The Skelly Suggests … HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Ho!-Ho!-Ho!

HO! HO! HO!

‘Tis the season, so there are a couple of extra nuggets in this musical stocking …

1. Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley

2. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt

3. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

4. Run, Rudolph, Run – Chuck Berry

5. Merry Christmas, Baby – Bonnie Raitt with Charles Brown

6. Jingle Bells – Fats Domino

7. White Christmas – Darlene Love

8. We Three Kings – Beach Boys

9. Here Comes Santa Claus – Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans

10. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues

11. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – The Crystals

12. Little Saint Nick – Brian Wilson Band

13. Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes

14. The Wexford Carol – Chieftains with Nanci Griffith

All but one of these songs is available on Spotify:  Listen now and be of good cheer  – Ho! Ho! Ho!

Pub Stories – What is a Skelly anyway?

The Skelly

WHAT’S A SKELLY?

Since recording The Skelly Trilogy (1999-2005) I’ve fielded this question more than once, so here’s the lowdown.

In 1998, some local developers in Nashville were creating a high-end Irish-themed pub and restaurant at a prime site on Lower Broadway. The place was to be called Seanachie (Storyteller) and it was a no-expenses spared venture. Irish artisans were brought over to hand-build the interior, and the man in charge was a fellow from Northern Ireland who’d successfully brought the concept to various locations in mainland Europe and the Far East. One of the investors was a lawyer with whom my wife was acquainted, and as a result I became an unofficial consultant as the project developed, advising on the entertainment aspects of the venture.

The first time I met the Ulsterman, he heard my Liverpool accent and said what I heard as “Ah! A skelly scouse….I love you skellies” The phrase was new to me, although the word scouse was not, so I asked “What’s a skelly ?” “Well, you are” he replied “A Liverpool-Irish lad, a bit of a rogue, y’know.” Although I’d never heard the term used in Liverpool, it had a nice ring to it, and as Skelly was a fairly common surname around our patch, I assumed what I’d misheard was correct, and in no time I’d written what became the title song of the first record “Here Comes The Skelly”. More importantly The Skelly became a character, an all-purpose Liverpool-Irish Everyman on whom I could hang the various narratives in song that were manifesting themselves at an alarming rate.

After the first album was issued I started to get queries about who or what The Skelly was. I did a bit of research and to my dismay, discovered that the phrase, coined by native-born Irish to denote their Liverpool cousins, was actually scally scouse, scally being a shortening of “scalawag” … but the Ulsterman’s accent had rendered it as skelly to my ears.

Well, The Skelly Scouse had become a cornerstone of this particular musical endeavor, so I was happily stuck with him for two more albums, and I simply explained the character away as a bit of a lovable Liverpool rogue, so I was true to the original intent, although I’d misheard and consequently misspelled the original word.

When Seanachie was completed, and a wonderful place it was, I had the pleasure and honor of assembling and leading the backing band for Matt Molloy, the Chieftain’s esteemed flute player, who was the guest artist on the gala opening night.

Sadly Seanachie is no more, but that’s where The Skelly originated.

From the Desk … “I gotta desk, you gotta desk, all god’s children got desks, baby … Thank you, Lord!”

Mersey Me!

Ferris Wheel had good reasons for calling a halt:  We’d ridden the crest of the “soul boom,” and had fun doing it; we’d traveled all over the UK and Europe, played festivals with the likes of The Who and Cream, solidified our reputation as a fearsome live act, and survived a possibly fatal change in personnel, to reinvent the band and give it a second go-round.  So there was a certain professional pride in quitting while we were ahead.  Linda and Dennis were at the thresholds of their careers, full of talent and ambition, George and Dave had been on the road since the late fifties, their children were now adolescents, and George wanted to pursue a “stay-at-home” career as a session musician and hired gun, and Terry Edmunds’ indisposition had left us playing with a string of fill-in guitarists in the last few months of the band’s existence.

For me, there had been significant changes, both professional and personal over that four years. After Patti Dyer returned to the States in the autumn of ‘65, I’d started writing to her, at first with no reply, but after a while I did get a casual note or postcard now and then.  Over time, as I mounted a blitzkreig campaign of letter-writing, basically begging her to return to England, her replies were as brief and succinct as mine were long and effusive … I felt I wasn’t doing too well.  Then, in the spring of ‘67, I received a note asking me to meet her at Heathrow Airport on a certain day in the immediate future, just like that!  From that moment on, we were a couple, and were married on 31st August 1967.  Three years later, to the day, our first child Celeste was born.  With a baby around I didn’t want to be away all the time, which would have been reason enough to get off the touring grind, but I was also increasingly drawn to the “back room” world of songwriting full time and the studios, both as a player and, hopefully, a producer.  I knew that to achieve any of that, I had to be in town.

The other factor was that Doris Troy was back in London, with a mews off Baker Street, a recording and publishing deal with Apple, no less, and George Harrison set to produce her.  She had been in touch before she came over to check if I was free to become her musical director/pianist, which I couldn’t commit to at once, but of course I wanted to renew our musical partnership, and needed to be free of long-term commitments in order to do that.

The band had been very up front with the Gunnells, which was always the safest way to deal with them, and as I was signed to them for publishing as well as management, they offered me a job as professional manager of their publishing division, St. George Music, so I could learn the ropes of publishing and the studio and have some guaranteed money coming in, while giving me a schedule flexible enough that I could freelance some, and also prepare a solo album (the singer/songwriter vogue being the “next big thing”).  It was, in retrospect, an extraordinary gesture on their part, and I was determined to justify their faith in me.  We’d always got along well with those guys, despite their scary reputation, and rather than being pissed off at losing a solid commission earner, it was very cool of them to approach the situation the way they did.

The Gunnell Group had been a completely independent entity when they signed Ferris Wheel, but a couple of years in, with the profits resulting from their near-monopoly of the soul touring circuit making them a prime target for a takeover, they’d merged their operation with RSO (The Robert Stigwood Organization), which was riding high with The Bee Gees and Cream.  So when I first reported for work, it wasn’t to the slightly frayed Gunnell office in Chinatown over a takeaway, but rather to the grandness of Mayfair, directly opposite Claridge’s at 46 Brooke Street.  No. 46 was actually completely Gunnell turf, while the main Stigwood office was up the street at No. 67, which was fine by me as I was a Gunnell man through and through, and I had little dealings with the RSO operation at first.  I had my own office, and my first (modest) expense account as I set about using all the time no longer devoted to traveling to writing, pitching songs, cutting demos, and familiarizing myself with the catalogue, which represented the compositions of John Mayall and Manfred Mann lead singer, Michael D’ Abo, some Georgie Fame titles, and various other odds and sods in addition to my stuff.

I got lucky early on, because there still wasn’t any strictly formulated way to pitch a song, and certainly no book to tell you how to do it.  The network of Denmark Street/BBC connections was closely guarded, so I just hung in the clubs until I saw some artist I knew, then I’d go over and slip ‘em a tune, which back then involved a 45 rpm acetate, so you had to have big pockets if you were off for a night on the pitch.  I ran into Colin Blunstone one night at the Speakeasy, and after a drink or two, during which he told me he was back in the music game after a spell as a civilian, following The Zombies sad demise, I gave him an acetate of a Michael D’ Abo song called “Mary, Won’t You Warm My Bed,” which he went on to record on his brilliant solo debut “One Year.”  Needless to say, that was a feather in my fledgling cap, when the album became a critical favorite, and a big seller, due to the single, the astonishing string-quintet version of the Denny Laine song “Say You Don’t Mind,” which made the top ten.  That pleased the brothers Gunnell, thank god, so I felt I was doing OK right there at the start of this next chapter.

I had a free hand with supervising the St. George demos, so as Patti and I had moved to Wimbledon, after our first idyllic year in a lovely Victorian garden flat in Putney, I started to book demo sessions into R.G. Jones, which had been the first serious independent studio some years before, and was literally around the corner on the next street.  Old R.G. had long ago blown out his ears, and while a lovely bloke, was deaf as a post.  But his protege Geoff was a very able young fella, and we got on famously, especially as I soon made St. George a significant account for their business.  That studio had also become the favored rehearsal space for The Stones, who all lived in that neck of the woods, more or less, so I would occasionally wind up a session as Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (always the first!) would be getting set up, and very nice they were, musos first, no bullshit, and up for a chat and a laugh.

I started putting together a bit of a session team, as I knew that the great recording centers in the US all seemed to have studio “house bands” and the only real equivalent, within the newer breed of session musicians, was Barry Morgan’s team in North London, who would go on to record as Blue Mink, featuring Roger Cook and Madeline Bell on vocals.  George Ford was naturally my first choice on bass, and depending on availability, Dennis Elliott, Rob Townsend from Family, or Tony Knight took the drum chair.  I shared guitar duties with Steve Kipner of Tin Tin, and I handled keyboards.  The office was pleased with the heightened quality of the demos, so I started supervising demos for No. 67 as well.

Doris, being Doris, had got herself installed in her own office at Apple, and one day, soon after I started at No. 46, she called me, inviting me over to see her new quarters.  I took the pleasant stroll from Brooke Street over to Savile Row and was ushered into her office.  Resplendent in a high African head wrap and a floor length dashiki, she stretched her arms wide … “I gotta desk, you gotta desk, all god’s children got desks, baby … Thank you, Lord!” Summed it up, really.

To read more of the chapter – get the book at www.michaelsnowbooks.com

Instrumental Musings … Hybrid Fender Stratocaster

Hybrid Fender Stratocaster
Hybrid Fender Stratocaster owned by Michael Snow

HYBRID FENDER STRATOCASTER (Pawnshop)

Hybrid Fender Stratocaster Body
Hybrid Fender Stratocaster Body

One of those fascinating axes one can stumble across in this neck of the woods. A mid-70’s Japanese manufactured Strat., but with a Jazzmaster neck and head stock, a very cool midnight blue finish… I found this in a pawnshop in Madison, TN, for $225.00, and Brian Willoughby set it up for me, as he was getting ready to use it on a track for Papa Snow’s Junior Jukebox Vol. 2. It’s a very very nice guitar.

Hybrid Fender Stratocaster Full
Hybrid Fender Stratocaster

The Skelly Suggests … Catty Songs

Cool Cat

Yes, “ Cats- The Musical” has been running forever, but they ain’t the only cats to be immortalized in song. Try these kitty ditties about felines of various stripes:

1. Some Cats Do – Peggy Lee
2. Nashville Cats – The Lovin’ Spoonful
3. Cool For Cats – Squeeze
4. Honky Cat – Elton John
5. Three Cool Cats – The Coasters
6. Put Your Cat Clothes On – Carl Perkins
7. Copy Cat – Gary U.S. Bonds
8. Stray Cat Strut – Stray Cats
9. Cat Scratch Fever – Ted Nugent
10. Cat’s In The Cradle – Harry Chapin
11. Year Of The Cat – Al Stewart
12. What’s New Pussycat? – Tom Jones

Some of these songs are available at Spotify – here’s the playlist: Catty Songs

Pub Stories – Under the Gun in the Studio

It’s been well documented that the sixties was the time when recording studios came of age, when the innovations came thick and fast, when the studio itself evolved into an instrument. I cut my studio teeth during that revolutionary period, at first in bands, then gradually working my way into the session game.  At first, my only ambition was to set foot in Abbey Road, and once that had happened, rather quickly, I’m glad to say, I found myself drawn more and more to that side of things.  Initially, the rarified world of the session musician wasn’t even a consideration.  They were an elite apart, older than the rock upstarts, and protective of their hard-won turf.  The string and brass players were particularly scornful of the long-haired interlopers, showing their disdain and lack of involvement by studiously poring over their reading matter, whether it be Amateur Photographer, The Racing Form, or the daily crossword, keeping one eye on the chart until seconds before their written entry, then nonchalantly hitting their marks on time.  It was their way of letting us know that they were members of a club whose membership rolls were closed.  The openings, though few and far between, came about when some of the new maverick producers started to realize that the stalwarts, especially the rhythm sections and lead guitarists, didn’t really sound authentic playing a lot of the new music, so those producers, god bless ‘em, began looking farther afield for appropriate musicians.  It certainly wasn’t for everybody, as discipline, punctuality, and grace under pressure were just as important as the ability to deliver a good part to order.  I got my first little tastes of independent studio work through Simon Napier Bell on the Diane Ferraz and Nicky Scott project, working with a very impressive multi instrumentalist named John Paul Jones, who, along with Jimmy Page, was in the vanguard of the new type of session guy, closer to the street, closer to rock.  Those two were still ages away from Led Zeppelin, but were already making a mark in the studios.

I’d been able to get a great deal of studio experience during my time with Ferris Wheel, not only on the band’s own albums and singles, under the guidance of “young veteran” producers John Schroeder and Ian Samwell, but also on the outside projects that came the band’s way due to the fact that our musicianship was high quality, and we could handle ourselves in the studio.  My first film dub session was with the Wheel, at a time when a film dub involved a big screen, on which the scenes were projected while the musicians synchronized to the action.  The film was a “Swinging London” artifact called “The Touchables,” and the episode in question was a nightclub scene (of course), in which the action had been shot and edited to Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect.”  After they’d finished the movie, they found that they couldn’t, for whatever reason, license her version, so we were summoned to reproduce it in every detail, every nuance … a pretty tall order, if you think about it!  The session was called at De Lane Lea Studios in Holborn, one of the very few facilities in Central London with film-synch capabilities, and we arrived and set up facing the big screen, as instructed.  Ken Thorne, a well-known composer/arranger, who had served as M.D. on “Help!”, was the musical director for the film, so he was there to conduct us … basically, he had the synch stripe in his earphones, and we had just the band in ours, so it was his job to keep us in exact frame time.  Now, soul music, by it’s very name and definition, wasn’t intended to be played to a waving baton, and Ken knew this, so he was very accommodating, knowing we had a very tough assignment.  We also figured that Diane would be good for about five passes, tops, before her pipes gave out (she was singing live with the band) so it was pressure all around.  The temptation to look at the nubile, half-dressed beauties writhing on the screen was intense, but we had to keep our eyes on Mr. Thorne, while he got to eyeball the screen … some guys have all the luck!  That was my first experience of really being under the gun in the studio, and it was a real confidence builder when we nailed it on the third take … our version also appeared on the soundtrack album on Stateside Records, so it was a satisfactory day’s work that stood me in good stead later on when I was in the pressure cooker on a regular basis.

Excerpt from Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60s