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.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Bunny Wailer - roots reggae pioneer, original member of the Wailers, Bob Marley's stepbrother... yeah yeah yeah, we all know who he is and his standing in reggae circles. I'm not going to write any more about that. Instead, let's just have a tune.

Bunny's fourth solo album, 'In I Father's House', was a six-track effort released in 1980 in Jamaica only. A couple of years later it was given a worldwide release, though with a rearranged track order, two additional songs and a new title. Both versions of the record opened with the same track. On the original it was called Roots Raddics; on the reissue, it was dubbed Roots Radics Rockers Reggae and became the title track.

Bunny is still performing. Last year he toured performing his solo debut album 'Blackheart Man' to mark its 40th anniversary. He is one of only two surviving original Wailers. Anyone know who the other is?

Monday, 3 July 2017


Here's a tune for your summer playlists. The Tambo Rays are from Oakland, CA. They have been kicking around for a few years, releasing singles here and there and they're just about to release a new EP titled 'Recharge'. The lead single is called Yes And No and while it's poppier than the sort of thing I usually go for, it's undeniably catchy, unashamedly summery and unapologetically fun.

'Recharge' is released on 17th July on CD and cassette (yes, cassette!) as well as digitally from the band's Bandcamp site. Check out some of their other tunes there too.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #13

I know that R.E.M. had a torrid time making 'Fables Of The Reconstruction', and many fans rate it quite low among the band's IRS material, but I've always loved it. I'm particularly taken by Stipe's lyrics which take on a real southern storytelling theme. Some of the harmonies on the record rate among the finest they ever recorded too.

The band undertook a massive touring schedule broken down into four segments known as Preconstruction, Reconstruction I, Reconstruction II and Reconstruction III. The first of these included summer festivals in Europe, which were among the biggest they'd ever played. For instance, in June 1985, they were on the bill for The Longest Day, a one-day festival headlined by U2. Billy Bragg, Spear of Destiny and The Ramones were also present. Sadly, R.E.M. failed to get the crowd going. As Tony Fletcher wrote in Remarks - The Story of R.E.M.:  "The 50,000-strong crowd was in no mood for a band opening a set with as downbeat a song as Feeling Gravity's Pull, and the group spent the entire set dodging missiles, the most common of which were plastic bottles full of urine."

A couple of weeks later, however, they were at Belgium's famous Rock Werchter festival where they were much better received. Half of their 12-song set featured tracks from 'Fables...', including Can't Get There From Here. They also threw in a decent cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen The Rain? Some of the set was broadcast on Belgian radio and I believe this is the source of the recordings I have.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Reggae Wednesday

I'm not going to apologise for posting so many classics in this series. It's fine being all clever and obscure, but I'll never fail to acknowledge the brilliance of some of the best known reggae tunes out there. Today's pick is one of the best known of all - one of the great reggae songs of all time.

Night Nurse catapulted Gregory Isaacs headlong into worldwide stardom in 1982. The fame led to him developing a serious cocaine and crack habit which in turn resulted in the loss of his teeth, a deterioration of his voice and a spell in prison. However, he never stopped writing, recording and performing. More than 60 studio albums bear his name and he remains a legend of his genre. Isaacs died of lung cancer in London in 2010. The Jamaican government posthumously awarded him the Order Of Distinction (Officer Class) in 2016. But his lasting legacy will be his music.

I love Night Nurse so much, I'm giving it to you twice! The first is the original 12" mix which combines the album version with the obligatory dub version. The other is a fantastic live version from 1987's 'Encore', recorded at Brixton Academy in London. The (mainly female) crowd is exuberant throughout, singing loudly and chanting "We want Greg'ry" as he leaves the stage at the end.

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#23: No Pussy Blues

One thing Nick Cave has long been renowned for is his lyrics. His knack for storytelling rates him among the greats like Dylan and Cash. He's a folk singer, first and foremost. Often, beneath the surface text there are deeper, underlying meanings, all kinds of connotations and contexts; metaphors and subtexts. So, what are we to make of No Pussy Blues from the first Grinderman album? What wisdom lies behind the words? Well, according to Nick himself: "It's just about not getting any pussy when I grew my moustache." I'm guessing cats are not involved here... So there we are then. Sometimes we shouldn't think to hard about these things...

Here's an explosive live version from Jools Holland. I feel sorry for whoever had to follow this...

Friday, 23 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #12

The noughties. Not exactly R.E.M.'s best decade. In fact, it sadly marked the end. In 2001, 'Reveal' was released. I remember MrsRobster being quite shocked at my reaction having played it for the first time. "Well, that was shit!" I remarked. I was disappointed and angry that my favourite band could make such a terrible record. Little did I realise it was going to get worse before it got better...

'Reveal' did have a couple of  decent tracks tucked away on it though, but they were swamped by average songs and a production so brightly polished you needed shades. I've Been High was a lovely tune, featuring one of Stipe's most delicate vocals. I'll Take The Rain wasn't half bad either, while The Lifting could have been one of the album's standouts had an earlier version (that featured on the b-side of the awful lead single Imitation Of Life) been used instead.

For some reason, someone had the idea that this should be the album that deserved the full remix treatment. A bunch of remixers were asked to contribute to the project and the best results were compiled by the band. The result, titled 'r.e.m.IX', was released as a free download from the band's website in 2002. Thank god it was free because had I paid for it, I might well have hunted Stipe, Buck and Mills down and put them out of their misery once and for all. A bunch of insipid and uninspired versions of songs from 'Reveal' did not make me feel any better about the band I once adored. In fact it convinced me to move on. The album wasn't particularly well-received by the critics either, so whatever the initial aims for the project were, it was clear they had failed.

'r.e.m.IX' was soon forgotten by fans, written off as something of a folly. However, just in case you were wondering what it sounded like, I'm presenting the two least-bad tracks here. In fact, Mark Bianchi (aka Her Space Holiday) actually came up with something quite nice. Not that 'nice' is necessarily a complimentary word, especially for music. But his instrumental mix of I've Been High is more than bearable. The version of The Lifting was done by Andy Lemaster of Athens, G.A. band Now It's Overhead and is just about passable. With interest in this series already on the wane, I hope I'm not killing it stone dead with this week's offering, I'm not exactly selling it to you, am I? Still, it's out of the way now. It does get better...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Reggae Wednesday #9

The Rhythmites formed in Bath (nr. Bristol) in the mid-80s and quickly forged themselves a reputation as a brilliant live band on the free festival circuit. I saw them a few times in various places around the west country during the early 90s. One gig in particular sticks with me as I got phenomenally drunk and had to be carried out. It was over a girl, of course.

After a couple of cassette-only releases, they released their debut album 'Integration' in 1989. No further records followed before the band split in 2000. However, they reformed in 2007 and, in 2010, put out the long-awaited (21 years!) follow-up 'Stand Strong'. That vinyl-only debut remained elusive however. That is until Bristol Archive Records re-released it on CD and digitally in 2015 with two bonus dubs.

Here's the opening kind-of title track ripped from the original vinyl. It still sounds good.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #6

The Wedding Present
O2 Academy, Bristol - 15 June 2017
Support: Young Romance

Not really sure what to write about this one. I know some of you have seen the Wedding Present on their 'George Best' 30th Anniversary Tour already, a couple of you have even written about your experiences. The sets have barely changed from date-to-date either. And even if you haven't caught them this time around, most of my readers will be more than familiar with Gedge and his cohorts.

So perhaps I'll start by mentioning the support band Young Romance. They're a boy/girl duo. He plays guitar, has very long hair and wore a shirt Bobby Gillespie would have been proud of circa 1986. She sings, plays drums standing up and wears glitter on her face. Sometimes they sounded like early Kills. I also thought there was a bit of mid-period Gossip in there too. The songs were OK, but the sound let them down a bit. Well worth checking out.

We've never been to Bristol's 02 Academy before, although I have a feeling it was at one point known as The Studio. I did see one gig at The Studio. It was in 1991 and it was... The Wedding Present. I may have remembered this incorrectly, but it was 26 years ago so cut me some slack...

It seems every time I see the Wedding Present nowadays, Gedge has decided to freshen things up once again. This time we get a new guitarist (from Australia) and another new female bass player who, rather brilliantly, also plays keyboards, sometimes while she's playing bass at the same time. She's from Devon though, so obviously naturally talented.

Another observation really came to light about half way through the set. There was a short set of new songs and lesser-known tracks from the band's back catalogue before they began playing 'George Best'. After What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?, Gedge noted: "We're into the 'George Best' part of the set. The songs sound quite similar now." And that's when I realised that, compared to their recent output, they do. No slow songs, lots of furiously strummed trebly semi-acoustic guitar and nothing longer than four minutes. Compare that to last year's ambitious 'Going, Going...' set and it's clear how Gedge has developed over the past 30 years. Yet he remains the inimitable David Gedge, indie legend.

A rousing rendition of Kennedy tacked on as a sort-of non-encore produced a massive mosh and singalong. There may not have been many people under the age of 45 present, but there were still plenty of exuberant voices hollering about apple pie and loving TV shows.

My seventh or eighth Wedding Present gig then (I forget exactly). So how was it? Well, I'll let MrsRobster sum it up with what is very probably the best one-line gig review you'll ever read: "I like seeing the Wedding Present. They're like a satisfying sex session after you haven't had it for a while. You're never disappointed." Quite...

Two of my fave songs from 'George Best' - one recorded during the original tour in 1987, the other captured this year:

Friday, 16 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #11

As I mentioned in a previous post, R.E.M.'s fan club releases were rather hit and miss affairs, but more than a few times they'd offer up something intriguing, worthy even. So this week I'm giving you three tracks from the mid-90s fan club singles. First up, 1995's single included a cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game which sounds even more laid back than the original. Stipe adopts a higher tone than Isaak did, but it somehow works. I reckon if they'd spent a bit more time on this they could have had a more than passable b-side on their hands.

That's more than can be said for the following year's rendition of I Will Survive. The band I used to be in played this song for a while, and - dare I say it - our version was better than this. Marginally. Stipe doesn't know the words and gives up twice, Mills plays a rather gloomy organ part and Buck's acoustic guitar just tries to keep things going. Like I said, they could be hit and miss affairs...

In 1998, the band teamed up with Radiohead for the fan club single. Two live tracks, side one featured Stipe fronting The 'Head for Lucky, and side two had Thom Yorke singing Patti Smith's part on E-Bow The Letter. I've opted for the latter today. It's not the best performance or recording on the planet, but it is what it is and it's one for the 'intriguing' category. The best bit, surprisingly, is Thom letting rip towards the end.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Judy Mowatt, along with two other teenage girls formed the Gaylettes in 1967. They released a number of soul-infused rocksteady singles before she joined the I-Three, Bob Marley's backing singers who also included Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths in 1974. The following year her debut solo album hit the shelves.

But it was the follow-up that propelled Judy Mowatt into the annuls of reggae history. 'Black Woman' from 1979 is regarded as not only one of the best reggae albums by a female artist, but one of the best reggae albums period. It was groundbreaking in many ways, not least because it was the first self-produced reggae album by a female artist.

Judy loved soul voices like Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers and she proudly wore her influences on her sleeve on 'Black Woman'. In the late 90s, she converted from Rastafari to Christianity and started recording gospel music. However, even in her early records you could hear the strains of gospel breaking through. Today's track, Down In The Valley from that seminal album, is a good example of that.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #5

Public Service Broadcasting
Ebbw Vale Institute, Ebbw Vale - 9 June 2017

When Public Service Broadcasting first came to my attention, I thought they were a neat idea. A neat idea with some good songs, in fact. But maybe they were a bit of a novelty. How far could they take this concept and remain interesting? They seem to be answering that question with relish.

This was our fourth time seeing PSB, and it was a rather special show. The band is about to release its third album 'Every Valley'. Its theme is the rise and fall of British industry and its effects on our communities. It takes coal mining in South Wales as its main reference point so they based themselves in the valley town of Ebbw Vale to record it, kitting out the main hall of the Ebbw Vale Institute to use as a studio. As the album nears its release next month, PSB returned to that very space to play two exclusive preview gigs. Only 200 tickets were on sale for each night with a proportion reserved only for locals. They were difficult to get hold of but luck was on our side and we nabbed a couple for the second night.

The EVI used to be a working man's club for the mining community. Now it's a community centre whose main hall is ideal as a music venue. The stage is nice and high at one end and it has a bar at the back. It's small and it looked rather cramped onstage - especially when the three-piece brass section stepped up to join in - but that seemed to add to the special, intimate nature of the show. And it was hot. Very hot!

Now, MrsRobster loves Public Service Broadcasting. Like really REALLY loves them. The only other band I've known her have this much love for was R.E.M. So this is a pretty big love we're talking about. That said, what could they do keep her adoration? Well, like previous outings, PSB tried some new things. The biggest surprises of all involved reluctant frontman J. Wilgoose Esq. Not only does he actually speak to the audience now (as opposed to playing pre-programmed computerised messages), but he sings. Yes, sings! His English vocals duet with the beautiful Welsh words of Lisa Jên Brown of 9Bach who joined the band onstage for You + Me.

This was one of a number of new songs played for the first time. Singles Progress and They Gave Me A Lamp will undoubtedly be among the highlights of their autumn tour alongside more established tracks. The thing with these new songs, particularly in this area of the country, is that they will resonate with a lot of people affected by the issues they raise. The South Wales Valleys, along with other big industrial areas of the UK, continue to suffer the effects of successive Conservative governments' attempts to kill British industry, selling it off to the highest bidder and screwing all those left behind. It's still happening now with steel just down the road in Port Talbot.

But it wasn't all about the new stuff; established favourites were also given a fresh airing. Spitfire, Everest, The Other Side, Gagarin and Go! all sounded spectacular, the latter prompting the now familiar crowd sort-of-singalong during the chorus.

So is it safe to say Public Service Broadcasting are no longer a novelty? You could argue they never were. They seem to pull a new rabbit out of the hat whenever they make an appearance and this was no exception. And MrsRobster? Well, she gets a little over-excited sometimes and starts babbling like she's on drugs. She reckons she had a moment of clarity during the show and thinks all of PSB (including their brass section) should be the next Dr Who. Like all of them together. Yeah, it was probably the heat.

"I've never seen them and not loved them," she told me after she had calmed down. She was clutching an unopened bottle of Every Valley ale (on sale at the show) as a souvenir. Stone-cold sober and drug-free yet still on a high. A cold shower and a lie down should sort her out...

Here's a piece about the new album which also includes the video for Progress.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #10

It's back to the early years this week and two really interesting versions of songs that would end up on R.E.M.'s debut album. On 2nd July 1982, the band played the Strand Cabaret in Marietta, a city just to the north west of Atlanta. 'Chronic Town' wasn't due for release for another seven weeks, yet R.E.M. were gigging furiously, mainly around the southern States but occasionally further afield.

By now they had an established set featuring the songs on 'Chronic Town' and many from the following year's 'Murmur'. There was still room for new songs and some experimentation though. Sitting Still was the b-side of the debut single from 1981 and would also feature, almost unchanged, on 'Murmur'. However, it seems the band were playing around with it during this interim period, slowing down the first half of the song before kicking into it at full speed.

This show also marked the very first live performance of Perfect Circle. It was clearly at a very embryonic stage. It's guitar-driven, Stipe doesn't appear to have had any proper lyrics at this point, and they use a drum machine! Not sure what Bill was doing, though he might have been playing bass as it sounds like a keyboard or violin might be being played and I'd assume that was Mike Mills doing the honours. The following year, Perfect Circle would close side one of 'Murmur' and it would be a very different animal. One of the sweetest songs of the band's career, in fact. You'd never guess that from hearing this though...

More from this show another time.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #4

Saint Etienne
Tramshed, Cardiff - 5 June 2017

This show was supposed to have taken place on Saturday evening, but there was some little football match going on in town apparently and this presented some logistical issues which forced a postponement. Of course, in any sane world the football should have moved to accommodate Saint Etienne, but I understand one or two people were quite interested in the game and one of the players was a local fella...

Anyway, come Monday evening and I wasn't in a good place. I'd had a shit day at work and got home in a foul mood. Add to that the god-awful weather, I just didn't feel like going out. I actually came very close to staying in and moping, in fact. In the end, I saw sense.

Since purchasing the 12" of Only Love Can Break Your Heart waaaay back in 1990, I'd never actually caught Saint Etienne live, though there was a near-miss at Glastonbury Festival in 1994. I'd decided I was going to make it over to the main stage to watch their set. But after a few hours of traipsing around the site in close to 30-degree heat whilst drinking cold beer and warm cider, I dozed off in the sunshine just outside my tent. I only came-to when my mate Higgz returned, gave me a friendly kick and told me Saint Etienne were on. He subsequently collapsed with laughter as he observed my face, now as red as a lobster except for where my sunglasses had been. I was too embarrased to leave the tent for the rest of the afternoon...

So a rather warm Tramshed was going to be my first time. MrsRobster has been suffering for a few weeks with sciatica and back pain so was understandably in some discomfort for much of the night. She took her mind of it by engaging in one of her favourite pasttimes - people watching. One key observation was how the average height of male Saint Etienne fans is generally short. True enough, there was a considerable lack of tall people there. No bad thing of course - they usually stand directly in front of me at gigs.

In the live setting, Saint Etienne field a much-expanded line-up. In addition to the trio of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, they were joined by a drummer, keyboardist, the obligatory multi-instrumentalist and, of course, trusty co-singer Debsy. And then there was Cardiff boy Carwyn Ellis (aka Colorama) who guested on guitar for a few tracks. (As Carwyn left the stage, Sarah noted: "So we're back down to a 1-2-3-4-5-6... 7 piece. Oh I can't count tonight, I'm too hot." To which a lone male voice uttered from the crowd: "Yes, you are." Nearly every straight guy in the audience chuckled in secret agreement. Sarah giggled; MrsRobster rolled her eyes...)

The set took a little while to get going. In fact, MrsRobster reckons they could have dumped the first quarter of the set and it would have been an improvement. Things got going for me with the double-whammy of new album highlight Take It All In and the wonderful Sarah-Debsy duet Who Do You Think You Are? which was, quite frankly, gorgeous.

A number of songs from the new record 'Home Counties' were aired. Aside from Take It All In, highlights included Magpie Eyes, Train Drivers In Eyeliner and Dive. But it was the oldies, of course, that delighted the crowd most. You're In A Bad Way, She's On The Phone and Tonight were among those that shone brightest. Perhaps predictably, the biggest cheer was reserved for Only Love Can Break Your Heart which prompted a mass singlaong, rightly described by Sarah as "rousing".

So after a shitty day in shitty weather, Saint Etienne ultimately triumphed in making me warm and happy, and with the state of the world right now, we could all do with feeling like that as often as we can. I'm off to play 'So Tough' loudly...

Monday, 5 June 2017

Send Them Kids To War

Last Wednesday's post featured Glasgow singer Soom T. She was a member of the collective of Scottish-Canadian musicians called The Burns Unit who released the really bleddy good album 'Side Show' in 2010. Soom T co-wrote and sang lead vocal on Send Them Kids To War. The title speaks for itself, but the song was a highlight of the year for me.

Here's a live performance on Jools Holland's show from 2011. Can you spot the former Soup Dragon in the line-up?

Friday, 2 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #9

After a massive world tour that took a lot out of them, R.E.M. made the conscious decision not to tour their next album 'Out Of Time'. Instead, they made numerous appearances on radio stations and TV shows, as well as the occasional secret gig under an assumed name (more of that at a later date).

Los Angeles college radio station KCRW FM is one of the best radio stations in the world. End of. It plays host to all kinds of artists of various renown and standing, giving each a chance to shine. In 1991, R.E.M. (augmented by dB's guitarist Peter Holsapple) entered the studio, enjoying the biggest hit of their career, their biggest selling album to date and a whole new audience just waiting to take them to their hearts. Instead of a standard run-through some new album tracks and a couple of old favourites, R.E.M. ran riot, showing everyone that they were just a bunch of guys who had a lot of fun.

The set did include a few new album tracks and some old faves, but it also included some hilarious attempts at covers, a couple of absolute gems - and a lot of laughter. I've picked a bit of everything today. I may revisit this 'show' at a later point, but for now, I'm giving you a file containing three of those attempted covers and another of two originals.

The covers? A quickly aborted take on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, an even more quickly aborted attempt at Johnny Cash & June Carter's Jackson, and Spooky, a song oft covered, but most notably by Dusty Springfield. In case you're wondering - the 'Microwave' who requested Spooky was Mark Mytrowitz, the band's long-time guitar tech.

Bandwagon was a silly song the band wrote and recorded during the 'Fables...' sessions, and can be heard on the 'Dead Letter Office' b-sides comp. They don't make it past the first chorus on this attempt though... Fretless, by contrast, is very possibly R.E.M.'s best ever non-album track. To this day I cannot understand why it didn't make 'Out Of Time' but Shiny fucking Happy fucking People did! One of the biggest mistakes of the band's career. Even this rough live take beats most of what's on that record hands down.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Fancy some Scottish reggae this week? Yes indeed, for Glasgow is the home of Mungo's Hi-Fi, one of the world's most in-demand sound systems. They are regulars at many of the major UK and European festivals, have their own record label Scotch Bonnet, and are firm faves of the BBC with the likes of Steve Lamacq, Mary Anne Hobbs and Don Letts featuring them on numerous occasions.

Mungo's have worked with the likes of Sugar Minot, Tippa Irie and Daddy Freddy, as well as exposing some of the best up-and-coming UK reggae talent. In 2013 they released the 'Boom Boom' EP with fellow Glaswegian Soom T. The title track is so infectious, it's guaranteed to get your summer beach parties/barbeques going. At the very least, it'll get you skanking in your living room while the Glasgow rain pisses down...

More reggae in a fortnight...

Monday, 29 May 2017

Compiled #4

There was a trend in the 80s for compilation albums to be issued in two volumes - two separate records sold together as a kind of 'buy one get one free' offer, though some unscrupulous retailers would inevitably sell each record separately at full price. I bought a few of these back in the day, usually chart compilations. They pre-dated the Now That's What I Call Music dynasty and were often rather diverse.

Chartbusters '82 was one such pairing I owned. I was 11 at the time and was still finding my feet in the world of pop music. The quality obviously undulated, but there were some gems among the guff, and in a few cases it led to me finding out about artists I subsequently went on to love or admire. Looking back at the tracklisting now, I really can't remember some of the songs or even the artists. Anyone recall Panama? Paul Lorenzo? Oxgen? Or most obscure of all, the Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup Final Squad? (Sorry Jez...)

To be honest, you could easily take the best bits of both volumes and make a pretty decent single record. Sandwiched between Dollar and Aneka at the start of Volume One was Haircut One Hundred, a diamond between two turds. I still have a fondness for Love Plus One, even though it sounds soooooo 1982. There's no way you could get away with sounding like this now.

Head Over Heels by Abba also featured, which got a thumbs up from me. Also, there was I Could Be Happy by Altered Images, and XTC's Ball And Chain (which I'm not going to post purely because JC will get round to it as part of his excellent Saturday series very soon). And then there was this one, one of the first reggae songs I remember that wasn't Bob Marley. 'Tis a real ear worm, too.

But it's Volume Two where the real fun lies. It opened with a song that actually pre-dated 1982 by a few years and had been rather obscure, buried away on a soundtrack album. It had, however, been re-issued owing to the enormous success of the band over the previous 12 months. Of course, this was a very different Adam & The Ants to the line-up who became huge, but it mattered not. Ant fever was in full swing so any cynical marketing ploy was welcome, especially for an 11-year-old Ant fan like me.

Volume 2 also gave us Party Fears Two by the Associates (which I posted back here), Bow Wow Wow's Wild In The Country, Gary Numan with Music For Chameleons, and surprisingly (mainly because it wasn't a big hit), this utterly superb tune:

I actually forgot this track completely for years until I discovered SLF properly during the 90s through my older punk friends. I couldn't place where I'd heard it before, and it's only when I researched this series that I found it was on this compilation. I still don't remember it being on there, if I'm being honest, so clearly it wasn't a big influence on me at the time, but hell - I was 11. It makes this post because it remains one of my fave SLF tracks.

I should also mention that Listen was followed by Kick In The Eye by Bauhaus which I actually do remember from back in the day. But, again perhaps because of my age, I never investigated Bauhaus any further, despite learning of their huge influence on the later indie and goth scenes. Good track though.

Finally, we'll brush aside the inclusion of Tight Fit, Starsound and Huey Lewis to mention a band who went on to become one of the biggest in the world. Depeche Mode were still a plinkity-plonkity synth-pop band in 1982, yet to properly discover their dark side. In a few years they would be making brilliant songs like Blasphemous Rumours, Stripped and Strangelove, but when you consider some of the dross on Chartbusters '82, See You would easily make the single highlights album without a second thought. I'm not posting the song though - that's a sure-fire way to get the site taken down by "The Man". Dave Gahan would never be able to afford those leather jackets if we all gave away low-quality digital rips of 35-year-old Depeche Mode songs now, would he? So here they are, with Dave looking like he's only 11-years-old himself, on Top Of The Pops.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #8

This series isn't all about the never-before-released tracks. Both of today's picks have been officially put out, but are either rare or not particularly well-known.

In 2008, R.E.M. released 'Accelerate'. It was a breath of fresh air. After two woeful records of mid-tempo, middle-of-the-road schmaltz, 'Accelerate' sounded like R.E.M. had found a new lease of life. A band rejuvenated, they actually sounded like they were having fun again. Its opening track Living Well Is The Best Revenge was without a doubt the band's best song in 10 years. In contrast to recent offerings, 'Accelerate' was short, but the quality was undoubtedly high.

The album's second single - the rip-roaring Man-Sized Wreath - included a version of Living Well that was renamed based on a studio discussion immediately prior in which Peter Buck poses the question "Did Jesus have a dog?" that reduces all present into hysterics. The subsequent take on the song is utterly superb - loud, fast and far more energetic than any recording by a bunch of middle-aged blokes has any right to be - and even beats the album version hands down.

R.E.M. had been issuing special fan-club only releases since 1988. Some were rubbish, some just had some standard live tracks on them, but there were quite a few that contained some real gems and surprises. The 2009 single was one of the latter. The cover of Lenny Kaye's Crazy Like A Fox was pretty decent in itself, but most notable was the line-up of the band: just a duo consisting of Mike Mills and Bill Berry. Yes, THE Bill Berry - R.E.M.'s legendary former drummer whose departure in 1996 many link to the band's subsequent decline. He and Mills sing and play everything on this track (with producer John Keane joining in the backing vox)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Here's one of my all-time favourite reggae tunes. Once it gets in my head, it refuses to leave. The oddly-named Clint Eastwood (not the actor) was already an established deejay in Jamaica when he teamed up with British deejay General Saint in the early 80s. They went on to release a few albums together and enjoyed moderate commercial success.

Stop That Train, the title track of their second album, may be one of their best known songs, but you might be surprised how many others of theirs you recognise. You're getting the original 12" version today because you deserve it.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Future 40's

Friday's post referenced this song. I used to have both the 7" single and its parent album 'Surprise' based solely on its R.E.M. association. It's a great song though, even now some 28 years later. Eek - 28 years? Where the heck did that time go?

Syd Straw was never particularly prolific, only making two more albums in the next two decades. I never heard much else by her, but seeing as I've been reminded of her (and as her stuff is all up on Bandcamp), I think I'll explore a little more.

The single version of Future 40's emphasises Michael Stipe's contribution a touch more than the album mix. No doubt the record company thought they'd take advantage of the presence of rock's most enigmatic frontman who was on the cusp of superstardom. Whatever, as a feminist rallying cry, it may sound somewhat dated nowadays. On the other hand, with a moron with such disrespect for women in the White House, maybe it's become sadly relevant once more. Maybe 28 years isn't such a long time after all...

Stipe can be seen loitering in the video while Ms. Straw wears lots of costumes and drives around the desert. How very 80s...

Friday, 19 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #7

'Green' was R.E.M.'s first album for a *shock-horror* major label. It remains one of their best records, but also marked the beginning of a massive uplift in the band's career. The album spawned Orange Crush, the band's first Top 40 single in the UK (they even did Top Of The Pops - see this clip and the ignorant comment by the clueless presenter at the end...), another Top 40 single in the States (Stand) and was by far their biggest selling album to date. It continued - and indeed heightened - the band's political interest, this time bringing environmental concerns to the fore (hence the title). But perhaps most notably, the inclusion of three mandolin-led acoustic songs hinted strongly at a new direction R.E.M. would go on to explore much more deeply in the near future.

The Green Tour was massive. I saw them at Wembley Arena in London in July 1989, only my second ever gig. The shows on this tour are much vaunted, described as R.E.M. at their zenith. Visually, they were the most ambitious the band had put together with Stipe, always the focal-point, outdoing himself with stage props and acapella ad-libs. Some of the US shows were filmed and the concert movie 'Tourfilm' was made. That too has been hailed as one of the all-time greatest live concert films. Essentially, R.E.M. couldn't put a foot wrong at this point in their career - everything they touched turned to gold.

The now sadly defunct blog The Power Of Independent Trucking once posted a remastered audio of 'Tourfilm'. The guy behind the blog was known for his remastering work and he did a fine job of this. I've chosen a couple of things I think represent this era of live R.E.M. rather well. World Leader Pretend will probably forever remain in my personal R.E.M. top 10. It stood out the first time I listened to 'Green'. It's augmented here by an acapella intro from Stipe singing a snippet of Gang Of Four's We Live As We Dream Alone.

Similarly, I Believe (originally from 'Lifes Rich Pageant') was preceded by more Stipe improv. No one's quite sure where the spoken word bit comes from. In fact, in a 2008 Q&A, a fan quoted the whole piece and asked Stipe: "What is this?" His response was: "I don’t know but I recognize it. Did I write this? Where did it come from, it feels very very familiar and sounds like me." There's no doubt about the next bit though. Future 40's was a song by Vermont singer/songwriter Syd Straw. Stipe produced her debut album 'Surprise' and sang backing vocals on this song. Weaving it into the set no doubt helped to raise Straw's profile a little...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Sophia George was a teacher of deaf children when she had a global hit in 1986 with Girlie Girlie. It made the top 10 in the UK, but she never charted here again. I've never been a big fan of the electronic reggae sound of the 80s, but always thought Girlie Girlie was such a great song. Perhaps too good, in that nothing else I've heard by her comes close to it.

Girlie Girlie is not a song about an effeminate man, but rather about one who has a girlie in every street in every town:

  "Him have one up here, one down there / One in Hannover, one down a Vere
  One she's a lawyer, one she's a doctor / One wey dey work with a little contractor
  One down a east, one down a west / Him have one up north, and two down south
  One a sell cigarettes pon de roll-about cart."

Ten years later, after five albums, George and her husband moved to the States and she retired from music. Trivia fans may like to know that her son, Patrick Chung, plays for NFL side New England Patriots.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Genius Of Nick Cave

#22: Jubilee Street

Today's pick is truly special. Even with a career so advanced as his, Nick Cave can still make my jaw drop. 2013's 'Push The Sky Away' is rightly regarded as one of his very best albums, and in the middle of it is a song that is, quite simply, genius. One of the best examples of Nick's work of any period. The album version is the one to have, of course, but although the video is soundtracked by an edit that fades out way too soon, it's worth posting here for the appearance of Ray Winstone who UK readers will know as the mandatory hard man in nearly every British drama of the past 30 years. Probably not suitable to watch at work though...

For the full effect, here's an amazing live version recorded in Hollywood during the 'Push The Sky Away' tour. This is just fucking phenomenal; it knocks me for six every single time I watch it.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #6

The Work Tour of 1987 was the R.E.M.'s biggest to date. They had a breakthrough hit single in the States which no doubt bolstered ticket sales, and were within a whisker of the Top 40 in the UK. 'Document' was (and still is) one hell of a record, loaded with political content and proof, if any were needed, that R.E.M. were going to be a major force in the not-too-distant future.

On the day 'Document' was released in the UK, the band played a show in Utrecht, Holland which has been widely bootlegged. It's probably one of the best live recordings out there and the boot I have - entitled 'A Bucketful of Worksongs' - remains a favourite of mine. The 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of 'Document' included a disc featuring this very show, though typically of such things it is incomplete. Four songs are missing - all cover versions.

Superman was released as the second single from 'Lifes Rich Pageant' the previous year. It was the first track on any R.E.M. album to feature Mike Mills on lead vocal. The original by The Clique is much loved my many, but (and maybe I'm biased) I much prefer R.E.M.'s take. Harpers, meanwhile, is a cover-of-sorts. Michael Stipe actually co-wrote it and produced the original by avant-garde band Hugo Largo. Stipe sings it accapella and struggles with the high notes, but it was a regular during encores for a few years.

I'll bring you the other two "missing" songs in a later episode...

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Ripton Joseph Hylton used to back a horse regularly. He lost quite often. After a few singles released under his own name in the mid-to-late 70s, Hylton adopted the name of that horse - Eek-A-Mouse - and unlike the old nag, he found some success.

Perhaps his most famous song is Wa-Do-Dem, a version of his earlier song Virgin Girl. Eek's style is unique. His nasal tone sings a kind of scat, lots of "biddly-bongs" and that kind of thing. Some people - everyone else in chez Robster, for instance - find him rather irritating. I get that. But he's made the Reggae Wednesday series because I like him. Some A Holla, Some A Bawl was the closing track on Eek-A-Mouse's third album 'Assassinator' from 1983.

Monday, 8 May 2017

New things

Awful title for a post (I'm completely devoid of any better ideas), but it does aptly sum it up.

One of my favourite albums of the year thus far is the new one from ex-Pavement and Preston School Of Industry guitarist Spiral Stairs. Entitled 'Doris & the Daggers', it's his second solo record and the first in eight years.

One of the standout tracks is Emoshuns for which this very silly video was made...

Taffy first featured here as the subject of my first post in my It Came From Japan series. Not afraid to wear their (mainly British) influences on their sleeves, their new album 'Nyctophilia' has just been released and it is very dreampop oriented. Last year they supported The Charlatans on tour and by way of tribute, they've covered the Charlies' Come Home Baby which features on the album. Not afraid of a good cover this lot, and here they've really made a decent stab at making the song their own.