Sunday, 3 May 2015

Colin Hay (Men at Work)

Colin Hay (lead vocals, guitar), was born in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire in 1953 and emigrated with the family to Australia when he was 14 in 1967. In 1979 he formed an acoustic duo with Ron Strykert (guitar, vocals). Soon others joined: Jerry Speiser (drums), and keyboard player Greg Sneddon, but Sneddon left and was replaced by Greg Ham (saxophone, flute, keyboards). The lineup was complete with John Rees (bass). They built their reputation as an Australian pub band but incorporated reggae rhythms which were very new wave. Men at Work became regulars at Melbourne’s Cricketer's Arms Hotel bar and financed their first single in 1980. “Keypunch Operator” had a B side which was an early version of "Down Under" but neither attracted much attention.

A year later the band was signed by Australian Columbia and a single "Who Can It Be Now?" produced by Peter McIan, became a huge hit.

Men at Work played reggae rhythms, catchy guitar hooks, with wailing saxophones, hit a chord and in 1982. Business as Usual, their first album featured contributions by Colin Hay, Ron Strykert, and Greg Ham, and was every bit as good as Police. Men down Under increased their international appeal with irreverent and funny videos shown on MTV and their massive appeal in the US ensured the album became an international success.

"Down Under" became the group's second American number one early in 1983 and simultaneously topped the UK charts. "Down Under" was used as the unofficial anthem for Australia's successful challenge for the 1983 America’s Cup.

Their second album Cargo was written in the main by Colin Hay. It sold well in the US and reached number three in the U.S., generating four successful singles, "Overkill", "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive", "High Wire", "It's A Mistake".

The following year the band took a long break and individual members pursued other interests. Just before they regrouped to record their third album the management told Jerry Speiser and John Rees they were no longer members of the band. Colin, Greg and Ron along with studio musicians completed the third album, Two Hearts. Colin and Greg produced the album and despite critical acclaim it was not a commercial success but did contain one single "Everything I Need" reached the Top 30.

After the disappointment of Two Hearts, Greg and Ron left the band, but Colin stayed and toured with other musicians. After the tour, Men at Work were over in 1985, the band broke up. Colin Hay pursued a solo and acting career. In 1988, he and Greg Ham re-formed Men at Work in 1998 for a tour in South America. Men at Work enjoyed a strong fan support in South America during their heyday and the concerts in Brazil resulted in Men at Work's fourth album, the live Brazil '96 was released in 1997, but only for South America. Men at Work went back in studio and recorded "The Longest Night", composed by Greg Ham.

At the Ending Ceremonies of the 2000 Olympics Sydney, Men at Work played ‘Down Under’ live. In 2003 Colin Hay toured with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. Greg Ham died in 2012 but surviving original band members continue to work in the music business. Colin Hay has made a successful solo career.

Worth a listen:
Who can be now? (1981)
Down under (1981)
Be good Johnny
Dr Heckyll and Mr Jive (1985)
High Wire (1985)
Overkill (1985)
It’s a mistake (1985)

Friday, 27 February 2015

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.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Dougie McLean

The Scottish singer-songwriter was born in Dunblane in 1954. He joined the Paisley based Scottish folk group, the Tannahill Weavers in the mid seventies and toured extensively in the UK and Europe playing fiddle, mandolin and sharing vocals. The group recorded their first album “Are Ye Sleeping Maggie?” in 1976.

Dougie left the Tannahills and teamed up with German born Scot, Alan Roberts and recorded the album Caledonia in 1978. The album met with great critical acclaim and the song Caledonia would be later recorded by many other artists.

Later the duo joined Alex Campbell and recorded the album CRM which contained traditional Scottish songs.

In 1980 Dougie MacLean joined SillyWizard for six months and toured with them in the USA, Holland and Germany before forming a duo with Edinburgh guitarist, Donald MacDougall. They performed in US, Canada and Europe and McLean (on foddle) contributed to Silly Wizard's fourth album, Wild and Beautiful (1981) before returning to the Tannahill Weavers.

During this time Dougie’s recorded his first solo album, Snaigow in 1980.

The singer now based himself in Perthshire but continued to tour worldwide. His follow up was Wing and a prayer and was released on Plant Life in 1981.

He later built a recording studio near Dunkled and he and his wife, artist Jennifer MacLean, launched their own record label, Dunkeld Records. The debut album Craigie Dhu (1982) proved a commercial success and this was followed by Fiddle (1984) and Singing Land (1986) .

Over the years Dunkeld Records became one of Scotland's most respected independent record labels featuring not only Dougie MacLean but also Hamish Moore, Sheena Wellington, Frieda Morrison, Gordon Duncan, David Allison and Blackeyed Biddy. Throughout the decade Dougie MacLean's reputation grew and became a popular performer at festivals and concerts where ever Scottish music featured. The album Real Estate was released in 1988.

Dougie MacLean has built an international reputation as songwriter, composer and extraordinary performer on his own terms. His songs have been covered by hosts of artists including Scottish stars Paolo Nutini & Amy MacDonald, Ronan Keating, Mary & Frances Black, Dolores Keane, Deanta and Cara Dillon, and Grammy award winning US country singer Kathy Mattea. His music has been used in the Hollywood movies: Trevor Jones adapted the music from the Search album as the main theme to The Last of the Mohicans in 1992; Angel Eyes also featured music from Dougie Mclean as well as A Mugs Game (BBC).

To date his greatest success has been “Caledonia” which has become one of Scotland’s most popular contemporary songs. The song was written in less than 10 minutes on a beach in Brittany, France when the singer was busking overseas and feeling homesick. The song featured in a Tennent’s Lager beer advert in 1991 with a cover interpretation sung by Frankie Miller.

The public response was immediate and so enormous Miller re-recorded the whole song and released it as an independent single. The song reached number 45 in UK Singles Chart but topped the Scottish charts in 1992. The song has been covered by many other artists.