Monday 5 June 2017

Jack The Lad "Jackpot" (1976)

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Jack The Lad "Jackpot" (1976)

Eight Ton Crazy/Amsterdam/Steamboat Whistle Blues/Walter's Drop/We'll Give You The Roll/Trinidad/You You You/Let It Be Me/The Tender/Take Some Time

'You've always got something no matter how low you go, you'll have the music forever, that's one thing I know - wo-a-woah!'

Oh the best laid plans of mice and men and Jack The Lads! Compared to Lindisfarne's meteoric rise to fame which had gone from immediate hit singles to break-up in the blink of an eye Jack The Lad had been solidly plugging away, building up a small but loyal audience thanks to their live gigs, slowly winning over the influential people in the music business (becoming John Peel's wife Sheila's favourite band in the process) and their record sales had gone from disastrous to poor. It was time to capitalise on all three hard years of constant recording, touring and promoting and the band had several aces up their sleeve to help them win what they hoped would be a 'jackpot'. They had a new record company interested with a much bigger budget, United Artists, who had the major clout Charisma never had. They had songs that had been ready-tested on the road with a much more commercial rockier sound moving the Lads ever further from their folk and country roots. And they at last had a stable line-up that had made two LPs together. The future looked certain, maybe even brilliant! And having come up the 'hard way' Jack The Lad deserved it. No one could have begrudged them success this time around and the band were already seeing pound signs in their sleep.

But as any gamblers know (our very own mascot Bingo included), the more certain you are of being close to a jackpot, the further away you seem to get from it. Si Cowe's disintegrating marriage left the rehearsal room shaking from the sounds of broken crockery, causing him to leave at the absolute last minute to repair his life and his mental health. So late in the day, in fact, that his absence left a big hole at the heart of the album that had to be filled with hastily written originals that weren't quite the blockbusters the band had mapped out in their head. It left a hole in their precious cover art too, with the most expensive artwork on a Jack The Lad LP yet of five jester faces too costly to re-design so poor Si's features got taken off and replaced by the back of sound engineer John Blackburn's head, adding a touch of afro to the band's assorted hairstyles. United Artists may have had more money to spend on Jack The Lad than Charisma but far less patience and when nobody was much interested in first single 'Eight Ton Crazy' (a curious and disappointing choice) the label pretty much wrote the record off. The album's move to rock and roll with 1950s overtones couldn't have come at a worse moment as the musical world moved back to punk (even the band's Geordie folk roots would have fared better in 1976). And those rock and roll songs simply sounded like everybody else anyway. The band's jackpot ended up their heaviest loss, a case of the wrong line-up recording the wrong album at the wrong time and Jack The Lad never really recovered, stumbling into the new year on the back of their touring work but with United Artists pretty much adamant that there wouldn't be a fifth Jack record.

History records 'Jackpot' as an 'unlucky' record. Many fans and parts of the band themselves see the album as their best, rating it as closest to the heavier style the band performed with in concert and enjoying the extra production touches and flourishes that extra bit of budget allowed them to add. Sometimes they're right: 'We'll Give You The Roll' is exactly what a folk band asked to play some rock and roll should sound like - heavy, but also quirky, with obviously folky stylistics in there somewhere too. 'Trinidad' is gorgeous, the world's only Geordie reggae song as a cold shivering band dream of their extra money and decided to travel to Trinidad to catch a bit of sun. 'The Tender' is one final slice of what the band always did better than anybody else, re-arranging traditional folk songs so that they had the extra frisson of rocking very very hard. Alas then there's the rest of the album, padded out by original songs Billy Mitchell probably wrote in his sleep, Andy Fairweather-Low cover song, in 'Steamboat Whistle Blues' the only folk traditional treated as a novelty rather than a 'real' song and in 'Walter's Drop' the single most pointless and boring Jack The Lad song. This band, gloriously messily democratic to the point of silliness in earlier years, has also become a vehicle for Billy and his backup band and good as Billy is he can't carry a whole album on his back. In short this isn't just the weakest of the Jack The Lad quartet but very nearly the Lindisfarne canon as well (the similarly rockabilly 'C'mon Everybody' and the synth-heavy 'Dance Your Life Away' by the parent band probably win that award, mind).

Nobody longed for this record to be more of a success or wished them a happier ending more than me. The world needed bands like Jack The Lad in 1976, groups who took what they did and the importance of it (updating the old to sound new) oh so seriously but still had a giggle on stage about it. After so many years of being nearly there, an album where they were really there - and had lasted one album longer than Lindisfarne without breaking up into the bargain - should have been fantastic. Billy remains one of the best frontmen in rock and roll, with a catchy commercial voice that somehow manages to remain pure Geordie. Walter Fairburn remains one of the best multi-instrumentalists in rock or folk and the space left by Si means the band needs him more than ever. Phil Murray's angry passionate bass prevents this band from getting pretty and silly. And Ray Laidlaw, the band's Mr Sensible, roots the songs without allowing them to get too carried away. At their best on this album ('Trinidad' especially) they sound great together and suddenly a Geordie reggae folk rock calypso band makes perfect sense. United Artists deserve a big slap for not seeing past initial slow earnings and giving the band another, better chance.

But Jack The Lad take some of the blame too as the chance of money went to their heads as they used it in all the wrong ways. This is sadly one of those 'play overdubs and all meet up in the canteen for a chat afterwards' types of albums and they're never as satisfying as a band flying by the seat of their pants. Walter boasts in the sleevenotes at being asked to overdub twelve mandolin parts to beef up one of the tracks - but that's what's wrong with it, as this album sounds more like a basic dot-to-dot puzzle with black lines than the clever crazy sketches of the made-on-the-hoof Jack The lad albums of the past. Anyone sounds good when they've been overdubbed twelve times to get things right - it takes talent to be brave enough to play complex pieces altogether and Jack The Lad were that band, for most of their career at least. And nobody could fly as gloriously as Jack The Lad at their best. The production is icky, making even the most heartfelt songs sounding a little lightweight and flimsy and as for the less than  heartfelt songs they sound trivial and silly. Like many fans I actually prefer the demos of three album tracks (plus one other that didn't make the album) included as bonus tracks on the CD in 2008 (shockingly this album's first release, making it the last Lindisfarne-related one to make it - bar Jacka's soul covers album 'In The Night' which desperately needs a re-release sometime soon). This is a band that should be small and powerful, not big and bloated. Throw in the year zero of punk and you begin to see why a collection of silly originals, Andy Fairweather Low covers and dressed up folk probably didn't do as well as expected despite big hopes. Yes the front cover is a shame given Si's absence, but it's sea of grinning jesters is also a little obvious and 'hee hee look at me!' compared to the genius of album covers two and three: a picture of the band doing their washing (and the most working class front cover in the AAA canon) and Jacka's glorious playing card.

Ah yes Jacka! The album's ace up its sleeve is undoubtedly the presence of Lindisfarne's original singer who goes from being fan, follower and artist to an extra vocal in place of Si across this album. Ray Jackson is one of rock and roll's most under-rated talents. There's no reason why his vocals should go as well alongside Billy's as they did against Alan Hull's but they do, with a similar level of magic and intuition that breathes new life into this band. Sadly though Jacka isn't here much: he adds a nice second vocal to 'Trinidad' and the odd backing vocal to flesh out the band's idiosyncratic sound. Asked to help out at the last minute in place of Si, it's a real shame that the band didn't delay this album a little bit and get him involved a little bit more. Jacka was a major part of the band's live draw, as yet more bonus tracks recorded live in Plymouth on the excellent CD re-issue demonstrates and adds a rock power that Billy, however hard he tries, can't manage on his own. The pair also sound great together.

'Jackpot's biggest problem though is one that nobody could help. Si Cowe may have written the band's weirdest songs, but he also gave Jack The Lad a distinctive flavour that made the band stand out. Songs about giants, smokers dying from lung disease and playing cards that other bands would have made into novelty B-sides 'belong' in the Jack The Lad landscape in a way that straightforward rock and roll doesn't. This is a world that's a crazy place, where working class men wear their fingers to the bone and chase whales for a few pence - it needs a few giants and playing cards in there somewhere too. 'Jackpot' is too 'normal' and it perhaps speaks volumes that the album's best moment is the quirkiest, with 'Trinidad' the most 'Si' ish of all of Billy's recordings. Si was heavily involved with this album up to the demo stage, with 'See How They Run' one of his songs intended for 'Jackpot' and included on the CD as a bonus track. While not one of the guitarist's best, it does add that sort of sideways look at the world that the rest of this album doesn't have. Throw in some other Cowe songs kicking around at this time (future Lindisfarne B-side 'Stick Together' and possibly 'Reunion') and 'Jackpot' suddenly looks better - or at least weirder. Just as the later Lindisfarne albums (which tend to ignore Si's esoteric songs) feel like they're missing something, so does the only Jack The lad album not to feature them either. To be fair though this was one problem the band could do nothing about. It's hard to write amongst the sound of smashed crockery and tales of just how badly and how brutally Si's marriage had failed are legendary - whilst Si's blow of confidence as his wife assumed he'd never amount to anything was at odds with the general bounce and optimism in the rest of the band, to say the least. Si will end up having an interesting 'gap year' away from music though. Desperate for work, he answered an advert to join the '7:84 Group' in the paper, a theatrical troupe who toured schools and prisons putting on plays about the economic inequalities in the world (they're named for 7% of the population owning 84% of the takings). I always regret that Si never got together with Alan Hull after his return to Lindisfarne now that these two polar opposites had finally discovered some common ground in politics - sadly Si will only get these two B-sides and 'Dedicated Hound' recorded by Lindisfarne despite returning to the parent band in 1978 and staying with them right the way through to 1993.

Meanwhile 'Jackpot' does have one thing going for it that was sometimes lacking from other earlier band LPs: cohesion. Many of these songs are full of yearning and longing for something - perhaps the better life that Jack The lad were dreaming of after their 'second chance' and 'bigger budget'. 'Eight Ton Crazy' is an Andy-Fairweather Low song about losing your patience and composure - set to a tune so gentlemanly it's hard to believe this narrator ever quite giving in to his emotions (it's therefore the opposite of most Jack The Lad songs which are for the most part wild songs about discipline - the whalers and soldiers wouldn't have lasted long in their careers if they'd sailed as close to the wind as they're portrayed in song at times). 'Amsterdam' is a man away from home alone wishing that he could follow his friends back to where they all came from - this song seems an obvious choice for the Geordie TV programme 'Auf Wiedersehn Pet' about aspiring unemployed builders sent to Germany (instead they went with fellow AAA Geordie Mark Knopfler, at least on the reunion!) 'Steamboat Whistle Blues' has a sailor wishing he'd been 'better with a ratchet' then he might have stayed at home in port. 'We'll Give You The Roll' is a nice piece of homespun philosophy about imagining a better future, that if you hold on long enough 'things are going to work out just fine' with the gruff uplifting tagline 'in the Summer you get sunshine, in the winter you get snow'. 'Trinidad' longs to be on a golden beach half the world away from Newcastle. 'You You You' is the only straightforward love song in the Jack The Lad canon, longing to make a sweetheart smile, 'keep you laughing for the rest of the day' and maybe for the rest of her life. 'Let It Be Me' (no, not the Everlys song but a Mitchell original that's a lot faster!) pleads with a girl not to pass the narrator by because he can beat anything she's looking for hands down. Traditional tune 'The Tender' takes things slightly differently, a ship-building song where the narrator tries to earn money quickly by working hard to pay for medicine for his dying family back home, hoping that he'll get to keep what he's already got. Finally the album - and Jack The Lad's catalogue, not that they realised this at the time - ends with a memory, 'Time After Time' longing to go back to a time when dating was simple and came without responsibilities. 'Wouldn't it be good if we only could?' sighs the chorus, which is pretty much the album motto. Even the bonus tracks carry on this 'theme', covers of '#Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?' and a particularly rocking 'Hungry For Love'.

That's sad because in retrospect it feels like this album was asking a question about faith and hope and patience and carving out your own thing at your own speed and plugging away which should have been answered, so the band hoped, with a monster success. Goodness knows this band had the talent to deserve that success and all of their three previous LPs had been reviewed something along the lines of 'give this band a budget and proper exposure and they'll be no stopping them!' It's such a shame that the timing of that bigger budget came when the band was disintegrating for reasons beyond their control and when their material was becoming more like any other generic band's, which of course they could. Who could blame Jack The Lad though for trying everything they could to get that elusive hit record, even when it meant sadly dropping many of the things that made them do distinctive in favour of anonymous originals about love and soul-less cover songs. Another few months, a lot more Jacka (why isn't he on the sleeve?!) and more encouragement from United Artists to keep this band doing what they always did, just better (rather than what they'd never done before and bigger) and we could have been talking about that monster breakthrough album after all. Instead the band drifted, lasting another fun lengthy tour before Ray Laidlaw got the call from Alan Hull to make some 'real' money with his even shorter-lived band Radiator in the second half of 1977 and Jack The Lad slowly broke up a year on from this album released with so much hope. The good news is that if this album had been a big success Lindisfarne might never have got back together at all. The bad news is that, at their best (which they only are for one, maybe two tracks across this album) Jack The Lad were every bit as good as Lindisfarne with the potential to maybe one day be even better. They gave us the rock alright - but sadly the production and the material and the problems making this album didn't give them the roll they needed to be big players.

To you he's probably best known for the UK #6 hit 'Wide-Eyed and Legless'. To me he's the second guitarist to George Harrison and David Gilmour on various 1980s/1990s tours. To Lindisfanatics he's the writer of 'Eight Ton Crazy'. Welsh-born pop-rocker Andy Fairweather-Low isn't the obvious choice for any band to cover, never mind a Geordie folk outfit. And this wasn't the most obvious song, being an original rather thrown away on Andy's second LP 'La Booga Rooga' in 1975, just a year before this cover version. It's even a less likely choice as a single given the song's oddball feel and as the first release by Jack The Lad was an inevitable flop. However on album the song makes more sense, dressed up with harmonicas, mandolins and fiddles (the original is Andy's folkiest song with banjos and accordions) to become less of a cry of teenage rebellion and more of a general one. The narrator is a peaceful chap so doesn't get riled very often - he sounds it here too with this song's low-key walking pace song about as detached and indifferent as a singer as passionate as Billy Mitchell can possibly get. But he blows his cool a few times here: when he sees his girl dancing (is he jealous?), when his parents 'act like I don't got nothing to say' when he's told 'In God We Trust' but everyone assumes the worst of him and makes him sign documents to prove he isn't cheating and won't go back on his word. This is a song about the contradictions everyone finds on becoming an adult - we're told to trust everyone around us but no one ever seems to trust us, whether it's our elders, our partner or the guy at the door with a pen in his hand getting evidence of something you didn't ask for in the first place. So far so good, but the revelation in the chorus that all this makes even the mild-mannered narrator 'eight ton crazy' ought to be a great twist of dynamics, especially to a band as clever at this sort of thing as Jack The Lad; instead it's just a slightly more hummable part of a song that's not really that memorable at all. The title is an odd metaphor too: I was hoping to be able to research some interesting titbit as to where this phrase came from, but no - it's so obscure that the only references I can see are to Jack The Lad's recording. And when a song by this band is the most common thing out there you know you've stumbled across something really obscure! I prefer this song to Andy's stompalong song (a rocker's idea of what a folk song is like), but Jack The Lad were coming up with far better songs of their own by this point in time and it's a weird choice as a single. The folkier demo is far better too.

The X-rated 'Amsterdam' is Jack The Lad at their heaviest and could almost be by a heavy metal band in terms of the pacing, with Phil Murray's angry awkward bass a good foil for Billy's stinging guitar. The lyrics though are closer to those of a traditional folk tune, with Billy's narrator left alone abroad when all his mates have gone home, pining for, well, the Fog On The Tyne more or less. Given Amsterdam's reputation as the sex capital of Europe and the innuendo of most Jack The Lad songs this track eventually goes where you expect it to, the friendless narrator looking for a girl to keep him company. But even then this isn't the party song you were anticipating, as the narrator does the opposite to probably every other punter the poor girl's had and 'pretends' he's only there for the sex, when really all he wants is to stop feeling so lonely. She says that she'll bare all, but he's just getting bare and isn't revealing his heart or feelings, which is the truly brave thing in this scenario. The best - and so very English - compliment he can offer: 'She looked quite...nice'. The brittle, claustrophobic backing track perfectly conjures up Billy's sad wanderings round Amsterdam and his equally in-denial lovemaking as he tries to pretend to be callous and distant while his heart is breaking. For a second song in a row, though, this isn't what Jack The lad do best: they're meant to be a wild and passionate bunch who play with pace and desperation, not the sort of 'heavy' noisy band that were two-a-penny in 1976. At least there's a great guitar solo from Billy that finally offers up all that passion, much talked about by fans for good reason as the most rock and roll moment in Jack The Lad's canon, but alas it's over far too soon. Once again the demo is better, partly because Billy sings it straight like the Newcastle local he is.
Though credited here as a 'traditional' number, actually 'Steamboat Whistle Blues' was written by American John Hartford in the style of the traditional folk tales he loved to collect. Hartford's specialist subject was the Mississippi, which is about as far away from the Tyne as you can get, but this track fits in better than the last two songs given Jack The Lad's love of quick-stepping working class narrators. In a lyric not so much sung as gabbled by Billy, we learn that the narrator started off as a 'towboat man' but that he lost his cushy port-side job because he was clumsy with a ratchet (aren't we all?) so ended up at sea, drowning and freezing at Christmas and 'with coal dust in my ear' as he took on a second job. Along the way there are some good lines, the best one being when after time spent out at sea with no land to look at it, the continent suddenly arrives like a 'crossword puzzle', full of rules and layers the poor chap can't quite remember. The narrator, meanwhile, sounds more like one of Alan Hull's creations as he heads to the shore, switches on the TV he's just paid for with his wages and finds he 'can't trust the news'. The result is a song that's fun, but with barely a break between words that are hard to hear doesn't make as much of an impact as it should and deserves more space for the instrumentation. I'm also not that convinced by Billy's accent, which is to Geordie-American what Dick Van Dyke is to Cockney-American!

'Walter's Drop' is that instrumental we never got, but sadly it's rather a boring one compared to the heady days of old when the band used to play 'A Corny Pastiche' at a million miles an hour. This is just a pretty fiddle tune played at a slow speed by Walter, with Billy's guitar, Phi's bass and Ray's drums plonking along beside. Things get a little more interesting for a sudden switch to mandolin and a faster pace, with swings nicely from the 1:30 mark when Phil decides to add some waltz time to the bass. There's a slow build-up of 'Riverdance' style fiddles and a fiery rock third section but even that flops compared to past successes, sounding like old soppy  labelmates Status Quo than Jack The Lad (the point being all the more obvious as that band's Andy Bown plays keyboards on next song 'We'll Give You The Roll', where they show what a band that *really* rocks sounds like). This is the sort of thing we've heard before, only better and ends suddenly, the track cut off in its prime for no apparent reason. I understand what the band were trying to do - allay themselves more with the growing trend of rock and roll roots around in 1976 of which punk was just a piece - but Jack rocked better than this in the past and seem to have forgotten how to play the folk aspect of their muse properly too. A real 'drop', by the way, would be the rest of the band backing out to leave Walter to play a 'solo' rather than building up from it instead like we get here, but then again this was a punning in-joke, Walter being such a deep and sudden sleeper that his bandmates found it difficult to shift him whenever he did happen to drop off! Maybe that's why this song ends so suddenly and violently? Although sadly the rest of the tune is more likely to put me to sleep.

Finally 'Jackpot' gets going with the last song on side one and the smashing '#We'll Give You The Roll'. Jack The lad write a typical folky riff, jagged and jaunty, but perform it with the swagger and instrumentation of rock which works really well. Billy's lyrics are some of his best on the album too, offering up a little more of that uplifting philosophy heard on past Jack The Lad classics. Telling us that it's in the nature of life to be a rollercoaster ride, we're told in a very down to earth way not to feel so sad because something will come along to make us feel glad. Tables always turn, things always work out and after every patch of snow comes sunshine. Even if band and audience have nothing else they've always got the music - and on cue this song becomes a celebration of both band and fans, a promise made in a very Kinks/Who/Grateful Dead way to always be there for one another. Indeed you can't have one half without the other - the fans providing the 'rock' and stability, the band the 'roll'. It's an interesting update on the kind of sad songs Rod Clements was writing for the band on the first album, wondering what had happened to all the Lindisfans and figuring that they aren't interested in what the writers are up to anymore. By contrast three years later Jack The Lad have a following all of their own and more than that a duty to look after each others and share the 'road' together. This is no 'Fast Lane Driver' in his Cadillac but everyone piled into the back of an old jalopy, nobody caring if they've got nothing more than the petrol to get to the next destination. The enthusiasm in Billy's vocal is enthusiastic and his rock and roll 'Mud' style chorus very clever and distinctive. 'Well do what we can, give you music, music!' Billy cries, as if it's the tonic that can solve world problems, stop wars and heal all wounds - and when it sounds as good as this, maybe it can. Especially on an unexpected poignant middle eight about what music means to Billy: there he was, a 'fish out of the water', dangling on the end of a line of job security and pensions dangled by a capitalist society, but that wasn't the life he was meant to lead because he's hopeless at it - instead he needs, craves, yearns to follow his heart and play music to fans who can live it alongside him. Even though this song will sadly be about the last of Jack The Lad's party pieces, even though it's regrettably the last hurrah on a last album and even though Billy in many ways 'broke' the promise made here (or had it broken for him - he won't have a record contract until becoming part of Lindisfarne after Alan Hull's death in 1996) somehow that takes nothing away from this exceptional song, a celebration of everything Jack The Lad stood for and music they could write and perform better than anybody else. For what it's worth they can have my 'rock' anyday after songs like this one...

Better still is 'Trinidad', a clever cute moment of escapism. Jack The Lad were never rich from their music - then again never really were Lindisfarne - and stuck in Britain for the majority of his career Billy dreams here of a sort of minor fame. The last track notwithstanding, he dreams of escaping the cold and rain of  a Newcastle Winter to sunbath on the beach in Trinidad. A second verse then extends this theme and hints that the narrator is a robber ('Taking the money seemed so easy'), seeing it as his dues as a working class man paying into a system for a lifetime and getting nothing in return. The gorgeous chorus really has the sunshine coming out, left to wallow on a 'golden beach in Trinidad' and having 'all the things I never had'. Jack The lad excel themselves here, somehow turning in one of the best reggae-fied arrangements around from one of our distinctly 'white' AAA bands, the whole joke being that rather than pretend the band are locals (as per most bands from 10cc to The Beach Boys) this is a group who've never been near the Caribbean in their lives. It's the cold harsh Northern English Winters that have driven the band to this, dreaming of a better sunnier future in a paradise that's never meant to be taken seriously. The steel drums, the accent (Billy's far better at Jamaican patois than he is at being a posh American!) and even the rhythm (an off-beat shuffle compared to the hard rock swing most Western bands use for reggae and ska) combine to make this a highly believable track. However Jack The Lad never lose that sense of Geordie, making this folk-rock-reggae number surely unique in musical circles, gloriously combining the sounds of two different cities some 8000 miles apart. Jamaica is everything Newcastle isn't (dry, sunny, happy), a clever twist on the usual Lindisfarne 'home is best' policy of 'Fog On The Tyne' and 'Run For Home' (hey that amount of rain is going to get to everyone eventually!) The ending, where the band speed up as per all their usual folk songs, as they long for 'lazy days in Trinidad' is a real powerhouse, the song getting more and more urgent and desperate as it dances faster and faster, ending in Ray Laidlaw's crowning moment in all his long years of drumming - a sort of brilliant nervous collapse on top of his drumkit right at the song's end. Jacka, meanwhile, as well as guesting on harmonica gets in the best rhyme on any band song: after Billy sings 'Lazy Days In Trinidad' Jacka deadpans 'With Jack The Lad...' Glorious, easily the album highlight and one of the best things Jack The Lad ever did, though it's a shame the impressive keyboard solo was cut from the demo arrangement as heard on the CD. It also seems to have inspired a whole run of 10cc kn0ock-offs that all came later and were never quite as good as this (and as I say that as a fan with a 10cc book in the works...) A Geordie reggae song? Genius...

After those two songs anything would be ordinary, but somehow the rest of the album is so bland and inoffensive, it's offensive. Jack The lad have just proven that they can do things no other band could do - then mess it all up by doing the sorts of things every other band could do better. 'You You You' is meant to be a sweet heartfelt romance, which for this band is weird enough in itself. But when it's a sweet heartfelt romance set to the tune of a jig you know that something's gone a little bit, well weird. This time round, unlike the last two songs, the narrator's lover is his sunshine during rainy weather and his medicine during his years of being ill. The song keeps sinking back into the 'you you you' chorus like a warm bath, while the verses are sweet enough as Billy promises to do everything he can to his loved one to make up for everything she's given him. However it's all a bit flat and obvious. The one part of the song that shines out is the strangely Searchersy middle eight, all low-key throbbing Rikcenbacker guitars, even though they use that style in a quite different way to the upbeat good cheer of the Merseybeaters. This section of the song is more about how the narrator is shocked at his previous stupidity, how he wondered around lost assuming love was something that couldn't happen to him when it was waiting for him all this time. The song might have been better kept quiet and brooding like this, with more 'Me Me Me' than 'You You You'.

'Let It Be Me' continues the strangely soppy mood with the single most retro 1950s song in Jack The Lad's canon. The song is sweet enough as a double-tracked Billy urges his lover to stick by him rather than searching elsewhere for love 'over the rainbow'. He promises to be the cloak to warm her up, the 'good food' that fills her up and the face that she sees filled with love every time she wakes up. It sounds a good bargain to me, but it's one that's been made before and better by other writers in the past. Most frustratingly what should be a simple and low-key song is given the works here, with a doo-wop vocal chorus and a Dire Straitsy/Chet Atkins style guitar arrangement both sounding insincere and awkward. And Jack The Las are a band that are always sincere, if sometimes a little weird. Hearing them becoming just like everyone else it a tragedy and while silly novelty 1950s throwbacks like this were all the rage in 1976 thanks to Mud, Slade and Sha-Na-Na-Na, this Billy song is too heartfelt to be funny in the way those songs are. He really means this song, or at least he did when he wrote it - the least the rest of the bane could have done for him would be to play this as straight as he meant it to be, instead of clearly taking the piss out of him. Odd.

Have you ever heard a mandolin boogie? And no I'm not talking about 'Meet Me On The Corner', funky as that was. No I mean a mandolin played with all the passionate attack of a Fender or Stratocaster electric guitar with a sizzling amp turned up way past eleven. If you answered yes then you're probably one of about five people who've actually heard 'The Tender', arguably the highpoint of Jack The Lad's career-long attempt to play folk songs with the swagger of rock and roll. This is, if anything, a bit too heavy as another traditional song gets almost a heavy metal makeover. It's the sort of thing you're glad the band tried at least once and Jack The Lad sound so much better playing all together instead of using overdubs. The 'holes' and jumps back into this stop-start song are highly impressive and everyone sounds great: Walter's fast mandolin playing, Billy's electric growl, Phil's pouncing bass and Ray's no-nonsense drumming. Heard in tandem when the band finally unite in the instrumental passages it's highly impressive. The only thing that's lacking is the song itself as 'The Tender' isn't as strong as some other pieces. At least it's a local song, thought to derive from Sunderland and about the 'King's Men' coming to press-gang local ne'er do wells into the navy. The Tender really was feared as he'd take men away on all sorts of flimsy charges and at times of war took anyone, no matter how needed or respected in town or how many families were relying on them for food and income ('If they take ye hinny, where'll we find wor bread?') No wonder Billy gives us the warning to be a 'canny Geordie' and 'hide yourselves awae' before the army comes to press-gang us and the final verse about escaping to 'The Lawe' is a real place, high above Sunderland, where Government boats could be most easily spotted. Jack The lad lead the Government officials on a merry dance of hide and seek, switching attacks, tempos and keys several times during the course of the song. Rather fittingly the pressgang the Sunderland men feared the most in the 19th century was named 'Captain Bovver'! However the sudden cut-off at the end is something of a shame. Did 'The Tender' finally get their men? Several bands performed this song down the years since it was first recorded in 'The Northumbrian Minalstry' in 1882, though the song undoubtedly foes back further - this is just the first time someone thought to actually write it down. Jack The Lad were one of the first 'rock acts' to do it though and may have learnt it from Dave Burland, who in 1971 was the very first.

The album - and Jack The Lad's career - then ends on an anti-climatic note as Billy ignores his advice from 'We'll Give You The Roll' and wallows in self-pity on 'Take Some Time'. This is a rather sour memory of past teenage days spent 'singing silly songs' and dating girls who never reciprocated. Billy hated it at the time, but now he's alone middle-aged and single he sees these as halcyon days, frustrated that this was good as it got for him. Lindisfarne will do similar things themselves in the 1980s with rather better success ('Nights' especially) - Billy's too young here, too close to his subject material and his melody too down-in-the-dumps for this to work as the nostalgia-fest it's meant to be. We're meant to coo with the narrator, sigh along with him and feel the tug of days gone by (which is, after all, a very Jack The lad thing to do - even if most of those days gone by date from centuries before!) This ought to be the perfect ending as we look over our past with love and over our shoulder to our future with doubt and fear. But Billy just sounds a moaner before his time here, as if he's auditioning for that awful 'Grumpy Old Men (And Women)' TV series two decades too early. His girl may have stood him up, but he didn't 'love' her. He may be lonely now, but he had chances he didn't take up. He isn't heading to the door trying to find a girl to live out his dreams with or promising us he's going to learn from his mistakes. He isn't calling up the friends he used to live and die for in his youth, who are probably just as lonely and lost as he is. Instead he just stays in feeling sorry for himself and remembering when he didn't mind about the rain and the lifts not working, which isn't in keeping with the more assertive Jack The lad philosophy at all. Most oddly, he's not even getting drunk! The only part of the song that 'glows' with the bittersweet memory this song deserves is when, after a verse of rain, 'the sun comes out again' and the Lad's harmonies kick in. An oddly low-key ending for such a noisy band  - especially on their noisiest LP.

Overall then 'Jackpot' only hits the Jackpot a couple of times, which is down on the consistent excellence of the first album, the general brilliance of the second and the half an inspired third album. That should in theory mean that Jack The Lad is quitting at the right time, as they run out of ideas and band members. But no: this is a band who had so much more to give and it's hardly their fault they got sucked into the lure of a new record company and bigger budget. This fourth album should have been a stepping stone to getting the sound a mainstream public would have accepted alongside the sorts of things no other band ever could have offered. A few tweaks, the return of Si Cowe  after a 'year out' and a bit more live performance plus Jacka fully onboard for album five could well have resulted in the greatest Jack The Lad album of all. Instead it's a long hard road through the Lindisfarne reunion albums that beckons, reunions of past bands like Hedgehog Pie and the dole queue for Billy, in between low key solo gigs, for the next twenty years. This is a band who deserved so much better. Instead sadly this is the farewell that arrived at just the wrong time, the 'jester' in the pack of what's actually a pretty darn great and under-rated quartet of records. Every Lindisfan needs to hear this spin-off band - though perhaps not necessarily this album...


'Nicely Out Of Tune' (L) (1970)

'Fog On The Tyne' (L) (1971)

'Dingly Dell' (L) (1972)

'Roll ON Ruby' (L) (1973)
'The Squire' (AH) (1975)

'The Old Straight Track' (JTL) (1975)
‘Jackpot’ (JTL) (1976)

'Magic In The Air' (L) (1978)
'Back and Fourth' (L) (1978)

‘The News’(L) (1979)

'Sleepless Nights' (L) (1982)
'Dance Your Life Away' (L) (1986)
‘Amigos’ (1989)

'Elvis Lives On The Moon' (L) (1993)
'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' (1998)
'Promenade' (2002)
Si Cowe Obituary and Tribute (2015)
Surviving TV Clips
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1970-1987
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1988-2015

Essay: Keepin’ The Rage On Behalf Of The Working Classes

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