Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The Average White Band

These seventies Scottish funkers served up some quality albums....

Show Your Hand (1973)
This was The Average White Band’s debut album, and it was one that slipped under the radar somewhat, which was a bit of a shame as there was some quality material on there. I have mentioned this in more detail on the review of band’s next album, but even more so than in 1974, funk rock was hardly de rigeur in the UK music scene so the emergence of this band of Scottish funk rockers was surprising, to say the least. They broke big with the instrumental chart hit Pick Up The Pieces in the following year.

Anyway, on to this album. The Jugglers is a lively upbeat funk number to kick things off with. It uses the guitar and drum sound that the band would come to utilise so much over the next few years. A nice inventive saxophone solo is to be found in the middle too. This World Has Music is a catchy song with good soulful vocals from both lead vocalists, Alan Gorrie and Hamish Stuart, more fine saxophone and a sumptuous, melodic bass line. It sounds like it would have been a good single, and indeed it was, but you just can’t imagine it being a hit in amongst all that glam rock in 1973. Twilight Zone is an impressive, laid-back soul number. A notable thing about this album is that most of its eight songs are around the five minute mark, quite long, something else that went against the contemporary grain. I have to say, though, that the quality of the musicianship is superb. Put It Where You Want It is six minutes plus of mature, impressive tuneful funk-pop. I can only reiterate that it is difficult to see how this fitted in to the zeitgeist of 1973. It would have been fine in the eighties, however, so maybe it was ten years ahead of its time. Once again, Roger Ball’s saxophone is excellent on this track.

Show Your Hand suffers from a bit of a muddy sound at the beginning, although otherwise it is a gentle offering of quiet but lively, poppy soul. Like the other tracks it is all most appealing. 
Back In 67 is a vaguely reggae-influenced number that talks of the band’s history on the road. Reach Out is a guitar and horns-driven piece of punchy, bluesy soul. TLC ends the album with over eight minutes of infectious, insistent funky soul, featuring some intoxicating drums and another killer bass line. There are hints of Traffic’s soul-rock workouts on this one.

This was a convincing first album, but, as I said earlier, it belonged a decade later, musically.

AWB (1974)
1973-74 was a period of glam rock’s embers still glowing, prog rock noodling around strongly, the early strains of disco, and Philly soul. Hardly fertile ground for a Scottish soul band to emerge, one would have thought. This band were to prove otherwise, however.

The Average White Band were from Dundee. They were, as their name suggests, a white soul-funk band. However, they were a little bit more than just average. This was their second album, and most impressive it was too. It contained the hit single, the instrumental Pick Up The Pieces, but the rest of the album features vocals, and is jam packed full of laid back soul-funk of the highest quality. For an album from 1974, the sound quality is also exceptionally good. It was surprisingly that with so many strong, catchy soul songs on the album, many of which would have made fine singles, that they chose an instrumental. They obviously made the right choice, though, as it was a huge hit, rich with catchy, infectious hooks that made it an instrumental that one could sing along to. The general sound of the album is that of gentle funky guitars, solid drumming, late night soulful vocals and a nice, punchy but melodic brass groove. The nearest comparison that can be made is possibly to the sound of multi-racial US funk-soul band Tower Of Power

You Got It and Got The Love are both tuneful, immaculate-sounding numbers the quality of which makes them sound ahead of their time, like something from the eighties rather than the mid-seventies. The vibe is that polished and slick. Person To Person drips with funky guitar licks, fatback drums and a great vocal from Hamish Stuart (vocals were shared across the tracks with Alan Gorrie). Work To Do is a cover of an Isley Brothers’ song from their Brother, Brother, Brother early seventies album. AWB’s version is pretty faithful to the original, just as funky and brassy. Nothin’ You Can Do is a classic slice of bassy seventies soul. This description applies even more to the sumptuous Just Want To Love You Tonight. This time it is Gorrie on vocals and most striking they are too.

Keepin’ To Yourself is so convincing in its Philly-ish sound it could almost be Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The O’Jays or Blue Magic. There are touches of The Detroit Spinners about it too. 
I Just Can’t Give You Up is also very O’ Jays in its rhythmic, funky feel. Check out that guitar solo half way through. The final track, There’s Always Someone Waiting is the deepest piece of funk on the album, featuring some excellent wah-wah guitar and mysterious-sounding percussion.

This was certainly a fine album. Unfortunately, drummer Robbie McIntosh died from a heroin overdose a few months after this album’s release. I vaguely remember reading about it at the time. I was fourteen-fifteen and while I liked the single, did not know too much else about the band.

Cut the Cake (1975)
This follow up album to the successful AWB, in 1975, offered more of the same excellent white funk-soul. 

Beginning with the minor hit single of Cut The Cake, an impossibly funky, brass-driven groove with occasional, somewhat indistinct vocals, the track has a fabulous funky beat that is followed by an absolutely enticing rubbery bass line backing on School Boy Crush. Both of these are thoroughly captivating tracks, immaculately played music that was far more than simply chart fare.

This is addictive funk, and, if anything, this album is even more funky than its predecessor. These two opening tracks drip, sweat and smoulder with it. Can the vibe be continued? It sure can. It's A Mystery has another deep funky backing (just listen to that bass) - the stuff on here has an earthiness to it, despite the sweet soul feel of the laid-back vocals. A nice saxophone solo enhances the track too. Incidentally, Steve Ferrone was now on drums (he went on to later join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and play session drums on many other albums, including Chaka Khan, George Harrison and Eric Clapton).

Groovin' The Night Away is an upbeat piece of party funk. Disco was on the way, remember and the group were getting in on that particular act as well as funk. 
If I Ever Lose This Heaven, a Pam Sawyer song originally recorded in 1973 by Quincy Jones, is a solid chugger of a number. Once again the backing is warm and funky. The mood gets a little more romantic on the soothing saxophone-enhanced soul of Why, but it doesn't take long for some jazzy funk to return on the sublime High Flyin' Woman. The track features some killer wah-wah guitar licks. Cloudy is a slow-paced serving of evening soul. How Sweet Can You Get? has a bit of a feel of Steely Dan about its brassy soul/rock ambience and indeed its vocal. 

When They Bring Down The Curtain is wonderfully soulful, it reminds me quite a lot of Ace, a vaguely similar rock-soul band from the same era. Disappointingly, the album didn't sell that well, not in the UK anyway, although it did very well in the USA, where they had a large African-American following. Once again, I have to say that the music on here was impressively mature and in so many ways ahead of its contemporaries.

Apparently there was a lot of tension within the band on the recording of this album, no doubt due to the recent passing of drummer Robbie McIntosh and also the dreaded "artistic and creative differences", but you would never have guessed it, listening to it - it is as smooth as silk, full of energy and seeming enthusiasm. They did well covering up any mournful moods. Legendary soul-funk producer Arif Mardin was about to pull the plug at once stage but, fortunately he persevered with the task. As I said, it came out sounding really polished. I also have to make the point that the sound quality on the album is absolutely top notch.

Benny And Us (1977)

This was an excellent collaboration between the AWB and legendary Drifters vocalist Ben E. King. Although only eight tracks in length, it is a thoroughly worthwhile listen. It sort of slipped under many people's radar at the time, certainly in the UK, although it was successful in the USA, where the band had a much bigger fanbase. King's vocals are certainly not in the Drifters/Stand By Me style - he copes with several soul sub-genres admirably. It actually became his best-selling album.

Get It Up For Love is a nice, deep funky opener, with a disco-funk vibe to it - lots of “chicka-chicka” guitars and a solid vocal from King and the band's members. It merges a catchiness with a gritty, cookin' funk. Fool For You Anyway slows down the pace on a classic piece of seventies soul with a real, polished Philly feel to it. King's vocal is effortlessly impeccable on this. A Star In The Ghetto, a Philip Mitchell song, is one of the album’s standout tracks - six and a half minutes of copper-bottomed soulful funk with a Blaxploitation-style string backing and a general Blax ambience overall. Quality stuff. Once again, King’s adapts his vocal to the song’s demands perfectly. There are elements of James Brown in his delivery at times on this one as he improvises. There is also that irresistible hookiness about it that makes it so attractive.

The Message Is Love sees a return to muscular funk, full of wah-wah guitars. Its bass line is beautifully deep and the rhythm intoxicating. Proper funk. 
What Is Soul kicks ass too, big time, with another James Brown-esque vocal over a punchy funk beat, once more it is strong, industrial funky fare. It is time for a change in pace now, for the George Benson-Luther Vandross style soul of Someday We’ll All Be Free. This was a cover of a Donny Hathaway song. It features a sublime saxophone solo too.

Covers of John Lennon's Imagine were, unfortunately ten-a-penny in 1977 (and probably ever since) and although this one is eminently soulful and full of great saxophone breaks, as you would expect, there was probably not much need for another soul artist-band covering the song. They'd all done it, hadn't they? Actually, though, I can't help but like it. The breezy, bright Keepin' It To Myself is a reliable slice of seventies soul to finish off with. It has a bit of Al Green about it. This was a really good album, demonstrating a variety of funk-soul styles and deservedly was reasonably successful. The band would drop off the radar for a while after this, however, before experiencing something of a renaissance in the eighties.

Shine (1980)

After several credible albums of funky white soul in the mid-seventies this 1980 album was possibly their last critically-acclaimed one, although it alienated a lot of their soul-funk fans with its mix of smooth, late-night smoochy soul and unthreatening disco rhythms.

Our Time Has Come is a slick, fast-paced piece of disco-influenced soul. It has an Earth, Wind & Fire feel to it, particularly in the vocal harmonies. For You, For Love is a smooth, easy listening soul ballad with more EW&F influences. The big hit single from the album was the incredibly catchy Let's Go Round Again. It is full of the vibes of soul 1980-style and helps to remind you that not everything in 1980 was punk, new wave or ska - stuff like this was all over the place.

Watcha Gonna Do For Me? is another slice of sweet soul and Into The Night is an instrumental that has the feel of a cop show soundtrack. 
Catch Me (Before I Have To Testify) is a disco stomper that sounds like EW&F meeting Shalamar. Help Is On The Way is another upbeat groover. If Love Only Lasts For One Night is late-night soul by numbers while Shine is an appealing funk-soul number. All this album's material is pleasant enough, but it just washes over you and lacks the funky edge that the earlier albums had.

** The non-album track Wasn't I Your Friend is by far the funkiest cut from the sessions and should have made the album.

Check out the afore-mentioned and influential Tower Of Power's work here :-

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Pure Prairie League

Copper-bottomed, pure country rock here for you ....

Pure Prairie League (1972)
Pure Prairie League were a US country rock band that originated in the early 1970s. They were named after a fictional 19th century temperance society that featured in the 1939 Errol Flynn movie, Dodge City. This was their 1972 debut album. Their albums featured the same cartoon-ish cowboy character on the cover, making them somewhat difficult to differentiate from each other.

This album is a relaxing, breezy laid-back delight of warm country air. Very much in the early seventies country rock style it is a little known (certainly by me until recently) classic of its genre. The sound quality and musicianship is excellent and if you like easy country rock you will love this. Put this alongside CSNY, The Byrds, Dylan's Nashville SkylineThe Flying Burrito Brothers, America and Gram Parsons.

Tears is a jaunty, finger-pickin' piece of lively country rock, embellished by some excellent riffy electric guitar half way through along with the obligatory steel guitar. The Eagles were surely influenced by stuff like this. Take It Before You Go is also an upbeat number with a regimented but fast drum beat and some more killer pedal steel guitar, The vocals are laid-back and easy on the ear as too is the gently melodic bass. You're Between Me is a slower, more rock-ish but still melodic number with another lovely bass line, fine electric guitar solo and impressive vocal. Craig Fuller was the lead guitarist and vocalist. Gram Parsons must have liked this one, I am sure. The way PPL merge the pedal steel and electric guitars is of of the most striking aspects of their music.

Woman is an absolutely stonking slice of rousing country rock, packed full of wonderful guitar and superb, uplifting vocal harmonies and a solid round of drumming from Jim Caughlan. "Time's so short, please woman wear your hair down for me.." is a great seventies line too, isn't it? Doc's Tune is a short, pleasant bit of finger pickin' while Country Song is a catchy, energetic with a Nashville Skyline feeling about it, but played much faster. Check out that guitar half way in. This track rocks, in a country way, from beginning to end. It is a lengthy one too - nearly eight minutes and involves some truly excellent musicianship over the final two or three of them as the band go through their paces. It becomes the album's tour de force. Harmony Song is also a five minute plus number and is a very Eagles-like slow, sad country rock ballad. Again, though, it builds up into a glorious example of musical dexterity. Yes, these are regular country songs but they are enhanced by some genuinely high quality playing. 

It's All On Me is a plaintive bluesy country twanger brought to life by some punchy rock breaks. Then the album is over before you know it, but what a breath of fresh country air it has proved to be. Why it didn't get more credit beyond the cognoscenti is beyond me. I love it.

Bustin' Out (1972)
After an excellent debut album of musically inventive, clever country rock, Pure Prairie League were back, this time, perhaps surprisingly, teaming up with guitarist Mick Ronson, an RCA label-mate, right in the middle of his Spiders From Mars glam period. Ronson contributed guitar and was involved with the strings production. This was something totally different from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust or Lou Reed's Transformer, his other two 1972 involvements. It was a good job nobody in the glam-obsessed UK knew much about this at the time as his working with a country rock band would have seriously damaged his glam credentials. His influence on here, though, made it a more rocking album than the first one, in places, certainly in the first three tracks. After that a more quite, beautifully string-powered groove takes over, however.

The tuneful, appealing Jazzman is sort of Eagles meets America with bits of Neil Young and early Bread floating around its enticing melody. As always, there is some great guitar and drums on here. 

Angel No. 9 begins with some instantly recognisable, searing Ronson guitar before the country-styled vocals kick in. It is very much a rock track though, full of riffy power. It is a really good track. It is by far the group's rockiest number thus far in their career. Leave My Heart Alone is equally powerful, featuring some delicious wah-wah style guitar enhancements. This was an example of country rock at its finest. The pedal steel-electric guitar battling that was begun on the previous album is taken to higher levels here as the guitars crash, slash and burn a lot more and the drums pound harder. The appealing Early Morning Riser sees a return to breezy, freeway-drivin' Eagles-style light country rock fare. Dire Straits would use the type of guitar breaks that are used here many years later. The vocal harmonies are pleasant too as is the long-ish instrumental fade-out. 

Falling In And Out Of Love is a very CSN/CSNY influenced acoustic-driven quiet ballad. It segues neatly into the more upbeat, harmonious Amie. This was a very successful track in the USA (being eventually released as a single in 1975) but in the UK it didn't even raise a ripple of interest. It is full of lovely America-style vocal harmonies and that singalong country rock vibe. Continuing the laid-back feel is the entrancing, gentle Boulder Skies. The strings are lovely on this. Ronson did a good job. Who would have thought he had such musical romance in him? Angel is beguiling, both musically and lyrically. It is another sensitive, mature composition. It stands out when listening to the album for its sheer quality. Call Me, Tell Me is another very CSNY-style song with some interesting string sweeps and an infectious percussion backing. Bruce Springsteen used soaring strings like this a lot on his 2019 Western Stars album. The last sonorous string bit sounds just like the end of David Bowie's Rock'n'Roll Suicide. Concidence? Maybe not.

The music here is intelligent, creative, often beautiful and artistic. It is more than just straightforward country. It is finely-crafted country rock of the highest order. I cannot recommend this enough. The album was, unfortunately, not a success and this line-up of the band split up soon after. What a pity.

Two Lane Highway (1975)
Three years since their previous album, and a few line-up changes on, Pure Prairie League returned in 1975, with another serving of pleasant country rock. Singer, lead guitarist and main creative force Craig Fuller unfortunately had to serve six months in jail in 1973 for draft dodging. Fair play to him. He would rejoin the band in 1985. The music definitely suffered as a result and something of the innovative spark of those excellent first two albums was lost. This was a far more mainstream country rock album. It still features some quality material, however.

Two Lane Highway is a lively, Eagles-style piece of driving country radio-friendly rock. Ideal for car radio play and no doubt that is exactly what it got. It has an excellent guitar solo in it too. Kentucky Moonshine is a typical laid-back country song, tuneful and unthreatening. Runner is a gentle, very CSNY-influenced number, full of those breezy country sounds. Memories is a mid-pace, melodic steel guitar and piano-driven country ballad. Perfect for a hot afternoon in a country bar. 

It is time to rock again on the riffy beauty of Kansas City Southern, get out of the bar and back on the freeway again. There is some addictive cymbal work halfway through this, together with solid drums and guitar. Riffage continues on the chunky Eagles-like rock grind of Harvest. You can't go far wrong with stuff like this. Once more, the guitar is impressive. Sister's Keeper is a delightful, subtly bassy slow number. Somehow I feel Elvis Costello would have loved this one. The same could also be applied to the country standard mournful vibe of Just Can't Believe It. Costello's Almost Blue album was packed full of lachrymose ballads like this one. 

Give Us A Rise is a lively, bass, drums and steel guitar singalong number, with a catchy la-da-da hook. I'll Change Your Flat Tyre, Merle is a jaunty, amusing country romp in tribute to legendary country singer Merle Haggard with early Dylanesque echoes on the verses. Pickin' To Beat The Devil is, unsurprisingly, full of finger pickin' guitar and lyrics about Kentucky women and Tennessee whiskey. It is an energetic and fun way to finish this enjoyable album. As I said at the beginning, though, the first two albums just had that extra je ne sais quoi. Actually, I do know what it was, it was musical inventiveness and a certain unique quality to the sound.

Dance (1976)
Unfortunately, Pure Prairie League's best days were behind them by now. This album was released in 1976 and the late sixties-early seventies country rock boom was very much yesterday's thing. Groups like The Eagles were veering more towards mainstream rock and punk-new wave was about to explode. An album of standard country rock was never going to be too successful and it wasn't. It is enjoyable enough, taken in isolation, however. The group America went the same way over the same period.

Dance is a pleasant enough brassy barroom rocker enlivened by some lively saxophone. In The Morning is a gentle, America-style melodious number that features some fetching country fiddle. All The Way is a steel guitar-powered country tearjerker. Livin' Each Day At A Time is a catchy, appealing song about taking it easy and calming things down, man. Fade Away has a gentle attractiveness too, but it sounds so very 1972.

Tornado Warning rocks nicely, a solid piece of riffy country rock. The jaunty Catfishin' evokes that old summery, bluesy, folky atmosphere. All very nostalgic but pretty irrelevant in 1976. Help Yourself has more of a contemporary rock feel about it. San Antonio is just a nice, melodic country song. 
All The Lonesome Cowboys is a fine rocker to finish on. As I said, a totally unthreatening, enjoyable album, but culturally out of time in 1976.

Related posts :-
Gram Parsons
The Eagles

Monday, 20 January 2020

Lou Rawls

Lou Rawls was from Chicago and had a background, as many soul singers did, in the gospel tradition of his church. He also served in the US Army as a paratrooper and later suffered a car crash in which he was pronounced dead but recovered, amazingly....

The Very Best Of Lou Rawls
....he had a strong, soulful, expressive voice and is a most underrated when the great male soul vocalists are talked about. This is a fine collection of impressive soul that surprises by its sheer quality, both in the music and also in the sound quality. I really enjoyed it , not being initially familiar with all the material on here. I have to say I was mightily impressed. Sometimes you find yourself listening to an album and thinking "bloody hell, this is great". This is most definitely one of those. I looked on my purchase history. I had bought it three years ago and took me this long to play it. That's the way it sometimes is when you're buying music all the time, but it is nice when you get a pleasant surprise like this, out of the blue. That's the beauty of it.

Dead End Street is an evocative number about Rawls' upbringing in Chicago, the "Windy City". It is   semi-spoken at the beginning as the brass and drums build up the atmosphere before Lou's full-on soul vocal kicks in over a kicking backbeat and jazzy piano. Great stuff. 

Rawls' signature tune, Love Is A Hurtin' Thing was referenced in Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music  - "....spotlight on Lou Rawls, y'all, singing' "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing" y'alll". It is a dramatic, soulful brassy number with a fine, dominating vocal from Rawls. Trouble Down Here Below is a lovely number that sees Rawls using his vocal skills honed in the gospel church choirs of his youth. It has a great rhythm to it and some kick-ass drums too. The vocal is effortless, riding and soaring above the infectious beat. A Natural Man starts with a beautiful, deep bass line and Lou gives us a preacher's spoken intro before launching into another wonderful vocal over a fine drum, bass and piano beat, enhanced by some nice female backing vocals. Your Good Thing (Is About To End) is a dignified slow, Stax-style brassy ballad. Street Corner Hustler Blues/World Of Trouble is a live cut, the first half being a spoken autobiographical story that seems to amuse Rawls' audience but probably goes on a bit too long, for my liking anyway - just get on with the song, man! The second half is much better when the song breaks out. I Can't Make It Alone is a magnificent piece of uplifting soul that will be recognised by Dusty Springfield fans, as she covered it on Dusty In MemphisYou Can Bring Me All Your Heartaches is a mid-pace number driven on by some impressive brass breaks and, despite its slightly less pacy beat than a Northern Soul number usually has, has a real Northern feel about it.

You've Made Me So Very Happy
dates from 1970 and is a cover of the Brenda Holloway-Blood, Sweat & Tears song. Rawls does it a suitably brassy, soulful justice, no need to worry about that. On Broadway is a lively, jazzy cover of The Drifters' number. 
Righteous Woman/I Wanna Little Girl is another double song that begins with a spoken "rap" over a sumptuous stand up bass and ends in some fine bluesy soul vocals over the same bass, together with some excellent brass. Rawls wants his girl to cook some "good soul food" and "she don't have to wear no wigs..". Sounds good to me. The catchy rhythm of Breaking My Back (Instead Of Using My Mind) is seriously toe-tapping. Check out that bass-drum-brass interplay near the end. The Shadow Of Your Smile is another live recording  and is a late-night smoky jazz-club ballad. It is from a film called The Sandpiper, Rawls tells us. I was not familiar with it. It is a 1965 Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor film.

Bring It On Home is a slowed-down and funky over of the Sam Cooke classic. Rawls gives it a Stax-y Memphis-style groove. It cooks to boiling point, giving the song a completely different veneer. Show Business once more kicks ass, big time with some killer bluesy piano and punchy brass backing a great vocal. 
Down Here On The Ground is a dramatic, cinematic sort of song with a late sixties feel to it. It is a little bit orchestral and overblown for my liking - to many strings and not enough bass and brass. Lady Love is a number that dates from 1977, and you can tell. Its production is more polished and slick, with some lovely percussion. It is an attractive, Philly/Harold Melvin-Sounding slice of seventies soul. Quality stuff. This vibe is continued on the equally Melvin-esque, conga-driven groove of See You When I Git There. Beautiful seventies soul, yes sir. Incidentally, although the title says "git", Rawls actually sings "get". Groovy People is also in the same vein, but faster and more urgent. Rawls likes to hang out with "groovy people who ain't on no ego trip". Fair enough. Let Me Be Good To You is a superb, atmospheric piece of classy disco soul from 1979, written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, with a simply delicious throbbing bass line and some intoxicating, rhythmic percussion. Rawls' vocal has a feel of Luther Vandross about it. It also has a Barry White spoken bit near the end when Lou offers to rub his lover's feet after her long day. Mmmm, that's right just relax now.... This admirable collection ends with another Harold Melvin-influenced number In Rawl's second most famous number in the vibrant You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine. It is number full of Philly-style soul. As I have said throughout this review I cannot praise this album highly enough.

Check out Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' Philly soul here :-

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Decca/Deram "Scene" Series

The Northern Soul Scene

This is a really interesting compilation, but an odd one in that, as someone who owns around 1200-1300 Northern Soul downloaded tracks, I was unfamiliar with nearly all of the album’s twenty-five tracks. Only one of them appears on any of my many other compliations. They were all recorded on the UK-based Decca and Deram labels, so you are not going to get any copper-bottomed soul recordings from Georgia or Tennessee, although some of the artists are American, but produced by British producers, notably Wayne Bickerton. Most of the tracks are “blue-eyed” Northern Soul, however.

Obviously, the concept of “Northern Soul” had not really taken off in 1968 (it was just beginning, but took several more years to really take off), so these records were sort of trying to get in on the act that their producers were becoming aware of. Presumably they were just trying to ape the US records that were trying to ape Motown. Whatever, they certainly did a good job as there are lots of convincing songs on here, and the sound is absolutely top notch too. Seriously so. It obviously was de rigeur around 1967-1968 for artists such as Tom JonesDave Berry and Amen Corner to record these beaty Northern Soul numbers as ‘b’ sides or album tracks.

I'll Hold You by future blues rock vocalist Maggie Bell (“Frankie”) and “Johnny” and a young David Essex’s So-Called Loving both have Northern Soul-style backing, but I just can’t take them seriously as Northern recordings.

Nothing But A Heartache by black US female vocal trio The Flirtations is the real thing. It was written, however by Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington who produced The Rubettes in the mid-seventies. Don't Change It by Fearns Brass Foundry also has credible credentials. The Drifters’ Clyde McPhatter’s Baby You've Got It was also a Bickerton production.

Apparently popular at Wigan Casino was Name It You Got It by Micky Moonshine, which has a disco-ish wah-wah guitar backing. My Love by Ronnie Jones sounds like a catchy sixties pop record rather than a Northern Soul one, though. Tom Jones chips in with a mega-soulful, convincing Stop Breaking My Heart. Everybody Needs Love by Bobby Hanna is one of my favourites - this one  has a true Northern sound to it.

A real unearthed gem, for me, is the supremely catchy Billy Sunshine by Billie DavisOur Love Is In The Pocket is the one track that, of course, was familiar to me due to the JJ Barnes Northern classic. Here it is done by UK pop band Amen CornerDanny Williams’ Whose Little Girl Are You has a real Northern beat to it and an authentic black vocal and brass section. Everybody Needs Love by Bobby Hanna is one of my favourites - a true Northern sound to it.

The one track I did know is one of my absolute favourite rarities - I Wanna Know by John E. Paul (credited on my other compilation as just “John Paul”). A proper Northern classic, this one. Jon Gunn sings about travelling on the underground on I Just Made Up My Mind, a UK experience. It comes over as a swinging London pop song as opposed to a Northern Soul one. I like it though.

When I saw the name Adrienne Poster I thought “is that sixties Lulu look-alike actress Adrienne Posta?”. Indeed it is. A real rarity, this one. Her song is Something Beautiful. It is a very sixties poppy number. Also an unusual name for the Northern Soul scene is Elkie Brooks. Here she gives us a vibrant rendition of Smokey Robinson/The Temptations’ The Way You Do The Things You Do. Then we also have the early incarnation of The Brotherhood Of Man with the funky, gospelly soul of Reach Out Your Hand. This has very vague hints of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ The Night about it, for me.

Truly Smith’s My Smile is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down) is a nice rarity, but its pop ballad strains are a long way from Northern Soul, for me. The same applies for the Hollies-esque Listen To My Heart by The Bats.

So, in conclusion, this is an eminently listenable mix of “blue eyed” Northern Soul, a few genuine Northern cuts from black US artists and some carefree sixties British pop. For the real thing, I would recommend the four volumes of The Northern Soul Story, the soundtracks to Northern Soul and Soul Boy and “The In Crowd”.

The Freakbeat Scene

What was "freakbeat"? It was a fusion of blues and original r 'n' b with hippy, psychedelic vibes around 1966-68 in the UK. Groups that dabbled in it were The Pretty Things, Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, The Move, The Small Faces, The Troggs, Them, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and some of the lesser-known acts that appear on this intriguing compilation of material released on the Decca label and its imprint, Deram. Lots of the tracks feature a swirling guitar and organ sound, lots of reverb and echoey drums. It was popular with mods, or at least the "freakier" end of mod culture, man. It was an interesting phenomenon, and, while always staying somewhat niche, its influence on many more mainstream chart singles and British pop music in general can be clearly detected.

The BeatlesPlease Please Me is given hippy-ish makeover by The Score in 1966, that, for me has echoes of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play. It throws a completely new light on such a familiar song. Anymore Than I Do is a solid, drum-driven bluesy rocker from The AttackThe Majority's One Third is The Rolling StonesGet Off My Cloud meets Manfred Mann and The Hollies.

Shel Taylor's One Fine Day is a big, bassy thumping number with hints of The Big Three's Some Other GuyUnto Us by The New Breed has a catchy "Tequila"-inspired rhythm with a touch of The StonesPoison Ivy. It also uses Bill Wyman's trademark "reverse" bass run at one point. The Syn's Grounded sounds like The Stranglers would ten years later. My Father's Name Is Dad is a Who-inspired number with cynical lyrics that display a punk-ish observational commentary that had no relation to happy sixties pop. The Small Faces (Understanding) and Marc Bolan (The Third Degree) are the only artists I had previously any knowledge of, although The Birds (No Good Without You Baby) featured a young Ronnie Wood.

I'm Leaving by Mark Four is very Stones-influenced, with a bit of Bo Diddley rhythm and blues guitar in its extended instrumental middle part. It is a bit of an unearthed gem. Wooden Spoon by The Poets is another corker, too. Just Help Me Please by The Outer Limits slightly steals the riff from Mony Mony by Tommy James & The Shondells. Denis Couldry & The Next Collection's I Am Nearly There starts as a mysterious, slow number before breaking out into a madcap Arthur Brown-style chorus. Far out, man.

I Can Take It by The Blue Stars is another frantic Poison Ivy/Don't Bring Me Down type rocker. The second Beatles cover is a trippy cover of George Harrison's Taxman by Loose Ends. It is vibrant and enjoyable. Interestingly, I am sure they sing "I'm a taxman, I'm a black man.." at one point.

Another very interesting rarity is from The Sea-Ders, who were from Lebanon, apparently, and the Eastern sound on Thanks A Lot was an electric bouzouki type instrument. The riff sounds a lot like The ByrdsEight Miles High. Surely the only Lebanese band to make an impact in the UK. Human Instinct's Pink Dawn had a riff that I am sure Tommy Roe would use on Dizzy a few years later.

Look, I think you've got the idea of what this album contains by now - lots of Who-like drumming and reverb, Animals organ, Chris Farlowe meets Eric Burdon vocals, early Status Quo and Pink Floyd guitar. Rock, blues, soul, r 'n' b and psychedelia all mixed up in short, sharp two-three minute upbeat blasts. This is a most energising collection that I would recommend getting hold of in order to discover a few hidden nuggets.

The R 'n' B Scene

This is another in this truly impressive series of Decca/Deram released tracks from the mid-sixties. This time it deals with the "r&b"/upbeat blues rock scene. While there are crossovers with The Blues Scene, the material on here is pretty much all fast-paced, energetic rocking blues. Rhythm and blues, in fact. It only covers stuff that was released on Deram/Decca, so there is no Who, Yardbirds, Animals, Rolling Stones or Them but, among the lesser-known names, there are a few famous ones too. It goes without saying on this series that the remastered sound is 100% brilliant.

Ronnie Wood's first band, The Birds, start the album with the early Beatles meets the blues of You're On My MindThe FairiesAnytime At All is a Rolling Stones-ish, harmonica-driven upbeat piece of blues rock. The much-covered Boom Boom is given a solid, bassy cover by Blues By FiveGotta Be A Reason is a brooding blues from Cops And Robbers that has an Animals-esque organ backing on its chorus. Don't Gimme No Lip Child by Dave Berry is a bit of a Can I Get A Witness groove. The latter track appears later on the album. The same beat backs the young Lulu's throaty take on I'll Come Running Over.

The Graham Bond Organisation and The Frays both contribute energetic blues rockers, the latter very much in an early Rolling Stones mode. A unique rarity is Louie Louie Go Home by Davie Jones with The King Bees This was the first release by none another than one David Bowie. It is a slightly ska-influenced bluesy shuffler. John Mayall's Crawling Up A Hill is not as bluesy as much of his subsequent material. Zoot Money's track is as ebullient as you would expect.

A most unusual rarity is the moody, jazzy, vaguely Doors-esque Can't Let Her Go by Hipster Image (I didn't realise the term "hipster" was around in the sixties). Blue Beat by The Beazers appropriates a slight ska beat, but it is largely bluesy. Recognise the voice? Sure you do - it's Chris FarloweCross My Heart by The Exotics has a genuine ska beat I don't know anything about the group, but I'm not sure if they were Caribbean, or a UK imitation. 

Now for a couple of big hitters - first up is a youthful Rod Stewart covering Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. It was his first ever single. Then it is bluesman Alexis Korner and the harmonica-drenched cover of I Got My Mojo Working. This also featured future Cream drummer Ginger Baker. He features on several numbers throughout this series.

The remainder of the tracks don't see a lessening of the pace - all catchy, lively numbers. Steve Aldo's cover of Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness is nothing ground-breaking, but it is still vibrant and enjoyable. The Birds are back with You Don't Love Me to close this invigorating collection. As with all of these excellent albums, it is highly recommended.

The Blues Scene

This is another in this truly impressive series of Decca/Deram released tracks from the mid-sixties. This time it deals with the "r&b"/upbeat blues rock scene. While there are crossovers with The R'n'B Scene, the material on here is pretty much all fast-paced, energetic rocking blues. Rhythm and blues, in fact. It only covers stuff that was released on Deram/Decca, so there is no Who, Yardbirds, Animals, Rolling Stones or Them but, among the lesser-known names, there are a few famous ones too. It goes without saying on this series that the remastered sound is 100% brilliant.

Curly by John Mayall's Blues Breakers is a searing piece of guitar-driven fuzz to start off. It is an instrumental and it features some excellent guitar throughout, drums too. Great stuff. Their second track (there are six in all) on the album, The Super-Natural is another instrumental, this time sounding very like Peter Green's Fleetwood MacEddie Boyd's Key To The Highway is an authentic-sounding slow, piano and harmonica-backed blues. His Blue Coat Man is an early rock'n'roll-influenced boogie-woogie blues with some sumptuous toe-tapping drums and accompanying guitar. Jools Holland would love this.

Otis Spann's Pretty Girls Everywhere is a catchy and rhythmic, groovy piece of upbeat, rocking blues. Champion Jack Dupree's Third Degree is a genuine, slow-burning, bassy blues. John Mayall is back again, with another corking instrumental, Steppin' Out, once more featuring that buzzy guitar. Then we get some authentic blues in Train To Nowhere by Savoy Brown and Roll Me Over from Curtis Jones.

Zoot Money's Get On The Right Track Baby is very jazzy and Georgie Fame-like. Mae Mercer's Sweet Little Angel is a storming piece of guitar and piano solid blues. There really is so much good material on here. The Graham Bond Organisation have featured on some of the other compilations in this series. They were an impressive outfit who, unfortunately, never quite made it. They featured future Cream members bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, so no wonder they were good. Here they give us the thumping Strut Around.

The remaining John Mayall, Eddie Boyd, Champion Jack Dupree, Savoy Brown and Alexis Korner tracks are all excellent. A rarity is a young Rod Stewart's I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.

These days, I find I am retreating more and more into the comforting blanket of music, often the blues, to keep me from going insane. This fine album is one that helps with my treatment.

The Beat Scene

This compilation is part of Decca/Deram's nine CD series of sixties rarities. This one concentrates on the mid-sixties boom in Beatles-inspired "beat" pop. Personally, I prefer the blues-orientated ones in the series, but this one is not without its interest. It goes without saying that the sound is superb, as it is on all the releases.

Gonna Get Me Some by The Game is one of the album's rockiest, solid, thumping numbers. It is less derivative than many of the others, standing strong in its own right. I really like this one. Each And Every Day by Thee is actually an obscure early Rolling Stones cover (their version appeared on Metamorphosis), as also did Walking Thru The (Sleepy City) which also has vague echoes of Have I The Right by The HoneycombsIt's Gonna Happen Soon by Shel Naylor (who also appears on The Freakbeat Scene) is very Beatles-influenced. A very young Joe Cocker contributes a lively, rock 'n' roll type number in I'll Cry Instead. Once again it is so very Beatles in its lively and melodic sound. Third Time Lucky by The Beat Boys uses a typical Buddy Holly guitar riff and has a Gerry & The Pacemakers vocal.

Mark Four was also on The Freakbeat Scene compilation. Here he delivers the impressive Hurt Me If You WillSandra Barry's Really Gonna Shake is a really rocking slice of fun. Lulu uses her impressive voice on the rousing Surprise Surprise, a Rolling Stones cover. The Mojo's Everything's Alright will be familiar with David Bowie fans as he covered it on 1973's Pin Ups album. Now I Know by The Beat Chics is a delightful piece of gospelly pop. Ex-Beatle Pete Best is on here with I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door, which was a chart hit for Little Jimmy Osmond later in the early seventies.

Don't Make Me Blue by The Warriors is so incredibly early Beatles-sounding, it could almost be them. The same applies to That's What I Want by The Marauders, complete with "woo-woo" backing vocals. Once In A While by The Brooks sounds like something from A Hard Day's Night or With The Beatles. Itty Bitty Pieces by The Rockin' Berries owes a lot to The Dave Clark Five's Bits And Pieces. There is a lot of derivative material on this album, it has to be said.

Unit 4 + 2 are known for their hit Concrete And Clay. Their track here, I Was Only Playing Games is a laid-back, melodic number with an Eleanor Rigby-style cello. It dates from 1969, way past the main "beat" period. The Hi-Numbers, incidentally, should not be confused with The High Numbers, forerunners of The WhoThe Andrew Oldham Orchestra was indeed Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog OldhamThe Knack are not to be confused with the US new wave band from the late seventies. Their track Who'll Be The Next In Line is one of the album's deeper, bluesier rock/pop numbers. Listening to the fast-paced guitar and bass lines you can hear ones used by The Jam on their 1977 debut album. Brian Poole & The TremeloesKeep On Dancing showed that rock'n'roll was still important in the mid-sixties. Lots of two-way influences to be found as you listen to this interesting cornucopia of rarities.

The Mod Scene

As with the entire "...Scene" series of sixties rarities released on the Decca and Deram labels, this is a compilation of interesting material, often completely unknown, and all of excellent remastered sound quality. Often, rarities are rarities for a reason - nobody bought them in the first place. Just because they are rare doesn't necessarily make them good. However, although that may be the case for many tracks, most of the ones here are pretty good, I have to say.

A lot of the tracks included are very Northern Soul in sound or else they have a pounding, brassy Chris Farlowe-style soul kick to them. (Farlowe contributes a track himself). There is an energy and ebullient vigour to all of them. There is some great straight up soul on here too.

Bert's Apple Crumble by The Quik is a dare I say delicious and lively instrumental. It is incredibly catchy and toe-tapping. Hipster Image's Make Her Mine is a jazzy but also Beatles-esque number. The group also appear on The R&B SceneThe PoetsThat's The Way It's Gotta Be is a slightly psychedelic number, while How Could You Say One Thing by The Wards Of Court is a brassy, Motown-ish stomp. Graham Gouldman is none other than the same who would go on to have massive seventies success with 10cc. Here his track is a Northern Soul-ish thumper called Stop! Stop! Stop!.

The Pete Kelly track is very Chris Farlowe-esque and Girl Don't Make Me Wait, included here by Timebox, was a Northern Soul hit floor filler for Bunny Sigler. Another Northern in feel number is Lovingly Yours by The Mockingbirds. The brassy power of Welsh chart-toppers Amen Corner's Expressway To Your Heart is just a delight as is the upbeat bassy Otis Redding meets The Animals-style soul of We Don't Know by The Attack, with its quite adventurous social message lyrics (for the time). Check out that killer bass line on it too.

Chris Farlowe's Air Travel is very Sam Cooke meets The Drifters. An old favourite of these collections is The Graham Bond Organisation, featuring bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, later to be two thirds of Cream, plus guitarist John "Mahavishnu" McLaughlin. Their Little Girl has just a massive bass sound to it. Truly great stuff. This is no throwaway rarity. It is quality. The Small Faces appear with an organ-driven instrumental and Tom Jones gives us Dr. LoveZoot Money always gives value, so to speak, too. Baby What You Want Me To Do by Steve Aldo is copper-bottomed bluesy soul.

I really can't praise this album enough (or any of them in the series, for that matter). It kicks posterior from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

The Rock 'n' Roll Scene

This is another in the excellent Decca/Deram series of comparatively unknown rarities from the sixties. As always the sound quality is truly outstanding, just really well remastered, especially considering that the material is from the sixties.

The songs on here are all from the early sixties and take in the British rock 'n' roll boom, featuring artists such as Wee Willie HarrisJoe BrownTommy SteeleBilly FuryScreaming Lord SutchFreddie Starr and crossover skiffle artists such as Lonnie Donegan. The messiahs of the milk bar. Obviously the compilation is restricted to artists who recorded under the Decca umbrella, so there is nothing from The Shadows, Cliff Richard, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer or Freddie & The Dreamers. That doesn't really matter, though, as this is a genuinely feel-good, lively, uplifting album. A lot of the tracks are fast-paced rockabilly-style rock 'n' roll - fairground fare, with that rumbling stand-up bass, and the beat doesn't let up for a minute. The skiffle tracks are all similarly energetic, as you would expect, with some blues influence in there too. As well as giving you an energised listen, it is excellent as an accompaniment for a bit of indoor exercising.

I won't go through the songs, track by track, other than to list what in on here and say that the album is a fine, nostalgic pleasure from beginning to end.

The Psychedelic Scene

This is another in Decca/Deram’s excellent series that saw them searching through their vaults from some classic rarities that probably never made it on to Radio One in the years 1967-1969. There is probably far more “freakbeat” and hippy pop on here than Hendrix-style psychedelia, to be honest, but there are still lots of crazy Eastern influences and LSD-dripping lyrics throughout the album. I won’t describe every single track but will mention a few to give a useful taste of where it’s coming from. I have to say that the sound quality throughout the album is simply stunning. Full, bassy and warm.
Tintern Abbey’s Vacuum Cleaner is simply wonderful, full of brilliant bass, great drums and superb clear sound. Just great dreamy stuff, man. Shades Of Orange by The End is full of Beatles brass, Lennon-esque vocals and Harrison-style Eastern influence. Derivative it may be, but I still like it. It is quirky and enjoyable.

Red Sky At Night by The Accent is everything you would expect from psychedelic rock - huge, dense guitar riffs, swirling, madcap organ, mysterious, sonorous vocals, monster, rumbling bass. This is another diamond in the rough that not many people know about. Once more, the remastered sound is incredibly good. Curiosity Shoppe’s Baby I Need You has more delicious bass and a funky rolling drum beat. Pefect for some wild go-go dancing. Hey man, just let yourself go.

14 Hour Technicolour Dream by The Syn is more poppy than some of the other numbers. The Poets’ In Your Tower has another mega-heavy bass line and some groovy flute lines, plus more of the seemingly ubiquitous Eastern influences. Colour Of My Mind by The Attack was a freakbeat-ish number that merged a bluesy feel with the psychedelic vibe. The first well-known band to appear on this compilation is The Small Faces with their druggy, intense That Man.

Another known name is Al Stewart. Here he contributes a sombre-sounding number with monastic vocal influences called Turn To EarthSecret by Virgin Sleep is another beautifully bassy gem. Meditations by the fantastically-named Felius Andromeda is a wonderful piece of freaky pop. Its use of string orchestration came long before The Electric Light Orchestra. I wonder if Jeff Lynne ever heard this?

Ice Man by Ice is infectious, nonsense hippy pop with, it goes without saying, a sumptuous bass line and some of those typical sixties drum rolls. The final one from a famous group is The Moody Blues’ dreamy, harmonious Love And Beauty. I could go on, but there seriously isn't an unlistenable track on here. Just stick this on, light an incense stick and some candles and get far out...

The Girls' Scene

Of the truly excellent nine album “…Scene” series from Decca/Deram, this is probably the least impressive. The songs are all mid-sixties offerings from either girl groups or solo girl singers. Many of them are imitations of The Ronettes, The Crystals or other US girl group’s in the My Boyfriend’s Back style. Otherwise they are typical mid-sixties girl-pop ballads about being in love. All of this is ok, but they are as I said they were - imitations - and most of them don’t quite match the admittedly impeccable standard of those other groups/artists. Not that they are bad records at all, but none of them were hits and when you are talking about pop, it is hits that determines the  kudos of the song, in many ways.

The Freakbeat or Psychedelic songs on some of the other compilations in the series get away with being “hidden gems” because of the eclectic nature of their genres, whereas pop is different. Not too many failed pop records are classics. Having said that, Northern Soul came up with a fair few. It was full of them, so what am I talking about.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, there are probably not too many unearthed diamonds on offer here. Although I have to admit that there are a few intruguing ones all the same. (Make up your mind, man!)
Oo- Chang-A-Lang by The Orchids is a very Da Doo Ron Ron influenced typical sixties girlgroup upbeat poppy rocker. Jenny Let Him Go by Antoinette and The Vernons Girls Only You Can Do It both have hints of some of The Beatles’ early songs. Louise Cordet’s Two Lovers is an early example of increasing female independence, as she revels in having two lovers dangling on her string.

Truly Smith’s The Boy From Chelsea is just so “swinging sixties” that it could almost be a parody, about a cute and groovy boy who works in a Chelsea coffee shop. Yeah, baby, yeah. Dana Gillispie’s riffy You Just Gotta Know My Mind is excellent, featuring a lovely, vibrant bass line and powerful vocal.

Jean Martin’s cover of Save The Last Dance For Me is actually a really good cover, but a fair amount of that is down to the fact that it is a great song. Jackie Frisco’s Sugar Baby is a quirky, little rock’n’roll song. The fairground rock feel is continued on Janice Nicholls’ mildly amusing I'll Give It Five.

There are some “names” on here, though - Dusty Springfield covers The Supremes’ When The Lovelight Starts Shining Thru His Eyes impressively, as you would expect. Olivia Newton-John’s first single is present too in the vibrant Motown-esque pop of Till You Say You'll Be MineMarianne Faithfull gives us Is This What I Get For Loving You?, which was actually recorded by The Ronettes and written by Phil SpectorGerry Goffin and Carole King. Lulu contributes the soulful Try To Understand.

Actress Susan Hampshire even got in on the act with the syrupy but appealing When Love Is TrueAdrienne Posta (credited here by her real surname of Poster) was a minor celebrity in various comedy shows in the seventies, as I recall. Her song here is the girl-groupy Shang A Doo Lang. The pleasant Nobody's Home To Go Home To by Billie Davis has a sumptuous bassline, I must say. The sound on this album, as on all of them, is very good. Check out the crystal clear percussion on Rain On My Face by Shapes And Sizes. Excellent.

Overall, there are certainly points of interest on this album and it passes an hour very enjoyably, but it doesn’t justify as many revisits as others in the series.