Sunday 29 January 2012

The Joy of Discovery (aka "Whats that Noise?")

"A Meerkat Moment": the time when everything stops and you just listen to the sound coming from the radio, TV, Computer, or from any other source (usually accompanied by your mouth hanging wide open).
The music, and the band, become all cosumingly important. Some bands come to you in a sort of organic way (ie you can see the logic of why you like them because of the other bands you're listening to at that particular time).  These are moments that just sort of come out of nowhere, but have such an effect that you'll listen to nothing else for days (or maybe thats just me?).

Todays "Meerkat Moment" was Graham Day & The Gaolers, and, The Prisoners

I was idly surfing the internet, and whilst I can't share everything I was looking at, the album 'Soundtrack To The Daily Grind' was kindly recommended by Amazon.
A welcome recommendation indeed - two bands I've never heard of

Who are Graham Day & The Gaolers?

(shamelessly nicked from Graham Day & the Gaolers myspace page)
"Graham Day is a founder member of: The Prisoners, The Prime Movers, Planet and The SolarFlares. He has also played drums with Billy Childish in Thee Mighty Caesars and Bass in The Buff Medways. He also appeared in the Gift Horses alongside Martin Blunt and Jon Brookes before they formed The Charlatans."

And so, I know next to nothing about Graham Day & The Gaolers, and little about the "legendary Medway band The Prisoners" (source: Damaged Goods Records), but the albums 'Hurricane: The Best Of The Prisoners', 'Soundtrack To The Daily Grind' and 'Triple Distilled' are on order.
When they arrive I'm sure they will fill a hole in my musical knowledge that I didn't even know was missing.

For More Information (if you're interested):
Graham Day & The Gaolers (myspace)
The Prisoners (myspace)
The Prisoners (Wikipedia)

Graham Day & The Gaolers - Soundtrack To The Daily Grind

The Prisoners - Coming Home

Thursday 19 January 2012

Stone Me

This weekend just gone, I started another of my now-nearly-legendary Catalogue Revisits.  The subject this time was The Rolling Stones.
This particular trawl through the past (darkly) was completed this week whilst eating dinner and washing up after work.
If washing up a shepherds pie dish to the accompaniment of 'Dirty Work' sounds like hard work - believe me it was!

It started simply with a playing of the best Stones compilation available - 'Rolled Gold'
('Hot Rocks' covers similar ground, but misses out the earlier tracks and some of the more interesting later-period/pre-1971 album Tracks (eg "Dandelion", "2000 Light Years From Home.)
'Forty Licks' (the other main Stones compilation is OK, but again has stuff missing and I don't like the running order (retrospective compilations SHOULD be in chronological order))

Three observations:
  1. Is there a better drum & bass combination than Charlie Watts & Bill Wyman? (Keith Moon & John Entwhistle, perhaps)
  2. 'Steel Wheels' is actually a good album - probably the last complete album the band have released, and certainly the best since 1978s 'Some Girls'
  3. The Rolling Stones have five definite phases/periods to their career:
  • The Blues Stones - Interpreter of other peoples songs (1963 - 1965)
  • The Pop Stones (1965 - 1968) - second only to The Beatles (possibly equal, but its a subjective point)
  • The Rock Stones (1968 - 1978)
  • The "Still Releasing Records, Please Buy Them" Stones (1979 - 1989) 
  • The Touring Stones (1990 - whenever)

Phase One:
Brian Jones-led, inspired by music of Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James (and others), they took their name from a Muddy Waters song, and began performing around the London Blues clubs, soon gaining residencies at specific clubs and positive press response.
Andrew Loog Oldham sees the band playing at one of the clubs and becomes their press agent/manager.
He positions the band as the "anti-Beatles", and soon releases (possibly) the most famous headline the band have ever had:  "Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone"

Decca Records (who turned down The Beatles) sign the band and release their first single (a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On") .
The second single, "I Wanna Be Your Man," was written by Lennon and McCartney.

Yes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney - the people they would be in (supposed) direct competition with for the next 7 years.
Or were they in competition?
Was there ever an instance of both bands fighting for the Number 1 spot with new releases in the same week?
Did either band ever replace each other at Number 1 (Apart from "Is All Over Now" being usrped by "I Feel Fine", and "A Hard Days Night" replacing "Little Red Rooster" (both in 1964), the bands appeared (whether by design or coincidence) to give each other the opportunity of Number One Glory without

I vaguely recall in the documentary 25x5 Keith made the statement that whilst The Beatles and The Stones were seen as competitors, they (or their managers) would speak directly to the other band to find out when new singles or albums were scheduled and arrange their own release schedules accordingly.

Their first album, 'Rolling Stones', comprised 11 covers and one Jagger/Richards original.
The second album, Rolling Stones No. 2'  (released 8 months later)) increased the original quotient to 3 out of 12.
This phase was completed with the release of the singles "Not Fade Away," followed by their first Number 1 "Its All Over Now".  The years was rounded off with the Number 1 cover version of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster" (the last straight blues single they released, and probably the last time (no pun intended - see next single release) Brian Jones felt he was the leader of the band)

Phase Two:
Starts with "The Last Time" through to late 1967 and the release of 'Their Satanic Majesties Request'.
The first album of this phase ('Out Of Our Heads') maintains the 3 out of 12 song ownership, but is their last album to rely heavily on cover versions.
The next ('Aftermath') is entirely the work of Mick Jagger & Keith Richrds.  This album is pointing the way forward and The Stones are gaining their own distinctive sound.
'Between The Buttons' is the last of this phase.  This album may not be as strong as its immediate predecessor, but is a worthy album nonetheless, and offers clues as to where the Band are going next.
I was going to suggest that "We Love You" (released in August 1967) is the last "pop" single by the band, but I think its actually a bridge from The Pop Stones to The Psychadelic Stones (which shall be referred to as Phase 2a).
The last "pop" single in this phase of the band is (probably) "Lets Spend The Night Together" / "Ruby Tuesday".

Phase Three:
Singularly speaking "Jumping Jack Flash" heralds the arrival of The Rock Stones.
OK - parts of 'Beggars Banquet' and 'Let It Bleed' have a healthy dose of country-rock running throught it, but their on their way to being The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World (it was a close run thing with The Who, but I think The Stones ultimately won out).
Their position of supremacy is confirmed with 'Sticky Fingers', and then surpassed with 'Exile On Main Street'
The last 4 ('Goats Head Soup', 'Its Only Rock n Roll', 'Black and Blue' & 'Some Girls') were released to ever diminishing sales.  They have their moments but never seem as complete as the initial albums of this phase.  Mind you, after 'Exile ..' could anything they do be as

Phase 4:
Bleak times - Jagger & Richards relationship at all time low, Keefs Heroin addiction and legal wranglings, solo records are being thought about and released.  And it shows (at least to my ears) in the resultant album 'Emotional Rescue' (the band could've been re-titled The Motionless Stones)
1981s 'Tattoo You' was another patchy effort, save for "Waiting On A Friend" (the Mick & Keef reconciliation song (?)) and the unforgettable riff that is "Start Me Up" - another one of those Stones riffs, much like Satisfaction, Jumping Jack Flash or Brown Sugar, that makes you want to play the guitar.
'Undercover' is OK, but you just feel it's the sound of The Stones treading water
'Dirty Work' from 1986 is ... the album they released in 1986.  I really can't find any enthusiasm for this release.
1989s 'Steel Wheels' is a whole different proposition.  This is the sound of The Stones wanting to be a band again, and contains some of the best stuff they've done since the late 70s releases

But what next?
What do rock stars do when they hit 50?  There was no real precedence.
Do they retire gracefully and live in their country houses, maybe taking up metal detecting as a new hobby?
Or keep performing?

Phase 5:
Not really releasing records anymore (3 albums ('Voodoo Lounge', 'Bridges To Babylon' and 'A Bigger Bang') in 18 years) - but do they need to.

Since 1989, The Stones have undertaken the following tours, grossing more every time they went out on the road:

  • August 1989-August 1990 - Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour
  • August 1994-August 1995 - Voodoo Lounge Tour
  • September 1997-September 1998 & June 1999 - Bridges to Babylon Tour
  • January-April 1999 - No Security Tour
  • September 2002-November 2003 - Licks Tour
  • August 2005-August 2007 - A Bigger Bang Tour

Their last 2 Tours have been the highest grossing Tours ever

It is rumoured that the band will be touring again this year (2012) to celebrate their 50th Anniversary
Never seen them live, and to be honest this is probably my last opportunity.  Here's hoping that the tickets will be in the "affordable" price bracket.

I'll admit at this point that I don't own the last 3 albums and have only heard odd tracks from them.  But based on what I do know, I offer the following Buying Advice:
  • Rolled Gold (get the Plus version)
  • Jumpback - covers the highlights of the 1971 - 1993 (this ones not chronological either, but where else can you get a Stones compilation that includes "Tumbling Dice", "Angie", "Beast of Burden" & "Start Me Up")
  • Sticky Fingers - you can never listen to "Wild Horses" too often, and any album that opens with "Brown Sugar" can't be that bad
  • Exile On Main Street - takes a while, but ultimately worth the wait
  • Beggars Banquet - The first Rock Stones album ("Sympathy For The Devil" is even available on Just Dance (imagine my surprise at Christmas seeing the kids performing a synchronised dance routine to a song (supposedly) sung by the devil himself (or herself))
  • The rest - in any order will suffice, but probably get 'Aftermath' and 'Between The Buttons')

For a complete, comprehensive History of The Rolling Stones, you could do worse than read "Rolling With The Stones" by Bill Wyman.  Packed full of detailed information, tour schedules & respective set-lists, recording details and general "trivia" pertaining to the ban, all drawn from Bill's personal diaries & archive (He has such a comprehensive archive and attention to detail, you get the idea he's kept every receipt for every pint of beer he's ever purchased (whats wrong with that? - so do I))

Rolling With The Stones (on Amazon)

A song so strong, even Susan Boyle couldn't ruin it for me:

And to represent the solo outings: Bill Wyman - Je Suis Un Rock Star

(includes the line: "We could go on the hovercraft across the water, They'll think I'm your dad and you're my daughter" - means nothing in 1981, but takes on a whole new creepy feel when considering the stories of Bill and Mandy Smith in 1984)

Monday 9 January 2012

Generation Terrorists

Just got Manic Street Preachers: National Treasures.  A collection of all the singles from the last 20 years.
Only one minor complaint/observation - it would have been nice to have the B-Sides as well (maybe in some form of super-duper-deluxe version).

Hang On?
20 Years?
Am I that old?

First became aware of the Manics in (probably) the spring of 1991.  Had read a fair bit about the band in the music press (I was a regular reader of NME, with a side order of Kerrang! and the monthly glossy digest of Vox and/or Select).

I got  the "Motown Junk" single and "New Art Riot" EP at a Record Fair in Oxford (£4 the pair, if my memory doesn't fail me (it does sometimes, but I'm pretty sure about this.  Also picked up a US Copy of "Ride A White Swan" by T.Rex on the Blue Thumb label)).
Soon after, I remember seeing a brief documentary about the band on BBC2, and then read and heard anything I could find about the band (this was pre-internet, so finding stuff was a full time occupation).
Myself and a mate saw them live at the After Dark in Reading on 10th August 1991 (I still have the ticket).  We were both of the opinion "if they're going to split up soon, we'd better hurry up and see them live - its going to be a 'Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall' moment" - it wasn't!

Before the albums release, the press was full of hype about the band and the record, much of the hype coming directly from the band:
  • A musical mix of Clash, Public Enemy, and Guns and Roses with lyrics by Karl Marx
  • Most important album by the most important band since the Sex Pistols
  • "We'll release one album and split up"
  • "This record will outsell everything that came before it and spark a revolution.  It'll be like 1977 again"
So with press statements like that and other statements being made in every available media publication (mostly in the NME, if I'm honest), the resulting album when released would either be a trail-blazing work of extreme genius or a complete limp lettuce.

And then on 10th February 1992 the album was released.
I took the day off work and bought the album at just gone 9:00am in HMV in Friar Street, Reading.
(These things are important, so you tend to remember stuff like this)

Got back home with expectations at a high.  Played the first track ("Slash 'n' Burn") - its good, but the production sounds a bit glossier than I was expecting.
The disappointment continued - the band sounded reined in by the production, like it was somehow aimed at the American market.  Did the record company see the potential buyers of this record as the hair sprayed, poodle rocking fans of Bon Jovi, Skid Row and other dangers to the ozone layer?
The album certainly seemed to be presented that way - with a slab of naive politics chucked in for good measure.
How can a band so full of mouth capitulate to the record company's demands?  or were they trying to bring down the system from within? (the answer to that one is patently "No")

The cliche "6th Form Poerty" has been thrown at bands before, and the Manics did get this too.  Listen to "Little Baby Nothing".  The lyrics really do sound like a student essay about feminism and pornography.
On it went with my disappointment increasing with every track.  The album was too long, too clean and seemed to be trying too hard to be an intellectual  manifesto married to rock & roll.
It was a competent rock album, but would have been vastly improved by being reduced to a single album (did we really need two versions of "Repeat"?)
So Generation Terrorists never fulfilled the hype that preceded it - to be honest I doubt it was ever likely to.

The Manics were moved to the "They exist, but I don't really want to hear them anymore" section of my brain, and their next two albums ('Gold Against The Soul' and 'The Holy Bible') completely passed me by.  As did 1996s 'Everything Must Go' - I heard the singles, but really wasn't bothered about buying it.

And then I heard "From Despair To Where" used in a TV show  - it was fantastic.  How did I miss this?
Within a week, the three previous albums were purchased and devoured, 'Generation Terrorists' was exhumed, dusted down and played again (it was still too long, but this time "I got it").  Each susequent release has again been purchased on the day of release (or as near as possible), and I continue to enjoy all things Manic ('Journal For Plague Lovers' wasn't that great, but hey! its a welcome addition to the Manics section of the CD shelves)

Are they the most important band of the past 20 years? Don't know, but they are certainly one of the best.

National Treasures is topped & tailed by the following tracks - and all the bits in between aren't that bad either.

Motown Junk

This Is The Day

Monday 2 January 2012

A Return to "Normality"

Is it over?
Can I now return to my general moaning & grumpiness without having a specific time period/celebration to attach it to?

Yes - the 10 day weekend has finished, clearing up has been done and the folly of having a tree inside your house is over for another 11 and a bit months.

So how was it?
One long round of going out, people coming round, washing up, cooking, cleaning etc - not much relaxing during daylight hours happened.

A typical day was:
  • Get up
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Wake up properly (whilst drinking coffee, smoking and watching repeats of Top Gear)
  • Make breakfast for the wife and/or the kids (now aged 13, 15, 16 & 17 - not really kids anymore, but in my world all of them are still only 12)
  • Clear up, Wash Up (Clean house and sweep up floors if visitors are due)
  • Prepare Lunch - Eat Lunch
  • Clear up, Wash Up (for the second time)
  • Potter about a bit
  • Prepare Dinner - Eat Dinner
  • Clear up, Wash Up (again)
  • Eat Cheese
  • Have a drink and start to relax for the evening
  • Eat some more Cheese
  • Watch crap on the telly whilst drinking and eating (probably more cheese)
  • Fall asleep on sofa => wake up & go to bed
  • Repeat for 10 days

As is traditional, on Boxing Day I was struck by the normal Christmas affliction, ie a complete loss of appetite & mild insomnia.

The other great Tradition is for stuff to get broken in the intervening time between Christmas Eve and New Year.  Previous years breakdowns have included: Central Heating, Car, burst water pipes and viruses on computers and laptops.
This year the list is thankfully short:
  1. my tooth (ow!)
  2. the plastic bit on the end of the bathroom light chord
  3. battery in the laptop
The Laptop battery should be an easy fix.  Just visit a local PC retailer to procure the spare part.
This morning I went to PC World and asked if they sold laptop batteries.
The bobble-hat wearing, fly catching, vacantly staring assistant replied: "only available from"
(shame, rather hoped to be able to get it today, rather than waiting 3 or so days for delivery, but hey-ho, never mind, needs must and all that)

And then it dawned on me:
How do I get on the internet without any power source to the Laptop?
Fortunately, I use a Desktop PC and the laptop is the wifes - but I know people who have rid themselves of their desktop and only us a Laptop

Oh well - back to work tomorrow.  Can't remember what I was doing when I finished, what needs to be done and I'm not entirely sure I can remember my logon password either.

Happy New Year to anyone who reads this