Friday, 21 June 2013

Black Sabbath Back on Top After 43 Years!

The last time I listened to something, I couldn’t help but notice that my hearing is still in reasonable nick, which, I suppose, means that I can’t really claim to be a massive heavy metal fan.  Which is true…up to a point.  Apart from a couple of concerts that left my ears buzzing for days after, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to massive hearing loss.  Yet back in the early 70s I confess to a cautious dabbling in the dark arts as a number of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath LPs in my collection will bear witness.  Obviously, none of these albums could really be construed as the real hard stuff, more a sort of metal-lite and listening back to them now, they sound much tamer than I remember and altogether more tuneful than you might expect.

Nevertheless, it seems I have retained a bit of a soft spot for Black Sabbath and as they have just taken the number one album spot with ‘13’ – their first number one for 43 years, I’ve been inspired to purchase one or two newly re-mastered downloads of worn vinyl LPs so that I can relive their majestic grunge all over again.  Back in the day, my first purchase was ‘Volume 4’, an album that used to get played a lot on ‘Fluff’ Freeman’s Saturday afternoon rock show.  This was followed by the magnificent ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and ‘Sabotage’ – the one with possibly the worst cover of all time - at which point I rather lost interest and moved on to other pastures, namely punk.

In retrospect, there is something gloriously uncomplicated about the Black Country foursome that even today warms the cockles of my rock heart.  Their Midlands based heavy industrial heritage seems to have a voice in their pounding rhythms and grinding riffs as if the factories themselves have manufactured them to order.  There’s nothing I like better than the sound of a Gibson SG and with Tony Iommi’s industrial-accident fingers on the fretboard, that fat buzzing sound has never sounded better, especially when he is constructing those spiralling duets over a crunching riff.

The only issue I have with listening to old Sabbath albums now is Ozzy Osbourne.  I really struggle to reconcile the wild young singer of then with the comedy figure and star of ‘The Osbournes’ of now.  Is it really the same person?  Weird.  I can’t help feeling that Sharon would make a scarier front-person now.  However, that disturbing image aside, it has been a welcome return to the fold for my selected Sabbath albums, ones that will sit on my iPod for a little longer whilst I revel in some industrial heritage.  Unfortunately both the industry and the music have gone, to be replaced by electronics in both instances.  That’s progress for you.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Ray Manzarek 1939 - 2013

So here we are again, mourning yet another passing.  They seem to be occurring with increasing frequency these days.  This time it’s Ray Manzarek, king of the Vox Continental.

I came late to The Doors and even then it was a difficult passage.  It was the otherworldliness of ‘Riders on the Storm’ that first guided me in and on the strength of it, ‘LA Women’ (on cassette – arrghh!) followed.  But horror of horrors, I didn’t like it much and it eventually got passed on to a friend.  Several fallow years ensued and it wasn’t until the mid seventies that I picked up the trail again with the double compilation, ‘Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine’.  Suddenly the penny dropped and I became quite obsessed with them, buying all their studio albums in quick succession.

The Doors were always in my mind a sum-of-the-parts band with every member contributing an equal portion rather than a star with anonymous backing musicians.  Despite Jim Morrison’s charisma, I always found the other members just as interesting and Ray was no exception.  Perhaps it was that Vox organ sound, rather than the ubiquitous Hammond or the fact that he played all the bass parts in the absence of a full time bass player or those key unspecific runs that he was able to conjure up or even those rimless glasses but there was always something about him that caught your attention.

In the late sixties, the guitar was the rock instrument of choice and it wasn’t until the emergence of the prog rockers of the seventies that keyboards would come into their own, but Ray managed to hold his own against Robbie Krieger’s guitar parts in a way that made them both sound good.  Whether it was the shimmering chords in ‘Waiting for the Sun’ or the Bach-like intro to ‘Light my Fire’, his playing was always inventive and appropriate to the mood.  The Doors would not have been the same without him.

More recently, he popped up numerous times as a talking head in TV documentaries reminiscing about the sixties and the excesses of his erstwhile bandmate and despite the ageing effects of time, he still managed to carry the essence of the Californian hippy that he once was.  The wild speech patterns, liberally punctuated with ‘Maan’ and the sixties vocabulary were still embedded in his psyche like a living fossil of the period.  Yet for all that, he seemed to retain the optimism of those days and a zest for life.  He was always good value as an interviewee.

Recently, I picked up the Box Set of Re-mixed Doors studio albums, which I have to say have been sensitively brought up to date without losing the feel of the original albums and it has been a pleasure to hear Ray’s playing, now liberated from some fairly murky mixes and now sounding like they were played yesterday.  In his mind, I’m sure they were.

RIP Man!