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  1. If you go back through this blog you’ll find scribblings about The Adverts, TV Smith’s Explorers and TV Smith himself. In those you’ll read about my long standing admiration for him and how I’ve been lucky enough to become acquainted with him. On June 14th this year I was privileged to be able to promote the Shrewsbury show on his UK tour promoting this, his latest album “Handwriting”. I picked this copy up at the gig. It’s on “Glow in the Dark” vinyl (although I’ve yet to play it in the dark) and it’s great.

    TV has fashioned himself into an acoustic troubadour over the years, travelling Europe with his collapsible guitar and at one time playing sets as long as Bruce Springsteen’s ! He still plays the old Punk hits, in Shrewsbury he opened with The Adverts “No Time To Be 21” (featuring my favourite opening line of almost any song in “Life’s short, Don’t make a mess of it”) followed by the Explorers mighty debut single “Tomahawk Cruise”, but these days much of his set is taken from the solo albums he’s been making since 1992’s “March Of The Giants”.

    The title song “Handwriting” knocked me out at his recent Shrewsbury gig and hearing it here unwraps even more layers. It’s set in a sci-fi future where people are confined to sleepdromes full of screens and a camera that constantly monitors them. In this world handwriting is banned. Our singer has discovered if you “accidentally” cover the camera it takes the authorities 15 minutes to get to you so he can sit down and write by hand for 10 minutes at his antique Ikea desk. He writes slowly and purposefully, a little act of rebellion in a totalitarian future.

    Elsewhere “Handwriting” is a state of the nation address if you like. He covers the furious pace of life in “Who’s Got The Time”, corrupt politicians in “Best Of The Worst” and our unknown but fate filled future in “Children Of A Dying Sun”. The instrumentation is largely acoustic with percussion, keyboards and other instruments played by producer Gerry Driver.

    I’ve been on the TV Smith train since 1977. I’ve seen him live countless times and own a lot of his albums. He never gives less that 100%, he’s a songwriter and particularly a lyricist of great skill. More power to him and his righteous ire at the state of our world and long may he continue to make honest and engaging records like “Handwriting”.

    Handwriting - https://youtu.be/AdNsCZqqFNo?si=-pNzw0wR_v_Ezq6S

  2. Not my favourite Ramones album by a long shot but it does have two real good things going for it. Firstly it features one of my favourite Ramones songs in “I Wanna Be Sedated”, a song which I even attempt to play myself at times. Secondly this copy is on yellow vinyl and you must know by now what a sucker I am for that.

    This was the Ramones first album with Marky behind the drum kit. Tommy had left the band following disappointing sales of previous album “Rocket To Russia” and because he didn’t handle the stress of touring well. Marky Ramone (or Marc Bell as his mom knew him) had previously played for Wayne County & The Backstreet Boys and Richard Hell & the Voidoids (and almost the New York Dolls it is reported) before being asked to become a Ramone after meeting Dee Dee at a gig in New York City. Tommy did stay on to co-produce this album (as T. Erdelyi, his real name) alongside Ed Stasium. 

    This is a subtly different sounding Ramones to previous albums. There’s acoustic guitars involved and solo’s and arpeggio’s all sitting alongside Johnny’s trademark rama-lama downstrokes. Both Ed Stasium and Tommy are credited with playing guitar on this record but it doesn’t specifically say on what. I’d suspect Johnny either couldn’t or more likely wouldn’t play some of the parts required (as I’m writing this both this album and “Ramones” are leaning against the wall across the room with Johnny glaring out at me from both so I don’t want to say anything out of turn) and so left them up to Ed and Tommy ?

    After the opening double salvo of "I Just Want to Have Something to Do”, which straight away gives us some solo-ish guitar at the end that we’d not heard on Ramones records before, and "I Wanted Everything" the first surprise comes with “Don’t Come Close”. It’s an acoustic song with a hint of Country about it. It was released as the albums lead single and was a top 40 hit in the UK in 1978, even getting them a coveted spot on Top Of the Pops in September 1978 introduced by none other than the Hairy Cornflake, Dave Lee Travis (https://youtu.be/-fw84k3HqY0?si=v5esSjBxHp0uLtIv). It’s a very different version to that on the album, re-recorded for the BBC, who worked under strict Musicians Union rules back then, and then mimed to. The acoustics are replaced with Johnny’s chugging Mosrite and the song has been re-arranged to omit the guitar solo, thus supporting the suggestion that those parts were played by Ed Stasium or Tommy.

    A couple of songs later they cover “Needles and Pins” most famously performed by The Searchers in 1964. Again I don’t know how much of a part Johnny played on that one. Over on Side 2 we get as close as the Ramones ever got to a ballad with Dee Dee’s “Questioningly”, another song with a hint of the Country about it. It really does come as a shock sitting as it does between the regular Ramones thrash of “Go Mental” and “She’s The One”.

    In between all these acoustic-ed, 60’s pastiches we do get some usual Ramones fare, my previously mentioned favourite “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “I’m Against It” and “Bad Brain” are all what their audience had come to expect from Da Brudders. “Road To Ruin” sees the band trying stretch their wings and flex their muscles a little so as not to get stuck in a rut. Tommy said of “Road To Ruin” that it reflected not only “the Ramones' enduring love for sixties pop, but a nagging desire to expand beyond the confines of 120 seconds…albeit linked to the guitar-crunching sonics established on their first three albums”.

    I Wanna Be Sedated - https://youtu.be/bm51ihfi1p4?si=61McNkOSjz0YUAS7

  3. Anyone remember the Britannia Music Club ? It was a mail order company/membership thing for buying records. When you joined they gave you this great offer of buying 4 LP’s for £1 each but you were then tied in for 2 years and you had to buy X amount of records in year 1 and a lesser amount in year 2. The reason I mention this is that in the early 80’s I joined the Britannia Music Club mainly because of that 4 LP’s for £1 each offer, and in the two years and possibly a dozen albums I bought, this is the only one I remember getting from them. It is a belter tho’.

    “Howlin’ Wind” was the debut album for Graham Parker & The Rumour. Parker had spent the late 60’s and early 70’s working odd jobs and playing music around France, Gibraltar and North Africa. After returning to London he advertised for musicians to play with and through a fortuitous series of connections was introduced to Dave Robinson (later to form Stiff Records) who had a small recording studio above the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington and they began recording demo’s. One of those recordings ("Nothin's Gonna Pull Us Apart”) was played on Charlie Gillett’s “Honky Tonk” show on Radio London and caught the ear of Nigel Grange at Phonogram Records. Robinson acted as Parker’s manager and he was signed to Phonogram.

    Produced by Nick Lowe, the recordings that became “Howlin’ Wind” started. But Parker needed a band and via Robinson and Lowe’s connections in the London Pub Rock scene they helped put together the Rumour, Brinsley Schwarz (lead guitar) and Bob Andrews (keyboards) (both formerly members of the band Brinsley Schwarz along with Nick Lowe), Martin Belmont (rhythm guitar, previously in Ducks Deluxe), Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums). Bodnar and Goulding went on to play for Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and The Mekons among many others.

    What Parker and the Rumour cooked up was a blend of Blue Eyed Soul with an occasional hint of reggae and some good old pub rock ’n’ roll. The finished article is not a million miles different to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle” (in fact E Street organist Danny Federici did play on a later Parker album) and the sound of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. “White Honey” and “Soul Shoes”, the two songs that kick off each side, are both tuff blue eyed groovers. The version of "Between You and Me" is the demo originally recorded with Dave Robinson as when the Rumour attempted to record it it was decided they couldn’t capture what had been done in Robinson’s little studio in Islington. Side 2 closes out with that hint of reggae on the title track and one of Parker’s two hit singles "Don't Ask Me Questions" (aka "Hey Lord, Don't Ask Me Questions" when it was a hit, although that was a live recording, not this one). My absolute highlight however is the ballad “Gypsy Blood” on side 1 where our Graham pours out how he feels about his sweetie and her “red hot gypsy blood, keeping me warm tonight”. I’m a sucker for a good ballad and this is a beauty.

    Graham Parker & The Rumour have always been highly regarded in British music circles. They had one other hit, a cover of The Trammps “Hold Back The Night”, and recorded together until 1980 when Bob Andrews left the band. They reformed in 2012 for a really good album, “Three Chords Good”. 

    Gypsy Blood - https://youtu.be/UJnh6mEICrA?si=ffvu2x7sJ4WJH3Xq