Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ground Will Shake - Miss Serene

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Dublin band fuses 1950's R&B and Rock n Roll roots with a modern Pop/Punk edge.

Founded earlier this year, THE GROUND WILL SHAKE hail from Dublin, Ireland. They are: Gavin Healy - bass; Paul O'Connor - vocals/guitar; Joe Rodgers - drums and Adam Smith - guitar/vocals.

Spotted accidentally, (he turned up expecting to see someone else) by Radiators from Space guitar player Pete Holidai, he offered his services to produce a record. This early show was a mix of 1950's covers and original material. "It was hard to know which songs were old and which were new..well I knew but you know what I mean" (Holidai) The name came about when during their first gig an irate barman asked them to turn down, he could feel the vibrations through the floor from behind the bar. "The Ground Will Shake" was Gavin's cheeky reply, and the name was born.

The music and style of the 1940's and 1950's has made a lasting impression on The Ground Will Shake. They write songs that fuse roots, rhythm and blues, rock and jazz, with the sensibilities of contemporary music, to create a sound and style, which pays homage to these foundations but shakes them, creating a new feel, niche and vision.

The Ground Will Shake have already played live on RTE's Arena and are tuning their set for key supports which will be announced on their website - and Facebook page. The bands debut single 'Miss Serene' is released on Cooler Records on November 1st 2013. Their self-titled album will be released in Spring 2014.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Please Please Me Turns 50

Article first published as 'Please Please Me' Turns 50 on Blogcritics.

Upon first hearing an acetate of 'Love Me Do', John Lennon's aunt Mimi supposedly informed her nephew: "If you think you're going to make your fortune with that, you've got another thing coming". However, upon hearing an acetate of 'Please Please Me' some time later Mimi told Lennon: "That's more like it, that should do well".

"Mimi", replied her nephew, "that is going to be number one". (Coleman, Ray, Lennon: The Definitive Biography, p.129)

If the acetate in question was the official recording from November 26, 1962 (an earlier recording existed) then Lennon's optimism was certainly swelled by EMI producer George Martin's instant prediction upon completing the session that The Beatles had just recorded their first number one. Assuming Lennon and Martin actually made these bold predictions, both men were proven correct. 'Please Please Me' reached number one in the U.K. in March 1963.

The single's success launched The Beatles' career in the U.K. and afforded them a foothold to launch a staggering and unprecedented assault on the U.K. singles and albums chart, both of which they dominated throughout the rest of 1963. That their success would be assured with this particular song - or with a Lennon-McCartney original composition at all - was not a certainty at the close of 1962.

Having released the Lennon-McCartney-penned 'Love Me Do' as the group's debut instead of - and against his natural instinct - the Mitch Murray-composed track 'How Do You Do It', Martin was reasonably impressed with the results. However, following up this debut release with something that might chart higher than number 17 was now the challenge, and the EMI producer was still unsure if the band had the material to do it.

Martin was still of a mind to issue their recording of Murray's song as their follow-up single and so - aware of this - the group convened at EMI studios in November 1962 and taped one of the most urgently energetic and electrifying slices of pop ever committed to tape up to that point, at least on that side of the Atlantic.

Throughout the decades which followed The Beatles' explosive career and their sordid demise, the legend of the single which broke the band has always been rather simple: 1. John Lennon wrote the song as a slow, bluesy homage to Roy Orbison. 2. Martin heard it and advised they speed it up and add some harmonies. 3. They did so and became stars.

This is probably a very simplified version of events. The session records show that Martin was not present when the song first appeared early that September, probably in its slow form. When he next heard it, the song had almost evolved into the structured version we know today; this version was unearthed in 1994 in preparation for The Beatles Anthology.

Regardless of when he heard it first, Martin's advice on restructuring the song was taken on board. The result was impressive.

Lennon recalled the group's excitement with the finished track: "In the following weeks, we went over and over it again and again. We changed the tempo a little bit, we altered the words slightly and we went over the idea of featuring harmonica, just like we did on 'Love Me Do'. By the time the session came round, we were so happy with the result, we couldn't get it recorded fast enough" (Badman, Keith, The Beatles: Off The Record, p.46).

Paul McCartney also gave credit to Martin's vision on production: "George Martin's contribution on 'Please Please Me' was quite a big one, actually. It was the first time that he actually ever showed that he could see beyond what we were offering him" (The Beatles: Off The Record, p.47).

As 'Love Me Do' was probably influenced by 'Bye Bye Love', the harmonies on 'Please Please Me' are also borrowed from Don and Phil Everly. The clever application of harmonica to George Harrison's scaled guitar riff provided continuity with the group's debut release which helped to establish an early signature sound.

The vocals bristled with a believable desperation which broadened the depth of the song, not to mention the theme which is overtly sexual and serves to dispel the myth that the group's early lyrics were shallow and trite. In fact, the animated, rushed climb of the chords from G through A to B (matched by Ringo Starr's energetic fills after the first line) serves to underline a climactic, sexually frustrated desperation. Lennon screams of his attempts to have himself 'pleased' in the manner he feels he deserves.

Similarly, Lennon's four desperate "C'mon" calls are delivered with a gruff sincerity. Each is answered by Harrison and McCartney, playing the role of the chorus in a Greek play and providing the representation of peer pressure. Lennon also managed to throw in a nod to his idol Buddy Holly in the line referring to "rain in my heart", cleverly lifted from Holly's 'Raining in My Heart' (1959).

For all of its energy and urgency however, what really broke ground in contemporary pop music was the song's audacious ending. It concluded with an aptly climactic triplet of repetitive pleading, with the last "you" held and then bent in falsetto. Meanwhile the guitars rise and fall through an unorthodox chord sequence of E-G-C-B-E which is interspersed and emphasized by a fill of four, five-stroke rolls on the snare drum.

Martin switched on the talk-back mic from the control room of studio two and remarked: " You've just made your first Number One". (Lewisohn, Mark, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, p.24) He wasn't wrong.

'Love Me Do'/'P.S. I Love You' ensured The Beatles' debut release was comprised exclusively of McCartney compositions. In January 1963, 'Please Please Me'/'Ask Me Why' established their second release as completely John Lennon. Throughout 1963/64 while The Beatles blazed their trail globally, the majority of their single releases were joint Lennon-McCartney ventures.

Released during one of the most vicious winters in British history, 'Please Please Me' preceded a post-war socio-cultural thaw in Britain in a similar fashion to how 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' would impact on U.S. culture almost 12 months later.

On reflection, Lennon was aggressively territorial regarding the credit for 'Please Please Me', including when it came to crediting Martin's influence. No doubt he sensed the importance of the song's role in The Beatles' career. In 1971 Lennon dispatched a terse postcard to Martin declaring: "I wrote 'Please Please Me' ¬alone. It was recorded in the exact sequence in which I wrote it, remember?" (The John Lennon Letters, 2012) Again, in 1980 he told author David Sheff "'Please Please Me' is my song completely" (Sheff, David, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, p.168)

Who wouldn't be proud of writing a slice of pop which was instrumental in the transition of rock and roll into rock?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Still Fresh And Original At 50! Happy Birthday, 'Love Me Do'

October 5, 2012 will herald the golden anniversary of the release of ‘Love Me Do’, The Beatles' debut 7" single for EMI in 1962.

This milestone will kick off a series of 50th anniversary celebrations of Beatles events and releases from Friday, October 5, 2012 right through to April 2020. Most of these events are sure to receive widespread media coverage as The Beatles prove to be just as relevant to today’s generation as they were to the 1960s generation. But exactly what was so different about this 7" circumference of black vinyl released to very little fanfare in October 1962?

There was something utterly original in its performance and in its reflection of its influences. Half a century after its release, the recording still sounds remarkably fresh. Investigating the events that led to the single’s release reveals a fascinating insight into the fledgling relationship between EMI and The Beatles camp, demonstrating each side’s ability to adapt quickly to new departures, while remaining true to their respective principles.

Despite moderate success – particularly with comedy acts such as The Goons – EMI producer George Martin was looking for something different to offer his modest Parlophone label in 1962. Decca Records had famously turned The Beatles down earlier that year, crucially however, the group's manager Brian Epstein had retained possession of the audition tape funded by Decca. Having been shown the door by most major UK labels, Epstein was referred to George Martin during a chance meeting which changed the fortunes of all parties involved.

Martin recognised the X factor which Decca Records had been deaf to, even if he didn’t yet realise what it was. What piqued the producer’s interest was the rough sound of beat music, an emerging – as yet unrecorded – style of music which emphasized heavy back beat drumming and loud instrumentation infused with live energy. A prototype of late 1970s punk music, beat music would be pivotal in the evolution of rock and roll into rock, and would carry an army of British Beat groups across the Atlantic during the mid-1960s.

Yet, The Beatles' debut single was far from representative of their beat music stage performances. More country-blues than R&B or rock and roll, how ‘Love Me Do’ became their first 7” release is an interesting tale of self belief and a small leap of faith.

McCartney claims the song was written with Lennon in 1958 while ditching school. Indeed the song's influences would seem to back up his claim. The song's style, structure, close harmonising, key of G Major and even its three word title is strikingly similar to the Everly Brothers’ 1957 hit ‘Bye Bye Love’. The Everly Brothers were a huge influence on The Beatles, demonstrated by Harrison controversially recording a rewrite of ‘Bye Bye Love’ in 1974 and Lennon going as far as to admit that in the group's early days: 'We were just writing songs a la Everly Brothers....' (Sheff, David, All We Are Saying p. 152)

However, ‘Love Me Do’ is strangely absent from surviving records of the group's stage sets from Liverpool and Hamburg. Furthermore, as a Lennon-McCartney original, it was not presented to Decca Records during the fateful audition of January 1962. Most likely the group sat on the song for four years and reintroduced it at an EMI recording session in mid-1962 to demonstrate their songwriting capabilities.

During an interview in 1988 McCartney claimed '’Love Me Do’ was us trying to do the blues.' (Lewisohn, Mark, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions p. 7) Indeed the song may have been inspired by ‘Hey! Baby’, an enormous hit for American singer Bruce Channel during the spring of 1962. The Beatles supported Channel in June 1962 and Lennon was rumoured to have discussed his harmonica playing with Delbert McClinton, who was touring with Channel.

‘Love Me Do’ was originally presented to EMI during the Beatles’ debut recording session at Abbey Road on June 6, 1962, a session which featured Pete Best on drums. However, the same session exposed Pete Best’s drumming flaws which EMI felt were substandard for commercial recording purposes.

A second attempt at recording ‘Love Me Do’ took place at Abbey Road on September 4, 1962, this time with new drummer Ringo Starr replacing the sacked Best. This was only the group's second appearance at Abbey Road and amazingly, they were involved in a tense standoff with the producer who held the key to their professional career in his hands.

Martin had presented the Beatles with a song by Tin Pan Alley writer Mitch Murray which he felt was a certain hit. He instructed the group to learn ‘How Do You Do It’ in advance of the September 4 session, much to the group's disdain. The issue allegedly led to a row between Lennon and Epstein, although the latter won out and the group prepared the song as requested. However, when they recorded the song for EMI, their perfunctory performance left George Martin in little doubt as to their feelings for material they felt was tame.

Lennon allegedly informed Martin: 'We want to record our own material, not some soft bit of fluff written by someone else.' (Emerick, Geoff, Here, There and Everywhere, My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, p. 45) Martin apparently countered with a bruising retort, informing them that when they could write songs as good as this [‘How Do You Do It’] he would record them. In the end, Martin reluctantly allowed them another crack at recording ‘Love Me Do’.

Starr’s drumming was an obvious improvement over Best’s from June 6, although the rhythm track took at least 15 takes to complete. The recording was a huge improvement on the first version, with the vocals vastly improved. Lennon’s harmonica playing took a huge leap in confidence, possibly since meeting McClinton on June 21.

George Martin overrode his gut instinct for Murray’s song and decided to take a chance on the McCartney-Lennon original. However, it appears he was still not entirely happy with the version he had on tape and clearly felt it was worth one more attempt at recording the song. Perhaps owing to Starr’s unease at nailing the rhythm track during the September 4 session, Martin hired a professional drummer for the third and final attempt one week later on September 11, 1962.

When the group arrived at EMI studios that morning, they were surprised to find another drummer present. Starr was stunned, later claiming that he felt EMI were ‘pulling a Pete Best’ on him. Banished to the control room like a naughty school boy, he must have felt his Beatles career was over before it ever got started. He later quipped: 'I saw a drum kit that wasn’t mine, and a drummer that, most definitely, wasn’t me!' (Badman, Keith, The Beatles Off The Record, p. 43)

There was no strike action over Starr’s treatment however, no protests of ‘we don’t play if Ringo doesn’t play.’ The others simply got down to business with Lennon and McCartney running over the arrangements of two songs with drummer Andy White while Starr watched from his perch in the control room. They completed the track in 18 takes, curiously three more than the previous week when Starr had played drums. However, the difference between White’s performance on the 11th and Starr’s on the 4th was ultimately the difference between a nervous club drummer and a seasoned professional.

Experience is everything when it comes to recording studios and White had it in spades. He was clearly comfortable in these surroundings and this is obvious in the performance. The drums were laid down with a solid beat delivered evenly and cleanly while Starr’s sole contribution was a tambourine rhythm throughout.

Aside from the new vitality provided by Andy White’s steady rhythm, the vocal harmonies from Lennon and McCartney were attacked with even more country-blues gusto than before. McCartney’s solo spots were more competent and comfortable, while Lennon’s harmonica dripped with bluesy despair.

The session of September 11 ultimately served to confirm George Martin’s hunch about the Beatles’ appeal. It may have taken three attempts, but the producer was now confident that he had an unorthodox record which was fresh, yet contemporarily analogous with transatlantic sounds.

The Beatles had stood their ground and remained true to their principals. They were not prepared to compromise their style or sound for the sake of commercial success. They had won their first battle with George Martin, but most importantly Martin had demonstrated the qualities that would make him – and The Beatles – so successful throughout the decade to follow. He proved he was willing to listen, to arrange, to advise and he proved he was willing to go out on a limb.

In a final twist however, the version which was released on 7” single was the September 4 version featuring Starr, while the Please Please Me LP and later single releases contained the September 11 version featuring White. No explanation has ever been given for the two separate releases, although an error, or a possible gesture from Martin to Starr cannot be ruled out.

To the untrained ear, tambourine is the easiest way to differentiate between the two released versions of ‘Love Me Do’. The presence of the tambourine indicates White on drums, while the absence of tambourine indicates Starr.

Early in October 1962, Brian Epstein supposedly took possession of 10,000 copies of ‘Love Me Do’ and set about employing every contact he had in the record industry to push the release as far as it would go. Rumours persisted that he used his position as a record store owner to buy the single into the charts. However, this is something that the Beatles always denied. If he had bought the record into the charts he wouldn’t have been the first to do it, and he certainly wasn’t the last.

As the world nervously watched the perilous standoff between the U.S. and Soviet Union over the Cuban Missile Crisis and Britain slipped into one of the bitterest winters in living memory, ‘Love Me Do’ began to climb the charts. Distinctive and different, the song stood out it in stark contrast to the cautiously tame mainstream British chart material of the time.

Although the record peaked at number 17, the experience galvanised the band and injected in them a new confidence in their abilities as songwriters and recording artists. The limited national exposure gave them a vital toehold upon which to launch their follow-up single. This new confidence acted as a catalyst, boosting Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting development which – based on a healthy rivalry – was breathtaking in its escalation once set in motion.

Not everyone was appreciative of the group's first release however, perhaps John Lennon included. Brian Griffiths, guitarist with fellow Liverpool group Howie Casey and the Seniors recalled visiting NEMS record store in Liverpool to hear The Beatles' debut single with John Lennon in 1962. Griffiths – who was used to the group's heavy rock and roll act – recalled how he thought it was 'bloody awful' and told Lennon as much. 'I said, what is that crap? It’s a country and western song', to which Lennon replied, 'Isn’t it? But they picked it, not me.' (Uncut, March 2012)

George Martin’s brave decision to allow the Beatles to issue a self-penned debut single would ultimately prove to be revolutionary. If the Beatles could write and release their own songs, why couldn’t everyone else? Fifty years ago this Friday, October 5, the music business as well as the aspirations and goals of musicians all over the world – throughout the 1960s and beyond – were altered forever.

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