Friday, 14 April 2017

Lloyd Cole and the emotions - an acoustic retrospective

What a lucky girl I am, I thought, as I set off to see a big musical crush of mine from the 80s.  He was playing in my “back yard”, a mere 10 minute car journey away, in a small, converted church which holds a few hundred.   This was already a treat.  An extra treat was the early kick off - our fifty something host obviously wanted to be in bed by 23.00.  As did I.   

The favourable start did indeed bode well.  As soon as I took my seat, it felt like it was going to be a special evening.   There was something in the air.  A young boy came onto the stage to tune up and I was immediately transported back 30 years.  He looked just like a young Lloyd Cole.  When Cole later introduced him, it was very sweet.  “This is my son William,  who looks just how I would have looked at 24, had I been in the Jesus and Mary Chain”.

When the main act, Cole Snr, took to the stage, his opening line was spoken.  “I’m looking backwards like I said I never would” he shared with us. “And you’re not getting any younger either, so I guess tonight’s the night!” 

Having seen Cole a number of times live, I usually found him stern and uncommunicative.  Tonight he was witty and even rather charming.  He let us into his pathetic secret that, in the 80s, his nonchalant pose and demeanour were an attempt to look neutral.  He only realised he’d failed in 1994.   Rocking his trademark double denim, he revealed the reason behind his choice.  Whilst playing in a Southern backwater in the USA, the dance floor was filled with overweight, middle aged men, each with at least one gorgeous young woman on his arm, looking like they were having a ball.  “Every one of those men was wearing the same uniform – double denim.  That’s got to work” he confessed.  He had already told more witty stories than I’d ever heard, with a nice line in poking fun at himself.

Lloyd played the first set solo and started with a beautiful rendition of “Patience”, from Rattlesnakes.   “Perfect Blue” was followed by the title track from Rattlesnakes.  What a great album that was.  And is.  Then a Prince cover – “Sometimes it snows in April”, flowing nicely into “Loveless” and we caught our breath.    He was in fine form, playing some really nice guitar on “Lonely Mile”, from the last Commotions album.  A seldom heard tune, it was just lovely.   I was reminded how strong his voice was and how fortunate he is that it’s remained so.  Cole had a vocal scare in February of this year and reports seeing a speech therapist to “look at strategies for the older vocalist”.  Whatever they’re doing, it appears to be working.   

I usually prefer a band to an acoustic set.  I often find the stripped back style loses something in interpretation, leaving the sound lacking and a bit disappointing.   On this occasion, the songs were treated carefully and Cole’s melodic voice made up for what may have been missing. 

All wrapped up in needle cord and coincidence” a line I’ve always loved from “Pretty Gone”, made me smile.  The song with the most beautiful of lyrics finished with a musical nod to Norwegian Wood as I recalled how pretentious it all sounded back then.  Apart perhaps from Morrissey, none were more pretentious than Cole and his impossibly clever lyrics.  But I bloody loved him anyway.  Surely he and I weren’t alone in being and admiring pretentiousness.   Wasn’t it like that in the late 80s? 

Just as we were warming up and I was falling in love with him all over again, an enthusiastic audience clapped along to “My Bag”.  He stopped and told us off, complaining that clapping always sounds rubbish.  “Please don’t do it, it’s a nightmare for us musicians. You start, you stop, it puts me off…..”  A laugh, I think an embarrassed one, rippled around the hall. 

He finished the first set with “Jennifer She Said” and went off for a short nap, promising to bring young William back for a much more entertaining second charge.

True to his word, the second set started with a few favourites.  “Like Lovers Do” with a fine solo from Cole Jr, lost less than I expected from the stripped back treatment.  Everyone cheered for William as the song finished and he looked slightly uncomfortable. A chip off the old block then.  Like his dad, in time he may get used to it. 

The crowd recognised the intro to “2cv” and let out an audible, collective, knowing sigh.  It was like recognising an old friend that one hadn’t seen for a long time but feeling that familiar warmth and being taken in, all at once.  A tear ran down my cheek and I’d wager I wasn’t the only one.    “Undressed” followed and I was completely caught up in his clever, gorgeous lyrics and tuneful melody once again.   We all were.  As he sang “No Blue Skies”, one of my very favourites, his voice sounded strong but at the same time vulnerable and more emotional than I’d heard all evening.  If I had to guess, I’d say this song means a lot to Cole.  I wondered about musicians being moved by their own lyrics and how difficult it must be to give of themselves emotionally, for everyone to see and hear. 

 A long pause whilst father and son tuned their guitars must have become awkward.  Cole joked “it’ll be worth it” And it was.  He finished the set with “Brand New Friend” and deftly took us into Bowie’s “Heroes”.  We all had a touching singsong. 

The final song of the evening was “Forest Fire”.   “This has a melody at the end that, when I have to sing it on my own, makes me feel prehistoric and really stupid" he shared.   "You could help me out or you could watch me suffer.  Just remember not to clap.”   We helped him out and it was a perfect end to a perfect evening. 

The crowd took to their feet in rowdy applause.  I was right, it did turn out to be a special evening.  Special for me, as I got to reconnect with songs that were part of my musical DNA.   Special for the audience, mostly 40 and 50 somethings like me and feeling the same, I’m sure.  And special for the Coles.  How wonderful to be able to recreate your musical life’s work with your own flesh and blood.  They've toured this show extensively together and must have shared the knowing glances and strong bond that was evident on stage this evening countless times.  I can think of little else I'd rather do than share my passion with my own child.  I'm pretty sure this is something neither of them will forget.   What an emotional evening. 

Dad and boy linked arms, bowed and they were gone, gone, gone.  Pretty Gone….







Friday, 4 November 2016

Dawes - the best band in the world. Probably.

A few years ago, I came across Dawes by accident, at one of Glasgow’s finest venues – the Royal Concert Hall. As part of the city’s Celtic Connections festival, Roddy Hart curates a Roaming Roots Revue where he invites musicians he admires to join him and his band, the Lonesome Fire, to celebrate a particular theme or genre in popular music. This time, the theme was Laurel Canyon and Dawes fitted the bill well. Nothing to do with this review but Celtic Connections is a great festival and Roaming Roots Revue is a fine night out, which I’d highly recommend. Tickets are now on sale for January 28th, 2017 @ The theme this year is women in music. Expect the mighty Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush (not in the flesh you understand). Since hearing Dawes play four of their own tracks that evening, they have become one of my most listened to artists and I eagerly awaited my chance to experience them live again. With my dream playlist in my head and the most excitement I’ve felt about a gig in ages coursing through my veins, I headed to King Tut’s- according to NME, “quite possibly the best small venue in the world”.

Due on stage at 21.45, it was soon 21.55. The techs certainly did plenty of fine tuning and fussing. Get on with it already, I was thinking. I’m beyond excited and it’s a school night. Dawes finally graced the stage 15 minutes late. I played my usual “what will they open with?” as I waited impatiently. Their rather quiet entrance hid their obvious intention – to blow us away from the off. “Of course! What else could they have started with?” I smiled as they filled the room with the opening bars of “One Of Us” – first up from their new album, “We’re All Gonna Die”. It happened to be on my dream playlist so I was already totally sold. It turns out I wasn’t alone. The whole audience joined in the blistering chorus and we were, at once, a family. This level of familiarity surprised me. Being one of Glasgow’s trendiest venues and regarded by many as the place to see the next big thing, I wondered if many of the crowd had showed up hoping to bear witness to the birth of the next Oasis. Not tonight. I was obviously amongst true fans and buckled up for the ride. 

I recently discussed Dawes’ new album with a chum, who’s a musician himself, and we both agreed there’s a definite move to bigger, smoother production with lots of layers, strings and a number of things that would be difficult to translate in a live setting. Dawes skilfully turned this to their advantage, giving the crowd pure unadulterated rock versions of these songs. Actually, that appeared to be the theme of the night. Even when playing the haunting “Now That It’s Too late Maria” (another favourite of mine) from “All Your Favourite Bands”, the quiet, emotional, thoughtful start we expected built to a desperate, angry rock ballad (if that’s even a thing). Taylor looked like he could cry at any moment as he reminded us “now that it’s too late Maria, there is no-one here to blame”. With a lump in my throat, I was right there with him. 

We were treated to a set full to the brim of long intros and outros and enough solos in between to allow each magnificent musician in the band to shine. Particular highlights for me were Pardini’s Hammond organ solos on “Picture Of A Man” and “Million Dollar Bill”; Taylor Goldsmith’s guitar intro and solo on “Most People”; the unbelievable “engine room” interplay between Gelber on bass and Griffin Goldsmith on drums on “Less Than Five Miles Away” and the addition of a fifth touring member – Duane Betts, son of former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts. Betts doesn’t play on Dawes albums but joined them last year to tour their previous album. What he adds to the mix is just wonderful. He is an exquisite slide guitarist and I found myself totally wrapped in his interpretation of songs I know really well. I love it when a band can give me a fresh perspective on their music and Betts’ addition to their live line up is a master stroke in facilitating an exciting, new energy and sound. 

A few technical hitches provided moments I’ll remember for a long time to come. As drummer Goldsmith “struggled with his hi-hats” his brother Taylor picked up his guitar and started to strum. Someone behind me shouted “Time Spent In Los Angeles”. Taylor obliged and took up the first verse, quietly, on his own. Completely without prompt, when he reached the chorus, what sounded like the entire audience, joined him in unison. The Dawes choir was born and I was part of it. Gosh, I felt a bit emotional. 

I probably watch bassist’s hands more than the average bear, given how sexy I think they look. Getting lost at times in Gelber’s lazy looking string picking style, I noticed him struggling. He looked in discomfort. Leaving the stage for some attention on his hand, the rest of the band left with him, leaving Taylor and the Dawes choir to fill the space. We all sang “When My Time Comes” and Taylor, who lost his thread a few times, only to have the next line prompted from the crowd, looked like he was moved. We were having a bit of a moment. He said recently in an interview he sometimes gets lost on stage and then sees a face in the crowd, totally engrossed in the song and he feels they are somehow more part of his song than he is. The interviewer reckoned that could be what “We’re All Gonna Die” from the new album, is about. At that point, I think we were all in it together. 

As we neared the end of the road, almost two hours later, Taylor said, “We’ve got three more songs. We’re not gonna do the going off and waiting for you to cheer dance, we’re gonna stay the hell here and play for ya”. Oh, I love that man! As I started playing the “what are they going to close with?” game in my head, yet again I wasn’t surprised by their choice. Of course they couldn’t see us safely home with anything other than the title track from their supreme new offering, “We’re All Gonna Die”. It’s a brave choice to finish a blistering set with a slow, heartfelt ballad but it left us all wrung out.  As Taylor’s voiced tailed off, right at the very end, with “Try not to get upset, everything is fine. Hey, it’s not that big a deal, we’re all gonna die” I smiled and closed my eyes and enjoyed the last moments of being part of the Dawes family.

In a world where it’s easier for a musician to get his music out there but harder for him to make a living, I’ve pondered how those at the coalface keep going and make money. I think the ability of artists to show us, in person, what they’re made of, can be a significant factor in their success. I remember thinking, in 1981 as I watched U2 at Tiffany’s Ballroom, Glasgow and again in 2010 when I journeyed to Blackpool to catch Biffy Clyro – these guys have got what it takes to become huge. I wasn’t wrong. And I don’t think I’m wrong about Dawes either. 

I think I’m known for my enthusiasm and tendency for superlative, but I think I’ve just seen the best live band in the world, play the best small venue in the world. Perhaps for one night only, but I’m so glad it was tonight.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

40 About the young idea

With my 1978 Xmas money, I bought my first album. 

At the time, I really loved the Cars, who had a number 3 hit with "My Best Friend's Girl".  Off on a spending spree, I gave my brother my money and asked him to buy me their album.  "What if they don't have it, he asked?"  "Just get me that other one our friend has been bringing round.  I quite like that."

Of course, the Cars album was sold out so he came home with my second choice.  It turned out to be the record that ignited my passion for a band that I still love to listen to. 

I was fanatical about the Jam and especially Paul Weller.  I smoked his brand of cigarette (Rothman's Kingsize, seen on the inside sleeve of the album) and avidly read his favourite author at the time (Alan Sillitoe).  I met Sillitoe at a book reading many years later and he laughed when I told him the story of how I came to find him.

Anyone who saw The Jam live will tell you, they were one hell of an outfit. They looked and sounded amazing and made an incredible amount of noise for a three piece.  But, they were more than that. Paul Weller crafted clever, opinionated, melodic songs that made me feel he was singing to me.  Or young people just like me.  As Paul Simon says - "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts". Weller felt like my punk and new wave hero. And not just mine.  Their star rose pretty quickly and they went from the lower reaches to regular chart toppers in only a few years.  Unfortunately for us fans, they didn't shine for very long.  Some of us were left bereft when Weller called it a day in '82.

Going out on a high was always his intention and, much as almost everyone criticised his decision, he's more than proved himself  with a successful career that takes him right up to today.  I believe, my first ever album, All Mod Cons, is some of his very best work.  

If you asked me the best song that's ever been written, I might tell you it's this. 

Earlier this year, I made a trip to London to see the Jam exhibition, About the Young Idea. Curated by Nikki Weller, Paul's sister and with lots of input from fans, it was sensational and took me right back to the late 70s, where it all began.  

I felt lucky.  Then and now.

I wonder if anything would've changed, had my brother brought the Cars album home...

Thursday, 12 November 2015

41 Mine

Released in October '78, this was the very first record I ever bought.  It felt exciting, buying and listening to my own vinyl, after only having access to my parent's stuff.  And what a start to my collection.  The first copies were pressed in pretty purple vinyl too and I was one of the lucky recipients.

We liked coloured vinyl, my big brother and me. Only a year older than me, he started buying records at roughly the same time.  He quickly became an avid collector. I remember Generation X released a single in four different colours and he bought all four. 

And he was fastidious - or disease level as I call it.  Each of the sleeves were packed away and he stored the singles, in alphabetical order of course, labelled and in cardboard sleeves.  He was a draughtsman to trade so I guess he was as careful, neat and tidy in his professional life too.  

We shared a room, with his record player between our beds.  We would spend hours playing our daft version of "name that tune".  With eyes closed (incase the colour of the vinyl gave it away) we'd have to name the song and the artist from the first few bars - you know how it works.  This was one of our favourite things to do.  Mostly, we'd love the record so much, we'd inevitably end up playing the whole song instead of just the intro.  No wonder hours and hours would pass with us doing nothing other than listening, singing and talking about music.  

Funnily enough, I'm still an absolute shark at name that tune games.  I wonder why......

I've never seen ELO live but I've just found out they're touring next year. It would be rude not to, don't you think.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

42 All the young dudes

Tuesday nights were Youth Club nights.  Fun, frolics and half an hour of dancing at the end of the night.  It was pretty much our favourite time of the week.

And ofcourse, there was plenty of posturing.  Trying to look cool and not too excited to see the boy you fancied that week.  If only those boys we were trying to impress had seen us an hour or two earlier. 

With an empty house, a piano and Neil Sedaka's Greatest Hits, my three best friends and I would clatter away at the piano and sing Sedaka's hits at the very top of our voices.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Oh, how I loved him.  And whenever I hear this song, it still makes me smile.  And I still love to sing it loudly.

Now that I'm an adult and work with youth workers, I should probably tell them that trying to do "issue based" stuff in a youth club setting is never going to go down well.  Kids are way too interested in being cool. Wasn't it always thus.  And, as it should be. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

43 Tooth Fairy

In 1975, when I was 9, I had to have  an operation to sort a problem with my teeth.  I remember trying hard to be brave but I was pretty nervous. I was going to be in a ward with private rooms, which I'd never seen before.

The week before, Derek Parlane, one of Rangers Football Club's star players, had broken his collarbone.  The nurse couldn't possibly have known I loved him! As she settled me into my room, she asked "Do you know Derek Parlane, the Rangers player?"  Excitedly, I said "Yes, he's my favourite footballer"  "Oh, well you'll be chuffed to know he was the last person to stay in this room, he left yesterday."

And I immediately felt better.  Derek Parlane had become my guardian angel - my tooth fairy.  The operation was a success and I was home a week later, with my ears pierced as a treat for being a very good girl.

This ofcourse had nothing to do with my life in music - or did it?  When I started thinking about my track for today,  as soon as I looked up the video on YouTube, Parlane sprung to my mind.  When I checked it out, the dates match.  The song was released at the end of September and Parlane and I were in hospital in November.   Spooky!

The universe, or perhaps the tooth fairy, is trying to tell me something.  I just don't know what yet.  

They do look rather alike though.....

Sunday, 8 November 2015

44. Let's hear it for the boys

I may have been only 7, but I think Donny and the Osmonds sparked my love of boy bands.  Way back in 1972.

I was on the fast train to swoonsville, via a row of perfect white teeth and jumpsuits and an emotional rendition of Puppy Love.

Gosh, I loved him.  We all did.  But, isn't that the point...?