"The eighties were more of a rest period for me, actually. I'd burned pretty hard during the first four years of my career and was now enjoying my winnings, relaxing a bit, experimenting musically, saving myself for the long hall to come. Having left the intensity of the Rumour and fallen in with the blander recording ethic of the times, my live gigs were consequently also less exciting, more about cool musicianship and seamless arrangements than angry posturing and the stuff-it-down-their-throats tactics I used to employ. At least that's the theory. And so the intensity of this show, recorded by the King Biscuit Flower Hour at the Chance in Poughkeepsie in 1983, came as some surprise to me.
"It doesn't let up, really, and although the band aren't trying to emulate the Rumour and seem more respectful of the songs and less inclined to bludgeon them into submission, they still attack them with an unexpected energy and rock like a barrel full of monkeys.
"Nice recording job, too. Enjoy."
- Graham Parker
In September 1983, when he recorded his third show for the King Biscuit Flower Hour, Graham Parker was in a transitional phase of his career. Having already established himself as an uncompromisingly insightful rock 'n' roll auteur with a string of seething, brilliantly crafted LPs - Howlin' Wind, Heat Treatment, Stick to Me and the U.S. breakthrough Squeezing Out Sparks - with his highly regarded comeback combo the Rumour, the edgy English singer/songwriter was still in the process of establishing himself as a freestanding solo artist. By that point, the London-bred Parker had married and relocated to New York, where he recorded his first Rumour-less effort, 1982's Another Grey Area, with a mostly American supporting cast.
While Another Grey Area was a solid effort, many observers agree that it was on 1983's The Real Macaw that Parker truly established himself as an artist with a future as bright as his past. The collection boasted an impressive - and, in hindsight, enduring set of Parker compositions that maintained the standards of emotional insight and melodic inventiveness that he'd established with the Rumour, while expanding his trenchant lyrical observations into new regions of human experience.
If The Real Macaw suffered from some now dated-sounding '80s production touches, no such reservations apply to this consistently riveting disc, which documents Parker's September 16, 1983 show at the Chance in Poughkeepsie, New York. With sympathetic support from a lean, mean five-man touring band including Rumour guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, the performance captures Parker both honoring and breaking free of his history - and making it clear that his ability to create bracing, emotionally precise rock 'n' roll wasn't dependent upon a specific set of collaborators.
While fans and critics may still have been debating the merits of Parker's split with the Rumour, Parker himself was clearly reveling in the artistic and personal freedom that his new solo status offered. "The Rumour definitely peaked with Squeezing Out Sparks, and after that it was time to finish it. It was a bit of a relief, knowing that I didn't have to stick with the same thing forever. It was a nice feeling to be on tour with different people, knowing that it wasn't a life sentence, and that at the end of the tour we could all go our separate ways. I don't think it's a healthy thing to stick six grown men together in a tour bus for years and years on end."
Along with the aforementioned Brinsley Schwarz, Parker's Real Macaw touring band included bassist Kevin Jenkins and keyboardist George Small, who, like Schwarz, had played on the album. Rounding out the live lineup were guitarist Huw Gower, late of English new-wave power-popsters the Records, and drummer Michael Braun, who'd played on Another Grey Area. This King Biscuit recording finds singer and band tearing into their work with impassioned vigor, reenergizing Rumour-era classics like "Thunder and Rain," "Fools Gold," "Protection," "Discovering Japan" and "You Can't Be Too Strong." But it's on the seven tunes from the then-current The Real Macaw - "Just Like a Man," "Sounds Like Chains," "Passive Resistance," "You Can't Take Love for Granted," "Glass Jaw" and "Life Gets Better" - that Parker and company truly shine, investing the material with a raw-nerved immediacy that was less apparent in the song's studio incarnations. "I think that the songs from The Real Macaw really took off when we played them live," states Parker.
With a prolific career that now spans a quarter century, Graham Parker continues to make distinctive, deeply personal music. This live recording adds a significant chapter to the artist's legacy, adding still more weight to the already persuasive case for Parker as one of his generation's most significant rock 'n' rollers.