Sunday, 17 June 2018

ANN SEXTON at the 229 CLUB, LONDON

“You’ve Been Gone Too Long!” shouts a fella in front of the stage filming Ann Sexton on his iPad. He does it after every song. To my knowledge this is the first time Ann has sung in London, so you’d think Poundland Martin Scorsese could wait more patiently. “You know I’m gonna do that one,” replies Ann, “I couldn’t get out here alive if I didn’t.” She knows it, we know it.

The song in question, co-written by Ann and her husband Melvin Burton, and originally the 1971 B-side to a now mostly forgotten ‘You’re Letting Me Down’, is one of Northern Soul’s defining anthems. It’s not though especially “Northern” in the traditional 4x4 Motownesque stomp, but a funkier new dawn warning about what happens when a man doesn’t take care of his woman, there’s always a Jody waiting in the wings to move in.

When Ann plays the song, as her encore, the room goes bananas, and mateyboy finally gets the money shot he’s been waiting for. It’s a spine tingling moment but not one which overshadows the previous hour, which was a one of the funkiest, most badass, sets of ball squeezing soul music one could ever wish to see. Ann Sexton is simply brilliant. Her voice astonishing. Add a band who blatantly understand, and can achieve, the guttural power and snap of funk and are flexible enough to follow Ann’s lead is a match made in heaven. Mr YouTuber’s tiresome shouting, quite frankly, disrespectful to an artist pouring her very being into her set, leaving nothing behind. Ann isn't dialling this shit in. 

All too often audiences are presented with “heritage acts” who are a shadow of their former self. Despite their best efforts they’ve either lost what they had through the ravages of time, or neglect, and each song is like riding a wave: one moment reaching a quick peak, then sinking down again. Allowances are made and, even with tepid backing bands, they provide a nice night out and an opportunity to give something back, to say thank you for those wonderful records that have enriched our lives.

Ann Sexton is different. No allowances need to be made. This is as good as it gets. Ever. Caught in a crossfire hurricane, she shimmies around the stage, dancing from side to side, and as unlikely as it seems, I can’t imagine her voice has ever been in better shape nor a band, who by their own admission were under rehearsed, give as much oomph.

‘You’re Losing Me’, the second most popular song in her repertoire, is a sheer dynamite. The bomb. She gives the trumpeter some, then the organist, teasingly toys with the drummer. People are dancing and it’s rare to see a London audience dance like this. ‘I Still Love You’ tears the roof off the mother, as does ‘It’s All Over But The Shouting’, before diving into the swampy funk waters of ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’.

‘Come Back Home’ is slower, cards on the table stuff. How anyone could’ve left Ann in the first place blows my mind. It makes the original recorded version, as great as it is, seem innocuous. By the time Ann is through, she’s wiping real tears away and apologising for getting emotional. This isn’t theatre. This is from the heart. The soul. I wrack my brain to recall being in a room with a voice as moving. Maybe never. ‘I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)’ from 1977’s The Beginning is another winner, equal to anything the marvellous Millie Jackson was doing at her peak.

The sweaty 'Rising Up', an irresistible mix of the church brought to the clubs, before Ann exits the stage only to return for the world's most predictable encore. A truly unforgettable night.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

MONKEY'S WANDERING WIRELESS SHOW - SUNDAY 17 JUNE 2018 at 9.00PM


After one of its infamous breaks, Fusion returned to the airwaves last Sunday for its weekly slot on Mixlr Internet Radio with a tremendous Funk-Up-Your-Soul show hosted by Paul Orwell. If you missed it, I urge you to catch-up pronto on the Fusion Showreel

This weekend, Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show is back for the first time since January. In keeping with its title it’ll be crammed with old stuff, new stuff, dancers, smoochers, nutty instrumentals, rarities, classics and heaven knows what, spanning approximately 60 years in 60 minutes. It would be mighty fine if you can tune in.

If you want to log into the chatroom and say hello during the show, it takes seconds to sign up, that’ll be great but if you wanna just listen that’s equally cool. Simply hit the below link for it to explode into life at the slightly later time of 9pm, to allow folks to watch the World Cup first. So, straight after the Brazil match, hit the following link…

http://mixlr.com/fusion-on-air/

If you've missed previous shows, or want to listen again, here are a few to enjoy.


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

IT'S JUST BEGUN by THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH (1972)


Jimmy Castor’s second album, It’s Just Begun, the first of two in 1972, represents his group’s commercial and arguably artistic peak.

Containing two big hits, both subsequently extensively sampled, it’s a bona fide classic. The stabbing horns, wah-wah guitar, squalling sax, percussive breaks and pulsating bass of the title track is a pure definition of funk and the thumping, chest-beating, madcap march of ‘Troglodyte (Cave Man)’ fulfils Castor’s “I’ll sock it to you” promise.

Such was multi-instrumentalist Castor’s strength, his nickname The Everything Man well deserved, those pair don’t unduly overshadow the rest as the Bunch pack Latin rhythms, fuzzy psychedelic rock, jazz, doo-wop, breezy pop and orchestral movements into a varied and fun packed set. The occasional jokey moments, including the introduction of Big Butt Bertha, don’t detract from a man serious about hitting the grooviest groove.

Now available as a limited edition red vinyl release by TidalWavesMusic.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU by ROGER DALTREY (2018)


It’s difficult to decide the more eyebrow raising claim: Roger Daltrey’s assertion his first solo album in 26 years is a return to when the High Numbers were a soul band playing in church halls or Pete Townshend’s touching tribute this new record shows his old mate at the height of his powers. Mind you, while not quite taking the mantel of the Morrissey of Mod, Daltrey’s recent interviews have suggested rather than dying before he gets old, he’s living up to the theory people become more right-wing as it becomes harder for them to get around, so let’s stick to his less controversial outpourings.

There is a definite soul flavour in As Long As I Have You but next to nothing young mods would’ve heard down the Goldhawk Road Social Club and the expensive sounding production by Dave Eringa (of long-term Manics knob twiddling fame) is a far cry from the fumbling of a fledging R&B band. The result however is pleasingly better than a causal jaunt through tired 60s soul songs and we should be grateful 74-year-old Roger hasn’t gone down the Great American Songbook route favoured by so many of his generation.

Tackling the title track, Garnet Mimms’ thumping rhythm and soul classic, came as a surprise when it first received plays on the wireless, dangerously overblown in a Tom Jones manner, but after a couple of listens it settles down and powers along with just the right degree of ferocity to – in the unlikely scenario it was ever heard there - lightly splinter the pews of any cosy local chapel.

Pete Townshend contributes over-dubbed guitar to seven of the eleven tracks but it’s only on ‘How Far’ where he battles Roger for the spotlight, picking and licking like a Who’s Next outtake. A comparison I don’t use casually. ‘Where’s A Man To Go’ is a slower soulful blues and one of a number of songs with a gospel backing. Parliament’s ‘Get On Out The Rain’ is a righteous, marching, Primal Scream style rocker with Mick Talbot (a presence on nearly all tracks) laying down churchy chords as guitars wail and saxes honk and squall. Fantastic stuff and adds an extra something to the original. Whether it’s enough to warrant Roger appending his name to the writing credit, as he’s done, is something I’ll leave to Parliament’s legal department.

‘I’ve Got Your Love’ sways to a sea of lighters in the air before a reading of Nick Cave’s ‘Into Your Arms’. Although not doing anything radical it encroaches firmly into late period Johnny Cash territory and could induce a tear in sensitive listeners. It would be remiss not to mention Roger now has a slight lisp and it’s most noticeable on this track and on quieter moments throughout the album. It would have been a simple job to have cleaned/edited in the production so credit to Daltrey for leaving it untouched and offering honest performance full of raw emotional wisdom.

'You Haven’t Done Nothing’ plods along without the nimbleness of Stevie Wonder’s version and ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ is believable storytelling and a vocal highlight. Joe Tex’s ‘The Love You Save’ and the self-penned ‘Certified Rose’ portray Roger as the old romantic devil, the horns recalling Van Morrison, while the closer, a Daltrey co-write, ‘Always Heading Home’, with piano and cello accompaniment, is another delicate moment like ‘Into My Arms’.

There are at least three different Roger Daltreys at play on this album: the microphone lassoing rock star, sensitive balladeer and tender soul man. He can still do the first well but it’s the second and third which impress most, along with the well-chosen, unobvious material.

Going back to those claims by The Two, although full of PR exaggeration and hugely debatable, perhaps they weren’t as preposterous as first appeared. As Long As I Have You exceeds expectations, should delight fans of The Who, and although the competition isn’t strong (Roger’s Going Back Home with Wilko Johnson the only serious contender), is the most satisfying thing either have done for decades.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

THE HUNTERS IN THE SNOW by RW HEDGES (2018)


“You may look at me and think the Lord employed a fool” opines West London troubadour RW Hedges as the introductory line to his first properly released album. By the end of this enchanting record nothing could be further from the truth.

Hedges’ vintage sounding songs, sturdily crafted with memorable melodies, are mined from similar ground to the best of Richard Hawley, leaving collaborator Luca Nieri from labelmates The Monks Kitchen, free to adorn them with glimmering accompaniment and a gorgeous production recalling the first Fleet Foxes album.

These woody outdoor lullabies twinkle in the stars as references to sea and sailors, booze and opium, give a gently woozy and hallucinatory effect. ‘Signal Man’, based on a spooky Dickensian story, echoes down the line with the ghost of Glen Campbell and ‘Best Laid Plans’ waltzes like a tipsy Ray Davies in reflective mood.

Full of understated grandeur, The Hunters In The Snow, is a magical collection.

This review first appeared in Shindig magazine. The Hunters In The Snow is released by Wonderful Sound, out now. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

MAY PLAYLIST


1.  Mary Lou Williams – ‘Praise The Lord’ (1964)
Oh, everybody clap your hands with Mary Lou (pictured above). This is an amazing amalgamation of the sacred church and the smoky jazz/R&B juke joint in perfect harmony.

2.  Johnny Alf – ‘Samba Sem Balanco’ (1965)
His name might make you think of a 1950s East End bin man, but Brazilian Johnny Alf is known as the Father of Bossa Nova in certain circles. His eponymous 1965 LP was a purely speculative purchase from Fopp this month for the risk-free sum of £3; the sun immediately came out.

3.  Patrice Holloway – ‘The Thrill of Romance’ (1966)
The classic Kent comp On The Soul Side has now been released on CD with ten bonus cuts. Some are familiar but this, from the same session as ‘Stolen Hours’, is previously unissued. How and why is nothing short of a mystery. Wow.

4.  Jack McDuff – ‘The Boiler’ (1972)
Rather confusingly McDuff made two albums called The Heatin’ System – one in 1994 and the one we’re interested in, for Cadet, in 1972 which is a steamy, bluesy, funky, proto-Acid Jazz affair. Every track a Hammond and horns scorcher.

5.  The Soul Children – ‘It Ain’t Always What You Do (It’s Who You Let See You Do It)’ (1973)
Gritty singalong from members of the Stax family.

6.  Spiritualized – ‘Smiles’ (1992) 
The version on the first Spiritualized album, Lazer Guided Melodies is good but the five and half minute intergalactic flight on the ‘Medication’ single is the one to hear. Will Carruthers recounts his days in the band, and Spacemen 3, in wonderful prose in Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands, not only one of the funniest music books I’ve read for a while but one which refreshingly (and through necessity) places music and musicians as a countercultural force rather than a business. 

7.  The Schizophonics – ‘Make It Last’ (2017)
Got a stubborn lump of wax stuck in yer lughole? Let San Diego’s the Schizophonics dislodge it with their bone shaking brand of MC5/Stooges rawk and roll. The dial doesn’t go up to eleven; that’s where it starts. Blimey.

8.  Spinn – ‘Who You Are’ (2018)
A pleasant, gently jangling, pop tune from new young Liverpool beat combo.

9.  The Coral – ‘Sweet Release’ (2018)
The Coral seem to be defying the odds and are actually getting better. This rubbery new single could be classic Super Furry Animals. Praise indeed.

10.  Kamasi Washington – ‘Fists of Fury’ (2018)
After witnessing the current poster boy of jazz in a small arts centre last year I wondered how he’d make the transition to a larger “rock venue” such as the Camden Roundhouse. I needn’t have worried, Kamasi and his band – with a new set – were even more spectacular. For the Jackie Chan inspired ‘Fists of Fury’, Kamasi welcomed London saxophonist, Shabaka Hutchings, to the stage. A nice touch and an awe inspiring gig.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

THE PRIMITIVES - LOVELY 30th ANNIVERSARY TOUR


The Primitives hit the road in June, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Lovely, the album which featured the ‘Crash’ and transformed them from cult Coventry indie combo to shiny nationwide pop stars; not that they were entirely comfortable in their new-found celebrity status as appearances on Saturday morning telly proved.

Dripping with sniffy contempt at being asked inane questions by Micheala Strachan at some ungodly hour, a marvellously mardy Tracy Tracy told millions of kids her favourite food was hamsters, and, on another occasion, they signed out of a show with an impromptu live version of the Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Seems kinda incredible now, in this age of tedious cookery shows showing you fifteen things to do with asparagus, that folk could get away with such glorious freewheelin’ on live mainstream telly.

As for Lovely, it was in no way over shadowed by ‘Crash’ (I tend to miss it out when listening nowadays), instead it’s packed with beauties. From clatter and fuzz to jingle and jangle to fizz and buzz to dreamy flower power, it’s all there. It sounded great 30 years ago, sounds great today and will sound great in 30 years’ time.

If all that wasn’t enough, The Primitives are currently making some of the best music of their lives. Before you scoff, listen below to 2017’s ‘I’ll Trust The Wind’.

Tickets available for all shows now. Attendees at the 100 Club show will also have the added “bonus” of witnessing yours truly playing some of my favourite records, in my favourite venue, for one of my favourite bands. Lovely jubbly.