Wednesday 30 October 2013

Take it to the Bridge

Surrey born Dick Morrissey's place among the jazz hierarchy was assured even before he discovered jazz fusion & funk in the late 60s /early 70s with If and Morrissey-Mullen. In 1961 and barely out of his teens Morrissey, a self taught sax and flute player, cut his first solo album It's Morrissey Man; though it never set the jazz world alight he nevertheless spent the majority of the decade carving out a lucrative living on the London jazz circuit - tearing up venues like Ronnie Scott's, The Marquee and 100 Club. With pianist Harry South and any number of bass players and drummers he spearheaded a formidable quartet while at the same time regularly cleaning up Melody Maker's annual awards.

In 1968 he joined forces with guitarist Terry Smith and formed If - a groundbreaking jazz fusion outfit who from their base in Sweden over a six year period released four critically acclaimed albums. But they called it a day in 1974 and Morrissey moved back to London and formed a cracking little trio with organist Mike Carr. It was around this time that he met Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen. He and Mullen then went to America to play and record with The Average White Band who at that time were enjoying  massive global success. And so Morrissey-Mullen was born. They went on to record many revered jazz-funk and soul albums, mostly on the Beggars Banquet label, and they weren't averse to putting out 12" singles either - many of their cuts were crossing over to European dance-floors. Over a career that spanned fifteen years they became festival favourites but realised they'd taken their sound as far as they could.

Dick returned to his roots and straight ahead jazz. He would continue to play until his untimely death in 2000 aged just 60. The plaudits he received during his lifetime and beyond are too numerous to list here. However, his obituary in The Daily Telegraph summed him up perfectly: 'He possessed the remarkable knack of making everything he played sound not only exciting but happy.'

Here he is boldly going where no tenor sax has gone before:

Dick Morrissey: Star Trek

Monday 28 October 2013

2 December 1978

This is my diary entry for Saturday 2 December 1978.

"Riggsby's birthday today. Not just any old birthday. He's 18! We've got tickets to see Generation X - they're playing West Runton Pavilion tonight. My day started at 7 o'clock with thumb out waiting for a lift to North Walsham (where Riggsby now lives). Only had to wait by the side of the A52 for twenty minutes. Sat up in cab with mostly brilliant, but ever so slightly right wing, lorry driver who was quizzing me about why I would want to go and see a bunch of pooftahs perform in a dancehall a million miles from anywhere. I just kept telling him to listen to their first album and he'd work it out for himself. He bought me breakfast in a greasy spoon where the ten second rule was invented. Stroke of luck he was dropping his load off at Smedley's so was able to throw me out right outside Riggsby's mum and dad's house. Mrs. Rigg is a top mum. She talks to me and Riggsby about stuff my mum has no concept of: Susan Rigg has heard of punk. And the new wave. My mum is still getting over the loss of Glenn Miller. Before the gig she makes us all dinner (that's tea, really) and we all sit round the kitchen table and talk about current affairs, Tommy Cooper and the new ring road in Kings Lynn. We all drink wine. And then we talk about Billy Idol and all the brilliant songs he's written. We go to Riggsby's bedroom to listen to Ready Steady Go one last time before Mr. Rigg drives us to the venue in his beat up old Land Rover. Arrive at West Runton Pavilion and we can hear the band sound-checking but all the doors are locked and there's not a soul in sight. We disappear to The Beehive and blag ourselves a pint of cider each which tops up the wine from dinner nicely. Back to the venue where they open the doors and we race to take up residency at the front of the stage. Generation X come on at half nine - the crowd are going barmy and the pint pots are flying. Billy Idol sneers throughout. We keep shouting to Tony James to play Wild Youth but he tells us repeatedly they don't play that anymore. But they do play Your Generation, Kiss Me Deadly and a clutch of new songs including a real tub thumper called Night of the Cadillacs. And, of course, Ready Steady Go. Riggsby's dad picks us up at eleven - in the car park with steam rising off us we look like a pair of racehorses after a hard race. Gig score: 10/10." 

Where are they now?

West Runton Pavilion: demolished in 1986. Now a car park
Riggsby: living in San Diego, CA
Billy Idol: turned into a racier version of Cliff Richard and fell off a few motorcycles

Friday 25 October 2013

5 x 2 = 10

Take Five, the jazz standard everyone associates with Dave Brubeck, was actually written by his sax player Paul Desmond. It's been appearing on TV soundtracks and movie scores as well in clubs around the world ever since it was first released in 1959. However, written in quintuple (5/4) time (like Lalo Schifrin's Mission Impossible theme) it's virtually impossible to dance to.

After leaving the Dave Brubeck Quartet Desmond would go on to play and record with some of the biggest names in jazz including Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Jim Hall and The Modern Jazz Quartet. But he and Brubeck did get back together again in 1976 for a handful of sell-out reunion gigs and and a live album. In fact the last gig he played was with Brubeck in February 1977, only weeks before the fifty two year old sax man succumbed to lung cancer; three packs of Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes a day finally taking their toll.

In 1963 Desmond wrote and recorded a pastiche of his own remarkable signature tune - Take Ten - from his Skylark album featuring Bob James on piano.

Paul Desmond - Take Ten (1963)

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Just Backdated

BBC 6 Music are cock-a-hoop about finding a 'lost' radio show that David Bowie knocked up forty years ago to plug his then current album Pin Ups - a perfectly sculptured and segued homage to 60s London. Talking about his version of I Can't Explain, Bowie has this to say about The Who:

'...but the biggest buzz was back at The Marquee. They dressed weeks out of date, but they did all the right stuff – Martha & The Vandellas and all that. A lot of action on a night. They were our band, The Who.'

That's right, The Who's fashion sense was so ancient they dressed weeks out of date; Pete Townshend must have been hanging his head in shame. I love the way Bowie put a sax on the song Townshend freely admits to nicking off The Kinks.

David Bowie - I Can't Explain (1973)

Saturday 19 October 2013

The One After 808

Sun Ra

Graham Massey, Madchester legend and the brains behind 808 State has put together a new combo. The one time Acid guru has collected a dozen of Manchester's finest, scooped 'em up and shared with them his love of Saturn dweller and jazz polymath Sun Ra: The Part Time Heliocentric Cosmo Drama After School Club are a twelve piece ensemble who, under Massey's orchestration, are currently tearing up venues in the North West. And one look at this video from their recent Liverpool gig will testify that the experience leaves everyone in the room shaken and stirred. The young lad on keys (front right) a.k.a. The Number One Son - who when he joined the band tweeted 'I've joined a cult' - tells me they hope to be recording an album real soon.

Friday 18 October 2013

Yer get meh?

Truckers is the BBC's new Thursday night drama filling their primetime 9:00 to 10:00 slot. Set in Nottingham it follows the trials and tribulations of a haulage company - Banks of England - and the nomadic drivers on its fleet. In the wrong hands this could easily have fallen flat on its arse but two things, for me, have already elevated it to Appointment TV status: firstly, the finely crafted Billy Ivory script fairly crackles and balances the comedy and pathos perfectly; several scriptwriters fail miserably at this. Secondly, and this alone would have sunk the thing, never to be seen again - they've managed to nail the Nottingham accent. As someone who spent over half his life there, I know that trying to mimic an East Midlands accent, Nottingham, Derby Leicester, can be a bit like nailing jelly to a wall. If you put all the actors end to end who opt for a generic Northern accent when asked to 'do' Nottingham they'd probably stretch the full length of the A52.

Step forward, then, Stephen Tompkinson (who all but stole the scene-setting first episode) and John Dagleish who both know that cold rhymes with road (as in 'it's a bit Derby Road this morning') and that 'yer get meh' is how you ask someone if they understood what you've just told them. Not it serry?

Thursday 17 October 2013

If it Walks Like a Duck

I very rarely read the comments lurking beneath YouTube videos; they are, for the most part, the ramblings of mad men. And women.

But when I saw the footer to this Buffalo Springfield clip: 'Stephen Stills is hillarious' (sic) I had to concur. The duckwalk is, by its very nature, a manoeuvre that can in no way be called graceful; there's a time and a place.

Whether or not Stills was in either zone, I'll leave up to you to decide. But he's having a blast, as is Neil Young. Well, it was 1967.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Lazy Susan


In 1972 my hormones were all over the place. My bedroom walls were a homage to, essentially, four bricklayers in drag. Brian Connolly was just a ball of confusion to any pre-pubescent second year oik waiting for his voice to break. The man who sang Block Buster! and who would burst out of our rented telly every Thursday night used to wear eye liner and lip gloss - and I never batted an eyelid. But I did manage to find room high up on one of my walls for one chick: by day she would masquerade as David Cassidy's sister in The Partridge family, but, by night, conjuring up images of Susan Dey sure beat counting sheep.

Larry Carlton - Lazy Susan

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Let's get together again

McNamara's finest
Prior to this photograph being taken in 2009, outside The Crown Liquor Saloon In Belfast,  I'd not seen my cousin Ray in twenty six years; when neither of us had even reached twenty six.
Next month we're pulling off another reunion involving more, as yet in the dark, family members. Ray now tells me that as well as the team listed in the programme he's bringing a mystery player known only to him. This, he assures me, means, and I quote, 'so only I know the full ensemble.' Now, where I come from that's fighting talk.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Top of the world

Not many people climb Machu Picchu dressed like they've just walked off the latest Bond movie set; then again, not many people have Sabbir Hossain's credentials: restauranteur, pilot, TV & radio personality, film critic, race relations adviser, spokesman for the Bangladseshi community in the UK, cricket nut and good friend to the Medd family. It was good to see you again this weekend Sam.

Wednesday 9 October 2013


Grover Washington Jr
Gerry Mulligan
Here's a delicious collaboration between two of my favourite sax players; although Gerry Mulligan and Grover Washington are no longer with us we were lucky enough to see both these jazzers live. In fact we even met Gerry Mulligan – he was staying in the same hotel as us while we were at the Brecon Jazz Festival in 1991. Grover Washington we saw in the summer of 1998 (the year before he died) - he was playing The Concord Festival in a stunning amphitheatre in California; the only part of the world where smooth jazz really works.

Monday 7 October 2013

He's not the Messiah

Not the best place to sign your autograph Alan

The Holy Trinity
I was a fairly typical young boy when it came to outdoor pursuits: my three favourite sports were football, football, football. Living in Hull I was taken to Boothferry Park by my dad, but between the ages of ten and thirteen I flirted with Manchester United (don't worry, it soon passed). We're talking early 1970s: the Best, Law and Charlton years; not their most successful period by any stretch of the imagination, but a time when they would strut onto the pitch at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon with their swanky new v-neck collared shirts - thus making Football Focus and Match of the Day unmissable on our recently acquired colour television from Radio Rentals.

Yesterday I was speaking to someone who lived in Manchester from 1969 to 1973 - directly overlapping my brief dalliance with United. His surname is Busby; he said that in that time there were only three Busbys in the Manchester phone book. And (Sir) Matt wasn't one of them; so on a Saturday evening if the team had lost his phone would often be ringing with some heckler on the other end venting his spleen. If at the time I'd had a direct line to the top I'd have been asking Sir Matt why he put Alan Gowling in his starting eleven. Alan Gowling, for me, stood for everything Manchester Utd weren't: he was gangly, ungainly, and if he had a Top Trump card his swagger rating would be 0 %. I hated him. He'd got a Degree and his middle name was Edwin. Looking back I was probably a little harsh on Gowling. He couldn't help being the way he was. Also, the stats would indicate that he did at least know where the back of the net was - something I conveniently airbrushed out of my memory at the time. So, anyway, if on the off chance you're reading this Alan, no hard feelings?

Friday 4 October 2013

Xylophone Man

Take a walk down any busy thoroughfare, anywhere in the world, and it won't be long until you come across somebody singing for their supper; busking (from the Spanish buscar - to seek or to wander) has been around since Medieval minstrels and jongleurs would sing and dance in European city squares and passers by might, if they were any good, throw coins at them. Then, as now, I'm sure busking can be very lucrative; some of my best friends are buskers and if you have the right location location location, and can carry a tune, you should be all set fair.

That said, my favourite busker of all time couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Xylophone Man would play his trade in Nottingham city centre in the late 80s and 90s playing nothing more than a child's toy xylophone: hitting random notes in an equally random fashion was the extent of his repertoire, but that never stopped his hat from filling up with high denomination coins of the realm. When he died in 2004 it was said that his xylophone was donated to the short lived Nottingham Hard Rock Cafe, just around the corner from his pitch, where it hung on a wall next to one of Pete Townshend's wrecked guitars.

I was reminded of Xylophone Man recently as I've just started covering this endearing and strangely addictive tune by Neil Diamond. It's got a lovely xylophone refrain throughout that, I'm sure, Xylophone Man would have made a good fist of.


Wednesday 2 October 2013

Back End

After one of the hottest summers most of us can remember in a long time, we’re now entering the time of year my dad has always called ‘back end’. As with many of Gordon Medd’s weather related catchphrases, another being ‘it’s warm behind glass,’ although I may not fully understand them, I totally get them.

October really is the marker post that heralds autumn and beyond (pretty much like the Hatfield and The North sign that sits at the bottom of the A1). And for me it also flicks a switch in my head lighting up a little circuit board full of things like soup, jumpers, de-icer, dark mornings, central heating, mulled wine, floodlights at half-time and tea pot & telly nights. It will also soon be time to reconvene the Whisky Focus Group: our small ad hoc collective comprising single malt devotees who, on a Sunday afternoon as the light is fading, love nothing better than to taste and try whiskies from as many Scottish distilleries as they can get their hands on. Sampling anything from the peaty reek of a 10 year old Laphroaig to a hospital corridor smelling Talisker our informal group is now entering its third year. And, if the long range weather forecast is anything to go by, it will be distractions like the WFG that could well be my guiding light through the back end and the inevitable cold winter that follows.