Matt Bianco: Gravity

It’s only been 7 months since Mark Fisher’s death, and we already have new Matt Bianco album. I didn’t know what to think about that. For me, Matt Bianco meant Mark Fisher’s catchy keyboard harmonies and Mark Reilly’s characteristic voice (I know, there was a different Matt Bianco with Danny and Basia, but that never did it for me). My favourite MB tunes were all Fisher/Reilly collaborations, so with him gone it was difficult for me to imagine what a Fisherless MB album would sound like.

While Fisher was ill, Reilly already collaborated with the dutch alternative jazzers New Cool Collective. I quite liked what they came up with: the album had some cracking tunes and I liked the New Cool Collectives idiosyncratic melange of brass and rhythm. So for the next Matt Bianco album Reilly again switched musicians: out are long time collaborators and studio heroes such as Tony Remy, Andrew Ross, Nick Cohen, Simon Finch, in are Graham Harvey (him of Incognito), Magnus Lindgren (Scandinavian Sax wunderkind), Dave O’Higgins (ditto, just not Scandinavian and already on Gran Via’s ‘Victim of Love’) , Geoff Gascoyne (British jazz bass legend) and Martin Shaw (Trumpeter extraordinaire). Elizabeth Troy – who got the background vocals job after Hazel Sim left) was allowed to stay.

So, all new personnel, new sound? Definitely, yesyes.

Out are the sequencers, the drum computers and electronic percussion. No more layered synthesizer harmonies, appregiatos and funky rhythm guitars. This is Reilly accompanied by classic acoustic jazz band, doing a Kurt Elling impersonation. This is not meant as a slight, as it works really well. A longstanding joke between the three remaining Matt Bianco fans is that you usually get two or three cracking songs per album (that’s ten pound per song if you order the Japanes import), and Reilly and his collaborators don’t disappoint: ‘Heart in chains’ and ‘Before it’s too late’ are excellent, and up there with the best of 30 years of Matt Bianco.

The album has been on heavy rotation at Chez Fordiebianco’s for 6 weeks now (tolerated by the best girlfriend ever – some sort of compliment, I’m sure) and I am still enjoying it. If you think about it, becoming more jazzy was always on the cards as Fisher and Reilly became more mature. HiFi Bossanova was already halfway there, so it feels natural that Reilly and the Jamie Cullen Band (which is what his marry men apparently are) have just progressed to where they should be.

This is a beautiful album that is beautifully produced and as such deserves a first class hifi system.

Nice one, Mark.

Carole King: Tapestry


If you’re in your forties, it’s pretty likely that you have been exposed to the songs on this album since you were very small, be it on the radio by Ms King herself or in covers by your favourite bands when you were a spotty teenager. It’s even more likely that your parents had a copy. It’s one of those seminal works of art in contemporary western cultural history comparable to Warhol’s ‘Campbell Soup’ paintings. For me it’s one of the best albums of all time, next to ‘Rumours’, ‘The White Album’, ‘Nevermind’, ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘The Lexicon of Love’ and of course Matt Bianco’s eponymous second album. There is not a single bad track on the album, but of course the outstanding ones are the much covered ‘I feel the Earth move’, ‘So far away’, ‘It’s too late’, and ‘You’ve got a friend’. I’ve only bought the album a few years ago second hand in a charity shop in Oamaru, and had listened from time to time and always enjoyed its seventies appeal and its sonic simpleness but the copy I had was so scratched that soon enough it wasn’t possible to play it anymore. My digital copies were still intact, but boy, it did sound limited.


Since I added a SACD player to the living room’s audio setup, I have slowly but surely bought SACD versions of my favourite records to the collection, so I ordered Mobile Fidelity’s SACD edition to replace the old silverling and, suck me sideways: what suddenly came out of the Klipschs was nothing like the muddled, ancient seventies stuff that I was used to. This was suddenly an intimate, very vivid live performance in my living room, with a piano player in the middle. During ‘So far away’ I suddenly picked up the drummers problems with keeping his hihat and bass drum synchronised (I actually never noticed any drums on that track) and the beautiful flowing basslines of Charlie Larkey. Never before did a SACD make such a difference and raise a thick curtain of acoustic muffling to reveal an amazing production. dp

‘Tapestry’ is an amazing album that is close to perfect, and with this edition Mobile Fidelity has produced an absolute stunner. Has been running non-stop for hours now.

Alexander O’Neal: ‘Hearsay’ and ‘Live At The Hammersmith Apollo’


Sorry for the crappy quality. And that's just the sound of the CD on the right.

Sorry for the crappy quality. And that’s just the sound of the CD on the right.


Back in the eighties and nineties Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were my personal heroes. Up there with Mark Fisher, Neil Armstrong and Juri Gagarin. To those not acquainted with these musical demigods, the two are buddies from uni who ended up in a band in Minneapolis called ‘The Time’ – essentially an outlet of Prince’s songwriting material that didn’t make it onto his own albums (he apparently doesn’t sleep much) – with Jellybean Johnson and Morris Day. After becoming independent producers, they pretty much were responsible for creating the ‘Minneapolis Sound’ (together with their tiny ex-boss) and made a gazillion of albums with some more or less talented vocalists. Imagine the Stock/Aitken/Waterman model, just with better music and artists. They could do no wrong (and mostly didn’t). Their sound was instantly recognisable though changed quite significantly throughout the decades. Just for academic purposes, compare the S.O.S. Band’s ‘Just be good to me’ with Janet Jackson’s ‘ ‘Rhythm Nation’ and The Human League’s ‘Human’:


Why is this in anyway relevant to this entry? Good question. I might have just got carried away a bit. Well, the point I was trying to make that in the mid eighties these guys were on the ascent to mega-oodle stardom, and on the way produced an album for local singer Alexander O’Neal. Now if you ask me, this is one of the best albums that Jam/Lewis ever made. The up-tempo numbers (Fake/Critize) were unique in both in their chord structure and production and sounded like nothing before. The ballads were engaging and not too boring, and giving it a narrative (from the beginning to the end of a party at O’Neal’s house) makes it even eligible for the seventies moniker of ‘concept album’.

You get it: I like it. It’s one of my most played CDs and it shows. It’s falling apart, there’s beer stains all over it (from numerous DJ gigs) and it’s full of scratches. But to this day, it’s unique and a bright star on Flytetime’s echelon.


Which brings us to the other CD in this little feature. I was actually quite excited when I saw that this CD existed as I saw the chap live in 1994 with the best brother ever (BBE). This was a great night, with even the BBE shimmying around like a 17 year old. How times have changed. ‘Live at the Hammersmith Apollo’ is O’Neal’s attempt to get some extra dollars from a singular concert in London in 2005. This is a 2 CD set with 14 songs from his first three albums, with most of the ‘Hearsay’ album all present and accounted for. Once you pop the CD in the player, the first you notice is the terrible sound. I am really wondering whether they literally just took the feed of the desk without any editing afterwards. During the introduction the musical director of the show mentions they have an 18 piece band on stage, but they get lost: it’s one big, gooey ghastly sounding mess. I could accept this from a bootleg, but not from something I actually paid money for. Unfortunately once O’Neal does appear there is no improvement. Quickly running out of steam, his fake laugh and painful attempts at banter do annoy quickly. What really pissed me off the most was the ruining of what were supposed to be the highlights of the CD: ‘Critize’ and ‘Fake’ are both up-tempo funk numbers with great harmonies, really showcasing the Jam/Lewis songwriting brillance, but on this record the chord structure has been simplified (or maybe one of the 18 musicians is playing it, but with this sound you certainly can’t pick it up) and some random heavy metal solos ruin it further.

One to avoid like the plague.

Runrig: Amazing Things


Runrig was one of the reasons that I physically was much fitter in the nineties. As their songs were inexplicably played on German radio station SWR3 on an all too frequent basis, it was one of the most common reasons to engage in a mad, fast dash to all radios in the vicinity to switch the channel as quickly as possible to get rid of their aurally upsetting noodling.  I have never understood the German fascination with Runrig in the nineties, but then I didn’t get the David Hasselhoff thing or the Scorpions either. I have probably spent too long to in the UK to be devoid of an irony switch.

I was given this CD by a true fan. He recites his Runrig live experiences as some of the most profound of his life, at which stage his long suffering girlfriend would normally start to gag and roll her eyes while the conversation often would die down and enter one of these embarrassing pauses that can only be changed with either a comment about the weather or last week’s performance by Sheffield Wednesday. He insisted playing it all evening that night I was given this poisoned chalice and since then it has been sitting in my CD-collection. Unheard for 13 years.

Until today.

I listened to it intently while writing a paper for the Open University which only inspired me to focus more on my work. There was much celtic troubadouring, fiddles, bagpipes, electronic percussion and a singer who obviously took himself very serious. Lyrics like ‘Lifetimes in memory, flesh being born: but this is the age of invisible dawn’ littered the album. It sounded like a drunk Scotsman trying to sing the karaoke version of some eighties Bon Jovi material with added ‘celtic’ bits in it.

Bill Bailey famously called music like this famously ‘some old celtic bollocks’.

I agree. I think I will use this as my new favourite coaster to avoid coffee stains on the furniture.



Swing Out Sister: Live at the Jazz Cafe

Design? Who needs Design? We have Word for Windows.

Design? Who needs Design? We have Word for Windows.

There was a time in the eighties when suddenly having a jazzy, retro feel to the records was perfectly fine. Sade was channeling Astrud Gilberto, both The Style Council and Matt Bianco had a go at Samba and Working Week sounded like they could be from Rio (even though they were Londoners). The over all term was ‘SophistiPop’, and Swing out Sister (SoS) with their Bacharach/seventies big string sound fitted right in there. Their first album ‘It’s Better To Travel‘ sold reasonably well on the back of “Breakout’ but the SophistiPop thing was over after a year or two, and the representatives of the genre soon decamped to Japan where they like that sort of thing (many a SophistiPop band that you thought hadn’t existed for thirty years is still around making new albums on the back of their popularity in Indonesia. No, really).


Some stimulating prose right there

So in 1992, with 3 albums under their belt, SoS decided to release a live album for the Japanese market, recorded at the Jazz Cafe in Camden (ironically still Matt Bianco’s London live home in 2014) with a ten piece band. With their original arrangements being rather string heavy this feels quite stripped back (although there’s still quite a bit of midi background synth fill: the keyboarder has after all only 2 hands), but the vocal arrangements are spot on, the brass sounds crisp and the rhythm section is excellent.

So, these guys are obviously good musicians, but what about the music? Well, there’s the rub. In the humble opinion of this crtitic, their material doesn’t really lend itself to live performances: most of their material is midtempo and really benefits from large orchestration and elaborate arrangements.  On this album they even reduce the tempo on some of their normally livelier songs even more, so the whole thing sounds rather treacleish (technical term). I don’t think much dancing was going on at the Jazz Cafe during the recording. Probably more gentle nodding of heads.

Which really defeats the purpose of a live album. You really want to hear your favourite songs in a feverish, exciting atmosphere, but this sounds more like the recital of Virginia Woolf at the Women’s Institute in Torquay.

Which probably explains why I hadn’t listened to it for 20 years.