Chris Spedding

Chris Spedding ‘Pearls’ Repertoire Records 2011

Chris Spedding is about to turn 74 years old in May and later that month is playing gigs with his band Sharks in and around London.

It seems you can’t keep a good guitarist down!

Having been described as one of the UK’s most versatile musicians, he has been guitar session man of choice for the likes of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry plus an endless list of luminaries.

As a guitar for hire Spedding has had a packed roster over the last 50 years. In addition to Ferry, there’s John Cale, Brian Eno, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Harry Nilsson, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Roy Harper, Art Garfunkel and, surprisingly, the Wombles – and yes he did perform on BBC TV wearing a Womble Suit!

(Spedding’s guitar work on John Cale’s albums Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy puts a bustle in my hedgerow! – Ed.)

Add to that Spedding’s none too shabby solo career and work with his own bands Sharks and King Mob. To top it off Spedding produced the first three demo recordings for the Sex Pistols on May the 15th 1976.

A musical chameleon from his earliest days with Progger’s Pete Brown & The Battered Ornaments, to the leather clad rocker with the Elvis slicked locks belting out Motorbikin’ backed by punk rockers the Vibrators. Spedding has tackled nearly every style of rock & roll, but never quite broken through to stardom except in professional music circles.

We are going to focus on ‘Pearls’ a largely overlooked gem from 2011 where over 13 tracks, Spedding demonstrates his versatility with a diverse range of musical genres.

Spedding’s early forte was jazz-rock fusion, especially with the band Nucleus and his early solo works ‘The Only lick I Know‘ and ‘Songs Without Words’.

On ‘Pearls’ Spedding revisits those early influences.

In fact the album’s liner notes carry a message from Spedding reading in bold caps: WARNING: MAY CONTAIN JAZZ!

Reminding me of that cruel muso’s joke which quips. “The jazz musician plays 3 thousand notes to 3 people and the Punk musician plays 3 notes to 3 thousand people”.

In short, Spedding’s warning is really an explanation that on ‘Pearls’ he’s going to divulge a mixed bag.

And he does just that - in fine style.

A single guitar note heralds the opener ‘Not Luv ‘ with fine slide playing and backing vocals from Sarah Brown. It’s your standard rocker with Spedding croaking “Got an itch I got to scratch, it’s game, set and match“.

As you would expect with ‘Rhumba‘ it does exactly that, a Latin rhythm allowing Spedding to offer some tasteful licks.

Equipped with a more than experienced band including stalwart Andy Newmark on drums and the outstanding talents of Herbie Flowers (T-Rex, David Bowie, Lou Reed) on tuba and acoustic bass.

Getting down to the sounds of the bayou next is ‘Louisiana Blues‘. This has been covered by many including Steve Marriott. Chris keeps it simple offering some excellent slide work.

Spedding‘s vocalizing doesn’t have the finesse of some of the singers he’s worked with yet it gets him by – in some cases only just. Yet when you can play guitar like him your singing can be adequately camouflaged.

Given that 6 of the 13 selections on this album are instrumental Spedding is aware of his vocal limitations.

Here comes that jazz again with the instrumental ‘Cherry‘ with fine accompaniment from Charlotte Glasson on baritone saxophone.

The songs without words continue with ‘Air Guitar Woogie’ the riff having a little familiarity to the batman theme.

The instrumentals stroll on with ‘The Train and The River’, a clever interplay with Spedding gently picking, Herbie Flowers on tuba and Glasson on bass clarinet. It turns into an intimate jazz jam session.

Spedding offers a ballad at a tempered pace on ‘Temple Heath‘ yet it’s on the instrumental ‘Drippin‘ that Chris stokes up the musical drama with a riff that could well be the soundtrack to a great detective story.

Sounding very much like surf music is ‘Don’t That Pretty‘ the fifth instrumental.
With ’Abuse‘ Spedding finds his punk roots with a nifty riff and some cute lines in reference to his past hit ‘Hurt by Love’.

“We’re having a hurt day,
happy hurt day to you“

The reprise of the title track is a strange inclusion simply a continuation of the earlier song. Interesting to note it is penned by Sharks singer Snips aka Steve Parsons.

The album closes with ‘Flat Top Floogie‘, another instrumental with Spedding emulating the French jazz guitarist Django Reinhart, with some fine work on the acoustic.

You haven’t heard the last of Spedding, look forward to a new Sharks album due for release soon.

The closing words go to Chris Spedding himself: “So if dear listener, a couple of these tunes strike an agreeable chord in you, then - Job done!

Harry Steilus

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