Steve Harley – the frontman, and songwriter for Cockney Rebel. Sometimes he records under his solo name and sometimes as S H and C R and occasionally simply as Cockney Rebel. But the original Cockney Rebel simply made 5 albums (three as Cockney Rebel and 2 as Steve Harley and) and Steve discarded the band and name in 1978 with his first real solo effort Hobo With A Grin. Wow, what an album. Great songs from the word go! ‘Roll The Dice’ as a great single, ‘America The Brave’ a superb critique and ‘Living In A Rhapsody’ a haunting ballad – but the prize must go to ‘Riding The Waves (for Virginia Wolff)’ – great song with a lovely rousing chorus. Harley followed this in ’79 with The Candidate. Never sure of this album, on replaying, it sounds a bit slung together, the songs lack depth and quality, however 2 tracks stand out; the title track and ‘Who’s Afraid, which harks back to his old Cockney rebel past. Then nothing for a decade. A few half-hearted singles and writing for Rod Stewart (see S) but no album. Finally in 1992 he scrambled together an album of re-recorded older songs, and a few newer songs. I haven’t listened to this album in a few years now, and it sounds remarkably vivid and new. Strange how my memory was that this was a poor album, however it does contain 2 brilliant songs ‘Irresistible’ and ‘Star For A Week’ this last the story of Dino, a teenager who has run off with his motorbike robbing banks and shooting people and his wish to just be somebody – truly one of his best songs. But re-listening I am really enjoying the songs, and the production is vibrant with Steve’s voice high up in the mix. He followed this in 1996 with an album called Poetic Justice – and really it must rate as the poorest in his entire career. The songs are unconvincing and the band sound very ordinary indeed, he even does a couple of half-hearted covers, best of which is Dylans ‘Love Minus Zero’ and a re-recording of ‘Riding The Waves’. 1999 saw Stripped to the Bare Bones – a brilliant live acoustic album. Beautiful guitar from Robin Gladwell and piano and violin and not much else. I saw him a few times around this time, and yes, he was brilliant live; raw and impassioned versions from his entire career, including old Cockney Rebel favourites. Great stuff; best are ‘Star For A Week’ ‘Sebastian’’ and ‘Riding the Waves’; the sound is much more akin to his old Cockney Rebel records – and is highly enjoyable. Most artists simply churn out old stuff with no new input, but here Steve reinterprets, or rather re-invigorates his old hits. Another CD of Steve singing with the same small Acoustic set up came out in 2002 (on a different label – so not sure what was going on there) called Acoustic and Pure. This though features more of his solo later work with only a couple of Cockney Rebel songs. Pretty damn good again. Best songs are ‘Nothing is Sacred’ and ‘All In A Life’s Work’. 2005 and Steve released an album of new songs called The Quality of Mercy. A somewhat quieter, more reflective album, the songs seem more personal. I like it, it has less of the anger and vivid lyrics but is gentler and easier on the ear. Best tracks; ‘The Last Goodbye’, ‘Coast of Amalfi’ and ‘A Friend For Life’. Then another live set, again on a different label called Anytime, Anywhere came out a couple of years later. Again, excellent – but just how many similar live albums do you need….no need to answer that. But then in 2010 – a new album of new material Stranger Comes to Town. Strangely I have never got into this record, the songs are okay, the singing good – but somehow it seems a bit lacklustre; as if this was not the album Steve really wanted to make. Hard, after 40 years to come up with something meaningful and original I suppose. Still I am not enamoured with this offering. Much better was 2016’s Birmingham, which was a re-recording of the first two Cockney Rebel albums – but with a full orchestra and choir. Maybe it is just the familiarity of these songs – after all, I have lived with them for all of those 40 odd years – some, almost constant companions. I am not sure the orchestra really adds that much to the sparser originals – but still a valiant effort. Just received, but not really listened to is his latest (2020) offering Uncovered, a covers album of personal favourites. Just the one listen and I am quite impressed – this will go into my playlist soon. And just to round up, a couple of compilation albums – A Closer Look, which came out on the late Seventies and feature mostly Rebel songs but a couple from Steve’s first solo albums. And Face to Face – a live album of Cockney Rebel, when they really were an excellent live band; a scorching version of George’s ‘Here Come The Sun’ and a few anthemic sing-a-longs. Nothing revolutionary, but still a great couple of records. So, that was Steve Harley – a long career, but focussing on the early years when the songs blistered on the turntable. Ah…the Seventies – best of times.
Steve Hackett – later days. And what a return to form. 1993’s Guitar Noir is really one of his very best records. A beautiful selection of varied songs, some heavy rock, some gorgeous melodies and occasional acoustic guitar. He manages to sound different on every track and yet the same unique Steve Hackett sound overall. Hard to pick a favourite from so many good songs; maybe the first three ‘Sierra Quemada’, ‘Take these pearls’ and ‘There Are Many Sides To The Night’ – which incidentally happens to be the title of his next (live) album. I bought this as a double 2 cds some time in late 90’s but it was a 1995 release – There Are Many Sides To The Night. This is a lovely live record of a mostly solo set by Steve where he plays sumptuous mostly acoustic guitar pieces. He had released a couple of classical guitar albums in the late 80’s and a blues one too, so lots of tracks I hadn’t heard before – and some that were familiar have softer arrangements on this recording. The Genesis Files is up next, and album from 1999 where Steve both revisits and re-interprets some of the songs he wrote for Genesis or was inspired by, A couple of new numbers ‘Valley of the kings’ and ‘Waiting Room Only’, and some fine old tracks re-recorded – best of which is ‘Firth of Fifth’. My next album is To Watch The Storms (2003). A really excellent album, lots of variety and including a song by Thomas Dolby (see D) ‘The Devil is An Englishman. I am often amazed how artists keep coming up with new songs, and in Steve’s case, entirely new sounds – but he does, and of all the Genesis musicians, who have all pursued solo careers, he has released far more and varied records than the others. I remember I bought this CD in Orleans while we were driving back to England, recognising it instantly by the Kim Poor cover. And it really is a great album. Hard to pick best tracks really but here goes; some of the tracks are really heavy rock, some blue, some acoustic and some have a fairground feel. But standouts are ‘Circus of Becoming’, Come Away’ and ‘Serpentine Song’. Really one of his best albums. He followed this with Wild Orchids (2006) another strong and varied album. Some artists simply keep getting better, writing stronger songs and producing amazing albums; not many, but some. Best songs; opener ’Transylvanian Express’, the sinister ‘Down Street’, sung in his mock horror voice and the Dylan classic ‘Man In The Long Dark Coat’. But really a splendid record with not a filler or duff track on it, full of surprising sound effects and interludes of delicate guitar. My next album is Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth )2009), which despite its title is quite a gentle album, at least in large part – there are a few louder heavy songs but a surprisingly lyrical feel mostly. Best songs are the last two, ‘Still Waters’ and ‘Last Train To Istanbul’ – with its eastern feel. A nice record all round. My last is Live Rails, which was from the tour promoting Tunnels mouth, and it is a really dynamic live album, lots of old favourites and some really loud stuff. A great way to end on.
Steve Hackett – Early Years. The guitarist in the classical Genesis. Peter Gabriel was in the process of leaving and during touring for ‘The lamb Lies Down’ Steve passed his time composing random pieces of music. After Peter left he discovered that the remaining trio had grown closer and the songs for the next two Genesis albums tended to exclude his efforts. Not that there was ever much acrimony, in fact Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins both played on Steve’s debut solo album Voyage Of the Acolyte (1975), which was released a full years before Steve decided to leave the band. The random pieces were polished up into an album; Steve choosing to name each track after Tarot Cards, which of course bore no resemblance to the songs (well, it was the Seventies). Anyway, the album was a surprise hit with the public, reaching 26 in the album charts. Maybe this was because the sound harked back to the Genesis sound of Foxtrot and Nursery Crime. Anyway, as an avid Genesis fan, I bought the album. And was delighted; mostly instrumental because Steve was conscious that he had never sung on a Genesis album, even backing vocals. Standout track is ‘Shadow of the Heirophant’ with it’s imfectious and gorgeous melody, shifts in pace and superb vocals by Sally Oldfield. But in fact the whole album is superb. It makes you think that really Steve Hackett was maybe the soul of Genesis, overshadowed as he was by Peter Gabriel’s vocals. Other notable tracks are ‘Ace of Wands’ and ‘Hands of the Priestess’. What a great debut album.
Well, three years later and Steve had left Genesis and produced his second solo album Please Don’t Touch. And what an album, really my favourite of all his records. Every track is different and brilliant. And three different guest vocalists present the songs in such a gorgeous light. Randy Crawford sings ‘Hoping Love Will Last’ a great soul track. Richie Havens sings two songs, best of which is ‘How Can I’ possibly his finest composition – and oh that voice I remember so well from the film and album Woodstock. But also some other great songs ‘Narnia’ and ‘Racing in A’, and a great instrumental; the title track itself. Seriously, one of my very favourite records. The following year he brought out Spectral Mornings, another great album. No guest singers this time, though again Steve barely sang, leaving these duties to Pete Hicks. He had formed a new touring band who recorded the album. Some great songs – and again, such a variety, even in the same song; which was very Genesis. Best songs ‘Every Day’, ‘Tigermoth’ (a WW1 tale) and ‘The Ballad Of The Decpmposing Man’, which is a comedy, almost throw-away track – but with an infectious melody and mock Northern vocals from Steve who also plays pipe organ and harmonica on the track. There is also a Spanish Guitar track and a Japanese Koto instrumental and a superb guitar led title track to close the album; truly an accomplished record – but which somehow doesn’t quite have the warmth of its predecessor. The following year saw Defector (1980). Now, for whatever reason I never really liked this album, despite it being his best seller. No accounting for taste of course, but I felt there were too many instrumentals and a harsher sound. Still not so bad – best songs were ‘Time to get Out’ and. ‘Sentimental Institution’.
Steve had toured continuously since joining Genesis and for three years as a solo artist and was exhausted. He disbanded his backing group and took a three month break with his wife Kim Poor in her native Brazil. Here he recovered and worked on songs with his keyboard player Nick Magnus for both a new album and a warmer more ‘Rock’ or even ‘Pop’ oriented style. The resulting album’s title Cured (1981) says it all. The album still retained a couple of heavier instrumental tracks , but more vocals, all by Steve himself now, and a gentle almost classical guitar track. I much preferred it to Defector; it is warmer and the songs are better. Favourites are opener ‘Hope I don’t wake up’, ‘Cradle of Swans’ and ‘Turn Back time’. In 1983 Steve released Highly Strung. Apparently he was having major difficulties with his record label Charisma, and the recording sessions were fraught. However, the album is really good; a bit rockier than most and some good tunes. Favourites are ‘Camino Royale’, ‘Cell 151’ and ‘Walking through Walls’. Then after one more album I didn’t get Steve seems to have stopped recording for a few years, not sure why…I missed out on a couple but resumed in 1993
Groove Armada Introduced to me by my daughter Laura, who loves dance music. The record she bought me was Vertigo (1999) , and I was immediately entranced; the band are really a duo, who are supplemented both in the studio and live by other musicians, and most notably vocalists. Vertigo was actually their second album and very accomplished it is. It features the singles ‘I See You Baby’ and ‘At The River’ (which has been used in many adverts and documentaries). It is really quite varied too, with a handful of fast funky infectious tracks like ‘Chicago’ and some slower songs like the sublime ‘At the River’. A lovely album; I especially love the use of the trumpet, sometimes muted and sometimes bleating. The following year they brought out ‘Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub’ – which was supposed to be a more clubby record, but there were still some bucolic tracks, in fact the last few tracks are all quite slow. Best songs were the huge hit ‘Superstylin’ and the charming ‘My Friend’. I must admit that the simply instrumental tracks left me wondering….just a groove with no direction home. Next up is Black Light (2010). It seems that Groove Armada were on half working time, barely producing anything new for a few years. Black Light (2010) is my next album of theirs. And a very disco-ish record it is, lots of female vocals (and even a track sung by Brian Ferry). Very dancey but almost all the same beat throughout, almost as if it is the same song really. Best tracks – ‘Warsaw’ and ‘History’ – but nothing really like their earlier stuff. I also have a double album 10 YR Story – which is basically remixes of some of their old songs. Quite nice, especially disc 2 which is all slow stuff. ; a lovely long version of ‘Blue Skies’. But probably only for hardcore fans. And of course the obligatory Greatest Hits, which is sometimes all you need. This record would be great for a dancey party, but listening on your own ? Not so great.
Macy Gray – Well, almost a one hit wonder. Her debut album sold incredibly well thanks to the hit singles, but since then she has struggled to make an impact. Strange, as On How Life Is – was such a great album. But I, like so many, only ever bought the first record. Saying that this was a really excellent record; a subtle mix of Soul, Blues with a dash of hip-Hop (thankfully only a dash). Best songs – the big hit single ‘I Try’ and ‘ A Moment To Myself’ and ‘Why Didn’tcha Call Me’. Still enjoyed listening to it.
Carol Grimes – well, another in the long list of artists you probably haven’t heard of. Which is a pity as Carol was a vocalist of rare talent. I discovered her, like so many other, by accident. There was a pub in North Finchley, called I believe The Torrington. One evening, after a meal at the local Chinese, Joy and I went for a drink there. I distinctly remember they were playing tracks from Band On The Run, so it must have been 1974 0r 75. Then the live band came on, and it was Carol Grimes with her band. And wow, she blew me away. Now she has never been a ‘hit’ artist but has steadily plodded on through the years, with rock and jazz and bluesy records. I worked back and her first album was Warm Blood (1974). This was a typical early Seventies rock and blues album, quite listenable but not remarkable really. Best songs are ‘You’re the Only One’ and ‘Wait For me Down By The River’. But not a bad solo effort. The following years eponymous album Carol Grimes was much better, always loved the cover with her and her son. This is much better, the songs are more distinctive and better production. Best songs are ‘Brand New Tomorrow’, ‘My Baby Specialises’ and ‘Dynamite’.
She seems to have stopped recording for a few years, maybe bringing up her son, or teaching music. But in 1986 she re-emerged with a new band and a new album Eyes Wide Open, and she had discovered Jazz. This is a great album and definitely not pop or rock. The jazz arrangements allow Carol’s remarkable voice, a slightly softer version of Janis Joplin (see J) to come to the fore. There is space for her to swoop and dive around the melodies. More and more I like this record – some great songs – ‘Your Blues’ (a tribute to jazz and soul musicians and singers) ‘Mau Mau’ a sort of autobiographical song) and ‘Alexandra Dance’. Of course the critics and the public largely ignored this comeback, but luckily she was still able to continue making records. Daydreams and Danger came out in 1988; another very good jazz infused album, some tracks recorded live and some in the studio. Best tracks –‘ Heart to Heart’, the title track and ‘Mental Mood’. I haven’t really had this album so long and am still really appreciating it. I really should listen to it more often – but, you know how it is. Why Don’t They Dance followed a year later; another jazz infused collection of songs, some standards and a few originals. Her voice is quite incredible and she suits the scat-sinigng jazz style. Though in a way it gets a bit repetitive. Still, a competent record – best songs ‘Heart in my Hnads’, ‘Two Step’ and ‘Stay With Me Baby’. 1990 saw a duet album with a jazz-singer Ian Shaw – Lazy Blue Eyes. A sumptuous album with sparse arrangements and a beautiful blend of their two voices. Some great songs too – the title track, ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most’, and ‘The Snake’. This was the album that I spotted and made me realise that Carol was indeed recording again – and I went back and found the previous three records. The last (so far) in my Carol Grimes collection is Live At Ronnie Scotts, a 1996 recording, with a very small band of piano and drums and bass. A very nice record again which allows her voice to fill the sound completely. Fave tracks – ‘Solitude’, ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Who Do You Want’. She still records and releases the occasional record, but they are rarely available, even on Amazon.
Grandaddy – an American Indie band. Just the one CD; Under the Western Freeway (1997), This was their debut album; I had read the review but found it a few years later in a charity shop. It is quite an interesting record; a few unusual sounds, some sweet vocals and unusual songs. But….as so often I am left wondering exactly what it was all about, it simply went in one ear and out the other. I am afraid that my capacity to take in and appreciate new music, in this case American Indie, is limited. I am stuck in old grooves mostly, preferring singer-songwriters and bands that I know and instantly recognise. Never mind.
David Gray – became famous with the release of his fourth album White Ladder.(1998). No-one had really noticed him before this, yet somehow he managed to get it all together with this record. His song-writing was as good as ever, but it was the introduction of infectious beats which brought him to a larger audience. The album though released in 97 did not do anything at first but slowly it grew and grew, especially with the release of hit singles and reached number one in 2001. It is a wonderful record. Almost every track is a winner. If I have to choose favourites then of course the two big singles ‘Babylon’ and ‘Sail Away’ – but actually the best is the final track – a cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ which is almost better than the original. I then worked back and bought the predecessor; Sell, Sell, Sell (1996). A much rockier album but still pretty good. Best songs ‘Late Night Radio’, ‘Magdalene’ and ‘Forever is Tomorrow is Today’. Quite a satisfying record but originally it sold hardly at all, it was only after the success of White Ladder that people like me discovered it. His next album was Lost Songs 95 – 98. These were written prior to his breakthrough but recorded as White Ladder was taking off and released in 2001. And a strangely subdued set of songs they mostly are; all that lightness of touch of White Ladder seems to be dulled down a bit. Despite that it is quite a nice record – best songs; ‘Flame Turns Blue’ and ‘January Rain’. But we were all waiting for something new and the following year he brought out A New Day At Midnight. Well, White ladder it wasn’t; that slow dance beat was missing from most of the tracks. Saying that his voice was as plaintive as ever and the songs pretty good too. Favourites are ‘Dead in The Water’, ‘Be Mine’ and ‘The Other Side’. Another number one album which he followed three years later with Life In Slow Motion. Well, it seemed to me that David was sinking into some self-obsessed oblivion. It was as if all the lightness of White Ladder had dissipated. Not that some songs weren’t quite good, it was just that the whole feel of the album was a huge downer. A couple of good songs though; ‘Ain’t No Love’ and ‘Disappearing World’. I sort-of gave up on him at this point and resolved to not buy him anymore. My daughter Laura however did buy me his next effort Draw The Line (2009). I must admit, the record is okay, but somehow I had grown tired of David Gray. He still sounds pretty miserable and his songs are very samey, although he has a couple of faster numbers on this record. I haven’t really managed to get into this album but a couple of the songs are okay – ‘Stella the Artist’ rocks and the duet with Aniie Lennox (see l) Full Steam is quite good. He has continued to release the occasional album but so far I haven’t been tempted. A few years ago he lamented that the success of White Ladder had pigeonholed him and boxed him in. I wonder what hw would have been doing without it though….
Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. A Scottish band I know almost nothing about. It started with my buying a CD single of theirs, more for the interesting cover because I had never heard of them – but the name, a title of a book by Jean Rhys, intrigued me too. I liked it and bought a couple of others and then the album Hammer and Tongs. (1991). This was their second album, they had some bad luck with record companies and struggled to get a decent deal. Anyway, as a curio I quite like it, they had an enthusiasm and wrote good songs. Strangely both their albums and CD singles are now rarities and hard to come by. Girl backup singer Shirley Manson went on to form Garbage (see G) but the rest of the band drifted into other bands with little success. Best songs ‘Now we are Married’ and ‘Love Child’. I also used to have their debut album Good Deeds And Dirty Rags on vinyl, and it is very hard to find now on CD, but it was just as good as Hammer and Tongs. One of those mysteries why they never made it; makes you realise just how many really good bands failed and have been lost.
Phillip Goodhand-Tait – Ah, one of my very very favourites. A singer-songwriter from the Seventies- of course. The gentlest and most expressive voice and a good writer of strong yet gentle songs. I first heard of him, when in 1973 he had a couple of minor hit singles. He had been picked up by Elton’s record label DJM, who tried to make him into a (reluctant) pop star. I bought the eponymous album and worked backwards. The first album he made solo (he was in a band earlier – see later) was Rehearsal (1971). A bit of a curate’s egg – good in places. He was obviously trying to find his style – a few sort of rocky numbers and one or two nicer slower songs, the best of which are ‘Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday’, ‘Heaven help Belinda’ and ‘Lean On Me’. Getting better was the same year’s I Think I’ll Write A Song. Here he was developing into a classic Singer-Songwriter; excellent melodies and thoughtful words – best are ‘Oh Roseanna’ ,’Cold Winter’ and ‘Who Laid Your Loving Down’. Best of all was 1972’s Songfall, with it’s bleak grey cover, a gentle collection of unique and wonderful songs. This is probably my favourite of Phillip’s albums – almost every song is a classic, but if I have to choose it would of course be ‘Leon’, ‘When Will I Be loved’ and the Buddy Holly classid ‘Every Day’. It is hard to improve on Buddy Holly but this version is simply heartbreakingly good.
Then came the ‘Pop-Star’ period, where the record company (the same one as Elton was on back then) decided he might look good in coloured satin shirts and he did indeed have a minor hit with the splendid ‘You Are’. The album was simply entitled Phillip Goodhand-Tait (now, when the record company brings out a self-titled record after 3 others, you know it is a re-launch of some sort). Well the record is a bit more upbeat, in fact a far too poppy and glitzy production. Some good songs however – the ‘Hit’ single (his only one) ‘You Are’ and my very favourite of all his songs ‘Warm Summer Rain’. But somehow the record disappoints – trying too hard to make him sound ‘modern’. And it failed too – bad promotion and changes at the top of the record company and Phillip was summarily dropped. He did find a home with Chrysalis Records and had 2 albums with them before diminishing returns and Phil pursuing other interests in music promotion and new digital formats and he stoped recording for many years. But before that the last two albums – Oceans Away (1976) – well a much gentler sound, a bit more middle of the road too. A good set of songs, but somehow some of the magic was missing. Best tracks – The title track, ‘Old Fashioned Love’ and ‘Gabrielle’. The following year he released ‘Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks (with a pretty awful cover). It is not a great record, by any means; it feels as if his heart wasn’t in it anymore – and maybe it wasn’t. The songs seem to lack depth and the production is blandly boring. Oh well.
Then I heard nothing for years and years – Phil had moved onto other music production and digital stuff. He apparently released a record in 1980 but it is not on CD and I cannot find a download anywhere. But then, by chance, I saw that he was recording again. But before that we had Radio Songs, some live recordings made in 1977 for Radio Bremen. This was released a few years ago – and simply lovely it is too, although a bit subdued – more like demos than a concert performance. A couple of new tracks but nothing too remarkable. And then I discovered that after 40 odd years Phillip was recording again – on his own record label. First up is An Evening With Peggy Sue (2003). Only one or two newer songs, quite a few covers of Buddy Holly and some old favourites, but a nice relaxing record – for fans only, I suspect. Best songs ‘One Road’, ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘The Peacemaker’. Then three years later an album of new songs The Last Laugh, where a couple of the songs deal with old age and impending death, but with a lightness that dispels any gloom. Best songs are ‘Old Fools In Love Again’ and ‘The Paradise Grill’ – but pleasant as these are, they ‘aint a patch on his 70’s stuff. Then came an album of his first band Thr Stormville hakers. Called Ricky-Ticky. . Not my stuff really but part of the historical record, so I bought it. In fact, it isn’t so bad, some of the songs are quite god – and a very decent version of the Sandie Shaw hit ‘Long Live Love’. The final Phillip album is a double –The Age of Bewilderment, this was a 2012 album of a live show – Phil singing a selection of his songs and Dave Sherington (who used to be in his old band The Stormville Shakers playing Sax) doing comedy monologues alternating with the songs. A lovely record actually,to be listened to maybe only occasionally – but with a smile on ones face. So, that was Phillip Goodhand-Tait, one of the music businesses unmentioned others, but a real favourite of mine.
Golden Earring – are a Dutch band who have been going for about 50 years now. I saw them back in the Seventies and bought their hit album. Since then they have dropped off my radar. I did buy a double disc of 2 of their later (80’s I think) albums; Paradise in Distress – is okay (if you like straight rock, which of late I have really tired of). A few good melodies but a quite conventional sound. Better was a live album Naked 2, quite good versions of their few hits plus a good version of Dylan’s ‘Wheels On Fire. I also have Radar Love – which is a Greatest Hits, best of which are the title track and ‘She Flies On Strange Wings’. I went through a phase of quite liking hard rock bands but nowadays I find them more than a bit boring.
Goldfrapp – are a twenty-first Century electronica duo. Alison Goldfrapp sings and Will Gregory provides the music. I was really impressed with their first album Felt Mountain (2000). There was nothing quite like it, a very distinctive and weird but compulsive sound. I saw them a couple of times and the shows were very theatrical with Alison donning an Alsatian head and strange dancers. However though I have followed them for a few years it has seemed to give slightly diminishing results with each passing record. The debut didn’t sell very well but on reflection I think it was their best work. Of course, with the multitude of music out there already it must be hard to come up with anything remotely new. Best songs on Felt Mountan are the ethereal ‘Lovely head’, ‘Human and ‘Utopia’. There is a timelessness about the album, the music both modern and almost classical at the same time – and Alison’s voice floating above the melody like an angel. 2003 saw Black Cherry – and a significant change in style. Gone was the weird vibrato and in came a harder disco sound on half the tracks. Not that it was unattractive, or unpopular, in fact this was quite a hit record, combining electronic folk on the slower tracks with an infectious updated 80’s feel to the fast ones. Best tracks ‘Crystalline Green’, ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Forever’, but really the album was all good. Even me, ever the sceptic concerning 80’s synths and disco, managed to enjoy it. As ever it was down to the quality of the song-writing; Will Gregory’s melodies and Alison’s lyrics and off-kilter imagery. In some ways this was a more successful record than their debut, but Felt mountain retains a special place for me. They followed this with another disco-ish album Supernature, which was another commercial success. Not so sure I liked this as much – best songs: ‘Ooh-La-La’ and Ride a White Horse’. 2008 saw a complete reversal and Seventh Tree was a far quieter, more ambient album. I liked it, but felt it lacked any real variation and was too samey. At least they had dropped the 80’s disco stomp – best songs ‘Happiness’, ‘A and E’ and ‘Cologne, Ceronne Houdini’. Head First -came out in 2009 and was a return to more dance-oriented music. Not that this is a bad reord, the tunes are quite good, but there is nothing new here….and fatally nothing that remains in the brain once the CD ends. Best song is the lead single .Rocket, but even this is instantly forgotten ten minutes later. The last album of theirs I have is Tales Of Us from 2013. A return to the pastoralism of Seventh Tree, but slightly better arrangements and songs. The songs are all named after characters and apparently there is a concept behind them, though what that is appears as obscure as some of the sound on the record. Lots of orchestra and soft piano and guitar, which I should love, but somehow the album had never gelled with me, although on a couple of re-listens it does begin to grow on you. I am always expecting more – and maybe the truth is that there is no more – no new styles to discover, no new feelings to emote, no new genre…. But the sounds they created on Felt Mountain were so unique they could have gone further along that new trail. Instead they sought popularity and began retreading old themes. Oh well..
Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. A Scottish band I know almost nothing about. It started with my buying a CD single of theirs, more for the interesting cover because I had never heard of them – but the name, a title of a book by Jean Rhys, intrigued me too. I liked it and bought a couple of others and then the album Hammer and Tongs. (1991). This was their second album, they had some bad luck with record companies and struggled to get a decent deal. Anyway, as a curio I quite like it, they had an enthusiasm and wrote good songs. Strangely both their albums and CD singles are now rarities and hard to come by. Girl backup singer Shirley Manson went on to form Garbage (see G) but the rest of the band drifted into other groups with little success. Best songs ‘Now we are Married’ and ‘Love Child’. I also used to have their debut album Good Deeds And Dirty Rags on vinyl, and it is very hard to find now on CD, but it was just as good as Hammer and Tongs. One of those mysteries why they never made it; makes you realise just how many really good bands failed and have been lost.
Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man. Beth Gibbons, vocalist extraordinaire with Portishead (see P) and bass player Paul Webb from Talk Talk under the pseudonym of Rustin man, decided to make an album Out of Season in 2002. Portishead, for all their success in the nineties have been very slow at releasing any new material. I know nothing about Paul Webb really, but together they have managed to make a hauntingly beautiful album. Harking back to the quietude of Nick Drake (see D) the album drifts in and out of your consciousness, accompanied by subtle strings and woodwind and Webb’s bass. Gibbons sings strange sad songs in an often bluesy drawl. I love this record, if only for it’s quirkiness. Best songs – opener ‘Mysteries’, ‘Tom the Model’ and ‘Funny Time Of year’ where she sounds quite like Billie Holiday on Strange Fruit. So far no hint of a follow up, or indeed anything new from Portishead-though Beth has recorded with an orchestra a Gorecki Symphony (ordered but not played yet).
Dave Gilmour – he of Pink Floyd (see P). Just one album, On An Island (2006), and pretty though it is, it ‘aint Pink Floyd. Some nice guitar work and gentle songs but I think he needed the contrariness of Roger Waters (see W). The album is pleasant enough but with his history we expected more. To be honest I have just played it twice and it is hard now for me to recall anything which stuck in my brain.
Godley& Crème – There once was a band called 10cc (see T) who had quite a bit of chart success in the Seventies. Four incredibly talented writers who maybe had gone as far as they could as a unit split in 1977. Well to be fair Kevin Godley and Lol Crème split from the band who continued for a few more years. Initially the pair wanted to develop a device they had invented, a Gizmotron or “Gizmo”, which basically could hold and sustain a guitar note or chord to develop a multitude of effects. Of course this soon became obsolete as synthesisers could do the job on a keyboard where the Gizmo had to be subtly played on guitar. Anyway, partly in order to promote the Gizmo, and partly because they had written a raft of songs and music the pair conceived a concept album Consequences, which grew and grew into a triple album. They decided to incorporate a play within the music about a divorce settlement being hammered out in a musician’s attic, against a backdrop of the world descending into climate chaos with fires floods and hurricanes being played out on the Gizmo. Vocalist Sarah Vaughan also sang some of the songs. I loved the album, especially the spoken excerpts where Peter Cook uses four different voices and wrote some amazingly funny dialogue. The record was lambasted at the time as overlong and over indulgent, especially as punk was in its brief heyday. A triumph of musicality too, with some beautiful melodies and great music. Overlong – yes, overindulgent – I should say so. But brilliant none the less. It was a flop, of course. But it is one of my most treasured albums – not least because it is only available as a Japanese double CD at an extortionate price.
Two years later a single album was released of Music from Consequences. No changes at all, just eight of the most lyrical songs from the album. I actually got this on CD before tracking down and buying the full album a few years later on CD.
L was released the following year and was a complete contrast, mostly faster and shorter songs with more rhythm and dynamics. Opening song ‘This Sporting Life’ is about suicide and ‘Punchbag’ subjects bullying – however this is far from a downbeat album, in fact it brims with infectious tunes. The album appears to be influenced by Zappa (see Z) in it’s jazzy notes and time signatures. A very entertaining record which demanded me listening three times in a row (which only some albums manage). Other favourite songs are ‘Sandwiches of You’ and the lazy sounding ‘Art School Canteen’. A complete contrast to the songs on consequences and the album sold quite well. The following year saw their third album Freeze Frame, which despite an incredible starter ‘An Englishman in New York’ seems to go off the boil somewhat with a lot of instrumentals. Mind you the last two songs ‘MugShots’ and ‘Get Well Soon’ a seemingly personal note to end the record with. Not quite the success that L was but they were still experimenting with sounds and recording techniques, some of which worked better than others.
Two years later and they hit the jackpot with their most successful album IsmIsm. Wow, what a record. From the opening track ‘Snack Attack’ about the desire for food to the sardonic sarcastic yet so realistic ‘The Party’ the album just rolls along. It also has two of their biggest singles hits – ‘Wedding bells’ and ‘Under Your Thumb’ – a cracker of an album. Two years later and the disappointing ‘Birds of Prey’ came along. Despite a few good songs the duo seemed to be running out of ideas – or maybe they were just moving into their second career as video directors for other artists. But this record seemed as thought hey were just treading water. Best tracks – ‘My Body the Car’ and ‘Save A mountain For Me’. Then a gap of two or three years and a strange record emerged – The History mix – Part 1. This was, possibly the first, re-mix album; a jumble of excerpts and stitched together and re-recorded bits from their time as a duo and also from their former band 10CC. Well, at the time I quite disliked this; I saw it as cheating – despite the fact that it did have one original song ‘Cry’, which was a huge single. But, as is often the case, now with the benefit of time passing I see it as quite creative really. Still a strange record – as if they were giving a finger to the record company. Anyway their last record in the late 80’s was far better – Goodbye Blue Sky. A much more conventional record – almost middle of the road by their standards. Nice melodies and easy to listen to, but a million miles away from Consequences. And, of course, the obligatory Greatest Hits – Images.
Genesis – Superstars – The 1980’s were, unlike for so many others, the most successful of years. The tight-knit trio seemed to have a charmed life; they all pursued solo projects; Tony Banks wrote some film scores and a handful of solo records; Mike Rutherford formed a new group altogether Mike and the Mechanics (see M) and Phil Collins literally flew off into the stratosphere. At the same time Genesis became huge, absolute Superstars. And those who had left – Peter Gabriel was untouchable too (see G) and Steve Hackett (see H) had a succession of great records and a very loyal following. There have always been rumpurs of a Genesis reunion, which have come to nothing – so far. The band though, supplemented by extra members live, continued to have phenomenal success.
As ever it was the songwriting which was the key. They simply managed to write great tunes, changing over the years but still retaining that special Genesis sound.
Duke appeared in 1980. The group had taken a few months off – Banks and Rutherford had released solo albums and Collins wrote one of the great break-up albums (he had split from his wife) which he released shortly after this record. There is something quite magical about this album. It flows and moves from song to song, and yet there are both slower love songs and the Genesis of old – longer more complex ones. My favourites are the two single ‘Misunderstanding’ and ‘Turn It On Again’ but ‘Duchess’ and ‘Man of Our Times’ are excellent. Phil Collins vocals have never been better and the ensemble playing is superb too. A great record. Followed by another a year later. The band were really flying with Abacab. Shorter radio-friendly and highly contagious songs – best are ‘No Reply At All’ and ‘Me and Sarah Jane’ as well as the hit single title track. There seemed no stopping them now – they were pop-royalty and everyone loved them. 1983 saw a self-titled album, which seems strange as it was their twelth studio album, but maybe this was more a decision of the record company than the band – who knows. The album Genesis was their most commercial to date and a number one album across the world. Almost every song is easily accessible and distinctive. Phil Collins was enjoying solo success too – though inevitably this very success turned on itself and he became a bit of a villain in the music press. But his voice and drumming on this record are immaculate. Best songs – ‘Mama’, ;Home By The Sea’ and ‘That’s All’. But by now any resemblance to the Genesis of Foxtrot or Lamb Lies Down were long since gone – though they still included some of the early songs in their huge World tours. Invisible Touch was their next offering. Three years had passed with each of the three pursuing their solo careers, and yet when they got back together they wrote the whole album in a few weeks. Another huge number one hit. Best songs, the title song, and ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ and ‘In Too Deep’. To be honest there was little difference now between Phil solo and Genesis records. I stopped buying both back then.
I have since caught up with one more Genesis album and a free one from the Daily mail of hits. We Can’t Dance came out in 1991. A five-year gap; and a quieter, more reflective album than the pop bravado of the last 4 records. It seems to have far more of Collins influence and is very similar to his later albums – so a tad on the boring side. But to have had 13 studio albums and worldwide success is a great achievement. Most of their fans still hark back to the classic lineup with Peter Gabriel, but there is no denying their immense popularity. They have been pretty inactive for over 20 years now, and occasionally there are rumours of a band reunion, though it seems none of them can be that bothered to make the effort. So bye for now to GENESIS