Music

Mike’s Music

By 5 March 2024March 30th, 2024No Comments

Mike Daly is a local resident and a widely experienced and well-known journalist with a keen ear and eye on the music scene. Since the first edition of Eastsider News, Mike has been writing a music column that is much loved by our readers.  He can be contacted at mikedaly35@gmail.com.

 

Featured image by PIRO from Pixabay

Songs From This Town – Mick Pealing and Nick Charles

Mike Daly

We were lucky enough to see guitar duo Mick Pealing and Nick Charles recently perform songs from this album in a live acoustic set at the Arcobar (that excellent Heatherton live music venue which, sadly, has no equivalent in the Boroondara/Whitehorse area).

Pealing and Charles were members of Stars, a band that originated in the early ’70s – the heyday of country rock. They supported touring artists like Linda Ronstadt, the Beach Boys and Joe Cocker, earning a chart hit in 1977 with ‘The Mighty Rock’.

But in 1980, after cancer claimed singer/guitarist Andy Durant at just 25, the group disbanded. Later that year Stars vocalist/guitarist Mal Eastick organised a stellar Melbourne memorial concert, with ticket profits, plus sales of the double live LP (‘The Andy Durant Memorial Concert’ – now a collector’s item, and I just wish I’d kept mine) going to the Andrew Durant Cancer Research Foundation.

Stars reformed five years ago, with the current line-up comprising Pealing and Charles, plus Roger McLachlan (bass), Erik Chess (drums) and gun blues guitarist Geoff Achison (replacing the recently retired Eastick) plus pedal steel maestro Ed Bates. You can find their current Victorian gigs at starsofficial.com/shows on a bill usually shared with Chain and the Bushwackers.

Nick Charles, of course, is a terrific guitarist and I have several of his solo recordings. While I have fond memories of the old Stars (their ‘Last of The Riverboats’ is a personal favourite), the new ‘Songs from This Town’ album seems like a continuation of that ethos – Americana with a local accent, if you like. Among highlights are killer ballad “Love Is a Gift”, the “Heartache in Country” tribute and a Nick Charles vocal-guitar gem, “Wasteland of The Blues’, evoking lockdown memories.

You can find the duo’s recordings and gigs at https://pealingcharles.com/ with their respective details at charlesguitar.com and mickpealing.com – and, for background on the making of the album, go to https://youtu.be/KrafBhgfNpo

McTell makes a welcome return to the Streets of Oz

Mike Daly

Ralph McTell, that engaging English singer/guitarist, has been touring Victoria recently. Like countless other local and overseas performers, his visit culminates in the annual Port Fairy Folk Festival (March 8 to11) followed by a stint in New Zealand.

I’ve seen McTell perform several times, interviewed him on a couple of occasions and always admired his relaxed, friendly approach to the media. Our last meeting was more than 30 years ago, when he talked about ‘The Boy With The Note’, his BBC radio program and CD inspired by the work of celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

‘I don’t put myself in the same creative company as Thomas, of course’, McTell explained. But he perceived definite parallels between composing poetry and songs. ‘What has always intrigued me about poetry is the compression of a much larger idea within a disciplined line structure, conveying perhaps more than one meaning at the same time.’

McTell’s most celebrated song is, of course, ‘Streets of London’, hanging around his neck like a golden albatross. This much-loved (and much-covered) ode to the city’s homeless was actually originally conceived during a busking stint in Paris, with the melody inspired by Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’.

Released in 1974 (six years after his debut album ‘Eight Frames a Second’), ‘Streets’ propelled him to stardom, an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting and a career that shows no sign of fading. It’s a firm favourite with fans and he’s happy to sing it for the umpteenth time. I recently saw him interviewed on TV and, yet again, he performed it on request.

The veteran performer has played just about every major venue, including the Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Montreux Jazz Festival, in addition to children’s TV programs.

One good reason for McTell’s longevity as a performer is his flair for reinvention. Not content with an impressive back-catalogue of songs, he decided to fine-tune his blues guitar technique (a first-love, he admits) with a dazzling finger-picking repertoire that includes blues and folk icons such as Blind Blake, Mance Lipscombe, Rev Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. The afore-mentioned legends can be heard on his 2006 CD, ‘Gates of Eden’.

For McTell, songwriting is still a joy, not a chore. ‘I can remember that indescribably good feeling from years ago, when you’d put the pencil down, sit there with the guitar and play through a song for the very first time’, he said.

‘Every now and then you know you’ve written a good one and nobody has to tell you.’ But at 79, he admitted with a laugh, ‘It’s a damn sight harder to write as you get older’.

Details of Ralph McTell’s Streets of Oz tour can be found on his website: www.ralphmctell.co.uk/

Hard to believe these geezers are octogenarians

Rolling Stones/Hackney Diamonds

Mike Daly

Sixty years ago, I missed the Rolling Stones’ festival debut by one day. It was a Saturday in August 1963, at Richmond (UK) Rugby Club’s Athletic Ground, where the Third National Jazz and Blues Festival was headlined by the likes of Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Tubby Hayes.

It was on the Sunday afternoon, as I learned much later, that the young Stones opened (they were at the bottom of the bill) and their blend of blues-rock covers reportedly earned a rousing reception. I finally caught up with the band three decades later at the MCG, although I did also attend Mick Jagger’s less auspicious 1988 Melbourne solo concert.

The Stones’ earliest repertoire had included covers of Chuck Berry, The Coasters and Muddy Waters. But it was their version of Buddy Holly’s classic `Not Fade Away’ that took them to No 3 in the UK hit parade in 1964 and they were off and running, with Glimmer Twins Jagger and Richards establishing a songwriting partnership to rival the Beatles’ Lennon-McCartney.

So here we are 60 years later, with octogenarian Mick Jagger still dancing and prancing onstage (putting the rest of his age group to shame) and Keith Richards (Mick’s junior by just five months) ripping out those familiar guitar riffs with ease. But it’s taken 18 years to get new material together, punctuated by the 2021 death of Charlie Watts. The latter had nominated Steve Jordan to replace him on tour and Jordan is now a permanent group member.

Produced by Andrew Watt, the new album features several guest stars including Paul McCartney’s bass on the powerhouse ‘Bite My Head Off’, plus the Stones’ original bassist Bill Wyman (who quit the band three decades ago). Charlie Watts was still around to record ‘Live By The Sword’, a fairly conventional rocker that also features Elton John’s piano and Wyman’s bass. Watts also contributed to ‘80s-style disco holdover ‘Mess It Up’. although I found the latter, plus the brittle single, `Angry’, to be the least appealing tracks — but that’s just personal taste, I guess.

The pace slows for Richards and Ronnie Wood to mesh guitars on `Driving Me Too Hard’, while Richards delivers a typically laconic solo vocal on the slow ballad `Tell Me Straight’, joining Jagger on the final, acoustic Muddy Waters-based `Rolling Stone Blues’. Best tracks are the languid, countrified ballad `Dreamy Skies’ and the killer, gospel-powered `Sweet Sounds Of Heaven’, with Stevie Wonder’s keyboards and Lady Gaga duetting playfully with Jagger against a powerhouse big band backing that recalls the Stones’ classic choral ballad `You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ (used so effectively in the funeral scene of the movie `The Big Chill’).

Vale Tony Bennett (1926–2023). Portrait of an artist as a music icon

Mike Daly

One wintry Sydney afternoon in the late ’80s I was fortunate enough to sit down with Tony Bennett for an hour and discuss his artistic career, both musical and pictorial, as well as his love of tennis.

I was on assignment from The Age, to interview Bennett and attend his concert that night in the Hilton ballroom. Our wide-ranging conversation covered many topics, from a celebrated musical evolution to his more recent passion for painting oils and watercolours, including a series of Australian flowers, signed Anthony Benedetto (his real name).

Teenage Tony had helped his mum pay the bills (his grocer dad died when he was just nine) working as ‘Joe Bari, the singing waiter’. He had planned to be a commercial artist until World War 2 intervened, when he was drafted and served in Europe where he sang in military bands. At war’s end he immersed himself in theatre and music, and was invited to tour with Bob Hope, who had spotted Tony in a Greenwich Village revue with Pearl Bailey, leading to his first TV break.

Of Hope, Tony said: ‘He got a big kick out of the fact that I was the only white guy in an all-black show’. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘I’ll take you on the road’. Hope also suggested he call himself Tony Bennett. The rest, as they say, is showbiz history.

Bennett stuck to his guns as a crooner (Sinatra called him ‘the best singer in the business’), eschewing the lure of rock and pop idolatry. At the time of our interview, his career had revived after a lull. ‘It’s great to sense some failure, go out of fashion for a while’, he said. ‘It gives you time to hibernate, to grow and learn something – to come up with a fresh concept.’

Later, of course, he was to duet with a host of singers across the pop, rock and blues spectrum, including Ray Charles, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, k.d. lang, Lady Gaga, Elton John and Paul McCartney.

After our talk, Tony had headed down to the Hilton ballroom for a rehearsal with his backing trio, led by longtime pianist/arranger Ralph Sharon. Like Sinatra, who always relied on Bill Miller to arrange and lead from the keyboards, Bennett enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Sharon and the rehearsal was a relaxed affair.

With a coffee in one hand and the microphone in the other, Bennett led a quick run through with the trio, plus a 15-piece Australian string and woodwind ensemble. Much later that night, rapturous applause greeted the seasoned singer as he navigated the repertoire of favourite composers – from Gershwin to Porter, Kern, Rodgers and Hart – making it all look ridiculously effortless.

Bennett, 96, died on July 21 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Meeting that gently spoken artist and consummate stage performer is a memory I shall always treasure.

Tina: a performer who was simply the best

Mike Daly

Tina Turner’s recent death, aged 83, reminded me of the many memorable concert acts I’ve been fortunate enough to see during my writing career. They include Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Ray Charles, Queen, the three blues ‘Kings’ (BB, Albert and Freddie), as well as the Modern Jazz Quartet, Weather Report and Miles Davis.

However, the one that I recall most fondly was Tina’s 1984 show at Melbourne’s Hilton Hotel (since rebranded as the Pullman Melbourne on the Park).

Her career had been at a low point in the wake of her split with abusive husband Ike Turner, but the 1985 breakout solo album ‘Private Dancer’ (Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler wrote the title song) was to propel her back to stardom. Ahead lay packed-out concert halls and stadiums worldwide, followed by her starring role in George Miller’s ‘Mad Max Thunderdome’ movie and its hit song ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’.

Meanwhile, her new Aussie manager, Roger Davies, had already booked Turner for more intimate venues, including the Hilton Hotel gig. I was lucky enough to score tickets and experienced a ‘killer’ show, as Tina a strutted her stuff and belted out hit after hit, from ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ to CCR’s ‘Proud Mary’, accompanied by a band led by muscular sax/keyboard player Tim Cappella.

I met Tina after the show and was surprised to encounter a surprisingly different persona off-stage. Gone was the dynamic performer, instead I encountered small, a gently spoken woman. Later Tina would go on to help re-brand the Australian Rugby League image with her ‘Simply the Best’ promotion, flanked by young, muscled players and, of course, no Aussie wedding is now complete without the obligatory ‘Nutbush City Limits’ dance!

Now, with her life and songs being celebrated fittingly in a stage musical, we can say farewell, Tina – you were, indeed, simply the best.

Jeff Beck: guitar genius

Mike Daly

The world lost an extraordinary number of notable musicians in 2022, including our own Archie Roach, Olivia Newton-John, the Seekers’ Judith Durham and The Saints’ Chris Bailey. Recently, the death of David Crosby (of The Byrds and Crosby Stills Nash & Young fame) marked the end of an era that evolved from the late ‘60s hippiedom of California’s Laurel Canyon to Woodstock’s 1969 music festival and beyond.

Woodstock organiser Michael Lang was another recent casualty, along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie, Ronnie Hawkins, Meatloaf, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins, Yes drummer Alan White, Vangelis, The Crickets’ Jerry Allison and Bachman Turner Overdrive’s Robbie Bachman.

But the loss felt most acutely by aficionados of the electric guitar was that of Jeff Beck, surely one of his generation’s most innovative and influential musicians.

Beck, 78, succumbed to bacterial meningitis. Like many of his generation (Paul McCartney is 80 and the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are 79) he had still been actively recording and touring, guesting on other people’s records (Stevie Wonder, for example, on ‘Superstition’) as well as indulging in his long-time passion for building and driving hot rod car.

Beck’s mastery of the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, as well as the Gibson Les Paul, was the envy of contemporaries and critics alike. He also had the unique ability to marry dazzling technique with sublime lyricism, epitomised in the title of his 2010 album: ‘Emotion and Commotion’.

Here, he delivers a delicate rendition of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Corpus Christi Carol’, explodes into ‘Hammerhead’ full of wah-wah effects and full-on, killer rock riffs, then delivers a heartbreaking rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s ‘Turandot’. As friend Eric Clapton observed, waiting in the wings at one concert: ‘How do you follow that: it’s a showstopper.’

Beck’s mother loved classical music, his father was a jazz aficionado and Beck, like many of his contemporaries (including boyhood pal Jimmy Page) became heavily influenced by US blues and rockabilly music, from Lonnie Mack and Roy Buchanan to Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps guitarist Cliff Gallup, but most notably Les Paul’s multi-track recordings. Check out Jeff’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Party’ live DVD, honouring Paul.

Beck initially played with blues rockers The Tridents in Chiswick (south-west London) later joining Page in The Yardbirds, after Eric Clapton departed to hone his blues chops with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

He could produce any sound he wanted with the use of pedals, whammy bar, string bending and feedback. One of The Yardbirds’ big hits, ‘Over Under Sideways Down’, was to feature a sitar player but they baulked at the unusual rock rhythm and quit the session. Beck, undaunted, improvised a sitar sound on his guitar instead and it became the single’s defining feature.

Page, in a touching tribute, described Beck as ‘the six-stringed warrior’, Mick Jagger called him ‘one of the greatest guitar players in the world’ and Ronnie Wood said he felt ‘like one of my band of brothers has left this world, and I’m going to dearly miss him.’

Buddy Guy: The Blues Don’t Lie (Sony)

Mike Daly

Buddy Guy, at 86, is a living blues legend. I first saw the Louisiana-born guitarist onstage around 50 years ago, as part of a duo with harmonica player Junior Wells. Guy had already made his name among blues aficionados with a series of solo albums featuring his incendiary electric riffs.

From trying to emulate earlier blues greats like B B King and T-Bone Walker on a homemade guitar, Buddy began playing in local clubs and eventually made the pilgrimage north to that Mecca of electric blues: Chicago. He landed gigs with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, joined Muddy Waters (who had mentored him at Chess Records) and had several solo hits.

He teamed up with Wells but when British stars like Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton began to sing his praises (a sad reflection on US music corporates), Guy’s solo career took off. In the past 20 years, he has released a steady stream of solo albums, had several Grammy winners and often featured guest stars.

The last time I heard him play live, he spent a large part of his set explaining the blues to a remarkably patient audience who would really have preferred his guitar do the talking. Thankfully he kicks off his latest album with a track that makes his intentions abundantly clear. ‘I Let My Guitar Do The Talking’ is a high-octane, horn-backed blues rocker that occasionally recalls vintage Guy (1968’s dynamic, live ‘This Is Buddy Guy’ comes to mind).

He enlists a few notable and unusual helpers, including Mavis Staples (a nostalgic ramble on ‘We Go Back’), Elvis Costello, James Taylor, Jason Isbell (a lament for weaponised America on ‘Gunsmoke Blues’) and Bobby Rush (trading funky choruses on the definitely non-PC ‘What’s Wrong with That?’). The least impressive to my mind is ‘Symptoms of Love’ with Elvis Costello, a monochromatic slow rocker that recalls ’60s British groups.

Among surprises are Taylor’s funky contribution on ‘Follow the Money’ and Guy’s nod to the Beatles with a cover of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, while his faithful tributes to B B King on ‘Sweet Thing’ and Slim Harpo on the acoustic ‘King Bee’ are the standouts.

Like all the great predecessors whose flame he carries proudly, Guy will keep rocking the blues until (with apologies to Milton) all passion is spent.

Jackson Browne: Downhill From Everywhere (Inside Recordings)

Mike Daly

Jackson Browne has new album out, which is great news for longtime fans like me. He also ranks high on my list of memorable concerts. His 1977 Festival Hall performance, backed by a band led by the multi-instrumental David Lindley, is high on the list alongside Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, B B King, Rostropovich, Bee Gees, Leonard Cohen, Christy Moore, Neil Young and Queen.

Sadly, Van Morrison was a big disappointment: he treated the Melbourne audience to one of his infamously angry off-nights.

But back to Jackson Browne at that Festival Hall concert 45 years ago. Maria Muldaur opened the show — remember her gorgeous ‘Midnight at the Oasis’, featuring Amos Garrett’s lyrical guitar playing. At the time, Browne was enjoying a career resurgence on the heels of ‘The Pretender’ album and his band included multi-instrumentalist David Lindley.  After several encores, Browne and Lindley returned with acoustic guitars to sit front of stage, then Browne told the audience we could leave any time as the duo played an extended version of ‘Stay’.

Incidentally, Browne’s 1974 `Late for the Sky’ album remains a personal favourite and one of its most celebrated songs, ‘Before The Deluge’ became a theme tune for the prescient MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) concerts. He’s also member of the Ocean Elders advocacy group and has been honoured with numerous awards for his pursuit of social justice and environmental awareness.

Happily, at age 72, Browne is as passionately concerned as ever about the state of our planet and its inhabitants. His new album includes a postscript to the Donald Trump era in ‘The Dreamer’, highlighting the plight of immigrants, yet there’s also room for romance in the lilting ‘Love Is Love’, as well as ‘Minutes to Downtown’ and ‘Human Touch’.  And if his title lament for our polluted oceans appears a tad pessimistic, there’s a welcome touch of self-irony in a track like ‘Still Looking for Something’.

This is a well-produced recording that echoes the warm instrumental sounds of his work in earlier decades, while delivering thoughtful lyrical content. In other words: music for grown-ups.

Browne, who began touring the US last year with James Taylor until Covid laid him low, will tour Down Under next year, including Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena on 13 April, 2023.