Monday 31 October 2022

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - NK Pop

When Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott re-group to release a new album, one can pretty much guess the order of play.
Songs bouncing around musical styles, some perfect blending of vocals, wit and acerbic lyrics, maybe some political comment, some choice rhyming couplets explaining a phrase or feeling to a tee.
And 'NK Pop' delivers what one expects.

From songs about Pubs and clientele that have perhaps seen better days ("Good Times"), more examinations of the human condition and relationships ("Too Much For One (Not Enough For Two)", "I Drove Her Away With All My Tears"), some upbeat feelgood rails against the world ("When The World Would Actually Listen", "Sunny Side Up"), and a touch of the finest balladry ("Who Built The Pyramids").  All tacked to varying Rockabilly, Ska, Music Hall, a dash of disco funk, and unadulterated radio-friendly Pop backing.
It has the ability to raise a smile, a knowing nod of recognition, and also a sharp intake of breath ("Still") as our narrators take on the stark reality of an uncommon subject for song, infant mortality.

The album rises and falls in mood, but never relents and continues the run of a very fine catalogue of songs.
It is arguably a bit too smooth and could maybe benefit with a little more fire or barb in the lyrics, but 'NK Pop' will deliver a comfortable listen with no skipping necessary.

Paul Heaton's recording career goes back 35+ years, and Jacqui Abbott's approaching 30 years.  Between them they continue to produce strong songs with glorious melody and harmony.
Is there a duffer in the back catalogue of The Housemartins, The Beautiful South, and Paul and Jacqui's combined work?  I'm not sure there is to be honest

And the videos they produce are none too shabby either.
Exhibit A: Too Much For One (Not Enough For Two) featuring Trev and Simon, and Phil Daniels

Sunday 23 October 2022

Where My Studebaker Takes Me

The Studebaker Company was formed in 1852 manufacturing horse drawn carriages and wagons.
It can lay claim to a number of firsts in the automobile industry, namely:

  • first electric car (1910)
  • first labour strike in the industry (1913)
  • first manufacturer to build it's own development track (1925)
  • first to go into receivership (1933 - it did survive for another 33 years though)
After World War 2 though, Studebaker - like many Independent manufacturers - was just unable to compete with the Big Three (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler).  In 1963, it began winding down operations, and was later sold/merged with Packard (another independent car maker).  The last independent Studebaker rolled off the production line in 1967.

The Studebaker is not mentioned much in popular culture though - The Muppets had a 1951 Studebaker Commander in 1979s Muppet Movie, but no other major film outing that I know of.
And song wise?  The vehicle is mentioned in some songs, and obvious one being Billy Joels's "We Didn't Start The Fire".  Steve Miller went down to Mexico in one, but the Studebaker references are few and far between.  And certainly not in the UK.  Or is that true ...

It is possibly one of the greatest debut singles, and the songs itself is one of those that doesn't mention the title until the very last words.

The greatness of Roxy Music can be divined as to when you first heard them.  If you caught them at their debut album, or the couple after then they were probably the most exciting bands out there, and not simple to pigeon-hole (are they Glam? are they Prog? are they Art Rock?  Is that a bit of Jazz in there somewhere?).

If however it was later on when Bryan Ferry was in full lounge lizard mode (circa "Jealous Guy" / "Avalon") then there's a chance that Roxy Music would be re-defined as Poxy Music and generally laughed off.

1980s Roxy Music (Ferry, Manzenera, and Mackay) can also lay claim to be possibly the oddest inclusion in the Smash Hits Sticker Book .  The 3 stickers of them showing them standing (almost accountant-like) on a South Of France beach, just seemed out of place alongside Culture Club, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet (mind you, The Fall, Cliff Richard, and David Essex were also in there)

Hearing "Street Life" rectified my stupidity, and I scurried backwards and found myself feeling a proper fool

Formed in 1970 by Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Brian Eno (a self-confessed non-musicain, but he owned a synthesizer and joined a a Technical Consultant).  The line-up was completed by Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson.
Ferry had previously auditioned for the vacant vocalist slot in King Crimson - he was not successfful, but King Crimson were impressed enough to get EG Management to handle him.  And it was EG that funded the recording of the debut album, and then placed Roxy Music with Island Records for release in 1972.
With Island's backing "Virginia Plain" was recorded as a stand-alone single to promote the album.
It's fair to say that their appearance on Top Of The Pops was one of those iconic "stop the world" moments, and pretty much assured Roxy's legend and legacy.

'For Your Pleasure' picks up where the eponymous debut leaves off, and in no way suffers from Second Album Syndrome.  If I'm pushed, I prefer 'For Your Pleasure' (probably more due to the presence of "In Every Dream Home A Heartache", than any specific artistic or technical merit)
However it was to be the last album with Brian Eno, who left to pursue a solo career citing artisitic and personality differences with Bryan Ferry.  Others in the band were also experiencing similar, but decided to stick with it.

The loss of Eno may have left a hole in the experimental tendencies, but in no way affected their commercial appeal.  The next 2 albums  'Stranded' and 'Country Life' may well be their peak outings.  Maybe not as experimental or eclectic as previous 2, but no less essential.  Roxy at full pomp.

'Siren' rounds off Phase 1 in no little style - some critics cite 'Siren' as the best of the bunch.  It is a very very good album, but I can't find enough to place it above the first 4.

They split in 1976 (at the end of the tour) and pursued their own Projects and diversions, before re-uniting again.

Roxy returned in 1979 with 'Manifesto' - the bombast of old has been smoothed, and the feel is more an extension of Bryan Ferry's solo world.  There is no doubt Ferry is calling the shots - 'Manifesto' just doesn't feel as complete.  This state of affairs continues with 'Flesh + Blood' (although I think this album is slightly better)
'Avalon' though is stronger again, but listening in retrospect one can't help note that this is a band running to a standstill - they can't just replicate past glories, but attempts to move into new sounds find them softening and almost trying too hard.

Virginia Plain

Like any truly iconic moment, it's one that is ripe for comparison, tribute, and even gentle ribbing

Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer (both big Roxy Music fans themselves) perform Virginia Plain

Thursday 6 October 2022

I really wish I had a Cortina

I firmly believe that anyone who grew up in Britain in the 1970s had at least 3 degrees removal experience of either a Ford Escort of Ford Cortina.

When I sold my Chevette (with only a minor cash loss - surprising considering it was basically knackered), there were 2 cars I considered - a Vauxhall Cavalier or a Ford Cortina.  Stalwarts of the burgeoning Sales Rep / Company Car market.  I went for the Vauxhall, but many of my friends chose the Dagenham Dustbin.
Having driven many I can get why - it was a comfortable ride, well appointed, and with rear wheel drive you could get the back out on corners if you really wanted to do (boy racer dreams of the past).
They were also cheap as chips and readily available (which means they were also many dogs out there).  The Cavalier just felt a little more refined and slightly better equiped - although with front wheel drive going round corners sideways wasn't easily doable.

The Cortina started life in 1962 when Ford wanted to produce a volume family sized car to compete with the Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford and Vauxhall Victor.  Not only did they want to compete, they wanted to make it better and sell more units.
When the Mark 1 was released (under the name Consul Cortina) sales were swift, and further boosted by a starring role in Carry On Cabby, where a fleet of Mark 1s were used by Hattie Jacques all-female rival (Glamcabs) to Sid James's Speedee Cabs.
A minor facelift in 1964 dropped the Consul name, and added a Lotus co-design to the range - a car that competed successfully in Rallying and was later to prove victorious in Saloon Car Racing.
The Mark 2 arrived in 1966, and by 1967 was the best selling car in the UK.  Always near the top of the sales list, from 1972 to 1981, it was the best selling car in the UK through all future variants (Mark 3, Mark 4 and Mark 5) until the end of it's life (in 1982) and subsequent replacement by the Ford Sierra.

In the Summer of 79, Lewes residents Jez Bird and Doug Sanders were wearing sharp suits and playing high energy R'n'B locally.  They may not have been unaware of the burgeoning Mod Revival, but what they were doing was not a reaction to, or an attempt to join it.  They were aware of something, but only in their hometown.
However, their first gig came when they talked themselves onto the bill at Hastings Pier supporting The Chords, The Purple Hearts, The Teenbeats, The Fixations, and The Scooters.  Not solely due to the fact they had a The in their name, they were now part of the Revival.
Gigs followed in London, and an approach came from Rocket Records (one of many record companies looking to cash in on the next big thing).

Under the charge of Pete Waterman (and I don't care what anyone thinks of the bloke, he is a music fan fist and foremost, and knows when something is good), they went into the studio with Waterman's producer and business partner Peter Collins.  Their first single - "Go Steady" - didn't break the charts, but their growing reputation saw to it that follow-up single - a cover of "Poison Ivy" - broke the Top 10.
The B-Side to "Go Steady" was a track called "Cortinas" - this was re-recorded for the album 'Beat Boys In The Jet Age' as "Cortina Mk 2"

Like all things Mod, it's the attention to detail in the lyrics which is noted.

"Column change is neat neat neat,
Gives you room for manoeuvre on the front bench seat,
And the disc brakes hold you if you're inclined,
The rear light clusters are a modern design"

"It's a guarantee of sexual conquest,
But be sure to choose a model with retractable arm-rest,
And if she wants to make up,
You can really suprise her,
There's a vanity mirror on the nearside visor"

Not sure about the guarantee of sexual conquest, but the rest could come straight out of the sales brochure

The Lambrettas - Cortina Mark 2

On his first album, Tom Robinson sung about a "Grey Cortina" with a whiplash aeriel, racing trim, a rusty bumper, and a twin exhaust.  He also said he had it fitted with and eight-track machine blaring Brucie Springsteen.  All fine so far, but then he lets himself down with the line "Speed police too slow to nick it".  The Ford Cortina had the aerodynamics of a brick, so it was unlikely the a trained police driver (usually driving a Rover V8, tuned Ford Granada, or possibly a Jaguar XJ6) would be left trailing in the wake of a knackered Cortina.

Tom Robinson Band - Grey Cortina

And just to prove that the ubiquity of the Cortina was not con fined to the UK, it also enjoyed high sales in the Republic of Ireland.  When The Saw Doctors are wanting to evoke memories of childhood and first crushes at school, a red Cortina is the chosen vehicle fior her father to drop her off at the school gates.
(Not a song about a Cortina per se, buit a great song that just happens to mention one)

The Saw Doctors - Red Cortina