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My Top Albums: Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre

armchair theatre_2_jpg

The Preamble

Ah hello! Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and welcome to my latest blog post. This week I have been mostly listening to Armchair Theatre, the debut solo album by Jeff Lynne. It has been given the remaster treatment, a freshen up in the packaging department and available on CD for the first time in well over ten years. Never heard of Jeff Lynne? Where have you been? Multi-instrumentalist, singer, song writer, producer and collaborator with some of the biggest names in music. More than that though, he was the creative force in the Electric Light Orchestra. He wrote, arranged and produced all the songs.

As we’ve established, this is Jeff’s solo debut. While there may have been a little over four years since the Electric Light Orchestra quietly disbanding after contractually obliged final album Balance of Power and the release of this album, Lynne was far from idle. He had written and produced with George Harrison on the Cloud Nine album which led to him becoming a Traveling Wilbury along with George, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Co-writing and production duties on Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty’s fantastic first solo offering, beckoned soon after.

Upon its original release, Armchair Theatre contained eleven songs. Eight original compositions – one of which co-written with Tom Petty – and three cover versions. It also featured a stellar cast of musicians. First and four-most we have Jeff, who plays guitars, keyboards, bass, pianos and drums. In addition, George Harrison guests on a few numbers playing a cracking slide guitar and providing backing vocals. Ex-ELO band mate Richard Tandy appears throughout the album providing keyboards, guitars and backing vocals. Jim Horn provides saxophone on a couple of songs, Mette Methiesen drums on the songs Jeff doesn’t and Del Shannon crops up on backing vocals. And it was all recorded in Lynne’s home studio in Warwickshire, England.

My regard for the album is incredibly high. I originally bought the album over a decade ago on vinyl and had been searching for a copy on CD ever since. I had to “back up” the vinyl copy onto CD as the record became very, very worn as it became one of my most played albums in my collection. I’d spend many hours in second hand record shops (when they existed) looking for a copy to no avail. So, Christmas came and the gifts bestowed upon me included Mr. Blue Sky (I’ve already reviewed that) and Long Wave (I will be reviewing that). Within both of these was an advert card for forthcoming Jeff Lynne related releases. ELO Live, a remaster and re-release of Zoom and, at long last, a fully remastered Armchair Theatre. Release date here in the UK – 22nd April, the day before the birthday of yours truly. Excellent!

The package arrrived containing Armchair Theatre and Zoom (I’ll review that another time) and it’s been repackaged in a gatefold card sleeve more reminiscent of an old LP with a picture disc and full booklet. It also includes two extra songs that were recorded around the same time as the rest of the LP but didn’t make the cut.

What I do like are the sleeve notes by Eric Idle. Well, I use the term “sleeve notes” in just about the loosest term possible. It’s actually Eric Idle recalling a story about him trying to write the sleeve notes, coercing Billy Connolly into helping while all the time trying to convince Lynne that they had really done them. All whilst the three of them are having a meal in a restaurant eyeing up the waitresses.

One little quip from the liner notes: “How about we say originally it was a Virgin record? It had no hole in the middle.”

The songs

It’s a typically Jeff Lynne sounding album, with his trademark production sound, which is something I’m a big fan of. It’s more of a stripped back sound than many of the earlier ELO songs. The album kicks off with a bang. Well actually, it kicks off with Every Little Thing, which is a fantastic start with powerful drums and bass and then kicks into the verse with an effective saxophone refrain throughout. Good choice for the first single, too, though commercial success for the album and singles was never great despite the generally positive reviews received at the time. If the miracles of modern technology are, by some miracle, actually working then you should be able to see the video placed above. The real life and animated video contains cameo appearances by George Harrison and Tom Petty.

Next up is the first of three cover versions on Armchair Theatre, Don’t Let Go. Catchy, short rockabilly number originally written by Jesse Stone and featuring some great saxophone by Jim Horn. The other covers are excellent versions of September Song and Stormy Weather, the latter of which was recorded as a tribute to Jeff’s late mother. Both of these feature George Harrison at his slide guitar playing best and all three covers demonstrate that Lynne can do a decent cover version, simultaneously keeping the mood of the original but adding a little something.

Lift Me Up is a contender for one of the best songs on the album. The second and final single from the album, it is a piano and guitar-led ballad  and again showcases George Harrison’s soulful slide guitar. Hopefully, by the miraculous miracles of modern miraculous technological miracles, the video should appear at the bottom of the blog entry. If it doesn’t I’ve wasted my time writing this.

Nobody Home is, as far as I’m concerned is a bit of filler. I like it, but I do find myself reaching for the skip button every now and then so I shall cease writing about it. Now You’re Gone is an Indian tinged song, complete with Indian percussion and harmonies and a fantastic violin solo. Don’t Say Goodbye is a pleasant song that could have quite easily been recorded in the early 196os.

What Would It Take is, along with Lift Me Up, my favourite track on the album and is a fairly straight forward guitar-led song. Simple bass, simple drums, great vocals and a smidge over two and half minutes long. Blown Away was co-written with Tom Petty and wouldn’t have been out of place on Full Moon Fever. Has quite a hint of Beatles about it. Final song on the original album running order is Save Me Now which is a very short ecologically-minded acoustic number which did end the album perfectly. However, there are two bonus tracks that were recorded around the same time. Borderline is an acoustic strumalong, and would have made a welcome addition in the original album line-up. Forecast is, rather predictably, a song about the weather and is more than just a little Beatlesque. This too sounds too good to have been left off the album in the first instance.

I’ve bored you for long enough now, but it’s great to hear the album fully remastered and not just a “back-up” of a very worn out record. It rates in my top ten albums ever, and I haven’t grown tired of listening to it yet. My rating out of ten? Well, I have to skip a song so I’ll be fair and call it nine. I’ve kept you for long enough, go and make a cuppa and watch the video for Lift Me Up, below.

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pass the blanket and slippers, I’ve bought me a Rover.

A Rover 25, yesterday

A Rover 25, yesterday

So, we’ve bought yet another car, though this time it’s not through choice or wanting to. Some inconsiderate cow of a woman-person decided it would be a good idea to have a game or Russian Parking Roulette. What would have been a routine visit and lunch at the local supermarket turned out to be a total twat of an occasion, as the aforementioned woman-person in her Renault Laguna caved in the rear door of our “beloved” (ha!) Corsa, and the insurance company declared it a write-off. The fact that this wrote off a 10 year old car is deeply frustrating and needless, especially as we’d spent a small fortune on the Corsa just before Christmas and got the thing mechanically just so. As working for a franchised Fiat and Alfa dealer when the scrappage scheme was in full force made me cringe as to what good cars were sent to the crusher, so to know this little Corsa was being sent to an early grave was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. However, things change and move on, and so it had to go. But what to replace it with? We needed something to carry us and a toddler approaching his terrible twos. Oh, and all his crap – literal and metaphorical.

We were due to go on holiday, typically, and two days before we were due to drive from Cornwall to Teesside the Corsa got collected by the insurance company. True, we had Edgar the 205, but I wasn’t about to do nigh-on 500 miles in a 954cc French buzzbox with wife and child on board. If I was doing the journey myself, I would have done! So, we were going to hire some brand new peace of Korean misery, but quotes were flying in excess of £350 to hire a car so bearing that in mind, we set to work to find a car that most people on Autoshite would be proud of. There wasn’t much for what we wanted to spend and the decent stuff was too far away. Plenty of stuff on Gumtree, again too far away. So we thought sod it, we’ll hire something and buy something when we’re away.

The following day we took a walk and at the end of the road was a 1999 Rover 25 in metallic blue, with 8 months ticket on it advertised at £475. My wife, knowing that I’ve gone on about the renowned OMGHGF of the K Series engine, asked if these are the ones that go pop regularly I confirmed it. We contacted the seller man-person, who turned out was a trader man-person who I’ve sold a few motors to in the past. We had a good look at it, looked at the vast amount of service history which included a replacement head gasket with the modified parts done within the last eight months. So we slept on it (not literally, that would be stupid) and reconfirmed how much it would cost to hire a car.

The following morning, the wife-person says something along the lines of “Well, if we beat him down in price, buy the car, it’s going to cost 100 quid maximum more than hiring some little box. If we don’t like it, we can sell it on and if it breaks we’ll bin it and grab another one.”

I liked her train of thought, so we thought sod it, we’ll buy it. Wife-person phoned up man-person, haggled a bit and got it for £430. We picked it up Wednesday evening, bearing in mind we were going away Thursday.

So, what is it?
Well, it’s a dark metallic blue Rover 25 1.6. Three owners from new, one of them clearly blind as one of the previous owner-persons fitted it with ghastly Lexus lights. SWMBO-person likes them and alas they’re staying put. If they meet with an “accident” then so will I, I’m told. Its interior has been relatively well looked after, got four good condition alloys, a pretty much full 14 year service history and (after the holiday) 107,000 miles on the clock. The bodywork has a few rust spots and in some places on the bonnet the lacquer has seen better days. Other than that, it wears its years well.

Equipment levels aren’t bad – leccy sunroof, mirrors and windows. It also has occasional central locking, ABS, airbags, power steering and comfortable multi adjustable seats. Rover definitely engineered this car for the older person-person. People with lumbago as there are so many different lumbar support positions. People with glaucoma or some other sight related deficiency as the steering wheel is the same thickness as the average German saloon, the gear knob is the size of a desert and all the switches are chunky and easy to read. Oh and there’s wood! Wood!

“Hmmm hmmm heh. He said wood, hmmm hmmm heh.”

However, the way it drives is totally different. It doesn’t drive like a 107,000 mile car, feels about half that. It’s quite sporty. That 1.6 K series lump is smooth, refined but an absolute gem when you apply the right foot. Indeed, it’s a very rev-happy unit. The steering turn in is a marked improvement over the Corsa, being a hydraulic system rather than the ball ache electronic unit. It handles nicely, corners well, though the gearshift is a bit too clunky. Boot is a good size and the front is roomy enough, however because of the sloping roof, the rear headroom is a wee bit clip.

So, to summarise: Corsa gets side-bummed by stupid woman-person, nasty man-person in transporter takes it away, we buy a 14 year old Rover with a K Series engine instead of hiring a new car with full warranty back up and breakdown cover. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Well, ye of little faith, nothing so far. In just over a week it did a trip from Cornwall to Teesside and back again and including the driving around the North East, that’s 1200 miles. 1200 fault free, comfortable miles. It hasn’t missed a beat. Plus for the wife to go to work and back everyday since getting back home (35 mile round trip). For the moment, this car is a keeper, but hopefully we’ll keep it longer than for the moment as we’ve grown quite fond of it. It has minor irritations that need sorting, such as the dreaded water in the boot, which just so happens to coincide with the rear screen washer not working, the central locking sorting and a quick engine service. But for what we paid, this is a seriously good little car.

Looking for a cheap car? If you’re prepared to accept that at some point you’ll have to have the head gasket done, you could do a lot worse than a 25. The interior build still seems solid after those years and miles, the whole car still feels tight. It’s good fun to drive and refined at the same time. Try one, just don’t believe that they’re only for old people!

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April 12, 2013 Posted by | Motoring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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