The British blues boom was arguably one of the most important movements in musical history. Not only did it launch the careers of various guitar heroes – players much loved for decades afterwards – but the guitar driven sounds also paved the way for a whole universe of rock music. With that in mind, it’s interesting how few compilations have celebrated the British blues scene. Aside from Grapefruit Records’ excellent ‘Crawling Up A Hill’ box set, any other releases have been label specific, leaving a huge gap in the market for a set to explore some of the more niche sounds from the era.
‘Shake That Thing: The Blues In Britain 1963-1973’ is perfect in that regard. This three CD set from Grapefruit casts a much wider net than their earlier box set, but never loses site of its core objective. Bluesy sounds are out there, front and centre, at all times, but it also looks beyond the usual suspects to celebrate blues laden tunes shared by other singer songwriters, folkies and rock bands during a hugely transitional period.
When people talk about Fleetwood Mac, they’ll often talk about the pop magic that both Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham brought to the band. As far as UK audiences are concerned, their appointment within the band’s ever-shifting ranks in 1975 brought the band back from a long stretch in the wilderness.
There are very few albums as well known as Fleetwood Mac’s multi-million selling ‘Rumours’, but there was always far more to the band’s “pop years” in the 70s than that omnipresent disc, its self-titled predecessor, and the adventurous ‘Tusk’.
Electric Six’s debut album, 2003’s ‘Fire’, was a runaway success. On that record, the band’s disco/garage rock hybrid sound caught the ears of a generation and, back when such things were important, its massive singles gained heavy rotation on the music TV channels. The live shows that followed stoked up the fun, with “dance commander” Dick Valentine, indeed, showing a decent command of an audience looking for big grooves and cheap thrills. Things might not have worked out quite so well in a tent at the Reading Festival that year when the attendant crowd heckled endlessly for ‘Gay Bar’ – and only wanted to hear ‘Gay Bar’ – but being a smart cookie, Valentine managed to keep everyone under control while working through really spirited renditions of the album tracks until the restless crowd finally got their wish. A lesser frontman might have allowed things to descend into chaos, but despite half the audience’s indifference beyond the hits, it ended up being a superb show.
Every so often, a record producer comes along whose mastery of the studio takes on a legendary status. The early years of pop showed off the technical talents of George Martin and Phil Spector; the world of disco gave a platform to Quincy Jones and Geogio Moroder (Quincy’s hand in making Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ a global success cannot be understated – it’s a stunning sounding record) and the rock scene gave Martin Birch plenty to apply a distinctive style.
In terms of pop, 1982 was a strong year: Madness took a further step towards songwriting sophistication with their album ‘The Rise & Fall’, Prince made a huge breakthrough with his ‘1999’ double platter of much filthiness and Phil Collins showed us that the previous year’s ‘Face Value’ wasn’t just a one-off solo success when his “tricky second album” spawned a #1 hit single and a few of his best solo tunes.