Grown Up Music

gerry mulligan age of steam

I’m usually busy on Sunday mornings, but life changes and I suddenly find myself free alternate weeks.  A lovely morning found me down on the seafront for the start of the Cowes-Torquay Power Boat Race, for what seemed to me a kind of adult playtime for the very wealthy.  I couldn’t help wondering about life as the giant beasts roared past against the background of Fawley Oil Refinery, plenty of waiting for the event to start, then over in a flash!

Strolling homewards I diverted to peruse the local monthly boot fair and chanced upon a couple of jazz LPs, of which this was one.  The sun was so bright that when I checked the condition of the vinyl, there seemed to be scratches everywhere, but only light surface ones.  On checking at home, the vinyl looked and sounds pretty much perfect.  The morning’s theme of dirty power is echoed by the album cover, but the music itself is cool jazz;  Recorded in 1971, it finds Mulligan playing with an extended band, but there is space within the recording and this highlights the quality of the playing. Perfect for a Sunday morning!

An Old Friend

After the musical putsch of 1977, my record collection was largely growing through the purchase of punk/new wave singles. Gradually these bands also released albums and it became clear that I had a liking for energetic power-pop type bands.  Along the way I stumbled upon Split Enz, active in the early 70s, but having a resurgence in the late 70s/early 80s and today was able to reacquaint myself with their album ‘Waiata’.  Known for their stunning hair sculptures and wacky/art school type music, I fell in love with this band for a while and many albums passed through my hands ( life has led to cycles of collection and disposal!).Waiata

With the passing of some 34 years since the release of this album, my body has regenerated 4.5 times and I wasn’t sure if I’d still feel the same about it.  I’ve aged, or matured(?), and my musical tastes have gradually changed over that hiatus.  I needn’t have worried, I was soon singing and humming along to some old friends.  I won’t be rushing around looking for all their back catalogue, but this was a nice reminder of past times.

I saw Split Enz one winter in London in the early 80s, I remember the gig for two reasons – the heating had failed and it was freezing in the venue, but the band put on a cracking show.  Of course we all ended up overfed on Crowded House in subsequent years, but at that time the Finn brothers et al produced some interesting and very enjoyable music.

Smooth, Laid Back…

Having known Herbie Hancock from earlier ’60s recordings on Blue Note and his excellent Columbia release ‘Head Hunters’, recorded in 1973, and having liked what I’d heard, I was in a slight quandary as to whether to buy his album ‘Sunlight’ when I found it in a charity shop.  Dating from 1978, gone are the cool Hancock album covers of the past:

HH Sunlight

Recast as Medallion Man, this cover screams “Disco!”, although the image on the back has some redeeming features:

HH Sunlight back

The vast array of equipment hints at the serious musicianship underlying this recording, even if there is what some may consider some overuse of the new toy, the vocoder!

Now Disco never rated that highly in my book, yes I used to have a Chic 12″ single in the late ’70s, but that was as far as things went.  So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to listen to the thing.  Note I was sitting down, not dancing!

I was amazed to find that I knew the first track, ‘I Thought It Was You’, I can only assume that it was a single at the time and it snuck into my sub-conscious, laying dormant for that deja vu moment 37 years on!

Actually, it’s not a bad album.  The last track, ‘Good Question’ stood out on my first listen.  It’s the kind of album I’ll play when I need something to wash over me, vaguely good time and upbeat.  If I’d had coverage on my mobile phone I’d have been put off by the reviews on rateyourmusic.com, but hey, I’m happy to add it to my collection.

Love and Hate

I can appreciate a lot of music, but sometimes it polarises my response:

Love:  Rock, Blues, Psychedelia, Americana, singer-songwriter, Modern Jazz, Reggae,Minimalist etc

Hate:  Opera, Country and Western, Hip-hop

So what do you do when a band you’re interested in strays into one of the Hate categories?  As I’ve written previously, I missed much of The Byrds first time around and am now playing catch-up.  A while back I bought the CD of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and over a period of time I’ve listened to a few tracks at a time, but the country influences are testing my sensibilities.  The thing is, there are other Byrds albums that I really like!

Today I wandered through town checking for old vinyl and found absolutely loads of Country/Country & Western albums.  Scanning through I found a compilation of Bluegrass and thought I’d take a punt.  I passed on a whole lot of Willie Nelson etc – even Roy Orbison, but there waiting for me was a copy of:

Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde

Country influenced, yes, but also blues and psychedelic folk rock.  It’s the follow up to ‘Sweetheart’ but oh so much more accessible to my ears.  Roger McGuinn had basically recruited a new band and the resulting album did well in the UK, but sold poorly in the USA.  I love it!

The album opens with the Dylan/Danko composition ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ and the following video shows a live performance from 1970.  Check out the very straight looking Roger McGuinn and the audience’s dancing!

Conflicting Emotions

One of my Lynyrd Skynyrd charity shop purchases the other day was ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ from 1976.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever really listened to this album before, mostly their earlier recordings.  What I particularly like about this and the other earlier recordings is the downbeat vocals with their southern drawl and the interplay within such a multi-guitar line-up.

gimme back my bullets

As per usual when I bring an album home, I try to find out a little about it.  It was then that I discovered that it was in promotion of this release that they ended up playing at Knebworth in 1976.  That was my one and only Skynyrd gig, but wow, what a good one to experience.  It was August in a blistering hot drought year in the UK, I was just 20 and still had long hair!  The band came on in the heat of the day and really stole the show.  Opinion is divided as to whether they blew the Stones off the stage (I thought they were pretty good too), but for me they were wonderful.  I’ve seen many gigs but only a few really remain that well in the memory and their performance was one of those, made poignant just over a year later with the deaths of vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines in a plane crash.

When I hear ‘Free Bird’ nowadays, my emotions are all mixed up, joy from the music yet sadness from the events that followed, and for the loss of those carefree times!  The following video captures the band as they play an extended version of this song and gain the courage to venture onto parts of the stage reserved for the Stones:

Red Letter Day or Coming Up Trumps….

As payback for the weekly tour of secondhand/charity shops, imagine my joy when instead of finding the usual old classical, Val Doonican (RIP) and Cliff Richard LPs, I stumbled upon stock that had obviously just been put on the shelf.  Right person, right place. A few minutes later I’d left the shop with 5 albums tucked under my arm for the fine price of 99p each!  A couple of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s, a Paul Simon, an Eric Clapton and pride of place, my favourite, Neil Young.  Second hand albums of his seem to turn up rarely around here and when they do, they’re usually worn from many plays!

after the goldrush

I was cautious before I bought it as it had a few fine scratches, but I couldn’t feel them with my finger and fortunately the sound on listening is very good. I would guess that Neil Young needs little introduction, but this is one of his better albums.  It’s even still got it’s facsimile of hand written lyrics – not bad for an album that’s 45 years old!

atgr lyric sheet

Drama!

My fear of pretty much anything ’80s has been tempered today by the purchase of ‘Drama’ by Yes, released in 1980 (maybe recorded in 1979? ha ha), but featuring real drumming from Alan White and some absolutely stunning guitar work by Steve Howe.  Perusing the gatefold album cover, I find that the band line-up contains few of the usual suspects – no Jon Anderson or Rick Wakeman/Patrick Moraz.  Instead we have Trevor ‘Buggles’Horn on vocals and Geoff Downes on keyboards.  Obviously Yes are bigger than the sum of the parts, for the band sound pretty much the same to me as earlier line-ups.  Side One’s highlight is the first track, ‘Machine Messiah’, a Howe tour de force. Side Two opens with a nice Chris Squire bass line on ‘Into The Lens’, released as a single at the time.  Possibly interesting side note – 4 of the 5 band members sing on this album, the 5th (Downs) uses a vocoder!

There’s even a Roger Dean album cover for good measure. I’m one happy bunny.

Drama