Friday 20 November 2020

Ullo John Gotta New Motor

 Alexei Sayle was the first compere at The Comedy Store in 1979 showcasing his own brand of politically aware, surreal flights, and often highly controversial and audience baiting Comedy.
Looking at early footage, it is a surprise that he was never physically attacked (only heckled, which he could bat away without a moments thought).
One of his early political jokes is proof that political comedy doesn't always age, bring as relevant now as it was 40 years ago:

"If you travel to the States ... they have a lot of different words than like what we use. For instance: they say 'elevator', we say 'lift'; they say 'drapes', we say 'curtains'; they say 'President', we say 'seriously deranged git!'"

The other big Alternative Comedy venue in London was The Comic Strip, and Alexei switched sides becoming a core member fot 2 distinct TV outings - Channel 4s The Comic Strip Presents ... and BBC2s The Young Ones.
In The Young Ones, he was ostensibly the landlord Jerzei Balowski but also many members of the Balowski family, a deranged criminal madman called Brian Damage, Benito Mussolini, a Vampire, and the lead singer of a band whose only song is about the joys of Doctor Martens Boots.
He may have only had 5 minutes solo per show, but he made it count by breaking character, breaking the fourth wall, and generally coming up with some particularly daft monologues.

Alongside the Scouse Communist shtick (where he stated his full name was: Alexei Yuri Gagarin Siege of Stalingrad Glorious Five Year Plan Sputnik Tractor Moscow Dynamo Back Four Sayle) he also wrote and performed a Detective Mystery Radio Play (set in Milton Springsteen Newtown) called The Fish People.

And it was from The Fish People (although largely unrelated) that came his Pop Star moment.
He took his base stage character - short fat bloke, tonic suit, and pork pie hat - gave the character a South London accent, and after fronting a BBC documentary about the Ford Cortina, he wrote, recorded and unleashed "Ullo John Gotta New Motor" - part funk, part rap, part surreal nonsense.  The base track was extended over 4 parts, each the same but different enough, and culminating in Part 4 which is basically a revisit of an earlier character - Mr Sweary.  The final part doesn't really have lyrics, just a litany of profanity.  It's not big, it's not clever, but it is strangely funny (think Derek and Clive set to a dinstinctly 80s Studio beat).

And that was it - he'd had his moment on Top Of  The Pops, and "Ullo John" will remain a mainstay on cheap Novelty music compilations, he chose to return to Comedy and made his first appearance with The Comic Strip Presents ... in the film film Supergrass (playing a rather deranged ballet dancing motorcycle cop).
But it was not all comedy as he also landed some small parts in straight films (he's even in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (briefly)).

But he returned to stand-up comedy - although in a slightly lighter vain - with three series of Alexei Sayle's Stuff and The All New Alexei Sayle Show on BBC2.  The series mixed character comedy (Bobby Chariot - "Ow ya diddling? Bloody sod ya then!", the Feminists who own a bike shop called Menstrual Cycles) with Alexei's exasperation and rumination on life as he sees it all delivered in a high-brow yet anarchically subversive tone - he steered clear of "deep" politics, but couldn't resist chucking the odd jibe in.

And then came another career change - now he's a novelist, a newspaper columnist, and a general know it all who might get the call for a Talking Heads TV slot if Stephen Fry is unavailable.

But as the theme song to Stuff asked: "Who is that fat bastard?"
He's the bloke who's on the lookout for a new set of wheels whilst wondering is there is life in Peckham?

Friday 13 November 2020

Deep Purple - Made In Japan

 Dateline: 1972

The world is just about at peak-Led Zeppelin, peak-Black Sabbath, Marc Bolan has invented and personified Glam Rock, David Bowie becomes the first of his many characters, The Who and The Stones continue to it out for the title of The Worlds Greatest Rock and Roll Band, and Deep Purple release a live album that they felt wasn't necessary, and only did so to keep their record company off their backs.

That live album was 'Made In Japan', and as the name suggests was recorded (apocryphally using sub-standard equipment) in Osaka and Tokyo on their August 1972 tour of Japan.

A double album containing just 7 tracks - the shortest here is opener "Highway Star" which falls just short of the 7 minute mark.
At the other end of the scale, closing track "Space Truckin" is nigh on 20 minutes long and occupies it's own side of the original vinyl release.

If the story of not wanting to do alive album is to be believed, then it is somewhat let down by the sheer energy of the songs on show here.
Every track is a showcase for the bands prowess, musicality and proficiency - each getting their own little show-off moment.  These versions have enough to differentiate them from the studio versions (ie they're not just played straight) and the whole band sounds like one solid unit relying on each others feed lines, second guessing where the song goes, and then adding their own touches.

The Drum Solo?  That's normally a cue to sprint to the bar or toilets and leave the tub thumper showing off a bit by bashing things.  "The Mule" though is a key part of this set.  Helped in part by the fact it starts out like a Greek Folk Song.  The vocal track is done and dusted in under 2 minutes, and then Ian Paice takes over for another 7 and a half minutes.  As drum solos go, this is one I actually enjoy listening to.  He is a darn fine drummer (and often absent from the "Greatest Drummers Of All Time" lists that seem to fill up Mojo, Uncut, and many corners of the interweb.

Spare a thought though - he's up there sweating cobs under stage lights, the band wander back on stage to provide a slight coda towards the end, the final cymbal crashes, the bass drum thuds, and the moment the cheering dies down they fly into the next song.without pause.  No rest for the tubthumpers. 

The 25th Anniversary edition included the Encores on a second disc.  Not sure I need 3 versions of "Black Night" and 2 of "Speed King", but the Purple-ised wig-out 9 minute version of "Lucille" is a welcome addition to proceedings.

Mark II Purple is my patch of choice - and this one for me really is peak-Purple (1972 was a pretty good year for peaking).  There was only to be one further album in that configuration though before Ian Gillan and Roger Glover departed (replaced by David Coverdale and Glen  Hughes).  The opening track of 'Who Do We Think We Are' was "My Woman From Tokyo" a nice back link to where this album was recorded.

Later albums were good (if a bit stodgy in places) and even the reformation of the "classic" line-up for 1984s 'Perfect Strangers' does not come close to the power evident on 'Made In Japan'

Highway Star

Smoke On The Water

Thursday 5 November 2020

Paul Weller - Solo (Part 2)

The'Illumination' album of 2002 was not as illuminating as the title suggests.  Paul Weller was stuck in Dad Rock territory, seemingly with no way out.
A year before he had embraced his past and gone out with just an acoustic guitar playing quieter more contemplative versions of Jam, Style Council and early solo songs. This was released under the title 'Days Of Speed' and outsold his previous release, and his next release.
There appeared to be some revitalisation in the air, but 'Illumination' did not provide this.

But give it a couple of years, and those first steps were happening again - this time with the release of (seemingly obligatory once artists reach a certain point in their career) Covers album.

"Studio 150" is something of a curio - the choice of songs is interesting, if somewhat unexpected.  The man who wrote "In The City" covering a Sister Sledge track, The Modfather sings Bob Dylan.  The biggest surprise (for me) was the choice of "Close To You" - a track forever linked with The Carpenters (or maybe Alan Partridge?).  In fairness though it is one of Bacharach and David's finest.
It may not be an essential purchase, but it does mark the start of a decade or so of confounding critics and the public expectation with little (or big) twists and turns of each album.

Not that you'd believe it upon the release of 'As Is Now' - He's back, and back in that 'Wild Wood'/'Stanley Road' groove, with added Funk and a little anger thrown into the mix.
He's embraced his past, and is no longer embarrassed by the adulation.  And now delivers a set of songs that are effortless.   "Come On / Let's Go" may not be the most original tile, but it is a superb track, as is "From The Floorboards Up".  And "Bring Back The Funk" does just that, whilst echoing late period Jam and Style Council moments.
This album (although poor commercially) is one of his very best.

If 'As Is Now' was a "this is me, and I can still do it" statement, then what followed was a "this is me, and now I'm doing what I want" statement.

The next album came some 18 months later after another live album and a 4CD retrospective of his career ('Hit Parade') - proof that he was finally comfortable with all of his past.

'22 Dreams' was released to lauded critical appreciation - still recognisably PW but just different enough to set him apart from accusations of stagnation and trading on past glories.
The album is also something of a departure as 50% of the tracks were co-writes.  It may be the presence of another pen that pushes the songs on this album into unexpected areas - one minute folk, the next soul, add a bit of funk, there's even a bit of Led Zeppelin III and Fairport Convention chucked into the mix.  Eclectic?  Yes, that about covers it.

'Wake Up The Nation' pretty much does what it says on the tin.  The album is more direct, not as eclectic as the last outing, but is not without moments of experimentation.  And listen carefully - there are a couple of tracks when you can hear the Bass Guitar of Bruce Foxton.  Yes, the same Bruce Foxton that went to court with Paul Weller for a fairer share of Jam royalties, lost, and then declared he would never stand on stage with Paul Weller again.  Well, as they both said "Life's too short" and their appearance together proved Paul Weller is not quire as grumpy as his public persona suggests.

Edit: Like 'Wild Wood' before, I've re-listened to this one - it is better/stronger than I remember.

Another album, another soundscape - 2012s 'Sonik Kicks' added Krautrock drumming, a bit of Hawkwind, and moments which sound like the bastard son of David Bowie performing Blur performing Gift-era Jam/early Style Council.  It also contains some exceedingly strong songs and one sure-fire PW Classic in the shape of "That Dangerous Age".  If pushed, I will defend this album to the hilt, and rank it alongside 'Stanley Road' and 'As Is Now' as his best work.

John Peel once said about The Fall: "Always different, always the same - and always interesting".
And this quote fits for Weller's next 4 albums - a little left turn here, a little bit of electronic insertion there, a discovery (or re-discovery) of an unexplored genre.  And always sounding like Paul Weller, and never really losing the interest of the listener.

'Saturns Pattern' was the first of those "different but the same".  There's still an urgency about the album, but also heavy studio production techniques - almost using the studio as a new musical tool.   If I was being unfair, I'd suggest a kinship with Blur's 1994 eponymous album.  But this is no copy,and 100% where Paul Weller's head is at at that time - including the almost prophetic "I'm Where I Should Be".  Maybe not the most immediate listening success, but give it time and it worms it's way in.

'A Kind Revolution' was another slight shift - the soul quotient is jacked up on this one.  And it also features further unlikely collaborators in the shape of Robert Wyatt on “She Moves with the Fayre" and Boy George on "One Tear".  This was another slow burn where on first listening the album doesn't seem to hang together, but repeated listening bares fruit.

'True Meanings' is an acoustic outing, and contains some very good songs - "Mayfly", "Glide", "Bowie" being the pick for me.  It sounds like he's taking it easy here, and he deserves to - this one ranks alongside his very best work, if yet another departure from expected template.

And here we are 43 years since his first recorded outing, and rather than taking it easy resting on past glories, and knocking off another batch of songs, he's still pushing into new territory with 'On Sunset'.
It's almost like he's taken his last 5 years work, mixed it all up, adding some extra seasoning and flavours, and said "I'm still trying to please myself (and hopefully you)".
And with the opening 3 tracks here - "More", "Village" and "Earth Beat" - you still pleasing at least one listener.

from 'As Is Now' - Come On Let's Go

from 'Sonik Kicks' - When Your Garden's Overgrown

from 'Saturns Pattern' - Long Time