Blabbern’Smoke first encountered Jack Law last year when he played a set at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe supporting John Hinshelwood. An imposing character and no spring chicken (and I’m sure he won’t mind us saying this, he called his band the Spring Chickens on the night) Law turned out to have a very interesting past as a musician prior to a successful career in public health issues. As one half of the duo Greenmantle (the other half being Billy Campbell, a veteran of Glasgow’s sixties beat scene) Law criss-crossed the country playing folk clubs and the like from 1970 until ’76 when the band eventually parted. Influenced by the likes of CSN&Y and very much a part of the scene that produced Stealers Wheel and Gallagher & Lyle they were on the bill at Glasgow’s infamous Green’s Playhouse, later The Apollo, for a benefit concert for the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, a gig that included Billy Connolly, Gallagher & Lyle, The JSD Band and Donovan. In fact there’s a handbill advertising the show on display at Glasgow’s Transport Museum.
Almost 40 years later Law and Campbell reconvened after a chance encounter and released an album, Two Hats, in 2011 which was well received and now they’ve come up with their second offering, Radio On. With producer George Burton collaborating musically Law and Campbell have taken the opportunity to record several of the songs they played endlessly on the road back in the seventies with Burton adding some studio sparkle and heft. The result is a full-blown band sound (with Dave Thomson on board) with horns and and some imaginative arrangements that, while harking back to the late sixties and early seventies, are impressive. The band describe the album as “a bow to the past, a wink to the present and a nod to the future.” The past is when the songs where written while the present is the current arrangements and performance. It wouldn’t come as a huge surprise to discover that Law, Campbell and Burton might have been viewing old episodes of Top of The Pops prior to the venture as the overall feel is akin to those “respectable” bands who occasionally scored a hit and appeared amidst Pan’s People and teenybopper idols. The aforementioned Stealers Wheel and Gallagher & Lyle are obviously touchstones but on the album there are echoes of The Pretty Things on You Don’t Read my Mind with its psychedelic middle eight while Sad Cafe come to mind on Moviemaker. The nascent country rock of the early seventies is revived on Masters Of Rhyme and the twang fuelled Red Rosé And Ruined. Both Campbell and Law sing well and this is most evident on Fine day For Dying which delves into the Scottish soul movement of the seventies which saw groups such as Cado Belle and The Average white Band transporting Philadelphia to the Highlands. One of the highlights here, Fine Day For Dying uses a horn section to great effect and grooves with a healthy slink.
As for the nod to the future, the title track is a new song, worked up in the studio while they recorded the rest of the album. It’s the punchiest effort here with a power pop thrust as they strap on jangly guitars and celebrate the joys of music with the freewheelin’ feel of driving a convertible down a rock’n’roll highway. For a couple of veterans reunited after so long a time the album is testament to their experience and road tested chops and while it might not set the heather on fire it’s sure to please their fans and with luck strike a chord with a some new ones.