Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Housemartins



The albums covered here are:-

The Best Of The Housemartins
and London 0 Hull 4 (1986)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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THE BEST OF THE HOUSEMARTINS

1. Happy Hour
2. Five Get Over Excited
3. Caravan Of Love
4. Think For A Minute
5. Me And The Farmer
6. Flag Day
7. Sheep
8. Build
9. There Is Always Something There To Remind Me
10. Anxious
11. Hopelessly Devoted To Them
12. I Smell Winter
13. The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death
14. I'll Be Your Shelter (Just Like A Shelter)                         


They were an odd entity, The Housemartins, formed in 1983 by Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore in Hull, they became successful in the "loadsamoney", me first, 1986-87 period on the back of Socialist politics and a supposedly authentic working class credibility. Fair to play to them for that, but there was always something a little contrived and pretentious about them, for me. Bassist Quentin Cook (later to achieve mega-stardom as DJ Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook) was from the comparatively wealthy Tory heartlands of Bromley in Kent as opposed to Hull and the always "challenging" character of Paul Heaton has vaguely irritated me for years, despite the fact that I love so much of his subsequent work with The Beautiful South. He referred to himself as P.D. Heaton during his time with The Housemartins, slightly for effect, I'm sure. Stan Cullimore's real first names were Ian Peter. Presumably he called himself Stan either as a nickname derived from footballer Stan Collymore or to enhance his traditional working class credentials. The former is more likely, I think, although I don't know so forgive me if I'm wrong.

The band's line up changed several times in a short period of time, (Cook was the second bassist, for example) and another subsequent arrival was Dave Hemingway who also left when the band split, to form The Beautiful South with Heaton.

The group's sound was typical mid-eighties, "indie" jangly, guitar-driven but melodic pop, with a cynical, observation, wry style to their lyrics, much like The Smiths. Their breezy, upbeat sound suited the era perfectly but it was the pathos in their lyrics and innate sadness in Heaton's vocal delivery that made them stick out for me. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in their first hit, the irresistibly catchy Happy Hour. It is here that Heaton's sad beneath the surface voice was first heard by me. I have loved it ever since. Although I have always found him a frustratingly perverse character, his voice and lyrics have always struck a chord with me. It taps into the mid-eighties "fun" trend of pubs offering "happy hours" of cheap drinks. There was no happiness in Thatcher's Britain. however and the song's sad undercurrent emphasises that.

This is an enjoyable compilation for "part time" fans like me. The sound on the group's work has never been great, though, and has always suffered from being a bit tinny.

  

Five Get Over Excited is similarly frantic and poppy, a sort of Beach Boys pastiche mixed with that indie pop ear for a tune. Apparently, a lot of the group's long time fans were not happy with their surprise number one hit, an a capella cover of Isley Jasper Isley's Caravan Of Love. Not me, I absolutely love it. It is the finest thing they ever did and gets me all tearful every time I hear it. I won't hear a word said against it. Magnificent stuff. Heaton's finest moment.

The lovely Think For A Minute is precursor to The Beautiful South's material, featuring another fine vocal. Check out that wonderful Beatles/Billy Bragg-esque French horn solo too. Me And The Farmer is a delightfully effervescent, lively number full of vocal harmonies and great guitar. It is simply irrepressible. The more restrained, slightly sombre Flag Day has a lovely, warm bass line before it breaks out into a big, dramatic chorus backed by more impressive brass.

Sheep has a similar frantic rhythm to Happy Hour and more cynical lyrics. Build is a great track, with a killer slow hook and another great bass, a real signpost as to The Beautiful South. Heaton's voice is again heartbreaking in its baleful timbre. Nobody delivers quite like he does. As I said, I will always love him for it. There Is Always Something There To Remind Me is a bit low-key and mournful, lacking their usual joie de vivre but this returns with the infectious rhythm of Anxious. Hopelessly Devoted To Them is another Happy Hour-influenced poppy number with more acerbic, wry lyrics. I Smell Winter has a thumping, slightly Motown-ish beat and another pre-Beautiful South feel.

The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death is a very Smiths-ish number and one of the first when you feel The Housemartins are sounding more like somebody else than themselves. The brass breaks are more their own, however. I'll Be Your Shelter (Just Like A Shelter) is an initially evocative, plaintive, piano-driven ballad with a big gospelly chorus to end this brief and invigorating collection with. It is probably the album's most adventurous number. There are so many signs as to the potential Heaton and Hemingway had in this material. Not so much for Cook, for his success was the result of a huge diversification.



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LONDON 0 HULL 4 (1986)

1. Happy Hour
2. Get Up Off Our Knees
3. Flag Day
4. Anxious
5. Reverends Revenge
6. Sitting On A Fence
7. Sheep
8. Over There
9. Think For A Minute
10. We're Not Deep
11. Lean On Me
12. Freedom                                                       

This was The Housemartins' debut album from 1986. The band itself and many of the songs have been dealt with above on the review for The Best Of The Housemartins.

As an album, it was a most impressive debut offering and went along aside The Smiths, Billy Bragg and The Style Council as a bold statement for those of us who objected to the government of the time to hang our hats on. It is not merely throwaway pop, not at all. There are dark, often cynical and dispiriting messages contained within the admittedly infectious music. The Housemartins had all the anger, vitriol and rage of The Clash, The Jam or The Sex Pistols but they coated with a jangly pop sensibility which made them special. Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway would continue that with The Beautiful South.

The tracks I have not covered are as follows. Get Up Of Our Knees is a typical piece of acidic yet melodic Paul Heaton political invective with his bitter message sweetened by an incredibly catchy tune. Heaton wants the disaffected to "not shoot someone tomorrow that you could shoot today...". Basically, stop moaning and get into direct action. Fair point, I guess, but I wonder what he actually did to back up his words. The same as me, I would imagine, carried on moaning...

  

Reverends Revenge is a very Happy Hour-ish, lively instrumental which features a typically Housemartins beat and some pure 1964 Rolling Stones harmonica. Sitting On A Fence is very Beautiful South in its sound and could easily have been from their 1989 Choke album. It features a bit of a drum solo followed by some funky bass and is a really good track, full of vitality and impressive musicianship. Over There is a solid, bassy rocker that again sounds like the sort of stuff The Beautiful South would specialise in a few years later. There is a nice guitar solo part in the middle. These lads could play, something that was often overlooked.

We're Not Deep is irresistibly toe-tapping with a killer bass line and some uplifting vocals. Lean On Me is not the Bill Withers song but an equally inspirational, plaintive, gospel-influenced Heaton (written with sixties veteran Pete Wingfield) song performed against a piano backing. Freedom is a sort of Motown meets punk stomper to end this short but rousing album.

The sound on the deluxe edition is an improvement on the original and it is always a genuine pleasure to dig this out. It is an often forgotten great album of the eighties, make no mistake about that. Highly recommended.

** The non-albums tracks include the excellent Elvis Costello meets Nick Lowe meets Billy Bragg thrash of Stand At Ease; the bassy, easy groove pop of You; a jaunty instrumental in Coal Train To Hatfield; a fetching a capella cover of Aretha Franklin's People Get Ready and the punchy, jangle pop of Drop Down Dead. All impressive tracks.

Added to that list is the frantic, harmonica-driven instrumental The Mighty Ship; another impressive a capella cover in The Hollies' He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother; a punky, vaguely Irish-sounding instrumental in Who Needs The Limelight; more unaccompanied vocal in the gospel of Joy Joy Joy and the amusing cod-rap of Rap Around The Clock.



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Friday, 3 April 2020

Terry Callier



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OCCASIONAL RAIN (1972)

1. Segue #1 - Go Ahead On
2. Ordinary Joe
3. Golden Circle
4. Segue #5 - Go Ahead On
5. Trance On Sedgewick Street
6. Do You Finally Need A Friend
7. Segue #4 - Go Ahead On
8. Sweet Edie-D
9. Occasional Rain
10. Segue #2 - Go Ahead On
11. Blues For Marcus
12. Lean On Me
13. Last Segue - Go Ahead On                       


Terry Callier is one of those artists who never quite made it, but is revered by some as being most credible, a sort of "in the know" name to drop with fellow cognoscenti. "oh you like Terry Callier? Good call....". Anyway, this album, from 1972, came several years after his only other offering, which had been a Dylan-inspired folk album in the sixties. Produced by Charles Stepney, this was a sort of soul "concept album" in that it ran in one complete whole, separated by several short segues, all oddly titled the same - Go Ahead On. They are also out of sync numerically, for some reason. To be honest, there's little point in the segues, they end frustrating too soon. Either make them into a proper song or leave them out. They are bluesy, whereas the album isn't, so they sit incongruously for me. I sort of get it, though, and more listens finds me getting used to them.

Ordinary Joe is the one song of his that I really knew, it having achieved unlikely cult status on the seventies Northern Soul circuit. It is perfect, light, summery piece of subtly jazzy, smooth and jaunty soul. It is one of those timeless feel-good, lift your spirit songs. It contains some "scat" style singing from Callier and some fine jazzy piano. Golden Circle is a lovely slice of laid-back sweet, warm, honeyed soul. Callier sounds very much like Gil Scott-Heron did on his slow numbers on this.

  

Trance On Sedgewick Street is beautifully laid-back, smoky and jazzy but enhanced by some rich, sweeping, deep strings. From a cello, I believe. This is hard-edged, typically seventies street soul but with a classy, immaculately-delivered sound. Again, Gil Scott-Heron comes to mind and Bill Withers too. Very much in the same vein is Do You Finally Need A Friend. The bass/drum/piano part that begins around 3.40 is stunning, as are the weird-sounding, high-pitched backing vocals. It is very innovative and adventurous.

Sweet Edie-D is a sumptuous, gently rhythmic piano, bass a drum-driven jazzy and soulful number. It is one of my favourites on the album, just listen to that bass line and those gospelly backing vocals. It is most unusual and captivating stuff. I'm sure Elton John would have loved this at the time, and Leon Russell too. Those rolling, shuffling drums are wonderful as is the sound quality, which is outstanding throughout the record.

Occasional Rain is very sleepy and relaxing, Callier's vocal backed by just a gently-strummed acoustic guitar, quiet organ and some mysterious, slightly spacey keyboard noises. Blues For Marcus is the album's only real nod to Callier's blues roots, apart from the segues. However, it is a blues backed by a melodic acoustic guitar, strings and a tender, quiet voice. It is soul with a slight blues foundation, really. The final cut is a nice one, and is titled Lean On Me, but is not the Bill Withers song from the same year. Callier sings strongly but in a reassuringly gentle manner. It is quite beautiful. Check out those backing vocals, the piano and Callier's vocal rising as they see us home. Heavenly.

The album is one that slowly finds it way in to your consciousness in its understated way. It was a most beguiling and entrancing record, in many ways ahead of its time. It has never been given the widespread praise is deserved. From the same year, for example, Stevie Wonder's Talking Book was hailed as a master-work - why not this too? It certainly carried more than enough quality.



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Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Lindsey Buckingham




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LAW AND ORDER (1981)


1. Bwana
2. Trouble
3. Mary Lee Jones
4. I'll Tell You Now
5. It Was I
6. September Song
7. Shadow Of The West
8. That's How We Do It In LA
9. Johnny Stew
10. Love From Here, Love From There
11. A Satisfied Mind                                                  

This was Lindsey Buckingham's first solo album and a mighty bizarre one it was too. He played pretty much everything himself. It was released in 1981 around the time of Fleetwood Mac's Mirage sessions and has a lot of the pop/rock 'n' roll/new wave influences of Buckingham's work both for that album and for 1979's Tusk. It fitted in to no genre, then or now, being a most eclectic piece of work. Its influences are late fifties/early sixties slushy rock 'n' roll, Talking Heads, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson and even Mick Jones' 79-81 Clash material or the stuff he wrote for Ellen Foley in the same year. What is for sure is that is nothing like Fleetwood Mac, or indeed, anything Buckingham did for the Mac, despite the often new wave-ish vibe of that stuff. Quite how it fitted into the musical zeitgiest of 1981 is unclear.

Bwana is an odd, lively and quirky number featuring some falsetto vocals. It sounds like Talking Heads playing doo-wop rock 'n' roll and adding some buzzy guitar. Trouble again has a David Byrne influence to it on its vocals and musically is is lightly appealing. It is gently attractive in a sort of seventies Beach Boys way.

 

Mary Lee Jones is an upbeat, new wave-ish thrash driven along by rolling, punky drums and some excellent rock guitar at the end. I'll Tell You Now is a chilled-out, sleepy number with plenty of Brian Wilson-esque echoes all around. It is a very summery track. It Was I is an old late fifties cover but to be honest it just sounds twee and a bit pointless here, despite being a homage to Buckingham's rock 'n' roll roots. It also reminds me of John Lennon's Just Because from his 1975 Rock And Roll album. September Song is also a cover from the early sixties and suffers similarly.

Shadow Of The West is a soft-sounding number backed by some Hawaiian guitar. all very unthreatening and not nearly as edgy and lively as his Fleetwood Mac material from the same era. That's How We Do It In LA is admittedly more upbeat but in many ways it is just silly. The riffy Johnny Stew is a bit more like it, but it still is quite an odd song, vocally. Love From Here, Love From There is sort of bluegrass meets jazz a bit like some of the material on The Clash's Sandinista! from the same year. A Satisfied Mind is a cover version and is pleasant enough in a country fashion.

My overall feeling is that the album is too deliberately quirky for its own good and that the material he did for Fleetwood Mac was much better. A vastly superior Buckingham solo album from tracks done with Fleetwood Mac from 1979-81 can be curated yourself. I found this one a frustrating and pretty unsatisfying listen, expecting better from always having enjoyed his Fleetwood Mac material. That said, after a few more listens it does sort of start to appeal more.



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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Stevie Nicks



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BELLA DONNA (1981)

1. Bella Donna
2. Kind Of Woman
3. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around
4. Think About It
5. After The Glitter Fades
6. Edge Of Seventeen
7. How Still My Love
8. Leather And Lace
9. Outside The Rain
10. The Highwayman                                       

This was Stevie Nicks' first solo album, from 1981, before Fleetwood Mac's Mirage and five years or so before her drugs meltdown. It is a veritable who's-who of guests - Tom Petty, Roy Bittan, Benmont Tench, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Don Henley, Davey Johnstone and Waddy Wachtel among others. The sound on it is more muscular, more obviously rocking than the ethereal material she contributed to Fleetwood Mac’s albums. She either wrote or co-wrote all the material too.

Bella Donna starts slowly and quietly before breaking out into a solid piece of guitar-driven rock, more rockier than her Fleetwood Mac material. Kind Of Woman is a slow, sensual number, but again Nicks' voice is strong, coarser and gruffer than on the Mac albums thus far.

Stop Draggin' My Heart Around was a duet/co song-write with Tom Petty and you can tell, it has that typical Petty mid-pace rock sound. It is a fine track. Think About It was co-written with E St. Band pianist Roy Bittan (the first time I have seen him credited with writing a song) and it is a good one, unsurprisingly featuring his piano. It has a bit of an E St. feel to it, also unsurprising. I really like it. Stevie sounds so vibrant, so alive, so confident on this album’s material, as if she is really enjoying herself.

  

After The Glitter Fades is a nice piece of tough country rock and Edge Of Seventeen rocks consistently along, Nicks’ voice rising strongly above an insistent, chugging guitar riff. It is many people’s all-time favourite of hers (including the Principal in the movie School Of Rock), but I have others I put before it, such as the next one along, the Fleetwood Mac-ish, seductive How Still My Love. Edge Of Seventeen, for me, is lacking in definite hooks, with comparatively indistinct vocals and doesn't quite go anywhere. That's just me, though, lots of others absolutely love it.

Leather And Lace has an Eagles feel to it and, of course, features Eagle Don Henley. It is an attractive slow country rock ballad. Outside The Rain is standard driving radio AOR rock, but none the less appealing for it. The Highwayman is a slow, evocative guitar-driven ballad, full of quiet dignity. It is a high quality track from an album that doesn’t have any particular “wow” moments but lots of quality ones. It is always highly listenable and showcases what an underrated songwriter Nicks was, for many years.

** The non-albums tracks feature the excellent brooding rock of Gold And Braid; the slow country bar-room ballad Sleeping Angel; the beguiling, acoustic If You Were My Love; the solid, enjoyable mid-pace radio-friendly rock of The Dealer and the equally muscular rock of Blue Lamp. All were quality songs.



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