Matlock, and its surrounding area, including Darley Dale and Matlock bath, in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District is somewhere dear to my heart and inextricably linked with both my Mum’s and Dad’s side of the family, all of them hailing from there. The Grand Pavilion, a Georgian building that stands imperiously by the river side deep in the gorge where Matlock Bath sits, has long been a focal point for entertainment. In the post-war years, my Dad well remembers attending concerts and watching Dance bands there. In the 1980’s, I performed there myself with my band Tubeless Hearts.
So it really piqued my interest when my Dad mentioned that it had been at considerable risk of demolition in recent years, and was now in the hands of a trust committed to saving this historic building. I’d been canvassing around to fill out dates for my visit from Spain in June, when, with our new project Straight Shooters, we’ll be making a special appearance at the Quad in Derby, and also in Burton -on-Trent, but more about those shows in another post.
After connecting with Andie Brazewell at The Pavilion, we now have a date in place for Straight Shooters – Friday June 6th – we’re hoping everyone will come along and support the event – priced at just £5 a ticket, and help fund the restoration of this beautiful venue.
You’ll be in for a night of classic British 70’s rock, courtesy of the music of Free and Bad Company!
I was recently invited to perform at the opening of a Museum exhibition. Now, having been in the Music business professionally for nearly 35 years, this might be something I could take offence at! But, this is no ordinary exhibition. It is The Rams Collection. Curated by Andy Ellis, author of several Derby County books and a lifelong Rams fan, it is an extraordinary hoard of Derby County Football Club memorabilia that reaches back into the 19th. Century and takes your breath away, particularly, if, like me, you have supported The Rams all your life. Collections like this are fascinating. It is not always the ‘grand pieces’ that draw the gasps, it can be the discarded golden goal ticket, one of so many thousands that lay strewn across the terraces following a match. It evokes a memory, a passion from the past, perhaps something that provokes conversation between Father and Son, as the younger generation finally gain an insight into what it was like to support the club in yesteryear. During discussions about this exhibition which I sat in on with Andy and Peter Bonnell, Curator of The Quad, I saw some amazing stuff! -But i won’t spoil the surprise, come along to opening night and see for yourselves!
It was C. V. Wedgwood who said: ‘Without passion there might be no errors, but without passion there would certainly be no history‘. – Well, there’s no passion like that of a football fan, and DCFC’s history will be on display at The QUAD, Derby for all to see for 3 months during the summer. I’ll be taking a small band to open the exhibition performing tracks from my DCFC CD “Fan Fayre for the Commons People” live for the first time, comprising Mike Koch my musical cohort from B.C.Sweet and Witch Cross on guitar, my lifelong mate Stef Cybichowski (After the Fire, and soon to be BCS!) on Drums and special guest Tom Leary (Lindisfarne/feast of Fiddles/Clem Clempson) on fiddle. Derby County Club Captain Shaun Barker will be doing a DJ set to follow.
For our part, while I’m over from Spain, we’re hoping to turn it into a fun little ‘micro-tour’. – On Saturday June 7th, Me, Mike and Stef under the name of ‘Straight Shooters’ will be performing an exclusive set of Bad Company and Free numbers at the Uxbridge Arms in nearby Burton -on – Trent, and we’re looking at a venue to host us on the Friday night too. to complete a hat-trick, if you will!
Last Thursday I set out for Alicante, spending the night in a nearby hotel in order to feel remotely human when I caught the 7.30am flight to Stansted, England. This however, was not my final destination, but any further headway would be denied to me until gone 5 o’clock that afternoon. Faced with a mind-numbing day in this most soul-destroying of airports, I had sought alternative possibilities, and given that Witch Cross had been invited to participate with a track for a new German release tribute album, I jumped on the train down to South London, where our guitarist Mike Koch has his studio. “I can give you two hours” I said, and we set to work laying down as much vocal as I could manage. Things went so smoothly, he even had time to make me a ham and cheese bagel, so, a good result there!
Speeding back to Stansted I cast off my cloak of metal and surrendered to the folk music demos that my old friend Steve Bonham had furnished me with. As I escaped the hubbub of the city for the countryside, greenery flashing by, it seemed that my environment was mirroring this musical transition. I’d lived with this collection of Steve’s songs for a week or so, and had spent time in my studio firstly playing along, then expanding and weaving my own bass ideas around the well-crafted songs and lyrics. The last time Steve and I had collaborated musically seemed like, and in fact was, a lifetime ago. There was still an Iron Curtain, a Yugoslavia, and a Shah of Iran. The Beatles were all alive, and perhaps even more scarily, had only broken up a mere 3 years or so previously. We were young lads, stumbling over our instruments in the confines of our various parents’ garages, and it was a lot of fun. We didn’t play by the rules, because we didn’t have the slightest idea what they were. As I think I’ve mentioned before, it is a source of immense pride to me that our little village and surrounding environs on the outskirts of Derby has produced so many musicians and songwriters. Adrian Foster and I went on to perform in 80’s band Tubeless Hearts, and we still play together in ‘Yellow River’ hitmakers Christie to this day. Steve, and another couple of friends from those days, Tim Gadsby and Paul Bunting, went down the Folk route, culminating in a successful band with a number of album releases under their belt – Firkin the Fox. Enlisting the services of Fairport Convention/Jethro Tull stalwart Dave Pegg to their cause certainly did them no harm at all, and boosted their credentials. Steve and I may generally follow different musical paths, but scratch the surface and the similarities are surprising. there is a mutually deep respect for the written word, the importance of a lyric, the unwavering conviction that the ‘story is king’. It’s something I like a lot in Steve’s lyrics. They evoke emotion, create imagery, as all good songwriters strive to do. It was a deep pleasure to be asked to perform on this collection of songs, closing a musical circle that’s been left open for some forty-odd years.
As the plane came into land at the fantastically remote Knock airport, I surrendered to the moment, and embraced this land of myths and legends, of tall tales and romantic visions, of relentless green and rushing rivers. From the moment ‘Matt the Taxi’ greeted me, I was among friends, some old, some new.
Mountain View studios awaited…but not before a meal in Ryan’s Hotel on the Friday night, when we ate, drank and were indeed merry!
So good to see dear Tim Gadsby again, who had generously lent me his basses for the session. Robbed of his ability to play the bass as he did so well due to the effects of Ataxia, I was honoured to have him by my side casting a watchful eye over proceedings as I laid my parts down. More than anything, I needed him to be satisfied with what I’d done.
I connected wonderfully with Tom Leary, a superb guitarist and fiddle player, who tours with the likes of Lindisfarne and Clem Clempson. We swapped stories, songs and generally had a great time. I was stunned by the talents of Pat Coyne, who, in between making sure everything was recorded correctly, would randomly pick up a banjo or guitar and play like he was hard-wired to heaven. Similar moments that had me scraping my jaw off the floor were the arrivals of Stephen Doherty….a likeable lad who wandered in and played the flute with such feeling and grace that I began to believe in the supernatural.
This train of thought was further strengthened when Jimmy Higgins arrived and raced through his percussive bag of tricks, layering a Celtic groove rich with the sounds of brushes, snare, bodhran and shakers that alternately caressed and drove the songs in equal measure. To say he was ‘on the money’ would be an understatement.
The atmosphere in the sessions was relaxed, though workmanlike, as there was a lot of stuff to get through, not least of which a new song that Steve dropped on us upon arrival! Chris Lydon, a.k.a. ‘The Bishop’ provided a steady hand along with Pat marshalling the sessions to maximum effect and getting the very best out of everyone for the good of each composition.
On the Sunday morning, I stole a moment after breakfast to explore the village of Cong, where Mountain view studios is situated. Despite a grey veil of drizzle and the intent of the lakes and rivers to take over the roads, I found it a charming place, boasting a beautiful old Chapel, and a myriad of brightly coloured cottages that seemed to be only outnumbered by the local hostelries! There was a statue near the church, of a smiling man holding a laughing woman in his arms.
The face seemed familiar, as did the name of one of the pubs I had just passed – ‘The Quiet Man’. The penny dropped. The statue was none other than John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, who had starred in the film of that name, which was filmed in this very village. Matt the Taxi told me, as he drove me back to the airport after three wonderful days, that he’d had a call some years ago, enquiring if it would be possible to book a room at his Bed & Breakfast for a lady. He’d asked the name as he took the booking and, upon hearing it, refrained from making any humorous comment, which turned out to be a wise decision, because the lady in question turned out to be Maureen O’ Hara herself, revisiting the site of what she refers to as “….my personal favourite of all the pictures I have made. It is the one I am most proud of…”
Matt himself was most impressed that she would want to stay in a B&B , and not one of the fancy hotels nearby, and indeed he describes her as a lovely down-to-earth lady. As I write she is still with us, aged 93, and I wish her good health. I understand why she would want to come back here. I do.
Last weekend saw another jaunt Northwards and an appearance at The Diamond in Sutton-in-Ashfield for Bootleg Counterfeit Sweet. The Diamond is an unassuming venue, yet one steeped in music history, some of the great rock bands of the last few decades have trodden its well-worn boards. We rattled off the Sweet canon in fine style, energized by our fans, some of whom had travelled from as far afield as Jersey for the gig. The people who put this kind of commitment, effort and expenditure into supporting what we do are the lifeblood of any band, and we salute them!
Playing a venue so close to my hometown also gave me a chance to catch up with family too, so that was cool.
2014 will see B.C.Sweet step up its on the road activities – see you further on up the road!
Just back from a whirlwind visit to the UK to play with B.C. (Bootleg Counterfeit) Sweet. It’s always a blast playing with the guys, and a privilege to play the amazing Chinn/Chapman catalogue that propelled The Sweet to stardom. Our band has a long and chequered, and frankly troubled history, formed out of the ashes of the late Brian Connolly’s Sweet, continuing for a decade or more as B.C. Sweet with ongoing member changes until we were forced to change the name somewhat due to various external pressures. Well, from my perspective, it doesn’t matter what it says on the tin, this band kicks major ass, and you won’t hear a more in-your-face rendition of the Sweet catalogue.
The crowd at the annual Yesterday Once More festival at Brean were phenomenal as usual, wonderfully appreciative and a pleasure to play for.
Expect to hear more from us in 2014!
As Mother’s Finest’s kick-starter campaign to enlist their fanbase in being a part of their first new album for 10 years heads into its final week, I thought it a good opportunity to tale a look back at their 2003 release ‘Meta-Funk’n-Physical’..
I remember the first time I listened to this track. I was anxious to get it home and put it on the player. ‘Funk-a-Wild‘ promises much and delivers even more. An insidious synth sequence starts a stealth-like groove, lulling you into a false sense of security before the riff hits you, dripping with the funk, the staccato bass…Baby Jean’s wonderfully provocative lyrics draw you in and suddenly you’re into the killer chorus. Your head’s banging, your foot’s tapping, and you’re still only on track one. Oh yeah, this is gonna get Meta-funk’n physical!
On ‘Bring it’ Mother’s Finest display their innate ability to throw damn near everything in the cooking pot and make it taste good….rapping over Moses Mo’s almost eastern trippy guitar lines, Glenn Murdock and Joyce Kennedy lead us into a growling hard rock chorus, and it all fits like a glove.
I involuntarily break into a smile when I hear Wyzzard’s wicked popping bass syncopated with Moses’ sledgehammer chops underpinning Baby Jean’s chorus on ‘I Believe’. These guys make the groove sound effortless…and in reality it is. Because you cannot learn the groove. You got it, or you ain’t. And Mother’s Finest OWN the groove.
The rest of the album is just as eclectic – beautifully performed ballads such as ‘Don’t take your love’, the quirky funk of ‘What happens when we die?’ and the inspired guest-laden take of Hendrix’s ‘If 6 were 9’.
‘Flat on my back’ drifts lazily into the detuned stomp of ‘The N-Groove’ a 21st century re-boot of their very own back catalogue, reinventing ‘Like a Negro’ and ‘Niggiz cant sang Rock’n’Roll’.
The final two tracks on the album illustrate Mother’s Finest’s joyous schizophrenia perfectly. ‘Set me Free’, a beautifully rendered classic ballad showcasing Joyce Kennedy’s excellent vocal, followed by ‘Hard time’, a soliloquy that she delivers in spoken word over a slick syncopated groove, dropping in and out of gospel influenced chorus with ease, then punching you in the face with a full-on rock guitar solo. They do that a lot, Mother’s Finest. They Surprise you. Because they can.
Donate to their Kickstarter campaign. I have, because, 10 years on, I wanna get surprised all over again.
To Donate, Click on the Image below:
Hot on the heels of the Cazorla Blues Festival comes the San Javier Jazz festival. The name is somewhat redundant, as Uriah Heep are appearing this year, and if they’re jazz then I’m a teapot. but, be that as it may, at least the festival, strung out over an entire month and situated in a town only a couple of hours away from where we live, affords the possibility of seeing world-class talent under the Spanish sun.
The night we picked featured Bettye LaVette, a singer who’d only come to my attention via Jools Holland’s BBC2 show ‘Later’, and who’d greatly impressed. As Bettye herself said on the night, “It’s only taken me 50 years to become an overnight success..” Approaching 70, she’s had a long, hard career in the music business, starting with her debut single in 1962: “My man- he’s a lovin’ man”. Raised in Detroit, she flirted with fame over the years. A brief stint with James Brown, a stage musical with Cab Calloway…but for the most part Bettye languished in obscurity.
It was the interest of Gilles Petard, a French soul music collector, that began to shine a light on Bettye, after he sought out and acquired the rights to her unreleased Child of the Seventies masters, having been played the mono recordings by Bettye herself. It was finally released, decades after its creation, as Souvenirs in 2000.
But it was LaVette’s appearance at the Kennedy Centre Honors, where The Who were honorees, that really gave Bettye’s career the necessary momentum. An amazing performance of Love reign o’er me had the Kennedy centre audience, most unaware of Lavette at that point, on their feet, and Townsend and Daltrey moved to tears. Just check it out:
It highlighted her ability to turn a song inside out, de-construct it, and make it her own. This led to The British Rock Songbook, a wonderful collection of British rock classics that Bettye performs as if her life depends on it.
Bettye at San Javier Jazz – Photo by Rafe Marquez
Seeing her live was a privilege. Her band, tight and funky, and able to draw subtle nuances out of every arrangement were a perfect complement to her rich raw vocals. Opening with Lennon and McCartney’s ‘The Word‘ she simply stole the show. ‘Love reign o’er me’ sent shivers down my spine, and when she announced a Neil Young cover “Heart of Gold” with the tongue-in cheek statement “but I sing it better”, you damn well believed her before she’d even sang a note.
I met and chatted with her bassist, James Simonson after the show, a real nice guy, who was still buzzing about meeting Marcus Miller at the North Sea Jazz fest just days ago. We got into ‘bassist’ talk for a while. I asked him to pass on my compliments to Bettye and the band, and I bought The British Rock Songbook that very night. Bettye’s message, throughout her long career is an unspoken, yet potent one: If you’re good, believe in it, and don’t give up. ever. As she approaches 70, Bettye LaVette’s got a helluva lot more to give.
Shuggie Otis. I knew the name, but was fairly unacquainted with his music. However, a quick rummage through my record collection revealed that I owned “Strawberry letter 23” by The Brothers Johnson on their greatest hits CD. This was a Shuggie-penned tune, and this recording of it gave Shuggie his big break. Just listening to it, you can hear how he was to become a huge influence on the likes of Prince and Lenny Kravitz. It’s a great piece of pop-funk-psychedelia. I awaited his performance with interest. With a 9 piece band, the arrangements were superb, and the musicianship absolutely top-notch. Shuggie’s fluid guitar playing, especially when he played the blues was also pretty impressive. But…..
….the guy was on another planet. I don’t know what he’d been smoking, but the end result was that it seemed like he just couldn’t be bothered to reach the notes when he was singing (or finish sentences when he was talking) in contrast to Bettye, who, although not speaking Spanish spoke slowly and clearly to the audience. Shuggie was a disaster. I was willing him to sing properly. Every now and again he would seem to remember where he was and a couple of lines would suddenly leap out clear and powerful, then just lapse away again. When they played ‘Wings of Love’, a fine song with a fantastic arrangement, beautifully performed, his voice just destroyed it. He also looked like he couldn’t get away fast enough, and his son and brother who were band members sort of hung around on stage to try and get everybody to ask for an encore, which he eventually gave. These people paid to see you man. You are an undeniable talent. Stay focused, and make the effort.