Meal Ticket : The Albums
Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne catches Steve Simpson and Willy Finlayson weaving their old magic at The Horns in Watford as Cherry Red releases the complete catalogue by Meal Ticket in one nifty package.
Sunday afternoon at Watford’s legendary music venue, a good crowd has assembled to catch Half A Meal Ticket as they call themselves nowadays. Steve Simpson and Willy Finlayson, backed by a rotating cast of musicians regularly play pubs in south London (lucky inhabitants of TW and SW postcodes…). Willy and Steve for this occasion were backed by Malcolm Hoskins on bass, Alan Coulter (member of the last incarnation of Meal Ticket) on drums and the rather sublime Dean Barnes on guitar. This gig preceded by a few days the long awaited reissue of Meal Ticket’s catalogue by Cherry Red. The band’s catalogue (bar a CD release of their LP “Take Away” in 1989) had been unavailable since the original Vinyl releases.
Meal Ticket’s first album “Code Of The Road” was released in 1977, possibly the worst possible timing ever as the pub-rock movement into which they could have fitted had dissipated in 1976 to give way to punk-rock, a real shame as that first LP is a cracking record that will satisfy every fan of American country-rock. This first album firmly dominated by the writing partnership between keyboard player Rick Jones and lyricist Dave Pierce (which Steve Simpson describes as an integral part of the band in the liner notes) and sees lead vocals spread between Willy Finlayson and Rick Jones. “Code Of The Road” is probably the mellowest of the three LP’s with a feel not too far removed from what band like Poco were doing on the other side of the Atlantic at the same time. The guitar work courtesy of Ray Flacke and Steve Simpson is fabulous throughout. To sum things up: a great debut album.
During the Watford gig, great covers of tracks by Boz Scaggs, Tony Joe White, Randy Newman proved that Meal Ticket’s main influences came from the US. The band opened for several American artists on their UK tours but never toured Uncle Sam’s country. Their follow-up album “Three Times A Day” (also released in 1977) is often considered a lesser effort which is untrue but turns out to have a more spontaneous feel than its predecessor. Opening track “This Could Be The Town” (a song from Willy’s days in “Bees Make Honey” penned by Barry Richardson) has turned out to be the band’s most famous song due to an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Finlayson’s vocals on the excellent version of “Yesterday’s Music” prove that he was a more than worthy competitor to Glen Frey and Bob Seger.
The last album “Take Away” saw a major reshuffle in the band’s line-up as virtuoso guitar player Ray Flacke left and the rhythm section of Chris Hunt and Jack Brand was replaced by Alan Coulter and Rod Dennick, in an attempt to toughen up the band’s sound. It is a credit to Simpson’s talent that Flacke’s disappearance is hardly noticeable. As stated by Finlayson, the result is “a different but equally as good sound”. The luxurious instrumentation on “Down On My Knees (After Memphis)” showcases Steve Simpson on Mandolin and Harmonica. Our two lead vocalists reach new heights with excellent performances by Rick Jones (“Lucy”) and Willy Finlayson (“Simple”). A rocking version of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” was chosen as a single while the Bees Makes Honey songbook is ploughed again with “Get On Board”, two great songs that are still mainstays in Half a Meal’s Ticket repertoire 40 years later. The set is neatly rounded off by two excellent live tracks recorded at London’s Royal Festival.
Willy Finlayson’s official website is: www.willyfinlayson.com.
Steve Simpson’s’s official website is: www.stevesimpsonguitar.com.