Friday, 28 September 2012

Top 5 Guitar Amps

I should start by stating that my technical music knowledge is pretty poor. Despite my frequent attempts to learn guitar I've still not progressed beyond three chords strummed very slowly, and have so absolutely no idea about the relative merits of the amps below with regards to sonic quality.

This top five is based mainly on how they look and which bands use them rather than their contribution to the development of electrically amplified contemporary music. Where I have stated specific models this is almost entirely due to the name sounding cool, though in a few instances I did do a bit of research*. (* read Wikipedia)

1. Orange Thunderverb 200 - Hands down the prettiest amp in this list. The Orange Music Electronic Company was founded in 1968 (the same year I was born fact fans) though I only really noticed them on stage fairly recently (late 90s onwards maybe). The cacophanous Jim Jones Revue are one of many recent bands I've seen with Orange amps on stage. As good an endorsement as I can think off. The use of the colour orange is a fine piece of marketing and enables the use of a single Orange amp as a kind of feature wall equivalent in a bank off regular black/grey units.

2. Marshall JCM900 series - Surely there are none more metal than the classic Marshall amp. As an 80s metalhead this was defintely the king of the pile. No self-respecting rock band would want to be seen on stage without a massive wall of Marshalls behind them. The Grateful Dead were famous for playing in front of a vast wall of Marshall's and I once saw Status Quo attempt the same feat (though suspect very few of them were actually turned on).

3. Hughes & Kettner - A recent discovery, of which I know very little. Made in Germany since the mid-80s, I've not yet seen one live on stage. The selling point for me is that cool glass frontage at the top that allows you to see the valves.

4. Vox AC30 - There's something dusty and old school about Vox amps that befits a unit that rose to prominence thanks largely to the British Invasion of the early 60s. The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks & The Yardbirds were all Vox users. Modern Vox amps have retained that classic styling, but it's that original fawn coloured AC30 that wins out for me.

5. Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier - Pretty much included because I've always liked the name, it's another amp with Heavy Metal associations. Metallica have been using them since 1986 (the first tour I saw them live), Kurt Cobain used them during the "Nevermind" & "In Utero" tours and Pink Floyd Guitarist, Dave Gilmour, had a Mesa/Boogie head, which he used as a pre-amp for overdrives set up in a send/return chain to the pedal board*, during the wall tour. (*You'll be right if you're thinking that sounds unsually technical, I copied it from the incredibly detail Gilmour repository that is


Friday, 14 September 2012

Top 5 Disabled Musicians

The last few weeks have seen me pretty much glued to the telly as first the Olympics and then the Paralympics captivated most of the nation. The Paralympics in particular were, in my opinion, a far greater success than I could have imagined. I consider myself to be open minded and unencumbered by prejudice but having seen the Paralympics match the Olympics as a sporting event I think my attitudes to disabled people have been changed. I hope this have a long lasting affect on the nation as a whole, it really was an incredible summer.

Watching the Paralympic closing ceremony new Twitter friend UrsulaWJ posed the question "how come there aren't any disabled music megastars?". I came up with a few suggestions but not many from the last 20 years, and even fewer that might be considered megastars (perhaps Ray Charles & Stevie Wonder). A decent topic for a top five then ...

1. Ian Dury - Contracted polio at the age of seven but went on to become one of the great British lyricists. Released his first album as part of Kilburn & The High Roads in 1974, but went on to greater success in the late seventies with his debut solo LP "New Boots and Panties" and then alongside The Blockheads.

I remember being captivated by Ian's appearance on Top Of The Pops to play "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" in '78.

2. Ray Charles - Ray Charles never knew exactly why he went blind, but he remembered starting to lose his sight around 5, a few months after his younger brother had drowned. His mother sent him to a public school for the blind at 7 where he began to develop his musical talent.

His career spanned almost 60 years and reflected influences that included jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel and country but his greatest song (and possibly one of my all time favourites) is the epic, piano led shuffle of "What'd I Say".

3. Django Reinhardt - Reinhardt was 18 when he was injured in a fire that left his right leg paralysed and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs but Reinhardt refused surgery and was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane.

I honestly know nothing about great guitar playing, and even less about great Jazz guitar playing, but Reinhardt does have an amazing sound that seems all the more incredible when you realise his lack of fingers.

4. Vic Chesnutt - Left partially paralyzed by a car accident at 18, Vic Chestnutt was effectively quadriplegic from the neck down. Unable to walk he found that he was able to play simple chords on guitar. He released around 15 albums from his debut in 1990 but didn't really obtain widespread exposure until a 1996 record, in aid of musicians requiring health care, saw bands like REM, Garbage and Sparklehorse covering Vic's songs.

Sadly in December 2009, Chesnutt died from an overdose of muscle relaxants. In a interview on NPR radio in the US earlier that month he had discussed "Flirted with You All My Life", a song about suicide, and suggested it was a song about "breaking up with death" and that he was no longer in that frame of mind.

5. Rick Allen - When the Def Leppard drummer lost his left arm in a street-racing accident shortly after the release of their multi-million selling album "Pyromania" it seemed like he'd never be involved with music again. He worked with electronic drum manufacturer Simmons to create a new drum kit that enabled him to play parts with his feet and within two years of his accident was back playing live drums with Leppard at the 1986 "Monsters of Rock" festival.

The Leppard were from Sheffield but had a very American friendly sound that paid dividends for their global album sales. The first album they released after Rick's return sold twice as many as the previous one. I saw them live twice, both after the accident, and they were as good as any of the "hair metal" bands I was into at the time. Rick probably makes this top five less for the music he helped create and more for the inspiration he has provided in overcoming a seemingly insurmountable barrier to doing what he loved.


Friday, 7 September 2012

Guest Top 5 Death Discs by Tony The Gig Guy

I stumbled across Tony via the magic of Twitter. I can't remember now how, no-one else I know was following him so I think I was just randomly searching for something and noticed his twitter handle @TonyTheGigGuy. He had just written a post about seeing the Wurzles live and clearly shared my love of live music. Couldn't hurt then to ask if he fancied doing a top five. Not only did Tony oblige but he turned in a real corker. This is the sort of top five I'd love to be able to write. If you enjoy the top five you should definitely check out his blog at, he's just written a cracking post about growing up in London in th 70s and Public Image Limited.

Death Discs were huge in the early 60s. Aimed squarely at teenage girls, they generally dealt with the same theme. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl is horrid to boy. Boy takes stupid risk, usually based in car or on motorcycle. Boy dies in girl's arms. The finest example of this type of death disc leads the way in the countdown below, but there were plenty of variations on the theme later in pop music history.

5. “Leader Of the Pack” – The Shangri-Las
The most famous death disc of them all. From the spoken “Is she really going out with him?” over the mournful piano to the yearning outro “... now he’s gone” this tale of a lost love is pop perfection. Girls, motorcycles, death – it has the lot.

4. “Stan” – Eminem
Passing over the unfortunate consequences this record had in propelling the anodyne Dido (the ‘l’ is silent) into superstardom, just cast your mind back to when you first heard this record. It was widely anticipated as “that Eminem’s new single”, we were all used to the jokey brattish delivery and cusswords. So this slow, emotional tale of a super-fan who took it too far – told, in a genius twist, from the obsessee’s POV – absolutely stunned everybody. I may not remember where I was when I heard John Lennon was shot, but I do remember where I was when I heard “Stan” for the first time *.

3. "Emma" – Hot Chocolate
They’re mostly known for the classic party anthem “You Sexy Thing” which does SO contain contain the line “I believe in knockers”, and I’ll punch the man who says otherwise. But in the early days, Hot Chocolate specialised in sleazy, funky, psychedelic pop songs about Serious Stuff like race relations (“Brother Louie”) and .. well, teenage suicide (“Emma”). If you don’t at least fill up at the suicide note line “Darling I love you – but I just can’t go on living on broken dreams no more” then sir, or madam, you have no soul. None.

2. “Mary C Brown And The Hollywood Sign” – Dory Previn
Dory Previn died earlier this year. She was a constant presence in the back of my head since I discovered her records in West Norwood record library. This song is quintessential Previn – a jaunty little West Coast sounding tune with a sad, disturbing story with a horribly black comical punchline (“the second or third letter ‘O’ “, indeed!).

1. “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” by Keith West
An insane piece of bubblegum from 1967 with its insanely jolly chorus which distracts your attention from the fact that its actually about a food delivery man who dies of a heart attack through overwork. Probably a fable for our times or something.

* I was driving along a road in Surrey. It isn’t interesting, but it IS true.