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  1. Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson - A Star Is Born: OST 

    We’d had the summer of ’76 when it felt like the sun would never stop shining and the pavements were melting. Some of our friends could sense something was going on in London but for most of us that would have to wait until 1977. Meanwhile as my birthday and Xmas approached in December 1976 a film was released that was so up our parents street it could very well have been made for them alone.

     We grew up in a house where the soundtrack swung from Classical music to Reggae but mostly it was Jazz, the great Swing bands and singers (Sinatra, Crosby) and songs from the great musicals which is probably the first time I would have heard the incredible voice of Barbra Streisand. 

    When “A Star Is Born” was released I’m sure we all trooped off as a family to see it at the cinema and I gotta admit I was quite taken with it, but most of all I was captivated by Barbra Streisand’s voice. The whole film is worth watching and the soundtrack has some great songs in it. Kris Kristofferson’s “Watch Closely Now” & “Crippled Crow” are great examples of 70’s US FM rock. 

    As it’s just been re-made starring Lady Ga Ga it’s in the news again. But if Lady GaGa even gets close to Streisand’s imperious vocal on the closing medley of “With One More Look At You/Watch Closely Now” on any of the new films soundtrack then she’ll have worked miracles. This one performance can bring a lump to my throat just by thinking about it. Give it a go, it might just surprise you…


    Jeff Wayne’s War Of The World’s

    I am absolutely sure the first thing I heard from this album would have been Justin Heywards “Forever Autumn”…and it’s fecking awful. The sort of drippy hippy ballad that I take an instant dislike to. 

    I’ve no idea when or why I heard the whole thing as the very premise of it would have put me off in those Punk Rock days of 1978 when it was released. It’s an opera, It’s basically Prog Rock, it features David bloody Essex for sanity’s sake ! I suspect my schoolfriend Andy Barnett would have had something to do with me hearing it in full, it was definitely him that was responsible for my love of Queen’s album “News Of The World”, and honsestly, I thank him for that cos I love it. 

    I don’t think I’ve ever played it when anyone else is around, it’s something I don’t think I would suffer on anyone else, it’s just for me. But Richard Burton’s voice is quite soothing, I love the repeating themes and whichever genius decided to cast Phil Lynott as a crazed priest deserves much kudos, Julie Covington as his desperate wife trying to calm him down knowing he is disappearing into some psychosis deserves much praise.

    It’s got some bloody good songs in it too, “Thunder Child” and “Brave New World” in particular. Ridicule away, I’m over it…


    The Carpenters - The Singles 1969-73 (Another one I should probably blame my parents for…)

    There are certain records that, when you are buying collections of records, turn up all the time. These are records that obviously sold in vast numbers and were incredibly popular at the time. But honestly, I don’t care if I never again see a copy of anything by Rod Stewart after 1973 (particularly “Atlantic Crossing”), Anything by Elton John after 1976, Roxy Music “Flesh + Blood”, Sting’s “The Dream Of Blue Turtles”, Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” or anything by Sky…AT ALL ! Copy after copy of these things turn up, even in collections where the rest of it is generally cool stuff. Usually they go straight in the £2 bin to give us any chance of getting rid of them. But one doesn’t…

    The Carpenters Singles 1969-1973 is worth 3 of anyone’s finest English pounds…We’ve Only Just Begun, Yesterday Once More, Hurting Each Other, Close To You, the quite wonderful Goodbye to Love and the sometimes overlooked Superstar.

    They had a way when it came to interpreting a song, Richard was no slouch as a songwriter and Karen’s voice was as smooth as silk. Stop sniggering at the back…


    Dire Straits - Romeo And Juliet

    My interest in Dire Straits really should have ended at “Sultans Of Swing”, once we found out they weren’t some New Wave band from London but a bunch of guitar-noodlers of the “old school” reaching out from somewhere betwixt Eric Claptout and the other late 60’s “Blues Rock” types.

    But a few years after, I heard a gently twanging guitar introduce the opening line:

    A lovestruck Romeo sings a street-suss seranade…”

    If Springsteen had opened a song with a line like that you wouldn’t be surprised and you’d be looking forward to a classic. But it was Dire Straits so the lyrical content didn’t quite adhere to that stellar opening line. But it’s a helluva tune and over the years I’ve come to commit to memory every lyric.

    There’s a great “bit” where Mr Knopfler sings the line “All I do is keep the beat…and bad company” and he clicks his fingers after it, very much off the beat! I remember being very impressed with myself when I managed to get the finger click in the right place finally. 

    Oh, and the single is 6 minutes long ! (they’ll never play it on the radio…)

    I wouldn’t give you tuppence for anything else Dire Straits have done, it always strikes me as the kind of music created to show off how proficient you are with your instrument rather than for the purpose of writing great songs, but if we apply the adage that “everyone has got one in ‘em” (two if you factor in “Sultans Of Swing”), here’s theirs.


    All Saints - Pure Shores 

    I couldn’t tell you anything else All Saints have done. Apart from somehow knowing one of them was once involved with a Gallagher brother (may still be for all I know) I couldn’t tell you anything about them. I am no fan of the film in which this song most famously features either so that’s not an influencing factor, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen said film, and I’m actually surprised to find out that one of the band members was a co-writer along with producer William Orbit.  

    It just so happens that every time I hear this record I have to stop whatever I’m doing and listen. The vocal arrangement on the chorus is incredible. It’s a perfect piece of pop music. I also have a very stripped back cover version of it by a combo called the Cock ’n’ Bull Kid which stands up well. 

    Pack up yer prejudices and give it a try…it might just surprise you…



    Merle Haggard - Down Every Road

    This is a bit of a cheat as “Down Every Road” is not really an album but a 4-CD career spanning box set. And I’m using Merle as a bit of a place marker for my long held appreciation of Country music. You may notice I say Country music and not Country & Western, the two things are quite different to my ears, Country being a natural extension of a myriad of American Folk music styles whereas Country & Western is some kind of garish “pop” music churned out by the Nashville production line. 

    Merle is one of what is known as the Outlaw Country singers, alongside Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, and a leading light of what is known as the Bakersfield Sound, Country music from California made as a reaction against the sickly productions coming out of Nashville in the ’50’s. Merle is also a songwriter of great prowess and, to me at times, great confusion.

    His best known songs would be things like “Okie from Muskogee”, “I Take a Lot of Pride In What I Am” and “The Fightin' Side of Me” which if you read the lyrics of the latter song could pretty much be Donald Trump’s manifesto ! I’d like to think Merle was being ironic but I’m not so sure.

    But then he’s capable of writing songs like “Irma Jackson” (the tale of a white man in love with a black woman and the prejudice they encounter as a result), “I’ll Be A Hero When I Strike” and the quite beautiful “Today I Started Loving You Again” which has been covered by many a Soul singer (check out Bettye Swann’s wonderful version).

    So there’s the confusion…as there is with a lot of Country music but if you dig around you’ll find music by Merle and Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons that might just change your whole view of what Country music is…

  2. Jim Bryson - The Occasionals

    I was introduced to this album by my friend Luci. I’ve known Luci for around 20 years (!) and we still, to this day, send each other “Have you heard “X" ? I think you’d like it” messages regularly, and this was one of hers.

    Jim Bryson is a Canadian singer-songwriter, “The Occasionals” was his debut solo album, released in 2000, after a brief stint in the band Punchbuggy. I think Luci came across him while a friend of hers was helping him with a tour in the UK. I have a soft spot for Canadian artists after time spent around the great Canuck band Spirit Of The West, so I was all ears for Jim.

    The Occasionals can only be described as an album of top notch, what has come to be known as, Americana, which as he’s not American is quite a strange one. It’s a short album, only 9 songs running to just over 35 minutes, but Jim and his band of Pete Vonalthen, Tom Thompson, Darren Hore and Ian Lefeuvre, pack a lot into that time.

    Opening song “Without Piano” gently opens proceedings before the band break out the guitars for “Travelled By Land”. It’s over in a flash. 9 great songs with killer melodies, fab singalong bits and a pedal steel guitar (I’m a sucker for a pedal steel guitar).

    Frank Turner is a fan and has been known to perform a cover of “Satellite” in his acoustic set. Jim Bryson is still touring and recording in relative obscurity. Give him a go why dontcha ?


    Thrum - Rifferama

    On the invitation of our friend Martin Bunn (aka Old Bill) who was running the PA, we went to a festival being held in a park behind a Sikh Gurdwara in Bilston (oh the glamour). I have no recollection of who else was on the bill that day but I clearly remember a 4-piece indie-rock  looking outfit shuffling out onto the stage. They were fronted by a petite blonde girl who introduced them in a quiet Scottish accent. I have a thing about girl singers, Natalie Merchant, Gladys Knight, Siouxsie, Emmylou Harris among many others, there’s something very powerful about a woman leading a band of men, so I was immediately intrigued.

    They started playing and there was nothing shuffling or quiet about them from that moment on. The boys in the band beat out big, fat Crazy Horse-ish songs and that petite girl singer (who I’ve since come to know as Monica Queen) unleashed a voice and a set of melodies that kept me transfixed for their entire performance.  

    I went out and bought Rifferama the very next day and have always wondered why on earth Thrum aren’t remembered as Indie legends. If nothing else, in my mind, Monica Queen’s voice puts her right up there with the ladies I mentioned earlier. Here’s a track from "Rifferama", performed live as I first heard it, if you like it I urge you to go and find the album, it’s a stunner.


    Jellyfish - Spilt Milk

    It will forever be a perplexing conundrum to me how it came to be that Jellyfish did not become the biggest band in the World ! They made just 2 albums, “Bellybutton” and this, their second album, both of which are works of utter (too) clever, clever pop genius.

    First and foremost Jellyfish wrote great songs, with proper choruses and arrangements that keep you glued to the record, something different is happening constantly in all the songs, but if you just wanna sing along with those choruses you can. They could lay down the most amazing 4 part harmonies, in evidence here on opening track “Hush” and the single “The Ghost at Number One” (and on their previous album in the acapella section to the single “The King Is Half Undressed” which we saw them perform live so it was no studio trickery). They also wore their influences very proudly on their sleeves but mixed and matched them to create something uniquely Jellyfish. 

    Add into all this that their singer was also the drummer, it features the most poptastic tune about “self satisfaction” ever written (“my hands a five leafed clover, it’s palm Sunday over and over…he’s my best friend” nudge nudge, wink wink) and the whole concoction was produced by the guy responsible for The Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”, the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” and the theme tune to “Grease”, you have something that should have been massive…it wasn’t.

    Members have gone on to other things. Drumming Singer Andy Sturmer now resides in Japan where he writes and produces Japanese pop groups like Puffy Ami Yumi. Keyboardist/Guitarist Roger Manning Jr and Guitarist Jason Falkner have made many solo albums between them and both regularly play in Becks live band. But they've never created the magic alone that they did as a group.

    One last glorious surprise is that final song on the album “Brighter Day” and opening song “Hush” end and start respectively with exactly the same note. So if you have the CD version on repeat (which I do quite often) it feels like a continuous loop…(too) clever, clever ? You bet yer ass !


    Pele - Fireworks & The Sport Of Kings

    A two for one package, two albums by the same band. I’ve only discovered Pele in relatively  recent years. Considering they were signed to the same record label as the band I was working for in the early 90’s and both bands were making music not a million miles different from each other I still can’t fathom out why.  Our paths finally crossed when Pele mainman Ian Prowse’ new band, Amsterdam, toured as the support for The Wonder Stuff some 10 years+ after these two albums were released.

    Ian Prowse has gotta be Liverpools best kept secret. A songwriter every bit as talented as Liverpools greats (I easily include him in a list featuring Elvis Costello, Ian McNabb and Ian Broudie among many others) and a band leader of great skill, to see the full 10 piece Celtic-Soul juggernaut that is Pele/Amsterdam (the lines between the two bands have become very blurred over the years) in full flow is something to behold.

    These two albums were released in 1992 and 1993 to almost universal apathy, except in South Africa where "Fireworks" single “Megalomania” was a number one hit at the time of the cultural boycott. 

    Both albums have tunes as big as Liverpool (try “Fair Blows The Wind For France” below and “Don’t Worship Me”) and more social commentary/conscience than many a Punk Rocker (“Raid The Palace” & “Fat Black Heart (Natural Born Enemy)”). It has always struck me since discovering these records that their record company (yes that’s you Polydor) must have been working extra specially hard too ensure these albums were as ignored as they were at the time.

    Thankfully time has been kind to them and Ian Prowse is reaping the rewards (critically if not financially) for these records that should have been his back in the 90’s. In fact this very evening we’re going to see Prowsey and his band play “The Sport Of Kings” over in Wolverhampton. Give these tracks a listen and maybe you’ll wanna come out tonight too…


  3. We’re very aware that we have somewhat neglected this Blog page over the past year, but HEY! getting a new business off the ground is a full on, full time undertaking.

    In the way of some apology here’s the second post in a couple of weeks and a follow up to our very first post post. These 5 albums would be numbers 6 to 10 on that list of “albums that have had the most effect on me” that we started a year ago…Enjoy…

    Russ x


    Slade Alive!

    Slade were my first musical obsession. The first single I bought was "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me". The first album I bought was "Slayed?". I’ve had many musical obsessions since (The Jam, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the Drive-By Truckers, Bruce Springsteen) but Slade were my first, and you know what they say about first loves…

    Around the age of 12 my musical tastes started to, well, not narrow, but become more partisan shall we say. The cause of this was this growing obsession with the Black Country’s, nay, the country’s finest Glam Rockers, the mighty Slade. The first evidence of this obsession came when I bought…AN ALBUM. The album in question was “Slayed?”, their 3rd studio album but their first as bona fide pop stars. It was home to the singles “Gudbuy T’ Jane” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. It had a great picture of them on the cover looking like some rough arsed gang of Glam boot boys and all sporting the word SLADE biro’d across their knuckles (I’m sure they were going for the gang-tattoo look but I was 12, I didn’t know what a tattoo was, but I did have easy access to biro’s). But this wasn’t the album that led me on to the next development in my musical journey. That was what I think was the next album I bought, “Slade Alive!”. 

    In 1971 Slade had their first 2 hit singles, “Get Down And Get With It”, which reached number 16 in August, and “Coz I Luv You”, which became Slade’s first number 1 in November. “Slade Alive!” was released in March 1972 and was recorded before a specially invited audience of fans at the Command Theatre Studio to cash in on their 2 hits and so that the band’s increasingly talked about live show could be captured perfectly. Slade were so confident in their live show that “Coz I Luv You”, their number 1 hit single, isn’t even on the album!

    For a single buying pop kid, as I was up until then, the album is a big progression. I knew what albums were about, a collection of songs that mostly were not singles, which were split between the 2 sides of the record with nice uniform silent gaps between the tracks. I owned “Slayed?” so I knew what to expect and my Dad had albums by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and others that demonstrated the same behaviour. But “Slade Alive!” was different. There were no uniform silent gaps between the songs, the band were talking, in fact everyone was talking, and shouting, and belching, and stomping, and clapping, and woooo-ing, in fact there was even a hint of someone bawling out swear words from the audience. 

    To this day I’ll argue with anyone that this is the greatest live album ever made, it captures perfectly everything Slade were about. If you’re ever sitting next to me when I receive a text message your ears will be assaulted by Noddy’s full throated scream of “Well allllllllllriiiiiiight everybody” from the start of “Get Down And Get With It” which has for many years been my text message notification tone. And the next development in my musical journey, prompted by this album, was ? Going to gig of course…Keep on rockin’…


    Dexy’s Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels

    On to another gang and one of a couple of Brummie albums in this list. Dexy’s, in their initial Donkey jackets and woolly hats incarnation, were quite some band…or was that a gang ?

    There are many reason not to like this album. The horns sound slightly out of tune all the way through; Kevin Rowland’s falsetto can get a little wearing; the “pretentious” count gets a little high in places…BUT…

    …”The Teams That Met In Caffs” is as joyous and uplifting a piece of music as you’ll ever hear; “Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn't Apply” is a title to conjure with and I’ll put Dexy’s version of “Seven Days Too Long” up against Chuck Wood’s original any day. Add in 2 top 10 singles (one of them a Number 1) and you’ve got a killer collection on your hands.

    Live, this line-up of Dexy’s was a fearsome beast. In your face and totally wrapped up in what they were doing, convinced they were right, delivering Brummie Soul. Shame about the dungarees later on, but this album is a helluva way to announce yerself to the world.


    10,000 Maniacs - In My Tribe

    Without making the acquaintance of a certain Digby Cleaver I might never have heard this record. 

    Myself and Digby were thrown together in late 1988 as the stage crew for The Wonder Stuff on their “Groovers On Manoeuvres” UK tour to support their debut album “The Eight Legged Groove Machine”. I was one of the bands mates who had been helping them out. Digby was a professional roadie who had previously worked with top bands like The Beat, The Only Ones, 10,000 Maniacs and The Clash (yes…THE CLASH!) among others. 

    Part of our getting to know each other period involved swapping recommendations of music we liked that the other may not have heard. I may have offered the Screaming Blue Messiahs and possibly The Rainmakers at the time. Digby offered this. Thinking of me back then it was probably a lot of things I didn’t want to hear, folk-ish rock with jingly jangly guitars and a (possibly) fey girl singer. But once you hear that girl singer I defy any rational human being not to have your heart stolen by that voice, and there was certainly nothing fey about Miss Natalie Merchant, or the rest of the band.

    The songs on this album deal with subjects as wide ranging as child abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy and thankfully some lighter subjects such as your sisters wedding. Allied to Miss Natalie’s voice is the incredible guitar playing of Rob Buck, a man who creates one of the rockin’-est guitar sounds you’ve ever heard on “Don’t Talk” with not an overdriven amplifier or distortion pedal in sight.


    The album originally contained a cover of a Cat Stevens song, “Peace Train”, that the band insisted be removed from the album following Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens statements that were interpreted as endorsing the killing of author Salman Rushdie following Ayatollah Khomeini's 14 February 1989 death fatwa against the author (very loving!). 

    Oh, and Digby and I are still occasionally to be seen looking after The Wonder Stuff, 29 years later…and on those long drives between gigs in the front of a van, yes, we still regularly listen to the Screaming Blue Messiahs, The Rainmakers and, of course 10,000 Maniacs.


    Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution

    I had a friend at school, Howard. Howard’s grandparents had come to the UK from Jamaica in the 50’s in the rush of people who came to the “mother country” when it called for people to re-build it after the second World War. By the time I’d met Howard he was already aware of what was going on in Jamaican music, the roots reggae revolution led by Bob Marley and it was Howard who introduced me to the likes of Prince Far I, Big Youth, Dillinger and others that kick started my love of reggae.

    The UK in the 70’s was a tough place to be for a black kid. Racism and bigoted attitudes were the norm, the far right was on the move in the shape of the hateful National Front. This led to the rise of some radical and politicised UK reggae bands in the late 70’s, the likes of Matumbi, Misty In Roots and Birmingham’s mighty Steel Pulse.

    I probably first heard Steel Pulse on the John Peel Show, that late night beacon of all that was good in new music that you couldn’t hear on daytime radio (as Peel himself once said on his show “there are some daytime DJ’s in the next room, probably listening out for the records they’ll be playing in 6 months time” or something like that). They were around our age, from the same kind of places we lived in the same city. Their songs were firmly aimed at the black youth of the late 70’s, tackling the subjects that mattered to them. But us skinny white Punk Rockers lapped it up. Partly because they were from Birmingham and we were proud of them and I think because not only was this rebel music of the kind being made by The Clash, the Pistols and The Jam but it was rebel music you could dance to !


    I finally got to see them play live on the tour that supported their second album “Tribute To The Martyrs”. Me and my friend Mick found ourselves in the darkness of the Top Rank in Birmingham, surrounded by Rastas and breathing in the smoke of hundreds of spliffs that hung in the air. After the fourth support act had finished I was almost ready to go, I was reggae’d out, and then on came Steel Pulse and blew our minds, one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever seen. This wasn’t just reggae, this was truly magical, inspiring music being made right there in front of us. 

    Steel Pulse under the direction of their masterful singer, David Hinds, are one of the few reggae acts from outside Jamaica that are taken seriously there and are still releasing albums and touring nearly 40 years later This album still gets a spin on a regular basis in our house…


    Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South

    It started with (as Americans call them) a mix tape. Actually, it was a CD, technology had moved on a little, sent to me by my good friend Jen who lives in Connecticut in the USA. We regularly swapped CD’s of our latest musical finds, a whole bunch of us around the world did including Phil in Australia, Cort and Curtis elsewhere in the USA and Lucy in Ireland. Through those tapes and CD’s I discovered music by Things Of Stone & Wood, Beagle, The Merrymakers, Shovels & Rope, Brendan Benson and all manner of great stuff I might never have found otherwise, including the Drive-By Truckers.

    I don’t have the CD that Jen sent to me anymore and I don’t recall what else was on there. But I do remember first hearing “Where The Devil Don’t Stay”, track 1, side 1 of “The Dirty South”. Oh wow ! Right from the off I was hooked. Jen’s CD also had “Danko/Manuel” on it and I think “Angels And Fuselage” from their earlier album “Southern Rock Opera”, a tale loosely based around the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd and DBT’s love of the South.

    So why did this hook me ? In the late 80’s while touring the USA a group of us has had developed what we thought was an ironic love of Country Music made specifically about Truck Drivers. Digby Cleaver (see above) had introduced us to a compilation album called “20 Truckin’ Favorites” featuring artists like The Texas Troubadors, Webb Pierce and Kitty Wells singing songs like “Highway Heading South”, “Six Days On The Road” and “Truck Drivers Blues”. These weren’t stand by your man country songs but songs about poppin’ little white pills to keep your eyes open, chatting up the waitresses at truck stops for a little fun in the cab and outrunning the police cos you were speeding so hard to get back home. That ironic love of these songs, for me, developed into a liking for country artists like Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and the outlaws like Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.

    So when I heard the Drive-By Truckers writing songs about the south, sung in a Southern drawl, country music but rocked up with big fat guitars I was ready for it. I’d had, and still have, a hankering to visit “the South”. I’ve visited Atlanta, Georgia a couple of times and I was on a bus once heading for New Orleans but it broke down and we never made it. So the songs on this album painted a picture for me of a South that probably no longer exists but is one I would love to have seen, illegal moonshine stills, kids playing barefoot in the yard, big ostentatious Cadillacs and hot sweaty summer nights, or as they say on another record the “duality of the southern thing”.

    This was the Truckers 5th studio album, their 2nd featuring the songwriting talents of Jason Isbell alongside DBT main men Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood. Isbell would make one more album with the band and then go on to forge a solo career. Cooley and Hood are still making records under the DBT banner that are all worth hearing but I would argue that they were at their peak during a trio of albums of which this is the 3rd. Preceding this was “Decoration Day” and before that the aforementioned “Southern Rock Opera”. If you haven’t already, check ‘em out.