Wednesday 13 March 2024

Knockin' On Heavens Door

Written for the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, the original single release hit the Top 20 in majority of countries (except France and Germany for some reason? - maybe they're just not big Dylan fan's there).

Based around 4 chords - G D Am / G D C (and repeat) - even the most ham-fisted of guitarists (ie me) can get their chubby fingers around that

Referring to the Second Hand Songs site, which counts the numbers of different versions available:

"Yesterday" = 1252 versions

"My Way" = 679 versions

"Hallelujah" = 608 versions

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" = 406 versions

Note: at the other end of the scale The Cockney Rejects "Greatest Cockney Rip Off" has only 2 versions

"Knockin' On Heaven's Door" shows 251 versions

James Last had quickly done a loungey/big band/easy listening version in 1973, before Arthur Louis reggaefied it in 1975, and Eric Clapton (who had played on the Louis version) placed his own stamp on it..

Kevin Coyne - hippified it

Booker T Jones - Stax-ed it

Sisters Of Mercy - added darkness

The Alarm - enormodomed it in a U2 wannabe moment (and came close for a time, but ultimately fell away and returned to small venues)

Guns n Roses - just cos it sold the most, don't make it the best

Bryan Ferry - stylised it on 'Dylanesque'

Tracy Chapman - infused it with raw emotion

Randy Crawford - gospelises it, imbues a bit of soul, but ultimately places it in the middle of the road

Avril Lavigne - delivers a Canadian pop princess version (but how many teenyboppers note the darkness in the lyrics?)

Wyclef Jean - locates it in New York, and casts it as a tribute to Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Princess Aaliyah and other departed R&B rappers (and does a fine Bob Marely impression in the mix too)

Roger Waters - Waters always sounds a bit angry or in pain, and it's no different here

Tom Petty - the  Live At The Filmore sounds more like Dylan than Dylan at times

Warren Zevon - adds a certain poignancy, because he was ...

Enjoy every sandwich

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Physical Product vs Streaming

How does one consume music?
Well, both methods are acceptable, seemingly with streaming being the preferred method of many.

But not me ... me, dinosaur.  I like physical product (CD mainly, but I maintain a vinyl collection) and only really use streaming as a "try before you buy" option, or in the case of Youtube, something to listen to as the muse and the moment occurs.

There is an element of ritual, and perseverance, with physical product.  One must go through in the order given to arrive at favourite choices, and who knows by doing this you just might find new delights in an album you thought you knew inside out.
Cherry picking is all very well, and has it's place (see the Youtube reference above), but you wouldn't choose to watch a film and fast-forward through to your favourite scenes, spin on again to another, and then select another film for a 30 second scene.
No, so why do it with music?

I do "get" the concept, and inexorable rise of streaming but just do not indulge myself.
But I am more than happy for others of my acquaintance to go down this route (even if I have to put up with the conversation telling me how many albums they have stored on their phone).
Why?  Because as they have decluttered themselves and are now living with 1s and 0s, I am gradually filling up my house with the unwanted product.

Weekends and evenings can be spent going through boxes saying "Got, Got, Need, Interesting ..." in a sort of musically-flavoured shoutback to collecting Panini Football stickers as a kid.
So I'm filling gaps in the collection, finding new stuff I never got round to buying first time out or never actually knew I wanted.  But, I'm also finding myself stumbling across stuff that I have no interest in, but at least can claim ownership.

A great voyage of discovery is on the cards, but I am constantly asked (and my wife does have a good point here): "where are you going to put it all?".
And this is true - I am rapidly running out of storage space (again!), and now need to start getting creative about my storage solutions.
There is some shelf space I can commandeer - basically, that space that was left unshelved/unfilled with the express intention of breaking up the flow with ornaments and general toys and (so I'm told) "it doesn't look like a flipping record shop".
Well, some of the boxsets I can move to the top of the units, some of the inaccessible spaces can be made accessible. but ... space is becoming premium.
The compilations may have to be moved to another bookcase (sadly, in another room - which breaks the cardinal rule of having the collection all in one place).
The second option is to do a bit of pruning by getting shot of the things I'm just never going to listen to, but have ownership of (does anyone want a complete set of Robbie Williams CDs?).

When asked where I will put it all, my response is the same: "It's OK, I'll find room"
Thing is, I'm not so sure at the moment.

There's a fine line between a collector and a hoarder ... but I don't believe I have crossed it yet

Friday 1 March 2024

Sniffin’ Glue: And Other Rock ‘n’ Roll Habits

In July 1976, Glam Rock fan and Bank Clerk Mark Perry was wandering his favourite record stores when he asked at the Rock On Stall in Soho Market if they had any magazines about this new “Punk thing” he’d been reading about in the NME – his interest piqued by the first Ramones album, The Flamin’ Groovies at the Roundhouse, and the spying of familiar faces at Gigs.

The Rock On Stall had nothing to offer other than an American publication, but nothing about what was clearly happening in London.
The man on the stall – half-jokingly – suggested that he start one himself if he can’t find what he was looking for. So that’s just what he did – he returned to his bedroom in Deptford, armed himself with a ream of paper, a cheap typewriter, and some felt tip pins and produced Issue 1 of Sniffin’ Glue.
He went back to Rock On with the 50 copies he’d photocopied, and to his surprise they sold and Rock On gave him some money to produce more.

Issue 1 was pieced together on enthusiasm and adrenaline, rather than a journalistic ideal. And it was this DIY style that appealed and gave the confidence to produce more – not on a regular basis, but as and when the moment took him.

One thing to note: at the time of publication, they were few bands about and even fewer records – Issue 1 featured 2 pages reviewing Blue Oyster Cult albums.

By Issue 2, Mark Perry had been invited, along with Caroline Coon (Melody Maker) and Jonh Ingham (Sounds) to Eddie & The Hot Rods gigs, travelling in the back of their van.
He got to see the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, and as Sniffin’ Glues reputation spread, Brian James asked to be on the cover of the next issue and offered The Damned up for interview. 3 issues in, and they’re getting exclusive access already.
Just after Issue 4 in October 1976, Sniffin’ Glue moved from a Deptford bedroom to a backroom at the Rough Trade shop, and then onto office space provided by Miles Copeland, who also gave Mark Perry his own record label.

From 50 hand made copies to quitting his job at the bank inside 3 months. He also roped in 2 friends to help with the scribbling and reviewing – Steve Mick and Danny Baker – and Sniffin’ Glue became a job, rather than something knocked up cheaply and flogged off quickly.

Sniffin’ Glue was now a mainstay of the scene, and even started to take on advertising – mostly from Rock On and Chiswick Records, but also offering advance membership of the (yet to open) Roxy in Covent Garden.
The style was becoming more confident, the content richer, more photos and more (freebie) records to review, and still for the bargain price of 30p

Issue 12 was the last, appearing some 14 months after the first issue (Note: although nominally Issue 12, it was actually Issue 15 as the had been 3½, 7½, and a Christmas Special (Sniffin’ Snow). The final print run was 20,000 copies. What started as a mouthpiece for enthusiasm, was becoming a commercial enterprise, and Sniffin’ Glue – although the first – was now just one of many fanzines competing for attention.
Better to end it while it was still “fun” – and the perfect opportunity to promote your next venture by sticking a flexi-disc of your new band Alternative TV on the cover.

This book (first published in 2000, re-published in 2009, and now available again) collects together all those issues, and through the pages one can see the rise and fall (or should that be disillusionment?) of Punk from it’s DIY, small scene London-centric beginnings, ending (I think) presciently before both Punk and Sniffin’ Glue became a bloated parody.

One of the last items written is from Danny Baker expressing annoyance with the cheering reaction from the crowd when the DJ at The Vortex announced that Elvis Presley had died.

What is surprising about the book is that what on the face off it essentially a disposal artefact has now been preserved. One can only assume that the copies are drawn from Mark Perry’s Master copies as it’s unlikely that any of the purchased copies survived and probably ended up littering the floors of The Roxy and The Vortex, or floating in the wind down Wardour Street.

Learning point: Don’t go looking for the “Here’s chord, here’s another, here’s a third – now form a band” headline. That was another fanzine – Sideburns – in January 1977, but is attributed to Sniffin’ Glue – so much so, you can buy a t-shirt with the Sniffin’ Glue headline, and the picture from Sideburns.

Sunday 18 February 2024


 A positive title for a largely positive post.

Tough job getting back into this "spilling your brains on a given subject" blogging thing.
And my return has been further delayed by a certain malaise because I have spent more time than is probably healthy listening to the catalogue of Yes.

Actually, that's not fair - much if it (very much of it) was a fine listen - wonky guitar solos and over-indulgent keyboard tinklings included.  But it has taken a while, and much re-listening, to get my thoughts clear on a few of the offerings (particularly the later ones)

Yes came together in 1968 - Chris Squire was bassist in Mabel Greer's Toyshop alongside guitarist Peter Banks.  Drummer Bill Bruford joined the line-up in mid-1968, followed soon by pianist Tony Kaye.
Jon Anderson worked in the club that Mabel Greer's Toyshop often played live, and had become friends with Chris Squire.  He was drafted in as vocalist in late 1968, just as the band were concluding that their name had run it's course, and it was time for a fresh start.  The suggested name came from Peter Banks but one can't be sure if it was a suggestion, or whether he was just answering one of the other suggested names when he said "Yes".
The newly-monikered 5 piece went straight into the rehearsal rooms and into performance wherever a gig could be found in London, and by the end of the year had snuck onto the bottom of the bill at Cream's final show at the Royal Albert Hall - a performance Bill Bruford had to be convinced to return for as he had quite the band to go to University.
In Spring 1969, after more gigging, the band were invited to audition for Atlantic Records, and secured a contract.  And by Summer, their first album was on the shelves.

Now, this is something new to me that I never knew before starting this thing - I always believed that the first Yes album was 1971s 'The Yes Album', I was completely unaware of the existence of 2 albums before it, and that guitarist Steve Howe is on neither of them.

The first Yes album was released in Summer 1969, and if you have a slight knowledge of Yes in their heyday, the sound and content of this one is very different.  It has the sound of equal parts The Byrds, The 5th Dimension, and the musical Hair.
The musicianship - especially the rhythm section of Squire and Bruford - is exceptionally tight, with Jon Anderson's falsetto sitting on top of everything.  There is a suggestion in some of the tracks where the band would head later, but only in slight moments (and perhaps more with the benefit of hindsight.  Commercially it was a flop, but Atlantic (At that time) were loyal to their charges, and a second album was planned.

Time and a Word
And their second chance 12 months later probably wasn't what Atlantic had hoped for on their investment.  In terms of scope, it isn't a huge step forward from it's predecessor, but does start to incorporate more of the future tropes, including orchestral parts, and referencing back to classical music and passages.  Unlike the debut album, this one actually feels like it was planned and has an endpoint, where the debut just seemed to stop.
And on the subject of endings, this album marked the final turn of guitarist Peter Banks, who was replaced by Steve Howe soon after work on the album was finished (the US Rel;ease featured a picture of the band, including Howe, on the back cover even though he didn't actually play on it.

The Yes Album
After the commercial non-performance of their previous 2 albums, Atlantic were on the verge of pulling the plug.  A change of manager, and renewed inspiration with the presence of Steve Howe who had a wider scope and style than Peter Banks, gave Yes a reprieve and studio time.
With stronger production, and a more technical approach to song (including multi-part songs, and  moments where the band play different tunes in different time signatures but make it sound tuneful rather than cacophonous), The Yes Album starts to give a return to record company patience, and is the launch pad for what many cliche quoting commentators term as "Classic Yes"

With increasing confidence, Yes were looking to expand their sound and songs.  However, organist Tony Kaye wasn't so sure it was the correct move, and soon found himself replaced by Rick Wakeman - someone who did want to expand and explore.
On the same day as the Yes offer, David Bowie invited him to join his touring band.  Rick declined believing he would get more artistic freedom with Yes.
And they got to work quickly - within a couple of days of rehearsals they had the shape of two key songs from the album - "Roundabout" and "Heart Of The Sunrise", and a collective desire to share ideas and get this next record done.  These 2 songs bookend the album, with 6 of the remaining seven clocking in under 3 minutes (and one barely breaking 35 seconds).
Who says Yes songs are over-expanded and bloated ...

Close To The Edge
Well ... here's the opportunity to level that very accusation - a 40 minute album consisting of just 3 tracks.  Track 1 (basically side one) is the title track in 4 movements ... stand by for Prog tropes in excelsis ... inspired by  J R R Tolkien, Symphonies #6 and #7 by Sibelius, and Herman Hesse.
There's a lot of ideas and playing going on - almost like the band is fighting each other to get their "bits" heard.  And there is much truth in that thought - by the end of the recording drummer Bill Bruford (tired of being asked to play a certain way to match Chris Squire's bass parts, and general bad feeling in the studio) downed sticks and left Yes.  Side 2 (which contains 2 tracks) is for my money the more enjoyable half, but can still feel ponderous. 
And talking of ponderous...

Tales from Topographic Oceans 
Rick Wakeman's take on the album was "we had too much for a single, not enough for a double, so we padded it.  And it wasn't very well padded."
Alan White (late of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison's 'All Things Must Pass', and stints with Ginger Baker's Airforce and Steve Winwood) joined up after Bill Bruford's departure, and ushered in a more sol,id rock based style and opposed to the jazz-esque swing of Bruford.
Not that it was truly in evidence here.  As is usual  with Yes, the creation and development of the album was fraught with disagreements and confusion - "what is the concept?", "how do I get my little flourish heard?", "why is the studio dressed up like a farm?", "remind me, what actually is the concept here?".
In fairness, despite it being hard work and not truly feeling like it hangs together, it isn't actually that bad (it just takes several listens).
The stories of Rick Wakeman eating a take-away Curry on stage during some of the instrumental passages may be an urban myth, but by the end of the tour Rick Wakeman had left the band.

Rick Wakeman has gone, Patrick Moraz is in - it was going to be Vangelis (who Jon Anderson would work with later in the 80s), but despite shipping his keyboard rig to London, Brain Lane (Yes manager) was informed of Vangelis fear of flying, so potentially putting elongated US Tours at a bit of a risk.
Patrick Moraz was invited to audition (using Vangelis rig) and then went straight into the studio to finish writing, buff up existing demos and commit to tape.
'Relayer' continued the "3 tracks, 1 on side one, 2 on side 2" principle, as per 'Close To The Edge'.  Economic times were tough in 1974, so Yes made sure of optimum use of vinyl be squeezing 22 minute in to 1 track.
This is an odd album in the timeline - it is well played, with some great invention and experiments, well produced, and hangs together as well as anything before - but it doesn't truly hit "the spot"

Going For The One
As the tour in support of 'Relayer' ended, the band took a break, and each member recorded a solo album.  Reconvening a year later ,and as is often the case in the late 70s, for Tax reasons many big bands spent time working and living abroad, and Yes decamped to Switzerland - home land of new keyboarder Patrick Moraz.  However, within weeks of starting rehearsals for the next album, Rick Wakeman returned to the fold and Patrick Moraz was out.  Stories/reasons vary, ranging from Moraz was "playing, but not participating", his sound was too clean for the what the band wanted to do, and Rick Wakeman was skint.  Whatever the reasoning, and possibly down to being outside the UK, the newly reconvened band was often getting on in the studio and seemed to be pulling in the same direction and supporting each others work.  That is, until the departure of producer Eddy Offord, and the bands decision to produce the record themselves.  Then the relationships in the band returned to old ways, where they were effectively working on their own and arguing for their own contributions.  Without a producer, one would expect the resultant album to be something of a mess.
They still had the one long song (in this case "Awaken" clocking in at 15 minutes) but 'Going For The One', but the supporting songs were shorter and more direct (allowing a total of 5 tracks this time), and the album as a whole is one of their stronger outings (if not always held in that esteem by contemporary reviewers)

Apocryphally, Punk was supposed to kill off Prog Rock excess like Yes and ELP.
Recorded and released during the ending days of Punk, The original intention was to have 2 albums at each of the year, but when it came down to it, there was only really enough strong material for a single album
And lack of self-discipline in the self production, the continuing deterioration of inter-band relationships (again), their propensity to try and fit more notes into a single bar than each other, and some terrible artwork saw to it that 'Tormato' is perhaps the least fondly remembered of all the albums (certainly by the band, as proved by the lack of live outings for these songs since release).
Punk killed off the Prog hippies?  Nope, Yes were managing to do that for themselves.

The creation of 'Tormato' was difficult, as was the ensuing tour.  By the time the band got back to the studio for the next opus, divisions were forming over direction, sound and presentation.  The division was strong enough for Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman to leave.
Yes manager Brian Lane had recently taken on The Buggles as clients, so rather than cast around for auditions, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes were drafted in.  A seemingly peculiar move on the face of it, but both Horn and Downes were Yes fans, and Chris Squire wanted to move into a more new wave-esque direction (and the presence of The Buggles may facilitate that).  'Drama' was fairly quickly recorded (at least in comparison to previous Yes albums), but what came out was neither a Yes album, nor a Buggles album, nor a hybrid.  It's not a bad album, just not a good one either.
Steve Howe and Geoff Downes would - within a year - join forces again in Asia.  For my money, the first Asia album is what 'Drama' could've been

Yes effectively disbanded in 1981, but a year later Chris Squire and Alan White starting to seek new musicians to work with the band.  Session musician Trevor Rabin was found (pre-armed with a bunch of demos, which appalled to Chris Squires desire for a change of sound), and the new band was named Cinema.  And in the circular world of Yes membership, original keyboard player Tony Kaye was back in the band.  With more circularity, Trevor Horn was engaged as producer.  With the music recorded, Horn expressed doubts with Rabin's vocal abilities for the material, and Jon Anderson was invited to add vocals.  At this point, the Cinema name was dropped and the Yes flag raised again.
It may say Yes on the title, but the album is a shift in sound resulting from Rabin's drive and Horn's production.  Despite being Prog royalty and over a decade in the game, this album was their biggest seller in America and gave them a new calling card in the shape of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" 

Big Generator
After the success of '90125', the record company wanted more of the same.  And Trevor Rabin had a bunch of songs that could deliver on that.  But the drawn out recording process, and the loss of Trevor Horn as producer meant the 4 year gap between releases lost any momentum.
It wasn't really '90125 Part 2', but it could certainly be seen/heard as an accompanying album, almost like the off-cuts that didn't make the original.
Jon Anderson, who had been sidelined in the creation and recording process, left the band and soon after re-joined with Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe to release the album 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' - which I believe is a stronger album, and despite the absence of Chris Squire, is the last Yes album.

I do know that the 2 factions of the band came together for the album 'Union' in 1991, but never actually played together as a collective and split the tracks between the 2 groupings - one suspects a record company thought it a good idea (Rick Wakeman renamed this album Onion "as it makes me cry!").
But I believed that 'Big Generator' and 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' were the last outings for the band.  Not so, wikipedia tells me there are 10 more albums to listen to (with possibly another coming in 2024).
I'm sure that these will be spotified at some point in the future, but right now I think I am Yessed-out ...

Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Year 2023 In 15 Musical Highlights

I've been away ... will, not away just lacking inspiration (and time) to compose informative missives and critical investigation of musical things (and any other slightly mad thoughts that pass through my head).

Or maybe it was just listening to a combination Mike Oldfield and Yes that rendered me incapable of putting finer to keyboard since mid-Summer.
More of that to follow soon (I bet you can't wait, can you ...)

Inspiration may still be lacking, and in October and November only ONE new thing arrived to fill my over-clogged shelves, so I'm not sure a fix is fully in place, but:

I was lost, now I'm found
I believe in you me, I've got no bounds
I was lost, now I'm found
I believe in you me, I got no bounds
I'm movin' on up now
Gettin' out of the darkness
My light shines on, my light shines on
My light shines on

But ... I can't let a years ending pass without getting excited about some musical highlights from the past 12 months.

The Top 15 essential purchases of the year 2023 are:

1. Jim Bob - Thanks For Reaching Out

You know you're doing something right when an album you release in 2021 is still getting plenty of playing time as the new one arrives.  So much so, that my brain now perceives 'Who Do We Hate Today' and 'Thanks For Reaching Out' as a double album.
'Thanks For Reaching Out' arrived with a press release of some hyperbole, but as soon as the title track starts, one can see the reason for the PR excitement.
My earlier review placed the album as "a collision of indie, punk, folk, Billy Bragg, Buzzcocks, Slade, and Ian Dury (without the funk)".  Add in social comment, biting criticism and rhyming couplets abound, and there's enough going on here to keep the listener entertained for another 2 years until the next Jim Bob missive may arrive.

2. Blur - Ballad Of Darren

The phrase "return to form" or "their best since {insert name of favoured album}" may be an overused staple, but in this case I can't think of a better summary.  'The Ballad Of Darren' contains everything that was great about peak-Blur with added experience.  And in the shape of  "The Ballad", "St. Charles Square", "Barbaric" and "The Narcissist" this album contains songs that are destined to form a true part of Blur's legacy.
(interestingly, Britpop associates Suede did a similar thing last year (although with a couple more "reformed" albums under their belt - back for a second shot and  unleashing a new album every bit as good as their first outings, and scoring a highly acclaimed album - number 3 on my 2022 list, which is, after all, the only list that counts.  Both bands will probably hate me for this, but they are destined to be intertwined in history, legacy and output - usually with Blur a year behind)

3. Wreckless Eric - Leisureland

Wreckless Eric had his moment in the spotlight at the fag-end of the 70s, and then went and explored his "art".
Since 2015 he has released 4 stand-out albums, maybe not reaching a big audience but they probably deserve a wider hearing - as does his 3 outings with spouse Amy Rigby.  Liesureland continues that run of highly listenable albums featuring Eric's unique vocal stylings (OK, not to everyones tastes), his lo-fi playing (with added sheen on this album), some fine melodies, and a bit of depth in the songs and lyrics.
Liesureland largely imagines life and going ons in the run-down town of Standing Water (possibly based on Cromer in Norfolk, although Mr Goulden will neither confirm nor deny).  Not all the songs relate to the overall narrative, but mix into the story with no jarring or loss of mood. 

4. Sparks - The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

After more than 50 years, one would think that Sparks may be entering that formulaic, easily recognisable phase.  Not a bit of it, they have released another album stuffed full of great songs that burrow there way into your imagination.
Always different, but always unmistakably Sparks.
Although, I may be the only person on the planet who dislikes the title track (even with Cate Blanchett's mad dancing), but second single - "Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is" - restores all faith in Sparks ability to deliver wonder.

5. Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers

The collison of Scott Walker meets Morrissey with literary and thesaurus referencing lyrics continues from where 'Heavy Elevator' left off.  And after multiple listens, 'Angel Numbers' is an even stronger, more consistent album.  "Once Upon An Acid Glance" may well be one of the best song titles of the year, but then again "Elvis Look-alike Shadows" isn't far behind.  And if the song titles are good, then the songs themselves more than live up to it.  All is well in the world of Hamish Hawk, and long may it continue.

6. Public Image Limited - End Of World

I saw John Lydon  in early 2022 on his Q&A "An Evening With ..." tour, and whilst in sparkling form it was clear how strong his love for wife of 44 years Nora.
January 2023 saw the release of "Hawaii" written for Nora - an atypical ballad written in her honour.
("atypical" and "perfectly normal" are interchangeable phrases in the world of PiL)
When Nora's passing was announced, many expected John to retreat to the shadows (as would be his right).  Yet second single "Penge" hit the streets soon after, followed by the full album in August.
It would be easy to give 'End Of World' extra points in sympathy or recognition of his loss, but that does the album an injustice.
OK, not everything on here can be considered in the mould of "classic Pil", but after 8 years since it's predecessor it's more than a welcome return. 

7. Duncan Reid & The Big Heads - And It's Goodbye Form Him

After starting out in The Boys (who in January 1977 were the only Punk Band in the country signed to a major label (well, Nems were a national label, not an independent), followed by a period working for Andrew Lloyd Weber, and then a spell as a Director of Nottingham Forest FC, Duncan Reid returned to performing, first with the reformed The Boys and then with his own band with The Big Heads.
Since 2012, Duncan Reid & The Big Heads have released 4 albums (including this offering) and played to rapturous audiences all over the country and beyond.  However, all things must come to an end, and this is the last outing from The Big Heads.  And this last album is a fitting epitaph containing all the melody and punk-pop attack of old.
All things must come to and end, but with an album as strong as this and a firm following (admittedly at a club/small theatre level, or lower down the bill of a festival) one must question why now?

8. The Damned - Darkadelic

The Damned's original deal with Stiff was for one single.  Whilst recording their debut album, they were effectively unsigned and in negotiation with Dave Robinson at Stiff to release more stuff (namely the album they were recording, and he had paid for).  Hence, The Boys info-nugget above.
Since that 1977 debut album, they have been through more line-up changes, hiatuses, disbandments, and reformations than most, but are still performing and recording - the core revolves around Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, but next year original member Rat Scabies is re-joining permanently alongside Paul Gray.
The pressure may be on to do the "cabaret" / greatest hits shows, but when you have an album as strong as 'Darkadelic' under your belts, why go for the comfy option?
All known bases of The Damned are covered from the Scott Walker-esque vocal (I'm sure Dave's voice is getting deeper), the dark gothic undertow to the delivery of the lyrics (no matter the subject matter) bolted to soaring melody and guitars with a sprinkling of psychedelia and glam rock stomp thrown in.

9. Madness - Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie

Did Madness really believe they'd still be active 45 years after their first release.  And they would surely not have believed they would (or should) fall in the "National Treasure" bucket.
But here they are releasing another album of ska-infused Music Hall, and as expected it is recognisably Madness from first listen.  The prime difference being that (certainly since 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate') Madness now work in the album mode rater than being the Singles band they will forever be known for.  Now constructing albums that can have singles lifted from it, rather than constructing albums around the singles.
And this surprised me - this is the first Madness album to achieve a Number 1 placing in the Album Chart.  And a thoroughly deserved accolade it is too.

10. Glen Matlock - Consequences Coming

And here's another still doing the rounds since the late 70s.  Maybe not as visibly as Madness, but always around, often as a sideman gun for hire (currently assisting Blondie) but also pursuing a low-key solo career.
I was due to see Glen Matlock live - first in April which was then postponed to November.  And then cancelled.  Glen remains the only active past member of the Sex Pistols I've not seen live (yet). Following on from 2018s 'Good To Go' the rockabilly tendencies remain but now with a smoother delivery, and almost as much venom on a coupe of tracks as his Pistols days.
'Consequences Coming' is a more consistent (or maybe just better sequenced?) set, and boasts one of those seemingly unlikely cover version choices in the shape of kd lang's "Constant Craving".

11. Wingmen - Wingmen

The members of Wingmen have a few years experience under their belts, comprising Baz Warne (The Stranglers), Paul Gray (The Damned), Leigh Heggarty (Ruts DC) and Marty Love (Johnny Moped) they've broken free from their host bands to produce an album stuffed full of top tunes for no other reason than they can.
The songs here could've found a home on their "home" bands output, but this was obviously a case of "I have some songs and my band is not doing anything at the moment.  Who do I know that will give them life?".  This collaboration may be a one-off (although there is possibly enough life to go again), and they may scuttle back to their original homes, but the sheer joy of playing together and breathing life into these songs is most welcome.

12. The Coral - Sea Of Mirrors

I think of The Coral as one of those bands that no-one can really dislike.  There is something appealing about their jangle, noise, delivery and creation.
Things is with "likable" bands, there is often substance missing - well not in the case of The Coral.  'Sea Of Mirrors' proves that 'Coral Island' was no blip in the matrix.
And couple this album with 'Holy Joe's Coral Island Medicine Show' and The Coral deliver yet another stunning listen.

13. Joe Jackson - Presents: Max Champion in “What A Racket!”

Purporting to be a collection of newly discovered songs from little-known Music Hall entertainer Max Champion (so little known he has no presence on the internet), what this actually is Joe Jackson looking to start a Music Hall revival (and what not, he's tried it before with swing and jazz in the early 80s).
The songs have a whiff of the Hackney Empire about them, so much so you could almost believe the conceit.
Goes nicely with Matt Berry's TV Themes album from a few years ago - an album you want to return to, but need a combination of the right mood and the right audience to indulge.

14. Alice Cooper - The Road

I admit that this isn't a truly strong album, but the choruses of many songs have the ability to play in your head on auto-repeat.
Musically it's a bit formulaic, especially when one considers last years 'Detroit Stories', but it does have just enough about it to play again (and again).
Will I still be playing it this time next year?  Maybe not regularly, but I'm sure selected bits will get continued airtime

15. Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds

Arriving in a hail of hype and expectation, this news Stones album probably get more column inches than their last 5 albums (going back to 'Steel Wheels') put together.  It even get a mention on the BBC News.  Does it deserve the plaudits?  In the main, yes.  This is The Rolling Stones being The Rolling Stones, and proving that no-one does it better.  Featuring a guest list including Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lady Ga Ga, Benmont Tench, past member Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts last recorded work.  If this is the last Stones album, then it is a fine way to sign-off

Observations?  Where's the new bands.  I am patently aware that the whole of my list is "of a certain vintage" - only Hamish Hawk has a recording career in single figures, and only Wingmen can be classed as a debut album (but the members of the band have plenty of past experience and glories).  Thing is, I've not truly found anything this year that makes me go "Hang on, that's a bit good".  Still, there might be something in 2024 ...

But ... all is not lost of the "new music" front - the debut album from Sharp Class arrived on my doormat - a punt based on some Facebook posts, and one or two tracks heard on Youtube, and admittedly with a 2022 date stamp, but I wasn't aware of it until this year.
Whilst the whole album may not be Top 15 worthy, it does contain one track that was stuck in my head for most of the summer.
OK, I know what you'll be thinking: "hmm ... sounds a bit like The Jam circa 1979".
And that's a good thing, The Jam in 1979 were pretty much unimpeachable

Sharp Class - Tales Of  A Teenage Mind

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Blur - The Ballad Of Darren

 I've sat on this one a couple of weeks contemplating ... is this a great album by Blur, or is this a great album because it's by Blur and I want it to be great?
No, my ears did not deceive me, and I need no fanboy excuses to declare this a great album.

There are echoes of Bur-past, echoes of Blur-current and future, and some of Damon Albarn's arty-fartiness and meandering melodies and lyrical tracts are kept in check.
There have been recent interviews where each member has expressed the notion that when the four of them come together, something clicks, chemistry chemists, and Blur comes forth.

After the release of their debut album, one could be forgiven for thinking they may not have a bright (or long) future.  Their re-invention of themselves and evoking a Mod-infused view of England changed fortunes (slightly) on 2nd release 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'.  But it was 3rd album 'Parklife' that seared them into the national consciousness.  Continual re-invention followed: 'The Great Escape', 'Blur', '13', 'Think Tank' - all Blur, but all a different version of Blur.
When 'The Magic Whip' arrived in 2015, all signs were Blur were back, but ultimately the album didn't deliver in the long term (certainly for me, repeated listening is limited at best).

So why would I expect anything more from 'The Ballad Of Darren'?
Well, early release 'The Narcissist' suggested there was something special on the way, and now the full package has arrived those early thoughts are not misplaced.

Opening with "The Ballad" which evokes "The Universal" from 'The Great Escape' (maybe not as epic) followed by 'St Charles Square' showing Blur are placing themselves in their post-Britpop years re-inventing themselves for current times.  They know what makes a Blur song, and now have the opportunity to imbue it with autobiography and experience.
"Barbaric" is an achingly melancholic earworm, and you could be forgiven for believing the album has peaked by track 3 - far from it - the peak is ridden from now through to the final track "The Heights".

OK, there is an argument that this run of tracks rarely lifts from the considered, slower, emotive and withdrawn.  But where there may have been riffing, there is now considered arpeggios, where there was once solid rhythm backing there is now considered service to the song and lyrics.  And there be the voice of experience - too many slow Blur songs on the trot could once have paled, now the collection is right for the band (and let us not forget the great moments of their passed are not the "Oi Oi ... Parklife" moments, but the feted "The Universal", "Tender", "No Distance Left To Run" et al

I wanted Blur's return with 'The Magic Whip' to be a monumental moment - it nearly was, and I had to wait a few years for 'The Ballad Of Darren' to be that glorious return moment.

St Charles Square


The Narcissist

Tuesday 8 August 2023


 Everyone has a favourite road (don't they?  just me then).
Motorways do a job, conveying the driver from point A to point B with relative ease (unless you're stuck in traffic jams, roadworks, or "Improvement Schemes" restricted the speed limit to 50mph for most of your journey.  Yes they do the job, but Motorways are quite dull.  The monotony may be broken every 30 miles or so by a Service Station but there ain't much to look at except the back of the car in front.
Before the motorways arrived - the first being the Preston by-pass in 1958, and then followed by a massive increase in miles of road over the next 15 years - the A Road (usually following established routes between major towns and cities, which in turn followed Stagecocah routes or Trade routes) was the road of choice.
And despite the appeal of the Motorway, the A Road offers a more relaxing and picturesque experience.  Service Stations may be further apart (or consist merely of a burger van in a layby), but the journey just feels more involved.

From where I live, there are 2 prime routes to travel west.

  1. M4 & M5
  2. A303
The M4 & M5 route may be quicker, but it's also 10 miles longer (and did I mention the dullness of motorway travel).  Also, you can never trust the traffic on the M5 south (even at the quietest times), and returning home going north is often as bad.
The choice is to take the hypotoneuse of the triangle and travel on the A303, and not purely for the Co-Op Distribution Centre south of Andover, Boscombe Down and Salisbury Plain, the sight of Stonehenge, and Mr Blobbys' former home at Cricket St Thomas.
It's a straight route with the momotony broken by regular roundabouts, and great lengths of dual carriageway which, despite the reputation of traffic jams, frees up traffic flow so it never truly reaches dashboard-banging proportions.
Another great attraction of the A303 was the regular appearances of Little Chef or Happy Eater - both long gone, and now replaced by Starbucks, Costa, or a scantly stocked BP Petrol Station.
The A303 also leads (with slight diversion) to Glastonbury - around June the stories of traffic congestion are no doubt true as (if all those that say they have gone are included) a quarter of the population of the UK decamps to the roadways.
It's possible that Glastonbury was the location in mind when Kula Shaker released "303" on their debut album
(then again, maybe like me they just like the road)

After backpacking around India for a year, Crispian Mills (son of actress Hayley Mills) returned to the UK and formed The Kays in 1993.  Their debut live performance was at that years Glastonbury Festival, but started to fall apart soon after.  Kula Shaker was the re-named, re-configured band formed after the fallout.  Fortuitously for the times, the mixture of psychadelia, Indian mysticism, themes, and instrumentation, bolted to a Britpo-esque attitude and sound proved a winner.  Kula Shaker benefited from rabid record companies signing up anytone who was British and played guitar.
Kula Shaker though stood out as there was a little more about them than some other fag-end of Britpop landfill.
Their debut album 'K' came off the back of 3 successful singles, and no little media exposure and critical plaudits.
The album became the fastest selling debut album in the UK since Elastica a couple of years before, and is actually a pretty good album ("Hey Dude" is one superb song that fitted the times just right).
And when the following year a cover version of "Hush" hit the Top 10 all looked good in the Kula Shaker garden, as success in the US appeared likely.
The second album though ' Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts' was not as well received, sold relatively poorly, and coupled with Crispian Mills comments about swastika imagery, saw Kula Shakers stock fall.  Although he qualified his statements, expressed his aplogies for his naivite, the damage was done and Kula Shaker ceased trading in 1999.

Kula Shaker - 303

Bob Dylan released 'Highway 61 Revisited' in 1965 - the name coming from the north-south highway that passes through his birthplace of Duluth, and winds along Mississippi River down to New Orleans. The route also passes near the the birthplaces and homes of  Muddy Waters, Son House, Elvis Presley and Charley Patton. There is also an intersection with Highway 49 - the crossroads where Robert Johnson (allegedly) sold his soul to the devil in return for increased playing ability (and no little future legend status).
Arguments rage as to which is the best Dylan album, but 'Highway 61 Revisited' contains "Like A Rolling Stone" so I think that should be enough to secure it's place.
In a roundabout homage to the album, John Otway recorded "A413 Revisited" documenting his return home to the Vale Of Aylesbury.

John Otway - A413 Revisited

Perhaps most famous road song is "Route 66" - Billy Bragg tended to agree so he took the tune and re-imagined the lyric travelling east from Docklands to Shoeburyness

Billy Bragg - A13 Trunk Road To The Sea