Cult Classics Album Breakdown 28

Van Morrison – Moondance (1970)

In unusual fashion for a largely positive review, I’m going to begin by bashing the artist involved.

Van Morrison is one selfish mother-fucker.

There you go. Now I’ve got you wondering, haven’t I? Well, let me take you back to 1999. I was sixteen years old, heavily into music, and about to venture into booking my first ever gig. There was an advert in my local paper claiming that Van Morrison was coming to town – the genius Irish songwriter who had penned the likes of Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, and Gloria. I called my friend Sarah, we agreed to go, and I booked the tickets. He came on stage for forty minutes, played none of the above – in fact, played only one recognisable song in the whole gig (Have I Told You Lately That I Love You) – and strutted off without returning for an encore.

At the time, of course, I had no idea that this was unusual practice. Only later did I realise how arrogant, selfish and impersonal this had been. The highlight of the gig had, in fact, been the support act, Lonnie Donnegan, who, with hindsight, blew Van off the stage. He was brilliant, and I got to meet him afterwards – he even signed an album for me. I had no idea at the time how important in the whole scheme of things this man was. A night of no ideas (LOL)! An inspiration for The Beatles, even. He put a smile on my face did Lonnie that night though – that’s how I remember him.

So, wind the clock forward a few years. 2002 to be precise. I decided to give Van Morrison another chance – the venue: Sheffield City Hall. Yet again a horrendously selfish set of obscure stuff that very few in the audience knew or wanted to know. They were looking round in bemusement, like mere-cats. For the first half an hour he hung in the shadows playing saxophone instrumentals. Nobody was there to see that. And, yet again, he kept his hits under lock and key.

The man plays what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants with no consideration for his fans. The man is very self-centered, and has little if no consideration for the audience. You wouldn’t pay for a ticket to watch a dog and feel thrilled when the cat walks on. “Will you shut the fuck up and listen?” Van Morrison famously asked a crowd of over-excited teenyboppers gathered at L.A’s Whisky A Go Go in February 1969. They didn’t respond – just kept on talking. Maybe he’s never recovered from that.

It was essential I got that off my chest. The anecdotes are done for now. Onto the album. There’s better news coming.

Van Morrison is an awesome talent, there’s no questioning that. That’s demonstrated in no better form than his third solo album, and subsequent Grammy Hall Of Fame inductee, Moondance. Astral Weeks, the prequel to Moondance, is often cited as Morrison’s masterpiece. I’ve bought and returned that album three times in an attempt to see what the fuss is all about. In my opinion it doesn’t touch Moondance – an absolute triumph from beginning to end.

And It Stoned Me – the singer’s true recollection of an afternoon in his childhood – is a heartfelt, rural epic. The beginning of Van’s new direction, where his songs were informed by dreams and visions. The title track, Moondance, is one of those timeless jazz intros that never ever gets even a millimetre less thrilling, even on listen ten-thousand. With inspired lyrics, it has become one of the most recognisable brain-worms ever written: “Well it’s a marvellous night for a moondance / With the stars up above in your eyes / A fantabulous night to make romance / ‘Neath the cover of October skies.” Majestic.

Crazy Love, the album highlight, is a sensual, intimate love song that bleeds soul and warmth. Some sort of divine inspiration is surely needed to write a song like this – and it simply can’t be imitated. It’s a command of one’s craft that I don’t think Van has ever topped. Caravan marks the beginning of Morrison’s fascination with Gypsies – a theme that still runs through his work today. The caravan may be “painted red & white“, but the song is painted with the authenticity of Morrison’s spirit.

The ethereal Into The Mystic is the sort of songwriting that operates within new dimensions – musically and lyrically. This is not Brown Eyed Girl territory. It’s far superior, deeper, vast, beautiful. The same beauty filters into the eternal happiness of Come Running, and These Dreams Of You is a Dylan-esque wander through the random thoughts and feelings of a slightly troubled, often melancholy, brilliant mind.

Brand New Day is a gallant, optimistic song, and Everyone a message of hope in a time of unrest (1969 had seen civil war break out in Belfast). Van is absolutely magnetic on this record, and I simply couldn’t imagine life without it on my shelf. Throughout the record his vocal is impeccable, and the horn-soaked Glad Tidings, another tune infused with love and optimism, wraps up one of the most unlikely and strangely uplifting albums you may ever hear. For such a miserable bastard to write such stuff is remarkable. A very soothing record in times of trouble or pain

I’ll never forget Andy Fairweather-Low, during his own magnificent gig in Southport a few years back, running through tunes from the list of artist that he had worked with down the years. I’m talking the likes of Clapton, George Harrison, Roger Waters – when he got to Van, he said:” the less said about him the better.” It tickled me because I just knew. Regardless of the man, Moondance is outstanding, and merits all the plaudits it has accrued over the last 50+ years, and I’m happy to say that we’ve buried the hatchet. I saw him live for a third time a couple of years ago at a jazz festival in Ghent, Belgium, where he finally got the hits out. Any you know what? He seemed happy…so I left happy too.

Thanks for the music, Van.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Moondance

Crazy Love

Into The Mystic


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 26

The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997)

When you’re short of a record that you know everybody will like, Urban Hymns is always a great choice – triumphant and upstanding in any company, and spanning a wealth of musical genres.

This now legendary record is a landmark in 90’s popular culture, and in my opinion, shits all over anything Oasis ever did. A genuine British masterpiece. Bitter Sweet Symphony – to this day The Verve’s most successful single – was a seminal release in British music history. Fusing classical chamber music with contemporary indie-rock is no mean feat. Performed by the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, and written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the score to this track stood untouched for years before Richard Ashcroft got his creative mitts on it and wrote a lyric. The finished product is definitely a contender for single of the 90’s.

If that wasn’t enough of a revolutionary opening, the album rolls into Sonnet, another of the four big singles off Urban Hymns, and one of the outstanding examples of Ashcroft’s urban songwriting. It’s also extremely difficult to get melancholy to soar; though Ashcroft seems to find it easy. The Rolling People is Zeppy in its eye-closing heaviness and oblique escapism, perhaps with a splash of U2’s Achtung Baby era. “I just can’t make it alone” sums up the core of the record. And, if U2 meets Zep isn’t enough of a mesh-comparison to wet the lips, I suggest you take up crown green bowls. 

The Drugs Don’t Work is a necessary sombre; utterly sincere and affected from former junkie, Ashcroft. An endearing message to younger people about the perils of addiction. The mass of fans who flocked to buy Urban Hymns (over eight million in the UK alone) were people with kids and problems and real-life worries – these very human songs rang a huge collective bell. It’s the relate-ability of Ashcroft’s craft that makes this so compelling and accessible. Four songs in and you know you’ve definitely got a serious record on your hands.

Catching The Butterfly is, again, reminiscent of the industrial sounds used on U2’s Achtung Baby, and Neon Wilderness an immersing, spacial jam written by guitarist Nick McCabe. Ashcroft was quoted in the early 90’s saying ‘history has a place for us. It may take three albums but we will be there’ – turns out he wasn’t far off the mark. These songs are now fabled – take Space And Time for example – an atmospheric, wistful ballad that marked the hangover of Britpop. Just superb, as one might say on a Sunday afternoon nursing a pint. Suberb.

Weeping Willow is deeply and emotive. Comparisons have been drawn to Radiohead here, and why not. It’s a  groove that leads brilliantly into the album highlight, Lucky Man. I was fifteen years old when I became obsessed with this amazing single. I vividly remember being immersed in some History coursework on Native Americans when I first heard it, and it quite simply opened up another dimension in my mind. That intro is just mesmeric. And so very, very simple. A magical achievement, both from a songwriting and recording perspective. I’ve performed this song myself hundreds, if not thousands of times for live audiences, and it never fails to be one of the best received of all live tracks – simply because of its stature. A song that defined an era, not just in my own life, but the lives of many. A song that, long after The Verve are forgotten, will still be an enduring part of the woodwork. And let’s face it, how many amongst us can consider themselves a lucky man?

Just when you’re wondering where this record can possibly go after that audible hurricanethis band pull out another piece of musical treasure. One Day, a sublime, experimental ballad shows the delicacy and poetics involved in Ashcroft’s craft: “One day baby we will dance again under fiery skies/One day maybe you will love again, love that never dies.” Immense depth of feeling from such a young musician, and justification for their often touted Space Rock / Shoegaze hybrid label.

Ashcroft’s memorable and everlasting tunesmithery bleeds and swoons and crashes and howls. Urban Hymns has far outlived the band, and many of its contemporaries. It’s also worth mentioning that the rest of the band need equal affirmation since Ashcroft often swamps the limelight: Simon Jones (bass), Peter Salisbury (drums), Nick McCabe (lead guitar), and Simon Tong (guitar/keyboards). I hope that Urban Hymns sits snugly on every music lovers’ shelf, and is dusted off occasionally as a reminder that there was something worth caring about in the 1990’s.

It was, of course, Liam that snarled: “Is it my imagination or have we finally found something worth living for?” The answer, back in 1997, was yes: Urban Hymns.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Roger Sargent / Shutterstock

Top track trio:

Lucky Man

One Day

Velvet Morning


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 25

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

Radiohead, as a concept, is a tectonic plate – constantly shifting, constantly tense, constantly threatening to explode. They are so far out on the edge, still, after all these years, that they’re gripping our reality by a thread. I’ve learned to love that about them.

every time they bring out a new record you literally have no idea what to expect. You’ve got AC/DC, who write the same song over and over again (brilliantly, I might add), and at the other end of the spectrum there’s Radiohead, who you wouldn’t waste a single pound on by making a prediction. They almost intuitively reject their last project in the next one – distance themselves, you could say, like an ex-lover. i’ll never forget the first time I slipped A Moon Shaped Pool into the CD player and heard Burn The Witch. My God. In fact, I think that’s pretty much all I could come up with. It was weeks later, after multiple listens, that I realised how weighty and epochal and downright bloody great it was.

The once slightly weird and maybe even unhinged 90’s indie band aren’t young men anymore. And I’d encourage you to ignore that rather laborious description I’ve just presented of this band since they are so much more than that, and then some. They are the Pink Floyd of their own generation, in fact. Massive statement, I know. I’m not making direct comparisons – just analysing the gravitas of this music and their body of work. Thom Yorke is the paranoid android come to fill our alternative ears with joy. And on this record, Radiohead’s ninth studio outing, he, along with other founder members Colin Greenwood, Jonny greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Phil Segway, certainly do that.

Good luck trying to decode the likes of Decks Dark and Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief, but if you’ve got a decent pair of headphones, the swell of ambience pouring into the ears is majestic regardless. I love Desert Island Disk; a moody, art-rock masterpiece that hides much more than it dares to show. Ful Stop is surely a snippet of futurism – neurotic and slippery – it’s almost incomprehensible when wondering how you’d write something like that. Dazzling, and almost pretty, which would possibly make a Radiohead purist puke. Sorry.

Of course, a Radiohead record wouldn’t be complete without some sort of monstrous foreboding or suffocating gloom – and neither would we want it to be. Identikit is an unsettling lyric that employs the influence of classical chamber music. It leaves you wondering if Thom is a closet bubbly bloke or as melancholy as some of his music is. Most. In a good way. This is a band still travelling without moving, and long may they feel the itch if they keep making records like this.

The Numbers is shit-hot, groovy, borrowing-from-early-70’s dimly lit cult Funk and Soul curvature. I’ve read that back, but I’m not changing it. Listen to bass and tell me you’re not enchanted. And so we have a record here that is Art-Rock at its finest. Some mistake Art-Rock for pretentiousness, but I prefer to consider it imagination. This is a band that seem to be as imaginative as ever thirty years into their career, so don’t expect hit singles any time soon.

The charts, are you listening? MEOW.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Burn The Witch

Desert Island Disk

The Numbers


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 23

Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)

Let us all, for just ten minutes, try to forget what our old friend Ozzy Osborne has become. Let us try to forget that this Hard-Rock music pioneer and cult legend has reduced himself to a reality-TV cartoon character complaining about poodle-poo. Yeah, it’s funny – but it’s not Rock’n’Roll. I couldn’t see the cameras in Robert Plant’s house divulging all his day-today secrets.

Let us forget that Ozzy has shit all over his own career so badly that records such as the one in question, Paranoid, is barely even associated with his past. The kids know Ozzy, for sure – but not for the great music he contributed to back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. What a terrible shame. I want to hark back to a time when Ozzy’s band Black Sabbath were right out on the edge, writing and recording serious and revolutionary Rock music with depth and meaning. In order to do that you have to get your Living With The Osbornes DVD’s series and find the bin, and re-ignite the record player. Paranoid, after all, became the only Black Sabbath album to top the British charts for the next four decades – that’s where Ozzy’s legend lies.

1970 was the year Black Sabbath released Paranoid, their second studio album, during a year of great political and social unrest. It is, to this day, Black Sabbath’s classic album. As I have explained before, I’m not adverse to any genre of music as long as it connects with me in some way. Early Sabbath stuff such as this record is deemed to be heavy – whether that be Metal or Rock, although I would dispute that somewhat. To me this record is an exercise in great guitar playing and great songwriting, not just a thrashing blur of sound. The fact that they recorded the song Paranoid in a 20 minutes – the fulfilment of a legal obligation – is astonishing.

The record opens with the politically fuelled War Pigs – a fantastic, doom-laden rant about those in positions of power. Ok, so we know that Ozzy isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so we’ll forgive him for his opening rhyming couplet: “Generals gather in their masses/Just like witches at black masses.” The record was initially to be called War Pigs until the record company stepped in; would the themes have been understood more had it been that way? Maybe. The critics initially panned Sabbath, with one notable magazine in the US calling them the “worst band in the world.” Not sure what prompted that – they weren’t listening to the same record as me.

Planet Caravan, the album’s highlight, is a dreamy experimental jam with Ozzy’s voice routed through a whirling Leslie speaker. It delivers images of romantic escapism and some sort of apocalyptic foreboding. It could be off a Doves record – it’s still that fresh. My favourite Black Sabbath moment ever, it must be said. Iron Man, the second single off the album, is thumping Sabbath and surely the birth of Metal. Intense, unstoppable, ageless and devastatingly dark.

Electric Funeral is built around a searing, distorted guitar riff as Ozzy gets crushingly sinister; it’s wonderfully, weirdly dark. Hand Of Doom is another bluesy, bass-led groove from Geezer Butler that builds up into a thrilling crescendo. Inspired by the drug-ravaged horror stories of US soldiers returning from the Vietnam war, it’s nightmarish and compelling in equal measure. Rat Salad is a Led Zep-ish, lead guitar masterpiece. It’s songs like this that push guitarist Tony Iommi into the upper leagues of legendary guitar virtuosos. Fiery, spiralling riffage by a largely unsung guitar hero. As for the title – had Ozzy not been involved you’d dismiss it as fiction.

The record closes with the intense Fairies Wear Boots – another anthemic exercise in excellence from a taught-tight 3-piece musical backbone. It’s got something seriously sea-monster about this track, and the production pulverises the ears. “Smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do!” Ozzy boasts; his finest vocal performance on the record, and one that leaves you smirking whilst melting with the whole metal of it all. The fact that Ozzy is alive to tell the tale is beyond miraculous. He’d have been in a surefire group of rock’n’rollers almost certain NOT to get into their 70’s.

My roots are in the acoustic scene, and always have been. However, I’m so pleased that I got my hands on this record as a teen. It changed my entire perspective, and opened me up to an entire new world of music.

An absolute classic album, Paranoid has its heavy moments, but also wanders through melancholy Blues, Soft Rock, and in some parts even Jazz. But remember: it needs to be played LOUD.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Paranoid

Planet Caravan

Rat Salad


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 16

The Doors (1967)

For somebody with a Jim Morrison tattoo, it took me a surprisingly long time to get The Doors. But boy, when I got them, I really got them. They literally ended up under my skin.

The Doors, released in January 1967, was the debut album by the now-legendary American psychedelic-rock band, led by the zaney Lizard King and moonlight vocalist, Jim Morrison. Recorded in 1966 at Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, California, it was produced by Paul A. Rothchild, and has not only ended up in the Grammy Hall Of Fame, but also included in the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress based on its cultural, artistic and historical significance.

So, yes, it’s a big deal.

In fact, this is one of the great albums of the 1960’s. Although it was primarily only a hit in America, it is now a globally recognised classic. Jim Morrison has become a cult legend since his death in Paris in 1971, immortalising the music of The Doors further – particularly heavyweights off this album, such as the doom-laden The End, which seemed to foreshadow his untimely demise. Complete with Oedipal speaking section from a deranged sounding Morrison, and built upon a hypnotic guitar riff, it is both bewitching and disturbing. Of course, throw a bit of death and martyrdom into the mix and music often becomes sacred. Maybe that’s because we know, as fans, that the chapter is forever closed? Or maybe it’s because martyrdom is duly justified? It’s contentious, but it doesn’t alter the facts. The Doors, despite its success and wide-reaching appeal, is a cult masterpiece.

This magical debut record is special for many reasons. None more so, of course, than the spiralling fable that is Light My Fire. The extraordinary performance by Ray Manzarek on the Vox organ is the feature of this pioneering, somewhat unhinged temptation…I mean, you wouldn’t want your little sister sneaking off to light Morrison’s fire, would you? It swirls and leaps like a blue flame through a vortex of psychedelic sounds for over seven minutes.

Break On Through (To The Other Side) – the album’s thumping opening track – was the first single release by The Doors, and became one of their staple songs. It was controversial because of its drug references (“She gets high!“), but demonstrated Morrison’s instinctive ability to devise poetic lyrics. After all, Jim Morrison was a poet, and true rock’n’roll isn’t complete without that dangerous edge.

Back Door Man, a stomping cover of Willie Dixon’s original, is delivered with all the sexual deviancy and angst that Morrison can muster. He delivers these tracks like sermons from the shadows, face in the dark, crotch in the spotlight. Soul Kitchen – my personal favourite on the album – is a surging, kaleidoscopic anthem that carries the fire from Break On Through. There’s something about going “Stumblin’ in the neon groves” that fills the mind with possibilities. John Densmore, the hippy on the drums, keeps a spectacularly metronomic beat.

Twentieth Century Fox is a stoner’s ode to a gorgeous girl, Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) the other riveting cover (interestingly enough co-written by Bertold Brecht) – yet another song loaded with danger and controversy, and End Of The Night a dreamy, hazy interlude. There’s a no-bullshit philosophy that permeates this record, and Morrison seems to thrive on revolt, disorder, chaos, and stirring his band into a sanitarium worthy frenzy. Had Manzarek not looked so much like a school teacher, and Kreiger a smacked-up high-school drop out, The Doors might have looked really menacing.

The Crystal Ship is a fantastic, progressive ballad with one of Morrison’s finest lyrics – so mature for a man so young. I Looked At You is a nihilistic boogie, and Take It As It Comes a decadent, mysterious but melodious belter – as intoxicating as anything Hendrix had to offer with the savageness and threat of Iggy Pop thrown in. Does that sound intriguing enough?

The Doors is an almost faultless collection of tunes. I became so heavily consumed by them in my late teens that I bought all their albums in short succession, and even made several homages to Jim Morrison’s grave site in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Their influence on my life has been phenomenal; Jim Morrison’s lyrics and posthumous collections of poetry have been huge inspirations for my own writing, and the amazing music created by Ray Manzarek, Robby Kreiger and John Densmore a soundtrack to my younger years.

If there’s one word I could use to sum this album up, it would be this: revolution.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Soul Kitchen

Light My Fire

The End


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 11

Arthur Brown has that slightly unfortunate (or fortunate?!) problem of being remembered as a one hit wonder. The Whitby-born British singer songwriter, heralded for his outlandish flamboyance and theatrical, banshee bewailing, had that single….

Yes, you may remember.

He was the loony-looking stick-thin shaman dancing about in a flaming helmet screaming ‘I am the God of Hellfire!’ on those grainy, pixelated snippets of late 60’s footage. Fire, his only enduring single release in a career that is worthy of so much more, reached No. 1 in the UK in August 1968 and No.2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 a few months later. It not only snatched him from the underground shadows of psychedelic obscurity and into the global spotlight, but saw him emerge as the Godfather of the kind of shock rock that would inspire Alice Cooper, Kiss and Marilyn Manson, amongst others.

As a result of the emphatic success of Fire, its parent album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown reached number 2 in on the UK Album Charts and number 7 in the US. That, in itself, is achievement aplenty. However, critics have suggested that the aforementioned massive single, Fire – a terrific, if not eerie brain-worm – was solely responsible for the album’s success. I beg to differ. I think this is a stunning record, which offers so much more than a disappointing one-hit-wonder slog through baggage. In fact, Fire isn’t even the best track on it.

Arthur Brown has a voice that can only be described as a gift. Who or what gifted it to him is up for debate. I mean, the guy is eccentric to say the least. Weird, even. A completely free-spirited man with zero inhibitions, and a knack of hypnotising you with his unexpected ascents from deeply resonant monologues to compelling falsetto screams.

If you ever get chance to see Arthur live (he’s touching 79), you’ll never be the same again. I’ve had the pleasure twice. The first time he was supporting former Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, and performed the vast majority of his set either lying inside a wicker sack or cavorting in the audience. The second time, after I’d recovered from the trauma, he was performing his own headline show in The Robin, Wolverhampton, and was equally as colourful. I was older then – I’d seen much more shit going down on the streets and in the sewers, so Arthur wasn’t quite as intimidatingly martian. In fact, I met him after the show (see pic below) and managed to get a signed record – the real shock was that he was so indistinguishably normal. The God of Hellfire was, in fact, just Arthur. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Arthur Brown (centre), me (right) and my mate, Greg (left)

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown is the cornerstone of Brown’s wild, dramatic live-rock-theatre. Prelude/Nightmare, and Fanfare/Fire Poem, the poetic and somewhat narcotic openers, precede Fire, and build the sort of tension and anticipation that you rarely hear on a record. The angelic declaration: “There’s only one way out – go bathe yourself in fire” at the beginning of Fanfare is both eerie and profound in equal measure. Time/Confusion is such a beautiful comedown, and the menacing Come And Buy that follows enough to make you hide in bed pull the sheets over your head.

Yes, it’s a dark record – but that’s the heart of the appeal for me. Brown’s voice is spectacular on his cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic, I Put A Spell On You. I mean, this guy can really sing. Don’t be fooled by all the pomp and ceremony. At the root of it all is a very special singer. There’s some amazing musicianship on this album too, not least on closing track I’ve Got Money – a raucous, soulful swagger.

Much bigger names have failed to have an album as successful on the world stage as The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. You don’t top the charts on both side of the Atlantic on the strength of just one song. The proof is in the pudding. This is a great and timeless album, and just about as cult as it gets.

Fire…I’ll take you to burn…Fire…I’ll take you to learn…

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Todd V. Wolfson

Top track trio:

Prelude/Nightmare

Fire

Come And Buy


Being early doesn’t always pay…

The year was 2010.

And, sorry, I’m going to ruin the story straight away by assuring you that everything ended well.

However, it began terribly.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood announced a really unexpected joint tour – and by joint, I don’t mean two separate sets – they were promising a full show on stage together. I got straight on the phone to my bandmate Adrian and spilled a million reasons why we had to be there. He listened patiently then informed me that his arm didn’t need to be twisted up his back. And so, that was that.

The closest gig was at Birmingham LG Arena, so we booked tickets months in advance and excited ourselves stupid with every mention of it. After all, both these legends were getting on. Right?

The date of the gig was the 18th May, 2010. It was clearly written on the ticket. They had arrived at my house, and been filed away safely, away from reckless lurking hands ‘cleaning up’ or the overly-vexatious boxer dog. In fact, I’d slipped them inside my vinyl copy of The Beatles’ Blue Album. That was the Holy Grail in my house that no-one else dare touch.

I’ve always loved the feel of a concert ticket in my hand. They feel like freedom and possibility and exhilaration. I love the writing on them, big and bold…a famous name that promises to become a face, right in front of you. The curious hologram. The date – a moment of your personal history captured in print. That thrilling line of punched holes, ready to be ripped by a bored concierge with spots and sincere disinterest. The type that have no idea who the legends are you’re going to see.

Adrian, the great guitar player and co-singer in our regularly gigging duo, Little Wing, had nothing to do with the admin. I handled it, paid for it, and he simply reimbursed the cash. I was just about as experienced a gig-goer as anyone you could possibly meet from my generation. I’d watched hundreds, all over the world. I could reel a few off to impress you if you like? The Eagles in Melbourne, Australia. Chuck Berry in Luxembourg City. The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple in Paris. Paul Weller in Benacassim, Spain. Leonard Cohen in Montruex, Switzerland. I could go on, but I’m sensing you hating me already.

The point being, I’d been on trains, planes, ferries, trams, buses, cars…basically everything but horseback to get to gigs. Logistically, for a daydreaming technophobe, I was pretty slick. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about this.

“Hey, Adrian, you ready for the gig this week?”

“Yes, great.”

“You fancy driving? We’ll split the petrol?” (Tactical – he’s not really a drinker).

“No problem. Let’s set off early and get there in good time.”

So, off we went on our two-plus hour jaunt down the M6 to Birmingham playing Clapton and Winwood CD’s, riling ourselves up for the gig of a lifetime.

Upon arrival in Birmingham we were surprised by the lack of traffic.

“I knew setting off early was a good idea,” Adrian said.

I’d spotted a McDonalds, so my attention was otherwise occupied.

“Yep,” I said.

When we landed at Birmingham LG Arena a short while later, we were even more astonished to see no cars in the car park. In fact, the whole place was a ghost town. The barrier was down, and when we approached the gate a baffled looking security guy stepped out of a small hut and approached the van.

“Can I help, lads?”

“Hi mate, yeah, we’re here for the Clapton / Winwwod gig,” Adrian said since he lingered at the driver’s side.

“The what?”

I leant over. “Eric Clapton,” I reiterated. “And Steve Winwood. Here. Tonight.”

What?”

I wanted to shout THE FUCKING GIG! but the genuine concern spreading across the bloke’s face stopped me in my tracks. Adrian turned to face me and that sinking feeling melted me into my seat.

“No gig on here tonight, Lads,” the Brummy chap said, hands aloft in apology.

“Fucking hell,” I whispered, pulling the tickets out of the envelope. The guy stuck around for the climax. “But it says here, the Birmingham LG Arena, tonight.”

The guy leant into the car to see the tickets in my hand. Then he slowly withdrew.

“That ticket says 18th May, mate. It’s the 11th today.”

Well, my ass fell clean through the van flooring. Adrian laughed. I sank back into my seat, horrified by my own stupidity. Other people might have punched me. Adrian said:

“Let’s go get something to eat.”

The only compensation for such a mistake was that we arrived a week early and not a week late, but it wasn’t round the corner. We made the best of the situation, and had a rather nice curry before making the trip home.

The following week we made the gig, on the correct day. We even got there for the correct time and sat in the right seats. We did really well. Clapton and Winwood were superb – a raucous mix of tunes from both solo careers, Cream, Traffic, Derek & The Dominoes, The Spencer Davis Group and some covers too. A career spanning retrospective by two of England’s finest. Clapton’s slowhand was on fire, and Winwood’s voice better than ever. Well worth the two trips!

© Southport Reporter

Anyway, we’re still friends. We still play music.

I don’t book the tickets anymore.


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 9

Mark Knopfler – Privateering (2012)

There are some songwriters that have such a signature sound you know exactly who it is within three seconds of listening. Mark Knopfler is one such musician. It’s not even just for those clickety slick licks anymore either; it’s the full, panoramic soundscape that blends Folk with Trad with Rock with Country Blues – it totally belongs to him.

Knopfler is also a songwriting machine. His output has been consistent post-Dire Straits, and all of it a remarkable standard. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, so they say. And in a similar vein to AC/DC (although wildly different, of course) Knopfler never strays very far from home base. And why should he? The formula is there, and the end product unquestionably polished. Privateering, his 2012 twenty-track double solo album, maintains his incredibly high standards and features some absolute Knopfler gems.

Knopfler has a knack of writing new tunes that sound like standards. The title track Privateering is one such number that could well have been written around a campfire one-hundred years ago. After The Beanstalk sounds like something Robert Johnson could have composed, and Bluebird has something eminently Peter Green about it. The beauty of it all is that Knopfler lends sounds from his peers, and like a great LP that he just can’t bring himself to return, keeps it for his own. A bit naughty, but somehow brilliant.

The former Dire Straits and Notting Hillbillies frontman also has a knack of rousing gentle folk-rock soundscapes and moody portraits painted by acoustic guitars, penny whistles, delicate electric guitar blues licks, melancholy fiddle and captivating accordion. Red Bud Tree is delightful, as is the outstanding, penetrating Go, Love. There is a tenderness in Miss You Blues that emits a deep-rooted satisfaction of his lot from Knopfler. It’s just about as listenable as a record could be.

The record is ably supported by some stellar session musicians, most notably former Dire Straits keys player and master arranger, Guy Fletcher. Fiddle and cittern player, John McCusker, is another notable name, along with bassist Glenn Worf, Michael McGoldrick on whistles and pipes, and Paul Franklin on pedal steel. The blend is primarily Folky, but this is a band that does much, much more. Seattle is a highlight, with its majestic chord changes and clement longing. The golden nugget on the album for me, however, is Kingdom Of Gold. At all times rousing, it is lyrically stunning and builds like a fine sunrise, culminating with an enchanting backing choir and something profoundly medieval. Knopfler at his very best.

There are a few throwaways in amongst the twenty. Corned Beef City and Gator Blood didn’t do much for me but carry my legs to the kettle for a brief break, but even those intervals are timed well (ha!). Today Is Ok is more of a filler too, though not without its quirks. All in all, a few weaker moments on a twenty-track album is to be expected. They are very much carried by the deep and meaningful quality radiating from the rest.

There is a misery and melancholy that somehow surrounds Knopfler these days, though it only seems to aid the music. I wouldn’t be rushing out for a pint with the man, but I’d certainly be rushing to the record shop every time there’s a new album announcement.

He’d probably have lemonade anyway.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Mark Knopfler News 2020

Top track trio:

Go, Love

Seattle

Kingdom Of Gold


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 8

Tim Buckley – Greetings From L.A (1972)

Tim Buckley was a quiet but compelling force in music.

If spawning the great Jeff Buckley wasn’t proof enough, Tim left nine stimulating studio albums to document his tragically short career. He died at the age of just 28 from a lethal drink and drugs cocktail following the completion of a tour. Yet another immense talent gone painfully young. Of course his equally talented and estranged son, Jeff, would be dead at 30. A Buckley curse….but, boy, did they both leave us with epic music.

I find Tim Buckley’s music fascinating. He explored so many genres and avenues throughout his brief career – enough to have satisfied a man three times his age. Experimentation with Folk, Jazz, Psychedelia, Soul and avant-garde Rock permeate his music, but it was his ‘Sex-Funk’ period, post 1972 – including this fantastic album Greetings From L.A – that has captured my imagination most. This is an album for the ages, that’s for sure, and Buckley is a voice like no other. Unique belongs in the dictionary next to him.

Greetings From L.A begins with the groovy boogie Move With Me, in which an atmospheric mixture of slick backing vocals, funky guitar, driving piano, and Tim’s own commanding vocal phrasing creates a thumping introduction to this, his seventh studio album in just six years. Get On Top is a sexual Soul-Funk serenade demonstrating Buckley’s extraordinary intone capabilities, soaring into glorious falsetto with ease. It certainly shows why Jeff ended up with similar superhuman octave capabilities.

Sweet Surrender is a steaming psychedelic ballad with a fantastic, original arrangement by producer Jerry Goldstein. It once again showcases Buckley’s unbelievable ability to blast-off vocally. Night Hawkin’ is an exercise in stylish guitar playing from Lee Underwood, and once again a compelling production from Goldstein. That’s a real feature of this record – the production is just ace.

Devil Eyes is a bluesy shuffle driven by Kevin Kelly’s Winwood-esque organ, leading into the sexy and mysterious Hong Kong Bar. The record closes with Make It Right, a brilliant Mediterranean-soaked brain-feed with yet another extraterrestrial vocal. Tim Buckley did things with his voice that others wouldn’t think of if they lived a thousand years. Jeff did it too, later in contemporary music history. Two peas in an estranged pod.

Ironically enough, Greetings From L.A was one of a trio of albums (including Sefronia and Look At The Fool) that flopped commercially. Buckley’s venture into the rather edgy, tawdry Sex-Funk genre was said to have alienated his largely hippy audience because it was deemed as ‘selling out’. Its sexual lyrical content prevented the material from getting on the radio, and it has been said since the musician’s death that he himself disliked the album, and that it was released mainly for financial needs.

I guess this is the beauty of music; almost fifty years after the initial release of Greetings From L.A, I cannot get it off my stereo. Different people realise different qualities in all art forms, and whether it is true that Tim Buckley himself didn’t rate this album or not, it communicates with me, and many others, deeply.

Greetings From L.A is my favourite Tim Buckley record, and one that stands as a testament to this terrific artist’s willingness to go where others wouldn’t dare.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Henry Diltz

Top track trio:

Move With Me

Get On Top

Sweet Surrender


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 7

David Crosby – Here If You Listen (2018)

As brutal as this opening statement may seem, David Crosby shouldn’t even be alive, let alone making records.

The man has peaked on the hedonistic charts, done jail time for drug offences, driven himself to the edge of death and sanity as a bad junkie….all whilst watching his contemporaries drop all around him for nigh-on 60 years. At just six months from the unlikeliest of 80th birthdays, Crosby has serious cardiac issues, diabetes, has battled Hepatitis C, and is also the recipient of a liver transplant. He is literally a walking miracle.

Wow, heavy.

And yet, in the face of extreme (and often self-inflicted) adversity, the man has made four of the finest records of his career, deep into his seventies. At the age of 73 the resurgence began with 2014’s Croz, closely followed by Lighthouse in 2016 and Sky Trails in 2017. At the grand old rock’n’roll age of 77, in a continuing flourish of creativity, Here If You Listen arrived in 2018 – three in three, so to speak – a feat rarely accomplished these days unless you are Van Morrison or Neil Young (without quality control). And David Crosby’s output has been staggeringly good. Remarkable really.

I’m always fascinated by the old guard and what they have left in the tank. By what they have left to say. Crosby’s voice is still strong, his guitar playing still sophisticated, and his extraterrestrial ear for a weird melody still very much alive. He’s an intriguing artist, to say the least. He never takes a song where it really aught to go, which is the key ingredient that preserves his powers on Here If You Listen. And it’s very much a collaborative record. Seven of the eleven tracks on the record were written by the ‘Lighthouse Band’ – producer Michael League, along with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and of course, Croz. Woodstock is a phenomenal cover of the Joni Mitchell classic, Your Own Ride was written by the four plus Snarky Puppy keys player, Bill Laurance, and I Am No Artist is a Jane Tyson Clement & Becca Stevens composition.

The harmonies on this record are lush, the arrangements shimmering, and the lyrics worthy of Crosby’s CSN work. It’s also interesting that Crosby takes side steps on lead vocals too; he’s not renowned for his modesty, but he clearly values these young musicians that have helped breathe new life into his career.

1974 has clearly been revived from Crosby’s early solo career meddling. In fact, it wouldn’t have been out of place on his seminal 1971 solo debut album, If Only I Could Remember My Name. Complete departure is provided by Janet – a song that could easily be found on an Alicia Keys record, and Buddha On A Hill is just sublime. Up there as one of the best records Crosby has been involved in for years.

There’s little else more satisfying than one of the old guard popping up with a classic late career album. Bowie did it before he departed, so did Leonard Cohen (on several occasions), Macca has recently released the brilliant McCartney III aged 78, and Dylan surprised us all with his rousing Rough & Rowdy Ways earlier this year, into his own 79th year. Crosby isn’t just a part of this late-career stampede. The sheer surge in which his recording career has revived would suggest he’s leading it.

Here If You Listen is certainly a profound statement. We listened David. Boy, did we listen. And we still know you’re here.

If it’s his last, it’s a fine way to wrap things up. If it’s not, then it’s a surefire way of saying I ain’t done yet.

© Anna Webber

Top track trio:

1974

Buddha On A Hill

Woodstock