He may officially be the pub/punk/new wave scene’s
quintessential “senior rocker” but he can still kick your ass.
BY DAVE STEINFELD
Graham Parker burst onto
the music scene nearly 35 years ago. It was early 1976 – not the greatest
period in popular music – when Parker unveiled his critically acclaimed first
album, Howlin’ Wind. Featuring a
dozen songs that combined a singer-songwriter approach with an R&B edge and
a healthy dose of sarcasm, Howlin’ Wind was
an auspicious debut but just the tip of the iceberg. Before the end of the
year, Parker had released his sophomore set, Heat Treatment. He really hit his stride in 1979, however, with his
fourth studio album, the still-amazing Squeezing
Out Sparks. Backed by The Rumour, Parker delivered a full album of taut,
tuneful zingers including the minor hit “Local Girls,” rockers like
“Discovering Japan” and “Don’t Get Excited” and the ballad “You Can’t Be Too
Strong,” about an abortion.
Not surprisingly, critics
went over the top about Squeezing Out
Sparks. Between the comparisons to Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and the
fact that the times seemed to have finally caught up with Parker, it seemed
like he was on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. Strangely, however, that
never happened. Parker has in fact scored exactly one Top 40 hit in the U.S.
(the lovely “Wake Up Next to You” from 1985). He’s changed labels the way most
people change socks and he certainly never scaled the commercial heights of
either Jackson or Costello. But if Parker hasn’t had the hits they’ve had – or
experimented with different genres the way they have – he has arguably been
more consistent than either of them. He’s released albums pretty prolifically
for more than three decades. And if none has been up to the lofty standards set
by Squeezing Out Sparks, all have had
something to recommend them. And some, like the later Struck By Lightning, have been masterworks of a more subtle nature.
2010 turned out to be a
significant year for Parker. He released his 20th studio offering, Imaginary Television, earlier this year
on the Chicago-based label Bloodshot Records. And he unveiled his first-ever
concert DVD. Graham Parker & The
Figgs: Live at the FTC captures Parker and his sometime-backing band at a
gig they played in Connecticut last April. The DVD includes GP classics like
“Local Girls,” “Soul Shoes” and “You Hit the Spot,” along with selections from Imaginary Television like “Weather
Report” and “Bring Me a Heart Again.”
BLURT recently had a
chance to chat with Graham Parker about his past, present and future.
Tell me about your latest album, Imaginary Television. It sounds like
this was a concept album of sorts. What inspired it?
I got some block emails
from my new publishing company from TV shows asking for writers to submit
tunes. Inspired by the idea, I wrote and
recorded a couple of tunes but they were rejected. But now I was on a roll and
decided that if I wrote my own TV shows, I could then write the songs for them
and no one could reject them. It worked:
hence, Imaginary Television.
Are there any TV shows that you admit to
watching? I’m also curious to get your
take on reality TV.
I watch mainly opinion
“news” shows and nature shows. Glenn Beck is very funny and Rachel Maddow is
the best. For actual news, I watch BBC America, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I saw one of the very early reality shows way
back when and that was all I needed. No
need to watch them anymore, although there were a couple of Ozzy’s shows that
In addition to the new CD, you’re about to release
your first-ever live DVD. Tell me a bit about that. What do you enjoy most
about playing with The Figgs, who backed you on the DVD?
Actually, a live show was
released in 1982 when I was promoting Another
Grey Area but that was of course in the days of VHS tapes. There was also Rockpalast featuring me and The Rumour from the “70s — again, back
in the tape days. So, yes, this new one
is the first on DVD. But it has been a
long time since there’s been an official, professionally filmed show and I’m
pleased with the way this one came out.
My new publishing company put the money up for it and it’s a serious job
with eight cameras involved.
It’s obvious from the show that me and
The Figgs have some real connectivity now.
There’s a very strong onstage vibe that comes across. They’re a good bunch of guys.
I understand you and some members of The Rumour
recently performed together in New York City. What about The Rumour made them
such a great band?? Are there any plans to play with them again??
Bob Andrews, Martin
Belmont, and Steve Goulding were all in town to watch a screening of [my]
upcoming documentary, Don’t Ask Me
Questions. They decided to do a gig
the night before at the Lakeside Lounge, possibly the smallest venue in New
York, calling themselves “The Kippington Lodge Social Club.” They invited me to come see the show, no
pressure to do anything, but…
“Hold me back!” was my reaction. So they did a bunch of songs and I joined
them for a few of my tunes. Quite a
blast it was. The Rumour had everything going for them and were perfect for
what I was doing at the time. I don’t
think there was a band operating anywhere at the time that were as good —
apart from Little Feat, of course.
We don’t have any plans for the dreaded
reunion tour, however. But maybe we’ll
do another freebie in a little venue again in the future, who knows?
In the late ’70s, you were often mentioned in the
same breath as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson – though you actually preceded
them both. Did you ever actually feel a kinship with either of these artists??
Well, they’re both
obviously excellent acts but I don’t feel a kinship with anyone, really, apart
from actual kin. I’m a lone wolf. Always have been.
It is, however, important
to note that I’d released two albums before these guys had record deals!
I understand there is a documentary about you in
the works called Don’t Ask Me Questions. Can
you tell me a little about that? Is there an actual release date for the film??
There’s no release date as
yet because the Gramaglia Brothers, the guys who made the film, are shopping
for festivals which often want an exclusive.
If they don’t get that going soon though, it will be released on DVD
sometime next year, for sure.
They’ve been gathering material for 10
years: interviews, live solo performances, me and the Figgs, as well as plenty
of archive footage.
The recent screening in
New York seemed to impress the audience very much. I thought it would be boring but it wasn’t.
When people list your great albums, they often
mention Howlin’ Wind, Squeezing Out
Sparks, The Mona Lisa’s Sister and one or two others. What do you think is
one of your best albums that perhaps didn’t get the attention it deserves??
Deepcut To Nowhere and Struck By
Lightning are up there in my view, although “attention” is a relative
term. My fans know how good those
records are and generally rate them highly.
The last song on your first album (Howlin’ Wind) was “Don’t Ask Me
Questions.” On Imaginary Television, you
include a cover of Johnny Nash’s “More Questions Than Answers.” There’s also a song on your album Deepcut to Nowhere that I like a lot
called “Blue Horizon” in which you say something like, “I don’t claim to
understand what any of it means.” You recently turned 60. Do you generally find
(like many of us) that the older you get, the less you know? And if so, are you
OK with that?
What I’m OK with is
getting into the cinema the other day for seven dollars instead of $9:50.
A sign said that I am in fact a “senior” now at age 60 and get to pay
And I don’t know why I walked into the
kitchen just now. I went there for
something but forgot what it was by the time I got there. Does that answer your question?
[Photo Credit: Jeff