Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The big, bad birthday post: 90s ABC

I suppose as you get older, it's natural that you look back and reminisce. I'm no fan of nostalgia, I believe in looking forward, especially where music's concerned. But I can't help it sometimes, especially when I stumble across a long-forgotten video on You Tube and think "Blimey, I loved that track." So today, on the occasion of my 47th birthday, I present an ABC of the early 90s - three records I really loved back in the day. I've never really forgotten them, they've all been played a number of times in the intervening decades, but probably not enough. It's a rather shoegazey selection (hence the shoegazey pic at the top), but if we just change the word 'shoegaze' to 'dream pop', we have a bang-up-to-date genre! Yes, it's all just words...

While the tunes are excellent, by contrast, check out the videos - three of the most 90s cliche-ridden clips you're ever likely to see!

From 1993, Homeboy was one of my most favourite songs of the year. By far the best track on the band's debut album, I so wanted to be in a band who played this. Actually, I wanted to be in Adorable playing this track. I still love it, a fantastic song. The vid has people jumping in water with guitars and the band in sillhouette. And guitars being swung around.

I bought The Belltower's 'Exploration Day' EP in 1992 on a hunch and was glad I did. Outshine The Sun is a cracking pop tune and remains so, even if it has dated a little. The video sees the band playing outdoors in a field, and with gaffa tape over their mouths. And guitars being swung around.

Pearl by Chapterhouse came out in 1991 and pretty much defines 90s shoegaze to me. Another wonderful track which just a few years later was sampled by Siouxsie And The Banshees for Kiss Them For Me. The vid? Close-ups of wistful-looking band members, more water, psychedelic backdrops... the only thing missing? Guitars being swung around.

I'll try and dig out some new stuff for my next post...

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #3

The Breeders
Support: Pip Blom
O2 Academy, Bristol - 10 July 2018

It's still hot here. Hot gigs can be fun, but when it's been sweltering all day it's sometimes not what you're looking forward to that much. Fortunately, Bristol's O2 Academy is air-conditioned so it was actually OK in there. For a while, anyway. Plus The Breeders were in town, and I'd crawl over hot coals in a Saharan heatwave for Kim Deal, so nothing was going to put me off.

The sell-out crowd wouldn't need warming up in a literal sense, but support act Pip Blom certainly got things off to a pacey start. Hailing from Amsterdam and named after their lead singer, erm, Pip Blom, they were one of the more energetic bands I've seen of late. Pip is the daughter of former (Peel favourites) Eton Crop frontman Erwin Blom so she has good musical genes. I'm sure many of my regular readers would enjoy tracks like School, I Think I'm In Love and current single Pussycat. (Brian, I'm especially thinking of you!) Their Bandcamp page is rich with their offerings to date. Highy recommended stuff.

So where do I start with The Breeders? Well, I have this fear. I fear that, when you hold someone in such high regard - when you idolise their work, when they've got you through some tough times, when they continue to restore your faith in popular music - at some point they're going to let you down. It's the law of averages, right? So my fear was that The Breeders would not - could not - live up to my expectations. They could never be as amazing as the picture I have of them in my head. Right?

WRONG! When Kim, Kelley, Josephine and Jim came onstage and launched into New Year and followed it up with Wait In The Car, they already had me convinced. For an hour and a half, The Breeders not only lived up to my hopes and expectations, they exceeded them. Everything I love about them - and all Kim's work in general - was on display. The rawness, the quirkiness, the honesty and the sheer all-round fun (even in dark, sinister songs like Walking With A Killer and All Nerve) was in abundance.

The set drew mainly from the new album and the seminal 'Last Splash', which is understandable seeing as this line-up made them. All the new songs sounded great. My favourite track on the new album, Howl At The Summit, was immense and put a massive grin on my face. Josephine's deadpan delivery on Metagoth was another peak moment. That song in particular summed up what made this such a good show. Metagoth is full of weird and wonderful sounds and effects, and live the band succeeds in reproducing them. I'm not an advocate of bands trying to sound the same live as they do on record - what's the point of that? - but The Breeders have tried to make the songs work in the concert setting. They sound like they're supposed to, only edgier and sharper.

There were smatterings of other old faves too: Glorious, Fortunately Gone and Happiness Is A Warm Gun from 'Pod' went down a storm, as expected, as did Safari. But for me, one of the big highlights was Off You, one of Kim's most delicate, beautiful and quiet songs. It has been one of my fave Breeders songs since its release just prior to 'Title TK' in 2002, and it was a wonderful surprise to hear it played here. The crowd hushed as Kim, Kelly and Josephine delivered a quite stunning, spellbinding performance. That was one of those 'wow' moments I've spoken about before. (The last one I had was at last year's Nadine Shah show in Cardiff).

To top it all off, the banter between band members and audience was great fun too. Josephine showed us the toy bubble machine she bought earlier in the day. "Bubbles make everything better," she said. Kim and Kelley mainly took the piss out of Josephine. "How does it feel to be back playing to your people?" Kim asked her British bass player, before making fun of her accent. The crowd got it too. Whenever a shout came from an audience member, Kim looked puzzled and asked Josephine "Do you know what that meant? I need a translator." Kelley sang the violin part in Drivin' On 9 as "we don't have a violin player", after which she was greeted with the largest cheer of the night.

Oh, and then there was Cannonball. And Gigantic. What more do you need to know?

Despite the air-con, the Academy got hotter and sweatier and sweatier and hotter as the night wore on - but I didn't care. When we stepped outside, I wasn't so disappointed about it still being 25 degrees and horribly muggy at 11pm as I was about the show having come to an end. Without a doubt, Kim, Kelley and the gang didn't let me down. My fears have subsided.

Here's the video of that Cannonball performance recorded for US public radio earlier this year:

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Summer graduation

Yesterday we headed westward to Carmarthen for TheMadster's graduation ceremony. The weather was, as it has been for the past couple of weeks, most un-British - baking hot and sunny. We came out of the univarsity's theatre dripping with sweat, but proud. TheMadster is the first of both mine and MrsRobster's immediate families to graduate. Well, apart from my brother who last year successfully completed an Open University degree in Engineering, but he was 44 then and has been doing the job for 20 years! Not that that undermines his achievement in any way - far from it. But TheMadster is the first to do it straight after leaving 6th form, you know what I mean. She attained a 2:1 in Sport and Exercise Science (Personal Training) and can now put BSc (Hons) after her name. Not only that, she's only gone and got herself a job as well. In a gym, no less.

The heatwave is set to continue for the next couple weeks, just in time for the school holidays when it will inevitably piss down for the next month! So while it's here, let's enjoy it with some good tunes. Firstly, a song you cannot ever get enough of, whatever the weather. Sadly, the video has vanished from You Tube so here's a Top Of The Pops performance instead in which Harriet sings live:

This one has long been a favourite of mine and MrsRobster. Great live band, too.

And here's one for TheMadster from one of her favourite bands.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

A song for... July

This month's song is 27 years old, which hadn't dawned on me until I sat down to write this. 27???

Winter In July was Bomb The Bass' fourth and final top 10 hit, the second single from their second album 'Unknown Territory'. I say 'their', of course Bomb The Bass was actually just the one guy, Brixton boy Tim Simenon. I've never been big on electronic music, but 'Unknown Territory' was a surprise fave of mine back in the day. It was kind of pioneering in that it moved dance music away from singles and more into the 'unknown territory' of the proper album format. At the same time, it felt like a dance/rock crossover which, although Primal Scream, Happy Mondays and the like were doing something similar, Simenon seemed to be the first electronic solo artist to move in that direction. 'Twas a brave move perhaps, but the result was his most critically-appraised record.

The lead vocal is performed by Loretta Heywood who also co-wrote the song. She re-recorded Winter In July for her 2014 album 'The Boy Across The Road'. I've not heard that version, but the original is just wonderful and hard to beat.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Talking Dreads

This is somewhat connected to Swiss Adam's superb review yesterday of David Byrne's recent performance in Leeds. The enticingly-named Mystic Bowie has been performing reggae since the late 80s. He has released just a handful of his own records, but has collaborated on many more. Since 1992, he has been a mainstay in Tom Tom Club.

Clearly his work with Chris Franz and Tina Weynouth has lead to his newest project Talking Dreads. It almost sounds too good to be true, but belive me, it is true - a reggae take on classic Talking Heads songs! Indeed, I've found my soundtrack to the summer. Burning Down The House is already set to go on several playlists, as is Slippery People. And Psycho Killer has to be heard to be believed. There are even guest appearances by Freddie McGregor and none other than Cindy Wilson of the B-52's.

Here's the rather brilliant version of Once In A Lifetime:

'Mystic Bowie's Talking Dreads' is out now.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #2

Glee Club, Cardiff - 11th June 2018

I have vague memories of seeing Belly at Glastonbury one year, possibly ’92 or ’93. They also opened the bill for R.E.M. in Cardiff in ’95 but we got there too late to see them. Twenty-odd years on then, going to see Belly live is like seeing them for the first time, yet at the same time reassuringly familiar. Part of the new experience feeling is down to the venue. The Glee Club is normally a comedy club but they do host occasional music events. It’s located in Cardiff Bay which, bearing in mind the glorious, hot weather we’ve been having, is an idyllic setting for visitors to our capital. It was mine and MrsRobster’s first time at the Glee, but Our Mate Colin (who was joining us) had previously been there to see The Pierces a couple years back.

Belly’s comeback was most welcome. They broke up prematurely after just two albums. Tanya Donelly has gone on to make some more than decent solo material in the two decades since, but I always thought her band had unfinished business. So it proved with this year’s comeback record ‘Dove’, one of my fave albums of 2018 so far.

No support band tonight, instead Tanya, Gail, Tom and Chris played two sets. Sadly, the first set was beset with sound issues – not enough guitars in the monitors, Tanya’s earpiece wasn’t working, too much bass here, not enough drums there... All rather tedious, and to my ears, never fully resolved throughout the night. But the mood was lightened by Gail Greenwood’s relentless banter, even if she did sometimes sound like a hyperactive teenager. My spirits were also lifted by the sight of Tanya’s smile! At the risk of upsetting a certain MrsRobster, I would just like to say how gorgeous Tanya looks. Talk about aging well, she’s barely changed since her Throwing Muses days.

Anyway, before I get a blunt object launched at my head, better talk about the music. As you might expect, there was a fair proportion of new material in the set, with varying degrees of success. Human Child, one of my favourite tracks on ‘Dove’, was stunning, as was Starryeyed which closed the first set. Army of Clay and Faceless also stood out, but Stars Align and Shiny One both suffered from the rather poor sound.

As you might expect though, the oldies received the biggest cheers of the evening. Super-Connected (from second album ‘King’) opened the night, and we were subsequently treated to welcome airings of Gepetto, Feed The Tree, Dusted and Slow Dog (possibly my personal favourite Tanya song ever). There were rumours that an old friend was in the audience – Brian Futter, formerly of Catherine Wheel (now there’s a band who I’d love to reform for a few shows. I’d definitely buy a ticket!). They dedicated Red and Low Red Moon to “the ginger motherfucker” (as he’s so delicately dubbed by drummer Chris). There was also room for an old b-side, fan favourite Superman, during the encore.

While the sound remained a bit iffy throughout, this was a fun little gathering. The songs rose above the technical issues to shine on their own, a point that raises the old question: why the heck weren’t Belly absolutely massive? Their critical acclaim has grown steadily over the past 2½ decades in their absence, yet they remain criminally underrated. I’m not expecting Belly to take over the world this time around either, but all the same, it’s good to have them back with us. Hopefully they’ll stick around for a bit and make another record.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Totally wired

Wire's first three albums have been reissued. Again. This time there are vinyl versions. If I'm being totally honest, I'm not a big fan of '154'. There are a few really good tracks on it, but it doesn't hold me like the first two records. Now I'm not going to go on about what huge influences Wire were to so many bands that came after them - you can still hear that for yourselves. Neither am I going to use the word 'seminal' like it has become de riguer to do whenever someone mentions these albums. I am, however, going to draw your attention to one particular track that seems to get overlooked.

French Film Blurred appears on 'Chairs Missing' and, to me, could quite easily appear unaltered on one of Blur's later LPs and you wouldn't notice the difference. The hint is there in the song title for starters. Go on - try dropping it randomly somewhere in '13' and see what I mean.

The new 'Special Editions' of 'Pink Flag', 'Chairs Missing' and '154' come with a batch of extras, including numerous demo session recordings. There are two demos of French Film Blurred, both from different sessions and both completely different to each other. The first is a straight-out punk blast lasting little more than a minute. The second is much more akin to the finished album version, only less polished and with a rather abrupt ending.

I would like to dedicate this post to our mate Brian, a wonderful fella who very kindly sent me a vinyl copy of Kate Bush's 'The Dreaming' all the way from the States. Seems he found it while perusing the wares at Crossroads in Portland. Dunno whether this was just before or after his encounter with the lady with the Postcard Cat tattoo... I really hope I can repay him someday soon. What a top bloke!

Friday, 1 June 2018

A song for... June

Today is a special day. It's our Wedding Anniversary. Fourteen years ago today, MrsRobster finally made an honest man of me. Sort of. To be fair, she'd pretty much done that over the previous 8½ years, but this just made it legal. She bemoans the fact that I didn't marry her sooner as "it'd be a good anniversary by now." By that, she means that had we married sooner, we'd have better gifts this year than we actually do. Each year of marriage represents something different, apparently. One year is paper, two years is cotton, etc. Interestingly, 27 years is music. Blimey, we've been celebrating that one for more than two decades already...

Anyway, this year (according to the modern list) is gold jewellery. She's happy about that. Now MrsRobster is absolutely not a materialistic person, quite the opposite. But the prospect of gold jewellery does bring a smile to her face. I should point out though that we've never actually bought each other gifts that conform to this daft system, so she shouldn't get too excited. I might buy her a cake. Knowing her the way I do, that would be far better received than some silly gold earrings or the like!

Anyway - this month's song comes from one of the very first recordings made by Smashing Pumpkins. Bye June was cut in 1989 and originally featured on the 'Moon' demo. A couple of years later, that same version was included on the 'Lull' EP following the release of the band's debut album 'Gish'. It's a simple acoustic track which belied their more recognisable aggressive alt-rock sound, but I quite like it.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip...

When MrsRobster works on a Saturday, I do the housework. How very modern of me. Once the vacuuming is done, I stick a record on to help me through the rest of it. Saturday is vinyl day, see. This past weekend, for some reason, I wanted to listen to something old that I haven't heard in a while. I chose the first Cure album 'Three Imaginary Boys'. Don't know why, but who needs a reason? It was like listening to something new - I haven't heard most of those songs for so long.  I can't pretend to have bought this when it came out - I was barely 8-years-old. I recall picking it up when I worked in Our Price. I spotted it in a pile of marked-down stock and grabbed it then. It was probably a mid-price reissue rather than an original, but it did have the illustrated insert. I also realised that I had noted down the tracklist on a piece of Our Price notepaper, being that the album itself doesn't contain any song names whatsoever. Instead we get a rather pretentious set of pictures and symbols to 'inform' us of the songs. Such nonsense.

Of course, 10:15 Saturday Night remains the record's best known track for good reason, but this one went down really well during my cleaning sesh:

Here's two very different demos of the aforementioned classic for good measure. Both vary distincltly from the final album version, but the early Robert Smith solo demo is barely recognisable.

Then on Sunday, MrsRobster and I prepared fajitas for ourselves, TheMadster and TheEmster, her other 'alf. Our soundtrack was my compilation of every Cure single, though of course we didn't get through the whole lot. "I forget how much I like The Cure until I listen to them again," she told me. I've already told you that Pictures Of You is our song, but I've also long been a big fan of A Forest, a proper gloomy goth classic, worthy of being posted here in its full-length album form.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

A song for... May

This could have been Month of May by Arcade Fire, but in the end the temptation to post something by my beloved Raveonettes proved too strong to resist. The Rains Of May featured on their 'Pe'ahi' album which was my fave record of 2014. It's wonderfully fuzzy, woozy and retro, everything I love about the dynamic Danish duo. I love the way the song completely changes halfway through. But maybe that's just me.