Monday, 19 March 2018

Jackie Dennis - The Kilted Choirboy

Jackie Dennis was born in Leith, Edinburgh in 1943. He grow up in Canonmills and loved to sing. He started performing aged 14 and became popular with US Servicemen regularly appearing at an American Air Force base in Prestwick. The spiky haired teenager covered pop tunes dressed in a kilt and his likable cheeky persona earned him the title, “The Kilted Choirboy". Mike and Bernie Winters (a comedy duo) spotted him and made the introduction to their show.

Business agent Eve Taylor signed him and he recorded for Decca. There under the watchful eye of Harry Robinson (Lord Rockingham’s XI) he recorded a cover version of Billy and Lillie’s US hit “La Dee Dah.” The single went to #4 in the UK Charts in 1958.

Meantime Eve Talyor secured him a spot on the Six-Five Special (BBC), television program and subsequent movie spin off. The tartan teenager proved a popular novelty act.

When Jerry Lee Lewis controversially withdrew from his British tour Jackie Dennis replaced him.

He also toured the US and appeared on the Perry Como Show billed as 'Britain's Ricky Nelson.’

On his return he continued to perform and released several singles. Despite his initial success his subsequent works were less commercial. A cover of Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater” did make it to the UK Top Thirty which would prove Jackie’s last chart success.

Musical tastes were changing and Jackie found it difficult to break free of the cocky Scotty image. After he was dropped by Decca he retired from show business in the early 60s.

Worth a listen La Dee Dah / You're the Greatest (1958)
My Dream /Miss Valerie (1958)
The Purple People Eater / You-oo (1958)
More Than Ever / Linton Addie (1958)
Lucky Ladybug / Gingerbread (1959)
Summer Snow/ Night Bird (1959)
The Wee Cooper O' Fife / Come Along (1959)

Monday, 5 February 2018

Alex Harvey (1935 - 1982) [SAHB]

Alex Harvey was born in 1935 in the Gorbals, Glasgow. He did a number of jobs after leaving school aged 15, before turning to music in 1954. He played trumpet with a number of different Dixieland and jazz bands around Glasgow including the Clyde River Jazz Band and the Kansas City Skiffle Group. In 1956 he entered and won a talent competition as “Scotland’s answer to Tommy Steele.” Alex preferred the songs of Big Bill Broonzy and Jimmie Rogers and turned his talents to singing them in a skiffle group. Once skiffle peaked he played pop covers with the Kansas City Counts. In 1959 Alex had formed the "Alex Harvey's Soul Band," (sometimes called, Alex Harvey's Big Soul Band) and was performing around Scotland sometimes backing Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and John Lee Hooker on their local tours. The band took the opportunity to work in Germany eventually taking residency at the famous Top Ten Club in Hamburg. A recording contract with Polydor Records and released a live album called Alex Harvey and His Soul Band, in 1963.

The recording took place in an empty theatre with the Liverpool band the Undertakers (although some authorities credit "Kingsize" Taylor & the Dominos) both playing and acting as the audience. The album is now highly sought after and considered to be one of the better live recordings of that era. A couple of singles came from the album, an excellent cover version of Willie Dixons’ “I just want to make love to you”, which is in my opinion, superior to the Rolling Stones version; and a brilliant cover of Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Workin'".

Alex left the band in 1965 and recorded an album with his younger brother Les, the album was called The Blues.

Back in Glasgow a year later the Harvey brothers teamed with local musicians (including Bill Patrick and singer Isobel Bond) to form the Blues Council but the group soon disbanded and Alex briefly joined Giant Moth a psychedelic band.

By 1967, he had found steadier work in the backup band for the London production of Hair. Three years later he released another solo effort, Roman Wall Blues, but it failed to make a commercial impact.

Just as Alex was rethinking his career he met Glasgow’s progressive rockers Tear Gas. Together they metamorphosed into the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in 1972. (SAHB) line up was guitarist Zal Cleminson ('Pierrot' image of white-painted clown make-up), bassist Chris Glen, and the cousins Ted and Hugh McKenna on drums and keyboards respectively and Alex on vocals. The band gave a good sound and all were accomplished musicians who would be happy on stage performing old pop songs, Broadway standards, folk music and heavy rock. Their live act was amazing with Alex’s performances a combination of musical and verbal flair coached in both humour and sincerity with songs which often contained messages and morals.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band scored a couple of chart hits in the UK "Delilah", a re-make of the Tom Jones hit, and also with "The Boston Tea Party".

In 1974 the band released the Next album.

SAHB also made several concept albums including The Impossible Dream and Tomorrow Belongs To Me. Their live act also featured a tale of "Vambo", an urban superhero who was the subject of some of his more energetic numbers.

His physical performances took their toll and with back problems Alex announced his retirement in 1977. He made a brief comeback in the '80s with the Electric Cowboys, but sadly died of a fatal heart attack in 1982. SAHB did reform after Alex’s death and have played at rock concerts across Europe ever since.

Worth a listen:
Alex Harvey Soul Band
I just want to make love to you (1964)
I got my mojo working (1965)

Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Faith Healer (1973)
Gang Bang (1974)
Next (1974)
Vambo (1974)
Cheek to Cheek (1975)
Action Strasse (1975)
Delilah (1975)
Boston Tea Party (1976)

Monday, 25 December 2017

Barry St John

Elizabeth Thompson was born in Glasgow in 1943. She enjoyed singing from a young age and as a teenager joined the Ian Campbell & The Midnighters. Later she became vocalist and backup singer with Bobby Patrick Big 6 in 1961, before moving to London with the band in 1962. Bobby Patrick Big 6 were invited to tour American bases in Germany before taking up residence at the club, Hamburg. She took the stage name Barry St John. Despite the band making several pressings none contain the soulful voice of Barry St John

Barry St. John' management encouraged her to leave the band and pursue a solo career in England. In 1964, she recorded her first single for Decca a cover of The Jarmels, ‘A little bit of soap’ and the’ B side’ was a cover of The Shirelle's 'Thing of the Past'. Both highlighed perfectly her soulful vocal stylings. Her follow up single, was a version of the Newbeats’ ‘Bread and butter’ made the German top 40 in 1964.

In 1965, she had a minor UK hit with Chris Andew’s ‘Mind how you go’, but the follow up ‘Hey boy’ produced by Andrew Loog Oldham , failed to attract attention and Decca released her from contract.

Barry moved to Columbia Records, and had her only UK singles chart entry with an anti-protest song, "Come Away Melinda", produced by Mickie Most and Mike Hurst made #47 in the UK charts in 1965. The ‘B side’, Although atypical of her work, the song came the closest to providing Barry with a UK hit – it spent one week at number 47 in the UK charts in December 1965. The B-side, ‘Gotta brand new man’, was more in her style and later became much in demand on the northern soul dance scene.

The more soulful, ‘Everything I touch turns to tears,’ (1966) failed to sell well and Barry was released from her contract. The song has subsequently became popular with northern soul.

In 1967, she joined The Krew, as lead vocalist and this brought her back to work with former The Bobby Patrick Big Six member, Archie Legget. The band released an album entiltled, ‘According To St. John, ‘ on Major Minor label in 1968. The album was produced by produced by Mike Pasternak, (aka Emperor Rosko). The next two singles came from the album.

Cry like a baby, was released in 1968 The second was a cover of By the time I get to Phoenix, which had previously given Country and Western singer Glenn Campbell a hit in the US.

Barry became regular session singer and worked with Alexis Korner, Long John Baldry, and Duster Bennett in the late 1960s. Between 1972 and 1973 she was a member the Les Humphries Singers and later featured on backup in Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and Roger Glover's rock opera The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast (1974). She also was a session singer on Andy Fairweather Low's, La Booga Rooga (1975).

Whilst still a session singer and working with Bryan Ferry, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel and Elton John in the 70s, she carried on with her solo career releasing several singles including 'My man,' (1974), and 'I won’t be a party' (1975).

Barry continued a busy schedule into the early 1990s having worked with many pop luminaries including Elton John and Jorge Ben Jor.

Alex Young aka George Alexander (1938 - 1997)

Alexander Young was born in 1938 in Glasgow and brought up in Cranhill. He had several siblings including; older brother Steven (1933–1989), George (The Easybeats), Angus and Malcolm (ACDC), and his sister Margaret. George loved music and learned to play tenor saxophone and guitar. Aged 22 , in 1960 he joined The Bobby Patrick Big Six, with the line up of Bobby Patrick (vocals/trumpet), Archie Leggatt (bass/vocals), Pete McCrory (guitar), John A. Wiggins (keyboards), Freddy Smith (drums), Elizabeth Thompson (aka Barry St. John, vocals) and Alex 'Alexander' Young (saxophone). They soon established themselves as one of the top Scottish R &B bands during the pre- Beatles era. In 1962, they moved to London and become regulars at the Kray Twins’ Blue Gardenia Club in Bethnal Green. Meantime, the Young family emigrated to Australia leaving Alex to pursue his musical interests.

The Bobby Patrick Big Six made many trips to Germany and played in Peter Eckhorn’s Top Ten Club. They were one of the first British groups to perform on the Hamburg rock scene and Alex and boys became personal friends with the Beatles when they played in the neighbouring Star Club. The groups became inseparable, with the more experienced Big Six, sharing much of their American covers with the Beatles . Like the other groups of the time, The Bobby Patrick Big Six provided backing to solo singers, sometimes credited and often not. The Bobby Patrick Big Six supported Tony Sheridan as the Beat Brothers and toured Europe in 1963, playing their own shows as well as providing support for the popular Sheridan.

Previously, the Beat Brothers had been the Beatles and consequently the band were often mistaken for the Fab Four. It was common then, for lesser known groups to go uncredited and record under other names due to contractual difficulties. Many minor artists were signed to different record companies at the same time. When Beatles Mania took off, Polydor quietly dubbed many of the early recordings from 1961, featuring The Beatles with Pete Best on drums and used the the Big Six. They kept Tony Sheridan’s vocals and Lennon’s voice on, “Ain’t She Sweet,” as well as some of George Harrison’s guitar work. No credit was given to the session musicians.

When Barry St John left the group in 1963, their agent linked them with Emile Ford (1937 – 2016). Emile Ford and the Checkmates had enjoyed some recording success in the late 50s and early 60s, Ford was attempting to recapture his former success and the Bix Six replaced the original Checkmates, touring UK, Ireland and Sweden.

Prior to becoming a singer, Emile Ford had previously been an audio engineer and travelled with his own backing track system for stage shows. The new Checkmates put this to good use and during this period met and shared the same stage with many Jazz greats, all of whom had the greatest regard for the group.

As The Bill Patrick Big Six, they released several UK singles and one EP, but without commercial success.

Now very much a band in demand they were asked to provided back-up for major American acts on their British tours. This included Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison and at other times they made up the bill on package tours featuring many artist. Nineteen sixty four was a particularly hectic time for the band and included backing Brenda Lee and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles on their UK tour. They received little money for their efforts however, and had to travel many miles touring.

Whenthey went back to Germany, Bobby Patrick and Archie Leggatt left and were replaced by Pete Carter and Iain Campbell. The group continued as The Big Six, but sometimes appeared on the billing as the Gilberts or the B.S.. The Big Six backed Tony Sheridan on his album ‘ Just a Little Bit of Tony Sheridan.’ (1964).

They released several singles including: “Comin’ Home Baby” (1965), a brilliant version of “Shame , shame, shame,” (1966) as well as a cover of Lennon and McCartney's ’ “Nowhere Man,” under the name The BS. All failed to chart and the group went back to Germany and made a living backing Tony Sheridan as The Beat Brothers.

In 1967, only John Wiggins from the original line up, and Iain Campbell remained in the band. The final single was a cover of “Jailhouse Rock” sang by Tony Sheridan and the BS in support. This was later released in Germany in 1968. The recording captures the band’s best quality as a life group but made no impact commercially.

Bobby Patrick went back to Glasgow and with his borther Bill formed the Blues Council with Billy Adamson (drums), Fraser Calder (vocals), James Giffen (bass), Leslie Harvey (lead guitar), John McGinnis (piano), Larry Quinn (alto saxophone). In 1965, they released, ‘Baby Don’t Look Down’/‘What Will I Do’, Tragically, Calder and Giffen. Were killed in a traffic accident when the band were returning from a gig. The group continued for a short time after but had lost much of their initial impetus. Bobby continued to work in and around Scotland and joined the house band at the Locarno Ballroom with Maggie Bell and Leslie Harvey (Stone the Crows) . He became a session musician and worked with many luminaries including Alex Harvey, before he passed away in 2016.

Barry St John had left earier to pursue a solo career and released a string of UK singles for Decca and Columbia. She had one UK top 50 hit with “Come Away Melinda” in 1965.

In 1967, John Wiggins became a member of Tony Jackson & The Vibrations for a short time before returning to work with Tony Sheridan later that year.

After a fall out with Sheridan, Wiggins joined The Krew in 1968 , which saw him reuniting with former band members , Archie Leggat and singer Barry St John.

After a disastrous Italian gig with a drunk Iain Campbell, who just joined the band, Wiggins left to pursue other musical activities. John Wiggins sadly passed away in 2017.

The reformed Krew went back to London and recorded new material and released the album, 'According to St John' in 1968.

After the break up of the Big Six, Peter McCrory left the music business but remained in Hamburg. Freddie Smith became drummer with a number of bands after leaving The Big Six This included Ian & The Zodiacs (1966), The Fyx (1967/68) and Third World War . He also spent a short time with the Krew before forming Maurice’s Portrait with Archie Legget. When the Paris based trio broke up in the early 1970’s. Both musicians became session men and Smith reunited briefly with worked with George Alexander, and worked with Harry Vanda, George Young , Kevin Ayers and John Cale among others. Archie Legget eventally joined Johnny Hallyday’s backing band. Sadly both musicians have now passed away.

Iain Campbell had a checkered career after The Big Six , he sang lead vocals on ‘Shot in the head, ’ a single released by Haffy’s Whisky Sour in 1971. After The Easybeats disbanded in 1969, Harry Vanda and George Young wrote and produced many projects. ‘Shot in the head, ’ whoich featured George Alexander. Campbell briefly joined Stealer’s Wheel in 1972, but left soon after before the band broke through commercially. He also released a solo album ‘Campbell Country ‘N’ Soul, ’ to critical acclaim as a country singer but little else. In 1973, Iain was again playing bass on another Alexander, Vanda and Young project, The Marcus Hook Roll Band . The group is noted for featuring the four Young brothers, Malcolm and Angus, prior to forming AC/DC, George Young and George Alexander (Alex Young). They released three singles and one album, Tales of Old Grand Daddy (1973). Iain also released a solo album ‘Campbell Country ‘N’ Soul, ’ to critical acclaim but little else. Iain Campbell died in 2015, but not before becoming a well respected folk musician.

Alex Young returned to the UK, changed his name to George Alexander and was signed to Apple Music Publishing Ltd., as a song writer in 1967. He formed a new band with three members of Tony Rivers & The Castaways to record his songs. Initially the the line up was John Perry (guitar and vocals) , Geoff Swettenham (drums) , Pete Swettenham (guitar), Mike Fowler (joined later on keyboards and guitar), Malcolm Jelley (bass), Bob Wale (was a replacement of Pete on the second album for on vocals, lead guitar and harmonica) and George Alexander (bass and vocals) .

John Lennon liked the Beatlesque "Lullaby for a Lazy Day", with the Lennon type lead and christened them Grapefruit after a book written by Yoko Ono .

During 1968/69, they recorded several singles helped by McCartney, Lennon and Harrison who often produced for them. They also made two collectable albums. (Around Grapefruit (1968) and Deep Water(1969))

Their debut single "Dear Delilah", produced by Terry Melcher went to number 21 in the UK singles chart. George Alexander wrote most of the bands material which become more soft rock by the second album. Grapefruit broke up in late 1969.

In 1970, George Alexander became involved in several projects with his younger brother George Young and his songwriting partner Harry Vanda (Easybeats). After their initial success the pair came to the UK to write songs and the trio recorded under several names including Paintbox, Moondance and Tramp, as well as the Marcus Hook Roll Band (see above). He even revived the Grapefruit name, issuing, "Universal Party" / "Sha Sha". In the 90s he returned to Hamburg and worked as a music manager with "Proud and Loud Management" before he did in 1997.

Friday, 28 July 2017

John 'Patrick' Byrne : Album artwork

John Byrne was born in 1940 in Paisley. He grew up in Ferguslie Park housing scheme and went to St Mirin's Academy. After he left school his first job was mixing powdercolour for the designers at A F Stoddard, carpet manufacturers, in Elderslie. The slab boy left after a couple of years to study at the Glasgow Art School specialising in drawing & painting. In his final year he won the Bellahousten Award for painting and travelled to Italy for six months. Despite his undoubted talent John found breaking into the art world difficult and decided to send a small picture of a man in a panama hat in the faux-naïf style (affectedly naïve) to the Portal Gallery in Mayfair. A perpetual joker he claimed this was the work of Patrick, his father, an untrained painter. To Byrne’s surprise the gallery asked to see more of 'Patrick's' work. He sat down and painted another half-dozen in the 'naive' style and the result, was a one-man show at the Portal Gallery, London in 1967.

A year later Byrne was commission to paint the cover for the Beatles new album entitled Dolls House. For inspiration he took the artwork from Alan Aldridge’s book The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. The album was retitled Double White and issued with the famous all white cover. Byrne’s artwork was later used on the Ballads compilation released in 1980. The Beatles: "De Mooiste Songs" (The most beautiful songs) was also released on Dutch Parlophone in the same year with a similar cover.

The Humblebums was a Glasgow based folk duo of Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. Later Gerry Rafferty joined them to make a trio but Harvey left soon after. Gerry was a fellow Paisley Buddy and good friend of John Byrne who he asked to produce artwork for the cover for their new album, The New Humblebums in 1969. Gerry and Billy included a track written by Rafferty entitled Patrick on the album dedicated to Patrick. The lyrics begin.

"Patrick my primitive painter of art/You will always and ever be near to my heart")

This would cement the beginning of a long working relationship between Byrne and Rafferty who later completed several of the singer’s solo albums covers and together they co-wrote several songs.

In 1971 the artist was also commissioned to paint an album cover for Donovan entitled HMS Donovan. He also animated a cartoon movie called Old Fashioned Picture Book, inspired by HMS Donovan and including three songs from the album. The movie was scripted by Alan Bennett but only a short length pilot was ever made and the full film never was finished.

When Gerry Rafferty left the Humblebums to pursue a solo career he released his debut album, Can I have my money back” with sleeve artwork designed by John Byrne. John also helped co-write the track "One Drink Down" with Gerry Rafferty which features on the album.

John Byrne was commissioned to do the artwork for Billy Connolly’s first solo album in 1972, entitled Billy Connolly Live! The singer,comedian had then only a small cult audience in Glasgow.

In the same year Gerry Rafferty team up with school friend Joe Egan to form Stealers Wheel with Roger Brown, Rab Noakes and Ian Campbell. They signed for A&M Records and before they started to record their first album Brown, Noakes and Campbell were replaced by Paul Pilnick, Tony Williams and Rod Coombes respectively. The cover for the new album was a John Byrne original. Closer examination reveal the name 'Stealers Wheel' carefully embedded eight times in the design, in addition to the large lettering in the bottom left-hand corner. The album was a critical and commercial success with the hit single "Stuck in the Middle with You", on the album. By the time the first album was released Rafferty had left the band to be replaced by Luther Grosvenor.

Gerry was persuaded to return to Stealer’s Wheel and continued with Joe Eagan as a duo with backing musicians as needed on tour and in the studio. The second album Ferguslie Park was released in 1974 and once again the artwork was by John Byrne .

The band released their final album Right or Wrong (1975) which prominently featured sleeve designs by John Byrne. It also included an inner sleeve.

The collaboration between artist and singer continued and when Rafferty released his City to City solo album in 1979 it had a portrait of himself, painted by John Byrne on the cover. The album included Baker Street which featured the distinctive saxophone solo played by Raphael Ravenscroft. The success of Baker Street and other tracks as singles established Gerry Rafferty as an International success. The exposure further enhanced John Byrne’s bludgeoning career as artist, and playwright. When the single was released it had a sleeve (cover) with Byrne's artwork.

The Night Owl album was also released in 1979 and again had the sleeve emblazoned with a John Byrne original. By now Rafferty’s albums were instantly recognised by the distinctive artwork of his friend, John Byrne.

The last Gerry Rafferty album to feature the artworks of John Byrne before there was a reprise came in the 1980 release of Snakes and Ladders. The album was less commercially successful than the previous releases and Rafferty was beginning to musically change his direction. His next release was the introverted Sleepwalking (1982) which instead of a cover painting and hand-lettering by John 'Patrick' Byrne, featured a simple, stark photograph of an empty road stretching to the sky. The single from the album Royal Mile was released in a sleeve by John Byrne artwork.

It was Another World, the ninth and final studio album by Gerry Rafferty that again featured the artwork of John Byrne. The front cover is entitled Dark Victory and rear booklet back cover Pensive Angel. The album was released in 2000 on the Icon Music label to good reviews. The single All Souls was released in a sleeve designed by John Byrne.

Byrne's artwork featured on the compilation albums One More Dream: The Very Best of Gerry Rafferty which was released in 1995: the Days Gone Down: The Anthology: 1970–1982 (2006): and Gerry Rafferty & Stealers Wheel: Collected (2011). This would come as no real surprise as by this time Byrne and Rafferty's collaboration was inseparable.

To commemorate the works of Gerry Rafferty, Barbara Dickson, his friend and a admirer, recorded some of his songs in 2013. The front cover was painted by John Byrne.