Tag Archives: Gerry Conway

Watching The Dark

15 Jan


With hundreds of thousands of  bad compilation albums out there, it’s easy to forget that there are some good ones too. I suppose the advent of iTunes and shuffle buttons mean that fewer people care about listening to tracks in the sequence the artist intended them to be heard – and certainly a lot of compilations are thrown together, seemingly at random. This one is an exception: A triple-CD collection of  tracks recorded by Richard Thompson  between 1969 and 1992. It was compiled (actually, I’d prefer to say curated) by long-time Thompson enthusiast Edward Haber and issued in 1993 on Hannibal Records (HNCD 5303), the label set up by Joe Boyd who had produced many of Thompson’s finest recordings over that period. It was also pulled together with the artist’s full involvement.

In more recent years Thompson has been the subject of two substantive box sets.  (Plus a double album anthology of his period with Capitol Records (Action Packed)). There’s  RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson, a mammoth 5 CD + book collection produced by Free Reed in 2006 and a 4 CD retrospective, Walking on a Wire put out by Shout! Factory in 2009) but this was the first real anthology (although Island records issued a double album of live tracks and rarities in 1976 when Thompson had left the music business for a while to live in an Islamic commune). Listening to this again though, I think it may be the best of the whole bunch.

The first thing to note about Watching the Dark is what good value it is. Each of the three discs contains more  than 70 minutes of music and of the 47 tracks, only half (24 if you’re pedantic) were available at the time of issue. The remainder are a mixture of  live versions of songs, re-mixes, wholly unreleased or unavailable material. The package also includes a carefully compiled and expensively-produced colour booklet. While not including song lyrics this does provide details of the source of each recording (studio or venue) and every musician plus a thoughtful essay on Richard Thompson’s career to the date this collection appeared.

The next thing to note is how the project is sequenced – which us unusual but works surprisingly well. Instead of attempting to ‘theme’ the material or simply present it chronologically, Haber groups the tracks into two or three year periods (1978-80,  1972-73 and so on) but then spreads it about (so three tracks from Thompson’s Fairport Convention period are in the middle of disc 1 while three from his  first solo album are on disc three while the five most recent songs of all are in the middle of disc 2.  I can’t work out why this works so well – but it does! Another thing I found impressive was that Haber didn’t feel the need to represent all of Richard Thompson’s side projects. This means that although the French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson collaboration is featured (‘Bird in God’s Garden/Lost and Found’) there’s nothing from other ensemble albums like Morris On, Rock On or Saturday Rolling Around.

Finally, there’s the music. The five LP’s worth of songs recorded with his former wife Linda Thompson form fifteen of the tracks here – and for me they’re among the most outstanding (‘Withered and Died’ and ‘Strange Affair’  are certainly in my top-ten Richard and Linda favourites! Interesting too are three songs which were released on the Shoot Out The Lights album (‘For Shame of Doing Wrong’, ‘Backstreet Slide’ and ‘The Wrong Heartbeat’)  but which are represented here in earlier versions produced by Gerry Rafferty and Hugh Murphy for an album which Richard Thompson vetoed because he hated the production.  I think they’re rather good though, although the sound is rather ‘lusher’ than I would have associated with Thompson at this time.

Also well-represented are live tracks from the Richard Thompson Big Band which, for a while, included Clive Gregson and Christine Collister (who were making their own albums as a duo around this time). A later female vocalist who was part of the band for a while and who is represented here is Shawn Colvin.  Others featured include Pete Zorn, John Kirkpatrick, Simon Nicol as well as past and present Fairport Convention drummers Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway.

In the mix too are some solo performances – including a handful of acoustic guitar versions of traditional tunes.

All in all, it’s a really impressive collection and worth commending. Although it’s not cheap, even on Amazon, it shows that decent compilations are worth buying if they’ve been compiled with care and attention to detail (unlike those which appear without even crediting the artists, producers and engineers whose work is represented).


The Dylan Project

3 Nov


This evening I’m going to The Stables theatre in Milton Keynes to listen to the current incarnation of The Dylan Project play live so in preparation I’ve gone back to the original CD from 1998, on Woodworm Records (WRCD029).  This is credited to Steve Gibbons but is very much a collaborative project – and by the time of the second album, the following year, the album’s title had become the band’s name

Mr Gibbons is an unpretentious working musician (vocals, guitar, harmonica)  from Birmingham (England, not Alabama) who has been recording and touring steadily, but scarcely spectacularly, since the 1960s and whose main claim to fame came through charting with a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Tulane’ in the mid-seventies.   The genesis of the Project came out of his conversation with another Brummie, Dave Pegg  (the bass player from Fairport Convention). Both were Dylan fans and their thoughts turned to putting together a collection of their favourite songs.

If it were me or you of course, we might just draw up a playlist for our i-pod or burn a custom CD for the car – but these guys are professional musicians: Gibbons was an experienced band leader and Pegg, at this time, was the owner of a well-regarded recording studio and a boutique record label and  so what resulted was this album.

The pair each pulled one of their regular collaborators into the venture:  P.J. Wright was part of Gibbons’s main band (playing steel, pedal steel and slide guitars) and Simon Nicol (guitar/vocals) was Pegg’s bandmate in Fairport.  Though not featured on the sleevenotes or artwork, the drummer on all tracks was Gerry Conway (who was at this point just joining Fairport).

What they put together was a really listenable collection of fifteen tracks – fourteen by Dylan of course, but also an opener (‘Colours to the Mast’) by Gibbons. This is an expert pastiche but one which is an affectionate, celebratory, tribute rather than a parody – and which showcases how well Steve Gibbons’s gravelly voice can handle Dylan’s material. The sleevenotes are great too, as each of the four protagonists describes the circumstances by which the project came together and  their own reflections on what Dylan means to them.

The cover tracks include some of my favourite songs – (‘Simple Twist of Fate’; ‘I Want You’ and ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’) and also some which I’d not appreciated sufficiently in their original incarnations (‘Ring Them Bells’ and, especially, ‘Dark Eyes’). In all of them the backing arrangements are sympathetic – but not in awe of  the originals. More importantly, you get the feeling that all involved were having a thoroughly enjoyable time working on material they knew and admired.

Yes, it’s ‘only’ a tribute album by a bunch of old men and of course it’s not the same as watching Mr Zimmerman play his own songs. Since Bob Dylan is as unpredictable as ever though, it’s unlikely you will hear more accomplished  live performances of some of this material, played by their writer, with familiar arrangements, in small to medium venues.  Clearly others feel the same way – which is why The Dylan Project continues to tour regularly.

(PS The Woodworm label is no more but the Dylan Project’s recordings can now be found on  Road Goes on Forever records at:  http://www.rgfrecords.demon.co.uk/current_releases.htm ).

Hark! The Village Wait

20 Oct


From 1970 comes the debut recording of Steeleye Span. My vinyl copy is on the original RCA label but my CD is  a 1991 re-issue on the Mooncrest label (CRESTCD 003) with a different cover to the one shown here but a helpful sleevenote by John Tobler.

Formed by bass player Ashley Hutchings after he’d left Fairport Convention, the rest of the original line-up (which split-up pretty much on completing this recording and never toured) comprised two duos: From England these were Maddy Prior and the late Tim Hart (who’d made a couple of acoustic folk albums) and, from Ireland, Terry Woods (lately of Sweeney’s Men) and his wife Gay Woods.  This line-up lacked a drummer (a bit of shortcoming if the project was to make a folk-rock album) so they used two guests to fill-in as required – Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway – hardly a surprise to anyone familiar with this genre!

There are twelve tracks, all credited to ‘traditional’ (although the opening ‘A Calling-On Song’ was adapted by Hutchings and the lyrics to ‘Fisherman’s Wife’ are by Ewan MacColl). And the sound is much, much, ‘folkier’ than Mr Hutchings’ previous  recording (Fairport’s ‘Liege and Lief’) with banjo and dulcimer high in the mix.

Although some sound very much ‘of their time’, this is a remarkable album – rather unlike anything else, including most of Steeleye’s subsequent recordings (indeed the band’s second album included a totally different version of track two ‘The Blacksmith’).

The standout tracks for me are track three (‘Fisherman’s Wife’) driven by Gay Woods’ autoharp and combining the two women’s voices really well; track five,  ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ (same mix of voices plus Gay Woods’ concertina) which was adapted pretty much straight by June Tabor and the Oyster Band (see this blog 13 October) ; and track 10 (‘Lowlands of Holland’) which benefits from great drumming by Dave Mattacks.

The rest aren’t bad either: (Richard Thompson borrowed the version of ‘Blackleg Miner’ for his ‘1,000 Years of Popular Music’ project and Maddy Prior’s vocal on ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’, which has a great rock rhythm section backing courtesy of Hutchings and Conway) is outstanding.

If you’re too young not to have been there first time round, I’d urge you to track this down – especially if you only know Steeleye Span through their pop-influenced period. This was a different band, a more delicate sound and great music.

Won’t Be Long Now

19 Oct


Issued earlier this week on Topic Records (TSCD822) ‘Won’t Be Long’ is the first album from Linda Thompson since 2006 (and only her third collection of wholly new material this century). Although she’s hardly prolific, her albums have always been worth waiting for and this one is no exception.

I’ve always loved Linda Thompson’s voice since I first heard her sing alongside former husband, Richard, back in the seventies. It’s an enormously expressive alto – with a slight edge but one that gives it a certain vulnerability rather than harshness.

The  support cast is pretty classy. The main collaborators are producer Ed Haber and also son Teddy who who supplies the main acoustic guitar parts as well as contributing two of his own songs and co-writing another four with his mum.

Others from the extended family also contribute – especially on the Anna McGarrigle/Chaim Tannenbaum song ‘As Fast As My Feet’. I can remember hearing the composer perform this in London at the Shaw Theatre (now demolished) back in the eighties –  but I think it only made it onto record last year.  The lead vocal on this uplifting uptempo track is taken by daughter Kami while daughter Muna joins Linda on backing vocals. An astonishingly mature Thompson-esque electric guitar solo is taken by Linda’s teenage grandson Zak Hobbes and it also features bass by  Jack Thompson (Richard, but not Linda’s son) and drums are provided by Fairport Convention’s  Gerry Conway, with whom Linda first recorded in 1972 as part of The Bunch!

Other backing musicians include Richard himself, accompanying her with some sensitive acoustic guitar on her self-penned opener, ‘Love’s For Babies And Fools’, which harks back to their work as a duo (“Let better pens than mine/ Extol the joys of love divine/ Before I ruled love out/ I searched every north and south”).

In addition there are appearances by David Mansfield, and British folk royalty Dave Swarbrick,  Martin Carthy (along with his daughter, Eliza) and John Kirkpatrick.

There are nine further songs in the collection, a couple of which are traditional – including a live, unaccompanied version of ‘Blue Breezing Blind’ Drunk’ and one which appeared on the soundtrack of the film Gangs of New York (‘Paddy’s Lamentation’). The song that first grabbed me though was ‘If I Were A Bluebird’ – which shows off Linda Thompson’s melancholic vocal to great effect, contains great guitar from David Mansfield and is the sort of song than in ten years, many people may well think IS traditional.

Although I’m not going to list the remaining tracks, be assured that none of them are ‘fillers’  The time it’s taken to assemble this collection means that it has strength in depth

Eagle-eyed fans will note that the image above is from the lyrics booklet rather than the CD cover and is included because it’s autographed!