Tuesday 31 January 2023

Jaguar Mark 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 16 January 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 10 January 2023

I'd go the whole wide world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whole Wide World

Wednesday 4 January 2023

Riding in a 3 Grand Deutsche Car

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

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

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

The 600 came in three main variants:

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

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

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

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

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

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