I had signed with Atlantic Records, either in 1985, just after the “Steady Nerves” tour with Eric Clapton, or early 1986, and things weren’t going too well. My meetings with the legendary Ahmet Ertegun and his German sidekick had been underwhelming and — Ahmet being a hero of sorts — very disappointing. (They always had
a sidekick these big guns, a real Mutt and Jeff team, designed to confuse the artists with banal ideas about “rhythm sections” and the latest “hit producer,” ‘80’s record company blather trapped in layers of cliché, a million miles away from proper rock ‘n’ roll.)
In those days, artists made demos that cost tens times more than your average album does now, and record company honchos didn’t understand the sound of a guy singing over an acoustic guitar with a couple of overdubs. I should not of course have been allowing them to be privy to new songs at all. In previous years, with my first manager Dave Robinson in charge, we kept a lid on everything until the album was in the can. My second manager, however, thought it would be a spiffing idea to “get the record company involved” with the choice of material, producer, and most probably, if I hadn’t already been cultivating a shiny target on the back of my head, my haircut. (If I had one piece of advice to give to new artists who are largely self sufficient in the songwriting department, it would be to not let anyone from a record company hear a thing until you’ve got their money and made your album.)
Much of the material I’d foolishly handed over became the “Loose Monkeys” spare tracks record, released years later by Razor & Tie. This in itself should not have caused too many alarm bells to ring, but after their lackluster reaction to these admittedly scattershot songs, I got pissed and wrote more tunes, songs that would eventually become “The Mona Lisa’s Sister.” They didn’t like these any better. At this point, the alarm bells in my head became a cacophony.
All Ahmet could talk about was Whitesnake and Phil Collins, or whatever other acts Atlantic had that were currently in the charts. Yes, the ‘80’s were grim. Of course, about a year later they were all scrambling to sign acts who made records with an acoustic guitar and a few overdubs, but that’s another story.
And so I had this weird lacuna, a space to fill in whilst my manager extracted me from Atlantic and shopped around for a label that would play the game my way, which can basically be summed up as: “You give me the money, I’ll make the record I want and hand it in when it’s finished. It’ll either be good or great, depending on the breaks.”
Good old RCA went for it and “Mona Lisa’s Sister” arrived in ‘88.
Still, my confidence had been blunted by the Atlantic debacle, and in 1986 I had no idea which direction to go in, and no idea which of the songs I had been amassing to record.
Best way to deal with this, I figured, was to put a band together and play some gigs. Get out there and bash around in front of a bunch of Danes, which I did, naming the band the Fact, consisting of Brinsley, Andrew and a drummer named Jimmy Copley, a solid guy who had come my way because he’d played with Jeff Beck whom my manager had managed for years. No keyboards. I was continuing to assert my presence as a guitarist after years of merely holding one, which was always buried in the mix with GP and the Rumour.
Well, it being the ‘80’s, there’s no getting away from that wallowing swishing sound, but in its own way, it’s quite marvelous. I’m presuming that this gig was recorded professionally for radio — that’s no board tape. This thing has real fidelity and is mixed well, although the vocal is a bit low for the first few songs. At this time I was in the thrall of JC-120 Jazz Chorus amps with the chorus relentlessly on full bore (the models I had — and I’d sometimes have two onstage hooked up! — had no other level than full on). And what a chorus it is. A great swimming, washing machine effect, not far off a Leslie, which, for those who don’t know, is a wooden cabinet with a bloody great flappy thing inside that spins around and is largely used with a Hammond organ, creating that swirling effect (think “Howlin’ Wind).
And what about the songs on this set? I must have recently been immersed in a Bobby “Blue” Bland compilation and for whatever obscure reasons decided to feature two of his tunes, “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog” and “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.” No idea why, but it must have seemed a good idea at the time (perhaps because the aforementioned Whitesnake also recorded the latter tune and I was sticking it to Ahmet?!), and they suit this band down to the ground. Then there’s the Knight Brothers rather awesome “Sinking Low,” a brilliant lost song I discovered in the ‘60’s on a Marble Arch compilation entitled “Blues And Soul,” (still one of my favourite albums of all time) reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “People get Ready,” but without the religious overtones.
Check out my lead guitar work at various points in this rendition, most notably at the beginning, which is then firmly trounced — as I get back to the basic rhythm — by Brinsley’s much more eloquent riffing. Dig the rock solid bass and drums by Andrew and Jimmy, couching that arena-worthy vocal sound, swimming in a great big sucks-you-into-the-vortex compression, limiting and reverb effected hiss that helped me come up with the title for this effort.
I typically find my vocals on these live shows to be thin and flat lining, but not on this. I’m grabbing the Danish festival crowd by the testes (I think they were all males) and hanging them out to dry with this one, possibly the best delivered and recorded live vocal of my entire career up till, and possibly beyond, this point.
And it’s good to hear the only recorded band performance that I recall of the “Loose Monkeys” track “Dead To The World,” fat and greasy with the band behind it in full swing. Also from “Loose Monkeys” is a killer take of “Burnin’ On A Higher Flame,” boasting that excellent chord sequence — particularly in the solo section — that proves that I was not wasting my time spending all those hours tripping out to Hendrix records. Yes, I hummed those lead licks to Brinsley as he was learning the tune, right down to that final hammering-on at the solo’s conclusion. “Hendrix, I said, it’s a Hendrix thing.” Time well spent, no question.
(As mentioned on the awesome Spinal Tap-black cover, the beginning of this tune is unfortunately hacked up a bit, but it’s the only live version that I know of and had to go on. Our apologies, but that’s the way it came.)
It’s also nice to hear Brinsley’s backing vocals in prominence throughout; they were typically buried on GP & the Rumour shows.
Yeah, I like this record.
(Many thanks to Johannes at the “Struck By Lightning” website and our own John Howells for this one.)