Friday, 18 December 2009
♫ Hello everybody and welcome to our 50th issue! Sorry once
again for the delay in newsletters for the past few weeks – it’s
my health that’s got in the way this time, not my laptop’s for
once! This may prove to be our last newsletter of the year as
well so – just in case – we wish all our members a happy xmas
and look forward to seeing you in the new year. As a special treat, this will be an extended version of the newsletter, taking in an extended ‘top 5’ and all of the news items we’ve missed over the last week or two as well as our usual review. And of course we will be taking our yearly look back at the year’s releases, celebrating the highs and lows of 2009. What a year it’s been, dear readers - 33 newsletters taking in everything from talking cows to articles sent back to us through time with lots of great great music in between. There’s been a new lease of life for The Beatles, a return to form from Cat Stevens, the end of Oasis and a sad goodbye to Buffalo Springfield drummer Dewey Martin. As for our AAA artists, they’ve given us wit, wisdom, laughter and some more great CDs, although sadly most of them seem to be re-issues again this year. More on that story later, as they say, for now we say adios to 2009 and hope that 2010 will be another stellar year in terms of new releases.
♫ Beatles News: In our original draft for this newsletter we were all set to say what a quiet end to the year The Beatles were having after all that hoo-hah in September when everything fab four-related seemed to be back on the shelves again (I swear I even saw a yellow submarine lunchbox!) But now Paul McCartney has a new DVD out, or will have once we go to press, entitled ‘Good Evening New York City’ and catching the fab one live with his current band during a gig at the Citi Field. Like most things modern and Macca it comes in a myriad of different versions: a 2 CD and 1 DVD set and a 2 CD and 2 DVD set featuring bonus footage. The set will also be available as a digital download, apparently, but I wouldn’t have a clue about that.
An even weirder – and expensive – xmas for the Beatles pundit this year is a storage case for htis year’s Beatle re-issue frenzy, bookended by two books detailing the discographies of the US/UK and in the second book the rest of the world with rare picture sleeves to boot. Very nice, but the second book isn’t really relevant when the set only replicates the UK versions of the records (barring the US version of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’) and has a £82 price tag. Ouch! (I got my set of the music for £135!)
Finally, what better way to see out the year than in the company of the fab four? Paul Gambaccini offers yet another take on the Beatles’ history on Radio 2 on December 30th and 31st with ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, ambitiously trying to tell in two hours what the Beatles’ Anthology series failed to do in ten.
♫ CSN News: Well, its not strictly a CSN release but they are one of the lynch-pins of a well-received new book of photographs about the artists who lived in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon. The book, titled ‘Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon’, is written by Harvey Kubernik and published by Sterling.
♫ Jefferson Airplane/Starship News: A welcome discovery that’s slipped out quietly during the last few months – with no mention in any music papers that I saw – is the first ‘proper’ CD release of the first five Jefferson Starship albums (some of them have been out before, but only on a series of increasingly head-scratching two-for-one combinations). The set includes mini-CD replica sleeves for the superlative ‘Dragonfly’, the over-rated million-selling ‘Red Octopus’, the under-rated piddling-selling ‘Spitfire’, the weak ‘Earth’ and the energetic ‘Freedom At Point Zero’, although the only bonus tracks are a handful of alternate takes and demos for ‘Red Octopus’. It’s a nicely presented set, though, that will look good on the shelf next to the Jefferson Airplane 5 CD set (which contains Takes Off!/Surrealistic Pillow/Bathing At Baxters/Crown Of Creation/Bless It’s Little Pointed Head – everything you need for a truly psychedelic trip in other words, although of course these albums have been out on CD individually for decades now in different formats)
♫ Monkees News: This Saturday, December 19th, Radio 4 will attempt to tell the story of The Monkees in, erm, half an hour. The show, entitled ‘Here We Come’, is already causing controversy due to Davy Jones’ allegations that everything that went wrong with the band was down to Mike Nesmith. And we thought the BBC were ambitious trying to tell the fab four’s story in two hours...
♫ Oasis News: Liam Gallagher will definitely be continuing his recording career under his own name backed by the other band members, while brother Noel has been keeping uncharacteristically quiet about his future. However, Noel has been in the news enthusing over the remix of Oasis track ‘Falling Down’ by Amorphous Androgynous – a four-minute work of promise from the band’s final album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ now extended into a 22-minute epic.
♫ Pink Floyd News: A tape of the Floyd’s early Top Of The Pop’s appearance plugging ‘See Emily Play’ in July 1967 has come to light after being mis-labelled for decades in an anonymous music archivist’s collection. The show from Jul 6 1967, along with another from July 27 that year, will be screened as part of the ‘Missing: Believed Wiped’ event at London’s SouthBank on January 9 next year. Another TOTP discovery was made by the family of comedian Dick Emery, recently, who discovered that one 1974 show in his collection was not in the BBC archives.
♫ Rolling Stones News: Two big big anniversaries for the Stones this month: First up, it’s 40 years since Altamont (or was on December 6th anyway), the Stones’ free festival that ended up with four deaths (including one murder) and effectively ended the trend for free festivals begun so wonderfully by Woodstock just 4 months before. Radio 2 celebrated, if that’s the right word, by way of a fascinating documentary looking back at all the factors that went to make up the mess and included a few snatches of performances and interviews that haven’t been broadcast before. BBC 4 also repeated the ‘Gimme Shelter’ film of the concert – planned with such enthusiasm for the stars taking part and instead twisted to become a moving and harrowing glimpse at how so many good intentions can go so bad so fast. The scene of Meredith Hunter’s death from a Hells Angel’s knife still has the power to shock to this day, as do Mick Jagger’s increasingly frustrated attempts to calm the crowd down. However, it’s sad that only the Stones’ part in events ever seems to get mentioned – CSN performed, albeit briefly while Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin – the unsung hero of the festival - even got beaten up by a Hell’s Angel in an attempt to stop an argument going on in the front row while the rest of the band play on, horrified (Paul Kantner’s neat response: ‘to the hell’s angel whose just beaten up our lead singer...gee, thanks for that!’)
It’s also 40 years since the second and for most people definitive Stones live album ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!’ The show, recorded during the Stones’ tour of 1969 is yet another example of the Stones producing live albums from their weakest tours not their best but is still well regarded by many a Stones fanatic. The latest re-issue includes a DVD of performances from the same period and the restored opening sets by Tina Turner and BB King. Paint it black, you devils!
♫ Cat Stevens/Yusuf News: There’s a repeat hearing of the nicely intimate ‘Radio 2 Live’ perfomance from earlier this year on December 22nd, which features plenty of classic songs (including some rarities such as early song ‘Portobello Road’ and film soundtrack song ‘Don’t Be Shy’) as well as songs from Yusuf’s impressive new album ‘Roadsinger’.
♫ Neil Young News: A surprise and welcome showing of the 2005 Neil concert film ‘Heart Of Gold’ took place on Channel Five the other week. A shame the UK premiere of this Nashville concert had to take place in the early hours but still, it was an unexpected bonus for us British fans and reveals the film to be a rather lopsided affair featuring the whole of the patchy but still best-in-a-decade album ‘Prairie Wind’, followed by some old acoustic friends dominated by 1992’s ‘Harvest Moon’ with a delightful ‘Comes A Time’ and thoughtful ‘Old Man’ the highlights.
♫ ANNIVERSARIES: (December 5-11th) Happy Holidays to the following AAA musicians – Jim Messina (bassist with The Buffalo Springfield 1968) who turns 62 on December 5th and Bobby Elliott (drummer with The Hollies 1964-present) who turns 67 on December 8th. Anniversaries of events include: The Rolling Stones hold a ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ to celebrate the release of their new album – it quickly turns into a food fight between the band and the media (December 5th 1968); The Beatles fan club posts the very first fab four xmas flexidisc to thousands of members (December 6th 1963); it’s 40 years since four people died at the Rolling Stones’ hosted free concert at Altamont Speedway. AAA groups CSNY and Jefferson Airplane also appeared (the Grateful Dead were due to play but refused due to the ‘bad vibes’) (December 6th 1969 – the ‘Gimme Shelter’ film outlined above is premiered on the same day in 1970); The Beatles appear on the pop panel show Jukebox Jury in a well remembered TV appearance sadly missing from the archives (December 7th 1963); CS and N announce to the press their intention of working together in the future – the trio begin recordings the following summer (December 7th 1967); On the same day The Beatles’ Apple Boutique begins its ill-fated run in London’s Baker Street (December 7th 1967); The Beach Boys release their first single ‘Surfin’ which becomes a minor hit on the national charts (December 8th 1961); Pink Floyd release ‘The Wall’ 30 years ago this week (December 8th 1979); John Lennon dies 29 years ago this week on December 8th 1980 at the age of just 40; the same week in 1972 saw the first issue of Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ single which surprisingly flops the first time round, having been issued too close to yuletide to reach most radio playlists (December 9th); The Moody Blues’ first line-up, including Wings’ Denny Laine on lead vocals, release their famous single ‘Go Now’ (December 10th 1964); The Minbenders release their first single with future 10cc member Eric Stewart on lead vocals ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ (December 10th 1965); Gentle Giant Otis Redding dies in a plane crash at the age of 27 (December 10th 1967) and finally, Lennon releases his ‘primal scream’ album, Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, the record that waves goodbye to the Beatles in more ways than one (December 11th 1970).
Anniversaries (December 12-18th): Happy Birthday To You if your name is Ray Jackson (singer and harmonica player with Lindisfarne 1970-75 and 1978-93) who turns 61 on December 12th, Frank Allen (bassist with The Searchers 1964-present) who turns 66 on December 14th, Tony Hicks (guitarist with The Hollies 1963-present) who turns 66 on December 16th and Keith Richards (guitarist with The Rolling Stones 1963-present) who turns 66 on December 18th. Anniversaries of events include: Pink Floyd’s first ever concert outside their local college for charity Oxfam as part of an all star cast of young hopefuls at the Royal Albert Hall (December 12th 1966); The Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus is recorded during a marathon 22-hour session from the early hours of December 12th-13th December 1968. It won’t be seen by anyone outside the band for another 25 years; the first ever solo Beatles concert takes place when the Plastic Ono Band, with a guesting Eric Clapton on lead guitar, perform a set at the Toronto Peace Festival (December 12th 1969); The day after sees The Who playing their new rock opera Tommy at London’s Colosseum Opera House (December 13th 1969); Mick Taylor leaves the Rolling Stones to make way for Ronnie Wood (December 14th 1974); George Harrison is deported from Hamburg for playing a club while under-age (the rest of the Beatles sheepishly make their way back to Liverpool without him, after a short brush with the police who charge two of the makeshift Beatles for trying to set their employers’ club on fire; December 16th 1960) and finally The Who call it a day – for the next seven years at least – with a farewell show at Canada’s Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, with The Small Faces’ Kenny Jones on drums (December 17th 1982).
And finally, hip-hip hooray to those between December 19-25th: Carl Wilson (guitarist and so much more with The Beach Boys 1961-2003) who would have been 63 on December 21st and Ian Burden (keyboardist and programmer with the Human League) who turns 52 on December 24th. Anniversaries of events include: Keith Moon’s first on-stage collapse (of many during his 12 years in the limelight), as early as The Who’s 1965 UK tour (December 19th 1965); Paul Simon scores what is to date his only #1 solo single with ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ (December 20th 1975); The Beatles begin their 1963 Christmas Show tour (December 21st); Janis Joplin is the special guest star vat a one-night only Stax super-star soul night (December 21st 1968); Small Faces drummer Kenny Jones officially joins The Who in the wake of Keith Moon’s death in September (December 22nd 1978); Paul McCartney performs his last ever gig with Wings at the fondly remembered Kampuchea Benefit concerts in London – there are rumours of a Beatles reunion too, reportedly the closest all four members ever came to an agreement. The gig is also special because its the first time McCartney is meant to have met Elvis Costello, his future writing partner, who is also performing at the event (December 22nd 1979); Tom and Jerry, aka Simon and Garfunkel, release their first ever single at the tender age of 14. ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ is a bit local hit that becomes a minor national chart entry (December 23rd 1957); Mike Smith of Decca Records travels to the Cavern Club to see the Beatles play – contrary to popular opinion about Decca, the label are really interested in the band until Brian Poole and the Tremeloes comes along and the label demur over signing two such similar bands at the same time come January (December 23rd 1961); Poor Brian Wilson has a pretty miserable xmas in 1964, after suffering his infamous breakdown on a plane leaving home for yet another American tour – this is the last time he will be a regular sight on a Beach Boys stage (December 23rd); Ready Steady Go goes away forever when the last edition of this iconic series is broadcast on December 23rd 1966; Blues singer Johnny Ace dies when a game of Russian roulette goes wrong on December 24th 1954 – his death will help inspire the classic Paul Simon song ‘The Late Great Johnny Ace’ in 1983; The Who chart with their first album ‘My Generation’ in the UK (December 25th 1965) and finally, Paul McCartney and Jane Asher announce their engagement on December 25th 1967. The relationship only lasts a few months after this, however...
Friday, 11 December 2009
♫ And so it is with a hint of sadness and a touch of cynicism that we look back at the past year’s releases and delve beneath the hype to see what releases really were worth buying after all the dust and hoo-hah has settled down. It’s not been a vintage year – in fact, very few AAA artists released new music at all (Yusuf and Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian are the year’s only real contenders) – however, 2009 seemed to be something of a milestone year in terms of deluxe re-issues and the fruition of projects that we’ve been promised for much of the past decade (more in Neil Young’s archives). So even though we’ve had very little that’s been ‘new’, as such, there’s been an awful lot of releases this year that I’d have never predicted this time in 2008 (The Beatles finally make good on their promise to replace the awful 1987 CD masters; The Beatles officially sanction their first ‘game’ since the ‘flip your wig’ monstrosity of 1963; A record company actually has the belief in Graham Nash and the patience to sift through all the record company changes to come up with a 3CD best-of; CSN sanction a CD of demo recordings, first mooted way back in 1991; Neil Young finally gets round to releasing the follow-up to 1977’s compilation ‘decade’ with a set that’s been on the schedule sheets since the mid-1980s). Let’s hope for more of the same in 2010!
5) Neil Young “Archives”. We’ve moaned about the price. We’ve moaned about the lack of rarities in quota to songs we own dozens of times over. We’ve moaned about the lack of packaging. We’ve moaned about the fact that Neil’s going to keep adding costly downloads to each set as and when he feels like it. We’ve moaned about the fact that the box set only covers the years up to 1972. And we’ve moaned that this set has been so long in coming that practically all of Neil’s fans have gone and got the stuff on bootleg already. But the dozen or so rarities on this set really are interesting for the most part – Neil’s earliest recordings dating way back to 1963 when he was with The Squires (they sound a pretty nifty band too, more than able to give The Shadows a run for their money); an exhilarating unreleased song ‘Everybody’s Alone’ which sets the template for much of the ‘doom trilogy’ to follow in its wake, the ridiculously rare single-only ‘War Song’ that makes it onto CD for the first time and sounds like Ohio’s baby brother and an exquisite first take of ‘Birds’ from 1969, that gorgeous song of fragility and loss from ‘After The Goldrush’. It’s not what fans had hoped for and the release of all the semi-interesting concert recordings as CDs in their own right was truly a bad move, but for this handful of goodies alone the set is worth an entry on our list.
4) Jefferson Starship ‘Five Original Classics’ (see the above news section). I’m not too clear when this set did make it out on CD but it seems to be this year so it’s going on our list. This nicely packaged set might not have many rarities but it has been produced with a lot of care and a straightforward CD pressing of these first five Starship albums is more than overdue. ‘Dragonfly’ is the first and best – an exhilarating ride through angry Kantner political rants, soaring Grace Slick explorations of love and loss, a fine cameo song from Marty Balin and a couple of decent songs from the under-used David Freiberg. Almost every song is a gem and we haven’t a band this together on a Jefferson release since Bathing At Baxters. The other albums are a lot patchier (make that an awful lot patchier for the pretty ordinary ‘Earth’) but are also well worth hearing – especially the 3rd and 5th albums which – to the best of my knowledge – have never made it to CD before. Now if only 2010 could see the release of the next three Starship albums I could die a happy man...
3) Graham Nash ‘Reflections’. It seems so long ago when this set came out in February that I’m quite amazed I’m talking about this long-awaited set in the right year. But I am and so let me fill you in on this long-awaited follow-up to Rhino’s equally excellent David Crosby set ‘Voyage’. There are less rarities from the classic era to be found – and spreading them throughout the set doesn’t work quite as well as with Voyage’s ‘bonus’ disc of rarities – but there are oodles of gems in this collection. Highlights include alternate – and better – mixes of such superb songs as Better Days, Military madness, Another Sleep Song, Cathedral and especially Cold Rain, a handful of unreleased songs including two gems in concert favourite ‘Magical Child’ and the superlative 1986 song ‘Lonely Man’ plus some of Graham’s rarer and hard-to-find later material. It would have been nice to have hear more rarities (there are plenty more in the can, especially from the 1970s) and we’ve q few quibbles with the running order of even the best known songs, but this is still an impressive set and the packaging is glorious, chock-a-block full of Graham’s own pictures of himself, friends and family. We reserve the right to add Stephen Stills’ ‘Manassas Pieces’ to this list by the way – hopefully it’ll be under the tree gathering pine needles and record needled this year...
2) The Beatles ‘The Beatles’ (Mono/Stereo Box Set). Not for the first time, the sheer extent of the coverage and publicity for the Beatles’ latest re-awakening for another generation has split the music collectors down the middle. Much mooted this set delivers on all the key points (excellent sound, nice packaging and an attention to detail that usually passes Apple by these days) even if you have to admit that critics of the set have their fair points too (no bonus tracks or rarities, a high retail price albeit not as bad as the old CD sets and the bonus documentary(s)was a bit of a damp squib after being screened the day before the sets were released). By and large, though, they finally got a Beatles set right – no fancy extras that don’t quite work, no gimmicks to tie the thing to this time (‘Beatles Rock band’ is a separate enterprise and rather a good one I hear) and no teasing the public by releasing the CDs one by one. At long last Apple/EMI have excelled by concentrating on the one single aspect of The Beatles’ legacy that’s guaranteed to last: the songs. You can sell your unwanted copy of ‘Beatles Love’ now the real thing is here at last!...
1) Yusuf aka Cat Stevens ‘Roadsinger’. ...But the best release of the year by contrast came out quietly, with just the one radio and one TV appearance to plug it. Yusuf’s second album since his retirement easily beats the first and finally lives up to the hype we were given for that set ‘An Other Cup’ a few years ago, full of the quiet warm thoughtful ballads that Cat used to excel at, with a sensitive modern production that actually works (you wouldn’t believe how many AAA albums have been scuppered by force-feeding musicians ‘modern trends’ this past decade or maybe 2 or 3). Cat’s voice sounds like it always did and his message is more or less intact. If only every ‘comeback’ album could live up to this one, which doesn’t put a foot wrong anywhere... Highlights include the long awaited (by me, anyway!) Sun/C79 follow-up ‘Everytime I Dream’, the masterpiece in epic miniature ‘In This Glass World’ and the slow and soothing ‘Dream On’. Excellent stuff.
And for those who haven’t noticed, 2009 also sees the end of yet another decade. Again, it’s not been a vintage one by any means but it has at least seen the continuation of the 1990’s interest in all things 60s and has seen the release of some archive sets that we never would have dreamed of even a few years ago. There has been lots of good music around too – and no we don’t mean The Spice Girls or any of their modern interchangeable boy or girl bands either – talent doesn’t fade overnight, it just gets a bit rusty and there have been plenty of AAA albums well worth digging out in the past 10 years. Here’s our run-down of our favourite 10:
10) Brian Wilson ‘Gettin’ In Over My Head’ (2004). This album suffered from being released hot on the heels of the surprise issue of our beloved ‘Smile’. Compared to that masterpiece of a milestone any album would suffer, but this album (whose title seemed only too apt given its frustratingly unfinished state) – like every Brian Wilson solo – contains its fair share of jewels that glitter so brightly and wonderfully that suddenly I can forgive everything. ‘Soul Searchin’ is a delightful archive song featuring brother Carl on lead and finally finished by Brian several years after being abandoned; ‘You’ve Touched Me’ is the most genuinely happy we’ve heard Brian Wilson sound since parts of Pet Sounds and a delight to hear; the title track is one of the most gorgeous orchestral epics of Brian’s complete back catalogue; and ‘Rainbow Eyes’ is a valiant attempt at welding the complex middle period Beach Boys sound with the fun primitivism of the eras either side of it. You won’t want the rest (even the long awaited duet with Macca on ‘A Friend Like You’ is a big let down) but when this album is good it’s very very good indeed.
9) Neil Young ‘Prairie Wind’ (2005). Neil’s been on a downward curve for some time now – at least since 1995’s ‘Mirrrball’, some would argue longer – and his last two albums have rather ruined the idea that this album represented something of an upward momentum. But ‘Prairie Wind’ is a special album recorded in trying circumstances: first the death of Neil’s father, famous Canadian sports journalist Ben Young and then Neil’s own near-brush with death after suffering a brain aneurysm mean this album is even more introspective and mellow than normal. But the lyrics are easily the best of Neil’s 1990/00s output, full of outpourings of grief for all the things he never got to say to the dearly departed, fragmented memories of a childhood when the past 6 odd decades seemed unimagineable and an eerie presence breezing though the whole thing, from the pull on the artist’s paint brush in the first track to the dying embers of Neil wondering aloud what God put him on earth to do in the last. Like many a thematic Neil Young album you desperately need something different to come in and shake up the tempos/instrumentation/ ideas, but as an ongoing concept suite this is Neil’s best in a very long time. Highlights include the scary epic ‘No Wonder’ and the gentle ballad of goodbye ‘Falling Off The Face Of The Earth’.
8) Paul McCartney aka The Fireman and Youth ‘Electric Arguments’ (2008). We covered this one in detail last year (its in ‘news and views 13a if you want to go look for it). Suffice to say it still sits as the best McCartney release of the decade (beating most of his albums by some margin, although 2001’s ‘Driving Rain’ was ‘bubbling under’ for this list too), fragmented, elliptical, curious and compelling in a way we haven’t seen since 1980’s McCartney II. Adopting a persona and a new way of working (making up songs on the spot after choosing a tempo, key or snatch of lyric to work on) really brought out the best in Macca, freeing him of his commitments as an ex-Beatles and giving him the freedom to experiment and use his fabulous hard-working sub-conscious for a change. Not every track works but then you’d expect that from an album this experimental and open – the remarkable thing is just how much of this album works as well as it does. Highlights include the buoyant ‘Dance Til’ We’re High’, the White Album-ish ‘Travelling Light’ and the fascinating, impenetrable ‘Lifelong Passion’ and ‘Is This Love?’ which sounds like Macca working out his recent problems with Heather Mills and turning his fears into art. Just like old times.
7) George Harrison ‘Brainwashed’ (2002). Perhaps the saddest album on this list is this posthumous farewell from our dear old friend George, who left this album in a ‘nearly’ finished state after dying of throat cancer in 2001 and left his son Dha ni and his friend Jeff Lynne to complete for him. What’s sad isn’t that this is an album that actively tears at your heart strings (well, not till the moving title track and it’s Eastern coda anyway), but that it represents such a grand return to form after the over-produced misery that was ‘Cloud Nine’. Again, not every track works and George’s barbed tongue stings more than it needs to throughout (not to mention Jools Holland’s truly diabolical playing) , but the gems such as the exquisite song of helplessness ‘Stuck Inside A Cloud’ and the rallying cry of a title track are among the best things that George Harrison had ever done. No wonder we miss him so much.
6) Oasis ‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002). Back when Oasis were a going concern, not just a musical fight between two siblings, ‘Heathen Chemistry’ was the return to form of the decade. Well, sort of – personally I never thought this album’s two predecessors were as bad as everybody said – but suddenly in 2002 the tide had turned and Oasis were, briefly, fashionable again. Having a barnstorming effortless rocker like ‘Hindu Times’ and a spine-tingling production masterpiece like ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ certainly helped, but it was this album’s quieter songs that helped give the band such a needed turn-around in fortunes. Noel’s ‘Little By Little’ is one of his career best songs, chilling in its attempts at forced confidence and sudden bursts of self-provoked anger and hopelessness and Liam’s ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ may well be his best song, a scary study of the outsiders in life and the sacrifices that cost them dearly as a result. Best of all, however, Oasis sounded like a band again and only one song (a rather drippy instrumental) truly disappointed on the whole LP. Good times.
5) Yusuf ‘Roadsinger’ (2009). As discussed above (and in news and views no 31), the former Cat Stevens’ return to form did everything its predecessor ‘An Other Cup’ had promised to deliver and failed. Abandoning the need to get his religious conversion across successfully, this is a welcome journey through the struggles of life in the modern world, full of warmth and quiet strength that makes even depressing credit crunch-inspired songs as ‘The Rain’ sound hopeful. Cat’s casting of himself as the ‘roadsinger’, a modern day minstrel who travels around in a camper van to visit places of tyranny and offer the support that governments don’t allow, is also a good concept, tying several of these songs together. Mainly, though, its the joy of hearing Cat going back to writing acoustic songs again that makes this album a gem. Against all the odds there isn’t a single song I dislike on this album – see above for the highlights – with the only negative point being the frustratingly short half-hour running time.
4) Belle and Sebastian ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ (2003). B and S were on a downward slope this decade after the highs of the mid and late 1990s, but both this album and its predecessor (2001’s ‘Fold Your Hands, Child’) still contain so many little nuggets of greatness that they more than deserve a place in the top reaches of this list. This album caused some controversy at the time by uniting the wilfully amateurish and gorgeously messy B and S sound with Buggles producer and bombastic production specialist Trevor Horn (now back working with ‘regular’ musicians like Robbie Williams). The two actually sound like soulmates at times here, with such eccentric ideas as a ping-ponging ball bouncing between speakers to segue songs and sudden switches in tempo that take B and S out of their familiar territory and back again before they get lost. Highlights include some fabulous Stuart Murdoch wordplay and such moving tales as ‘Lord Anthony’ (school bully victim) and time-delayed lover (‘She Wants Me’, one of a number of songs revealed recently to be ‘about’ Murdoch and fellow band member Isobel Campbell who left the band a couple of years ago). Some of the production gets in the way of a good song and the two semi-hit singles were a bit of a sell-out its true (the simplest songs in the B and S canon), but the rest more than makes up for it.
3) Stephen Stills ‘Just Roll Tape’. This one seems like a bit of a cheat: a half-hour reel of songs recorded by Stills in demo form after a 1968 session working with Judy Collins. But we CSN fans honestly didn’t know of its existence until this CD’s shock release in 2007 – the tape was kept by the engineer who worked on the session and had been forgotten about for years until its discovery. We’ve said it before on this site and we’ll say it again: in the years 1968-72, Stills was on the most majestic form of any musician on this entire list. His productive rate in this period was ridiculous (one CSN album, one CSNY album, one Buffalo Springfield album, one Super Session, two solo albums and two more with Manassas) and they’re practically all masterpieces. Alarmingly, this CD revealed that most of those magical songs were already written by 1968 along with a handful more that had never been heard of since, plus some early versions of songs that won’t be finished for a good few years yet. Even more alarmingly, they already sound almost perfect here – no need for CSN vocals or anything – and the unreleased songs show every bit as much promise as the ones that got left in the can. As a reminder of why CSN mattered, some 30 years after their last ‘definitive’ release, this release was a glorious present and one that remains of the best and most mesmerising of Stills’ canon. The highlight: a messy but nevertheless glorious first attempt at the classic CSN song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes which to my ears has never sounded better.
2) Ray Davies ‘Other People’s Lives’ (2006). What a decade for the elder Kink. Left without a record contract for more than a decade, with time spent writing an ‘unauthorised autobiography’ (how I love that gag!) that was decidedly weird to say the least, watching his former house get ripped apart by New Orleans floods, suffering the shock of seeing younger brother Dave suffer a stroke and shot in the leg by a mugger, here’s betting that Ray won’t want to remember too much about the noughties. But the music, what little of it we’ve heard, hasd been fabulous: this return to form is the most consistent Kinks-related release since, blooming heck what the hell, the 60s and passes over the all too similar Kinks album sound for a fascinating melee of styles, each one handled with deft skill and dexterity. Things Are Gonna Change and All She Wrote are among the angriest songs of Ray’s back catalogue, After The Fall, Next Door Neighbour and the breath-taking Lonesome Train among the sweetest. The lyrics too are tremendously clever little vignettes of ordinary life (as the title implies, we get lots of insights into ‘the little people’ which is something we haven’t really heard from Ray since ‘Arthur’) but they’re also tremendously revealing: we learn more about Ray from this album than possibly any other since ‘Face To Face’. Highlights include the exquisite ‘Lonesome Train’ with its take on sudden death/runaways (the subject matter is left deliciously vague), the curt response to a goodbye note in ‘All She Wrote’, the progressing desperation of ‘Things Are Gonna Change’ and the hopelessness of ‘Over My Head’, a track similar to Brian Wilson’s epic in more ways than just the title. Only the practical joker ‘Stand Up Comic’ palls after a few playing but even that track took guts to deliver and shows a keen eye for modern life.
1) Brian Wilson ‘Smile’ (2004). The best album of all, however – possibly of all time – remains the album that we never ever ever ever ever thought we’d actually get to hear. You can read the full story in album review 101 but in brief it was abandoned in 1966, caused a nervous breakdown from which Brian’s only been begun to recover from in the past decade and caused the few of us in the know to fall over in hysterics every time we read that ‘Smile’ was abandoned because ‘Sgt Peppers’ came out and beat it so easily (the worst Beatles record up against the Beach Boys best? It’s no contest, even with ‘A Day In The Life’ on the album). Every few seconds brings something new, everything new perfectly fits, everything fits but gives us suprises, the surprises make us cry and they make us smile. Music was born to be written like this – gorgeous little nuggets of emotion doubled up with Van Dyke Park’s clever multi-layered lyrics pegging first American History then childhood then the four elements down into succinct pools of wonder. Even 37 years late the world hadn’t yet caught up with this album and I curse the fact that lack of support and frustrating circumstances drove away Brian’s confidence just when he should have had it the most. Smile is a brave, bold, daring attempt at something new that’s as magical, musical, moving and marvellous as any album ever made. Highlight: all of it. I mean, come on, what’s the weakest track here? ‘Good Vibrations’?! Gee, perhaps this hasn’t been quite such a bad decade after all...
You can buy 'Passing Ghosts - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Lindisfarne' in e-book form by clicking here!
Lindisfarne Mark II “Happy Daze” (1974)
Tonight/In Yer Head/River/You Put The Laff On Me/No Need To Tell Me/Juiced Up To Lose//Dealer’s Choice/Nellie/The Man Down There/Gin And Tonix All Round/Tomorrow
'Though the trinkets of glory have fallen my way, I haven't got what I had yesterday and I have forgotten what I had to say'
One of the features I noticed time and time again whilst writing the 101 ‘canon’ reviews for this website was how the more peace-and-love-and-buddies a group seemed to be in the 1960s the more they would bicker and disintegrate during the 1970s, falling prey to the same problems they'd spent their early lives fighting against. The Beatles, CSNY, The Moody Blues - they may have sung that all you need was love but for a time in the early 1970s they all seemed a long way from feeling it, while by contrast bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones who were always at each other' throats somehow got over their differences and soldiered on. Lindisfarne were no exception: it seems odd to think that a band who seem genuine pals a good 90% of the nights that were filmed/recorded were at each other's throats just three years into their career. We’ve already discussed elsewhere on this website how Lindisfarne might well have been one of the best-known groups on this list had they not suffered from acute ‘third-album’ syndrome (they were the best-selling artist of 1972 after all - just thought I'd get that stat in again) and how the split of Lindisfarne into two camps ater that year scuppered what might have been the most Lindisfarntastic album of all had the two halves worked together. For after something of a step backwards with 'Roll On Ruby', the second album by 'Lindisfarne Mark II' is their equivalent of the first two ‘Jack The Lad’ records, a daring yet still accessible grab-bag of styles from pop to folk and everywhere in-between. In a different era it might have been the launching pad for another terrific group born out of the ashes of Lindisfarne, based around the talents of lead singer Ray Jackson and lead writer Alan Hull, as the Mark II really did have potential however badly they’ve been forgotten in the years since. But the Lindisfarne audience was miffed that ‘their’ Geordie band who spoke so much about peace and healing could part with such bad blood that they never really gave them a chance and what with continuing the Lindisfarne name the band weren’t really given a chance at finding a new audience - and the previous album didn't really help. Audiences were to some extent spoilt by how readily Lindisfarne came together, a fully fledged important new group with their own identity by the time of their very first release whereas the 'Mark II' band had to learn about themselves in public and had awfully big shoes to fill. To this day most Lindisfans won't give the Mark II albums a proper hearing at all - which is understandable in Ruby's case but this much more promising seconds album proves that the experiment could have worked, given perhaps a name not quite so firmly associated with the old band and a hit single or three.
This website is all about rescuing obscure gems from obscurity and revisiting albums that hadn’t got a hope of selling at the time yet sound rather good nowadays and so welcome to our delve into the alternate world of Lindisfarne, a land of ‘happy daze’ indeed. We promised you this review some time in the future back when we were writing about ‘It’s Jack The Lad’ way back in review no 61 - sorry about the delay but, well, we promised you most of the other 50-odd albums in these newsletters as well at one time or another - and it's interesting to compare these two albums side by side, the pinnacles of each half of Lindisfarne’s output. Traditionally the divide was always seen to be between the 'folk' of 'Jack The Lad' and the 'rock' of the Mark II band, but actually it's a lot closer than people think. Interestingly the Jack-a-napes half go in for a sound somewhere in the middle, with the sort of quiet acoustic ballads Alan Hull was known for writing (even though he's in the 'Mark II' band) but who can suddenly reach for the acceleration pedal and zoom off into heavy rock. That eclecticism, so that you never quite know whether a song will end the same way it started, is what makes the debut Jack record especially stand out. The Mark II band tend to be more extremists, with full on rock but also full on folk, with some of the most authentic sounding folk originals of the Lindi canon (Kenny Craddock's 'Nellie' and Hully's 'River' in particular) surrounded by the closest any of Lindisfarne ever got to heavy metal (the drunken squeal 'Juices Up To Lose'). The 'natural' assumption amongst fans was that the Mark II band were going to be the more 'commercial' side of Lindisfarne and get all the hits while the Jackers sold less copies but got more acclaim - after all this half of the band had the lead writer and the lead singer of the old days and between them the combination had been pretty unbeatable in terms of the charts. There are snatches of the old pop sound across 'Happy Daze' - notably the upbeat opener 'Tonight' and the pretty 'No Need To Tell Me' (a younger sibling of 'Wake Up Little Sister' from the glory days) but interestingly Hully seems to have turned his back on the whole idea, turning in a sequence of songs about drinking that sound like deliberately hollow mockeries of Lindisfarne's former brotherly love songs. A band that was once drinking at the fountain of brilliance and perpetual success are now miserably propping up the bar - and drinking is a theme that will crop up regularly across the album as the band become 'juiced up to lose'. The press were merciless at the time, especially on Hull's contributions, because they didn't reflect the bonhomie of 'Fog On The Tyne' et al. But for me that's kind of the point of the record, with the band strangely sober and vulnerable across this album, using the drinking theme ironically because of what it used to stand for in their previous spirit of brotherly love.
Alan made no secret of how disillusioned he was with having to start all over again - and his concern at how badly the 'Roll On Ruby' had sold. The Mark II band wasn't the one he'd dreamed of - with half the people involved in his 'Pipedream' solo record either passing on joining up or ending up in rivals Jack The Lad. Hull has gone through the stage of anger last heard on 'Roll On Ruby' and has come out the other side sounding like the drunk bore at the end of the bar who can only mourn for past times while musing about his drunken-ness. That's put many a fan off - and I can't say I was particularly enjoying a round of songs about rounds of drinks either. But actually both 'Dealer's Choice' and 'Gin and Tonix All Round' are excellent vehicles for Hull to pour out his new sense of regret and worry over how quickly the brotherhood disappeared. 'Son of a gun you're gonna really win this one!' he tells us in the former, so many times over that the mask slips as he realises he's promised this so many times and starts breaking down all over again. 'It's more than a drunkard's dream' he splutters, indignant at the fans' silence, 'you better believe!' Hull admits to drinking in the latter song after feeling a 'little bit insecure' and, the band deliberately wobbly on their legs, struggles through a plea for forgiveness (addressed to his old band or to the listener?) about 'having gone too far' as 'I didn't want to hurt you, but I wasn't really sure'. But Hull doesn't know when to stop, calling out for more to drown out his misery - just as he's hung around for a second record he doesn't want to make. 'You get like that when you know the score' he sighs - but the ironic thing is that the band he's dismissing so readily back him up a treat on this record, perfectly mirroring the slightly hazy, slightly crazy feel of a song that's running on empty and yet the momentum is keeping it going. 'I hope you don't believe a single word I say!' Hull cackles, as if unsure how much of this song is fiction and how much is the truth. Duffy, perhaps picking up on the mood of the album, then jumps up in with the snarling 'Juiced Up To Lose', which might even be a slap in the face to his colleague. 'Stop looking at my best friend!' he cries while Hull tries hard to get out of his commitments 'You came in here with me!' Jacka adds some soulful harmonica to a third good drinking song in a row that's impressively tough and brittle.
Not that any songs on this album are bad, actually, with all three writers (Alan, Tommy and Kenny) all turning in some of their best songs and 'Happy Daze' is if not quite as dazzling brilliant as some other albums then perhaps the most consistent album to bear the band name after the first one. Certainly the band went down a storm in America, where they'd never really heard of the original Lindisfarne (who split after one bottom-of-the-bill tour there). Tommy may only have been with the band a year but another of his compositions 'The Man Down There' is easily the most 'Lindisfarne' moment of the record - a working class song with daggers drawn in much the same mould as 'All Fall Down' and 'City Song'. Jacka sings sweetly, but Duffy's own hoarse vocal in the middle eight knock us off our feet as he gradually convinces the honest grafter Jacka's playing that he's being taken for a ride by the establishment 'getting richer off the likes of you and me'. Tommy even plays a busy bee bass-line that recalls Rod's work on classic like 'Meet Me On The Corner'. Kenny brings the sweet folk of 'Nellie' - the farmer's wife who probably worked the lands of Lady Eleanor - and the delightful album closer 'Tomorrow' about 'slowly realising' that despite his deepest fears they've never happened yet, with more tomorrows to wake up in to put things right. However Hull still comes up with the classics: I'd love to know who Alan wrote 'You Put The Laff On Me' about ('Does it give you a kick to know you've been featured in a song?'), perhaps giving it to Jacka to sing to put us off the scent but he's certainly bitter about something. 'No Need To Tell Me' is a long part of the way to being a classic singalong Beatlely hit single that again seems to refer to the issues within the band ('You go your way, I'll go mine - that's all') but is just missing that extra something to make it stand out. It's still close though. The album highlight though is the exquisite 'River', recorded outside by the band using a mobile unit and full of bird-song and a track that dates back to long before Lindisfarne were ever together (how great would the original line-up have sounded on this one eh?!)
So much for these being 'Happy Daze' - Hull has never sounded more morose and after 'Roll On Ruby' has clearly fallen out of love with the band. So too had much of the audience - and yet ironically enough there's a real sound of togetherness across this album that 'Ruby' was missing. The band really play to each other's strengths and weaknesses here, with four very different vocalists who often song on the same song and some great attention to detail which is the hallmark of any great band. Just listen to the layers on 'The Man Down There', which starts off as Dylanesque protest, turns into soulful rant and swings and closes with a poppy mandolin swirl - no other band can offer what the Mark II band have to offer and they've come pretty close to copying the Mark I style by now (that really does sound like Rod's busy bass and Rod's pitter-patter drum solo at the end, while the sweet and sour harmonies are coming along nicely). Or 'River', where we get the best of both worlds , with Hull performing the sort of 'solo' song he used to do in the days gone past and then being gradually joined by the band bit by bit, ending with Jacka's mandolin, with soulmate Kenny's vocals melting together with his perfectly. This may not have been the band Hull was after, but in many ways it's a better one and his new pals are right there with him. This isn't even a 'down but together' kind of album either. Kenny's contributions all happily look towards the future, always of dreaming of tomorrow and offer a neat counterbalance to Hull's moments of heartbreak. Only the relative lack of work for Jacka (who only sings on half the album) seems a shame, but then Jacka never did sing on much more than this in the old days anyway. 'Happy Daze' remains, like the first 'Jack The Lad' a hidden classic that's gone unloved for far too long, disappointing compared to the original albums only because of how perfect a good two-thirds of the recordings on all three were and how high the 'bar' was set (whereas this album is just set at the bar!)
Really, the Mark II band had a much better chance of success than their rivals: they had the band name, the lead singer and the lead writer plus a lot of band friends like Charlie Harcourt and Kenny Craddock who were well known faces at Lindisfarne gigs before and after. But both bands effectively killed their chances of success with their early material – both Mark II and Jack The Lad spent their first albums criticising the musical merry-go-rounds they suddenly found themselves on; Lindisfarne fans, panicked at the hostility barely contained within third Lindisfarne album ‘Dingly Dell’ fans just wanted a return to the lady Eleanors and Fog On The Tynes. But listening to both albums now is a fascinating experience: the band’s better known material, made around 1970-71 and 1978 bears little resemblance to the songs written in the in-between years, full of good time bonhomie and we’re-all-in-this-together protest songs. In fact, the idea of losing your way and your best friends at the same time dominates both bands right up to the ‘original’ Lindisfarne reunion in 1978. It’s not unusual for bands to make side-swipes at each other in sound (the early Lennon and McCartney solo albums are very similar in tone, for instance, as are some of the solo Moody Blues records from the same era) – what is unusual for both bands is how deeply and for how long they felt such animosity to each other – and how quickly it dissolved in the late 70s, never really to rear its head again.
The other interesting comparison for ‘Happy Daze’ is with this album’s predecessor ‘Roll On Ruby’ which, very much like ‘It’s Jack The Lad’ is a continuation of the bitterness that permeated through ‘Dingly Dell’. Now chances are most of you coming to this review only know ‘Daze’ thanks to the bonus tracks included on the CD re-issue of ‘Ruby’; the full re-issue of ‘Happy Daze’ died a death, sadly, but ‘Ruby’ seemed to sell fairly well for some reason (perhaps because of the fact that Charisma could promote their catalogue as a whole - Happy Daze ended up being the only album the band released on Warner Brothers - the band had actually signed for two and were out of pocket, but they settled for a second Alan Hull album 'Squire' instead on the understanding that it would be cheap and cheerful, which it more or less was). Anyway, putting at least part of the two albums together was a curious move: never have there been two stranger bedfellows on a single disc (well, not apart from RCA mucking around with the Jefferson Starship catalogue, anyway). ‘Ruby’ is all venom and accusation; I mean, just look at that cover – the ‘family’ tree with ‘Lindisfarne emblazoned on the side even features a swan off branch with the message ‘fuck off’ written in tiny writing (it’s hard to see but it is there – interestingly its the smallest, least developed branch that’s fallen off in yet another dig at the band’s old members). ‘Ruby’ starts with a song about how bands should get degrees in business so they can understand if their managers are ripping them off, peaks with a weary song at the halfway point about looking forward to a day when ‘the war is over’ and life can return to normal and ends on a very uncertain note with ‘Goodbye’, with none of this second line-up quite sure that they will ever be able to repeat the experiment.
‘Happy Daze’ on the other-hand is much calmer and more thought out, with the new line-up now used to each other and working to each other’s strengths and weaknesses and keen to put down their imprint as the ‘new band in tow n’ instead of just a rehash of the old one. For the most part they succeed too: sure we’ve got a pastoral Alan Hull ballad, lots of regretful drinking songs and some pop-folk classics sung by Ray Jackson’s perfect pop-folk voice. But if I had a criticism of the original Lindisfarne it’s that they all too often sat on a sound and stayed there throughout the record past the brilliant debut – the highlights of the band’s catalogue for me are the ones with unexpected changes partway through, from the pastoral Lady Eleanor suddenly turning savage in the choruses to the colliery band accompaniment that turns ‘All Fall Down’ from being an introspective ballad into a universal anthem. ’Happy Daze’ has lots of moments like these that help turn a promising song into a very good one; from some of the most consistently impressive middle-eights on this list (different yet suitable to what’s gone before, a songwriting art in itself) to the swapping of vocals from Jackson’s pure pop sound to Hully’s emotional outburst to Thomas Duffy’s soulful deep sound to Kenny Craddock’s more folky tones. All too often the old Lindisfarne took some barnstorming ideas, recording them straight through and left them at that – in ‘Happy Daze’ every verse and chorus, every line almost is trying to pull itself into somewhere new and surprise you. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two albums is that ‘Ruby’ has no heart, being blind to fury and helplessness over a ruined future and ‘Daze’ has too much, with Hull just a little bit too revealingly honest in his drinking songs. Which album of the two you prefer depends on whether trying too hard or too little is your cup of tea, though 'Happy Daze' is certainly the more focussed of the pair. It’s easy to get lost in the sultry, folky tones of ‘Happy Daze’ which is a very aptly named LP (despite the differences between the songs the sweet production and the amount of singer relays going on throughout the whole album it has a very similar sound throughout); listening to ‘Roll On Ruby’ you half feel that someone is going to come along and slap you for daring to listen in.
True enough, there’s no single classic song here to rival the likes of ‘Lady Eleanor’, ‘Winter Song’ ‘Clear White Light’ or even ‘Dingly Dell’ and the Mark II band hadn’t quite got the range of tale nt the original band did (then again, with this as a platform for future recordings, they might have been even better what do I know?) but I have to say this album is far more consistent than other Lindisfarne LPs and two songs come pretty close to milestone level even so. Now, given that a lot of the Lindisfarne fall-out was about the dominance of lead writer Alan Hull, its interesting to note that both of the ‘Mark II’ albums are the ones least dominated by Hully (its not until track 3 of ‘Daze’ that he gets a writing credit – something that had never happened before or after; just look at 1979’s The News where he writes 10 tracks out of 11). After all, the singer-songwriter was already forking out quite a respectable living before his manager decided to stick him in with a ready-made band from down the road – it’s only natural that the others would start resenting only getting a couple of tracks per record once they started becoming just as prolific (especially when one of the songs – Rod Clements’ ‘Meet Me On the Corner’ - became one of their bigger hits). But ‘Mark II’ seems to have been a conscious decision to form a ‘band’, with the divisions crystal clear from the outset and with now 3 writers to choose from its clear that each member had more space for his ideas than had been the case before.
‘Happy Daze’, then, was intended to be the start of something new – and pretty much all the band members have gone on record as saying that record #3 would have been ‘the definitive record by that line-up’ – and with a strong record deal in place at Warner Brothers Lindisfarne could have continued indefinitely beyond that. Nobody involved is quite sure why that didn't happen. Certainly Hull seems to be having second thoughts, telling us via Jacka's deceptively sweet vocal that 'there's no need to tell me the writing's on the wall - you go your way and I'll go mine, that's all' and commenting that the band as it was 'just didn't work'. But the others never agreed with this statement and gave it their all across the record - compared to 'Ruby' they sound like a band who really know what they're doing now and have overcome the 'getting to know you' stage. The actually highly successful tour the band went on had turned them into a nicely tight unit and one that weren't afraid to either borrow from the past or add a little of the present (with one of the best arrangements of 'Lady Eleanor' of them all available on the 'BBC Sessions' double CD). In the end the band just never quite got back together to make the third LP, though without the spectacular falling out of before, leaving 'Happy Daze' as the band's only release on the Warner Brothers label. Unloved and ignored for several decades, fans had got rather used to life without this album (apart from fans like me lucky enough to track down the original vinyl - bless you Birmingham Record Fair!) and what you don't know you're missing you can't miss. What a truly awful shame - 'Happy Daze' has a lot more love, life and laughter than few gave it credit for at the time. However the album came as a pleasant surprise to those who never expected for 'Happy Daze' to be here again (including me - the CD was released months after I'd written the first review!) when Warner Brothers finally released the lone Mark II recording on their label on CD for the first time at the very late era of 2008 with a bunch of Alan Hull pre-fame demos on the back (very welcome although they sound very out of place - the relevant BBC sessions, released previously on 'Roll On Ruby', might have been a more suitable choice!) 'Happy Daze' may not be the Lindisfarne album I play most often or the one I dig out to turn my friends onto Geordie rock, but it is an old friend who never disappoints however long the gap between regular playings and it still feels like a special secret that only a few of us were ever lucky enough to hear (even the great Alan Hull himself apparently missing just how good this record is). Much as I love the Lindisfarne reunion albums - and the original trio of classics of course - there’s something special about the unsoiled beauty and the new ways of saying old things in this period for both the Mark II band and Jack The Lad, under-appreciated groups both. 'Happy Daze' remains if not quite the best Lindisfarne had to offer then a reminder of how the cream of their crop is actually deeper and tastier than many fans and reviewers ever thought at the time.
‘Tonight’ is the opening song and the closest thing to a rocker on either of the Mark II albums. Written by Duffy and sung by Jackson, it’s noticeably more mainstream than the acerbic ‘Taking Care Of Business’ that made Ruby start rolling. Like many of the songs to come it starts off with a promising verse built on a strong, almost Stax Soul-like riff and unusually for songs based on a strong Stax-like riff, actually delivers on a full song, thanks to switching gears partway through and adding in some minor-key doubting to run alongside the narrator’s burst of optimism that ‘tonight’ will be the breakthrough night in his time with his partner. The track is livened up by a terrific guitar solo from Charlie Harcourt, halfway between excitement and doubt. It’s also interesting to see this as some sort of comment on the band’s fortunes; Thomas Duffy put an awful lot of effort into these albums vocally, compositionally and on the bass so its easy to feel his excitement at suddenly ‘feeling better’ now that the tide has turned in his favour. There’s nothing about ‘Tonight’ that you won’t have heard before hundreds of times, but it’s still pretty convincingly performed and good evidence at what a rocking band any line-up of Lindisfarne could be when they got the feel for it.
‘In Yer Head’ is a really oddball track from Kenny Craddock, sung as a gentlemanly ballad for the most part but featuring plenty of early 70s slang and street patois in the stinging lyrics. Each singing member of the band takes a verse, something which is usually a healthy sign of a band working together happily, starting with Jackson and going to writer Craddock, then Duffy for the soulful middle eight and then to Hully for the last verse (the song suits Craddock noticeably better than the rest, however, making you wish that he’d kept it for himself, although the harmonies are spot on as ever). Even though it lasts barely three minutes, this song seems to encapsulate just about every sound the old Lindisfarne had made their own, varying from Jackson’s pop to Craddock’s folk to Duffy’s soul, with Hully doing something of a Bob Dylan impression for good measure at the end. The lyrics of this obscure song are just as complex and changing as the music, taking several listening to decipher, but seem to deal with this album’s half-theme of an unseen unknowable force acting against the narrator. However, like the music, the force is too gentlemanly to speak out loud, simply forcing the hand of the narrator without his knowing. It’s a song about schizophrenia then, effectively, but like all too many cases you wouldn’t be able to tell what was happening by listening idly to the song, only by studying the end result – only Duffy’s soulful holler of ‘but the question is tomorrow will I be full of sorrow when I leave my fate up to the wind?’ is obviously full of doubt and trouble. Like Lindisfarne itself, this song is serenity itself but a bubbling cauldron of emotion under the surface.
A similar trick is played in Alan Hull’s ‘River’, a much older song dusted down for this album (when Hully was temporarily and uncharacteristically suffering from writer’s block) which finds an awed Hull singing almost without emotion, while lyrics of wonder at seeing the world around him anew burn with a passion rare even for Lindisfarne. This special song, the highlight of the whole album, was recorded outdoors to make the ‘feel’ of the song authentic and you can even hear bird song in the background if you listen carefully enough. As a song ‘River’ is the latest in a long line of gorgeous Hull acoustic songs that wonder about God and spirituality without ever quite tying its nails to the mast (‘Clear White Light’ is a more famous example), wondering aloud why the earth was formed and what for. It’s not as pretentious as that sentence implies (this isn’t a prog rock album, after all) and as early as the third line tells us ‘there’s not a lot to say’. Interestingly, this is another song on the album about an ‘unseen force’, but this time its one of wonder and beauty not one of fear and manipulation as in the last track. Like its close cousin ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ (from the Beatles’ White Album’) it tries to be whimsical but strikes just the right note of earnestness in tone. The accompaniment is also spot on – far from overloading the song with things it doesn’t need the band add just Jacka’s mandolin and flute playing plus a lovely harmony vocal from Kenny Craddock to Hully’s acoustic playing. A smashing song, catchy but deep even, that offers up more delights with every playing.
‘You Put The Laff On Me’ is a belated return to ‘Roll On Ruby’s vitriol but like many tracks on this album the emotion is played out rather serenely and gentlemanly. This is another in a long line of Alan Hull songs attacking somebody (we’re never quite sure who), sung by Ray Jackson in a perfect pop voice as ever. Ostensibly, of course, this is a departing lover leaving an unfaithful partner as has happened in a million pop songs before and since but it does seem there’s something deeper here: the closing lines ‘it all ended so quick somehow...does it give you a kick to know that you’ve been written in a song?’ certainly implies this song is ‘real’ and the speed with which the partnership ends is eerily reminiscent of Lindisfarne’s sudden implosion in 1972. Unlike their last album, however, the Mark II band are content to take the anger and hurt as inspiration for another pop masterpiece instead of dwelling on it as before and turn in another tight band performance – Duffy’s chirruping bass, reminiscent of Macca’s late-period Beatles work, really hits the spot, running in counterpoint to everything the narrator seems to be saying while Jacka’s voice has never been better. A word too for Paul Harris’ drumming which comes into its own on this track: smart and serene for the verses it turns into a frenzied percussion monster in the blink of an eye when the mood of the song changes. The sudden and unexpected ‘wo-o-o-o-o-oah’ at the end of the chorus is another neat touch, taking the song down in fever pitch and allowing the chorus to fit back to the verse without having to do something really complicated (modally this song seems to be all over the place if my ears are correct). Another intriguing experiment that, for the most part, comes off.
‘No Need To Tell Me’ is the closest the Mark II line-up ever came to re-creating the light pop that Lindisfarne used to roll of occasionally in-between the heavier moments. Part pop, part music hall, this is a short but sweet song again about conflict within the ranks (‘no need to tell me the writing’s on the wall...you go your way, I’ll go mine, that’s all) that sounds musically as if it doesn’t have a care in the world. In the context of the album its ever so slightly twee, but it does successfully break up the mood just as Davy Jones’ songs used to do on Monkees albums. Jacka’s well at home on the track, as ever, and his mouthorgan playing is well up to standard too – sadly he doesn’t get as much chance to show off his harmonica skills on this album as he does on other Lindisfarne LPs. A close cousin of ‘Wake Up Little Sister’, this is Lindisfarne with their foot off the throttle enjoying a leisurely stroll in between the heavy courses.
‘Juiced Up To Loose’ is the one big ‘heavy’ statement on this album, sacrificing all of this album’s gentlemanly tone for Duffy’s wild, raw vocal about – again – the unforeseen circumstances in life that keep doing him wrong. Duffy’s vocal is either terrific or horrible depending on your taste – certainly its not something I’d like to hear a whole album of but coming at the midway point on this album its terrific, making the stakes mentioned on the rest of the record that much higher. Strangely, though, its one of the few tracks on this record that are simply about romance and things going wrong rather than having any under-current but that doesn’t stop Duffy and Jacka’s heavy puffing harmonica make the most of their sorrow. This is also the first of a record three songs about going out drinking and then wishing you hadn’t – Duffy’s narrator is obviously trying to hide from something in his life but even he sounds as if he positively hates his drink by the end of the song. Again on this album,. It’s the middle eight that catches the ear, Duffy’s narrator dropping his anger for a bit of self-pity with the everyman blues lines ‘one time empty time losing man, can’t do anything right’ until suddenly the band blow him out of his solidarity with some exceptional harmonies on the line ‘till I hold you tight’. Hearing what the narrator is missing, as well as what he’s suffering, really takes this song up to the next level until the song wearily pulls it head up to go round the houses again and comes to a troubled, slow-motion halt.
‘Dealer’s Choice’ is Hully’s rather more wordy take on the same subject and – amazingly – it’s the first time on the album that we hear those familiar Hull and Jacka harmonies singing together for any length of time. Hull’s tune is deceptively bouncy and typically Lindisfarne in its irregular time pattern, building layer upon layer as the harmonies add in. Like the last narrator, Hull’s character is drinking to forget his recent past but losing more than just his memory along the way (in the song’s best line, he finds that ‘maybe in the morning you’ll have lost all but your voice’). It’s also another of Hull’s ‘character’ songs, studying other people’s reactions and opinions when he walks into a room and then saying that, actually, he doesn’t care what they think about him anyway, a regular Hull songwriting trick. It’s an appealing, scruffy song this one – it sounds like a lot of half-thought out ideas stuck together, and it probably is, but it gets away with it thanks to cheeky charm, some quick-witted wordplay and a great hook in the chorus which lurches from minor to major key so suddenly it sounds like a drunk about to fall over. Which, lyrically, he probably has.
‘Nellie’ is the folkiest song on the album and interestingly its written not by Hull but by Craddock, filling in the hole where a Rod Clements song used to fit. It’s another angry protest song this one, crying out how in the third world families suffer when crops fail, seemingly on the whim of that unseen force that keeps cropping up on this album. Jacka’s vocal seems to relish the folk role he’s suddenly been given and again the band use the trick of adding in harmonisers one by one until the chorus becomes a chorus of dissatisfaction. It’s as if the pied piper walked into town on a protest march, gathering voices with him as he goes. Again, a band performance rescues a song that’s promising but not wholly brilliant on its own – the flutes are a nice unexpected touch and the harmonies are spot-on as ever while Duffy plays yet another unexpected counterpointed bass line, giving the track an urgency it otherwise wouldn’t have. However, it’s the sudden switch in the coda, with a high un-credited female singer adding a folky counterpart and the song seemingly switching down gears only to take off again at break-neck speed, like so many hands stretching out for food, that truly catches the ear.
‘The Man Down There’ is the album’s second gem of a song. Although credited to Duffy it sounds just like the Alan Hull protest songs of old, decrying the faceless banker/bureaucrat who seems to take the fruit of our labours in return for nothing. It’s seemingly born out of the frustrations of the end of the Lindisfarne days with figures ripping the band off left, right and centre, sounding as old and tired as the band generally sound youthful and hopeful. The3 switching of vocals between Jacka’s world weary double-tracking and Duffy’s soulful grit in the middle eight is another great move and the track is full of little pieces of magic (just when the song is getting too ‘heavy’ the middle eight adds a tiny buried-in-the-mix voice joining in on ‘in the sun’, adding just the right tone of hope when the song needs it most). This song is actually more like one by fellow Geordies The Animals and would have fitted in nicely with tracks like ‘Big Boss Man’ and ‘Chain Gang’, with the band getting their own back on the people they feel have done them wrong. Featuring a strong tune, unusual in its three-line scansion and memorable to boot, plus clever and all too true lines (‘the boss man is clever and always will be, he’s getting richer from the likes of you and me’), this song is a forgotten gem and deserves to be far better remembered than it is at present.
‘Gin And Tonix All Round’ is a drunken Alan Hull back again and adding more flesh to the bones of his last track. Sadly listing all the people who’ve got ‘problems’ with the narrator and how annoyed he is by their presence, Hull puts up a case for him being left alone to enjoy his drink only to pull the rug out from under his feet with the acknowledgement that this is oh so the wrong thing to be doing (‘I did not mean to hurt you but I was not really sure...I knew than that I’d had too much so I called out for more!’) Hully’s vocal on this song is excellent, starting off fiery and adamant over his drinking before gradually slumping throughout the song as he acknowledges that he’s only drinking to escape his problems and cheekily signing off with the line ‘and I hope you don’t believe a single word I say!’, each turn of e vents perfectly acted out in sound. Indeed, this song is pretty fine too despite being the third (!) on this theme on the record – multi-layered to reflect the narrator’s growing despondency and spiralling out of control in a much better way than on the other two tracks. Jacka’s harmony vocal in the last verse is perfectly judged too, ‘talking about religion and the state of the world today, till I realised there was nothing new to say’ and heading for the door. Could it be that this is a contrite, humble Alan Hull now all too aware that he too might have had something to do with the band’s split in 1972? (This is a band who could ‘drink for England’ ,according to most sources, after all). The clearing of the path towards the Lindisfarne reunion begins here.
‘Tomorrow’ is Kenny Craddock’s muted farewell to the album and – although they didn’t know it at the time– to the Mark II band themselves. It’s a slow, lazy, acoustic song about slowly working out what you want out of life and how to get it – un like most songs of this sort, however, the narrator isn’t suddenly rushing off to fulfil his destiny but all too aware that ‘I’ll awake to carry on tomorrow’ and have plenty more chances of getting things right. Such an optimistic note sounds rather out of place on this rather self-pitying album but it nevertheless suits this album’s air of quiet determination in the face of overwhelming odds. There’s still room for an uncomfortable verse or two however, such as the woman who comes to ‘take your happiness away’ and the narrator’s leaving his house to wallow in the wild nature which suddenly sounds wet and uncomfortable in contrast to the picture of nature in ‘The River’ and the song does end on a rather wistful note with a mournful saxophone trying to shrug off a bubbly bass line that’s all over the top of it. Suffocation, then, seems to be the feeling of this last track and that’s a pretty good summation of the album as a whole.
So, unforeseen forces directing our destiny, a nature who is glorious and spiritual and yet harsh and uncomfortable, a series of drinking songs that reveal not the escapism so much as the problems that sent the narrator there in the first place – this album tries hard to be just another well played, well written rock/pop/folk album circa 1974 but the emotions are just too strong to deliver on that promise. Thoughtful and multi-layered, ‘Happy Daze’ isn’t quite happy and isn’t strictly dazed – it knows exactly what is going on but can’t quite pin down why. Lindisfarne were always a group who wore their emotions on their chest and excelled in making light catchy songs about deep subjects, but on parts of ‘Roll On Ruby’ and almost all of ‘Happy Daze’ they seem to have made this new genre their own, adding lots of twists and turns to songs that in other hands might have sounded ordinary and filling them out with band performances that are right up there with the best of them. Well, you get like that when you know the score I suppose - and that's that for another week (I hope you didn't believe a single word I said!)