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…