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Wednesday 31 May 2023

Watch The Birdie

While on my travels last week I splashed out a whole 20p on a promo CD single of "Folk Singer" and "Port Sunlight" by Birdie. Birdie were Deborah (Debsey) Wykes and Paul Kelly who met while touring as part of Saint Etienne's backing band and teamed up for a couple of albums in 1999 and 2001.

Debsey had previously been with the great Dolly Mixture in the 1980s and had shared lead vocals on Saint Etienne's 1993 version of "Who Do You Think You Are" (the Candlewick Green song not the vastly inferior one by the Spice Girls). Paul Kelly is Sarah Cracknell's brother-in-law and a director, including of many Saint Etienne videos and "Lawrence of Belgravia", the documentary about the former Felt front man.  

Paul and his brother Martin (Mr Cracknell) were at one stage in a band called East Village. As many of you will know Port Sunlight is one of the 'model villages' built by the nicer type of British industrialists in the 19th and early 20th centuries to provide their workers with decent living accommodation. The Penny Peeps are singing about a different type of model village but so what.

As a bonus treat I have added the song Dolly Mixture wrote about the time they threw a great big party just for me. They say that if you can remember the Ernie Ball you weren't really there, which may well be true.

"Port Sunlight" - Birdie

"Model Village" - Penny Peeps

"Ernie Ball" - Dolly Mixture

Monday 29 May 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt. 3 - Benin

We are at stop 3 of our 55 country musical tour of Africa. Today we are in the West African country of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey - as was I when I used to hang out with da youths. 

There can be no dispute that Angélique Kidjo is Benin's biggest musical export so it is only right that we start with her. This track is from her 1991 album "Logozo", which was the first time she starting attracting international attention.

As good as Ms Kidjo is, for me Benin's best has to be Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, one of the funkiest bands ever to strut their stuff. They were originally around from 1969 to 1989, but reformed in 2010 after a series of reissues on the Analog Africa label found them a new audience. I was lucky enough to see them live in 2017 and, to quote Lenny Zakatek of Gonzalez, I haven't stopped dancing yet.

The late 1960s and 1970s were a bit of a vintage period for Beninese bands. As well as the Poly-Rythmo boys you could wig out to the likes of Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou, Gnossas Pedro et Ses Dadjés and today's third selection, El Rego et Ses Commandos.

The last two tracks bring us more up to date. First we have Togbe Adjos who, according to the blurb, "combines ancient West African Vodun percussion with modern global influences". This tune is from his 2020 album "Maman Tchamba", available on Bandcamp for the bargain price of €5. Then we round things off with some Mandatory African Reggae courtesy of Yaya Yaovi. If ever a name was designed to be chanted at football matches it is his.

"Ewa Ka Djo" - Angélique Kidjo

"Houzou Houzou Wa" - Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou

"Feeling You Got" - El Rego et Ses Commandos

"Sakpata" - Togbe Adjos

"Adjaka" - Yaya Yaovi

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Sammi And Southport

Some classy countrypolitan sounds for you today courtesy of the late Sammi Smith. There is a touch of Bobbie Gentry about both songs which adds to their appeal. 

Sammi is best known for recording the first hit version of "Help Me Make It Through The Night", which was a top ten US smash in 1971, but she had a string of country hits throughout the 1970s and continued to make the occasional appearance at the Grand Ol' Opry until her early death in 2005 at the age of just 61. 

Sammi was well in with country royalty too. Johnny Cash helped her get her first record deal after his bass player Marshall Grant saw her singing in a club in Oklahoma, and she hung out with Willie, Waylon and the rest of the Outlaws (her second husband being Willie's long-time guitar player Jody Payne).

Sammi and Jody's son Waylon Payne is also a musician, and played Jerry Lee Lewis in the Johnny & June biopic "Walk The Line". Sammi's son by her first husband is also a musician who now goes by the name Zenith Apollo Star and appears to be a bit of a character.  

This is my last post of the week as tomorrow I am off to sunny Southport to visit some old pals. The many famous folks born in Southport include Marc Almond, Lee Mack, most of the members of Gomez, most of the members of Timebox, historian A.J.P. Taylor and randy window-cleaner Robin Askwith. Now there's an end of the pier show well worth walking to the end of England's second-longest pier for.

"Saunders Ferry Lane" - Sammi Smith

"Birmingham Mistake" - Sammi Smith

Monday 22 May 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt. 2 - Angola

After kicking our Grand Tour off in Algeria last week we got in the van, hit the Trans-Saharan Highway heading south, and roughly 5000 miles and a couple of ferry crossings later rocked up in Angola. 

Not surprisingly, we are now a bit knackered. So it would have been very easy just to play five tracks from 'Angola Saudade 60-70', a magnificent 4 CD box set I picked up in Aviero in Portugal a few years back. I believe George knows the record shop. 

But that is not in the spirit of this particular adventure so you are only getting two, starting off with a classic garage band racket courtesy of Noombe Jazz. I think I may have featured this before but you can't have too much of a good thing. Dig that screaming!

The Dikanza Do Prenda merengue tune that follows leads nicely into the Irmãos Almeida (Almeida Brothers) track. The brothers Moniz and Beto de Almeida originally had solo careers but teamed up in the mid 1990s and achieved much greater success. Beto sadly died ten years ago but Moniz is still going as far as I can tell.

Kuduro is an Angolan dance music that became very popular in the 2000s and early 2010s catching on throughout the Lusophone world. There was even a film made about the scene and a few hip types like M.I.A jumped on the bandwagon. It is not really my cup of kissângua but I felt I should include an example as it is possibly Angola's only notable musical export. So that's where Queima Bilha fits in.

We finish up with some MAR (Mandatory African Reggae) courtesy of Pitshú, an Angolan singer now living and working in Brazil. This is from his 2013 album 'Pitsh​ú​: 2', available on Bandcamp for a mere $7. It's a bargain.

"Sheike Adeus Azevedo" - Noombe Jazz

"Merengue Catembe" - Dikanza Do Prenda

"Katumbo" - Irmãos Almeida

"Kwanzas" - Quiema Bilha

"Pastore" - Pitshú

Next week we'll be in Benin. See you there.

Friday 19 May 2023

The Clouds Are Lifting

Much mightiness for you today. Some top notch 1970s gospel for you courtesy of the mighty Mighty Clouds of Joy, including "Mighty High" which went to No. 1 in the US dance charts in 1975. 

Both tracks are from the album 'Kickin'', which was released the same year. Needless to say it is a mighty fine record.

"Mighty High" - Mighty Clouds Of Joy

"Everything Is Love" - Mighty Clouds Of Joy

Here is another dancefloor smash from 1975.

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Kulture Korner

I went to an art exhibition last week at yer actual Royal Academy (as we refer to it in yer actual East End). It is called 'Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South', it runs until mid-June, and it is well worth going to if you get the chance.

I originally found out about the exhibition because it features work by Lonnie Holley whose music and recent gig I was raving about here back in March. Mr Holley is just one of over 30 different artists whose work is featured. I have put a selection of my photos up over on Flickr if anyone is interested. 

The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures (a lot of which use what I believe is called in the trade 'found materials'), quilts and some things that are hard to categorise. There were a lot of really good pieces, but the one that stood out most for me was Thornton Dial's 'Blue Skies: The Birds that Didn't Learn How to Fly', with its obvious allusions to the sad history of the South.

In other culture news, I have been to a couple of gigs in the last two weeks - Lankum at the Barbican Hall and Spare Snare at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington (formerly The Drop of Andrew Weatherall fame). Many thanks to JC for alerting me to the fact that the Snare were touring, I would never have found out otherwise.

Both were excellent, although for Lankum we were up in the balcony and a long way from the action. The same could not be said of Spare Snare. I was right down the front and very nearly lost my beer while avoiding the flailing arms of Jan Burnett. The stage literally could not hold him, partly because of his natural exuberance but mainly because its about the size of a doorstep and not designed for six people.

Both Lankum and Spare Snare have excellent new albums out - 'False Lankum' and 'The Brutal' respectively. Before you click on the links to go and buy the albums on Bandcamp, here is an oldie but goodie from each of them plus a suitably restrained video from Lonnie Holley.

"Hunting The Wren" - Lankum

"Bugs" - Spare Snare

Monday 15 May 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt. 1 - Algeria

Welcome to the first stop on our musical tour of Africa. Good to have you on board, I hope you'll stick with us all the way to Zimbabwe. Our first stop is Algeria, a country with much good music to choose from. 

But first, many thanks to Charity Chic for suggesting the title, which is much better than the options I had been considering. He has drawn on his extensive experience or presenting series and demonstrated once again why he is known north of the border as the Thane of Themes.

Anyway, on with the show. The late great Rachid Taha was always going to feature in this post and fittingly the title track from his last album is the perfect song to kick off the whole series. 

Mr Taha came from the city of Oran, which is also the birthplace of rai (the music genre not the Brazilian footballer or the Italian broadcaster) and Khaled, its leading exponent. With global album sales of more than 80 million Khaled is probably the most commercially successful Algeria musician ever.

Rai as a musical form has been around since the 1930s but really rose to prominence in the 1980s. That was also when electronic sounds first got incorporated in rai, and there is a great compilation of some of those early experiments called 'A Moi La Liberte' available on Bandcamp. That is where the Chab Hamouda track comes from.

We can't visit Algeria without heading down south to Tamanrasset to take in the Tuareg guitar bands. I've opted for Afous d'Afous, one of the many bands from the broader region who are getting recognised more widely thanks to the excellent folks at Sahel Sounds. This is the title track from their 2017 album 'Tenere', also available from Bandcamp.

While you are there, pick up a copy of the recently released  'Amazigh Freedom Rock 1973-1983' by pioneering Algerian rock band Les Abranis. You may have it already, of course, if you were paying attention when I plugged it back in March

Now over to the musicians. Hope you enjoy them. Next stop is Angola - see you there. 

"Je Suis Africain" - Rachid Taha

"Yema Yema" - Khaled

"Zahri Mate" - Chab Hamouda

"Tenere" - Afous d'Afous

"Avehri" - Les Abranis

Friday 12 May 2023

El Hombre Murciélago

We've got Chicano Batman for you today. Specifically, a couple of tracks from their 2014 album "Cycles Of Existential Rhyme", which you can pick up from Bandcamp along with the rest of their catalogue.

In the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that. Have a good weekend. See you next week.

"Para Agredecer" - Chicano Batman

"El Jalapeño" - Chicano Batman

Wednesday 10 May 2023

New Series Alert

I have never been very good at doing themed series here, as I normally lose interest in them even more quickly than my readers do. I can only admire the persistence, professionalism and commitment to quality of the likes of JC, Rol and Charity Chic, all of whom seem to have at least two series on the go at any given time.

The only series I have ever seen through to the end was back in 2020 when we marked the UK's departure from the EU with a 27 part musical tour of the other EU countries, visiting them in alphabetical order from Austria to Sweden.

I have belatedly decided to do a sort of follow up. This time we will be touring Africa. It will require almost exactly twice the amount of effort as there are officially 54 countries in Africa (although I am also going to include Western Sahara taking it up to 55). 

As with the European tour, some posts will be more challenging than others. Having spent part of the long weekend wading through assorted spreadsheets I have worked out that there are six African countries from which I have no music at all and a handful of others with just one or two artists to represent them. At least I know where my Bandcamp money will be going for the foreseeable future. 

We will kick the series proper off next week in Algeria. In the meantime here are an A and a Z from a country which could easily justify a 55 part series on its own, South Africa.

"Bolla Noto" - Abafana Baseqhudeni

"Mbombela - A Twist of Bayete" - Zuluboy

Monday 8 May 2023

Don't Put Away Childish Things

I am reliably informed that if you look up the word 'prodigious' in the dictionary what you will find is a picture of Billy Childish. Over the last 40 years or so Mr Childish has released in excess of 120 albums under various guises.

One of his recent nom-de-plumes is The William Loveday Intention. Since the start of 2020 Mr Childish has released 12 albums under that name (possibly 13 by the time you read this). Those I have heard are all pretty good. Quality as well as quantity is Sir William's watchword.

"Chatham Town Welcomes Desperate Men" - The William Loveday Intention

"Joe Strummer's Grave" - The William Loveday Intention

Update: 14 albums now.

Friday 5 May 2023

Free The Davis Two

Angela Davis was an American political activist who was arrested and jailed in 1971 on charges of conspiracy to murder despite the absence of any reliable evidence. She was released a year later after a high profile campaign to free her.

George Davis was an English criminal who was arrested and jailed in 1975 on charges of armed robbery despite the absence of any reliable evidence. He was released a year later after a high profile campaign to free him.

As part of the first campaign a fund-raising album called "Free Angela" was released. It was reissued a few years ago and is still available on Bandcamp. The star of the show is a gent called Larry Saunders whose contributions are reminiscent of the sort of socially conscious soul that Curtis Mayfield was making at the time. The Rolling Stones, John & Yoko and others also released songs calling for her release.

As part of the second campaign, George's supporters dug up the wicket at Headingley to stop the England vs Australia cricket test going ahead. No records were made at the time as far as I know, although Sham 69 released  "George Davis Is Innocent" a couple of years after he got out and Roger Daltrey wore a T-shirt with the same message at some gigs in 1975. Roger's track record of supporting causes is perhaps not entirely unblemished though.  

After her release (celebrated in song by Don Covay) Angela went on to become a respected academic. She is still going strong and is still active in her chosen field.

After his release George went back to jail in 1978 (an armed bank raid) and then again in 1987 (stealing mailbags). He is still going strong but is hopefully no longer active in his chosen field. 

"Where Did Peace Go" - Larry Saunders

"Dungeon Number 3" - Don Covay

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Gordon Lightfoot RIP

I was very sad to learn that the great Gordon Lightfoot, one of the finest songwriters of his and any generation, left us on Monday at the tender age of 84. 

I have been a fan of his since 1975 when my Dad bought a copy of the dreadfully titled "Gord's Gold" compilation album. When "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" and the "Summertime Dream" album came out a year later that was it, I was hooked. RIP Mr Lightfoot.

"A Painter Passing Through" - Gordon Lightfoot

"Carefree Highway" - Gordon Lightfoot

"Heaven Don't Deserve Me" - Gordon Lightfoot

Monday 1 May 2023

Newness Abounds

It's May Day today, the mid point of Spring when the buds are sprouting, the sprouts are budding and we celebrate the renewal of life. 

So what better day to share with you some of the new music that the good folks in Promoland have sent me over the last couple of months. It has been a bumper crop, and these are just a few of the albums that you may want to check out.

Just to be contrary we will kick things off with a track from an album you can't actually order yet, the self-titled debut album by Deano & Jo (Dean Schlabowske of the Waco Brothers and Jo Walston of the Meat Purveyors). It's like taking a trip back to the honky tonks. They have a holding page on Bandcamp, so follow them and you will get notified when the album is available. 

Sticking with a country sound we have GracieHorse and her new album "L.A. Shit", due out on 19 May. You can pre-order it on Bandcamp and check out her back catalogue while you are there. The blurb describes this particular track as being "the stuff of Lucinda Williams and old country standards", and you can certainly hear traces of Big Lu in her vocals.

The next couple of tracks come from albums that have already been released. First up is "The Fooler" by Nick Waterhouse, which has a big 1960s feel to the production, followed by Welsh duo Rogue Jones and their album "Dos Beb​é​s".

Rounding things off are our old pals Generationals with their first album in four years, "Heatherhead", due out on Polyvinyl on 2 June. Available for pre-order on Bandcamp, it contains some truly poptastic tunes, as do many of their older releases you can find there. 

"Come On Down" - Deano & Jo

"Hollow Head" - GracieHorse

"Are You Hurting" - Nick Waterhouse

"Off By One" - Rogue Jones

"Death Chasm" - Generationals

The first clip shows what we will all be up to in London's East End today. I believe the second shows a typical Scottish May Day, but perhaps some of our readers from up that way can confirm whether that is the case.