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  1. As we touched on Gene Clark and The Byrds while listening to Monica Queen yesterday it felt right to sneak this alphabetically outta sync entry in here...

    The Byrds 3rd album released in 1966 sees them still firmly in Folk Rock mode but branching out in places. It was recorded between January and May and significantly, somewhere around February or March, the bands main songwriter, Gene Clark, left the band. Roger McGuinn and David Crosby uppped their songwriting efforts but the album still featured a handful of cover versions and an instrumental of varying quality. It is The Byrds first album not to contain any songs by Bob Dylan.

    McGuinn offers up a belter to start us off. Track 1, side 1, “5D (Fifth Dimension)”, is a perfect slice of Dylanesque folk rock. McGuinn has described the the song as being about spirituality and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity “'5D' was an ethereal trip into metaphysics, into an almost Moslem submission to an Allah, an almighty spirit, free-floating, the fifth dimension being the 'mesh' which Einstein theorised about”. It’s arguable that young Roger may have been exposed to the California Sunshine in more ways than one. The song is still an absolute peach.

    Undeniably the best thing on this record is, however, touched by the hand of Gene Clark. “Eight Miles High”, co-written with McGuinn and Crosby, tells of The Byrds first trip to tour England, somewhere they felt an affinity with due to its folk music and them all being huge Beatles fans. The lyrics tell of arriving (“Eight miles high and when you touch down, You’ll find that it’s stranger than known”. Airliners usually fly at around 6-7 miles altitude but Eight scanned better and also alluded to the Fabs  “Eight Days A Week”) and also a visit to Liverpool (“Rain grey town, known for its sound”). All this while McGuinn lays down a classic Byrds-ian Rickenbacker 12 string riff, every bit as wonderful as that on “Mr Tambourine Man” just not as up front (listen closely as they sing “and when you touch down”, utterly thrilling), while in the instrumental breaks he attempts to rend from that Rickenbacker a sound akin to Ravi Shankar doing John Coltrane ! It really is a stone cold classic, in many places cited as the first example of Psychedelic Rock.

    The new songwriters do good things with McGuinn’s “Mr Spaceman”, which sounds vaguely Country foreshadowing a future route for the band, and Crosby’s “What's Happening? ! ? !”. Then there is “Captain Soul”…a groovy R’n’B instrumental that I defy anyone who doesn’t already know it to identify it as being by The Byrds, it sounds nothing like them. It’s one I like to play in DJ sets when I get the chance.

    There are arrangements of two “traditional” Folk songs included. I encase “traditional” in quotes as, although “Wild Mountain Tyme” is based on Scottish melodies and poetry that go back to the 18th century, the song itself was put together by Belfast musician Francis McPeake and first recorded by him in 1950. It’s a song I really like (particularly a version by The Silencers) and have been known to have a go at it at Open Mic nights in the past. 

    The other trad tune and one of my other great Byrds favourites is “John Riley” which comes with another writing credits mystery. This records label credit the song to B. Gibson and R. Neff whereas Wikipedia (quite rightly I think) credits it as a traditional arrangement by The Byrds. I have no idea who R. Neff is but B. Gibson is Bob Gibson, an American folk singer active around the 1950’s who recorded a version of “John Riley” on his album “Live At Cornell” in 1957. But “John Riley” is a famed English folk song dating back as far as the 17th century and loosely based on Homers “Odyssey” and the idea of the disguised lover returning. Anyways, The Byrds do a superb job on it.

    There are some stinkers. “I Come And Stand At Every Door” is based on a poem by Turkish writer Nâzım Hikmet, a plea for peace from a 7 year old girl 10 years after she died at Hiroshima. An admirable sentiment but it’s a bit of a dirge. There’s a rotten version of “Hey Joe” taken at the breakneck speed most bands did around ‘66 before Tim Rose recorded his arrangement, slowing it down, and a certain Mr Hendrix made it famous. Finally “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)” is mercifully short and is the best argument I can think of why this should have been a 10 rather than an 11 track album.

    The loss of a songwriter of the stature of Gene Clark must have hit hard and because of that “5th Dimension” does sound a little disjointed and confused. But it’s The Byrds, they make a glorious noise and I forgive them.

    John Riley - https://youtu.be/mVTHTdTAHb4?si=6YbBhRRVBi3rxx0u

  2. There are a couple of reasons I went and searched out this album but honestly the first thing I thought of was, I don’t have any albums by artists beginning with the letter Q ! I couldn’t go through this whole thing and not cover all 26 letters of the alphabet, so I hunted this one down.

    Now that wasn’t the only reason, when we get to the T’s you’ll find out that I’ve been a long time admirer of Monica Queen and her incredible voice, it just so happened that she released this album in 2022 on clear vinyl and her surname scratched an itch…I have a Q!

    I first encountered Monica Queen in a park next to a Sikh Gurdwara in Bilston ! Since then she’s been around a bit, I have a solo album (on CD) from 2001, “Ten Sorrowful Mysteries”, and she made another in 2004. She’s also sung with Tenement and Temple, Belle and Sebastian (on the single “Lazy Line Painter Jane”), The Jayhawks and The Pogues. She really does have an astonishing voice, a voice much, much bigger than her petite stature, and that was what drew me to her in the first place. It’s a voice equal parts Emmylou, Mille Jackson and gentle Scottish Folk, quite the ingredients. 

    “Stop That Girl” was recorded live in an old mill building with musicians, many of whom had recorded for groups involved with Glasgow’s legendary Postcard Records (Aztec Camera, The Blue Nile, Bourgie Bourgie, Jazzateers, Love and Money, Paul Quinn and The Independent Group). The track list is a mix of Monica Queen originals and cover versions by the likes of Orange Juice, Captain Beefheart, Gene Clark and The Velvet Underground.

    Opener “Give You Love” is (I believe but I’m happy to be corrected) a song originally by Bourgie Bourgie. That is followed by Captain Beefheart’s “Too Much Time” originally from his 1972 album “Clear Spot”. Now I’ve had a long standing dislike of Captain Beefheart, to my mind he’s a vastly overrated chancer responsible for way too much unlistenable garbage, but Monica turns this into a Southern Soul style belter, think something akin to “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”. I have no clue what the original is like and honestly, even less desire to find out.

    “Stop That Girl”s title song is from Vic Godard’s. 1986 album “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” and is another pop soul delight. That’s followed by the first of Monica’s originals “What Is Home ?” a shimmering, fragile ballad backed by a string section.

    The next two songs “Deep In My Bones” and “I Want You To Stop, You're Killing Me” close side 1 and open side 2 respectively. Both are written by Douglas McIntyre, formerly a member of the Jazzateers and Love & Money. Whoever the guitar player is on both of these songs is channeling the sound of Monica’s old band Thrum.

    The absolute highlight of this album is the version of Gene Clark’s (he of The Byrds) stunning “Why Not Your Baby”. Originally recorded during the session for Clark’s 1968 album with Doug Dillard, “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark”, but not included on the album, it was eventually released as a standalone single in 1969. It’s an utterly gorgeous song (one that convinced me to invest in a 3xLP best of Gene Clark) which Monica delivers fantastically well. I really wished there was a YouTube link to it that I could drop in here for you but no such thing seems to exist. I’d urge you to go listen to Gene Clark’s original.

    Unusually for music now, very little of this album is available to stream or download anywhere. I did read somewhere that the record itself had to be withdrawn due to some copyright difficulties. If anyone out there knows anymore about this record or anything else Monica Queen is up to, I’m all ears.

    Too Much Time - https://youtu.be/xGBWegRdnEc?si=q2CdJAOzeWyprKEl

  3. After the previous 2 albums I was ready for “Every Valley” on release day. I didn’t really read anything about it ahead of it’s release as I had enjoyed the previous 2 records so much. This was a mistake. The formula remains much the same and this time the “concept” (this and “The Race For Space” are concept albums after all) is the history of mining in Wales.

    My main problem with this record showed up the very first time I played it. Suddenly, with absolutely no warning, my ears were assaulted by the tuneless caterwauling of James Dean Bradfield. No, I’m not a fan of him or his laughably shite Clash tribute band, so to have him wailing in my living room with no prior warning was not something I was in any way anticipating nor appreciating. A simple sticker telling me “Featuring a guest appearance by…” on the outside would have done it, forewarned is forearmed and all that, but no, I was totally unprepared for the horror…thanx PSB !

    As I pointed earlier out there’s nothing much different here musically to the previous 2 albums, although there is no “Spitfire”, “Gagarin” or “GO!” included, the essential dancefloor banger that would have lifted it. That, added to JDB’s unwelcome cameo and the fact that the history of mining in Wales isn’t quite as gripping a subject as the space race means this ain’t my favourite PSB record.

    People Will Always Need Coal - https://youtu.be/5JwoMf2f9FQ?si=jEa3Gc9rb9TiFp3r