29th May 2014
The Beaten Track...
In The Beginning, Part One (Vin)
So what’s the story? How did we get to this place? What were the roots and where grow the shoots?
We could go back to the womb or beyond in a ‘Who Do You Think You Are’? sort of way, or recount the soundtracks of early childhood, grandma’s magic piano and so on but that can wait til another time.
We’ll pick up the trail at the end of the last century. I was living in North Wales but working in the Midlands and staying at Andy’s holdout in Perry Barr, Birmingham during the week. This gave us the chance to re-connect , as we’d had 15 or so years with sporadic contact whilst we separately pursued college, family and work commitments.
Time and circumstance allowed us now to share again the music of our youth and to explore a few new artistes as well, me as an enthusiastic fan and Andy as fan, teacher, technician and performer.
Andy’s background is in playing, producing and composing on keyboards, his main outlets being classical, jazz, funk and disco. He’d had some success in the 80’s with dance funksters ‘The Nightcatchers’ signed briefly to RCA, with TV and radio appearances and tracks produced by Mark King of Level 42.
I’d come a different route on less cerebral transport; a clapped out bus to Andy’s limousine! I was more connected to the ragged delights of the punk, ska and reggae years of the late 70s and early 80s. I’d embraced the canon of American music, rock and roll, rockabilly, R and B and country in my twenties perhaps in part a search for a more direct feel of music and story songs with an emotional pull to contrast the electro pop that seemed to hog the broadcast landscape in the UK.
I always loved lyrics over musicality. I loved the humour and wordplay in the best of British artists like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Dury and embraced country musicians like Merle Haggard and Hank Williams who to my ears combined brutal simplicity with soulful and humane storytelling.
Despite different approaches Andy and I found overlaps and we exchanged musical gifts. His to me included the delight and wit of Johnny Guitar Watson (check out ‘It’s a Damn Shame’) and the wondrous bluesy rap of G Love and the Special Sauce. He gave me a fresh appreciation of Stevie Wonder, the joyous Earth Wind and Fire and other funky disco warriors.
We shared a discovery of Chess artists (Etta James, Chuck Berry, Clarence Frogman Henry) via a vinyl compilation. Fed with crisps and canned ale we’d spend evenings alternating DJ duties, revisiting a biscuit tin of old 45s in the company of rockabilly legend Robert Gordon (‘The Fool’, ‘The Way I Walk’) and singing all the slightly off key harmonies of The Gladiator’s glorious Trenchtown Mix Up LP.
So in a way the scene was set or seeds planted in around 1999, the lyrics man and the proper musician connecting as fans but not yet collaborating or composing together…..What next?
Next time…..The great leap forward….. to 2010 and ‘Songs from a Welsh Living Room’ . Vin learns three chords and Andy agrees to switch the tape on!!