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|Graham Parker - A brief biography|
|Although Graham Parker (b. London, 1950) emerged from the London pub-rock scene in the early '70s he has since pointed out that he really wasn't part of that scene, and his influences were Top of the Pops, the Supremes, the Four Tops, The Rolling Stones and singer songwriters like Bob Dylan and James Taylor.|
His disavowal notwithstanding, he is remembered mostly from that period when pub rock became the British new wave, the era that also made the reputations of Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.
Parker's 1976 debut album Howlin Wind with the Rumour (Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), Bob Andrews (keyboards), Martin Belmont (guitar), Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums) was a tour de force of tight playing and powerful lyrics set to fast motown rock and roll.
This record and its successor Heat Treatment (1976) were rapturously reviewed but did not sell as well as expected. Graham Parker himself rates Heat Treatment as one of his weaker efforts, a hasty follow up to the fine Howlin' Wind, one of his best. But Elvis Costello hadn't invented himself yet and the critics needed a British lion.
His third album was a much better effort, but rather than stay true to their initial judgements, the critics greeted Stick to Me (1977) and The Parkerilla less favourably -- thus marking the beginning of Graham's life-long bitterness towards rock writers and record labels.
Squeezing Out Sparks (1979) charted in both the UK (#18) and US (#40) and is considered by many of his fans to be his best record. Graham admits that despite the overplaying they just about got it right.
Endless touring in 3000 seaters without ever graduating to stadiums took its toll, however, and the end was not far away.
Graham's last record with the Rumour, The Up Escalator (1980) featured Nicky Hopkins on piano, Danny Federici of the E Street Band on organ, and even a guest appearance from Springsteen.
It sold well, perhaps as a result of the success of Squeezing Out Sparks and was followed by Another Grey Area, featuring a personal favourite of many of his fans, "Temporary Beauty".
The Real Macaw disappeared without much of a trace, and his US label Elektra dropped him after Steady Nerves (1985), which contained the US Top 40 single, "Wake Up (Next to You)".
Parker re-emerged with a succession of more acoustic albums, recalling his indebtedness to Dylan and combining this with R&B influences and some uplifting and tender songs interspersed among others with his more scathing and vicious lyrics.
In this period he became known as a convincing singer-songwriter and began touring solo and recorded The Mona Lisa's Sister (1988), Human Soul (1989), Struck by Lightning (1991) and Burning Questions (1992).
Two albums of solo performances followed: Live! Alone in America (1989) and Live Alone! Discovering Japan (1993).
In 1995 he released the haunting and lyrical 12 Haunted Episodes, a fine, complex, mostly acoustic record, the tour of which produced another live album, Live from New York, with a drums, bass and keyboards trio, The Episodes.
Parker himself consistently rates 12 Haunted Episodes as his best work.
12 Haunted Episodes was followed with a complete change of pace, the shocking pink, snarling "Acid Bubblegum" showing him to be back to his angriest and most venemous. It also included some whimsical tracks and sensitive ballads, but the overall mood was acidic.
The more electric rocking trend continued through his Acid Bubblegum tour with The Figgs, a young retro punk rock outfit, a tour which produced "The Last Rock 'n' Roll Tour" live record.
In 1998 after dissapointing record sales Parker announced he would take a year off to work on a collection of short stories and had no plans for a future record or tour. Almost immediately, a brief stint round Europe followed, and he has since expressed interest in releasing a collection of spare tracks and rarities and live songs, possibly to be marketed through the internet.
His fans round the world show a great deal of tenacity, collecting all his releases, but Parker himself feels he cannot survive on minor labels. His answers to fans' questions on the Squeezing Out Sparks website show him to be quite anti-commercial, thoughtful, wickedly witty and completely unsentimental. His private life is preciously guarded and he dislikes having to be "on" when performing and prefers a relaxed, chatty style in small venues. He never seems short of a comment or opinion on just about any subject and enjoys deflating his own reputation. He has a passion for soccer, but so far hasn't written a song about it.
Graham's interest in the web as a medium is gaining ground, with an internet release of LOOSE MONKEYS - spare tracks and demos in late 99 and in early 2000 a Yahoo chat and a cybercast by House of Blues.
In January 2001 GP recorded 12 new songs for his latest Razor and Tie release enlisting the help of engineer Dave Cook who worked on the "Struck By Lightning" sessions in 1991. And, after a gap of 20 years, Steve Goulding from the Rumour was brought in on drums. The much in demand Pete Donnelly from the Figgs plays bass, Parker handles the guitar work and Woodstock area keyboard player Professor "Louie" completes the unit. The album, entitled "Deepcut To Nowhere," was released in August 2001 and the Figgs (with whom Parker toured with in1996) played as Parker's backing band for his fall tour 2002. Deepcut was the village where Graham grew up.
In 2003 Lemon Records released the Art Vandelay Tapes, more recordings of demos and off cuts, live tracks and B-sides. This was followed in 2005 by Volume 2.
Innumerable best-ofs and greatest hits have been released by GP's various labels over the years, as his back catalogue still continues to sell well. Some are single CDs some are box sets. Graham no doubt sees very little of this revenue.
2003 saw the first of the "official bootlegs" from Punk Hart Productions, in association with UpYours Records authorized for sale on the internet by Graham Parker. Punk Hart is John Howells, a fan who manages the Graham Parker web site. (SOLD OUT)
In 2004 Bloodshot Records released the very twangy, American-accented, country-style "Your Country" reviewed in Amazon as "another pretty- great- but- not- super- duper- great- three- and- a- half- star effort from The Bitter One". Grahams two great influences were Otis Redding and Bob Dylan. His life as a resident of upstate New York seems to have favoured the Dylan side of his oeuvre in later years. Not to my taste but seems to have hot a chord with his US fans.
Another interesting collection of "officially bootlegged" songs records a convert or two on the Your Country tour with Tom Freund, Drew Glackin and Konrad Meissner as the Twang Three. Some nice new renditions of classic tracks and a few cuts of recent check-shirt straw-chewin. (Released 2005, recorded 2004.)
2005 also saw Live Alone, The Bastard of Belgium, superbly recorded but the performance not up to the quality of Live in Japan, or the much earlier Live In America. Then came "Songs of No Consequence", a new studio album with the Figgs backing. His best effort for a while, with tight rocking songs only slightly tinged with country drawl. Deserves more than one listen. The Figgs though aren't the Rumour and we all miss the naff Brit with the Motown sensibilities. One can only hope his swing of the pendulum is more towards the Funk Brothers than Robert Zimmerman.