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Graham Parker

+ {Graham Parker & The Rumour}

The dude who made mid-70s pub-rock cool, smart and sexy, amidst musos in a rush to stereotype him (and his group) along with the incumbent new wave alumni, retro-R&B soul-stirrer PARKER bit hard the bum of sarcasm – with added angst. Mentioned in the same breath as iconic American songwriters such as DYLAN and SPRINGSTEEN, his hungry, articulate approach had critics foaming at the mouth. The rumour was that as of 2012/13 he was still going stronger than ever.
Born 18th November 1950, east London, England, Graham was already something of a veteran –
having played on the continent as well as fronting a succession of capital-based outfits – when he placed an ad in Melody Maker for a backing band. Singer/songwriter PARKER’s emergence at the fag-end of the pub-rock scene in the mid-70s was fortuitous in that he secured the services of The Rumour, a combo formed from the remains of such scene stalwarts as BRINSLEY SCHWARZ, DUCKS DELUXE and Bontemps Roulee.
With assistance from future Stiff Records mainman, Dave Robinson (the brains behind The Rumour), GP cut a demo tape and sent it to Phonogram; the label sufficiently impressed to sign him to their reinvigorated subsidiary label, Vertigo. Featuring a line-up of PARKER (vocals/guitar), Martin Belmont (guitar), BRINSLEY SCHWARZ himself (guitar), Bob Andrews (keyboards), Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums), the NICK LOWE-produced debut album, HOWLIN’ WIND (1976) {*8}, didn’t have an immediate impact outside the capital but remained one of the most enduring releases of GP’s career. While the sweaty fervour of tracks such as `Soul Shoes’, `White Honey’, `Silly Thing’ and `Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions’ effectively demonstrated the combo’s hard-nosed R&B approach, the gritty melancholy of `Between You And Me’ left a deeper impression.
Following on from a much-touted and celebrated bootleg, LIVE AT MARBLE ARCH (1976) {*6}, a second set proper, HEAT TREATMENT {*8}, bubbled outside the Top 50 later that year; the fierce momentum of superior tracks `Hotel Chambermaid’ and `Pourin’ It All Out’ holding out, if not resonating, with quite the same conviction. The record’s minor success preceded a Top 30 hit in `The Pink Parker’ EP, in March ‘77 (featuring a stonking cover of The TRAMMPS’ `Hold Back The Night’) and a Top 20 placing for GRAHAM PARKER & THE RUMOUR’s third studio album, STICK TO ME (1977) {*7}. While GP was now riding into the charts on the coat-tails of the punk/new wave explosion, critics laid into what they regarded as a poorly conceived rush job, with constant comparisons to the emerging ELVIS COSTELLO not helping any. The fact was, that in `Watch The Moon Come Down’, the upbeat `New York Shuffle’ and a re-vamp of Earl Randle’s `I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’, PARKER looked to be in control.
Unhappy with what he allegedly regarded as record company incompetence, PARKER reportedly cut the inferior live double-set, THE PARKERILLA (1978) {*4}, as a means of ending his tenure with Mercury in the States. Contractual obligations or not, it was ill-advised to mess with the man upstairs, and for that matter, his loyal and trusted fans. Then again, in the early 90s, Rolling Stone put the “scary” cover shot of GP in their Top 100 LP sleeves of all time.
Subsequently signing with Arista Records in the US, the angry young man vented his pent-up frustration with the acclaimed SQUEEZING OUT SPARKS (1979) {*8}. An electrifying set more than living up to PARKER’s early promise and widely held as his peak achievement, the album’s simmering discontent was best sampled on the likes of `Local Girls’ and `Don’t Get Excited’, while `Passion Is No Ordinary Word’ was testament to the singer’s cast-iron conviction. As well as cracking the Top 20 in Britain, the record broke PARKER, to a certain degree, in the States, where it hit the No.40 as he was hailed by his peers as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
Yet he failed to build on all this; THE UP ESCALATOR (1980) {*6} – licensed to Stiff Records in the UK – too often substituted lean invention for flabby formula; despite an all-time best chart placing in Old Blighty, the album marked the beginning of a critical and commercial slump as well as the end of the man’s musical partnership with his long-time backing band. As consolation, PARKER published his first book, The Great Trouser Mystery.
Switching to R.C.A. Records, 1982’s solo debut proper, ANOTHER GREY AREA {*6}, used an array of session players (including Nicky Hopkins on acoustic piano and Hugh McCracken on electric guitar/harmonica), carrying on in much the same vein as its predecessor with only the occasional inspired track (`Temporary Beauty’ and `You Hit The Spot’) to redeem it from a critical pasting.
Recalling SCHWARZ and enlisting the help of some seasoned sessioners, Gilson Lavis (drums), George Small (keyboards) and Kevin Jenkins (bass), THE REAL MACAW (1983) {*5} was in real “parrot fashion”, something that fell short of expectations. Despite its peak position of No.59 in the States and the minor-hit standing for `Life Gets Better’, PARKER seemed to be going through the motions of an R&B sound that merged with MTV-friendly new wave.
With just about the same line-up as his previous set (minus SQUEEZE’s Gilson and plus Michael Braun), STEADY NERVES (1985) {*4} was credited to GRAHAM PARKER AND THE SHOT. His one and only album for Elektra Records, its sole (or soul) claim to fame was in US Top 40 breaker, `Wake Up (Next To You)’.
Having concentrated on the burgeoning American market where he enjoyed success on a relatively cult standard, something of a mini critical revival was afforded THE MONA LISA’S SISTER (1988) {*7} and HUMAN SOUL (1989) {*6}, albums that with the former set’s best tunes (`Ok Hieronymous’, `Get Started, Start A Fire’ and SAM COOKE’s `Cupid’) harnessed some of the wiry energy of old; squeezed somewhere in between was concert Demon Records’ set, LIVE! ALONE IN AMERICA (1989) {*5}.
While STRUCK BY LIGHTNING (1991) {*6} and BURNING QUESTIONS (1992) {*5} saw PARKER’s new family man credentials take top billing, there was still enough firebrand R&B spark to keep long-time fans on their toes, especially in tracks like `Just Like Joe Meek’s Blues’; yet another concert set, LIVE ALONE! DISCOVERING JAPAN (1993) {*5}, was strictly for hardcore fans.
Seemingly mellowing further with each passing year, 1995’s 12 HAUNTED EPISODES {*6} was a kind of pastoral PARKER equivalent to STING’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales”. Much more rocking was the following year’s concert set, LIVE FROM NEW YORK (1996) {*6}, the singer re-vamping the cream of his back catalogue (and NIRVANA’s `In Bloom’) with new backing crew, The Episodes.
Equally rocking was ACID BUBBLEGUM (1997) {*5}, an unlikely but only occasionally convincing attempt to recapture the raw and emotionally bleeding sound of old.
Double set THE LAST ROCK N ROLL TOUR (1997) {*4}, meanwhile, added to the man’s surfeit of live material, a fairly pointless concert document (with backing act The Figgs), essential for only the most diehard fans.
PARKER began the new decade on a similar note to how he’d begun the previous one, detailing the small victories and daily defeats of domestic life with DEEPCUT TO NOWHERE (2001) {*5}. If there were more defeats than victories this time around then that only made for more compelling listening.
Back on the trail, albums YOUR COUNTRY (2004) {*7} and SONGS OF NO CONSEQUENCE (2005) {*7} kept up his momentum as his star faded with every passing year, while another Figgs-backed concert record, 103 DEGREES IN JUNE: LIVE IN CHICAGO (2006) {*5} stroked GP’s ego further.
Still wearing his cool and customary shades, PARKER (through Chicago’s Bloodshot Records) delivered two dependable studio sets: DON’T TELL COLUMBUS (2007) {*7} and IMAGINARY TELEVISION (2010) {*6}. A lot to say in a stance against the global powers that be, and in a right position to do so, on “Columbus” Graham railed against Bush via `Stick To The Plan’ (in reference to Hurricane Katrina), while he probably longed for a piece of home soil by way of `The Other Side Of The Reservoir’. The latter set fared less well critically but still managed to squeeze out some sparks in `Bring Me A Heart Again’, `You’re Not Where You Think You Are’, and his near stiff-upper-lip nod to LESLEY GORE in `It’s My Party (But I Won’t Cry)’.
Inevitable as birth, taxes and the grim reaper, GRAHAM PARKER & THE RUMOUR re-formed in 2011with all the usual suspects on board: Belmont, Bodnar, Goulding, Andrews and SCHWARZ. Released in America towards the fall of 2012, but delayed in Britain until the following autumn, THREE CHORDS GOOD {*7} shrugged off any doubts that the 60-something man (and band) could still hack it among the elite. Mixing up a medicine of R&B, reggae and jazz, fans old and new would be first to sing the merits of retro-rockers, `Long Emotional Ride’, `Snake Oil Capital Of The World’ and the COSTELLO-esque title track.
Sticking with The Rumour for another round of verbally charming and astute songs courtesy of MYSTERY GLUE (2015) {*6}, GRAHAM PARKER was enjoying his gripes at the establishment and life in general. Sounding more RANDY NEWMAN than ELVIS COSTELLO these days, GP wasn’t so much Squeezing Out Sparks, more “pushing out pop” in simple songs such as best-bits `Wall Of Grace’, `Transit Of Venus’, `Slow News Day’ and the singularly uptempo `Railroad Spikes’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-MCS // rev-up MCS Dec2013-May2015

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