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He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

It was well known Rock Critic, political philosopher and revolutionary leader Leo Tolstoy who pointed out that "all happy families are the same, unhappy families are unhappy in uniquely different ways". I'm sure that lead guitar Kink Dave Davies had this very thought in mind when he hurled a cymbal at his brother Kink Ray's head during an on-stage argument in those heady days back in the mid-sixties. The flying cymbal narrowly missed drummer Mick Avory's head but was really just another episode in the classic bands ongoing sibling rivalry. Their rivalry was deep seated and long lasting and is probably what stops what would be one of the most lucrative reunions in rock history from ever happening. Their apparent animosity started early, Dave having recalled an incident when he knocked Ray over and seeing him lay seemingly unconscious on the floor. A worried Dave leaned over his prostrate brother who suddenly looked him in the eye and then battered him. Dave says "It's symbolic, I felt the pleasure because I'd knocked him over, then concern because I'd hurt him. All he wanted was to get back at me." A strange relationship indeed. Don and Phil Everly may have had their voices bestowed on them by the Gods but they had a life long struggle with each other. Phil once noted, around 1970, that "We only had one argument- it lasted 25 years". They split in 1973 when Don showed up to a gig drunk and an angry Phil smashed a guitar over his head and stormed off stage saying "I'm no longer an Everly Brother." Things really came to a head in 1985 though when the boys managed to get together to record a reunion album with heavy weight producer Jim Steinman. The legendary architect of Meatloaf's 'Bat Out of Hell' got the estranged duo into a studio for a reunion album in the '80's and they finally began to run through some tunes when suddenly Don got up walked over to Phil and smacked him squarely in the mouth! Steinman was stunned and saying "Why on Earth did you do that?" Don retorted angrily "That bastard fucked my wife!" and stormed out of the studio. They finished an album, though God alone knows how with that level of animosity.

The best known of recent rivalries though belongs to the Oasis lads Liam and Noel Gallagher who's mutual antagonism has often got physical and is still, always, verbally taut. In the early days their battles didn't prevent them delivering big selling albums and anthem singles, along with two huge sold out Knebworth shows that epitomised the peak of Britpop. Noel though succinctly summed his brothers difficulties saying "Liam only has two problems - everything he says and everything he does." whilst casting aspersions on Liam's intelligence describing him as "the angriest man you'll ever meet. He's like a man with a fork in a world of soup." Liam, whilst apparently not as clever as Noel has been the most direct stating, after the Oasis split "I'd rather eat my own shit than be in a band with him again". It seems there are no depths that Liam won't plumb in his bid to put his brother down. The most recent example was making inappropriate comments about Noel after the "One Love" tribute show after the Manchester bombing that seemed to focus on their feud rather than what that event was really about. Liam won't have made many friends over that incident as Noel kept a dignified silence. There we have all the juice, rage and fallout from sibling rivalry and it's plain to see and amusing, sometimes to hear about, but the flipside of that hatred, bad feeling and potential violence is the payoff, the wonderful music that siblings can create. Looking back over half a century there is some extraordinary music produced by siblings. This variety might not be to everyone's taste but what is interesting is the extra dimension that a family connection can give the music and why that should be. Does the fact that the music is produced by biology make it different or intrinsically better? Would the Allman Brothers have been able to replicate that almost telepathic dexterity between brothers Gregg and Duane on their classic live album 'Live at the Fillmore'. Many would argue that they lost something more than just a superb guitarist when Duane was killed in motorcycle accident in 1971. Sure, the band remained successful after Duane's passing but they lost a little magic that replacements, regardless of how talented they are, can't replicate because siblings together can and do touch something beyond talent that seemingly connects with the spirit, with biology and with something entirely cerebral.

Now, The Osmonds are not the most critically acclaimed band that ever walked the boards but there's no denying the fact that close harmony vocals aligned with tight choreography and their white teeth, white suits and family resemblances contributed much to their success and all of that was honed by their strong family connections. Likewise, around the same time The Jackson Five whirled onto the world stage with their grinning charismatic eight year old lead singer and were undoubtedly driven as much by family psychology as by a simple drive for success - they did it because they could (and because of a hard driving Father too!). Watching those early TV performances they make it look effortless, fun and magic and, for me, it's that family fire power that drives it all forward. There are a number of sibling focused acts out there who seem to be able to create magic from out of the very air when they sing together and three relatively recently emerging acts have got that down to an absolutely fine art. Back in February I was fortunate to see First Aid Kit in the relatively intimate setting of Manchester's Albert Hall. Klara and Johanna Soderberg are Swedish sisters and were brightening up the wet winter streets of Manchester whilst promoting their new album 'Ruins' and what was apparent as soon as they began, was that they have undoubtedly been been touched by the angels. Their peerless voices lock together as if they had descended from the very heavens to grace us mere mortals with their greatness, and to lift our mortal souls to new heights of pleasure. In some respects it matters not a jot what they sing, so wonderful and graceful are their harmonies. All you need to hear to really convince you of the specialness of sibling harmony is the wonderful 'Emmylou' from their second album 'The Lion's Roar'. It has all the ingredients of classic country with a gentle acoustic guitar and a weeping pedal steel and initially it sounds merely excellent but when the two sisters voices merge together on the chorus of this homage to country royalty Johnny and June Cash and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. It just lifts you into another galaxy and sibling harmony is the only was you can enter here. You can also hear the majesty of sibling harmony in the keys provided by the likes of Ward-Thomas (sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward-Thomas), sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily who make up The Staves (supporting the aforementioned First Aid Kit in our own Newcastle next month!), or the peerless Webb Sisters who were used by Leonard Cohen live and on record for the last years of his life. There's something about the tone of sibling harmony that can't be described, matched or surpassed by mere ordinary, unrelated singers. If you want to hear that combination work here check out Mr. Cohen's 'Live in London' where the Webb sisters connect with Cohen and Sharon Robinson with their heavenly vocals reaching up with an almost religious fervour especially on this scintillating live version of 'Hallelujah' where the delightful Webb sisters hover in the background before rising through the music during the choruses.

I can only think of one occasion though when there was a cataclysmic combination of the sheer madness and matchless voices of siblings coming together in one fractured box and that is, of course, The Beach Boys. Combining the magic and the madness of sibling rivalry in one fantastic package that has been bouncing around the world for more than 50 years now. From the peerless harmonies of 'I Get Around' and 'California Girls' to the sheer joy of their hits like 'Sloop John B' and 'Surfin' USA', the Wilson brothers had it all. They were driven by their abusive father to amazing heights, making records that changed the very nature of 'pop music'. That they were saddled with such a naff name is not their greatest tragedy but it eventually made them look 'square' when rock n roll began to take its self very seriously in the late sixties and early seventies. If you are in any doubt about the greatness of the Beach Boys and their continuing influence alongside their unique vocal talents it will only take you just over six minutes to convince yourself. Just listen, back to back, to the immortal 'Good Vibrations' and 'God Only Knows' and you have all the evidence you'll need or want. As if that wasn't enough they then went on to create the pop masterpiece 'Pet Sounds' that could only have come from the magic cauldron of sibling harmony. That magnum opus inspired 'Sgt Pepper' and, love it or loathe it, without that pop/rock would have been a completely different beast. As if that wasn't enough Brian Wilson literally lost his mind trying to top the amazing 'Pet Sounds' and it took him another 40 years to complete the follow up 'Smile'. In the meantime, as Brian suffered a mental breakdown, Mike Love (the Brothers cousin) took over the reigns of the original band and toured the world replicating these heavenly harmonies of the original band with various ex-members. Despite being a somewhat difficult character he does this very well to this day and still has enough of the sibling star power to make it, for many (including me), a valuable experience and a reminder of the awesome power of sibling harmony and a reminder too that sibling rivalry can provide much much more than strife and insults. Families may end up hating each other but if the outcome is such amazing musical treasures maybe the price is worth it.

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