Out and about today, I saw…

On a gig poster, a band called ‘The Chip Shop Boys’.

Also, a personalised number plate:


Random wafflings

Back to the UK tomorrow to see family and friends for a week or so and also stock up on various things.

We’re feeling a bit ambivalent about the trip.

We’ve really taken to France and whilst I’m absolutely not in the business of running down the country of my birth, I’ve found life here to be far more relaxed and there’s a certain ‘respect’ that everyone seems to have for each other – not to mention a lack of chavs, soapdodgers and pikeys. That’s not to say that France doesn’t have its share of these, but there don’t seem to be any remotely near where we go.

There have been hassles over the last few months, but I think I’ve found the answer when it comes to the dreaded French bureaucracy.

You simply do what you can to sort things out your end and then you just wait. Everything eventually gets sorted out and kicking up a stink about delays will probably get your paperwork sent to the bottom of the pile. So, you just wait.

Of course, being retired helps, but my work never gave me any stress anyway, so I don’t think my relaxed attitude to virtually everything is all down to that.

The cats are going to be lodged in a cattery which I have no misgivings with, but it will be the longest they’ve ever been away from us (8 days)and we’ll miss them. I never thought I’d say it, but leaving them will be a real wrench because they’re more than pets. They’ve become really good companions and having brought them along on this late ‘life adventure’ they seem to have adapted really well.

So, although we’re desperate to see our children, our grandson and other family and also our friends, I reckon we’ll be gagging to come back to France in a week’s time.

It feels like home here now.

I’ve been wondering what to do about this blog. I’m starting to think about having another blog that will deal with matters French and keeping this blog for non-French specific subjects.

At present it’s frustrating enough with a 35 Euros for 12 hours 3G stick being the almost the sole means of internet access (free wi-fi fucking rocks!) and this won’t be remedied until we make a permanent move to the new house later this year. This will remain my only blog and no decision made until I get broadband access.

Certainly I have nothing but praise for Microsoft’s Live Writer in Windows 7. It enables me to write blog posts offline and with many of the facilities that the WordPress admin panel gives me.

Come to think of it, the whole Windows 7 experience has been excellent on this new laptop, although I hate having to rely on a pre-loaded OS. I’ll probably buy a Windows 7 disc when I’m over in the UK next week, Another advantage is that it’ll purge all the Samsung crap from this machine.

Blogging may be erratic for the next week, although my iPhone will come in handy for blogging via email, not to mention tweeting, which I really miss.

One thing I’m going to have to be careful with is making sure I drive on the left back in the UK. I’ve got to the stage where I see a TV program set in the UK and think it looks odd when I see people driving on the left…It also occurs to me that I’m going to have to get some headlight adapters because we’ve had our lights changed for driving here as part of the re-registration process.

Packing the car – a Ford Fiesta – is going to be interesting. We’ll be leaving tomorrow with two cat cages full of cat, many, many bottles of wine, gifts and our luggage…

Then we’ll be back with books, more books, Cheddar, washing tablets, Pimms (not easy to get here), curry paste, cat treats and Twinings Everyday teabags – plus the cats…

The vibrato still sings

My recent 100 favourite albums posts inevitably allowed many of my favourite musicians and bands to slip through the cracks. In order to pay them the respect they deserve, and also to perhaps introduce readers of this blog to some new listening experiences, from time to time I’ll be featuring one of them.

I feel very lucky to have my formative musical years quite firmly placed in the mid to late 1960s. In a nutshell, pop and rock music was then very much steeped in the blues. I suppose it all really kicked off for me with the Rolling Stones. I was starting to play guitar when I first heard them, and having heard a strange sound on one of their records, which a guitar playing friend informed me was a ‘bent’ note, I was up and running; listening to records with the guitar handy and working out pentatonic scales and licks for myself.

Chief amongst my listening around that time was John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. If anyone deserves the title of Godfather of British Blues it’s Mayall. Sure, Alexis Korner was a very influential player and bandleader but when you think who passed through John’s bands and what they went on to do, he has to be the Daddy of ‘em all!

Naturally, as an aspiring guitarist, it was Mayall’s axemen who caught my attention. Starting with Eric Clapton and the seminal ‘Beano’ album he attracted some fabulous players. After Clapton came Peter Green, who went on to form Fleetwood Mac before succumbing to drugs and mental illness. Then after Greeny came Mick Taylor and he’s the subject of this piece.

Mick Taylor MICKTaylor Mick with a fan

Having sat in for Clapton at one gig the very young Mick Taylor (15 at the time, I believe) missed out to Green as Slowhand’s successor but got the job after Green left to form Fleetwood Mac.

Blessed with a beautiful wide but controlled vibrato and a creative way of putting licks together, Mick fitted into the Mayall band seamlessly and responded very well to the increasingly rock-based direction that Mayall was taking. With less and less reliance on 12 bar blues the band began playing some adventurous material and John seemed quite happy to let Mick stretch out and take extended solos. Not much of this work exists to hear today, but the two albums that Mayall recorded (rather poorly it has to be said) at live gigs are still available.

‘Diary of a Band Volumes 1 & 2’ have some fantastic playing from Taylor on them. In particular, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ has some soaring slow blues guitar from him which still raises the hairs on my neck when I hear it and the instrumental medley of ‘Anzio Annie/Snowy Wood/The Lesson’ has less structured playing with lots of feedback and space and Mick showing you how sometimes not playing is the best thing to do for the music.

Above all, Taylor has always had tone – a sound combined with a feel that makes every note count.

The studio albums with Mayall – ‘Crusade’, ‘Bare Wires’ and ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ all have plenty of superb examples of Mick’s very precise but exciting playing.

Of course, a call from the Stones to come and join them caused Taylor to leave Mayall and embark on a stint with the band that produced, in my view at least, their finest hour both live and in the studio. With Keef chording and riffing away behind him, Mick’s fluid guitar worked really well and the classic albums ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile’ have many great examples of the interplay between the two.

Unfortunately the best example of the Stones live from this era is unreleased, although the recording is top quality. The benefit gig at Brussels for the Nicaraguan earthquake victims (organized by Jagger’s wife Bianca) was recorded, broadcast and subsequently bootlegged.

It’s an amazing recording of the Stones at their peak and is a ‘must hear’ for anyone with the slightest interest in rock music. Fortunately it’s readily available on the internet. Usually called ‘A Brussels Affair’ it can be found on all manner of torrent sites and music blogs.

Get it!


Although the truth has never really been revealed, Mick seems to have had the shit end of the stick as far as songwriting credits are concerned. Only receiving one co-credit with Mick ‘n’ Keef – ‘Ventilator Blues’ on ‘Exile’ – although claiming far more, Taylor left the Stones in 1973 with a smack habit (since kicked) and from that time to this – although playing in Bob Dylan’s band, with Jack Bruce, Mike Oldfield and many, many more luminaries, releasing several solo albums and gigging all over the globe – he’s languished in increasing obscurity.

I can’t for the life of me understand why.

When you consider his peers today, Taylor still offers originality and a freshness to his playing that they mostly lack…

Clapton – pumping out the same old same old with all the passion of a dead slug…

Green – really not the full shilling and incapable of playing with the sensitivity he once had…

Page – Led Zeppelin then nothing until…er…Led Zeppelin and currently inactive as far as I can see…

In fact, it’s only Jeff Beck from that era who still seems to be prepared to take chances and try new things.

Apart from Taylor, that is.

I have many (about 150) bootlegs of solo Taylor live – from the mid 1980s to the present day. He’s evolved into a quite stunning player. Throwing in licks that someone like Clapton couldn’t manage to even think of whilst stuck inside his pentatonic prison and combining standard fingering and slide often in the same line, Taylor is today a quality player who still has a great deal to offer anyone who loves rock and blues guitar.

It’s only speculation, but my best guess on why Mick Taylor isn’t a bigger name today is that his experience with the Stones soured him, and problems with various substances didn’t help this. Apparently, he’s writing his autobiography and it’s rumoured that he’ll ‘tell all’ as far as the Stones are concerned, so perhaps we’ll find out then what lies behind his relative obscurity.

Meanwhile, as ever, the music can do the talking. Get the Mayall and Stones albums with Taylor and also any live solo stuff you can. Bootlegs are freely available via certain torrent sites and I’ve even seen live boots on Usenet.

As someone once said of Taylor, ‘the vibrato still sings’ and it really does too.

To sum up, a fabulous player and one well worthy of any music fan or guitarist’s attention.

Last night I saw an elephant…

If you’re a Groucho Marx fan – I am! – you’ll probably finish this sentence off with something like ‘…in my pyjamas – why he was wearing my pyjamas I’ll never know…’

However, after last night I think I’ll go with ‘Last night I saw an Elephant Hawk Moth.’

I was out closing the shutters when I became aware of a large moth. Mindful of the fabulous Emperor Moth that Oscar caught a few weeks ago, I rushed inside, grabbed a torch and saw this fantastic creature:


Although they’re quite common, I’ve never seen an Elephant Hawk Moth before and with its pink colouring it blew me away. Pink’s not a colour you see very often on a land animal!

They’re attracted by honeysuckle and, sure enough, there’s a huge honeysuckle bush by the window it was fluttering at. A couple of days ago there were Hummingbird Moths around the bush, so that’s definitely one plant we’ll have in the garden of the house we’re buying.

Speaking of which, we’re off out in a few minutes to meet the notaire (solicitor) who’s handling the house purchase which is very good as it ties everything up before we visit the UK next week.

It seems a strange prospect to be a visitor to the country of your birth. We’ve been out here nearly 4 months and I really can’t imagine living anywhere else but it’ll be great to see the family and catch up – not to mention stock up on new books, t-shirts and Cheddar!


We’ve just got back from meeting Maître Jamois, our notaire and a very nice chap, and having parted with a 10% deposit everything’s in place. From now on it’s down to him and the vagaries of the French legal/conveyancing process.

Property is not theft…

…although it can sometimes be a bit of a steal.

After several weeks looking at houses in various states of repair – from partially roofless to immaculately renovated – we’ve finally settled on a house not too far from here in a tiny hamlet.

We first viewed it about a week after we came over here at the beginning of March, fell in love with it but reluctantly rejected it because the cost would have left us without enough money to renovate it properly.

After a few more weeks looking at more houses (about 20 in all) we began to understand the local property market a bit better.

We realised that there was in fact no cohesive pattern to the market and that the concept of an ‘average price’ was of little meaning to the vendors here and subsequently safely ignored by the buyer.

To give an example, one of the houses we looked at is two houses away from the house we’re renting at the moment. – in the same hamlet. It was a bit small but would have made a nice 2 bedroom house with about half an acre of garden.

It was 68 000 Euros – all costs included. After a series of offers we ended up making a final offer of 48 000 which was accepted before we pulled out having had an offer accepted for the house we’re now hoping to buy. 

Since then the estate agent has phoned us and an all-in price of 45 000 Euros proposed. Now, whilst any buyer with an ounce of sense will never offer the asking price and negotiation will almost always bring about a lower figure, we’re talking a reduction of around a third, which is a hell of a lot.

With much of this in mind, we put in a stupidly low offer for the house we’re eventually buying and got it for just over a third of its original asking price after a very slight (2 500 Euros) adjustment to our offer.

Here it is:



Yes, it needs a lot of work but it’s all within our budget and we’ll end up with a three bedroom house with two bathrooms, two very large reception rooms, a huge kitchen/diner and a utility room and all standing in an acre of land with orchards, wells, two ponds and a small barn. Furthermore it should be saleable and make a profit should we have to sell – assuming property prices don’t go totally down the crapper.

What I’m basically saying is that if you’re thinking of buying in France – particularly older properties in need of renovation – then don’t be afraid to go in really low with your offer.

If you’re not embarrassed by offering such a low figure then you’re offering too much.

This is further borne out by a friend who’s just bought a house much further south and who’s just snagged a real bargain too.

In late breaking news, we’ve just signed the sale agreement – the compromis – and barring the sellers pulling out we should have the keys to the new house by 31st August and, hopefully, sooner if the bureaucratic fairies are on our side.

Rainbow nation

It’s been a strange day here in the Mayenne with thunderstorms and hot sunshine – sometimes both practically at the same time!

Here’s a double bow we’ve just enjoyed seeing:


And here’s the other end of it:


Oscar and nectarines

Just a brief post to ask if anyone reading this has ever known a cat to like fruit.

Our two Maine Coons enjoy various things that you’d expect cats to like – cooked meat, crisps, cheese, yoghurt and, perhaps more unusually, raisins – but Oscar goes crazy for nectarines.

Speaking of the cats, we left the UK in early March with a cat who was a bit aloof and timid – Django – and a cat who seemed not to care less about wandering great distances and was generally very sociable – Oscar.

Now, three months since we moved, Django has become really laid back and very affectionate (although he’ll kill anything he can get hold of, it seems) whilst Oscar appears to be a bit more cautious and less sociable. It’s not that he’s become withdrawn, just a bit less gung ho.

Django looking for things to kill from the barn window:


Oscar doing what Oscar likes doing best:


Incidentally, pet insurance is crap here in France. With lower vet bills it seems to make little sense to get it. Plus you can’t insure for the value of a pedigree cat.

Hmm…not such a brief post…

The killing fields and dining tables of France

One of the delights of living somewhere different in terms of the climate and habitat is the opportunity to see plants and animals that you never normally see.

It’s not that far south where we’re living but sufficiently so to enjoy average temperatures about 4 or 5 degrees (celsius) higher than back in the UK which means that we see lizards here quite a lot.

We’ve seen two kinds so far – a basically grey variety about 10 to 15 cm long – and a green variety (less common) that seems to be a bit bigger. We also get hornets – huge fucking things – that seem harmless but quite interested in you.

There’s a huge variety of birdlife here. Lots of finches – chaffinches and greenfinches mainly – and also lots of owls of all sorts. What are really impressive are the buzzards which we see almost every day once we get out into open country.

We did have lots of voles but after counting 13 dead in one week – all due to Django and his hunting ability – I’m guessing the tunnels at the bottom of the garden are getting quite empty. He’s also had 2 mice and a mole, although the mole got away. Other victims include various large moths, a greenfinch and a young blackbird.

The most spectacular catch of all, however, was made by Oscar, who caught a fantastic moth:


Our nature guides are all in boxes which we’re reluctant to hunt through, so if you can identify this moth I’d be very grateful indeed. It must have been about 12 cm across from wingtip to wingtip. Fortunately it survived its ordeal.

We went out last Thursday to the gardens of the chateau at Craon. There was a walled garden there which had passion flowers in bloom – that’s about 2 months earlier than I’ve ever seen in the UK and some parts of France.

We’ve been eating French strawberries for a month now. The ones from the Garrigue were the first to show up in the shops and they were just gorgeous. The larger regular variety have arrived now and they’re not quite as good but still beautiful. There’s far less in the way of imported fruit and vegetables in the shops here but what there is is good. The white nectarines from Spain are very nice indeed.

Most gardens here have an orchard of some sort. At the rental place here we have plums, pears, apples, currants and walnuts. At the house we’re buying, all those plus hazelnuts, cherries, mirabelles and various soft fruits.

It’s no secret that I like food and I have to say that I’m impressed by the quality of food here. OK, it’s generally more expensive than in the UK – particularly meat – but it’s far more flavoursome, it keeps better and when unripe in the case of fruit ripens up without going off first, which was often the case with things like nectarines in the UK.

In fact, the only thing that I really miss is Cheddar cheese. Nothing French quite has the bite of a good mature Cheddar, although there are some quite mature Comtes which have some strength, although a far sweeter and nuttier flavour.

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of fresh French bread. A fresh baguette just warm from the bakers with some ripe cheese – maybe some St Nectaire – a tomato and a glass of wine is better than many a restaurant meal I’ve had.

Now that I’ve discovered Windows 7’s ‘Live Writer’ – a blog editing program – I can write offline and format my entries rather more easily than via email. Internet usage via my Orange 3G stick costs 35 Euros for 12 hours which is a bit pricey as well as slow – it’s like going back to a 56K modem again! However, now I can edit offline I’m looking forward to blogging a bit more regularly and so the usual shit will be back for your reading pleasure or not, as the case may be.

My 100 favourite albums – the top 20!

Here, by popular demand…well, Mr Rob’s demand anyway…is the remaining top 20 of my favourite albums.

This list has been in my bag since I left the UK so it’s contemporary with the rest of the top 100.

Please forgive the lack of formatting, but it costs to edit online so here it is, in all its naked glory, and in ascending order.

#20 – Chicago: ‘Chicago Transit Authority’ – the most successful attempt ever to merge rock with a jazzy big band horn section and still a regular listen. Forget their later top 40 AOR schlock like ‘If You Leave Me Now’. This is punchy stuff with some truly splendid arrangements, lots of Terry Kath’s guitar and some great songs. Only one duff track – ‘Free Form Guitar’ – but that’s not bad for a double album.

#19 – Foo Fighters: ‘The Colour and the Shape’ – I’m in awe of Dave Grohl – drummer, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and all-round nice guy. He illustrates exactly what irritates me about rock dinosaurs like Clapton, Collins and Sting by his total contrast to them. Whilst they just churn out album after album of the same old stuff, what does Grohl do with the mega-successful Foos? He takes time off from them to join up with Josh Homme and John Paul Jones in Them Crooked Vultures and gets back on the drum stool again. As for this Foos album, if I thought that I’d written a song as beautiful as ‘Walking Back To You’ or ‘Everlong’ I’d die a happy man.

#18 – Aerosmith: ‘Pump’ – ‘Smith’s best album of their second ‘comeback’ period and what seems to be a perfect hard rock album with great chops, songs, production and humour a plenty; ‘Going down?’ Second only to Jagger and Richards as the quintessential singer/lead guitarist frontmen, Tyler and Perry ensure that every song is a winner and when you get tired of the balls out rock of ‘Elevator’ there’s always ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ which reveals a sensitivity that their nearest parallel Guns ‘n’ Roses could never have achieved with schmaltz like ‘November Rain’.

#17 – Sex Pistols: ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ – An easy choice in many ways and although punk threw out some great stuff along with the shite I always come back to this album because it’s just such fucking great heavy rock. Steve Jones’ guitar produces possibly the best power chords ever in the history of rock and the rhythm guitar tracks are great enough on their own to insure its place here. Add in Paul Cook’s powerhouse drumming and John Lydon’s sneering vocals and you have a glorious brew which may have been part of a great swindle, but then again, most rock/pop music is anyway.

#16 – Little Feat: ‘Feats Don’t Fail Me Now – Lowell George’s crowning achievement with some superb singing, slide guitar and compositions all wrapped up with a production job which brought out all the subtle nuances of a band which kicked rhythmic ass in a way that the Meters had only managed hitherto. For fuck’s sake, even the conga playing is stellar! ‘Rock and Roll Doctor’ is the stand out track here with a veritable cross-rhythmic gumbo all topped off with Lowell’s vocals and slide.

#15 – Steely Dan: ‘Pretzel Logic’ – A difficult choice this time as I love every Dan album. Their last offering with the excellent Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter on guitar and their first using lots of session players. Fagen’s vocals have a cracked and world-weary vulnerability and deliver the usual knowing hipster lyrics beautifully. Suffice to say the playing is just plain fucking beautiful with the customary glossy production that sometimes approached the mildly bland on some later tracks. Favourite track? Christ…today, the title track – tomorrow, who knows?

#14 – The Butterfield Blues Band: ‘East West’ – It’s difficult to understate the effect that hearing this album had on my musical life as well as on rock music in general. The long title track with its jazz/Indian/folk music synthesis paved the way for rock to free itself of the very blues-based direction it was taking. Whilst Mike Bloomfield’s role as guitarist and explorer was huge in this ground breaking track, the whole band just picked up the torch and ran. There’s a CD available of 3 live versions of ‘East West’ which shows how they evolved the track into something quite unique and
experimental. A simply stunning for the title track alone. Listen to it – NOW!

#13 – The Byrds: ‘5D’ – In many ways, the stand out track of this album stands with ‘East West’ – praised to the rooftops above – as a pivotal moment in the development of rock from a musical form taking from one dominant style to a merging of musics. Roger McGuinn’s 12 string Rickenbacker on ‘8 Miles High’ channelled Coltrane and Shankar to produce twists and turns I’d never heard before (or since) and all adding to a trippy haze that opened up the late 1960s as a time of expanding horizons; both musical and spiritual. The rest of the album ain’t too shabby either.

#12 – Jimi Hendrix Experience: ‘Electric Ladyland’ – In many ways an typically indulgent double album, ‘Ladyland’ stands as a bold series of experiments during which Hendrix explored the possibilities of not just the electric guitar but also the studio. Modern music productions all starts here in many ways and Hendrix amply illustrated what the studio was capable of. Creating both dreamy soundscapes and heavy jamming, the whole album is a sonic trip and legal high. It’s all good stuff. Listen with headphones for the maximum effect on your cerebral cortex.

#11 – Radiohead: ‘The Bends’ – Nowadays as guilty as U2 of
overstating their own importance, imagining that rock music can change the world (it can’t) and producing some truly pretentious dog wank, this album remains their crowning glory with a depth that still reveals hidden treasures. Not a duff track, with ‘Street Spirit’ my current favourite. What still impresses me is that I hear sounds I’ve never heard before or since on this album. Above all, great songs with lyrics and melodies to die for.

Well, halfway through. Time for the top 10 and my own personal number 1 album…

#10 The Rolling Stones – ‘Exile on Main Street’ – In many ways a deeply flawed double album, the sheer energy of the band punches through the rather murky vibe of the whole deal. Recorded in ‘exile’ in France – but maybe with more fairy dust added afterwards than they’d like to admit – and fuelled throughout by a decadence that still impresses, this is a very sprawling album with that chaotic feel that the Stones always managed to rein in before the whole thing fell apart. Possibly the best live band of their times (maybe ever) the guitars have that same spontaneous feel and add to what sounds like a band just playing for the sheer hell of it. Current favourite track: ‘Tumblin’ Dice’. Raunchy and meshed rhythm guitar heaven.

#9 – Miles Davis: ‘Kind of Blue’ – I came to jazz quite late in life (about 15 years ago whilst in my early 40s) and this album in particular even later. I preferred Miles’ bebop playing and it took me a while to get what he was doing here with the underlying modal framework. In fact, once I’d understood the format it slotted into place as a precursor of improvised rock playing with its paradoxical combination of the freedom of the modal form and the complexities of improvisation that it offered. I always play the whole album at one sitting. I can’t listen to a single track in isolation. It’s all superb.

#8 – Jellyfish: ‘Spilt Milk’ – US power pop at its finest. Very Beatlish, but with enough originality of its own, this short-lived band produced some exquisitely beautiful melodic rock. Although pop alchemist Jason Falkner had left after the band’s first album, this second offering delivers enough lushness and power to make up for it, with the hit track ‘Joining a Fan Club’ representing all that makes this album a stand out. Great harmonies, complex production, crunchy guitars and witty lyrics are all Jellyfish hallmarks and well displayed here. Search this blog for my long article about the band.

#7 – XTC: ‘English Settlement’ – How the UK approached power pop and why Andy Partridge is a true genius. Yet another double album, this has filler, but there’s enough in the ways of gems to redeem it. It’s uniquely ‘English’ music with Partsy eschewing American influences yet still rocking out. ‘Senses Working Overtime’ is sheer brilliance with Dave Gregory’s chiming Rick 12, Colin Moulding’s virtuoso bass and Terry Chambers’ monster drumming all providing a perfect backdrop for Andy’s idiosyncratic vocals and lyrics. That the band languished for years whilst contractual difficulties were being sorted out is a true crime against art. Shame on you, Virgin Records!

#6 – Cream: ‘Fresh Cream’ – another musical influence on me and although patchy stuff, it contains enough superb Clapton playing to merit its place here. ‘I’m So Glad’ and ‘Sweet Wine’ alone are enough with their superb Clapton solos which, in many ways, remain unique in his canon with their refusal to remain rooted in the blues. Clapton had it all in his early days with Cream and he was playing highly original licks in a freewheeling fashion. Even when the band started jamming on stage Clapton rarely played with such flair and abandon. Listening to this album can be a really depressing experience if you compare his playing on it to his playing today.

#5 – Love: ‘Forever Changes’ – Simply, just a beautiful album with the band providing an understated setting for the late Arthur Lee’s puzzling but tender songs. An album of its hippie times hat still sounds good today and gives you an idea of what Hendrix might have sounded like had he been rooted in acoustic folk music and not electric blues. ‘Alone Again Or’ is impenetrable brilliance with its Mariachi brass section, Lee’s breathless vocals and its soaring melody. I don’t understand a tenth of what Lee wrote about, but it doesn’t matter – a true summer album and playing here as I type this, the sun shines and the crickets sing.

#4 – Al Stewart: ‘Time Passages’ – Al left folk music well behind when he recorded this work of brilliance. Still folky, it now has rock and pop punch with prominent electric guitars, saxes and keyboards. Not a bad track to be found from the hard harmony guitar rock of ‘Valentina Way’ to the pastoral orchestration of ‘End of the Day’. Al always writes great lyrics which often concern historical events and here we have Thomas More, the French Revolution and WWII submarines for subjects. Another perfect album with not one substandard track.

#3 – Beach Boys: ‘Pet Sounds’ – Overshadowed at the same time of release as the Beatles’ ‘Pepper’ album, this is a far superior work. Brian Wilson didn’t attempt to go all hippyish. Instead, he stuck to what he new – heartfelt lyrics, sublime vocals, superb marshalling of session men in the studio and clean and clear production. No gimmicks! ‘God Only Knows’ is crystalline in its beauty and is perhaps the finest love song of all time. The album even beats the aborted ‘Smile’ album project which followed ‘Sounds’ into production. Best listened to in mono – the way Brian intended.

#2 – John Mayall with Eric Clapton: ‘Bluesbreakers’ – the rock guitar-defining ‘Beano’ album with Clapton’s revolutionary playing. The Les Paul and cranked-up valve amp sound with heavy vibrato and controlled bends is still heard widely today and Clapton has to take the credit for this. His playing is exemplary throughout with heavy riffing, sustained notes and precision bends benefiting from Gus Dudgeon’s amazing production. Eric played at stage volume – fucking loud – and Dudgeon realised that recording it this way was the only way to get his unique sound. The whole album influenced my own playing massively and still colours my playing today. Modern rock guitar started HERE.

So, here we are at numero uno. My number one and possibly some other people’s, too. This is my true ‘desert island’ disc…

#1 – Bob Dylan: ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ – I’ve loved this since the day of release and gone back to it over and over again. It’s down to lots of things – Dylan’s superb cracked and laconic voice, his obtuse lyrics, the way the band used piano, organ and Mike Bloomfield’s guitar, the simple yet effective arrangements and production, the sheer exuberance of the playing…everything here gels into a seamless whole and a perfect work of musical majesty. Dylan wears all his influences proudly on his sleeve with blues, rock and roll and folk all combining to produce a sound and style that is uniquely his. I have several out-takes from the sessions which reveal how Dylan refined the songs – often abandoning an arrangement totally. In its released form, for example, ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh (It Takes a Train to Cry)’ is a slow shuffle. Its earlier incarnations were much faster and with different lyrics. Similarly, the earlier versions of ‘Desolation Row’ feature Mike Bloomfield on electric guitar as opposed to the acoustic guitar on the final release.
Lyrically, the songs on the album rank amongst Dylan’s finest:

‘When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez in the rain when it’s Easter Time too. And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through. Don’t put on any airs when you’re down in Rue Morgue Avenue. They got some hungry women there and they really make a mess out of you’.

Fucked, after some 45 years, if I know what it means yet, but it still speaks to me. I suppose this is why I rate the album so highly. It’s still not given up all its secrets after all these years and continues to draw me to find out more. A lifetime of listening in one album – can music really get any better?

So, there we go.

My own Top 100 Albums.

No Beatles and some other glaring omissions – also, I hope, some genuine surprises!

Ask me for my top 100 albums now and the list would be different again in many ways – and therein lies the beauty of the stuff we call music – you can take what you want when you want and it doesn’t matter one jot what you do.

As Uncle Frank once said:

‘Music is the best’.

It surely is.