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 music’s 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.


Saturday night in the heart of Sheffield’s theatre district, a warm spring evening air welcomes in a potentially memorable night for many, as they arrive in the city, mostly by car, due in part to the ill-timed rail worker’s strike.  Two Doncaster natives planned to nip over on the train and perhaps have a couple of swift pints in the Head of Steam just over the road before the show, but this plan is scuppered by another union dispute. A dry night instead. The Canadian singer songwriter manages to get to the venue after an appearance in Leeds the night before.  Ron doesn’t have to worry himself about rail strikes, or indeed driving through traffic, as he leaves this particular chore to his tour manager/wife Colleen, who soon busies herself around the stage area in the Upper Chapel.  Yamaha grand (check), Taylor acoustic (check), Evian bottle (check), scribbled set list (check).  We’re ready to go.

Colleen leads Ron to the stage almost as if taking a little boy to school for the first time.  Clipped to his jacket, her husband wears a brooch of a Yellow Throated Warbler, a songbird native to their part of the world, and an appropriate symbol for Ron’s own particular vocation.  The warbling soon begins with the familiar “Former Glory”, the opening song to Ron’s Cobblestone Runway album from 2002, leaving some of us astonished when we realise that the song is now over twenty years old.  It still sounds as fresh today as it did when we first heard it at the beginning of the Millennium, a notion that pops up throughout the next couple of hours as one fabulous song follows another. There’s been a good fifteen albums released following Ron’s eponymous debut back in 1995, yet the songwriter finds a place in both sets for one or two of those memorable songs, including “Speaking with the Angel”, “Lebanon, Tennessee”, perhaps the best vocal performance of the night, and “Secret Heart”, his most covered song with versions out there by Rod Stewart, Feist and Nick Lowe, to name but a few.  Moving over to the piano midway through the first set, Ron reminds us of “Pretty Little Cemetery”, a song originally performed on guitar back in the mid-nineties on his Other Songs album, a curious song that still chimes and charms at the same time. 

After what can only be described as a superb opening set, a set made up of no fewer than fourteen songs, Ron returns for the second set, with a completely different wardrobe, notably a blue blazer with a huge maple leaf printed below his left lapel, the word Canada almost obscured by said lapel. He could be mistaken for the Canadian equivalent of a Pontins Holiday Camp entertainer.  Ron wears his home proudly on his sleeve (well, not exactly on the sleeve, but you know what I mean), at one point paying tribute to his fellow countryman, the late Gordon Lightfoot, who passed away only a few days before, with a heartfelt reading of Lightfoot’s earliest songs, “Ribbon of Darkness”, a hit for Marty Robbins in 1965.  Perhaps the most moving moment of the evening though, was Ron’s reading of the sublime “Foolproof”, a song he claims to have written for Elvis Costello’s wife, who hasn’t recorded it yet… there’s still time Ron.


Whatever happened to all those records tucked away lofts up and down the country, stored in carboard boxes since the record deck was unceremoniously chucked in the skip, never to see the light of day again?   Records stored away, out of sight in a loft space was for me an unthinkable proposition, though many took that route when the music industry decided on our behalf, to consider the LP record old hat and the new shiny compact disc to be the new thing, which was then duly forced upon us.  My records were never boxed away in the loft, they remained on the shelves, originally upstairs in an adolescent’s scruffy bed space, then in an even more untidy teenager’s bed space, then bulging from slightly warped shelves in the living space of a newly weds’ first abode, and finally alphabetically arranged in a dedicated music room/den/man cave/whatever you choose to call it.  I never put them in the loft, nor did I stop searching for, drooling over, inspecting and purchasing them.  Many of those aforementioned discarded and unloved items would become available once again after being shipped out to second hand record shops, charity shops and car boot sales, all for affordable prices.  It’s rare for me to be more than a few metres away from records, something that hasn’t changed in a good five decades.  I used to visit record shops even before I was suitably funded to buy records, certainly the few shops scattered around my home town (Doncaster), if only to browse, inspect the sleeves and occasionally ask the owners if they wouldn’t mind popping the needle on one or two of them as I headed towards the sound proofed booth screwed to the wall.  This was commonplace back in 1968, and something I would regularly do until I was suitably equipped to buy my first 45rpm single, with no money involved.  My first record was obtained with a record voucher I won on a children’s TV show, Whistle Stop, back in 1968, where I competed with an 11-year-old urchin from another school, racing Scalextric cars around a track.  I won the race and I immediately swapped my well-earned prize for “Alternate Title”, a single by The Monkees, upon my return home.  I also bought a record for my mum and one for my dad, because I owed them rather a lot.  Most of the records that I subsequently bought, usually from Fox’s Records on the first floor of the Arndale Centre (now Frenchgate Centre), can still be found on my shelves, though space has become increasingly limited.  I made a good home for quite a few of those records, the unwanted and discarded items from those lofts, many of which still come out to play today.  Those LP records (I refuse to refer to them as ‘vinyls’), are popular once again and therefore most of those once affordable gems are now much sought after, therefore quite expensive.  As a record shop owner and friend recently explained though, this works both ways for people who already have a decent record collection.  I suppose he has a point.  My only concern is that when I shuffle off, I fear my wife will sell the records for the price I told her I paid for them!  I choose to share my enjoyment of collecting records with the masses via this website, regularly featuring tracks on the My Northern Friday radio show/podcast, including a track from a random LP from a few decades ago, a 45rpm single also from around the same time, and an LP celebrating its 50th year, together with tracks from a featured new album, and a handful of tracks from other new releases.  A summary of those chosen records, some of which just may have resided in your loft at some point, is also featured on the front page.  It’s a labour of love of course, something I would do for pleasure even if no one ever popped by to read or listen.  Obviously, it’s always tons better if someone does.


Fresh from his appearance at the CAT Club, a club held regularly at the Pigeon Loft, a space directly above the Robin Hood pub on the corner of Wakefield Road and Jubilee Way in Pontefract, the noted music writer and journalist Chris Salewicz was ready to talk music once again, before a small bunch of enthusiasts, one or two who had already attended the initial talk the previous night.  The subject under discussion was chiefly Bob Marley, or perhaps more accurately, Chris’s relationship with Marley in the early 1970s, having spent time with the musician in both Jamaica and in London during that special period of time.  The previous evening, a full house at the CAT (Classic Album Thursdays) Club, listened to Marley’s ninth LP Exodus in full, acknowledging the fact that the second side still stands up today as a superb example of how to sequence an album, with one great song following another, “Jamming”, “Waiting in Vain”, “Turn Your Lights Down Low”, “Three Little Birds” and “One Love/People Get Ready”, each delivered in the club’s format of choice, the long playing record, all other formats expressly forbidden.  Also forbidden was the use of mobile phones or other distracting devices, something we could all do with a momentary reprieve from.  Today’s library event was much the same as the previous night, sans record, giving Chris the space to elaborate on some of the topics already discussed with his interviewer Heath Common.  Presided over by club founder Rev Reynolds, today’s event centred around Chris’s book Bob Marley: The Untold Story, with a brief look into the career of one of rock’s finest writers, who has written books on such diverse topics as Joe Strummer, Jimmy Page, Oliver Stone and Noël Coward. 

Pictured: Rev Reynolds, Chris Salewicz and Heath Common.