In 2007 I hosted an Open Mic Night at Bar La Leyenda in Madrid. Sparsely attended, the evening had a tendency to attract regulars. Occasionally though we would attract visitors from out of town. One night, one such visitor walked through our door, a singer/songwriter from San Francisco. His name was Avi Vinocur.

He asked if he could play a couple of songs and midway through the first song I realised that I would have been happy to have him play all night for us. One of the regulars asked me: “Hey, Jules, how come he gets to play four songs?”

“Because he’s a professional, Raúl.” I replied.

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And he was. The boy could play. And sing. He played a few of his own songs and finished up with an excellent version of ‘Helter Skelter’ by The Beatles. I bought a copy of his New York EP and whilst I enjoyed listening to it, I was disappointed that it did not contain a song that he had played live called ‘I Miss San Francisco (But I Miss You More), an Avi Vinocur original that would not have seemed out on place on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. It was really that good.

I saw Avi perform at another open mic (the excellent Tres Tristes Trastes) whilst he was in Madrid and he came back to us at La Leyenda and played another set and threw in an excellent cover version of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. When he returned to America I followed his career from afar. He continued to play solo and for a period of time joined a band called The Stone Foxes. He also formed a group called Goodnight Texas.

 

In 2016 he joined James Hetfield’s third annual Acoutstic-4-A-Cure benefit concert at San Francisco’s Fillmore. Avi accompanied the Metallica frontman on mandolin during a set that included ‘The Unforgiven’. He repeated his turn on mandolin with Metallica during their performance at the Masonic in San Francisco on November 3 2018.

He released a solo album in 2017 called NO CAUSE FOR ALARM. In the words of Emma Silvers of the San Francisco chronicle:

Recorded entirely in the singer’s bedroom in San Francisco’s Sunset District, NO CAUSE FOR ALARM‘s intimacy and drama is heightened by the absence of drums; Vinocur lets his voice, paired with a 1998 Fender Toronado through a Milkman amplifier, stay front and center.

I concur. The simple fingerpicking and the melodic, melancholic (melandolic?) song structure that characterises NO CAUSE FOR ALARM is both tuneful and authentic. Over a decade had passed since I first saw that kid make a handful of people fall silent at Bar La Leyenda – but what I saw in him that night I saw in him again on ‘The Walls of Michigan’ video (below). The boy always did have a rare talent.

 

 

 

 

You Don’t Know This Yet.

Jargon. Deep End. The Rhondo Zephyr. Dude. Q.

Tommo. Paul ‘Tommo’ Thompson. Paul Kier.

So where do we begin?

We begin with the truth, of course. A handsome wiry Scouser. A superb lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist schooled in the pantheon of classic rock – but with an epic sense of musical ambition. Intense. Prowling. Stalking. Paul Thompson.

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I first saw Deep End live at The State Ballroom on Dale Street. It was 1996. They had recently changed their name from Jargon and had signed a publishing deal with BMG and a management deal with Mark Cowley and Steve Levy of Hug Management. They were a three-piece and generated a big sound. Imagine a Scouse Talking Heads with a penchant for Heavy Metal. Paul liked his guitar solos brief and fast and he delivered them on a black Les Paul Gibson, which like a true guitar hero, he wore like a weapon. That night at The State they played a song called ‘Deep Blue Sea’ which stuck in my head for days afterwards:

‘Feel it surround me, floating to the bottom of my deep blue sea…’

They had a whole host of brilliant songs: Working Class Kid, Evolution, So We Go On, The Lone Danger, Sleep and as they started working with Lance ‘Tommy’ Thomas they became even more epic reminiscent of Heroes period Bowie. In the studio Paul was obsessive: he insisted on re-recording songs countless times, trying to remain true to a vision that he and he alone could see. I would hear a demo of a new song, become attached to it – and then become dismayed when subsequent new versions would emerge within a brief period of time, usually missing a backing vocal or guitar part that I had become accustomed to hearing.

 

I toured with Deep End as a guitar tech, at gigs in Liverpool and then at showcases in London and other parts of the country. We travelled up to Glasgow for In The City 1997 and the band played a superb set at Betty Mayonnaise. There were several A&R in the room and I was convinced that the band would sign the huge deal that their talents deserved. We toured with Space in 1998. We travelled in a sleeper coach and I was delighted to see Paul strut his stuff on stages that were almost big enough to hold him. Deep End belonged on the big stage. They shared that quality with Muse, another rock three-piece who can make a stadium appear small.

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Unfortunately Deep End were one of the very few quality Liverpool bands of the mid-90s who did not sign a major record deal, which is why the music of Paul Thompson remains criminally unknown. Of the numerous acts who I was privileged to work with during my time at The Liverpool Music House (51-55 Highfield Street), Paul Thompson is perhaps the one who was most deserving of stardom. Paul was extremely intense and would seem to experience stark emotional highs and lows. He was practical, spiritual and where others might see NWO conspiracy theories, Paul would often see a glimpse of the truth, convinced that there was something that we were not being told.

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There were too many different band names and too many different band members. Riding with Paul was like riding with Icarus. The songs were incredible but sometimes there were even too many of them! Too many different versions at least.

The music of Paul Thompson was a major part of the soundtrack to my teenage years. Sadly, there is precious little trace of it on the internet. I suspect that this may in part be due to Paul’s obsessive perfectionism – a fear of ‘finishing’ which can paralyse every artist, especially a great one. It is my great hope that Paul will one day self-publish his anthology of recordings. Such a document would provide a useful blueprint to any aspiring musician concerned with the art of songwriting and attitude.

 

 

 

Edward James Murphy is one of Liverpool’s greatest songwriters. He remains best known for his work with Rain – but the body of work that he produced with Proper and Waste contains music that stands shoulder to shoulder with the very best. I was fortunate to work closely with Ned when I worked at The Liverpool Music House, 51-55 Highfield Street. Proper had taken over the downstairs studio recently vacated by Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and the band were happy for me to sit in on their rehearsals and recording sessions – in exchange for me making regular trips to Sayers in Dale Street or to Studiocare across the hallway when DATs were needed.

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Proper were Ned Murphy, Scott Carney, Lee Watson and Leon Caffrey. They were signed to Chrysalis and released one single ‘Catch Me A Star’ in 1996. Proper toured extensively in the UK and recorded one unreleased album with producer Hugh Jones (Icicle Works, Echo and the Bunnymen, Dodgy, The Bluetones) at Rockfield Studios in Wales.

The unreleased album had a number of tracks that deserve to sit in the pantheon of Liverpool classics. My personal favourite was ‘I Woke Up’, a song which effectively distilled the essence of Ned’s songwriting: bittersweet, melancholic, melodic and hopeful.

‘Well I woke up this morning, from my hazy shade of drink and drugs and everything combined – and I’ll feel good tomorrow, my belief has come again now that the hunger is restored…’

There were many other great tunes on the album, amongst them ‘Lazy Daisy Jane’ and ‘Stay in Bed’ – but Proper were dropped by Chrysalis and disbanded soon after. Leon, a superb drummer, joined Hug Management stablemates Space – and I was happy when my brother Patrick, then features editor at Rhythm Magazine was able to put him on the cover of the UK’s number one selling drum magazine. Scott joined China Crisis and Lee would later join The Sums. Immediately after Lee’s departure from Proper, Ned, Scott and Leon continued as a three-piece for one short lived tour billed as ‘The Attention Seekers’.

After the dissolution of Proper, Ned formed ‘Waste’ and five songs from Proper’s unreleased debut album found a home on the  ‘Songs You’ve Never Heard’. The best of those songs are ‘Fear Addiction’ and ‘Can You See Her’.

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In the course of his career Ned Murphy has been signed to the following record labels: Columbia, Chrysalis, Jealous Records (subsidiary of London Records). If Ned was a football player he would be one whose combined transfer fee rivalled that of many other more famous contemporaries.

At the tail-end of 2016, a reformed Rain released their first new music in over twenty years. Their brilliantly titled second album, ‘Ten Belters and a Slow One’, reunited Ned and Colin Clarke and also featured Vinny James on drums, a man I had once known well from my time on the road with his former band Deep End (previously known as Jargon). The stand-out track on ‘Ten Belters’ is ‘It Ain’t Easy’. The first time I heard it I knew by the end of the first chorus that Ned had struck gold again and I played ‘It Ain’t Easy’ repeatedly over the following weeks. It made me smile to think that Ned, even without the backing of a major label, was still banging out belters (or belting out bangers) like he always had done.

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Ned Murphy and Scott Carney (Proper) 2017

In November 2017, Ned Murphy and Scott Carney, billed as Proper for one night only, took to the stage at District in Liverpool and performed a short set in tribute to Lee Watson who had tragically died the year previously.

Best of Ned Murphy:

Rain: Lemonstone Desired, It Ain’t Easy

Proper: I Woke Up, Fear Addiction, Catch Me A Star, Fly On, Lazy Daisy Jane,

Waste: Hang On, Highs and Lows, Can You See Her

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Ultramotive Magazine – 1996

 

 

 

 

 

The first open mic night at which I ever performed was a Thursday night session at the Jacaranda in Liverpool in 1999. The floodgates opened and afterwards I began to frequent songwriter nights across Merseyside. Stamps Bistro in Crosby was a particular favourite. After graduating from university in 2006, I moved to Madrid to teach English and founded Open Mic Madrid – a songwriter’s night in the Spanish capital. Over the years I have performed at countless open mics in the UK and have also guested at songwriter’s nights in Germany, America and Argentina.

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Be Quiet Night is a Neapolitan ‘Palco Libro’. From its inception in 2012 it was hosted at various venues across Campania. The format is simple: Performances start at 10PM sharp, the first eight performers play two songs apiece. The following ten performers play one song: 18 performers – 26 songs. There is cross collaboration, the organisers (well-known city songwriters and musicians) are friends and often back each other up (see photo above). Cover versions are generally frowned upon although traditional folk songs have been known to sometimes slip though the net. The key message of Be Quiet Night is: ‘Leave your ego at the door’. There is talent. There is a show. But this is not a talent show. The organisers are welcoming and supportive. The audience are expected to ‘Be Quiet’ and give the performers their full attention. This is not a place where shouting to your friends over an artist’s performance will be tolerated. Respect is the code. The first Be Quiet Night I attended was at CPA Live (Via Port’Alba) on 15 May 2015. The second was at Cellar Theory Live in Vico Acitillo.

Be Quiet Night is the brainchild of Neapolitan singer/songwriter Giovanni Block. Charismatic and talented, Giovanni is a first class entertainer. As well as the aforementioned co-founder, I had the pleasure of being exposed to a number of excellent songwriters including Massimo De Vita and Michelangelo Bencivenga (Blindur), The Isernia Brothers – Cesare (Cè) and Gaetano – and Micaela Tempesta.

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Blindur, The Isernia Brothers, Julian Reid, Micaela Tempesta et al.

In the last few years, Be Quiet Night has grown from an open mic to something approaching a cultural phenomenon in Naples. It now takes place each month at the historic Teatro Bellini in the centre of the city. Be Quiet Night was broadcast on Italian state TV channel Rai 2 on the 23rd August 2018.

 

In the early 1990s I attended Merchant Taylors’ School for Boys in Crosby. I had a good friend called Chris who introduced me to his little brother Matt. Matt had a friend called Charlie Turner who was also two years below me at school. After leaving Merchant Taylors’ I would often bump into Matt and Charlie at gigs in Liverpool. I was heavily involved in the Liverpool Music Scene and would evangelise to Matt about bands such as Proper, Gluebound and Deep End.

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Matt and Charlie formed a punk-pop band called Resthome. I remember seeing them play at The Pit in Duke Street and it was obvious that Matt had the potential to be an excellent frontman. Charlie and Matt drafted in Ben Gordon on guitar and Bryan Johnson on drums and Resthome became Pinhole. Their young manager Simon ‘Shifty’ Ryder, operating with limited resources, did an excellent job in providing the band with opportunities and raising their profile nationwide. Shifty met Thrill City President John Robb at a Queens of the Stoneage gig and he (Robb) expressed his admiration for Pinhole and agreed to offer them a single deal. The band released the ‘breaking hearts & windows EP’ in 2001. It consisted of four tracks, of which my personal favourite is ‘Is This The End’, an urgent melancholy rock track. ‘City Living’ was also an enjoyable punk-pop tune, reminiscent of The Jam and The Undertones.

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To support the release of the EP, a UK tour was scheduled and Matt and Shifty asked if I would tour manage the band. I had spent several years working for Hug Management at 51-55 Highfield Street and had several UK tours under my belt with artists from the Hug roster, including Space. I was also usually the defacto tour manager/guitar tech whenever Hug’s unsigned bands played Liverpool. Pinhole could offer no money, only PDs of a tenner a day – but because of my friendship with Matt and the fact that the rest of the lads in the band were extremely likeable, I agreed to captain the Good Ship Pinhole on its maiden voyage of the UK.

I was Pinhole’s tour manager for two extremely messy UK tours and numerous one-off shows. The band made it clear that they considered my most important duty as tour manager to be making sure that we were given the ‘bottle of voddy’ that had been promised as part of the rider. Copious amounts of ‘dirty rocky’ were consumed and everybody on the tour came close to losing  their minds, with the possible exceptions of Jason ‘Jay Dog Fearnley’ (our rock-steady driver and drum tech) and Bryan ‘BJ’ Johnston (the band’s drummer). We also took a video camera on tour and filmed hours of footage, documentation of our descent into weed induced psychosis. Sadly (or perhaps fortuitously) the camcorder tapes were lost and the tour footage never saw the light of day. We would generally stay in Travelodges, usually in the same room, although there was one memorable night when we stayed at the legendary Columbia Hotel in London.

Other tour memories include:

  • being run out of Hastings by local thugs who had taken a dislike to us
  • being given a pre-gig Alice in Wonderland style tea-party in the promoter’s daughter’s bedroom before the show at Lincoln Bivouac
  • listening to System of a Down and Soulwax in the van
  • hanging out with Rat Fink Jr from the band Alien Sex Fiend

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The band had a friend in Lytham St Anne’s who had access to a plentiful supply of mind and mood altering substances. The aforementioned friend had asked if Pinhole would be available to perform at his 50th birthday party and the band were happy to oblige. We rocked up in our red van to the Royal British Legion in Lytham St Anne’s, the band performed and then the party moved en masse to an old house somewhere else in town. The madness that ensued was something between Scarface, Heart of Darkness and This is England and at 7AM we were in the garden, chatting nonsense to an assortment of gangsters and hardcases. It took me three days to recover physically and over a decade to recover mentally. Often after a night of hard partying I would wake up and regret the events of the night before: after Lytham St Anne’s I woke up and regretted my entire life. A year later I was chatting with Matt and I mentioned the party in Lytham St Anne’s. A traumatised look flashed across Matt’s face and he whispered: ‘Lytham St Anne’s is an expletive as far as I’m concerned, Jules. Please don’t mention it again.’

A few months after the tour had ended I was with Matt at Hannah’s Bar on Hardman Street when Wayne Rooney scored his last-minute winner against Arsenal in. We were both Evertonians and celebrated wildly. A few months later we were hanging out at The Picket with Pete Wylie who said: ‘That commentator (Clive Tyldesley) really got it right with that ‘Remember the name!’ comment’.

Another highlight of that period was Matt joining me onstage at The Picket (and other venues) and singing lead vocals on a song that I wrote about our drinking sessions called ‘The Comedown Train’.

I travelled with the band to BBC Maida Vale Studios London for their Peel Session which was broadcast on 27 January 2002. The Peel Session featured four songs: Addicted to You, City Living, Is This The End? and a cover of The Clash song ‘I’m So Bored Of The USA’. It is a fascinating document, showcasing a young punk pop band developing their craft.

In my opinion, Pinhole’s finest moment remains ‘Morning Rain’, which was a double A side with ‘So Over You’. I would go so far as to say that ‘Morning Rain’ is better than anything that The Dead 60s would later release, with the possible exception of ‘Stand Up’. I was surprised when ‘So Over You’ received the lion’s share of attention, featuring in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 2002.

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Pinhole’s gig-of-a-lifetime came on 15th July 2002 when they were hand-picked by Green Day to support them at Newcastle Arena. Matt told Debbie Johnson in The Liverpool Echo:

It was great. It came about because they’d heard of us, and because Steve Lamacq recommended us to them when they were looking for a support. It was really great of them. We were the only band supporting them and they knocked back much bigger bands than us. They listened to our music from the website and liked it. They were really nice guys, and the singer, who has his own record label back in the States, is interested in putting some of our stuff out over there. It was quite an experience.

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Pinhole changed their name, their sound evolved , and they went on to achieve success as The Dead 60s touring extensively around the world and releasing two albums. They are best known for their track Riot Radio which currently has over a million plays on Spotify. The Dead 60s disbanded in 2008.

 

I was exchanging WhatsApp messages with Matt the other night and I asked him about Pinhole. He said:

“It’s a part of my life that I don’t really think or talk about. But it was a great part of my life – and one that I should think and talk about.”

When I was young, music seemed like a Magic Porridge Pot that would always inspire me, educate me and manipulate my emotions. In my teenage years I discovered new musical gems every week and it seemed like the drug would always work it magic. As any addict will testify though, there comes a time when the high does not come as easily as it once did. In my early twenties I started to seek out music with slightly less enthusiasm and by the time I hit my thirties – it felt as though I was desperately trying to recapture a feeling that to a large extent had been lost.

Whenever I see a new band or attend a live music event, I am always hoping to catch a melody that will remind me why I fell in love with music. I love it when I leave a venue and am still singing a song in my head on the walk home. I particularly love it when the tune provider is an unsigned or ‘local’ band. I feel like a prospector who has struck gold.

I attended the Oxford Punt festival in 2016 and was lucky enough to hear two such ‘golden nuggets’ by different acts on the same night that stuck in my head and couldn’t wait to hear them again.

The first gem was unearthed at The Purple Turtle and was by an act called Moogieman. I had actually played at several Open Mic Nights with Moogieman himself, Shan Sriharan. At the Oxford Punt, Moogieman (performing with with his backing band ‘The Masochists’) played a song which I thought was probably called ‘Shoot You’ (owing to its triumphant, climactic refrain) which reminded me of The Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman and The Violent Femmes. I saw Shan at another Open Mic night and told him: ‘You really must record that ‘Shoot You’ song.

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The ‘shoot you song’ is actually called ‘Summer of ’09’ and the shooting in question refers to the type executed by film or photograph (a scene, film, etc.) ‘she has just been commissioned to shoot a video’. Cameras and photography are a recurring theme in Moogieman’s Work.

Listen to ‘Summer of ’09’ here.

 

 

My brother Patrick formed the band Evangelista in 1993. They released one extended player CD, boxes of which are still in the attic in my mother’s house. ‘Supermodel’ is their signature piece. It is atmospheric, reminiscent of Joy Division. The lyric ‘You are a Lady of Victories’ references the Catholic church in Hightown where I was baptised.

Evangelista were Pat Reid (vocals), Martin Ellis (guitar), Paul Ewart (bass) and Al Murray (drums). Pat and Martin were at school together in Crosby, Liverpool. Pat was at Oxford with Al who would later achieve great fame as a stand-up comedian.

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Here are some photographs of myself, my brother and Al Murray performing at the Balham Banana in 2004.

In the summer of 1999 I worked as a football (soccer) instructor at Camp Greenbrier for Boys in Alderson, West Virginia. One night during House Party (Family Camp), Virginia Beach based singer/songwriter David Carter performed a selection of cover versions (including Crash into Me by Dave Matthews and Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison) and some of his own compositions. I remember the campfire atmosphere and the performance of a David Carter original called ‘Twister in the Nude’. I heard that song only once in fifteen years (the night it was performed) yet I was still able to hum the chorus and recall some of the lyrics before recently finding a recording of the song on YouTube. I appreciate songwriting that grabs the listener’s attention and refuses to relinquish it.

You can learn more about David Carter here.