Friday, 18 May 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - P: Chris Pope - Peace Of Mind

The Mod Revival of the late 70s produced a number of similar bands imbued with the energy of punk and new wave, and looking back to/incorporating the energy and release of the R&B of the 60s (The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces being obvious influences, but The Creation, The Action and great slabs of Motown also mentioned in dispatches).
The Revival ran from around 1978 (probably coinciding with the release of The Jam's All Mod Cons), picked up a head of steam with the release of the film Quadrophenia in 1979, and then petered out in 1982.

One of the biggest bands of the Revival ceased operations in 1982 with the band members going their separate ways to varying degrees of success.
The band themselves have re-grouped and are still doing the rounds without their original lead singer, who is still releasing records and touring as a solo artist.

But it's probably not the band you're thinking of.
This is the story of The Chords and Chris Pope.

The Chords were active from 1978, and had 7 singles (only 1 scraping into the Top 40) and a single album ('So Far Away') in 1982.
After they split, lead singer Chris Pope formed a couple of bands that never really went anywhere.
Re-united (briefly) with Chords drummer Brett Buddy Ascott, the band Pope eventually released new material with 'Grace Of God' in 2005.
2009s 'Tall Tales And Cheap Thrills' kept the same name.  This album reverted to the Chris Pope miniker, suggesting a fully fledged solo album.

And it is the best of the bunch. All cut from a similar cloth - R&B riffs from a Gibson, backed by a solid rhythm section, possibly a Hammond organ, and an occasional horn section.
This one has added anger and frustration at the world he sees around him - Chris has something he wants to get off his chest, and is not holding back.  There is also some reflection going on where he confronts his past, and wonders how it all ended up like this.
All delivered with energy, commitment and 100% belief in what he is doing (there are no record labels involved, so I'm guessing Chris is ban-rolling himself through live performance and (would it be unfair to suggest "limited"?) royalty payments.

Unfortunately, Chris Pope is one of those artists that is far better in a live setting than when committed to record - something in the delivery and experience is "not quite" there.
That is not to say that this is in any way a bad record - on the contrary, it is a fine chunk of upbeat London-accented R&B.
It may never make it into the book of "100 Essential Albums That You Must Listen To Or You Are A Duffer", but it has the ability to creep into your ears meaning you'll be singing the songs to yourself for a couple of days (at least).

2016 saw the release of 'Take On Life' with another name change attached, this time adding The Chords UK (to differentiate between the other members of the original band still doing the rounds under The Chords banner).
The Chords / The Chords UK - what's the difference.
Well ,having seen The Chords UK, I can confirm that you get the best of both worlds with Band tracks and solo songs mixed up.
And a cracking performance as well.

One Happy Man

Mutiny On The Thames

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - O: Hazel O'Connor - Breaking Glass

Which came first - the film or the songs?

In truth, they came at the same time.  Hazel O'Connor landed the lead role, and wrote the songs to fit the screenplay, and the film and the album (Hazel's debut release) came at the same time.

The film story is a sort of "Rags To Riches" tale of a struggling singer with a pile of songs, and a music business hustler with designs on management and potentially black-mail-able contacts (he's currently buying up hundreds of records at retail to fix the charts, and his bosses don't want that getting out).
Filmed on a relatively low budget, there is plenty of grit, some dark humour, and an appearance by PC Jim Carver from The Bill and an Ant (Garry Tibbs).
Because it has to be done and dusted in 90 minutes, it all feels a bit quick - from forming to early pub gigs, to signing a deal and recording to splitting up in a haze of confusion and breakdown, all within 12 months.

As for the songs - this is power-pop with a punky edge, similar in style to Toyah, with a smidgen of X-Ray Spex.
"Eighth Day" and "Will You" are probably the most recognised, most played - but plenty of other great tracks here- "Give Me An Inch", "Writing On the Wall", "Big Brother" to name but three).
Despite being "written to order", only one of them ("Blackman") feels (slightly) levered into the story, and in keeping with the bands meteoric rise, there is a slight development in the delivery of the songs too.

Both the CD and the DVD disappeared from the shelves and internet stockists for a while (the DVD was advertised at around £180 on Amazon - I don't think they were actually selling it, just wanted to keep it in their catalogue/on-line presence).
The CD was re-issued for a more modestly priced £5-£10, and the DVD was also re-issued (although stocks seem to have dwindled on that one too - still available, you just have to look in the right places).

Hazel O'Connor probably never reached the same musical heights, or indeed acting heights again.
She did release a second album, containing the peerless "D-Days" and a cover of The Stranglers "Hanging Around", but then became involved in drawn out litigation with Albion Records, and by the time she was free to record again, her moment in the sun had passed.

Writing On The Wall

Does this contain one of the greatest greasy sax solos ever committed to record?
Will You

Friday, 4 May 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - N: Not The Nine O'Clock News - Hedgehog Sandwich

Mixing 1960s satire, a touch of the Monty Python-esque absurd with alternative comedy, and quick-cut sketch show format, Not The Nine O'Clock News first aired in November 1979.
(It's initial first showing was delayed due to the General Election).

It was one of those "slow burner" TV shows - not a lot of people watched the initial series, but there was enough interest (not least from the commissioning editors at the BBC) to warrant a second series.
It ran for 4 series between late 1979 and stopped when it's popularity was at it's peak in 1982.

Accompanying the series were a couple of books, and they also ventured into the world of records - releasing a couple of their musical interludes as singles ("The Ayatollah Song" / "Gob on You" and "I Like Trucking" / "Supa Dupa) , and culling the shows to fill up three albums in a three year period.

Now, bear in mind Not The Nine O'Clock News was, at heart, a topical satirical show, featuring some quick-cut video editing and silent sketches/skits.  The records themselves focus on the spoken word comedy (well, they would wouldn't they) and songs, and largely avoid the topical references which would date the content very quickly.

'Hedgehog Sandwich' (the second of three albums) pulls together sketches and songs from the second and third series broadcast in 1980, and features many of the oft-quoted sketches and lines repeated ad infinitum by "blokes (and it usually is blokes) of a certain age and mindset"

These are probably the best remembered, and (despite the scarcity of repeats) the most repeated sketches to emerge from the 3 year run.
There has been an element of re-recording/re-matching to ensure they all flow into each other, rather than the stop-start nature (slight breaks for audience applause etc) of the TV output.

Despite the lack of repeats, there is plenty dotted around YouTube and it is very easy to disappear down a Rowan Atkinson / Pamela Stephenson / Mel Smith / Griff Rhys-Jones shaped rabbit-hole (despite owning the records, and knowing the words, and trying to lever phrases into everyday conversation, I have spent a few lost evenings doing just that)

Some bits are dated (the couple of News Summaries and the That's Life take-off (entitled That's Lies). Some of the content may never see the light of televisual day again - in these more enlightened times a sketch about a policeman arresting the same man 417 times (a Mr Winston Kodogo, a caribbean gentleman, has been charged with (amongst other "crimes") "looking at me in a funny way", "walking on the cracks in the pavement","wearing a loud shirt in a built up area" and "possession of an offensive wife".  Neither would a song praising the leader of the UK Fascist Party.

But these are mere quibbles: there is plenty that would still pass muster: Football Violence (where the only solution is to "cut off their goolies"), Hi-Fi Shop (where an older man tries to buy a gramophone), Bad Language (where the interview panel of the TV discussion show do not realise they are dropping (mild) bad language into conversation without realising it)
And the songs that pepper the album remain well written and almost spot-on parody.

Hi Fi Shop

Supa Dupa

I Like Trucking

Monday, 30 April 2018

Facebook Challenge: Top 10 Albums

(aka "another blog post idea that I may have nicked from somewhere (or should that be inspired by?")

The connected world of Social Media means that I have more virtual friends than actual, living friends (and I mean "real" friends that I actually converse with using breath, words and facial expressions).
I do however take solace in the fact that around 80% of my Facebook friends I have actually sat in a pub with sometime in the last couple of years
Facebook is awash with Quizzes and Personality Tests, often designed to harvest personal data and feed Cambridge Analytica and the US Election (or something like that - wasn't Facebook also responsible for the relegation of Sunderland to League One?).
But sometimes, there is some all inclusive activity that appeals to the inner-nerd.
I was challenged (may be too strong a term?) to post 10 Albums that "mean something to me".
So, like any normal bloke the first thing I did was make a list, and then edit that list, and then re-edit that list.  But no matter how many revisions took place, I just couldn't get it to them magic 10 - so what did I do created an eleventh posting (or in this case a prequel) showcasing those that I had to leave out.

I was nominated to post 10 albums in 10 days.
These 10 albums are the very fabric of my being and are hard wired into my brain.
They still get regular listening time, despite knowing every word, phrase and drumbeat (and for vinyl geeks: every hiss, crackle and scratch)
I've done the sensible thing and made a list.
But first ... here are 12 albums that didn't make the cut:

Having decided on the final 10, I then did a bit of analysis and statistics to understand my personality, preferences and musical motivation.
(Not really, but it sounds like the nerdy sort of thing I might've done).

"Peak Music Buying", and therefore influence is probably in the years 15 to 22.  With this in mind, my list should've been stuffed full of records released between 1985 and 1992.  Some just fell slightly earlier (forgivable, but just as likely to "influential"), only one of my all-time Top 10 was from the 21st Century, but a lot of them were from a lot earlier than my peak (or even "knowingly listened to" years).  In my defence, only one of them was released before I was actually born.  And I will also blame a well-stocked, relatively cheap second hand record shop that opened when I was 14 and proceeded to relieve me of most of my Paper round earnings.

10) Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - 30 Something (1991)

When an album opens with a quote from Red Dwarf, you just "feel" it's going to be good.

"When you're younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like, and still climb into your 26 inch waist trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age, 24 25, your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag, and without any warning at all you're suddenly a fat b*stard"
Top Tracks: "Billy Smarts Circus", "Shoppers Paradise"

9) Dexys Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)
If you listen to Radio 2 or Commercial Radio, you may believe that Dexys Midnight Runners only did 2 songs.
Wrong - this was their debut album (1980), and was a near perfect mix of Northern Soul, Mod, Ska and Punk.

"For God's sake, Burn It Down"
Top Tracks: "Burn It Down", "There, There My Dear"

8) Henry Priestman - Chronicles Of Modern Life (2008)
30 years after his first attempt at the big time with Yachts, and 20 years after The Christians, Henry Priestman's debut album is like a bible for the Grumpy Middle Aged Man.
Folky-poppy tunes delivered with wisdom, humour, a bit of anger (more "frustrated annoyance" than "anger") and a dollop of self-deprecation.

"There I was in all my naiveté"
Top Tracks: "Old", "Did I Fight In The Punk Wars For This?"

7) Marillion - Misplaced Childhood (1985)
Who releases a Prog Rock Concept album in 1985?
Into a world with the first whiff of manufactured pop courtesy of Stock Aitken & Waterman, an increasing US influence and a general move towards MOR/Coffee Table blandness, Marillion thought it would be a good idea
(and credit to EMI, who were still looking for a return on their investment, for letting them).
33 years on, it's still the best thing they ever did.

"Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono"

Top Tracks: "Heart Of Lothian", Childhoods End? / White Feather"

6) Big Country - The Crossing (1983)
The sound of bagpipes is not too dissimilar to the sound of strangling a cat.
But listening to faux-Bagpipes when played on an electric guitar is a really worthwhile experience (honest).
Released in 1983, and having no synthesisers at all, put them at odds with much of the rest of the pop charts.
Their nearest contemporaries were probably U2, and there was a brief moment when it seemed the Scots may outsell and outlive the Irish.
(If you're not sure what happened next, they didn't)

"I've never seen you look like this without a reason"

Top Tracks: "Chance", "Porrohman"

5) The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)

A popular Beat Combo from the 60s who had their share of success.
The last album they recorded together, but (confusingly) not the last they released (how does that work?).
Note: if it wan't for a throwaway 23 seconds of nonsense about The Queen, the last recorded words would be: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" - that's philosophy that is
Little is known what happened to the band members after they split up.

"Here come old flat-top, he come grooving slowly"

Top Tracks: The Medley on Side 2 culminating in "Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" / "The End"
(I'm also a fan of "Octopus's Garden", but don't tell anyone)

4) Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)

Some say Wish You Were Here. Others say Dark Side Of The Moon.
I say "Pah! This is the ultimate Pink Floyd platter".
Some suggest it is self-indulgent, navel gazing tosh. Others bemoan it's extravagance, or suggest that the album is padded with 50% good stuff and 50% filler.
If Marmite made albums, this would probably be one of them.

"So ya, thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow"

Top Tracks: "Mother", "Comfortably Numb"

3) Stiff Little Fingers - Inflammable Material (1979)

The first album released on Rough Trade, and the first independently released album to make the UK Album Chart Top 10 - recorded relatively cheaply in a Cambridge studio that was basically 2 terraced houses knocked together.
From the very outset, an all out attack on the senses (in a good way).
One of THE essential albums from the 77-79 period.

"Inflammable material planted in my head, it's a suspect device that's left 2000 dead"

Top Tracks: "Suspect Device", "Alternative Ulster"

2) Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)

Not just the ultimate Punk Rock album, but surely one of the greatest Rock albums ever.

The sheer force, energy, tightness of the band, and most importantly power of the songs themselves.
Re-issued, re-packaged and re-configured several dozen times, and always a thrill to hear it.

"A cheap holiday in other peoples misery"

Top Tracks: "God Save The Queen", "EMI"

1) The Who - Quadrophenia (1973)

A Rock Opera by The Who ... but not that one. The one with the believable story line.
After the success of Tommy came Pete Townshend's failure to repeat the trick with Lifehouse. He laboured over it, and then culled the best songs into Who's Next (another potential candidate for the Greatest Rock Album ... Ever).
He then tried again with a long form story set to song with the story of a disaffected Mod with multiple personalities, seemingly at odds with everyone and everything.
Pete Towshend produces some of his strongest songs, Roger Daltrey inhabits the character, Keith Moon's drumming is all over the place and spot on timing always, and John Entwhistle's bass underpins everything like rolling thunder.

"Can you see the real me? Can you? Can you?"

Top Tracks: "The Real Me", "Doctor Jimmy"

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - M: Macc Lads - From Beer To Eternity

The Macc Lads hail from Macclesfield and have produced a number of albums containing their own brand of locally referencing, irreverent, base humour.
The band are playing characters straight out of the pages of Viz, and listening to them is much like a Working Mans Club set against a sub-Motorhead backing.

Styling themselves as "the rudest, crudest, lewdest, drunkest band in Christendom", the title of their debut album ('Beer & Sex & Chips & Gravy') sums up the subject matter for the entirety of their career.  The album was recorded with Governmental assistance via the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.  However once the Government cottoned on to this, questions were asked in the House, the grant was withdrawn and a hefty fine issued.
Undeterred, they ploughed on with their audience baiting live shows (third album 'Live At Leeds' shows their is no love lost between Lancashire and Yorkshire), and another album chock full of tales of Booze, Birds & Fags (it was obviously a winning formula, so why change).

Not always an easy listen, with the limited subject matter, and - but despite that, one cannot get away from the fact that it is pretty funny (more foul-mouthed Paul Calf / Alan Partridge-esque than Chubby Brown).Listening is sometimes hard work, all a bit one dimensional, sometimes even distasteful, some of the humour being beyond schoolboy and very in your face.  But, honestly, not for one second do you believe them to be actually serious.
(Sadly, some of the tabloid newspapers did  - at one point declaring them to be the saviours of Working Class culture and sending their records to Army personnel overseas.  And then in virtually no time at all, declaring them filth and calling for a blanket ban on them performing - which probably goes to show just how good their invented parody personas were)

An indicator that there might be more than smut, smut and more smut going on is how there is a passing reference to Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est in the song "Ben Nevis" (not enough to warrant a writing credit, but it's there)

By the time of this, their fourth album, they were cult favourites gracing the pages of Kerrang, and even getting the odd (very scarce) late night mainstream radio or TV mention or (even rarer) appearance.
The 'Pie Taster' EP even made the lower reaches of the charts
(OK, Number 95 for 1 week, but it is success of a sort)

'From Beer To Eternity' was their fourth album and stuck rigidly to the format, opening with "Alton Towers" about a Bank Holiday visit to the titular theme park, and finding no pub, no women to ogle, and bemoaning having to stand in a queue'.
And the quest for beer and women continues through the 17 tracks, stopping off for a visit to the Peak District and a Chinese Takeaway.
"All Day Drinking", "Tab After Tab" and "My Pub" leave little to the imagination regarding subject matter.  Similarly "Lucy Lastic", "Lady Muck" and "Ugly Women" are pretty clear too.
Musically limited, lyrically limited, commercially limited, limited chance of being heard on the radio or TV.  The whole escapade is somewhat limiting.
And whilst it may not be big or clever to swear like a docker, and invent a whole load of new swear-y terms - it is pretty funny (in the same way that Derek and Clive, Bad News, or other sweary spoken word and music albums are amusing - I guess you just have to have a sort of skewed vision on the world)

Not from the album, but it can probably be termed as The Macc Lads manifesto:
Eh Up (Monkees)

Alton Towers

No Sheep 'Til Buxton (the "hit" single, that actually got a showing on MTV)

Friday, 20 April 2018

Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile

26 years in and they're still going.  Still releasing albums of commitment, passion and energy laced with thoughts and musings on dignity, self-empowerment, in-justice, and forgotten Heroes and Heroines.

They came in on a bubble of hype and expectation, found a core (if niche) audience with two further releases, and then re-invented themselves (after the loss of Richey Edwards) as the enfant terrible of Stadium Rock (with a bit of socialist politics thrown in).
They then had a third incarnation where they stripped back the political posturing, strapped on a Gibson and rocked out with 'Send Away The Tigers'.

If I'm honest, whilst the period between 'Everything Must Go' and 'Lifeblood' may have been the most commercially successful, it was also not as interesting or bombastic as the incarnations before and after.
There's no denying, the Manics are now the elder statesman of indie-rock, but they're not letting up, and 'Resistance Is Futile' is another valid addition to their catalogue.
There are moments when the lyrics smack of 6th Form Poetry, you feel they're being too wordy or the trope of whacking on a string section starts to become predictable, but these are minor gripes.
This is unmistakably the Manic Street Preachers - did you really expect anything else?

The album doubles-up as a stand-alone statement, and a canter through their past.
You get echoes of 'Everything Must Go' ("People Give In"), 'Generation Terrorists' ("International Blue"), 'This Is My Truth ... Tell Me Yours' ("Distant Colours"), 'Send Away The Tigers' ("Liverpool Revisited") and 'The Holy Bible' ("Broken Algorithms").
But always sounding committed and like they want to be doing this and they just might have something to say, or they want to get off their chest.

"Vivian" re-treads the ground of "Kevin Carter" (from 'Everything Must Go') by celebrating the life of a relatively unknown photographer (Vivian Maier).
There seems to be a thread of Male/Female duets going through Manics albums of the past, and this one is no different - a vocal share with Welsh vocalist The Anchoress, on a song about the relationship between  Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara (unsurprisingly called "Dylan and Caitlin").
Again, this one has echoes of the past evoking "Little Baby Nothing" from 'Generation Terrorists' whilst tying it to a string section that sounds remarkably close to "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".

In a recent interview, Nicky Wire stated that it is not easy to get the word "Totalitarian" into a song.  Whilst he may not have got that word in, he does lever in the word "Conquistador" on closing track "The Left Behind".  A song with a slower, almost lazy backing, and a Nicky Wire vocal (I never considered NW to be the most adept vocalist, but in this song it works).

International Blue

Dylan & Caitlin

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - L: Little Angels - Don't Prey For Me

I find myself in the midst of second division Hair Metal (from Scarborough, of all places).
Not much of note happens in Scarborough - it was the backdrop for the Michael Caine/Jane Horrocks film Little Voice, and was the birthplace of playwright Alan Ayckbourn.
And The Little Angels, a band of relatively short life and limited commercial success warrant an entry on the "Notable People From ..." page on wikipedia

Oh well, here goes ...

Actually, my memory is wrong - whilst there is a touch of Hair Metal about proceedings, this album rocks along nicely (if lightly).

This is the 12 track re-issue, meaning (lucky boy that I am) I get two additional tracks in the shape of "She's A Little Angel" (from an earlier EP) and "Radical Your Lover" (stand alone single released after the initial release of this album).

There is no getting away from the fact that this is clean-edged pop metal with just a whiff of Aerosmith about it, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  It's not all "looking to LA", there is a certain Britishness to the songs (or some of them, at least)
The songs are well constructed, well played and well sung - not just mere facsimiles of "what is popular in the world of hair metal at the moment".  They have the added USP of a horn section, which adds to many of the tracks, lifting them from mere throwaway into something deserving a bit more attention (and a bit more memorable - the previously mentioned "Radical Your Lover" has been stuck in my head all day after hearing it again).

Originally released in 1989 (and re-released in 1990 with those two extra tracks), Little Angels were hailed as one of the great British hopes (alongside Quireboys and Thunder et al) for all things Heavy(ish) and Rock-y - and then Grunge changed the goalposts.
Anyone playing bluesy rock, or happy hair metal was consigned to the history books virtually overnight.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom for the band - their next album rose to Number 1 in the album charts - albeit gaining the (unwanted) distinction of having the shortest chart history of a Number 1 album (in and out within 5 weeks).

Undiscovered classic?
Ripe for re-invention?

Probably not - but it is a great little album (OK, in small doses separated by a few years (about 25 years in this case))

Kicking Up Dust

Radical Your Lover