Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ralph McTell ‎– Spiral Staircase (1969-70 uk, wonderful folk with blues shades, 2007 expanded edition)

Although he's best-known for his classic folk song staple "Streets of London," which first appeared on his Spiral Staircase album in 1969, Ralph McTell is a multi-dimensional guitarist and singer/songwriter who's influenced hundreds of folk singers in Great Britain, Europe, and the U.S. Fortunately, people in the U.S. and Europe are beginning to connect to his vast body of excellent original work, and not just "Streets," which has been recorded more than 200 times by artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, and even the angry punk group Anti-Nowhere League, and is still McTell's most requested song.

McTell, named Ralph May, was raised in post-WWII London with his mother and a younger brother. His father left home when he was two. He began to show musical talent when he was seven, when he began playing harmonica. When skiffle bands became all the rage in England, Scotland, and Ireland, he began playing ukulele and formed his first band. Later in his teens, he began playing guitar.

At the College Jazz Club in London, McTell first heard Ramblin' Jack Elliott sing Jesse Fuller's "San Francisco Bay Blues." Elliott's performance proved to be a revelatory experience for the shy, young, impressionable McTell. He took his earliest cues from the great blues and folk singers: Elliott, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, and Blind Willie McTell. He took his adopted last name from blues singer McTell, and his songwriting inspiration from the writings of Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. After a few years hanging around London, he took off to travel along the south coast of England and the rest of Europe, where he made his way around hitchhiking and busking. While busking around Europe, he met his wife Nanna; shortly thereafter, they had a son.

McTell tried a conventional career as a teacher, but continued playing the folk clubs around London. He began a long tenure at Les Cousins in the Soho section of London and there he began to make a name for himself. A music publisher was so impressed by McTell's early songs that he secured a recording deal for him. His first album, Eight Frames a Second, was released on the Transatlantic label in 1968. With a gentle voice, superb guitar playing skills gleaned from his days as a ukulele player, and a level of modesty that showed through on-stage, McTell began incorporating his own songs into his live shows, which were mostly blues in those days. By July 1969, he was booked at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and in December of that year was headlining his first major London concert at Hornsey Town Hall. By May 1970, McTell completely sold out the Royal Festival Hall and was booked to play the Isle of Wight Festival alongside Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. He made his first U.S. tour in 1972 and returned to London to sell out the Royal Albert Hall in 1974, the first British solo act to accomplish such a feat in 14 years.

The third song he ever wrote, "Streets of London," was something he deliberately left off his debut album, but at a producer's insistence, he included it on his second album for Transatlantic, Spiral Staircase. After the song was re-recorded in 1974 as a single for Reprise/Warner Bros. it became a huge world-wide hit. The song reached number two on the British charts, and in Germany, there were four different versions of the song on the charts at one point, three by McTell and one by a German singer.

The pressures of world-wide success temporarily became too much for the shy, reserved McTell, and in the spring of 1975, he announced his intention to quit touring and withdraw from the music business for a while. He came to the U.S., where he relaxed and wrote songs in relative anonymity for a year before going back to the U.K. to play a Christmas benefit concert in Belfast. He continued recording for Warner Bros. in the '70s, releasing Right Side Up in 1976, Ralph, Albert and Sydney in 1977, and Slide Away the Screen in 1979. For most of the '80s, he spent his time touring and working on a children's television show called Alphabet Zoo, which led the TV network to create a show especially for him, Tickle on the Tum, and both programs introduced McTell to new generations of fans.

In 1995 and 1996, McTell returned to the U.S. and performed a series of sold-out shows on the East Coast, and his visibility in the U.S. may have been helped along by Nanci Griffith's decision to record one of his songs, "From Clare to Here," on her Grammy-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms album.

McTell's discography is very extensive and demonstrates his commitment to his craft as a songwriter. Though many of these albums are hard to locate, they're well worth seeking out, most originally recorded for Transatlantic, Reprise/Warner Bros., or Mays.

In 1992, he recorded an ambitious project about the life and times of poet Dylan Thomas, The Boy with a Note, released on Leola Music; recently, the U.S. has seen the Stateside release of From Clare to Here (1996), a U.S. release of Silver Celebration, and Sand in Your Shoes (1998). Blue Skies Black Heroes appeared the following year. 
by Richard Skelly
1. Streets Of London - 4:08
2. Mrs. Adlam's Angels - 2:43
3. Wino And The Mouse - 1:00
4. England 1914 - 3:05
5. Last Train And Ride - 2:32
6. The Fairground - 4:07
7. Spiral Staircase - 3:32
8. Kind Hearted Woman Blues - 2:44
9. Bright And Beautiful Things - 1:55
10.Daddy's Here - 4:21
11.Rizraklaru (Anag) - 1:45
12.(My) Baby Keeps Staying Out All Night Long - 1:52
13.Terminus - 1:54
14.Spiral Staircase - 3:09
15.Last Train And Ride - 2:31
16.The Fairground - 3:54
17.Terminus - 1:54
All songs by Ralph McTell except where stated
Bonus Tracks  14-17 released On 'Revisited' (1970)

*Ralph McTell - Guitar, Vocals
*Brian "Brock" Brocklehurst - Double Bass
*Mick "Henry VIII" Bartlett - Jug
*"Whispering Mick" Bennett - Washboard
*Peter Berryman - Second Guitar
*Mike Vickers - Orchestral Arrangements
*John Marshall - Drums

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Paris - Paris (1975 us/uk, powerful hard classic rock)

One of the most devastating power trios ever. Formed by leading light Welch (ex-Fleetwood Mac) along with Cornick (ex-Wild Turkey, Jethro Tull), they came out with a unique style unmatched to this day. Musically, they conjured up an aural holocaust with Welch's lyrics steeped in deep mysticism and religious nightmares. "Paris" is a classic.
by Tony Jasper

"Paris" was the band that I started with Glenn Cornick  after I left Fleetwood Mac. I had wanted to try doing some heavier rock , like Led Zeppelin was doing at the time.  During the last six months of 1974 , while touring with FM , I had been spending a lot of my off time talking to Jimmy Robinson who was an engineer that we had met while working either at Larrabee Studios , or (more likely) the Record Plant studio in LA. I think it was Jimmy who suggested Thom Mooney , who he knew. (ex-Nazz and Todd Rundgren drummer). Glenn Cornick was also between bands , and since we knew each other pretty well (he had been married to an ex girlfriend of mine , Judy Wong) I asked him if he wanted to start a hard rock trio. 

I think Glenn and I came up with the name "Paris". For one thing , I had lived and worked in the actual city of Paris (the French one , not Tennessee) and Glenn Cornick and I had first met when he was playing a gig there with Jethro Tull. Also , by the name Paris , we wanted to imply that , although this would be a "hard rock" trio , it would have a certain level of refinement and not just be" headbangers " Glenn and I both wanted to do something along the lines of what Led Zeppelin was doing. I personally wanted to rock a little harder than I had been able to do with Fleetwood Mac. Lucky for me, Fleetwood Mac was taking off at the time with the "White" album , which would contain their 1st ever # 1 single. That meant that there was a fair amount of interest in me as an ex FM member. 

John Carter at Capitol records was the one who finally bit the bullet (after a couple of passes) and gave us a demo budget. Capitol liked the demo  and Al Cory decided to sign us. That was about the last of the smart moves Paris ever made. We cut the record up at the Record Plant studios in Sausalito CA , a beautiful location by the bay, in the "pit" , which was a studio built especially for Sly Stone by the Record Plant owners, Chris Stone and Gary Kellgren. The "pit" was very unusual at the time ; it had no glass wall between the control room and the players space as was customary (and necessary because of leakage). The walls- floor to ceiling- were carpeted in bright maroon plush , and you could play or sing plugged in "direct" into the console while you were lying down. 

The "pit" also had a couple of bedrooms with microphone jacks in the head boards , so Sly, or whoever was in the bed could do vocals while under the covers. It really was the height of '70's "over the topness"... Once I woke up and the clock said "2". I thought, "oh , I'm late , it's 2pm and we better get started". I peeked ouside for a minute, and realized it was 2 am , not 2pm. I had been asleep for 24 hours. Yes, there were lots of drugs at those sessions. I especially remember a Bayer aspirin bottle full of coke, that was constantly replenished ( from the album budget !!). And Gary Kellgren was a big fan of nitrous oxide , of which there were tanks aplenty. 

Every so often a little opium would appear from somewhere. In 1975, Sausalito California was overrun with drug dealers. It was still considered fashionable and chic to do coke. If you didn't pull out your little bottle and offer some around, you were considered to be rude and ungracious. Half the time I didn't know what day, or what hour of the day, or even what month it was. Let me be clear here; Glenn Cornick never did drugs, that I know of. Neither did Thom Mooney. I was a bit more prudish than some of the real " heroic imbibers" ( who I won't name) . I was a "nothing till after the 5 o'clock cocktail hour" type of guy. Maybe that's one reason why I'm still alive... In retrospect , with Paris , I was in too much of a hurry . We probably should have let the band develop a little further , tour constantly, and find an audience. 

As it happened, Hunt Sales came down with a case of Bells Palsy  (which paralyzes your face muscles), and we had to go on a long break. In that interval, I wrote "French Kiss"...and Paris just sort of faded. If the 2nd Paris album "Big Towne 2061" had done a little better, and/or we had stayed on the road.... who knows.......?
by Bob Welch

On June 7th 2012, Bob Welch, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 65.
1. Black Book - 3:02
2. Religion - 5:19
3. Starcage - 3:53
4. Beautiful Yout - 3:34
5. Nazarene - 3:55
6. Narrow Gate (La Porte Etroite) - 6:38
7. Solitaire - 4:02
8. Breathless - 3:19
9. Rock of Ages - 3:09
10.Red Rain - 3:20
All compositions by Robert Welch

*Robert Welch - Guitar, Vocal
*Glenn Cornick - Bass, Keyboard
*Thom Mooney - Drums

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