The Great Gigs : Graham Parker & The Rumour – A Triumphant Comeback!

You really should have been there!

Shepherds Bush Empire London October 2013

Thirty years since their last gig in London!

‘…Mr Lawrence! Mr Lawrence! A man come through!’. (Van Morrison)

‘ Love is lovelier the second time around’. (Cahn/Van Heuson)


Passion is no ordinary word. Graham Parker, even in the doldrums of a thirty year plus career in music, has always written and performed his songs with shattering commitment. And, especially when partnered (not supported) by the astonishingly resourceful and committed group of musicians known as The Rumour, he made records and played concerts between 1975 and 1981 that will stand as peaks of rock excellence in the passionate tradition of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.

Parker, a scrawny Englishman with electric energy, has generally punched above his weight as a singer and performer – always reaching out for the perfect dramatic expression of the emotions and narratives contained within his extensive songbook. His ace to play is a thrillingly soulful voice which can plead for, pledge, and command love. Parker ‘s vocals lend colour, weight and dynamism to his songs whether in his tender yearning ballads (‘Fool’s Gold’) his wide screen technicolour story epics (‘Watch The moon Come Down’) or in his helter- skelter, jump-on or be run over rockers (‘Soul Shoes’). A Graham Parker vocal at his best has instantly recognisable authority (you know he really means it!) without sacrificing his vulnerability or sense of wonder.

The Rumour: Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), Martin Belmont (guitar), Bob Andrews (keyboards), Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums) combine impressive musical chops with the rare ability to really listen to each other and their lead singer so that the songs they play have an organic texture that allows them to breathe, build and bloom into flesh and blood life. This is a band committed to each other and their craft. It’s no accident that they took their name from a song by The Band – the ultimate exemplars of co-operative built to last music making in the rock era.

In their heyday Parker and the Rumour were a match for any live band in the world and their classic albums – Howling Wind and Squeezing Out Sparks – were astounding examples of rock songcraft. In reaction the hip critics raved, the cogniscenti queued and fellow artists like Bruce Springsteen listened hard. However, lacking irresistible hits, a clearly defined commercial image and extensive radio play the great British and American publics and the music moguls were never convinced. Eventually the grind of endless touring without commensurate reward took its inevitable toll.

Graham Parker relocated to the Woodstock area and settled down in every sense proceeded to record a series of intelligent and well wrought albums that satisfied his audience without troubling the mass market. Almost every one contained a song or two most songwriters would have killed for and all featured singing that could lift or break your heart. The Rumour went their separate ways and found niches that satisfied their varied needs for full time involvement in music.

And that’s where the story might have ended. Another band, much loved and fervently recalled, that as time went by became more of a myth and less of a reality. Until, out of the blue, a crowd funded documentary led to a one off reunion for Parker and some of the band and a decision that a reunited GP and The Rumour would record another album – now known as, ‘Three Chords Good’.

To add to the twilight zone like sense that, ‘something weird is happening here’ it turned out that the actor/director Judd Apatow, a longtime fan, thought he might usefully cast Graham Parker as a once revered rocker beloved by the mid-life crisis hero in his movie ‘This is 40’. In the movie the hero gets his favourite band together. So, through the magical power of Hollywood Graham Parker and the Rumour after a thirty year lay off trod the boards together again and found that they still had the elusive chemistry that makes a band really special. They might have gained a few pounds and gone grey but musically they still snarled and burned and perhaps now had more control and swing – better able to know when to push and when to throttle back. New songs were written and recorded for ‘Three Chords Good’ which emerged as a set of beautifully conceived and played songs worthy of the band’s history.

Given all the above – why not tour again and see if the old soul shoes could still tear up the dance floor? So, conscious of my own grey hair and how desperately I wanted GP and the Rumour to be once again the great band who had often made an in concert reality of the challenge presented in taking on Sam Cooke’s ‘Let’s Have A Party’ I took my seat in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with no small amount of nervousness.

From the first, everything’s in place, burnished opening chords of the endlessly yearning ‘Fool’s Gold’ it was obvious that this was a band and a singer that were not simply leaning on memories of former glories. Rather, here was a band of brothers who were, almost anazedly, finding that they could still make their songs come freshly alive as new creations. You could see old friends in the audience turning to each other with face-splitting grins mouthing ‘My god they really still have got it!’

Their mojo was definitely still working and song by song they burned up the stage and lit up our night. Particular highlights included a scorching take on Howling Wind featuring Brinsley Schwarz’s barbed wire guitar and Bob Andrews just this side of crazed keyboards alongside GP’s anguished vocal. A new song ‘Snake Oil Capital of the World’ showed Parker’s vocals could still have sarcastic bite and that the Rumour could keep him on his toes through the controlled intensity of their playing. During ‘Discovering Japan’ Steve Goulding and Andrew Bodnar showed what a potent rhythm section they were with the former’s powerhouse drumming especially impressive.

The expressionist drama of ‘Watch the Moon come down’ captured the whole outfit in magesterial form switching from relaxed vamping to all out attack with fluent ease – the theatre seemed bathed in spectral moonlight. Martin Belmont, a giant figure who always looks as if he is just about to start a fight, played throughout with lyrical beligerance and on a swooningly intense ‘Local Girls’ his guitar rang out to the rafters. The showstopping ‘Dont Ask Me Questions’ proved, if proof were needed, that Graham Parker does have a heart full of soul and the vocal graces to arouse shivers in his audience. His songs can also summon whole audience to passionately sing as his ragged but righteous chorus. No-one left the gig without having been moved and delighted at witnessing a true renaissance.

Looking back, the concert acted as a series of triumphant demonstrations of Graham Parker and The Rumour’s passion, skill and sheer determination to do honour to themselves, their heritage, their new songs and their audience. Not that this audience needed much winning over. I have never felt such waves of such pure affection travelling between an audience and the stage. Indeed at times the band seemed taken aback by the overwhelming reaction their heroic playing produced. There was a real sense that the Empire was filled with people on and off stage celebrating the good times of old and deliriously happy to be creating, not recreating, new peaks of experience. Graham Parker and The Rumour have weathered their storms, come to terms with the rollercoaster of good and bad fortune and come through into a new world.

Sometimes, although you properly never believe this in youth, love can be lovelier the second time around!

Footnote : Since this post was written its been given the thumbs up by Graham Parker himself and Martin Belmont!

The Parting Glass: Phil Everly (1939 – 2014)

… A time to rise and a time to fallPhil Everly

Come fill to me the parting glass

Goodnight and joy be with you all.

There is a magical moment during the Everly Brothers celebrated and triumphant reunion concert at The Albert Hall in 1983 which goes some way to explaining the source of their enduring appeal. 

After opening with a heart warming , ‘Bye Bye Love, a rocking Claudette, the magesterial, ‘Walk Right Back’  a forlorn, stately, ‘I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain and the knock-out punch of, ‘Cathy’s Clown’ the band, which featured England’s guitar legend Albert Lee, took a momentary breather.

The two brothers briefly smiled at each other knowing now that a decade apart had in no sense diminished their power as performers.  Reassured, they leaned their heads close together and began to sing acapella, ‘These are the words of a frontier lad who lost his love when he went bad.’  The opening lines of, ‘Take A Message to Mary’.  As their two voices entwined in a rich fraternal harmony of heartbreakingly vulnerable perfection you can feel the whole audience catch their breath as countless personal memories are evoked.  

Memories of the passing years with all their freight of love, joy and loss.  Memories of friends, lovers and family happily present and memories of those now separated by distance, time and mortality.  Looking around the auditorium it was clear that few popular music figures have ever burrowed so deep into their fans emotional core or repaid that loyalty and affection with such tender grace.

Simply put the Everly Brothers were the greatest duet singers and brother act in the history of popular music. 

It will remain a mystery as to why the sibling relationship and consanguinity combined to supercharge the emotional resonance of Phil and Don’s harmony vocals and how this mysterious power could survive and endure for virtually all their lifetimes as brothers – whatever the state of their personal relationship. 

It was surely a mystery to them as much as to anyone else.

Phil Everly’s life began in Chicago but he was in every other sense a son of the South.  His parents were Kentuckians and musicians.  From the age of six he was singing on the radio with elder brother Don and his parents.  The songs they sang were country songs or those weird and wonderful folk songs as Dylan put it about, ‘Roses growing out of people’s heads’. 

From the get-go it was clear that these two brothers, influenced by other brother acts like the Delmores and Blue Sky Boys, had a uniquely potent mystical chemistry that made their arousing and keening singing able to thrill and also to pierce the hardest heart. 

As they grew older the cute boys became handsome young men, accomplished guitar players and confident performers.  They were thus in prime position in the late 1950’s to shoulder their jet black Gibson guitars ready to ride and help drive the runaway rock ‘n’ roll train as far as it could go.

Settling into their recording career at Cadence Records and supplied with a string of classic teenage angst songs by the likes of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’) the Everly’s took up residence in the hearts and memories of a generation. 

Phil himself wrote one of their signature teenage classics, ‘When Will I Be Loved’.  Up until the advent of the Beatles led British invasion the Everlys were reigning rock ‘n’ roll royalty enjoying massive chart success and the esteem of their fellow artists. 

They were also enormously influential – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies and The Beach Boys all freely acknowledged their admiration and desire to emulate the wonder of the brothers’ harmony singing.

Of the two brothers Phil was by all accounts the more outgoing, sensible and grounded of the two.  Though the younger brother it seemed that he was the one looking out for the more mercurial and vulnerable Don. 

Don, whose voice seems able to cleave your ribs and pull your heart apart generally took the lead part while Phil intently, watchfully, with a brother’s love and care, held everything together with poignant poised harmony.

Together they made a sound that has rarely been matched for longevity of emotional impact.

Phil had some notable successes as a solo artist including recording the excellent, ‘Star Spangled Springer’ album (1973) which contains the wonderful tracks, ‘The Air That I Breathe’ and ‘Snowflake Bombadier’.  He also worked fruitfully on the soundtracks of the Clint Eastwood  movies, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and, ‘Any Which Way You Can’.

Genuine though these successes were they are minor in comparison to the luminous body of work he created with his elder brother.  They were great country singers, great rock ‘n’ roll singers and great pop singers.

Their body of work is sure to provide emotional sustenance and solace long into the forseeable future.  For people will always fall in and out of love and always carry the scars of past hurts even as they embrace new hope. 

There will always be an Everly Brothers song to turn to.

You really should have been there! Bob Dylan

Sometimes, you just know.  There is literally something in the air. 

A sense of gathering fevered anticipation as the crowd assembles and the air becomes charged with faith and hope that this will be one of those nights.

The ones that you will relive in memory and recount proudly a thousand times to those who didn’t have the foresight, the cash, the sheer luck to be in that town on that night when everything clicked, when the energy built and built arcing from person to person, from stalls to gallery and flashing from the stage until we were all swept up and away into an ecstatic realm for those few hours on that one night that you will never forget and never be quite able to recapture.

All you can do is call for another drink, smile that distant smile and say with a regretful tone  ‘You really should,have been there.’

Concert reviews under this heading will appear from time to time – starting below with my review of Bob Dylan’s most recent concert in London.

SW7 Revisited

‘Let us not talk falsely now – the hour is getting late’.   Bob Dylan

‘The thing about Bob is that he is and always will be Bob’. Jeff Lynne

I discovered and fell headlong into obsessive allegiance to the music and persona of Bob Dylan as a callow fourteen year old in 1969.  Up to that night, when I incredulously listened to the epiphany of Desolation Row on a French language radio station I had been largely dismissive of contemporary pop/rock music. 

Much as I liked the vitality of the Beatles and especially the Kinks I was not thrilled and transported by their records in the way that I was when reading the works of D H Lawrence or Chekhov which seemed to open up whole new worlds of sensation and understanding.

The Dylan I discovered that night was like the elder brother I never had – someone cleverer, more assured and knowing than me who yet leaned over to tell me all the secrets he had learned with a nod, a wink and a rueful grin. 

He would continue to fulfill that role throughout the following decades.dylan3

So, when I saw him in concert in November 2013 at London’s Albert Hall I was moved to reflect on all the years and miles we had travelled since he had last been there.

At the Albert Hall In 1966 when the last notes of an  epochal, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ that sounded like nothing less than an electric typhoon faded into the night air Bob Dylan walked off stage a fully realised genius.  In the previous four years he had created a body of work that would have, even if he had never recorded again, made him the single most important artist of the second half of the century.

However, he was also swaying on the precipice of a physical and emotional collapse. This was brought on by an impossible workload of recording and touring only tolerable through the fuel of a teeming headful of ideas and an increasingly dangerous reliance on ever more powerful drug cocktails.

He had once said that, ‘I accept chaos – I’m not sure if chaos accepts me’.  Now he was learning to his cost that chaos was indifferent to his acceptance – chaos swallows and destroys.

He was saved from permanent burn out and death by the happenstance of a motorbike accident that gave him the opportunity to clean up, rest, recuperate and find a new way of working allowing for some form of future and family life in the haven of Woodstock.

Over the next 47 years he would never again attain the heights of inspiration achieved through to 1966 (neither would anyone else!) but he would continue, in an unmatched way, through craft, cunning and sheer bloody mindedness to write, create and perform works that honoured the traditions of American song while being thoroughly modern, post modern and finally timeless expansions of and additions to that tradition.

bobdylan1So, when he returned to the Albert Hall as Thanksgiving approached in November 2013, as he looked around at the grand old venue he might have been excused the quizzical smile that had become his trademark expression. 

Much like Ishmael returning after an age to the Nantucket waterfront he carried with him the knowledge of how hard survival could be and how that knowledge was every bit as much a curse as a blessing.

In 2013 Bob Dylan could be more reasonably compared to an old testament prophet (Jeremiah? Isiah? Micah ?) than to any of his ‘peers’ within the entertainment industry albeit a prophet who doubled as a song and dance man.

A song and dance man, walking and gliding through a blasted landscape, who while not dismissive or disrespectful of his classic creations, primarily chose to mine the new seam of the songs collected as Tempest.

In this he was aided by a road tested band, alert to his hair tigger mercurial nature, who artfully melded blues, rockabilly and sly swing to embody and illuminate the songs.

Upfront, the man himself settled either into a seafarers stance when centre stage or bobbed like a sparring boxer when stationed behind the piano.  His voice, a bare ruined choir of its former glory, though still uniquely distinctive, adapted its tone to the demands of each song – variously knowing, bewildered, threatening, regretful, cajoling and doleful. 

Somehow his totemic harmonica playing still manages to encompass all these qualities and more and audibly thrills the warmly affectionate audience.

Bob Dylan has, not without cost, become what he set out to be all those years ago – a hard travellin’ troubadour, with a lifetimes worth of songs, something for every occasion, in his gunny sack, always on the way to another joint.  Always looking at the road ahead not the road behind. 

I can’t help but feel that up ahead the shades of Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Whitman and Rabbie Burns are waiting to welcome another to their company.

Well they can wait a little longer – this troubadour has more miles to go before he’s ready for the final roadhouse.  May god bless him and keep him always.

Thanks to Karl-Erik at Expecting Rain for posting this article on his wonderful site.