Issue 2

Harbottle and Jonas – The Beacon | Brook View Records

The fifth album release by the Devon based duo Harbottle and Jonas seems to have been a long time coming, with a steady drip feed of single releases leading up to its release.  The anticipation has been almost breath-taking.  It’s not only the four single releases that have made this album so eagerly awaited, it’s also the duo’s four previous albums, all of which have contributed to a steadily built body of work, the results of which have been mightily impressive so far.  Dave Harbottle and Freya Jonas know what they’re doing musically and The Beacon is testament to that, even after just one run through, it’s immediately evident.  Joined by Annie Baylis, whose presence is certainly felt, with some fine violin, viola and vocal contributions, the arrangements seem even more complete than before, though to be honest there’s no song more complete than the brilliant “Hall Sands” from the duo’s last album.  The heart of this latest album is the titular beacon, the song inspired by the Ugorough Beacon, an important local landmark close to where the musicians live.  The suggestion of nature is pronounced here, notably in the wing of a butterfly on “Every Creature is a Book” to the swallows and berries on “I Make a Nest”, together with the red breasted creature commanding our attention on “Whenever You See a Robin”, a delightful song that recalls the anecdotal stories of the late Simon Cauty, a father with a tale to tell.  Freya takes a moment to express her inner conflict of the simple everyday act of swimming in a cold river, baring her soul temporarily during “Anam Cara”, both in its poetry and in the following tunes written by Annie.  Real life people are represented with tender reflection, not only the late Simon Cauty but also Freya’s own grandfather in her song “F.C. Jonas”, a beautiful tribute to a much loved family member.  There’s obviously a lot of thought gone into the making of The Beacon, which not only offers hope to these three musicians, but to all of us I should imagine.  An album of empathy and warmth, with a keen eye on the natural world around us.

Edith Cavell is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Tommy Coyle – Incomplete Control | Fat Cat

Thirteen original melodic songs make up this second offering from Yorkshire-born singer/songwriter Tommy Coyle, though a couple of songs included here may very well have made the journey from the first album Voodoo Sessions, notably “Ahmed”, which continues to resonate, especially in these much more socially aware times.  A well-travelled musician, Tommy has found his way back to his old stomping ground, having tasted the air in several locations from London to the other side of the world, where he’s spent a good deal of time reflecting on some of the big issues, such as addiction, depression and death as well as parenthood, each treated here with equal empathy.  The full band sound he employs on such songs as “Monday Morning”, “Self Development Blues” and “No” points directly towards Tommy’s indie rock roots, the latter which features the voices of label mates Chris While and Julie Matthews, while “Before You Give Yourself a Heart Attack” reveals a much more rootsy sensibility, a track that features the noted Kentucky banjo player Steve Cooley, who helps sign the album off with a fine touch of Bluegrass. 

Ahmed is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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DeFrance – Second Wind | Self Release

Fans of the famous Hypgnosis art department will probably recognise something familiar about the cover of DeFrance’s second album release, Second Wind, which bears a resemblance to Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, in that both album sleeves depict a farmyard animal enjoying the contrasting blue skies and green meadows of a bright clear day. Admittedly the lamb appears to be enjoying itself considerably more than the Friesian, it has to be said.  This is where the similarity ends though, unless we are willing to find a correlation between such song titles as “Funky Dung” and “Fat Old Sun” with “Runaway Heart” and “Fireball”, though each of the latter slightly easier to comprehend.  Instead of early Seventies weirdness though, the Arkansas four-piece deliver a much healthier dose of bluesy rock in a succession of songs with hardly a moment of breathing space between the tracks.  This is an album to enjoy from start to finish, with no ballads to break the inertia, therefore an album to keep the party going.  With both Drew DeFrance and Andrew Pope looking after the guitars and Connor Roach and Daniel Stratton Curry taking care of bass and drums respectively, the classic rock band line-up demonstrates a hint of Tom Petty here, a bit of The Byrds there, some classic era Stones thrown in, especially the band’s use of horns, together with a healthy dose of the ever-vibrant Southern Rock we expect from a southern rock band and with not one psychedelic breakfast to be seen. 

Runaway Heart is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Paul Hutchinson – Petrichor | Self Release

We might not immediately recognise the word ‘petrichor’, yet we’re all only too familiar with what the term stands for, that is the scent produced when rain falls upon dry soil.  The word also forms the title of the latest album by accordion wizard Paul Hutchinson (Belshazzar’s Feast), as does the delicate opening tune, a piece in 5/4 time, written at the start of lockdown.  Lockdown is another new word, which all of us now sadly recognise all too well.  For the eleven pieces, Paul invites an array of musicians from around the world to help out, musicians from Sweden, Belgium, Australia and the US as well as one or two from the UK.  It’s difficult to avoid getting completely lost in such pieces as “The Oregon Trail”, with its sweeping clarinet flurries, courtesy of Karen Wimhurst, and the almost sombre “Promised Land”, which was inspired by the sight of armed guards and barbed wire fences at the port of Calais, a reminder of the inhumane migration restrictions so close to home, a theme echoed in the closing piece, “Minicab Road”, cleverly named for the Brexit Secretary in anagram form.  On a lighter note, the fleeting pleasantries of springtime are captured in the utterly sweet “Cuckoo’s Lamb”.  A lovely album.

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Michael Feuerstack – Harmonize the Moon | Forward Music Group

The fifth album release under his own name, having previously recorded under the pseudonym of Snailhouse for several others, finds the Montreal-based indie rock singer/songwriter in a mellow mood once again.  Feuerstack claims this album to be the product of some ‘beautiful alone time’, the lockdown offering a period of reflection, for which he visits some of the material originally planned for future projects.  Our attention is immediately drawn to the delicious sleeve design, courtesy of Paul Henderson, whose artwork echoes the heyday of album art, when the actual sleeve aesthetic was just as important, and in some cases, even more important (to some) than the music itself.  This suggests care and attention to detail, something that resonates in the songs we find within.  It doesn’t surprise me that Feuerstack is extremely proud of this record, the songs have a personal quality, almost as if they’re being performed just for you.  With almost random snippets of studio noise between the tracks, Harmonize the Moon includes some instantly memorable songs such as “Time to Burn” and “I Used to be a Singer”.

Time to Burn is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Jake Ian – Everything Has Holes | Self Release

There’s something evidently neglected in the cover shot of Jake Ian’s new release “Everything Has Holes”, a dilapidated truck stop amidst the overgrown weeds, making it difficult to reach the clearly out of use and tilted public telephone box.  Perhaps a sign of our times, the now deserted outer limits of a once thriving nearby town, a dusty landscape that provides a suitable backdrop for this Edmonton singer/songwriter to tackle in ten new songs.  Stripped down to the basics, there’s a lonesome feel to the material, each song delivered in an almost cracked and submissive voice, notably the last line of the title song, in which Ian confesses that all his faith is gone.  With a furrowed brow, Ian purrs out his lyrics to a gently strummed, sometimes finger-picked guitar accompaniment, with occasional harmonica blows, essentially the almost whispered thoughts pondered upon during these difficult times.  Does everything have holes and if so, could they be similar to Leonard Cohen’s famous cracks, somewhere for the light to get in?  

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David Olney and Anana Kaye – Whispers and Sighs | Schoolkids Records

Unfortunately, this is to be David Olney’s final album, a collaboration between the noted Rhode Island-born singer/songwriter and Anana Kaye, the chosen band name for Georgia natives Anana Kaye and Iraki Gabriel; Georgia the country that is, not the southern American State.  Produced by Brett Ryan Stewart of Wirebird Productions, Whispers and Sighs, sees Olney on tremendous form, especially on “Lie To Me Angel”, with its closing Billy Graham-like evangelical coda, fire and brimstone and all that.  In places, Kaye’s sultry vocal is possibly more sultry than necessary in daylight hours, notably “Thank You Note”, with its accompanying gypsy violin, courtesy of Derek Pell.  The tender moments are all the more tender in view of Olney’s passing in January 2020, especially “My Favourite Goodbye” and “Behind Your Smile”, both of which remind us of his extraordinary sensitivity.  

Thank You Note is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Son of the Velvet Rat – Solitary Company | Fluff and Gravy

Joshua Tree’s Son of the Velvet Rat, the duo consisting of Austrian husband and wife team, Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder, return with ten songs, each of which are treated to a full-bodied, full-blooded and full band sound.  Dominated by Altiebler’s gravel voice, which is at times so mannered as to become almost a caricature of itself, notably on the title song, where the affectation becomes a little unsteady, reminiscent of the sort of inflection Donovan adopted for “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, the delivery occasionally suffers from being a little too forced to take seriously.  “Stardust” though, is given an almost cinematic Ennio Morricone treatment, so convincing that we almost expect Lee Van Cleef to peer around a cactus at any given moment.  For “When the Lights Go Down”, the almost theatrical ever changing vocal inflection turns to a depth that Leonard Cohen would’ve been proud of, almost spoken as many of Lenny’s later recordings were.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be making facile comparisons, but one can’t help but notice a similarity in chord structure between “The Only Child” and the well-trodden “Hey Joe”, which is difficult not to hear once the Hendrix worm enters the ear.  I’m not overly convinced really.

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3hattrio – Lost Sessions | Okehdokee | Lucky Smile

With a title that could easily have been something along the lines of The Lost But Miraculously Retrieved Sessions, the Utah Desert band 3hattrio deliver some of their most experimental work to date, with ten selections that explore the outer reaches of Americana.  Having almost lost the audio files when a piano fell on the hard drive, causing what was thought to be irretrievable damage, by some quirk of fate (and a little TLC), the files were restored to their former glory and Lost Sessions began its little journey as a miracle child.  In places, the songs venture into minimalist trance-like territory, such as “No In-Between” and “Disquieting”, with only the very occasional drift back into what might be considered standard song form, “In Or Out” and “Miss Tilly” for instance. Much of the album is sparse and daringly explorational, but this is its strength, especially some of its more eerily dreamlike moments. 

Miss Tilly is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Brigitte DeMeyer – Seeker | BDM Music

Dividing herself between her native Califiornia and her adopted home of Nashville, singer/songwriter Brigitte DeMeyer takes a virtual detour South to flex her vocal cords with a delicious album of sultry blues and barroom ballads.  Seeker features lots of rattling bottleneck guitars, some gospel-tinged piano and one or two bluesy and steamy organ runs, together with an informed understanding of where good songs should go.  “Louisiana” is a good enough place to go as any, especially with music of this flavour, much of which suggests that vocally, Brigitte might be right at the top of her game at the moment, with each line delivered with honesty and believability. Occasionally playful, notably the thoroughly absorbing “Cat Man Do”, Brigitte appears to be enjoying every minute, especially while being assisted in no small measure by co-writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, who puts the groove right there in the grooves.  A fabulous album.

Louisiana is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Oka Vanga – Oka Vanga | Crazy Bird

Angie Meyer and Will Cox return with their third album, exploring their folk/Americana roots in seven original songs, together with a fine arrangement of a well-known traditional song (“The Cuckoo”) and a couple of delightful sets of tunes.  “Beneath the Apple Tree” is a good opener, which introduces us once again to Angie’s very distinctive voice, a voice that takes command of any song it touches.  The arrangements are full-bodied, with no unnecessary excursions or meandering, remaining focused throughout.  “Bows of Yew” and “Whiskey for Sorrow” are both a showcase in informed phrasing, each line delivered with assurance and idiosyncratic flair, with Will doing precisely what a good musician should do, that is to add spice and texture to each song without getting in the way.  Helping the duo along are such guests as Patsy Reid on violin, viola and cello and John Parker on double bass.  Perhaps Oka Vanga’s best yet.

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Various Artists – Edo Explosion Vol I | Analog Africa

If there’s a better name for a band than Sir Victor Uwaifo and his Titibitis, I would like to know it.  Edo Funk Explosion Vol. 1  is a sprinkling of sunshine in an otherwise bleak time, which brings three legends of the Benin City sound together, a dozen tracks gathered together on one vibrant compilation.  Vol. 1 suggests that there might be more to come, which would be something we could all look forward to, but for now, we hear Osayomore Joseph and the Creative Seven offering up some enthusiastic Edo rhythms on the opener “Africa is My Root”, while Akaba Man, the so-called philosopher king of Edo Funk, reaches for an explosion on the dance floor, full of determined energy, with some fine under-pronounced brass lifting the rhythms midway through “Ta Gha Hunismwen”.  Democratically shared between each of the outfits, who share a third of the disc, in terms of tracks, the four that feature the aforementioned Sir Victor are as quirky as they are hypnotic, with “Aibalegbe” dying to burst into “La Bamba” at any given moment.

Africa is My Root is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Direct Hits – The Broadway Recording Sessions | Optic Nerve Recordings | Review by Marc Higgins

Mod Revival band The Direct Hits have a sound that comes straight from 60s guitar bands, a bit of The Kinks, The Who and jaunty Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd.  In 1982 the trio of Colin Swan, Geno Buckmaster and Brian Grover had a recorded and released one single “Modesty Blaise” on Dan Tracy of The TV Personalities Whaam! label.  Interestingly the label’s appropriation of 60s cache via the title of Lichtenstein’s Pop Art mid air dog fight, predates George Michael’s, leading to a payoff from the pop duos management.  The Direct Hits, keen to capitalise pooled resources to pay for one day in Broadway Sound a tiny studio in Tooting.  The small window their finances afforded might be partly responsible for the feel of this first session.  The songs themselves were well rehearsed, given the trios busy live schedule.  “Ride My Bicycle” has the rawness and vocal harmonies of early Who with that clipped through a Dansette mono sound.  “I Start Counting” and “Too Shy” have those strong harmonies and a guitar sound resonant of the 60s underground.  “Leander, By The River” is more tense and chaotic with Brian Grover’s manic drum rolls and guitar riffs Syd Barrett would have been proud of.  “Naughty Little Boy” is, part Mod revival part Psych freak out with a, strange switch in the middle.  “What Killed Aleister Crowley” has a dark atmosphere and the twisted macabre story telling of early Caravan or Floyds’ “Arnold Lane”, but shot through with the raw edge of The Jam.  “I’d Rather Stay Than Go” has a pop sweetness with Colin Swan and Geno Buckmaster’s tight harmonies. “Sweet Honey Girl”, “I Feel The Earth Move” and “Start Living” were recorded at a later session after the marathon one day session that delivered the first nine tracks and with a friend producing they have slighter fuller sound, lusher pop vocals and a little more polish.  Listen for the bigger drum sound, the hand claps on “Start Living”.  In the end, the recordings didn’t see the light of day until now, with the band releasing Blow Up, on Whaam! as their debut in 84 and history treating the 82 sessions as demos.  Some of that 60’s rawness and crackle was gone replaced by a touch of Squeeze or The Jam pop sheen and New Wave jangle, making these earlier recordings an interesting document of a start on The Direct Hits journey.

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Buck Meek – Two Saviors | Keeled Scales | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Buck Meek is one of those artists whose songs, like well-composed paintings or photographs, manage to perfectly capture mood and atmosphere.  Even the moment of their recording is preserved in amber, with hisses and background sounds adding to the character of each vignette.  Two Saviors, the Texas-born and New York-raised songwriter’s latest album, is a veritable gallery of curious little pictures, each awash with the gentle strokes of Meek’s charming vocals.  The album was recorded over seven days in an old house in New Orleans, with no second takes to spoil the spontaneity of the piece and risk the loss of that aforementioned character.  “Candle” has a wonderful fragility, even when bolstered by electric piano, pedal steel and some exquisite harmonies.  “Pocketknife”, whilst simple and sweet, manages to pack all the majestic punch of a hymn.  The album’s title track is, however, the standout track on this wonderful follow up to Meek’s 2018 debut, boasting a melody and chord structure that would have turned even George Harrison green with envy.

Candle is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Kirsty Cox – No Headlights | Mountain Fever Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson

I often recall that wonderful feeling of hearing Alison Krauss and Union Station for the first time in the mid-1990s.  Bluegrass had never sounded so good. Since then, hundreds of artists have experimented with their guitars, banjos and mandolins in an effort to craft countless bold and gutsy albums from one of America’s oldest and most treasured forms of music.  It’s both striking and exciting, then, to hear an Australian artist dragging bluegrass back to that enchanting place where I first found it, all those years ago.  Over the last decade, Kristy Cox has been earning herself an impressive reputation on the Australian bluegrass scene and has quickly become a familiar name worldwide.  It’s easy to see why, especially when you recall songs such as “Just Me Leaving” on 2018’s Ricochet and the gorgeous “You Walked In” on 2016’s Part of MeNo Headlights presents more of the same, which is just what most of us bluegrass fans look for in our record collections.  Songs such as “Running Circles (‘Round Your Memory)”, “Train” and “Finger Picking Good” which, incidentally, features the amazing Tommy Emmanuel, all help to make this a record worth grabbing.

Running Circles ‘Round Your Memory is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Steve Jinski – Hope Street | Lucky Smile

Hope Street is probably the only thoroughfare we should contemplate, especially in times like these.  There is optimism in its title, for which the singer/songwriter Steve Jinski offers hopefulness in five new original songs, each of which has been written in the midst of chaos, yet each imbued with a beam of light at the end of the tunnel, something to hold on to so to speak.  “Something Good Will Happen” spells out this message, a message that would in a perfect world be conveyed by our media, instead of the wall to wall doom we’re fed each waking hour.  The eastern flavoured “The Earth and the Clear Blue Sky” is probably the stand out song here, its infectious pulsating rhythms once again pointing us in the direction of good things.  If the sparse piano-led “Building the House”, takes a reflective tone midway through, it prepares us for the uplifting gospel sound of “To the Saint of Lost Causes”, which employs the assistance of an empathetic choir, reminiscent of something like Van Morrison’s “The Eternal Kansas City” for instance, providing us with something to lift the spirits, which most of us need after all. 

The Earth and the Clear Blue Sky is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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David Leask – Voyageur in Song | Self Release

The central focus of this mini-album by Scots singer/songwriter David Leask, is his relationship with the unique guitar he uses throughout, the so-called Six String Nation guitar, which has been given the nickname Voyageur.  Crafted from a variety of fragments from historical items, including a bit of Wayne Grezky’s hockey sticks, a chip off John Ware’s cabin and another off Nova Scotia’s Pier 21, not to mention a piece from Nancy Greene’s Olympic ski, the guitar is rather up there as far as home-made axes go.  Very much a symbol of Canada itself, the guitar brings to the album a sense of time and place, which in effect makes us pay more attention to the six songs, each of which take us on a journey through the fragments of wood that form the very fabric of this special musical instrument.  The opener, “Against the Grain”, makes the first reference to the instrument within its lyric, a song that centres around the Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii, which is used for the top of the instrument.  The handle of the shucking knife mentioned in “The Legend of Joe Labobe” forms another part of the guitar, a song which tells the story of the Mi’kmaq fisherman, an ordinary man, who takes his chances.   The manner in which David interweaves each song through its component parts keeps our attention throughout and adds to the lyricism in the suite of songs, notably the story of the liberty-seeking Christian pacifists who flee Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, which is beautifully linked to a simple piece of wood from a Saskatchewan grain elevator.  This is by no means the Voyageur’s first outing, its creator Jowi Taylor pointing out that countless musicians have already used the instrument for many a performance, but these particular songs seem to provide a purposeful voice for its many cultural fragments.  It’s a good idea and it’s been realised with noble intentions.

Les Chansons du Voyageur is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

The Trials of Cato – Bedlam Boys | Self Release

When The Trials of Cato first burst upon the UK folk scene two or three years ago, they hit a nerve with their own specific brand of acoustic roots music, which garnered enthusiastic comparisons to Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols, in attitude rather than style it has to be said.  Their musical clout should in no way be diminished by the arrival of mandolin ace Polly Bolton (Stillhouse, The Magpies) into their ranks, who replaces the outgoing Will Anderson.  Ahead of this current line-up’s forthcoming album due for release later in the year, comes the first single, an expressive, yet almost laid back take on the usually rampant “Bedlam Boys”, a 17th century tale that has its origins in the poem Tom o’ Bedlam, and a song that has been recorded and performed widely, notably by Steeleye Span back in 1971 for the band’s Please to See the King album, an almost medieval take on the song subliminally sampled as an introduction here, a homage perhaps to their forebears.  Polly immediately puts her stamp on things with her slick mandolin playing, which appears to infiltrate itself seamlessly into the sound that Tomos Williams and Robin Jones have successfully made over the last few years.  I can only imagine good things ahead for this superb trio. 

Bedlam Boys is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Josiah Longo and Sharkey McEwan of Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams at the Beverley Folk Festival in 2009

Sid Griffin at the Beverley Folk Festival in 2009

Eric Taylor at the Maze, Nottingham in 2009

11. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name | Atlantic K40320 – 1971

I found my copy of David Crosby’s debut solo LP If Only I Could Remember My Name languishing in a cardboard box at a garage sale just outside Tampa on Groundhog Day 1996, an album first released in the wake of the hugely popular Déjà Vu by his then band, Crosby Stills Nash and Young.  In the early 1970s those four musicians released solo albums almost simultaneously, each inviting various prominent musicians along for the ride.  In Crosby’s case, Joni Mitchell is there, along with members of the Grateful Dead, Santana and Jefferson Airplane.  In places the album echoes some of the sonic styling of Déjà vu, with a strong acoustic feel, yet the LP received less than favourable reviews at the time of release in 1971, which was possibly due to Crosby’s overt hippy sensibilities.  I have time for David Crosby, warts and all.  I know he has his faults, that he is enormously opinionated and can be unreliable and he can even manage to upset Graham Nash, so much so, the chummy Blackpool-born Hollie has vowed never to speak to him ever again, the very man who once stood by Cros through thick and thin, which beggars the question, what on earth could he possibly have done to worry the likes of Graham Nash?  Crosby continues to make me smile for some reason and this album remains my favourite of the CSNY related solo albums and is still played regularly, almost fifty years on.  “Music is Love”, “Cowboy Movie” and “Laughing” are all great songs, in fact they all are.

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12. Gene Clark – No Other | Asylum 7E-1016 – 1974

There’s a picture on the back of his fourth solo studio LP No Other, which looks like Gene Clark could have joined Abba or Bucks Fizz (or both), which doesn’t so much worry me, but makes me wonder if this could possibly be the same tall brooding dude who banged a tambourine on the Byrds debut hit nine years earlier.  Released in 1974 on David Geffen’s Asylum label, No Other was poorly received both critically and commercially and seemed to be doomed from the start, the label even refusing to promote it at the time, causing a major rift in relations between the former Byrds songwriter and the label, at one point leading to a skirmish involving fisticuffs in an LA restaurant, which Geffen denies ever having happened.  The fact that the recording went fantastically over budget costing upwards of $100,000 and contained nothing that could be considered ‘hit’ material, would certainly have impressed the studio boss little and after the album’s release, Clark was definitely off the label.  Nevertheless, Gene Clark himself always considered the album his masterpiece and maintained this belief until his death in 1991.  Conceived whilst looking out of the window of a friend’s Mendocino home, which overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the songs have an almost mystical edge, songs such as “Life’s Greatest Fool”, “From a Silver Phial” and “Strength of Strings” not to mention the title song, which is probably why the album has endured to this day and is currently undergoing scrutiny by an entirely new audience of musicians. 

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13. Little Feat – Sailin’ Shoes | Warner Brothers BS2600 – 1972

In the early 1970s, just after I’d jumped the high school ship and landed right on my backside in the real world, I was ready to join a hippy theatre group called ‘Arthur’, made up predominantly of students from a nearby teacher training college.  When we were not rehearsing Samuel Beckett scenes or Chekhov shorts, we would often find ourselves back at the director’s place, sharing illegal substances, spicy food and kindred musical spirits.  One of the group’s more enigmatic figures was the director’s lodger, a tall quiet man called Paul, who pretty much kept himself to himself and said very little.  He kept his records in a cardboard box next to the record player, which contained around fifty LPs and which I was always eager to dip into.  Made up almost entirely of LPs by American bands, that box contained albums by the Steve Miller Band, early Doobie Brothers, Todd Rundgren, The Flying Burritos, The Byrds and most importantly, two records by Little Feat (Dixie Chicken hadn’t yet arrived).  As Ian’s wife prepared food, I would dive into the box and out would come Sailin’ Shoes, a record that effectively kick started a lifetime love of Lowell George, although at the time I wasn’t to know just how short his lifetime would become, the singer cashing in his chips before the end of the decade. Strangely, I can’t watch a Samuel Beckett play, have a curry or be on the receiving end of a whiff of the herb, without thinking of “Cold Cold Cold”, “Trouble”, “Tripe Face Boogie”, “Sailin’ Shoes” or the timeless “Willin’”, not to mention Neon Park’s bizarre Fragonard Gainsborough inspired cover painting, depicting a cake on a swing!

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14. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks – Striking It Rich | Blue Thumb Records ILPS9204 – 1972

I was never sure if the members of the little theatre group I belonged to were more into the late night music sessions or the plays we were writing and performing at the time, but I suspect it was the former.  Another record hidden away in Paul’s box, which continued to provide a soundtrack to the late hours, once the rehearsals at a local disused church were over, came in a sleeve design resembling a book of matches.  Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks’ Striking It Rich LP was completely different from anything else in the box and showcased the San Francisco-based band’s penchant for mixing gypsy jazz with cowboy folk, country, swing, bluegrass and pop, resulting in a unique sound.  Jaime Leopold’s walking bass line that opens “You Got to Believe” owed more to jazz than anything else I was listening to at the time and therefore, opened up a new and exciting world of discovery, the fact that the old Hot Club of France swing style had now found its way into the repertoire of a band of fellow long hairs, despite one of the singers having the voice of Fozzy Bear (“O’Reilly’s at the Bar”). I still consider this LP a favourite to this day, in fact I play it so much, I scare myself.  

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15. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV | Atlantic 2401012 – 1971

I’ve never waited for a record with quite as much anticipation than that of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, the untitled one.  By the time this album was released just before Christmas 1971, the other three records were already showing signs of wear, so often were they played and therefore I made sure I was the first to arrive on the doorstep of Foxes Records on the first floor of the Arndale Centre in Doncaster on the day this LP was released and couldn’t wait to get it in my mit.  On the bus home, I took the record out of the bag and was immediately baffled by the sleeve design, a discarded framed picture of an old man with a bunch of sticks on his back, then on the back, a photo of a district that could easily have been one of the more derelict areas of my home town.  Words were also conspicuous by their absence.  I then pulled out the grey inner sleeve, which revealed the song titles, the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” and a few credits including the names Sandy Denny and Peter Grant – Beauty and the Beast perhaps?  Most curious of all were the four strange symbols, which no one really understood, apart from the four people they represented.  I was confused.  Once I got the record home I played it over and over until I fell asleep.  It was just over a year later when I got to see the band at Sheffield City Hall on 2 January, 1973, where they performed “Rock and Roll”, “Black Dog”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Stairway to Heaven” from this album and had already begun to include material from their follow up Houses of the Holy.  Robert Plant had the flu and couldn’t quite reach the high notes, in fact their tour was abruptly cancelled after this gig.

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16. Deep Purple – Machine Head | Purple TPSA7504 – 1972

When Deep Purple’s Machine Head tour rolled into town on 28 September 1972, I had my chin on the edge of a vibrating Sheffield City Hall stage, while I waited, with eager anticipation, for the band to come on stage.  Those behind me grew steadily more impatient, with several calls for “Wally” and one or two sharp digs in the back from those who wanted to take my prime place.  The album had been released six months earlier, giving me plenty of time to acclimatise myself to such songs as “Highway Star”, “Space Truckin’” and the mighty “Smoke on the Water”, which not only has one of the best guitar riffs in rock music, but also name checks Frank Zappa and the Mothers, when nothing else in the Top 40 did.  When the band appeared, my chin left the stage and I became possessed for the next hour or so as the band, which at the time included Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice, chucked out the best of the Machine Head album, one or two from both Fireball and Deep Purple in Rock and a couple of notable singles.  The most memorable moment for me though, was when Jon Lord reached for the bottle of Guinness standing on top of his organ, took a swig then reached down to give me the bottle.  I was fifteen, fearless and flattered as Jon Lord gave alcohol to a minor.  When Jon died in 2012, part of my youth also died with him.

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17. Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs | Harvest SHVL765 – 1970

Recorded between May 1968 and August 1969, just after he parted company with Pink Floyd, due in part to some increasingly bizarre and peculiar behaviour, The Madcap Laughs is Syd Barrett’s debut solo LP.  The cover itself, designed by the late Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, shows some of these worrying signs; a sparse flat, actually Syd’s bedroom at his home at Wetherby Mansions, painted floorboards, no furniture, wilting flowers, a barefooted crouching Syd looking not quite right.  The gate fold sleeve also shows an acquaintance, known as Iggy the Eskimo, posing nude on a wooden stool, the two seemingly unaware of one another’s presence.  I became aware of the album in 1973, around the same time I discovered Kevin Coyne and like Coyne, I was initially puzzled by some of the songs, almost accusing the pair of them of not even trying.  The false start on “If It’s in You” should’ve perhaps been left on the cutting room floor.  Of course it later became apparent that Syd’s psychological state was pretty much worse than I first thought and in that context, the songs perhaps mirrored what was going on in Syd’s head.  I don’t know what Coyne’s excuse was though.  Side two of this album, from “Octopus” through to “Late Night”, is a journey into the unknown and was perhaps not the most suitable soundtrack for my mid-teens angst, in fact it was positively harmful.  Reciting “Terrapin” to ‘chicks’ was invariably unrewarding, even on a good day.

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18. Kevin Coyne – Marjory Razor Blade | Virgin VD251/2 – 1973

I remember precisely when and where I bought Kevin Coyne’s double LP set Marjory Razor Blade.  It was Bradley’s Records in Doncaster, right next to the West Laith Gate entrance of the Arndale Centre, now the Frenchgate Centre and it was the day after John Peel featured the Derby-born singer songwriter live on his late night programme.  I’d never encountered such a voice before and part of me knew I would like the album he was promoting on the wireless that night and part of me was absolutely convinced this would also irritate both of my sisters to death (it did).  There was something primal in Coyne’s performances, almost as if he was making it up as he goes along.  His acoustic guitar was primitive and his voice was like the sound of a feral cheese grater with an additional sneer.  Though I bought the album on the strength of such eccentric songs as “Dog Latin”, “Karate King”, “Good Boy” and “This is Spain”, I soon discovered another side to this extraordinary talent, the heart breaking “House on the Hill”, which still sends a shiver whenever I hear it.  In a perfect world, this song should perhaps appear on many ‘top ten songs of all time’ lists.

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19. The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only in it for the Money | Verve 2317 034 – 1967

When I first heard this LP, I didn’t quite know what to make of it; it sounded like Frank Zappa had taken miles of tape, cut it up into small pieces and randomly stuck it all back together again.  By 1972, I’d already bought the previous Mothers album Absolutely Free and therefore knew what I was getting myself into.  With a gate fold sleeve parodying Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, though inverted to avoid record company executives having an unnecessary nose bleed, I initially thought the whole thing might have been a spoof on the Beatles classic, but I soon discovered that it was an almost scathing attack on the hippie subculture and the summer of love in general and that it came from the alternative angle of the ‘freak’ culture through biting satire.  If I was slightly confused at the start of the first side, being repeatedly asked “are you hung up?” or who the Peace Corps might be, what the ugliest part of the body is or why a track called “Absolutely Free” was on this LP and not the previous one, by the end of “Flower Punk”, the penny had finally dropped.  A lifelong association with Frank Zappa’s music began, whose humour, satire, orchestral ambitions and musical dexterity was just the ticket.  Strangely, I never got to see him live, though I saw him on the big screen behind his son Dweezil, as the pair of them performed the entire Apostrophe album, going on to perform another hour’s worth of Zappa’s repertoire at the York Barbican, including “Rollo, Gumbo Variations”, “Dancing Fool” and even “What’s The Ugliest Part of Your Body?” of all things.  When Frank died in 1993 he was just 52.  He left easily twice as many years worth of music.

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20. Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band – Lick My Decals Off Baby | Straight STS 1063 – 1970

This was the only occasion when I was relieved that I didn’t have to ask the young lady at the counter for the record.  Going into a record shop and asking for Lick My Decals Off Baby was a daunting prospect even in Doncaster, which conjured up every scenario from a simple slap to being marched off to the nearest constabulary in cuffs.  Fortunately the LP was right there in the browser and I was saved from further embarrassment.  I first heard Beefheart on the John Peel show, a track from his second album Strictly Personal, “Son of Mirror Man – Mere Man”, which had an enormous effect on me.  Decals came later, when I’d already managed to absorb most of the challenging Trout Mask Replica.  Standing in the record shop reading the credits whilst considering whether to buy this or save my hard earned bread for several pints of Carlsberg in the Yorkist later that night, I was immediately drawn to such song titles as “Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop”, “I Love You Big Dummy” and “I Wanna Find a Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go”, which I couldn’t imagine the Everly Brothers ever singing.  I took the sleeve to the counter, thankful that the title was written in a fine almost unreadable script and took the thing home to delight my dad, who clearly thought I was bonkers.

11. Fleetwood Mac – Oh Well Parts I and II | Reprise RS27000 – 1969

In the same year that saw the release of the first Led Zeppelin LP, the Woodstock Festival and the Manson Family slayings in Beverley Hills, 1969 also saw some very definite changes in music, with the beginnings of what we now think of as Heavy Metal.  When I first heard Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well Part I”, I was instantly taken by the interplay between acoustic and electric guitars, with its memorable riff and isolated unaccompanied verses, courtesy of the song’s author Peter Green.  The A side of the single was played a lot during the early 1970s, clearly audible from at least three bedrooms in the street where I lived, although not so much the less fussy B side, which leaned far more towards Classical Spanish guitar and featuring Sandra Elsdon on recorder.  I always remember my pal Malc, home on leave from serving in the army in Germany, sitting on the little wall by the front door, playing the opening riff on my acoustic guitar.  “Show me that again” I demanded.     

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12. Curved Air – Back Street Luv | Warner Brothers K16092 – 1971

In 1971 Prog Rock had taken hold and just about anything with a cleverly designed LP sleeve was filed in record shops under that banner, whether it was Prog or not.  Prog was pretty much confined to the long playing record, yet record companies still insisted that there was chart potential in the genre.  All I seem to remember about Curved Air on the two or three times I saw them during the early days, was Darryl Way’s extended violin solos, with or without cannons, while the velvet and satin-clad Goddess known as Sonja Kristina swayed across the stage.  Curved Air’s “Back Street Luv” was every bit as Prog as anything else they recorded at the time but the song definitely had a catchy sing-a-long chorus and was just long enough to keep the daytime radio DJs from having a nose bleed.  The single still holds the distinction of being the only record to hit number 4 in the hit parade that starts with an ascending stereophonic fart.  I did get to chat to Sonja Kristina a few years later, the interview of which can be found in our ‘Interviews’ section.

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13. Focus – Sylvia | Polydor 2001-422 – 1972

I first became aware of the Dutch Prog Rock band Focus after their memorable appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972 performing a pretty delirious version of “Hocus Pocus” from their then current album Moving Waves, coupled with their then current single “Sylvia”, from their forthcoming Focus 3 double LP set.  The single was one of the few instrumental tunes that managed to enter the charts during this period, popular largely due to Jan Akkerman’s highly melodic Gibson Les Paul guitar solo.  It was the early 1970s, the age of Progressive Rock and therefore the single was destined to find its way into the little orange singles box.  Some years later I spoke to the band’s keyboard player Thijs van Leer after a Focus gig, who claimed during the interview that the band has never been Progressive, but rather Regressive.  It’s just good rock to my ears. 

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14. Free – All Right Now | Island WIP 6082 – 1970

Once again, a rather obvious choice for this series in fact, I can’t imagine even considering a soundtrack to go with my youth without the inclusion of Paul Kossoff’s classic opening riff.  In the late Sixties and early Seventies, there seemed to be an abundance of great songs, great bands and great record labels and once those three ingredients merged, sparks would inevitably fly.  The members of Free were thrown into the limelight at a very young age, who between them, came up with a raw yet soulful sound, which would become known around the world, largely due to the distinctive voice of Paul Rodgers, possibly one of our greatest rock voices, if indeed not the greatest.  The version that appeared on the band’s third studio album Fire And Water, had an extended guitar solo brilliantly performed by Kossoff, though this was trimmed down for the single version.  By 1990, twenty years on from the single’s original release, “All Right Now” was recognised by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), after reportedly being played in access of over a million times on American radio alone.

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15. Family – In My Own Time | Reprise K14090 – 1971

Third record in a row with a band whose name is a single word beginning with an F, which is a coincidence.  By the mid-1970s, the bulk of singles that I’d managed to collect in the little orange box were from around the mid-1960s onward, a period I describe as my ‘singles years’ and which encompass a varied range of musical genres, not least from the British Rock scene.  The Leicester band Family was formed in late 1966 and featured the unmistakable rasping voice of frontman Roger Chapman, who would later influence such singers as Peter Gabriel.  The band’s eighth single, “In My Own Time”, released in 1971, begins with an excrutiating wail, so excrutiating, Chapman had to repeat it.  The single quickly rose to number 4 in the UK charts, just a couple of years before the band called it a day, largely due to the well documented wind of change in popular music by the mid-1970s, with the arrival of Pub Rock, the New Wave and of course Punk.  Why everything that went before had to go still baffles me to this day.

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16. Jethro Tull – The Witch’s Promise | Chrysalis WIP 6077 – 1969

In 1970 is was virtually impossible to ignore Jethro Tull.  Not only was the band wildly different from all the other bands that fell under the Prog Rock banner, they were also totally accessible and even enjoyed some success in the singles chart, something other such bands tried their best to ignore, much to the dismay of their respective managers and record company executives.  “The Witch’s Promise” was the band’s seventh single and reached number 4 in the UK charts, just one place behind the band’s biggest chart success “Living in the Past” of the previous year.  Anyone who remembers this period will also recall Ian Anderson topping the music polls every year in the best ‘other instrument’ category for his distinctive flute playing, something very much to the fore from the very beginning of this memorable song and then on throughout.  So hairy were the members of this band that I didn’t know what any of them actually looked like until the mid-1980s.   

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17. Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five | Fontana H339 – 1959

An unusual choice for this section granted and by far the earliest recording in this series, but significant nevertheless.  Recorded in 1959, a couple of years after I was born, The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s single “Take Five” could almost be described as the soundtrack to my early childhood, a very familiar, yet almost awkward tune, an instrumental you couldn’t possibly whistle or hum without getting yourself tied up in an aural knot.  The infectious little instrumental was written in 5/4 time by the saxophonist Paul Desmond and the shorter single version went on to become the biggest selling jazz record of all time and is still played often on the radio to this day.  Though the single version of “Take Five” is a good deal shorter than the album version, both versions belong to the smoother, less edgy side of cool jazz, with that instantly recognisable sax riff and prominent drumming courtesy of Joe Morello. 

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18. Eric Burdon and War – Spill the Wine | MCA 14118 – 1970

The 1960s saw some dramatic changes in music in a relatively short ten year period, from the beat groups of the early part of the decade to the totally transformed rock stars of the late Sixties and early Seventies.  Who could really have seen Sgt Pepper coming, while watching The Beatles perform at the Royal Command Performance in 1963, let alone “Revolution 9”?  The Animals were the scruffy untidy end of the blues-based beat groups of the mid-1960s but by 1970, lead singer Eric Burdon emerged as quite possibly the very first Latin rapper in pop music, according to War band mate Lonnie Jordon.  I first heard the single “Spill the Wine” in the early 1970s on the United Artists sampler LP It’s All Good Clean Fun and was immediately attracted to its infectious groove.  The inspiration for the song apparently came from an amused Burdon, when finding an upturned wine glass on the mixing desk in the recording studio.  Burdon and Jordon both found it so funny that they decided to write and record the song there and then.

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19. The Move – Brontosaurus | Regal Zonophone RZ 3026 – 1970

The Move was one of the few pop bands of the mid to late 1960s whose singles had the credibility to cross over to rock audiences.  It was with the band’s heavy riff-laden single “Brontosaurus”, that saw the first flowering of the rock outfit they soon became – if just for a short period – before the band morphed into the Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard respectively.  The Birmingham-based band also managed to look the part, with Roy Wood’s tinted shades and hair of unprecedented length being an outstanding feature.  With Roy Wood stepping into the shoes of the recently departed lead singer Carl Wayne, the single was notable as being the first to feature Jeff Lynne.  Wildly different from the band’s previous single “Curly”, “Brontosaurus” was destined for repeat plays on the Dansette through that year and it still comes out to play even now.  I still to this day, have no idea how to do the ‘Brontosaurus’.

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20. Redbone – Witch Queen of New Orleans | Epic SEPC1154 – 1971

Written by the Native American brothers Lolly and Pat Vegas of the California-based band Redbone, the subject of the song is said to be the 19th-century practitioner of Voodoo, Marie Laveau, or Marie La Voodoo Veau, according to the song’s lyrics.  The record was played often on the radio throughout the early 1970s, although not much was known of the band at the time and indeed still to this day.  Redbone, whose name derives from a Cajun term for a mixed-race person, was inspired initially by Jimi Hendrix, who the band empathised with due to his own part-Cherokee heritage.  The song, released in 1971, was taken from the band’s third album Message from a Drum and might be described as a ‘one hit wonder’ although the band did score a couple of other hits in the US with “Maggie” in 1970 and “Come and Get Your Love” in 1973. The weird wailing effect featured throughout the song was made by ‘bowing’ the guitar strings with a drumstick. They have machines to do this today.

Playlist for Show 01.04.21 ( #522)

Runaway Heart – DeFrance (Second Wind)
Africa Is My Root – Osayomore Joseph And The Creative Seven (Edo Funk Explosion Vol I)
Edith Cavell – Harbottle and Jonas (The Beacon)
The Earth and the Clear Blue Sky – Steve Jinski (Hope Street)
Bedlam Boys – Trials of Cato (Single)
Miss Tilly – 3hattrio (Lost Sessions)
Golf Girl – Caravan (The Land of Grey and Pink)
Moonlight Mile – Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers)
Les Chansons Du Voyageur – David Leask (Voyageur in Song)
Louisiana – Brigitte DeMeyer (Seeker)
Candle – Buck Meek (Two Saviors)
Running Circles ‘Round Your Memory – Kristy Cox (No Headlights)
Blue Ridge Mountains – Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt (Folkscene, Lost Angeles)
Time to Burn – Michael Feuerstack (Harmonize the Moon)
Scotland Yet – Iona Fyfe (Single)
Thank You Note – David Olney and Anana Kaye (Whispers and Sighs)
Ahmed – Tommy Coyle (Incomplete Control)
America (2nd Amendent) – The Nice (Elegy)

Caravan – The Land of Grey and Pink | Deram SDL-R1 – 1971

It all probably seems a little bit twee these days when we think of all the Tolkein-influenced purveyors of Prog that were around in the early 1970s.  Roger Dean was all over the shop, creating his fantasy landscapes to go with Jon Anderson’s inexplicable lyrics that were undecipherable by anyone not actually from Middle Earth, while Bo Hansson was busy conjuring up music especially for Hobbits to dance to.  All along, strange pastoral goings on were happening in the shadow of Canterbury’s lofty spires.  Caravan’s In the Land of Grey and Pink was probably the band’s high point, an album considered by many to be the band’s best record, a band that at the time consisted of one Pye, one David and no less than two Richards (Hastings, Sinclair, Sinclair and Coughlan respectively).  In good old Prog fashion, one side of this LP is a sprawling twenty-two minute piece made up of eight different sections with such titles as “Dance of the Seven Paper Hankies” and “Hold Grandad by the Nose”, something you can easily sit down and ponder over on the futon in a joss stick haze, but absolutely useless for the purposes of a jukebox.  There’s Hobbit-like imagery featured on “Winter Wine” and some of the band’s noted humour on the album opener “Golf Girl”.

Golf Girl is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers | Rolling Stones COC 59100 – 1971

Sticky Fingers is probably my favourite of all Rolling Stones records and for a variety of reasons.  It might be that it came along just at the time I was beginning to really take notice of the band.  It could also have something to do with the superb opening track “Brown Sugar”, one of rock’s great album openers.  Then again it might have something to do with the highly inventive sleeve design by Pop Artist Andy Warhol, an image of a pair of jeans complete with a real zipper, but perhaps most of all, it might have something to do with the outstanding material on the album, such as “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, “Wild Horses” and “Moonlight Mile”.  What’s not to like?  The album may be packed with drug references, but if you’re not specifically looking for those references, it’s easy to ignore them, perhaps in the same manner as some are more than happy to think that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is about a girl called Lucy, flying in the sky, with a bunch of diamonds.  One such song “Sister Morphine”, which can’t really escape from its obvious references, was in fact written by Marianne Faithfull, but Messers Jagger and Richard thought it necessary to withhold this information, crediting themselves instead.  A very noble rock and roll gesture.

Moonlight Mile is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Nice – Elegy | Philips 6303 011 – 1971

Elegy was one of the must have albums of 1971, simply because it featured a live version of their show stopping ten minute version of the West Side Story tune “America (2nd Amendment)”, which was one of the tracks frequently played at the Doncaster Top Rank’s regular Progressive Rock night.  It was hard to believe that the same sound system was used on a Saturday morning for The Archies “Sugar Sugar” and Saturday night for exclusively Soul and Motown.  On a Monday night though, the Top Rank on Silver Street became the domain of Uriah Heep’s “Gypsy”, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Keith Emerson and Co performing this Leonard Bernstein classic, recorded live at the Fillmore East, New York.  Complete with obligatory Hipgnosis gatefold sleeve, Elegy also features a bit of Tchaikovsky, a little Tim Hardin and an almost ten minute reading of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”.

America (2nd Amendment) is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Playlist for Show 28.03.21

The Good Ship Kangaroo – Planxty (After the Break)
If I Had A Boat – Lyle Lovett (Pontiac)
Boats To Build – Guy Clark (Boats to Build)
Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt (EPs)
Seascape – Amazing Blondel (England)
Wrecking Days – Kitty Macfarlane (Tide and Time EP)
Shipping Song – Lisa Knapp (Hidden Seam)
Shiver Me Timbers – The Chair (Orkney Monster)
Sailor’s Hornpipe/Sailor’s Alphabet – Fairport Convention (Babbacombe Lee)
The Rosemary – Jon Raven, Nic Jones , Tony Rose
Riverboat Song – JJ Cale (Travel-Log)
Sailing By – Sinead Lohan (Who Do You Think I Am)
Sailing Time – Seth Lakeman (A Pilgrim’s Tale)

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All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated