Monday, 25 July 2022

A wedding presence

Today, my firstborn - known to these pages as TheMadster - is getting married. The whole shebang has been delayed by a year for reasons you're all more than aware of, but I suspect the wait will be worth it. Now, I'm not one for parties at all these days, but I am willing to make an exception for this one.

By way of marking the occasion here, I'm offering up a few tunes for the happy couple. First up, one for the bride, who as you may know, is a big Frank Turner fan. I will be walking her down the aisle to this:

Her groom - who is known in these parts as TheEmster - is into EDM. Never mind, eh. His favourite track of all time is this one:

For my part, I've delved into the archives. I was working in Our Price when Goodbye Mr Mackenzie released their second album 'Hammer And Tongs'. I remember we were all mildly amused by it's front cover. One of its singles was this track. The video features Big John Duncan as a priest and Shirley Manson as a bride. What's not to like?

And finally, as if the point needs proving that there's always a Half Man Half Biscuit song for every occasion, here's the four lads from The Wirral and a song from their 2003 mini-album 'Saucy Haulage Ballads'. It references 16th Century Renaissance composers, 18th Century British Prime Ministers, and, erm, a former Liverpool goalie. Typical HMHB, then...

To the Bride and Groom!

Sunday, 3 July 2022


This one appeared on a playlist while I was cooking a couple weeks ago. TheMadster was visiting. She and MrsRobster sauntered into the kitchen and the three of us just sang and danced through the entire thing. We don't sing well, we dance even less well, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Quite frankly one of the best rock songs of all time sung by one of the best rock voices of all time. A shame then that the video is one of the cheesiest, corniest clips of all time. It looks like it was made on a budget of a few cents and a box of Twinkies.

Does it feel like I'm getting all nostalgic of late? Maybe something is making me realise how old I'm getting, how fast time is passing, how sometimes looking back at the past just feels more comforting than looking towards the future. Mind, I think we all feel like that these days. I hate nostalgia and wish it didn't influence the opinions and actions of so many people, but I can understand it, I suppose.

Yes, something is happening that might be responsible for my sentimental musings, but that will be revealed in my next post in a few weeks time. Pretty sure Edge Of Seventeen will get an airing though. In the meantime, here's someone new-ish who is not only influenced a bit by the great Stevie Nicks, but sounds a little like her too. We'll be seeing Katy J Pearson in the autumn. Her new album is due this week, but here's a track from her wonderful debut, 2020's 'Return'.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

As Cud as it gets

I noticed recently that Cud are touring in the autumn and are playing in Newport, no less. This prompted me to dig out my Cud records and play them for the first time in far too many years. They still sound great.

Through The Roof was a particular fave. It was a song I learnt to play on guitar, and I even gave it a solo airing during an acoustic show me and the singer of the band I was in at the time once played. Cud's original was far superior. The video was shot during a festival in Cadiz and is one of the most joyful things you'll see this week.

I bought Neurotica on CD single when it came out. It was taken from the band's final studio album 'Showbiz' and, my word, what a transformation. The big, bold sound probably alienated some early fans, but this track, with its chorus refrain of "Lacerate me, lacerate me", was a proper forerunner of the Britpop anthems we would be exposed to over the next few years. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's a great track.

I recently had a discussion with Graham The Bear from Goldie Looking Chain in the record shop he works at in which he lamented the bands who broke up too early and how huge they could have been. Cud were one of those bands who he reckoned, had they stuck around for one more record, would have been superstars. On the strength of 'Showbiz', he could well be right.

Cud reformed in 2008. While they've never followed up 'Showbiz', they have released a handful of new songs, including this sparkling little gem. No, it's not a cover of the Kinks' Victoria (though I'm sure you remember their fine rendition of Lola from back in the day...), but it is mighty fine. Who can resist a lyric that includes the couplet "I made a very groovy compilation / To play at a joyful immolation"?

As much as I love that, I do get a few weird Hi Ho Silver Lining vibes from it... Brrrr!

Sunday, 22 May 2022


A few days ago I was left alone in the house. This is unusual. Not because I need to be supervised at all times (though some people may argue that I do), but just because there's more often than not someone home at the same time as me. On this occasion though, everyone went out to do stuff and I decided I had better things to do at home. Like play records loudly!

During my vinyl binge, I dug out my copy of 'Chemicrazy', the fourth studio album by That Petrol Emotion. It's a record I've always enjoyed since my days working in Our Price where I first heard it shortly after its release in 1990. While never achieving huge commercial success, TPE have long since been regarded as a huge influence in the indie and alternative scenes ever since, in both the UK and US.

Hey Venus! and Sensitize are both fantastic singles, and yes, I did have a bit of a jump around to them while they played on my turntable... The videos below look dated to say the least, but they are such great songs, you really don't need the visuals.

Fun fact: according to their Wikipedia page, prior to recruiting US vocalist Steve Mack, a certain chap by the name of Paul Whitehouse unsuccessfully auditioned for the role. Yes, this Paul Whitehouse...

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Dangerous Times (side two)

Today we look at the other half of the songs R.E.M. would pen and perform in their first few months together. Those very early gigs often contained quite a few covers, but gradually more original material was written and made it into the live sets. By the end of the year, most of the band's set consisted of originals.

On 4th October, they played a second consecutive night at local venue Tyrone's OC, a place where they would become increasingly familiar over the next 12 months. Among the set that night were songs that were played during their very first set at St. Mary's Church in April, a few newer tunes and a sprinkling of covers. Observers of the band's earliest shows note the vast improvement of the performances over a very short period. By October, just six months since their debut, they were altogether tighter and slicker. They remained fast and furious - they didn't do slow songs in those days - and occasionally a little ramshackle, but the seeds were beginning to sprout.

Today's selection of tunes is taken from that Tyrone's show and features 8 more of their very earliest songs, including four they played at their first show - I Can Only Give You Everything, Action, Schéhérazade and Lisa Says. The other four include two songs that would become among their most loved numbers over the next few years.

The quality of this recording is significantly better than the cassette-sourced stuff I posted on Friday, so I haven't had to tinker much with it at all. I've attempted to remove the audience sound (with mixed results), and I've cropped the beginning of Schéhérazade during which Stipe is heard shouting greetings to audience members. There's still one left in - to someone called Kathleen - which I was unable to edit out. Finally, the original tape drops out at the end of Gardening At Night and I have no other material available to attempt a reconstruction, so I've faded it out.

That aside, it's still a fascinating document of where R.E.M. were at the time. There were very vague shades of what was to come, but in general, they were an extremely energetic garage rock band yet to hone the skills that would make them the biggest band on the planet by the end of the decade. Today's artwork features two more shots taken at R.E.M.'s very first show - Peter Buck on the front and Mike Mills on the back.

Grab it here

That's all for now.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Dangerous Times (side one)

This is something I planned and wrote last year but held back for an appropriate time. As it's Easter - a time associated with rebirth and new beginnings - it's as good a time as any. I suppose you could consider this post a sort of prequel to this one in which we looked at a totally hypothetical pre-'Murmur' debut album. This time though, we're going back even further...

During R.E.M.'s very earliest months in 1980, they wrote a whole host of songs. Most of them were never recorded, and many were long-forgotten by the time they recorded the 'Chronic Town' EP in 1981/2. It was the recording of that record that was my reference point for my pre-'Murmur' project, using songs that were a solid part of the band's live set around that time. However, it did mean a heap of earlier songs didn't get a look in - and that's where I'm coming from with this post.

I've decided to pull together all (or, at least, most) of the earliest self-penned songs R.E.M. performed in their first six months together. One or two of them became rather well known among those who bought their records. The others - well unless you're an uber-fan who seeks out obscure bootlegs from the band's embryonic phase, you won't have heard them before.

I've taken two of the earliest-known recordings of R.E.M. (maybe even THE earliest-known recordings) to provide an almost definitive guide to the band's very first songs. It's in two parts. Today, what is believed to be the earliest recording of the band. In July 1980, the band entered Jackson Street Rehearsal Studios in Athens to practice material for upcoming shows in Atlanta and North Carolina. A tape recorder was present. Eight songs were captured and later surfaced as the very first R.E.M. bootleg, a cassette called 'Slurred'. It's often noted that this recording was made at Wuxtry's, the record shop where Peter Buck worked, on 6th June, but while they did play there on that date, no recordings (if any exist) have ever made it into circulation. It's now widely accepted that this is the Jackson Street rehearsal.

Seven of these songs were performed at that first gig, with Just A Touch making its debut at their second show a fortnight later at the Kaffee Klub, the same day they decided to call themselves R.E.M. (after, fortunately, discarding other suggestions like Negro Eyes, Slut Bank, Africans In Bondage and Cans Of Piss!)

As you might expect, the sound quality isn't exactly top-notch, but I've had a little go at improving things. The opening track Dangerous Times is one of my favourites from the era but is incomplete on the tape - the first line is missing - so I've tried to "fix" it. The opening line is "These are dangerous times", which also happens to be the third line, so a little copy & paste puts that right. The opening snare hit has been added from an early live show at Tyrone's (which we'll get to in a day or two...), so it now sounds whole again, though be warned it is rather rough!. Otherwise, everything is as it appears on that tape, just with less hiss and a tad more oomph.

So here's "Side One" of 'Dangerous Times: the genesis of R.E.M.' presented as a single continuous MP3 as if ripped straight from vinyl. The artwork includes shots of Michael Stipe and Bill Berry at the debut St. Mary's show. Side two will follow on Easter Sunday...

Grab it here

Friday, 8 April 2022

Sally & Tommy & Tommy & Anna

Despite being a non-smoking, non-drinking, good-eating, mask-wearing, triple-vaxxed, generally fit and healthy dude, I somehow succumbed to 'The Vid' last week and have been isolating ever since. Yes, isolation is no longer mandatory; yes, the great British public thinks Covid is all over; but if I've managed to pick it up from somewhere (and lord only knows where), I'm not going to be responsible for spreading it like your average cretin. I work for the NHS, for gawd's sake.

Thankfully, I've not been terribly ill, a couple rough days but the rest just like a normal mild cold, albeit one that won't shift. For some reason, I've tested positive for 9 days straight, but that can happen apparently, even if I'm not infectious any more. By the time you read this, I should be out of isolation. Thank god - it's been quite boring being stuck in one room. MrsRobster probably wishes the garden shed wasn't so full of stuff as it would have been far better for her if I could have spent my isolation period out there!

Even though I've been working from home throughout the period, I've managed to find time to catch up on some stuff on Netflix. I also came across an old gem I've seen many times before but couldn't resist watching it again when I felt quite low at the seemingly never-ending run of positive LFTs I kept getting.

I can't remember how old I was when I first saw Tommy, but I was probably in my late teens. I loved it instantly. It's so audaciously over-the-top, exactly as a rock opera should be. Ken Russell was the perfect person for it, even though he hated rock music. I won't waffle on about it much as I'm sure all my readers know the story, but ever since I watched it again the other night, the songs have been floating in and out of my head like crazy.

This one was, apparently, the first seed of the story. While The Who were supporting The Doors on tour, Pete Townshend witnessed a girl in the crowd get injured when someone threw a chair. Jim Morrison apparently cleaned her wounds himself! So the story of Sally Simpson became the first song of what would ultimately become the greatest rock opera of all time.

It's a bit longer than the original album version from 1969, and some of the words were changed for the benefit of the movie (e.g. the Rolls Royce is blue in the original, black in the movie).

So many great stories have been told around the making of Tommy - hardly surprising when you consider the cast - and while some may well have been embellished, exaggerated or completely made up, they only add to the greatness of the thing.

And while we're on the subject of Tommy and greatness...

The final series of Peaky Blinders has just aired, very possibly one of the the top 5 TV shows the BBC has ever produced. I'm not going to give any spoilers or anything, but want to mention that, as in season 5, the wonderful Anna Calvi was largely responsible for the musical score and some of the songs that featured. If you've ever seen the show, you'll know it has an incredible soundtrack, and latter seasons have featured specially recorded songs as artists have flocked to be a part of it.

Calvi is about to release a 4-track EP of songs she recorded for season 6, entitled, rather appropriately, 'Tommy'. As well as her cover of the theme tune - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand - she also offers a take on Bob Dylan's All The Tired Horses, plus two new songs, including this. Inspired by a traditional American spiritual recorded by numerous artists, including the late, great Johnny Cash, Ain't No Grave sums up both Calvi's unerring knack of composing dark, atmospheric mini-masterpieces, and the ominous moods of Tommy Shelby's life.

Brilliant stuff.

For the record, the blog is not making a proper comeback, but I do have a special Easter treat for you next weekend, especially if you're a fan of early R.E.M. Stay tuned...

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Best of 2021 (part 4)

The final few...

PARQUET COURTS - 'Sympathy For Life'
Another act that eluded me for way too long, at least until I heard Walking At A Downtown Pace played on 6 Music. A variety of sounds permeate the NYC band's eighth album, but it's largely influenced by frontman Andrew Brown's newfound love of dance music and nightclubs. And while their familiar post-punk sound still finds its way to the fore, there's no doubt there's something rather danceable about these songs. They even sound like 'Remain In Light'-era Talking Heads in places.

LUMP - 'Animal'
Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay released their second set of songs and it continued the sounds and themes of their debut collaboration from a couple years back. Some really good songs on this one, and an interesting direction, far from the acoustic folk sounds both are known for in their full-time "jobs".

QUIVERS - 'Golden Doubt'
A lot of really good music coming out of Australia of late, and Quivers is another name to add to the growing list. Imagine taking all the best bits of the Go-Betweens and adding some US West Coast sunshine circa 1967 and you're pretty much there. Obviously our good friend Brian is all over this, and he's a man of impeccable taste.

With the pandemic making it difficult make a record with the Bad Seeds, Nick and Warren - who are practically joined at the hip nowadays - made their first non-soundtrack record as a duo. I have to say, I prefer it over the last two Bad Seeds efforts. Minimalist and electronic, it also sounds as menacing as some of Nick's best work. White Elephant is the highlight for me - laced with references to recent political and social events and concluding with a rapturous epiphany.

Honorable mentions well worth checking out (in alphabetical order):

DJANGO DJANGO - 'Glowing In The Dark'
FOO FIGHTERS - 'Medicine At Midnight'
GOAT GIRL - 'On All Fours'
ICEAGE - 'Seek Shelter'
JAMES - 'All The Colours Of You' (recommended by MrsRobster)
PIP BLOM - 'Welcome Break'
SQUID - 'Bright Green Field'

And to round off, a song that has proven to be the biggest surprise hit of the year. With only four songs released to date, this lot will likely take over the world when their self-titled debut album is released in 2022. So if you haven't heard this already, you're probably dead. It's brill.

I'm off to my burrow again. There will be a few sporadic pieces cropping up here from time to time throughout the next 12 months, but a full return is certainly not imminent. See you whenever, have a good 2022.

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Best of 2021 (part 3)

OK, after last week's all female selection, it's time to give the fellas a look-in. Here's four more excellent records that have lit me up over the past 12 months.

IDLES - 'Crawler'
If you thought all Idles did was make loud shouty politically-correct punk songs, think again, for 'Crawler' sees the band make quite a dramatic shift in their approach. Yes, the shouty punk songs are still there, but you also get dark electronica, discomforting soul and, in Progress, something so haunting and ominous, it sounds like another band entirely. It's arguably their most triumphant attempt at experimentation and production. Trust me, put the headphones on and turn this one up. Stunning, possibly my favourite Idles moment to date.

THE CORAL - 'Coral Island'
The 10th album from our favourite Scousers has drawn comparisons to classic 60s records like 'The Village Green Preservation Society' by The Kinks, and the Small Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake', and it is a concept record crammed to the brim with the band's trademark psychedelic folk. Telling the story of a fictional seaside town and its people, it features narration from Ian Murrary, none other than the grandfather of the Coral's own Skelly brothers James and Ian. Some cracking songs on this, but then it is The Coral after all.

GRUFF RHYS - 'Seeking New Gods'
It would, of course, be remiss of me not to include at least one album from the Land of Song in my rundown, and there can be no finer ambassador than Gruff, who delivered one of the best solo records of his career. Rather oddly (which itself is perhaps not surprising), it's influenced by Mount Paektu in North Korea and was recorded partly in the Mojave desert and partly in, erm, Bristol... Wherever they come from, the songs on 'Seeking New Gods' are pretty damn infectious.

LIARS - 'The Apple Drop'
You never quite know what you're going to get from Liars. They lurch from style-to-style, often during the same record, with little regard for genre or theme. While that can be said to some extent of their 10th album, it all seems to hold together pretty well and contains some really good songs. It's like dark, synth-infused post punk with traces of Nick Cave and 'Kid A'-era Radiohead thrown in. It's certainly, for me, their most enjoyable record since 2014's 'Mess'.

More next Sunday. Merry Christmas.