Sunday, 23 February 2014

John Martyn (1948 - 2009)

Iain David McGeachy was born in 1948 in New Malden, Surrey. His parents (both opera singers) divorced when he was five and he grew up in Glasgow living with his grandmother. At Shawlands Academy he loved to listen to blues music and by aged 15 had become a competent guitar player and two years later was a regular on the Glasgow folk scene. There his mentor was legendary folky Hamish Imlach but John’s musical influences lay in many different musical genres including the classics. Soon John was touring the North of England folk circuit which was brim full of emerging Celtic talent like Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, (Humblebums), Joe Egan and Barbara Dickson among many others. John became close friends with Clive Palmer (Incredible String Band).

Eager to become part of the burgeoning folk club scene of the mid sixties John moved to London and there he became a regular at the Les Cousins in Soho and Scots Hoose in Cambridge Circus. There he rubbed shoulders with Paul Simon, Ralph McTell, Al Stewart, Ray Harper, Donovan and Bert Jansch. John’s unique blend of blues and folk, musicianship and ability to write his own material meant he stood out from the crowd. Chris Blackwell (co-founder of Island Records) signed John in 1967 making him the first solo white artist to join the company. Island Records had originated in Jamaica in 1959 and was founded by Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall. The company relocated to the UK in 1962 and initially concentrated on reggae style music but by the mid sixties they recognised the developing underground music genre. The labels demographic were older teenagers and younger adults who preferred albums to singles. John recorded a folky album called London Conversation which was a folk album released in 1968.

By the time he came to record his second album The Tumbler, (produced by Al Stwart) the emphasis had moved to a more jazz feel with session musicians like Harold McNair (a reeds man - jazz saxophonist or jazz clarinetist) fleshing out the sound.

On tour John continued to experiment adding various effects to his electrified acoustic performances. As contemporaries Hendrix and Townsend were experimenting with feedback John Martyn fed his acoustic guitar through a fuzzbox, phase-shifter, and Echoplex to allow him to play off of tape loops of his own guitar. This gave him a unique sound which was captured on the Stormbringer! album (1970) and recorded in Woodstock, N.Y. with American musicians.

By now his influences combined folk, blues, rock and jazz as well as music from the Middle East, South America and Jamaica giving John and unique folk appeal. In 1973 Solid Air was released and became arguable his most commercial effort to date.

The album featured jazz bass player, Danny Thompson (Pentangle), John’s vocals were in a slurred vocal style, the timbre of which resembled a tenor saxophone. The same technique was used much later by Van Morrison. Martyn’s next project was an experimental album called Inside Out. It emphasised improvisation rather than song structure and John’s vocals were deeper and much bluesier.

John’s private life was in turmoil with marriage problems and battling alcohol dependency none the less he continued to perform although his personal appearances were erratic and inconsistent. Performances ranged from utter disasters driven by drunken antics to sheer brilliance as captured on Live at Leeds (1975).

At the time Island refused to release the album which featured Danny Thompson and drummer John Stevens, so John sold signed copies of the album by mail order. By the end of 1975, the singer songwriter was utterly exhausted and took a break year to travel. In Jamaica he met reggae producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry and there he was encouraged to start playing again. On his return One World (produced by Phil Brown) was released in 1977.

The album had a more upbeat feel and was recorded outside and in the early hours of the morning which provided an interesting array of incidental sounds that appealed to the hi fi enthusiast. No longer just a folk of blues singer the new hip direction earned John critical acclaim and the title, “Father of Trip-Hop, ” and One World charted in the UK albums chart. By the end of the decade the signer songwriter’s marriage had dissolved and his personal life was again in complete chaos. Depressed and alcoholic he produced Grace and Danger but Island initially refused to release the album because they felt the content was too depressing.

The songs painfully and honestly depicted the writer/performers personal predicament providing his fans with his most powerful material in years. Phil Collins (Genesis) played drums and sang backing vocals and John Giblin played bass. Eventually it was released and Grace and Danger subsequently become one of the highest-regarded in the John Martyn portfolio. It also happens to be John Martyn’s favourite album. Now tired of the limitations of his acoustic guitar and solo performances he concentrated on electric guitar with a full band setting for his music. John switched recording labels to Warner Brothers (WEA) and released Glorious Fool (1981), produced by Phil Collins and featuring Eric Clapton; and Well Kept Secret (1982).

Eventually he returned to Island records but not before he released another live album called Philanthropy.

Still battling alcoholism, John Martyn left Island records in 1988 after they refused to renew his contract. Throughout the nineties John continued to record and perform often with well known collaborators such as Phil Collins, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Levon Helm of the Band. Towards the end of the decade the adopted Scottish artist was more influenced by funk than folk and continued to record ground breaking materials. Despite failing health John Martyn was always determined to continue to experiment and in 2001 he collaborated with dance artist Sister Bliss and sang the vocals on a cover version of Deliver Me (previous recorded by the Beloved). The single reached No. 31 in the UK charts.

Throughout the latter part of his career Island records continued to release compilations of his works which although not representative of his contemporary developments none the less introduced many new fans to the brilliance of the man’s music catalogue. Martyn’s music features in several movie soundtracks and TV shows such as The Talented Mr Ripley and Human Remains respectively and continued to be a most well respected figure in electric folk having inspired many throughout the decades.

In 2001 the documentary Tell them I'm somebody else... was released and features live music as well as behind the scenes footage of John rehearsing and relaxing.

John Martyn continued to record and perform living between Ireland and Scotland. In 2009 he sadly died from diabetic complications.

Worth a listen
Cocain (1967)
The River (1968)
John the Baptist (1970)
Head and Heart (1971)
Solid Air (1973)
May You Never (1973)
So much in love with you (1973)
One day without you (1974)
Big Muff (1977)
Couldn’t love you more (1977)
Dealer (1977)
One World (1977)
Solid Air (1977)
Small Hours (1978)
Angeline (1986)

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Incredible String Band

Robin Duncan Harry Williamson was born in 1943, in Edinburgh. He grew up in the Portobello area of Edinburgh, and attended George Watson's College before leaving at the age of 15 to become a professional musician. At first he performed in local jazz bands, with Gerard Dott and others. By 1961 he had met and begun sharing a flat with Bert Jansch and in 1963 travelled together to London to play the metropolitan folk circuit.

By 1965 he had returned to Edinburgh and formed a duo with Clive Palmer (banjo). They played fiddle and banjo arrangements of traditional Scots and Irish songs as well as bluegrass. Mike Heron (former member of the Saracens) joined them in 1966 and they signed to Elektra Records calling themselves The Incredible String Band. Their first album The Incredible String Band was released in Britain and the United States and consisted mostly of self-penned material in solo, duo and trio formats, showcasing their playing on a variety of instruments.

Despite meeting critical acclaim Clive Palmer and band’s producer Joe Boyd left the band to travel to India and Afghanistan. On his return, Palmer decided not to re-join the ISB, instead he recorded a solo album of banjo music called Banjoland which remained unreleased until 2005.

In effect ISB had disbanded and Williamson travelled to Morocco and became influenced by Moroccan music. Heron stayed in Edinburgh, playing with a band called Rock Bottom and the Deadbeats. A year later when Williamson returned the duo reformed and played with other musicians including Licorice McKechnie. Their music was now a fusion of folk, mysticism and acoustic psychedelica. The addition of oud, gimbri and tamboura give their music a unique sound and the band released their second album, The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion.

The album went to Number One in the UK folk chart. The next album was The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter which would prove their most commercial venture to date reaching both UK and US album charts.

ISB began touring halls and festivals attracting large crowds. The group won the admiration of many folk and hippy luminaries of the time with many other artists recording their compositions. In 1968 they toured the US during which time they became involved with Scientology. In 1969 the now electric group expanded their line-up and performed at the Woodstock festival.

ISB went on to release ten more albums, becoming one of the most popular, best-loved and influential UK groups of the hippy era. As musical tastes changed their popularity dwindled and the band disbanded in 1974. Riding the tide of nostalgia the original line-up reformed in 1997 toured and recorded before finally breaking up in 2006. Both Williamson and Heron enjoyed successful solo careers after ISB with Heron pursing rock and Williamson exploring his Celtic roots.

Worth a listen
Way back in the 60s (1967)
Footsteps of the heron (1966)
The Hedgehog's Song (1968 )
First Girl I Loved (1968 )
Painting Box ( 1968)
The Mad Hatter's Song (1968)
Blues for the Muse (1968)
Koeeoaddi There (1968)
A Very Cellular Song (1968)
Bid You Goodnight."

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Gerry Rafferty (1947 - 2011) [ Humblebums and Stealers Wheel]

Born in Paisley, Scotland in 1947 Gerry’s mum was Scottish and his father was Irish. Gerry’s father enjoyed singing and despite being deaf loved Irish rebel songs, Catholic hymns, traditional folk music, and the pop music of the 50's. A comparative latecomer to the music scene the Paisley buddy was 21 when joined the Humblebums (1968). The folk duo had consisted of Tam Harvey, a rock guitarist and folkster Billy Connolly. Billy liked Gerry’s songs and invited him to join the Humblebums. The group had built up a loyal following in Glasgow and were signed to the independent Transatlantic label. As a trio they were very good and combined trad ional folk with Celtic rock and some humour interjected in between. Inevitably there were internal tensions and Tam Harvey left in 1970.

Messers Rafferty and Connolly continued together and recorded some interesting material with Shoeshine boy the most commercial of their singles.

Gerry was developing his music style whilst Connolly was less motivated and preferred his story telling on stage. The duo worked a punishing schedule and although records were selling well, and the gigs were growing in prominence, the musicians were ill at ease with each other. The Humblebums broke up in 1971.

Transatlantic were keen to keep their investment and Gerry brought out a solo album in 1971. The single, Can I Have My Money Back? enjoyed modest success and featured Gerry schoolboy chum Joe Egan.

Egan had gained a reputation in Paisley and surround, as star musician and soon the duo were featured in Stealers Wheel. SW was one of the most promising (and rewarding) pop-rock bands in the UK scene of the mid-1970's and there first album proved to be a cracker, with the single Stuck in the middle with you, a huge internal hit.

Unfortunately due to complicated legal wrangles, Gerry was unable to be a regular member of the group and disbanded in 1975. After protracted legal battles which lasted three years Gerry returned to recording again in 1978. He recorded City to City album for United Artists Records which enjoyed another international success. The single Baker Street was a phenomenal hit and a masterpiece of pop production. Raphael Ravenscroft's haunting sax was just pure sophistication. Gerry refused to tour the States which was a disappointment to his record executives.

His next single Night Owl (1979) also did well. Gerry continued to record but sales dropped off. He was reclusive by nature and refused to promote his works with live performances.

Instead he decided to become a producer and he and life long friend Hugh Murphy took an unknown duo from Edinburgh called the Proclaimers and in 1987 their single Letter from America catapulted them into the pop charts across the universe.

Gerry Rafferty went onto release another six solo albums as well as many compilations. The singer song writer became a chronic alcoholic and died from liver failure in 2011.

Worth a listen:
The Humblebums
Shoeshine boy

Gerry Rafferty
Can I have my money back?
Baker Street
Night Owl

Steeler’s Wheel.
Stuck in the Middle with you

Letter from America

Archie Fisher

Archie Fisher was born in Glasgow 1939. His father was a keen singer with catholic musical tastes and his mother, a native Gaelic speaker from the Outer Hebrides, was a strong influence on the lyrical quality of his songwriting. Like his siblings Ray and Cilla, they all became professional folk singers. Archie became interested in skiffle and along with his sister Ray formed a skiffle group in the mid-'50s. Later when he heard The Weavers at Carnegie Hall decided to concentrate on folk music.

In 1960, Archie moved to Edinburgh and became a regular at the city folk clubs including “The Howff” run by Roy Guest. He taught himself to write songs originally through patching up incomplete traditional material then following its example in the potent visual imagery and poetic economy which became his own trademarks. In 1962 Ray & Archie Fisher released a single on the Topic label called “Far Over the Forth.”

By the mid sixties, Edinburgh became a Mecca for folk artists drawn to the many clubs and pubs featuring ethnic music. Archie Fisher was a key figure in the Scottish folk movement and played with many luminaries of that period including: Anne Briggs, and the Ian Campbell Folk Group (with Dave Swarbrick), Bert Jansch and a young Barbara Dickson.

In 1963, he ran a weekly folk club at the Crown Bar in Edinburgh, there he met acoustic musicians Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer who were performing together as a traditional folk duo. Mike Heron later auditioned to play rhythm guitar and the trio became The Incredible String Band.

Archie preferred to play steel-string guitar more suited to rock ‘n roll but he and others developed a mix of new tunings and inventive picking that has influenced generations of his successors. Archie continued recording and released “Traditional and New Songs from Scotland” (1965) with the Fisher Family (Archie, Ray , Cilla and her husband Artie Tresize plus their parents).

The family group split up in 1966 when Ray married and moved to London and Archie began his solo career. His first self-titled album was recorded in 1968 with the fiddle and mandolin of John McKinnon and whistle player John Doonan.

During the mid 1970’s he formed a long-term partnership with Dundee musician Allan Barty, which was later grafted on to the revived pairing of Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy. As well as performing as a backing musician and arranger for the Makem and Clancy duo, he also produced a series of albums with them. Archie also helped produce Silly Wizard.

By the 1980’s, he worked on radio documentaries detailing the wealth and variety of Scottish folk music. In 1983, he took over from the previous presenter BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly flagship show Travelling Folk i.e. Robin Hall, and continued until 2010.

As a guitarist, Archie was in great demand and appeared as the lead guitarist on Tom Paxton's, The Very Best of Tom Paxton (1986).

In the 90s, Archie began working with Canadian songwriter Garnet Rogers and together they wrote and performed. The duo toured North America before recording the highly acclaimed Sunsets I’ve Galloped Into in 1996.

Archie continued to tour North America, playing with John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Several more albums have followed as the premier exponent of Scottish folk music continues to work and record.

Worth a listen
The Flowers o' the Forest (1969) with Barbara Dickson
The Highland Widow's Lament (1969) with Barbara Dickson
Witch of the Westmorland ( 1976)
Dark-Eyed Molly (1976)
Will ye gang, love (1976)
Lindsay (1976)
The Gallant Ninety Two (1976)
Twa Bonnie Maidens (1976)
Laird of Udny (1986)
The Great North Road (1995)
The Black Horse (1995) with Garnet Jones

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Barbara Dickson

Barbara Dickson was born in Dunfermline, Fife in 1947. She learned to play the piano aged five and took up the guitar when she was twelve. Barbara wanted to become a professional musician and started singing in local folk clubs in 1964. She moved to Edinburgh working as a clerk by day and playing the folk clubs by night. Barbara made her first commercial recording in 1967 then two years later Scottish folk singer, Archie Fisher invited her to sing with him on the album of Jacobite songs, called The Fate O' Charlie.

Popular on the UK folk circuit she toured and when appearing at a Liverpool folk club she met student teacher, Willy Russell. He showed her the first draft of a musical play called ‘John, Paul, George, Ringo….and Bert’ and asked Barbara to perform the music. Although she had established herself as an acknowledged and gifted folk singer she wanted more and moved to London for work as a professional singer. In 1974, Barbara joined Willy Russell’s stage musical, John, Paul, George, Ringo....and Bert. The combination of fine writing, a superb cast of young unknowns, (including Antony Sher, Bernard Hill and Trevor Eve), and Barbara’s idiosyncratic interpretation of Beatles songs made the show hugely successful.

Robert Stigwood signed Barbara to his record label RSO Records and she made the album, ‘Answer me’ in 1976 which was produced by Junior Campbell (ex Marmalade).

The single became a top ten hit and Barbara was invited to appear as a regular guest on BBC’s prime comedy show, The Two Ronnies. Now her distinctive voice was heard by 10 million viewers every week.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice asked Barbara to record ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ from the new musical ‘Evita,’ and the single became her second hit (1977).

Barbara sang backing vocals for her friend and fellow ‘folky,’ Gerry Rafferty (Humblebums), on his successful City to City (1978) and Night Owl (1979), albums.

Willy Russell wanted Barbara to play the mother (Mrs Johnstone), in his new musical Blood Brothers in 1982. Barbara was reluctant at first, never having acted before, but took on the challenge and excelled. She won the Actress of the Year in a Musical from the Society of West End Theatre in 1984.

Later the same year Barbara agreed to take part in the cast album recording of the musical ‘Chess’, which included the song ‘I Know Him So Well’, a duet sung with Elaine Paige. The song was a worldwide hit and remained at number one in the UK charts for many weeks.

By the nineties Barbara Dickson was keen to develop her acting skills and appeared in various TV dramas including ‘Taggart’, ‘Band of Gold’ and ‘The Missing Postman’.

In 1996 Chris Bond created a show for Barbara called ‘The Seven Ages of Woman’ which toured extensively in 1997 and 1998. The following year she starred in ‘Spend, Spend, Spend’, a musical by Steve Brown and Justin Greene.

Shortly after the sad death of Gerry Rafferty in 2011 Barbara recorded an album of Gerry Rafferty songs.

Barbara continues to tour, playing to sell-out audiences throughout the UK. She has not completely turned her back on folk singing, and continues to record the occasional albums of traditional songs.

Worth a listen:
Hear comes the sun (1974)
Answer Me (1976)
People get ready (1976)
Lean on me (1976)
Driftaway (1976)
Another suitcase another hall (1976)
Caravan Song (1979)
January, February (1980)
I Know Him So Well (with Elaine Paige)

Hamish Imlach (1940 - 1996)

Hamish Imlach was born in 1940 in Calcutta, India to Scottish parents. He grew up in Glasgow and went to the same school as Ray and Archie Fisher, who introduced him to folk music. Hamish became a competent guitar player and lyrist combining pithy wit with traditional airs to become a leading folk singer of the 60s. He was a regular at the folk clubs of Edinburgh and the Scotia bar in Glasgow. He became an activist at the Holy Loch anti- nuclear protests and along with Josh Macrae, Jackie O'Connor, Nigel Denver and Morris Blythman (aka Thurso Berwick) created a body of songs that is still to be heard on demonstrations across the globe.

Self Christened the Fat Folk singer, he was the first to bring to public notice the political songs of Hamish Henderson, the Scots poet who’s "Freedom Come-all-ye" has become virtually a second national anthem for Scotland.

The public image of Hamish Imlach was of a boozing, belly-laughing raconteur that sang very funny songs. As a folk singer and musician however he influenced many other artists, including most notably John Martyn and Billy Connolly.

He was also invited to join the Dubliners, and became a friend of Christy Moore, doyen of Ireland's contemporary traditionalists.

His fame extended well beyond Scotland and he was a popular live act in Germany and across Scandinavia. His love of life was frequently caught in his songs and live performances and although he did not enjoy great commercial success from his many recordings he did give many people pleasure at his live performances.

Hamish Imlach did not always enjoy great health but continued to work none the less and toured regularly with Iain MacKintosh as well as doing solo tours. In 1992 he published his biography, “Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice - Reminiscences of a Fat Folk Singer”. For the last 18 months of his professional life he worked with Kate Kramer, a Canadian fiddle player and singer living in Scotland.

Sadly Hamish died in the early hours of Hogmanay morning in 1996.

Worth a listen
Scottish Sabbath (1969)
Twelve and a tanner a bottle (1969)
The Calton Weavers (1969)
Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice (1969)
The Skye Boat Song (1979)
The D Day Dodgers (1979)

Hamish Imlach and Iain Mackintosh
A mans a man for a’that (1979)
The Roving Ploughboy (1979)

Hamish Imlach, Kate Kramer, and Murial Graves
Mary Alice Jones (1996)
Hills of Lorne (1996)
Jock of Bredeslie (1996)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Matt McGinn (1928 - 1977)

Matthew McGinn was born in Glasgow in 1928 and grew up in the Gallowgate in the Calton district of the city. Near the Gorbals this was a tough neighbourhood and Matt was one of nine children (5 sisters and 3 brothers). He went to the local Catholic School but at the start of the Second World War all inner city children were evacuated to the city’s outskirts for safety. In his brief stay at Newton Mearns Matt witnessed privileged living compared to his own humble home and that gave him a lifelong resentment of privilege. Keen to get back to the city and return to the nefarious activities during the blackouts Matt returned to the Gallogate and was soon embroiled in a life of juvenile crime. The young tear away, aged 12, was sent to St. Mary's Approved School for eighteen months after being caught stealing from a fruit shop. In the correction facility Matt experienced first hand the tough regime which made him realise crime was not the life he wanted. The experience was not without humour however the stark existence was something he never forgot. After release he did a series of menial jobs until eventually he ended up in a factory where he organised a strike. Determined to make something of himself he attended evening classes and became an avid reader. Interested in the Trade Union Movement Matt abandoned Catholicism and joined the British Communist Party in 1949. An active party member he was also critical of its regime and resigned several times over the next few years. Matt was and continued to be a champion of social justice and equity and became the factory’s Shop Steward. His hard work paid off when he won a Trade Union scholarship (T&GWU) to attend Ruskin College, Oxford. There he studied for a Diploma in Economics and Political Science then completed his teacher training at Huddersfield’s Teachers’ Training College. In his spare time at Ruskin, Matt wrote poetry and songs and when won a song competition with The Foreman O'Rourke, he was given a recording contract and released his first folk album called, The Iron Muse in 1963.

Matt returned to Glasgow and took a job as a teacher in Rutherglen before becoming the organiser of the Gorbals Adventure Playground. During this time he became a firm favourite on the UK folk scene sometimes writing up to six songs in a day, many of which were poignant parodies. Matching his wicked sense of fun with the sometimes unjust situations which he observed befall his working comrades he was soon dubbed the Woody Guthrie of Scotland.

Touring the UK folk circuit of the early sixties he met Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan among others. His talent and general irreverence won him many admirers not to mention adoration form his loyal fans. At the time Matt was quite unique because he preferred to sing his own songs based on his personal experiences combined with Glasgow wit and to that effect, predated Billy Connolly who would later overshadow him with mass global audience.

Many of Matt’s songs like Red Yoyo and Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede became favourite children’s songs which are still recorded today.

Matt was a luminary and role model to many and throughout his short life he remained committed to socialism and passionately believed in the overthrow of capitalism.

A principled man he supported many union disputes as well as helping the needy. Sadly the singer /playwright and man of the people died in 1977, aged 49.

Worth a listen
The Foreman O'Rourke (1963)
Coorie Doon (Miner's Lullaby) (1966)
The First Man On the Moon (1966)
Gallowgate Calypso (1966)
Red Yoyo (1966)
The Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede
No Nay Never (1968)
On the Beach at Portobello (1971)
Skinny Malinky Long Legs (1971)
The Ibrox Disaster (1972)
My Wee Autie Sarah (1978)

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Corries (aka The Corrie Voices then The Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell)

Bill Smith and Ron Cruikshanks were studying architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art in the mid-fifties when they went to Ireland to collect folk music. On their return they started an impromptu group called the Corrie Voices with Andy Turner (banjo). Folk music was popular in the UK driven mainly by American folk singers like Woody Guthrie and The Weavers. Slowly the traditional Scottish ballads came to the fore ironically because of the Skiffle craze. It was considered inappropriate by the BBC to promote American folk songs on radio so there was a mad rush to discovered British folk music. This resulted in some strange crossovers such as rockabilly versions of “My Bonnie” and “Coming through the Rye.”

However, this also meant a number of influential musicians could straddle Skiffle and UK Folk. Folk Clubs were an alternative venue to milk and coffee bars for students and acts like The Spinners (from Liverpool), Wally Whyton (The Vipers), Mike Harding all started playing skiffle but found their bent lay in folk. In Scotland, Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor were no different and liked American folk music but started researching Scottish folk music. Their love of Music Hall gave them another shared interest which would eventuate in an act that became very successful appearing regularly on the Tonight program (BBC) and eventually as the resident folk duo on The White Heather Club (BBC).

Matt McGinn, Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach were city folk singers with massive appeal to urban dwellers. More ethnic than the rest their humour came from the working class streets and their influence was immense among yet to make it acts like Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and John Martyn.

A tremendously popular radio series at the time featured Ewan McColl singing Scottish ballads.

The music of the Corrie Voices reflected this background but at the same time was influenced by the traditional Jacobean songs. When Andy left he was replaced by a fellow student called Roy Williamson and the addition of Paddie Bell (singer). The group were soon a popular attraction around the pubs and folk clubs in Edinburgh. In 1962 they scored a prestigious gig at an Edinburgh Festival venue. Unfortunately, Ron Cruikshanks fell ill and Ronnie Browne (guitar), another art student was asked to join the line up. Now billed the "Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell" the group continued as semi-professionals, keeping their day jobs, but working up a big following. In 1964 they became the resident folk group on the "Hoot'nanny Show" (BBC).

After the success of the Hoot’nanny Show the group signed with Fontana records and became professional. In 1965, Paddie Bell left to have a baby, thereafter she pursued a solo career. Despite their continuing success Ron Smith and Ronnie Browne fell out after the 1965 New Year BBC Hogmanay show and Smith left the Corrie Trio. In 1966, Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne were in two minds whether to continue as a duo. Fortunately, they decided to become the Corries. Popular as ever they were featured on the BBC series "The White Heather Club. The Corries segment was filmed on location which added to their rugged and romantic appearance, or as Billy Connolly might say, made them "windswept and interesting."

Roy was not only a consummate musician he was a skilled musical instrument designer and maker and took every opportunity to feature the sounds of his new instruments like the ‘combolins’ in their performances. By the end of the 60s and throughout the 70s The Corries were the face of folk music in Scotland. The duo performed the length and breadth of the country appearing in village halls as well as prestigious venues. They were a band of the people and when Roy wrote "Flower of Scotland," it became Scotland's unofficial anthem.

The group made several albums which sold well in Scotland but success outside never came although they did commend great respect in the folk community. During the 1989 tour Roy’s health began to deteriorate. He was asthmatic and often required to be medicated before performances but he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died two years later. Ronnie Browne continued recording for a short while before returning to painting and giving up performing. Paddie Bell’s solo career was short but she did record a couple of good albums then enjoyed a brief career revival in the 90s. Paddie died aged 74, in 2005.

Worth a listen
Corrie Folk Trio & Paddie Bell
Jug of punch (1963)
Tiree Love Song (1963)
My love she’s but a lassie yet (1965)
Killiecrankie (1965)

The Corries
Flower of Scotland (1969)
I’m a rover (1966)
Highland Lament (1968)
Flower of Scotland (1969)

Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor
Football Crazy (1960)

The Spinners
Maggie May (1964)
Dirty old town (1964)

Matt McGinn
Ma wee Auntie Sarah (1975)
Heiderum Hauderum (1975)

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Tam White (1942 – 2010) (The Boston Dexters and The Buzz)

Thomas Bennett Sim White was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1942. He grew up in the Grassmarket and his grandfather was bandmaster in Gilmerton. He had six uncles that played in the local brass band. Young Tam played the piano and sang tenor in school productions. He was good enough to auditioned with the Edinburgh Opera Company but the pull of rock’n’roll was too strong. He left school at 15 and became an apprentice stonemason. During this time, he joined a local skiffle group and began listening to American Blues music. He joined a beat group called the Heartbeats with drummer Toto McNaughton and when the group disbanded Tam White became a member of pop outfit, The Dean Hamilton Combo. The group was managed by club owner Brian Waldman and was installed as resident band at Edinburgh’s new Kontiki Club. They soon built up a sizeable local following and moved to the more prestigious The Place in Victoria Sreet. On stage Tam encouraged the band to include more R&B music. At the height of their popularity the Dean Hamilton Combo broke up in 1963.

The Boston Dextors were officially formed in 1964 and the line-up was Tam White (vocals), Toto McNaughton (drums), John Turnbull (guitar) and Alan Coventry (bass). On stage, they based their image on 30s gangsters and dressed in expensive pin striped suits, complete with replica machine guns. Musically, the Boston Dexters were a gutsy R&B band and very popular on the Edinburgh scene. Their manager paid for the band to record several demo discs which highlighted Tam’s husky vocals. After a journalist heard them he sent the demos to EMI, who called the group down to London for an audition in January 1965. They were signed them to Columbia label and song writers Bill Martin and Tommy Scott were commissioned to write for the group. They came up with I’ve Got Something to Tell You Baby which was nothing like the band’s R & B style. It flopped as did their follow up single Try Hard, another Bill Martin / Tommy Scott. The band did however impress Joe Meek who offered them a recording contract which was summarily dismissed by their manager, Brian Waldman. The Boston Dexters eventually broke up in 1966.

White and Turnbull formed the Buzz, while McNaughton kept the Boston Dexters’ name going for a few months with singer Linnie Patterson. The Buzz released one single ‘You’re Holding Me Down’ (1966) which was produced by Joe Meek. The band broke up soon after.

Tam White later pursued a solo career as a pop balladeer before finding success as an R&B/jazz singer. By this time, he had returned to Scotland but as the work began to dry up he went back to the stonemasonry. He revived the Dexters in the 70s, and billed them as Tam White & The Dexters. The band built up a solid and loyal following for their live appearances, which generally sold out.

When Tam White and the Dexters broke up for the second-time collaborations with musicians such as guitarist Neil Warden, the harmonica player Fraser Speirs and bassist Boz Burrell eventually developed into a permanent line-up known as The Shoestring Band, which continued until 2006.

In the 80s he tried to revive his solo career but could not adjust to the changing industry. The Dexters were reformed in 1982 and the ten-piece outfit played at Ronnie Scott’s before recording a live album.

Tam White sang the role of Big Jazza McGlone for Robbie Coltrane in John Byrne’s TV classic Tutti Frutti (BBC - 1987).

In the 90’s Tam took up character acting and featured in many TV series including Eastenders; and films such as Braveheart. Tam White was considered by many to be one of the greatest European Blues singers with his trademark gravel-voice but sadly was never able to turn his talent to commercial success. He died aged 58 in 2010.

Worth a listen
Matchbox (1964)
I’ve Got Troubles Of My Own (1964)
Nothings gonna change me <1964)
I Believe To My Soul (1965)
I’ve Got Something To Tell You Baby (1965)

The Buzz
You’re Holding Me Down’ (1966)

Monday, 3 February 2014

Maggie Bell (Stone the Crows)

Maggie Bell was born in 1945, Glasgow, Scotland. In her early teens she started singing with the Kinning Park Ramblers where she shared the vocal with Catherine Lettice and met her future husband, Les Harvey (Alex Harvey’s younger brother). Maggie worked as a window dresser by day but at night the 17 year old fronted a dance band orchestra supplementing her income. The attraction to rock’n’roll was strong and Maggie made her recording debut in 1966, but received no commercial recognition. A year later she teamed up with Bill and Bobby Patrick (brass players) and Les Harvey (guitar) and they toured the American air-force bases in Germany. Here Maggie forged her stage craft and when they returned to Scotland, Maggie was in full force. She replaced Frankie Miller in a band and they called themselves, called Power. The lineup included Les Harvey (guitar), Jim Dewar (ex Luvvers), bass player, and John McGinnis (keyboards). Maggie Bell had a raunchy, gutbucket voice that matched Janis Joplin and she shared the vocals with Jim Dewar (his voice was like David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears). Power was a progressive soul band that predated pub rock, but had their genesis in the pubs and clubs of Glasgow. They were the house band at the Burn’s Howff, Glasgow where Peter Grant (the manager of Led Zepplin) caught their act and signed them.

In 1970, they changed their name to Stone the Crows, (Grant favourite saying, meaning “ to hell with it.”) and added drummer Colin Allen (Ex- Zoot Money's Big Roll Band and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) to the lineup. Jim Dewar was an excellent bass player and Les, a gifted guitarist who had spent sometime in the US touring. He had acquired a feel for heavy rock and the band’s tight rhythm section made them an excellent live attraction. Les was determined to get members of the band to write their own material. Their studio work was produced by Peter Grant and their albums met critical approval but failed to sell in large numbers.

Stone the Crows were a powerful blues-based rock band and were a popular live act that toured university campuses, dance halls and festivals. They also toured the States and played alongside Frank Zappa, Edgar Winter and the MC5. However disappointed at the lack of real commercial success Jim Dewar and John McGinnis decided to quit the band in 1971, they were replaced by Ronnie Leahy and Steve Thompson. In the following year Les Harvey (now married to Maggie), was tragically electrocuted onstage during a gig at Swansea University. The group decided to carry on with Peter Green (ex Fleetwood Mac) as first choice but he pulled out and Steve Howe (Yes) helped out the band until the young lead guitarist of Thunderclap Newman was invited to join Stone the Crows, his name was Jimmy McCulloch.

Despite making another album the heart of the band had gone with the loss of Les and Jim and Stone the Crows broke up in June 1973.

Once free, Jim Dewar rejoined Frankie Miller for a short time before becoming a member of the Robin Trower (Band) in 1972. He played for many years before suffering a stroke. Jim died peacefully in 2002.

Colin Allen joined Focus and Jimmy McCulloch went onto Paul McCartney in Wings (1974-1977). He was an outstanding guitarist and died in 1979 from drug related heart failure, aged 26.

Maggie Bell pursued a solo career and released two solo albums, Queen of the Night sold very well in 1974 and a single, "After Midnight" charted in the US.

Her next album Suicide Sal (1975) featured session musicians Jimmy Page, Joe Jammer, Pete Wingfield, Geoff Whitehorn and Phil May sold well in the UK and US. Both were produced by Jerry Wexler.

Maggie’s voice was much in demand and in 1976; she was guest vocalist with Tim Hinkley, in his scratch band Hinkley's Heroes. She sang as a session singer with Rod and the Faces on their Every Picture Tells A Story album.

Maggie also recorded a couple of TV themes, "Hazell" charted in 1978, and the popularity of STVs Taggart, has allowed millions to hear her singing “No Mean City.”

She toured with Midnight Flyer in the early eighties.

In 1981 she had her last chart success in the UK with a duet with B.A. Robertson and their cover of "Hold Me".

Maggie based herself in Rotterdam, Holland for 20 years and returned to the UK in early 2006 to join the British Blues Quintet, sharing lead vocals with Zoot Money, Miller Anderson, and Colin Hodgkinson, the lineup is complete with Colin Allen (drummer).

Maggie has retired but continues to perform at benefit gigs and other special occasions.

Worth a listen:
Maggie Bell
After Midnight (1974)
Queen of The Night (1974)
As The Years Go Passing (1974)
Wishing Well (1975)
Suicide Sal (1975)
If You Don't Know (1975)
(Get a bit of sadness) In My Life (1975)
Comin On Strong (1975)
Hold On (1975) 
I Saw Him Standing There (1975)
It's Been So Long (1975)
Hazell (Theme from Hazell) (1979)
No Mean City (Theme from Taggart) (1983)

Maggie Bell and BA Robertson
Hold Me (1981)

Stone the Crows
The Touch Of Your Loving Hand.
Raining In Your Heart
Blind Man.
Fool On The Hill

Thunderclap Newman
Something in the air (1969)

Wings (with Jimmy McCullloch)
Junior's Farm (1974)
Venus & Mars Rock Show (1975)
Let 'em in (1976)
Maybe I'm amazed (1977)
Mull of Kintyre (1977)
With a little luck (1978)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)

Ian Scott Anderson, was born in 1947, in Dumfermline, the youngest of three siblings. The family lived in East Port, Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, then later moved to Edinburgh. The young Anderson was always keen on music, initially influenced by his father's record collection of big bands and jazz musicians, then later by rock n roll. In 1959 the family relocated to Blackpool and Ian finished his schooling at Blackpool Grammar School. In 1962/63, he formed a school band called The Blades and they played soul and blues music, with Anderson on vocals and harmonica. The line-up was complete with Jeffrey Hammond (bass), John Evans (drums and piano), and another guitarist. Drummer Barrie Barlow became a member in 1963 after Evans had switched from drums to piano. Later the band developed into a seven piece called the John Evan Band (before becoming the John Evan Smash). Meantime Ian completed his studies in fine art at Blackpool College of Art. The group decided to try their luck in the South and moved to Luton. Frustrated by the lack of instant success most of the band quit, leaving Anderson and bassist Glenn Cornick (who had replaced Hammond) to join forces with blues guitarist Mick Abrahams and his friend, drummer Clive Bunker, both from the Luton-based band McGregor's Engine. They took a series of names as they played the London Club circuit but what was memorable about their various metamorphoses was Ian played mouth organ on stage standing on one leg. Frustrated by his own inability to master the electric guitar Ian traded it in for a flute and in record time became proficient in rock and blues flute. Eventually the band weas christened Jethro Tull by a booking agent’s clerk and the name stuck. The group signed to the Ellis-Wright agency and they released their first single in 1968 called "Sunshine Day.”

The record failed to impact on the record buying public. Their first album 'This Was ‘came out in the same year and caught some critical acclaim.

Blues purist Mick Abrahams left the band to form Blodwyn Pig after some artistic differences with Ian Anderson.

Martin Barre eventually replaced Abrahams and Jethro Tull released their next album Stand Up in 1969. It topped the UK album charts.

Progressive rock groups rarely issued singles as their demographic was young adults and not young teenagers who traditionally could not afford to buy albums. When Jethro Tull released “Living in the Past" as a single it reached number three in the UK charts.

They followed up with their other singles, "Sweet Dream" (1969) and "The Witch's Promise" (1970), and a five-track EP, Life Is a Long Song (1971), all of which made the top twenty.

By the time the album Benefit was released John Evan (keyboards) had joined the band.

In the same year Jeffrey Hammond re-joined the group when bassist Glenn Cornick was asked to leave. The group released their most popular album Aqualung in 1971 which had international success reaching Number 7 in the US album charts.

In 1972 the concept album Thick as a brick was released and topped the charts.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Studio Six

A very popular Glasgow mod band in the sixties was Studio Six. Contemporary with the Beatstalkers and the Pathfinders the line-up was Colin McClure (vocals), Clive McClure (rhythm guitar), Neil Grimshaw (lead), Gerry Tedeschi (bass), Ricky Kerr (organ) and Ron Milne (drums). The band was originally managed by Carl McClure father of Colin and Clive. Cousin Chris was the singer of a rival band called Chris McClure and the Fireflies (later Chris changed his stage name to Christian).

The group amassed a sizable Scottish following and played regularly at the big dancehall venues. Studio Six played support to The Stax Tour on its visit to the Glasgow Locarno, with Booker T and the MG'S, the Markeys, Sam and Dave and Otis Redding.

Soon after they moved to London and signed to the Robert Stigwood agency and released four singles on Polydor Records. Stigwood’s other groups were the Who and the Bee Gees. He offered them two Gibb Brother songs i.e. 'The Square Cup' and 'The Turning of The Tide', but they preferred to record their own, 'When I See my Baby' in 1966. The single reached the Top 30 in the UK.

The group maintained a popular stage presence and toured extensively as the warm up acts for the Move, the Kinks, the Nice, Jethro Tull, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Titch, Manfred Mann, and Pink Floyd.

Despite much public appreciation the group failed to make in roads commercially and had no significant chart success. Towards the end of the sixties Ron Miln (drums), RickyKerr (organ), and Gerry Tedeschi (bass) left and were replaced by drummer Jim Breakey (ex Poets) and George McNally (Organ), then Mike Sergeant. The band eventually broke up in 1970.

Worth a listen
When I See My Baby (1966)
Bless my Soul (I've Been and Gone and Done It) (1966)
Times Were When (1967)
Bless my soul (1969)