Brass In Pocket

money

There’s been a deliberate focus on new songs recently on Crotchety Man so I think it’s now time to remember an old favourite. Brass In Pocket was the first big hit for The Pretenders in January 1980. Chrissie Hynde never liked the song but the public loved it and she still plays it when she’s touring with the current line-up of the band. Here’s a live version from 2009:

This is a rock song for the pop/rock charts but The Pretenders have always been influenced by a wide variety of styles. Their Wikipedia page mentions connections with all the following artists/bands: The Clash, The Damned, Motörhead, Big Country, P-Funk, Eurythmics, Haircut 100, The Smiths, The The, Simple Minds, Sonny and Cher, UB40, Katydids, Blondie, Damon Albarn, Tom Jones, Emmylou Harris and Stevie Nicks¹. Admittedly some of those connections are distinctly tenuous but it illustrates why it would be wrong to confine The Pretenders to a single pigeonhole in the dovecote of musical styles.

Chrissie Hynde came from Akron, Ohio, moved to the UK in 1973 and formed The Pretenders in 1978. They were always Chrissie’s band. She wrote the songs (sometimes collaborating with other band members), provided the distinctive lead vocals and, most importantly, gave the band their striking, macho image. She was a young, attractive and stylish woman, but she had ‘balls’ and the guys couldn’t resist her.

Strangely, though, Brass In Pocket betrays an unlikely diffidence. The song starts confidently enough. The singer has everything she needs: there’s money in her pocket, there’s courage in her heart and she’s feeling inventive today. Tonight she will use her arms, her style, her imagination to make the boy she fancies notice her. But why is she saying this to herself? Is it because she has tried before only for him to look right through her? Or is it because this is false courage and she needs those words to calm her nerves and give her the confidence she is still trying to find?² The song doesn’t say.

the pretenders

Two of the original members of The Pretenders died in the early eighties³ leaving only Chrissie Hynde herself and the drummer, Martin Chambers, to carry the name through to the present day. The latest Pretenders album, Alone, was released last year and it’s pretty good. The tone has mellowed since the early days of the band but don’t let that put you off. If you like Brass In Pocket the recent album is well worth a spin.

Notes

  1. There are several more artist/band connections on Chrissie Hynde’s own Wikipedia page, including: Frank Sinatra, The Sex Pistols, Curved Air, The Specials, Ringo Starr and The Kinks.
  2. The official video suggests the brave words will be in vain.
  3. In both cases the deaths were drug related.

Redemption Song

quotation

I realised the other day that I have sinned. This blog has no mention of Bob Marley! Fortunately, it’s Easter and Jesus died to redeem us of our sins (or so the Christian Church would have us believe). So, by way of penitence, I have chosen Redemption Song as my Track of the Week.

Both the Spotify link (above) and the YouTube video are of the version performed with Marley’s band, the Wailers. It’s not as well known as the solo version but I like the fuller sound and the reggae beat.

Redemption Song is a protest against slavery and racial discrimination. Like all protest songs its appeal lies as much in the sentiments expressed in the lyrics as in the music itself. The first few words transport us back in time and across the oceans to Africa:

Old pirates, yes, they rob I.
Sold I to the merchant ships …

Sold into slavery, yes, but the singer remains defiant and determined to fight for justice and freedom. It’s a message, the song says, that is just as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. It calls on us to join those fighting to make the black man the equal of the white-skinned.

How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
. . .
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?

Redemption Song was written around 1979 when protests against apartheid in South Africa were becoming violent and racial inequality in the U.S., although illegal since the Civil Rights Act of 1968, lingered on in insidious ways. The fight was not yet over and Marley adapted the words of the early activist, Marcus Garvey, from a 1937 speech:

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds.

To a black man in the 1970s these are stirring words. The first step towards freedom from oppression, it says, is to believe you deserve to shake off the white man’s yoke, to believe you really are his equal. It’s not the poetry of Bob Dylan but there’s a passion and authenticity in those lines that resonates with civil rights supporters across the globe – and that’s nearly all of us in these enlightened days. It is that sense of historical injustice, I think, that has made Redemption Song one of Bob Marley’s most popular songs.

Musically, Redemption Song is a simple folk tune with the flavour of a spiritual. It was originally released on the Uprising album and as a single in 1980. On the album it was performed as an acoustic ballad – just Bob Marley and his guitar – with none of the reggae beat for which he is famous. The single included a rendition by the whole band, this time in reggae style, and that second version also appears on the 2001 re-release of Uprising.

head and colours

A song from the Uprising album about redemption seems particularly appropriate at this Easter time when many people believe that Jesus died for us and rose again. I may not share those beliefs but I hope you will all forgive me for taking so long to mention the foremost of reggae artists, Bob Marley, and his call for political change, Redemption Song.

Something Different

white apples

Crotchety Man lives in two parallel worlds. There’s the real world of solid objects like houses, apples and people. Then there’s the insubstantial world of the imagination. The other day, at the click of a mouse button, a bubble of the imagined world burst into the mundanity of real life.

My computer screen had given a link into a province of La La land known as Prog Rock and through that portal I glimpsed a new and intriguing vista. Here was a video showing a guy with a seven-string bass guitar, the bottom three strings unfretted. I’d never seen one of those before. Like a tractor beam the play button drew me in.

I have, of course, visited those regions many times before. Although I know the landscape pretty well I am always on the lookout for something different. And now I’ve found it. Something Different is the debut solo album by the Italian bass player and composer, Alberto Rigoni. He is currently crowd funding his next EP and you’ll find his biography here.

In some ways Something Different is much the same as any number of prog rock albums on the heavy side of the genre. It kicks off in typical prog fashion with a funky, rocky track called Factory with some fine guest musicians on guitar, keyboards and drums. Then we are treated to the “bass ballad”, Trying To Forget, a slow, melodic bass solo in which Alberto plays his instrument more like a Chapman Stick than a bass guitar. The contrast makes you sit up and promises good things to come.

Next up is Glory Of Life, another full band instrumental that swings easily along as it celebrates the joy of living. Track four, SMS, starts with an electronic buzz vaguely reminiscent of the original text message ringtone before slipping into a bass guitar duet backed by handclaps simulated on electronic drums.

It’s been a gentle perambulation down some pleasant prog paths so far, but just around the bend there’s a roadside bomb that will knock your socks off – along with a few toes if you’re not careful. Here’s the video for the X-rated BASSex. (The sexy vocals are by Irene Ermolli.)

Phew! After that we need a breather (or a cigarette, perhaps). And that’s just what we get for 1 minute 59 seconds with the ambient keyboard and bass piece, One Moment Before. Then it’s time to fasten your seatbelt for the Roller Coaster ride into prog metal territory complete with fast fuzzy guitars and snarling vocals.

The sleeve notes for Desert Break only list Alberto’s bass guitar but that’s misleading. There’s an intricate drum machine beat and recorded voices of children playing in the background that take it way off the main path and, presumably, into the desert. While we are there we are treated to some Jammin’ On Vocal Drums (whatever they are) with some superb jazzy guitar over a funky beat.

The album ends with the kind of ambient piano and bass track that plays behind the credits of a film in which the gutsy central character has seen unimaginable tragedy but has come through it and can now look forward to living out her days in comfort surrounded by those she loves. It’s called Sweet Tears.

Looking back, where have we been? We have encountered the heavy metal edge of hardened steel, we have celebrated the glory of life and even indulged in a little casual sex. There have been calmer moments, too. Times when we tried to forget and, finally, we have been able to rest easy bathed in our own sweet tears. A lot has happened on our short journey. And that’s the something that’s different about this album.

Bottle

bottle

Paul Weller will be a father again this summer. It will be his eighth child. The announcement came hard on the heels of the news that The Modfather’s 13th solo studio album, A Kind Revolution, will be released on 12th May. Shortly after that a film called Jawbone will reach the movie screens. The soundtrack to Jawbone was written by Weller and is available now as an album from all the usual places.

paul weller

Paul Weller

One of the tracks from Jawbone came up on my Release Radar playlist last week and it surprised old mister Crotchety. Bottle is a simple folk ballad – just two acoustic guitars and a male voice in reflective mood. I haven’t been keeping abreast of Paul Weller’s work but this was so very different from what he was doing with The Jam in the late seventies and The Style Council in the eighties that I felt I had to investigate further.

The first thing to say is that the Jawbone album is the soundtrack from the film, not separate recordings of the songs. The first track, Jimmy/Blackout, is over 20 minutes long and consists mostly of atmospheric sounds rather than conventional music. Several of the other tracks include dialogue from the film, which gets in the way of the songs. This is a collector’s album for those who loved the film, not a recording purely for listening pleasure. Having said that, though, Bottle does stand up in isolation.

Words are never enough to convey the effect of a piece of music on the listener and that’s particularly true for Bottle. The lyrics tell the thoughts of a man who has lost his way and must move on if he is to rescue himself from the wasteful life he has been leading. Here, ‘bottle’ seems to stand for both the ‘courage’ he has lost and the undefeated demon of ‘alcohol’. The singer regrets many things hidden in the dark of the time tunnel called the past but there is a glimmer of light up ahead, the promise of a better future if he can but face it. And all that comes across in the simple tune and folksy guitar accompaniment.

I haven’t been able to find any credits for the songs on the Jawbone album so I don’t know if Paul Weller is playing or singing on Bottle. I can say, though, that it has an insidious charm brought out beautifully by a stripped down production. If this is what Paul is doing these days he deserves to be taken as seriously now as he was in his days with The Jam. It’s completely different material but he still has the knack of making compelling music.

Notes

  1. There’s a quite different song called The Bottle on Paul Weller’s 2004 album, Studio 150. Videos of The Bottle exist on YouTube but there are none that I can find for Bottle from the new film.
  2. Jawbone is a film about a former youth boxing champion, Jimmy McCabe, who returns to his old haunts in the hope of picking himself up off the canvas after taking too many of life’s hard knocks. “In a battle between fear and faith, Jimmy risks his life, as he tries to stand tall and regain his place in the world”.

Thight Lines …

… and Screaming Reels

black marlin

No, I haven’t spelled that wrongly¹. My Track of the Week really is called Thight Lines and Screaming Reels. Then again, it must be a spelling mistake. Somewhere between Colin Hodgkinson’s pen and the record company an extra ‘h’ must have crept in. Perhaps it was a communication problem between an English man and a German music publisher (in-akustik GmbH & Co. KG). Or perhaps someone just had a fubar moment. Whatever the explanation, the spurious ‘h’ is present in every reference I can find.

Colin Hodgkinson is one of the finest bass players around. And he’s been around for quite a while². Colin is the only bass player I know who plays the instrument as if it was an over-sized six-string electric guitar with the top two strings missing. He plays it sometimes with a plectrum, sometimes with his fingers; he plays chords; he plays blues licks; he bends the strings. He is almost a one man band. (He sings a bit, too.)

colin hodgkinson

Colin Hodgkinson – Ten Years After concert, 21st May 2016, Paris

Thight Lines is an instrumental from Colin’s solo album The Bottom Line. The album consists mostly of bass solos but this track features drums and some rather nice keyboards, too. In stark contrast to the screaming reels of the title the feel is one of relaxed anticipation.

Hey, Colin, I called round but you weren’t home. Looks like you’ve gone fishin’ (there’s a sign upon your door). I see the boat has left the shore (you ain’t workin’ any more) and the engine is humming as it glides over the water. Soon it will be time to unpack your tackle and start fishin’ (instead of just a-wishin’). If you’re lucky you’ll catch a big one, a marlin perhaps, that will strain the rod and set the reel a-spinnin’. But for now you can just sit back, enjoy the sun on your skin and listen to the swell of the keyboards and those crisp tight bass lines as they mix with the sound of the waves lazily lapping on the hull.

Half way out into the channel the skipper cuts the engine. You’ve arrived and it looks as though the big fish are feeding. The clatter of a drum solo marks the tethering of the rods and the opening of the bait boxes as you settle down to wait for the first bite. The bass and keyboards return, echoing the gentle thrum of the bilge pump and, with your hat shading your eyes, your thoughts start to drift away. Then, suddenly, the line tautens, the sport begins and, as you play the fish the music fades slowly away. This is going to be a beautiful day.

Notes

  1. Note the adverbial form, here. To have written ‘wrong’ would have been unforgivably wrong.
  2. According to Colin’s website he played in a British band called The Dynatones from 1959 to 1964 and turned professional in 1966. He was a founding member of Back Door (my review of their debut album is here) and has played with all sorts of well-known bands (Alexis Korner, Spencer Davis, Zoot Money and others). In 2014 he became the bassist with Ten Years After and is still gigging. He is now 71 years old.
  3. There doesn’t seem to be a video for Thight Lines although there are clips of other performances by Colin Hodgkinson, both solo and in bands, on YouTube. There’s a nice one of Back Door from the Montreux Jazz Festival here, recorded, I think, in 1974.