Posts Tagged ‘Brinsley Schwarz’

In 1978, after three excellent but commercially underperforming albums for the Mercury label, British rocker Graham Parker was fed up with being “the best kept secret in the west,” as the lyrics to his acerbic “fuck you” song “Mercury Poisoning” had it. “The company is crippling me/The worst trying to ruin the best/Their promotion’s so lame/They could never ever take it to the real ball game,” he sang. Parker, with the encouragement of his manager Dave Robinson, had no problem burning bridges behind him.

Already signed to Clive Davis’ Arista label in a deal Parker later said had “way too much money in it than was healthy,” he satisfied his Mercury commitment with the live double-album The Parkerilla and went into London’s seedy Lansdowne Studios to record his Arista debut with his usual five-piece band of co-conspirators, the Rumour.

Despite being pals, the Rumour had been unimpressed when Parker played them a slew of new songs he’d prepared while on the road, and openly mocked him.

Jack Nitzsche, who’d worked as Phil Spector’s right-hand man for years, and contributed to sessions by the Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield and the solo Neil Young, was brought in to produce on the strength of his work supervising Mink Deville’s first two albums. Parker later described his arrival: “Jack Nitzsche, gnome-like under a hooded sweatshirt, disgruntled at being torn away from an interesting tryst in Los Angeles, and utterly mystified as to who I was, what we were, why he was here in miserable London.”

The Rumour consisted of fugitives from three “pub-rock” groups of the mid-’70s, Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe and Bontemps Roulez. Steve Goulding played drums, Andrew Bodnar bass, Bob Andrews keyboards, and Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont were the guitarists. They were all experienced, confident musicians, and Nitzsche hated them immediately, feeling their playing was messy and their commitment to GP wobbly. “The band are terrible, they’re not serious about playing your songs,” Parker quotes him as saying. Parker replied, “I know they overplay the whole time. I’ve had three albums of it! Tell us what to do!” Parker said he needed the Rumour to play like they were in a studio, not on stage, and “get everything simple, like a heartbeat.”

It took a day or two for Nitzsche to take the reins in a come-to-Jesus meeting with the band. As Parker told New Musical Express’ Charles Shaar Murray just before the resulting album was released in late March 1979, “The next day, he came in and had a few beers and loosened up and got into being Jack Nitzsche the producer. He just said a few words that got it all going. ‘You’re being too clever. You gotta be dumb. Play the song the way you did when you were writing it in your bedroom.’”

Once they were clicking, it only took 11 days to complete the album, which doesn’t have a weak song or performance, and continues to be cited as Parker’s greatest achievement. Titled “Squeezing Out Sparks” after a lyric in the searing tale of abortion and regret “You Can’t Be Too Strong,” the album topped the Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop critics’ poll for 1979 and drew comparisons to the best of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello. Lyrically sophisticated, full of alternating vitriol and tenderness, it still excites on all levels. “Squeezing Out Sparks” transcends the medium,” Parker told journalist Scott Hudson years later with characteristic humour. “I don’t think there’s anything as good as that by anybody anywhere. And I don’t even take credit for it. I don’t know what happened. I blacked out.”

“Discovering Japan” begins with a sort of fanfare, then settles into a potent rhythm over which Parker snarls his widescreen lyrics: “Her heart is nearly breaking, the earth is nearly quaking/The Tokyo taxi’s breaking, it’s screaming to a halt/And there’s nothing to hold onto when gravity betrays you/And every kiss enslaves you.” Nitzsche and his engineer Mark Howlett capture every contour of the sound, from ringing guitars to Goulding’s insistent drumming. On the whole of Squeezing Out Sparks there’s no horn section or extra instruments as on previous Parker albums, just focused small band arrangements, with virtually no soloing. Elvis Costello and the Attractions were using the same kind of no-frills policy at the time, with equally spectacular results, essentially combining a punk aesthetic with high-level musicianship. Graham Parker and the Rumour have a similar antsy, anxiety-filled sound, with a vocalist who can sneer with the best.

“Local Girls” has a Chuck Berry-meets-Stax chugging rhythm (yielding to reggae at one point), a catchy chorus with everyone shout-singing back-up, and a rising little melodic hook that moves from guitar to keyboard. “Nobody Hurts You” has a fast, very peppy stop-and-start rhythm that sounds like the template for Joe Jackson’s subsequent career. Belmont and Schwarz lay down some terrific, simple guitar lines. “Saturday Nite Is Dead” is like its twin, at a similarly bruising pace. There’s a bit of a mini-Yardbirds freakout midway, but like everything else here it’s concise, and the momentum doesn’t flag. Parker’s typically cranky lyrics punch out: “The ultraviolet light hurts me so/It used to be my friend/I used to know a good place to go/But now it’s nothing like it was then.”

“Passion Is No Ordinary Word” is a mid-tempo tune that has an especially spontaneous feel. Parker really bites into certain couplets: “When I pretend to touch you/You pretend to feel,” “The movie might be new/But it’s the same soundtrack.” The song has a truly great bridge section: “Everything’s a thrill and every girl’s a kill/And then it gets unreal and then you don’t feel anything.” Schwarz has too many great moments to count, many coloured by various effects pedals. The ending is chilling, as instruments drop out, the tempo wanes and Parker goes into a near whisper.

Another mid-tempo track, “Love Gets You Twisted,” fades in weirdly before the slamming, jagged rhythm takes over and Parker shouts the minimal lyrics, which obsessively revolve around the same message, that love is confusing: “Love gets you twisted inside out/I knew it existed, I had no doubt/When she’s in my arms/I get tangled up, it’s true/I can’t see the other point of view.”

“Protection” is mutant reggae, with Bob Andrews pulling out a series of Steve Nieve-like interjections on piano and Belmont/Schwarz doing a potent lead/rhythm dance. (According to the liner credits, Parker plays some rhythm guitar on the album, but there’s no telling where, so he might be in here too.) Like a few other tracks on the album, there’s an effective use of double-tracking Parker’s voice, allowing him to sing and react to himself, as if there’s just too much to say for one man.

“Waiting for The UFO’s” begins with a guitar riff that approximates a police or air-raid siren, and there’s a nifty snare-drum figure from the reliable Goulding. GP’s lyrics are among his most cynical: “People are not worth their life now, they are obsolete/We’re dying to be invaded and put the blame on something concrete.” There’s even an anti-love-song lurking in the lines “This new obsession is turning us alien too/Much more resounding my heart just stopped pounding for you.” The pronunciation of UFO as “U-fow” no doubt confounded some American listeners: it definitely helped the flow of the words to use the British diction.

“Don’t Get Excited” ends the album, with Andrews on a variety of keyboards (including electric piano and a cheesy-sounding garage-rock organ). The middle section builds into intense drama, with Schwarz’s lead guitar unleashed for one of the few breaks that might actually be considered a solo. The pounding repetition of “don’t get excited” with the lyrics and rhythm melded fades out and the LP’s over with a bang.

Up until now I’ve omitted mentioning the lone true ballad, the immensely moving “You Can’t Be Too Strong,” which lays unobtrusively in the track listing like a camouflaged bomb. It sports perhaps Parker’s best vocal ever, with a palpable pain showing as the protagonist asks a series of brutal questions to his lover, who’s just aborted his child: “Did they tear it out with talons of steel/And give you a shot, so that you wouldn’t feel?/And washed it away as if it wasn’t real?” Parker described “You Can’t Be Too Strong” to Murray: “Just acoustic guitar, piano and a bit of bass on it. Most of the songs were first takes after we got into playing it like I wrote it. I’m not disguising so much…I’m singing about what cuts you up and what doesn’t cut you up. The songs are more honest.”

Normally, Parker named his albums after song titles, although this time he toyed with calling it “The Basingstoke Canal” after a waterway connecting to the Thames River, about 30 miles from where he was born in the London area of Hackney (he originally thought he’d write a concept album about the London suburbs). But then he woke up one morning with “You Can’t Be Strong” going through his head: “I know it gets dark down by Luna Park/But everybody else is squeezing out a spark/That happened in the heat, somewhere in the dark.”

Squeezing Out Sparks made it to #40 on the Billboard album chart and #18 in the U.K., and sold respectably. “Local Girls” was released as a U.S. single but didn’t chart, although it and several other tracks found considerable airplay on the FM dial. Parker made three more albums for Arista before wandering from label to label for the next 40 years, including time at Elektra, RCA, Capitol, Bloodshot and Razor & Tie. In 1996 Arista reissued Squeezing Out Sparks on CD with the excellent promo-only Live Sparks appended, and in 2019 Parker re-recorded the whole album “solo acoustic” for its 40th anniversary, adding for old time’s sake “Mercury Poisoning,” still a fan favourite.

Parker has announced a new live album, Five Old Souls, recorded in 2018 with his backing band, The Goldtops, and the return of the Rumour Brass. 

One thing Graham Parker appreciates when discussing his earliest work is to not call him or his lyrical output “angry.” Says Parker, “When I’m writing, I don’t write angry or think angry. Sadly, all critics see or hear is anger.  There are many such laughs to be had talking with most of the team behind “Howlin’ Wind”, the smart, snarling, roughly soulful and reggae-tinged 1976 debut by Graham Parker & The Rumour. “When you have a good time, you get a good record,” says organist/pianist Bob Andrews. You can’t get to Parker’s grouchy, skanky, literally horny Howlin’ Wind, with its smugly sarcastic lyrics, scuffed-up vocals and scorched-earth soul-garage demeanor, without the Rumour. And the Rumour remains dormant without Parker, a great backing/collaborating band without a front. “I think back, and yeah, it was, and is, a pretty symbiotic relationship,” says Parker.

Post-pub rock and pre-punk (a matter of months in between; mid-1975 to January 1976), Howlin’ Wind closed the door on one relaxed-fit movement and popped the top on the ragged, spiky rage of another, with topics such as lousy schoolmasters, God, social justice and bad romance on the tips of their lips. “Punk rock in England doesn’t really occur without pub rock,” says guitarist/bandleader Brinsley Schwarz. “If we hadn’t pushed these places to be available for gigs—because there wasn’t anywhere to play save colleges and arenas then—where would punks have built their nests?”

The aggressive rebellion of punk, its untutored musicianship and its anarchistic everything, was never really a draw for Parker and the Rumour, as Howlin’ Wind wasn’t recorded by a bunch of snot-nosed youngsters. “When punk really hit and those kids were spitting out of so-called appreciation, I wasn’t having that,” says Parker with a laugh. “I didn’t get that far to be spit upon.”

One thing Graham Parker appreciates when discussing his earliest work is to not call him or his lyrical output “angry.” It’s a word never uttered by this writer in regard to the now-66-year-old, East London-born Parker’s writing: a cliché forever bandied about by hollow critics who probably haven’t really listened to Parker beyond his often blistering vocal delivery.

“When I’m writing, I don’t write angry or think angry, so I appreciate that you noticed this, and thank you,” says Parker. “Sadly, all critics see or hear is anger. Not me, though. ‘With a little humour, always with a little humour,’ There are many such laughs to be had talking with Parker, guitarist/bandleader Brinsley Schwarz, organist/pianist Bob Andrews and drummer Steve Goulding: most of the team behind Howlin’ Wind, the smart, snarling, roughly soulful and reggae-tinged 1976 debut by Graham Parker & The Rumour. “When you have a good time, you get a good record,” says Andrews, talking about not only the laughs shared with long time friends in Brinsley Schwarz (the band named after the man, which ended in 1975 only to become the Rumour later that year) but also recording with Nick Lowe, Howlin’ Wind’s producer and one-time Brinsley bassist/singer.

You can’t get to Parker’s grouchy, skanky, literally horny Howlin’ Wind, with its smugly sarcastic lyrics, scuffed-up vocals and scorched-earth soul-garage de-meanor, without the Rumour. And the Rumour remains dormant without Parker, a great backing/collaborating band without a front. “I think back, and yeah, it was, and is, a pretty symbiotic relationship,” says Parker. The Cajun-Jamaican flavouring of the rhythm section was the cherry on top.

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Considering Schwarz and Lowe were in bands since 1966 such as Sounds 4+1, which morphed into Kippington Lodge, the immediate predecessor to the epic Brinsley Schwarz; that Andrews played organ for U.K. soul/pop songstress P.P. Arnold around 1967-68 before joining Kippington Lodge, etc.; and that Goulding and Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar met in 1970 before becoming Skyrockets, then the reggae/Cajun-inspired Bontemps Roulez before hooking up with Schwarz, Andrews and Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont, this crew of seasoned vets had been around the block.

Maybe they were seasoned but not well-trained. “We definitely always needed to get much better, until we actually did,” says Schwarz, recalling the debacle of a disastrous, over-hyped Manhattan gig at its start and hauling his namesake band into one house where they rehearsed all day out of necessity.  “We studied album sleeves closely, but we weren’t trained musicians at all,” says Goulding of playing with Bodnar in Islington and forming local bands. “We spent most of our time playing along to records and lusting after expensive instruments.”

Still, when it came to 1975, the just-broken-up Brinsleys—as musicians—were well-worn-in with their chops handsomely sharpened, and known for their abilities (and propensity for having a good time) in the pubs of London. Lowe even told GQ in 2011 that manager Dave Robinson “saddled (Parker) with this band that had just broken up and came with all their in-jokes and were fully formed in a way.” That’s Lowe’s dour outlook.

The fully formed vibe Lowe spoke of is what gave Parker’s prickly poignancy a sage authority, its weight, its “soul shoes” glide when set in the company of the then newly anointed Rumour. This team of players’ well-rounded, often sloppy, brutal but buoyant, genre-babbling musicianship gave Parker’s debut—from the stinging groove of “White Honey” to the confessional gospel of “Don’t Ask Me Questions”—might and bite. “Pub rock” as a tag was nothing more (and nothing less) than combine-churning boozy music boiled into one frothy, funky mess—the Band meets the Meters meets the Wailers meets the Famous Flames meets the Faces—made by hungry men no longer at the beginning of their careers. “I didn’t know anything about pub rock, but I did know that these guys had been around,” says Parker of his collaborators.

Parker, however, was also no spring chicken (25!) when he got to the soon-to-be-rechristened Rumour and Dave Robinson, Brinsley Schwarz’s manager. “Morocco, Gibraltar, Channel Islands, the whole of Europe; I’d been all over by the time I was 18, as that’s what you did at 18, because you didn’t need money to live,” says Parker of his restless youth. When he did need cash, he worked while home at his parents’ house in Sussex at the Chichester rubber-glove factory, or breeding mice and guinea pigs. “Between traveling and odd jobs, I had a fantastic time meeting people and harvesting ideas,” he says. “Then I’d fuck off and go to Morocco because that’s where Burroughs and Kerouac went; hippies, too, the whole Marrakesh Express.”

Though Parker had instruments as a kid, he’d never thought much of music. Suddenly, though, buying an old acoustic guitar in Guernsey, totaling up the sum of his experiences in squats and sands, allowing the youthful influences of Eddie Cochran, the Supremes, Van Morrison (“a true poet who happened to be a phenomenal white soul singer”) and the latter-day inspiration of Bob Dylan (“honestly didn’t get into him until Blood On The Tracks”) to take root turned his head around.

“Something came out the other side, and nobody of my generation was doing that particularly, or at least I didn’t hear it: the soul, the rock, the poetry,” says Parker. He confesses a love, too, for “the early singer/songwriter types” such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Neil Young. “That’s the only thing that I took from the hippies,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t like their noodling music, but some of their writers were devastating.”

Parker got the writing fever and, by 1974, songs came pouring out. To him, the melodies were based on old tunes that he loved, that mix of which he speaks. Along with his then-fresh feel for Dylan (“I was upset with myself for not getting him sooner”), Parker was inspired by elements of social justice and class in his U.K. homeland and began developing a lyrical style and subject matter. “I had no interest in politics, per se, but I knew what justice—and injustice—looked like when I saw it, being part of the working class and with England being a classist country,” he says. “It’s still based on class there—if the ruling class could break the working class, they would.”

Parker sought to integrate the poetry of disgust, discrimination and inequity into his first tunes such as “Back To Schooldays,” which wound up on Howlin’ Wind. “Even the love songs, I wanted them to have that taste, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, really,” he says. “What I came up with was ‘Don’t Ask Me Questions,’ which I think makes love into a social issue.” As for the burgeoning Dylan influence, Parker insists that you can hear him grappling with that on “You’ve Got To Be Kidding,” with its compact chords and emotional output.

Parker wanted to point fingers, but he did not want to preach. “I can’t stand that,” he says. “Preaching is the last thing I wanted to do.” Caustic humour, often subtle, became his guide, a lyrical flip he’s used ever since. “I still don’t think that people get the jokes, but there you go,” he says.

Either way, Parker believed that he was truly on to something in 1974, as at that time (the era of prog rock and post-glam), “there were certainly no new acts doing something original with this,” he says. In this case, something tough, soulful and social. “That felt good,” he says. “I just had to make the right connections, meet musicians who weren’t hippies. Go to London.”

This is where Brinsley Schwarz, Bontemps Roulez and Dave Robinson come in.

By 1974, Schwarz, Lowe and Andrews had just begun conquering the pubs of London with a mélange less like the country rock of Brinsley Schwarz’s eponymous 1970 debut and its immediate follow-up, Despite It All, and more like the Kippington Lodge of their youth. “Motown, ska, reggae, Beat Invasion bands—it was all one thing with no delineation,” says Schwarz of Kippington-Lodge. By the time Brinsley Schwarz set itself into motion, the Band had become Schwarz and Co.’s deepest influence.

“I had already been in love with groove-jazz organists like Jimmy Smith and Charles Earland, but Garth Hudson and his rich, aggressive attack really turned my head around,” says Andrews of the Band’s often frightening but still funky keyboard tones. Schwarz recalls a Melody Maker story with Robbie Robertson where he revealed the Band’s favourite artists: Lee Dorsey, Clifton Chenier, Professor Longhair. “All New Orleans,” says Schwarz, enthusiastically. “We were overjoyed, Andrews in particular, who eventually moved to New Orleans and became ‘Piano Bob’ there. That’s quite an accomplishment for a boy from Leeds.”

Andrews, who joined Schwarz and Lowe at K-Lodge (“because I could play and sing Blood, Sweat & Tears’ ‘I Can’t Quit Ya’—a big deal for a 19-year-old,” he says), was only enhanced by the New Orleans sway. “There’s a feel, a spirit to that music—even when funereal—that’s gleeful,” he says.

As their regimen intensified and practice became perfection, the Brinsleys began adding the dirty-yet-precise funk of James Brown to their repertoire. “We’d rehearse until we nailed it, until that swing, that backbeat, was right and tight,” says Schwarz. Mix all that in with the Brinsleys’ shambling country thing, and you got pub rock.

“I didn’t listen to pub rock,” says Goulding, who, with bassist Bodnar, began a “rhythm section for hire” gig, putting ads in Melody Maker for whomever came along. “At that point we had more ambition than experience,” says Goulding, recalling jams at Iroko Country Club in Hampstead run by African drummer Ginger Johnson, and a Bodnar/Goulding band—the bluesy Skyrockets—with a slide guitarist and a harmonica player for pub gigs. “Then, pubs still charged in old money, pre-decimal money, which could get confusing after your third pint.”

When Skyrockets splintered, Goulding, Bodnar and keyboardist Tony Downes used their R&B and reggae background—their love of Leon Russell and Burning Spear—and became Bontemps Roulez.

“Me and Andrew had always played reggae—I suppose living in South London, which had a big West Indian population, had something to do with it,” says Goulding. “I always loved the rhythm of it, ska, blue beat, rocksteady, whatever was around.” Goulding credits Charlie Gillett’s show on Radio London for playing a huge variety of American music (“like Lee Dorsey”) that sounded so different from the U.K. stuff that was around in the early 1970s.

Bontemps Roulez needed gigs, so they went to different pubs near the King’s Head, as that was the area where they tried hardest to get booked. “The Hope & Anchor up the street from there was quite a well-known music pub, and Dave Robinson, Fred Rowe and John Eichler seemed to all run it together,” says Goulding. “They’d built a recording studio upstairs and had bands playing in the basement. Dave put the word out among friends on the pub-rock scene that we were OK, so we got gigs in other pubs, too.” Along with gigs, Bodnar and Goulding became the go-to rhythm section of that studio, the Sly & Robbie of the Hope & Anchor. “Because we were cheap and willing,” says Goulding with a laugh. “And we weren’t old and jaded. My dad would drive me up there with my drums is how not old.”

Two of the artists whom Goulding and Bodnar recorded with were shouter Frankie Miller and Declan McManus, a guitarist/singer who had just left his pub band, Flip City. “I remember Dave being very impressed with the quality and quantity of his material,” says Goulding of the soon-to-be-renamed Elvis Costello. The rhythm boxers eventually recorded—with Lowe as producer—Costello’s My Aim Is True together in 1977, but not before they got involved with one old find of Robinson’s and the manager’s newest acquisition.

Dr. Feelgood, Ducks Deluxe (where Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont hailed from) and Brinsley Schwarz—none of those guys was I familiar with,” says Parker. “That is, until Dave (Robinson) brought them to my attention, and by then Brinsley was breaking up. I didn’t know from pub rock or knew anyone who had seen them. All I knew was that these were the good songs that would live forever. When you know it, you know it.” And Parker had his own songs, and he wanted them done right.

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Parker, who had just become a managerial client of Robinson’s based on a collection of acoustic demos, was responsive to the Brinsley boys on a more tonsorial level. “I was very encouraged by them because they all had short hair,” says Parker, laughing. “That was exactly my attitude about fashion, as I actually had even shorter hair, sometimes too severe.”

For Parker, the Brinsley hair thing played into Schwarz and Co.’s fashion-ability as far as he was concerned (“Really?” says Schwarz when told of Parker’s praise), as a London band. “That’s good and that’s bad,” says Parker. “They had a London following, which means no one in the provinces knew them. Then again, things took awhile to get to us. I mean, we were just getting Uriah Heep in 1974. My uncle suddenly had long hair. It was terrifying. Ah, to be young.”

Robinson was impressed with Parker’s cleverly worded ire and heard something forceful and melodic in his demos. All they needed was a taut, knowing band to play to Parker’s blend of the aggressive and the chilled (yes, he, too, was a big reggae fan). “They were great but didn’t have focus,” says Parker. “With me, Robinson saw a direction, something that couldn’t be stopped. Which was true. I was revved-up. Now, the Rumour at first, I don’t know that they wanted to play with me; I’m sure they had misgivings. But they were smart enough to know that up until that point, they hadn’t really gotten anywhere.”

The Brinsleys broke up in 1975, and I went to play with Ducks Deluxe, where I met Martin (Belmont), until they broke up, so I just stopped for a minute and started learning to play saxophone,” says Schwarz, whose studies were interrupted by a call from Robinson to say, “I got this guy.” “Dave so has the gift of gab that he convinces me I’m the only one that can bring out the best in Parker. I call Martin and Bob—remember, Nick had left when the Brinsleys split—and I needed a rhythm section.”

Goulding states that, yes, Bontemps Roulez had splintered at that time but that Bodnar and he had played on Ducks Deluxe singer Sean Tyla’s demos, as well as at gigs with the last incarnation of Ducks Deluxe, “which Brinsley was also a part of, so I suppose we met then,” says the drummer. “The pub-rock bands were all splitting up, the scene was changing, and Dave had the idea of putting me and Andrew together with Bob, Martin and Brinsley to see what happened.”

What happened is that they made the demo above the Hope & Anchor that everyone loved, said, “Why don’t we do this again?” and commenced to play at a pub, Newlands Tavern, owned by Belmont’s friend in Peckham. “Bob and I were suspicious after all that had happened with Robinson in the past, but this sounded amazing,” says Schwarz. “Next thing you know, Dave wanted us to be Parker’s band and record the first album properly with Mercury as the label.”

Goulding continues that Schwarz came up with the Rumour name (“after the Band song, but with an English spelling”) and that after the Newlands Tavern gigs got this bassist and drummer in on the action. “We learned a few of his songs and did covers with him, and he would come on halfway through our set, do five or six songs with us and go away again,” says Goulding. “At first, a lot of the audience went to the bar or bathroom during his bit. But we liked him, his voice and songs went with the style of playing we were slowly developing, and he was a better singer than any of us, so it seemed like a good fit. Pretty soon people stuck around for his bit, so we knew we were on to something.”

Recording at Eden Studios, London, in early 1976, Parker and the band smoked a bunch of pot and drank a lot of beer while recording his debut album. “See, with GP and us, that could be every album,” says Goulding. “It was the first time I’d recorded in a nice studio with a kettle and fridge and biscuits. They even had a TV. Everything sounded a lot more like I’d always imagined it should—like a record.”

For Andrews, the sessions provided his first opportunity to arrange not only a band now armed with an arsenal of guitars (“Having Graham, Martin and Brinsley made for a complicated sound, one that I wanted to keep separate, defined and equal”) but also a six-piece brass-and-reeds section and additional musicians such as Dave Edmunds and slide guitarist Noel Brown. “Nick wasn’t doing it, so I did,” says Andrews of Lowe’s production. “He was great but quick—just there to tidy up a bit.”

“That’s why they call Nick ‘the Basher’—one or two takes, bash ’em up, in and out,” says Parker.

Schwarz even manages a brief impersonation of Lowe at the mixing board during the height of the Howlin’ Wind sessions. “Nick’s production method was to ask the engineer to get the sound, make sure everybody was happy with it, make sure they were comfortable—and play,” he says. “So, in the studio with Nick, he’d yell, ‘Fantastic, amazing, marvellous, maybe one more.’ And that was it. He made you feel good. That was his method.”

Remember, though, here was Lowe—chosen by Robinson—just months away from leaving Brinsley Schwarz (the man and the band) after playing with them since their collective teens now producing them for his behind-the-boards debut. “It was an odd situation because [Parker’s] group was made up of so many people from the group I had just left,” Lowe told GQ in 2011. “It was sort of strange: One minute I was tripping down the road, you know, I’m free! And the next moment, I’m in the studio with these guys again. But Graham was, and is, fantastic.”

“Fantastic” seems to be the buzzword regarding Parker songs such as “Back To Schooldays,” “White Honey” and the title track, a mini-epic in both Parker’s mind and that of his Rumour. “‘Back To Schooldays’ was punchy, very tight and rocking, and I have a soft spot for ‘Gypsy Blood,’ as I always like the slow ones,” says Goulding. “Good singers who write powerful songs are obviously easier to play with, and Graham is one of those. He also had an onstage energy that matched ours very well.”

Parker recalls that “Howlin’ Wind,” dense and unforgiving, truly set the tone for the rest of the album. “Look, I couldn’t imagine any of this in the top-10”—it wasn’t—“but I wanted to be an albums artist, not a pop singer.”

Schwarz, Goulding and Andrews all agree: Going into and coming out of Howlin’ Wind, Heat Treatment (released later in 1976) and the rest of the annual album-then-tour pace they kept until 1981, when Parker dismissed them—and even now, going into recent collaborative albums such as 2015’s Mystery Glue—they all saw Parker as an extraordinary talent. “He had a raw energy that was very attractive and brought out the best in us,” says Schwarz. “Steve and Andrew had not seen what we went through as Brinsley Schwarz. We were on the laidback side. Graham’s words and aggression lit a fire under our ass and still does.”

As for Parker, lighting fires is one thing, but then and especially now, he’s hoping to do something more.

“I’ve always tried to be playful, starting with Howlin’ Wind,” says Parker. “Not dumb, not goofy, but playful. I’m a fan of humour. People have always thought I was pissed off, but really, I was just joking around. They don’t get it or they’re not hearing me. I have always loved to tickle people.”

The Band:

  • Graham Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar, Fender rhythm guitar
  • Brinsley Schwarz – guitar, Hammond organ, backing vocals
  • Bob Andrews – Lowrey organ, Hammond organ, piano, backing vocals
  • Martin Belmont – guitar, backing vocals
  • Steve Goulding – drums, backing vocals
  • Andrew Bodnar – Fender bass

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Out this week is the new multi-disc compilation, “Surrender to the Rhythm: The London Pub Rock Scene of the Seventies”. The collection is an excellent overview of pub rock, a phenomenon that helped paved the way for British punk. Before we get any further, though, we need to address a question many of our readers are probably asking themselves: What is “pub rock?”

“Pub rock” was a movement that lasted for a handful of years in the early to mid seventies. Pub rock bands played a back-to-basics style of rock-n-roll that was loose and unassuming. Though very much a London scene, pub rock was kick-started by an American group. In the spring of 1971, Eggs Over Easy were in London recording, when they convinced a local pub, the Tally Ho, to let the band play there on a regular basis. Their subsequent performances at the bar were a popular attraction, and other musicians and pub owners took notice. By 1973, it was a thriving scene.

Our copy of the last great pub rock anthology, from EMI in the 1990s, “Surrender to the Rhythm” is probably the last word we could ever want to hear on a genre that history seems to have crunched into a boozy after thought, but which in reality was the most fun you could have by saying “oh yes, I’m definitely over eighteen” in a deep voice on a Friday night.

Sequestered in Kentish Town to record an album with Hendrix/Slade producer Chas Chandler, in the spring of 1971 exiled American band Eggs Over Easy persuaded the landlord of local pub The Tally Ho to let them perform at the venue. Though the band were back in America by the end of the year, they inadvertently became the catalysts that sparked the pub rock revolution, with the likes of Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe and Bees Make Honey playing a burgeoning circuit that included The Kensington in Russell Gardens, The Lord Nelson on Holloway Road and The Nashville in West Kensington.

All of the key acts are here, and three CDs, seventy-plus tracks, mean they more than outweigh those peculiar gatecrashers. The Feelgoods, the Kilburns, the Hot Rods, the Kursaal Flyers, Brett Marvin, Eggs Over Easy, Brinsley Schwarz, Roogalator and, a few tracks earlier, frontman Danny Adler’s Smooth Loser predecessors, and Supercharge… Spin Cycle’s own pick of the bunch, on the strength of so many nights spent in dark, smokey pubs while Albie and the gang mashed high octane funk with low-brow humour, and turned “Save Your Kisses For Me” into a memory to be cherished. Surrender To The Rhythm charts the origins and development of the London pub rock scene throughout the Seventies, featuring all of the aforementioned bands.

Great choice of songs, too. Ian Gomm’s brooding take on Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” Bees Make Honey playing “My Funny Valentine,” Ducks Deluxe’s “Heart on my Sleeve” and frontman, the late Sean Tyla, popping up later with his Gang.

We hear Graham Parker kick through a live “Back to Schooldays” and Dave Edmunds, who was a godfather of the whole scene without ever actually playing the circuit, offers up a couple of numbers. Cado Belle, fronted by the magnificent Maggie Riley, Chilli Willie and the Red Hot Peppers, Starry Eyed and Laughing, Ace….

Yes, things do get a little weird towards the end as the likes of Darts, Chris Rea, Sniff ’n’ the Tears and the Fabulous Poodles start snapping at the originators’ ankles. But the always excellent Philip Rambow kicks out “Young Lust” like a lover, and the Inmates’ “Dirty Water” threatens to launch a whole new Pub Rock movement just as the third disc ends. A magnificent package, then, full of magnificent music. If you were there the first time, it’s a lot of what you yourself might have chosen. And if you weren’t, pick up a pint, light a ciggy, grab a space at the front, and please try not to sweat in my beer. With four hours of vital, vibrant music – including several previously unreleased tracks – bolstered by a 48-page booklet crammed with photos, memorabilia, anecdotes etc, Surrender To The Rhythm is the definitive aural document of a movement that would revolutionise the British music scene.

Graham-Parker

Graham Parker & the Rumour Returned, One of the most significant groups to emerge in the new wave boom of the 1970s, Graham Parker & the Rumour, one of the UK’s pioneering pre-punk bands return with a new album, Mystery Glue through Chess’ cutting-edge imprint Cadet Concept. Written in Graham’s second home of New York and recorded in just 6 days in the legendary RAK studios in London, Mystery Glue is an album of conscious rock that harks back to a genre-defining music of the 70s whilst paying homage to Dylan, reggae, soul and rock ‘n’ roll.” released their new album, ‘Mystery Glue,’ in May. The album will be released on the newly-relaunched Cadet Concept label.

The new record follows the band’s successful reunion with the 2012 album ‘Three Chords Good,’ their first album together since 1980’s ‘The Up Escalator.’ The new set contains songs about their love for London and features many subtle references to their own much-travelled history. The track ‘Railroad Spikes’ was launched on their own Vevo channel at the end of March.

The band put together a UK tour, billed as the Graham Parker Duo featuring Brinsley Schwarz, After a long gap of over 30 years,  their 2nd recent album in relatively quick succession. Graham is in good voice, obviously not the angry young man of the late 1970’s, but he still has plenty of relevant things to say for himself. The original Rumour band are back together, and provide accomplished support, sometimes veering maybe towards a more country style.  The track listing for the album is as follows:

1. Transit Of Venus
2. Going There
3. Wall Of Grace
4. Swing State
5. Slow News Day
6. Railroad Spikes
7. Flying Into London
8. Pub Crawl
9. I’ve Done Bad Things
10. Fast Crowd
11. Long Shot
12. My Life In Movieland

Yep Roc Records is excited to announce that for the first time in decades, you can now own Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, and Party of One all on CD and LP! Bundle all of them together and get a great discount PLUS a limited edition Nick Lowe lunchbox is for free!

Nick Lowe first came to prominence during the British pub-rock scene of the early ‘70s as a member of the legendary band Brinsley Schwarz. Between 1969 and ’75, Lowe sang, played bass, and wrote songs for the band’s six albums, which today are cherished collectibles for the faithful pub-rock fan. After the break-up of Brinsley Schwarz, Lowe tinkered around as a solo artist, releasing singles like “So It Goes” for Stiff Records, where he also worked as the label’s staff producer (working with Elvis Costello, the Damned, and Dr. Feelgood). Lowe also performed as part of the band Rockpile with Dave Edmunds. Lowe released his solo debut, Jesus of Cool (titled Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S.) in 1978, followed by the hit album Labour of Lust.

After marrying singer Carlene Carter (Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter) in 1979, Lowe recorded a single album with Rockpile, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, the band enjoying a modest hit when the album charted Top 30 in the U.S. After the break-up of Rockpile (whose members had also played played on various Lowe and Edmunds solo LPs), Lowe returned to his solo career with Nick the Knife. Recruiting former Rockpile bandmates Billy Bremner (guitar) and Terry Williams (drums), Lowe brought friends like guitarist Martin Belmont (from the Rumour) and keyboardists Steve Nieve (the Attractions) and Paul Carrack (Squeeze) into the studio. Nick the Knife features a solid set of Lowe’s pop-rock originals (including two songs co-written with Carter, who also sings on the album) as well as a version of the Rockpile song “Heart.”

The following year’s The Abominable Showman found Lowe returning to his pub-rock roots, recording with a stripped-down band that included Belmont, Carrack, and drummer Bobby Irwin, who formed the core of Lowe’s Cowboy Outfit backing band throughout the decade. The album offers up some fine rockin’ country-tinged moments and a few great songs like “Ragin’ Eyes,” “We Want Action,” and “Time Wounds All Heels,” the last two co-written with Carter. A cover of Moon Martin’s “Paid the Price” fits nicely on the track list.

Reissues of both of these long out-of-print albums is certainly welcome, and comes at a nice time as Lowe’s friends and Yep Roc labelmate’s Los Straitjackets will be releasing their tribute to the songwriter with their new album, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and

Brinsley Schwarz released a string of classic Pub Rock albums in the early 1970s, and this could be their best. “Its All Over Now” was intended to re-launched the group in America, but like their much-hyped visit to New York it didnt go as planned. Indeed, the album languished in Rockfield Studios tape library for years until rescued by the bands guitarist Ian Gomm, who mixed it at Royal Studios for release on record. But even that didn t go as planned and once again the album disappeared. A few years ago, Gomm made a few homemade CDRs available from his website, but the album has remained largely ignored.

Until now. Twenty-five years after Ian Gomm rescued and mixed the album, Mega Dodo is set to release a newly mastered version on limited vinyl and CD. The best Brinsley Schwarz album you have never heard now sounds even better.

brinsley-schwarz-new-favourites-1974

There are some songs that we wish weren’t still relevant, But  “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding” would now sound hopelessly dated, as if it were the relic of another time. Instead the song, written by Nick Lowe in 1974 and performed by his band Brinsley Schwarz, is as timely as it’s ever been, its searching questions begging for answers in this day and age now more than ever.

Nick Lowe, has said he originally intended the song to be tongue-in-cheek, only to rethink the tone along the way. “I wrote the song in 1973, and the hippie thing was going out, and everyone was starting to take harder drugs and rediscover drink,” he said. “Alcohol was coming back, and everyone sort of slipped out of the hippie dream and into a more cynical and more unpleasant frame of mind. And this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’ And that was the idea of the song. But I think as I started writing it, something told me it was too good of an idea to make it into a joke. It was originally supposed to be a joke song, but something told me there was a little grain of wisdom in this thing, and not to mess it up.”

Adorned with Who-style power chords and Beach Boys-flavored harmonies, Brinsley Schwarz’s take on the song charges full-on into the breach even as Lowe begs us to stop and consider his pleas. His narrator attempts to navigate “this wicked world” and “searches for light in the darkness of insanity.” He admits that despair is never too far removed: “My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes.”

“Is all hope lost?” he wonders, and he laments about the ubiquity of “pain, hatred and misery.” Yet he suggests that the only way out of this malaise is vigilance, the kind that constantly presses and pushes for something better than the status quo, which he expresses via a series of queries: “So where are the strong?/ And who are the trusted?/ And where is the harmony?”

By keeping any kind of specifics out of his tale, Lowe ensured that his song would resonate in times of worldly turmoil or personal angst. It all builds to the scorching common sense of the refrain: “And each time I feel it slipping away, it just makes me want to cry/ What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding.

Elvis Costello’s 1978 hard-charging, heart-on-sleeve version of the song, which was produced by Lowe, brought it to a wider audience and became one of Costello’s best-known recordings. Lowe, however, probably preferred the 1992 version by Curtis Stigers. Why? Because it appeared on the multi-platinum soundtrack to The Bodyguard, thus producing a royalties windfall for the writer.

In any case, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding” endures. Hopefully we’ll reach a day where we can appreciate the song based on its artistic merits alone and not because the title sounds like it could be the headline of an editorial in this morning’s newspaper rather than the lament of a songwriter written fortysomething years ago.

Image result for graham parker and the rumour

What a great performance and a singer with total commitment and a band who can really kick ass! It doesn’t get any better! I’m going back to schooldays to put things right!! . Not many other acts played such energetic live gigs than GP!!!! The guy is sincere about his music and that’s easy to hear when watching this concert, even confronted with a zombie audience. maybe Springsteen learned a lot from GP !!.

Formed in London in 1975. Initially managed by Stiff Records founder Dave Robinson, Graham Parker was put together with former members of Brinsley Schwarz by his management and they became a huge and electrifying live draw, bridging New Wave with the earlier Pub-Rock scene. They recorded five albums together until they split in 1980.

If you’re a Graham Parker fan, you must have this jewel. from 1978 , capture the frenzy and energy of Parker and the Rumour in their salad days; nearly over the edge raucous, yet tight and in total control. The audio and video is a bit crude, but considering the vintage of the source tapes, it’s more than adequate.

There was no better singer, songs or band or energy. A fine band at the peak of their skills. Brilliant ensemble playing. Andrew Bodnar, Bob Andrews, Brinsley Schwarz , Graham Parker, Martin Belmont, Steve Goulding

Setlist:  Heat Treatment 0:15 Soul on Ice 6:40 School Days 9:56 Heat in Harlem 12:50 Fool’s Gold 20:52 Watch the Moon Come Down 25:30 Thunder and Rain 31:10 Stick to Me 34:45 I’m Gonna Tear your Playhouse Down 38:10 Don’t Ask Me Questions 41:50 Not If It Pleases Me 47:30 New York Shuffle 50:25 Soul Shoes 53:40