The Blow Monkeys

TrackAlbum
WildflowerLimping For A Generation
Aeroplane City LovesongAnimal Magic
The Day After YouShe Was Only A Grocer's Daughter
Sweet Talking Rapist At HomeWhoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood
Be Not AfraidSpringtime For The World
Save MeDevil's Tavern
Seventh DayStaring At The Sea
That's Not RightFeels Like A New Morning
The Sound Of Your LaughterIf Not Now When
God's GiftThe Wild River
Journey To YouJourney To You

The Blow Monkeys photo 1

Tony Kiley, Mick Anker, Neville Henry, Dr Robert (front)

 

 

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Blow Monkeys playlist

 

Contributor: Dave Ross

For some bands the first hit is so defining, so memorable, so huge that there is no escape. Whatever they do after, or indeed whatever they’d done before, is irrelevant. The vast majority of people, those outside their fan base only identify them by that first hit. This isn’t helped by radio stations without sufficient imagination or bravery who never play anything other than ‘the hit’.

Digging Your Scene by the Blow Monkeys typifies this. It is an absolute monster of a pop single. Lighting up 1986 like a beacon. I remember hearing it for the first time as it exploded out of the radio. It’s luscious, jazzy and funky and with Dr Robert’s unique vocal styling it stood out among the hair rock and post Live Aid naffness so prevalent at the time. It’s such a great record. They did follow it up – and more – but 36 years on not many could name another Blow Monkeys song such is its ubiquity. So, with this Toppermost Top Ten I wanted to select ten songs from their eleven albums between 1984 and 2022 that showcase Dr Robert’s extraordinary talent for song writing. Encompassing beautiful love songs and hard-hitting protest songs presented with glamour, class and cheekbones to rival Morten Harket. Along with bassist Mick Anker and sax player Neville Henry they epitomised that mid 80s sophisti-pop movement that included the Style Council and Sade. I’m going to pick one from each album and a bonus track from their most recent release so that this becomes an eleven to take you through those 38 years. It’s taken me ages to decide and I’m still changing my mind such is the consistent quality of each album. This article won’t be too much of my waffle, it’s just about the music and hopefully you’ll end up digging their scene as much as I do.

So back to 1984 first and Limping For A Generation. I saw it described somewhere as Jazz Punk which I loved. The perfect example being Go Public, a song that I can’t believe Morrissey and Marr didn’t hear before writing The Queen Is Dead. The Man From Russia is gloriously over the top while Rub-a-dub Shanka (the B-side of Go Public) is just a bonkers mix of noise that I heartily recommend you allow into your ears. At the last minute though I’ve decided I can’t have this list without Wildflower starting it off. It’s an ultimate Blow Monkeys song. Lyrically beautiful, just enough sax, melodic and the best doo doo doos you’ll hear.

 

Now to the hit album Animal Magic from 1986. It’s up there in my top ten of all time and Digging Your Scene is comfortably in my top 5 singles of all time. Why this didn’t set them up as one of the great British pop acts I’m not sure. It has everything. Four or five pop songs to set any heart racing, clever lyrics, great musicianship and to top it all a barber shop quartet inspired I Backed A Winner (In You). My choice however is Aeroplane City Lovesong. One of the great intros, outrageous strings and brass. Just a wonderful example of what makes the Blow Monkeys such a great band.

The follow up, She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter in 1987, was part pop album, part protest album and for me it’s a perfect mix. The lead single It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way is a worthy successor to Digging Your Scene but this isn’t a greatest hits selection so I’ve gone for The Day After You. A jazz funk pop song featuring Curtis Mayfield that glories in the day after Margaret Thatcher finally leaves office. It’s like Billy Bragg meets Level 42. It’s so good. I guess the radio stations were scared of playing it because it only made the outer reaches of the charts. The whole album could be released today aimed at our greased piglet of a Prime Minister (©️Caroline Lucas) but renamed ‘He Was Only A Bullingdon Bully’ (©️Dr Robert). If you’re not desperately seeking out more Blow Monkeys by now I clearly need to try harder. You want a live version you say? With Curtis Mayfield? Of course you can …

On to Whoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood from 1989 which sees the Blow Monkeys sticking to their ideals lyrically while musically becoming more dance orientated. Opening with This Is Your Life and the exhilarating Wait on which Dr Robert is joined by Kim Mazelle for the best ‘featuring’ vocal since Heaven 17’s Temptation featured Carol Kenyon. Again, surely those two fantastic tunes guaranteed commercial success? Well not exactly but I don’t care about that and nor should you. It is a quite brilliant album producing my fourth selection Sweet Talking Rapist At Home. Dr Robert taking on domestic abuse with a seven and a half minute absolute funk monster of a song.

 

I have to confess as we entered the 90s and my life took a major change, the pop music charts including the Blow Monkeys and many other artists became less important to me. (Marriage, kids and Del Amitri took over. It’s a long messy story) Anyway, I’ve only recently discovered the post 1980s Blow Monkeys but it has been an absolute joy. Without Twitter I would never have discovered 2017’s The Wild River which I’ll talk about later and from then all these other glorious albums. To love an artist as I did the Blow Monkeys in the 80s then find out they’d been working away unnoticed is a real treat. It’s also why I really wanted to choose a song from each album rather than produce a greatest hits list.

So, Springtime For The World released in 1990. Some things are worth the wait. It is astounding. I’m not quite sure where to start. It’s all the funk and jazz that you’d expect but along the way there’s some real surprises and treats. The title track is just immense. It has that huge feel of Sowing The Seeds Of Love. Then there’s Reflections ’89. It may be 32 years old but my god it’s just as relevant today. We really haven’t progressed at all. It’s Thatcher, Reagan and others discussing Russia, Europe, borders etc over a hypnotic beat. Brilliant stuff. The album finishes on some great dance tracks but my selection is Be Not Afraid featuring Cheb Khaled. It’s a bit special with a dash of harissa paste. A North African delight for your senses. What a song. What an album.

 

It seems I wasn’t the only one who took a different path in the 90s as the next album Devil’s Tavern was released in 2008. The band split in 1990 following Springtime For The World and got back together in 2007. I’m so glad they did. An 18-year gap did nothing to diminish the luscious, opulent sounds they produced. It’s just a beautiful thing to be listened to on a warm summer’s day or any day to be honest. It’s that sophisticated, classic sound that is so Blow Monkeys and Robert Howard who still sounds like the coolest man in the room, any room. I’m stealing this from a Q Magazine review at the time “Their first album in 18 years still finds the frontman in fine voice; Robert continues to sound like he dresses only in velvet and smokes cigarillos.” It was such a wonderful discovery and I could have chosen half a dozen of the 11 songs. I’ve gone with Save Me because it’s the perfect example of the huge string arrangements, musicality and Robert’s voice over a sumptuous groove.

Album number seven, Staring At The Sea, was released in 2011. This has a rougher sound. More of a rock/folk feel while still retaining a Blow Monkeys stamp of class and quality. The title track is wonderfully melancholic and Steppin’ Down reflects an unfamiliar rasp and crackle in Robert’s voice over a familiar funk groove. My choice though is Seventh Day. It has all the drama of a Bond movie theme. Some guitar work not out of place on Are You Experienced. More outrageous orchestration and Robert giving us a vocal performance from the depths of his no doubt highly polished soul boots.

 

For 2013’s Feels Like A New Morning they’d found their funk again and produced an album that when discovered I just couldn’t stop playing. Choosing a song for this top ten was incredibly difficult. From the instant earworm of Oh My; the invigorating and inspiring title track; the 60s feel of the gorgeous Chained; That’s Not Right which just reminds me of Neil Diamond’s Beautiful Noise; Shake It Off which was surely played by the same band that did Stevie’s Superstition; or the Hendrix/Style Council mash up stylings of In No Time At All. How do you choose? Well I’ve gone for That’s Not Right to give the final playlist something a bit different but my real recommendation is to find yourself a copy of Feels Like A New Morning because it will make you feel exactly what the title suggests.

Also in 2013 an acoustic album was released that further goes to prove the quality of the songs in a stripped-down format. How beautiful Dr Robert’s voice is with his ridiculous ability to pick a tune out from nowhere. It’s a great way to get a new perspective on some familiar songs.

On now to 2015’s If Not Now When which to me feels like a bit of a new direction. I spent last year listening to twelve David Bowie albums which became a little book of reviews. Anyway, the review for Aladdin Sane took the form of an early 1970s episode of Top Of The Pops. I could do the same with If Not Now When. There’s a glam rock stomp-a-long feel to many of the tracks which I absolutely love and some old school slow rock ‘n’ roll in the style of Mud or Showaddywaddy. I did ask Dr Robert via Twitter if Young Americans was an influence and he was kind enough to answer “I think it influenced everyone of my generation”. Maybe I should ask him again this time about Aladdin Sane or more likely T. Rex’s Electric Warrior as Robert has stated that it changed his life. Either way it’s another fantastic album and my choice has to be one of the glam numbers The Sound Of Your Laughter which is just brilliant fun and I can only imagine made Robert and the band smile when recording. This live clip really sums it up perfectly.

 

Next up is one of the most beautiful looking albums I own, The Wild River from 2017 as you can see.

It’s also a beautiful sounding album going back to a more traditional Blow Monkeys sound. Luscious, smooth, pop jazz funk that just makes you feel good. Like a warm bath or a punt on a calm river or a long drink in the shade on a hot afternoon. This is where the Blow Monkeys are at. Robert’s silky voice over snare drums or woodwind or brass or strings or all four. I love absolutely everything about this album but right at the top of the pile is God’s Gift. You don’t need me to tell you how great it is. Just press play.

So that’s ten, but last year the Blow Monkeys released album number eleven, Journey To You. Picked up by a few radio DJs including the lovely Gary Crowley it created a bit of a stir and is a fine addition to the canon. It feels like it’s a bit of an older album, more reflective but full of everything I’ve described above. Time Storm is a timeless song of yearning with Robert’s vocal showing a delicious fragility and some Isley Brothers guitar breaks. Earthbound is a tale of coming back to earth hopefully without too much of a bump, maybe autobiographical? Unicorn Kisses is straight out of the Blow Monkeys book of summer jazz classics. I’ve gone for the title track as my bonus number eleven (thanks Merric). Journey To You feels like a highly appropriate place to finish this dive back into this extraordinary back catalogue.

 

 

The Blow Monkeys poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blow Monkeys photo 2

 

The Blow Monkeys official website

The Blow Monkeys bandcamp

Dr Robert solo albums

The Blow Monkeys biography (AllMusic)

Dave Ross lives near Windsor and hides under his online pseudonym Dave Amitri to talk mainly about cricket and music. He has written a drama “Jimmy Blue” featuring the music of Del Amitri and has recently published his first book “12 Bowie Albums In 12 Months” based on a series of posts on The Afterword website. Follow him on twitter @DaveAmitri. His other posts for this site are on The Associates, Nick Heyward, The Lotus Eaters, Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins.

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