Wednesday 28 August 2013

Is This The Most English Song Ever?

I'm currently on holiday (well, couple of days off following the Bank Holiday), and have been engaging in the usual folly associated with going out for the day in Great Britain.
"Where shall we go?"
"Oh, lets go to the coast for the day.  Or we could just go out for a drive somewhere and see what we find"

If the above ("go out for a drive and find a nice pub or something") is ever suggested, then my best advice is: DON'T!
You'll never find anywhere, and end up driving down tiny little country roads (often with grass growing down the middle) in the vain hope of finding pub nirvana - the sort of place with loads of parking, cheap beer, loads of different cask ales and plentiful portions of pub grub.
Well, these places don't exist and you'll end up sitting in the garden of a Harvester (or worse, the car park of a Little Chef (do these still exist?)) and then turning round and going home again.

At least I managed to draw one positive from the whole futile escapade.
Whilst driving around, I passed through some small villages, often with double or triple barreled names (many sounding like they should be names of Blues musicians) and was struck by the "Olde Worlde" fell of some of them, which brought to mind one of the most quintessentially English songs ever.

The Kinks - The Village Green Preservation Society

How many other songs make mention of those elements that (partially) define what it is to be in England? 

We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety
We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?
We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society
God save Mrs Mopp and good old Mother Riley
We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them
We are the Sherlock Holmes english speaking vernacular
Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?
God save the Village Green

The parent album (full title - The Kinks Are: The Village Green Preservation Society) sold poorly in its release, but is now regarded as a genuine classic and one of the best (if not THE best) in The Kinks catalogue.
The poor sales were probably not helped by the fact that:
- many of their contemparies were going hippy-dippy psychedelic or focusing on the American market.  Releasing your album on the same day as The Beatles 'White Album' and a week before The Rolling Stones 'Beggars Banquet' probably didn't help much either.

The album is often referred to as a 'Concept Album', and whilst there is an underlying theme, I personally don't think it is.  It's certainly not a concept album when compared to the next album ('Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)'), The Pretty Things 'S F Sorrow' or The Who's 'Tommy').
What it is a collection of some of the best songs Ray Davies has written, touching on themes of loss ("Village Green", Do You Remember Walter"), family memories ("Picture Book", "People Take Picture Of Each Other"), child-like fantasy/whimsy "Phenominal Cat" and acceptance of the march of time ("The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains".  In fact the songs are that good they could afford to leave "Days" off of the UK release.

Much like when I'm reading P G Wodehouse, it seems to refers to a past that no longer exists, and probably never did, but you just want to spend some time in the world described.

Kate Rusby performing the title track The Village Green Preservation Society.
I suppose it would be called a tender and delicate reading of the song. with added Yorkshire twang.
Adds a new dimension to the song (to these ears)

And while I'm here, what is it about female voices and Ray Davies songs?
Here's two more examples.
Kirsty MacColl - Days (the hit single that didn't make the final cut of the Village Green Preservation Society)

Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing (originally released in 1964 on the Kinks debut album)

Wednesday 21 August 2013

You Could Be Laughing 65% More Of The Time

Yes, I know it's a lyric from John Grant's second album, but I've only just got round to buying the first ("Queen Of Denmark").
This album was released in 2010, but it's taken 3 years and the purchase of his follow-up album "Pale Green Ghosts" for this CD to find a home on my shelf.
And to be honest, since I've bought it, it hasn't spent much time on the shelf.  It's almost taken up permanent residence in the CD Player.

'Queen Of Denmark' is an album where the songs a primarily based around a piano and John Grant's voice, with a healthy slab of melancholy and bitter-sweet reflection.
All served up with a collection of lyrics that are both thoughtful, powerful and full of humour and wit.  From start to finish, it touches on music hall ("Silver Platter Club"), the opening of "Marz" has a touch of the nursery rhyme about it, attack on intolerant people ("JC Hates Faggots"), and just generally having a bad day (or longer) ("Chicken Bones").  The lyrics even find time to have a pop at Winona Ryder's english accent in the film Dracula ("Sigourney Weaver").

The title track is, for me, the stand out track of the whole album.  The track starts on a reflective tone, and almost self loathing.  It starts with the line: "I wanted to change the world, But I could not even change my underwear" and continues in a sort of apologetic tone, before the chorus (and the backing band (Midlake)) explode forth, before relenting and the verse returns to the piano and John Grant's deep, mellow. emotive and rich voice.

Throughout the album, there is a deeply personal sounding tone to many of the songs, but the humour and wit contained in the lyrics shines through and just adds to the "earworm-iness" of the songs.
I guarantee that you will leave this album, perhaps feeling slightly uncomfortable in places, but with a wry smile on your face (maybe that's just my experience?)

Don't believe me?  Judge for yourself - "Queen Of Denmark"

"So, where does this ... 65% More Of The Time ... thing come from?", I hear you ask.
Well, that is lifted from the lyric of "GMF" from the second album ('Pale Green Ghosts').
Musically similar to "Queen Of Denmark", this song sounds much more self-confident and knowing of himself, but I as the listener am not entirely convinced.
The song contains more of the fine lyrical moments such as:

"I'm usually only waiting for you to stop talking, So that I can
Concerning 2-way streets I have to say, That I am not a fan"

"Half of the time I think I'm in some movie
I play the underdog of course
I wonder who'll they'll get to play me, maybe
They could dig up Richard Burton's corpse"

I'm also amused by the exponential reduction he introduces in the final lines of the song:
"And don't forget you could be laughing
65 percent more of the time
You could be laughing
63 percent more of the time
You could be laughing
25 percent more of the time"

It almost feels he has developed some mathamatical equation to calculate how much more happier you would be in his company, but regressing over time.

The attendant video is one of the best directed, best shot and best acted I've seen for a long while, and just adds to the song as a whole package: