Monday, 30 November 2015

Wreckless Eric vs. Jeff Lynne’s ELO

Good afternoon grapple fans! It’s a heavyweight contest of 11 three-minute songs… two hits, two front-page features, or a platinum disc to decide the winner!

In the red corner is a 60-something gent with 25 international hits to his credit… in the blue corner is another 60-something gent with just half a hit. But never mind; despite their wildly contrasting track records, both men are capable of a surprise. Jeff is the grizzled superstar. Eric is the young pretender.

Let us explore their respective skills and resources… Jeff, a ‘Brummie’, is these days resident in sunny Los Angeles and has at his disposal a fully equipped 48-track recording studio where he overdubs at leisure his latest creations, as can be found on Alone In The Universe. Young Eric, on the other hand, possesses some amateur and possibly incompatible home recording equipment, and just enough knowledge to operate it.

What links these two disparate talents? Well, it’s that strange electronic ‘voice of God’ vocal effect – probably created on a synthesiser - a heavenly male voice choir sound that was done to death by ELO (check ‘Mr Blue Sky’). Strangely, it crops up a couple of times on Eric’s new album AmERICa, and is therefore possibly a bargain bin effect in 2015.

Jeff writes and sings about his childhood, as in ‘When I Was A Boy’, with its killer line, ‘don’t wanna work on the milk or the bread…’ But this is about as poetic as Jeff Lynn gets, whilst Wreckless Eric oozes poetry in every song, and counters with the great ‘Boy Band’. Eric also has other interesting titles, such as ‘Property Shows’ and the hilarious ‘Up The Fuselage’ (which discusses the likelihood, or not, of enjoying first class air travel). How Jeff could do with such wit on his otherwise superb productions.

One could go on, looking for clues, similarities in style, and injustices, but truth is these veteran rockers have much in common, even if they are millions of dollars apart. Would it not be fun to put them both in the same room and ask them to collaborate? Eric could furnish Jeff with some truly great lyrics, while Jeff could give Eric the production gloss that is studiously and perversely avoided on AmERICa. If I were a 1980s ‘A&R man’ with a huge budget at my disposal, I would insist on it. Magic could be made.

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Thursday, 29 October 2015

Richard Thompson - Sporrans in the Trossachs

Still - Richard Thompson

Not being of the folk fraternity I know not where Richard Thompson figures in their pantheon of great living singers and songwriters, but I would be astonished if he wasn’t up there. He may be a little too rocking for the Arran sweater set, but on the extremely good and much played round here Still album he sets out his stall with a slow march of a song that could have been written in the eighteenth century, to be handed down to future generations of rustic chanters.

‘She Never Could Resist A Winding Road’ is proof that all of those hours Thompson is reputed to have spent at Cecil Sharp House were not wasted; I would reckon it’s an instant folk classic. With a world-weary lyric, and invoking the image of a solitary piper on a distant hill, admired from afar by the maiden in question, it is the sound of sporrans in the Trossachs.

Still, produced by Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), otherwise has all the hallmarks of classic Thompson: phenomenal guitar playing, Struwwelpeter imagery, and the ghost of Linda Peters in the background harmony vocal. And just when you thought there were no more strings left for Thompson to bend, he dazzles with inventive and daring soloing on ‘Patty Don’t You Put Me Down’, ‘All Buttoned Up’, and (the otherwise perfunctory) ‘Long John Silver’.

I’m guessing Thompson flunked his school exams due to the distraction of the electric guitar, but all those hours he spent slaving over the fret board paid dividends, as he recounts in the song ‘Guitar Heroes’. In it, he name-checks Django Reinhardt; Les Paul; Chuck Berry; James Burton, and The Shadows, and effortlessly reproduces their respective guitar styles. The deluxe version of Still has the bonus EP Variations, which has has yet more solid songs and astonishing guitar work. I’ll give it 5.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Literary Overload

I’ve always been a sucker for a book. My reading choices tend to focus on popular entertainment, in fact my consumption of music books outweighs fiction by about 20:1 (although many music biographies are, in fact, works of fiction).

I have, over the last 40 years or so, acquired a large library of music books, many of which I can accommodate at arm’s length, but several dozen have had to go into storage. Today, the sheer volume of music books being published is overwhelming, and I confess a large stack has built up in recent months that I am yet to read, or even dip into (see above).

The main reason that this pile has grown is that I am attempting to write a new book, and I comfort myself with the mantra ‘Can’t read AND write’; every hour spent reading about, say, Jerry Lee Lewis, is an hour less to spend on the forthcoming biography I am researching.

Another dilemma when a desirable book is published is: do I buy the print version, or the more portable electronic equivalent? I personally think if you buy the physical, the publisher should throw in a code for the latter (some do). Books I have recently read on an iPad mini - so easy to carry – are: ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ by Bob Stanley; ‘Sound Man’ by Glyn Johns; ‘How Music Got Free’ (*****) by Stephen Witt, and currently ‘Dead Gods: The 27 Club’ by Chris Salewicz.

However, the real point of this essay is to remind myself to set aside some time for two imminent biographies, both of ‘local lads’, and remind you of their publication.

‘Hole In My Pocket - The true legend of Mickey Jupp, the rock and roll genius who refused to be a star’, by Mike Wade, is due to appear in September.  Initially, this is being published privately by Wade, with proceeds going to Jupp. How to order: send your enquiry to

‘Lee Brilleaux – Rock’n’Roll Gentleman’, by Zoe Howe, is due in October, published by Birlinn

To read both of these I will rest from my labours and probably devour each in a single sitting. Mickey and Lee are both fascinating characters of my acquaintance and I’m  intrigued to see how their respective lives play out on the printed page.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A farewell to Robert Trehern (Bobby Irwin) 1953-2015

Photo: Natacha Horn

As friends and associates will know, drummer and all-round good chap Bobby Irwin sadly died from cancer on 8 May.

At Bobby’s funeral at St Stephen’s Church, Twickenham, on 19 May, Nick Lowe took the lectern to deliver a eulogy for his fallen drummer and veteran musical partner. A few minutes beforehand, Bobby's brother Chris recalled childhood moments, and Geraint Watkins performed a comforting ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ seated at the piano, with Martin Winning on sax, but Nick’s own public address to the 300-strong congregation was nothing short of high drama.

Tears fell faster than the hailstone rain in the churchyard, which was punctuated by bursts of spring sunshine, just as Nick’s emotionally charged speech was dotted with humorous asides that brought hearty laughter and light relief.

‘I looked up the word “eulogy” before writing these notes,’ said Nick [I am paraphrasing]. ‘It is supposed to be brief… well, I first met Bob in 1976, when I was recording at Pathway Studios in Stoke Newington…’ Within moments of recalling this encounter, Nick broke down in tears, unable to continue for a full minute. Time became suspended as mourners allowed him ‘a moment’ to summon composure. Eventually, he mopped his eyes with a checked handkerchief and continued. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,’ he said, thumbing his notes and looking as if he was about to return to his seat in the congregation. The Reverend Jez Barnes stepped forward in support, his holy intervention persuading Nick to continue, and recall his unique musical partnership with Bob.

Then he slammed us with the nitty-gritty: ‘Bob was larger than life. When he told a joke, he was always a member of his own audience’. More laughter. And then, by emotional contrast: ‘I don’t know how I’m going to carry on without him…’ Nick’s son Roy popped up from the pews to deliver a fresh handkerchief. ‘We spent many years touring the world as young musicians,’ continued Nick. ‘There are of course stories that I couldn’t possibly repeat in church… but I‘m quite happy to give anyone a personal consultation later, if you wish.’ More laughter amidst the tears… Nick had done Bob proud, and returned to his seat to huge and sustained applause.

Recording engineer Neil Brockbank then read from The Corinthians, and we sang 'He Who Would Valiant Be'. Following the service, many of the congregation repaired to a nearby hostelry to toast Bobby’s memory and exchange stories about the great man.

With thanks to Tanita Tikaram and Natacha Horn

Photo: David Corio

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Benefit Show for Henry McCullough – London 17 March 2015

Putney’s Half Moon was heaving on St Patrick’s night with great music, familiar faces, and five of the biggest ‘stars’ loosely associated with London’s old pub rock scene. It was all in aid of former Grease Band and Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, who in 2012 suffered a massive heart attack and now finds himself in reduced circumstances and wheelchair-bound.

The charitable evening was proposed and skilfully organised by Dave Robinson, of Stiff Records fame, who has known Henry since the 1960s when Dave managed Irish band, Eire Apparent.

The evening’s music commenced with a funky set by London’s world-class musicians, Tim Hinkley (keyboards/vocals), Mel Collins (sax), Neil Hubbard (guitar), John Halsey (drums), Bob Tench (guitar/vocals), Steve Simpson (guitar/vocals), and Kuma Harada (bass). The Band’s ‘The Shape I’m In’ and McCullough’s ‘Gone With Another’ were stand-outs. Kokomo’s Tony O’Malley made a guest appearance for Bill Withers’ ‘Use Me’, and the band was then on hand to furnish versatile accompaniment for some of the name singers that followed.

The auction lots, pic courtesy of Justin Tunstall

In between sets there was an auction, in which many items of rock memorabilia went for eye-watering receipts, largely down to the style and skill of auctioneer, Nick Stewart. These included a platinum disc for ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (awarded to McCullough); a set of Beatles LPs (signed by Paul McCartney, whose virtual presence was duly noted), and some fine cheddar cheeses, 45-disk shaped, with appropriate ‘record labels’, courtesy of the Town Mill Cheesemonger. The ‘So It Goes’ / ‘Heart of the City’ cheese went for £600.

Nick tunes, Dave and Nick Stewart auction, pic courtesy of Justin Tunstall

First-up, post auction, was Nick Lowe, who received a hero’s welcome from the capacity crowd and delivered a chilling version of McCullough’s ‘Failed Christian’. Nick was soon joined by Andy Fairweather Low and Paul Carrack for an acoustic and harmony strum along on some old classics, including Ray Charles’ ‘Crying Time’, Bobby Darin’s ‘Things’, and Johnny Cash’s ‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’.

Andy, Paul, Nick, pic courtesy of Justin Tunstall

See a video of Lowe - Carrack - Fairweather Low in action here (courtesy of Claire Robinson)

Fairweather Low, Carrack, Lowe, pic courtesy of Pia  Meijer

It was then left to Carrack to rouse the audience with his evergreen ‘How Long’, which no doubt reminded Paul of a football crowd sing-along on the Sheffield Wednesday terraces.

Graham Parker was up next for storming performances of  ‘Local Girls’ and ‘Soul Shoes’. Close your eyes and it could have been The Rumour, so sympathetic was the band.

Graham Parker, pic courtesy of Vernon Wallis

The evening finished with Suggs, who was charm personified, delivering his Madness hits, ‘It Must Be Love’ and ‘Madness’.

Suggs, pic courtesy of Claire Robinson

Should you wish to make a donation to the Henry McCullough cause, a Facebook page has been set up here

To round off a great evening with lots of rocking music and old friends, I made the trip back into town on the tube with GP, who agreed it was a classic night for sure. Let’s hope it raised plenty of dosh for Henry.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Joe B Mauldin - cornerstone of beat group anatomy

L-R Sonny Curtis, Joe B Mauldin, Glen D Hardin,
WB, Jerry Allison, 1997

Joe B Mauldin, bassist in Buddy Holly's Crickets, died on 7 February. His nimble instrumental work on many of The Crickets' hits helped to define the sound of early rock'n'roll, and he was a co-inventor of the modern, self-contained beat group, on which The Beatles and therefore thousands of pop bands based their act.

In 1997, I met with Joe B and his three colleagues, ostensibly to interview them for Mojo, although I'm not sure if the piece was ever published. Joe was friendly, modest, and easily the quietist member of the group. I sensed a certain shyness - was this really the man who toured the world at Buddy Holly's left elbow, rocking it up night after night?

Glen D hardly said a word either, but this was more than made up for by the more dominant, talkative Crickets, Jerry and Sonny, I'm pleased to say.

So here is a brief extract from the latter part of my interview, and it's the only section in which Joe actually uttered a word. You will see that I had to address him directly, to prompt him to speak.

Joe, when you joined [the Crickets], were you thrown in at the deep end?

Joe: Sort of, but the group I was with before The Crickets, was doing the same kind of stuff, Elvis songs. I did have to learn some things. I’d been playing maybe a year. I’d never seen an electric bass.  The first one of those I saw was when we toured with Eddie Cochran. I said 'Wow, I’ve got to have one of those!' I got one, but it didn’t work out. When people came to see Buddy Holly and The Crickets, the stand up bass was the thing people wanted to see.

Were you conscious of the visual element?

Sonny: It didn’t affect me much. I just sort of stood there, still do. I can’t dance and play guitar at the same time! 

Jerry: If you see me dancing, don’t let me drive my car!

Joe: The visual thing was important to me. I did more dancing around the bass than I did playing.

Sonny: I remember seeing y’all at the Brooklyn Paramount and you were lying down on the stage playing your bass! You weren’t trying to go to sleep either!

Joe, when you joined the Crickets, was the creative process fairly free?

Joe: Yeah, we used to get in Buddy’s car and sit in Jerry’s folks’ driveway and kick ideas around. Things changed as time went on, but I thought it was very open.


The same set of autographs captured a quarter of a century apart, with barely a pen's quiver to differentiate the Texans' calligraphy. Top, 1997, during my meeting with The Crickets at the Hilton, Regents Park. Below, 1972, at my local cabaret 'nitespot', where I also saw The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison (twice), Del Shannon, Bobby Vee, Bill Haley and The Comets, and many other rock'n'roll legends in the early 1970s.

The death of Joe B Mauldin 1940-2015 as reported in Rolling Stone here