Real Music Alternatives
Live Review: John Wicks And Paul Collins, Campbell, CA, June 6, 2009
John Wicks, lead singer of almost-famous British post-punk, power-pop combo the Records, and Paul Collins, who tilled similar fields with the Beat, joined forces in an exemplary living-room show in the friendly confines of Casa Padilla, a modest condo owned by John Padilla, hidden deep in the suburban San Jose outback.
Wielding nothing but acoustic guitars and their well-traveled voices (Wicks’ raspy tenor and Collins’ booming baritone), they didn’t forget to bring the most important element: the small steamer trunk of terrific songs each has penned over the past 30 years. When the pair, who first met five years ago in Spain, kicked things off with a stirring rendition of “You Tore Me Down,” the Flamin’ Groovies’ 1975 comeback gem for Greg Shaw’s Bomp! label, the bar was set for a fine evening of jangling, melodic rock. Wicks and Collins didn’t disappoint.
Wicks, who now resides in Los Angeles, and Collins, based in New York, are in the middle of a nationwide tour of people’s homes. As a flock of northbound Canadian geese honked overhead, both chatted amiably in the back yard before the gig, while guests filled up on tacos, wine punch and mini-bar bottles of booze. Wicks explained the back-story of the Records’ best number, “Starry Eyes,” a delightful 1979 impaling of former manager Frank Silva, lounging about in the south of France while the band cooled its heels in London, waiting for its career to take off. “He thought we were off the boil, so he was busy with his new signing, the Yachts,” says Wicks. “Starry Eyes” concludes with the killer couplet: “We had no time for cocktails or working up a tan/The boys have all been spoken to, the writ has hit the fan.” Wicks has talked recently with the song’s co-composer, drummer Will Birch, as well as bassist Phil Brown about a full-scale Records reunion. Nothing shaking yet.
Collins, too, says he tried recently to reform the Nerves, the fabled L.A. pop/punk trio that featured Collins on drums, guitarist Jack Lee and bassist Peter Case. In 1976, the Nerves rented a Hollywood basement at the corner of Gower and Sunset at the onset of the punk revolution to showcase themselves, dressed in sharp, three-piece suits, alongside Smogtown crash ‘n’ burn aggregations the Dils, the Weirdos, the Zeros and the Screamers. Case would be happy to resurrect the Nerves, says Collins, but not with Lee, the man who wrote “Hanging On The Telephone,” later a worldwide smash for Blondie. Since Lee penned most of the Nerves’ material, that effectively derails a reunion.
Wicks and Collins got everyone’s attention tonight with a startling one-two punch: the Records’ harmony-infused delight “Hearts In Her Eyes” (also cut in ‘79 by Merseyside folk-rockers the Searchers), followed by a nifty cover of the Hollies’ “King Midas In Reverse.” Collins explained to the crowd of three dozen how the Internet had awakened him to the possibility of making a profitable cottage-industry of his music. “I found out I had thousands of fans in Australia, in New Zealand and all over the world. So, John and I have become wandering minstrels.” Collins then showed why he he’s retained such a loyal fan base with a ripping version of his “I Wanna Be With A Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl.” Wicks laughed at a night out in New York for the Records 30 years ago when they thought they were big pop stars. “We went to the Palladium to see Rockpile, the Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds band, and people mistook us for Rockpile. It was very embarrassing.”
The tandem wound things up with of a sharp medley of the Hollies’ “Bus Stop” and “Things We Said Today,” by “the other John and Paul.” A couple of Nerves songs, “Paper Doll” and, naturally, “Hanging On The Telephone,” led to a stirring finale of “Starry Eyes,” an anthem that still gets the blood racing. “Tell all your friends to hire these guys,” said Collins as the pair knocked back self-congratulatory shots of whiskey.
“I’ve done about 15 of these shows since 2000, and I think this was the best one yet,” said starry-eyed host Padilla afterward, as the crowd began to depart. Having attended one show with John Doe and Jill Sobule and a pair by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies, I’m inclined to agree. With a set list this good, how could it not be? - Jud Cost
Sneaky Dee's: Paul Collins - The Beat Goes On
Toronto, Canada February 3, 2009
Paul Collins is a man of stability in the music industry. This singer/songwriter has been listening to rock and roll tunes since the early sixties, and started belting out his own in the mid seventies with a little known band called The Nerves. This was a time when music was in a transitional phase on both sides of the Atlantic. Short punk tunes were emanating from the depths of underground clubs, as disco continued to play at the money-maker glamour clubs, and acid-heads were keeping the psychedelic daze alive in their basements. Today, Collins is on the road touring as the Paul Collins Beat with his current line up of accomplished musicians –Jesse Smith (bass/backing vocals), Warren Bailey (lead guitar/backing vocals), and Dave Rahn (drums). I caught up with him on February 3rd at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto during a stop on his current eastern US and Canadian tour schedule.
“This is one of the best touring bands I have ever been in. The set is everything from The Nerves and The Beat, to the stuff from my current album. It’s a great show, and it moves seamlessly from old to new”, he states. His love for Gentlemen Jesse and His Men is so strong that he gave the boys an opening slot on all the current tour dates, and they didn’t let him down. The 20-something foursome poured their hearts into every tune they played, reminiscent of The Jam or Joe Jackson. Having your backing band open for you makes the set change over that much quicker as well.
The sparse but enthusiastic audience was a mix of young and old, some there to discover and others to remember. Tunes from his latest releases, ‘Flying High’ and ‘Ribbon of Gold’, fit in nicely and provided a nice change of pace throughout the hour long 16-song set. The somewhat introverted man off stage suddenly became a youthful punk again once behind the mic. A round of Jamieson whiskey shots for the band half way through likely helped as well, and was his way of ensuring the boys in the band keep up with the rock and roll lifestyle. He recalled his earlier days in Toronto playing such infamous haunts as the Crash and Burn and the El Mocambo, while belting out songs about the USA.
His repertoire of tunes ranges from alt-rock and Spanish influenced melodies, to punk and straight ahead rock and roll. After The Nerves disbanded, he went on to form The Beat in 1977, continuing to pioneer the then burgeoning punk rock scene in the United States. During this heyday he had the opportunity to tour with some of the most influential musicians over the past three decades, including the Ramones, The Jam, Pere Ubu, and others. He eventually had to change the band name, due to a conflict with the rising popularity of a UK band also called The Beat, later to become The English Beat.
American rocker Eddie Money was cited as being a great admirer of Paul Collins during The Beat days, and played a significant role in getting the band gigs and a recording contract. Collins and Money also collaborated on a couple of songs for each others albums”. I have not spoken to Eddie for many years. When I moved overseas I kind of lost touch with him, but I plan to get back in contact as soon as I can as he was a great friend to me”, Collins admits.
Collins was one third of the influential San Francisco band The Nerves, along with Peter Case (Plimsouls) and Jack Lee. They only managed to release one 4-song EP during their existence, but one song in particular has long lived on in music history. ‘Hangin’ On The Telephone’ was written by Jack Lee, recorded and released by The Nerves, and later covered and became a top 10 hit for Blondie. It has also been reinterpreted by the likes of Cat Power and Def Leppard, and of course it found its way into a couple of cell phone commercials over the years. I asked if the band was treated fairly in terms of royalties over the years. “Each person got the royalties from his own song so there was never any problem with that. I am very happy for Jack (Lee) as it has pretty much taken care of him for his whole life, and that’s a great thing for someone who writes a song”, Collins admits.
Asked about his current musical direction he comments, “I have been doing this most of my life and right now I feel more tapped into my musical beginnings with The Nerves, but mainly my challenge has always been the same, to write and perform good pop songs.” As for his current listening pleasures, he pronounces “I’m really enjoying the sounds of some of the newer bands out there, such as Poison Arrows, and The Flips”. Collins has traveled extensively during his lifetime, as the son of a military father, and most recently spent seven years living in Madrid. “I am influenced by my surroundings, but I am also influenced by my life listening to rock n roll”, he admits. His ‘Flying High’ album was recorded with a Spanish band while living there, and many of the songs are reflective of this southern European culture. His son Noah also contributes vocals on one of the tunes, but Collins is quick to point out this may only be a one off for him.
Now living back in New York, he has aspirations to record some new tunes with the Gentlemen Jesse and His Men. He recently wrote a new song called ‘The Boys Alright’, while hanging with Smith at his home in Atlanta. He mentions that he still maintains contact with both Peter Case and Jack Lee, but when asked if there is a potential for a reunion he says, “I think the feeling is that The Nerves were a great band many years ago and it would be best left where it is, in the past.” Collins does admit to still loving rock and roll though. “I have to be realistic I am not 18 anymore, but I do think rock n roll keeps you young”, he laughs.
Jumping back on stage for a 3-song encore and starting with ‘Hangin On The Telephone’ gave the crowd everything they could have asked for, and more. ‘Rock N Roll Girl’ should have been a hit, and still should be. The chanting anthem of ‘She Doesn’t Want To Hang Around With You’ was still bouncing around inside my head when I woke up the next morning. All in all, it was a great set of power pop songs that Collins aspires to fulfilling. - Bryen Dunn / SugarBuzz Toronto
SXSW BLOG AUSTIN 360
SXSW HIGHLIGHT: CAN'T BEAT PAUL COLLINS
My SXSW peaked a tad early when I happened upon an act that I didn't know was playing; in fact I didn't even know the front man was alive. When I saw the name "Paul Collins and the Beat" in marker outside Beerland, which is not an official venue for the first time, I gasped audibly. You see, about 30 years ago I was mainly into two things musically: Bruce Springsteen and power pop, and Collins was the most Springsteenian of the skinny tie gang. His show at the Hullabaloo in Rensselaer, N.Y., in 1980 was as tight, powerful and melodic as any club show I'd seen. Well, 28 years later and Collins hasn't lost a thing, besides his hair. Currently living in Madrid, his backing Beat are a trio of Spanish kids that can really play with feeling. And Collins' vocals were strong as ever. I couldn't believe my luck as the band churned out some of my old faves like "Work-a-Day World," "Take Me Back" and "Don't Wait Up For Me." When they ended with "Rock N' Roll Girl," a song I'd play 10 times a day in 1980, and "Hangin' On the Telephone," from his pre-Beat band the Nerves, I was in heaven. I'm pretty certain I will not have a better SXSW moment this year and it was not even five o'clock on Wednesday. - Michael Corcoran
Paul Collins brings that beat back
Power pop's re-emergence puts the daddy of the scene in the driver's seat
Paul Collins cut his teeth during a strange time in American music.
When his band, the Los Angeles power-pop trio the Nerves, released its one and only four-song 7-inch in 1976, the radio waves were dominated by Peter Frampton types riffing on 20-minute guitar solos. The hippies had come and gone and punk rock was still a few years down the road. No one knew what to make of three guys driving to gigs in a station wagon, wearing suits with skinny ties and playing three-minute pop songs.
"People thought we were from another planet," Collins laughs. "We got kicked out of every music store in L.A. and San Francisco because people thought we were jerks and that we weren't playing real music."
Along with his bandmates Jack Lee and Peter Case, Collins' one near brush with fame happened when Blondie scored a hit with a cover of the Nerves' song "Don't Leave Me Hanging on the Telephone" in '78. But to this day when Collins performs the song, people approach him after the show and say 'Hey man, great Blondie cover.'
Since then the group has existed as little more than a footnote in the annals of pop history, but its influence on indie music culture is incalculable.
Before Black Flag got in the van and led the punk charge across the country in the 1980s, the Nerves had already blazed the DIY trail nearly a decade earlier. "People told us we couldn't make our own record, and we said 'Fuck you, yes we can,'" Collins declares. "They said you can't book a tour without an agent, but nothing stopped us from putting gas in the car and going. We even started our own club, called the Hollywood Punk House. The first shows in Hollywood by the Germs, the Zeros, the Zippers, the Weirdos, the Dils were at our club that we booked. No one else would do it, so we said yes."
When punk finally did break, Collins and Co. chose not to go that route. "We thought it was too juvenile," he adds. "We didn't want to wear safety pins and torn-up clothes; we wanted nice clothes. But philosophically we epitomized punk."
Rarely does a band go against both the establishment and its peers, but the Nerves did both.
Since those early days Collins' has remained on the fringes of mainstream success. In 1979, he signed with Columbia Records to release the self-titled debut from his band, the Beat, which later became the Paul Collins Beat. But despite critical praise the record went largely unnoticed. After a few more releases received the same lack of public interest, the group broke up.
After disbanding the Beat, Collins fell into obscurity, and the changing face of popular music didn't help his case. He continued, working mostly in Europe, to produce bands here and there and occasionally tried his hand at country songwriting with the Paul Collins Band. But writing short, sharp, raw and honest pop songs has always remained his forte.
As the '80s turned into the '90s, grunge took over the radio and like a virus it infected everything. "Everything else just kind of took a nose dive, especially the kind of '80s pop music that I was doing," Collins admits. "Nobody wanted to hear it."
Rather than point a finger at the changing face of popular music for stifling his livelihood, Collins blames the establishment like he has always done.
The rise of the Internet, however, has sparked new interest in Collins' career. "The Internet broke the stranglehold," he says. "Corporate radio is so boring that people had to find a way around it and now people have podcasting and their own radio shows and they're really cool and eclectic."
The shift in dissemination has churned up a lot of music that was lost in the shuffle over the years. Both the Nerves' and the Beat's recordings have been reissued and, ironically, are now considered power-pop classics. "People are discovering a lot of timeless music that was lost the first time around," he says. "That's the power of rock 'n' roll and that's the power of the Internet."
The cultural change is visible in the scores of young bands popping up on Myspace every day, claiming '70s-'80s power-pop as an influence, and Collins is paying attention.
In 2006 he released Flying High (Lucinda) to the same critical praise his albums have always received. The following year he released Ribbon of Gold on the obscure Spanish indie label, Rock Indiana.
Over time Collins has further honed the art of crafting the perfect pop song. Ribbon of Gold portrays the same balance of raw honesty and short, sharp pop arrangements that put him on the map more than 30 years ago. And over time he has adhered to the same DIY philosophies.
"Every day I ask myself the same question, 'Why am I doing this?' And at the end of the day, I always have the same answer – because I love rock 'n' roll." - Chad Radford
Paul Collins Beat: Upcoming Powerpop Festival Review
A classic trademark of good powerpop is that it's often instantly likeable. The beat's good, the melodies are catchy, you can sing along to it the first time, and it sounds like what great rock 'n roll should sound like. In many ways, its simplicity makes the album a seminal album that influences many for years to come. The new release from Paul Collins Beat, Ribbon Of Gold delivers as promised. If one knew about frontman Paul Collins, that would be no surprise. He was in early '70s legends The Nerves with future Plimsouls Peter Case, penned "Hanging on the Telephone," which was a hit for Blondie, and also was in '80s new wave legends The Beat (not to be confused with ska revivalists The English Beat). In fact, Paul Collins is credited by many as one of the inventors of "skinny tie pop," the Kinks/early Who derived simple guitar and beat based pop that reached its height of popularity with The Knack that still garners both affection and popularity among (good) music lovers. Afterall, when was the last time you heard anyone say they didn't like Blondie or The Knack? They're just cool to everyone. Ribbons of Gold is a superb followup to last year's Flying High. As if the history isn't enough to give instant powerpop/jingle jangle rock cred, it was produced in super musically cool Sweden by Chips Kiesby, also known for his work with The Nomads and The Hellacopters. The opening "Hey DJ" is a happy slow beat nostalgia trip when rock radio was something good and DJ's brought you great music and seemed more like music fans than the outdated relics they are now. Not many of us can relate to it, but the song is refreshing and jangles along in a way that's just cool. For those of you who want their music to rawk and care less about the finer points, it's got that too. "I Still Want You" is unmistakenly 80s new wave/powerpop that reminds one of early Police but far better in volume and dimension. The song also highlights Paul's vocal intensity and heart. We've all felt that way before and Paul summed it up in feeling just as we felt it. Another upbeat standout is "She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You" with it's less than two minutes of pogo beat that definitely brings me back to my high school days of crushes for girls with bob haircuts and neon earrings. It nearly borders on a 'punk' song if it wasn't so happy sounding. "Big Pop Song" is a slower psychedelic/jingle jangle guitar song. Musically, it's very reminiscent of early Church but the vocals bring a greater strength to the song compared to the more understated, detached style of Steve Kilbey. Instant appeal doesn't mean popularity. Although the songs on Ribbon Of Gold are instantly likeable and catchy, they have a basic purist sense that feels and sounds like great rock 'n' roll. One can't put their finger on it, but if one takes The Jam and only a few others out of the powerpop equation, it seems like more of an American new wave phenomenon. Therefore, this type of Kinks derived skinny tie pop shares some qualities as "American" music or "Americana." Songs like "Falling In Love With Her" take a strong Byrds folk rock flavor, but more than the Rickenbacker sound, the music itself somehow feels like "American Music." Although that term applies more often to country music, which is not a genre that holds merit for many of us in the modern sense, the songwriting tradition is related by people such as Johny Cash, Roy Orbison, and many others. Although this is NOT a comparison to them, it's important to note that there is a tradition shared. It has a feel of being almost earthy in it's simplicity and a story to it. In many ways, Paul Collins' style both in tempo and songwriting transcend the skinny tie feel into a broader sense of American rock music that is suprising. One especially hears it on the title track "Ribbon of Gold" with it's storytelling and beat that almost communicates a sense of traveling, which is what the song is about. It's very hard to describe it, but it has some kind of kinship to "Into The Great Wide Open." What's even better is that it shows that Paul Collins is a great American rock songster that deserves a lot more credit and attention than he currently knows. - Paisley Umbrella
Flying High Lucinda
Rare Solo Turn by one of US power-pop’s prime movers.
With his late-’70s LA troupes The Nerves and The Beat, Paul Collins essentially invented the genre of punk-infused power-pop. The Beat’s eponymous 1979 Columbia debut, with its skittering guitar-and-adrenaline stompers like “Rock and Roll Girl” and “Walking Out On Love,” arguably remains the style’s apex, and established an archetype that lesser bands like The Romantics and The Knack parlayed into mass successes. The modest Flying High, Collins’ first solo turn in 12 years, proves his gift for a hook is still intact, even if the rhythms are gentler, the songs more reflective. “Afton Place,” a catchy-as-hell highlight, looks back on the early years with empathy and passion. - Luke Torn
Paul Collins Beat - Flying High
Paul Collins was the drummer for the Nerves when they had their one and only hit, the new wave anthem “Hanging on the Telephone” covered by Blondie. Later, in his own band, The Beat, he recorded one of the definitive power pop albums of the late 1970s , the band’s self-titled debut in 1979. Other albums, line-up changes, break-ups, solo recordings, reunions followed, but Flying High is the first album of new material from Collins in more than a decade. It is a rather low-key affair, recorded in about a day and a half, with friends and mostly acoustic instruments, and Collins’ son sings back-up on the opening song. The difference between this and a million other self-recorded albums is the careful construction of the songs, nearly all of which have something special to offer. “Rock ‘N Roll Shoes”, co-written with a since-deceased friend Neil Grossman, has the stinging guitars and soaring harmonies of British Invasion pop, while “Paco & Juan” channels a little of Mark Knopfler’s dark romanticism. “Bobby”, written about a childhood friend who died in a mental institution, is the darkest song on the album, an unsentimental reminiscence set to folk guitars. But there’s plenty of sunshine here, as well. “Afton Place” rings out with Kinks-like chords and sweeping choruses, and “Silly Love” is a countrified ode to no-strings hook-ups. ("Let’s not get too deep/Let’s not talk too much/Let’s have a cocktail/And then make love.") This is not the kind of album that changes anyone’s life....it’s just good, relaxed fun, from a guy who’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know about chord changes. - Jennifer Kelly
BUCKETFULL OF BRAINS
Paul Collins will always be remembered for delivering unto the world the most perfect pop-punk song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl.” Unfortunately, for the most part, it was a pretty cloth-eared world that never paid enough attention and certainly didn’t buy enough records. The few,mostly located in mainland Europe, who did recognise his talent have been lucky enough to play host to Mr Collins on and off for the past couple of decades. During this period he has quite schizophrenically split his time between being a country troubadour and a power pop rocker. He succeeds at both having a powerful voice matched by a passionate delivery. His latest album, Flying High, focuses far more on his rock/pop side. With songs like “Rock 'n' Roll Shoes,” “Helen,” “Afton Place” and “All Over Town” harking back to his late-’70s heyday. His time in Spain is felt strongly on “Paco & Juan” with its Spanish-influenced guitar (and subject matter), and his Americana stylings are to the fore on the moody “FDR” and the musically simple but emotionally powerful title track. But it’s his conversational story telling, most in evidence on the sad tale of “Bobby,” that holds the show together, and makes this an album to be proud of. – Terry Hermon
Paul Collins’ Beat produced some great power-pop/punk records over 25 years ago. It’s heartening to discover that Paul decided to carry on in 1989, and has been recording and gigging in Spain virtually ever since. Collins always had a knack for power pop melodies and hooks, and it hasn’t deserted him. The punkier stylings of the earlier recordings have been replaced by a lighter, more acoustic approach. The songs are well supported by a Spanish band and Paul’s son (?) On backing vocals. Octavio Vinck deserves special mention for tasteful, economic lead guitar parts and backing vocals. The websites are short of information, but I presume that Paul now lives in Spain, where pure pop gets a warm welcome. Whilst the twelve songs here are not instant classics, they all have nifty hooks and catchy choruses. Let’s hope Paul keeps writing and playing stuff like this for another 25 years. – Phil Suggitt