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THE PIRATES Shakin' With The Devil: The Best Of The Pirates 1977-1979 Salvo SAL VODCD219 (2011)

The Pirates

Ah The Pirates! It's hard to understate the importance of the classic power trio line-up and the catalytic role of guitarist Mick Green. The Pirates were equally important to those isolated rock fans schooled on something more than punk and safety pins, as they provided one of the only relevant links between the past and present and short lived retro tinged rock and roll future. By 1978 they had jumped from a memorable gig at Dingwalls to touring Europe and playing the 1978 Reading Festival, with only record company shenanigans in the States puncturing their exponential success across the Atlantic.

And while The Pirates melded together punk, r&b, rockabilly and classic Rock & roll, all the focus was on the staccato style and startling simultaneous lead and rhythm work of guitarist of Mick Green, a one man rock & roll band. Except of course he wasn't quite one man show as Frank Farley and vocalist/bass player Johnny Spence provided the stellar whip crack rhythm section.

But it was Green who provided the unbelievable chops that brought real substance to the band's style. You can hear the musical link between his rock & roll antecedents and punk on the opening 'Please Don't Touch' and the closing punk version of 'All By Myself' as the band all but close the last chapter on their late 70's history. Of course they made a few more comebacks, returning to their original power trio version in the mid-nineties, but history can only repeat itself so many times.

'Shakin' With The Devil': The Best of the Pirates 1977-1979' contains both the very best and worst of The Pirates. You could try and locate the 'Shakin'at the Beeb' 76-78 sessions and dispense with the later poor material included here, but that would be to miss out on the thoroughly researched liner notes and photos that you would expect from the band's champion, occasional co-song writer and former NME scribe Roy Carr. It was Roy who brought the unsuspecting rock & roll's public's attention to the grizzled rockers in a one man crusade that recalls the significance of the music press at the time.

Back in the late 70's The Pirates provided a safe haven for any self respecting rock fans, for whom the bread and butter of rock& roll was far more preferable than punk. As a result 13 or so years after leaving Johnny Kidd for Billy J. Kramer in the summer of '64, The Pirates were suddenly hip. They may have been in the right place at the right time, but they had the musical history and the chops to drag kick ass rock & roll into the forefront of the live music scene, before Green was eventually lost to touring and recording with Morrison, McCartney and Ferry. So how does it all sound some 34 years after their rediscovery? Well the liner notes invite you to 'Strap yourself in for 52 of their finest (and rarest) recordings 1977-79', when in truth there's a dozen or so essential tracks and maybe 20 others that coherently map out a band on the up escalator.

'Shakin' With The Devil' only really works if you quietly overlook the diminishing returns on the lamentable 'Happy Birthday Rock 'n' Roll', while 'Shakin' All Over' is a mix of outtakes, B sides and live cuts of which the Green/Carr penned 'Saturday Night Shoot Out' sounds like Mark Knopfler and the cover of 'The Witch Queen of New Orleans' suggests a band searching for new material. Normal service resumes on 'Lonesome Train' with Green in blistering form, while the rough mix of the stonking 'All By Myself' gives you an inkling as to just how scorching their brand of rock & roll could still be.

Ditto the live single 'Sweet Love On My Mind' and the essential 'Tear It Up', but it is the opening 8 tracks of 'Out Of Their Skulls' that sets the standard. This is foot to the floor, bone crunching rock & roll at its best from the enduring 'Please Don't Touch' to the abortive 'Linda Lu' intro, the fill in instrumental 'Peter Gunn' and of course Johnny Kidd's Shakin' All Over', the song adopted by The Who.

Listen to the stripped down power of 'Honey Hush' recorded at The Nashville Rooms or the explosive power of Green's telecaster driven 'Milk Cow Blues'. At the time of the recording Green was 33 (ancient in Punk terms) but old enough to become the adopted granddaddy of rock & roll.

The best studio cuts on 'Out of their Skulls', such as the cover of 'Drinking Wine, Spo-dee-O-Dee' and the tightly wrapped dynamics of 'Sweet Love On My Mind' feature a distilled version of Green's trademark guitar work, adapted by Wilko in the Feelgood's. 'Out Of Their Skulls' also features the band's own songs on which the drum tight 'Gibson Martin Fender' and the Green/Spence penned 'Don't Munchen It' are every bit as impressive as the cover of Rufus Thomas 'Do The Dog' is sloppy.

Described as 'the album they daren't make into a movie', 'Skull Wars' opens with one of those late 70's radio promo jingles before the chant along Green/Carr penned 'Long Journey Home' and 'All In It Together', but it's a record which finds the band over stretching themselves. In truth they were short of material, hence the live tracks, though Green is in blistering form on the guitar avalanche of Chuck Berry's 'I'm Talking About You' and the self opened 'Four To The Bar'. But the band sounds happiest on tracks like 'Honey Hush' on which Green delivers the sort of impossibly distorted tone and pile driving riffs that could only be The Pirates.

The final 'Happy Birthday Rock 'n' Roll' disc is a hit and mainly miss affair that includes the Alan Freeman championed single 'Golden Oldies' and the Nick Lowe influenced 'Lemonade'. But for the rest it's a case of diminishing returns with milky pop having replaced warts and all r&b save for the Green and Wilko Johnson penned 'Going Back Home'.

Though seemingly out of ideas and faced with the reality that their time had gone, the spoof punk version of 'All By Myself' suggests they hadn't lost either their raw power or sense of humour.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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