very pleased to see that one of my heroes from nearly 50 years ago Van Dyke Parks plays piano on some tracks on this album. I used to love his work with Brian Wilson many moons ago. The third track Farewell Never Never Land  is really nice as well with its lush brass intro. Someone else who I really like, Gretchen Peters features on this song. It is the sad story of Bobby Driscoll who was a famous child actor for Walt Disney. He died in 1968 aged only 31 from drug abuse. I love these songs that tell a story even if the outcome is quite tragic.

                                                                                 The next song is The Lonesome Death Of Ukelele Ike  which features Fats Kaplin on yes, ulelele. The song mentions Hannibal, Missouri which is the hometown of Mark Twain. The next song is Sterling Hayden which recounts the actors sad decline. I think you will realize by now that a lot of the songs are inspired by Hollywood. Tom Russell is obviously a big film buff. The song recounts various episodes in Sterling Hayden's life such as kidnapping his kids and sailing to Tahiti. Another film song follows which is Furious Love,( For Liz). This is a homage to the one and only Elizabeth Taylor and her life at the Plaza Hotel in Juarez. My favourite song after two listens of the album is A Land Called 'Way Out There'. It is a truly epic song which recounts the car crash in which James Dean died. I think Tom might think the driver of the other car Donald Turnipseed was to blame. John Phillip Sousa is mentioned in the lyrics which isn't surprising considering the amount of brass instruments deployed in this song.( Scroll down to listen ) Roll The Credits Johnny is another movie inspired song. I wish I knew who the small blonde leading lady in the tight black jeans was. A Heart Within A Heart is a really nice moving song featuring Regina & Ann McCrary on vocals. And God Created Border Towns is a song co-written with Angie Meyers who also plays piano. It is a sad lament about migrants and American guns fueling drug wars in Mexico.Lots of nice accordian and trumpets on this song. Goodnight Juarez is another sad song on the same theme of a beautiful tourist town ruined by violence. Jai Alai  is a song about a sport like Pelota and probably originates in the Basque country of Spain or somewhere like that. I have never heard of it before and am guessing from the lyrics.Anyway, it was recorded in El Paso which is where I think Tom Russell lives these days and there is some really nice flamenco guitar on this song. Love Abides is just Tom on his own on vocal and guitar and is a really nice song. Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall is a fabulous duet with the one and only Lucinda Williams. Finally The Road To Nowhere is a song from the film of the same name directed by Monte Hellman and is a great song to end this wonderful album.

                                                                                       I must say I spent a very nice afternoon listening to this album so thank you very much Mike Pearce for the heads up about Tom Russell. I will certainly look out for more of his albums in the future.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Story Of Wendy And Bonnie.

A friend of mine who has been reading my stories about long lost singers and albums recently suggested that I might like to check out Wendy And Bonnie. I had never heard of them but this friend who is an expert on the history of music has turned me on in the past to the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Shelagh McDonald and many others. We often have long phone conversations about music and he knows what he is talking about. As Christmas was coming I thought I would treat myself to their album which arrived this morning and I'm really pleased I bought it because it is brilliant.
                                                                                                                                                       When I opened the package I discovered it a 2cd set in a gatefold sleeve, very attractively designed with lots of photos and a booklet with all the information you need to know about Wendy & Bonnie. The album is called Genesis and is the only album they ever made. The girls are sisters Wendy & Bonnie Flower and the album was released in the summer of 1969. When they recorded the music a few months earlier Wendy was aged 17 and Bonnie was only 13. I must say they display an incredible talent at such a young age.

 As soon as I started listening to the first disc I knew this was something a bit special. The opening track is called Let Yourself Go Another Time. It features some frenetic drumming by Jim Keltner and fabulous hammond organ by Mike Melvoin. A great band had been assembled for the three sessions of recording the album. The second song Paisley Window Pane is a more acoustic sound with lush harmonies. This was actually released as a single. ( If you scroll down you can hear this song) Wendy has a really sweet voice and sings lead on most of the vocals with Bonnie's deeper voice harmonizing. For someone like me who loved the sound of the Beach Boys and all West Coast music this is bliss. I Realized you is a really nice song about friendship growing into love.  By The Sea is the fourth track on the album which was released on the Skye label and produced by Gary McFarland. You Keep Hanging Up On My Mind  is another great song. It's What's Really Happening evolved from a poem that Wendy wrote after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968. This is followed by Five O'Clock In The Morning. On first listen I thought my favourite song was Endless Path which has a great bass opening but now I have played both discs twice I think the whole album is great and I couldn't choose a favourite. Children Playing is the penultimate song followed by The Winter Is Cold which features some superb guitar work by Larry Carlton. As well as the ten songs from the original album disc 1 has seven more tracks of out-takes and alternative versions some of which are as good as the originals in my opinion. Disc 2 is seventeen tracks of demos and live recordings. Thirteen of the tracks just feature Wendy and Bonnie with Wendy playing vibes and Bonnie on acoustic guitar. The songs are no less beguiling for that. There are also three songs by their original group which was called Crystal Fountain.

                                                                                 After the album was released in 69 promotions were arranged and live performances booked including an appearance on the Merv Griffin show but then disaster struck. Firstly the record label Skye went bankrupt and all plans were cancelled. Then their producer and mentor Gary McFarland was murdered when somebody spiked his drink with methadone in a New York nightclub. The girls career fell apart and they never worked together professionally again. At that young age going to college seemed a more sensible option than the risky music business. Even so, they both kept an interest in music and Bonnie was even offered a chance to join a girl group just starting out which she turned down. That group evolved into The Bangles.

                                                                                 A thing of beauty will never die however. Word spread about Wendy & Bonnie and in 2001 the album was re-released on the Sundazed label and began to attract a following around the world. The popular Welsh group Super Furry Animals sampled one of their songs on an album and they came to the attention of the High Llamas. Sean O'Hagan formally of Microdisney and very much influenced by Brian Wilson and West Coast psychedelia  really loved their sound. Wendy Flower was invited to the Meltdown Festival in London in 2007 and performed the music to an appreciative audience at the Festival Hall. Finally in 2009 a de-luxe release came out to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the albums release and that it what popped through my letter box today.

 I must say on a cold,dark, bleak mid-winters day in England in January this has been the perfect music to listen to so I am really pleased I bought this album and I hope the legend of Wendy & Bonnie continues to grow. I have been California dreamin' on such a winters day!

Wendy & Bonnie - The Paisley Window Pane

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review: Van Morrison At Nell's Jazz Club, London 20/12/2015.

For the fifth and final time this year I got on a fast train to go and see Van Morrison. As I boarded the 9.50 from Westbury to Paddington little did I realize the drama which lay ahead. The journey was uneventful. From Reading to London I chatted about music to a fellow passenger from Belgium who had traveled all the way from Ypres to Oxford to see Marillion the night before. We soon arrived in London and I made my way on the Circle and District lines to West Kensington. Right next door to the underground station I found the Famous 3 Kings pub where I thought the Van fans would be gathering. Amanda was already there. It was great to see her again. She was drinking coffee but I needed some cider. We had a nice chat and a bite to eat. Then who should turn up but Al Bodkin fresh off the plane from Belfast. It was Al's hard work that helped make the Van fans party such a success back in the summer.Eventually we made our way on the short walk to the Jazz Club where the gig was to be held. There was already quite a queue outside waiting.
                                                                                     Mike Seltzer was there who had jetted in from Detroit for the shows.It was good to see Mike again. Finally, at well gone 3.30 the doors opened and people began to shuffle forward. When I finally got to the door though they wouldn't let me in because I had a General Admission ticket and they were letting all the people with Seated tickets in first. Me and the other General Admission ticket people had to stand in the pouring rain for about another 15 minutes till we finally got in. I was in a foul mood by then I can tell you, tired, cold, and soaked.
             I soon cheered up though when I got inside. I got myself a glass of wine and relaxed. It was great to see Michel-Yves  'Burning Ground' Balin and his wife Marchen who had flown in from Denmark. Also I saw John C who I first met at a Van concert in Dublin 13 years ago. It was really nice to see Kerrie as well who I last saw at the Cyprus Avenue concerts in August. Brendan Hynes who always writes great reviews was there as well but I didn't get a chance to speak to Brendan. My next task was to find a seat. I wasn't prepared to stand for 90 minutes even if I only had a standing ticket and I spotted some reserved seating at the side and asked the owner Vince if I could sit there and he kindly said I could but I'd have to squeeze up when his guests arrived. It was like a leather covered bench with a tall back so by sitting on the back I got a great view of the stage.
Vince's guests didn't arrive  until during the second song and it turned out to be none other than the famous actor Bill Nighy who was with a very charming lady. I think it might have been his daughter Mary but I'm not sure. Anyway, I budged up a bit to make room and Bill & I sat on the back of the seats for the rest of the show. I knew he is a big Van fan because he was there the night before and has been spotted at previous concerts. Bill used to be a subscriber to Simon Gee's Wavelength magazine. I didn't intrude on their privacy but we had a little chat between songs and he corrected me on my pronunciation of his surname. I didn't recognize the first number but Mike told me later it was called Bags Groove. I just looked it up and apparently it is a Milt Jackson composition. The most famous version is by Miles Davis. Who Can I Turn to which Van recorded on the How Long Has This Been Going On  album in 95 was next. I have never paid much attention to this song before but it was perfect for a crowded jazz club on a rainy afternoon in London town. The jazz mood continued with Moondance and then the Ray Charles classic I Believe To My Soul which Van first sang on the great live album  It's Too Late To Stop Now. I particularly liked Paul Moran's trumpet playing on this one. The excellent Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child  had some great guitar work by Van and Dave Keary and driven along by the drums and bass of Bobby and Paul. This was followed by Things We Used To Do. Another song from the ITLTSN album followed which was the Sonny Boy Williamson song Take Your Hand Outta My Pocket. I'm not sure if I have heard Van sing this song live before. Van played some neat harmonica on this song. The John Lee Hooker song Think Twice Before You Go followed.
                                         Then it was Dana's turn to shine when she sang with Van on  Whenever God Shines His Light On Me. In fact the whole band shone because they all got a little solo which got warm applause from the audience. Dana sang with Van again on Carrying A Torch  which was really good and featured Van on tambourine which is quite unusual these days. The highlight of the whole show for me followed which was In The Afternoon/ Burn Baby Burn. It was nearly 10 minutes of Van at his magnificent best. At the end he brought it right down to a whisper, repeating over and over " Living in a fugitive dream, to the end of the line, sitting pretty". I know Bill enjoyed that one because he applauded loudly at the end. Magic Time  followed and I don't usually care for this song much but the tiny intimate club atmosphere seems to suit the song. Then it was the medley of Baby Please Don't Go/ Parchman Farm/ Don't Start Crying Now. Finally it was Van's second master class of the afternoon which was All In The Game/ You Know What They're Writing About.  It was brilliant and brought a most enjoyable show to an end.
                                                           I met up with John C and we scarpered to the pub where we were soon joined by Mike Seltzer, Kerrie and it was brilliant to meet up with Alan Lloyd again. I was hoping Michel-Yves and Marchen would be there because I hadn't really had a chance to talk to them but never mind, there will be other times hopefully. Van's music director and keyboard player Paul Moran came over and said hello to everyone. I think he is good friends with Mike. Finally it was time for the others to head off for the evening show but I had to get to Paddington for the last direct train to Westbury. I finally got home at 9.30 tired but happy after an amazing day. It wasn't the greatest Van show ever but it was the smallest Van gig I have ever been too. I really like the small intimate atmosphere so thank you Van & Vince for a most enjoyable experience.

Postscript. 3 days later.
I'm still buzzing from seeing Van on Sunday afternoon. It wasn't the greatest Van concert by any means but if you wait there are always magical moments. For me it was right at the end of 'In The Afternoon'. Van brought it down to a whisper, repeating, " Sitting pretty, at the end of the line, in a fugitive dream". Time seemed to stand still. It reminds me of the scene in On The Road by Jack Kerouac where Dean & Sal go to see Slim Gaillard in a small Frisco club in the afternoon and Slim takes it down so low you could hear the traffic outside. Dean stands in the back, saying, ‘God! Yes!’ — and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. ‘Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time.’
Well I think Van knows time as well. He can make it stand still. It's always Now !