Saturday, 7 July 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - U: Uriah Heep - The Best Of Uriah Heep

1977 was considered as Year Zero - the moment when all the new Punk bands swept aside the lumbering dinosaurs of the 70s.
Deep Purple were bestowed a career spanning (or 7 years of it) compilation by EMI with 'Deepest Purple', Black Sabbath were on the downward with the disappointing 'Technical Ecstasy; followed by Ozzy Osbourne's departure after 'Never Say Die' in 1978, Led Zeppelin breathed their last in the same year) - although the loss of John Bonham probably had more to do with it than the Punk movement - Yes became No, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's highfalutin musical w*nkery was widely mocked.
But roll forward 5 years, and all these bands were still selling in high numbers and selling out concert venues.
One such band which either saw what was coming and ducked out early, or had perhaps reached the end of their natural life was Uriah Heep, whose sales and reputation seemed to drop quite quickly after the release of this compilation in 1976.

Uriah Heep - were they Prog?  were the Heavy Rock?  did they have a bit of psychadelia going on?
Yes, yes, and the answer ins in the ear of the beholder (although probably not).

Uriah Heep were formed in 1967, but didn't get their name until a couple of years later when they decided original name Spice just wan't right, and chose something more proggy-rocky and Dickensian.
Their first couple of albums sold in "cultish" numbers (ie small amounts), but their third album ('Look At Yourself', complete with mirrored cover (get it?) took them into the album charts and lifted them up the Festival bills.
1972 brought the release of 'Demons and Wizards' and 'The Magician's Birthday'.
Both albums had the Prog-regulation Roger Dean album covers, and both nestled in the Top 20 album charts.
Three more albums of hard-riffing Prog-styled Rock followed ('Sweet Freedom', 'Wonderworld', 'Return to Fantasy', plus the regulation Live album which captures the band at their loud, raucous best.
Their reward was this 1976 compilation pulling the best bits from their previous albums, but the denoument was falling sales and dwindling audiences.
They kept trudging on, and by 1982s 'Abominog' very nearly crept back into the big(ish) time.

With this compilation there is no danger of the Trade Descriptions Act - this really is the best stuff.
The opening track is perhaps the one song that Uriah Heep will forever be linked with ("Easy Livin").  But when a song is this good, I'm sure they won't mind.  The album is bookended by another burst of power in the shape of "Gypsy" - Prog and Heavy Metal combine (Mick Box's guitar riff and Ken Hensley's keyboards matching Keith Emerson's histrionics).  And in between is a batch of songs the equal of their early 70s contemporaries - "Bird of Prey", "Sunrise", "The Wizard", "Sweet Lorraine" - all mighty fine.

Punk was supposed to sweep away the dinosuars of the past, but Uriah Heep are still going and may well be visitiing a concert venue near you soon (if you live in Geramny or Scandanavia, or visit the Butlins Alternative Weekend thingys).

Easy Livin'


(it's not on this compilation, but is a pretty good cover version from 1982s 'Abominog')
Tin Soldier

Friday, 29 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - T: The Thrils - So Much For The City

From beginnings in mid-90s Dublin, via a 6 month stint in San Fransisco, The Thrills debut came out in 2003.
I recall being impressed by the single "Big Sur", and then further impressed by "One Horse Town" - not so much by the other big single "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)", but I'd bought the album by then.

The music is a mixture of 60s/70s West Coast, with added Beach Boys harmonies.  There are also diversions into Country and Western, and even a brief moment of Link Wray on one track.
Whilst the album is bright and properly summer-y feeling, I can't get past the fact that the signles are the high point, and the rest feel a bit like filler.
"Don't Steal Our Sun", "Hollywood Kids" and "Say It Ain't So" do their best to lift it, but it all feels a bit safe and one-dimensional.  Some of the tracks sound like they need a little more work to finish them off, and sometimes just run out of steam rather than providing a definite ending, and some of the slower songs either sound a bit strined or out of place (may benefit from revised sequencing?)
Despite a couple of high points, the album misses "something"  It almost feels as if the band could be had up under the Trades Descriptions Act - there is just not enough thrilling going on.

None of this is suggesting that 'So Much For The City' is in any way a bad album - the mood and production of the album is just right for that background barbecue music (or other Garden-type party of choice).  The tone also makes me think that whilst not gracing the airwaves of playlist-constrained/constant looping Commercial Radio, the songs would find a home on Radio 2 - a notch above MOR, but not "too edgy".
It did the job for the Thrills in 2003 by promoting them on the touring circuit (remember that?) from small clubs to small/mid-size theaters.
I saw them in such a venue, and the band certainly played a strong show, and lead singer Conor Desay could hold the audiences attention.

But just as their ascension was gathering pace, a comparatively disappointing second album ('Let's Bottle Bohemia" and a changing musical landscape (Pop Idol, record companies seeking quick returns on investment instead of playing the long game by allowing time for "something" to happen, the rise of the internet and file sharing platforms ...) signalled a change in fortune.
A third album saw the light of day, but relatively low sales led to them being dropped by their record label, and the band fell apart soon after.

One Horse Town

Big Sur

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - S: The Shadows - 50 Golden Greats

After The Beatles and The Stones, The Shads (as the cool kids would probably call them) are arguably the most successful British Band of all time.

In excess of 30 million records sold (in all guises of their career), 5 Number Ones, 16 Top 10 singles, plus another 30 or so as backing band to Cliff Richard.

This compilation is an update of the multiple selling 20 Golden Greats from 1977, and brings together the the big 50s and 60s hits, and adds later material and cover versions into the mix.

They effectively stopped producing new material and became a cabaret / covers band between the original release and the end of the 1970s.  But hey, when the songs and the playing is this good who cares - Hank B Marvin, you have one of the most recognisable playing styles in the world of all things Rolling and Rocking.

And all the big hitters are here - "Apache" (which was later "re-appropriated" as the basis beat for early hip-hop via Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band), the twang of "FBI", the shrill tones of "Man Of Mystery", the sheer swing and happiness of "Dance On", the cinematic sweep of "Wonderful Land" (now there's a tune crying out to be appropriated by Quentin Tarantino) - and many more that will make you think "why do I not listen to The Shadows more often? they're bloody good, they are".
As are a choice selection of the later interpretations of popular tunes ("Something", "Riders In The Sky", "Cavatina" (the Theme from The Deer Hunter), even The Shads take on Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross").
The later material somehow don't feel as essential, and at times feel like "music by numbers" or like your stuck in an elevator, but the playing is top notch, the production is up there, and you just know there is an air of total professionalism about it - they're not just doing it for the money, they are wanting to give the very best performance each time.

Put it on, sit back, get on with your day (this is music to do stuff by, it is not hard work, or "stop in your tracks and concentrate" stuff), and 2 hours later the world isn't such a bad place after all.

I've owned this for a few years, and a couple of other Shadows compilations take up shelf space, but I have (as far as I recall) knowingly said to myself: "Tonight, I will be mostly listening to The Shadows".

More fool me!!


Ghost Riders In The Sky

Monday, 4 June 2018

Frank Turner - Be More Kind

The 7th Frank Turner album represents another shift, another development of the band and singer from out-and-out shouty folk-punk to a more considered and more simply pleasing sound.  One you don't have to try too hard with to separate music and lyrics.
In simple terms - it continues a path from 6Music to Radio 2 (note: this is not a criticism)

'Be More Kind' offers 13 well crafted songs, sometimes not quite hitting "it", but no real duffers.
Opener "Don't Worry" is a downbeat, yet rousing (or uplifting) song.  From simple beginnings, the strings rise and there's almost a gospel feeling to the playout.
"1933" is Frank's old school shouty air-punching.
Both of these songs include the lines: "I don't know what I'm doing, no on has a clue" and "I don't know what's going on anymore".
And with that, a bit of a theme is developing - he is still advocating togetherness and looking out for your fellow man, but their is an air of fear with the world, almost darkness  coursing through the album, especially on the tracks "Let's Make America Great Again" and "21st Century Survival Blues".
"Be More Kind" has a passing whiff of the vocal melody from "Streets Of London" mixed with some later period Genesis-esque guitar.  It's message is obvious from the title, and it would take a churlish, belligerent, despot character to argue against it's intention.
"Little Changes" is the most accessible, earwormy song here, and a contender for "obvious single", if it weren't for the presence of the 80s Drum and Keyboard loaded "Blackout".
Confusion and uncertainty returns on closer "Get It Right" but also offers some salvation, or at least hope, that something good may come of all this.
There's no answers, or instructions, but a belief that WE can get it sorted.

Initially, I was undecided, almost non-plussed about this album.  But after a few spins, it began to seep in, and has been receiving lots of deserved airtime.
It may not be a full-bore 10 out of 10, but is comfortably sitting in the 7s.

Little Changes


Friday, 1 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - R: Tom Robinson Band - Power In The Darkness

The Tom Robinson Band formed in 1976, and fused the energy and freedom of Punk with the political questioning (not sloganeering, merely questioning) of Tom's lyrics.
The band themselves were made up of Tom on bass guitar and vocals, Mark Ambler who passed the audition to be bass player but turned out to be a more adept Hammond Organ operative, Danny Kustow who fused blues guitar with crunching power chords and riffs, and Dolphin Taylor a drummer of thumping power with a bit of swing underneath.

Their first single was the a-political, anthemic "2-4-6-8 Motorway" - a legacy that sees TRB regularly represented on Punk and New Wave compilations.
This was followed by the "Rising Free" EP, whose lead track brought them further media attention, but the sheer passion, energy and commentary in the song did not lose their audience (as the media perhaps predicted), but brought them a certain element of acclaim.
That song was "Glad To Be Gay".
In a world where the only real representation of Gay men in the media were The Village People, Dick Emery characters, John Inman (Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served) and Larry Grayson, Tom's stance was "This is me, this is what I believe.  Take it or leave it.  But you might want to think about for a second".
The bands support of organisations such as Rock Against Racism also brought them attention as a posturing, political band.  And most importantly, they believed it and had something to say.

Their debut album was released in 1978, and contained none of the previous singles - what it did contain was 10 tracks of Clash/Jam-esque rock, with stabs of The Stranglers (from Ambler's Hammond, and Robinson's sometimes snarling vocal), infused with energy, fury, disillusionment, hope and the offer of empowerment.
(The US version added the 2 singles and 4 tracks from the EP, turning it into a virtual double album, as does the CD re-issue).
Production duties fell to Chris Thomas, who repeated the previous trick he performed with Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks' by delivering a seriously solid, sonically robust, Rock album.

There aren't too many stronger "in yer face" album openers than "Up Against The Wall", "Grey Cortina" keeps the momentum up and never lets up until the closing track "Power In The Darkness".
Other stand-out tracks are "Long Hot Summer" and "The Winter Of 79" where Tom predicts an apolyptic future.  From the expanded edition, the pub-sing-a-long of "Martin" is an audience pleaser, and "Don't Take No For An Answer" is a bittersweet recounting of a failed deal with Kinks mainman Ray Davies.
And entirely fitting with the underlying theme of the album, songs, and Tom Robinson's outlook, there is also a fine reading of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released"

A Second album would follow in 1979 ('TRB Two'), but without Mark Ambler or Dolphin Taylor it didn't have "it", and the band fell apart.
Tom continued in music, but his focus shifted towards Human Rights and activism, being involved in Rock Against Racism, Amnesty International.  In parallel he became a radio presenter, and can now be heard on 6Music.

Up Against The Wall

Winter Of 79

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Q: Quireboys - A Bit Of What You Fancy

The Q section is not that big - only X, Y & Z have fewer entries.
The choices were basically Q-Tips, Queen, Queens Of The Stone Age, Queensryche, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Quiet Riot or The Quireboys (including the singles would've also thrown up Suzi Quatro)
The original random choice fell on the CD re-issue of The Quireboys first two albums.
I have taken the executive decision and decided to concentrate on the first.

Released in 1990, after copping management from Sharon Osbourne and a contract with EMI, the album feels like something of a clipping and (over)polishing of the bands ramshackle Faces/Stones referencing bar-room blues.

The Quireboys formed in the mid-80s (firstly as The Choirboys, and then changed to The Queerboys) and built up a following in London clubland (including The Marquee).
They were invited to appear at the Reading Rock Festival in 1987, but only on the proviso that they change their name.
Wanting to keep the Q (knowing that 30 years later they would be featuring in a little read blog on the  (yet to be invented) internet, they reverted to an adjusted spelling of their original name.
They were first on the bill, and played for 40 minutes to 100s of Festival go-ers.  Their performance was recorded and played later on Radio 1s Friday Rock Show.
Their following increased, club gigs expanded outside London, and they signed a record deal with independent Survival Records (leading to 1988 releases "Mayfair" and "There She Goes Again").
Second guitarist Ginger left soon after to form The Wildhearts.
Also in 1988, they returned to Reading playing higher up the bill, and again featured on the Friday Rock Show.
More heavy gigging, and select Support slots - including Guns n Roses - led to the Sharon Osbourne management deal and a contract with EMI.

Lead single "7 O'Clock" - a good time party song, starting with a tinkling pub piano before the riffing and Spikes raspy vocal kicks in - preceded the albums release, and a relatively healthy position in the chart suggested that EMI might be on for a decent return on investment.
Second single "Hey You" confirmed this by sneaking into the Top 20.
Not their finest moment, and smacked of "simple anthem, give us a hit single" but it did the job, and helped to shift album units, resulting in 'A Bit Of What You Fancy' debuting at Number 2.
Two further singles followed -  "I Don't Love You Anymore" and a re-recording of "There She Goes Again" both achieving airplay and chart action.

Whilst not exactly veering much from the template, there isn't really a duff track here - "Sweet Mary Ann" could've been a Rod Stewart 'Never A Dull Moment'-era leftover, "Man On The Loose" and "Misled" owe a huge debt to Ron Wood's Faces riffs, and "Whipping Boy" (co-written with ex-Rod Stewart alumni and producer Jim Cregan) is a Country-ish Stones knock-off.
(None of this is meant to be a criticism - no-one knew who The Stones or Faces were in 1990, so The Quireboys filled the gap)

It looked like the world was on the up:
They appeared at Castle Donnington Monsters Of Rock and supported Aerosmith on an arena tour of UK, Europe and the United States.
A Live album followed at end of year, proving they could still rock out with the best of them, and the studio was obviously not their natural home.

Oozing good time Rock n Roll, sleaze and Jack Daniels, this album is of the moment and could've/should've been THE party starter of 1990.
Sadly, I think it came a year too late for The Quireboys, and any chance of making a mark was dealt a kicking when Grunge emerged a little later.
Their non-core audience, management and record label all moved on to other things.
The band slowly fell apart (ongoing drummer issues had been something of a constant in the band), but lead singer Spike Gray remained a Quireboy (along with Ginger's replacement Guy Griffin) and they're still treading the boards in small, sweaty clubs somewhere in the world.

7 O'Clock

Sweet Mary Ann

Friday, 18 May 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - P: Chris Pope - Peace Of Mind

The Mod Revival of the late 70s produced a number of similar bands imbued with the energy of punk and new wave, and looking back to/incorporating the energy and release of the R&B of the 60s (The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces being obvious influences, but The Creation, The Action and great slabs of Motown also mentioned in dispatches).
The Revival ran from around 1978 (probably coinciding with the release of The Jam's All Mod Cons), picked up a head of steam with the release of the film Quadrophenia in 1979, and then petered out in 1982.

One of the biggest bands of the Revival ceased operations in 1982 with the band members going their separate ways to varying degrees of success.
The band themselves have re-grouped and are still doing the rounds without their original lead singer, who is still releasing records and touring as a solo artist.

But it's probably not the band you're thinking of.
This is the story of The Chords and Chris Pope.

The Chords were active from 1978, and had 7 singles (only 1 scraping into the Top 40) and a single album ('So Far Away') in 1982.
After they split, lead singer Chris Pope formed a couple of bands that never really went anywhere.
Re-united (briefly) with Chords drummer Brett Buddy Ascott, the band Pope eventually released new material with 'Grace Of God' in 2005.
2009s 'Tall Tales And Cheap Thrills' kept the same name.  This album reverted to the Chris Pope miniker, suggesting a fully fledged solo album.

And it is the best of the bunch. All cut from a similar cloth - R&B riffs from a Gibson, backed by a solid rhythm section, possibly a Hammond organ, and an occasional horn section.
This one has added anger and frustration at the world he sees around him - Chris has something he wants to get off his chest, and is not holding back.  There is also some reflection going on where he confronts his past, and wonders how it all ended up like this.
All delivered with energy, commitment and 100% belief in what he is doing (there are no record labels involved, so I'm guessing Chris is ban-rolling himself through live performance and (would it be unfair to suggest "limited"?) royalty payments.

Unfortunately, Chris Pope is one of those artists that is far better in a live setting than when committed to record - something in the delivery and experience is "not quite" there.
That is not to say that this is in any way a bad record - on the contrary, it is a fine chunk of upbeat London-accented R&B.
It may never make it into the book of "100 Essential Albums That You Must Listen To Or You Are A Duffer", but it has the ability to creep into your ears meaning you'll be singing the songs to yourself for a couple of days (at least).

2016 saw the release of 'Take On Life' with another name change attached, this time adding The Chords UK (to differentiate between the other members of the original band still doing the rounds under The Chords banner).
The Chords / The Chords UK - what's the difference.
Well ,having seen The Chords UK, I can confirm that you get the best of both worlds with Band tracks and solo songs mixed up.
And a cracking performance as well.

One Happy Man

Mutiny On The Thames