Issue 4

Christina Alden and Alex Patterson – Hunter | Self Release

The debut album by Christina Alden and Alex Patterson, a fine duo from the heart of Norwich, is probably even better than I initially expected it to be.  I fully expected it to be good, but perhaps not quite this good.  The unique sound that Christina and Alex make, created in the seclusion of their own locked down folk cellar in the centre of Norwich and in the midst of a world pandemic, is encouraging, especially in view of the fact that despite the world being in a state of chronic uncertainty, there’s optimism in these voices and in their empathetic playing.  The songs keep the natural world close at heart, with appearances by the Grey Wolf and the Brown Bear sharing their place in the opening title song, then the Arctic Fox plays its part in “The Fox Song”, while the Greenland Shark makes its presence known in the song of the same name.  Known for her love of books, Christina once again draws inspiration from modern literature in her song “Brooklyn”, inspired by the book of the same name by Colm Tóibín, a song that tenderly addresses the subject of migration.  Each of these songs are delivered by two musicians whose musical empathy cannot be underestimated, as witnessed by anyone who has been fortunate to see the duo live or indeed as the slightly expanded Alden, Patterson and Dashwood, which features the addition of the fine dobro player Noel Dashwood.  The sensitivity of Alex’s fiddle playing and the delicacy of his harmonies over Christina’s assured lead is probably what separates this duo from the crowd.  It all seems so naturally underplayed, yet it’s all so very intricate in the performance.  The songs are crafted around the duo’s fiddle and guitar arrangements, with the occasional banjo, cello and shruti box, plus some additional double bass in places courtesy of Calum McKemmie.  Many already know Christina and Alex from the aforementioned trio and possibly through their support performances on a recent Show of Hands tour, where their music would have been widely heard and appreciated.  As with the trio’s three albums, Call Me Home (2016), By the Night (2018) and Waterbound (2020), Hunter is treated to some of Christina’s original homemade artwork, which is part and parcel of their artistic endeavour, once again presenting everything they touch with a personal artisan feel.  Listening to the songs and tunes on Hunter is almost like an invitation to join them in their folk cellar, its acoustics being immediately felt.  The duo state in the album’s liner notes that Hunter comes from a desire to produce something positive out of a difficult and uncertain time: “Before the pandemic hit we had a full year of concerts booked throughout the UK and Europe, and like many other artists we saw those all fall away within a matter of weeks. This came as a big shock and was initially very hard to come to terms with; losing our work and our sense of identity.  We wanted to channel our energy into something positive and so decided to record our debut duo album. We used our new-found time and space to be creative; to write, compose and develop new music.  Hunter is a superb album that immediately takes its place in a growing canon of beautifully realised songs and tunes that keeps the British acoustic music scene alive, even through difficult and unprecedented times.

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

For the professional or amateur songwriter who needs inspiration, clarity and the chance to make a breakthrough, the chart-topping singer-songwriter Luke Concannon (Nizlopi), together with Darius Christian, music producer, singer-songwriter and musician with international artists including Gwen Stefani, Macklemore and Adele and Stephanie Hollenberg, world class vocal and performance coach, who helps singers free their voice and body for a more dynamic performance have joined forces to present a two day songwriting and singing retreat.

Ed Sheeran widely credits Luke Concannon as the reason he makes music and used to be Nizlopi’s roadie.  Luke said “Ed and I have been friends for years and it has been wonderful to see his success.  I can’t deny that has made putting out a solo album even harder – but I’m still happy to let Ed tune my guitars!  The admiration is mutual as Luke name checks Ed in his single “Doing Nothing”: ‘Reading about Ed Sheeran thinking I inspired him, Easier than taking the risk of being as bold as him’.

Ed even makes a cameo appearance in the video as a cheeky marionette:

After experiencing the highs of fame and success as a songwriter in his 20’s, for Luke the subsequent heartbreak of losing his band and community was tough.  He hitchhiked to Palestine, volunteering as a peace worker in the West Bank.  After meeting the American classical singer Stephanie Hollenberg on holiday, he followed her back to the USA where they married in 2018.  His struggle back to a place of belonging has resulted in a deep understanding that it is the interplay of light and dark that make us whole.

The album Ecstatic Bird in the Burning is Concannon’s second solo album since Nizlopi disbanded.  It has received glowing reviews across the press, with Hot Music Live calling it ‘his best work to date’ and Fatea Magazine saying, ‘You’ll be hard pressed to find another collection that leaves you feeling as optimistic, positive and uplifted’

To register, simply go to:

Amy Speace with The Orphan Brigade – There Used to be Horses Here | Proper

There Used to be Horses Here is a highly personal album of songs that span an eventful twelve-month period in Amy’s life, a year that saw both the first birthday of her son and the loss of her father, each event encompassing a whole range of emotions.  The award-winning singer-songwriter tackles such subjects with utter conviction, wearing her heart pretty much on her sleeve throughout, notably on the gorgeous title song.  Dad is lovingly remembered here as well as on the delicate “Fathers Day” and again on the heart-breaking “Grief is a Lonely Land”, which I imagine would have been difficult for this daughter to get through.  It’s perhaps with “Hallelujah Train” though, the first single from the album, that we see Amy in full-throttle, reaching for a veritable tidal wave of passion, which at times veers very much into the territory of Mavis Staples; a heartfelt Gospel holler of both pain and resolve.  The Nick Drake chords on the opening “Down the Trail” sets up the mood perfectly, while the album closer, Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” wraps things up accordingly, leaving us with an album of tenderness, warmth and rare beauty. 

There Used to be Horses Here is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Banter – Three | Mrs Casey Records

The third outing for this trio is succinctly described by its title Three, which follows in the footsteps of both Yes (2017) and Dare (2019), once again arriving with just a one word, single syllable, yet fully explanatory title.  Simon Care takes care of melodeon duties once again, with Nina Zella on keyboards and vocals, easily comparable to Christine McVie, together with Tim Walker on drums, percussion and brass, completing the trio’s line-up, while adding a few dance calls as and when required.  Established now as one of the UKs most beloved dance bands, having no apparent difficulty in filling festival dance floors (in better times) with even the most two left-footed among us, the trio have crafted some truly great songs together, each equipped with both sensitivity and informed musical prowess.  They ain’t just a ceilidh band that’s for sure.  The trio has already garnered the attention of Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol, both of who are probably still scratching their heads at just how this fully formed sound can possibly be created by just three musicians, bearing in mind their own respective efforts in forming much larger outfits over the years.  Banter has also elicited the support of such musicians as John Spiers and Phil Beer, both of whom appear as guests here on “The Labourer” and “Unquiet Grave” respectively.  “The Hitchin May Day Song” is a veritable showcase of musical arrangement, a piano-led song that threatens to break out into a Floral Dance virus at any given moment and with the help of Tim’s brass, does precisely that midway through, yet sparing us the presence of any worrying Wogan samples.  There’s much invention in “Moll in the Wad”, for which the trio effortlessly stretch out with a more improvisational approach, bringing jazz elements to the fore, before returning to “Home Sweet Home”, another completely valid modern folk song.  I see this album selling like hot cakes once the festival season is allowed to return.

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

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COB – Spirit of Love | Bread and Wine

The spirit of 1971’s underground alternative folk scene is captured here with the re-issue of the Ralph McTell produced debut album by COB or Clive’s Original Band, a name coined by McTell’s then manager Jo Lustig to hopefully cash in on a similar moniker to that of Clive Palmer’s former outfit, the Incredible String Band, which wasn’t doing bad for itself at the time.  As with the ISB’s original line-up, three seemed to be a good enough number, with Clive joined by Mick Bennett and John Bidwell, each who play a variety of instruments, both common and exotic, notably John’s then recently invented Dulcitar, a sort of Heath Robinson mash-up of the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer and the Indian Sitar.  The ten tracks, re-issued for the first time on vinyl since the 1971 original, include the haunting “Music of the Ages”, the vocal strong “Wade in the Water” and the revisited instrumental “Banjo Land”, complete with the joyous seaside sample left fully intact.  File alongside your Incredibles and Vashti Bunyans.  

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

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Chris Flegg – Twenty’s Plenty | Self Release

The sparse doodle on the cover illustrates perfectly what we might expect from the latest album by the St Albans-based guitarist Chris Flegg, a fine selection of guitar tunes, presumably while seated.  The title goes on to allude to the quantity of tunes involved, suggesting that the number is also quite sufficient.  The twenty pieces are broad in scope, ranging from ragtime tunes ala Stefan Grossman and John James, to some jazz oriented material, superbly rendered with an informed approach to playing.  Though solo throughout, such pieces as “Special July Delivery” tend to have you wishing that Stephane Grappelli will come along at any given moment, just to add some spice.  Nevertheless, there’s a cheerfulness woven into these guitar tunes, each one played superbly well, with little in the way of tedium or further wanting.  It’s not background music by any means, but there again, there’s nothing here to get up and dance to.  What is here, is something both soothing and reflective, perfect for the device of your choice while relaxing in the garden when summer finally breaks through the miasma of COVID-19.  

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

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Nigel G Lowndes – Hello Mystery | Self Release

The starting point for this Bristol-based singer-songwriter’s debut album is perhaps “Mystery”, a break up song of sorts from which the album gets its title.  The seed was planted after a handful of songwriting workshops with such writers as Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith, whereupon Nigel G Lowndes began to identify himself as a bone-fide singer-songwriter, equipped with his own distinctive style albeit with a slightly leftfield angle.  There’s a certain oddball leaning, which manifests itself in such songs as “Boring”, which is almost reminiscent of the very British post punk and new wave bands of the late nineteen-seventies, early nineteen-eighties such as Squeeze and Orange Juice, an upbeat pop song that shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than that.  Songs like “Furry Little Vampires” and “Cup of Tea” keep us engaged and perhaps encourage one or two smiles, while the country waltz time of “White Roses” and the almost Ray Davies-like “Always Leaving London” capture a storyteller who tells everyday stories with little fanfare.

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

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Teenage Fanclub – Endless Arcade | Self Release

The almost sprawling seven-minute opener on this, the tenth album from Belshill’s best, is an engaging mixture of Byrds-like folk pop and Steely Dan guitar riffing circa “Reeling in the Years”, both fine ingredients for any potential radio play.  “Home” begins enthusiastically but doesn’t quite know when to quit, marked by its abrupt conclusion.  Endless Arcade was recorded in Hamburg prior to the lockdown and marks the first album release to feature the experimental folk-pop artist and former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci musician Euros Childs throughout.  With both Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley maintaining their roles at the helm of Teenage Fanclub, sharing the writing credits, Endless Arcade is packed with melodic songs such as “Warm Embrace”, which could be mistaken for an early Who b-side, complete with Moon-like drums and choppy guitar throughout.  By the fourth song, “Everything is Falling Apart”, pop history has already been referenced albeit briefly and almost subliminally, with such phrases as ‘bad moon rising’, ‘I want to hold your hand’ and ‘walk don’t run’, which in a way adds to the overt pop sensibility of this material.  The outstanding “The Sun Won’t Shine on Me”, with its “I Got You Babe” chord structure is both warm and uplifting in feel, despite its woeful lyric.  There’s really no getting past the influence of the 1960s west coast bands such as the Beach Boys and the Byrds, yet there’s a contemporary feel that continues to permeate the music that Teenage Fanclub makes, which is probably one of the reasons Kurt Cobain sang the band’s praises widely before he joined his lucrative club.  If anything, the album is crying out for something slower, more reflective and less jolly jangly if only for balance, although having said that, “The Future” and the album closer “Silent Song” come close.

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

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M G Boulter – Clifftown | Hudson Records

Wrapped in a sleeve that echoes the loneliness of a deserted, yet once vibrant seaside resort, the songs on Clifftown reflect life in such a town, where old ladies feed fruit machines while the smell of fish along the seafront palisades draw lines from acute observation.  It’s almost like looking through M G Boulter’s notebook after a day roaming the back streets of Southend-on-Sea, reflections of ordinary life, where some stay stacking shelves to the sound of Elvis over the tannoy, while others manage to escape on silver birds across the sky.  There’s monster movies, magnificent aquarium fishes and herons on the gables, a feast of mind adventures from the corner table of a promenade cafe.  Boulter’s voice is reminiscent of Paul Simon, or perhaps something between Simon and Gary Stewart, whose band provides the only possible way of hearing Graceland in its entirety on stage these days, a clear vocal, where every word is heard and every syllable fully understood.  “The Author of All Things, She Speaks” has something of Graceland about it, which is not a bad thing, while “Fan of the Band” does nothing to even slightly stray from this notion.  Despite these comparisons, Boulter is certainly his own man and his voice is very much his, possibly his strongest asset next to his credentials as a fine songsmith, a voice that delivers songs in a convincingly tender manner on both the up-tempo material and the quieter moments, notably the poetic “Simon of Sudbury”.  Produced by Andy Bell and featuring guest appearances by Sam Sweeney, Lucy Farrell and Pete Flood among others, Clifftown is something of a masterpiece of brooding lyricism.

The Author of All Things, She Speaks is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Greg Hancock – Architecture and Archaeology | Self Release

Architecture and Archaeology is added to Greg Hancock’s two previous album releases A303 (2017) and The State of My Hair (2019), which now makes up a trilogy of albums of songs based on recollections, memories and reflections from the past, spanning childhood through to the present day.  With musical influences that stretch back to first hearing the guitar playing of Jimmy Page, through the guitar-toting troubadours of the mid to late 1960s, namely Bert Jansch and John Martyn, together with an added appreciation of mid-period Joni Mitchell, Greg’s songs are well-crafted, mature and highly personal.   Opening with “Changing”, which features David Harbottle and Freya Jonas on backing vocals, the album’s warmth is immediately felt, with its easy on the ear percussive Martyn-styled slapped guitar throughout.  The album continues with the ecologically aware “Elephants”, a humdinger of a song that captures the innocence of youth, complete with a sigh of relief that at least ‘not all the elephants have gone’ as predicted they would have by now.  If childhood memories are strong, then adult reflections on immediate family matters are equally powerful, such as “Not Quite Ready”, which is possibly Greg Hancock’s “Randall Knife”, a meditation on his difficult relationship with his father, especially towards the end, which is in turn beautifully rendered with honesty and conviction.  “What You’re Looking For” takes a wry look at our shopping excesses, with possibly tongue in cheek frankness.  Greg pops into the set an instrumental guitar piece “This Day (Like All Days)”, which has echoes of the sensitivity of perhaps a Nick Drake for instance, before concluding with the lilting Harvest Moon-like “Peaches and Cream”.  A thoughtful album that squares up to the human condition.

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

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Bob Bradshaw – The Ghost Light | Fluke

Despite the impossibility of live gigs both at the moment as well as over the last year, the down time has been filled quite successfully in places, or at least fruitfully, with a wealth of remarkable albums recorded in quarantine.  Songs and stories are produced from life’s experiences and a rampant destructive world virus might very well count among the most likely topics for songs these days.  However, Bob is keen to point out that The Ghost Light is by no means a pandemic record, but instead an album made up of songs that bind us together as a society.  The Cork-born singer-songwriter takes as a starting point, the songs we once heard on the radio, a mid-tempo soft rock anthem that recalls a more liberated time, when tunes could be heard from an open top car with the breeze flowing through our hair, along with the music.  With twangy guitars and the occasional pedal steel accompaniment, Bradshaw’s country sensibilities are on show, while the mixture of resonator guitar and Hammond B-3 points towards an equally prominent blues affiliation.  “Gone” exemplifies this best, with its Randy Newman-like vocal over a distinctly swampy Muscle Shoals backdrop.  “Sideways” on the other hand, veers off along a more tango focused side road, featuring some fine bandoneon playing courtesy of the Argentinean musician Francisco Martinez Herrera.  Named for the theatreland superstition of leaving a single bulb burning when the hall goes dark, to apparently appease the spirits, The Ghost Light is perhaps filling that particular gap, until the spot light is switched back on again, which shouldn’t be too long away now.

She’s Gone for Good is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Low Island – If You Could Have It All Again | Emotional Interference

Having worked together on theatre music, the multi-instrumentalist Carlos Posada and bassist Jacob Lively widened their horizons by adding Jamie Kay and Felix Higginbottom to create music of a more cinematic nature, inviting comparisons with both Caribou and Radiohead.  Based in Oxford, Low Island are a band with a new focus after a series of false starts and missteps, creating their debut album completely on their own terms working together with an almost cottage industry aesthetic.  If You Could Have It All Again is an eleven track excursion into emotional investigation, some of it semi-explained in the coda of the final song “What the Hell (Are You Gonna Do Now?)”.  Half an hour earlier, the album begins with Posada’s rich Art Garfunkel falsetto over a repetitive Laurie Anderson-like “O Superman” staccato as “Hey Man,” (with compulsory comma), sets a precedent for the rest of the album to follow.  There’s a healthy mixture of dance rhythms and low key balladry, backed by a wealth of electronic textures and pulsating beats, all of which makes a compelling whole.

Ringo Starr – Zoom In | Roccabella | Review by Liam Wilkinson

I’m sure Ringo Starr didn’t expect to be celebrating his eightieth birthday during a global pandemic.  Indeed, it’s looking likely that he’ll be spending his eighty-first in one, too.  But that hasn’t stopped the former Beatle and knight of the realm from doing what he does best – making feel-good pop music with a hint of humour and heaps of fun.  Zoom In, Ringo’s first commercially-released EP, features five songs which were penned by such notable writers as Jeff Silbar, Sam Hollander and the prolific and highly respected Diane Warren.  It’s also a star-studded affair with contributions from Robbie Krieger, Steve Lukather, Dave Grohl, Tony Chen, Joe Walsh and even Starr’s old mate Paul McCartney.  Zoom In marks the first of what Ringo hopes to be a series of EP releases following the release of his final full-length album What’s My Name in 2019.  It’s an interesting choice of direction but, as Ringo has commented, the ease of releasing music via streaming services coupled with Covid-imposed restrictions means that full length albums no longer seem to serve their purpose.  But even the most hardened advocate of the long playing record will be delightfully surprised by the effectiveness of Ringo’s decision.  Zoom In hurls five catchy foot-tappers at its listener and stops just as the stuff is getting under the skin, leaving us wanting more.  Songs such as “Not Enough Love in the World”, with its message of peace and hope, and “Zoom In Zoom Out” both have a Summer of Love bounce to them whilst “Teach Me To Tango” and “Waiting for the Tide to Turn” trot the globe for their infectious rhythms.  However, it’s Diane Warren’s “Here’s to the Nights” which stands out from the pack with its lithe guitar licks and handsome melody; it also features an irresistible anthemic singalong in the vein of “Hey Jude”.  Whether you’re a fan or not, it can’t be disputed that Ringo has had a long and successful career and is still putting out good music.  He might not have been the best singer in The Beatles, but he’s singing better than Paul these days and, thanks to the humble EP, isn’t planning to put on the breaks just yet.  I, for one, am glad to depend on his sunny songs during these otherwise dark and uncertain times.

Not Enough Love in the World is included in the Whistle Stop feature on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Seafoam Green – House on the Hill | Self Release

Bridging the wide ocean between Dublin and Atlanta, the Irish songwriting duo of Dave O’Grady and Muireann McDermott Long, otherwise Seafoam Green, take to southern rock like ducks to water, revitalising the sound of those bands of the early 1970s who appeared to have their rock licks and soulful delivery fully intact.  Lifted from the band’s forthcoming album Martin’s Garden, Seafoam Green’s second studio album, “House on the Hill” is stuffed with no-nonsense slide guitar riffs ala Duane Allman and funky Garth Hudson-like clavinet, a sort of amalgum of early Little Feat, Delaney and Bonnie and The Band all rolled into one.  If their first outing would involve the Black Crowes’ Rich Robinson, then the Tedeshi Trucks Band’s Tyler Greenwell is probably an equally inspired choice of collaborator for their eagerly anticipated second.  

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

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Seán Gray – The Great Stariski | Frame Records 

There’s not the slightest attempt to mask Seán Gray’srich Scots accent as he tells the story of Johnny Stariski, a sort of Barnum character of Polish descent working in the Barony coalfields, whose penchant for dangerous ‘magic tricks’ high above the coal face became legendary, an example of which is illustrated in the sleeve artwork.  The former Paul McKenna Band musician and noted session man collaborates with Scots poet Rab Wilson, adapting his poem The Great Stariski with both sensitivity and warmth, the musician and poet both sharing a passion for Ayrshire’s mining history.  Rab actually worked alongside Johnny in the mid-late 70s and early 80s and much of that first hand account can be detected in the lines.  Opening (and closing) to the sounds of the the working collery’s bell and winding wheel, “The Great Stariski” brings to mind the industry’s noble past, it’s people and it’s occasional colourful characters, Johnny Stariski being one of them.  Admiral Fallow’s Joe Rattray and Blue Rose Code drummer Stuart Brown join the multi-instrumentalist on this highly evocative single.  

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

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Michael Lane – Good Times | Greywood Records

In these difficult times, it’s possibly the more upbeat, bright and breezy, open top car radio songs that seem to resonate, especially when the light appears to be getting slightly brighter at the end of the long tunnel. The German-American singer-songwriter, music producer and ex-serviceman Michael Lane delivers a song with a positive feel and an equally positive hum-a-long vocal riff that permeates throughout, yet a message of caution is embedded in the lyric, that true happiness is no so easily come by.  With a growing number of accolades already secured, such as having had two top 50 songs in the German charts, four albums behind him, one or two international tours done and dusted and having one of his songs chosen as the official song for one of Europe’s biggest international ski jump events, “Good Times” can be added to his growing list of achievements.

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

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Eoin Glackin – How Quick the World Can Change | Good Deeds Music

Eoin Glackin is a Dublin-born singer-songwriter, who points out in this short and snappy song, something we all probably aware of already, especially on the anniversary of the start of this war, that the world can indeed change from one familiar thing to something almost entirely alien very quickly.  With an engaging and pulsating metronomic bass throughout, together with a veritable showcase of cheerful banjo and slide guitar sparring, the rhythm is maintained for the duration of this brightly performed song of hope.  If Eoin’s intention is to lead us towards the notion that things can get better if we work at it, then it’s up to the rest of us to see that it does and with an enthusiastic tap of the foot.

How Quick the World Can Change is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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M Ross Perkins – Bird of the World | Karma Chief Records

“Bird of the World” immediately brings to mind the jangly mid-sixties Rickenbacker folk/pop of Roger McGuinn and his pals, this version courtesy of the Dayton, Ohio singer-songwriter Michael Ross Perkins, whose sense of melody and harmony is demonstrated throughout this highly uplifting song.  Originally released as single in the mid-nineties by Bill Fox, the song has an even more punchy feel in the hands of the former Goodbye front man, who updates the original’s lo-fi recording with a fully bloomed West Coast sound, complete with strong melodic guitar riffing in the vein of Lennon and McCartney’s “And Your Bird Can Sing”, which really wouldn’t seem all that out of place on any of the early Byrds albums if not quite on the second side of Revolver

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

Jim Steinman (1947-2021)

Known mainly for his work on the ultra popular rock extravaganza, the Todd Rundgren-produced Bat Out of Hell, which effectively made Michael Lee Aday a household name, or at least a household name under his more familiar moniker of Meatloaf.  Selling in excess of 50 million copies worldwide, Bat Out of Hell defined Steinman as a major league writer of power ballads and rock anthems, who also worked with such notables as Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Roman Polanski. Jim Steinman died from kidney failure on 19 April in a Danbury, Connecticut hospital.  He was 73.

Eilen Jewell at the Maze, Nottingham in 2009

Reg Meuross at the Beverley Folk Festival in 2009

31. Livingston Taylor – Liv (Warner Brothers K 46131 – 1971)

In the magical days of youth, when gazing at record sleeves in the Foxes Records in Doncaster town centre was akin to a kid in a candy store, knowing full well that the paper round wage could little afford but a fraction of the LPs available, I contented myself by making myself familiar with the music I loved simply by memorising the detail on the sleeves (much easier in those days with a full 12” square to gaze upon), then cross reference the detail in articles in either the New Musical Express (long before the shortened NME) , Melody Maker or my particular favourite Sounds.  Then, hopefully, some of the tracks might just appear on one of the very few decent radio programmes over at the BBC.  Most likely on John Peel’s Top Gear.  Then the Whistle Test would complete the weekly investigation.  One such record sleeve I drooled over featured a single seated figure in a garden with the simple word ‘Liv’ emblazoned on the cover.  What was a Liv? I asked myself. Who was it? It would be a few years later that I discovered that Liv was in fact singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor. Further investigation revealed that it was James Taylor’s kid brother.  Had I heard the LP in the first place I think I would have realised sooner as the siblings have remarkably similar singing voices.  These days, when Liv isn’t flying his planes, he can still be found writing songs and making records, his most recent being 2010’s Last Alaska Moon.

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32. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River | Liberty LBS83273 – 1969

I can’t remember where or when I first heard Creedence Clearwater Revival, probably on the radio back in 1969.  Neither can I remember which was the first of the small collection of CCR singles I bought, probably “Bad Moon Rising”, the band’s only chart topper in the UK, in the same year.  With a steady newspaper round together with a weekly wage of one pound sterling, I was able to expand upon my LP record collection, then currently standing at just the one and of the records I would buy around this time, most would be cheap sampler LPs.  One of my regular haunts was Foxes Records in the Arndale Centre, a place I would visit even if my pockets were empty, which was more often than not.  Flicking through the browsers became a regular pastime, carefully pulling each record sleeve out to read everything printed on it.  If ever I had sufficient coinage in my pocket, I would read more intently and spend a great deal more time deciding which record to buy.  Creedence Clearwater Revival’s third LP Green River, with its tangible mottled sleeve showing a seemingly carefree sun-drenched California quartet led by John Fogerty, was a bit of a no brainer at the time.  They were briefly my favourite band in the late Sixties and I’d had my eyes in the record for some time.  I remember taking the record out of the plastic carrier bag on the bus home and gazing at the picture on the cover, which was dominated by the figure of John Fogerty.  I had an insatiable desire to look just like that.  Sadly, later that same year, a similarly attired Charles Manson ordered his followers to take up murder as a pastime, which kind of spoiled all the fun.  Some great tunes here though, including “Bad Moon Rising”, “Lodi” and the title song of course.

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33. Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die | Island ILPS9116 – 1970

In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was difficult to keep up with Little Stevie Winwood.  He’d already fronted the Spencer Davis Group as a fifteen-year old soul singer, then formed the rock band Traffic with Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason, who churned out such psychedelic singles as “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe”, before settling into a critically acclaimed jazz rock outfit that went on to rub shoulders with the likes of Free, King Crimson and Jethro Tull on the burgeoning Island label.  After Mason left the band, Winwood enjoyed a very brief spell in the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with Clapton, Baker and Rick Gretch, before regrouping with the two remaining members of Traffic, Capaldi and Wood, to record the band’s fourth album, which began as a Winwood solo project but soon became a full blown Traffic release.  Among the jazz fusion of “Glad” and “Empty Pages”, the soulful rock of “Every Mother’s Son” and the bluesy “Stranger to Himself”, the band surprised just about everyone with a veritable show stopper, a delicate reading of the traditional folk song “John Barleycorn”. 

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34. Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom | Virgin V2017 – 1974

Produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Robert Wyatt’s second solo effort is notable not only for the brilliant compositions, but for being the moment when Wyatt’s riotous Keith Moon-like behaviour came to an abrupt end, the drunken ex-Soft Machine drummer falling from a fourth-floor window, an incident that would see to it that he remained in a wheelchair from then on.  Rock Bottom was in preparation during this period and some of the material is based on a mind coming to terms with a difficult life ahead.  I was having my own difficult period too, namely ‘17’, the worst age of all and I’d already entered a world of all things Soft, Tubular or Virginal, with particular interest in Fred Frith.  The avant-garde music of the time was certainly somewhat more interesting than anything on the mainstream front, despite Johnny Walker’s efforts to wean listeners off Donny Osmond and David Cassidy and onto The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers.  I think I took it a step further and chose Henry Cow and the Softs as the way to go.  Wyatt made a huge impression on me at the time and seemed to bridge the gap between my early teen life and my oncoming adulthood by recording an almost tongue-in-cheek version of “I’m a Believer”, a song I loved as a kid by The Monkees.  The rest is history, with some of Wyatt’s work having been re-visited by The Unthanks, in fact, the only time I ever met up with Wyatt was after an Unthanks gig in Lincoln back in 2009.

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35. 10cc – Deceptive Bends | Mercury 9102 502 – 1977

I was always a little unsure about 10cc, the 1970s Beatles-influenced rock pop band, possibly due to the fact that the band came from the same stable of such forgettable outfits as The Bay City Rollers, The Piglets and Typically Tropical, headed by the man who recorded “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”.  Despite Jonathan King’s input, 10cc soon developed as a major force on the British music scene, from their early hits, such as “Donna”, an almost straight copy of Paul McCartney’s “Oh Darling” from the Abbey Road period, “Rubber Bullets”, “Art for Art’s Sake” and “I’m Not In Love”.  The hits just kept coming throughout the 1970s, each entirely different from the last with no apparent formula to speak of.  The band fragmented in 1976 with the departure of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, leaving Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman to function as a duo, who would continue to use the name and release a series of subsequent albums, starting with Deceptive Bends.  Surprisingly, even in 1977 the year of Punk, John Peel still had space between the noise to play the entire three-part “Feel the Benefit”, on his late night Top Gear show, which effectively coincided with Peel and I parting company for a while.

31. The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women | Decca F.12952 – 1969

Originally written as a country song, influenced by both Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, “Honky Tonk Women” has become one of The Rolling Stones’ signature tunes over the last six decades.  You wouldn’t want to attend a Rolling Stones gig and not hear this song.  The song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and was released as two quite different versions; the single version and a country honky tonk version, which appeared on the Let It Bleed album in the same year 1969. On the single version our heroine was discovered in a bar room in Memphis, whilst on the album, the action moved to Jackson, some 210 miles away.  Brian Jones was at the sessions when the original country version was recorded, but by the time the band came to release the single version, Mick Taylor had joined the band after Jones’ tragic and untimely death, the song becoming something quite different, with its familiar guitar riff and one of Charlie Watts’ finest moments, a casual cowbell motif intro that is now instantly recognisable around the world and probably beyond.

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32. Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes | CBS S8271 – 1972

In 1972, things began to change dramatically in the world of rock and roll.  In the previous year it would be quite normal to see members of our rock bands wearing Levis, white tennis shoes, maybe a floral shirt and tank top, or possibly army surplus wear, and most of the audience would be suitably attired to match.  Come 1972 though, things started to look quite different with glitter, satin and sequins as Glam Rock infiltrated our concert halls.  Mott the Hoople was one such band whose initial LP releases were the former through and through, yet by 1972 and with a little help from David Bowie, Mott the Hoople changed dramatically, with platform shoes, unusually shaped guitars and a distinctly different attitude on stage.  “All the Young Dudes” was both written and produced by Bowie as was the album which followed shortly afterwards.  The lyric referring to stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks had to be changed for radio to stealing clothes from unlocked cars, but the original is still widely played nevertheless.  I first saw the band in 1972 and called for “Thunderbuck Ram”, the opening song from their second album Mad Shadows, whereupon the bloke next to me, dressed from head to foot in bacofoil said ‘oh they won’t play that honey, they’ve definitely moved on’.  He was right.

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33. Neil Young – Heart of Gold | Reprise K14140 – 1972

It was hard to escape the sound of Neil Young in the early 1970s, which was largely due to his hugely successful third solo album After the Goldrush and its follow up Harvest.  The now familiar acoustic sound of this era was as a result of a back injury Young suffered, which effectively forced him to sit for a while with an acoustic guitar instead of standing with an electric guitar.  The harmonica playing was so similar to Bob Dylan’s style that Dylan was allegedly disdainful of the record, especially in view of the fact that it had reached the number one spot in the US charts.  “Heart of Gold” was one of the first songs in my growing collection to feature the pedal steel guitar (played by Ben Keith), which would be joined by countless others in the years to come.  With both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt singing on the record, “Heart of Gold” remains one of the most played singles in my collection.  

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34. Steve Miller Band – The Joker | Capitol CL583 – 1973

It took The Steve Miller Band a good five years to break through in the UK with “The Joker”, a single that went to the number one spot in the British charts in 1973.  After seven great rock albums, which were hardly noticed in the UK at all, starting with Children of the Future in 1968 Sailor (1968), Brave New World and Your Saving Grace (1969), Number 5 (1970), Rock Love (1971) and Recall the Beginning A Journey from Eden in 1972, it took a catchy little pop song using the nonce word pompatus, the syrupy term lovey-dovey, together with a wolf-whistling guitar lick, to garner the attention of the Brits.  I became a firm fan of the band in the early 1970s, playing the aforementioned records regularly after rehearsals with a local theatre group, whose male members were all strangely enough into this band.  The personnel at the time of recording “The Joker” included Gerald Johnson, Dick Thompson and John King and Ahmet Ertegun takes a writing credit along with Miller and Eddie Curtis.

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35. Brian Protheroe – Pinball | Chrysalis 2043 – 1974

I first heard this single when it was first released back in 1974 on Radio One during one of the insipid daytime radio shows, possibly hosted by Simon Bates.  It was like a breath of fresh air to me as I was at the time spending a great deal of time in a one room bedsit with a female friend and the song seemed to fit in with the bedsit ethos.  Aside from his singer-songwriter credentials, Brian Protheroe was also a stage actor who could be seen in the odd TV drama at the time, who also had a bit part in the blockbuster Superman film, released four years later in 1978.  Listening to the song today is pure nostalgia.  Fact: A couple of years ago I attended a sing-a-round at a local folk club after spending the day re-learning the song in preparation for performing it that night.  As I waited for my turn to come around the singer immediately before me played the bloody song!  How’s that for a coincidence?

Playlist 01.05.21 (#524)

Bird of the World – M Ross Perkins (Single)
Good Times – Michael Lane (Single)
Hunter – Christina Alden and Alex Patterson (Hunter)
The Great Stariski – Seán Gray (Single)
Evening Over Rooftops – Edgar Broughton Band (Edgar Broughton Band)
Heart of the Country – Paul and Linda McCartney (Ram)
There Used to be Horses Here – Amy Speace with the Orphan Brigade (There Used to be Horses Here)
Special July Delivery – Chris Flegg (Twenty’s Plenty)
Runs in the Family – The Roches (The Roches)
House on the Hill – Seafoam Green (Single)
Not Enough Love in the World – Ringo Starr (Zoom In)
For No One – Emmylou Harris (Pieces of the Sky)
She’s Gone for Good – Bob Bradshaw (The Ghost Light)
Gathering Flowers – Banter (Three)
The Author of All Things, She Speaks – M G Boulter (Clifftown)
How Quick the World Can Change – Eoin Glackin (Single)
Music of the Ages – COB (Spirit of Love)
Elephants – Greg Hancock (Architecture and Archaeology)
Thro’ My Eyes – Ian Matthews (If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes)
Home – Teenage Fan Club (Endless Arcade)

Edgar Broughton Band – Edgar Broughton Band | Harvest SHVL 791 – 1971

I became a bit of a fan of the Edgar Broughton Band around the time of the release of the band’s third studio album back in May 1971 and probably received the LP as a birthday present from confused if not alarmed parents.  The sleeve was controversial due to the nude figure hanging upside down in an abattoir surrounded by similarly hooked meat, although it would probably be the meat that later generations would object to rather than the nude figure.  The album was recorded between July 1970 and February 1971 and saw the return of original member Victor Unitt, who had left the band when it became a less blues focused concern.  The album was produced by Peter Jenner and featured such guests as Mike Oldfield on mandolin on “Thinking of You” ,  David Bedford on piano on “Getting Hard/What is a Woman For?” and surprisingly The Ladybirds on the album opener “Evening Over the Rooftops”, a female vocal trio who were best known for their TV work with the likes of Max Bygraves, Val Doonican and Benny Hill.  What they must have thought about Edgar Broughton is anyone’s guess. I confess that at school, I once submitted Evening Over the Rooftops as a poem in my English class and got a star.

The Evening Over the Rooftops is included on this week’s edition of the Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Paul and Linda McCartney – Ram | Apple PAS 10003 – 1971

Paul and Linda McCartney’s collaborative album released just over a year after the official break up of The Beatles was very much derided at the time of release by both critics and fans alike, not least for the alleged digs at Paul’s former writing partner on such songs as “Too Many People”, “Dear Boy” and “3 Legs”, the latter identified as a jibe against all three ex-band mates, though much of it was denied by the McCartneys.  To me, Ram is just a great listen, an album packed with highly melodic, if at times whimsical songs and an album that might have benefitted with the inclusion of “Another Day”, which was recorded at the same sessions in New York, but released as a single instead and kept off the album as many of the Beatles singles before it were.  Ram was the first post Beatles record I bought, while George Harrison’s superior All Things Must Pass came later, mainly due to it being a more expensive triple album.  I still don’t own a copy of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band on record for some unaccountable reason.

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

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Ian Matthews – If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes | Vertigo VEL 1002 – 1971

Ian Matthews was originally from Barton-upon-Humber but moved just up the road from my town before his teens.  I didn’t really become aware of the singer until his band Matthews Southern Comfort released the Joni Mitchell song “Woodstock” in 1970, a song that seemed to be on the radio almost constantly.  I was too young to know anything about his involvement in Fairport Convention until the early 1970s when he’d already left the band after a couple of album releases.  One or two of his ex-band mates make appearances on this album, notably Richard Thompson on guitar and accordion and Sandy Denny duetting on the title song.  If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes was the first of two LPs to be released on the Vertigo label, the same label as my Black Sabbath LPs, the second being Tigers Will Survive, which was released a year later.  The cover shot of the young singer songwriter wrapped in a purple haze seemed to echo the feel of other such singer-songwriter albums of the period such as Carole King’s Tapestry, Tom Paxton’s 6 and Emitt Rhodes’ eponymous second LP.  What’s with singer-songwriters and windows?   

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

Playlist for Show 18.04.21

Cello Song – Nick Drake (Five Leaves Left)
Mandolin Wind – Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells a Story)
Picasso’s Mandolin – Guy Clark (Boats to Build)
Ukulele Lady – Arlo Guthrie (Hobo’s Lullaby)
That Old Guitar – Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby (In Concert)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – George Harrison (Anthology)
Red Guitar – Loudon Wainwright III (Album III)
Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds (Mr Tambourine Man)
The Fiddle and the Drum – June Tabor (Abyssinians)
My Little Fiddle – Whippersnapper (Tsubo)
Kora – Ballake Sissoko feat. Camille (Djourou)
Flute Thing – Seatrain (Watch)
Hurdy Gurdy Man – Donovan (Single)
Duelling Banjos – Eric Weissberg (Deliverance)

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All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated