DON’T SAY WHAT IT IS - Gentleman Callers (Wee Rock Records)
I have this idea for a television show.  It's based around the 1970s American show "Fantasy Island", in which contestants would arrive at an island (governed nominally by a graceful Ricardo Montalban wearing a swish white suit with assistance from the amusing four-foot high "Tattoo" - with his classic catchcry "Ze plane, ze plane") and nominate the fantasy scenario in which the contestant would like to feature.  Inevitably some life lesson would learned, things would come out for the best and Ricardo would make some pithy comment as the contestant flew back into reality.

In my version contestants could nominate great music moments they would like to have been part of - preferably concert moments.  I've pondered the great rock, garage and related moments I'd like to have witnessed first hand.  There are the obvious ones - Grande Ballroom c1967, Oxford Funhouse c1976, Seaview Ballroom c1979, CBGBs c1975 etc etc.  I'm not quite sure what the attraction of the show would be to a TV executive, beyond the chance to have a TV show each week with a wicked soundtrack (which, if I understand the demographic that dominates TV executives, would be completely and utterly lost on said executives) but it'd have to be better than most of the shite that clogs up the broadcasting spectrum these days.

Another 'classic' moment would be London - or maybe England more generally - in the mid 1960s.  Sharp suits - not exactly mod, but on the periphery of that style - pork pie hats, wrap around sunglasses and 3 minute r'n'b influenced primitive rock songs, played live in some dingy, smoke filled club to a bunch of enthused punters.  Maybe you'd spot a slim Van Morrison loitering around the bar, or even Chas Chandler waiting to exit the dysfunctional Animals and find himself an undiscovered guitar legend to manage.   Yes, it's a cliched scene - and one that may not have ever existed except in the boring-old-fart memoirs of some alcohol damaged 1960s wannabe impressario - but it's got a certain aesthetic appeal.

Despite hailing from St Louis, the Gentleman Callers play a brand of 60s r'n'b influenced garage that establishes that 1960s English r’n’b club vision in my mind, tinged with a bit of psychedelic garage before that particularly vision became tainted with hippies, flowers and vacuous statements about bring the world together through peace, love and copious amounts of illicit substances.  The sonic ingredients essential to good r’n’b garage are all here –simple guitar licks stripped to the bare bones of melodic existence, vocals that meander between snarling and guttural, organ augmentation to clear the dark skies with a bit of aural sunlight and a rhythm section that does no more than it needs and everything it needs to with perfect precision.

“I Was Blind” had me interested upon the first hearing of the memorable guitar hook that underpins the song; Kevin Schneidner’s vocals sound like Van Morrison- or is it Eric Burdon before he lost control of his hairstyle to the forces of evil and darkness - before the booze cut through too much and the mid-song guitar solo arrested my attention like a funny pill dropped into a glass of lemon cordial.  The sub-two minute“Hurt On Me” brought to mind images of the Rolling Stones; here the guitar solo could easily be accompanied by a young and unknighted Mick Jagger sliding effortlessly across the stage without lifting a heel.  “Grass is Greener” slides back to a slower pace, more Chicago blues Summer of Love or Swinging London, “I’ve Got Mine” has more than a skerrick of Animals-pissed-off-this-part-of-the-world about it (mixed with a bit of The Hollies) while “You Oughta Know By Now” is yet another (great) song that should be immediately associated with beehive wearing go-go dancers cajoling the audience into getting right on down.

“It’s All in the Mind” finds Schneider at his most passionate and emotionally drained, delivering an exasperated epistle in the midst of relationship turmoil while in the background the guitar interplay creates memories of a time when things were rosy.  And after that moment of introspection “Hey Little Girl” is a bouncing tune – maybe a hedonistic antidote to the morose relationship observations of the previous tune (and, surprise, surprise, another killer lick); “Everything’s A Hassle” is arguably the most accurate, and pithy statement made in recent times about the world and its daily dramas; the fury of the drumming and spiralling guitar solo that appears mid-song suggests that narrator is on the verge of going postal at the pressures of the world until the laconic guitar hook returns things to a level of resignation and normality.

“If You Want Me to Love You Again” – recorded live on a St Louis radio program – is simply a song to dance madly to – again, again and again while the opening guitar in “Treat Me Bad” is so sharp it spears through your mind without barely leaving a trace of entry or exit.  By this stage I didn’t anything else to convince me of the merits of this album – but just in case I did there’s a couple more invigoriating garage pop tunes in “She Blew My Mind” and “Square Peg” are there just to reassure the listener.

There are times when you need to chuck something on the stereo that’s going to find that happy balance between mid-'60s hedonism, superficial emotional introspection and matter-of-fact-but-couldn’t-a-fuck analysis – with a soundtrack to die for.  The Gentleman Callers have got all that, and more.  There’s a lot going for this CD, and I don’t reckon I’ve even scratched the surface. - Patrick Emery


3/4




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