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From My Archives: “This is Reggae Music”

A recent tweet from the splendid music blogger Every Record Tells A Story  got me thinking about an LP I have that I have not listened to for a while — “This is Reggae Music”.  ERTAS had just bought a copy of the album. I am not sure which version but the cover was green, which Discogs tells me was a double, produced in 1976 or 1978, and probably released by Island.

My copy has a yellow cover, a single disc and was bought by me in 1975 when I was doing my undergraduate degree at university (yes, I am that old). It was released by Trojan, the British reggae, rocksteady and dub pioneers that started bringing the West Indian sound to the UK in 1968.

I mention this not out of any kind of competition (I am not that kind of collector and zzthisisreggaemusicye_101bwould lose overall to ERTAS if I was), but because it puts my version of this various artists classic into a historical context. It was released to get the middle-class long-haired boys and hippie girls of 1975 Britain (prog and glitter rockers in the main) into a genre that had the unfortunate birth pangs of being adopted by skinheads.

Boy, did it work — certainly for me —  which is why a second volume was released. But this single volume was reggae dawn for many.

From the ethereal opening lines of the eponymous first track by Zap Pow — This is reggae music, hear it in the stars — to the thumping protest of The Wailers “Concrete Jungle” — No chains around my feet, but I’m not free — the album still sends me into swaying raptures.

Along the way are a few now well-known artists such as Jimmy Cliff (“Hey, Mr Yesterday”) and The Maytals (“Funky Kingston” and “Louie, Louie”). Among other tracks, there is  a very sexy number from Lorna Bennett (“Breakfast in Bed”) and a Bob Marley-produced number from Owen Gray (“Guava Jelly”).

This compilation really is one for the ages . For reggae fans it is a must; for those not into the genre, here’s your intro. This is reggae music.

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Beautiful music video of Grave Lines

New music video filmed by my son, Joshua Gaunt (aka Josh, but not around me). It is of the band Grave Lines. I know I am biased, but I think the filming is great. (I also really like the music).

Music and mental health

My friend Dan Clarke works for a charity called KeyChanges, which provides music engagement and recovery services for people experiencing mental health problems. Not all the music is to my taste, but here is Dan presenting some of it on Resonance FM show Bad Punk.

David Crosby still trying to get back to the garden

For people of a certain age, the highlight of David Crosby’s latest album Here If You Listen is a new rendition of “Woodstock.” Yes, that Woodstock — the 1969 one where a 28-year old Crosby was “scared shitless” along with his buddies Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young.

Now 77, Crosby has spent most of the post-CSNY years hammering out a solo career that, DavidCrosby_photobyAnnaWebber-0107-Edit.jpgwhile modestly successful, has never captured the glory of that band’s heyday or that of The Byrds, where he resided beforehand. So the presence of “Woodstock,” the generational anthem written by Joni Mitchell, could be taken as a hint that Crosby believes he may have captured the magic again. He has got some help. Here If You Listen is marketed as a Crosby album, but in truth it could easily have been Crosby, League, Willis, and Stevens.

Those “helpers” — Michael League, Michelle Willis, and Becca Stevens, together as Lighthouse – make this a far more harmonic and polished production than a mere solo album. They offer a new turn to an old road, something Crosby himself recognizes: “If leaving a group like Crosby, Stills & Nash was like jumping off a cliff, then finding the Lighthouse Band was like growing wings halfway down. These three people are so startlingly talented, I literally couldn’t resist making this album with them.”

Most of the songs on the album (Crosby’s fourth in five years) are folky, trippy tunes that hark back to an earlier era without actually sounding dated. Voices float across the music. Some move off on their own. Others stay glued to the plot. They all return to center when it is time.

One example is “Janet,” said to be inspired by Little Feat. It starts off with a chunky Crosby guitar riff and then tells the tale of a woman who has had her man stolen: “Sitting at home / Feeling alone / You spend your whole life looking behind / You’ve got to let it go for the sake of your soul / Janet girl.” It is soulful and bluesy and musically complex, as indeed is much of the album.

“Buddha on a Hill” is another example. The male voice anchors the song with “There’s a Buddha on the hill / Smiling” while gentle female ones musically envelop it with an almost ghostly “Here / If you listen.” The guitar-work is ethereal.

Meanwhile, there are two tracks that are bound to be pored over by Crosby aficionados. They are simply named for years — “1967” and “1974” — and are based on what are described as “decades-old demos.” Now it may be a coincidence, but both years were significant in Crosby’s musical life.

The first was when he broke up with The Byrds, amid internal rancor, before signing up with Stills, Nash and Young. Appropriately, the track starts like a CSNY tune-up session and builds into a lovely jam with the only lyrics being harmonic doos and dahs.

The second year was when CSNY re-formed, went on the drug-fueled road, then failed to put together a new album, again because of infighting. “1974” is gentle folk, Crosby-style, containing this retrospective advice: “If you don’t like the story you’re in / Well then pick up your pen / And then write it again.”

As I say, may be a coincidence.

Which brings us to the new version of “Woodstock,” the last track on the album. Far less rocky that the CSNY version and less plaintive than Mitchell’s original, it is a beautiful 2018 reboot. Given its hippie roots and Vietnam War references, you would think it might be dated. But looking around it really isn’t.

“We are stardust / Billion-year old carbon / We are golden / Caught in the devil’s bargain / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.”

(I originally wrote this article for No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music)

Richard Thompson embraces his Angst

richardthompson.jpgWhen I interviewed Richard Thompson a few years ago, it was generally agreed between us that he doesn’t do fluffy. Love, he suggested, is bitter, hard, and often painful. Why deceive people about it? His songs have mostly reflected this. If you want happiness and stars in your eyes, RT is not your man.

So it is with 13 Rivers, Thompson’s latest album of angst.  Track after track describes a world of despair, betrayal, and misunderstanding. “My name is heartbreak,” he sings in the upside-down love song “Bones of Gilead”; “O take this weight from me / And heal me from my demons,” he pleads on “My Rock, My Rope.”

But don’t take this wrong – 13 Rivers is wonderful.

As long as you can handle Thompson’s emotionally dark view of the world around him (as many have over the years) this latest offering surrounds you with fine sounds and plenty to think on. Thompson, who produced the album himself, says in the PR blurb that he sees it as a series of rivers that all flow into one current, hence the name. Well, the music certainly washes over you in a most pleasing way, even if there are times when you feel as if you are drowning.

“I often look at a finished song and wonder what the hell is going on inside me,” Thompson says. “We sequenced the weird stuff at the front of the record, and the tracks to grind your soul into submission at the back.”

The surprise for long-term fans of Thompson – an architect of 1960s British folk-rock with an honor from the queen to go with it – is that 13 Rivers is infused with fairly heavy rock – heavier even than his 2013 album Electric. There is not much folk in this folk-rock.

The very first track, “The Storm Won’t Come,” starts with a deep, almost African, drum riff as Thomson waits in vain for wind, fire, and rain to sweep away the putrefaction of life around him. “There is no storm, so I’ll make my own / Paint the walls, burn what’s rotten / Throw out the old and half-forgotten.”

(I originally wrote this article for No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music) 

Cropredy 2018 – as eclectic as ever

DSC02718It is not often you come across a Gaelic rapper, a musician in 1970’s knitted jumper surfing a crowd in an inflatable boat,  and, well, The Beach Boys. But it does happen.

This year’s Cropredy festival (officially Fairport’s Cropredy Convention) wrapped up on August 11 after presenting just such spectacles. Par for the course for one of Britain’s most eclectic musical events.

The festival, which is hosted annually by folk rockers Fairport Convention, leans heavily towards folk and folk rock. But it is not against a bit of reggae, prog rock, hard rock and world music.

The 2018 edition was a bit more folky than previous years. Among others, singer Kate Rusby charmed the crowd of around 16,000 with her down-home Yorkshire lullaby voice; The Oysterband belted out their particular brand of folk-punk;  and Le Vent Du Nord added a rollicking set of updated traditional music from Quebec.

But elsewhere different sounds could be heard. Thursday night’s headliner was ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who presented his ground-breaking “Pet Sounds” album in its entirety as well as a broadside of other Beach Boy classics.

Now, I have to be honest here. Wilson is well, well past his best. His voice is no longer there and a few songs (especially “God Only Knows”) were very off. But the band made up for it. Ex-Beach Boy Al Jardine still has it in spades and his son, Matt Jardine, has somehow inherited Wilson’s old voice and finished off what the great auteur himself DSC02722could not. There was also Blondie Chaplin driving his guitar all over the place (in a good way).

“Sloop John B” almost brought this reporter (as poncey American journalists like to say) to tears it was so beautiful.

The headline band on Friday night was The Levellers. To judge by some of the comments on Twitter, not everyone was happy about what was a turn of style from folk-rock to a more orchestral progy sound. But I loved it. This was possibly because I was not familiar with their earlier work. But it mainly had to do with the incorporation of members of the under-appreciated Moulettes as a sound wall. Hannah Miller’s cello was, as always, a glorious treat.

A rain storm on Saturday evening made listening to the  exciting Afro Celt Sound System  a little less exciting, but the band was amazing and the fact that thousands of people stayed huddled under umbrellas and ponchos to hear their world music mix speaks volumes for the crowd’s love of music and the band’s pull.

Rod Stewart showed up — at least in the form of Cregan & Co, whose frontman Jim Cregan wrote or co-wrote many of Rod’s classics. They were delivered with panache and  Fairport Convention itself delighted the audience by providing the mandolin section of “Maggie Mae”.

Similarly, there were roars of approval for The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, musical humorists who were rude about everything, crowd surfed in an inflatable dinghy and had the crowd shouting “Donald Trump is a Cock Womble”. What’s not to like?

Other standouts were Police Dog Hogan, who rocked; folk-singer Will Varley, who brought a welcome burst of lyrical poetry to the event; and the harmonious Smith and Brewer, who at times guitar-picked like Doc Watson. (Watch out for these two).

And of course, the wonderful Richard Digance returned to warm up the Saturday crowd with funny and poignant songs, leading to the world’s largest Morris Dance with thousands upon thousands of fluttering handkerchiefs.

Time well spent, for sure.

 

 

 

A new/old offering from Irish folkists Clannad

Unknown 15.50.00It is said that old music is only old if you have heard it, otherwise it is new. So it is with the latest release from Clannad, the Irish folk ensemble whose various versions date  back to 1970. “Turas 1980” is a double album available in CD and vinyl of a Clannad concert in Germany in, well, 1980.

But it is new. The recording by Radio Bremen was never broadcast or released, much to the disappointment of the band at the time.

So here is it — and very nice too.

I confess I was hesitant when I got the album. I had loved an early Clannad I once owned, but then bought another years later when it had all gone a bit New Age (which is just one up from elevator music in my humble opinion). This though is the old stuff – solid Irish folk with all the emotion, poetry and bathos that goes with it. Flutes, whistles, mandolins, harps – all there.

Most of the songs are very traditional. There is , for example, the haunting  lone flute of  “Paddy ‘s Rambles Through the Fields”. Then there is a rollicking (and somewhat naughty) “Gathering Mushrooms”.

This is one for anyone who likes traditional Irish folk. And given its age — 38-years since 1980 if you can believe it — the recording is remarkably fresh. In fact, it could be new.