I guess I'd better start by explaining who this guy is. James Brown, the late and very great Godfather of Soul, was billed as 'The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz.' If that was indeed true then it is Paul Kappa who has surely stolen the mantle. Paul, of course, is extremely modest, and would probably squirm at the suggestion that he is in any sense 'showbiz'. For that, I apologise. This guy is the salt of the earth when it comes to hard-working musicians. He is a relentless live performer nation wide, both solo and with his fantastic three piece band 'Kappa' (featuring Martin Byrne on bass, and Vinnie Smith on drums), playing a variety of venues from pubs to clubs, music halls to castles, arenas to street stages. As a band they have no fear, and shy away from no opportunity to get the gear out and pull a crowd. They have for eight years now played a weekly residency in the world famous Cavern Pub, and, being based in Liverpool, gig furiously around the former capital of culture's many venues. In short, you've got to see it to believe it.
In 1994 Paul Kappa won the Liverpool Echo Arts Award for best newcomer when he was fronting his former band Cat Scratch Fever, at a time when the band were embarking on over 1600 shows in six years - a remarkable feat by anybody's standards. He has appeared at Glastonbury, Cropreddy, as well as featuring on MTV and many other European commercial TV and radio stations. He is one of Liverpool's most recognisable faces, combining virtuoso guitar playing with a robust and limitless vocal, and, as a friend of mine once commented during one of our alcohol soaked Saturday afternoon's down in the Cavern, "electrifying showmanship." It was also during one of these hazy afternoon sessions that I managed to get my hands on a copy of Paul's recently recorded solo album, Mountains Of The Moon. Now, I know I have previously dealt with Floyd, Weller, Hendrix, OCS etc in my reviews of life changing records. To me, it makes no difference. Paul Kappa is not a globally successful, multi-millionaire rock star - as much of a shame it is to admit. However, he is one hell of a songwriter and performer, and this album had such a profound affect on me that it merits writing about every inch as much as Dark Side or Stanley Rd.
Mountains Of The Moon (released 2007) is an acoustic album, which is a great part of the appeal for me since my heart lies, if I'm totally honest, with the pure acoustic sound. Afraid Of The Dark - the album's mellow and somewhat haunting opening track - has almost middle-eastern sounds drifting through the layers, creating a really interesting and curious sound. This becomes, actually, a feature of the entire record. The Midnight Sun, which follows, is a beautiful tale of lament smothered in glorious harmonies, and interjected by a simple but killer solo. When Paul sings "I just need someone to shine," with all the delicacy and sincerity he can muster, the record seems to stand still along with time itself. Lullaby Of Ra is moody, though somewhat comforting - almost like the light creeping through the blinds on a summer's morning, whereas The Most Beauty is a broad landscape of imagery, both musical and lyrical.
The Road To Memphis is, without trying to invent a paradox, a rather fervent acoustic blues, with the riff providing the driving beat. For a minute you are actually on that road, until Paul's inventive and slightly off-centre solo throws the track into a lofty and somewhat imaginative state of disquiet. Mountains Of The Moon - the album's title track - is a masterpiece in every way. There is an anxiety running throughout; beginning "I fly far above you / Looking down on these wings," Kappa maintains a sense of turmoil through genius chord changes and a breathtaking vocal. The song is, literally and metaphorically, a celestial journey through the clouds. The Kappa Band, on their live DVD Pacifika (recorded in Birkenhead's Pacific Road Arts Centre) perform a thrilling version of this track with a horn section and organ thrown into the mix. A song to transcend any band line-up, and always captivating regardless.
The Marion Square Dance is a lively and eccentric track, and one that you could have imagined entertaining a Pagan festival during the middle ages! There are visions of camp fires and dancers in the moonlight. It has a feverish hook and clever lyrics, and sounds like nothing I've ever heard written in contemporary music before. Nobody & Nothing is a fantastic declaration of unbreakable love: "Nobody and nothing gonna stop me loving you." It echoes Led Zeppelin's acoustic works in many ways, and triumphs towards the end with some delightful, hazy vocal effects. Feelin' Free, which has become one of Kappa's most popular live anthems, is testament to Paul's great songwriting abilities. The album closes with a raw, Neil Young-esque piano vocal called Glory Be Grace, which also nods at traditional soul and gospel music. It is a rousing end to a brilliant all-round record.
I take my hat off to the man for this album, I really do. It was written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Paul himself, who plays no fewer than six different instruments including a Turkish Saz and Mandolin. If I'm honest it is almost upsetting to think that this music isn't out there taking over the world; that people in the vast reaches who unfortunately wont ever get to hear of this great talent in their lifetimes, would probably love the fruits of his creative labours. That is the music business for you, although it is also important to remember that notoriety of any sort is achievement in plenty. I'm sure I'm not the only one who parted with a fiver at the end of one of Paul's gigs and staggered home pissed as a fart, only to find out that I had an absolute gem in my pocket the next morning.
Now Kappa are a phenomenon in these parts. They always pull a crowd, and quite simply ALWAYS deliver. They are a band way ahead of their time. Their interpretations of other bands' music is always raucous and exciting, and their impossible 40 minute medleys nothing but astounding. Martin Byrne is quite honestly the best bass player around without a shadow of a doubt, and Vinnie Smith the rock that never crumbles at the rear. Paul Kappa is the showman extraordinaire, playing seemingly absurd guitar parts (sometimes with his teeth, sometimes behind his head) over the top of a purely unique vocal. I can't believe I've actually seen them hundreds of times for free. It borders on criminal. I have even been lucky enough to share a stage with these guys in recent times, supporting them in my own guise of Little Wing, which has been an honour and a privilege. They are a band that I hope will roll on forever, and continue to entertain all those who know about music's best kept secret until the dawn descends.
Paul Kappa's Mountain's Of The Moon and live DVD Pacifika are available now online at www.kappaband.com, or live at his gigs - look out for them in your area! Other Kappa albums to look out for include Living At The End Of The World (2003) and Bok Rok (2009).