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.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Feet vs. shoes

When I stepped off the train tonight there was a girl walking ahead of me. Nothing unusual about that - except she wasn't wearing any shoes. I thought she'd quickly slip some flip flops on but no, she didn't and I saw that the soles of her feet were filthy. I suppose the pavements are quite clean really but I'd feel very vulnerable without shoes. I remember years ago walking to work I saw a tramp getting ready for the day, padding about in his stockinged feet on the pavement of Waterloo bridge. I was slightly freaked and then for a moment strangely jealous. It was cool to bump into my own thoughts so abruptly - why did I think it was so weird to not wear shoes on a nice warm day on a nice clean pavement?

My knapsack on my back

I went to buy a new pen this lunchtime and ended buying some other things as well: a compass and this fantastic lantern. Not just mindless consumerism though, you see I'm going camping in a fortnight. I just hope I don't break the lantern winding it up too much. It's great though - I thoroughly approve of clockwork things - anything that aids me, however slightly, in my flight from the clutches of the Man. Anyway, the lantern - I think it's beautiful, like a miniature lighthouse.

I'm probably too delicate for camping. I don't even like crashing out on people's floors. But it's a friend's stag do and there is absolutely no getting out of it. That was my first reaction anyway. Now I've borrowed a tent, some billy cans and a stove and some other bits and bobs off my brother and I'm almost looking forward to it. I'm going to practice putting the tent up this weekend. Aside from the natural hardships to be expected of camping in northern England in September most of my wariness stems from the 'stag' part of the deal. When drunk I've a tendency to be slightly dogmatic on the subjects of pop music and foreign policy but I'm basically harmless. The prospect of rolling into a small village pub with some of my friend's other, more laddish, friends...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Pay your income tax

I've been away for longer breaks but I'm finding it very hard to readjust after this last one. It's mainly work I think. I don't know why, nothing has changed there. I don't seem to be able to relax. Maybe it's the large amounts of coffee I can't seem to stop myself from drinking?

Or maybe it's my new extra short haircut that's disturbed my equilibrium? As before, almost two months to the day in fact, my hair looked great but I thought I ought to have it smartened up for some reason. The lady had done an okay job but I went and asked for just a little bit more off the back. The clippers came out and zub, zub it was all over - a massacre. Of course, I said it was nice, you might as well - they can't stick it back on. Normally I think it takes a fortnight or so for a haircut to settle down, with this one: four weeks and counting.

Anyway, I'm sure it'll all calm down by the autumn. In the meantime some laidback stuff from the monstrously overlooked JJ Cale. I was first introduced to his music as a junior stoner. He's released loads of albums that are all basically the same, I've got six of them. "Naturally" provides "Crazy Mama" which drifts in and out of my top ten tunes. "Right Down Here" is from "Really" which is probably my all round favourite. Apart from the quality of the songs I think it's possible that my preference may stem from the fact that round about the time he was knocking out "Really" in Nashville and Muscle Shoals I was making my first appearance over in North Manchester. Some kind of cosmic umbilicus.

JJ Cale: Right Down Here

JJ Cale: Crazy Mama

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Two minutes (twenty-five seconds) Hate

While looking for something else I found the track by The Stoics that I mentioned in the post about Pebbles compilations. It really is amazing what you can get on the internet. As I said at the time this is one of my favourite songs ever: the choppy drums, the economical, strangulated guitar solo. And while we're revisiting that post, I learned last week about the friend of mine who wore a car seat cover. Without wishing to sound too dramatic I honestly thought that he was probably dead but it turns out that a mutual friend had cause to arrest him a few Friday nights back: alive and well but prone to binging on ketamine and running around naked.

The Stoics: Hate

Monday, 10 August 2009


I've been away for a week or so visiting my parents and catching up with old friends. As usual a complete nostalgia trip - the customary rummage in the attic turned up my old Dennis the Menace fanclub Gnasher badge there. I didn't find any of the other bits and bobs that came with it though. While I'm sure I took my menacing commitments seriously at the time I'm not sure of any lasting influence, other than a long standing fondness for stripey tee shirts. Yet more nostalgia: I found a shop in Castleton that sold Dandelion & Burdock cordial.