The Telephones - Hummingbyrd

The Telephones  have a new single out on 30 January which is well worth your time.  Hummingbyrd/Amsterdam are two self-penned tunes that emanate a psychedelic vibe that wouldn't have been out of place on Haight-Ashbury, or on the Kings Road circa '65, yet belongs very much to the twenty first century's deep and magical musical underground.

The sitar on Hummingbyrd, courtesy of Jim Widdop, formerly of Fontana Instincts, is perfection, whilst the jangly guitar could have jumped straight from Revolver and mingled with some of The Byrds' early singles, and The Kinks' as well, come to think of it. Add in the harmonies on both tunes and you have an idea of the mood.

2014 has been a significant year for the band, with the addition of Jim Widdop, drummer Tris Alsbury (who is also with Saracen) and Paul Whittington (ex Eskimo Fires and Leon).   If this sitar-drenched, slice of British pop is anything to go by, they are well  worth watching.  You can check out the band at their Facebook page.

"When you hit that town paint it seven shades of red for me", sings Andy Richardson.  Spot on.  But don't take our work for it.  Have a listen to Hummngbyrd here

The Who, Nottingham Arena

After 50 years of Maximum R&B, you could be forgiven for wanting to put your feet up. If you were in The Who, you  would have other ideas. The latest farewell tour (could this really be the end?)  has gone down well and tonight is no exception.

They seem on fire from the moment they step onstage at Nottingham arena, Roger twirling his microphone, Pete delivering windmill guitar. With a band that includes Pete's brother Simon Townshend, Pino Palladino and Zak Starkey, they run through their set of classics, including early gems such as I Can't Explain and Substitute, throwing unexpected tracks into the mix, most notably the eagerly received Pictures Of Lily which hasn't been played live since the 80s (and then sporadically since the 60s).

The crowd hang on every note, every quip, representative of every generation from 70 to 17. The music is that timeless. The only minor disappointment is the lack of My Generation but that is easily excused by the outstanding delivery of other songs including Won't Get Fooled Again, 5.15 and Bell Boy accompanied by film of  absent friends Keith Moon and John Entwistle.  And the conclusion of Magic Bus is superlative.

A farewell tour? Will they be back for more. You wouldn't bet against it.

Ian McLagan

It isn't always easy to remember when a musician first found his way into your consciousness.  With Ian McLagan, I can pinpoint almost the exact moment.  It was approaching 8 o'clock on Thursday 7 October 1971.  The first single I bought, Rod Stewart's timeless classic Maggie May, was enjoying the first of a five week stint at number one and I was enthralled by the shambolic scene of The Faces loafing around the Top Of The Pops stage.  Among the troubadours, was the organ player, with a perfect black barnet, sitting quite still, occasionally mouthing the lyrics.  He was undoubtedly the coolest of the lot, the kid in the playground who everyone wanted to emulate, playing the keyboards in his own peerless manner, adding the glue to the various elements of the tune.  Years later, I would marvel at the keys on that song.  They are the bit that you don't notice at first, yet are crucial to how the whole song fits together.

And so it was elsewhere.  If you love your music, you will dig a bit further and keep on digging.  So I soon found out that three of The Faces had been in another band, The Small Faces, that Mac (as he was known) had joined them around 1965.  He had been a key element of the gang that had lived for a period at 22 Westmoreland Terrace, Pimlico and produced some of the most memorable tunes of the sixties. Before that, he had been a member of The Muleskinners and The Boz People (with future Bad Company member Boz Burrell).

You don't have to listen to too many records to gain an understanding of Mac's influence.  From the music hall flavour of Lazy Sunday, to the soulful vibe of The Faces' Glad And Sorry, and the wistful brilliance of Debris, his playing is integral.  His contribution to other bands' work, particularly The Rolling Stones, is also significant, for example the electric piano on Miss You from Some Girls.

But Mac's influence surpasses that of a musician.  As soon as the news of his passing emerged, Facebook and Twitter were full of tributes to the man.  Many people had a story to tell about meeting him, of how he took time to talk, of his generosity and warmth.  He was no aloof rock star but someone who loved people, took his fans for who they were and spoke to them on the same level.

I met him a few years ago after a gig by his band, The Bump Band, at The Maze in Nottingham.  I spoke to him after the gig, he signed an autograph, and answered my questions about his music and the bands he had played with.  One question had been at the back of my mind for years.  Its the sort of trainspotterish question that only the true fan has any interest in.  It related to the line in Debris when Ronnie Lane sings about "that old familiar love song", which he would hear "at the top of the stairs".  Which song was he talking about?, I had wondered.  Was it a specific one?  Early Tamla Motown?  Or Stax?  Or, probably (given its author's age) something much earlier?

I asked Mac this question, half expecting him to laugh.  He didn't.  He spoke, matter-of-fact, like it was the most obvious question in the world.  "He never knew", he said.  "He'd sit there and his Dad would come in, whistling this tune.  He never knew what it was.  But it stuck with him all his life".

What a star, I thought that night.  Here is a man who has played with the vast majority of the true greats and he's answering questions from a punter he's never met before, talking as if you've known each other for years.  And, judging from the comments on Facebook, I wasn't the only one.

A brilliant account of his life and times is contained in his autobiography All The Rage, which comes strongly recommended.  And then listen to the musical legacy - the instrumental Grow Your Own ("people ask why I never play it, he said that night at The Maze - it was a jam!"), the title track on Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, the introduction to Love Lived Here, the peerless beauty of All Or Nothing and The Autumn Stone, the playful mood of  You're So Rude.

Mac was a musical presence whose loss has genuinely made the world an emptier place.  It would be nice to think that he's up there somewhere, right now, jamming with Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. That's a thought to conjure with.

Ian Patrick McLagan, Born Hounslow 12 May 1945 - died Austin, Texas 3 December 2014, RIP.

The Dying Breed

So where has all the social commentary gone? What happened to those tunes of yesteryear which regaled the state of the nation to a backdrop of any guitar and any bass drum?  In  times like these there should surely be an outpouring of tunes from angry young men with fire in their bellies and a protest song in their hearts.

Look no further pop pickers. In Ghosts Of Yesterday, The Dying Breed  - hailing from Hounslow/Dartford/Braintree - have produced an album of tunes that dig deep into the social mores of daily life on this green and pleasant land, complete with elements of celebration at the possibilities of being an independent spirit among the bland conformity and excess of mediocrity.  Packed with social observation, tunes such What Happened To The Roxy, They Believe (In Saturday Night) and God Bless Tommy hit you in the head like a black and white kitchen sink film from the British new wave set to music.

"Recorded in a garage in Dartford and a shed in Braintree", it says in the sleevenotes.  Which is spot on, from where we're sitting.  The Dying Breed (Jason Williams - guitar and vocals, Stuart Harris, bass and Pat McVicar, drums, ably supported by backing vocalists Sue Moore and Claire Draycott) deliver a set of  modernist music from the streets, telling stories of life lived today, complete with grit, determination and perfectly worn Harrington.  A testimony to the power of this selection is that a generous raft of tunes was recently featured on Glory Boys Radio, the essential programme of choice for the Sunday evening discerning listener.  The band's music is also available at Heavy Soul and Detour.  And to find out more about the band, check out their Facebook page.

Get hold of a copy if the album.  Turn it up.  And let it blast out the rhythm and commentary of Britain today.

Paul Orwell - Tell Me, Tell Me

It sold out faster than a post-Bill Grundy interview sacking.  The debut single on Heavy Soul from London's Paul Orwell and The Night Falls  has just been released.  Tell Me, Tell Me/Little Reason was limited to a pressing of 250 and would not be out of place on the seminal Nuggets compilations, as a blistering slice of sixties west coast pop sunshine with a tough edge that broods just below the surface.  Sympathy For The Devil meets Mr Tambourine Man, perhaps, brought perfectly up to date for twenty first century movers and shakers.   Check them out on SoundcloudTwitter and on this short video.

Tommy Ramone (1952 - 2014)

Sad news that Tommy (Erdeli) Ramone has passed away in Ridegewood, Queens.  Tommy was the last surviving member of the original Ramones and a crucial element in their vision and the sound that revolutionised music in the late 70s.

The Ramones were one of the very few bands who truly changed everything, influencing a whole generation to learn three chords and start a band of their own.  I can't imagine what my adolescent years would have been like without them - and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

This wonderful tune is from their debut album in 1976.  Tommy Ramone RIP.

Stone Foundation - To Find The Spirit

Some records have "recorded at Muscle Shoals" written all over them.  It’s in the groove, the delivery, the vibe of the production.  This is one of them.  Except that it wasn’t.  Stone Foundation recorded this album in their own studio in Warwickshire and, in so doing, have captured the sound of Memphis and Detroit and mixed it with the authentic heart that percolates across every groove of this British soulboy masterpiece.

From the opening guitar and Hammond of the title track, you’re pulled into the mood.  There’s an uplifting, optimistic outlook to this record, a belief in the joyous, and the right to it, once you have “found the spirit”.  The sentiments expressed in the single “That‘s The Way I Want To Live My Life“ sum up this new soul vision to perfection.

There’s an impressive array of guests.  Legendary northern soul singer Nolan Porter and the Q Strings (Bring Back The Happiness/Crazy Love), Carleen Anderson (When You’re In My World), Andy Fairweather Low (Hold On), Paolo Hewitt (Child Of Wonder) and Pete Williams (Wondrous Place).  Not to mention the dub mix of Don’t Let The Rain by Dennis Bovell and the artwork by Horace Panter.

Standouts?  Too many to mention.  The line “I stopped playing games around ‘83” in the opener, the Hammond on Bring Back The Happiness (shades of Booket T?), Paolo Hewitt’s edited extract from his excellent The Looked After Kid on Child Of Wonder and the infectious horns on Stronger Than Us.

A particular favourite is the slowed-down tempo of Don't Let The Rain, complete with Tams reference and languid, hypnotic bass - it is made for hot afternoons in the Balearic sun.  And then there's the line "Whatever happened to the angry young man, divided opinion time and time again" on Wondrous Place - put that in the context of the social history of the last thirty years, mix it in with an adolescence rooted in influences emmanating from the studios of Stax and Kingston, and the result is infectious.  

Since its release, To Find The Spirit has been a constant feature on my stereo.   I'm in good company.  There is little doubt that, if he were around today, the anonymous narrator of Colin MacInness' classic Absolute Beginners would make this album the soundtrack to his long, warm English Summer.  Or, to put it another way, after thirty years of searching, the young soul rebels have at last been found. And the news is they‘re on fire.

The Whereabouts

Came across this gem of a tune today. TheWhereabouts have only been together for around a year but are already delivering ballsy rhythm and blues that  puts you in mind of bands like The Yardbirds and The Bluesbreakers.  Definitely one to watch.

Paul "Smiler" Anderson - Mods The New Religion

There's little doubt that this will soon be gracing the more discerning coffee tables across the globe.  Mods - The New Religion, by Paul "Smiler" Anderson, promises to be one of the definitive accounts of the sixties incarnation of the cult that became Mod.  Packed with pictures, flyers and anecdotes from those who were there, the book has been painstakingly created by a writer who has been immersed in the music, the clothes and the all-nighters since the renewal in 1979.  From a glance at the first few pages on Amazon, it looks stunning, a perfect accompaniment to Richard Barnes' seminal classic, Mods.  An essential purchase in anyone's book.

The Spitfires - I'm Holdin' On

It starts with an infectious bassline, interspersed with the thud of a drum and accompanied by a tasselled loafer tapped in tune with the rhythm.  And then, faster than a ricocheting pinball, comes that guitar crashing in, and the band launch into a cocktail of adrenalin, anger and impassioned self-belief.

Recorded at Paul Weller's Black Barn studios, I'm Holdin' On delivers a heartfelt assault on mediocrity, smugness and the self-righteous.  It confirms The Spitfires as a band who are not afraid to take their influences and reinvent them for the twenty first century, angry young men who are speaking for their generation and producing authentic social commentary on life in modern Britain.  And don't forget the sharp, clean clobber.  As with all the important bands, it's an integral part of what they are about.

You can pre-order the single from their website.  The cd and download are released on 3 March, with the vinyl available later in the month.

The See No Evils - Secrets In Me

Leeds band The See No Evils have a new ep, We Are Strangers, out now on Heavy Soul. This tune is taken from it - and it rocks.

The Studio 68!

On the face of it, there wasn't much to shout about in mid-eighties Britain.  The economy was in dire straits, the national football team had given up winning and the charts were full of uninspiring dross.  Sound familar?  There was, of course, another side.  If you dug a little deeper, as the clued up always do, you would find a healthy underground scene.  There were bands like The Moment, Makin' Time and Prisoners, who had their own vision of how life could be.  Those bands should have been huge.  And in a world that valued quality, they would have been huge.

There is another name to add to that list.  The Studio 68! were equally one of the torch bearers, lighting up the musical and sartorial skies in Camden and beyond in the years around 87-88.  Led by soon-to-be-Britpop-chronicler, Paul Moody (and inspired by the events in Paris in May 1968 - hence the name) they were purveyors of full-on rhythm and soul, delivered with nonchalance, panache and a social eye that took few prisoners.  Tunes such as Closer Than Close and The Next Time ("where will you, where will you be?") observed life as it was lived, with the sharpness and reality of kitchen sink drama put to the hammered chords of a Rickenbacker and the soulful vibe of a Hammond.

I remember a particular show they played at an underground club in Brussels in November 1987.  They blew the night away.  Paris Mods, Brussels Mods, London Mods alike.  It was a true trans-Europe party. A roller-coaster to a cross-cultural melting pot of Tamla beats, sta-prest strides and dancefloor-friendly loafers.  A true vision of how the world could be if it was looking - and moving - in the same direction.

Then the inevitable happened.  The band moved on.  Retaining the dynamic partnership of originals Moody and drummer Simon Castell, they revised, regrouped and re-wrote.  The old songs left the playlist.  New ones were added.  And then, in 1992, they recorded their debut album.

The fact that it has taken over two decades for Portabellohello to be released, says a lot about populist priorities.  Like their contemporaries, the band should have been massive and this album should have been on every stereo in Britain.

But its with us at last and for that we have thank the Paisley Archive imprint of Detour Records.  First impressions are of an assured debut, one that brought together all the influences of their formative years and blended them in a way that anticipated the mood that was, in a couple of short years, to be known as Britpop.  You could say they invented Britpop, in fact, if you wanted to.

There are nods towards psychedelia here, with inspirational guitar patterns (Windfall), punk rock anger (Pop Star's Mansion), and socially-observant pop (Afternoon Sun/Portabellohello/Doubledeckerbus).  Then there is the issue of identity and the yearning for independence (The Other Me/Get Out Of My Hair), the bittersweet relationship (Goodbye Baby And Amen), and the intriguingly androgynous title (He's My Sister).  And their ability to deliver a perfect cover should not go unmentioned - in their early days, they played a full-on rendition of The Spencer Davies Group's Gimme Some Lovin', here the choice of Python Lee Jackson's In A Broken Dream is equally inspired.  It is all delivered amongst a maelstrom of Hammond-soaked beauty, which interplays with hard-edged guitar, no more so than on the closing tune, How To Succeed In The Music Business.

Portabellohello is a fusion of youth, anger and belief, combined with an innate understanding of the importance of the pop record and how it can reflect contemporary life.  Ray Davies meets Holland-Dozier-Holland, after a pint with Pete Meaden, perhaps.  And then there is the urgency.  The fact that it was recorded in just two short weeks adds to the potency and the power of the album.

This is a modern classic - and an essential purchase. The Studio 68! invented Britpop, after all.