Paul Middleton - A Life!
words by Graham Rhodes pics by Anthony Springall
"Paul Middleton...a hybrid between Howling Wolf, meets Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa."
It's amazing who turns up at Indigo Alley. Take Paul Middleton and his band Angst for instance.... Any East Coast livers who might have ventured as far as Harrogate will no doubt know the name of this great and unique blues player through his long time residency at the towns Blues Bar.
Older music lovers might also remember him as a member of Wally, one the finest bands ever to make it out of the North back in the early 70's. Led by singer songwriter Roy Webber, Wally came out of Harrogate and after playing the usual northern pub rock circuit that included venues in Manchester, Harrogate, Leeds, Bradford, they entered the Melody Maker competition and made it through to the finals at London's Roundhouse. They didn't win, that dubious honour went to a "prog rock band" named Druid.
They did however catch the eye of one of the judges, a certain whispering Bob Harris. He took the band under his wing and soon they had a recording contract with Atlantic records. "Wally", their eponymous named first album was produced by (Whispering) Bob Harris along with Rick Wakeman and was released in 1974. After its release the band (now managed by Brian Lane, famous for managing Yes) took off on a series of tours that took in most of Britain, Japan and the USA. Before their second album was recorded they changed keyboard players with Nick Glennie-Smith replacing Paul Gerrett. However by now touring had taken its toll and by 1976 the band had begun to fall apart to eventually split sometime around 76-78.
The band members drifted apart. Roy headed up his own graphic design company, mainly working for Yorkshire Television. You can see his work on Heartbeat, and in the displays inside Leeds Royal Armouries Museum. Pete Sage the fiddle player ended up in Germany working as sound engineer on the Bony M hits, and made so much money he ended up buying the studio. Nick Glennie Smith became a leading session musician. The last time I saw him he was playing with Roger Waters at the Wall gig in Berlin. God only knows whatever happened to Roger Narraway the drummer, but Pete Cosker the guitarist succumbed to a drug habit that eventually hastened his death in 1990. Meanwhile Paul retreated up into the North Yorkshire Dales venturing out occasionally to play with Roy in crazy country rock band called Freddie Alva and the Men from Delmonte.
A word here should be said about the legendary Freddie Alva. Despite many people thinking otherwise he wasn't in the band - he was an American one-legged, pedal steel player. As for the band - as far as I remember they played the same old Harrogate/Yorkshire circuit with a residency at the Platform One pub on Panal Station, at least that's where I seem to remember them playing most. You see I'd just come back from 15 or so years down in London, and was trying to catch up with everyone from the 70's Harrogate scene and Paul and Roy were the obvious starting points. Again as far as I can remember the Freddy Alva Band played rocking-good, shit-kicking country music with Paul on guitar and pedal steel, Roy Webber guitar & vocals, Ric on violin and Keith Hagger on bass. For the life of me I can't remember who else was in the band. Looking back the memory of them is like that old Paul Simon song - still bit hazy after these beers! But there was a tape done and yes I have a copy of it! And yes it is good, but nowhere near as good they were live. I've no idea why or how they split - but the next I heard Paul was back up in Dales up Kirkby Malzard way.
But that was then and this is now .....
..and now back in Harrogate and well established as a resident at the towns Blues Bar, Paul is taking R&B into areas probably unique in it's British History. Today Paul and his band play their great mixture of original blues tunes in an unique style that is best described as a hybrid between Howling Wolf, meets Captain Beefheart meets Frank Zappa meets Tom Waits meets Eddie Izzard. Eddie Izzard? Yes - his between-song chats are as important as the songs themselves, allowing the audience a brief but fascinating and often hilarious glimpse into the writers mind and allowing them a brief glimpse of why songs are written in the first place, what a complicated life Paul has which ultimately leads the listener to understand why blues songs are blues songs. Let's face it, the difference in picking grapes to picking cotton is only in the end product, the work itself still represents worker exploitation. His anti-Thatcher/Tory rant concerning the death of industry in Sheffield that leads into Keep Your Big Mouth Shut should be played before every TUC Conference, should be taught in schools and should be broadcast as a serious warning as to why no one should ever trust the Tories again. It's as politically valid and says a damn sight more than any essay written in the more learned of our journals.
Over the last few years I consider myself privileged to see Paul and the band perform on a number of occasions, the finest being the recording of his live album at Indigo Alley, and the gig at Scarborough supporting the legendary Pirates. Shit what a night that was! But there again, all nights spent in the presence of the man and his band are special - a bit like the second coming of the second coming! Wherever you are, if you see the name Paul Middleton outside a venue, get in, get a beer and prepare to be amazed. Today when all it takes to be a star is a brief appearance in some shitty Pop Idol, reality TV, mass created pap, genuine people with unique talents are sadly overlooked. How crap like Blue can fill stadiums whilst Paul and his band still plod around the Yorkshire pub music scene is a mystery on a par with what ever happened to the Marie Celeste! Mind you - if you like your music non corporate, in smoky pubs with lots of beer - get yourself in there and worship at the altar of sheer bloody genius. In a life full of twenty-first century corporate sleaze and the other shit that happens we all need to get ourselves down to Markington - and bloody quickly!