Thursday 19 December 2019

2019 Musical Things

A lot of people have asked me: "so what was your favourite album of 2019?".
Actually, no-one has asked me this question, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
However, being the properly decisive person that I am, I have arrived at the point where I have 3 number one albums.  Is that cheating?  Probably, but I can't make a strong enough case in my mind for one over the other - I nearly can, but not so I feel properly confident.

And so ...

1= Richard Dawson 2020
Folk troubadour meets Indie meets Captain Beefheart meets Ken Loach, complete with tales of modern life (and often an anguished modern life).  Every track tells a story - some make you think (for at least a second), others just make you marvel at turn of phrase, a seemingly humdrum or non-sequitor type lyric.  Most songs mange to do both.
Is this an album of songs or a sociology lecture from the future?

1= Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not?
He's back - and understated as ever.  This is a combination of the Rock n Roll Star of old, with a slight maturing and broadening of the (sometimes restrictive) musical pallette.
A real step up from his debut, and it sounds like he's in a good place.
Choice Track = "Once"

1 = Mattiel - Satis Factory
Eclectic in it's influences and sound - Tarrantino movies, Northern Soul, Garage Rock, Velvet Underground, a bit of grunge - all mixed together to make 40 minutes of anyone's time worthwhile.
Every track has a difference and a re-assuring similarity.
Choice Track = "Keep The Change"

4. Fontaines DC - Dogrel
There is a well worn cliche that says "an assured debut".  Well, that is exactly what this is.  Assured, confident, full of swagger.  There are moments when the high bass notes and crashing drums leave you in no doubt of their influences.  Take equal parts Joy Division, The Fall and The Pogues, and you're not far away from Fontaines DC.  Irish Post-Punk at it's finest.
Choice track = "Dublin City Sky" (possibly the best song Shane MacGowan never wrote)

5. Specials - Encore
Their legacy is assured after the first 2 albums.  So did they need to come back 30 years after their debut?  Would they sully the memory by doing "The Specials By Numbers"?
Absolutely not - this album is just as valid as their first outings, maybe imbued with more experience, a wider world view, and not always needing to go full pelt at everything (although the accompanying live disc somewhat disputes that).
Choice track = "Embarrassed By You"

6. Richard Hawley - Further
Something magical happens when Richard Hawley plugs in an electric guitar.  I wish he'd do more with the same abandon as this album.  The louder moments mix finely with the archetypal Richard Hawley baritone balladry.  8 albums in 18 years, and I'd say this is his best.
Choice track = "Off My Mind"

7. The Who - Who
If I'd have had longer with this one, it would probably be higher, but number 7 on one months listening is pretty good going.
They've been there before, done that before, but haven't done it this well since 1978.  Having spent 3 decades treading water (granted they haven't been active all that time) they have no produced a worthy follow-up to their classic period.
Choice track = "All This Music Must Fade"

8. Wreckless Eric - Transience
As I said last year, it would be a crying shame if Wreckless Eric is only ever known fro "Whole Wide World".  And like last years album, this one is comparatively lo-fi on production and big on ambition.
The songs are smartly arranged and drag you in, almost demanding to be listened intently.  Eric's songwriting chops are clearly on show - shame that it's somewhat after his "peak public appeal" of around 40 (!) years ago.
Choice track = "Father to the Man"

9. black midi - Schlagenheim.
Like Fontaines DC above, there seems to be a bit of a Post-Punk revisit going on in 2019.  This album is both brilliant and infuriating in equal measure, and quite mad into the bargain.
Take a bit of Can, a soupcon of Talking Heads, and then imagine the bastard child of Alex Harvey and Shirley Bassey over the top.  See? Quite mad, but also locked in the CD player draw for a good few weeks
Choice track = "Ducter"

10. Frank Turner - No Mans Land
Frank Turner continues his descent to edgy acceptability on Radio 2, but now delivers a top notch set of songs.  His last couple of albums have been big on production sheen, short on quality (just my opinion!).  This time round, he's still got the sheen but has delivered in the song department.
Choice track = "The Death Of Dora Hand"

11. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
The bombast of old may no longer be on regular show, but his American Folk Hero side (Woody Guthrie-esque?) continues to do a fine job.  Widescreen, expansive, filmic even - these are descriptions that fit.  There is probably a fantastic album in here to a Springsteen fan.  Not being a big Bruce fan myself, I can see why lots of people fell over themselves with this one - me, I mark it as very, very good (or good enough to make number 11 anyway)
Choice Track = "Sleepy Joe's Café"

12. Elbow - Giants Of All Sizes
I admit this was purchased out of some sort of "Trainspotter completeness" mode.  To be honest, I feel Elbow have been a a downward slide since 'The Seldom Seen Kid', and Guy Garvey's voice has gradually got more grating.  But this one surprised me - the songs, the playing and the voice all work.  I can almost forgive them for the terrible 'Little Fictions' from a couple of years ago.
Choice Track = "White Noise White Heat"

13. Divine Comedy - Office Politics
Neil Hannon knows how to pen a great tune and match it with wry lyrics, and tell some fine stories.  Divine Comedy albums often take a bit of listening to fully "get", but when they do it's time well spent.  There are moments here when you fell he's been let loose in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  My only criticism is that I felt it went on a bit, and found it a bit laboured in the second half.
Choice track = "Norman and Norma"

The box set no-one has been talking about.
Whilst many others are expounding the greatness and perfection of 'Abbey Road' (and very good it is too, with all those extra demo versions and stuff), my vote goes to the Not The Nine O'Clock News re-issue of all their 4 albums (well 3 and a live one) in a perfectly formed box - and not a novelty hedgehog or "I Love Reginald Bosanquet" badge in sight

Continuing the 'Abbey Road' referencing, the event of the year for me was undoubtedly Mark Lewisohn's Hornsey Road.
This really was manna for the Beatles nerd, and I (like others in the audience) lapped it up from start to finish.  The detail, minutiae and trivia was beyond compare - I hope there's a DVD becuase there was so much to take in I've probably forgotten more than I remember.
"Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" / "The End"

Thursday 12 December 2019

The Who - Who

13 years after the last release, The Who (or 50% of them) return with a new album.
2006s 'Endless Wire' was (at best) OK - it got a bit bogged down in the Concept/Mini-Opera attempt, and a couple of good songs were lumped in with a fair few so-so tracks.  And the performance and delivery felt a bit half-hearted.
No problem this time round - their sounding refreshed, even valid.  OK, there is a little bit of a "looking back at the glory days tone" but Pete is writing some good songs, and Roger's vocals are just as powerful as ever.
Replacing the missing 50% of The Who are long time band members Zak Strakey and Pino Palladino (on the majority of tracks) plus hired hands ably filling the void.

There have been many reviews suggesting this album is their best since the mid-70s.  The true reference here was "their best since Quadrophenia".  Personally, I think that is unfair to 'Who By Numbers'.  But if we must make back catalogue comparisons, I would say it is the equal (if not better) than "Who Are You', and certainly better than the post-Moon outings (Sorry, Kenney Jones)

Pete & Rog seem to have found a much more comfortable way of collaborating - one where Pete's studio ego does not take over and Roger just goes along with it (or walks out).
They must have come together at some point, but the bulk of the writing and demoing was done by the wonders of the internet.

"All This Music Must Fade" opens with a Hammond Organ drone, and than the vocal kicks in - to paraphrase Alan Partridge "Classic Who".  A slightly angry, urgent vocal with a mellower Pete Townsend counter-vocal.  Drum banging and bass burbling, acoustic guitars and power chords in equal measure.  A top start to proceedings.
"Ball and Chain" keeps the sound coming - sounding both like The Who, then not, and then settling back to The Who when Rog starts singing.
"I Don't Wanna Get Wise" has a bit of "Baba O'Riley" going on (not for the last time on this album", but yup it's The Who again.  And "Detour" gives a nod to their first name and then sounds like a re-working of "Magic Bus".
4 tracks in, their are recognisably back - maybe not to their best, but somewhere near.
"Beads On One String" is perhaps a bit wistful and moves slightly off template.  This is restored by "Hero Ground Zero" (note the string version of "Baba O'Riley" here).  It starts slowly, but I reckon this would be a killer live track.
"Street Song" is adequate and fills the gap - no pulling up trees here.
Definitely not sure about "I'll Be Back" - it's all a bit Hotel Lounge Jazz.  This is a sole Pete vocal, and I just wonder if it was on these e-mail collaborative tracks that Roger either declined, or just doesn't have the voice for.
"Break The News" tries hard, but is bogged down in a Mumford and Sons style arrangement, which just doesn't work.
After a couple of mis-steps "Rocking In Rage" almost redeems the previous tracks, even sounding like (possibly) a 'Tommy' out-take.  Plenty of strings, but with a title including the word "Rage" you just want it to explode a bit more.
The Who may have invented the "Epic Closing Track" idea - not here though, "She Rocked My World" (like "I'll Be Back") just sounds out of place on this album.
Nice enough, but sounds like it may have been a demo for a different album re-visited to fill the time.

My comparison to 'Who Are You' is based on the fact that like that album, as a whole it works.
Some very good tracks up against some (possibly) average ones.
I don't want to get all excited and 5 Star it just because it's the return The Who, but it does sit pretty well in their canon and contains at least 3 (soon to be) live staples if they keep touring
(Both Pete and Roger are in their mid-70s - health things are catching up with them - and Pete said recently that he doesn't really enjoy being on stage anymore)

But ... welcome back, and thanks for not just going through the motions, and actually delivering a fine album

"All This Music Must Fade"

"Hero Ground Zero"

Monday 2 December 2019

Who's Next versus Sticky Fingers

Both these albums come from 1971 and mark a point where the careers changed direction and these two bands vied for the title of "The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World".

For The Rolling Stones, their contract at Decca had ended, as had their management relationship with Allen Klein, and they now had the freedom to organise their own affairs.  They formed their own Rolling Stones Records company, with the intention of owning and controlling their copyrights and recordings.
However, the relationship with Klein was not completely over as he retained control of all their Decca recordings up to 1969 (including the 1970 Live album 'Get Your Yas Yas Out').
The first product of this new label came in April 1971 with the release of the single "Brown Sugar", followed a week later by the 'Sticky Fingers' album.  They took their blues influences, the country influences, and their live experience, mixed it all up and delivered 12 tracks of supreme quality.  The bass and drums are as tight as ever (if not at their tightest), Mick and Keith spar in perfect harmony, and Mick Taylor's soloing is top notch throughout - there is an argument (unresloved) that Taylor deserved a co-writing credit for at least 2 tracks here where his input changed the direction of the original songs ("Sway" and "Moonlight Mile"), and certainly for "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" where his solo constitutes around half the song.
Sadly for Mick Taylor, that co-write credit has never happened.

The Who had come off the back of sustained touring and success of 'Tommy', and recently put out the 'Live At Leeds' album - this had confirmed their position as an incendiary live proposition.
Never one without ambition, Pete Townsend began working on his next concept album - Lifehouse.
Pete was unable to fully convey the story to his bandmates and producers, and very likely got a bit lost in the madness of it all.
'Who's Next' was effectively a "salvage job" by producer Glyn Johns of the Lifehouse songs, but without the concept/narrative arc Pete intended.  And what a salvage job it was - Pete Townsend has explained, re-explained, and sometimes become obseesed by his Lifehouse vision, but would it have been a better album than this one?  It would have to be something special to out-gun 'Who's Next'.

Are these the best albums either band ever released?  Very probably.
I would argue the merits of 'Quadrophenia' over 'Who's Next', but that's my opinion - you're entitled to your own opinion (but you'd be wrong!)
Others may argue that 'Exile On Main Street' eclipses 'Sticky Fingers'.
I often found that, due to it being a double album, 'Exile ..' can outstay it's welcome, and for it's brevity 'Sticky Fingers' is indeed the Stones peak.

'Who's Next' has one track less than 'Sticky Fingers', so to to ensure a fair fight "Pure and Easy" has been added at track 2 (which is where I think it may have sat in the Lifehouse story (or at least, my interpretation of how the Lifehouse story flows))

"Baba O'Riley" vs "Brown Sugar"
Hmm ... this isn't going to be easy.
2 tracks which vie for the title of Greatest Opening Tracks ... ever.
"Baba O'Riley" with it's burbling synth and shared vocal between Rog and Pete is a phenomenal piece of work.
But then, "Brown Sugar" is just about the greatest guitar riff committed to vinyl.
It's close, but "Brown Sugar" takes it by a nose - purely for it's immediacy - "Baba" takes a little while to get going, "Brown Sugar" is right there in yer face
Who 0 Stones 1

"Pure And Easy" vs "Sway"
After those openers, "Pure and Easy" sounds a little lightweight, but it has enough about it to question why it never actually made the final cut.
"Sway" is the Stones at their ragged best.  Mick Jagger's (near) slurred delivery carries the song, and there is so much going on behind it.  Not least Mick Taylor's fine solo in the middle.
"Sway" is the victor here
Who 0 Stones 2

"Bargain" vs "Wild Horses"
"Bargain" has just about everything going for it - it is recognisably The Who.  The guitar, bass and drums come together perfectly to compliment Roger's vocal.
But ... "Wild Horses"is just dripping with emotion (achingly beautiful?).
It looks like Mick n Keef n Mick n Bill n Charlie are running away with this.
Who 0 Stones 3

"Love Ain't for Keeping" vs "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
On first hearing, "Love Aint For Keeping" sounds a bout filler-y/throwaway.  Listen again - it's a a necessary party of the 'Who's Next ' whole.  There is so much going on behind the track.
"Can't You Hear Me Knocking" runs for over 7 minutes and is dominated by Mick Taylor's guitar.  Problem is it never really goes anywhere, or indeed concludes itself.Brilliant though it is, you do find your attention wandering as the guitar and Bobby Key's sax fight it out.
The 'Oo get one back
Who 1 Stones 3

"My Wife" vs "You Gotta Move"
The point for "Love Ain't For Keeping" is aided by it's almost seamless mood and style transition into "My Wife".  Not part of the original Lifehouse concept, but keeping up the tradition of having at least 1 John Entwistle track per album, this one is, without a doubt, the best track he penned for The Who.
In comparison, the Stones go deep into swampy blues territory.  All well and good, but it can't surpass The Ox's masterpiece
Who 2 Stones 3

"The Song Is Over" vs "Bitch"
"The Song Is Over" is a fine song and one that would fair better if Pete's Lifehouse vision could've been fully realised.
But up against "Bitch" ... Sure, it may not be an un-adulterated Stones classic (when did you lat hear it on the radio?), but it has got so much groove (and plenty to spare) and that horn section is damn near perfect.
Who 2 Stones 4

"Getting in Tune" vs "I Got the Blues" 
"I Got The Blues" is another aching Blues workout, nearly pulling the same emotion trick as "Wild Horses" and adopting a similar horn trick to "Bitch", but for me never quite does it.
"Getting In Tune" is a showcase for Roger's vocal, and the power of his voice over the lead guitar, lead bass and lead drums all fighting for attention win this one through.
Who 3 Stones 4

"Going Mobile" vs "Sister Morphine"
"Going Mobile" almost nicks it's introduction from Christie's "Yellow River", but after that (and this might be partly down to Pete's vocal) it all feels a bit flat
"Sister Morphine" was originally a Marianne Faithful track a couple of years before (featuring much the same band) - the Stones version just adds a dollop of sleaze.  This is one intense track.
Who 3 Stones 5

"Behind Blue Eyes" vs "Dead Flowers"
Right, in any normal competition, 'Dead Flowers' would be unassailable.  But this is up against "Behind Blue Eyes".
And there is so much going on - the opening vulnerability, rising to an anger (especially in the second section)"Behind Blue Eyes" finds Roger inhabiting the song character and shows extreme vulnerability and anger in equal measure.  Great track, great playing, great performance ... and another point for The Who
Who 4 Stones 5

"Won't Get Fooled Again" vs "Moonlight Mile"
"Won't Get Fooled Again" meets the criteria of always close on an epic" ... and then some.
"Moonlight Mile" is a fine piece of work, always threatening to explode somewhere and then always reining itself in.  And the strings are a bit tasty too.  But I'm not totally convinced it's an album closer.
I'm tipping my hat to The Who again,
Who 5 Stones 5

It's a draw.  An honourable draw perhaps.
But, that's no good.  You came here to find out which is best.
So how do we do this ... do we roll forward to their next album's ('Exile On Main Street' and 'Quadrophenia')? I've sort of done that above.
Consider the merits of their previous live albums?  Both essential documents of these bands live performances, and of no help whatsoever in declaring supremacy.
Or .. as I'm writing this tosh, do I get the deciding vote?

Both these are probably their best albums, but 'Sticky Fingers' can flag in a couple of places over it's 40-odd minutes.  By comparison, 'Who's Next' is a corker from Soup To Nuts - it starts at the top, and finishes on an even higher plain.  And the stuff in the middle is more than decent.  For it's consistency I have to award the victory to 'Who's Next'

My Wife

Dead Flowers (Live at The Marquee).
A version that leaves you in no doubt just how good a guitar player Mick Taylor is/was

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Blondie versus Ramones

More specifically, 'Parallel Lines' vs 'Road To Ruin'

Both CBGBs alumni, both recorded in New York in early spring/Summer, and both released (within a few days of each other) in September 1978.
For one group it was to be the commercial breakthrough (certainly in the UK), for the other it was to be a consolidation of their (relatively) cult success.

Musically, both of these fall into the "Punk-Pop" bracket - Blondie being heavier on the "Pop", Ramones ploughing the "Punk" furrow

Both have new members in their line-ups for 1978.
Frank Infante, who had been on a hired-hand on Bass duties for "Plastic Letters" is now a full-time member (switching to Rhythm Guitar) and Nigel Harrison joining on Bass.
For the Ramones, Tommy retreated from the drum stool to be full-time producer, and was replaced by Marky (late of Richard Hell & The Voidoids - another band graduating from CBGBs).

'Parallel Lines' is the point where the world changed for Blondie - they managed to hit the top 10 is most regions (including number 1 in the UK) and spawned 3 Top 10 Singles (including 2 number ones"Sunday Girl" and "Heart Of Glass").  The Ramones manged to creep into the Top 40 albums, and only one of the three singles extracted ("Don't Come Close") managed to crawl into the lower reaches of the chart.

If I'm honest, 'Parallel Lines' is the best thing Blondie ever did, and 'Road To Ruin' is not the strongest of Ramones albums - a one-sided contest with an obvious winner?  We shall see ...

There are 12 tracks on each album, so no re-jigging or adding singles, demos, outtakes etc required (all I've done is switch a couple of tracks to line-up the cover versions)

"Hanging on the Telephone" vs "I Just Want to Have Something to Do"
Both great opening tracks - no "easing in", it's "Bang!" and we're off.
The point has to go to Blondie because of the added urgency in their track
Blondie 1 Ramones 0

"One Way or Another" vs "I Wanted Everything"
"One Way Or Another" is massively repetitive, but will stick in your ears for a good while.  Hardly surpirsing that latterly it was used on TV adverts, and boy band cover version.
Ramones may have wanted everything, and it comes roaring out of traps, but this is another point for Blondie
Blondie 2 Ramones 0

"Picture This" vs "Don't Come Close"
The first single to be released from 'Parallel Lines' and nestled into the Top 10 - a sign of things to come.
But this is one the finest songs in the Ramones catalogue, and no matter how sultry Debbie Harry looks in the video, it's one back for the Ramones
Blondie 2 Ramones 1

"Fade Away and Radiate" vs "I Don't Want You"
"Fade Away ..." slows things down.  "I Don't Want You" doesn't - it's not quite as breakneck as other tracks, and does have a massive chorus.  Unfortunately, it never really lifts to another level.
Despite that, on the strength of the (very simple) chorus, it's the equaliser
Blondie 2 Ramones 2

"Pretty Baby" vs  "Bad Brain"
("Bad Brain" is really the penultimate track, but I have re-jigged it here to line up the two cover versions)
"Pretty Baby" is no slouch, but "Bad Brain" is classic Ramones - full on 100MPH and no let-up.
Ramones sneak the lead
Blondie 2 Ramones 3

"I Know But I Don't Know" vs "I'm Against It"
"I Know But I Don't Know" is Frank Infante's first (and only) solo composition for Blondie.  In some ways, it doesn't truly fit on the album.
"I'm Against It" is a list of stuff Joey doesn't like bolted to an archetypal Ramones thrash.  It also includes a common lyrical trope, mixing childlike references, politics and American culture
"I don't like playing ping pong,
I don't like the Viet Cong,
I don't like Burger King,
I don't like anything"
But despite all that, I think (and this is going to sound perverse as I said it doesn't feel like it fits), "I Know ..." takes the point.  It's case is also helped by having a whiff of The Pixies about it - I wonder if Black Francis had a copy of this album?
Blondie 3 Ramones 3

"11:59" vs "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Whilst "11:59" is a really strong (if relatively un-hrealded) Blondie track, "Sedated" is in the top 5 essential Ramones tracks (alongisde "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", "Rockaway Beach" and "Something To Believe In").  No question where the point goes this time round
Blondie 3 Ramones 4

"Will Anything Happen?" vs "Go Mental"
"Will Anything Happen" is another Jack Lee song (the writer of "Hanging On The Telephone"), and is almost as pummeling and relentless as a fair few Ramones tracks - prime Power-Pop.
"Go Mental" is an apt title for the musical pallette on offer, but - and it pains me to say this - if your looking for light and shade on the Ramones album you won't find it, and "Go Mental" just doesn't do enough to lift itslef above "standard"
Blondie 4 Ramones 4

"Sunday Girl" vs "Questioningly"
"Sunday Girl" is pure pop, and one track that never seems to fade by over-familiarity.
"Questioningly" is the hoped for light and shade spoken of previously.
But against "Sunday Girl" it's not going to cut it
Blondie 5 Ramones 4

"Heart of Glass" vs "She's the One"
You have to admire the sheer balls to bung a disco track into the middle of a Power-Pop album, and extra points for the "build from the bottom up" technical exercise involved.
"She's The One" is an exceedingly competent track, and one that is even better live, but "Heart Of Glass " takes it, and creates a bit of daylight in the scores.
Blondie 6 Ramones 4

"I'm Gonna Love You Too" vs "Needles and Pins"
And so the battle of the cover versions (in this case Buddy Holly versus The Searchers).
The Blondie cover is faithful to the original, if revved up (and all the better for it).
A cover of a Searchers track may seem an odd choice for the Ramones, but I'm guessing they were probably more conversant with the Jackie De Shannon version.  The arrangement and delivery wins it for the Ramones - they've never sounded so jangly.
Blondie 6 Ramones 5

"Just Go Away" vs "It's a Long Way Back"
The best the Ramones can hope for now is a draw.  Unfortunately "It's A Long Way Back" does not sound like an album closer - it's just a bit laboured.  Proper fodder for the middle of the album, but not the final track.  In truth, it's not a million miles away from a Flamin' Groovies track (the distinctive Joey Ramone vocal has never sounded so close to the Groovies).
"Just Go Away" on the other hand rounds off 'Parallel Lines' in fine style.  And the backing vocals always raise a smile.  It also has a proper ending courtesy of Clem Burke's drum roll.  "It's A Long Way Back" just sort of crawls to and ending and then stops.

Blondie 7 Ramones 5

Closer than I thought ...

In my ears, the toughest match-up (unfortunately for Blondie) on the albums


I Wanna Be Sedated

Monday 11 November 2019

Never Mind The Bollocks versus The Clash

Take two contemporary albums - both cornerstones of a genre, and both superb slabs of debut albumage, and compare/contrast on a track-by-track basis.
Who wins?

The Clash debut is from April 1977, and was the first 33.3 RPM outing for CBS - the single "White Riot" came a month before, and the "Capital Radio" EP (featuring 4 songs not on the album, or (in truth) 1 song, a brief excerpt of a track and a 2 part interview) appeared at the same time.
The album was modified for release in the US with 4 tracks knocked out and replaced by "Complete Control", "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais", "Clash City Rockers", "Jail Guitar Doors" and "I Fought The Law" were added - can't improve on perfection?  The US version very nearly does.

'Never Mind The Bollocks' was the long awaited Sex Pistols debut arriving in October 1977.  It contained all 4 singles to date and 8 other prime cuts.
The band themselves were nearing breaking point - Glen Matlock (the bass player) had been sacked to be replaced by Sid Vicious (not the bass player), and there was very little mileage left.  Indeed by January 1978, John Lydon had left and there were only to be 8 more original songs would be added to the catalogue (plus a few more cover versions).

A note on production: The Clash debut was produced by their sound man Mickey Foote, whilst the Pistols secured the services of Chris Thomas (previous work including production for Roxy Music, mixing of Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and (un-credited) Production Assistant duties on The Beatles' 'White Album').
Whilst 'The Clash' can sometimes sound sparse, almost amateur-ish, 'Never Mind The Bollocks' is at the other end of the spectrum almost sounding claustrophobic with mutliple guitars layered over each other.

'Never Mind The Bollocks' only has 12 tracks, 'The Clash' has 14 – so with a little bit of re-jigging (ie adding a couple of B-Sides), let battle commence:

"Holidays in the Sun" vs "Janie Jones"
Every album needs a strong opener, and the sound of marching jack boots broken by a near copy of The Jam’s In The City riff fits the bill.  But Janie Jones is one of those damn near perfect “Album 1 Side 1 Track 1” moments.

Sex Pistols 0 The Clash 1

"Bodies" vs "Remote Control"
"Bodies" continues the NMTB onslaught with one of their finest riffs, a mad story and some choice sweary bits.
"Remote Control" is not one of The Clash’s strongest, and an odd choice for a single.  You can see why they were annoyed with CBS (on the plus side, it did give the world “Complete Control”)

Sex Pistols 1 The Clash 1

"No Feelings" vs "I'm So Bored with the USA"
"I'm So Bored with the USA" is a great track but just cannot compete with the riffing and sneering of "No Feelings".  The Pistols take the lead

Sex Pistols 2 The Clash 1

"Liar" vs "White Riot"
A bit of a one sided match-up here – 2 minutes of righteous fury and a seeming call to arms versus one of the weaker Pistols tracks.  "White Riot" probably deserves 2 points here, but it’s the equaliser anyway.

Sex Pistols 2 The Clash 2

"God Save the Queen" vs "Hate and War"
Another uneven match – despite all the familiarity, controversy, hoo-hah etc, "God Save The Queen" is one phenomenal track

Sex Pistols 3 The Clash 2

"Problems" vs "What's My Name"
Both competent, although "What’s My Name" just edges it in my ears.  I’m tempted to award half a point each, but the incessant stating of “Problems” on the play-out just gets on my wick (why can’t they just finish it on a nice piano flourish, or an explosion, or something else?)

Sex Pistols 3 The Clash 3

"Seventeen" vs "Deny"
Nothing on The Clash debut could be classed as “filler”, but "Deny" is (for me) on of the lesser tracks.  "Seventeen" scores the point (and not just because it could be my theme song – I am a lazy sod)

Sex Pistols 4 The Clash 3

"Anarchy in the UK" vs "London's Burning"
The most even match of the contest, and similar sentiments in both - now is the time for a change.
"Anarchy" wins, no "London’s Burning" wins, no "Anarchy", no "London's Burning".  Can’t split them. They’re both as urgent and exasperated as each other.  Half points each.

Sex Pistols 4.5 The Clash 3.5

"Submission" vs "Career Opportunities"
"Submission" always sound a bit laboured, whilst "Career Opportunities" is constantly on the money – urgent, direct, not outstaying it’s welcome.  (And not even the Sandinsta version with Micky Gallagher’s kids singing does not sully it)

Sex Pistols 4.5 The Clash 4.5

"Pretty Vacant" vs "Cheat"
Nip and tuck all the way so far, and a score back for the Pistols again.  Why?  Because this is Pretty Vacant.  OK, this might be a trick of production, but I doubt a slickly produced version of "Cheat"(with Topper’s drums on it) would beat "Pretty Vacant".

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 4.5

"New York" vs "Protex Blue"
"New York" is a veiled attack on Malcolm McLaren, "Protex Blue" is a song about buying rubber johnnies.  For that reason, it wins.

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 5.5

"No Fun" (B-Side of "Pretty Vacant") vs "Police & Thieves"
The cover version moment:
"No Fun" is straight out of the rehearsal room, "Police & Thieves" shows more ambition in it’s choice and execution.

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 6.5

"Satellite" (B-Side of "Holidays in the Sun") vs "48 Hours"
"Satellite" should’ve been on '... Bollocks' (at the expense of "Problems", "Liar" or "New York" in my opinion).  The song is one of the best in the Pistols canon – "48 Hours" just can’t compete

Sex Pistols 6.5 The Clash 6.5

"EMI" vs "Garageland"
Ooo – a decider (and not a contrived one – honest)
"EMI" tells the story of the Sex Pistols time at the titular record label, "Garageland" is an answer to Charles Shaar Murray who said "The Clash are the kind of garage band who should be returned to the garage immediately".
Both songs of overcoming adversity – but only one ends with a raspberry blown in the general direction of their detractors.  And for this childish but amusing finale, "EMI" wins through.

Sex Pistols 7.5 The Clash 6.5

'Never Mind The Bollocks' wins - just!

Friday 1 November 2019

Richard Dawson - 2020

Wikipedia tells me this is Richard Dawson's 7th album - which means I may need to go to Spotify and do a bit of catching up.
On the other side of this, it means I have no pre-conceived conceptions about this offering - and if the back catalogue is as good as this, then I'll be a happy bunny.

Phew!  This is some special thing - a right old mash up of folk-esque story telling, indie grungeiness, a bit of prog-ish-ness - the introduction to "Black Triangle" could be straight out of the ELP songbook - , all bolted to a sometime Trumpton-ish tune coupled with some seriously hummable melodies.  The voice veers between Northumbrian brogue, measured baritone and pained falsetto (with a couple of Ronnie James Dio-like screechy moments).

The songs themselves are basically sung in a spoken word like narrative - there is no attempt at a poetic turn of phrase or a levering in of a rhyming couplet.  The instrumentation is relatively stripped back and simple, but can (and often does) explode into louder moments.
Dawson is addressing the minutae, and sometimes absurdity, of everyday life - "we're hurrying home from Sheffield, having received a phone call" begins one song ("The Queens Head") - and using the words that best convey the story he is trying to tell, and paints a vivid picture into the bargain
Imagine a meeting between Neil Hannon, Captain Beefheart and Ken Loach - that's a pretty close comparison of the experience.
And like those artists, the more time you invest you suddenly get an "Ah, that's what it's all about" moment
(OK, The Divine Comedy is bit more direct, and Captain Beefheart it might take a little longer)

There are a couple of moments when the songs sound like a descent into madness - notably on "Civil Servant" and "Fulfillment Centre", and considering the drudgery of the song subject it just fits the story.

The song construct, singing narrative, and subject matter just seem to "fit" - and then the detail and/or explanation of the mundane in the lyrics just provides another focus.
There is a certain comfort in some of the lyrical references that makes the stories told seem more real.  And because of that certain familiarity, you almost walk away thinking that Richard Dawson's world is not such a skewed view on the world

Civil Servant


Heart Emoji

Friday 18 October 2019

We Are The Mods, We Are The Mods (Again)

Did Quadrophenia spark a Mod Revival in 1979, or was it already happening?
Well, it didn't to it any harm did it.

Despite Punk's believed ethos of (seemingly) destroying all that had come before it, it did actually open up and several bands looked backwards for inspiration.  A possibly simplistic statement of Punk Rock is "sped up Chuck Berry riffs", and that's probably not too far from the truth.

As Punk died and splintered into Post-Punk, Goth, Art-Rock, and whatever other titles bestowed by the music press, one band stuck to their original stance.
The Jam, in truth, were never a Punk band - but in a case of "right place, right time" their adrenaline-fuelled stage show, backed up with the Mod look and Union Jacks a-plenty caught the attention.
As 1977 turned into 1978, The Jam upped the Mod quotient - their album 'All Mod Cons' was released in late 1978 - and the beginnings of a new "scene" started to appear.

As with most things musical, the Mod Revival started as a London-centric thing - with the Bridge House in Canning Town and The Wellington in Waterloo being two particular hot-beds.
After the tribalism of Punk, Working Class youth were looking/waiting for the next "thing" - and why not the look back to "Clean Living In Difficult Circumstances" ethos of Mod.
The new bands found support and a home in the music press with Garry Bushell (in Sounds) regularly featuring his new enthusiasms (when not bigging up the Oi scene).
Whatever anyone thinks of Garry Bushell (personally, I think him a bit of a smug pillock), he did seem to have his ear to the ground, and knew a real "Sound From The Street" when he heard one.  He called it a "Renewal" rather than a "Revival".

One of the first records of this burgeoning movement was the Mods Mayday compilation, recorded (unsurprisingly) on May Day 1979 at the Bridge House, Canning Town.  The album featured the bands Squire, Merton Parkas, Small Hours, Beggar, and Secret Affair.

Secret Affair's "Time For Action" (released August 1979) was perhaps the clarion call of the movement - despite Secret Affair (sort of) eschewing the Mod Revival, and setting themselves up as "The Glory Boys" (which was the same sort of thing really, but was a "new" thing rather than a revival).
Secret Affair were not the first to release their wares, but they were one of the earliest to make an impression on the charts, radio and mass media.
And that timing also coincided with the release of Quadrophenia which brought further focus to the Mod look, style, ethos and culture.  And it didn't do it any harm - bands popped up everywhere as record companies (burned by Punk) jumped on another bandwagon.

Secret Affair, The Chords and The Purple Hearts were perhaps the Big 3.
But others made their presence known including The Lambrettas, Back To Zero, Nine Below Zero, The Jolt, The Teenbeats, Small Hours and others - all managing a couple of singles, and maybe an album.  Not always to large scale success, but enough to sate their dreams and ensure a legacy.

But the Mod Revival (or Renewal?) was not to last - by 1982, Paul Weller announced his intention to split The Jam, and the Mod world seemed to split with it.
Early Style Council (notably "Speak Like A Child" and "A Solid Bond In Your Heart" had echoes of the 1978-82 period), but they were moving to a more soulful area - the Revival bands who combined the 60s RnB and added Punk/New Wave into the mix were no longer in vogue.  Bands like The Truth and Nine Below Zero enjoyed minor success.  A brief (second) revival headed by The Prisoners came and went in the mid-80s, and then Mod-isms became appropriated by Britpop bands, notably with Blur's second album 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' re-claiming Britishness coupled a Mod-look, and the appearance of Phil Daniels "Parklife".  Ocean Colour Scene appeared to take it one stage further, and almost created Mod Revival Revival.

Cherry Red Records know about this sort of stuff, and have released a 4CD Box Set ('Millions Like Us - The Story Of The Mod Revival 1977-1989') pulling together the key bands and tracks of the period.  And a real treat it is too.
But if you haven't got time for 100 tracks, then luxuriate in these 3:

Secret Affair - Time For Action

The Chords - The British Way Of Life

The Purple Heart - Jimmy

Friday 4 October 2019

Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not?

When a new album bearing the name "Gallagher" arrives, there are usually 4 stock questions:

  1. Does it sound like it always sounds?
  2. Are the lyrics peppered with bad or contrived rhymes?
  3. Is it derivative / a slight knock-off of other peoples work?
  4. Does it break any new ground, or in anyway a departure from the expected?
And the answers, unsurprisingly, are: Yes, Yes, Yes and No

The full title of this album could/should be: 'Why Me? Why Not? What More Did You Expect?'

But this is not a bad thing - it is comfortable, easy to access, and rewards quite quickly.  The only fear is that the "reward" may not last and this will soon be consigned to the "might play again if I stumble across it" pile.

There are many people in this world who perceive Liam Gallagher as "that insufferable knob that used to sing in Oasis".  And, to be honest, his latest advert on Amazon hardly helps his case.
But I maintain he has one of the greatest rock voices of the past few years (well, 25 since the release of Oasis's 'Definitely Maybe').
Just the right combination of sneer, strain, over-diction and emotion - combined together, in my ears, that gives a level of honesty and believability about his performances.  You get the feeling he still can't believe the position he is in, and wants to make each performance, and every syllable, count.
Unfortunately, I think his voice was ill served by his previous sols album (2017s 'As You Were') with only "For What It's Worth" really showcasing his vocal abilities (yes, I think he does have some vocal ability).  The rest of that album seemed to be a sanitised version of what it could've been, and seemed to be attempting to send him towards the edgier end of Radio 2 listening - and why not, Warners obviously wanted a return on their investment.

'Why Me? Why Not?' is his second solo album, and is a step up from the previous 2 Beady albums (which just seemed to be treading water with the odd highlight moment) and the first solo album.
The trademark voice is more apparent, the band sound is fuller and less produced, and the songs feel better written and arranged
(there are moments when (devillishly) you would say they're almost Noel-esque).

The album opens in fine stompng style with the Glam Rock/Slade-esque "Shockwave", and the 70s stomp, udeated obviously for current days, pervadses much of the album's 11 tracks.
He even gets a bit reflective, almost offering an olive branch of acceptance to his older sibling on "One of Us" - the prime "Liam voice" track here, and "Once" continues the reflection. almost to a sign-off of finally putting the rumours of Oasis reunions off the agenda.

So a strong start, and whilst the rest of the album does not perhaps hit these same heights, there is nothing with a whiff of filler, and nothing that is sub-standard.
Liam's Lennon-fixation remains, but on a couple of tracks (perhaps most notably "Alright Now", and also on the psychedelic-y "The Meadow") there's a bit of Paul McCartney melody creeping in, with a touch of a George Harrison guitar soloing to cap it off.
And another influence turned real for this album is The Stone Roses, most noticeable on the bonus track "Invisible Sun" (which surely is a contender for the real album (rather than a bonus) possibly replacing "Halo" (which is probably the weakest track here).

Despite the minor quibble of track choices (and I'm not going to argue with Liam - would you?), this album has enough to want to repeatedly listen.
Job's a good 'un - top stuff our kid!

One Of Us


Wednesday 25 September 2019

Britannia Music Club

In the mid 80s, Record Companies were trying to squeeze as much out their back catalogues as possible.  This was before the advent of the CD when new technology did that for them.
But before the CD revolution (or "people re-buying the stuff they've already bought"), a few record companies launched their budget or more correctly "mid price" labels.
CBS had their Nice Price stream, Virgin launched Virgin Mid-Price (all with and OVED# catalogue number) and EMI had their Fame label.
Basically, old stuff was re-released on these labels - and punters either re-bought their old worn out albums, or younger fans discovered new music at a bargain price (I was one of the latter - £3.99 for a bona fide classic album?  Yes please).

Each of these labels included a catalogue (of sorts) which was basically just a list (complete with catalogue numbers, potential stockists, and peppered with the odd picture).
A (sort of) revolution in music buying was born - you could now sit at home an read up on what you might be on your next visit to a record shop, rather than just aimlessly mooch in the hope of inspiration (I still preferred the latter method, and could quite happily lose 3 hours in a record shop).

There was also the Mail Order route, with Record Shops advertising their wares in the back of Smash Hits, Kerrang, Record Collector, or any other magazine where they could afford the advertising space.  And into this Mail Order maelstrom, and advertising space in national newspapers strode The Britannia Music Club.

The premis was simple:
      choose x records or tapes (or later CDs), and pay for x-1      (Postage and Packing applies)

Whichever way you look at it, this meant you were getting one recording completely gratis (except the P+P costs ate up most of that saving).
It also meant you were now a club member, and each month you could peruse their magazine and choose, from the comfort of your house, which newly released albums you might want to get.  Again, these would be offered at a cheaper price than the high street (and again, the Postage and Packing costs would negate any saving).
As a club member, you were required to purchase 6 albums at full price in your first year of membership.  After that you could make as many (or as few) purchases as you liked, and if you bought 6 further albums you were entitled to a Free album (Postage and Packing applies).
You also got a (supposedly hand-picked) Monthly Recommendation - basically, the offer of whatever album they had the biggest pile of in the warehouse.
But you have to remember to send the reply card back before the due date or you could end up with an album you don't really want.  OK, you've met part of your obligation by buying a full price album, but equally you could now have a Five Star album on your shelf that you're never going to listen to.

But there were other short-comings to the seemingly Utopian music buying experience.

  • Britannia was partly (or wholly?) owned by PolyGram, meaning they had quite a deep catalogue but only from PolyGram artists - so there was nothing from EMI, Virgin, CBS, or any of the Indie labels.(Universal Music)
  • New releases only hit the magazine about 1 month after they are available elsewhere (plus another 2 weeks before they arrive through your letterbox)
  • Payment was by cheque or Postal Order (they would get really annoyed if you sent cash, or tried to make up the difference in postage stamps)
  • They had a fairly aggressive marketing stance - constantly sending junk mail bulletins about new releases, upcoming films or concerts in the USA (which you had no chance of getting to)
  • Their Customer Service was (at best) woeful (and (at worst) non-existent)
  • It sold itself as a "Club" and stated you had the freedom to leave whenever you wanted.  In truth, it was more difficult to get out of than a High Security Prison.

But they were the Biggest Bugger in the Playground, and could basically do what they liked, because where else were you going to go?  They even ended up sponsoring the Brit Awards for a period (the time when it became a corporate sham with predictable results and winners announced long before the ceremony).  This also gave them the opportunity to send even more junk mail (usually telling you what you already knew because it was already printed in the club magazine)

Britannia were eventually driven out by the Internet - and notably Amazon - where you could browse at home, make a selection, order it and be listening to it without ever having to set foot in a nasty, smelly record shop with borderline rude staff
(I like record shops like that)

The difference was Amazon (and the others like, cd-wow *, even hmv) were much more efficient, had a deeper range of product, decently priced, and did not threaten to "send the boys round" if you forgot to correctly tick the "No Thanks" box

* cd-wow - the cheapest place on the (early) internet for CDs.  Basically, because most of their stock was made up of Japanese and Russian Bootlegs

So the mid-80s record companies budget labels were correct - there is a market for people to sit at home and make their selections.  And Britannia Music Club exploited this.  Convenient (and possibly lazy)? Yes.  But what was missing was the choice and delivery network so you didn't have to wait a fortnight to get your hands on your new purchases.
(And as a recent new member of Amazon Prime, I can vouch for the speed of delivery)

Still can't beat a good morning's mooch around a nasty,smelly record shop - that's my weekend sorted.

Friday 20 September 2019

T.Rex - Electric Warrior

This T.Rex album from 1971 marks the point when hippie-dom was banished (almost) and the Rock God was born.

After 4 relatively low selling albums with (the first couple with elongated titles ('My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows' and 'Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages'), the Tyrannosaurus Rex name was abbreviated, and the guitars plugged in.
The single "Ride A White Swan" hit number 2 and late 1970, and stardom beckoned (which, if truth be known, Marc Bolan had always hankered for).

His first number 1 single arrived the following year ("Hot Love") and was followed by "Get It On" in the summer.
The formula was becoming clear - ditch the sub-Tolkien Hippie nonsense, and jack up the Chuck Berry riffs.

In the late 60s and 70s, "Pop Music" was all about the 7" single, but (with the obvious exceptions (ie The Beatles, The Stones etc)), singles artists didn't always make the transition to albums.
Well T.Rex managed it in September 1971 with the release of 'Electric Warrior'.

'Electric Warrior' still got an air of mysticism (certainly in some of the titles and lyrics - "Mambo Sun", "Cosmic Dancer"), continues the acoustic musings "Girl", but also rocks like a bugger ("Jeepster", "Get It On", "Rip Off").  It even gets a bit philosophical with "Life's A Gas"
(somewhere on YouTube is a performance of said song with Cilla Black).

The two winning parts for this album are Bolan's songs (albeit with potentially crass lyrics in search of a rhyme),and the production work and arrangement of Tony Visconti.
There is a (slightly obtuse) argument that the production Team on this album influenced the next 10 years of popular music.
  • Producer: Tony Visconti
    (with Bowie, Iggy Pop, Thin Lizzy, Boomtown Rats, Hazel O'Connor, and a reputation that continues to this day)
  • Engineer: Roy Thomas Baker
    (worked with a little known faux-Prog band from Kensington, and then produced 'Bohemain Rhapsody)
  • Tape Operator: Martin Rushent
    (producer of Buzzcocks, Stranglers and Generation X.  And then produced the pinnacle of Synth-Pop records with Human League's 'Dare')

Frankly, no T.Rex album has surpassed this 11 track collection.  Some are "close" but never quite get there.

From Mid-1971 to the end of 1972, Marc Bolan was at the very peak of his powers and adulation - a pedestal that would soon be filled by old friend and sparring partner David Bowie (who would also be aided by Tony Visconti), as Bolan entered a world of extreme self-belief (self delusion?), aspirations to vary his music (although he never achieved the chameleonic prowess of his old mate Dave), and generally chopping and changing his styles, band members, and production team as suited his whims (if not his musical output).
The last single released in 1971 was "Jeepster" - this continued an unfortunate run as it was kept from Number 1 by Benny Hills 'Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)' - 1970s "Ride A White Swan" was denied top spot by Clive Dunn's "Grandad", and 1972s "Solid Gold Easy Action" stalled behind Little Jimmy Osmond's "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool".  Marc Bolan's collection of 4 Number 1 Singles could easily have been 7 but for the spectre of the Novelty Single.


"Rip Off"

"Cosmic Dancer"

Saturday 7 September 2019

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

1983 - and we as a family have got our first VHS video player.
A great hulking piece of kit that weighs half a ton and when sat on the shelf next to the TV, you can almost see the shelf bowing.
This acquisition coincided with (it appears to me) an upturn in the family "fortune" (ie my parents now had a bit more disposable income than previously, we were not dirt poor but not exactly well off either, but now it seemed more expensive holidays and consumer goods were attainable)

The other shift in the world was me moving into my teenage years, and suddenly trust was betowed on me.  Basically, my parents could now go out at weekends and not have to drag us snotty kids along with them.
And the Video player seemed to be an embodiment of this trust.
Saturday mornings were spent in the local Video shop choosing what to rent for the weekend, and Saturday nights we were left to fend for ourselves with nothing bu a microwave curry and a Viennetta for company.
And one of the earliest video rentals was Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different.
This was basically a re-recording of several sketches from the first two series, linked together in the Python-standard "stream of conscienceless" with failing sketches, recurring characters and Terry Gilliam animations.
"How Not To Be Seen", "Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit", "Nudge Nudge", "The Funniest Joke In The World", "Upper Class Twit Of The Year", "Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth".  And of course two of the finest, most recognisable Python sketches (also recognised by many non-Python fans).
A lot like a Greatest Hits of Best Of compilation allows one entry to a band, this film changed my view of what "comedy" is.
Oh yes, there were many bits of that film that stuck, but I was not yet a fully-fledged Python follower.
That came over the next few months as the TV series was rented (BBC video for some reason only had 3 episodes per tape, so it was a long task).
And then there was more ... the films and records were found, devoured, learnt word-for-word and repeated amongst like minded weirdos (as we were called) at school.
Arriving in the world of work, I soon discovered there were other Python-infused minds around me, and friendships were formed based on the ability to recite "The Spanish Inquisition" or answering questions in a kind of silly high-pitched whine (as the Minister for Home Affairs once did).

Much like (the later trend) of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, we posited the theory that "All Roads Lead To Python", and you were never more than 6 (or maybe 8 if we didn't want to take too big a leap of logic) steps away from a Python-ism.
We even had T-Shirts printed up bearing the legend, and have been known to wander along Bournemouth sea-front shouting "Albatross!"

The TV shows ran for 4 series between 1969 and 1974, and was given the late night (10:30 on BBC2) slot on Sunday evenings - a televisual dead zone, but slowly (through word of mouth) it began to pick up an audience.  Series 3 made the transfer to BBC1, but by Series 4 it was returned to BBC2 (popular opinion (or the BBCs opinion) was that the show was a niche interest, and therefore had no place in prime time)
John Cleese left before Series 4 and went to do a little known sitcom called Flay Otters, or Flowery Twats, or Farty Towels, or something like that - no idea what happened to that show.  It seems to have been lost in the mists of time (presumably wiped by the BBC as I don't think I've ever seen it)

But he did return for the films.  The first of these (Holy Grail) was part funded by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (and wherever else the Pythons could find the money).
The budget constraints were obvious when you see the knights of the round table embarking on their quest not on horseback, but by banging two coconut shells together (a combination of both a great joke and necessity).
For their next film, funding was put in place by EMI.  Sets were built in Tunisia, Production crews engaged, scripts and actors finalised, and filming was to commence within days.  And then someone at EMI decided to read the script, and the funding was withdrawn.
The Pythons convinced a close friend of theirs to provide Finance through his (not yet formed) Film Company.  George Harrison re-motgaged his home in Henley (Friar Park), formed Handmade Films and stepped in as Financier and Executive Producer of the film.  When asked why he had gone to such great lengths to help, he answered: "I wanted to see the Film".  This is therefore the most expensive Cinema Ticket ever purchased.
The final film - The Meaning Of Life - nearly works, but sort of runs out of steam, and just doesn't appear as "whole" as the other films, or indeed the TV series.  There are many great bits in it, including some of the best songs they've done ("Galaxy Song" and "Every Sperm Is Sacred"), but just feels laboured, almost like they're trying too hard to make it work.

Since The Meaning Of Life in 1983, Pyhton activity has been limited to re-appraisals and (a few) re-unions).
The first "big" re-appraisal was for the 20th Anniversary which saw the release of the retrospective "Parrott Sketch Not Included" where all the Pythons were finally seen together in the same room (actually the same cupboard) for the first time since the final shots of The Meaning Of Life.
This is particularly poignant because Graham Chapman (with customary silliness (© John Lloyd) the day before the 20th Anniversary.

The last time the remaining Pythons were on stage together was July 2014s O2 shows Monty Python Live (Mostly).  Originally intended to be a one-off, it ended up running for 10 nights due to demand for tickets (and I never managed to get one, I tried but never manged to get logged onto the website, and the (foolishly) gave up))

50 years on and their legacy remains -in the TV shows, the Films, the books, the records, and their influence can still be seen, heard and felt.
Not bad for a BBC favour to Barry Took to put six untried comedians on the TV.

"Is this the right room for an Argument?"

Parrott Sketch (Secret Policemans Ball)
(John Cleese at his most unhinged, and Michael Palin desperately trying not to crack up)

Parrott Sketch - Updated (Amnesty International Benefit, 1989)

Monday 19 August 2019

Frank Turner - No Mans Land

Frank's wikipedia entry describes him as "a punk and folk singer-songwriter".
On his latest album, he continues to strip back the Punk affectations and the emphasis is on the folky singer-songwriter.
Not that that is a "bad" thing, but the Punky bit was the one thing that gave his records a bit of excitement, an air of urgency, anthemic-ness, and a bit of a hook.

'No Mans Land' is a concept album (of sorts) - a collection of 13 songs celebrating women through history and their stories.
Mr Turner describes it thus: "an album dedicated to telling the fascinating stories of women whose incredible lives have all too often been overlooked by dint of their gender."
And he goes one stage further by engaging a female producer and a plethora of female musicians.
A concept and delivery that cannot be denigrated, but I do have the feeling of "trying too hard" about it.  There is nothing wrong with a group of songs focussing on worthy people, or indeed employing female musicians as your backing band.
It's only when you make a point of highlighting this fact does it become less about the content and more about the conceit.
Am I supposed to listen to these songs in a different way?  Am I supposed to take some education or thought from them?  By highlighting and celebrating a perceived minority, are you not re-enforcing that minority status?

But I quibble - this (his eighth album) is a good album housing 13 well written, well played tunes.  None of which jar on first listen, and each holding enough to warrant repeated listening.
Indeed, the second listen was more rewarding than the first
And then it hit me - my error on first listen was expecting a Frank Turner album.
Yes, it's his name on the cover, he does the songwriting and singing, but it is more of a Frank Turner "project" than a Frank Turner "album"

Suspending my expectations, I can report that this album is (nearly) "All killer, no filler" - maybe not "All killer", but there are no whiffs of filler about it.
Sometimes his (possibly affected) Street Busker accent takes over, but generally the songs do the job they intended to of telling a story against a musical back-drop.  And that backdrop is not one dimensional radio friendly pop-folk (or whatever genre Frank is now ploughing?), there's a bit of Country & Western ("The Death Of Dora Hand"), a jazz diversion complete with saxophone ("Nica"), and almost a bit of Tudor Minstrel going on  peppered throughout (notable on opener "Jinny Binghams Ghost").  And there are just a couple of tunes that sound vaguely recognisable, but are not wholesale nicks from elsewhere.
Having said that, the album does contain a re-record of "Silent Key" (from 2015s 'Positive Songs for Negative People').  For me, that song didn't sit comfortably on that album, but works in this setting.

If nothing else, it has got me searching wikipedia for more information about the songs subjects.
So maybe I was supposed to take some education from this "project".

Sister Rosetta

The Death Of Dora Hand

Friday 9 August 2019

A New Season

This 'ere blog of mine is ostensibly (or more correctly "totally") a music based thing.
But now for a departure.

7:30 on Friday 9th August marks the beginning of a new Premier League Season, and by association the beginning of a new Fantasy Football Season.

For the last 3 weeks I have be cogitating, tinkering, referring to wikipedia, asking questions (and giving opinions/answers) on a Fantasy Football forum, all in the hope/belief of improving on my previous best of  2,238 points and a ranking of 158, 907 (out of about 5 million).
That was last year, and it's taken 11 years on Fantasy Premier League to get this far.
Having won a virtual League last year, the pressure is now on to perform as previously - hence the 3 weeks of focus, concentration, and (probably according to everyone else) time wasting.

My team is now set, and it's too late to change it now.  But I an going to find myself for the next 38 weeks staring at the BBC Website on Saturday afternoons watching for scorers, assisters, yellow cards, and generally shouting at the screen when a manager decides to substitute (or leave out) one of "my" players.
Sundays will be spent in a sort of Post Mortem state, as I analyse the errors in my team, take a sneaky look at other Teams, re-watch Match Of The Day looking for slight hints of form in previously un-considered players, and plotting my Transfer strategy for the next couple of weeks.

Fantasy Football - designed to appeal to Football fans with a love of statistics and spreadsheets
(that'll be me then!)

When I first used the Fantasy Premier League website, I thought it was just me.  Later I discovered several users on The Afterword site (another place on the interweb where I spend (possibly) too much time), and recently more Fantasy Football-ists have come out of the woodwork at work.
I am now a member of 4 Leagues - I feel like Manchester City now fighting for glory on 4 fronts.

If there are any other players out there, see you at
And if there are others out there, I'm hoping you understand my desire to get that team "just right" (or am I being too obsessive?)

And now to return to the musical theme:

Genesis - Match Of The Day

Sunday 28 July 2019

They're Only The Band The Beatles Could've Been

I've mentioned "definitive compilations" before in previous insane outpourings, and I am going to suggest another.

Wings Greatest

12 tracks plucked from the 1970 to 1978 offerings from the band formed by Paul McCartney, his wife Linda and Denny Laine after the demise of The Beatles
Admittedly two tracks here are not actually Wings, being his first solo single "Another Day" and a track from 'Ram' ("Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey").

The tracks were chosen by Paul himself to fulfill the Capitol records contract in the America, hence allowing the band to change label.
It was released in late 1978, so contains nothing from 'Back To The Egg' (the last Wings album before (a) he went back to full-time solo naming, (b) he was detained in Japan on drugs charges, and 9c) the band split/retired/was brought to an end due to a combination of (a) and (b).
  1. "Another Day"
  2. "Silly Love Songs"
  3. "Live and Let Die"
  4. "Junior's Farm"
  5. "With a Little Luck"
  6. "Band on the Run"
  7. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"
  8. "Hi, Hi, Hi"
  9. "Let 'Em In"
  10. "My Love"
  11. "Jet"
  12. "Mull of Kintyre"
What is missing from this compilation is Paul's attempt at political comment "Give Ireland Back To The Irish", the 1975 Top 10 single "Listen To What The Man Said", Wings rendition of "The Crossroads Theme", and "Girlschool" - the B Side to "Mull Of Kintyre" (or in truth, the double A Side) added to the single because McCartney wasn't convinced of the commerciality of "Kintyre".
Minor quibbles, because what you have here is the core of Wings singular output.

There was a period of time (probably primarily driven by Paul McCartney's few live performances) when his Beatles and Wings past was rarely re-visited.  The solo album/film venture 'Give My Regards To Broad Street' revisited his Beatles past, but save for "Live And Let Die", Wings were effectively consigned to history.
A Paul McCartney solo compilation ('All The Best') did include a few Wings tracks, but it wasn't until 2001 that the Wings legacy was properly re-appraised with the release of the compilation 'Wingspan: Hits and History' which covers the above tracks and adds the omitted singles of the period, choice album tracks, alongside later solo ventures.

CD1: Hits
  1. "Listen to What the Man Said"
  2. "Band on the Run"
  3. "Another Day"
  4. "Live and Let Die"
  5. "Jet"
  6. "My Love"
  7. "Silly Love Songs"
  8. "Pipes of Peace"
  9. "C Moon"
  10. "Hi, Hi, Hi"
  11. "Let 'Em In"
  12. "Goodnight Tonight"
  13. "Junior's Farm"
  14. "Mull of Kintyre"
  15. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"
  16. "With a Little Luck"
  17. "Coming Up"
  18. "No More Lonely Nights"
CD 2: History
  1. "Let Me Roll It"
  2. "The Lovely Linda"
  3. "Daytime Nighttime Suffering"
  4. "Maybe I'm Amazed"
  5. "Helen Wheels"
  6. "Bluebird"
  7. "Heart of the Country"
  8. "Every Night"
  9. "Take It Away"
  10. "Junk"
  11. "Man We Was Lonely"
  12. "Venus and Mars/Rock Show"
  13. "The Back Seat of My Car"
  14. "Rockestra Theme"
  15. "Girlfriend"
  16. "Waterfalls"
  17. "Tomorrow"
  18. "Too Many People"
  19. "Call Me Back Again"
  20. "Tug of War"
  21. "Bip Bop/Hey Diddle"
  22. "No More Lonely Nights"

Wings Legacy?
I think the band will forever be known as "The Mull Of Kintyre Hitmakers", despite it being somewhat unrepresentative of their oeuvre.
OK, so they're never going to stand toe-to-toe with The Beatles, but hey this is Paul McCartney making Paul McCartney sounding music, and there is nothing on there that makes you go "Eh? What is that"

Trivia aside:
The first UK record to sell 1 million copies was The Beatles - She Loves You
The first UK record to sell 2 million copies was Wings - Mull Of Kintyre
The first UK record to sell 3 million copies was Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas

The B Side of the Band Aid single featured a spoken message from Paul McCartney, meaning he had been involved with the 3 biggest selling singles of the last 20 years
A designation that remained until Elton John's re-working of "Candle In The Wind" outsold everything before (and probably everything since).
One can't help but wonder if Paul McCartney had been asked to perform at the Princess Diana's Funeral, he could've maintained this record of being on the best selling UK single - although a re-working of "Live And Let Die" may not have gone down too well.

Paul McCartney is often quoted, when asked about The Beatles, saying "they were a great little Rock & Roll band", and on their day so were Wings.
Yes, they may have had the pressure of expectation upon them, been the butt of many jokes (specifically about Linda McCartney's musicianship) and at times fallen back towards the mass appeal MOR ("My Love", "Mull Of Kintyre", "Silly Love Songs") but they could also rock as hard as anyone ("Hi Hi Hi", "Juniors Farm", "Live And Let Die").
And in the words of Paul himself: "what's wrong with that, I'd like to know"

a song it is not easy to listen to without visions of Alan Partridge jumping on his bed in the Lintion Travel Tavern

Hi Hi Hi
The second Wings song banned by the BBC (after "Give Ireland Back ...") for it's "suggestive lyrics"

Rockestra Theme
Credited to Wings, and on the 'Back To The Egg' album, but in truth a "supergroup" featuring Wings, plus David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, Hank Marvin, Tony Ashton, Gary Brooker, Bruce Thomas, Ronnie Lane, John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Kenney Jones.

Friday 12 July 2019

Mattiel - Satis Factory

Yo know those moments when a song pops up on the radio, and you think "I know this.  Oh no I don't, it's definitely new.  Oh hang on, I'm sure I've heard this."
And then a bit of research shows there is a whole album available by the artist in question.

A case in point here is "Keep The Change" by Mattiel - coming across like a sort of lost Northern Soul stomper/60s Garage Rock mash-up sung by Nico (a curious mixture, but one that is apt)- and the attendant album ('Satis Factory') is more than satisfactory
(some albums bought on the strength of one track can lead to disappointment, not this one)

Anyway, this was the song that stopped me in my tracks, started questioning my ears, led to an Amazon order, and then resulted in me typing this guff for your entertainment (ridicule?)

Keep The Change

The parent album contains 12 tracks with echoes of recognition throughout - Garage Rock, Velvet Underground, Nico, Jefferson Airplane, Psychedelia, even a bit of Debbie Harry and Courtney Barnett are noticeable  - all adding to the "Retro, yet of itself" sound.  The music on this album, at some point, touches most of the varying styles of the rock genre.  But this is no pastiche of the styles, merely a starting point of recognition that hooks the listener in (or it did me anyway).
The 12 tracks each clock in around 3 minutes, meaning this is a fine way to spend half hour of life.

Opener "Til The Moment Of Death" is a sort of Velvet Underground meets Country affair, with Gothic undertones.  The VU references (with added 12 Bar Blues) continue "Rescue You" and most blatantly on "Millionaire" where the laid back groove imparts all the recognisable bits of "Sunday Morning", "Femme Fatale" and "All Tomorrows Parties".
Outside of the aforementioned "Keep The Change", "Je Ne Me Connais Pas" and the narrative/conversational "Food For Thought" are contenders for the next single.
"Populonia" and "Athlete" veer into Psychedelia territory.  And "Heck Fire" ups the funk quotient a couple of notches.
Penultimate track "Berlin Weekend" is my particular favourite at the moment, pulling all these styles together, adding a bit more, and creating a stomping song that will lodge itself in your earholes for a good while.

Despite all the references above, I repeat this is no pastiche or carbon-copy album, merely a comfortable starting point to ensure half an hours prime enjoyment.

Berlin Weekend

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Tommy - Trimmed

The Who have released two double-album Rock Operas which have both been turned into Films.
(3 if you include the aborted Lifehouse project which nearly sent Pete Townshend tonto, and the best bits were salvaged for the peerless 'Whos Next')

'Quadrophenia' (the second of the Rock Operas) is, to my mind, damn near perfect in both musical and celluloid format.

'Tommy' is a great album, maybe a bit of filler crept in to advance the (possibly fanciful) storyline.  The problem for me with 'Tommy' is the filler which can sometimes be a bit jarring to overall enjoyment.
I'm not convinced the film version adds anything to the Legend.  If anything, Ken Russel's vision of Tommy just adds to the confusion and fancifulness of the storyline (although it is eminently watchable - and not just because of Ann Margret writhing in Baked Beans)
One option to reduce the filler tracks would be to just live with the it, and listen as the artist intended.
But we are the receivers, and we know best (don't we?  The Customer is Always Right (Even when they're wrong) ... ?)
Another solution either press skip a few times or pre-program the CD player.
A final solution (other than not listening to it at all) would be to produce a personalised CD-R, lifting the preferred bits, or in these days of Spotify Playlists, a Playlist would be the solution).

So let us assume we want to go down the trimming route - what to leave out, but still produce a coherent story and flow?

The original album, across 4 ides of vinyl, was constructed as follows:
  1. Overture
  2. It’s A Boy
  3. 1921
  4. Amazing Journey
  5. Sparks
  6. Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)
  7. Christmas
  8. Cousin Kevin
  9. The Acid Queen
  10. Underture
  11. Do You Think It’s Alright?
  12. Fiddle About
  13. Pinball Wizard
  14. There’s A Doctor
  15. Go To The Mirror!
  16. Tommy, Can You Hear Me?
  17. Smash the Mirror
  18. Sensation
  19. Miracle Cure
  20. Sally Simpson
  21. I’m Free
  22. Welcome
  23. Tommy’s Holiday Camp
  24. We’re Not Gonna Take It
The Trimmed Version:
  1. Overture
  2. It's a Boy
  3. Amazing Journey
  4. Sparks
  5. Christmas
  6. Cousin Kevin
  7. The Acid Queen
  8. Pinball Wizard
  9. Go to the Mirror
  10. Smash The Mirror
  11. Sensation
  12. I'm Free
  13. We're Not Gonna Take It
75 and a half minutes trimmed to just over 46 minutes (not quite right for one side of a C90 cassette, but if you further exclude "Smash The Mirror" (at 1 minute 20 seconds), the final version will sit snugly on one side of a TDK).

So why did you leave out half the tracks? I pretend I hear you ask.

"Overture" remains as the opener because this is a Rock Opera, and the affectations of high culture need to be re-inforced (all Operas start with an Overture, so why should Tommy be any different?).
"It's A Boy" stays because (a) it follows naturally from "Overture" and (b) it introduces the character (a bit like a "Seven Ages Of Man" type affair).
Which brings us to the first reject - "1921" is a nice enough tune (if a bit lightweight) and does contain the lines about why the boy retreats inside himself.  But I'm not convinced bu it, and I think "Amazing Journey" explains the premise of the story (maybe not how he came to be like that).  "Sparks" stays because it is a fine instrumental, contains enough recurring themes and motifs to keep the interest going - sort of like a mini-"Overture".
"Eyesight To The Blind" is ejected, not because it is a duffer (there's no duffers here) but purely on the basis that it is someone elses song and it somehow feels levered in.  Besides, I want to retain the singular vision of the artist (oh hark at me and my arty-farty snobbishness).
"Christmas" has the sound of early Who about it, with slight Beach Boys overtones.  It rocks a long, and I would miss it if it wan't there.
John Entwistle must be represented somewhere and "Cousin Kevin" is the best of his two offerings, particularly with the light vs dark, schizophrenic nature of this track.
"The Acid Queen" never really sounds right coming from Pete Townshend's mouth - the definitive version is Tina Turner's rendition - but whether it sounds correct or not, this is one killer track.
"Underture" just feels like a jam session (with a purpose) and slapped on the record to fill the time (I may be being harsh here and it's probably someone's favourite, but I can happily live without it)
"Do You Think It's Alright?" is 24 seconds of narrative to introduce the Uncle Ernie character.  Neither this nor the characters song survives my culling.  "Fiddle About" is vaguely amusing, but entirely in-essential (apart from giving Keith a starring role in the film).
"Pinball Wizard" is the best known track on the album, and only a fool would leave it off.
The next 5 tracks ("There’s A Doctor", "Go To The Mirror", "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?", "Smash the Mirror" and "Sensation") recount the moments leading up to and immediately after restoration of the senses.
"There's A Doctor" is narrative, and "Tommy Can You Hear Me" starts well enough (if a little light) but never really goes anywhere - and the repeated "Tommy" refrain at the end just gets on my wick.

 "Go To The Mirror" also contains the refrain "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me" - a sort of clarion call to the healing process (and a key part of the live performance) - and the bridge section repeated later in "We're Not Gonna Take It" (see, Pete did think it through, and it all hangs together).

And so to side 4 - the triumph of healing, the "new religion" of followers, the denouncement and the conclusion.  And in my version, it is reduced by two thirds.
"Miracle Cure" is a blink and you'll miss it 10 seconds.  "Sally Simpson" introduces another character and provides the narrative jump to explain Tommy's new found Messiah status.  "I'm Free" (which survives) does a similar job lyrically, and is wrapped up in a much better tune.
"Welcome" just seems to drag - it's nice enough, but does have you reaching for the skip button.  "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (written by Keith Moon) does not hang around long enough to drag, but is all a bit end-of-the-pier, and would not be missed.
The Who often saved the best (and often epic (and/or overblown) until last - "The Ox" on 'My Generation', "A Quick One While He's Away" on 'A Quick One', "Rael" on 'Sell Out', "Won't Get Fooled Again on 'Whos Next', "Love Reign O'er Me" on 'Quadrophenia', "Who Are You" on 'Who Are You'.
And 'Tommy' is no exception with the album ending with "We're Not Gonna Take It" - the moment when Tommy's Messiah status slips and he is seen for what he is - the same as everyone else.

So there you go - I've trimmed 'Tommy' by nigh on 40 minutes, and by association knocked out most of the phenomenal performance included on the expanded 'Live At Leeds' (which will always be considered as one of the greatest Live albums ever released - and in expanded form (with the second disc being a start to finish 'Tommy' performance), it's an ever better Live album

We're Not Gonna Take It

Friday 10 May 2019

When Inspiration Doesn't Strike

Latterly, I have found myself staring at the CD and Vinyl shelves asking myself the question "what do I want to listen to?"

It's not like I'm lacking in choice (he says big-headedly), I just can't summon the inspiration to choose.  And when I do finally make a choice, I'm dithering and changing my mind.
There's something just not firing.  There is some sort of fatigue or malaise taking over.
Even browsing and purchasing new stuff has become affected.  The Amazon Wish List is in place, there are scribbled notes all over the place of "stuff to search for", but just no desire to make the purchase.
A visit to a record shop usually spawns something  - I think it rude not to make at least one purchase, and I can usually find something of interest.


The usual thing is that I get a song stuck in my head at some point in the day, and the only way to sate it is to listen to that artist when I return home.  This may inspire further listening of both the related and unrelated kind.  And when this itch has been scratched, further inspiration will befall me whilst trawling websites and blog sites of an evening.
I have probably spent too much time posting Youtube videos of "Cover Versions That Are Better Than The Originals" and "Songs Inspired by West Side Story and Other Musicals", or randomly shouting out (writing down) song titles including numbers, or offering an opinion on a Jam single.
But going to these places and participating has usually led to a new discovery, or re-discovery, which has kept the inspiration going (whilst continuing to fill up the CD shelves).

But at this moment in time ... nothing.

Recently, the interweb place I spent far too much time - - has convened another semi-regular CD Swap Event.
The premise is a simple one - contributors are grouped together, they each select 12 tracks (loosely) based around a theme, and then send each other the burned CDs with no information or track listing.
Each contributor listens (without prejudice?) and posts their thoughts (and guesses of the artists) on the website in a sort of mass blind review scenario.
Previous events have led to some wonderful discoveries of both old and new artists that I may not have heard, or have ignored because I didn't "think" they were my thing.
But yet again, the malaise has struck - whilst there are a couple of avenues of interest, I've done nothing about it.

Why, why, why?
Am I to be inflicted with this and settle into a world of comfort with the same 12 albums in constant rotation?
Do I join the massed ranks of civilian-types who are unable to see beyond Abba, Simply Red, Coldplay, The Greatest Showman soundtrack, and other nuggets of mass produced pop-pap
(I know this is a snobbish thing to say, but there are people like that out there in the big bad world)

I would usually end these aimless missives with an illustrative video of my latest enthusiasm.
But as you've probably guessed, there is no such enthusiasm going on, so I'm just off to stare forlornly at the shelves in the vague hope of a flash of inspiration and renewed vigour.
Failing that, I will revisit the various websites and blogs hoping something fires the old synapses.

I'll be back ...

Thursday 25 April 2019

Blur - Parklife

Very probably the album that heralded the arrival of Britpop to a mass audience, 'Parklife' was released 25 years ago.
And despite the overplaying of the title track, how does the album stand up now?
Debut album 'Leisure' was a relative disappointment, and whilst the theme's of 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' were an attempt to regain lost ground, it perhaps came a couple of years to early.
In truth, neither the band or the public were prepared for the accomplishment or acclaim for this album.

The opener "Girls & Boys" (the single that preceded the album's release) always sounds like it's on the wrong album to me - a story of Club18-30-esque hedonism.  It initially sounds like a sop to the record company for a hit, and doesn't have that Britpoppy-Geezerish tone of the rest of the album.
But .. if we pretend we are psuedo-intellectuals and look for meaning, or consider 'Parklife' as a concept album (as if anyone would?), the lagered-up partying sort of "fits" such a concept.

And yet within 3 minutes we move onto a darkly comic tale of a cross-dresser who takes his own life (or does he?) - "Tracy Jacks" is more of an opener, a scene-setter for what follows, and it's tone is not a million miles from the character-based songs of Ray Davies or Paul Weller.

From that moment on, the album continues to deliver and develops the Britishness of 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'.  Blur hit their stride with every track (yes, even "Trouble In The Message Centre") being a complete whole - a case of "all killer, no filler".  There is a danger of over-exposure and over-familiarity and this is certainly true of the title track, but the album remains a truly wonderous slab of vinyl (or shiny metal, depending on your choice of format).

4 singles were culled from the album ("Girls & Boys", "Parklife", "End Of The Century" and "To The End") and all show different facets of Blur's developing songcraft.
Alongside these (fairly) well known tracks nestles:
 - all-out punky thrash ("Bank Holiday", "Jubilee")
 - a Syd Barrett knock-off ("Far Out" - Alex James' sole songwriting contribution to the album)
 - a rumination of separation and/or a life in a rut ("Badhead")
I'm wondering (although this cannot be confirmed) if this song has anything to do with Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann's relationship? It could certainly be read that way
 - an almost 80s Funk throwback - musically if not lyrically ("London Loves")
 - a throwaway (not disposable) Franco-German oompah accordian-based instrumental ("Debt Collector")
 - and a mad piece of Music Hall which almost veers into The Beatles "Eight Days A Week" ("Lot 105")

And if it wasn't for "Lot 105" then surely "This Is A Low" would be vying for inclusion in a list of "Best Album Closing Tracks"
If I'm honest, this is another track which didn't endear itself immediately, and it took a few listens to understand the ambition it was showing compared to the general good feeling, celebratory nature of the album.  Performed Live is the moment I "got it" - it has that feeling of Epic-ness about it, and gives a definite pointer to the development and growth the band would go through on subsequent albums.
If this album is Bripop personified, "This Is  A Low" is the point Blur show they want more, and are no longer content to plough the formulaic furrows.

Tracy Jacks

This Is A Low

Monday 8 April 2019

Where did the obsession start ...

Yup, it's definitely an obsession.
If I'm not listening to music, I'm talking about it, writing about or buying it.
It's only at work that there is generally no soundtrack of my choice banging out in the background (open office environments tend to frown on that sort of thing (and they would frown even more if I was left in charge of the music choices))

So how did it happen?  Where, and why, did it all begin?

Most Talent Show contestants claim to have been brought up in his always full of music - Beatles, Stones, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beaky - but I wasn't.
My home was permanently fixed to Radio 2 (I remember staring at the stereo wondering why a miniature Jimmy Young wasn't sitting there interviewing some politician - 28 years old I was).
My parents had grown up in the 60s, so they must've been touched by Beatlemania, Stonesmania, Whomaina or any other"...mania" doing the rounds.  My mum even told the story how someone who worked at the EMI Pressing Plant (the one in Hayes I'm assuming) lived across the road from here, and she had a complete set of Beatles singles on the day of release
Maybe they were affected by that early 70s thing where they'd now got married, bought a house and had children so it was time to "put away childish things"
There was a record player and a tape deck, I rarely saw a cassette tape until my dad starting recording albums for the car, and then saw the record collection was a couple of albums each by Abba and The Carpenters, a Booby Crush album, a recording of the 1812 Overture and The Beatles Red album (1962-66).

A house full of music?  Not me.

I got my first tape player around 1979 and began dutifully listening to, and recording, the Radio 1 Top 40 countdown.
I can the recall two (possibly three) other events that occurred in 1979 which may be a pointer.
  1. A visit to my cousins who had their own record player - I became enamoured by these little black circles, and the fact that you could play what you want, when you want without relying on Tony Blackburn to play it on a Sunday evening
    (I think it was Tony Blackburn at the time - might've been Simon Bates?)
  2. A copy of either Smash Hits or Look-In being passed around at school and the contents being discussed
    ("What?  You've never heard of "Heart Of Glass" by Blondie?")
  3. The video for Dave Edmunds "Girls Talk" on Top Of The Pops
    ("I don't want to be a footballer anymore.  I want to be in a band and do music")
Now, I should have been ritually viewing Top Of The Pops every Thursday, but as a diligent Cub Scout I was unable to see it unless it was School Holidays, or I was too ill to attend to my duties as a Seconder (and later a Sixer) of White Six.
I have watched the re-runs on BBC4 and don't believe I missed any truly earth shattering performances - and missing the Tottenham Hotspur 1981 FA Cup Squad performing "Ossie's Dream" is not going to make my rue my past

A little later, a succession of Paper Rounds and any other income was thrown over the counter at second hand record shops, Our Price, even Woolworths and Boots sold me records.  I was amassing quite a little collection - which was stored in a chest of drawers (if I'm honest, just one drawer).
And then as a present, I received a copy of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles - I now had the means to listen, the means to purchase, and now the means to read every word of those lists and analysis, learn it and talk about it like some sort of authority.

And it is those three events above, and that book which dropped me hook, line and sinker into a world of musical obsession from which I will never escape (and don't actually want to anyway)

Full time employment, and no real responsibilities, meant that the purchasing power, and frequency, increased as did the need for additional storage.
And the increased purchasing was supplemented by regular attendance at Live gigs, and the emptying of the wallet at the Merchandise stand - programmes, T-Shirts, other sundry memorabilia, and special release CDs and albums (this is where I note that the CD is a preferable format to the 12" album - they're much easier to stuff in your pocket and tend to remain unharmed when caught in the rush of the crowd for the last tube train.

The rise of the Internet has been something of a double-edged sword.
An oversize music collection can be reduced to a succession of 1s and 0s and carried round in your pocket.  And if you visit the "right places" you can pretty much replace your entire collection.
However, when it comes to digital music I own very little sticking steadfastly to the physical product (and using up every bit of spare storage space into the bargain).
The Internet may have expanded my musical horizons, offering a "try before you buy" principle, but discoveries will usually result in a 5" disc of metal arriving in the post (or more slabs of vinyl being forced into overladen shelving)

In pre-Internet days, if you heard a new song on the radio you has to wait for the back announcement and then scour the local record shops in the hope of finding a copy. If none were to be found, you placed a special order from the Big Book, took your receipt and waited a fortnight for it to be delivered to the store.
Now, you can hear a song on the radio, wait for the back announcement, get home, fire up the computer and place your order direct with the artist.

Or in the case of The Humdrum Express – hear a song on the radio, wait for the back announcement, forget to do anything about it, hear it again 6 months later, get home, fire up the computer and place your order direct with the artist.

Next week is Record Store Day, and whilst some of the special releases (granted, fewer than in previous years) do appeal, - I will be avoiding that one.  For me, every visit to a town involves a visit to the record store, therefore every day is Record Store Day to me.
So I'll be avoiding the queues of chancers buying up everything in sight, watching the prices on ebay go through the roof 20 minutes after the shops have opened, and generally being grumpy about the whole thing.  But I guarantee there will be music playing at the time (probably the debut album by Them Crooked Vultures which I forgot I owned and found down the back of the cabinet the stereo stands in in my Dining Room)

My fear is when I die my wife and kids will sell it for what I TOLD them I paid for it

John Miles - Music

Dave Edmunds - Girls Talk

Humdrum Express - Leopard Print Onesie