Saturday 27 January 2018

To The Outside Of Everything – A Story of UK Post Punk 1977 – 1981

"Here's one I made earlier"

Originally published on The Afterword, October 2017

What does it sound like?
Cherry Red’s latest box set takes a tour of the time period after the snot and anarchy had subsided
But … what is “Post Punk”?
Being literal about it, it’s anything that came after the initial burst of Punk.
But nothing is that simple (is it ever?).
Angular, edgy, industrial, dark, experimental – all terms used to try and define what Post-Punk was
The genre “Post-Punk” is a retrospective term applied to bands that flourished to greater critical acclaim than perhaps commercial success, and didn’t fit the neat pigeon holes of known genres
Originally labelled in the music press as “New Musick”, bands took inspiration from the freedom offered by Punk, and expanded the template from the 3 chord thrash and re-cycled Chuck Berry riffs, to include anything and everything they felt inspired by (Berlin-period Bowie, krautrock, electronica, dub reggae, jazz, funk, disco, poetry, literature, political theory – whatever the influence or thought, it probably found it’s way onto record).
Post-Punk wasn’t a “new thing”, a reaction to anything, or a bandwagon to be jumped on – most of the bands were already in existence ploughing their own furrows.  With fortuitous timing, the initial burst of Punk energy had dimmed, and people were looking around for the next evolution.  Primarily led by the indie labels that sprang up as a result of Punk (Rough Trade, Zoo, and Fast Product being prime examples), with some foresighted majors (with indie sensibilities) joining the party (Island and Virgin, mainly), this was music from the “arty” end of punk - more concerned with making a statement, than shifting units.

The beginnings of the genre can be (sort of) pin pointed to 2 events in January 1978:
  1. John Lydon leaving the Sex Pistols
  2. The release of Magazine’s debut single “Shot By Both Sides”

This is a neat and simplistic tag – the Pistols were undoubtedly the most recognised purveyours of Punk, and Howard Devoto (or more correctly, his previous band Buzzcocks) responsible for the release of the first independent Punk single.
The opening track (Ultravox! – "Young Savage") dates from May 1977 – before these 2 events proving that Post Punk co-existed with “actual” Punk (Proto-Post-Punk?).  And Wire (represented here by "I Am The Fly" (released February 1978)) had already released their own Post Punk statement (debut album Pink Flag) in October 1977.

This 5 CD set runs chronologically through the period and includes tracks from the recognised “big bands” of the period - PiL, Magazine, Wire, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, The Fall, Gang Of Four, Throbbing Gristle (plus a host of others).  Space is also given to other (possibly, or actually) lesser known names making a great noise - Big In Japan, The Raincoats, The Au Pairs, Mo-Dettes, down to almost forgotten acts such as Fischer Z, The Past Seven Days The Nightingales and The Homosexuals.
OK, not every track is a winner (and it would be nice if sometimes compilers didn’t go for the bleedin’ obvious - The Slits released many other fine tracks apart from Typical Girls) but it is a pretty high hit rate across 111 tracks (and those few that aren’t 100% winners will not have you reaching for the skip button).
Obvious omissions to me include XTC, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Bauhaus, Cabaret Voltaire and UK Decay.  (Talking Heads, Pere Ubu and Devo were probably excluded as this is the story OF UK Post Punk).
The absence of these big hitters just leaves more space for the smaller, forgotten, but no less creative bands to shine again, and there is plenty here to entertain, even challenge and make your ears prick up in a “Bloody Hell, that was good” type way.

What does it all mean?
Unlike it’s forebearer, Post Punk never became the property of a salivating media, copycat bandwagon jumpers and record companies out to make quick profits.
It may have taken it’s lead from Punk, but Post Punk (as it latterly became known) was broad and rich with ideas, invention and experimentation.
If I was allowed to re-christen it, I think I would suggest: Prog-Punk
Post Punk is probably the missing link that explains how Punk begat more than just New Wave, Powerpop, and mohican wearing 55 year olds at Butlins.
80s genres such as Goth, New Pop, New Romanticism, Synthpop and even Indie can all trace their lineage back to John Lydon asking if we’ve ever had the feeling we’ve been cheated, and Howard Devoto was on the run to the outside of everything.
Goes well with...
The sleeve notes include an historical essay charting the rise and fall of Post Punk, and details of each band and track featured.
What’s not to like – discovering new, unheard or forgotten music (note: The Thompson Twins were pretty good once upon a time) and pouring over the sleeve notes
Once the sleeve notes are done, I further recommend Simon Reynolds book Rip It Up And Start Again as a great textual accompaniment

Might suit people who like...
Music with a bit of adventure, variety and pushing the boundaries (a bit).
Artists intent on pursuing a singular vision whether any bugger likes it or not (fortunately there is much to like)
Will definitely appeal to the type of Music Nerd (ie me) that is now building up a nice little genre history with these Box Sets (any chance of a 5CD Pub Rock set next?)

Full Track Listing:

Magazine - Shot By Both Sides

Monday 22 January 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - C: Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come

Time for another roll of fate.
The letter C provides a number somewhere in the middle of the collection, and the result is ... Cliff!
(But not the one you may think (and happily not for me either)).

Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come

Basically a Reggae starter kit.
Think you don't like Reggae?  have a listen to this album - not a duff track on it and a perfect soundtrack for late summer evenings (and I'm writing this in January, so it works in the cold and damp too).
(A second recommendation for all things Reggae is the compilation Young, Gifted And Black - Volume 1 is better than Volume 2, but both deserve a place in any collection)

Compiled and sold as the soundtrack to Jimmy Cliff's movie of the same name, this compilation takes the purposefully recorded title track, adds three more Jimmy Cliff tracks, and then bulks out the album with a selection of landmark records/producer favourites from 1967 to 1972.

What you get is:
  1. "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - Jimmy Cliff
  2. "Draw Your Brakes" - Scotty
  3. "Rivers of Babylon" - The Melodians
  4. "Many Rivers to Cross" - Jimmy Cliff
  5. "Sweet and Dandy" - The Maytals
  6. "The Harder They Come" - Jimmy Cliff
  7. "Johnny Too Bad" - The Slickers
  8. "007 (Shanty Town)" - Desmond Dekker
  9. "Pressure Drop" - The Maytals
  10. "Sitting in Limbo" - Jimmy Cliff
  11. "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - Jimmy Cliff
  12. "The Harder They Come" - Jimmy Cliff
(and no, that it is a transcription error - you do have 2 versions of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - the second version is more an instrumental with only the vocals for the chorus)

It is often stated that the film and the soundtrack introduced the world to Reggae, and listening to these tracks you can see why it succeeded.

For even more Reggae greats, the 2 Disc expanded version offers 18 more tracks including more from Jimmy Cliff, The Maytals and Desmond Dekker, plus Eric Donaldson, Johnny Nash and Dave & Ansel Collins.
  1. "Israelites" - Desmond Dekker and The Aces
  2. "My Conversation" - The Uniques
  3. "Do the Reggay" - The Maytals
  4. "Viet Nam" - Jimmy Cliff
  5. "I Can See Clearly Now" - Johnny Nash
  6. "Reggae Hit the Town" - The Ethiopians
  7. "Double Barrel" - Dave and Ansel Collins
  8. "It Mek" - Desmond Dekker and The Aces
  9. "Sweet Sensation" - The Melodians
  10. "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" - Jimmy Cliff
  11. "Cherry Oh Baby" - Eric Donaldson
  12. "Monkey Spanner" - Dave and Ansel Collins
  13. "54-46 (That's My Number)" - The Maytals
  14. "It's My Delight" - The Melodians
  15. "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" - Jimmy Cliff
  16. "Pomp and Pride" - The Maytals
  17. "Guava Jelly" - Johnny Nash
  18. "The Bigger They Come the Harder They Fall" - Jimmy Cliff

(Serious redux warning!)
The film is far from a "Rags To Riches" tale, although it starts that way with main character Ivanhoe Martin (Jimmy Cliff) leaving his family in rural Jamaica to try his luck in Kingston.
On arrival, all his possessions are stolen.  Seeking work, he takes any job he can find, before trying his luck in the singing business.  He does end up making a record, but has no success.
His next job is in Kingstons thriving underground drug trade, delivering drugs around the city, and then being hunted by the police.  He descends deeper into the criminal world, stealing anything he can get his hands on, and most importantly avoiding the police at all costs.  As a result, he becomes something of a folk hero - it is this status that drives his record to success.
With the police closing in, he attempts to escape the island but fails to get aboard a boat bound for Cuba and is washed ashore.
The movie ends with Ivanhoe awaking to the sound of a police ambush, there is a stand-off, and a gunfight and Ivanhoe is no more.

There aren't too many films I watch repeatedly, but this is one of them - The Harder They Come is a bit of a "formulaic blaxploitation" movie (with a bit of Wild West thrown in for good measure), but pulls no punches and is not afraid to show the darker side of Jamaica.
There is a strange juxtaposition of the gritty, realism and darkness of the film against the uplifting joyousness of the soundtrack.

The extended version of the soundtrack closes with this more soulful take of the title track.  It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Studio in 1971, and originally released as the B Side of "Sitting In Limbo"

Jimmy Cliff - The Bigger The Come The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Come - Film Trailer

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - B

I have decided that these posts need a snappy title.
If I am to produce 26 highly interesting, informative critiques of albums nestling in the collection, then they need to be done under a specific banner.
As it goes, I couldn't think of a snappy title so went with the rubbish banner you see above.

And so to the letter B.
Lets see what we have this time.
What? No! Do I have to?
I could just cheat I suppose.
No, that wouldn't be right, and would compromise the randomness.

The randomiser was lucky last time out.  But now, as if to prove that this is a completely random selection, the gods of chance (devil?) has sent me to the lower end of the B section, and I now have to summon enthusiasm to spout forth on the era defining debut album by ... Bucks Fizz

Bucks Fizz were formed in late 1980 by Andy Hill and Nichola Martin to perform their song in the Eurovision heats A Song For Europe.
The group followed the ABBA model (ie 2 girls and 2 boys).  Mike Nolan was the first to be recruited, followed soon after by Cheryl Baker (who had previous Eurovision experience as part of Co-Co in 1978.
Open auditions brought Bobby G and Jay Aston to the line-up - Bobby G was second choice after original "second male" Stephen Fischer was unable to take up the offer.

Eurovision trivia tangent - Stephen Fischer would return to Eurovision in 1982 as one half of Bardo.  The other half was Sally-Ann Triplet, who had previously performed with Prima Donna at the 1980 contest.  Prima Donna also included Lance Aston, brother of Jay

They recorded the Hill/Martin tune "Making Your Mind Up", and won the Song For Europe contest.
This was released as a single in preparation for the main event in Dublin the following month.
Bucks Fizz won the contest, and the single went to Number 1 in the UK, and most other European countries.
Knowing they were obviously onto a good thing, a second single "Piece Of The Action" was released as "Making Your Mind Up" was leaving the charts.
The debut album followed 6 weeks later, and a third single ("One Of Those Nights") released in August.

The album contained the 3 singles plus 7 other original tracks (mostly written by Andy Hill and Nichola Martin).
To be totally honest, there is nothing here of any great musical innovation or enduring influence.  But then again, this is happy-clappy MOR Pop, and does exactly what you expect of it.
In the course of research, I had to listen to the album - it is not something I want to repeat.  No-one got hurt, but I was getting some funny looks from my wife.
It just sort of exists like background noise (and no, that does not make it an Ambient album to rank alongside Brian Eno or The Orb).

It achieved a Top 20 placing and was certified Gold with in excess of 100,000 sales - not at all bad for a manufactured band designed to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest, and then like many others before, disappear from view after their first single.
Marketing, Talent or "Right Place, Right Time" - you decide?

Of interest (possibly?) is the name appearing as writer of two of the tracks - Pete Sinfield.
A name more commonly associated with King Crimson.
Is it possible that closing track "The Right Situation" is a departure from formula and a Prog Rock epic in 3 movements?


No more singles were released from the album as focus moved to recording the second album, and the first new single "Land Of Make Believe" was released in November.
Another Pete Sinfield co-write, and one that will stop you listening to "In The Court Of The Crimson King" in quite the same way again.

The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament's begun
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king

Shadows, tapping at your window 
Ghostly voices whisper will you come and play 
Not for all the tea in China 
Or the corn in Carolina 
Never, never ever 
They're running after you babe
Run for the sun, little one 
You're an outlaw once again 
Time to change, Superman 
He'll be with us while he can 
In the land of make believe

in 10 years?
Well, you have to pay the rent.  And admittedly, there is a certain ghostly progginess to that verse (or is it just me?)

I was rather hoping to find a heavily rocked up/punked up version of "Making Your Mind Up" to sign off with (and at least regain some of my ROCK credentials)
Alas, no such (commercially available) cover version exists.
What I did find though was a German re-recording, with revised lyrics that was used in a German Song Contest in the same year as Bucks Fizz Eurovision win.

Maggie Mae - Rock n Roll Cowboy

Tuesday 2 January 2018

AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

The Gods of Random have been kind and produced a low number (9), and the first album for perusal is AC/DCs second album of 1976.
This is the bands fourth (or third?) album.
The first two ('High Voltage' and 'TNT') were Australian only releases, and their third release (also titled 'High Voltage') combined the best bits of the Australian albums and was given an International release.
'Dirty Deeds ..' also had a later International release with modified track listing ("RIP (Rock In Peace)" was replaced by the frantic "The Rocker").

9 tracks built around similar patterns of thumping drums and heavy bar room blues riffing (with the quieter, almost delicate "Ride On" chucked in for good measure).

'Dirty Deeds ...' opens with the title track, and an almost sinister sounding riff.  Bon Scott's equally sinister vocals offer his services to help solve any little problems you may be having (these aren't problems like a blocked drain or dripping tap - these services are more criminal in nature).
Part way through the lyrics is the first serving of  lascivious humour, as Bon announces his phone number as 36-24-36.
"Love At First Feel" is, as the title suggests, continuing the theme (sex and drugs and rock and roll are very much a theme of AC/DC).
The lascivious (or more correctly schoolboy) humour returns for "Big Balls" - a harmless song about a man who arranges society dances - anyone who spies dirt in those lyrics must have a really dirty mind (???).

Some balls are held for charity
And some for fancy dress
But when they're held for pleasure
They're the balls that I like best
My balls are always bouncing
To the left and to the right
It's my belief that my big balls
Should be held every night

No smut there, as far as I can see.

Next up is what probably reads like Bon Scott's autobiography "The Rocker", and there may be a touch of Bon in "Problem Child" too.

Side 1 over, and there has been no let up yet - no time for breath.
"There's Gonna Be Some Rockin" is just as relentless, if on the slightly slower side, and then that riff is back with abandon for 7 minutes of "Ain't No Fun (Waiting 'Round To Be A Millionaire)". A spoken track announces the song:
"The following is a true story.  Only the names have been changed - to protect the guilty".
And then (at last?) time for breath with the slow dirty blues of "Ride On".
After that respite the thumping drums and riffing returns for closing track "Squealer".

When the album was released in the UK, it was lumped in with the burgeoning Punk movement, and (like Motorhead) AC/DC were the heavy rock band that it was "OK to like if you're a Punk".
The UK was their biggest market until the US breakthrough with 1979s 'Highway To Hell' and then confirmed with 1980s 'Back In Black'.
Whilst not a big seller on release, 'Dirty Deeds ...' is now the bands biggest album in their back catalogue, beaten only be the aforementioned albums.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Monday 1 January 2018

Something To Do In 2018

I need a "quest", a purpose, something to do to get myself to do a regular update to this blog.
A sort of regular feature to supplement the other fine fine pieces of writing about new releases and the back catalogues of my favourite artists.

Whilst not a wholly original idea to "listen to stuff and then write about it", I'm going to do it anyway.

There are 26 letter in the alphabet (as I'm sure you knew?) - this means there is the basis for a series of fortnightly postings based around something in the alphabet.

As a bit of a nerd/sad muppet/OCD case (delete as applicable), my entire Music Collection is logged in a database.
(Well, big Excel spreadsheet - the Access Database I had previously "fell over" and I couldn't be arsed to re-build it)
This lists all singles and albums by artist and title - that is the starting point, that is the alphabetical bit of my quest.
Now all I need to do is generate a random number, find the corresponding entry in the database, listen to it and write some wondrous prose (or meandering rubbish) about said album.

As it is all in Excel, I will create a Pivot Table to arrange LPs and CDs alphabetically be artist, and use the RAND function to tell me which number I need to be waffling on about at that time.

This is not without problems or concerns - there is a distinct possibility that the random number generation could lead me to waxing lyrical about The Barron Knights or James Last, or an album I bought for one track and really couldn't listen to the rest of it.
But by the same token, this could lead to a re-discovery of a long forgotten dust covered relic that has lain dormant for far too long - it is my duty to tell the world of it's greatness.

This will only cover the A - Z part of the database - Various Artists Compilations are to be excluded, as whilst I'd dearly love to bang on about the Nuggets compilation, I'm really not sure I could find the enthusiasm for Now Thats What I Call Music 7, Hits 5 or Micky Mouse's Disco Party.

Let the pointless quest commence ...

Slade - Here's To The New Year