Stuart ‘Wooly’ Wolstenholme – Founder member of Barclay James Harves, one of my favourite ever bands. He was one of three songwriters – but quite quickly he seemed to be relegated to just two songs per album. A battle of egos and the usual musical differences (Stuart was the main driver of including classical music with the rock style of the band, whereas John and Les were veering more towards a disco-pop style) led to Wooly leaving the band after their album XII. He fairly soon released by far his best record Maestoso. A couple of the songs had been demoed by the band and rejected. It is a gorgeous record and most of the songs would have slotted well into BJH albums. Best songs are the title track, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘American Excess’. Anyway, he managed a short tour with a few friends before disappearing into the studio to produce his second solo effort. Not such a great album, and I think it only came out on cassette, but I may be wrong. Lately I bought the box set of all his solo recordings. Black Box Expanded is the second CD – the original plus a few demos and live versions. Funnily enough on re-listening I find I like it more now than at the time of the release. But somehow the songs don’t hang together well. Best are ‘Deceivers All’, ‘Has To be A Reason’ and ‘The Sunday Bells’. After two poor selling albums in the early 90s he retired from making music and started farming. Eventually the Barclays split up too – and his old friend from the band John Lees invited Stuart to sing with him on a tour and subsequent album. Mostly these were very early singles which Stuart and John had written. The tour encouraged Stuart to dig out some of his old music, and write a few more – and a new album emerged – One Drop In A Dry World. I have continued buying his music, more as a tribute to him and the band than out of their greatness. These albums are really for enthusiasts and devoted fans (like me) only and should be approached with caution. Stuart was a complex character – probably a manic depressive – certainly prone to depression and a strange sense of humour. Best songs are the title track, and ‘It’s You’. Fiddling Meanly – came out next – a one-off live concert at The Mean Fiddler. Nothing new, but some nice old BJH numbers to enjoy. Next up is Grim (Sense of humour required). Well, a bit of a curates egg really, some nice tracks and some – you wonder just why? No quality control and far too much on one CD. Maybe he just felt he had to get all this music out of his system. Anyway – best tracks are ‘Hebden Bridge’ and ‘Lark + Carp’. To be honest I was only buying his music to support him at this point. Caterwauling was his last album proper – and again it is far too long and seems unfocused; best songs are – the long track ‘Soldier Of Fortune’ – though almost a mini album itself and ‘Matilda Yarrow’. Poor Wooly, A very clever guy, maybe too clever and a victim of massive depressions – he committed suicide in 2010. A great loss and a pity as he was a superb songwriter and a very accomplished musician whose contributions, especially early on made Barclay James Harvest so popular. There is also an album of unreleased stuff he was aworking on called the lost works which is pretty rough actually.
Brian Wilson – Yes, The Brian Wilson – founding member and main songwriter and eventually producer of The Beach Boys (see B). What a guy, and what a life. In 1964 he had a nervous breakdown and stopped performing live with the band, though he continued writing and producing, including the wonderful ‘Good Vibrations’ in 1966. However increasing drug use took its toll and by ’68 he was in a mental institution. Recovering slightly, he continued writing and producing – but less and less. He became a recluse for a few years but has gradually rehabilitated himself and started making solo albums again in the 90s. My few albums of his start with Imagination (1998). Well, it is very Beach Boy sounding, but the songs are really not so great – which is to be expected I suppose. The production is very middle of the road and a bit saccharine – but Brian’s voice is still pretty good; lots of stacked vocals – but mostly lacking that excitement of the Sixties. Best songs – ‘Your Imagination’, ‘She says She Needs Me’ and ‘Sunshine’. I also have That Lucky Old Sun (2008). Quite a pleasant record – apparently, a concept album, though it sounded like a bunch of songs, mostly about California. Brian’s voice is noticeably lower bur still good. Best songs – the title song, ‘Mexican Girl’ and ‘Southern California’. I also have s freebie given away with one of the Sundays, misleadingly titled Good Vibrations – it is basically live versions by Brian of old Beachboy numbers. A strange listen; the songs of course are brilliant – and even these slightly weak interpretations cheer you up and you find yourself humming along to them – but then again, realising what a great little group they used to be.
Dennis Wilson – After ‘Holland’, in which the Beachboys, mostly minus Brian, took a remarkable new direction, Dennis released a solo album called Pacific Ocean Blue. I missed it at the time, and long after Dennis had died it was released along with some demo’s as a double album earlier this century. The music press raved about it, and I bought it. Only to be largely disappointed. Really nothing to say about this record – it left me cold when I bought it and again on re-listening. A pity, as with better production it could have been at least a nice sequel to his life. I think he was trying too hard to move out of the shadows of the band without really having the voice or songs to change enough. Oh well.
Cassandra Wilson – I don’t really know much about this cool American jazzy blues singer. Only the one record New Moon Daughter (1995), and quite listenable it is – though this is not my usual genre at all. Quite pleasant really, though too slow in many places. Best tracks – ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ and ‘Harvest moon’ – but that’s because I know the original versions.
Mari Wilson – I first heard her on a Radio 1 live concert, singing with the Fabulous Poodles. I fell in love with her voice. She sung very shiny pop songs with great choruses. Two albums; Rhythm Romance (1991). She sings great cover versions of ‘Cry Me A River’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’, but I really love ‘Someone To Watch Over me’ and ‘Lover Man’. A really good record. Only bettered by her greatest hits Platinum Collection. Big Hits include ‘Just What I Always Wanted’ and ‘Wonderful To Be With You’, but I also really like ‘Dr. Love’ – and really all the other tracks too. Great singer.
Amy Winehouse – Never a huge fan, though this tragic lady had a very good voice, quite similar to a lot of early soul singers. Just the one album Back To Black. Best songs – ‘You Know I’m No Good’ and ‘Me and Mr. Jones.’ But the rest just passed me by.
Steve Winwood – Loved him in Spencer Davis and Traffic and I did have Arc of A Diver on Vinyl and now only on Cassette. I bought a later solo effort ‘Junction 7’ from a charity shop and wished I hadn’t wasted the pound. Very boring…I also have Revolutions – a greatest hits, which is fab. Love most of it (except Blind Faith) even the solo stuff is pretty good. Best are the early Spence David and Traffic songs and ‘Valerie’.
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Wilco – An American band, fairly Alt/Country I would say. Having read great reviews of them I bought Being There (1966) – a double album which I remember being very impressed by. Not so much now on listening almost 30 years later – though they do have a distinctive style and Jeff Tweedy’s voice is pretty distinct in its laid-back weariness. I seem to remember that I was quite impressed by this record a quarter of a century ago, though now it impresses me less – so it goes. Best songs are ‘Misunderstood’, ‘Someday Soon’ and ‘someone Else’s Song’. Though as a double it is, as usual, far too long. I bought Summerteeth in 1999 – and again I remember liking the record. Though now, as I re-listen, the songs just drift by unremarkable and largely unnoticed. Still, a couple are listenable – The title track and ‘Via Chicago’. 2001 saw Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – and the instrumentation was varied and experimental, Jeff’s voice – even wearier and desperate – and I like it more now. A few songs stick in the brain now – ‘Kamera’, ‘I’m The man Who Loves You’ and ‘Reservations’ are pretty good. I don’t know why, but I stopped buying Wilco albums after this – too many other distractions I suppose.
Lucinda Williams – Another American Country singer; Lucinda is wonderful, her voice raspy and full of a raw emotion I find quite addictive. And although she is almost as old as me, she never really got going until the late 80’s and has had a sporadic recording career. She came to my notice with probably my favourite album of hers Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998). Already 45 this was her third album and her real breakthrough record. It is simply wonderful. Almost every track has a magical melody and seems just right; Lucinda often repeats over and over the choral refrain, which is a very good way of involving the listener. Best songs are the title track, ‘Concrete and Barbed Wire’ and the sumptuous ‘Lake Charles’. Next up is 2003’s World Without Tears. Another excellent album, maybe the songs are not quite as good – but pretty darned good anyway. My favourites are – ‘Those three Days’, ‘Atonement’ (where she gets really angry), ‘Your Sweet Side’ and the title track. I have only bought her albums sporadically, not sure why as she is really very good. My last by her was West, released in 2007. This album ventures into talking blues and her musical palette drifts quite far from her original American style. Best songs are ‘Are You Alright’, ‘Come On’ – another shoutout at a former lover and ‘Unsuffer Me’. I haven’t bought any more of this great singer. I simply don’t have the time or capacity to keep on buying every singer I like. However, I do seem to have a compulsion to own everything by certain other singers, which probably just reinforces my prejudices. So it goes.
Robbie Williams – never a great fan, especially of Take That and boybands in general – but you have to admit that Robbie was a phenomenon. I saw him once along with a lot of others at Wembley and he had the audience in the palm of his hands. Just the one album – I’ve Been Expecting You. Pretty good, and contains ‘Strong’, ‘Millenium’ and ‘You’re the One’ – so you can’t really go wrong with songs like that.