Top Fifty 7: James Taylor – Sweet Baby James, 1970

[Originally posted April 2012]


James Taylor

Two interesting factors bear on this posting – firstly, it is my 26th in this selection of a top fifty which is hardly random yet can never be complete as it is impossible to definitively make such a selection, but I’m half-way through the effort and delighted to be arriving at this wonderful choice; and secondly, when my youngest daughter visited recently and I was playing a live recording of early Taylor she complained that it reminded her of Sundays when she lived here and I was working as a teacher: hopefully not entirely hating all Sundays at home, but somehow, perhaps, equating listening to Taylor being played with my probably marking and not being attentive enough – it will always be a regret as a family man but a consequence of teaching – whilst also her having a natural disinclination for Taylor’s softrock material and often laconic singing style.

As a huge fan – clearly to this day – my continual playing in the house always soothed and pleased me! Sweet Baby James, Taylor’s second solo album [his first James Taylor was recorded and produced by Apple Records, with JT the first non-British artist signed to the label] represents everything that is special about him as a singer/songwriter: superb vocal and phrasing, distinctive finger-picking guitar style [he trained on the cello], and his songcraft. Songs like Sweet Baby James, Sunny Skies, Country Road, the clever cover of Oh Susannah, and the hit Fire and Rain are recordings that resonate as folk classics today as much as they were fresh and stand-out when first heard. Some of the brilliant musicians involved in the recording of these songs are: pianist and gifted contemporary songwriter Carol King; guitarist and close friend Danny Kortchmar; the great long-haired and long-bearded bassist Leland Sklar, and Randy Meisner.


The folk road is what the acoustic guitarist mostly treads, but Taylor is in my view also a great blues/R&B singer, revealed in the other great track from this album, Steamroller. Performed and sung live, Taylor plays a mean electric guitar, but his vocal is what excels as it exploits his full range and revels in the blues inflections on great lines like churning urn of burning funk. In early live performances of this Taylor mocks the heavy machinery of the lyrical allusions, but it seems today an unnecessary self-effacement because it can be such a stonking live number [and Taylor’s soulful singing range can be heard on his fine version of Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)].

Although that unique vocal is just showing the occasional signs of frailty on the most recent live examples, I do feel Taylor’s voice has matured over the many years of his career where so many other singers can lose theirs. When he is singing any of the tracks from this great album, there is always the most remarkable triggering of memory of their time – and that applies to millions of fans and listeners – both in the connection those dominant songs have to that time and in the seamless vocal transition across the years of this significant musician. Long live Sundays and all others whenever and wherever he is played [with the caveat that not when my daughter is around….].


Poetry Reviewed 2017

Poetry collections I have reviewed in 2017:

Ian Seed – Italian Lessons, Like This Press

Nikki Dudley – Hope Alt Delete, Knives Forks and Spoons Press

Jim Burns – Confessions of an Old Believer, Redbeck Press

Okla Elliott – The Cartographer’s Ink, NYQ Books

Luke Kennard – Cain, Penned in the Margins

David Baker – Scavenger Loop, W.W. Norton & Company

Rupert M Loydell – Dear Mary, Shearsman Books

Lemn Sissay – Gold From the Stone, Canongate Books

Adrian Mitchell – Ride the Nightmare, Jonathan Cape Ltd

Carrie Etter – Scar, Shearsman Books

Jim Burns – Solid Flesh for Food 1, concretemeatpress

Daniel Y. Harris and Rupert M. Loydell – The Co-ordinates of Doubt, Knives Forks and Spoons Press

Ruth Valentine – The Grenfell Alphabet, self-published

Ted Hughes – A Solstice, The Sceptre Press

Peter Reading – Water and Waste, Outposts Publications

Roger McGough – various ‘early’ collections, mainly Cape

James Davies – Stack, Carcanet

Rupert M Loydell – Talking Shadows, Red Ceilings Press

Click on a book title to read review. I think the poetry collections actually published in 2017 just shade the balance, but a number of the reviews are of older books, some significantly so.

boxing day [*]

jab jab jab to the hangover
or it could be that doing it

jab jab jab

an uppercut to gut

haymaker now just a long arc of a swing to try out it still being able to move





jab jab jab

jab jab

it can be hard to sustain

jab fat jab fat jab fat

below the belt
is where most of it is at


rope burns from the soap on a
but that was another year

no count
rub the gloves
look into your own eyes

jab jab jab

southpaw stance
mouthawe trance

technical knock out


[*] just a whimsy



Top Fifty 6: Buddy Rich – Swingin’ Big Band, 1966

[originally posted October 2011]


Buddy Rich – Swingin’ Big Band

Excuse the repetition – as with selecting Bert Jansch’s sampler album as a ‘Top Fifty’ after his recent sad death and the memory this prompted of listening to that album so much when younger, exploring old jazz records these last two days has prompted my return to celebrate this live recording of Buddy Rich’s stonking big band sound and his own phenomenal drumming.

Recorded live at the Club Chez, Hollywood California, this album is a lot of fun. The audience response throughout adds to the album’s energy. There are sharp sax solos by Jay Corre [as on the Stevie Wonder song Up Tight] to satisfy that incipient love of the instrument I have already described, as well as some great trombone work by John Boice on My Man’s Gone Now, and Jim Trimble on the brilliant West Side Story Medley.

My absolute favourite on the album is the medley at 10 minutes of big band excellence. Rich orchestrates a booming opening blast with screaming brass and his drumming laying down a driving beat for Corre’s saxophone to ride early on. Rich uses the drums to signal the song and mood shifts within the whole and there is a beautiful midway trombone delivery of Somewhere that leads to an orchestral crescendo climbing to a Rich drum roll then brass/drum duel sparking a drum solo victory that ignites the audience and this listener. This track closes side 2 of the album but I recently bought a cd copy that adds another eight tracks, Apples including more rolling Rich solos, and a sweet ballad Lament for Lester.

When studying for my A levels at then Ipswich Civic College, students had to chose, as I recall, a ‘Liberal Arts’ course and I naturally chose Music Appreciation. To this day I’m pretty sure I was one of the few who really wanted to be there and enjoyed the range of music, from classical to contemporary, that was presented by the music teacher. Each week students could bring in albums of their choice to be played, and I was one of the keenies who did, bringing in for one session this Buddy Rich album and being, quite likely, the only one there who thought as we listened it was a damn fine and far out choice. And I still do today, so here it is in my existential Top Fifty.

A Christmas Story: Academy+SSS Badge

‘Where’s your badge?’

‘What do you mean where’s your badge?’

‘Why aren’t you wearing your badge?’

‘What do you mean why aren’t you wearing your badge?’

‘Why aren’t you wearing your seasonal badge?’

‘What do you mean why aren’t you wearing your seasonal badge?’

‘You know exactly what I mean. Why aren’t you wearing your bloody Academy Santa School Status Christmas badge?’

I love it when I make him swear. Ever since Peter became responsible for badge wearing under our Academy+Santa School Status it has been my personal challenge to never wear one and to force him into swearing when he confronts me about this. I always refuse. He then always ends up sort-of swearing. I know he hates this because he produces a sanctimonious frown when he hears me swearing and so Peter spends most of his time with me frowning. It is a glorious symmetry.

It has been a full year now since the school achieved Academy+SSS and at every significant national holiday, but especially Christmas time, all members of staff are expected to wear ‘seasonal’ badges. My badge was, as usual, placed in my staffroom pigeon-hole and inside a small box neatly labelled with the dates for which it was meant to be worn. I didn’t have any expectations that this one would be any more acceptable than Easter’s badge or The Patron Saint of Special School’s badge, but when I opened the box and read the festive nomenclature Ho Ho Ho Ferguson it confirmed that this was another holiday I would not be honouring on my coat lapel.

‘By the way Peter, where’s your bloody Academy Santa School Status Christmas badge?’ I ask sarcastically.

Peter’s face glows bright red as he makes a panicked look down to his tie and it then turns explosive as he realises that he is of course wearing it and I have tricked him yet again with this simple but what should by now be an all too familiar ruse.

I am not in the mood to be gentle with Peter. This has been a tough year. It’s not the Academy+SSS business that’s made it so, because as annoyingly facile as it is to state, there are far more important matters to shape reality. It has been a year of loss and struggle. Not the loss of students’ work or important documents or teaching resources or every seasonal badge for the entire year, though these are realities too. Nor is it the struggle with marking or planning or difficult students or having to deal with depressing data and targets, though these are frustrating familiarities too. It has been personal.

Perhaps as teachers we should be allowed to wear our own special and personal badges. In dealing with the individual’s real world of teaching, they could say bluntly I’m Too Tired To Mark or Don’t Talk, Just Listen or Silent Reading All Day or Don’t Fuck With Me. Or they could say cryptically Loss and Struggle: however any is underscored, it’s something to signal that our personal lives can impinge on the grand educational designs others have for us. Something to send a message to students that they too will have lives that transcend learning and today I am acting as an illustration of this. Or just to Peter announcing that I don’t quite feel like cuddling up to his cosy idea of how we are purposeful and focused as a teaching unit.

Christmas is a time of ‘thanks’, whether this is a religious or secular gratitude, and I am thankful that I have the will not to wear my badge and that I have survived one of the worst year’s of my life. As a teacher, I have for years been hit with the reality of the anguish in so many students’ lives and how this explains the pains and miseries behind their behaviours. Only today I have learnt of the most appalling experience one of my students has had to endure in her life and I imagine how her Christmases and all other celebrations struggle against the dark nightmare that will always be there. She will forever wear her badge of despair but I hope that at school we can provide her with a care that can ultimately help her to transcend this.

I am obviously in a ‘transcendental’ mood. Peter’s brash and simplistic demand has made me this philosophical. I wonder if he has any idea how much I have had to endure in order to be here now taking the piss out of his posturing but also seeing beyond his triviality to the greater comfort of the family and friends who see me and my students through their tough times? Does he possess this empathy behind the façade of his ever-present badge?

‘I hope you have a great Christmas,’ I tell Peter just as he is about to storm off in a sulk.

‘Pardon?’ he turns and looks at me.

‘I just hope you have a great Christmas despite your anal proclivity for badge wearing,’ I clarify for him.

Peter walks back towards me. There is a look of utter confusion on his face. It’s either because I have called him ‘anal’, which he will understand only as swearing, or the use of ‘proclivity’ which he will also probably think is some kind of posher swearing because he won’t know what it actually means. His face is returning to crimson again.

‘You really have no idea how important we think…..’

I interrupt Peter with a burst of guffaws before he can continue. Whenever he uses the pronoun ‘we’ to somehow align himself to a corporate power-base in the school, I cannot help but find him ridiculous. It is also the colour of his face that amuses.

‘You really have no idea how important we think badges at Christmas time are,’ he continues in a rising scream and half turning to walk away in disdain from me, ‘because you are so obsessed with being an INDIVIDUAL…!’ Peter fully screams this last word as his sentence comes to an abrupt stop.

As he moves further away, Peter’s hand instinctively moves down to locate the Ho Ho Ho Ferguson I have slammed as hard as I can into his left buttock cheek.

‘That’s what we get for badgering people!’ I scream back in laughter as I too turn to walk away.

The Old Rolling Tape Metaphor

Knocking the insulating tape
off the table onto the floor, I swore

knowing I’d have to bend this back
and these knees to retrieve,

but when it returned rolling
I laughed out loud thinking this is

a sign of good things to come today,
yet it was now late afternoon and

soon would be dark, the driveway gate
was already closed to more journeys,

and night’s routines – comfortable
enough – were setting their black store.

So crouching slowly down I slammed it
under that table again, swearing at the

overuse and useless hope of metaphor.