A name that will be very familiar to anyone who peruses album credits, Watkins has played piano, accordion and guitar for a wealth of famous names, serving as sideman to the likes of McCartney, Lowe, Daltrey, Knopfler, Morrison, Edmunds and Gallagher. What is perhaps less well-known is that he also has a solo recording career that spans 10 albums from 1977 to 2019, forty-one tracks from which are gathered together on Aide-memoire, a 2-CD only Malcolm Mills-curated compilation with interview and detailed liner notes by Garth Cartwright.
With a mix of originals and well-chosen covers and ranging from rockabilly to blues, country, R&B, pub rock and Cajun, it begins chronologically in his early days with, following stints with Red Beans And Rice, Juice On The Loose and Mickey Jupp, his solo debut Geraint Watkins And The Dominators. Produced by and featuring Andy Fairweather Lowe, it’s represented by three tracks, the shuffling goodtime ‘Deep In The Heart Of Texas’, which isn’t the one you think, and ‘Man Smart Woman Smarter’, an R&B take on the Harry Belafonte calypso hit, and ‘Nobody’, an R&B boogie written by Wayne Carson and originally recorded by Bruce Chanel.
Moving into the 80s, Watkins was part of the fondly remembered pub-rock outfit The Balham Alligators, Louisiana revivalists founded in 1983 and, after reforming in 1995, still going today. Covering their decade spanning output, there’s no fewer than six tracks included here, studio versions of the Cajun ‘You Ain’t Nothing But Fine’ and Watkins’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Be In Love’ from their Life In The Bus Lane debut and four live tracks, ‘Sacre Bleu’ from 1984 and Lawrence Walker’s ‘Allons Rock’n’Roll’, a parping, jazzed up with Egyptian swirls take on ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and a swamp pop take on Kathy Kirby big ballad ‘Secret Love’ from 1996.
Moving to the 90s and 1997’s Watkins Bold As Love, which featured Lowe on bass, Nick Pentelow’s horns and Pete Glenister on guitar, yields eight numbers all, like virtually everything from the point, being self-penned and with styles lurching from ska, country, swing and soul to the Beach Boys sounds of ‘Don’t Stop’. Indeed on 2004’s Dial ‘W’ For Watkins, he even turns in a scat swing meets doo wop styled take on ‘Heroes And Villains’ alongside a further six musically variegated cuts, channelling 40s piano boogie on ‘Go West’.
That takes us over to disc 2 and a further three albums, the next up being 2008’s In A Bad Mood which alongside a Ben E King-like ‘Easy To Say “Bon Temps Rouler”’, includes the organ-backed semi-spoken soul ‘Jenni’ and his New Orleans swamp boogie reinvention of Nick Lowe’s ‘Heart Of The City’. Like that album, 2014’s Monique was also big on horns and woodwinds with sax, flute, French horn and Kate St John providing cor Anglais, the five selections opening with a Randy Newman-ish ‘House On The Prairie’, going rock steady on ‘Keep On’, country jogging with ‘Shine A Light’ and hanging out with a bottle of bourbon in a Tom Waits cellar for ‘All Around The World’.
Watkins’ most recent album, 2019’s Rush Of Blood, featuring Sarah Jory on pedal steel and Basement Jaxx’s Simon Ratcliffe bringing an electronics sheen, closes the compilation with seven tracks, again diversifying musically with ‘Rush Of Blood’ and ‘Middle Of The Night’ leaning to Frankie Laine and Johnny Cash while ‘Heaven Only Knows’ (a Ratcliffe-co-write that’s notched up over a million streams) is a clarinet-brushed mandolin strum and album closer ‘Another Day Over – Reprise’ signs off in afterhours blues piano bar manner.
Arguably Watkins’ musical versatility and the way his albums criss-crossed sound and genres may have worked against him in establishing a recognisable target audience sound. but as this superb collection amply demonstrates, he’s a veritable overlooked national treasure.
Artist’s website: www.geraintwatkins.com
‘Deep In The Heart Of Texas’ – live: