Search Still Got The Fever

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The day I took ZZ Top to the barbers

It is the once-in-a-lifetime photograph that suggests the unthinkable.

Yes, that's iconic Texan rockers ZZ Top at a Birmingham barber shop.

Bearded Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill await their turn in the chair, while drummer Frank Beard - ironically the only bandmate without one - gets a trim.

The band popped in to Hollins and Gregg in Brum's Newhall Street after a spot of shopping.

But there's more to the much sought-after picture than meets the eye.

The date was August 16, 1985, and I was the Birmingham Mail's rock and pop writer.

ZZ Top were set to headline the giant Donnington Monsters of Rock festival - now known as Download - next day.

I met them at Birmingham Airport as they got off a private jet, and asked to pop into town.

After calling in to the HMV store to buy some albums, the Mail took the trio into uncharted territory.

The barber's chair.

They were still riding high on the success of the 25 million-selling Eliminator album. Singles Sharp Dressed Man, Got Me Under Pressure and Gimme All Your Lovin' had made them a household name.

There was huge interest in the band and speculation that they might unveil a new look.

Might they be - shock, horror - clean-shaven?

We stepped inside Hollins and Gregg and asked if we could snap some photos. But only on one condition.

"Nobody is to touch the band's beards," a nervous ZZ Top aide informed me. "It's more than my job's worth!"

The trio played along with the stunt, laughing and joking in their gruff Texan drawl.

But what was with the shades, the cheap sunglasses they wear to this day?

“We wrote a song called Cheap Sunglasses when we used to tour in cars," Frank told me.

"Every gas station in the world had a cardboard display of the cheapest and ugliest sunglasses you could imagine.

"I've bought a thousand pairs of them."

Billy added: "The hip trip for us was to throw them into the audience at our gigs.

"But we ran out and we couldn't get any more. So we now have to make do with Ray Bans.

"The Ray Ban Wayfarer was the original cheap sunglasses. You could buy a pair for six bucks."

Next day, ZZ Top rocked the Castle with all their hits - and a stunning spectacle.

Their famous Eliminator hotrod (well, a replica at least) was flown in, dangling from a helicopter.

But the beards were intact, untouched by the demon barber of Brum.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

After sexy Glad Rag Doll Diana Krall slips into something comfortable with Wallflower

She smouldered through the rootsy Glad Rag Doll back in 2012.

Now Diana Krall slips into something comfortable, a long delayed album of classic pop songs given a loving late night makeover.

Originally due last October but postponed first by a bout of pneumonia and then the death of her father, Wildflower is subtly seductive.

Eleven covers plus a new Paul McCartney song find Krall delivering classy pop with a pure jazz-rooted vocal.

Among the best are Eagles hallmark Desperado, Crowded House hit Don't Dream It's Over, 10cc chart topper I'm Not In Love and Elton John's Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.

Less obvious are Bob Dylan's Wildflower, from which the album takes its title and Jim Croce's Operator - sublime songs waiting to be rediscovered. McCartney track I'll Take You Home Tonight, however, is forgettable.

Michael Buble guests on an unlikely take on Gilbert O'Sullivan's Alone Again (Naturally) perhaps reflecting Krall's own feeling of loss.

It`s very different from Glad Rag Doll's back to basics earthiness but a good album nonetheless ahead of her live dates.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Devil's Train : Devil's Train II review

Accepted wisdom is that cover versions only succeed if you radically revise them. Don't tell Devil's Train.

On their debut album a couple of years back the Euro metallers blasted their way through a high energy hard rock and roll set.

Riff rockers such as Roll The Dice and Room 66/64 proved irresistible, runaway express trains to rival the Crue's Kick Start My Heart.

But they ended the set with a cover of American Woman, the classic rock single that once made The Guess Who temporary titans.

And, defying expectation, it became a huge youtube hit.

Little surprise then that the band, originally a part-time project for members of Stratovarius, Mystic Prophecy and Evergrey, have gone and done it again.

Sophomore set Devil's Train II owes much to Guns 'n Roses and, more recently, Black Stone Cherry (check out Mr Jones) with its helter skelter rock and roll and southern holler.

But fast forward to track nine and Steppenwolf hallmark Born To Be Wild leaps from the speakers.

It hasn't been turned into an acoustic strum; they haven't added a choir and strings; there's not a rap at the bridge.

Aside from a little more contemporary crunch, they've just rocked the f*** out of it - and it's revisited in all its original glory.

Perhaps it`s just that we don`t get to hear the likes of American Woman and Born To Be Wild anymore that both work so well.

They try for the hat trick, by the way, with a bonus track cover of Zeppelin's Immigrant Song that's unnecessary.

The album's stong enough without over-egging the pudding.

Best bets: Mr Jones, Born To Be Wild, Hollywood Girl.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Songwriter Albums Of The Year 2014

1. JOHN FULLBRIGHT : Songs - Proving that less is often more, the Oklahoma troubadour delivers a masterclass in simply sung Americana.

2. RYAN ADAMS : Ryan Adams - After all those years of sublime singer-songwriter subtlety, Ryan Adams finally plugs in and rocks like Tom Petty.

3. ANDY WHITE : How Things Are - Belfast boy charts his marriage break-up heartache in sublime songs ranging from fragile folk to dark rock and roll.

4. ROBERT PLANT : Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar - Plant says this is “a celebratory record, powerful, gritty, African, trance meets Led Zeppelin” – and he’s so right.

5. JACKSON BROWNE : Standing In The Breach - His first album in six years wants to set the world to rights but don’t let that put you off such superb songwriting.

6. SION RUSSELL JONES : Lost No More - You’ve heard the Cardiff singer-songwriter’s songs in the soaps, but this set smacks strongly of classic Paul Simon.

7. NEIL YOUNG : Storytone - The ornery ol’ cuss still loves to bowl curveballs, this time bringing in a concert orchestra and a sassy, swinging big band.

8. SUZANNE VEGA : Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles -  Loved her when she started out in Tom’s Diner but soon got bored. Thankfully, Vega’s back big-time and even rocks out.

9. MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES : California Star - Upfront and upbeat, Stephen’s no longer as delicately Daintee as he used to be, and it’s a gold star success.

10. MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER : Songs From The Movie - Mary Chapin Carpenter’s warm vocal is caressed by the sweeping strings of a full orchestra for the first time.

Pop Albums of the Year 2014

1. LEWIS WATSON : The Morning - Debut album by the Youtube sensation from Bicester includes Stones Around The Sun, one of the year’s best songs.

2. A GREAT BIG WORLD : Is There Anybody Out There? - Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino write witty pop, but Say Something, featuring one Christina Aguilera, is heartbreaking.

3. JENNY LEWIS : The Voyager - Former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis revels in skewed story-telling pop and rock with a subversive edge.

4. RON POPE : Calling Off The Dogs - Great setlist highlighted by show-stealers Explain and Nothing will surely be coveted by all X-Factor wannabes.

5. PASSENGER : Whispers - Brighton’s Michael Rosenberg’s quirky voice stole hearts this year – but standout Bullets is deliciously disturbing.

6. TWIN ATLANTIC : Great Divide - The Glaswegian festival favourites give The Killers a run for their megabucks with irresistible pop hooks and rock riffs.

7. ED SHEERAN : X - There’s no stopping the carrot-topped troubadour, who builds on his debut with the most streamed album in the world.

8. GEORGE EZRA : Wanted On Voyage - Where on earth does that amazing, old beyond his years, voice come from? Well, actually it’s from Hertfordshire.

9. NINA PERSSON : Animal Heart - The only Cardigan you’ll ever want to find under the Christmas tree, Nina’s warm pop vocal gives you a huge hug.

10. RUBY TURNER : All That I Am - Birmingham soul queen Ruby returns with an eclectic genre-striding set, including a delightful duet with Passenger.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Rock Albums Of The Year 2014

New Year! Here are the Still Got The Fever rock albums of the year.

1. ROYAL BLOOD : Royal Blood - Okay, so how the hell do they do that? Bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher out-muscle mighty Metallica.

2. FOO FIGHTERS : Sonic Highways - Dave Grohl & Co hit the road to record at a string of famous studios but the band’s strength is consistent at ever.

3. ANTI-MORTEM : New Southern - Oklahoma rockers give Metallica a run for their megabucks with relentless riffola that takes no prisoners.

4. PROSPERINA : Harness-Minus - Gethin Woolcock’s Welsh wonders barnstorm a sophomore set of densely layered guitar prog-rock and roll.

5. BLACK STONE CHERRY : Magic Mountain - Business as usual for the Kentucky festival favourites, who crank up the amps for a heavier set than last time.

6. THE ORWELLS : Disgraceland - Pop hooks meet swaggering sloppy rock and roll with more than a hint of The Raconteurs and The Faces.

7. BUSH : Man On The Run - They were bigger than Oasis in the US, and now Gavin Rossdale’s Brit grunge-rockers return to top form.

8. CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX : White Light Generator - Think Pink Floyd on steroids, soaring widescreen melody with prog-rock muscle. Do not miss them live.

9. PINK FLOYD : The Endless River - Rejigged Richard Wright rejects represent reclusive rockers’ reflective return. A fitting tribute and last hurrah.

10. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN : High Hopes - Rage Against The Machine axeman Tom Morello adds musical muscle to The Boss’s E Street shenanigans.