Wednesday 23 April 2014

Thank You Very Much

is all you need to say, whilst putting on an over-affected mid-American accent, and hey presto - you are Elvis Presley.

One phrase, with the right intonation and you could pass yourself off as a modern day Mike Yarwood.

"Mmm, Betty" and you are Frank Spencer (note: say "Mmm", not "Ooo" - it just works better).  And for completeness, add in the phrase "the cat's done a woopsie in my beret"

"Scooby-Dooby-Doo" and you have convinced the world that Frank Sinatra has just walked in the room

And here are a few more to add to your ever expanding "Dead Ringers" toolkit:

Tom Jones - "Huh!" (maybe after an affected cough)
Bing Crosby - "Ba Ba Ba Boom" (the pipe and cardigan are entirely optional, but may add to the overall visual look)
Liam Gallagher - Sh-eeee-iii-ne" (and don't forget to sneer a bit, and maybe beat up a photographer for good measure)
Manuel - "Que?" or "I know nuuthing" (the addition of a moustache may help you get in charcter)
Dave the Barman from Minder - "Allo Arfur" (tip: keep one eye closed in a sort of extended wink whilst performing this one
Michael Caine - "My name is Michael Caine" and "Don't frow bloody spears at me" and "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off" (don't forget to point to help emphasise every word).

Rory Bremner can take up to a year to perfect his impressions, with the above guide you can be on stage within seconds (I can't promise an appreciative response from the audience though).

Musically, there is probably no-one more over represented by impersonators and/or tribute acts than Elvis Presley.  There is the Chinese Elvis, the Indian Elvis, the Lady Elvis, the Child Elvis, the Reggae meets Led Zeppelin incarnation of Dread Zeppelin.  Although most of them seem to focus on the bloated Vegas period.  This may be another "simple starter kit" - all you need is a white jump suit, a big pair of sideburns and some some glasses and hey presto, you are paying Colonel Tom Parkers gambling debts.

Evoking the spirit of an earlier incarnation of Elvis is Jim Brown from Northern Island, who performs under the moniker 'The King'.
Indeed the liner notes of his first album ('Gravelands') speak of how he was awoken one night by a shadowy figure who said he wanted to make another album and Jim Brown would be his body and soul on Earth to achieve this purpose.
The reality is that a married Post Office worker was reluctantly pulled on stage to perform a version of "Suspicious Minds" with a local band.  The response from the crowd convinced him to take a period of time off work and explore the possibilities of this alternative career.
The singer was signed to EMI-Electrola and 'Gravelands' was released to critical acclaim (if not matched by public sales).
The pre-text of the album is a bunch of classic rock songs ("Come As You Are, "Love Will Tear Us Apart", "All Or Nothing, "Voodoo Chile") delivered in pure Elvis stylee (which if the man was still on stage in Vegas in the 21st Century would undoubtedly be his current act).

A potentially flimsy concept - I mean, how many Elvis impersonators are there out there all doing this same sort of schtick?
Well, what sets this one apart is this isn't done for laughs, or just a tribute showcasing contemporary songs in Elvis-style.  Theres something else going on here, there is almost a suspended belief that you may actually be listening to a re-incarnation of Elvis.
(OK, I might be laying it on a bit thick, but the performance is very good)

The second album, 'Return To Splendour' is even better, with a richer production and a wider song choice.

Track List for 'Gravelands':
  • Come As You Are 
  • Love Will Tear Us Apart
  • Song To The Siren
  • Whiskey In The Jar
  • I Heard It Through The Grapevine
  • Blockbuster
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Working Class Hero
  • Something Else
  • All Or Nothing
  • Twentieth Century Boy
  • Dock Of The Bay
  • Piece Of My Heart
  • No Woman No Cry
  • Voodoo Chile
  • Whole Lotta Rosie
  • New York New York
Track List for 'Return To Splendour':
  • Sympathy For The Devil
  • L.A. Woman
  • Under The Bridge
  • The House Is Rockin'
  • Whole Lotta Love
  • You Got It
  • Everybody's Talkin'
  • Child Of A Preacher Man
  • King Of The Road
  • Good Vibrations
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • Pretty Vacant
  • Hoochie Coochie Man
  • Take Me Home, Country Roads
  • What A Wonderful World

These two albums occupy a dual purpose.  On the one hand, they are a bit of a laugh to hear these great songs done in this way, on the other hand they are really well put together, thought out and performed pieces of work.
After all, they may be considered as nothing more than Tribute albums, but in what way do they differ from Rod Stewarts American Songbook collections, or Brian Ferry's interpretation of Bob Dylan, or his re-working of Roxy Music tracks in Jazz style?

Whole Lotta Rosie (from Gravelands)

Sympathy For The Devil (from Return To Splendour)

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Shaking Some Action On The English/Welsh Border

Montgomery has various definitions.
  • it can be used as an alternative name for a Martini cocktail
  • it can refer to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC (more commonly recognised as simply "Monty")
  • it may be expressed as an arithmetic computation, called the Montgomery reduction which is an algorithm that allows modular arithmetic to be performed efficiently when the modulus is large
    (nope, me neither? - and this doesn't help much either:
  • it is the forename of Scotty in Star Trek
  • a small village on the Shropshire / Powys border
It is to the last of these definitions that I have just been for a week.  A week spent in the depths of the countryside in an area which seems to swap borders of county and country with virtually every step.
Initial impressions - it was like going back in time.  The streets were cobbled, no Channel 5 (a good thing, surely?), and limited mobile phone/internet connection (again, possibly a good thing).
Basically, a week of dossing about, visiting places, eating rich food and washing it down with copious amounts of Wye Valley Butty Bach.

On a more positive note, previous holidays to such remote parts have often brought disappointment/despair on the shopping for essentials front.  It is usually a case of either travel 15 or 20 miles to find a badly stocked Tesco or Asda, or visit the local Spar where a tin of beans will cost about £12.
Within this area of England/Wales (it was never really clear), it seems someone has hit upon the eminently sensible idea of setting up a number of large convenience stores, often in business units/warehouse premises with a cafe and petrol station attached.  These shops are well stocked, and although marginally higher priced than a mega-hyper-enormo-market, at least don't require the security of a small mortgage to buy some loo roll.

The town of Montgomery itself consists of a Post Office, a Library, a Pub, a Hotel, a Museum, a Hardware Shop, the obligatory Spar Convenience Store and an Indian Restaurant (potentially out of place in such a rural setting, but useful fallback when you can't be bothered to cook).
It is also within easy reach of one small town (Welshpool) and two larger towns (Ludlow and Shrewsbury).
One noticeable "shopping" observation of the above towns is that the shopping experience is not confined to the usual suspects which seem to be taking over towns and providing identi-kit shopping experiences from Newcastle to Nuneaton, but there are a large number of independent shops, cafes and restaurants.

Armed with the usual holiday literature of a copy of Never Mind The Bollards: A Road Trip Around Englands Rock & Roll Landmarks and the Record Shop Directory printed in Mojo Magazine, it was in Ludlow and Shrewsbury that I alighted on two fantastic record shops, which I could've spent hours in but I was receiving the 'folded albums arms and narrow smile' look from Mrs D.

As is most unusual, and to paraphrase Withnail & I: "I'd come on holiday with no music by mistake"

A visit to Mod Lang in Ludlow soon rectified this oversight.  The shop can be found down a small side street, and up a flight of steps to a loft-type shop unit.
The first thing I noticed on entering, was the large Rockpile poster on the wall.  A sure sign that I was entering a place of sanity and comfort.
Mod Lang deals primarily in Vinyl, with particular emphasis on 70s Rock, Soul and Jazz.  From the selection of CDs on offer, my eyes were drawn to a Flamin' Groovies compilation, which then became the soundtrack for the week.
The second discovery was Cave Records in Shrewsbury.  This shop is located in a small arcade at the top of the town and deals specifically in Vinyl (both new and second-hand).  It has plenty of stock, and a variety of styles (I briefly remember seeing Frank Zappa, Teenage Fanclub, Nick Drake, Husker Du and Tom Waits).  The timing of the visit was unfortunate for me, but I remain in little doubt that a good thorough browse could easily fill an afternoon.

If you are ever in the wilds of Shropshire, there are worse things you could do than pay a visit to either of these two emporiums.

The Flamin' Groovies formed in San Francisco in 1965, with a sound that drew in elements of Rock n Roll, Blues, Sixties British Invasion, surf music, psychedelia and garage rock (in fact they wouldn't sound out of place on the unimpeachable Nuggets compilation).
In short, the band can be best summarised as one the prime progenitors and exponents of that nebulous genre "Power Pop".
Their first album 'Supersnazz' was released on Epic in 1969, and due to the fact that it sold next to nothing they were pretty soon dropped, and found a new home at Kama Sutra.  1970s 'Flamingo' offered more of the same and garnered about the same level of interest and sales as their debut.
'Teenage Head' was released in 1971, and despite relatively low sales (again) the album was talked up by an (possibly) unexpected supporter.  The Rolling Stones released 'Sticky Fingers' in the same year, and Mick Jagger stated that he felt The Groovies did a better job a capturing the brand of bluesy, dirty, Rock n Roll than The Stones album.
The lack of success and the fractious relationship between original members Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney, led to the departure of the latter guitarist (replaced by Chris Wilson), and the re-location of the band to Britain.
Dave Edmunds expressed an interest in producing the band, and some initial recordings were made in 1972.
It wasn't until 1976 that this relationship bore fruit with the release of 'Shake Some Action', and album full of chiming guitars, heavy bass, reverb, and Dave Edmunds production stamped all over it.
More of the same came with 1978s 'Flamin Groovies Now'.  The album is primarily made up of cover versions, and whilst performed with the same enthusiasm and verve apparent on 'Shake Same Action', there is a feeling that the band may be running out of steam.  Sadly, 1979s 'Jumping In The Night' confirmed this prognosis, with a repeat of covers mixing with a few originals.  The two cover highlights from this album are 'Please Please Me' and 'Werewolves Of London'.
But it was at this point that the Groovies flame went out.

They did re-appear in 1987 with 'One Night Stand', which was ostensibly a Flamin Groovies Mark 2 re-recording of past triumphs, and then again with the lacklustre 'Rock Juice' in 1993.

Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action