LUCY O’BRIEN | THE CAT CLUB | PONTEFRACT | 18.05.23
When it comes to The Carpenters, I feel I ought to echo Ian Clayton’s sentiments relating to the music of the famous brother/sister combo, that back in the early 1970s, we really wouldn’t have been seen dead with one of the duo’s LPs under our arms as we walked through the streets of Featherstone and Doncaster respectively. Wasn’t it just boring middle of the road mums and grannies’ fodder? Why then has one of our top music writers written a book about Karen Carpenter and why does the CAT Club, a bunch of known music enthusiasts, who have listened and discussed dozens, if not hundreds of classic rock records over the years, invited Lucy O’Brien along to talk about the outfit’s famed drummer and lead singer? I felt a need to find out more. Lucy’s new biography, Lead Sister, covers the story of one of the most iconic and familiar voices in music and the Pigeon Loft plays host once again to the club, where Ian and Lucy engage in a conversation, keeping very much to Karen’s upbringing and musical path and leaving aside all the tabloid nonsense that Karen Carpenter is unfortunately remembered for. Being Classic Album Thursday (the CAT of the club’s name), we listen quietly and intently to the duo’s fourth album A Song for You, with both sides of the record played in quick succession, from the opening title song through to its reprise at the close of side two, with one or two surface crackles along the way and just the odd duffer, namely Randy Edelman’s “Piano Picker”, which might have been better left in the studio. Lucy’s research on the subject has been extensive and tonight some of her findings are discussed in full. It’s strange that I’ve sat through Dr John’s Gris Gris, Carole King’s Tapestry, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and more recently The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, to find myself now grooving to Tony Peluso’s fuzz guitar solo on “Goodbye to Love”, with renewed interest. There’s no denying Karen Carpenter’s talent as a superb vocalist, though I’m still not convinced her negotiations in the skins department trump those of the late John Bonham.
FEATURED ALBUM | CIDERHOUSE REBELLION AND KIRSTY MERRIN | THE DEVIL’S ON THE MAST | UNDER THE EAVES | 26.05.23
If you have ever been fortunate enough to attend a Ciderhouse Rebellion show, you will be fully aware that you are listening to an improvised set that is unlikely to ever be repeated. Such is the nature of Adam Summerhayes and Murray Grainger’s musical relationship. The two musicians that make up The Ciderhouse Rebellion are no strangers to improvisation, nor are they strangers to collaboration, having already worked alongside the poet Jessie Summerhayes and toured with the Irish Gaelic singer Molly Donnery as well as making up half of The Haar quartet. Now the duo has teamed up with noted singer songwriter Kirsty Merryn for an album made up of eleven songs, predominantly self-penned with a Yeats poem thrown in at the end. The Devil’s on the Mast is musically masterful and lyrically engaging, created out on the wild and windy Yorkshire Moors and presented in book form, containing all the song lyrics, informative notes and illustrations courtesy of the multi-talented Adam Summerhayes, with the option to take a CD version or download code. There’s not one moment during these performances where the music overshadows the voice, nor vice versa, a true collaborative effort where the stories take the lead and the uplifting musical passages evoke sustained atmosphere throughout. Particular kudos to Kirsty Merryn for her bold and inventive reading of “Becalmed”, from which the album title derives.
Choice Tracks | Knock Four Times, Brusher Mills
FLICK THE DUST OFF | BERT JANSCH | LA TURNAROUND | CHARISMA CAS 1090 | 1974
In the mid-1980s I had a cassette recording of both A Rare Conundrum and L.A. Turnaround, two Bert Jansch albums released in the early 1970s on the Charisma record label, both albums of which were borrowed from a guitarist friend at the time. The two LPs effectively rekindled my enthusiasm for folk music in a time when the Blues was my only source of interest. The album was notable in that it was co-produced by the ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith, who also played guitar on the album and Danny Thompson, who didn’t. The bass duties were fulfilled by Klaus Voorman instead. The LP sleeve featured one of the lasting images of the highly influential guitar player, sitting in the studio with a guitar on his knee, a cigarette hanging limply from his mouth, while the sun flooded the studio with what was presumably Californian light. It’s an album sleeve I could look at all day long. A much missed musician whose songs and instrumentals have influenced so many since, notably “Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning”, “One for Jo”, “Chambertin” and a reworking of an older song, “Needle of Death”.
Choice Track | Of Love and Lullaby
SINGLED OUT | GORDON LIGHTFOOT | THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD | REPRISE K14451 | 1976
Whenever I’ve interviewed Canadian musicians, especially singer songwriters, all the usual compatriots enter the conversation at some point, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. ‘Don’t forget Gordon Lightfoot’ comes the usual response from the interviewee. Canada is proud of this man and for obvious reasons. He’s been around the block a few times, written one or two, or several dozen, excellent songs and has flown the maple leaf for his tribe. When Gordon Lightfoot died last month, he left a legacy of remarkable songs, “Early Morning Rain”, “If You Could Read My Mind”, “Ribbon of Darkness” and “Daylight Katy” among them. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was written to commemorate the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior a few days earlier and then released as a single almost a year later.
FIFTY YEARS AGO | COMMANDER CODY AND HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN | COUNTRY CASANOVA | MCA PAS6054 | MAY 1973
Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen was formed in 1967 by George Frayne IV, who adopted the moniker ‘Commander Cody’ and remained as such until his death in 2021. Country Casanova is the band’s third album release, which first hit the shelves in June 1973, wrapped in a cover that showed our hero leaning against a gleaming white Lincoln Continental, which belonged to photographer Jim Marshall, who also took the snap, with a bored looking donkey, also allegedly called ‘George’, looking on. There’s no doubting the level of musicianship involved in the making of this largely Western Swing album, notably the guitar playing of Bill Kirchen (misspelt Kircher on the sleeve), who I once saw playing a trombone, whilst negotiating the table tops at the lamented Rockingham Arms in Wentworth sometime in the 1990s; or was it just a dream? The album includes a pretty faithful reading of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”, a fabulous version of the old Merle Travis hit “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” and more infamously, “Everybody’s Doin’ It”, with its multiple expletives ensuring little radio play, especially back in 1973.
Choice Track | Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)
My Northern Skies originally began as a review page, though some prefer the term ‘blog’, way back in the days of My Space, which then morphed into an online journal and eventually into Northern Sky, a review site dedicated to a broad range of music, with contributions from various friends and acquaintances involved in music. Recently, the website has become more of a personal diary, a place where I can chronicle precisely what I’m listening to currently, some of my ongoing musical obsessions, one or two records from my own personal collection and a selection of new records that have either been released recently or are due for imminent release.