Mike Sponza was Made In The Sixties

“If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there”…so goes the old adage: well. I was there…just: I started infant school in 1962 and grammar school in late 1969…what do I remember? Well, very few of the significant events to be honest… the winter of 1962/63 and the ten-foot snowdrifts and yet the schools didn’t close; getting our first TV in 1965 (a black and white, obviously, PYE with both channels!); getting my first single (Dave Clark Five’s Bits and Pieces in 1964 and using my mother’s knitting needles to drum along); watching the moon landings on said TV in 1969; Newcastle winning the Inter-City Fairs Cup in 1969…in other words lots of memories but none of the type most people refer to in that opening phrase…all I have achieved is revealing that I am getting on a bit! But it is to that backdrop for me and, if you’re of an age, memories of your own, which will inevitably resurface as you listen to Mike Sponza’s latest album, Made In The Sixties. Italian musician Mike has long been associated with the blues and has released a number of fine albums since his debut in 1997 with News For You. Now, along with the Creamy talent of Pete Brown, he has written ten tracks: one for each year of that rose-tinted decade, picking out major events or memories and encapsulating them in the music styling of that year. Brave, daring and difficult yet with Pete’s help he has certainly pulled it off. It is a trip down that foggy road and, even with only childhood memories, it clears the mist slightly and brings forth the emotions of the time. He’s also recruited some formidable talents to assist in realising the reality of the blues, soul and R’n’B of the era you will find packed into this release.

Kicking off with 1960 Made in The Sixties, we are treated to a funk-edged piece of R’n’B with horns horning away as the lyrics define the context and insert neat phrases throughout (“they don’t make ‘em like that, anymore”). The guitar solo is a good ‘un even if it isn’t that sixties centric as the tone is far more modern. 1961 is about the Cold War and is perfectly composed for that year with its boppy rhythm and name checks Hendrix as this was the year he played his first gig, as well as plenty of political and building of the wall references. The guitar solo this time is a lovely slide piece…again not typical ’61 but it does fit and Mike’s playing is always worth a listen. 1962 stays with politics as the brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis played out from a Londoner’s point of view. Musically it is a horny, latinesque song with warm B3 chords keeping the rhythm and Pete Brown delivers his own words in a really effective way. He also puts some great phrases into the lyrics too. The trumpet solo is powerful and fits with the background. 1963 inevitably addresses the assassination of JFK…the music is slide driven in a blues style with Nathan James doing a decent take on the harsh truths of the lyrics, even if his occasional histrionics endanger the message. The piano backs the verses neatly while the slide plays over and then the slide solo is all southern and lovely. 1964 is subtitled Glamour Puss and, behind the soundtrack like music suggesting intrigue and sleaze, the story of whom I am not sure…Jean Shrimpton perhaps? Regardless, the instrumentation is the closest to the relevant year so far and is, as they would have said then, it’s a blast, man! 1965 references the shock that was Dylan taking up the electric guitar. This is the best of the decade for me, as Eddi Reader puts in sterling job on the vocals and Mike’s Dobro slide (I guess that is the writers being ironic) is wonderful to hear and he and Pete have put a sixties touch on this modern blues song. 1966 is difficult to place in the sixties as the funk and keys feel much more modern. The Spanish Child subtitle is mixed with the fact that Star trek started (I feel older the longer I listen to the words and actually remember these events). The solo is again the highlight as Mike traverses the whole neck and plays with panache and care. 1967 is spot on however as Dana Gillespie sings beautifully over a sort of heavy, organ-backed Beatles meets the Kinks. The organ solo is simply brilliant and contributes massively as the music and lyrics celebrate Good Lovin’…’nuff said! 1968 recalls the student demonstrations that shocked the ‘elders’ so effectively with its TV Theme sounds as the moog makes me think of numerous hammy dramas available at the time, although the inventive solo is much more early prog…which also fits. Rob Cass does a good job on the vocals and fits his tone to the era perfectly. The album closes, obviously, with 1969 and Blues For The Sixties with a fine blues-rock song with great guitar throughout…particularly the solo that employs some tasteful wah and adds a B3 sound that together makes it more seventies…still good though.

This wasn’t the nostalgia-fest that I was half expecting…yes, it is rooted in the sixties but the modern edge takes away some of that while the lyrics continually paint pictures of the events. It is, I guess, best thought of as an album influenced by, but not recreating the sound that you might expect. That’s not to say it’s a bad album, each track is an enjoyable journey, but it could have been better, in my mind. If it had been more sixties in its overall feel. It is still, however, a worthwhile journey and the playing is impeccable.

SEVENpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. 1960 – Made in the Sixties
  2. 1961 – Cold, Cold, Cold
  3. 1962 – A Young Londoner’s Point of View on Cuban Crisis
  4. 1963 – Day of the Assassin
  5. 1964 – Glamour Puss
  6. 1965 – Even Dylan Was Turning Electric
  7. 1966 – Spanish Child
  8. 1967 – Good Lovin’
  9. 1968 – Just the Beginning
  10. 1969 – Blues for the Sixties


All tracks composed by Mike Sponza and Pete Brown

Recorded and mastered at Abbey Road Studios and produced by Mike Cass



Musicians:

Mike Sponza: vocal, guitars

Dana Gillespie: vocal on 1967

Eddi Reader: vocal on 1965

Pete Brown: vocal on 1962

Rob Cass: vocal on 1968

Nathan James: vocal on 1963

Rob Maffioli: bass

Michele Bonivento: organ, piano, celesta

Moreno Buttinar: drums

Chris Storr: trumpet

Aaron Liddard: saxophones

Hayley Sanderson: backing vocals

Andrea Lisa Grant: backing vocals

Cecilia Barucca Sebastiani: cello on 1966

Lucy Passante Spaccapietra: violin and viola on 1966

Alberto Bravin: moog on 1968

Maurizio Ravalico: percussion on 1962

Mike Sponza was Made In The Sixties

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