Monday, 28 January 2013

A Duff Decision - Now Rectified

Back in July last year, I took a subscription to Q Magazine.
The first issue was a good read - nice long article about Blur, plenty of other stuff to read, a fairly comprehensive review section, and not as stuffed full of adverts as I expected.

Beware of false hope - subsequent editions just haven't been as interesting, or indeed as full as the first subscription copy.  It has been a case of continually diminishing returns, and the last edition (received just after Christmas) was read cover to cover in under 2 hours.
This issue was filled with a series of Spotify Playlists (too much space, not enough substance), Rhianna's 777 tour (7 concerts in 7 days in 7 cities) (not interested), and an interview with Liam Gallagher (too much "are Oasis getting back together" or "go on Liam say something controversial").  In short, I was disappointed.
In the 6 months I've had the subscription, I can honestly say the content, interviews and reviews have not inspired me to investigate anything new.

So what is to be done?  Simple answer, I have switched the subscription to Mojo.
New issue has just arrived, and straight away the names on the cover give me reason to feel like I'm going to enjoy this (Pink Floyd, Gram Parsons and The Specials versus Beady Eye, Rhianna and Biffy Clyro - no contest, at least not in my little world anyway)
I think I've found the correct demographic - the first issue is already providing enough inspiration to make me go and spend money with those nice people at Amazon. (Tame Impala - 'Lonerism', Django Django - 'Django Django', Adam Ant - 'Adam Ant is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunners Daughter')

The cover CD is superb, and unlike many other magazine cover CDs, it is one which will not be going in the bin fairly soon.  Titled 'Echoes - A Compendium of Modern Psychadelia', it is a collection of tracks which are recognisably unique in their own right, with reference/influence from elements diverse as: Psych, Garage, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground and Serge Gainsbourg.  That's pretty much all bases covered, and thoroughly enjoyable it is too.  (The Amazon Wish List has now been further expanded).

And now a recipe:
Take equal parts (or unequal parts, depending on taste and ear sensitivity) of:
  • The Beatles
  • The Byrds
  • Syd Barrett
  • Reverb-dowsed vocals (as heard on the "Nuggets" compilation)
  • Ringo Starr's drum sound (from 1966 onwards)'s drums
  • And a sprinkling of the riff from Dave Berry's "Little Things"
Bind together as you see fit, dust with your own harmonies and inspiration, and this is what you get:

Temples - Shelter Song

In summary, recognize the past and create something new - which is what the band have done, and it is the best new track I've heard for a long time.

The decision to switch to Mojo has (in the space of one issue) proved to be a worthwhile decision - not sure my bank manager would agree.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

New Years Resolutions

One month into 2013, and I can report that all my New Years Resolutions remain unbroken:

I have NOT given up smoking
I have NOT given up drinking
I have NOT joined a Gym

My steely resolve and commitment should ensure that none of the above will be compromised in the next 11 months

Friday, 25 January 2013

Comfy Household Footwear

My latest excursion along the road of domesticity and (apparent) normality now sit at the end of my legs in the shape of a pair of slippers (haven't got the pipe yet, just the slippers).
The presentation of the slippers is to stop me being permanently attached to my boots, and to "stop all this shit from getting on the carpet".

Slippers?  Haven't had a pair of slippers since I was about 9.  The wearing of comfy household footwear has been eschewed since that time.  Now with these things on my feet, I feel like I'm turning into my dad.
(Or in the words of Henry Priestman: "I'm the same age as my father was when I first thought he was old").

According to my family, I am grumpy, moany, cantankerous and annoying (my best features I think), and have been "an old git" for several years (when I turned 40, my brother said to me "you've now grown into your age").

Eventually, you have to accept the situation around you, you can't exist in a state of continual adolescence (can't you? well, I'm trying to).

I now find myself with the trappings of a "normal" 42 year old, middle class bloke:
  • Semi-Detached House in suburbia, with a Conservatory
  • 2 Cars (1 for me, 1 for the wife)
  • Teenage Kids
  • Dogs
Fortunately, I have avoided some of the other things that my immature mind attaches to "other peoples normality":
  • DIY as a hobby
  • an interest in gardening
  • Golf
  • Drinking Wine, and commenting upon the aromas and taste sensations experienced.
No offence to anyone, but I'm glad this song doesn't summarise my existence.
It is perhaps a manifesto for things to avoid in life, thus allowing you to cling to the last remnants of teenage (middle-age?) rebellion:
Half Man Half Biscuit - Paintballs Coming Home

And the Slippers?
Comfy and warm they are, and I quite like wearing them.
Just got to remember to change them before I go out - otherwise I could find myself shuffling around the streets of Reading looking like a bit of a tramp ("whats new?" says the Mrs)
Cockney Rejects - Flares & Slippers

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Thats When Your Blood Bumps

The year is 1984.  Captain Sensible has just released "Glad It's All Over", and I've been to Our Price and bought it.
The A Side is pretty good - better than "Happy Talk" obviously.
The B Side - that is a discovery for my formative ears.
The flip side was "Damned On 45" - one of those "of the time" megamix things (well, just past the time as these were doing big business around 1981/82).  This took a series of Damned tracks and layed them against a monotonous drum track.
Ignoring the drum track, here was some decent new music that I'd discovered on my own, and now wanted to hear some more.
Definitely more of the Damned, and by association more of this "Punk Rock thing"

Pretty soon, nestling in the collection alongside albums from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, The Jam and the ubiquitous copy of Paul Young's 'No Parlez' (surely everyone owned this in 1983 - I thought it was the law.  And that's why every charity shop in the land is full of old copies of this and Boney M's 'Night Flight To Venus') was the Punk Starter Kit of "Damned Damned Damned", "The Clash" and "Never Mind The Bollocks".
Add to this a series of compilations, and the Punk/New Wave odyssey was on the road.

From The Ramones to Wreckless Eric, from Killing Joke to The Cockney Rejects, I was listening to anything punk/new wave related I could find (some good (Wire, The Vibrators), some very good (Dr Feelgood, The Buzzcocks), some atrocious (The Business, The 4-Skins))

One such compilation that entered the collection was 'The Vinyl Solution', and Side 1 Track 5 was a band I'd never heard of at the time: Stiff Little Fingers - Straw Dogs
On first hearing I thought that it was sung by Shane MacGowan.  Further investigation showed the song writers as 'Fingers/Ogilvie'.  The only reference points for these names were the keyboard player in the Boomtown Rats and the actor in The Return Of The Saint.

By the end of the next week, I owned the Singles compilation ("All The Best") and the live album ("Hanx").
Visits to the local library , and reference to the Encylopedia Rockipedia (it was an actual book, I'm not making the title up, honest) filled in the story of the band and it's members (no reference to Shane MacGowan, Johnny Fingers or Ian Ogilvy, so my initial thoughts were incorrect).

Their first single was the self-financed/self released "Suspect Device" / "Wasted Life", released in 1978.
It received numerous plays from John Peel and constantly appeared in the Festive 50 over the next five years, they also had 3 tracks in the All Time Festive 50 of 1982.  Their first album ("Inflammable Material") was the first independent album to make the UK Album Chart, and when they signed to Chrysalis in late 1979, they requested, and were granted, virtually full artistic control and ownership of their music.
Despite all this, the band never achieved that elusive commercial breakthrough into the wider public consciousness.

They released three further albums on Chrysalis ("Nobodys Heroes", "Go For It" and "Now Then" and a clutch of singles (including the '£1.10 Or Less' EP (from where the above title comes from)) and split up in 1983.

After 4 years away, and having seen the Tom Robinson Band reform,  the band re-formed for a series of shows designed to get them home to Belfast for Christmas.
The reception received on that mini-tour suggested they could maybe do a bit more than the Punk Cabaret circuit, and a temporary idea eventually became a permanent arrangement, with new material on the way.
5 studio albums ("Flags & Emblems", "Get A Life", "Tinderbox", "Hope Street" and "Guitar and Drum") have been released , as well as 5 new live albums and another couple of compilations.

From that first listen, Stiff Little Fingers became a complete musical obsession.  In time I have built up a collection of all the albums on vinyl (originals & re-issues) & CD, a complete set of singles (including the first pressing of "Suspect Device"/"Wasted Life" (limited to 500, on Rigid Digits Records, red label, catalogue number on right of label, handmade picture sleeve)), several ropey bootlegs, a couple of good quality bootlegs, solo releases, books, DVDs - in short anything Fingers-related I can find.

25 years after the reformation (which is 5 times longer than the band existed in their original incarnation), they are still going strong, touring usually twice a year and taking over Glasgow Barrowlands every St Patricks night.

There is reported to be a new album in the offing for 2013.
If it is released, I'm sure you will find yourself reading about it in these very pages.

In the meantime:

The Song That Made My Blood Bump - Straw Dogs :

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Time For A Clear Up

Usually pretty scrupulous about filing CDs (not so Vinyl as some earlier tales will attest).
Usual practice when getting new music is:
  • Place in pile next to stereo for initial listening
  • Re-arrange shelves to create gaps to store new stuff (the most cathartic/calming/philosophical activity I can think of)
  • Store on shelves protruding as a reminder that "This Is New - You Must Listen Again"
  • After approx 1 month/5 listens, push CD in flush with the rest of the shelf
  • Repeat
OCD? Probably.  Pedantic? Most definitely.  A bit sad? Very much so according to my wife and family.

But, I've let things slide recently.  There is now an additional step in the process.  Between steps 1 and 2, the new activity "move CDs nearer to shelf but just leave them in a pile to sort out later" has been invoked.

An introduction to my filing system:
Like most right-minded people, CDs are stored (a) alphabetically, and then (b) chronologically.

A working example - Stiff Little Fingers
SLFs CDs are filed according to chronological release including Compilations and Live Albums, with un-official/bootlegs stored together after the official catalogue.  Perfectly sensible, and all very logical.  To find a copy of 'Go For It' you just need to find the 'S' section and check out the fourth CD in the Stiff Little Fingers collection - and hey presto, you'll be jumping up and down to "Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae" in a matter of seconds.

"That is brilliant, sensible and the right thing to do" - I hear some of you cry.
"That is tedious, anal and downright sad" - I hear many others cry.

In the words of Billy Bragg: Which Side Are You On?

Now here's the kicker -
most filing systems follow the principle of the written word (ie Left to Right), mine goes to Right to Left.
That's the way I always stored my vinyl, and when it came to CDs I just carried on.
And here is my one bit of saving logic:  grab a pile of CDs from the shelf, stand pile on last CD drawn out, and there you have.
(I realise that this explanation would be far easier if illustrated by a picture/photograph - sadly, new fangled technology such as the digital camera or mobile phone has not yet been incorporated into my existence)
I did lose the battle regarding the storage of the DVDs, though - they are stored in the "right way" apparently (ie Left to Right).

I just think that these things are important

Are you still on the same side, or have you invented a third option: "What planet are you on?"

An illustration of what it is like some nights in my house:

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Rise & Fall

Madness released their first single ("The Prince")  in 1979.  Their debut album ('One Step Beyond') followed a couple of months later.  Their second album ('Absolutely') was released 11 months later, and the third ('7') another year later.

Early 1982 showed Madness's catalogue to be:
  • 3 albums
  • 10 Top 20 singles
  • A Top 10 EP
  • A Number 1 single ("House Of Fun")
  • A stand-alone/non-album single ("It Must Be Love")
  • a Film ('Take It Or Leave It')
  • a Greatest Hits/Compilation package ('Complete Madness')
none too shabby for approximately 2 and a half years work

Whats the old adage?  Too Much Too Soon.  When you reach the top, the only way to go is down.
Not just yet - the best was still to come.

Released in October 1982, 'The Rise & Fall' was intended as a concept album about childhood.  However, this is really only evident in two tracks ("The Rise and Fall" and "Our House").
The band's sound is moving beyond the tried and tested ska sound, and bringing in diverse elements such as Music Hall (a nod to Ian Dury and Ray Davies?), Jazz and Eastern influences.  There's even a touch of psychedelia (albeit psychedelia-lite) on "Primrose Hill".
There's a definite melancholy running through the record, right from the first couple of verses of the title track:

These are the streets I used to walk 
On summer nights, sit out and talk 
That's the house where I used to live 
I remember what I would give 

This is the town I won't forget 
And after anger there's nothing left 
Walking now round and round 
Familiar sights are open ground 

This melancholia/darkness culminates perhaps with "Tomorrows Just Another Day", a jaunty, bluesy, jazzy 3 minute pop song concerning depression, despair and possibly suicide (or perhaps a spell in prison as I believed aged 13)
The band also make their first real foray into political comment with "Blue Skinned Beast" (about soldiers returning from The Falklands War).
But it's also a joyous album, containing perhaps their best known song in the form of "Our House".

Rise & Fall was perhaps the zenith of the original Madness releases.

Two stand-alone singles appeared in mid to late 1983 ("Wings Of A Dove" and "The Sun And The Rain" before their next next album ('Keep Moving') was released.  This album too longer than the (seemingly) customary 12 months, arriving some 16 months later in 1984.
Whilst a competent album, and further richening the Madness sound it never really cut it for me.

Mike Barson left in mid 1984, and Madness seemed to flounder a bit.  They'd left Stiff and joined Virgin who had given them their own label (Zarjazz), but without Monsieur Barso the sound was never the same.

Mad Not Mad was released in late 1985 complete with glossy production, and more pop/soul than ska.  To be honest, it seemed that the fun had gone at this stage.
Mike Barson re-joined for one last single ("Waiting For The Ghost Train"), and then it was all over.  Or was it?

Suggs, Lee Thompson, Chris Foreman and Cathal Smyth/Chas Smash continued as The Madness releasing 2 singles and an album in 1988.  The lead single ("I Pronounce You") is not a bad song, just not preformed with the same abandon/joy/joie de vivre as previous releases.

1992 saw the band return for Madstock! a one-off (two-off?) reformation concert of earthquake-creating proportions.

Following further Madstock events, 1999 saw the release of their first new material together since 1986 ('Wonderful') preceded by the none-more-Madness-sounding single "Lovestruck").

Of the first batch of albums, Rise & Fall ranks at the top of my list - I honestly didn't think Madness could surpass this magnificent octopus.  And then in 2009, they released 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate'.
3 years on, and Norton Folgate still receives regular plays chez-Digit, but for all its fantasticness, in my mind it does not surpass "Madness Presents ... The Rise and Fall"

The second single released from the album was "Tomorrow's (Just Another Day)",  The B-Side of the 12" version featured a guest vocal from Elvis Costello: