Tuesday, January 28, 2020

1970 - Deep Purple get heavy with 'In Rock'

This one's for my mate Clem. When we were teenagers we'd go round to his house after school, dim the lights and put on Deep Purple In Rock at full volume. This was my earliest education in rock drumming. While Clem flailed away at a tennis racquet, I used a pair of Clem's mother's knitting needles and beat the hell out of her sofa cushions. She still reminds me about the state I left them in. 

'In Rock' was the first album proper by the second incarnation of Deep Purple. Having had the hit single 'Hush' early in their career but no follow-up success, by 1969 Deep Purple were treading water and in need of some new inspiration.
"Guitar-smashing Ritchie Blackmore" and the story of a cancelled French gig that would be echoed a year or so later in Montreux
Lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore wanted to move more into heavy rock, which was becoming more popular on the back of Led Zeppelin's success with their first two albums. Black Sabbath were also coming through at this time.

A decision was made to replace original singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper. With the acquisition of new singer Ian Gillan from the band Episode Six and his bandmate Roger Glover, Deep Purple Mark 2 was born.

But then Purple confused their audience; far from releasing a heavy rock album, they came out with a live orchestral recording.

Jon Lord had composed the Concerto for Group and Orchestra and the band's management must have thought this would be a good publicity stunt. A performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was arranged for 24 September 1969 at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The rest of the band were not that keen on the idea of playing with an orchestra. Ian Gillan said he only wrote the lyrics on the day of the concert. Despite this, the project was considered successful and a recording of the show was released in December 1969. It did gain the group a new high profile, but saddled them with a reputation as a classical rock group. 

Deep Purple In Rock was the perfect antidote to that.  
 Speed King, the first track on 'In Rock'

The album kicks off with Speed King and just about the heaviest opening imaginable; everyone playing as loud and as fast as they can for a minute, until the music tumbles down to just the sound of Lord's church-like organ. As that initial furious burst of energy dissipates, you can hear Blackmore's amps crackling. As a statement of intent, it couldn't have been clearer.

The centrepiece of In Rock was the track Child In Time, a climactic song featuring Jon Lord's church-like organ, Ian Gillan's incredible screamed vocal and a ferocious solo from Blackmore. It became a staple of their live act for the rest of their career. The live version on Made In Japan in 1972 shows a group absolutely on fire.
The review of In Rock in Melody Maker, by Roy Carr, called it "magnificent" and "a stunningly good album". Carr highlighted the band's ability as players and Gillan's powerful singing, also praising Blackmore's "masterly guitar work, which is completely in context. His sympathy with the mood of each work is quite remarkable".

In the Melody Maker interview piece (above) from August 1970, Gillan explained how Deep Purple rose above the other heavy groups by working on the varied dynamics.

Blackmore killed off any idea that Purple were a classical group: "It was one album, which gave us a lot of publicity....the classical thing is dead and buried as far as we are concerned."

Ritchie said he didn't relish the long tours of America, but added that "the chicks are great" - a line that Cameron Crowe used in the movie Almost Famous.

Ritchie told a funny story about recording a TV show, where the audiences were often made up of older people. They played Child In Time, which Blackmore described as a one of their quieter numbers. "When we finished, we said we were going to play a loud one and half the audience walked out." 

The MM review of 'In Rock'
Years later, Alan 'Fluff' Freeman was deputising for Simon Bates on his morning radio show on Radio 1. Bates had a regular daily section where you had to guess the year all the records were made.

Freeman had 1970 on this day and was scheduled to play Deep Purple's hit Black Night. But instead (by mistake? I think not) he played the B-side, Speed King.

Knowing Fluff's admiration for all things heavy, I'm convinced he did it deliberately. Meanwhile, the housewives of England got the shock of their lives.

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Farewell To The Professor - Rush's Neil Peart

Probably the most air-drummed drummer of all time. Not a bad epitaph for Rush's Neil Peart, who died this week from brain cancer, aged 67.

And this weekend, air drummers all over the world will have put on Tom Sawyer or Xanadu in tribute to the man they called The Professor. I know I did.

Peart was an inspiration to drummers and even wannabe drummers, who were drawn to the music of Rush for its anthemic qualities.

This was especially true in Rush's early career in the late 1970s, when their music was epic in its scope.

Spirit Of Radio...The Trees...Xanadu...YYZ...Tom Sawyer...Closer To The Heart...2112 - all classics

Neil's drumming provided every teenage fan's dream of what a drummer could be.

He showed you didn't have to sit back there and just keep the beat. His musicality on the kit meant that Rush songs became known as much for the drum fills as the guitar licks.

The introduction to 2112 is just one example of how Peart's drum patterns provided much of the drama and became the focus of attention as each song developed.

Peart's character was in keeping with the band's status as outsiders - a Canadian trio playing progressive rock like no one else. He was so untypical of the drumming fraternity - camera shy and thoughtful, a man of few words. He left the joking to his bandmates Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee.
As a trio, they were the perfect blend and showed how, in the rock idiom, a three-piece band is often the most dynamic and cohesive musical unit.

Peart shunned the limelight offstage, but came alive as a working musician and lyricist, in a career that began in the progressive rock and fantasy land of albums like 2112 and A Farewell To Kings, but which later matured to address more personal and social issues.

It was rarely plain-sailing for them, particularly with some parts of the music press, who were too cool to admit they liked the band. And Peart caught flak from the UK's NME in the late 70s for expressing an appreciation for the philosophy of right-wing author Ayn Rand. But for fans of the band, the fuss over that couldn't obscure the power and majesty of Rush's music.

As a Rush fan, you were definitely outside of the mainstream. None of my friends were remotely interested at the time, but I was a fan of their first live album All The World's A Stage, which featured excerpts from their recent breakthrough album 2112, as well as earlier songs like Fly By Night and Lakeside Park.

So I took the opportunity to see them live at Hammersmith in 1978, in their full prog rock pomp, playing 2112, Xanadu and their early prog classics. The show was later released as part of the Different Stages CD package.

This interview sheds some light on the recording of A Farewell To Kings, their studio follow up to the breakthrough album 2112.  The second live album, Exit...Stage Left, reflected their evolution from the 70s to the early 80s (shorter hair, no more silk kimonos) and is probably the best of the early live recordings.

Later on in their career, the Rush In Rio DVD showed how much their music meant to people all over the world. The South Park send-up was so good that Rush incorporated it into their live shows as the intro to Tom Sawyer.

If you haven't seen it and you're a fan, check out the documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage for the full story of how Rush defied expectations and became one of the biggest bands in the world.

This, I'm happy to say, is a proper obituary of the man, with insight from their many interviews, by the British writer Philip Wilding.

And here's a rare televised interview with Neil himself.

A perfect example of how much Rush meant to their fans, is the Foo Fighters doing 2112 at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins tweeted their own tributes to Neil (shown here).

As many have said, it's a great shock when your heroes die suddenly. But if Neil was looking down now, he would surely see millions of people of all ages air drumming to his songs.

RIP Professor - thanks for the music

Monday, December 30, 2019

How my mid-1980s funk band was revived in 2019

Although I have kept playing over the years, I've not worked in a regular gigging band performing our own material for a long time. So one of the unexpected thrills of 2019 for me personally was the re-release of a single I recorded with a band back in the 1980s.

World Series were a jazz-funk band in the period 1982-84, when the so-called 'Britfunk' movement was in full swing. You may have seen us if you were going to gigs in London at that time.

We played at various music clubs such as Dingwalls in Camden, the Cricketers at the Oval, the Rock Garden in Covent Garden and the Production Village in Cricklewood. We also had regular weekly gig at the Bull & Gate pub in Kentish Town, where the photo below was taken. 
The line-up at this time was myself on drums and percussion, Keith Mawson on bass, Mike Frankel on guitar and vocals and Andy Park on keyboards. Pablo Cook joined as percussionist soon after our first recording session.

In 1983, Mike, Keith, Andy and I recorded three tracks at Woodcray Manor Studios, located on a farm in Berkshire. We chose two of the songs from our set, Head Over Heels and Try It Out, for a double A-side single which was released by a small independent label, Baskerville Records.

Here are the songs:
Head Over Heels by World Series

Try It Out by World Series

The single was played on Robbie Vincent's soul show on Radio London and a few other local radio stations. We did a few promotional appearances with DJs such as Pete Tong. We continued to play live and drew increasing numbers to our gigs, but no major record companies came knocking.

36 Years Later...

Fast forward to 2019 and Mike, now living in Greater Manchester, was contacted by French DJs Clémentine & Saint-James from Parisian label Chuwanaga. They said they had got hold of a copy of Head Over Heels/Try It Out and were interested in re-releasing them both.

At first we were sceptical, but Saint-James assured us he really liked the tracks and was producing a 1980s Britfunk revival festival and accompanying album. He would remaster our songs and release them as a stand-alone single.

Since Mike couldn't immediately lay his hands on the master tape, I sent my test pressing of the original 1983 single to Paris, in the hope that they could use this as the source for the remastering.

Amazingly, through the wonders of 21st century recording technology, a few weeks later Mike and I received an email with a link to the cleaned-up and newly mixed songs  The results were remarkable given the source material. This was a massive thrill for Mike and I, having never imagined that our music would be revived in this way. But that was just the beginning.
Mike's sleeve notes for the back cover of the re-release
Over the early summer months of 2019, Chuwanaga Records rolled out of a pre-launch marketing campaign for World Series on social media.

"We're super excited to finally share with you our next release, an almost forgotten 7" by Britfunk band World Series, bringing together jazz-funk, AOR and a really funky vibe.

"Available very soon on July 1st: a perfect fit for summertime

The promo continued: "Like a good recipe, this little beauty has got all the right ingredients: great Rhodes parts, catchy vocals, solid basslines and lovely Moog-esque synthesizer melodies. "Try It Out" brings together a classy AOR-Funk/Soul vibe with a solide funky groove. On the other side, "Head Over Heels" looks more towards proper british Jazz-Funk territories with its uptempo beat and slapped 
The single was played at their DJ gigs and festivals during the summer. They posted a clip on Facebook of a party on a beach in the south of France, with everyone dancing to Try It Out. It was a strange feeling. Mike and I believed what we were doing at the time was good, but to have it appreciated like this so many years later was just surreal.

Clementine and Saint-James went to London in June for the Britfunk revival festival. One Saturday night they appeared on the Gilles Peterson show on BBC Radio 6. Gilles devoted an hour of his show to Chuwanaga's Britfunk revival and during the show, they played Try It Out in full. That was a proud moment, our first play on national radio.

The single was launched in July and became immediately available on Spotify. My daughter works in advertising and one day she sent me a photo showing they were playing World Series over the sound system in their office.

It was just one bizarre thing after another...

Back in the day...

After these recordings in 1983, World Series continued to gig around London and build a strong and loyal following. Like a lot of bands we were at our best in a live situation and our act was improved further with the addition of Pablo Cook on percussion. Later on in 1984 Andy left the band and we recruited Mark Ambler, an excellent jazz pianist and synth player, who had a brief time as a pop star with the Tom Robinson Band.

World Series dissolved in 1984 just after we recorded a song that was planned as our next single, Take My Love Back. Although we continued to refine our live act, something of the original chemistry and camaraderie had been lost. You throw these things away without proper consideration when you're young, thinking you'll just move on to something else. But the reality is it's hard to recapture the momentum of a band that has worked at building a sound and an audience.

Of the other band members, I am still in contact with Mike and Pablo. Mike plays live in and around Manchester, working under the stage name Mickey Van Gelder, performing his own compositions, inspired by blues and jazz standards. He is also a lyricist and occasional singer with the French R&B/jazz group The Swinging Dice.

Pablo Cook went on to great things as a percussionist with artists such as Moby, Pulp and William Orbit. He was a member of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, worked with Lily Allen on her first recordings and most recently, he played at the farewell concert for Soft Cell at the O2 in London.

Thanks to the folks at Chuwanaga, the music of World Series lives on. 

Head Over Heels / Try It Out by World Series is available on Spotify.
If you'd like to buy the vinyl version, click on the link below. Enjoy!


Saturday, December 28, 2019

December 1969, Led Zeppelin promise not to go soft

As 1969 came to a close, Led Zeppelin were, after the success of their second album, the band everyone expected to become massive in the new decade. However, guitarist Jimmy Page caused concern amongst the group's fans by suggesting the band would be expanding their musical horizons on future albums.

In the article featured here, Melody Maker's Chris Welch said fans should have no fear - Zeppelin will not be going soft. Little did he know.

The interview is an interesting snap-shot of the time, with Zeppelin having sold over five million albums in 1969 and being considered for a Queen's Award for their export achievements.

In the interview with Welch at the Savoy Hotel in London, John Bonham talks about buying his three year-old son Jason a miniature drumkit and why the single version of Whole Lotta Love was withdrawn in the UK.
Jimmy Page assured Welch that although Zeppelin were exploring more acoustic songs, "we're still a heavy group" saying it would be wrong for them to change their sound completely.

Click on the image to enlarge it
Of course, the next album, 1970's Led Zeppelin III was indeed a departure from the heavy sound of the first two albums. The angry reaction of some fans was hard for the band to take.

The faintly exotic and more reflective material on Led Zeppelin III has stood the test of time very well. It was the jumping off point for the various musical explorations that peaked with Physical Graffiti.

Tracks from LZ III like 'Friends' and 'Gallows Pole' formed the core of the Page and Plant Unplugged release in the 1990s and those same tracks are still featured in Robert Plant’s solo concerts.

But many fans wanted another Led Zep II and by 1971 and the imminent release of Led Zeppelin IV, it was clear that the new folky direction had not gone down well with some of their fans.

At the time, many fans felt let down that Led Zep III didn’t contain another Whole Lotta Love or Heartbreaker. The new material to be released on Led Zeppelin IV, and being aired on BBC sessions in April 1971, suggested there would definitely be no return to the lemon-squeezing days of yore. A letter to the Melody Maker (below) in May 1971, under the headline ‘Don’t go soft Zeppelin!’ sums up the mood:

“Zep sound great on Whole Lotta Love and their many earlier songs, but please leave the gentle songs to people like The Strawbs, who have grown up with their music and can do it justice. It’s obvious from Zeppelin’s performance on the radio last week, that they just don’t make it without the volume.”

The BBC session to which J. Miller from Chester was referring contains this lovely coupling of Going To Cailfornia and That's The Way. Judge for yourself whether Led Zeppelin were out of their depth.

Other letters in MM’s May 1971mail bag included a fan of King Crimson suggesting since their reformation (after the break up of the Court of the Crimson King band)  “there seems to be no hope for any other group”.  No other musicians could compare, apparently. Robert Fripp would probably have agreed. 

And Roger B Bartley of London E12 describes Stevie Wonder as an “abominable popcorn merchant”. Wow, so he’s just produced Music of My Mind and was about to release Talking Book,  Innervisions and Fullfillingness’ First Finale. Mr Bartley, you jest.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Expressions to avoid in a recording studio

When Steely Dan reformed in the 1990s, their website was an extension of Fagen and Becker's sardonic humour. This list appeared on their site, together with things like '36 Rules for Bands'. Anyone who has been in a band, or in a studio, should get a laugh or two out of this.
During A Recording Session

1.     Ready, Freddie (pronounced red-eye fred-eye) 
2.     Bingo, gringo 
3.     Uno, Bruno 
4.     The phones sound O.K. but I need more of myself 
5.     We won't need a click 
6.     I like what you're trying to do but not the way you're doing it 
7.     An excellent first attempt 
8.     Was that the sound you had on the demo? 
9.     Make the click louder 
10. That was a pretty good take for this time of night 
11. If you want the tempo any brighter than that, we better wait for a sunny day 
12. No dynamics? We're playing as loud as we can 
13. I think that's a pretty good sounding take for what were getting paid.. 
14. That was great, let's do it again 
15. Is that about as tight as you boys want to get it? 
16. Is it possible the click is speeding up? 
17. I'm at the point where I'm making dumb mistakes - before I was making much smarter mistakes 
18. So many drummers, so little time 
19. Why don't we do the double first and the lead will be easier to get once we've got the double 
20. I never had this problem when I was being produced by Lenny and Russ 
21. We got some things, we need some things 
22. Fabulous 
23. Punch in at the section 
24. You can't make ice cream out of shit 
25. You can't polish a turd 
26. Just let your spirit soar 
27. My spirit's already sore from the last thirty takes... 
28. Close 
29. Less is more 
30. Less is Paul 
31. Less is Brown 
32. Less is less 
33. That's the way I've been playing it all along 
34. I just wish I could get a whole band that sounds as good as I do 
35. This will be a great opportunity for me to show off my chop 
36. Let's hear the bass, if you can call it that 
37. Does your amp have an underdrive channel? 
38. You can erase that one, I remember exactly what I played 
39. We'll catch that in the mix 
40. You guys can fix that in Soundtools, right?
41. I brought my kid along, he's never been in a recording studio before 
42. My girlfriend sings great background vocals
43. I know a great drummer 
44. You guys want to try some heroin? 
45. Your girlfriend's been in the bathroom a long time 
46. Please, man, stay away from my faxes, okay?
47. I'm not going to be any more dishonest with you than I am with Donald 
48. I'd like a little more of a live feeling on this tune. 
49. I also play eleven other instruments 
50. Sorry I'm late, I just got through with my blood test (or CAT scan) 
51. That vocal's not a keeper is it? 
52. That's how I wrote it but that's not how I like to play it 
53. I can't think of any improvements that won't make it worse 
54. That ground loop is a trademark thing for me 
55. That's the new old comp from today - I want to hear the new old comp from last Tuesday 
56. That reverb would sound a lot better if it were coming out of a piece of MY GEAR
57. How bout we get rid of these 3M machines and get ourselves a frozen yogurt machine 
58. Skunk called, he's on his way down 
59. The frozen yogurt machine is broken 
60. When was the last time we worked together? Tonight.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Jimi Hendrix and some Christmas gift suggestions


Yes, it's December 1967 and Jimi's playing Santa Claus, bringing you seasonal joy with his new waxing Axis: Bold As Love.

The second of his three classic studio albums, 'Axis' combines some of Jimi's most psychedelic guitar experiments with his most sensitive songwriting. Tracks like Little Wing (truly one of his greatest songs) and Castles Made of Sand showed Jimi was so much more than the wild man of Borneo he was portrayed as by the media back then.

The recording was done mostly in London at Olympic Studios. Despite the ground-breaking guitar effects and stereo panning featured on tracks such as If 6 Was 9 and Bold As Love, the album could potentially have sounded even better if Jimi had not left a master tape of side one in a London taxi. The lost tape had to be remastered in one overnight session and Jimi always felt the rushed nature of it compromised the record. But to these ears it still sounds amazing, especially considering the limitations of using 4 track recorders.
Fast forward to December 1969 and Phillips/Fontana were trying to convince us to buy these goodies right away, because if we waited until Christmas eve they'd be sold out. Now let's be honest, Santa would not have been delivering many copies of any of these records. Scott 4 is beloved of wise-after-the-event hipsters, but it was his worst selling of the four 'Scott' albums.

The 'David Bowie' album, renamed Space Oddity in 1972 after his second coming with Ziggy Stardust, was another flop in 1969.

And Flaming Youth are only remembered now because their drummer was Phil Collins - that's him at the bottom of the diamond on the cover.
Of the four featured albums, Greek diva Nana Mouskouri was probably the best seller at the time; popular with the mums and dads, don't you know.

And of the others, well Blue Mink were having hits and Melting Pot is one of their best, so that would have probably been the best seller of the lot.

Elsewhere in this pre-Christmas 1969 edition of UK music paper Melody Maker, CBS would have had a bit more luck promoting the new album from Janis Joplin, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

With a new more soulful sound, a shift away from the psychedelic rock of Big Brother & The Holding Company, Janis was ready to rip up the joint as she did at Woodstock that summer. The new album should have done better sales-wise but a lot of fans were put off by the change of direction. Judged on its own merits, the record has some strong songs, including Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) and To Love Somebody. Check out those links, seriously. It's probably my favourite of her albums.

Island Records were also advertising in this edition of Melody Maker in December 1969. One or two of these albums, notably Fairport's Liege & Leif, Jethro Tull's Stand Up and In The Court of the Crimson King, had already been on the charts. Others, such as Quintessence, Mott and poor old Nick Drake would see little Yuletide activity.