Former CBS record label mates convention....

Had an unexpected reunion with former CBS records labelmate John Cooper Clarke, still strutting his stuff as the definitive punk poet... On the right (my left in the photo) is one of my son's craft stalls (Sam's Wood) with his wooden creations displayed in the Essex town of Wivenhoe, where JCC now resides.

We reminisced about the various shared acquaintances and personalities from those days, compared notes on our life stories since being 'signed' and generally put the world to rights. Have to say his detailed memory from those heady days is impressive, he hasn't aged a bit ;-)

Here is one of my favourite examples of his work:
I wrote the songs that nearly made
The bottom line of the hit parade
Almost anthems, shoulda been hits
Songs like... Puttin' on the Ritz
Some enchanted afternoon
Twenty-four hours to Levenshulme
Dancin' in the daylight, singin' in the smog
You ain't nothin' but a hedgehog
So close and yet so far
Do you remember they way we are
I'd like to get you on a speedboat to china
From an idea by George Steiner
Ain't no blag - uncle's got a brand new jag
Ain't no slouch - mama's got a brand new couch
She ain't heavy, she's my sister
Not to leave out twist and whisper
Brand new leapordskin pillbox glove
Baby you and me we got a greasy kind of love

JiM JONES REVUE - interview w/Classic Rock Magazine

Rupert from JJR sent me this excellent interview with Matt Frost from Classic Rock Magazine. I'm delighted to share it. Rupert is the guitarist for JJR (and Beth's big brother) and has been one of my hip conduits into whats fresh in London, alt-blues/roots/whatever for many years. It's great to see a bunch of good dudes do good. Cheers! (Click the pic to embiggin)

Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly...

One of the themes Jonathan and I develop in our book The Secret Chord is the way some music takes on deeper significance when particular associations are made with it. This is a perfect example: a tribute single to keep awareness of the tragedy at Hillsborough featuring a host of pop luminaries under the banner The Justice Collective singing the Hollies emotional song 'He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother'.

Although engineering a Christmas chart topper is an uncomfortable strategy, with the revelations the recent enquiry exposed this does give plenty of validity. The Justice Collective ensemble is headed up by composer Guy Chambers, Text JUSTICE to 80010 to pre-order the single now. Texts cost £1 + standard network rate with proceeds going to the Hillsborough Families' legal costs in their quest for justice.


Synod stalemate...

...shamelessly nicked from Bishop Alan's blog...

Whilst the synod vote on women bishop's failed to reach the overall 2/3 majority of all three 'houses' and despite the profound sadness so many feel, on reflection perhaps we should consider the outcome may be for the best? Whatever the result yesterday evening there would have been no winners as such, even staunch objectors to the introduction of women bishops concede that there will come a time when women are appointed so. But at what cost would it be if the vote went through yesterday?

Personally I am totally in favour of bishops, regardless ;-) I was also taken by surprise at the depth of sadness I felt when the result was read out. But what I cannot endorse is the idea that we cannot be one in communion when served by a woman. And if the vote had gone through, as has been so more eloquently been expressed by most commentators, it would have enshrined in law that there should be provision BY A MAN for those that objected on theological grounds.

Now I know there are some that are sincere in that belief, however, listening to the live stream from Synod yesterday it was revealing how many that hold that view see it as a 'right', a personal preference for which a theological objection has been tailored. It was also made abundantly clear that advocates of the no vote felt this 'provision' had not been fully documented. I am unsure whether the church (in this case, read C of E) and Bishops in the House of Lords will have legitimate or legal standing to comment authoritatively on other matters whilst condoning the discrimination that is still rife and would have been formalised.

So yesterday has produced a mixed message. On one hand there was an overwhelming majority to accept women bishops, on the other hand the church has not moved any further forward. On one hand the Bishops and Clergy do seem to be more of one mind and yet on the other it would appear the House of Laity do not proportionately represent the rest of us. Furthermore whilst the clergy will feel the laity are a waste of space (see Twitter last night!!!) without us there is no church?

And the best moment during the debate? When the Bishop of Leicester attempted to bring some Christlike perspective with this comment during his speech: "Will this chamber be as full for the Living Wage debate tomorrow. Will the queue for the public gallery be as long?"

There is always hope...


Make love your goal...

The full version of Gabrielle Aplin's The Power of Love which is about to hit our screens as the soundtrack to John Lewis' charming Christmas 2012 advert...

Those of us ancient enough will recall this is a stripped down, alternative version of one of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's number one hits. FGTH, fronted by charismatic singer Holly Johnson, was one of those incendiary yet short lived bands in the 80s that made fantastic music with the assistance of legendary producer Trevor Horn.


BAYPORT BBQ - A Deep Blues Juke Joint

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Mr. Johnson with James Leg of Black Diamond Heavies
Knowing that i'm vegan you might wonder what the hell i'm doing hyping a BBQ joint. First of all, people are always gonna eat meat so it might as well be BBQ and Bayport BBQ in Minneapolis (Bayport, technically) ain't yr average BBQ joint.  Run by Chris "Wisconsin" Johnson and his family, Bayport BBQ has become the nations premier venue for fresh punk infected hard blues and it's myriad offshoots. This sound we call Deep Blues (whatever that is.) MSP's Citypages Mag did a fine piece on Mr. Johnson, his BBQ and his cat bird seat as the boss of the Deep Blues Festival franchise. I found it worthy of re-posting here without permission. 

PS-  Alive Records has released a monster set of performances by bands in their stable (Buffalo Killers, Lee Bains, Left Lane Cruiser, Brian Olive, Radio Moscow and more.) It was recorded at Bayport BBQ and is available (CD and BBQ sauce red vinyl!) HERE.

By Rick Mason

Just off the main drag in an unassuming Minnesota river town is an outpost of the deep South and an underground musical phenomenon whose ripples extend far across the globe. Bayport, on the St. Croix just south of Stillwater, may be home to a state prison and a massive windows factory, but it has a small-town, Midwestern feel that's been sharply tinged lately by the pungent aroma of southern barbecue and the hard-edged sounds of the blues.

Chris Johnson is the equally unassuming owner of City Pages' Best Blues Club of 2012, Bayport BBQ, whose menu sports barbecued ribs and white whiskey, and whose tiny performance space regularly hosts artists like Scott Biram, Rev. John Wilkins, T-Model Ford and Buffalo Killers, representing the raw, surprisingly diverse movement collectively known as deep blues. A former insurance man, Johnson is also the founder of the Deep Blues Festival, which has miraculously survived despite myriad problems since its 2007 debut.

In fact, survival could be the theme tonight as Bayport BBQ celebrates its second anniversary with a show featuring Tav Falco and Panther Burns along with Texas one-man-band John Schooley. Falco is a former Memphis running mate of Alex Chilton who has been based in Europe for a couple of decades. He could almost be a godfather of the deep blues movement since his music is a surreal blend of rock'n'roll, country, blues, rockabilly, tango and European cabaret, all slathered in Memphis soul. The evening will include a short film Falco made in 1974 featuring hill country blues icon R. L. Burnside.
When Johnson established the BBQ it was sort of the last shot at a dream repeatedly hammered by circumstances summed up by a classic blues line: If it wasn't for bad luck, wouldn't have no luck at all. Johnson absorbed heavy losses from the first three Deep Blues Festivals, and only the restaurant's success has enabled him to continue bringing the music he loves to Minnesota.

Without saying so directly, Johnson radiated a mixture of satisfaction and relief as he sat dressed in chef whites at a table in his restaurant one recent afternoon, reflecting on his somewhat unlikely journey deep into the heart of the blues and his joint's second birthday. It's a path that's also made Johnson well known in a burgeoning deep blues community that extends far beyond the banks of the St. Croix. Mention Johnson's name to virtually anyone in the deep blues realm and the response will invariably be something along the lines of, "Yeah, Chris is a good guy."

For the uninitiated, deep blues refers to the kind of primordial, unadulterated, gloriously ragged blues rooted in the Mississippi Delta and Mississippi's northern hill country. The late music journalist Robert Palmer wrote an historical account of the style in an early 1980s book that he called Deep Blues, which led to a Robert Mugge-directed documentary film that focused on then-living blues stalwarts like Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Junior Kimbrough. A guy named Rick Saunders also has a longstanding blog called Deep Blues that Johnson cites as a key to his education in the genre.

At some point, perhaps inspired by bands like the White Stripes or festival appearances by guys like Burnside, a younger generation of musicians picked up on the gutbucket glories of hard, outsider blues, and, sensing a spiritual connection, began adding similarly rough elements of punk, country, folk, metal and bluegrass.

"It's real raw, passionate music," Johnson said. "I can find the connection between all these bands. When you hear something that's real and passionate and you believe it's from the heart, that connects with me. I feel I can really appreciate what they're doing."

For Johnson, the great revelation that essentially changed his life was discovering gravelly Mississippi blues vet T-Model Ford opening for Johnny Winter at the Cabooze. Growing up in the small southern Minnesota town of Jackson, Johnson had liked a lot of mainstream rock, and remained a music fan as an adult, attending a lot of shows. But Ford in particular blew him away, prompting Johnson to check out Ford's label, Fat Possum, which in turn unveiled its roster of similarly wizened blues guys, and eventually led to the younger artists they were inspiring.

"It just opened the door. Now I had known Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House, and I knew some of the elder bluesmen, but not in that new environment where they were influencing Gun Club and these guys who were taking it in a new direction."

Gradually he got to know some of the musicians personally, bringing some in to play block parties in his Hudson neighborhood, as well as some benefit shows, including one to keep Hemphill from being evicted from her home. Finally, Texas troubadour Scott Biram suggested he rent a room and sell tickets. Instead he tried a festival.

Johnson invited 18 bands to participate in the first Deep Blues Festival in 2007, situated on a driving range in River Falls. After a summer-long drought, the skies opened up on the day of the festival and there was a deluge of rain. Nevertheless, he said, "We had 130 paid tickets, we had 50 musicians. So there's 200 people hangin' out and they loved it. Nobody left." His favorite story from that year involves a sheriff's deputy hired to provide security. After his shift was over, the guy went home, changed clothes, went back to the festival and finally left happy after buying ten CDs of music. Johnson, however, lost 30 grand.

The next year, Johnson staged the festival over three days at the Washington County Fairgrounds. Again it poured one day, attendance was far below the break-even point and he lost another $30,000. In 2009 he moved the festival to the Cabooze in Minneapolis, intending to use both the indoor and outdoor stages. But it was one of the coldest August days on record, there was a competing blues festival nearby, scant press coverage, and he dropped yet another 30 big ones.

Besides uncooperative weather, Johnson knew he was battling the fact that none of the artists were well known, and the entire genre was a niche without a mass audience. "We weren't getting the love from anybody," he recalled, except the bands themselves and hardcore fans, who came from 15 countries to attend.

Even Johnson's attempt to mount a show with a big headliner failed. Although the members of the Black Keys, who Johnson had gotten to know personally, agreed to do a show with him, their agent nixed the deal at the last minute.

Meanwhile, Johnson was still looking for a new career after selling his insurance business and liked the idea of opening a small restaurant where his three kids could help out and he could put on some live shows. He'd always liked to cook, had worked at a bakery as a kid and through college, and had become somewhat accomplished as a pastry chef. So he bought the long-vacant building that previously housed the gourmet Bayport Cookery, added a barbecue pit, came up with some Texas-inspired barbecue recipes and opened in 2010 on Halloween.

Two years later the restaurant is supporting itself and Johnson's family, and Bayport is a regular stop for the quirky lot pursuing the increasingly diverse essence of deep blues.

"I chose to do this to be different," Johnson explained. "Our bar is different. Our music is different. The food is different. So hopefully it's a destination where people will appreciate it and want it. There's just not very many Texas barbecues in Minnesota. Deep Blues, the festival, started here just because it was my back yard.

"We do things a little differently. We do an early show, so it doesn't really connect with the late night, club scene crowd. But I have no interest in being out until two in the morning unless I absolutely have to. I'm going to be 50 in February and I got my kids and I'm busy here all week, so I guess it's out of convenience.

"The music end of it, I still pay out more than we take in in revenue. All the ticket money goes to the performers. I still have some guarantees for the occasional band that I just wanna see. I wanna have John Wilkins here. We can't get the ticket buyers to support his shows, so I take a bit of loss on that. But I just think it's important. I want my kids to know who T-Model Ford is. I just think that when you get the opportunity to have one of these people come through here and play, I wanna figure out a way to try to make it happen."

Last summer's resurrected Deep Blues Festival was an artistic success too. Johnson avoided hemorrhaging barrels of cash by aiming to break even, doing it on a smaller scale with one stage set up inside the restaurant and another in the patio out back. He limited ticket sales to only 120 and they cost $150, but for that you got three days of music from 26 bands, all the food you could eat and a real sense that the deep blues movement is thriving on a genuine communal spirit.

A little more widespread recognition may be coming next month with the release of Alive at the Deep Blues Fest, featuring the performances of seven bands from the Alive Records roster that played last summer's event, including Buffalo Killers, Left Lane Cruiser, Radio Moscow, Henry's Funeral Shoe, Brian Olive, John the Conqueror, and Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires. Bains and his band will play a record release show at Bayport December 1.

Sometimes it's been a struggle, but Johnson can now appreciate a certain satisfaction from establishing a beachhead of outsider blues in an unlikely spot.

"When I put on the very first festival I said if I'm the only ticket buyer, if I'm the only person standing there, at least I got to see 18 bands I really wanted to see," he said. "And I've gone on with that attitude for every show I've ever done. All I can do is put it on and if people want to be there and share it with me, great. But I never did it to try and do anything more than give the bands a paycheck. I always wanted to take care of the musicians. And I hope it meant more than just a paycheck. Some just want their fee and go. But there's a large percentage that are into it and love the connection, love meeting the other bands. They love seeing the other bands. They love the camaraderie. It's a gathering, it's a networking thing. So there's definitely a sense of community with the musicians. And I like that.

"We accomplished some things and it's pretty neat. Bands got signed because of the festival. Connections got made. Careers got launched. Definitely friendships were formed, and lots of good things happened. Still are."

Bonus! Here's a fine review of Bayport's food.

Hangin' With OLD GRAY MULE ~ Like A Apple On A Tree

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If Lockhart, Texas is the BBQ capital of Texas then OLD GRAY MULE is the band at that BBQ. CR Humphrey aka (more or less) OLD GRAY MULE has made his best album yet, which is actually sayin' something because OGM has always been special, each album a little different while retaining that Texafied hill country thing. Humphrey started OGM out as a two piece instrumental outfit, started working with a few different drummers, then he started adding vocals, sometimes even his own. He does what needs to be done, he gets who needs to be got. 

This round he's got Lightnin' Malcolm doing some vocals, and some drums (a wicked guitarist as well, saying Malcolm just plays some drums is like saying a '69 Cadillac Coupe DeVille is a just a car,) south Australia's Snooks LaVie on vocals, cheerleading and harp, New Mexico's CW Ayon makes an appearance of course, as do a few other players, most notably Cedric Burnside. It's a sonically raw and immediate boogie that just makes you helpless but to get down. There's a lot to love here. Somebody has finally covered the Lyrics Born version of RL Burnside's Someday Baby, and to hear Cedric on his grandfather's classic Come On In is a haunting treat. This is OLD GRAY MULE so of course we get some instrumentals too, and as I've said before about OGM instros you never seem to miss the vocals. 

Like A Apple... is a confident sounding album with some strident boogies and tough, smart new blues that continue to establish fresh blues horizons. It's also a real funass album you can put on for the kids in the morning (just skip the cover of Stagger Lee!) and the grown folks at night. It's the blues walkin' like a man, it's the blues, as T-Model Ford says, "Like a apple on a tree...hangin'." 
This is what a Texas apple tastes like.

This is the album that'll get you through the winter. Your feet'll keep the floor warm, and your hips will keep greased and workin' through the spring. Dig it then give them your money.

Whoever has an ear to hear...

For those with family members, friends and senses that understand, an excellent mini TED talk...