Now in their 29th year as rock 'n' roll crusaders for all that's way, way cool about early '60s Britannia pop, Merseybeat and Shadows-styled instrumentals, The Rapiers—"the best '60s band since the '60s"—are truly worth flying 5,000 miles to see, hear and dig.
Singer and keyboardist Mike Smith, born 6 December 1943, in Edmonton, North London (The Rapiers' backyard), died Thursday from pneumonia at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, a result of complications from a spinal cord injury in 2003.
Glad All Over. Do You Love Me. Because. Try Too Hard. Anyway You Want It. Catch Us If You Can. I Like it Like That. Mike sang all these, a veritable '60s songbook, cornerstones of my record collection.
I'm glad he lived to hear the news of his band's long-overdue induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, less than a fortnight away.
MUM'S NOT THE WORD: Flowers and chocolates will have to do, because a Rapiers date won't. The 2 March Mothering Day show at the Hub in Verwood is off, cancelled, reason unknown, a victim of the topsy turvy world of bookings... QUOTE OF CENTURY: That's what Colin Pryce-Jones called a recent fan comment: "Somebody came up and said to Neil or Nathan, 'Gosh, I didn't know The Shadows were called The Rapiers before they were called The Shadows!'" Um, send that fellow back to class... MADE IN SPAIN: "Our Valencia gig was fantastic," relays Colin, despite a chaotic start hours earlier during check-in at London Stansted Airport. A squabble over checking suitbags (payment required, please) saw our lads minutes away from missing their Ryanair flight. Meanwhile, that fetching Rapiers tattoo spotted by Nathan belongs to lead guitarist Sergio "Norton" Joven with Spain's rockin' Vibrants combo, who opened for The Rapiers at Surforama. BTW: Dig The Vibrants' Que bueno! home page with beatnik-cool animation galore (per image at left).
Mark your calendars, ring your rock 'n' roll neighbors, Rapiers HQ just peppered me with a baker's dozen new shows for 2008.
Among the highlights are three visits to Brean Sands in Somerset (19 July, 9 August, 16 November), three outings to the Isle of Wight (18 May, 24 May, 19 August) and two West Country visits to Devon (23 August) and Dorset (30 August). Even a jaunt to Leipzig, Germany (25 October).
During a brief afternoon trek through Valencia before The Rapiers' appearance at the recent Surforama Festival, Nathan J. Hulse snapped these impressions of the cityscape, from antennae-laden rooftops and ghostly lamposts to children's playground toys.
Fantastic show in Valencia! Happy to see The Rapiers again, especially with you on guitar. Last time I saw The Rapiers was in Málaga with Dave Lawes, and that show didn't include the songs you sing (New Orleans, Roll Over Beethoven, Twist and Shout).
Alberto, Teddy Boy Rocker
"If you don't like '50s rock 'n' roll or rockabilly," don't bother bothering Alberto, declares his MySpace profile. Naturally his musical preferences also have room for British Beat stars like The Kaisers, Screaming Lord Sutch, Johnny Kidd and The Pirates and Billy Fury. Muy bien!
FOUNTAIN DE ESPANA: Colin Pryce-Jones, John Tuck and Neil Ainsby, in danger of a soaking near Valencia's Wah Wah Club. Photo by Nathan J. Hulse.
Nevermind the Surforama theme, our lads decided three instrumentals (see setlist extract below) sufficed for Saturday's fiesta in Valencia, preferring a Rapiers vocal attack with impresionante British rock 'n' roll like I'll Never Get Over You, That's Alright and Move It. Says eyewitness Pancho Diaz:
"It was another great success and they played really well... The only thing we didn't like was that they refused to play Apache, even though people were asking for it for 10 minutes. I can understand that a lot of us in The Shadows world can get a bit tired [hearing] the same tune, but for the young people [at the festival], it's an icon of rock 'n' roll and they wanted to listen to it."
Over to Nathan J. Hulse for his spot check:
"The gig went well... Our guitars were loaned by The Vibrants... The audience was mainly a rock 'n' roll crowd; they seemed to love Wooly Bully and Twist and Shout, our encores. We went back to our dressing room for two minutes, then the promoter came in and asked us to play one more, so we did—a stonking version of Right Behind You Baby... We were looked after really well... We would like to thank Juan Diego for bringing us over to Spain."
Under the heading Instro Mania, former Chris Isaak guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, whose debut album El Dorado sees the light on Tuesday, 19 February, lays bare his soul on why he recorded an all-instrumental work under the influence of giants like Duane Eddy, The Ventures and The Shadows (not to mention night drives across the desert).
The following declaration—"I still am quite militant about instrumental music. I refuse to apologize for not having singing and words."—is taken from his MySpace blog.
I guess it's not a big secret.
El Dorado is an instrumental album.
That might scare some people away.
I remember hearing AM radio when I was a kid. It was cool to hear the hits of the day, the singing groups.
But when they would play Rebel Rouser by Duane Eddy or Walk Don't Run by the Ventures, I was drawn into the music in a much different way—even as a kid.
Music with words generally tell a story with the song. I love you, I hate you, I'm lonely, etc.
Without words, music lets the listener make the story. I still have a strong image of what see when I hear Rebel Rouser. It always took me away to a different place in my mind.
It's nothing new. Classical composers generally wrote both vocal and instrumental music. The instrumental music is generally considered the more serious work. The Symphonies. A large portion of Jazz music is instrumental.
I remember when I was first discovering some of the great music from the '50s and '60s. I found a compilation album that opened with the song:
Movin' 'n' Groovin' by Duane Eddy.
Wow—everyone knows Rebel Rouser, but this was different. It was hardcore. It was simple and compelling. It was a statement. It was like Bauhaus architecture written in Twang. I listened to that song over and over. I still do.
That lit a fire under me—I searched out every Duane Eddy record I could. In the pre-Internet days, non-top 40 records were hard to find... but after digging around and finding books and talking to people I started discovering some other artists. Link Wray. The Shadows. Billy Strange. Elmer Bernstein.
Remember the first time you heard Rumble? I sure do. Apache by the Shadows? Damn.
The more I delved in, the more I enjoyed listening to instrumentals. I found it to be great sonic wallpaper for many situations—especially driving in a car or listening on a Walkman (or iPod!). It is like having the score for the movie that is playing out before you eyes.
This music was a huge influence on me when I started playing with Chris and developing my sound. That's not a big secret.
When I decided to make a record, my first criteria was: I will make the record that I want to hear.
I like long drives, and my favorite drive is across the southwestern desert. That was my initial inspiration.
During the period I dug in to make the record I became militant about instrumental music. I almost never listened to music with lyrics and words. It sounded childish to me. I got sick of whiny people telling me their problems in a song. There's very few lyrics that didn't sound trite to me.
When you have a vocal song, the personality of the singer, and the lyrics and the inflections are in the forefront. There's not too many personalities, and lyrics, and voices that I really want to invite into my life. (Okay, definitely Merle Haggard.)
Most vocal songs rely on a beautiful voice to make them work, or a lyric hook. Without that—often, there's not much to the song. If you have a pretty voice, it can be easy to make something that sounds like a real song on first listen.
A lot of people seem to have the attitude that instrumental music is something less than vocal music. I disagree strongly.
A lot of people assume that if you make an instrumental record, that means that you can't sing. Not true. I have a halfway decent voice and love to sing.
I think it's much harder to write a compelling instrumental song.
The melody and arrangement and the performance have to carry everything. It's not as easy as it seems.
I still am quite militant about instrumental music. I refuse to apologize for not having singing and words.
I set out to make a pure musical statement.
It's up to you to understand what it means. Or where it fits in the movie of your life.
"Star guests," eh? Rapiers HQ remains tight-lipped on the 25th Anniversary festivities. That leaves you and me scratching our collective noggins. By the way, the advert below was clipped from the February 2008 Beat Magazine.
In the late '80s, the Lawes-Dallaston-Tuck-Pryce-Jones Rapiers hit the road as singer Freddie Garrity's Dreamers, yukking it behind the Merseybeat veteran (who passed away in 2006) on You Were Made for Me, I'm Telling You Now, If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody and other mid-'60s hits, even doing the requisite Freddie steps (no patch on Shads steps).
Lo and behold, three clips from a Holland performance have surfaced. Watching the act, I can't help but twitch as The Rapiers, professional as ever, seem to be on auto pilot, running at half throttle. Still, where else can you see Colin playing harmonica?
RAG! UPDATE: Rapier Dave Lawes chimes in: "I haven't seen these for years. The gig itself was for a TV show in front of a live audience of about 12,000 people, filmed just outside Amsterdam. We were on the bill with The Searchers, The Sweet and The Monkees. If you look carefully we are wearing pink tab collar shirts—the only time we wore anything other than white."
Maybe it was a slow news day, maybe only junior editors were on desk duty, but a recent Amersham and Chesham Bucks Free Press front page got wind of my latest overseas adventure, re-jiggling another mention from the paper's network.
Thanks to Rapierspotters Roger and Val White for clipping, scanning and forwarding the piece. Good news: The Whites are bringing a dozen friends to the 22 March Amersham anniversary show.
Correction: Location of handshake was actually across the street from the Hammersmith Apollo, before a 2004 Shadows reunion concert, at the Trout pub. Colin Wood, ex-Keith Powell and The Valets (see: Birmingham, 1963) snapped the picture.
We arrived at Totton a little bit late and joined the long queue waiting in the cold. Luckily when we got in the hall, our friend Ellen returned the favour from last time and kept us some seats so we had a good view for the evening; otherwise, we would have been standing at the back.
I have never known The Rapiers to play 75 minutes straight off before, it's usually an hour max. Dancers were on the floor from the start and there was such a good atmosphere for the whole evening—I'm sure the band responded to that. They played many classic numbers as well as some not so well known. As you know, I don't note the play list on these evenings but they did play one rather obscure number. Ask Colin what!
John Leyton had many fans there with plenty of females crowding around the stage. He sang all his hits and many others, interspersed with anecdotes of his career and the music business, bringing a great evening of '60s music to a close.
Barry and Julia Gillam
Word has organisers Ann and Colin Green already planning a Rapiers return engagement to the Empire Hall this fall. A Southampton tradition is born.
MOTHERING DAY: It's news to me that UK mums celebrate Mother's Day, not in early May, as we do in the States, but the fourth Sunday of Lent. This year that's 2 March, same day The Rapiers have an early afternoon curtain for a Me and My Shadows show at the Hub in Verwood, Dorset. Sweeter still: the theatre is laying on a special afternoon tea with scones and cakes in its "bright and cheery cafe" before the 4 p.m. start—one more reason to love England. To book, call 01202 828740... MEEKUMENTARY UK DEBUT: After its excellent reception in Portland, Oregon last month, A Life in the Death of Joe Meek moves on to the 2008 Glasgow Film Festival, 14-24 February. Peruse the festival programme here. I spy ALITDOJM showing at 18:30 on closing night. MUSIC MAD, I STAND ACCUSED: Don't tell the boss, but the secret's out I've got a date with the space time contiuum in Amersham next month, the Bucks Free Press has revealed.
RAG! UPDATE: The Mother's Day show is being rescheduled, possibly to another venue.
Yeah, Crouch End's Music Palace rocked, seems Totton's Empire Hall did, too, the night before.
"It was a great night, a first class night," writes Derek from Hampshire, clueing in everyone on the South Coast Shadows Club board. "We all know The Rapiers put on a great show and it proves there are still rock 'n' roll fans out there! The evening was a sell out for Ann and Colin Green, who put the night together. The Rapiers were really on form—they kept the dance floor filled all night... great to see all the old Teddy Boys and Girls."
Barry Gillam of Bournemouth agreed: "The Rapiers played for 75 minutes straight off and got the place rocking right from the start. They were as great as ever with Colin P-J showing us how to really play the guitar and get a great sound. It was certainly worth the long wait in the cold for the doors to open!"
The second half of the Greens' shindig saw the return of The Rapiers backing John Leyton, originator (with producer Joe Meek) of English Gothic pop (Johnny Remember Me the chief example), as writer Jon Savage once brilliantly observed. "He performed for over an hour with some great tunes and a good voice," Derek adds. "He got the 300-strong crowd rockin' in their seats, and I really enjoyed him."
TOTTON TIME: From left, Dave Lawes, Nathan J. Hulse, John Leyton, Colin Pryce-Jones. Photo courtesy Barry Gillam.
Is Nathan J. Hulse channeling abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) in this close-up of a simple raffle tumbler, featured on his natjag photo blog? That's my impression. Compare it against Rothko's Untitled  below right.
"One of the preeminent artists of his generation, Mark Rothko is closely identified with the New York School, a circle of painters that emerged during the 1940s as a new collective voice in American art. During a career that spanned five decades, he created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting. Rothko's work is characterized by rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale; yet, he refused to consider his paintings solely in these terms."
Just a quick line on the solo Rapiers gig Sunday at the Music Palace in Crouch End: What a blast!
Having followed the guys for a good number of years and having booked them for events in the past, it was great to be at a solo gig at such an intimate venue. Freed from the constraints of providing backing for others, they were clearly in their element and the show was very much a rock 'n' roll extravaganza with the boys playing many numbers that you rarely hear in their normal shows. Many were uptempo numbers that had much of the crowd on their feet on the dance floor right through to the end.
Playing to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd, the guys raised their game and looked to be enjoying themselves as much as the fans. Combined with the small venue, the lads helped create a wonderful atmosphere that will be long remembered and would be difficult to beat. Truly a night to be remembered (and surely repeated).
Steve, thanks for the swell news from North London. Great to hear The Rapiers tearing it up in their own backyard.