Monday 29 September 2014

From Inside The Pod Revisited #4

When I jacked in my old blog 'From Inside The Pod', there were a couple of podcasts I'd compiled that didn't see the light of day. These remained unreleased - until now. Here's one of them, the fifth of the cover version series. It would have been published in early May 2012 if I'd carried on. The notes were already written ready for posting and they appear here pretty much as they were intended. The artwork is new though - I hadn't done that before I called time on the project. Enjoy.

pod 31: re:Covering 5
(compiled/written March-April 2012)

1. Sandie Shaw Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? [1986, BBC Radio 1 Janice Long Session]
original by Lloyd Cole & the Commotions
Sandie Shaw's brief comeback in the 1980s was instigated by the realisation that she still had a lot of fans out there, none less than Messrs Morrissey and Marr who recorded an EP of Smiths songs with her. She also released a version of this track as a single. The original featured on Lloyd Cole's debut album 'Rattlesnakes', widely regarded as his best work.

2. Therapy? Invisible Sun [1993, Peace Together (Benefit for Northern Ireland)]
original by The Police
Invisible Sun reached number 2 in the UK charts for the Police in 1981, despite being banned by the BBC, both for its overtly political lyrics and its video depicting life in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles. Therapy? hail from Northern Ireland so it's perhaps unsurprising that they connect with this song. They render a generally faithful take, restraining themselves somewhat from the much heavier sound for which they are better known - they remain one of the loudest bands I've ever seen.

3. John Otway The House Of The Rising Sun [1993, John Otway and the Big Band Live]
original by...? Well, that's a good question as no one really knows.  But here's the famous, spine-tingling version by The Animals...
Ah, John Otway.  One of the most remarkable live acts I've ever seen. Manically energetic, bloody hilarious and some decent tunes to boot. His version of House of the Rising Sun is unique; unless you've heard it before, I can guarantee you've not heard it done like this before. Here's the video.

4. Sarah Jaffe Louder Than Ever [2011, The Way Sound Leaves A Room]
original by Cold War Kids
With her sophomore album out this month [May 2012], perhaps it's about time Sarah Jaffe's name became a little more well-known out there. She tours relentlessly so it's not as if she hasn't grafted. The original was the first single released from Cold War Kids' third album 'Mine Is Yours' from 2011. Sarah typically rearranges the whole things, turning it into a darkly-brooding jazz-tinged ballad.

5. Inspiral Carpets Tainted Love [1992, Ruby Trax: 40 Years of the NME]
original by Gloria Jones
I don't care what anyone says, Inspiral Carpets were not just about awful bowl haircuts, they were one of the most consistently great singles bands of the late 80s/early 90s. They were good live too. Gloria Jones' original Tainted Love was actually the b-side to a flop single called My Bad Boy's Comin' Home in 1965. It gained popularity during the UK's Northern Soul scene in the 1970s, before Soft Cell took it on in the 80s and gave it to the masses. The Inspirals reworked it quite radically, resulting in one of my fave covers.

6. Polyphonic Spree Love My Way [2006, Wait EP]
original by The Psychedelic Furs
I have long been suspicious of people who seem permanently happy. What exactly are they doing that the rest of the world just can't get right? At least the sun-worshipping Texan army that is the Polyphonic Spree channels its exhuberant joy into music. Other covers attempted by the 20-odd piece choral nutters include tracks by Bowie, Nirvana and John Lennon, but this take on the Psychedelic Furs 1982 hit, the follow-up to Pretty In Pink no less, catches them in full euphoria.

7. Flyscreen Bike [1997, b-side of She Smokes, She Drinks and Writes Poetry]
original by Pink Floyd
The life of Flyscreen was brief, but their presence on the Newport rock scene back in the town's 90s heydays was not overlooked. This version of one of Syd Barrett's best-loved ditties foregos the original's many psychedelic oddities. Instead, it's a no-nonsense rocker.

8. Martha Wainwright Tower Of Song [2008, Cohen Covered]
original by Leonard Cohen
The original Tower Of Song is a truly remarkable recording, it takes a brave person to take it on. Many have tried, but I think Martha's effort ranks pretty damn near the top of my list of more-than-worthy Len covers. A great example of why she's my favourite Wainwright!

9. Charlotte Hatherley This Is Pop! [2007, b-side of Siberia]
original by XTC
Why weren't XTC absolutely phenomenally HUUUGE??! Like a lot of people my age, I found out about them through someone a little older, in my case my cousin John. During one of my many, many trawls through his amazing record collection, I came across the single Making Plans For Nigel and was intrigued.  Little did I know that their influence would still be felt some 30 years later. Former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley has made her own share of excellent quirky pop tunes (case in point: her debut solo single Kim Wilde) so as you would expect, she rises to the occasion here. This is pop alright.

10. Mercury Rev Blue Skies [2001, b-side of The Dark Is Rising]
original performed by Belle Baker in the musical 'Betsy'.  She never actually recorded it, so here's Doris Day instead.
Penned by Irving Berlin, Blue Skies first saw the light of day in the now long-forgotten musical 'Betsy' in 1926. It has gone on to become one of Berlin's best-loved and most recorded songs. We all know that in 'Deserters Songs' and 'All Is Dream' Mercury Rev gave us two of the most astonishingly beautiful records of the last 20 years. They make Blue Skies sound so naturally like one of their own songs, it is hard to believe it was 75 years old when they recorded this. It's a wonderful way to close this poddy.


Saturday 27 September 2014

The Genius Of... David Gedge #2

#2: Dalliance

‘Bizarro’ proved that there was more to the Wedding Present than moping Northerners with jangly guitars. It also led to a new chapter in the band’s development. Teaming up with Steve Albini to re-record the album’s opening track Brassneck for a single proved to be a masterstroke. While Albini long had a reputation for being a not particularly easy person to get along with, there’s no doubting his talents and influence as a producer. The Albini/Weddoes pairing proved not just fruitful, but revolutionary.

After Brassneck came the ‘3 Songs’ EP, again with Albini at the helm. Already, a new Wedding Present sound was beginning to emerge – something altogether rawer, noisier, some might say nastier. The following year, the band’s third album hit the shelves, and by way of introduction, it was led by the single Dalliance. To many fans, including this one, it came as a bit of a shock.

Dalliance still displayed some of David Gedge’s finest trademarks, but there was added spark. Maybe us fans expected something lively like Kennedy to lead us into the new record. Instead, Dalliance starts quietly – very quietly, in fact – and somewhat restrained; Gedge practically whispers the opening lines.

Interestingly, the characters in Dalliance are based on real people. Simply by switching the sex of the protagonist to male and his subject to female, Gedge relates the feelings of a spurned lover who after having an affair with a married woman for seven years, has now found himself dumped as she goes back to her husband. In real life, the spurned lover was Sarah Johnson, the married party being Leo Cooper, husband of novelist Jilly. Ms Johnson went public in 1990 when news of the affair broke, claiming that despite the extra-marital activity lasting six years, Cooper simply referred to it as a mere ‘dalliance’ when explaining himself.

As the song progresses, the resentment and anger of the jilted flame grows – the drums get louder, the guitars do too and Gedge’s voice becomes more audible. By the time we get to the final verse, pure rage has set in. Gedge growls: 

  “I was yours for seven years / Is that what you call a dalliance?” 

It becomes the Wedding Present’s noisiest, angriest song to date and set the template for the album, ‘Seamonsters’, perhaps the most dark, daring and difficult of all their work. 

While Melody Maker dismissed it at the time as “like sandpapering your ears”, ‘Seamonsters’ has gone on to be regarded as the band’s masterpiece. It was, in essence, what you might call ‘proto-grunge’. Over the ensuing 18 months, a slew of bands (mainly from the US) would turn their guitars and distortion up to the max, the singers would growl and holler their disdainful, angst-ridden lyrics, and the world would embrace the alternative rock revolution. While grunge was at its multi-platinum corporate peak, the Weddoes could look back in a ‘been there, done that, bought the obligatory Nirvana t-shirt’ kind of way as they moved onto their next project.

So here’s the bold claim – David Gedge from northern England invented grunge; Dalliance beats Smells Like Teen Spirit as the first proper alt-rock/grunge hit single, and ‘Seamonsters’ was the first Top 20 grunge album. Presenting exhibit B in the case for the defence: Dalliance.

Friday 26 September 2014

50 Albums to take to my grave #12: 10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged

Admit it, there can’t be many of you who would have expected to see this record in my all-time fave listing? But indeed, here it is, my all-time fave live album.

There are a number of reasons I love this record, but the overarching one of them all just has to be Natalie Merchant’s vocals. Her voice is instantly recognisable, completely unique, and here it is in arguably the finest form of her career. Maybe the simpler acoustic arrangements of the songs make her sound more resonant than usual, I’m not really sure. All I know is, for 60 minutes listening to this album, I fall in love all over again.

The whole Unplugged franchise actually wasn’t a bad idea. Back in the days when MTV still did music, to get one of the day’s top acts, put them in front of an audience and make them play acoustic sets – it’s a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. It did lose its way eventually (I mean, Katy friggin’ Perry? Really???) but in its time, it hosted some extraordinary shows. Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Paul McCartney are probably the most heralded, but there were plenty others worthy of note. I think the 10,000 Maniacs one gets overlooked far too often.

The show was to be the last televised appearance of the band with Natalie Merchant who quit shortly after. The set comprised songs from their three most recent albums at the time (in my opinion their best ones). The line-up was augmented by string, brass and woodwind players. David Byrne of Talking Heads made an appearance too, duetting on some country covers with Natalie (although he was not to feature on the resulting album, he was featured on the DVD). The set was strong, the arrangements were perfect (in some cases even better than the original studio takes) and the overall feel was one of celebration and warmth.

10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged is my chill-out album, my go-to record when I need some comfort. Some may think I’ve thrown a curveball by including it in this series. To me, it’s probably the most obvious choice I could have made.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Welsh Wednesday #4

Spin That Girl Around by Euros Childs

Freshwater East is a coastal village in one of the most popular tourist areas in Wales. It sits in one of the southernmost parts of Pembrokeshire in the far west of the country. It is a beautiful part of the world.

The most famous export of Freshwater East is a singer-songwriter who fronted one of Wales’ most popular bands in the 90s. Euros (pronounced Air-oss) Childs, one-time frontman of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, the band with the silliest name in rock, has a prolific history as a solo artist, knocking out no fewer than nine albums since 2006. Add to that two live albums and another three as a member of Jonny, Cousins and Short & Curlies, and you begin to realise just what a hard working chap he is.

While not all Euros’ work will appeal to everyone (2010’s ‘Face Dripping’, for instance, is probably best avoided by most), he does tend to come up with some real solid gems. Spin That Girl Around was originally recorded for Marc Riley’s show on BBC 6Music in 2009 and became the show’s most requested session track. Childs, however, didn’t record or release the song until 2011’s album ‘Ends’. A new recording of it was made for a single the following year, and it is this version that I regard as the definitive one.

It’s worth noting that all of Euros Childs’ solo releases and collaborative albums are available to download FOR FREE from his website. You can, of course, donate voluntarily or buy CDs.


Monday 22 September 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #32

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

#32: First Aid Kit
Colston Hall, Bristol - 19 September 2014
Support: Jo Rose
Also in attendance: MrsRobster & TheMadster

Expectation can often lead to disappointment; you know, when you want something so much, you get it and it's a bit of a let down. In recent times, I don't think I've wanted to see a band more than I've wanted to see First Aid Kit. Then, on Friday night, it finally happened...

That anticipation was tempered a little by the fact that I knew little about the venue, Bristol's Colston Hall. I'd never been there before, but knew we were in a seated area in the balcony - not my thing at all, I like to be in amongst the audience looking up at the band. However, the Colston Hall is a wonderful place. Small and well laid out, in spite of our position the view of the stage was generally pretty good (when I put my glasses on, anyway). And most spectacular of all were the acoustics (more of that later...)

Support act Jo Rose, former frontman of Fear Of Music, played songs from his debut solo record accompanied only by acoustic guitar. While the Colston Hall's sound allowed this sparseness to ring out, his songs were sadly lacking; I'd pretty much forgotten each one before he'd even finished playing it.

I'd prepared myself for a little disappointment. The anticipation of seeing Johanna and Klara Söderberg was so high, I tried to reign myself in a little. I needn't have done so. They were phenomenal. From the opener Stay Gold, those harmonies - oh those harmonies! - soared majestically through the hall and for the first time that evening I almost lost it. While some shows I've been to have had a profound effect on me, none of them have brought me to the verge of tears like this did. Three of four times that night I was actually welling up. I muttered "wow!" to myself as I did what I always do and fight back any emotion so as to not let anyone see how I really felt.

First Aid Kit at Colston Hall, Bristol 19/9/2014
You see, there is just something special about First Aid Kit. From the first time I heard one of their songs played on 6Music, I thought 'Hello, here's something I could really love!'. That happens all too rarely. I can't really put my finger on it exactly, but while First Aid Kit clearly have the songs, the sound and the look, they definitely have something else that transcends them from being a mere pop duo. It might well be those harmonies - oh those harmonies! - they were absolutely spot on. On record, First Aid Kit are delightful; live they are truly breathtaking. About halfway through the set, they stepped away from the mics and performed Ghost Town[1] completely unplugged. It was spine-tingling, it really was, and this is where the Colston Hall's acoustics could really be appreciated. Even from where we were, every single note, every whisper, every breath could be heard.

The majority of the set was made up of songs from First Aid Kit's two most recent albums, the exceptions being the aforementioned Ghost Town and a cover of Jack White's Love Interruption. Needless to say, TheMadster was made up by this inclusion! For the most part Klara played acoustic guitar, Johanna played keyboards and their 'band' consisted of a Swedish drummer and an English multi-instrumentalist who mainly played pedal-steel or electric guitar. They don't believe in overdoing it - they don't need to.

First Aid Kit rates as one of my all-time top 5 live shows without a shadow of doubt. I reckon if there is such a place as Heaven and there are such things as angels, when you get there you'll hear First Aid Kit. Ending their encore with a beautiful and stirring rendition of Emmylou made the evening complete. Those tears rose to the surface again and I just about succeeded in fighting them back. Must have been those harmonies - oh those harmonies!


    [1] No, not the Specials classic, but a single from their first full-length album, 2010's 'The Big Black And The Blue'.

    Saturday 20 September 2014

    The Genius Of… Jack White #1

    #1: Fly Farm Blues

    Against the verterans that are Gedge and Smith, Jack White could be regarded as a precocious young upstart. But what Jack White has done in 15 years is really not to be sniffed at. He's accrued a body of work that it could be argued is among the most influential to new artists today. One listen to the Royal Blood album - a recent number one and probably the most hyped record of the year - pretty much proves my point. Jack White oozes through the thing.

    Iano1 recently left a comment on a post here claiming White is "the most important artist of the millennium". 'Twas a bold statement, but it's hard to argue against it. What Jack White has done is brought some of the earliest 20th century popular music right up to date and given it to a new audience. The way he's done it - placing huge importance on vinyl, running his own record label, becoming an in-demand producer - is rather unique, and that's probably his secret. It's Jack's way and Jack's way only. And it works. Is Jack White a genius? Perhaps. This series hopefully illustrates that if he's not exactly a true musical genius, he's probably closer to it than 99.99% of other artists of his age.

    To get you started, a little-known Jack White song that was actually his first true solo single. The song was written by White during the filming of 'It Might Get Loud', a documentary in which he features along with Jimmy Page and The Edge. White and director David Guggenheim had discussed how songs nowadays are often over-prepared and over-produced, so Jack wrote and recorded Fly Farm Blues in just ten minutes!

    It's raw and simple, quintessentially Jack White, and proof that good music should just come naturally and needn't be overthought. This was Jack's first solo track since the White Stripes split, although he did put out the 'Quantum of Solace' Bond theme the year before with Alicia Keys. Typically of him, it's low-key and lo-fi, no gimmicks, no clever production tricks. It is what it is, and because of that I love it.

    And here's a scene from 'It Might Get Loud' in which Jack shows a couple of amateur guitarists how he plays Seven Nation Army.

    Friday 19 September 2014

    50 Albums to take to my grave #11: The Beatles

    If you don't already know and love this album, you're clearly on the wrong blog. Back to your silly chart-based sites with you! For everyone else, there's little point waffling inanely about it, here's just some personal thoughts on one of the greatest records ever released.

    I first bought this on vinyl in one of Soho’s finest record emporiums, Sister Ray. I still have it, complete with all the original inserts, but now also have the 30th Anniversary CD edition, the packaging of which emulates the vinyl, only somewhat smaller.

    It’s generally acknowledged that the Beatles operated largely as four solo artists by this period. John and Paul weren’t getting along, and Yoko was attending studio sessions with John which just irked Paul more and more. At one stage, George Martin left the sessions, engineer Geoff Emerick quit, and Ringo left the band for a period too.

    Despite this, there are some cracking tunes amid the chaos. Dear Prudence, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Blackbird, Martha My Dear, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Piggies, While My Guitar Gently WeepsRevolution 1 and Cry Baby Cry are the real standouts for me and arguably should have formed the basis of a brilliant single album. (In fact, here's a discussion point for the comments section - what 12 songs from the White Album would make it the classic single album it never was?)

    As it is, the White Album is not the Beatles’ best album, but it’s my favourite as it just has the most variety and most high points (though ‘Abbey Road’ came pretty close). When you consider the full story behind its creation, it’s almost a miracle it exists at all.

    Wednesday 17 September 2014

    Welsh Wednesday #3

    Chinese Whispers by Melys

    Melys hailed from the Snowdonian town of Betws-y-Coed, Conwy. Regular listeners of John Peel's shows back in the day will doubtless remember them, Peely was a big fan. Amazingly, they were not absolutely huge. It could have been different, especially with the release of Chinese Whispers in 2001. The single did not feature on any album until it was included on the compilation 'Suikerspin' the following year, but it was number 1 in Peel's traditional Festive Fifty (another Melys song was also featured in the same list). This was the year of the White Stripes and the Strokes, yet Chinese Whispers topped the lot. It could (should?) have sold by the van load. So why didn't it?

    A couple years ago, guitarist Paul Adams posted a comment on a You Tube posting of the song in which he explained the band refused the single to be repressed after initial copies sold out. "We were a bit scared of getting bigger than we were to be honest," he admitted. Even so, the fact Chinese Whispers wasn't a massive hit is simply a travesty. It's a great tune, a bit - dare I say it - Catatonia-esque? You wonder if it had been released in 1998 whether it would have been as big as Mulder and Scully or Road Rage.

    Sadly, it all went a bit off the boil for Melys after this single. They didn't release another studio album until 2005's 'Life's Too Short', and that was the last anyone heard of them until a John Peel tribute show in 2009. Adams mentioned in his You Tube comment the band was back recording new material again, but the fruits of those labours remain unreleased.

    Monday 15 September 2014

    Memories of a thousand* gigs #31

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

    #31: John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett
    The Globe, Cardiff - 11 September 2014
    Also in attendance: Colin

    **SPOILER ALERT** If you didn't see Otway/Barrett on their 40 Odd Years Tour and are planning to catch them on their current Film Stars Tour, you may want to avoid this review and its YouTube links 'cause I don't want to spoil any surprises.

    My only previous Otway experience was at Glastonbury 1995 when he was backed by a full band and completely blew me away with his exuberant and energetic performance. Last Thursday night, I caught him for a second time, this time back with his old mucka Wild Willy Barrett. This show was very different but no less entertaining, so much so I had tears of laughter rolling down my face at times.

    Otway and Barrett are part folk music duo, part stand-up comedy act - Barrett the nonchalant straight man, Otway the overexcited fool, but both utterly hilariously brilliant. You see, to both Otway and Barrett, the songs form merely part of the show (some would argue they are just a minor part); the art is in the delivery. The anecdotes of their times working together, the stories behind the songs, the interplay between the pair, the props, Otway's clowning, Barrett's near-virtuoso musicianship (he plays guitars, violin, banjo, balalaika, some kind of electronic pedal-steel thing that sounded like racing cars, a bagpipe/guitar hybrid thing) - all combine to make this as much a theatrical performance as a pop music one.

    Several features made this the most unique show I've ever seen: Barrett controlling his guitar volume by placing his amp in a wheelie bin and opening and closing the lid accordingly; Otway playing theramin and electronic drum pads placed at strategic points around his body; and a wanton act of guitar destruction that Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Paul Simenon would no doubt have emulated if they'd only have had the necessary DIY tools at hand. They also made a point of playing the worst song Otway reckons he ever wrote - his Cold War romance tale Natasha You're A Smasha (But You're Working For Russia) - in order to make everything else sound good by comparison!

    And for possibly the first time in some 20 years, it seemed I was among the youngest third of the audience! Don't think that will be happening again anytime soon.

    I strongly recommend both John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett as solo performers, but together the chemistry is like nothing else. If you do get the chance to see them between now and the end of October, take it. Plus the DVD of 'Otway: The Movie' is released next month too - an essential purchase that one!

    Later this week, I go to see another duo - the delightful First Aid Kit. Something tells me that's going to have a slightly different feel about it...

    I'm not going to put MP3s on this post as you can't really get the feel for the Otway/Barrett live experience through such ineffective media. Instead here's a few YouTube clips from shows on their last tour which, while still somewhat unsatisfying, are still good enough to at least put a smile on your face and give you an idea of what you can expect from this genius pairing.

    Saturday 13 September 2014

    The Genius Of… Tim Smith #1

    #1: She Is Hiding Behind The Shed
    Contentious this one; you either think Tim Smith is a crazy-bonkers-madman touched by sheer genius, or you reckon his work is unlistenable codswallop that sounds like it was concocted by a group of toddlers let loose in an orchestra pit while high on fizzy drink additives. MrsRobster is one of the latter group. I, on the other hand, think the man is blessed with a gift of artistic ability far beyond that of mere mortals like myself. I’m joined in my love of him by none other than Steve Davis![1]

    Only a warped mind could create music like Tim Smith’s. I’ve already waxed lyrical about two of his songs (Dirty Boy here and the song that gives this blog its name on the (new) vinyl villan as part of JC’s excellent Cult Classics series). Today I offer the first of a number of other wonderful, barmy tunes to emanate from this intriguing mind. Tim has been a part of a few bands in his time, but throughout he has remained a member of Cardiacs, so it’s only right we start there.

    In 1992, Cardiacs released ‘Heaven Born and Ever Bright’, their 6th album. It was probably their most difficult and ill-fated. Following 1989’s ‘On Land And In The Sea’ album, Tim and his wife, saxophonist Sarah Smith, separated. Sarah ultimately made the decision to quit the band. A concert at Salisbury Arts Centre was filmed for the live video ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’, a show that Tim describes as a “nightmare”. A second guitarist was recruited, in the form of Christian Hayes, but within a year Hayes would join Levitation (alongside ex-House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers) and subsequently leave Cardiacs. Percussionist Tim Quy and idiosyncratic keyboard player William D. Drake also left before 1991 was out.

    Recording had already begun on ‘Heaven Born…’ when Hayes was replaced by Jon Poole, another guitarist. The band, now a four-piece, was hugely affected by the swathe of personnel changes over the previous couple of years. However, they soldiered on, and the album boasted a rich, somewhat heavier sound than its predecessors, perhaps due to the new traditional rock band line-up. It opens with a bizarre anthem dedicated to the mythical Alphabet Business Concern, the band’s label and management company (who in all likelihood is actually Tim Smith himself). But track two showed off what the new Cardiacs really had in store.

    She Is Hiding Behind The Shed is a mischievous little thing. Like most Cardiacs songs, it’s a bit all over the place and compellingly strange initially, but it was notably heavier, louder and (dare I say it…) punkier than previous offerings and the vocals were more shouty than normal. I can understand it would irritate the heck out of some listeners, but to me it’s a forgotten nugget that heralded a new dawn in the Cardiacs story.

    Sadly, the album’s misfortunes weren’t over. Shortly after release, its distribution company Rough Trade went belly-up. The record disappeared from stores and could not be reordered. Unable to recoup recording costs, Cardiacs were landed with a sizable debt. And then, to top it off, longtime drummer Dominic Luckman quit the following summer. ‘Heaven Born…’ was to remain a very elusive record until it was reissued three years later. By then, work had started on its long-awaited follow-up, the dazzling epic that was ‘Sing To God’. But that’s a story for another day.

    [1] Former multiple world snooker champion. Davis’ nickname ‘Interesting’ was ironic as he was often seen as being boring and dull. The very fact he’s a massive Cardiacs fan makes him more ‘Interesting’ than the vast majority of people on the planet.

    Friday 12 September 2014

    50 songs to take to my grave #15: Bully

    Bully just kind of fell in my lap really. I first heard it through the blog We all Want Someone To Shout For. The author, Will Oliver, raved about this song and its singer Lissie (who I think he had rather a soft spot for, if you know what I mean) so I took a punt. What happened was one of those jawdropping moments I’ve talked about. 

    Bully is just a lovely, beautifully written song, and performed with a perfect balance of emotion and bite. Lissie appeared to have a sound of her own, a singer-songwriter who seemed to appreciate how a ballad should be. It’s not over-produced, it’s not oversung, it’s not got one of those almighty orchestral climaxes with the obligatory key change; neither is it all acoustic guitars and whiny vocals. Instead Lissie sounds like a cross between Stevie Nicks and Martha Wainwright; a folk singer with a blues-rock edge. And damn, can the girl do pop music.

    Bully entranced me for all of its three and three-quarter minutes. I immediately played it again and again. It wasn’t even released as a single, which strikes me as rather bizarre. It is an undoubted highlight of her highly lauded debut album ‘Catching A Tiger’. What you might call a hidden gem.

    Wednesday 10 September 2014

    Welsh Wednesday #2

    Siglo dy Sail by Meinir Gwilym

    Last week we were in Newport in the South East of Wales. This week we go as far across the country as it is possible to go: to the Isle of Anglesey (or Ynys Môn to give it its Welsh name) in the far North West.

    It is likely that unless you live in the Welsh-speaking heartlands of west and north Wales, you may not have come across Meinir Gwilym. However, she is rightfully revered in Wales; she's not only one of the biggest selling Welsh language artists in history, but is also well-known for her TV and radio work. Sadly, of late, she's not been terribly prolific on the music front though a new album is in the making apparently. Her last release, 'Tombola', came out in 2008, far too long ago. 

    Today's Welsh Wednesday choice then is Siglo dy Sail (Shake Your Foundations) from 'Tombola' and is one of my favourite songs of hers.

    Here's a wonderful video clip of Meinir performing this live in a seaside cafe in Anglesey with harpist Elinor Bennett. You can find out more about Meinir and sample some more of her music on her website.

    Monday 8 September 2014

    Vintage Vinyl

    Over the summer, MrsRobster and I visited a number of weird and wonderful emporiums in search of weird and wonderful things. Some people may call these places 'junk shops', but that doesn't really do them justice. After all, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Anyway, somewhat inevitably, whenever I spied a stack of old records, I had to browse through them. While doing so, I had an idea for a series of posts. I decided to set some simple criteria: am I able to write a short article about it? If the answer is yes, and it’s not going to break the bank, then I’ll buy it and post it here.

    Record collecting will become almost extinct in years to come, which is sad. Music is always worth something. I fell for it you know, buying rare and ‘collectable’ items for obscene prices back in my younger days. Sucker. Nowadays I’ll do it on the cheap. Ironically, my first post may seem rather pricey to some, but the truth is, it’s not that bad a deal really…

    Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes (7” picture disc)
    Bought from: The Pumping Station, Cardiff
    Price paid: £5

    The Pumping Station used to be an old Victorian pumping house. It now hosts numerous traders selling everything from WW2 memorabilia to comics, from antique furniture to old records. Naturally it’s the latter I always gravitate towards. It's an intriguing place and MrsRobster and I do enjoy a visit there now and again, if only to browse at the crazy array of miscellany on offer.

    I picked this record up from there in July for two reasons: one, I was a big Adam Ant fan as a boy; and two, it has a bit of a back story which means I can write something about it.

    Goody Two Shoes was officially Adam Ant’s first solo single. Adam & The Ants as a band broke up at the very peak of their fame in early spring 1982. Adam first said it was amicable, but later claimed it was down to the lack of enthusiasm of some band members. He subsequently indicated that he was unhappy that the ‘no drink or drugs’ rule the band had adhered to through their rise was being flouted. He wrote Goody Two Shoes as a response to the flack he got for his abstinence and clean-cut image, particularly from the media. He released it as his debut solo offering just a few months after the band’s break-up.

    This timing, along with the line-up, caused confusion and the first pressings of the single were credited to Adam & the Ants. Adam was joined on the record by Ants guitarist and songwriting partner Marco Pirroni, and Ants drummer Chris “Merrick” Hughes. All three co-produced. The confusion was therefore somewhat understandable, even amongst the record company who were no doubt keen to keep the Ant brand at the height of the public’s consciousness for as long as possible.

    The single went to number one, and Adam made a couple of memorable appearances on Top of the Pops, in which he was given free reign of the studio to do pretty much whatever he wanted – a privilege not proffered to any artist before or since - and bloody hell, did he take advantage! Goody Two Shoes subsequently appeared on the ‘Friend Or Foe’ album, though Merrick’s drums were replaced by the album drummer Bogdan Wiczling. A shame, as the big appeal of the original to this day, for me at least, is Merrick’s driving, pounding drum track.

    The picture disc I picked up in the Pumping Station was part of the initial pressing which erroneously credits Adam & The Ants. That was the clincher, for me. It’s a brill song, even now. It gets stuck in my head for days when I hear it.


    Saturday 6 September 2014

    The Genius Of… David Gedge #1

    There is a handful of artists I hold in particularly high esteem, something you may have noticed if you’ve followed this blog for a little while. I’m going to feature a few of them in more detail. For the foreseeable future, Saturday is Genius Day, where I feature a track by one of those artists I deem to be at least semi-worthy of the tag.

    I’m going to alternate between three acts. So next week will see Tim Smith of Cardiacs as my subject, the following week will be Jack White. Then the cycle will start again with the second posting of today’s chosen one. And who might that be? Well duh! Look at the title of the post!

    #1: 2, 3, Go
    I’ve made little secret of my fondness for the music of David Lewis Gedge. He’s featured a few times on these pages (in particular here and here). I put it to you that he is one of the great, underrated songwriters of the modern age. I shall bolster my argument by posting a track of my choosing and writing a few words about it.

    To begin, I plumped for 2, 3, Go from Saturnalia. It was the penultimate single the Wedding Present released before Gedge dissolved them to form Cinerama. It’s an unusually optimistic song by his standards. The lyrics are essentially saying ‘to hell with the consequences, let’s do lots of cool stuff just because we can!’

      “Make a movie today
      Buy a red Chevrolet
      Let’s go swim the Zambezi
      Let’s do it just ‘cause it’s easy.”

    There’s a sense of impulsive behaviour that crops up in a number of Gedge’s songs. Here he’s being much more overt:

      “Sometimes if we just wait
      For the right moment
      It comes far too late.”

    2, 3, Go adopts the quietLOUDquiet dynamic pioneered by Pixies, but still remains unmistakably a Gedge work. OK, so his voice pretty much gives it away, but I also like the contribution of bass player Jayne Lockey here as well, giving the song a similar feel to the later Cinerama stuff.

    In spite of its release (in a slightly edited form) as a single, it did very little commercially which may have helped influence Gedge’s decision to put the Wedding Present brand into hibernation shortly thereafter. The likeness to latter day Cinerama also maybe hints at why Gedge took the decision to adopt the Wedding Present name again for the ‘Take Fountain’ album some nine years later. Pure speculation of course, but 2, 3, Go wouldn’t have sounded out of place nestled next to Don’t Touch That Dial, itself a Cinerama song that ended up on the Wedding Present’s ‘comeback’ album.

    For me, 2, 3, Go is one of the great forgotten tracks in the Weddoes canon. 

    Friday 5 September 2014

    50 songs to take to my grave #14: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

    Truth is, I'm not really a big fan of Richard Thompson although I can't say I know a great deal about his solo work to form much of an opinion. What I do know is I heard Gideon Coe play 1952 Vincent Black Lightning on his 6Music show one night and it stopped me in my tracks.

    It's a story of a rebellious bad boy who owns a classic motorcycle and falls in love with a red-headed biker chick. It ends tragically when he gets shot in a bungled robbery and hands over the keys of his prized machine to his girl as he takes his final breath. Thompson tells the story in fine English folk tradition, and his guitar playing is incredible. Watch this clip to see how effortless he makes it look.

    The song is taken from 1991's 'Rumour And Sigh' (remarkably his first Top 40 solo album in 20 years) and wasn't released as a single. However it remains one of his most popular songs among fans and has been covered numerous times since. It's one of those I can't really put my finger on when it comes to describing what I like so much about it. All I know is, when I heard it the first time on the radio, I stopped tackling the pile of washing up I was engaged in at the time and just listened. I then instantly downloaded the song and listened again.

    The best surprises often lie in the most unexpected places. Admittedly, English folk is not a genre I know much about, but it proves that you cannot dismiss any genre out of hand. Whatever your taste, something lurks way off your radar that could just make you go 'wow!' when you least expect it. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was one of my 'wow!' moments.

    Wednesday 3 September 2014

    Welsh Wednesday #1

    I've threatened to do this but now is the time. Influenced by JC's Saturday's Scottish Single series[1] I hereby announce Welsh Wednesday where I present a track by a Welsh artist each Wednesday (clever, eh?) or thereabouts.

    I've already featured a number of Welsh tunes on here in some form or another (14 at last count) so while I'll try and avoid the artists I've already mentioned for the time being, I am effectively wiping the slate clean. So there will be more by Catatonia, the Manics, Future of the Left and the Joy Formidable to come, but to start with, a group I haven't done yet and a song you may be familiar with...

    Stay by 60 Foot Dolls
    Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, the centre of the UK music scene in the mid-90s was neither London nor Manchester. It was Newport. That's Newport in the former county of Gwent, South Wales.

    I wasn't living here then, but I was aware of the place. Partly because I had paid a visit to the legendary live music venue TJs when I was working with Naked i, and partly because of the incredible music that was coming out of the town[2]. Newport was the centre of 'Cool Cymru', the Welsh division of Britpop, and one of its top bands was 60 Foot Dolls.

    Founding members Richard Parfitt and Michael Cole met in 1992 through Parfitt's colleague at a local pizza restaurant. She was also Cole's girlfriend at the time. Her name was Donna Matthews and a couple years later she was in a band herself. They were called Elastica; you may have heard of them! Anyway, Huw Williams of the Pooh Sticks became their manager, they released their debut single Happy Shopper and landed a number of prestigious support slots. By the time 60 Foot Dolls' debut album 'The Big 3' hit the shelves in 1996, they had a US record deal with Geffen, a UK top 40 single (Talk To Me), and one of the most popular Peel Sessions ever. The album was almost universally lauded and the band was even mentioned in the House Of Commons as an example of the flourishing Welsh music scene.

    The world was their oyster, so naturally they blew it. A massive world tour in support of the album resulted in alcohol problems and internal strife. They never toured again. A second album, 'Joya Magica', was released in 1998, but it flopped. The band split soon after. Another example of 'what could have been'.

    Since then, the only thing of note any member of the band has done is perhaps best forgotten; Richard Parfitt discovered Duffy. This is an almost unforgivable act. However, I'm willing to overlook this indiscretion if only for the fact that Stay is one of my favourite Welsh tracks. It typifies the Dolls at their peak; a biiiig sound with an even biiiiiigger melody and a humungous riff. It may have only reached #48 in the charts, but by golly 'tis a choon. Dare you not to hum it.

      [1] Or to put it more accurately, I've rather blatantly stolen his great idea (though I like to think of it as more of a homage...)
      [2] Newport was given city status in 2002, becoming Wales' fifth[*] city and its third biggest.
      [*] In 2012, Wales gained a sixth city - St. Asaph (pop. 3491). It isn't the smallest - that honour goes to St. David's (pop. a mere 2000), the smallest city in the UK.

      Monday 1 September 2014

      Blues Monday #1: Shake It And Break It by Charley Patton

      I've already written about my discovery and subsequent love of the blues, so I am branding the first Monday of each month Blues Monday (see what I did there? Clever, eh.) I shall keep it simple, a brief post, a link or two for further reading and a damn fine blues song. It is also not intended to be compared with Charity Chic's excellent Blues Collection series; I was lining this sort of thing up before I actually discovered his blog, so no imitation or plagiarism is intended.

      To get you started, a cheeky little number from one of the true pioneers of the genre, Charley Patton. Responsible for influencing some of the all-time greats including Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson, Patton was there when it all began in the earliest years of the 20th century. Being one of the very first people to play this new kind of music earned him the posthumous title 'Father of the Delta Blues'.

      Shake It And Break It was recorded during his first ever studio session in 1929, by which time he was in his late 30s/early 40s (his age is disputed). Three further sessions were recorded before his death in 1934.

      The Wikipedia entry on Charlie Patton pretty much covers all you need to know about the man.