Lightning Seeds - Jollification
It was in 1995 when a 13-year-old me took to my seat for my first ever gig. I was seeing the Beautiful South, a favourite of my aunt’s who’d bagged us two tickets. I remember being nervous about the whole thing. I wasn’t sure how gigs worked if truth be told. The whole experience was somewhat daunting. And then the lights dimmed and it began. Only it didn’t. Because the Beautiful South were nowhere to be seen. “This is the support act,” my aunt told me. And I was mesmerised from then on.
The next day my aunt bought me Jollification by Lighting Seeds on CD and it didn't leave my player for the best part of a year from that day. It was the first pop music that spoke to me and it was the catalyst for me getting into music. Before that music just happened to be there in the background, chosen by someone else.
Ian Broudie’s voice drew me in and I instantly trusted him. I believed every word he sung in his understated way. And now when I hear him, regardless of where I am when the first chord is struck, I’m back in my childhood bedroom, 13 years of age, without a care in the world, blasting out Jollification, reciting his lyrics word for word. His songs flowed in much the same way a film does with a beginning, middle and end. It was structured in a subtle way that I didn’t realise music could be. To this day his tone is a tone I long to deliver in my own vocals and his songwriting is something I like to think rubs off on my own, in its own little way. Jollification is a thing of beauty and is the soundtrack to my happy childhood days and, for me, quite easily the best thing to come out of the ‘90s
The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies
I have three major obsessions in life when it comes to pop culture. The sixties (as a whole), The Beatles (as a phenomenon) and The Kinks (as band).
So, it is perhaps ironic that, despite The Kinks being synonymous with my favourite decade, it is their releases from the ‘70s that tug on my heart strings the most.
The word genius is bandied around quite a lot within music. And I guess I’m ok with that even if I don’t always see the genius that others declare. However, Ray Davies is as deserving of that title as anyone in my book. He is to the 20th century what Shakespeare was to the 16th. Rather apt when the opening track of Muswell Hillbillies is called 20th Century Man and name checks Billy Shakespeare, amongst others.
The album is Davies at his best, with 12 short stories slotted into 50 minutes of pop - laments about the progress (or lack thereof) of the modern world, tales of anxiety, the woes of repossession and depression, and a beautiful ditty about how brilliant it is to have cups of tea. It is quintessential Kinks and it’s inspired me to drink copious amounts of tea ever since.
I first remember getting into the album shortly before a weekend away in Stratford with a young lady who I’d just started seeing. Hillbillies was the only album I had in the car on the journey up and so it just stayed on repeat all the way there and back. It was driven by a wholesome acoustic in places and the narration and pronunciation of syllables leaves Davies not missing a beat as he’s perfectly in sync with the music and the band. Fast forward to me in my late thirties and I married that young lady and we named our two daughters after Kinks’ songs. Perhaps it is the sentimentalist in me that holds the album in such high esteem to this day. Or perhaps it is just because it oozes genius throughout. Maybe it is a combination of the two.
The Beatles - Revolver
I, like many, had my introduction to The Beatles via those lovely red and blue compilation LPs that my parents had on vinyl growing up. My folks didn’t have much vinyl to be honest. It was just those two and handful of Motown greatest hits. So those compilation albums were what I thought The Beatles were from a young age until around the age of 17, when I had the means to buy music on a whim.
At college I went out with a girl whose old man was a Beatle nut. He had a man-cave before man-caves were a thing, in which all the walls were donned with Beatles memorabilia. Beatle records (and only Beatle records) were spun every minute he was awake and the images from the Yellow Submarine were projected onto a wall opposite his sofa on loop. It was he that first taught me that there was more to The Beatles than those two records that were in our house growing up. And then he gave me a slightly scuffed up copy of Revolver to keep (I think I humoured him more than his daughter’s previous boyfriends).
I respectfully took the copy but didn’t think too much of it until one day I put it on at home through random curiosity more than anything else.
The entire sound felt like it was drenched in some sort of magic dust which I presumed The Beatles had found lying around in 1966. I presumed no one had been able to get hold of any ever since. It was perfect. And I know there are those that say it is let down by Yellow Submarine (those people are wrong of course). But it’s The Beatles for crying out loud. The band that evolved more than anyone else ever has, influenced more than anyone could ever measure, and perhaps most remarkably were masters when it came to self-editing. They never made bad decisions. The proof is there for us all to hear. So, if you think they did make mistakes, such as that yellow sea-faring sub, you are mistaken. They got it spot on.
The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
Arguably the greatest ever album with the greatest ever artwork. Odessey and Oracle was made to own on vinyl. To hold in your hands. To cherish and absorb.
It kicks off with that cheerful pop number about someone who’s spent time locked up in a prison cell. If that isn’t a recipe for cheerful pop I don’t know what is. But it works and Care of Cell 44 is just a sublime start to the record. The best ever start to a record.
I had owned this album for a fair few years before I really got into it. I don’t mind admitting that because it is a common theme with some of my favourite albums that narrowly missed out on my eight. There must be something in that, psychologically, that makes it all the more rewarding when an album clicks and you just get it.
When Odessey and Oracle did click with me musically, I was in the midst of a rather dark spell in my own life and suffering badly with depression. The album didn’t catapult me out of the depression. That would be a bit of a cliche had it been so. But Odessey and Oracle has a degree of melancholy about it which saw the album saddle up beside me, place a hand on my shoulder and seemingly join me on my gradual path out of the depression.
There was one track I never really understand from the album though. Indeed, with the CD version I’d often skip Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914). It was almost too dark. Too minimalist for me. And then just a few years ago I underwent a series of hypnotherapy sessions with depression returning in my life. I vividly recall leaving a session and Butcher’s Tale coming on whilst I sat alone in the car park. It was as though something inside my mind had been unlocked and the song was suddenly one of the greatest stories ever told. It doesn’t scream pop, of that I’m sure. But it is a beautifully crafted song, as is the entire album. I just had to work at it to try and understand and enjoy it.
Reading that, some may think it is a bit of guff. I like to think of it as an enlightening.
The Kinks - Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround. Part One
Back to that 1960s act with a 1970s release. Lola versus Powerman was released a year before Muswell Hillbillies and is an album that I feel had noticeable similarities with their albums up until that point, whilst giving huge hints to where Ray Davies was taking his songwriting.
That said, arguably the finest writing on the LP belonged to Dave Davies with Strangers, which is emotionally raw both in terms of the writing and the performance. And he wrote it aged just 23.
The album is a collection of evocative stories (I always prefer story to song when it comes to The Kinks). That in itself is remarkable considering they were writing about their current life at the time (see Denmark Street, Top Of The Pops, Moneygoround, Get Back In Line) yet they still managed to strike a chord with listeners where we could emphasise with the plight of these world famous musicians.
Lola versus Powerman is a fine example of a band where its individuals are all at the peak of their powers. People often say God Save The Kinks. They don’t realise The Kinks were more powerful than any god could ever be.
The American Dream - Emitt Rhodes
From the Fab Four to the man dubbed the one-man-Beatles, Emitt Rhodes and his American Dream is one of those secrets I feel everyone needs to be in on.
The story of Emitt Rhodes is a desperately sad one in many ways. A man chewed up and spat out by the music industry. Exploited and used. Left downhearted and at times bitter. Yet however hard ‘The Man’ tried to kick Emitt, he would produce beautiful songs with the gentlest of voices and the most sensitive of ears that could create melodies others folk didn’t know existed.
The American Dream was released in 1970 as contractual obligation and came after three years of recording. It gave the world a collection of songs that should be as well-known as Paul McCartney’s first solo offering. It should have been just as well revered and loved. And Rhodes deserved that love too.
If you’ve never heard of him, lucky you. You get to discover him now. And songs like Holly Park, with its chiming instrumental sections and Rhodes’ glorious melodies just make you want to have it on repeat after you’ve played it once.
Last summer Emitt unfortunately passed away. Interviews with him would suggest he still held some bitterness looking back at his career. But in his final years he also recorded and released music again after a prolonged break, this time with friends and people that loved him for his genius (that word again). I genuinely wish I could have told him just how much I loved his music. He gave so much to those that loved him and I fear he never really understood that.
John Power - Willow She Weeps
John Power’s Willow She Weeps has had a huge an impact on me and my musical life, as much as any album.
Whilst Power is well known for his part playing bass and adding harmonies in The La’s and latterly his success founding and fronting Cast, some of Power’s finest work undoubtedly come in his solo offerings which includes the 2006 release Willow She Weeps (the only album to make my list that was released within the last 25 years).
During his tour for Willow She Weeps myself and two of my band mates saw Power at a very intimate gig that could have easily been pulled due to lack of ticket sales.
That night Power changed our outlook on how we ourselves wanted to sound as a band and, as a result, we ditched a loud and driven lead guitarist and went more ‘rootsy’ with an acoustic rhythm behind our sound. Less was more for Power and that night we realised.
His vocals on Willow She Weeps are enchanting and earthly. His tales sound as though they’ve been handed down over generations by sailors and sea-faring fellows. If I could have bottled that feeling that night, I would have done so. And savored it, one small sip at a time over the years that followed.
But I am delighted to say that each time we’ve seen John Power doing his solo albums since, every venue has been rightfully rammed, full of admiring fans. We’ve met him a few times too. And he’s exactly what you’d hope from someone who comes across as a man of the people. Down to earth. Proper rootsy.
The Mariners - The Tides Of Time
I guess this album will always mean more to me than any other, given the fact it was my band’s debut. I toyed with the idea of not writing about it. I didn’t want it to come across as self-promoting. But having read other Eight Albums submissions, it would have not been in keeping with the ethos of what this is to leave it out.
One of my own biggest failings as a listener to music is, each time I hear a song I love, I want to pick up my own guitar and write something, inspired by a sound, a theme, a lyric or just a general feeling. It makes listening to records a tough task at times.
Our own album was written over the best part of a decade. It wasn’t that we weren’t proactive. But we have always had difficulties when it comes to drummers. So, five years ago we finally managed to get in a studio with a settled line-up and attacked a bunch of songs, safe in the knowledge that it could be our last chance to make something releasable. We left the studio having laid down 15 rhythm tracks in one day, only to then spend the next four years working on overdubs. It was a long process, mainly because we never felt as though we were in a rush. What’s another year or two when you’d been crafting these songs for so long.
The recordings demonstrate what we feel is a wide variety of our influences all coming together. It’s the diet of music we were brought up on, recorded in our own unique way in kitchens, bathrooms, pantries and garages. That in itself was the fun. We’d had attempts in previous years in big, plush studios. And it never worked for us. We realised we needed total control without any time constraints that came with paying for a studio and hiring a producer/engineer who didn’t know us. We made what we image were quite common mistakes in that sense.
When it was finally finished, we decided we’d release it and get ourselves a vinyl pressings each for prosperity. We never intended to release it for anyone else. It was more to put it out there so that in years to come we could at least look back on a proper, finished album. But, as luck would have it, a few folk found it online and started sharing through Twitter and, before we knew it, we’d been able to sell out 100 copies on CD and had lots of requests for it to be released on vinyl.
So, we are now a year on from that and are about to release our second album which is arguably a better body of work, as we’ve improved as a recording group no end in this last couple of years. But that first album will always be the first. No one can take that away from us. It will always be the documentation of our first ten or so years writing songs together. And it is out there now, forever. So, whether copies end up on record collector’s sites, eBay or car boots, there will always be a little part of our little band that is out there ready to be discovered by a new set of ears. And that is one hell of a buzz, I can tell you.
Luke Williamson is a 38 year-old song writer who fronts The Mariners, a Nottingham based pop band inspired by the pop sensibilities of the 1960s. He started his own musical journey back in the early 2000s fronting a Beatles cover band before moving on to work on original material, with The Mariners eventually releasing their own debut album in 2020 called The Tides of Time.
Luke is also an artist who illustrates football ground scenes from yesteryear (www.lukewilliamsonart.com), capturing moments in time primarily for football grounds that no longer exist, or have been renovated beyond all recognition.
Luke Williamson can be found on Twitter @LtWilliamsonArt whilst The Mariners can be found @TheMarinersBand