Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hold Steady Wolves Civic 15 Dec 08

It had been a long time coming but I did finally get to see The Hold
Steady. I'd fancied seeing them since their appearance on Jools Holland
last year and then the original Wolves gig was postponed after guitarist
Tad Kubler was hospitalised with pancreatitis. Now that could have been worse.
Gillian Taylforth ended up in a libel case after administering on the spot relief
for her hubby's pancreatitis on a motorway hard shoulder. Seems the Police
and the medically unqualified tabloid press couldn't tell the difference
between a Florence Nightingale act of mercy and a Hugh Grant lewd act.
Amazingly she lost the libel case when she tried to correct The Sun's

There would have been room for a few more punters at Wolves Civic. Young
people and women had stayed away. The Hold Steady's audience reflect the
band themselves. Over 30, male, not too cool and gratefully glad to be
out. Still, I can talk....I was taking notes!

From the opening and barnstorming Constructive Summer, Craig Finn was a
whirl of geeky dervishness. Jumping , pointing, mouthing off mike and
looking like Sgt Bilko. At one point he swung an imaginary baseball bat.
After 5 songs he took his guitar off (he hadn't played it for the first 4)
but soon put it back on again. To give it some more of the silent

Keyboard player Franz Nicolay was also hugely entertaining. Sporting flat cap,
jacket and moustache combo and an arsenal of magicians gestures. At one
point he covered his eyes and then struck a pose as the keyboard swirls
rose. As if he couldn't quite believe the magical power in his
fingertips. Part snake charming, part twerpery.

The epic Lord, I'm Discouraged from the new album featured accordion and
the first appearance of the Tab Kubler's double neck guitar. Normally the
beast with two necks is best left in the hands of Led Zep or the Eagles
and is about as welcome as home brew. I mean it's nice that someone does
it, but you just don't want to be around when it comes out. The guitar
solo itself wasn't so much unleashed as unzipped. Full blown Rush style
rock pompery. And even more impressive from a man who's casual air made it
look as if he was just looking round for somewhere to put an awkward shaped
box he was carrying and would rejoin us in a minute. And I do like the
line "...Excuses and half truths and fortified wine"

I think this is the thing about the Hold Steady. Craig Finn is essentially
writing short stories. We don't actually need to believe they are
autobiographical, either for him or for us (if we are the sing along type).
He may look like he is someone's dad picking up the pieces afterwards rather than the actual housewrecking party dude....but then I suspect Nick Cave has also eased up on the murdering in recent years. Finn is too geeky to convince the under 20's. Young men won't want to be him
and their actual audience, of older and more beard capable blokes are
rather afraid that they already are him.

So with the Hold Steady what we've actually got is a cross over Rock band.
They're rawk enough for the Mid West but lyrically interesting enough for
Word magazine. On record, the keyboards can be a bit too flowery for
my tastes and the backing vocals sometimes have a bit too much wah and
wahoo. Fine for a stadium but not necessarily what I'd want at home . But
any doubts I have about the band are just barged aside by the quality of
the songs and performance. And they're still my favourite band of the
last couple of years.

Here's the set list....and an alternative review of the gig is at

Constructive Summer
Hot Soft Light
Sequestered In Memphis
Cattle And The Creeping Things
Massive Nights
Joke About Jamaica
Ask Her For Adderall
Lord, I'm Discouraged
You Can Make Him Like You
Chill Out Tent
Don't Let Me Explode
Stevie Nix
Chips Ahoy
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
How A Resurrection Really Feels


Arms And Hearts
Stuck Between Stations
Stay Positive
Slapped Actress

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Joe Strummer. The Future Is Unwritten

Julian Temples Sex Pistols film The Filth And The Fury is one of the best Music films. It snatched the Pistols story back from his own highjacked Great Rock N Roll Swindle which Malcolm McClaren had turned into his own revisionist comedy.

Temple's film about Joe Strummer manages to be an affectionate and honest film about a contradictory, difficult man who was one of the best front men in one of the best bands. And like the Pistols, the myth of the Clash is as big as the music. And just as important. As a fan you buy the records. But for inspiration you buy into the myth.

The opening sequence is terrific. Strummer is in the studio singing an unaccompanied vocal to White Riot. The backing track drops in, powerful, ragged and naïve. But instead of the expected clips of The Clash careering round the stage or stock footage of urban chaos what you actually get is a young John Mellor kicking leaves in the garden with his diplomat dad.

The Future Is Unwritten is the story of the contradictions and the story of Strummer before and after The Clash. It is told through brilliantly edited archive footage and the recollections of those who knew him gathered up in camp fire interviews. During the 90's building campfires had became symbolic for Strummer allowing him to gather friends and new people around him. Temple carried out new interviews around campfires to allow contradictory reminiscences to sit side by side with the image of Strummer. And Strummer really did build his own image. Not only with the name changes (from John Mellor, to Woody to Strummer) but he also was naturally left handed but played guitar right handed because he thought it looked better.

Strummer described himself as being one of the boarding school bullies, but the school friends gathered round the camp fire remember him as a boy who stayed out of trouble because he knew how to handle people.

His ex girlfriend described him as a boys own adventurer who would "Sleep under the starts when it was totally unnecessary." Another ex, the more pragmatic Palmolive from The Slits describes looking out the window and wondering who the wino sleeping in the garden was….and then seeing the pointy shoes and realising it must be Joe.

He inspired great affection and loyalty among people, but he was ruthless about firing band members and distancing himself from his Pub Rock band the 101ers and his early 70's squat buddies. When he bumped into them they said it was like the shutters had come down. It was almost impossible for him to get out of character. The next chapter had started. .

An early Clash interview showed him projecting the image of a man of few words and fewer syllables. He answers a question about morality with "I'd never steal money from a friend…" There's a long pause, but you just know, that he's always known exactly what he was going to say…but just wants the camera to get that moment. "….But I'd steal his girlfriend".

There's no playfulness about it. This was strictly sullen era Clash. And away from the camera, Strummer was certainly partial to girlfriend poaching as Topper Headon testifies. But if Strummer was living the part of the Punk Rock mumbler, it was a 24 hour business. When he first joined the band Topper felt that they were trying to intimidate him with an early band meeting punctuated only by the sounds of Simonon spitting on the electric fire through the gap in his front teeth. He says Strummer didn't actually drop the act with him and talk honestly until Strummer and Headon were in an American jail cell together charged with stealing motel pillows.

But Strummer really could talk. His images and enthusiasm for the world came tumbling out in the clips, in quotes from the broadcasts he did for the BBC World Service and in his own description of Punk Rock history.

"The Pistols had to come in and blow everything away. They were the stun grenade into the room before the door kicked in. They came out of nowhere and they came to support us one night at the Nashville Rooms"

There's a great sequence of a recent Mick Jones interview (less hats, less hair) where he's looking out of his gran's Ladbrooke Grove tower block flat. You can see the lights of the city and the Westway snaking through it. Jones looks out and says "There's the roar of a city. It does sound like our music"

The end of the Clash is pure soap opera. As Topper's song Rock The Casbah becomes a hit, Topper is out of the band, replaced by original stand in drummer Terry Chimes for a tour of American enormodomes with the likes of The Who.

On one hand Strummer had got everything he could have hoped for as music fan who never really was Bored Of The USA but he also felt squeezed and compromised. A thoroughly unhappy looking Strummer and Jones sporting full Combat Rock regalia and wearing hats that span military campaigns from The American Civil War to Korea say the music industry is "No worse than any other prostitution business"

The film cuts between a full colour stadium version of Career Opportunities to a black and white early version. It's as if they won the caravan on Bullseye but would have been happier with the toaster.

As Should I Stay Or Should I Go plays (Oh the irony-Mick Jones's witless song about ex girlfriend and Meatloaf duetter Ellen Foley, where he ponders, quite literally, whether he should stay or indeed go) Strummer sums up the bands career.

"The success goes to your head pitfall. The ego trap pitfall. You think you're geniuses. You become drug addicts. You make indulgent records. You overdub the sound of ants biting through a wooden beam. All these things we've gone through, each and every one of them. And that's why we've come out a depleted force."

"We turned into the people we'd tried to destroy"

The film is still really interesting after the demise of the Clash, when Strummer was essentially lost. One afternoon he decided to cut down on his drinking but then that evening agreed to stand in for Shane MacGowan on a Pogues tour. I'm glad he did, if only for the version of Straight to Hell I saw them do at Aston Villa leisure Centre.

He made soundtracks and recruited musicians on a whim for his Latino Rockabilly War and Mescaleros projects.

The first time Strummer saw future Mescalero Antony Genn was when Genn was the Glastonbury streaker during Elastica's set in the mid 90's

He thought he'd found his ideal drummer. He hadn't heard him play but he liked his name. "He's got to be good. His name is Ramone Baharandra"

Anthony Kiedis thought that it was odd for Strummer to try to recruit ex Red Hot Chilli Peppers drummer Jack Irons who was in a mental institution at the time. "It'll be Ok. We'll get him a ride to and fro, he'll come into the studio, he'll have a job and we'll make this record"

After he'd made Earthquake Weather he really needed all the industry support he could muster. However on the day of the play back when the studio execs were due to come and listen to it, he didn't show up to the meeting. He'd left a note pinned to his front door. "I've gone to the desert"

Fittingly the last gig Strummer played was a benefit for striking firemen. Mick Jones got up and played too. The closest there was to a Clash reunion. Strummer died shortly afterwards at home after walking the dog. Cause of death was an undetected and congenital heart defect that could have killed him at any time in the preceding years.

The film does a fine job of telling Strummers story and allowing him to be both a very fallible human being but also Punk Rock hero. There are 2 good quotes from the extra interview footage that comes with the DVD. One is from Mickey Gallagher who felt that he and fellow Blockhead Norman Watt Roy should have had a credit for their work on the Magnificent 7. Strummer had made all the right noises but ultimately nothing had happened. (Before we all get too judgemental remember that The Clash actually took a royalty cut to subsidise the low price of Sandinista). Gallagher said "Joe Strummer was a hero but John Mellor was a coward"

The nicer quote though is a story about what happened when Strummer spotted Monica Lewinsky in a nightclub. It shows both his ability to both say the right thing but also the unexpected thing. As soon as Strummer saw her he told his friends he had to go and say something to her. They were worried about what he could possibly say. He bounded up to her; she looked nervous and didn't know who he was. "I'm Joe Strummer. But you're Punk Rock"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ronnie Spector Last Of The Rock Stars

Ronnie Spector's album Last Of The Rock Stars is a conscious effort to make art out of her life. Released 2 years ago, but a decade in the making, it uses songs and guest artists that reflect Ronnie Spector's life and it's influence.

Ronnie Spector is a proper icon with a look and a sound. Madonna has said she wanted to look how Ronnie Spector sounded. But Spector was also the sound of an era and the sound of New York. Stick a beehive on the Statue of Liberty and call it Ronnie Spector.

Veronica Bennett started singing with her sister and cousin and had huge hits with Baby I love You and Be My Baby. Their producer Phil Spector turned into a recluse in 66, hurt, astounded (and probably driven insane) by the idea that his production of Ike and Tina Turners River Deep Mountain High hadn't been a bigger hit. Unfortunately Ronnie married him and got the benefits of a controlling and abusive relationship to rival Ike and Tina's. A paranoid and jealous Phil Spector made Ronnie keep a life size model of himself in her car and tried to make sure that everything was delivered to the house so that she wouldn't need to go out. Deliveries also included their adopted children. She says he pointed out 2 children playing in the park and asked if she liked them. Next day he brought them round saying the adoption had gone through.

When she finally did escape after 5 years, she was barefoot. He'd taken all her shoes to stop her leaving.

But whilst Tina Turner escaped Ike and then went on to make a string of appalling records, Ronnie Spector spent her time in court battles over custody and royalties. Now Phil Spector is on trial for murder

Last of the Rock Stars opens with Never Gonna Be Your Baby. The titles a nod to her past, but the guitars are spikier. The lyrics have grown up from teen romance. "It smells of crime it smacks of sin I give a little more each I give in"…. and you just wait for the first trademark "Wo oagh oagh"

All I Want is a terrific song about a poisonous, desperate relationship. It manages to blend Girl Group lines like "I don't want flowers or fancy things, I gave up on a diamond ring" with the adult sexual complexities of "You turn to me at night, like you think everything's alright, and it is, til we turn on the lights and real life returns." It's a great line and her phrasing is fantastic. That song in particular (written by Amy Rigby who is married to Wreckless Eric…who wrote a song called Veronica) just feels like it was written with her voice and history in mind.

Keith Richards plays guitar on All I Want but also does a great knock about fun duet on Ike and Tina Turner's Everything's Gonna Work Out Fine. It's a battle of the sexes, song , very much of it's time.(like Otis Redding and Carla Thomas duets) She's making wedding plans and he's stalling. I particularly enjoy hearing her sing "Darling" and him sing talking in reply "Yes Ronnie" On the fade out she says "You're the best…Give it to me" and the wrinkly old man replies "You do the work Baby", amidst cackles of laughter

Here Today Gone Tomorrow is a Ramones song, and of course, under the leather jackets and the songs about glue the Ramones were really a Girl Group. Which is why they were so good.

She does a really good version of Johnny Thunders You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory, with Joey Ramone. Patti Smith also crops up on the album and Ode To LA features The Raveonettes, whose debt to Ronnie Spector is almost as great as their debt to The Jesus And Mary Chain.

Girl From The Ghetto is Spector's defiant vindication. Jenny may be from the block, but Ronnie reminds you exactly where she's from with the repeated line "Spanish Harlem". It's lyrics about triumph over adversity and Phil Spector include the lines "I hope your cell is full of magazines and everyone has a picture of me."

The Ronettes singles are Pop jewels. Instantly recognisable (Just think of that opening drum beat on Be My Baby…it's a Pop Quiz safe bet, you'll name it in seconds). The wall of sound and the discipline of having all your songs about boys and girls not only defined a view of American Teenage but made Pop Music that New York Punks could still love 20 years later.

Steve Van Zandt (bald under a bandana in the E Street band and bald under a quiff wig in the Sopranos) sums it up best. "Everybody loves Ronnie Spector…it's one of the byelaws of Rock 'n' Roll

Hot Club Of CowTown Glee Club Birmingham 23rd Sept

The Hot Club Of Cowtown promise "Hot jazz and Western Swing". It's an offer I can't refuse.

The original trio of guitar, stand up bass and violin started in New York in 96 before moving to Austin. Classically trained violinist Elana James and classically shit hot guitarist Whit Smith were aiming for the feel of the songs of the 30's, as played by the likes of Bob Wills, Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt and a dollop of Country. I didn't know whether to wear a hat or spats. After 5 albums the band split up for 2 years. Now they're back, refreshed and swinging with a drummer in tow.

The opening song Ida Redd is a traditional; song featuring a girl who'll take a shovel to your head and it pretty much encapsulates the Hot Club approach. The vocals of James and Smith bounce off each other and there's a whopping and a hollering from bassist Jake Erwin. Smith plays fluid and scuttling guitar lines on a coffee table sized semi acoustic, James violin swoops and skips through a range of different sounds and the bass rattles like a train.

They covers include Long Way Home by Tom Waites, Duke Ellington's I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) and Georgia On My Mind. The songs themselves are often a stepping off point for utterly joyful, utterly skilful musicianship. It's like a particularly well run orgy…Everyone gets a turn and everyone's part is appreciated.

I Can't Give You Anything But Love is the kind of breathy playful sultriness. Part Marilyn Munroe Happy Birthday Mr President, part Jessica Rabbit. What's The Matter With The Mill ploughs a filthy furrow. Apparently there's lots of corn but they can't get no grinding done.

Their own song Forget Me Nots with it's lines about going to the mountains "Forget me nots and mountain columbine… I'm leaving you behind" would have sat happily on a Gram Parsons album. Which makes sense really as both bands were trying to draw in the folkier, traditional roots of Country rather than the rhinestones.

The actual Hot Club name throws up some interesting references. There's the original Hot Club of France with Reinhardt and Grapelli, Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band and the Hot Teens who are currently sending me 200 e mails a day. The latter must have a keen manager and an enthusiastic plugger.

They play 2 sets with a half hour break spent lurking round the merchandising stall. I like the idea of bands being directly involved in selling. It keeps the money closer to them, but rather than just cds and posters I'd like to see bands branching out into car valeting, dry cleaning or crystal therapy between sets. Actually I'd have pretty much signed up for anything with fit as a fiddler Elana James and her spotty dress.

The personal problems behind the original split are referred to when James announces this series of 22 consecutive gigs is the longest they've ever done, but they're still all getting along. Smith just sighs and says "Aww don't say that."

What makes the band special though is the feeling of spontaneity. You really do get the feeling that they're reading each other musically and are ready to take a song into a different direction. They have a great trick of building up and snapping into each others solos. It's subtly done, an extra drum beat here or a fuller chord there, but it did feel that the band were stepping up to something rather than having a rest from singing!

Jake Erwin's upright bass playing was a joy to watch, moving between a rockabilly train slap and a jazz club chug. I waited all night to see him use the bow. It was there hanging off his bass, swinging like Iggy Pop's cock. And just like an Iggy gig, the audience knew, the bow was there and knew that it probably did come out at some gigs. But that night the bow stayed in. Wonder what it would have sounded like.

Last song of the night was Orange Blossom Special was astonishingly powerful. It's a song you've probably heard many times before but Hot Club really stoked it, building up the power for the first couple of minutes, before letting it go. Like a fiddle frenzied Metallica.

There's a best of album which draws together material from the previous 5 albums which is a good place to start and you can see a version of Orange Blossom Special from Jools Holland's Later at

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sam and Dave and Isaac Hayes

When Isaac Hayes died recently there was a surprising (but deserved) amount of coverage. It may have been testament to his massive contribution to music but also to the fact that with his various roles as musician, songwriter, performer, iconic baldy, actor and voice of chef meant that there were simply more good stories about him. Death by treadmill didn't hurt the copywriters either!

Great things about Isaac Hayes.

The fact that he wrote 200 songs for Stax (and you do know a lot of them), the cover of Hot Buttered Soul with the bald head and chain and the fact that the lp only had 4 songs on it including By The Time I Get To Phoenix. With it's generous 18 minute running time, there was a fair chance you could actually get to Phoenix by the time Ike had finished the spoken intro. The slight pause as the monologue ends with the line "He said" and then the song slides into the opening line of the song. A classic soul moment, only bettered by the sweetness of the strings as it gets to the line "She'll laugh when she reaches the part that says I'm leaving"

Obviously Theme from Shaft was great. Even better was the fact that he was lifted onto the stage by a hydraulic ramp to play it at the 1971 Oscars. That's less Soulsvile USA. More like Kiss and Detroit Rock City. You've got to give credit for the fact that he had a tuxedo made of chains and also wrote a song called Pursuit Of The Pimpmobile. Oh yes. And the tooling up sequence in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. The scene gets longer and the weapons get bigger. After being so involved in the whole Blaxploitation genre here was Hayes sending himself up.

But there's more to it than the stories and the songwriting. And more to it than great songwriter writes great song. I think what he did with Sam and Dave is even more interesting.

Hayes and song writing partner Dave Porter took an underachieving soul duo who had been signed by Atlantic's Jerry Wexler (who also died very recently) and forced them to go against their own instincts as singers. The resulting string of singles that Hayes and Porter wrote for them between 1965 and 69 are pretty much as good as it gets. Backed by a multi racial band on a white owned label that aimed at Black audiences (while in the North, Motown was the Black owned label aiming at White audiences) Sam and Dave had the Gospel fire, and the contrast of Sam Moore's pleading tenor contrasting with Dave Prater's gruff roar.

I Take what I Want
You Don't Know Like I Know
Hold On I'm Coming
You Got Me Humming
When Something Is Wrong With My baby
Soul Man
I Thank You
Everybody Got To Believe In Somebody
Soul Sister Brown Sugar

No duffers there! Hearing any of them would make anyone's world a better place. Sometimes you don't have to dig out the rare and obscure. Sometimes the best stuff was actually the hits!

Sam Moore started out singing Gospel and was all set to tour with the Soul Stirrers as a potential replacement for Sam Cooke. He changed his mind after seeing Jackie Wilson and wanted to do a broader range of material. In 1961 he was compering an amateur night in Miami he was joined onstage by Dave Prater still in his baker's whites from his day job. Prater was so nervous he dropped his mike and Sam caught it.

They'd signed to Roulette but the whole thing didn't really come together until they were signed by Jerry Wexler in 1964 and sent to Memphis....which is where Isaac Hayes came in. The hits that Hayes and Porter wrote for them forced them to sing outside their natural keys.

Sam Moore has said "The funny thing was I didn't like any of our hits when Hayes and Porter played them for us. I liked the ballads but I didn't understand their kind of music. I was looking for the straight Rock 'n' Roll and they'd come up with all these changes, horn lines doing this and we'd be doing that. Chords where you'd really have to grit your teeth to sing it"

But of course that straining gave an urgency to the sound. The horn lines, guitar and vocals were all going hell for leather. The band were doing call and response in the same way that Sam and Dave were. Hayes and Porter were writing songs for them that captured the fervour of Gospel but with celebrations of heartbreak and lust. Songs that built the Soul Man tradition. Testifying and testosterone. Sometimes he's a Broke Down Piece Of A Man (actually it's a Steve Cropper song rather than Isaac Hayes) but more likely it's Hold On I'm Coming.

Listen to the wail and flail of I Thank You, and it's opening plea for "Some more of that ooooold Soul clapping". Now go and play Black Grape's In The Name Of The Father. A record that could not have existed with Sam and Dave.

Thing is Hayes also had to convince the label owner. "Jim Stewart just did not like minor keys. Yeah yeah. The bread and butter of Gospel and Blues. He hated them in fact....Of course you couldn't be at all funky and innovative if you didn't use some of those options. So we were always at work sneaking them in"

As a live act they were legendary. They were Double Dynamite, with the non stop, athletic dance routines, the call and response vocals, feeding off each others lines and moves. I remember seeing a clip of Hold On I'm Coming where they make loosening a tie seem like a choreographed act of Soulful intensity, rather than just a way of breathing more easily.

In Gerri Hirshey's book Nowhere To Run (a terrific book on Soul that should be on the national curriculum) there is a lot of Sam and Dave...and sweat.
Prater saw it as proof that he'd worked for his pay and Moore said "Unless my body reaches a certain temperature, starts to liquify, I just don't feel right"

But despite their onstage chemistry the pair had a volatile relationship. Moore was a long term heroin addict. In 1968 Prater shot his wife during an argument. Prater's wife survived but he was never prosecuted. Moore wouldn't speak to him again. "I said I'll sing with you but I'll never talk to you again ever. So for 12 years our lives were completely separate"

In 1970 Moore recorded a solo album for Atlantic, backed by the cream of Atlantic and Stax musicians including Bernard Purdie on drums, Aretha Franklin on keyboards, Donny Hathaway and the Sweet Inspirations. Plenty Good Lovin' didn't get released until 2002.

Moore himself didn't remember making it but he did remember going to see the albums producer King Curtis in 1971. "Unfortunately when I got there he was ...ahh...getting murdered"
King Curtis Sax player (on everything from Yakety Yak to Memphis Soul Stew) and producer was carrying air conditioning equipment into his Harlem apartment when he was stabbed.

Moore remembers "Aretha was sitting across the street and I was walking towards the apartment. I could see King screaming at this guy to get off his steps....Aretha got out of the car and screamed but at the time I wasn't so clean. I was carrying stuff I didn't want any one to find. I ran before I saw him die

Sam and Dave continued to work with each other on and off through the 70's. There were various reunion tours and ill advised re recordings of their hits. The success of the Blues Brothers prompted another short lived reunion before Moore got a job serving Warrants and Prater worked for a Pontiac dealer.

Moore talks about those 70's gigs in a recent interview at to plug his recent Overnight Sensational album (I'd go for the release of the 1970 album doesn't feature Sting or Jon Bon Jovi)

"Oh my god it was real bad. You've got to understand it wasn't a promoter that broke Sam and Dave, it was us. Sometimes Dave would show up, and I wouldn't. Sometimes I would show, and he wouldn't. We'd get up on stage, but it wasn't like the old days when we connected, and say to each other "Let's go and get them". We were getting high, I was pimping my girlfriends at the time. It wasn't such a good life then."

The Sam and Dave act had led to a myriad of male duo acts. Sam and Bill, Sam and Dan, Sam and Sam, Eddie and Ernie. At one point Dave Prater was touring as Sam and Dave with Sam from Sam and Dan.

There were legal shenanigans when Sam Moore stopped Atlantic from releasing a Sam and Dave album in 1985 that featured Sam Daniels. Moore himself felt the weight of legal process when he was ordered to stop performing Dole Man in support of Bob Dole. Sadly he was not stopped from recording Soul Man with Lou Reed. Prater had the misfortune to sell crack to an undercover policeman and then worse luck when he died following a car crash in 88.

The popularity and impact of their hits and their own personal problems meant that they were stuck with each other and their hits even when they weren't together. Although the sweat and intensity of their live shows was down to their own talent, it was the song writing of Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter
that gave them the hits that they could never escape from. Their story has some of the most thrilling moments in Pop, squandered talent, unseen chances and their own poisonous relationship.

It's like Rod Hull and Emu.

Bombay Bicycle Club

When Lemmy and his wart were young and handsome, they decided that they should be part of the Rock n Roll world because, instead of all the people telling you what you couldn't do…"These guys told you what you could do. Which is a lot more fun. And there were all the cute chicks"

Bombay Bicycle Club on the other hand formed to play at their school assembly when they 15. "We weren't very good. The school assembly was a bit of a disaster, and afterwards we messed around for a year."

They're still only 18 though and have played at V and Reading festivals and supported the Young Knives. Between exams they've also put out 3 singles. And here's the thing. They're very good. It's 2 guitars, bass and drums sound, with tuneful Sonic Youth intertwining guitars, and Jack Steadman's reedy, quavery vocals sung into the middle distance. He sounds like Mr Magoo or Marc Bolan (The Glam Larry the lamb)

New single Evening/Morning is full of unexpected musical twists and turns. It starts quietly with a steadily building drums roll and a mix of ringing, guitar picking and some coarser strummage. As it reaches a crescendo it drops back to just a filthy bass. It squeezes a few more stop starts and a great false ending into a great 3 minutes. It sounds tense and it reminds me of Drink The Elixir by Salad. I doubt if they remember it though. When that record came out the band were still too young for the ball pool.

All their records have been produced by Arctic Monkeys producer Jim Abiss. How Are You, from last years How We Are ep released on the own Mmm label has more stop start trickery and has a bit more of a Dinosaur Jr feel especially the drums.

The chiming discordant guitars of Open House from their debut single Boy I Used To Be (also from last year) are more like The Strokes.

They're a band with loads of potential and I do like to hear band talk about their exams nearly as much as their records. I bet Lemmy does too.

The Hold Steady

On the few occasions recently when I haven't been thinking about The Wire, I've mostly been thinking about how much I'm looking forward to the new Hold Steady album. I was really taken by them after seeing them on Jools Holland last year. Their last album Boys And Girls In America was their breakthrough album. Bruce Springsteen meets AC/DC as opposed to their first 2 albums which were Bruce Springsteen meets Husker Du. Stadium indie played by a bunch of Brooklyn blokes who comfortably manage to pull off the look of being a bunch of 30 something blokes who know their way around a bar, a bar band, a hotdog stand and quite possibly did see the Bears games on Saturday. They are the best new old band of recent years with just the right mix of classic rock moves, the Punk Rock sensibilities to keep all that Rock in check and the terrific lyrics of Craig Finn. Part Springsteen/Strummer declamatory roar and part pissed poetry.

Stuck Between Stations was the stand out track and single from their last album Boys And Girls In America and contains more good ideas than you generally need in a song. Kerouac quoting, AC/DC riffing and the lyric "Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together. Crushing one another with colossal expectations" Phew!

The ascending riff leading into the chorus is just monumental and straight out of the Angus Young's notebook. It is the cock of the school of rock. It was one of my favourite records of the year but some ear discretion is advised. Some of the keyboards are less E Street Band and more Bruce Hornsby and his bastard Range. So if you are Bruce averse (either Springsteen or Hornsby) then you need to concentrate more on the first 2 albums Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday where the taut relentless guitars roll like tanks. There are crunching guitars and shouty bloke tales of suburban casualties where often the same characters run like a thread through his lyrics. War vets and party casualties and more painkillers than a celebrity "My Hollywood Hell" edition of Heat.

You wouldn't want him at your wedding...when the vicar asks if there is an any cause or just impediment, loose lips Finn would be bellowing out an eye watering story from the staggy!

The single from the forthcoming album is exactly what is required. Sequestered in Memphis seems to be a Police interview. (A parallel to Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine by The Killers) Something has gone badly wrong after picking up a woman in a bar. "We didn't go back to her place, we went to some place where she cat sits"

Finn leads into each chorus with a variation of "I'll tell the story, again…"

And as for the chorus itself, it's a 6 line distillation of what's great about the band. "Subpoenaed in Texas, sequestered in Memphis" A blend of legalese and geography. Craig Finn, the Replacements fan from Minneapolis is still so in love with Rock 'n' Roll that he thinks it's just enough for him to invoke the names Texas and Memphis and for that to be just enough to carry the song. In this case it is.

The American legal terms may be familiar to British ears through years of exposure to their legal system through films and telly (It's been like distance learning for me. I wouldn't exactly claim to be qualified, but I reckon I could pace around an American courtroom) but it really is not what you expect to hear in a chorus. Generally I look for a chorus that promotes cars, girls or shaking either booty, that thing or even the room.

Either way it's a great record and exactly what I want to hear from them. The new album Stay Positive is available on ITunes but I'm holding out until the 14th for the physical release, the digipack and the extra tracks.

There is more Hold Steady at

Stuck Between Stations is at

Sequestered In Memphis is at

Zutons - You Can Do Anything

The Zutons are back. Like the first cheeky bollock peeking out of the shorts of summer. Not quite want you want to see all the time, but the occasional view is always funny. I do like the band, although they may not appreciate being compared to cheeky bollocks. They started it though by calling their last album Tired Of Hanging Around.

This time round they've lost a guitarist, gained a producer (George Drakoulias who produced The Black Crows and Primal Scream) and singer Dave McCabe has had a new beard fitted.

The album cover has the band in the desert playing second fiddle to a giant silver Z. Now there is a proud tradition of monuments in Pop Culture from the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey, Spinal Tap's Stonehenge, and the monument on the Cover of Who's Next that seemed to be both public and convenient. The giant silver Z just feels more like a left over prop from a car advert though and I end up looking at Abi's legs rather than the fine corporate branding.

The albums is less odd ball than Who Killed The Zutons and doesn't have anything as good Valerie or Oh Stacey (Look What You've Done) from the last album, but there's still plenty to like. Starting with McCabe's hoarse yearning vocals and Sean Payne's excellent drumming.

My swaggering greasy Southern Rock A Boogie requirements have usually been satisfied by The Black Crows, rather than a bunch of Scouse Beefheart botherers. I'm not complaining though. Harder And Harder is a great opening track with slide guitar and gamely honking sax and really is only a few footsteps away (over the on stage Persian carpet) from The Black Crows. And if that's the Drak influence then I'm all for it.

What's Your Problem is a stomping brassy pop soul affair ushered in with jabbering sax and guitar riffs with plenty of" Huh" and "Yeahs" for backing vocals.

Always Right Behind You sticks it's thumbs in it's belt loops and rocks like a vintage Top Of The Pops. All slide guitar and platform shoes. It's extremely silly and you really shouldn't like it as much as you will

McCabe's lyrics on this album have come in for criticism as being clichéd and poisonous. Bumbag opens with the line "Raise a glass now to the person who invented the word called scum"

Family Of Leeches is a Shameless episode set to music. All asbos and hearts of gold. Maybe he's having problems with the neighbours of the house he bought with the proceeds of Valerie.

The first album definitely had odder lyrics though with it's images of zombies, Dirty Dancehalls and the self referential Zuton fever. McCabe claims he wants to write stories you can dance to and always writes about "trouble and mischief".

Valerie is "About our mate Valerie getting done for drink driving and about telling her to come and see me, give her a hug, kind of thing. 'Cos she's got ginger hair too. It's obviously her, it's very literal."

I quite like literal. One of the best tracks from the last album was The Little Things we do. Literally about hangovers, it's a wry look at the problems of sandwich making after hay making and it may not have been prize wining poetry but id did have a sax part that sounded like it was hurtling down the hallway to hurl.

There are plenty of songs of trouble and mischief on this album though.

Freak is a Gigolo song while Put A Little Side is a tale of funny money and bogus jobs.

"5 times a year I'll return with the fake pay packet that I didn't earn. I'm the one who works the oil rigs but clearly I'm not".

My favourite tracks are the up-tempo, rockier ones like Harder And Harder and Always Right Behind You. But I've made a little room in my life for Don't Get Caught. It is pickety country folk, that's part Everybody's Talkin' that sits comfortably on a cushion of perfectly judged keyboards. I also like Give Me A Reason with it's George Harrison guitar

There are sample tracks at

They've been playing a series of gigs at Forestry Commission sites (come on wouldn't you rather go to an arboretum than an auditorium) and play at Cannock Chase 28th June

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vic Goddard and Subway Sect

Subway Sect were the Punk band that got away. Artier than their contemporaries, they were Post Punk before Punk had even happened. But whilst the similarly influenced and awkward Wire left a legacy of great records, the original Subway Sect just left the 2 singles: Nobody's Scared and Ambition. The debut album was scrapped and through a mixture of mismanagement and contrariness Vic Goddard's records and song writing style veered through big bands, swing and Northern Soul. Eventually he ran out of genres and became a postman.

However last year he re-recorded songs from the planned debut aiming for the sound and feel of that era. Released last year as 1978 Now, it's a really good record, and I dearly wish it had been around in 1978! An accompanying series of gigs included Leicester Firebug, which was a bit of a treat

School friends Vic Goddard and guitarist Rob Symmons formed the band after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Marquee. Malcolm Mclaren paid for their early rehearsals to get them ready for the 2 day Punk festival at the 100 Club in September 76. In those early days, audiences may have been small but they were all forming bands, as Sex Pistols gigs became the focus for the curious and disaffected.

“I thought the Sex Pistols were the end of Rock n Roll but as it turned out they weren’t. Steve Jones had obviously learned to play from the New York Dolls but we wanted to sound like the Velvet Underground or The Seeds. Nothing remotely heavy. We never used ordinary guitars, a Gibson or a Strat. We used Fender Mustangs because they have a trebly sound. We became quite purist. Our guitarist refused to allow any macho Rock ‘n’ Roll attitudes on stage"

Subway Sect's instruments were on HP but even more onerously they were managed by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes. They were on The White Riot tour in 1977 with The Clash, Slits and Buzzcocks.

Nobody's Scared came out in 1978 on Braik records (Rhodes own label). It's a thrilling and god-awful racket, with the drums working overtime and the other instruments quite keen to put in the hours too!

The opening line "Everyone is a prostitute, singing the song in prison, Moral standards the wallpaper" fits in with Goddard’s aim to change the way that Rock songs were written. “To pare it down, take out all the Americanisms. I didn’t mind what went into the songs as long as the language was different. No “yeahs” and “baby”.

The call and response vocal lines and non Rock ‘n’ Roll language of that debut would also crop up in bands like Gang Of 4 or Au Pairs

Subway Sect’s influences were Johnny Thunders and Jonathan Richman, Erik Satie, Debussy and Dada. Slightly compromised by the fact that they still couldn't really play and the gigs were chaotic.

"The Sex Pistols represented what could be done but they had really been practising since 1974 so they really could play quite well while we literally not only couldn't play, we weren't even the sort of people who would be in a group in the first place and still aren't! I wouldn't look twice at an amplifier! We tended to try and do everything in a different way just because we couldn't do it in a proper way. We had a big thing with the Buzzcocks, we were totally on the same wavelength and the Prefects as well. We came out of the same mould. They were Birmingham, we were London and the Buzzcocks were Manchester but we were very similar, we'd all started from scratch”.

Rough Trade's Geoff Travis issued the second single Ambition later in 78. “Subway Sect were so literary. Vic is the great lost soul of the era. His nihilism is more extreme than anyone’s. He seemed to have seen through the circus, which he was being enticed into, from day one. He saw all the contradictions and didn’t want to be a pop star”

This makes what happened next all the more extraordinary. The band were recording what should have been the debut album at Gooseberry studios (Linda Lusardi's brother was the engineer), Bernie Rhodes basically sacked the rest of the band scrapped the album and then kept Goddard on as a songwriter (£100 per week for 10 songs…. regardless of quality) for a planned stable of acts.

Ambition was the only thing released from those sessions. It still ranks as one of the great Punk singles but at the time the band hated it. Not just the ones who'd been sacked. Goddard wasn't too keen either. Symmons thought that it sounded like "Just a great big Rock record". Well it didn't. But it certainly didn't sound quite like anything else that Punk had produced either, with it's guitar crashing opening chords, plinky keyboards and bubbling electronics (the latter was added by Rhodes and had the same grisly appeal as the horrible jug sound of the 13th Floor Elevators)

Still tied in with Rhodes, Vic Goddard released What's the Matter Boy in 1980 using many of the songs that would have been on the lost album. It's slick, a bit gimmicky and a long way from The Velvet Underground. Goddard has described his “reluctant cooperation” in making it and calls it a skiffle album. It features original Clash drummer Terry Chimes and his bass playing brother and also The Black Arabs (as featured on the great Rock n Roll Swindle Soundtrack…. oh yes Goddard’s world was still spinning on a McLaren/Rhodes axis)

Stop That Girl is a really good song though and I think long time fan Edwyn Collins definitely cocked an ear to the arrangement of Stop That Girl for his own songs on the first Orange Juice album. Orange Juice also covered Goddard’s song Holiday Hymn.

The line up of Subway Sect for the Songs For Sale album included the musicians that would later make up Joboxers. I saw them at Manchester Apollo in 1981 supporting Altered Images. A soon to be Joboxer asked the audience “Is Vic there?….cos he aint fucking here!” before launching into funny, clever and downright musical set of instrumentals. Without the elusive Goddard.

He recorded an album T.R.O.U.B.LE as a big band with the musicians who’d backed Joe Jackson on his Jumping Jive album but it didn’t get released until 86. Loss of impetus, loss of interest and so he was off to the Post office.

There have been projects since including an album The End Of The Surrey People produced by Edwyn Collins, a musical with Irvine Welsh and the albums Long Term Side Effect and Sansend.

Thing is I’m biased. I was much more interested in the prospect of original Subway Sect songs played as they were meant to be. He’s still an unlikely looking figure, as befits a man who sang We Oppose All Rock N Roll. At the Leicester gig drummer Mark Laff (one of the original Subway Sect drummers, who later joined Generation X) announced that there would be an encore but “Vic’s having a cup of tea” Rock ‘n’ Roll Phew! A chance to see a genuine Punk one off I’ll drink to that!

There are good interviews (well I’ve plundered them) with Goddard and Symmons at

There are streamed tracks of Nobody’s Scared, Ambition and Chain Smoking at

He plays at Kings Heath Hare and Hounds on 30th May

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stars Of The Lid

I don't spend very much time in the bubble chair suspended from the ceiling, stroking both my chin and a white cat. (I don't spend that much time on the sex swing either!) But if I did, then Stars Of The Lid would be my Ambient music of choice.

Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride make instrumentals because "It just satisfied something we wanted to express. When you're trying to pay homage to the sounds of your refrigerator, there's no need for vocals."

Originally formed in Austin Texas in 1993 they now live in separate continents with Wiltzie living in Brussels. McBride used to have a day job as a Debating Coach. (Now there's a job that didn't feature in the Arctic Monkeys tradesman's line up.)

They use a mixture of heavily treated guitars, strings brass and "Found Sounds." It's not just the fridge, it's the sound of the kitchen it's in! Everything is squeezed, stretched or twisted into a completely different shape. Sounds build and ebb away. And sometimes they don't build very much!

It may be drones and echoes but the effect is often staggeringly beautiful, sometimes you're forced to concentrate on the tiniest sound and other times you can just let it wash over you. Fac 21 from 2001's album The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid is rich, orchestral, and uplifting but half way through it there is a creepy electrical crackle and rumble. Barely audible, but that's what makes it disconcerting. (Coincidentally Wiltzie and McBride have complained about the initial vinyl pressing of their second album Gravitational Pull vs The Desire For An Aquatic Life which suffered from surface noise. How can they tell? Sceptic slap down! It seems the undynamic duo actually are listening!)

The music is very cinematic and there is a real David Lynch feel. (They even call one of their tracks Music For Twin Peaks.) You could use their material for documentary soundtracks, (once Sigur Ros have been thoroughly mined) or Survival Horror games like Resident Evil.

4AD supremo Ivo Watts described them as making the most important music of the 21st century. (A view possibly shared by Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser who said " Sugar bee slip doh, sequin tree honey trollop")

Of course the whole thing with ambient music is you need to approach it in a different way. On one hand, using it as something nice to go to sleep to or playing it in your crystal shop and incense shack just seems a tad disrespectful. But then you've also got to ask yourself, what is it for and does it mean anything? What if it's just a bunch of random sounds thrown together and shipped out to the gullible?

As with many other things, the answer lies with Brian Eno and his ground-breaking series of albums like Discreet Music and Music for Airports.

In 1975 he was in hospital, in a body cast following a car crash. He was listening to 18th century harp music, with the volume too quiet, but unable to adjust it because he couldn't move. He noticed the way that the music blended in with the environment, working on "many different levels of listening attention without forcing one in particular". Eno made Ambient Music as a working, utilitarian music. To add to or change the environment you are in and the experience you are having. He described it as like a painter taking a figure out of a painting to create space. By taking out the vocals or by using software and loops to create a random element that would replace the musicians own intervention or personality, he could create a space that would filled by the listener's experience (presumably either consciously or unconsciously). So it's ok then. It's official. You can go to sleep to it or even buy a candle and some pot pourri. (That's the ambient equivalent of smashing up the seats!)

The volume thing is important though. Discreet Music was meant to be played at barely audible volumes. Similarly Harold Budd (who Eno collaborated with on Plateaux Of Mirror in 1980) aimed to play his piano as quietly as possible. It's a principle I wish my violin playing eight year old would adopt.

There is a good selection of Stars On The Lid material at and there are 8 albums and assorted solo projects to work through for the truly committed.

I'm just intrigued by the whole idea of seeing this stuff played live. Seating, a string section and projections are promised! Rocking out is not!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Nick Cave Birmingham Academy 05/05/08

On the face of it a Nick Cave gig shouldn’t have been this much fun. What with all the Old Testament bellowing and all that murdering. And lest we forget he is a confirmed Kylie killer. One minute he was duetting with her on Where The Wild Roses Grow and then by the end of the song he’s killed her with a rock and stuck a rose between her teeth. What a rotter.

He’s 50 now and has been perfecting his pervy horror shtick and spilling blood in a literate and unique style over 15 solo albums. For years people have argued that there is a sense of humour at work, but after listening to all that bloodshed and bile could a sold out Academy just be full of serial killers in disguise? And while we’re at it, if Cave can’t think of anything nice to write about, then shouldn’t he go to a garden centre or visit a National Trust property instead.

Evidently not. The latest album Dig Lazarus Dig is amongst his more user friendly. And Nick cave himself was positively jovial.

They opened with the clanking call and response chain gang sound of Night Of The Lotus Eaters and Dig Lazarus Dig. The Bad Seeds specialise in that swampy, alcoholic sound. Rain hammering on a cabin roof and face at the window stuff.

For this tour they’ve brought the full drum shop. Loads of percussion and some songs had 2 drummers (the excellent Jim Sacluvas and his legendary pink drum kit) and any Bad Seed not otherwise gainfully employed could usually be spotted banging something or other.

Dig Lazarus Dig has Cave in full declamatory preacher mode, as he tells the story of a cult figure and his downfall. “The women all went back to their homes and their husbands with secret smiles in the corner of their mouths. He ended up as so many of them do, back on the streets in a soup queue.... Poor Larry” He sounds like he’s having fun by the way h squeezes out the “Poor Larry” line

The swirling Tupelo is as threatening as the storm it describes and Red Right Hand suits the clankier sound of the current Bad Seeds sound. Cave switches between guitar, keyboard and stage prowling and fist shaking depending on the song. His civil war ‘tache remains resolutely lady scaring though. He’s got some completion in the beardy stakes though. Guitarist Warren Ellis seems to have a hermit attached to his chin.

Cave responds good-humouredly to the constant audience requests, although sadly not to the hopeful “Play the one from Shrek”. At one point he announces “It’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s incredible what you can get away with.”

He adopted one fan’s shout of “You’re the man” and enthusiastically took it up as the theme for the evening. After each song the patter would be a variant on “I’m the Man,” or “No you’re the Man”

After playing Your Funeral My Trial he said, “It was a happy day when I wrote that song” before almost giggling “The bitch never talked to me again”. Oh yes he’s in a good mood. Book him for your next children’s party!

Lie Down Here And Be My Girl from the new album sounds excellent, powering along like it’s close relative Third Uncle by Eno. The sparse and delicate Moonland has the arresting opening line “When I first came up out of the meat locker. The city was gone”

The set closer More News From Nowhere has Cave waving bye bye to the audience (oh yes) in contrast to the Birthday Party days when he’d be more likely to be sticking a winklepickered boot into the front row.

Oldies encores included Get Ready For Love where the “All around the world” part got played liked AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie and the frankly beautiful Into My Arms. In a parallel universe couples may well be cuddling up to that one. And some were at the Academy! But just to prove that he’s not ready for the Simon Bates gig yet, his last song was Stagger Lee. As the song veered from taut and brooding to it’s full bloody climax, the stage lighting went as mental as the band in full explosive flight. ...And the language. Dear oh dear! What a lot of mother loving. Unfortunately what we’ve got in that song, is a very bad man who leaves a trail of death and destruction; starting with the murder of the bar man at the Bucket Of Blood and finishing with some sexual bad manners and the line “Billy dropped down and slobbered on his head and Stag filled him full of lead”

(Amazingly this isn't actually the most unsettling use of the word "head" in pop music....That would be the line from the Jacques Brel song Next. "And I swear on the wet head of my first case of gonorrhoea")

As a song and performance it summed up just why Nick Cave is still such a good thing. Funny, hokey, unsettling and thoroughly enjoying playing with the possibilities of a musical and literary history and also well aware of his own image and the fun he can have with it. Backed by a band who rock like bastards.

Night Of The Lotus Eaters
Dig Lazarus, Dig
Todays Lesson
Red Right Hand
Midnight Man
Your Funeral My Trial
Lie Down Here And Be My Girl
The Ship Song
We Call Upon The Author
Papa Won't Leave You Henry
More News From Nowhere

Get Ready For Love
Hard On For Love
Straight To You
Lyre Of Orpheus

Into My Arms
Stagger Lee

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. Birmingham Yardbird 13/04/08

I had really fancied this gig.

From the records and the clips I’d seen I was expecting a full on, all out funky soul, sold out treat. And it was. There was no support but the dj’s delivered some furious funk and the Yardbird is just a good place to be anyway.

Eight Dap-Kings squeeze onto the small low stage. Suited and booted to various degrees of dapperness and exuding bar band nonchalance.

They’re all great players and look like they could probably play their instruments with one hand and use the other to skin you at poker. Except for the conga player who looks like he’s only a costume change away from a part in ‘Allo ‘Allo.

I felt I’d had my moneys worth even before Sharon Jones took to the stage.

MC and guitarist Binky Griptite led the band into a couple of warm up numbers and instrumentals. It was just so good to be standing so close to a band who had so completely captured the sound of classic soul. Northern and Southern, Country and Western. Sacred and profane and all points in-between. They had a handle on it and they were turning it. On!

Trumpet, 2 saxes, 2 guitars, congas and the effortless funky shuffle of the peerless Homer Funky Foot Steinweiss using the world’s smallest kit with no toms. (Or gongs. It didn’t levitate or explode into flames either!)

Bosco Bass Mann’s shades were straight from Starsky and Hutch and his bass lines were straight from all the best Rare Groove records. No complaints on either count then.

Binky Griptite’s stage patter is a delight. It’s 70’s dj/George Clinton meets Hendrix. In his world the merchandise stand isn’t a trestle table with some t shirts and cds. It’s a "Supersoul Superstore"

Sharon Jones is an Etta James style soul belter, with a sideline in the Tina Turner strut on unfeasible heels. (She probably didn’t wear them when she was a warder at Rikers Island. At least not on the days when she’d have to run after someone.)

Her act includes lots of chatting to the audience and she explains how she tackled the pitfalls of being a big woman dancing in a little dress. “I’ve got my shorts on!”

She does like to get people on stage though. One by one they’re dragged up to be danced at/with and sung to. The classic moment though was in a song called Be Easy.

She pulled a fresh faced fellow onto the stage and explained how this song was going to be an education to him and would help him in matters of love.

She asked if he was here with his girlfriend. She asked if he was here with a woman. “Are you here with a lady tonight?”

“Er I’m with my mum”....which was true. And his dad too. A family outing. Mum got dragged on stage as well. His dad plays drums in Ramones covers band Havana A Go Go. The Havana A Go Go hero was beaming “That’s my boy”.

The songs capture the sounds of all the best years of classic 60’s and 70’s Soul. Aint Nobody’s Baby opens out into a soaring Staple Singers type chorus and Mean Man positively shakes it’s tail feather.

Songs are stretched out or shortened with nods and glances between the band. So it feels as if the material is being moulded to the mood of the evening. They could have rehearsed being spontaneous though!

They finish with a covers of It’s a Mans World and There Was A Time. (Both Jones and her childhood hero Brown were born in Augusta Georgia).

A great gig then.

As on the records they’re not out do anything new or clever, just capture the sounds and feeling of classic era Soul. And they do it impeccably. It's more than just revivalism though. Jones herself has said “Maybe it’s coming back for others but I’ve lived through segregation and Stax and Otis dying. I’ve lived this part of history and now I’m singing it”.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bettye Lavette

Bettye LaVette's album The Scene Of The Crime is her 4th album since 2001.

The 62-year-old Soul veteran released her first single aged 16, but despite a string of singles, the debut album she recorded the following decade, (yes.... I do mean 10 years later!) got shelved and it took another another 10 years for an album came out on Motown. And then nothing, until now and her comparative commercial frenzy!

Her story is a classic case of bad luck and management that veered between criminal and pragmatic.

She didn't write her own material and saw herself as an interpreter of songs. Her best work is where she actually gets right inside the song and method acts the part.

Dave Godin, the influential Soul journalist understood that music isn't just something to dance to but there is life, meaning and a social context to how music is made and listened to and that the best singers could sing that life alive.

He saw it in Bettye LaVette and wrote that "Few can match the flawless totality of conveyed experience that Bettye LaVette never fails to achieve. She is the consummate artist who can relate on every level.

“Take Bettye LaVette away from Soul music's history and there is a gap which no other person I can think of could have filled."

Growing up in Detroit she went to school with many of the up and coming Motown acts. Her best friend knew Johnnie Mae Matthews who ran her own Northern label. She released her first single My Man He's A Loving Man in 1962 which was picked up by Atlantic.

LaVette remembers Matthews as "A big, mean woman with cuts on her face, who beat me up and cheated the Temptations and everybody else out of their money," The song was an R&B hit and she promoted it with a tour that included Clyde McPhatter, Ben E King, Barbara Lynn and Otis Redding. Not a bad start!

After a less successful second single You'll Never Change, Atlantic dropped her and Matthews passed her management contract on to Robert West (who had owned the studio where LaVette had first recorded). West released her 3rd single Witchcraft In The Air on his own Lupine label. He then got shot with his own gun while "negotiating" a deal for Mary Wells.

Let Me Down Easy is her defining song. Part Tango, part Dance Of The Sugar Plum fairy with its stop start rhythm and plucked strings. The vocal is hoarse and anguished, picking up from where despair leaves off. A desperate realisation that Love is walking out of the door.

She can see it and you can hear it!

A towering performance and an absolute Soul treasure. It was released in 1965 on Calla. LaVette certainly could pick 'em. Not only was she dropped after another couple of singles but the label was owned by Nate McCalla.... a gangland enforcer who would eventually disappear ...with his murdered body not turning up until years later.

LaVette has said wryly that "It was a great concern with record companies that I sounded more like Wilson Pickett than Diana Ross, It was only later that I realized that I sound different from other people, and I have to work with what I've got."

There were further releases on Big Wheel Records and Karen but still no hits and no money!

She did a version of the Kenny Rogers hit What Condition My Condition Is In. The young silver fox loved it and it led to a string of singles on his brother Lelan's Nashville based label Silver Fox. This is my favourite period of her career. It was gathered together on a Charly album Nearer To You that came out in the mid 80's.

Since then the compilation has come out on different labels, different track ordering and there is currently an import version called Piece Of My Heart. Essentially though, It's essential.

I think those Silver Fox singles are amongst the best things to come out of that whole Country Soul period. Where Black and White musicians were mixing and blending their respective styles and cooking up music that was both about the South and yet also nostalgic. Hard times, good lovin', home cooking.

The single He Made A Woman Out Of Me is a swampy country grind with a stinging guitar. It sounds as filthy as it's subject matter. I also like the way the story is set out, tying it together geographically and socially. "I was born on a levee. A little bit south of Montgomery. Mama worked at the big house and daddy worked for the county."

Outside of karaoke night it is actually quite hard to do a bad version of Piece Of My Heart. It's a song of universal experience that manages to push all the emotional buttons. Bettye LaVette's version released on SSS (yes another move!) sits between the supple, yet restrained version by Erma Franklin and the full flail and wail of Janis Joplin.

For my money, LaVette's version is the better.

She recorded a full album at Muscle Shoals, for Atlantic in 1972. It was shelved, although it was eventually released as Souvenirs in 2000 on the French label Art and Soul. There's a beefed up version around now with the obligatory extra tracks called Child Of The 70's.

It's often referred to as her great lost album. Although I don't think it deserves the full legendary status, there is some good stuff on it. It hasn't got the grit of the Silver Fox singles.There's a poppier feel to it, almost as if while Dusty Springfield and Petula Clarke et al were heading to Memphis, Betty was heading the other way.

It includes a cover of Neil Young's Heart Of Gold, It Aint Easy (the Ron Davies song that Bowie covered on Ziggy Stardust), The Stealer by Free and a terrific version of Joe Simon's Your Turn To Cry.

Turning her back on the music business she spent the next 7 years touring with the musical Bubbling Brown sugar.

There's a good interview at

She recalls her manager Jim Lewis telling her "You're really not that good. You're cute and your voice is powerful, but you gotta learn what to do with it. You can't just depend on the records. They may never sell. Learn how to do your show. Learn how to sing a song."

She says that if he hadn't said that then "I wouldn't have been able to hold on for these 45 years without a record unless I knew how to do a show."

A couple of singles came out during this period including the Soul Children style Thank You For Loving Me. It's sensuous and lush while it's follow up You're A Man Of Words I'm A Woman Of Action was thoroughly business like. In a good way.

Surprise disco anthem Doing the Best That I Can from 78 has the great lyric "Doin' the best that I can to get out of my head what got out of my hands" but I never warmed to it. A disco step too far. LaVette apparently hated it too.

Finally her debut album Tell Me A Lie came out on Motown in 1982. A mere 20 years after her first single. It's a bit slick for my tastes but the title track is really good and the album cover is worth a mention for it's picture of the slow dancing couple with the bloke slipping off his wedding ring behind the woman's back. Nice.

The resurgence started with a live album in 2001 and the album A Woman Like Me from 2004. It's a modern Blues record, with producer Dennis Walker supplying most of the songs. He previously worked with Robert Cray. And it shows.

I've Got My Own Hell To Raise from 2005 is a collection of songs all written by women, including Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, Sinead O'Connor, Roseanne Cash and Aimee Mann. It's a really good album. LaVette is on top form and while the songs styles are from outside the Soul genre, the album has got Soul by the bucket load.

Last years album The Scene Of The Crime is an intriguing concept and also the best album she's actually made. (Not including the Silver Fox/SSS singles compilation.... which I would count amongst the best albums that anyone has made!)

It was recorded at FAME studios by Patterson Hood and his band Drive By Truckers. Patterson Hood's father, David Hood, not only plays bass on the latest Bettye LaVette album (he also played on the 1972 sessions) but he played on pretty much every great record to come out of Muscle Shoals during the '60s and '70s. And the good ones he didn't play on probably had Spooner Oldham on keyboards instead. And look! He crops up on this album too.

So the album has already got more than it's fair share of Soul icons, but the twist is that the Drive By Truckers are a self-styled greasy Southern Rock n Roll band. It's a great sound.

No horns (in itself a break from the Southern Soul sound) instead it's got the pad of electric piano, a really good dry drum sound and guitar lines that hang distorted and crumpled like yesterdays socks. At the centre of it all though is Bettye LaVette's raw voice and the life she wrings out of the songs.

There's a great moment on Choices where she slides the lines into each other "At an early age I found. I like drinking. I never turned one down"

LaVette had never written a song before, but she gets a co-writers credit as Patterson Hood used the stories and phrases she used around the studio. (Much as Steve Cropper had done with In The Midnight Hour for Wilson Pickett).

Before The Money Came (The Battle Of Bettye LaVette) has lines like "I knew David Ruffin when he was sober sleeping on my floor before he crossed over" sitting on a spiky Stones riff that could have sat happily on the end of Exile On Main Street.

On the Eddie Hinton song I Still Want To Be Your Baby the 2 tone strident guitar blares like an R&B ambulance while LaVette delivers a lyric of unrepentant, if not downright celebratory stubbornness.

It's great to hear her singing again, and unlike many comeback albums this is much more than an album trading on past glories and the goodwill of fans.

The esteemed Martin Longley (The Stirrer's Jazz wibble correspondent) saw her last year. (see link here)

She's playing again at the Jazz cafe Camden 13 April. I think it'll be a corker.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings don't do anything new. And they're all the better for it. They're a full on Soul Revue style band, all clattering drums and horn powered. A stage full of musicians and a singer with the vocal ticks and tricks of Mavis Staples or Irma Thomas. I like them a lot. And I do like a big band. A lean, mean, hungry power trio is all very well but I like to see a band who can kick start a local economy.

All their songs sound like they could have been recorded between 1966 and 1974. If there was such a thing as a Golden Age in Soul, then those are the years that count. (Actually that's not in doubt. It's scientifically proven and my stereo proves it on a nightly basis).

They're not so much a tribute act, more like a band who have been lifted straight from one era into another. Like an Austin Soul Powers. Or as if King Arthur and The Knights of the Round table were actually a Soul act who were waiting under the Harlem Apollo (rather than a Welsh Hillside) ready for when they were needed.

Well Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are needed right now. Amy Winehouse certainly needed them. The Dap-Kings powered much of Amy Winehouse's Back To Black album and made it a very different (and much better album) than her debut. They also do important work on the (thankless) task of rehabilitating Coldplay on Mark Ronson's covers album Version.

Sharon Jones was born in 1956 Augusta Georgia (as was James Brown) but grew up in Brooklyn. She combined singing in Wedding bands and anonymous session work with stints as a security guard for Welles Fargo and at Rikers Island. It was all a long way from the Golden Age of Soul to which her voice and style belonged.

Old School style Soul did maintain a foothold through the Rare Groove scene of the 80's and the Northern Soul underground. Desco was a small Independent specialising in vinyl only releases catering for old Soul fans. Sharon Jones started recording vocal sessions for them in 1996 alongside the likes of Lee Fields.

When Desco folded, the house band The Soul Providers regrouped as The Dap-Kings featuring the former Desco label co- owner Bosco Bass Mann on bass and 17 year old Homer "Funkyfoot" Steinweiss on drums.

Dap Dipping with Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings was recorded on 8 track in a make shift basement studio in a Kung Fu dojo. It's a funky affair, much more influenced by the likes of James Brown than the Stax and Motown influenced albums that Sharon Jones released later.

MC and guitarist Binky Griptite (pay attention to the names) starts to describe an epidemic that's is (apparently) sweeping the nation. "It's called the Dap Dip and they say you get it in your pants." In true Soul revue style Sharon shouts back "Hell Binky, that's no epidemic. It's a brand new dance". It's a monstrous 4 note descending bass line. And there are foot by foot illustrations on the album sleeve for doing the dance to!

The band have thought out the packaging (the effort didn't just go on the names!), the sleeve notes, the graphics and the complete absences of dates mean you can almost believe this record was made 35 years ago.

All the required soul clichés are in place. Love is sweet. Men are mean. Often they are also no good. Make It Good To Me has the excellent line "It's half past making up time and a quarter to affection"

The second album Naturally was recorded on a 16 track in the studio below the Daptone offices in Brooklyn. It's actually a much better record, with a wider range of styles, but still sounding like it was recorded very much in the Golden Age of Soul.

From the bubbling Funk of How Do I Le t A Good Man Down to the Jean Knight/Betty Wright feel of Natural Born Lover where the guitars and horns do a call and response. And Soul cliché lovers and indeed lovers will be relieved to hear that the Natural Born Lover is dependable "He takes care of business".

Stranded In Your Love starts with a knock at the door as the disgraced ex lover pleads to be let back because he's had his car stolen and he can't sleep at his brothers house. It's great boy/girl soap opera duet, with both sides hamming it up as the sex with the ex saga unfolds.

And because the male voice is Lee Fields it means we get to hear Sharon say the immortal line "Now Lee I've told you. Is this romance or circumstance"? It's firmly in the tradition of the Otis Redding and Carla Thomas duets rather than Mills and Boon.

You're Gonna Get It is a Laura Lee/ Millie Jackson style, talking to the ladies about men. "Some love makes you do right. Some love makes you do wrong".

There's a clever Soul powered version of Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land which treats it like It's A Mans World, while Your Thing Is A Drag is a mix of Marva Whitney's It's My Thing and Papa's Got A brand new Bag by James Brown. And I mean it's a mix both in the name checking title and the song itself!

100 days 100 Nights came out last year. It's another step up terms of quality and diversity. It's still all old Soul though! When The Other Foot Drops, Uncle starts off with the guitar arpeggios and horns of Try A Little Tenderness but as the song gathers momentum it becomes more like Mr Big Stuff by Jean Knight. Two great records in one. Result!

Sharon Jones vocal on Ain't Nobody's Baby qualifies as a great bit of soul wailing and the guitar gives a cheeky nod to What A Man by Linda Lyndell (and redone by Salt N Pepa and En Vogue).

Be Easy and Let Them Knock both have a New Orleans/Alan Toussaint feel to them. Let Them Knock is Soul filth. The rasping Sax is fruity and positively licentious. "Let them knock upon my door til their hands are black and blue. I'm not answering for no one until my man and I are through".

There's a good live version of Let Them Knock at

Best of all though is Humble Me. Built on the chassis of Otis Redding's Pain In My Heart, complete with Steve Cropper style riffs, bar room piano, a lazy bass line that plays just behind the beat and a terrific vocal performance.

The key to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings is to not treat them as revivalists, or like a Blues brothers act who think they are rejuvenating an era. It's better to treat them as if it's the audience who've gone back in time. After all, they do the kind of show that you'd have loved to see in 1970.

The whole thing just sounds right and completely authentic. You're not going to get a session guitarist with an inappropriate effects pedal or a drummer who's desperate to use his new gong. They just sound like a band who are at the height of their powers and are supremely confident that they are playing great gigs and writing great new songs. Which they are! They're the best new band of 1970. It's just the audience who've got this ridiculous notion that it's 2008.

Friday, February 08, 2008

We Are Scientists

We Are Scientists dish out brash poppy punk tunes at the Maximo Park or Kaiser Chiefs end of the spectrum. After meeting at college in California in 2000, they relocated to New York. They had released a couple of independent singles and albums but it was British audiences who took to them first thanks to tours with Maximo Park and The Arctic Monkeys. America may want them back soon!

DJ Steve Lamacq was an early and enthusiastic evangelist for them. Their major label debut With Love And Squalor came out in 2005.

It’s a good album, going from the jerkiness of the likes of The Arctic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand to the out and out Green Day cartoon Punkiness on a track like Callbacks. They remind me a lot of The Wannadies. The guitar sounds go from clipped riffage to that stratospheric echoing sound that bands like Bloc Party have been trying to reclaim from U2 or The Chameleons. Drummer Michael Tapper left the band at the end of last year. The drumming really motors along; it’s busy without being overly fussy. They haven’t announced a replacement yet.

One of the reason s people warm to the band is the humour around their interviews, website and videos. And if your girlfriend likes Owen Wilson then she’ll probably like singer Keith Murray. Oh Great!

The video for The Great Escape has the trio getting out of bed (in a Morecambe and Wise and Young Friend style) and then carrying out their daily tasks like Siamese triplets. It’s been covered by Art Brut who are definitely travelling along the same road. Both bands have also embraced the ‘tache during their career

The video for This Scene Is dead is actually very short on action. It’s just the band standing pretty much stock still on an enclosed pedestrian bridge, while the occasional passer buy walks past. It’s actually quite disconcerting though as the accompanying song is going hell for leather. There is a flurry of activity when one of the band polishes his glasses.

My other favourite glasses related video, (although I haven’t really put a great deal of research into this, so it’s not much of a list) is the bit in The Happy Mondays video for Step On where Sean Ryder takes off his sunglasses, waves them around while he adjusts his parting (serious curtainage) and then puts them back on. I think Bez is involved with some goggles at one point as well. A video masterclass! O

Bassist Chris Cain answers a Jo Wiley question with a terse “I had my heart broken once, sure. It's a story as old as civilization: I loved her, was blind to her flaws, trusted her implicitly; she robbed my apartment and pawned my stuff to buy a car that she and some other guy drove off to God knows where, running over my father on the way out of town, taking with her my passport and credit cards and birth certificate which she sold to a criminal; I subsequently spent time in jail for what this criminal did under the guise of my identity. Hard time -- I lost a kidney. Eight years before my attorney got me out. Family all dead by then. Everybody I knew had moved away. No jobs to be had. Then the lean years: near-starvation, living on the streets, no human affection to speak of. And yes, I have forgiven her. I learned a ton.”

The new single Afterhours is less electric than previous material and is built round a winding circular riff. There’s a bit of a They Might Be Giants feel to it.

Chris Cain described it as “About that time of night when every instinct says you should not have one last drink, should not linger any longer at the pub, should not continue to talk to this clearly-troublesome yet troublingly-attractive stranger who keeps slurring as she holds eye contact for uninstinctively long periods of time -- what you should do instead is go home.”

Of course none of the of the other stuff, the humour, the videos, the facial hair, matters if the music isn’t any good. Well I like the music… and I really like their band name!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Nick Cave

Nick Cave is instantly recognisable, but also easy to pastiche. He’s a scowley stickman with a Basil Fawlty walk, all hubba hubba heh he heugh vocals sung into his collars like a death obsessed Harry Hill. I think he’s just got better over the years though as he’s moved from the confrontational howl of the Birthday Party and embraced his inner Johnny Cash.

The Birthday Party are one of those bands that I really regret not seeing live, (although I did have a ticket for a gig in 82. I can’t remember the holiday I was on, but I bet I’d remember the gig I missed to go on it) The band’s gigs teetered on the edge of onstage and offstage violence and the band themselves were just such an odd looking spectacle. There was Cave, flailing and writhing, baiting the audience and kicking out at stray heads while Tracy Pew, the static Gay bar cowboy thug (big hat, bigger 'tache), knocked out bass lines that could knock down buildings.

The thing is though, I don’t listen to the Birthday Party very often now. And if I do it’s the songs like Release The Bats, which is funny, cod Goth rockabilly horror (“Bite sex vampire bite" and it’s Elvis impersonating "Baby’s a cool machine").... The band hated it and resented the fact that their joke song became their biggest song. Nick The Stripper has a predatory strut and it could have come straight from the Buffalo Bill scenes in Silence Of The Lambs). It's got the catchy refrain of “Hideous to the eye”. (Now doesn’t that make you want to sing along?)

While there was undeniably a fierce sense of humour about the band, there was also just fierceness, and the nasty undercurrents of misogyny. It’s probably 20 years since I listened to a Birthday Party album all the way through. It was hard work then. And I don’t feel like that anymore. Either the hard work or the hatred. The band split in 1984 but I did get to see him at the Powerhouse with Sonic Youth supporting around 1985. And he did kick up a thrilling and unholy racket.

The forthcoming album Dig Lazarus Dig will be his fourteenth and over time the scratchy swampy blues of the earlier albums have become a more streamlined kind of rocking and his ballads have become less hammy. He's operating outside the normal rock n roll influences though. His lyrics are ripe with biblical imagery and lyrics that sound like screenplays for unmade films, or Jim Thompson short stories. Sometimes they're just funny. There She Goes My Beautiful World has the great line "John Wilmot penned his poetry riddled with the pox and Nabakov wrote on index cards at a lectern in his socks"

The major influence on Cave though is Johnny Cash. As well he should be. After all most books could be usefully replaced with a copy of Cash's autobiography. It would certainly simplify library shelving.

On his second album The First Born is Dead he covered Wanted Man by Johnny Cash. (Well actually written by Dylan but made his own by Cash.) It’s a really good cover, repaid in kind when Cash covered the electric chair song The Mercy Seat, stripping it of the hysteria of Cave’s original and replacing it with tense resignation. Interestingly enough though the piano on Cash’s version plays the hysterical role instead. Cash and Cave dueted on I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry on Cash's American IV album.

Cave and Shane MacGowan released a single Wonderful World in 1992 and Cave does a masterful version of rainy Night in Soho by The Pogues.

The spectacularly unflattering photos on his album sleeves over the years and his well-documented heroin use may have held him back from winning Handsome Man awards. But it could have been worse. While Dorian Gray had a picture in the attic, Nick Cave kept a guitarist on stage. Blixa Bargeld spent twenty years as a Bad Seed and still holds the distinction of the illest looking man in Pop

The duet with Kylie on Where The Wild Roses Grow was not only a hit in 1996 but it had a nation in up arms once they realised it’s murderous subject. You can’t kill Kylie! A Peoples Army of 40 year old blokes was raised to defend her. Some of them were straight!

The Boatman's Call from 1997 has the achingly beautiful Into My arms. It's just piano and bass and has a hymn like stateliness but also a real delicacy. It also sets itself apart from most love songs by having the opening line "I don't believe in an interventionist God". Nick Cave sang it at the funeral of Michael Hutchence.

The album also has People Aint No Good, which crops up on Shrek 2. Another beautiful song. Sumptuous and perkily miserable. And just when you think, “Actually shouldn't Nick really be out there scaring the kids parents?” the closing track Green Eyes delivers the line

"Slip your frigid hands beneath my shirt. This useless old fucker with his twinkling cunt. Doesn't care if he gets hurt"
I'm not quite sure what he means.... but I'm fairly sure the song is not in Shrek The Third.
After establishing himself as the ultimate creepy crooner last years Grinderman project was an excuse for him to play filthy garage rock and play with a rocking pervy preacher persona. Grinderman features long time collaborators Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos and a fine array of lady scaring beards. No Pussy Blues from the Jools Holland show is tightly reined in chaos. Loud and layered, with wave after wave of guitar and feedback crashing in then holding back. It's what the Birthday Party used to do.

So even though I don't think I can listen to the Birthday party anymore I found that one of my favourite albums from last year was Grinderman with Nick Cave using some of his old tricks

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I wouldn’t expect to go a bundle on the runner up of Welsh Pop Idol and I’m also a bit suspicious of singers who can only manage one name, Brazilian footballer style. (Mind you that would be quite a line up...Madonna, Kylie, Gabrielle, Adele ...Sonia).

I’m also a bit suspicious because the hype machine does seem to be gearing up behind Duffy. She came second (behind Adele...again) in a 6 Music “Singers most likely to” poll. (Possibly not the pervier “Most likely to...." poll that I’ve been running). I’m ready to suspend the scepticism though because she’s aiming to do exactly the kind of cinematic 60’s soul pop that I’m partial to. Dusty Springfield. Nancy Sinatra etc.

The video for debut single Rockferry made me think of my holidays and Julie Christie in Billy Liar. Sold!

Filmed around Porthmadog (Duffy grew up on the Llyn peninsular), it's a leaving town/leaving you kind of song, with lots of shots of railway lines, tea drinking, waiting on platforms, railings being aimlessly pinged and the whole thing is as 60's as the Prisoner style piping on her jacket.

It's also got a shot of Cob Records with Duffy walking past with a suitcase. Is the girl leaving town or going record shopping?

New single Mercy uses all the stock soul phrases. And just how many songs have talked about begging for mercy, release me etc and have expressed bafflement at the power and quality of the good loving that is on offer? Loads, but there's always room for one more.

Duffy's version of it has the line "I don't know what you do but you do it well. You've got me under your spell." Bingo. Another soul cliche. It's all done with a lot of love though and the video features Dusty style hand waving and Northern Soul dancing. So yes it's retro! But yes I like it a lot.

The only concession to a more modern sound is the elastic band twang of the intro and the spoken words that you can just hear under both the intro and the middle 8 which is the kind of thing All Saints would have done.

There's some footage of Warwick Avenue from Jools Holland last year, which has a bit more of a Gladys Knight style soulful sweep and the really good line "You think you're lovin' but you don’t love me".

The album is due out in March. I'm hoping that the fact that Duffy is managed by Jeanette Lee from Rough Trade (former “non musical member” of Public Image) and that Bernard Butler has been involved in some of the song writing is going to stop it from being (admittedly) top class karaoke.

Because she does sound great and looks the part but the songs are (to my ears) very close to their source material. After all what made Bernard Butler and David McAlmont’s Glam plastic soul records so interesting was that they shuffled their sources better.

The trick is to make a modern record that invokes the spirit of an older style. And you don’t need to be coy about it. You do need great big hits! There’s a quote from Stax songwriter Dave Porter along the lines of “Don’t talk to me about the records that didn’t sell. Talk to me about Soul Man.”

Although I'm naturally drawn to the obscure b-side, there have been some fantastic modern records that have used an obvious and infectious love of those old soul records. Songs like TLC’s Waterfalls (uses an Al Green /Teenie Hodges guitar style), Bouncy Beyonce’s Crazy In Love (partly Chi-lites but mostly big hair and hot pants) or Crazy by Gnarls Berkley.

On a similar old meets new there’s Candie Payne’s terrific single One More Chance. Image wise she’s giving it the full Audrey Hepburn, and there's a Mark Ronson remix too. It's Sandie Shaw, Beach Boys and bells and it's a modern re-creation of a sound rather than a copy.

One of the things that made Amy Winehouse interesting was the arrangements that Mark Ronson brought to her second album. The Motown feel to tracks like Tears Dry On Their Own or Addicted. Or the girl group doomed romanticism of tracks like Back to Black.

So while the strings gave it a Shangri-Las feel, there were also the Hip Hop shuffling drums and the fact that Winehouse wasn’t singing about the 60’s girl group staple of running away with a a bad boy on a motorbike who is also a bit of a rebel. (Apparently the parents don't understand). All powered by the brass section from Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. A bona fide proper soul revue style band fronted by a 50 year old ex Rikers Island prison warder.

Thankfully 23 year old Duffy is more River Island than Rikers Island

John Cooper Clarke

He's spent the last 30 years wearing the same clothes, often reading the same poems and his biggest supporting role has been to the Honey Monster in the 1990's Sugar Puffs adverts. John Cooper Clarke is still a one off though. He's been acknowledged as a major influence by Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys. You can definitely hear the JCC influence in Turner's scabrous sneer and interest in society's crusty white underbelly.

The rapid fire delivery came from trying to grab an audience's attention when he did support gigs for the Punk acts. The poems themselves are funny, clever and musical, even without the music. You get the sense that he could probably quote Baudelaire by chapter and verse, but is more likely to write about the clap clinic.

He's argued that "Poetry has always been and always will be a very different way of writing, a minority interest. It's language with its best suit on." The live show has always been a mixture of poetry and the jokes that he uses to cover the gaps while he's trying to find the next poem. That helped keep the audience interested in the early days, but he could also handle a heckler.

"I can't hear you mate... your mouths full of shit".

Like Mark E Smith that other Salford bladdered balladeer it's partly the sound of his voice that drags you in, those extra syllables aah. Words that you can chew on. Delivered in a voice that could strip paint and would melt the ear wax of any unfortunate ear that found itself on the receiving end of his whispered sweet nothings.

First single the Psycle Sluts ep came out on Manchester label Rabid records and debut album Disguise In Love came out on CBS in 1978. His records were often criticised by people who'd seen him live who thought that the music got in the way of the words. The music was supplied by the Invisible Girls a rag bag assembly including Buzzcock Pete Shelley, producer Martin Hannett and Karl Burns from The Fall.

You can hear echoes of what Hannett was also working on at the time. Evidently Chickentown from 1980's album Snap Crackle and Bop has a snippet of reverbed drums that fade in and out of the mix but sound like they came from a Joy Division session.

There was a live album Walking Back To Happiness that came out in 1979. It covers the full range of the entertainment spectrum. From poems about Flashers "Gabardine Angus, open your coat" to the package holiday hell of Majorca "I got drunk with another fella who'd just brought up a previous paella" and "where the Double Diamond flowed like sick". This being 79, it got the full gimmicky vinyl treatment. Walking Back To Happiness was released as a 10 inch clear vinyl album.

It's accompanying single Twat. (I'd loved to have been in the CBS office when the plans for the new single were announced….'so what's it called then John?'), came out on a double grooved single.

Which meant you had a 50/50 chance of either playing the full frank and foul version "Like a nightclub in the morning you're the bitter end, like a recently disinfected shithouse, you're clean round the bend" or it's edited, more refined cousin Splat. On the Splat version the expletives are drowned out by comedy sound effects.

The other single Gimmix came in triangular orange vinyl version. It's a roll call of past gimmicks from "The balmy days of the hula hoop craze to the skateboard panic of today." You can hear the contempt in his voice on the line "Teasmades, cushions that fart. The Lord of the Rings." It's like the Punk version of Peter Kaye's "Garlic Bread" line.

Although you should really buy them all, Snap Crackle and Bop is the best of his studio albums. Evidently Chickentown feels like late 70's Manchester when the whole city centre seemed to collapse into it's failing Victorian sewers. Like Venice without the views. Or the Gondolas. But with the pigeons. "The bloody pubs are bloody dull, the bloody clubs are bloody dull, of bloody girls and bloody guys with bloody murder in their eyes" and where "The bloody weed is bloody turf; the bloody speed is bloody surf."

Beasley Street's account of where Thatcherism descends into Dickensian squalor should be taught in schools. And there aren't many lines more chilling than "Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies in a box on Beasley Street." JCC's pronunciation of the words "Beasley Street" has more E's in it than Brian Harvey and takes about 6 months for him to say.

Everyone needs a prison song. 36 Hours is a jail guitar door clanging blues. Where if the regime of "Shit, shave shower and a shoe shine, That's it. Sack time" doesn't put you on the straight and narrow then the threat that "Everyone looks like Earnest Borgnine" surely will. There's a guitar line that that sounds like Pete Shelley reused it from ESP by Buzzcocks.

Zip Style Method came out in 1982. Musically it's the weakest of them, with the more polished synths and treatments actually making it sound more dated than the murky backing tracks used on the first 2 studio albums.

But you do know exactly what he's talking about on The Midnight Shift when he describes somebody's face being "Like a long abandoned baseball boot with the tongue hanging out"

So those are the records then. Due to his own self confessed disorganisation and possibly a result of living with Nico (wouldn't have thought their shopping list contributed much to their 5 daily portions of fruit and veg), the records dried up and promised books and novels didn't appear.

I saw him at Birmingham University at in 1985, ironically on the same bill as John Hegley's band The Popticians. John Hegley not only writes funny, clever poetry, but is also more likely to get the phone call when Radio 4 need a poet. On that night JCC just seemed dazed and disinterested. He rattled through the poems and then rattled home. No jokes, banter or interest. On a good night though he's unstoppable.

He was on stage for over 2 hours at a comedy night at Moseley Rugby Club in 1999. I saw the last 20 minutes when he supported the Only Ones in Wolverhampton earlier this year. A storming effort, with new material and quality jokes. He's pushing 60 but still got the shades and hedgecombed hairstyle and probably wears winklepicker slippers at home. And he's still following his key artistic principle. "I always try and talk in tune"