Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth

Jimmy Cliff is one of the legends of reggae.  Along with Desmond Decker and Bob Marley, he was one of the artists who brought the genre to these shores back in the seventies - in Cliff's case in 1972, with the seminal film The Harder They Come.  The accompanying album included classics in the form of the title track, You Can Get it If You Really Want, Many Rivers To Cross and Sitting In Limbo.  It also helped to promote artists such as The Slickers and The Melodians.  Keith Richards and Paul Simenon, along with many others, were influenced by the album.

Forty years later and Jimmy Cliff is back.  He has released an album that takes the vibe of his earlier  work and updates it for the twenty first century.  Produced by Tim Armstrong, who also plays guitar on the record, Rebirth has that strong, roots feel that so defined seventies reggae.   The mood is upbeat and danceable, with some songs containing lyrics of social commentary that put me in mind of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.  Tunes such as World Upside Down and Children's Bread are cases in point.  "They took the children's bread", give it to the dogs, making so many peoples' lives so hard".

The single One More will get you on your feet, however hard you try to resist.  Reggae Music looks back to 1962 and beyond and Outsider is a celebration of the music and attitude that defines the genre we love in this blog.  And the version of The Clash's Guns Of Brixton is quite simply one of the most original and inspired covers I have ever heard.

It all goes round doesn't it, music.  Jimmy Cliff inspires a teenage Paul Simenon to pick up the bass guitar and then, all these years later, Simenon's classic tune from London Calling inspires Cliff to produce this cover.   Wonderful.

The album is out now and is available at all good record stores and the usual online places.  You can, for a time, hear a streamed version at Rdio. This is the Facebook page.

Jimmy Cliff is one of the greats.  This album confirms it.

Stone Foundation And Nolan Porter

The northern soul legend that is Nolan Porter - whose classic tunes include Keep On Keepin On and If I Could Only Be Sure - recently teamed up with the Midlands' excellent Stone Foundation.  There is a documentary due out fairly soon about their collaboration and this is a taster from it, complete with interview with Nolan Porter where he tells Paolo Hewitt a little about the tune, Fe Fi Fo Fum.

Stone Foundation, of course, have a new album out right now, The Three Shades Of Stone Foundation.  Find out more on their website or their Facebook page.

 Take a look at this fantastic performance.

The Spitfires - Beat To The Retreat

Another from the Spitfires. This is Beat To The Retreat, recorded, as the poster behind the band indicates, at the Fiddler's Elbow. Class.


Inspirational Moments in Absolute Beginners - Buckingham Palace Road

It's strange to think that it's over fifty years since Colin McInnes wrote the classic novel Absolute Beginners. It nailed a certain outlook perfectly, one which encapsulated the mindset of breaking out of conformity and moving into a new, classless age.

Nowhere in the book do we see the dichotomy between the old world and the new so vividly portrayed as in the scene where the unnamed narrator is on Buckingham Palace road and contrasts the "glamour people" at the air terminal on one side with the "peasant masses" on the other - "all flat feet and fair shares and you in your small-corner-and-I-in-mine".  And then along come a "troop of toy soldiers", marching down the middle of the road "and playing that prissy little pipe music like a bird making wind".

And our narrator stands and watches and thinks "how horrible this country is, how dreary, how lifeless, how blind and busy over trifles".

That contrast between the two groups is key. Note he refers to the travelling group as "glamour people", not "the rich", or "privileged", nor by an approximation of that horrible phrase of thirty years later "upwardly mobile". It doesn't matter where they're from or where they're going (or even that in a couple of decades his cultural successors would be off on similar journeys to the Balearics and beyond). Neither does it matter what age they are.

This scene sums up for me the changes that were happening in the late fifties, where the world was growing smaller and the old order was getting left behind. Because the whole outlook that MacInnes' character described is classless, rootless and ageless. That's its essence.

Twisted Wheel Are Back

They've got a new line up, an album coming out, a tour and a new single. Frontman Jonny Brown is joined by Stephen Evans on bass and Eoghan Clifford on drums.  You can put a cross on your calendar for the album - Do It Again - and the tour, which are both happening in September. The single - Ride - is out right now and what's more, you can get a free download.  Go over to the website and there you go. On a first hearing it's quality. The return of Twisted Wheel is an exciting development. Find our more on their Facebook page.

Jon Lord RIP

Keyboard player, Jon Lord, was crucial to the Deep Purple sound of the late sixties to mid seventies.  Born in Leicester, he had studied classical music - a passion he retained all his life - but became inspired by the music that was coming out of America in the fifties by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and jazz organists Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff.

Lord developed his style to incorporate blues and jazz and played with bands such as The Artwoods, led by Art Wood, Ronnie's brother, in the early sixties.  He also worked as a session musician, appearing on records such as The Kinks' classic You Really Got me in 1964.

He formed Deep Purple in 1968 with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Rod Evans, bass player Nick Simper and drummer Ian Paice.  With this line up, the band had a hit with a cover of Joe South's Hush in 1968 and produced three albums - Shades Of Deep Purple, The Book Of Taliesyn and Deep Purple.   Evans and Simper left the band in 1969 and were replaced by vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover.

This was the line up that achieved its international early seventies success with albums such as Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball and Machine Head.  Lord's trademark keyboard style was crucial to the band's sound, combining his classical roots with blues and jazz flourishes, giving them an edge in comparison with others of the heavy rock genre.  He retained his interest in classical music, composing his Concerto For Group And Orchestra in 1969, which the band performed at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Philharmonic.

Jon Lord sadly passed away today.  His influence is considerable.  This is Child In Time from 1970.

Bob Babbitt RIP

He was one of the legendary Funk Brothers, adding bass lines to some of Tamla Motown's greatest records. Bob Babbitt played at Motown from the sixties through to 1972, when Berry Gordy moved the label to LA.

Babbitt was born Robert Kreinar in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied classical music and double bass as a child but found his true musical home in the Detroit of soul and R&B, where he moved in the late 1950's. He played in clubs and formed The Royaltones, playing live and in the studio with Del Shannon and Stevie Wonder.

He started playing for Motown in 1967. He contributed stellar bass lines to tunes such as Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Wonder, Tears Of A Clown for Smokey Robinson, Midnight Train To Georgia for Gladys Knight and on Marvin Gaye's seminal 1971 album What's Going On. He also played on this powerful anti-Vietnam classic for Edwin Starr.

Bob Babbitt sadly passed away today. His legacy is huge.


Paul Weller and Miles Kane

Those tastefully attired fellows, Messrs Weller and Kane, have teamed up for a photoshoot for John Varvatos.  The pictures were taken outside a pawn shop in New York City.  What is more, there's a video to accompany the shoot, to the soundtrack of That Dangerous Age.  Rather well done, we'd say, with some style, panache and not a little humour.


The Who - My Generation

There’s aggression in the air. The cover says it all. Four Shepherds Bush mods hanging around oil drums in Surrey Docks staring up at the camera. They excude style, menace and attitude, which is amply supported by the music. From the moment that Pete Townshend’s solo guitar chords blast out of the speakers and Roger Daltrey growls “out in the street”, you know that it’s a full on assault.

Produced by Shel Talmy , The Who’s debut album was recorded, reputedly in seven days, in the Autumn of 1965. The original record showcased early Townshend compositions along with the essential elements of the live R&B set they had honed into shape with residences at venues as disparate as The Marquee in Wardour Street and the Railway Hotel in Harrow. Some of the arrangements have dated, especially the non-originals, the harmonies in particular are of the era. But underneath there is the same raw energy that was to characterise punk a decade later.

There are three R&B covers. “I Don’t Mind” and “Please Please Please” are hard edged versions of James Brown songs, belted out with all the passion that you know they must have had when played live. Daltrey’s over the top vocals on Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” have been much discussed. Less often trumpeted is the use Townshend makes of the song as a vehicle for feedback.

One of the highlights is the drumming of the young Keith Moon, which on every track is superlative. Moon hammers his way through, drum roll after drum roll, attacking his kit with venom. He is augmented perfectly by one of the great bassists, John Entwistle, whose playing drives the sound forward. And then there is Nicky Hopkins, who adds his own brand of aggressive piano to the mix.

Talmy had already made his mark on the mid-sixties music scene by his production of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. He was the perfect producer for The Who, possessing an instinctive ability to capture the raw sound rather than attempting to smooth it out. This is particularly effective on the originals. There are three total Who classics on this album. If Townshend’s reputation rested with “The Kids Are All Right” and the stuttering anthem “My Generation”, it would be assured. Not bad for a night’s work – both of these songs were recorded in a single graveyard session on 13 October. Add to this “A Legal Matter”, on which Townshend takes vocals and shows a youthful awareness of the responsibilities of the adult male which he would return to a decade later on The Who By Numbers.

But there are other, less well-known, gems. Daltrey sneers his way through “The Goods Gone”, an end of relationship song par excellence. Townshend’s guitar never sounded so angry, adding brittle chords which attack the mix and drive it through. “Out in The Street”, “Lies” and “Much too Much” are similarly hard. “Its Not True” is one of Townshend’s great lyrics. “You say I’ve been in prison, you say I’ve got a wife, you say I’ve had help doing everything throughout my life”. Rumours and lies. The bane of the urban male.

“The Ox” is proto hard rock. Driven by Entwistle’s bass, it is his finest moment on this album, giving an instrumental showcase for the band to let rip. It is a spectacular achievement. The conclusion, “Circles”, is another highlight, bringing an effective chord progression together with a delivery that works perfectly. I imagine it must have been excellent live.

Could this be The Who’s greatest album? It certainly has a strong claim. This unique band fused the foppishness of the urban English dandy with attitude and aggression. They never did so as effectively as on this album. It is essential.

Note - this article originally appeared some years ago on sohostrut.  It seems timely to reproduce it here.

Papa Bill Records - new release

We featured Papa Bill Records of Modtreal a while back.  They've got a new release which is very strong indeed.  It's by Kashmira & The Soul Distributors and is called Respect A Good Man.  The vibe is summery and danceable and uplifting, just the way we like it.

The description of the record is: "A funky drivin' soul tune to kick off summer! Here The Soul Distributors lay down a fantastic groove for the lovely and elegant Kasmira to butter up with that sweet voice of hers."

We agree with that completely. Find out more on Facebook.


The Spitfires

This lot sound a bit tasty. If the evidence is anything to go by, The Spitfires are about to launch an incendiary blast to the portals of complacent, contemporary Britain.

Their strapline is "supplying the urgent voice and sound of today and tomorrow" and you wouldn't argue with that sentiment one jot. The band hail from Watford with the line up of songwriter Billy Sullivan on guitar and vocals, Sam Harrington on bass and Henry Frakes on drums. Influences include the likes of The Jam, The Specials, Small Faces, Motown and The Who. Find out more about them at their Facebook and My Space pages.

I love this tune from last years's debut ep "From Cradle To Grave".  There's the jagged guitar introduction,  the very danceable dub section and lyrics that are spot on, working on the level of both the personal and as a commentary on current society in its wider context. But more than anything it's the energy, the raw power, the heartfelt anger that comes through loud and clear. This band are definitely one to watch.


Interview with Dougal Butler at Monkey Picks

For anyone with even a vague interest in Keith Moon, this is a treat. Mark Raison at the excellent Monkey Picks blog has landed an interview with Keith's co-conspirator, Dougal Butler. The result is informative, amusing and illuminating - well worth a look, in short.

The new print of the book looks excellent as well - perfect holiday reading methinks!


Pete McKee - new collection

For some time, Pete McKee has been one of my favourite contemporary artists.   His pictures have a unique, yet familiar, quality, drawing on quintessentially British subculture, from mod, through two tone and casual, to contemporary indie.

My favourites include the one where a group of mods hang around outside the venue at The Jam's last ever gig in Brighton in 1982 and "Booty And The Beat", where a young Beatles fan polishes his Chelsea boots.  Then there are those which celebrate great moments in Sheffield music history, from Phil Oakey getting his trademark haircut, to a young Alex Turner and his mates musing after a kick around at a local park that they should form a band.  His gallery, "A Month Of Sundays", in his native Sheffield, is well worth a visit.

In the wake of the Stone Roses' triumphant return, he has two new pictures for sale.  One is an eighties bedroom, where a teenage fan relaxes to the debut album.  The other is a portrait of the band as they are now, but with the clever twist that all are donning their eighties clothing.  Ian Brown, in particular, wears that top - the one that was such a familiar part of the band's overall look.

Find out more about McKee and his work here.


Fred Perry Subculture - Soulboys

The next in the Fred Perry Subculture series of short films covers soulboys.  Don Letts' film looks at the genre in the UK through the seventies and beyond, drawing a definite line between the tradition and fashion of northern soul and its contemporary southern cousin.   It clearly expresses the passion of its devotees, the obsession, the love of obscure 45's  - in short, keeping the faith.

Features contributions from Robert Elms, Paul Gorman, Norman Jay, Peter York, Russ Winstanley, Lynval Golding, Wayne Hemingway, Eddie Piller and Steve Mason.  In picking up British youth culture with authenticity and respect, this series is turning out to be something of a nugget. Recommended.


Blur - Under The Westway

Last night, Blur premiered two new tunes, via a weblink on a rooftop in London. They were the electronic-influened The Puritan and the more melancholy and wistful Under The Westway. On a couple of listens, the latter is easily my favourite, with echoes of This Is A Low and The Universal coming through.  It sounds like a return to form, to me. It is available to download on itunes.


The Lost Boys - Flowers

This is another tune from Southampton's Lost Boys. Also written by singer/songwriter Daniel Ash, they say that it's summery. That may well be the case. From where I'm sitting, with its jangly guitar and great melody, it's rather good as well.


Fred Perry Subculture - Skinhead

Following on from the Fred Perry Subculture short about mods, here comes another about the original skinhead movement. It is also produced by Don Letts and gives an illuminating glimpse into the emergence of the genre, from the days before the media gave it its label.

There are some great tunes in here and archive footage, along with interviews with Kevin Rowland Pauline Black, Lynval Golding, Viv Albertine and more. Well worth a look.


Quadrophenia - thoughts on the BBC4 Documentary

Iconic is an over-used word. It should be reserved for only the most culturally significant. Bobby Moore holding the World Cup, Andy Warhol's picture of Marilyn Monroe, The Sex Pistols at the 100 club. You can add to that list The Who's 1973 Quadrophenia double album.

I got my copy more Christmases ago than I dare remember and I still have it, battered, after years of use. It would not be overstating the case to say that it is one of the key albums of my life - and that it still sounds as good today as it did back then, in fact, if anything it has grown in stature and resonance over the years. Its existential portrayal of a sixties mod, fuelled by adrenalin and purple hearts, confused by the world around him, has a universal potency that each new generation can lock into. A little like On The Road, or The Catcher In The Rye, or Absolute Beginners.

So I had high expectations of Friday night's programme on BBC4. I wasn't disappointed. The new documentary took you through the album - its conception, creation, execution - through the eyes of its auteur, Pete Townshend. There were contributions from, amongst others, the man whose vocals never sounded better than on this record, Roger Daltrey, Who aficionado, Mark Kermode, Ace Face and legendary Who fan, Irish Jack Lyons, Townshend's former flatmate and author of the book "Mods", Richard Barnes, and manager Bill Curbishley. The input from recording engineer Ron Nevison, writer Howie Edelson and photographer Ethan Russell (who took those timeless pictures that accompanied the album) was particularly illuminating. And the inclusion of Maxine Isenman and Julie Emson - the mod girls who appeared in those photographs - was genius itself.

Sadly, Terry Kennett - the "mod kid played by Chad" - could not be represented in person, as he passed away in 2011. His presence in those photographs was central. But there was a significant degree of commentary on his behalf, in particular from Isenman, Emson and Russell. The documentary told us how he was discovered by Townshend, a little bit of his background and how he was almost forced to be elsewhere during the shooting. He "stole a bus", as Russell explained, along with a description of how his commitments with The Who led to him being let off at his subsequent court appearance.

Among the points of interest were the fact that the first piece created for the Quadrophenia project was the short story that appeared on the cover of the album, which Townshend wrote one afternoon at his home by the river. I always thought that short story augmented the double album perfectly and set the scene neatly for the music that was to follow. It was interesting to hear about the personal interaction within the band, as well as the isolated vocals and instrumental parts, a good example of which is the riff of 5.15 in its naked form, with the horns (that were such an important part of the overall feel of the album) stripped away. And the conversation about the mod scene involving Lyons, Barnes and Townshend was invaluable, as was Lyons' visit to the legendary Goldhawk, where the band played many of their early shows.

Then there was the tomfoolery of a certain Mr Moon, along with a priceless anecdote about the invoicing arrangements for his Rolls Royce. "What was Keith Moon like in 1973?", asked Daltrey.  "A little bit more drunk than in 1972".   He added that Moon was "at the top of his game" in 1973/4. Few Who fans would argue with that.

Overall, the documentary is well worth watching for both Who devotees like me and anyone who has an interest in the album. It is available for a period on the BBC iplayer, here:


 I've watched it twice. Now it's time to watch it again.

 "Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents....".