Donald Byron Wheatley. Moondogs and Mad Dogs. Maiden Voyage Recording Company

267934Life Is A Carnival sang The Band and for Donald Byron Wheatley it could be his signature song. A scion of a travelling fairground family Wheatley had a nomadic upbringing, setting up and dismantling show rides across the country, a wild and probably not so romantic existence but once the crowds had their fill of candy floss and cheap thrills and set off home Wheatley would listen to his showman father sing songs culled from the blues tradition along with his abiding love, Bob Dylan.  The young Wheatley learned these songs (he recalls singing along to Subterranean Homesick Blues, word-perfect, when he was six years old) and toyed with the idea of a musical career but life intervened, as it does. However that six year old Dylan aficionado resurfaced years later as Wheatley had to deal with adult issues; the death of his father, friends facing hard times and he found himself writing some songs. A musician cousin of his, John Wheatley, encouraged him to capture these in a studio and the pair headed off to Reservoir Recording Studio, a lucky strike on two accounts as it brought them into the orbit of Chris Clarke who runs the studios and is bass player with Danny & The Champions Of The World and Danny himself who was in the process of setting up a record label. Happenstance indeed but the upshot is that Wheatley can now proudly offer up Moondogs and Mad Dogs, a debut years in the making and adorned with a prime set of musicians including several of The Champs and pedal steel legend BJ Cole.

Like a musical Grandma Moses Wheatley is a primitive folk artist, his canvas the songs he heard growing up. Dylan is the prime mover. Several of the song titles nod to Dylan originals and he dots and darts throughout various Dylan eras, the amphetameanied talking blues of Subterranean Homesick Blues, Big Pink and The Basement Tapes, the red hot punk guitar assaults of Mike Bloomfield as Dylan transversed from folk to rock at Newport and Rolling Thunder Gypsy jaunts . But he also delves into Southern soul and funk (Not Tonight Josephine and Ten Dollar Jenny) along with the Romany wanderings of Ronnie Lane on Swalley Howell while there’s a nod to the pained solo recordings of John Lennon on Nothing, his voice smothered in echo uncannily akin to the late Beatle. He’s a grand wordsmith and half the fun here is in following the lyrics as there are unexpected twists and turns in the grand Dylan tradition as on the opening Life’s A Beach while Greenwich Village Blues is a wonderful capture of that time when Dylan et al invaded The Gaslight and it’s delivered with just the right amount of patina to allow the listener to wallow in the past.

On an album that’s unashamedly proud to wear its colours on its sleeve Wheatley transcends his influences coming across as a UK version of The Felice Brothers. The cracked voice, the sheer joy of the title song, the wracked and organ fuelled barnstorm of Smoking Gun are all delights but the best is on the blistering quicksilver ramshackle blues of Hand Me Down Leopard Skin Hat which, in a blind test, could easily be taken for a genuine lost Dylan song.

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Henry Senior Jr. Plates Of Meat. Maiden Voyage Recording Company.

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So, here it is. The first release from the record company set up by Ark PR man Del Day and Danny Champ, both of whom spoke to Blabber’n’Smoke about the label here. It’s simultaneously a bold move; an instrumental pedal steel album and a safe bet; Henry Senior Jr being Danny and The Champs’ pedal steel player with all of the Champs playing on the album. There is of course a history of “solo” albums from pedal steel players, mostly Stateside chaps such as Buddy Emmons and Pete Drake although we shouldn’t forget our very own maestro BJ Cole who’s 1972 release The New Hovering Dog is very much a cult classic.

It’s Cole actually who was something of a mentor to Senior Jr after the 14 year old budding guitarist stumbled upon the wonders of “the ironing board of love” (as Mr. Champ calls it) and set out on his career. And while most folk immediately think of country music when one mentions pedal steel well it appears that it was while listening to Pink Floyd’s Breathe (from Dark Side Of The Moon) that Senior Jr. was hit by the fretless bug. A listen to Cole’s track Five Pieces For Steel Guitar and Percussion (From the Hovering Dog album) should suffice to show that the instrument is capable of so much more.

So, in amongst this tangle of foot pedals and knee levers what has the man come up with? Senior says, “I wanted to use the pedal steel outside its traditional context, picking up rhythm parts that guitar or keyboard players would play and using sounds and effects that they use.” So there’s no keening country effects here, Senior sounds funky with a nice big fat sound springing from his fingers while at times he takes flight in tandem with Paul Lush recalling twin guitar attacks from the likes of The Allman Brothers as on the fresh faced romp of Along Came Molly. There’s lush harmonics on the totally solo closing song, The Presence Of Namaqua, a tune that could happily sit inside Cole’s work, proto ambient Eno music.

The meat of the album is in the soulful funk that permeates much of the tunes here. There’s one foot in the Southern country grooves of a band like Barefoot Jerry, another in the New Orleans syncopation of The Meters’ instrumental days, indeed we have to pay tribute to the band here as they really nail the tight yet loose (go figure it out) beat with sax man ‘Free Jazz’ Geoff excelling on the title song, here exhuming the treasure trove that is Blaxploitation soundtracks.  Furthermore they delve into Western Swing on Cat Doggin’,  and there’s even a touch of dub on the glorious strains of Goodbye Bowler Hat as the pedal steel glides over the bass’n’drums.

Short and very sweet Plates of Meat is manna from heaven for anyone interested in the sound of pedal steel while there’s a nice sense of humour allied to the whole project. The title perhaps a cockney allusion to Little Feat, who knows?  The titles of the tunes, seemingly random, would not seem out of place on a Charles Mingus album. Whatever, it’s great fun and highly recommended.

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Maiden Voyage Recording Company

 

 

Maiden Voyage Recording Company

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All aboard the Skylark…

It’s not every day that a new record company starts up. Even rarer when you hear that the cigar chomping head honchos behind the desk are folk you know. Maiden Voyage Recording Company is the brainchild of Danny George Wilson of Danny And The Champions Of The World (firm favourites of Blabber’n’Smoke and probably the best live band in the UK these days) and legendary PR man Del Day (who is responsible for alerting Blabber’n’Smoke to many of the artists we review). With their very own maiden voyage set for launch this week as they release their first album,  Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Del and Danny about the label.

First of all. Why set up your own record label? Aren’t there enough to go around and surely it’s a major task.

Del: Well I’ve worked in all just about every aspect of the music industry over the last 20 odd years, retail, marketing, distribution, PR, promoting and run a booking agency.  So it was only a matter of time I guess before I dipped my toe into the dangerous waters of running a record label. e4c8778786e5b91f46063c4602c6ebd5_400x400

Danny: I love making music because I love records and it seems like another great adventure to be a record company guy too. The best thing about finding great records is sharing them with your friends and this is all just an extension of that. danny-champ-in-warren-tee-shirt

Del: I’ve known Danny  for a few years now. Initially as a fan of his band which then developed into a great friendship. We both share an insatiable love of music and spend most of our time together either listening to records, sharing tracks and just chewing the fat I guess. So starting a label together seemed both hugely exciting and, in a weird way, the obvious thing to do.  Maiden Voyage Recording Company was conceived over many drinks at The Betsey Trotwood in London on a rainy Wednesday night.  We see the whole venture as an expansion of those drink and music fuelled nights, a way of sharing our love of music from all genres with likeminded people and musical explorers.

Danny:  When I was a teenager me and my pals would get on the bus to Beanos’ record shop in Croydon. We’d spend all our money and then read the liner notes and credits in those gatefold sleeves all the way back. I’d buy anything that James Burton played on or anything on the Stax labeI. I went through fads that covered everything from Delta Blues to Prog to Hip Hop to Jazz to Country music, my mind was literally crammed with useless but brilliant information. It still is although it’s just a little harder to summon nowadays! Later I worked in a famous London second hand record shop and played poker with my work mates deep into the night trying to win more staff vouchers to spend on that Big Youth or Big Black album…good times.

I’m presuming that you’ve named the label after the Herbie Hancock album of the same name given its seagoing theme? 71xlqirvzyl-_sl1300_

Del:  Indeed we did. We are both huge fans, well jazz fans in general

And all set to sail this Friday with your first release?

Del: Yes. The label’s first record, Henry Senior Jr’s Plates Of Meat. It’s a wonderful instrumental pedal steel album that flits between country, jazz, funk and Allman Brothers’ jam band wonderment. Henry is of course the pedal steel wizard for The Champs so it was the obvious first release for us both in terms of working with musicians who are friends and musicians we both respect and love. ed7b30_241646c3551142ac890d5843cb2a2de2mv2_d_2000_2000_s_2

I’ve had the privilege of hearing Plates of Meat and it’s really rather good. Funky pedal steel driven tunes that reminded me of bands like The Meters and Barefoot Jerry, two bands that probably aren’t too often lumped together. Wonderful as it is it’s hard to imagine that a record like this would get much attention from more established labels despite an obvious audience of music obsessive’s like us who can appreciate the album itself and its antecedents. I’m wondering what you have up your sleeve for future releases?

Del: It’s hard to say really.  Danny and I drew inspiration from the likes of Light In The Attic and Honest Jon’s, record labels who consistently release albums that excite and surprise. Those labels appear free form any sort of genre categorisation, and we like that. We will be releasing albums and hopefully singles for all genres in all sorts of formats. We will be doing a 7″ singles club next year and we’re also looking to release some old reissues that we feel have laid dormant for too long. We do have two definite releases, both ‘concept’ albums if I can use that phrase. First off there’s I Want Blood by the London-based band The Suburban Dirts. It’s an ambitious piece set in Kentucky circa 1800 that borrows from the legend of The Harpe Brothers who are infamous for being America’s first serial killers.  It’s just stunning. We will also be releasing Moondogs And Mad Dogs by Donald Byron Howard Wheatley, an album that’s been 15 years in the making.

To be honest the love of music in all its weird and wonderful forms is what keeps me alive and it’s also the one and only guiding factor as to how we want to run the label. It really is a label of love and one that we hope people will keep an eye out for. MVRC will hopefully become a mark of quality, that’s the aim. The first three records already feel like dusty relics drawn from some second hand bin and Danny and I love that! 

Danny: And we should say that Maiden Voyage Recording Co’s online shop is now up and running! You can pick up copies of ‘Plates of Meat’ on both 180g gatefold vinyl and CD or one of our super cool t-shirts!!

As Danny says, the shop is now open while Henry Senior Jr’s album has been picking up airplay already before its release on Friday. Blabber’n’Smoke certainly wishes Del and Danny well in this venture and we look forward to hearing what comes next. You can keep up the news on their website here

And here’s a taster from Henry Senior Jr.