SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing Chris Farlowe: Stormy Monday – The Blues Years 1985-2008, 3CD Digipack


I must be honest upfront and say I’m not a die hard blues fan, I am however a die hard Chris Farlowe fan. I’ve been privileged to know him and see him work since the late 60’s. The casual fan will always think of Chris’s best known work he did for Immediate culminating in his immortal No 1 ‘Out of Time’ and his (in my view) definitive version of Mike d’Abo’s ‘Handbags & Gladrags”. Excellent raw pop/soul/r&b records. After those days, fans of jazz rock & prog rock will appreciate his work with Colosseum & Atomic Rooster. However, at heart Chris is a blues man, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the scene & may well be the finest singer of the genre this country has produced. This new 3CD set release from Strawberry Records brings together some of his greatest blues work, with his backing band The Thunderbirds, solo, & live spanning 2 decades from the 80’s to the noughties. Spanning 3 discs are 55 tracks showcasing that very special voice that remains undimmed by the passage of time. I last saw Chris just pre Covid & he was still sounding as powerful as ever. Nobody else ever sounds like him he is unique & his delivery instantly recognisable. Blues fans in my experience know their subject in minute detail & relish every nuance. As i said at the start I’m not in the die hard camp but having said that I could listen to this new compilation all day happilly. Disc1 provides us with the most traditional blues tracks culled from 1985’s ‘Out Of The Blue’ & ‘1986’s ‘Born Again’ recorded with The Thunderbirds. Produced by Mike Vernon a major figure in the British Blues scene who founded the much loved & respected Blue Horizon label. There are treats galore here from the brace of opening tracks ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ & ‘Gamblers Blues’ through the wonderful take on Bobby Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ Howlin Wolf’s ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ & my favourite BB King song ‘The Thrill Is Gone’. The musicianship on display is excellent, the brass on  ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ is just awesome. The closing 2 tracks on Disc1 constitute 2 of my favourites on the whole 3 CD set with Chris covering soul singer Don Covey’s ‘I Stayed Away Too Long’ & his interpretation of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac hit ‘Man Of The World’ which I’ve heard him do live & have long admired. Disc2 kicks off in a more blues/rock vein with the storming ‘Rock & Roll Soldier’ & ‘Livin it Up’ 2 brilliant tracks with some great guitar work from the likes of Albert Lee &  Alvin Lee. There’s a choice cover of old Stax favourite ‘Private Number’ originally performed by William Bell & Judy Clay, here Chris partners with Elkie Brook’s to bring the number a fresh feel. This leads on to his storming cover of The Small Faces No 1 ‘All Or Nothing’. Elsewhere standout highlights come from the likes of ‘Gangster Of Love’ ‘Ain’t No Big Deal’ and an inspired cover of John Fogerty’s ‘As Long As I Can See The Light’. The last half dozen tracks on the album are given over to Chris’s collaboration with Van Morrison who share a mutual admiration. I remember seeing the 2 performing live in the 90’s early 2000’s when Chris supported Van on tour. ‘It Should Have Been Me’ & ‘Blues Anthem’ top & tail the 6 tracks & bring Disc2 to a satisfying conclusion. Disc3 gives everyone a chance to hear Chris at his barnstorming best singing live, backed variously by, The Thunderbirds, The Norman Beaker Band & Roy Herrington & The Rhythm ‘N’ Blues Train. Here he serves up some of his best known work with opener ‘I Don’t Want To Sing The Blues No More’ ‘Stormy Monday’ & the aforementioned ‘All Or Nothing’ ‘Handbags & Gladrags’ ‘Out Of Time’ ‘Thrill is Gone’ and a cracking ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ before wrapping up with ‘I’ve Been Born Again’. The whole digi-pack package is as ever nicely put together, with photos & with an interesting essay from Mojo writer Lois Wilson. It has been said that Chris’s mid 60’s recording of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ is the greatest British Blues recording ever. I wouldn’t disagree with that. As I remarked earlier I believe Chris has one of the finest blues voices Britain has ever produced. Jimmy Page wanted him as lead singer for Led Zeppelin when he was putting the band together (the two had often worked together in the 60’s). Chris turned him down. That may not have been the wisest move financially, however creatively i can see why. Chris is a blues man to his very core. Enjoy.

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Til next time…..stay safe…take care…Colin

Mick O’Dowd… What a compo! Loved him since I discovered Stormy Monday on a Sue label single and found out it was him!

Alan Esdaile… I did hear Rod Stewart’s version of Handbags and Gladrags on the radio this morning but you are right Colin, you can’t beat Chris Farlowe version. Wonderful.

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