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Soul Citizen by Clive Richardson (a guest book review by Rob Zanders)

Soul Citizen, by Clive Richardson.  ISBN: 978-1-291-24673-5

Available from Amazon or directly out of the author’s tennis bag.

Autobiographies, ghosted autobiographies, biographies and memoirs: they come is all sizes and qualities.  I recently read one by an international sports person, now celebrity.  It was dire.  There was very little beyond the facile and superficial.  It traded on the person’s name.  It is now available at about £4.99 having previously been on sale at around £20, and in the after Christmas lull will soon be taking up shelf space in the bargain book shops.  Yet, when checking the reviews on Amazon there are plenty of people claiming the book is a barrel of laughs.  Each to their own. 

Then there are the big name movers and shakers, the professional politicians.  Those who are one hundred percent assured in everything they do and everything they have done.  I stay clear of those.  Imagine my insurance claim: I smashed up the house having been pushed beyond the limit reading ‘Tony Blair, A Journey’.  Although I might try the writing a sort of sequel: ‘Tony Blair, A Journey but Not Bloody Far Enough’.  As for ‘Margaret Thatcher, the Autobiography’, I can see myself shackled in court trying to claim diminished responsibility having torched Grantham and raised it to the ground. “Sorry Your ‘onour.  It was the book what done it!’

It is far better to come across the life history of the person you have never heard of; an unsung hero.  A person who has been there, done it, made a contribution, and keeps on doing it for love without fame or fortune.  Therefore, I recommend to you, ‘Soul Citizen’ by Clive Richardson.

I came across Clive a few months ago when I was painting a store room at a sports club.  His phone rang and played the most interesting bluesy ring tone.  I inquired and it was soon apparent there was an overlap in our musical tastes.  And once he realised, he was pretty quick to try and sell me a copy of ‘Soul Citizen’. I relented and it was, the best £5 I’ve spent in a long time, and I am therefore recommending it to you.  Amazon make it available for £10 which I would still regard as top value.

But before you write your cheque or whatever technique you use to pay for things, let’s provide some information and to whittle down who may be interested in this life history. 

  •  If you were brought up on the fashions associated with Brit Pop, New Romantics and Punk, you may well be a little too young.  Being sixty plus will be a tad advantageous. But don’t give up on me yet.
  • If you live or have lived in London, especially the south-east suburbs of the Metropolis, then it should bring a smile to your face.  That said, Clive does take us on a journey from Bromley to Brooklyn, Bexleyheath to the Bayou  - I hope I’ve spelled that correctly because I mean Louisiana not Normandy – and lots of other places not all of them starting with the letter ‘B’.
  • The killer point here is, whatever your age and wherever you are from, if you are a youth-cultural pluralist who appreciates any form of music, the people who work tirelessly to promote it, and the vast array of jobs done behind the scenes, then Soul Citizen is well worth a read.

Clive Richardson had devoted around fifty five of his seventy years to Afro-American music in its various styles and genres, with a big portion of that dedicated to ‘Soul Music’, with that too having its various sub-styles.  From Clive picking up his first piece of vinyl which led to him to join the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, to helping out with the admin, leading to founding and writing for fanzines, before turning fanzines into more available journals, where he could be found reviewing, interviewing, photographing, typing, collating and distributing. Beyond all that, he has DeeJayed in clubs and in the murky world of on-land pirate radio before going legit.  He still works promoting artistes, compiling CDs, writing the sleeve notes.  And as a septuagenarian he has to always remain upbeat and up to date with changes in technology.  He can still be found on Solar Radio on Sunday mornings and if that wasn’t enough, he has done his bit commentating on his beloved Charlton Athletic at away matches, which despite them playing in red is enough to give anybody the blues.

Clive has an easy-on-the-eye writing style which is laced with a pragmatic, dry sense of humour.  There are times where his encyclopaedic knowledge of tracks, labels and artistes who I have not heard of had me in a spin but I was always able to endure those passages and he integrates this into his text without the story losing its flow.  If anything, it does go to show what a varied world there was in the world of Afro-American music back in the fifties and sixties that ran deep and strong beyond Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and James Brown.  The packaging of the book is simple, as one might expect from a self-published book, but it befits a life spent working behind the scenes with performers, many who had their 3 minutes of fame often over fifty years ago.

Soul Citizen is a story worth telling as it pays homage to other people, a few whose names you will recognise and most that you will not; people who have also been out doing the hard yards. It represents the work done by similar groups of enthusiasts who did, and maybe are still doing their bit for blues, prog rock, punk and every other fashion that eventually gets abused and exploited by accountants and marketing execs.  The book will not be picked up and pushed by a well-known publisher for Clive is not a named celebrity, and they are hardly likely to be able to exploit a gullible public who are desperately looking for a present for an uncle, with the story of a bloke who caught two buses to cross London, watched a show, interviewed the ‘stars’, got back on the bus, typed up the experience, before grabbing a few hours prior to doing a real job next morning.

We all have a story to tell.  We could all turn it into a book.  In most cases the story should remain firmly in the memory of the would-be writer.  In the case of Clive Richardson, it is worth sharing.

Rob Zanders


Keb Mo and Moreland & Arbuckle

A Tale of Two Shows - a guest review from Rob Zanders

Keb Mo: Union Chapel, Islington

Keb Mo ticks many boxes when it comes to blues performers; he is a black man, from the USA and he plays ‘the blues’.  In Mo’s case he has managed to move on from that hackneyed, copycat style.  He is slim, sophisticated, appears charming, and he can put across a soulful ballad that makes you think.  Keb Mo plays the blues but he also sings songs.

The Union Chapel in North London was the ideal venue for his cultured style.  On a hot and sultry evening the Union Chapel was a good place for anything.  With the kind of air conditioning that only religious buildings can manage, and the evening sun beaming through stained glass it created an atmosphere of cool beauty.  A place to reflect.  The average age was about 57, the people 99% white and middle class. At the end of the show, I picked up a copy of the Guardian to read on the way home.  I counted 87 copies left in the pews.  If I’d been transferred there in a time machine and had to take a stab at where I was, Islington would have been my first guess.

Mo and his band came on at 8.45 following the quirky Son of Dave. Dave’s son was a one man entertainment packet.  He had a box of harmonicas, various things to shake and bang, and some technology that allowed him to build up his tunes and songs in layers.  As for his influences; more Christopher Lloyd than anybody else.  Entertaining and weird.  He was a warm up act and he warmed up the audience.  Yet you are always waiting for the main act.  Son of Dave said it in one line, “it is an honour to be on tour with somebody who is a global superstar.  I have only just reached local cult status.”  Keb Mo, global superstar, that was pushing it, but he is the man we wanted to see.  Sorry Dave, tell you lad to keep trying.

So on came Keb Mo.  There was the obligatory line up of guitars on stands, bass player, keyboards, and a simple set of drums.  Start with a couple of ‘well-known’ tunes, play the content of your new CD (copies on sale at the back of the hall) and finish off with some of the old favourites.  I suppose that is what you are supposed to do.  Mr Mo has a great voice, soulful with a little bit of grittiness.  He is an accomplished player of the guitar.  He can knock out a solo that is part of a song not an extension of his ego.  The band read each song well, knowing their place but also knowing they were not just backing the main man.  He announced his last song, played it, went off, got loads of applause, then came back and played three more.  That was it.  Good, but not overwhelming.  I have now seen a bloke who I have wanted to see for the last twenty years.  Time to go home – just a tad underwhelmed.

Moreland and Arbuckle, Beaverwood Club, Chislehurst

The Beaverwood Club is not a venue to put on your must visit list.  A 1970s sports pavilion.  Go down there on any night and there is a variety of different things going on: Ultimate Boot Camp, Zumba, dads called Dave standing around watching their four year olds in Messi shirts, all shouting ‘Go on my son…kick the little barrrstard.’  For much of the time, the nearest the Beaverwood Club gets to ‘blues’ is ‘Bling it on Home to Me’, for this is Chislehurst.  But Thursday night is music night and the domain of the enthusiastic Pete Feentra. Pete’s shows tend to come into three categories:

  1. Bands that had made it in the 70s, fell out, fell apart, and came back together.  Sometimes they have not come together again.  It is the original drummer who carries on now the rest of the band have gone via the Union Chapel to somewhere else.
  2. Guitarists who never quite made it but did once cut an album with John Mayall.  It is heavy blues rock, deeps riffs punctuated by swirling, mesmeric solos, Walter Troutalikes.  Even Walter Trout sounded like Walter Trout when he was at the Beaverwood.
  3. Tribute Bands – Has music really got to this level?

Now and again, Pete unearths a gem. Something that sets the pulse racing.  Moreland and Arbuckle are one of those gems.  Rough and uncut, not polished and  s-Mo-oth.  This duo, which is now a trio as they have signed up a drummer, sound like they should be treading the Lancashire folk club circuit, but they hail from Kansas, and by the end of the evening the foundations of the Beaverwood club has shifted a good metre nearer to Dodge City.  It took about four bars to shake the place up. Okay, the sound quality was not the best, but the club was designed for boozing not acoustics.  They are relentless, dirty, nitty-gritty stuff.  The lads are still getting to learn an English audience; they were wondering whether the crowd were enjoying themselves.  Everybody was tapping their feet, that is pure joy in the suburbs!  Aarron Moreland beats the hell out of his guitars, including a beauty of a cigar box - Seasick Steve is genteel by comparison.  Dustin Arbuckle sings and plays the harmonica and he too does it with vigour.  At times is all gets a touch too chaotic but who gives a damn, they just go for it.  The drumming of Kendall Newby keeps it all together.  Their rendition of John Henry is worth the admission fee on its own.

So, having seen these two contrasting ‘blues’ acts in close succession, what would I recommend?  If you want to sit down at the end of a tough day, flop into a comfy chair, and turn on some music to lift you back to where you want to be, stick on a Keb Mo CD.  I’ve got five of them.  Any one will do.  Indeed the tracks could be interchangeable.  But if it is a good night out you are after, and the choice is Keb the ‘global superstar’ or three virtually unknowns from Kansas, it is no competition: Moreland and Arbuckle will thrill you.

Rob Zanders



Attica! by Wussy (CD, download & LP on the way)

Wussy may not have the most numerous fanbase in rock but they certainly have one that is thoughtful and articulate.

Exhibit A in making that case has to be an impressive essay by Charles Taylor in the LA Review Of Books, which convincingly locates Wussy's work within a broader and resonant take on life at a certain age in the USA of 2014. I'm going to focus on Attica's music rather than Wussy's wider positioning, but will take a quote from Taylor as a starting point for some song-by-song comments:

Wussy approach rock and roll as people who are past the age when they look to the music for salvation or as a soundtrack for their rebellion. But because they are fans, because this music has long been their chosen vehicle for expression, they test it to see if it can still provide a kind of transcendence, or at least a way of speaking that will make sense of the life around them.

That sounds right to me: Wussy are grown-ups who make their music because that is what they want to do, not because any financial expectations require it. Unlike some bands producing their fifth full album, they're not treading water and churning out another elpee's worth of tunes in a trademark style, desperate to live up to someone else's expectations. They have the space to stretch and experiment and have fun. And they sound unmistakably like they're singing from the real world, not some rockist cocoon or genre bubble.

So what have we got?

'Teenage Wasteland' is a cracking opener: a recollection of the transcendent power of music, delivered with a powerful, lush and layered sound, all underpinned by a simple one-fingered keyboard motif. Lisa Walker's lead vocal is simply gorgeous (if a little overladen with effects in the recording?), reliving the memorable moments with both excitement and control. Chuck Cleaver's backing vocals are spot-on: the two main voices fit so well together and this song features a number of those typically Wussy moments where the harmony is saying something different from the lead, as if they're a couple talking over each other, whether in excitement or disagreement... The song is focused on The Who's 'Baba O'Reilly' from the Who's Next album, with the lyrics name-checking Pete Townsend and Keith Moon, whose

kick of the drum went off like artillery fire,

but it could be about any great rock song that really made a connection with the adolescent you:

For one short breath it sounds like the world is ending,

Exploding in space and beginning again,

So far away.

And the real triumph of 'Teenage Wasteland' is to embody such a song itself, with the power to make this cynical 50-something bounce up and down grinning like a buffoon. So why am I quibbling about the effects on the vocal? Because they mean you need to turn to the lyric sheet fully to appreciate the evocative and well-crafted words, which is always a shame in hindering full communication. get it, but not every listener will make the effort.

Chuck Cleaver's 'Rainbows & Butterflies' is next up. Grabbing you by the lapels, thrashier, noisy guitars, more distortion. It's a love song of strength and passion, where the conventional romantic imagery of the hookline is shot through with something darker, and borderline psychotic:

I'm gonna suck you, until the poison comes out.

I wanna sway you, if you're ever in doubt.

You'd be flattered to receive a Valentine's card from this character, but you might also consider changing the locks. The performance is tight and convincing and the song only just tops 3 minutes: punk lives, in both the discipline and attack.

'Bug' maintains the mood, introduced by a burst of studio chat and noise before the crunching guitars start up again, at a slower tempo, but just as relentless. Co-written by Cleaver and Walker, with Lisa taking the lead vocal, it's a song of obsession, if not quite love:

You're the drink, you're the drug,

You're the bug that's alive inside of me.

Excellent sequencing then takes us to the light and sprightly 'North Sea Girls', another of Lisa's songs, which first appeared on last year's Wussy Duo EP. It seems to be a holiday postcard from the European tour she had done with Chuck the previous autumn. In that context the song's arresting opening couplet is less bizarre than it might seem:

Today we gather werewolves

And storm the castle doors.

The other act on the tour was American Werewolf Academy and you can imagine them being rounded up, tired and hungover, for a sightseeing trip before the evening's gig. The song has a chiming crystalline quality from massed (but tightly controlled) guitars and keyboards, the pedal steel evoking shoreline gulls. As well as a description of new sights, it's an encouragement of new experiences:

Just go in, just go in,

Like it's summertime.

The last track on what will be side one of (hurrah!) a forthcoming vinyl release is Chuck's 'Acetylene'. It opens prettily with a solo fingerpicked guitar before diverting somewhere darker. Nora Barton's cello and the long sustained guitar tones, hovering on the edge of feedback, underscore a sad plea for a redeeming love which seems unlikely to materialise. Sweetly sung and a well-wrought arrangement.

'To The Lightning' lifts the energy levels at the start of the second side, with soaring vocals, chiming guitars, crashing drums - and even a theramin in the mix. Lyrically it's far from straightforward: there seems to be a relationship breaking up, with the singer embracing the power of a thunderstorm, finding the energy to move on. But what are we to make of Lisa's parallel narrative about 'Monica' inviting her to a meeting of Job's Daughters,

But hey I don't think I'll be there?

I hadn't heard of Job's Daughters before. Apparently it is an organisation for the young daughters of Freemasons, dedicated to good works. And there is a version of its emblem featuring as the artwork on theAttica CD. (It doesn't actually say Wussy or Attica anywhere, so this is what you need to look for if you mislay it...)

A traumatic experience in Lisa or Chuck's youth - who knows? It's always nice to have something inexplicable buried in a lyric, when the overall song works as well as this one does. There's definitely a strong internal logic at work, as it resolves in a gentle and lovely coda, the two voices coming together, apparently accepting their parting:

Bide your time

And when the time arises

Rise and shine 

And let me go.

The next track 'Halloween' holds that calm and reflective mood. It may well be my favourite song on an album with some strong contenders for that title. There's a lovely arrangement, blending accordion and pedal steel and mandolin, for a song that is a photo-sharp picture of a dreamlike recollection - which is not a straightforward trick to pull off. It references Neil Young's 'Sugar Mountain' and echoes that song's wry nostalgia and warmth. Despite its title, it seems to be set on an Ash Wednesday, the morning after a Mardi Gras, suggested in an immediately engaging opening (replete with a nod to Kris Kristofferson):

We're lost in the town, wiping fog out of our eyes,

A Wednesday morning coming down.

You're last out the door, trying to piece together

All the shit you saw the night before.

It's beautifully done.

Then the mic passes back to Chuck for 'Gene, I Dream', a fine portrait of a troubled relationship and a yearning for a fresh start, with added interest from the twist that it is not entirely clear who is who amongst the narrator, 'Gene' and the couple being described. Anyway, the chorus links with an upbeat arrangement to send you out feeling hopeful, even if the hopes will not ultimately come good:

Gene, I dream that life outside of here

Is so much more amazing

Than either one of us could ever imagine.

Next up is the title track, 'Attica!', the exclamation mark indicating that the word is being shouted in the street. I gather this is a reference to the film Dog Day Afternoon, where this word is indeed shouted during a bank robbery that goes wrong, and is referring in turn to the Attica prison riot in New York in 1971 which left 43 people dead. Sadly, however, I have not seen the film so am not the best person to steer you through the lyric. I'll get back to you when I've caught up... Anyway, nicely sung by Lisa and another carefully layered arrangement, featuring - I think - ebowed guitar.

On to 'Home', the penultimate track. Nice enough, but one of the lesser songs on the record, I'd say. Well played and sung and the theme of optimism through adversity chimes with much of the rest of the set, but nothing really to stand out, musically or lyrically.

Which gives 'Beautiful' even more force, I guess. This is one of Cleaver's very best, a bitter-sweet reflection on a failed relationship and the faults of a younger self. There's a soaring melody with intertwined voices ending in a glorious guitar solo, surging against a repeated keyboard pattern and rolling bass. There's a determined chirpiness in some of the lyrics and the symbol of a house fire, inevitably undercut by regret:

Our everyday attire, we lost it in the fire.

Now we're sifting through the cinders and the ashes.

Searching for a sign, the remains of yours and mine,

Suspecting all along

We may have saved it if we'd only taken time.

(A nice echo there of the yours and mine piles of household effects assembled by the warring protagonists of the Wussy classic 'Airborne'.) And as well as tension and beauty we have a final mystery: what exactly are we to make of the hookline?

I'm not the monster that I once was: 20 years ago I was more beautiful than I am today.

We are left pondering the meaning of beauty as the final chords fade: a bonus philosophical coda. Can't the appreciation of former monsterhood add to beauty, counterbalancing the odd grey hair or wrinkle? I'd like to think so, but maybe the song's narrators think otherwise.

Anyway, eleven songs that are well repaying repeated listenings: there's a lot of depth in the writing and immense skill and care in the way that the music has been put together. I am conscious that I haven't said much to single out contributions from bassist Mark Messerly, drummer Joe Klug and pedal steel man John Erhardt - that's mainly because they're all mostly interested in cohesion and collective sound, and contribute on a range of other instruments too. They all play splendidly, but this is very much a band album, with no individual grandstanding.

And what a band - I hope they make it across the Atlantic soon.


Tom Russell, 27 July 2013

The Palmeira, Hove

27 July 2013

It is one of life's continuing mysteries how as good a songwriter as Tom Russell manages to stay below so many music fans' radar.

His gig at Hove's Palmeira pub was the last on a British tour which I haven't seen written up elsewhere. Of course, it was sold out - but, come on: that means maybe a hundred people. Even I have sung a song at the Palmeira...  Tom was reminiscing fondly about the last time he had played Brighton at 'an East indian ballroom' (the Hanbury in Kemptown). I've also seen him at the Greys (a far smaller pub than the Palmeira) and the Anchor out in Barcombe (hidden in the depths of the country, beyond the reach of our satnav). Why not the Dome - which regularly features folk who live many floors below Tom in the Tower of Song? Go figure.

It feels wrong to say 'Tom Russell gig' in the same way that 'Gillian Welch concert' is only halfway there. The great Thad Beckman is Tom's David Rawlings, conjuring similarly beautiful and essential sounds from his battered and ancient Gibson. Perhaps less oblique in his strategies than Rawlings, but full of both subtlety and power, and blessed with jaw-dropping technique. There were frequent pauses for roaring applause after beautiful solos - with Tom mock-ruefully decrying his audience as 'bastards'.

Russell's interaction with the crowd is practised and warm, with lots of stories and bizarre asides. He enjoys trying out his British accent, playing around the familiar local Brighton line that he is now in Hove, 'actually'. Over the evening we also get a burst of Norwegian (in honour of some fans who've flown in from Bergen); a graceful acknowledgement of shouted praise for his pristine new cowboy boots (seemingly made of orange suede); and Pancho Villa's final words (clearly a born delegator, they were 'don't let it end like this - tell them I said something').

I do sometimes have a problem with Tom's more sentimental side, but not this time. He played some songs of that can cross the line - 'Finding You', 'Guadalupe', 'Nina Simone' - but kept them straight, direct and powerful. The set as a whole was simply one to treasure, stuffed full of classics and probably the best I've seen him play.

Too many highlights to enumerate fully, but let's list a few: an inspired immigration double-punch to end the first set of a beautifully sung reading of the glorious 'California Snow' followed by a stonking and unanswerable singalong 'Who's Going To Build Your Wall?'; then a similar double-punch closing the second half, with an appropriate boxing theme - 'Muhammad Ali' and (one of my very favourites) 'The Pugilist Is 59'. Special mention also for a disquisition on Bob Dylan which included Tom singing a burst of 'Love Is Just A Four Letter Word', followed by the opening line of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' and then shouting 'take that, Shakespeare!'; and for his final encore of a Johnny Cash medley - this is a man of taste.

In what is already shaping up to be a fine year for live music, this is bound to be up there in the best gig list. Well played, Tom and Thad: long may you run.


Hiss Golden Messenger, 3 May 2013

The Palmeira, Hove

3 May 2013

At Hove's Palmeira pub last night Mike Taylor, the man behind the Hiss Golden Messenger monicker, memorably compared his songwriting to building lightning conductors. Putting the songs out there and seeing if a flash of electricity will coruscate through them... He has a remarkable hit-rate and his fine set fairly crackled with spine-tingling moments. A definite smell of ozone, I'd say.

It was impressive that Taylor, and fellow traveller guitar maestro William Tyler, were even awake and coherent, having flown in from the US over the previous night, the airline mislaying their merchandise crate along the way. They seemed genuinely pleased to be doing what they were doing and both were on strong form. The only obvious sign of a fuddled brain came from Mike forgetting a line from his encore song 'Jesus Shot Me In The Head.' He checked with the audience, started again and nailed it with a glorious performance.

The latest HGM album Haw benefits from varied arrangements and a range of other musical contributions, but there is a particular intensity in hearing the songs played solo: concentrating more on the words, through his rich, slightly slurry, vocal delivery, against the backdrop of the sinuous pulse of his distinctive guitar style.

And just what is going on in those words? I'm happy to report that I can't exactly tell you. There is that intriguing sense of something lurking, alluded to and not fully addressed, sometimes light, sometimes dark. There is a lot of biblical imagery, which doesn't seem to be used for straightforwardly biblical purposes: introducing one song, Taylor described trying and failing to persuade a gospel singer friend to record a backing vocal for it - 'she belongs to the church, I belong to something else'. But there is nothing casual or manipulative about this; he clearly understands the weight and power of the pictures he is painting, in anticipation of a time 'when the truth will be revealed as something we can't see'.

Incidentally, I haven't seen an explanation anywhere of the Hiss Golden Messenger name: my take, for what it's worth, would be another twist of biblical image - 'His golden messenger' evoking an angel or a prophet, the extra sibilant showing that the serpent is closely involved in this too... Pretty much the human condition, really. 

Whatever. There is a depth and a heft to what HGM does which sets those sort of thought patterns going. Dive into Haw, or catch him on this tour, and see what Taylor's songs will do for you.

And a PS for Mike: do a song or two with William - that would be great.