Category Archives: music, books and writing

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to sprawl out and listen to an entire album’s worth of music. Today I did it. Last week Ray Thomas’ ‘Our Guessing Game’ went through my head and I thought it was time to savour the digitally remastered CD of The Moody Blues’ ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’.

Released 41 years ago, the question is always: does it stand as a listenable work today? The answer is: yes.

The Moody Blues were at the peak of their initial success in 1971 and this was the sixth of their ‘core seven’ albums. A gruelling work schedule – touring internationally in Europe, the USA and in front of 150,000 at the Isle of Wight and recording an album or two every year – was taking its toll. The Moodies had evolved from an underground band to international superstars and doubts were setting in. However, they continued to produce fine work.

‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ continued the Moodies’ concept approach from the start of the album to the finish. ‘Procession’ takes us from creation of the universe through to the development of human communication, leading into Justin Hayward’s ‘The Story in Your Eyes’, which the band still performs today. The doubt shows through: “I’ve been thinking about our fortune, And I’ve decided that we’re really not to blame.” It’s one of his best and a great, fast start to the album. Next ‘Our Guessing Game’, one of Ray’s best too, a reflective song contrasting with his whimsical ‘Nice to Be Here’, apparently inspired by Beatrix Potter, which has Hayward attempting to play a guitar solo on one string, but needing two! It’s good to see they could still have some fun, even though the pressures were getting to them. ‘After You Came’ is, for me, one of Graeme Edge’s best songs, with vocals by each of the rest of the band and a loud, driving finish.

John Lodge’s ‘One More Time to Live’ makes clever play of words, Hayward’s ‘You Can Never Go Home’ combines exquisite melodies with controlled yet blistering guitar, while ‘My Song’ creates an orchestral mellotron soundscape to which Mike Pinder bares his soul.

In those days, the Moodies looked to innovate and Graeme Edge played an electronic drum kit developed by Sussex University constructed with rubber, silver paper and magnets. While it worked in the studio, it was a nightmare to try to play live: a reminder of what was required to produce complex sounds before synthesisers made it possible for anyone.

Like all the ‘core seven’ albums, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ was intended to be played from start to finish in one sitting and today it still wafts you through 40 minutes without giving you time to think. Strong songs from five songwriters, singing from four superb vocalists plus virtuoso playing make this album a treat. The recording quality is superb, crisp and deep, and typically rich. Today I heard sounds I hadn’t picked out before or had forgotten.

The remastered version contains an unreleased Ray Thomas/Justin Hayward bonus track ‘ The Dreamer’, which is interesting but not the best of tracks for me, plus the more basic, original version of ‘The Story in Your Eyes’.

‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ is a bittersweet album. It’s not as optimistic as previous works and marked a turning point in the Moodies’ career, which would change the band forever.

As a band that is not generally in favour, I’m not sure how much it will appeal to many people, although I always find that once I start listening to the Moodies, I get hooked all over again. I think they deserve more airplay.

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Stacey Kent at the Plough Torrington Saturday 10 October 2009

Breakfast on the Morning Tram - Stacey Kent

Breakfast on the Morning Tram - Stacey Kent

From the very first note she sang it was clear that those of us lucky enough to be in the audience at the Plough Arts Centre, Torrington last night were about to experience two hours of the most sublime singing from Stacey Kent along with husband, composer, producer and saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and backed by an accomplished trio on piano, bass and drums.
Never knowing whether an artist performing live will match up to the expectations created by recordings, I have to say a shiver went down my spine in these opening seconds and on other occasions during this performance.
The set list was broad and varied from American show standards, such as ‘Easy to Remember’ and ‘If I were a Bell’, to the Latin ‘Samba Saravah’ and ‘Corocovado’.
The sign of a great performer is the appearance of effortless and Stacey made every song sound so easy with her perfect vocal control and diction a joy to hear. Another accomplishment is her ability to create her own version of songs, such as ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ and ‘What a Wonderful World.’
Much of the material was from Stacey’s most recent album, ‘Breakfast on the Morning Tram’ including the title track as well as ‘I wish I Could go Travelling Again’ and, one of my favourite numbers of the night, ‘The Ice Hotel’. Jim got an opportunity to shine with an instrumental version of the theme from ‘Alfie’.
Songs were interspersed with Stacey’s often rambling, bubbly accounts of her life, experiences of recording, learning Portuguese, her new album currently being recorded and lots more. I’m certain the audience could have sat entranced for another two hours as the time passed so fast.
Did the night live up to its promise? With a mix of American, Latin, French and Portuguese songs all performed with enthusiasm, sensitivity and emotion, I’d say it did. I’ll definitely look out for future performances in North Devon.

From the very first note she sang it was clear that those of us lucky enough to be in the audience at the Plough Arts Centre, Torrington last night were about to experience two hours of the most sublime singing from Stacey Kent along with husband, composer, producer and saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and backed by an accomplished trio on piano, bass and drums.

Never knowing whether an artist performing live will match up to the expectations created by recordings, I have to say a shiver went down my spine in these opening seconds and on other occasions during this performance.

The set list was broad and varied from American show standards, such as ‘Easy to Remember’ and ‘If I were a Bell’, to the Latin ‘Samba Saravah’ and ‘Corocovado’.

The sign of a great performer is the appearance of effortless and Stacey made every song sound so easy with her perfect vocal control and diction a joy to hear. Another accomplishment is her ability to create her own version of songs, such as ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ and ‘What a Wonderful World.’

Much of the material was from Stacey’s most recent album, ‘Breakfast on the Morning Tram’ including the title track as well as ‘I wish I Could go Travelling Again’ and, one of my favourite numbers of the night, ‘The Ice Hotel’. Jim got an opportunity to shine with an instrumental version of the theme from ‘Alfie’.

Songs were interspersed with Stacey’s often rambling, bubbly accounts of her life, experiences of recording, learning Portuguese, her new album currently being recorded and lots more. I’m certain the audience could have sat entranced for another two hours as the time passed so fast.

Did the night live up to its promise? With a mix of American, Latin, French and Portuguese songs all performed with enthusiasm, sensitivity and emotion, I’d say it did. I’ll definitely look out for future performances in North Devon.

Posted in music, books and writing, performance. Tagged with , , , , , , , , .

Buy Three Bonzos and get one Free

As the most influential British purveyors of combined musicianship and humour in the past 50 years, I was somewhat hesitant when I booked to see Three Bonzos and a Piano at the Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe, North Devon on 25th June. Would they still have that magical spark of genius or would it be better to rely on listening to their recorded glory?

A thorough drenching on the way there – it’s your fault, Glastonbury! – wasn’t an ideal start, but the arrival of Bonzos Roger Ruskin Spear, Rodney Slater and Sam Spoons, plus pianist Dave Glasson and guitarist Andy Roberts, soon had the audience and my clothes steaming.

From the start, classic Bonzo numbers honked out of Rodney’s and Roger’s saxes – Cool Britannia, Jollity Farm, Hunting Tigers – and the compact but enthusiastic audience joined in without prompting.

Roger Ruskin Spear, directing the proceedings in a manic, forgetful but totally entertaining manner, introduced his infamous electrified implements and robots on many of the songs. Reaching out into the audience as far as the mike lead would allow, he asked us the original questions preceding Shirt.

Unbelievably, I got the chance to shout a right answer – I knew memorising those words would be more useful than my degree – and was awarded with a signed certificate, as were other studious participants. This was followed by a solo on the electric shirt collar, while Trouser Press featured the electric trouser press and the theremin leg appeared on Noises for the Leg.

Across the stage Rodney Slater blew a mean sax, played washboard on Mr Slater’s Parrot and performed a mixture of new and old numbers, including Senior Moments and Ginger Geezer, the latter in tribute to the late Vivian Stanshall.

Sam Spoons lived up to his name with several virtuoso performances on the spoons, including electric spoons on Monster Mash. A country and western performance of Purple Sprouting Broccoli also included the audience in a sing-a-long.

As well as the three advertised Bonzos, we also got a free one: Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell. Uncle Vernon bewitched us with a stunning cabaret magic trick, held us spellbound with a children’s story and charmed us with an enchanting rendition of Marlene Dietrich’s Falling in Love Again, complete with solo on the musical saw.

The audience got into the full spirit of the show and were in stitches most of the time, whether at Roger and Sam with their human ventriloquist act, when joining in the lyrics of Viv Stanshall’s Tent and Big Shot or from the hilarity of the Music for the Head Ballet.

Organised mayhem ensured the whole show remained refreshingly rough at the edges, so that the evening flashed past in continuous laughter.

Three Bonzos and a Piano (33% extra free) should have packed out the Landmark because they were well worth seeing: I have the certificate to prove it.

Go and see www.threebonzosandapiano.co.uk

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Moody Blues’ Octave remastered worth the 31-year wait

Having first heard Nights in White Satin on the radio and then my brother’s LP of To Our Children’s Children’s Children, I discovered the Moody Blues for myself in 1976 when I bought their then 9-year-old Days Of Future Passed. I was hooked, bought the remaining six core albums and was delighted by the news that a new album was in the offing, six years after Seventh Sojourn.

By 1978, when Octave was released, the world had moved on and so had the Moody Blues. Founder member Mike Pinder and producer Tony Clarke left during the recording, so when I first heard a new album by the band there was a question mark over their future direction. The album seemed to lack the intensity of their earlier work and seemed to echo some of the solo albums recorded by each of the five members. And that’s how I viewed Octave for many years.

When I heard that the album had been remastered, I grudgingly added it to my wish list. The recently reissued seven core albums are fantastic, but I doubted whether Octave would be so good.

I was wrong.

The remastering, by Justin Hayward himself, has transformed the album and brought it to life for me. The Moodies have always written well and are fine musicians and singers, both recorded and live. Their performance on Octave doesn’t let them down and I now have some of the songs going round in my head.

Ray Thomas’s I’m Your Man used to be my least favourite track by the band, but now I listen with enjoyment. The extras include a live version of the track, which is even better.

John Lodge’s bass work is also more apparent. My appreciation of him as a player grows year by year and I think he is grossly under-rated, as are all the Moodies.

Driftwood, Survival and One Step into the Light are other favourites from a time when each of the five members would contribute songs to create a true group effort, whereas now songwriting is left to Hayward and Lodge. The five extra live tracks are also a great demonstration of how the band deliver powerful performances in concert.

So, while I usually view reissues and repackaging with some suspicion, I am so glad I have Octave. It was certainly worth the 31-year wait to hear it as it ought to sound.

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