Tuesday, 30 September 2014


Oh Tara, it’s been far, far too long. As one of the driving forces of Five Thirty, Tara Milton released Bed in 1991, an album which to this day sits firmly in my all-time top ten. (See review). In 1998, with The Nubiles, he released the uncompromising Mindblender, a record which sounds more impressive with each passing year. Since then, silence. Until now.

After years in the wilderness, Tara is back in the studio working on a brand new album, Serpentine Waltz. He says:

“It's been a long time, since I've made a record in earnest. That was never intended to be, after my last band The Nubiles split, I felt it was time for me to stand on my own two feet for a while; although as a musician and a song writer, I felt that I was only just getting started. I made a silent pact to myself, that I should return to the world, and come what may, if I were any kind of writer, then surely life would provide all of the necessary ingredients for me to furnish my songs.

Being alone and without a band for the first time since I was 15 years old, I fully expected to get lost, and that I did. In fact, it's true to say that my life skills were so far adrift, I was found floundering… But still there's a unique excitement that comes with being lost.

In March 2002 I landed in Japan, pretty much penniless, or yen less if you prefer? For about 6 weeks I was as sick as a dog. A 'girlfriend' put me up for a while. I can understand her frustration, sometimes she would chase me around her apartment with sharp implements, slashing at the Japanese shoji blinds, like a scene from The Shining. Gleefully, I was forced to consign to my perdition.

This collection of songs, Serpentine Waltz, represent to some extent me getting back on my feet over the years. I'd probably describe the songs as, 'Kitchen Sink Dramas' but with abstract twists and a late night vibe! I will generally tell my story through an emphatic third party.”

With the album approximately half-finished, Lee Rourke, who runs the amazing five-thirty.co.uk site, has helped Tara set up a Kickstarter page to raise funds to complete the project, with Little Barrie’s Barrie Cadogan and George Shilling, who mixed Bed, on board. Pledge your support now and when Serpentine Waltz is released your donation and your album (and perhaps other goodies) will wing its way to you. It doesn't take a great leap of faith to know it promises to be a special record. 

For more info, to hear work-in-progress, and details of how to get involved are available here. This project will only be funded if at least £2,500 is pledged by Friday Oct 24 2014, so get a wriggle on if you're interested. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014


This month I have mostly been listening to…

1.  Lucille Bogan – “Till The Cows Come Home” (1932)
Sexually explicit songs have been around since time began but to hear the language used on recordings by Lucille Bogan in the 20s and 30s still comes as a shock to modern ears.  Check out her “Shave Me Dry” too, just not in front of the kids.

2.  The Brigands – “(Would I Still Be) Her Big Man” (1966)
Snarling vocals and lyrics, a nifty nagging guitar riff and the world’s biggest tambourine lay the foundations for The Brigands’ only 45, a well-produced garage punker straight outta New York City for Epic Records before they mutated into the Third Rail the following year.

3.  The Garden State Choir – “Who’s Over Yonder” (1967)
By jingo, The Garden State Choir were in one heck of a hurry to check over yonder for the Lord. Slow down brothers and sisters, soldiers of the cross, He’ll still be there when your time comes.

4.  Harper & Rowe – “The Dweller” (1968)
Or, as some wag on-line remarked when this was doing the rounds recently, “The P.Weller”. Remarkably Style Councilesque, “With Everything To Lose”/”Have You Ever Had It Blue?” in particular springing to mind. Surely a coincidence... 

5.  The Isley Brothers – “Sweet Seasons” (1973)
The Isleys cut three Carole King tunes on Brother, Brother, Brother; this summer breezey one is a joy.

6.  The Staple Singers – “Trippin’ On Your Love” (1981)
Back in the late 80s a then-current Arthur Miles version of this filtered its way into “our” clubs. I distinctly remember it played regularly at a Northern Soul do at Drummonds by King’s Cross (Chuck Jackson’s “All Over The World” spun next to it). It divided opinion but, trying to be a progressive thinker and embracing modern soul at the time, I loved it. Had no idea it was originally by the Staples. Listening now, Arthur’s version is still pretty good but the Staples one is sublime. Sing along with Mavis to that intro: “I don’t need no speed or weed…

7.  Paikan & The Mighty Mocambos – “Ballad of the Bombay Sapphires” (2010)
Thirsty work being this goddam cool.

8.  Big Boss Man – “Aardvark” (2014)
The new Big Boss Man album, Last Man on Earth, sees the band continue to chance their arm away from the safety of their well-established funky soul-jazz instrumentals by incorporating elements of folk and psych rock to the mix plus a few more vocal tracks. As laudable as that is, and they remind me of Mother Earth in that mode, the highlight of Last Man on Earth is the single “Aardvark”; with swinging Hammond, punchy horns, bongo groove and soul claps it’s Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames at the Flamingo revisited. 

9.  Martin Carr – “The Santa Fe Skyway” (2014)
The Boo Radleys were a bit hit or miss but this sunny lead track from Carr’s new The Breaks album definitely falls in the former category. The “Shaft”-style outro came as a surprise (although it won’t now to you, sorry). 

10.  The Oxbow Lake Band – “Mr. Strange” (2014)
Great opener to their Boy Angus EP, Aberdeenshire’s The Oxbow Lake Band throw everything but the kitchen sink into this fiery floorshaker. Early Dexys horns, some wicked flute, Hammond solos turned up to eleven, and a fag-throated vocalist who sounds a ringer for Chris Dean of the Redskins, who would’ve loved a track like this for themselves. Keep on keeping on.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


Dame Edith Evans is most remembered for her marvellous and much imitated exclamation of “A hand bag?” as Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but in 1968 she won a Best British Actress BAFTA and was nominated for a Oscar for her role as Mrs. Ross, an elderly lady, poor and alone in her flat, living on benefits, who hears voices in the taps and the silent wireless and believes her neighbour is being kept against her will in the flat above. 

Bryan Forbes’s film, based on a 1961 book by Robert Nicolson, is as bleak as they come. Frequently confused and deluded (although at times keenly observant) Mrs. Ross is visited by her thieving son who hides money in her flat which she discovers and believes is her long awaited inheritance. As Mrs. Ross grandly tells the Welfare Board she no longer requires assistance and plans a trip to Barbados her real troubles are only just beginning. I won’t to say too much more about events as I never understand why folk would want a full synopsis before watching.

There are no laughs or light hearted scenes to be found. With the exception of the man at the Welfare Board there are few likeable characters, they’re all out for themselves, usually at the expense of the vulnerable Mrs. Ross. Made in 1966 and released in the summer of 1967, The Whisperers was filmed in black and white, which only underscores the dark and gloomy atmosphere and increases the kitchen-sink feel. The clues to the year are few and far between (an old man looking blankly at a lava lamp and a couple of mildly beatniky teenagers) and the crumbling, decaying, slum streets which Mrs. Ross gingerly walks, filled with stray cats scavenging in dustbins, adds to the end-of-days mood.

Evans fully deserved the accolades for her role and there are plenty of other familiar faces to spot throughout: Nanette Newman, Gerald Sims, Avis Bunnage, Eric Portman, Michael Robbins, Leonard Rossiter and Oliver MacGreevy. It’s a tremendous, deeply moving film. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014


The title gives the impression Greg Kot’s new book focuses on the Staple Singers’ contribution to the civil rights movement of the 1960s but that’s only one element as I’ll Take You There provides an overview of the whole career of the Staples family: tracing how - under the leadership of patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples – they gradually and cautiously moved from family gospel singers in the 1950s; to embracing folk, protest and message songs in the 60s; to becoming the most successful group on Stax during the early 70s; and then, after years in the wilderness and the death of Pops in 2000, how Mavis Staples’ star rose again with a series of highly acclaimed albums and concerts since 2007.

Kot interviewed Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis Staples extensively as part of his research so with their assistance I’ll Take You There reads like an official biography and with 43 short chapters it has an episodic feel. The reader gets a strong sense of the family characteristics and bond – they all come across as completely lovely people, which I’m sure they are, you can hear it in their music – but issues of a personal nature are washed over. Mavis’s failed marriage is explained away in a couple of lines and although she reveals a little more about her relationship with Bob Dylan than previously known it invites more questions. Recurring themes throughout the book are integrity and trust – vitally important, especially where Mavis is concerned – so it is understandable how the author didn’t wish to intrude after winning the confidence of the family when dealing with more sensitive issues, including the tragic death of non-singing sister Cynthia. Mind you, the Staples are one of the straightest families in the rock history so those looking for a gossipy tome have already knocked on the wrong door.

The focus is therefore very much on the music, with one eye on the business. The early chapters recounting the Staples driving around the country in their car to sing at churches are especially evocative. It also showed how lucrative this could be. When “Uncloudy Day” took off in 1957 – with Pops’ spooky tremolo guitar sound and Mavis’s big old mama voice emanating from her young little bitty body - it allowed Pops to quit his $65 a week job at the steel mill; the family were coming home from appearances with hundreds of dollars stuffed in their pockets and would go on to play churches holding three thousand people.

But the choices the family made weren’t financially driven, they -following Pops’ lead – were about singing songs with a strong positive message, whether overtly gospel in nature or, later, moving into a more secular field. Even then this came with firm, if not fixed, boundaries and lyrics had to be believed before given the go ahead for Mavis to pour herself in. This philosophy, which stood them so well, was relaxed (after the younger members pleaded with Pops) sufficiently to record Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Let’s Do It Again, the fruity title track giving them a number one single in 1975. That though was the beginning of the end of the Staple Singers as a true force although they continued to soldier on, but the times weren’t as accommodating for their style or for an act that had already been making records for twenty years.

Kot provides commentary on all the albums they made together and individually, and whilst at times (particularly towards the latter stages when the narrative becomes less interesting) it reads a little like one album review after another, it does give a full account of their music. It’s a shame there’s no full discography included as the book highlights just how unavailable much of the Staples catalogue is. Getting hold of their early Vee-Jay recordings and all the Stax stuff is easy enough but what about the records they made in between for Riverside and then Epic? I can’t remember the last time those were issued. Good music books prompt the reader to re-listen or seek out recordings for the first time; I’ll Take You There does that in abundance (I've already begun filling in gaps).  

As a reluctant solo artist, Mavis Staples’ recent albums – One True Vine, You Are Not Alone, Hope At The Hideout and We’ll Never Turn Back – mixing new songs and revisiting ones cut in those early gospel years sit among the best records of her career, ensuring that for the close-knit Staples family and the listener fortunate enough to be fall for such inspirational, heartfelt music, rich with honesty and positivity, the circle remains unbroken.

I’ll Take You There by Greg Kot is published by Simon & Schuster, priced $26 (not yet published in the UK).