Wednesday 31 December 2014

Welsh Wednesday #17

#17: Final Day by Young Marble Giants

It’s New Year’s Eve, which means the final day of the year. So what could be more fitting than a song entitled Final Day? Except this isn’t all about one year turning into the next – it’s about there being no next; this is the final day of life as we know it.

Cardiff’s Young Marble Giants released just a couple of singles and a solitary album, but their legacy is extraordinary. Their desolate minimalist music sounded like little else at the time (late 70s/early 80s) and has become the template for so many others since to base their sound on. I can’t hear The xx without thinking YMG.

Final Day is basically about impending nuclear destruction at the hands of the warmongering leaders during the Cold War. The rich and powerful will take shelter while the rest of us poor sods will suffer in the fallout. It remains the band’s best known song; it is probably also their darkest and most haunting. Remember, in 1980 this threat was very real, or at least that’s what our distinguished world leaders led us to believe. So this track must have been terrifying to many who heard it, this facing up to reality was absolutely not your regular topic for a pop song. It retains a certain chilling eeriness to it to this day.

The band occasionally reforms for a gig or two every now and then, all of which pretty much sell out as soon as they are announced. As is typical of such artists, they’re often unappreciated until the world catches up with them. For Young Marble Giants, it took about 30 years…

Thursday 25 December 2014

50 songs to take to my grave #21: Fairytale of New York

This was on my list right from the start, but it's obviously been held back until an appropriate time.

Yeah, the predictable Christmas post. Ironic seeing as I don’t like Christmas and particularly hate all the hype and forced joy that comes with it. I also despise the same old songs being turfed out year after year after year and played in every shop you go in. No other time of year would you ever expect to hear Shakin’ bloody Stevens blaring at you from a store’s PA system, so quite why it’s acceptable to ensure we get him wittering on about snow falling all around him (like, that happens every Christmas in Wales, Shakey, doesn’t it!) several times a day, every day from mid-November onwards is beyond me.

Let’s be honest here – almost without exception, every popular Christmas song ever made is terrible and does not deserve to be inflicted upon the ears of even those whose music taste is rather suspect to say the least.

I say almost without exception. There’s always something that bucks the trend. In this case, it’s the Pogues, who came up with not just the greatest Christmas record of all time, but one of the all-time great songs period: Fairytale of New York. I’m not going to write loads of stuff about it as there is already loads out there  - articles, books, documentaries; this one song has proven to be a massive inspiration to writers, film-makers and other musicians alike.

The fact Kirsty MacColl guests on it is the icing on the cake for me. It’s no secret that her voice makes me start weeping like an idiot, but her delivery on Fairytale of New York is both exquisite and extraordinary. And that’s the key for me, it’s not just the song itself, as brilliant and unique as it is. It’s the performance too. Shane and Kirsty really live the characters they’re playing, while the band acts as the soundtrack to this micro-play, never overshadowing the singers, but providing just the right amount of atmosphere and feeling to elevate the record to the unprecedented heights that no Christmas record had reached before – or arguably since.

I do have a Christmas playlist featuring the likes of the Ramones, the White Stripes and the Fall. The standards are conspicuous by their absence. No Slade or Shakey; no Mud or Macca; no Roy Wood or Jonah Lewie; and absolutely, definitely no bloody Band Aid (I have a problem with charity records too – I’ll write about that one day)! However, in amongst the seasonal obscurities, you will find this record, a dark fairytale revealing the side of the festive season that no one wants to acknowledge. It’s the only really different Christmas so-called ‘standard’ out there which makes it the only one worthy of my time.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Welsh Wednesday #16

#16: O Tannenbaum by Cerys Matthews

What makes Christmas bearable? Well, a Cerys Matthews record can certainly help. In 2012, Cerys released 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', a selection of Christmas carols she performs in her own unique style, her wonderful Welsh lilt accompanied by acoustic instrumentation - guitars, banjos, harps, etc. Somehow, when these songs are sung by Cerys, it's like you've never heard them before, as if she breathes new life into them.

Sadly, for some bizarre reason, she saw fit to include the duet with Tom Jones she released some years before, the song that gives this record its name. It sticks out like a sore thumb and absolutely does not belong here. But that leaves 14 other gems to choose from and I've decided to go for her rendition of the German folk song O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree) in which Cerys even attempts a verse in the German language. I can't tell how good her German is, or if there's a noticeable Welsh accent - I'll leave it to Dirk and Walter to offer their thoughts. Either way, it's delightful.

Saturday 13 December 2014

The Genius Of... Tim Smith #5

#5: Camouflage by Mr & Mrs Smith And Mr Drake

Around the time of Cardiacs' third cassette-only album 'The Seaside' in 1984, a quaint little tape also sneaked out by an odd trio called Mr & Mrs Smith And Mr Drake. They were, of course, a selection of Cardiacs members, namely Tim Smith, his wife Sarah and William D. Drake. What they made could be described as Cardiacs-lite, but that's not strictly fair.

Cardiacs were regulars at the old Stonehenge Free Festivals in the 80s. This record sounds like the sort of thing they might have done around the campfire with the flower children. Tim playing acoustic guitar - something he rarely did with his 'proper band' - Sarah with her sax and recorder and Bill with any keyboardy thing he could lay his hands on. All took a shot at lead vocals and everything was recorded very low-fi and with very little embellishment.

It all sounded very 1967 folksy-wolksy and while it can't be compared to any of Cardiacs' best works, it does show another side to Tim's songwriting and performances. As the mad, crazy vibes of the seven-strong Cardiacs continued to be his main vehicle for another 25 years, the occasional surprise like this punctuated things nicely. Stripped-back and blissful, the eponymous tape remained fairly elusive for some time, being available only through their fan club and at gigs. Eventually released on CD some 20 years later, it remains a sidenote in Tim's extensive discography.

Camouflage is my favourite track, a duet between Tim and Sarah.

Friday 12 December 2014

Just because...

JUST BECAUSE MrsRobster and I went to see Inspiral Carpets last week, I thought I'd post one of their lesser-known gems today. Irresistible Force was the closing track on 'Revenge Of The Goldfish' from 1992, an album surely worthy of a critical reappraisal.

They didn't play this one on Friday night - they did a mix of new songs and the classic singles - but I've always liked it as it doesn't really sound like anything else they did, so on that basis I'm posting it. You're also getting a bonus remix, a rather trippy take on the track by Fotran 5 which is an awful lot better than your average remix was at the time.


Wednesday 10 December 2014

Welsh Wednesday #15

#15: Gimme Back My Morphine by Henry's Funeral Shoe

Not being Welsh can have its setbacks when it comes to pronouncing place names around here. I'm much better now than when I first got here, mind. For instance I can now say Ystrad Mynach pretty darn close to how it should sound, but back in 2001 my attempts caused much amusement among my new colleagues.

"Hey Kev," my then boss called to our colleague after one such effort. "Come and listen to this English twat say Ystrad Mynach..."

Anyway, Ystrad Mynach is a village in the south Wales valleys in the county of Caerphilly. From there, an awesome sibling duo by the name of Henry's Funeral Shoe blast out loud, fuzzy, rockin' blues that has earned them much respect on the live circuit around the UK. In 2012 they hit the States playing rough bars in Detroit and somehow found themselves on a cruise ship hanging out with Kiss!

Their most recent release, the 'Comfortable Skin' EP that came out in August, is testament to this. For today's posting, I've selected a track from their second album, 2011's 'Donkey Jacket', a fine example of what they do so well.

Monday 8 December 2014

Vintage Vinyl #4

Red Box - For America 7"
Bought from: Strawberry Fields, Cardiff
Price paid: one of a batch of singles I paid £8 for.

I told you about the shop where I bought this record along with a few others back on #2 in this series. The last time I passed it, it was closed and a sign in the window announced it was closing for good. A shame as I didn't spend nearly long enough there last time.

The story of Red Box is a rather interesting one, but I'll leave you to read that on Wikipedia. I remember this single back when it first came out in 1986. I had actually bought their previous single Lean On Me which reached number 3 in the UK charts the previous year. If I'm being honest, I much prefer Lean On Me - it's an absolutely corking song, one of the great forgotten hits of the 80s. For America was conceived as a protest against the record company. In spite of the massive worldwide success of Lean On Me, Sire felt Red Box's material didn't have the mainstream appeal they desired so asked them to write a song that could be a radio hit in the States. For America was the result, but far from championing our transatlantic friends, it was a scornful critique of the shallowness of the US media.

For America also made the Top 10 in the UK and was number one in six countries. Ironically (or not) it wasn't a hit in the States! The band's debut album 'The Circle & The Square' followed, and I remember buying it. Sadly, it didn't emulate the success of the singles, peaking at a lowly number 73 in the UK charts, and that was pretty much the last we ever heard of Red Box. Well, sort of...

A second album 'Motive' was released in 1990 to no fanfare and it sank without trace, Then 20 years later, a new Red Box line-up released 'Plenty', their third album, through the legendary Cherry Red Records, the label on which they released their very first single way back in 1983. They still tour and are big in Poland, apparently.


Saturday 6 December 2014

The Genius of... David Gedge #5

#5: Wow

One of Cinerama's finest moments, and the loud guitars that once graced the Wedding Present's works make a welcome appearance. A tale of lies, deceit, cheating and a secret rendezvous; the boy Gedge is taken in by a temptress despite already having a girlfriend. But although he's prepared for a one-night-stand, he's not certain he wants to commit anything more to this siren.

  "I don't want to stay forever
  I don't want to leave my girlfriend
  But wow!
  This isn't happening the way I planned."

Structure-wise, Wow is very Wedding Present; verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, instrumental coda. Classic Gedge really. Only the twangy guitar and bongos in the opening verse and the keyboards in the chorus and coda hint at this being a Cinerama song. Us old-school fans could breathe a little more easily. But more than anything, it is a really good song, proving that Gedge could still pull it off with aplomb whatever name he was recording under.

Wow was released in 2000 as Cinerama's fifth single and appeared, in extended form, on their second album 'Disco Volante'. The single version was eventually compiled on 2002's 'Cinerama Holiday' compilation.

Friday 5 December 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #37, #38 & #39

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

Some of the most memorable support slots I've had the pleasure of seeing...

#37: Cardiacs (supporting Chumbawamba)
Pyramids Centre, Portsmouth - 15 November 1995

You all know the extent of my love for Cardiacs. I only caught them live on onew occasion though. It was one evening whilst studying for my journalism exams on the south coast. The band had slimmed down from seven to four members by this point, but jeez were they good. Tim’s silly banter, telling the crowd to “SHUT UP!” during the quiet bits, and his routine abuse of brother Jim added to the general bemusement of some audience members, but it all made a strange kind of sense when they played. Listening to Cardiacs’ music, you wonder how any band could play it live. Only by experiencing their live show do you really get it. Utter genius with a touch of hilarity thrown in.


#38: Papa Brittle (supporting Chumbawamba)
The Anchor Inn, Westward Ho! - 1 August 1992

I saw Papa Brittle a few times around this period and remember them with great fondness. Chumba was, I think, the biggest band the Anchor ever hosted so they were undoubtedly the main draw, but Papa Brittle made a lot of friends that night. The energy and intent in their performance fuelled the capacity crowd through one of the sweatiest gigs I’ve ever experienced. They returned for a headline show a little while later, and on another occasion in Exeter gave a shout out to Westward Ho! after spotting us in the crowd.


#39: Von Bondies (supporting the White Stripes)
Anson Rooms, Bristol - 20 November 2001

Until earlier this year, the Von Bondies were probably the last support band I saw (who I wasn’t already aware of) that made me think “wow, gotta get some of their records.” And I did, purchasing their CD from the merch stall after the White Stripes had played. They were just raw and loud and bluesy and soulful and loud and full of energy and raw and loud. Plus they had the lovely Marcie Bolen on guitar. The following year, MrsRobster and I went to see the Hives at Cardiff International Arena, but had no idea who the support was. As they came onstage, I recognised them instantly. “It’s the Von Bondies,” I declared excitedly as the wife nodded in approval. Once again they were raw and loud and…..


Wednesday 3 December 2014

Welsh Wednesday #14

Happy Active Horse Organ by Mowbird

Wrexham: home town of weathergirl Sian Lloyd, footballers Robbie Savage and Mark Hughes, Olympic rowing double gold medallist Tom James and, erm, Russell Crowe's grandfather. Wales' most northeasterly major town is also home to Mowbird, a combo who describe themselves as a "DIY quartet". Since 2010's debut EP 'Excellent, OK', they've put out a string of singles and EPs, mostly through Bandcamp and many of them for free.

This year they got around to releasing their debut full-length album 'Islander', and a lot of fun it is too. Lo-fi, fuzzy and refreshingly honest, it's quirky enough to put a smile on your face, but not dumb enough to dismiss as mere novelty. On the contrary, I want more bands to be like this rather than disappear up their own backsides as they have the tendency to do.

Today's Welsh Wednesday pick is a song that originally featured on that shiny debut EP, only I've chosen the even shinier made-over version that appears on the album. I'm not sure if the Happy Active Horse Organ of the title is the organ that's played on the song itself, but I like to think it is (as I have no idea what else it could mean...)

If you like this, download more Mowbird stuff via their Bandcamp page. A lot of freebies to be had there...

Monday 1 December 2014

Blues Monday #4: Trouble So Hard by Vera Hall

Of course you know this one, though I'm not sure it's really blues, more American folk. But still, it's a stormer. Adell Hall Ward was born in 1902 and lived her life in Alabama. It was during the thirties that her singing came to prominence, thanks in part to Alan Lomax who recorded her for the Library of Congress. Lomax remarked that Hall had the "loveliest voice" he had ever recorded. Indeed, her deep baritone is certainly affecting in a warm, comforting way.

This song, recorded in 1937, is best known to modern audiences as the vocal track on Moby's Natural Blues, but it sounds best unadorned and unaccompanied. A wonderful recording.


Saturday 29 November 2014

The Genius Of... Jack White #4

#4: Intimate Secretary by The Raconteurs

I was never blown away by the Raconteurs, the band formed by Jack White and some old friends. However, their debut album 'Broken Boy Soldiers' was not just highly anticipated, it was also widely acclaimed. I wasn't struck as deeply by any of the songs as I had been by the White Stripes, but I didn't dislike it.

My favourite track on that record is Intimate Secretary because it is rather silly. Like all Raconteurs songs, it was co-written by Jack White and Brendan Benson so I'm not sure who wrote the lyrics about rabbits and teapots but they put a smile on my face.

One thing the Raconteurs project did illustrate was that Jack White had a more conventional and melodic side to him rather than just the skewed blues he became known for. It's also worth noting that White and Benson had worked together before in the short-lived Jack White & The Bricks in 1999, so they were far from strangers.

'Broken Boy Soldiers' is a worthy document of a side project that worked, even if they didn't set the world alight. But then, that was probably never the point.

Friday 28 November 2014

Just because...

Slaves are loud, shouty and great fun. The drummer plays standing up and sings shouts lead vocals. They made a video for their 15-second song Girl Fight. They are also a current fave of MrsRobster who has been listening to them lots during her trips to and from work. You may have heard recent singles Hey and Debbie, Where's Your Car? if you listen to BBC 6Music, and their new single The Hunter comes out next week.

Here's MrsRobster's recommendation - Bad Machine is a bonus track on the Bandcamp digital version of their debut mini-album 'Sugar Coated Bitter Truth' released a year ago.


Wednesday 26 November 2014

Welsh Wednesday #13

#13: Mera Desh [remix] by Llwybr Llaethog

MrsRobster recently went on a business trip to Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales to see cheese being made. One of the cheeses concerned is matured in caves in a slate mine. She and her colleagues had to travel deep into the caves in a tiny narrow-gauge railway in order to see the products for themselves. The same location also plays host to the world's largest underground trampoline, and one of Europe's biggest zip wires. The wife's party didn't get to experience such fun and thrills sadly, but nonetheless she found it fascinating.

Equally fascinating is the finest band to have come out of Blaenau Ffestiniog: Llwybr Llaethog. The band was formed following founder John Griffiths spotting a group of youths breakdancing in New York. Inspired, he and long-time friend Kevs Ford married the ethos of hip hop with their far-left political leanings, dub reggae and the Welsh language. Hailed by John Peel, they were initially prolific but releases tailed off come the 90s and have been somewhat sporadic ever since. They are still around though and have 10 studio albums to their name, the most recent being 2011's 'Curiad Cariad'.

For today's track, I've gone for a single they released in 1997 entitled Mera Desh. More precisely it's a remix taken from the 2000 compilation 'Hip-Dub Reggae-Hop'. More interesting than cheese in a cave, if you ask me...

Monday 24 November 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #34, #35 & #36

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

Three shows from back in the day that, for different reasons, drew derision from me, not always fairly…

#34: EMF
Great Hall, Exeter Unversity - 7 May 1991
Also in attendance: Wayne

Wayne and I scornfully observed the place, realising we were older than half the audience (and we were still just 19!). We scoffed at the mums and dads waiting outside to pick their little cherubs up after the show. We dismissed EMF as “crap” and tried to forget we ever went.

The truth is that having just had one of the biggest pop hits of the past 12 months, EMF were always going to draw a young crowd; they probably weren’t as bad as we made them out to be; and we had conveniently forgotten that just three years earlier, our mums had been outside the same venue waiting for us to emerge from seeing the Wedding Present. Ha, music snobbery, eh? What a couple of hipsters…

#35: Manic Street Preachers
Riviera Centre, Torquay - summer 1993
Support: Blaggers I.T.A. / Credit To The Nation
Also in attendance: Higgz

Higgz and I had travelled to Torquay to interview Blaggers I.T.A. for our fanzine-that-never-was. I remember Higgz being concerned that Blaggers were “hard as fucking nails” and that we didn’t say anything to upset them - it was during this tour that Matty Blag assaulted a Melody Maker hack. As it turned out, Blaggers were very accommodating, even though you could feel a crackle of tension amongst them and us. This may have been the first time I saw Credit To The Nation, the very right-on, left-wing rap outfit who I saw a few more times supporting the likes of Chumbawamba and Back to the Planet. Blaggers I.T.A. blew the roof off the place, by far the best act of the night.

As for the Manics? They were touring on ‘Gold Against The Soul’, their second album, and I think I’d already made up my mind that I hated them before they even played a note. I love them now, of course, but at this show I couldn’t see beyond the make-up, the silly rock posturing and the controversy-courting quotes in the press. They came across as a bad Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band and I sneered contemptuously throughout. The truth is, I probably just didn’t get it. Whatever, my overriding memory of this show is that the Manics were terrible and it would take a while before they would eventually win me over.


#36: Blameless
Golden Lion Tap, Barnstaple - 26 August 1995
Support: Star 69

Hotly-tipped indie band from Sheffield plays poorly-attended gig in the backroom of a North Devon pub. Members have a fight onstage a few songs in. Singer storms off. Hilarious, if a little sad. The only time I’ve seen a band disintegrate before my very eyes. They failed to turn up for a gig with Feeder the following night, but did manage to hold it together for another year or so. They enjoyed a minor hit the following summer, but finally bit the dust before a second album was recorded.

I remember being far more taken with the support band, Star 69, and described their singer as "stunning" in a review. I stand by that statement! Their single I'm Insane still sounds good, in a Veruca Salt/Belly kind of way.


Saturday 22 November 2014

The Genius Of... Tim Smith #4

#4: Don't You Ail, Flash The Sea To Steam by Spratleys Japs

In 1998, a curious album hit the shelves, a twisted little branch of the chaotic Cardiacs family tree. Tim Smith formed Spratleys Japs with Cardiacs collaborator Joanne Spratley sometime between between the 'Sing To God' and 'Guns' albums. They never gigged, but a sole album emerged entitled 'Pony' featuring Smith and Spratley as co-vocalists and a broken mellotron as one of the main instruments.

Musically though there's no mistaking the chief protagonist. 'Pony' had Tim Smith's maniacal influence all over it. Key changes from out of nowhere; all kinds of time signatures in a single track; lyrics no one can make head nor tail of - yep, all the essential ingredients present and correct. There are even those who proclaim Don't You Ail... to be the best Cardiacs song not done by Cardiacs. It certainly has the feel of the sound Cardiacs were adopting around that time.

As for the rest of the album, well it kind of sits quietly in the background among the Cardiacs discography, though it has long been a secret fan favourite. Definitely worth seeking out if you haven't heard it.

Friday 21 November 2014

50 albums to take to my grave 15: The Velvet Underground & Nico

Another one I'm not going to go on about as you're probably more than familiar with it, but here's a few thoughts from my perspective.

I got into the Velvets through R.E.M. who covered a number of their tunes. When I first heard this record, I had real trouble getting into it, but there’s no doubt what a fabulous piece of musical history it is.

I'm sure Andy Warhol saw it as little more than a folly, and who knows how much actual production he did on the record. But his insistence at bringing in Nico despite the protestations of the band, was in hindsight an inspired move. She lends a darkly seductive mood to the album; that thick German accent, the deep almost monotonous drawl complimenting Cale's viola and Reed's own relaxed vocal and guitar styles.

It sold bugger all at the time, but it’s been said that while few people bought it, those that did formed a band on the back of it. It is that influential and continues to be. It is often cited as a forerunner of garage rock and punk, but I hear far more (what would become known as) Krautrock in it than anything else, and that's not just down to Nico's presence. Even without her, the psychedelic, improvisational style of the music was very reminiscent of what was going on in the underground scene in West Germany during the late 60s and early 70s.

And what of the actual songs? One of the most consistently brilliant batches of songs ever produced, in my view. If I had to choose one, it would probably be I’ll Be Your Mirror, but to be honest, ask me tomorrow and I might say Venus In Furs, and next week it'll be Sunday Morning... you get the picture. While the other three Velvet Underground records[1] are superb as well, this one surpasses most of the records ever made by anyone. Nuff said.

[1] 'White Light/White Heat', 'The Velvet Underground' and 'Loaded'. No-one - not even the band - recognises 'Squeeze' as a VU album, and 'VU' and 'Another View' were compilations of unreleased tracks, so therefore don't count either.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Welsh Wednesday #12

#12: Puts Me To Work by Cate le Bon

Hailing from the Carmarthenshire hamlet of Penboyr (but currently based in LA), Cate le Bon is fast becoming Wales' new pop princess. She can boast a wealth of collaborators (Gruff Rhys and Manic Street Preachers to name just two), her records are played all over 6Music and she is also really rather good. Dark and minimal, her music is intriguing and a little odd at times, her accent giving her the air of a Welsh Nico.

She's put out three excellent albums, her latest 'Mug Museum' proving to be her most successful to date. But for today's post, I'm going for a track from her previous album, 2012's 'Cyrk'. Puts Me To Work is a delightful example of what she's all about and is a particular fave of mine.

Monday 17 November 2014

From Inside The Pod Revisited #6: Mix-Up

Here's another old podcast I did for my previous blog, one of my experiments. I did try a few ideas out over the duration of the project, they didn't all work. This one didn't turn out too bad. Shame it didn't capture the imgination of my audience - it was one of the least downloaded podcasts I ever made.

Regardless, I'm putting it up again because I quite liked it at the time and having listened to it again recently, still do. As usual, the original article is republished exactly as it appeared first time around.

pod 25: Mix-Up
(first published: 8 February 2012)

This is something of an experiment. Remixes are, by-and-large, a rather hit and miss affair. Sometimes they work so well, they eclipse the original version. Other times, they're just, well, nonsense really, baring no resemblence whatsoever to the track it claims to be a version of.

For this podcast, I've strung together a selection of remixes that, while they may not all belong in the former camp, they're far from the latter. There's nothing to link them thematically, but like all my pods (I hope) they offer some diversity in the artists, the styles, and in this case, the new treatments given to the original works.

Bear in mind I'm no pro when it comes to this sort of thing, I just wanted to try something a bit different. Don't expect seamless mixes with the beats of one track flowing almost unnoticeably into the next. This ain't no dancefloor filler neither and it was never meant to be. In fact I tend to shy away from dance mixes - they're so 1990s, aren't they?!

1. Elbow Not a Job (Deadly Avenger Divine Wind remix) [2004, 12" promo]
Damon Baxter, aka Deadly Avenger, worked with a number of indie bands including the Charlatans, Travis and the Manic Street Preachers before he became one of the most in-demand producers and composers in the country. Following commissions a-plenty for adverts, movie trailers and TV shows, he recently released the album Blossoms & Blood. Here, he treats one of my fave Elbow tracks to a feast of electronic wizardry.

2. Lykke Li Knocked Up (Lykke Li vs Rodeo remix) [2008, b-side of 'Use Somebody']
This version of 'Knocked Up' - the opener of King's of Leon's third record - combines both Lykke Li's cover and the original. Mixed by Death to the Throne (DJ and producer James Martin Nelson from Phoenix, AZ.), it is actually a remix of the Swedish indie starlet's cover featuring added elements of the original.

3. Grizzly Bear Cheerleader (Neon Indian Studio 6669 remix) [2009, digital release]
One of the standouts of the Brooklyn psyche-folk outfit Grizzly Bear's highly-lauded third album was 'Cheerleader'. Neon Indian mainman Alan Palomo made two remixes of the track, one wildly psychedelic, the other a more melodic affair. This is the latter and taking nothing away from the original, it is a fantastic version.

4. Ania Zostań (DJ JW remix) [2010, digital release]
I know very little about the remixer of this track having found the track on You Tube. I think (s)he might be Polish, like Ania Dąbrowska whose recent stint as a judge on a Polish TV talent show seems to have delayed the advent of any new material. I like the hip-hop beats in this version, they work really well, and thankfully, there's no rap in the middle of it.

5. Johnny Cash Country Boy (Sonny J Remix) [2008, Cash Remixed]
The prospect of a whole album of remixes of Johnny Cash songs should have made the purists quiver with fear and rage. Many of the results, however, were actually pretty decent. 'Country Boy' originally featured on Johnny's 1957 debut album 'Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar'. This brilliant version by Scouser Sonny J reminds me a lot of Junkie XL's treatment of Elvis' 'A Little Less Conversation'.

6. Kirsty MacColl Angel (Apollo 440 remix [edit]) [1993, b-side of 'Angel']
It's almost sacrilege to tamper with anything the late great Kirsty MacColl ever touched. But Apollo 440 actually do a really nice job with this ambient reworking of her 1993 single 'Angel'. That voice is still intact, resulting in goosebumps and moistening eyes (for me at least).

7. Manic Street Preachers Jackie Collins Existential Question Time (Saint Etienne remix) [2009, Journal For Plague Lovers Remixes]
When does a remix become a cover version? Well, here's an example. The Manics released this on their remix version of the 'Journal For Plague Lovers' album, but it's practically a Saint Etienne cover with barely anything of the original in evidence (the Welsh flag is therefore used here loosely!) I am glad, however, that Sarah Cracknell replaced the profanity in the lyrics with 'does'. Somehow to hear her swear just wouldn't be right.

8. Grinderman Worm Tamer (A Place to Bury Strangers remix) [2011, b-side of 'Worm Tamer']
A phenomenal remix of Grinderman's scariest track by New York noiseniks A Place To Bury Strangers. It hurtles along at breakneck speed deafening everything in its wake, bringing this remix special to a dangerously chaotic climax.


Saturday 15 November 2014

The Genius Of... David Gedge #4

 #4: Interstate 5

OK, briefly for those of you who don't know the story. David Gedge and Sally Murrell split up in 2003 following the release of Cinerama's third album 'Torino'. He continued however, recording a new album. It was after the recording had finished that it was suggested the new record, entitled 'Take Fountain', sounded more like a Wedding Present album due to its proliferation of guitars. And so it was decided - after a layoff of some eight years - the Wedding Present were reborn.

The first fruit of these labours was a song I consider to be among the best David Gedge ever made. Released exactly 10 years ago this very day[1] Interstate 5 could be described as a bit of a slow-burner. In fact, it's a bit slow, full-stop. At six minutes long, it was never going to be a radio hit either. It's a curious choice of comeback single, yet it took my breath away. It's a great song, all about a bloke's consternation at being used by a woman as a one-night-stand.

  I have this nagging fear
  That sex was all you needed
  I try to persevere
  I guess I've not succeeded

It does build gradually - starting with a single repeated chord, overlaid by a chiming second guitar playing a simple melody. The rhythmic pulsing of that same chord runs throughout the song, rarely giving way until the bridge when Gedge acknowledges there were doubts about the femme fatale's motives at the time of the episode in question:

  And yes there was one particular glance
  That made me afraid
  That you were just seeing me as a chance
  Of getting laid

The resentment of the protagonist is felt in the closing minute and a half as those guitars get louder and more agitated at our hero's predicament. There's no doubt that this really was a mission statement from the boy Gedge - the Wedding Present are back! I agree, this was no Cinerama track. The album emerged to rave reviews and much joy at the return of one of indie music's great names.

That in itself raises an interesting point though - it was only a name. The record was recorded as Cinerama, only a late decision to attribute it to the Wedding Present really drew people's attention to it. Would it have been so hailed as a Cinerama record? Would I have cared so much about a new Cinerama record? Discuss.

There was a thought I had that I should include this in my 'Songs to take to my grave' series - I still might. Either way, it still deserves its place as a moment of Gedge genius. Oh, and it's worth noting that Interstate 5 was accompanied by an astonishing video recorded in locations the length and breadth of the UK. One of my favourite vids of all time in fact.

[1] I'd written and scheduled this piece before I'd even looked at the release date. Coincidence or what!

Friday 14 November 2014

50 albums to take to my grave #14: The Trinity Session

An album notable for a number of reasons. It's one of the slowest, quietest records I own, and the fact I fell for it aged just 17 amazes me to this very day. A waaaay too mature choice for me back then. It also marks a watershed moment in the movement that would become dubbed Alt Country.

I'm sure you know the story - Cowboy Junkies gathered in a local church and recorded some songs live to a DAT recorder in one evening using just one microphone. The result was beyond belief. Whether it was intentionally understated, or it just turned out that way, it matters not; 'The Trinity Session' is altogether warming and haunting. Original compositions nestled comfortably alongside covers of traditional American folk songs and country classics. 25+ years on, it is still regarded as a remarkable achievement.

I was initially taken in by the single, Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis) - a dark re-write of Blue Moon -  which I saw on The Chart Show one Saturday afternoon, that was enough to tempt me to buy the album. It was certainly different to every other record in my collection at the time, but it got an awful lot of plays. I suppose being raised in a house where quite a bit of country and western was aired kind of made it less alien to me, but even so this wasn't country music like I'd heard it before. Even now I find it entrancing, hypnotic. It's the sound of a late, lazy jam when you don't want to disturb the neighbours.

Opening with Mining For Gold, a folk song performed a capella by Margo Timmins, we're taken on a dreamy, plaintive journey through the heartlands of American music - love, despair, sadness and life's hardships set to a rumbling backdrop of country and blues. Misguided Angel, one of the original tracks, is not only a highlight, but a mission statement. It's dark and disconcerting, a tale of love in an abusive relationship:

  Misguided Angel hanging over me.
  Heart like Gabriel, pure and white as ivory.
  Soul like Lucifer, black and cold like a piece of lead.
  Misguided Angel, love you ’til I’m dead.

I remember playing this album in the car when I picked my grandparents up from the train station one weekend. I wanted something that wouldn't stress them out. Looking back, it perhaps wasn't exactly appropriate, lyrically at least. These are not happy songs. We get Hank Williams' heartbreaking I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, a version that I have to this day struggled to find a match for; To Love Is To Bury is a mournful tribute to a dead lover; and another lost love is the subject of Walkin' After Midnight, a take on Patsy Cline's breakthrough hit.

And then there's Sweet Jane. Typically, rather than covering the well-known version, the Cowboy Junkies decided to tackle the early version captured on the Velvet Underground's live album 'Live 1969'. The "la-la-la" interlude actually lightens the mood a little, if only briefly, but nonetheless Lou Reed cited it as the best cover of one of his songs he ever heard.

Overall, 'The Trinity Session' was an experiment that worked so, so well it makes you elated in spite of its somewhat gloomy tone. It's as if the setting really helped things - the lo-fi recording, the church acoustics, the lateness of the hour. It was a one-off. This is perhaps confirmed by the band's attempt to replicate the whole thing 20 years later - heading back to the same location to play the same songs and record the whole thing over again with a few special guests in tow. It really didn't work second time around and only served to illustrate the remarkable uniqueness of the original.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Welsh Wednesday #11

#11: Saith by Y Niwl

Despite serving some time as Gruff Rhys' backing band, Y Niwl (trans: The Fog) are actually better known for their authentic take on instrumental surf rock a la Dick Dale, the Surftones, the Champs etc. Strange really, as the best Welsh surf is in the south and Y Niwl hail from the north. Actually, I'm not sure why that's strange at all really, but there you go...

The band has been quiet since their fourth release - the aptly-titled 'Y Niwl 4' EP - in 2012. Neither their website nor Bandcamp pages have been updated since then which maybe hints that they've split. Hopefully, they're just resting. Maybe their releases come in waves. Arf...

Now, Y Niwl don't actually title their songs, they just assign them numbers. In Welsh, of course. So this being post number 11 in the series, it therefore might be deemed appropriate to go for Undegun, or Eleven. But as I've long been deemed by many to be inappropriate, I've decided to go for Saith (Seven) 'cos I like it better.

Monday 10 November 2014

Vintage Vinyl 3

Therapy? – Church Of Noise (7” red vinyl)
Bought from: Kelly's Records, Cardiff
Price paid: £3

I hate fish. OK, let me rephrase that - I have no problem with fish in their natural habitat, they're pretty amazing creatures, but I hate the smell of fish. Not keen on the taste of them either. This is why I generally don't venture into indoor markets very often. The overwhelming stench of the fresh fish stalls that waft up my unsuspecting nostrils whenever I walk past one makes my stomach churn. This is why it took me 13 years of living and working in South Wales to discover Kelly's Records.

It was MrsRobster who actually tipped me off. She's not a big market shopper either, but happened to be in Cardiff Market one afternoon and chanced across "a big second hand record stall" that she thought I'd like. So next time I was in town, I held my nose and set off to find it. I found it. To be honest, I couldn't have missed it. Kelly's Records is huge. Located on the balcony level, it stocks tens of thousands of lovely vinyl things of all genres, shapes, sizes and ages. It also has quite a substantial CD stock as well as DVDs, videos and cassettes. Me, I stood aghast when I got there not knowing where to start.

This pic doesn't really do Kelly's justice to be honest, It's only a tiny part of it.

MrsRobster and the girls knew I wouldn't be moving from there any time soon, and two hours later they came to find me. I wasn't even close to being finished! I had, however, picked up a few items. I was mainly interested in 7" singles and one that caught my eye was my favourite Therapy? track Church Of Noise on red vinyl. It's more like a 12" masquerading as a 7" actually as it contains three tracks including a remix of the title song, and plays at 33rpm. I paid £3 for it, which isn't bad as I've seen copies around for between £5-£10. It's in really good nick, too.

Church of Noise originally appeared as the lead single from their fourth full-length album 'Semi-Detached' in 1998. It reached number 29 in the UK charts and was their penultimate top 40 hit. I rate it as one of their career highlights, especially that chorus:

  Welcome to the Church of NOIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE!

To be honest, I'm not sure why I picked this record out of the myriad of crazy things I spotted in Kelly's that rainy afternoon. Tis a good 'un, for sure, but not particularly adventurous of me. I also picked up an R.E.M. rarity to add to my collection. During my next visit, I picked up something a little less predictable, that will feature in a future episode. Oooh, you're curious now aren't you?!


Saturday 8 November 2014

The Genius Of… Jack White #3

#3: You’re Pretty Good Looking

The first real sign that the White Stripes could make pop music. Their self-titled debut album really adhered to the DIY garage-rock ethic. It was never going to receive much in the way of airplay or cross over into the mainstream. Not that there was ever any real intention to do so, mind. So it was a bit of a surprise to encounter the opening track of the band’s sophomore record ‘De Stijl’.

You’re Pretty Good Looking on the surface of it sounds like a deliberate attempt at a hit single, but I think we all know Jack White too well to actually believe that. There’s no doubting its pop credentials though: catchy tune, simple lyrics, nothing contentious or offensive – it ticked all the boxes really. Perhaps only the trademark White Stripes sound – stripped down instrumentation and lo-fi production – stood in its way, along with it being released on a small local record label.

Naturally John Peel played it and slowly the White Stripes began to work their way into the hearts of the music-loving world, but for a while this song, both on single and album, was only available in the States (and even then mainly in the Detroit area only) or as an import, which means it wasn’t known further afield for another 12-18 months, by which time we were already becoming well aware of who the White Stripes were and what we could expect from them.

You’re Pretty Good Looking remains one of their poppiest moments and was a fave in the live set for some time. It illustrated a sense of fun at the heart of the band and that was to serve them well over the next few years which would see them enjoy success beyond anyone’s expectations, least of all their own!

Friday 7 November 2014

50 Albums to take to my grave #13: Adam And Eve

My first encounter with Catherine Wheel was back in 1992 around their first album. I bought two of their singles Balloon and I Want To Touch You due to them being very cheap in my local record shops[1]. At this point, the band was lumped in with the ‘shoegazing’ scene and were growing in reputation. By the time ‘Adam and Eve’ came out five years later, Catherine Wheel’s sound had moved on quite drastically.

Their third album ‘Happy Days’, released in 1995, was altogether louder and heavier than their previous work. This bigger sound was developed further for their next offering which I rate as a masterpiece, one of the best albums of the 90s. There was nothing scenesterish about ‘Adam and Eve’, it was a proper bonafide rock epic.

It was also rather bold in its tracklisting. The traditional big, catchy opening song was eschewed in favour of a short untitled acoustic intro track, followed by the slow-burner that was Future Boy. This was not the Catherine Wheel of previous albums; it was more like something Pink Floyd might have put out. Of course, the louder, upbeat numbers were present and correct – lead single Delicious is where it really gets going (and a dead good song it is, too), the sneering giant that is Broken Nose harked back to ‘Happy Days’, while Satellite really ought to have been put out as a single, especially in the US where it could have catapulted Catherine Wheel to superstardom. In fact, Catherine Wheel had more success in the States than they did in their UK homeland, but never quite broke through to the mainstream. Had they done so, who knows how far they could have gone.

The very best songs on the record though are the biggest, most anthemic, but equally most textured ones. Here Comes The Fat Controller is big, big, big; Goodbye is big, big, bigger, as brash and bold as Catherine Wheel ever got. Phantom Of The American Mother was more restrained and emotional, but didn’t lack a punch. The absolute highlight though really has to be Ma Solituda, a gorgeous tender moment amongst the maelstrom of guitars turned up to 11. A real torch song, it was released as the second single from the album and peaked at a lowly 53. It remains a tragedy how Ma Solituda was practically ignored by media and public alike, something I haven’t forgiven them for to this day.

Overall though, ‘Adam and Eve’ works as a whole; it’s a proper album rather than just a collection of songs. It’s not a concept album, but it does feel cohesive and well thought out. It really should have fared much better commercially and gone on to establish Catherine Wheel as one of the UK’s foremost rock bands. Sadly, its follow-up ‘Wishville’ took three years to materialise and while it contained some strong material, it couldn’t compare to the magnum opus that was ‘Adam and Eve’; reviews were poor, sales were poorer and the band effectively split shortly after its release.[2]

While many others point to the band’s first two albums ‘Ferment’ and ‘Chrome’ as being their finest works, I always come back to ‘Adam and Eve’ as it has all I want in a rock album – great songs, a good strong sound, a mixture of moods and a hint of unpredictability, even after nearly 20 years. And it sounds even better turned up to 11.

[1] This was because of the way record companies would hype their products into the charts – practically giving them away to stores to sell for 50p or a quid. Known as loss-leaders, the idea of it is that it was likely the singles would sell more and the chart position would be higher leading to more radio play. This in turn would generate more interest in the album. It didn’t always work, but it was a ploy used for many years. I loved it of course as it meant I could afford to buy more records!
[2] Officially, Catherine Wheel is on ‘hiatus’, but since their supposedly temporary disbandment in 2000, they haven’t performed as a unit, either in the studio or live.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Welsh Wednesday #10

#10: Sugarcrush by Joanna Gruesome

I thought it was about time some of the new breed was represented in this series, so with that I proudly introduce Joanna Gruesome.

Joanna Gruesome have what is probably the worst band name in Wales. Despite this, they make a splendid noise that evokes lots of old-school indie references: the Wedding Present, the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Talulah Gosh, the Primitives, Lush, etc. Only a handful of singles/EPs and a solitary album exist with their name on them at the moment, but they have been a part of the live circuit in Cardiff since their formation in 2010; they do have a bit of a reputation for high-energy performances too.

Sugarcrush is a real blast of C86-inspired fuzz-pop taken from their debut album which you can buy from their Bandcamp page (you'll find some free stuff there, too). Good band, good attitude, good fun.

Monday 3 November 2014

Blues Monday #3: Rattlesnake Shake by Fleetwood Mac

In the mid to late 60s, a spate of British bands headed the British Blues Boom, one of the most prominent being Fleetwood Mac. Fronted by Peter Green, formerly of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the band went on to become one of the biggest selling acts of all time. Of course, they were a very different band from the early 70s onwards following Green's departure. Their early works though proved influential and still sound great today.

I've been listening to their 'Live At The BBC' album recently and I reckon some of the versions on this beat the originals hands down. Rattlesnake Shake first appeared on the band's third studio album 'Then Play On' in 1969. This altogether rawer and longer live version was one of the last recordings made with Peter Green who quit the band the following month in May 1970. The only downside here is that this officially released version fades early. The actual recording was a little longer and exists on bootlegs. Sadly, this is all I have. It's still awesome though.