Tom Rafferty talks about his solo album and his guitar heroes. “Hit that long lunar note…and let it float.”

P1040776 copyWe’re sure that the name, Tom Rafferty, will be familiar to many readers of Blabber’n’Smoke, especially those who appreciate the rockier elements of Americana as opposed to the country element. Since the early 1980’s Rafferty has championed guitar based music on the local scene gaining an international profile via his work with seminal Glasgow garage rockers, The Primevals. Contemporaries of The Cramps and The Gun Club, The Primevals shared influences and stages with both of these bands and continue to perform and record with a ferocity which matches their more youthful efforts. Rafferty was also a founding member of Glasgow’s only “instrumental sixties surf-beat combo,The Beat Poets, who were infamous for a while for appearing in tartan jackets and bow ties as they plied their Dick Dale influenced  raunch. Legend has it that when Link Wray was presented with a copy of their single, Rebel Surf, which featured their natty dress sense on the cover, he was baffled, asking, “These guys are, like, right now?”

The Beat Poets and The Primevals both continue to tread the boards even sharing a bill at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival a while back, a busy weekend indeed for Rafferty. Now, he has announced the release of his first solo album, More Guitars, a selection of guitar instrumentals that was unleashed digitally a few weeks back and is now available on CD. It’s a cracking collection of tunes which obviously showcase his guitar playing skills but it’s not what one might have expected, that is, an album packed with either twangy surf beats or grungy garage rock. There are aspects of both in the mix but overall it’s a much more mixed bag taking in atmospheric mood music and aspects of Mondo Hollywood psychedelia. Intrigued, Blabber’n’Smoke reached out to ask Tom some questions about the album and to ask about some his favourite guitar instrumentals.


First off, you’ve been recording for around 40 years with your bands so why record an album of guitar instrumentals now? Have you been planning this for a while or did you just take a notion?

I’ve been playing and recording instrumentals for many years, so this was initially a way to collect my favourite home recordings of the last couple of years. Once I started that process, listening back and tidying up mixes, I wrote some more tunes and then thought it would be fun to do this as an album. Finally, another set of tunes flowed from that – Ward 9 and High Roller were both written after the first sequence I put together for this album.

I think a lot of folk would expect the album to be all turbo charged high-energy rumbles, sounding like Link Wray meets Dick Dale but that’s not the case. You do open with some weird “slide guitar from Mars” sounds on Glendale while Lumio has some fine twangy guitar and there’s a Stones’ like touch to Crystals, but thereafter it’s a much nuanced affair. What would you say influenced your writing on the tunes here?

That’s a reasonable expectation, for sure! It’s a long story. I’ve been listening to instrumental rock and roll for a long time and playing it in the Beat Poets since ’86. When the Beat Poets started, I was listening almost entirely to instrumental music, finding lost paths of rock and roll history. Dick Dale and Link Wray, of course, but also the Raybeats, Booker T & The MGs, Davie Allan and the Arrows, Jon & The Nightriders, the Strumming Mental series of compilations. That shaped my writing for many years, exploring surf music especially. It’s not easy for me to think of specific influences on this set of tunes- it’s mostly been following the sounds to see where they want to go, then adding some other instruments on top – some Hammond organ, some other guitars.

The writing process is pretty simple – I think of it as taking a guitar sound for a walk. I’ll play for a while, tweaking the vibrato or selecting different pickups, adjusting the drive and then settling on a sound that seems interesting. Then I’ll play guitar with that, looking for some changes that suit the sound. Sometimes a new tune falls off the end of that. Other times, I just make a din for a while. Then, with whatever comes out of that process, some are naturals for The Beat Poets, others are naturals for The Primevals. However, that left me with a bunch of tunes that didn’t have a destination, although when I started collecting them together there was some kind of common thread. It made sense to gather the pick of the bunch


Mata Hari is a great number, really evocative and reminiscent of some great TV theme songs. Do you give much store to non rock’n’roll writers such as Henry Mancini and Ron Grainger who wrote some great ones and do you have a favourite. I’m very partial to John Barry’s The Human Jungle.

Thanks! I love a twangy tune – Joe 90 and all those great TV themes. It’s a great attribute of many TV themes that they are packed with hooks – whether it is a regular piece of melody, a guitar shimmer, or a triangle figure, or a peculiar drum sound. The Beat Poets still play Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) in our live set. I’d probably pick The Munsters as a favourite (and tomorrow it could be Captain Scarlet)

Staying with music to accompany visuals there are some psychedelic flourishes on Easterly while Ward 9 is pretty trippy, sounding like a song from a 60’s Roger Corman soundtrack. What would be your favourite mondo like soundtrack?

Good question! I’d pick Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – partly because I listened to it again after The Wards did a great version of Find It on their new EP. Get Carter is a great soundtrack too – not mondo, but full of singular sounds and great moods.


I presume you played all the guitars, who else can we hear? There’s bass, drums and, I think, keyboards on one number. And how many guitars were deployed in the process?

I played everything – not because I’m a megalomaniac, it was just easier to do it that way.  In most cases I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the tunes until I had done it. So I laid down all the guitars, the bass, sequenced the drums, picked some loops. I am a fairly limited keyboard player, but home recording allows me plenty of time to get a take. There’s a bit of Fender Rhodes on Jazzbo and on Easterly, and some Hammond on Blessings and In The Shadows. As for guitars, it was mainly the two pictured on the back sleeve. My 1986 Moon Guitars Strat, “Big Black”, which is a great workhorse, and a DeArmond Starfire (a reissue, not an original 60s model). And, since you asked, I counted it up – I used another nine guitars through the recording process (three of them have since moved on to other homes, you can’t keep them all!)

On One Flew South you manage to get your guitar to sound like a Theremin with a bad cold, how did you manage that?

That particular one was a combination of slow vibrato, delay, fuzz, and adjusting how hard I played until the weird noise coming out of the speakers was the noise I was after. The process overall involved a lot of trial and error, and some lucky mistakes, I remember thinking, “That’s not what I’m looking for now, but I’ll have to take a photo of the pedals and the settings so I can come back to it”

A couple of the numbers, High Roller and Gone Tomorrow in particular, remind me of a band called A Small Good Thing of whom I know very little apart from a tune they had on a compilation album called Guitars On Mars. They kind of summoned up a parched desert feeling so what kinds of mood (if any) were you going for here?

There’s a couple of moods I was aiming for with some of the tunes written as post-sundown surf music, music for chilling out in a beach hut. But Ward 9 and High Roller were both put together with desert thoughts so I’ll have to check out that band A Small Good Thing, thanks for the tip.

The album’s a download at present but I believe you are going to have some hard copies available soon.

Yes, physical copies are now in two of my favourite Glasgow record shops – Monorail and Love Music. Which is sweet, because Sandy who runs Love Music and Stephen who runs Monorail were the guys who ran 53rd & 3rd, the label which put out the first records by The Beat Poets all those years ago. The CD is also available by email direct from me –, £6 plus postage.

Finally, aside from anyone we’ve mentioned above who are your favourite guitarists and, if it’s possible, what would be your favourite guitar instrumental album?

Here’s 10 guitarists who I have lifted me up –

Marc Ribot is always surprising, always a left turn, a singular hand.

James Williamson – slamming raw power.

Tom Verlaine – liquidity

Ry Cooder – floating, yet gritty.

Sonny Sharrock (especially Ask The Angels) – rage.

Jimmy Reed – swinging sincerity, great heart.

Hubert Sumlin – righteous blues.

Pops Staples – The Shimmering King, with the deftest touch.

Robert Quine – skronk and fury.

Earl Hooker – astonishing twang and slide.

As for a favourite guitar instrumental album it’s almost impossible – not least because some of my favourite Link Wray and Earl Hooker albums have some tracks with vocals! But here’s a few:

Raybeats – It’s Only A Movie

Link Wray & The Wraymen – Rock’n Roll Rumble (the one with the blue cover, on Charly)

David Torn – What Means Solid, Traveller?

Jon & the Nightriders – Live At The Whisky A Go Go

Earl Hooker – The Genius of Earl Hooker

More Guitars is available on CD from Love Music and Monorail or directly from Tom Rafferty ( It’s also available as a digital download here.

Hannah Aldridge. Live In Black And White

hannahaldridgeAs she embarks on another tour of the UK and Ireland,  it’s time to get acquainted with Hannah Aldridge’s latest album, released at the tail end of April when she was last on these shores. Aldridge, who grew up in Muscle Shoals, has certainly been a hit with UK audiences over the past few years, her live shows given rave reviews, so it’s nice to have a live album to ponder on. However, Live In Black And White is not a straightforward run through of a live show, rather, it captures selections from her two albums, Razor Wire and Goldrush, recorded at two locations – Tangled String in Huntsville Alabama and The Lexington in London. The Lexington show was particularly memorable as Aldridge offered the punters that night a variety show peopled with several acts, all of them performing at least one song with her and several of these feature here.

The first thing to say is that this stripped down acoustic version of Aldridge really allows both her songs and herself to shine. Both Razorwire and Goldrush suffered somewhat from overly energetic rock arrangements but listening to the perfect renditions here of Lie Like You Love Me (featuring Walt Aldridge, her dad and a well known songwriter in his own right) and Goldrush, which has Robbie Cavanagh singing with her, and you will realise that her writing is on a par with the likes of Gretchen Peters and others of that ilk. They’re both dark songs, alluding to Aldridge’s troubled past and she’s at her best when she’s digging into darker or more emotional territory as on the moving Lonesome or the scathing blues of Howlin Bones. Still dark but casting beyond personal woes is the death row story of Parchman while Born To Be Broken was inspired by the life of Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress. Listening to this one is really reminded that Aldridge is a child of The South with all that entails, her voice deep and impassioned.

As for the guests, Danni Nicholls joins in on Lace, a lingering and lascivious number oozing with desire, while The Black Feathers are fine vocal foils on Save Yourself. But it’s The Goat Roper Band’s joyous freewheelin’ knockabout on Rails To Ride which is the highlight here. Mind you, the closing rendition of Aldridge’s best known song, Burning Down Birmingham, is excellent. Aldridge is in the habit of selecting audience members to join her on stage to sing the rousing chorus but here it’s a mass gathering of all The Lexington musicians who lift the song.

Live In Black And White allows Ms. Aldridge to strip away her studio trappings and deliver her songs in a raw fashion and it’s all the better for that. Highly recommended and a must buy album for anyone who has been captivated by her live shows or enjoyed the studio albums.

Mark Mulcahy. The Gus. Mezzotint Records

markmulcahy-thegusFor his sixth solo album, Mark Mulcahy takes inspiration from the literary world, in particular the short story form, after reading a collection by the Booker prize winning George Saunders, author of Lincoln In The Bardo. Saying that he has “upped his lyrical game” for the album, there’s certainly an element of storytelling in the songs but in the main it’s just another grand example of Mulcahy’s art.

He opens with the delicious Wicked World, an odd song featuring a lonesome plucked guitar and mournful cello as Mulcahy sings of an ordinary morning transformed by a shooting. Rain Phoenix harmonises with Mulcahy in her role as a disillusioned lover, the song ending with a muted rumble of feedback. Daisy Marie is much more traditional Mulcahy fare with  its piping organ and guitar based rhythm as is the Dylan like sneer of I Won’t Tell Anyone But You which ripples along with some inventive percussion. People: Beware meanwhile tumbles along in a topsy-turvy waltz state with some fairground Wurlitzer thrown in for good effect as Mulcahy rails against “the squares” and seems to suggest that some mind alteration is not such a bad thing. Happy Boat is a reverie of sorts, cosseted as it is by dreamlike guitars and Later For The Box returns to the narrative style of Wicked World although here a mysterious mail delivery leads to a rumination worthy of Nicholson Baker.

Mr. Bell is a portrait of an upstanding citizen delivered with a heavy dose of irony. On the face of it it’s not too different from many songs of the sixties and seventies which ripped into the bourgeois lifestyle but the video of the song leaves us in no doubt as to who Mulcahy is pointing his finger at. Add in the grand rock guignol of Taking Baby Steps and the hip swinging  amalgamation of Lou Reed and The Stones on What If I Go Off With Bob (which features J Mascis on guitar) and you have an album which goes to show that Mulcahy remains one of the most esoteric and vital artists out there right now.


Norrie McCulloch. Compass. Black Dust Records


If you’re a regular reader of Blabber’n’Smoke then you probably know that we hold Norrie McCulloch in high esteem, his trio of albums,  Old Lovers Junkyard, These Mountain Blues and Bare Along The Branches, all essential listening. They are proof that he is one of the best Scottish songwriters around these days, his voice rooted in the soil even as he writes with an eye on the likes of Townes Van Zandt’s melancholic poetry or Jay Farrar’s deadpan Americana. Musically he roots around in the fertile sounds of British folk rock and classic singer songwriters of the seventies along with nods to the insurgent alt country bands which spawned No Depression. Compass, released last week, finds McCulloch harvesting the results of his immersion in those ill-fated troubadours of the early sixties, Tim Buckley and Fred Neil, buccaneering romantic troubadours both.

Recorded in close collaboration with McCulloch’s long time foil, Dave McGowan, the album is more fleshed out than its predecessors with guitarist and mandolin player Iain Thomson contributing to the sound while Shane Connolly takes over percussion duties on several of the songs from McCulloch’s usual drummer Stuart Kidd. There are a couple of songs which would sit comfortably on any of the earlier albums. Janey (When We Were Young) is classic McCulloch showcasing his guitar, harmonica and voice on a solo tour de force as he sings this heart-tugging tale of youthful love. Drinking Money has a skip in its step as Thomson’s mandolin leads this little ditty which recalls Ronnie Lane or even John Martyn’s folkier efforts while Hollow Love finds McCulloch aching romantically, conjuring delicious images in his words, over a languid liquid guitar.

Elsewhere, McCulloch makes the most of his expanded sonic palette as Thomson comes across as the equivalent of Lee Underwood or Bruce Langhorne, guitarists who lit up so many essential sixties folk albums. Dear Lady Blue opens with a delicious melange of 12 string acoustic and electric guitar as McCulloch opens up his heart to his muse, the song kicking off with this arresting couplet, “A crow is picking at scraps by the side of the road I’m driving alone. Felling like that old lonesome crow with no place to go and nowhere to call my home.” The song limps along over a halting rhythm as McCulloch waxes more poetically until a wonderfully restrained electric guitar brings it to a halt. The following Road Sign is infused with the spirit of early seventies LA as McCulloch’s Scot’s voice is accompanied by harmonies reminiscent of CS&N as he delivers a Scottish version of a California freewheeling highway song.  She’s So Good is a magnificent ensemble piece with McGowan’s supple double bass  burbling under Thomson’s cascades of electric guitar while With You In My Life, the closing song, is another song reminiscent of bygone LA troubadours. In this case McCulloch carries off the unbelievable as the harmonies, jangled guitars and the song’s repeated mantra places it on a par with David Crosby’s legendary album, If Only I Could Remember My Name. A bold statement perhaps but we’ll stand by it. As good as this is, it’s eclipsed by the album’s title song. Compass encompasses the likes of Fairport Convention’s A Sailor’s Life, the jazzy folk rock of Pentangle and the dizzying heights of Tim Buckley’s 1968 Festival Hall live performance. It’s simply mesmerising and somewhat awesome.

As it stands, Compass is surely McCulloch’s crowning achievement so far. It sets him at the forefront of the song writing talent we have in the UK these days and deserves to be in any respectable record collection. And, speaking of that, the album is available on limited edition vinyl and we can testify to how great it sounds. Head here to buy it before the edition runs out.


Massy Ferguson. Great Divides. North & Left

album-coverThere’s not much you can depend on in these topsy-turvy days but when a new album from Seattle’s Massy Ferguson heaves into sight, you can be guaranteed an invigorating injection of classic American rock. There’s no pretence with this band, it’s balls to the wall Americana with an emphasis on rocking out; short sharp songs with guitars blazing away and Ethan Anderson’s voice roaring. Back to a four piece with the addition of Fred Starr on keyboards joining the bass playing Anderson along with guitarist Adam Monda and Dave Goedde on drums, the band dive headlong into the songs. The album is more focused than the previous Run It Right Into The Wall (which reflected their love of the likes of The Replacements, Wilco, and Son Volt) with more emphasis on stories within the songs. Anderson puts some of this down to reading stories by Raymond Carver, Willie Vlautin and such and several of the numbers are autobiographical as on the opening Can’t Remember which is an account of first meeting his wife to be.

Can’t Remember is a frantic opener with pedal steel added to the vortex of squirreling guitars with Anderson recalling his altered teenage state and the waitress who eventually stuck with him. This youthful abandon is revisited throughout the album. Don’t Give Up On Your Friends is a shout out the gang mentality of teenagers delivered in a style not dissimilar to that of The Lemonheads, while They Want That Sound struts with the cocksure bravado of a teenager out on the town as Anderson recalls glory days and the band ramp it up like a youthful E Street Band. Momma’s In The Backseat is the epitome of this teenage gang romance as it all goes wrong on a late night rumble with the hero just wanting to wrap himself in his Star Wars comfort blanket when he gets home but unable to admit to that.

The mature Anderson turns up on Wolf Moon, the most tender song here with keening pedal steel, languid guitar and stately piano as he reflects on life’s lessons while Drop An Atom Bomb On Me, a song which has the punch of the Drive By Truckers, is an angst-riven apocalyptic mea culpa. Alongside these there’s the coiled energy of Rerun with its staccato guitar bursts and power pop keyboards and the elegiac Saddest Man, a glorious slice of sound.

All in all Great Divides is another great album from Massy Ferguson. They’re touring the UK in July, all dates here.