Sunday, 28 April 2013

Full Up

The title does not refer to my stomach after a particularly hefty meal.  Nor does it speak of my frustration with the Car Park at The Oracle in Reading (is it ever not full?).
The title is a summary of the available space in the audio media storage solution.  In short, my CD shelves are full.  In the words of Sleeper's Louise Wener *: 'What Do I Do Now?'

* is she related to ex-Blue Peter presenter Chris Wenner?  No, his surname has an extra 'n'.  Mystery solved

When we moved house about 6 years ago, we did the thing that everyone who moves into a new home in need of new/replacement furnishings does, namely take a trip to Ikea.
This particular trip involved the usual routine of getting stuck in traffic on the North Circular Road, wandering through the showroom for what feels like a couple of days and losing a touch with reality outside, collecting the boxes of the chosen purchases from the warehouse and wondering how it is all going to fit in the car, paying at the checkout and not truly comprehending how much you've actually spent.
No trip to Ikea is complete unless you have bought a big bag of Tea Lights, a plastic box cheese grater and a cheap hot dog on the way out.
And as often happens, when I leave the Ikea car park I turn in the wrong direction and , to paraphrase Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia, I 'wound up in bloody Neasden'.

The first post-house move trip to Ikea resulted in the purchase of a couple of Billy Bookcases and 6 Benno CD/DVD towers.  All in a dark brown colour to match/compliment the wooden floor in the new house.
So, for the rest of that weekend I was unpacking flat pack furniture and assembling the planks of wood into something upright, solid, usable, functional and scandanavian (not sure that last bit is actually relevant).
After building the units, they were arranged in the room and loaded up with stuff - the next day we went back to Ikea to buy another couple of CD stands.
And now, they're full up.  I've already moved the CD singles and free Magazine CDs out to the cave upstairs, and thbits of the compilation section are encroaching into the DVD storage area, so there is no real free space I can utilise.
The obvious solution is to go back to the Scandanavian Shop Of Wonder and simply buy another couple of shelves.  A simple solution you would think, except that the colour is no longer availble

My wife's stunningly simplistic, yet somewhat drastic solution was: "You'll have to get rid of some, or stop buying them".  Neither of these options will be happening.
Another obvious solution is to go digital - copy everyhting to MP3 and get shot of the CDs - again, this will not be happening.  I've spoken before about my (possibly outdated) commitment to the physical product,  so joining the 21st Century digital revolution is not on the cards either.
Initial research shows me that an alternative storage solution may cost the thich end of £200 (if not more), plus this may also entail replaceing the other furnishings a the colours will no longer match (and the problem is?  women can be so touchy about stuff like that - I know, I've got the bruises to prove it).

Jona Lewie said that at social gatherings, he would invariably be seen where the food is being prepared.  I have a similar status - you will always find my be the CD shelves at parties.  Often muttering to myself, or anyone else in earshot: "I've got that one", "oo - thats intersting", "never heard of them.  Is it any good?", "why did you buy this?".
But it's not just a case of musiocal snobbery or inabilty to invlove myself in small talk with potentially dull people, this activity has a practical application.  Namely, research into how other people have solutionised (is that a word?) the CD and DVD collections.

I have always hoped that music magazines would introduce a correspondence section in their publications where readers can send in pictures of their Record and CD collections for the voyeuristic satisfaction of others.  Similar, I suppose, to those sections in Gentlemans magazines, this particular stream could be entitled 'Reader Shelves'.

<Reminder #1: Insert Photo Here>

<Reminder #2: Buy a Digital Camera>

A later blog post, probably in a couple of months, will be titled "I've Got Piles", meaning I've not sorted out any new storage, and all my recent purchases are now place in a teetering tower on top of the stereo.

Having mentioned Louise Wener and Sleeper earlier, let us consider the "Brit Pop Band Fronted By A Girlie" genre for a second.  Personally, I preferred Echobelly to Sleeper, and in front of Echobelly would be the band fronted by the most heavily Welsh accented person in popular music - Catatonia:

Monday, 22 April 2013

Record Store Day

The 2013 version of this event seems to have been as popular as previous years.
Long queues at many shops, some starting at around 5am.  The special releases shipped to the shops and devoured by those who wanted them.  In short, a veritable success for all those independent record shops who participated.  And if the availability of stuff on e-bay is anything to go by, it seems a roaring trade was done by all.

So what did I get?
Nothing ... and perversely I'm quite pleased I didn't go.
In my inimitable, curmudgeonly way I decided not to go to any of my local shops, at least not on the day anyway.
No, bugger it.  If this is a day for the celebration of all that is unique and welcoming about the local record shop, then I want to go and spend the day doing what you should do in a record shop - idly browsing throught the racks looking for something I might want, and also stumbling across something that I didn't know I wanted.

I watched 'Last Shop Standing' on SkyArts on Friday night and was all keen and geared up to fly out of my front door on Saturday morning and join the throng.
But I think I may have had a dodgy bacon sandwich sometime on Friday, because waking up on Saturday morning wasn't an easy task, and my head felt like two woodpeckers had taken up residence.
So I did the "watching it on Ceefax" thing - logged on to t'internet and read about the goings on, the numbers of people attending, the special releases and the live performances at many of the shops.

I did get the 'guilt pangs' that I should be out there supporting my local shop, but this was offset by my in-built cynicism towards anything seemingly "coporatised".
The intent of Record Store Day is valid - to get as many people to visit their local store as possible, and thereby ensuring it's survival.  But is one day enough?  To ensure that little treausre-trove remains in the high street/side street/wherever it is, people need to go there a bit more regularly than an annual visit.
So this explains my one-man protest aginst Record Store Day, and I'll go visiting next Saturday, when the queues outside the shop will be non-existent, and the majority of visitors the previous week will be strangely absent.
And further to the "roaring trade was done by all" statement above, I can't help feeling there is also a roaring re-sale going on, and that to me is the problem with RSD - most of the special releases have been bought up with the sole intention of being flogged on at a profit.

I did purchase something on Saturday, albeit from the comfort of my own chair.
Hopefully, the new Frank Turner album ('Tape Deck Heart') will be falling through my letterbox any day now.

Frank Turner - Recovery

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devils Time

Steve Mason was an original member of The Beta Band.  Formed in 1996, they played a mix of rock, folk, elctronica and had a large experimental ethos to their work.  They were often highly rated by the critics and went on to achieve cult status. (does this mean they didn't sell many records?) 
After releasing 3 albums and a compilation album of their 3 EPs (unsurprisingly titled 'The Three EPs'), the band split in 2004.
After the break-up, Steve Mason continued on a solo career releaaing albums under the moniker of King Biscuit Time and Black Affair, before the release of his first solo album under his own name in 2009.

This release is either his second or third album, depending upon your viewpoint.
His first release was 'Boys Outside', and his susequent release was 'Ghosts Outside', which is in effect a dub reworking of the first album.

'Monkey Minds In The Devils Time' is (apparently) a Buddhist term for 'easily distracted mind' and perhaps offers a clue to part of  the conceptual nature of this album.
The press release states that the album is: “shaped by the current global political climate and the lack of dissenting voices in music and popular culture in general”.
What you get is a collection of 9 songs, and 11 interludes/connectors between them.  There is an eclectic mixture of sounds and styles.  Aside from the aforementioned rock, folk and elctronica, we are also served a Gospel chorus, Hip Hop, 1960s/70s four to the floor funk, and a highly effective Motown Soul meets Primal Scream horn section.
On the face of it, these diverse styles may jar against each other, but the inclusion of the interludes between full length tracks make it all work together (and for full effect, it does need to be listened to in one go).

The first full track "Lie Awake" sets the tone for the album, if at first appearing downbeat and melancholic with a comtemplative lyric.  "A Lot of Love" is a piano-based song which is both reflective and melodic.    Special mention also goes to the absolutely joyous and uplifting Gospel Chorus on "Lonely".

High point of the album is undoubtedly "Oh My Lord" - it is one of those songs that you are convinced you've probably heard before, and after a couple of listens takes up permanent residence in a part of your brain.
The second half of the album (I'm defining "Oh My Lord" (the best track here) as the splitting point) continues in the same vein.  Strong songs coupled with musical interludes to ensure the listener doesn't lose interest, "Fight Them Back" being both the best of the bunch, and probably the most confrontational song here.  By contrast, The final track "Come To Me" is laid-back, warm tender and sounds full of optimism.

This is an album that has been thought about, carefully put together, and listening to it in full is a wonderfully immersive experience.  In fact, I thought it was THAT good, when it finished I immediately played it again.

"Oh My Lord"

"Towers Of Power / Come To Me"

It is now April 2013, approximately one third through the year, and I now own 2 albums (this one and David Bowie's "The Next Day") which are likley to be vying for the accolade 'Album Of The Year'

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Bolan's Best

Born Mark Feld in 1947, he was expelled from school at the age of 15, and promptly signed up to a modelling agency and was soon featured in a magazine phot-article about the Mod movement.
He changed his stage name to Toby Tyler and made his first studio recordings (Bob Dylan's "Blowin In The Wind" and Betty Everett's "You're No Good").
Toby Tyler didn't set the world on fire, but Mark Feld wasn't beaten yet.
Changing his name to Marc Bolan (belived to be a contraction of BOb dyLAN), he turned up on the doorstep of Simon Napier-Bell in 1965 and declared that he was giong to be a star, he just needed a bit of help with the arrrangements.
Napier-Bell managed both The Yardbirds and John's Children - there were no vacancies in The Yardbirds, so Marc joined Johns Children.  Thier third single, and the first written by Marc Bolan, was "Desdemona" which was promptly banned by the BBC due to the lyric "lift up your skirt and fly" (quite shocking, and obviously a threat to the establishment , in 1967).
Bolan left John's Children to seek success on his own, and formed Tyrannosaurus Rex with drummer/bongo player Steve Pergrine Took.  The music performed was a hippy-dippy coalescence of neo-romantic songs, influences from psychadelic and folk music, wizards, demons and The Lord of The Rings. 

Tyrannosaurus Rex released four albums in 2 years, one of which was listed in the Guiness Book of British Hit Albums as "Longest Title for a Number One album" (albiet when it was re-issued in 1972).  The albums were:
'My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows'
'Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages'
'A Beard of Stars'

Certainly, the first two albums comply with my previous description, but the last two were moving away from the acoustic sound into a more electric based direction (more Chuck Berry, less J R R Tolkien).

The story goes that producer Ton Visconti would abbreviate the band's name in his diary when he was scheduled to work with them, and Marc Bolan adopted the re-naming.
The first fruits of the shoter named band were released in October 1970.  The single "Ride A White Swan" climbing to Number 2 in the charts, followed in December by the album 'T.Rex'.
The next single "Hot Love" was released in February 1971, got to number one and stayed there for 6 weeks.  A performance on Top Of The Pops with glitter on his cheeks is said by many to be the beginnings of Glam Rock.
Marc Bolan was now the star he said he was.  But there was more to come.  A further 3 number 1 singles (it could've been four, but for Benny Hill in 1971) and 6 more Top 10 singles until "Truck (on Tyke)" stalled at number 12 in late 1973.

The next album was released in late 1971. 'Electric Warrior' is generally accepted to be the bands master-work, and I do not disagree with that stance - ranging from the whistfulness of "Cosmic Dancer", the electrictiy of "Monolith", the ambiguity of "Life's A Gas" (a celbratory song done in a minor key (it's the minor key that gives over the ambiguity) to the power, almost proto-punkiness of "Rip Off".  The album also contains the pervious number 1 single "Get It On" and  the soon to be number 2 single "Jeepster".
In late 1971, Marc Bolan moved from Fly Records to EMI,  Fly's response was to release "Jeepster" as a single, and to assemble a compation album 'Bolan Boogie' (a collection of singles, B-Sides and a couple of earlier album tracks) which swiftly went to number 1.

On EMI, T.Rex had their own label (The T.Rex Wax Company - although this label was only truly used on "Telegram Sam", all future singles and albums were released through EMI, but the singles were in a T.Rex branded sleeve).

T.Rex released an album a year from 1972, starting with 'The Slider', which although stopping at number 4 in the UK, was his best selling album in America.
An album containing both "Telgram Sam" and "Metal Guru" can hardly be considered a failure - this is the sound of a band at the absolute peak of their popularity.

'Tanx' in 1973 was probably the last great T.Rex album, but listening to it again recently you can hear that the cracks are beginning to show.  The album picks up where 'The Slider' left off, and for at least half the album could be considered as 'The Slider Part 2'.  Songs like "Shock Rock", "Country Honey" and "Mad Donna" show that 1972-vintage T.Rex is still alive in 1973.  Conversely, songs like "Electric Slim and the Factory Hen", "The Street and Babe Shadow" and "Highway Knees" need a tad more quality control applied.

'Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow' from 1974 is a proper Curates Egg of an album - when it's good it's very good ("Venus Loon", "Interstellar Soul", "Teenage Dream"), but when it was bad ... ("Painless Persuassion vs The Meat Hawk Immaculator", "The Leopards Featuring Gardenia and the Mighty Slug")

'Bolan's Zip Gun' (1975) as sometimes spoken as "the album of lost interest", but to these ears theres some good stuff here, if slighly under-performed ("Think Zinc", "Till Dawn", "I Really Love You Babe")

'Futuristic Dragon' from 1976 is a funny album - it's not an immediate attention grabber, and could easily be discarded after first listening.  But, the production on the album, the little musical instrumental embellishments here and there, and (most importantly) the strenth of the songs make this the best (if not equally as good) T.Rex album since "Tanx".  Sadly, it pretty much sunk without trace when released in early 1976, despite containing "New York City" his first Top 20 single for 18 months.  Shame really, because songs like "Chrome Sitar", Calling All Destroyers" and "Sensation Boulevard" are some of the best contributions to the Marc Bolan songbook

'Futuristic Dragon' appeared to give Marc Bolan the proverbial "kick up the backside" - he'd rediscovered his love of music, the insecurities and cocaine dependency were now banished, and he was out on tour with The Damned in a sort of "Godfather Of Punk" type way.

In the light of this new-found/restored adulation, 1977's 'Dandy in the Underworld' is perhaps his most cohesive work since the high popularity of 1972.  The pre-album single "I Love To Boogie" had once again gone into the Top 20.
Tracks like "Groove a Little",  "Teen Riot Structure", "The Soul of My Suit" and "Dandy in the Underworld" carried a sound of happiness, joy and urgency to work hard and deliver the goods.

One further single "Celebrate Summer" was released in August 1977, and the future looked to be bright for the once fallen star.

On 16 September 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday, the car driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones left the road on Barnes Common and struck a tree.  Marc Bolan was killed instantly.
It will never be known if 'Dandy In The Underworld' was an actual re-birth of Marc Bolan, and no-one would ever get to hear what might come next.
In the musical history of the 1970s, Marc Bolan is often forgotten, or added as an afterthought, when up against artists such as Roxy Music, Slade, Gary Glitter (am I allowed to say that name?), Sweet, Elton John and the chameleonic David Bowie (his one time Mod Mate from London, who appeared with him on his last TV appearance (recorded 7 Sptember, shown 28 September).
Considering his recorded legacy and his ongoing his influence (belived to be artists as diverse as Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Goldfrapp, Placebo, Slash, Bauhaus, Billy Idol, The Polecats and SLF guitarist Henry Cluney.

In summary (and to comply with the title of this post) ...
Bolan's Best - A Rigid Digit Top 5 Recommendation List:
  1. Electric Warrior
  2. Futuristic Dragon
  3. The Slider
  4. Tanx
  5. Bolan Boogie
from 'Electric Warrior' - "Rip Off"

from 'Futuristic Dragon' - "Calling All Destroyers"

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Surprise In The Malvern Hills

Great Malvern is a small town at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.
I have only two reference points for this area:
1. Spa Water
2. Worcestershire Sauce

both of which I am a fairly regular consumer of.

The town itself consists of a couple of streets, a theatre and a statue of Edwrd Elgar (OK, I know there is more to it than that, but this is a condensed short intoduction (or it was until I added that explanatory note)).
The main street boasts the usual small town shops: a butcher, baker (didn't see a candle-stick maker), cafes/restaurants and a couple of pubs.
But also, surprisingly for a town with a total population of about 25,000 (according to Wikipedia), down a small side street was a small area of outstanding natural beauty - Carnival Records.
Yes, an independent Record Shop in a small non-descript town in the shadow of some very big hills.
The shop itself is (as I understand it) about a year old, and it must be doing something right, because on both occassions that I visited it over the weekend it was busy (not full to the rafters with customers, but there were a fair few people in there).
It would have been easy to spend a good few hours and a small mortgage in there rummaging through new releases, second hand CDs and Vinyl - but this being the wife's birthday weekend, spending was somewhat curtailed (I only bought a copy of "Deutsche Elektronische Musik Volume 2").

Carnival Records is listed to participate in Record Store Day on 20th April - a chance to visit and celebrate all the independent Record Shops and purchase the new special releases from artists like Anthrax, Big Country, Billy Bragg and Paul Weller (and others - these are just the ones I've "got my eye on").

Record Store Day - website

There are two stores close to me who will be participating, namely The Sound Machine in Reading and
Henley Records (currently in the process of relocating/renaming as In The Groove).

Will I be visiting either of these on the 20th?
Yes, I will probably visit both.  And then I will find that, like last year, a bunch of opportunists and shysters have got to the front of the queue, bought up all the special releases, and are currently flogging them on e-bay for twice the original purchase price (bastards!).
Besides, why wait for the one day in the year when your reminded that independent record stores exists - make a point of seeking them out and visiting them regularly.  It is (honestly) a great way to spend an afternoon (at least that is what I think, not sure about the Mrs though ("hanging around with a bunch of nerds" is the commonly uttered phrase)).

And now a word from the Official Ambassador - Jack White:

Still not convinced about indepent Record Shops?
Try this ...

I will be planning another weekend away soon, and I will be armed with the usual guidance documents:
and I will also be practicing that genuine look of surprise when we visit the town and the site of the Record Shop looms into view.

"I didn't expect to see that", I will say.
"You lying git", will probably be the reply from Mrs D.