Blossoms and Bicycles
(Ditton Pye - 2 CDs)
Unlike a lot of artists, Philip Jeays had a wonderful lockdown. The real world was suspended, and whereas many people used the extra time to put up shelves and pick up an arbor seat, Jeays did that and then some more. The result is a double album - his first in a career that is now into its third decade - and, while he does admit to revisiting five old songs (two previously unrecorded), that still leaves nineteen that are freshly penned, and they’re all as good as anything he has ever recorded before.
Which means, for the eleventh album on the trot, Jeays not only confirms himself among the best modern songwriters you’ve probably never heard of, he also reminds us why he seems happiest lurking in relative obscurity.
Because, what would success do to a man whose most obvious influences would appear to be Jacques Brel’s vocal delivery; a seething underground cabaret where he’s sharing the bill with a stripper; and a succession of ex-girlfriends’ very ex-ness?
He delights in timelessness, as both a musical construct and a lyrical convention, and there’s nobody else who can so exquisitely take a page from a diary that has to have been written forty years ago (“Nadine One Summer”), and make it sound like it happened yesterday. At the same time as making it very clear that it didn’t. If we were Doctor Who fans, we might call him “timey-wimey,” but let’s not, okay?
There is definitely an unmistakable element of Jeays-yness to every album he has made, but never does he repeat himself… not even when delivering those three reprises from past albums (two from his debut October, one from 2012’s My Own Way). Rather, each new release feels like a fresh chapter in a novel, and the fact it’s barely two years since he delivered the last one (Angela Supercop) is something else to thank lockdown for.
Favorite songs. The aforementioned “Nadine One Summer.” The surprisingly rock-guitar fed “Here Comes the Revolution” and the politically acerbic “I Didn’t You Like Then.” The oddly tragic “Outside of Valentine’s, Nashville.” And the abroad-thoughts-from-home love letter of “La Provence,” which Jeays describes as “a very old song which I always liked but never got round to recording.”
But that’s today’s faves. Tomorrow, another bunch will come leaping out - the slyly compulsive “If I Do, I Do.” The mournful-before-he-opens-his-mouth “Freshly Fallen Snow,” and the freshly rearranged “Cupid is a Drunkard,” reminding us of the ghastliest wedding we ever attended with a droll insousiance that Jake Thackray would admire.
So a new Philip Jeays album, and there’s ten more where this one came from. Put the first one on instead of going to bed this evening, and you’ll be finishing this one in time for breakfast. And you’ll have spent the night with Philip Jeays. You won’t regret it.
Good as Gold: Artefacts of the Apple Era 1967-1975
(Grapefruit - 5 CDs)
Okay, so precisely how far do you take your Beatles obsession?
The band itself. The solo recordings. The songs. The productions. The Apple catalog. The unreleased Apple catalog? The Apple publishing catalog?? The output of the Apple Studiot???
Well, if you answered the last three, you’re in luck. This would be a fabulous collection whatever its origins, but with five discs streamlined to focus, indeed, on the minutea of Apple, what we have here are 107 songs whose relationship to the Beatles may ultimately be a dozen degrees of separation, but they fit the bill and largely, they’re brill.
Some of the names are familiar, of course. Grapefruit, whose unreleased second single “Lullaby” was John and Paul’s sole joint production (it opens disc one). Brute Force, whose “King of Fuh” likewise didn’t see the light of contemporary day. Mortimer, whose entire album was passed over when Allen Klein took over. Timon, who recorded three songs for the label but never signed a deal. Contact, led by Trevor Bannister, who had two bites at the apple, in 1968 and again in 1972, and whose “Midsummer’s Night Scene” could have been the greatest b-side the label ever had. And that’s just disc one.
Contract songwriters George Alexander, Dave Lambert, Denis Couldry, Gallagher & Lyle, Jackie Lomax et al; and the songs that they placed with other artists on other labels - welcome Andy Ellison, Ways and Means, The Fire, Majority One, Turquoise, Coconut Mushroom, the Misunderstood (Tony Hill’s “Children of the Sun” - one of the finest recordings of the entire UK psych era). That’s discs two and three.
Bands who used the Apple studios - Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Fanny, Stealers Wheel, Tim Hardin, Mike McGear. It’s an astonishingly mixed bag spread across the final two discs, but it’s rare that you run into a total clinker and, across the entire box, you’re more likely to be wondering why you’ve never heard that one before.
Some of this material has been compiled before, most notably on 2002’s 94 Baker Street compilation and, of course, on the featured bands’ own albums and collections. But still, the lengths to which this collection goes in search of music that not only hailed from Apple land, but somehow encapsulated the label’s founding principles are extraordinary. And so is the short-sightedness that ensured that so much of it was left on the cutting room floor.
Children of the Sun: The Complete Recordings, 1965-66
(Grapefruit - 2 CDs)
But talking of the Misunderstood (as we were, just now), “Children of the Sun” resurfaces as both the title and the opening track of this, a two CD, 33 track round-up of surely everything the Misunderstood ever did.
Which includes two further versions of “Children,” the equally to-die-for “I Can Take You To The Sun,” and steel guitarist Glenn Campbell’s first recorded stab at Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” His second, with his next band, Juicy Lucy, is perhaps the greatest version that song has ever seen. This is probably the joint second greatest.
How good were the Misunderstood? With more luck and more records, we wouldn’t need to even ask that question. If you’ve not heard them, imagine a sixties California psych band somehow inhaling the fumes of a seventies London punk band, and never breathing out.
Plus, “Children of the Sun” itself is wholly responsible for the closing moments of David Bowie’s cover of the Who’s “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” so if he was listening to them at the time, you know they were a cut above the rest.
In accordance with the Misunderstood’s own fractured history, the two discs here are all over the place. The first seven tracks on disc one comprise the band’s two UK singles, from 1966 and 1969, plus three tracks that made it onto the Misunderstood’s much-delayed first album, the 1982 Before the Dream Faded compilation. Which, incidentally, you should also own, even if you do now have everything on CD.
The next four tracks are taken from an acetate recorded at IBC Studios in September 1966, and include an early version of “Children,” and then we’re skedaddling furiously, digging back into the band’s California beginnings for further acetates and sessions, the self-released single of “You Don’t Have To Go”….
Any other band, you’d probably describe a lot of the stuff as the sweepings off the floor, except even the Misunderstood’s cast-offs were worth more than most bands’ entire careers, and if you think their psych period was devastating, wait till you hear what they were doing to the blues beforehand.
The accompanying booklet, too, is a work of art, penned by Mike Stax - whose Ugly Things magazine is singlehandedly responsible for keeping the Misunderstood’s name alive over the years (and which also released the Lost Acetates album whose contents, again, are repackaged within this set). Certainly, for those of us who picked up Before the Dream Faded when it first appeared, it was Ugly Things which reminded us that we’d not listened to it for a while, and kept on reminding us until we finally got it into our heads. A month without the Misunderstood is no kind of month at all.
Who do you love?
Invisible Music: Folk Songs That Influenced Angela Carter
Alongside her political and sociological writings, Angela Carter’s status among the queens of British literary… well, it’s not really horror, is it? More unsettling sort-of-natural… anyway, her status among the queens of British that has seldom been questioned. Oft-quoted, forever revered, her writings have been subject to all manner of scholarly dissections, and deservedly so. Even if all you know of her is the mid-1980s movie version of Company of Wolves, she is always worth reading.
But this takes things in a wholly different direction.
Carter never disguised the influence of traditional song on her writings, but Polly Paulusma is almost forensic in her examination, delivering an album on which she both performs the songs that Carter drew from, but also delivers readings of the relevant passages from the stories.
And so “The Maid and the Palmer” is preceded by a few lines from Several Perceptions, “The Banks of Red Roses” and “Barbary Allen” by extracts from The Erl-King, “Reynardine” by The Bloody Chamber. And on for a total of nine songs, including one, “The Flower of Street Strabane,” that Carter herself is known to have sung at Cheltenham Folk Club in 1967.
It’s a marvellous album, with the spoken elements no distraction whatsoever from the musical performances. Indeed, after just a handful of listens, the songs feel almost incomplete without their prefaces, read for the most part by Paulusma herself but occasionally by Scots author Kirsty Logan and singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams.
Yet the performances themselves would stand out in any company, Paulusma’s voice a positively spellbinding lilt that merges with Jed Bevington’s often savage violin, and a backwash of double bass, acoustic guitars, and the mandolin and dulcimer that Paulusma, again, brought along. Her a cappella approach to “Lucy Wan,” meanwhile, is almost as chilling as the song itself, quizzical and querulous, and so stark that even the brightest day grows dark as it plays out.
A lot of albums have mined the folk canon in recent years, and delivered some startling, even visionary new interpretations to how these old, old songs can be delivered.
Compared to some, Paulusma could easily be ranked among the more conventional - she does not mess with the words, she doesn’t take the melodies in new directions, she doesn’t introduce bizarre instrumentation. But the overall concept of Invisible Music itself takes every song someplace unique, reflecting fresh dimensions upon familiar lyrics and, ultimately, delivering possibly the most significant British folk album since… well, there’s only a handful to choose from. You finish the sentence.
Give It All Away - The Albums 1970-1973
(Esoteric - 4 CDs)
Of all the unsung heroes of the early 1970s, Patto rank among those whose praises could, contrarily never have been harmonised too highly. Led by frontman Mike Patto, with guitarist/keyboard player Ollie Halsall, bassist Clive Griffiths and drummer John Halsey, Patto recorded four albums - two for the Vertigo label at the height of its swirly greatness, one for Island and one (the splendidly titled Monkey’s Bum) for the archive.
And they were great, which is why it was infuriating to recall that you had to dig deep to hear them, even at the time. Patto toured a ton, but you could bet they’d only be in your town on a school night, and radio play was limited to a few late night airings and a 1971 concert for John Peel’s Sunday Show, which made it onto Esoteric’s 2017 reissue of Hold Your Fire. Bonus tracks here, on the other hand, are confined to just three songs appended to the first two albums.
The music itself is very much of its era, that rocky proggy middle ground that allows each individual member to shine, but never rams their virtuosity down your throat. Halsall’s piano solo on Roll ‘Em, Smoke ‘Em, Put Another Line’s “Flat Footed Woman” makes you wonder why he’s generally revered only as a guitarist, although when he does pick up the guitar, you wonder why he’s not revered enough.
Overall, albums do have their highs and lows, although the latter are definitely in the minority, and the third album, is more or less flawless. (Yes, even the super-surreal and possibly somewhat disturbing “Mummy”). The funky “Singing the Blues on Reds” really should have been a hit (and at least they tried - it was Patto’s first ever single), and there’s plenty more where that came from.
Mark & The Clouds
(Gare du Nord)
Has it really been four years since Mark & The Clouds’ last album? It feels… even longer, although it’s hard to decide whether that’s a comment on the passage of time, or a reminder of the ease with which the band transports even the most high-tech listener back to a time when streaming was something you did with soda fountains, and empee freeze were what happened when you left a British politician out in the cold all night.
Still, they’ve made up for lost time with a 15 song blast of frantic freakbeat, whose first peak (“You Wanna Put Me Down”) falls as early as the third song, and which just keeps going from there. Even the distinct change of mood that marks the super-orchestrated nearly-folk of “Winter Song” is held on track by a drum beat that thwacks like a Barbarians b-side, while “In the Big Crowd” feels like it should have been recorded live at a children’s party, in the days when gigs like that were every band’s bread and butter.
Yet to even try and peg Mark & the Clouds as some kind of retro experience is to do both your ears and their’s a criminal disservice. Rather, they posit a parallel universe in which the music they love is still the music that everyone loves, and has grown and developed accordingly.
But not in that cynical, clinical “we want to be the Byrds, but we’re better being boring” manner with which so many past graverobbers have indulged themselves. Rather Mark & the Clouds write and play with a bright-eyed optimism that makes it quite conceivable that they truly believe that’s what happened. Think the early Flaming Groovies, with less reliance on cover versions.
In fact, there;s no cover versions at all, although the closing “Somebody Else” could easily be described as the best record the Grassroots wish they’d recorded, but only if the Grassroots were still a going (or even growing, haha) concern. And while “Promised Land” is not a psyched up cover of the old Johnny Allen number, you could imagine the Clouds pulling it off.
In fact, there’s probably not much this band couldn’t do. Always assuming they wanted to, of course.
The Merseybeats/The Merseys
I Stand Accused: The Complete… Sixties Recordings
(Grapefruit - 2 CDs)
If you ask the average history book, the Merseybeats/Merseys are famous for “Sorrow,” the mid-sixties hit that David Bowie later covered for Pin Ups, and that’s about it. But who reads average history books any longer?
Not when you have two solid CDs that not only spread the Liverpool group’s two incarnations across two discs, but adds a heap of spin-offs to the pile as well, including forgotten 45s by Johnny Gustafson, Johnny and John and the Quotations.
There’s also a handful of unreleased cuts by the main bands, plus a demo by Billy Kinsley’s own The Kinsleys.
All of which is a helluva lot of music from a band whom the average history book remembers as….
Things kick off with the run of three singles and one EP that sustained the Merseybeats through 1963-1964, and led up to their solitary (self titled) album. A fabulous version of “Our Day Will Come” is drawn from the original This is Merseybeat Volume One compilation, and as much as any of their contemporaries, those early hits really do capture that unique magic which still adheres to the Mersey sound - the knowledge-made-audible that they really were on top of the world. And uniquely so. It would be thirty years more before another city (Seattle) enacted such a tight grip on the affections of an entire younger generation, and it’s unlikely that another ever will.
The singles continue rolling - “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” “Last Night,” “Don’t Let It Happen to Us,” “I Love You, Yes I Do…” the Mersey boom was fading now and, with it, the fortunes of so many of its favorite children. “I Stand Accused” marked the end of the Merseybeats, but frontmen Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley were not finished.
Abbreviating the band’s name, they hit immediately with “Sorrow,” pinpointing a whole new direction that they nailed to perfection. Pete Townshend’s “So Sad About Us” was a terrific follow-up; “Rhythm of Love” and the crunchy freakbeat of “The Cat” maintained the quality (if not the success). The Merseys finally ran out of steam in 1968, but what a story they had told.
Leviathan - the Complete Edinburgh Demo Tapes
Leviathan, we are informed, is the last installment in what has proven one of the most eye-opening archive excavations of recent years, and certainly among those that pertain to the age of UK punk-and-thereafter.
The late Ian Lowery was frontman, first, with the Wall, before moving on through the 80s and early 90s with Ski Patrol. The Folk Devils, King Blank and more. And the discography that has grown from these projects has left few stones unturned in its bid to bring Lowery’s entire career to light, and not just the bits that the record company decided was releasable.
There was always one gap, though - the clutch of songs that Lowery wrote and demoed during a brief 1990s spell in Edinburgh, during which he formed his next band, Drug of Choice, and recorded their Cooler album He certainly believed in them - a letter to his label, Beggars Banquet, described the demos as …" first draught sketched blueprints” from which “a strong cohesive album could result.”
He was right, as well. “Clinic,” “If I Could Sleep Forever” and, best of all, “All She Wrote” map out an album that could… no, scrub that; would have been one of his finest, But circumstance ensured that the project went no further, and while a couple of the songs have since leaked out on other albums in this sequence (Get Out the Sun and The Eye of the Beholder), the remainder remained stubbornly tucked away.
Well, here they are, a dozen tracks that round up the full Portastudio session, including several that Lowery abandoned because he accidentally recorded them at the wrong speed. Modern tech allowed for their restoration, and there’s no knowing which ones they were.
Lowery described the quality of the songs as “dog rough as I played everything myself and had no drum machine to keep time,” and in parts they are. But they are invigorating, too, stark duets for guitar and bass, over which Lowery’s darkest vocal and darker lyrics half intone, and half harmonize with arrangements he can only hear in his head.
There is, consequently, little variety in delivery, and little light in the lyric, but there is a compulsion to the performance that more than compensates. Plus, remember how fortunate we are to even be hearing these tapes, let alone being in a position to comment upon them.
The Best of Reggae
(Doctor Bird - 2 CDs)
Truly, if you have an even halfway decent hoard of late sixties, early seventies reggae… and not just the original K-Tel album that inspired this package… you will already own most of this collection. A whopping fifty-five tracks round up not only (almost) every major reggae hit from the pre-Bob Marley UK, but a lot of the club hits, radio favorites, disco floor-fillers… you name it, it’s probably here.
It’s fun thinking back to the era, and counting up just how many times reggae infiltrated the UK Top 30… Top 20… Top 10. Occasionally, even topped the chart. “Double Barrel,” “Young Gifted and Black,” “Let Your Yeah be Yeah,” “The Liquidator,” “Suzanne Beware of the Devil,” “Pied Piper,” “Return of Django,” “Mad About You…”
Even if you didn’t like the music, disc one of this package, echoing the 1973 compilation, serves up a massive chunk of your radio-listening youth, and while a second disc, The Best of Reggae Part 2, is less major-hit packed, still can you even imagine your memories without “Monkey Spanner,” “Long Shot Kick the Bucket,” “007” and “I Am What I Am”?
We say “almost” every hit. For whatever reason (licensing, probably), two songs are absent from the 1973 album, by Jimmy Cliff and Toots & the Maytals, but that’s not such a bad thing - “Wonderful World Beautiful People” never really felt like it belonged, and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was scarcely Toots’ finest hour.
Plus, did you really need another copy of either? No. In fact, you probably don’t need another copy of most of the tracks on here, but somehow, putting them together into one solid package, reprinting the original liner notes, and seeing that cover on the shelves once more…. To paraphrase Desmond Dekker, who is included here, you should get it cos you really want to.