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…
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.