Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PARKER, Graham

(b 18 November 1950, East London) Rock singer, songwriter. He scuffled as a hippy petrol pump assistant, writing songs and a novel; 'It was situated in a quiet English village and had very few customers, so I had plenty of time.' Stiff Records' Dave Robinson put him in touch with pub-rock bands Ducks De Luxe and Brinsley Schwartz, resulting in the forming of the Rumour, initially with Schwartz and Martin Belmont on guitars, Andrew Bodnar on bass, Bob Andrews on keyboards and drummer Stephen Goulding. Graham Parker and the Rumour appeared on Charlie Gillett's influential Honky Tonk radio show '75, the same show that gave early exposure to Dire Straits and Elvis Costello; he performed his haunting 'Between You And Me' and was snapped up for a record deal: Howlin' Wind was a crucial album, intense R&B bridging the gap between pub-rock and punk, his vocal style compared to Van Morrison and Bob Dylan; Heat Treatment assured his stature; Live At Marble Arch was an 'official bootleg' of what was already one of the UK's top live acts, all in '76; they stole a tour from headliners Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes '77.

An EP, The Pink Parker '77, made a good chart showing: his songs were a breath of the fresh in the foetid UK music scene of the era, 'Back To Schooldays' covered by Dave Edmunds and Rick Nelson, 'Hey Lord, Don't Ask Me Questions' went top 40 UK '78. Stick To Me '77 kept the momentum going; three-sided live The Parkerilla '78 was judged a disappointment (the fourth side was a 12" single made in the studio); these were on Mercury in the USA, and he switched to Arista with Squeezing Out Sparks '79, produced by Jack Nitzsche, his best to date and top 40 in USA, with the jagged intensity of 'Discovering Japan', 'Local Girls' and epic 'Passion Is No Ordinary Word'. The Up Escalator '80 (also top 40) was made in NYC with guest Bruce Springsteen, 'Stupefaction' and 'The Beating Of Another Heart' still displaying his edge. The Rumour separately released Max '77 (a pun on the best-selling Fleetwood Mac LP Rumours), Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs And Krauts '79 and Purity Of Essence '80; Parker went solo with Another Grey Area '82, The Real Macaw '83 and Steady Nerves '85 as Graham Parker and the Shot; the last was the best of the three, on Elektra. He said the label had wanted him to sound like Genesis, 'that big snare sound, like Phil Collins's ... And I was really sick of modern production techniques. I didn't want my snare to sound like a ton of glass falling off the Empire State Building.' He switched again to RCA/BMG for The Mona Lisa's Sister '88 with Schwartz and Bodnar, nary a keyboard wash or a drum machine to be found, followed by Human Soul and Struck By Lightning '89-90, charting less strongly. Also on CD in the USA: 12 Haunted Episodes on Razor and Tie; Live On The Test on Griffin (from UK TV's The Old Grey Whistle Test), two-CD compilation Passion Is No Ordinary Word on Rhino.

Acid Bubblegum '97 on Essential/Castle was a new studio set with good musicians, pessimistic lyrics. Further albums were Deepcut To Nowhere 2001, Your Country 2004, Songs of No Consequence 2005 (backed by his occasional touring band, the Figgs), Don't Tell Columbus 2007 and Imaginary Television 2010. He can't stop writing songs, and also writes books. His first novel was The Great Trouser Mystery, written when he was 21 and published in the UK in 1980. Carp Fishing on Valium 2000 was a collection of short fiction; he wrote songs to go with it and took it on tour. The Other Life Of Brian was published in 2003.

Touring in Pennsylvania in April 2011, he talked to Paul Willistein about his career. 'It was very good to have been around in a time when I got ridiculous amounts of money thrown at me by generous record labels. I enjoyed that. Actually, I'd like that back, but it ain't gonna happen.' He's learned how to make a record in three weeks: 'We used to take months and the financial waste was tremendous.' And things are better in other ways; 'The venues have grown up...I don't get booked into sticky-floored bars much anymore.'