|Heather On The Hill||Legend|
|Lorraine Pt.1||Legend (Red Boot)|
|Lorraine Pt.2||Legend (Red Boot)|
|Five Years||Legend (Red Boot)|
|Mother Of My Child||Moonshine|
Contributor: Dave Stephens
Mickey Jupp is a lot more than an old rock and roller, whatever he says
Southend’s finest, Mickey Jupp, has had a book written about him; has received backing from members of Procol Harum, from Godley & Creme, from Dave Edmunds, Lee Brilleaux, Andy McKay and more celebs; has been produced by Tony Visconti and by Francis Rossi (!); has had his songs recorded by Rick Nelson, Dr. Feelgood and Nick Lowe; has released an LP under the Legend name, the first pressing of which is currently valued at £325 on eBay; has one of the best fan websites available; and yet has sold not a lot more than zilch in the way of records. Why?
That’s rhetorical, I’m afraid. I’d love to have some kind of answer but I don’t.
What I do aim to do is expose the reader to a shed load of fine music put on record by Legend, the band that Jupp led from 1968 to 1972. Then you might start to form conclusions.
I’m cribbing the biog bit from Stephen Thomas Erlewhine of AllMusic since he says it more succinctly than I could:
“Jupp began his career with the Essex-based British R&B group the Orioles in the early ’60s. The band earned a devoted local following in the early ’60s, yet they never had the opportunity to record. The Orioles broke up late in 1965 after Jupp was arrested for not making alimony payments to his wife. Three years later, he returned to music, forming Legend, who laid the groundwork for English pub rock of the early ’70s. Following the release of their third album in 1971, Legend disbanded and Jupp took another lengthy break from music. When he was coaxed back into performing in 1975 by Lee Brilleaux, the lead singer of Dr. Feelgood, pub rock was in its last days yet Jupp was well respected in the scene, since both Ducks Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood had recorded versions of his songs (“Cheque Book” and “Down at the Doctors,” respectively).”
That takes us well beyond the demise of Legend and I’m happy to leave the rest of the Jupp oeuvre to another writer, since I have more than ample material from which to make my Toppermost selections.
Which brings me to the personal bit. Sometime in the late seventies I purchased the first Legend LP, called imaginatively Legend, at a shop that specialised in deleted material just to the east of Oxford Circus. I was working in Centre Point at the time and the record shop visit would have been on a lunchtime walk. Can’t recall precisely what made me buy the album. The price would have played a part – there’s no sticker on my copy now but the Red Boot LP which came from the same shop has a tab with 55p on it. In addition there was a track on Legend listed as Twenty Carat Rocker which seemed to tie in with a short glimpse of Mr Jupp at a rock revival show sometime earlier in that decade (see Footnotes).
The opening track was National Gas which, with hindsight, should have been enough to make Mr Jupp a national treasure. Deeply unfashionable stuff at the time though. Something vaguely akin to jug band music with the nearest reference point I can think of being the Lovin’ Spoonful, particularly when they were daydreaming. A love poem to the singer’s girl friend with the sort of slightly goofy lyrics that Sebastian liked.
If every fellow had a girl like you, well the world would be a better place
I can tell by the look in their eyes the minute they see your face
You’d be a national gas
And on into the chorus.
It had a tune which was so good that it engraved itself in your brain in the three minutes it was with you. Mickey was particularly good melodically on middle eights. It was as if he recognised the need to both complement and surprise at the same time. One of the big plus points about the album was that it contained real tunes which wasn’t that common at the tail end of the sixties. There was also a refreshing lack of noodling – none of the tracks outstayed their welcome.
I’ve seen Legend referred to as Mickey and the band’s acoustic or unplugged album. Which is true but doesn’t do justice to the performances and to the range of material present. With one possible exception – see later – it didn’t contain what some critics call proto-pub rock. (I have a feeling that gents on the other side of the pond tend to see this as rather more exotic than it actually was). We’d have to wait until LP #2 for the blues/rock chugalongs to appear.
Track #2, Heather On The Hill, opened with a la-la-la-la-la-ing vocal chorus and loads of acoustic guitars. This one was all about bucolic reminiscence and all the sentiment that implied – another subject and treatment unlikely to have rung bells with record buyers. And it wasn’t even ethereal enough to have been favoured by hippies – there was just enough reality in there to avoid that. But it had another great tune which didn’t last for a lot more than two minutes. It also had a memorable middle eight which introduced a fine counterpoint to the main song.
I like to leave my car and walk across the fields
Now and then I’d stop and sit and watch them daffodils
Where the wind blows lightly and the moon shines brightly
And there’s always heather on the hill
(I’ll try and hold back comments on middle eights from now on. They could get repetitive.)
A moon-in-June song maybe, but heck it works for me. Beyond sentimental, twee even, but it’s the melody coupled with the effervescent performance which lift it beyond the trite.
Jumping ahead a bit, Come Back Baby and Bartender’s Blues were both straight-no-chaser blues performed by Mickey accompanying himself on piano. They’re both excellent and as good Brit blues as I’ve heard, certainly a cut above Mayall both vocally and on keyboard. It’s only numbers pressure and the absence of something ‘different’ that keep this pair out of my list. Lyrically, neither depart from the usual themes – the second named is a ‘Let’s drink that woman clean out of my mind’ song but neither are obvious cribs from existing material. Here’s a sample:
There was one track which fitted somewhere between retro and pub rock. The subject of Twenty Carat Rocker was in his late thirties or so and was looking back fondly to the days of old when Chuck Berry and Fats Domino ruled the world. A delightful throwback with Mickey’s piano to the fore again. Oh and there was a tone at the beginning which just might have been a sneaky reference to Captain Beefheart, “The following tone is a reference tone etc.”
Yes he’s a twenty carat rocker and it seems so long since he rolled
And the killer lines:
There’s a note pinned up on the pearly gates
You can’t come here unless you bring your 78’s
Poetry definitely. And autobiographical? Could be.
Wouldn’t You, the other track with retro attributes was one of the album highlights. Opening with some McGuinn twelve string it then moved to semi-a capella doo wop (with the semi indicating drone like backing, probably from a bowed bass). It then moved into another of those damnably catchy tunes with intelligent lyrics but bearing no relation to fifties music other than the vocal backing. Surprising, daring even, and seemingly thrown together just like that. Amazing.
I don’t know whether Mickey thought some kind of Only A Hobo type song was necessary for a band (and album name) as heroic/apocalyptic as Legend but he produced one in Tombstone. His tongue might have been firmly in his cheek but lines like “When you’re dead buddy, when you’re done, who’ll lay the flowers on your tombstone” get just the right delivery. A countryish bouncer which harks back to pop folk efforts from roughly a decade earlier. It works for me but I suspect it won’t for all.
Talking about tongues in cheeks, Mickey’s sense of humour is well to the fore on Doncaster By-Pass. I think we can safely assume, given the man’s love for all things rocky, that he was well aware of American road songs like Route 66, and was giving us a UK equivalent only set to jug band style music again. It came out surprisingly well. Slightly rough in places – see session duration time below – but this only enhances the live feel. Almost made the cut.
My final selection from Legend is City which is a goodbye song and the city is London. Melancholy and with a melody line which yet again, managed to go to places that you didn’t quite expect. The solitary comment against my upload of that one stated “This is a masterpiece”. Perhaps he has a point.
(Which brings me to the fact that all the uploads I’ve featured for Legend came from myself. Which is a bit boring but no one else had put any up at the time. See also Footnotes.)
I’d add a few more remarks before leaving Legend. Firstly, that it was recorded in nine hours which, to my ears, has resulted in a very fresh sounding production. Secondly, that all compositions on the album came solely from the pen of Mickey himself – which comment applies to all three albums. Lastly, to state that the album seems to be either looked down on or ignored by the critics. I disagree. I just love this LP. It may be unlike any other in the Mickey Jupp canon – certainly it’s unlike the two other Legend albums – but that is part of the charm. For me, Mickey’s so called folky phase yielded results
The Legend band disintegrated after appearing on stage once only. Jupp moved back to Bath where he’d been living before the coming together of Legend Version 1. Robin Trower of Procol Harum was then instrumental in getting Mickey signed to a manager, David Knights, ex-bass player of Procol who was moving into a new role and looking for clients. Knights got Mickey a contract with Vertigo which meant that he needed a new band, since the contract was for Legend. He recruited a couple of ex-Orioles, Mo Witham, lead guitar, and John Bobin on bass, plus Bob Fifield on drums. Witham and Bobin stuck with him for the third Legend album and recorded and appeared live with him over later years.
The second Legend album was again called Legend, which is undoubtedly why everyone refers to it by an alternative name, “The Red Boot Album”, after the visually striking sleeve image, even while that image might have conveyed a confusing message. For clarity I’ll use Red Boot from now on. The difference between Legend and Red Boot was almost stark. The former consisted of a collection of arresting songs, mostly performed in a vaguely folky manner. Red Boot was predominantly semi-retro styled rockers in a style that is now seen as one of the key precursors to pub rock. Delivery was electric, sometimes featuring a dual guitar thrust from Witham and Jupp. The semi-retro bit came partially from the doo woppy style backing on many of the numbers – think Jordanaires with Elvis or the Clapper Boys with Gene. Track #2, Cheque Book is a good example.
The other retro aspect present on some of the tracks was an element of tribute to some of Mickey’s favoured artists – Somebody In Love to Fats Domino (including a touch of that creole lilt), Hole In My Pocket to early Ray Charles (specifically to Ray’s It Should’ve Been Me) and, rather curiously, My Typewriter to Bobby “Boris” Pickett.
But don’t go away with the impression that Red Boot was totally bereft of melody lines. The apparent two parter of Lorraine Pt.1 and Pt.2 has some of those interesting progressions, and it’s not a two parter; these are two distinct songs, inspired, one presumes, by the same, sweet or otherwise, lady.
Lorraine Pt.1 starts off as a slow to medium declamatory two chord thing with Mickey tripletting on joanna but just when you think it’s going nowhere he rings those changes. He also leaves us with a soul style fade that evokes names like Redding and Pickett.
The soul style lingers on in Mickey’s vocal on Lorraine Pt.2 as he increases the agony quotient. And there’s a strong and relatively complex melody which might not be instantly hummable but it certainly retains the interest. I brooded for ages (and multiple plays) over which to include of the two Lorraines but eventually gave up and went for both.
Before leaving the sweet and lovely Lorraines I’d comment that Mickey’s lyric writing skills seemed to have come on apace since Legend. Straightforward in approach and he could certainly tell a story when he wanted to.
Five Years is a bluesy ballad on which McCartney melodic touches are identifiable particularly in the middle eight. But please don’t see that as a criticism. It merely demonstrates Mickey’s keen ear for what’s around.
Almost forgot, this one is graced with a (relatively unobtrusive) string section backing, a first in the Jupp career I would think. (And McCartney would have approved.) Reportedly – which in this case means I don’t remember where I read it – Mickey rarely plays his own slow songs on stage which might just be associated with the fact that they have a stronger tendency to be autobiographical. This number has that feel.
The reader with the accountant mind set will be wondering which song I dropped (or did I take one from the last album ’cause the numbers are running out). It was I Feel Like Sleeping, a medium pace droner with heavy electric sound. Unlike anything else in the set, this is one that begs to be played loud. Whether there’s any relationship between this song and the Beatles I’m Still Sleeping, other than the drone effect, I’ll leave the reader to decide.
I managed to get all the way through Red Boot without mentioning that it was produced by a name producer, Tony Visconti. And it showed.
Visconti disappeared for the third album, Moonshine, leaving David Knights Productions to pick up the baton. In practice I gather that the band actually performed the production themselves with Matthew Fisher, another Procol man, handling the orchestral arrangements on three numbers. The first of these was arguably his best ballad yet, Another Guy. My only criticism relates to the one minute plus Hey Jude style fadeout which seems (a) unsuited to the preceding song moodwise, and, (b) to be just unnecessary.
That track has been up on YouTube since 2010 and it’s only had 392 views (and the last few of those were mine). I continue to be amazed at the lack of awareness of Mr Jupp.
The following track, Mother Of My Child, features another Fisher arrangement, this time with sweeping strings. It could have been anthemic but the words don’t exactly lend themselves to this perception. Lines such as:
She used to read books where the good guys lose.
She gave me the blues
She’d always frown, if I disagreed with what she decreed
aren’t of the sort you generally hear in stadium stirrers. The fact that the lady in question was “the mother of my child” doesn’t emerge until a good two thirds in, by which time we’d learned that the relationship wasn’t without problems, to put it mildly.
The third Fisher arrangement (with keyboards to the fore again a la Procol) is used to embellish another quality ballad, The Writer Of Songs – I probably shouldn’t make any reference to autobiography – I’ve made too much of this already. Elsewhere the bulk of the numbers are rockers along the lines of those on the previous set albeit without the retro touches and the explicit nods to fifties heroes. That’s ignoring a couple of fragments of an instrumental which don’t really go anywhere, plus the rather quirky At The Shop, starring Peter (who used to carry sacks), Doris (the girl on shoes who never had enough to do), not to mention Denis (the boy upstairs). US critics would probably see this an example of our sometimes impenetrable humour and/or a fascinating insight into bygone British culture. The comb and paper solo does give it a certain je ne sai quoi.
Underlying the surface drollery there’s desperation which overflows ever so slightly in the fade. I did wonder whether Mickey was in the process of putting together one of those (dreaded) rock operas which were all in vogue in the late sixties/early seventies. Both this and Mother Of My Child could have been part of such an offering. Subsequently though, I learned that the song was based on Mickey’s direct experience of working in just such a department store.
Included in the CD release of Moonshine were both sides of one of the group’s few singles, Don’t You Never/Someday. The last named is something of a return to the simple country folk styling of the Legend album and I thought that, with a feel (pseudo or otherwise) of Mickey having returned to his roots it would make a neat closing clip:
Well it would have done but I also wanted to include some live Mickey. That wasn’t as easy as you might have thought. Much of what’s on YouTube is fairly amateurish in terms of filming and is too recent with Mickey’s voice sounding somewhat shot. But I did find this clip from ’79 of him performing Saint James Infirmary. He has stated more than once that he prefers to do songs other than his own:
And I couldn’t finish without a few words from the great Wilko:
Indeed, I’m not going to finish without a few more ruminations on Mickey’s music. The casual reader/listener might well have seen our man as a pub rock pioneer but not a lot more. I’d agree with the first bit. This style of music found favour in the UK in the early to mid seventies, but largely from others rather than Mickey. I’d liken our man’s offerings in this vein to roughly the sort of thing Chuck Berry was doing in the mid/late fifties; small band, plenty of guitar work, boogie lines you could dance to and, above all, sharp observation with lyrical hooks. That’s not to say Mickey was a Berry clone. He did sometimes include references to his fifties heroes, something that was very much in vogue in the seventies – the Beatles with Back In The USSR have a lot to answer for. And, speaking personally, I’d far rather hear the actual dinosaurs than those who were aping them. Mickey only rarely descended to pastiche though. I gave some examples in his work with Legend; similar ones would continue to appear throughout his career and it’s these blues/rockers which tend to be what he’s known for.
But I implied disagreement with the “not a lot more” because that certainly wasn’t the case. Apart from his blues work which was to go on and occasionally inform songs of more complex structure over the years, there were all those numbers which I’d group together under the very loose heading of ‘ballads’. My selections are almost all of songs in this category. They didn’t disappear when Mickey went solo either; there were usually a couple or so tucked away on each album. Nor did the quality drop. I’d go so far as to say that Mickey has written and recorded higher quality ballads than the vast majority of writers in British popular music since the end of the sixties, and in that vast majority I’d include artists like the post-Beatles McCartney and Elton John. Unfortunately very little of this has been uploaded to YouTube and the albums sold poorly. I live in hope that someone will go on to do justice via Toppermost to Mickey’s career from the late seventies onwards.
I should add that there was a reincarnated Legend album released in 2008, entitled Never Too Old To Rock, with an affectionate sleeve image which has led to it being known under the alternate title, “The Red Brogue Album”. Shamefully, I’ve not purchased this one so can’t report on it for you. Could be something to do with preferring to remember my heroes as they were.
As a final postscript – yes, I know this is the third, fourth or fifth attempt at closure – I just couldn’t resist a jump ahead to a Jupp solo effort contained on the 2004 album, You Say Rock. It’s Mickey’s comment on Modern Music:
“They don’t write songs like that no more”. Indeed they don’t Mickey.
“Well Mickey Jupp made a couple of albums but they didn’t really go far. Mickey Jupp is one of the greatest singers you’ll ever hear, and a great songwriter – a bluesman really, he can sing like Elmore James!” Wilko Johnson in interview with Blues In London.com
“There was a single ‘National Gas’ which Bob Harris used to play when he was on the circuit.” Mickey Jupp in an interview with the NME in 1975
“A more honest, unassuming down to earth character you couldn’t hope to meet, but Jupp also happens to be local R&B Hero Number One. The Feelgoods and the Kursaal Flyers may have already made it but they’d be the first to admit that Mickey is more than a major influence.” Max Bell in 1975
” … but at this point, Jupp was largely on his own doing this light, good-time pub rock. That may be why it sank without a trace at the time, but heard apart from its era, Legend is a minor delight, one of the first flowerings of the pub rock sensibility.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine in the AllMusic review of the Red Boot Album on its CD release in 2007
“Released in 1972, Legend’s third album, Moonshine, features the “Mark III” lineup. The sound is fairly raw throughout, with the kind of loose, relaxed musicianship that comes from pro cats getting down and having fun. Rock, blues, country and a touch of traditional balladeering inform each of the disc’s selections and find the group right at home with those stylistic touchstones.” J Scott McClintock in the AllMusic review of Moonshine
“”The best British rocker of all times” ex-Beatle John Lennon called him once. Other famous rock gods like Nick Lowe, Gary Brooker, Dave Edmunds and Elkie Brooks used his songs to create great triumphs. But this man doesn’t have success, in spite of a few brilliant albums. Who is this man, who hates fame and fortune and only enjoys being on stage?” Dutch Music Magazine “Muziek Express” 1980
From Mike Wade’s “Hole In My Pocket: The True Legend Of Mickey Jupp” (see Bibliography), I’ve learned that Mickey’s early (and continuing) influences include the Coasters plus writers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (who wrote those delicious vignettes of black American life), Bobby Bland (maybe not an expected name but Mickey loves blues ballads), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Chuck Berry (even in light of Chuck’s not so attractive personal behaviour of which Mickey had personal experience), Don Gibson (another surprise perhaps but the Orioles used to play Sweet Dreams), and Fats Domino, in part for his work on the piano. Mickey also used to be a great man for flip sides and picked up on the wonders of the London American release schedule in a not too dissimilar manner to a certain Mr Lennon.
One of Mickey’s early musical discoveries was the Coasters’ Poison Ivy. A cover of the song from the Southend band, the Paramounts was a minor UK hit in 1964. In 1967, with some additions/changes in personnel the Paramounts morphed into Procol Harum, the band which had a number of interconnections with Legend over the next few years.
The LP that was on eBay for £325 (on 4th October 2016) was the Red Boot album of course. I haven’t found a listing for the first LP, which, in its mono format is reportedly rather rare.
By freak chance I actually own two copies of the Red Boot album sleeve but only one copy of the disc that should have been inside it. After my purchase of LP number one and my near instant conversion to the Legend cause, I searched out other LPs – they were only available in deleted racks or stores specialising in the same – and found what I thought was that LP, only to discover when I got home that it actually had LP #3, Moonshine inside. My luck was in though. Weeks later, continued searching actually turned up the elusive LP #2 (in the correct sleeve). There was no internet then, of course, so I didn’t know that I owned all three Legend LPs.
I have a dim memory of seeing Mickey along with some aging Brit rockers – Marty Wilde was headliner – at a rock’n’roll revival show at the Camden Roundhouse sometime in the early seventies. It was a pretty low key affair, possibly intended to tie in with record labels belatedly realising that they were sitting on a goldmine of (unreleased in the UK) American rockabilly. Unfortunately, my memory doesn’t tell me anything about Mickey’s contribution but most participants only got a few numbers. It could be that this show was instrumental in that first Legend LP purchase.
You might just notice the uploader of the Legend material, one DangerousDaveRR, which is yours truly. I was given the turntable kit for transferring (and noise reducing) discs to MP3 several years ago and Legend was one of the earliest to get the treatment. I then uploaded most of the contents to YouTube because none of it was there already. That last comment is not quite true now – there is at least one track from the set loaded by someone other than me. However, it was indicative of the scarcity of material from that album – I don’t think it’s likely to have been lack of interest because the uploads have been fairly popular. Albums #2 and #3 don’t fare a lot better, even now.
The web site “Mickey Jupp: a not so official site” (see below) offers the following comment from Mickey on a song from the first album – “City is about me going off to London and wondering if my (fictional) girl friend wants to come along too. I was going through a folky phase!”
On the same site Mickey is reported as making this comment on Doncaster By-Pass: “I wrote that while walking home from seeing a lady friend who worked in a department store with me. It was one of the few times I’ve had a proper job. She lived a mile down the road and I was walking home from her place and started whistling this tune. I called it Doncaster By-Pass because it was part of my regular drive north to the Lake District and was one of the first stretches of motorway.”
Wouldn’t You (from the first album) was the number that got Mickey a contract for a second album when he hooked up with new management a couple of years later. Said Mickey: “Robin Trower, who was involved with Procol Harum at the time, was knocked out with the song.”
Legend’s only single released in Italy, the ballad Life, got into their Top 30 and stayed there for three months.
John Lennon, who’s had more name checks here than in all my other Toppermosts put together, is reported to have once said that writing “simple rock songs” – my quotes – was more difficult than writing any other kind of song. Just an observation.
“Bark Staving Ronkers: A Music Memoir” by John Bobin
Dave Stephens had a long career in IT – programming, consultancy, management etc. – before retiring in 2007. After spending time on the usual retiree type activities he eventually got round to writing on one of his favourite subjects, popular music, particularly, but not only, the sort that was around in his youth. He gained experience at ‘the writing thing’ by placing CD reviews on Amazon. This led to his first book “RocknRoll” which was published for Kindle in 2015. He followed this up with “London Rocks” in July 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX