Graham Parker & The Rumour

TrackAlbum
Fools’' GoldHeat Treatment
Hold Back The NightThe Pink Parker EP
Local GirlsSqueezing Out Sparks
No Holding BackThe Up Escalator
Silly ThingHowlin' Wind
That's What They All SayHeat Treatment
The Heat In HarlemStick To Me
Thunder And RainStick To Me
Watch The Moon Come DownStick To Me
White HoneyHowlin' Wind

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Contributor: Rob Millis

Three “pub rock” bands split up in 1975. Brinsley Schwarz were first, and their eponymous guitarist (can you say it that way round?) went into Ducks Deluxe in time for their own farewell tour. A final gig in London saw Brinsley’s former band-mate Bob Andrews augment them on keyboards and, once the dust had settled, Schwarz and Andrews buddied up with Ducks’ guitarist Martin Belmont (an old friend indeed; he’d been a member of the Brinsleys’ crew prior to Ducks Deluxe). The lesser-known act, Bontemps Roulez, split up and their crack rhythm section of Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums) joined the new venture, named The Rumour after the closing track on The Band’s Stage Fright LP, who set about trying ideas but didn’t find stability until they were introduced to Surrey singer/songwriter Graham Parker. Then they were off with a vengeance.

Signed to Vertigo, the band put out Howlin’ Wind (1976) and in it delivered a seminal debut. With mix of influences allied to a gutsy delivery, the pairing of Parker (a raw frontman with a bucket-load of songs ideal for the times) and the Rumour (cast in the backing band role of The Band or some of Van Morrison’s best line-ups) proved very successful indeed. The Motown-meets-Van feel of White Honey sounded as good at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last night as it ever did. From the debut, let’s also take Silly Thing, the best “revue” song Southside Johnny never recorded, and at least mention the title track, an engaging tune on the offbeat full of beautiful cascading minor chord accents (if you will).

Heat Treatment followed in the same year; another killer and possibly an even more ‘settled’ release from an act that had found their style and perfected it. That’s What They All Say for me illustrates the union of Schwarz/Andrews and Parker better than any other song. The former both die-hard fans of The Band and the latter influenced by Dylan, all playing to the strengths of the others. As a musician myself, I am always wary of going down the “great solo on …” path in Toppermost articles, but having already blown it with minor chord accents, I’ll say it here: Andrews and Schwarz shine on the break in this tune. Hotel Chambermaid (a good old-fashioned “bit of the other” song) was released as a single; Fools’ Gold is simply a wonderful song and for me had to be the other choice from their second platter.

A version of The Trammps’ Hold Back The Night was the key track on The Pink Parker, a 1977 picture sleeve 7” EP. Eeh, thems were the days.

Graham Parker said last night at the Empire: “Stick To Me was the album that was so good we recorded it twice” and they did – magnetic tape failure was the reason for that. Their third LP and again a focused body of work; the new wave was at hand and Stick To Me has more urgency than previous releases. A surprise was a lovely cover of the old Ann Peebles chestnut I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down which followed the opening title cut, but the mighty triumvirate of Watch The Moon Come Down, Thunder And Rain and The Heat In Harlem deliver a mighty blow over around 15 minutes of side two (sorry, I think in vinyl!) and are the cuts I recommend from it in my Topper ten.

The Parkerilla – a live double – followed in 1978 (as well as Max from The Rumour sans Parker) and documented some of the band’s highpoints to date (in fact, there’d been a live bootleg Live In Marble Arch already) delivered at high octane and for me is a closing period of their history. Squeezing Out Sparks (1979; Local Girls is my choice from it here) was a different animal.

Those who know Graham Parker will be surprised at my relative indifference towards Squeezing Out Sparks as it is highly rated; considered Parker’s best by many. Parker – who eventually voiced his concerns at his previous US record label in the song Mercury Poisioning – had signed to Arista stateside and was determined to crack that vital market. He took a name producer, Jack Nitzsche, who hatcheted the soul influences and focused on a leaner radio-friendly Rumour. The horn section – a feature of the Rumour since almost the beginning – were given their cards and Bob Andrews’s trademark languid Hammond was conspicuous by near-absence.

In fact, Andrews left the band in 1980 and effectively that was the end of The Rumour. The Up Escalator (which I love and will stretch the Rumour-era to include in the 10 songs!) followed that year, with no replacement for Andrews but instead keyboards from veteran Nicky Hopkins and E-Street Band organist Danny Federici (the Boss hissel’ shows up as a collaborator). The Up Escalator was credited solely to Parker on the cover, but inside as Graham Parker and The Shot.

Members of The Rumour would continue to work with Parker for many years yet – and indeed there is much to enjoy from Parker’s deceptively prevalent output twixt then and now – but it was not until yesterday (26th October 2013) that Graham Parker and The Rumour would all be assembled on a London stage for the first time since 1979. And effing marvellous it was, too.

Graham Parker official website

Struck By Lightning – GP reference site

GP guitar chords and song lyrics

Graham Parker biography (iTunes)

By concentrating on the GP&TR years (1976-80) Rob has kindly left the topperdoor open for, as it were, GP solo. Lots of great songs in there.

TopperPost #114

4 Comments

  1. Rob Millis
    Nov 2, 2013

    Since I wrote the above, two things have happened. Firstly, I was honoured to be asked to play piano for a number with Bob Andrews and Brinsley Schwarz at Andrews’ gig at The Half Moon, Putney where – and this is one for Hammond fans – he was plugging his new organ-based CD “Set The Hammond On Fire” which is excellent. I shall treasure my five minutes!

    Secondly of course, the band were on Later…with Jools Holland this week and bloody good they were too!

  2. David Singer
    Nov 14, 2013

    So good to see GP and the boys (?) together again. Remember seeing them do a great gig at The Rainbow, back in the day. Good selection but for me Squeezing Out Sparks deserves better representation.

  3. Rob Millis
    Nov 17, 2013

    Thanks David. I didn’t expect to get away unscathed for my lack of enthusiasm for Squeezing Out Sparks! But there – not enough of Bob Andrews playing the organ for me on there, and a definite shift towards cracking a bigger market – which I agree GP had to do. Yes, good to see the band back together again.

  4. Merric Davidson
    Nov 18, 2013

    On 28th October our contributor, Rob (The Organ) Millis, did indeed play his digital piano on stage (see above comment) at The Half Moon, Putney and here’s the photo to prove it! Click on it to enlarge. That’s Bob Andrews (on the left playing Rob’s Hammond) and Brinsley Schwarz on guitar. Rob doesn’t know we’ve done this … (He does now! Ed.)

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