Friday, 30 December 2011

Keef Hartley

I was saddened to learn of the death of drummer and blues legend Keef Hartley on 26th November [read today in Uncut’s obituaries].

Hartley’s Half Breed [1969] was one of the first albums I listened to often and even before I had heard much of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the band from which Hartley had been sacked and thus leading to the forming of his own. I was also a big fan of Hartley’s second album The Battle of North West Six [1970]. Both are glorious blues and jazz gems.

Half Breed is comically bookended by an imaginary phone conversation with John Mayall – at the start, John is telling Keef 'I've got some bad news for you actually, I think you can probably guess what it is'; at the end it's made clear he's sacked! The music in-between is vindication that the dismissal created a period of legendary blues albums in their own Hartley right. The musicians in the ever-changing line-up are legendary too: Henry Lowther [trumpet], Chris Mercer [saxophone], Mick Taylor [guitar], Johnny Almond [flute], Jon Hiseman [drums], and Barbara Thompson [saxophone and flute] to name a few. Miller Anderson on guitar and vocal supplied excellent riffs and a genuine, gutsy blues vocal. Spit James also supplied great guitar solos, and then there was the drumming from Keef. Third track Sinnin’ For You on Half Breed gives a good example of this at it comes rolling in under the opening organ. My favourite Hartley and pretty much all-time top ten track is Not Foolish, Not Wise from TBONWS, and this has some brilliant machine-gun drumming that holds all the various pieces together, from Mercer’s great solo to the big brass lines. At some stage Half Breed is an album I will review – it might make my Top Fifty – but I just wanted to devote a little time here to remembering Keef Hartley and the huge, influential musical pleasure he has given me and others over the years. 

No Frills All Spills Airline

 SIN-atra: A Metal Tribute to Frank Sinatra

It's all about the approach. If you want to land in a predictable neat and tidy straight line, then that's fine. If you don't give a shit about doing things by the book, then you won't be surprised if you crash and burn. I've had to smile at a few Metal sites that pan this album for being 'over the top'! Talk about pompous platitude - get a grip on your down-flaps guys and gals. If you approach this album expecting some serious and revealing symbiosis of heavy metal and Frank Sinatra, then you're chancing things in a pre-Orville and Wright contraption [if you'll excuse me screwing around with my aeronautical metaphor]. This is as brash and chaotic and contradictory as any trained pilot could expect when flying into a known turbulence, and that's all part of the fun of the ride. For goodness sake: this is hype-propelled, fuel-leaking, flaps-flapping, undercarriage malfunctioning, but entertainingly by-the-pants musical flying. Grab a drink already half-spilt by the stewardess tumbling past your seat, turn the volume on full so you can hear through the one working headphone, and get ready to make your own entertainment as the in-flight movie goes blank on the screen. You might only fly with this airline the once, but it will give you a wing-span smile. Here's the pilots' and ground crew roster:

01. Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad) – New York, New York
02. Glenn Hughes (ex-Deep Purple) – I’ve Got You Under My Skin
03. Geoff Tate (Queensr├┐che) – Summerwind
04. Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) – It Was A Very Good Year
05. Tim “Ripper” Owens (ex-Judas Priest, ex-Iced Earth) – Witchcraft
06. Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) – Fly Me To The Moon
07. Eric Martin (Mr. Big) – Lady Is A Tramp
08. Joey Belladonna (Anthrax) – Strangers In The Night
09. Franky Perez (Scars on Broadway) – High Hopes
10. Doug Pinnick (King’s X) – I’ve Got The World On A String
11. Elias Soriano (Nonpoint) – Love And Marriage
12. Jani Lane (R.I.P.) (ex-Warrant) – That’s Life

Bob Kulick (ex-Kiss, ex-W.A.S.P.) – Guitar
Richie Kotzen (ex-Poison, ex-Mr. Big) – Guitar
Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth) – Bass
Doug Katsaros – Keyboards
Brett Chassen (Tim “Ripper” Owens) – Drums

Sean Bonniwell - The Music Machine

Talk Talk - Music Machine

I think it has only just been announced, but Sean Bonniwell of The Music Machine died on 20th December, aged 71.

Music Machine brought out one of the all-time great garage/rock songs Talk Talk in 1966. I was 12 years old and living in Germany at the time and it was an instant hit for me, and of course all over the world: the growling vocal, the simple but pulsating rhythm, and the equally simple but at that time distinctive guitar lead that builds to the amazing, closing four driving beats to the song's sudden end. This was the beginning too of a new kind of music and this song is hugely, unforgettably influential.

The lyrics were also new and enticing because of their mystery

Talk Talk
(Sean Bonniwell)

I got me a complication
And it's an only child
Concernin' my reputation
As something more than wild
I know it serves me right
But I can't sleep at night
Have to hide my face
Or go some other play-ay-ay-ay-ay-ace

I won't cry out for justice
Admit that I was wrong
I'll stay in hibernation
'Til the talk subsides to gone
My social life's a dud
My name is really mud
I'm up to here in lies
Guess I'm down to size
To size

Can't seem to talk about
The things that bother me
Seems to be
What everybody has
Against me
Oh, oh, all right

Here's the situation
And how it really stands
I'm out of circulation
I've all but washed my hands
My social life's a dud
My name is really mud
I'm up to here in lies
Guess I'm down to size
To size

Talk talk Talk talk Talk talk Talk talk

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Denny King & the B.O. Boogie Band - Evil Wind is Blowing [1972]

Beefed Up

Speaking of impressions, Denny King does a mean Captain Beefheart, but he does have two members of the Magic Band performing on this album: Alex St Claire and Doug Moon, guitar and harmonica respectively, and I suppose that makes it a respectful copycatting. This is basic boogie and blues, and damn fine for that, and the other piece of impressionism - as I'm on a thematic roll at the moment - is how second track Bottle Blues has a comic dimension when the Beefheart growl turns occasionally to Vic Reeves' pub singing gibberish. Surreal.  Boogie Man is getdown and delightfully dirty, and Lucille has the vocal graveldrag of Jim 'Dandy' Mangrum, with the boast that it's sung better than Little Richard. Surly.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Happenings - Piece of Mind [1969]

Chameleon Impressions

Trying to inhabit the same psyche world as The Freeborne, this band flew the idea of influence too near the plagiarist's sun, and whilst not falling in a ball of flames, its wings must surely have been singed with embarrassment. Essentially a harmony band in the mid sixties performing covers, by 1969 they wanted to move with the rock and psychedelic shift of the time and what they have produced on this album is an extraordinary mix of thieving familiar lines and then crafting songs off these that retained the core of their harmonising vocals. The opening track is the least obviously thieved, but the title reveals the appropriating sham: Where Do I Go - Be In [Hare Krishna]. It is a very pretty track indeed, if you like your spiritual chanting performed by The Sandpipers! And I quite like the prettiness of this and after, but it is also a blatant transformation that keeps reminding you the emperor is nakedly aping others. Second track Heartbeat pilfers the singular echoing note idea from For What It's Worth; third Living in Darkness pinches the opening riff from The Door's Touch Me, and fourth Cold Water swipes the opening melody from Cream's White Room. There are further thefts from The Greatest Show on Earth, Tim Hardin, The Temptation's version of My Girl and Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale. As I've said, it's a pleasing enough album in the lite-psyche vein, but the pulse of this is pumped by so much stolen property that it should have a swag warning stamped on the cover. It actually puts into perspective the honest use of influence in The Freeborne's much more genuine impressions.

The Freeborne - Peak Impressions [1967]

Freak Impressions

I'm enjoying this today, an early psyche record with all the naive but whimsical affectations that come with a band struggling to ape their larger and more successful influences. There is a very clear echo of early Country Joe and the Fish, both in the vocal and organ sound, and there is also Jefferson Airplane, some Doors and Beatles - hard not to; also the occasional overuse of recorder which is a little twee, but that too has its endearing appeal for this unabashed and none-too-critical ol' hippie listener when it comes to enjoying such experimental blasts from the past. Just two examples give a far-out flavour: A New Song For Orestes is suitably pretentious as a title, and the use of harpsichord, chamber strings, rousing horn, fuzzed guitar, choric vocals with some distortion effects, and spoken vocal are consummately the hallucinogenic ingredients of its colourful time; Peak Impressions & Thoughts is a classic example of a tripped-out musical journey and it must have been a thrill to create and imagine hopefully that this was the sound to propel them into the psychedelic club's swirling limelight. It didn't, and this is the sole record from this fleeting but fun tab on the aural tongue.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Leon Thomas - Spirits Known and Unknown [1969]

Jazz Yodelling

Listening to Eddie Harris' Silver Cycles has prompted me to listen to more of his and other jazz of the time, including Leon Thomas' album. This is a superb debut release, with opening track Creator Has A Master Plan [Peace] - a much truncated version compared with the full side from Sanders' Karma album - featuring Thomas' distinctive vocal delivery, which is a scat-yodel, and the flute of James Spaulding. Second track One is a live recording and foregrounds the vocal dancing even more, and is accompanied by the tenor saxophone of 'Little Rock', aka Pharoah himself. The next two tracks, Echoes and Song For My Father, are smooth and soulful, spotlighting the greater dynamic of Thomas' full vocal range. But it is the yodelling that continues to mesmerise.

Fifth track Damn Nam [Ain't Goin' to Vietnam] is again a live recording and a rousing, adamant rejection of the war, full of anger and emotion. This is followed by another passionate and political track Malcolm's Gone with Sanders again on sax, Spaulding on flute, and Thomas pouring his creative energy into the lyrics and vocal of this moving tribute, the warble breaking to a growl of loss and sadness, and the track playing out to the wild lamentations of percussion and saxophone before returning to the final lines I know he's gone but he's not forgotten/I know he died just to set me free/Yes Malcolm's gone but he's not forgotten/He died to save me; gave me my dignity. The album ends on the energetic Night in Tunisia with its saxophone battling and a closing return to Thomas' vocal pyrotechnics, and appropriately as I write near the end of 2011, there are shouts of Happy New Year in the background of this further live offering.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Eddie Harris - Silver Cycles [1969]

Swirling Saxophone

This is a treasured jazz sax album, largely because I have had it since I was a kid, but also because of its exuberant and at times psychedelic playing. I can't remember how I came across this one - I suspect back to that Woolworth's chrome-caged album bargain bin that offered up so many fortuitous gems: how I'd like to transport myself back with a few bob to purchase some more!

The album begins with a Latin American vibe, and remarkably traditional sound, on Free At Last, led off as it is by percussion and piano. Harris comes in to ride the melody in light staccato bursts, so very much a pop opening to an album that gets groovier as it progresses. Next track 1974 Blues is more a big brass band number and is again quite pop-blues in its melody and Harris' playing. It's third track Smoke Signals that takes off for me, with Harris playing his electric saxophone, using a Maestro amplifier and Echoplex, the latter to get the same echo and loop effect John Martyn did on guitar. There is an amazing amalgam of this psychedelic sound and an ethereal female vocal chorus that sounds like a Star Trek theme being sung in tandem with Harris' actual far-out playing. Fourth track Coltrane's View also appealed at the time with my fledgling interest in John Coltrane's work, and Harris' straightforward [excuse the oxymoron] playing of the Coltrane sound is another great track: brooding and building to an insistent free-form blow out. Fifth track I'm Gonna Leave You By Yourself exemplifies the album's eclecticism, with a soul-groove supported by uptempo orchestration and vocal backing chorus. This leads into the title track where the opening bass is put on a loop leading to simple percussive beats, including hand claps, until Harris' Varitone gently adds its own pulse of repeated lines, pushing these to the top register to squeal out in their echoing. The bass and percussive stabs continue throughout, until the baritone notes [electrically generated?] come in to ride out the background swirling. Seventh Little Bit is a fast number with Harris again on electric saxophone and, as the album liner notes state, it is therefore possible to play new melodies over the basic motif recorded previously. While these two lines are played back, a third melodic line can be added and a "sax choir" effect is achieved, and this is put to further interesting effect in the brisk and penultimate track Electric Ballad which is just Harris and has a classical motif. The album ends on a relatively conventional number Infrapolations giving conventional solo spots to bass and drums - that is, until near the end where this breaks out into more free-form and electrical musical mayhem. It still is now, but those were brilliant teenage listening days.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Saturday, 24 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Final Poem

Stocking My Moods Near A Christmas Evening
(after Frost)

Whose moods these are I think I know.
My self is in the need to show
I may not want the stopping here
To be all there is before I go.

My little time could now be near
To stop and sense all learning dear
Between what moods of give and take
Are the darkest of this year.

I gave to all who would partake
Or even ask if it was a mistake.
The only other sounds to keep
Are lives who are yet to wake.

The moods are loving, dark and deep,
But I have one promise to keep,
And a while to go before I sleep,
And a while to go before I sleep.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

The final two poems I will be posting from Stocking Fillers come from the last ever edition of these festive volumes, the eighteenth. The first, a list-poem sonnet, is one of thirteen celebrating teachers from all subject areas - and thinking of those I worked with - and is more upbeat than previous moods [apart from the light and fluffy]; and the second, a final pastiche, is more rueful than angry, anticipating hopefully as it did - but not actually knowing - that I would be able to leave a job I loved but with which I had become dispirited.  Written December 2009, I left in July 2010.

This first is dedicated to all those wonderful and brilliant English teachers I worked with at my school, in my department, and more broadly still work with in my examining and other educational activities - Merry Christmas 2011,

Christmas English Teachers

Christmas English teachers who career on a seasonal sledge
Christmas English teachers who are as ambiguous as love
Christmas English teachers who know Godot will never
Christmas English teachers who spell Santa with a sibilance of snow
Christmas English teachers who listen to meanings as they change
Christmas English teachers who know an English emporium trades in metaphor
            and error
Christmas English teachers who will travel to nowhere they want to go
Christmas English teachers who hear Carver in the simplicity of everything unsaid
Christmas English teachers who know a line can rise and fall like now
Christmas English teachers who fight philistinism for philosophical fun
Christmas English teachers who write sonnets in the rhythm of sound
Christmas English teachers who know when to let themselves go
Christmas English teachers who understand the chimney inside Santa
Christmas English teachers who are standing out on the edge

The Janks – Hands Of Time

Hotel Hoppers

Here are the latest residents at the Harmony Hotel, and on the evidence of this debut album they are fully paid up for a long-stay commitment. As has been observed by industry experts in various Harmonious Hotelier Handbooks, The Janks have their suitcases visibly decorated with Fleet Foxes locations, these contemporary fellow travellers themselves well known for carrying the precious baggage of 60s and 70s west coast vocal surfers and sunshine singers

The Janks have obviously met up with and been influenced by others in the lounges and bars visited on their journey. I can hear a fair snatch of The Beatles in a number of tracks, some Yes prog on Rat Racers, a slightly worrying hint of the Coldplay Motel Chain on Echo Whispers, and it is also clear that trips to the circus have left their ringside musical influences. But throughout what are undoubtedly also hitchhiked rides, The Janks have retained their soaring harmonies as residential roots and this album is definitely worth your visit and enjoyable aural stay.

Friday, 23 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Mr Fergy
(after Larkin)

This was Mr Fergy’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was a teacher, at CV, till
They retired him. Decorated walls – posters now splayed –
Stand like the poor largesse of a teacher’s last will

And testament: windows look out to land
Still goal-posted; littered, Mr Fergy took
This view to be a great bird in one hand,
And in the other, words from any good poet’s book.

Behind the class door are ghosts: work in students’ bags;
The offering ‘I know the answer sir’ or an obvious lie;
A view of the far corner of the field and smoke from fags;
Then the echoes of those who would always try.

Toughing it out with teaching year after year to drown
The jabbering of ignorance egged on by
Those who, intending to build, only tore down,
His sufferance was to always ask why

He kept on plugging at the days and days,
Likewise the tugging down from this good job’s yolk.
It was always more than for the summer holidays
And Christmases when his Stocking Fillers spoke.

But if he stood and watched the December wind
Tousling memories, listened to what its blowing said,
Telling himself this was all there really was, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how he lived measures his own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than a collection of red printed volumes should make him sure
He warranted no better than what such words bestow.

- 2008 - 

Judy Collins - Bohemian


This is a gorgeous album of mainly covers and a few new songs from one of the great folk chanteuses of all time. Judy Collins at 72 sings with crispness and occasionally an operatic tone that cuts these songs into a Christmas ice sculpture of musical clarity. There is a lovely cover of Joni Mitchell's Cactus Song, and Judy is accompanied on this version by Shawn Colvin.

There is a fair degree of sentimentality in the selection, but I'm not going to question this from someone who has seen and experienced so much of life. Veteran's Song is a lament for fallen soldiers and largely free of treading the mire of inappropriate patriotism in this context, though the song is spoilt for me be the vocal of Kenny White. Two others, Wings of Angels and In The Twilight, attain their genuine gravitas from the respective realities of Judy writing about her son Clark's suicide and her mother's death from Alzheimer's disease. That artists turn such darkness to something meaningful in the act of creativity and performance is a transformation one perhaps appreciates more through experiencing and sharing similar over time.

All The Pretty Horses is as lush as a lullaby should be - and the celebration of so much prettiness with, as I've said, some sentimentality on this album is given a witty overarching reflection in the lyrics of a new song provided by the great Jimmy Webb, Campo de Encino.

That aural duet of listening and hearing is controlled by mood and the emotions this will desire and/or tolerate. The other night it was Metallica very loud; this afternoon, with the rain dampening in its December misery, I found Bohemian just enough of a rhapsodic interlude to wile away the time before the next demand for noise.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Who Killed The Thought-Fox?

Perhaps it is the decline of winter
as a season - and I imagine now
the paw-prints at their best in a
Christmas snow - but it is more
than this: a cruel warmth
melts the habitat, and freedom to
roam has been curtailed by trips and
traps set by new hunters who know
no better. If this is acceptable
than anything else that could be
imagined to the full might as well
die too, and the murderers can come
running with their measuring tapes
sizing up this final kill.

- 2006 -

Thursday, 22 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

I don't know if anyone has followed/stuck with these? Only two more days to go. The poems, especially pastiches, did over the years become increasingly dark! From the tenth Stocking Fillers onwards to the final eighteenth, I did start writing prose pieces - not reproduced here - where I tried to be more humorous [satirical], though even these had the angry edge of a teacher intolerant of largely external forces impacting on internal reactions. Whilst Christmas time should be one of celebration and relaxation - indeed, placed their historically, socially and culturally to provide that annual psychological need - in the teacher's world it also came at the end of the longest full term. In looking to revisit and find just a few more lighter ditties to put here, I was bemused to find that as early as 1995 I had become aware that writing at this time of year made the more negative slant inevitable:

Time Of The Month

Bright Yuletide iambic pentameters
Must needs be composed in calm September.

The first Stocking Fillers poem I ever wrote did take a tilt at the light:


Everyone knows

Santa drinks
Fanta and his

reindeer have ginger
beer, but

Rudolf knocks back

which explains the red nose.

Well, I tried! Here's another of the apposite fluffy variety:


its cleanness
the coldness
and softness
the lightness
with fullness
its roundness
and flatness
the calmness
the wholeness
its richness


Adam Faucett - More Like A Temple

Hearing Voices

New to me, I was interested to listen because of some reviewers' claims for Little Rock, Arkansas singer songwriter Adam Faucett sounding variously like Otis Reading, Cat Power, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright. We all like to intone our precursor echoes - as I am about to do - but I didn't hear any of the four just mentioned - instead, I pick up a simpler mix of Steve Earle and Ryan Adams, the former not imagined just because Faucett resembles the appearance of early Earle in his Copperhead days.

Adam Faucett is clearly a significant presence, and this album of mainly acoustic numbers has plenty of raw power and emotion to signal real talent. I wasn't blown away by the songwriting, as sound as it is, but rather the performance which is full of energy and emotive commitment. Two stand-outs for me on this album are T-Rex T-Shirt and Emerald City Girl, and Faucett's voice, which does have a significant range, is propelled at its higher register on these two so that I can understand the Buckley reference, though anyone singing anywhere remotely near a falsetto gets the Jeff vocal tattoo as a readymade stamp. There are electric numbers too, as well as two closing, rougher demo-like takes [I mean not polished] and the whole album is enriched by this genuine performance element. Absolute closer The Way You See It is a beautiful acoustic number, both in terms of the songwriting and singing. I hear a real talent indeed.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Why So Pale and Wan?
(after Suckling)

Why so pale and wan, oh teacher?
   Prithee, why so pale?
Will your plans not make each learner
   Look up to your travail?
   Prithee, why so pale?

Why so full of hooch, ol' teacher?
   Prithee, why so full?
Will, when teaching well surrenders,
   Abstinence not dull?
   Prithee, why not just give bull?

Quit, quit for shame! This will not do:
   You cannot be smarter.
If of itself teaching will not do,
   Nothing can be tarter
   Than a Christmas contrived starter.

- 2004 -

Nils Lofgren - 2 Meter Sessions [Kink FM Amsterdam 2008]

Nils Not Neil

This is an outstanding live broadcast [bootleg] of Nils talking about and singing some songs from his album of that same year The Loner - Nils Sings Neil. There is nothing better than such a solo set: Nils with guitar and piano and vocal - though I'm sure many would claim, obviously, to 'better' that if it was Neil himself, and there are plenty of such solo recordings out there to achieve this. But that's the point. Nils Lofgren pays here a reverential yet never gushing tribute to Neil Young, and the talks between tracks give interesting insights into Lofgren's youthful work with Young on After The Goldrush as well as his admiration for Young as songwriter, especially his early work in Buffalo Springfield. And Nils Lofgren is a brilliant performer, so this collection is simply a winner in so many ways. Easy to find and download. Tracks are:

Long May You Run
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
I Am A Child
Don't Cry No Tears

My favourite anecdote is Lofgren telling us that whilst he played piano on most After The Goldrush tracks, Young played the piano on Birds, but Young gave the credit for all of the piano work to Nils in the album notes, a generosity Lofgren likes to acknowledge but also put right. And this is the one number on this radio studio performance where he plays piano!

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Anticipating A Summer Song
(based on an early English lyric)

Summer is i-commen in,
   Loudly sing cucu!
Groweth targeted results like we bloweth wind
   And spring'th the League Tables nu -
      Sing I'm Cucu!

Teachers bleateth after lamb,
   Low'th after the lowest too:
"Bollocks!" is shouteth, "Fucke youeth",
   Merry sing cucu!

Cucu, cucu, well singeth thou, cucu -  
   Ne shite thou never knew;
Sing cucu, now, sing cucu,
   Sing cucu, sing cucu, nu!

- 2003 -

Breakfast Sax

Cannonball and Coltrane

The album was originally titled Cannonball Adderly Quintet in Chicago on its release in 1959, and is Miles Davis' band of the time without Miles Davis.

It's delightful saxophone dueting and duelling between Cannonball's alto and Coltrane's tenor. I don't always hear the nuances in style, apart from on opener Limehouse Blues where it seems obviously tonal [apart from the different saxophones] and Coltrane's sound is less crisp on the notes - though that sounds critical, and I don't mean that - but there is a little more merging and warbling and dances across notes, and that's the explanation from a novice.

There are two alternative cover versions of the album as John Coltrane became more famous. I'm not sure of the sequence, but it seems that the first has him slightly in the background to Cannonball's lead, and the second gives Coltrane equal visual billing as his popularity had grown even more. But I could be wrong. It's a spirited bop romp, with a couple of ballads.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

All Doom and Little Freedom
(after Ted Hughes)

A school's dark term shrunk to verbal barks and the clank of a ruckus -

And who is listening?
A tangled web, tense for a clue to the few who touch.
A pale face lifted, no frills or trimming - fear
to tempt a first reading to a tremor.

Now we are going home in the pain there, stooping under the wreath of someone's
                                                        indelible breath -
a stark shiver in our blood, trying to unfold the blur,
challenging to kill words in that ilk.

'Doom!' we cry suddenly, 'Doom! Doom!'

The buffoon has leapt back like a con-artist gazing fazed at the workers
that point at him un-amazed.

- 2002 -

[NB Written post-Ofsted inspection]

Top Fifty - Brewer and Shipley

Brewer and Shipley - Shake Off The Demon [1972]

Another selection from the 'having grown up with this album' core of my Top Fifty. This is an essentially acoustic folk [occasional country rock] album by duo Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley. All songs are self-penned, apart from Jackson Browne's Rock Me On The Water. The opening title track off this fourth album release is one of those country rock staples from similar artists at the time, and it has a guest electric and slide guitar contribution from John Cippollina. The west coast harmonies kick in almost immediately and that was the first appeal. The lyrics also tapped into my earnest teenage preoccupations of the time, here with There's a man in a uniform/Says he wants to teach you how to kill and the implicitly critical, anti-war stance in this struck its vibrant chord.

Second track is the sublime Merciful Love, with acoustic guitar, piano and sweet harmonies. Third Message From The Mission [Hold On] rides further on the crest of exquisite harmonising - oh so pretty I admit - and the organ of Mark Naftalin supports these as they roll out to the end. Fourth One By One is more of the soothing same, and fifth When Everybody Comes Home, closing side two of the vinyl, is another countrified, banjo-twanged folk harmony where a simple but pretty melodic line gets repeated.

Sixth track and side two opener Working On The Well is an electric and upbeat number creating new pace. Seventh is Browne's beautiful Rock Me On The Water, and this is a gorgeous version with Brewer and Shipley's tight, distinctive harmonies - and strangely perhaps, made interesting too with Jose "Chepita" Areas' congas/timbales. Eighth Natural Child features some effective acoustic guitar playing from the duo, and is augmented by the electric violin of David La Flamme from It's A Beautiful Day - the track has a worksong repetition to it that is quite funky, includes a false end, then returns with more superb violin to provide a longish instrumental close. Penultimate Back To The Farm is is a bucolic call to pastoral arms, its hippie sensibilities set in the simplicity of Get to get 'em back down to the farm/The simple life it just might/Do a whole lot of good/And it can't do no harm. The album ends on Sweet Love and continues the anthem with its paean to the power of love, Talk about love, sweet sweet love, sweet love, sweet sweet love. Amen.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Upon The Circumcision
(after Milton)

Ye flaming Powers and winging Politicians bright
That erst with dictate and triumphant wrong
Pass on the baton to Morris' care,
So sweetly sung your Joy of Reform along
Through the silence of our suffering blight;
Now mourn and be sad to share with those who bear
Your fiery effluence, and the distilled tear
That makes up all our morrow
Burning in the depth of sorrow.
She who with all New Labour heraldry whileare
Enter'd our world, now bleeds us as if to please;
Alas, how doomed our skin,
   Sore, doth begin
      Our pleasures to cease!

- 2001 -

[NB Estelle Morris was the then Labour Secretary of State for Education and Skills]

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Surprise Songs

Nigel Kennedy - The Four Elements

I shouldn't be surprised because the man is a genius, as eccentric as he may be/appear at times, and the track Air on this album is superb. There is a Vaughan Williams beauty in the violin soar as the track begins, and as this moves into the female folk vocal, that pastoral echo is consolidated. Then the violin explodes - as you're hoping knowing this is a concoction of styles - and the electric oriental/psychedelic solo is just how I love my rock violin. I was surprised the track didn't return to its folk start to perform the obvious cycle, but it ends instead on a smooth jazz note with violin and trumpet. There is a surprise element in that the album isn't consistent in terms of replicating the brilliance of this track, but that's not to say there aren't plenty of surprises - liked or unliked - throughout this whole lively and typically eclectic creation.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Education Sonnet
(after Shakespeare)

So oft have I invok'd thee for my Muse
And found such crass assistance a dark verse
As befits this teacher's ink I must use
Till under you my poesy must be terse.
Thine lies, that are dumb to those who could sing,
And heavy ignorance in the closed eye,
Preach jaded feathers to the learned's wing
And give hope a Labour's travesty.
Yet be most proud of that which you defile
Whose influence is thine, and torn of thee,
In your own works thou dost but feed the guile,
And Arts with thy two-faced graces must be.
    But thou art all your Art, and dost by chance
    As chanced by learning, live crude ignorance.

- 2000 -

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Horrid Homophones

Santa was never allowed
To say "Fucking Merry Christmas" aloud.

A bestial Santa says "Hello Dear"
To his very special deer.

Another beastly Claus
Gets out his Xmas claws.

Santa had a broken heart
Discovering his 'special' was a hart.

- 2000 -

This One's For Him - A Tribute to Guy Clark

This One's Excellent

The story here is as simple as it gets: over 30 artists perform songs written and/or played by the great storyteller himself Guy Clark as he celebrates his 70th year. That this collection of fellow performers paying their tributes includes the likes of great friend Rodney Crowell [That Old Time Feeling], Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, songwriting collaborator Shawn Camp [Homeless], Ron Sexsmith, Willie Nelson [Desperados Waiting For A Train], Suzy Bogguss [lovely version of Instant Coffee Blues], Ray Wylie Hubbard [the great Homegrown Tomatoes], John Townes Van Zandt II, Joe Ely [Dublin Blues], Emmylou Harris [Magnolia Wind], Steve Earle, Radney Foster [performing the beautiful LA Freeway], Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson [Hemingway's Whiskey], Vince Gill [Randall Knife], Robert Earl Keen and Terry Allen [the touching Old Friends] establishes the quality of this release before even listening to the mainly acoustic and unadorned homages to these memorable songs and the man himself. There is no attempt, nor need, to interpret the songs when their innate, honest storytelling and melody have such presence. Played alongside Clark’s own recent release Songs and Stories, this is quite an impressive and even emotive experience as you are immersed in the warm awareness of Guy Clark’s significance as an American singer songwriter.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

- 2000 -

Monday, 19 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

- 2000 - 

White Denim - Last Day of Summer

Summery Pop Swirls

I reviewed White Denim’s D with positive observations on the musicianship and echoes of 60s/70s’ performers, and recently placed it in my 2011 favourite albums’ list. Last Day of Summer was initially a freebie via the band’s website, but is now released officially, and it is more of the same but with a sustained pop sensibility. It is, apparently, a collection of songs worked on since the band’s formation in 2006, and whilst some reviewers have seen the collection as slightly disparate, I hear, as I’ve said, a consistent and enjoyable pop playfulness underpinned by lush harmonies and busy instrumentation.

Opener I’d Have It Just The Way We Were is a swirling pop tune with those vibrant harmonies and a psyche, Randy Californiaesque guitar break. Next Home Together is similarly inspired with an organ core and those sweet vocals. Fourth If You’re Changing foregrounds the Tyrannosaurus Rex echoes I heard in D. There is an instrumental lull of sorts for tracks five and six, and seventh Some Wild Going Outward presents a more complex but still swirling, melodic songwriting and performance. The remainder continues with the T-Rex sound and this, for me, is part of the overall charm. The album ends, oddly, on an anonymous indie tune New Coat.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Ode VI
(after Coleridge)

My pensive colleagues! thy weary heads reclined
Thus on thine arms, most soothing sweet it is
To imagine each sat beside a Cot, any Cot o'ergrown
With flowers, and no thoughts of a targeted hurdle
To leap, just musings on Innocence and Love
And watching of clouds, that late were richly alight
With their vocation, and mark the rising stars
Serenely brilliant (such should Teaching be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the sense
Snatch'd from yon school-field! and the playground so hushed!
But the inner murmur of what we distantly perceive
Tells us of defiance.

                                  That performance-related Loot
Placed naked in the seducer's casement, hark!
How by the derisory political breeze caress'd,
Like some toy maid half yielding to her payer,
It pours such sickly-sweet upgrading, as must needs
Tempt to expose the wrong! So that now, its strings
Professionally swept, the long vocational notes
Over conscientious surges sing and rise,
Such a soft floating teacherly sound
As twilight planners and markers make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales of honest lesson plans,
Where Melodies round eyelid-dropping hours,
For every child, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, relying on one another's wings
O! the one Life within school and at home,
Which defies money's promotion and becomes all,
(A slight in £££££s, a £££££-like desire to slight),
Rhythm is in thought, and joyance everywhere -
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love such a job as one filled;
Where the breeze is self-induced, and surrounding air
Is Music paying the preferment.

- 1998 -

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson - Beauty 'n the Beast

Nude Blues

Delta Blues in the nude. Well, that’s the cover’s innuendo, but in reality the relevance is that much is stripped back, basic foot-stomping blues, or Celtic folk, and fine for that. Opener Black Cat Bone sets one tone with slide guitar, simple drumming, and dual harmonising. Hat Fitz plays a mean, screaming harmonica and has the vocal of Seasick Steve about him, or vice versa – it’s a generic hard blues calling. The sweeter antidote to Fitz’s Aussie appropriation of dirtblues is heard in the pretty flute and Irish drumming of partner and wife Cara Robinson on instrumental Fitzmullolland. This more melodic alternative is also presented in fourth track Where It All Began where Cara sings prettily and is accompanied by fiddle. The album moves between these differences, but gets merged, for example, on sixth track Nobody’s Fault But Mine where Fitz plays a calm, seductive and electric blues slide and Cara sings in a pure and beautiful voice. Lay Me Down with acoustic slide and Cara's vocal is gorgeous. It’s a neat combination.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Ode V
(after Pope)

What dire offence from politicians springs,
What mighty changes rise from trivial things,
I sing - This verse BLUNKETT, a Muse is due
Because, although blind, he must have a view
Of how recent events cannot bring praise
When all about him the gloom still lays.
  Say what strange motives, for heaven's sake, could compel
A well-bred Socialist to assault with such hell
Teachers who have as yet their happiness unexplored
(A little like Hague as to a recently departed Lord)?
In decisions so bold, can such little men engage
In others' bosoms this quite mighty Rage?
  As if through curtains there shoots a ray
Of fleeting sun, this is what we want to say:
Now lap-dogs, give yourselves a rousing shake
And like sleeping tossers, decide to awake.
Thrice ring the mental bell, beat head against the ground,
And let us hear a more sagacious sound:
Blunkett from his Tory-like downy pillow prest
Raises a head from such balmy, barmy rest
And thus summoned from the ministerial bed
His morning-dream hovers inside an enlightened head.
  New fairest of mortals, show a distinguished care
To distribute largess like the Inhabitants of Air
To everyone. If this be but one Blunkett thought
Let the Nurse Blair and Priest Brown see it brought
By treasury Elves in moonlight shadows seen -
A whole-profession token of spendable green
(Or whatever colour gives money powers)
So like golden crowns it's our heavenly flowers.
Hear and believe! thy own importance know,
Not bound any longer by narrow thoughts below
Like secrets from a learned pride concealed,
But now have real care and concern revealed.

- 1998 -

[NB David Blunkett was the then Labour Secretary of State for Education and Employment]

12 Days Before Christmas Poems


of snow;
a huge yawn of the sky-mouth
that shouts wind and ice
like knife-slice
and hammer-blow:
winter warms for Christmas
in its cauldron of cold.

A fox nudges snowflakes
with his feather-soft caress of nose.
He dream-drinks each
to the icicle sharpness of both eyes
and enters invisibly
this white-world
in a fire of red fur-glow.

All melts.
All is one.
All merges in the
stall of this moment. Snow again
falls and
falls and

There is a man, iron-strong,
walking in this moment.
His snow-crow hair is like a scarf
around head and neck,
and he moves in the wind-hover
like a ghost.

When he speaks the hills tremble.
"This is Christmas," he intones
in an earth-tremor voice,
holding in his hand the scent of fox
like a glove: fur-warm, snow-soft,
shrouding bones.

of snow
and this man in its cauldron of cold.
Fox is still watching,
indelible paws never growing old.

- 1998 -

[Written in memory of Ted Hughes who died in this year]

The Revelations feat. Tre Williams – Concrete Blues

Sweet Soul Music

Southern soul revival and the sweet, sweet vocal of Tre Williams - the lyrics too delve into the essential soul themes of human inequality - those of rich and poor, and those in love and those suffering its loss. Classic. Listen to Trouble Man which swells with lyrical angst and funked-up emotive rhythms. Feel How Could You Walk Away as soulsilk personified. Tense to the guitar-empathy of Wes Mingus on One Reason To Stay. This is a wonderful album.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Ode IV
(after Arnold)

   Had we but World enough, and Time
This joyless Blair were no crime.
We would sit down, and think slowly which way
To make his parliament more au fait.
He by the River Thames' side
Should'st humility one distant day find: I by the Tide
Of Clyst would complain and complain. I would
Barrack him ten years before the Flood:
And he should if he please refuse
Till he walked again in Socialists' shoes.
My vegetable garden should its metaphors grow
Vaster than Millennium domes but much more slow.
An hundred years should go to raise
My fists and on his forehead graze.
Two hundred pummels on his hairless chest:
But thirty thousand to the puny rest.
An age at least to every part
And the last age should reveal him as The Grand Old Fart.
For Blair, Sir, you deserve this from the State
Nor would it reward you yet at any higher rate.
   But at my back I always hear
Times winged chariot flapping near:
And yonder all before us Schools will be
In Deserts of vast Insipidity.
Thy intellect shall no more be found;
Nor, in number 11 (despite the move), shall sound
My echoing of being wronged: then Worms will eat
That long preserv'd Tory policies' Repeat:
And Blair's faint Honour turn to dust
And into ashes all my disgust.
The grave's a very final place
But not where we should bury Education in disgrace.
   Now therefore, while his youthful hue
With a few strands of manicured hair still seems new,
And while the suppressed Socialist nearly transpires
At every mention of the poor with aroused Fires,
Now let us do good while we may:
And now, like we mean what we say
Rather at once the Time devour
And begin to use what the people gave him: Power.
Let us roll all our Principles, and all
Our Convictions, up into one Ball:
And tear up Tory Blueness with rough strife
Through the School Gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will once again make Learning fun.

- 1997 -

[NB A year that resonates for socialist teachers like me at the time who hoped New Labour's election  would herald much needed reform and good sense in education after years of Tory terror. It didn't. Labour merely reflected and actually made worse those Tory policies that started to kill the job, and which Labour made terminal. So, poems at this time and from here on in became even more despairing and cynical! Won't sound like good Christmas wishes for readers here following this nostalgic revisiting. There might be a few more light and fluffy interludes, but no amount of baubles and flashing lights can disguise the falling needles.....]

Tony Spinner - Down Home Mojo

Mojo Spinner

Couldn't be simpler: ripitup, throwitdown, kickitabout rock 'n' blues with walltowall fine guitar work from axeman Tony Spinner. Neat harmonies help to carry an OK vocal, but it's the licks and riffs that form the seamless strength of this seventh studio release from Arkansas slicksmith Spinner.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems


1. Snowperson

There is no reason to object
to the politically correct

even if it is a silly decision
to use such a neologism

2. Snowballs

He sat
in the snow
with his
so very,
oh so very

3. Snowflakes

Providing all of the recommended
minimum daily requirements
of ice crystals,
these need to be eaten with
chocolate milk so that each flake
can be seen floating at the top of a
bowl and in a tiny xocolatl lake.

4. Snowboard


on ennui

5. Snowjob

Bill and

6. Snowberry

In summer it's naughty;
in winter it's haughty.

8. Snowmobile

But can you imagine
how it could fall
if it wasn't able to move
at all?

-1998 -

[No. 5 was a clue to the year!]

To Act In Love

William Maker - Agapao

More in the Waits/Beefheart vocal lineage, this is a bluesy singer-songwriter project that takes the listener through 15 self-penned tracks with Maker performing all parts of singing and instrumentation. It isn't an album of memorable melody - rather it's simple blues or melodic lines repeated and made engaging by the slide or echoing guitar riffs played - usually delicately and certainly unobtrusively - above this. There's occasional harmonica and simple beat as on Holy Spark which has minor peaks of instrumentation, but always the gruff vocal holding it tight and focused. Title track Agapao is a gentle blues with slide guitar, baritone growl and self-harmonising - not much more can describe such simplicity. Fourth track Rosebud is a slight jumped heartbeat within the whole restrained pulse, sixth On High On chances on some pace too, and seventh I Am I is the liveliest of all, a relatively jaunty instrumental at 1 minute and 54 seconds [though follower Revival 6 is no absolute slouch]. Closer Sol is another slow blues with more electric slide and harp, so slowed it makes sure the listener has never been aroused to reverie but instead kept calmed by the album's sustained straightforward patterns. None of this is criticism: it's to characterise the mood for listening.

Autobiographical details and digital download can be found at

Friday, 16 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Ode III
(after Arnold)

Go, for they call you, Shephard from Westminster;
   Go, Shephard, and untie the battled knots:
      No longer leave thy shattered flock dismal,
   Nor let thy bawling fellows fill their throats hot
      From full glasses, drunk as if that is all
         It takes to administer;
   And your tired men and women need a rest,
      And only the white flags are seen
      Waving across your initiative-pocked battlescene;
         Come, Shephard, and again renew the quest.

Here, where past reapers planted their hate,
   In this darkened corner where Ministers leave
      Their coats like a shed skin and pass on the bruise;
   Where only a new sun and morning can bind the sheaves
      Of hope, then here can come back common sense to use;
   While to our ears from beyond our sway
      The bleating of fellow flocks is borne
      With distant cries where the reapers left them shorne -
         All the echoes from so many of those days.

- 1996 -

[NB Gillian Shephard was the then Tory Secretary of State for Education and Employment]

Dual Harmony

In know it couldn't be any less than two [!], but this is a quick post to refer to four examples of male and female [that's just how it is] dual harmony that I have particularly enjoyed this year:

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, with no more needed to what has been said already.

The Civil Wars - Joy Williams and John Paul White. It wasn't till seeing them on Later...with Jools and hearing a bootleg recording of a concert performed this year that I realised how superb they are and returned to their album Barton Hollow, though it's live where they excel with just acoustic guitar and vocals.

Pharis and Jason Romero, who are even more ethnic in their Country than Welch and Rawlings, but harmonies just as tight.

Tiny Home - Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominquez - who sing beautiful tight harmonies, and advertise online to perform at weddings and functions in the San Franscico Bay area in ecologically considered contexts. They do a superb version of Van Zandt's If I Needed You.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

A Film Cliche Christmas

You say Christmas dinner is ham?
Frankly dear, I don't give a damn.

Santa picks up his sack,
turns and says [in silly English] "I'll be back."

From a Ridley Scott cut:
Christmas presents exploding from the gut.

You say Christmas dinner is a cat?
You dirty rat.

- 1996 -

2011 Favourite Albums' List

Only Santa's magic eyes can see Some Diurnal Aural Awe's 2011 Favourite Albums' List, but a visible copy has been obtained and is printed here for your secret viewing and interest:

Alison Krauss and Union Station - Paper Airplane
America - Back Pages
Archie Shepp – Wo!man
Ben Howard - Every Kingdom
Big Harp – White Hat
Blackie & The Rodeo Kings – Kings & Queens
Bing Ji Ling - Shadow To Shine
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Bonnie Prince Billy – Wolfroy Goes To Town
Brute Heart – Lonely Hunter
Buddy Miller - The Majestic Silver Strings
Buffalo Death Beam – Salvation for Ordinary People
Feist – Metals
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
Glen Campbell - Ghost on the Canvas
Gotan Project - La Revancha en Cumbia
Guillemots - Walk the River
Guy Clark - Songs & Stories
Hank Williams III - Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town
Jeff Bridges - Jeff Bridges
Joan As Policewoman - Deep Field
John Martyn - Heaven and Earth
Josh T Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
Josh T. Pearson - Rough Trade Christmas Bonus
Johnny Winter – Roots
Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit
Kami Thompson - Love Lies
Karen Savoca - Promise
King Creosote – Thrawn
King Creosote – Diamond Mine
Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Leslie West – Unusual Suspects
Lindsey Buckingham - Seeds We Sow
Martin Simpson - Purpose + Grace
Meg Baird - Seasons on Earth
Merle Haggard - Working in Tennessee
Moreland & Arbuckle - Just a Dream
Nils Lofgren - Old School
Paul Simon – So Beautiful So What
Phoebe Killdeer - Innerquake
Rachael Yamagata – Chesapeake
Radio Moscow - The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz
Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You
Rebecca Ferguson – Heaven
Richmond Fontaine - The High Country
Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer
Ry Cooder - Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire
Shelby Lynne - Revelation Road
Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
Steve Miller Band - Let Your Hair Down
Steve Tilston – The Reckoning
Teddy Thompson - Bella
The Answer – Revival
The Black Lillies - 100 Miles of Wreckage
The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
The Dallas Explosion - Off To War
The Duke Spirit – Bruiser
The Gourds - Old Mad Joy
Thea Gilmore – Don’t Stop Singing
Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers
Various Artists – Johnny Boy Would Love This: Tribute To John Martyn
White Denim – D

Picking an absolute favourite is difficult, but I will stick with what I have mentioned before and go for Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. The act of compiling this list reminds me of lesser known but brilliant ones that I need to revisit: Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Big Harp, and The Black Lillies. Many have been reviewed on this blog, but others haven't. Three of the albums are significant because they are superb but also by female vocalists I love: Joan As Policewoman, Feist, Shelby Lynne. Teddy Thompson and Josh T Pearson released albums poles apart in terms of genre and performance, but each excellent release was complemented by seeing them performing live this year. The most personally meaningful album was John Martyn's posthumous release. I realise some of my favourites will be others' turkeys, for example Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and the recent selection of Rebecca Ferguson may continue to surprise, but that should be done and dusted by now. Roll on 2012.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Ode II
(after Poe)

Once upon a midnight dreary, as I wadded through words, weak and weary,
Over many a dull and spurious volume of philistine's lore -
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly in my head came a tapping,
As of some imposed curriculum rapping its song at my metaphoric door.
"Tis some friggin' new initiative," I swore, "tapping at my battered door -
                                           Labelled More and More and More."

Ah distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each past initiative's ember wrought its ghost upon the mind's floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow of '96 would bring a power that would not borrow
Others' ideas to inflict an increase on my sorrow - sorrow for not being as before,
For the rare and radiant teaching with the swish of an angel's wings before
                                           Becoming shameless automatons evermore.

- 1995 -

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

12 Poems Before Christmas

The Christmas
(after Ray Carver)

the Christmas with bells on
the Christmas when you were alone
the Christmas with knowledge of snow
the Christmas as smorgasboard
the Christmas transcending home
the Christmas where angels fall
the Christmas pretending to have a chimney
the Christmas inside bonhomie
the Christmas long-distance call
the Christmas in someone's war
the Christmas behind mystery
the Christmas becoming childhood
the Christmas writing Stocking Fillers
the Christmas through mulled eyes
the Christmas with an open door
the Christmas you misunderstood
the Christmas bloody number one
the Christmas that passes by
the Christmas of frozen breath
the Christmas on cocktail sticks
the Christmas from a store
the Christmas beyond death
the Christmas pouring killer roads
the Christmas wanting more
the Christmas inside soap operas
the Christmas that's left over
the Christmas you can remote control
the Christmas at a year's end
the Christmas for lovers
the Christmas of a lost soul
the Christmas card you never send
the Christmas when Ray's car broke down
the Christmas lived with the old
the Christmas with kids before they've grown
the Christmas as an abstract noun
our Christmas

- 1995 -

Rebecca Ferguson – Heaven

Electrically Eclectic
I’ve now given this album a proper roadtest – well, a treadmill test outside in the freezing shed where I worked-out and listened, and Rebecca Ferguson thoroughly entertained me to a genuine head of steam, a good enough musical gauge for today, especially as it’s bourbon night and I normally prefer a more lethargic preparation in honour of what’s to come so effortlessly.

Two of my previous Surprise Songs instincts on her have held up to today’s fuller scrutiny: it is a ‘fine’ album throughout – not outstanding, but definitely more than average; and track Shoulder To Shoulder is the standout on the album: just listen to that beautifully held note on the word free. This is an emotive and convincingly sung track, a genuine heartache lived and revisited in the lyric. Opener Nothing’s Real But Love is a bold starter with its simple acoustic guitar beginning, and the soulful vocal is firmly in control - a hardship also lived and revisited in this lyric. The song builds with just enough backing vocal and organ accompaniment adding a gospel feel, but not overdone.

There are derivative sounds as well but never more than reflections of genre rather than other artists and/or others’ songs. I like track six Fighting Suspicions which begins as a slow brooding ballad - piano and brass in dirge control - and for a brief moment I imagine Tom Waits dueting his growl to Ferguson’s soulsilk croon, but the track quickly funks up and is just as cool for this. Seventh Teach Me How To Be Loved is essentially piano, cello and voice, and quite simply, Ferguson can sing distinctively in such unobtrusive company.

Since posting a positive reference to this album as my second Surprise Songs I’ve had two comments, both expressing shock! The first, on this blog, is from someone who also likes the album which is great; the second, sent by email, is from a friend who refuses to even listen to the album [and he’s entitled with his impeccable musical tastes and our occasional if strong musical differences which merely demonstrate the brilliant variation of opinion]. I mention because about this time last year I also referenced, positively, another X-Factor singer, Cher Lloyd and observed that I thought she too has a genuinely solid voice/vocal. Her album Sticks and Stones hasn’t lived up to my expectations because it is more controlled and influenced by production values and interferences – these beyond her control and, perhaps, mature oversight – but I still believe she has talent and potential and I look forward to that being realised in the future, for this listener at least. I also mention because I’m pleased to engender any interest and comment, but readers shouldn’t be shocked by my eclectic tastes – if it’s good it’s good.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Christmas Ode
(after Keats)

My heart aches, and a drowsy dumbness pains
  My tense brain as I recall, as if still drunk,
The man Patten who led me down a dismal drain
  To depths other teachers Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not for pleasure to remember our lot,
  But being happy as Christmas comes
    One should be light-winged Dyrad of the trees
      And aspire to some noble plot
To have him expired for what he's done
  And rhyme such dreams with a full-throated ease.

- 1994 -

[NB John Patten was the then Tory Secretary of State for Education]

Breakfast Blues and SOS

The Blues Band - Few Short Lines

Here's two simple dishes served up for my morning consumption: The Blues Band with Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, Tom McGuinness; star guest players like Al Kooper, Pete Wingfield and Mike Sanchez, and guest vocalists Linda Lewis, Maddie Bell and Southside Johnny, all playing straightforward harmonica fuelled blues - and my American breakfast of SOS, Shit on Shingle, a concoction formulated during the second world war to feed the GIs, made from minced [ground] beef fried in a pan, a can of mushroom soup poured over this, then heated through and served on toast.

Of course this should be titled Breakfast Bliss and SOS, which has a neat rhyming, but I wanted to be precise about the music and food combination - a different music/food amalgam to the recent Juicy Lucy, but perhaps establishing another blog category?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

12 Days Before Christms Poems

Lloyds Bank Turd

This solidified species
of 8th century faeces
measures the digestion
of York's early Christians.

It's a less luxurious rule
than a current Christmas stool.

12 Days Before Christmas Poems

Whilst teaching, I produced an annual Christmas Stocking Fillers, started in 1992, of poetry and prose for friends and colleagues. Most of these were light and fluffy, especially in the early days; some satirical and increasingly angry, certainly further down the years as government messing with education grew, and a regular feature was a poetry pastiche based on the Education Secretary of the day.

I propose over the next 12 days before Christmas to print a selection of these here, starting with a twee trio from the first publication.


Three wise women
would have driven
in a car
to that far star


The presence
of presents

is the litmus
of Christmas


To be guided by a bright star today
is probably all right
if you're sure that what leads you on your way
isn't a satellite

The Cubical - It Ain't Human

Not Much Changed In Their Cubicle

I’m not going to be much different, but in referencing the growling vocal of Dan Wilson, I'll cite the lineage of Van Vliet [though some difference in avoiding the generic ‘Beefheart’] and Waits as necessarily the first touchstone, and it’s an appropriate shorthand. There’s obviously Howlin’ Wolf – though I think another reviewer has pilfered there too – and my single independent if still obvious invocation is the occasional warble of Roger Chapman. Ninth track Paper Walls is a brief metamorphosis as Nick Cave and is actually my favourite.

That’s the vocal largely out of the way, and in many respects this is the distinctive feature of band The Cubical, if you’ll excuse the paradox of this statement. The Liverpool group grind out their garage blues in predictable but rousing simplicity, and Wilson’s vocal grit, precursor baggage dragged over the long line of stones, is always to the fore, apart from track Worry where it is more barroom folk smoothed out by a shandy instead of gutrot. And it is live in a smouldering bar bathed in booze where this band is most likely best supped, the echoes and derivations drooling down your face as if afresh.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dave Cloud & The Gospel of Power - Practice in the Milky Way

At The Alter Of Cloud's Gutter Church

Beefheart meets Drury meets in the gutter and speaks gutter French and gutter lyrics to girls with gutter thoughts – not the girls’, not the Spotty Bird’s – and even Guy de Maupassant is dragged down into the act or to The Nudist Camp where Cloud’s slow growl intones girl, when I first met you I was scared to go without my shirt and pants but eventually, at ease, feels the breeze tickling through my knees. Strange.

Listening to twelfth track Surfer Joe and its spoken narrative with echo I was reminded of the raw rock of 70s biker-group Circuit Rider, and right on cue, next track School of Hard Knoxsville opens with the idle then roar of a Harley. Spooky. It’s not a particularly interesting track but for that surprise link.

It’s an uneven collection and at twenty tracks, too many, but the punk and raw rock of the whole makes it rough and ready as a listen. Song titles like Sky High On My New Bimbo, Bring On The Nubiles, Eat Me Raw and Spanky Spank paint the lyrical preoccupations with a big and dirty brush. Salacious. It’s dubious stuff, but that’s the appeal, and Spanky Spank for example is humorously hypnotic, but it won't keep you in this state that long.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Top Fifty - Juicy Lucy

Juicy Lucy - Lie Back And Enjoy It

Juicy Lucy's eponymous debut album has perhaps the critical acclaim from those who champion the band, featuring as it did the top 20 hit and great Bo Diddley cover Who Do You Love. It's a great blues-rock album, but it is their sophomore release Lie Back And Enjoy It that introduced the band to me and thus is my favourite. Before moving on to that one I can't resist posting the inner cover of the band's first album featuring the wonderful Zelda Plum covered in fruit,

Lie Back and Enjoy It has more occasional but not constant great swamp blues, like second track Willie Dixon's Built For Comfort with gravel vocals by Paul Williams, ex Zoot Money; guitar by Micky Moody; slide guitar by Glenn Ross Campbell, and that screaming saxophone I so liked at the time played here by the brilliant Chris Mercer. It's the chugging bluesbeat that propels this funky song. Third track Pretty Woman is more of a country rock number and is perhaps the reason many prefer the first album's predominately blues selection; and fourth, closing side one of the vinyl, is a light but breezy, slide-driven and band-penned Whiskey In My Jar. Side two opens with a gutsier return to a rock and blues sound, the Davis/Bramlett Hello L.A. Bye Bye Birmingham [and reading the writing credits from the album sleeve is quite a task as it opens out into six album-sized squares, the inner spread a picture of the band in performance with album details, and the outer using each of the six individual squares to present a member of the band - see below]. Seventh track That Woman's Got Something is another band-penned number and is an acoustic and authentic sounding blues with Paul William's vocal growl carrying the song. Eighth is my favourite - and here shouteth the purists in their dismay - a dirty cover of Zappa's Willie The Pimp, Williams' vocal sleazy and slithering. There's some great playing on this with Campbell's rampant slide and Rod Coombes' pulsating drums, including solo with Moody echoing on guitar. Playing this song loudly over and over when I got the album, along with and similarly Built For Comfort, they tend to dominate my recall of the album and represent what is best in it. Overall it's not the most consistently strong or musically memorable of my other selections in this category, but being reminded of the Vertigo cohort, to which JL's first two releases belonged, it still commanded a place for the amount of playtime it got in my early collection and listening leanings.

There's a 'Meat Alert' for the next posting which is chronologically but not physically before this one....