Monday, 24 April 2017

RSD: Sweet as Sugar

I've resisted Record Store Day before now owing to the whole idea of fighting swarms of people (who will probably just put their purchases on eBay) only to find whatever I'm after has sold out. Plus, most of the items are overpriced and not particularly exciting. However, Saturday saw me casting my cynicism aside and queuing outside of Spillers in Cardiff (the oldest record shop in the world). I'm in the slow process of collecting as many of my 50 albums to take to my grave on vinyl as I possibly can. Some I still have from when I first bought them, some I replaced with CDs and some I never bought on vinyl in the first place. In this latter category was Sugar's 1992 masterpiece 'Copper Blue'.

Record Store Day saw a very special release of 'Copper Blue' - a triple LP on three different colour platters. The original album is on silvery-grey. The other two discs contain a great live show from the time and are on gold and blue vinyl respectively. It was simply too lovely-a-thing to miss. Worth getting up early on a (frankly gorgeous) Saturday morning for.

I stood in the queue with a lady I know through work and a young Mancunian guy who is a student nurse. We talked music, gigs, a teeny bit of work, and more music. After an hour we finally crossed the Spillers threshold and managed to get what we wanted. Yes, I bagged a 'Copper Blue', and believe me it's even more beautiful in real life.

The experience was far nicer than I thought it would be. Friendly, relaxed and, dare I say it, fun. Quite looking forward to next year now...

Here's a couple of live tracks from that Sugar set. The version of JC Auto is particularly brutal.

I also managed to grab Spillers' last copy of 'The Home Internationals' EP by the Wedding Present. Many of you will know the track Wales from last year's brilliant 'Going, Going...' album. As well as that song, Gedge and gang recorded three more post-rock instrumentals for the EP, each one named after a UK nation. England contains a poem written and narrated by Simon Armitage, while Northern Ireland is a paen to a certain legendary footballer called George Best, who I seem to remember a previous record was named after...

A video of the band in the studio has been released for Scotland and includes some sounds from a Scottish pub, no doubt something more than a few readers will be familiar with.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #3

While promoting their second album 'Reckoning' in 1984, R.E.M. gave a live performance for the fledgling MTV. It was broadcast on a show called Rock Influences. The majority of the set consisted of songs from the first two albums, plus two from 'Chronic Town' and a couple of b-sides. But there was also room for three brand new songs.

Two of these newies were to appear the following year on the band's third album 'Fables Of The Reconstruction'. Both Old Man Kensey and Driver 8 sound almost finished in this performance (although Stipe seems to forget the words at the end of the second verse of Driver 8). It shows how prolific the band was. No sooner had one album come out than they already had songs for the next one ready.

The other new song didn't feature on 'Fables...'. Instead it was held over for 1986's 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. Hyena sounds about 75% of the way there in this performance, but would undergo a bit of tweaking before its eventual release.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the pic at the top is not from this MTV show. It was taken at the Marquee Club in London during the 'Reckoning' tour the same year.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

A new weekly series for the summer sees me delving back into my reggae collection. I thought I'd get us off and running with a classic that you probably all know and love but is more than worth posting anyway.

Dillinger (real name Lester Bullock) rose to fame in the mid-70s working with renowned producers such as Lee Perry, Yabby You and Augustus Pablo. His success earned him a name check on the Clash's White Man (In Hammersmith Palais). Cokane In My Brain became his biggest hit in 1976 and remains his best known song. Even MrsRobster - not a big reggae fan - can be heard 'singing' this one from time to time.

Dillinger struggled to emulate the success of this song for the rest of his career. Nowadays he still performs and produces work for others, but records only occasionally. His last album came out more than 10 years ago. Still, Cokane is a great track to get us started.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Compiled #3: Now That's Disgusting Music

Back in 1990, it seemed as though the British were basking in the blissed out E'd up vibes of Madchester while the Americans were the angry, noisy voices of the disillusioned. In truth, there was plenty of noise in the UK, you just had to dig a bit deeper to find it. In northwest London, a tiny venue called The White Horse hosted The Sausage Machine every Saturday night. Very loud bands would play and make a fantastic racket. Two such nights were recorded and out of it came a landmark record.

'Now That's Disgusting Music - Live At The Sausage Machine' was the first ever release on Too Pure Records, a label that would very quickly become one of the most noted and highly respected indie labels in the country. It contained 12 songs by 8 bands, including the very first recording ever released by Peel favourites Th' Faith Healers.

They would become Too Pure's first signings with their debut single released shortly after. I can't believe this is also the first time I've ever posted a Th' Faith Healers track here. Must try harder. I have, however, waxed lyrical about Silverfish a couple of times before. They had two songs on this record, the double-whammy of Weird Shit/Don't Fuck, the originals of which featured on their debut EP the previous year.

The Heart Throbs were the first live band I ever saw, being as they were the support to The Wedding Present in 1988. By now they were about to release their debut album which featured studio takes of the two songs on 'Now That's Disgusting Music', I See Danger, and this one:

l-r: Th' Faith Healers; Silverfish; The Heart Throbs; Snuff; Mega City 4
The headline acts on the nights captured were both relative veterans compared to the other bands on the bills in that they had already released albums. Snuff's debut album came out the previous year and to this date boasts the best title for any record released ever. EVER! 'Snuffsaidbutgorblimeyguvstonemeifhedidn'tthrowawobblerchachachachachachachachachachachayou'regoinghomeinacosmicambience'. It included a version of this Specials cover:

Mega City Four probably went on to become the biggest band on this comp. They had, like, Top 40 hits and everything. At this point however they were still establishing themselves, their second album would be released within six months, but it wouldn't be until their third that they would trouble the charts. So this blast through their second single is a fine document of a fine band at a relatively early stage in their existence.

I still love this record. It's a snarling beast, yet loveable and comforting at the same time. It's a piece of vinyl I've kept since the day I bought it some 27 years ago. I don't intend to part with it any time soon.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #2

Eleven years after their formation, R.E.M. found themselves on the cusp of world domination. 1991's 'Out Of Time' would not only yield their eternal hit single, but would also prove to be their worldwide mainstream breakthrough album. Last year, the obligatory 25th Anniversary deluxe reissue featured 19 previously unreleased demos from the 'Out Of Time' sessions. However, it was by no means a complete set.

This was a particularly productive time for the band. They never seemed short of material, but this period was especially fruitful. The album marked a departure from previous efforts as the use of electric guitars was dramatically scaled back in favour of acoustic instruments. 'Out Of Time' was a record of upbeat songs in contrast to its far more melancholy follow-up.

For these reasons, it's quite easy to see why the three songs I'm featuring today didn't make it onto 'Out Of Time'. Strangely, none of them were to feature in last year's deluxe package either. It's A Free World Baby did get a full production but, for whatever reason - maybe its lyrical theme which doesn't quite fit that of the rest of the album - it was cast aside. Instead it was issued as a b-side to Drive and appeared on a couple of soundtracks. I always preferred this earlier demo take though.

Here I Am Again (also sometimes known with a bracketed sub-title of Kerouac #4) was a very early song in the 'Out Of Time' story and ended up becoming two songs. Some of its lyrics were used in the brilliant Fretless - a song that was inexplicably left off the album - while the instrumental part turned up on a later b-side as Organ Song.

Finally, it's quite obvious why Speed Metal didn't get onto OOT, though it wouldn't have surprised me if it had been held over for 'Monster' or 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' given its far more rocky nature. It's not 'metal' by any means, but it is a bit of fun and it's kind of a shame that it never materialised in any form other than this demo.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Devil's Music

You Need Satan More Than He Needs You by Future Of The Left

I revived this series because the original was fun and it was quite popular among you lot. This time around though it has been greeted with almost complete indifference. Owing to some level of OCD I had to keep going to reach a nice round number before I ended it, so this is the tenth and final instalment of this incarnation of The Devil's Music. I have to say, the Prince Of Darkness is a little disappointed - he had quite a few other tunes he wanted to share with you. It took quite a bit of persuading to keep him from forcing them upon you.

In the end, we agreed this would be the final tune. He reckons the title is apt. I'm happy to include one of my favourite Welsh bands, so it's a win-win.

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Genius Of Nick Cave

When I brought this series to a close last autumn, I did so reluctantly. The views had trailed off to the point where I thought my beloved readers had lost interest. Thing is, I still had quite a number of tracks I wanted to post. I've decided to put that right and revive the series, though it will now be monthly as opposed to weekly. To kick things back off, something quite ridiculous...

#21: Babe I'm On Fire

Babe I'm On Fire closed 2003's 'Nocturama', an album that may not rate among Nick's finest, but which still has some wonderful songs on regardless. This one is 15 minutes long and is so hilariously silly, it dispels the myths people have about Nick being depressing or dark. A 3-minute single edit was released but it was far from adequate. The video features the full version with Nick and each Bad Seed playing multiple roles. Brilliant and, as I said before, quite ridiculous.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M.

My little teaser a few weeks ago provoked a little bit of positivity among you, so I've decided to press ahead with the series I hinted at. As long-time readers will know, R.E.M. hold a very special place in the hearts of MrsRobster and I. Over a period of several years I acquired all manner of rare and unreleased gems from market stalls, record shops, mail order, the fan club and, later on, the Internet trading community. I'm going to post all manner of things from my stash in the coming months for as long as you remain interested.

A lot of what I have is on vinyl that I haven't managed to rip, but who knows, if this series is a success I may consider a follow-up at some point in the future should I ever get around to ripping any of those old records.

I'm going to cover the band's entire career, but am debating whether a chronological series is a good move or not. My hunch is many of you will give up once we get to the end of the IRS period, so I'm going to opt for a more random approach. That said, I'm starting at the beginning. Literally.

R.E.M. formed in the spring of 1980. They spent much of the year rehearsing and gigging. In October of that year they played a hometown show at Tyrone's which was recorded. It remains the earliest known tape of R.E.M. in circulation (although according to this article, there's some even earlier video footage in a private collection). It's raw and more than a little rough, but it's a wonderful document of one of the world's most successful bands in their infancy. Remember, they'd been together just a few months but were already being given the tag of 'Athens' best band', which for a town with such a rich musical legacy really was some accolade.

The set contained a mix of covers and some of the band's earliest self-penned material. Some of the songs they would go on to record in the studio. Today I'm offering up two songs from this show - I'll post some more another time. Firstly, a song that despite being one of their first, had to wait six whole years before a studio version emerged - Just A Touch featured on the band's fourth album 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. This version is less furious than the studio take and Stipe is clearly still getting to grips with the lyrics and melody.

The second song is one that didn't have the staying power that Just A Touch did. Action fell out of favour by the time 'Chronic Town' came out, probably because by then R.E.M.'s music (and in particular Stipe's lyrics) had evolved somewhat to become something a little more complex. However, it certainly fits the mood of those wildly energetic early shows.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Devil's Music

Lucifer And God by Bob Mould

Bob Mould is something of a god in the alternative music universe. Exactly what his relationship with Satan is I can't be sure, but the ear-bleeding volume of his live shows over the past 30-odd years - from Hüsker Dü, through Sugar and his solo career - is beyond devilish. Of course, any opportunity I get to squeeze one of Bob's songs into a blog post I'm going to take with both hands. Today's offering is taken from last year's 'Patch The Sky' album.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #3

Colston Hall, Bristol - 31 March 2017
Support: Amber Arcades

It's 20 years since Grandaddy's debut album 'Under The Western Freeway' hit the shelves, and 25 years since their first recordings. So it's fitting that they've seen fit to release 'Last Place', their first album since their 2006 split, this year. It's a corker too, one of my faves of the year so far in fact. I never got the chance to see Grandaddy first time around, so was delighted when they included Bristol in their current tour. I love Grandaddy, see.

A pleasant surprise was the announcement of Amber Arcades as support act. I don't know a lot about her, but am taken by her current single It Changes so hoped she'd deliver. Sadly, I was rather underwhelmed. The songs were OK, but she seemed to let herself down vocally, her voice just didn't come across too well. At times it seemed to disappear behind the music completely. Even so, I'll be checking out her new EP and last year's debut album 'Fading Lines' because she does have some decent tunes. Incidentally, as well as being an up-and-coming musician, Amber also has a fascinating day-job which, even if you're not enamoured by her music, you cannot help feeling enormous respect for her because of it.

An amusing observation of the audience was their dress sense. Never before had I seen so many check-shirts and baseball caps. Grandaddy seem to have spawned their own fashion. I own neither a check-shirt, nor a baseball cap. Neither do I have a beard, of which Grandaddy are also fond. MrsRobster and I were able to play a little game in the interval though. A point for every shirt spotted, one for every cap and one for every beard. Special bonus points for a combo of all three, and spotting a woman sporting any of them. In fact, triple points for a woman with a beard. That last one eluded both of us, but MrsRobster is an excellent people-watcher and totally wiped the floor with me, even getting the full combo and the female shirt-wearer. Rather amusingly, we played this to a soundtrack of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass which filled the hall during the interval. I'm guessing the DJ didn't turn up...

A slightly nervous Grandaddy took to the stage - nervous, according to Jason Lytle, as guitarist Jim Fairchild was forced to leave the tour owing to "an emergency", so their friend (and former guitarist for Elliot Smith) Shaun stepped in at very short notice. You'd never have guessed he had to learn the set in super-quick time -  he killed it. The set seemed to fly by, full, as it was, of crowd-pleasing material spanning the band's career. You could write the setlist yourself, in fact: AM 180, Hewlett's Daughter, The Crystal Lake, Now It's On, Summer Here Kids, and He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot all present and correct. The new stuff fitted right in with Way We Won't, Evermore, The Boat Is In The Barn and I Don't Wanna Live Here Anymore sounding like established favourites. No complaints about the material then (although the icing on the cake would have been A Lost Machine from 'Last Place' and Disconnecty from 'Just Like The Fambly Cat'). The sound was also superb, but I've come to expect that at the Colston Hall. Even the visuals get a thumbs up - projections of films depicting the American wilderness, rural life and industry. And trains. Lots of trains.

Difficult to find fault other than how long they played. Or so I thought. It turns out Grandaddy were onstage for about an hour and a half, yet it simply flew by which is some indication of how enjoyable it was. Had they played another hour I wouldn't have complained.

And here's Evermore also from the 6 Music Festival:

Friday, 31 March 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #11 & #12

A double-bill this week. The series needs to end (for now) as I'm keen to do something else from next week, but it WILL be back at some point, so keep sending your contributions. This week you get another welcome contribution from Charity Chic, followed by my own choice. First up, here's CC:

A few years ago I attended a Fire Safety meeting with a number of colleagues from other parts of the organization who I was not familiar with.

The meeting started off seriously enough but soon descended into hilarity, something I suppose which should not be encouraged at meetings discussing such serious matters. The main source of hilarity seemed to be around the nominated fire wardens in the event of a fire alarm being required to put on high visibility jackets to identify themselves to colleagues and to the Fire Service.

Following the meeting, and in the spirit of the hilarity, I took in upon myself to forward my colleagues the lyrics to King Of Hi Vis. I got no responses. Clearly a step too far...

Thirty-plus years since their first record, Half Man Half Biscuit can still bring a smile to our faces, and even the occasional audible guffaw. They release a record every three years these days and their last album came out in 2014 so we're due one. My final choice is one of the band's more recent tunes, from 2011's '90 Bisodol (Crimond)'.

In Left Lyrics In The Practice Room, Nigel recites the words of "Chris from Future Doom", whose (supposedly) black metal band used the rehearsal space before the Biscuits.

  "'Cackling hag astride the broom
  What dread this upon the spume?'
  Hey Chris I understand your gloom
  But come on, rock up, you’re from Ilfracombe!"

Yeah, alright, so this tune edged it into the series based on its mention of a North Devon town (which at one time was nicknamed 'Little Liverpool' because of the peculiarly high number of Scousers who lived there!) But this song does illustrate the beauty of the Biscuits at their finest. Aside from the witty lyrics, there is actually a good tune in there. You probably will be humming this one. And where else will you find a song that nicks bits from Leadbelly and Black Sabbath? Answers on the back of a metal band's discarded lyrics...

I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to this series so far: JC, Walter, Webbie, Jez and CC. It has been fun. Let's do it again soon.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Devil's Music

The Mark Of The Devil by Pulp

An early Pulp b-side? Blimey, now we really are summoning the dark spirits. Released between Pulp's first and second albums, Dogs Are Everywhere contained five songs, including today's offering The Mark Of The Devil. All but the title track hinted at the darker sound they would adopt on 'Freaks' (which was actually their first full-length album following the mini-LP 'It'). With lyrics like: "Smiles left unfollowed start to haunt you / Chances that perished long ago / The devil is waiting in the bathroom with your worthless soul", it's safe to say Jarvis wasn't writing songs for the common people back in 1987.

Monday, 27 March 2017

"I'd like to devour you..."

While researching my Compiled series, I was reminded of this absolute gem of a track. Cracker was formed by ex-members of Camper Van Beethoven. Their second album 'Kerosene Hat' took them to the cusp of being quite big but, alas, fame never came calling. Or maybe Cracker just made sure they weren't at home when it did. Who knows? Anyway, I was going to write about a compilation which featured this track, but realised that there weren't many other songs on there I actually liked that much.

Movie Star hit me the first time I heard it. Twenty-three years later, it still delights. It has bags of energy, barrels of wit and bundles of fun. Why it was never put out as a single is absolutely mystifying. It just missed out on my '50 songs to take to my grave' list and I could be convinced to reconsider one of my choices in order to make room for it. I used to jump around in my room an awful lot to this track back in the day.

Cracker are still going. Here they are playing a storming version of Movie Star at the legendary 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA. back in January.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #10

So there I was, looking at my schedule with the 10th and final instalment of this series all written up.  Then this dropped into my Inbox - a second contribution from the boy Webbie from Football And Music. Now I'm not going to pass up the offer of a free article, especially one penned by such an all round decent bloke and top blogger, so I decided to extend the series beyond my initial 10-part plan, especially as CC has also since contributed another piece as well.

So this week, not only do we get a very rare and obscure track by the Biscuits, but also the tale of one of Webbie's brushes with fame. Oh, he's such a name-dropper...

My next attempt to write about the genius of HMHB and one single track: the difficulty I’m sure that many other contributors have is selecting a Half Man Half Biscuit song that nobody else has chosen. I then decided to go for an (unreleased) Peel Session recording.

Let’s start with the title: Mars Ultras (You’ll Never Leave The Station) - a title which alludes to football but the tune isn’t about football or even contains any reference to that in the song. It goes on to name-drop some notable pop stars from the 80’s/90’s with Dave Stewart (Tourists/Eurythmics), George O’Dowd (Boy George - Culture Club), “the girl from Deacon Blue” (Lorraine McIntosh) and Sinitta.

(A crap celebrity spot for you - At the end of the 1980’s/beginning of the 90’s I found myself living and working in Henley-on-Thames.  Henley is well known for being the refuge for many in the light entertainment industry. It wasn’t a surprise to see Sandra Dickinson in Waitrose or Rodney Bewes in Pizza Express. But it was unexpected when spotting Dave Stewart in WH Smith. He was there with his Mam (I assumed, it was an older woman who accompanied him) and Mr Stewart went into the music department and bought himself the new Inspiral Carpets album on cassette. They must have been there for lunch, I then saw them drive off later in an open top car. Crap celeb spot finished, back to the song...)

I didn’t know of this HMHB tune at the time, otherwise I would have been singing it in my head.

  “Quick, run, hide
  Here comes Dave Stewart
  Walking up the drive
  With that look in his eye…”

I like how Nigel Blackwell goes on to wish Boy George all the best. Well actually…

  “George O’Dowd
  So glad you’re happy
  All fit and well
  After going through the hell
  Of being a pop star”

Nigel then throws in a side reference to George Formby (Oh Mr Woo), as well as a surrogate (Bill) Grundy. (I wonder who he had in mind?) and finishes the 2nd verse of the song with yet another name drop of Richard and Judy.

The ability to paint pictures with words is genius. Mr Blackwell does this with aplomb. At the end of the song as you will hear in the audio, John Peel wonders who was playing the power drill in the chorus. That’s right. A power drill. Genius.

I have to say, I also love Peely's Dave Stewart anecdote at the very end.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Devil's Music

Do you reckon it would be noisy in Hell? Is that the reason people refer to something being 'loud as Hell'? Pretty sure it would be, what with all that fire and wailing souls 'n' all. I also reckon our host down there might play a bit of Tad now and again. They were loud as Hell. One of Sub Pop's earliest signings, Tad would become hugely influential to the burgeoning grunge scene, even if they wouldn't go on to sell nearly as many records as their incumbents. Satan's Chainsaw appeared on 'God's Balls'. Not literally, you understand (the very thought of it makes every bloke wince...) - 'God's Balls' was the title of Tad's debut album from 1989. A Hellish racket, 'tis true - but a bleddy good one!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Compiled #2

#2: CD88

1988. A very significant year for me. I've written quite a bit about this period in my life, but worth repeating is how much my taste in music evolved around this time. I left school in the summer of 1987 and went to college in the autumn. It was here a long and fruitful voyage of musical discovery began thanks to the people I met. One guy in particular, Simon Greetham, got me into indie music. If you're interested, you can read about that epiphany moment here.

Over the previous few years, a series of double-albums had been put out summarising the best records released on independent labels. The 'Indie Top 20' series, particularly the early ones, remain something of a treasure. But in 1988, the first five volumes were themselves summarised for CD release - yes, a compilation of compilations! Up to that point, these comps were available only on vinyl or cassette (oh, those were the days...). CD88 took a few songs from each of them, added a few more and voila, the perfect introduction to indie music for the teenage novice.

Ironically, I bought CD88 on vinyl. It was a record I returned to frequently over the next two or three years. The amount of music it helped me discover was phenomenal. I already knew a few of the songs and artists - The Wedding Present, the Soup Dragons, All About Eve and Half Man Half Biscuit - but this was the record that introduced me to Cardiacs, Danielle Dax, The Rose Of Avalanche, Wire, The Shamen and Pop Will Eat Itself. The latter two of these would go on to have major commercial success in the early 90s as indie music went dance, but it's fair to say that while the tracks contained on CD88 were transitional for the bands concerned, they sounded nothing like the songs they would go on to have hits with. The Poppies track in particular remains a longstanding fave of mine, and the version on 'CD88' is the 12" extended mix.

Of course, I'm not going to blether on about the Cardiacs track as any fool can see what Is This The Life means to me, a song that I will never, ever tire of. But CD88 was responsible for it entering my life in the first place. Danielle Dax was another name I had not heard before. Subsequent investigation revealed her to be a bit of an oddball in terms of her music. Some very strange, arty, perplexing stuff in her back catalogue, particularly her early solo work. The track on CD88, Cat-House, was a bit more straightforward and marked a point when her music became much more accessible. She was an artist I enjoyed investigating for a couple years - and by golly did I fancy her! - but nowadays the occasional blast of Cat-House is all I really need.

l-r: Pop Will Eat Itself; Danielle Dax; The Rose Of Avalanche; Wire
I kind of wanted to be a goth but without having to dye my hair black and wear make-up. The Fields of the Nephilim didn't really do it for me, at least not on the strength of the track on CD88. The Rose of Avalanche were different though. Velveteen now sounds incredibly dated, but to my fresh young ears in 1988 it seemed to tap into some dormant corner of my subconscious and made me want to wear second-hand black clothes and walk around gloomily, a silhouette in perpetual fog. OK, so This Corrosion by Sisters Of Mercy got there first, but Velveteen didn't have the bombast or obvious hit-single appeal.

And then came Wire. At the time, Wire were in their 'second-phase', having reformed in the mid-80s. Kidney Bingos was the first Wire track I ever heard and it undoubtedly appealed to my pop sensibilities. Over time, I became familiar with the band's early work which has remained the most influential, but listening to Wire's recent material, there's more of their late-80s sound in there than the stuff that everyone else seems to have mined. Kidney Bingos is still a song I enjoy, along with Eardrum Buzz which followed shortly after.

There were, of course, a few one-offs on CD88 too. I never ventured into the Chesterfields' catalogue beyond Ask Johnny Dee, despite it being such a great tune (as extolled further by Martin at New Amusements recently). Baby Turpentine was by far Crazyhead's best song, and Michelle Shocked, whose Fog Town intrigued me, briefly shone with her second album but later became a horrid right-wing nutjob. But one I still really love is this:

CD88 was huge for me, make no bones about it. I place it in my top 10 most influential records in my life. As a footnote though, having watched the vids to the Poppies, Danielle Dax and Wire tracks I can confirm the videos of this period were truly awful. Go on - I dare you to seek them out.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Genius of Half Man Half Biscuit #9

Here's the third and final offering from JC and one that gives us a different perspective of things regarding the pitfalls of cultural references.

An unexpected turn of events or circumstances many years later can bring a cringe factor to things.  This includes music. For instance, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty most likely squirm at how they invited the now disgraced Gary Glitter to be such a big part of The Timelords #1 hit Doctorin' The Tardis back in 1988 (or maybe Bill, ever the maverick and controversialist, actually revels in it and will claim he knew all along that Glitter was a dodgy fuck and his involvement in this massive but novelty single was evidence that the music and wider entertainment industry will forgive anything as long as it makes money).

But I wonder what the more down-to-earth and all-round decent bloke Nigel Blackwell thinks of the fact that he once name-checked Rod Hull in a lyric.  Of all the possible candidates to be the subject matter of a song questioning why so many good people die tragically young while others continued to be annoying presences on our televison screens, he couldn't have selected anyone worse.

The reason being, in 1999, some 12 years after Rod Hull Is Alive - Why? was released on the band's second LP 'Back Again In The DHSS', Rod Hull died in a freak and ghastly domestic accident; having climbed onto the roof of his home in an effort to improve the reception from his television aerial (not, I hasten to add, for a show he himself was part of) , he slipped and crashed down through an adjoining greenhouse, succumbing to his horrific injuries en route to hospital.  For HMHB, that joke wasn't and really couldn't be funny anymore.

It's a real shame for it remains a highly relevant song  that was never solely about Rod Hull but more a commentary on the nature of fame. It's also incredibly prophetic in that its dig at the British Royal Family is via an attack on Sarah Ferguson, the wife of the then second-in-line to the throne, who just a few years later would become best known for being photographed topless while sucking the toes of an American businessman.

If the song had instead been dedicated to any of a number of 80s entertainers who many years later have been unveiled as taking advantage of their position and power to sexually exploit others, we would be looking rather differently today at Rod Hull Is Alive - Why? and listening to it with glee everytime it comes on. It certainly, unlike other HMHB songs from the era, is impossible to sing along to when you know the backstory. It remains however, my guilty pleasure.

Cheers JC. Yet another great piece.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Devil's Music

Everyone knows Satan loves the blues, right? I mean, he owns Robert Johnson's soul after all. Jack Owens was born in 1904, learned to play music throughout his childhood but never turned professional. Instead, while his friend and peer Bukka White went on to become one of the world's most respected bluesmen, Owens sold bootleg liquor and ran a juke joint at weekends. He was never recorded until he was in his 60s and his first albums didn't come out until the early-70s. 'It Must Have Been The Devil' was the second of these and features Owens' regular collaborator Bud Spires on harmonica. The title track is a long 'un, clocking in at almost 10 minutes. But in Hell, who's counting...?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #2

Newport Centre - 10th March 2017
Support: C Duncan

I have to admit, I was feeling a bit lukewarm at the prospect of this show. I've followed Elbow since their first album and seen them become the biggest band in the country. However I've been left a little cold by some of their more recent records. It's felt a bit like they've been treading water rather than exploring new paths. Having said that, there have been some moments of brilliance. I hoped, rather than expected, that I'd get something that excited me.

I also hoped, as I often do at gigs, that the support band would grab my attention. Unfortunately, Glasgow's C Duncan didn't cut it. I wondered what colour would best represent his brand of indie-pop, but couldn't make my mind up between beige or magnolia. Whichever is the least interesting. I'd lost interest halfway through the second song. It's not that he was bad, just that his music sounded safe, inoffensive and sterile, and I couldn't remember any of the songs within 5 seconds of him finishing them.

Elbow do seem to light a place up though. Guy Garvey is just so likeable you can't help but want to love them. Their set included half the songs from their new album, their best since 'The Seldom Seen Kid' catapulted them firmly into the hearts of the mainstream audience. Of these, All Disco stood out, as it does on the album. Other major highlights were New York Morning which was truly  stunning, and The Birds which totally floored me.

Of course they gave an airing to One Day Like This, Elbow's Losing My Religion in that it's the song that made them, but also the one I'm sick of. There was a lengthy segment in the middle of it where Guy had the audience singing, and I think that's when I realised what the one problem was for me. The last time we saw Elbow was also at the Newport Centre just after 'The Seldom Seen Kid' came out and it all felt rather intimate. They were on the verge of becoming huge then but were still not quite mainstream enough for your average person to have heard of them. This time around, MrsRobster observed there was "a lot of arm waving." She's right, Guy does seem to have gone a bit stadium rock with the arm waving and the call & response with the audience a la Freddie Mercury. So he's playing to the crowd, and if any band deserves the success they have after slogging it out for years with little recognition it's Elbow. But I never had them down as a stadium rock band, and at times it felt like that's what they'd become. That intimacy they still had 8 years ago seemed lost.

That said, on closing with a massive Grounds For Divorce, another highlight, I felt glad I'd made the effort. Elbow may now be the nation's favourite band, but even though MrsRobster and I agree that we enjoyed them a little more the last time we saw them, that doesn't mean they get a thumbs down. They are still more than interesting enough to hold my attention and, as they proved a couple of times during the show, even wow me on occasion.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Genius of Half Man Half Biscuit #8

Walter has offered up another of his favourite Half Man Half Biscuit tunes this week. This one features on 2001's 'Editor's Recommendation' EP.

I decided to give New York Skiffle the chance to appear on your blog. Why this one? Because one of the reasons I love the Biscuits is how they play with different genres and their sarcastic humour. This song is based on a traditional by Lonnie Donegan. But Nigel Blackwell exchanges the chewing gum for heroin and tells a story about the weird, complacent and intellectual Warhol-scene. Brilliant verses like "Did you rob your brother's Giro" makes the Biscuits great.

Succinct but informative as always Walter. Good tune, too. Thanks mate.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Devil's Music

The Devil Comes Back To Georgia by Mark O'Connor & Friends

Utterly pointless in me featuring Charlie Daniels' classic Devil Went Down To Georgia. There cannot be a soul alive who doesn't know it. So instead, how about the sequel? That's right, in 1993, renowned violinist and music teacher Mark O'Connor released 'Heroes', an album of violin duets featuring some of his fiddle-playing heroes, including the likes of Stéphane Grappelli, L. Shankar and, of course, Charlie Daniels. Daniels wrote The Devil Comes Back To Georgia for the record, and to bring the whole thing to life, they roped in some friends. O'Connor plays Johnny's parts, Daniels plays the Devil's. Marty Stuart is Johnny's voice, Travis Tritt is the Devil's, and the whole tale is told by none other than Johnny Cash. As good as the original? Of course not, not even remotely close, but it's a bit of fun.

The video is corny with a capital C, though I reckon Mr Cash comes off relatively unscathed...

Monday, 6 March 2017

Out to lunch

It's funny how sounds we associate from a certain time and place come back much later in new guises. Anything old will probably at some point return as new. That is perhaps more true in music as anything else. Many readers here will be able to recall with some fondness the sounds of the C86 jangle-pop era and the bands and labels that spawned them.

It's unlikely any of New Jersey's Lunch Ladies can remember those days, but they've certainly discovered that music and taken more than a modicum of inspiration. They're about to release their debut record, the 7-song 'Down On Sunset Strip', and it's clear to hear where they're coming from, musically at least.

What we get then is a potential soundtrack for your summer. With titles like Sunshine and Lazy, we get a bit of a hint, but the proof lies in the music itself. Lead single Love Is Overrated sparkles with languid chorus-laden guitars that reminds me of bands like Johnny Boy, Chorusgirl and, in places, Allo Darlin'. It could well be one of the singles of the year so far. I'm pretty sure fans of such labels as Elefant, Sarah and early Creation (Brian?) will get a kick out of Lunch Ladies.

'Down on Sunset Strip' by Lunch Ladies is out on 10 March 2017 on Good Eye Records.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #7

JC's back with another of his choice HMHB tunes. This week, it's an early one...

As much as I fell under the spell of HMHB's 1985 debut LP 'Back In The DHSS' I had a fear that any follow-up would prove to be near- unlistenable. While the main attraction of the first set of songs had been the lyrical mix of satirical humour, pathos, biting social commentary and clever digs at popular culture, much of its appeal lay in its basic and true punk rock nature with the musicians sounding as if they had only first picked up their instruments on the day of recording. But in all honesty, there's only so much of that anyone's ears can truly take.

So it was a real surprise and joy to see the band on the telly one evening delivering a solid and professional performance of two brand new songs on Whistle Test on BBC 2 in May 1986. I've since learned, via t'internet, that this remains just one of two appearances HMHB has ever made on telly and so it was a privilege not just to see it but record it to a VHS tape which I still have in a box somewhere.

The new record, 'Trumpton Riots EP' was duly bought on 12" vinyl the next day; it cost me £2.79 from the Virgin Megastore in Glasgow (the price label is still on the sleeve). It was on Probe Plus Records but was given a one-off catalogue number - TRUMP 1. Honestly!

All four of its songs remain among my all-time favourite HMHB efforts; the EP was re-released later with a new cat no. of TRUMPX 1 with a fifth, equally brilliant song added. All of them I'm sure will be part of this fantastic series at some point - indeed some may have already featured by the time this is shared with you - but I'm homing in on Side B, Track 1 - 1966 And All That.

To a Scottish football fan, the title was a brilliant piss-take of so many commentators fixation on England's World Cup triumph - little did I know that it was in fact cleverly paying homage to a satirical history book called '1066 and All That' published back in the 1930s. Musically and lyrically, it's a wonderful pastiche of the creepy love songs in a folk style that I associate with the sixties:

  "We sat and decided as the seasons collided
 That our love was fairly utopian
 If it wasn’t for my pills, my psychiatric bills
 And your unreliable Fallopian"

while the chorus goes on to name-check some of that same era's finest cult footballers such as Lev Yashin and Ferenc Puskas. Utter genius.

Oh and the kicker for me nowadays? The spoken outro gives a passing mention to George Farm, a legendary goalkeeper for Blackpool FC in the 1950s, but who in later life had two spells as manager of my own team, Raith Rovers FC. I'll take any excuse to give the Rovers a mention in a blog post...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Welsh Wednesday (Slight Return)

Today is St. David's Day when it is compulsory in Wales for everyone to wear daffodils, eat cawl and play rugby. Or something like that. There will probably be some singing though - that is something the Welsh do rather well.

Back in 2011, on my old blog From Inside The Pod, I posted two St. David's Day podcasts featuring a selection of Welsh artists past and present. I thought I'd share these again, but rather than reproduce the whole articles, I reckon all you want to know is what's on them. So here they are, with tracklistings and artwork. For the record, this does not signify the imminent return of Welsh Wednesday.

Dydd Dewi Sant 2011 (cyfrol un)
(Happy St. David's Day 2011 (volume one))

1. Welsh Rugby Fans - Cwm Rhondda (aka: Bread Of Heaven)
2. Masters In France - Control (b-side of Mad Hatter 7", 2011)
3. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Mow The Lawn (from 'Sleep/Holiday', 2003)
4. 9Bach - Gwydr Glas (trans: Blue Glass) (from '9Bach', 2009)
5. Future Of The Left - Wrigley Scott (from 'Curses', 2007)
6. Cate Le Bon - Digging Song (from 'Me Oh My', 2009)
7. Sybridion - Clywch! Clywch! (trans: Hear! Hear!) (from 'Simsalabim', 2007)
8. The Joy Formidable - Whirring [live] (from 'First You Have To Get Mad', 2009)
9. Cerys Matthews - Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (trans: Land Of My Fathers) (from 'Tir', 2010)

Dydd Dewi Sant 2011 (cyfrol dau)
(Happy St. David's Day 2011 (volume two))

1. 60 Foot Dolls - Stay (from 'The Big Three', 1996)
2. Super Furry Animals - Venus And Serena (from 'Phantom Power', 2003)
3. Dub War - Original Murder (from 'Dub Warning', 1994)
4. Badfinger - Rock Of All Ages (from 'Magic Christian Blues', 1970)
5. Goldie Lookin' Chain - By Any Means Necessary [pub rock remix] (original version from 'Asbo4Life', 2009)
6. Flyscreen - Choppersquad (from 'Girls Can't Make Gun Noises', 1998)
7. Manic Street Preachers - Prologue To History (b-side of If You Tolerate This..., 1998)
8. Euros Childs - Dawnsio Dros Y Môr (trans: Dancing Across The Sea) (from 'Chops', 2006)
9. The Darling Buds - Let's Go Round There (from 'Pop Said...', 1988)
10. Yr Alarm - Rocio Yn Ein Rhyddid (trans: Rocking In The Free World) (from 'Tân')
11. Morriston And Orpheus Male Voice Choir - Myfanwy (extract)

Monday, 27 February 2017


Jesca Hoop's new album is being raved about everywhere; Drowned In Sound gave it 10/10, The Skinny rated it 5/5. Pretty much everyone else is hailing it as her best work. They're right - it is. Typically eclectic, it's also very organic-sounding. Here's the title track which is just one of the record's highlights.

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #6

Surely there cannot be anyone worth knowing who doesn't pop over to A History Of Dubious Taste at least once a week to participate in the marathon series that is The Chain? 'Tis perhaps one of the finest things to be found anywhere on t'internet. Half Man Half Biscuit seem to pop up quite frequently, which is not terribly surprising seeing as they've written songs about pretty much every facet of daily life.

Now, the proprietor of Dubious Taste is Jez, a chap who quite frankly deserves a medal for his mammoth efforts, if only because it gives self-indulgent nerds like me a chance to show off and smugly suggest obscure songs in The Chain's comments section. Anyway, back when I first asked for contributions to this series, Jez offered this piece which he had just run himself. He kindly agreed to allow me to lift it practically word for word - so here it is. Bear in mind, his original publication date coincided with the annual farce that is the Mercury Music Prize...

Originally published on A History Of Dubious Taste on 17 September 2016

Every year, around about this time, the Mercury Music Prize is awarded. As you will probably know by now, this year the prize was scooped (that’s what you do with prizes, you scoop them, apparently) by grime artist Skepta for his 'Konnichiwa' album. Almost immediately afterwards, social media was awash with people tripping over themselves to state that this is an artist and album they’ve been into for ages, how they they’ve been predicting he would win to anyone who cared to listen, the underlying, unspoken boast being how cool they are, how their finger is bang on the pulse of contemporary music. This generally happens every year (excluding the year M People won, of course) and in the past I’ve doubtless been guilty of it myself.

I think there’s a direct correlation between my waistline and my interest in appearing cool, by which I mean as the former has expanded so the latter has waned. By which I mean I’m at an age where being cool no longer interests me.  I have never knowingly heard anything by Skepta. I’ll probably check out the album to see what the fuss is about. Maybe. Sometime. When I get round to it.

But every year, around about this time, I’m reminded of a song by a band unlikely to ever get nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, not because they’re not very good (they’re actually nothing short of brilliant) but because they are viewed by many as a bit of a 'joke' band. The song I have in mind is Paintball’s Coming Home, specifically a version they performed on Andy Kershaw’s radio show which references both the award and the band’s slim-to-non-existent chances of winning it (Kershaw once described them as “the most authentic English folk group since The Clash”). The lyrics to this version are so different to the version which featured as the closing track on their 1997 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Road' album (which makes no mention of the award), that I thought I’d post both.

It seems every time I post a song by the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit I find myself reassessing what my favourite lyric by them is, and Paintball’s Coming Home is no exception, containing as it does a litany of reasons lead singer and songwriter Nigel Blackwell dislikes a couple he knows, set to the tune of He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. Take your pick from:

  “They didn’t choose their cat, the cat chose them”
  “They go to one day cricket in fancy dress”
  “They made some real good friends on Henman Hill”
and, what for today, at least, is possibly my favourite lyric ever:
  “They buy soup in cartons, not in tins.”


Thanks Jez. And out of interest, did you ever get around to listening to that Skepta album?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Devil's Music

No Sympathy From The Devil by Public Enemy

One thing is for certain - for as long as Public Enemy are around, there will be no shortage of things for them to write about. Still fightin' the power, Chuck D will always set the sparks flying. Hell, there must be a good three albums in him with what's been going on in the US in the last six months alone. Here, he lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that he's far from finished:

  "Since when did you decide / The truth should hide / You 20-30-40, I’m 55"

And just to make sure we get the message: "I'm in my September / But the devil remembers." Keep rockin' it through December, Chuck. Man plans, God laughs, and the Devil rubs his hands with glee. Bring the noise.

We return to the Devil's lair in two weeks...

Monday, 20 February 2017

Compiled #1

Something a little while back inspired me to dig out some old compilation records and I got to thinking about all the music I've discovered over the years thanks to various artists comps. I've therefore decided to feature some of my most fondly remembered ones. This isn't intended to be a 'Compilations to take to my grave'-type series, neither am I planning to put a particular number on how many I'm going to write about. I'll probably dig out one or two a month and see how long it takes to get bored of it. You might be surprised by one or two of them.

#1: IQ 6 Zang Tumb Tuum Sampled

This is one I used to have on vinyl and, until recently, thought I still had. Turns out though, it's missing. I was actually quite upset about this so went online and bought the recent CD reissue which includes bonus tracks and a DVD. 'IQ 6 Zang Tumb Tuum Sampled' was originally released in 1985 when the label's flagship band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, was at the height of its popularity. The record's selling point was the inclusion of two then-unreleased Frankie tracks. That's what made me buy it, anyway. I was a tad disappointed. Disneyland would have been one of 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome''s weakest moments had it made it onto the album, while the so-called "live" version of Born To Run (yes, the Springsteen song) was essentially a recording of the band miming it on The Tube. It sounded almost identical to the studio take on the album.

My dissatisfaction was tempered somewhat by the inclusion of some other great tracks. Most notable of these was a quite brilliant mix of Propaganda's p:Machinery. I'd previously come across Propaganda when I heard Dr. Mabuse on 'Now That's What I Call Music 3' the previous year. But this track, in all its 8-minute glory was the one that grabbed me, and has remained with me since. I can't understand why Propaganda weren't as huge as they should have been. Claudia Brücken’s sharp, German accent may not have helped their cause, but to me this just made them sound more exotic. 'Sampled' also contained Propaganda's cover of the Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale, previously a b-side of Dr. Mabuse. I had no idea who the Velvets were at the time, but it's interesting now to hear this version again having become so familiar with the original in the intervening years.

l-r: Frankie Goes To Hollywood; Propaganda; Anne Pigalle; Instinct

A brand new discovery for me was a band called Instinct. Their track Swamp Out was another big fave of mine, but I never followed them up for some reason. Not that there was anything to follow up. During the recording of their debut album they fell out with producer Trevor Horn, ditched the recordings and split. I still think Swamp Out sounds good, if rather dated.

Elsewhere, there were a couple of Art Of Noise tracks (a band I already knew), two extracts of a composition by modern classical artist Andrew Poppy, and two songs by French chanteuse Anne Pigalle. I wasn't sure at the time if I liked Pigalle's music; it intrigued me but I didn't make a habit of playing it that much. Her only album for ZTT, 'Everything Could Be So Perfect', remained her only album full stop for more than 25 years. It was recently reissued and is well worth tracking down.

I remember playing 'Sampled' quite a lot back in the day. I thought I was quite sophisticated owning a record containing what I regarded as rather arty, esoteric music. I was only 14 at the time... In 2015, it was reissued on CD as 'The Value Of Entertainment'. The CD contained some rather unremarkable bonus tracks ('alternative versions' of the Instinct track and the Frankie not-really-live track that sound almost exactly like the originals; an Andrew Poppy live track and a bunch of Art Of Noise noises), but the draw is the DVD featuring the documentary The Value Of Entertainment. This was a film made during the concerts held to promote 'Sampled' and features some great footage of Propaganda, the Art Of Noise, Instinct and Anne Pigalle. The downside is that it is presented by ZTT co-owner Paul Morley, a man so up his own arse he can probably taste what he ate for dinner the previous evening. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating watch. On the whole, 'Sampled' sounds very much of its time - it hasn't aged well at all - but it remains one of my all-time fave compilations.