Monday, 13 November 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#28: Night Of The Lotus Eaters [extended version]

One of Nick's most hypnotic and eerie songs, it's essentially based on Mick Harvey's three-note riff repeated over and over. Taken from 2008's 'Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!' album, it's credited to the Bad Seeds, but sounds more like what Grinderman were doing around that time. In fact, the line-up - in the video at least - features only three Bad Seeds: Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos were both in Grinderman with Nick, but here it's Harvey in place of Martyn P. Casey.

The meaning of the song is rather opaque. In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters were a race of people living on an island dominated by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy. Nick uses chivalrous symbolism for the role against the "philistines and barbarians" - a heater is a kind of shield and a sap is a short club. Therefore are the lotus eaters the brainwashed materialistic masses "roaming the shopping malls"? Is he urging us to fight back against our "catastrophic leaders" to keep our honour and integrity? Or am I way off the mark?



Friday, 27 October 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #9

Public Service Broadcasting
Colston Hall, Bristol - 23 October 2017
Support: Palace


You're probably getting tired of me writing about Public Service Broadcasting. The stats suggest you were never that interested to begin with.

Don't care!

Public Service Broadcasting ARE one of the best bands around right now. Their records are intriguing and original, and their concerts are something of an event. We first saw them four years ago - twice - in tiny Cardiff venues, around the time of their first album's release. Both dates were sold out, the venues packed. Back then, just Willgoose and Wrigglesworth were onstage with their visuals guy discreetly lurking in the shadows, projecting the cleverly put-together film clips and effects that illustrate the songs onto a big screen at the back of the stage and a stack of vintage TV screens at the front. We've seen them twice more since in very different settings (read here and here).

On Monday night, we travelled to Bristol to see them for a fifth time at the Colston Hall, one of our favourite venues. I had a feeling it would prove to be the perfect venue for PSB, and I was proved right. And my, how they've grown. The venues they're playing now are considerably larger, accommodating 10 times as many people - but they're still selling them out. The line-up is also greater; as well as the two mainstays and the visuals expert Mr B., they now have a full-time fourth member JF Abraham and a touring brass section (more on them later). The visuals and lighting are more ambitious and high-tech than ever too.

The show's intro music is David Bowie's Sound & Vision, an apt description of what is to follow. And what followed was 90 minutes of extraordinary sound and vision from a band I never grow tired of watching. Personal highlights for me were plentiful. The Other Side, the story of Apollo 8's manned mission to orbit the moon, was stunning. The bit where signal is lost with the spacecraft and mission control - and us - await to hear from the crew as they emerge from the other side of the moon is spine-tingling. There's near silence, the audience rapt and on tenterhooks as the tension mounts. From the new album, They Gave Me A Lamp was wonderful, the band joined onstage by Haiku Salut, the trio who provide the vocals and accordion on the record. All Out, the one about the miners strike, is a right rebel rouser. When the female voice utters the words "I was brought up to respect the police. I don't respect them now," I always smile. I don't know why.

For me, the biggest high point was the encore. The band emerged onstage with none other than James Dean Bradfield of my beloved Manic Street Preachers in tow. He proceeded to deliver a stirring rendition of his contribution to 'Every Valley', Turn No More (see pic). MrsRobster, who was never a Manics fan (to put it lightly), was cheered up by the next song. Gagarin was the moment on 'The Race For Space' when PSB got funky. The brass section shines on this one, especially when they launch into their impressive dance moves before being joined by two more dancers in spacesuits. This was the real fun moment of the set, although in truth, there's nothing that isn't fun about a PSB set.

It's been great seeing a band mature from the days of small, sweaty, dank clubs to theatres and mid-sized concert halls in such a short period of time. They will continue to grow, I've no doubt, and maybe I'll still be writing about them despite no fucker reading.

Don't care!


No MP3s today. Instead, a couple of videos. First, I found PSB's performance of Go! in Leeds a few nights before the Bristol show:



And here's their latest single. Yep, the one with that Manics bloke. This was absolutely IMMENSE live.



Monday, 23 October 2017

"Dust turns into gold..."

One of my favourite albums of 2017 is 'Kinder Versions' by Mammút. It's their fourth album; the first to be released in English and the first to gain a release outside their native Iceland. Very, very good it is, too. They're playing Cardiff next month so watch this space. In the meantime, here's the new video for one of the record's best songs.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #8

Nadine Shah
The Globe, Cardiff – 15 October 2017
Support: Life


On the eve of a hurricane hitting the British Isles, I was getting blown away in a small live music venue in Cardiff by one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in recent times. Nadine Shah’s new album ‘Holiday Destination’ has become my favourite record of 2017. Tackling such themes as immigration, the refugee crisis and mental health, it’s an often uncomfortable listen, but incredibly forceful and moving at the same time. Its transformation to the live setting is nothing short of astonishing.

First off, a few words about the support band. Life don’t have a name that you can Google all too easily but if you’re searching for a new band with a bit of an edge in these dark times instead of the increasing torrent of insipid electro-pop dross, I think you may find solace in this quartet from Hull. To describe Life simply as a punk band is to do them a disservice, but their energy and attitude evokes a certain spirit that often emerges in troubled times. While their singer displays characteristics of a Jarvis Cocker bent, he can also bellow messages of anger, frustration and, most welcomingly, hope.  There were certainly a few memorable moments in their set and I, along with I suspect a few others, will be checking out their self-released album ‘Popular Music’. In fact, I spotted a guy I work with, who was also in attendance, clutching a vinyl copy at the end of the night.

Nadine Shah first came to my attention a couple of years ago when singles from her last album ‘Fast Food’ were getting regular plays on 6 Music. By contrast, I haven’t heard a single tune from ‘Holiday Destination’ aired by said station this year. That’s tragic. Not only do we need its messages more than ever right now, we also need to hear more music of such remarkable quality on our radios. It really is an extraordinary album, and we were treated to an opening salvo of its first three tracks tonight. The addition of the sax to Nadine’s sound is an interesting move, but it serves to accentuate the most menacing aspects of some of these songs.

‘Holiday Destination’ is a very rhythmic, percussive-sounding record that translates wonderfully to the live setting. As a result, the earlier songs that were aired were reinterpreted to fit this sound. They sounded all the better for it. Aching Bones and Runaway sounded fresh and reinvigorated, while Stealing Cars and Fool sit comfortably with the brooding, dark nature of the new songs. Nadine’s deep, tremulous voice rounds off the ominous, yet emotive feel of the whole set. Yet, when she speaks to the audience, it’s like the sun comes out.

You see, for all the darkness in her music, Nadine is actually very funny. There’s something about people from the north-east and their wit. Quick and incisive, Nadine lightens the mood with her tales of “Simpsons heckling” during Radiohead at Glastonbury and writing Fool about “a lovely, lovely fella” who she almost immediately reveals is actually a “total cunt”. She also informs us that ‘Holiday Destination’’s closing track Jolly Sailor was number one in the iTunes chart in Lithuania. “I don’t know what that’s about,” she muses. “I’ve got an ex-boyfriend there but he definitely hasn’t been buying it, cos he fuckin’ hates me.”

Yet when it comes back to her songs, the emotion and sheer passion comes flooding out. Speaking as a second-generation immigrant, she extols the virtues of immigration and being able to draw on different cultures to become a richer person, soaking up the bigotry and violence that often accompanies it. She speaks from experience, adding: “Anyone who reckons immigration is a bad thing is a fucking idiot.” That gets one of the biggest cheers of the night. The band then launches into Out The Way, one of the most rousing, yet abrasive songs of the year, and without a doubt my fave. It damn near set the place alight! The evening’s final song, new single Mother Fighter, about a Syrian refugee who goes back to her homeland to help fight for its freedom and provide a safe future for her family, is clearly one of the songs Nadine feels most strongly about. She gave an impassioned speech about the plight of refugees around the world and the seemingly non-existent coverage of the issue in our media. It looked for a moment like she was going to break down in tears as she spoke. The performance of the song was stunning and heartfelt.

In this day and age, when everyone wants everything quick, cheap and disposable, it’s becoming increasingly rare to find an artist who is so genuine and powerful as Nadine Shah. Making the album of the year is one thing, but to be so utterly convincing on stage, the hardest place to hide of all, is another entirely. A “wow!” escaped my lips at the end of the show. That hasn’t happened in some time.


Monday, 16 October 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#27: God Is In The House [live]

This just has to be one of my all-time favourite performances from Later... With Jools Holland. Nick and the Bad Seeds around the piano for an exquisite, intimate rendition of God Is In The House from 2001's 'No More Shall We Part'. There's a bit during the last verse where the camera pans in slowly on Nick as he practically whispers, hovering in closeup while he sings "If we all hold hands and very quietly shoouuut 'Hallelujah'..." before it retreats for the final few lines. I love that part. The song? A tale of a rather sinister-sounding Christian utopia sung in places with barely-concealed venom. Only Nick Cave is capable of a song like this, and the performance - simply stunning.



Friday, 6 October 2017

"Sinner I... oh oh oh oh!"

The Breeders have released a new song, their first in nine years! This is fantastic news of course, especially as it is the 'classic' line-up that recorded 'Last Splash' back in the day. Wait In The Car sounds like it would have slotted in nicely on that record, and it is the first of three 7" singles the band is releasing before the year is out. Is there a new album due as well? I dunno, but let's be grateful for this for now. Anything Kim Deal puts her name to is positively dripping with brilliance, and this song puts a HUGE smile on my face.



Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Tom

I wasn't planning on posting anything so soon, but I'm pretty crushed after hearing Tom Petty died. The first time I came across him was when this video was shown on a Saturday morning TV show when I was 13-14 years old.



It freaked me out a little at the time. He made a marvellously creepy Mad Hatter. I suppose my favourite Petty album has to be 'Full Moon Fever' because of those songs, but 'Into The Great Wide Open' was a huge store favourite when I worked at Our Price. It was hardly off the deck for the best part of a year.

Then there was his work with the Travelling Wilburys. Handle With Care is still a wonderful, wonderful tune, and reminds us, sadly, that three fifths of them are no longer with us.



Sensational.

Tom Petty was 66. Far, far, far too fucking young. A couple months ago he played Hyde Park looking fit as a fiddle. There are so many songs of his I could post, I love loads of them. But I'm going to finish off with this live version of Learning To Fly which has the added bonus of having Stevie Nicks on backing vocals. Let's face it, very few people could ever boast that!




Monday, 2 October 2017

Lose my mind

Estrons are probably Wales' brightest new hope. I've raved about them two or three times here already, but they still seem to be putting out songs of the very highest quality. There have a been three new songs over the summer, but we still await news of a debut album. In the meantime, check out the video for one of those new songs, the rip-roaring Strobe Lights. Great stuff this.


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 good weather we've had this year has been over the last three weeks. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I think 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.




Friday, 11 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #19

It's back to the Green Tour this week and a boot I bought on vinyl which has subsequently been issued on CD and digital formats. There seems to be some kind of loophole which allows some bootlegs to be commercially issued kind of semi-officially without infringing any laws. That's the case with this one. You can buy it on Amazon if you like the sound of it.

Anyway, I played this one quite a bit back in the day as it was great-sounding, probably as a result of it being taken directly from an FM radio broadcast. The sleeve claims the show was recorded in Orlando, Florida on 30 April 1989, but the majority of the record seems to be taken from a show in Miami the previous night. Exactly what tracks are taken from which show is unclear, but it's hardly important. It's the most widely-booted R.E.M. performance but probably not one that those who are not R.E.M. collectors are likely to have heard. The boot has been released under various titles but there are many versions called 'Songs For A Green World' which happens to be what my vinyl copy is called.

I've chosen three tracks from it to share with you. Crazy is the Pylon song. Pylon supported R.E.M. during the final leg of the Green Tour from late October to mid-November across the southern US states. Up to then, Crazy featured in R.E.M.'s set and I reckon this is a more than decent rendition. Get Up was one of 'Green''s poppiest moments. It works well live as the calls to "Get up, get up" could be hollered by the crowd. Apparently, Stipe wrote it as a call to Mike Mills to get his lazy arse out of bed during the recording sessions. And the simultaneous musical boxes in the bridge were Bill Berry's idea after it came to him in a dream. OK, enough Get Up facts...

The final track is dedicated to MrsRobster. It's her birthday today and the title reflects all that she is and forever will be. "I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music." You Are The Everything was a surprise highlight on 'Green' and hinted strongly at the direction the band would take next. Live, Bill Berry played bass, Peter Buck played mandolin and Mike Mills played accordian. It's a phenomenal track and Stipe sings it so, so well.

Happy Birthday babe. "The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen / And they're there for you."

(Mind you, the first of these songs might relate to her too...)



Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

For the fourth week in a row, it's a cover version, although to be fair in this case it's the cover that is probably better known. In 1982, Rita Marley released her second solo album 'Harambé'. It included this fantastic version of a song originally by The Love Joys. And it is a joy. It's basically about getting stoned.

Now I know I usually write more than this, but you surely don't need me to tell you who Rita Marley is and her history, etc. If you do, you're definitely reading the wrong blog and are probably not into music. Try this instead. For everyone else, well one listen to the tune and you'll realise that, in all honesty, words are not necessary - this is all you need.




Monday, 7 August 2017

Feeling Feisty?

Leslie Feist has been rather busy just lately. As well as releasing her fifth solo album back in the spring, she also teamed back up with her old mates Broken Social Scene for their first record in seven years. Both albums have been played A LOT around here, so here's a track from each.

Century features Jarvis Cocker musing on how long a century is. His maths is wrong and he fails to account for leap years, but putting that aside, it's Jarvis so he can get away with it. The video features The Jarv and a brilliant face off between Feist and Maria Doyle Kennedy, formerly of the Hothouse Flowers but best known as an actress in Father Ted, Downton Abbey and, currently, Orphan Black. She kills it here, too! The only downside is the way the song ends. Yes, it's intentional, but I still find it bloody annoying...



Feist takes lead vocal on the title track of Broken Social Scene's 'Hug Of Thunder'. No video exists for this track, and she hasn't performed live with the band during the current round of pormotional duties, but the studio version still sounds wonderful on its own.




Friday, 4 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #18

OK, so I teased you a bit on Monday. I had every intention of posting the two exclusive R.E.M. tracks from 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' even though many of you probably have them. 'Lifes Rich Pageant' was the second R.E.M. album I ever heard. The same guy who tipped me off about 'Document' also lent me his cassette of its predecessor. I loved that too. I still think the first four tracks are flawless in their sequencing.

Interestingly, 'LRP' contains two of the band's earliest songs that to that point they'd never recorded. These Days was being played as far back as 1980, the very year they formed, while What If We Give It Away dates from just a year or so later and was originally called Get On Their Way. I'm not sure why it took until 1986 for them both to be finally recorded, but there is a feeling the band may have been short of material. Surely not? Well, when you consider the original tracklist comprised just 10 songs with two more - a cover version and a cheesy bossa-nova filler track - flung on at the last minute, you can see where such an idea came from. The final 12-track version still weighed in at less than 40 minutes. Yet, listening to it even now is 40 minutes well spent.

In 1992, all the band's IRS albums were reissued in Europe with bonus tracks. I bought a few of them as imports. While some of the bonus tracks were previously released as b-sides, one or two exclusives did emerge. One such track was on the 'Lifes Rich Pageant' release. Tired Of Singing Trouble is a short pseudo-gospel pastiche which seems to act as a vehicle for Stipe's vocal experimentation. His voice was now venturing much higher into the mix on record and tracks like this might have helped him establish the vocal style he would adopt on subsequent albums. Tired Of Singing Trouble has never appeared on any other reissue so it remains something of a rarity.

Also on that European reissue were the tracks recorded for the 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' documentary. Swan Swan H. was on the original album but this live rendition is wonderful. As is its companion piece, a take on the Everly Brothers classic All I Have To Do Is Dream. This is even more wonderful. I love the way Stipe and Mills sing together. Mills' harmonies were rarely anything other than spot on, and his harmonic basslines served to compliment things further (as you can hear on Swan Swan H.). I've never understood why he has never made a solo record.




Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Another interesting cover version for you this week. The Voice Of Thunder, more commonly known as Prince Far I, was one very interesting character. Having deejayed around Jamaica for a number of years, Prince Far I became one of the country's most respected recording artists during the 1970s. While his vocal style has been dubbed 'toasting', he preferred to label himself a 'chanter' rather than a 'toaster'.

His first album, 'Psalms For I', in 1975 was a collection of psalms and prayers for illiterate people who could not read the Bible themselves. Far I's faith cropped up in numerous tracks throughout his career, but he wasn't shy of politics either. The title of his second album 'Under Heavy Manners' referred to the state of emergency rule imposed by the Jamaican government in 1976, many tenets of which he disagreed with.

Today's song is taken from that album. Deck Of Cards was written and originally performed in 1948 by country singer T. Texas Tyler, although the story told in the song dates back to 1762 as penned by British farmer's wife Mary Bacon. Since Tyler's version, there have been many takes on it. The one I remember is by Max Bygraves. No, really. He had a huge hit with it in the UK in 1973 and my mum and dad had one of his albums that contained it. It was played a lot when I was a wee nipper. The song's style is ripe for parody - and in fact there have been many of those. From the Soft Boys to Eric Idle; Penn and Teller to Bill Oddie; Mike Harding to Max Boyce (whose version was about the Welsh national rugby team).

Prince Far I turned the tale of a Christian soldier into a dub masterpiece. Produced by the Mighty Two and backed by Joe Gibbs' house band The Professionals, it is one heavy beast. Certainly, Max never did it this way...

Prince Far I was shot dead in 1983. Some accounts say it was a robbery, while others claim it was because of the political symbols he painted on the outside of his house. Either way it was a tragic end.




I need to post more dub in this series, though there aren't many chapters left. Hmmm, might squeeze one more in somewhere...

Monday, 31 July 2017

Compiled #5


(Problems with Pixeldrain again, so today's links come courtesy of Nippyshare...)

I had originally planned to write about some of my other favourite compilations like 'Ruby Trax' and 'Alvin Lives (In Leeds)' but I decided against it in the end. Why? Well JC did some in-depth pieces on the former a little while ago and I can't add much more to what he wrote, while the latter has been written about in some form or other by plenty of others over the years. I'm sure Brian must have done something about it at some point.

So, the final episode in this mini-series is a bit of a cheat, really. You see, I never actually owned a physical copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack so it can't really be considered influential in my life. But it's a really good, varied record that deserves revisiting. And it's not even a proper compilation album, more a soundtrack; most of the songs included were recorded live specially. So maybe it doesn't belong in this series at all. Regardless...

If you didn't know, 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' was a documentary released in 1986 about the music scene in the town of Athens, Georgia. I only ever wanted the soundtrack to 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' for the R.E.M. tracks. For some reason it seemed practically impossible to track down. Not sure why, but I just never saw it anywhere and my local record shops were unable to order it in. I finally got hold of the R.E.M. songs as bonus tracks on a European reissue of 'Lifes Rich Pageant' on CD, so never pursued it any further.

I did, however, buy the video of the film at some point and found it intriguing. I'd never heard of most of the bands who featured. Of course, R.E.M. and the B-52s were by far the most successful of the lot, and I'd heard of Pylon purely because of R.E.M.'s cover of Crazy. But some of the other bands went on to have quite lengthy careers. Take the Flat Duo Jets, for instance. Not only did they release eight albums before they broke up in 1998, but they were a massive influence on the raucous two-piece blues rock bands who followed in their wake. No less than Jack White name-checked them often.


Love Tractor were another lot who had staying power, releasing four albums before they split (and a further three post-reforming). Pretty originally appeared on their second record 'Around The Bend', but this live version was captured at the legendary 40 Watt Club.


Most of the songs on the soundtrack were recorded live as a way of capturing 'the scene'. There were one or two studio tracks though. The mighty Pylon contributed a song from their debut album, 1980's 'Gyrate'. Stop It remains one of Vanessa Briscoe Hay's best vocals.


Dreams So Real is a band I still know almost nothing about. They did release four albums before breaking up in 1990. Golden, the track that appears on the Athens, GA. soundtrack curiously didn't feature in the film itself. Nor did it appear on any of their albums, though it was included on the 1992 compilation 'Nocturnal Omissions'.


Of course, the R.E.M. tracks will feature at some point in my ongoing Friday series. Maybe. Perhaps if the B-52s had a track on the album I might have included that, but strangely there wasn't one. In the film all we got from them was some very unsatisfactory archive clips and a couple of interviews. So instead, I'll sign off with the opening track on the soundtrack which also found itself being put out as a single. The Squalls released just two albums that very few people bought. This track, however, is incredibly hummable. Well, the chorus is. It's made it onto a few compilations I've done over the years.


Eventually, I finally managed to get hold of a copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack, albeit digitally. Not the same, I know, but better than nothing.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #17

The 1999 fan club single was the first to be issued on CD. My guess is any plans to make it a 7" were scuppered by the running times. Both songs were recorded live in October 1998 at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit concert in California. Young, in fact, features on both tracks. On one side was Young backed by R.E.M. (minus Stipe) performing Ambulance Blues, originally the closing track on Young's 1974 album 'On The Beach'. However, you're getting the other side.

As you probably know, Country Feedback is my favourite R.E.M. song. It's also Michael Stipe's. This epic nine-minute acoustic version features the then-touring line-up of the band with Young guesting on guitar. He plays a particularly long solo, but that's not wholly surprising I suppose. It sounds very different to the album version, mainly because of the piano and acoustic guitars-a-plenty. The album version will never be beaten, but this one is hardly inferior.

1999 was the year of Man On The Moon, the movie about US comedian Andy Kaufman. R.E.M. wrote and scored the mainly orchestral soundtrack which also included a couple of new songs along with the established title track. Kaufman was played in the movie by Jim Carrey who performed one of those new songs with the band. This Friendly World is a disposable pop song that Stipe sings nicely while Jim Carrey larks around supposedly in character in his annoying over-acting kind of way. No, I'm not a fan.

Not many people bought the soundtrack other than devoted R.E.M. fans, even though the single released from it - The Great Beyond - was the band's highest-charting hit in the UK. This Friendly World is a silly, non-essential piece, but a fairly unknown curio which is why I'm including here.



Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

OK, so this is an interesting one. Now, you probably know that Delroy Wilson (aka The Cool Operator) was a pioneer of reggae music, starting out in 1962 aged just 13. He saw the birth of ska, rocksteady and reggae and became the first superstar of the genre. He's namechecked in the Clash's (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (what higher accolade is there?) and has worked with more massive names in Jamaican music than I can be bothered to list here.

You'll know many of his songs, but this one - well, you'll know the tune but perhaps not the lyrics. I've had a real hard time finding anything out about this track. I can tell you it came out as a single in 1974 in both the UK and Jamaica, but it never seems to have made it onto an album or, indeed, any of the many compilations of Delroy's work. It did, however, make it onto a Trojan Records boxset called 'Motor City Reggae' in 2006. There are no writer's credits on the original records, but the box set names the legendary Holland, Dozier, Holland. As I implied just now however, the words are different to the ones you'll be familiar with, so I'm not sure who contributed what to this version.

I'm certain this isn't rated as among Delroy's best work, but I'm posting it because if nothing else it's intriguing.




Monday, 24 July 2017

Out The Way!

The new Nadine Shah record could well prove to be the album of the year. She's put out three tracks so far and all are startlingly good, but this one in particular is absolutely mindlblowing. It's powerful, both musically and lyrically. Nadine's delivery is sparky and passionate, and the video is utterly stunning. Combined, it's all rather uncomfortable, but life really is for many people at the moment, particularly those who find themselves unwelcome in their own country (like this one) purely because of their ethnic origin. Or those fleeing from war and finding themselves not welcome by those who should be helping them. That's what Out The Way is all about.

Nadine's new songs sound confrontational and fiery, but that's proving to be a fine thing. The new album 'Holiday Destination' is out on 25th August. That's, like, a whole MONTH away. I don't think I can wait...


Friday, 21 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #16

It's time for the infamous Bingohandjob show! There really can't be anyone who was ever a fan of R.E.M. who isn't aware of this, but here goes anyway. In 1991, the band embarked on a low-key tour to support the release of 'Out Of Time'. The shows they played were almost exclusively small, acoustic performances featuring Peter Holsapple of the dB's and a special guest or two. In March, they descended on London's tiny Borderline to play two nights to fans, friends and record company acquaintances. They have become the stuff of legend.

Bootlegs of the shows have been in wide circulation over the years, and a few songs were even officially issued as b-sides. I actually have two bootlegs - one on vinyl, the other on CD. The vinyl one came first and featured 21 tracks. I picked up the CD a couple years later. It contained more songs but with one or two tracks that were on the vinyl strangely missing. Even then, combined, they don't contain everything.

The sets contained most of the songs from Out Of Time, plus arrangements of fave songs from the back catalogue. But weaved in amongst them were cover versions, jams, lots of banter and general drunken silliness. Not only did the band play under the aforementioned moniker Bingohandjob, but each band member had an assumed name also; Stipe was 'Stinky', Mills was 'Ophelia', Buck was 'Raoul', Berry was 'The Doc' and Holsapple was 'Spanish Charlie'. They were joined by Billy Bragg ('Conrad') and Robyn Hitchcock ('Violet').


Both Bragg and Hitchcock played short solo sets during the show, but aside from a couple of songs where Stipe sang with Bragg, neither seem to have made it onto any of the boots. Also, the vinyl version contains a full band rendition of Hitchcock's song Listening To The Higsons, but this was omitted from the CD. Sadly, I don't have a copy of my vinyl ripped to be able to share that song, but I am going to post a few other gems from the show. Yes, you may already know them - you probably have a copy of the shows in some form or other - but no series covering R.E.M. bootlegs and rarities could ever be considered complete without including a Bingohandjob episode.

First up, another abandoned version of Jackson, but this time it leads into Stipe and Bragg duetting on Dallas with, erm, spontaneous lyrics... Later on, Michael entertains us with a little solo organ song introduced by his tale about his brilliant organ part in an upcoming song. That song is a cover of Bob Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, featuring the entire cast led by Robyn Hitchcock.

To round off, Stipe and Mills say goodnight with a spine-tingling acapella take on Moon River. The respect the audience gives the pair of them, listening in near silence, is something you simply don't get at gigs any more. You can just make out a voice at the very end of the recording saying "Perfect. Unbelievable." You can't help but agree.




And as a bonus, here's a song that never made it onto any of the bootlegs. Someone in the crowd appears to have filmed one of the shows and uploaded it years later onto YouTube. Not everything is there, but I was delighted to find this. It's just Stipe and Mills performing Syd Barrett's Dark Globe. Stipe is on top form, proving what a great frontman he was, particularly during this period.



Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Yet another legend this week. Little Roy first recorded in 1965 aged just 12 years old and had his first Jamaican number one aged 16 with what is believed to be the first song about the Rastafari movement. He was the first artist to record a song using the word 'reggae' and is considered one of roots reggae's founding fathers. Over the years he has worked with such luminaries as Prince Buster, Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Dennis Brown.

In 2011, he became what must be the first reggae artist to release an album of Nirvana cover versions. 'Battle For Seattle' was recorded with Prince Fatty and includes versions of songs that spanned Nirvana's short career. For the most part it holds together pretty well, although I could live without his take on Sliver.

The highlights for me are Dive, Polly and today's track Lithium, all of which sound like they could have been written as upbeat reggae numbers rather than angst-ridden grunge anthems. Stick this on your summer party mixtape and watch the place light up.



(There seem to be problems with Pixeldrain so today's link is with a different host. Let me now if you have any issues.)

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#24: Where The Wild Roses Grow

Nick's biggest UK hit came from an unlikely source - 1996's 'Murder Ballads' album, a record all about killing and death. As ever though, it was laced with trademark Cave humour and beauty. Probably the thing that sold this song to most is the presence of another famous Aussie, Kylie Minogue. The video is brilliant, some wonderful cinematography and it fits the song perfectly. And doesn't Kylie look absolutely delectable? Yep, MrsRobster's not going to be happy with me, but it really has to be said.




In 2013, while making the '20,000 Days on Earth' movie, Nick and the Bad Seeds played a stripped-down set at an intimate show in London. Since Kylie was in town, they asked her along to perform Where The Wild Roses Grow with them for the first time in 15 years...



Friday, 14 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #15

I've been holding this week's bootleg back for a little while. It was deliberate. I wanted to reward those of you who have endured this series up to this point. There has been some sludge, and while there have been some undoubtedly wonderful selections up to now, I think today's tracks really are the best so far.

Demos for debut album 'Murmur' took place in late 1982/early 1983 with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. Even early in the sessions it was clear that not only were most of the songs complete, but they were already sounding exquisite. Listening to some of those demos - which have never been officially released - you can't help but think Dixon and Easter must have been beaming from ear to ear throughout. These versions I'm posting today were not the final versions - far from it - but my god do they sound wonderful.

Well, OK, Romance never made the final album and it wasn't released in any form until some years later when a re-recorded version appeared on a movie soundtrack. But it had been a regular in the live set and no surprise it was trialled for the record. This version is not a million miles away from that much later version, but clearly isn't as polished. Even so, it's a delight to hear it.

Shaking Through was a highlight on 'Murmur'. This version sounds lovely and bright. Stipe's vocal was later redone but here it is pretty close to perfection. But the best has been saved 'til last. The version of Sitting Still on the album is very close in sound to the original that appeared on the debut single in 1981. But this demo version is... well, just listen to it. Those backing vocals - are they simply MAGNIFICENT or what? They were buried in the mix on the album cut, but here - oh how they sparkle. Sitting Still remains one of R.E.M.'s best early songs, but if this was the version on the album, it would be head and shoulders above everything else they put out. I beam like a loony every time I hear this track.

I'm not overdoing it, am I?



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

The Wailing Souls formed in 1964 as The Renegades, changing their name a few years later. In their 50-plus years together, they have become one of reggae's best known and loved acts. Two of their founding members - Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd "Bread" McDonald - are still going strong, recording and performing. A new album is reportedly in the works with Sly & Robbie at the controls.

The early 70s saw the rise of a band known as The Wailers, led by some young upstart calling himself Bob Marley. You may have heard of them. Anyway, fearing confusion with this other lot, the Wailing Souls recorded under various different names for a while, including The Little Roys, Attamas and Pipe & The Pipers. A couple of singles were also released under the name of The Classics. One of these was Mr. Fire Coal Man.

The first time I heard this song was actually the cover released by Stiff Little Fingers as the b-side to Back To Front, but I've become more familiar with The Wailing Souls version in the intervening years. Well, I say version - the truth is they recorded the song several times and it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint the actual version you're listening to. The one I'm posting today is, I'm pretty certain, the version released under the Classics moniker. It came out in 1971 on the Banana label in the UK and Supreme Records in Jamaica. It's a great example of the new emerging reggae sound that still has something of a ska and rocksteady sound to it.




Monday, 10 July 2017

Weaver fever

Electronic music doesn't generally grab me like the sound of squalling guitars, but every now and then I get teased, tantalised and tempted by something synth-based. Jane Weaver's latest album 'Modern Kosmology' is a great example of such electronica making me all hot under the collar. In a largely unfulfilling year so far, this is one record that's been getting quite a bit of play time in TheRobster family car. I enjoyed her last album, but this one really is the ticket.

Slow Motion is one of my singles of the year; a pristine piece of psyche-pop.



Follow-up single Did You See Butterflies? is altogether more dreamy and spacey, but no less engaging.



Friday, 7 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #14

The Monster Tour was R.E.M.'s first tour in more than five years. It saw them playing enormous venues, moving on from the large arenas they played during the Green Tour to stadiums. MrsRobster and I hooked up during the UK leg when we saw them at Cardiff Arms Park. You can see why I have such fondness for this era...

Another concert movie was made to mark the significance of the Monster Tour. While Roadmovie may not have as high acclaim as Tourfilm did, it was still quite brilliant as far as concert movies go. In order to make more of a show within the vast spaces they were playing in, the band incorporated more of a visual aspect than they had before with large-scale projections used as backdrops. They also augmented their line-up with additional musicians (Scott McCaughey and Nathan December) something they had never done before in a concert setting.

Roadmovie is a worthwhile document of a much feted tour. I love most of the songs on 'Monster' and they sound amazing live. I might have to post I Took Your Name from this in a future post because it just sounds incredible. But for now...

This tour resulted in R.E.M.'s next album. All the songs for 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' were written during the Monster Tour, and most of them recorded live during shows and soundchecks. One of those new songs, Revolution, didn't make the subsequent record. By the time they came to compile it, the political references and themes in the lyrics had dated to the point where it was deemed out of step with the rest of the album. A studio version was recorded and given over to the Batman & Robin soundtrack, but the live version on Roadmovie is deemed to be far superior. I don't disagree.

Let Me In was Michael Stipe's tribute to his late friend Kurt Cobain. It is the outstanding highlight on 'Monster' and to this day remains one of my all-time top 5 R.E.M. tracks. Live, Mike Mills plays a guitar owned by Cobain, while Peter Buck plays keyboards. The flashing visuals flicker relentlessly as the sprawling guitar reverberates around the vast space, filling the air with the most unusual and unique sounds ever heard at an R.E.M. show. It is an intensely personal and emotional song for Stipe, and rather uncomfortable for the listener. Typically, this is probably why I adore it so much and always have. During the Cardiff date, I remember experiencing a real jawdropping 'wow' moment when they played Let Me In. Watching it in Roadmovie again takes me right back there.



I can't not post the clip now, can I...? Instructions: turn off the lights, close the curtains. Listen through a decent pair of headphones at high volume and watch full screen. Be blown away.