In the mood for a Sixties movie today, so I dug out the iconic 1966 mystery drama “Blow-Up” from writer / director Michelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point”, “Beyond The Clouds”).
At the start of the film we see a group of young people, who are wearing white face paint, running around London, interspersed with scenes of men leaving a doss house in the city. One of these men is photographer Thomas (David Hemmings – “Gladiator”, “Eye Of The Devil”) who has been taking photos of some of the residents for a book that he is preparing.
Returning late to his studio, he begins a shoot with model Veruschka (Veruschka Von Lehndorff – “Milo Milo”, “The Bride”). After this he begins a session with a group of models but grows bored and leaves part way through and heads for an antiques shop where he buys a propeller before wandering into a nearby park.
In the park he spies a man and a woman, seemingly two lovers, and covertly takes photos of them from a distance. When the woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave – “The Devils”, “Mission : Impossible”), spots Thomas she is furious and chases after him, demanding the photos. He later gives her a different roll of film, keeping the one that he used in the park and developing it with a view to adding pictures of the lovers in his book.
When he develops the pictures he notices something in the trees and blows them up larger and larger until he can discern a figure holding a gun, and then what appears to be a body lying in the grass. Convinced that a murder has taken place, he revisits the park and finds the dead body but is spooked by a noise before he can take any further photographs.
Following an eventful day that also involves sex with two models, seeing The Yardbirds performing in a club, and then going to a party where everyone, including his agent Ron (Peter Bowles – “Only When I Laugh”, “The Bank Job”) seems to be under the influence of drugs he awakes the next morning and returns to the park once more but the body has disappeared…
There are some rather random scenes in the film that add little, if anything, to the underlying story, such as when Thomas watches through blinds as his neighbours Bill (John Castle – “Antony & Cleopatra”, “The Lion In Winter”) and Patricia (Sarah Miles – “Ryan’s Daughter”, “White Mischief”) are making love.
The sequence that involves Thomas with the two models – a blonde (Jane Birkin – “Evil Under The Sun”, “La Belle Noiseuse”) and a brunette (Gillian Hills – “A Clockwork Orange”, “The Killer Wore Gloves”) and, especially, the scene involving The Yardbirds (including both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) performing to the least enthusiastic audience I’ve ever seen equally both seem like filler rather than being essential.
Having said all that, and despite the central mystery never being resolved for the viewer, I really enjoyed the movie. It was made before I was born so I have no idea how accurate a portrayal of London in the swinging Sixties it is, but nevertheless the film is evocative of a time – the era of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Twiggy and the Krays – that I never knew but still holds a certain magic today. The movie may not give any answers but it supplies plenty of entertainment…
Just over a week ago I looked back at my favourite albums of 1988 and promised the final year of the Eighties would be up next.
Well, here it is. My list covering my personal top ten albums of the final year of that decade – 1989…
1. Aerosmith “Pump”
This was the year that I first got to see Boston hard rock legends Aerosmith live in concert, at the Birmingham N.E.C., and the year that they released what I believe to be their best ever album “Pump”.
This was the band’s tenth studio album, and their most successful to that point. In fact only “Get A Grip”, the follow-up from 1993, can match “Pump” in terms of chart performances and sales figures.
There were three chart singles in the UK from this record – “Janie’s Got A Gun”, “The Other Side” and “Love In An Elevator”, whilst the album contained other corkers such as “Young Lust”, “Monkey On My Back”, “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” and my favourite “Hoodoo / Voodoo Medicine Man”.
The whole band were on fire, Steven Tyler’s vocals sounded great, Joe Perry looked like the guitar god that he was and this was one Aerosmith album that didn’t contain a single duff track.
2. Dan Reed Network “Slam”
This is a band that should have had a lot more success than they ultimately did. A multi-ethnic hard rock / funk group, Dan Reed Network’s second album “Slam” was produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic fame.
It was the single “Tiger In A Dress” that first brought the band to my attention, and I was a big fan of the album by the time they secured a slot opening for the Rolling Stones on their “Urban Jungle” tour.
The group would go on to have bigger chart success in the UK with 1991 album “The Heat” before disappearing, but for me “Slam” is the best of the band’s three albums, with superb tracks like “Doin’ The Love Thing”, “Come Back Baby”, “All My Lovin'”, “Make It Easy” and “Stronger Than Steel” ensuring that the album still gets regular airings on my system.
3. Eric Clapton “Journeyman”
I’d not been a particular fan of Eric Clapton’s work, big hits such as “Layla” and “Cocaine” aside, until his eleventh solo studio album “Journeyman” came out and changed that, making me go back and discover all his past treasures.
A number of singles were released to promote the record, including “Pretending”, the excellent “Bad Love” and “No Alibis”.
The album mixed bluesy material with harder rocking tracks but worked brilliantly from start to finish and remains my favourite Clapton album, probably followed by “24 Nights” – the live album that chronicled his stints at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990/91 (and the unofficial recordings from those dates) – as it (and they) capture Clapton at one of the peaks of his powers.
The Cream years and Derek & The Dominoes are hugely important too, not forgetting the John Mayall album from 1966, but for quality songs, superb guitar playing and a great polished sound “Journeyman” is the one for me.
4. FM “Tough It Out”
A band new to me in 1989 were British melodic rockers FM. First introduced to my ears by their single “Bad Luck”, the band boasted great catchy rock songs with singalong choruses and really good instrumentation, all topped off my the wonderful voice of Steve Overland.
So impressed was I that, together with a mate, I saw the band perform on their subsequent UK tour twice in a week – in Bristol and Manchester – and they were just as good live as on record (in fact drummer Pete Jupp was even better than I expected).
As well as “Bad Luck”, the album produced two more singles in “Someday (You’ll Come Running)” and “Everytime I Think Of You” and was crammed full of top tunes, any one of which could conceivably have been a hit. The band are still making really good music to this day, but “Tough It Out” will likely always be the best to me, as it was perfect for the time.
5. King’s X “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska”
In all honesty I can’t remember for the life of me how I first discovered King’s X, though it was most likely from Tommy Vance’s brilliant radio show on BBC Radio 1, the Friday Rock Show, which was an invaluable resource in the days before the internet!
Regardless, I can recall picking up a vinyl copy of “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska”, the band’s second album, and being really impressed. The record contains different elements – Beatles-like vocal harmonies, heavy guitars, great melodies, psychedelic sounds, tight grooves, progressive passages etc.
Two singles were used to promote the record – “Over My Head” and “Summerland”, and other notable tracks include “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something”, “Mission” and “Don’t Believe It (It’s Easier Said Than Done)”. Whilst not massively successful commercially the album is generally regarded as a highlight of the band’s catalogue.
6. Marillion “Season’s End”
Tape cassettes were still popular in 1989 and it was an impulse purchase in a motorway service station on a late night drive towards the end of that year that saw me picking up “Seasons End”, the first post-Fish album from Aylesbury progressive rock band Marillion.
I had already heard the lead single “Hooks In You”, which was similar in sound to “Incommunicado” (my least favourite Marillion single) and was interested to see what the rest of the album would sound like, if not expecting great things.
The good news was that “Hooks In You” didn’t give a true flavour of things. Epic numbers like “The King Of Sunset Town”, “Seasons End”, “Berlin” and the sublime “Easter” all went to demonstrate that there was very definitely life after Fish.
“The Uninvited Guest” was also released as a single, as was “Easter”, albeit in edited form. The latter remains one of the most beautiful Marillion songs, and the album a marker that this was a band that would continue to grow and expand their musical vision and produce stunning music for years to come.
7. Mötley Crüe “Dr. Feelgood”
Although for some it is the “Girls, Girls, Girls” album from 1987 that best represents Los Angeles hard rock band Mötley Crüe, for me it has to be “Dr. Feelgood”.
Producing five hit singles in the US – just two, “Dr. Feelgood” and “Without You” would be UK hits – the album became the biggest selling album of the band’s career.
The group were at the peak of their commercial career and cemented the record’s success by appearing at the one-off Moscow Music Peace Festival in August ’89 along with Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions and others and their own massive 154 date world tour from October ’89 through to August ’90.
Singer Vince Neil would leave the group before the next studio album and, although he was to return just a few years later, they would never recapture their former glories and sales successes and are currently undergoing their final world tour. But back in ’89 with albums tracks like “Rattlesnake Shake”, “Sticky Sweet”, “Kickstart My Heart” and “She Goes Down” the band were dynamite.
As an aside, I did feel at the time that if I was ever to have a tattoo on my bicep it would be of the dagger / snake motif on the album cover. It never happened but then never say never…
8. Paul McCartney “Flowers In The Dirt”
I am not a massive fan of the former Beatle’s solo work, it seems to be more miss than hit in terms of quality to my ears. However, in terms of a single body of work I do find his “Flowers In The Dirt” to be head and shoulders above anything else in his solo career.
His sixteenth studio album outside of the Beatles – therefore including solo and Wings albums – it was his most successful since “Tug Of War” in 1982 and produced four UK hit singles in “My Brave Face” (number 18), “This One” (18), “Put It There” (32) and “Figure Of Eight” (42).
McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello on four of the album’s twelve tracks and Costello also sang on “You Want Her Too”. The album was released to great critical acclaim and was followed by McCartney’s first big tour in a decade, with 103 shows between September ’89 and July ’90. The tour was captured by the fantastic double live album “Tripping The Live Fantastic” in 1990.
“Flowers In The Dirt” meanwhile is a really good adult pop record, with at least the first ten tracks being of the highest quality, including my particular favourites “Distractions”, “You Want Her Too”, “This One” and “We Got Married”.
9. Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels”
“Steel Wheels” was the Rolling Stones nineteenth studio album (twenty-first in the US) and first since the patchy “Dirty Work” in 1986.
Preceded by the hit single “Mixed Emotions” the album saw the light of day in August, two days before their huge 115 date “Steel Wheels” / “Urban Jungle” world tour kicked off in the US. I was lucky enough to catch the band perform in Cardiff on that tour, and they were excellent.
“Steel Wheels” is my favourite Rolling Stones album from the eighties, feeling more consistent in quality than the others released during that particular decade. More singles were released from the record including “Rock And A Hard Place”, “Almost Hear You Sigh” and “Terrifying” and other great tracks on the album are “Can’t Be Seen”, “Sad Sad Sad”, “Slipping Away” and the unusual and brilliant Eastern-flavoured “Continental Drift”. Great stuff.
10. Whitesnake “Slip Of The Tongue”
Released in November ’89, “Slip Of The Tongue” was Whitesnake’s eighth studio album, and the follow-up to the hugely successful “1987” album which had seen David Coverdale’s band move away from the bluesy rock on the early albums into a pristine sounding hard rock band and made them big stars in the US.
None of the musicians who had appeared on “1987” were members of the band by the time Coverdale came to record “Slip Of The Tongue” as he had recruited new band members for the “1987” tour. Touring guitarist Vivian Campbell had subsequently quit, and due to a wrist injury the then-current sole remaining guitarist Adrian Vandenberg was unable to participate either.
As a result guitar maestro Steve Vai was brought on board to record all the guitar parts on the album and join Vandenberg in the line-up for the next world tour. Although at the time Coverdale was quoted as saying that Vai was “weaving sonic tapestries from hell” he was later to remark that “Slip Of The Tongue” was the least Whitesnake sounding record in his band’s catalogue.
There is much truth to that, and for many Vai’s playing (or over-playing, depending on your point of view) was the problem and I will admit that I wonder how much better the album might have sounded had Vandenberg performed on it instead of Vai.
Despite that, this is still a good record. As with the previous album, this one also had a re-recording of an older Whitesnake song present, and issued as a single, in “Fool For Your Loving” (originally recorded in 1980). The other UK singles, both hits in 1990, were “The Deeper The Love” and “Now You’re Gone”.
There is plenty of Coverdale’s trademark humour / sexism (delete as appropriate) on tracks like “Slow Poke Music”, “Cheap An’ Nasty” and “Kittens Got Claws” – sample lyric “…you wear those skin-tight dresses with your g-string tuned to A…”. In addition there are some brilliant epic sounding tunes, “Sailing Ships” and “Judgement Day” being the pick of the bunch. Not the best Whitesnake album perhaps, but still way better than most hard rock albums from the time.
Politics, football and movies is 1989? – Margaret Thatcher was in her third term as the Prime Minister of the UK, reaching a decade in the job in May, whilst George Bush became President of the USA in January. In football Arsenal won the old First Division and the FA Cup went to Liverpool. In cinemas, top films released included “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade”, “Batman” and “Back To The Future Part II”.
Elsewhere, tragedy struck in April during the FA Cup match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool when 96 died as a result of the Hillsborough Disaster, a fatwā was declared over Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses”, the BBC dropped TV series “Doctor Who” after twenty-six years and Sky began broadcasting in the UK for the first time.
OK, so that all of the eighties done. So what’s next? Seventies? Nineties?… Time will tell…
British heavy metal band Motörhead, (more specifically vocalist / bassist Lemmy Kilmister) have not been able to enjoy the fortieth anniversary of the band as they / he might have liked due to health issues forcing some concert cancellations and the unfortunate moment at this year’s Glastonbury festival when Lemmy had a mental block leading him to sing “Ace Of Spades” whilst the band played “Overkill”.
As is often the case with bands that had an initial run of success, as Motörhead did with a five album run from 1977-1982, there are always those who consider the line-up from that era – in this case Lemmy, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor – to be the definite one.
However, in 2015 we find the band comprising of its longest serving line-up of Lemmy, guitarist Phil Campbell (who joined in 1984) and drummer Mikkey Dee (who joined in 1992).
These three have been together as a three-piece for thirteen studio albums since 1996’s “Overnight Sensation”. Prior to that, second guitarist Michael “Würzel” Burston, had been in the band from 1984 until 1995 and Pete Gill and Taylor (for a second time) had taken stints on the drum stool.
Despite the aforementioned bad luck, very much on the plus side this year is the arrival of the band’s twenty-second studio album “Bad Magic”.
Sounding nothing like a band of their vintage, Motörhead come flying straight out of the traps with “Victory Or Die”.
Lemmy sounds great. Granted he’s never been what you might call a great singer, but he has a distinctive rasp and it’s perfect for this band’s output. I suspect, given his age and recent health scares, that producer Cameron Webb has enhanced Lemmy’s voice in the studio, but that’s really nothing to quibble about. And his bass rumbles as menacingly as ever too!
Campbell’s riffs are great and he pulls some superb melodic and memorable solos out of the bag throughout this record, and Dee shows off his chops, particularly on the introduction to “Shoot Out All Of Your Lights” and the closing cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy For The Devil”.
Basically, anyone who’s heard an album by this band should know pretty much what to expect. Motörhead have their own distinctive style and sound and this record is more of the same. That’s not to say that they’re going through the motions, because to these ears that’s not the case. It’s just that this isn’t a band given to too much experimentation or deviation of sound.
This album is, however, another in a line of strong records over the past decade since 2004’s “Inferno”. My favourite tracks are currently “Thunder & Lightning”, “Shoot Out All Of Your Lights”, “The Devil” and “Tell Me Who To Kill”.
To borrow from Lemmy – this is Motörhead, and they play rock and roll…
“Bad Magic” tracklist:
1. Victory Or Die / 2. Thunder & Lightning / 3. Fire Storm Hotel / 4. Shoot Out All Of Your Lights / 5. The Devil / 6. Electricity / 7. Evil Eye / 8. Teach Them How To Bleed / 9. Till The End / 10. Tell Me Who To Kill / 11. Choking On Your Screams / 12. When The Sky Comes Looking For You / 13. Sympathy For The Devil
In 2010 a cover version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” first brought Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and their self-titled fourth studio album (also released that year) to my attention.
The band was formed in 2003 by singer / multi-instrumentalist Potter, guitarist Scott Tournet and drummer Matt Burr. Debut album “Original Soul” was released in 2004, 2005 heralded second album “Nothing But The Water” and “This Is Somewhere” followed two years later.
Fifth album, “The Lion The Beast The Beat” (2012), saw the band’s music take a more commercial direction, less rootsy, and took a while for me to appreciate in relation to the previous records, especially that brilliant third album.
Potter and the Nocturnals built a solid reputation for their live shows, with plenty of enthusiasm and energy on display and Potter’s voice really coming to life. With her solo band she recently opened for the Rolling Stones and was able to duet on “Gimme Shelter” with Mick Jagger at one of those gigs in June.
Now Potter has released a solo album called “Midnight” – apparently so named because that is when she was born. Without the Nocturnals to back her up the majority of the musical instrumentation on the album was supplied by Potter and producer Eric Valentine with drums and percussion from Nocturnal bandmate Burr (who is also Potter’s husband). Other Nocturnals make contributions too – Tournet and Benny Yurco provide some guitar work Michael Libramento some bass guitar.
Already this record has divided opinion massively within her existing fan base. This is undoubtedly a far more pop sounding record than anything she has done in the past and bears little resemblance to her early work with the Nocturnals.
But then Potter has been quoted as saying “…the bands and artists that captivate me are the ones who are always pushing it, always taking risks. A great musician can shine in any genre. I refuse to make the same kind of record over and over—that’s not how art works for me. The worst thing an artist can do is what is expected of them.”
On first listen I wasn’t particularly impressed – probably for similar reasons to many who have been vocal in their dislike for Potter’s new direction. However, having given it repeated spins I can say that this is actually a very good record.
The vocals are excellent, as always, more restrained in places but still let loose in others, the melodies are very catchy and the musical style changes throughout the album which I think helps keep the listener interested.
Lead single “Alive Tonight” are “Delirious” are probably the most modern pop sounding songs here, whilst “Look What We’ve Become”, “Biggest Fan”, “Instigators” and “Your Girl” have a slightly harder edge. Closing track “Let You Go” is a piano-led ballad.
Listening through Potter’s work from “Original Soul” through to “The Lion The Beast The Beat” her evolution is quite clear to hear, and in truth “Midnight” continues that. Ultimately, whether you like this or not I think it’s good when an artist follows their heart musically rather than churning out similar sounding albums for fear of upsetting fans and losing sales.
Granted that approach doesn’t always make for consistently good music (see Metallica’s “St. Anger” and their collaboration with Lou Reed on “Lulu” for evidence of that!) but in the case of Potter she is, to my ears, managing to make the transition and still remain as entertaining and appealing as ever. A warmly recommended pop / rock album…“Midnight” tracklist:
1. Hot To The Touch / 2. Alive Tonight / 3. Your Girl / 4. Empty Heart / 5. The Miner / 6. Delirious / 7. Look What We’ve Become / 8. Instigators / 9. Biggest Fan / 10. Low / 11. Nobody’s Born With A Broken Heart / 12. Let You Go
Just over thirty years ago Newcastle born singer Jonathan “Spike” Gray, having moved down to London, decided to start a band, eventually to be called The Quireboys, with his flatmate Guy Bailey, a guitar player. Joining them in the initial line-up were drummer Paul Hornby, pianist Chris Johnstone and bassist Nigel Mogg. Hornby was replaced by Nick Connell fairly early on, and Spike’s fellow geordie Ginger Wildheart was brought in as an additional guitar player.
By 1990 the band had appointed Sharon Osbourne as their manager, replaced Ginger with Guy Griffin and recorded their debut album “A Bit Of What You Fancy” for major label EMI. The album entered the UK charts at Number 2, and set the band up for a very successful couple of years with hit singles, supporting The Rolling Stones and appearing at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington.
As with many hard rock bands of their era, The Quireboys were badly affected by the appearance of grunge, meaning that their second album “Bitter Sweet & Twisted” was much less commercially successful than the debut and following it’s 1993 release the band called it a day.
Spike, Griffin and Mogg reconvened the band in 2001 with new members and released “This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll”, and current keyboardist Keith Weir and second guitarist Paul Guerin were on board for 2004’s “Well Oiled”. Since then the rhythm section on subsequent albums seems to have changed more than once and the band’s official line-up lists just Spike, Griffin, Weir and Guerin.
In 2009 the band released an acoustic recording of back catalogue numbers, “Halfpenny Dancer” which was critically acclaimed, and following another two electric albums, they decided to work on a successor to “Halfpenny Dancer” and record another set of tracks from their back catalogue, and some new tracks, in acoustic form.
Going to Lemon Studios in Klippan, Sweden, fully intending to do just that but found themselves on a different path when they discovered a variety of instruments to experiment with. Before they knew it they had ten brand new tracks and a great rootsy rock record on their hands.
At the end of March, the band released the resulting studio album, “St. Cecilia And The Gypsy Soul”, which was preceded by the “Gracie B” EP.
The Quireboys have an instantly recognisable sound, aided greatly by Spike’s distinctive smoky rasp. Sitting somewhere between the acoustic sound of “Halfpenny Dancer” and the rockier stuff of the rest of their catalogue, “St. Cecilia…” is for the most part fairly laid back, and the inclusion of instruments such as mandolin, dobro and lap steel adds to the rich flavour found on this record.
This is a really good album. It’s not in your face or brash but doesn’t wash over you either. Whilst it’s not all “good time rock ‘n’ roll” even the more reflective numbers are engaging and hugely enjoyable…
“St. Cecilia And The Gypsy Soul” tracklist:
1. Gracie B / 2. Land Of My Father / 3. St. Cecilia / 4. The Promise / 5. Can’t Hide It Anymore / 6. Out Of Your Mind / 7. The Hurting Kind / 8. Adaline / 9. The Best Are Not Forgotten / 10. Why Did It Take So Long