Little Bob Story – High Time (1976)

FrontCover1.jpgThis is the story of Roberto Piazza aka Little Bob, the diminutive French rocker whose band Little Bob Story rode the crest of the New Wave in the UK during the late 70s showing there was more depth and edge to French rock ‘n’ roll than Johnny Halliday

For those who recall the opening salvoes of the original Punk Wars in the UK, in the late months of 1976 and the first few months of 1977, if you wanted to hear Punk Rock, there wasn’t much recorded evidence of it. Moreover, in that period, inside the (London-based) Music Press bubble, there was an ongoing debate as to who and what exactly was ‘Punk’. Where there was no real recorded evidence, artists as varied as Graham Parker & The Rumour, Nils Lofgren, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and even Bruce Springsteen were given the adjective. Whilst those names were perhaps labelled thus more for attitude than actual back-to-basics musical values, there was, nonetheless, a fairly fevered press debate.

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If the Press and music-consuming public alike were a little confused, then record labels were also anxious to include under the ‘Punk’ (or, as it was sometimes known ‘New Wave’) banner any act that might, just might, snag enough of the audience curious enough to want to hear more. In 1977, the Phonogram Records label issued a mid-price sixteen-track ‘sampler’ album, entitled ‘New Wave’, which featured a leather-jacketed spike-haired Herbert ‘gobbing’ lager over the sleeve photographer. It pulled together an array of disparate acts that may or may not have been ‘Punk’. At the time, they distributed the US label, Sire Records, so included in the track listing were songs by The Ramones, Talking Heads, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Dead Boys, Irish combo The Boomtown Rats and licensed-in stuff by The Damned, Patti Smith, Australian art-rockers Skyhooks, the all-girl combo The Runaways, and a cover of The Small Faces’ sixties smash, All Or Nothing, by French rockers Little Bob Story.

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Little Bob Story had played the Mont de Marsan Punk Festival in 1976, which was covered in the UK music papers at the time, alongside The Pink Fairies and Eddie & The Hot Rods. It turns out that ‘Little Bob’ was born in Italy, as Roberto Piazza, but his family relocated to the Northern French port town of Le Havre in 1958, when he was thirteen years of age. Being that age, at that time, meant that he was perfectly poised to be well and truly bitten by the bug of primal rock and roll. That proved to be the case. Around 1974, he convened Little Bob Story in his adoptive home town. With a deep-seated love of classic fifties rock and roll (which the French have always shared), and also an appreciation of the likes of The MC5 and The Flamin Groovies, as well as British sixties rock and rollers, he honed a stage act and a tightly-drilled band that found a wildly appreciative audience in France, and by the mid-seventies, his notoriety had started to spread to this side of the channel. Playing the Pub Rock circuit in London brought him to the attention of notable Brit musicians, including Lemmy Kilminster, when Little Bob opened for Motorhead at the time. Future notables Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and Brian James (The Damned) checked out the Bobster, and were not disappointed.

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Little Bob was uncompromising in his desire to excite a live crowd, and had the requisite level of attitude all-important at the time. The band were rather more in the vein of Dr Feelgood (with whom they had gigged), or The Flamin’ Groovies in their pre-Beatle boots era circa 1972/73 when they cut a set of ferocious tracks released on the French Skydog label in 1975. They were straight-up celebratory rock and roll, with trace elements of rhythm and blues and sixties pop, not the shouty amateurishness of a lot of UK Punk bands, but very enjoyable, and radiating a good-time energy. Bob himself cut a diminutive figure, somewhat portly and clad in a red leather bikers jacket, and possessed of a rasping, quite high voice.

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In 1978, Little Bob Story released their second album, ‘Off The Rails’, on the Chiswick Records label, alongside Stiff one of the first UK indie outfits. It helped them secure a record deal with the RCA Victor label, for which the four albums on this month’s release The Collection were recorded, between 1978 and 1982. The band’s appetite for live work and canny knack for knocking out concise, appealing and very direct rock and roll make for a very entertaining listen from one of France’s most distinctive rock and roll combos.

Little Bob is still an active performing and recording artist, and by all accounts still puts on a rocking stage show with his band Blues Bastards. (by Jonathan Beckitt)

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High-energy French rock & rollers Little Bob Story came so close to proto-punk glory that they could almost smell it. Uncompromisingly fronted by the man-mountain Bob Piazza, but equally highlighted by the elegantly wasted scarecrow guitarist Guy George Gremy, Little Bob Story effortlessly bridged the gulf between the hooligan R&B of Eddie & the Hot Rods and the nihilistic adrenaline of all that was to follow. They were just a little too early, a little too hairy (bassist Barbe Noire would have melted into the Grateful Dead), and a little too French. And so it is with High Time. For every swaggering slash of feel-good Feelgoods bar-brawling blues (the title track, a decidedly MC5-ish interpretation of “Lucille”), there’s an over-earnest attempt to update Dylan; for every slab of brutal roots (“So Bad,” the Animals’ “I’m Crying”), there’s something like “Ho Suzy,” which really should have been a Chinn/Chapman B-side. Still, at its best, High Time is as grindingly blues-nasty as any album of its age, those last dark hours before punk dawned (and, lest we forget, even the Hot Rods’ earliest albums weren’t exactly hot-snot stoking from beginning to end, either). And, while the true majesty of Little Bob Story was the live show and a couple of singles on the British Chiswick label, High Time at least is allowed in the same room as them. (by Dave Thompson)

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Personnel:
Guy George Gremy (guitar)
Dominique Lelan (bass)
Dominique Quertier (drums)
Robert Piazza (vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. High Time (Piazza/Quertier) 4.09
02. Delices Of My Youth (Piazza/Gremy) 3.01
03. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Dylan) 4.07
04. You’ll Be Mine (Dixon) 3.29
05. Ho Suzy (Piazza/Gremy) 2.25
06. So Bad (Piazza) 4.16
07. Lucille (Collins/Penniman) 2.56
08. I Don’t Wanna Be A Loser (Piazza/Lelan) 4.14
09. I’m Crying (Burdon/Price) 4.07

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