Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Archivist: John Mellencamp - The Lonesome Jubilee

Whenever America picks a rocker to love, they nearly always love them for life. So it was in the early 80s that John Cougar started to make waves in his home country of the USA. The Indiana rocker had been releasing music from as early as 1976 before he hit the big time with the album American Fool in 1982. Producing two huge singles in the states.
Middle America took John Cougar to their hearts. Enjoying his no nonsense, old fashioned (at the time) Rock n Roll sensibilities the Americans gave him such huge success he questioned his own musical integrity. As part of this process, he forced his record company to allow him to use his original surname of Mellencamp. Following a new album in '84, Uh Huh and two more top 10 singles, John released another breakthrough album in 1985. The excellent Scarecrow. Scarecrow saw John go back even further exploring his Rock n Roll roots with a 50/60s rock vibe that gave the album a simpler and more organic feel and produced three brilliant singles.
After this trio of Rock n roll albums, John decided to change direction. This, for me, produced the best album of his career. In a totally planned move, John and his band sought out a more folky and rootsier approach. They changed electric instruments for acoustic and brought in the excellent fiddle player Lisa Geramo to enhance this new sound.
All of the album is worthy of inclusion here but I shall stick to the 3 hit singles which give a true flavour of the new sound John and his band created for The Lonesome Jubilee.

John has always stuck by his working class roots and has been a champion of 'the common man' and was one of the founding members of the US movement Farm Aid.

He has continued to make quality albums but has not has the same huge success since his mid 80s glory years. But his music has not suffered for that and he makes no compromises on his music so it remains as thoughtful and relevant today.

Indeed, John's latest venture is to work with the legends that are Musicologist T Bone Burnett & Author Stephen King on a new musical - The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.
Twitter - @johnmellencamp

Monday, 30 December 2013

Tools Of The Trade: Rickenbacker Guitars

This is the first in a series of the instruments and technology that have made a significant contribution of music as we know it today. First off is MY favourite guitar - the Rickenbacker, in it's 6 and 12 string variety. I'm not going to give the full history of the guitar - that an be found on the website at the end of the page but more of a tiny tribute as to the impact the guitar had on various songs and bands throughout the last 6 decades. The Rickie became popular in the 1960s, where bands such as The Beatles & The Byrds introduced us to their chiming sounds. John Lennon used a 325 on most of the Beatles records and George Harrison used the now classic 360/12 12 string version. Roger McGuinn also used a 360/12 on most of The Byrds best known songs.


These sounds of the Rickenbacker then prompted other 60s bands such as The Who and then later Creedence Clearwater Revival to go out and use the instruments.

In the 70s, the best known exponent of a Rickenbacker was Paul Weller of The Jam. And Bruce Foxton also used, almost exclusively, a Rickenbacker bass.

The Americans were not to be left out and Rickenbacker found homegrown guitar heroes in Tom Petty & Mike Campbell from The Heartbreakers

And Rickies popped up on some great songs too.

The 80s found another guitar hero reaching for a Rickie.

And another of the biggest bands of the 80s found a use for one in their sound

Another of the best bands of the last 60 years also relied heavily on the Rickenbacker sound.

And it wasn't only the boys who were seduced by the power and sound of a Rickie

So, let's get technical

And at the source of these glorious sounds

We can come up to date with some of the new bands who are currently using Rickenbackers, one being the excellent Dreaming Spires.

And that giant of the 4001 stereo bass - Mr Chris Squire of YES

Oh, and you may recognise this little Rickenbacker heavy tune.

One day, Santa might be kind and deliver me a Rickenbacker. But until then, I'll just revel in the bands giving me their chiming & jangly best.

But let's leave the last word to The Dreaming Spires & get right up to date 

Twitter - @RickenbackerInt

The Archivist: Seth Lakeman - Freedom Fields

I came late to the party as far as folk music is concerned. Didn't show much of an interest until my mid 30s. But since then, I've enjoyed folk probably more than any other type of music. Yes, I was forced to listen to more acoustic based music and cut down on the rock ( ear consultant's orders) but I discovered as much passion in folk as rock and much less bullshit too. Musicians/artists who would actually like to talk to you as a member of the audience after a gig, than just push off and get into their air conditioned limos & luxury hotels as soon as possible.
Since I discovered him with his album Kitty Jay back in 2005, I have consistently enjoyed each of Seth Lakeman's releases. Hailing from Devon, Seth, together with his brothers Sean & Sam, played with the likes of Kate Rusby & Kathryn Williams through the 1990s and Seth released his first solo album The Punch Bowl in 2002. Seth has always balanced traditional songs and his own songs to great effect and this first album showed much promise. This was somewhat fulfilled in 2004 with Kitty Jay being nominated for the Mercury Music prize.
However, for me it was his next release Freedom Fields, released in 2006, that really showed what a great songwriter and performer Seth really was. 
Every track on the album is worthy of a mention and his playing of Fiddle & Tenor Guitar (got to get me one of those) is sublime. Still in his 20s, which is young for an accomplished folk artist, Seth also showed what special songwriting skills he has. He has a knack of making newly minted songs sound like traditional songs that have been around for hundreds of years.
And he also has to carry the burden of being the Poster Boy for the folk movement.
With his brother Sean on guitars and a supporting cast including folk luninaries such as Steve Knightley, Kathryn Williams and Cara Dillon, the album just shines like a jewel encrusted tiara. Just when you think it can't get any better, it does!
Two singles were released from the album, the live favourite Lady Of The Sea and the gorgeous White Hare.
I have been lucky to catch Seth several times live and the songs from Freedom Fields always get a special cheer.
So do yourself a favour and seek out Freedom Fields, put away your prejudices and listen to some glorious music.
Twitter - @SethLakemanNews 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Archivist: Renaissance - A Song For All Seasons

As Bob Harris is today, so was Alan Freeman back in the 1970s, my favourite source of music. Alan 'Fluff' Freeman's Saturday Show was the stuff of legend back in the day. He introduced me to so much great music. One of the bands I first heard on his show was Renaissance. I was instantly drawn to their introduction of classical themes into their music. Much as The Moody Blues had done with their early album Days Of Future Passed.


Renaissance were formed in 1969 from the ashes of The Yardbirds when Keith Relf and Jim McCarty formed a band whose influences included rock, folk and classical music. By 1971 after several personnel changes, Annie Haslam & Michael Dunford were in the band and that's when things started to take off. Between 1971 and the release of A Song For All Seasons in 1978, Renaissance released several albums - Prologue, Ashes are Burning, A Turn of the Cards, Scheherazade and Other Stories & Novella. 
All of the albums built on the previous one and their sound grew grander and more symphonic and lush.  But, from the 4 or 5 track albums that had been released previously, A Song For All Seasons contained 8 tracks of which 3 were of single length.
I must confess that I did have a bit of a teenage crush on Ms Haslam and the purity of that voice didn't help.
I even got a request of a Renaissance song played by Alan Freeman after I sent him a picture of Annie that I had drawn with a song request on the rear of the paper. It is out in the broadcasting ether there somewhere.
Back Home Once Again was used as the theme tune to the ITV tv programme, The Paper Lads, it was released as a single and became a minor hit.
Almost exclusively written by Michael Dunford and bassist Jon Camp, A Song For All Seasons became Renaissance's most successful album. And it produced their biggest hit single, the brilliant Northern Lights
Here is a live broadcast from 1977 - a year before A Song For All Seasons - where they play some of their best known songs up to that point.
Annie went on to release several solo albums outside of Renaissance.
Renaissance are still performing today. Although Annie Haslam is now the only member of that classic line up of the band. Sadly, Michael Dunford, who was the other long term member who was still in the band passed away in late 2012.
They released a new album in 2013 called Grandine Il Vento, which draws on the classical, folk and rock influences of their salad days.
Twitter - @MysticAndMuse
photographs courtesy of Renaissance Facebook & Website

Friday, 27 December 2013

Albums of 2013: Nick Capaldi - A Shade of Orange & The Golden Summer EP

One more album needs to be slotted into my Albums of 2013 list after repeated listenings over the past few months. And that it's by a young new artist gives me even more joy.

Nothing pleases me more than when I hear a great song by a young musician. Over the last 12 months, Nick Capaldi has released an album called A Shade of Orange & an EP called The Golden Summer. Both are excellent.

With a confident swagger and a sometimes retro 60s/mod sound, the album kicks off with Stanley Park Brigade.

It has a nice mix of influences including The Beatles and The Beach Boys and some softer moments too like the album closer 12:21

Nick is also being championed by the great Bob Harris on his show.

Nick has also released a stunning EP called The Golden Summer

He is proving to be a gifted songwriter with a good ear for a melody and has been influenced sonically the best.

And over Christmas Nick has been releasing some Christmas covers on his Facebook/Youtube pages

So, check him out and give him your support. The better side of young fellas producing new music.

Twitter - @NickCapaldi