Thursday, 27 September 2012

Getting Back In The Game

A couple of months ago, I dropped into a pub at the end of an evening.
I wouldn't normally go into pubs which feel the need to have bouncers on the door, but I fancied a pint and I the music coming out of the door got the better of my interest.

First off: Order a Pint of Smithwicks (it was an Irish pub (or O'Neills which is an Anglo-Irish pub to be honest)).
Secondly: Enjoying the music selection .. hang on, its a live band
OK, it was only a local covers band, but I'd actually forgotten the visceral power that a live band playing loud can have on a bloke.

Some years ago, the live experience was to be had on (at least) a weekly basis.  I would travel the length and breadth of the country (OK, Berkshire and the Home Counties) seeking out live bands.
I even organised a few pub gigs for friends bands (this was when it was possible for a band to play in a pub for a cut of the bar takings, without red tape, form filling & special licenses).

And then all of a sudden it stopped.
Why? Don't really know, but I'm guessing that marriage, mortgage and kids may be more than just a coincidence.
And so this period of time was marked by (a) a complete lack of cash, and (b) a bout of Metropoliphobia (an irrational fear of going to 'that London').  These two things combined sort of put the mockers on going to see bands.  And then when I rectified the cash situation, I found I now had no time.

In August I went to the 80s Rewind Festival - OK it was a retro-ironic-fashion parade more than a music event, but it did inspire me again to get my arse in gear and go back out in pursuit of live music.

And so this is the point where I get back on the horse - tickets for Stiff Little Fingers a Sub89, Reading on 23 November have been purchased.  This will be first proper live show since Santana at Wembley Arena in 2006 (which I got complimentary tickets for anyway (friend of mine knew the Sound Engineer)).

And the Metropoliphobia?
It's still there I guess, because I've done nothing to face up to it and change it.
Irrational? I'm sure it is, but I will be addressing this in the very near future.
On Friday 05 October I will be off to the Smoke for a meet-up/mingle with other frequenters of The Afterword site.
Kept promising myself to go to previous events, but the "trinity of annoyance" (cash, time & personal stupidity) always seemed to get in the way.
I've bought the train ticket, consulted Google Maps so I know where I'm going, and I just need to keep saying to myself: "confidence, confidence, confidence - what's the worst that can happen?".

Amazing what a pint of Irish Ale can do to you.

Friday, 21 September 2012


Received an e-mail from informing me that the 30th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition will be released in November:
Universal Music Store
(same product - the Universal link provides more detail about the package)
Looks interesting, but pricey - I may settle for the 2 Disc Deluxe Edition (much like the Sound Affects set released a couple of years ago

So, what better way to spend the last few days than immersing myself in the world of The Jam (and then some Style Council and Paul Weller's solo stuff)

The simplest way of 'doing' The Jam is to listen through the "Direction, Reaction, Creation" Box Set - this gives a start to finish run through of all the singles & albums, plus an extra disc of unreleased stuff (add to this the "Extras" and you've pretty much got the lot).
But thats too easy, so I'm going to do it by (a) playing each album (b) a run through of "Snap!" to get the missed singles, and selected B-Sides, and (c) playing the albums in order of release

In The City
You hear the opening couple of chords, a shout of "1-2-3-4", and your off.
The opening track 'Art School' is an immediate high energy adrenaline rush (I promise not to use that phrase again ).  Played at high speed, full of energy and bullishness - it never lets up throughout the album.
The music on the album is a combination of Punk, Mod, Motown, Soul and a dash of The Beatles, and the choice of covers is interesting, and a nod to their influences - 'Slow Down' previously covered by The Beatles, and 'Batman Theme' previously covered by The Who
In summary, not a duff track on it - doesn't let up from start to end.

This Is The Modern World
Released in the same year, it does appear on first listen that the band struggled with this one.  It sounds laboured in places, like they have no new ideas or direction.  You know how a double album can start to run out of steam halfway through side 3? well, listening to "In The City" followed by "The Modern World" is a bit like that. But stick with it, repeated listening bears fruit.
The opening track ('Modern World'), 'Standards', 'In The Street Today' and 'London Girl' sound like they would've sat comfortably on the first album, and the cover of 'In The Midnight Hour' has got all the urgency and energy that you expect if performed live.
Special mention for 'Life From A Window' - an early dreamy, melancholic Paul Weller, and it (in my opinion) a great lost Jam track and definitely worth a listen (in fact, it's just down there )

All Mod Cons
What is there to say about the album that heralds this unadulterated classic?
After the relative failure of The Modern World, this album could've been called "Shit Or Bust".
There was a point in the early recording when Paul Weller lost interest in writing, resulting in a batch of songs being rejected by the producer ("This is shit" were apparently his words).
The new batch of songs (assuming the above is true) were more mature, narrative than on the previous albums.  And in one case deeply personal ('English Rose').
You get cynicism towards record companies and the music business ('All Mod Cons' and 'To Be Someone'). venom against what you don't want to become ('Mr Clean') and possibly the most evocative, vivid, best first-person narrative song Paul Weller (or indeed anyone) has ever written ('Down In A Tube Station At Midnight').
Its often been hailed as a classic, and rightly so.  If you own just one Jam album, then it should be this one.

Setting Sons
Where do you go after the high point that was 'All Mod Cons'?
Answer: back in the studio to produce an album that is equal, if not better, than its predecessor.
Originally conceived as a concept album about growing up and, as often happens, growing apart.  The original idea never came to fruition but many of its component parts can be heard on the album ('Thick As Thieves', 'Little Boy Soldiers', 'Wasteland' and 'Burning Sky' - 'Private Hell' and 'Smithers-Jones' also (sort of) fit the story, but thats probably more coincidence than reality.
What you have here is a tougher sounding record than 'All Mod Cons' - it also includes the bands first Top 10 Single ('Eton Rifles' (beloved of David Cameron (apparently?)), but is let down by the ropey cover version of 'Heatwave', which just doesn't seem to fit with the flow of the record.

Sound Affects
This is the sound of a band at the top of their game.  It takes the previous sound and adds more to the whole.  There's a nod to funk, soul, jazz and a touch of the avant-garde throughout the album (or at least to these ears anyway).  Paul Weller described the album as a cross between "Off The Wall" and "Revolver" - as throwaway, media sound-bite descriptions go, its pretty close to reality.
Starting with the huge bass rumble of 'Pretty Green', and than into the dreamy, Byrds-y jangle of 'Monday', you're hooked and will stay for the next 40 minutes.
(although 'Music For The Last Couple' just gets in the way for me.  I'm sure it has a purpose, but I've never fully understood it)
You can't talk about "Sound Affects" without mentioning 'Thats Entertainment' - a song so simple in its construction, even a ham-fisted guitarist like me can play it (G- Em-Am-F).  It may be simple to play, but it is a song that surely no-one can ever tire of hearing?
I thought I had everything The Jam had released, and then last year the Deluxe Edition of "Sound Affects" added a version of 'Waterloo Sunset'

The Gift
The bands last release, and more new influences are on show.  The record has more of a soul revue/northern soul vibe - the addition of horns & keyboards fill the sound offering a different Jam than expected
The "classic Jam" songs are here ("Happy Together", "Carnation", "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?"), "Town Called Malice" moves into Northern Soul territory, and theres the funky, extended workouts of "Precious" and "Trans Global Express".  On the whole, a fitting end to a recording career.

It was announced in 1982 that the band would cease at the end of the year.  Paul Weller is 23.
That is quite a legacy: 18 singles (including 4 Number 1s) and 6 albums plus a live album - this catalogue, and the affection that fans held for it, ensured that the band may be gone, but not forgotten.
Was it right they split up when they did? Yes - they were at the top and went out with a number 1 album and a number 1 single with their last release.   They could've slogged on, but there was a danger of repeating themselves, and possibly sullying their legacy by releasing an album like The Clash's "Cut The Crap" (which has two extraneous words in the title)

But, there's more ...

Dig The New Breed
Released in December 1982 as a parting gift, this live album contains a selection of live recordings from the bands career.  The performances show a growth in both confidence and sound, and was also (at the time) the only Jam album that contained "Going Underground" and "Start"

10 months later "Snap" hit the shelves.  The album is a compilation of singles, B-Sides and selected album tracks.  I may be biased, because it was the first compilation album I bought, but it is not far short being 'the perfect compilation'.  This is the only album to contain the studio versions of : 'All Around the World', 'News of the World', 'Strange Town', 'When You're Young', 'Going Underground','Funeral Pyre', 'Absolute Beginners', 'The Bitterest Pill' and 'Beat Surrender' - How many other bands can have 9 singles in a 5 year career which are not culled from albums?  And lets not forget the B-Sides - these weren't on albums either, but were the virtual equal of anything that was.

Paul Weller returned in The Style Council - their early singles sounded to be an extension of sound of "The Gift" (indeed "Solid Bond In Your Heart" was originally demoed by The Jam, and considered as the final single"), but I personally never really got into them.  Maybe it was the more relaxed, soul/jazz sounds being made which just didn't appeal.  In truth, I think it was a combination of 'Long Hot Summer' and Red Wedge that killed it for me.  Although, 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' remains one of my favourite Paul Weller songs.
Of the albums, I've only got "The Singular Adventures Of ..." & "The Sound Of ...", the tracklisting of each covers similar ground.  To be honest, I only bought "The Singular Adventures Of ..." because "The Sound Of ..." didn't have 'Solid Bond In Your Heart' on it.

The Style Council's last album wasn't released by their record company, and Paul Weller took a break of some 18 months.  Paul Weller returned to touring in 1990/91 as The Paul Weller Movement, and then the release of his first solo album in 1992 marked the beginning of his solo career.
Space and time (and lack of interest on the readers part, I'm sure) prevent me from continuing with a review of Paul Weller's solo records - maybe another day

Life From A Window
(to show that 'The Modern World' wasn't as bad as many people thought/still think)

Carnaby Street
(representing the "lost" B-Sides)

Thats Entertainment
(No introduction necessary)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Personal History of Recording/Playback Equipment

Football and Music - those are the two memorable constants in my lifetime (probably sweets and cake as well).
My footballing abilities would, at best, get me an unused substitute appearance for AFC Cotinthians in the Reading Football League Division 4 (ie I wasn't very good).
My practical musical abilities weren't much better (from Take The Money and Run: "he had no concept of the instrument...he was blowing into it.”), but I was good at listening to it, remembering the words, who sang it, chart positions and general trivia.
But, what use is a deep rooted love of music if you have nothing on which to play it?
Yes, you can always gain a timeshare of your parents (or siblings) audio kit, but for true independence and musical discovery, you need your own stuff.
From the bowels of my strangely retentive memory, this is my journey in audio equipment.

1979 (9th Birthday) I received a Sharp Cassette Recorder and a copy of a Woolworths tape 'Sounds Like Showaddywaddy".
Within two weeks, I'd learnt the Showaddywaddy songbook and purchased my first blank tape.  And so the next Sunday I sat next to the radio for the chart rundown waiting for songs to record - and then played the tape constantly for the next week, before taping over it again (and again).
Recording was an awkward affair as there was no direct link between the radio and the tape recorder.  This meant you had to remain silent whilst recording.  Unfortunately, I had a recording of Slade's "We'll Bring The House Down" interrupted halfway through by my mum telling me (shouting at me) to "clear your bloody room up".  Embarrassing when you're playing the tape with friends about

Tapes are all very well, and do the job of supplying music, but nothing can compare to the thrill of a record player and the ownership of vinyl records.  Christmas 1981 saw me receive one of these:
A 1960s Dansette Record Player.  Two albums (one by the Barron Knights and one by Shakin Stevens) were also part of the deal.
I was also given a pile of my mum's old singles from the 60s, a couple of old compilation albums.
Also, being given £5 in WHSmith vouchers allowed me to buy my first 7" Singles.  Any money I had would go on records - in fact it is a trait that continues to this day.
Recording was still a faff though, and therefore it was soon time to upgrade.

The Dansette went "bang" one day and I was left with no way of listening to my now prized vinyl collection.
No matter, the explosion my first record player coincided with my dad upgrading his stereo, and so I was given the old unit.
It was a record player and radio combined.  Still no tape though, but there was an auxiliary input so I rigged up the Sharp Tape Player and no longer had to be as quiet as a mouse when trying to record The Jam off the radio.

I now had a source of income (a paper round) and access to a second hand record shop.  Next move was to upgrade the stereo.

Bought second-hand for the princely sum of £10, this collection of Pioneer separates did sterling service for many years.  It was responsible for the first parent to teenager cliche heard in the house: "Turn that bloody racket down - I'm trying to watch the News."
The amplifier had a couple of spare input ports, so I rigged up the TV and my computer (an Acorn Electron) to run through the speakers in glorious stereo sound - Jet Set Willy has never sounded so exciting.

Sadly, the system died due to a combination of age and youthful over-exuberance.
The Record Player was accidentally trashed when I lost my temper with the indoor TV Aerial and kicked the desk the 'home entertainment centre' stood on.
The Record Player fell from atop the amplifier, the smoked glass effect plastic lid shattered, and the stylus arm broke in two pieces.

The Tape Player survived this fit of anger, but was on its last legs anyway - the left channel would often, for no reason that I could find, just give up the ghost and stop transmitting (or receiving - very annoying after 45 minutes of recording the Kid Jensen Show).
The amp, however, continued working (despite having difficulty maintaining its radio tuning) and stayed connected to the computer and TV for a while longer)

Anyway, it was time for a replacement - and thanks to Santa Claus, I got one of these - Currys best priced offering at the time- a Matsui Midi System
This system lasted until the first week of January, when the tape door refused to open - when it did, thanks to a little encouragement from a screwdriver, it no longer closed (I wonder why?).
So, we (dad, mum, me, brother) all traipsed back to Currys and start using posh words like 'merchantable quality' to seek a replacement. We was offered a 1 for 1 replacement, but considering what happened to the original it was suggested that a different brand would be preferred.

And this was the replacement - essentially the same thing (although £10 cheaper)
First time I used the record player it freaked me a bit - it reached the end of the run-out groove and then just stopped turning.  I thought I'd broken it, but it turns out this was a "feature" of this particular model.
To sum up, this unit was "adequate" - it did the job, but the sound wasn't great.
A couple of years after getting this, I was again the beneficiary of parental upgrade.  This unit was sold to a mates girlfriend for a tenner, and was replaced by a circa 1977 National Panasonic Music Centre

Proper, balanced stylus arm, lovely smooth turntable motor, higher wattage output than I'd had before, and much clearer sound.
This did me sterling service for a couple of years, before I decided, purely in a big-headed, 'pretend' audiophile, showing off way that Hi Fi Separates was the way to go.
Goodbye 1970s Music Centre - Hello Kenwwod

The Kenwood M34.  An absolutely superb piece of kit.  And including my first CD Player (first CD purchased: Jimmy Page - Outrider)
This unit survived three house moves, marriage, kids, divorce and the cat being sick into it.
It was replaced soon after the kitty vomit incident.
The belt/motor in Record Player became unresponsive needing the platter to be manually wound before motor would engage, and the CD drawer didn't always close properly - or it did close, but not always enough to actually register and read the CD.
The Amp and Tuner still work - they are now part of the "upstairs system", coupled with a Marantz CD Player and a very nice Pioneer turntable.

The current system is a collection of Sony separates including Record Player, double CD, Amp, Tuner, MiniDisc and double Cassette.  Although, to be honest the last two units get very little use (Cassette Player was last used for playing "Derek & Clive Live" which I found in amongst a pile of old Viz Comics when clearing up (moving stuff around?) the loft).

This will probably be the last system I own - its now about 10 years old but showing no real signs of failure so should last a while yet.  But with the march of digital/mp3/hard drive solutions such as Sonos or Media Centres storing all your CDs, DVDs, Photos and anything else that can be reduced to a series of ones and zeros, I have to face facts that the physical format may well soon be no more.
The stereo that was once the main focus of the room (well it was for me anyway) and the accompanying wall of CDs will soon be superseded by a little magic box.

And that is the magic carpet ride through my history of audio equipment.
It is testament to my memory and Google Images that I am able to produce this article.
Depending on your viewpoint, if you can stare at audio equipment and/or find yourself unconsiously salivating when looking at photos of old equipment, then this post is for you.  If, like most of the rest of the world, audio kit doesn't do it for you, you can always just listen to the (vaguely) related tunes below:

The Selector - On My Radio

Cliff Richard - Wired For Sound

Monday, 3 September 2012


to busy oneself doing stuff in an aimless, but thoroughly a agreeable manner

And that is a summary of my perfect weekend

The one activity, apart from Gardening, that gets in the way is Home Maintenance & DIY.

DIY, or to give it it's full title Do It Yourself, could just as easily be called:
CIUIY (Cock It Up Yourself)
GSETDIT (Get Someone Else To Do It)

Not a great record - household maintenance and me operate in two separate universes.
Theoretically, I know how something needs to be done, what tools are needed, the potential problems & how to solve them and roughly how long it will take to complete.
Practically - well, that is a different story.  Because I know theoretically what needs doing, when it doesn't go right I resort to shouting a lot and hitting the thing with whatever hammer I have in my hand.  And apparently swearing at it is no help whatsoever.

But DIY saves money I hear you cry.
Well, it would do.  Right up to the point where I completely foul up whatever it is I'm doing and have to call in someone else to sort it out (which is what I probably should've done in the first place)

The majority of the bookcases, wardrobes and shelves in my house are from the Scandanavian God Of The Inept DIY Practicioner - Ikea.
To a ham-fisted dullard such as myself, Ikea is a positive boon.  Ignoring the lack of uniqueness, the homogenization of Britains homes, and the general public/media perception and comedy value, Ikea furniture is strong, sturdy and lasts - it is also incredibly easy to put together, and very difficult to make a mistake with the assembly (although I did once build a revolving CD Rack upside down).
But apparently, this doesn't count as DIY unless you are modifying it for your own needs (what? by putting a power shower in  bookcase or something else equally ridiculous?)

This weekends DIY (or the activity which prevented pottering) was to assemble a wardrobe.  This was not a flat pack - those I can handle.  This was a bespoke wardrobe to be assembled from pre-cut lengths of wood.  The job involved building the frame, securing it to the wall, and then cladding it with boards and doors.
The frame went together with some minor modification/re-cutting, and the cladding and doors went on without any real problem.  All in all, quite a successful job.

To soundtrack this task, it seemed to me that Krautrock with its attendant industrial sound, motorik rhythms and jazzy-style noodlings would do the job nicely.
The compilation 'Deutsche Elektronische Musik' was duly selected and provided the necessary accompaniment.
This particular track was playing at the moment of completion when I stood back and watched as the entire structure did NOT fall to the ground.

La Düsseldorf - Rheinita

And now, experimental German music and flat pack furniture will forever be linked in my brain