Saturday, 10 July 2021

ZZ Top

In December 2019, I took the whole month off work.  All that accrued holiday that I was unable to use in a stupidly busy year was splurged on a whole month of doing "not a lot".
And as I wasn't working, the razor stayed in the drawer and slowly ran out of charge, whilst I developed a lustrous beard.
(for "lustrous", read "patchy, with bits of grey")
And then came New Year and time to return to work, I kept the facial hair, trimmed it down a bit, and returned to work for a full 3 months until Covid took hold, and I've been working at home ever since.

The beard is now part of me, and I'm not getting rid of it.  I have harboured ambitions of getting it to ZZ Top standards, but for one dissenting voice shouting "oh no you're bloody not!".

The most famous beard wearers in all of Rock Music (apart from the drummer who is ironically called Frank Beard), Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard have been working together since 1969, with just a few solo sojourns in between.
(Are they the longest surviving band with no personnel changes?  They may very well be)
The early years of the band weren't as hirsute - Beards and tache, yes.  But not until 1979, and the release of 'Degüello' was the full length topiary that made their legend first seen.

My entry point to ZZ Top (like may others I'm sure) was 1983s 'Eliminator' - a bright, clean sounding but bluesy rocking slab of 12 tracks, which spawned 4 singles "Gimme All Your Lovin", "Sharp Dressed Man", "TV Dinners" and the lascivious "Legs".  The look of the band, and the visuals created by the album and it's sound sat them in prime position for MTV, and lap it up they did.
Although I didn't know it at the time, 'Eliminator' was another evolution of the bands desire to innovate and develop their sound - starting on the aforementioned 'Degüello - enhancing their basic 3 piece Bar Blues sound, using a range of synthesisers and studio technologies.

And what's so wrong with innovating and trying to stretch yourself?  Absolutely nothing, and fair play to them for doing so and keep it interesting.
But if anyone asks me (and they haven't yet) my advice would be that a fine place to start the ZZ Top journey is at the beginning in the swampy-blues sound of 'ZZ Top's First Album' (1971) or 'Rio Grande Mud' (1972).

Over and above those though, my go to "you must hear this" choice would be 1973s 'Tres Hombres'.
This is their third album and they've now got  feel for the studio, and are becoming more adept at recreating their sound in the studio confines - not going in, plugging in, and laying it down.  This album feels stronger than previous efforts - the playing is more solid, certainly at the bottom end - allowing the guitars to sit above the groove and the songs to bloom, rather than replicate what you would hear on stage.

There is much to like (and move your feet to) on the album.  From the somewhat funky-blues-boogie of opener "Waiting For The Bus" through "Jesus Just Left Chicago" to "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" and "Move Me On Down The Line".

But surely the standout track is "La Grange" - a John Lee Hooker-like Boogie, with a searing guitar bolted to it.
Undoubtedly one of the highest points in ZZ Tops's half decade, and one often overlooked in favour of the Beards, Cars, and Girls videos of 'Eliminator' and 'Afterburner'



Sunday, 20 June 2021

Nick Heyward - From Monday To Sunday

In the early 80s, Haircut 100 were ploughing a joyful jazz-funk type groove, and  realeased a clutch of truly great singles ("Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)", "Love Plus One", "Fantastic Day" and "Nobody's Fool") and one great album ('Pelican West') before falling apart and frontman Nick Heyward starting a sol career with moderate success (moderate compared to the critical and public adoration that Haircut 100 received, and could have continued to receive).
By 1986/87 success had all but dried up and Nick was probably consigned to the "Where Are They Now?" file.

And then in May 1994, snuck away on late night ITV (Bob Mills – In Bed With Me Dinner) Nick Heyward was introduced as the musical guest.  A near incendiary version of "Fantastic Day" flew out of the telly.  This was followed by "Caravan" – a track I didn’t know but I needed to hear again.  A cover version of The Jam’s "Sounds From The Street" finished things off.

Strange how 15 minutes of TV can have such an effect and re-launch a career in the viewer’s mind.

And here is the performance(s):

"Caravan" was from Nick's latest solo album 'From Monday To Sunday' which arrived in my sweaty little hands the following weekend (yes, this is a time when a trip to Our Price - or often other record shops if looking for something in particular - was a necessary pert of the process) and was probably played solidly for about a month (or more).

Although his solo career had never hit the heights investors hoped he was capable of, he'd somehow wound up signing to a major label (Epic) and was releasing his fourth solo set (something of a comeback, as it was his first album for 5 years).

There was a slight departure in sound too - the funk-edges of his previous work were replaced with Rock-centric tropes.  The melody and songcraft of old remained, but there was an injection of energy and jangle too.

At the time I first heard this album, Britpop was gathering pace, and it fitted the mould.  In fact, I see it now as one the pre-cursors - a sort of proto-Britpop, alongside names such as Boo Radleys, Primal Scream, Elastica, Gene, SMASH, These Animal Men, Menswear and Shed Seven

And to these ears 'From Monday To Sunday' is the beginnings of Britpop.  Its full of melody, strong songs, and rooted on this side of the Atlantic.  It takes near nostalgia such as The Stone Roses and blends with The Beatles, Squeeze and The Jam to fill out the picture.
A trick repeated by many a Britpopper.
And to my eyes, the album cover is a picture of a Full English Breakfast served in a greasy spoon cafe (completed with chequered vinyl tablecloth) - the type of British Culture celebrating image that would become a common site, most notably the pictures of Blur at the Dog Racing on the inner cover of 'Parklife' 

For me, it’s up there with Britpop touchstones 'Parklife', 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Stanley Road'.
And off the back of 'Stanley Road', Paul Weller was anointed The Modfather Of Britpop.
I'm not suggesting that Nick Heyward is the equal of Paul Weller, but they are certainly contemporary.

And who knows?  With a little more luck and recognition, he could be making guest appearances on albums and/or playing larger venues.  Instead, Nick remains on the 80s nostalgia circuit.

Maybe, just maybe, Nick fired too soon.

Quality is high across the album's 12 tracks - there is a danger that it can be seen as front-loaded with "He Doesn't Love You Like I Do", "Caravan", and "Kite" filling 3 of the 4 opening solts.
But no, there is more than enough of equal calibre filling the space.

The pick of the bunch for me is "kite" - it's rich, jangling, undertated and plain glorious.  This song says as much to me about the summer of 1994 as Parklife and Live Forever.

Also vying for attention of the yearning "How Do You Live Without Sunshine", the jumping (almost echoes of Haircut 100 past) "January Man", and closing track - the almost epic and yearning (again) "Everytime"


Life's like that, delicious with clause.

You never get the truth, just promises galore.

Don’t let them shoot your kite down


Kite



Thursday, 10 June 2021

Matt Berry - The Blue Elephant

Matt Berry is a bit like that kid at school where everything he turns his hand to is a success.  But his charisma prevents you from disliking the annoying over-achiever.

And so it is with his music career.  He's been releasing albums for a decade and a bit, and with this one he really has gone full polymath - playing all instruments (except the drums), writing, producing, arranging, even supplying the painting for the cover.

'The Blue Elephant' is a journey through summer sounds against a backdrop of 60s Garage-Psych, The Doors meets Deep Purple, Proggy moments, and even a near David Bowie vocal impression.  But it's not a retro exercise - this is as much a product of 2021 as the debt it owes to the past.  Breezily familiar yet brand new.  Relaxing yet occasionally jarring.  An exercise in audience pleasing as much as pleasing the artist himself.

Berry's sometimes over enunciated tones fit the musical styles, although the album is sometimes let down by weak lyrics.  Actually, those lyrics might be weak on purpose - maybe Matt Berry can't help himself returning to Comedy-type.

"It's a drag to be set on fire, I've been sacked from the choir, I came back to Bedfordshire"
("Now Disappear")

"There's something in the air, There's someone on the street, There's something in my hair, There's someone you should meet"
("Life Unknown")

"Me, me, I don't care, Don't touch my hair, Try not to stare"
"In my home, all alone, Hide my bone, Live alone, kill my phone, Watch my tone"
("Like Stone")


But the lyrics are a minor quibble - it's all about the music and ambiance that the album delivers.
"Abroad" is a breezy instrumental easing you in before "Summer Sun" goes full on 60s Garage-Psych.  Probably the most incessant (and best) track on here.  It is familiar yet unheard before.  A rare trick to pull off.
As you progress through the tracks, you get the notion that The Doors were something of a touchstone/reference point, even closely cribbing "Riders On The Storm" through the breakdown of  "Alone".
All tracks closely butt up to each other rendering the album best consumed as a whole rather than split out to individual tracks.
There are a couple of instrumental linking tracks - notably in the form of "Safe Passage" and "Safer Passage" which to these ears are the same track fed in different directions through the Tape Machine.
A trick I feel is repeated with "Story Told" and "Forget Me".  These two tracks are either a backward recording, or a forward and backward version combined.

After "Summer Sun", special praise goes to "Blues Inside Me" - a blues-rock / late 60s / Glam Rock stomp which starts in Jim Morrison territory before mutating into something that feels like an early David Bowie cut.

The listing of instruments used includes 11 varieties of keyboard ranging from piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond Organ, Vox Continental and a bank of synthesisers.
Vastly under-rated rock instruments like Xylophone and Glockenspiel are also listed, giving rise to the cry "More Glockenspiel!" as some tracks unfold.

Although Matt Berry plays everything (and at points feeds his vocals through a vocoder), in a lot of cases it's the drums that drive the songs - managing to stay on dead beat but with enough randomness and flourish to add more depth and colour to the picture.

There is much to like with 'The Blue Elephant', but aside from the 2 stand out tracks highlighted, one wonders how substantial the songs are.  In context, they work together creating an almost perfect soundtrack for relaxed summer evenings - as a whole it definitely hits a spot.  Just not convinced there is a "Great" album here - a "Very Very Good" one perhaps, but just falling short of Greatness.


Summer Sun


Blues Inside Me



Thursday, 27 May 2021

Derek And Clive

 Peter Cook and Dudley Moore first worked together in Beyond The Fringe with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller.
When Beyond The Fringe completed it's last tour, Dudley Moore was offered a BBC Series - Not Only But Also - showcasing his comedy and Music.  He brought Peter Cook in as a scriptwriter and occasional performer.  Cook's role in the show expanded to equal billing, and the Pete and Dud Dagenham Dialogues were born.
Much of Not Only But Also has been wiped, but the shows that do remain show the two performing together in an irreverent, often improvisational way - a result of not really having time to rehearse, Cook's propensity to go off-script when a new thought came to him, and the devilment in Cook's eyes when he spots a new way to make Dud corpse 

Like here (at about 5:25)


Not Only But Also ran for 3 series, but by the end relations between the 2 were strained, primarily due to Peter Cooks increasing un-reliability and increasing alcohol intake.
In 1973, they assembled their best sketches into a revue show - Behind The Fridge - and set off on tour of Australia and USA.
While in America, Peter Cook attempted to smooth relationships with Dudley by booking some time in a studio and the pair just taking some time out to have rambling conversations, a few drinks, and see what happened.
What happened was basically the Dagenham Dialogues peppered with swearing.  And so was born the alter egos of Derek and Clive.
Chris Blackwell - Head of Island Records who'd booked the studio for them - gave out Bootleg copies to friends, who passed them on, and passed them on again.  When Peter Cook heard about this, he pushed Chris Blackwell to release it commercially (Dudley Moore was a little concerned as it may impact the Hollywood career and image he was looking to build).
For the commercial release, some other sketches were added from their current Stage Show - it's not that they're bad sketches, they just don't flow with the tirade of filth and bad language of the other tracks
(no less funny though)

And so was born the legend of a pair of toilet cleaners discussing philosophy, meeting strangers, and reminiscences of past employment.  As the sleeve notes said, they're basically just a couple of c*nts.

The album may not have sold in droves (it did make number 74 on the Australian Album Chart), but was picked up and shared by the many (it was packaged like a bootleg, and it was bootlegs that reached the ears of more than those who actually laid out hard cash).
But it's reception (and reputation) was enough for Pete & Dud to revisit the characters the following year, releasing 'Come Again' and this time finding a place in the Top 20 of the UK Album Chart.

'Come Again' is basically more of the same, but with the shock quotient turned up several notches.  It was known that Peter Cook's decent into alcoholism was rampant at this time, and the clanking of glasses and slurred speech on the album suggest that Dudley Moore was in a similar state of inebriation.
The other noticeable thing about the conversations on 'Come Again' as a sign that their working and personal; relationships with each other were strained almost to breaking point - Peter Cook never missing an opportunity to have a dig or snide remark in Dudley's direction.

The third installment of Derek and Clive - 'Ad Nauseum' - came in 1978, and marks the end of their working relationship.
The album itself was effectively recorded sober - as can be seen in the accompanying film (Derek and Clive Get The Horn, released 1979) - and for the most part a happy and cordial affair.  But there are moments when Peter Cook cannot stop himself sticking the knife in and going just too far for Dudley Moore's liking.
Towards the end of the recording, and after a particularly spiteful attack - Dudley Moore walks out saying "It's no wonder we're splitting up".  And indeed, 'Ad Nauseum' was to be the last joint project they worked on.

But the legacy of Derek and Clive was not over - Peter Cook and Richard Branson had organised for the recording of the album to be filmed, and the resultant film (although not granted an official release due to censorship issues) was put out on video.
Unfortunately, about as many copies of the video were impounded by the Police as were sold to the British public, resulting in the Video company (part funded by Peter Cook) going bankrupt.
It was finally given a proper DVD release in 1993.

I may have listened to the albums too much, but it is difficult to hear the name Jayne Mansfield without raising a smile, questioning inept leadership without asking "is this anyway to run a ballroom", or even listen to Horse Racing commentary.

If there is a true-ism that there is a Monty Python quote for any occasion ("all roads lead to Python"), then many of those same roads (often with a vulgar fork in the road) will also lead to Derek & Clive.


The Worst Job I Ever Had


The Worst Job He Ever Had


Jump


Horse Racing

Monday, 17 May 2021

Paul Weller - Fat Pop

 Paul Weller has been in the game for nigh on 45 years, and his catalogue boasts 26 studio albums.  Those of his sol career have often been an exploration of his latest musical passion - each album has enough difference about it to make it unique from it's predecessor.  And in all those switches of style, he's remained relatively clunker-free.

Now into his seventh decade (he's 63 at the end of May), one would think he might start slowing down a bit, revel in his elder statesman position, make the odd guest appearance on mates albums and live shows.
No chance - he's maintained his lifetimes work rate of an album every couple of years.  In fact 'Fat Pop' comes just 10 months after 'On Sunset'.

When you hear that a new album is due, the initial excitement is often tempered by "OK, how much experimentation, will he be doing this time?" or that unfortunate thought that there may be a couple of diamonds amongst the tracks, but probably not enough to pull from the shelves again at a later date.

I am very happy to report that 'Fat Pop' may be the album to break that sequence of folly and may well take it's place along side 'Sonik Kicks' as my most played PW album of the 21st Century.
With 'Fat Pop' you get the impression that Paul Weller is writing songs for himself and his audience - something of a departure from previous works where the audience has to catch up and tune in to the vibe.
In doing so, there is an almost perfect balance of the familiar and the new about it, and plenty of diversity in the grooves (or 1s and 0s if you have the CD - which I do)

The opening track - "Cosmic Fringes" - sets the ground for what's coming.  A guitar led track with psych overtones bolted to a vaguely recognisable riff, and a virtual spoken word (sing-speak?) delivery.
"True" is a marriage of The Jam and David Bowie's "Heroes", complete with Mott The Hoople-esque honking sax sounds.  It's full of energy, and over too soon.
Title track "Fat Pop" slows proceedings down finding laid back soul groove, before a Weller classic-in-waiting arrives - "Shades Of Blue".  A valid addition to the Weller cannon.  One of his best for many years.
"Glad Times" drops into another soul groove akin to Style Council with dubby and jazzy overtones, complete with a great horn section.  Like "Fat Pop" above, this feels like it might be a leftover from 'On Sunset', or at the very least authored around the same time.
"Cobweb / Connection" is acoustic driven with some Spanish guitar interludes.  There's a real summery shimmer about the track, if a little insubstantial.
If I'm honest there is a bit of a lull with next 2 tracks - "Testify" and "That Pleasure".  There's nothing wrong with the tracks, a bit of blaxploitation funk, a touch of Motown, and more soul grooves just doesn't feel like it's moving forward apace.
With "Failed", I'm not sure if Paul Weller has been hanging about with Noel Gallagher too long, or he's just trying to show him how to do it properly?
"Failed" does lift the album in time for "Moving Canvas" and then into the reflective sounding "In Better Times" which does sound like a throwback to 90s PW.
"Still Glides The Stream" closes the album with lush strings, and a couple of lines that I may be mis-interpreting, but for me seem to sum up the rasion d'etre for the album:

Be careful with what you ignore
Look for greatness in the small
For the man who never was
Still knows what his public needed
Yes, he knows what his public needed


OK, I admit the album is not without some skippable moments, but there is more than enough to just press play and let it run (plus it's not that long an album - just because you can get 70 minutes onto a CD, it doesn't mean you have to)


True

Shades Of Blue

Still Glides The Stream

Monday, 3 May 2021

The Coral - Coral Island

The Coral's first album came out 20 years ago.  And a fine album it is.  After this, and over the next 8 albums, The Coral went about their business with quiet consistency, and whilst perhaps not receiving untold riches or high profile interviews in the music press, there really is very much to like in their catalogue.
Phase 1 of their career was closed out by 2008's 'Singles Collection'.  1 more album came before a 4 / 5 year hiatus which was broken in 2016.

And now they're back again with a double concept album titled "Coral Island".
Except ... it isn't really a double album (done and dusted in under an hour!) more two companion albums telling 2 sides of a story.
And it isn't really a concept album - there is a theme and outline narrative (best explained in the accompanying book), but no underlying story, main characters, or narrative conclusion.

Coral Island is an imagined seaside resort, and the album is split into 2 parts telling the story Summer point of view when the place is buzzing with incomers (Part 1: Welcome To Coral Island) and then looks at the town and the residents remaining when the visitors have gone (Part 2: The Ghost Of Coral Island).

There are 15 stand alone songs in the 24 song package.  The remaining tracks are narration provided by James and Ian Skelly's grand-dad.  The tunes themselves (in Part 1) are bright, melodic, a sort of Britpop-Psychedelia which has been a common thread of The Coral's work.  Part 2 (as the sub-title suggests) is a darker affair, but still has moments of lift and breeze.

From the 60s-esque, oh-so Coral sounding "Lover Undiscovered" through the Garage Rock meets The Doors meets Inspiral Carpets of "Vacancy", the busked, wistful "Autumn Has Come" - and that's just Part 1.
Part 2 starts on a darker tone - "The Golden Age" sounds like you've mistakenly played a Richard Hawley album by mistake, but also remains Coral-ly.  In fact Part 2 probably contains more musical diversity and also has echoes of ? And The Myserians, The Shadows, Neil Hannon, Johnny Cash and Crosby Stills & Nash.
"Watch You Disappear" seem s to pull all these influences/sounds together whilst also pulling in Del Shannon, Joe Meek, and even a touch of "The Legend Of Xanadu".
And if this wasn't enough, penultimate track "Calico Girl" sounds like it wouldn't sound out of place in a trove of undiscovered 'White Album' demos.

The album displays real ambition, and delivers on that.  It's intricate in creation and delivery, and doesn't fade or attempt to fit a song to the theme and move the album on in a jump.

'Coral Island' is very probably the best album of their career.  And very probably the best album of 2021 so far.
(and who knows, may also be in the running for album of the year when critics and others tapping at keyboards assemble their "Goodbye To Another Year" lists)

Lover Undiscovered


Vacancy


Take Me Back To The Summertime


Friday, 23 April 2021

The Who Sell Out - Deluxe Edition

The Who’s 1967 album is given the Super Deluxe enormobox treatment. And there is a lot to get through.

If you are new to this album, this 80 quid box is unlikely to be your starting point, so the assumption is that buyers of this will already be familiar with the album content.

It’s been suggested that Sell Out was an early concept album. Not convinced – there is no narrative, no story thread linking the songs, and no conclusion. What it is is a collection of great songs linked by jingles and adverts. It is more an attempt to celebrate (or perhaps re-create) the experience of listening to Pirate Radio.
The original plan was to sell the space between tracks for real adverts – when this idea didn’t fly, the band created and recorded their own (many of them created by John Entwhistle and Keith Moon in the Pub round the corner from the Studio).

The 13 tracks that make up the original album are a mix of psychedelia, tough-egded pop, and with “I Can See For Miles” a rock edge that would become The Who’s trademark.
Like previous outing ‘A Quick One … While He’s Away’, the album is rounded out with a Pete Townshend mini-opera (“Rael”) – another exercise in Pete stretching himself by taking fragments of ideas and songs and weaving them together into one whole, and yes I think he succeeds. Whatever, it is certainly good practice for (what we now know) was coming next.

This box gives 112 tracks across 5 CDs and 2 additional 7” singles.
You get both the mono and stereo mixes of the album stuffed in this box, plus a host of extra tracks – some have appeared before in the guise of the Maximum R n B Box Set, Odds and Sods compilation, or bonus tracks on previous re-issues, but many are seeing light for the first time.
Also included as bonus tracks of the mono and stereo albums are the contemporary singles “Pictures Of Lily” / “Doctor Doctor”, “The Last Time / “Under My Thumb”, a host of unused advert jingles, and a Who’d up version of Grieg’s “Hall of The Mountain King”

But that’s not all …

A third CD of various takes from the Sessions for the album, and another CD (titled “The Road To Tommy”) of work in progress recordings from 1968, including the singles “Dogs” / “Call Me Lightening”, and “Magic Bus” / “Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde”.

Thing is these 1968 recordings I don’t believe are a nascent Tommy – I believe that was a singular and separate concept, but there are certainly some themes, thoughts, riffs and motifs here which would be re-cycled or re-purposed for Tommy.Like Quads from 1966 (which spawned “I’m A Boy”) or Lifehouse, what this is may be an embryo of an idea, or an unrealised story which would later be broken-down with the best bits salvaged.
Completing the CDs is a disc of Pete Townshend demos which sound well formed – Townshend would always attempt to provide a fully formed demo of his vision for a song and these are no different.

The only issue I have is, that although nice to have – and I think I have 3 albums of Townshend demos (the Scoop series) – I’m not sure they’ll get many plays. Maybe once or twice, but not as often as the original album (but now I have to choose the mono or stereo versions).

The 7” singles in the box are:

- the UK Track single of “I Can See for Miles” / “Someones Coming” (both mono versions)
- the US Decca single of “Magic Bus” / “Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde”.

That may be it for the music, but in the package is a host of extra bumph as we would expect from Super Deluxe boxes.

First off is an 80-page, hard-back full-colour book, including rare period photos, memorabilia, track by track annotation and new sleeve notes by Pete Townshend with comments from the likes of Pete Drummond (Radio Caroline DJ), Richard Evans (designer) & Roy Flynn (the Speakeasy Club manager).
And the extra bits and bobs are: nine posters & inserts, including replicas of the original album posters, a gig poster from The City Hall Newcastle, a Saville Theatre show 8-page programme, a business card for the Bag o’ Nails club, a flyer for Bath Pavilion concerts, a bumper sticker for Wonderful Radio London, Keith Moon’s Speakeasy Club membership card and a Who Fan Club newsletter and photo.

The vaults must now be pretty sparse for this period of The Who. This set offers just about everything before, during, and after this album.

Sell Out is the point where The Who became more focussed as a band on their work, rather than being a singles band, and it shows in Pete’s songwriting, Roger voice, the tightness of the band, and the fact that Sell Out contains no real duffers across it’s 13 tracks.

If you’ve heard (and like) the original album, what could be better than wallowing in the vaults of these songs and times, and all the additional stuff you get with it.



Armenia City In The Sky



Rael


Melancholia








Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Carry On Carrying On

They're predictable, they're formulaic, they're bawdy, they're filmed on a tiny budget.
They're a regular fixture in TV Bank Holiday schedules.  The best bits have been compiled, re-compiled, re-re-compiled, spoken about, written about, and generally quoted whenever a slight double-entendre is used.  But despite all that, they're eminently watchable and always entertaining (even if you have seen it 1000 times, are speaking along with the script, and you can see the jokes coming a mile off - you still watch it)

1950s Britain was particularly well-served with Comedy films, including the peerless Ealing Comedies. Norman Wisdom films, and the St Trinians and Doctor franchises.  And into this rode a low budget, farcical, and almost satirical dig, at respected professions and conventions.

Conceived by Producer Perter Rogers and Director Gerald Thomas, the Carry On films ran from The core films ran from 1958 to 1978, and was then re-booted for a single film in 1992.
Throughout its life, the films probably had a total budget of about £27, and the furthest location shot was Maidenhead Town Hall. In truth, they did venture to Snowden, Camber Sands, Brighton and Weymouth. but rarely left the confines of Pinewood Studios or the immediate surrounding area.

There are 31 films in the franchise (32 if you include the 1977 compilation film fronted by Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor).
Actually, that 1977 compilation (a contractual obligation?) acts as something of a full-stop to the Carry On heyday.  What came after it was the trading on the name, brave attempt, but not very good Emmannuelle, and then the re-booted name vehicle Columbus.

The first batch were written by Norman Hudis with the laughs coming from the ineptiude of the subjects in unfamiliar surroundings, and/or light satirical jabs.
Talbot Rothwell took over writing duties in 1963, and the smutty quotient rose, and continued to rise when Carry On changed film distributors to the Rank Organistion (the first batch were distributed by Anglo Amalgamated, and with the exception of Cruising, Jack, Cleo, Cowboy and Screaming, in Black and White.

The Cast was effectively a Repertory Company with the same actors and actresses playing differently dressed versions of themselves - Sid James (invariably always called Sid) dirty laugh, Bernard Bresslaw's often terminally confused lurch-type character, Kenneth Williams admonishments (almost veering back to Julian and Sandy territory), Barbara Windsor's giggles, Charles Hawtrey's meek Mummy's Boy, Hattie Jacques Matron (or similar battle-axe-ish character) and Joan Sims big hearted and often the voice of reason.
This cast was joined by a host of other supporting actors, often appearing in many films.
For 1967s "Follow That Camel", big name American actor Phil Silvers was cat in the lead role (as Sid James recent heart attack and recovery prevented him appearing).  For this one-off appearance, Silvers was paid £30,000 (equating to approx 15% of the entire Film's budget) - a marked increase from the top pay of £5,000 for the usual cast.

And the Budget thriftiness did not just apply to the Actors.  Throughout Carry On History there is a litany of Cost Saving measures, including:

  • Carry On Cleo - uses sets left over from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra"
  • Carry On Camping - filmed in October.  Leaves and Grass painted green.  Camera angles set to avoid the mud and shivering Actors
  • Carry On ... Follow That Camel - the Sahara Desert? No, Camber Sands 
  • Whenever a shot of a Housing Estate is required, this will invariably be Pinewood Green Housing Estate.  And it was not uncommon for 2 or 3 House exteriors to be used and re-used on later films
  • Multiple use of the High Streets of Maidenhead, Slough and Windsor

The job of Location Scout for Carry On must've been the easiest in the world - go for a walk around the Pinewood Studio lot, and find a suitable looking building or yard area, or see what other films are being made and what sets are available.

Between 1964 or 1972, 2 films per year were generally released.  So I suppose one can understand the Budget constraints, and the insistence of the Director that the first take is usually the only take required.

Carry On films were always pushing the boundaries of the Film Censors, and on only a couple of occasions were cuts required to achieve and A (or PG in new money) rating.
Two of the cuts being "remove the phrase 'Can I help you with your erection'" (from Carry On Camping), and "leave a pause between the words Fakir and Off" (from Carry On Up The Khyber) 


But were they any good?

In the great tradition of British Music Hall, Seaside Postcards, Mother-In-Law Jokes, and many other things now declared un-PC, they more than hold their own.
If you really wanted to be academic about it (and I'm sure someone has) the Carry On series is an object text on the development of British Society from the slightly repressed, stiff upper-lippedness, "know your place" times of the 1950s, and then watch as the world becomes more colourful and more daring.

And today ... they represent "good, clean fun".  They play to the Britsh humour of farce, word-play, double entendre.  And even though it's the same actors playing versions of themselves, the script and the characterisation creates enough difference.

Personally, I could happily sit for a few weeks watching them all again from start to finish (in fact I did that very thing recently)


I've never seen a Carry On film - where do I start?

For a Carry On novice, my sage advice would be:

Start with Cleo, spin forward to the high point Rank era with Doctor, Up The Khyber, Camping, Again Doctor, Up The Jungle, Henry, At Your Convenience, Matron, Abroad, Girls, and Dick.

From there, devour the rest - try Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head, and Follow That Camel.  And once you've followed the Camel go back to the Anglo-Amalgamated Black and Whites (Sergeant, Nurse, Teacher, Constable, Regardless, Cruising (the first in Colour), Cabby (return to Black & White), Jack (Colour), Spying (Black & White), Cowboy (Colour).

And now mop-up the series with Behind (basically a re-tread of Camping, but in Caravans), England (not one of their best, but watchable nonetheless), and Emmannuelle (how to sully a legacy in 90 minutes)

And here is your handy Cut Out And Keep Guide to the series:

  • Carry On Sergeant (1958)
  • Carry On Nurse (1959)
  • Carry On Teacher (1959)
  • Carry On Constable (1960)
  • Carry On Regardless (1961)
  • Carry On Cruising (1962) 
  • Carry On Cabby (1963)
  • Carry On Jack (1964)
  • Carry On Spying (1964)
  • Carry On Cleo (1964)
  • Carry On Cowboy (1965)
  • Carry On Screaming! (1966)
  • Don't Lose Your Head (1966)
  • Follow That Camel (1967)
  • Carry On Doctor (1967)
  • Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)
  • Carry On Camping (1969)
  • Carry On Again Doctor (1969)
  • Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)
  • Carry On Loving (1970)
  • Carry On Henry (1971)
  • Carry On at Your Convenience (1971)
  • Carry On Matron (1972)
  • Carry On Abroad (1972)
  • Carry On Girls (1973)
  • Carry On Dick (1974)
  • Carry On Behind (1975)
  • Carry On England (1976)
  • That's Carry On! (1977)
  • Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
  • Carry On Columbus (1992)


Finish off with Columbus - although Carry On in name and intention, and with a few Carry On-esque lines.  It also has Rogers and Thomas at the helm and is partly written by Dave Freeman (who wrote a couple of the later originals).  A Few of the surviving original Cast also put in an appearance.
But it is just trading on the name - the world has moved on, it is no longer "a product of it's time", and some of it feels forced in some places.
It's good, but it aint Carry On

This is ...


Friday, 16 April 2021

Neurotic Outsiders

Bringing together well known names under a single umbrella often achieves success.  And why wouldn't it each member of the new collective has their own fan-base- so if you form a super trio, then it follows that your album sales will be 3 times the size of your previous bands efforts.
Good logic, but not exactly correct.

wikipedia defines a Supergroup as:

A musical group whose members are already successful as solo artists or as part of other groups or well known in other musical professions.
The term is sometimes applied retrospectively when several members from a group later achieve notable success in their own right. Supergroups are sometimes formed as side projects and thus not intended to be permanent, while other times can become the primary project of the members' careers. 

I wanted to say "see them Supergroups?  They're not all that super you know."
And then I started looking a bit deeper, and I fear I may be wrong.

When it works:

  • Million Dollar Quartet
    Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash - now that's a SUPER Group (OK, not so much a Supergroup, more of a glorified jam session.  But it fits the bill)
  • The Highwaymen
    The great and good of Outlaw Country -  Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson - come together to produce the best album of their latter years careers
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
    Mancunian Pop bloke relocates to Laurel Canyon, hooks up with a Byrd, 2 Canadians from Buffalo Springfield, and a big bag of grass.  Close harmony country-infused folky soft rock has never sounded this good - before or after.
  • Cream
    Quite simply the best Jazz-Blues players in London at that time (OK, there were a couple of others ..).  In the space of 3 years and 4 albums, and not always the most cordial of relationships, they started and finished on a high, and their influence and legend remains undimmed after 50 years
  • Emerson, Lake and Palmer
    Key players from The Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster, virtuosity was the key, as eventually representing all that was over-blown and pompous about 70s Prog and Rock.  The albums were well received and bear repeated listening (up to about 1977).  But their legend now involves taking 12 Trailers full of kit on Tour, a 2 and a half ton drum kit with a 6 foot diameter gong, and a £6000 Persian rug for the singer to stand on.
  • Bad Company
    Another escapee from King Crimson links up with 2 members of Free and 1 from Mott The Hoople.  Securing the advocacy of Led Zeppelin, the management of Peter Grant, and a fist signing to the Swansong label, Bad Company were pretty much at the top before recording anything.  And when they did, it only re-enforced opinion.  And that opinion continues across 3 further albums (after that it's "tread carefully time").  Like their sponsors - Led Zeppelin - the 80s were not the right time or place fro Bad Company, and they slowly dissolved, save for a couple of (unsuccessful) reformations.
  • Travelling Wilburys
    George Harrison said in the late 80s "I want to be in a band with a bunch of mates and just have a bit of a laugh", and then a couple of years later he was.  He was already working with Jeff Lynne, Jeff Lynne drafted in Roy Orbison (whose album he was producing), George Harrison pulled in Bob Dylan (and not just because he had a studio available), and when he went to retrieve a guitar from Tom Petty, he was invited in too.  The 2 albums they produced were quite simply joyous, harking back to 50s/60s Rock n Roll, with a Country twist, and an update production sheen.
    The Travelling Wilburys were based on the West Cost - shame really, as I think if they'd pulled in Bruce Springsteen it might have been even better.
  • Tin Machine
    Now here's a divisive one - David Bowie wanted to get out of the spotlight and be an equal member of a band.  He took his current guitarist and combined with Iggy Pop's rhythm section to form the band that either adds to his legend (it certainly does in my opinion) or is seen as little more than a footnote or folly.


Seemed like a good idea at the time:

  • The Firm
    Paul Rodgers was still under 30 when Bad Company fell apart - so why not join up with his sponsor Jimmy Page?  The finest set of pipes aligned to the finest plank spanker in Christendom.
    I mean what could possibly go wrong?  Apart from the lack of great songs, a lack of energy in the recording, and the lack of a real audience (only the staunchest of Zep, Free, and Bad Co fans seemed to be on board).
    And denying their past by refusing to play "the hits" can't have helped their case much either.
  • Asia
    Prog Rockers loved a supergroup - members were forever moving between themselves - John Wetton and Carl Palmer being among the most prolific mover-abouters.  But other Steve Howe and Geoff Downes did a fair bit of supergrouping too.  Asia arrived in the early 80s, but were up against it trying to sell Prog in the decade of decadence.  Forever known for their one big song - "Heat Of The Moment".  It was a moment taht, over the course of 4 years never roise above tepid again. 
  • Gogmagog
    2 ex-Iron Maideners (Paul Di'anno and Clive Burr), a soon to be Maidener (Janick Gers), 1 previous Leppard (Pete Willis), and a bass player adding to his already long CV (was it Neiul Murray's ambition to be in every British Heavy Metal band?).
    Brought together by Jonathan King for a purpose long since lost to history (Eurovision probably, knowing the ideas King had), there life span was one EP before they ran out of songs, inspiration, and Mr King lost interest.
  • Power Station
    Take one of Britain's finest Blues singers (Robert Palmer), two parts Duran Duran (John Taylor and Andy Taylor), and the drummer from Chic (Tony Thompson).  Add in Bernard Edwards on the production desk, and what comes out is a collision of Led Zeppelin riffs against a backdrop of Chic grooves.  Well, nearly ...  But it all sounded a bit flat - every player made a contribution, but you just get the feeling they were treading water and filling time until the next shiny thing came along.
  • Velvet Revolver
    Outside of Guns n Roses, is has Slash really achieved that much?  First there's Slash's Snakepit - all well and good, but a tad predictable in sound and delivery.  He then recovened with Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, added Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots, and set about taking the world by storm.  Problem is they didn't - the album is "OK" but not exactly essential. 
  • Hollywood Vampires
    Named after the 1970s drinking club featuring Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nillson, John Belushi,and anyone else in LA who liked a drink.  The band was put together by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry amd Johnny Depp with the intent to honour the fallen by covering their songs.  Their first album of covers is (honestly) only let down by the inclusion of a coupe ot original songs.  By the second album, more originals were tried with no real success - what the band failed to realise was that as a bar room covers band they were at the top of their game.  But not with original material.


Straddling the 2 camps?

  • Sky
    Musicality to the fore, but their lack of image or public persona may have hampered their chances.  Not everything they did found an audience, and in truth I'm not sure what audience they were aiming for.  Made some good music though.
  • Electronic
    Johnny Marr and Barney Sumner join forces with (variously) Neil Tennant and Kraftwerk's Klaus Bartos.  Sounds like a winner, and in the main it is.  I remain unconvinced by their longevity or intent, and see (hear) some of it as being "a bit experimental" for the sake of it, with the songs getting a bit drowned in the production values.
  • Them Crooked Vultures
    Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones join forces and produce a sound that is a combination of it's parts (Nirvana/Foo Fighters meets Queens Of The Stone Age meets Led Zeppelin).  The debut album gives a clue what Led Zep may have sounded like in the 2000a, but as the album goes on it becomes more of a QOTS record with guest players.  Properly great guest players, but I'm not convinced they could've sustained for a second album.  


The Neurotic Outsiders probably belong in the Straddling 2 Camps category (but have a tendency to veer into "Seemed like a good idea at the time" territory) - it was an idea that looked good on paper (or a Viper Room beer mat) but didn't fully translate to the studio.

Formed in the aforementioned Viper Room Nightclub in Hollywood, and like The Hollywood Vampires above as a bar room Jamming band, Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum (Guns n Roses) and John Taylor (Duran Duran) were signed up by the moneyed up Maverick label and produced one album of attitude-laden, loud rock music (albeit with a slight nod to late 80s Hair Metal).
But don't let that put you off - songs like "Angelina", "Revolution" and "Jerk" rock and swing with the best of them - hook laden, earworm-esque melodies.  Myabe there is one too many Clash cover versions (there is only one on the album), but on the whole it all works.  There's even a change of pace as Steve Jones becomes almost melancholic on "Union" (his view of the Pistols, and how he wanted the inter-band relationships to be better) and "Story Of My Life".
OK, it's not going to win any awards, but if you want some loud stuff, that isn't trying too hard to be clever, then the Neurotic Outsiders will do the job.

The Neurotic Outsiders lifespn was one album and an EP, so I don't think the Supergroup idea was a career move of all involved, more a way of filling up time until the next Cash Cow arrived - for Duff and Sorum thsat would be the Guns n Roses reformation, John Taylor returned to Duran Duran, and Steve Jones landed a radio presenting gig on LA Radio - Jonesy's Jukebox.  Episodeas are available on YouTube, and those I've seen, it looks like Jonesy can't believe his luck, and every one has been a good watch/listen

Revolution


Jerk




Friday, 26 March 2021

My First Festival ...

I'm not a great one for Festivals - not a lover of standing in the rain with a pint of under strength lager, sleeping in tents, or trying to find a useable chemical toilet.
In short - I'm a grumpy middle-aged middle-class bloke who likes a bit of comfort.

I've never been to Glastonbury, but have experienced many Festivals over the years including various Reading Festivals., Monsters Of Rock/Download Festivals, Rewind, and a few of the Butlins Holiday Camp Out Of Season shindigs.
Remember what I said about comfort?  have you ever been in a basic chalet in Skegness?  The phrase "Comfortable" should be preceded by "Not very" and suffixed by ",but it'll do".

The first Festival I went to was Reading Rock 1987, and living in Reading travel was not an issue - one bus to the Town Centre and then walk it.  As a Festival Virgion the walk to the Site was a part of drinking in the experience (basically watching all the crusty old rockers venturing into town for breakfast and a pint to start the day, before returning for a days vigorous headbanging and Rough Cider.
1987 was also the Festival with the "Rock" name before it tried to broaden the appeal and public persona by simply becoming Reading Festival and booking some bands who had not formed in the early 70s and looked forward to their one open air gig each year (see the Enid on Sunday's bill below).

So, 1987 - having just started work, an Apprentices Wages could only stretch to a one day ticket - I had a choice to make:


I discounted the Friday because I didn't own anything black or gothic enough for the mood of the day.  And then had to choose between Status Quo and Alice Cooper - a tough call.
Sunday also offered Zodiac Mindwarp and The Stranglers, but the Quo won out because:
(a) they're the Quo
(b) Bad News were on the bill
(c) I think my mate couldn't go on the Sunday anyway

As with every published Festival line-up, bands were added and some dropped out - although as I recall Sunday remained as published.  The only change on Friday was the non-appearance of Spear Of Destiny (Kirk Brandon broke his leg(?)) to be replaced by Graham Parker.

The first change on Saturday though was announced at 12:00 - Blues n Trouble had broken down on the way to the gig.  It was too late to find a replacement, so The Quireboys went on early and ghot an extra 15 minutes.

Dumpy was Dumpy - a last hurrah/hangover of the Reading Rock Glory Days - and played a growling Biker Metal set of Hawkwind/Motorhead inspired noise.  I liked them and saw them again a couple of years later (in a Pub in Aldershot)

Mammoth were replaced by Shy - all big hair and sub-Bon Jovi "nice" metal, but I bought the album anyway.

Now whether it was a combination of late Summer sun, cheap beer, and too many Benson & Hedges, I have no recollection of Glory, Terraplane or MGM
(in fact, to this day I have no clue who Glory actually are?).

I do remember Lee Aaron though - those sort of memories stay with a 17 year old ...
(in truth, the music was nice enough, but not really substantial or indeed a classic live performance)

Georgia Satellites and Bad News swapped, meaning Bad News lifted the waning early evening spirits (and brought Brian May on stage), and Georgia Satellites got the early evening slot (as the sun was fading) with a storming set of Southern Boogie.
Taking Status Quo out of the equation, The Georgia Satellites were the best band to stand on that stage on that August day in suburban Berkshire.

Competent though they were, there was no way the Prog affectations of Magnum could follow that lot.  And many burgers and beers were consumed while the band noodled on stage.

And then darkness fell, the stage lights descended and then slowly rose again - "Allo Reading!" and straight into "Whatever You Want".
Wall-to-Wall bangers for 90 minutes, including the live crowd joiner-inner "Dirty Water (always better live than the studio version) - a proper party atmosphere in a field.
Just looked up the set list on the ever helpful setlist.fm - they played 13 tunes (17 if you include each separate track in the medley), and 4 tracks as an encore.  Not a bad way to break your Festival cherry.

Grinning from ear-to-ear I left the site, bought a cheese sandwich, a cheap bottle of lager, and a bootleg Status Quo T-Shirt and wandered home.

1988 I did both Donnington Monster of Rock and Reading Festival within a fortnight of each other. Again, a one day ticket for Reading meant I missed out on seeing Iggy Pop and The Ramones on Friday and Squeeze on Sunday - an annoying oversight I am happy to report I have rectified many years later.

And I returned to Reading (often for full weekends) for some years after that (and finally catching Iggy Pop live in 1991).  I may have missed the 1992 Festival as I have no recollection of the now mythical Nirvana live performance.  I think the last one I went to was 1994 (I'm sure I saw Primal Scream, the Manics and Radiohead standing in a muddy field) but despite living less than 2 miles from the Site I have no real desire to return.  The line-up never seems to be strong enough on a single day to warrant the investment (or the "Festival Experience") and besides I'm an old fart now, so would need a quiet nap halfway through the day, and the organisers would probably balk at someone taking a deck chair in (although not at the 80s Rewind Festivals - they don't seem to mind there).

Like many things, you never forget your first ...

Quireboys - Mayfair

Georgia Satellites - Battleship Chains

Status Quo - Dirty Water

 


Thursday, 18 March 2021

2 Tone

Has one single record label done more for shifting thoughts, cooling tensions, and throwing some banging good tunes into the mix, than a small enterprise founded in a small Coventry front room?

By the late 70s, Punk was over - Post-Punk and New Wave were now the preferred terms.  And a Mod Revival was gathering pace.  Close partners in style, attitude and sound of the original Mods in the 60s were the Skinheads.  And as you can';t necessarily have one without the other, the Skinhead revival was happening alongside the Mod Revival.
In truth these sub-cultures had never really gone away, it's just now they were receiving attention again.

Whilst the Mods went for sharp suits and a look that tried to break their connection to Working Class roots and environment, Skinheads revelled in their roots and wore the clothing of their environment - atoned down -but equally sharp - mod look and close cropped hair, and then modified the Mod look with .  The look was not far removed, and was certainly influenced by, Jamaican Rude Boy.  And completing the Caribbean connection, the Skinheads soundtrack was Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae.

The true reasonings for a faction of the late 70s Skinhead becoming associated with far right attitudes and violence is lost somewhere in the mists of my research.  Maybe it was the rise of Oi, disaffection for their environment, rabble rousing and the rhetoric of the rise of the National Front, or a combination of all these things?
From a simple historic view, the archetypal skinhead is now pictured with a Union Jack T-Shirt, a swastika tattoo on their forehead, and a general air of snarling violence.
But hang on - there was another -possibly larger group of the skinhead population which were perhaps truer to the original movement, remained (generally) apolitical and continued to party to the sounds of Prince Buster, The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and anything on the Trojan label.

And it was from this second group that spawned Jerry Dammers band - The Coventry Automatics, soon to be renamed The Specials.  Politics though, or at the very least Racial politics and disaffected youth politics, were very much to the fore in the (surprisingly?) savvy Jerry Dammers.

And in this sleepy Midland town of Coventry he found he was not alone with ska being performed by multi-racial bands, chief among them The Selector.  Darn sarf in That London, Madness were adopting a similar look and sound, while to the West in the badlands of Birmingham The Beat were knocking around.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to spread the word, Jerry Dammers did a deal with Chrysalis Records to fund the recording of 10 or 15 singles a year and a couple of albums.

First off the blocks was The Specials re-working of Prince Buster's Al Capone backed with good mates The Selecter, and for the next 6 years 2 Tone released a host of singles and albums of influence and popularity.  The Specials manged 2 number one singles and a slew of Top 10 hits, and other bands on the roster weren't far behind.

And the roster is best described as small but perfectly formed - and also did what no other label did.  Gave the bands the freedom to record as much as they want before going elsewhere.
Madness, The Beat, and Bad Manners got their first releases on Two Tone (in the case of Bad Manners it was 2 tracks on the Dance Craze album) before departing the Good Ship.
It's easy to see 2 Tone as a Specials vanity label, but they were joined by The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, The Swinging Cats, and latterly The Appolinaires and The Higsons.
OK, they may not have set the charts on fire but they all added value and worth the not just to the label but the thoughts and actions of the listeners, both then and in the future.

The label may only have existed for 6 years (1979 to 1985) but it's sound, attitude, and politics captured a moment, made people think (a bit), and no doubt had a lasting influence.


The Specials - Gangsters

The Selecter - On My Radio

The Specials - Doesn't Make It Alright

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Alice Cooper - Detroit Stories

 With the best will in the world, I'm not sure anyone would cite Alice Cooper's first two albums - 'Pretties For You and 'Easy Action' - as essential.
They have their moments, but not the energy, commitment and even a clear focus.  In the main they are a mix of Psychedelia, Freak Rock, Frank Zappa knock-offs, and Alice sounding close to Captain Beefheart.
But California was not a natural fit for the band, and they upped sticks and moved towards Detroit - a scene and sound perhaps closer to their liking.

And like it they did with confidence showing on third album 'Love It To Death' - OK not an unadulterated classic, but more than enough to warrant repeat playing.
And they were off ... next album 'Killer' would by my choice as the pick of their back catalogue, and this was closely followed by 'Schools Out and 'Billion Dollar Babies' - probably the bands last truly great album.

Alice Cooper is 74, his band mates of a similar vintage, but they have come together again for a couple of tracks on the new album and deliver the goods once again.
'Detroit Stories' is a mix of cover versions and new originals re-visiting and celebrating their beginnings and the sound of late 60s Detroit - MC5, The Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad, Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger.  Even the Velvet Underground and The Doors make a passing appearance.  The sound and delivery is an unmistakable return to the template defined by those 4 albums mentioned above.  And that template is re-inforced by the presence of Bob Ezrin in the producers chair.

And it is with the Velvet Underground, specifically a cover of "Rock & Roll" which kicks off the album.  Not a total facsimile, but close enough to the original to be comfortable and different enough for Alice to put his own stamp on it.
Over 15 tracks, we get 4 cover versions - the aformentioned "Rock & Roll", Outrageous Cherry: "Our Love Will Change The World", MC5: "Sister Anne", and Bob Seger: "East Side Story" amongst a slew of Alice originals as good as he's ever done.
All delivered with a ragged garage rock feeling, hints of blues harp, Alice's growled menacing vocal and an air of menace, humour and sheer enjoyment.  This is not just a re-visit and celebration of Detroit, but a re-visit and celebration of Alice himself.

There is also an impressive list of guest players including:

  • original band mates Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith on "Social Debris" and "I Hate You"
  • MC5s Wayne Kramer and Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner play on 12 of the 15 tracks
  • Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner appears on 4 tracks
  • Joe Bonamassa appears on 2 tracks
  • Larry Mullen Jr thumps the tubs on "Shut Up And Rock"

This is no lazy knock-off covers album awash with special guests and some filler thrown in to make up the numbers - this is very probably the most complete, consistent album since 1975s 'Welcome To My Nightmare'.
(I nearly chose 1989's 'Trash' but it falls short for being a bit too clean in the songwriting and production departments)


Rock & Roll


Our Love Will Change The World


Detroit City 2021

Friday, 26 February 2021

Happiness In Magazines

No ... not those type of Magazines.
And not a celebration of Graham Coxon's 2004 album either (although it is very good).

As more and more content goes on-line, and advertising is becoming both less bountiful, and filling large amounts of space in each copy of Mojo that flops onto my doormat, one can't help but feel that the life of the essential reading Magazine may well be up soon.

I hope not - there are still stories to tell, new angles to look at, and gaps in the knowledge to fill.  And why not through the pages of a handy, digestable and portable medium.  Plus, for me, there is something of a ritual involved - Saturday morning, cup of coffee, couple of fags, and leaf through whichever of the couple of Magazines occupy the coffee table.

My magazines of choice (or basically what gets delivered to me) are: Mojo, Vive Le Rock, Project Control Professional (as a result of membership of the Association Of Cost Engineers) and Professional Manager (as a result of membership of Chartered Management Institute).

There is a very real chance that the interweb has reduced my (and doubtless many others) Magazine purchasing, so what follows is a musing of my purchasing history of the glossy and not so glossy A4 size journals.

Of course it was all comics when I were a lad - The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, Whizzer & Chips.  They all passed through my hands at some point, but I don't ever recall regularly getting my own copy.
The fist comic I can recall getting with any regularity was Tiger and Scorcher - the adventures of Billy's Boots, Hot Shot Hamish, Nipper, Skid Solo, and Wrestler Johnny Cougar remain in moments of
Whilst Tiger and Scorcher tried to cover the sport spectrum, Football won out, and soon Roy Of The Rovers became my weekly fiction of choice, and in a neat re-visit when Tiger comic folded in 1981/82, a lot of the Football strips transferred to Roy.
And - as I've discovered on-line, Roy is still overseeing the dominance of Melchester Rovers serving as Manager, Chairman, Sponsor - and probably Coach Driver, Tea Lady, and Raffle Ticket Seller.

But Comics are for kids - it was time to grow up and move into the world of glossy magazines.
Football still very much the obsession, and Shoot was my first port of call.  And it's many posters adorned this Football fans bedroom wall.
The big attraction of Shoot was, just before the start of the season, it gave away the League Ladders - a mass of cardboard with little T-Shaped pieces representing each Team that you placed in the spot in their division.  Many a Sunday morning spent re-arranging bits of cardboard to match the listing in the newspaper.  And then the mid-week games happened and mucked it all up.  Did anyone keep a League Ladder going after about November?
Shoot remained constant, sometimes supplemented with the odd edition of Match or maybe Scoop for a wider sporting view.

And then the Music gates opened.
So in early 1983, there was only on Pop Music mag in the game - Smash Hits.  But by the late spring of that year, Number One arrived to give it some competition.  Plus the first couple of issues contained extracts from The Story Of The Jam (A Beat Concerto) - my pocket money went into Number One's coffers.
For a while it did give Smash Hits a run for it's readership, whilst covering sometimes more left-field bands than the shiny pop or burgeoning Duran vs Spandau face-off (not quite Beatles vs Stones, but the best you could get in the 80s).  But at some point my loyalties returned to Smash Hits - I don't know if a 14 year old can make an informed decision on editorial content, but that is probably what happened.

And then comes the point when the world of Pop starts to funnel tribally to specific genres.  I went for the noisy guitar based stuff, and my next port of call was Sounds and/or New Musical Express, plus the odd copy of Melody Maker for completeness.  And to widen the genres further, Kerrang was also on the shopping list.
And now I've got spare cash and no responsibilities, let's add Metal Hammer, Raw, Record Collector, Spiral Scratch, Classic Car, Practical Classics and Street Machine to the basket.

And not forgetting the return of the Comics - albeit in a more grown-up (apparently!) form in the shape of Viz, Zit, Smut, Oink, and a fair few other trashy, puerile, sometimes vulgar, Viz knock-offs.

Viz stays with a man - I'm 50 years old and have just bought a new copy of Roger Mellie's Profanisaurus, call my dog Johnny Fartpants whenever he breaks the silence, and get a daily feed of Viz Top Tips on Facebook.   And every time I hear "Midnight Train To Georgia", I just see this in my head:


They also made an attempt at pop stardom with the release of the single "Bags Of Fun With Buster" by Johnny Japes and His Jesticles
(or as they are known in normal life: Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory of XTC, record producer Neville Farmer, and John Otway)


Sometime in the late 80s, Smash Hits grew up and spawned Q - a glossy monthly magazine focussing on the album, looking fprwards and backwards.  There weren't too many music publications talking about The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young et al, which I think drove a difference, and possibly gave rise to the Heritage market today.  It may not have bee solely responsible, but Q and it's brethren have probably extended the lives of many performers beyond their allotted 15 minutes (or 5 to 7 years is probably a better life span estimate for mos bands).
Combining the irreverence of Smash Hits with informed opinion and thought, Q was the leader in a field of one.  It spotted a gap in the market that was only just opening where those in their 20s and 30s (and older) were now re-buying the music of their youth on a new fangled format (the CD) - the £50 Bloke started here, and were provided with quality writing and a certain depth of focus to an essentially (and certainly previously believed to be) disposable art form.

But by mid-1990 Q no longer had the market place to itself - Select and Vox launched within a couple of months of each other providing the same focus and writing but focussing on the nearer past and the more immediate future (Select have been latterly honoured with coining the term "Britpop").
Select and Vox trod similar ground, but were staunchly independent of each other.  It was a bit like a glossy mag version of the Melody Maker vs NME inky stand-offs in the 1970s (which is kind of apt an ironic as Vox was billed as the sister magazine of the NME).

All of those were regular purchases too - sometimes separately, sometimes all 3 in the same month (interesting to see the differences of opinion in the Album Reviews section - a 5 Star album in Q may only garner 3 Stars in Vox).

By 1993, Q knew it had competition so hived off the heritage element to the newly launched Mojo and focussed on the now.  Actually, this was to Q's detriment as it never felt quite as essential - the loss of Mark Ellen and David Hepworth probably didn't help either.
I bought Mojo too (often instead of Q, Select, and Vox - the latter too running out of time, readership and advertising as the new millenium dawned).

But ... it was not all music.  Football made a comeback to my reading materials.
Sometime between the 1990 World Cup and the launch of the Premier League in 1992, Football was throwing off it's hooligan image and attracting more attention again.  This resulted in the launch of 90 Minutes (a sort of Shoot for the 90s) which no doubt picked up adult readership of those missing the Shoot glory days (yes, that would be me).  And it did it's own version of the League Ladders.
And then, in the market of Mens Lifestyle Magazine (CQ, FHM, etc) came a big glossy, articulate and intelligent Football publication Four Four Two.

By 1995 Mojo had some competition (which survives to this day) in the shape of Uncut.  They both cover similar ground, but I have always found Uncut heavier on the Americana and heavier on the reviews.  That said, Uncut's review section gives more space to books, DVDs and Films than Mojo.  But again, there's only so much one can review and it's often worth looking at the differences of opinion.  I may be keeping the magazine world afloat (or at least playing my part) as not only am I a Mojo subscriber, but will also buy many copies of Uncut if the content appeals (and it often does).

The aforementioned Ellen and Hepworth departed Mojo left the world of Mojo (and publishing company EMAP) behind in the early 21st Century to launch a similar publication, but with a slightly more cerebral (or so I though) and eclectic bent in the shape of The Word.
A small, but perfectly formed periodical with similar qualities to early Q, the informative look at history of Mojo, the irrevernce of their Smash Hits days, with a little bit of fanzine thrown in.  Being staunchly independent (at least in the early days) meant they were not behoven to record companies or other media outlets, and could basically gush or diss product as they wished.
And like Q, The Word also fell at the right time for new technology with the advent of the iPod (although I think the next delivery format - streaming - was effectively their undoing.
And the small but perfectly formed nature of the mag extended to it's readership when an on-line blog/forum was created which attracted a number of readers and subscribers.  Some of the blog content even made it into the mag itself, and the Forum Community assembled itself into local groups organising meet ups and events.  Some of the contributors even get a mention in Mark Ellen's autobiography.
The Blog Forum survives to this day (despite there being no magazine anymore) in the shape of The Afterword, and it really is one of the nicest places on the internet to waste time.

But a relatively low readership, reducing advertising income, and more publications going on-line led to the demise of The Word, and I found myself initially subscribing to Q, which was soon replaced by Mojo.

But if proof were needed of independence and low readership leading to survival in the magazine world, look no further than Vive Le Rock - running since 2011 and surviving on a readership of around 15,000 this one fills the gap for Punk and New Wave that Mojo does not touch.

I'm not a fool (well, not much of one anyway) - I'm pretty sure the magazine market will dwindle and more will go on-line.  Mojo for example are already asking questions about their monthly free CD (possibly in an effort to reduce costs if the CD is not the biggest attraction of the magazine), but without magazines leading me down certain paths (and latterly Radio 6) I'm not sure I would've discovered as much new music as is accumulating on my shelves.

The magazine - a supplement to knowledge and opinion from a trusted source (unlike Facebook for example) - and/or a diversion from the sh*t of the real world.


And the Graham Coxon album? Oh go on then.  If you insist ...

Graham Coxon - Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery





Friday, 5 February 2021

Judas Priest - British Steel

Judas Priest were took the hard rock template defined by Sabbath, Purple and Led Zep, and refined it.  Along with Motorhead they were pre-cursors to all the Heavy Metal bands that appeared in late 1979/1980 under the umbrella of NWOBHM, and stayed at the top for a for while after, even getting a Live Aid appearance (between Crosby, Stills & Nash and Bryan Adams) into the bargain.  Yes, they were that big (certainly in America).

The pretty much defined the look (leather, studs, motorbikes) and sound (twin guitar, pummeling drums, and shrieking strained vocals), and were one of the first Metal bands to gain commercial success (particularly in the US).

They'd been building up to the sound and success of this album since their first release in 1974.  Chopping, changing, and refining, until they achieved peak Metal.  Since then it's been more of the same, a high profile US court case, Rob Halford leaving the band for a decade, and then coming out on MTV - he always looked a tad too comfortable with the leather and bondage gear (oops: unreconstructed statements a-go-go).  Since Halford's departure the albums continued, but were always perhaps missing "something" (his 4 octave vocal range perhaps?).  The eventual reformation saw the band pick up where they left-off with respectable album sales and sold-out arena shows. 

'Rock a Rolla' was their first release in 1974 - it's nice enough album - more Whitesnake blues-y than Hell Bent For Leather.  Second album 'Sad Wings Of Destiny' repeated the trick with more proggy elements, coupled with some heads down riffing that would become their stock-in-trade.
The limited success of the album caught the attention of CBS, and the debut major label album - 'Sin After Sin' - is another step closer to the recognised Judas Priest of yore.
1978s 'Stained Class' confirmed this, 1979s 'Killing Machine' underlined it, and the live 'Unleashed In The East' put the bells and whistles on it (not literally).

'Killing Machine' had more of a commercial bent than previous albums - no doubt at the insistence of CBS.
Just before the release of 'British Steel', the single "Living After Midnight" picked up plenty of radio play, a Julien Temple video, and appearances on Top Of The Pops.  It just missed the Top 10.
Second lifted single "Breaking The Law" had the same ingredients, and rose to the same chart position 3 months later.

The album opens with "Rapid Fire" - a typical pummeling start and setting the scene for the next half-hour of your life.  OK, it's not big on variety - walloping drums, moody - almost confrontational - vocals, and the obligatory guitar soloing, but it doesn't need to be.  It does what it says on the tin - it's British, and there is plenty of Steel (even if they hail from Birmingham, rather than Sheffield).  And there's even time to sneak a slower-paced, but no less shattering, anthem in the shape of "United" into the mix.  And closing track repeats the trick with the chest-thumping almost jingoistic "Red, White and Blue".  A Heavy Metal Jerusalem perhaps?

Whilst I have no firm recommendations after this one other than their 'Priest...Live!' from 1987, it's all much of a muchness with no faltering really. Formulaic may be a bit harsh, but sometimes it just needs a bit of a kick in the right direction.

If you only listen to 1 Judas Priest album, I heartily recommend this one

Living After Midnight


United

And as a head banging bonus - not from this album, but from the earlier 'Killing Machine':  Hell Bent For Leather

Thursday, 21 January 2021

REM

You can draw a distinct line between 2 eras of REM - (1) the IRS Years, (2) The Warner Bros Years.
It's the same band, the same personnel, even the same producer (initially).  It just seems to be coming from a different place - the same, but different (if that makes any sense ...).

Arguably, the Warners Years can be split into 2 as well - with Bill Berry (who left the band in 1997), and without Bill Berry.

Their first recorded output was the single "Radio Free Europe" in 1981 - it took it's cues from Post-Punk and New Wave imbued with a certain amount of Byrdsian jangle.
There is an argument that REM were doing something "new" that would ultimately be classed as College Rock and/or Alternative Rock (Alternative to what?  Not Rocking?).
However you wish to genre-ise it, there is a certain catchy freshness to the song.  Which was only confirmed and amplified by the first IRS outing - the EP 'Chronic Town'.  First album proper 'Murmur' followed a year later, and included a re-recording of "Radio Free Europe" - an assured debut which certainly hinted at the potential of what would come (even if it sold slowly, critical acclaim does not always equal commercial acclaim).
12 months later (almost to the day) 'Reckoning' hit the shelves and sold to "those in the know" and started to pick up other sales - no doubt helped by the strength of the singles ""So. Central Rain)" and "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville".  In truth, these are the strongest tracks here, but it's a close thing.
1985s 'Fables Of The Reconstruction' was a departure from template.  It feels more folky, delivered at a slower tempo,and a bit chin-strokey and wordy.  It's not a great favourite of mine, but "Driver 8" is often reason enough to give it a spin.
'Life's Rich Pageant' (1985) and Document (1986) are treated in my head as a double album.  I can't separate them  and can't listen to one without the other immediately following it.
They really are flying here - 'Life's Rich Pageant' is as confident as they've ever sounded, and in the shape of songs such as "Begin The Begin" and "Fall On Me" some of their finest tunesmithery.
If 'Life's Rich Pageant' was a step-up, then 'Document' is another leap - I really don't believe there is any flab in this record.  The albums open perfectly with "The Finest Worksong" and builds from there.  My only real criticism would be the placing of "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" at the end of Side 1 when it would better sit as the album closer (no disrespect to "Oddfellows Local 151" but it's not a signing out song).

'Document' marked the point when REM came to national attention, rather than just "a big cult".  And after an album like that, it's no wonder the big companies were waving cheques in temptation.

They signed to Warners on the basis of artistic control (ie no record company meddling or hassling for a single) and the bank-rolling of world tour(s) - something IRS just didn't have the capital to do.

But first came the new major label album - 'Green' released in late 1988.
For this album there were bigger (and better?) studios, and a certain amount of time freedom.  The results are not a million miles from 'Document' but there is more expanse to the sound and instrumentation, and the production is a lot cleaner (which is not always a good thing).  'Green' almost feels like a burst of creation - it's not consistent or thematic, but is not impenetrably going down different rabbit holes in search of a sound. You get (for want of a better term) commercial pop in "Pop Song 89" and "Stand" rubbing shoulders with caustic comment of "Orange Crush" and the mandolins of  the more reserved "You Are The Everything".  This album sets the stall for the next couple of outings.

And following a major World Tour, 'Out Of Time' arrived 3 years later.  Preceded by the single "Losing My Religion", this is probably the point where REM arrived in the Big League.  And as if to re-enforce the point, the endlessly jaunty (and sometimes annoying, sometimes wonderful) "Shiny Happy People" arrived soon after the album started to ascend the charts across the globe.
"Near Wild Heaven" is almost as insistent and "Endgame" and "Half A World Away" are pointers to what was coming.

And what was coming is, in the ears of many, REMs crowning glory - "Automatic For The People".
I say that many cite this album as the peak - I don't actually rate it that highly.  Too many slow and mid tempo tracks - it doesn't seem to swing like others.  Oh, don't get me wrong they are fine songs - "Drive", "Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", "Ignoreland" - they just seem to lack a certain REM-ness.
But then again, when you've got an album with"Nightswimming" and "Everybody Hurts" why would you want to up the tempo?

But up the tempo they did, and crank the guitars up too.  Track 1 of 'Monster' will blow away any cobwebs lingering in the lugholes.
"What's The Frequency Kenneth?" is part an attempt to break the slower introspective feel of recent albums, part an object lesson how to write a punk song in the early 90s.
OK, the album is perhaps an intent to cover too many styles, bases and rock-isms to be seen as cohesively great, but I place it as the pick of the bunch.  It's the ecelecticism that wins it for me.  "Star 69" is cut from similar cloth as "Kenneth" and "Strange Currencies" may well be one of their finest moments. 

So where next?  It may only have been a year since 'Monster' but 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' has a certain air of exhaustion about it.  It can be heard as an attempt to combine all the best bits of their past 5 albums into one whole - but it just misses the spot.
There are moments of greatness - "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us", "New Test Leper", "Departure", and "So Fast So Numb" to name 4 - but there are also moments where you feel you've heard it all before.  And I'm still not sure where I stand on "E-Bow The Letter"
There's a school of thought which states this was REM's last great album, and I'm inclined to agree.  It was also the last album to feature Bill Berry bashing the drums.  Related?

And now the narrative starts to get a bit shaky.

'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' was the last REM album I bought on or near it's release. 'Up and 'Reveal' did not arrive in my possession until after I'd bought (I think I bought it?  maybe I just acquired it from somewhere?) the compilation 'In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003'

'Up' just sounds tired and like they're not really trying - although with "Daysleeper" they managed to create one shining spot on the album.
'Reveal' wasn't so much a re-invention, but at least it felt there was a tad more effort in it - "All The Way To Reno" and "Imitation Of Life" being the picks.
'Around The Sun' has a certain atmosphere about it - "Electron Blue" and "Leaving Nw York" passing muster, the others nearly but not quite.  And is it portentous to have a track called "The Last Straw"?
Well, 'Accelerate' was not the last straw - this one is almost as good as anything that came before.  It sounds fresh and attempts to swing a bit.  Opener "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" is as strong a rocker as anything that came before.  There's some real energy going on here, punctuated with a few slower moments, but certainly more Up than 'Up'.
Final album 'Collapse Into Now' continues a theme - there's life in the old dog yet.  But ... it does seem (after a couple of listens) to limp to a close.  Maybe, just maybe, the band could see the end coming and signed off with 1 very good album ('Accelerate') and one nearly good album ('Collapse Into Now)'.


What have I learnt?

  • The sound of a band can change with money and time - by nature, a musician wants to widdle about in the studio and see what happens.
  • The sound of a band will change again when a key member is taken out of the equation (and no amount of machines or session players can quite replace that chemistry)
  • Don't be too hasty to write a band off after a couple of duff albums - 'Accelerate' is a fine slab of noise, and the final album 'Collapse Into Now' (despite me mentally preparing to say "not a great way to conclude the legacy") is much better than I remember
  • REM were amazingly consistent and constantly developing over 30 years - I think they hit a peak, burned out, and we're just about reaching heights again before they decided the game (and time) was up 


Radio Free Europe

It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

What's The Frequency Kenneth?

Bad Day


Sunday, 3 January 2021

Give Em Enough Rope

Which is the best Clash album?

Most will cite the debut or 'London Calling'.  And rightly so, they are both great albums.  There may even be some who vote for 'Sandinista' (in a sort of perverse "Look at me.  I'm a big fan, and I'll do the unexpected thing to prove it" type way).
My choice?  'Give Em Enough Rope', the supposedly disappointing second album.

Since the impact of the debut, there had been 3 further singles - "Complete Control", "Clash City Rockers" and the peerless "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais".  Those 3 singles rank amongst the best tracks The Clash ever did, and each one moving further from the Punk template (which they'd already tried to break down with Reggae stabs on the debut).
And they're also now at full strength with Topper Headon installed on the drum stool and Paul Simonon now able to play bass without relying on tippex marks on the neck.
CBS were obviously looking for a big rerun on their investment, and selling albums in America would be a useful source of this return.  They weren't convinced that the debut would shift units and most likely suggested (imposed?) Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman to twiddle the knobs for the next album, and also to give the whole package a buffing-up to ready it for the US market.
The final mix had Joe Strummer's vocals lower in the mix than Topper's drums for no other reason than Sandy Pearlman disliked the vocals.  And that may actually be a masterstroke in disguise as the sheer attack of the opening 3 songs - "Safe European Home", "English Civil War" and "Tommy Gun" - is very probably the greatest first 10 minutes of any album.
After that, it would take something special to keep the pace up.  It keeps bowling along, although in fairness, it does fall just short (no less valid, certainly not filler or padding, just not quite firing as high).  Until ... nestled in the middle of Side 2 is very possibly the best song Mick Jones ever wrote - "Stay Free".

The album shows a movement from the confines of Punk. A wider soundscape - Topper's versatile drumming and Mick's New York Dolls and Mott The Hoople influences can be heard in the arrangements that would ultimately return CBS's investment and (if only for a brief moment) be one of the biggest bands in the world.
"The only band that matters"?  Perhaps not, but between 1978 and 1982 they were certainly one of five or six bands that lay claim to that title.
And here's an interesting aside/thought: those 3 preceding singles, this album, and 'London Calling' were produced in a Bernie Rhodes-less environment.  Make of that what you will, but their best work was produced without their supposedly indispensable manager.

Maybe CBS and Sandy Pearlman got it right - The Clash don't sound out of place here, if anything it probably gave them the confidence to further explore their influences and sounds on the double 'London Calling' and triple 'Sandinista'.

Disappointing?  Not a bit of it.


Safe European Home


Stay Free