Ma Kelly’s Greasy Tapes (Golden Eggs EGG 43)
Beat-Club, Bremen, West Germany – 26 September, 1970: Spinning Wheel Blues, (April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays, Is It Really Me?/Gotta Go Home; Olympia Eisstadion am Oberwiesenfeld, Munich, West Germany – 12 July 1970: Junior’s Wailing, (April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays, Roadhouse Blues, Down The Dustpipe; Eisstadion, Düsseldorf, West Germany – 16 May, 1970 – Junior’s Wailing, Down The Dustpipe, Need Your Love, Spinning Wheel Blues, In My Chair, Is It Really Me?[/Gotta Go Home]
Promoted as containing, “all the 1970 German soundboard and audience Tour recordings compiled on one cd [sic] and available for the first time ever!” this Golden Eggs release takes its title from Status Quo’s third album Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon. The album was released in August 1970 and, although it failed to chart, it was a highly significant development in the band’s career as it saw the rather experimental beginnings of the hard rock style which became its signature sound. Characterized by one writer as, “heads down, no nonsense mindless boogie,” this sound developed over the next two albums Dog Of Two Head and Piledriver (respectively the last to be produced by John Schroeder and the first to be produced by the band), came to full fruition on the classic trio of Hello!, Quo and On The Level, and continued on the following Blue For You. The latter LP, released in 1976, was the last studio album until 1980’s Just Supposin’ to be produced the band members themselves, a change “which resulted,” as Wikipedia argues, “in subsequent albums having a noticeably lighter, more pop oriented sound.”
Graeme Stroud, in Status Quo: Song By Song, concurs, noting of Pip Williams’ production of Rockin’ All Over The World that, “there is no doubt that the sound is different from previous offerings, softer and somewhat restrained,” and, with reference to If You Can’t Stand the Heat…, arguing that, “once again, Pip Williams’ production gives the album a soft, cuddly feel.” Stroud is more impressed with Williams’ third effort, Whatever You Want, which is, “not soft, soggy or mushy,” but rather, “bright and sharp…in the proper Status Quo tradition.” Band members are divided over this. Guitarist Francis Rossi, in XS All Areas: The Status Quo Autobigraphy, written by Mick Wall from interviews with Rossi and fellow guitarist Rick Parfitt, argues that the production of Rockin’ All Over The World is, “as immaculate as you could get using seventies’ technology.” Bassist Alan Lancaster, in roadie/tour manager/songwriter/harmonica player Bob Young’s Just Doin’ It, however, reckons Williams’ production of the album to be, “the beginning of the end…What he did to us ruined us.”
Although Rossi’s viewpoint is not in any way negative, he nonetheless recognizes that Live! represents the end of an era and that Rockin’ All Over The World and its preceding single Wild Side Of Life (originally a 1952 hit for country artist Hank Williams and produced by once and future Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover) constitute the beginning of a further development in the band’s career. Rossi notes that Live!, “in effect rounded up the early part of our career on Vertigo, as though clearing the way for something new.” He goes on to say that Wild Side Of Life, “seemed to be pointing in a fresh direction for us…perhaps to where we ended up going in the eighties, which was much more into the mainstream again,” and that Rockin’ All Over the World, “was seen by both us and our longstanding fans as something of a departure.” A much harsher assessment, concerning the material as well as the production, is provided by Marcus Horatius in an Amazon customer review of XS All Areas: “The Quo sound became increasingly thin, the songs more obviously trite pop hooks aimed at chart success…Quo…transformed into a dreary group of Radio 2-friendly popsters.” Additionally, Marcus Horatius identifies the band’s time as a “great rock outfit” as “the period from ‘Ma Kelly’ and ‘Dog of Two Head’ to the magnificent ‘Quo Live’ album.” My own collection precisely mirrors that assessment, featuring every album between Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon and Live!, but none before or after.
The other notable fact about Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon is that it is the last Quo LP to feature keyboard player Roy Lynes, who left the band at this time partially to spend time with his new girlfriend and partially because he felt that his keyboard playing was contributing little to the band’s new sound. Rossi notes how sudden Lynes’ departure was, relating that on the way to a concert in northern England he got off the train the band were travelling on (possibly at Stoke) and simply decided not to get back on again. Lynes was present for Quo’s appearance on UK TV show Doing Their Thing, recorded at Granada Studios in Manchester on 23 August (and broadcast in September) and the band’s last concert in the UK before leaving for dates in Germany, as shown on Thomas Franck’s website The Ultimate Gigography & Livetapes Archive (www.quogigography.com), was in Boston on 28 August. If Rossi is correct in recalling that Lynes departed the band en route to a show in the UK, his departure would seem to be in late August rather than the “early September” cited by Franck.
This release, with songs from three performances from 1970, therefore gives collectors a significant insight into the very beginning of the six or seven years during which the band was at the height of its powers. The disc opens with three songs which Quo performed on Beat-Club, Germany’s first popular music television show, which ran between 1965 and 1972. The date given for the performance, both here and elsewhere, is 26 September, two days after the band’s last German gig and the day on which they played their first show back in the UK, in Nelson, suggesting that 26 September is a broadcast rather than a performance date.
The first song is Spinning Wheel Blues, the opening track from Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon, written by Francis Rossi and Bob Young. Stroud calls the song, which is sung by Rossi and features Young’s harmonica, “a bassy, thumping mid-tempo blues,” and the performance here is essentially similar to the album version, though it is a somewhat more urgent and vigorous (clocking in at around 12-13 seconds shorter than the album version). Those qualities, and the absence of Lynes’ keyboards, ensure that the performance is more in line with the classic Quo sound.
Next up is another Rossi/Young composition, (April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays, which is the last track on side one of Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon. Sung once more by Rossi, and lasting a little over four minutes, the performance is again similar to the album version but it is a little heavier and harder-edged. Stroud notes the song’s, “rolling, loose twangy rhythm over a rock-solid drum pattern,” reminiscent both of the later number That’s A Fact from the Blue For You album and March 1970 hit single American woman by Canadian band The Guess Who (which featured Randy Bachman and Garry Peterson, later of Bachman Turner Overdrive).
(April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays was included on the 1993 bootleg CD Demos; Spinning Wheel Blues and (April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays together have appeared on the bootleg CDs Early Demos and Doing Their Thing (both 1998). Additionally, Spinning Wheel Blues has been released officially, appearing on the volume entitled The Best of ’70 II in a series of Beat-Club DVDs and on Quo’s contribution to the Special Edition series of “DVD EPs,” which also features Are You Growing Tired Of My Love and Technicolour Dreams from earlier Beat-Club appearances.
Concluding the Beat-Club section of the disc is the Alan Lancaster-penned Is It Really Me?/Gotta Go Home, the nine-and-a-half minute finale of Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon. This single track on the album is actually two quite distinct songs and, despite both being written by Lancaster, Rick Parfitt takes lead vocals. Is It Really Me? is described by Stroud as, “a heavy rock piece,” reminiscent of Black Sabbath. After a little under three minutes it segues into Gotta Go Home, which Stroud calls, “a faster rocky piece with Deep Purple keyboards.” This performance of Is It Really Me? is again heavier and more impressive than the album version, but the startling difference comes once Gotta Go Home begins. As with Spinning Wheel Blues, the performance is somewhat closer to the band’s classic sound than the album version but the big difference is that what Stroud calls the “elongated solo” in Gotta Go Home turns into an wonderfully enjoyable extended jam with plenty of soloing from both Rossi and Parfitt as well as a bass solo from Lancaster. The two songs combined come in at twenty-seven minutes, though it seems that German TV viewers were denied the pleasure of the full experience, as the Ma Kelly’s Greasy Thing website informs us that, “originally the last track was miserably edited by…german [sic] TV to 4 minutes but the whole 27 minutes version showed up in 2015.” This a is reference to the official 2-DVD release Accept No Substitute! The Definitive Hits & More! where Is It Really Me?/Gotta Go Home appears on the second disc. Beat-Club is still broadcast as a weekly radio show and also has its own YouTube channel and the whole thirty-four minute performance can be viewed on YouTube.
The Munich section of this disc features Quo’s contribution to the two-day Euro-Pop AZ-Musikfestival. The band were the third act to perform and were scheduled to play between 7:15 and 7:35 pm. Due to the twenty minute scheduled slot, Franck entirely reasonably proposes that, “as short as it is, this is presumably the entire set.”
The band begins with Junior’s Wailing, which opened the second side of Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon. This song was written by Kieran White and Martin Pugh of the British blues-rock band Steamhammer and originally appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album in 1969, and it is characterized by Stroud it as, “simple, repetitive blues-rock anthem.” It later appeared on both the Quo Live EP in 1975 and the Live! LP in 1977. In XS All Areas Rossi recalls that the band’s new musical style grew out of several changes. There was the failure to emulate the success of the singles Pictures Of Matchstick Men and (to a lesser extent) Ice In The Sun, together with the sacking of manager Pat Barlow and the hiring of Colin Johnson, which, “felt like wiping the slate clean and starting again.” Additionally, the “Carnaby Street dandies” look was becoming “passé” at a time when, “everyone was now growing their hair long and wearing jeans and T-shirts…That’s when the whole idea of going back to basics first took a grip – both musically and image-wise.” The band played “all sorts of different things” at soundchecks and Rossi relates that Lancaster introduced the band to Junior’s Wailing: “Alan had brought in this bluesy shuffle called ‘Junior’s Wailing’…that he suggested we do, an that kind of set the template for the new blues-rock sound we started to explore.” “The band came out & put out – crunchy & rockin,” contends Franck and this gritty, muscular performance makes for a terrific start to the show.
Following this effective beginning is the disc’s second performance of (April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays, which is similar to the Beat-Club performance though with a little less heft.
The next song, Roadhouse Blues, is the opening track from The Doors’ fifth album Morrison Hotel, released in February 1970. Quo played numerous gigs in Germany in 1970 and the Franck cites four shows in Bielefeld – two at the Studio X club on 14 May and 17 June (promoting Spare Parts) and two at British Army bases (in support of Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon) on 18 and 24 September. While in Bielefeld, at a time when the band were looking for a change of direction away from their original psychedelic pop style, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi visited a club which the former thinks was called “Studio M,” and first heard Roadhouse Blues. The pair thought that the song, which clearly made an immediate impact on them, would be a worthwhile model for their own future material. As Parfitt relates:
“There was this couple on the dance floor and they were dancing so slinkily – and we looked at one another and thought we’ve got to do this song. It immediately turned us on, the whole slinky feel of this 12-bar shuffle…That’s what really started the whole Quo boogie shuffle thing off in the early 70s.”
Rossi also notes the song’s importance, stating that he “wasn’t sure at first” about the new direction suggested by Junior’s Wailing, but that hearing Roadhouse Blues convinced him – “that’s when we thought, yeah, we’ll have some of that.”
In similar vein, Stroud argues that Roadhouse Blues, “was arguably the song that set the Quo juggernaut rolling.” Given this, it is perhaps surprising that the band did not record the song at the time – despite the early live performances, a studio recording had to wait until their fifth album, 1972’s Piledriver.
The last number from Munich is another song which was instrumental to the band’s change of direction, Down The Dustpipe, written by Australian singer-songwriter Carl Groszman, a client of Valley Music who were at that time affiliated to Quo’s management. The Status Quo version was released as a single in March 1970 and, in Francis Rossi’s words, “it was the first record to feature our soon-to-be trademark boogie shuffle.” Stroud writes that it, “started Status Quo down a new path and effectively kick started their career at last…Utterly different from anything Quo had recorded previously, it was a jolly, bouncy tune with a country blues feel, and was the first record to feature the shuffle backing that would become synonymous with Quo as time went by.” (Mean Girl, a further significant song contributing to the band’s change of style, which Stroud reckons, “might be the first actual real song that is totally recognisable as the Quo they would become,” would emerge in 1971 on their fourth album, Dog Of Two Head.)
The remaining five songs on this release are from the band’s performance on the first day of the three-day Düsseldorf Festival. As with Munich, we first hear Junior’s Wailing in and then we get a second version of Down The Dustpipe. Next up a driven performance Need Your Love, the middle of the five songs on side two of Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon, is another Rossi/Young composition. This “atmospheric piece,” as Stroud’s calls it, with its two distinct sections, is sung partially by Rossi and partially by Parfitt and the Rossi-sung parts (which bookend Parfitt’s contribution) are more effective. Then comes Spinning Wheel Blues, in a lively performance which is slightly less forceful than the Beat-Club version.
The penultimate song is In My Chair, a non-album single from October 1970 which has remained a regular feature of Status Quo live sets over the years and which features on Live! Stroud references the “surreal” lyrics and the “cool, rolling beat” which is reminiscent of On The Road Again, the 1967 hit single by Canned Heat. The song is notable as the first Quo release to be written by Rossi and Young. Rossi relates that they wrote the song in his kitchen and that it became a, “mainstay of the new show. Finally, we get this release’s second performance of Is It Really Me?/Gotta Go Home. The latter is particularly frantic and the two songs clock in at a total of seven-and-a-half minutes.
The Beat-Club songs are presented in extremely good sound as one would expect. Information from the label states that, “the Beatclub audio was from a VHS from the 80’s…that was circulating among collectors…with the entire performance,” save that, “is it really me [sic] was on that one in a short(er) version so that is from another source. Is it really me [sic] is taken from an original DVD release from 2015…hence the slight difference in quality.” The DVD referred to is the official Accept No Substitute! The Definitive Hits & More! release. For Munich and Düsseldorf the label states that, “the two audience tapes are tapes that started to circulate in a small group of Quo collectors in 2016. Presumably master sourced.” With regard to the sound for the Munich songs, Franck refers to, “this slightly distant but decent audience tape for the period that gives a good idea of what it was like.” He also notes: “AUD Quality: 2-3” (out of 5), a mark modest enough to explain the further comment, “check the samples to see if it passes your test.” The Düsseldorf songs receive an identical grading of “AUD Quality: 2-3” but this time without further comment. The Ma Kelly’s Greasy Thing site awards Munich 3+ and Düsseldorf 3, again out of 5. Though distant, as Franck points out, the sound of the Munich songs is consistent and reasonably clear. The sound of the Düsseldorf songs is a little more immediate, though also noticeable coarser, and there are some disturbing fluctuations in sound quality. These two sections of the disc may therefore require a little tolerance, though the constancy of the sound from Munich does allow one’s ears to quickly adjust, providing a more enjoyable listening experience than Düsseldorf .
The disc is housed in the label’s usual tri-fold card sleeve, with photos of the band, together with some newspaper cuttings and reproductions of promotional material. There is no booklet.
Overall, despite the limited sound of the Munich and Düsseldorf songs, Ma Kelly’s Greasy Tapes is a very worthwhile release for the insight it gives collectors into a crucial period of Status Quo’s early development and I shall most certainly be returning to it, and particularly the Beat-Club songs, on a regular basis.