Saturday, 19 December 2009

The fuckest uppest

Easing myself into the festive season: part two in a series of posts featuring Kalashnikov rifles and the word motherfucker. Without doubt my favourite album title ever is "Dial M for Motherfucker" by those most highly regarded and unlistenable scenesters Pussy Galore.

I think I probably heard "Dick Johnson" and took it from there. There are four good things about this album: the title, the sleeve, the track I've posted, and the condition of the vinyl - which is excellent because I never play it. To be fair Jon Spencer did come good with his eponymous Blues Explosion, at least on the album "Orange". Despite my experience with "Dial M" I'm still interested in hearing their take on "Exile on Main St". This track sounds a bit Stonesy I think.

Pussy Galore: Hang On

Friday, 18 December 2009

It's Friday...let's overthrow capitalism!*

I first encountered Ian Svenonius's brand of revolution flavoured pop when I rescued a 7 inch single from a dying record shop. It was "I Want Some" by Make Up - one of his earlier and perhaps most impressively coiffured incarnations. Anyway, the a-side I didn't like so much but the b-side was the fantastic "Pow! To the People". Despite owning their singles compilation I still find myself bidding on the individual discs at transatlantic times in the morning, I just love the sleeves.

Make Up: Pow! To the People

The track below is from his follow up band and, to my knowledge, the funkiest tune ever written in praise of leftist insurgency (but very happy to be proved wrong on that point). AK47 - when you absolutely, positively got to kill ever motherfucker in the room, accept no substitute.
Weird War: AK-47

(*With acknowledgements to Across the Kitchen Table's Friday posts)

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Peace and good vibes to all

I think that once upon a time this song was touted as a contender for the Christmas number one spot. I can't remember which evil svengali figure we were attempting to thwart that particular year. But it didn't happen. It seemed ridiculous at the time and probably even more so now. Part of me understands that but what I really think is that this is a beautiful song. And people who'd never heard of Laibach would have loved it (but hated any album of theirs that they might have bought).

Laibach: Across the Universe

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A Christmas post for you

Some tunes that I consider to be Christmassy. I've left this a bit late really - I've nothing against the earlification of Christmas - any time after November 1 is fine by me.

Edwyn Collins: Welwyn Garden City

A b-side to "The Magic Piper", Edwyn Collins' ill fated follow up to "A Girl Like You". Apparently it got nowhere in the charts due to a bar code mix up (or was that the lp?). Anyway, the faint sleigh bell noises in the background mean I'm having it. Welwyn Garden City? I've never been. I've a feeling it wouldn't live up to this track. The sleigh bells and the propulsiveness remind me of "Troika" by Prokofiev - one of the very few classical recordings I own. It's not that I'm scared of classical music - I just hardly know where to start. Music lessons at school were just a doss weren't they? They should have played classical music to us. I'd probably have hated it, but no more so than maths or geography. While we're considering changes to the national curriculum: law and political history should be compulsory subjects between the ages of 11 and 16. That'd sort the country out.

Driving back to London on my own late on a winter's night this next track came on just as I hit a stretch of the M40 where the lighting reappears after miles of cats eyes. The car was very warm and this just washed over me. It's by a guy from My Morning Jacket who, on the strength of this, I was motivated to check out. Totally different but still very good, haven't got round to picking up any of their albums yet. I will though.

Jim James: Sooner

Friday, 11 December 2009

Where are they now?

I love this album cover (everyone looks great when they're made of anti-matter). "More Hot Rocks" a fairly non-essential Stones best of. I'm a big fan of the Stones. I find some of their earlier recordings a bit scrawny but, and I know this is hardly groundbreaking stuff, I love the run of albums from "Beggars Banquet" through to "Exile on Main Street". I've never listened to anything after "Main Street", I don't have to, I just know. It's like someone waved an evil wand and their powers deserted them.

As well as the music I love the way they looked (in the sixties) and again in this I'm far from alone - their style still defines the dress code of swathes of indie kids and would be hipsters in general. And I suppose they played a part in shaking down the still Victorian attitudes of their day. But that is the limit of my admiration. I love all the myths and by far the best book I've ever read dealing with them is "Up and Down with the Rolling Stones" by genuine insider Tony Sanchez (immortalised on the cover of "Beggars Banquet" through the grafitto - "Spanish Tony Where Are You?").

In some ways the book fuels the myths with its description of their seventies tour behaviour but it hilariously dispels any idea that either Mick Jagger or Keith Richards were in any way bad boys. Due I suppose to the fact that he got to know Keith better his reputation as anything but a tight fisted and rather cowardly heroin addict takes a bit of a kicking. This seems to have upset a few reviewers of the book on Amazon, Americans taking it especially badly. Only Brian Jones comes across as actually living (and dying) up to the myth, and it's clear from this book (and others) that he was a bit of a cunt. Albeit, from a distance, a very cool and at times amusing one.

I despise the current celebrity culture and the tabloids and magazines such as Heat and Hello that thrive on it, but I suppose the truth is that that's because I have no interest in any of the people they're writing about. "Up and Down with the Rolling Stones" is a massive violation of Keith Richards' privacy, and one that leaves him looking like a small man in many instances. What justification is there for it? Perhaps Andrew Loog Oldham should take some of the blame - he built the Stones a monstrous reputation - was it therefore fair of Tony Sanchez to attempt to show the reality behind it?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Clap your hands say yeah

A few weeks ago I was searching through the stalls at my favourite junk market. It's all packed into a fairly large building that I imagine was once a factory or mill of some kind. I always try to give myself at least three hours or so - the amount of stuff in there is slightly mindblowing - it's like this is where they've stashed the twentieth century: Pickelhauben, sheet music, lawnmowers, so many books it makes my head spin. I've picked up a few things other than books or albums there but I confess it's the very cheap second hand vinyl that is the main draw for me.

On this occasion I had at last chased down "Tusk" and picked up "Skullfuck" by the Walkingseeds into the bargain (another of Julian Cope's hot tips, will I never learn?). As I stood in the exceptionally long queue waiting to pay a tune drifted down from an invisible tannoy. It was naggingly familiar and yet so good that had I heard it before I would have made a point of acquiring it. Anyway, it contained a pretty bold phrase so I knew it'd be no trouble to track as soon as I got to the internet. And so it proved. This is the track:

Tommy James and the Shondells: Crimson and Clover

When I looked it up the familiarity was explained - it's the same riff as "Sweet Jane". I'm hopeless at things like that, I could never hear the "Sympathy for the Devil" bassline in "Loaded" for instance. As well as this fascinating nugget I also found out Tommy and the Shondells were responsible for "Mony Mony". I was of course aware of this song through the Billy Idol version and I've even got the Celia and the Mutations version somewhere. I'd always assumed the original was an old Motown number.

Anyway I found this and was so struck by it I decided that it was going to be the first embedded thingy to grace the blog. I like Billy Idol as much as the next man, but the raucous funkiness of the original leaves him sounding very plastic in comparison. And check out Tommy's jacket - you've got to admire the man for carrying that off so well with the beads. And I love his jerky little dance - he's helped out slightly I think by some editing - like everybody looks like a good dancer under strobe lights. He comes over very Ian Svenonius, which is to say very cool indeed.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

From the vaults

I don't know why but this was one of the first songs I thought to transfer to MP3 when I got my magic turntable. Ultra Vivid Scene's American-ness made them slight oddities in the very English scene that they became associated with (probably on account of the fuzziness of the guitars on their biggest tune "The Mercy Seat"). I think they were a bit over rated really, "The Mercy Seat" is an okay song and everybody loves "The Kindest Cut". But this b - side is probably my favourite, on it Kurt Ralske's irritatingly wan vocals come into their own lending the song a suitable effete air.

Ultra Vivid Scene Codeine

Saturday, 28 November 2009

And while we're in Texas...

I'd heard of this compilation way back when but it was a bit of a cult item, either unavailable or too expensive if you ever did see a copy. Prompted by a comment left on an earlier post I decided it was time to investigate. As is the way these days this once near mythical item became mine in a matter of clicks. Sad in a way. Anyway, it arrived today and I'm still getting into it but so far the Red Krayola versions are the most interesting things on it.

The impact of some of the best songs ("You're Gonna Miss Me" by the Spades and the demo version of "Transparent Radiation") has been lessened slightly due to previous exposure on other compilations but the album's worth it just for those two tracks alone. I think the sleeve artwork's brilliant and on its reverse there's a transcript of an interview of Lelan Rogers by Jon Savage. Fairly standard stuff about how the Establishment was so down on them and how out of it the 13th Floor Elevators all were and how few records they sold.

One bit that caught my eye though was a comment from Lelan, saying that working with them was a real education as to the attitudes of young people, " the time there was a saying around the country that anyone over 30 should be put in prison. They all belonged to the under-30s. I understand it's now down to the under-20s" . You can see in that comment the jump off point for the main plot device in "Logan's Run". I always found the idea that the vast majority of people would passively submit themselves for death at the age of 21 the least credible part of the book. But it was interesting to have such a vivid flash of where the authors were coming from and that, given such hostility to the older generation, it perhaps wasn't such an outrageous backdrop.

Chapparalls: I Tried So Hard

The Red Krayola: Hurricane Fighter Plane

Monday, 23 November 2009

Keep off the grass

Last night, oblivious to the anniversary, I found myself watching a documentary about the assassination of JFK. My first thoughts were along the lines of what can possibly be gained from any further ghoulish speculation. But, drawn by the topic’s perennial fascination and my usual Sunday night reluctance to go to bed, I continued to watch.

I like a good conspiracy theory and JFK is one of the best and, in comparison with Roswell, the Moon landings, and the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, relatively credible. But, having read (in that book by David Aaronovitch I think) that Lee Harvey Oswald had probably tried to shoot an army general a few weeks prior to JFK, I was firmly in the lone gunman camp. And for me the matter was well and truly settled by an exercise that I had initially thought pointless. The programme makers wheeled around Dealey Plaza a very sophisticated type of dummy as used by arms manufacturers to test their anti-personnel weapons. From each of the supposed vantage points a marksman weighed up the shot and dismissed all of them until he came to the notorious grassy knoll. Here the shot was good, so he took aim and fired. They were quite meticulous about getting the conditions right, they even had a wind machine blowing to replicate the crosswind that day. Anyway, the shot from the grassy knoll blew the dummy’s head to absolute smithereens. I’m confident that Kennedy’s head would have performed identically.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The doctor is in

Maybe I've led a sheltered life but I don't think I've ever heard an electric piano badly used. It's a supremely chilled out sound. Today got off to a slightly dodgy start but by midday I'd been for a swim, the sun had come out, and the electricity was back on. So I played these tunes.

Vince Guaraldi: Joe Cool

Vince Guaraldi: Peppermint Patty

Reminds me a bit of Eels (as in the American band). I think I could probably listen to a 30 minute version of this.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Reject sleep! Run!

Like most people I like the film Logan's Run. I loved the tv series as well when I was a kid, though I can't remember any of the details now. Better than the film or the series though is the novel. I hadn't realised it was based on a book until I found it in a secondhand bookshop when I was on holiday years ago.

It's only 144 pages long and I think I read it in a day (holidays with my parents were like that). What surprised me at the time was how different it was from the film. For such a short book the authors have deftly sketched one of the most convincing nightmare future worlds I've ever read. The backdrop of a revolution by the young and their society's highly permissive attitude to sex and drugs no doubt stem directly from the book having been written (or at least published) in 1967. Not surprisingly the film makers chose to concentrate more on the cinematic potential of the free lovin' rather than the hallucimills and the Little War. One of the most quietly impressive things about the story is the language or slang used by the characters. Whilst none of the words have exactly come into use they don't seem clunkingly ridiculous - often the fate of sci fi neologisms.

Each and every one of the situations in the film is dealt with with more subtly and/or detail in the book. But that's just films and books for you I suppose. Some of the changes were probably dictated by budget, the robot sculptor Box for instance. In the film he has all the lethal grace of a tin plate wheelie bin, while in the book he's a very plausibly psychopathic cyborg. Other changes though are less forgivable. Francis, Logan's fellow Sandman: his death in the film is easily the most egregious example of how crude the film is in comparison to the book.

One last point - the guns that Logan and all the other Sandmen use in the book are old fashioned pearl handled revolvers rather than the (admittedly very cool) blasters wielded in the film. An interesting twist to the revolvers though was that each of their six chambers is filled with a different type of bullet: Nitro is a high explosive, Homer is a heat seeker, etc. Oh, and the handles are programmed to recognise their user's palm print and to explode if handled by anyone else. All very familiar to readers of Judge Dredd but never in all my years of reading 2000AD did I ever hear an acknowledgement.

A remake is meant to be on the cards - if they want it to stand apart from its predecessor they could always go a bit mad and follow the novel more closely.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Accentuate the positive

I decided to look into Stereo Total when I discovered that they were behind a couple of tunes that I really liked that were being used for adverts. I ended up buying a compilation called "Total Pop" which culled tracks from four of their albums (put together by Momus, of all people). Not surprisingly it's a real mixture of styles, songs and cover versions. The choice of album was a no brainer as it had both the tracks I wanted on it. "I Love You, Ono" and "Moi Je Joue". I only found out on playing it that I'd been misinformed about the second track. The version I loved was actually by Brigitte Bardot.

Until quite recently I'd never taken the time to really get to know it and so it keeps surprising me. It was only when I played the very distinctive "Crazy Horse" for more than just the intro that I realised I'd actually seen them support the Strokes a few years ago. I thought the support band might have been the Moldy Peaches at the time, not sure why - possibly because they were happening then and were an off beat male female duo.

At the moment I can't get enough of their cover of "Get Down Tonight". I like the original and obviously heard it years before this - so it's an unusual upset to my preferring-whichever-version-I-hear-first rule. Anyway, this is just so loose, it sounds as though the song's collapsing the whole time.

Stereo Total: Get Down Tonight

Brigitte Bardot: Moi Je Joue

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Holy mountain magic men

I'm going off MOJO magazine a bit but I still think the cover cds they do are good and they’ve put me onto a few great bands. Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators for one. And the Wooden Shjips for another. They featured on a cd entitled, rather tenuously, “In Search of Syd”. Their track was “SOL 07 Pt 1” and I liked this so much that I listened to it (alternated with one of the other tracks) all the way through a 220 mile car journey (rough calculation: about 13 times). I followed this up by buying their album which I don’t think has a name but which starts with “We Ask You To Ride”. It’s very good but not quite as frazzled as “SOL 07”. When I was buying it I thought I’d check out what else their label (Holy Mountain) churned out and this is where I found Daniel Higgs.

Like his label mates Higgs is a hairy fellow. I would say he’s moved quite a bit further out from psych rock though, his album “Magic Alphabet” is just him playing a jew’s harp – I’ve only listened to samples of it and I’m not sure I’ll buy it but I love the fact that he’s done it. I doubt he gives toss but I think it's a shame that his psychedelic banjo music is unlikely to ever trouble the charts or radio stations, despite being hypnotically catchy. The only downside: I find his vocal style a bit…Old Testament? Which is something I’m rarely in the mood for and so my favourites are instrumentals. Like this:

Daniel Higgs: Leontocephaline Rhapsody

Leontocephaline, I would imagine, means something like lion-headed. And I will use this most slender of prompts to relate what is probably my proudest crosswording moment, when I (correctly) got the word dolichocephalic in the Times crossword. I have absolutely no idea how I knew this word.

Wooden Shjips: SOL 07 Pt 1

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Yesterday I went to see Spectrum play. It was all very spontaneous – I read about the gig in Metro on the train into work and then in a flurry of e-mails made the arrangements. The club was in Elephant and Castle (on Elephant Road itself) and we stopped off for a couple of beers at The Hole in the Wall, a pub I somehow omitted from my list of favourite London pubs a while back. If you’ve ever got half an hour to wait for a train at Waterloo I recommend that you pop in – the back room is great. It clearly hasn’t been decorated since about 1956 and it’s tucked under a railway arch so it rumbles every time a train goes over, which is quite often. I’ve never eaten there but the food smells good.

I’ve mentioned before how highly I rate Pete Kember, mainly on account of Spacemen 3 but also the first Spectrum album is an occasional favourite. I haven’t kept up with his output to be honest and most of what I have heard really is (far more so than “Metal Machine Music”) music for people who like to listen to their fridge turn on and off. I missed out on the chance to see Spacemen 3 play live back in the day and for some reason it’s Kember and his various bands that I regard as the torch bearer of that sound following the split. And while I like some of what he’s done with Spectrum the main draw for me was the chance to hear a live version of “Transparent Radiation” and maybe a few other Spacemen 3 tracks.

We got to the venue in good time but walked past it once: the Apollo Theater it was not. The warm up acts were not conventional bands but instead a trio and then an individual who performed some furious knob twiddling. Not really my bag but one of them was wearing a poncho – so top marks for that. The man himself strode on stage (very tall and thin and, like Jason Pierce, a testament to the age defying properties of heroin) and opened with a jagged instrumental that quickly set them apart from the support acts. “Transparent Radiation” was the second track up and, perhaps inevitably, I was disappointed. It seemed hurried and all the beauty of the studio version was bludgeoned to death under some very heavy handed guitar. Where were the cellos and violins? Or failing those it would have been more apt to play it on an acoustic guitar. Oh well. The only other classic was “Revolution” - a track made for listening to at close quarters played on guitars turned up to 11. But what little sharpness the song had was again lost to the club sound.

The venue was a bit of a toilet really but that’s the kind of place I like to see bands. Probably a maximum capacity of two or three hundred. I find it baffling that Pete Kember can only command such crowds while down the road Spiritualized have packed out the Royal Festival Hall. I’ve always found Spiritualized a bit dull but at least Jason Pierce has the sense and ambition to make use of strings and a horn section and he isn’t afraid to do quiet. That’s what was needed last night, the occasional respite from the pounding drums and raging feedback.

Friday, 6 November 2009


I love this time of year. The dark nights, Bonfire Night, the proximity of Christmas. It all serves to kindle within me an overwhelming sense of festivitas. It makes me want to go out and quaff mulled wine with friends while looking at cultural stuff. And so today I went to see the Maharaja exhibition at the V&A.

It was a bit like the Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy a while back - centred on royal figures and displays that could be put into three categories: paintings, clothing and bejewelled artefacts. I think the advertising for this exhibition made a big deal out of the opulence of the items (it may even have used the word bling). But once you've seen one diamond encrusted scimitar you've seen them all really and the items didn't do anything for me - despite all the precious metals and stones they were strangely bland. I didn't care for the tone of the commentary either - these items were intended to boost the prestige of the maharajas apparently - who'd have thought eh? And the suggestion that British regalia was dull in comparison. I think that's a bit off considering we've got museums full of royal geegaws stretching back to Sutton Hoo.

So far so bad. I was much more intrigued by the some of the clothing that had been preserved. One robe in particular was very impressive, though mainly I think because you had to wonder at the prodigious size of the prince who had worn it. It reminded me of looking at one of Henry VIII's suits of armour at the Tower of London.

The best part of the show was the paintings. Most of them were along the lines of the picture at the top there - scenes of processions with lots of elephants. Wandering into one of the galleries I saw my friend peering intently at one of these crowd scenes, "Looking for Wally?" I quipped. "No, the Englishman" he earnestly replied (he has a heavy, academic interest in the period). We found the Englishman at the front of the procession, drawn twice as big as everyone else. I couldn't find any better pictures on the internet but I did like the one I've used - most of all the women on the roofs. You can't see with this resolution but the lines of the drawing are incredibly fine. Like I was saying last post - I like bright colourful pictures with lots of detail.

A snippet from the exhibition's pages on the V & A's website: महाराजा शब्द, वस्तुतः ‘’महान राजा’, शान-शौकत एवं वैभव की छवि पेश करता है पगड़ी पहने हुए एक रत्नजड़ित राजा की छवि जिसके पास पूर्ण प्राधिकार और अपरिमित दौलत है वह व्यापक और उद्बोधक है परंतु वह भारत के सांस्कृतिक एवं राजनीतिक इतिहास में अपनी भूमिका को सही तरह से निभाने में असफल रहा महाराजा: द स्प्लेनडर ऑफ इनडियाज रॉयल कोर्ट्स, महाराजाओं की दुनिया और उनके विशेष बहुमूल्य संस्कृति का पुनः परीक्षण करती है इस प्रदर्शनी में 18वीं सदी के आरंभ

I'm not sure what the script is but whenever I see things like it (Arabic for instance) I wonder how English (or Roman) script looks to people who don't understand it. Does it look incredibly straight and rigid? Like runes do to me?

A final note of praise: the orange and almond sponge cake I had in the cafe afterwards was possibly the moistest, tastiest cake I've ever eaten.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Is Patrick Woodroffe still going? I found my old copy of Mythopoeikon the other month while helping my parents to de-clutter. It led to me looking him up on the internet. And in my search for an official website I discovered Monster Brains.

At the front of the book he’s shown decked out in a really very full on Paisley shirt and wearing one of those beards that people don’t seem capable of growing these days. And like in the picture above he’s clutching a pipe. Bar the odd lapse I don’t smoke anymore but I do covet a particular pipe I see in a shop window I walk past most days. I doubt I’d actually smoke through it. For a start I’m not sure I’d want to sully its beauty and secondly I’m don’t know whether I’m a pipe person.

I was once the owner of a much more functional pipe. Despite my groovy haircut and general bad attitude I’ve never had any trouble at customs. I did though nearly come a cropper on a trip to Dublin a few years back. I was breezing through the ferry terminal when an officer called me over to a little table and asked to look in my bag. I happily complied but about a second later remembered the very well used hash pipe I’d casually thrown in there. As luck would have it I’d also packed a Latin version of Juvenal’s Satires. When the old fellow saw this he gazed at the pages in mystified awe (much like myself it must be said) and in his eyes I was suddenly an upright and educated young man, maybe even destined for the priesthood. Certainly not somebody with anything nasty in their bag.

Anyway, Patrick Woodroffe. Why do I like his pictures? In part, possibly (probably), because it's all so massively Seventies and that is the decade I like to hunker down in when the modern world is getting too much. Something else I’ve noticed more recently is that I like images that are intricate and have lots going on in them (Nick Blinko, Henry Darger, Hieronymous Bosch, Utagawa Kuniyoshi). It’s true for the most part as well that I don’t particularly like paintings that seem almost blank, like Rothko. What does it all mean? Am I afraid of open expanses? Things that leave me alone with myself? Do I need to be distracted by bright colourful things?

He’s obviously a fantastically gifted painter but I don’t think he ever formally studied art (it says in the book he did modern languages) and this sometimes shows. Childhood is a period of interest to lots of artists and Woodroffe’s preoccupation with it is patent. So I don’t know if the sometimes naïve renderings are deliberate or just down to him not being able to draw certain things more realistically. He admits, for instance, that his spaceships look like Victorian toys but that that’s just how they come out.

Darker than the wonky spaceships though are his depictions of young girls. Some (most) of these pictures are jarring to modern sensibilities to put it mildly. A lot of his work was for science fiction/fantasy book covers in the Seventies – so it comes as no surprise to find the pages strewn with semi naked ladies. He’s done about 90 book covers but I’ve only seen the ones shown in the book and the odd one here and there in second hand bookshops. I think it does artists good to have to produce work in hothouse conditions (Lou Reed at Pickwick Records and Anthony Burgess when he thought he was dying for eg). Obviously, the more work you do the better you get but also deadlines help stamp out any preciousness.

And finally: Mythopoeikon - what a great word. It's made up I think and I'm all for made up words.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Question Time makes me want to smoke crack

Just caught the last 20 minutes of Question Time - God, Jacqui Smith's absolutely terrible. The look in her eyes when she defended her decision to ignore the ACMD's advice on cannabis classification. Apparently other factors had to be taken into consideration. Like the fact that she and the rest of the government are scared to death of the tabloid press. Generally she just comes across so badly: unreasonable and graceless. On whatever topic she talks about she gives the impression that her knowledge of it is about a millimetre deep. Yet Labour quite often wheel her out, I don't get it.

Monday, 26 October 2009

I am your stepping stone

The Zombies: it's a brilliant name for a rock and roll band - mindless, unstoppable monsters out to devour your children's brains. And it starts with a zed. Cool. But I think it's fair to say that the Zombies that we all know and love did little to live up to their name.

For a start two members of the group were totally rocking the Joe "Stumpy" Pepys look, though Paul Atkinson, the immaculately geekish guitarist, later ditched the specs and (I was delighted to read) shacked up with an American go go dancer he met on the set of the Murray the K show. And if members of the undead ever did form a band I think it's very unlikely that they'd record such high and dry, jazz inflected paeans to objects of unrequited love.

But, apart from the name, everything else about them is perfect. They popped up, recorded a load of brilliant songs in a few short years and then disappeared (before running out of creative steam) after realising that they were making virtually no money at all. They've been subtly percolating through the blog for a while now - the mention in the Isobel Campbell post, the flag post's title. Despite already having bestowed the honour on the Kinks I'd say the Zombies were contenders for the title of "Most English Pop Band".
And now, an unprecedented three song salute:

The Zombies: She's Not There

I don't care that everybody and their parrot has heard it a million times - I will never tire of this song.

The Zombies: Just Out Of Reach

Sounds like it should be an earlier number - I was surprised to learn that it was released a year after the more sophisticated sounding "She's Not There". This sounds just like a thousand US garage bands - in fact the Zombies is a classic garage name.

The Zombies: This Will Be Our Year

The only thing I'm posting from Odessey and Oracle. I nearly posted "Beechwood Park" or "Time of the Season" from the album as these were two tracks I was particularly thinking of when I said Isobel Campbell was under their influence. The album is hailed as a masterpiece and I do not disagree.

Thursday, 22 October 2009


I thought that it was right for the BBC to have Nick Griffin on Question Time, but I admit I was worried he'd make political capital from it. I felt uncomfortable when the programme came on but relaxed slightly when I saw how twitchy he looked. And then Jack Straw just went straight for the jugular. I'd never seen Nick Griffin in action before but I'd heard he was a slippery customer. That wasn't the case tonight - he was a bit hopeless wasn't he? He was either trying to laugh off outrageous comments he'd made in the past or actually making outrageous comments.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Hung up on a dream

After flipping through a book of flags yesterday I think I settled on this as my favourite. It's the flag of the Marshall Islands (motto: Jepilpilin ke ejukaan or Accomplishment through joint effort. Nice). The Marshall Islands were the site of much American atomic testing and are one of the most irradiated places on the planet apparently. I don't think they've got much going on and I'm sure I'll never visit. Still, top flag.

Design-wise my runners up were Kuala Lumpur and Brazil. Maybe I'd have rated the Union Jack higher if it wasn't so familiar. It's a pretty good flag I think. Once upon a time I thought it'd be quite a good money spinner to make handkerchiefs of all the flags - they'd look really good and people would have got obsessive about having all of them (well, I would). But then I got to thinking about all the nutters who'd take offence over people blowing their noses on their beloved fatherland's emblem.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Death of a Robot

Today, after eleven years of intermittent pursuit, I got my hands on "Death of a Robot" by E.A.R. - their tribute to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, but really to the late Delia Derbyshire, a women who could have been described as the thinking electronic music fan's crumpet. Sorry, I shouldn't detract from her sonic achievements - there's her definitive version of the Dr Who theme tune - the most otherwordly, I would say. And the 'dance' track among the sound clips on the link there really does sound like early acid house twenty years before its time. I'm not too fussed by the "White Noise" album though, which in contrast sounds dated.

As for the E.A.R. track - it's very Forbidden Planet and okay in an ambient sort of way. But more "Bedtime of a Robot" really. And anyway, everybody knows that dying robots sing "Daisy Daisy".

E.A.R.: Death of a Robot

So as not to end on too disappointing a note I'll move on seamlessly to Beat Happening. Utterly different music but the link is Pete Kember. I've been vaguely aware of Beat Happening for ages due to Spectrum's cover of "Indian Summer". For some reason I only decided to follow up this 16 year old lead a couple of weeks ago with the purchase of "Black Candy" and "Jamboree" (which hasn't arrived yet). Even by my own lackadaisical standards this is impressive. Anyway, Beat Happening: like the Pastels but American.

Beat Happening: Cast A Shadow

Beat Happening: Knick Knack

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Wigan Post

Wigan is a town I know quite well. I’m not mad on the place and, like most towns in England, I’ll try to avoid going into the centre if I can possibly help it. It has a slightly silly name – probably makes people think of wigs, which are intrinsically ridiculous. A far heavier millstone round its neck though is George Orwell’s well meaning survey of the utter poverty and degradation its inhabitants were enduring in the depression. Seventy years on and this remains Wigan’s calling card – unbudged by cultural colossi such as George Formby or The Verve. It’ll take a phenomenon of seismic proportions to shift the association.

“Pies & Prejudice” by Stuart Maconie probably lacks the necessary heft, but as a coffee slurping, pesto eating Northerner in exile I found it all quite amusing. I wouldn’t describe myself as a great pie aficionado but I was pleased to read that I had, with my unerring instinct, sussed out two of what Maconie deems the best pie shoppes in Wigan: The Old Pie Bakehouse in Orrell and Mr Muffin in Shevington. The former was my favourite and, typically, has now closed down. I remember going to fetch the papers one morning after about a foot of snow had fallen in the night. The Bakehouse was open and I returned to my hosts Wenceslas like, bearing pies for all. It did have a bit of a mouse problem though (possibly connected to its closure?).

In the days when I did still venture into the centre there was a very good record shop indeed by the name of Static, up a funny little street called the Wiend. Apart from the stock, which was excellent, the best thing about this shop was the guy who ran it. I’ve forgotten his name but he was dead friendly and I enjoyed talking to him about music. Something I never do in London record shops. Sadly the shop closed down a few years ago. I did my best, I always bought something when I went in. I think I bought the Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO’s “Absolutely Freak Out (Zap Your Mind!!)” there (how could I resist?) – we certainly had a chat about it (conclusion: it’s a bit much).

The purchase that stands out in my mind though is Norma Tanega’s “Walking My Cat Named Dog”. I don’t know why I picked it out but I’m glad I did. It’s nothing earth-shattering – just some pretty catchy folk pop. I like it very much though and it’s one of those albums that I’ll stick on when I get in late, drunk and sing along to. I googled Norma (all my posts are extensively researched) and it turns out she was Dusty Springfield’s girlfriend for quite a while back in the Sixties. How about that.

Norma Tanega: You're Dead

Norma Tanega: I'm The Sky

Monday, 12 October 2009

Doin' the Lambeth Walk, Oi!

I get off the train at Vauxhall. Just recently I've started to walk along the Albert Embankment, crossing the river at Lambeth Bridge. I don't know if you know that part of town? Anyway, today I was accosted by a slightly grimy looking man. He followed me down the street shouting "Hey!". It was a bit embarrassing so eventually I turned to face him. He was speaking incoherently, "Drunk as a skunk" I thought. He held out his hand, for money obviously - and, with a smile, I said "No". This went on for a bit longer and I realised he wanted to shake my hand, in the manner of many a drunk. Again I said, "No", but his slurring got a bit angrier so I thought I'd shake his hand to placate him. Then he wouldn't let go. I forcefully broke his grip and he just smiled and started to move the hand in a strange way - this confused me but then he started to make a thrusting movement with his hips and the lewd nature of his intentions became apparent. This was too much and I beat a hasty retreat. There was a tense ten seconds during which I braced myself for a possible jab between the shoulder blades (he had seemed potentially an excitable Latin type). Importuned, and before midday. What a start to the week.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Any colour you like

I went to the shop yesterday afternoon to get a banana and a chocolate bar to go with my mid afternoon cup of tea. I had a hankering for a Double Decker bar. Annoyingly the only Double Decker on offer was one of those Duo bars. More chocolate than I wanted for more than I really wanted to pay. They arrived a few weeks ago and I'd noticed that supplies of the regular sized bars were dwindling. So much for choice. And the obesity epidemic and Supersize Me. Chocolate bars should be getting smaller if anything.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Key? What's a key?

Drawn as I am to visceral and cathartic music I like John Lennon's first post Beatles album "Plastic Ono Band" a lot. On it he mainly does angry and sad, both in a raw, abrasive way. The first time I heard "Working Class Hero" I listened, transfixed. And then again another six times. I'd probably have played it more but it was about two o'clock in the morning and the girl in the room next door deserved a break. A few years ago I heard that Yoko Ono had released an album of the same name in an identical sleeve at the same time. I like good screaming on a record and was led to believe that Yoko's version was superior to her husband's. Anyway, it dropped through my letterbox the other day. It's not that bad, as I say I like inchoate vocals but there's something disturbingly pathetic about the noises she makes. On hearing the album I totally appreciated the comment that John Lennon made when he heard "Rock Lobster" in a disco. Yoko's album sounds like a fairly freaky blues outfit fronted by a jellyfish. It'd probably fit quite well into an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. I'm not going to post any of the tunes because they're too long. But it did get me thinking about deranged, female fronted music.

So, The Shaggs. I bought a compilation album about five years ago, listened to it a couple of times and then put it back on the shelf to gather dust. I think I got it having read Julian Cope or some such raving about them. The liner notes featured high praise from Frank Zappa which set my spidey senses tingling. Were they just a joke or hoax? I don't think so. They come across as seemingly reasonable people in print, it is though the most truly mental music I've ever heard. Here are some highlights, hold onto your ears:

The Shaggs: That Little Sports Car

Reminds me of "My Beautiful Horse" from Father Ted. Surely an influence?

The Shaggs: You're Something Special To Me

That's much gentler isn't it? God help me, I'm starting to like them.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

50 ways to leave your body

I regard Leonard Cohen as a bit of a genius. I started with his first album and my next exposure to his stuff was "I'm Your Fan" - a pretty good covers compilation of his songs. Despite the presence of John Cale's mighty version of Hallelujah my favourite on there was the House of Love's version of "Who by Fire". There's nothing clever about it, just Guy Chadwick's vocal and a plangent guitar played just so. I learned it was from "New Skin For The Old Ceremony" which consequently went straight to the top of the list of albums to get. However, before I found it I picked up the song on his greatest hits and was a bit disappointed. They're very similar but Cohen's version seemed the lesser on account of its slightly dramatic cheesy strings. The sad thing is it put me off buying "New Skin For The Old Ceremony" for a few years. Once again I found the simpler version more appealing, and again I'm left wondering if I always just prefer the first version I hear.

House of Love: Who By Fire

Leonard Cohen: Who By Fire

Saturday, 3 October 2009

He had a way

I bought this book the other day. I wasn't going to, I was just browsing but then the inclusion of a particular album caught my eye so I had it. For the record I own 204 of the recommended albums and plan at some point to pick up about another hundred. Of the remainder I've probably heard at least fifty that I like but which I've no intention of buying for whatever reason ("Nevermind" by Nirvana for instance, because I've heard it too many times).

Anyway the album that snagged me was "White Light" by Gene Clark. I've liked the Byrds since time immemorial but it was only quite recently that I bought up a load of their albums in an HMV sale and, looking at the songwriting credits in those nice little booklets, realised it was Gene Clark who had written all my favourite Byrds songs.

After this revelation I did some research and ordered "White Light" and "No Other" from Selectadisc. "White Light" I got into pretty quick but "No Other", his so called masterpiece, I find hard to digest, smothered as it is in 1974 style west coast widdliness. There are good tunes underneath it all though as the fortunate inclusion of a load of demo versions proves. The album sleeve provides graphic evidence of how badly Gene lost it in the dress sense department too, he's shown posing in what can only be described as monstrously flared silken pantaloons and with his shirt knotted at the waist (all the better to show off his medallions). He didn't have the best bowlcut in the Byrds but I don't know what you'd call his haircut on the sleeve here, or why anybody would do that to their hair. Too much cocaine?

However, he wrote the tunes so all is forgiven. My all time favourites have to be "Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "Eight Miles High" but for a bit of a change:

Gene Clark: So You Say You Lost Your Baby

I only discovered this one a few days ago. From "Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers", an album I tried to get when I first twigged but I kept getting outbid on ebay.

The Turtles: You Showed Me

Co-written with Roger McGuinn (I'll bet anything Clark was responsible for the bit starting at 1' 00", "And when I try-eye-eye-eyed it..." ) and performed here by the Turtles. I didn't know it but I've loved this since De La Soul sampled it for "Transmitting Live From Mars", which I think I'd always lazily assumed was sampling "Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)".

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Music to watch joss sticks by

I enjoy watching the smoke coil off a joss stick. Especially on sunny days like today. And this has to be one of the most fascinating sounds. It sounds ancient and futuristic at the same time. If the Aurora Borealis made a sound I imagine it would be something like this.

Tanpura: D#

Sunday, 27 September 2009


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going camping for a stag weekend. Well, it was dead good and surprisingly civilized - I actually came back feeling healthier then when I'd set off. Probably the best moment was getting up on the first morning and, while everyone else was still snoring in their tents, making myself a cup of tea with my little stove and kettle and drinking it with a cigarette and a couple of chocolate hobnobs.

Anyway this weekend was the wedding. It was great - I enjoy weddings. As always I drank too much and went to bed very late. I had a bit of a hangover but that was largely vanquished by the hotel breakfast. I'm sure it was fear of a killer hangover that led to me booking my return ticket for the afternoon - but I overdid the caution and a five o'clock train left me with quite a few hours to kill. The wedding was in York. I love that name: York, such a weird little word.

My hotel was two hundred yards from the Minster and after a walk by the river to clear my head and a read of the paper I thought I might as well check the place out. I think I'd probably been in before (my parents were avid cathedral spotters in my youth and they're all a bit of a blur). There's a very good statue of Constantine the Great outside the Minster. He's lounging on a throne, menacingly toying with a sword. In Rome the colossal head of Constantine was one of the things that I really wanted to see. Sadly it was being tarted up for the millenium and not on display, I think they were painting the walls or something. I prefer the statue in York but the colossal head is more imperial - I think it's the vacant expression on his face. If I were a hostile mustachioed tribesman the colossal head would have given me the more pause for thought. Seated Yorkshire Constantine looks cruel and formidable but human. Colossal Roman Constantine just looks utterly untouchable.

All cathedrals are worth a visit and it's a strange person who isn't a little awestruck at the proportions of these places and the intricate craftsmanship to be seen everywhere you look. I was creeping about in the crypt when evensong started and it was an unearthly sound and very beautiful. It's strange though - it would never occur to me to listen to a recording of it. It only seems to make sense in a church. It's things like this that make me wonder if I'll ever go to church again. Going through bookcases at my parents' a few years ago I realised, by looking at the inscriptions in prize books, that I'd attended Sunday School for at least four years. I can't remember the point at which I stopping believe in God. I do remember I was about five when I first realised about death and how upset I was. My mum told me not to worry as it would be a long time before I died, to which I thought: "You're missing the point". And she was and no doubt deliberately because of course there is no answer. There are so many beautiful and reassuring things about Christianity but, call me old fashioned, I think you should only go if you believe in it all.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Out of step

I had my desert boots resoled not so long ago. I was quite pleased with the price: £18. Though the boots themselves only cost £14 originally it was worth it because they're the right shape (a bit stubby toed). It may be tantamount to heresy in some circles but I don't really like Clark's desert boots: they're too elongated. Another good thing about having them resoled (rather than just buying a new pair for less) was that the cobbler, at my request, sheared the heel off leaving just a flat sole, which I consider correct. But the main thing is: I like getting things mended. Apart from the heel on the left boot they were still in dead good nick and had developed a characterful patina.

I can't stand shoes with plastic soles or big chunks of plastic embedded into the sole. For a start they look terrible. I suppose it's a bit more durable than leather or foam or whatever but once they're worn away, that's it - the whole shoe has to go. So it's hard not to be cynical about the manufacturers' motives for this hideous development. My sole of choice is crepe but it's got a lot harder to find places that'll do it. According to one cobbler I spoke to crepe is too messy - it melts all over their machines. Another place quoted me the outrageous price of sixty quid.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Softly, softly...

Belle and Sebastian are probably the last band that I'll be into in the buying the tee shirt, going to see them lots of times type of way. I went to see the tour for "The Life Pursuit" and it was a perfectly brilliant gig but haven't got round to buying the album yet. I was a bit disappointed by the singles but I'm sure, in the fullness of time, I'll pick it up. So, what's your favourite Belle and Sebastian album? Mine, by a mile, is "Swansong for You" by the Gentle Waves. I was thinking of a post around female vocalists (the Shangri Las one was a by-product). Quite often, it seems to me, male singers hide behind their style of singing. Mick Jagger or Morrissey for instance. As if singing were something to be ashamed of. And sometimes it means I enjoy the songs less. So, on balance I think I prefer female vocalists. In fact I know I do.

The post was originally going to take in Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Isobel Campbell (and maybe her out of Pentangle and Nina Persson of the Cardigans). But, casting about for tunes, I found myself utterly rapt by "Swansong for You". I'd played it a lot at the time but hadn't given it a spin for a while due to being separated from my record collection for a period and the vinyl of this particular record being a bit fucked on account of the heavy rotation. What all these singers have got in common is very high, or very pure voices. You might separate them into hard and soft with Isobel Campbell falling into the latter camp.

I haven't really been able to get into the latterday Nancy and Lee stuff she's currently churning out with Mark Lanegan. The chamber pop of "Swansong for You" seems far more suited to her voice and penchant for cellos and xylophones and other bits and bobs. It's funny - in Belle and Sebastian she was the epitome of indie winsomeness, a dead ringer for Jean Seberg. Why do so many snappy dressers end up going in for the western look?

Anyway, "Swansong for You". I've spoken of albums being close to perfect. This album is perfect. Derivative in places of the Zombies, she makes no secret of her love of that band. I started off loving the simpler songs such as "Flood" and "Loretta Young" but was eventually floored by every single track - taking longer to appreciate the heavier strings of "There was Magic, Then..." and the Morricone knells of "Partner in Crime". Amid all the instrumental variety though is the constant, soft, lovely, lilting voice - gentle even for the talking bits.

The Gentle Waves: Flood

The Gentle Waves: Partner in Crime

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Mary, Mary, Marge and Betty

I don't like bands ironically, if I like the songs then that's it. "Leader of the Pack" is one of those songs that I think everyone hears all over the place from an early age. I picked it up on 7" when I was at college and immediately preferred the song on the flip, "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)". Despite the fact that I loved the songs so much I didn't follow it up until a few years later when I got hold of the bizarrely, though excellently, named "Myrmidons of Melodrama" compilation.

Despite the supposedly tough girl image there seems to be a massive innocence about them. The way they deliver the spoken bits ("um..he's good bad, but he's not evil") just wouldn't work if it was any other way. One of the things that flash through my mind when I listen to them is the story "It's Like This, Cat". Like that book they're part of the way I think about New York (I've never been).

Sound-wise I find them much clearer and fresher than the Ronettes who in comparison I think sound stagey and cluttered and just generally less convincing. And image-wise, they're very cool. I think they're giving Francoise Hardy a good run for her money in the picture there.

Finally, I love the suggestion that the Jesus & Mary Chain's "The Living End" is the story of "Leader of the Pack" as told from the point of view of Jimmy.

The Shangri Las: Out in the Streets

Jesus & Mary Chain: The Living End

Monday, 14 September 2009

Holy Moly

As I've already said I got into the Pastels by hearing them praised by another group that I really liked. There's a very good chance that group was the Jesus and Mary Chain. There was a time when my musical diet consisted almost exclusively of the Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3. Feedback and distortion was my thing. As much as I loved the Pastels if you'd have suggested to me that they would record better versions of Mary Chain songs I'd have laughed in your face, or possibly punched you. But this is now what has come to pass.

The Mary Chain. How many times has it happened to you that you discover a band, work your way through their immaculate back catalogue and then await their next new release in a state of ecstatic apprehension? Only for the new album to be very poor indeed? "Automatic", there I've said it - let us speak no more of it. At the height of my admiration for them I was probably listening to "Psychocandy" at least once a day, and this state of affairs went on for a year or so. After "Psychocandy" was "Barbed Wire Kisses" (shocking name) - arguably their best collection of songs, but, like "Hatful of Hollow" do you count this kind of thing as a real album? And then we have "Darklands". All the songs on "Darklands" are great - "Nine Million Rainy Day" was my personal favourite - but most are let down by the production/execution, the main offender being "April Skies" on which we cop for the full horror of the Mary Chain's baffling predilection for drum machines. Generally their sound, previously so unlike anything else, becomes well and truly mired in the eighties that they had seemed destined to destroy. The Pastel's version of "About You" shows what might have been. I don't know if the Mary Chain are going to release new stuff, but before they do they should go back and record "Darklands" properly.

Lyrically though I think "Darklands" is their best album with the usual caveat that I haven't seriously listened to anything after "Honey's Dead" and with the definite exception of the line about the Christmas tree in "Fall". Oh, and the mole line in "On The Wall". Hmm, I'm not making a brilliant case here - but "Deep One Perfect Morning" and "Happy When It Rains" both display an articulate thoughtfulness which always came across in the interviews but not previously in the songs.

The Mary Chain's own record with cover versions is hit and miss. Not surprisingly their earlier attempts are the best with the very best being the legendary "Vegetable Man" (I don't get Pink Floyd's scruples on this - it's the best thing Syd Barrett ever wrote). The joy of owning the 7" of "Upside Down" is considerable in its own right, and just for this song, very necessary. Is it just me or has the version to be found on "The Power of Negative Thinking" (another crap album title by the way) been neutered somewhat? I think they've pushed the vocal right up.

"Who Do You Love" and "Mushroom" are also both outstanding but after them we move onto the merely okay "Reverberation" and "Tower of Song" before arriving at "Little Red Rooster". My favourite band covering one of my favourite songs - how could it go so badly wrong? It did and this point probably marks my final disappointment with them. I heard about their version of "Alphabet Street" and it occurred to me that it was misguided, and when I caught up with it this was confirmed, the sureness of touch shown on "Who Do You Love" and "Mushroom" is utterly gone.

The Pastels: About You

Jesus & Mary Chain: Nine Million Rainy Days

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The horror

I find it hard to watch documentaries about the Titanic due to the footage they always show of the ship's broken carcass lying on the ocean bed. The thought of such a large vessel rendered so tiny by the vastness of the ocean depths seriously freaks me out. And the same goes for the thought of seeing a large ocean liner sink in the way the Titanic did, sticking straight up into the air - the unnaturalness of it all, its giant propellers turning vainly in the sky. And then the thought of sitting in a miniscule life raft on top of the rolling surface of an ocean extending to the horizon in every direction. Clearly I'd be of very little use in an emergency at sea.

I mention all this as a preamble to a poem about the disaster that I found in a book I bought this lunchtime (Oxfam again), Dear Blue Peter, a collection of letters, mainly from children, to that fine programme. Despite the almost mindnumbing terror that the whole Titanic scenario threatens to induce in me I was reduced to tears of laughter by the poem, which I share with you now:

So many screams and cries
Why did it have to happen?
All they wanted was a peaceful holiday
Nobody likes getting killed
So much pain
So much history
As the people watch in horror
Lots of people died

It really is a very lovely book.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Warped and confused

It's not all garage rock/indie pop (and ska) round here. Back in the day I'd go into Warp records at least once a week. It wasn't really my scene but through friends I listened to a lot of house/techno and from time to time would actually go forth and buy some. This involved going to the small section at the back of the shop and trying to make sense of all the identical sleeves that housed this type of music. I'll be honest, I was out of my element and often came away empty handed. I rarely persevered as most of the time the counter was swamped by a horde of acolytes all waiting to use the headphones.

Unlike the stereotype the vibe, even towards longhaired weirdoes in drainpipes, was actually pretty friendly. In contrast I remember clanging down the steps into Eastern Bloc Records in Manchester's Corn Exchange one time. On my entrance the record on the turntable screeched to a hideous stop and in the otherwise deserted shop a huddle of about five ferret faced youths in baseball caps and puffa jackets turned to stare at me. I made a perfunctory survey of the dub section and got the fuck out of there.

Anyway, the music. I've heard it catergorized as machine music and criticised for lacking emotion or human warmth. This is ridiculous as it's still humans creating it. Somehow, somewhere the cool perfection of these recordings is what, for me, seems to create the emotion. Admittedly in most cases the feeling aroused by the tracks that I really like is one of slight sadness or maybe yearning.

Beaumont Hannant: The Hunted

Still, a nice juicy two minute bass guitar solo to hang onto in "The Hunted", "Utuba" on the other hand is probably the most alien sounding, most completely created track I've ever heard.

Beaumont Hannant: Utuba

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Yesterday's men

Part two in a possibly Notting Hill Carnival inspired review of English Ska bands. "One Step Beyond" by Madness. This was the first album I actually went out and bought for myself (on cassette, from Woolies). Last post I said that the Specials were for older brothers; Madness were the band that me and my mates were all into. Obviously I've got a lot of affection for Madness and it bugs me slightly that they seem to be regarded as runners up to the Specials. It's partly their own fault I suppose for coming up with the whole "Nutty Sound" thing. And they also made a bit of a mess of splitting up and getting back together, they did it too many times and now nobody seems to care about them.

Anyway, all those years ago I actually set off that Saturday morning to get "Complete Madness" but the friend I went with beat me to the last copy. After some consideration I settled on "One Step Beyond" because it had "Nightboat to Cairo", "The Prince", "One Step Beyond" and "Madness" on it. But the real deal breaker was the presence of "Bed And Breakfast Man". It was my favourite Madness tune for a long time, now it alternates with "The Sun and the Rain".

Like the Specials, Madness's first album is the most Ska-ified they did (possibly not counting more recent things, which I haven't heard) and then they branched out into the sort of pop that you could hardly move for in the eighties but which nobody seems to do anymore, y'know, songs that actually seem to be about something. Overall the album's a bit depressing with none of the breeziness normally associated with Madness: hard luck romance "My Girl", "Believe Me", squaddies' drudgery "Land of Hope and Glory" and drugs "Razor Blade Alley" (of the songs I'd never heard before I bought it, this was the best discovery, the keyboard sound is, appropriately, very sharp).

Madness: Bed and Breakfast Man

I love the whole thing but especially the bit at 1'53" where the sax and Suggs' voice collide and bend over the word "hand".

Friday, 28 August 2009

Scions of Trojan

The Specials. A pretty good first album, a better second album and I've never heard the third album (but I did like the single "What I Like Most About You"). I viewed their recent reunion with the same bewilderment I do all such ventures: I don't begrudge the bands, but who the fuck pays to see bands twenty or thirty years past their sell by date? I just don't get it.

As I've said before I was too young for punk and still even a bit too young for Two Tone. At the time The Specials were a band loved by older brothers. I remember liking "Gangsters" and "Ghost town" but, funnily, nothing inbetween. Ska's a pretty infectious genre but not one that I think I could take a whole evening of - a bit too repetitious. Musically it's a dead end and this is the trouble with the first album "Specials". It's in my collection but I can't remember the last time I played it. I like most of the songs on it but virtually every one is a cover I think (either acknowledged or not) and that's just not healthy.

"More Specials" is a very different kettle of fish. It strikes me as a less serious album and it was a firm Saturday night favourite from very early on - something all my friends agreed on. The two tracks below are my favourites from it and are still on pretty heavy rotation to this day. I know "Sock It To 'Em JB" is a cover and I've just had a go about that, but I like it too much not to post it here. Oh, and "Pearl's Cafe" has got the best chorus ever.

The Specials: Pearl's Cafe

The Specials: Sock It To 'Em, JB

Thursday, 27 August 2009


I popped into Oxfam at lunchtime. Flipping through a book of cartoons I was shocked to discover that The Simpsons had ripped off one of the jokes in it. The book was "The Bedside Leunig" (reprinted 1989) and the joke consisted of a worker-type confronting a boss-type, finally demanding "How do you sleep at night?", only for the boss to reply "I sleep at night between silk sheets on a heated, king size auto-massage water bed with piped music on a very quiet street with a companion whose beauty would make you weep with desire".

I don't remember seeing any of Michael Leunig's drawings before but now I have I'd say he was obviously a big influence on David Shrigley.