Wednesday 27 May 2020

The Lightning Seeds

Most Bands will have one major track that will be the default selection for general radio play.
The Lightning Seeds are one of those bands with TWO milestone (millstone?) tracks.  And both, coincidentally, Football related.
They are either known as:
  • "that band who did the Goal Of The Month tune"
  • "that band that did that "Three Lions" song
But is there more to the Lightning Seeds than those two tunes?
Of course, there is, or I wouldn't be writing this.

The Lightning Seeds started life as an Ian Broudie studio project.  Broudie had been in a couple of Liverpool bands with no real success.  One of these bans was the minimally successful, but influential and revered Big In Japan.  Other members included Bill Drummond, Dave Balfe, Holly Johnson and Clive Langer.
As Big In Japan dissolved and it's members went off to other pastures, Ian Broudie ensconced himself in the studio and began twiddling knobs for Echo and The Bunnymen, Colourfield, The Fall, The Icicle Works, and a fair few others who asked.

The Lightning Seeds were birthed in the studio as an outlet for his songwriting - their first album 'Cloudcuckooland' was written, performed, arranged, and produced by the man himself.
The album was released in 1990, and Broudie went back to his production day-job - seemingly with no intent of following it up, or putting a band together to further exploit his music and songs.
'Cloudcuckooland' was a one-off deal with Rough Trade - Virgin entered the picture and he signed a deal with them.  To flesh out the "band" he pulled in his co-producer Simon Rogers.  He also re-kindled a friendship with Terry Hall (from The Specials, and latterly in Colourfield) and together they wrote a cache of songs fro the new album.
'Sense' came in 1992, and included that song which would end up being played at least once a month on Saturday Night BBC.
Despite it's modest success (and no doubt bouyed by the constant attention given to "Life Of Riley"), a full band was assembled (primarily for touring purposes - the studio remained the domain of Broudie and Rogers for the moment) and 'Jollification' came in 1994.
There's joy and confidence in equal measure in these songs, and gives a home to some of their best singles, notably "Lucky You" and "Change".

After 'Jollification', and while recording next album 'Dizzy Heights', The Football Association came calling.  Ian Broudie's music was paired with the football fan lyrics of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner.
The resulting song - 'Three Lions' - captured the mood of Euro 96, and has subsequently been re-recorded and re-released in 1998 and 2010 (and is also re-heard and re-played every 2 years when a major Football championship happens (and it still hasn't come home).

They returned to the studio and completed 'Dizzy Heights' which is as strong as their previous records.  Their stock had never been higher and the first 3 singles lifted gave them their biggest chart placings.
The formula remains the same - bright melodies, and clean production - but 'Dizzy Heights' added an element of psychedelia and a more retro-ish sound into the mix (although I have to admit it is veering towards Oasis-lite in a couple of places).
The success of "Three Lions" and the (reflected?) success of The Lightning Seeds din't sit altogether comfortably with Ian Broudie - he returned to the studio with songwriting cohorts including Terry Hall and Steven Jones (Babybird).  The resultant album 'Tilt' (1999) was as much a product of the studio as it was a full band album.
If I'm honest, it's only in the last month I've heard this album, so probably too soon to give a critical review (or indeed any sort of review).  What I can say is it is a bit of a departure from the Bripop-ish Indie Guitar album one would be expecting.  The style is more focussed towards the dancefloor and electronica (although Broudie's vocals don't veer too much from the norm).
Despite this style change, under it all is still Lightning Seeds calling card - damn fine pop music.
After 'Tilt', The Lightning Seeds name was effectively retied, and Broudie was again returned to the Producers chair.
Now ... in a case of terrible research on my part, I haven't heard 2009s 'Four Winds' - the brief bits I have heard suggest the sound is still there, maybe a little more folk/blues infused than before, and maybe a little less sheen.

The Lightning Seeds will always be associated with these two Football related songs, but there is plenty more in their canon to keep the casual observer interested
(and present an old duffer with an 11 year old album that he hasn't heard yet, but feels he should explore more)


Life Of Riley


Sugar Coated Iceberg

Friday 15 May 2020

Duncan Reid & The Big Heads - Don't Blame Yourself

Duncan Reid's first musical outings was with Punk/Powerpop band The Boys in 1977.
The Boys came together from members of the mythical London SS, The Hollywood Brats (sort of like a London equivalent of the New York Dolls), and a couple of mates from a T-Shirt factory.
Signing with Nems Records in 1977 meant, for a brief time, they weer the only Punk Band in the UK with a major label deal (if you consider Nems to be a major label?).
A share of the vocals on their first album were handled by bass player (and ex T-Shirt worker) Kid Reid.  He also provided the voice for their second single "First Time", which to my ears is one of the greatest Powerpop songs to emerge from the period.
The Boys career resulted in 4 albums on 2 different labels, 8 singles, a Christmas Album (under the name The Yobs), and little success.  They called it a day in 1982.

But, when you've toured and been on stage with The Ramones, the "feeling" probably never leaves.  And so, nigh on 30 years later Duncan Reid started his solo career.
The debut album - 'Little Big Head' - arrived in 2012, followed by (the knowingly titled) 'The Difficult Second Album' in 2014.  The sound wasn't too far removed from the powerpop template of The Boys, and the band (The Big Heads) the perfect foil to Duncan's songs, observations, and vocals.
Live, Duncan Reid & The Big Heads are a sight to behold - a real entertaining and committed spectacle.  Unfortunately, they are often found on the smaller stages and venues than perhaps their capabilities deserve.
2016's 'Bombs Away' was another fine blast, and ranks as my favourite of their output - until this fourth album arrived.

The album flies into opener "Your Future Ex-Wife" setting the ground for what's to come - high energy guitar and drums, almost vulnerable sounding vocals - and a catchiness that is on the verge of taking root in your ears and staying there.
Despite it's elegant intro, track 2 may not garner much radio play with a title like "Motherfucker".  But you know that "catchiness" thing I mentioned - I found myself singing this to myself in the queue at the Co-Op (I did try to keep the chorus quiet for fear of dis-approving looks from my fellow queuees.
And the pummeling continues - "Welcome To My World" - lyrically Duncan's world is "mildly absurd".  And that's the sort of world I enjoy.
"Tea and Sympathy" almost starts in Prog Rock territory before settling back in a laid-back groove. If it was up to me (which it isn't) I'd swap the sequence with "To Live Or Live Not" (another fine slab of power) .  I just think it would flow better to the similarly Prog afflicted "The Grim Reaper", complete with Supertramp-esque vocals and ELO harmonies.
And there nestling in the middle is my choice cut of the album - "For All We Know".  The catchiness quotient is upped again, and the band's sound fattened with washes of keyboard.
"Oh What A Lovely Day" shows the quieter, more reflective Duncan, and bolted to a repeating chorus that will return to you in moments of wistfulness.
"Ballad Of A Big Head" sticks to the template (good thing too - I'm not bored of it yet) - and this one has a guitar break, with an organ break competing over the top.  It just goes up another notch as a result.
Title track "Don't Blame Yourself" adopts/adapts the T.Rex "Get It On" riff ("adapts", not copies) and is delivered in a lower toned vocal, with added backing vocals in harmony.  This band is on fire at this stage, and there's still 4 more tracks to go.
"Came The Day" returns to the more wistful mode - it's almost a 60s doo-wop (ish) throwback, and gives that little breather before "Little Miss Understood" flies out of your speakers.  This is one that I would like to see live - the solid drums, the guitar melody playing, and that almost anthemic shout along lyric/chorus.
I'll be honest here - I'm not sure about "Dave".  Who writes a song about a TV channel?  Oh, they haven't.  It's a bright sounding stomper with some nice piano interludes.  Another breathing opportunity before closer "Jealousy".  This song takes all the previous elements of this album and combines them all in one song.  It all finishes on a high.
It's finished, and now I'm going to play it again.

Nothing up on YouTube yet, but here's the Spotify link (if it works?)
Can I draw you attention to track 7 "For All We Know" - I don't think you'll be disappointed

Thursday 7 May 2020

Pink Floyd - The Wall

With Pink Floyd, the usual accepted order of preference is either 'Dark Side Of The Moon' or 'Wish You Were Here' - both very very good albums.
But there is more to consider:
'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' - peak psychedelic Floyd, and despite his best efforts (and those around him) Syd Barrett never soared to these heights again.
Their first run of initial post-Syd albums - 'Ummagumma', 'Atom Heart Mother', 'Meddle', 'Obscured by Clouds' - are awash with key tracks, studio experimentation and ongoing growth.  Many cite 'Meddle' as the pick of the bunch (and as it houses "Echoes" is not a bad choice at all).
This is followed by those 2 monolithic efforts ('Dark Side Of The Moon' and 'Wish You Were Here'), before their tenth album in as many years - the under-rated 'Animals'.
And then the discography arrives at 'The Wall' - my personal favourite.  Opinions vary, and in some areas of the interweb this one is varyingly referred to as "weak" or "the runt of the litter".  Poppycock!  It is a superb double album, and unlike some double albums it doesn't drag on, revert to a bit of filler, or and outstay it's welcome.
Everyone has their own favourites, but I'm here to tell you you're all wrong.
The Pink Floyd album is 'The Wall'.
From the quiet slow build of "In The Flesh?", to the slow fade of "Outside The Wall", it's always an enjoyable 1 hour 20 minutes.
(and to give a whole new meaning to the definition of a concept album as a song cycle, there is an attempted perpetual loop, and the last phrase uttered over the fade out of "Outside The Wall" - "Isn't this where we came in?" - is the first phrase you hear at the start of the album.)
It's damn near perfect.  And if you add "When The Tigers Broke Free" (which was used in the film, and subsequently appeared 'The Final Cut'), then it would be even perferecter.

Despite having sold shed-loads of their previous 2 albums (resulting in further sales of their earlier efforts), and having just completed a massively lucrative Stadium tour, Pink Floyd were very nearly broke.  An investment company, charged with reducing their Tax Liabilities, had invested in high-risk areas which hadn't paid off.  Each member was facing Tax Bills at the rate of 85%.
They needed a big selling album, and pretty quickly too.

Resulting from Roger Waters feeling of alienation form the audience now they were playing in stadiums, the original concept was one of two he presented to the band when they returned to the recording studio.
(The other concept was later recycled for his solo album 'The Pros and Cons Of Hitchhiking').
The band had produced their last albums themselves, but this time Roger Waters brought in Bob Ezrin to provide a certain independence, focus, and to help manage the workload in the time available.

Recording started at Floyd's own Britannia Row studios, but they soon decamped (due to the threat of the Tax Bills) to 2 studios in France - one which did the instrumental recording, and the other where Roger Waters recorded his vocals.  They then made use of various studios across the US to finish and shape the album.
Throughout the whole process, the bands relationships were deteriorating with Roger Waters becoming more and more controlling of the project (well, it was his concept after all).  This controlling including not giving Bob Ezrin due credit for his shaping and focussing of the story, constant badgering of David Gilmour for material (and then often discarding what was presented to him), and eventually the sacking of keyboardist Rick Wright - he appears on the album but as a session musician, rather than a full member.

Now for the concept - The Wall is the story of a generic Rock Star (it's suggested it is part Syd Barrett, part Roger Waters, part made up).
Always intended to be a film, as the Project progressed the Film idea was gradually dropped.  Until 1982 when Alan Parker professed a desire to film it.
Now, despite there being no dialogue, quite "arty" in delivery, and includes swathes of Gerald Scarfe animation which are both connected and dis-connected to the story, the film does a better job of expounding the concept than the album does, or my bumbled attempts below could ever do.

Young boy loses father at the fag-end of World War II.  His childhood and School life are not the easiest, and feelings of alienation, detachment, and like he's missing something begin. He's gradually withdrawing into himself and building a metaphorical wall to block out the fear of his past (and probably his future too).
In a leap from his young self to his adult self,  as a Rock Star now, the flashbacks and concerns continue.  His wife's infidelity (learned while he is on tour) leads to a full scale meltdown, a trashing of his hotel room - his Wall is now complete.  The outside world can't get him now.
But ... has he done the right thing?  Even locked in, the depression continues (shown in the film as the moment he shaves of all body hair), and then a descent into a drug-induced coma.
However, he still has a job to do, and his Manager gets a paramedic to give him a shot.  This creates the hallucination that he is leading a facist dictator with the power to assemble a master race.  As this part of his character continue, and insanity becomes stronger ,an inner monolgue tells him to remove the wall, and return to humanity.
(see, I told you I couldn't write it down and make any sense)

The motherload here is from Roger Waters pen - it is a very personal concept and song set.  Come of the recording conflict was down to the band feeling it was too personal, and becoming something of a Waters solo album.  David Gilmour did get 3 songs on the album, and also appears as a co-write credit on many others.
But despite all the conflict and fighting, every song sounds buffed up and fitting - there is no gap filling, or knock-off tracks to fit the concept and storyline.

From 'Meddle' to the last notes of 'The Wall', they have produced a run of highly individual, highly crafted, and (the only true descriptive term) "very Floyd-y".  Every track is recognisable as their work, but this was the last hurrah.
'The Wall' also gave them their only Number 1 single in the UK and the US with "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)" - indeed this was the last Number 1 single of the 1970s in the UK - quite fitting for a band who were one the most successful of the decade.
Pedant's Note:  They obviously DO need education because of their use of the double-negative in "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)"

They did manage one more full album ('The Final Cut' - which was even closer to a Waters solo album) before relationships soured completely, and Court cases, recriminations, claims of copyright about inflatable pigs, and general sniping (mainly from Roger Waters towards David Gilmour and Nick Mason) clouded most of the 80s.
The Pink Floyd name returned in 1987 with 'Momentary Lapse Of Reason' (featuring only David Gilmour and Nick Mason - and on the face of it done to get one back at Roger Waters who said that he owned the name.  But, as he wasn't using it at the time, how can he stop 2 original members performing under the banner).  This is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it just doesn't have the Floyd feel about it.  1994s 'The Division Bell' (with Richard Wright restored to the line uo) was closer, but still not quite right somehow.

With all the history, there was more chance of The Beatles or The Jam getting back together on stage than Pink Floyd (all four of them) treading the boards together again.
Until Bob Geldof (who had starred in the film version of 'The Wall') came calling - would Pink Floyd like to appear at the Live 8 Concert in Hyde Park?
This took some doing - Waters and Gilmour had not spoken for more than 2 years, and initial contact was hesitant.  However, they did eventually agree and went into rehersals together.  Had they learned new levels of tolerance whilst apart?  Apparently not - a lot of the old clashes re-surfaced, but for the sake of the concert they kept going.  Disagreements about the chosen songs, tempos, instrumentation, introductions, even who stood where on stage threatened.  The final setlist was apparently not agreed until the night before.
The set that night consisted of 3 tracks from 'Dark Side Of The Moon', the title track from 'Wish You Were Here', and to rapturous applause "Comfortably Numb" was lifted from The Wall, and remains the last track performed by the 4 members together.
If they chose that track for their (unexpected) final performance together, I think it shows the esteem 'The Wall' should be held in.

When The Tigers Broke Free (it's not on the album, but I think it should be)

In The Flesh?

Comfortably Numb