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31st OCTOBER, 2013

It’s been far too long since I posted a new blog. I’d like to think there are legions of you shaking your heads at the long wait!


The wonderful Poco have finally decided to call it a day. Rusty Young has announced his impending retirement; he’s entitled to be ‘tired’ after keeping the band afloat for a remarkable 45 years. It was tough for long-time fans to see Paul Cotton quit a couple of years ago. Nothing lasts forever.


My friends and I recently went to see Crosby, Stills & Nash at a packed Sage. What a treat; nostalgia? Sure, but carried off with panache and the smattering of new material suggests these ‘boys’ are not done yet.


Crosby & Nash, white haired and in their early 70s are simply incredible singers. Stephen is a little rough ‘round the edges in the vocal stakes (he has serious hearing loss) but remains soulful and somewhat wired! He’s a monster guitar player who could hold his own with anybody!


Justin Currie, of Del Amitri fame, was a treat at The Gala, Durham. What a fine songwriter and live performer he is. His new CD, ‘Lower Reaches’, is surely his best yet.


Another favourite concert was Iain Matthews in York. I’ve submitted the following review to Maverick magazine which they say will feature, probably, in their next issue.


IAIN MATTHEWS

THE BLACK SWAN, YORK

Sunday, 20th October, 2013


It’s October in North Yorkshire, England. The novelty of an excellent summer has given way to dark, rainy days and evenings. It’s that time of year, again, when I find myself making the pilgrimage to unusual, often far flung, places to see one of England’s finest singer songwriters, Iain Matthews.


Matthews forty year plus career has produced shelves full of records, and CDs, a meandering path through a myriad of band and solo projects that  include stints with Fairport Convention, Matthews Southern Comfort , Plainsong and more recent excursions into jazz territory with Dutch pianist and composer Egbert Derix. Tonight, though, is the return of Matthews, the solo troubadour, on a brief UK mission to promote his upcoming CD The Art of Obscurity.


The Black Swan is a 500 year old pub, very old English with its black timber and plaster work. The Art of Obscurity, as a title, is an ideal moniker for Iain’s new project and career in general. He has virtually no profile in the UK and that is mirrored by the ‘cosy’ upstairs room venue with its modest turn out of patrons curious to see this man in concert. Looking lean and fit, the Dutch based Iain is a cordial and relaxed figure, seated throughout, cradling a small bodied Martin guitar.


When he sings Matthews voice oozes honey, precision and emotion. His guitar playing is solid and rhythmic with a percussive slap style technique. The new Ghost Changes and The Emperors’ New Clothes sound fine as does the more familiar Southern Wind. Mr Matthews tells us that he believes the new CD , his twenty fifth, may possibly be his finest and probably his last!


Iain proves that he’s no slouch on the guitar, reverting to finger-style for a wonderful God Looked Down and a gorgeous open tuned version of Sandy Denny’s Bushes and Briars. Long before he became an accomplished songwriter, Matthews’ first attracted people, like myself, with his astute taste in covering ‘Country(ish’) songwriters like Steve Young, Jesse Winchester, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell (not really Country) and Gene Clark. It was his arrangement of Seven Bridges Road that the Eagles would later use as their template for the song. Tonight Matthews does exemplary readings of Browne’s These Days and Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street.


Unfazed by his surroundings, Iain is good natured when an audience member rudely lets his ‘phone ring, twice, during the performance. Outside the rain bounces on the wet road while occasional buses punctuate proceedings with their noisy airbrakes.


Perhaps the magnificent Pebbles In The Road, featured on the new record, best sums up Matthews’ mature acceptance of the path he chose long ago‘……And I see this gift that keeps on giving/This precious gift that I’ve been living …… I realise it’s been worthwhile to be another pebble in the road.’


Amen to that and be sure to search out the new record when it emerges in early 2014.


JUNE 2013


Hi folks!


I have to confess that things have been a little slow this year. Dennis Makepeace and I put a lot of effort into our band, Three Shades of Grey, but it has now gone the way of the Dodo.


Dennis and I are now concentrating on being a duo again; which involves a mix of original songs and classic covers. We are playing a gig towards the end of June (see news).


I’ve been writing some new songs and now have seven; they just need a little more work and fine-tuning.


Tuesday evenings at The Marquis of Granby (our open mic session) have been very well attended recently, after a bit of a Winter slump. If you fancy coming along to listen, or play, Dennis and I will be pleased to see you.


I had the pleasure of catching Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell at The Sage recently. What a gig! It was the best I’ve seen Emmylou since those glory days with the Hot Band back in the 1970s. Good band, great choice of songs. These two were born to sing together; it’s a natural pairing, more so than Emmy’s coupling with Mark Knopfler. Rodney Crowell, of course, is one of the best writers in the Country, Americana genre.


New music I’ve been enjoying includes Clive Gregson, Poco, Kasey Musgraves, Joe Pug  and John Fullbright.



JANUARY, 2013


A belated Happy New Year!


SHADES OF GREY

Now we’ve dusted off Christmas I’ve been busy rehearsing with Dennis Makepeace and Ged Knowles (Three Shades of Grey). It’s really a band to handle Classic pop, rock material. The harmonies sound wonderful, he says modestly, and we’re tackling original songs alongside choice covers. Thus, you can expect to hear Steely Dan, Stephen Stills, Fleetwood Mac through to more modern material by the likes of The Script or Damian Rice.


This is a new venture so we’ll hopefully add more dates to the diary as we go along.


SONGWRITING, WRITING

I’ve started to write some new songs; several melodies are taking shape, lyrics too. Watch this space. Now I’m firmly settled into ‘middle age’ I’m trying to avoid too many references to ‘getting older’ and ‘Autumnal’ similes!


I recently reviewed the reunited Prelude CD, The Belle Vue Sessions, which can be found in the current issue of MAVERICK magazine. They are a wonderful band; let’s hope they have a prolonged Indian Summer.


WHAT I’M LISTENING TO

I’m a big fan of Tift Merritt; she’s a terrific Americana singer songwriter. Her latest CD; ‘Travelling Alone’, may be her best yet. I’ve seen her live several times but none better than at The Cluny late last year. She was magnificent.


I’ve also been listening to old favourite Neil Young and his ‘Psychedelic Pill’. There are a few gems but even I have to admit that several of the very, very long songs are too self- indulgent and, frankly, not worthy of him. Still, being a Neil fan is a lifelong pursuit and I’ll be there to see him at the dreadful Metro Arena in June.


Speaking of veterans; I still like Iain Matthews (original member of Fairport Convention), he was wonderful at the Sage Hall Two with Plainsong. Sadly the venue was about a third full; despite his talents Mr Matthews profile in the UK remains virtually non-existent. He has one of the great voices and has grown in to a very accomplished songwriter.


On the local scene; I like Pat Mcmahon and Blue Diamond. Pat is a nice man; a wonderful singer, musician and songwriter. He is working on a solo record and the snippets I’ve heard sound very promising. If you haven’t caught Blue Diamond live, then you’ve missed a treat. They are one of the best bands on the local scene.


SAD NEWS

My old friend Pete Jenney recently passed away. Pete ran Archer Records in Leicester; one of the last independent shops in the city. He was a huge music enthusiast, and supporter, ploughing his own money into The Musician venue in the city when they were in trouble a few years ago.


His death has made me realise how much I enjoy(ed) going into record shops and browsing for those hidden gems. I’ve not really embraced the download craze; I’m old fashioned because I like to ‘hold’ a product in my hands! Record shops, like Pete’s, fostered social networks and created life-long friendships. It will be sad if we lose HMV; the last mainstream High Street music store.


Pete’s tastes in music were varied and huge; going back to the Buddy Holly rock ‘n’ roll days through to his love of Texas singer songwriters’, particularly the likes of Towns Van Zandt and Guy Clark.

 


THE FIRST SESSION FOR THIRD RECORD,

APRIL 2010


I’d written a pocket full of new songs that I was looking forward to recording. The aim was to capture the ‘basic’ songs; voice, acoustic guitar and harmonies prior to adding more instruments to the stew later on. So, having booked studio time, with Ron Angus, I dropped my daughter off at school. One of the other dads I’d got to know at the school gates was a Gentleman called Will Smiles; what a great name!


Will is a guitar player, repairer and just all round guitar nut. He asked if he could come with me to the studio to watch Ron work the desk. Of course I said; ‘yes, but why don’t you bring your guitar along?’ The initial hour, or so, wasn’t too fruitful. I put down an acoustic track for ‘Promise Of The Night’, it sounded OK but would need more ‘production’ than I was used to. So, I recorded a basic demo and left it alone for future reference.


Next up I decided to attempt a song called ‘Too Close To The Sun’. I’d written it after reading a biography on the late Gene Clark, an original member of the seminal band The Byrds. I’d loved his solo records; his voice and songs. He never got the kudos he deserved and his self-destructive ways led to an early demise. I put down an acoustic guitar track and then sang the vocal separately. It was a strong performance, though I say it myself. Then I said to Will, who was still fascinated watching Ron’s engineering; ‘Why don’t you record some electric guitar?’ Will had never heard the song before and his musical tastes are a little different to mine. However, he immediately came up with a spooky, almost Pink Floyd like piece of guitar playing. It was very different to anything I could have created and the results were great. It’s one of my favourites on the new record. I added a harmonica solo and the track was finished, never to be altered in any way.


Pleased with the results we headed back to school to pick up our kids.


TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN


Silhouette against the sun

On a mountain close to God

Sits a figure

Frozen by time


Missouri country boy

Touched the stars and fell so hard

To the ground

Wounded Byrd


Your wings were made of wax

And you flew too close to the sun

Too close to the sun


You should have stayed in Mendocino

With the redwoods and the sea

Watched the ocean

Tasted the air


MY FAVOURITE GUITAR

Some people love their houses, cars, hopefully their partners. My most treasured possession, apart from my loved ones, is my guitar. It is, sorry, she is a LOWDEN 010. They are hand-built in Ireland by the George Lowden Company.


I bought the guitar in 1993, when I lived in Leicester, from Sheehan’s Music. It was my first ‘serious’ guitar and to this day is far better than I deserve. Over the years she’s become battle scarred, character marks I suppose you’d call them. The Lowden has a cedar top with mahogany back and sides. She has a big shapely body, though she’s a light guitar and incredibly responsive to a delicate touch! She just sounds magnificent acoustically. The action is wonderful and she just feels so comfortable in my hands.


I’m a very average musician, as I once told someone, ‘I’ve worked hard to become average’. The fingerboard is quite wide which gives one more room for finger-style playing and she responds well to open tunings too. All my songs have been written on the Lowden.


Here’s a lyric inspired by playing this very guitar:


Your wooden body is worn

Where my fingers left their mark

Strings of silver dance upon the wall

Your grain is lovely in the light


(‘You and I’)


JB

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