Wednesday, 22 March 2023

And Then We Went To Croydon

The concept of Badge Engineering is basically taking a base model, and - usually through subsiduary companies - creating just enough difference in the look (and possibly mechanicals) to have a whole new car.
BMC (later British Leyland) had many interchangeable Austin/Morris vehicles, and Wolseley, Riley and  Vanden Plas were also in the mix,  Latterly (under the Austin Rover name) the company entered into a badge-engineering partnership with Honda creating the Triumph Acclaim/Honda Accord and Rover 200 series/Honda Ballade.
Throughout the 70s, Vauxhall and Opel models were built on the same platform (and later in the same factory), and there was further badge engineering with the Australian manufacturer Holden.
Badge engineering also encompasses the licence production route where a company sells the rights to another manufacturere to build it's own version of a tried and trusted marque.
The Fiat 124 / Lada partnership is probably the prime example of this.  While the Fiat 124 may only had a relatively short life (1966 - 1974) it's licensing to Lada saw production of the boxy vehicle continue until 2010 - total sales of all variants of this vehicle exceed 25 million.

As the Fiat 124 was entering into production in 1966, the Rootes Group - home to the marques Humber, Commer, Hillman, Karrier, Singer, Sunbeam, Talbot - entered into a badge engineering exercise using their new Hillman Hunter as a base (under the Project Name Rootes Arrow).
Rootes Group had been in existence since the early 30s and had spent a lot of time acquiring a stable of manufacturers.  The problem was although they had the range to cover almost all bases of car buying, they were never the most relaible, quality built, or profitable companies.  Often mentioned in the pantheon of great British Car Producers, but in truth often lagging being it's prime competitors.
Chrysler - one of the US Big 3 - wanted a foothold in Europe and bought French company Simca in 1958.  They expanded with a minor stake in Rootes Group in the early 60s, and by 1967 purchased a majority stake.  

The Hillman Hunter was designed for the family car market, available in saloon and estate versions.  There were also coupe versions and a panel van / pickup truck variant produced.
Badge engineering, and the desire to use as many of the names it owned as possible, led to variants:

  • Hillman Arrow
  • Hillman Break de Chasse
  • Hillman Estate Car
  • Hillman GT
  • Hillman Hunter
  • Hillman Husky (panel van / pickup)
  • Hillman Hustler
  • Hillman Minx
  • Hillman Vogue
  • Humber Sceptre
  • Iran National Paykan (built under license, and continuing until 2005)
  • Singer Gazelle
  • Singer Vogue
  • Sunbeam Alpine (coupe)
  • Sunbeam Rapier (coupe)
Built around the same underpinnings, the majority were differentiated by trim levels (surely it would've been easier to use L, GL, GLS etc ?).

It was hoped that a single model with multiple variants could make strides in markets led by Fored Escort, Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Victor, Triumph 2000, Rover P6 - basically the hope was to nick market share from every car manufacturer.  A bold plan, with a couple of issues - namely the build quality and company inefficiencies of old.
Over it's relatively short life, due to the need to cut costs the range was rationalised to just the Hunter.
In 1977, Chrysler sold out to Peugout, and although the Chrysler name (and later Talbot) continued for a while, the iconic names of the Rootes Group were consigned to history.


Hereford may not be the Rock & Roll Capital of the world - to be honest, it's probably the Perry Capital of the World, but not much else.
Mick Taylor (the best guitarist in The Stones?) and Ellie Goulding both were born there.  As were three quarters of The Pretenders (Martin Chambers, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon).  But perhaps Hereford's most famous sons are Mott The Hoople.

Mott The Hoople were originally called The Doc Thomas Group featuring original members Mick Ralphs (guitar) and Pete Overend Watts (bass), joined by Stan Tippins on vocals.  Drummer  Dale "Buffin" Griffin  and organist Verden Allen joined a year or so later, and the band renamed Silence.
Silence piqued the interest of producer Guy Stevens, but was un-impressed by Stan Tippins.
Ian Hunter - 30 years old, married with 2 kids, but desperately trying to make it as a professional musician - was selected as Tippins replacement.  With a new frontman in place (with considerably more ego and stage presence - plus a curly perm and dark sunglasses - Silence renamed themselves Mott The Hoople and plunged into the recording studio with Guy Stevens.

It's fair to say what came out (released on Island Records) did not shift units, but did find an audience.  However that audience failed to grow and by the time of album number 4, the band decided to call it a day.
But one of that small audience thought he might be able to help.  David Bowie sent a tape over containing a demo of "Suffragette City" in the hope they might record it.
The band listened to it, but decided it wasn't for them and informed Bowie that they had now split for good.  Never one to be beaten, Bowie phoned back 2 hours later announcing he had a new song for them to hear.  This time, there was "something" there that appealed to the band, and "All The Young Dudes" was worked up and taken into the studio.
With Bowie in the production chair, the single was a success followed by the album which somewhat vindicated the bands past 3 or 4 years of struggle.
Further album and singles success followed in 1973, even with Mick Ralphs leaving in mid-73 to form Bad Company.
At the start of 1974, it looked like Mott would break America but unfortunately exhaustion and band relationships put a stop to that.  And then at the end of 1974, not long after Mick Ronson joined Ian Hunter left the band for a solo career (Ronson followed him soon after) which effectively spelled the end for Mott The Hoople.
Their final single was "Saturday Gigs" in October 1974, was the last thing recorded by the band and the only Mott The Hoople studio track to feature Mick Ronson.
"Saturday Gigs" tells the story of the band from formation to demise with thanks to their audience.
IT also includes the line (in the 1972 verse) about how it all changed when they went to Croydon.  Croydon has that effect on people - once visited, the world is never quite the same again.
But in this case, the reference is either their visit to the Fairfields Hall in February (just after Bowie had presented them with "Dudes") or their return visit to The Greyhound as "Dudes" began to garner success.



Saturday, 11 March 2023

Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers

When you've released an album as great as 'Heavy Elevator', you need to be certain that it's follow-up will hit from note one.
And with the opening string crecendo of "Once Upon An Acid Glance" intoducing Hamish Hawk's Walker-esque baritone, he is certainly off to a good start.
The lyrical poetry and references, and the (successful) attempts to weave in a word with more syallables than should fit the gap remain a continuum from his previous effort.

When followed by "Thinking Of Us Kissing" and "Elvis Look-alike Shadows", you'd be forgiven for thinking the album is front-loaded and will run out of gas at some point.
It doesn't, it just keeps rolling along serving up more top tunes highlighting all aspects of Hamish's talent and delivery.

But ... great though it is, it just feels like it's missing "something" - that "something" that elevated 'Heavy Elevator' into an album that I'd recommend to anyone who'd listen.
Let me be clear there is nowt wrong with 'Angel Numbers' - it is a very fine piece of work, and the strength of some of the songs may just elevate Hamish Hawk to greater commercial success and a wider audience.  Certainly "Bridget St. John" and/or "Money" have the capacity to do just that, and "Dogeared August" would light up any festival.

And here comes another qualification: the more I listen to this album, the more it goes in.  Still not wholly convinced (7 listens so far) - is is the track sequencing?  is it the flow? is it my expectation of a closer cousin to 'Heavy Elevator' (it's the same band and the same singer, so it's not too far removed)? is it that the songs don't feel as honed as their predecessors?
Maybe I'm just expecting too much in short time, and as I say more is revealed on each listen.  I shall persevere, because there is a great album here - the songs stand on their own so maybe I just need to follow the ebb and flow of the album better. 

One other takeaway - a line in the title track "Angel Numbers" had me searching out the etymology of mortgage.  Everyday is a school day ...

Once Upon An Acid Glance


Thinking Of Us Kissing


Angel Numbers

Friday, 3 March 2023

Long Live The Meadows

Vauxhall Motors ... reputationally they may be considered dull and unreliable vehicles, but I've owned several with the Griffin badge, and apart from the Chevette teaching me rudimentary mechanics (a necessity rather than choice), they have have been (generally) fine.

Vauxhall was formed in 1857 in Wandsworth Road in the London Borough of Vauxhall (hence the name)  It started as a pump and marine engine manufacturer, and then diversified into crane building.  The company was renamed Vauxhall Iron Works.  By 1903, Vauxhall built it's first car and then moved production to Luton (but retained the Vauxhall name).  In 1907 the "Iron Works" was dropped in favour of "Motors", and by 1925 after relatively successful car building and sales was bought up by US company General Motors.  GM now had presence in Europe, whilst Vauxhall retained an element of independence.
The first fruits of this partnership came in the form of the 1930 Vauxhall Cadet (the first production car in the UK with a synchromesh gearbox) and it's first commercial vehicle in the shape of the Bedford truck.
World War II focussed production on the military-spec Bedford trucks and vans, and as the War ended Vauxhall were one of the first to move back into the civilian car market.
The bullet-proof Bedford Trucks, plus the smaller vans produced, obviously provided an income source to keep the car division afloat, as did the GM partnership as closer links were forged with the Opel Group in Germany and technologies shared.
Vauxhall cars did sell, just not in the numbers to cause concern to Ford, BMC, or Rootes.
In 1961, Vauxhall shared design and technology and took the German Opel Kadett (Oliver, if you've ever seen Top Gear) and re-bodied and re-badged it as the Viva, a small family car to compete with the Ford Anglia, Austin A40, Morris Minor and Hillman Minx.
The original Viva (the HA model) was also made into a small van with the Bedford badge - this van stayed in production until the early 80s, with corporate customers including GPO/British Telecom, British Rail, Electric and Gas companies, and the Royal Mail (and is very likely to be the template for Postman Pat's van).
Such was the success of the Viva in terms of sales and reputation, Vauxhall was able to overhaul it's range and the Viva went through 3 models - such was the success that the Mark 3 Viva was regular runner-up in the sales charts to the all conquering Ford Escort.
Also in the 70s, the Viva range expanded to include the Magnum (with a modified front-end/headlight configuration and an 1800 engine squeezed under the bonnet) and a coupe version - the Firenza - with an even bigger 2300cc engine squeezed into the gap that was having trouble accommodating the 1800 version. 

By 1979, the relationship between Vauxhall and Opel grew beyond sharing technologies, the companies were now sharing body shells, running gear and production lines.  The production of the Viva (and the  larger Victor) ended to be replaced by the same rangers in UK and Europe, just with different names and badges.  By the late 1990s, the names were aligned and the only difference now is the badge on the front.

In 1977, the San Fransico Bay Area Punk scene was developing led by The Dickies, The Germs, The Go-Gos.  Black Flag pushed the boundaries wit hthe development of Hardcore Punk (alongside similar developments on the East Coast where The Misfits were formed).
Punk in 1977 America remained an East Coast preserve with The Ramones, The Dead Boys and Richard Hell & The Voidoiods leading lights.  Add to that list Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith and Television. and you can sort of see the frustration building on the West Coast.
Into the world of Hardcore Punk rode a band who could see beyond the "Destroy" rhetoric and stage-diving, and add a political element to the lyrics and (often un-noticed in the frenetic pace) some un-punk musical flourishes (soul, jazz, prog, r&b, rockabilly, whatever fitted the moment).

The Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 - East Bay Ray (guitar) found his bandmates via a newspaper advert, and was joined by Klaus Flouride (bass), Jello Biafra (vocals) on vocals, Ted (drums) and the simply named 6025 (aka Carlos Cadona, rhythm guitar).
They went straight into the demo studio and started picking up live gigs wherever they could.  Controversy was never far away as a result of their chosen name  - particularly when they were booked to play a show on the 15th anniversary of JFK's assassination.
Jello Biafra (never one to hide from an opinion) expalined that the band's name was not on attack on the presidential family, but a poetic explanation of the death of the American Dream.
6025 left the band just 8 months after joining, leaving East Bay Ray on sole guitar duties.  Their debut single "California Uber Alles" came soon after.  As a result of their name and reputation, finding a record label proved a fruitless task, so East Bay Ray and Jello Biafra formed their own Alternative Tentacles label for Dead Kennedy's product (they did eventually pick up distribution deals from IRS in the US and Cherry Red in the UK).
In short order, second single "Holiday In Cambodia" was released followed soon after by debut album 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables'.
The album had more musical nous and tunes than it's contemporary hardcore Punk brethren, but it was in the UK where they were most successful rising to the higher reaches of the Indie Chart. 'Fresh Fruit ...' contained re-recordings of their previous 2 singles, and 1 more was single lifted -"Kill The Poor" - giving the Dead Kennedys a Number One single (on the UK Indie Chart).
Nestling at the end of the album was a 1964 song that has a literal translation of Long Live The Meadows.  That title sounds like it should be a hymn, so "Viva Las Vegas" has more of a romantic ring to it.  The song written for the 1964 Elvis Presley film celebrates the bright lit city built so Frank, Sammy, Dean and other Rat Pack guests could get away from it all and drink, gamble and entertain.
The song is a celebration of the city, but after the satire and politicking (and some slight lyrical tweaks) the Dead Kennedys reading gives with a slightly different, less celebratory feel.


Thursday, 23 February 2023

I'm Riding, I'm Riding As Fast As This Car Goes / Girls, Cars, Sun, Fun

 If there was a league table for "Cars Mentioned In Songs", then Chevrolet (and variants thereof) would be sitting at the top.
A quick Google (other search engines are available) reveals many, many songs with "Chevrolet" in the title, many more with "Chevy", and more with reference to Chevrolet models (Corvette, Camaro, El Camino).  And then dig again for mention of Chevy vehicles peppered throughout lyrics.
The American Dream writ large - there is a good chance that every major music artist has at some point namedropped the Chevy somewhere in their career:

Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Tom Waits, The Eagles, Neil Young, Prince, The Ramones, Tammy Wynette, Dawes, ZZ Top, John Mellencamp, Snoop Dogg, Beastie Boys, Elton John, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello - the list goes on.  Don McLean drove his to the levy, but the levy was dry.

Chevrolet formed in 1911 when ex-GM Board Member William Durant (sacked for over-stretching General Motors finances in pursuit of takeovers) joined force with Swiss Racing Driver Louis Chevrolet.
Early developments for the company were primarily the development of efficient engines (based on designs from previous employer Buick (part of General Motors).  Their first car -  the Series C Classic Six - did not appear until 1913.  Just a year later, Louis Chevrolet sold his share of the company to Durant.  The name remained, but the Chevrolet family were no longer on board.
Design and development work, and healthy sales, of engines continued so by 1916, Durant was able to buy a stake in General Motors, incoprorate Chevrolet into the company alongside Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.  GMs prime competiton was (and remains) Ford.
On a slightly less nostalgic/romantic note of the great American Motor Industry, GM also acquired UK company Vauxhall Motors in 1925.

Chevy may have a whole fleet of history in it's back catalogue - basically say the word "Chevy" add a 2 digit year, and you're bound to find an image of prime American automobilia on the interweb.
But beyond car production, Chevy also did a nice line in engines.  They were doing engines before designing cars, so they got pretty good at it.
Their first engines were evolutions of Buick engines, and then refinements and developments resulted in some big and heavy but very reliable engines.
In the world of Hot Rods and Kit Cars, it is usually the Chevy V8 small-block that is the got to power-unit.  Unless you're in the UK (and much of Europe) where the Rover V8 is the preferred lump.  Interestingly, both engines can trace lineage back to the same original source - Buick

Like many US car manufacturers, Chevrolet also have a successful Truck division. The most refined and powerful versions named Thunder.


Spector formed in 2010 in London, and by 2012 their debut album was on the shelves and was among the choice albums of the year.
I first became aware of them on Sky TVs Soccer AM (back when it was good, before sponsors and humour by-passes took over) - I was impressed by both the tune, as well as the band themselves (really, really just pleased to be on the telly and looking like they didn't believe they deserved it).
"Chevy Thunder" became a heavily played, heavily youtubed, and heavily shared and recommended track.  The album arrived a few months later - 'Enjoy It While It Lasts' - and it was good.  It enjoyed many plays, but then the novelty and enjoyment started to wear.  Nice enough, but I'm not sure it had any depth or longevity.
There was a 3 year gap to the second album - 'Moth Boys'.  Problem with such a long gap is the listener is hoping for something a bit special, a bit of a development.  Sadly, album #2 sounds like a re-hash of the tropes of album #1 (with fewer tunes).
"Chevy Thunder" remains Spector's crowning glory, and one hopes that they did follow the advice of the album title and enjoy it while it lasted.

 

By 1987, The Ramones were 10 years and 10 albums in.  They were also on the verge of losing their third drummer (Marky had replaced Tommy in 1978, allowing him to return full-time to the production desk, and Richie replaced Marky in 1983 due to alcohol and reliability problems.  Richies tenure was short, and after the 1987 'Halfway To Sanity' album and ongoing clashes with Johnny Ramone, Richie left the band.  After a couple of gis with Elvis Ramone (aka Clem Burke from Blondie) Marky returned to the drum stool.

'Halfway To Sanity' may not be the greatest of Ramones albums, but there is some good stuff on there - "I Wanna Live" and "Garden Of Serenity" being the pick of the bunch.
And continuing the Blondie link, Debbie Harry was drafted in (at the request of Joey Ramone) to provide backing vocals on "Go Lil' Camaro Go"
(some sources cite this song as a duet - I don't think it is)


Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Motorbikin'

To paraphrase George Orwell, I'm of the opinion Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad.

Never been a fan of the motorbike, much preferring the comfort and warm surroundings of the roofed cabin ("here in my car, I feel safest of all ... in Cars")
But I do know some motorbike-ists, and I get it.  I can see the attraction, just maybe not the comfortable delivery from home to chosen destination.

Japanese motorcycle industry - incorrectly assumed that it's rise to prominence came after World War II when it imported a Triumph Bonneville, pulled it apart, and re-built it more efficiently.
True, it wasn't until 1959 that a Japanese motorcycle (a Honda 125) was first seen competing at the Isle Of Man TT, but the Triumph story goes back further to 1907 (the first import) and by 1922 imports included Harley Davidson, India, and Norton.
(however, the rest of the story is pretty much true - they were pulled apart, mulled over, re-designed, and mass produced (at least in Japan))

The Japanese Big Four are:

  • Honda (since 1946)
  • Suzuki (since 1952)
  • Kawasaki (since 1954)
  • Yamaha (since 1955)
Each have had high domestic sales since their launch - like the car industry a combination of affordability and reliability stole a march on the Italians and United Kingdom (the biggest manufacturers in Europe), and also made a sizeable dent in the US market.

As most vehicle manufacturers know (knew?), Motorsport is a route to get your brand noticed.
As said above, Honda first appeared at the Isle Of Man TT in 1959, and by 1961 was winning races in various engine size categories.
Honda also started competing in the World Champiuonships, and won all categories in 1966.  Normal order was resumed the next year with Italian manufacturer MV Augusta dominating (as it had done since the late 50s).  And then in 1974, Yamaha repeated the trick, and Japanese bikes from one of the big 4 had a virtual clean sweep of everything until the 90s when Italian bikes from Aprilla and Ducatti (periodically) broke the dominance.


Chris Spedding's musical career started around the time Honda were breaking the Italian monopoly.  By 1970, his name was on the list of tried and trusted session musicians providing him an income in the absence of a successful band or solo career.
A proficient guitar player in any style, he was a fast learner and could get in, lay down a track, get out, take the money, and move onto the next session.
Notable contributions include  Harry Nilsson's 'Nilsson Schmilsson' and the original recording of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'.
The mid-70s period provided Chris Spedding with perhaps his 3 defining moments

1. He was a Womble - he played on the tracks, and when Top Of The Pops called he appeared as Wellington, complete with his trademark Gibson Flying V

2. He was the producer of the fist studio sessions for the Sex Pistols.  He'd already appeared at the 100 Club Punk Festival (backed by The Vibrators) and released the single "Pogo Dancing"

Whilst not being a Womble, and before he produced the Pistols, Chris Spedding's abilities weren't going un-noticed and he was on the list of "possibles" as a replacement for Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones.
Legend (or myth) says he was either unavailable to join the Stones tour later in the year, turned it down flatly when offered, got the wrong day and/or venue for his audition, or bluntly refused the invitation to audition stating "if you want me, I'll join.  But I'm not auditioning".
Whatever the reason - Chris Spedding didn't join up with Mick, Keef, Charlie and Bill.
What he did do was sign a solo deal with Mickie Most's Rak Records, and ...

3. released the single "Motorbikin'" and appeared on Top Of The Pops donned out in leather, motorbike boots, and a heavily greased quiff.  Plus the Gibson Flying V was on show again.

You can bet your life that if any TV programme has a feature including motorbikes, Chris's song will be soundtracking it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Wingmen

Wingmen is a collaboration between Baz Warne (The Stranglers), Paul Gray (The Damned), Leigh Haggerty (Ruts DC) and Marty Love (Johnny Moped).

Each have floated in and out of each other's existence at venues and festivals up and down the country, and two of them (Gray and Love) have recorded together before (with Captain Sensible under the Sensible Gray Cells banner).

Started as a project to keep sane in lockdown, files were shared between members, bits added, bits re-written.  All this was done without any of the members actually meeting until they convened at Panther Studios in Reigate (helmed by ex-Tenpole Tudor man Dick Crippen).
To complete the slightly odd nature of conception and recording, Marty Love's drums were the last sounds to be added.  The songs were effectively complete, and Love had to find a route in and maintain the swing and the beat.  Credit to all the players,as this unorthodox method does not compromise the finished article in any way.

The DNA of each host band is in evidence - the slight confrontation of The Stranglers, the low bass rumble and psychedelic tendencies of The Damned, the innate musicality and tightness of The Ruts, and the solidity veering towards the bombastic ramshackle of Johnny Moped.
But this is no "pick the best bits, throw it in a pot, and see how it mixes together" - Wingmen stand on their own feet as a musical collective, informed by experience but not afraid to step out on their own.
So whilst you get passing moments in song where you think "oh, that's a bit like XXX" it never becomes facsimile or tribute.

Born in lockdown, there are plenty of State Of The Nation commentaries, mixed up with melancholy, darkness ("Down In The Hole") and hope ("It's Raining All Over England", complete with the refrain "Happy Days Are Here Again"), and a takedown of social media ("Backstage At The Opera") - including a vitiolic Baz Warne exasperated monologue.
Instrumental "Starting Blocks" opens up affairs, before a mix of pop-punk-blues-riffing imbues proceedings. Highlights are plentiful, beyond those already mentioned, "Brits", "I Would If I Could" and "Oh! What A Carry On" vie for supremacy

Even though the members were apart and the creative process potentially slowed by seclusion, the album is full of ideas, tricks, great lyrics, and top notch playing.

This may be the only output for this collective, but it's a worthy addition to their respective CVs.  Proof that something good came from the time when we locked ourselves away from the world.
And who knows, as live performance and studio visits for bands give way to down time, Wingmen may reconvene for live shows and maybe even another album - although if that one is birthed in the studio would it lack the feeling of necessity and exasperation of this very very fine album.

Down In The Hole

Oh! What A Carry On

Backstage At The Opera


Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Jaguar Mark 2

When it came time to sell my old Vauxhall Cavalier, two options presented themselves - do I play safe with a modern vehicle (or certainly newer than my X registration Cavalier with 150,000 miles in the clock), or get something a bit older, but more interesting.  A Triumph Spitfire was considered, and then discounted, a Ford RS2000 looked at, and again discounted due to asking price and potential insurance.  I came close to buying an MGB GT - the price was right, insurance do-able, but on closer inspection the bodywork appeared to be mostly filler and rust.  Plus, it wouldn't go into reverse gear as I discovered when I returned from the road test.

One vehicle under serious consideration - even though the price was a real push - was a Jaguar Mark 2.  This was pre-Inspector Morse, where the Mark 2 Jag was usually the villains getaway car in The Sweeney or The Professionals.  Yes, in 1990 and Mark 2 Jag could be bought for around 5 to 6 grand.
It was only a year later, when investments and yuppie money took off, that a Mark 2 was auctioning and changing hands for £20 to 30k (and more), rapidly rising to near 6 figures for mint (and some not so mint) examples.
In the end, I went for a Ford Orion 1.6i - effectively an XR3 with a boot.
It was a good car - it just wasn't a Jag.

The Jaguar company dates back to the Swallow Sidecar company, and when that was liquidated William Lyons formed SS Cars - it's prime purpose being the manufacture and sales of Sports Saloons (the Jaguar name first appearing on one of the SS models).
However, World War II diverted car manufacturing to military manufacturing, and by 1945 the name SS was probably not the most saleable.
William Lyons changed the company name to Jaguar, and set about producing a tranche of some of the finest looking sports cars on the market - XK120, XK140, XK150, and in 1961, the E-Type, all housing the robust XK engine (which would remain - with upgrades and modifications - the powerplant for Jaguar until the early 90s).
"Grace, Space, Pace" was the Jaguar mantra, and whilst the Sports cars did indeed posses "Pace" (and some "Grace", it was the step-up into mid-range luxury cars that fully met the mantra by adding the "Space".
The Mark II (like the Mark I before it) was not a small vehicle but by the some token wasn't that much larger than it's competitors.  What the Mark II did do was make the best of it's dimensions by ensuring the cabin was the most comfortable it could be (I have heard the kitting of the interior being called a poor mans Rolls Royce).
The Mark II is (probably) only second to the E-Type as the most recognisable car in the Jaguar history.
And in 1990/91, was still an affordable (just) choice for the mainstream buyer - yet in 3 years at least another zero - and at it's peak, 2 zeros - were added to the price tag)


Madness may well be the quintessential singles band of the 80s ... but they didn't actually survive the 80s.
Mike Barson left the band in 1984 after 'Keep Moving', which (whether directly related or not) led to a change in style for 'Mad Not Mad'.  The album included the resigned and/or prescient "Yesterdays Men".  The album scraped into the top 20 (as did the accompanying singles) and has generally been cited as "not a great experience".  And that experience hung over into the early sessions for the next album, which were curtailed when the band called it a day.  Mike Barson did re-join for the signing-off single "(Waiting for the) Ghost Train", before going their separate ways.
Suggs, Chas Smash, Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman did re-group in 1988 under the The Madness banner, but after one poorly received album, that name was too retired.

In 1991, "It Must Be Love" was re-released as a single, swiftly followed by the compilation 'Divine Madness' which compiled all the A-Sides.  Virgin Records investment was indeed returned as the record-buying public lapped it up (the fact it was on CD, and many older fans probably had 'Complete Madness' and 'Utter Madness' on vinyl, surely helped sales).
Never a band to disappoint their fans, discussions and agreements reached to reform for 2 shows at Finsbury Park in 1992.  Such was the reception, that the opening salvo of Madstock registered on the Richter Scale.
Whilst not exactly a recording concern, Madness continued to tour and organised bi-annual Madstock Festivals.  And then in late 98, decided to go back into the studio and see if they could still be a recording unit.  1999s "Wonderful" was not without flaws, but proved the 80s band could progress and develop into the next century.

The early part of the 2000s was spent overseeing the Our House Musical, before re-convening under the name Dangermen for a club tour (with each member adopting a pseudonym) playing predominantly cover versions from their early days.  The resulting album 'The Dangermen Sessions Vol. 1' was well received, and work begun on their next album in 2007.
Preceded by the single "NW5" and a Glastonbury appearance, 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate' ranks as not just a return to form, but very probably the best album they have released.



Monday, 16 January 2023

Thin Lizzy - Live and Dangerous (Super Deluxe Edition, 8 CD Set)

 In 1976 Thin Lizzy’s quest to break America stalled as they flew home exhausted (and in Phil Lynott’s case laid low with hepatitis).

From his sick bed he mapped out the songs that would form the second album of 1976 – Johnny The Fox (released in October, just 7 months after Jailbreak).
When the supporting tour hit Hammersmith Odeon in November, the Maison Rouge Mobile Studio was parked out front to capture the 2 shows for posterity, archive, and potential use to push Lizzy in America.
The US Tour in December was cancelled when, on the night before, Brian Robertson injured his hand in a brawl at the Speakeasy Club.  Robertson was replaced for the revised US Tour in January by Gary Moore, but part way through the recording of the next album – 'Bad Reputation' – he was re-instated.
'Bad Reputation' was produced by Tony Visconti, and when considering their next album Thin Lizzy sought his services again.  Visconti’s time was limited as he was due to start work with David Bowie.  As time was limited, it was suggested a Live album would be the solution, and the tapes from Hammersmith 1976, and a variety of shows from the recent US Tour in October 1977 dusted off and listened through.

Thin Lizzy and Tony Visconti decamped to Paris to sift through and assemble the package, and it is here at the Des Dames Studio that the myths and legend of the album begins.

Is it really a LIVE album?  Each participant has a different story.

  • Brian Downey is adamant that no changes were made to the drums
  • Phil Lynott concedes that a couple of bass parts, some backing vocals, and vocal fluffs were re-recorded/over-dubbed as they were lost in the mix of the original recording
  • Scott Gorham concurs with the backing vocals, but also states he only fixed one guitar part as a result of a fan climbing his leg during a solo, and re-did a rhythm part which he lost time on
  • Brain Robertson claims he spent no more than 15 minutes re-recording/over-dubbing small errors and missing notes
  • Tony Visconti however claims that 75% of the album was re-recorded in the studio.

Personally, I think the bulk of that 75% was assembling the various recordings, finding the best takes, and splicing together so you can’t hear the join.  It’s true he was late joining up with David Bowie for the assembly and production for 'Stage' as his work on 'Live and Dangerous' over-ran, and I applaud Tony Visconti for spending the time capturing the energy, commitment and enjoyment of the band on stage.

Thin Lizzy on record and Thin Lizzy on stage are almost 2 different animals, and 'Live And Dangerous' contains the best, arguably definitive, versions of many tracks – "Emerald", "Southbound", "Rosalie", "Don’t Believe A Word", "Still In Love With You", and "The Rocker" being particularly notable.

The original CD release (from 1989) although claiming to be Digitally Remastered sounds flat compared to the original vinyl issue.
This 2022 Remaster rectifies that, and a rapturous audience supporting a passionate and energetic band, bouncing between all-out twin guitar attack and expressive, romantic, elegiac moments shines through.
(* "twin guitar attack" - it is compulsory to use this phrase when discussing Thin Lizzy)

This 8CD set packages the remastered version of the original document, with 6 full live shows which provided the source material, plus the March 1978 concert at The Rainbow filmed for a TV Special that was never shown.
Admittedly, all the extra shows may not be making regular visits to the turntable/CD Player/Streaming platform of choice, but their presence allows one to compare and contrast different full shows versus final album, and to marvel at the bands power and consistency.

Listening to the alternative shows casts further doubt on Visconti’s re-recording estimates.  Lizzy’s commitment and energy on stage never falls – yes there are errors, but it’s all about the performance, presence, and atmosphere.
It may not need a Super Deluxe issue to cement it’s place in the pantheon of great Live albums, but this set ensure the profile of the album when the next Top 10 list is compiled.

Will this release bring an end to the “is it really live though?” debate.
Maybe not, but armed with the source material in this box set (plus new sleeve notes, and a plethora of photos), and also a perusal of the later released 'Life' Live album, you get a pretty clear picture of the power of Thin Lizzy on a stage, and whilst there may be some fluffs and errors creeping in, there is nowhere near enough failing in performance to warrant re-recording 3 quarters of it


Tuesday, 10 January 2023

I'd go the whole wide world

Launched in 1993 as the successor to the Sierra, the Mondeo was envisaged as a "world car".  Ford had learnt from it's past, and was now attempting to produce homogenized vehicles, sharing as many components between it's interests as possible.
Indeed, the name Mondeo is derived from the Latin word "mundus", meaning "world".
Mondeo also translates from the international language of Esperanto as "world".
On release it sold well - it was lauded for it's affordability, comfort, and reliability.  I can attest to this having owned a 1993 model - it was basically bulletproof, and was only part-exchanged 10 years later when I needed to get a bigger family bus.
The Mondeo survived through 5 facelifts, regularly winning (or at least appearing in the Top 3 of) various Car of The Year awards throughout it's lifetime.
Such was it's ubiquity, the phrase "Mondeo Man" was coined describing relatively comfortable middle-class-ness.  Mondeo Man became a key political term in the 1997 election and the rise of New Labour.

The concept of the "Mondeo man" was popularised by a phrase used by then Leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair at the Labour Party Conference in October 1996. He recalled a Ford Sierra owner he had canvassed in the Midlands whilst out campaigning for the 1992 general election. The man was a self-employed electrician, whom Blair met while the man was polishing his car at the weekend, and told Blair that he was an ex-Labour voter who had bought his council house, owned his own car, and wondered what the Labour Party had to offer him given the party's history of raising taxes and mortgage rates.

His dad voted Labour, he said. He used to vote Labour, too. But he'd bought his own house now. He'd set up his own business. He was doing very nicely. "So I've become a Tory" he said. In that moment, he crystallised for me the basis of our failure.. His instincts were to get on in life. And he thought our instincts were to stop him. But that was never our history or our purpose.

This is the story that is often credited with inspiring Blair's concept of New Labour, and the "Mondeo man" became the target voter of the campaign for the 1997 general election for the Labour Party.

Mondeo production ceased in March 2022 following years of regularly falling sales, and the noting that buyers were moving away from large family cars to Crossovers and SUVs (aka those overly large vehicles that look like off-roaders, but have no real off-road capability).


It's not documented if Wreckless Eric ever owned a Ford Mondeo, but he did tour Europe in a 1960s Peugeot.  This was in the mid-80s after he'd left Stiff Records (his original home) due to a lack of support, promotion and general belief.
He was part of the original roster of Stiff artists, alongside Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, The Pink Fairies and The Damned, and participated in 2 Stiff Package Tours (5 acts sharing the bill and travelling up and down the country by train).
His first album 'Wreckless Eric' came out in March 1978, 'The Wonderful World of Wreckless Eric' (featuring a cover photo of a big band including Danny Baker on drums) released 6 months later, 'Big Smash!' in early 1980.
Not long after the release of 'Big Smash!' Eric ended his relationship with Stiff, and struck out on his own.  Writing and recording in his home studio, he stayed active continuing to tour and release albums.
If anything, there was something of a career re-awakening with the couple of albuims produced with his wife Amy Rigby, and then releasing three solo albums - 'AmERICa' (2015), 'Construction Time & Demolition' (2018) and 'Transience' (2019), which are probably the best of his long career.

But if there is one song that is his Pension Plan, it's this one:

Whole Wide World


Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Riding in a 3 Grand Deutsche Car

If there is one company that can claim to be there right at the start. it is Mercedes-Benz.

After all, it was Carl Benz who invented the internal combustion engine and with the help of Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach strapped it into a stagecoach and the automobile was born.
The name Mercedes was trademarked for the production and sale of horseless carriages, and as production and sales grew, the company name became Daimler-Benz, and Mercedes the brand name.  Wilhelm Maybach parted company and set up his own company to design and manufacture a variety of petrol and diesel engines - and becoming the supplier of choice for the Zeppelin aircraft and the German Military.  Whilst Military contracts remained, the demand for Zeppelin engines ceased following the Hindenburg disaster, Maybach focussed production on ultra-luxury limousines.
Mercedes also had a foot in the ultra-luxury limousine market.  The flagship vehicle being the Grosser Mercedes - it's biggest customer being Heads Of State including King Abdullah of Jordan, King Faisal of Iraq, Kaiser Willhelm, Mussoilini, Franco, and the Nazi Party (Hitler, Himmler and Goering are notable owners).
And to prove the Grosser Mercedes was not just a Dictators car, the Pope also had one.
Mercedes vehicles gained a reputation for reliability, build quality and longevity.  This reputation, and no doubt it's high profile statesman ownership, also increased desirability.
By 1960, Maybach was subsumed into the Daimler-Benz corporation and charged with overseeing the limousine output.

The existing Grosser Mercedes was re-designed, tinkered and fettled by Mercedes and Mybach - the result was the Mercedes-Benz 600.
A luxury limousine competing with Rolls-Royce for Head of State ownership.
OK, Mercedes didn't lose the "questionable" owners, with Idi Amin, Kim Jong-Il, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos, PW Botha, Leonid Brezhnev, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Saddam Hussein all owning a Grosser.
On the plus side, The Pope continued to use the Grosser his his main conveyance.  And Aristotle Onassis, Coco Chanel, Hugh Hefner, Elizabeth Taylor and Jack Nicholson also count as Grosser owners without dictatorial tendencies.

The 600 came in three main variants:

  • A short wheelbase 4-door saloon, available with a power divider window separating the front seats from the rear bench seat, although most were built without this feature.
  • A long wheelbase 4-door "Pullman" limousine (with two additional rear-facing seats separated from the driver compartment by a power divider window)
  • A long wheelbase 6-door limousine (with two forward-facing jump-seats at the middle two doors and a rear bench-seat)
With plenty of case, and plenty of entourage, the Grosser Mercedes also found favour with musicians in the 60s and 70s.
Elvis had probably the biggest entourage, and fitted them into the Grosser.
Both John Lennon and George Harrison owned one each (and Harrison bought Lennon's from him when he moved to the US in 1971).
Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Ron Wood, and David Bowie have also been known to load the Grosser with their mates.
Bobby Womack states in his autobiography, that after ferrying her around in his 600 Grosser, Janis Joplin was so impressed with the vehicle she wrote a love-letter to it in the form of "Mercedes Benz" on the 'Pearl' album.



Status Quo had enjoyed some success with the singles "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" and "Ice In The Sun", but were having no luck on the album front.  Their record label Pye (as was the downfall for The Kinks) wanted to compete in the singles market, but not the album market.

So when the band ditched the psychedelic pop in favour the 12 Bar Boogie shuffle, and 2 further tanked albums with Pye, it was time to find a new home.  That home was Vertigo, and the first release in November 1972 was the single "Paper Plane" followed a month later by the album 'Piledriver'.

Status Quo had a Mercedes 600 as the prime mode of transport, and was referred to by the band as the "3 Grand Deutsche Car" (because that's how much it cost and it was German), and so to pad out the stream of conscience lyrics (written by Francis Rossi and Bob Young) a little bit of self-reference was included.

Success for both convinced the band there might just be something in this 3 chord trick they were peddling
(note: some songs actually have 5 chords in them)

And 50 years later, they are still boogie shuffling.  But this is where 12 Gold Bars began: