Thursday, 19 January 2012

Re-imagining The Beatles #3 - Lone Star

It is rare that a cover version of a song takes the original, turns it inside out and creates an entirely different beast from its constituent parts. It is even rarer that the resulting piece of music improves on the, itself wonderful, original. Lone Star's take on the Beatles' She Said She Said owes so little to the original that handing over royalties to Lennon & McCartney must surely have rankled.

Mention She Said She Said to anyone but the most devoted Beatles fanatic and they are likely to have to flick through their Fab Four LPs just to remind themselves on which album it appears (Revolver, incidentally.) Conversely, if you ever stumble across a Lone Star fan, ask him about that band's Frankenstein's Monster reworking of the same track and watch him go misty eyed before waxing lyrical about its brilliance! Perhaps, in the rehearsal studio, it started life as a straight forward cover version of the Beatles' mildly lysergic, Byrdsian tune, but in the recording studio it clearly took on a life of its own, becoming a soaring, spacey, progressive, hard rock monster, stretching out the original tune from a blink-and-miss-it 155 seconds into an eight and a half minute epic. This is what I had in mind when I chose the "Re-imagining The Beatles" heading for these blog entries: artists who take a Beatles song as a starting point, dismantle it, rip out its innards, pack it full of their own heart and soul, stitch it back together, give it a swift  kick up the arse with a like-their-lives-depend-on-it performance and strut off into the sunset as high as kites in the knowledge of a job well done. I would love to know whether Lennon or McCartney ever heard Lone Star's version of their track and, if so, what they thought of it. I imagine that Paul McCartney is too busy being an utter god to read my blog, so I suppose we'll never find out.

Unlike many artists who use cover versions to pad out otherwise lacklustre albums, Lone Star's debut is filled to bursting with inspired songwriting, stunning musicianship and Paul Rodgers-esque vocal performances. And, to prove it was no flook, their follow-up album, Firing On All Six, is similarly endowed, albeit with a Robert Plant disciple installed on vocals this time around. It is baffling that this band failed to conquer the planet and take their deserved seats alongside the Led Zeppelins and Deep Purples of this world. Guitarist, Paul Chapman, subsequently found himself the target of much undue criticism when he replaced Michael Schenker in UFO, whilst John Sloman (lead vocalist on Firing On All Six) fleetingly became a member of Uriah Heep, staying just long enough to record their most contentious LP, Conquest.

The Firing On All Six Line-Up

 In addition to their overhaul of She Said She Said, take a listen here to the standout track from their second LP, namely The Bells Of Berlin. Both LPs were recently reissued on CD by Rock Candy Records and are regularly offered for sale on ebay in their original vinyl incarnations should you want to listen to them the way the music gods intended. Whichever format you choose, do yourselves a favour and enrich your collection with these two Classic Rock masterpieces.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Last Crate Dig Of The Year!

To me there's always been something special about the act of buying my last records of the year. It's a bit like savouring the last Malteser left in the packet after having crunched your way through the others with reckless abandon. It tastes all the sweeter for being the final one. Of course, there will be other Maltesers and, inevitably, there will be other records in the New Year, but nevertheless, I want to be sure that I don't chuck my cash at any old piece of vinyl as the year draws to a close. The last records of the year are second in importance only to the first records I buy each year. Don't ask me why. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that (anorak alert!), for the last thirty years I have kept a note of every record I've bought, when it was purchased, what I paid for it and where I got it from. Back in my childhood I'd sellotape a sheet of A4 paper to the back of my bedroom door and keep track of my acquisitions there. To think that, once upon a time, one sheet of paper was sufficient to log a year's worth of additions to the collection! Clearly, there was no hiding from any errors of judgement as I was reminded of my purchases every time I passed through my bedroom door. And, more importantly, evidence of any misguided vinyl choices was permanently on display for any visiting friends to see and judge me by. Like I could give a monkeys what anyone thinks of my musical taste now, but as a thirteen year old, that's the stuff that matters! It was fine to have a Vardis 7" somewhere in the list, but not at the top of the heap. Did I really want people to think that, of all the records that I could have chosen to begin a year's collecting, that was the one that called out to me from the racks of my local record shop. Surely it was better to have Black Sabbath's Master Of Reality or UFO's Lights Out in pride of place.

I would have been more than content for my year to have ended on the vinyl high provided by my brother's Christmas gift of the 3-LP/2-CD boxset of Judas Priest's Nostradamus album, but a post-Crimbo visit to the in-laws in Manchester meant that a trip to Sifter's and Kingbee was inevitable. (For more on these digging spots, click here.) What I hadn't anticipated was that a subsequent quick wiggle over Snake's Pass to meet some of my wife's old school friends in Sheffield would result in my discovering the unimaginatively named Record Collector shop in the Broomhill district of the city.

Now, this is a serious collectors' shop! In the psych/prog section the tightly-packed racks contain a mouth-watering selection of highly desirable titles. I'm not sure you'll find any bargains here, but neither are the prices completely unrealistic given the rarity of much of the stock. My browsing was hampered by both post-Christmas 'short arms/deep pockets syndrome' and the presence of my three year-old who, when he wasn't falling down the store steps or ripping posters off the wall, insisted repeatedly, and very loudly, that I only buy Judas Priest albums. As a result I came away with just two modestly priced LPs: a reissue of Camel's debut and Jimmie Spheeris' Isle Of View. Perhaps the day is approaching when, instead of spending £50 and expecting to come home with a dozen LPs, I spend the same amount on one rare LP. Or perhaps not: I like a bargain too much. The real rarities in my collection have been bought for small change and that's just so satisfying. Anyone can 'do a Manchester City' and assemble a top class team with an unlimited budget. The real skill and pleasure comes from careful and creative appropriation of limited funds. Just think of me as the Arsène Wenger of record collecting!

Happy crate-digging and a prosperous 2012 to you all!