Book review: ‘Bob Dylan in London: Troubadour Tales’ by Jackie Lees & KG Miles

While not an obsessive fan (I have a greatest hits CD and a copy of Highway 61 Revisited in my collection but that’s all I’m afraid) Bob Dylan’s presence has loomed large in the history of many of the bands, such as Fairport Convention and The Byrds, that  I am pretty obsessive about. Moreover, many of the music biographies I have read make frequent references to Dylan’s sundry visits to London in the early to mid-1960s – both in terms of the impact he had on London’s folk and nascent rock scenes and vice versa.

Given what a pivotal figure Dylan is then, the idea of having a proper contextual overview rather than relying on what I’ve pieced together through a series of fleeting appearances in other people’s biographies was therefore appealing.

‘Bob Dylan in London: Troubadour Tales’ begins with his first visit to London in the Winter of 1962. We start off in the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia, where Dylan made his first live appearance in London, and take in iconic folk-scene venues such as the Pindar of Wakefield (now the Water Rats) in Kings Cross, home of Ewan MacColl’s Singers’ Club, and the Troubadour in Earls Court.

One might assume that the remaining chapters would take us on similarly meandering detours of the capital for each of Dylan’s subsequent visits. However, ‘Bob Dylan in London’ is as much guide-book as it is biography and the publication is generally arranged geographically rather than strictly chronologically and includes a 16-page colour sections with maps and illustrations.

Two long-time Dylan devotees, Jackie Lees and KG Miles, take us through several decades of Dylan in London, bringing to life the writer/performer’s presence in a series of locations through a mixture of contemporary concert reviews, anecdotes from fellow artists and recollections from audience members, with some of their own personal memories thrown in for good measure. At one point we even get to hear from a homeowner whose Crouch End property was on the market and Dylan’s early 80s visit as a prospective buyer is recalled.

The most fascinating parts of the book, however, are the ones where Dylan was at his creative and commercial peak in the 1960s. Insightful anecdotes from this period abound, including Donovan and Joan Baez in Dylan’s Savoy hotel room helping him write out the cue cards for the iconic trailer for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, filmed in a nearby alleyway off The Strand called Savoy Steps.

The recollections do not always put Dylan in a favourable light. The treatment of Joan Baez on a 1965 tour leaves a particularly unpleasant taste. However, this short, concise book is highly readable, entertaining and informative. Anyone with an interest in London’s musical heritage and Dylan’s artistic legacy will find much to enjoy here.

Published: March 2021 by McNidder & Grace

https://mcnidderandgrace.com/bobdylaninlondon

Original Vanilla Fudge line-up reconvene one final time to release ‘fudged up’ version of Motown classic

In the late ’60s Vanilla Fudge were known for their slow extended heavy rock arrangements of contemporary hit songs, including their take on the Supremes smash ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’.

Now all of the original line-up have come together to release a ‘fudged up’ version of another Supremes classic in tribute to departed bandmate, Tim Bogert, who died in January.

The original Vanilla Fudge line-up of Mark Stein, Carmine Appice, Vincent Martel and Tim Bogert, came together one final time for a psychedelically-tinged version of the ‘Stop In The Name Of Love’.

Vocalist and keyboard player Mark Stein put the idea to the others back in 2019 with the idea of recapturing some of the magic of their classic arrangement of ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, which has enjoyed an extended life thanks to it’s appearance in the soundtracks of several Hollywood blockbusters.

Stein: “So back in mid 2019, I put together a blueprint for an arrangement for ‘Stop in the Name of Love’, while the Fudge was out there doing shows later that year. We went into the studio and recorded the track. We planned to complete it, there were delays, and then the pandemic put everything on hold.”

They planned to complete the recording with bass-player Tim Bogert on the track. However, the band ran into some unavoidable delays due to the pandemic but Bogert had been living with cancer for some time and didn’t know how much time he had.

Drummer, Carmine Appice took the matter into his own hands and when he went to Los Angeles’ NAMM show in January of 2020; he arranged for Tim to record at Jorgen Carlsson’s (the bass player for Gov’t Mule) studio in LA.

Vince Martel: “It was very cool that we were able to get Timmy on the track. I’m glad he was strong enough and gracious enough to record with us one last time – he gave me a great template to build on with my guitar. I created an East Indian raga intro in the spirit of our early albums and rocked out at the end. Hold on tight everybody,’ cause here comes The Fudge…”

Pre-Save/Pre-Order ‘Stop In The Name of Love’ HERE

Following Bogert’s passing the band also recorded tributes to their departed bandmate with producer Leslie Gold and a special tribute recording ‘To The Legacy Of Tim Bogert’ aslso scheduled for release.

Stop In The Name of Love’ released September 6th 2021

facebook.com/VanillaFudgeOfficialSite

This week’s featured artist: Big River – new single ‘Don’t Hold Out’ out now

Kent-based blues rock band Big River were formed back in 2016 with their debut album Redemption released in 2019. The band took a fair bit of inspiration from that early seventies golden era of blues rock and turned out a nice line in meaty rhythm, soulful vocals, catchy hooks and big fat riffs and lush guitar solos.

Since then there’s been a bit of a shift in personnel with Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass) and Joe Martin (drums) now being joined by new boy Adam Barron who takes over from former vocalist Adam Bartholomew. This is almost certainly the best career move a band like Big River could possibly have made.

Barron came to prominence as a contestant on The Voice and then secured the lead vocalist position fronting Mick Ralphs’ solo band. Sadly, that venture came to an end with Ralphs’ debilitating stroke but Barron teaming up with Big River is a stroke of genius. One of the finest blues rock singers around these days, Barron is the perfect fit for Big River and takes the band to new heights.

The new single ‘Don’t Hold Out’ sets an exceptional standard and was released on all platforms for digital download on 20th August. Written by Barron is an old school classic rock song with a summer vibe and a catchy hook with singer’s soulful, emotive, bluesy vocals taking centre-stage. 

Barron says: “I love my family, I love my friends and I love life, even with all the complications and shit that comes with it. I really believe we have to grab any and every bit of joy we can every day, because we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, (last couple of years have certainly shown us that!) and that’s what this song is about.”

Big River are currently working on a second album and preparing for tour dates in Summer / Autumn 2021. 

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues

Related posts:

Album review – Big River – Redemption

Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Giants of Rock 2016

Dave “Bucket” Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion, Gravesend 2016

Live review: Supergrass at Crystal Palace Bowl 20/8/21

My last big gig before the pandemic hit was Supergrass at Alexandra Palace back in March 2020  and, lo and behold, my first big gig post-lockdown is… Supergrass at Crystal Palace. Last year I had numerous other gigs lined up for 2020 and this year I had several gigs lined up for the earlier part of 2021, too – from the Stranglers to Fairport Convention to Sparks. However, the vagaries of tour cancellations, postponements and seemingly endless rescheduling meant that, once again, it would be Supergrass, who I would have the honour of seeing when I first set foot in front of a large concert stage.

I’m certainly not complaining. Always my favourite band of the Britpop era by a mile, I was rather upset when Supergrass called it a day back in 2010 and was utterly delighted when they announced they would be reforming. It therefore felt suitably poignant to be seeing them, once again, for my re-introduction to live music.

It was also rather poignant to be going to an iconic concert venue that has been out of use for far longer than the start of lockdown. Thanks to the work of the Crystal Palace Trust the natural ampi-theatre of the historic Crystal Palace Bowl has bounced back to life after laying dormant for more than ten years. Branded as part of the ‘South Facing’ series, tonight’s Supergrass concert is one of several major gigs at the park throughout August.

Although the band had jiggled around the order, the setlist wasn’t massively different to a year and a half ago. ‘Seen The Light’, Bad Blood’ and ‘Lose It’ were dropped from the setlist in favour of two extra songs from second album In It for The Money: ‘Tonight’ and ‘Hollow Little Reign’. All the obvious hit singles from the band’s original seventeen-year tenure were there, of course, along with a hefty chunk of their first two albums: I Should Co-Co and In It For The Money, the hyperactive punked-up teen angst of the former blending with the more mellow, melodic musical complexity of the latter.

Photo credit: Ryano de Birderac

The band are on fine form and the crowd are absolutely loving it. One thing that was very apparent to me is that when I saw them at Alexandra Palace back in March 2020 there was a constant sea of mobile phones held aloft as fans strove to document as much of the gig as possible. Tonight, however, it’s hard to pick out more than a tiny handful of mobile phones screens glimmering in the crowd. Admittedly, this is not a long-awaited reunion tour so people may not feel the same compunction to film and snap every part of it but, on the other hand, maybe it’s a case of us all spending far, far too long staring at screens over the past eighteen months and tonight, instead, was all about living for the moment.

Welcome back Supergrass and welcome back into my life…concerts.

https://www.supergrass.com/

Setlist:

I’d Like to Know
Mansize Rooster
Diamond Hoo Ha Man
Mary
Moving
She’s So Loose
Sitting Up Straight
In It for the Money
Tonight
Hollow Little Reign
Going Out
Late in the Day
Richard III
Intermission
(Coffee in the pot)
St. Petersburg
Grace
Alright
Sun Hits the Sky
Lenny
Pumping on Your Stereo
Encore:
Caught by the Fuzz
Strange Ones

Related reviews:

Supergrass Live at Alexandra Palace 2020

Album review – Supergrass ‘Live On Other Planets’

Gaz Coombes at ULU 2018
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016

‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ now also set for publication in the US on 24th September

I’m delighted to report sales of my book, which was published in the UK by Sonicbond on 30th July, have been brisk.

Amazon and other retailers will be dispatching to customers in the US from 24th September. When writing the book I did take care to ensure the book would be relevant to US readers – putting Billboard chart positions in as well as UK ones, for example, as well as explaining some peculiarly English turns of phrase like w*nk and Sweet FA…

My book also picked up a very nice review from Jason Ritchie at Get Ready To Rock recently:

“An excellent overview of The Sweet, appraising the band’s 70s output and tracking the band’s ups and downs during that decade. Well researched and referenced too, with the final part of the book giving a whistle stop tour of what the band did from 1980 to the present day.”

Full review here

Over on Amazon it’s been picking up some very encouraging customer reviews, too:

“The Sweet In The 1970s is an excellent and concise book about rock’s most underrated band who transformed from ‘bubblegum’ to ‘glam rock’ to ‘hard rock’ to something a little more progressive throughout the aforementioned decade. It also reminds the reader how Sweet managed to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’ on many occasions.”

“Fabulous book. It does what it says on the cover it tells the Sweet story in the 70s. That doesn’t mean that the 60s and 80s are totally ignored.”

“Whether you a big Sweet fan or not this is a really interesting story written and presented very well. I’ve learnt a lot!”

At one point it made it to number three on Amazon’s UK best sellers list for music history and criticism, as well number ten in its popular music books and number fourteen in its rock music books. All beyond my wildest dreams really. When I began writing and researching the book it very much became my lockdown project. Any success in terms of sales was going to be the icing on the cake rather than the main reason for doing it.

However, I’m really pleased it’s selling so well and it’s been a very positive experience working with Sonicbond Publishing who have an excellent range of other music books in their portfolio.

On with the next one!

‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ is available from:

UK

You can order ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ direct from the publishers via the Burning Shed on line shop here

It’s available from a number of other UK retailers including: WH SmithWaterstones, and Bookshop.org

You can order from Amazon UK here

US

You can order via Walmart and Amazon.com

Sweden

You can order via Adlibris 

Singer-songwriter: album review – Robert Gray ‘Short Stories’

With his style being described as “sketchbook pop” the music of singer-songwriter, Robert Gray, combines elements of folk, jazz and blues. Playing in a variety of bands on the London live scene, he released in album in partnership with Australian singer-songwriter, Troy Utz, back in 2003. After a break from music and a subsequent move to Germany with his young family in 2012, Gray was inspired to begin writing and recording again.

Short Stories is his debut solo album. Some ten years in the making the album has been recorded at a number of home studios in Britain and Germany. The songs range from the highly personal: the birth of his son, a love-song to his wife on the theme of growing old together, his feelings as his young daughter lay in hospital for an operation – to the more political: a break-up song about Brexit, a young mother working in a sweatshop and Trump’s election to the White House.  

 “I think of my songs as little sketches of a scene”, he says “and in those two or three minutes I am trying to paint a picture for the listener.”

 “When I look back on the album I have a lot of memories of things that inspired the songs and the places where I wrote or recorded them.”

A multi-instrumentalist who plays all the instruments on the album (bar two guest musicians on one of the track), Gray cites J.J. Cale, Richard Thompson and Chet Atkins as key influences

With an easy-going vocal delivery, some rather lovely guitar flourishes and consistently thought-provoking lyrics, Gray turns out some quality songs which make for a highly listenable album.

Released: January 2021

https://www.robertgraymusic.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – Michael McGovern ‘Highfield Suite’

Highfield Suite is the debut album from Glasgow singer-songwriter Michael McGovern. At 25 he’s been writing songs since he was a teenager, Highfield Suite being the culmination of his work to date. He says the songs on the album very much reflect this period of his life, focusing on themes such as friendship, love, regret and reconciling with one’s own mistakes.  Citing the likes of Leonard Cohen, to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Springsteen and Fleet Foxes as key inspirations McGovern traverses that folky, acoustic, Americana-flavoured vibe with confidence and there’s a real maturity to his song-writing, too.

McGovern had begun building a name for himself on the festival circuit but, like many musicians, once the pandemic struck and brought an end to life performances his focus turned to writing and recording. Taking the self-isolation route to its creative limits, McGovern ended up recording much of the album alone in a small wooden cabin in Galway, Ireland with a single microphone.

If that suggests a stark, minimalist feel to the album, then it’s a wrong impression. Dublin-based producer, Bill Shanley, worked alongside McGovern to flesh out the album and a range of additional musicians and backing vocalists were brought in on various tracks to add extra depth and texture. McGovern himself plays guitar, bass, piano and keyboards on the album with co-producer, Shanley, providing additional guitars, bass and vocals alongside assorted guests, including some wonderfully evocative pedal steel guitar from Connor Smith.

The result is a beautifully timeless album with heartfelt lyrics, lush gospel-tinged harmony vocals complementing McGovern’s own emotive voice and some gorgeous guitar. An impressive debut.

Released: June 2021

https://www.michaelmcgovern.co.uk/

Book review: ‘Rock History: the Musician’s Perspective’ by Dr Rob Brosh

When an American academic, Dr Rob Brosh of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, got in touch to see if I was interested in reviewing the textbook he had written for music students, my first thought was, “Why me?” I play music all day long but can’t hold a tune for the life of me. I read about music, write about music and think about music but have never had any pretensions to being a musician and barely know one end of an instrument to another. Music history always fascinates me, however, so I emailed Rob back and told him I’d be very interested in reading his book.

In the pre-internet days I used to devour rock encyclopaedias – books like The NME Book of Rock, The Virgin Encyclopaedia of Seventies Music and The All-Music Guide To Rock. Huge, lengthy tomes that I would constantly dipping in and out of to find out background information on bands and artists that I was newly discovering. There’s something about the old rock encyclopaedia format in Brosh’s book but rather than an A-to-Z directory this book takes us through the evolution of rock music genre by genre.

I found ‘Rock History: the Musician’s Perspective’ absolutely gripping and read it cover to cover. It does three main things.

Firstly, it gives us a detailed overview of the vast range of music genres that fall within the canon of rock music and how each developed from the development of rock and roll itself, through blues rock, psychedelia, hard rock, folk rock, punk rock and many, many more. What I thought came across brilliantly in the early part of the book is the dynamics of how successive waves of musicians in the US and the UK influenced one another, sending new musical trends back and forth across the Atlantic as rock music involved from its earliest foundations.

Secondly, it gives us a concise but fascinating overview of many of the key artists within each of those genres, for example detailing how bands came together, how they developed their own style and giving us some memorable highlights from their careers. The fact that it’s arranged by genre rather than artist obviously makes it a little trickier to look up individual artists than the old encyclopaedia format did, but the internet has largely rendered that format obsolete now I guess anyway. However, it more than makes up for that by being able to place the evolution of individual artists into the wider context of the evolution of key genres and styles. I was definitely picking up new insights in this way and learning new facts so it’s obviously going to be a great resource for students.

The third thing the book does is focus in on particular songs, providing insights into the structure of them and how certain sounds were achieved. This last element is where you get the musician’s perspective and while some of it went over my head as a non-musician most of it didn’t! I definitely learnt a lot and ended up playing many of the songs that were being discussed in detail and it all started making a lot of sense.

This decidedly non-musician’s review of a musician’s perspective on the history of rock music is therefore a very positive one. Highly recommended.

Published by DDG Publishing, 2018

Singer-songwriter: album review – Carbonhobo ‘Memoirs From The Crooked Road’

Carbonhobo is the alias for Neil McCartney’s latest solo venture. McCartney (who confirms in the accompanying press release he is actually related to his far more famous name-sake – but only distantly so) will be known to many folk-rock fans as the fiddle player with Merry Hell. Just as we witnessed with the solo album from Merry Hell’s Virginia Kettle last summer, the album is something of a departure from the parent group’s signature sound. In place of amped-up, rousing folk rock anthems we go down a far mellower singer-songwriter road with Carbonhobo.

What is fascinating about the songs on this album is that unlike many musicians who used the enforced down-time during lockdown to put pen to paper and create a whole load of brand-new material, many of the songs on this album go back decades – or at least were started back then.

Described as a “twelve-track wander through over thirty years of songs, written and lived around the world” Memoirs From The Crooked Road include the wistful ‘Seagull’, based on a tune McCartney wrote in his teens in Wigan back in the 1980s, to the infectious ‘Fifteen Miles To Buy Tobacco’ written in a cottage in County Mayo in the early 90s and completed in present day Wigan.

Between his teen years in Wigan and settling down there again later on, McCartney has enjoyed an adventurous life with stints in London, Ireland, the US and Thailand, all of which leave their mark on this album and the songs therein.

McCartney is effortlessly comfortable with the material, has an expressive, emotive voice, is a great storyteller, a fine musician and has an ear for a catchy melody. He takes us on quite a journey with Memoirs From The Crooked Road but it’s well worth joining him.

Released: 2nd August 2021

https://www.facebook.com/carbonhobo/

Related posts:

Album review – Merry Hell ‘Emergency Lullabies’

Album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Folk: album review – Joe Danks ‘Seaspeak’

Having previously lived in south-east London for nearly twenty years I was pretty familiar with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and delighted to learn that Joe Danks’ album Seaspeak came about as a result of a collaboration between the museum and the English Folk Dance & Song Society.

Hailing from Nottingham and now residing in Derbyshire, what Danks lacks in terms of bonafide seafaring credentials he certainly makes up for in musicianship, songwriting and ability to source and reinterpret traditional material. Listeners may already be familiar with Danks through his work as part of Anglo-Irish folk outfit Ranagri.

Although shanties suddenly became the height of cool during lockdown, Danks avoided the most obvious musical direction for his material and looks elsewhere for inspiration. Recorded at the Queen’s House in Greenwich close to the Maritime Museum, he’s gone for a mixture of traditional material with some kind of maritime theme – either directly or indirectly, several brand-new compositions and a couple of poems set to music. The album concludes with a new interpretation of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’.

“I was thrilled to be selected for the residency,” says Danks. “It was a great pleasure and privilege sourcing, writing, and arranging the material. The collection at the museum and its Caird Library is the richest stimulus imaginable for a songwriter and arranger and I was lucky to be supported by some very fine musicians on the project.”

Joining Danks, who plays guitar, bodhran and melodeon as well as singing, are Danny Peddler (accordion/hurdy gurdy), Sarah Matthews (fiddle/viola/vocals) and Jean Kelly (harp). Traditional dancer, Simon Harmer, also contributes his distinctive step dancing on two numbers.

Fresh-sounding, inventive yet steeped in tradition and tapping into a rich vein of history, from the sad tale of Jumbo the Elephant to the battle of Jutland in the First World War to Shackleton’s expedition to name but three, Seaspeak is a very impressive solo debut arising out of a fascinating project.

Released: 9th July 2021

https://www.joedanks.co.uk/