Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The first cut is the deepest (flashback)

I don’t know what’s at number one in the pop charts and I haven’t known for about twenty years, since I gave up in disgust. Despite this I thought it was a shame that the BBC scrapped Top of the Pops. I mean, how can you go wrong with that format? Anyway, when I still had the patience to watch MTV there used to be a show compered by a likeable guy with a beard, Eddy something, and on this show there was a section called “There Is No God”. Viewers wrote in with, and Eddy and his posse also came up with, tunes that they thought were amazing but that had got absolutely nowhere chart-wise.

I’ve already eulogised what would have been my entry: “Transparent Radiation” as performed by Spacemen 3 and I know I wrote a bit on Spectrum the other day. So, not wishing to become a drone rock bore, I promise this will be my final word on this particular group (probably). This is what I wanted to do on the original posting but lacked the technical capacity, however with the advent of a USB turntable, here, now, ripped from my very own personal stash:

The Red Krayola: Transparent Radiation (from The Parable of Arable Land)

The Red Krayola: Transparent Radiation (from Sonic Sounds for Subterraneans)

Spacemen 3: Transparent Radiation (from The Perfect Prescription)

Saturday, 27 June 2009

George Melly

This is the first instalment of the late, great George Melly's autobiography. And it's the best. The next part "Rum, Bum and Concertina" (what sailors have to make do with at sea, as opposed to wine, women and song on shore) is also good, but the third part, "Scouse Mouse", I'm not too fussed about at all.

I don't know what made me pick the book up the first time, maybe just the picture on the cover. I think I'd probably heard of him but only as a television personality. I've read my fair share of books about bands and this is by far my favourite. Which is slightly odd given that I don't really like the type of music that it revolves around.

Despite this, for a long time it was one of my ambitions to see him do his customary turn at Ronnie Scott's in the run up to New Year but I would always be up North visiting my family. And then he died. I went along to an evening with George Melly type thing once, held on a very dark night in a small wooden lecture theatre. I haven't attended anything like it since - just going to listen to someone speak about their life for two or three hours. I knew he'd had an interesting life and that he could write well about it but, unsurprisingly, it was a greater pleasure to hear him tell most of these same tales in the flesh. I think it's fair to say that his serious musical career ended in the early sixties and that from that point onwards he became a professional raconteur.

I found the documentary filmed around his final days depressing, or deflating might be a better word. The slightly rigid bohemianism, the forced (I suspect) indifference to the indignities brought by his various ailments and the prospect of imminent death. Who knows, maybe he really was that cool.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Macavity's not there

My mum and dad's cat died recently. He was 14 years old. Not a bad innings, the oldest cat they've ever had. They were understandably upset and have vowed never to get another. But now...a mouse has appeared. A cunning mouse - wise to humane traps, indifferent to even the largest lumps of cheese. It treats the kitchen as though it were his own and has even begun to encroach on the living room. My mum and dad, both into their seventies, are just no match for its agility. I suggested they borrow a neighbour's cat but they don't think that will really work.

The old cat was in pretty bad shape, his prescription for essentially the same drugs my mum is on cost more than my mum's. How can that be right? They've got you over a barrel when it comes to pets.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Spectrum is green

As I've said before Spacemen 3 are one of my favourite groups and it's one of my milder regrets that I never got to see them live. In the aftermath of the split I saw Spiritualized (they weren't very good) and the Darkside (formed by the bass player. I was so drunk I had to lie down flat on the floor. Later I was told others had done the same, such behaviour being de rigueur among true connoisseurs of cosmic vibes).

I don't think it's out of the question that they'll reform - I read that book about them, Dreamweapon, a while back and couldn't really work out what it was that they'd broken up over. In my opinion neither have produced music anywhere near as good as Spacemen 3. It's good they've both kept busy but I find Spiritualized too overblown and Sonic Boom tends to be too abstract, though I'd say he's the one with the knack for pop. Obviously each needs the other to curb their individual excesses.

With an eye to future postings ripped from vinyl I was checking out some tunes' availability and most unexpectedly found this as a free download at last.fm: my favourite Spectrum track - one of the best guitar solos ever.

Spectrum: Lonely Avenue

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The new originals

Years ago I heard Chicken Shack’s version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” on a tape given away with NME or Melody Maker. I’d never heard of them and thought they had a terrible name but I sure loved that track. So I was a bit bummed when I lost the tape. For years afterward I’d go on forlorn rummages in the attic at my parents but it never turned up, (currently doing the same for a Rolling Stones book - it's a really big book, I just don't understand where it's got to). Anyway, I found out it had been released as a single way back and so I ordered it from the back pages of Record Collector. Only it wasn’t the same version as the tape. Some time after this I remembered that it was a tape of Peel Session versions and got it from the Strange Fruit website. It had been a long wait and in the meantime, jonesing for the tune, I’d gone to the more widely available source: Etta James. I thought that she'd mop the floor with the weedy Chicken Shack but I was surprised to discover that I far preferred the Chicken Shack version. I thought it was a bloke singing and I like it when singers just sing the lyrics in songs like this without swapping the genders around. Maybe because it suggests that they're playing it on the spur of the moment and for sheer love of the song. Also, I find the Etta version overly mannered. Something that turns me off is too much "technique", the Chicken Shack version seems to come more directly from the heart, a more honest reading of the song.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the version of a song I hear first will tend to be my favourite, regardless of the relative standing of the artists involved. And in most cases I seem to go for the version with the simpler arrangement.

Chicken Shack: I'd Rather Go Blind

Etta James: I'd Rather Go Blind

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Memento mori

I try not to be materialistic but I love this thing. It's a silver denarius from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. The design on the reverse (not shown - I couldn't get a decent photo) depicts the personification of Roma standing with a spear and a ceremonial dagger called a parazonium. This particular design dates the coin to between AD125 and 128. Every time I look at and hold this small coin it absolutely blows my mind. The gulf of time that exists between its creation and my possession of it. One day a living breathing Roman dropped it then something like 1800 years later another human being picked it out of the earth.

Whenever I think about Rome I think about the fall of Rome. And then I think about our own civilization. To me it seems inevitable that the West will fall, but only because that's what always happens. At the same time I see our society as so backed up and dug in I can't imagine (barring the total destruction of life on the planet) how it could all be washed away and left as mere fragments for future archaeologists to puzzle over.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Stop look and listen

When stepping up to the turntable on a Saturday night I'd usually get my friends' approval on most things but the Pastels were a step too far for all of them. I think I probably got into them just through hearing that other bands that I really liked liked them. "Sittin' Pretty" was their first album that I bought. Then I worked backwards through "Up For A Bit" and "Suck On..". The last Pastels thing I got was "Speeding Motorcycle" which is brilliant, so I don't know why I just trailed off with them.

I'd been led to believe that they were incredibly fey, and they are a bit. But when I first played "Sittin' Pretty" I was surprised at how rocking it was. Not in the same way that say, The Cult were rocking, but the guitar playing is at times heroic in a slightly wonky way. Apart from how original and catchy the songs are what really makes this album for me is Stephen Pastel's vocals. The lyrics cover quite a bit of ground but it's the way they're delivered that is so great. Stephen Pastel's singing voice could be described as tuneless and here he strains and stalls but there's always enough there to carry the tune off. Overall I would say the vocals come across as a bit strange and dispassionate. Just like Stephen Pastel himself. Anyway, it's another album that I find close to perfect.

It's my theory that The Pastels were substantially the template for Belle and Sebastian. Maybe this is superficial but there are plenty of similarities and this is going to sound a bit insulting to Belle and Sebastian but I see them as kind of like Oasis to The Pastel's Stone Roses. Some bands come through and make the most of a particular style while the less muscular originators seem to languish.

The Pastels: Sit On It Mother

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Please don't stand in my way

Driving home this morning I turned for quite a sharp right and the car just carried straight on. A very strange feeling. Luckily there was no one walking on the pavement I went up onto - that would have led to a very different day. I straightened the car out and sat on the verge for a few minutes with the emergency lights flicking, in anticipation of a delayed adrenaline rush or some similar shock type feelings, but they never came. I noted that I hadn't sworn during the incident, I just said "whoooaahhh" and I think I'd just had time to wonder if I was going to hit a telegraph pole before it was all over.

After a while a pedestrian (who hadn't seen me come off the road) wandered up and started to complain that I was blocking the pavement. "Sorry, I've just crashed" I said, blankly. She was alright after that and even asked if I was okay. Fine, but I think I might buy some new tyres.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Modish tendencies

I spent my lunch money at Oxfam again today. I'd cunningly filled up with sandwiches at a meeting beforehand though. The book is a catalogue for a Patrick Caulfield exhibition back in 1981. Caulfield is an artist I probably hated when I was younger but now I think he's just great, though probably not for the same reason(s) he thought he was. His pictures, at least the ones in this book, recall a culture that seems dead now; when we were enjoying consumerism but it hadn't become absolutely rampant. When they were painted perhaps they were intended to comment on the sterility and banality of the times. Now, maybe because we have our own, more up to date, versions of sterility and banality I can only see the charm. And they're all so precise, something that seems to soothe me. And maybe I'm less of a people person than I think but I also find the lack of human figures in the pictures cool.

In the evening I went to vote and then immediately afterwards did the recycling. So much worthiness in such a short space of time. Still, a long weekend to recover. In keeping with the pop art vein (though I've just read Caulfield disassociated himself from the style), have I ever said how much I love the Who?

The Who: Heatwave

Monday, 1 June 2009

What would Marcus Aurelius do?

I thought I'd lost my mobile phone today. Gosh, the paranoia. As if access to my contacts list, text messages and a few not-at-all-compromising photographs reveals the innermost workings of my soul. And the anger generated by the thought of someone picking it up and not even trying to get in touch with me to return it. Anyway, I found it under the bed.