Sunday, 25 September 2022

Evil

Is rock music evil? Of course not. But here's three tracks that literally are Evil - it's their title! First up, the song that inspired this post. I recently revisited Savages' monumental album 'Adore Life', which if you remember, was a record I got everso slightly excited about back in the day. This live clip is fantastic and reminds me (as if I needed it) just how intoxicating they are/were to watch. We've heard nothing from Savages as a band since this record, though no official word of a break-up. Let's hope they'll return soon.

Another record I became obsessed with was 'Holiday Destination' by Nadine Shah. She's also incredible live, so this clip should go down pretty well. A lot of people discovered Nadine through her astonishing performance at the 2018 Mercury Music Prize ceremony. Even more fell for her when they first heard Evil in an episode of Peaky Blinders. I don't care how anyone heard about her, the truth is everyone really should have Nadine in their life.

And finally, perhaps no surprise that Nick Cave would be in here somewhere. The second Grinderman album contained this beast of a track. As you'd expect, any live clip of this lot is rather special and this one is no exception. Yes, Nick is the focal point I suppose, but Warren really steals the show here, rolling around on the floor, howling like a wolf and hollering "EVIL!" like a man possessed.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

The REiMagined Albums - part 5

A brief return, essentially to clear the decks. This was originally going to be the fourth and final part of my collaborative series with JC last August, but it kind of came at a bad time for us as we'd pretty much burned ourselves out by the time it came around. I'd already written my first section of it, but it sat amongst my drafts unfinished while I cobbled together a couple replacements that I found more interesting. So now I'm reviving it as a solo effort, re-written in places, but essentially offering the same thoughts and ideas as my original. 

The choice of album in question may well come as a surprise to many. Why fuck around with an album that has sold millions - that's MILLIONS, like nearly 20 of 'em - and is widely renowned as a masterpiece, a Holy Grail kind of record? Well, let's not pretend for one moment it's R.E.M.'s best album. Nor is it even their best album of the 90s. It's just the one that sold the most, and that's rarely an indication of quality. But it could be pretty close to perfect if it didn't have a couple of songs on it that I skip each time. You probably know what they are, but there's perhaps a little more to it than that, which is a good thing as this would be a terribly boring read otherwise. So here's my stab at improving AftP:

Side One
1. Drive
2. Try Not To Breathe
3. Man On The Moon
4. Everybody Hurts
5. Monty Got A Raw Deal

Side Two
6. Photograph
7. Nightswimming
8. Sweetness Follows
9. Star Me Kitten
10. Find The River

Out go (unsurprisingly) The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 and (and this is the talking point) Ignoreland. The latter was one of my Imaginary 7"s so you know I like it, but it just feels so out of place on this record, both in its sound and lyrical subject matter. The band themselves had reservations about including it in the first place, so I think taking it out might well be the best decision. I'm replacing it with Photograph, a track they demoed during the sessions for 'Automatic' and then brought in the divine Natalie Merchant to sing on it for a charity album. The only thing it's lacking is some of the production the finished album received. I can imagine it with some lovely strings just giving it that added lushness to make it fit more snugly among these songs. If you imagine them too while it's playing, you'll see what I mean.[1]

So side one kicks off as normal. Drive really is a strange opening song, but in an interview in the months leading up to release, Michael Stipe described the album as sounding "pretty fucking weird" and as such, this track really does set the tone for that. To lift things, I've gone for Man On The Moon as track three. The dreaded Sidewinder is just ridiculous whereas this one does a better job at lifting the mood. I'd stick the slightly shorter single edit on though, not that you'd notice the difference, but for vinyl running time it helps.

Side two opens with Photograph and Nightswimming, the two most different-sounding tracks on the record, then we go deep with the two darkest songs of the set before finishing with Find The River, an undoubted highlight of their career. It has to finish the REiMagined version of the album like it does the original - it just has to.

Automatic For The People [REiMagined]
compiled by TheRobster

SIDE ONE
1. Drive
2. Try Not To Breathe
3. Man On The Moon
4. Everybody Hurts
5. Monty Got A Raw Deal

SIDE TWO
6. Photograph
7. Nightswimming
8. Sweetness Follows
9. Star Me Kitten
10. Find The River

GRAB IT HERE

There's one final REiMagined album coming soon, but for now let's finish with the video for Find The River, felt by many as being one of the band's best ever songs. Here's what I wrote about it over at The (new) Vinyl Villain in November 2020.

 


[1] At the age of 51, you'd think I'd learned a bit about myself by now... After I wrote that paragraph about Photograph, I got thinking to myself: "Why don't I try a remix and add some strings and maybe a bit of piano." I mulled it over quite a bit and thought maybe I could find some kind of online synth with a half-decent strings sound I could perhaps create a part for and mix it with the song. And I did. And it was rubbish. More to do with me than anything else, to be fair. "Maybe I'm more suited to a conventional keyboard," I thought. TheDoopster plays piano and has an electric piano in her room. It's got a nice strings sound on it. If I could rig up a cheap method of recording from it, I could do it that way.  So I did. And it was rubbish. I used to play piano when I was a kid and wasn't too bad at it, but by the time I got to 16, I jacked it in and decided I wanted to be a guitar legend instead. So the fact I hadn't played any kind of keyboard properly for 35 years just might have had something to do with how bad my attempts were to add strings to Photograph.

But I wasn't done yet, oh no! If the keyboards/strings didn't work out, perhaps I could fill the sound out with a bit of acoustic guitar and who knows, a bit of mandolin as well. So I took my trusty old acoustic out of the cupboard and gave it a go.  And it was rubbish. You see, just because I have a guitar, doesn't mean I play it much. I haven't played any guitar properly since I quit the band I was in some 25 years ago. Sure, I have a little strum now and again when I get an urge, but the fact I no longer have the calluses of a proper guitar player means my fingers bloody hurt after less than an hour.

So finally, at the age of 51, I've finally learned that while I never pretended to be a musician, I know for a fact I really never will be. And that I should practice playing before I attempt to play anything, even if just for a bit of fun. I also learned to keep the mandolin in the cupboard to save myself the indignity of making yet another instrument sound rubbish. And not to have stupid ideas about thinking I can make an R.E.M. song sound better!

Monday, 25 July 2022

A wedding presence

Today, my firstborn - known to these pages as TheMadster - is getting married. The whole shebang has been delayed by a year for reasons you're all more than aware of, but I suspect the wait will be worth it. Now, I'm not one for parties at all these days, but I am willing to make an exception for this one.

By way of marking the occasion here, I'm offering up a few tunes for the happy couple. First up, one for the bride, who as you may know, is a big Frank Turner fan. I will be walking her down the aisle to this:

Her groom - who is known in these parts as TheEmster - is into EDM. Never mind, eh. His favourite track of all time is this one:

For my part, I've delved into the archives. I was working in Our Price when Goodbye Mr Mackenzie released their second album 'Hammer And Tongs'. I remember we were all mildly amused by it's front cover. One of its singles was this track. The video features Big John Duncan as a priest and Shirley Manson as a bride. What's not to like?

And finally, as if the point needs proving that there's always a Half Man Half Biscuit song for every occasion, here's the four lads from The Wirral and a song from their 2003 mini-album 'Saucy Haulage Ballads'. It references 16th Century Renaissance composers, 18th Century British Prime Ministers, and, erm, a former Liverpool goalie. Typical HMHB, then...

To the Bride and Groom!

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Nicked


This one appeared on a playlist while I was cooking a couple weeks ago. TheMadster was visiting. She and MrsRobster sauntered into the kitchen and the three of us just sang and danced through the entire thing. We don't sing well, we dance even less well, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Quite frankly one of the best rock songs of all time sung by one of the best rock voices of all time. A shame then that the video is one of the cheesiest, corniest clips of all time. It looks like it was made on a budget of a few cents and a box of Twinkies.

Does it feel like I'm getting all nostalgic of late? Maybe something is making me realise how old I'm getting, how fast time is passing, how sometimes looking back at the past just feels more comforting than looking towards the future. Mind, I think we all feel like that these days. I hate nostalgia and wish it didn't influence the opinions and actions of so many people, but I can understand it, I suppose.

Yes, something is happening that might be responsible for my sentimental musings, but that will be revealed in my next post in a few weeks time. Pretty sure Edge Of Seventeen will get an airing though. In the meantime, here's someone new-ish who is not only influenced a bit by the great Stevie Nicks, but sounds a little like her too. We'll be seeing Katy J Pearson in the autumn. Her new album is due this week, but here's a track from her wonderful debut, 2020's 'Return'.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

As Cud as it gets


I noticed recently that Cud are touring in the autumn and are playing in Newport, no less. This prompted me to dig out my Cud records and play them for the first time in far too many years. They still sound great.

Through The Roof was a particular fave. It was a song I learnt to play on guitar, and I even gave it a solo airing during an acoustic show me and the singer of the band I was in at the time once played. Cud's original was far superior. The video was shot during a festival in Cadiz and is one of the most joyful things you'll see this week.

I bought Neurotica on CD single when it came out. It was taken from the band's final studio album 'Showbiz' and, my word, what a transformation. The big, bold sound probably alienated some early fans, but this track, with its chorus refrain of "Lacerate me, lacerate me", was a proper forerunner of the Britpop anthems we would be exposed to over the next few years. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's a great track.

I recently had a discussion with Graham The Bear from Goldie Looking Chain in the record shop he works at in which he lamented the bands who broke up too early and how huge they could have been. Cud were one of those bands who he reckoned, had they stuck around for one more record, would have been superstars. On the strength of 'Showbiz', he could well be right.

Cud reformed in 2008. While they've never followed up 'Showbiz', they have released a handful of new songs, including this sparkling little gem. No, it's not a cover of the Kinks' Victoria (though I'm sure you remember their fine rendition of Lola from back in the day...), but it is mighty fine. Who can resist a lyric that includes the couplet "I made a very groovy compilation / To play at a joyful immolation"?

As much as I love that, I do get a few weird Hi Ho Silver Lining vibes from it... Brrrr!

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Chemicrazy


A few days ago I was left alone in the house. This is unusual. Not because I need to be supervised at all times (though some people may argue that I do), but just because there's more often than not someone home at the same time as me. On this occasion though, everyone went out to do stuff and I decided I had better things to do at home. Like play records loudly!

During my vinyl binge, I dug out my copy of 'Chemicrazy', the fourth studio album by That Petrol Emotion. It's a record I've always enjoyed since my days working in Our Price where I first heard it shortly after its release in 1990. While never achieving huge commercial success, TPE have long since been regarded as a huge influence in the indie and alternative scenes ever since, in both the UK and US.

Hey Venus! and Sensitize are both fantastic singles, and yes, I did have a bit of a jump around to them while they played on my turntable... The videos below look dated to say the least, but they are such great songs, you really don't need the visuals.

Fun fact: according to their Wikipedia page, prior to recruiting US vocalist Steve Mack, a certain chap by the name of Paul Whitehouse unsuccessfully auditioned for the role. Yes, this Paul Whitehouse...

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Dangerous Times (side two)


Today we look at the other half of the songs R.E.M. would pen and perform in their first few months together. Those very early gigs often contained quite a few covers, but gradually more original material was written and made it into the live sets. By the end of the year, most of the band's set consisted of originals.

On 4th October, they played a second consecutive night at local venue Tyrone's OC, a place where they would become increasingly familiar over the next 12 months. Among the set that night were songs that were played during their very first set at St. Mary's Church in April, a few newer tunes and a sprinkling of covers. Observers of the band's earliest shows note the vast improvement of the performances over a very short period. By October, just six months since their debut, they were altogether tighter and slicker. They remained fast and furious - they didn't do slow songs in those days - and occasionally a little ramshackle, but the seeds were beginning to sprout.

Today's selection of tunes is taken from that Tyrone's show and features 8 more of their very earliest songs, including four they played at their first show - I Can Only Give You Everything, Action, Schéhérazade and Lisa Says. The other four include two songs that would become among their most loved numbers over the next few years.

The quality of this recording is significantly better than the cassette-sourced stuff I posted on Friday, so I haven't had to tinker much with it at all. I've attempted to remove the audience sound (with mixed results), and I've cropped the beginning of Schéhérazade during which Stipe is heard shouting greetings to audience members. There's still one left in - to someone called Kathleen - which I was unable to edit out. Finally, the original tape drops out at the end of Gardening At Night and I have no other material available to attempt a reconstruction, so I've faded it out.

That aside, it's still a fascinating document of where R.E.M. were at the time. There were very vague shades of what was to come, but in general, they were an extremely energetic garage rock band yet to hone the skills that would make them the biggest band on the planet by the end of the decade. Today's artwork features two more shots taken at R.E.M.'s very first show - Peter Buck on the front and Mike Mills on the back.

Grab it here

That's all for now.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Dangerous Times (side one)

This is something I planned and wrote last year but held back for an appropriate time. As it's Easter - a time associated with rebirth and new beginnings - it's as good a time as any. I suppose you could consider this post a sort of prequel to this one in which we looked at a totally hypothetical pre-'Murmur' debut album. This time though, we're going back even further...

During R.E.M.'s very earliest months in 1980, they wrote a whole host of songs. Most of them were never recorded, and many were long-forgotten by the time they recorded the 'Chronic Town' EP in 1981/2. It was the recording of that record that was my reference point for my pre-'Murmur' project, using songs that were a solid part of the band's live set around that time. However, it did mean a heap of earlier songs didn't get a look in - and that's where I'm coming from with this post.

I've decided to pull together all (or, at least, most) of the earliest self-penned songs R.E.M. performed in their first six months together. One or two of them became rather well known among those who bought their records. The others - well unless you're an uber-fan who seeks out obscure bootlegs from the band's embryonic phase, you won't have heard them before.

I've taken two of the earliest-known recordings of R.E.M. (maybe even THE earliest-known recordings) to provide an almost definitive guide to the band's very first songs. It's in two parts. Today, what is believed to be the earliest recording of the band. In July 1980, the band entered Jackson Street Rehearsal Studios in Athens to practice material for upcoming shows in Atlanta and North Carolina. A tape recorder was present. Eight songs were captured and later surfaced as the very first R.E.M. bootleg, a cassette called 'Slurred'. It's often noted that this recording was made at Wuxtry's, the record shop where Peter Buck worked, on 6th June, but while they did play there on that date, no recordings (if any exist) have ever made it into circulation. It's now widely accepted that this is the Jackson Street rehearsal.

Seven of these songs were performed at that first gig, with Just A Touch making its debut at their second show a fortnight later at the Kaffee Klub, the same day they decided to call themselves R.E.M. (after, fortunately, discarding other suggestions like Negro Eyes, Slut Bank, Africans In Bondage and Cans Of Piss!)

As you might expect, the sound quality isn't exactly top-notch, but I've had a little go at improving things. The opening track Dangerous Times is one of my favourites from the era but is incomplete on the tape - the first line is missing - so I've tried to "fix" it. The opening line is "These are dangerous times", which also happens to be the third line, so a little copy & paste puts that right. The opening snare hit has been added from an early live show at Tyrone's (which we'll get to in a day or two...), so it now sounds whole again, though be warned it is rather rough!. Otherwise, everything is as it appears on that tape, just with less hiss and a tad more oomph.

So here's "Side One" of 'Dangerous Times: the genesis of R.E.M.' presented as a single continuous MP3 as if ripped straight from vinyl. The artwork includes shots of Michael Stipe and Bill Berry at the debut St. Mary's show. Side two will follow on Easter Sunday...

Grab it here

Friday, 8 April 2022

Sally & Tommy & Tommy & Anna


Despite being a non-smoking, non-drinking, good-eating, mask-wearing, triple-vaxxed, generally fit and healthy dude, I somehow succumbed to 'The Vid' last week and have been isolating ever since. Yes, isolation is no longer mandatory; yes, the great British public thinks Covid is all over; but if I've managed to pick it up from somewhere (and lord only knows where), I'm not going to be responsible for spreading it like your average cretin. I work for the NHS, for gawd's sake.

Thankfully, I've not been terribly ill, a couple rough days but the rest just like a normal mild cold, albeit one that won't shift. For some reason, I've tested positive for 9 days straight, but that can happen apparently, even if I'm not infectious any more. By the time you read this, I should be out of isolation. Thank god - it's been quite boring being stuck in one room. MrsRobster probably wishes the garden shed wasn't so full of stuff as it would have been far better for her if I could have spent my isolation period out there!

Even though I've been working from home throughout the period, I've managed to find time to catch up on some stuff on Netflix. I also came across an old gem I've seen many times before but couldn't resist watching it again when I felt quite low at the seemingly never-ending run of positive LFTs I kept getting.

I can't remember how old I was when I first saw Tommy, but I was probably in my late teens. I loved it instantly. It's so audaciously over-the-top, exactly as a rock opera should be. Ken Russell was the perfect person for it, even though he hated rock music. I won't waffle on about it much as I'm sure all my readers know the story, but ever since I watched it again the other night, the songs have been floating in and out of my head like crazy.

This one was, apparently, the first seed of the story. While The Who were supporting The Doors on tour, Pete Townshend witnessed a girl in the crowd get injured when someone threw a chair. Jim Morrison apparently cleaned her wounds himself! So the story of Sally Simpson became the first song of what would ultimately become the greatest rock opera of all time.

It's a bit longer than the original album version from 1969, and some of the words were changed for the benefit of the movie (e.g. the Rolls Royce is blue in the original, black in the movie).

So many great stories have been told around the making of Tommy - hardly surprising when you consider the cast - and while some may well have been embellished, exaggerated or completely made up, they only add to the greatness of the thing.

And while we're on the subject of Tommy and greatness...

The final series of Peaky Blinders has just aired, very possibly one of the the top 5 TV shows the BBC has ever produced. I'm not going to give any spoilers or anything, but want to mention that, as in season 5, the wonderful Anna Calvi was largely responsible for the musical score and some of the songs that featured. If you've ever seen the show, you'll know it has an incredible soundtrack, and latter seasons have featured specially recorded songs as artists have flocked to be a part of it.

Calvi is about to release a 4-track EP of songs she recorded for season 6, entitled, rather appropriately, 'Tommy'. As well as her cover of the theme tune - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand - she also offers a take on Bob Dylan's All The Tired Horses, plus two new songs, including this. Inspired by a traditional American spiritual recorded by numerous artists, including the late, great Johnny Cash, Ain't No Grave sums up both Calvi's unerring knack of composing dark, atmospheric mini-masterpieces, and the ominous moods of Tommy Shelby's life.

Brilliant stuff.


For the record, the blog is not making a proper comeback, but I do have a special Easter treat for you next weekend, especially if you're a fan of early R.E.M. Stay tuned...