Secret Affair - Soho Dreams

They're back, with new music. Secret Affair, one of the great bands from the uprising of 79, released Soho Dreams last month.  There's a class picture of Ian Page and Dave Cairns on the cover, against a neon background, which sets the scene neatly for what is inside.

First impressions are that it boasts a harder sound than some of their earlier material. That doesn't surprise me.  When I caught them a couple of years back, playing at the Pulse festival in Nottingham, they certainly packed a punch.  That is the mood that greets you here.

The title track gives a strong indication of the album's direction with a solid slice of rhythm and soul and Ian Page's urban poetry about life, youthful innocence and the city's underbelly. Walk Away is a song that grows on you with every play, complete with some top notch brass.  And the r&b classic, I Don't Need No Doctor, which was covered by Humble Pie amongst others, is given a full on treatment.  The ending is particularly strong, showcasing an on fire slice of Dave Cairns guitar - which is a feature of the album - and some top drawer Hammond.

Turn Me On and Land Of Hope find the band firing on all cylinders, while one of my favourite tunes here, Soul Of The City, has a smoky edge that drags you into its enclave.  In My Time, with its vintage Cairns lyric,  is one of the album's stand outs.  I have seen comparisons mentioned with the Quadrophenia album and I can understand why.  But that shouldn't take anything away from the originality of the tune, which is tough, thoughtful and gritty, and a great example of a band on form.

Soho Dreams is a lot more than the return of one of my favourite eighties bands. It is a fresh, original album in its own right, with songs that have something new to say about contemporary Britain.   In short, it is one of the soundtrack albums for the latter half of 2012.  I hope there's more to come.

Terry Callier RIP

Very sad news.  This is pure genius. A beautiful, inspirational and uplifting tune.  RIP the legend of Terry Callier - you will be missed.

Don Fardon - Belfast Boy

Following yesterday's review of the DC Fontana album, it seems fitting to include a tribute to Don Fardon - and also to the legend that was George Best,

DC Fontana - Pentagram Man

It's time for brand new music from the excellent DC Fontana. Over the last year, the band has undergone a line up change, with Louise Turner replacing Karla Milton as vocalist and doing so admirably, as this ep testifies.

Pentagram Man is a collection of six tunes, all of which demonstrate a development of the group's sound. The strong sixties influence remains but it has become more sophisticated, with a nod to 1966 rather than 1964. It features layers of musical textures that get inside your mind and start the feet moving in equal measure. A prime example is the title track.  Check how the guitar and Hammond intertwine with the pop flavoured vocals.  And I love that outro.

Then there's the Tamla Motown style introduction of Devil Angel, which leads into a captivating torch singer vocal from Turner.  It works perfectly and is perhaps my favourite tune on the album.  What Would It Take is a entrancing ballad which has a folky, Summery feel, with picked acoustic guitar and strings and other musical delicacies in the background.

Satisfied (Part One) is a stylised re-working of one of the most memorable tunes from their first album Six Against Eight.  I'm pleased they explored it again because the result, featuring stripped down instrumental arrangement and a vocal from Scott Riley, who wrote the song, is an impressive piece of bluesy soul.  It is followed by Sighed DC, an eight minute psychedelic extravaganza, featuring spoken samples, rhythmic patterns, a harp and other delights.

The final tune is a reprise of the title track, this time sung by sixties icon Don Fardon.  It is a fitting conclusion, combining the influences that make up the album and adding another perspective to the tune.

Of additional interest are the sleeve notes on all things psychedelic, penned by Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope. They are apt because Pentagram Man is a tour de force of psychedelia.  Well worth adding to your collection, in fact.

Pentagram Man is available from  It can also be downloaded from iTunes.  We're also told that a 7" single from the ep will be released on Heavy Soul VERY shortly!!!

The Spitfires - Spark To Start

There's the thud of a bass line, followed by a touch of Hammond and then the drums and choppy guitar kick in.  A couple of bars later, the vocals come through, loud and strong and clear, telling us that "by now you should know what's right/by now you should know what's wrong".  They are lyrics that ring out with truth and passion, a clarion call for a fired-up generation.

They call it "the sound of young Britain" and, right now, that description seems apt.  This is a band who know where they're going, what they want.  They speak for an age that is staring the economic scrap heap in the face, yet refuses to be bowed.  Like their cultural predecessors, their minds are focussed and their attitudes are intact.  And they're doing it all as sharply as the creases in their neatly pressed strides.

In short, The Spitfires' brand new single breathes fresh air into a stagnant musical landscape, at the same time sneering at societal conformity and negativity.  Frontman Billy Sullivan delivers his social commentary on both tunes with feeling, attacking his guitar with venom, backed admirably by Sam Long on bass and Matt Johnson on drums.  There's a little bit of ska in there, some rock and roll anger, and more than a little soul.  All in all, there's a strong heritage in the mix, delivered with a style that is all their own.

There's also a video on the way soon, which should be well worth a look, if the photos that have emerged of the filming are anything to go by.  Like the great bands before them, this is one that takes sartorial excellence as serious as musical, which is evident from a feature in style blog Daisy Do's.  It features a photoshoot from the filming of the video. Check the Fred Perry, the loafers, the boating blazer, the harrington.  Seriously great clobber from where I'm sitting.

On this evidence, The Spitfires could be your new favourite band. They are mine.

Spark To Start /Sirens was recorded at Paul Weller's Black Barn studio, produced by Charles Rees, and mixed at RAK studios. It is released on 12 November, with a limited run of cds available from the band's website.  It will be available to download on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Jake Bugg

This post is a little bit belated but I wanted to do its subject justice. I’ve been living with the debut album from Jake Bugg for a week now. In that time, it has gone straight to the top of the album chart, beating off more populist rivals. The man has also received accolades from rock and roll luminaries and has been the feature of a photoshoot for FHM. I’ve listened to each of his self-penned tunes many times. So what’s the verdict?

Let’s step back a bit, to when Jake Bugg first came to our attention. His was a voice that sounded raw, alive and young, and very bluesy, as if it came from the Mississippi Delta, not the Midlands. And there were more than a few traces of the young Bob Dylan in the phrasing and tone. The lyrics dealt with personal, common place events, suggesting a maturity that could perhaps take the format of the three minute pop song and create something a little bit new with it.

Those early tunes are, of course, contained in this selection. The opener, Lightning Bolt, will be well known to aficionados. Lyrically it is so personal that its appeal is universal and the straight ahead approach works perfectly. Taste It describes that unique transition of adolescence, where the future opens up, with all the possibilities it entails, yet is tinged with bittersweet regret. Country Song is slower, revealing a more plaintive mood, whilst Trouble Town documents graphically Britain from the underside. Like the voice, it could almost have come from the deep south in the twenties - but it’s totally contemporary. Country blues meets broken Britain, with a kick.

The elements that made those earlier songs so memorable are here right across the album - the social commentary on tunes such as Ballad of Mr Jones and Seen It All, the lyrical virtuosity on Simple As This and the sensitivity of slower songs such as Broken and Slide. Note To Self is a lesson in personal belief, of definite relevance in an increasingly competitive world, and I love the solo, almost reggae, touches of the closing song, Fire.

The theme of escape from the past is strong here, particularly on Trouble Town and also on my personal favourite, the last single, Two Fingers. It‘s there in the same way as it was on Definitely Maybe, in the film Cemetery Junction, or at the end of Absolute Beginners. Casting off, starting again, moving off down the road that will lead you towards a new vision. But not forgetting everything, or everyone - “the best people I could ever have met”.

Jake Bugg has produced an album that chronicles Britain today, warts and all. But he does so in a way that adds hope to the mix, a route map to follow your dreams. He might just be the poet laureate of the new wave of British guitar music. I, for one, hope this album is just the beginning.

The Rolling Stones - Doom And Gloom

You have to admit that you're not sure what to expect. Seven years after their last record, The Stones are back with a new tune. Recorded in Paris and produced by Don Was, it is the lead single from Grrrr!, a compilation which will be released later this year. The post on Facebook says the song will be played for the first time on air on Chris Evans at 8.15 on Thursday morning. It will be available on i-tunes immediately afterwards.

Can they still cut it? That's what you're asking yourself as you come downstairs, put on some toast, make a strong coffee. You're checking out your phone, trying to tune in to Radio 2. You haven't listened to morning radio since those fabulous Gallagher boys were releasing their first tunes back in the nineties and you're pretty sure you need to download an app. What happened to simply turning on the radio? You kick yourself for being so unashamedly last-century. But none of that matters because, in a few seconds, the app is downloaded and you're listening to Mr Evans' dulcet tones, just as you did all those years ago.

But who cares about that. All you're thinking about right now is the band who used to be called Little Boy Blue And The Blue Boys, many decades ago. The veterans of the Crawdaddy, the ones who played that legendary show at Hyde Park in 1969, who worked their magic at Villa Nellcote in 1971. Is it possible that these sixties survivors have made a record that sounds contemporary, relevant and powerful?

Sometimes you know from a song's first moments that it's going to be good. Some strong, slightly distorted, chords come straight at you out of the speaker. Then Jagger starts to tell a story of a dream he had and how "all around is doom and gloom". It's a bit like the news every night on the television, you think to yourself, the downbeat mood you feel on the street. Paint It Black for the twenty first century. But with a sneer, a swagger and a twinkle in the eye that says, in no uncertain terms - forget depression, lets dance.

And that's what you're doing now. Grooving round the kitchen, first thing in the morning, with a coffee in your hand and a slice of pure, unadulterated bluesy rock and roll in your head, your soul and your beating heart. One that beats just that little bit faster than it did a a minute ago.

Who'd have thought it, after all these decades. Put it this way. Imagine you're in 1976. Someone tells you that, in 2012, The Stones will produce a tune that is powerful, raw, with lyrics that have contemporary resonance. And, at the same time, Johnny Rotten will be advertising butter. Would you have believed them? Me neither.

If Street Fighting Man and Gimme Shelter summed up the world of 1968/69, Doom and Gloom does the same for 2012. It all sounds totally of now. It shows that Mick and the boys have their fingers very much on the pulse. In short, it's a bolt out of the blue and a breath of fresh air at the same time. And all you want, right now, is to hear those chords blast out of your stereo. Let's play it again.

Nolan Porter With Stone Foundation - Live At The 100 Club, 7 July 2012

On 7 July, northern soul legend Nolan Porter appeared onstage at the 100 Club with Stone Foundation. Soon afterwards, reports began to circulate about the quality of the performance that night. The footage that emerged on the web supported the fact that the show was a little bit special. I featured a clip of Fe Fi Fo Fum back in July, from a forthcoming documentary.

Since then, the performance has found its way onto cd and a limited edition of 500 copies were released on ebay. I don't know how many copies are left but it is still listed. If you haven't got a copy, and have an opportunity to get one, my recommendation is to jump at the chance. It has to go down as one of the best live albums ever made. The quality of the playing from Stone Foundation is inspirational, while Nolan Porter demonstrates that he still has everything that made him a star back in the seventies.

From the opening bars of To Find The Spirit, the vibe is uplifting. The classics are all there - Keep On Keeping On, If I Could Only Be Sure, the aforementioned Fe Fi Fo Fum. Then there great tunes such as Somebody (Somewhere)Needs You and Crazy Love. And the version of the Stone Foundation's own Tracing Paper is spot on.

Sometimes, a particular show gains legendary status, gaining a reputation beyond the immediate vicinity of the night in question, forging its own musical territory and influencing a whole generation of connoisseurs. Bob Marley at the Rainbow comes to mind, as does the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Nolan Porter with Stone Foundation at the 100 Club may well be another such example. Get hold of this cd to hear the evidence for yourself.