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)".