I’m generally more one for Viz Top Tips than anything approaching self-help literature but when I was offered the chance to review a book entitled ‘How To Think Like David Bowie – Habits of mind for leading a more creative and successful life’ my curiosity was piqued.
By sheer coincidence the book arrived in the post about thirty minutes before I was due to head off on a trip to Essex with former Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong, who had worked with Bowie on Absolute Beginners and Tin Machine and played with him at Live Aid. I hadn’t even had time to open the book before he arrived but I mentioned it to a bemused Kevin on the journey up to Colchester and asked for his thoughts. “I think there’s very few people who ever really knew what David Bowie was thinking,” was Kevin’s response, saying that Bowie was always welcoming and warm-hearted but rarely shared his inner thought processes, concentrating very much on the task in hand and getting the best out of everyone present.
In the book itself, Kevin Armstrong’s own sentiments are very much echoed by an earlier collaborator, Rick Wakeman, whose recollections of recording ‘Space Oddity’ back in 1969 are reproduced in the book:
“He was always incredibly prepared in the studio. He never wrote in the studio; everything was already done. He was always what he called ‘75% prepared’. You’d go in and he’d get the piece that far, and then the studio would take it that extra 25%.”
So does author, Jonathan Tindale, really attempt to get inside the head of Bowie and tell us how to think like him? In truth, although the book references Jung and Myers- Briggs and ‘The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’, the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek and it’s more philosophy than psychology. Bowie’s approaches to numerous projects throughout his five-decade career are analysed, dissected and cross-referenced and various life lessons drawn from them. Tindale, whose previous publications have included travel writing and parenting, draws on a wide range of Bowie-related sources to derive a number of key lessons from Bowie’s career.
Arranged across twelve chapters, themes include Bowie’s individuality, his work ethic, his approach to creative collaborations and his attitude to the business side of things. The book is not a long read but it’s well referenced and entertaining and avoids falling into the cult-like demagogic devotion that some of the more hagiographic pieces written after his death have fallen victim to. Moreover, it doesn’t shy away from looking at some of Bowie’s flaws and the odd creative troughs in his career as well as the many peaks. Quirky and thought-provoking How To Think Like David Bowie will be of interest to more than just the most hardened Bowie devotee.
Published: 18th June 2021 and available to orderhere
On her long-awaited debut album entitled Gu Deas (meaning south or southern), Màiri MacMillan presents us with interpretations of eleven traditional Gaelic songs. For MacMillan, Gaelic folksong and the Gaelic language is not merely some recent exploration of Scotland’s rich musical heritage. She lives and breathes it and is very much the genuine article.
From Milton in South Uist, MacMillan was brought up surrounded by Gaelic language, culture, music and song and began singing at an early age. Gaelic is her first language and Gaelic songs, and traditions run deep in her family.
“The songs on this album have been learned from recordings of women, mostly from South Uist, who passed on songs for future generations,” she writes in the sleeve-notes.
MacMillan is blessed with one of these beautiful, clear, pure voices that is just so perfect for this material and her familiarity with and deep love for the songs shines through.
The songs have been given fresh-sounding but sympathetic contemporary arrangements by the musician Mhairi Hall, who arranged and produced the album, learning from past recordings of South Uist tradition bearers. Alongside Hall (harmonium, piano, flute, and whistle), the album features Megan Henderson (fiddle and voice), Ali Hutton (bodhrán, guitar, whistle, great highland bagpipes) and Rachel Newton (clàrsach, electric harp and voice).
The extensive sleeve-notes, in both Gaelic and English, provide full lyrics and additional background information for each of the songs. The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version.
A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.
Just over a year ago I had a dream that I had written a book about The Sweet. When I woke up I was more than a little disappointed to release I hadn’t written any such book. But with the idea still fresh in my mind I decided to fire off an email to the publishers Sonicbond to see if they were interested in me writing one. Amazingly they came back and said yes.
Starting work last summer, writing and researching ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ very much became my lockdown project during the latter part of 2020 and the early part of 2021. I finished it back in February, delivered the manuscript and my mind, which had been so utterly pre-occupied with all things Sweet for several months, pretty much moved on to other things. In recent weeks, however, it’s all started to become very real again. There were proofs to read, images and the cover blurb to check through and so on. And although, it’s not in the shops until July 30th I took delivery of some advance copies this week!
I also did an interview for the excellent Glam-themed fanzine Wired Up – talking about how I came to write the book, how I first became obsessed with The Sweet as a teenager in the early 80s trawling through second-hand albums in Preston’s Action Records – as well as a little bit on what readers can expect from the book. You can find out more about the Wired Up fanzine here.
I’ve dedicated the book to my dad. I know he would have enjoyed reading it.
You can order ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ direct from the publishers via the Burning Shed on line shop here
Sons of Southern Ulster have teamed up with The Boomtown Rats’ Pete Briquette on a new EP collaboration. The Turf Accountant Schemes EP, featuring four tracks remixed by Briquette, is out on 27th August. A single from the EP ‘Polaris’ was released on 2nd July.
Formed around the song-writing partnership of Justin Kelly and David Meagher, Sons of Southern Ulster released their well-received debut album Foundry Folk Songs back in 2016. Many of their songs reflect the experience of growing up in a small southern border town, Bailieborough in Ireland’s County Cavan. This was long before the internet and the country’s “Celtic Tiger” rapid growth period. They explore themes of regret and disappointment, interspersed with moments of light and insight.
“The first music I ever bought was the ‘Like Clockwork’ single by the Boomtown Rats when I was twelve or thirteen. I was obsessed with The Rats so when Pete Briquette reached out to ask if he could remix a few tracks from our ‘Sinners and Lost Souls’ album, we were absolutely shocked. Apparently, a mutual friend has passed the album on to him and he was suitably intrigued. Pete also grew up in County Cavan, so he’d get a lot of the references and the tone. Lyrically the songs are very “Cavan” in that they are on the surface often quite harsh but contain a lot of dark humour,” says Justin Kelly.
“I remember when the Boomtown Rats broke through. At that time it was highly unusual for an Irish band to make it in Britain. But for a Cavan man to be there!!! That was just bizarre. Cavan men were made to be farmers – not No.1 pop stars.”
The Turf Accountant Schemes EP features four tracks from the band’s second album Sinners and Lost Souls which was released in 2020. Each of the tracks is re-imagined and re-mixed by Briquette.
“In Sons of Southern Ulster, we took a very conscious decision to sing songs about Cavan as it was always a bit underserved, not just in music but in infrastructure and resources. In many ways, the Irish government ignored us and left us to our own devices – for better or worse. I think Pete picked up on that,”says David Meagher.
‘Polaris (Pete Briquette Remix)’ is out July 2. On August 27, the ‘Turf Accountant Schemes’ EP will be released across online platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify, as well as on vinyl. It can already be pre-ordered via Bandcamp.
Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around of thoughtful, witty song-writing.
Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as the band approach their 30th anniversary.
Founder members Bruce Roper (vocals, guitar) and Sue Demel (vocals, guitar, djembe, dulcimer) along with long-time member Deborah Lader (vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin) who joined the trio in 1998, replacing original member Nancy Walker, are joined by a range of musical guests and spoken word collaborators for this special release. Guests include Marc Kelly Smith, Karen Savoca, Anne Harris and Pete Heitzman helping bring colourful texture to Sons of The Never Wrong’s trademark blend of folk, jazz, pop and rock influences.
Opening track, the gorgeous gospel-tinged, soul-flavoured ‘Muddy, Muddy River’ with guest, Bob Long, on organ and piano is clearly destined to be a centre-piece of future live performances and is a modern-day classic in the making – absolutely gorgeous.
Elsewhere on the album, the melancholic, ecologically-themed piano and vocals number ‘Shorebird’ is another stand-out track, along with the Indie-ish anthem ‘Om Not This Time’. Tracks like ‘Everyone’s In The House’, meanwhile, take us into more classic folk singer-songwriter territory, evoking the genre’s golden age.
Beautifully presented with hand-painted cover art from Lader, Undertaker’s Songbook is a fine album to mark the trio’s thirtieth anniversary.
When I came to review Called Back the latest album from Scottish singer-songwriter John Hinshelwood recently, on checking out his biog I was struck by the high regard he held for the Byrds and the influence that they were to have on his own music. Moreover, it went beyond mere musical influences. As well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, he was involved in putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, Gram Parsons, and actually came to record with former Byrd, Gene Parsons, who was with the band in its latter period, playing on five albums from Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde in 1969 to Farther Along in 1971.
I mentioned all this in my review and said it was certainly recommendation enough for me that this was going to be an album worth exploring. After I published my review, John got in touch. This led to a more detailed chat about how the Byrds came to have such a profound effect on his career and how he came to record with Gene Parsons.
I have already talked about my own particular Byrds journey here. There was clearly a meeting of minds between John and myself and he very kindly sent me a copy of his album on which Gene Parsons appeared.
Titled Holler Til Dawn the album was released in 2002. Recorded in various locations, including Scotland, Tennessee and California the album features eleven Hinshelwood originals, plus three covers: Kathy Stewart’s ‘Your Secret Love’, Lowell George’s and Keith Godchaux’s ‘Six Feet of Snow’ and Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s ‘My Uncle.’
The album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians and singers including, Rab Noakes, Cathy Stewart, Colin Macfarlane and Cathryn Craig as well as the aforementioned Gene Parsons, who plays on two tracks.
So how did he go about getting Gene Parsons to play on his album? John fills me in on how the two came to connect:
“I got to know Gene through Chrissie Oakes in Bristol, who used to run the Byrds Appreciation Society. I have known her since the early 70s and have kept in touch with her right up to the present. She contacted me back in 1995 to ask if I would be interested in organising a gig for Gene in Glasgow as part of his UK tour. Despite never having promoted a gig before, I agreed, and indeed had him back again a few years later. On both gigs, we did support, and agreed that on his next tour we would do some stuff together. Unfortunately, that tour has never happened, but I still live in hope.”
Prior to going on to record with Gene Parson, John was also able to bag himself a support slot for none other than Byrd’s founder, Roger McGuinn:
“The McGuinn gig came about as part of a roots festival in Glasgow in the late 90s. I knew the promoter, the late Billy Kelly, who was a great and genuine guy. I was really chuffed when he asked me to do an opening spot, not least because a lot of much better-known folk were desperate to do it. He knew how much it would mean to me as a Byrds fan, and he kept his word and gave me the gig. I must admit that it was somewhat surreal to be sitting in the dressing room pre gig, and listening to McGuinn practising ‘Eight Miles High’ next door!”
Reflecting on Gene Parsons contributing to the Holler Til Dawn album, Johns notes:
“As is the case with lots of recording nowadays, I wasn’t actually present when Gene added his contributions to the two tracks on Holler Til Dawn. Things have even changed a lot since 2001 when ‘Holler’ was recorded. Today, it is done by emailing files back and forth, but then I had to send the tracks by post to California where Gene recorded his parts, then posted them back to me!”
“The first track we did was the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song ‘My Uncle’ which appeared on the Flying Burrito Brothers debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” in 1969. The basic tracks of Alasdair Kennedy (mandolin), Tim Clarke (acoustic bass), and myself on acoustic guitar and lead vocal were done in Glasgow, then sent to California where Gene added two banjo tracks and two vocal harmonies.”
“The second track was one of my own songs “We’re all in this together” and has just myself and Gene on it. I play acoustic guitar and sing lead and harmony vocals, and Gene did banjo, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. Again, I recorded in Glasgow and Gene in Albion, California.”
“Recording in this way requires a lot of trust, as I could not be present to direct and produce, but with Gene’s track record and wonderful musicianship, I was confident that all would work out well, and that did indeed prove to be the case.”
Our respective Byrds journeys
As a non-musician with no discernible musical ability whatsoever I can’t really claim anything so grand as ‘musical influences’. However, the Byrds were certainly had a big influence on me in terms of expanding my musical tastes and interests. I explained in my own post here about how listening to the Byrds as a teenager led me to start exploring the words of American folk-rock and English folk-rock and eventually English folk as well as Americana and country.
John chips in his own two-penneth:
“Your Byrds story is interesting, and I can relate to much of it. I also love Fairport and have seen them more times than any other band. The Byrds also got me listening to folk music, and a lot of our gigs are in folk clubs. It was also “Sweetheart of The Rodeo” that got me interested in country music which, like most ‘rock’ fans I thought I hated. I have, in fact, been in quite a few country and country rock bands over the years, including The City Sinners, which played the music of Gram Parsons.”
Holler Til Dawn is a fine album of first-rate Americana and picked up many favourable reviews at the time. Whether you’re a Gene Parsons fan specifically or a lover of Americana more generally it is well worth checking out.
‘Johnny’s Gone to Hilo’ is a second single from composer and folk artist Roly Witherow ahead of a forthcoming EP set for release later this year. Roly’s rendition is a characteristically inventive yet mournful interpretation of the traditional sea shanty. The single also features guest backing vocals from celebrated East Anglian folk singer, Nick Hart.
A prolific composer in the world of film, TV, and theatre, Roly’s credits have included Channel 4’s On The Edge, 2015 BIFA nominated film Gregor and David Hare’s The Permanent Way. His debut folk album ‘Ballads and Yarns’ attracted a slew of highly favourable reviews in the UK media and beyond.
As a folk musician and singer, Roly’s influences include Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, A.L. Lloyd, Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Pete Bellamy, John Martyn, Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, Lisa O’Neill and Will Pound.
Of the new single Roly says:
“Johnny’s Gone to Hilo is a sea shanty originating from the sailors of the nitrate trade off the Pacific coast of South America in the 19th century. Hilo likely refers to the Peruvian port of Ilo, and whilst the tone of the shanty varies a great deal in all its different versions and iterations – from drinking song to lament, I thought the melody of the song lent itself best to a sorrowful arrangement with guitar, harmonium and two voices. The backing vocals are provided by acclaimed local folk singer Nick Hart of the Nest Collective, who, raised in a family of morris dancers, is renowned for his evocative voice that is rooted in the folk tradition.”
“The recording of the harmonium with all its noisy stops, billows and pipes was a particular challenge for producer Joe Garcia, but, with some ingenious microphone placement, he managed to capture the instrument’s unique and idiosyncratic sound with tremendous accuracy and warmth.”
Speaking on his five-track EP, set to be released in Winter 2021, Roly added:
“The forthcoming album is a very new direction for me. If my first album, ‘Ballads and Yarns’ had an experimental bent, stemming from my experience as a film composer and combining traditional songs with electric instrumentation, spoken word and elements of world music, this new album has a “back to basics” approach, focussing on the song itself in its most minimal form. The vast majority of the songs are for just acoustic guitar and voice, and the recordings have a very live feel to them, realised in large part by the expert production of Joe Garcia of Joe’s Garage, in Bristol.”
“This new album also has quite a playful, innocent and childlike quality to it, influenced in part by the children’s songs of Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, but also by my experience of recently becoming a father. One of the songs on the album ‘Ernie’s Song’ is dedicated to my son. The album is a combination of traditional songs from the British Isles and further afield, and originals, such as this first single ‘The Bird and the Frog’. There are also some collaborations on the album, including with renowned local folk singer Nick Hart. The album in general touches on themes of rural vs urban life, family and growing up, love and love lost, nature and animals, industrialisation & mechanisation, death and religion.”
What they say:
“Witherow’s resonant voice sits beautifully against a spacious guitar arrangement”– The Times
“mixes up art-rock, atmospherics and folk on his personal project” – The Guardian
“a modern yet classic celebration of the art of folk music” – Folk Radio UK
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Ryan O’Donovan, is a Sussex-based musician who has built up a solid reputation through the learning disabled music scene. Whether it’s providing backing vocals and guitar for Beat Express, vocals and lead guitar for Zombie Crash (both bands of which are managed by Brighton-based charity Carousel that facilitate learning disabled people in the arts), lead vocals for Lost Asylum or venturing place to place solo, as his favourite saying goes, he is always out to rock out.
During the past year or so through lockdown, Ryan has attracted a significant following through a variety of online events, hosted by the likes of Carousel, Gig Buddies and, most recently, Electric Umbrella – as well as his own regular ‘Rockin at Home With Ryan’ online gigs.
I caught up with Ryan recently to discuss his musical background, influences and what inspires his song-writing.
How I got into music:
The way I got into music was rather extraordinary. I did terribly at it in school and college, I’ve never done a good job of reading musical notation or scores, yet I always seemed to be able to pick up sounds, pitches and keys by ear and identify them that way, which made me a very projective type when using my voice. I can still remember one or two examples of feedback from teachers highlighting how I put the most effort in to singing during nativity plays (I was in a Church of England primary school). According to my mum, as a baby I was even able to sing back (or more so hum at that age) a tune on the radio in perfect key with it! I grew up seeing my dad’s guitars on the walls here and there and hearing him practice; around the time I was born, he had a short-lived stint as the lead vocalist of a band called Blue Parish, though he only got as far as one gig with them where he was plagued by stage fright and never performed in another gig. Still, it would later be an influence, as well as my mum’s brothers being guitar players in their own time. I even later on heard that my great-grandmother (mother to my paternal grandma) was involved in theatre.
As well as those influences, the music of Busted made me want to pick up a guitar all the more, as well as seeing the cast of Rock School get going as a group (albeit temporary) under the coaching and guidance of Kiss’s Gene Simmons. With a few pointers on the tuning of whatever guitar I could borrow from my dad, I started playing songs I knew when I was 15; not by looking up any tabs or scores, but by remembering what key the songs were in and played the notes from there. Anything else I learned in pointers here and there over the years to come.
My musical influences:
My influences as they are now depend on which band, or any kind of group capacity, that I’m active with. As a solo artist, my influences (in alphabetical order so that I don’t miss anyone significant) include the likes of Alanis Morrisette, Alter Bridge, Avril Lavigne, Black Stone Cherry, Busted, Def Leppard, Fightstar, Fozzy, Godsmack, Guns N’ Roses, Kid Rock, Linkin Park, Nickelback, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Puddle of Mudd, Saliva and Queen. It was music I grew to love that typically involved heavy guitar playing to varying degrees – and made me want to be more and more of the sort myself.
What inspires me to write:
Aside from the musical influences of artists I’ve talked about as well as my family’s influence, there are varying inspirations for me to write songs. I started by writing an abstract collection of songs that had more fun with whatever was on my mind at the time. Then I wrote songs reflecting my insecurity with being a single man, in varying tones of looking at where I was both in a positive and negative light. Now I write about my own personal acknowledgements towards seasonal traditions, when not writing about my main life experiences in hindsight. But most of all, my main inspiration is how far I’ve come along, especially now that I’ve been playing guitar for half my life and only developed along the way as a musician, performer and individual. This IS my life’s main worth, as nothing else has stood the test of time with me like my way as a musician. And I have nothing else in mind other than to live this lifestyle to the full and make the most of it all. That’s why my saying is “Always out to rock out”.
The farewell tour of glam hero and Glitter Band founder, John Rossall, due to kick off in Blackpool on 4th July, has sadly had to be pulled on health grounds.
Following a hugely well-received comeback album in 2020 John shared news with fans earlier this year that his condition was terminal but vowed to say a special goodbye to fans with a final farewell tour.
In an update shared on his Facebook page today, however, John Rossall’s backing band made the following announcement:
“We all travelled up to Manchester to rehearse John Rossall’s Farewell Tour yesterday. Very sadly it has become apparent that John is not well enough for the upcoming shows. It has been a difficult decision for us all, it is with deep regret and sadness that all shows are now cancelled. You should hear from the venues regarding refunds but please contact them directly if not. We are sure you will, like ourselves, send your love and very best wishes to John, Julia and his family at this very difficult time.
Thank you for your continued support. Dave, Chris, Bob and Corrie”
It’s desperately sad that John can’t say goodbye to fans in the way that he had hoped but he can be very proud of his contribution to UK popular music and in particular taking critics by surprise and going out on such a high point with the incredible Last Glam In Town album last year.
“All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre.”
When I interviewed John last year he was immensely touched by the swathes of positive reviews: “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost! It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”
Best wishes to John and his family and thank you for the music you’ve given us.
During the late 1960s, Mike Frankel was one of the most sought-after photographers for musicians of the era, his photographic style capturing the cultural essence of the decade. Images from Frankel’s extensive archive are set to be released to the public for the first time.
Frankel worked closely with bands like Eric Clapton, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and many others. Most notably, Frankel was also the personal photographer for Jefferson Airplane. In addition, he worked with Bill Graham at the Fillmore East, photographing some of the most iconic images from the rock’s golden age as well as capturing iconic images from Woodstock.
Photographer, Jim Marshall, who, like Frankel, enjoyed extensive access to many musicians throughout the 1960s said of Frankel: “Mike was the photographer that brought art to our profession.”
A book of Frankel’s images is set for publication towards the end of the year. An additional volume showcasing his Beatles photos is also in the planning stages.
Four Corners Framed Art in Independence, Missouri, USA is hosting an in-person meet and greet with the legendary photographer Mike Frankel on Friday, 22nd October from 5 pm to 9 pm. The event is free, open to the public, and will be held in conjunction with the Englewood Arts District’s third Friday art walk.
“This is truly a rare opportunity to meet a living legend,” said Joseph Crownover, Owner/Gallery Director of Four Corners Framed Art. “This will be only the third time Mike Frankel’s work has ever been shown or made available to the public since the photos were taken over 50 years ago.”