Harold Wilson once famously said that a week was a long time in politics; I wonder what he would have made of my forty-six years of following one band fandom?
It was forty-six years ago today I first heard Stackridge on the radio play, (hmmm, that doesn’t quite scan the Sgt Pepper’s way it did in my head.) and despite the diversions of new music trends and styles, my latest favourite bands, new music icons, Stackridge alone have been a constant. Even more a constant than my parents – and they had the temerity of dying rather than calling it a day with a valedictory packed gig in their spiritual home of Bristol.
That gig was on December 19th 2015 and was their Final Bow, this is the album.
A double live CD of that evening and, in the colloquial, it is a corker. Songs spanning the decades delivered with an energy that belies the ages of some of the songs, the performers and the audience to say nothing of the number of times they must have been played the songs.
If you put two Stackridge fans together with someone yet to be converted, the conversation will spin around the room, with observations that George Martin produced an album, they played the first and last songs at the first Glastonbury, Elton John signed them for his record label, two of them were also The Korgis who had pop hits in the ’90s, and that one member played on John Lennon’s Imagine album and toured with both Julian Cope and Tears for Fears.
But, the main topic of conversation will be the bemused lack of understanding as to why Stackridge were never as ‘big’ as they deserved.
There is a theory that it was the band’s unwillingness to comply with a single style, and there is a case that can be made for this; a perfect pop/prog rock first album, quirky pop second, an almost mainstream third, a Zappa-esque fourth and then came a concept album about an old man in a nursing home – just as punk rock changed the rules. I can imagine the bemusement of someone attracted by the radio hit Do the Stanley with its stomping simplicity finding themselves faced by a ten minute prog tune about a homesick elephant in Bristol Zoo!
I’ve seen Stackridge live dozens of times over the years and quickly understood that they were unlikely to have the same line-up or ‘sound’ as they had the previous time I saw them, but always there was something quintessentially Stackridge which ever route they were taking.
The line up for this last ever excursion under the Stackridge banner is one that has been consistent for a few good years, and even before this last night I’d rated them as the perfect balance of all the disparate parts of the Stackridge canon.
There isn’t a single member of the band who has been in every line up, but as any Stackridge fan will tell you, James Warren (vocals, bass) and Andy Davis (vocals, guitars, ukulele) together are always part of the dream team. Sharing all but two lead vocal on this album, their voices apart and together make Stackridge songs simply soar.
Augmented and supported by Clare Lindley (violin, vocals, ukulele), Glen Tomney (keyboards, vocals, flute and trombone) and Eddie Johns (drums, vocals) the final line-up brings to life a catalogue older than some of the performers and a guest appearance by original member Mutter Slater on flute for two numbers completes the picture.
The set list starts in a typical ‘let’s be bloody-minded’ choice of an atypical new song, Horizons, a piano led ballad written by Eddie the drummer with lead vocals from Clare Lindley, but then the beauty of the melody takes hold and the effortless vocals pull you in and it’s not atypical of Stackridge at all, it’s crafted songwriting, melodic and breathtaking.
From here on in the set becomes reassuringly familiar. Until it gradually dawns that there’s lots of lovely changes from the original recordings – the lead vocals are taken by someone else, the arrangement changed, the gear changed down or up. Tracks from all their studio albums find a safe home in the running order and each manages to surprise you. What is also surprising, if not shocking is how vibrant and modern they sound – even the ten minute song about an elephant!
Mutter Slater guests on the ProgFests that are the instrumental Purple Spaceships over Yatton and monster tale Slark to obvious audience delight
Another highlight is the stunning fiddle work by Clare Lindley on God Speed the Plough (the perfect allusion for a band that constantly ploughed their own furrow). Glen Tomney performs his ‘quiet man of pop’ routine perfectly, his contributions help glue everything together without once saying ‘look at me, I’m having the time of my life’ when he quite obviously is, and Eddie Johns is in the driving seat on his drum stool.
Andy Davis shines on so many tracks but Red Squirrel and The Final Bow glow to my ears. Of course we mustn’t forget little James Warren, who many consider to be the band’s Paul McCartney to Andy Davis’s John Lennon. Here that likeness is reinforced with sweet vocals and Beatlesque harmonies and melodic bass lines, amply showcased on Fundamentally Yours and The Last Plimsol. (And yes you do recognise James Warren’s voice – he sang lead on The Korgis worldwide smash Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.)
Both the two aforementioned songs though, first appeared on the George Martin produced The Man in the Bowler Hat, an album he held in much affection and is often considered to be one of the finest albums he produced outside of the Beatles.
In many ways the Beatles comparison is obvious and fitting, the constant need to develop and change, pulling in influences from disparate musical traditions but always remembering to write a killer tune. The difference of course is that no-one wonders why the Beatles are so under appreciated…
This parting gift is full of similar killer tunes, and after 46 years of loving them I am going to miss Stackridge live, but I have this wonderful memory of a wonderful day.
01. Over The Horizon
02. The Road To Venezuela
03. The Last Plimsoll
04. Red Squirrel
05. Syracuse The Elephant
06. Fundamentally Yours
07. Highbury Incident
09. God Speed The Plough
10. Long Dark River
11. Purple Spaceships Over Yatton (with Mutter Slater)
01. All I Do Is Dream Of You
02. Fish In A Glass
03. Something About The Beatles
04. No Ones More Important Than The Earthworm
05. Lost And Found
06. Boots And Shoes
07. The Final Bow
08. Lummy Days
09. Slark (with Mutter Slater)
10. Dora The Female Explorer
11. Do The Stanley performed by Aviator Brass band assisted by the Audience)
James Warren – Vocals, Bass
Andy Davis – Vocals, Guitars, Ukulele
Clare Lindley Volin, Vocals, Ukulele
Glen Tomney – Keyboards, Vocals, Flute, Trombone
Eddie Johns – Drums, Vocals
Record Label: Angel Air
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 14th July 2017