Saturday 31 January 2015

Thank **** That's (nearly) Over

Dry January, or my own peculiar spin on it, is nearing completion.

My version of Dry January has been to deny myself the pleasure of buying new music for the course of the month. It has been an exercise in self-awareness, self-denial and extreme stupidity, which to be honest I wish I'd never embarked on.

Thing is, this is a self defeating exercise - as the calendar lurches slowly towards February 1st, I am sat, eagerly brandishing a Credit Card ready to binge on the aural pleasures I have been denying myself for the last 30 days.
(I wonder if the "No Alcohol Dry January-ers will be doing the same thing?  Downing 15 pints and half a bottle of Vodka as the clock ticks past midnight?  Probably not.)

The expansion of the Amazon Wish List is testament to my achievement.  As is the self-control displayed when following recommendations I have landed on Spotify or YouTube, thoroughly enjoyed what I'm hearing, and not followed up with a physical purchase.
But the constant headaches, shakes and bouts of nausea have become unbearable.
Little did I realise that after that first 7" single purchase in 1981, I was on the slippery slope: Work - Get Money - Buy Music.
At the start, I would be limiting myself to 2, maybe 3 purchases, in a month.  As time went on, I found myself hoarding more and more, and indulging in an increasing wide range of musical delights.  I thought, like most others I'm sure, "this is not a problem, I can stop at any time".  But the cravings continued, and more purchases were needed to be made to satisfy my hunger.

Through fear of temptation, I have changed walking routes to avoid Record Shops and Charity Shops.  I have purposefully avoided the (often laughable) Music section in Supermarkets.  And I no longer drive past the Leisure Centre for fear of seeing the bright yellow "Massive Record Fair This Weekend" sign.

But I have not waivered - it is now nearly 6 weeks since my last purchase, and I will not let these last few hours beat me.  Positive Mental Attitude - I will tell myself "I Can Do It!"
(The Rubettes, 1975 - I wonder if that is available anywhere on Amazon?  ... No! You must resist)

Do I feel any better for this period of abstinence?  Not really, no.
Would I do it again?  Absolutely Not!

Monday 19 January 2015

Celebrating the conventional

Cars are one of the mainstay of Rock n Roll lyrics.
From The Beach Boys "Little Deuce Coupe", "And she'll have fun fun fun, 'Til her daddy takes the T-Bird away" to Bruce Springsteen ("Thunder Road", "Racing In The Streets(just about every song that isn't about blue collar workers and /or their relationships).
The Beatles weighed in with "Drive My Car" whilst Status Quo responded with "Don't Drive My Car".
The Clash watched as their baby drove off in a Brand New Cadillac, and Gary Numan felt safest of all in his Car.
Prince had a small red Corvette (this is not a euphemism), whilst Bruce Springsteen was resplendent in his Pink Cadillac.
Queen drummer Roger Taylor expressed his love for his vehicle, and Janis Joplin merely dreampt of owning a Mercedes Benz.
Even Marc Bolan (who couldn't drive) offered "Mustang Ford" and stated that he "drove a Rolls Royce. 'cos its good for my voice".
In terms of aftercare, all the above could've paid a visit to Rose Royce who would've given them a thorough clean at the Car Wash (they may never get rich, but its better than digging a ditch).

But what of more common, possibly less romantic car marques?
Is there a song somewhere immortalising the life changing impact of owning a Vauxhall Viva?  or maybe a crooning love-letter to a Datsun Cherry?

There is however one of these lesser cherished vehicles which has made its way into popular song - step forward John Shuttleworth and his Y Registration Austin Ambassador. 

Now you may laugh and think he is just a one-dimensional creation singing about the mundane, mediocre and insular moments that affect his world.  But you would be wrong when you consider the heartbreak and frustration conveyed in a song such as "Two Margarines On The Go" or the quandary faced at meal times when you've eaten your main course, tucked into dessert, and then a second helping of the truly delectable main course becomes available (as outlined in "I Can't Go Back To Savoury Now")

Thursday 8 January 2015

Marillion - Misplaced Childhood

"New" - a new or current album
"Old" - a previous release (possibly lost in the mists of time)
"New-New" - a new or current album from an artist that is unfamiliar to you (either partially (ie you know the name and what they sound like) or completely (ie never heard of them)
"New-Old" - a new or current album from an artist you know well
"Old-New" - a previous release from an artist that is unfamiliar to you
"Old-Old" - a previous release from an artist know well

This is, perhaps, a simplistic classification method.  Indeed, you could further the classification with an additional "New"/"Old" referring to ownership/purchase status - but to be honest it all starts to get confusing than (as if it wasn't already?)

OK, the last 12 months has thrown up a variety of "New-New" and "Old-New", and I've now run out of "New-Old".  So now it time for "Old-Old".
The next step is to stand in front of the shelves for a minute and wait for inspiration.

First off the racks:
Marillion - Misplaced Childhood

Aylesbury may sound like a non-descript, mudane, home-counties town, but was home to one of the most popular live venues (Friars, which has hosted performances by Free, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie, Genesis, The Police, Stiff Little Fingers and many many others).  It is also the hometown of John Otway, and in 1979 spawned the first incarnation of Marillion.
Formed in 1979 and taking their name from a J R R Tolkien book (how much more Prog can you get?) bu guitarist Steve Rothery and drummer Mick Pointer.  Derek Dick (better known as Fish to save sniggering at his surname) joined on vocals in 1981.  Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Pete Trewavas (bass) completed the line-up.

The band played Genesis/Pink Floyd/Van Der Graff Generator/Peter Hammill infused Prog Rock - probably not the wisest move against a backdrop of NWOBHM, Post-Punk New Wave, New Romantics and developing Synthesiser music and increased studio production techniques.
Probably not an immediately obvious recipe for success, but exposure, and positive reaction, on Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show led to EMI taking a punt.

First single "Market Square Heroes" was released in late 1982.  Whilst the A-Side was more of an anthemic (almost air-punching) rock track, the B Side showed Proggy-pretensions with the 17 minute "Grendel".
Their debut album 'Script For A Jesters Tear' came out in early 1983 and continued the musical backdrop - 6 tracks around the 7 or 8 minute mark was not necessarily the order of the day for most albums in 1983.  For the two singles culled from the album ("He Knows You Know" (the shortest track at 5:30) and "Chelsea Monday" it was necessary to edit the songs down to 4 minutes to make them palatable for radio play.)

The second album was titled 'Fugazi' (1984) - the name can be translated as being derived from fugacious meaning fading or transient, or a military slang term for f**ked up.
This is perhaps a reflection of the lead up to the recording of the album with original drummer Mick Pointer leaving, and a succession of drummers auditioned before Ian Mosely got the job, and the number of studios utlised in order to get the job finished.
This album squeezes in 7 tracks, but is ultimately not as good as the debut.  It just doesn't feel as focussed as the debut.  Later in the year though, the Live album 'Real to Reel' was released which showed just how strong the band were on stage.
Also on this tour, Fish announced that the bands next album was to have only two tracks, entitled "Side One" and "Side Two".

The outline story/concept was the result of a 12 hour acid trip, where Fish faced up to lost childhood memories, failed relationships, the impact of becoming successful, loss of inspiration and, as is the way with all good stories, ultimate redemption.  Effortlessly strung together, and featuring recurring musical motifs.  Drop the needle and Side One, Track One and you'll be happy to stay until the end of Side 2, Track 5 - it is a great way to spend 40 minutes, and on CD it feels even more seamless.

At the outset, EMI expressed concern about the bad going all "70s Prog" and recording a concept album.  These fears were alleviated when initial single "Kayleigh" hit number 2 in the UK Singles Chart.

The album starts with a spoken passage which (sort of) outlines the story, before the now familiar guitar opening for lead single "Kayleigh".  This segues into the second single "Lavender" (which also hit the Top 10).  In a departure for Marillion, this song had to be extended to make it into a single.
"Bitter Suite" is a 5 part movement combining atmospheric music (there is a touch of the Pink Floyd about it) under spoken poetry ("Brief Encounter"), developing into sung lyric ("Lost Weekend") before reprising the guitar motif from "Lavender", the melody (or a close approximation) is also revisited for "Blue Angel".  "Misplaced Rendezvous" tells a downbeat tale of a lost relationship, before rolling into another spoken passage which serves as an intro to the third single lifted from the album, "Heart Of Lothian".  This is a nationalistic track, and perhaps the strongest of the straight-ahead rock songs on the album.  Personally, I think it is the strongest of he three lifted singles, but performed the worst (shows you what I know then?).
(if you haven't got a CD player, now is the time to get up and turn the record over (unless you've got one of those super-duper, fangly-dangly 1980s record players which could play both sides with no human intervention)

An atmospheric keyboard introduction followed by pummeling drums opens up into a full on rock song with impassioned, almost snarling vocals, crashing cymbals and guitar histrionics.  "Lords Of The Backstage" kicks in maintaining the rock sound, although the vocal is more toned down.  Cynically, the instrumental nature of the song feels like it was written as purely a linking passage with lyrics added to keep the momentum of the story.  This may not be the case, but it does segue into "Blind Curve", possibly the most complex and ambitious and potentially epic track on the album.
Again built on 5 parts.  "Vocal Under A Bloodlight" is another tale of lost (or possibly unrequited love).  "Passing Strangers" is another brief tale in a similar vein.  This is followed by a truly magnificent Steve Rothery guitar solo lasting near a whole minute - at no point does a note sound out of place or forced.  The next part "Mylo" is a song of loss, based on a the death of a close friend.  Towards the end you can feel the confusion growing in the mind (and the voice) of the narrator.
"Perimeter Walk" is slower-paced with some shrill picked guitar, and moody atmospherics.  The lyrics sit below the music and are dark and moody, yearning for a lost childhood, before erupting into "Threshold", which questions whether the return of childhood in such a hostile world is a good thing?.
There is a familiar guitar refrain, and more picking guitars lead into "Childhoods End" - the point here being redemption, and the realisation that childhood is not lost, it continues to reside inside ("There is no childhoods end").
"White Feather" rounds of the album on a high - a call to arms following the tried an trusted "together we stand" principle.  The album fades on the refrain "I can't walk away no more".

EMI's reservations were perhaps true when they feared an overblown, prog concept album, with a potentially confusing story would die a death when placed before the public.  Well, in this case those reservations were entirely misplaced (geddit?), when the album was lapped up by the public and hit Number 1, topping 300,000 sales by the end of the year and continuing to be the bands most bankable album (not that they earn that much from it) - worldwide sales are estimated to be in excess of 2,000,000.  Not bad for a niche band, playing the sort of music that was supposed to be killed off by Punk in 1977.

Childhoods End? / White Feather

Friday 2 January 2015

Whats Another Year

In my true curmudgeonly state, I can clearly say that 2015 will be much the same as 2014 (and pretty much every preceding year).
I am not expected any seismic changes in my life in the coming 12 months - so in the words of Curtis Mayfield I will just Keep On Keeping On.

Traditionally, a new year marks a time of taking stock, considering lessons learned from the past, and considerations/intentions for the future.  This may result in the formulation of New Years Resolutions, which will probably never happen, and by 17th February be all but forgotten.
I did consider the making of New Years resolutions based around personal health and intake, but hit a couple of walls with those:

  • Smoking - Yes, I probably should give up Smoking, but (a) I actually enjoy it, and don't actually want to stop, and (b) I was given a new lighter for Christmas and it would be rude not to use it.
  • Eating - Due to a set of incredibly bad teeth, and daft decisions like skipping lunch because I'm too busy to remember, I'm actually about a stone and a half lighter than this time last year.  So, if anything, I actually need to eat more over the next 12 months.  It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.  I suppose I could supplement my diet with healthier options.
    Salad?  Who eats this stuff and actually enjoys it.  Its just garnish and gets in the way of the Steak on the plate.
    Decaffinated coffee?  It promises so much and delivers nothing.  It's like Danny Dyer or Peter Andre - I know they exist, but fail to see why?
    Diet Coke?  All fizz and no substance.
  • Drinking - How can I possibly consider this when there are all these half finished bottles left from Christmas?  OK, so the concept of 'Have A Dry January' has been suggested.  And to comply with this I will restrict my intake to Dry Cider, Dry White Wine and Dry Gin.

2014 saw the fulfillment of a long held ambition when I got to see The Jam live (OK, it was From The Jam, but it does contain one original member).
2015 sees a new album due from Paul Weller, so I will hopefully get to see him perform live as too (if I can get my arse in gear and stop finding excuses not to visit that London or other metrpolises (metrpoloi?)).
And I also intend to set foot inside a cinema for the first time in about 6 years.  Not because there are any films I specifically want to see, just because I think it's about time I did.

Despite quizzical looks and protestations that "you can't possibly want anymore CDs, surely you have enough already" I will keep buying new stuff, and re-discovering old stuff.  Yes I know that I can't possibly listen to everything I own, but at least I know I've got it should the whim ever take me.

So there you go - the next 12 months will be a haze of Eating copious amounts (whilst continuing to argue that Doner Kebab is a health food because it contains all the major food groups in one easy to eat package), Drinking (probably to excess), Smoking, buying more Music & DVDs (that I definitely do need) and talking rubbish on the interweb - much like the last few years then.
Time to shave off the beard that has grown since Christmas Eve (I'm on holiday, why would I want to waste time shaving), get back to a more responsible frame of mind (rather than continuing to paddle in a sea of perpetual adolescence, and get back to doing something productive with my time (well, going to work anyway).

Curtis Mayfield - I'll Keep On Keeping On