Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Dirt Road Blues Band

The Dirt Road Blues Band
by Pete Clemons

I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to say that Leamington Spa is blessed with its fair share of blues performers. Maybe it’s the water in the Leam or even the Grand Union Canal who knows. But something special has sprinkled on in that town for decades now.

The musicians that form the town’s abundance of blues bands tend to intertwine somewhat. And as if drawn together by this common bond a lot of the brotherhood were out in force to support guitarist Steve Walwyn, bass player Horace Panter and drummer Ted Duggan as they debuted the recently formed ‘Dirt Road Blues Band’ at St Patricks Irish Club.

An overused phrase when describing live music is that they were on fire. But in the case of this trio it really was an apt term. The Dirt Road Blues Band were really on the money as not only were this band playing their first gig but Steve’s stunningly beautiful new guitar (made by Robert Williams) was also making its first public outing.

And if frenetic playing and shredding a guitar to within an inch of its life is a term of endearment then Steve, along his new found partnership, are going to spend many happy years together.

From the opening bars of ‘You Got Me’, complete with guest harmonica player Mark Feltham, they had me. My anticipation rocketed as you could just sense you were in for something special. The medley of ‘Milk Cow Blues/Leaving Trunk’ only enforced that feeling.

But for myself personally, I was completely blown away when the band performed a couple of my absolute favourite tunes. And these were Canned Heat’s ‘World in a Jug’ and Etta James/Chicken Shacks ‘I’d rather go blind’. The latter gaining the extra distinction of having guest singer Patricia Moore, sister of Gary, perform it.

Another great tune was that from where the band’s name derives from. 'Down The Dirt Road Blues' by blues great Charley Patton first recorded during 1929. Once again this was a hugely impressive interpretation.

I asked Steve Walwyn: ‘What drives you to put together a new blues band bearing in mind you have the Feelgood’s, The DT’s, The Mosquitoes etc’

His reply was ‘Actually it was Ted’s instigation – he asked me if I’d be interested in putting a band together to do a gig at The Broomfield Tavern in Cov – I said yes, Horace said yes, and that’s how it started…….and at the first rehearsal I knew we had something’!

On display this evening was live music at its absolute finest and it was a pleasure to be at the birth of a band that will no doubt become known for its assimilations of blues material and for its efforts to promote interest in this type of music and refer to its original artists

As the gig itself left you gasping for more, the only disappointment from the whole evening was that the resulting CD from a recent live session at Leamington's Gighouse Studios was not available to buy on the night. No doubt that will be rectified at future gigs.

Footnote: I am the first to admit that I know nothing about music. I only know that I enjoy hearing it. Also, after years of listening, I am able to recognise my David Gilmour’s from my Keith Richards. But that’s about it really.

Andy Nixon - guitarist for Freedom to Glide and Badfinger, picked up on the harmonica notes coming off stage. Without knowing the connection beforehand Andy was able to identify that Mark Feltham was the same harmonica player featured on the soon to be released album by Steven Wilson titled ‘To the Bone’. And that, after only having heard a taster track from the album. Needless to say hearing this made me realise why I have worked in factories and on building sites all my life.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

1967 – The summer of love by Pete Clemons

1967 – The summer of love
by Pete Clemons

This year has seen the release of several album compilations celebrating the fact that it is 50 years since ‘the summer of love’. The seeds, however, for the summer of love had been planted earlier in the year during January when thousands of people descended on the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco for a counter culture party.

The party, also known as the Human-Be-In, had been organised by an underground magazine who were attempting to bring together several disparate groups of people and form one alliance. In other words, they were attempting to bring together ‘a gathering of the tribes’. The whole thing was the culmination of a series of events that had really been developing over a couple of years.

Those ‘tribes’ were known as the Nature Boys, the Truth Seekers and the Politicos or the New Left. All of these groups were living alternative lifestyles. Some were looking for social change while some were looking for some kind of a revolution. But the common denominator with all these groups of people was that they all rejected mainstream society as it was. They became more commonly known as Hippies or Hippy’s, derived from the word Hipsters.

Of course there is so much more to the story of the hippies, and that period of history, but for all its rights and wrongs there is no denying the musical legacy that was inspired by and spun off from it.

Close to the Golden Gate Park is the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and due it already being a meeting point for bohemians the area became known as the capital of the hippie movement. The movement even had a house band, a group who had formed a year or so earlier and who became known as ‘The Grateful Dead’. The ‘Dead released their debut album months after the Golden Gate Park party.

Other bands from the West Coast of America, such as The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Love who had formed before the birth of the hippie, but who were an integral part of the whole growing scene, released classic albums of their own during 1967.

Meanwhile back in the U.K. the first half of 1967 had seen the singles chart dominated by the likes of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and American band The Monkees who were clearly benefiting from their extremely popular TV series. Even The Beatles double ‘A’ side release ‘Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever’ failed to get to number 1.

The first half of 1967 also saw The Rolling Stones release their own double ‘A’ side single of ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday’. Originally destined for their fifth album ‘Between the Buttons’, the single was omitted on the U.K. version due to the lyrical content.

But then, and seemingly out of the blue, appeared one of the anthems of 1967, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum. According to co-writer Keith Reid, this hauntingly beautiful song was a journey with characters.

DJ John Peel had spent some time in California and on his return during March he joined Radio London and was keeping people aware of what was happening on the West Coast by way of his show ‘London after Midnight’. A little later the name of the show changed to the Perfumed Garden and attracted an amazing audience response. Later in 1967, after Radio London was forced to close, John was snapped up by the BBC.

Down the coast from San Francisco, in Monterey, a 3 day pop festival held in June was organised, by John Phillips of vocal harmony group The Mamas and the Papas. The festival itself included, amongst many others, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and Coventry’s own Beverley Kutner who, backed by Lou Rawls band, performed ‘Sweet Memories’, ‘Sweet Joy’ and a Donovan tune ‘Picking Out the Sunshine’. And for many of the artists performing that weekend, it was a life changing event.

The Mamas and the Papas, along with Scott McKenzie closed the show with a set that included the song ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). Of course that song topped the UK singles charts for a good number of weeks over the summer months. It is arguably the most recognised song to be associated with the ‘flower power’ era.

Also capturing the essence of the summer of love was The Beatles and ‘All you need is Love’. The song was played live on T.V. and watched by over 400 million people on a worldwide link. ‘All you Need is Love’ was then released as a single and hit the number 1 spot.

Other notable singles from 1967 included ‘Massachusetts’ by The Bee Gees, one of the first songs played on Radio One, The Kinks ‘Waterloo Sunset’, The Pink Floyd ‘See Emily Play’ and The Foundations with ‘Baby, Now That I’ve Found You’. Apart from creating a fresh new sound, The Foundations were the first multicultural band to hit number 1 in the U.K.

As far as the albums chart went in the U.K. during 1967, I think it is fair to say that the top of the charts was dominated by just a few releases. These being: the original soundtrack for the film ‘The Sound of Music’, a greatest hits album by The Beach Boys, a couple of L.P. releases by The Monkees and The Beatles and ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

That wasn’t the whole story though. 1967 saw debut releases for The Pink Floyd with ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, The Equals and ‘Unequalled Equals’, Scott Walkers first solo album and ‘Are You Experienced ‘by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

And let’s not forget that there were a host of other wonderful albums released, all essential listens, such as The Velvet Underground with Nico, Leonard Cohen, The Four Tops, Cream and many others for example that, initially, may not have had a huge impact but, over time, have gained the status they deserved.

The year ended with the Beatles dominant in the charts once more. ‘Sgt Peppers’ was still riding high and in the singles chart both ‘Hello Goodbye’ and the Magical Mystery tour EP topped. And who could forget the Magical Mystery Tour film being screened on BBC over the festive period. Apparently the critics, at the time, were not that keen but those who saw it thought otherwise.

The counterculture, certainly had its faults that’s for sure, but I think it left its mark and shaped some aspects of the world we live in today. It is still far from a perfect world, I would be naïve to think otherwise, but I do think the legacy of the whole movement has certainly made everyday life more colorful, open and accepting than what it used to be. The music at least, from 1967, will always continue to inspire.


A chat with Kristian Hartridge – Moom. Sometime during 1995/96

A chat with Kristian Hartridge – Moom. Sometime during 1995/96
by Pete Clemons

Having seen the group ‘From the Jam’ several times over the last years I have often wondered if the guy who appears for them on keyboards, Andy Fairclough, is the same Andy Fairclough who featured in a band called Moom who I raved about many years ago.
I am still not sure. But each time I see ‘From the Jam’ it does set off my curiosity – so if anyone can confirm or otherwise……………

But if it does happen to be the same Andy Fairclough, I have this over-riding, never to be forgotten memory of him from when I first saw Moom play. It was when they supported Porcupine Tree at The Roadmenders Club in Northampton during 1994/5 ish (without checking my ticket stubs, Porcupine Tree as I remember, played the venue 3 or 4 times).
Apart from Moom being very impressive, to me at least, the stage wasn’t big enough to accommodate them. They were only a five piece but Andy was performing on this huge Hammond Organ which sounded magnificent. Trouble was that it couldn’t be fitted onto the stage alongside the rest of the guys. Consequently Andy was set up on the dance area just in front of the stage.

Moom were a Northampton based and formed during 1992. Andy, along with Greg Myles (drums) and Jim Patterson (bass) started a band called Medicinal Compound. This trio were joined by Kristian Hartridge (guitar, vocals) and Toby Kay (strange noises). And with that Moom was born.

By late 1993 Moom had saved enough money to finance some recordings which they released on cassette. It had been recorded at the studio of Robert John Godfrey (of Enid fame) who also did the mixing.

Richard Allen, head of the then wonderful Delerium label, read about Moom. He got hold of a copy of their cassette and soon offered them a contract for the album. ‘Toot’ is a collection of the best tracks from the original cassette.

‘Toot’ grabbed my attention immediately. It was an album that displayed stunning skills of musicianship. It does not follow a single theme. Instead it revolved around many elements and evoked memories of the ‘Canterbury Scene’.

This impressive debut album was followed up by the equally splendid follow up release ‘Bone Idol’. And, as far as I know, that was it. The band simply faded away. But the legacy they left us with, I think -even after all this time, is still quite absorbing and an exciting listen.
Apart from knowing I really enjoyed hearing Moom, I really knew nothing else about them. It turned out that some of the band members were also turning out for the Grateful Dead covers band ‘The Cosmic Charlies’ for example. Anyway, undeterred I was determined to get them mentioned in Coventry’s long lamented Deliverance magazine and set about an interview of sorts.

Again the questioning was a little naïve but here is an account of what followed……….

How long have Moom existed?
Since 1992. Gregg, Andy and Jim were playing around Northampton with a mainly instrumental band called Medicinal Compound. I returned after living in Birmingham for a year and began writing songs for my old friends. I joined the band and we changed our name to Moom.

Are you pleased with the album and have you been surprised by the good reactions to it?
‘Toot’ represents our first year hanging out and playing together. Although in some parts it is musically undeveloped and limited in performances, it remains a warm and interesting album. It’s also a beautiful recording. Since ‘Toot’ our skills both individually and jointly have grown.

Does ‘Toot’ differ from it’s original cassette only release in 1993?
The Crocadillian suite was left off the vinyl version for space, It was a case of lose one long song or two short ones. We went for musical diversity. The CD has the entire album on it.

Do you mind being compared to bands such as Caravan and Hatfield and the North, and have any of these bands influenced you?
I think we are compared to Caravan because of similarity between the sound of ‘Toot’ and the fact that my first attempt at vocals coincidentally sounds like Richard Sinclair or whoever in accent. None of us listen to Caravan or Hatfield and we certainly don’t sound like Caravan anymore.

You all appear to be really competent musicians. Have you had any formal training or are you self-taught?
We are all self-taught. We have invented our own musical language. This gives us our sense of adventure. As we think of new places ot go we must push ourselves to learn how to get there. It is this which keeps us travelling through music and prevents us from becoming predictable and one tracked.

Do you enjoy playing live?
We love playing live. Every time we play we do a different set and embellish old songs through improvising. We promise a unique performance at every gig.

Will you be venturing out of Northampton now?
We have played all over the country at festivals, pubs and venues. We have played numerous private parties and freak-outs. We have supported bands like ‘Here and Now’ and ‘Merle Saunders’. We have probably played more in London than anywhere else.

Do you have any new music ready for future release?

We have enough material for at least two albums. We should be recording one of these very soon. Perhaps a live album would be good.

The Pineapple Thief – Where We Stood

The Pineapple Thief – Where We Stood
by Pete Clemons

The last time I wrote at length about The Pineapple Thief was around the time of the bands tenth studio album ‘Magnolia’ being released. So the time, I feel, is right, for a bit of an update.

After touring Europe and the UK, during late 2014 with The Pineapple Thief in support of ‘Magnolia’, guitarist and band leader Bruce Soord settled down to record a solo album. Something he had wanted to do for many years.

The resulting self-titled debut was recorded during the summer of 2015 with all the tracks were written and performed by Bruce Soord with Darran Charles of Godsticks playing some delightful additional guitar.

For his solo release Bruce found himself revisiting his entire life to find inspiration for the songs. From growing up in a small town, where he had gained and developed his musical tastes to becoming a father and generally reflecting on the changes to that same town.

A delightful passage of songs, for example, imagines Bruce going back in time and being spoken to by his parents and then in part 2 of the song he, in turn, is passing on that wisdom to his offspring.

While the songs describe a sense of the past that has been lost, it is also a celebration of a wonderful and yet artistically decaying town. Sound familiar?

A short tour by Bruce and Darran, supporting Sweet Billy Pilgrim, gave the songs their first tentative outing before the album was released to critical acclaim during November 2015.

After that brief soiree it was down to business with The Pineapple Thief again and Bruce started writing for a new album at the end of 2015.

To give the music a new, fresh perspective Bruce decided to step back from the production and performance side of things and see where the record took it-self.

In addition, and for the first time, The Pineapple Thief introduced several special guest performers. These included Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson), Darran Charles (Godsticks) John Helliwell (Supertramp), Geoffrey Richardson (Caravan) and a 4 piece choir.

Explains Bruce Soord at the time: ‘This has not only redefined our sound but also redefined how we approached the songs as a band. Gavin’s drumming is technically brilliant but also incredibly musical, and it inspired all of us to raise our game. I’ve also rediscovered my roots in terms of song-writing and arrangement’.

As it happened Gavin also helped Bruce finish off the album. Bruce explains ‘I was so stuck and I was burnt out and I had already missed our deadline’. Gavin asked Bruce to send him what he had done so far on the song ‘Tear You Up’. Gavin put down some ideas. Suddenly the album came together and crossed the finish line.

The completed album, released during August 2016 was ostensibly an album about separation, estrangement and reconciliation. Its themes were empty spaces and isolation along with other emotions we will all encounter from time to time. But again, and this is what I find with Pineapple Thief albums - as dour the subject matter might suggest the output is quite the opposite. The results tend to be thought provoking and uplifting.

The music throughout the album ‘Your Wilderness’ is in keeping with the subject matter. The subtle use of flute, for example, is just sublime. ‘Your Wilderness’ is, by and large, a quiet and sensitive album but it does have its heavy moments.

The reaction to ‘Your Wilderness’ upon its release was a resounding one. It made number 54 in the UK album charts, 57 in Germany, 48 in Sweden and number 40 in The Netherlands.

There then came the business of having to promote the album by way of a tour. But Bruce had a dilemma ‘I can't imagine taking the album on the road without Gavin on drums. We're seeing if we can make it happen’.

The Pineapple Thief, with Dan Osbourne in the drum seat, had only played one gig during 2016 and that had been at a festival in Barcelona alongside Steven Wilson, Opeth, Magma and Iamthemorning. Despite ‘Your Wilderness’ being in production process, none of the tunes was to be given an early airing. Instead the band opted for the more familiar ‘Magnolia’ set.

But before The Pineapple Thief got stuck into touring ‘Your Wilderness’ the opportunity for some solo gigs in North America came Bruce’s way. These were as support to Steven Wilson who was promoting his own album ‘Hand.Cannot.Erase.’

Apart from a festival some years ago this was Bruce’s first encounter with America. There would have been more gigs but visa issues got in the way. In fact, it went right to the wire as to whether the trip would go ahead. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed to be a gruelling schedule but Bruce enjoyed every minute in America and he appeared to be very well received wherever he went.

The ‘Your Wilderness’ tour began in January 2017 and, yes, much to Bruce’s delight Gavin Harrison was able to fulfil the dates. Support came from Welsh band Godsticks whose lead guitarist Darran Charles really earned his corn as he was heavily involved with both halves of the show.

The 14 date tour was climaxed by a sold out gig at the Islington Assembly Hall, London. It was an awe inspiring performance both for band and audience.

Filmed and recorded the concert is due to be released shortly as a CD and DVD under the title of ‘Where We Stood’.

Bruce Soord says about the show and release ‘It was our last show of the tour and our biggest headline show ever. We had 15 cameras, a massive jib, but more importantly – a sell-out crowd! The pressure was indeed on, but it’s safe to say that the stars aligned for us that night and it turned out to be one of the most memorable performances of our career so far. We’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this special edition blu-ray. It has the full show; documentary footage and interviews; and 2 different 5.1 surround mixes (one natural, one discrete) – all in high resolution 24/96 stereo. It also has our last album ‘Your Wilderness’ in stereo and surround, plus the special ‘8 Years Later’ album in stereo with a brand-new surround mix too. All of that plus 5 acoustic tracks (also stereo and surround) and loads of bonus videos. This is without doubt the definitive ‘Your Wilderness’ release.’

Since the January tour The Pineapple Thief were invited to play at the prestigious Starmus festival. This year’s festival was held in Trondheim in Norway.

‘Where We Stood’ is due for release early September 2017. And as it happens the ‘Your Wilderness’ tour also resumes during September 2017. Again it takes in Europe and the UK, again Gavin Harrison has agreed to be involved and, once again, Godsticks will be in support.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Callum Pickard and the Third Look

Callum Pickard and the Third Look
by Pete Clemons

The main body of the church may not have survived the years but its adjoining tower, Christchurch Spire, still stands proudly as one of Coventry’s ‘three spires’ when viewed as a part the city skyline.

Today, within its gothic arches, ornate structures and cavernous ceiling, you can find a unique café bar. It is the aptly named ‘Inspires’. And on most Saturday evenings the venue plays host to some of the finest bands and artists Coventry has on offer today.

Hosts, Electric Church Music, recently staged a superb gig by Callum Pickard and the Third Look. The band consisting of Callum (guitars / vocals), Daniel Duveen (Drums and Keys), Daniel Murtagh (Lead Guitar), Laurence (Loz) Pettit (Synths / Guitars / Vocals) and Mathew Sharkey (Bass) is sounding very impressive now.

The bands confidence is growing by the gig and a good example of this is demonstrated by the improvisation within the songs. The music is strangely relaxing and very laid back and, at the same time, there really is some sublime soloing happening. But when music needs to tighten up again they all pull together as a unit.

The Third Look’s set list, which was really slick and included tunes such as Lampshade, Driving Through Empty Skies, Hoard the Pieces, Latest Rivalry, Follow the Sign, Revise the Moments, Forever Never, Lonely Boy And Girl and ended with the Callum’s latest single, June. The audience, some familiar with the songs, appeared to be really tuned into the group.

Incredibly, Callum has been writing songs and playing guitar for almost ten years now and he is still only 21. The bands reputation also appears to be growing. Gigs in Birmingham, for example, are being arranged on a regular basis. And several festivals have approached the band.

Callum, along with some of the other band members, has recently returned from a 15 day visit to the United States. While there they met, at first hand, Brian Joseph the producer of his latest single and CJ Camieiri and Shane Leonard who also collaborated in it.

Now these names might not be instantly recognisable over here but in the U.S. they are well known by fans of the likes of Paul Simon, Bon Iver, The Staves and Sufjan Stevens as these all assist in the production of the music by these artists. And now Callum has caught their collective attentions.

After flying out to New York on they moved on to Minneapolis for a short while then took the bus to the Eau Claires festival. After the festival they spent time in Chicago for a couple of days before returning home.

I am not big on bold predictions but, when listening to Callum and his band play live, I can’t help but think that it is only a matter of time now.

Finally, as unique a place it is, gigs in venues such as Inspires, will hopefully continue to serve the local music scene for a long time to come.