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The Love Affair & Steve Ellis – Scenester LP Review

The Love Affair & Steve Ellis

Time Hasn’t Changed Us (RPM Records RPMBXM 526)

Of huge interest to blue-eyed soulies and late 60’s pop fans alike, this RPM Records 3 CD set collects together the wildly successful recording career of The Love Affair, and singer Steve Ellis’ subsequent solo work in neat card sleeves, especially for those of you who, like me, hate those awful plastic jewel cases.

That much of what we hear was accomplished using the cream of Britain’s session musicians, rather than the band, is not something that should concern us. It was common practice at the time, as many now legendary figures have owned up to availing themselves of. When the results are as good as this, who’s going to complain?

CD1: The Love Affair

Beginning with (what else?) The Love Affair’s glorious, life-affirming ‘Everlasting Love’, the opening bass pulse taken up by muscular brass and Ellis’ heartfelt, pleading voice laying all his cards on the table to the object of his adoration. A triangle interlude provides a moment’s respite from what is otherwise a relentless plea for love to be returned. One of the most successful songs of the 60’s, and still requested on many a nostalgia show today.

A woodwind intro and a bluesy voice close to cracking characterises ‘Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday’, which acts as a complete contrast to the other barnstorming bookend, ‘Rainbow Valley’, another slice of beautifully orchestrated longing, and another monster hit for the band.

‘Someone Like Me’s slow lament features a highly emotional performance by Ellis, but is easily outbid by ‘A Day Without Love’, with its soul rhythm, powerful brass, lively female backing vocals and a suggestion of Steve Marriott about the vocal.

The band’s take on eternal standard ‘Hush’ hurtles along like an out of control train, easily as good as other covers of this wild, unrestrained slice of blues rock. The sub-Marriott voice returns in ’60 Minutes of Your Love’, with its robust, libidinous performance from all concerned. ‘Could I Be Dreaming’ s innocent, child-like atmosphere doesn’t quite hit the druggy notes they were doubtlessly aiming at, but is easily redeemed by their take on ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, with a pared–back guitar and horn backing behind one of Ellis’ finest performances. My only grumble is the simplified chorus, no doubt done with good reason.

A further, this time creditable attempt, at a psychedelic atmosphere in ‘Once Upon A Season’, with an insistent beat, assured guitar picking, a sitar sound and general air of doper ennui. The finest vocal here is surely on ‘Tobacco Road’, with its slow, sinister, slap-round-the-face backing, giving a more menacing tone to the proceedings.

A pleasing suggestion of The Love Affair’s contemporaries and rivals, the mighty Traffic, can be heard on ‘The Tree’, leading into their quotidian performance of ‘Handbags and Gladrags’, the presence of a harpsicord doing little but sitting pretty here. ‘Build On Love’ has a great beat and resolution, but veers about in the meantime, but again, redeemed in the next one up, their fine version of tear-jerker ‘Please Stay’, with its subtle bass and guitar intro.

The mind-numbingly traditional pub sing-along makes an unwelcome appearance in ‘Tale Of Two Bitters’, a thudding drum, boozy piano and cock-er-ney vocal confection, only recalling The Small Faces, and not advancing The Love Affair’s stock one point.

The orchestration and fine backing of ‘One Road’ raises us out of the mire, and ‘Let Me Know’s full throated vocal, hand clapping and wild lead guitar storms ahead, back into more familiar pop territory. The true successor to ‘Everlasting Love’ comes next, the magnificent, soaring ‘Bringing On Back The Good Times’, a song which surely deserved better that a mere no. 9 in the UK Charts.

‘Another Day’s Nick Drake-like chord changes please without satisfying, and our first CD closes with ‘Lo Senza Te’ an Italian lyric to ‘Rainbow Valley’.

CD2: The Love Affair

The rousing opener, ‘Baby I Know’ is a great, dramatic soul track, leading into the fuzzy, driving blues of ‘Accept Me for What I Am’, with a pleasing soul interlude. No let up as third track ‘Time Hasn’t Changed Us’ hits us between the ears with its powerful horns. Not for the first time, The Love Affair perform a song in Italian, the soaring melody, ‘Un Giorno Senza Amore’.

A couple of covers from their 1969 appearance on TV’s ‘Colour Me Pop’ follow; the moody cover of Dylan classic, ‘All Along The Watchtower’, doing it some credit, with its suitably tense organ intro and plaintive voice, and a surprising instrumental of Lennon/McCartney’s ‘A Day In The Life’.

The nervous, rim-tapping atmosphere of ‘Walk On Gilded Splinters’ heavy blues takes Ellis’ voice from a dry, rough, Eric Burdon cough to a Robert Plant-like shriek, but the band make a wise return to the exuberant pop that made their name, in ‘Lincoln County’, with Ellis’ voice a throaty rasp.

The half-hearted ‘Sea of Tranquillity’ is a rare clunker, but is easily forgotten in the lively ‘Speak of Peace, Sing of Joy’; an Indian style riff with a flute part that you would swear blind was a Jethro Tull album track. The jaunty ‘Bring My Whole World Tumbling Down’ relies a little on the admittedly great keyboard, and ‘New Day’s organ and guitar are a pleasure, but there’s something missing here, and it might be the elusive fire and excitement of their bona fide hits.

‘Walking Down The Road’ has more flute jiggery-pokery, but at least has a good, rasping vocal, a redeeming feature absent from the annoying organ and bass riff of ‘Gee’s Whizz’, a song which makes an excellent case for outlawing flutes altogether.

The ‘Spooky’ style atmosphere of ‘Gypsy’ does much to make amends for the previous item, with its moody bass and electric piano and excellent vocal. ‘Goodbye Brother, Farewell Friend’ is a heavy-handed pedestrian piece, with its regretful soldier’s story, but organ interjections do their job nicely.

‘Hurt by Love’ is another step back to their early winning ways, with a great vocal, yet a trippy style to it that would not have sounded out of place in a 1990’s outfit. ‘Bad Girl’s acoustic intro leads straight into a Stones’ style libidinous rocker, with a touch of prog about it. ‘Nine To Five’s rocking beat gets a little lost in the predictable hardness-of-life lyric, and our second slice ends with ‘Thank You Bean’ a mood piece with jazzy piano, the most uncharacteristic departure here.

CD3: Steve Ellis

Following the break-up of The Love Affair, singer Steve Ellis pursued a solo career, which is well covered in the third disc to this collection.

Those of you with a louche taste in cinema may recognise ‘Loot’, theme song from the film of the same name, based on the Joe Orton play. It features a huge, expansive brass treatment with a hint of Hammond. ‘More More More’ puts its hand into the soul bran tub and comes up with a rangy brass and piano piece with some nifty electric guitar. The MOR ‘Evie’ has a fine, typical Ellis vocal performance to liven up this ‘goodbye’ lament.

‘Fat Crow’ represents a complete break from light pop, with a slow meditation on death; the singer’s or the crows? Who knows? ‘Take Your Love’ is a more bile-spitting type of kiss-off song, and shows another side to Ellis’ vocal talents. ‘Jingle Jangle Jasmine’ strips it down to just acoustic guitar, piano and vocal for this steady blues, and is all the better for it. ‘Have You Seen My Baby’s jaunty boogie, backed up with plenty of brass and piano puts you in mind of Mr Rod Stewart, and no bad thing. ‘Goody Goody Dancing Shoes’ has a backing vibe reminiscent of Texan beardies ZZ Top, and is one of the disc’s standouts.

‘Good Time Livin’ marks a return to The Love Affair template, with its soaring chorus and powerful brass, in this tale of getting back to the land. Ellis offers up a very different version of ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’, with rather syrupy strings and a light-touch backing that seem a poor support to a vocal performance that Long John Baldry might have delivered. Ellis’ heartfelt performance of ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ goes well with the worried string sound, although may not light the fires of the James Brown fans.
‘Bread And Wine’ follows the rising, life affirming template that brought Ellis and the band to our attention in the first place, and the slow, soulful performance from Ellis, with some creditable backing vocals, put in a fine performance of ‘Lean On Me’. ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ shows ambition, and although there’s a nice catch in the voice, it’s not the finest version around, and ‘Holly Holy’s climbin’-the-stairs beat and sitar-like lead weave a good atmosphere from a simple riff.

‘Charley Patten Rides the Delta’ is a genuine slice of blues from one so young, the train sounds adding atmosphere to the splendid organ and brass. ‘Don’t Know Why’s wistful guitar plicker’n’ chopper makes for a mocking sort of sound, but Ellis take on ‘Gimme Shelter’ again belies his age, with a raspy vocal and a solid guitar intro, well suited to this desperate howl of a song. The swampy ragtime piano of ‘Pisces Apple Lady’ proves that Ellis had no intention of getting stuck in a rut, even if the results were less than happy, but ‘Way Up On A Hill’ takes us back to the Rod Stewart/Free sound that allowed his voice full rein, a guitar solo and all, which should have provided Ellis with a hit.

The ‘Free’ boogie vibe continues with ‘I Got a Feelin’, a steady truckin’, life-as-it-is-lived song, and ‘Can’t Stop Worryin’, Can’t Stop Lovin’s Stewart-like raspy delivery is another to enjoy. Perhaps the best track here is the soulful ‘Take Me to the Pilot’, Ellis pouring his heart into this prime Bernie Taupin/Elton John offering. ‘Sympathy’ closes, its urgent piano and horns supporting Ellis’ pleading vocal performance that is all well and good, but a little too familiar to be remarkable. BUY HERE!

Scenester

Scenester lives in London and Brighton, as time allows. Enjoys music, film, television, books, design and anything else which won’t leave well alone. Old enough to know better.

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