Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Album of 2014 is ...

Yes, its that time of year again when everyone in the world tries to convince us of what the best slab of vinyl (or CD) released this year was.
Never one to buck a trend, or rock the boat, or even use well worn clichés, I'm going to do exactly that.

2014 has seem some superb releases, it started well, rose in Spring, tailed off a bit in the summer, and finished relatively quietly (or it did for me anyway - much like previous years I probably spent more time re-discovering old stuff, than buying new).  But here are the Top 10 choices that found their way onto the Rigid Digit Shelving Catalogue (organised in strict alphabetical order) this year:

1) Stiff Little Fingers - No Going Back
Be honest, did you really expect anything else?  SLF release a new album and Rigid Digit places it at Number 1.  Quelle surprise?
But wait, I am being objective about this (and even ignoring the fact that I helped part fund it (via PledgeMusic)), this album is right up there with anything they've released previously.  Yes, I have no doubts about placing it with 'Inflammable Material', 'Hanx' and 'Guitar and Drum'.
11 years after their last release, a sizeable chunk of water has passed under the bridge, but the subjects that fire Jake Burns pen are still about.  Political hypocrisy, Fat Cat Bankers and injustice all make an appearance.  As does the nagging doubt that despite the passage of time, nothing much has changed.
And it's not just me - Vive Le Rock agree

2) Len Price 3 - Nobody Knows
3 albums down, and on this fourth offering the boys from the Medway Delta are still pumped full of adrenaline, top quality riffage and tunes.  Continuing to evoke the spirit of 60s Mod and Garage Rock, but there is more to the band than The Who and The Kinks with a dollop of The Jam and The Clash thrown in.
This album starts on a high, and over 13 tracks of definite ear-worms, does not let up (OK, the mood/pace dips on a couple of tracks, but hey it can't all be 100% full on all the time).  These songs are potent enough on record - in a live setting they're even stronger.  If you insist on seeking out at least one track, do yourself a favour and hop over to YouTube and find "London Institute".

3) Henry Priestman - Last Mad Surge Of Youth
Having spent 30 years in the music business as a member of The Yachts, Its Immaterial, The Christians, and hired keyboard player and producer, Henry Priestman finally released his debut solo album at 53.  'Chronicles Of Modern Life'  has been described as "Music for grumpy old men".  6 years later, he has released the follow-up.  The prime difference here is the album is lighter on frustration, with an almost withering acceptance of the world and it's reality.  There are moments of real tenderness, moments of proper "jump up and down and punch the air", relection and continued frustration, all served up with a dollop of healthy self-deprecation.

4) Ben Watt - Hendra
Never really liked Everything But The Girl - all that sombre, downbeat, miserabalism just made me shout "Cheer up.  Smile, it may never happen" at the TV screen whenever they appeared.  But then, one day you hear something (in this case the track "Forget") which has a reminisence of EBTG, you find it who it is singing it, and your long held prejudices just melt away before your eyes.  Or maybe  thats just me ...
A melange of jazzy grooves, folk-tinges, electronica, indie guitar and an air of thoughfulness and depth in the songs.  Add it all together, and there ain't a bad track here.  One cannot escape the air of melancholy pervading the album, but it is not delivered in a dour tone.  Much like Henry Priestman (above) the songs deliver a "this is me, this is where I am, this is what is annoying me, now get on with it" tone.  A definite spring/summer album (and in this world of strange coincidence, one of the brightest, uplifting tracks on the album is called "Spring")

5) Wilko Johnson / Roger Daltrey - Going Back Home
Doctor Feelgood? Yes.  The Who? Yes.  But together, how does that work then?
The answer is damn near perfectly.  A mix of Wilko originals, old Dr Feelgood numbers and a Bob Dylan cover, Dalterys voice hasn't sounded this good on record for years, and Wilko is playing in his trademark rough edge style, and in sounding rude health (which he is now, having got the all clear in October).  This is hard, raw, rough & ready R&B, and you can almost feel the sweat coming out of the speakers.  The album finishes (in around 30 minutes), and you want to play it again ... and again.

6) Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - What Have We Become
Cynical, surly, acerbic, full of wit - all terms that could be used to describe great wodges of The Beautiful Souths output, particularly the later Jacqui Abbott years.  There was something about the singing banter, and the blend of the voices of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott which was almost perfect - prime pop nuggets with an edge, and an ever-present undercurrent of subversion.
This re-union picks up where the past left off, and it is fair to say the album possibly even surpasses their original incarnation.
Reading in places like a State Of The Nation address, there is joyous country/folk inflected pop, with an air of melancholy, frustration and acceptance.

7) Temples - Sun Structures
It is probably a 50/50 chance of a band debut release (or releases) resulting in a corking debut album (OK, the chances are probably greater (maybe 70/30), but I've got to make my point somehow).
Late 2012 saw the release of "Shelter Song" - a song mixing circa 1967/68 Beatles, particularly Ringo's drum sound, The Byrds, Syd Barrett and a whole load of reverb.  In short, a great slab of psychadelia for the 21st Century.  A second single appeared ("Colours To Life") in June that year, which (for me) just increased the anticipation for an album to be released.  And when it did hit the shelves, there was not an ounce of disappointment in my lug-holes.
From the opening track ("Shelter Song") to the clos, this album is a magnificent piece of work.  Dense, deep, almost claustrophobic in places - almost like the late 60s have been transplanted to 2014.  My only criticism would be that the epic penultimate track "Sand Dance" would be a better closing to the album than the more acoustic, wistful "Fragments Light" (but thats just my opinion)

8) Manic Street Preachers - Futurology
If Simple Minds had recorded at Hansa, this may well have been the result.
(Lazy and simplistic, I know - but it is the easiest way to describe this release)
A definite European feel, leaving behind the more home-spun Welshness of Rewind The Film.
Each album since 'Send Away The Tigers' has been getting better and stronger.  This album continues that run, and develops/enhances (?) the musical template of previous releases, but does not sound out of place in the Manics catalogue.

9) Real Estate - Atlas
2014 Correction of Prejudices Part 2 - I never really like all those American indie bands.  Sometimes trying to be too "muso", or being too Americana-centric (is that a term? it is now.  I know what I mean by it anyway).
This album showed you can still have all the above, and these cloth ears will respond - I don't know what Real Estate have done that is any different to any of their contemporaries, but they've done something.

10) Royal Blood - Royal Blood
ROCK!
That just about sums it up - play very F***ING loud.


Special 2014 Bonus selection (because I can't yet make a case to squeeze it into the Top 10 (what would I leave out if I did?))

11) U2 - Songs Of Innocence
If we ignore the hoo-har about the release through iTunes, and the album becoming simataneously the most downloaded, and the most deleted album ever, this is a great album.  U2 are not trying to preach, or to push the boundaries of their sound, or indeed to anything "big and clever".  It's like 'Rattle & Hum' without the trying to hard to be "rootsy, americana-esque, ans self-important.  The opening track "The Miracle Of Joey Ramone" is surely deserving of a nomination for 'Best Opening Track' accolade.


On the whole, 2014 has not been a bad musical year.  In addition to the 11 above, my earholes have been digesting new discoveries, and/or catching up with those that I missed out earlier, in the shape of:

  • The Flamin Groovies - there is so much more than "Shake Some Action", and I'm glad I found that out
  • Roy Harper - a name I have heard often (Led Zeps "Hats Off To Harper", vocal on Pink Floyds "Have A Cigar"), but never actually heard any of the man himself.  The compilation 'Counter Culture' opened up this new aural pleasure, and has now been supplemented with 'Stormcock', 'Lifemask' and 'HQ'
  • Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate Entertain came out at the back end of 2013.  On the face of it, a strange concept to take old Public Service Broadcasting Films (hence the title) and soundtrack them in a mixture of indie guitar and electronic beats.  A peculiar idea, but it works fantastically.  A new album is due in February 2015, and it is already on the Wish List
  • David Bowie - Low.  Following the release of 'The Next Day' in early 2013, I went back through past Bowie, and discovered I didn't actually own this and (and never have - I think I had it on long term loan from a mate).  Delivered in the same package that brought The Temples (see above), this spent most of February fighting with 'Sun Stuctures' for CD playing time



Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Damned

A drummer (and part time toilet cleaner) from Croydon auditions for the semi-mythical pre-punk band London SS (a band at one time or another containing many of the original London punk musicians (who weren't the Sex Pistols)).
The thing that makes London SS so revered is (a) their member history, and (b) the fact they never actually played live.
In spring 1976, Brian James leaves London SS and joins up with the aforementioned toilet cleaner, and his bandmates in the Masters Of The Backside (another early punk band whose existence was confined to the practice room only).
Brian James, Rat Scabies, Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible become ... The Damned.

Although not the first punk band (the Pistols pre-dated them by some 6 months), they were:
  • the first to release a single
  • the first to release an album
  • the first to tour the US
  • the first to split up (and by association, the first to reform)
They performed their first show supporting the Sex Pistols in July, soon after they signed to Stiff Records.  Their first single ("New Rose") was issued in October 1976, followed by debut album ('Damned, Damned, Damned') and second single ("Neat, Neat, Neat") in February 1977.
Following a tour with Marc Bolan, second guitarist Lu Edmonds joined, and recording of the second album commenced.
The original intent was to engage Syd Barrett as producer.  Unable to tempt Syd, the band invited Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason to take the producers seat.
The addition of Lu Edmonds caused friction within the band (Brian James brought Lu in, but the other members were unsure his presence was required).  Also, the relative inexperience of Nick Mason as a producer, and his unfamiliarity with the band and their music resulted in a somewhat lacklustre second album.  There are high points on 'Music For Pleasure' ("Problem Child", "Stretcher Case", "Idiot Box"), but when held up against the debut. it misses by a long way.

By the end of the year, the band had been dropped by Stiff Records, and were without a drummer after Rat Scabies quite following the recording of the album.
The Damned limped into 1978, recruiting Jon Moss (future Culture Club drummer) to fill the vacant drum stool, but the band folded by February.

Dave Vanian, Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible (switching from Bass to Guitar) joined forces with Lemmy (Motorhead) on Bass under the name Les Punks for a one-off gig in September.  This reformation continued into 1979 (with Henry Badowski replacing Lemmy) under the name The Doomed (it is understood that Brian James may have copyrighted the name preventing it being used by any band that he wasn't a member of).
By April 1979, The Damned moniker was restored, Algy Ward replaced Henry Badowski and they signed with Chiswick Records.  "Love Song" was released as a single, and the band appeared on Top Of The Pops.  Second Chiswick single ("Smash It Up") came in September, followed two months later by the album 'Machine Gun Etiquette'.
Opening with the urgent, frenzied bass of "Love Song" and bounding into the title track (including the coincidental lyrical refrain "Second Time Around"), this is an album full of urgency, invention and stretch from the basic 3 minute thrash formula.  Tunes abound everywhere, including the sumptuous Hammond organ break in "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" and the piano introduction to "Melody Lee".  There is a darker tone with "Plan 9 Channel 7" suggesting horror flicks are never far from the Damned formula, and a return to their roots with a cover of MC5s "Looking At You".  The absolute masterpiece of the album is the closing track - the two part "Smash It Up".  Starting slowly, Part 1 is an electro-acoustic psychadleic influenced instrumental, almost wistfully melancholic, containing some very un-punk chords.  Part 2 takes this platform and provides an almost perfect slab of pop-punk tunery, complete with nihilistic lyrics inviting us to smash up everything that gets in our way, including Krishna burgers, Glastonbury hippies, frothy lager and blow wave hairstyles.

"Smash It Up (Parts 1 &2)"


With positive critical acclaim, a return to public attention (possibly even more so than before), and a truly magnificent album behind them, The Damned V2.0 was triumphant.
1980 saw Algy Ward leave (to form Tank) and be replaced by Paul Gray from Eddie and The Hot Rods.
(trivia note: Paul Gray had already appeared on a Damned album ('Damned, Damned, Damned') - as part of Stiff Records slightly off-beat/skewed marketing methods, the live shot of The Damned at The Roxy on the back cover was replaced by a photo of Eddie and The Hot Rods (featuring Paul Gray) on early pressings)

This was to be the most stable line-up of the band to date, lasting until early 1983.

The first outing for this re-convened unit was a cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" in mid-1980, followed by the ambitious double LP 'The Black Album' in November.
Taking the garage/psychadelic influences further, and applying more of the darker tones hinted at on 'Machine Gun Etiquette',  'The Black Album' moves the band further from their 3-Chord spiky-haired punk peers.
Commencing with an anthem to all things dark ("Wait For The Blackout"), the dark pop of "History Of The World", more darkness on "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" and "Twisted Nerve", the almost folk-tinged, reflective "Silly Kids Games", the machine gun drumming punk of "Hit And Miss" and "Sick Of This And That", and the psychedelic freak-outs "Therapy"- this album really does cover all bases.  And then, to finish, The Damned err into Prog-Punk territory with the 17 minute "Curtain Call" - how many other punk bands would have (a) the ability, or (b) the balls to produce a song which takes up one entire side of an album?

"Wait For The Blackout"


'Machine Gun Etiquette' is the definite zenith of The Damned, followed closely 'The Black Album'.

A major falling out with Chiswick saw the band move to NEMS in 1981 and release one EP, before NEMS collapsed.  From there, they signed to Bronze and released the single "Lovely Money" and the album 'Strawberries' (from which two further singles "Dozen Girls" and "Generals" was culled).
"Strawberries" shows continued growth, and remains a very listenable ,cohesive slab of power-pop/rock, if not a truly great album.
It is tinged however with the usual Damned "buggeration" factors - Paul Gray was in dispute with the band over songwriting credits (which ultimately resulted in Gray leaving the band), and the band themselves were in dispute with Bronze over contracts, royalty payments and just about everything else.  Add to this the distraction of Captain Sensibles burgeoning solo career, and the future looked about as bright as the cover of 'The Black Album'.

A one-off single on their own imprint Damned Records ("Thanks For The Night"/"Nasty") was released in 1984, and was promoted with an appearance on an episode of The Young Ones.  The band included Roman Jugg on guitar (he had previously provided keyboard duties on 'Strawberries')  and Bryn Merrick on bass (replacing Paul Gray).  This did not lead to a change in fortunes, and the band once again found itself without a record label and one member down as Captain Sensible left the band in August 1984.

With Sensible gone, the gothic affectations and sounds were brought to the fore, and the band (somehow?) landed a deal with a major label (MCA).  Things were definitely looking up - for the first time in 8 years, they might actually get paid!
"Grimly Fiendish" was released in March 1985, and the album 'Phantasmagoria' followed in July.  The album, in parts, could be considered as 'The Black Album Part 2' (or perhaps, more fairly, the leftover tracks that weren't quite strong enough to make the cut).  Other highlights include the singles "Shadow Of Love" and "Is It A Dream" and the none more gothic "Sanctum Sanctorum".

And then something strange happens: buoyed by the commercial success of previous MCA releases, the band record a one-off cover version of "Eloise" and find themselves in the Top 10 (their best chart performance to date was number 20 with "Love Song" back in 1979).
So now would be the time to capatalise on this new found success?  What The Damned did was to release a complete clunker of an album in the shape of 'Anything'.  Apart from the cover of "Alone Again Or" and the driving, relentless "Psychomania" there isn't much worth re-visiting here.

Work on a follow-up never got past the demo stage, and the band were released from the MCA contract.
Brian James and Captain Sensible rejoined for a series of shows in 1988, and then the band disbanded.
Since then, there have been various reformations featuring different members, and the release of further albums.  Of these, 2001s 'Grave Disorder' is perhaps the best of the bunch - it may not be up there with 'Machine Gun Etiquette' or 'The Black Album', but it is definitely better than 'Anything' (apart from the aforementioned cover of "Alone Again Or", which (and people are going to hate me for saying this) I prefer this version to the original by Love).



Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Libertines

Nestled away at Track 4 on the Libertines debut album is the track "Time For Heroes".  An in 2002, it probably was.  The band were already the darlings of the NME, and were soon to cross-over into mainstream media courtesy of Pete Doherty's "colurful" life.
Time For Heroes?  An anti-hero perhaps.  A widely recognised anti-hero whose exploits certainly helped the band achieve further recognition, and possibly contributes to their ongoing legacy.

Formed following a seemingly chance meeting between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty (Barat was sharing a flat with Doherty's sister).  Shared musical interests and ambitions saw them both abandon their academic studies (Barat: Drama, Doherty: English Literature) and take to the stage - their early gigs were primarily at the flat Barat and Doherty now shared.

Their first proper demos were recorded in early 2000.  A change of line-up (Drummer Gary Powell and Bassist John Hassall), and a showcase event saw interest from Rough Trade.  By the end of 2001, the band were signed to Rough Trade.

Their first single ("What A Waster") was released in June 2002.  Although acclaimed and coupled with their first NME front cover, sales were low, and airplay scant to non-existent (although this may have something to do with the the "slightly fruity Anglo Saxon" in the lyrics).
Whilst not exactly re-writing the rules of rock & roll, the song lays the template of the bands sound (rough, dirty edge guitar power chords, thumping drums and a twin vocal attack) which was to be employed throughout the remainder of their life.
Second single ("Up The Bracket") arrived in September followed the next month by their debut album.

That first album was a dust-clearing, statement of intent.  A burst of pure adrenaline, wrapped in a bedshit-low-life-"Elegantly Wasted"-chic type package.
A collection of short, sharp songs imbued at times with a romanticism, at other times with a definite edge.
They weren't stretching the boundaries, but what they were doing was providing an object lesson of how to mix Garage Rock, Punk, Pop and a soupçon of sleaze.  There are times when it is almost an unlistenable mess, but the energy and commitment of the band keep the attention.

Tensions in the band were rising, most noticeably on stage where performances were curtailed due to in-fighting, or simply din't happen at all as either Pete Doherty or Carl Barat failed to turn up (in fairness to Carl Barat, it was usually his sparring partner who was a no-show).
Following a show in Germany, which Pete Doherty did not play, he was effectively sacked from the band - Barat refused to play on stage with him unless he straightened out.
Then in a scene which wouldn't be out of place in a farce, Pete Doherty was arrested for burgling his bandmates flat.

Surely, this was the end ...

Carl Barat met Pete Doherty straight from Prison, and it seemed normal service was resumed as they went straight and played a gig in Kent that evening.  This was followed by more shows in London, and then, a couple of months later, back into the studio for album number 2.

The second album maintains the signature sound, and in places is even more ramshackle than the first (it feels like some of the songs weren't truly honed, just chucked down to get them done).
The prime difference here is the songs have a harder, less wistful edge, with moments of biography and lost friendship.  The album is bookended by two such songs ("Can't Stand Me Now" and "What Became Of The Likely Lads" *) which are the pick of the tracks here (with "What Katy Did Next" a close third).

* unfortunately, this is not a cover version of the theme to the 1970s sitcom.  A part of me, however, wishes that they had done that song.

After the release of the album, the band fell apart when Doherty was excluded from the band (again) until he'd cleaned up.  This reformation seemed further away with the release of the debut album by Babyshambles (featuring Pete Doherty) and the formation of the Dirty Pretty Things (featuring Carl Barat and drummer Gary Powell).

Taken side by side, the initial releases from the pair stand up (although the Babyshambles offering 'Down In Albion' does take a bit more listening to).  The Dirty Pretty Things release ('From Warterloo To Anywhere') is to these ears the de facto third album from the Libertines, retaining the recognised sound and also including another of these "Story Of The Band/Relationship" type songs in the shape of "Bang Bang You're Dead" (although Carl Barat denies any suggestion of this, perhaps putting it down to mere coincidence on the part of the listener).

The Dirty Pretty Things stumbled on for another couple of years, folding in 2008, and Babyshambles managed 2 albums before going into hibernation - returning with a new album in late 2013.

The Libertines reformed for the Reading and Leeds Festivals in the summer of 2010.  The appearances received acclaim from the press and the public, but in true Libertines style, nothing more happened as they went their separate ways again.
They broke the silence again with an appearance in 2014, and then embarked on their first tour for 10 years.  It was also intimated that there may be new material in the offing.
This being The Libertines, it may of course never happen and the whole project will descend into acrimony, arguments, and another split where the two main protagonists refuse to talk to each other for another 3 years.  Then they'll try again ... and again ... and again.


Up The Bracket

Can't Stand Me Now

Dirty Pretty Things - Bang Bang You're Dead



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Great British Alternative Music Festival

Two words that probably do not inspire great confidence are "Butlins" and "Skegness".
However, put them in the context of 3 days of Punk/New Wave/Rock/Alternative (or whatever you want to call the genre?), and add a liberal amount of beer and junk food, and those words no longer send a chill up the spine (or at least less of a chill, anyway).
The close season at Butlins (or indeed any Holiday Camp) can be a cold, desolate, depressing time ("... and how does that differ from a Holiday Camp in the summer months?" I hear you ask).
To fill up these cold, fallow times, and to ensure continued employment and a useful additional income strem, Butlins is throwing open its doors to a succession of Live Music Events, including Madness Weekenders, 70s/80s/90s Events, Giants of Rock, Northern Soul and the British Folk Festival.  The Bands on stage aren't low budget either, with Bellowhead at the Folk Festival, Focus and Mick Ralphs turning up for the Rock Event and Slade (or 50% of them) headlining the 70s Weekend.
The line up for the Great British Alternative Music Festival included headline sets from The Damned, The Boomtown Rats, The Rezillos, Big Country and From The Jam.  Spread over 3 days, the calibre of the bands on offer led to some tough decisions, limited sleep, and a hammering on the wallet at £3.50 a pint (however, you can buy the beer in Spar at less than half price, fill your plastic cup and wander freely between the venues).

I think Skegness can be officially titled "the arse end of nowhere" - there are only two roads leading to Skeggy, both of which mean you need to go through Boston.  On Friday, the traffic around Boston meant it took about as long to travel the last 30 miles as it did to travel the first 150.
I'm not alone in this difficulty.  Captain Sensible reported on his Facebook page that The Damned were also stuck in this traffic jam - and they arrived only an hour or so before they were due on stage.

So after the traffic difficulty, we rolled into the site, checked in and were told we had been upgraded to 'Gold Standard' Accommodation - a result of sorts, we now had a bigger TV and a choice of 3 bedrooms.  On the downside, the accommodation block meant a slightly longer walk to the Venues (only about 2 or 3 minutes, but in the cold wind and rain ...)

Friday evening started with the first of many choices: Anti-Pasti or Fukdust4?
I plumped for Fukdust4 on the basis that "No Government" is the only Anti-Pasti song I know, and I never really liked that much anyway.
The 10pm decision was even tougher - UK Subs of The Damned?
Sorry Charlie Harper -  Dave and The Captain won this round.  Their set showed them to be more than just 'an old punk band doing the rounds'.  Debut album 'Damned, Damned, Damned' is undoubtedly one of the prime punk albums (along with 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and The Clash's self-titled debut), but as their career progresses more colours are found in their music - you get the pop/punk/powerpop majesty of 'Machine Gun Etiquette', the dark, prog-tones of 'The Black Album' and the psychadelic/gothic collision of the later material ('Phatasmagoria' / 'Anything').  And all of these sounds burst forth from the stage in a storming set (even given the lateness of their arrival at the venue, and the equipment difficulties/failures they experienced).
Friday had been a long day, and I needed my beauty sleep.  This meant neither Bad Manners or the Anti-Nowhere League secured my patronage - I'm sure they we're both very upset about that.

Saturday was a slow start - bit of brekkie followed by a wander up the road to Skegness's premier attraction (Fantasy Island) and a walk on the beach.
Point 1: Fantasy Island is far from a Fantasy ("Nightmare" would be a more apt description)
Point 2: The Sea Front is a cold depressing place - which is a bit obvious when you realise it is the North Sea you are looking at
Point 3: The perimeter of the Butlins complex is surrounded by an 8ft fence with spikes on the top - a bit like a prison

Late Saturday afternoon was the first of two shows from The Boomtown Rats (they would also be playing at 10pm on the stage).   The band now consists of 4 original members (Bob Geldof, Garry Roberts, Simon Crowe & Pete Briquette).  The show was full of energy, R&B and the hits.  Bob Geldof is a supreme front man, and even though it was 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon, his charisma, chat/banter and energy rubbed off and built the crowd to a frenzy.  If I have one criticism it would be that original guitarist Gerry Cott and the keyboards of Johnnie Fingers were missed.  The piano introduction to "I Don't Like Mondays" and the organ break on "Someones Looking At You" just weren't the same when pounded out on a Yamaha keyboard (it may actually have been a Casio VL1).
Actually, there is a second criticism, but not about The Rats - the Gents toilet in REDS bar were starting to whiff a bit (this became much worse over the course of the remaining weekend).
The 8:30 slot saw a choice between Ed Tudor Pole and The Chords UK (featuring original Chord Chris Pope).
Again, choices?  what to do?
Well, two things swung it for The Chords. (1) I've spent the last month or so listening to a lot of Mod Revival stuff, and can confidently state the The Chords album "So Far Away" is an absolute corker. (2) I fancied a bit of a sit down and there was more free space in The Chords venue than next door.
For a band that aren't widely known, and in 3 years of recording managed 7 singles and one album to marginal success, the supreme confidence on stage and the power of the songs performed suggests the original band should rightly be feeling short changed.
The set included a number of post-Chords/Chris Pope songs.  It looks like he is onto album number 3 now, and somehow I've managed to miss out on them.  This oversight has now been rectified.
Next up was the second show from The Boomtown Rats or The Rezillos.
Out of pure interest/cynicism, I dropped in on the Rats first.  Firstly, the set was exactly the same (or at least the first two songs were, so I'm assuming the rest would be the same), and the toilets now stunk even more.
So, it was off to Center Stage for an evening with The Rezillos.  Despite the terrible sound, the show was fast paced, committed and had the audience bouncing around.
I am surprised though - I never really saw The Rezillos as a really "big" band and pitting them against The Boomtown Rats was perhaps a little unfair.  Indeed, the size of the crowd told it's own story (especially when compared the The Damned the previous night, or the audience size later on for Sham 69).
Late night Saturday show, and I'm staying awake for this one.  Whilst not being familiar with Goldblade, the small amount I have heard is perhaps best described (possibly only by me) as "a bit sh*t".  This belief was re-inforced by the first 5 minutes of their show - hey, some people like them, I didn't (so shoot me!).
Sham 69 it was - this is what Saturday night needs.  45 minutes of dumb, mindless, anthemic slogneering washed down with a couple of Pints of Guiness.  But hang on, this isn't Sham 69.  Leastways, there is no Jimmy Pursey.  I'll admit to feeling a bit let down (even though I did already know this in advance), but the sheer force of the performance (and possibly the numbing effects of beer) meant JP wasn't really missed.

Sunday's first performance was from Billy Liar who is officially described as a "romantic punk singer, travelling the world with a battered acoustic guitar and writing about everything he observes".
That may be the case, but he was let down by a truly atrocious sound mix meaning all you could hear was the ringing of the guitar strings and a muffled vocal.
Attendance was brief due to the above fact, and the increasing pong emanating from the back of the venue.
An hour and a half later, in the same venue, The Blockheads took to the stage and served up an hour of good time, tightly performed, funky pub rock.  Featuring original members Chaz Jankel, Norman Watt-Roy, John Turnbull and Micky Gallagher.  Vocal duties are handled by Ian Dury's former minder Derek Hussey ("Derek The Draw").
A perfect way to spend a Sunday Afternoon.
The early evening slot saw a clash between The Lambrettas and John Otway.  John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett emerged victorious, aided in no small part by the availability of a table and chair (my poor old legs needed a rest.  And did I tell you about my back ...?).
After Wild Willy's introduction ("Please welcome John Otwat"), he bounded on stage looking permanently confused with an acoustic guitar and a clown's hair-do, and so began nearly an hour of musically inspired mucking about, banter and chat with the audience (just about every song began with "... and the interesting thing about this song".
That statement probably does him a dis-service, because the songs themselves ("Cheryl's Going Home" and "Geneva" to name but two" are very good, and Wild Willy Barrett is a consummate musician.
After the self-created encore ("this is our last song, then we'll go off, come on again and do two more"), my first response was: "Follow that!").
However, I didn't hang on to see if Big Country could indeed follow the trail of hilarity, ripped shirts and mirth left by John Otway, because it was time to go next door for the appearance of one band in my 'Top 5 I Want To See Live' list.  I don't think I'll get the chance to see The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Cockney Rejects (?), but this was my chance to see The Jam (well, one of them at least).
And to complete this almost religious experience, I secured a prime spot by sneaking between the barrier and viewing the stage from the decking below the sound board.
From The Jam are in the middle of their Setting Sons 35th Anniversary Tour, and some of the tracks from that fine, fine album were included tonight alongside more expected tracks like "Going Underground", "When You're Young" and "Strange Town".
Interesting to note that what is effectively a tribute band is playing the cover versions from the albums ("Slow Down", "David Watts" and "Heatwave") - a sort of tribute to a tribute.  Still, I suppose it just adds to the suspension if reality.
The encore started with "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" and finished with "Town Called Malice" (personally, I'd have done these two round the other way, but then I'm not in the band am I?).
The end of a hot sweaty night (confirmed by the translucent nature of Bruce Foxton's shirt), and not dampened by the worsening odour from the lavs.

There were two later shows (Jeremiah Ferrari and Slagerij), but after John Otway and From The Jam, 11:45 on a Sunday was just beyond my energy levels.

Throughout the weekend, in the "slow time" afternoons, music was supplied by a 3 piece band (expanding at one point to about an 8 piece band), going by the names Panjenix, Electrojenix and Celtic Cross.
It was a sort of laid back acoustic, folky, punky, momentarily country, irish sound, with covers of The Stranglers, The Clash and The Pogues interspersed with their own material.
Laid back and relaxed - the perfect accompaniment to Chips & Curry Sauce, or whatever overpriced takeaway you cared to invest in.

For me, the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly From The Jam, with John Otway and The Damned sharing the sliver medal.
Special mention must go to Chords UK / Chris Pope, for an absolutely magnificent set which caused me to head straight to the merchandise stand and invest in what I had missed out on.
From his last album 'Peace Of Mind', this is the track that had me scurrying to the side of the stage and lightening my wallet.
"Mutiny On The Thames"


Would I go again?
Probably, yes.  Besides I missed out on Big Country.  However, they will be playing at the 80s version of these events.  It is taking place in Bognor Regis, which has similar connotations to Skegness, but I bet it is easier to get to.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"I Know The Promoter ..."

is a line I have never been able to use in many years (with a strangely unexplainable break of about 10 years (?) from about 1998).
Until now.
Last Friday I attended the Half Moon in Putney for the latest Retro Man Blog event featuring The Past Tense, Les Kitchenettes and The Len Price 3.
I say that "I Know The Promoter" but this does not mean a Guest List jolly at someone elses expense.  It did however ensure me that a reserved ticket was held at the door and a pint of beer presented to me as I entered.

The Half Moon is one of those infamous venues that just about every important band has played at.  Originally hosting Folk and Blues nights in the early 60s, the venue attracted performances from Ammerican performers such as Champion Jack Dupree and Arthur Crudup. British Folk performers including Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Roy Harper and Ralph McTell all graced the stage.
Along with venues such as Eel Pie Island and The Crawdaddy, The Half Moon hosted bands such as John Mayalls Bluesbreakers, Alexis Korner and The Yardbirds.
The stage has also been graced by The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Dr Feelgood and Elvis Costello, and also hosted the fist public performance by Kate Bush.

First things first: travelling from Reading to Putney (and back again) is not the easiest of tasks.  Fortunately, there is one 'straight-through-no-changes' train from Reading at around 5:30.  No such luck on the return journey, meaning I would have to leg it up Putney High Street at 10:30 to ensure I caught the train to Staines, and then change to get back to Reading before dawn rises (it's not actually that bad, but you get the idea ...)


The phrases "energetic", "powerful" and "tuneful" may be used with monotonous regularity throughout - those words amply describe all 3 bands performances, but somehow don't quite do full justice to the performances seen.  So to save time, I'll say them once and ask the reader to sprinkle them through the text as they see fit.

The Past Tense opened the night with a solid set, full of commitment and honesty.
I'd heard of the band, but never actually heard them - now I find myself asking myself "How have you missed that?"
As is my way, it is usual to fall back on comparisons to describe a band, here goes: Nine Below Zero spring to mind, as do many other bands from the Mod Revival, all bound up with a sound similar to the Jam's debut 'In The City'.  (Lazy reviewing, but effective I hope you will agree)
Their website states they are advocates of live performance, and on tonights showing there is no way they disappointed.
They may now be my new favourite band (if it wasn't for the existence of the other two bands this evening).

Les Kitchenettes descended upon London from France for their first UK appearance.  On this showing, I'm sure they will be welcomed back for many more (in fact, their second UK appearance was the following night at The Fiddlers Elbow in Camden).
Without wishing to sound xenophobic, the concept of a French band playing Mod/Garage/Psych (call it what you will?) was not straightforward for my brain to assimilate.  But hang on, who says this music is the preserve of the UK and the US?  Apart from the fact I understood very few (if not all) the lyrics, then the sound they made was a positive joy.
The definite highlight for me was a truly full on version of "Route 66" at least, I think it was - the riff was very familiar, and the words "soixante-six" were definitely heard.

Len Price 3
The band arrived on stage looking immaculate, hit the first chord and the place exploded.  The noise level and temperature rises, the sweat starts yet still they look immaculate (perhaps just a little damper), and show no signs of slowing down or taking a breather.
No airs, graces or studio trickery - this is full-on, in your face, adrenaline fuelled powerpop.  It is testament to their performance that on stage they sound even better than on record (and bear in mind that their 4 albums to date are truly magnificent pieces of work).
Of the bands performance, I only caught 5 songs (all from the latest album), but have no doubt that they were just warming up at this stage and the spectacle would only have got better.

So - apologies to the band, but I promise to stay for a full show next time.

And if I may be so bold, here is the whole show (found on YouTube), just so I can see what I missed:



(If you can't spare the time for the whole hour, do check out the final song of the initial set "London Institute" at 46:15, and then you may as well hang around for the encore)

In summary, The Half Moon is a fine, fine venue (if a bugger to get to from Reading), and the bands on stage offering some of the best live music performances I've seen in a long time.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge

I have been nominated to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.
In preparation for this, I have filled a bucket with ice and water ... and the beer is cooling nicely.
I will drink the beer, and then replace it with some more.  I have no intention of pouring the contents of the bucket over my head.

And before you shout: "But it is for Charity, where is your generosity of spirit?", I should say that I already make regular donations to 2 Charities.  And I don't have to get wet or shiver to achieve this.

I understand that any charity must do all it can to generate donations.  The popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge has no doubt seen a rise in the in the coffers of Charities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, Motor Neurone Disease Association, MacMillan Cancer, WaterAid.  But to me, it now feels like an Internet version of the over-zealous, in-your-face Chuggers you see in High Streets.  Almost a case of "Donate or else".
You get nominated, and you do the deed, and you post the video evidence on Facebook like some Badge Of Honour saying "Look at me, I've done something for Charity" (the cynic in me says that sometimes they may even remember to send their donation as well).

Well, is that what giving to Charity is about?  Making some gesture so your friends and peers can see you for the soft-hearted philanthropist you are.
Or is it just the opportunity to participate in the worlds biggest Chain Letter?

Of course, if you say "No" then you will be accused of cold-heartedness, or simply being a wimp.  Well, bring on the cavalcade of pointing and accusing.
It's not so much that I am refusing to do the Challenge (which I suppose I am), more that I am refusing to tell the world whether I have donated to Charity (I know the answer to that question, you will have to decide for yourself).

In summary, Charity is important.  In many cases your chosen Charity will have a personal resonance.  If we are in a position of relative comfort and can spare time, money, goods or whatever to support that chosen Charity, then we should all do so without a moments hesitation.
There shouldn't be some reward or mutual back-slapping for doing so, merely the personal satisfaction that you have "done your bit" and helped those less fortunate than yourself.

The last part of the Challenge (post-drenching) is to nominate 3 further people from your family and close friends to so the same.

I, therefore, nominate everyone who reads this to give to a Charity of your choice - and then not tell anyone.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

CD - the end of Physical product, or a second chance?

The Compact Disc first hit the UK in early 1983 and was seen as a technological revolution.
AA whole album could be crammed onto a 5" silver disc, offering superior sound quality, no jumping or crackling, and would last forever.
Tomorrows World informed us we could cover the discs in marmalade, coffee, or any other food stuffs and they would still be playable (although if you spread dog sh*t over the disc it would invariably come out sounding like Bucks Fizz)
We now know none of the above to be absolutely true, but it din't stop us busily converting the music we already owned to this new format, creating a sales and income spike which, no doubt, kept a smile on the face of the the record companies.
Price wise, I recall that early CDs (I'm talking 1984/85 when I first properly noticed them on sale in mainstream record shops (ie not specialist retailers)) cost in the range £15 to £20 (or thereabouts) - effectively double the price of the same recording on vinyl.  And the playback equipment didn't come cheap either.

Over time, supply and demand principles, improving technology and a move by the record companies to phase out vinyl releases, saw the prices of CD players fall ("plummet" may be a truer term?).  There was also a fall in the sale price of CDs themselves, although this price reduction was not proportional.
For the sake of argument, lets say that a CD Player in 1983 would set you back £500, you can pick up a simple CD player now for less than £50 (or a 1000% reduction).
The discs on the other hand, have fallen from £20 to £10 (a 100% reduction).  Still a massive reduction, but not in the same league as the playback equipment.
How many other consumer commodities have maintained their price point (or even improved upon ii) in the last 30 years?

Presented with no further opportunity for re-selling us what we already own (except DAT or MiniDisc which never flew), record companies had to face reducing sales and further competition from MP3 files, downloading and splitting of album to single tracks.  Hence, the physical product is no longer king, and there is no large income stream as before from back catalogues.
So what was the solution?
First off, there isn't one - record companies need to adjust their business models away from recorded, physical product and expected ownership in perpetuity.

But ...
Many Record Companies have started to offer Vinyl versions of many flagship releases.  Yes, a Vinyl release - the very same format that most of these companies declared as a "dead duck" in the mid 90s and stopped producing them.  These releases usually sell for twice the price of the CD version, are offered in limited numbers, and are quickly snaffled up by fans, collectors, or (and there is no other way of putting this) shite-hawks who will immediately offer them for re-sale on ebay at vastly increased prices

Also in recent years, Companies like Sony and Rhino have been offering box set collections under the title 'Classic Album Selection', or 'The Original Album Series', or 'Original Album Classics', or another name involving similar words, but not necessarily in the same order.
And the bands involved are not confined to the "I Forgot about them" or "Where are they now" files.  There are some big names, as well as the smaller (more selective appeal?) bands



These packages contain 5 CDs packaged in a box with card replications of the original sleeves.  They are usually sequential releases from the start, the end, or the "golden period" of a bands career.
Yes you could buy a compilation, but many of the available compilations are either incomplete, cherry picked, or in some cases re-recordings of the originals (this is particularly prevalent with artists from the 60s/70s who no longer own the copyrights to their own material, and are just simply re-claiming what is theirs). And why buy a compilation when for the same money you could get 4 times as many tracks, a wider view of an artists output, and the (snobbish) satisfaction of owning either all, or a large part, of their recorded output.
(This is not a denouncement of Compilations - some offer 'a great way in' to an artist, but may also offer only a one-dimensional view.)

So this could now be the last scraping of the barrel - combine as much of an artists catalogue as is reasonable, and sell it off at a knockdown price.
And, the principle is working (at least with me anyway) - over the last couple of years I have bought (and enjoyed):
America, Doobie Brothers, Little Feat, Kevin Ayers, Echo & The Bunnymen, Jeff Beck, ZZ Top, Violent Femmes, 10000 Maniacs, Frankie Miller, and many more.
Acts where I knew maybe 1 or 2 tracks, and either a representative compilation wasn't available, or was an exorbitant price.  There will always be a great pleasure to be had from discovering new music, now I'm finding equal pleasure discovering new old music .

But what do you so when a band hasn't released enough albums to warrant a 5CD set?
In the case of my latest acquisition, The Sisters Of Mercy (who only released 3 proper albums in their lifetime ('First Last And Always', 'Floodland', 'Vision Thing'), the box set adds the two compilations released ('Some Girls Wander By Mistake' and 'A Slight Case Of Overbombing').
Ownership of this set means I now own just about everything (bar a number of B-Sides) recorded and released by the "none more dark" Goth-Rock band.
(cue a slew of comments from Sisters fans saying: "how dare you call them Goths!", "to call The Sisters 'Goth' entirely misses the subtle point of their existence" etc)


The Sisters Of Mercy - Temple Of Love:

Friday, 15 August 2014

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

Well, actually I don't.  In fact I don't even own one.
Apart from the time my car was in a garage and I borrowed my brother bike to get down the road to pick it up (too tight to pay for bus fares or a taxi), I don't think I've ridden a bike since my last paper a couple of weeks before I started work.

And I don't think the latest announcement regarding the re-launch of the Raleigh Chopper is going to change that:
The Chopper Is Back and Its Never Been So Cool

"The Chopper is back"?
Personally, I don't think it ever went away.  I'm sure that for the last few years you have been able to buy one of these (without the genital crushing gear stick) from many emoporiums and various corners of the interweb.
Never mind, the fact is they are now available in Halfords - all yours for £250, and here it is:

Hang on, it doesn't look quite right to me.
Small wheel at front, big wheel at back - Check
"Iconic" handlebars - Check
Reflector in the back of the seat - Check
Derailleur gear mechanism - thats not right.  It may still be 3-speed, but the original was a chain gear insider the hub which meant when it broke it was stuck in third gear.
Long, lay back saddle - wheres that gone?,  How can you give your friend a lift anywhere (or friends (it was possible to get up to 4 people sitting on a Chopper *))
* don't type this into Google, you may not appreciate the images returned

"The Chopper is cool"?
Well, possibly.  In a sort of retro "remember the 70s, ahh Spangles, Flares, 3 day week" type way.
But I suppose it is now cool, because the media says so, and Halfords are now selling them.

But was it really as ubiquitous as the rose-tinted memories would have us believe?
When I was a kid, growing up on a housing estate there were about 20 or 30 of us all around the same age.  And the pecking order was decided on some pretty basic principles:
- how good at football you were
- which football team you supported
- how much pocket money you got
and
- the bike you rode

(bragging rights were also gained for how high you could wee up a wall, and how many times you could knock on the grumpy blokes door without getting caught)

Amongst this small clique, I can only recall 1 kid who had a Chopper.  Many of us started with a Tomohawk (the single gear, smaller version of the Chopper), but only one upgraded.  For this particular group, the "must have" cycle was the Grifter:

A big heavy lump of a bike, ideal for racing through mud, and not far removed in looks from a Trials Bike or Speedway machine.  
In comparison, the saddle was more comfortable, the wheels were (a) the same size and (b) chunkier hence making it much more stable when racing round the kids playground, and with the gear selector on the handlebars gear changes were quicker and smoother.  In short, the Chopper was just a bike for posers.
You can probably guess that I will not be joining the hordes of salivating sheep descending upon Halfords, to re-live a past that (potentially) never happened.  But if Raleigh were to re-launch the Grifter, then I might just ride a bike again.



Pink Floyd - Bike

(It was recently suggested to me that the cacophony at the end of the track reflects what was going on inside Syd Barrett's head at the time)



Friday, 1 August 2014

It's All About The Size Of Your Wad

or so it would seem in the case of Bernie Eccleston.


Lawyers for Bernie Ecclestone say the Formula 1 boss is ready to pay a German bank 25 million euros ($34m; £20m) to settle a court case against him.
The 83-year-old went on trial in Munich in April, charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust.
He is accused of paying a German banker 33 million euros to ensure a company he favoured could buy a stake in F1.
If found guilty, the F1 boss could face a 10-year jail term and the end of his decades-long dominance of motor racing.

So, a very rich man indulges in a bit of bribery and gets caught.
The case goes to court, and ordinarily a conviction would be expected followed by a lengthy jail term.
But wait?  Bernie is monied-up, so how about he just chucks a bit of dosh around and it will all go away.

Seems to me that if you have cash, then you can get away with just about anything.  Whereas, in the real world you just have to face the consequences of your actions.
Well, mucho respect to you Bernie for doing the right thing and trying to wriggle out of it by flashing the cash.  Top man.

Although, if you are the spitting image of Andy Warhol, you could always claim mistaken identity.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ben Watt - Hendra

I never really 'got' Everything But The Girl.  My ears just couldn't get past the pace, the jazzy pretensions and later on the Techno-lite sounds. I don't know whether it was the student connection, the apparent miserable-ness and navel gazing that seemed to prevail through the tracks and the performance, Tracey Thorn's voice.  Or a combination of all these, and perhaps other factors which just left them residing in the "I know they exist, but I'm not really bothered about hearing them" pile.
Alternatively, maybe it was just a result of my own narrow-minded prejudices (surely not?) which after hearing a couple of early tracks, I never went back and gave them a proper listen.

So, for whatever the reason, the idea of me owning an album by Ben Watt would seem somewhat unlikely.
However after hearing "Spring" earlier in the year, and now the latest single "Forget", I took the plunge and purchased the parent album.
The general feeling of idiocy and ignorance is difficult to explain when your internal prejudices are shot down in flames, but it was that feeling that overtook me on hearing the album in full.

The two songs mentioned above are worth the entry fee alone, but add to that tracks like "Hendra", "Nathaniel" and "Golden Ratio" and what there is here is one of the most enjoyable listens I've heard this year.
The music is jazzy, folky, laid-back, thoughtful, encompassing fuzz-guitar indie rock and excursions into electronic sound backing.  For simple "rule of thumb" comparisons think: Brian Eno, 70s West Coast, with echoes of Pink Floyd and New Order (this is a representative 'first thoughts' comparison list, not a definitive statement)
(I realise these words aren't exactly doing a great sales job, but I'm trying my best to avoid the word "eclectic").

There is an air of melancholy throughout, exemplified by lines such as:

"I wish I'd studied harder now,
Made something of myself,
But instead I'm just a shop keeper,
But I mustn't blame myself"
(from "Hendra")

"You can push things to the back of your mind,
but you can never forget"
(from "Forget")

"But every mirror just tells the time,
Can you name a great fighter over 49?
I should douse my flame for the young mans game tonight"
(from "Young Mans Game")

 but none of these are delivered in a down way - there is a noticeable acceptance, which I suppose can be considered as a positive melancholy (if there is such a thing?).
The production is simple, plain and honest - none of this using the mixing desk as an extra instrument, or layering tracks to create an un-performable live track.  The arrangements, instrumentation and playing are straightforward and uncluttered.  In short, an understated and relatively low key release.  But at the same time a triumphant collection that deserves a wider listening base than it may receive.

2014 is gradually becoming a golden year for new releases, and this one is bound to be in the running when the ever-present, always expected "Annual Best Of The Year 2014" gongs are handed out.

In the interests of balance, I have re-visited some Everything But The Girl output, but have found nothing to alter my previous views.  So whether you like EBTG or not, this album is highly recommended.

"Forget"
video

"Nathaniel"






Saturday, 12 July 2014

Newcastle

I've always pronounced it "Newcastle", in the way that those from the South (or should that be civilzation?) pronounce it.  Although I have noticed that many news readers have started to apply regional accents and have started to say "Newcastle".
Well, however it is pronounced it is this city that has been subjected to my ongoing quest to visit as many independent record shops as possible.
Actually, the purpose of the trip was to move my step-daughters stuff out of her University Halls of Residence pending her moving to a new shared house in a couple of weeks (fortunately, it's not me who is making the return trip).

Observations of the journey:
  • it's a bloody long way
  • why does my SatNav want to send me along the M40? M4, M25, M1 and keep going is surely the most direct route, but no Mrs SatNav Woman has decided that I should go A34, M40, M42, M6, M1.  Seems a bit convoluted to me, and I think she threw a major strop when I proceeded down the M4 towards Slough (in fact she didn't speak to me again until Luton)
  • it's further than I thought
  • Upon arrival in Newcastle (via Gateshead) the first thing that you notice is that East side of the city (Jesmond-area) appears to be one big Motorway Interchange.
  • Without wishing to re-enforce the stereotype, as I passed York, the sky turned grey and it started raining (It's grim up north etc ...)
So, freshly ensconced into the Hotel room, I use the wifes Tablet to search out the record shops the city has to offer.  Excluding, the ever-present (and often hilarious) HMV, there are seven potential shops to visit.
Of this, I discount 2 immediately as one is a sheet music specialist, and the other is more of a Vintage Clothing store than a specialist record shop. 
Next problem, a quick recce of the area, and it looks like 3 more of the remaining five may not have a bricks and mortar presence anymore (or I just missed them - I'm not a local, but I am English and a bloke, so therefore refuse to ask for directions).
This leaves just two shops on the list (Reflex and RPM Music).
At this point, I become slightly apologetic, and confess that from a starting list of 7, I only managed to visit 1 shop.
That shop was Reflex, a small (but perfectly formed, and as I discovered a perfectly stocked) unit down a side road, just up from the station.  Came away with a couple of additions, but could easily have spent a few more hours (and lots more £) in that fine emporium.
There is now a simmering frustration/annoyance within me that I didn't get to the other shops.  Maybe a return trip is needed, although there is something against this - did I mention that it is a long, long trip?
I also visited the once mighty, now generally laughable, HMV.  The store itself boasted a 70% Stock Clearance Sale (due to Store re-location).  "This might be interesting", I thought.  To answer in a few words - it wasn't!
Yes, there were some serious price reductions on some items, but not on the main stock.  What was reduced was the detritus that had been clogging up their store room and they had never been able to shift.
So what did I get?
Not as much as I wanted to from Reflex, and not as much as I'd hoped for from HMV.
The one main addition, that will now be forever linked to Newcastle in my head, was 'HQ' by Roy Harper.

Roy Harper is a name I knew, but had never knowingly heard.  He has released 22 albums in nearly 50 years of recording, and I have only heard "Tom Tiddlers Ground" and his vocal contribution to Pink Floyds "Have A Cigar".
So why this album from 1975?  Before venturing north, I had ordered a 2005 compilation ('Counter Culture') from an internet retailer with a "flexible" taxation relationship with the UK Exchequer, so I wasn't looking for a career spanning retrospective, but this album contains the one other song Roy Harper I have heard of (if not heard): "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease"




Thursday, 26 June 2014

Slade

Two local Midlands bands (The N'Betweens and The Mavericks) met up on a ferry to Germany. N'Betweens drummer (Don Powell) and guitarist (Dave Hill) asked The Mavericks vocalist if he'd be interested in joining them.
Noddy Holder said: "No"
A couple of months later, they met up again in Wolverhampton, and this time Noddy said "Yes" (bassist Jim Leas had recently joined the N'Betweens).
Slade (as they would later become known) was born.

Still playing around the Midlands. the band were spotted by Fontana Records, spent week in Phillips Records studio and were subsequently offered a record deal on the stipulation that (a) they change their name, and (b) get a manager.
Despite the bands unhappiness with the record companies choice of name (Ambrose Slade) the arrival of Chas Chandler as Manager signaled the beginning of a fruitful and successful relationship.
Ambrose Slade's first album ('Beginnings') was a mixture of cover versions (including "Born To Be Wild", "Martha My Dear" and "Journey To The Centre Of Your Mind") and band originals (including the first single "Genesis" which didn't trouble the chart compilers).
The bands second single ("Wild Winds Are Blowing" (released as The Slade)) fared no better than the first, and the band returned to the studio with a shortened name and shortened hair (the band adopted skinhead look and a tougher sound, although still rooted in R&B).
Another two singles ("Shape Of Things To Come" and "Know Who You Are") flopped, and the parent album 'Play It Loud' continued the disappointment.
Their next single attempted to capture the rawness and atmosphere of their live shows.  "Get Down And Get With It" was released in May 1971 and started a slow rise, cracking the Top 20 in August 1971.
Their next single was a Noddy Holder/Jim Lea composition, and the first to feature their (sonn to be) trademark mis-spelling/phonetic spelling.
"Coz I Luv You" came out in October 1971, and two weeks later was sitting at Number 1 where it stayed for four weeks.
This was the start of a golden 5 year period, with the next 11 singles all achieving Top 4 placings, including 5 further Number 1 singles (3 entering the chart in pole position, one of which was "that song"): "Look Wot You Dun", "Take Me Bak 'Ome" , "Mama Weer All Crazee Now", "Gudbuy T'Jane", "Cum On Feel the Noize", "Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me",
"My Friend Stan", "Merry Xmas Everybody", "Everyday", "The Bangin' Man", "Far Far Away"
This run ended in 1975 when "How Does It Feel?" rose no higher than number 15.
In addition to the singles, Slade were considered a formidable proposition live, and thier first album of this period ('Slade Alive') hit number 2 in mid-1972.  The next album ('Slayed?') released at the end of the year went one better.  All of the singles to date were brought together on the album 'Sladest' which also hit number 1, and 1973 and 1974s 'Old New Borrowed And Blue' repeated the feat.

Towards the end of 1974, the idea of a film was mooted - several ideas were considered, before settling on the film "Flame".  Although not being trained actors (they were musicians, in case you weren't aware!), each of the band gave strong performances as members of the fictional band, charting their struggle to make it, their rise and their ultimate fall.
Latterly, the film has been spoken of as an object lesson in how to "do" a rock band film, but at the time was dismissed by large sections of the media.
The attendant Soundtrack album ranks, along with 'Old New Borrowed And Blue' as the zenith of their Long Playing output.  The 'Flame' album contains both Noddy Holders favourite song ("Far Far Away"), and the masterpiece that is "How Does It Feel" (yes, the song that broke Slades Top 10 appearance run, but surely ranks as one of the finest songs ever written).

The relative failure of Flame coincided with a downturn in Slade's recording fortunes.  1975s "Wham Bam Thank You Mam" restored them to the Top 10, but by the middle of the year the band had virtually permanently re-located to America in search of a new audience and the elusive US Breakthrough (which sadly for the band, never happened).  Slade toured heavily and despite some favourable reception in some parts of the country, this success was not transferred across the continent (yet!).
In the midst of touring, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea started writing and recording the next album.
The first two singles ("In For A Penny" and "Lets Call It Quits" hit number 11, and the parent album ('Nobodys Fools') hit the Top 20.  The following single "Nobodys Fools" failed to chart, the first time a Slade single had stiffed since since "Know Who You Are" in 1970.
'Nobodys Fools' is not a bad album, I think it suffers more that the band were stuck in America so the opportunity for promotion in the UK was limited (if not non-existent).
One can't help notice the strangely prophetic title of their last Top 20 single: "Lets Call It Quits".  With the band resident in the UK, it seems that the public and the record company to some extent did.  It would be another 5 years before Slade would grace the Top 20 again.

Returning from the US empty handed, Slade found themselves with a smaller audience, no record contract and a musical landscape that they were no longer part of.
The bands contract with Polydor was not renewed, and they were signed to Chas Chandlers independent Barn Records.  Their first single was "Gypsy Roadhog" which despite the normal helping hand of a ban by the BBC crawled into the lower reaches of the Top 50.  The album had another prophetic title with "Whatever Happened To Slade?".  The record buying publics answer seemed to be "Don't know" as no-one bought the album.
A non-album single "Burning In The Heat Of Love" came out soon after.  Another BBC ban offered no help other than to bury the single and it tanked (in chart terms).
7 further singles in 1978 and 1979, and the 1979 album 'Return To Base' all appeared on the label, and all sold in very small numbers (if at all).  Despite these failures, the band retained their reputation as a live act, albeit in smaller venues.

In February 1980, despite Slades relatively low public profile, Noddy Holder was offered the job of replacing the recently deceased Bon Scott in AC/DC. Noddy never took up the position and the group re-convened to release an EP containing 3 tracks from their previous album, and 3 newly recorded tracks ("Six Of The Best"). As was becoming a pattern of expectation, the songs received limited airplay, limited distribution and as a result limited sales.

.. and that it seems was the end.
Apart from one last minute intervention of fortune:

In August 1980, both Ozzy Osbourne and Gary Moore pulled out of their scheduled slots on the bill at the Reading Festival.  With less than a week to go (some stories state 3 days), the organisers needed ti find a replacement.  Slade were considered and Chas Chandler put the idea to the band.  Dave Hill had had enough at this stage and didn't want to be on stage anymore.  The other 3 were more conducive, and with the help of Chandler managed to cajole Mr Hill into doing the show (it was sold to him as a final farewell show).
So, late afternoon the band walked on stage to a rapidly thinning crowd.  3 songs in, the crowd numbers were increasing, and the atmosphere hotting up into a party-like frenzy.
Just a week earlier, the band were about to pack it all in, now, two encores later, they were leading 70,000 rock fans in a chorus of "Merry Xmas Everybody" - in a field, in Berkshire, in the middle of August.
With a reception like that, and the ensuing press attention and airplay as a result of Radio 1 Rock Show 'Reading Special', this was far from a low key farewell.  Signing soon afterwards to Cheapskate Records (part owned by Jim Lea), by September the "Live At Reading" EP was released.  Whilst not exactly setting the charts alight, it delivered the highest chart position since 1976.

After a second EP ("Xmas Ear Bender") in November, the band returned to the studio to record a new batch of songs.  Recorded in early January, the first fruits of these sessions was "We'll Bring The House Down" - Slade in full heavy rock mode - and the single flew into the Top 10.
The parent album was released in March and combined 6 tracks from the previous release ('Return To Base') and 4 new tracks.
The album ended their 5 year chart hiatus, and plans were drawn up for a European Tour.  Due to their higher profile they were now able to leave the 'toilet circuit' and start returning to larger venues.
In August 1981 (having already turned down the offer to return to that years Reading Festival), Slade appeared on the bill at the Monsters Of Rock Festival alongside Blue Oyster Cult, Whitesnake and headliners AC/DC.
Two further singles were culled from the album to negligible success, apart from keeping the band in the publics attention, but did result in the offer of a new recording contract with RCA Records (unfortunately, the US was put on hold again as the new contract excluded Canada and America).

Minor success continued through late 1981 and 82, with the singles being well received and reviewed but only reaching the lower end of the charts.  A similar fate befell the first RCA album "Til Deaf Us Do Part".
Despite no major success, RCA were nothing if not tolerant, and by mid-1983 Slade had the outline of a new album.
The first single, released before the album, was the piano-led folk-ish "My Oh My" which rose to Number 2 around Christmas 1983.the band went away to work on new material.
'The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome' was released in December to capitalise on the success of "My Oh My" but sales were dis-appointing.   A second singe from the album ("Run Runaway" was released in January, but the album only just scraped into the Top 50).

In another moment of either sheer luck, or the stars all aligning at the right moment, Slade finally managed to get noticed in America.
In late 1983, American Metal Band Quiet Riot released a cover version of "Cum On Feel The Noize" and broke into the American Top 10.  RCA did not have rights in the US, so CBS (Quiet Riot's label) signed Slade, and "Run Runaway" was released in America and climbed into the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.  It may have taken 10 years, a change of record label and a couple of slices of luck, but the American breakthrough was sealed.  The single was undoubtedly helped by heavy rotation of the video on MTV, and the next release ("My Oh My") was an MTV favourite too.
A re-packaged version of "The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome" was released and achieved respectable sales.  To push their US credentials, further a tour withe Ozzy Osbourne was planned.  However, after a warm-up gig, Jim Lea was taken ill (later diagnosed as Hepatitis C).  As a result of Lea's illness, increasing tensions within the band (possibly over spelling and grammar), and problems in Noddy Holder's personal life, the band returned to the UK never returning to the US again (or indeed tour any further).

It seems that in the eyes of the public, Slade will be forever associated with Christmas.  Their next single ("All Join Hands") did little to change this view (and nor did the B-Side "Heres To ... The New Year").  This view was again re-enforced with release of 'Crackers - The Christmas Party Album' in late 1985.
Earlier in 1985, "Rogues Gallery" was an album intended to an "old fashioned" type album where every track could potentially be released as a single in it's own right.  All good intentions, but the lack of air-play, promotion and live performance resulted in low sales for the album and it's 5 singles.

Slade's last studio album came in 1987.  Complete with trademark mis-spelling 'You Boyz Make Big Noize' scraped into the Top 100 (just).  The band were released from their contract at RCA and returned to their own Cheapskate imprint.  Their next single, also called "You Boyz Make Big Noize" (which, confusingly, was not on the album that bore the title) fared not much better in chart terms.

Their last single was in 1991 - "Radio Wall Of Sound" - featured vocals from Jim Lea.  The "official" story (and who am I to doubt it?) is that the song is in the wrong key for Noddy Holder's voice, but if you ever see the Top Of The Pops performance, Noddy does look somewhat detached from the rest of the band.

Noddy Holder announced his departure from the band in early 1992, to be swiftly followed by Jim Lea.  Dave Hill and Don Powell continued as Slade II, but the 25 year up and down story was now at an end (unless Arctic Monkeys or Queens Of The Stone Age pull out of this years Reading Festival and a last minute replacement is needed ...


So - how to represent Slade in one (or possibly) two video clips?


From 'Beginnings', the production on this track is not the finest, but it does contain this track bears the foundationsShape Of Things To Come

From 'Flame', Noddy states the "Far Far Away" is his favourite.  I re-iterate what I said above - Noddy is wrong, and this track is an absolute masterpiece - "How Does It Feel?":

Despite selling something like 455 billion singles between 1972 and 1974, the albums also contain a plethora of fine, fine songs.  From 'Old New Borrowed And Blue' - "Miles Out To Sea"

And to think they nearly split up?  This performance of "Wheels Ain't Coming Down" from the now legendary 1980 Reading Festival shows what a potent live band they were:
video


Slades 1970s output is widely known, but the 80s/90s output is often unfairly maligned, or indeed forgotten altogether.  Whilst not necessarily as bombastic or "rabble rousing" (note to self: think of a better term!), the bands performance remains assured and held in check.  It often feels like they could, at any given moment breakout into full heavy rock onslaught.  To save a fortune on album investment, the easiest way to own this stuff, is The Slade Box Set.