Let’s Face It
Let’s be honest the best thing about a tribute act is often the inventive and amusing names they dream up for themselves, like ‘Björn Again’, ‘By Jovi’ or ‘Fake That’.
My partner Sue and I often lay awake until the wee hours giggling as we make up pretend ones, like ‘UR40’ or ‘Poxy Music’, it’s all just a bit of fun. Isn’t it?
There is nothing worse to me than someone who could be writing their own tunes and performing them instead playing someone else’s once famous tunes badly to a crowd of pissed up fat 40 to 50 year olds, out for a night, and a bittofalaff. The very same people who should have celebrated talent in their local pub at the age of 20 and helped propel a local band to the stardom they now celebrate second-hand, with some flaccid version of David Bowie or Pink Floyd. The same people who missed a decent band the first time around when they were occupied with lusting after Nick Beggs of Kajagoogoo.
To be fair, I’ve been, I went to see the ‘Australian Pink Floyd’. I thought, after years of anti-tribute venom I should experience what I intrinsically knew I would hate. I went with some lads from work too as a social thing. Open minded believe it or not.
Walking out of the gig was an experience of feeling like I was amongst people who had never been to a real gig.
The only time in the performance where anything real and true happened (a visual moment of anti – Trumpism during the song ‘Brain Damage’) became the highlight of the whole night. Instead of coming away from a concert where significantly more of it was ‘real’, performed, and no doubt repeated, but at least of their own songs and with their own hats, and haircuts, their own faces, and the guitar brand they really liked to play, I was leaving un-elated after seeing just what exactly?
Frank fucking Zappa people!!
I walked away confused by the experience. I wanted to shout, ‘I saw Frank fucking Zappa at this same venue in the 80s’, ‘The real Frank Zappa‘, but frankly, I wasn’t sure anyone there would have known who Frank Zappa was. Pink Floyd post Syd attracts a certain T-shirt wearing flabby version of Dave Gilmour in my opinion. You know, people with a Dark Side of The Belly and a membership of Camra, the real ale club, a certain balding type of gentleman sometimes accompanied by a long-suffering Mrs Gilmour. The kind of chap who was studying for his A’Level Chemistry exam when you were getting stoned and err…. listening to Frank Zappa. 😉
These are the same people who are all singing along to the two tunes they know at the tribute concert, the same people who stay in a Travelodge that night and catch a train back to wherever in the morning, because the term ‘partying all night’ was never, let alone at the age of 50, in their vocabulary. It’s ALL worse than an 80s night at Butlin’s Bognor Regis, and believe me, that’s my idea of a waking hell. Very few of these people are musicians, or care about the state of popular music. They have lots to answer for & let’s face it, the musicians who pander to them have plenty to answer for too.
It’s understandable though, if you can’t get your latest project off the ground and you’re not a progressive house DJ, what chance have you got but to play to a series of Wednesday night crowds on the ‘Converted Toilet Block’ circuit up and down the nation for ‘eff all monetary recompense but a whole heap of pain? OR you could earn some proper money playing drums for the new Def Leppard tribute band now gigging to large crowds, large tasteless but wealthy crowds up and down our fair country. Oh and I bet you’re thanking your lucky stars for the accident you had with that Flymo 18 years ago now aren’t you!!
This is the crux of my unhappiness, though musicians earn good money at this, they are in effect, doing others out of the support that could come their way by pandering to a PUBLIC that if it only HAD ANY TASTE and could access and see and hear a local band, they might support that instead of this tribute band fakery. And let’s be honest, it’s not a tribute to their band of choice, it’s a money earner.
Do you think The Doors or The Velvet Underground, or the The Sex Pistols want their memory diluted by watered down versions of themselves? I doubt it. If you were a true fan surely the last thing you would do is create a shit version of your favourite band, the band you mythologise, and all copyist versions, will, therefore, by default be, shit.
It’s the Bagpuss Effect
The whole nostalgia trip, of going to see a poor copy of something you once thought you knew is like those conversations about the 70s cartoons you once loved; ‘Awww, do you know Bagpuss’?.. or doing that impression of Ivor The Engine to the guys at work.
These are conversations that leave everyone smiling and that leave you feeling warmly smug about your past life, yet that also leave you knowing, you ain’t never going back there and that looking backwards is like eating air, namely extremely un-fulfilling.
Going to see a tribute band is like that. You know it’s not Mötorhead up there on stage, because environmental health won’t let them play at 140db anymore and even in the low light you can see that the lead singer has stuck that fuckin’ wart on with blu-tack! What is the point of not seeing Lemmy, Lemmy WAS MÖTORHEAD!! Well him and Philthy Phil and Fast Eddie were the true Mötorhead in my opinion, but that’s another argument for another day.
I don’t mean a Covers Band.
There is nothing wrong with playing someone else’s songs as cover versions in your set, but dressing up like them, or having plastic surgery to make your face look like the plastic surgery Paul McCartney once had, just ain’t on. It’s about as honourable as playing army in your back garden and then wearing the uniform and medals of a real soldier on Armistice Day at the local war memorial.
I care about music and it’s place in our hearts and Tribute Bands make a fuckery of all that is important to me, and I think should be to you if you as I do love popular music.
However Sue, my partner, whose’ opinion I trust says that the Bowie Tribute she went to see was very good. They were called Absolutely Bowie.
But they weren’t were they, and that I guess is my whole point.
An introduction of sorts..
So, birth is a pretty good place to start and the place where I was born, Nashville Tenn. a good place to start songwriting.
I was born to a musically inclined father who had left England in the early 60s to pursue a love of American traditional music. He settled in Nashville’s burbs and had two children with an Alabamian Southern Belle. As a family we mixed with interesting people and I can recall Bill Keith (Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys) and Jim Rooney turning up at our front door when they were on a black and white T.V. we were watching at exactly the same time. That’s when I realised something interesting was going on. It continued to… and there is standard 8 Kodachrome footage of me playing harp (at 3) with Peter Rowan a family friend to prove it. You get the picture.
Anyway, that was then and this is now.
We moved to the UK in ’76, I was almost 10. At about 14 I bought an electric guitar, played it without an amp for a year, finally afforded the amp and then annoyed the shit out of everyone with it, (the Police even came around with complaints), and I continue to, sort of.
It worked like this, as soon as I had the guitar I had a mic, and a knackered old NAD tape deck with a mic input and I started recording my ‘song-writing’ talents. In the 36 years since I assure you, I have improved somewhat. Well a bit.
Actually, this is still then.. I’ll get to now, in a bit.
I formed the band the Purple Frisbees in the late 80s / early 90s with brother Chris and friend Harv Malthouse and wrote the songs, stamped my foot petulantly at rehearsals and over time developed a band that unknown to me had a reputation hundreds of miles further out than we ever played. We released a tape cassette and cd of awful music, that Des Day recorded and people loved and still love to this day. Then I folded the band. Then I wrote songs and recorded instrumental music in a small home studio. Released 3 or 4 playful albums only to local support and friends, all the time working, all the time being the best songwriter in the world, but only really, truth be told, in my own head and own bedroom. Then I got married, then I didn’t do that sort of thing anymore. Then my Dad passed away and the marriage broke down. Then I had something to write about again.
Then is now Now.
So, I started again, writing because I had to, needed to, really trying to write, working on it, trying as hard as I could, or working on it as time allowed, to put something down that was a step above what I had put together before, .. you know and people had always said I was good, you know, admired the band, been complimentary, you get the picture.
I like to think my music is personal and original, but I do have particular (and peculiar) influences that affect the way I write and play and record, Nick Drake, Roy Harper, Fairport Convention, Karen Dalton, Daniel Romano, Bonnie Prince Billy, John Martyn, The Band, Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, Sandy Denny, The Handsome Family, Gothic Americana, Folk Horror, murder ballads, early flat picking styles, Folk Psych, Rockabilly, Leadbelly, George Jones, Ron Sexsmith, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Percy Sledge, Big Joe Turner, there is a long list. It’s my opinion that if you don’t listen to lots of music, you probably aren’t going to write very well, you’ve got to love others, and their music.
But . . . Seriously.
The moment I took it seriously was when family friend Gabe Kelly had a London date cancelled on his UK tour and came to visit my Mum, I was staying there after the messy divorce and played him rough demos of the tunes I’d been toying with, he told me to write, ‘get on with your writing’, ‘you can write’; and when a songwriter who makes his living from doing that tells you to take your work seriously, . . you do.
Then . .
Martin Simpson the Folk singer songwriter and world renowned acoustic and slide guitarist came to stay overnight while on a local tour. He and his tour manager Terry almost always did when they were in the area, even after my Dad, who made Banjos for Martin, died, he has kept in touch with my Mum, which is so lovely. I was there still leeching off of my lovely Mother after parting from family ways.
I was downstairs the morning after Martin’s gig with my son, playing around on my guitar. I heard Martin stirring, footsteps on the creaking stairs, I was playing a tune I’d written, shit I thought, fucking Martin Simpson is listening to me play one of my songs. (And I didn’t know at the time he’d won loads of, including BBC R2 songwriter of the year,(twice!) awards and even teaches songwriting at residential courses). So, it’s like this. I can tell that now he’s standing right behind me, I stumble to some sort of embarrassed finish and Martin says ‘That’s a fucking hit song’ and asked for the lyrics. We talked, and he too said, ‘write!, write!, you’re good’; and when a second songwriter who makes his living from doing that tells you to take your work seriously, . . you do. And you get writing.
Later I played my songs to one of my musical friends of long ago, Sadie Jemmett who also makes her way through life via musical steam.. and she said, ‘you were always good, I don’t say this often to many people, but your songs are really good’. That’s good enough for me. It’s all well and good your Mum and Granny telling you you’re good lookin’ (or that your songs are good) but a stranger, or a professional, well that’s Encouragement Gold my friends, ‘Encouragement Gold’.
So I write and continue to. Actually, know what, I always have, and always will, whether it’s a mic plugged into some shitty NAD tape deck or the multitrack in the box productions I’m into now, where other people are getting involved with the project.
And now recording has improved over the NAD tape deck or Tascam Portastudio.
So, I’ve always loved recording and production almost as much as I love the song-writing, and so a few years ago with some extra ££s I bought the iMac I’d always wanted and the ‘in the box’ software I needed, the best A to D conversion I could, some monitors, and Neumann mics (a recording can never get better than it’s microphones). I’ve been recording what is at the moment, nothing more than a vanity project, I’ve got loads of possible names for the Lp (and yes it will be issued on vinyl), you’ll have to wait and see what I call it. I get no time at all to do it, struggle against all odds to get as far as I have, and I still seem to be writing songs for it. I have to create, leave something significant behind me, share my thoughts on what it is to exist on this spinning rock with you all.
The quality of production I have created is quite amazing given that all of it is created in my little living room, and the advice of people like friend and Soundman Des Day has been invaluable over all the long years of doing this.
While I’m working on it I publish the demos, ideas, and songs that are works in progress in shitty MP3 format via Reverbnation, an artist platform, and the links to that stuff are below. Don’t judge the final product, these are just the sketches. Please check them and the YouTube videos out. Christ only knows when I’ll finish the project, so much to do on it, I’m 50 fucking 2 and there isn’t that much time left for this sort of thing, but you know, and I am my harshest critic, there are one or two really good songs on this thing, this Lp. This thing to come, in process, like life, is yet to come.
I hope you are there to hear it.
And when it’s finished I hope you like it.
Murphy © 2019
The Best of Ian & Sylvia – une Lp excellent… ?
So, for years my Mum, or should I say Mom, for she is the true American of the family, an Alabama gal, would talk of Ian and Sylvia with a wry smile and a hidden laugh in her voice. I never understood the lilt to her voice as she recounted this folkladymanduo quite and yearned to understand.
Was she remembering the heady days of a Southern education at Auburn, records dropping on to the portable record player like pancakes on a Tuscaloosa griddle? Was she recalling a life unhindered by musical taste or by the demands of her new life as wife to Barry Michael and mother to her two boys Michael Cullen and Barry Christopher? Was she revisiting the strains of Ian and the mysterious Sylvia drifting upon the long corridors of her young ladies only dormitory as friend Sarah berated her for stealing yet another letter from ever missing boyfriend ‘Phillip’ to the soundtrack of a giant weather balloon being woman-handled along those same now time dusted halls of residence?
Such is the un-folk of Ian and Sylvia.
I always got the impression that Mom had once thought them rather fabulous, in an early 60’s preppy U.S.A. folksie way; that they were artistes akin to those used to base ‘A Mighty Wind’, the comic feature film mockumentary outing about Frat-Folk that Spinal Tap’s creator Christopher Guest had made, and I had seen. And they are.
I also postulated that my Dad who was a folk dedicate and hardcore lover had ‘re-educated’ her tastes somewhat with a bigoted bias against all folk second handers … people like Ian & Sylvia would not have impressed my old man, a man taught Banjo by Peggy Seeger and taught musket shootin’ by Doc Watson.
I’m going to tell you about a fantastic tune on this Lp in a moment, but first I need to tell you that the Lp, the Stereo version of the Lp on Vanguard VSD-76269 is a hotch-potch of confused versions of trad folk music, chanson and pop moozack and as such it’s much more Peter, Paul and John Denver, than Clarence Ashley and Bob Dylwot, and much more Wanksy than Planxty.
However there is a tune on here… a bona fide tune, a tune to drop, a tune to impress the rest, a tune to test the best.
Catfish got der Blues?
On side two and in an Velvet Underground-ish stylistic triumph is a rendition of Catfish Blues, where the session guys groove out and Sylvia rocks the mic. The guitarist takes a drug riddled ride on the riff and though Sylvia is obviously sober, it sounds like the session players were out late last night and may possibly have dropped an Owsley.
So you got to check it, the Lp is probably worth all of 25 cents, but this tune, overlooked as it obviously has been (fuck you should see how little it goes for on Discogs), is worth all of that 25 cents on it’s own.
You heard it here first… Catfish Blues here on their collection of ‘The Best’, originally on their Lp. So Much For Dreaming on VSD-79241 (Stereo). So lick it from the top, to the very last drop, .. well track 4 side 2 anyway.
Final credit goes to Uncle Jack Brown for sending this Lp to me in the U.K., such is my international renown as record collector and musically fuelled auteur or as that Joe Boyd might say, musical ‘Eminence Grise‘, . . . the toss pot.
Bigmikeydread is back in 2018, 2019..
After a number of years offline, we’re back online with the Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio Show.
This is the 6th show in the current new series and proving most popular, come join us for fine Jamaican and Caribbean music, vintage and modern, alongside ribaldry and chat..
Check out the latest show, the one shown, on the Bigmikeydread Podomatic host site here – https://bigmikeydreadreggaeradio.podomatic.com or on iTunes and Mixcloud where you can also link in … there’s a Facebook group too if you fancy hooking up with suggestions for shows, or just to give him a hard time for talking too much …
Tunes featured on the above show were:
Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio – Rootsman Selection No1, all taken from Lp. (and one 7” single), join me while I check some nice nice Roots from Lps, nice.
Shalom with Rhythm and Sound – We’ve Been Troddin’ – taken from Lp – Rhythm & Sound w/ the artists.
Sam Brainwell (sic Bramwell) – It A Go Dread Ina Babylon – taken from 7” single – on the Revolutionary Sounds label.
Michael Prophet – Warn Them – taken from the Lp – Serious Reasoning
The Cimarons – Wake Up Jah-Man-Can – taken from the Lp – On The Rock.
Don Carlos – Sattamasagana – taken from the Lp – Pure Gold.
Errol Holt – Fly Your Dread – taken from the Lp – Vision Of Africa.
The Gladiators – Chatty Chatty Mouth – taken from the Lp – Vital Selection.
Fred Locks – Don’t Let Babylon Use You – taken from the Lp – Black Star Liner.
Dillinger – Jah Love – taken from the Lp. – Talkin’ Blues
Culture – Iron Sharpen Iron – taken from the Lp – Africa Stand Alone.
Rod Taylor – Look Before You Leap – taken from the Lp – Ethiopian Kings 1975-80.
Vivian Jones – Message On Time – taken from the Lp – Jah Works.
Yabby U and the Prophets – Jah Love – taken from the Lp – Conquering Lion.
Earl Zero – Only Jah – taken from the Lp – Only Jah Can Ease The Pressure.
Buro Banton – I Can’t Take The Running Ina Babylon – taken from the Lp – Buro.
Aswad – Concrete Slaveship – taken from the Lp. – Aswad
Mike Brooks – Money Is Not All – taken from the Lp. – Mike Brooks and Friends Just the Vibes 1976 – 1983.
Prince Ras Murray – Children Of The Most High – taken from the Lp – Militant Dread.
Jim Nastic – Chaunting – taken from the Lp. – Chaunting.
Burning Spear – Spear Burning/Jomo (Version) – taken from the Lp. – taken from the double Lp. – Spear Burning.
The ‘Hidden’ track – Freddie King – Going Down – taken from the Lp. – Getting Ready. https://www.discogs.com/lists/07-Bigmikeydread-Reggae-Radio-Rootsman-Selection-No1/477380
It seems odd to review an L.p. first released in 1972, but hey, this is new to me, so it may be new to you too. Or you may have been trying to decide to get it or not since 1972 and this just might make up your mind.
I first ran into Lal and Mike Waterson’s own song writing and output as a result of listening to the Anne Briggs’s ‘classic’ L.p. ‘The Time Has Come’, which features a recorded version of ‘Fine Horseman’ by Lal Waterson. ‘Fine Horseman’ is a sublimely poetic song populated by Hardy’esque imagery and it had me intrigued in seconds. Then, when quite by chance I happened upon a re-release of ‘Bright Phoebus’ the 1972 L.p. by Lal and Mike Waterson (and others) which contained Lal singing her own version of this, the song she had penned, I just had to pick it up.
As a brief background, Anne Briggs was sometimes known as the honorary fifth Waterson of the Watersons, a British group of folks singers mostly (during its original tenure) from the same family, one that virtually defined traditional unaccompanied folk song tradition in the folk clubs of Great Britain during the British Folk Revival of the earlier 1960s. What many now lovingly refer to the ‘Wax on me finger’, or ‘Finger in the ear’ genre of folk. (Actually that’s a lie, but they might do for all its urgent self righteousness)
The L.p. has already seen two or three re-issues on c.d. and vinyl and was for a time an underground classic, passed between devotees on ropey self duplicated tape cassettes. This issue from 2017 sees Domino Recording Co Ltd re-issue it on REWIGLP102 in a gatefold format with a good quality booklet and sleeve notes, telling the story of Lal and Mike’s development from members of the traditional singing group into songwriters, and the story of this L.p.’s recording.
The album initially gained rave reviews in much of the music press, but simultaneously alienated stick in the mud brigades of ‘don’t you mess with our traditional music’ fans (who had lots of wax stuck on their fingers, and fingers in ears), which slowed acceptance and sales. The L.p. crept into collective memory and slept on the back shelves of old dusty record stores. However it has since become a wonderful example of musical creation and invention and of the power of musical Art to conquer ears and stupidity over time.
In my mind the album links the Watersons traditionally bound unaccompanied singing style, and that school, with the development of Folk Rock by those such as Fairport Convention. I think it little surprise that Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior are all helping out in various ways on ‘Bright Phoebus’, it makes perfect sense. Sticking the two together with guitar glue is Martin Carthy. Having redefined English Folk music by translating it to an instrument not traditionally used for it, he’s the all too important chain link in the album’s musical integrity I believe. Richard Thompson will I believe always be a Rock guitarist who got interested in Folk, not a Folk guitarist who has dabbled with Rock; and so it is Carthy that translates what Lal and Mike Waterson are trying to do here into something we can all ‘get’.
So I’ve alluded to some of the collective that combined to produce the music on this L.p., but what about the songs? As usual it’s such a personal thing, what a song means to any person that I am loathe to impose my opinion on you the potential listener and would much rather you shelled out your hard-earned moolah for a copy, and made your own mind up. However one thing is certain, they are dark in the main, mystery laden, intangible, phantom like songs. You expect the Hound of the Baskervilles to howl on backing vocals, you can hear the creak of the Reddle man’s wagon through the marsh mist rising from the ground as you drop the needle. The rain drizzles onto the stone Church’s boundary walls it dusts onto the heart’s tongue ferns and into the grooves of the record, hope dies, and in the morning sun, is reborn.