Hailing from Leeds, and following a stint with the great Leeds bluesman Steve Phillips Brendan Croker formed his initial 5 o’clock Shadows releasing the splendid “A Close Shave” in 1986. An eclectic mix of covers including a magnificent “Hobo’s Lullaby” set out his stall with a mix of bluesy songs treated with a more african feel with chiming guitars combating the more orthodox stylings of yer’ average bluesers. His strong throaty voice easily convinces with the material giving high hopes for the follow-up which came the following year.
“Boat Trips in the Bay” saw a slight lineup change with a switch of bass player (Marcus Cliffe – a lead instrumentalist in this lineup) but with the same excellent guitarist as before – Mark Creswell, responsible I suspect for the highlife / jit inspired guitars.
“Lonely boy in town” kicks off with a great guitar/bass riff in unison, a powerful opener, followed quickly by – The shuffle, a foot-tapper of an instrumental which does what it says on the tin. In Railroad blues the guitars emulate the chugging of a loco as well as on any recording I’ve heard. The (aptly named) polka follows this, another high-kicking instrumental which moves neatly to the gospelly acoustic and vocal Last train to glory.
“Joshua gone barbados” is a heartfelt caribbean flavoured version of Eric von Schmidt’s song of striking sugar-cane workers replete with a stripped down middle section. The more acoustic “Let me explain” contrasts with the uptempo singalong “Don’t let nobody”, while Croker’s “Henry Thomas (deceased)” pays tribute to the pan-pipe playing bluesman. As the album moves to a close, it becomes slightly more orthodox with the tremolo heavy guitars of “Georgia Crawl” and a radical but effective reworking of Johnny Cash’s trademark “I walk the line”. The finale, a chiming guitar Croker original – “Darlin'” is another singalong classic.
Hard to know why this didn’t do better at the time, too different? Too interesting – not nearly bland enough? Other albums of the year included efforts from Def Leppard, U2 and Guns N’ Roses, so perhams Boat Trips was just too low key, lacking in record label clout. Whatever – this album still feels like a classic, each song is a winner, the production is smooth without being bland or cloying and the playing and singing are sublime.
It deserves your attention – so track it down sharpish!
Plenty of BC on youtube – but nothing can I find from the first two albums sadly.