Issue 7

Rachel Baiman – Cycles | Signature Sounds Recordings

It may well have been two events that marked the beginning of Rachel Baiman’s latest album release Cycles, the birth of a nephew and the loss of a grandmother.  Birth and death are two highly personal moments in anyone’s life, something most of us are all too familiar with, both of which effectively incorporate polarised emotions, yet in some way, similarly powerful emotions at the same time.  Born in Chicago, Rachel has been in Nashville since her late teens and has steadily built up a reputation for herself as a fine singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and collaborator.  Following her 2017 debut solo release Shame, Rachel once again treads boldly with her own songwriting, delivering these songs with a strong and determined focus, notably the opening title song.  Recorded in Australia, Cycles features ten songs, predominantly originals written either by Rachel herself or co-written with such collaborators as Olivia Hally, Maya de Vitty and Jenee Flennor.  The album also features a pretty faithful take on the Slaid Cleaves/Rod Picott song “Rust Belt Fields”, one of the album’s highlights.  Known also for her work with 10 String Symphony, the progressive acoustic duo with fiddle player Christian Sedelmyer, Rachel has steadily developed into a fine solo artist in her own right and demonstrates strength and determination in order to get her message across, with such songs as “Wyoming Wildflowers”, “Hope It Hurts”, “No Good Time for Dying” and another album highlight, “Jokes on Me”.  With these songs alone, there’s a sense that we have another major talent on the block.   

Rust Belt Fields is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Light Night 2016 in the Howard Assembly Room (Photo: Tom Arber)

The Howard Assembly Room, Opera North’s historic “hidden gem” concert hall within Leeds Grand Theatre, will reopen this October with an expanded programme and its own front door, as the Company’s £18M redevelopment campaign Music Works nears completion.  The inaugural line-up features folk, jazz, world and experimental music, chamber concerts and film screenings, but also looks closer to home with appearances from Opera North’s Orchestra, Chorus and guest singers, and events for families and the community. Opera North’s status as a Theatre of Sanctuary will also be reflected in a range of initiatives and special events ensuring a welcoming and inclusive space for all including refugee and asylum seeker groups. 

The auditorium, with its spectacular gilt, barrel-vaulted roof and leaded windows, first opened in 1879 as a respectable alternative to Leeds’ music halls, hosting concerts, conjuring shows, variety performances and public meetings. At the time, Leeds Daily News noted its ‘very warm and cosy appearance’, and ‘particularly good acoustic qualities’. After spells as a fleapit cinema and a store during the following century, it reopened as the Howard Assembly Room in 2009. Its intimate atmosphere and sound had been further enhanced by Opera North’s sensitive restoration, and over the next decade it became a favourite destination for everything from Lieder recitals to thundering electronica.

Photos: Joachim Cooder (Abby Ross), The Brodsky Quartet (Sarah Cresswell), Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita (Andres Pino), Leveret.

Highlights include Stars of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti on Opera North’s mainstage, Quirijn de Lang and Sandra Piques Eddy christen the venue with a concert drawn from The Great American Songbook.  Visits from British Jazz icons Cleveland Watkiss, Byron Wallen, and Courtney Pine joined by pianist Zoe Rahman, Folk acts range from the stripped-back roots of Leveret to the black-humoured bard of Newcastle Richard Dawson. Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset performs with Inuit, Sami and Siberian singers, Scandinavian jazz greats… and instruments made from ice.  Chamber programme includes The Brodsky Quartet with Laura van der Heijden; The Tallis Scholars; Gweneth Ann Rand and Simon Lepper, and composer Gavin Bryars revisiting two of his greatest works.

Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese griot and master of the kora Seckou Keita return with an inspirational set of new material written during lockdown, accompanied by Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles.  For folk fans, the venue offers an atmosphere and acoustic that is second to none. Forthcoming concerts reveal the full sweep of the genre, from the stripped-back roots of Leveret (12 October) to the black-humoured bard of Newcastle Richard Dawson (30 October), part court jester, part savant-genius. Two very different Scottish bands, Talisk (14 November), and Blazin’ Fiddles (19 November) share a high-octane approach to tradition, and as the bleak winter nights draw in, The Furrow Collective returns with a special festive programme to celebrate the dark time of year (12 December).  On 20 November, a strange and beguiling new take on old time music comes courtesy of Joachim Cooder, who brings his thumb-piano arrangements of the songs of The Dixie Dewdrop, Uncle Dave Macon, to Leeds, with labelmate and Howard Assembly Room favourite Sam Amidon opening.

“Over its first ten years, the Howard Assembly Room became a treasured destination for lovers of music, film and art of every possible kind. Now, with its own dedicated and fully accessible entrance, improved facilities and a vastly expanded programme, our venue can look forward to welcoming many more diverse audiences, and cementing its status as one of the country’s great music rooms”. – Richard Ashton, Howard Assembly Room General Manager.

Tickets for all events at the Howard Assembly Room are available to book online now at

Amanda Cook – Narrowing the Gap | Mountain Fever Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Florida-born, Virginia-based bluegrass artist Amanda Cook has been beavering away for over a decade to reach the heights she deserves.  From her early days in the band High Cotton, through her first solo releases and recent signing with Mountain Fever Records, Cook has been honing a crisp and energetic bluegrass sounds that has matured beautifully for her latest outing.  Narrowing the Gap is Cook’s fourth LP, the third for Mountain Fever, and presents ten exquisitely produced bluegrass songs, such as the thundering “Get On Board” and “Where Are You Darling?” as well as more tender offerings such as “When You Come Back Down” and the delightful, dobro-drenched “Curtains”.  Praise must go to the band on this stunning release, not least Aaron Ramsey, whose mandolin adds wonderful character, and Carolyne VanLierop-Boone, a breath-taking banjo player who shines on such tracks as “Light in this World” and the gorgeous “West Virginia Coal”.

West Virginia Coal is included in the Whistle Stop feature on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Fool’s Moon – The Fool’s Moon | Self Release

After just a couple of runs through this debut album by the Lowestoft-based four-piece, The Fool’s Moon feels almost like being transported back in time, to an era when it wasn’t at all unusual to have all the elements of good healthy rock and roll music wrapped up in a couple of guitars, a bass and a set of drums, together with an ear for a good riff.  The band lays its credentials on the table as Robert Baker and Sam Easter share guitar duties, with Calum McKemmie on double bass and Arthur Le Baleur on drums.  Recorded in analogue and with little in the way of further embellishment, The Fool’s Moon demonstrates the simplicity of a good tight band, with plenty of funky guitar interplay and neither of the guitars getting in the way of one another.  There’s the country-inflected “Only Human”, which roughly sets out the four essential things in life, eating, sleeping, drinking and human contact, delivered in a Tom Waits-like growl.  Reminiscent of Tim Buckley’s “Strange Feeling”, “Heart to Break” likewise borrows from the chord structure first created by Miles Davis on “All Blues”, while “River Daughter” echoes the feel of a pastoral “Lady Eleanor”, bringing into the picture some understated folk rock elements.  If The Fool’s Moon set out to create a feel of the bands of the early 1970s, then they hit the spot squarely.  

Not 55 is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Afton Wolfe – Kings For Sale | Grandiflora Records

The title of Afton Wolfe’s new album Kings for Sale is taken from the lyric of “Dirty Girl”, one of the grittiest songs included here, delivered in a voice that falls somewhere between a Saturday Night Tom Waits and a Sunday morning Tom Russell, together with sneering slide guitar and bluesy harp; this is just one aspect of Wolfe’s schtick.  Following the success of Wolfe’s debut EP Petronius’ Last Meal (2020), Kings for Sale encompasses a rich blend of styles, gathered from Wolfe’s own stomping grounds of the Mississippi and Louisiana, with a humbled tip of the cap to the major musical influences of this very locale; jazz, country music, the blues and good old rock and roll.  “Paper Plane” sets the tone from the start as the songs weave from one situation to another, each song packed with evocative lyrics and engaging stories, such as the wonderful “Mrs Ernst’s Piano”, a song that addresses racism in a most candid and honest manner.  Produced by Oz Fritz, Kings for Sale invites onboard a host of noted musicians from both Tennessee and Mississippi, each of whom add additional character to an already characterful album.

Mrs Ernst’s Piano is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry – Purple Kittens | Self Release

Known primarily as the song writing force behind Katrina and the Waves, notably the pop band’s biggest hits “Walking on Sunshine” and “Love Shine a Light”, Kimberley Rew continues to create catchy melodies and engaging lyrics in this new collection of songs with fellow songwriter, bassist, musical partner and wife, Lee Cave-Berry, who has also been bitten with the song writing bug; look no further than the decidedly sultry “I Can Be Any Woman” for proof of that.  Lee’s whimsical “Unsatisfactory Cats” offers a moment of comic relief midway through, while Kimberley steps into Robyn Hitchcock’s shoes for “Kingdom of Love”, a rather faithful Soft Boys cover, complete with Hitchcock’s familiar idiosyncratic vocal inflections.  And why not? as Barry Norman impersonators would say.  There’s plenty of rocking little numbers to place the duo more in the rock camp than the straight pop camp, “Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream”, “Daytime Night Time” and “Black Ribbon” most prominently.  Strangely, chief among the rock-based material is “Penny the Ragman”, a song about a Morris side’s wardrobe manager, a nod to the duo’s folk roots.  As with much of Kimberley and Lee’s output, this is fun rock, something to stick on when you need a good cheering up, now for instance.      

I Can Be Any Woman is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Lunatraktors – The Missing Star | Broken Folk

Carli Jefferson and Clair Le Couteur aka Lunatraktors return with their second full-length album, which further investigates both traditional and contemporary song through their highly engaging vocal/percussion performances.  If the duo’s debut This is Broken Folk surprised us all upon its initial release, then The Missing Star once again thrills with ingenuity and creativity, building their dramatic vocal textures around some highly inventive rhythms.  The traditional “Rigs of the Times” is updated to include references to Brexit, COVID, Social Media and the ills of the present day, showing gratitude to the NHS, our heroes in these difficult times.  A bold statement to kick start an impressive second album.  Leonard Cohen’s mid-1970s “Lover Lover Lover” is revived here, taking advantage of Clair’s multi-octave vocal prowess, to include a basso profundo worthy of Lenny himself. Geoffrey Richardson (Caravan/Penguin Café Orchestra) offers some dramatic strings, which compliments Carli’s superb percussion, which may be an indication of where Lunatraktors’ music might go in the future.  “Mirie It Is (Anemois)” is reminiscent of some of the wonderful music created by the Third Ear Band some five decades earlier, equally loaded with tension and hypnotic trance-like motifs, yet far too short on this occasion.  The ancient song slips seamlessly into the dramatic title song, which is theatrical in its delivery, a timely protest song that kind of begs for the same cast of children employed in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” video, either that or a bunch of Benedictine Monks.  “16,000 Miles” was one of the songs previously released on Lunatraktors’ recent EP Bonefires, which once again takes the listener by surprise with its ingenious vocal arrangement.  There’s plenty of embellishment on The Missing Star,  including piano, reed instruments, whistles, birdsong and bells, each strategically placed for maximum effect.  Unique, fascinating and highly rewarding.

Lover Lover Lover is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The John Williams Syndicate – Out of Darkness | Wulfrun Records

Having spent the best part of his working life in the back rooms of the music industry, either writing songs and producing records for others, or plugging those records as the head of A&R, John Williams has always had one foot firmly rooted in the business in one way or another, his name associated with such notable bands and artists as Jethro Tull, Robert Plant, Bob Marley, The Housemartins, The Proclaimers and Blancmange.  Perhaps I should point out that this particular John Williams has nothing to do with the American composer who scored such movies as ET, Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back, nor is he the Australian classical guitarist responsible for the theme for the Deer Hunter, but rather a British musician with a taste for a catchy song.  Citing both Ray and Dave Davies, Pete Townshend and Nick Drake as early influences, the latter being paid tribute to in the 32 page lyric booklet, in a heartfelt parody of the Bryter Layter cover shot, complete with Guild guitar and shoes, Williams claims to have focused his energy on A&R and record production throughout his career, though the first two lockdown periods have provided an ideal opportunity to record this own long-awaited album.  Out of Darkness is an eclectic mixture of styles, so diverse in some cases that they sound like they come from entirely different albums.  Take for instance “New Flag”, featuring a duet with Sixties icon Petula Clark and then the Latin grooves of “Spanish Song”, featuring a rather sultry exchange between Isabella Coulstock and Slicko DiCaprio, different worlds, same continent.  Collaboration is key to much of this ten-song album, which begins with a new song co-written with former Fairport Convention/Southern Comfort/Plainsong singer-songwriter Iain Matthews, “Loud and Clear”, a gentle soft rock opener with some fine keyboard/guitar interplay courtesy of both John and Charlie Williams respectively. Other notable songs include “Luminescent” featuring the voice of the German synthpop queen Claudia Brücken and the late-Beatles-like “Close to You”, with some of the most tantalizing George Harrison-like guitar playing on the album.  Claudia Brücken appears once again on the album closer, the smouldering “Don’t Give Up on Me”, complete with some tasty acoustic guitar courtesy of Ben Walker.

Don’t Give Up On Me is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Rod Stradling – Treacle and Bread | Ghosts From the Basement

There’s something immediately joyous about the sound of Rod Stradling’s melodeon(s), and Treacle & Bread is a veritable feast of joy.  Picture this, a bright sunny afternoon, blue skies above, the Nag’s Head’s open and there’s the sound of bells approaching, together with the steady march of feet.  The village people are out and the village green is about to be preserved, it’s time for the dance and who better to get the afternoon off to a good start but Rod Stradling, our ‘melodeon guru’.  Rod’s not keen on this particular moniker, though he is responsible for many young musicians turning to the instrument, which has become an almost essential ingredient in English country dance music, of which Rod has been a mainstay over the last, let’s see now, getting on for six decades.  Here, the thirty-odd tunes, compressed into twenty-one tracks, serve as an example of Rod’s range of stepdances, hornpipes, polkas, bourrées and the like, with the occasional nursery rhyme.  Treacle & Bread provides plenty of inviting acoustic performances together with one or two fine electric accompaniment moments, which doesn’t necessarily mean that this is any way associated with Folk Rock, nor should we be quick with the ‘Judas’ heckles.  Either solo or in the company of the bands he’s either formed or played a major role in, such as Oak, The Old Swan Band, The English Country Blues Band, Tiger Moth, Edward II & the Red Hot Polkas, The English Country Dance Band and Phoenix, Rod can be heard here at his best, with some of the most vibrant tunes stored away in his prolific repertoire.  For those thinking about venturing out along this path, Treacle & Bread is a good place to start in order to continue spreading the joy.

Scan Tester’s Stepdances Nos 1 and 2/Sweet Nell is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Jonathan Edwards – Right Where I Am | Self Release

I must confess, I haven’t really kept up with the recording career of Jonathan Edwards over the past few years, having but a limited number of LPs upon the shelf, notably his 1971 debut and the later Sailboat, yet I was pleasantly surprised to see this latest offering, fifty years on from that fine debut.  I imagine the song that immediately springs to mind at the mention of his name is the deceivingly joyous political song “Sunshine (Go Away Today)”, which was released as a single from the Minnesota-born singer-songwriter’s debut solo LP all those years ago.  Fifty years on and Edwards celebrates his five decade recording career with an album that includes the song “50 Years”, a thank you note to those who have supported him over the years.  In fine voice, which despite showing signs of maturity is still spot on for the messages he wishes to convey, certainly on the rather gorgeous “Scars of Love”, a soulful meditation on the essence of relationships, Edwards maintains a positive attitude throughout, most notably on the aforementioned “50 Years” and “There Comes a Time”, both of which seem to be filled with optimism.  One song probably steps over the line between positive mature song writing and whimsy, as “Stingray Shuffle” brings out the Bermuda shorts and flowery shirts for a rather grim encounter.  Perhaps a belated cautionary tale for Mr Irwin?

50 Years is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Dal:um – Similar and Different | Glitterbeat

Experimental at its core, Similar and Different showcases the outstanding musicianship of two young Seoul-based musicians, Ha Suyean and Hwang Hyeyoung, who play the gayageum and the geomungo respectively, two of the most popular of Korean traditional instruments.  It’s easy to lose yourself in these almost otherworldly trance-like compositions, which are both melodic and minimalistic at the same time, in the case of the opening few moments of “Dasreum”, nothing more than a few seemingly random yet evocative sounds, which appear to explore the textures of both instruments, where the physical body of each becomes just as important as the strings attached.  There’s certainly a dialogue between the two instruments, each speaking fluently, at times in a call and response manner, each instrument testing one another through their sonic responses.  It’s almost like eavesdropping on a private conversation.  Performing since childhood, Suyean and Hyeyoung have taken their music beyond their respective instruments’ melodic and harmonic capabilities to create something ethereal, exciting and ultimately inspiring.   

The Waves is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Nick March – Swing Your Partner | Self Release

With a clear finger-picked acoustic guitar sound throughout, together with a voice reminiscent of a young Nick Drake (there again, Nick Drake will always be young), Nick March presents his debut four-track EP Swing Your Partner.  Borrowing one or two songs from the tradition, notably from the collection of the American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, then treating them to new and slick arrangements, Nick creates an almost eerie atmosphere, certainly on “Dig a Hole (Little Lulie)”, based on the earlier folk song “Darlin’ Cory”.  Nick’s use of falsetto is at times reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, notably the late singer’s reading of Benjamin Britten’s haunting “Corpus Christi Carol”, echoed once again here on “Eliza Jane”, which sweeps along at a rapid pace, though once again maintains an almost otherworldly atmosphere throughout, a song that also contains the EP’s title within its lyric.  The single original composition on the EP comes in the form of “The Kingfisher”, a delicate meditation that emphasises Nick’s additional credentials as a potentially fine composer. 

Dig a Hole (Little Lulie) is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Ally Forsyth – The Longest Night | Self Release

For The Longest Night, his debut four song EP, Ally Forsyth tackles all the instruments himself, with multi-layered vocals, a showcase for what this young musician is capable of.  An alumni of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music, Ally is no stranger to music and has worked both in the studio and on stage with other notable musicians.  Two of the songs here are self-penned, the title song and the instrumental “Stewarton Road”, though the EP also includes a cover of Nickel Creek’s “The Rest of My Life”, from the pens of Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins, and also the Bon Ivor song “AUATC”.  Recorded, mixed and mastered by Skerryvore’s Scott Wood at his Oak Ridge Studios, The Longest Night shows much promise.

The Longest Night is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Lady Nade – You’re My Number One | Self Release

The Bristol-born singer songwriter Lady Nade lifts “You’re My Number One” from her latest album Willing, a song that reminds us of Paul McCartney’s Beatlemania classic “Can’t Buy Me Love”, the notion that money isn’t by any means everything to us.  The ‘everyday’ notion of the million things one has to do, the bills that need to be paid and the dreaded day job, matched against the longing to see one’s loved one, to snuggle up when the day is through, is captured rather well, inviting a universal feeling of empathy.  The gentle, almost meditative flow of the song marks it neither a Saturday night record, nor a Sunday morning one, but rather, a Wednesday afternoon song, perfect with a cup of coffee and the last chapter of that book you always wanted to read.  Lovely is an appropriate description. 

You’re My Number One is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Celtic Social Club – For Real | Kitchen Disco Records

There’s an immediate Celtic Soul sensibility to the new single by the Breton/Irish combo the Celtic Social Club, with more than a little of the “Come on Eileen” about it in terms of its immediacy.  Taken from the band’s forthcoming album Dancing or Dying, their fourth to date, the Celtic Social Club seem poised to burst out of this imposed lockdown period with what could be an unexpected summer hit.  The songs’ uplifting notion of rising up, shrugging off the cobwebs and starting afresh permeates “For Real” for all of its three minutes.  The Belfast-born singer Dan Donnelly takes the lead as the band’s founder Manu Masko marks his territory from the opening drum’s wake up call, maintaining a stomping beat throughout as Ronan Le Bars (whistle), Pierre Stephan (fiddle), Goulven Hamel (guitar) and Richard Puaud (bass) stand shoulder to shoulder for the ride.

For Real is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Padraig Jack – Minnie | Beautiful World Music

Padraig Jack, an Inis Mór native, just ten miles off Ireland’s western coast, released his debut album last year and now releases the single “Minnie”, one of the album’s notable songs.   With a Ph.D in computer engineering, Padraig has a grounding in music, a chip off the old block so to speak, his father being the songwriter Barry Ronan.  “Minnie” is a tender love story with a difference, a single mum with a zest for life, getting on with things after a failed loveless marriage, told from the viewpoint of a potential life partner, who just can’t commit.  Both Padraig and Barry have now both signed up to a publishing deal with Beautiful World Music, a relatively new entity on the scene, with over 40 years’ experience in the music industry.  Bringing together David Jaymes Associates, Spirit Music & Media, Independent Records, Good Deed Music and Beautiful World Agency to form a brand new, artist friendly, publishing company, “Minnie” is a sign of good things to come.

Minnie is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Manzanita y Su Conjuto – Shambar | Alalog Africa

Manzanita’s guitar playing on “Shambar” could only come from Peru, not so much ‘shredding’ but rather ‘dancing’ the strings with their infectious ascending and descending patterns, set against some spirited brass and nifty keyboard work.  It’s traditional Peruvian music originating from Manzanita’s native province of Trujillo, resplendent in the flavours of its very locale.  Analog Africa are about to release a limited edition vinyl release of Trujillo, Perú 1971 – 1974 by Manzanita y Su Conjunto, which will include fourteen mostly instrumental compositions of electrifying Peruvian cumbia and guaracha and if “Shambar” is anything to go by, it should be an enjoyable addition to anyone’s collection, certainly a fine reminder of Manzanita’s irresistible guitar playing, a tribute to the musician who died in Lima, back in 2007.   

Shambar is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Steve Spence – All Or Nothing: The Authorised Story of Steve Marriott | Omnibus Press

There are evidentally several Steve Marriotts, the one we remember attired in the most flamboyant of Carnaby Street suits in the midst of the so-called Swinging Sixties, whose garment bill well exceeded his earnings, then there’s the cockney Artful Dodger character, who we see being strangled by an elderly neighbour in the 1968 “Lazy Sunday Afternoon” promo film years ahead of the so called ‘pop video’.  Turning to soulful hard rock, there’s the diminutive rock n roller who tells a packed Fillmore East audience that during the band’s latest American tour that ‘we ain’t ‘arf had a gas this time.. it’s really been a gas’, before launching into a blistering “I Don’t Need No Doctor”. But what of the complete monster that went under the guise of ‘Melvin’, Marriott’s destructive drunken alter-ego, the man who would insult German audiences at a time when ‘don’t mention the war’ was the key to an otherwise harmonious European tour.  What of the drug-fuelled woman beater, the thief, the man who enjoyed hobnobbing with the infamous East End gangsters?  All or Nothing sets out to do what it says on the tin, to tell the full story, warts and all, a story so rich in the ups and the downs of one of the most fascinating, yet self-destructive characters in the story of rock and roll.  Steve Marriott was loved by some, hated by others and in some cases, both loved and hated at the same time.  Told through the testaments of those close to the singer, including immediate family members, ex-wives, friends, colleagues, fellow musicians, band mates and the heavies that he had the misfortune to become involved with, each linked by a running narrative by the author (in italics), who possibly overdoes it with the frequent reminders of what a certain monetary figure would be in ‘today’s money’, All or Nothing provides us with more than just a glimpse at the true nature of this tragic figure, whose short life matched his short frame and who was plagued by his own demons, which was ultimately matched by his own supreme talent; a fine musician, guitar player, song writer and the owner of one of the most alive and soulful voices in the history of popular music.

B. J. Thomas (1942-2021)

BJ (Billy Joe) Thomas is perhaps best known for his performance of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, the Burt Bacharach song famously used for the bicycle scene in the 1969 hit film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which went on to win an Academy Award for best original song.  BJ would go on to have further hits including the memorable, yet cumbersome “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”.  Born in Hugo, Oklahoma, the singer enjoyed a long and prolific career, releasing well over fifty albums, though also endured the usual pitfalls of fame, with alcoholism and drug abuse leading to marital problems.  In the mid-1970s BJ gave up the booze and drugs and found religion instead, which would lead to him becoming a noted performer of Christian-based material, which effectively saved his life.  Later involvement in acting and a surprise ‘hit’ with the theme song to the television sitcom Growing Pains, “As Long As We Got Each Other”, which later saw duets with both Jennifer Warnes and Dusty Springfield, kept the singer busy throughout the next couple of decades.  BJ Thomas died of complications from lung cancer on 29 May, 2021, aged 78.

Songs is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Deborah Bonham at the Great British Folk Festival in 2010

John Renbourn and Robin Williamson at the Duchess in York in 2010

46. The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society | Pye NPL 18233 – 1968

Over the years, ever since the Kinks dominated the British singles charts with one superb hit record after another, Ray Davies has taken on the role of the quintessential English pop poet laureate, producing a prolific repertoire of songs that capture the very spirit of Englishness, with songs that talk about leaky kitchen sinks, Sunday joints of bread and honey and rent collectors knocking at the door trying to get in.  The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society captures the essence of these perceived lifestyles with a series of vignettes that not only celebrate all things English, but also lament the passing of time and the destruction of traditions.  Nostalgic at its core, the album not only marks the passing of an era but also the end of the original band, the LP being the last album to feature all four original members of Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory.  “Do You Remember Walter?”, “Picture Book”, “Last of the Steam Powered Trains” and the title song stand out.

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47. Mott the Hoople – Mad Shadows | Island Records ILPS 9119 – 1970

Mott the Hoople’s ‘difficult’ second LP turned out to be possibly the band’s best album in retrospect.  Legend has it that its original title was Sticky Fingers but messers Jagger and Richards beat them to it with their own album release, which the Rolling Stones were working on in the studio next door.  Mad Shadows was their second choice of title, a term borrowed from a poem by Baudelaire, which was perfectly matched by the monochrome artwork.  Like most the albums that were discovered around this time, it was through the sampler format that I first became aware of both the album and the band, in this case the double Island compilation Bumpers.  When I saw the band at the Doncaster Top Rank in the early 1970s, the band were currently riding high on the success of “All the Young Dudes” and I distinctly recall Ian Hunter’s on-stage proclamation – ‘There’s only two rock and roll bands in the world, the Rolling Stones and us!’, which was probably not the case.  However, from the packed audience I was moved to shout out for “Thunderbuck Ram”, the opening song from this album, to which an older fan who was standing next to me leaned over and said “I don’t think they’ll be doing that one anymore”.  The band had already adopted all the traits of a Glam Rock band and the Mad Shadows era had sadly passed.

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48. Glencoe – Glencoe | Epic S EPC 65207 – 1972

The Top Rank on Silver Street in Doncaster had two entirely different identities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, three if you count the teenybopper Saturday morning extravaganza known as the Saturday Morning Dance Club, where you could hear some of the most abysmal chart hits imaginable by Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich, The Marmalade and Pickettywitch.  The popular night club had the usual Tamla Motown and Northern Soul-drenched weekends that were often packed to the rafters and always ended up with a punch-up around the back between rival mods, rockers, suede heads, skinheads or whatever other heads were about at the time.  However, the Top Rank was also home to the Prog Rock night on Mondays and also provided a venue for a long list of visiting bands.  Pink Floyd played at the venue, recreating “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” onstage.  David Bowie played there twice during the Hunky Dory period.  One night three bands played, whose collective names added up to only eight letters; Yes, If and Egg.  The Edgar Broughton Band spat from the stage in pre-punk days, Mott the Hoople played on the rotating stage the same week “All the Young Dudes” entered the charts and I lost count of how many times I saw the Welsh hard rock band Budgie there.  Curved Air, Fairport Convention and even the Electric Light Orchestra showcased their eponymous LP there.  One or two bands came and went leaving only memories and the odd LP I managed to collect along the way.  One such band was Glencoe, featuring notable bassist Norman Watt-Roy, fresh out of The Greatest Show on Earth and prior to his work with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, whose self-titled debut LP I would listen to frequently back in the day. “Airport”, “Telephonia” and “Sinking Down a Well” remain favourites.

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49. Genesis – Trespass | Charisma CAS 1020 – 1970

After something of a false start under the supervision of fellow public school luminary Jonathan King, the band Genesis entered London’s Trident Studios in 1970 to record what effectively became the band’s first proper album.  The artwork itself pointed very much in the direction the band were to eventually go in the early 1970s as well as the music, which was written by the band as a whole.  Trespass was however to be the swansong for both guitarist Anthony Phillips and drummer John Mayhew, who would be replaced by Steve Hackett and Phil Collins respectively.  In truth, Genesis didn’t become an obsession until the arrival of Foxtrot a couple of years later, which lingered until The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in 1974, before evaporating with the departure of charismatic frontman Peter Gabriel around the same time.  As in most cases though, I ventured backwards over the band’s catalogue to discover the Trespass and Nursery Crime albums a little after discovering Foxtrot, both of which occasionally re-visit the turntable even today.  Notable tracks “Stagnation”, “Visions of Angels” and “The Knife”.

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50. McDonald and Giles – McDonald and Giles | Island ILPS 9126 – 1970

I think it was the sleeve on the McDonald and Giles LP that first caught my attention, being probably more impressed with the musician’s girlfriends than the two Herbert’s pictured on the gatefold sleeve, in much the same way as I was always more intrigued with Liccy and Rose on the Incredible String Band LP sleeves.  Once again, it was the Island label that also caught my attention, at a moment in time when everything on the label seemed to be crucial listening (well almost).  Today in record stores up and down the country, this LP can usually be found in the box marked ‘pink label’, which almost guarantees to contain other LPs by the likes of Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Amazing Blondel, Traffic, Free and King Crimson, the band that Ian McDonald and Michael Giles had left before recording this album, the duo’s only release.  McDonald and Giles also features contributions from Peter Giles, Steve Winwood and Michael Blakesley, who played trombone on “Tomorrow’s People”.

46. Dave Edmunds Rockpile – I Hear You Knocking | MAM 1 – 1970

I turned into a dreaded teenager in May 1970 and the leap from the age of 12 to 13 was life changing.  At the time I was unaware of how lucky I had been to live through the entire career span of The Beatles, from beginning to end, even though during those years the iconic band co-existed with the likes of Marmalade, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich and The Scaffold, together with a whole shed load of variety entertainers whose records leaved a lot to be desired, Ken, Des, Val and the like.  The proverbial transistor radio under the bed covers was a reality for me, its antenna poking out from under the covers, attempting to keep up with the ebbs and flows of a pirate radio station out in the middle of the North Sea.  Towards the end of the 1960s, my musical tastes had begun to change and were indeed developing. I was already aware of some of the great rock acts of the day such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Led Zeppelin, all of whom up to this point would rarely be heard on the standard BBC radio station and almost never on the TV.  By 1970, the music I was turning to was finally getting some air play and the radio airwaves would be saturated with songs such as George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and by December, taking the much sought after Christmas Number One spot, it was Dave Edmunds Rockpile with this memorable cover of a 1955 Smiley Lewis hit.

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47. McGuinness Flint – When I’m Dead and Gone | Capitol CL15662 – 1970

Although most of the music I was listening to in 1970 centred around the growing underground popularity of rock music with the emergence of such bands as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Free and Wishbone Ash to name but a few, there was always room for bands with a strong acoustic sound.  Most of the singles that I was steadily collecting at the time had an acoustic guitar in there somewhere, and now and again the mandolin was included, bringing with it a more distinctive style.  Led Zeppelin were using acoustic guitars and mandolins as were the Faces.  When Manfred Mann’s Tom McGuinness and John Mayall’s Hughie Flint teamed up with songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, together with keyboard player Dennis Coulston, a new and very distinct acoustic sound was born with McGuinness Flint’s debut single, a song that would be frequently heard on the pop radio channels of the day, and a song that is still regularly played today. 

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48. Family – The Weavers Answer | Reprise Records – RS 27009 – 1970

Family was one of the rock bands of the late 1960s whose music came to me first and foremost through 45rpm singles, rather than the unaffordable albums of the time.  For a kid with a paper round and a hunger for records, the format suited me just fine until real life, real work and extra cash came along. I was lucky enough to have on my doorstep a couple of decent record stalls on Doncaster Market, where ex-jukebox records were quite plentiful and the choice eclectic.  “The Weavers Answer” was Family’s seventh single release and appeared as an EP under the title of Strange Band, named after one of the two songs that appeared on the B side, the other being “Hung Up Down”.  I remember buying the single immediately, not for the name of the band nor indeed the label, two important elements to any record purchases at the time, but because it had three songs on it rather than just the two.  A bargain.  Despite Roger Chapman’s voice being something of an acquired taste, the band soon became one of my own personal favourite bands at the time.  After seven years together and seven albums to show for it, the band disbanded in 1973 and “The Weavers Answer” became the final song that was played at their last gig.

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49. Argent – Hold Your Head Up | Epic S EPC 7786 – 1972

I was in my last year at secondary school when I first heard this single by Argent, after an extraordinarily brave DJ played it in between wall to wall Northern Soul records at the school dance.  Shortly afterwards, the song was frequently played on airwaves, the sound of the former Zombies’ keyboard player’s atmospheric Hammond B3 dominating the single, while songwriter Russ Ballard took the lead vocal.  “Hold Your Head Up” wasn’t the sort of record that would normally chart during this period, its highly infectious sound clearly borrowing from Progressive Rock, complete with a memorable rock riff throughout.  Though the band was at the time led by the strong partnership of Rod Argent and Russ Ballard, this song was actually written by the band’s bass player Chris White, whose pulsating bass dominates the song’s rhythm.  The single went on to sell over a million copies, a great achievement for a Prog song at the time and a song I will stop and listen to whenever it comes on the radio.

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50. Canned Heat – On the Road Again | Liberty LBF15090 – 1968

It’s all a little bit hazy really, but I’m sure the first time I became aware of the California-based blues band Canned Heat was when I heard my elder sister singing “Let’s Work Together” in the bathroom.  Shortly afterwards I would read articles in the music press about the band and I soon became familiar with the lead singer Bob Hite’s mountainous frame, otherwise known as The Bear – for obvious reasons.  The Bear can be seen bouncing about on the stage at Woodstock in some of the now familiar outtakes from DA Pennebaker’s iconic film.  A year before the Woodstock festival, the band released this single, which featured the band’s guitarist Alan Wilson providing the falsetto vocal.  A couple of years later Wilson was dead, his death being somewhat overshadowed a couple of weeks later by the death of Jimi Hendrix and four weeks after that, the death of Janis Joplin.  1970 had a lot to answer for.    

Playlist 15.06.21 (#527)

For Real – Celtic Social Club (Single)
50 Years – Jonathan Edwards (Right Where I Am)
Rust Belt Fields – Rachel Baiman (Cycles)
Minnie – Padraig Jack (Single)
Not 55 – The Fool’s Moon (The Fool’s Moon)
Shambar – Manzanita y Su Conjuto (Single)
Jamaica Say You Will – Byrds (Byrdmaniax)
Change Partners – Stephen Stills (Stephen Stills 2)
You’re My Number One – Lady Nade (Single)
I Can Be Any Woman – Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry (Purple Kittens)
West Virginia Coal – Amanda Cook (Narrowing the Gap)
Good Year for the Roses – Elvis Costello & the Attractions (Almost Blue)
Songs – BJ Thomas (Songs)
The Waves – Da:lum (Similar and Different)
Lover Lover Lover – Lunatraktors (The Missing Star)
Mrs Ernst’s Piano – Afton Wolfe (Kings for Sale)
Dig a Hole (Little Lulie) – Nick March (Swing Your Partner EP)
The Longest Night – Ally Forsyth (The Longest Night EP)
Scan Tester’s Stepdances No 1 and 2 – Barney Stradling (Treacle and Bread)
Don’t Give Up On Me – The John Williams Syndicate (Out of Darkness)
Tarkus (Excerpt) – Emerson Lake and Palmer (Tarkus)

Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills 2 | Atlantic 2401013 – 1971

The second album by Stephen Stills was released just seven months after his eponymous debut, both albums released on the Atlantic label.  Highly prolific at the time as a song writer, Stills had easily enough material accumulated for a double album, which had been the original plan, but was talked out of it by label boss Ahmet Ertegun.  Gathering together a number of notable musicians, including Nils Lofgren, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Dr. John, David Crosby and Jerry Garcia, notably for his pedal steel guitar on the album opener “Change Partners”, the album was recorded in Miami, some of the sessions taking place well into the early hours of the morning.  The LP is notable also for the presence of the Memphis Horns, which effectively brings an entirely different sound to Stills’ work, although there are one or two CSN moments, notably “Fishes and Scorpions”.  Two of the songs on this record were re-recorded for inclusion on later albums, the tender “Singin’ Call”, written for then love interest Rita Coolidge, appearing on Stills Alone (1991) and “Word Game” released on his album with The Rides (2013).  The one song left over from his previous tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young is the soulful “Bluebird Revisited”, one of the songs from the band’s famous Woodstock appearance a couple of years earlier.

Change Partners is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Byrds – Byrdmaniax | CBS 64389 – 1971

The tenth album by the Byrds and the second to feature the line-up of Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin after 1970’s UntitledByrdmaniax wasn’t at all well received, certainly not as critically and commercially successful as the band’s two previous albums, not was it liked by the band, the blame of which was placed squarely on producer Terry Melcher’s shoulders, for overdubbing strings and horns without the band’s knowledge.  “Kathleen’s Song” for instance, might be considered an otherwise pleasant song but for the strings which turns the song into something utterly bland.  There are one or two memorable moments though, not least the album closer, a cover of Jackson Browne’s yet to be released by it’s unknown author “Jamaica Say You Will”, the song that went on to open Browne’s debut album, featuring a fine vocal by Clarence White, who would be killed by a drunk driver a couple of years later.

Jamaica Say You Will is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Tarkus | Island ILPS9155 – 1971

The second studio album by Prog ‘supergroup’ Emerson, Lake and Palmer, opens with a side-long opus made up of seven individual parts, dove-tailed together to make up a twenty-minute single piece, with Greg Lake’s lyrics being inspired by William Neal’s cover artwork.  Neal’s half-armadillo, half-military vehicle battling it out with a manticore (later adopted as the name of the band’s own record label) was just the sort of thing that Prog was currently crying out for, though the whole thing made little sense in the end.  The second side returns to the standard shorter tracks, a mixture of throw away honky tonk tunes, riff-laden hard rock, one or two strong classical moments and concluding with a straight forward rock and roll number “Are You Ready Eddy”, presumably for engineer Eddy Offord.  Well received at the time, the album is remembered as a Prog landmark.

Tarkus (Excerpt) is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated