If you like your music of the blues kind, you may well have seen Chris Gibbons play live. A stalwart of the local scene he has played so very many venues both solo & with other musicians. You may have seen other musicians at his gigs as he is a "musicians' musician". A very quiet and modest figure, you may have admired his cultured, tasteful & restrained guitar playing without necessarily understanding just how interesting his career has been. For example I know one & only one person who has played onstage with John & Yoko & only one who has written with Ben E King. You guessed it.
I had the privilege of hearing some rough mixes of material Chris had been working on for quite some time a few months ago. I was really looking forward to hearing that they'd been released. A combination of factors: Chris is a craftsman of the old school and worked hard to get them as he wanted to, plus other things going on in his life including unfortunately an episode of ill health have delayed "Mill Street Blues" (locals will get the title) until now & it's a honour to review it properly.
Chris loves & lives the blues & is equally adept at all its' myriad forms (though if you hear his soul playing he's just as good at that. And rock. And jazz) so you'd not be surprised to hear that the album has examples from several blues forms. However I am sure he is not trying to display his range: Chris is simply an (old school again) song writer & has selected for each song the musical setting which suits it best.
"Grey River" is in Ry Cooder territory with acoustic & slide guitar playing on a swinging & open country blues. However "Let It All Go" shifts a thousand miles north to Chicago and reminds me of some of Dylan's experiments in the basement with the Band.
"Nobody's Business" has a very modern feel with an electronic rhythmic backing and evokes the spirit of Dr John to some extent. "Raildrivin' Man" adds horns and organ & for this song we have arrived in the Memphis area: possibly by train I suppose and had a shot of the old Stax.
"Rambling Soul" introduces interesting female vocals which are processed to sound almost like samples. I found this a most interesting track: not unlike the sort of experiments Blondie or the Clash were making as they moved into new territory once their initial sound had run out of steam.
"The Night the Blues Gone Home" is a majestic song: classic blues rock with a confident lead vocal from Chris: think Robert Cray collaborating with Curtis Mayfield. I liked this one a lot & hope to hear it live.
"Two Bads" possesses (to my mind) the best lyrics on the album: craftsmanship definitely on display here.
"Didn't Know Where To Look" is the album's blues ballad and the closer for the set "Arnie's Blues" reverts to a much more traditional format, honky tonking along to great effect with harmonica & snare to get our toes tapping. This one may stay in your memory the longest...
Prior to its release, you can listen to "Mill Street Blues" here: https://soundcloud.com/chrismediamusic/sets/mill-street-blues
Tell me: are you "Old Skool"?
Crokodile Tears have been releasing albums now for some 33 years since their eponymous debut when they were known as the more conventionally spelt "Crocodile Tears" (a release which was praised by Jerry Dammers). The constant has of course been singer/songwriter Chris Sidwell (the lineup changes in fact sparked the name tweak when Chris began working with different musicians: the rest of the original lineup being essentially the cult band "Pink Umbrellas").
Nevertheless, the latest album, "Old Skool" which officially opens its term on September 3rd features among Chris' many collaborators former Reluctant Stereotype, Pink Umbrella and long time Primitives producer Paul Sampson who has played with him from that very first album & produced & mixed this one too.
Although principally Chris' baby, Crokodile Tears is also a highly collaborative ensemble. Few tracks feature precisely the same lineup & the different musicians bring a variety of instruments, approaches and sensibilities creating a most eclectic sonic collection as well as you'll hear, superb playing.
Chief current Croks (though this doesn't mean that even they play on every track) are Alf Hardy and Jerry Richards. Both were/are also in Earthlab, Alf is well known for his work at Cabin Studios and Jerry is of course a Hawklord and former member of Hawkwind. Joining them , Chris & Paul, are local musician, producer & broadcaster Keith Fabrique, local legend Sam McNulty (Squad/Giraffes), harmonica player Bryan Lea Bradford, sitarist Chris Cook, violinist Nigel Ward and others too numerous to mention. Tracks are mainly written by Chris, some with Jerry and/or Alf plus a jam co-written by the band with Chris Cook, a cover of the Lennon/McCartney "Norwegian Wood" and Jerry's wonderful ‘Coventry & Western' (as Alf dubbed the style) jig dedicated to renowned Elizabethan necromancer "Dr Dee": a great live favourite.
If the music is eclectic (and it most certainly is: this band defies genre categorisation), the subject matter is even more so. Apart from an instrumental celebrating a long deceased alchemist, the album covers a bewildering array of lyrical targets from the haircut of a national sporting treasure to ecology, astrology, photography and gender stereotyping.
However, if there is a theme (and many Croks albums do possess one), it is about love, the human condition and the passage & perspectives of time. The whole philosophy of the band is to create songs from childhood perspectives or those of adults behaving or thinking in a childish way. This at one level produces a great deal of (gentle & good) humour, but peeling at the layers of the onion in most songs reveals and rewards the listener with deeper messages. Crokodile Tears can never have produced such a beautiful set of album bookends (we are informed that "there are no secret tracks") as "Kids" and the closing "title song" called "Mermaids". Both, in their own way look back to the childhood of their narrator & can make you cry in a way "Bobbie" or "Shirley's In Birmingham" will make you laugh unless you have a heart of stone.
The Croks aim to make each new album their best yet and there can be no doubt that despite the excellence of their previous work, this one is a masterpiece. In a fair world, this album would get the airplay and critical attention its inherent qualities merit. However in the current musical media climate where lyrical sophistication, subtle performances and above all maturity fail to excite those in control of such decisions, one can only hope for someone with wit & discernment in the mainstream to open their ears & listen to it objectively to judge it on its merits. At any event, the local aficionados will appreciate it, buy it & continue to attend their gigs & the local broadcasters & writers with that discernment will carry on appreciating true & enduring quality: you know who they are. If you meet someone who likes Crokodile Tears, you know you've met someone you can respect.
Despite the release date being some weeks away yet, copies of "Old Skool" can already be bought at Temperance in Leamington.
If my review of the forthcoming album has whet your appetite for Crokodile Tears or if you read Paul Englefield's great review of their Magic Lantern gig in the magazine, you can catch them live on the eve of the album release at the Godiva Festival on 2nd September, at the Zephyr Lounge on 29th September for the "Alternative Sounds"/APE Promotions night (with Roddy "Radiation" Byers, Satsangi, Grassroutes, Jackdaw with Crowbar & Mr Binx) and again at the Zephyr Lounge on October 20th for the "Hot Music Live Introducing" night with Clemency, Izzie Derry, Violet & Luna Kiss.
In the classic rock arena, it's the epic themes that matter, burning casinos, the desperate camaraderie of the battlefield and the countdown to Armageddon. However, in the intimate theatre setting of the Magic Lantern, Crokodile Tears chose to reflect on the small, personal experiences that quietly bring meaning to life. A set rich in vivid imagery and crafted language offered songs exploring topics ranging from saturday girls to egg and chips via 60's guitars, hippies and Dr. John Dee. (Who's he anyway? Look him up, he's probably the most interesting of the Elizabethans.) It was wry, gentle, and sharply observed but always fun and the trio presented their set with a self-deprecating charm that masked a keen musical intelligence.
Although very much about the songs and stories, the 'Crocs' (to their friends enhanced this lyrically detailed material with guitar arrangements rich in texture and rhythmic interest. I was intrigued by the subtle interplay between three guitarists with distinct styles but a clear focus on creating a unified sound with a detailed groove.
The venue, The Magic Lantern, is a cosy cellar theatre in a warren of art-filled rooms below the Temperance coffee shop. It's a magical atmosphere for adventurous gigs with a layout that encourages rapport and banter between performers and music lovers. There's more at http://www.temperance.bar.
You can catch Crokodile Tears at the Alternative Sounds gig on 29th September at the Zephyr Lounge and again at Hot Music Live Introducing on 20th October also at the Zephyr.
Firstly a caveat: this is not (unfortunately) a comprehensive review of both days of Leamington's 2018 "Art in the Park": personal commitments & the heat precluded that I'm afraid. Indeed, my hat is tipped to the very many volunteers, artists & stall holders who braved the entirety of the event. I should also like to start with paying tribute to those whose vision & hard work created the event: notable Carole Sleight for the overall event & Ella Billiald of Ella B Music for, as you might have worked out, the music side.
It was, to my mind, the best "Art in the Park" yet, with a much expanded range of activities & stalls, covering a good range of the arts from painting & photography through textiles, ceramics, jewelry, performance art & of course music with something for most people from families to those with specific interests in particular art forms.
Some excellent new stalls were added, as I have said, involving some most interesting artefacts. Ones which caught my eye included Thrills of the Emporium, Sasski & Strawbs, Hills & Tor (in the Pump Rooms, used for the first time) and Reload Gallery plus Brink Events Artists with their street art.
However, this is a music magazine so I had better focus hence on that. Although crowds around the music stage have been growing since the event's inception, I am sure they have never been as big, even though as many people as possible sought the shade of the nearby free to watch from. It was fierce in front of the stage. Taylor-Louise who was the first act I saw needs no introduction to readers of "Hot Music Live" so you'll not be surprised at how well she & her band played, how well they were received nor my account of her polished & confident performance which skillfully mixed her affecting originals with the covers the broad audience was already familiar with.
I was less familiar with another BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Introducing favourite band, Mister Keith but was most impressed with their very original, melodic & imaginatively arranged pieces: do check out their album "Record of Wrongs" which I have been playing ever since.
Atlum Schema (Andy Mort) was next up and again this was another performers whose solo performance initiated me into an act I had no previously seen but certainly would again.
I was drawn on Sunday morning at 10.15 with many other aficionados of the Peas to their charismatic & highly popular set of cleverly reworked classics which goes down so well all around Britain & is ideal for such an event: the feel good factor when they play oozes off the stage & envelopes all within it. Given the long journey the band had immediately after playing, it is a credit to their commitment to the event that they supported it.
As well as the high quality & established artists who play on a professional or semi-professional basis, it was excellent that Ella mixed in community based acts which gave grassroots local music a showcase & highlighted the diversity of what is around: I enjoyed both the Spa Strummers & the Heart of England Co-op Concert Orchestra (the latter of whom were sufficiently numerous not to be able to use the awning protecting the rest of the acts).
As the sun continued to beat down, the Miss Songbird Duo (Claire Glasbey on vocals & Paul Englefield on guitar) treated the crowd to some cool jazz tinged tunes: some traditional jazz songs but also reinterpretations of songs from other genres including by Bob Dylan. I have heard Claire before but this was the finest performance I had heard: taking brave decisions to slow songs down, introduce much more space & deploy her lower range in particular to excellent effect.
The final act I caught before I scurried for hydration & shade was Chasing Deer who are one of the local acts on a good upward career trajectory & who certainly did not disappoint.
Credit to the sound crew from the Assembly who did a marvelous job under difficult circumstances with a wide range of instruments and an honourable mention to celebrity busker Dean Dyson who not only played his own pitch down with the "suitcase artists" by the lake but also filled in on the stage for Ella when she was let down by the odd "no show".
Two most enjoyable days in good company with a matching vibe.
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