Friday, June 22, 2018

One Sweet Day: When Fairport Played In Peterborough

There was a time from about 1969 to 1971 when Fairport Convention were my favourite band. Up to that point my music taste was American, mainly the Beach Boys but I started going to Peterborough Folk Club in 69, went through a period of transition and entered my folk-rock era. I discovered the album What We Did On Our Holidays. This was followed by Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief, Full House, Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee. After that I began to lose interest in Fairport. I think that was because the two people I really admired in the band who were Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson had departed. Another reason was that I entered my Van Morrison period which has lasted to this very day. However, in the last few years my interest in Fairport has been rekindled, mainly due to seeing them live a few times and enjoying their last two albums Myths & Heroes and 50:50. They are a great live band and still producing splendid new music. Also, they are nice people who take the time to talk to the fans at the gigs as I have discovered at the Cheese & Grain In Frome in the last few years.

Recently I saw that a new biography of the band had been published so I sent off for a copy which arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was signed by the author Clinton Heylin. I don’t like him very much because he wrote a biography of Van Morrison quite a few years ago which I took exception to because of his sarcastic comments. I don’t like this Fairport book all that much either. Maybe the band should write their own autobiography to put the record straight. There was one thing though in the book which made me sit up and take notice.

On page 62 I read that Sandy’s second ever gig with Fairport Convention was supporting John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and Donovan at Whittlesey near Peterborough on June 2nd 1968 almost exactly 50 years ago. If only I had discovered Fairport a year earlier than I did, I could have seen them on my own doorstep. Mind you, I was only 16 at the time so I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to go. Although I have seen Fairport many times over the years I never saw them when Sandy was in the band. This particular two day event was organised by the same people who a year earlier had put on an event at Spalding Nr Peterborough featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, and Geno Washington & His Ram Jam Band !. Imagine seeing all that lot in one day for £1. What really intrigued me reading Heylin’s book though was when he said that a tape of Fairport’s gig was in existence.

“I want a copy of that tape!”, I thought to myself. Not only was it recorded in my home town, it is also the earliest ever known live recording of Sandy Denny singing with Fairport and only two weeks after she joined the band. An important historical document. Thanks to the good old internet I was able to do some research. I discovered that the recording had been made on a Telefunken cassette recorder by a member of the audience called Anders Folke. It lay in his attic for 30 long years before it was transferred to cd and bootleg copies began to circulate. I expect this tape is well known to hardcore Fairport aficionados but not to me until today. After a bit more googling I found a site called ioffer where someone had a copy for sale.
The cd popped through my letterbox this morning and I immediately slammed it into the music machine. The sound quality is quite poor, but I was expecting that. To save his batteries Anders had also stopped recording between songs so there is no talk or introductions by the band. Listening to the music you wouldn’t think that this group in less than two years would invent a whole new genre of music, namely British Folk-Rock. On this recording which is only seven songs in just over twenty minutes the band sound like a bluesy loud rock band. Richard Thompson’s excellent guitar playing is apparent though and Sandy’s wonderful vocals. There are no original Fairport songs. It is almost all covers of American singer-songwriters. I can see why someone described them in their early days as the British Jefferson Airplane. If I had to choose, my favourite song is Sandy singing You Never Wanted Me, written by her boyfriend Jackson C. Frank.

Although the CD is very short with poor quality sound I am really pleased that I discovered it and finally heard Fairport Convention fifty years after they played in my home town of Peterborough. Thank you very much Anders Folke for making this historic recording back in the mists of time all those years ago.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Seeing The Rolling Stones In Southampton.

I didn’t even know that the Rolling Stones were playing in Southampton until my brother Paul phoned me on Sunday afternoon. My niece Lee had bought the tickets as a birthday treat for Paul. Unfortunately, Lee couldn’t get the time off work so when Paul asked me if I would like to see The Stones I couldn’t say no, could I. Thank you very much Lee x. Paul picked me up from my house and we set off on Tuesday afternoon about 1.30. The journey was quite uneventful apart from a long slow crawl through Salisbury and driving in torrential rain was a bit tricky. The rain had eased off by the time we reached the outskirts of Southampton and it stayed dry for the rest of the day. We weren’t quite sure how to get to St Mary’s Stadium but there were lots of people walking to the concert so we knew we were going in the right direction. Finding a parking place was a bit difficult because the car-park had been turned into a big market area with food outlets, merchandise stalls, bars and even BBC Radio Solent broadcasting from there. We got lucky and managed to park the car in a side street only a couple of minutes’ walk away. In the market area the sponsors were holding a scratch card competition to win a Jeep. I entered and didn’t win but got a free Keith Richards style bandanna which I tied around my hat.

At 5.00 the doors opened and in we traipsed. It’s nearly five years since I last saw the Stones at Glastonbury and two weeks later with Colleen & Barry on a scorching hot day at Hyde Park. Both those events were great but maybe a bit too big. At St Mary’s it was just right. Everybody got a decent view. From our vantage point it was quite good fun just watching the people down on the pitch. We spotted snooker star Jimmy White having his photo taken with people who recognised him. We also spotted comedienne Jo Brand. Finally, the support act The Vaccines came on stage. I don’t know all that much about them except they are a British Indie band. I have never heard their music before. I thought they were very good at first with a driving guitar sound and very loud drums. The crowd seemed to love them. I got a bit bored after a while. They started to sound a bit samey to me. That’s because I didn’t know the songs. Most of the audience thought The Vaccines were great but it was The Stones I was here for.
Me trying to look like Keef.

Eventually after what seemed an eternity the greatest rock n roll band in the world appeared. I’ll just give you the set list. Start Me Up, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Tumbling Dice, It’s Only Rock n Roll, Just Your Fool, Under My Thumb, Sweet Virginia, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Paint It Black, Honky Tonk Women, The Worst (Keith), Before They Make Me Run (Keith), Sympathy For The Devil, Miss You, Midnight Rambler, Jumping Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.
Some of those songs were long extended versions. It was about 11.00 when we left the stadium. The energy of the band has to be admired, especially when you consider their ages. Drummer Charlie is 77 in a few days’ time and he is still the best rock n roll drummer in the world. Mick said that the first time they played in Southampton was 1963 when they supported the Everly Brothers and they played a lot of blues numbers. That was why they played the blues song Just Your Fool. He also said being back in Hampshire brought back some memories because it was here that himself and Keith were in prison. That’s when they got busted back in 67. Keith was on great form. I enjoyed his two songs with accompaniment by Ronnie on pedal steel guitar. I enjoyed the whole show. It would have been nice to hear Wild Horses or Ruby Tuesday but they have so many great songs you can’t hear everything. I must mention their backing musicians who all received a deserved bow. I think they were Darryl Jones – bass guitar, backing vocals, Sasha Allen – backing vocals, Karl Denson – saxophone, Tim Ries – saxophone, keyboards, Chuck Leavell – keyboards, backing vocals, percussion, Matt Clifford – keyboards, percussion, French horn, Bernard Fowler – backing vocals, percussion.

I have seen the Stones four times now and I think Southampton was the best. Driving home was a clear run once we got out of the city and I was back home by 12.30 tired but still buzzing after a great show. Thank you very much to Lee for my ticket, Paul for getting us there and home again and thanks to the Rolling Stones for a great evening.

The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter - live, Southampton 29/05/18

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Review: Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco, You're Driving Me Crazy.

When I heard that Van Morrison was bringing out a third new album in six months I must admit my first reaction was, “Not another one, you must be joking!”. In the past whenever Van had no new songs of his own to offer it seemed to me that he would return to his ‘roots’ and produce a ‘genre’ album that I was sometimes disappointed with. After listening to the new CD this afternoon though I am really pleased that I bought it because it is a very enjoyable splendid addition to his great body of work. It was 1968 when the young Van walked into a New York recording studio to work with a group of jazz musicians who he had never met before. In two sessions they produced one of the greatest records of all time which was Astral Weeks. Fifty years later Van entered a studio on the other side of that great continent to collaborate with another jazz musician Joey DeFrancesco and his band. Van has made albums with other people before such as Mose Allison, Georgie Fame, Lonnie Donegan, Linda Gail Lewis and The Chieftains. They haven’t always been popular with the fans, but I think apart from The Chieftains album this new one with Joey DeFrancesco is Van’s most successful collaboration to date. It is definitely his best album in the jazz medium, that’s for sure.

The album opens with Miss Otis Regrets which is a Cole Porter song first made famous by Ethel Waters in 1934. I think I first heard it sung by Kirsty McColl. Joey plays some nice trumpet on this track. Hold It Right There is a song originally by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson who is another artist I probably would never have heard of only for Van. Daughter Shana helps out on vocals and Joey’s organ playing and the saxophones of Van and Troy Roberts are excellent. All Saints Day has never been a favourite Van song of mine but here it comes to life mainly due to Joey’s virtuoso organ playing. Van delves right back into Astral Weeks with The Way Young Lovers Do and I like this version with Joey again demonstrating what a wizard he is on the organ. The Things I Used To Do is an Eddie Jones (Guitar Slim) composition. It was a huge hit in 1953 and actually produced by Ray Charles. This new version is great due to Troy’s tenor sax, Dan Wilson’s fabulous guitar playing and Van on harmonica. Travellin’ Light was originally a hit for Billie Holiday in 1942 with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was also recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in 1958, I’m sure Van knows that version. We mustn’t forget the contribution of Michael Ode on drums to this album, especially as there is no bass player in this ensemble. Van has recorded Close Enough For Jazz three times and until now I haven’t really rated it as one of his better songs. This version is fun though and Van is clearly enjoying it, scatting away to his heart’s content and the band are all in the groove. There is laughter at the end which shows they had a great time making this album. I didn’t rate Goldfish Bowl either when it came out in 2003 but Van must think we weren’t listening properly and has re-recorded it here. It is a 7.08-minute romp with all the band showing their skills. One fan said this song was a highlight when it was performed in London last weekend and I can see why now.
Me looking at the album.

Evening Shadows is a song that Van wrote with the late great Acker Bilk. The clarinet of Acker is missing here but that is more than made up for by Troy’s saxophones and Joey’s keyboard skills. Magic Time seems to be a favourite song of Van’s because it has been part of his live repertoire for a long time now. It is an ideal song for the small jazz clubs where Van likes to play. Troy and Van excel themselves on their saxes with this song. I first heard You’re Driving Me Crazy in 1961 when it was a hit for The Temperance Seven. I remember them singing it on The Billy Cotton Band Show. It was written in 1930 and has been recorded by dozens of people since. You can hear Van laughing with pleasure during this song after a solo by Dan. Everyday I Have The Blues is a song made famous by Peter Chatman better known as Memphis Slim although most people probably know the version by B.B. King. This version by Van and Joey is great and the enjoyment they had recording it is apparent at the end when Van exclaims, “I gotta hear this stuff”. Have I Told You Lately is one of Van’s greatest and most famous songs, but I have never been enamoured with the faster ‘Las Vegas’ arrangement that he has often performed live. I do like this version though with Shana joining in on vocals and the exquisite guitar playing of Dan Wilson. Sticks And Stones was written by Titus Turner and was recorded by Ray Charles in 1960. For the final track Van sees what the band can do with his great instrumental Celtic Swing and they don’t let him down. A great way to bring this most enjoyable album to a close.

I have really enjoyed listening to this album today on a rainy Saturday afternoon. All the ensemble obviously enjoyed making the record and their enthusiasm is infectious. I think it will be more than just jazz fans who enjoy this record. A big hand for the band !

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Roots Of Van Morrison.

This has been my favourite music of the last week or so. It is a two CD set called The Roots Of Van Morrison, further down the road. A friend told me about it and I ordered a copy. I had to be a bit patient because it had to come from Japan. It was worth the wait because I like all thirty tracks on it. The only small problem is that the sleeve notes are in Japanese but that is a minor consideration.
The first CD is the original versions of all the songs Van covered on his Roll With The Punches album of last year. There are also four bonus tracks. One of the many things I like about Van is that through him I have discovered lots of other music, either by him mentioning other singers in his lyrics or by his cover versions. I knew about the likes of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and a couple of others from when I was a kid, but I don’t think I would be aware of people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ruth Brown, Bobby Bland, Louis Prima, King Pleasure or Little Walter if it wasn’t for listening to Van. On this first CD I think my personal favourites are Teardrops From My Eyes by Ruth Brown which I don’t think I have heard before and the classic Bring It On Home To Me by Sam Cooke. Every track is great though.

The second CD is a collection of sixteen other songs Van has covered during his long and illustrious career. Some of these songs have been favourites of Van’s live repertoire for decades such as Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson, It’s All In The Game by Tommy Edwards and I Can’t Stop Loving You by Ray Charles. I love Bobby Bland’s Ain’t Nothing You Can Do. It makes you realise how faithful to the original Van’s version is. I also love the songs by Leadbelly, Hank Williams (See video below) and Louis Prima.  My personal favourite is I Can’t Stop Loving You which takes me right back to hearing it first in about 1960. If you look at the picture of the tracks on this album, then I’m sure you will agree that it is packed with great songs. It shows what good taste in music Van has. I highly recommend this album. You won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Album of The Day: The Drifters' Golden Hits.

My album of the day is The Drifters Golden Hits. A couple of weeks ago I was nominated to name ten favourite albums. I was trying to remember what records I liked as a kid and this one came to mind. I bought it in 1968 when it came out and I loved every track on it. I used to play it every morning before going to school. I wondered if it was still available and looked on eBay and there was one copy in the auction. I put in a bid for £4.99 and won it. The package arrived yesterday but I didn’t play it till this morning. I must say that even after fifty years it still sounds magical to me. The Drifters had three different lead vocalists during the period of this album. The first one was Ben E King who sings on There Goes My Baby, Dance With Me, True Love, True Love, This Magic Moment and Save The Last Dance For Me. What I love about this album apart from the great vocalists is the production and the arrangements particularly the use of strings. The first six tracks were produced by Leiber & Stoller.

After Ben E King left in 1960 to pursue a successful solo career he was replaced by the equally talented but tragically doomed Rudy Lewis who sings on I Count The Tears, Some Kind Of Wonderful, Up On The Roof and On Broadway. The album contains songs by some of the greatest songwriters of the era such as Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann and also my Van Morrison buddies will be interested to know that three of the tracks were produced by the legendary Bert Berns who later launched Van on the road to fame and fortune. The day before he was due to record Under The Boardwalk Rudy Lewis was found dead in his hotel room at the age of only 27. No autopsy was carried out, so the cause of death remains a mystery. His vocal duties were taken over by Johnny Moore who also sang on Sand In My Shoes and Saturday Night At The Movies.

The twelve songs on this album only add up to just over half an hour but there are no fillers, every song is great. After this album The Drifters fell off my radar. They had a renaissance of sorts in the UK years later, but I wasn’t interested. They had become a parody of themselves. The songs they recorded in the late 50’s and early 60’s were classics of pop music though and I have really enjoyed listening to them again today.

Monday, March 26, 2018

My Trip To Bath.

Painting Of Bath  by Walter Sickert.

I got up early today, and as the sun was shining I thought I’d go into Bath and see what I could find. It is cheap on the train now that I have a senior citizens rail card. Bath is a splendid city and looked even nicer in the Spring sunshine. One thing I noticed which is a really good idea is that they have turned all the old redundant red telephone boxes into flower displays. They should look amazing in a few weeks time when they have grown a bit more. I wonder if they are doing that in other towns?

The first port of call was the Oxfam Bookshop. It was slim pickings in there, but I was pleased to find a first American edition of The Onion Eaters by J.P. Donleavy which was published in 1971. I first read this book over forty years ago and next to Flann O’Brien I rate Donleavy as the second funniest writer of all time. After that I looked in Mind, Save The Children and British Heart Foundation but didn’t find anything. In the Oxfam shop near Pulteney Bridge though I did find What If Our World Is Their Heaven? , a collection of conversations with Philip K. Dick. That should be a good read. I also bought a CD called Rejoicing In The Hands Of The Golden Empress by Devendra Banhart. I haven’t heard any of his music before, but I have heard good reports of him. I’ll let you know what I think when I have played it a couple of times.

It was in the Dorothy House shop that I really hit pay dirt. I noticed lots of great books in the window. There was even a biography of Van Morrison. It was only £3.50 but I already have that book. I bought a biography of Marianne Faithfull and a nice copy of Like A Rolling Stone which is a Bob Dylan Book by Griel Marcus. Inside the shop I also found a copy of The First Third by Neal Cassady also a biography of Jack Kerouac by Barry Miles.
After that, I decided I had enough of charity shops for one day. On the way back to the station I spent a nice half hour looking at the paintings in the Victoria Art Gallery. There are some fabulous paintings in there by the likes of Gainsborough, Sickert, Peter Blake and many more. It is well worth a visit if you are ever in Bath. I took some photos of a few of them to show you. It is free to go in, but you can make a donation if you want.

I was feeling a bit tired now, so I bought a glass of cider and sat outside a pub for a bit, enjoying the sunshine and watching the world go by. Then I caught the train back to Westbury after a most enjoyable few hours in Bath.
By Peter Blake.

One Sweet Day: When Fairport Played In Peterborough

There was a time from about 1969 to 1971 when Fairport Convention were my favourite band. Up to that point my music taste was American, ...