Monday, 18 September 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#26: Shivers

Now, the first thing to point out here is that Shivers was not actually written by Nick Cave. It was penned by Rowland S. Howard who brought it to Boys Next Door when he joined the band. The reason I'm including it in this series is because of Nick's vocal. My god, it's incredible, isn't it? This was released in 1979 when Nick was but a mere lad, yet it remains one of his greatest vocals. Shivers closed The Boys Next Door's debut LP 'Door Door', an album Nick once described as "complete wank." Certainly side one is the sound of a young band churning out basic three chord punk songs, but side two - recorded after Howard came on board - hinted at what would happen as they morphed into The Birthday Party.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Alvvays and forever...

Absolutely loving this new song by Alvvays. It's from their new album 'Antisocialites' and was apparently influenced by supporting the Jesus & Mary Chain. Which begs the question: if this is an ode to Jim, where's William's ode?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Reggae Wednesday

You know, I might be labouring for material, but I feel like I could continue this series forever. After 20 instalments though, I think it's time for a break. After all, summer's technically over , even though the best sustained period of goodweather we've had this year has been over the last three weeks. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I thing September has to be it.

To conclude things then, we get a London-born, Jamaican-raised singer with a track boasting a production by the legendary Harry J, an arrangement by last week's Reggae Wednesday stars Sly & Robbie and the writing genius of, erm, Sting. Well, let's be fair here, Sting was actually pretty good once upon a time.

Sheila Hylton released more than 25 singles between 1976 and 1983, but there was just the one, self-titled album in 1979. Its follow-up 'Steppin' arrived some 27 years later in 2006 and since then - nowt. She enjoyed a UK Top 40 hit in 1981 with a cover of The Police's Bed's Too Big Without You. It doesn't deviate too much from the original, keeping Sting's distinctive bassline and the minimal instrumentation. This is the original full-length 12" version.

And as a special bonus, here she is performing the song on Top Of The Pops back in 1981:

Monday, 4 September 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #7

Wolf Alice
The Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd - 21 August 2017
Support: Head Noise

Wolf Alice? At a small local arts centre in the Welsh valleys? Nope, I didn't dream it. Wolf Alice really are playing some tiny venues you've probably never heard of in the lead up to the release of the second album in September. The last time I saw them was in the tiny Cardiff venue The Globe just before they released their debut. Since then they've been all over the place playing to huge crowds around the world, doing TV and radio and have generally been adored. They've already sold out some of their larger-venue tour in October so the chance to see them again in a small space was just too much to resist. Tickets were scarce (only 200 available) and quite difficult to get but I snapped up three - one each for MrsRobster and I and one for TheMadster as the show was taking place on her 20th birthday! Two of my colleagues Neil and Pete were there too.

The Muni was saved from closure by a consortium of investors and reopened in its current form as a charitable concern in 2015. That's a good thing as it is a really nice little space, ideally suited to gigs. It was our first visit, but Neil regaled the tale about tagging along with a friend who had a free ticket to a show there once. Neil was too embarrassed at first to reveal who he'd seen, but later confessed to it being "the singer from Dr Hook." So not even Dr Hook then, just the singer...

Local bands have been given the opportunity to support during this tour and tonight was the turn of Head Noise from Cardiff. Here are three young guys who soooo desperately wish it was the 80s. The singer in particular looked like he should have been in The Goonies. He even played a bloody keytar. Sadly, they didn't do it for any of us. Maybe the excitement of the occasion was too much, maybe they had too much fizzy pop before going onstage, but they sounded shambolic and untogether. Their recordings sound a little better (even if it's not my thing at all - I never much cared for 80s synthy stuff in the 80s, I sure as hell don't like most of the 21st century derivatives) so perhaps you're better off listening to some of them over at their Bandcamp page than take my word for it. However, their attempt at covering the Chemical Brothers' Hey Boy, Hey Girl (with a verse of Get Free by the Vines woven in) was absolutely woeful. I cannot give them any benefit of any doubt whatsoever for that one!

For the record though - I LOVED The Goonies. Like, who didn't?

Wolf Alice kicked off with a new track - Don't Delete The Kisses - followed by a couple of old familiar ones before launching into the raucous (and somewhat hilariously-titled) Yuk Foo, the lead single from the new album. And that set the tone for the night really - a set of crowd pleasers interspersed with new songs, some of which hadn't been heard yet. My personal highlights were You're A Germ, Moaning Lisa Smile and Yuk Foo.

pic by TheMadster
But here's the rub - Wolf Alice are an exceptional band. They have some really good songs and make some great sounds, and live they can certainly kick into another gear and ratchet things up a level. Yet neither of the times I've seen them have they made me go 'wow'. They've not blown me away, and I think they're the kind of band who ought to. I can't explain it - and I'm certain most of the (admittedly very young) audience there were completely blown away - but I still yearn for that moment even 29 years after my very first live show. And it still does happen now and again, just not this time.

But this show does have its significance. Wolf Alice came on stage at 9:30pm. Exactly 20 years earlier at that exact time, TheMadster came onto life's great stage in the maternity unit at North Devon District Hospital. MrsRobster summed up the moment. "I just thought as they came on stage that this was the moment you dreamed of 20 years ago," she told me. "That she'd be at a gig with us and say 'I'm going in the mosh pit'." It wasn't Madster's first gig, and it wasn't even her first mosh pit, but MrsRobster (as usual) is so right. For that alone, this show will stay long in my memory.

And TheMadster herself? Well, following a day dragging her boyfriend round the shops (during which she picked up Wolf Alice's first record on vinyl), she drank vodka, joined the sweaty masses in the pit, took some photos and bought a t-shirt. Sounds like a pretty damn good birthday to me!

Friday, 1 September 2017

No Plan

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the blog is becoming a bit of a chore right now. That said, I don't want to end it as it does act as something of a release for the (very limited) creative side in me. It does mean, however, that I'm going to make it less regimented. You'll probably find a decrease in the number of posts I make here and fewer series. I want to be more sporadic and only post when I have something to say, rather than feel I have to continue a series until I reach a certain number of posts.

Well, that's the plan - for now, anyway. So some weeks I may post three or four things, other weeks may yield nothing. The plan is no plan. Well if it's OK with Mr Bowie it's OK by me...

This song was written by Bowie for the Lazarus musical where it is performed by teenager Sophia Anne Caruso in her role as 'Girl'. She made her debut in the part aged just 14! The full cast recording was made shortly after her 15th birthday. OK, so it's a little bit stage-school in its delivery, but theatre is supposed to be different to rock & roll, isn't it.

Couple of things to come next week so stay tuned for that...

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Sly & Robbie are probably the most successful and prolific duo in reggae music history. Someone once estimated they've played in excess of 200,000 tracks together, not including remixes! Of course, many of those were as backing musicians for some of reggae's biggest names, but they are still going (their latest album came out earlier this year), so they may well be heading towards a significantly higher number by now. To date they've put out more than 70 albums since 1979.

During the mid-to-late 80s, they went down a more commercial, electronic direction, even enjoying a UK #12 hit with Boops (Here To Go). But as with so much music of that time, it has not dated well.

1984's 'Reggae Greats (A Dub Experience)' is widely regarded as one of the best dub records of all time. That is very high praise when you consider they have peers like Scientist, Mad Professor and Lee 'Scratch' Perry who have all been as equally prolific over the years (though Perry has been at it for quite a while longer). Demolition City definitely sounds like something that inspired 'Screamadelica'-era Primal Scream. Some of the remixes that were spawned from that album sounded not unlike this.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

One of my favourite reggae artists this week. Ewart Beckford was dubbed U-Roy by a young child relative who couldn't pronounce his name properly. He pioneered the toasting vocal style and was hailed as one of the most unique artists of his genre. Some say he changed reggae music for good during the early 70s.

Originally a DJ, toasting over other people's records, he was spotted by Paragons singer John  Holt who landed him a recording session. A version of the Paragons' The Tide Is High was one of a number of singles that followed, many of which featured on his first album release 'Version Galore' in 1971. In 1975, U-Roy's third album 'Dread In A Babylon' became a surprise hit in the UK. The following year saw 'Natty Rebel', perhaps his finest moment, hit the shelves. It got him international renown and another four albums came out before the decade was over.

As reggae became more and more electronic and digitised, U-Roy remained true to his roots and continued to make great-sounding records that still sound timeless. His last album to date was 2012's 'Pray Fi Di People' which has some wonderful tracks on it and features the likes of Marcia Griffiths and Horace Andy. But today I've gone for something from that classic fourth album. Babylon Burning is such a great song which makes me think of Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Listen to it and you'll know what I mean. Tell 'em, Roy!

Friday, 18 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #20

This might be the last post in the series. It might not. The future of the blog has been up in the air for some time now. I'm running very short of ideas and I'm feeling less and less inspired, less and less motivated and less and less excited about the whole thing. This series should have enthused me, but while it started out strong, it has frustrated me a few times and as it has gone on I've found it harder to continue. To be frank - it's all becoming a bit of a chore and, perhaps worse, a bit of a bore also. Yeah yeah, I know, I've said this all before. I'll probably find another second wind from somewhere and get back to business as usual...

So here's what's happening: after today, there's going to be a bit of a hiatus while MrsRobster and I enjoy a late summer break. The Reggae Wednesday series will continue as I have the last few instalments already written and prepared. In September I'll think again. I have loads of great things to share which would keep this series going up to Christmas at least, it's just whether I can be arsed to write about them. The blog needs a new focus if it's to continue, something that I enjoy doing. I don't really know what that is at the moment though, so we'll see.

In the meantime, to bring the series to a (maybe temporary, maybe permanent) close, we're going back to where we started - that very early Tyrone's gig from October 1980 that to date remains the earliest known recording of R.E.M. in circulation. Three songs all with very different futures ahead of them. Dangerous Times was a favourite of R.E.M.'s early live sets and may have been demoed once or twice, but it didn't survive long once the band's songwriting had moved on. As far as their earliest material goes, Dangerous Times isn't bad but it's hardly up there with Gardening At Night.

All The Right Friends did make it onto record. Although credited to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, it was actually written by Buck and Stipe before they'd even met Mills and Berry. The song was originally recorded for 'Murmur' but not used. That version later appeared on the European reissue of 'Dead Letter Office' a decade later. During the 'Reckoning' sessions, the band gave it another go but again it was discarded. A third attempt was made for 'Lifes Rich Pageant' and once more it was passed over. The 25th Anniversary reissue of 'LRP' contains that one. Finally, in 2001, one final attempt was made, more than 21 years after it was written. Having been asked at very short notice to provide a song for the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, the band recorded All The Right Friends (with new lyrics) and deemed it good enough to issue. What you're getting here though is possibly the earliest known version of the song.

To round off, a song that was not only recorded, but ended up on an album and released as a single. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville was penned by Mike Mills as a plea to his then girlfriend not to leave town. In fact it's Mills who often sang lead vocal in the band's late era, the song remaining in the live set right to the end. You can hear how fast the original was played, "kind of like how Buddy Holly would've played it" as Peter Buck once recalled. It enjoyed a country-style makeover for its eventual release on 'Reckoning' four years later, but very little else was done to it.

See you in a few weeks. Maybe.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

One of John Peel's favourite records of all time was 'Live At The Counter Eurovision', the debut album by Misty In Roots. The London collective became one of the most popular British reggae acts, spreading the word of Jah in their shamelessly Rastafarian-themed songs. Never terribly prolific in the studio, they nonetheless toured relentlessly, being the first reggae band to tour South Africa, Poland and Russia.

As a result of spending a lot of time in West Africa, the band integrated more and more African sounds and rhythms into their music, but that's no bad thing; it was something that set them apart from their peers.

Misty In Roots recorded no fewer than nine Peel Sessions between 1979 and 2002 and credit the legendary DJ for much of their success. A compilation of Peel highlights was released in 1995. It included many songs the band never released in any other form, including today's track True Rasta Man. This was from their second session in 1979 and features an impressive line-up of 11 singers and musicians.

I'll be taking a couple weeks off after Friday, but I've pre-written and scheduled Reggae Wednesday for the next fortnight to tide you over. No need to deprive you of some tasty irie vibes.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#25: From Her To Eternity [live]

This tale of the girl upstairs "wearin' them bloo stockin's", the title track of the first Bad Seeds album from 1984, remains a highlight of Nick's entire career. But in the live setting it becomes even more visceral. This particular performance at Belgium's Rock Werchter Festival in 1989 is probably the best I've seen. Nick gives an absolutely blistering rendition. The rest of the Bad Seeds aren't half bad either; Harvey, Powers, Bargeld, Wydler... the whole damn lot of 'em. This is why the Bad Seeds sell out every time they play, whatever the line-up. This is a real 'wow!' moment.