Tuesday, October 31, 2017

YES - at 50

Yes - at 50

By Pete Clemons

Rock band ‘Yes’ have recently entered their 50th year in existence. And to celebrate this remarkable achievement a major tour has been planned for 2018 that, as is normally the case for a Yes tour, will be pulling into Birmingham during March 2018. 

And to be clear, this tour will be the current Yes line up of guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, Geoff Downes on keyboards, Billy Sherwood on bass and vocalist Jon Davison. And not that which is also currently active and includes founder Yes member Jon Anderson along with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin who toured recently under the moniker of ARW.

I mentioned that it is a remarkable achievement, and the above paragraph, is an indicator as to why. Because, as I recall it all and for as long as I have followed Yes, the whole history of the band has been a succession of change. Tour after tour, particularly highlighted in the more recent years, it has been a story of recrimination and change.

That said and putting all of the instability aside, there is no denying, that the one common denominator with Yes is that they have created some of the most ambitious, imaginative and ingeniously memorable music ever produced. And despite all the infighting the band itself has the most incredibly loyal fan base that turn out gig after gig regardless of the personnel involved.

The actual 50th anniversary for Yes will be during August 2018 as it was during August 1968 that Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford first took to the stage under the name of Yes.

Their debut album was released just over a year later and immediately the signs of complex tunes were evident. July 1970 saw the release of the bands second album ‘Time and a Word’. But this time it was clear that the talents of the, by now, primary song writer, Jon Anderson were surfacing. However, no sooner had ‘Time and a Word’ been released than Peter Banks had left to be replaced by Steve Howe.

A trio of albums followed that would define Yes for the rest of their career. ‘The Yes Album’, ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’. For the latter two releases the flamboyant Rick Wakeman had replaced Tony Kaye who had left the band during August 1971. And by the time ‘Close to the Edge’ was completed Bill Bruford had left to join King Crimson and was replaced by Alan White.

From the late 1960s the touring schedule for Yes was relentless. Especially, after they had broken into America. And what made their albums all the more remarkable was that they were recorded in between huge tours. A good proportion of these tours in support of ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’ were recorded and this was marked by the release, in May 1973, of the epic triple album ‘Yessongs’.

The hectic touring continued over the course of the next two studio albums, the grandiose ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ a double album of just four tracks and ‘Relayer’. Between these albums and after the ‘Topographic Oceans’ tour Rick Wakeman famously quit the band after apparently deciding that it wasn’t going in the direction he would have liked it to. His replacement on ‘Relayer’ was Patrick Moraz.

There then followed a relative period of calm for the band, as far as Yes albums were concerned. Despite the band still touring, the individual members effectively went their own separate ways in order to complete solo albums. A compilation of early work called ‘Yesterdays’ was released during 1975 though.

Late 1976 saw Yes, with Rick Wakeman back in the fold; regroup for the recording of the ‘Going for the One’ album released during 1977. The same line up also completed the ‘Tormato’ in 1978. And the time taken to tour both of these albums wrapped up the 1970s for the band. These two albums also saw the Yes gain their first real single successes in the UK with ‘Wondrous Stories’ and ‘Don’t Kill the Whale’.

The beginning of the 1980s did not fare well for Yes as a major split appeared that resulted in Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman leaving the band. They were replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes who had just had a hit of their own via a song called ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by a band called Buggles. Yes disbanded soon after this period with Steve Howe and Geoff Downes moving on to form rock band Asia.

In the meantime Chris Squire had resumed work with Alan White and had hooked up with South African guitarist Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye. With songs written for a band called Cinema the band realised that they had not got a distinctive enough vocalist. So in came Jon Anderson, who had been back in contact with Chris Squire. A new album ‘90125’ was released in 1983 along with the unveiling of a whole new Yes. A second album with this line up followed in 1987 called ‘The Big Generator’ and both releases were huge, particularly in the U.S.

1988 saw Jon Anderson leave Yes once more, this time to form Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe. AWBH along with bass player Tony Levin released an album of new material and toured the world with ‘An Evening of Yes Music plus’. With Yes still a working band the use of the Yes name was causing legal issues. During sessions for a second AWBH album, and despite misgivings from various band members, both camps merged. A resulting album ‘Union’ and a huge tour was set for 1991/92 that involved eight prominent members of Yes playing concerts ‘in the round’ where the stage was set up centrally in the auditorium with the audience surrounding it.

A Trevor Rabin dominated Yes album ‘Talk’ followed in 1994 soon after which Rabin himself left the band. 1996 saw Yes relocate to California where the line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White performed several shows. From these gigs and along with additional studio sessions of new material a double album ‘Keys to Ascension’ was released. It had been the first time that this quintet had performed together since 1979 and it came with much public approval. So popular, in fact, that a second volume appeared during 1997.

The decade finished with a couple of studio album that included long-time Yes collaborator and producer Billy Sherwood and introduced the Yes world to Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev.

The new millennium opened with the line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, White and Khoroshev completing a masterworks tour. The tour, however, concluded with Khoroshev being dismissed from the band. The remaining quartet recorded the album ‘Magnification’ during 2001 and supported it with a symphonic tour of North America and Europe.

2004 saw the band begin a five year hiatus. However during that time Jon Anderson suffered a severe asthma attack during 2008 which resulted in him effectively being left behind when the rest of the band were eager to get Yes up and running again. Since ‘Magnification’ Yes have recorded just two studios albums. ‘Fly From Home’ featuring vocalist Benoit David released 2011 and ‘Heaven and Hell’ in 2014 with Jon Davison on vocals. And sadly, Chris Squire passed away during June 2015.

Written above is a fairly concise and brief overview of the history of Yes and who knows what the future holds for this amazing band. Various band members did regroup, albeit briefly, earlier this year when Yes were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. Whether or not they will do so on stage together again remains to be seen. But at least the music can be celebrated on their separate tours. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Stan Webb and Chicken Shack

Stan Webb and Chicken Shack

by Pete Clemons

One of the most prized 7 inch singles I own is titled ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ by blues band Chicken Shack released on the Blue Horizon label during 1969. When I say prized, I don’t mean its value - it’s not really worth that much - but I value it for the music upon it. It is getting on for 50 years old now and it’s a record that I just never tire of hearing. Incidentally, Blue Horizon was a label created by Mike Vernon and Neil Slaven specifically for the blues at a period in time when we were truly blessed with copious amounts of outstanding music.

Formed by guitarist Stan Webb in Birmingham around 1965 with Andy Sylvester on bass and Alan Morley on drums Chicken Shack were initially a trio. They then became a quartet with Christine Perfect taking over on vocals during 1967.

The band had a residency at Star Club, Hamburg and during this stay an American drummer, Alvin Sykes, replaced Alan Morley who had returned home. But the period of Chicken Shack with Alvin was short lived and he, in turn, left to be replaced ultimately by Dave Bidwell.

Chicken Shack, at their peak, was a leading light during the British Blues boom of the late 1960s. And they really were right up there with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and many others.

Christine Perfect was, back then, considered as one of Britain’s leading female vocalists and it was during that period that the band made the charts with their interpretation of a song made immortal by Etta James’ called ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. Of course Chicken Shack was so much more than one single as the four albums they released on the Blue Horizon label will testify.

At the same time ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ charted Christine would quit Chicken Shack to join husband John McVie in the reshaped Fleetwood Mac line-up of 1969 and was replaced by organist Paul Raymond. In fact Christine had announced her decision before ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ had hit the charts. The recruitment of Paul Raymond brought with it a whole new dimension to the Chicken Shack sound as Stan took on the primary vocal duties.

August 1970 saw Chicken Shack tour the U.S. and U.K. with Savoy Brown, another band that has a list of associated musicians as long as your arm. By the end of that year Paul Raymond became a member of Savoy Brown. Early 1971 and Stan Webb announced he was disbanding the group and both Andy Sylvester and Dave Bidwell also teamed up with Savoy Brown.

A year or so later Stan had reformed and reinvented Chicken Shack. During this period Stan’s song writing talents emerged. And as a trio, Chicken Shack secured a deal with Decca Records. During 1972 and 1973 Chicken Shack staged something of resurgence on the club circuit. And with a beefier and more powerful sound two albums, including the stunning ‘Imagination Lady’, were released on the Deram imprint. But the two albums came with two versions of the band and Stan Webb split the Chicken Shack once again during the winter of 1973.

At the end of 1973 guitarist Kim Simmonds had also disbanded his band Savoy Brown. But with the mouth-watering prospect of uniting with Stan Webb he changed his mind. During 1974 Kim Simmonds rebuilt Savoy Brown and Stan would feature on the Boogie Brothers album with them. Completing this all new Savoy Brown line-up were guitarist Miller Anderson, bass player Jimmy Leverton and Eric Dillon on drums.

Despite Kim Simmonds predictions that this would be the definitive Savoy Brown line-up it soon dissolved leaving Kim to rebuild again. And after leaving them, Stan Webb formed Broken Glass during 1975 with both Robbie Blunt and Miller Anderson on guitar, Rob Rawlinson on bass and Mac Poole on drums.

1976/77 saw Stan Webb revive and front a whole new version of Chicken Shack once more. And for the last forty years has continued to keep the band going with a succession of line-ups. And, particularly in places like Germany, they found that they still had a large and devoted following.

A typical set list from the mid-1990s was captured on a CD called ‘Stan the Man live’. Recorded at the Robin club, Bilston where he was a regular visitor for years. It is a great moment in his long and illustrious career captured for all time.

An album simply titled ‘Webb’ appeared in the early 2000s and this came with Stan appearing to go back in time and playing the blues again in a more relaxed fashion. A lovely album, indeed.

Stan is an amazing talent and his devotion to his craft has been extraordinary as, I think it is fair to say, that it has not been an easy ride for him. He puts enormous energy into his gigs but also mixes in humour and anecdotes. Stan also has great stage presence. His last major tour was alongside John Mayall and Mick Taylor. Sadly though his gigs are becoming rarer and rarer. I think it is also fair to say that Stan is one of a kind.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

No-Man – Returning Jesus

No-Man – Returning Jesus
By Pete Clemons

No-Man are: Steven Wilson Tim Bowness

No-Man – Returning Jesus

I guess we could all make that great claim for a great band yet to be discovered. One that has been around for a while, that’s totally gotten into your soul, while all around nobody but nobody seems to bring them up in conversation.

Well for me that band is No-Man. And their splendid release from 2001 ‘Returning Jesus’, is getting a whole new makeover. In addition the original album will be accompanied by a host of other tracks recorded during the ‘Returning Jesus’ sessions.

Formed in the early part of 1990, eclectic art rock trio No-Man - previously known as ‘No Man Is an Island (Except the Isle Of Man)’. At the core of the band was vocalist Tim Bowness, Ben Coleman on Violin and Steven Wilson on guitars and keyboards.

No-Man released their first self-financed single ‘Colours’ in August of the same year. A sensuous reworking of a Donovan original, it quickly achieved the attention of the music press.

A second single ‘Days in the Trees’ described as ‘an ambitious attempt at fusing timeless classical grandeur and modern dance momentum’ achieved similar critical success and set the musical agenda for what was to follow.

The albums, ‘Lovesighs – An Entertainment’ released April 1992 and ‘Loveblows and Lovecries – A confession’ released May 1993, confirmed the promise of No-Man’s early singles and solidified their reputation as a creative entity and an ability for combining the extremes of pop and added experimentalism.

Among those who recognised the bands potential were ex-Japan members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn, who toured as No-Man’s backing band in October 1992 and contributed to the ‘Loveblows and Lovecries’ album.

During 1994 No-Man released their next album ‘Flowermouth’. During the sessions for the album the band lost violinist Ben Coleman who had made significant contributions towards it. No-Man would also stop performing live in 1994 and would not return to the live stage again until 2006.

‘Flowermouth’ featured significant contributions from Robert Fripp, Mel Collins, Steve Jansen and Lisa Gerard and further enhancing No-Man’s growing reputation.

And understandably, I guess, as the profile and workload of Steven Wilson’s other band ‘Porcupine Tree’ grew the less you began to hear of No-Man. Despite that new releases did continue to appear. During 1996 the album ‘Wild Opera’ was released soon to be followed by a companion release ‘Dry Cleaning Ray’ in 1997. A clear change of direction was noticeable with these releases. Gone had the more ‘danceable’ rhythms and in came darker, more powerful, jazzier tempos.

I personally cannot remember the initial release of ‘Returning Jesus’ as being heralded in in any great fashion. It had kind of evolved over four years or so after an EP of new material titled ‘Carolina Skeletons’ appeared in 1998. In an old newsletter released by the band during September 1999 mentioned that the much delayed new album, formerly titled ‘Lighthouse’ had been completed. It featured Steve Jansen, Colin Edwin, Ian Carr, Theo Travis, Ben Christophers and Ian Dixon and would be released early 2000. And then another newsletter from April 2000 simply mentioned that the new album would be available later that year. And then I remember at a Porcupine Tree gig I attended in Northampton during the early part of 2001, there it was on the ‘merch desk’.

A shimmering introduction soon to be followed by Ian Carr’s unmistakeable trumpet opens up ‘returning Jesus’ on a track called ‘Only Rain’. And through to its finale, the stunningly beautiful ‘All That you Are’ this is indeed as fine an album that I have ever heard.

‘Returning Jesus’ is as powerful and intense as it is delicate. And upon re-release it will be out there once again, just waiting to be discovered by a whole new generation of listeners. And its re-release date just happens to coincide with Steven Wilson’s 50th birthday.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tim Bowness, Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham - 30 September

Tim Bowness, Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham - 30 September

by Pete Clemons

It is not often I can say that I have attended a gig where not one song performed throughout the entire evening has been from a latest release.

But then this is Tim Bowness who, in terms of performing, is a kind of enigma to me. His gigs are few and far between, you don’t quite know what to expect. But what you can rely on is that the whole event will be a mixture of enjoyment and intensity and performed alongside a band that has wonderful dexterity.

Tim Bowness is probably best known as vocalist and co-writer with No-Man, a long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. And despite the lack of new material on offer this evening this was an almost faultless performance that left you feeling drained.

The gig itself formed part of a weekend of music and chat called the ‘Seventh Wave Electronic Music Festival’ and this particular evening was divided into to two sets. And accordingly the first set was totally taken up by a 30 minute plus layered, textured and improvised piece.

Opening up on a loop of Tim’s voice you really couldn’t slacken off the concentration levels for a second as each of the band namely Michael Bearpark on guitar, Andrew Booker on drums, Colin Edwin bass and Stephen Bennett keyboards displayed their individual and almost telepathic like skills throughout. It was absolutely sublime and spell-binding.

After a short break the band reappeared and treated the audience to the more familiar format of a song set. The tunes included an opening number of ‘The Great Electric Teenage Dream’ from the ‘Stupid Things That Mean the World’ album and ‘Dancing for You’ from the ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ album.

Inevitably the No-Man catalogue was also dipped into by way of ‘All the Blue Changes’, ‘Wherever There is Light’ and ‘Mixtaped’ amongst others.

But I guess the surprise of the evening went to ‘Days Turn into Years’ from the Bowness/Peter Chilvers collaboration album ‘California, Norfolk’.

And while on the subject of Bowness and Chilvers, a long awaited follow-up to ‘California, Norfolk’ is almost complete and will hopefully see light of day during 2018.

All in all 2017 has been a good year for Tim. His latest release ‘Lost in the Ghost Light’ has at long last seen him get the long overdue recognition he so richly deserves. This includes conducting more interviews than ever done previously and even seeing the artwork for his record gaining national attention by being awarded ‘Album Cover of the Year’ at the recent progressive music awards ceremony.

And all this has given rise to an interest in Plenty, the band Tim was a member of, pre No-Man and during the 1980s. In fact, two Plenty tracks made their way into early No-Man shows and one song - along with Days in the Trees - was part of the reason No-Man got signed to the One Little Indian label back in 1991.

16 of those tracks written in the 1980s have been reworked and re-recorded with all involved excited and very pleased with the results. This too will be released during 2018 if not sooner. Due to being in the autumn of life I don’t like using phrases that appear to waste time away but being honest………… I cannot wait. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Bee Gees – Benn Hall, Rugby 1967

The Bee Gees – Benn Hall, Rugby 1967
by Pete Clemons

This coming December sees a show advertised as ‘Jive Talkin’ perform The Bee Gees – ‘The timeless repertoire of the Bee Gees is brought to life in this stunning stage production’. And this show is being held at the ‘Benn Memorial Hall’ in Rugby.

And after seeing this show advertised it immediately struck me if the folk who run the Benn Hall nowadays were aware that the real Bee Gees once appeared at their venue.

So I threw a comment onto their Facebook page to stimulate a bit of debate on the subject. I am not sure they took my comment to seriously initially. But thankfully ex Pinkerton Assorted Colours guitarist, Tom Long who has a wealth of local knowledge, became involved in the conversation and added more meat to the bone.

After immigrating to Australia in 1958, from Manchester, the Gibb Brothers soon continued the singing career they had begun in England. And it was in 1963 that the Gibb brothers first made the Australian charts with a song they had written. By 1966 they were voted Australia’s best singing group.

The Gibbs then decided to try their luck back in England and made the return journey. On arrival back they contacted every agency they could. They were soon contacted by Robert Stigwood who, at that time, was joint managing director of NEMS Enterprises along with Brian Epstein. Within days of that approach they had been signed up.

It was decided soon that the Bee Gees had to extend their range and become more of a band and so alongside Barry, Maurice and Robin would have been fellow Australians, guitarist Vince Melouney and drummer Colin Peterson.

Australian born Robert Stigwood was a dynamic manager and impresario, and his organisation would have presented the concert as he personally managed the Bee Gees. Robert was famed for his fanaticism and perfection in musical accomplishment.

Almost immediately he had the Bee Gees on the road and they were playing venues up and down the country and this included a visit to the Benn Hall 50 years ago, during October 1967 incredibly, at the same time the hit single ‘Massachusetts (The Lights Went Out In)’ was topping the charts.

As far as my research has taken me I believe the set list for the Rugby gig would have been something like: Massachusetts, Turn of the Century, Holiday, In My Own Time, Jingle Jangle, New York Mining Disaster 1941, I Can’t See Nobody, Gilbert Green, To Love Somebody and Spicks and Specks.

In fact 1967 was an incredibly busy year for the band. Apart from the hectic touring they released the album ‘Bee Gees 1st’ (actually their third studio album) during July. It was however the band’s first ever album release for the Polydor label.

During an interview by Barry Gibb at the time he mentioned how they drove the producers and technicians mad as they had nothing knocked out for the album. Apparently they sat about, thought up a subject, and wrote a song on the spot. It seems they did the whole of the ‘Bee Gees 1st’ LP like that. It was spontaneous and off the cuff.

By 1968 the band had completed a tour of the U.S. and was touring Scandinavia and the U.K. with a full orchestra under the direction of Robert Stigwood.

Tom Long’s own recollections along with a guy he knows who worked at the Benn Hall at that time of the Benn Hall ultimately came up with the following list of bands and artists that also appeared at the venue: the Small Faces, Status Quo, The Kinks, The Walker Brothers, Long John Baldry, Jeff Beck band with Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Zoot Money and possibly Joe Cocker.

Tom’s friend who sold the food also mentioned that ‘all the bands had their pre-gig meal taken down to the dressing room’. The Bee Gees apparently came to the kitchen to collect their own. What a memory!

Chic and the Coventry Dance Club Scene

By Pete Clemons

The 70s UK disco era, an import from America, covered a broad brush of music styles. I wasn’t the keenest of fans but, like many, I admit to spending time in the many clubs around Coventry back then that played ’disco’ music. Not only that, I also admit to enjoying some of the records that those venues introduced you to.

The Detroit Emeralds, Al Green, The Delfonics, The Detroit Spinners, Billy Paul, Donna Summer, Rose Royce, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were just some of the names, off the top of my head – there were many more I’m sure – that I listened to and genuinely enjoyed.

And a lot of those clubs, along with others around the Midland’s, would occasional play host to those names and put them on for a night or more. Mr Georges, The City Centre Club, Baileys in Leicester and Romeo and Juliet’s in Birmingham immediately spring to mind.

The late 70s saw the disco genre hit its peak having been boosted by the incredibly successful film and soundtrack, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, which was set around and based upon what was happening within the New York culture at that time.

But that period also seemed to be the springboard for another huge wave of music that was quickly seized upon by the disco fraternity. And this was a kind of funky rock sound that was very danceable and endeared itself to the whole disco scene.

And one of the pioneers of this new sound was a band called Chic. And Chic took the disco to a whole new level. They were incredibly innovative and brought with them a whole new fresh sound.

Chic were Nile Rodgers on guitar and bass player Bernard Edwards who had originally both met as session players during the early 1970s. Apparently inspired by the music of Roxy Music Nile, along with Bernard began the process of forming Chic during 1976.

In fact Nile Rodgers had been involved in a minor UK hit with a band called New York City and a song called ‘I’m Doin’ Fine Now’. It even led to his first Top of the Pops appearance.

Firstly the pair brought in drummer Tony Thompson and then vocalist Norma Jean Wright who was the primary singer on the first Chic album that included the band’s first major hits ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’ and ‘Everybody Dance’ during 1977. Incidentally these songs also saw Luther Vandross providing backing vocals.

Norma then left soon after to per-sue a solo career and this saw the band enlisted the services of Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin as replacements.

Chic had signed to Atlantic Records who, at that time, had bands like Led Zeppelin and Yes on their label. The powers that be at Atlantic thought that the next idea for a single ‘Le Freak’ was not particularly good and suggested it would not sell. ‘Le Freak’ turned out to be a massive hit. It was energetic and sharp. It had a melody that seemed to cross over to other genres and took its place as one of the biggest ever selling songs for the label.

1979 was a huge year for the band. It was also the year that saw the highest number of singles sold in the U.K. during a calendar year. And four of those hits belonged to Chic. And those hits led to several Top of the Pops appearances in front of upwards of 20 million viewers which equated to almost a third of the population.

At the same time Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards were collaborating with other bands including Sister Sledge and Sheila B Devotion who a year earlier had had a minor hit with a not so inspiring version of ‘Singing in the Rain’.

In the words of Nile ‘I gave my time and effort to either revive flagging careers or to begin others’.