Monday, April 30, 2007

Queen Of The Blues...

With World War Two in full swing, the shape of Western music was turning a significant corner which laid out the basis of music to come.

Over in the States, black orientated music was climbing over the barriers that had held black and white music apart from each other. In the early 1940’s, big bands of predominately black musicians devised a beat, which was soon to be titled ‘jump blues.’ It was a faster paced version of legendary blues, yet, this music was happy, hopeful and above all, it had a magnetic force which drew masses of people to the dance floors. Since it had been tagged to black blues, it wasn’t long before it furnished the room of r what we still know today as Rhythm and Blues. The main difference between these two genres was quite simple. Jump music had focused on the delightful and energetic musicians creating, fundamentally non vocal pieces. Musicians literally flew across the stage whilst still playing in tune, they jumped off the tops of piano’s and generally fooled around to entertain the audience, whipping them up into a dance frenzy. The genre of Rhythm and Blues was actually, the complete opposite. The basis was put upon the vocal rather than the band. It was all about the singer and the song, and for the first time, songs were to be listened to, enjoyed and understood.

Still using the same instrumental basis as Jump, Rhythm and Blues’ musicians, sat down like their white swing counterparts whilst a, mostly, solitary singer stood in front on the stage. It was not at all surprising that is was from Rhythm and Blues that we generated some of the twentieth century’s greatest, most powerful singers. The basic line up around the forties and fifties was female artists.
It is here, that we pick up with probably the greatest, and most loved of them all, Dinah Washington.

This 2 CD album takes us through the very pinnacle of her outstanding career. Dubbed ‘The Queen Of The Blues,’ she touched on the hearts of many listeners in her day with her sweet, soulful vocals and catchy melodies. Singing for songwriters such as Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, she came from, like most of her contemporaries, from Gospel music inherited from by parents. Starting out as a jazz singer, she left her piano and choir days behind and reached out to ‘the devil’s’ music’ at the age of nineteen.

This album takes us through her recording life right up to the year before she died from heart failure, induced by a drugs overdose in 1963 and the tender age of only 39. A singer, who, I believe, still had the best years of her recording career to come. We find the very best range of blues, jazz and rhythm and blues on this album. The haunting ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eye’s’ opens this unique album closely followed by two Cole Porter classic’s ‘Every time We Say Goodbye’ and ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You,’ which was a bigger hit for Frank Sinatra. We will find just about all the songs on this album recognisable from somewhere, either from other artists or from films, musicals and soundtracks of old and new. The timeless, ‘Mad About The Boy,’ has become a track that has captured the true spirit of Dinah Washington in many ways. Her ability to create a mood of a song just by tuning her own mood into the lyrics. Her vocal, dropped and the diva becomes translucent as she appears to blend in with the accompaniment. The production of the album as been edited to perfection. The styles of the songs selected glide into each other from quick paced jazz to moody romantic numbers.

In no real categorical order, this album actually works better as it mixes the tracks of different age giving the illusion that the lady is still among us. Allowing her music and her distinctive voice to move around us, she stays, timeless, herself. Each note still very much harmonious with today’s music. She adapted each style to fit her extraordinary vocal range. She had great power behind some remarkable high notes yet could whisper something so low and faint in the next bar. She has truly, through this album, become an icon of twentieth century music, and so this album, just proves to us, that she could apply her voice to anything and everything.

The sleeve of this wonderfully, romantic album paints a perfect picture of the woman within. A black and white portrait dusted in pink tones shows us this glamorous lady hiding all the trouble so f a tragic life. It says, ‘The Best Of,’ and that is exactly what is here. An unaccredited piece of information about the singer’s life is affectingly written, although brief in the inner sleeve. It notes all the right information about Washington’s recording career that is fitting to the music within the album.

For any curious blues/jazz fans, this is a gem to purchase. With the abundance of cool swingers being brought from the fifties and sixties to join us in the record collections of the twenty first century, this surely has a place too. If you enjoyed Nina Simone and delighted over Billie Holiday or even hooked your ears into Ray Charles and wanted to expand your tastes even further, then I recommend this album to add to your precious collection. It will transport you back to the classiest era of strong voices, mood-shifting tunes that music history had ever created.

A Snapper Music label 1999.
Artist; Dinah Washington.
Compilation album.
Bought at Virgin Megastores £4.99

©m.duffy (sam1942 and Planet Janet)
portrait picture from curtis jackson
full length picture from wikipedia 2006.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Man, The Myth And The Meatloaf - The Old Bat Out Of Hell Strikes For The Third Time

The record breaking enigma has returned to enlighten us with the next exciting instalment in the adventure entitled, ‘Bat Out Of Hell.’ Delightfully naming this episode, ‘The Monster’s Loose,’ the Loaf allows us to drum up the right kind of Meat mood before entering the vault of ear drum bleeding, nightmare enticing and bone shuddering rock.

Since shedding his signature long hair and frilly shirt, the chubby man of rock and roll has entered a period in his life where he now resembles a South Western train driver rather than a God like legend in music. It is in no doubt at all that this being approaching his sixtieth birthday can still cut the vinyl, yet the entertainment value since the first in the trilogy nearly 30 years ago has all but faded away. If what you would like to expect is Meat in the days of sweaty duets with Cher and a clean lacy hankie tucked around his little finger, I’m afraid you will be gravely disappointed. He has aged, or at least, let’s say, matured to the point beyond recognition. His music, dare I say, is still very much in the time of the first BOOH, but there seems to be something missing, to us something’s who remember the first incredible album way back in 1977.

Perhaps it is being declared bankrupt once too many times that his smoothed away his edge almost as if he has been involved in a terrible accident circular saw. Then again, we should admire any great rock artist with mounds of credibility to successfully pull off a dire Celine Dion track, ’It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,’ and make it his own. This mediocre love song of epic proportions should have been recorded by Meatie first. Given the soft rock kiss of life, he has turned it into a masterful piece of sickly rock mush that can only be allowed if your name starts with Meat and ends in Loaf. I do, however, wonder about the choice of female content. I applaud Miss Raven for her ability not to be upstaged by the only man who could ever out shout Cher, but her approach on this track is more the whimsical attributes of that girl from Deacon Blue than a woman with Bonnie Tyler vocals.

We know, from previous experience that Mr Loaf is the master of track titles. It is the greatest gift any artist can have. Despite the tracks all written by old Velcro-ed veteran Jim Steinman as well as a whole host of ’who the hell are they’s?’ These titles would have been wasted on anyone else. We can forgive them for presenting us with such ditties as ’In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King,’ and ’The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be,’ but if it weren’t for these amusing titles, we would never been able to experience the sounds and smells of an over weight, desperate, heart attack inducing rock love machine who seemed to attract the most beautiful women in the world for no apparent reason.

The sheer angst of ’Cry Over Me,’ is almost too much to bear and I start to wonder what sort of audience who Meat Loaf is trying to appeal to nowadays. I guess the first niche who springs to mind is us thirty/forty something’s who adored (and were young enough to) the first 77 hit, but I wonder who else. For the want of making better sense, he is now too much ‘rock’ for even metal fans to enjoy. We don’t want to hear him still in pain from a broken heart thirty years after the first. What we probably want to do is actually dig out the first anthem and listen to that instead.

The disorganised collection of wailing guitars featured in ‘In The Land Of The Pig…’ somehow needs to be categorised but I don’t know where. It’s evil, thunderous and shows Mr Loaf in a truly bad mood. Who ever cut him up at the lights on the way to the studio that day surely gets to feel the wrath of Meatie throughout this track. If this song isn’t the one that brings on an angina attack on stage then I don’t know what will. What I did feel was a come back to the good old days of ‘Modern Girl,’ was the middle of the album track ‘Alive.’ (It would seem that on every album, the middle track is always the best, no matter what artist of what genre, try it out) In this track, we feel the same climbing a mountain severity but in Loaf style. It is complete with ELO sounding backing vocals and crescendos of cymbals and drums. Enter Cher, it’s your moment girl. If we close our eyes for a brief moment, we can see him, hair over face and in need of an ambulance. In ‘Alive,’ he proves to us with out a doubt that that Meat Loaf we loved then, it still, very much alive.

It is not long before we are plunged back into suicidal mode in ‘If God Could Talk,’ (which I’m sure given half the chance, he would, but he seems to be constantly gagged these days.) In this simple, leg waving rock ballad, he gives us such soul destroying lines as ‘…don’t look back at all the memories, the best of times, the mess you made of me…’ (it brings back a whole string of ex boyfriends to me) so don’t be surprised if you find your mind wondering back to all the hearts you broke in your youth. It’s best to have a Girls Aloud album on standby just in case…

In the best Meat Loaf tradition, there is nothing here that will remind you of anyone else on a musical scale. Creating a genre all of his own thirty years ago, we still can’t pigeon hole him in anywhere. In ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Break It,’ he appears to be throwing together a whole host of trumpets, funky beats and distorted vocals (taking a leaf out of Cher’s book here) but there is one thing I would like to mention here My Loaf, only Billy Idol could get away with Cyberpunk. It’s best to leave genres where you left them, let alone chuck a dozen of them up in the air and see where they land. There’s a great danger here of Meat Loaf sounding more like a desperate Tom Jones trying to keep up with a generation young enough to be his grandchildren.

The fair Patti Russo makes a welcoming appearance in ‘What About Love,’ which is a quick return to sweats ville again, which is warmly groped. It’s pretty and tuneful and even features tinkling bells and notes on a piano that we’ve heard of. A magical piece that takes us straight back to the days of Meat Loaf resembling Jack Black’s twin brother (if he had one)…

What is unmistakeable about this album is it’s epic scale. It’s grander than the Dorchester Hotel and more significant than Prince Williams passing out parade, feel the tingles run up and down your arm hairs and feel glad to have ears. Even though there are some tracks that let not just Meat Loaf down but the entire human race, there will be some hidden surprises to look forward to. It is these little pieces of strange quality that will allow you to breath a sigh of relief. Mr Loaf is all right, he is just having a bad shirt day…

There isn’t anything, however, that gives out the ‘turn it up,’ factor even though those words are seen on the last page of the inner sleeve before the credits (..I’d like to thank my Goldfish…) There will be moments when the skip button will be pushed. I wonder if Meat Loaf has come to the end of this mammoth sized adventure. I hope, for his sake, he doesn’t do anything more here and moves onto something else. When you look back at some of the great records he has produced over the years, it isn’t’ hard to see that he has probably had his day. This whole feature length saga of the heart and soul of Mr Loaf that has been presented to us as ‘Bat Out Of Hell,’ has been a joy and a pain. We have danced, laughed and cried more times than we care to remember at each passing track like a scene in a beloved movie, after all, there isn’t many records that come complete with it’s own epilogue, which brings be round in full circle, and it’s this minor track ‘Cry To Heaven,’ that we witness perhaps the very final closing moments of this thirty year long story. It’s Celtic manner is calming and serene. Angelic voices sing softly, lulling the listener to sleep. Perhaps the very point of this track is it’s title. No more Hell for the Loaf, he’s on his way to the white and pink fluffy clouds at long last…(in the story that is, not in real life!)

Here we end the brain draining, Earth shattering journey in which we haven’t got a clue how it started off in the first place, yet it doesn’t matter. Mr Loaf is okay now….

Tracks include;

The Monster Is Loose
Blind As A Bat
It’s Al Coming Back To Me Now
Bad For Good
Cry Over Me
In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King
If God Could Talk
If It Ain’t Broke Break It
What About Love
Seize The Night
The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be
Cry To Heaven

Mercury records Ltd
©m.duffy (sam1942 and Planet Janet) 2006
Bought at Tesoc’s- £9
HMV- £8.99 delivered
Virgin- £8.99 despatched

pictures from

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Feeding Of The Addiction or How I Survived Brent Cross Shopping Centre...

What could be better that on a cold and miserable Sunday than to idly while away the hours with a gentle stroll around some entertaining and rather beautifully arranged shops? Right! I hear you say! So, from feeling refreshed as I do, from a morning’s meander down the Portobello Road, I find myself wandering dangerously near to the North side of that wonderful place we affectionately know as Londinium, (or London, to the rest of us…)

After teasing my purse strings with the delights of all that modern, yet sweetly trendy Notting Hill experience, my sub conscious obviously felt a strong desire to pull me towards something that can only be described as, ’ugly.’ Why on Earth would we want to hurry around the manic depressively concrete hovel that is Brent Cross Shopping Centre, when Griff Rhys Jones can’t wait to get away from it?

Although the sky was twinkling with blue hues and the sun was in it’s wintry state of relaxation from my usual haunt of Portobello, there came, drifting over my car towards Cricklewood, a strange darkness, and a sound that only a cello can make on impending danger. I was worming my way towards Brent Cross…(what was the matter with me? Was the A41 shut that day?) The great concreted breeze block came into view from my journey over the Edgware Road, surrounded by the defiant North Circular above my head and a mass of whirling dual carriage ways tangling around each other around me, I felt that I had come to the end of the World, or London, at least. A point of no return, I edged towards this prison with in trepidation.

Having successfully navigated my way around the car park, only finding that after half an hour waiting for a space, I could have carried on around the back to a multi story- I found that my afternoon of sheer angst and confusion had only just begun. The first thing I head for, like the British tourist that I am in such places, is this warming sight of a large protruding map, glowing from all angles in the middle of the walk way. It was a vision that one dreams about in such places (I might add that it is only after years of experienced circum navigation of Blue Water, that I can walk, freely passed a board shouting, ‘YOU ARE HERE’) and here I was, now with eyes transfixed like a short sighted refugee looking at a map of the Northern Line, trying to figure out my way (out) of this loosely titled, shopping centre.

What I discovered, to my temporary relief, was a small map (to the stars would have been more helpful) which only erased my smile when I was faced with a series of maps of all exits out of Brent Cross. One showing the A406, in it’s notable glory, both East and West via all the best places - Wembley, Barnet, Enfield and also, if you desired a quick escape, the M1. I should have read the signs there and then. On the minute I venture into this forsaken venue, I am already being shown every conceivable way out.

I should have ran like the wind…..

Eventually, after I had stopped crying, I noticed another oasis in the sea of scruffy legs and wailing kids. It seem to call to me with angelic voices, yes! It was another glowing board in the obstacles of life showing me little leaflets which told me the numbers of the shops, but made no other sense what so ever. I scrambled over, thirsty and hungry for information. I flicked through the collapsible pamphlet where I could make out Lower Mall and Upper Mall, and lots of numbers. So, in my wisdom, I decided to play this game of ‘Crystal Maze,’ and did my best to link secret codes and their retail counterparts.

Not easy, so I thought - stuff it - where is MacDonald’s?

So there I was, sitting in the most crowded (apart from Croydon) MacDonald’s I had experienced in a long time. They are all here for piling on the pounds - Burger King, Pizza Hut, Yo! Sushi (fine, if you want raw stickleback) Starbucks and BB’s - the list is endless. You can knock yourself out with serious amounts of fat whilst squeezing into a size 0 from the multitude of girlie boutiques that are on offer.

The usual high street suspects are hugged warmly by Karen Millen, Kookai and Jane Norman, which, are fabulous, if you can afford to spend wads of cash in there. I find, for a woman about town like my good self (a twice married, grumpy old bat the wrong side of 35) that there is little in the way of us ‘matures.’ Dotty P’s I guess if we’re really desperate, or there is John Lewis. Again, a second mortgage may come in handy here for the latter. So we may be swamped to death with the biggest high street names you can swing a Gucci handbag at, but what’s for the darling beefcakes in our lives? Here, this is were it falls flat. If it’s a suit he is after, then take your pick from anything off the peg from Top Man to something for several weekends and a handful of funerals from Hugo Boss. One can’t wait to stroll passed without doing a quick ‘Fast Show’ rendition of ‘Suits you.’

For the kiddie winks, you can pamper the little darlings in Baby Gap (arh!) and let them run riot in the Early Learning Centre but the statutory toy shops are on a day off here. Not a bad thing, when you think about it, most kids of a primary school age, can spot an ELC at twenty paces. There is no sneaking around the lifts with my son, I can tell you…

There is an Abbey National for those who have an account, and if not - tough. There is also a Bureau de Change in Marks and Spencer’s for those of you who just feel the need to buy something in euros, (you should really get out more) - or who have just got off the boat. There are, in fact, a great amount of shops, but there is just one question - where the hell are they? One gets the impression that these shops just don’t exist. As I sit and look back over my painful afternoon at London’s worst venue to spend money, I find it incredible that I managed to walk around it in less than half an hour, so is it possible that I sped round these shops, not really looking at them, only for a need to get back to the car and drive as fast as I could away from the place? Who knows, all I remember is vacantly saying to my family, ‘hang on - haven’t we done Fenwick’s already?’

I could let you in on the workings and the fundamental thinking behind London’s most ugliest building, so I will, just to make some interesting reading…..

The idea came to the borough of Barnet of the first shopping centre to be built in this country. Built in 1976, it laid, would you believe, the foundations of the way we were to shop from then on. Going, or at least, slightly disintegrating, were the small, corner shops and old curiosity shops from where we just to go. (It is here, that I realise, what I had actually done, was crossed over a generation of shoppers - from the smallest of businesses in Notting Hill in the morning to the powerless, slums of Brent Cross in the afternoon.) It is made me ask the question - why on Earth have we swapped the niceties of the small shop for the concrete coldness of the shopping centre? We have, gone for convenience in the modern world. We don’t like to be out in all weathers anymore. We want comfort, practicality and choice. Or do we?

When we look at Brent Cross, we see the failings in out own complex ideas of better living. What was unique in 1976, seems faceless, uneventful and depressing in 2007. Strangely, it has won awards for it’s successful event holding and marketing from recent advertising campaigns - perhaps, the only thing that Brent Cross has going for it. It is hard to imagine why it has never been knocked down. Since the mass intrusion of the afore mentioned Blue Water and Lakeside both in pressing their noses against the outer edges of the M25, Brent Cross has had to work hard to keep up with it’s super sonic peers. Like the old lady of the shopping centre dynasty, Brent Cross still stands, and possibly will be the only man made mark in industrial history left standing after Armageddon.

Squashed in by it’s tightening boundaries, Brent Cross has no where to expand, so stuck in the vaults of time, this tragic building lacking in charm and tranquillity can only ever be, what it will always be and always has been - a mess. Despite the tube station only a few minutes away, it does have free parking. A feat in London in itself and should be applauded just for keeping that one going…

The opening times are somewhat peculiar, especially for a Sunday. Proud to be different (in everyway) the shops don’t open on a Sunday until noon, although, one can browse from 11.30 am. The idea is so that ‘the shopper can lay in bed for a while longer, after the night before.’ Something that some of us have forgotten about. Obviously, the Brent Cross shopper has been out on the waz and needs a few more Alcazeltzers before embarking on a unheaving shopping expedition. But, if you want, you can hang around till six!! (It’s then dark, and you have yet to refer back to your multitude of maps for a preferred exit - don’t forget that Hanger Lane is pretty nasty if you’re not used to it.)

There are a few hidden extras, if you can be bothered to find them; why not pick up all your shopping from one of the big stores at a ‘Collect By Car’ point? Straight off the Northern Line, it has it’s own tube station ‘Brent Cross,’ or just look out for it from either the A5 from Paddington, Cricklewood and Kilburn or the North Circular by the M1 junction. Of course, it includes shop mobility help and an information desk that you can email before your visit (should you really want to still go…)

Despite the baby friendly services and the dry cleaners that you wouldn’t normally get from anywhere else (how about a free buggy on your visit?) these little things go completely un noticed due to the impending structure that it both intimidating and raw. It is, it has to be said, a shame that this block of dust and sand is still standing and given no attention at all. Whilst the two great sisters of the M25 stand proud, Brent Cross seems to have become a bit of an embarrassment (like Ken Livingstone) over the last few years. It’s ‘Feed Your Addiction,’ campaign through advertisement marketing seems to have poured in some revenue and despite it’s off putting physical state and it’s marble polished prison like interior, it still attracts a vast amount of people - even on a Sunday. It’s parking for 8000 cars for it’s 110 stores and cafĂ©’s seems to be full no matter what day.

The website, should you feel the need to stay at home, is still worth a visit. One can browse around something that doesn’t quite fit with the actually venue. You can see the best images shot in the best light and even sign up for a news letter on the ‘Feed The Addiction,’ campaign (the shoppers delight.) So, the story isn’t all bad, yet a tear to the eye may find itself rolling down you cheek in sadness. If not you, then your bank manager at least - simply for the mere fact that you can wander in and out of the entire place in less that 30 minutes and not buy a thing…

Mon - Fri - 10am to 8pm
Saturday - 9am to 7pm
Sunday - 12 noon to 6pm
Bank Holidays - 10 am to 6pm.

A406 North Circular,
North London.

©m.duffy (sam1942) 2006.
Ciao and dooyoo.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Terms Of Endearment....

On the 17 of March 1991, the affectionately known, ‘Slow Hand From Surrey’, Mr Eric Clapton released an album entitled ‘Reptile.’ No, not a collection of songs denoting our scaly skinned friends but a very personal and affectionate album dedicated to his uncle Adrian, who died a year before this album was produced.

Clapton is renown for reflecting on his roller coaster life through his music. Using personal highs and lows throughout his life, he has brought us insight, wisdom and inspiration over his extensive career proving to us that his a human being with ups and downs just the same as the rest of us.

This album is purely based on that reflection. Each song, in its strong, bluesy theme, has been hand crafted and attributed to each passing, yet path turning encounter with these fascinating people Clapton met through his early life who used the term of endearment ‘reptile,’ as we would use the words, ‘scallywag’ and ‘moosh,’ when speaking about/to loved ones of a diverse nature! These very ordinary, yet well thought of, people appear to us in Clapton’s ‘rogues’ gallery.’ We are taken through a very thought provoking, winding road of these interesting characters, each thought about, and penned with the usual, very personal touch that only an artist such as Eric Clapton can create.

Moving through the different sections of blues throughout his career, starting out with the dirty themes of blues rock, he had been influenced before his days of Cream by Chicago waves of the genre. Settling into a British blues style, he has spurned other contemporary artists to keep blues alive and well in this country. Using the same basis blues set, electric guitars were introduced to create the modern sound over the top of the traditional Muddy Waters style. Such artists were Clapton’s heaviest influences and he often paid tribute to these past exponents in his sets.

As with all Clapton albums, were are treated to something rather special. The sleeve, in itself, is a personal album of photographs of past and present faces, friends and warm acquaintances. Even the middle page showing the titles and credits of each track, uses a black and white backdrop of a photograph of Clapton’s boyhood town, Ripley in Surrey circa 1910. Every inch of this sleeve is touching and reminiscent. We immediately are prepared to expect the very best tribute to a life from within this album.

Using familiar artists, there are some old friends who appear in this album. We recognise and are pleased to see the appearances of Billy Preston and Paul Carrack as backing musicians. We also note his backing singers are a hefty lot called The Impressions. Namely; Fred, Cash, Sam, Vandy, Ralph and Willie Jr.

The opening track, it must be said, will probably take die hard Cream fans somewhat be surprise. ‘Reptile’, the title track of this splendid album was written by Eric Clapton and performed by himself, Steve Gadd on drums, Pino Paladino on bass., and the well known Genesis front man Paul Carrack on gently whispered keyboards. Tropical, light as a feather and smooth in its theme, it will take you to a peaceful shore with lapping waters. Soothing and quiet, it will find a place in your mind and ease away the troubles of you day. It doesn’t give a indication of the rest of the album, but it will prove to be an unusual instrumental piece and not totally out of place. However, the second track hit’s the right nerve and takes us straight into a rolling hard blues rock theme from the days of John Mayall’s Blues breakers. Also touching on the Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac, it is a rocking piece of British, slow blues. Each section, predictable and reminds the listener of a hundred other famous blues tracks. Nevertheless, it plays along in a cheeky theme with its swaying guitar riffs and skipping drum backing track. ‘Got You On My Mind,’ was written by Joe Thomas and Howard Biggs. A little on the Chas n’ Dave angle, it is still pleasing, although perhaps too dated for contemporary blues rhythms.

‘Travellin’ Light,’ will take you back to the fairly recent days of ‘Behind The Mask,’ which was the half compilation album of Clapton back in 1987. What will spring to mind with this track is a certain Chris Rea rock sound that comes across in strong tones. It includes the usual exceptional guitar playing of Clapton. He lowers his vocal to a Rea level, a touch Lee Marvin, if it could be said. Sultry and meaningful, we discover with this album, that even though all these tracks are somewhat musically linked, they are very different from each other. It is yet another album that proves the adaptation of the artist in question to spread his musical wings from one genre to another, yet still sound inevitably Clapton.

‘Believe In Life,’ winds the momentum down a notch or two and we are reminded of the initial first track. This time, with vocal, the mood is a reflection of the opening song. This time we are met with gentle harmonious vocals and soothing lyrics. A love song full of sunset romance and smooth themes. Written again, solely by Clapton, we are introduced to the smooth sounds of his backing group, The Impressions who actually do, I must say, a perfect imitation of Clapton’s voice. Smoothing his lead into theirs, they are hardly noticeable on first hearing the track. A competitive moment in this album were we can sit back and let this mood flow over us. Picked up on a gentle note towards the end of the track, the backing vocals become a touch more prominent and this lifts the song onto a chanting level of repetitive lyrics. Perfectly produced, it fits beautifully into this eclectic album.

For interested blues fans, they will be delighted to hear the introduction of this next track. ‘Come Back Baby,’ should pretty much speak for itself. Slowed beyond any happy emotion, this Ray Charles song is produced in a style that Charles would have been proud off. Clapton doesn’t attempt to imitate Charles to the point of irratingness, but what he does do is do the track justice by giving it all the right blues themes to built it up to a crescendo of a guitar solo at the break. We’ll be swaying to the grinding rhythms of this sectioned song. The blues will hit you right in the stomach. Hankies at the ready….

The next track appears as a composition from Simon Climie (of Climie Fisher fame) and Dennis Morgan. This track is straightened out where the previous had left a mess in your mind. It is the first time, we get to hear an echoed backing vocal where it is strong and they overpowered Clapton’s vocal. What is interesting is a beautifully played acoustic guitar break. The string arrangements in this particular track is by Nick Ingman. Soulful and desperate in its mood, it is a catchy, but not offensive piece. The track ends with a ramble up and down the keyboards by one of the greatest piano players of the twentieth century, Mr Billy Preston, who appeared, as an added interest, on ‘Get Back,’ by The Beatles.

‘Find Myself,’ takes on a different mood again, and we find an element of rag time melody to this number. It’s all cloth caps and whippets, the sort of thing Granddad would have liked to listen to. It’s swinging back to the days of Clive Dunn but with the presence of a slide guitar. Too country to some, it is still enhanced by the deep feelings in Clapton’s voice. Written by Clapton, we find a number of solo projects on this album. He is known for not just solely composing an album but incorporating other artist to test out new works too. The innovator of showmanship, he allows each of his featured musicians to take a turn in the limelight. Gentle to the point of almost falling asleep. It appeals to the lethargic of us. Lacking any true spirit of rock Clapton style, it will relax you to not moving at all…Bearing in mind that we had already discovered other artists appearing almost unnoticed on this album, this next track, ‘I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It,’ will be recognisable to most of us as the hit penned by Stevie Wonder. Funky, Clapton style, it works, surprisingly on this album. It is the touch that was needed to enlighten this album as it could have quite imaginably gone down the pan of too much slow blues! Jumpy, and well defined as a Wonder number with Clapton additions, it is strangely suited to Clapton’s vocals and arrangement. However, as much as I am not keen on Wonder, this track should have been given back to him. I am not at all in favour of big artists covering equally big artists’ work. I usually think it’s a bit of a cop out, then it will appeal to many people, however. We can not be doing a Wonder cover without the statutory rhythm guitar, funky riff at the break. It doesn’t, although appear to be out of place here.

This next track, again, will be a surprise, but also reminds us of how extraordinary Clapton really is. We are introduced to Billy Preston and his magical finger work on the keyboard of a piano. Clapton changes his vocals to suit each genre he takes on. His voice sounds clear and somewhat hollow through the speakers. We shouldn’t’ have ever doubted that this man couldn’t sing, he can and with this sort of extra slow blues arrangement at a ‘midnight’ time of the mind, the backing vocals hold up right this track with their emotional ooo’s and arrh’s. Clapton’s voice becomes ragged and in pain, yet this track is just as well produced as any other. We fall into the hands of this next track like a fallen Autumn leaf. Written by Eric Clapton, Climie and Dennis Morgan, it transports us to a softer, more middle of the road plain. Gentle on the drum and quiet on the guitar, it is Chris Rea time again. Not a bad thing really, as these types of mellow blues themes have been carefully split up in this album so as not to bore us totally. ‘Second Nature,’ still is very Clapton. He has the ability to take a genre, any genre and turn it into his own…

‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,’ is the first of that last four final tracks of this album. It is a James Taylor record that will probably turn a few noses up at the sheer mention of that Taylor name, and me too, I might add. Again, this blues theme runs like a twisting river through this album. We can now see a pattern forming, which, as the listener, I don’t mind, but I also feel that a good album should not become predictable. This track, we could see coming a mile away. Typical of Taylor, I shouldn’t have to say anything more than that. It’s slow. It’s moody. It’s bloody James Taylor….! Clapton gets hold of it, turns it around, adds his lyrics, then suddenly, we forget Taylor and like the kids in the Bisto advert, we sigh with relief…

‘Modern Girl,’ is another project solely by Clappers. Dreamy and thoughtful, it rambles a looping riff at the opening and the bass line, whispering in the backing track, holds the whole thing together. Wistful and far away, its distant subject is uplifting and out of all the tracks on this album, this is the one, I felt, is the most attentive, sincere and emotion provoking of all the pieces on this album. I do believe it is the very light hint of strings in the backing track that gives it depth, emotion and frames the piece like a picture. We can almost imagine the girl in question. A very posing track, it will surround you with haunting impressions of the subject.

On a totally different scale completely, we are then thrown into the rocking raunches of ‘Superman Inside,’ which we find practically thrashy compared to the rest of the tracks here. Tonnes of clashing cymbals and cheeky organ fumbles, it is Clapton, as most of us will know him. Yet, all this noise, may whip up some ‘good time’ notions in our heads, nothing actually prepares us for the last, and certainly not least track on this album. Top bring us right down to Earth, he paints a clear picture now of what the whole album was all about in the first place.

So far, we have merely experienced a reflective, yet celebration filled album which has made us stomp our feet, clap our hands and forget what the subject in mind here. Clapton in ‘Son And Sylvia,’ takes us through the photograph of the back cover of the album. His uncle, ‘son’ as he was called and his wife, Sylvia. This track is a joyous and also thankful piece of instrumental tribute to two very loving, fond family members, who, yes, will mean nothing to us, but we can feel, imagine and know what these two young people in the photograph, enjoying their first trip to the seaside actually meant to Clapton, and in that, we feel honoured, and perhaps a little uncomfortable listening to this track. Simply only for the feeling that we may be intruding on something so obviously very personal.

Within this album Clapton reaches out to his listeners and gives us back a little piece of his childhood and the people that were in it, although, they do not jump out at us through this music. What we do get to feel is someone who can take the very special people in his life and create imaginative and inspiring pieces of musical tribute to them.

So, thanks, Slow Hand…

You old reptile, you!

EC - guitar
Steve Gadd - drums
Pino Paladino - bass
Paul Carrack - keyboards
Billy Preston - piano/organ
Nathan East - bass
Vocals - EC and The Impressions
Plus a whole host of other musicians who take a turn at everything left or swapped!
Produced by EC and Simon ‘Rise To The Occasion’ Climie
2001 Reprise Records
Bought for five pounds Music Zone, Worthing.

©m.duffy (sam1942) 2006.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Come Fly With Me And The Blue Aeroplanes

Back in the days of what was the explosive ‘Woodstock’ music scene of Bristol, a vocalist emerged from the new genre, known as indie, in the shape Gerard Langley. Hardly, as you would first think, a name to be reckoned with in the glitzy world of music showbiz, but a fairly stable name even so. Along with his brother, who took up the position of drummer, they soon gathered together a collection of some of the most talented and composed musicians in the city area. In fact, they were, as they called themselves, The Blue Aeroplanes, known to have the biggest ‘musician - participation’ in, probably, modern music history.

Although their commercial contribution to the world of music looks vaguely more successful that a Pop Idol winner, their gritty and uniquely timed anthems had far from been on the same level. Langley, the headman was known, in the fast growing indie scene for his deep, menacing and half spoken vocals and other than supporting a then, little known U.S band called, R.E.M, although the band had collaborated with Michelle Shocked on one track.

It would appear that there seems to be a silent, yet, growing interest in this distant indie band who, tragically, graced only the bottom half of the Top 75 at any given time. It perhaps should be more the question of why didn’t they ever make the grade? Well, that could be answered as simply as bad timing. Due to their haunting renditions of a familiar Smiths sound, they would have been noted as to be almost a decade out of date. I do believe that if they had been around a lot earlier, then their level of success would have vastly improved. That comatose style of backing vocal, at the time of, ‘Jacket Hangs’ was the tones of Rodney Allen, Alex Lee, John Langley and Andy McCreeth, was more along the lines of The Waterboys, which, is certainly no bad thing, but on listening back to Blue Aeroplanes tunes today, we find ourselves puzzled as to why they weren’t better recognised. What we don’t perhaps remember, is how much the talent odds were stacked against them. With a sound that was unique and so in tune with the outside world, it was also the backdrop of every other band at the time. Not to mention that their members list grew to around thirty…

It is also arguable that there were far less talented bands around the time of the mid Eighties to the early Nineties, who, simply didn’t deserve to achieve the success that they did. Who really could have forgotten that rhythmic perfect of John Langley’s drum backing and that non melodic, jangle effect on guitars from Lee and Allen? They fused together as a band and never failed to let their fan base down. They might have been predictable in their approach to their own expression of indie music, but at least that meant never having to cringe ferociously at surprising and embarrassing diversions.

Their first notably successful album, ‘Bop Art,’ in April 1984, may have sounded more like a Gene Vincent take on an old Transvision Vamp album, but it was surprisingly fresh enough to create a lasting appeal on certain listeners who, it would seem, became the backbone of the circle of devoted fans today. Although, since their early days, when their influences swayed heavily towards Elvis Costello and The Velvet Underground, they have somehow taken what they had learnt from these artists and actually drawn up, by themselves, a sound that, truly, came from themselves. We wonder how it came to be that they had come and gone from so many record labels. Their career path has certainly trodden a steady route through all the alternative labels of that time. Finally, standing firm behind the legendary label that brought us Icicle Works and Gene Loves Jezebel - Beggars Banquet, they had driven the idea through following bands, that it was the way that stable, tight knitted bands worked to get the maximum coverage.

Albums followed plus a couple of singles that failed to make any lasting notability with the regular record purchaser. ‘Tolerance’ in 1986 and ‘Spitting Out Miracles’ in 1986, after which, they enjoyed little in the way of pleasing positions from a string of EP’s and one or two singles that followed.

They did, however, change their attitude through this far from joyful period in their early career. Shifting from Art Rock and layered pieces to dirty, simple guitar rhythms and slapping drums, their move towards the indie scene seemed sensible and optimistic. To singles followed through another label, Chrysalis, ‘Jacket Hangs,’ and ‘..And Stones,’ first in February and second in May 1990. Both failed to cut into the Top 70. Albums trailed accordingly in the shape of ‘Swagger,’ (1990), ‘Beatsongs,’ (1991) and ‘Life Model,’ (1994). The middle of these, ‘Beatsongs,’ graced the Top 35, but failed to hang around longer than three weeks. They had, already, toured with R.E.M in 1989 by this time, who, were enjoyed critical acclaim with their politically observed, ‘Green,’ the year before.

They had achieved as much as they could in those early times. They appeared in such audience participating venues such as the Town And Country Club in Kentish Town, North London; a venue known for the closeness felt through band and crowd. It was a favourite for indie and up and coming bands. Regulars there had been Hard Rain, Then Jericho, Three And A Half Minutes, not to mention, unknown Scottish smilies, Wet Wet Wet. Some, who got to see the B A’s always commented on their live performances, noting them as born gig masters. After all, not all bands could boast their own Polish dancer in the shape of Wojtek Dmochowski.

It has undoubtedly crossed the minds of some of you when we say we must still remark on the history of The Blue Aeroplanes when they seemed to have achieved so little. One is for sure, they have remained true to themselves - never faltering in any shape or form, always pleasing to the eye and enjoyable to listen to. They do take you back in time to a place in music history where bands were made up of young people who actually played instruments. Any band of that time, composed, rehearsed and performed over and over again to get it right. They worked hard, sweated and were devoted to their craft. |Unlike today when a band is only made up of people who can just about sing and who couldn’t compose a tune and lyric if their lives depended on it. This, I think it why, we should still celebrate bands like The Blue Aeroplanes for their determination and continuous contribution to British music. Whether it was experimental with different musicians and arrangements of sounds laced together with synths and percussions or taking the dive into all that wad bitter edginess of the birth of indie, they have gathered up the growing trends into their arms and come with their own style of sound. They came back with gusto in 2000 with the album, ‘Cavaliers/Roundheads,’ and now, just this year, 2006, we see the release of a long awaited, two CD set of a remaster of the 1990 album, ‘Swagger,’ probably about their most rewarding and well received album of the decade. This re working contains 14 bonus tracks and goes, unmistakeably as, ‘Swagger Deluxe.’ The B.A’s are back, still standing strong and still eagerly eclipsing new sounds with rational B.A rhythms and techniques.

Exactly where, when, how and why the band formed and who gelled with who is not entirely known, their initial birth seems to be a mystery, and perhaps only known by Bristol residents and those who knew them, so it is with this, that they remain intriguing and their records, desirable. These ordinary student, type guys, who are now in their forties, still capture a moment in time when music was still exciting and new; when records were still bought in Woolies on vinyl and singles were only 45’s for 45 pence. As far as The Blue Aeroplanes themselves go, all we know is that in Bristol and also in certain parts of the Globe, this band still takes a secret pride of place in Britain’s musical Hall of Fame.

For more information, please use the following links;

©M. Duffy 2006