Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #2 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Friday, July 8th, 2016

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Bluesfest 2016

Artist: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
When: Friday, July 8th, 2016
Where: City Stage at 9:30pm
Context: One of the problems with multi-stage music festivals is that, invariably, you run into situations where there are multiple artists that you want to see playing at the same time. It’s happened to me more than a few times over the years and I’ve had to make a decision on who I wanted to see more, weighted based on whether I had seen the acts before and the chances that I’d have to see the act again. One of the most grievous scheduling conflicts I ever had to negotiate was on that Friday back in 2016 when I had to leave an incredible set by Swedish singer/songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth only a few songs into it in order to get a good spot to catch Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds.

My wife Victoria joined me that night (as she does on occasion), just as she did the last time I saw Noel Gallagher live, back when he was performing with Oasis at the 2008 V fest on Toronto Island. A few of you might recall how that one turned out. Some drunken, middle-aged hooligan had hidden himself under the stage, climbed up in the middle of the set, and pushed the elder Gallagher brother from behind, cracking a few ribs in the process. After the fracas and some confusion in the crowd, the band came back out and performed a handful of songs but it wasn’t a complete set. So although we can say we saw Oasis live, we always felt like we were cheated, knowing there were songs they could have played but didn’t.

Eight years later, Oasis had of course broken up and Noel Gallagher had at that time put together two solid solo albums with a new band. I’d always thought Noel more talented than his younger brother Liam and though Victoria doesn’t agree, I’ve always felt that he had the better voice. Don’t get me wrong, Liam is a great frontman, but his force is his attitude and confidence, more than his talent. Nonetheless, seeing Noel Gallagher live again was too good a chance to pass up and it wasn’t hard to convince Victoria to join me.

Out of a set of twenty songs, exactly half were songs that Noel wrote during his days with his original band. He dutifully played the hits – “Champagne supernova”, “Wonderwall”, and the perfect closer, “Don’t look back in anger” – to all of which the crowd was pleased to help him with the vocals and he welcomed it, stepping back from the mike while we sang the choruses. What I found really cool, though, is that he also dug deep into the B-sides, playing some of the more popular (“The masterplan”, “Fade away”, “Half the world away”) but also the not-so-popular (“Talk tonight”, “D’yer wanna be a spaceman”). And it wasn’t for any reason more complicated than that those were some of Noel’s favourite Oasis tracks.

The other half of his set was dedicated to the songs he has written with his new band, The High Flying Birds, and these are no less excellent. Tracks from both the self-titled album and the previous year’s, “Chasing yesterday”, were well-represented and though, some in the crowd were less familiar with these songs, they were well-received. And why not? Some of these tunes, like “Ballad of the mighty I” and “AKA… what a life!”, are far better than some of the tunes he wrestled together during his time with Oasis. In the High Flying Birds, Noel is calling the shots. He doesn’t have to contend with his brother’s ego and he has just as fine a backing band. The five-piece were on fire, assaulting us with a wall of guitars and waves of organ, sometimes augmented by a three-piece horn section, and they played straight through to just before 11 o’clock, not bothering with the whole encore charade, opting instead to play as many songs as possible.

About a third of the way through the set, I think it was during “Champagne supernova”, I looked around at the joyful reaction and attentions of the crowd and turned to my wife and said, “Now why would he want to get Oasis back together?” It was pure rock and roll, Noel style.

Noel Gallagher and Russell Pritchard
Tim Smith, Mike Rowe, and Chris Sharrock
Russell Pritchard and the horn section
Mike Rowe on keys
Noel Gallagher with Russell Pritchard, Chris Sharrock, and Tim Smith
“We love you, Noel!!!”

Everybody’s on the Run
Lock All the Doors
In the Heat of the Moment
Fade Away (Oasis song)
The Death of You and Me
You Know We Can’t Go Back
Champagne Supernova (Oasis song)
Ballad of the Mighty I
Talk Tonight (Oasis song)
D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman? (Oasis song)
The Mexican
Half the World Away (Oasis song)
Listen Up (Oasis song)
If I Had a Gun…
Digsy’s Dinner (Oasis song)
The Masterplan (Oasis song)
Wonderwall (Oasis song)
AKA… What a Life!
Don’t Look Back in Anger (Oasis song)

Best tunes of 1992: #16 Paul Weller “Uh huh oh yeh”

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You may recall that I featured a guest-written post on The Jam just over a month ago. My friend Andrew Rodriguez, aka the biggest Paul Weller fan that I know, delivered a thorough narrative on some of his favourites of The Jam’s tunes, their history, his thoughts on all of this, and he included some words on his experiences seeing Weller live as a solo artist in 1992 and 1994. It was Rodriguez that first played “Uh huh oh yeh” for me way back, on an evening he didn’t remember and that I could only vaguely remember. So I decided to go back to Rodriguez and ask him some questions, a sort of mini-interview via email exchange, to get his perspective and thoughts on this very excellent and breakthrough single by Paul Weller, the solo artist…

Where were you and what were you doing when you first heard “Uh huh oh yeh”?

“I can’t precisely recall. It was released on 15 August 1992, that summer I’d been away for 6 weeks – I was in the Army reserve at the time. My courses ended mid August, so I know I was home and able to listen to the radio. It was in fairly heavy rotation on CFNY 102.1 in Toronto when it came out. In those days, I used to keep a blank tape at the ready to record good stuff I heard on the radio. Plus side is I was able to record bits of it – negative side is it wasn’t ’til the album came out that I heard the whole song.”

What were your initial thoughts of it?

“Initially, I was blown away. It’s rare that the instant you hear a song, you know it know it will be part of your personal soundtrack. I liked the ‘comeback’ feel. Lyrically, like much of his material – PW was heavily introspective, but not in some whiney BS way. ‘The very roots upon which I stand’. Vocally soulful and powerful. Musically tight, jazz and soul elements combined with raw emotion, and tempered with a feeling of maturity and growth. It was what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. There wasn’t much going on at that time musically. And above all, it was incredible for me to hear something from him that was contemporary. All his previous material I had heard basically after the fact.“

What are your thoughts about it now? Has your perception of it changed over the years?

“That question is double-plus good! My thoughts haven’t really changed, I think the song has stood well against the test of time, both stylistically and production-wise. It is still part of my personal soundtrack. I’ve no idea how it would be received if it were to be released today – but I don’t think that it would be viewed negatively. The musicianship (ahem! Steve White’s drumming) is unimpeachable. My perception, well that’s a bit more difficult to determine. I still feel a RUSH when I hear it. My perception is likely different, I’m older now, my body chemistry has changed and my circumstances are different. But, again the positive and solidly introspective aspects of the song still move and ground me – its simply that there is more experience to be grounded by now, than there was for me in 1992. Also, this song now has to be viewed as BOTH the start of a new chapter in PW’s musical life (which at the time coincided with a new chapter in my life); and it has to be viewed against his large body of subsequent work. Viewed as a start, my perception hasn’t changed. Viewed as part of a larger body of solo work, it remains my favourite – if I had to pick one.”

You have referred to this as a “comeback” and “new chapter” for Weller. How is this album and this song in particular different from The Jam or Style Council?

“In 1989, The Style Council folded – PW also got divorced from DC Lee, a co-member of TSC. At that point, given a combination of factors: his personal and professional situations, and the overall snakelike nature of british music press/culture, he was effectively dismissed as being done. He was single, had no band and no job. If he had had a dog, his dog likely would’ve died too. By 1991, he had assembled a semblance of musicians to form The Paul Weller Movement (which included TSC drummer Steve White – brother of a future Oasis drummer). They started touring, playing a mix of Style Council and Jam songs. Energised by touring, PW gradually introduced new material, which was popular both with fans and critics; popular enough that he signed a new record deal – and that material made the bulk of the first proper solo release. Uh Huh Oh Yeh was one of the later songs to be recorded. I don’t know if the Movement ever played it live. But it was very much a comeback.

I said “new chapter” because that is what it was. Both the Jam and the Style Council had been formalised and established bands. Both bands were talented and competent. In the case of the Jam, Weller basically dissolved them when he realised that they weren’t keen on the direction that he wanted to go. In the case of The Style Council – they were highly creative and very much all over the place – the problem they encountered was that some of their material wasn’t considered to be commercially viable (in some cases rightfully so). SO by going solo the touring and studio personnel changed over time, and included many people of note, members of Mother Earth, and Ocean Colour Scene come to mind. The first show I saw him play, it was basically Mother Earth backing him. So very much a new chapter.

Now if you listen to the full solo album (the original – not special editions), you will note a few things. Uh Huh Oh Yeh is a fantastic opener, but it doesn’t really represent the overall sound of the album. Feel, yes. The album can be easily (and has) described as “Acid Jazz”. UHOY is the most uptempo of the songs, only Into Tomorrow comes close in that regard. But the album is seamless. It is very much one that needs to be listened to from beginning to end. In between songs are intros and outtros, at one point even the sound of a needle crackling and being lifted off a record. More so than any Jam or TSC album it is a very complete package. His influences at the time hadn’t changed much, it was simply that the application had tightened up and focused. It is a smooth and groovy album, moreso than anything the Jam put out, and not as choppy, date-able or manic as anything late Style Council put out.

Uh Huh Oh Yeh, and the album for which it was a single, basically set a mood that was grounded. Just retrospective enough to be credible without being a shameless ripoff or paean to some vague, hollow past. It set a mood that was perfectly suited both for the period, and the future.”

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1992: #18 Morrissey “Certain people I know”

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You may have noticed that I’m on a bit of a Smiths bender here, running through my “Complete” box set, one piece at a time, in my weekend ‘Vinyl love’ series. And if you did notice, you might be thinking that I’m a bit of a fanatic of the band, which, of course, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking. However, things didn’t start out that way. I actually came to them late. And it was long after I was fan of Morrissey’s solo material.

Back when I was in the dog days of high school, my friend John fed my suddenly voracious appetite for new music by getting me into bands like Depeche Mode, The Housemartins, and The Cure. He would loan me a handful of compact discs at a time and I would record the ones I enjoyed before returning them. A couple early Morrissey albums came to me in this way but he would never allow any of his Smiths discs to leave his possession. I later learned while living him with him during my last few years of university that this was because he was constantly playing them, ad nauseum, which further delayed my ability to form an appreciation of their music.

Morrissey’s third solo album, “Your arsenal”, was my gateway to his music, being, first, the latest of his works at the time, and second, being that it was a change in direction towards a more rock edge, likely appealed to my transforming tastes. Morrissey had formed a new backing band for this album and together, they infused some glam and rockabilly sensibilities to the work. Track number five, “Certain people I know”, our song of today, for instance, has that twangy slide guitar and swinging beat, a comfy bed that surprisingly feels tailor-made for Morrissey’s warbling vocals. And there he is flirtatiously playing upon words, sneaking a side-long and knowing glance, and dancing across the stage with abandon. He’s taking a cue from his heroes and other certain people he knows and having a blast while doing it.

“They look at danger and they laugh their heads off.”

I once bought a T-shirt with that very line emblazoned on the back. It was on a solo trip to the big city with birthday money burning a hole in my pocket. I had gotten the lowdown from friends on where to look for eight-hole Doctor Martens on Yonge Street and took the GO train in, listening to “Your arsenal” on my Walkman all the way to T-dot. After purchasing the boots, I happened into a store selling what I’m pretty sure now were bootlegged concert Tees and came out with a black one with “Your arsenal” album cover art on the front and said lyric on the back. I wore it countless times over the following months, that is, until it fell into the wrong laundry wash load and was shrunk a couple sizes too small. I ended up giving it to that same friend, John, who introduced me to Morrissey in the first place.

“I use the cue and then I hand it on to you.”

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.