Stiff Records had great commercial hopes for this Manchester quartet, led by balding, bespectacled singer/guitarist/pianist Clive Gregson, whose songs – mostly about the unhappy side of love – always showed real talent.
It unfortunately took the group a long time to escape their basic facelessness and locate a sound, a slow start that may be why Any Trouble ended without ever receiving the acclaim they deserved.
The first LP, Where Are All The Nice Girls (1980), suffered from (not unreasonable) comparisons to early Elvis Costello, and showed Any Trouble to be a pub rock band five years after the end of that era, playing competent, melodic rock with no special character.
Only The Hurt and the stunningly derivative Second Choice (a retread of Less than Zero) left any lasting impression beyond overall nice-guy swellness.
Live at the Venue, recorded onstage in London in May 1980, included performances of both aforementioned songs and five more from the first album, plus a rendition of Bruce Springsteen‘s Growing Up (shades of Greg Kihn).
The band showed a helpful increase in spunk and velocity, but still fell short of being exciting. Although Live at the Venue was never officially released in America, six selections were issued as the promo-only Live and Alive 12-inch.
Wheels in Motion, produced by Mike Howlett (later a hit-maker for Flock Of Seagulls), evinced further improvement, adding impressive intricacy and dynamics to the arrangements. Gregson’s growing confidence as a singer helped put across his pessimistic (but not cynical) lyrics on songs like Trouble with Love, Another Heartache and the outstanding Walking in Chains.
Any Trouble (1983), by a half-new line-up, was the band’s first great album, a wonderful new blend of soul and pop strengthened by Gregson’s sharpening melodic sense and lightening lyrical outlook.
Please Don’t Stop, Man of the Moment, Northern Soul and other tracks resembled a non-obnoxious Hall & Oates crossed with Costello and recorded at Motown. Production by David Kershenbaum provided the sonic variety and sophistication previously lacking.
The group inexplicably re-recorded three early (and not timeless) songs for Wrong End of the Race, adding a rousing cover of The Foundations‘ Baby Now That I’ve Found You, and a bunch of new Gregson compositions. The US edition deleted Lucky Day and Yesterday’s Love, a reprise of the group’s first single, to make way for three tracks not on the UK version.
Featuring an illustrious cast of guests (Richard Thompson, Billy Bremner, Geoff Muldaur), the LP was less stylised than its remarkable predecessor but bristled with renewed vigour and rich horn-and-vocal-filled arrangements. Without fanfare, that was the end of Any Trouble.
With minimal outside contributions on drums, horns and backing voices, Strange Persuasion, Gregson’s first solo record, was a one-man show that plainly laid out its author’s heartbreak and pain.
In Summer Rain, a deeply personal stunner actually based on a friend’s experiences, he questioned the wisdom of a court’s child custody decision. Elsewhere, Gregson addressed love lost and mistakes made with self-critical resignation.
Over simple music that was attractive and effective, Gregson sang with pride and dignity, making this a deeply moving document of sincere, honest emotions set into song.
Gregson then formed a partnership with Isle of Man-born vocalist Christine Collister, a guest on Strange Persuasion who, like Gregson, had toured and recorded with Richard Thompson.
The folky Home and Away – recorded at a handful of acoustic 1986 gigs and chez Gregson – handsomely blended her deep, strong voice with his on a broad assortment of originals (Any Trouble material like Northern Soul and All the Time in the World, as well as tunes from Strange Persuasion) and classics (Merle Haggard‘s Mama Tried, Carl Perkins‘ Matchbox, Larry Williams‘ Slow Down) that was as warmly likable as it was unaffected.
Mischief shaped the same heartfelt songwriting and rich singing into full-blown arrangements, many of them tastefully rocked up with drums (by Any Trouble alumnus Martin Hughes) and electric guitars.
Gregson’s striking melodies and deeply incisive lyrics were more than adequate to the stronger environment; the duo’s voices rose to the occasion as well, making Mischief an easy record to like (except perhaps by crabby folk purist misled by the pair’s habit of performing with just Gregson’s acoustic guitar).
Highlights: Everybody Cheats on You, the unflattering I Specialise, the mournfully romantic We’re Not Over Yet and the reluctantly happy This Tender Trap.
Gregson and Collister successfully raised their ambitions and widened their stylistic reach on A Change in the Weather, an even better collection of songs and settings. Joining their voices in more intricate harmonies and testing out more complex material, the duo soared through poignant essays on wife abuse (This Is the Deal), mortality (How Weak I Am), the hollowness of pop stars and culture (Jumped Up Madam, the CD-bonus Temporary Sincerity) and overdriven children (Talent Will Out).
On a lighter note, Gregson revealed an abiding enthusiasm for Elvis Presley with the witty and personal (Don’t Step in) My Blue Suede Shoes, to which Collister added a rocking rendition of the King’s own Tryin’ to Get to You.
Rather than build on A Change in the Weather, the duo next cut a simple acoustic collection of quiet cover versions with no outside assistance. From the delightfully surprising (10cc‘s The Things We Do for Love) to the solid (Merle Haggard‘s Today I Started Loving You Again, Bruce Springsteen‘s One Step Up) and the sappy (Jackson Browne‘s For a Dancer), Love Is a Strange Hotel had a quiet, casual charm but not much backbone.
Many of the selections were far from standards (Aztec Camera‘s How Men Are, Paul Carrack’s Always Better with You, the Boo Hewerdine/Darden Smith title tune), which left the unadorned demo-like performances to stand on their own, and they were altogether too unprepossessing for that.
Released earlier in 1990, Welcome to the Workhouse provided a fine footnote to Gregson’s early career with ten previously unreleased demos and outtakes recorded alone or with simple accompaniment between 1980 and 1985.
Any Trouble songs (I’ll Be Your Man) in drastically different form, band versions of This Tender Trap and Standing in Your Shadow (both now in the duo’s repertoire), an acoustic cover of Michael Jackson‘s She’s Out of My Life and several otherwise unavailable Gregson songs made this a rich, significant collection.
Vocals, guitar, keyboards