Reggie King – Looking For A Dream CD
As most of you will know, Reggie King was the lead singer of The Action. They were a band that should have been more commercially successful, but it never materialised. However, their legacy to British pop music and mod has been felt for decades. It has really only been in the last 15 years or so that The Action have been given something like the credit and respect they deserved, thanks in part to our own Dr Robert and people like the late Ian Hebditch and his surviving partner Jane Shepherd. Now we can add another name to that list of dedicated Action fans. This collection of recently rediscovered demos has been meticulously restored by Peter Wild with help from Peter Reynolds and Ian Stead. The collection released by Circle Records is an astonishing and important piece of British pop history. To give it some context, Reggie left The Action in 1968 and released a solo LP in 1971. These 15 tracks were recorded in 1969, or at least that is the best guess. No one can be absolutely certain. What is certain, is that this album clearly indicates exactly where Reggie was musically at that time. It seems to me that Reggie was not only a contemporary of, but also a competitor with Steve Marriott and Ray Davis and in my opinion, they travelled similar roads musically, although Marriott and Davis won the commercial popularity contest as single and album sales will attest.
The reason I make this comparison is because much of this album would not have looked out of place alongside ‘Autumn Stone’ or ‘The Self Preservation Society ‘ for example. Although they are demos, they are complete, produced and arranged works that are both of their time, but could easily stand up along side some of Paul Weller’s more recent wistful work. ’22 Dreams’ LP springs to mind. I think musically, the Modfather would relate to this collection totally. ‘Looking For A Dream’ is packed full of pastoral shades. It is not folksy by any means, but it has all the best qualities of a collection of songs that were a precursor to the classic singer-songwriter period of pop. All the songs were written by Reggie King and this shows what a magnificent and under-rated songwriter he was. ‘Get Up, Get Away’ easily matches Ray Davis or Marriott at their jolly music hall best. ‘All Up To Heaven’ is another perfect example, while ‘In And Out’ is just sublime and arguably the best track. I like the fact that, in the sleeve notes, Peter Wild accepts that one or two tracks are purely ‘the best we could get them’ in terms of sound quality which is a very honest assessment. This is definitely an album for not just Action fans as a historical artefact , but serious music lovers who will really listen to the songs and appreciate the quality. We really lost a ‘national treasure’ when Reggie past away. This CD proves it.
Alfa 9 – Gone To Ground CD
Seven years is a long time between albums for any band. So it is the case with Alfa 9 who finally return from their sabbatical….well okay not a sabbatical so much, but there are those for whom life must never get in the way of their career and those, like Alfa 9 who have rolled with life’s ups and downs, but never lost sight of what they wanted to do. What a joy it is to see them back with a new LP of wonderfully crafted and produced songs. For those not aware of Alfa 9, the Newcastle-Under-Lyne quartet’s debut LP ‘Then We Begin’ was critically acclaimed. They toured with Coral and Charlatans and looked as if things were going to really take off. Unfortunately the rigours of extensive touring caught up with them and that thing I mentioned earlier, life. This new 12 track offering is easily on a par with that debut LP, if not better. Alfa 9 are a nice combination of influences that shine throughout. Almost like a fine wine, you can almost taste the flavours; the Byrds, Charlatans, Stone Roses, Rain Parade, La’s, Crosby Stills and Nash, Gram Parsons. ‘El Morocco’ gets the album off to a flying start, a real Byrds-influenced song that highlights another aspect of Alfa 9′s admirable qualities – vocal harmonies, which are exquisitely executed. ‘Seedless’ is a wistful, dreamy corker, while ‘Old Man Blues’ comes out of left-field compared to the rest of the tracks as a rocking blues belter which is lyrically very clever and astutely observed. If ‘The Castle’ had been released in 1996, it would have been top twenty material, complementing and capturing the sound of the aforementioned Stone Roses, Charlatans, Ride et al. If any of the influencing bands mentioned are among your favs, watch out for this one, Alfa 9 ‘Gone To Ground’. I think you may be seeing and hearing a lot more about them in the near future and remember, you saw it here first. The album is out on general release in March this year on Blow Up Records. Cat No: BU066CDPW.
Electric Stars – Sonic Candy Soul CD
I am always interested when a new release from Detour Records lands on my desk. While they are known for unearthing great obscure and unreleased or long-forgotten punk and mod revival tracks. Detour also have a healthy catalogue of terrific LPs ranging from Long Tall Shorty to Makin’ Time. This album by Electric Stars was of particular interest as I had not heard about this Manchester band until the CD arrived. This is as good a slice of British indie rock as you’re likely to hear anywhere. The songs and the production on the eleven tracks have pretty much incorporated every influence you could think of from British rock music of the last 60 years. They have thrown it into a big pot, given it a stir and the results are spectacular. If the great British NIMS (Not Into Mod) ever get to hear this band, they would consign their crap Coldplay CDs to the recycling bin where they belong. Included in the set are the two songs that became Electric Stars first single: ‘Stoned Again’ a lovely relaxed ballad and ‘Between The Streets’ which has a nice joyful late-sixties feel to it. However, for me, the real gem on this album is the last track ‘Isolation’. Again it is a ballad, but it is simply the best bitter-sweet love song I’ve heard since Verve did ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. I don’t think it is going too far to say it’s a work of absolute perfection. A song so complete I can’t imagine it being improved. Now if this had been written and performed by someone like maybe Robbie Williams (when he was at his peak) it would have been a million seller. I’m not the easiest of people to win over, but when something this good comes along, I found it hard to resist. The youtube link is the full album version of this song. If nothing else, I shall catch an Electric Stars gig at some point just to hear ‘Isolation’ live.
Rhythm Shakers – Flipsville CD
Oh man ! Make sure you get your hands on tickets for Le Beat Bespoke Weekender 9 because if this rockin’, rollin, strollin’, boppin’ album is anything to go by, Rhythm Shakers are going to make a big impression here come the Easter holidays. This is a good old fashioned rockin’ R&B set that will have Mark Lamarr jumpin’ (if he doesn’t already know about them !) The driving force behind the band is Marlene Perez. She wrote all bar four of the tracks and what a voice! It’s taylor-made for this kind of thing. Every now-and-then, Marlene pulls out that husky growl that is not over-used, but timed to perfection. The backing and production is an amalgam of rockabilly meets the Ventures meets Brenda Lee at her rockin’ best. If anything Senorita Perez has a more low-down and dirty sound to her delivery than Ms Lee could have ever hoped to achieve. The real challenge reviewing this CD and one I gladly accept is simply this: Pick a winner from this lot ! It is rare indeed when you can’t find a fault in any of the songs. Listen to ‘My Sweet Revenge’ and you know the lady means every last word of it. She wants a ‘Real Rockin’ Daddy’ and you hope one turns up damn quick ! Even when Rhythm Shakers dip their toes in the covers pool, they come up with a lovely interpretation of Ray Charles’ ‘Mess Around’. The lead track ‘No Time On You’ really sets the tone for this collection of 12 numbers and I urge you to at least check them out via the links. One thing is for sure. I’ll be the first one in the door when they open on 30 March 2013.
Top 10 Favourite Tracks of 2012
As we move into 2013, I thought I would present my Top 10 favourite tracks of 2012. Of course we all have our opinions and our favs, and I accept not everyone will agree with me.
They are in no particular order, but for what it’s worth, here goes:
1. Nick Waterhouse – ‘Is That Clear’.
The Bay Area resident came to the UK early in 2012 and made a big impression on the London scene and this was my pick from his EP.
2. Jasmine Kara – ‘Ordinary Joe’
Also early in the year, Jasmine Kara had a showcase for her LP ‘Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But A Good Woman Gone Bad’. From that came a very tidy interpretation of the Terry Callier classic.
3. Last Of The Troubadors – ‘Only Remedy’
The latest incarnation for the resilient and creative Darron Connett, this song was from their first EP ‘Sooner The Better’. While all four tracks deserve a mention, this was my choice.
4. French Boutik – ‘Le Clope’
Much like Last Of The Troubadors, French Boutik came up with a four track EP of high quality. This one got my vote by the narrowest of margins.
5. Recusants – Barmaid
I saw these guys sharing the bill with Spitfires back in October. I know they are an out-and-out indie band, but there was something about this song that got me hooked. Indie power pop at it’s finest.
6. Spitfires – ‘Sirens’
While ‘Spark To Start’ was the lead track on this double A-side single, this always was my fav. Power, aggression, three minutes of post-punk, Jam/ Clash/ Chords influenced perfection.
7. Filthy Six – ‘Girlfriend’
A latecomer into my top 10. A fabulous cover of the Michael Jackson hit from the 1980s. Cleverly incorporating the guitar riff from Archie Bell and The Drells ‘Tighten Up’ (not sampled I might add), this a the kind of funky stuff that Acid Jazz built its reputation upon.
8. Frowning Clouds – ‘Snake Charmer’
This was my pick from the LP ‘Listen Closlier’. I’m really looking forward to seeing our Aussie cousins live at Le Beat Bespoke 9 during Easter.
9. Strypes – ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’
People still talk about the Crossfire Allnighter back in October when these lads from the Emerald Isle fairly torn the place up with a blistering set, and this track was one of many highlights. They will be back for Le Beat Bespoke 9 as well.
10. Electric Stars – ‘Isolation’
My final choice is this incredible bitter-sweet ballad from the Manchester-based band. On the basis that nothing is perfect, this is as close as it gets for me.
All tracks listed are available via the usual online and digital download outlets.
So what can we look forward to in 2013? Plenty, is my answer. The rumour is Mr Weller will be unveiling his latest work this year. Last Of The Troubadors will be releasing their latest EP, which will be even better than the first.
Stone Foundation, whose magnificent ‘Three Shades Of..’ from 2011 will be surpassed by a new LP that will see them build on their success thus far. Alpha 9 whose brand of harmonies and jangly guitars a-la-Byrds will have anew LP out in March. The recently discovered-thought-lost demo sessions by Reggie King will also be out soon.
Then of course Le Beat Bespoke 9 will be a belter. The line-up is superb, but if you like rhythm and blues and rock and roll, Saturday night is the one not to be missed. The Wild Records Revue featuring Gizzelle, Omar and the Stringpoppers and Rhythm Shakers is going to be something else. Be warned, get your tickets early for that one.