4 dusty gems from the 1970s

I don’t know about you, but one of the most rewarding ways of spending a few idle moments is a good old fussock around YouTube looking for musical gems.

Here’s a few that I’ve bookmarked recently…

10cc…they were always a bit too clever-clever for me, but I seem to have become a real fan of late. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is a great song – witty lyrics, an interesting chord structure and great ensemble playing. This is a live version with a nice jam at the end…note the changed lyrics…

 

Another fantastic 1970s band were Be Bop Deluxe, with the sublime guitar playing of Bill Nelson.  I used to play this tune in a band called ‘Spud and the Fabs’ – and sing it too…

 

The early to mid 1970s were great musically – it was still OK to be able to play your instrument well, as the Edgar Winter Group show in this 10 minute version of ‘Frankenstein’. It was OK to look as if you were actually enjoying yourself, too…

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mott, with Ian Hunter’s flawed yet consummate ability to live and breathe rock and the way that the band were so shambolic yet never quite fell apart.  Incidentally, Mrs Shark went to school with two of the band – Buffin and Overend Watts…and yes, he really does sing ‘cock in hole queen’, the rude little monkey…

 

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Free – the best band ever?

Having found the lead that connects my laptop to the TV, I’ve been able to watch YouTube videos in large-screen luxury.

In the course of viewing last night, I found some superb video showing the band Free in their magnificent heyday.

Arriving on the scene a little too late for the mid 1960s ‘British Blues Boom’, Free had a lot in common with the movement and were named by the late, great Alexis Korner – sort of. He suggested ‘Free at Last’, which was shortened to ‘Free’. Or did he suggest they shorten the name? Fuck knows…

What a lot of people don’t know is how young Free were when they started playing together.

Free

Lead singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were both 18, guitarist Paul Kossoff was 16 and bassist and keyboard player Andy Fraser only 15.

Within 6 months they’d recorded their first album ‘Tons of Sobs’ which was very blues based, but showed their funky side, which was what made the band stand out from the rather leaden groove that most hard blues/rock bands seemed to fall into.

There must have been real chemistry at work when they got together .

Rodgers on lead vocals had – still has – an amazing voice. With Free he took centre stage and used the mic stand to great effect as he strutted about and indulged in some proper groin-thrusting.

Kossoff on guitar had a great Les Paul/Marshall sound and he played using a very distinctive vibrato. Whilst he didn’t stray too much from the pentatonics, he used them melodically and his rhythm playing was sparse, with some interesting chords using the open strings together with fretted ones. No power chord thrashing for Kossoff!

Fraser on bass was amazing. Using a short scale Gibson bass, he played a heady combination of melodic lines on the upper frets and heavy root notes on the bottom ones. Above all, he left spaces in his bass lines which remind me of reggae bass styles and really let the music breathe.

Making up the quartet was drummer Kirke who always kept it simple, powerful and exciting. Using an extremely small kit – snare, kick, two toms, ride and crash cymbals and hi-hat – he could be almost jazzy at times, which tied in well with Fraser’s syncopated and spare bass lines to create a rhythm section that floated and skipped but never plodded.

The old adage ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ applies to Free very, very well. The combination of the instruments and Rodger’s charismatic and souful demeanour combined to produce a drive that was intense, but never bludgeoning and their use of dynamics was second to none, with the band dropping back when necessary and then cranking it up in complete contrast.

Not only was the band a musician’s delight, but in their glory days, they were a pop phenomenon, too. Live recordings at the time of ‘Alright Now’ (their biggest hit) reveal teenage girls screaming in the same way that the Beatles experienced and the band became pin ups.

But what of the band today?

Rodgers went on to form Bad Company with drummer Kirk, ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell and ex-Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs. He then went solo, joined Queen (a disaster in my opinion; as fine a singer as he is, he’s no Freddie Mercury) and then reformed Bad Co last year. He’s still a force to be reckoned with, solo, but has never regained the success he once had.

Kossoff left Free in a heroin haze. His playing was so erratic that he was sacked. He went on to form Back Street Crawler, which was OK, but then died of a drug realted heart attack at the age of 25. A total waste of a great talent.

After Bad Co Kirke didn’t do too much until their reunion, although today he’s on the Grammy awards committee and still plays in bands.

Frazer has possibly the most interesting post-Free career. When Free broke up, he went on to form the underrated ‘Sharks’, ‘The Andy Fraser Band’ and then …very little else. He contracted HIV, came out as gay and then embarked on a bizarre but pioneering series of projects that culminated in the formation of the McTrax group of companies.

Nothing that they went on to do, however, comes anywhere near approaching the magnificence that was Free, and that magnificence stands out best in a live situation.

Fortunately, a fair amount of footage still exists to illustrate this and there’s one show in particular that captures the band perfectly. Iit was produced by Granada TV and shows the band in a TV studio with a fair-sized and appreciative audience. It’s well-shot, with good sound and the cameramen made sure that they gave equal attention to all four players.

It’s astoundingly good.

Actually, it’s better than that.

It’s totally fucking amazing!

Rodgers struts about like some randy cockerel, Kirke plays his tiny kit with his typical high arm movements, and Kossoff gurns a lot (although I think he means it) and plays some beautiful guitar.

However, it’s Fraser who really shines, as far as I’m concerned.

His body movements and playing just scream exuberance as he rocks back on one foot and just soars over and rumbles under the rest of the band. There’s such deep joy in his playing and I’m certain that he’s not putting on a show. He’s just happy playing what he’s playing, who he’s with and tyhe zone that he’s in.

Enough words.

Here’s some of that footage. Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled on the ‘All Right Now’ video, so you’ll have to go straight to YouTube to watch it. It’s worth the detour though!

Over 40 years old and still as fresh and vital as it was back then.

It really doesn’t come any better than this!

Any port in a snowstorm?

We’ve been watching coverage of the approaching snow in the UK with great interest as we’re due to visit dear old Blighty next week.

At first, we saw the usual dire predictions of doom and I have to admit that I scoffed at them. However, parts of the UK now have snow, and conditions in some parts seem quite severe.

A couple of talking points have stood out amongst all the usual media guff.

Firstly, the poor reaction of some drivers to snowy and icy conditions. Braking is the worst thing to do – you should brake with your gears – and staying a good distance away from the car in front is a good idea too – about 10 car lengths should do – and, it really should go without saying, keep your speed right down. If you do have to brake then don’t fight the direction of the skid – steer into it.

I’m struggling to understand why some UK weather reports are giving out the Fahrenheit equivalents to Celsius temperatures. The now standard Celsius scale seems to be more logical with 0° being freezing point, whereas it’s 32° in Fahrenheit which doesn’t seem as immediate or informative.

Although I was educated when imperial units were used, I use mostly metric units nowadays and exclusively so here – ounces and inches mean fuck all to the French after all. However, the difference between the two systems doesn’t seem as wide as that between Celsius and Fahrenheit – it’s not like a measurement of length will start in a different place, for example.

When it comes to standard units, money can also be subject to this strange species of nostalgia. You may remember when 12 pence made a shilling and 20 shillings made a pound. Of course, we then went decimal. The French also changed their currency, although going from 100 centimes to the franc to 100 cents to the Euro wasn’t that tricky maths-wise. However, the French still express prices in francs as well as Euros so that a supermarket till receipt will give you a total in Euros and then its franc equivalent.

Imagine going to your local M&S and getting a receipt telling you that the £12.67 you just spent was the equivalent of £12 13s 4d in old money.

Bonkers.

Well, we sail from Caen on the overnight ferry and arrive in Portsmouth next Tuesday. We’re staying a few days in Milton Keynes to see our son and our friends and then it’s off to Gloucester to see our daughter and various relatives.

Snow seems to be forecast for next week both here* and in the UK, so it may be something we can’t escape. So, a shovel, blankets and a flask of cocoa will be loaded in the car as well as all the Christmas presents for the UK and our luggage.

Now, where’s my thermals?

*It snowed briefly here at about 4pm – just a few flakes but the white stuff all the same…

An English Democrat gets his wish

Well, he must have his own private fucking genii because the moronic EDP motherfucker who seemed to want to see a bit more ‘get up and go’ in evidence on the streets of the UK certainly got his wish today.

School pupils as young as 14 decided to take the day off school and protest against the hike in student tuition fees and the involvement of the Lib Dems in all of this.

Fortunately, most of the protests passed off peacefully, although as I’ve just seen on the local London BBC regional news program tonight, it got a bit fraught in the capital – particularly around Whitehall. Indeed, as I write this, I’ve just seen a report from a ‘kettled’ area where a bus shelter has been set on fire. Earlier, steel barriers were thrown at police lines and an isolated police vehicle was cut off by protesters and vandalised.

Even worse, I’ve just seen Lenny Henry – surely one of the most overrated UK comedians of all time – on the One Show cracking a joke that the protests at least meant that students had stopped eating Doritos, put their trousers on, turned off Trisha and gone out to do something.

So what about the 14 year old school kids kettled in Whitehall while you’re in a nice cosy studio, Lenny? Pleased to see them go out and do something instead of that boring old schoolwork – like bunking off school and getting kettled, perhaps?

Cunt.

And speaking of cunts…

Who knows, perhaps the EDP shithead who wanted to see a bit more UK street action has a son or daughter kettled at this very moment in Whitehall!

It’s possible, as I understand that the party has a bit of a presence in Kent, and in its towns such as Dartford, so it must be easy enough to nip up to the capital’s streets where ‘guts were being displayed’ today.

Although it’s easy enough to mobilise large numbers of people – mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc – when the various groups of school pupils got to the protest, many of them interviewed seemed upset that what they had intended to be a 100% non-violent event had been hijacked by certain elements who were intent on violence.

And there’s the danger.

When you’re 14, 15, 16, you’re not always aware that you might be being manipulated and your enthusiasms subverted by people whose aims are rather different to yours. That’s not a criticism, it’s just part of being young, and manipulation is manipulation, whether it’s by anarchists or record company executives. To many people, the young are fair game.

They certainly were today.

I’m not totally without sympathy with the broad thrust of the protesters today. After all, I benefited from a cheap degree with no tuition fees, but then I’ve also seen a blind dogmatic rush towards degrees for everybody at any cost by the last three Labour governments. This created an unsustainable demand on public money for cheap university education which we now simply cannot afford. And that’s another inevitable and inherent problem with being 14 or 15; a failure to appreciate that money will only stretch so far (after all, you don’t have to earn the fucking stuff), such as when you ask your parents for a new pair of £100 trainers. 

So, Mr Englsih (sic) Democrat, I don’t know whether your child’s shivering its arse off inside a police kettle in Whitehall at this very moment, but someone’s child certainly is.

Quite a few of them in fact.

Maybe you should be more careful what you wish for…

Birdwatching v Twitching

The wildlife here continues to come up with some lovely surprises.

We’ve had jays in the garden. I’ve seen them before in the UK, but always in flight and from some distance away. However, the other day we saw one in the cherry tree and then later on another one (although it may have been the same bird) down on the lawn obviously after insects or worms amongst the grass.

They’re fantastic birds with a brilliant blue flash on their wings that seems almost neon-like.

Yesterday we had this handsome creature down on the lawn:

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Not a great photo, admittedly, but it was taken using the Lumix’s 10x zoom without a tripod through the window (and afterwards cropped and enlarged) as I didn’t want to spook this green woodpecker like I did the other day with the jay.  (Otherwise I’d have a shot of that too.)

Meanwhile, birds of prey seem to be more evident now that it’s autumn. If we don’t see buzzards and at least one kestrel when we drive though the countryside it’s quite unusual.

Talking of birds, we watched a program about twitchers on BBC4 the other night. Twitchers are birdwatchers who approach their hobby in a manner akin to trainspotting. It’s all about seeing as many birds of different breeds as possible and then getting ranked in a sort of league table. It’s a very serious hobby indeed and expensive too as if you’re a serious twitcher and you hear about a rare winter visitor 400 miles away, you’ll drop everything and hare off to see it, regardless of cost.

Not so much people who watch birds, really, but people who see and then record them.

The UK’s top twitcher seems to have set himself up as regulator of the whole UK twitching scene. For some reason, his fellow twitchers kowtow to him in a sickening way. Offend him, apparently, and you’re completely fucked as far the twitching scene is concerned. God knows why, as he struck me as a total areshole who had a very high opinion of himself for no discernible reason. 

Equally unedifying was the married couple who took their 8-year old daughter twitching. Although the kid had some interest in birds, it was hardly surprising when she appeared to lose this after she’d been hanging around in a cold and windy field for 4 hours whilst mum and dad waited to see a particular bird.

Another twitcher had driven fucking miles before catching a ferry to Ireland to chalk up another species for his list. He ended up missing the bird, but rather than go and look at some birds whilst he was there, he chose to sit in a bar and drink beer. Now, beer’s great and sitting in a bar drinking it is a pleasant thing to do, but it says a lot about his attitude towards birds that he only seemed interested in seeing a new one. This same twitcher was particularly well-organised with all the items he’d purchased for his hobby meticulously recorded in a little book. It bordered on OCD…

OK, it’s a harmless hobby compared to some, but it just strikes me as a shame that those involved in it seem more interested in ticking off the names of birds rather than marvelling at their beauty.

And speaking of beauty, here’s a photo of part of the barn wall here:

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Autumn – summed up in a few square feet…

TV ad of the year?

Not normally a category worth mentioning, but check out the 1664 beer ad with Motorhead’s Lemmy performing a slowed down bluesy version of ‘Ace of Spades’.

Superb!

Getting wood with Graham Norton

Hoorah!

The wood we ordered arrived yesterday afternoon – and not a day too soon.

We had enough wood left for one night’s fire and then it would have been the Calor gas heater which isn’t too effective – especially with some one degree nights forecast.

You buy wood here in cordes and steres. Apparently a stere is a cubic metre of wood, and there are three steres to the corde. We ordered two cordes which now looks like this:

P1010365

Two hours earlier it was just a heap on the drive…

Firewood here is almost always oak or beech, although chestnut is also available. Personally, I couldn’t give a flying fuck if we got a lorry load of teak if it was cold and we needed a fire!

Whilst sitting waiting for the wood man I saw a trailer for the Graham Norton Show.

I have nothing whatsoever against anyone of any sexual orientation or gender bent – as long as nobody gets forced into anything they don’t want to do or to which they are mentally incapable of consenting – but Graham Norton really pisses me off. I know a few gay people very well and they don’t camp around or bitch like Norton, so why do some high profile gays seem unable to appear without exhibiting this stereotypical behaviour?

What Norton seems to be is a grotesque caricature – not a million miles away from the camp, bitchy, mincing homosexuals that Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick were portraying as Julian and Sandy in ‘Round the Horne’ in the 1960s.

The big difference is that Julian and Sandy were far more amusing and infinitely more subtle.

Does Norton piss gays off?

I’d like to know.