Way back in the mists of time, in a quiet suburb of Derby, a host of young teens saw the decade morph from the 60′s to the 70′s, and were like-minded in their willingness to be swept along by, and participate in, its musical backdrop. We were a disparate group of lads, drawing on equally disparate influences, but we had that all-encompassing entity – music – in common. There was a whole host of us, but the main players in the very early days were myself, Adrian “Fos” Foster, Mike Emery, Tim Gadsby, Paul Bunting, Tony Billinge, Colin Hidderley and Steve Carter. Some of us hadn’t even really sorted out who would play what. I started out on drums, moving much later to bass. I vividly remember rehearsing in Steve’s garage, running through one of his own songs, ‘September’, and Tim was on bass. Most of us went our own way of course, and drifted towards the music that most appealed. As our tastes an dinterests diverged, Fos and I pursued the ‘Rock’ route, and indeed still do, and Steve and Tim leaned towards folk. It still fills me with immense pride that quite a collection of us from a small part of Derbyshire have taken our boyhood dreams to levels we probably couldn’t conceive of back in those rose-coloured youthful days. I am certain that my unwavering dedication to my musical career has its roots firmly planted in those early times with my childhood friends. Without those experiences, I would not be where I am today. My career is well documented in these pages, Steve and Tim went on to record as ‘Firkin the Fox’, “Dr. Big Love’, and worked with the likes of Dave Pegg (Jethro Tull, Fairport) and a host of respected Irish musicians. Their music is a far cry from mine, but it is imbued with a deep sense of Englishness, whimsy, and romance, and optimism. Tim blossomed into a fine bass and fiddle player. Ataxia has robbed him of the dexterity to continue, though he continues to make music with computers. Steve felt it was high time awareness was raised about this condition. It is often misunderstood. Watch my friend Steve’s (stage name Steve Bonham) video below, learn about Ataxia. Tell your friends, and help if you can.
I’d like to present today the first in an artistic collaborative series by myself, and my partner, the French artist, Miki. My drawing style is very different from hers, and in a bid to create something a little bit unusual, I suggested that I should draw the basic character, and then turn the project over to her for completion, and indeed, the end result of this first effort looks exactly like a cross between her style and mine! We’re really happy with it, and we will be creating some more over the coming months. I picked Muddy Waters for a number of reasons, one being that Pinetop Perkins played in his band for a while – the late blues piano legend whom I met in Austin on my BLUE ODYSSEY trip a couple of years back, and also did an art work of (see link) ….and Muddy…well, I always loved the story of his first visit to England in 1958, when all these English high-brow blues purists accustomed to the more sedate acoustic blues Big Bill Broonzy and the like were shaken to the core by his loud electric guitar and stompin’ beat! Muddy’s ‘shock and awe’. I like that. So here he is, out by Lake Michigan, in a snow storm over Chicago ( which it was when we arrived there after exploring the Mississippi delta in 2010) Muddy, like so many other bluesmen, made that journey to the windy city, so it seemed a fitting backdrop. Hope you like it! If you like it a lot, then you can buy it in a variety of formats by clicking on the widget below.
A new day, and I sit back and re-open this splendid anthology, a beautiful hardback ‘coffee table’ book, with 3 of the 6 discs neatly embedded in both the front and back inside covers. It is a great read, and peppered with enough photographic memorabilia and liner notes to have even the most jaded completist salivating. It is against this backdrop that I re-commence my listening. We’re on Disc 4, and despite the Spanish sunshine, “Easy Way” ‘s introduction is heralded by a breaking thunderstorm, dueling with sublime Fretless bass, Rhodes and Soprano saxophone. I’m back in that time tunnel, circa 1982. There’s no vocal, but you ‘hear’ Jess in this track, you feel his soul. It is no exaggeration to posit that tracks such as this pre-dated a great deal of what we now refer to as ‘the ambient genre’. This track just spirits you away. It’s fading Sax figures begin to echo John Barleycorn -era Traffic, then it’s gone, and we’re into ‘Player not the game’ territory, and a track dripping in quality, with a glittering constellation of players doing such justice to a Jess composition that shows just what an amazing writer he really is. “In Me Tonight” just oozes class, and his vocal soars over Leon Pendarvis’ classy arrangement. “Believe in Me” finally reveals in its digital reproduction, the care that was taken in the recording. Having previously endured a rather unforgiving and worse-for-wear vinyl version of this for the sake of the song, it’s with some pleasure that I let the track wash over me, pristine at last.
The contrast between “Believe in Me” and The Rivits’ “Oo She Do” , recorded just a year apart is striking, 80′s Electronica replacing Pendarvis’ slick production, but once again it is Jess’ consummate vocal that provides the continuity. Another Seven Windows track, and one of my personal favourites, “Parachutes” wraps itself around you like a familiar overcoat, such a deceptively effortless performance, an essay in understatement, it builds almost imperceptibly, but by the middle 8, it is glorious, and it fades beautifully with a muted tribal tattoo on the drums. The final four tracks of Disc 4 comprise two beauties from The Player not the Game – “The Hardest Blow” and “The Quiet Sound of You & I” – two Roberts/Bronfman compositions that are absolutely stunning examples of songcraft. The former switches beautifully between Jess’s vocal and some soaring tenor sax from Harold Vick, the latter, in this writer’s opinion, one of the finest things Jess Roden has ever committed to tape. On a song like this, no-one can touch him. The other two, are lovely surprises: “Peace within me now” benefits from a very creative arrangement, a lightness of touch and economy of instrumentation serve the song beautifully, as does another cameo on backing vocals by Jaki Whitren. Something of a signature of this Anthology is the signing off on each disc with a bit of a ‘gotcha!’ – and Disc 4 is no exception: Jess’s personal take on Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Goin’ On”, just him and his guitar. It’s often said that the acid test of whether a song is good or not, is to sing it with nothing but a simple acoustic guitar, and when you are blessed with a voice like this, “What’s Goin’ On” passes that particular test with flying colours.
Disc 5 begins with “Intro” there’s no info about it, but it’s clearly The Alan Bown Set steamrollering through 42 manic seconds of “Satisfaction” and “I Can’t Explain” – so I’m guessing it’s around ’64. It sets the scene beautifully, because, like the CD says, we’re ‘On the road’. It’s the JRB up first, they come racing out of the traps, all guns blazing…hell, pick a metaphor and they’ll warrant it…it makes me long for the days when it was possible to see them on stage. then we’re tumbling back to 1966, ( okay, I was two years out with the intro!) a little more rough and ready than the JRB, but the Alan Bown Set had energy to spare and always delivered the goods live. Disc 5 gives us the wonderful opportunity to hear previously unreleased live recordings by the JRB. It’s interesting to hear the Jess Roden Band’s live work (some from ‘Blowin’) juxtaposed with The Alan Bown Set’s tracks from the ‘London Swings’ album. A decade separates them, but the common denominators are many: quality musicianship, energy, and THAT voice. I always loved Jess’s take on Newman’s “You can leave your hat on”, and it’s a curious fact that the song connects Jess with another of my favourite bands, The Dan Reed Network , who did a great live version of this also. There’s some lovely guitar work on this between Steve Webb and Bruce Roberts, one doubling the bassline, the other chopping out a metronome tight rhythm – just superb, it creates an effortless roll in the track somehow. By the time you hit track 5 “Down in the Valley” by The Alan Bown Set, the distinction between the bands is blurring – you’re simply front row at one helluva gig. One thing that strikes me is how assured and mature Jess sounds on the early tracks…it’s astounding. Like I said in part one, DNA.
Next up, “Can’t get next to you”. as with “Hat on”, the Jess Roden Band were responsible for introducing me to these classics for the first time. I’d never heard the originals. Like the young Beatles fans who lapped up their version of the Isley’s “Twist and shout”, to me, these were the originals. I identify with this previously unreleased version of The Temptations song – it was recorded live at The Marquee on the day I turned 18! The take-down trade off solo between Billy Livesey’s Electric piano and Steve Webb’s guitar is a highlight of this version. You can hear the fun these guys were having as the song draws to a close. It’s celebratory!
The JRB had an innate ability to channel the funk, sometimes their groove was breathtaking, as evidenced by “Get ta Steppin”, “In a Circle” and “Me & Crystal Eye”, the latter from”Blowin’” the former a previously unreleased cut from The Lyceum. “Get ta Steppin” announces its intent via Pete Hunt and John Cartwright laying down a vicious drum/bass groove – and we’re off, staccato brass, wah-wah guitar, feel the funk y’all! “Crystal Eye” has always been one of my favourite Jess songs – I remember using the bassline as a practice piece as I learned my trade.
Disc 5 see-swas between The Alan Bown Set of ’66 and The Jess Roden Band of ’76, but there is one imposter, from 1996: Jess Roden and The Humans, and Joe Tex’s “You Better Believe it baby” from their “Live at the Robin” album. I remember exactly where I bought The Humans studio album. I was touring with my band in the West Country, and on a day off went into a record shop in Swindon. I was beside myself to find a new Jess Roden album! Not only that, a glance at the liner notes revealed that his guitarist was Gary Grainger, whose work with the underrated band Strider I loved. Needless to say, The Humans more than hold their own in the illustrious company of the Alan Bown Set and The JRB. It’s fitting that this Anthology acknowledges the importance and stature of the JRB as a live band with a superb collection of previously unreleased live recording from venues across the UK.
Perhaps the most important disc of The Anthology is Disc 6 – named ‘The Sub’s Bench’. It contains tracks that, set aside for consideration after Neil and Jess had spent so much time poring over hundreds of ours of material, eventually were deemed too good to exclude. It gives us a clue as to the real wealth of music that Jess created throughout four decades, namely that, even with such an all-encompassing project such as this, it is incredibly difficult to do true justice to the legacy of such a diverse, creative and gifted artist.
“Storm and Stone” is fast becoming one of my favourite Jess Roden tracks. Featuring a stellar line-up including Robbie Blunt, Mike Kellie and John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, it’s perhaps where Bronco might have gone..at any rate, it’s a scary thought that, were it not for this project, this song would have sat gathering dust in some God-forsaken storeroom somewhere, deteriorating by degrees, while good money goes into promoting the likes of Jedward. Where on earth did we go wrong? A beautifully preserved Alan Bown Set demo is up next, with a lovely brass/keys signature – “Love Me”. I can see Paul Weller frugging to it. This disc offers, along with the previously mentioned “Storm and Stone” several gems from sessions with Rabbit in 1972, “On your Life” and the delicate “Loving in your Sake”. One can only imagine how great an album’s worth of this productive union would have sounded. Also included here is a JRB live favourite – The Eagles’ “Desperado” – illustrating just how well they could take even a well-known song and make it their own. We’re well over three minutes in, it’s Billy Livesey and Ronnie Taylor on Piano and Sax, holding the room. No-one has set a scene better, then we’re into the verse, and Jess owns it. What’s not to love? Listening to this, and further live unreleased gems from the JRB on this final disc – including the wonderfully restrained”Too Far gone” and the acoustic led and beautiful “Feelin’ Easy” – I marvel at their mastery of light and shade. They effortlessly move from a whisper to a roar, and back again, at will. There is no greater pleasure than to observe a band playing with this kind of ease. It is pure joy.
Disc 6 offers a number of lovely surprises, such as an alternate version of The Humans’ “Surrender to your Heart” augmented by Steve Winwood and the late great Jim Capaldi. Another curio is Jess with “The Muscle Shoals Swampers” on Capaldi/Winwood track “Let me make something in your life”, produced by Island supremo Chris Blackwell, it seems to channel Alabama, where at least part of it was recorded.
The Anthology closes with a stunning version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. It’s always been a singers song. It’s one of those that sorts the men from the boys. Here, there is no arrangement to hide behind. It is simply Jess, strumming a guitar and singing as only he can. It is the distilled essence of the entire project, of a career. A man with an extraordinary voice.
I flip the page. My name is in the liner notes. I think back to the fourteen year-old boy behind the sun-dappled curtains of a Bournemouth Living room, ‘Bumpers’ on the stereo, listening to his voice for the first time…..what a journey. Thank you, Jess.
It’s been well documented on my various sites and blogs that I owe a great debt to Jess Roden, one of the U.K.’s finest ever singers. It might not always be apparent in my diverse live and recorded work, but I assure you, along with a very few others, he was instrumental in igniting the spark that took me from my hometown of Derby to some of the greatest venues in the world. I can count on one hand the musicians that have inspired me to become a professional, and Jess is one of them. His voice just spoke to me above so many others, from the first time as a 14 year old, holidaying with friends in Bournemouth and discovering the ‘Bumpers’ compilation in a second hand shop. The current generation perhaps cannot understand the pleasure of bringing home a prize such as this: a gatefold-sleeved double LP feast – a cornucopia of diverse artists on the forward-thinking Island label. I immersed myself in it. Bronco’s ‘Love’, written by Jess quickly becoming a firm favourite. He seemed to dip off my radar for a while then, until a friend turned up on my doorstep with a new LP. “Look how COOL this is!” he exclaimed, producing it with a flourish. Cool indeed it was, it looked like a vintage Fender amp, the illusion continued on the back, where you could see the speakers. Closer inspection revealed the amp logo not to be Fender, but rather ‘Butts Band’.
Always blessed with a forensic nature where music was concerned I was delighted discover this album featured Jess and a fair old proportion of The Doors. That album became one of the soundtracks of my life, and I followed Jess’s career diligently from then on.
Let’s dolly back, fade to black and cut to many years later. I have relocated to Spain and I’m surfin’ the internet as us 50 somethings are prone to do in an attempt to remain ‘with it’, whatever ‘it’ is. I’m searching for info on one Mr. Roden. Except there really isn’t any. This completely baffled me. I mean, you can find anything on the internet, can’t you? I’d already been managing a fairly widespread online presence myself, both alone and via the bands I work with, and I had an idea. I began a series on a specially created blog called ‘Unsung Heroes’, as a means of highlighting artists that I considered worthy of attention and not having received the recognition they deserved. Jess was Number One. I just threw it out there, on the cyber winds…and something magical happened. It was as though I’d wandered down a virtual highway singing ‘Sweet Danger’, and from every corner, every nook and cranny, people poked their heads out and smiled in recognition. One by one, the comments from strangers the world over flooded in, overwhelmingly stating ‘YES!- HE was the man – I thought I was the only one who ‘got’ him!’ – I was staggered at the outpouring of love for Jess’s music. It was heartwarming to find so many people who felt as I did, true appreciation for an artist who emerged from a time when music mattered – and to these people, it matters still. Their enthusiasm, their dynamism powered the engine. We were rolling, and a certain Mr. Neil Storey heard the rumblings, as did Jess’s brother, and soon, there was talk…there were dreams…and it began to unfold. We had a singer, we had an audience, and we had a curator. Someone who cared about this stuff, who was close to this stuff, and was prepared to work to make something happen against all the odds.
It’s almost impossible to conceive, if you’re not in the music business, the enormity of the task that lay ahead for Neil and Jess. Thousands of hours of tapes to be found, never mind listened to, deteriorating, mislabeled. A task that would have put off many a chap. But, as those of you who now hold The Jess Roden Anthology in your hand are now aware, Neil Storey is no ordinary chap. He cares about the music. Simple as that. I doubt very much there are too many of his ilk left in the industry today, more’s the pity. One of the joys for me is the pieces of pure gold that have been unearthed in the course of compiling the anthology. I can tell you know, I feel a huge amount of pride for having played a small part in helping these songs see the light of day. I would go so far as to say it is one of the things in my musical life of which I am the most proud.
I have begun listening to the Anthology today. I received it on Monday. “Why wait?” you may ask. I needed to give it the time it deserved. I will not allow my first listen of this incredible achievement assume the role of wallpaper while I do something else. It requires, no, demands, my full attention. What struck me immediately is how exactly right Jess was to insist that they not succumb to modernity, simply because they could. As I faded back in time with The Alan Bown recordings, they weren’t so much ‘now’ as opposed to ‘then’, beautifully mastered, as crisp and vibrant as the day they were created. Thereafter, I am in a time tunnel through the 60′s , 70′s and beyond, with Jess’s voice as my guide, as he effortlessly wraps his voice around each era, his take on the times. Sometimes, I’m smiling with familiarity, sometimes delighted when one of those unheard gems I’ve spoken about pops up…Joys & Fears, and Song 3….was ever a title so understated? It’s an oft used phrase, but Song 3 actually moves me.
As I move through Discs 2 & 3, I re-appraise the Jess Roden Band. No backing band this, an integral, living breathing funkin’ thing, at one with the Voice. Damn! they was funky! I saw them live in Derby in the 70′s. That’s real live music, and I mourn its loss. But here, they jump right out of the speakers and reclaim their crown, one of the very best British band son the live circuit. Not many could live with them. As I listen to ‘Raise your Head’ they are pushing Jess – his vocal responding to them, the perfect foil, exactly what a band should be.
It’s not just the unheard tracks that are a delight in this collection. Many of the familiar songs are presented on CD for the first time, and getting the treatment they deserve. The Bronco material for instance, sounds beautiful and crystal clear, compared to the ‘double CD’ that’s out there.
As a bass player as well as a singer, I really need to throw a spotlight on the simply wonderful playing of John Cartwright – a delight to these ears, listen to the effortless switching back and forth between fluid, funky lines and consummate wah-wah bass on “What took so long?” – just divine! I can’t pretend to be as acquainted with Trombone as I am with the bass, but by God, Chris Gower knows one end of it from the other. His fluid, soulful playing is a huge JRB trademark.
Ray Charles’ “Black Jack” is another fabulous surprise. The number of white English vocalists who can deliver this song so soulfully must be very few and far between indeed. You can’t learn this sort of thing. It is innate, part of Jess Roden’s DNA. Just when you think that’s polished disc 4 off nicely, you’re blown away by a sublime version of “Blowin’”, right out of a Gospel left field, Jess’s voice accompanied by a beautiful piano courtesy of Billy Livesey. Phew.
Songs from The Rivits and the hugely underrated Seven Windows project which surely deserved to be in as many homes as Windows 7, lead us into Disc 4, and there are some lovely moments, including a brace of songs with superlative B.V.’s from Jaki Whitren. Then, after the familiar yet beautifully arranged “Misty Roses” – another undiscovered gem, the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Vital Sign” , with Jess on synthesiser and Peter Wood on synth and Piano.
As I gaze out of the window over the Sierra Cabrera, I notice the sun is going down now as “Bird of Harlem” glides out of the speakers and seems to blend beautifully with the early evening light. It’s time to put away this box of treasures until tomorrow. So much more to discover. This is a very, very special collection indeed.
I’d visited Dublin before – some fifteen years ago, if memory serves. I was there in a professional capacity, fronting the embryonic Oliver/Dawson Saxon, hot on the heels of their release “Victim You”, under their original name of Son of a Bitch. We were playing at the Temple Bar Music Centre, right in the middle of the district of the same name name. The gig was amazing I remember, and as we left through the stage door at the end of the night, I recall seeing people hanging over balconies, spilling out onto the street from bars, just having a great time. But we were not long there, and couldn’t spend a long time in the city, as we had to head across country to play Galway Bay.
Cut to last week, and my visit to Ireland’s capital is much more leisurely. This time, I intended to visit the grave of one of my major musical influences: Philip Lynott. I needed to pay my respects to a man who was such a hero to me as I was growing up and discovering I wanted to be a musician, moreover, that I wanted to be a bass player/lead singer like him. I ‘met’ him….very briefly, as the embryonic twin guitar line up of Thin Lizzy were relaxing in the refectory of Derby College, back in the 70′s about to promote the ‘Nightlife’ album. ‘Met’ constituted a mumbled ‘hi’ from a tongue-tied awkward teenager, and a nod from the man himself, but it was good enough for me.
We found his grave on the promontory East of Dublin known as Howth. A strange sense of a circle being closed came upon me. Phil was one of a triumvirate of bassist/singers who had a profound impact on me becoming a professional musician. In the 90′s, I had the chance to impersonate him on the UK TV show ‘Stars in their Eyes’ , and some weeks later, I met Eric Bell, Lizzy’s original guitarist, who confided in me that he’d seen the show:
In the intervening years, I’ve travelled the world, played on some of the biggest stages, and now I found myself on this windy promontory kneeling at the graveside of one of the men who most certainly set me on the path I tread to this day. As I write this, his bassline to ‘I’m gonna creep up on you’ is pulsing out of my speakers, as alive as can be….and I realize that his music is his heartbeat, and that will never be stilled.
While we stood by the grave, Miki asked if I wanted to leave a drawing, and promptly produced her drawing pad and pen. I left this little sketch on his gravestone. It’s said that his Mother, Philomena, visits everyday. I hope she finds it:
A rather unusual string I seem to have inadvertently added to my bow is that of appearing on a talk circuit. I’ve recently begun giving a series of impromptu lectures about my career in general, and some parts of it specifically, the latest being the story of my album ‘Blue Odyssey’ – the songs and the journey that inspired it. I usually perform one of the songs from it acoustically too. It’s quite fun to be able to waffle on to a group of (usually ladies) who are interested in the life of a musician, and who usually know very little about it beforehand. It’s also become a surprising and successful outlet for selling my albums. It’s something I’m looking to do more of in the future, and to that end, I’m collating my diaries from my time in America with a view to eventually producing a companion book. Certainly, in this day and age, diversity is the key to gaining, and keeping, an audience. Long may it continue! Today, I’ve just returned form giving one such talk to the Tuesday Ladies Club (TLC-geddit?!) on nearby Mojacar Playa, a lovely experience beneath blue skies and sunshine by the sea…nice work if you can get it!
You can order the album online at SHOPKEV
Sometimes, I do really daft stuff. This is one of those times. A few years back I threw together a few eggs, and made an omelette of a video of ineggscrable puns, all to the tune of Irving Berlin’s ‘Easter parade’ on Electric guitar. Seemed like a good idea at the time! So, here it is again!