Raised in Surrey on the outer fringes of Greater London, Graham Parker had already packed more into his experience rucksack than most long before he hit the big time. A school days Beatles band called The Deepcut Three, later The Black Rockers, was a pleasant diversion but his immersion in soul music (especially Otis Redding) and the mod movement centred on nearby Woking and Camberley was probably more important to his development.
He had a ton of jobs after leaving school, mostly casual work that eventually found him in Guernsey picking tomatoes and writing psychedelic songs on a recently acquired acoustic guitar. There were side trips to Gibraltar, Spain and Morocco, all part of the hippy trails circa 1970 but we should pick him up in 1972. Winds of change were all about – Britain was about to enter into the Three Day Week and constant miserable power cuts, there was unrest on the streets and new musicians were calling into question the values of their sixties counterparts though not dismissing them entirely. Parker found himself in a milieu that included influential newcomers like Dave Robinson (before he helped found Stiff Records), the broadcaster and journalist Charlie Gillett, a genuine taste-maker on BBC London and fellow Surrey man Nick Lowe who was brought into oversee the debut album that pitched Graham in with musicians Robinson recruited – the Rumour to be – in summer 1975.
That disc is Howlin’ Wind (1976), one of the sharpest statements of intent in the book. Intelligent, emotional, and angry for sure but also studded with great swathes of reggae, funky rock, folk and caustic R&B, Howlin’ Wind throbs with rhythms plucked from Chicago and Detroit and matches them to singularly British fury. With The Rumour Horns cooking up a storm the Rumour strut out like a band reborn. Schwarz and Belmont may get the plaudits along with GP but don’t forget Bob Andrews on keyboards, Steve Goulding on drums and Andrew Bodnar’s bass.
A genuine five star classic, this album includes “White Honey”, “Nothing’s Gonna Pull Us Apart”, the raunchy “Lady Doctor” and the essential “Back to Schooldays” (this also appeared on the compilation album, A Bunch of Stiffs) where Dave Edmunds’s’ guitar chews up the scenery.
Nick Lowe stuck around for a while but production shifted to Robert John “Mutt” Lange and a move out of London to Rockfield Studios in Wales. The resulting disc is Heat Treatment, another A star affair that features “Hotel Chambermaid” (covered by Rod Stewart), the withering “That’s What They All say” and the dark moods of “Black Honey”. Check it out on the expanded and remastered version that includes two tracks from the hard to find The Pink Parker EP.
Stick to Me (1977) actually did have a sticky beginning. Initial sessions utilised a large string section but had to be scrapped when the tapes became corrupted, Nick Lowe rescued the album and it was re-made in a week prior to a European tour. Another intense excursion in to the hinterlands of Surrey soul the sound of Stick to Me has dated far better than other punkier discs of the era. The writing is characteristically sharp, with a weather eye on American source material, and the playing is superb. Worth getting for “The Heat in Harlem” alone, a lengthy psych rock romp that is far more daring than it has any right to be. The horn arrangements are courtesy of David Bedford and have a classy swing. This is an essential listen.
The Parkerilla is a live in America document that rather faithfully reproduces the studio material it tackles although since that includes “Soul Shoes: and “Don’t Aske Me Questions” that’s not much of a criticism.
By now the music press were starting to take sides about all sorts of things and Parker found himself being weighed in the balance with Costello and Joe Jackson. By way of riposte Parker blazed back with the epic Squeezing Out Sparks, produced by Nitzsche in London as a straight ahead raw rock experience. The experiment works wonderfully and here you’ll find some of Parker’s most durable gems – “Love Gets You Twisted”, “Local Girls” and “Waiting for the UFO’s”. The reissue reunites the disc with the 7” single given away as a promotional item: The Jackson 5 cover of “I Want You Back” and the otherwise rare “Mercury Poisoning” add oomph to the package.
The Up Escalator (1980) is where Jimmy Lovine pulls in some shots and Springsteen, Federici and pianist Nicky Hopkins answer the call. Another US Top 40 entry, this comes with Up and Down sides and contains great songs like “Devil’s Sidewalk” and “Paralyzed”. Definitely one that got away, it’s well checking out today.
After releasing a stream of fine music throughout the 1980s Graham returns to the fold with 1992’s self-produced and excellent Burning Questions which has a mod edge about it thanks to the participation of guests like P.P. Arnold and Style Council keyboards player Mick Talbot.
In recent times Graham has been heard on dozens of live discs. One of the very best is Not If It Pleases Me – Live at The BBC, a selection of hitherto unreleased sessions from 1976-1977; a first rate and fiery insight into how great GP and The Rumour were from the outset. Bringing us full circle are Three Chords Good and Mystery Glue, discs that do the decent thing and show them to be right back on form. The former is a thrilling reunion. As Parker says of this upstate New York project: ‘‘after a hiatus of over 30 years, it was extraordinary to hear the Rumour backing my material again,'' says Parker. ''We've finally made an album of true musical collaboration that we're all very proud of."
Mystery Glue is set to a major release this year. Pre-production took place in Parker’s New York locale before the band returned to RAK Studios for final recording. It is an album of conscious rock, harking back to Graham Parker and the Rumour's genre-defining music of the '70s whilst paying homage to Dylan, reggae, soul and rock 'n' roll. Of the album title, Parker says, "When Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky described Dark Matter in the 1930's, he got the name wrong. It is of course 'Mystery Glue' that holds the Universe together. As always, when I present new songs to the Rumour they work feverishly to make sense of them, often starting out with wildly disparate and alarmingly wrong diversions. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything falls into place, as if by dint of some Mystery Glue that holds us all together."
Described by Bruce Springsteen as having one of those “’cuts through the bullshit' voices," decent hindsight would suggest that Mr Parker is a bit of a legend. He’s been compared to a British Springsteen or Bob Dylan but we doubt if he’s too bothered by the hyperbole, nice as it may be. His own charisma is a given and we’re delighted to point you towards a selection of studio and live music that is aching to be discovered.
Words: Max Bell
For most intents and purposes, Graham Parker emerged fully formed on his debut album, Howlin' Wind. Sounding like the bastard offspring of Mick Jagger and Van Morrison, Parker sneers his way through a set of stunningly literate pub rockers. Instead of blindly sticking to the traditions of rock & roll, Parker invigorates them with cynicism and anger, turning his songs into distinctively original works. "Back to Schooldays" may be reconstituted rockabilly, "White Honey" may recall Morrison's white R&B bounce, and "Howlin' Wind" is a cross of Van's more mystical moments and the Band, but the songs themselves are original and terrific. Similarly, producer Nick Lowe gives the album a tough, spare feeling, which makes Parker and the Rumour sound like one of the best bar bands you've ever heard. Howlin' Wind remains a thoroughly invigorating fusion of rock tradition, singer/songwriter skill, and punk spirit, making it one of the classic debuts of all time.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Graham Parker and the Rumour's third new studio album to be released in 18 months finds the bandleader running short of top-flight material; "Thunder And Rain" and "Watch The Moon Come Down" are up to his usual standards, but songs like "The Heat In Harlem" find him dangerously out of his depth. As a result, although fiercely played, this star-crossed release (it had to be re-recorded when the first version suffered technical problems) is a cut below Parker's first two albums.
Words: William Ruhlmann
Generally regarded as Graham Parker's finest album, Squeezing Out Sparks is a masterful fusion of pub rock classicism, new wave pop, and pure vitriol that makes even his most conventional singer/songwriter numbers bristle with energy. Not only does Parker deliver his best, most consistent set of songs, but he offers more succinct hooks than before -- "Local Girls" and "Discovering Japan" are powered by quirky hooks that make them new wave classics. But Parker's new pop inclinations are tempered by his anger, which seethes throughout the hard rockers and even his quieter numbers. Throughout Squeezing Out Sparks, Graham spits out a litany of offenses that make him feel like an outsider, but he's not a liberal, he's a conservative. The record's two centerpieces -- "Passion Is No Ordinary Word" and the anti-abortion "You Can't Be Too Strong" -- indicate that his traditionalist musical tendencies are symptomatic of a larger conservative trend. But no one ever said conservatives made poor rock & rollers, and Parker's ruminations over a lost past give him the anger that fuels Squeezing Out Sparks, one of the great rock records of the post-punk era.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
On his second album Heat Treatment, Graham Parker essentially offered more of the same thing that made Howlin' Wind such a bracing listen. However, his songwriting wasn't as consistent, with only a handful of songs -- like "Pourin' It All Out" and the title track -- making much of an impression. Unfortunately, the record was also tamed by the production of Mutt Lange, who polishes the record just enough to make the Rumour sound restrained. Which means, of course, the sheer musicality of the band can't save the lesser material. Heat Treatment remains an enjoyable listen -- at this stage of the game, Parker hadn't soured into a curmudgeon, and his weaker songs were still endearing -- but it's a disappointment in light of its predecessor.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
This collection features the A- and B- sides to nine singles and one EP Graham Parker & the Rumour recorded between 1976 and 1979 during their tenure with the British Vertigo label, and documents Parker's years as one of the nerviest acts on the British rock scene, merging the R&B-influenced roots rock of the pub rock era with the hot-wired energy and attitude of punk as well as anyone before or since. The Vertigo: Singles Collection is certainly fine listening, but if you're hoping for a collection of rarities, this leaves a bit to be desired. Twelve of the 21 songs here appear in the same versions that were featured on Parker's LPs for Vertigo, all of which are available individually on CD, and three of those non-LP tracks were drawn from the live-in-the-studio promo LP Live at the Marble Arch that saw an authorized release as part of the 2001 collection That's When You Know. As for the other tracks, "I'm Gonna Use It Now" is a genuine obscurity, a solid bit of pub rock that appeared for the first and only time on the flipside of Parker's first 7." The two studio tracks from the celebrated Pink Parker EP, "Hold Back the Night" and "(Let Me Get) Sweet on You," are energetic R&B workouts that show how much fun this band could be. The studio take of "Mercury Poisoning," Parker's infamous closing salvo against his American label, Mercury Records, gets a CD airing here, and there's a very funny bit of studio tomfoolery, " The Bleep," in which an alternate take of "The Raid" (from Stick to Me) has all its many drug references bleeped out, along with a few random words here and there to confuse the casual listener. In short, for serious Parker-philes, this disc offers five elusive tracks alongside 16 that fans will probably own already; as music, this is fine stuff, but as value for money, this isn't especially impressive.
Words: Mark Deming
The long musical career of this intense-looking, and angst ridden, singer-songwriter has been tumultuous. Whatever the man himself thinks, Parker's creative - if not his commercial - peak came in the late 1970s, when he worked with some slightly-too-old-for-punk pub-rockers, who went by the ever-so-shady sounding name of The Rumour. In the 4 years that they were signed to Vertigo Records they produced some occasionally scintillating, often soulful, wordy new wave rock, which drew favourable comparisons with the work of Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello And The Attractions. This nicely-balanced 18 song, hour-long CD - that abridges the slightly flabby, but well-received, The Very Best Of - looks at that period. It includes nearly all of their best moments: hits such as: '(Hey Lord) Don't Ask Me Questions'; 'Hold Back The Night', and 'Hotel Chambermaid' are here; as are key album tracks like: 'Soul Shoes'; 'White Honey'; 'Passion Is No Ordinary Word', and 'You Can't Be Too Strong'.
Words: S Bailey
A new Graham Parker compilation? Let us deal with the complaints first since Parker "Best of'" discs are by no means a rarity and his recorded output has been subject to numerous "anthologies", "essentials" and "collections". Why then do we need another one? The short answer is you do not have to buy it; indeed you could pass through life and barely tip Graham Parker a nod. BUT if you do not possess any music at all by one of the greatest British songwriters and a band full of the musical cream of the crop, hang your head in shame and reflect on your miserable existence. More than any other act this is the band which set the bar for smart, literate lyrics married to a danceable beat that forever changed your musical outlook.
Graham Parker and Rumour's recent return with the solid "3 Chords Good" was a welcome event after a massive 31 years break in band recordings. The band had previously spilt in 1980 when Parker parted with the Rumour to concentrate on a solo career. .This compilation concentrates on that great series of late seventies GP and the Rumour albums particularly the epic "Squeezing out the sparks". Let us hover for a moment over the sheer calibre of the band which along with the Attractions could just about annihilate any other comparable set of musicians as soon as they put a foot on stage.
* Graham Parker - lead vocals, rhythm guitar
* Brinsley Schwarz - guitar, backing vocals
* Martin Belmont - rhythm guitar, backing vocals
* Bob Andrews - keyboards, backing vocals
* Steve Goulding - drums, backing vocals
* Andrew Bodnar - bass
Tracks with the pure punch of "Discovering Japan" sound as fresh as a daisy, while the brilliant "You can't be too strong" is surely one of the best songs of the past 50 years? Sadly Parker's great cover of the Jackson 5"s "I want you back" is not included but how great to hear "Local girls" after all these years with Parkers characteristic vocal snarl high in the mix. All the other classics from Heat Treatment (1976) Howlin' Wind (1976) Stick to Me (1977) Squeezing Out Sparks (1979) are included. "Fools Gold" remains a personnel favourite which in its own right should lock down Parkers status as a great songwriter but all the others are here not least "White honey", "Soul Shoes", "Heat Treatment", "Don't ask me questions", the lovely "Black Honey" and superb "Stick to me". Frankly the easiest thing to do would be to name every song on the album but that would be cheating. Own this music or face the wrath of Lucifer.
Words: Red on Black
If Graham Parker had been given a dollar every time someone called him an "angry young man" in the '70s, he and his band could probably have driven a fleet of Porsches from gig to gig, but with the passage of time, Parker hasn't mellowed so much as he's evolved into a different sort of cranky guy, with the same wit and verbal acuity but a good bit more charm. If Parker used to be a more R&B-influenced Elvis Costello, a man with enough rage that he could tell God where to get off, in 2015 he's the Larry David of rock, a shade bitter but likable and funny to boot, and his backing band the Rumour has aged just as well, hitting less hard than they once did but gaining a swing and a groove that reminds us these guys were the All Stars of the pub rock scene once upon a time, where unpretentious and easygoing music ruled the day. Cut in an efficient six days, Mystery Glue is Parker's second album since reuniting with the Rumour in 2011, and though this doesn't rock with the impact of their '70s masterpieces like Heat Treatment or Squeezing Out Sparks, it sounds absolutely right for its time and place, with Parker easing his way through a set of songs that confirm he hasn't lost his touch as a lyricist and the Rumour giving him just the sound and the space that he needs. While Parker is more than capable of going dark and dramatic on the ominous "Fast Crowd" and the rueful "Flying into London," for the most part he sings with a sharp but inviting humor about his past versus his present ("Pub Crawl"), the state of the world ("Slow News Day"), the youthful misdeeds of himself and others ("I've Done Bad Things"), and his recent adventures in show business ("My Life in Movieland"). And if the Rumour seem more willing to stay out of Parker's way in the 21st century, their support is emphatic and adds just the right touch, especially Bob Andrews on keyboards, Steve Goulding on drums, and the guitars of Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont. Mystery Glue isn't an album about aging gracefully so much as aging right, and this is just about perfect for a 64-year-old Graham Parker, a proud survivor who lives to gripe another day, putting him far ahead of plenty of his peers.
Words: Mark Deming