Bob Webb: Tree Of Life, A Thirty-Year Anthology

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The music industry (like books) is propped up by massive-selling stars — one Adele will keep an entire company in profit. (Beggars Group saw total operating profits jump 229.2% to £16.68m in 2015, courtesy of Adele’s 25, while 2011, when Adele’s 21 was released, saw the firm turn over £86.2m in revenue, with an operating profit of £23m).

But most bands don’t make much money at all — many surprisingly big names have day jobs — and the vast majority of talented musicians toil away and never get further than a tantalising glimpse at the “big time” (if they want it).

Local man Bob Webb is one such. He’s played with Buddy Holly, who gave him his home phone number, and his band Miller’s Thumb made an album (Sitting on the Right Side) that sold thousands of copies.

His other bands include Stevie’s Fix, put together by Webb and Paul Massey. They played soul and Tamla Motown, and backed people such as the Isley Brothers, Patti Labelle and Long John Baldry. His A Band Called Doris released singles on their own ABCD record label.

Now he’s got this “greatest hits” out, songs he’s written or recorded over the last 30 years. Playing it you realise that there’s a gulf between people sometimes branded “minstrels”, such as Bob Dylan — in reality a global rock superstar — and true minstrels, playing songs across a variety of genres and with lyrics that tell stories, but for little if any reward.

Webb is more like a true minstrel, the music on here ranging from Motown (perhaps wisely stuck at the end as it sounds the most dated) to psychedelic rock and pure folk.

Opener Girl Like You sounds like a lost 60s classic, with a psychedelic feel and flute, though it was written in 1999. Then follows a run of pleasant singer-songwriter tunes. We actually took this off the CD machine and played Peter Sarstedt’s England’s Lane (a re-issue from last year, RIP Mr S) and Webb’s Poor Man’s Dream or Over The Border could easily have been on that album, or a CD from any other classy singer-songwriter you care to mention. It’s top class stuff, with clever arrangements and instrumentation.

An early standout for us was the old-school bluesy folk tune Rosemary (“It was way down in Brummagem/or so I hear say …”), about a canal boat’s restoration. But this is followed by Misty Morning Stranger, as complex and rocking a tune as you’d like — slow start, big guitar solo — and ditto She’ll Always Be. There’s a Traffic/Doors/Ten Years After vibe going on with these songs, a long way from Sarstedt’s. There are hints of Cream in places, too.

Sadly, at the end of the day he’s a bloke in Goostrey with some good songs, but not a lot of cash, and the flaw in this CD is the sound quality, which is not bad by any stretch but there’s definitely a DIY ethos to it. Still, if your idea of a good night out is a minstrel singing his own songs live in a pub, you’ll probably overlook that and enjoy this selection. It’s on sale at A&A Music.

Webb also has a book out: Life’s Not All Rock ‘n’ Roll costs £9, which includes postage and packaging, from Mr Webb on 07527591148 or visit bobwebbmusic.co.uk

Peter Sarstedt’s England’s Lane is also worth a listen.

The late Mr S:

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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