Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Dawn of Fruupp


To celebrate the release of Maid in Ireland, a new Fruupp compilation released on 24.07.20 by those good people at Esoteric Records, I include below a piece I did on the origins of Fruupp as part of the sleeve notes for the new CD. This is the first Fruupp complication to feature the remastered versions of the songs which were undertaken for the 2010 re-releases of the original four albums. The Dawn of Fruupp is included here by kind permission of Esoteric Records.

I met Vince McCusker in September 1964 when I moved from the Intermediate School in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, fifty yards back towards the town centre, to the Technical College. Vince was from the neighbouring village of Maghera and he played guitar. At that point I was into Ray Charles, Hank William, Otis Redding, Beatles, Kinks, Them and Dylan. Vince was more of a Rolling Stones fan and into RnB. I imagine through our shared interest of both music and the beautiful girls of the Tech College we became mates and good friends. 

For the annual college Christmas concert, in 1965, we formed a wee group called Goggles Anonymous – we all wore glasses and Hedgehoppers Anonymous were enjoying the first and only flush of UK chart success at that time. I still can’t remember exactly my (non-performing) involvement in the group bar the fact that I owned a copy of the Beach Boys Sloop John B, the song Goggles Anonymous performed at the concert. Anyway, on the appointed night, I do remember a lot of screaming from the audience. Either the audience were screaming as they had seen people do on TV to the Beatles, or, they were screaming in horror at the harmonies. I’m prepared to give GA the benefit of the doubt on that one. 

Christmas over, Vince and three of his mates from Maghera and one of their mates from The Rainey School, formed a group called the Blues by Five. There were five of them and they played their version of the Blues.

Things were so simple in those days.

The Blues by Five’s material was based on the Them Again album, Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, Ray Charles and songs from a compilation called, Ireland’s Greatest Sounds. I went to hear the group. They were excellent musicians, had a great sound, and they had Paddy Shaw, one of the best singers I’ve ever witnessed live. The remaining Northern Irish singers in my Top 4 would have been: Paul DiVito (The Interns) Billy Brown (The Freshmen) and Van Morrison (Them).

The Blues by Five rehearsed a lot but didn’t play many gigs. Luckily enough a fine gentleman by the name Dixie Kerr lived two doors down from me. Dixie played saxophone in The Breakaways showband. So, I knocked on his door and asked if he could give the Blues by Five the relief spot at some of the dances The Breakaways were playing. Dixie being Dixie said, “Why of course.” 

The Blues by Five were delighted at the several bookings I’d secured for them and immediately appointed me as their manager. I was 15 years old at the time. The Blues by Five were to be Vince and my first steps in the music business. 

I left Magherafelt in Sept 1967 (quite literally) to head to London so that I’d be able to see the Beatles live on a weekly basis.

Or so I thought.

In those days it took a long while for the buzz on the biz to reach Ulster. I arrived at Euston Station only to discover the Beatles had stopped touring a few months previously. 

Not to worry, sure weren’t there lots of other groups to see and hear. Pretty soon I was a regular at the Marquee Club and writing a weekly music column for Belfast’s City Week which eventually became Thursday Magazine. 

Vince started to visit London and would always crash at my flat in Wimbledon. He’d work late into the night on a bunch of songs he was writing for a group he was thinking of forming back in Belfast.  

I thought these songs, Decision, Garden Lady, and Olde Tyme Future, were brilliant. Vince’s main concern was he felt that they might be a wee bit too progressive for the Irish Market.  

So, we hatched our plan. Vince would return to Belfast and form his new group. I would set up a few gigs for them in London and I would bring some managers and record companies down to see them. They, Fruupp, would get signed up, go on to fame and fortune and I’d happily continue with my writing. Sadly, it didn’t really happen that way and so, by default, I became the manager, the agent, the roadie, the sound engineer, the lyricist, the writer of the stories that linked the songs on stage, and… the last one to be paid.  

Fifty years later they’re selling more CDs than they ever did back in the day! (a clue to this phenomenon might just be that CDs didn’t come along until the mid-1980s!) 

Which all brings us nicely to our latest collection, Maid In Ireland. Maid in Ireland was a title we had picked and reserved for a live album, should we ever do one. And we did.  Well at least we recorded one. We recorded the band at the legendary Friars Aylesbury, on Sat 6th December 1975. Sadly, the tapes, along with all my worldly possessions, were destroyed by a fire in my flat in Peckham the follow year.

I believe the title also covers this selection perfectly. Peter Farrelly’s wonderful Fruupp’s Face on the cover was ever present in everything we did. As it was when I was listening to the songs for this collection. 

Prince of Heaven is unique for two reasons in that this song, a synopsis if you will, of the story I wrote to be the basis for our third album, The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes, didn’t appear on the actual album. It is also the only Fruupp song written and composed by the four original members of the group. 

The idea for Sheba’s Song came from a news story I read in The Daily Mirror about a wild cat’s escape from a zoo. I just love what the band did with the chase and capture sections of the song. Musically it’s always been so visual to me. I’ve often wondered what rap artist Talib Kweli heard when he first came upon the track and decided to sample it for Soon the New Day, a line (taken from the original lyric) he used for his title. I found it very refreshing that Talib and his people were very generous to us with credits and publishing.    

“Another day begins the same 

The things you do you’ll do again.”  

Two lines from Ivan “Touche” Valley’s beautiful poem, which was the inspiration behind Vince’s song, Decision. I always found Vince’s music to be passionately visual and that he should have been writing music for films. Decision has to be included in any Fruupp collection as it really is the best of Fruupp 

Until the next time, 

stay safe. 



Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Glastonbury Acoustic Stage Playlist (1993 - 2019)


So, this is the day we would usually be heading down to Glastonbury to get set up at the Acoustic Stage for the weekend.

Sadly, this weekend, like everything else in the live music world, has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus 19.

The plan is to repeat the 2020 bill as fully as possible in 2021. We’d a brilliant bill lined up so that’s something to look forward to.

So, in the meantime, and in an attempt to fit in with the current celebrations, please see below a playlist picked from some of the top performances we’ve enjoyed over the years up at the Acoustic Stage

Based on memories of special performances. Sequenced from an airplay, and not a priority, perspective. (Honestly!)

1.   The Moody Blues (featuring Michael Eavis) - Questions

2.   The Waterboys – The Whole of The Moon

3.   Art Garfunkel (featuring the entire packed Acoustic Tent audience covering Paul Simon parts) - The Sounds of Silence

4.   The Bootleg Beatles – Something

5.   Keane – Somewhere Only We Go.

6.   Christy Moore – Beeswing

7.   Nick Lowe – Indian Queens

8.   Paul Carrack – Satisfy My Soul

9.   Proclaimers – Letter From America

10.                Suzanne Vega – Marlene On The Wall

11.                Sharon Shannon - Music on a Found Harmonium

12.                Joan Baez – Day After Tomorrow

13.                Ray Davies – Waterloo Sunset

14.                Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Rotterdam

15.                Lonnie Donegan – Rock Island Line

16.                Hothouse Flowers – Don’t Go

17.                Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames – Yeh Yeh

18.                Alan Price Set - Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear

19.                Tommy Stewart - Let You Go (best Demo of 2019)

20.                Lucy Rose - Shiver

21.                Portishead – Sour Times

22.                Penguin CafĂ© Orchestra – Music on a Found Harmonium


Please note this is a slightly different version than the list on the Glastonbury Website, which had to concentrate on Spotify versions of the songs.  I know, I know, and I agree with you that it’s a shame they don’t (yet) have the Moody Blues featuring Michael Eavis’s version of Questions on Spotify. Nor do they have The Acoustic Stage Audience filling in for the absent Paul Simon on Art Garfunkel’s version of The Sounds of Silence. A historic performance from Art and his special 6000-member choir on a historic night. Both of these one-night-only-performances can be viewed on YouTube, as can Tommy Stewart (2019’s best demo). Tommy is well worth checking out.

Big big thanks to Michael, Emily, Nick and the entire Glastonbury team for producing all the virtual activity to comfort us all over this weekend. We needed it.

Roll on June 2021.

Stay Safe



Thursday, June 11, 2020

What's Happened to The Checkers

Here’s One I Prepared Earlier.



So, I have to apologise, for my lack of blogs in this space for a while now. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the lockdown. It has more to do with the last few pieces I have written for this space have ended up elsewhere. Mark Twain with a Martin G28 and I Can’t Dance both went to Hot Press Magazine. Writing a Crime Novel is Like Jumping off a Diving Board appeared on the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine website and, The Genesis of the Abbey Road Graffiti appeared on the Irish Times website.

I promised myself that the next one would be for my own website. But then I discovered this piece I wrote in November 1997 BB. (BB as in Before Blogs.)

It concerns a visit I made, while I was clearly under the weather, to NYC. I’d been mugged in NYC (which I wrote about in Mugged in Manhattan Blues - a 2015 blog) but I was clearly also distracted on this visit.

Until the next one - which will be appearing very shortly, I promise, to celebrate the release of a new FRUUPP compilation CD by those very nice people at Esoteric Records - please stay safe. Anyway, here it is, exactly as it was written in November 1997.





What's happened to the Checkers?




I've been wandering around the streets of New York City this time, trying to figure out what's wrong. Yes, I am feeling a bit ill and, agreed, I'm missing a new love, back in London.  But I don't mean wrong in that way. I mean, what's wrong with New York City?  The smell is different. The street scents no longer gouging recklessly at the insides of your nostrils, while making your heart beat faster as you search in vain for that rare fresh air.  NYC now smells like a European city; no good, or bad, thing I think.


The street attitude is definitely still there, but no longer as threatening.  I was mugged in Times Square a few years ago on what was 'til then, one of my frequent visits to the city and, to be honest, I'd never felt ill at ease until that time.  Maybe it was because the musicians I was hanging out with were nice people and this was their city and they went out of their way to make me feel welcome.


Broadway's many cinemas seem to have been razed to the ground to make space for the likes of the Virgin Megastore and the Waldorf Hotel.  On the other end of the scale and the opposite side of Times Square, I see that Paul Simon, a very fine songwriter of the parish, has a musical, 'Capeman', opening very soon and I find myself making a mental note to try and blag a pre-release cassette of the music from a friend at the once elegant Warner Bros. This will have to wait a few days, until I visit the other side of this ginormous (an Ulster word combining the largeness of gigantic and the power of enormous) country in the City of Angels, a location now more favoured in my itinerary.


But back to New York City and what's wrong with it.  Even my trips to Coliseum Books and Colony Records were a let-down this time. At this point I should admit to you, normally, on reaching my hotel in Manhattan one can hear two thuds. One; my case hitting the floor and two; the door closing after me as I rush out of the hotel, high on adrenalin, to visit the aforementioned shops of words and music. And again, usually having a mental fight as to which one I'm going to visit first. This time it took me nearly forty-eight hours before heading in their direction, and in the end, although with good intentions, I didn't even manage to make one of them at all.


True, Coliseum Books had several titles I wanted to purchase but I decide my trip will be easier, luggage-wise, if I don't flex the plastic until I reach Hollywood, the movie capital of the world. My eye was caught by a few titles including another tasteless JFK expose, a true-crime book called Big Trouble - a Very big book at that, with 875 pages, and, the new Michael Connelly, Trunk Music, which I’m really looking forward to. In fact, my solitary purchase in Coliseum Books was an audio version of 'Wobegon Boy'. Audio Books in reality are not great for in-flight distraction, although I mostly purchase them thinking they are going to be exactly that and end up listening to them while walking about Regent's Park and Primrose Hill.


What else was there? You know, I can't recall now, but I do remember that there were at least half a dozen I resolved to purchase in Book Soup on Sunset Blvd and have my friend ship them back to me in London. I did, however, notice a couple of 'Conversations with God' (Vols 1 &  2). The author, and father of nine children (you'd think he would have at least created his very own set of apostles by going for the full dozen) Neale Donald Walsh does look like a chap who would have a conversation (several in fact) with God - good luck to him, is all I'd like to say. I searched for a new Robert James Waller (sadly there was no new volumes to be found) I do like his conversational style of writing.  I searched for 'I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass' and didn't find a copy, so I comforted myself with two thoughts. One, they were probably sold out and two, I now didn't have to embarrass myself in public by moving it to the front of the shelf!


Apart from that, the staff didn't seem as friendly as they appeared twenty years ago, but then the world is not as friendly a place as it was twenty years ago, so what are you going to do about it? Mope? In which case, I really do need to get out of the house a bit more. But you know, really, I think bookstores are places like doctors' surgeries; lawyers' offices; accountants' paying desks; dentists' waiting rooms; restaurants; hotels and undertakers' parlours where you need to be able to talk to the staff. Not the owners, just the staff.  The owners treat you like you're part of the whole wide world and not actually an individual.  No, you need to be able to be involved in more of an interface than the one which came over the Public Address system when I was in the shop.


'Would Mr. Johansson ... who is from Sweden,' then a pause for you to fill in your own snigger. 'Please come to the cash desk, where his wife,' another well placed pause for some more sniggering, 'is waiting for him! Thankyou!'


Was his wife Swedish? Had she forgotten what her husband looked like? Couldn't she go looking for him? Was she afraid she might find him in the dirty books section? Or worse still in the Jeffrey Archer section?


The final words I heard on placing my prized audio, 'Wobegon Boy' on the sales counter was, '29.95 plus tax.' Then, with the aid of a calculator, 'That will be thirty two dollars and forty two cents.' And that was it, well unless you count the additional words on the receipt as communication.


'Absolutely No Cash Refunds!!!!' (their exclamation marks not mine) 'Store credit with Sales receipt within one (1) month of purchase.'  And, 'I agree to pay the above total amount according to the card issuer agreement.' Yeah, and if I don't they'll give me back my money, but they can't can they? 'Absolutely No Cash Refunds!!!!' That was it, apart from, just in case you're interested, the fact that my sales assistant was in fact Clerk No. 1 and finally (I promise) 'Pub Overstock (Yellow Label) 10% Off. Thankyou!!!' (I think they were also probably suffering from a computer overstock of exclamation marks!)  'Please come again.'


Well after doing exactly that for just over half a lifetime, I'm hardly going to stop, am I? Assuming, that is of course, I come back to NYC at all.  Such thoughts of non-return fill my head as I take off in the general direction of Colony Records. Colony records is the very shop where I collected my original US Beatle vinyl, (very different from the UK releases) some of my Dylan non-catalogue releases and my mint Gilbert O'Sullivan 'Himself'', a genuine classic and the very heavy vinyl made me feel that the extortionate price I paid may have been justified after all. This list would, and surely does, run.  But it won't be added to on this trip. I'm not in the mood. I give it (the shop) a wide berth and I continue to wander around, filling up the time until my next meeting.


I decide to make my way up to Fifty-Eight Street and Avenue of the Americas. What a grand name for a street... Avenue of the Americas. Why couldn't O'Connell Street in Dublin be called, 'Eire Avenue'?' or Oxford Street in London be called 'The Street of England'. Mind you, there is a quaint street which borders Primrose Hill with Belsize Park Avenue called, 'England's Lane'. Lovely. Anyway, back to New York City, as I was saying I made my way up to 58th Street in search to a chemist.


I was not looking forward to my flight over America, a cold-cum-flu bug I'd had before leaving London had left me pretty blocked up. Landing at JFK had been anything but pleasant. So unpleasant I would have swapped five visits to the dentists to avoid it... let me tell you about dentists some time, soon, perhaps. I don't feel we know each other well enough yet) I literally thought my head was going to blow open. I sucked a sweet. When that didn't work, I sucked my thumb. When that didn't work, I yawned. When that didn't work I sucked another sweet.  On and on it went for an excruciating twenty seven and one half minutes; I think I counted every second of it. So to say I was not looking forward to my flight to Los Angeles is in fact something of an understatement.


I rang my friend in Los Angeles. He’s a very excellent manager of one of my clients to boot. I told him my problem. He thought about it and then recommended this herbal (plus) tea called something like 'Clear Head'.


'The only problem with it,' he explained via our inter-continental call, 'is it will make you a bit argy, a bit hyper, but it will definitely clear your head.'


I had a problem with that. Basically, I don't like taking medication of any kind because I don't trust what the meds are doing to the rest of your system to make one part of it feel better.  I know it doesn't make a lot of logical sense, but there you have it. I've been like that all my life and I'm less inclined, if anything, to change now.


'Okay, I hear you. There's this other thing I've just tried,' he continued. You see, there, in that one sentence you have the reason why I like the man so much. He is always the first person on the block to know about new things.  He turned me on to the Walkman, to Gameboy, to Rumpole and to fruit crate labels. I mean, the list really does go on and on but anyone of the above would have been more than enough for me.


'Yeah, there's this new thing they developed for astronauts that's just come on the market and they're called "Ear Planes".'


One thing you learn to do when you are desperate is not to laugh at your friends, besides in the fifteen years or so I'd known him he'd never let me down.


'Aha.' I tried to sound enthusiastic but it's hard you know, I mean "Ear Planes". Please? Come on.


'Yeah, they're like plastic things your put in your ears, just before taking off and they protect you from the change in pressure. Not all chemists have them.'


Now there's a surprise. This thought I kept to myself though as we discussed where I could get them. Basically with the help of the hotel concierge, one hour later, I enter Windsor Chemists and was heartened to find they have friendly, helpful staff. The assistant advises me that they do have "Ear Planes" and they do work. He'd used them three times (successfully) himself.  As I wait for him to fetch me three packets (hey, if they work that well they'll make great Christmas presents). A French man came up to address the other assistant who was equally friendly.


The French man explained he had a bad cold and with the sound of his voice and all his coughing and spluttering, I'm inclined to take his word for it and divert my gaze in the opposite direction.  That's a funny thing you know, well it's not funny really, more like strange, you know, how come people who work in chemists don't get every disease under the sun? They have to stand close to all these bug-infected people to discover the ailment and then, hopefully, find and sell them a cure. I wonder what sick leave is like for employees of chemists. So, the second assistant goes into this pitch on Mycinetes (sugar free lozenges). I mean I was prepared to believe they could do everything short of curing cancer. Hey, you know that's probably how chemists’ assistants stay healthy: they all take Mycinetes.  Good enough for chemist assistants, good enough for me! So, when my chap returns, I order a pack and a tube of Nivea Cream.


I didn't need Nivea Cream you have to understand but I happen to believe it is the wonder drug of our times.  I'm convinced if I could find a way of applying it to the inside of my (very sore) throat it would heal my ailment over-night, if not sooner.  So, a happier man, a much happier man, I depart the Chemist and continue my search to find out what's happened to New York City.


On the corner of the next block, I discover exactly what it is. In fact, I am very nearly run over by what it is not. I'd better explain, hadn't I? I was very nearly run over by a taxi, a New York taxi, but not the New York Taxi.  No, since my last visit, the famous Checker has been replaced by new Fords, Ford Crown Victorias to be exact. Still yellow, like the Checkers, and even though not one of them is yet a year old, they all have several dents about their frontage.


You can imagine the drivers in the car showrooms buying their new cabs, can't you? You can further imagine the John Cleese's Fawlty Towers' salesman wringing his hand in glee as he offers, "Wonderful vehicle, complete with the signature egg crate grill, powerful and efficient Continental Engine and don't forget the vital double rear, fold-down, jump seats. I can guarantee multiple bangs for your bucks with this particular model, Sir." "Yes, they're all lovely, but do you have one with a dent?" the buyer would ask. To which Basil Fawlty would manically reply, "No Sir, but just give me a minute while a fetch a hammer and I can add two dents for the price of one for you. Yes, here we go. And where exactly would you like the dents? How about here, Sir?" Smash, wallop. "Yes, that's it, that'll do great. I'll take that one please." the happy cabbie would grunt as he signed on the dotted line.

The Checker Marathon, to give it its full title, was manufactured from 1960 through to 1982. It was truly a head turning motor vehicle, but not head-turning in an Exorcist kind of way. No, not at all, but, alas, it will turn heads no more.  


The Checkers are all gone! 

Apparently, a few do remain venturing out only at night, but New York's second (to the Empire State Building) tourist attraction is gone and I'm absolutely gutted.  New York without the Checkers is like London without the black cabs; Dublin without a friendly greeting; Liverpool without the Beatles; Edinburgh without the castle; or, Morse without the Jaguar. A client and friend of mine, Loudon Wainwright III owned one, a Checker that is, and I suppose I'd become quite attached to the iconic vehicle. 


I also remember this one great Thanksgiving where The Roches borrowed Loudon's Checker to drive a bunch of us up to their parent’s house in Rochester for dinner. Everyone in the Checker, with the obvious exception of myself, was female and it was the first time I had experienced girls enjoying just a great, old, day out.  I couldn't work out if it was a sign of the times or merely the influence of the good old Checker. But now the Checker, Loudon's and New York's, were gone and it just wasn't, nor would ever would be the same.


I left New York City the following evening, happy and sad.  Happy because the "Ear Planes" worked perfectly and I could now tick a few friends off my Christmas present list. Sad because the yellow wonders were all gone. I wondered if they were gone for good, (that's a hell of a lot of cars to get rid of) or would public opinion force them back on to the street. The Louise Woodward case showed us just how powerful people-power has become. Will Checkers make a comeback in a few years’ time, appearing on the Letterman Show or on a U2 stage set? I don't know.  But I do know that their disappearance is one in a growing number of reasons why not to hurry back to New York City, Ear Planes or no Ear Planes.