Tootal Blog

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  • A Special Talent: Horace Panter Talks To Tootal Blog

    Although most of his career has been defined by music (as bass player with The Specials), the artist formally know as Sir Horace Gentleman graduated in 1975 with a degree in Fine Art from what was then called 'Lanchester Polytechnic' in Coventry (now Coventry University). It was there that he first met Jerry Dammers and the concept of the concept of the Punk/Ska band materialised.

    He has been exhibiting in the UK since 2009, and his Cassette vs Vinyl exhibition has already visited Manchester, Los Angeles and Dublin. Horace talked to Tootal Blog ahead of his latest exhibition in London.

    You have a degree in Fine Art. Was there ever a risk that music would have lost out to a life dedicated to art?

    For a little while. I did my Foundation Course at Northampton School of Art, and it was very prescriptive. It was, like, Monday morning we will do this. Wednesday we will do this. And there was Life Drawing and Objective Research. I got to the Polytechnic in Coventry in 1972 and it was, “Okay, get on with it”. ; I was waiting for someone to say, “It’s Monday afternoon, you need to do this”. So, I kind of floundered for a while. I was halfway through my second year, and it was like, “Hang on. You could get a degree out of this. Your parents will be so upset if you went home…” So, I buckled down but to be honest I was learning to play the bass guitar at the time, which was far more exciting. So art was something that I did during the day but then by night I dreamed of being Andy Fraser from Free, or the bloke from Booker T & the MGs.

    Why the bass guitar?

    Bass is easy, one note at a time. It was always the thing; the clever guy at school learnt to play guitar, his mate played rhythm guitar because he had been taught by the first guy, and, to their friend who was too stupid to play barre chords, they’d say, “Oh, you can play bass”. That’s always how it was back in the Sixties. Though I’d always wanted to play the bass guitar because I wasn’t very good at playing a six string, but I kind of got on with it and at college I met Bob Carter who taught me the rudiments of the thing then it started to make sense. Bob went on produce Lynx, Junior Giscombe and the first Wham! single (sadly, he died in 1988 and I lost a good friend).

    It sounds like you were a very conscientious student. A bit at odds with the ‘Young Ones’ image of students in the ‘70s?

    Art College in the Seventies was the preserve of the English eccentric or the work shy. Although I had aspirations to be the former I was actually the latter. You went to Art School to join a pop group. It worked for me.

    When The Specials took off did you give up on Art completely?

    The Specials in 1979 (L. to. R) Lynval Golding, Neville Staples, John Bradbury, Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers, Horace Panter, Roddy Byers.

    Art was always there, especially when we (The Specials) started travelling. It was like, “Hey, we’re in New York”. Everybody else went out to Studio 54, or some nightclub, and I went to bed so I could be up early to go to the Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim the next day. So, art and music jockeyed for centre stage for quite some time but art was always there. I could come off a tour, and art was my way to relax, to decompress.

    And then in the Nineties I became an Art Teacher, so I had to focus on art because that was my profession. It was like, “How can I enthuse children, especially children with special needs, about art? How can I make this interesting and exciting?” And that made me focus a lot on what I like about art but it’s been an up and down exercise, really.

    It must be quite a leap to go from being an art student, or an art ‘fan’ to being an exhibiting artist?

    I kind of use the music business model, if you get a great band you don’t just keep it in the rehearsal room, you go out and you do gigs. If you’ve got a collection of paintings you don’t keep them in your attic, you go out and get some exhibitions. The art is a commercial enterprise. I’m not just sitting up in my garret thinking, one day, fifty years after I’ve died these will be worth something. Let’s get these out to people. Let’s make fine art prints of them and see if someone wants to buy them.

    With Music, I’m the Bass Player. I’m a member of the team. Can’t go out to a pub and get my bass out and start singing with it. It doesn’t make sense; I need to work with a drummer, or a keyboard player or a guitarist. I’m a cog in the machine. I’ve often thought I could do a solo album but “No, you can’t. You’d like to but (A) you can’t sing, (B) you don’t write songs and (C) you can’t play a melody instrument well enough”. With the art, that’s my solo album. The work stands or falls by my efforts alone. I can’t blame the drummer if it’s a bad painting.

    Your collections include a portrait of The Specials, but there’s not a lot that points to ‘Horace Panter: Ska Musician’. Is that deliberate?

    Horace Panter: Equally adept with bass and brush (Photo by Conor McCabe)

    I haven’t really thought about that. No, I don’t suppose you can see Horace from The Specials but then I don’t just play Ska or Reggae, I play Blues, I play Country.

    A while back I did what I called my Blues Series. Collages of my favourite Blues musicians and I did a couple of Jazz guys as well – Miles Davis, Charlie Parker. I wanted to actually “paint music”, if you now what I mean. It’s all very well doing a nice portrait of Muddy Waters but loads of people do that. I wanted to do something that explained how the music impacted on me. Blues has got an awful lot to do with history and a sense of place. The people who moved from the Mississippi and Alabama, up to Chicago to work in the factories, and they took their music with them. But then they discovered electricity, and you have Chicago Blues. I wanted to do something that captured that.

    Did music play a large part in your life when you were growing up?

    Oh, enormous, yes. My father bought an orange and lilac transistor radio round about 1962. It was about the size of a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes packet. It was amazing; the Pirate radio stations changed my life. Before them you had a programme that played Pop music for about 45 minutes – ‘Midday Spin’ or something it was called but that was the only Pop music you heard on the radio. Than all of a sudden the Pirates came along and you could hear Pop music all day. It changed my life and I think it changed the music industry here as well. Radio Caroline, Radio London; all of a sudden there was somewhere for all this new music to be heard and the results were tremendous. At that time I wanted to be a Pirate radio DJ; I was obsessed by Pop music when I was younger.

    There are people who were equally as obsessed with The Specials when they were younger. That first album is almost 40 years old now. Why do you think they have endured?

    The songs are great. The lyrics are really clever and the rhythm is just so seductive. I think that’s a testament to the longevity of the band. That Ska music, especially with the energy of Punk Rock is just so infectious. That’s why bands are still playing it.

    The source material for your ‘Master Tape’ paintings must be very rare. Are you painting the original tape, from photos or are these imagined?

    Multi Cassette Technicolour 2 by Horace Panter.

    Let’s think of a seminal album or a seminal session. Then I’ll try and get some research done. If I can’t a get a picture of an actual cassette from that particular recording studio at least I can look on various websites and find the logo for the studio and concoct something. So, some of it is from photos of cassettes and some are sort of, shall we say, my artistic license because out there somewhere something like that does exist. Or did exist.

    The nice thing about the cassettes is you’ve got a very limited time span. I couldn’t really do an Oasis cassette because everything was on CD by that time. And I couldn’t do a Beatles one because that was before it. I think Philips made the first cassette in something like 1962 but they didn’t become popular until the late the late Sixties and they were done and dusted by about ’92, but that’s fine by me because that’s when I grew up.

    If you’re an Undertones fan you’re going to know that they recorded at Wizard Recording Studios in Belfast. You’re going to have a connection with that particular work. It has to be an album that I like; I’m not going to do an ABBA cassette. Another professional artist I know suggested I paint Thriller, because it was the biggest selling album of all time. And I did some research – Westlake Studios in L.A. - but I didn’t have the fire in me to do it. I didn’t like Thriller particularly. Whereas I do like New Boots & Panties. A: It was great and B: It was recorded in the Old Kent Road.

    Are you pleased that the vinyl revival offers an opportunity for artwork to be better appreciated?

    I think that’s great; there’s something to be said for artefacts. I think there’s a general reaction to the Digital era. There’s a really good book called The Revenge Of Analogue by a Canadian writer called David Sax. He documents all this; it’s not just vinyl. You can now buy Polaroid cameras; 35mm film is back on sale. People get together to play board games. Lots of different things where he’s saying there is a movement back towards the actual artefact. Back in the 1960s I was buying albums because I liked the cover. The type face on the Free records, especially their second, I think it’s Arnold Böcklin, I’m not sure. And I fastidiously learnt how to draw like that.

    I’m surprised you haven’t done more album artwork?

    I did a couple for Stone Foundation. I was up for doing the last one but the record company said, “Oh, no, we want photos of the band”.

    I’ve started to branch out. There’s a little independent Reggae label in Holland; I’ve done some work for them. I did some work for the new Doc Marten’s store in Camden, and I’m actually designing a beer can for a small London restaurant chain called Chick’n’Sours. So, it’s kind of putting your different irons in different fires.

    The first Specials album shows the band in the archetypal 2-Tone dress code; suits, button down shirts, skinny ties, pork pie hats. How important was the band image to you?

    An advert for The Specials album (1979). Band photo by Carol Starr

    On the back of that first album, it’s the canal basin in Coventry. We are on the “sea bed’ but the actual canal has been drained. Carol Starr took that one, and we are looking up at Chalkie Davies, who is taking the front cover photo. The white shoes were a bad idea but never mind.

    I think every band had a ‘Look’; The Beatles had those funny collarless suits, whilst The Rolling Stones tried to look as scruffy as possible. But it was a tribal uniform. I’m very aware that you have to look a certain way if you’re on stage, especially if you are connecting with a particular tribe. You announced who you were by what you wore. I always had this idea that the Mods who took acid became Hippies, and the Mods who drank became Skinheads. I was always aware you had to look like something, especially if you were in a group.

    Was The Specials “Look” a collective decision?

    When The Specials first started we were a Punk band that played Reggae, if you like. So, we’d play a Punk song, and then we’d play a Reggae song. Musically it wasn’t particularly cohesive and visually it wasn’t either. I didn’t like the idea of wearing safety pins and bin liners. So, I had my hair cut short and bought some combat trousers and button down shirts. I affected the guise of a Skinhead. When we introduced Ska – which meant that we could play our Reggae songs faster but our Punk songs slower – but still maintain maximum danceability it was like, okay, we should look like a Mod group. And there was this Mod thing doing the rounds at the time – The Merton Parkas, The Chords, Secret Affair – and you could by a second hand tonic suit on Gosford Street, like the suit I wore on that album cover, for seven quid. It probably cost more than that to get it altered.

    Can you remember the first time your parents let you buy your own clothes?

    Vaguely. I think the first fashion item I ever owned was a Batman t-shirt. A bit Pop Art I suppose. I also bought a big Batman poster so that was obviously a big influence in my life. I did own a Paisley shirt. I thought I was absolutely amazing wearing it.

    And can you recall the first record you ever bought?

    The first record I bought was by The Byrds. It was called ‘5th Dimension (5D)’. It was in 3 / 4 time. That was me nailing my cultural colours to the mast. The second single I bought was ‘All Or Nothing’ by the Small Faces. How about that?

    What’s next for you?

    At the launch of Cassette vs Vinyl in Dublin, July 2016. (L. to R.) Chris Barton, Morgan Howell and Horace Panter (Photo by Conor McCabe)

    I’m working on Cassette vs. Vinyl, for the Truman Brewery exhibition. This is great fun. It is three artists – me, a guy called Chris Barton who makes giant facsimiles of cassettes; they’re amazing. It’s an actual cassette and the box it goes in. And Morgan Howell; he makes giant paintings of 45 RPM singles. They are stunning. I’ve seen them hanging in record company boardrooms, and the BBC offices.

    And me and my studio demo cassettes. So the three of us, it really works together because I don’t do vinyl, I don’t do sculptures, and they don’t do cassette paintings, but it’s a music related thing. One example of your childhood is going to be there. We exhibit together, we started off last year in Manchester, and then we took it to Los Angeles. We recently had a show in Dublin, and now we’ve got the Truman Brewery show in Brick Lane, for a week.

    What can visitors expect to see? How would you describe it?

    It’s very good; it’s like a musical experience but a visual musical experience. It’s amazing the number of people that come up to me and say, “I’ve got a box load of cassettes like that in my garage”. Or you hear their children ask, “Dad, what’s that?’ I've also done a painting of a Walkman. That was an amazing piece of Pop history. Totally redundant now but in 1983 everybody had one. These images are like “repositories of memory”, to offer a really pretentious answer. When people look at them the number of sentences that start with “I remember…” I always thought that’s what art should do; it should trigger an emotional response, and these certainly do.

    I have this other bonkers theory that Pop Art was to the art world, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, what Punk Rock was to the music business in the Seventies. Up to that point, you had the abstract expressionists – Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Robert Motherwell – huge paintings with swathes of colour, which dealt with the hefty subjects of doom, tragedy and ecstasy. Then all of a sudden this bloke comes along with a soup can.

    There again, in the Seventies you had Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Yes with their triple album, and along comes Anarchy In The UK.

    On the subject of Pop Art, your other works include a portrait of Elvis Presley, in the style of Peter Blake.

    Elvis with Badges by Horace Panter. A homage to Peter Blake.

    I hadn’t realised this before but I read up a little bit about it and that Peter Blake painting was based on a Gainsborough apparently. I was asked by a friend of mine to contribute to an exhibition commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Elvis Presley recording ‘I Love You Because’. Whilst I’m not a great fan of Elvis I am a great fan of Peter Blake. And on the original self-portrait Peter Blake is standing there with an Elvis Fan Club book. So I just changed it around, so it’s Elvis in the picture with a Peter Blake book. Some of the badges that are on my Peter Blake figure are stuff that wouldn’t have happened in 1961, when the original portrait was done. There’s a (Punk band) Black Flag one, and Rock Against Racism and the Rolling Stones… stuff like that.

    Peter Blake is obviously a big fan of music. Do you know if he’s a fan of The Specials?

    I met him once. It was at a Paul McCartney show at the O2 and I was in the backstage bar. And there was Noel Gallagher over there, and there’s Bob Hoskins over there and all of a sudden this figure appeared in the doorway. A little man with a goatee beard and a stick, with his family. And I thought, “Fuck me, that’s Peter Blake!” And I don’t do all of that Pop Star stuff. I don’t like that “Hey! Great to see you, I’ve got all your records”. I don’t “hang out” very well. But it was, like, “Come on, Horace, you’re not gong to have this chance again”. So, he settled down and I plucked up the courage; walked over and said, “Hi, I’m Horace Panter. I’m in a band called The Specials. I really like your work”. And luckily his family said, “Oh, we saw The Specials at Chelmsford the other week. You were great”. And I thought, “Thank you. A bit of kudos.” And I just slobbered and made a total fool of myself for about 30 seconds in front of Peter Blake. But, you know what? Everybody else can fuck off, because I’ve met Peter Blake.

     

    Cassette vs. Vinyl featuring works by Horace Panter, Morgan Howell and Chris Barton, is at The Old Truman Brewery, London E1, from the 19th to 24th October. Admission is free. More details at www.trumanbrewery.com/cgi-bin/exhibitions.pl

    For details of all Horace Panter Art Editions visit www.horacepanterart.com

    With thanks to Horace and Clare Panter for generously giving up their time for the Tootal Blog

  • The Doctor Will See You Now: The Blow Monkeys' Robert Howard Talks To Tootal Blog

     

    Welcome back. Now you’re living in Spain, how does it feel coming back to London?

    It’s still my favourite city in the world and it’s the people that make it. My father was from Hounslow, all his family came from there, for generations back but I was born in Scotland. Didn’t stay there long as you can tell from my accent. I moved around a lot.

    If there’s anywhere that I call home its Kings Lynn, of all places, where I grew up in the Seventies. I left there when I was 15 and went to live in Sydney, but Kings Lynn was really my formative years, the late Sixties through to ’77. Everything that infected my psyche in terms of music, clothes, fashion; those really important teenage years were spent in Kings Lynn. It was what was known as a London Overflow town but it had this funny thing; it had this Soul thing. There was a place called the Soul Bowl, which was an import record shop. It was like a Mecca for Northern Soul fan. It was mail order but it had a little shop too. So there was a Soul vibe there and there was a music vibe there but it was a tough old town. It was notoriously, how shall I say it... ‘Violent’ is the word I’m looking for.

    Can you recall the first record you bought?

    Top Of The Pops Volume 13, 1970. Just 99 pence from Woolworths.

    Probably T. Rex ‘Metal Guru’. My sister, who is ten years older than me, had bought me ‘Deborah’, which had been reissued at that time. And I think I’ve got one of those Top of the Pops albums, because I did love ‘Band Of Gold’. Back in 1970, I used to go to football; Kings Lynn FC, Southern League, half time, freezing cold, nil-nil; ‘Band Of Gold’ would come on and I’d be transported. It was one of those songs that was the gateway to soul music for me. So, I bought the Top of the Pops version, which is nothing like it because they were just copies, weren’t they? Pickwick, or something they came out on. You’d get them in Woolworths for 99p.

    What were you wearing on the terraces at Kings Lynn FC?

    You know, this is probably a faux pas, fashion-wise, but you know those long army coats… it wasn’t from Millets but it was something like that, some Army surplus store. I wanted one of them. It’s cold in Kings Lynn. You get the Siberian winds coming across the Fens.

    You worked as a music journalist in Australia. Any tips for Tootal Blog?

    I didn’t actually interview people; I reviewed records and gigs. I had a column in Rock Australia Magazine, RAM, which is like the NME of Australia. I did a Talking Heads gig and I did a Ramones gig, and I then I moved up to Darwin, in Northern Territory. From there I wrote the singles column for the Darwin Gazette, or whatever it was. This would have been 1979. In Darwin at this point you were talking about East Coast American music, Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil. And I was writing about a band called The Laughing Clowns. I saw them in Sydney and they were the blueprint for The Blow Monkeys. The drummer was like Gene Krupa - a Jazzer. They had this brass section that was slightly out of tune; like Fela Kuti. And then they had Ed Kuepper, who is a genius, and he’s not very well known. He had been guitarist in The Saints, and was playing this Ramones Punk-ish stuff. And the mixture of it; I thought that’s what I’m going to go back and do. Which is why I needed a saxophone. Of course, we ended up nothing like it ‘cause my DNA comes from Pop and Soul.

    The music industry has changed a lot in the 35 years since the first Blow Monkeys release. For better or worse?

    The Blow Monkeys: The 2015 Model.

    I’d say it’s worse in the sense that the music has become less important to people, in terms of its cultural cache but it always boils down to the same thing in the end, which is a good song. However you want to package it, however you want to sell it. Whether it’s digital, analogue or pidgin, it doesn’t really matter. In the end it’s still about making something that moves people. That’s still the desire, that’s the aim.

    In the world of streaming where every song is a single, I guess you don’t have to think about B-sides anymore?

    What you get is bonus tracks now. It’s not the same though. ‘Metal Guru’ had two B-sides on it. It had ‘Thunder Wing’, and was it ‘Lady’? On a seven inch! Just chucked two gems like that away. Value for money. ‘Jitterbug Love’, the B-side of ‘Children Of The Revolution’ - now that’s a tune. That’s Danny Baker’s favourite T. Rex tune; it’s a classic.

    The Beatles were great at their B-sides. Elvis Costello, The Jam… they always had brilliant B-sides. I love a singles band. In fact, The Jam, some of their B-Sides are better than the A-Sides, in a lot of people’s opinion. ‘Tales From The Riverbank’, ‘Dreams Of Children’… There was a great Style Council one, ‘I Do Like To Be B-Side The A-Side’. That’s Mick Talbot. He played on our new record. In the studio where we overdubbed the strings, I recognised his keyboards. I said to our engineer Ernie (McKone), “Is this Mick’s stuff?” He said, “Yeah, he’s down the road, I’ll ring him up”. Mick came down. He played on about four songs. Absolutely amazing musician.

    In addition to Mick you seem to have a lot of links with the Acid Jazz, Young Disciples, Galliano scene?

    Yes, Crispin Taylor, our drummer, was in Galliano, for example. That comes from late Eighties, being friendly with Paul Weller, obviously, and then people like Marco (Nelson) turning up at the studios. Young Disciples started demo-ing at a studio we were hanging around in and it ended up that was their album. We would just play on each other’s things; it was that kind of music scene. Always in and out of each other’s house, nicking each other’s milk. I guess there was a little community and I did end up knowing a lot of those guys.

    You crowd funded your new album and it seems there were packages available to suit all tastes.

    You can offer anything you want with these things. I’ve just spent all day wishing I hadn’t agreed to write out all the lyrics to this album by hand. My arm aches; I’ve forgotten how to write. I had to do loads of them, and it’s quite wordy this one. I’ll have to change that; do an album of instrumentals next time.

    You have donated a percentage of the album profits to Wintercomfort, a Cambridge homeless charity. Why them?

    We lived briefly in Cambridge before we moved to Spain, and we got to know them quite well. We did a couple of things with them in the past. And the ‘Cambridge Two’ were these two care workers who got arrested because they were helping some homeless people who were Heroin addicts. And there was a kink in the law that meant the people that were trying to help them could be prosecuted. So my wife, Michele, put on an event to support the care workers and we played at that. We became quite friendly with the Wintercomfort team. And I’ve had quite a bit of homelessness in my family. It’s something that I’m quite close to; I understand it.

    On YouTube there is a 1986 interview for Japanese TV, in which you said you wanted to change the world. Do you still harbour that ambition?

    The Blow Monkeys in 1986 (Photo by Fin Costello)

    I still want to change my world. I think it’s a good ambition to have when you’re young. And I feel it’s probably incumbent on me and my generation to change the world for the next one. In a good way. It doesn’t seem to be going that way but I do think that is our role.

    There’s one song on the new album called ‘An Act Of Faith’, which was inspired by something Michele said, because she’s a big gardener. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was planning trees. I said, “But you won’t see them”, and she replied. “It’s not for this generation it’s for future generations”. That’s the way to think about things, and we don’t think like that.

    In the Eighties The Blow Monkeys were supporters of the Red Wedge campaign. Can you imagine a collective body like Red Wedge existing now?

    Of musicians? I think it’s more likely they would coalesce around single issues, like raising money and awareness for things like Grenfell; things which are really, really important.

    The weird thing is, everything that Red Wedge fought for might be coming true with someone like Jeremy Corbyn who, it seems to me, has appeared almost like Peter Sellers in Being There. It’s as if, at last, authenticity has broken through everything else. They can throw what they want at him but the one thing that they can’t do is to say he’s a liar, or he doesn’t believe in what he says, because he’s always been, in my opinion anyway, on the right side of history. I remember him protesting outside South Africa House in 1981. He’s not a great communicator though he’s getting better. He should drop the ‘Geography Teacher’ look, but how important is image? (Laughs)

    The bands who were associated with movements like Red Wedge – The Blow Monkeys, Style Council, Billy Bragg, Madness, The Housemartins - were vilified by the tabloids at the time yet their music has endured.

    It definitely didn’t do us any favours in certain quarters. It’s that whole Billy Bragg thing of “mixing Pop and politics”. It would be an excuse for radio stations not to play us, at a time when they had so much power. They were such divisive times, to just sit on the fence didn’t seem an option. That’s not what I got into music for. It was a way of self-expression. It was something where you didn’t have to put a suit on and go to work and kowtow; demean yourself in order to pay rent. You could go out and express yourself, and as you went along you just sing and shout about the world as you see it. And you try to change it. I’ve always thought that; left or right, it doesn’t matter, as long as you express something; tell the truth.

    Apart from having three additional opinions how does your approach to a Blow Monkeys album differ, compared to your solo albums?

    I definitely have in mind the fact that I’m going to make it with these guys. So, there’s a certain sound, and a feel and a groove. There’s a certain key that I know the saxophone player plays in… things like that I take into consideration. In retrospect some of the albums we made when we first got back together, are probably more suited to my solo output. The thing with this one is, in terms of the direction, we’ve found our mojo again. I almost thought maybe I’ll make this a solo album but when I started to demo it and listen back I thought, no, this sounds like ‘us’. This is what we should be doing.

    Collaborators used to figure large in the Blow Monkeys catalogue – Curtis Mayfield, Kym Mazelle, Eek-A-Mouse, Mickey Finn, Joe Brown, Sylvia Tella, Cheb Khaled. Is there anyone left on the collaborators wishlist?

    Mavis Staples. Linda Womack. I’ve already worked with P. P. Arnold. She’s a proper ‘A-Lister’. An amazing voice; it just comes out of her. She’s got that authentic voice of the Southern Baptist Church thing. It was a joy to meet her, get her to come and make the album. It didn’t get the press it should’ve but it was a joy to do. Unfortunately the record company we did it with went bust two months later. We reissued it last year on vinyl and I think it’s going to be out properly again early next year.

    I think I’m suited to doing those kinds of things, because I write a lot more songs than I use and sometimes they suit that kind of relationship. I’m thinking the next thing I do might just be an album of duets. I saw the album Van Morrison did, Re-Working The Catalogue. I quite fancy doing something like that if I can make it work.

    This will be the first Blow Monkeys album since Springtime For The World (1990) to be released on vinyl. Are you glad to see the vinyl revival?

    New At Ten: The Wild River and 30 years of back catalogue.

    Yes, I’m a sucker for it. I kept all mine. It was a pain in the arse every time I was moving, because Michele’s got loads as well but we just kept them. There’s still something about the ritual for people of our generation. The CD is the format that went, and of course you get the Download code in the vinyl, so you can still put it on your phone, play it in your car.

    We really, really went to town on the artwork this time because we knew we were doing vinyl. We did blue vinyl, put little secrets here and there on the sleeve; everything I used to love about it. Vinyl is an event, isn’t it?

    The new album starts with ‘Crying For The Moon’, like a laidback version of ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way’.

    I get the comparison because it’s got a similar kind of chord thing. For me it’s more inspired by Darondo, the Soul singer. I really tried not to edit myself on this album. I sit round the kitchen with my guitar, a little iPad, and I record whatever has happened and later on I listen back to it. If I don’t edit myself it’s usually better. I just thought, well this is what’s naturally coming through to me. I don’t want to over think it; I’m just going to go with it.

    Can you look back across all ten Blow Monkey albums and see an obvious thread?

    I can a little bit. There’s a big gap between Springtime For The World (1990) and Devil’s Tavern (2008). It’s just constantly trying to find something new to say, and not repeating myself.

    I can hear what I went through in the early ‘90s when the band stopped and I was making solo acoustic records, because I did a lot of listening then. I had to educate myself about a lot of music that I wasn’t aware of - that whole Greenwich Village scene; people like Fred Neil. That leads you back archeologically like a dig towards the beginning of recording and you end up listening to Son House, or Robert Johnson. I needed to do that. I think it’s important to know your subject. I always used to think about those New Romantic bands; they’ve grown up listening to David Bowie but they haven’t gone any deeper. David Bowie knew everything about music, going way, way back. The guy was soused in it. But if you’re only copying the guys from one generation back… I needed to educate myself.

    The thing about Paul Weller is he knows his shit; he goes a long way back. His version of Modernism, which I found out when I spoke to him, is a philosophy on life. It includes Debussy; it includes Alice Coltrane and Edward Hopper. I love ‘Hopper’ on his new album, that’s my favourite tune on it. I love it when he draws on things like that. You’ve got to go deep to draw out something original.

    You seem to have struck a comfortable balance between albums full of new songs, and the occasional 80s festival. Is that just you being pragmatic?

    The Blow Monkeys: "Here's another new one..."

    We haven’t done many because I don’t think we fit the revival bill. But when we do them we are the only band that goes onstage and says, “Here’s a new one”. And you can see people going, “Oh…”

    I’ve seen the Human League play them, and they are brilliant. They turn up at the soundcheck, plug the machines in and then its hit after hit after hit. We’re a bit too spikey for that. There’s just the four of us, it’s not high production. It’s a bit Punky. We do new things, and even the old things we might do them in a new way. In the end the equation is you’re playing to a field full of people who want to hear the music.

    Does style still play a big role in the Blow Monkeys presentation?

    Less. In terms of clothes and things like that, I think its less mannered and less thought out, and probably less important. At some point Mick’s bowler hat just felt like nostalgia, and we didn’t want to do that.

    Do you look back through photos or records sleeves and think, “I shouldn’t have worn that”?

    Very early on I wore a few things that I shouldn’t have worn but in general we used to get our things made. Although there were a few haircuts that were a little bit dodgy but we didn’t wear too many of those big shoulder pads and things like that. There were a lot worse, put it that way.

     

    The Wild River, the new album from The Blow Monkeys is out now on CD and Vinyl, and available to Stream.

    For upcoming tour dates and all other information visit www.theblowmonkeys.com

    Wintercomfort supports people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home in Cambridge.

    For more information visit www.wintercomfort.org.uk

  • Soul Legend P. P. Arnold Tells Tootal Blog About Her New Album, 50 Years In The Making

    P. P. Arnold arrived in England as an Ikette with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and was spotted by Mick Jagger who convinced Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to his Immediate record label. Several hits followed, the best-known being  'The First Cut Is The Deepest', ‘Angel Of The Morning’ and ‘(If You Think You're) Groovy’. P. P. was one of the iconic faces of London's Swinging 60's.

    She has collaborated, recorded and toured alongside such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, with her own band, The Nice led by Keith Emerson, Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton, Humble Pie, Nick Drake, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Ocean Colour Scene, Primal Scream, The KLF, Dr. Robert, Oasis, Paul Weller… the list goes on and on.

    In 2017 P. P. Arnold finally gets to release an album started almost 50 years ago. Largely written and produced by the Bee Gees Barry Gibb, it also includes contributions from Eric Clapton, Jagger and Richards, Steve Winwood and Van Morrison.

    Tootal Blog spoke to her as she prepares to set out on a U.K. tour in October.

    Tell us something about your life in London in 1968?

    50 Years In The Making: The Turning Tide on glorious red vinyl.

    Well, in 1968 it was actually great. I was living in Clarendon Road in one of the brand new townhouses, in Holland Park. Everybody used to come and visit me there. Ronnie Wood and his girlfriend, Chrissie, lived there for a while; it was just a great, great time.

    I had two kids already so I didn’t party as much as everybody else. I was working, if anything. And 1968 is when I met Barry Gibb, as well. All the recordings with Barry started during that period.

    And Jim Morris and I got married in 1968. That was the end of ’68, ‘cause I moved to Surrey. Very stupidly, we rented this Georgian manor house in Tilford, between Guildford and Farnham. Eighteen rooms… crazy. We paid 30 Guineas a week for it and it cost about 100 Quid a week to heat. It was a very stupid thing to do but it was great while it lasted.

    We had to move out; we only lived there for about 8 months, then we came back to London and lived in Pimlico. I was doing all the pre-production and recordings of The Turning Tide. That was the beginning of my artistic struggle really; of finding where I was going

    How does an album like The Turning Tide, with such an array of talent, stay buried for so long?

    The music industry is a weird business. Once you get put on the shelf, you stay on the shelf, unless you fight to get off. I never gave up on that work because it documents a part of my life, and my development when I was actually searching for my own identity, of who I was as an artist.

    Nobody knew what to do with me. Robert Stigwood was my manager; he didn’t like the recording. I was this “Pop Girl” from the Immediate days, and they weren’t supporting my development.

    The song ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ was released as a single in 1969. Did it do anything at the time?

    P. P. Arnold: A small sample of an enormous musical legacy.

    It didn’t get the attention it probably could have got if my management had been behind it. And ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ is a funny song for me; as beautiful as it is, I always felt that the lyric for me wasn’t positive. I got buried for a long time after that. As a singer you have to be careful about what we sing, words are powerful things. I didn’t have another record out for years.

    You’ve appeared on hundreds of recordings yet this will only be the fourth album bearing your name. Is that a source of frustration?

    Yes it is frustrating but black artists always have a struggle, don’t they? I think if I was a British artist or a white artist with all the credibility I have behind my name, it would be a different story. And I’m just saying it; I don’t like to hide behind any of that, it’s just a fact.

    Were you tempted to go to America and try signing to a label over there?

    I went to America in 1975 and it was the worst thing that I did. America is not a place to go to find a record deal. It’s very difficult to have records out if you don’t have management, if you don’t have a record label, if you don’t have a support system behind you. Today it’s easier. I manage to survive as an independent artist because of the internet. Having my own Facebook page, and my own website. Marketing and promoting and letting people know what you do. Back in those pre-internet days if you didn’t have a record out people just thought you were dead.

    This is a crazy business, you know, but it is the music BUSINESS. I’ve learnt how to survive and I just keep singing. And I have a lot of fans; they have been so loyal, so supportive, you know, so I’m one of the lucky ones. Whether you like it or not, you have to get involved in “The Business”. And the record industry is male dominated; they’re not too keen on doing business with women.

    You’re best known for your performances of other people’s songs but you have written your own material. Is that something you would like to have done more of?

    Well I have written a lot, I’ve got bags full of songs. When I was with Ten Records (mid-Eighties) I was encouraged not to write. They did not want me to write. Steve Lewis, who was head of Virgin Music, told me they were signing me so their writers could have me singing their songs. They weren’t promoting me as a writer. He actually said to me, “Why do you want to write songs? You’ve got a great voice”. I thought I want to write songs ‘cause that’s where the money is, in publishing. As a singer you’re on an artist royalty, it’s WAY not as much money as owning the song. It’s the writers who get paid.

    Did you work with Barry Gibb again in the ‘70s on an Andy Gibb record?

    P. P. Arnold (Centre) with the Small Faces (L to R): Ian McLagen, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones

    Yes, I worked with Barry again. I hoped Barry and I were going to be able to finish my album but he was busy, he had a lot going on. It didn’t happen but we did the duet with Andy; that was the only thing.

    I’m sure you know that you are revered by Mods, and not just for your own work. You are the only living person who can claim to have played with both the Small Faces and Paul Weller.

    That’s my audience. I always say Paul is the Modfather and I’m the Modmother. I am so humbled by the love I get from the fans. I’m just loved up.

    What were your musical influences growing up?

    I’ve been singing Gospel from the time I was four years old. Then, of course, as a teenager; Motown, Stax, Atlantic, you know… all that music of the Sixties, all that West Coast stuff; The Ronettes, Phil Spector, Blossoms…

    And how did your career in music start?

    Ike Turner (L) with Ikette P. P. Arnold and Tina Turner

    It wasn’t an ambition of mine to be a professional singer. Never, never thought about it. It called me. It came from a prayer. I asked God to show me a way out of an abusive marriage that I was in and I ended up being an Ikette. Without ever having a desire to be, it wasn’t an ambition of mine to be an Ikette.

    Ike and Tina had two sets of Ikettes. One went on the road with the Dick Clark tours and the other set worked with the Revue. The girls that went with the Revue, Robbie (Montgomery), Jessie (Smith) and Venetta Fields, who also later worked with Humble Pie, they were leaving ‘cause they had their own record out and Ike Turner wouldn’t let them be independent. So they changed their name to The Mirettes, and they had their own hits on the Mirwood label.

    I had a phone call, from a girl named Maxine Smith and a girl named Gloria Scott – they called me and said they were going to this audition to be Ikettes. They need a girl to go with them to help them get the gig. “Come with us”. BAM! Put the phone down, didn’t give me a chance to say “No”, showed up at the door. I lied and told my husband I was going shopping. Next thing I know I’m at Ike and Tina’s house singing background on ‘Dancing In The Street’. Tina goes, “Right, girls, you’ve got the gig”. And I go, like, “No, not me. I can’t go. I’m in big trouble. My husband’s gonna beat me when I get back. I should have been home two hours ago”. So, Tina said, “Well, if you’re going to get beat for nothing you might as well go up to Fresno with us and at least see the gig”.

    I just went along because my life was miserable. I never did anything. I was still just a young girl but I had two kids already. So, I went to the gig, saw the gig, came home, my husband’s waiting for me, punched me in the head, “knocked some sense into me”. I had asked God to show me a way out and suddenly I have a way out. So, that’s how I came to get into show business. I never planned it. At all.

    You’re best known as a Soul singer but you’ve sung Folk music – you did the Sandy Denny tribute shows - and on stage for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Do you change your style when you do other types of music?

    Well, of course you do. You change to the music; the song’s about melody. I love doing different styles of music; I love being challenged. The thing that doesn’t change is my sound; I have a very distinctive sound. I’m known for Gospel or as a Soul singer but I can sing Hardcore Rhythm & Blues, like on the tracks that Eric Clapton produced. I sing a lot of Rock stuff; I do Musical theatre. The voice is an instrument so whatever it needs to be adapted to, that’s what you do. I like being flexible and I like fusing different styles of music together. I think that’s going to help my longevity in the industry as well. It’s the element of surprise, isn’t it? When they hear you, they think that you’re one thing then suddenly, “Oh, wow, she can do that too”. That’s an asset.

    Has clothing style always gone hand in hand with the music for you?

    That (Turning Tide) front cover photo, it’s of the times. That’s Granny Takes A Trip there. In those days you didn’t have stylists, you just bought things that you liked and you wore them. All the velvet, and gold braiding and stuff. Then you had all the Mod, Carnaby Street kind of stuff, all the real Dolly Bird looks, with Biba and all the different styles. But now, I hate shopping. My God, I never have time to shop; my life is always hectic. I like colour, old, new; I like vintage stuff but it’s a matter of budget too. You’ve got to have a good eye to find affordable things, ‘cause I’m not in the money yet. I’m not in the chips at the moment.

    It seems the next 12 months are going to be very busy for you.

    P. P. Arnold with Steve Cradock. A brand new album is due in 2018 (Photo © Karen Allen, 2017)

    Yes, I think the next five years, the next ten years. I’m trying to stay healthy and fit so that I can deal with it. It’s demanding, you know. When things start moving, they’re moving fast. I have a lot of experience in the industry, like being able to do all these interviews, I got a lot to talk about. It’s great, I enjoy it but now the main thing on my mind is I can’t wait to get to rehearsal on Monday. It’s all about the music to me.

    We’ve only got five days before the first gig. I’m doing six songs from the new album. These songs, I recorded them but I’ve never performed them live. And I’m doing ‘First Cut’, ‘Angel’, ‘Speak To Me’… I’m doing ‘(If You Think You’re) Groovy’, ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’, ‘Natural Woman’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’. And ‘Tin Soldier’ – I think I’ll put that at the end of the set. It’s a pretty demanding set. Even though I’ve been preparing my voice for two months, until you’re with the band you don’t really know what’s happening. I’ll just have to not think about it and know everything’s going to be alright.

    I’m using Steve Cradock’s band. I’ve got Tony Coote on drums, Andy Flynn on guitar, Jake Fletcher on bass, a guy named Fred Ansell on keyboards and a lovely girl named Coco Malone is going to be singing backing vocals with Jake.

    There’s going to be some limited edition red vinyl available at the gigs, some on the website too but at the gigs I can sign them. Vinyl’s back. I’m back. Full circle.

     

    P. P. Arnold’s new album The Turning Tide is released by Kundalini Music on Friday 6th October 2017. You can order it here https://www.musicglue.com/PP-arnold/

    Details of the P. P. Arnold U.K. Tour in October 2017 with The Steve Cradock Band can be found here http://www.pparnold.com/tour-dates/

     

  • Dennis Greaves of Nine Below Zero and The Truth Talks To Tootal Blog

    How the devil are you?

    I’m really well. I turned 60 this year. I can’t believe I’m still doing what I’m doing. You know what? I feel as fresh as a daisy.

    Tell us about your early life.

    I was born in Tufnell Park. Mum and Dad had bought tickets for the Australia trip. We were going to be Ten Pound Poms but Dad bottled it. Then a flat came up in the Elephant & Castle, Peabody Trust, so we moved from our rented accommodation in Tufnell Park; I had six beautiful years in North London and all my family are still there.

    Was there much music in the house when you were growing up?

    My Grandad played everything. Terribly. There was a harmonica, a piano, an accordion, a guitar; and he could pick up anything. He sung in the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park, my father sung there also and I’ve sung there, so I’m really pleased that the tradition carried on.

    Luckily my Mum and Dad loved their music. When I grew up it was very much Frank Sinatra and Brook Benton. My Mum loved Adam Faith, my Dad sung in the pubs, all the Al Jolson stuff. As a kid we never had babysitters, we got dragged to the pub when they used to go and see Matt Monro in the Boston Arms.

    Take us back to the ‘70s when Nine Below Zero started out.

    Nine Below Zero in 1982: (L. to R.) Brian Bethell, Dennis Greaves, Mark Feltham, Mickey Burkey.

    We weren’t Nine Below Zero until ’79. I’d been to see Beryl, who used to run the Thomas A Becket pub in the Old Kent Road. And it was all boxers, villains, footballers, police, musicians, all in the same boozer, and she said, “Yeah, I’ll give you a gig, every Monday night. What’s the name of the band?” I said “Er… Stan’s Blues Band”. God knows why; terrible name. ’79 was when we did our first gig as Nine Below Zero. And just like the Rolling Stones, whereas they took their name from a Muddy Waters song, ours is a Sonny Boy Williamson song.

    We got our first North London gig at Dingwalls. Had to go back across the water. It changed our lives that gig. Paul Jones, from the Blues Band, was in the audience, and that was where our first manager, Mickey Modern, saw us.

    The guitarist and British Blues legend Alexis Korner was a big fan.

    Alexis was so lovely to us. Oh, I miss that man. Do you know why? Because he was so intelligent and so sussed. He said to me, “You remind me of the Rolling Stones”. I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “Because you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing but you’ve got the feel. You’re so innocent; so naive. Like the Stones were. They just wanted to play Blues.”

    Are you still as enthusiastic now as you were back then?

    I’ve got an 8-piece Nine Below Zero band now. I’ve got some young players in there, a few Jazzers – sax, keyboards, trumpet - and a girl singer, Charlie. They’re all early 30s. And then there’s me, Mickey and Mark, and young Ben on bass, our new bass player. It’s just revitalised the whole band. Very important that you don’t become a tribute to yourself, I’m really aware of that. I didn’t want to slap around doing the same old thing.

    And then three or four years ago, Mick Lister came back into my life, and we put The Truth back together. We’ve got my son, Sonny, on drums. He’s grown up with it all, and he’s given me that energy. Brian Bethell is on bass, me and Mick Lister on guitar, and a new keyboard player. I did have Andy Fairclough, who unfortunately I gave to From The Jam. Russell rung me up and said, “Can you recommend a good keyboard player?” I said, “Well, this guy’s ‘The Bollocks’” and I lost him… I don’t mind at all.

    We were playing these Truth songs the other night, in Brighton – we played with Secret Affair. It was absolutely packed; hot, sweaty; it was really good… - and I went “Wow! They’re not bad songs”. Mick and I sing really well together.

    With a song like Exception of Love, I’ve been waiting to have a drummer like Sonny since Gary Wallis. It’s got that swing [mimes intro]; a lovely, good feeling song.

    Then I’m going out with Mark Feltham as a duo. When me and Mark met 40 years ago the common denominators were Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, John Mayall, Walter Horton, Little Walter, Muddy Waters… and with the duo we’re able to go back to what really made us do what we do. Of course, Nine Below Zero took it to it’s own situation and vibe because we couldn’t be just another Blues band back then. I think I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long time because I’ve got these three little projects.

    Has the Nine Below Zero approach to R&B changed over the years?

    The Nine Below Zero Big Band

    When we started out Mark said, “Ever heard the J. Geils Band?” and I said, “Ever heard Dr. Feelgood?” So we mashed all that up. In ’77 when we started it was all Punk; I was 20, so I think we just picked up on that exuberance. I think we became our own brand; mixing what Mark bought and what I bought.

    When we got back together in the ‘90s we had Gerry McEvoy and Brendan O’Neill, Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section in the band, and it went a bit rockier. The ‘90s were tough for Roots music because you were in the middle of the Nirvana, Oasis, Blur situation and there wasn’t a lot of room for Roots music. And when Stevie Ray Vaughan died it lost its way a bit. We’ve always managed to produce a new album and keep going, that’s very important. That keeps the longevity, having new albums. Five or six years ago I got the original line-up back together; Brian Bethell, Mickey Burkey, Mark and myself, so that was another fresh, albeit vintage, idea and we did a lovely tour.

    And then I had this idea to do a new album, which became 13 Shades Of Blue. I sat in my kitchen and got a playlist together; brilliant Blues songs that went under the radar. And then I’m thinking, “There’s a bit of Ska in that; that’s a bit Soulful, that’s a bit Funky, that’s a bit Rootsy, and I thought, “Wow! Blues just funnels through all these genres”. It’s nice to discover a song like “It’s Your Voodoo Working”; it’s like I went back to university for a year and studied.

    Then I’m thinking I need a bit of piano, a bit of trumpet, a bit of sax. And I run a Blues Jam at the Pelton Arms in Greenwich, last Sunday of every month. A girl walks in, she said, “Can I sing ‘Stormy Monday’?” She got up and the whole pub just went… and stopped. And that was Charlie, our singer. The following week, we’re in the studio, and recorded Aretha Franklin’s “Don’t Play That Song”. It all happened, so naturally, so organically, and before I knew it, I thought, I’m going to have to take this on the road.

    On that last album you pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, Charlie Austin, Aaron Neville, John Mayall… All of these records must have been in your collection?

    Nine Below Zero: The Current Four Piece. (L. To R.) Ben Willis, Dennis Greaves, Mark Feltham, Mickey Burkey.

    If you read Keith Richards book, he said his job was to teach every white kid about Muddy Waters. People come up to me and say, “Hoochie Coochie Coo”, or something as obvious as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”; “That’s a great song that you wrote”. I said, “No”. It’s John Mayall, or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, so… I walked into a pub – my son runs a pub – and on the jukebox he’s got “Don’t Lay That Funky Trip On Me”. Why have I never heard that? And he says’ “Oh, it’s Señor Soul”. Of course, you find out it’s the harmonica player from War, Lee Oskar. So, there you go, you’re educating yourself, and if I can pass that on…

    You mentioned that in ’77 when you first started it was all Punk, but only a couple of years later you were on an episode of the ITV South Bank Show dedicated to the British R&B tradition

    Oh, wasn’t that wonderful… It was the Blues Band, Dr Feelgood and Nine Below Zero. Sixties; Seventies; Eighties. Fantastic! And do you know what, I often say there would be a gap there to The Strypes. I wish there was more bands like The Strypes, I really do. I think they’re wonderful. I’ve been at a lot of festivals this summer and there’s a lot of them ‘NME’ bands, trendy Indie, all the same… nothing’s jumping out.

    Why has R&B lasted? We are talking about a style of music that’s been around for 70 years.

    Do you know what it is? It’s feel. You feel what they are projecting. Take ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Put that on and I defy you not to feel it. It’s one chord, but the feel and the soul… If you listen to something now from the ‘90s, it’s gone, its lost but you go back to Buddy Holly, all that stuff - three microphones and loads of compression. Those early Elvis Presley recordings… Scotty Moore on guitar; bass and drums. It’s feel. You put that on and there’s something special there.

    Some of your own recordings are almost 40 years old now. 40 years ago what was the expectation?

    Dennis Greaves (L) and Mark 'The Harp' Feltham

    I didn’t think about it too deeply but I wouldn’t have thought I’d be here now talking to you. No way. I’d come out of school, got a little job. I convinced Mark to turn professional. We got a record deal with A&M. We were in the Thomas A Becket one night; we did a demo, and then we signed to A&M Records. We were on The Kinks tour; we were playing with The Who, and it was like… woah! We didn’t stop to think, we were just rolling, going with it. I’ve had a wonderful journey. There’s been loads of ups and downs. I remember going through my wife’s wardrobe, looking for coins to buy a paper or for my bus fare. Though I think those periods really put you in good stead; she’d go to work, I’d be stuck at home writing songs but I think it’s good that you have that fight, that passion.

    After Live At The Marquee and Don’t Point Your Finger… everything seemed primed for you to break into the mainstream. How did you feel when Third Degree didn’t cross over?

    In the days before mobile phones, we stopped the tour bus and our manager, Mickey Modern, ran out to the telephone box. Wipe Away Your Kiss had got to #76, so we missed out by one chart place to get on Top Of The Pops. And the deflation was like… Oh, my God. We didn’t know where to go after Third Degree. Derek Green (at A&M) pleaded with us to make another record and he could have been right but we’d been on the road for two and a half years. We were young; we were angry; we were cheesed off. Everything was primed and nothing came of it. Great videos with some good people. David Bailey’s doing the photograph, everything’s right but if you look at that front cover we look tired. Luckily it made me go and form The Truth because I fell in love with the Hammond organ during Third Degree.

    And is The Truth reformation an ongoing thing?

    The Truth in 1984. Dennis Greaves (seated); the white socks and loafer years .

    Very much so. The thing with The Truth is I think we’ve done four or five shows, and it’s fresh. There’s a lot of bands on the circuit who’ve been slapping about, and the problem is if you ain’t made a new record for thirty years, you’ve got to be really careful. Cherry Red Records bought out a 3CD Truth box set, done a lovely job; great artwork. That gave us a reason to go out. And I’ve been waiting for a drummer like my son. I’m so pleased that we can swing, and we can play those songs better than we did back then. As you mature you can groove a bit more.

    You’ve always been a stylish individual. Does the look go hand in hand with the music?

    I’m not an Elvis Presley gold lame suit guy but I like to be nicely dressed. I saw Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino wearing a top like mine and I thought, yeah, looks good. It’s really important when you get older that you don’t try and dress young. You’ve got to be fresh. I look at Charlie Watts – the man’s stylish. I love Charlie. Mick Jagger… mmm, not so sure. Don’t get me wrong. I have done some Wally things in my time, There was “Jumpergate”, when The Truth turned up in these jumpers… that was a big mistake.

    There was a time at Nine Below Zero gigs when half of the audience would be dressed like you; narrow jeans, suede Chelsea boots, leather box jacket with a Fred Perry underneath.

    Yeah, that jacket, I got it on the Kings Road; what was the name of that market? Kensington Market. I use to get a lot of things from Crampton Clothing in the Old Kent Road, opposite the Thomas A Becket. It was all ‘Dead Man’s Gear’ when you think about it. We’d be picking up suits for £1.50, and shirts for 20 pence.

    In 1981 we played with The Jam, on the back of a lorry at a CND rally. I’ve still got the CND magazine with us on the front. I had a Tootal scarf on; white jeans and a maroon and white polka dot; a classic scarf.

    Can you remember the first time your Mum and Dad let you buy your own clothes?

    Yeah, I was thirteen; My Mum and dad took me to Mr Carnaby in Carnaby Street. I was desperate. I bought a purple zipped up turtle-neck. I really wish turtle-necks would come back. I’ve said to Smedley’s… I can’t get a Smedley turtle-neck; they’ve stopped doing them.

    What’s next for you?

    Lots to be done. We’re going to do the Squeeze tour. I’m really looking forward to it, ‘cause I think a lot of fans have bought into the two bands together. Obviously Squeeze have sold the tickets but I’m getting a good feel for that.

    I must record the 8-piece band live. Then it will be the Nine Below Zero 40th anniversary in 2019. I’m just writing a new album for that. Dave Cairns and I are talking about some dual gigs with Secret Affair and The Truth. They’ll be some gigs with From The Jam and The Truth. And me and Mark are doing the duo, so… I feel energised, I feel fresh. Lots to do still. As long as our manager rings me up and says people want to book the band we can continue.

     

    Nine Below Zero are on tour with Squeeze throughout November. Ticket details at http://www.ninebelowzero.com/tour

    13 Shades Of Blue and all other Nine Below Zero albums are available at http://www.ninebelowzero.com/store

    The Truth: A Step In The Right Direction 3CD Set is available at www.cherryred.co.uk

  • New Street Adventure's Nick Corbin Talks To Tootal Blog

    For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to hear you yet, who are New Street Adventure?

    We’re a five-piece soul band based in East London, signed to Acid Jazz Records, released two albums with them in the last three years. We’re currently getting ready for a big U.K. tour with a band called The Milk. Until now we’ve been plying our trade around the Soul and Mod scene but it’s starting to break out a bit more now, whilst still retaining those followers

    Is it full time for you now? Have you given up the decorator / handyman job?

    New Street Adventure, when there were still five of them (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    No, I’m still doing that. We make nowhere near enough money for me not to work.

    Earlier this year you said the band had been through 30 line-up changes. Is the line-up settled now?

    No. Our keyboard player suddenly left quite recently, so for the moment we are down to a four piece, with a session keyboard player who is playing on the next tour.

    Is having all those influences coming in and out a good thing?

    Yes, definitely ‘cause with my guitar and songwriting, I’m self-taught but because we have such a high standard of musicians in the band I learn quite a lot from them. There’s definitely a good array of influences in the band, I’d say.

    According to your website “nobody will ever achieve ‘happiness’ because there’s always something to moan about." Is there much to moan about now?

    Yes, definitely! That particular quote was about our song What’s So Good About Happiness? It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, looking at how people use social media and how you moan about the people that moan but you actually love reading it because that’s what makes it entertaining, in a weird way.

    Generally your songs are socially aware; you’re not a ‘lovey dovey’ songwriter.

    I can be but I prefer trying to be a bit challenging and witty. If I can…

    Given the view you put across in your songs I’d say there’s probably a lot to concern or motivate you at the moment?

    I do feel that people, especially with what has happened over recent months - the election campaign, and then what happened at Glastonbury - it feels like there’s a bit more of a political awakening, certainly in my generation, maybe in Music as a whole. It’s not going to happen overnight but, yes, there’s definitely a lot to irk people and get people worked up, and I think if they can relate to that in a song that’s quite a powerful thing, really.

    You wear your musical influences on your sleeve – classic soul and funk, ‘70s singer / songwriters – what do you bring to the mix?

    When people think of Soul music it’s mainly about the voice. I’ve never been able to sing like that, I’ve always bought my own take though it’s not for everybody. I’ve always identified with the voice first and foremost but the music really interests me too – the arrangements and the chord structures because all that Classic Soul has a classic songwriting structure. The phrasing of those great singers isn’t something I’ve got engrained in me but whenever I’m coming up with new stuff I always think “How would Bobby Womack sing it?” or “How would Marvin Gaye sing it?” Even though I don’t have THAT voice - and I never will - I still try to drop little things in that’ll keep people thinking.

    Do you bring a bit of London and Birmingham to it as well?

    New Street Adventure, Live at London's Jazz Cafe (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    The Birmingham connection is only that I was living there when I started the band; I’m not a Brummie. I think people from that area like the fact that ‘New Street’ is in the name. The New Street I know in London is opposite Liverpool Street Station and not as exciting.

    I live in London now but I wouldn’t claim to be a Londoner. I grew up in a leafy part of East Sussex. I think because I was bought up with the values and the musical tastes that I have, it gives my music an authenticity even though it doesn’t really sound like anything else.

    You’ve mentioned before about your father being a big Soul fan…

    Yeah, he’s an avid record collector; he’s an obsessive, definitely.

    On the subject of records, all the New Street Adventure releases to date have been available on vinyl.

    It’s really important, I think. I love it and we definitely have the sort of fanbase that appreciates vinyl more than CDs, but then I think a lot of people are starting to anyway. I don’t think I own any CDs now; maybe a few battered ones somewhere but I’ve always been excited by vinyl. We’re releasing a four track EP in a month’s time, to coincide with the tour we’re doing and that’s only available on vinyl and digital.

    Why do think a style of music made on another continent 50 years ago, in very different circumstances, still finds a passionate audience today.

    It’s that feeling of being the underdog, I suppose. For me Punk was such a big thing as well but more because it was so fast paced and aggressive. It s impact has lasted but with Soul I think it’s that underdog feeling.

    Despite these Soul influences your music, particularly your lyrics, sound very English.

    I’ve always tried to avoid clichés, which is difficult. I’m trying to write a lot for other artists at the moment, and you have to change your own rules a little bit. But I still find it really hard to include clichéd lyrics in a song.

    The Soul scene can be a bit elitist. Have you come up against musical snobbery?

    Nick Corbin of New Street Adventure (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    Yes, a lot. My favourite ever review was when we first started; we where a three piece living in Birmingham, and we played in a bar at this little festival in Manchester, and someone said “It was the strange sensation of listening to George Michael fronting The Jam”. The rest of what he wrote was much more negative but that’s the only bit that I remember.

    When we recorded our first EP it was sent to Snowboy and he said “Who is this guy singing, why haven’t they got a proper Soul singer?” because the music sounded so good.

    There are a lot of people who don’t understand it. Last year, when The Guardian article came out there were loads of people writing horrible things like “How can he compare this band to Dexys?” blah, blah, blah “He’s just a posh Mockney singing on top of some average Soul music”, things like that. It doesn’t really bother me, I’ve been doing it long enough but I know what I’m doing, I know what works. The nice things are what you really try and remember.

    I was in Brighton on the Bank Holiday, outside a pub when someone dragged me in and they said “Oh, they’re playing your song” and when I walked in about 50 people cheered, and they were applauding, and it’s things like that – which hasn’t really happened before – you think if you can make people feel like that, it’s such a powerful emotion. To connect with people like that, it’s pretty amazing.

    It probably helped that they’d had a few beers as well.

    Yeah (laughs)…

    You’ve never branded yourselves as a Mod band but your early audience was the Mod / Northern Soul crowd.

    I like the clothes, I like the music but I think for someone of my generation to call themselves a Mod is a bit confused really. We’ve always got asked to play events that have got ‘Mod’ in the title but we’ve tried to stay away for that reason. People who connect with our music will find it without us having to nail our colours to any particular mast.

    There are some bands that make a big thing of it and it doesn’t work now. There have been so many subcultures that everything has kind of blended into one; the lines between each different one are merged now, aren’t they? None of our original following has fallen away, even though our second album was a bit more progressive, away from that kind of Style Council sound.

    You’ve played at John Simons shop in Marylebone; you’re playing at Bass & Co shoe shop tomorrow night so presumably style is important to you?

    Definitely. I’m not always going to be sharp; I mean, look at me today. I probably look quite scruffy [he didn’t – Ed.]… it’s little things like that, the right type of shoes or the right type of jeans or shirt. I’d never go around suited up or anything like that but I like the Mod style, definitely.

    Do you remember the first time your parents let you buy your own clothes?

    Yes, and it was probably a mistake as well. I was about 14, something like that, and the big thing at my school was baggy jeans and surfer t-shirts… it didn’t last very long, I don’t think. I remember I had these jeans that my Mum washed with so much starch they were just really stiff, so I stopped wearing them eventually. I don’t know if she did it on purpose, I reckon she probably did.

    What’s the ambition for the band?

    I’d love to be able to do it full time but I also see my songwriting as something that is equally important and that’s what I want to work on – songwriting for other people. I’m writing a lot at the moment but I think I could do both simultaneously quite easily.

    Does collaborating interest you?

    Definitely, yeah, because I think you learn a lot from collaborating. Like I said, I’m not the greatest guitar player or musician. Working with somebody new, with fresh ideas would open me up to areas I’ve not been in before. I’ve now got two albums on my ‘cv’, so that’s two really good reasons that someone will want to work with me over someone else.

    Is there a wish list of people you’d like to work with?

    Keep It Burning: New Street Adventure at The Jazz Cafe (Photo by Dean Chalkley)

    I don’t know really … one in particular, right, Joss Stone, I think when her first album came out, ‘The Soul Sessions’, it was all covers; it was brilliant, so raw. She’d been working with Betty Wright and Angie Stone, and I don’t think she’s done anything that good since. I’ve got some songs that I think would work really well for her. Other than that it’s people who are my current soul… not ‘heroes’ but favourites in the States; people like Lee Fields, Raphael Saadiq and Charles Bradley, people who have excellent production and bands but I think I could write them some better songs, to be fair. We’ll have to see what happens, I suppose, but I’m writing a lot at the moment.

    And then you’re off on tour with The Milk?

    Yes, I’m really looking forward to that ‘cause their drummer [Mitch Ayling] produced both our albums, we get on really well, so I think it will be good fun.

    What was behind the decision to record the new acoustic EP? Do these songs come across from a different angle if you do them acoustically?

    Most of them are written on acoustic guitar, so that’s usually the kind of blueprint; if it’s going to work on acoustic guitar it will work however. Acid Jazz has always been really keen on us doing them because they like how we perform in an acoustic environment.

    We supported Leroy Hutson at the Union Chapel and we just did an acoustic set; it was really nervy because we walked in during his soundcheck and there was an eleven or twelve piece band and full string and horn arrangements and it sounded incredible, plus he’s also one of my favourite artists. And then we go up there with a couple of guitars and a cajon box, but I think it went down really well. We tried to be very humble, I mean I always am but extra humble, I guess, and it kind of won the audience over and we took a bit longer explaining the songs, and why we were there.

    A good song is a good song regardless of arrangement. That’s kind of how I’ve grown up with it, really.

     

    One And The Same Acoustic EP is released on Acid Jazz Records on 28th September 2017. Details at https://goo.gl/qS2sjR

    New Street Adventure and The Milk are playing 9 UK dates together starting 28th September 2017. Details at https://www.new-street-adventure.com/live

  • Photographer Dean Chalkley And Designer Ciarán O'Shea Talk To Tootal Blog About Their New Sgt. Pepper's Inspired Exhibition

    ‘Reverberation’ is a new exhibition created by two award winning and highly regarded creative talents, renowned photographer Dean Chalkley and creative director Ciaran O’Shea from studio Discordo.

    Dean is a contributor to publications such as The Observer, Rolling Stone and The Sunday Times as well as shooting numerous album covers. A close and long running association with the NME has produced many iconic images, including one voted in the top 3 best NME covers of all time. Ciaran brings a wealth of experience designing for record companies and an impressive range of magazine titles. Recent activities include designing record sleeves for The Horrors, commercial campaigns for Adidas and Stella, and running his own record label.

    ‘Reverberation’ features a series of large images inspired by The Beatles seminal album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and is presented at The Book Club in Shoreditch, London. The show is a progressive, and at times abstract, reflection of the album, exploring the thirteen celebrated songs from a renewed perspective

    Tootal Blog caught up with Dean and Ciaran as they prepared to launch the event.

    Why choose Sgt. Pepper’s, one of the most familiar albums in the history of Pop?

    Reverberation Poster by Dean Chalkley X Discordo (© 2017)

    Ciaran: We took Sgt. Pepper’s as more of a point to springboard off, so each of our seventeen pictures relates somehow to one of the thirteen songs. Some songs have multiple pictures but it was key for us to not recreate something that has already been done before.

    Dean: We’ve all HEARD the album, and even heard songs that didn’t make it onto the album that we imagine did. Strawberry Fields Forever being one. But have we actually listened to them? We’ve heard them on the radio, in the car, on the beach… but have we actually sat down and immersed ourselves in them?

    Because there is an awareness of Sgt. Pepper’s being 50 years old we listened to the album independently; we talked about it, agreed this was a good idea and then went away for a week. In that time we had the opportunity to let the album wash into us, to feel the atmosphere of it, and then think “How can we look at it through our lens and bring something to life in our own way?’

    How far did your research go? There have been more books written about this band, and particularly this album, than any other.

    C: For every track, there are a thousand stories. It’s interesting to look at it in a social / historical context, how things sit now compared to how they were 50 years ago.

    D: As Ciaran says we’re not recreating something. We’re referring to it then showing it in a different way. It’s strange to us but there are young people who might not have even heard of The Beatles. A couple of generations back everyone had heard of them, whether they wanted to or not.

    What’s the process? Is each image an illustration of one of the songs?

    Photographer Dean Chalkley (L) and Ciaran O’Shea, creative director of studio Discordo.

    D: It starts off with two guys sitting in a room, talking, listening to The Beatles… then it can take on a life of it’s own. Despite the margins we’ve got in our mind, let’s be loose so we can allow things to evolve. For example, the pictures are not called what the tracks are.

    C: We thought that it was good to not tell people too much, but to let them find their own way. So you could be stood in front of a picture and suddenly “Bang! That’s A Day In The Life”. Others are not quite so clear, so it allows people a bit of a treasure hunt, to go and find out what’s what.

    D: One picture allowed us to present prose in a particular way. A fantastic writer called Aimée Keeble wrote a new piece for us. We fused what she had written together with our intentions, so it’s almost a portrait of her only she’s not in it, just her words. Another song resulted in a picture of a horse. We couldn’t have planned for that shot but the way it developed… it became totally relevant so it’s like acknowledging that spark, seeing the potential and bringing it to life.

    As long as people look at our work and then take something away from it. Everyone is entitled an opinion; it creates debate. So even if someone comes in and shouts “Sacrilege!” it’s eliciting some sort of response, which is better than mediocrity and numbness.

    Many of your subject matters are friends and associates. Apart from the obvious “With A Little Help From My Friends’ pun what was the thinking behind this?

    Present from the exhibition Reverberation by Dean Chalkley X Discordo (©2017)

    D: This whole process only started two months ago with a telephone conversation, so it’s happened in a very condensed period, and that was intentional, to keep it dynamic. And there are these brilliant characters that we know, some who are very close to us. Everyone shared our joy of doing it. No one said “No”.

    C: I think it’s interesting, the cast of people that we use. Looking at the album there were songs that were borne out of people that The Beatles knew. A lot of the songs were inspired by real events; real people, interesting people, and I think that’s a nice synergy between the songs and this exhibition.

    There’s a guy we photographed for one of the pictures, Lewis, a fantastic looking guy; he’s shot in 64 frames and he’s got a tattoo on his chest that says ‘Live Forever”. So he’s got this connection to Oasis, a band hugely influenced by The Beatles, and now from Oasis back to this event, and this is a young twenty-something year-old geezer. It’s very interesting to see those reverberations. The pebble being dropped there, the rings spreading out and are still touching people to this day.

    Did you change your opinion of the album across the course of this project?

    C: My opinion is constantly changing. It’s a lot more melancholy than I remember it as a kid. Before I really listened to it I felt that it was a ‘fantasy’ album but so much of it is borne out of real life. I feel very privileged to be able to look at it and digest it 50 years on because you’ve got the wealth of stories that go with it, which gives huge depth to how you can appreciate it.

    D: It’s also that counterpoint; you imagine it is overwhelmingly optimistic but you listen to it and think actually, it’s not quite as optimistic as it pertained to be, which is brilliantly subversive. When people think ‘Sgt. Pepper’, they think he is The Beatles but you listen to it and think, “He isn’t one of The Beatles, he taught the band to play”.

    How long will it be before you can bear to listen to the album again?

    D: We’re listening to it all the time. I’ve got it in my box upstairs. I’m DJ-ing tonight. Without a shadow of a doubt, there will be a few Beatles tracks put on. Maybe they will be presented in a slightly different way.

    Given the mediums you have worked in previously does this feel like a natural progression?

    Mantra from the exhibition 'Reverberation' by Dean Chalkley x Discordo (©2017)

    C: Personally, yes. It’s been fantastic to work with someone as talented as Dean, and to conceive ideas then achieve them in a quite short space of time, and to the degree that we have done, it’s pushed me professionally and has felt like a very natural progression.

    D: It has allowed us a great amount of freedom and scope. It doesn’t diminish your love for photography or graphic design but I think what we’ve done has brought it together. We’ve done a lot of literally, physically scalpelling out, there’s been a lot of manual application where we’ve shot stuff, printed it out, cut it out, re-photographed it, changed it… very old school but we left the rawness in there, as well.

    C: Which is very much in keeping with the layered nature of that album and the analogue techniques they would have used.

    What’s next for you, individually or collectively?

    C: We’re finishing a short film with poet and musician Kojey Radical. He’s a Hoxton born lad, which is where we shot the video. There are massive literary connections in that area. Shakespeare used to stage his plays at The Theatre on Curtain Road. The Britannia Theatre, where Dickens used to go, was close to the Macbeth Pub though it is now a council estate with a blue plaque on the wall to commemorate it. And Kojey is a young lad, who has grown up there and embraced this tradition of narrating, speaking and singing.

    D: When we were leading up to filming we talked to him about the local tradition and he was like “Oh! I didn’t know that.” He might have been having me on, he’s got a good sense of humour, but either way we hope that in it’s own way this ‘Reverberation’ event will to some have the same effect. People who’ve never heard of Sgt. Pepper’s will ask “What’s all this about?”

    They might just as easily say, “Oh, look, some red pictures, that’s nice” but we welcome both those reactions.

     

    The ‘Reverberation’ exhibition is at The Book Club, 100 – 106 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4RH until 5th November 2017. For more details visit www.wearetbc.com

    A collection of images from Reverberation is available as a limited edition book from www.y-junction.net while stocks last

    You can find more detail of Ciaran’s past, present and future projects at www.discordo.studio

    And for more detail of Dean’s projects visit www.deanchalkley.com

  • A Life In Song: Chris Difford of Squeeze Talks To Tootal Blog

    As a member of one Britain’s best-loved bands, the Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford has made a lasting contribution to Pop music with songs such as ‘Cool For Cats’, ‘Up The Junction’, ‘Labelled With Love’, ‘Hourglass’ and ‘Tempted’.

    His new autobiography, Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out of Squeeze reveals the highs and lows from over four decades of music making, and is every bit as clever and witty as you would expect from a lyricist of his calibre.

    Chris talked to Tootal Blog about some of the music that soundtracked his life, both hits he has written and songs that inspired him.

    Prince Buster ‘Al Capone’ (from Fabulous Greatest Hits, 1968)

    On the Blackheath estate where I grew up, being in the skinhead gang was seen as very important. Ours was called the Combe Avenue Killers. I know the skinhead scene was synonymous with racism but our gang had huge respect for Jamaican music, so the black kids we’d go clubbing with were good friends. We’d go to the Savoy Club in Catford on a Sunday, or we’d get a Watney’s Party Seven and go to a Tamla Motown party. I had the Fred Perry shirt – which I still like to wear in the summer months – and the tonic trousers. I can’t say Prince Buster has ever been an influence on my lyric writing. For a start, I couldn’t understand half the words.

     The Who ‘Magic Bus’ (Polydor single, 1968)

    I saw The Who play The Valley, the old Charlton Athletic ground, back in 1976. At this time I had hair down my back and the local gang had become hippies, though they were violent hippies. That was just the way on our estate. It was competitive and aggressive.

    My abiding memory is hanging around backstage and talking to the support band, Little Feat, answering their questions about South London. The Who were amazing, inspirational. I sung ‘Magic Bus’ all the way home. I saw a lot of bands at The Valley. Lou Reed played there, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who built a wall on stage years before Pink Floyd thought of it.

    Squeeze ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ (from Squeeze, 1978)

    Squeeze in 1978 (L to R): Gilson Lavis, Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Jools Holland

    This was a really exciting time for us. We were making records and we were on Top Of The Pops. John Peel got us into the BBC Maida Vale studios to do some sessions for him. John Cale produced our first album. I loved his work with the Velvet Underground and I still listen to albums like The Academy In Peril and Fear – all the dark stuff.

    About 30 years later I recorded a version of this song with Jane Birkin; an interesting woman. Every thing she said had some kind of reference to Serge Gainsbourg. You’d say something like, “Pass me the ashtray” and she’d say, “Serge used to have wonderful ashtrays”.

    Small Faces ‘Lazy Sunday’ (from Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, 1968)

    There were two boys on our estate who were into The Who and the Small Faces. We would bounce off their parents’ sofas with tennis rackets, singing along to ‘Happy Jack’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’. That image of being in a gang, travelling round the country in a van, generally being in a cool band. They were my role models.

    The Squeeze single “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)’ was inspired by going to Margate on holiday as a teenager. We saw the Small Faces play in the local social club while we were there. I tried to imagine how Ray Davies would write a song like this. I met Ray years later – a very enigmatic man. It was during my nine-year separation from Glenn. Ray said ‘Does if feel like someone’s not standing on your foot anymore?’

    Elvis Costello & The Attractions ‘Boy With A Problem’ (from Imperial Bedroom, 1982)

    One evening, I was having dinner with Elvis and his then wife Mary, and he said “I’ve got this song that’s only half finished, see if you can do anything with it”. So he gave me the tape and though I felt a bit daunted he loved what I gave him, he didn’t change a thing.

    Elvis is actually touring the Imperial Bedroom album once again, in the U.S. at the moment. I heard a recording of him performing this song a couple of nights ago. It still sounds good.

    Difford & Tilbrook ‘Love’s Crashing Waves’ (from Difford & Tilbrook, 1984) 

    Squeeze songwriting partnership; Chris Difford (left) and Glenn Tilbrook in 2015

    I don’t remember much about making that album. Glenn and I weren’t talking to each other. However, I listened to the album again recently and I think it sounds really good. I’m often like that with our albums, it’s as though I’m hearing them for the first time probably because I go to another place when I’m writing the lyrics - I was going to call the book “Off With The Balloons”.

    I’m working with Jools Holland at the moment. He said to me, “I hope you’ve managed to get in character. You should be wearing a cravat whilst you’re writing this one”.

    Elton John ‘Duet For One’ (from Duets, 1993)

    1992 I went into rehab. The head counsellor was called Beechy, a softly spoken man from Belfast. I was in his office one day when he handed me the phone, and on the other end was Elton John. He became my sponsor. Such a nice man, he took his role so seriously. I had to ring him every day, even when he was on tour in somewhere like China. Somehow his secretary would get a number to me and I would have to call him.

    One night he asked me if I would write him some lyrics, so I faxed some over to him and the next day he invited me to his home. He wrote the music in less than five minutes, we drove to a studio and the whole thing was recorded in an hour. That’s the way it should be done. Again, rather daunting following in the footsteps of a master like Bernie Taupin.

    Squeeze ‘Some Fantastic Place’ (from Some Fantastic Place, 1993)

    50p well spent: "Guitarist Wanted: Must Be Into The Beatles, Kinks, Small Faces..."

    I think this might be the best song we have ever written. I cried when Glenn first played me the finished song, it was so beautiful. And the title – of both the song and this book - sums up where I am now. When Glenn and I first met in our teens, it was all down to his girlfriend Maxine. I paid 50p to put the ad in the sweet shop window but she made the connection. Without Maxine there’d be no songs about people who live in Clapham. I owe it all to her and this song means so much to me.

     

    Roxy Music ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ (from For Your Pleasure, 1973)

    As a twenty year-old I was obsessed with Roxy Music’s records. I even took Bryan Ferry’s first solo album to a hairdresser and said I wanted my hair like his, lagoon blue! In 1997 I was employed as his ‘Lyric Doctor’ to help him write songs. It might be the best job I’ve ever had. It was well paid, I was living in a hotel in Kensington, I would chauffeur Bryan around London, I got to have lunch at Alistair Little’s restaurant in Notting Hill or to be Bryan’s dinner date at Cibo, though we would eat in silence, we had nothing to say to each other.

    Paul Weller ‘Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea’ (from Heliocentric, 2000)

    At the end of the Nineties I had a studio built at my home in Rye. I called it Heliocentric after the Helios mixing desk I’d got from Basing Street Studios. Paul Weller spent a month there and named his album after my studio. My abiding memory is of him and his band smoking so much that the fire alarms would be going off all the time. Our local fire brigade was made up of volunteers, mainly nearby farmers. I had to keep apologising for getting them out of bed in the middle of the night.

    Supergrass recorded there too. They bought so much youthful energy and named a song after my daughter Grace, which thrilled her to bits.

    Squeeze ‘Happy Days’ (from ‘Cradle To The Grave’, 2015)

    "Don't worry, Chris. We'll get you a nice new silk scarf like Glenn's."

    Jeff Pope was producer of ‘Cradle To The Grave’, a new sitcom based on my old school friend Danny Baker’s memoirs. Jeff would say, “I need a wedding song” or “I need a summer song” but the scripts kept changing so not all of the songs we wrote made it to the screen. ‘Happy Days’ was a radio hit and we got playlisted at Radio 2 for the first time in years.

    Peter Kay is a lovely, gentle funny man. I invited him to introduce me when I played a solo gig to 150 people at the Arts Centre in Oswaldtwistle. He talked for twenty minutes then finally introduced me as Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze!

    The Strypes ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’ (from Snapshot, 2013)

    I love working with them. I love their enthusiasm and their passion. It takes me back forty years; it’s like watching early Squeeze recording sessions. I can also see the same challenges I witnessed in Squeeze. Everyone was so excited about The Strypes when they first appeared and they were thrust into the limelight though their label, Virgin Records, have been very good to them.

    The band asked me to produce them but they are that good; they set up their instruments, I pressed record, they played and that was it. One day, twelve great songs.

     

    Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out Of Squeeze by Chris Difford is out now in hardback and audiobook, published by W&N. https://goo.gl/icRHEJ

    To coincide with the autobiography Edsel Records are releasing Let’s Be Combe Avenue: Demos 1972 by Chris Difford on CD and Download. Details at https://goo.gl/s7EmHU

    The new album by Squeeze The Knowledge will be released on CD, Vinyl and Download by Love Records on 13th October 2017. Details at https://lnk.to/SQUEEZE

     

  • Tootal Blog Talks To The Great Colin Blunstone

    As singer with The Zombies and as a solo artist Colin Blunstone is widely regarded as one of the most unique pop vocalists to emerge from the ‘60s Beat scene.

    The Zombies 1968 album Odessey And Oracle is held in the same high regard as Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake or Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. In 2010 Paul Weller told BBC News, “It made a very, very big impression and it's still probably my all-time favourite record”.

    Tootal Blog met with Colin ahead of the Odessey And Oracle 50th anniversary concert at the London Palladium and his own solo UK tour.

    Tell us about your early pre-Zombies life.

    I was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, where I went to Green Lanes Primary School and St. Albans Grammar. From an early age I was very interested in music and aware of the Mods and Rockers, and the Beatniks. I never thought music would be my career and even after The Zombies I still didn’t think it was a lifetime job. I thought we might make two or three albums then it would be back to the real world. So, here I am 50 years later…

    Your first recording contract arose from wining a local talent contest, is that right?

    The Zombies: (Left to Right) Chris White, Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy

    At the grammar school we were sat in alphabetical order, I sat behind Paul Arnold, whose friend - Rod Argent - had seen local heroes The Bluetones and was bitten by the R&B bug.

    Paul said to me, “You’ve got a guitar, do you want to be in a band?” I was a little reluctant as I was really into sport. Still, we met Easter, 1961, outside The Blacksmiths Arms in St. Albans. Jim Rodford, Rod’s cousin, was bass player in The Bluetones and let us borrow their amps and drums and found us a place to rehearse. I thought we sounded quite good but Jim, who had stayed to watch, later confided he thought we had no chance. It’s a good job he didn’t hear our second rehearsal when we had to use our own gear.

    Then it was a long road around youth clubs, church halls, back rooms of pubs, etc. Spring 1964 we entered ‘Herts Beat’, a local band competition held at Watford Town Hall, where we won our heat and then the final. Around this time Paul Arnold left – he wanted to be, and in fact is, a doctor, now in Canada. He was replaced on bass by Chris White, whose uncle Ken Jones had a publishing company, Marquis Music. We signed with Marquis who in turn licensed our songs to Decca. When we went into the studio for our first session Ken said, “You can always write something yourself”. Rod’s contribution was ‘She’s Not There’, whilst Chris came up with the b-side, ‘You Make Me Feel So Good’.

    Your initial efforts as The Zombies seem to owe less of a debt to U.S. R&B than your contemporaries. Why was that?

    We discovered we had two prolific writers in the band; otherwise we would have just recorded R&B classics. We were learning on the job so that first album is a bit patchy. By 1967 both Chris and Rod were writing brilliant songs, and that all came together on Odessey And Oracle.

    I thought songwriter was a different profession to singer or musician until The Beatles showed us the way. At our very first rehearsal I was rhythm guitarist and Rod was going to be singer but the first song we tried was an instrumental, ‘Malaguena’. There was a broken down upright piano in one corner and Rod played an amazing rendition of ‘Nutrocker’ by B. Bumble & The Stingers. I said to Rod, ”You really should play the piano” but he said, “Rock n’ roll bands have three guitars”. Later the same day I was, I thought, singing quietly to myself and when Rod heard me he said, “I’ll play the piano if you sing!”

    Our first session at Decca was an evening booking and we worked all through the night. Unfortunately the recording engineer had been at a wedding all day. Not only was he paralytic but also he started getting more and more aggressive. After 20 minutes of this I was ready to give up but luckily he passed out, so we put him in a black cab and the tape operative, a young Gus Dudgeon, took over.

    Though image wise there seems little to differentiate you from other UK Beat groups of the time.

    The Zombies: Rocking the Velveteen Jerkin look.

    We were 18 years old and didn’t know how the business worked. We went into the Decca press office and within 10 minutes they had contrived an image for us. They tried to project us as brainy, academic geeks. Our audience wanted brigands, pirates, dangerous people!

    There are some terrible pictures of us in sleeveless jerkins made of Velveteen. A friends mum made them for us, they cost less than £1 each. I don’t think our image ever recovered. By the time we got to the U.S. – as part of that first great ‘British Invasion’ - we were a bit more streetwise.

    In that first ‘60s phase of your career you only managed two albums in five years. That must have been frustrating?

    Albums were very much an afterthought; it was the era of the single. Odessey And Oracle spent one week at Number 98 in the Chart. It was only ten years later that we started to notice good write ups, and other artists started to cite it as an influence. Ironically there was no band by then.

    And now 50 years on there is obviously demand for Odessey And Oracle. Why do you think it has endured?

    "Their masterpiece... without doubt one of the best albums of its era."(Mojo Magazine)

     The songwriting first and foremost, every song is a classic. The idea was that Rod and Chris would produce it so it would be the first time we got the sound we wanted. Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince at Abbey Road helped us achieve that. We followed The Beatles in there, they had just finished Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and so we used their mellotron and whatever percussion was lying around. Plus there were a lot of technological advances around this time.

    There is a timeless feel about the album but at the same time it is very representative of the Sixties. Eminem’s ‘Rhyme Or Reason’ samples ‘Time Of The Season’. He’s a genius; he turned it into a contemporary track.

    Your first solo album was released in 1971. The style seems at odds with the big albums of the day – The Who, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, etc.

    We didn’t try to emulate the styles of the day; we were recording to please ourselves. It was the same with The Zombies, though One Year is almost The Zombies by another name. Rod and Chris produced it and wrote a few of the songs. Chris Gunning arranged the strings and came up with some incredible arrangements, like ‘Say You Don’t Mind’. We had done it with The Zombies as a rock track but Chris gave it that Bartok style arrangement.

    I played the first Electric Light Orchestra tour; the infamous Don Arden managed them. Besides ELO and my string quintet there were a few other bands on the tour. We did 30 dates and when we got to the end Don Arden said it hadn’t made any money and none of us were getting paid.

    In 1973 you get to play Top of the Pops, sandwiched between reggae star Dandy Livingstone and Pans People dancing to The Temptations. Were you keen to be a mainstream pop star?

    As far as Top of the Pops was concerned I just sang my song and left. I wasn’t aware of who else was on the programme. I had been on the Old Grey Whistle Test with the string quintet and it worked well. I did Top of the Pops with the BBC Concert Orchestra, as you had to use them. I was alone on one stage and they were on another at the other end of the studio. I couldn’t hear them

    My plan at that time was to carry on songwriting and to see where it led me. I wrote a few songs for Journey (1974) and some more on Planes (1976) but at this time I was also working with Pete Wingfield. I took his song ‘Eighteen With A Bullet’ to Epic Records and they just laughed at me, they saw me as a romantic balladeer. Of course, Pete put it out himself and had a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. That was hard to take. I also worked with Russ Ballard. Island Publishing played me his song ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. I like Russ so, of course, I listened to it but I didn’t get it. A couple of years later it was a huge hit for Rainbow. I can also recall a publisher playing me ‘Your Song’ by Elton John…

    Around this time I started to find it very challenging to sing in tune. When you’re recording, particularly back then, you had to be pitch perfect but I was struggling. It’s only now that I’m starting to understand what had happened. When I was playing live I had no onstage foldback speakers to hear myself so I had to sing as loud as I could. That affected me for the next 15 years. I wasn’t until 1990 that my voice started to recover, to some extent.

    You’re back in the charts in 1981 with Dave Stewart but from mid ‘70s to mid ‘90s you seemed to become the “go to” featured vocalist. Did your own solo career take a back seat this time?

    Dave Stewart rang me. He had this track he was working on with Barbara Gaskin who, incidentally, went to the same primary school as me. The single – our version of what ‘Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ – was out for about a year before it got anywhere. It was getting played on Radio 1 four or five times a day but it stalled at Number 120. Then Stiff Records licensed it and it we had a Top Twenty hit.

    We did record a couple more tracks together but Dave really wanted to work with Barbara, plus CBS were unhappy with me recording for Stiff and they sued me. I had been offered a big label deal with a name producer but CBS blocked it, that’s why I had to become a ‘voice for hire’. Then two weeks before I was due in court, Eric Woolfson, who was Alan Parsons’ partner in The Alan Parsons Project, he took Maurice Oberstein (Head of CBS) out to lunch and it was sorted. Eric wasn’t just a songwriter but a tough businessman too.

    Now you seem comfortable balancing the demand for The Zombies and making solo records.

    Colin Blunstone: The 2017 Model

    It actually worked out well for me. In the Nineties I was working with Don Airey, another great keyboard player. He rang me and said you really should get out there and play live. Don put a wonderful band together, we tried it and it worked but then Don moved on to his next project. This was about 1999. So, I rang Rod and he said, ‘Yes but I’ll only do the six dates you have booked’. And we’re still doing it now. Since then we’ve recorded three new Zombies albums, we have a full year of dates ahead of us and Odessey And Oracle just goes on and on. We’ve gone from playing small rooms in the back of pubs to Glastonbury and the Isle Of Wight Festival.

    What does the next 12 months hold for you?

    I’m recording some new solo songs. It might be an album. It’s finished when it’s finished. It can’t be rushed. I don’t want to find that I’ve got to fill it with three sub-standard numbers just to finish it off and hit a deadline.

    My career couldn’t have worked out any better. As long as we are physically capable we will carry on.

     

    Colin Blunstone is playing selected UK dates in November 2017. For details and tickets, and news of future releases visit www.colinblunstone.net

    The Zombies will be playing Odessey And Oracle at the London Palladium on 29 September 2017. For details and tickets visit www.rutlive.co.uk/events/the-zombies

  • DJ Gary Crowley Talks About His Collection Of Rare Punk Gems & New Wave Nuggets

    What was the catalyst for this new compilation?

    I present a Punk & New Wave show at [online station] Soho Radio every Tuesday afternoon. Jim Lahat, my musical better half and co-presenter, have been talking about doing this show for years. We had suggested it to a couple of radio stations – both national and local – but nobody went for it. Then I noticed that Eddie Piller and Chris Sullivan were on Soho Radio so we took the idea to them and they said, “Yes”.

    It’s a broad church – Punk, New Wave, and some Power Pop, a bit of Mod Revival, even a bit of Synth Pop. Then we took the idea of a compilation to Demon Music and they also said, “Yes”.

    The box set boasts a sticker stating “77 tracks of Punk, New Wave, Post Punk, Power Pop and Mod Revival”. For the uninitiated how would you explain the differences?

    Gary Crowleys Punk And New Wave 3CD Box Set

    That’s a tough one. What links them is the energy and vitality, that’s the easiest way I can answer. That’s the common thread.

    Jim Lahat has been so important to this project. He has amazing knowledge and a brilliant record collection. His taste goes really deep, mine’s a bit more mainstream.

    We both started with a “wish list” as long as our arms then we got it down to about 125 songs. A lot of the bands that I chose, I knew personally. When I was growing up in London one of my first jobs was office boy at Decca Records, then receptionist at the NME. I got to hear loads of new bands and I think it was my love and enthusiasm for groups like TV21 and The Nice Men that lead to Clive Banks signing them to his publishing company.

    It’s worth emphasising how important Peelie’s [the late John Peel] influence was. I’d be listening to his radio show every night in London whilst Jim, who grew up in Israel, would hear him on BFBS, the Forces network, or on his weekly BBC World Service show.

    This box set covers a pre-Google / pre-YouTube era - are you surprised at how quickly and how far this music spread?

    There was only a couple of outlets, both radio and print wise. We had the NME and Melody Maker but the impact was concerted. I don’t know how you would get maximum exposure now. Alan McGee told us it is more difficult than ever to break a new act because the market is so fragmented. You’d listen to Peel, cassette in… he played that mix of Punk and New Wave and Mod Revival. That’s where I discovered bands like The Quads, The Modettes and The Only Ones.

    You have avoided the ‘usual suspects’ and shone a light on some less obvious bands. What informed your song selection?

    Gary Crowley on The Wheels of Steel

     With our radio show it’s something we wanted to do from the off. We do play the Pistols, Buzzcocks, Generation X, of course, but we wanted to dig deeper. Jim has bought loads to the table. I’ve discovered so much, not least through our listeners. Some I just about remember from first time round. It has made it really interesting compiling the box set. There are a few curve balls on there. It’s an era when the single was still king and there’s such a great sense of melody there.

    Forty years on you are celebrating music that probably didn’t expect much more than a token 15 minutes of fame. Why do you think this music – and your passion for it – has endured?

    It all goes back to the melody and the energy. There was a time in the early ‘80s when I’d moved on. I was a sort of musical Zelig, moving on to the next big thing… providing it wasn’t Heavy Metal or Goth!

    The vitality has endured. You have to remember a lot of these bands were self-financed. The band made one record and disappeared but at least we still have that record to remember them by. Some of the bands we have featured have since got in touch and said they are so happy to be re-discovered.

    Are you still a collector of Punk & New Wave singles?

    I am but nothing compared to Jim – he has a music room you literally can’t get into! Without wanting to sound too cheesy, we’ve been bandying this project around for 15 years. Volunteers run Soho Radio, we don’t get paid for the show. There’s a young guy works there who told me it’s lovely that there’s somewhere for us old boys to come and listen to our tunes!

    Do you see evidence of the Punk ethic today, either individual bands or record labels?

    Gary Crowley; He's been there, done that and bought the t-shirt.

    I do. As I said, the thing that springs out for me is how do bands make an impact when the market is so fragmented and there’s so much choice. The smartphone is a double-edged sword. It’s made it so easy to access music but the emotional investment has diminished.

    I do a show on BBC Radio London on a Saturday evening and I love to feature new bands on the BBC Music Introducing slot. Bands like Sister Ray or The Velvet Hands, who wouldn’t have sounded out of place in ’78, ’79.

    Moving onto the fashion of the day, do you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    I certainly remember the first times I bought my own shoes. Monkey Boots and Hush Puppies. Then when the Mod Revival started we would go to three or four jumble sales in one day. We’d get the local newspaper, circle the jumble sales and say “Right, we’re going here!”

    About ’75 / ’76 my auntie and uncle were into the Mod thing, so I had their influence, and I probably liked a couple of Led Zeppelin songs but when Punk came along I thought “Hang on! This is my time!” Back to the classic 7 inch single!

    You collaborated on designing a Desert Boot. Any more ambitions for the style market?

    Well I’m not planning to open my own shop, if that’s what you mean, but it was great fun doing it. I don’t think Tootal need to worry.

    How would you describe your own style these days?

    Dress wise? Eclectic. I sill love my clothes, the classic names but then I still love a good charity shop.

    ‘Gary Crowley’s Punk & New Wave’ 3CD box set is released 15th September 2017. More details at www.demonmusicgroup.co.uk

    You can hear Gary Crowley’s Punk & New Wave Show live at www.sohoradiolondon.com between 4.00 and 6.00pm, or catch up on www.Mixcloud.com

    You can also hear Gary each Saturday night on BBC Radio London between 6.00 and 9.00 p.m., and each Saturday at 1.00 p.m. for his ‘My London’ show (repeated at 9.00 p.m.)

  • Tootal Takes Coffee With Modfather Clothing: The British Lifestyle Outfitters

    Nestling in the heart of London's historic Camden Stables Market is Modfather Clothing; a lovely building with some lovely clothes (especially the scarves), full of character and, indeed, characters. Over a frothy coffee we got the lowdown on this thriving family business.

    Tell us about Modfather Clothing.

    We started off selling classic Café Racer scooter helmets. Our customers were like-minded people and we were frequently asked “Do you know where I can get a decent suit?” or “Can you recommend a good, stylish clothing outlet?” So, five and a half years later, here we are! Mods, Skinheads, Suedeheads, Soul Boys, Rude Boys and Scooterists – all are welcome.

    I suppose you could say we are “very London” – a bit cheeky sometimes. Customers who tell us a suit is coming up small are likely to be told to lay off the biscuits.

    Mario, the Modfather Don

    The shop building is unique, isn’t it?

    It was originally a horse stable that served the local goods yards. It’s Grade 2 listed, with some lovely original features but it does mean we can’t go knocking down walls. We’ve turned it into a bit of a “man cave”, with our collection of vintage memorabilia, plus some signed bits and pieces from some of our favourite customers. Our Tootal Scarves are on a vintage coat rack. Like everything else in here, it’s a one-off. It adds to that sense of history. Yes, it is pretty unique!

    You’re in a tourist destination. Is that a help to you?

    Camden is perfect for us. The shop has become a destination in its own right. We have regular international customers who make sure a visit to Modfather is part of their London itinerary. They come over for major music events and festivals, things like the International Ska Festival or Le Beat Bespoke, and we’re very much part of their London experience. There have been some great events at the shop, featuring some tremendous live bands and the best vinyl DJ’s.

    Social media has obviously helped. Customers are blogging “Whilst you’re in London, check out Modfather”. We’ve been the final stop off for lots of scooter ride outs, from all over the UK, and even had the Vespa Clubs of both Paris and Bruges driving over for a visit. We are blessed with lots of beautiful regular customers, who are very much our good friends. We always try to offer advice, or a personal service, but only if asked for.

    On the rack at Modfather Clothing

    Is there a downside to being in a tourist hotspot?

    Not really. If I had a pound for every visitor who just takes a few photos I could retire now! We’ve sent away a few wayward tourists looking for Union Jack t-shirts but not until we’ve tried to sell them some stylish knitwear! Plus we are in the middle of a music mecca. We’re a hundred yards away from Dingwalls and the Roundhouse, and the front cover of the first album by The Clash was shot a few yards from the shops front door.

    It’s a family business – is that important to you? 

    Definitely, it’s part of our ethos. We hosted the Kids Go Ska event as part of the International Ska Festival. Lots of toddlers learning how to skank! We had guest DJs, dance demonstrations, talks – it was brilliant.

    The Modfather Team (Back 3): Mario, Daniel and Sean

    What’s the ambition for Modfather?

    Our slogan is “Modfather Clothing - Attention to detail in Modernist retail”. When that’s recognised all over the world I’ll be happy!

     

     

     

     

    You can find stylish clothing – including Tootal Scarves – at www.modfatherclothing.com where you can also find details of the Modfather Christmas Party at Dingwalls on 23 December 2017.

    With thanks to Mario, Daniel, Sean, Lucy, Greg, Ben and Dave.

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