Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Year 2023 In 15 Musical Highlights

I've been away ... will, not away just lacking inspiration (and time) to compose informative missives and critical investigation of musical things (and any other slightly mad thoughts that pass through my head).

Or maybe it was just listening to a combination Mike Oldfield and Yes that rendered me incapable of putting finer to keyboard since mid-Summer.
More of that to follow soon (I bet you can't wait, can you ...)

Inspiration may still be lacking, and in October and November only ONE new thing arrived to fill my over-clogged shelves, so I'm not sure a fix is fully in place, but:

I was lost, now I'm found
I believe in you me, I've got no bounds
I was lost, now I'm found
I believe in you me, I got no bounds
I'm movin' on up now
Gettin' out of the darkness
My light shines on, my light shines on
My light shines on

But ... I can't let a years ending pass without getting excited about some musical highlights from the past 12 months.

The Top 15 essential purchases of the year 2023 are:

1. Jim Bob - Thanks For Reaching Out

You know you're doing something right when an album you release in 2021 is still getting plenty of playing time as the new one arrives.  So much so, that my brain now perceives 'Who Do We Hate Today' and 'Thanks For Reaching Out' as a double album.
'Thanks For Reaching Out' arrived with a press release of some hyperbole, but as soon as the title track starts, one can see the reason for the PR excitement.
My earlier review placed the album as "a collision of indie, punk, folk, Billy Bragg, Buzzcocks, Slade, and Ian Dury (without the funk)".  Add in social comment, biting criticism and rhyming couplets abound, and there's enough going on here to keep the listener entertained for another 2 years until the next Jim Bob missive may arrive.

2. Blur - Ballad Of Darren

The phrase "return to form" or "their best since {insert name of favoured album}" may be an overused staple, but in this case I can't think of a better summary.  'The Ballad Of Darren' contains everything that was great about peak-Blur with added experience.  And in the shape of  "The Ballad", "St. Charles Square", "Barbaric" and "The Narcissist" this album contains songs that are destined to form a true part of Blur's legacy.
(interestingly, Britpop associates Suede did a similar thing last year (although with a couple more "reformed" albums under their belt - back for a second shot and  unleashing a new album every bit as good as their first outings, and scoring a highly acclaimed album - number 3 on my 2022 list, which is, after all, the only list that counts.  Both bands will probably hate me for this, but they are destined to be intertwined in history, legacy and output - usually with Blur a year behind)

3. Wreckless Eric - Leisureland

Wreckless Eric had his moment in the spotlight at the fag-end of the 70s, and then went and explored his "art".
Since 2015 he has released 4 stand-out albums, maybe not reaching a big audience but they probably deserve a wider hearing - as does his 3 outings with spouse Amy Rigby.  Liesureland continues that run of highly listenable albums featuring Eric's unique vocal stylings (OK, not to everyones tastes), his lo-fi playing (with added sheen on this album), some fine melodies, and a bit of depth in the songs and lyrics.
Liesureland largely imagines life and going ons in the run-down town of Standing Water (possibly based on Cromer in Norfolk, although Mr Goulden will neither confirm nor deny).  Not all the songs relate to the overall narrative, but mix into the story with no jarring or loss of mood. 

4. Sparks - The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

After more than 50 years, one would think that Sparks may be entering that formulaic, easily recognisable phase.  Not a bit of it, they have released another album stuffed full of great songs that burrow there way into your imagination.
Always different, but always unmistakably Sparks.
Although, I may be the only person on the planet who dislikes the title track (even with Cate Blanchett's mad dancing), but second single - "Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is" - restores all faith in Sparks ability to deliver wonder.

5. Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers

The collison of Scott Walker meets Morrissey with literary and thesaurus referencing lyrics continues from where 'Heavy Elevator' left off.  And after multiple listens, 'Angel Numbers' is an even stronger, more consistent album.  "Once Upon An Acid Glance" may well be one of the best song titles of the year, but then again "Elvis Look-alike Shadows" isn't far behind.  And if the song titles are good, then the songs themselves more than live up to it.  All is well in the world of Hamish Hawk, and long may it continue.

6. Public Image Limited - End Of World

I saw John Lydon  in early 2022 on his Q&A "An Evening With ..." tour, and whilst in sparkling form it was clear how strong his love for wife of 44 years Nora.
January 2023 saw the release of "Hawaii" written for Nora - an atypical ballad written in her honour.
("atypical" and "perfectly normal" are interchangeable phrases in the world of PiL)
When Nora's passing was announced, many expected John to retreat to the shadows (as would be his right).  Yet second single "Penge" hit the streets soon after, followed by the full album in August.
It would be easy to give 'End Of World' extra points in sympathy or recognition of his loss, but that does the album an injustice.
OK, not everything on here can be considered in the mould of "classic Pil", but after 8 years since it's predecessor it's more than a welcome return. 

7. Duncan Reid & The Big Heads - And It's Goodbye Form Him

After starting out in The Boys (who in January 1977 were the only Punk Band in the country signed to a major label (well, Nems were a national label, not an independent), followed by a period working for Andrew Lloyd Weber, and then a spell as a Director of Nottingham Forest FC, Duncan Reid returned to performing, first with the reformed The Boys and then with his own band with The Big Heads.
Since 2012, Duncan Reid & The Big Heads have released 4 albums (including this offering) and played to rapturous audiences all over the country and beyond.  However, all things must come to an end, and this is the last outing from The Big Heads.  And this last album is a fitting epitaph containing all the melody and punk-pop attack of old.
All things must come to and end, but with an album as strong as this and a firm following (admittedly at a club/small theatre level, or lower down the bill of a festival) one must question why now?

8. The Damned - Darkadelic

The Damned's original deal with Stiff was for one single.  Whilst recording their debut album, they were effectively unsigned and in negotiation with Dave Robinson at Stiff to release more stuff (namely the album they were recording, and he had paid for).  Hence, The Boys info-nugget above.
Since that 1977 debut album, they have been through more line-up changes, hiatuses, disbandments, and reformations than most, but are still performing and recording - the core revolves around Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, but next year original member Rat Scabies is re-joining permanently alongside Paul Gray.
The pressure may be on to do the "cabaret" / greatest hits shows, but when you have an album as strong as 'Darkadelic' under your belts, why go for the comfy option?
All known bases of The Damned are covered from the Scott Walker-esque vocal (I'm sure Dave's voice is getting deeper), the dark gothic undertow to the delivery of the lyrics (no matter the subject matter) bolted to soaring melody and guitars with a sprinkling of psychedelia and glam rock stomp thrown in.

9. Madness - Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie

Did Madness really believe they'd still be active 45 years after their first release.  And they would surely not have believed they would (or should) fall in the "National Treasure" bucket.
But here they are releasing another album of ska-infused Music Hall, and as expected it is recognisably Madness from first listen.  The prime difference being that (certainly since 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate') Madness now work in the album mode rater than being the Singles band they will forever be known for.  Now constructing albums that can have singles lifted from it, rather than constructing albums around the singles.
And this surprised me - this is the first Madness album to achieve a Number 1 placing in the Album Chart.  And a thoroughly deserved accolade it is too.

10. Glen Matlock - Consequences Coming

And here's another still doing the rounds since the late 70s.  Maybe not as visibly as Madness, but always around, often as a sideman gun for hire (currently assisting Blondie) but also pursuing a low-key solo career.
I was due to see Glen Matlock live - first in April which was then postponed to November.  And then cancelled.  Glen remains the only active past member of the Sex Pistols I've not seen live (yet). Following on from 2018s 'Good To Go' the rockabilly tendencies remain but now with a smoother delivery, and almost as much venom on a coupe of tracks as his Pistols days.
'Consequences Coming' is a more consistent (or maybe just better sequenced?) set, and boasts one of those seemingly unlikely cover version choices in the shape of kd lang's "Constant Craving".

11. Wingmen - Wingmen

The members of Wingmen have a few years experience under their belts, comprising Baz Warne (The Stranglers), Paul Gray (The Damned), Leigh Heggarty (Ruts DC) and Marty Love (Johnny Moped) they've broken free from their host bands to produce an album stuffed full of top tunes for no other reason than they can.
The songs here could've found a home on their "home" bands output, but this was obviously a case of "I have some songs and my band is not doing anything at the moment.  Who do I know that will give them life?".  This collaboration may be a one-off (although there is possibly enough life to go again), and they may scuttle back to their original homes, but the sheer joy of playing together and breathing life into these songs is most welcome.

12. The Coral - Sea Of Mirrors

I think of The Coral as one of those bands that no-one can really dislike.  There is something appealing about their jangle, noise, delivery and creation.
Things is with "likable" bands, there is often substance missing - well not in the case of The Coral.  'Sea Of Mirrors' proves that 'Coral Island' was no blip in the matrix.
And couple this album with 'Holy Joe's Coral Island Medicine Show' and The Coral deliver yet another stunning listen.

13. Joe Jackson - Presents: Max Champion in “What A Racket!”

Purporting to be a collection of newly discovered songs from little-known Music Hall entertainer Max Champion (so little known he has no presence on the internet), what this actually is Joe Jackson looking to start a Music Hall revival (and what not, he's tried it before with swing and jazz in the early 80s).
The songs have a whiff of the Hackney Empire about them, so much so you could almost believe the conceit.
Goes nicely with Matt Berry's TV Themes album from a few years ago - an album you want to return to, but need a combination of the right mood and the right audience to indulge.

14. Alice Cooper - The Road

I admit that this isn't a truly strong album, but the choruses of many songs have the ability to play in your head on auto-repeat.
Musically it's a bit formulaic, especially when one considers last years 'Detroit Stories', but it does have just enough about it to play again (and again).
Will I still be playing it this time next year?  Maybe not regularly, but I'm sure selected bits will get continued airtime

15. Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds

Arriving in a hail of hype and expectation, this news Stones album probably get more column inches than their last 5 albums (going back to 'Steel Wheels') put together.  It even get a mention on the BBC News.  Does it deserve the plaudits?  In the main, yes.  This is The Rolling Stones being The Rolling Stones, and proving that no-one does it better.  Featuring a guest list including Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lady Ga Ga, Benmont Tench, past member Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts last recorded work.  If this is the last Stones album, then it is a fine way to sign-off

Observations?  Where's the new bands.  I am patently aware that the whole of my list is "of a certain vintage" - only Hamish Hawk has a recording career in single figures, and only Wingmen can be classed as a debut album (but the members of the band have plenty of past experience and glories).  Thing is, I've not truly found anything this year that makes me go "Hang on, that's a bit good".  Still, there might be something in 2024 ...

But ... all is not lost of the "new music" front - the debut album from Sharp Class arrived on my doormat - a punt based on some Facebook posts, and one or two tracks heard on Youtube, and admittedly with a 2022 date stamp, but I wasn't aware of it until this year.
Whilst the whole album may not be Top 15 worthy, it does contain one track that was stuck in my head for most of the summer.
OK, I know what you'll be thinking: "hmm ... sounds a bit like The Jam circa 1979".
And that's a good thing, The Jam in 1979 were pretty much unimpeachable

Sharp Class - Tales Of  A Teenage Mind

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Blur - The Ballad Of Darren

 I've sat on this one a couple of weeks contemplating ... is this a great album by Blur, or is this a great album because it's by Blur and I want it to be great?
No, my ears did not deceive me, and I need no fanboy excuses to declare this a great album.

There are echoes of Bur-past, echoes of Blur-current and future, and some of Damon Albarn's arty-fartiness and meandering melodies and lyrical tracts are kept in check.
There have been recent interviews where each member has expressed the notion that when the four of them come together, something clicks, chemistry chemists, and Blur comes forth.

After the release of their debut album, one could be forgiven for thinking they may not have a bright (or long) future.  Their re-invention of themselves and evoking a Mod-infused view of England changed fortunes (slightly) on 2nd release 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'.  But it was 3rd album 'Parklife' that seared them into the national consciousness.  Continual re-invention followed: 'The Great Escape', 'Blur', '13', 'Think Tank' - all Blur, but all a different version of Blur.
When 'The Magic Whip' arrived in 2015, all signs were Blur were back, but ultimately the album didn't deliver in the long term (certainly for me, repeated listening is limited at best).

So why would I expect anything more from 'The Ballad Of Darren'?
Well, early release 'The Narcissist' suggested there was something special on the way, and now the full package has arrived those early thoughts are not misplaced.

Opening with "The Ballad" which evokes "The Universal" from 'The Great Escape' (maybe not as epic) followed by 'St Charles Square' showing Blur are placing themselves in their post-Britpop years re-inventing themselves for current times.  They know what makes a Blur song, and now have the opportunity to imbue it with autobiography and experience.
"Barbaric" is an achingly melancholic earworm, and you could be forgiven for believing the album has peaked by track 3 - far from it - the peak is ridden from now through to the final track "The Heights".

OK, there is an argument that this run of tracks rarely lifts from the considered, slower, emotive and withdrawn.  But where there may have been riffing, there is now considered arpeggios, where there was once solid rhythm backing there is now considered service to the song and lyrics.  And there be the voice of experience - too many slow Blur songs on the trot could once have paled, now the collection is right for the band (and let us not forget the great moments of their passed are not the "Oi Oi ... Parklife" moments, but the feted "The Universal", "Tender", "No Distance Left To Run" et al

I wanted Blur's return with 'The Magic Whip' to be a monumental moment - it nearly was, and I had to wait a few years for 'The Ballad Of Darren' to be that glorious return moment.

St Charles Square


The Narcissist

Tuesday 8 August 2023


 Everyone has a favourite road (don't they?  just me then).
Motorways do a job, conveying the driver from point A to point B with relative ease (unless you're stuck in traffic jams, roadworks, or "Improvement Schemes" restricted the speed limit to 50mph for most of your journey.  Yes they do the job, but Motorways are quite dull.  The monotony may be broken every 30 miles or so by a Service Station but there ain't much to look at except the back of the car in front.
Before the motorways arrived - the first being the Preston by-pass in 1958, and then followed by a massive increase in miles of road over the next 15 years - the A Road (usually following established routes between major towns and cities, which in turn followed Stagecocah routes or Trade routes) was the road of choice.
And despite the appeal of the Motorway, the A Road offers a more relaxing and picturesque experience.  Service Stations may be further apart (or consist merely of a burger van in a layby), but the journey just feels more involved.

From where I live, there are 2 prime routes to travel west.

  1. M4 & M5
  2. A303
The M4 & M5 route may be quicker, but it's also 10 miles longer (and did I mention the dullness of motorway travel).  Also, you can never trust the traffic on the M5 south (even at the quietest times), and returning home going north is often as bad.
The choice is to take the hypotoneuse of the triangle and travel on the A303, and not purely for the Co-Op Distribution Centre south of Andover, Boscombe Down and Salisbury Plain, the sight of Stonehenge, and Mr Blobbys' former home at Cricket St Thomas.
It's a straight route with the momotony broken by regular roundabouts, and great lengths of dual carriageway which, despite the reputation of traffic jams, frees up traffic flow so it never truly reaches dashboard-banging proportions.
Another great attraction of the A303 was the regular appearances of Little Chef or Happy Eater - both long gone, and now replaced by Starbucks, Costa, or a scantly stocked BP Petrol Station.
The A303 also leads (with slight diversion) to Glastonbury - around June the stories of traffic congestion are no doubt true as (if all those that say they have gone are included) a quarter of the population of the UK decamps to the roadways.
It's possible that Glastonbury was the location in mind when Kula Shaker released "303" on their debut album
(then again, maybe like me they just like the road)

After backpacking around India for a year, Crispian Mills (son of actress Hayley Mills) returned to the UK and formed The Kays in 1993.  Their debut live performance was at that years Glastonbury Festival, but started to fall apart soon after.  Kula Shaker was the re-named, re-configured band formed after the fallout.  Fortuitously for the times, the mixture of psychadelia, Indian mysticism, themes, and instrumentation, bolted to a Britpo-esque attitude and sound proved a winner.  Kula Shaker benefited from rabid record companies signing up anytone who was British and played guitar.
Kula Shaker though stood out as there was a little more about them than some other fag-end of Britpop landfill.
Their debut album 'K' came off the back of 3 successful singles, and no little media exposure and critical plaudits.
The album became the fastest selling debut album in the UK since Elastica a couple of years before, and is actually a pretty good album ("Hey Dude" is one superb song that fitted the times just right).
And when the following year a cover version of "Hush" hit the Top 10 all looked good in the Kula Shaker garden, as success in the US appeared likely.
The second album though ' Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts' was not as well received, sold relatively poorly, and coupled with Crispian Mills comments about swastika imagery, saw Kula Shakers stock fall.  Although he qualified his statements, expressed his aplogies for his naivite, the damage was done and Kula Shaker ceased trading in 1999.

Kula Shaker - 303

Bob Dylan released 'Highway 61 Revisited' in 1965 - the name coming from the north-south highway that passes through his birthplace of Duluth, and winds along Mississippi River down to New Orleans. The route also passes near the the birthplaces and homes of  Muddy Waters, Son House, Elvis Presley and Charley Patton. There is also an intersection with Highway 49 - the crossroads where Robert Johnson (allegedly) sold his soul to the devil in return for increased playing ability (and no little future legend status).
Arguments rage as to which is the best Dylan album, but 'Highway 61 Revisited' contains "Like A Rolling Stone" so I think that should be enough to secure it's place.
In a roundabout homage to the album, John Otway recorded "A413 Revisited" documenting his return home to the Vale Of Aylesbury.

John Otway - A413 Revisited

Perhaps most famous road song is "Route 66" - Billy Bragg tended to agree so he took the tune and re-imagined the lyric travelling east from Docklands to Shoeburyness

Billy Bragg - A13 Trunk Road To The Sea

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious

Lotus was formed in 1952 by Colin Chapman and Colin Dare.  Arguably, the beginnings of Lotus were 4 years earlier when Chapman had built his first car in his garage at home.  The basic ethos of Lotus was to design and build innovative, affordable and competitive sports cars.
The first widely available car from Lotus was the 7 (not as sometimes believed based on an Austin 7, it just happened to be the 7th vehicle designed by Lotus.  This was a stripped out 2 seater track car aimed at motor trialists and privateer racers.
Available pre-built or in kit form, the popularity of the 7 remained until the mid 70s when production ceased and was taken over by Caterham who continued with the pre-built or kit versions to this day - the basic vehicle remains the same despite some obvious safety and reliability upgrades.
Following the success of the 7, Team Lotus was split off to concentrate on racing (primarily with the aim of Formula 1 entry), and Lotus Cars and Lotus Components established as 2 separate companies as Lotus moved into manufacturing road cars.
The first road car proper was the Elite - designed and built by Lotus using whatever parts they could find, and fitted with a Coventry Climax Fire Pump engine.  The cobbled nature of the build led to reliability issues with the Elite.
But it proved popular and so began a succession of road cars each beginning with the letter E - Elite, Elan, Europa, Eclat, Excel, Esprit, Elise, Exige, Evora, Exos, Evira
(OK, by the end they were just making up words)
Reliability issues continued as each model rolled on - Lotus were always looking to innovate - particularly with their own engine and gearbox designs, and often used whatever parts they could source from partners.  So as with the Elite, something was going to give sooner or later.

This innovative streak obviously didn't harm Team Lotus, winning 6 Drivers Championships and 7 Constructors Championships over 15 years.  They were one of the first teams to recognise aerodynamics and experiment with wings on their cars, one of the first to run with tobacco sponsorship, and the first to come up with the concept of ground-effects cars where using a skirt around the car would allow a vaccum of sorts to suck the car to the road and go round corners almost as fast as they could along the straights.
The Lotus 72 car that took Emerson Fittiapldi to the 1972 Championship (bedecked with the Black and Gold JPS livery) continued at the front of the grid for the next 5 years with no major upgrades.
When it was finally updgraded - first to the Lotus 78 which was the first ground-effect car, and then later the 79 which refined and (very probably) perfected the principle.
The 78 and 79 were maybe a little fragile (as all good Loutus's tended to be) but when they stayed working they were unbeatable.
Colin Chapman continued to focus on innovation rather than winning, although performances remained with the front-runners.  However, when he died in late 1982, Lotus began a slow decline towards the back of the grid - their last race was in 1994.
Colin Chapman's passing also opened up the crisis at Lotus Cars and the marque went through a series of owners never quite achieving enough stability to fully re-establish itself.

If you want to get your product noticed, then a blockbuster film is a pretty good placement.
In 1977, just after the launch of the Lotus Esprit, it was the vehicle of choice for James Bond.
But this was no ordinary Esprit - in addition to the guns, cement jet sprayer, and it's ability to out-run and out maneuver the baddies helicopter, this particular Esprit had retractable wheels and a submarine mode.

In the Summer of 1977, I was taken to the Cinema to see The Spy Who Loved Me - we arrived late, but as was the way you could just stay in your seat and re-watch the film played in rotation.  So my first experience of James Bond was in 2 halves.
Maybe because it was my first, I will argue with anyone that The Spy Who Loved Me is the best Bond film, Roger Moore is the best Bond, and the Lotus Esprit is the best Bond car.

The Bond Films have history with their theme songs.  While Monty Normans Bond Theme was the main music for the first film (Dr No) and has subsequently appeared in all Bond films since, the singing of the main theme was given over to a popular voice of the day - tis quite an eclectic list:

  • Shirley Bassey has done 3 themes
  • Matt Monro
  • Tom Jones
  • Nancy Sinatra
  • Wings
  • Lulu *
  • Sheen Easton
  • Rita Coolidge
  • Duran Duran
  • A-Ha
  • Gladys Knight
  • Tina Turner
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Garbage
  • Madonna
  • Jack White and Alicia Keys
  • Adele
  • Sam Smith
  • Billie Eilish

* Lulu provided the theme for The Man With The Golden Gun.  Alice Copper were supposed to be in the running for the theme, but excessive booze and touring saw to it their submission failed to arrive in time for consideration.

For The Spy Who Loved Me, songwriters Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager submitted the first Bond Theme not to share a tile with the film (it was however levered into the lyric towards the end of the first verse).
Carly Simon was invited to perform the song after a throw-away comment from Marvin Hamlisch to Carole Bayer-Sager noting that the lyric seems to be "incredibly vain".  Carly Simon had had a US number 1 with "You're So Vain" so that is very probably where the connection was made.
So I think I have another "Best" to add to the list:
Best Film, Best Bond, Best Car, Best Theme Song

Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better

And if you're not sure, or need a reminder of the opening sequence of the film, Alan Partridge is here to help ...

Monday 10 July 2023

Jim Bob - Thanks For Reaching Out

Album number 12 for Mr Bob (18 if you include Carter USM), and whilst there may be 30 years distance from his first outing, his ability with a tune, a pun, a lyric, a narrative, and an affecting ballad shows no sign of fading.

Over on that there Facebook, Jim Bob shared the story (a True Story) of sharing the demos with his manager who replied "I bet this is how Tony Defries felt when Bowie sent him Ziggy Stardust.  Just don't muck it up in the studio".
(except it wasn't the word "muck" that was used, but one that sounds very similar)

And I can report that Jim Bob certainly didn't muck it up and delivered 38 minutes of very fine music indeed.
Like a collision of indie, punk, folk, Billy Bragg, Buzzcocks, Slade, and Ian Dury (without the funk).

Opening with the title track where Jim Bob observes "it's an effed up world" but turns in a song of hope.
"Day Of Reckoning" fires up the guitars baiting Putin that there will be a spreadsheet listing his misdemeanours.
"Bernadette (Hasn't Found Anyone Yet)" lists the undesirables she's encountered looking for love - interestingly Bernadette's rejects may well be the blokes that Shona ended up with on his last album
(if you own the last album, you'll get the reference.  If you don't own 'Who Do We Hate Today' get yourself along to bandcamp, Cherry Red, Amazon, or other vendor and correct that oversight).

"This Is End Times", "We Need To Try Harder", and "Billionaire In Space" are a trio of commentaries harking back to the initial observation (it's an effed up world").
"This Is End Times" is ostensibly written from the point of view of the Taliban controls, but could equally apply to the current climate of Cancel Culture.
"We Need To Try Harder" (harking back to "Where's The Back Door Steve" ergo the planet is bit effed) paints a dystopian picture of how it happened ("a single-use tent discarded at a festival by an entitled kid") - there's also a reference to Ian Dury ("In the desserts of Sudan and the gardens of Japan") and later one of Jim Bob's best couplets: "Whatever tune does it for you.  Mozart's Requiem or Black Lace's Agadoo".
The final words of the song set up the next with "Billionaire In Space" - I wonder what the inspiration was for that?
A bit of politician-baiting up next (with a psychobilly soundtrack) - "Sebastian's Gone On A Ride Along" considers politicians habits of donning a hi-viz vest, a stab vest, or some form of uniform and tagging along where perhaps they're not wanted or needed.  The video received a take-down request from Jacob Rees-Mogg (or his Twitter account administrators anyway).  The request was due to the use of his image rather than the lyric (but I do hope he listened to the lyric as well).
"Befriend The Police" calls for tolerance, and is attached to one of those sing-along choruses, which is much in evident on "The Prince Of Wales" (the pub, not a comment on the King) - 2 short verses - including another Jim Bob zinger "Don't cry over spilt milk, you'll only end up with spilt salty milk"and a repeating chorus set-up for a pub singalong.
The publicity suggest this track is "Kooks" for older people, and the repeating: "When your day feels mediocre, we'll drink tequila til it's over" could well support that thought.

David Bowie followed 'Ziggy Stardust' with 'Pin-Ups', and something similar happens here if you get the deluxe version - you'll get 7 perfectly Jim Bob-ised cover versions including "Are Friends Electric?", "Pretty In Pink", "Labelled With Love" and a storming take on Dexy's "Geno"

So, just over halfway through the year and I believe here we have a contender for the Top 2 in the "best of what I have been listening to" list later in the year

Thanks For Reaching Out

Monday 3 July 2023

100 MPH

 On holiday recently in Gibraltar, I noted that all road signs are (much like the majority of Gibraltar) British - using the Transport font developed for use on the first standard road sign collection in 1957, and the speed limits are displayed in Miles Per Hour.  But ... they also drive on the right side of the road and all the cars are left hand drive.  As a result, all these cars will be sourced from the European manufacturers and be fitted with speedometers that show Kilometres Per Hour.  Confusing, but is it's such a small place, it probably does no real harm.

As every driver knows (although many seem to think these numbers are purely advisory), the speed limit in a built up are is 30MPH, the national speed limit on a single carriageway road is 60MPH, and on a dual carriageway and motorway the maximum speed is 70MPH.
The earliest speed limits for powered vehicles date back to 1865 and was set at 2MPH in built up areas and 4MPH anywhere else.  You were also required to have someone carrying a red flag in front of you.
By the late 1870s, the Red Flag requirement had gone and the speed limit raised to a giddy 14MPH.
It jumped again in 1903 to 20MPH, but many cars could easily exceed this limit, and no-one really paid attention anyway.
The 1930 Road Traffic Act removed all speed limits, but by 1934 saw fit to introduce the blanket 30MPH limit in built up areas.  Open roads (ie those not in towns) remained unlimited.  With more open roads, better surfaces, and by 1958 the first motorway, it seemed that the unlimited speed might need taming.
The 70MPH limit on motorways was introduced in mid-1967, following 18 months of deliberation and investigation.  And as most family cars of the 1960s would struggle to top out, or maintain that speed without exploding at some point, 70MPH seemed to be a suitable limit.
There was one slight revision during the Oil Crisis of 1974, but the standard as defined by the Road Traffic Act and Highway Code has remained in force since 1977.

Like many of those 1960s cars, I was thrilled if my first car exceeded 70MPH, and the first time I drove a car at 100MPH was in a friends Ford Capri. Ford speedos were not the most reliably calibrated, so I was probably doing about 80 really.
My current car - a Vauxhall Insignia - has a quoted top speed of 138MPH (ie basically twice the legal limit), and I admit to being heavy footed once or twice and have gone into 3 figures, but 77MPH (yes Officer - no more than 10% above speed limit) is ample.

Vardis were a 3 piece band from Wakefield led by Steve Zodiac (note: it's not his real name, but Stephen Hepworth is not really a Heavy Metal name is it).
Playing the pub and club circuit tightened the band's sound to a collision of high speed, high energy, glam rock boogie heavy metal (sort of Slade meets Motorhead with a bit of Hawkwind and Status Quo in the mix).  With the look, the sound,m and the following they found themselves in the right place at the right time to benefit from the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.
Their first album was a live affair titled '100MPH' and in apt description of the content.  It also bore the legend "Guaranteed No Overdubs" - so it was straight from the mixing desk to the tape.
Underpinned by relentless touring, and some minor success, the second Vardis album 'The World's Insane' came in 1981 followed by 'Quo Vardis' in early 1982.
By the mid-80s, Vardis still weren't getting paid, and Steve Zodiac entered into lengthy legal disputes and the band disbanded.
They may have been at the edges of NWOBHM, but do warrant a mention in most write-ups of the period and have been cirted as one of the bands that occupied a place in Metallica drummers Lars Ulrich's collection - maybe not as mentioned or lauded as Diamond Head, Samson, Tygers Of Pan Tang or others who shone albeit briefly, but no less important to the movement and development.

Vardis - 100MPH
(complete with Vim Fuego-esque Guitar histrionics)

Vardis - Silver Machine

Tuesday 20 June 2023

And Pray That There's Intelligent Life Somewhere Up In Space, Cos There's B*gger All Down Here On Earth

 If I ever needed proof that someone is reading this guff, then a question posed in the comments on an earlier post from Rol at My Top Ten asking "Have you done the Ford Galaxie yet?" proves that at least one soul is taking notice.
And the answer is: No, the Ford Galaxie has not been tributed in these pages.

So ... The Ford Galaxie is a full-sized car that was built in the United States by Ford for model years 1959 through to 1974. The name was used for the top models in Ford's full-size range from 1958 until 1961, in a marketing attempt to appeal to the excitement surrounding the Space Race. In 1958, a concept car was introduced called "la Galaxie" which incorporated the headlights into pods inline with the grille and a reduced front profile.

(I nicked that straight from wikipedia)

One musical point of note is it was the vehicle of choice (in Police livery) for the KLF.
Thing is, the Ford Galaxie was never actually used by the US Police, and Ford Timelord was actually an imported Ford Galaxie that the previous owner (before Jimmy Cauty) had painted up in a tribute to The Blues Brothers Bluesmobile.

Anyway, when I read the question my mind went straight to an alternative spelling ... The Ford Galaxy

Domestic tribulations and responsibilities call for a "sensible" car, maybe an estate.  Equally likely is an MPV.
The first MPV I came across was sometime in the early 80s when a friends family had added a bench seat into the back of an Escort Van.  Not a People Carrier by design, but a Multi Person Vehicle in intent.
I went through the "sensible option" period with a Vauxhall Zafira sat on the driveway.  The Zafire was based on the Astra, and was not without issues, but did ferry myself, Mrs D and 4 kids around the country for a good few years.
It was only the basic 1.6 model - I couldn't convince she who must be obeyed of the slightly mnore exciting choice of the VXR version.  Vauxhall did actually consider entering it in the Touring Car Championship - an unlikely choice, like the Volvo 850 Estate a few years before - but I think they may have dropped the idea when they realised how ustable it could be on fast heavy turning corners
(mine never fell over, although it di feel like it would a couple of times)

The MPV is predominantly a European invention, with just about every major manufacturer using the running gear and frame of a tried and trusted model and placing a spacious body with 6 or 7 seats on top of it.
Arguably it was the Japenese who led the way with the Toyota Previa, Nissan Prairie and the Mitsubishi RVR.  Renault were probably the first European to the market with the Scenic in 1999.
A couple of years later, a joint venture between Ford, Volkswagen and Seat saw the launch of the Galaxy, Sharran and Alhambra (basically the same vehicle with a different badge).
The 3 vehicles shared body parts, mechanicals, and were built in the same factory - it was just the badges fixed on at the end of the production line that were different.
The engines were basically VW plants badged up for the relevant vehicle - the most notable (unlikely?) choice was the deployment of the 2.8 engine from the Golf VR6.
A powerful engine in the Golf, but when shifting something 175% heavier, and did the job well but was not what you would call a "Hot MPV".

When launched, it was the Ford that topped the sales charts, and it was Ford that pushed for updates and developments.
By 2006, the joint-venture parted ways, and the Galaxy became built of the Ford Mondeo running gear.  With just about every manufacturere having an MPV in the range, Ford went down the route of developing the S-Max (which was a compact Compact MPV)  and enlarging the Galaxy.  In terms of size and internal space, the Galaxy became a 21st Century version of the Transit (but with windows)

There was a 5 year gap between the second and third Monty Python films - The Life Of Brian and The Meaning Of Life.
Much had splintered in the Monty Python world in those 5 years.  Their first 2 films had been given direction and purpose by one or two of the Team wrestling the Project through, and on The Life Of Brian all were pulling together in the face of adversity (and George Harrison's mortgage).
Off the back of the last hurrah of Live At The Hollywood Bowl, the team assembled to make their next film.
Whilst ideas weren't short, a narrative or story-arc was absent.  What was decided was to take several of the ideas and weave them together against a backdrop of The Meaning Of Life.  And what was produced was a similar filmic event to 1971s compilation film And Now For Something Completely Different.  Initial reviews were disappointing as was public reception (maybe there was too much expectation of Life Of Brian 2?)
There is much in the film that is quotable, memorable, and has made it into the British language possibly without the user realising it's source ("it's only wa-ffer thin" for example).
Among the sketches were some songs supporting the narrative of the moment.  Eric Idle had obviously taken courage from the acclaim received for Brian's closing song "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" and penned  a clutch more including a song about the penis in the style of Noel Coward, celebrating the adventure of a career in Accountancy, and this one - a musing on the universe (not 100% scientifically correct, but close enough)

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Sparks - The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

 When the first single landed, I admit to being a tad concerned about the album.  There was something typically Sparks-ian about the video featuring Cate Blanchett dancing in headphones with Ron and Russell in the background.  But I wasn't enamoured of the song - nice enough, but didn't seem to have a lot of depth or invention.

But, when the album arrived, all fears were quickly dispelled and I found myself thinking "well, they done it again haven't they.  Another superb addition to their 50+ years and 26 album catalogue.

However, as I listen from Track 1, each listen suggests my misgivings for the title track are slowly be displaced.  From there on, what would a Sparks album be without trying to cover as many genre bases as possible?  Which is exactly what the do.  Name a style, and they've probably got it covered - and within each song Ron seems to find a new, undiscovered demo sequence in his synth banks.

The album has 14 tracks, so rather than give a detailed run through of each I'm cherry picking the higher-highlights.
Much of the reviews I've read so far make a point of stating that this album marks a return to Island records, their first label, and the release of their breakthrough album 'Kimono My House' in 1974 (49 years ago).  And the track "Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is" has the sound and feel of those times.  It may be the most straightforward constructed song here (verse, chorus, solid drums, nifty 70s-esque classic rock guitar solo), but how many other bands would write a song from the perspective of a 22 hour old baby wanting to return to it's mothers belly.

"The Mona Lisa's Packing Leaving Late Tonight" is a big Sparks baroque production with African drums.  And only Sparks can construct a song about the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile hiding more emotions.  Comes complete with one of Ron's best plinky-plonk (not a great description, but I hope you get what I mean) synth inserts.

"We Go Dancing" is a virtual straight dance track (think "Number One Song In  Heaven" sans Giorgio Moroder) and gives Russell the chance to weave a few long words into the narrative.

"When You Leave" has Russell dueting with himself observing that members of the party are just waiting for him to leave so they can break out the good music and heavy Belgian beers.  As he says, he's staying just to annoy them.

"Take Me For A Ride" sounds like a future entry for my Car series mentioning the Chevy Powerglide.  For this one they go a bit Krautrock backing Russell's near falsetto vocal.

And that's only half the album spoken of - there is so much more to enjoy, as it races towards the closer "Gee That Was Fun", which for all expected Sparks tongue-in-cheek, turning the narrative on it's head sounds like a straight ballad looking back at a life together.
Of course it's possible to read it (mis-read it?)  as a sign-off to the audience.

And yes 49 years of albums from 2 men with a combined age (now) of 151, if this is the last then Gee, that was fun.
I sincerely hope I have mis-read that song, and plenty more madcap melodies, twisted lyrical passages, and entertainment will be forthcoming

And as the publicity run has mentioned it, if you've not seen Edgar Wright's film The Sparks Brothers, then do yourself a favour and search it out on your steaming platform of choice.

"Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is"

"When You Leave"

"The Mona Lisa's Packing Leaving Late Tonight"  

Thursday 18 May 2023

Dunlop, Firestone, Pirelli Too ...

This entry was originally going to be about the Toyota Motor Company, linking to the illustrative track "I'm Stuck In A Pagoda With Tricia Toyata".
However, I later discovered that Tritia Toyata (yes, I know it's spelt differently) was in fact a US Newsreader, and had nothing to do with the manufacturers of the Prius, the MR2, the Celica, or the Corlloa (and there are many more vehicles beginning with "C" in the past and current range).
Never mind, just bounce back a few tracks on the bands second album, find a lyrical reference, and make this entry about black rubber rings.

Horse carts, push carts, farm tools, bicycles, anything that rolled basically got by using metal or wooden wheels.  Yes, the ride was uncomfortable but be honest they never really went fast or far enough to consider comfort.
But all metal wheels were expensive and heavy, and wooden wheels brittle when faced with stony/rocky roads and tracks.  To increase the life of a wooden wheel, a metal band would be heated and shrunk over the wheel.  The life of the wheel increased, but not the comfort.
The metal banding was replaced by the use of rubber, albeit in solid form which at least provide some form of shock absorption.
The first pneumatic tyre (basically a rubber skin filled with compressed air) was patented by Robert William Thompson in 1847, but never went into production.  John Dunlop then conceived a similar method of encasing air in rubber and attaching it to a wheel and was granted a patent in 1888.
Dunlop's patent was declared invalid 5 years later when the similarities were noted - the possible confusion coming from the fact that Thompson's design was intended for Horse Drawn carriages, whilst Dunlop's was primarily for bicycles.
He may not have had the patent, but it was Dunlop that developed and exploited the technology and it's wider use.  Many tyre manufactuers followed including those still big names today: Goodyear, Firestone, Pirelli, BF Goodrich, Continental (to name a few big names) all utilised Dunlop's methods of construction and production.
In 1946, Michelin further enhanced things with the radial tyre - this gave the tyre better re-inforcement and flexibility, increased comfort, better heat sustainment,  and a longer life.
Michelin had already bought the bankrupt Citreon company in 1924, and was now able to launch a new car (the 2CV) with it's new radial tyres.  Within 30 years, the radial tyre became the industry standard.
Tread patterns, water disbursement, road holding, wear indicator markers - the basic tyre has developed a lot in recent years (gone are the days when the choice was: Remoulds for £10, Kwik-Fit Own Brand for £25, or a big name brand for £50+.  You now need speed rating, seasonal variation, efficiency rating, and (if you're at the top end of the market, or riding round in a 4x4, you need very deep pockets).
Tyres - possibly the most important component in any car (apart from, perhaps, the nut behind the wheel).  As Robert Mark explains:
(note: not the real Robert Mark ...)


The Dickies formed in Los Angeles in 1977.  Their debut gig was at the Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard, and were the beneficiaries of A&Ms search for something easier to handle than the recently paid-off Sex Pistols.
The Dickies musicality, stage entertainment, and growing following convinced A&M to give them a contract.
Now, it's true that The Dickies legend (if that is the correct term?) is built on their break-neck speed cover versions of tunes such as "Paranoid", "Nights In White Satin", "Sounds Of Silence", "Eve Of Destruction", "Silent Night" and more.  It's not helped by the fact that their biggest and best known hit was the childrens TV theme "Banana Splits (The Tra-La-La Song)".
Yet in the space of 18 months, they also managed two albums stuffed full of their own tunes.  And very good they are too.
However, internal fighting, loss of band members and management, as well as their record contract expiring meant it would be 2 full years before a third album appeared - by that time, the musical landscape and their original audience had moved on.
But they re-grouped and kept ploughing on, releasing albums where a label would give them support, and playing support slots to bands who cited them as an influence.

Their second album 'Dawn Of The Dickies' was released in 1979 and includes their cover of "Nights In White Satin".  Whilst only modestly successful on release, with it's irreverence, sound, and focus on melody, it stands today (along with the debut 'The Incredible Shrinking Dickies') as a direct line to the later Punk bands to emerge from LA, including Green Day and The Offspring who both cite The Dickies as major influences. 

Track 3 is titled "Manny, Moe and Jack" and is basically an advert for their mates garage:

When your on the road
and your car wont pull that load
and your wheels aren’t feeling fine
Well I know of this joint
where they’ll check your plugs and points
I know these guys they're three good friends of mine

Manny Moe and Jack
They know what I’m after
Manny Moe and Jack
They Know what I’m after
They're Manny Moe and Jack

Once your inside
they wont take you for a ride
they got a good deal for you and your automobile
for the right price
they will sell you fuzzy dice
and leather hand grips for your steering wheel

If its tires you want they got a lot for you
Dunlop, Firestone, Pirelli too

Many Moe and Jack
They know what I’m after

Monday 8 May 2023

The Search For New Music

When I started listening to and buying music, there was 20+ years of the past to supplement the current offerings.  At this point everything is new (even if it is old).  A regular balance of old and new began to fill my shelves.

And then as one settles into a preferred style or genres, the new becomes the focus and discoveries of the past become more focussed.  Like when such-and-such releases a new album and you realise that you don't own the back catalogue (or selected parts of it) - this is where mid-price re-issues come into their own, allowing the latecomer to build a collection at a reduced cost.  And then in the internet age, the simplicity of Amazon Marketplace and MusicMagpie makes the "gap filling" even easier.

But I can't help noticing that a lot of new stuff that arrives and I get overly excited about is the latest album from an established name.

Over the last 5 years (off the top of my head) has seen the new names appear on my spreadsheet:

  • Public Service Broadcasting
  • The Strypes
  • First Aid Kit
  • The Vaccines
  • Parquet Courts
  • Trembling Bells
  • White Denim
  • Fontaines DC
  • Mattiel
  • Sam Fender
  • Chubby & The Gang
  • Hamish Hawk
  • Yard Act
  • Block 33
  • Wet Leg
  • Humdrum Express
  • Massive Wagons
  • Sports Team
  • Big Joanie
Fine names, and fine albums released and thoroughly enjoyed.
But ... in that time period, I have bought around 200 CDs , the 19 names above represent about 10% of the total.
Even ignoring the relentless gap filling and back catalogue buying, I reckon it's still only 25% that is from new artists.

So what does it all mean?  Nothing really - it's all music, and very good music too.  I'm just concerned that (a) I might be missing something, or (b) maybe there isn't that much new (which appeals to my taste) out there.

I have a subscription to Mojo, trawl various websites and blogs for recommendations, and listen intently to 6Music hoping for inspiration.  It does happen, just not as often as it did in my younger days.
Is there less new stuff around, or have my tastes dictated that there is little worth investigating as I settle back to enjoy so-and-sos debut album from 1984 ... for the 973rd time.

And the slightly more sobering thought - many of those I have purchased, seen live, followed in print, and generally advocated to anyone who'll listen are now nearing (or passed) the generally accepted retirement age of 65 to 67, and may well be thinking of stepping back taking it easy and enjoying a quiet life.

The quest continues ... I'm sure it's out there, but like some Grail I must continue to search.
There must be some New somewhere ...

Oh I'm looking around, but I ain't hit the spot
I need three minutes now that'll make my heart stop
Oh so tell me that it's too late
It's a race against the clock
But I'm still looking around
I'm searching for the sacred scrolls of pop

Tuesday 2 May 2023

Glen Matlock - Consequences Coming

Glen Matlock wrote the songs for the Sex Pistols.  When he left the band / was ousted from the band (depending on which version of the story you go for - Glen's version or the legend) he retained a relationship with EMI leading to an outlet for his new band The Rich Kids.  The album 'Ghosts Of Princes In Towers' was prime power-pop harking back to Glen's infatuation with Small Faces and 60s Mod, but was scuppered by production.  Mick Ronson basically turned the faders up to full and left them there.  The album was "recorded" rather than "produced".
Within a year The Rich Kids started falling apart and Midge Ure and Rusty Egan decamped to Visage (with Billy Currie and Steve Strange) and effectively set the template for New Romanticism.
He may not have had the highest profile solo career, but he has kept himself busy with the writing of a memoir (I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol - he got in there quick to tell his side of the story, and the book still sits as an essential text in the story), plenty of session and sideman work including Iggy Pop, Faces, Sex Pistols reformations, King Mob, and most recently Blondie.  He's also kept his own name out there (albeit at a small-scale level) with his own solo outings - the last of which was 'Good To Go' in 2018.

Since that album there have been 2 major events that feed into this album.  The first being Brexit - he is an outspoken opponent of Brexit, and the Covid pandemic.  Whilst his opinions on the latter are not as vociferous as the former, his position as a touring musician (ie where most of his income is from) was in suspension.
So taking the frustration of the former and using the time given by the latter has produced 13 songs with something to say, and a bunch of riffs helping the message along.  
Plus his address book affords a guest list that anyone would be pleased with including Earl Slick (David Bowie sideman), Clem Burke (Blondie tub thumper), Neal X (Sigue Sigue Sputnick / Iggy Pop) and bass duties by Nornan Watt-Roy.

"Head On A Stick" and "Consequences Coming" open the album fully charged and railing.  But next track "Magic Carpet Rides" drops the levels.  All good songs (including an unexpected cover of kd lang's "Constant Craving".
It is side 2 (in old money) where the album picks up speed again with a duffer-free run of 6 tracks - the prime picks being "Face In A Crowd" and "The Ship".
Musically it's a mix of a 70s Rock sound (no doubt inspired by his love of Faces and Humble Pie) plus a bit of Slade thrown in and a Rockabilly swing throughout.  My only real criticism is Glen's voice - it's a good voice, and good for the song styles here.  But mate, you're from West London.  Why the mid-Atlantic singing voice?
A minor quibble for an otherwise consistent quality album - he wrote the songs 40 odd years ago, and is still capable of penning a catchy little number with a message.  It just may not get the same audience (either now or in future years).

Head On A Stick

Face In A Crowd

The Ship

Saturday 15 April 2023

Bonus Tracks, Bonus Discs, Live Versions, Demos, Postcards, Cuddly Toy ...

The first commercial CD was released in late 1982.  Since then, Record Companies have found ever more inventive ways to entice buyers into buying (again) what they already own.
I'm sure like most others I have re-bought much of my vinyl collection on CD, but if the price is right (or if the package is right) I will continue to fill gaps in the collection, or even start new collections that I never knew I needed.

But once the duo-ownership of vinyl and CD is satisfied, surely no-one is mug enough to buy the stuff again?

Guilty m'lud ...

I own 13 different versions of Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks'.
There are other releases which fall into the multiple ownership category, but this one represents the peak.

My owning Carter USM's '30 Something' on vinyl, picture disc, cassette and CD has now been extended with the procurement of the 3 CD + 1 DVD 30th Anniversary Box Set.
It contains the album, a second disc of B-Sides and Live recording, a full live show from Kilburn in December 1991, and a DVD (In Bed With Carter) of a Brixton Academy show from June 1991.
A very nice package, and good to have all the pieces together in a single box.

How often will I revisit the extras and/or watch the DVD?

I also recently visited a record fair where I plugged gaps in the CD collection, took a punt on a couple of bands that I've heard good things about (The Rockingbirds, and Big Big Train), and found the 2nd and 3rd Beatles Anthology discs at a decent price.
I now own all 3 Anthology sets - again (like Carter USM above) nice to have on the shelf, but will I ever put aside 2 or 3 hours to listen through?

Many early CDs were straight copies of the vinyl masters pressed onto a 5" shiny disc, later came expansions with contemporary singles, maybe a couple of live tracks, and/or radio session versions.
And then came advances in recording technology where the Masters could be re-visited, cleaned-up and re-mastered to sound better on CD (OK, you do need good ears to hear some differences, but reading the phrase "Digitally Remastered" psychologically suggests you're getting something new (the bass higher in the mix, an unheard crash cymbal, clearer vocal tracks as "bleed" is removed, maybe even some background dialogue).
And then comes the 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th, or 50th Anniversary Editions - these milestones need marking somehow, so what is a record company to do with each subsequent release.  The album has been re-mastered, singles added, live shows compiled ... where next?
Time to plunder the archives for whatever is hiding in the dark corners, exhume it and press it onto extra discs.  Maybe even place it in a special box with added ephemera and tat.

So you "invest" in the new anniversary edition with bonus discs full of unheard tracks - a nice package to own but how often do the extras get an airing?
Where the expansion is simple (ie singles and B-Sides tacked on the end of the album) then these will probably get an outing as much as the album itself.
Live Discs may get a re-visit, but demos and alternate takes probably only one listen to say "I've heard it" then back in the case.  This is the same for DVDs - probably only once, and then I can't be bothered with the faff of extracting from the CD shelf in one room and playing it on the DVD player in another room (plus the fact that it will soon be on Youtube anyway ...).

But ... there may be an exception.  Jim Bob (back to Carter USM again ... see I do think these passages through) is about to release a new album in June.  If I pre-order now (which I have done) it comes shipped as a 2 CD set with a second disc of cover versions.
CArter USMs take on cover versions threw up some interesting choices and arrangements, and I'm expecting Jim Bob's take to be no different, and I'm sure this extra disc will get more than a cursory listen and a return to it's packaging.

In mid-1987, The Smiths announced they were to split after 5 years of relative success with their final album 'Strangeways Here We Come' to follow in September of that year.
The mood of 'Strangeways ...' probably sums up where the band members were wit the breakdown of personal relationships, the old chestnut "musical differences", Johnny Marr wanted to change the sound of the band to the point of having no guitar on "A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours".
It's not a complete shift from the jingle-jangle of old, and does come complete with Morrissey's pseudo-intellectual, 6th Form, literary references peppering the lyrics.

The debate continues whether 'Strangeways ...' is their best album - I believe that it is.  Despite the breakdown in relationships, I think the songs are amongst the strongest and most representative (if not pulling from a broader palette) of the bands career, and the production is fuller than before - almost like it has some production work rather than sounding muffled or like bits were recorded in a tin can
(a harsh criticism, but I hope you see what I'm getting at ...)

Mid-way through side 2, there is a song where Morrissey imagines the conversation of record company execs following the death of their income stream (sorry, recording artiste).
With a cry of "Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!", it is a scathing and idealistic commentary on the likely exploitation and cash-in that will come when a star is no longer recording but the return on investment must be protected.
And here's the irony - The Smiths had already released 2 compilations in their short life (3 if you count the (originally intended) US compilation that got a UK release, plus a live album.
And then there have been 7 more compilations since 1992 - 10 compilations vs 5 studio albums, a ratio of 2:1 in the re-packaging stakes.  Morrissey solo has a ratio of 1:1 with 14 compilations vs 14 studio albums.

"But you could have said no
If you'd wanted to
You could have said no
If you'd wanted to"

Did Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce (and Gannon) say "no"?  There is one compilation - 'The Very Best Of The Smiths' - that the band have distanced themselves from.  Though there is at least one - 'The Sound Of The Smiths' - that both Morrissey and Marr were involved in the assembly.
In Morrissey's defence, many of his compilations have come as a result of constantly changing record company and the need to meet contractual obligations.
But is his next album to be a Best Of The Best Ofs?

The Smiths - Paint a Vulgar Picture

Thursday 30 March 2023

Join The Professionals

The Morris company (originally named WRM Motors) was formed by William Morris in 1912 who expanded his bicycle manufacturing to cars and set up home in Cowley, Oxford.  It's first production model was the Morris Oxford Bullnose (so called due to the rounded front grille).
A larger model, sporting more luxuries (such as proper doors) was introduced and titled the Morris Cowley after the factory it was made in.
After World War I, Morris expanded it's interests buying up subsidiaries in engine manufacturer, body parts, military vehicles, and other marque names.
After World War II, Morris looked to replaced it's Eight and Ten vehicles with a new, relatively low cost vehicle.  Morris designer Alec Issigonis set about the task, and in 1952 the Morris Minor was launched.
The Cowley production line busied itself to meet demand for the new vehicle, and also rolled out the larger (similarly shaped) Morris Oxford and Morris Cowley (again, and up-rated variant of the base Oxford)

In 1952, Morris merged with close rival Austin - based in Longbridge, Birmingham - to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC).  There may also have been some political intervention in this merger as Leonard Lord (Head of Austin) and Lord Nuffield (Head of Morris) weren't exactly close friends.
Austin may have been seen as the dominant partner, but it was Morris who had the best selling car (the Minor) and the most productive factory (Cowley).
Two major shifts occurred in 1959.  Italian styling house Pininfarina overhauled the Austin/Morris range and the identical (but subtly different in interior) Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford (but no Morris Cowley upgrade) came of the production line.
Why Austin Cambridge?  Morris Oxford you can understand - it's the hometown.  But Austin had no links with Cambridge.  Maybe the Austin Birmingham just didn't have the right ring to it.
Also in 1959, the Cowley plant was tooled up for the production of the Morris Mini Minor (at the same time, Longbridge manufactured the Austin Se7en.
The Mini name won out, and production continued in parralel with Longbridge until 1969 when Cowley was re-tooled again for the Austin/Morris 1100, followed by the Morris Marina (and later Ital) and the Austin Princess.
After British Leylands industrial failings of the late 70s, and it's reputation for low build quality was harming sales, a deal was done with Honda to co-design and co-build cars.  Cowley was chosen as the venue for the first fruits of this partnership - the Triumph Acclaim - and continued with production of the Rover 200, 400 and 800 series.  Also on the production line were the Austin Maestro and Montego - envisaged as the saviour of the Austin-Rover Group, but again harmed by build quality and reputation.
By 1988, the Rover Group was sold to British Aerospace, who in turn (in 1994) sold out to BMW.
By 2000, BMW retained the Mini name (and the Cowely Plant) and sold off the remainder of the Rover Group.  The Cowley Plant was redeveloped and re-named Plant Oxford, and now produces solely the Mini (in it's many variants).

In 1977, ITV launched a new Police-based drama - The Professionals.  Set in the Police Department CI5 - a unit that sat somewhere between the Metropolitan Police and MI5, and invariably busied itself with terrorists threats, kidnapping, and driving Ford Capris very fast around the Docklands area.
It was led by Commander Crowley, and it's 2 chief protagonists were Bodie and Doyle.
The forenames of the characters were rarely - if ever - spoken (even though they are listed on wikipedia), I like to believe that the first name of Cowley was Morris.

Also in 1977, the Sex Pistols effectively peaked having a Number 2 single (some argue it was Number 1) with "God Save The Queen", and a Number 1 album in the shape of 'Never Mind The Bollocks' - which despite all the hype, hoo-hah, and general blowing of smoke, still ranks as one of te greatest rock albums ever released.
By January 1978, the band effectively fell apart on stage in San Fransico.  John Lydon returned to England (with the assistance of Warner Bros records, as Malcolm McLaren basically cut him off) and began assembling Public Image Limited, Sid Vicious continued his descent into heroin addiction and cartoon punk buffonery, and Steve Jones and Paul Cook flew to  Rio de Janeiro to record with Ronnie Biggs.
Returning to England, Cook and Jones busied themselves with recording and re-recording tracks for the film The Great Rock n Roll Swindle - session bassist Andy Allan was brought in to assist.
By 1979, John Lydon's court case against McLaren and The Sex Pistols begun in the High Court - upon hearing how McLaren had funneled the bands money into the film project without approval, Cook and Jones switched to Lydon's side of the fence, winning back control over their legacy.
Cook and Jones, no longer able to operate under the Sex Pistols name they once again turned to Andy Allan to form The Professionals, and Virgin Records retained the contracts.
Granted it wasn't a big jump from the Sex Pistols latter template (could it be anything else, it was the same people continuing to do what they knew best), 2 singles were released and although only scraped the charts, there seemed to be enough interest to continue (plus Virgin wanted a return on it's investment).  However plans for a full album were nixed when it transpired that Andy Allan was not under contract to Virgin and filed a lawsuit claiming unpaid royalties.  Allan was replaced in the band by Paul Myers (bass) and Ray McVeigh (guitar), and the foursome set about re-recording all the tracks to prevent any further royalty payments due.
With the legal disputes ongoing, it was 6 months before another single was released from the re-recording sessions for the album.  Again, low sales saw a downturn in The Professionals mood, and with Jones and Myers deepening heroin addiction and new producer Nigel Gray losing interest in the album project, the resultant album 'I Didn't See It Coming' was maybe not in-line with early expectations and promise.  In retrospect it is a very good album - a bit formulaic perhaps, and some of the songs maybe needing a bit of extra work.
The Professionals de-camped to America for a 6 week tour in support of an album that neither they nor thew audience were particularly impressed with.  Part way through the Tour, the band (minus Steve Jones) were involved in a car crash which placed them in hospital before returning to Britain and disbanded.
The Professionals reformed in 2015 for a one-off show (without Steve Jones, now permanently resident in America), and again in 2016 for a benefit show for Steve New of The Rich Kids.
The following year, Paul Cook and Tom Spencer reformed The Professionals and 2 further albums have seen the light of day since then.

Join The Professionals

The Magnificent

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


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.