Monday 22 February 2016

"The Beach Boys" (1985)

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"The Beach Boys" (1985)

Getcha Back/It's Gettin' Late/Crack At Your Love/Maybe I Don't Know/She Believes In Love Again//California Calling/Passing Friend/I'm So Lonely/Where I Belong/I Do Love You/It's Just A Matter Of Time/Male Ego

You have to feel for Dennis Wilson. There he was, for much of his childhood, dismissed as a 'troublemaker' while his elder brother Brian got praised for his many talents (not just in music but in sports, too) and his sweet younger brother Carl got all the hugs. Dennis, the most reluctant of the Beach Boys at first (he was only allowed to join the band because his mum Audrey thought it would be good for him) had perhaps the most fascinating journey of all the band members, slowly blossoming from a bored surfer propping up his brothers and cousins to a writer of extraordinary talent and power. The late 1970s are a golden age for Dennis supporters, with one finished and one unfinished album ('Pacific Ocean Blues' and 'Bambuu') that top anything still being released under the Beach Boys name at the time and - at long last - Dennis was getting the kudos he deserved. But as so often happens in the Beach Boys story things went wrong, fast. Dennis was struggling financially and emotionally, splitting for good with the love of his love Karen Lamm (for a second time) and falling headlong into romance number five (with Shawn Love, a girl who claimed to be Mike Love's illegitimate daughter and therefore his own second-cousin). A lack of funds meant that his precious second album was left unfinished when the creditors came to take his home studio away, agonisingly close to a completion date, with Dennis left unable to fund his own sessions at a 'proper' studio - and most 'proper' studios unwilling to let him near them anyway given his growing reputation for drink and drugs. For a time during 1983 Dennis had even become homeless, a world away from the reckless spender of years past. Dennis' life was clearly spiralling out of control and in retrospect it seems he was crying out for help long before that awful day in December he became the first Beach Boys fatality, drowning off the coast of Marina Del Ray in Los Angeles, in all likelihood banging his head on the side of a boat as he dived, inebriated, into freezing waters to look for possessions he'd once thrown overboard during a drunken row with Lamm years before. The irony of drowning  after so many years of singing about the sea and it's darker nature ('Pacific Ocean Blues' especially) would surely not have been lost on Dennis, the member of the band who'd got the band interested in surfing in the first place.

The other irony is that the Beach Boys and the Beach Boys community had, as they always had during Dennis' lifetime, been looking entirely the other way. Brian was the Beach Boy everyone worried about back in the first half of the 1980s. Slight rallies of Brian's mental state in 1976-77 and 1979-81 had offered hope that Beach Boys fans might be in for a fairytale ending after all, but since the last Beach Boys studio album 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' in 1981 Brian now looked poorly too, his svelte athletic frame ballooning up to becoming dangerously obese while the few people who saw him (Brian didn't  socialise much in this period) admitted later that they feared for his life. The Beach Boys had been put on hiatus partly because of concerns over Brian's health, with a particularly disastrous gig at Long Beach on the American Independence Day weekend in 1981 and lack of recent sales persuading The Beach Boys that taking another break might be a good idea (though they had one final and almost immediately aborted attempt to make another album in 1982). Brian, after all, was otherwise disposed - not through his own designs but because his wife Marilyn had in desperation called up his old therapist Eugene Landy who demanded 24 hour surveillance of Brian and refused to allow him any contact with the rest of the band (though Dennis allegedly snuck in the house to see his brother more than once; fans have started referring to Landy as a 'terrorist therapist'). Carl quitting the band, officially for a solo career but mainly because he was fed up of the band being a mere 'oldies' act, probably didn't help either as by the early 1980s he was the only member of the band still talking to everyone else. The other irony in all this of course being that regular touring and recording might have been just the thing Dennis needed to get his head and his finances together.

Things had shifted a whole 180 degrees by the time The Beach Boys finally put aside their differences and came back together again properly in 1985. By now Brian was the measure of health - physically, at least, although rumours (that turned out to be mostly true) were already surfacing about the mental torture Brian was going through at the hands of Landy, who helped ghostwrite (perhaps solely write) Brian's autobiography 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' and insisted on becoming Brian's manager and co-writer as well (to be fair this is painted in the book as Landy attempting to make sure that Brian always had another person with his best interests at heart during business meetings - and there's no doubting that Landy's weight loss programme helped saved Brian's life however excruciatingly tough it may have been at the time - but that's not what Brian's been saying about either fact since he broke 'free' of Landy's control circa 1990). Dennis, meanwhile, was mourned and finally being paid posthumous attention as both band and fans began to realize just how important he was to the life and soul of the band and - as arguably the highest profile death of a 1960s legend in tragic circumstances since John Lennon in 1980 - the rest of the world began to understand some of 'our' grief too (the record carries a perfunctory sleeve-note credit to 'the memory of our beloved brother, cousin and friend', but it's better than nothing). Carl, still the only member of the band still talking to everyone else, had also grown bored of his solo career after two albums and wanted to be part of a 'band' again. In short 1985 was suddenly a very good year for The Beach Boys to make another album again, whereas in the early years of the decade it really had seemed to be all over.

The result, though, is not what fans were probably expecting. Though the record is named 'The Beach Boys' (amazingly it's taken 25 records for the band to name one after themselves - most bands do that with their debut!) it's hardly the band's most unified album: the band turned up to work separately, adding their vocals long after the main backing tracks were recorded and it seems likely that only the song's composers (and there aren't many originals at all on this album) turned up to the first recordings. A public yearning to hear the Beach Boys' famous block harmonies have to wait a whole six tracks into the album before they hear more than two of them in the same room. Though the band, naturally enough, talked about making a tribute for Dennis for the album (an album which, arguably, might not have happened at all had his death not inspired them to get together again) it somehow got left off the album at the last minute, a rare mournful collaboration between Dennis and Brian somehow ending up unfinished. The band play nothing on the album themselves, a couple of quick Carl Wilson guitar bursts and some Bruce Johnstone piano aside - and while they hadn't played as a 'band' since '15 Big Ones' back in 1976 'The Beach Boys' takes this idea to a ridiculous extreme. Dennis must surely have given a wry grin on whatever cloud he was looking down from in 1985 when the sleeve notes came out crediting a whopping 17 additional musicians over the course of the album, including one Ringo Starr ('You see - it took that many people to replace me and one of them was a Beatle!')

The biggest surprise though is the production: rather than sound like the band always used to (an approach the band had largely clung to across the changing 1970s) or even their own Beach Boysised version of what everyone else is listening to (which is what the band will do for their next three albums 'Still Cruisin' 'Summer In Paradise' and 'That's Why God Made The Radio') The Beach Boys sound utterly lost inside a 1980s pop world that doesn't allow any wriggle room at all for the band to stamp their identity one iota. This is a problem common with many AAA bands in the 1980s (the rigid and synth-led emotionless decade that was the polar opposite of the free and experimental feedback brimming 1960s when most of our bands began), but even by these standards The Beach Boys sound utterly lost here, trapped in a world they really don't belong in with the usual Beach Boys warmth and emotion clashing head on with artificial sterile drums, then-top-of-the-range-now-thirty-years-out-of-date synthesisers and suspected artificial sampling 'treatment' on the vocals, surely sacrilegious for a group where the harmonies play such a central role. Many fans point their fingers at producer Steve Levine, then at the peak of his fame thanks to his work with Culture Club - but to be fair he delivers exactly what he was asked to by bringing The Beach Boys up to step with the latest technology (Bruce, always the Beach Boy with his ear closest to the pop market, was a fan and suggested him if you're wondering - chances are no one else in the band knew who he was). Levine knew the pop market of 1985 better than anybody and even begs, borrows or steals a leftover song from Boy George himself (perhaps the hottest star of 1985) so in that sense he's the perfect producer for a band determined to go all-out and reap the commercial rewards of being as 'current' as they possibly can be. He also urges the band to go all-out and make an album that's recorded digitally from start to finish - well ahead of most of The Beach Boys' rivals (though, as I never get tired of telling people, it wasn't some young punk but a 34-year-old Stephen Stills who became the first artist ever to record a song digitally back in 1979). This, though, is The Beach Boys, a band who can't even be in the same room as each other never mind agree on the direction their career should take (to show you what we mean only Carl and Levine were there for the first sessions in June 1984the album started recording in June 1984 with only Levine and Carl in attendance, Brian came in for two weeks in July and left again after recording his songs, Levine and Carl finished backing tracks in October and did some basic vocals with Mike and Brian, with Bruce and Al not arriving at the sessions until January 1985). Carl tries gamely to put up with an unlikely pop makeover with some un-taxing songs of his own and a few lead vocals as close to the mid-80s ballpark as he can get them (he even sounds like a Boy George clone on the Culture Club leftover 'Passing Friend'). Mike, Bruce and Al, meanwhile, barely change their stride delivering songs like 'California Calling' 'She's In Love Again' and unexpected hit single 'Getcha Back' which just sound like the usual Beach Boys songs played on synths.

And Brian? Well, Brian's music never pays any attention to anything anyone else is delivering anyway (barring his competitive spirit measuring up against Phil Spector or The Beatles), which is normally a good thing: that's why we get gems no other writer would dream of writing sprinkled across The Beach Boys catalogue, like most of 'Friends' and all of 'Smile'. Here, though, Brian's a little...distracted. Given the stories that have filtered out about Brian's miserable lifestyle in the early 1980s (a meagre diet, lots of jogging, little contact with family and friends and songwriting and piano sessions with-held as a 'special treat') it's no surprise that Brian's contributions are amongst his most eccentric. Landy has only recently 'allowed' Brian to start writing at length and after four years of thinking of music as something he used to do rather than something he can do now means that the elder Wilson is understandably rusty. Most Brian Wilson songs are, at least in there somewhere, philosophical nuggets about learning to cope as a sensitive soul in an often difficult and overwhelming world (even when working with a lyricist that's usually what Brian comes up with, due to his tradition of talking to his co-writers about their hopes, dreams and fears long before they put pen to paper; it's one of the things that makes his work so personal - and special). On 'The Beach Boys' Brian writes songs about chat-up lines and lust ('Don't know why we chase those tasty ladies, we'll still be doing it in our eighties!' - thankfully this only came out on the CD not the vinyl version of the album), going back to California on a holiday, a Four Freshmans pastiche in 'It's Just A Matter Of Time' and a love song in 'Crack At Your Love' so generic it may as well be a Culture Club composition. Only 'I'm So Lonely' hints at the real Brian in there somewhere, but ten lines in total with all emotion drowned out by an oh-so-80s-saxophone-solo-it's-wearing-deely-boppers doesn't add up to the best platform for Brian to bear his soul either. Though the story goes that Landy ripped Brian off by claiming credits on songs he had no hand in (a court case sometime around the millennium has since removed Landy's name from all songwriting credits), you do begin to wonder whether these aren't actually Landy songs being passed off as Brian Wilson credits to get them on an album.

Usually when Brian's in trouble it's his brothers who up their game and run to his rescue. Sadly that's no longer true of Dennis, but Carl at least half-rescues this album from being the shambles it might have been. Though I still prefer the songs the younger Wilson wrote with Randy Bachman for the 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' album the record before (a minority view I've heard), Carl proves once again the glue that holds The Beach Boys together come what may. His song 'It's Gettin' Late', the one Beach Boys US charting single that nobody remembers, is sumptuous stuff with it's one true show-off Beach Boys vocal moment (which must have been a real headache given the different band members turning up at different sessions and overdubbing) and it's emotionally 'real' sounding lyrics. 'Maybe I Don't Know' makes a better fist of updating Carl's usual sound for a pop market than anything on his solo records. 'Where I Belong' is a tender ballad that bucks the trend of this noisy synth-infested album and keeps things soft and simple, to poignant effect. With more lead vocals than any Beach Boys album in years, Carl is also the single best thing about many of the album's more half-baked recordings: he out-shines Bruce on his own 'She Believes In Love Again', makes 'Passing Friend' sound like an emotional confession rather than a song so uninspired Boy George couldn't sell to his own band, repays what he stole from Stevie Wonder on the 'Wild Honey' album with a vocal that almost sounds like Little Stevie twinned with Beach Boy DNA and turns 'Male Ego' from an utterly outrageous misguided attempt at a comedy track that insults the entire female population at a stroke to an utterly outrageous misguided attempt at a comedy track that insults the entire female population...with a nice rocking background vocal. Given what Carl had to put up with from all sides whilst making this album, aided only by Levine (whose later comments about the band being 'a little set in their ways' suggests it wasn't the happiest experience of his life either) the fact that this album was ever finished seems enough for a nomination into sainthood. That would have gone double if Dennis' song had ever been included however (while all of 'Bambuu' was up for grabs if the band had wanted to pay their brother, friend and cousin a 'proper' tribute). This is, regrettably, the last Beach Boys album where Carl makes anything more than a token cameo appearance.

Unusually, though, it's Mike who gets the album highlight with yet another variation of the tried and tested 'Do It Again' with 'Getcha Back', a single that deserved it's unexpected success a lot more than number one hit 'Kokomo' ever did. This time the couple in the song are getting nostalgic not for the beach so much as each other, remembering their own innocent times before modern life got in the way - a device that actually makes sense of why the song sounds like a hybrid of half-remembered Beach Boys trademarks and modern technology. Al, with Brian's help, also shines on the album's one utterly retro moment 'California Calling', which might not be much of a song but is one hell of a performance with everyone in the room sounding like they're having fun in the studio (for the first time since about 1973 to be honest). Reducing Mike to just two co-writes (his other, predictably, is on 'Male Ego'), Al to the same (he helped write 'Crack At Your Love' with Brian, though re-writing Landy's words from a finished demo seems more likely) and Bruce to just the one song seems like an odd call for a band who more than ever need to prove their status as a credible inspired creative group, though. Surely between them the three of them could have come up with something better than resorting to a Culture Club leftover or a Stevie Wonder song that, while good, is not exactly in their style?
For fans who'd waited patiently for this record for four whole years (the longest gap so far by a year or so), Dennis worshippers who longed for the band to find 'closure' and a more general public who'd only just discovered the band through compilations and the news about the drummer piquing their interest 'The Beach Boys' was a disappointment. Too much of the album is bland and forgettable, the harmony vocals are near-absent and the lead vocals often forced, Brian once again should have been given time to recover and get well, not be forced into writing songs his therapist is automatically taking a half-cut from and the production makes even the promising moments more underwhelming than they deserve to be. In many respects 'The Beach Boys' is weaker than both of the more maligned albums that come after it, as at least 'Still Cruisin' and 'Summer In Paradise' unashamedly sound like The Beach Boys, even if neither sounds like particularly inspired Beach Boys. There are, though, moments here and there that are worth putting up with all the mistakes to be able to own. For a minute there the real Brian comes shining through at the start of 'I'm Lonely' and it's lovely, right up to the minute the track becomes an unashamed pop song. 'It's Gettin' Late' proves that the 1980s weren't entirely incompatible with The Beach Boys, with some lovely ear-catching production swirls set around a powerful Carl Wilson tune. 'California Calling' might not be the deepest song The Beach Boys ever came up with, but it's simplicity makes it shine out on such an over-cooked over-produced album. 'Where I Belong' has both heart and voice going for it. And 'Getcha Back' is the kind of catchy Beach Boys number fans had been dreaming of. No this isn't a perfect 'Beach Boys' album and in many ways it's a travesty of an album simply for not sounding like 'The Beach Boys', but it's far from hopeless. If only we could give Carl the keys to the master-tapes and get him to do a remix (on the lines of the 'Stripped Down Mix' that so improved John and Yoko's similarlyover-80sised 'Double Fantasy'), substituting some Dennis moments for the weaker tracks, you sense this album has so much more it could have given.

Oh and in case you're wondering where our usual praise/moan about the front cover is...well there isn't really much to tell you about, with the band's name filling in a picture of the beach when printed on a plain white background. It's nothing like as good as the covers for 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' or 'Summer In Paradise' in the future, but neither is it quite as tacky as '15 Big Ones' 'The Beach Boys Love You' or 'MIU'.

Moving onto the music, 'Getcha Back' isn't like the rest of the album - it's an unashamed pop song from Mike and his new writing partner Terry Melcher (see our Byrds reviews to learn about the input of Doris Day's son in the music world) that plays it sturdy and safe, rather than novel and weird as Carl and Steve Levine cook up between them. Though your instinct on first hearing is to feel ever so slightly disappointed (the song runs out of tricks once you've reached the end of the chorus and needs a middle eight, a solo, a bridge or something to make it soar) by the time you know the album well this is the track you look forward to the most. That's mainly for one of only two instances of full on block Beach Boys harmonies with Brian, Carl, Mike, Al and Bruce all here - especially Brian whose lived-in falsetto still sounds wonderfully pure and innocent despite everything he's recently been through. Had Brian written this song himself of course he'd have no doubt instinctively tidied a few things up: his harmonies sound like a sketch rather than a melody, while the chorus needs more than 'getcha!' (Mike used to be an expert at writing choruses so it's odd he loses the knack round about here). That said, though, even though Love's lyrics shamelessly re-write 'Do It Again' from 1968 that's no bad thing; it's touching to hear that the usual Beach Boys tales of holiday romances at the beach didn't always work out and the narrator's pangs of nostalgia and regret as he passes his old haunts. It's very Beach Boys, too, that the trigger for this sudden mood comes from hearing them 'playing our song' on the radio and that it's music that unlocks the memories (a regular Beach Boys theme, though music has nearly always inspired happy memories until now). In context, you wonder if this was written more about the band than a marriage too, with four years of near-enough silence and the death of Dennis broken by less than harmonious album sessions and a lead song that asks 'can we ever get it back again?' The track deserved it's top thirty US chart status (the band's best since as far away as 1976 - and even then with a cover song 'Rock and Roll Music') and proved that Mike knew the Beach Boys formula backwards - and sometimes that's all you need, even if you'd never claim this as one of the greatest or most pioneering thing the band ever did.

'It's Gettin' Late' is the closest the album comes to being daring. The Beach Boys don't just dip their toe in the water of 1980s pop here but dive right in and the result is, while not up to past classics, at least more ear-catching than most of the album. Digitally sampling and combining Brian's and Carl's voices for the opening sounds of 'aaaahs' over casio keyboard hell ought by rights to be the single ghastliest mistake The Beach Boys ever made, but there's an instinctive understanding here by someone (Levine?) who knows what he's doing enough to allow the band to get away with it. Carl wrote the song, with an awful lot of help it has to be said (his writing partners throughout the album are Nashville songwriter Robert White Johnson, better known as a producer for Celine Dion and Lynyrd Skynyrd among others and Myrna Smith-Schilling, who'd already written songs for Carl's two solo albums; this will end up being their last work together) and it sounds like one of his solo album tracks with the benefit of some Mike and Brian guest spots. Not least for the surprising amount of lust in the lyrics (Carl's solo albums are full of this, either in a belated attempt to get a hit or to overthrow his 'gentlemanly' image within the band) which find Carl getting uncharacteristically impatient for his lover to turn up and spend the night with him. Though the tune and lyrics are pretty basic by themselves, a punchy chorus and the acrobatic twirls of the opening (which carry on in only slightly more subdued fashion throughout the rest of the song) add some extra depth to the lyrics. The constant motion (and emotion) makes this seem less like a one-off lover's tiff than a long-term romance heading for the rocks after the narrator gave her one final chance to show up. Though the song, sadly, ends on a fade at just the wrong time there's a finality about this track in common with Carl's solo tracks written around the time of his divorce - the stakes are higher and this is a relationship that's getting 'late' and old. The result is a strong one-off experiment that really comes off and is arguably one of the four tracks on this album really worth hearing, although you're also pretty glad the band didn't do a whole album of this stuff.

Most Beach Boys fans have probably already skipped ahead to hear what Brian has to say, but for once in his career the elder Wilson is writing songs slighter than his brother or cousin. 'Crack At Your Love' sounds like 'Matchpoint Of Your Love' from the 'MIU' album (a daft song comparing a romance to a tennis match) but one that's more self-aware about how stupid it all is. Strangely, while the old Brian would have kept such looniness for himself (this song would be right at home on the near solo Brian 'Love You' album), he passes the lead vocal over to Al Jardine. Now, Al has a sense of humour to go with anyone but his natural persona is more reserved than the rest of the band (he's the one that isn't a brother or cousin after all). Singing a straight song about California or Santa Ana Winds, especially those with a folk lilt, he excels. Singing Brian's daft comedies he always sounds deeply uncomfortable and that's more so here than even 'Take A Load Off Your Feet, Pete' or 'Honking Down The Gosh Darn Highway', both of which have to be heard to be believed if you haven't heard them yet. Weirder still that's Brian himself popping up on the mournful middle eight which is so brief and to the point ('Lonely nights...lonely days') that you wonder if Landy/Levine/Love (what is it with people whose names begin with 'L'?!) heard Brian begin to pour out his heart and soul over the pain of the past and reminded him 'hey, keep it light - this is a pop album!' Not for the last time in a piece of Brian's comedy, though, it's the serious bit that catches your ear and sounds like the real deal - the rest of the song sounds forced, right down to the disco style 'ooh's and the lyrics that rhyme 'bliss' and 'kiss' and 'eye' and 'sky' with such pride that you wonder if this song was written in high school. Not horrid by any means, but very very weird as only The Beach Boys can be.

Not that Carl is a lot better on his go at a pop-rock song 'Maybe I Don't Know', although at least he sounds at home in this world of 80s pop, turning up the grit on his voice and adding some nicely grungy guitar to make up for a chord sequence so 1980s Stock-Aitken-Waterman probably have it copyrighted. Like much of Carl's second album 'Youngblood' it finds him trying to both hurry and shy away from the dating scene now he's a bachelor again. However Carl's rage (well comparatively - Carl's not the sort to lose his rag completely) seems misplaced for someone he's only just started dating, which leads me to wondering if this is instead a song he wrote defensively when trying to escape The Beach Boys circa 1982 when all they wanted to do was tour the old songs. 'You've got me thinking your existence is my life' nags Carl, before blaming himself for 'Ever thinking we could make it good'. It would be very Carl to ask for a 'guarantee' that things will be better, even though he and we both know you can't guarantee something like that in a changing life. The barn-storming guitar solo by Gary Moore, played with a surprising amount of anger for a Beach Boys recording, suggests that Carl was certainly directing the song at somebody. Ironically, though, if it is a song aimed squarely at the Beach Boys it suits their harmonies well, with Bruce especially shining on the backing vocals which goes well alongside Carl's typically charismatic lead. The performance and production, though, are simply making the most of what's at best only an ok song that like many on this album needed a middle eight or a bridge to make it sound 'complete'.

Bruce fits in his second token song since rejoining The Beach Boys in 1979 and it was even released as the album's third single, becoming one of the few of the band's singles to miss the charts completely on both sides of the Atlantic. 'She Believes In Love Again' is a bit wet to be honest, Bruce using the new technologically enhanced backing to go even slower and fill even more of the awkward silences up with noise than usual. He sings the song as a duet with Carl which means the song overcomes the problems of many of his songs in the past by making it sound more 'Beach Boys-ish'. But fans - and apparently the singles buying pop fans of 1985 - dislike this song for a reason. It just doesn't go anywhere and its main idea (she never used to be in love till she met me) has both been better done in a hundred other songs (The Monkees' 'I'm A Believer' and The Hollies' 'I'm Alive' among them), while sounding, like many of Bruce's solo songs, a little egotistical (it's not love in general that helps his girl recover her enthusiasm for life - it's his love; usually we'd give AAA writers the benefit of the doubt but this is the person who came up with 'I Write The Songs That Make The Whole World Sing' remember). The tragedy is Bruce is so much better than this - his songs in the late 60s/early 70s are amongst the more unfairly overlooked in the Beach Boys canon - and with Dennis gone and Brian going it could have been like the 'Sunflower' period all over again, with band members pitching songs and ideas in to keep the band afloat. Instead Bruce's only song on the album - and his only new song since 'Endless Harmony' on 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' - is his weakest yet, only salvaged really by Carl's contribution.  Bruce, who can sing with the best of them (and arguably has more of a voice left in the present day than any of his bandmates), doesn't even sound good on this record and is either trying way too hard to sound like an 80s boy band (New Beach Boys On The Block?) or has a nasty cold coming on. The album's second weakest moment.

Just listen to 'California Calling' - yes it's one of those Beach Boys songs that's had a rummage through the box of clichés again but the band still sound amazing with song composers Al and Brian swapping vocals with Mike (Carl is taking a rare rest on this album). Out of context this is an annoying song, a tribute to California so simple it borders on stupid and with this latest return to teenage crazes sounding ever more uncomfortable as the band hit their middle 40s; if you sped the wonderfully paced 'California Saga' from 1973's 'Holland' up it would sound pretty much like this. In context, though, this track really gives the album a lift. This 1985 record is one of the band's more po-faced recordings, low on the energy and enthusiasm that's the band's trademark, but 'California Calling' is the one track where everybody is having fun and one of only two that sounds instantly Beach Boys, for better or worse. It helps too that the 80s effects are kept to a minimum, with just one keyboard part rather than seventeen and this is the only track on the album to have 'real' drums, as played by a visiting Ringo Starr (the Beatle drummer had got in touch after playing at the same festival on the Independence Day Weekend of 1984 and guesting with his fellow headliners; rather sweetly the song he chooses to perform with them is 'Back In The USSR', Paul McCartney's affectionate parody of 'California Girls' Russian style from 'The White Album'). It's a better fit than you might expect - Ringo's style really isn't that far removed from Dennis' and together with the 'old' style and some excellent surf-style guitar you could almost believe this was a track from years ago (only a slightly damp feeling about the backing vocals, which sounds as if they're singing through a synthesiser, gets in the way). Not the classic it might have been had Brian and Mike written it circa 1964-65 perhaps, but it's a better pastiche than the similar returns to the early sound on 'MIU' and about ten times more affectionate.

One of the reasons Carl tries so hard to get hold of a big-name producer was the address book of contacts it gave the band: surely an album released in the mid-1980s with a song written by Boy George (whose band Culture Club had scored one of the biggest international hits of 1983 with 'Karma Chameleon') couldn't lose, could it? Unfortunately this wasn't a good time for George, whose releases in 1985 were restricted to two forgotten songs for a movie soundtrack and who was struggling with a drug addiction so wild it made Brian's own look tame by comparison (if perhaps not Dennis'). 'Passing Friend' sounds in retrospect like a bitter song written to contractual obligation as a favour to a mate by a man who'd rather run away from the whole pop circus anyway. It's not so much 'Karma Chameleon' as 'Why was I ever born?' style moaning. The Beach Boys, always open about their own feuds in song, ought to sound right at home here but this is a song quite unlike anything they've ever done before. Just check out some of those words: 'In the child's eyes, there were feelings, touching my violet skin' 'There's nothing worse than a silent ghost or to lose your head at the starting post' 'I've been talking to a million people - you'd think by now I'd know the score'. Boy George (using his 'real' surname 'O'Dowd') doesn't need a band from the 1960s to sing his songs - he needs a psychiatrist and a rest. The Beach Boys could perhaps have got to grip with this song had they remembered their own 'why did we do this in the first place?' period of 'Smiley Smile'/'Wild Honey', turned up the sarcasm a notch and simply made the record to please themselves - but you can tell that somewhere down the line someone official went 'Hey The Beach Boys covering Boy George - make it as commercial as you possibly can!' Carl does a sterling job, even singing in George's own slightly slurred style to make the lyrics flow (he also sounds as 'gay' as any Beach Boy ever will, perhaps to counteract the outrageously heterosexual 'Male Ego'), but the only other singers are anonymous backing musicians and chances none of the other Beach Boys even appear on this track. To work, this experiment badly needed more of a reminder of the band's own style - as it is, it just sounds like a Culture Club song with the lead singing having an off day.

'I'm So Lonely' is another track that doesn't quite do what you expect. One of Brian's greatest gifts was his ability to wear his heart so openly on his sleeve and allow everyone to hear just what was going on inside his head. Unfortunately the twin restrictions of the band's desire for a commercial record and the ever-hovering presence of Dr Landy (who won't quite allow him to write the 'truth' in case it backfires on him) means that we get an opening verse of typically aching Brian Wilson poignancy, followed by a rather forced pop song set to synthesisers that don't even sound as cute and charming as the early ones on 'Beach Boys Love You'. The song even starts with a saxophone solo for goodness sake - everything that's sterile and artificial and in heavy contrast to Brian Wilson's own writing (if this song had been produced by his old self it would have been full of unusual instrument combinations bringing out the mellow bluesy mocking vulnerability of the song - harmonicas and cellos and harps or something. I don't know - only Brian would know the perfect combination of sounds. All I know is some 80s synths and a saxophone isn't it). Brian sounds like he's already pining for Marilyn, even though they won't part officially for a few years yet. He should, by rights, be pining for all sorts of other things as well: his children, his band, his old friends and his freedom, all of which Landy separated him from in an attempt to get him well/control his finances (delete according to how much of Brian's 'autobiography' you really believe). It sounds from those devastating opening lines, as if he's about to. But no: Brian suddenly cheers up, sounding about as cheerful as someone with a gun to their head might be, as he longs for his lover to come back and put things right. The whole song is wrapped up in 46 words, with everything repeated once, and when six of those words are 'so lonely' and one of them is 'whoa' it's probably fair to say this song isn't over-stuffed with things to get your teeth into. Despite all that, the song isn't bad if only because of that pure Brian Wilson-ness of the first verse which, simple as it is, overshadows everything else on the entire album.

'Where I Belong' is the other emotionally powerful track on the album, with Carl and his usual band of co-writers coming up with a song that sounds from the heart. Like his solo albums ('Youngblood' especially) Carl has been adrift, lost in a life that he's been struggling to understand ever since realising the love of his life was over. Now, though, he's been given a second chance and he's overcome with how overwhelming it all is. The fact that this is a Beach Boy, of all writers, singing about coming in to port after dangerous years away at sea adds an extra frisson of truth in there too. A pretty tune, some nice use of the rest of the band (especially Al adding the counterpart 'darling where I am', which itself recalls classic Beach Boys single 'Darlin'; there's a lovely 'ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah ah' chord progression that's pure Brian Wilson and proves just how much attention his younger brother had been paying) and a moving vocal from Carl that sounds as if he's giving his all understandably make this track something of a late Beach Boys classic for most fans. However, this track could have been better yet: those cold hard-edged synths at the beginning just sound plain wrong on such an emotionally bare song, the other Beach Boys only join in late and their vocals again sound electronically 'treated' (surely hearing the band older and more vulnerable - the usual thing producers are avoiding when they do this - would have made the track even more powerful?) and at least one of the three co-writers should have been able to come up with a better rhyme for 'island' than 'I am'. Despite the problems, though, this is an album highlight and Carl's last great moment as a Beach Boy.

Carl also stars on 'I Do Love You', which is another track by a guest writer no doubt brought in to provide something in their usual style who ends up giving something largely atypical. True, most Stevie Wonder fans will be able to spot the composer a mile away - the way Carl hangs  onto the end notes of each line, the distinctive Motown-orientated backing track (played single handedly by Wonder) and the direct simplicity of the lyrics. But Carl, a big fan of Wonder's late 1960s material, no doubt requested a song in the hope of getting another 'Wild Honey' or 'I Was Made To Love Her', songs that equally suited Carl (who has a very similar timbre to his voice at times). This one, though, is poppy and lightweight even for 80s Wonder (when, like so many stars who came to fame in the 60s and 70s he lost his way a little) and is ultimately even more underwhelming as a pop song than even Mike and Al's songs (though perhaps not Bruce's this year). Had Stevie swapped lines with Carl instead of a very uncomfortable sounding Al (who only gets to sing the title over and over), had Carl duelled with him on guitar or even Levine on keyboards this track might have had more chance of working. Instead it sounds like a track Stevie was too ashamed to sing himself, recorded by Stevie as a demo with Carl's voice superimposed over the top. It's not The Beach Boys. It's not much like Stevie Wonder. It really shouldn't be here and sounds even more out of place than 'Passing Friend'.

'It's Just A Matter Of Time' is, regrettably, almost painfully obvious Beach Boys. Not good Beach Boys either but the sort of slow clichéd waltz Brian has been churning out lately as a sort of poor memory of where the band started (as Four Freshman before Chuck Berry's DNA got stuck in there somewhere too). In the same vein as 'Oh Darlin' and 'When Girls Get Together', which slowed 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' down to a crawl, so this Brian (and allegedly Landy) song is unbearably slow and amongst the dullest things The Beach Boys ever did. Though the song sounds like a simple enough devotion of love, when you read them the lyrics and study them they're also pretty weird too: 'I'm sad with nothing to do - it's just a matter of time...' Just a matter of time until what? Is this Brian 'hiding' another song of very real suicidal angst within the context of another pop break-up song? Is he working through his demons for the inevitable split with Marilyn beckoning in the distance? Either way, like 'I'm So Lonely' it sounds like a 'real' song is dangled in front of our eyes before frustratingly being replaced with a boring and generic pop clone. Mike turns in his usual trusty lead, but Brian himself is hard to hear and the backing vocals are so simple yet sloppy that they make all of the Beach Boys' actual Four Freshman covers all the more amazing played back to back. Chances are Carl isn't here again which is a shame as the rest of the band really needed his discipline to knock this song into shape. The third worst song on the album even beating the out of place covers!

The worst though is saved till last, unless you're lucky enough to own the cassette or vinyl copies which don't have the track 'Male Ego' (trust us, you're not missing much unless you plan to start paying money for a therapist). Though for the most part Brian is as pure as the driven snow and a real gentlemen according to most of the people lucky enough to meet him, sometime in his songs something a little more...oddball lurks. Though not quite as misguided misogynistic as the more famous 'Hey Little Tomboy' (see 'MIU', if you dare), Brian/Mike co-write 'Male Ego' cuts it close. The narrator is trying to chat up a girl he sees passing down the street, telling us in a cheeky musical wink that 'we love the ladies more than wealth or fame' (maybe the spirit of Dennis really is represented on this album after all!) Brian sings that 'male ego' is a worldwide phenomenon, that he's got 'millions of girls' running through his 'brain' and during one of the most painful fades in Beach Boys history awkwardly chats the listener up ('Mm you smell nice, what's your name?') Thanks Brian but I'm taken...taken with how on earth anyone thought this was a good idea. Admittedly The Beach Boys don't exactly think a lot about the feelings of the girls in their songs but at least songs like 'California Girls' or 'The Girls On The Beach' have a certain class, talking about hypothetically 'perfect' girls that probably don't exist and praising women as a whole (we'll skirt over the fact it's for being 'hip' and that the narrator 'digs those skirts they wear' - it was the 1960s after all). 'Male Ego', though, is tacky - this isn't even about beauty but about lust. Released in the middle of a decade where some of the biggest strides in feminism were being made (we may berate Margaret Thatcher every chance we get for her policies, but the single most important thing - arguably the only good thing - she ever did was get into power in the first place and prove it could be done) 'Male Ego' sounds particularly wrong, the one moment on this record where The Beach Boys sound hopelessly out of date. The very 80s synth backing (which must have been very modern at the time of release) would have confused even more back then too - thankfully the music sounds at least as old hat as the subject matter now so this song doesn't seem quite as whole-heartedly 'wrong' as it used to. It remains, though, the weakest song on a weak record, sensibly buried away as a 'bonus' CD track (though the question remains why it had to come out at all, especially with other material in the sessions going begging - surely the unreleased Brian-Dennis collaboration couldn't have been worse than this?)

Overall, then, 'The Beach Boys' starts off kinda strongly, rallies a little at the start of side two and ends with two of their biggest misfires in a row. It's not the sort of album you hurry to play after you've bought it, not is it one that you learn a lot from you didn't know already ('harmonies - good, synthesisers - bad'). It's certainly weaker than the more under-rated albums The Beach Boys had been making most recently ('L A Light Album' their last gasp masterpiece and their patchy-but-better-than-people-say 'Keepin' The Summer Alive') and is a lot more dated and a little more uninspired than even the dross to come (1989's 'Still Crusin' is more inspired but only lasts for seven new recordings and three repackaged oldies while 1992's 'Summer In Paradise' has a pretty low average setting but never comes close to being as bad as 'Male Ego', thank goodness). It goes without saying you probably don't need to buy it unless you're a Beach Boys completist. If you are though (and you have my sympathies - why were we conned into buying Brian Wilson duets with Zooey De Schenel and an album of Disney cover songs again?) you might be surprised at just how many highpoints there are on this late period album, most of them due to Carl. 'It's Gettin' Late' and 'Where I Belong' try hard and nearly succeeds, 'I'm Lonely' starts trying and then gives up and 'Getcha Back' and 'California Calling' don't really try at all but have so much fun while they're about it they succeed all the same. Yes, you really miss Dennis (something tells me that even if he'd been alive one look at how these sessions were going and that whacking great bank of keyboards would have seen him bunking off again anyway, like he did on 'Keepin' The Summer Alive') and to be honest you really miss Brian too (or at least the 'real' Brian who barely manages to peek outside the demands for catchy hits). But Carl is doing a great job of steering a sinking ship, Mike and Al do well the few times they actually bother to turn up) and The Beach Boys - just - get away with a product that doesn't entirely undermine that illustrious past. You really don't need this album, but bits of it are still nice to have.

 Other Beach Boys related articles from this site you might be interested in reading if you have a spare few weeks and your own sandbox: 

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012


Lindisfarne: Solo/Live/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part One: 1975-1987

You can buy 'Passing Ghosts - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Lindisfarne' by clicking here!

"Their Finest Hour"

(Charisma, '1975')

Lady Eleanor/Road To Kingdom Come/Down/Wake Up Little Sister/Together Forever/Alright On The Night/Scarecrow Song/We Can Swing Together//Meet Me On The Corner/All Fall Down/Go Back/Winter Song/Clear White Light/Don't Ask Me/January Song/Alan In The River With Flowers/Fog On The Tyne

"I can feel your heartbeat like a song"

Losing a major name is always a bit of a mixed blessing for a record company - they've lost the chance for a future string of records with their band, but the silver lining is they can release whatever compilations they like without the band saying anything to get in the way, effectively for 'free' without the expense of recording expenses of promotion costs. The result 'Their Finest Hour' is surprisingly generous given the circumstances (most similar released tend to be tacky) and a generous playing time means that this record is indeed pretty darn close to being an hour, rather than the usual forty minutes. The track listing contains a good mix of eight 'Nicely Out Of Tune' songs, six 'Fog On The Tyne' songs and three from 'Dingly Dell', all more or less spot on (though 'The Things I Should Have Said' 'City Song' and 'Poor Old Ireland' all more than deserve their places at this banquet table). A proper chronological running order would have been nice though - and the album cover (booze, basically) leaves much to be desired and is something of a disappointment given that it's designed by Hipgnosis the creative team behind most of the Pink Floyd album covers, summing up only half of the band's appeal (now had the booze been drunk by a politician with his nose in a pipe then I'd have been all for it!) The back cover is better though, choosing the racy never-released-in-Britain shot of the band apparently naked in bed together (you'll be pleased to know that in reality they all kept their trousers on for the shoot!) Interestingly Hull wrote a new song named 'Finest Hour' shortly before the split which might be where the title comes from, but never seem to have seriously considered including the song on this set (this happens rather a lot with AAA bands, such as Oasis' 'Stop The Clocks' being named after an unreleased track removed from the tracklisting at short notice). This much-loved comp sold well, peaking at a UK chart high of #55 even without a band around to promote it, though it has yet to appear on CD under this name - that said, many of the songs appear on different best-of compact discs.

Alan Hull "Alright On The Night"

(Market Square, Recorded November 1975, Released October 2009)

Squire/City Song/Dan The Plan/Breakfast/Money Game/January Song/Cheeky Mouse/Gin and Tonix All Round/One More Bottle Of Wine/Winter Song/Alright On The Night/We Can Swing Together/Fog On The Tyne/Lady Eleanor

"I realised then that I'd had too much - so I called out for more!"

So obscure most fans didn't even know it existed before release, this is Alan Hull as his career had left him in 1975 - resorting to local broadcasts on college radio stations as his tour found him at Nottingham's Clifton Polytechnic's Students Union Bar. Most singers would struggle to perform a solo show in such surroundings but Alan sounds right at home, cheering on the boozy students and joining in himself as he wanders between a simple guitar and a humble piano to accompany himself. While you miss the power and clout of Lindisfarne there is something special about hearing Hull strip his songs dowen to the bare essentials and he'll be doing this sort of thing for the rest of his career when the glare of the band spotlight isn't on him. The track selection is an odd one, featuring several songs from his recent album 'Squire' but not the expected quantities from 'Pipedream' or the Lindisfarne material (bar the expected hits and 'City Song' and  'Alright On The Night' - perfect for a student union knees-up!) The rarities include a lovely reading of 'Gin and Tonix All Round' (that's a lot more vulnerable sounding than on 'Happy Daze') and a 90 second piano instrumental dubbed 'Cheeky Mouse' by the set compilers with Hull talking about a mouse that's followed him about on tour 'stealing my cheese'. Hull is on good form with lots of jokes made between songs and he sounds deeply moved with the reception he gets, having clearly assumed that nobody this age (four years on from his heyday) will remember who he is. Though later Hull live recordings are better in both scope and performance, this is a very welcome find indeed and is rather better than just alright on the night. 

Bert Jansch/Rod Clements "A Rare Conundrum"

(Charisma, May 1977)

Daybreak/One To A Hundred/Pretty Saro/Doctor Doctor/3 AM/Curragh Of Kildare/Instrumentally Irish/St Fiacre/If You See My Love/Poor Mouth/Cat and Mouse/Three Chord Trick/Lost Chord

"The will of a child with no cares at all"

By 1977 the world had been without Pentangle for some four years and all the band had established their own solo careers. Bert's was by far the highest profile and best received, with the folk guitarist maintaining his cult following across a series of predominantly acoustic records that were largely solo. By 1977 though he was missing the ability to play with a band and got together with some of his biggest musician friends including Lindisfarne's Rod Clements. The two had been close for several years by this time, having worked together on a few sessions in 1974, and Bert largely left the band up to Rod to choose. Keen not to use his old Lindisfarne and Jack The Lad friends, Rod instead hired Newcastle drummer Pick Withers - a year away from finding fame and fortune with Dire Straits - and violinist Mike Piggott who'll end up staying with Bert in a reformed Pentangle for much of the 1980s and 1990s. While Bert's is naturally enough the predominant sound and none of his new friends get a 'proper' credit on the front of the album, it's really a collaboration between Bert and Rod that feature several characteristic touches by both and a pretty neat mixture of the pair's styles (Bert's pure folk, love of tradition and old songs and seriousness meeting Rod's poppier, bluesy mould with a slightly friendlier tone than some of Bert's work). The pair also produced the album together and it's one of the better sounding Jansch LPs, with a spacious uncluttered feel that really lets the acoustic instruments shine - it's a shame actually that the Jack The Lad albums in particular didn't more of this 'feel' about them. Highlights include the traditional song 'Pretty Saro' (which sounds very like a Lindisfarne song with its fiddles and acoustic guitars even if Rod doesn't do much) and 'The Curragh Of Kildare' which features some lovely double guitar playing from the pair as well as one of Bert's greatest vocals. Jansch should have made more albums like this and Rod is an empathetic collaborator - it's obvious why so many names wanted to work with him. The pair will continue their collaboration on 'Leather Laundrette' in the 1980s which is credited to both of them.
Radiator (Featuring Alan Hull) "Isn't It Strange?"

(The Rocket Record Company, '1977')

Spittin' In The Wind/I Wish You Well*/A Walk In The Sea*/Madmen and Loonies*/Corporation Rock*//Isn't It Strange?*/Lay Back and Dream/Something Got The Better Of You/Love Is The Alibi*/Love Is The Answer*

* = Alan Hull compositions

"Is there anybody listening? Does anybody really care?"

With Lindisfarne Mark II having split and his own records selling poorly, Hull wasn't quite sure what to do next. At first he toyed with making a third straight solo album, recording a series of five demos in late 1975 that feature many of the songs that will end up across this record and an early version of 'Evening' that will be finished for Lindisfarne's second comeback album 'The News'. Hull had however stayed in touch with many old friends from the 'Lindisfarne Mark II' days and was keen to use them as his backing band. In between contacting the band in 1975 and actually recording the album, however, two of the band had mutated into a band of their own named Griffin. The band featured lots of old Hull pals who knew each other through the Newcastle music scene: 'Mark II' pals keyboard/guitarist Kenny Craddock, bassist Colin Gibson who'd played on 'Pipedream' and - eventually - 'Squire' drummer Terry Popple alongside new guitarist Peter Kirtley. At the first the band also contained a drummer named Alan White (unbelievably a fourth AAA drummer with the exact same name, following the session musician who played on The Beatles' 'Love Me Do', the session drummer who played with the Plastic Ono Band at the 'Live Peace In Toronto' gig and the Oasis drummer between 1996 and 2008) ) before Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw, at a loose end of his own after the split of Jack The Lad, agreed to replace him and became the band's second drummer. In a neat mirror of how the original Lindisfarne formed, Griffin were a kind of ready-made band who though the members had written a few of their songs were really lacking a songwriter to give them clout - old friend Hull had the ability to draw audiences they never could and was in need of a band in a hurry, so the union made sense (although I'm surprised Radiator didn't to a 'Wings' and put Alan Hull's name high on the posters - even most Lindisfarnatics were caught off guard - and ended up becoming the second drummer, with White replaced by Terry Popple somewhere in the middle of the sessions. Now a six piece, the band re-named themselves 'Radiator' (a hot name, you have to say!) and performed some very powerful live performances while working on this record that received some of the best reviews of Hull's career.

However the album itself is rather a different story. Hull sounds slightly disinterested, as if he's going through the motions because he has to make some money to stay afloat - not because he really feels the passion in these songs. Many of his latest set of compositions sound like re-writes of songs he's already come up with before and go back to the 'Roll On Ruby' period of being generally quite cynical and bitter, while also suffering from the anonymity of the worst of his last album 'Squire'. Ultimately only two of Hull's songs really stand out - the silly 'Madmen and Loonies' that name-checks famous partnerships that were all a bit mad (although even then it's not as funny as some other comedy Hull songs) and the gorgeous 'A Walk In The Sea' which is both sad and poignant (although it's actually another of Hull's heaving set of pre-fame compositions - what a shame the original Lindisfarne never recorded this song as it would have been a fine addition to 'Nicely Out Of Tune' et al!) As of the rest of the band, you can see why they longed for Hull's input so badly - Kenny and Colin's 'Spittin' In The Wind' is a rather anonymous rock strut of a record, Peter's 'Lay Back and Dream' is a rather clumsy music hall ballad that's comes across like a cross between Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane's solo careers and Kenny and Colin's 'Something's Got The Better Of You' adds a curious flamenco sound to a rather anonymous love song. Notably none of these three songs have anything much to do with Hull's work and the rest of the band barely sing behind Hull either. This makes it all that much easier when Hull will come to revive the album in the wake of the success of 'Back and Fourth' in 1979, turning into a solo set with the name 'Phantoms' (without the three 'outside' songs, which are replaced by three similarly anonymous new compositions - Hull's original intentions when making this a solo record in 1975 was to call it 'Madmen and Loonies'). We'll review both albums as separate entities across this site even thoughy both effectively appear together on the one and only CD re-issue of either to date - 'Radiator' is slightly the better if only because it throws in a little bit more variety but neither is exactly classic Hull or indeed classic Craddock. The record didn't really sell in either packaging, perhaps because in the case of 'Isn't Life Strange?' how weird it all looks, a shot of a woman sitting at the back of a double-decker's top seat in a darkened and creepy looking bus. Hull couldn't in fact find a label interested at all for a year until he contacted old pal Elton John who'd just luanched his own 'Rocket' label for records like this one - that wasn't enough to stop the cheeky Mr Hull adding Elton and co-writer Bernie Taupin to his list of 'madmen and loonies'!

'Spittin' In The Wind' features Colin Gibson sounding like bad AC/DC on a noisy rock song that has some nice brass work but not much else to recommend it. The lyrics are clichéd fare about not getting too carried away with how good love seems at the beginning because you'll only end up crying again. It's a song about karma, really, although this is rather inelegantly described as 'like spittin' in the wind - it all comes back on you!'

Hull's 'I Wish You Well' is pretty enough, with a lovely production and some pretty shading going on behind Hull's love-lorn vocals. Hull's nervy narrator is good too, as he stutters 'I wish you well, well I mean as far as it goes, I mean as far as we know...' However after a strong beginning the song rather sits still and you kind of know where it's going long before it gets there and the slowed down pauses i the middle of the song really don't work - Hull will be back for another crack at this writing style with similarly mixed results on 'Back and Fourth'.

'A Walk In The Sea' is head and shoulders above everything else here and will become a Lindisfarne semi-regular (there's a particularly nice live rendition on the back of 1994 single 'We Can Make It', which turned out to be Hully's last recorded vocal with the band). Hull's narrator claims to be happy when he's alone, to 'work things out in my own mind' but he's suffering from 'I Am A Rock-itis', in denial about the fact that he's just hurt and needs some time alone to re-charge. 'Nobody else feels the same' sings Hull with true hurt and betrayal, 'not even you' - the person he's always believed in.The ambiguous way the song is written makes it sound as if Hull might be walking into the sea for good (which might be why a tinkle of wind chimes marks the end of this song as it fades away) - however it's not a completely negative song. Hull talks about the fact that he still might meet his soul-mate one day, a person with whom he needn't have all the communication problems he's having with his current loved one - 'word no spoken but told, inside of me'. It's a gorgeous ballad, exquisitely played and says so much about the narrator's fragile state without really coming out and saying it directly. Only a true master composer could come up with something like this - so it's deeply impressive that Hull should have written this song so early in his career, alongside 'River' and 'We Can Swing Together' as his first batch of compositions.

'Madmen and Loonies' is as close as Hull ever came to a reggae track and is as mis-cast as all the other white reggae songs out there, especially the spoof Dylan vocal which Hull uses to sing. The lyrics are worth a chuckle though about double acts who work so well 'sometimes fighting, sometime making love, sometimes up against the wall' but who love each other really - Hull quotes Eric and Ernie, Elton and Bernie, Laurel and Hardy and Batman and Robin. Hull talks about seeing all these  'crazy mixed up millionaires and their dancing bears' and not feeling quite so bad about his own circumstances. Which begs the question - who did Alan see himself in a double act with?

The rockier 'Corporation Rock' is a sort-of-sequel to 'Taking Care Of Business', with Hull using a straightforward rock backing that sounds like everything else around in this era in which to lampoon everything that's wrong about the current state of music. At the time this song was written it was the late prog rock era, just before the punk era occurred when music arguably did need a little kick-start and Hull laments how 'safe' music has become, laughing at how music has now just become another business ('Get your divvy at the co-op!' is the mocking backing vocal). Hull says not to worry if a career fades anyway because it's now the norm for musicians to sell washing up liquid and football games! This song is fun but it's not quite as clever as it thinks it is.

The noisy 'Isn't It Strange?' was the one new Hull song recorded directly for the record rather than as part of the 1975 demos and sounds as if he's trying a little too hard to sound like the 'Spoittin' In The Wind' Radiator sound. He'd have done better giving it to Colin Gibson to sing as he lacks the 'demented rocker' voice needed to sing this track, which comes across sounding more like Oi or Captain Sensible.

Peter Kirtley's 'Lay Back and Dream' is pleasant and has a rather lovely backing with lazy accordion and some lovely Craddock piano. However it's all rather forgettable, with lyrics about having taken a gamble on work and finding it had all worked and wanting to comfort his loved one forever.

The Kenny-sung 'Something's Got The Better Of You' is also sweet, with some lovely guitar work and one of the better melodies on the album but is perhaps a little anonymous compared to both Hull's work and his own earlier songs for the 'Mark II' records. The night is meant to be romantic one but the narrator has pressed ahead a little too far and is getting worried about it - oh dear, for both them and us for sitting through this clichéd song.

The album then closes out with another Hull double-act. 'Love Is The Alibi' is a rather unlikeable music hall style jaunt about why love is the only reason for being alive - unless of course it' just an alibi for giving us a reason to stay alive. 'I've read all the stories and sung all the songs, sometimes I'm right but more times I'm wrong' sighs a bitter Hull reflecting on how love keeps changing.

However Hull changes his mind and decides that 'Love Is The Answer' after all. An epic piano ballad in the mould of 'Make Me Want To Stay' (written at the same time but held back), the song turns bitter far too quickly as Hull worries about being left alone ('is there anybody there?') and discovers that he only really finds out what love is when he doesn't have it anymore. It's a rather odd way to end the album and Hull and Craddock may be the only band members on the track.

Radiator rather came apart after the poor sales of the album and with six pay packets to account for simply didn't make ends meet enough on the gigs. The album was shelved so suddenly that few fans even realised it was out and Hull felt sure enough that nobody had heard it to re-issue the album under his own name in two years' time. In many ways you can see why - this is an album that spends most of the record commenting on how terribly bland and ordinary music has become, whilst falling in the same traps of blandness and averageness itself, lacking any real bite or adventurousness that Hull and co usually managed. Even compared to the 'Mark II' collaborations between Alan and Kenny, it's all rather forgettable. However it did give the pair a chance to work together again, re-booting a friendship that will result in some really lovely songs to come in the years ahead. Radiator also convinced Hull finally that he really didn't have much of a future outside the band, with a reunion only a year away. Isn't it strange indeed! However that's not to say this set is totally unlikeable. Indeed, the CD re-issue of this comes highly recommended, a value for money release that adds the  three songs added to make up 'Phantoms' from 1979 and a further five 1975 demos that are slight, but charming including a lovely otherwise unreleased folk tune 'Raw Beacon' that would have slotted in on this album's slightly acerbic tone well. 

"Magic In The Air"

(Mercury, Recorded December 1977, Released '1978')

Lady Eleanor/Road To Kingdom Come/Turn A Deaf Ear/January Song/Court In The Act//No Time To Lose/Winter Song/Uncle Sam/Wake Up Little Sister/All Fall Down//Meet Me On The Corner/Bye Bye Birdie/Train In G Major/Scarecrow Song/Dingly Dell//Scotch Mist/We Can Swing Together/Fog On The Tyne/Clear White Light

"Oh-Woah-woah there's magic in the air, Oh-woah-woah it's everywhere, and I need you to share it with me!"

Tentatively regrouping at Newcastle City Hall for a Christmas gig in 1976, mainly for fun, Lindisfarne were bowled over by the reception they got - the audience sang along to every song, gave the band a standing ovation and the reviews in the music press the next day were amongst the best Lindisfarne ever got. Given that all five original members were suffering various states of ill luck and financial loss, it seemed inevitable that the band would do it again - but with so many commitments lined up already for a busy 1977 the band decided to wait a year until performing together again for Christmas Eve 1977, advertising a run of four shows (of which this was the last) with a giant banner unfurled from the town hall reading 'Lindisfarne Occupation'. They certainly did -  it was the best Christmas present ever for those in attendance and most people agree that This show was even better - everyone was more prepared for it this time and Lindisfarne had brought along a recording unit to capture the concert on tape. The audience are eager to hear the band together again, Lindisfarne are eager to play and, considering this double set is made up of songs from only three LPs, there’s surprisingly little filler here. The album was named 'Magic In The Air' after a line from 'Dingly Dell' (a song the band had split before being able to perform live) and temporarily shelved while the band got to work on their reunion album 'Back and Fourth' released on their new record label Mercury. The record company were only to pleased to release the record as a follow-up to 'Fourth' and to capitalise on the band's new-found success - a reminder of where Lindisfarne had come from to go alongside where they'd gone.

It's a thrilling show, with almost all the songs you'd want to hear performed live by a band who are now the best of friends again (although sadly the one negative point is that much of the jovial banter fans remember from the day itself appears to have been cut). There's a nice mixture of the three albums here too instead of just the 'hits' - seven songs from 'Nicely Out Of Tune' (including a rare 'Scarecrow's Song), six from 'Fog On The Tyne', three from 'Dingly Dell', rare B-sides 'No Time To Lose' (which sounds specially fine) and 'Scotch Mist' and the record's only 'exclusive', a rather noisy cover of R and B standard 'Bye Bye Blackbird'. Lindisfarne rehearsed like mad for this show and are notably tighter and more disciplined than they ever were the 'first' time around - though without sacrificing their natural sound (the harmonies in particular standing out throughout). The highlights include a rocking 'Road To Kingdom Come', a fun and funky 'Court In The Act' with much more life than the one on the third album, a moving solo Hull rendition of 'Winter Song', Rod's bass gulps on 'Dingly Dell' and a moving 'Clear White Light' finale. There are several great performances on this album: Along the way a brass section appears to add an extra colliery band feel to 'All Fall Down', the stage gets invaded by the Killingsworth Sword Dancers for 'Scotch Mist', Jacka turns in his lengthiest and arguably best extended harmonica solo during a very lengthy 'We Can Swing Together' and compere and comedian Mike Elliott turns up dressed as Santa to dish out presents. Most fans attending didn't need them though - they'd just seen one of the best folk-rock bands of their generation perform one of their best ever gigs. Lindisfarne were back with a bang - of course the reunion was going to be permanent after this triumphant show - how could it not be with so much love in the air, both on stage and in the auditorium? Not many live albums are truly essential - but this one comes close. Just about the only sad note is that having already perfected their live show Lindisfarne were never again quite able to match the magic captured here - both on record and on stage. Oh and the fact that this record is so flipping hard to find on CD - it's been re-issued twice, on its own and in a double set with the lesser 'Lindisfarntastic' concerts of the 1980s but both are hard to find and rather expensive these days (the Lindisfarne Mercury recordings really need an overhaul!) To date your best bet for finding these recordings is on the 'live' disc from the 'Meet Me On The Corner' anthology which features this album complete (a handy way round the fact that most of the band's best loved material first appeared on Charisma!) 

Alan Hull "Phantoms"

(The Rocket Record Company, '1979')

I Wish You Well/Anywhere Is Everywhere*/Make Me Want To Stay*/Dancing (On Judgement Day)*/A Walk In The Sea//Corporation Rock/Madmen and Loonies/Somewhere Out There*/Love Is The Alibi/Love Is The Answer
* -= New Recordings

"Make me want to stay - and I'll probably stay forevermore!"

With Lindisfarne now big news thanks to 'Run For Home', Elton John's record company had a look back through their past records and realised that they still had the 'Radiator' album which was rather un-promoted and a bit of a poor seller back in 1977. Rather than simply re-release the album as it was, they got in touch with Alan Hull and offered him a new solo recording contract. Hull agreed and decided to re-release the six older compositions from 1975 he'd released on 'Isn't It Strange?' with four more recordings (abandoning the 1977 title track 'Isn't It Strange?' along with the trio of tracks written by the other band members). Hull clearly considered this a 'proper' canonical follow-up and even stung the Rocket Label with the cost of another Magritte painting - amore obscure one this time, part of a sequence featuring a series of faceless businessmen with their heads missing and filled in with the scenery behind  - this one is entitled 'The King's Museum' and was painted in 1966. Hull named the record 'Phantoms' more after the cover symbolism than anything else - there isn't really a theme underlying the songs broken up as they are by a matter of years.
The result is slightly better than 'Isn't It Strange?' simply because Hull is a better writer and singer than the rest of the Radiator band were and it makes more 'sense' having ten songs in one sound than seven with three alien extras from elsewhere. However this album still seems flimsy and unrewarding somehow, with even the new recordings sufferings from the same feelings of detachment as the earlier songs. Hull slightly tweaked the older recordings too, adding a longer fade to 'Corporation Rock' (and much more use of the 'get your divvy at the co-op chorus) - the 'first' version of which is still missing on CD. Even with the might of 'Run For Home' and 'Back and Fourth' behind it this album still didn't sell terrible well, although this second version at least outsold the first. Left to languish for years in the vaults, the album finally made its debut in the digital age thanks to the efforts of fan and chronicler Jim Henderson who organised the re-issues of this album and 'Happy Daze'. It's a welcome addition to the Lindisfarne shelves and any Alan Hull is better than no Alan Hull, especially with so many of the extra demos from 1975 on the end - but don't expect to find a long lost classic; this is Hull on auto-pilot by his high standard and the gorgeous 'A Walk In The Sea' is the only song up to his very best.

Of the four new tracks, 'Anywhere Is Everywhere' is a pretty but pretty slight song about 'having the notion to sail the Spanish ocean' before realising that home is best after all. It's clearly written with 'Run For Home' in mind and even throws in a crowd-pleasing reference to the 'Fog ON The Tyne', while in context of the rather flat album it's a much punchier, energetic track that really stand out. It's still not a particularly good song, though, and it's comedy rather falls flat.

The re-recording of 'Make Me Want To Stay', which originally closed 'Back and Fourth', ruins a song that always sounded a bit artificial but always had a certain poise in its 1978 form. Hull over-sings the rack terribly and there's a syrupy synth string part alongside the piano which is all terribly off-putting and sickening. You really wouldn't want to try too hard making this narrator 'stay' - I'd pack your bags and go while you can!

'Dancing (On Judgement Day)' is the best of the four newbies, a lively energetic rocker with the second-best melody on the album (after 'Walk') and a descriptive lyric of watching the water on holiday turn different colours and 'changing rages, dancing through the ages'. Hull reckons that life is all about re-acting to 'waves of emotion, covering tragedy and comedy, and that whatever happens to mankind they'll always pick themselves up and even the end of the world will probably be greeted with a quick conga. The 'old' Hull would have added an extra something into this song, though, to make it sound superb instead of just promising.

The pop song 'Somewhere Out There' makes Hull sound like Leo Sayer or Cliff Richard - he's not right in this outré pop setting at all. The lyrics are good though even if the slicked-back backing isn't, returning to the theme about mankind picking themselves up and trying again. 

Ray Jackson "In The Night"

(Phonogram, '1980')

Everything Will Turn Out Fine/Make It Last/In The Night/Another Lonely Day/Stick Around Joe/Waiting For The Time//Little Town Flirt/Tread On A Good Thing/You Send Me/Easy Love/Solo Again/In The Midnight Hour

"Took for granted that you wanted to stay, never thinking you'd want to go your own way"

Jacka's only released solo album, 'In The Night' was a labour of love that found the singer returning to the soul songs that had inspired him and is the 'missing link' between what Lndisfarne Mark II' were up to and Jacka's songs on the reunion albums. It goes without saying that Jacka sounds great and makes singing some very tricky material sound effortless. However it's the material that's the biggest surprise - Jacka and his writing partner, fellow 'Mark II' member Charlie Harcourt wrote several songs in this period, including the two that appeared on Lindisfarne albums in 1979 and 1982. While nothing here is all that experimental or up to the best of the Alan Hull solo albums, it's all pleasant and deeply superior pop to most of the songs Lindisfarne had been including on their recent records, in a similar vein to 'Warm Feeling'. The record confused a few fans, though, who missed the fuller sound of a Lindisfarne album and one of the record's biggest critics was the man who engineered it, Steve Lipsom, who'd loved working with the band on 'The News' but felt that the singer was selling himself short. To some extent that's true - you get no sense of the true depth and range and skill of Jack's vocal here - especially on the cover songs which Phonogram insisted he record instead of some of his own songs in a desperate attempt at getting a hit (all of which are far too treacly, with a truly awful 'In The Midnight Hour'). However I have a soft spot for this under-rated album, which is easy listening at its finest with a singer who has real abilities on some excellent original material that has just enough depth and warmth to cut through the slickness of the backing. Certainly 'In The Night' is a much more consistent listen than most solo Lindisfarne albums - or even most Lindisfarne reunion albums and makes up in beauty what it lacks in bravery or rule-breaking. The highlights include the lovely 'Another Lonely Day' which is the sort of breathless pop the 'Mark II' era band were aiming for but fell short of and the cheery 'Everything Will Turn Out Fine', a catchy up tempo rock song that would surely have been a hit if it had been released with Lindisfarne's name plastered all over it. Alas the record has become very hard to track down and has never appeared on CD - Jacka has apparently tried to contact Phonogram about releasing it but considered the costs exorbitant given how many copies it was likely to sell. However Lindisfans have done quite well across the past ten years with albums we didn't think we'd ever see on CD finally released ('Pipedream'  'Happy Daze' and 'Isn't It Strange/Phantoms' included) so maybe one day we'll see this one too. 

"Repeat Performance"

 (Charisma, May 1981)

Clear White Light/Knacker's Yard Blues/Lady Eleanor/Nothing But The Marvellous Is Beautiful/Meet Me On The Corner/Scotch Mist/No Time To Lose//All Fall Down/We Can Swing Together (Live)/Court In The Act/Don't Ask Me/Taking Care Of Business/North Country Boy/Fog On The Tyne/Mandolin King

"Strumming his strings, singing his songs, if you want you can all singalong!"

With most of their initial releases now a decade old, Charisma decided to revisit their back catalogue with a testing-the-waters compilation of all their artists over the years (including Lindisfarne's 'Lady Eleanor'). The record proved to be a big seller, taking the label rather by surprise, so they decided to turn the 'Repeat performances' into a series featuring low budget re-issues of their most popular bands including Hawkwind, Van Der Graaf Generator - and naturally enough Lindisfarne. This is only the second time that past Lindisfarne songs had been made available again and is a neat complement to 'Their Finest Hour', repeating only the hits 'Lady Eleanor' 'Meet Me On The Corner' and 'Fog On The Tyne', plus the ever-popular 'Clear White Light' and 'Go Back' strangely enough, not to mention 'We Can Swing Together' (which appears here in the 'Lindisfarne Live' version). Considering that so many of the 'obvious' songs have been passed over this is still a very impressive track selection and may even be slightly the better song by song with semi-rarities such as the B-sides 'Nothing But The Marvellous Is Beautiful' 'Knacker's Yard Blues' 'No Time To Lose' and 'Scotch Mist' . There's a lot more from 'Dingly Dell' here - the third record which was rather passed over for the first compilation  -  which is welcome in terms of 'All Fall Down' and less welcome in terms of 'Mandolin King'. Most controversially, Charisma also chooses a pair of songs from the 'Mark II' era album 'Roll On Ruby' with 'Taking Care Of Business' and 'North Country Boy'. The packaging leaves a bit to be desired (a Celtic cross on white - which is a waste for such a colourful band) but given the low cost this is impressively value for money and offers a nice way in to Lindisfarne for new fans. 

"Cambridge Folk Festival"

(Strange Fruit, Recorded 1982 and 1984, Released 1996)

Start Again/Nights/Lady Eleanor/Warm Feeling/Stormy Weather/Meet Me On The Corner/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter/Winning The Game/Clear White Light Part Two/Run For Home/Fog On The Tyne/No Time To Lose

"Come on boys it's time that we all pull together!"

Lindisfarne performed two well received gigs in front of the Cambridge Folk Festival crowd in the 1980s - a show that still takes place every year in the English city and has done since 1964. More uptempo and rocky than most of the bands who played the gig, Lindisfarne were always rapturously received. Fans had long since wondered what had happened to the recordings made of the band there - one brief televised clip of 'Stormy Weather' from the 1982 gig was all that had been broadcast - but thankfully the tapes had been kept safe and were at last given a re-issue on the Strange Fruit record label, established by DJ John Peel to release specialist radio recordings. Sadly the gigs still aren't complete and a third performance at the festival - one of the band's last show with Alan Hull in 1995 - isn't on here, but it's still better than nothing. The band are on one of their ramshackle but charismatic moods across both gigs and turn in a show closer to chaos than slickness. However it's a lively set full of character and high on hits, highlighted by Alan Hull tearing into Thatcher's government on a very fast-paced 'Stormy Weather' and an exquisite 'Warm Feeling'. The band even revive Jacka's R and B cover 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter', previously only available on the 'Lindisfarntastic' album. It's not the best Lindisfarne gig out there, but it's still a good gig and a CD worth owning if you're lucky enough to track it down (these Strange Peel sets are all becoming quite scarce now and badly need another re-issue!)

Alan Hull "On The Other Side"

(Black Crow Records, '1983')

On The Other Side/Evergreen/Inside A Broken Heart/Malvinas Melody/American Man//Mystery Play/Day Of The Jackal/Love In A Cage/Fly Away

"On the other side of night there's either darkness there or light..."

To date practically every AAA album has made it out on CD at some point during the digital age. While some were only available in some foreign land, some turned out to be very limited editions and some others are scattered across pricey box sets you can usually get hold of a rare record in some form or another (though if you're unlucky it will be a case of all three happening at once). Alan Hull's fourth studio album is near-impossible to find, to the point where most Lindisfans have never heard it. The reason why is down to an issue over rights - Hull didn't have the commercial clout he'd once had and by 1983 was down to releasing records on a small folk label. He probably thought nothing of the license rights at the time as records rose or fell on their own merits without the chance of reappraisal and re-release until nearer the end of the decade, but the rights belonged to folk historian Dave Bulmer, who simply never got round to releasing the album for re-issue (things may change after his untimely death in 2013, though there's no sign of it yet). Hull is not alone in this - Bulmer owned the rights to many a folk legend catalogue and there are lots of online forums out there discussing lots of speculation and rumours over whether he's within his rights to block re-releases/holding out for more money/is genuinely concerned about the upgrading of material he owns/has lost all the mastertapes etc. All you need to know is that unless something  changes in the near future you're unlikely to see this record sitting on the shelves of HMV any time soon. Even as strong a Lindisfanatic as me has never ever seen a copy of this album, never mind been able to afford to buy one at such inflated costs, so you'll have to make do with a sort of 'half-review' this week and a review based on the understanding that some of the arrangements may have changed from the actual record. Sorry about that - perhaps if I sell enough copies of this book I can afford to buy an original copy and review the record properly (I'll need to sell a lot, mind you!) Luckily Hull was a prestigious live performer and there are lots of in concert performances of these songs around, including a few that were re-recorded (or in some cases previously recorded) by Lindisfarne so we can at least review something. Hull appears to be back on form, having rediscovered the mojo that had deserted him for much of 'Phantoms' and the political developments of the 1980s (none of them good) bring out the best in his songwriting which is by turns, sarcastic, pleading and snarling on behalf of the underdog.

The title track 'On The Other Side' is gutsy, rootsy blues, with a melody and strutting shuffle not unlike the title track of 'Squire' but played with more funk. It's a poetic song that never quite defines what 'the other side' is - is it death, madness or a different way of looking at the world?

'Evergreen' is a pretty track that is perhaps the closest Hull ever came to writing a sequel to 'Lady Eleanor' with a similarly surreal, impressionistic take on what falling in love seems like. Lindisfarne tried this song out lots of times in the 'Sleepless Nights' era, with Jacka or Alan on lead, but never nailed a take they liked. Si is said to have referred to this as 'Alan's Barry White Song', much to the composer's horror!
'Inside A Broken Heart' is Hull's despairing take on how love lost can never be re-found and how even though it can't be 'seen' by doctors or nurses it can be very much there inside you. 'A bottle of wine a toothbrush and a comb are all that a man has to remind him of home' is Hull's take on being kicked out of the marital house.

The record's towering achievement, 'Malvinas Melody' flies right slap bang in the face of the gung-ho coverage of The Falklands War back in Britain. The song is sung by a sarcastic local who tells the troops why the land would be so good for the British empire ('We've got six million sheep, some penguins and a whole lot of snow!') and how they expected to be 'freed' by a 'one hell of a party' there to meet us - not just the handful of ill-equipped soldiers Thatcher sent over to fight. Throughout the song the narrator talks about it being 'so cold' on the islands, but a twist in the last verse points out that he's 'cold' because he's dead, killed in a war that didn't need fighting and in which the narrator only enlisted to see the world - instead he never got off his own island. Though strangely melody-less, this song is still deeply powerful through the force of the lyrics alone and the chilling way that Hull sang the song (both solo and with Lindisfarne, where it was a stage regular and was also recorded for 'Sleepless Nights', with this version later released on 1992's band compilation 'Buried Treasure') makes it one of its composer's best songs of the 1980s.

'American Man' is another damning attack, apparently on Ronald Reagan who can't 'get' the fact that the Russians are people just like him and have feelings too. 'What could the difference be?' Hull wonders as a long list of countries go to war against each other for no reason and adds that the sea both sides of the cold war want for their own is 'simply a space-coloured blue on an atlas that's shrinking fast'.

'Mystery Play' is a slower, more thoughtful song about how out-of place Hull feels in a world he doesn't understand. He sarcastically adds that all life experiences good or bad are part of 'life's rich tapestry' but still can't understand why the 'wrong' people have everything and the deserving have nothing. Lindisfarne sang this song in concert too and their band version can be heard on 'Lindisfarntastic', the live record given away free with tickets to their shows.

The record is also home to another Lindisfarne classic 'The Day Of The Jackal', later re-recorded for 1993 album 'Elvis Lives On The Moon'. I much prefer Hull's solo version which is more basic but freer without all the technological trappings and which is more suited to Hull's witty lyrics about children in politically unstable countries having to grow up before their time, while the world dances a 'bezerker' dance. Hull even plays God ('or Allah if you choose') looking down on Erath and wondering why so many wars are being fought in 'his' name, bringing 'despair, destruction and abuse'.

'Love In A Cage' is a much more peaceful love song which is effectively a first draft of 'Everything Changes' from 'Amigos' - but it's about how things seem worse when you're out of love, not better when you're in it. Everything in life has lost its sparkle for the recently divorced narrator, who now hears a stroppy DJ playing facile music where he once heard love songs and where 'the moon has dropped out of sight'.

The album then closes with 'Fly Away', a pretty little song that sounds like one of Paul Weller's ballads about his children growing up and flying the nest. Hull offers some fatherly advice, mainly about 'ignoring the grey men in suits', but he knows his daughters have to find their own way in the world and sighs 'no words can explain no words can tell'. The song veers a little too close to MOR by Hull standards, but the sentiment is heartfelt enough and the melody is one of the strongest on the record.

Overall, then, 'On The Other Side' offers a much more rounded view of Hull's songwriting than 'Squire' did. The (I think) sparser, rockier performances mean that Hull sounds more direct and emotional rather than singing against a 'posh' over-slick backing and while there are perhaps a couple too many 'top 40 radio' love ballads, there's a real bite and danger to some of these songs which have been missing from Hull's songwriting for quite some time. Hopefully one day the world will get to re-discover this album for themselves and while not quite the revelation for many that 'Pipedream' proved to be on its much-delayed re-issue, there's reason enough to think that this album is something of a buried treasure with as real worth for fans of Hully's songwriting abilities - far more so than 'Phantoms' proved to be and indeed most of the 1980s Lindisfarne records will prove to have. 

"Lindisfarntastic! Live"

(Lindisfarne Music Publishing, Recorded Christmas 1983, Released '1983')

I Must Stop Going To Parties/Marshall Riley's Army/Down/We Can Swing Together//Fog On The Tyne/Engine Trouble/Meet Me On The Corner/Clear White Light
(Released on CD with 'Lindasfarntastic Two' as  'Caught In The Act')

"The lessons you have taught us, who has learned them?"

Did the world need another live album from Lindisfarne so soon after the last one? Possibly not, but the fans did so the band got together for the one of their greatest philanthropic gestures - an extra special present for fans on their Newcastle City Hall tour of Christmas 1984. This record and its companion volume given away a tour later were taped during the run of Christmas shows in 1983 and wasn't sold in shops at first but handed out to fans who sent in a voucher from the tour programme and included in the ticket price; amazingly it took less than a month for the record to be sent out (hence the fact that the credit to Lindisfarne's short-lived record label which only ever released these two volumes). It was a kind gesture, even if the ticket prices were slightly higher than usual to compensate for the mobile recording units, with the band promising the fans during the dates 'you'll going to be on this record you know - it's for you' and enabling fans to relive their memories at home. Though the album was later released in the shops so other fans could buy them - at a cheaper price too - the idea brought the band much positive press coverage just at the time they needed it and it worked nicely as a 'promotional' tool for the band. The concerts would prove key for the band's guest musician that night too, keyboardist Alan Clark - who found himself hired to join Dire Straits less than a week after taking part (Dire Straits and Lindisfarne were always very close!)

Given the circumstances both albums are very much tailored to the passionate fan. Lindisfarne only include the fan favourites from yesteryear (the hit singles 'Fog' and 'Corner' plus an endless version of 'We Can Swing Together') and mainly concentrate on the newer songs from the three albums the band have released since 'Magic In The Air'. This is particularly welcome on the more electro songs from 'Sleepless Nights' that sound quite different in their new setting as the band find new ways to reproduce these songs live and while much rougher and less impressive to the casual listener there's a lot of 'life' about this concert. There's definitely a party atmosphere in the room, with a very vocal audience clapping, cheering and singing along all the way through and highlighted by a singalong 'Marshall Riley's Army' from 'Back and Fourth' that really does sound like an angry Geordie mob about to march on London for their rights! The one 'new' song here isn't really a 'song' at all but a bit of an indulgent Ray Jacka monologue from in between 'tuning', as Jacka prepares for a career in cabaret on the side by re-enacting the sounds of engines, police cars, fire engines and all sorts with nothing more than his mouth! (Alas there doesn't seem to be a recording of the 'trick' fans remember most, Jacka re-creating the sound of a walkman getting louder then softer!) The result isn't strictly Lindisfarntastic (though it's Lindisfarnegood - which doesn't quite have the same ring to it somehow) and the pair are probably the weakest Lindisfarne live recordings overall, sloppier than 'Magic In The Air' without the charm of 'Live' or the inventiveness of the 'Unplugged' sets. However even if they're  a record only a fan could really love but that's alright - it was only meant for fans anyway and was a nice inventive gesture that other bands should have taken up. The album was popular enough to be sold 'properly' in 1985 but never did sell that many couples. It's since been paired in the CD age with its sister volume and re-branded 'Court In The Act' after a song that, erm, Lindisfarne don't actually play at either gig!

"Lindisfarntastic Two"

(Lindisfarne Music Publishing, Recorded Christmas 1983 Released '1984')

Moving House/Taxman/Lady Eleanor/Nights/Mr Inbetween//Brand New Day/Mystery Play/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter/Day Of The Jackal/Stormy Weather
(Released on CD with 'Lindisfarntastic! Live' as 'Caught In The Act')

"Two ton Terry with a cherry on his nose is wrecking the record machine"

The goodwill from fans after the first volume was so strong that Lindisfarne did the same again, with a second set culled from the same Christmas 1983 shows that was also given away 'free' (or at least as part of the ticket price) for the next run of shows. This is for the more longer-term fan a much more interesting record, containing several songs that were either brand new and unreleased (and never did make it through to next record 'Dance Your Life Away' as expected) or had only formerly been performed by Alan solo. To be honest there's nothing here approaching Lindisfarne's best and songs like 'Mystery Play' (from Hull's 'On The Other Side' LP of 1983), 'Brand New Day' (a rare band single from the same year), another noisy R and B Jacka-led cover 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter' and 'Moving House' (a new song only ever released here) are Lindisfarne at their worst: sloppy, soppy and insincere. However there are at least a couple of reasons for tracking this album down, including another fine new song the band should have returned to (the snarling 'Taxman', a wicked Alan Hull song about 'a lowlife ratbag sort of a person' which is almost as funny and scathing as the Beatles song of the same name and an early band rendition of Hull's solo 'Day Of The Jackal', which sounds far better here than it does on either 'On The Other Side' or the re-recording a decade later for 'Elvis Lives On The Moon'). As for the older songs,  there's a nice version of 'Lady Eleanor' and a crowd-rallying 'Stormy Weather' which are both mighty strong, though 'Mr Inbetween' is a bit ramshackle and 'Nights' isn't half as good as other more doo-wop versions of the song from the same period. Overall then it's a bit hit and miss, pretty darn good as a 'freebie' (the way it was originally intended) but a bit less of an essential purchase when re-released on CD as the ever-expensive 'Court In The Act' (which the band still haven't played!)

"Lindisfarne Christmas" (EP)

(Lindisfarne Music Presents, '1985')

Warm Feeling (Live)/Red Square Dance/Run For Home (Live)/Nights (Live)

"I remember the nights nights nights nights wo-ah woah!"

Often missing from Lindisfarne discographies - and still unavailable on CD - this EP is effectively 'Lindisfarntastic Volume Three', filling in the gaps between albums with three more recordings from the band's festive shows along with one hard-to-find single released in 1980 under the pseudonym 'The Defectors'. Though the instrumental 'Red Square Dance' turned out to be quite a disappointment musically (despite hinting that Lindisfarne were more aware than most about events behind the iron curtain during the fall of society Russia - see 'Elvis Lives On The Moon' for the band's decision to become one of the first Western bands allowed to tour there), the live recordings are all very good and easily up to the standard set by the two albums. 'Warm Feeling' is enough to make you go fuzzy all over and is one of the best versions Jacka ever performed of his lovely song, whilst 'Run For Home' - a curioous absentee from the original records - is nicely out of tune, to coin a phrase! However the highlight is a staggeringly good new arrangement of 'Nights' from 1982, treated 'Grease style' as a doo wop a capella song with all the band singing (even Ray Laidlaw!) It's a thrilling version, with Rod providing the deep voice, Ray Si and Marty on the 'woo wahs', Jacka on lead and Alan on counter-lead: the finished version, though very 80s, was exceptionally well crafted but this live arrangement may well have the edge with those famous sweet and sour harmonies at their loveliest. 

"C'Mon Everybody!"

(Stylus Music, '1987')

Let's Dance/New Orleans/Splish Splash/Party Doll/You Never Can Tell/Little Bitty Pretty One/Running Bear/Mr Bass Man/Sea Cruise//Let's Go!/Woolly Bully/C'Mon Everybody!/Do You Wanna Dance?/Twist and Shout/Do You Love Me?/Runaround Sue/Shake Rattle and Roll/See You Later Alligator/It'll Be Me/You Keep A Knockin'//Love You More Than I Can Say/Oh Donna/Keep Your Hands Off My Baby/Rhythm Of The Rain/Speedy Gonzales/Little Darlin'/Dreamin'/La Bamba//Meet Me On The Corner/Lady Eleanor/Fog On The Tyne/Run For Home/Warm Feeling/Clear White Light

"Turning your head to the cloud, the sun and the sky, because you never know what you might find"

Regrouping after the relative failure of 'Dance Your Life Away', the band decided to go in an entirely different direction and make some quick money on an album that has divided fans like no other. A double album set containing three long medleys of predominantly 1950s rock and roll songs and a fourth side of rather rushed re-recordings of their biggest hits, it's very much a release of its times when re-workings of songs in medleys with godawful drum beats were all the rage (see 'Stars On 45' and the various Beatles and Hollies hit medleys of this period).However it seemed a strange career progression for a band who so recently had been too modern to go all the way back to their past. However the idea wasn't Lindisfarne's but Stylus Music, a label which had the bright idea of getting as many big names from the past as possible to record rock and roll 'party' albums (then all the rage, though usually featuring anonymous session men) and offering them cheap through a series of TV adverts. Though rock and roll wasn't really what the band were known for and was only one of the influences on their sound (if Lindisfarne really had made a 'roots' album like so many of these cover albums are, it would have been full primarily of blues with a bit of folk thrown in and perhaps a little pop - but very little actual rock and roll) the potential for making money was huge and came along just when the band needed it most. In many ways it was an offer they couldn't refuse - but in many others it was an offer they should have refused anyway.

What should have been a fun album of rock and roll classics done on the cheap - and given the hilarious working title 'Teddy Boy's Picnic'  by Si which they should have used - ended up dividing the band terribly over what direction they were taking, with Jacka the most outspoken over the whole experience (Alan - the one you'd expect to be most 'against' the idea - was persuaded on the grounds that his idol John Lennon had made a similar record in 1975, which sounds much like this one though thankfully without the electronic 80s drum sound). Stylus demanded several stipulations for this record which took even more fun out of things: they chose the cover (a tacky photo of teenagers dancing, which is even credited to 'Club 18-30' on the back!) and demanded certain song choices for the record - the Lindisfarne hits, mainly, with a veto over the rock and roll choices the band came up with. The result is an album that could have worked in different circumstances (and with a very different cover!) and did at least enable Lindisfarne to stay active for a fair few more years yet (selling some 60,000 odd copies - a big improvement over all the albums since 'Back and Fourth'). However it's an album that was confused from the start, with 1980s re-treads of 1950s songs that just sound 'wrong' even with a band as fine as Lindisfarne playing - the power and warmth of the original songs were their biggest strength and even that is sapped away by the very synthesised, digital backing, while the Lindisfarne re-treads fare even worse, as if someone had produced the timeless 'Nicely Out Of Tune' in the style of 'Dance Your Life Away'.

It's certainly not 'the greatest party album ever!' as promised on the sleeve (that's Magic I The Air' if you didn't already know!) though it's also not quite Lindisfarne's worst album as some fans think  and maybe even an improvement (of sorts) oxn the woeful 'Dance Your Life Away'. There are a few highlights, such as a rippling electronica version of 'Clear White Light' (the way Gary Numan might have done it!), a fun take on 'Mr Bassman' with Si singing lead to Jacka's increasingly tongue-twisting 'bam ba bams', a lovely version of 'Rhythm Of The Rain', Alan Hull ruining all the respect he's built up over the past quarter century with a turn as a high-pitched 'Speedy Gonzales', a better-than-expected updated 'Lady Eleanor'and a welcome chance to hear all four of Lindisfarne's lead singers in this period (Jacka, Alan, Si and Marty, who really comes into his own here) more or less equally. However neither is this is anything more than just a money-making exercise, without Lindisfarne's usual quality and care: Ray's drumming fares particularly badly in the 80s age, while the band's guitar and rhythm sound are drowned out by a raft of keyboards that sound horrid. What the band might perhaps have been better off doing is recording these albums even more cheaply on tour, adding a bit of life back into the covers which disappeared in the studio (legend has it the tour for this album was great, with the band dressed up as 50s rockers with slicked back hair and proper suits. The band also missed a trick not re-recording 'Nights', the retro 50s-style song from 1982 the band once sang in a doo-wop version which would have been perfect for this album. Perhaps mercifully the album has become rather hard to track down - c'mon Stylus re-release it now!

The first three sides are all lengthy melodies without any split between them on the original vinyl editions (though some were out in for the CD era), running more or less as a continual whole for twenty-odd minutes. Bob Darwin's 'Let's Dance' is an odd place to start, with Jacka singing over a heavy rolled drum beat on an obscure rock song that even the internet seems to be unsure about - it appears to be an 80s song written in the style of a 50s number which no one else seems to have recorded. Suddenly Marty's singing a 'hey hey heyyyyy-yeah!' chorus as he takes us on a trip down to 'New Orleans' by Rosyter and Guido, made famous by The Blues Brothers shortly after this record's release. Suddenly we make a left-turn as Alan Hull is making a mess in the bath on 'Splish Splash' the song made famous by Bobby Darwin. Hull at least sounds as if he's having fun, but he has his work cut out trying to be heard over Rat's noisy yet tinny drumming and Marty's very 80s sax. 'Party Doll' was the album's hit single and is a rather noisy song which was a big hit for Buddy Knox in 1957 and sounds atrocious here despite the hard work Jacka is putting in on vocals and harmonica, lifeless and limp. One of Chuck Berry's weaker songs is up next with 'You Never Can Tell', re-arranged to include some honkytonk piano as Hull sounds bored out of his mind. Rather better is 'Little Bitty Pretty One', a classic 60s tune first sung by Bobby Day which is better suited to this sort of pointless revelry although even here Marty struggles with the words and it all sounds far too 80s by half. Suddenly a load of Indians who sound just like Jacka arrive panting 'ungachugga' and we're braced for 'Running Bear', a very empty song about a romance between two native americans written by The Big Hopper and sung with complete disinterest by the band's lead singer who clearly would rather be anywhere else right now. Thankfully the band's stuttering rhythm turns into the record's relative highlight, the delightful Johnny Cymbal comedy in 'tribute to the hidden king of rock and roll', 'Mr Bass Man'. Si sounds great singing the lead while Jacka tries to teach him how to sing. There's far less 80s trappings going in for this one which sounds like the band really are having fun! The side then ends with another better than average cover 'Sea Cruise' which features Hull tackling the Frabkie Ford classic with lots of joyous 'oo-wee!'s and lots of sound effects.

'Let's Go!' onto side two now, where a noisy riff never develops into a proper song before disappearing into the warmer tones of Hull roaring his (woolly) socks off to Woolly Bully, a track which might actually sound good if you could hear it behind all the noise. The band then pick up the pace for title track 'C'mon Everybody', a better-than-average stab at Eddie Cochran's classic with Hull again on a sterling lead vocal and some nice bass-guitar interplay that sounds very authentic. Bobby Freeman's ever-popular 'Do You Wanna Dance?' is a good choice too, with a double-tracka Jacka tailor made for the song and a great Si Cowe guitar solo, even if again it all sounds curiously sterile by Lindisfarne standards. It doesn't last very long anyway before Jacka is aping John Lennon on the single worst version of 'Twist and Shout' I've ever heard, with all the passion and emotion removed. Luckily this song doesn't get any further than the chorus until we're in the similar-all-round groove of 'Do You Love Me?', a Berry song for Motown act The Contours with Jacka still on lead and Alan and Marty backing him, before returning in a loop back to 'Cmon Everybody'. Next up is a rather good Marty take on Dion's doo wop song 'Runaround Sue' which is performed with a real feel for the 1950s and an actually pretty fine a capella opening, although the show is stolen by Jacka on the 'heddy heddy hip' backing. Bill Haley's 'Shake Rattle and Roll' sounds less convincing though, with what used to be the most alive art form of the 20th century with the narrator just like a one eyed cat peeping in a sea-food store every time he sees his girl now sounding old and feeble, with Jacka struggling with his vocal (instead the highlight is Rod's great jazzy bass part!) Somewhere along the way the song turns into another similar Bill Haley tune 'See You Later Alligator' with Jacka still in cruise control mode for a three minute cover that definitely outstays it's welcome. Jacka sounds much happier on 'It'll Be Me', a rare British cover song on this album best known from Cliff Richard and the Shadows' cover with some great bluesy harmonica playing. This leads quite neatly into the side's finale, a very OTT Alan Hull almost cackling his way through Little Richard's 'You Keep Knockin' But You Can't Come In' which even the original would have considered a little too hysterical!

Onto side three now - Gulp! Is that all? - which starts off quite sweetly with the lovely J J Allison song 'Love You More Than Words Can Say', covered by lots of people without ever quite being a hit (fellow AAA star Otis Redding's version is the best). Jacka is well suited to this sort of romantic ballad but Rayt's heavy drumming makes it sounds as if he's clobbering his lover over the head not taking her out on a date! Ritchie Valens' dreary 'Oh Donna' is horrendous and has no redeeming features at all, slowed down to a crawl with Alan Hull trying his best to sound romantic but instead simply sounds nauseous! Popular Goffin and King song 'Keep Your Hands Off My Baby' at least sounds as if it belongs in this era, turning out not unlike noisy contemporary singles by Madonna and Kylie Minogue and the like ('Locomotion' is about the only thing the band don't do here!) and Jacka copes well on lead, although the change of the song from a guitar based one to a very 80s casio sequencer keyboard is a very bad move. Thankfully The Cascades' 'Rhythm Of The Rain' sweeps off to ease my headache and it's a delightful version with Jacka and Alan singing largely in harmony against a backdrop of pretty guitars and some delightful Jacka whistling. Though one of the most obscure songs here, it's also one of the best, full of the pathos and emotion Lindisfarne are so good at conveying (and which has been absent for so much of the record!) Pat Boone's 'Speedy Gonzales' is either horrendous or great fun depending on your mood, with Jacka taking the mickey out of the opening speech and Hull seemingly ruining his voice forever as the squeaky bandit of the title (though Si does the actual 'talking' about 'green stamps and tequila'), although the doo-wop backing is still awfully limp. We then switch tack mid-song for Hull channelling his inner Elvis on The Original Diamonds' doo-wop song 'Little Darlin' which is less funny but just as mocking with Hull growling the spoken word part while Jacka, Si and Marty make for a great doo-wop choir. Jacka then sings Johnny Burnett's song 'Dreamin', though not to any great effect _this sounds more like a nightmare) before that sodding Speedy Gonzales riff comes back for a fourth time, suddenly turning into a histrionic Hull cod-Mexican version of 'La Bamba' which would be terrible if not for his sly nonsense vocal and Ray finally getting off that same awful rhythm and taking out his frustrations on a different set of drums for a change. I can't tell you the relief when this song finally stops and nothing else sweeps in to take its place - is that it? Did we survive all that?

Phew, because side four is much easier on the ears - even if the band are still ruining older material at least it's their own this time and so of interest no matter how bad it gets. We start with a jangly 'Meet Me On The Corner' which is perhaps the closest to the original although you can hear some differences, notably Jacka's slightly altered vocal lines and different places where he breathes in to play the harmonica. It's nice, but pointless when you can just hear the original. 'Lady Eleanor' - also released as a single - sounds surprisingly good, with this Elizabethan lady now an 80s android with 'aaah' ing synth noises, a Jack a flute solo that's more like Jethro Tull and gongs going off in the background. Though the band don't sing as well as they did on the original there's a certain ghostly beauty about this new arrangement that's very fitting and not the travesty it might have been. 'Fog On The Tyne' is kind of ok, inevitably turned into a heavily percussionised foot-stomper with a curious harmonica scene-setting opener while Hull introduces it with a 'one two three quatro' count-in. The band's more 'upbeat' harmonies foreshadow what they'll do this song in three years' time with footballer Paul Gascoigne's, erm, 'help'. 'Run For Hone' sounds flat though, the band having an off day as they get smothered in a horribly tacky arrangement full of strings and saxophones (put that thing away Marty!) That horrid Ray Laidlaw drum part is back too. Jacka's 'Warm Feeling' seems like a strange choice and is probably here to placate their red-up lead singer and get him some welcome royalties as much as anything else. Dear God this version now has a reggae beat to it and all sense of warm feelings towards this originally lovely piece evaporate long before the end. Finally, and against all the odds, the record ends with another success story in 'Clear White Light Part Two' which is turned into a percussion crazy electronica landscape with ghostly synth-vocals and what sounds like a guitar-banjo. It ought to sound horrendous - and yet in a curious way it's fitting, updating a song about not knowing what the future holds for another generation and treated with much more reverence than other cover songs on this record, with the lengthy fade particularly haunting, ending not with the comforting declaration that the clear white light exists but the rather more edgy 'do you believe?' sung over and over.

'C'mon Everybody' is not without worth, then, and there are worst things that AAA bands have done in the name of money. However I'd have been furious if I'd have bought this under false pretences - as either just another Lindisfarne album or as a various artists hits medley of rock and roll tunes. You have to question Stylus' manner of thinking that made them turn to a band not particularly known for recording this sort of material - surely a single album of re-recordings would have been much more marketable anyway than hearing one of the world's greatest songwriters pretend to be Speedy Gonzales or hear one of the world's greatest vocalists reduced to singing a comedy bass-line. Thankfully Lindisfarne did get their money and stayed afloat a while longer but the price was perhaps too high - the band lost a lot of the goodwill that was left amongst their old fans and didn't really gain any new followers from making this album. They also began to start sniping about each other behind the scenes too, none of them quite happy about where the band were headed from here (the band answering reporter's questions with 'is this your new direction then?' with straightfaced 'yes' es didn't help!) Though it's named after a rallying cry of unity, 'C'mon Everybody' proved to be a very divisive record and there will only be one more record with the 'core five' of the band still there. 


'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