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.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Petals. By Rhonda Batchelor

This is a poem written by my friend Rhonda in memory of Max Croskery.


The morning you left—not this earth, but my little patch of it—I waited
while you, on the phone, tried to sort out that business with your in-transit camera, held up
by the courier company and Canada Customs.  It was never going to catch up with you,
you explained—again. Just send it back to New Zealand.
You’d be on the road.

You needed to be at the airport by noon and we wouldn’t have time for the breakfast
we’d planned. Still on hold, you gestured apologetically. To keep busy, I tidied a bit—
carried a spent bouquet of blowsy tulips through to the kitchen, out the back door
and across the yard to the compost. You watched me through the window.
My mind was on your leaving.

And then it was time to go. I locked up while you went ahead, pulling your suitcase
through the grass, along the stepping stones now strewn with tulip petals.
Are these for me? you asked, and we laughed. But later, coming home alone
only to find those petals, and the deep tracks you’d left, I said Yes,
they are, my love. Yes.

Max ,Born September 19th 1960, Died July 20th 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Lonesome Traveller In Bristol.

I had a really nice afternoon and evening in Bristol yesterday. I Arrived at Temple Meads Station at about 3.00 and as I had lots of time on my hands decided to walk into town. I hadn't gone fifty yards when I saw a sign saying 'Book Fair, Here Today'. I went in and inside was the most amazing book fair going on. They had 110 book dealers from all over the country and a restaurant and even a band playing some nice jazzy background music. I was pleased to see some dealers had quite a few books of 50's and 60's counter culture and Beat Generation which I am interested in. I spotted an original American paperback copy of Junky by William Lee (William Burroughs) but when I asked the price it was £250 which was way beyond my means. I did want to buy something though so I bought a First UK edition of Lonesome Traveller by Jack Kerouac. I couldn't really afford it but hey, I was having a nice day out.

Wandering on, I saw that one dealer had some inscribed books by Allen Ginsberg. When I talked to the dealer though the prices again were way beyond my means. The man was really friendly though and we had a chat for a few minutes. He seemed really familiar and I asked him if I had met him before. He smiled wryly and said he didn't think so. When I left he gave me his card. Later on when I looked at the card his name was Neil Pearson and it suddenly came to me where I had seen him before. It was on the telly. He was none other than the  famous actor Neil Pearson of Drop The Dead Donkey, Waterloo Road and lots of other shows. I looked him up on the internet this morning and sure enough there was an article in The Independent about the actor and his passion for rare books.      (See photo)

I spent a happy hour at the fair browsing through the amazing books and wishing I was rich. I could easily have spent £1,000 in there if I had the money. Time was getting on so I hurried on through the bustling streets of Bristol. In Queens Square there was the most incredible market going on with hundreds of vendors selling exotic food and products from all over the world. Finally I reached the harbour. It is Bristol Harbour Festival this weekend so the harbour was crammed with hundreds of boats all decorated with flags and bunting which was quite a spectacular sight. There was also live music. Echo & The Bunnymen were playing but I didn't have time for that.
I was hungry & thirsty now so I had some food and a pint of cider in a harbourside pub. When it got to 6.00 I thought I better get a move on and left the pub. On the waterfront I saw a face from the past. It was Moussa Kouyate. He is a Kora player from Senegal and the last time I saw him was about ten years ago when he was busking on the streets of Bath. On that occasion I bought his CD because the kora is a beautiful instrument to listen to but today I just said hello and listened for a few minutes and gave him some change. What a great guy he is. If you scroll down you can watch Moussa playing the Kora in Bristol.

Finally I arrived at the Colston Hall and I relaxed outside on the piazza with a drink and read my book. Within a few minutes I was joined by an old friend Kev who lives in Bristol and later his partner Ingrid. They weren't going to the concert but it was nice of them to come along and hang out for a while. We chatted about books and music for an hour or so until finally it was showtime. I said cheerio and went inside to catch some of the support act. They were called The Pierce Brothers and came from Australia I think. I only heard about three songs but they sounded like quite good fun. I had a spare ticket because my friend Fred hadn't been able to come so during the interval I asked people outside if anyone wanted a spare ticket but there were no takers. That was a shame to have a ticket go to waste because Lucinda Williams performance was brilliant.

Lucinda came on stage with just a small four piece band including herself. Most people think of her as a country singer but this band rocked !. The young bass player looked like a cross between Sid Vicious and Keith Richard with his spiky hair and he really enjoyed himself all night. The guitarist also played harmonica and he was great. His guitar sounded like Duane Eddy to me at times. Lucinda dedicated the first song to the victims of the terrible outrage in Nice the night before. It was called World Without Tears. The audience applauded and it was really moving. What a nice person Lucinda is. You can see that just by the way she talks to the audience and the roadies etc. The next song was called Protection which was great and reminded me that I had seen Lucinda before. It was at Glastonbury three years ago but on that occasion I was so drunk it was just a blur afterwards.Tonight was a lot better. I must confess that I only actually have one album by Lucinda which is her most famous album Car Wheels On A gravel Road so I didn't recognise all of the songs. She did sing one really moving song about a poet called Frank Stanford I think his name was. I think he was a student of her dad and he took his own life. Crescent City was a really nice song about New Orleans. Drunken Angel was a song I know really well and the audience loved it as well. West Memphis (Arkansas) was a scathing attack on parts of America and not the sort of place I would like to live in. The Ghost Of Highway 20 from a recent album was magnificent. I love the song Lake Charles and so did most of the audience. Are you Alright? I think was the title of the next song and Lucinda thanked all of the band and all of the crew. Bleeding Fingers And Broken Guitar Strings was really great. Boy do this band rock !. The mood changed then to a song where Lucinda had added music to a poem written by her father which was called Dust I think. It was fabulous. Changed The Locks was another great song. Foolishness was a brilliant song and in it Lucinda took the opportunity to give Donald Trump a good lambasting. I don't know why though in England that Americans have to apologise for their politicians. Bonnie Raitt did the same a few weeks ago. We have enough embarrassing moronic politicians of our own as the events of the last 3 weeks have shown. Joy was a fabulous song and the band really took the chance to rock out. They were even doing Led Zeppelin riffs in this, much to the delight of the audience. I think the next song was called  Get Right With God. I can't remember what happened after that because it was the encore and I had put my notebook away and moved right to the front just a few feet away from Lucinda. I know I had a wonderful evening though.

After the show I scurried to the taxi rank and just managed to catch the last train to Westbury with a minute to spare. The train was full of jolly Friday night drunks but I kept myself to myself and read my Lonesome Traveller and arrived back in Westbury in next to no time where a taxi was waiting to take me safely home after a great day. Thank you very much Bristol Harbour Festival, Bristol Book Fair, Neil Pearson, Moussa Kouyate, Kev, Ingrid and most of all Lucinda Williams and her great band for a brilliant day in Bristol.

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.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Blues Run The Game: The Story Of Jackson C. Frank.

I intended doing some gardening today but it rained non-stop so I spent the afternoon in the kitchen listening to an album that I bought recently. It is called Blues Run The Game by Jackson C. Frank. I am indebted to an internet friend  for bringing this influential singer-songwriter to my attention because I had never heard of him before. I think he must have read some of my previous stories of musicians who had faded into obscurity and are only now being re-discovered and thought I might be interested in listening to Jackson C. Frank.
I am really pleased I bought this album because some of the songs are as good as any I have heard in the folk genre. The story of Jackson C. Frank is also one of the saddest I have ever read about any musician.  Although he released only one official album in his lifetime he was very influential on the likes of Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Al Stewart, Dave Cousins,John Renbourn, Bert Jansch,Nick Drake and Roy Harper. It was only a series of misfortunes that stopped him from being remembered as one of the great folk singers.

Tragedy struck early in his life at the age of eleven. He was attending elementary school in a suburb of New York when a heating furnace exploded which caused a fire that killed fifteen of his classmates including his first girlfriend Marlene Du Pont. He later wrote a song about Marlene which is on the album. Jackson survived the fire but had burns to 50% of his body. It was during the long recovery process that he learned to play the guitar and began writing songs. In 1965 while studying journalism at Gettysburg College he received $100,000 in  insurance  compensation for his injuries. He dropped out of college and sailed to England to try his luck on the folk scene. It was on that voyage that he wrote the song Blues Run The Game.
Jackson soon made a name for himself in the Folk Clubs of London and made friends with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Paul Simon was so impressed with his talent that he offered to produce an album. The whole album was recorded in only three hours. Before long Jackson became quite famous in Britain. He persuaded his girlfriend at the time Sandy Denny to give up her job as a nurse and concentrate on singing. We should be grateful to him for that act alone because Sandy became arguably the greatest British female singer of all. Sandy recorded three of Jackson's songs for her first solo album in her pre-Fairport Convention days.

The following year though things began to go wrong. Firstly, he developed writers block and was never happy with the songs he came up with and also he began to suffer with really bad stage fright. It was the beginning of the mental illness that was to haunt him for years to come. Also his money ran out. In only two years he had managed to blow the lot. He returned to the states and moved to Woodstock which was a haven for many artistic people at that time. He landed a job as a journalist and married a former fashion model. New songs were written and he was just about to relaunch his music career when disaster struck once again. His infant son died of cystic fibrosis and the marriage fell apart. These events drove him over the edge and he descended into an abyss of depression, finally ending up homeless on the streets of New York. Things got even worse when he was shot by a gang of street toughs which left him blinded in the left eye. For twenty years he was virtually forgotten and had lost all touch with family and friends.

A guardian angel then appeared by the name of Jim Abbott who was an American folk music fan who managed to track down the long lost singer. Jim took Jackson to see sympathetic doctors and his condition immediately began to improve. He had been mis-diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic but what he was actually suffering from was post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the terrible fire of his childhood. As soon as was taken off the anti-depressants and given trauma therapy instead there was a remarkable recovery. His music career was revived and his work was issued for the first time on CD with previously unreleased material.
Sadly, in 1999 Jackson C. Frank caught pneumonia and died of a cardiac arrest at the age of only 56. He has left a small but great legacy of music though and his influence continues to grow. His songs have been covered by Simon & Garfunkel, Counting Crows, Laura Marling, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes, Marianne Faithful and many others. His songs have also appeared in movie soundtracks such as Daft Punk's Electroma. Only today I discovered there is a book about him by Jim Abbott and a documentary film is a work in progress at the moment. His legend is finally beginning to grow.

The album I am listening to at this very moment contains all the songs from his eponymous album of 1965 plus five unreleased songs from 1975. I must say I love it, you can see the influence he had on Paul Simon on songs like Dialogue. To hear these haunting songs live in a folk club back in 65 must have been an amazing experience. The five songs from 1975 make me think what a shame it is that he left such a small body of work. One song called Madonna Of Swans I find particularly powerful.

 Marlene,the song about his girlfriend who perished in the fire is also very moving. To give you a taste of the album I have put a video of Blues Run The Game below which I urge you to listen to. Thank you very much once again to Gerard  for turning me on to the music of Jackson C.Frank.

Listening To Jackie De Shannon On Thursday Night.

I haven’t got much to report today. My new bus pass came in the post today which is good. I can travel anywhere I want on the bus for fre...