Girl From The Neck Down – Part 2

The opening track on the album harks back to a song I wrote in 1986 for my first band, The Offbeats. “For The Millionth Time” was probably the best of a dozen songs we recorded at the now defunct Woolly Studios on the Isle of Sheppey and was earmarked for inclusion on our second album “I’ll Do To You What I Did To Rommel”(a line delivered by Derek Guyler in the 1971 film “Please Sir!”in case you’re wondering). The album was never released or even completed but the track did see the light of day via a German vinyl compilation album and an alternate mix reared it’s reverb-soaked head on a red flexi-disc, free with every copy of “In The Crowd” mod fanzine! Both are collectables now, so I am reliably informed. “For The Millionth Time” was intended as a blue eyed soul type stomper but I always felt the original was too fast and it lacked a horn section so when it came to recording the Suzi Chunk version I made sure it was closer to my original idea. This new version has a much more soulful mood to it.

“I Can’t Stand Mirrors (And I’m Scared Of Heights)” was a song I wrote to accompany a little animated film I made a few years ago for a laugh. It was a straight ahead 12-bar rock’n’roll tune which I ended up singing on the demo in cod Elvis style. When the fun was over I locked the demo away and almost forgot about it until I was looking for exactly that type of song for Suzi’s album. On the new version John Littlefair once again provides a great horn section and the track does what it says on the tin.

“Wish Away The Moon” almost didn’t make it on to the album. In fact I wasn’t going to play it to Suzi at all. The song was heavily inspired by Harry Nilsson and I  liked it a lot but after listening back to my own demo I didn’t think it would be Suzi’s thing. Too soft and fragile perhaps. In the end I persuaded myself to send it to her. A few days passed without a response and I thought my instincts had been correct. Then I received a 3 word e-mail: “That is beautiful!” When it came to recording I wanted to evoke a certain amount of vulnerability-a touch of Nick Drake or Vashti Bunyan. Barely there. So the line-up is simply Mole on double bass, me on acoustic guitars and Suzi on vocals. The fragility in her voice on this track is…. something else. If your bottom lip doesn’t tremble just a little bit then you are, frankly, not human.

The final track on side one (it feels good to still be able to say that in this digital age) is the title song “Girl From The Neck Down”. Returning home from the Purple Weekend Festival in Leon, Spain last December (after Groovy Uncle had played a rare and most enjoyable gig) Suzi said something which prompted me to say “You sound like a girl”. She responded with “That’s because I am a girl! But only from the neck down”. I didn’t say anything at the time but I knew I wanted to use that phrase. A few weeks later I called to ask what she thought of “Girl From The Neck Down” as an album title. She loved it. “OK we’ve got the title so I’ll see if I can come up with the song“, I said. The rest of the day was spent writing what turned out to be a quirky,country- tinged number with a bit of a nod to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. A couple of people have already said it’s a favourite. It’s a catchy little number and I’m pleased with it considering it’s the only track on the album that could arguably be described as filler.

See ya on the flip side!

Girl From The Neck Down – Part 1

At the time of writing this we are edging towards completion of the Suzi Chunk debut  album,“Girl From The Neck Down”. We began late June 2011 when Suzi came down to Kent intending to record three tracks for what was originally going to be the second Groovy Uncle LP-the follow up to “Play Something We Know!” We laid down “Probably Normal”, “Big Screen” and “No Stone Unturned”. The final touch on that session was to be the sublime flute playing of Phil Brown and it was while waiting for him to arrive on that hot, sunny afternoon when State Records‘ Marty Ratcliffe vocalised what I’d already been thinking; “This should be a Suzi Chunk album!”

And so it was…

“No Stone Unturned” was the oldest of these tunes, going way back to God-knows-when and I can’t even remember writing it, which is unusual for me. The Groovy Uncle rendition made it on to the first album and there is an acoustic live version by Suzi-along with me and the ridiculously talented Ben Jones -recorded at The Barge, Gillingham in April 2011. For my money though, the Suzi Chunk album cut is the definitive one. Haunting, soulful, moody, sexy and cool, she more than does the song justice and Ben’s guitar playing is perfect. Mole’s drumming is spot on as always while Allan Crockford’s bass playing is big and brilliantly effortless.

“Big Screen”. I started this one at the piano and it instantly took on a melancholic,reflective feel. The backdrop is a bleak, seemingly heartless Every Town as seen through the careworn eyes of a “sensitive outsider” who yearns for escape from “these narrow streets and cobbled minds”, where boys will be (monkey) boys and girls “reserve their right to sup”. Yeah, that old chestnut! In the end though it’s a song about hope-a kind of “Over The Rainbow” for the karaoke generation, if you will. “Big Screen” was the song that triggered the notion of working with a female singer after I wrote it back in 2006. Originally I heard it as a John Barry-esque arrangement but as the recording progressed a very different mood took hold especially after the addition of a subtle, mournful,”it’s grim up North” style brass section. Suzi’s vocal delivery gives the song a restrained sense of yearning and she finishes with a nice piece of three part harmony work. It’s a fine track. Well, I hope it is…  

“Probably Normal” was the first song written purposely for Suzi-i.e the first of the album tracks that hadn’t already existed prior to her involvement with the GU project. It’s a sunny, samba-infused little tune that would have sat nicely as filler on an Astrud Gilberto or Dusty album. But it had a traumatic birth…

Somewhere around mid-2011 I woke to a beautiful blue sky morning; the sun streaming through the curtains on what should have been a feel good kind of day. A day for writing songs and righting wrongs. And then it kicked the front door in and came looking for me! It gets you, you don’t get it. By “it” I’m referring to… depression?… anxiety?… some sort of emotional breakdown? In the song I named it “the feeling of not right”. Fact is, I reached for my guitar and held on to it like the only piece of driftwood in a troubled ocean and through tears I found both the chords and the mantra. It was all gonna be alright. This is normal. Probably. I’m probably normal….

I like songs with melodies and arrangements that are contradictory to the lyrics. Just because a song has a dark subject matter doesn’t necessarily mean the tune needs to be a morose, minor key plod. I also like the fact that there is a little nod to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band classic “We Are Normal” as Suzi and I are massive fans. Click on the link below to hear a clip of an early mix of the track.


Look Back And Laugh – Suzi Chunk And All That Funk

Before State Records had even released the “Play Something We Know!” album in March 2011, I was already looking ahead and thinking about the follow-up Groovy Uncle record. I certainly had enough songs to choose from and was always writing new material. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted for the next LP but I was certain about one thing-I didn’t want it to be “more of the same”. Yes, the key elements (catchy, 3-minute songs with memorable hooks and choruses, interesting lyrics etc) would still be there but I wanted a different take on the songs. I liked the idea of bringing in some different instruments and musicians- a horn section, piano, flute and female backing singers would not only add to the sound and feel of the tunes themselves but would also tie in with the concept of GU as an ever changing multifaceted musical beast.

Maybe I could even find a female vocalist to sing lead on a couple of numbers!  

I first became aware of Suzi Chunk (for it is she) in 2007 when I spotted her My Space page and heard that distinctive vocal style for the very first time- on the Omega66 track “Celebrity Burn Out”- in all its funking glory! The thing that immediately struck me about her voice was it’s honestyIt’s a good voice, a strong voice but most importantly to me it’s an honest voice with a rare tone that works well in all the varied musical genres she adopts. She has style and restraint and knows exactly what she’s doing. Suzi’s influences are steeped in funk and soul but she can rock too and her musical tastes are as wide as they are long. Frankly, anyone with the surname of Chunk who lists The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band as a major inspiration was always going to get my vote! Suzi’s experience as both a live performer and recording artist is quite impressive having worked with the likes of Monkjack, Tigertailz, The Hindenburgs (taking lead vocal on Led Zep covers!), the late, great Syd Kitchen, Dark Chunk (from where she adopted her name) and even the legendary and much missed John Martyn. In short, I was impressed. She ticked all the boxes so to speak. I could definitely hear that voice singing my songs. 

Tomorrow may not be the day….

We became friends but I didn’t ask her straight away if she’d be interested in working with me. I’d leave that until later. Tomorrow perhaps. Or maybe next week. Plenty of time. Well… it took me four years actually. Suzi often revels in reminding me of this fact but I had a few considerations, y’see; I had no band and had yet to hook up with State Records therefore no recording projects were on the horizon and obviously live work was out of the  question too. Oh, then there was a certain geographical hurdle to consider-I live Kent, Suzi lives in Cardiff. And were my songs really her cup of tea? She’d never go for it, would she? When I did eventually broach the subject early in 2011, Suzi’s response was positive, typical and something along the lines of “I thought you’d never f****** ask!

Back of the net!!                                               

The first couple of songs we demoed were “No Stone Unturned” (the GU version had already appeared on the album) and an unreleased ballad, “Big Screen”. The latter had been written around 2006 and was the tune that initially sparked the idea of finding a female vocalist. I’d always heard it as a “girl song” and that’s why it didn’t make it on to debut LP. I liked this track a lot but needed the right voice to interpret it in the right way and hearing Suzi’s demos for the first time underscored that I’d made a very wise choice indeed. It was a “shivers down the spine” moment. I needed another song for Suzi to record at her first State session so I set myself the task of writing something brand new rather than present her with “here’s one I made earlier”. I didn’t want her to feel as though she was being given my “cast offs”. So it was that the Gilberto/Getz, summer samba-inspired “Probably Normal” became my first bona fide, made-to measure song for Suzi Chunk.

Take another Chunk of psychedelic ….

It didn’t take long for us to realise, during that first recording session in the summer of 2011, that the new Groovy Uncle album was in fact going to be a Suzi Chunk record. I’d written the songs but she’d made them her own and I was more than happy to provide her with more material. At the time of writing this blog entry we are about to return to the studio to add the finishing touches to Suzi’s debut album “Girl From The Neck Down” which will see the light of day later in 2012. I’ll be talking about the making of the album and the songs themselves in more detail at a later date. Meanwhile we have a single recorded and set for release on April 30th! It’s all go, innit!

“Look Back And Laugh”/”Tripwire”                                                                              

A couple of tracks featured on the album hark back to my musical past. “For The Millionth Time” was a tune I’d written for The Offbeats and “Look Back And Laugh”  hailed from my days with “garage legends” (or so I’m told) The Kravin’ A’s. It was at the end of the LBAL session that the State boys informed me they’d like to release Suzi’s version of this K A’s classic as a vinyl single. The original had appeared on the 1991 album “Krave On!”.  It’s a mover and a shaker, for sure. Unsitdownable if you will. It wasn’t always so. I wrote it originally with the blues in mind. I imagined a Howlin’ Wolf or a John Lee Hooker type thing. Slow and bluesy…ba, ba, ba, ba-BAM! After about 10 minutes I thought “Sod it. Write a pop song!” I always wanted to re- record it. Suzi’s version has soul to it and the harmonies are better on this version and yes it sounds like the A-side of a single. The only condition State hung on its release was that they wanted an exclusive, non- album B-side.  This didn’t present too much of a problem for me as there was another K A’s song from that album I’d always wanted to revisit- “Tripwire”. This was the very first song I ever wrote for the band using “Barefootin’” by Robert Parker as a point of reference. It turned out nothing like it of course but I knew I wanted something that would get people on the floor. But how does someone with two left feet come up with a dance tune? Something to fall over to – “Do the tripwire, baby, do the tripwire!”

“Look Back And Laugh”/”Tripwire”(State Records THS 008) by Suzi Chunk out  April 30th 2012 on limited edition red vinyl.

Thanks to Jason Charles Rogers and Chris”Krik”Young

Life’s Like That, Isn’t It …

Just when I’d got all comfortable in my own musical Netherworld, writing and recording some not unpleasant little tunes for no reason other than my own entertainment. Just when I thought there would be no more official releases on the horizon, merely some home made, succulent ear food for the seemingly insatiable appetite of the My Space generation. I’d even invented an imaginary band, Groovy Uncle. So just when I thought I was beginning to wind down…. well it all kicked off again, didn’t it!  These were the noughties and I had finished with all that band/gigging nonsense in the late 90’s (all that lugging, humping and unpleasant bending!) and was left with no real desire to go back. So I plodded along building up a stockpile of demos and half written songs (some of which still have yet to see the light of day) until, in 2009, I was contacted by a friend, Ian Snowball, who told me he knew of an analogue recording studio housed in the basement of a Victorian residence down in Sandgate, near Folkestone that might be of interest and worth investigating. He was certain I would like the sound created at State Recording Studios and that their ethos- i.e to make “records that sound like records” with a no-nonsense old school approach-would also appeal. He thought they’d dig my songs too and there was a chance they’d want to release a record if the sessions were fruitful. So it was in October of that year I visited the studio for the first time to meet with Marty and Mole, mainstay of the much lauded psych-garage outfit The Higher State and co-founders of State Records. Ian’s instinct proved to be on the money-we all hit it off well and set a date for the first recording session. Trouble was, I didn’t have a band.

Ah… yeah…about that…

I knew plenty of musicians but they were all committed to other bands/projects so there was never a real possibility of getting a bona-fide, set in stone line up. I was pretty sure, however, most of them would be happy to be involved on an ad hoc basis especially taking into consideration the possibility that the fruits of their creative labour would surface on an official vinyl release. It was at this point I realised that Groovy Uncle could develop into an extremely interesting project were it to remain just that-a project rather than a band. There were no plans to gig- this was a recording venture. I began to think more along the lines of whoever is available/willing/suitable for playing on a particular track or session was in! For the first session in late 2009 the line up was Ian Snowball (drums), Paul Moss(bass/vocals), Ben Jones (lead guitar/vocals) and Glenn Prangnell (rhythm guitar/vocals). We recorded two tracks which became the debut single in March 2010 when “Monkey Trousers” b/w “Now Your Pain Is Over”(THS-003) was released on the State Records label on 7″ vinyl in glorious mono!

Enthusiasm for the Groovy Uncle project began to snowball (sorry, Ian!) and, after receiving good reviews and healthy sales, an album seemed the logical next step. As far as I was concerned I just wanted to work with a bunch of fine musicians and get my songs  down on tape (in the case of the debut single and album, cassette tape. Yes, really!). Releasing anything officially would be a bonus. The album line-up included those who had played on the single plus Mole (drums/bass/vocals), Marty Ratcliffe (guitar/sitar/vocals), and Allan Crockford (bass). Allan, of course, is a legendary figure on the Medway music scene having been a member of one of the Towns’ most influential bands, The Prisoners (among many others) and these days leads his own outfit The Galileo 7. We completed the album over a number of sessions during 2010 and “Play Something We Know!”(THSLP-001) was released (on vinyl and in glorious stereo!) in March 2011-exactly a year after the single. Not only was it the debut album for Groovy Uncle but also the first album release on the State Records label.

When all is said and done….

The purpose of this first blog post is just to give an outline of the Groovy Uncle story so far and I intend to return to these releases in future entries to talk in more detail about the recordings, concepts and stories behind the songs. There’s a lot to tell. Among the subject matter you’ll find heartbreak, vanity, isolation, love, regret, loyalty, yearning, suicide, mantras and trousers big as houses. And that’s just the first album!  We’re already underway with the next LP and single which, strictly speaking aren’t GU records at all. Yes, 2012 sees the Groovy Uncle/State Records team working hard to bring you the debut releases from Cardiff-based,Teesside born “singist”- the unstoppable Suzi Chunk.

More on that story later….

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