Friday, December 16, 2016

Review: Crazy Dancing Days by Keith Christmas.

It has been a long wait for a new album from Keith Christmas since Live At The Pump in 2012 so I was very pleased when Crazy Dancing Days popped through my letter box yesterday. The twelve songs on the album are all written by Keith and I think this is the first album of completely new material that he has produced in decades.
On opening the package which incidentally arrived only three days after I had ordered it, (I wish everyone I bought stuff from online was this prompt) I discovered a most attractively designed CD featuring a Mud Dance drip painting by Frank Marino Baker. There is also a photo by Tony Lock and Keith had also taken the time to sign my copy.

The opening track Crazy Dancing Days demonstrates what a virtuoso guitarist Keith is, as does every track on the album. In the lyrics, he mentions playing at Les Cousins. This was a folk club in Greek Street in Soho where everybody who was anybody in the folk music world of the 60’s played. It was famous for its all-night sessions. The song is a nostalgic look back to those heady days. There is quite a political message to this album as shown by the second song Cross The Water which is an impassioned plea for us to be more sympathetic to refugees. Sadly, a message that I fear is falling on deaf ears these days, especially in Brexit Britain. Flow Through Me is a great song which as I interpret the lyrics is about Keith getting the muse again during a trip to France and after years of writers block suddenly starts channeling songs. I often think that with artistic people that the inspiration doesn’t come from them, it flows through them and often even they don’t understand where it comes from. I suppose in the old days the next song Welcome To The End Of The World (One More Time) would be called a ‘Protest’ song. I think we could do with a few more protest songs these days.

 I am glad that the next two songs, Haul It Up and Sail With The Sun sit next to each other on the album because they seem to complement each other very nicely indeed. Both are awash with nautical references. I think you can tell that Keith lives by the coast. Talking To The Dead (Again) is a wonderful poignant song with Keith reflecting on the life of an old friend.
The political themes return in the next three songs. When The New Man Comes To Power seems very topical to me with the unspeakable one about to be installed as USA President. After watching the news about what is happening in Aleppo at the moment I think that King Of The Ruined Castle could easily refer to Assad but that’s just my interpretation. I have seen Keith perform If The Young Don’t March at the Village Pump fest and thinking what a great song it is. I’m not sure if I exactly agree though. It wasn’t the young who voted for Brexit, also I think there are a lot of marches and demos going on but it doesn’t get the coverage in the biased media. Jeremy Corbyn certainly got huge crowds of youngsters at his rallies during his leadership campaign.

Cover It Up features some frenetic guitar playing and sounds like quite an angry song. By complete contrast the last song Small Brass Box is a beautiful mellow ballad inspired by mementos of his parents. I loved this song on first listen. If a retrospective best of Keith Christmas album is ever issued in the future then I think this song would certainly deserve to be included on it.
I have really enjoyed listening to this album the last two days and Keith should be really proud of his achievement. If you would like to find out more about Keith Christmas then go to his website here-

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Van Morrison At The Royal Concert Hall Nottingham November 28th 2016

Van Morrison returned to Nottingham after a nine year absence to play a sell out concert at the Royal Concert Hall on Monday. The Celtic soul brother and his excellent six piece band  didn’t disappoint the audience with a great ninety minute show. The band are Mez Clough on drums,Dave Keary on guitars and pedal steel guitar, Paul Moore on bass, Paul Moran on keyboards and trumpet  and Dana Masters and Sumudu on backing vocals. I think this was Sumudu’s first concert with Van and she must have been nervous but herself and Dana were great.
Van began with two songs of his fine new album Keep Me Singing which were Too Late & Every Time I See A River. Van then showed what an accomplished sax player he is with the wonderful Higher Than The World. 
I didn’t particularly enjoy the Las Vegas style version of Have I Told You Lately but Dana was great with her vocal contribution. One of Van’s greatest love songs is Someone Like You and himself and the girls were very impressive on this song. Open The Door ( To Your Heart) was next and Dave Keary & Paul Moran excelled themselves on that one. Carrying A Torch was followed by Moondance/ My Funny Valentine and then a splendid medley of  Baby Please Don't Go / Don't Start Cryin' Now / Gimme Some Lovin / Here Comes The Night. Dave Keary was again very good on the guitar. 
Whenever God Shines His Light  isn't one of my personal favourites but then Wild Night was splendid with the backing singers being really effective. Beautiful Vision was a highlight for me with the whole band making a contribution and Dave Keary in particular playing some really nice pedal steel guitar which I had never witnessed him do before. Two Van classics  Tore Down a la Rimbaud & Sometimes We Cry were next and I know some Van fans don’t like  Precious Time but this Nottingham audience loved it. The great songs continued with I Can't Stop Loving You followed by Crazy Love, Full Force Gale & Enlightenment which I never tire of hearing. I don’t really like the version of  Brown Eyed Girl that was served up and I wish that  In The Garden had been stretched out a bit longer as Van often does with this song. He left the stage to return for a rousing  Gloria before departing again still singing, to leave the band to bash away at their instruments for several minutes while Van made a sharp exit from the building.

We retired to a nearby pub for a well deserved drink and I reflected on the concert. It wasn't the greatest Van show I have ever been to by any means but even an average Van Morrison show is better than any other singer on the planet so I am really pleased that I made the effort to go all the way to the fine city of Nottingham on a cold November Monday. A big hand for the band and lets do it all again soon.

Thank you to Fiona for the photos.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Fifty Years Ago Today. November 5th 1966.

I know exactly what I was doing on November 5th 1966 because it was Bonfire night and I had some money left from my 15th birthday but I wasn't going to spend it on fireworks. I had a much better idea of what to spend my money on. That afternoon I made my way to Boots store in Bridge Street and made a beeline for the record department up the far end and looked at the Top 20 for that week.
2) STOP, STOP, STOP Hollies
6) HIGH TIME Paul Jones
7) NO MILK TODAY Herman's Hermits
8) GUANTANAMERA Sandpipers
9) BEND IT Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich
10) TIME DRAGS BY Cliff Richard
14) A FOOL AM I Cilla Black
16) I'M A BOY The Who
17) ALL I SEE IS YOU Dusty Springfield
18) ALL THAT I AM Elvis Presley
I knew exactly the one I wanted. I had been a Beach Boys fan for two years already since hearing I Get Around in an amusement arcade in Cromer in 1964. The Beach Boys had already had three top ten hits in 66 with Barbara Ann, Sloop John B and God Only Knows. The new song was straight in the charts at Number 15 and I hadn't heard it yet. "Can I have Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys please", I said to the girl and paid 6/8p (six shillings and eight pence). I pocketed my 3/4p change and hurried back up Bridge Street clutching my precious record. There was a man on the corner of Cathedral Square selling the Evening Telegraph and the Pink 'Un.
" How did Posh get on?",I asked him."They drew 1-1 with Bristol Rovers",he replied. I crossed the square and headed up Long Causeway and Broadway,past the Odean Cinema which was showing 'Finders Keepers' starring Cliff Richard. It was rubbish, we had seen it that week because I had won free tickets in the 99 Club in the Evening Telegraph. I ran up Park Road past my school The Kings School Peterborough kicking the fallen chestnut leaves along the pavement.It was a dark and windy evening now with just the odd rocket exploding in the gathering dusk. I got home and went straight to the front room and put on my new record and lay on the settee to listen. I was amazed.It was the best song I had ever heard in my life. I couldn't believe it. After one listen I knew that music had taken a quantum leap to another level. Nobody had made a record this sophisticated before. It was a mini-symphony of three and a half minutes. If Mozart had been alive in 1966 he would have listened with admiration to this song. When it ended I played it again, lying on the floor with my head near the speaker listening intently to sounds I had never heard before such as the theremin which was an instrument I had never even heard of. It was enthralling. Rolling Stone magazine put this song as number six on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. I would put it at number one. Then I played it again... and again...and again.Then played the flipside which was called Wendy and was a track off the All Summer Long album of two years earlier. It was alright but not a patch on Good Vibrations which I played again about five more times. With this song Brian Wilson had thrown down the gauntlet to the Beatles. He had assembled the record from 90 hours of recording tape and spliced the various parts together. Nobody had attempted this modular approach to recording before to produce the perfect song. There would have been no Strawberry Fields Forever or A Day In The Life if it hadn't been for Brian raising the bar in such spectacular fashion.
On that fateful evening of forty five years ago today my music appreciation had reached a new level. Brian Wilson had become my music god and my life would never be the same again. Shortly afterwards I had saved up the 32/6p to buy Pet Sounds which I thought was the best album ever until I heard Astral Weeks seven years later.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Album Review: Grow By Amanda St John.

It was last year that I discovered the music of Amanda St John. It was at the party in Belfast to celebrate Van Morrison’s 70th birthday. Amanda performed and I thought she was great so earlier this year when I heard that her debut album was being released I bought a copy which Amanda kindly signed for me. When I first heard it I resolved to write a review but with my book coming out and then it being festival season I never got around to it. Now it is Autumn, the days of the leaves, things have quietened down a bit and I have more time on my hands. I played the album again today and decided it was high time I got that review written so this is it.

Firstly, a bit about Amanda, she comes from
County Antrim in Northern Ireland and has been writing and singing since an early age. Amanda has worked in the past with some great people including someone I really admire and have three albums by, namely Duke Special ( See picture). She has had some setbacks in her career, at one point she developed nodules on her vocal chords which forced her to take a break from singing for a long while and in 2011 was lucky to survive a near fatal car crash. Thankfully these problems are behind her now and with the release of her first album she seems to be back on the right track.

When the album arrived I thought it was a really nice professional design with some attractive photos of Amanda. The album was recorded in Belfast and mastered in Nashville. I was pleased to see a lyrics booklet is included as well because I like to read the lyrics to discover the subject matter of the songs. The album is called Grow which just about sums it up. If there is a theme to the album it is all about growth I suppose because I think you could say that these are mainly songs of experience, dealing with relationships, learning from mistakes, moving on, self-belief, following your dreams and personal growth in general. I think in that respect I can understand why she cited Joni Mitchell as a very early influence.

Grow (Intro) is very stirring because it features the Pledge Choir of 21 singers and is a very uplifting start to the album. I wished it went on a bit longer. Then it is the very soulful Stop which Amanda wrote with Michael Mormecha. In Amanda’s singing I think I can detect the influence of great soul singers such as Aretha Franklin and Etta James. If You’d Only Let Me is co-written with Ben Shive and is more upbeat. You Blew It as you can imagine is about the end of a relationship and is quite funky and the brass section are used to good effect. That song is written with Jon Tiven as is the following song called Show Me. If I Should Fall features some great bluesy guitar by Paul Tierney who also helped write the song. Another great song called Reach follows which Amanda wrote all on her own. If you scroll down you can see a nice video of this song. Then Notion which she wrote with Paul Tierney.

Most of the songs so far have been about relationships but Melodies seems to be about finding redemption in the healing power of music. I really like the brass section on this song. Big Strong Man is a complete change and I think on first listen it is the most catchy and accessible song on the album and was released as a single I believe. The sort of song that Imelda May or Camille O’Sullivan might do. Right Now is another song that you might fancy having a dance to. After a few listens I think Ready might be one of my favourite tracks. It is all about getting on with what you really want to do and not be distracted from your goal. The backing singers are used to good effect on this song. The album’s closing song, the title track Grow is really bluesy with Paul Tierney’s guitar sounding great and it brings this really satisfying album to a close.

If you like Soul, Motown, Jazz or Rhythm & Blues then this could be just the album for you. Thank you very much Amanda St John and a big hand for the band and anyone else associated with creating this most enjoyable album.

You can read more about Amanda on her Facebook page here-

And this is Amanda's Website-

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Review: Keep Me Singing By Van Morrison.

I like to support my local music shop if I can so on Friday morning still buzzing from Van’s great concert on the BBC the previous night I caught the bus over to Warminster where I picked up the CD of Van’s 36th solo album Keep Me Singing from Raves From The Graves record shop. Then I met my friend Sian in the Bath Arms pub and eagerly opened the package. The artwork is by Justin Helton who apparently designed the posters for some of Van’s shows in the USA earlier in the year. I was really pleased that the CD contained a booklet with all the lyrics because I like poring over the words to see what I can glean from them. Later that afternoon I played the album for the first time and immediately decided that this is Van’s best recorded work in 20 years. I have been guilty in the past  of being over-enthusiastic on hearing a Van album for the first time so I waited till today before writing a review. I must say though after a few listens that I think it is possibly his best work since Down The Road in 2002. Let’s have a look at the songs.

Let It Rhyme is a great opening track. Van complained in an interview recently about the length of time it takes to do the mixing after the recording is complete but I think the wait has been worth it because Enda Walsh has done a great job in the mixing and adding Fiachra Trench’s strings. One thing that this album shows is that Van’s voice is as great or even greater than ever. Van plays some really nice blues harp and Paul Moran’s Hammond organ playing deserves a mention as well.
Every Time I See A River is a collaboration between Van and the famous lyricist Don Black and I think it is destined to be a Van classic and I can imagine it being part of his live repertoire for years to come. Dave Keary shows what a fine guitarist he is on this song.
The title track Keep Me Singing is next. Here we find Van on the corner where the homeboys welcome him back which is an image Van has conjured up before in his long and illustrious career and the great Sam Cooke gets another mention in a Van song. Watching boats from the hillside also reminds me a bit of previous Van songs such as So Quiet In Here. It’s nice to see some old faces from a previous Van era reappearing on this album such as Johnny Scott, Nicky Scott & Liam Bradley. Van plays more great harp on this track as well.

Out In The Cold Again is another great song. It only features one member of Van’s present band who is Paul Moran but really nice to see Kate St John return on the Cor Anglais. There is some very nice acoustic guitar played by Nigel Price. When I read the lyrics before hearing the song I thought the words were quite depressing but you don’t get the feeling of rage on this album but more like world weary resignation in the cold black night. I think this song will be great in concert.
Memory Lane is well named because it reminds me of Van songs from another time mentioning Autumn and leaves in all their splendour. I think it must have been recorded at the same session as the previous track because it features the same eight people. Another great song which the fans will love.
The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword is a complete change of mood and quite funky and you can have a dance to this one if you want. The lyrics are a bit repetitious but that doesn’t matter. Dave Keary and Van play some great guitar on this track.
Holy Guardian Angel might prove to be my favourite track from the album in time. It is very spiritual as you would imagine from the title. I think this song might have evolved from Van’s concert performances because in the past when stretching out In The Garden he has often referred to guardian angels and the witching hour. It is very nice to see that John Platania another of Van’s old friends from the past playing acoustic guitar on this song. In the lyrics van sings ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow’, this is taken from an old slave spiritual published in 1867 which has been recorded by Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke and many others which Van has cleverly worked into this song.
Share Your Love With Me is the only cover version on the album and was written by Alfred Braggs & Don Robey. Van originally recorded it for a Bobby Bland tribute album which never happened so he decided to include it here. Van’s admiration of Bobby Bland goes back a long way with his band Them recording Turn On Your Love light and Van’s live version of  Ain’t Nothing You Can Do. This song is a nice rhythm & Blues song with a hint of country. No wonder Kenny Rogers had a hit with it.

In Tiburon is next and I loved the lyrics of this song when I first heard it because it mentions a lot of the Beat Generation writers who I admire such as Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It also mentions City Lights Bookshop and it was City Lights who published the American edition of Van’s book of lyrics ‘Lit Up Inside’. Ferlinghetti is still alive actually aged 97, I wonder if he knows that Van has mentioned him in a song. He read one of his poems at the Last Waltz concert where Van stole the show so they do know each other. This song is dripping with literary and music references. I think I noticed a typo error in the lyrics booklet. It mentions the ‘Hungry Eye’ club, I think it should read ‘The Hungry I’. Also the song mentions another of Van’s heroes Chet Baker playing at The Trident. It was outside the Trident that Chet Baker while trying to score some heroin got beaten up so badly that all his teeth got knocked out which ruined his embouchure so he couldn’t play his horn for a long while till he got his mouth sorted out.  Cast Your Fate To The Wind by Vince Guaraldi which is also mentioned got to number 5 in the UK Charts in 1965 when recorded by Sounds Orchestral. Anyway, all that besides, this is a great song and one of my favourites from the album and has foghorns a plenty which Van also likes to mention occasionally.

Look Beyond The Hill I think is one of the lesser tracks on the album but I might change my mind after a few more listens.It was originally an instrumental called Yo and was a B-Side to one of Van's singles but he has revisited it and added lyrics.
Going Down To Bangor is the fun song with Van getting aboard a charabanc with his bucket and spade for a day at the seaside. I think his Northern Ireland fans will love all the local references to the Pickie Pool, Napoleons Nose, Cave Hill and Donaghadee.
Too Late is the token pop song and the first single from the album. I thought it was Dave Keary doing the backing vocals as he does live but he is not credited on this track so I think it must be Lance Ellington who sings backing vocals with Dana Masters.
Caledonia Swing is the instrumental track which brings this excellent album to an end. Van has had an obsession with the word Caledonia all his life even to the extent of it being his daughter Shana’s middle name. I think it is because he is proud of his Ulster/ Scots background and Caledonia is the old Roman word for Scotland. Anyway, it is quite a jolly romp and it’s nice to see his old fiddle player Tony Fitzgibbon make a welcome return.
I highly recommend this album which is a great addition to the finest body of work of any singer in the world. To make an album of this quality at the age of 71 after a career of over 55 years is quite an amazing achievement.

                                                             The End.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Review: Van Morrison At Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza August 6th 2016

Van Morrison on Cypress Avenue was undoubtedly the Van gig of 2015 but Van's concert at Glastonbury Abbey must be a contender for the Van concert of 2016. This is what happened. When I woke up on Saturday morning I opened the curtains and the light came shining through. "Brilliant", I thought to myself. It was a hot sunny day and I kicked my heels for hours waiting for the afternoon. Finally I met the others in the pub and fifteen of us set off in a minibus from the Market Place in Westbury at 4.15. There was me, Sian, Colin, Sharon, Mark, Angela, Chris, Chrissie, Jacquie, Phil, Marty, Ann, Phil, Tommy the driver and his sister & her husband. I got Tommy to play the Into The Music album by Van and we passed the time chatting and drinking wine.

In next to no time we arrived outside Glastonbury Abbey where about 10.000 people were still pouring into The Abbey grounds. As soon as we set up camp Jacquie served up a delicious picnic while we listened to the Wells Cathedral School Big Band. I didn't avalot (geddit!) of food, I concentrated on the wine. After a while me and Sian decided to go for a walk and see if I could find any of the other Vanatics. It was great to bump into Howard and his family and Sue & Colin who I hadn't seen since Belfast last year. It was really nice to meet Simon & Sandra in the George & Pilgrim pub and we had a chat with them out the back of the pub for a while. Finally time was getting on and we returned to the Abbey.

Jamie Cullum was just finishing his set when we returned. I wasn't all that fussed about seeing him but a lot of the others later said he was really good. There is a Van connection with Jamie because when he was only 16 he was credited as an assistant engineer on Van's Days Like This album which must have been a valuable experience for him.

Finally I heard the familiar sound of Moondance  and said to Sian, " Come on, he's on, lets get down the front". Half way to the front though she didn't want to go any further saying it was too crowded, so that's where we stayed for the rest of the concert. I was pleased that Van had changed the intro to the concert though. Then Van introduced Clare Teal who actually lives in Glastonbury these days so she must have enjoyed singing to her neighbours.  They sang Way Young Lovers Do from the Astral Weeks album and Carrying A Torch which was one of the highlights of  the Duets album from last year. Clare departed and Van sang By His Grace  which was very spiritual and fitting for the mystical surroundings of the abbey. This theme continued with When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God? from the Avalon Sunset album and the lyrics of the song are perfect for this concert, ' The sun was setting over Avalon, the last time we stood in the west'.

The mood was much more up-beat then for Precious Time which went down a storm for those in the audience who just wanted to party and have a dance. Then Van said, "This might blow your mind", and introduced Joss Stone. Joss is local to the West Country as well. I think she lives in Devon somewhere. Some people I spoke to afterwards thought her performance was too over the top while others thought she was great. Anyway, They sang Wild Honey also from the Duets album and the classic Crazy Love. After Joss left the stage the dancing started again with Wild Night  and then the audience sang along with Have I Told You Lately in which Dana got the chance to show she is just as good a singer as Clare or Joss.

The medley of  Baby Please Don't Go/ Don't Start Crying Now  followed and Here Comes The Night. I thought Van's choice of songs for this gig was perfect with songs for the party people and also songs for those who preferred the less well known music. Haunts Of Ancient Peace was another brilliant choice of song for these surroundings which inspired Van to write some of his most spiritual music in the first place. Van played the keyboards on this song. Van even mentioned the church of Saint John which is actually in Glastonbury High Street which shows how familiar he is with this town.

Dana got the chance again to show how good she is when Van and herself sang Sometimes We Cry. This was followed by Whenever God Shines His Light  which isn't one of my favourites but this audience loved it. In The Afternoon/Ancient Highway/ Joe Turner Sings Flip Flop And Fly was a great medley of songs and included  Raincheck  which shows Van has no intentions of fading away anytime soon.
Think Twice Before You Go and Rock Me Baby were next and then Van played sax on I believe To My Soul which was great. Brown Eyed Girl and Gloria brought the proceedings to a close. When Van left the stage during Gloria the band played on as fireworks started erupting in the sky and we went back to base to collect our stuff. It must have been about midnight when we got back to Westbury after a brilliant night. It wasn't the greatest Van concert but for a great night out in nice weather with some great friends it was perfect. Thank you very much to Michael Eavis for organising such a great event.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lily By Christy Moore. Review

The new album by Christy Moore called Lily popped through my letterbox about a week ago but I have been so busy lately that it is only today that I have had time to write a review.
This is the first Christy album I have bought since I bought Folk Tale at a gig at Bath Pavilion about three years ago and thanks to my friend Hilary I managed to get Christy to sign it. Anyway, I love the new album Lily. As soon as I opened the package I was struck by the cover artwork which is very eye catching. Inside is a painting called 'Lilies' by the Irish expressionist artist Brian Maguire. Like Christy Brian is also an Irish artist with his heart in the right place. I have just been reading about him. There are also some very informative notes by Christy about the various songs.
I love the opening song Mandolin Mountain which Christy tells us was written by the late Tony Small. I had never heard of Tony before but I have now, thanks to Christy. I have been listening to him on youtube the last few days. The lyrics are very inspiring such as 'Love is for the patient ones, the honest and the good'. It is the kind of song that makes you aspire to be a better person. I must say Christy's voice sounds better than ever on this album when lots of other singers of his generation can't hit the notes any more. Also Christy enunciates every word perfectly so that even on the first listen of a song you know what he is singing. A lot of other singers can't tell talk from mutter!
I first heard The Tuam Beat written by Padraig Stevens many years ago when it was a track on a Saw Doctors single called The World Of Good. Christy's version is just as much fun and I must say I love the banjo playing on it by Cathel Hayden. Although it is a joyful fun song there is still that little political message, 'Fair play to the travelling man'.
The Gardener is the perfect song for this time of year. I first heard it at Christy's Brighton concert a few weeks ago. It is written by Paul Doran and reminds me that I must get out in my own garden which I have neglected lately.
Lily is a song that reminds me a bit of a song from Folk Tale about a little Honda 50 but that doesn't bother me. I like the reference to the 'waters of the fen' which reminds me of my childhood in Peterborough. I see that the song is co-written with  Wally Page who Christy has collaborated with before.

I have always liked Peter Gabriel who is another artist of great political integrity. He actually lives near here in the village of Box. We had a walk around Box a few months ago to admire his Real World Studio. I wasn't familiar with Wallflower  though until I heard Christy's version. Peter's version was actually banned in South Africa during the Apartheid era which is a good sign in a way because when they are so rattled they ban your songs it shows you have got them on the run. Both Peter and Christy have recorded great songs about Steve Biko in the past.
Another powerful political song is Oblivious  written by Mick Blake. I had never heard of Mick Blake till Christy sang this song in Brighton and now Mick is a Facebook friend. Such is the power of Christy.  The song is about how the dreams of the people who founded the Irish republic have been squandered by the scoundrels and fools and how people don't even get angry about it. The great deception has happened all over the world with the bankers and speculators gambling with other peoples money and awarding themselves bonuses for doing it and it's not even classed as a crime. I bet Christy didn't get a massive annual bonus when he worked in a bank.
John Spillane is another singer who I have discovered via Christy. I love his songs such as 'Dance Of The Cherry Trees' & 'The Mad Woman Of Cork'. The Ballad Of Patrick Murphy is the fifth of John's songs to be recorded by Christy and tells the sad and true tale of a fisherman murdered by the Murricaune who were gangsters in the service of the crown.
Lightning, Bird,Wind, River Man is a delightful happy song written by Declan O'Rourke. I have actually seen Declan twice playing live. Both occasions were purely by chance. The first time was at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park in 99 and the second was in the Acoustic tent at Glastonbury in 2005 I think it was. We left before the end to see another Declan who was Declan McManus better known as Elvis Costello. Anyway, on both those occasions I didn't pay much heed to Declan O'Rourke because I wasn't familiar with the music. However, if he is capable of songs as great as this one I will certainly give him another listen.
Green Grows The Laurel is a traditional song that Christy first heard sung by John Reilly in 1965 and more recently by Helen Grehan. Christy has added a verse of his own. It is a beautiful haunting ballad.
Dave Lordan is a poet and playwright who was born in Derby in 1975 and grew up in West Cork. The Lost Tribe Of The Wicklow Hills was written by him and Christy recites it brilliantly to bring this great album to a close. It shows what a great speaking voice Christy has. He would be great for talking books reciting Irish myths and legends or something like that but I expect Christy has enough on his plate as it is.

I have really enjoyed listening to this album so thank you very much Christy, Declan, Jimmy, Seamie, Mairtin, Cathal, Vickie, Andy and anybody else associated with this wonderful album.

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.

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

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