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

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.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #5

After the positive reaction to their debut EP, R.E.M. were keen to repeat the chemistry they had with producer Mitch Easter for their first album. The record label however had other ideas. They wanted an up-and-coming producer called Stephen Hague to do the job. And so it was that, in December 1982, the band went into the studio with Hague and cut the first track of the session - Catapult. It was to be the only track of the session. The band were unhappy with Hague's techniques, particularly Bill Berry who hated having to record his drum track over and over. Hague also took the tapes away and added synths. Synths!

The band expressed their dissatisfaction to the label who then agreed to allow a session with Easter and his partner Don Dixon. Whichever session the label felt yielded the best results would be the course of the album. Pilgrimage was chosen as the track to record. Easter and Dixon's hands-off approach allowed the band to record more organically. The resulting demo was, wisely, chosen as the better of the two by the label and so work on what would become 'Murmur' continued with Easter and Dixon.

When you hear the two tracks together, it's really not difficult to understand why that decision was made. Hague's Catapult is, quite simply, terrible. If this had been the R.E.M. sound, it is unlikely they would have made it out of the 80s. Instead, 'Murmur' has become a classic of epic proportions, a record revered by fans and critics alike. It's in my top 3 R.E.M. albums, without a doubt.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

This week, London is calling. The Skints hail from England's capital but if you didn't know any better you'd swear they were from Kingston, Jamaica. They describe themselves as "When you're a punk band, but reggae is life." The spirit of '77 lives on, then.

Where the Skints succeed is not only that authentic roots sound, but having three members who sing vocals, they can mix the styles up a bit. On today's track, they also rope in two London-based legends - Tippa Irie and MC/drummer Horseman. Five vocalists on one song paying homage to their hometown. This Town is taken from The Skints' third album, 2015's 'FM'.

Monday, 1 May 2017


The so-called Haymarket Affair, that occurred on 1st May 1886, kickstarted a growing resistance aganst the elite and the fight for workers' rights in America. In the ensuing 130 years, Mayday has become an international day of protest against the rich and powerful.

It is worth noting the hysteria over migrant workers that surrounded the Haymarket Affair seems to mirror that perpetuated by today's media and politicians. Has anything really changed? Sadly, it seems not. It doesnt matter who you vote for, the government will always get in. As the UK gets ready to go to the polls in Theresa May's folly election next month, we'd do well to remember that as we place our X on our ballot papers.

To mark this day of uprising, here are a few protest songs I've dug up. To start with, Manchester's Cabbage, rising stars on the indie circuit. One of only a few young bands who are using their voices to ACTUALLY SAY SOMETHING!

The marvellous Barrington Levy released 'Robin Hood' in 1980. The title track compares one of England's most notorious characters - who stole from the rich to give to the poor - with modern day society, which works on a completely opposite philosophy. When Friday Come, from the same album, is a plea from a downtrodden construction worker to his "Mr Boss Man" to let him go home on Friday to see his family.

The much-missed Sharon Jones, meanwhile, poses an interesting question: at a time when schools and other vital public services are deprived of funding, why are our taxes being spent on weapons no one wants? What if we decided not to pay our taxes? Who would fund mass destruction then?

To finish, an undisputed classic. Grandmaster Flash's timeless rap about inner city life sums up what was wrong about politics and society in 1980, and to an extent, what continues to this day.

Does protest work? Without it, it's easy to just succumb to the inevitable and make it easy for "them" to exert their control. After 130 years you could argue little has changed, but that doesn't mean we should keep quiet. Silence just makes things worse.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #4

R.E.M. undertook a mammoth world tour in 1999 in support of 'Up', their first record without drummer Bill Berry. 'Up' remains a difficult record. It's undeniably too long and a few songs wouldn't be missed. On the other hand, it catches the band in experimental mode and some of the songs are right up there among the finest of their post-80s material. MrsRobster and I caught them at Earls Court in London on that tour, but shortly after the album was released in 1998, Jools Holland dedicated an entire episode of 'Later...' to the band. Some of the songs from that set made it onto b-sides of subsequent singles but the full performance - including today's selection - has never been officially released.

One of the highlights on 'Up' was The Apologist. Stipe sounds genuinely emotive on this song, to the point where I can even forgive him for using the awfully hackneyed lyric "I get down on my knees and pray". New Test Leper featured on the previous album 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' and is, to this day, one of my favourite R.E.M. songs. A wonderful track whose lyrics remain poignant.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Pablo Moses burst onto the reggae scene in 1975 with his single I Man A Grasshopper, a song influenced by the TV series 'Kung Fu'. Despite the initial acclaim, he struggled to attain the fame and recognition many of his fellow countrymen did around this time. It wasn't until the early 80s that he found himself receiving major plaudits once more with the albums 'A Song' and 'Pave The Way'.

Today's track, however, is taken from 1983's 'In The Future' and is the one I normally turn to when it comes to mixtape/playlist compiling. Pablo is due to release a new album next month. 'The Itinuation' will be his first record in seven years.

Monday, 24 April 2017

RSD: Sweet as Sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

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

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

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

Monday, 17 April 2017

Compiled #3: Now That's Disgusting Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Devil's Music

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

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

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

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Genius Of Nick Cave

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

#21: Babe I'm On Fire

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

Friday, 7 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Devil's Music

Lucifer And God by Bob Mould

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

Monday, 3 April 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 31 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Devil's Music

The Mark Of The Devil by Pulp

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

Monday, 27 March 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Devil's Music

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

Monday, 20 March 2017

Compiled #2

#2: CD88

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Genius of Half Man Half Biscuit #9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers JC. Yet another great piece.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Devil's Music

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

Monday, 13 March 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #2

Newport Centre - 10th March 2017
Support: C Duncan

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

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

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

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

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