Writin' Blues

Well the blues, give me your write hand.

A Secret Life – Half Deaf Clatch

I was privileged to receive an advanced copy of A Secret Life, the latest album by Hull musician, Half Deaf Clatch. And, like all of Clatch’s previous albums, this one’s a little bit different.

A Secret Life is a concept album that follows 432 years in the life of a tree, and describes the world from the tree’s point of view, the changes it sees and the effect humans have made to its world.

I caught up with Clatch recently and asked him how the album came about and his process for writing the songs.

“The theme for this album came about like most of my ideas, it started with a single random thought and then grew out of control from there. It was probably about a year ago when I looked at a tree and thought “Someone could have been hanged from one of those branches a long time ago, and now that kid’s swinging on it.” I know that’s a weird thought to have, but it got me thinking about the lifespan of trees and what they could have witnessed in their long silent lives – and the album just evolved from there...” Half Deaf Clatch

The album has evolved into a piece of work that is highly listenable, with tunes and melodies that linger in the brain, and lyrics that are intelligent, profound and at times jaw-dropping. This should come as no surprise because Clatch has built a reputation not only as a composer of songs and instrumentals based upon original – some might say, left-field – themes, but also for the imagery of his lyrics and the orchestral, virtuoso quality of his performance. Anyone who knows Clatch knows well of his almost savant-level of attention to detail when it comes to making music, and A Secret Life is no exception.

“Slowly the album came together, I kept things simple, there’s only one guitar track on each song, one vocal track, there’s some acoustic bass on a couple of songs, banjo, stomp or bass drum, some handclaps and the occasional tambourine, a little bit of live cello (I’ve just started learning how to play it but have a long way to go yet) and some sequenced cello and string arrangements. And that’s it, everything was played live in one take (apart from the live cello, which took a ridiculous amount of takes before I got it right)…” Half Deaf Clatch 

A Secret Life flies the flag for all of the musical qualities that Clatch is renowned for, and in this reviewer’s opinion is probably the finest of his works so far. And here’s why…

Taproot [1665]

“I like to set the scene on my albums, I tend not to think of the songs as separate entities but parts that make up the whole, this may sound obvious, but most albums are put together with songs written in isolation from each other then strung together in a logical (often formulaic) manner. Taproot is an instrumental that hopefully sets the mood, and gently eases the listener into the album. This is the beginning, it’s simple, sparse and haunting. The slide melody is played over a long droning note, there’s a reason for this, the taproot is our tree in its simplest form, it’s infancy – complexity comes later…” Half Deaf Clatch

Beginning with a lonesome, Ry Cooder-esque slide riff overlaid onto a mournful cello piece, the first minute or so of Taproot puts me in mind of the opening scene of ‘Paris, Texas’. This is a very good thing, because, just like in the film, this intro draws back the curtain to reveal a piece of art that is enigmatic, poignant and thought-provoking. The track grows into a melody that becomes the dominant musical theme of the album.  

Sylvan [1702]

The basic theme of this song is the forest has a soul, the trees are connected, they have one heartbeat. This isn’t a hippy, new age thing, it’s more folkloric…” Half Deaf Clatch

With the trademark intricate guitar lick and raucous foot stomp, we’re back fair and square in traditional Clatch territory with a song that portrays the tree growing inexorably as part of a forest, still in its infancy yet bound for magnificence. As ever, the descriptive power of Clatch’s lyrics set the scene perfectly, with an incantation-esque chorus so catchy it became my resident ear-worm for about a month.

Storm [1728]

I had the guitar parts for this song long before I even thought of writing an album about a tree but could never find anything that fit with the riffs. Then once the tree idea took root (pardon the pun) and I had an idea to write a song about a momentous storm the lyrics almost wrote themselves. Now, this is no run of the mill storm, this is a big one, the kind that causes mass devastation…” Half Deaf Clatch

Our tree is 68 years old when a huge storm hits the forest. A storm portrayed perfectly from the start as Clatch’s vocal delivery and alternating thumb bass create images of dark clouds, brooding skies and thunder; his intricate fingerpicking signifying the first raindrops falling through the leaves.

Petrichor [1728]

“I had misgivings about putting another instrumental so early on the album, and if the album had been put together in a commercial way this song would have been on much later, but it was written to follow Storm, so here it is as song number four. Petrichor is ‘the smell caused by rainfall on very dry soil”, and I tried my hardest to write a piece of music that fit this description and also sounded like the dawn of a new day. Not sure whether I achieved that at all, but I really like the result and it’s a lot of fun to play too….” Half Deaf Clatch

At two and bit minutes, Petrichor is charming instrumental, that not only signifies the dawn of a new day, but allows the listener to pause and take a breath from what has gone before, and to prepare for what is about to come.

Outlaw [1800]

“I wrote this song as a finger style piece like Sylvan, and for a long time that’s how it stayed. I recorded it like that, but every time I listened to the album it niggled at me, it just didn’t feel right. So, one day I grabbed my slide, stripped down the guitar riffs to their most basic parts and hammered it out in a kind of raucous ‘Delta Blues’ style. I’m glad I did, it works so much better this way. The lyrics tell the tale of our tree being used to hang an outlaw, the idea the sparked the album in the first place…” Half Deaf Clatch

Well, it wouldn’t be a Clatch album without an outlaw succumbing to mob justice. Delivered in typical Clatch style, Outlaw captures the drama and horror as the tree becomes a gallows for a captured highwayman, strung up and summarily dispatched with no ceremony. Stirring stuff.

War [1914]

“This was a difficult song to write, and it exists as two different versions. Originally, I wrote lyrics that saw our tree witnessing a parade of young soldiers ‘going off to war’, it was ok, but lacked the poignancy I was looking for. Then I wrote lyrics based on two young lovers who are torn apart when one is sent off to war, this works much better, but I still don’t like the fact it’s almost a ‘love song’, I guess that’s something I’ll have to live with…” Half Deaf Clatch.

A change of gear from Outlaw, but no less horrific in its own way. It begins with two lovers meeting at the tree and carving their name in the tree’s bark. You know what’s about to happen, but the tune is captivating nonetheless. I’m not sure it is ‘almost a love song’; the use of Yeats’ line, ‘and the world slouched towards Bethlehem‘ is inspired and the opening banjo riff and general mood of the song puts me in mind of the Pogues cover of Eric Bogle’s, “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (a song about an Aussie soldier recalling his downfall at Gallipoli), both songs capturing, in different ways, the futility of war and the damage left in its aftermath.

Garden [1952]

This is my favourite song on the album, mainly because it’s so nice to play and sing. The song is about urban development, deforestation and the rise of the suburbs. Our tree now stands in a garden, the forest gone save for a few token trees dotted around the new housing developments… Half Deaf Clatch 

Fast Forward to the 20th Century, the second half of which begins with a feeling of post-war optimism and the building of a swathe of new housing estates across the country. But of course, as Clatch sings, ‘progress has a cost, it always has a cost,‘ and the tree finds itself as a specimen in someone’s garden, its forest ripped apart and replaced by houses.
This is my favourite song on the album too, and I’ll you for why: The second verse tells of a couple with a new baby who have just moved into the new house. After recalling storms, executions and war, the tree now speaks of hope and a family finding peace as they grow together.

And then Clatch comes out with a line of just six words that changes the mood from rose-tinted hopefulness to a dark, sepia-toned vision of ghostly horror. At the first listen this sudden shift, and the imagery it created, put me on my arse. To me was the lyrical equivalent of being hit around the back of the head with a two by four.

Breathtaking, jaw-dropping and absolute genius songwriting.

Raven [1984]

This is where things take a darker turn, there’s a deliberate change in mood here. One of the problems I had in writing this album was how to give the ‘story’ an ending, hopefully one that people wouldn’t see coming at the start of the album or expect from an album about a tree…” Half Deaf Clatch

Raven is sombre, melancholy and moody. At first glance we see a bird on a tree looking eastwards, ostensibly waiting for the sun to rise. But no, this is no ordinary bird; it’s a Raven, yer typical folkloric harbinger of doom and destruction and what’s more, this Raven knows that the proverbial is going to hit the fan. It’s inevitable, just like the rising sun.

Clatch is on home territory here, and the sense of deep foreboding is maintained throughout by his vocal delivery over the mournful cello piece. Understated and chilling.

Winter [2026]

“This was another difficult song to write… and it wasn’t until I added the strange, sequenced strings that it started to sound anything like what was in my head…” Half Deaf Clatch

The Raven’s prophecy comes to pass and now the tree bears witness to the war to end all wars and the global onslaught of a nuclear winter. The subject matter alone would be bleak for any song, but the simplicity of the banjo-driven melody, coupled with poignant, heartfelt lyrics adds a layer of icy desolation as we consider the tree standing helpless as the air fills with ash:

this was not my fault, yet I feel the cost, I feel the cost,

and I’m choking on the dust…

Renewal [2097]

“When I was writing this song, I had an image in my head of those photos you see of abandoned buildings where the trees and plants have taken back the land. These pictures always look haunting to me, I love them, especially ones of abandoned amusement parks…” Half Deaf Clatch

Seventy years later, the dust has settled and rebirth begins, but I’ll leave it to Clatch to describe how the same came to be:

The musically astute listener may realise the vocal melody is the slide melody from ‘Taproot’ sang over finger picked chords. Gone is the simple one note drone, replaced with the complexity of harmony. This signifies the change our tree has gone through, it’s no longer the simple sapling, it’s grown, become more complex, just like the backing to the melody. There’s a parallel with the evolution of blues music here too, very early primitive blues (and folk music) had very little harmonic movement, it was only when the music matured over time and evolved that chordal harmonies were introduced. 

So, there you have it, A Secret Life – an album about a tree, born out of a random thought about hanging someone...” Half Deaf Clatch

A Secret Life is available from Speak Up Recordings.

Half Deaf Clatch is available at his website.

For more information about me, please wander along to www.richardwall.org

Thanks for your time.

Every Path Leads Here – Half Deaf Clatch

Double Album Cover Promo Picture

Old School Blues for the 21st Century…

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

HDC by Mal Whichelow

Half Deaf Clatch; aka Andrew McLatchie, aka Beelzebub Jones, aka Son of Dirt (hereon referred to as ‘Clatch’) is a 40-something musician from Hull (for non-UK readers, that’s a city in East Yorkshire in the north of England).

Listed no less than eleven times as a finalist in the British Blues Awards, and finalist in the UK Blues Awards 2018 and 2020; Clatch is a familiar figure on the UK Indie Blues circuit, and mainstay of many festivals, where his unique blend of foot-stomping percussion, howling slide guitar and a voice like a dead body being dragged across gravel has attracted a legion of followers across the planet.

Clatch got his first guitar for his 13th birthday, igniting his passion to create and perform music.

“I think I’ve been in around fifteen bands in my time, but it could be more than that. At one point I was in three bands at the same time <laughs>…”

“I played bass, but I wouldn’t call myself a bassist, and I can play drums to a moderately proficient level, good enough to be the drummer in a band for a couple of years…”

Since he went solo in 2010, Clatch has amassed a musical repertoire that reflects the many facets of his interests; from the writings of Poe and H.P Lovecraft, the music of the old blues legends and cinematic artistry of Sergio Leone, his catalogue encompasses traditional slide blues, dark musical theatre, gothic Americana, metaphysical wonderings, and even a trio of supernatural spaghetti-western concept albums.

HDC by Jon Fish

Clatch’s latest album, Every Path Leads Here, to be released on May 11th is a deeply personal musical documentary of events leading up to his encounter with his own mortality a decade ago, the recovery from which triggered his solo career.

Publicly, Clatch remains tight-lipped about the circumstances that brought him to the edge of his personal abyss, preferring instead to speak through his music. In private, during the times I spoke with him to prepare for this review, he allowed me just enough information to give context to the album.

Suffice it to say, the reality is grim and the details don’t make comfortable reading. But the clues are there.

At this point, it would be all too easy to roll out the predictable, blues-cliché analogy of ‘arriving at a  crossroads.’ In Clatch’s fable, the only deal to be done was the one that he made with himself.

Taking the positives from a harrowing situation, Clatch set about realigning his future.

“…May 11th 2010 was the start of my new life. I was lost at first; I went back to work, I started playing guitar in the band again, everyone was really supportive, but I knew there was something missing…”

“I decided I would teach myself something new. I was really into acoustic blues, but none of the bands I was in were blues or blues-based in the slightest, so I taught myself a bit of slide guitar and wrote some songs. In December 2010 a promoter friend bullied me into doing a solo show for him, he billed me as ‘Half Deaf Clatch‘ which was actually my MySpace username at the time, I enjoyed doing the gig just enough to want to continue and do a few more, and the rest is history…”

“And then in June 2014 the Fire Service decided to make my job as a cook obsolete, so I took voluntary redundancy instead of retraining and working in an office. To be honest if my job was still there, I wouldn’t have left, I just made the best decision for myself out of a bad situation. I didn’t leave a job to follow my dream of being destitute, it just sort of happened…”

This forced change of circumstance enabled Clatch to devote all of his time to making music, and also to explore other avenues of creativity.

When Clatch releases a new album it’s a masterclass in marketing and merchandising. Elaborate and imaginative videos precede Limited Edition packs, and finally links to ‘name-your-price’ downloads on his Bandcamp site. Everything created with such attention to detail and artistic quality that you wonder how he ever makes any money.

But this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how Clatch works.

Having collaborated with Clatch on the Beelzebub Jones project, I know how much of himself he puts into every aspect of every piece of  work. Nothing is ever as it first seems – everything he creates alludes to deeper, hidden meanings as he taps the rich seam of his dark imagination and turbulent life-history for inspiration.

HDC by Mal Whichelow (2)

Onstage, Clatch-the-performer is a force of nature, delivering consistently at each show a howling maelstrom of stomp, slide and holler, as if channelling juke-joint artists and carny barkers of yesteryear.

Offstage, he is a quiet, deep-thinker who lives a solitary life, the antithesis of his showman persona.

This paradox bleeds into his music. Behind the pomp and swagger of thumping stomp-board, banshee slide and that raucous voice you will often find fingerstyle pieces picked out on acoustic guitar, offsetting the ‘sturm und drang’ of the ‘Clatch sound’ with intricate, delicate and often quite beautiful melodies.

This juxtaposition of musical styles, perhaps symbolising the artistic sensitivity that lies behind even the loudest of performances, is a motif that weaves its way throughout all of his albums, but especially in Every Path Leads Here, where it adds an extra layer of poignancy to the backstory.

So, to the music:

“It’s been a difficult album to write. I’m hoping people get something out of it. At the end of the day I wrote it for myself, it’s been cathartic… The songs for the most part are either metaphorical or describe parts of the hallucinations/dreams that I had, but there are more literal songs on there too…”

Album Cover

Track 1 – A Change in the Season

“Sunlight’s melting away, just like the days, just like the days, 
Colours fade, skies turn to grey, all life decays, all life decays…”

A sinister minor chord acoustic arpeggio, a wailing slide guitar and a horror-movie organ riff set the mood for the first minute-and-change of the album, building tension and then resolving with the trademark Clatch stomp and growl over a pretty finger-picking melody that weaves itself through a brooding song that reflects the relentless march of time and, perhaps, one’s place within the cycle.

Track 2 – Too Poor To Die

“The Devil didn’t want my soul, wouldn’t make a deal
Said, ‘it ain’t worth a bean, worth a bean...’”

The archetypal ‘ain’t got no money,’ blues theme, written and performed in the finest blues tradition with an ironic upbeat slide and crowd-pleasing stomp that puts a brave face on a life lived from paycheck to paycheck without ever catching a break. Written in 2020, but would sound just as authentic on a scratchy 78’ played through the horn speaker of a wind-up Victrola gramophone in a shotgun shack in 1930s Mississippi.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” for modern times

Track 3 – Soul Searching

“Don’t talk to me ’bout salvation,
I ain’t got a great deal to save,
And I give into temptation everyday…”

At first listen, any blues aficionado worth her or his salt will make the immediate comparison with ‘The Soul of a Man’ by Blind Willie Johnson.

Clatch says:

“I was playing the chord progression and just humming along, then sang the line “Tell me, what good’s the soul of a man,” and I  thought, ‘hmmmm that’s a little too close to Blind Willie Johnson,’ but then I thought, ‘people have done a lot worse to old songs.’ It was accidentally on purpose I suppose…”

“It’s an homage to, rather than a version of. An extension of the original question.  I think it’s better to have ‘touch stones’ to the classics of the genre rather than out-and-out cover versions, carrying on a tradition without plagiarising the Hell out of everything. If  finding out my song is in some way inspired by Blind Willie gets someone into his music, then mission accomplished in my book…”

If ‘The Soul of a Man’ is a spiritual repetition of the age-old question by a deeply religious musician, ‘Soul Searching’ is the anguished beseeching of a mind in torment.

Opening with a sparse, repetitive cry to the heavens, Clatch’s trademark growl drips with despair, piling on layer upon layer of tension for a full two and a half minutes until resolution, in the form of a menacing alternating thumb-picked bass line that precedes a heart-breaking slide riff delivered to thumping stomp-box percussion.

This in itself would be enough to make the song magnificent, but amidst all of this Clatch takes composition to another level with a delicate, understated fingerstyle melody that complements the raucousness of the slide riff so perfectly that it becomes one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking guitar pieces that I have ever heard. Ever.

Blind Willie Johnson meets Mississippi John Hurt, directed by Sergio Leone. Bleak, dark, heart-rending and powerful. Soul Searching is probably, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best song Clatch has ever written.

Track 4 – These Blackened Blues

“Is it all inside my head,
Or is it reality?
Dissonant, discordant dirge,
Oh, reaching out to me…”

A change of pace in this upbeat and catchy tune that belies the darkness of the subject matter (earworms from hell), but also showcases Clatch’s talent for lyricism, as an alliterative description of a song, “Dissonant, discordant dirge” deserves a round of applause.

Track 5 – Bright Lights and Bedlam

“So I’ll sing these songs of woe
Take a journey deep within my soul
From this life I have to go
Where the path it takes me, well I don’t really know…”

Another gear change in this haunting and beautiful song about social anxiety and the need to escape from the madness and chaos of modern living – by any means possible. Once again intricate guitar patterns complement aching slide guitar to deliver perfectly the pain written between the lines of Clatch’s words.

Track 6 – A Web Across The Heavens

“High on top, the mountain’s peak,
I can see all of creation,
So many people lost like me,
Trapped by a web across the heavens…”

Inspired by a recurring fever-induced vision. Brooding, Ry Cooder-esque slide guitar permeates this dark visionary tale that has more than a nod to Poe’s ‘Dream Within a Dream’.

Track 7 – These Weary Bones

“It’s in my veins,
Coursing through every part of me, 
Take away the pain,
Drinking more and more,
To help me survive the days…”

A sea-change in the album, the performer overshadowed by the troubled artist within, battered with the exhaustion of the daily struggle to cope with the bright lights and bedlam. Art reflects reality as, from this point on, the music becomes understated, almost incidental as the lyrical pain starts to bubble to the surface.

Track 8 – On Through the Woods

“Senses working overtime,
Desperation’s now a friend of mine,
Carve my name into the bark of a tree,
Hoping someone will remember me,
Oh, please remember me…”

A simple, reflective acoustic riff trickles like a winter stream in the background as Clatch stumbles through metaphorical woods. Symbolising life and time, the human need to make one’s mark on the world and the crippling self-doubt that no one will care.

“Oh, please remember me,” the heartrending plea of someone who knows their time is near.

Track 9 – The Endless River

“Navigate the endless river, 
Been away too long,
I’m going home…”

Out of the woods we arrive at the bank of the Endless River. Clatch’s metaphor for everything in life that threatens to pull you under, and his struggle to overcome it. A couple of lines nod reverentially to Mississippi Fred McDowell in a song that’s awash (no pun intended) with blues / biblical themes of baptism and washing away old habits and starting anew.

Providing you make it to the other side, of course.

The track begins slowly, quietly, acoustic melody to the backdrop of water lapping at the riverbank. The calm before the storm, as the music builds and builds, the singing becomes staccato, repetitive, Clatch almost gasping for air as he fights the rip-tides, currents and undertows of life that threaten to drag him under for the third time.

Track 10 – Black and Blue

“Shaking every day, ain’t no goddamn way,
To live life right, to live life right,
If you’re feeling low, the bottle ain’t the way to go, 
Take your life back, take your life back…”

“The hardest song I’ve ever written from an emotional point of view, and extremely difficult to sing. If you listen closely you can hear my voice crack with emotion a couple of times, I did another take after that but it didn’t have the same feeling to it, so I used the first take, although it’s not perfect it conveyed the emotion much, much better…”

I can’t improve on Clatch’s words, except to say, just listen to it…


 

Every Path Leads Here releases on May 11th 2020, available from Speak up Recordings.

Tell your friends.

www.halfdeafclatch.com

 

In Search of Historic Treasure…

Historytellers - The Novels Bundle

My novel, Fat Man Blues (available at an Amazon near you), is a work of fiction set in 1930s Mississippi.

This classifies it as Historical Fiction, which is handy because the aim of this post is to invite y’all to take part an internet Scavenger Hunt, at the end of which one lucky winner will walk away with 12 historical fiction novels set in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s.

All this excitement takes place on Sunday 17th March 2019.

If you’re a fan of historic fiction (and lets face it, all the best people are) then you’ll get the opportunity to discover new authors, new stories and to meet and talk to other readers who love this time period, not to mention the opportunity to win the grand prize which includes a digital copy of a novel from each of the 12 authors participating in the hunt.

That’s 12 novels.

12 novels to be had for the price of half an hour spent bouncing around the internet.

As the doctor said to the man who lost his tongue, his bottom lip and all of his teeth, “You can’t say fairer than that…

It could be you, but you gotta be in it to win it. Innit?

Head over HERE to see how you can play the hunt. It’s quite easy, so I’m told.

This is the link to the blog next to me in the hunt.

And here’s the clue: The lucky number is hidden somewhere in this blog (I say ‘hidden’, it’s there if you look for it).

Be lucky!

Historytellers - The Novels Bundle.png

Abyssinia – Album Review

Abyssinia, the latest album from Worcestershire musician, Gary Tolley, AKA Garrington T Jones, AKA Gazza Tee, is a collection of nine original songs, one cover and one with a guest singer, masterfully put together to present a compendium of blues, rock, country and new-wave tunes.
Taken individually, each song is good enough to stand on its own merits. Collectively, they sit together to form an album that defies any attempt to force it into a genre pigeon-hole. As you journey through the album it becomes apparent that many of the songs reflect and are inspired by Garrington T Jones’ ongoing love affair with Australia, her landscape, people and culture.

The Songs:

Road Cases – Inspired by a conversation with an extremely well-read roadie in a bar in Cairns, Australia, Road Cases gives us the thoughts of a rock and roll backstage hero travelling between shows, and opens with a suitably rock and roll count down to a foot-tapping drum beat and catchy guitar riff. Mr Jones tells this tale with a mellow, assured voice that reminds this reviewer of 70’s crooner, Mat Monro. This is a good thing.

I Once Had a Girl – The tempo continues with this retrospective love song, a sparky, upbeat tune in the manner of 80’s New Wave Aussie band ‘Men at Work’.
Indian Summer – Mr Jones’ cover of a popular song by 70’s English Art Rock band ‘Audience’. A fabulous rendition of “a fabulous song of hope for those seeking love in the later years of life.”

Chasing Feathers – This catchy instrumental, inspired by two kittens gambolling outside for the first time, has a feel of something you might find on an early Joe Walsh album.
Time – A beautiful, thoughtful song co-written with, and sung by Laura Smith. Time flows like a lazy river on a summer evening and makes you feel better for having listened to it. One of the high points of the album.

Blue Car Blues – Another album high point is Tone Tanner’s Hendrix-esque guitar intro to this barmy 12-bar blues about a Nissan Almera SUV. No attempt at a written description will ever do this song justice. You HAVE to hear it to appreciate it.

Drivin’ Home With The Blues – More Antipodean inspiration with this ode to “Drivin’ Home With The Blues‘ a weekly radio show from Cairns, Queensland, Australia hosted superbly by Irene R. Barrett. A foot-tapping gem that captures that early Friday Night Feeling.

Dust Pneumonia Blues – Anyone who covers a Woodie Guthrie song is alright by me. And Garrington’s version of Dust Pneumonia Blues is a rip-roaring, barnstormer of a tune.

Ain’t Workin’ No More – A lazy, wistful 12-bar blues about stepping out of the rat race and the joy of no longer having to work for “the man”.

Ride – The intro sound effect of a Harley Davidson at full chat sets the tone for this high-octane journey on two wheels along the Great Barrier Reef Drive. Marvellous.

Jacaranda Blue – The perfect final song for any album is one that leaves the listener feeling good, and inspires them to play the album again, and again. This is the perfect final song, and in my opinion the masterpiece of the album. Garrington T Jones’ voice soars over a subtle music arrangement that somehow finds its way into the soul of the listener (any listener with a soul, that is).

Abyssinia is a unique album, which grows in magnitude each time you listen to it

Talking Backwoods – Album Review

Talking Backwoods by Scott Wainwright, is one of the most unique and original albums that I’ve heard for a long time. I first became aware of it via a recommendation by Andrew (Half Deaf Clatch) McLatchie – a friend and musician with a growing reputation for his own unique music creations.

With such an endorsement I felt I couldn’t go wrong, so I bought it. And I’m glad that I did!  The album is listed on iTunes as ‘blues’, and for the first minute or so, I thought I was in familiar territory as the first track ‘Remember the Zoo’ opened with an Old School, trance-inducing, foot-tappin’, ragtime finger picking tune that brought a smile to my face.

And then, at just after a minute, the synthesiser kicks in. Yep, that’s right. A synthesiser. Beginning with an ominous low-frequency throbbing in the background as a counterpoint to the fingerpicking melody, joined soon after by a playful higher frequency, whistling and whooping through the tune without a care in the world.

“This is different,” I thought.

Different is good.

Track two is Backwoods Progress Blues, and this begins with a sound effect that provides echoes of Pink Floyd (no pun intended), sounding very much like the intro to ‘Wish You Were Here’. The track comprises a dirty blues harp riff to a foot-stomping backbeat, and once again enhanced by the addition of electronica and further sound effects.

Track three, Refuge of Hope, is a mellow, so-chilled-it’s-frosty, introspective guitar-based composition that showcases the skill and virtuosity of Mr Wainwright.

Track four is Delta Surfin’, which opens with Early Floyd-esque effects dancing back and forth between speakers/headphones, followed by a prelude of flamenco guitar leading into a meaty resonator-sounding riff of slides and arpeggios to a backdrop of synthesisers and ending with a delicious one-fret slide.

Track five, Eleanor’s Dance, is a folky, fingerstyle guitar rag in the manner of Mississippi John Hurt, and, as with the previous tracks, enhanced by the addition of synthesisers which take the frivolity of the tune, albeit briefly, to a darker place. When the track ended, I replayed it because the final half-minute or so had made me re-evaluate the whole tune, and in fact the whole album (I write this after countless play-throughs, but more of that later.

Track six, Better Days, my favourite of the album, is a rollicking jam session of a tune, of the kind that occurs when a group of talented musicians get together and collectively get into “the zone”. Better Days made me smile from the outset and twist the volume button up to ‘11’. This happens each time I listen to it. Oh, and by the way, if you want to hear musical perfection, it occurs precisely at 1:42, just after the bass riff.

Track seven is another contemplative tune called Before the Battle, After the War, and as the name suggests it’s a tune of two halves. Lazy slide riffs alongside an acoustic rhythm guitar to the backdrop of birdsong lulls the listener into a false sense of serenity and then jolts them awake with a change of pace and instruments that ends abruptly before you realise what’s happened. In my opinion, an understated work of unsettling genius.

Eight is ‘Mellow Rag’, a track that in my mind is mash-up of the sound of the old Memphis Jug Bands of the 1920s, and the first Gomez album in 1998. Once again, very subtle.

‘Dolly Johnson’ is track nine, and this is a delightful little ditty that wouldn’t be out of place being performed on the front porch of a shack in the Appalachian Mountains, complete with clog dancer. Marvellous stuff.

Track ten is ‘The Distance Between Us’, a reflective Spanish Guitar-themed piece that drips with the angst and emotion that the title hints at. Heartbreaking.

Eleven is ‘Leo’s Greenhouse’, another foot-tapper similar in theme to ‘Remember the Zoo’ and full of synth, drum machine and hand-clapping goodness.

At the end is ‘At The End’, a playful tune that maintains the quality and virtuosity of the tracks preceding and ends the album on a high note.

Any instrumental piece that makes you stop and think about its very meaning is a very rare beast.  Scott Wainwright has created and entire album of such pieces and in doing so has taken the blues into new territory by adding electronica which gives a mellow trance vibe.

Trilby-bedecked blues purists will hate it. The sour-faced blues police, by that I mean those who sneer at anyone who didn’t meet Blind Lemon Pegleg in 1967, will also hate it. That’s a good thing because it will get people talking, and the more people that talk about the blues, the more the blues will be kept fresh.  Furthermore, I think if the likes of Blind Blake and Mississippi John Hurt were alive today, this is what they would be playing.

This marriage of blues and electronica, in a collection of instrumentals, is a bold move. But I think it’s paid off.  I think Talking Backwoods is a masterpiece, and exactly the direction that blues need to travel.

 

Going Back to The Hilly Country…

…won’t be worried no more.

Time for the annual blog update…

Blues purists (alright, anoraks) will no doubt recognise the title as a line from High Water Everywhere Pt 1, by Charley Patton. A song which provides a tenuous link to my efforts in 2016 to market my novel, Fat Man Blues , and to record the kindness of strangers (and friends old and new that I have encountered both at home and abroad).

I live near the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It may not have quite the blues heritage of North Mississippi (the place Mr Patton sang about), but blues parallels exist nonetheless.

When Charley Patton sang of “High Water Everywhere”, he was referring directly to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Here in Worcestershire, we’re no strangers to High Water, ask anyone who lives anywhere near the rivers Severn or Teme.

Upton upon Severn, for example, is a small village a few miles from Malvern, which floods with depressing regularity.

Upton also hosts an annual Blues Festival, which has grown from a small event in a couple of pubs into a festival that swamps the town with many thousands of music fans, two main stages, an acoustic stage, and ten pub venues creating over 100 performances in three days.

Last year, I was there hawking my wares and meeting great bunch of people, including local musician and self-described ‘One man kick ass band’, Tone Tanner . Check him out!

img_5109Upton Blues Festival 2016 – the guy behind me is Tone Tanner

Ever since Fat Man Blues came out in paperback, my agent, Kizzy Thomson and I have been collaborating to tout it relentlessly, and we have been surprised to receive help from some unexpected quarters.

Jennifer Sinquefield, who lives just outside the Mississippi Delta, contacted me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Fat Man Blues. This in itself was a kind gesture, but Jennifer took it several steps further by photographing her copy of the book at blues sites and blues icons across the Delta:

Out On Highway 61

Out On Highway 61

Blues Museum at Tunica, MS.

Blues Museum at Tunica, MS.

On Hallowed Ground

On Hallowed Ground. Holly Ridge, MS

For a blues nut like me, these pictures are amazing and I’m eternally grateful to Jennifer for taking the time to create them. They also belong to Jennifer, so please be nice and ask permission if you want to use them.

IMG_0752Not only that, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, now have Fat Man Blues adorning the bookshelves of their gift shop.

I’m extraordinarily proud of this. Visiting the blues museum has long been on my bucket list. Clarksdale is where the idea for Fat Man was “born” and it means a lot to me that my novel  can be found in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, alongside books written by such eminent blues historians as Alan Lomax, Ted Gioia and Peter Guralnick. Huge thanks to Richard Crisman for making this happen.

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Fat Man has arrived.

If that wasn’t enough, I was approached by a lady from Las Vegas called Rita King, who told me that she loved my book. These kind words in themselves were great to hear, but imagine my excitement when I realised that Rita is the daughter of blues legend B.B. King!

Rita King, daughter of a legend

Rita King, daughter of a legend

I’ve also experienced similar acts of kindness closer to home in my own “hilly country”.

Malvern has a rich seam of writing talent and literary history. Malvern Writers’ Circle (of which I am proud to be a member) has been in existence since 1948, boasts a wealth of authors far more talented than I, and was once visited by J.B. Priestley. Also, one Peter Mark Roget (he of the thesaurus) is buried, entombed, interred, inhumed, covered and hidden in West Malvern.

In a tiny side street, just off Abbey Road, is Hunky Dorey , a cool little shop selling all manner of clothing, arty gifts and eclectic treasures. To celebrate their first anniversary of trading they held an open evening, and owners Sue Street and Anne Tompkins very kindly invited me to bring along a few copies and hold a book signing event.

The calm before the...

The calm before the…

This was great fun, and I met some very friendly and interesting people. Among the first to walk in were three ex-pat Brits based in Tenerife, one of whom said he used to play in several blues bands and knew Rory Gallagher – he bought three signed copies, so I believed him.

Hunky Dorey are now selling copies of Fat Man Blues, as are the Malvern Book Cooperative, a thriving little book shop in St. Anns Road, who are especially keen to promote the work of local authors like me.

If you ever visit Malvern, please search out these fine establishments, you won’t be disappointed.

I would like to thank once again, everyone who has helped me so far in the project that is Fat Man Blues. To meet so many people at home and abroad with such generosity of spirit, gives me hope and restores my faith in human nature.

Mississippi and Malvern. 4000 miles apart, and yet closer than you think.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned because it doesn’t end here…

Ridin’ with the Fat Man

At long last, my debut novel has finally hit the streets (of Amazon) and is now available on a Kindle near you. A chance remark at the end of a beer-fuelled evening in Clarksdale in February 2012 has resulted in Fat Man Blues – the story of Hobo John, a white blues enthusiast from England, who meets the mysterious Fat Man in bar in present day Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Fat Man offers Hobo John the chance to travel the Mississippi delta at the time of the “real” blues of the 1930s – the time when Charley Patton, Robert Johnson et al were the One Direction of their time. For Hobo John, this is an offer he really can’t refuse and along the way he gets to listen to and play the music he loves in the land that he has always dreamed of visiting. However, he soon encounters to the harsh reality of life in the delta and the horrific consequences of the deal he has made.

Writing this has been a labour of love. Love for scratchy old blues music and the history of the blues singers who ultimately helped change the face of popular music, made a lot of (mostly white) people very rich but earned very little for their efforts, often living forgotten, impoverished lives and dying in squalor.

If you’re reading this and don’t know the first thing about Mississippi Delta Blues, then I recommend (nay, urge) you to research the music. Fat Man Blues contains references to a whole bunch of songs and artists, some of which are listed below.

Soundtrack

I’m a King Bee by Slim Harpo

This was playing in Red’s Lounge when Hobo John walks in and meets Fat Man for the first time. Anyone who listens to this and doesn’t move to it is probably dead.

Me and My Chauffeur Blues by The East River String Band

A classic by Memphis Minnie and played here by the excellent East River String Band from NYC.

Me and My Chauffeur Blues by Memphis Minnie

And this is the original…

Green River Blues by Charley Patton

Beautiful song by Mr Patton, who tells us he’s “going’ where the southern cross the dog”.

Bear Creek Hop trad – Performed by Steve James

This is a ragtime standard played by the guy who taught me to play slide guitar. I’m still light years from having his “chops” but it sounds great on my steel resonator.

Walking Blues by Robert Johnson

Originally recorded by Son House, there are a million different versions.

Canned Heat Blues by Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson was (in my opinion) a rather underrated singer, who lived in the shadow of his namesake but produced some rather splendid music. Canned Heat refers to Sterno, a fuel made from denatured and jellied alcohol and burned directly from its can. During prohibition, the alcohol would be squeezed through cloth and mixed with fruit juice or drunk neat.

Black Mattie by Robert Belfour

This tune is from the Mississippi Hill Country and has a different musical sound to traditional Delta blues. This is a tune I’ve been trying to master, and played right it has a hypnotic, almost trance-inducing sound.

My Black Mama Part 1 by Son House

My Black Mama Part 2 by Son House

Two songs that capture the “sound” of Son House. My Black Mama formed the basis of his later tune “Death Letter Blues” – played here by Son House in the 1960s.

Preachin’ Blues by Son House

“Gonna get me religion, gonna join the Baptist Church / If I was a Baptist preacher, I wouldn’t have to work…” – says it all, really.

Down The Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton

“I’m going’ away, to a world unknown, you know I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long…” Listen carefully and you’ll hear Mr Patton slapping his guitar as he’s playing. I never get tired of hearing this.

Ridin’ with the Fat Man

Finally, a friend of mine, Mr Andy Peters has written and recorded a song in celebration of Fat Man Blues. Not only that, he’s also created this video. For once, I’m speechless. Thanks Andy.

Fat Man Blues is available on Amazon.co.uk and on Amazon.com

Please, tell your friends 🙂

Poetry – Day 4

Short and sweet today. A while ago I was challenged to write a filthy limerick containing a Latin phrase, this is what my brain produced (btw, Leominster is pronounced “Lemster”):

A callow young farmer from Leominster 
Paid a whore and attempted to enter
But on him was the joke
For the whore was a bloke
Who winked and said,

“Caveat Emptor”

Poetry – Day 3

Day 3 of NaPoWriMo and it’s back to the blues with these two poems: The first one (which I wrote today) is inspired by memories of Clarksdale and the monument to the legend of Robert Johnson making a deal at a crossroads. Whether you believe it or not, it’s a definitive blues story that I think is let down a little by what has been erected at the intersection of Highways 61 and 49.

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Only my opinion of course 🙂

Down at the Crossroads

(R. Wall)

I pilgrimmed to the Delta
To mark 50 summers passed
And wandered through the cotton land
Imagining the past

I searched for myth and folklore
Of pacts and midnight deals
I found the blues in Clarksdale
The truth, to me, revealed

I stopped on Highway 61
Where it crosses ’49
I saw the devil in the detail
As I stood beneath the sign

‘The CROSSROADS’
Screams the banner
Cartoon axes painted blue
Someone traded in their soul, it’s said
Looks like that might be true

Here’s one I made earlier:

In 2003, I began a poem that attracted the attention of a German blues singer, Werner Lindner, who turned it into a song and recorded a demo version:

I Never Knew

(R. Wall)

I never met a race horse
I didn’t want to back
I never had a job
Where I didn’t get the sack
I never played a card game
I knew I wouldn’t lose
I never knew a time
That I couldn’t play the blues

I’m living me a life
Where it seems I’m born to lose
Sometimes it feels
Just like I’m walking
In someone else’s shoes
It’s something deep inside me
I know I’ll never lose
I never knew a time
That I couldn’t play the blues

I never knew a time
Where I wouldn’t start a fight
I never found a bar
Where I wouldn’t drink all night
I never met a drink
That I knew I could refuse
I never knew a time
That I couldn’t play the blues

I never knew a time
That I didn’t have a worry
I never met a town
I didn’t leave in a hurry
I never found a wrong path
I knew I wouldn’t choose
I never knew a time
That I didn’t have the blues

Poetry – Day 2

Today’s poem was inspired by Andrew Peters, a fellow blues fan, occasional sparring partner on Twitter and general antidote to social media. Andy is the author of a series of novels featuring the “Blues Detective” – a Welsh private investigator living in Memphis – and other works including my personal favourite, “Joe Soap”.

Check out his work, you won’t be disappointed.

Opinion

“All poetry is shite!”
The Welshman yelled from exile
“It’s just random words,
in random places
On the page…”
Who am I to argue,
The assertion of a Sage?

I wrote this poem several years ago and if, while reading it, you experience a subterranean revolving sensation; that will be Edward Lear spinning in his grave…

The Owl & The Pussy Cat
(with apologies to Edward Lear)

The owl and the pussy cat went to sea

In a beautiful, pea-green boat

They sailed past Dover

And were swiftly pulled over

By HM Customs afloat

 

T’was a miserable caper

For they had no papers

To prove the land they were from

And with a brisk rubber stamp

They were sent to a camp

With others who seek asylum

 

The owl looked up to the stars above

And sang to a small guitar

“Oh customs man, oh customs official

What a stupid official you are, you are

What a stupid official you are.”

 

Official said to the owl,

“You ill-tempered fowl

You sewer-mouthed so and so

We had no way of knowing

Which way you were going

I’m just doing my job, you know

 

And oh how we laughed

at your pea-green craft

you must take us for mugs

a bird and a feline?

Adrift in a sea-lane?

We stopped you to search for drugs, for drugs

We stopped you to search for drugs

 

And then he took them away

For half a year and a day

To a place that they called Heathrow

He said “Oh prisoners of mine,

This is your quarantine,

For the next six months,

This is your home.

Now don’t cry like babies,

For we don’t want rabies,

In the land where the oak trees grow,

As pets with no owners,

On you is the onus,

I don’t make the rules, you know, you know,

I don’t make the rules you know.”

 

Protesting their crime

The two did their time

And the six months slowly crawled by

And on the last day at 3

They were finally set free

By a pig who lived in a sty

 

On the day of release-a,

They dined on a pizza,

And ice-cream that they ate with a spoon.

And then wing in paw,

Along the M4,

They danced by the light of the moon the, moon

They danced by the light of the moon.

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