Friday 31 October 2014

50 songs to take to my grave #20: Our Lips Are Sealed

The Go-Gos (l-r): Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin & Gina Schock.
For what it's worth, Jane was my favourite, Belinda a close second...

Our Lips Are Sealed is one of those songs that really needs little written or said about it; you simply need to hear it to realise what's so good about it. It has rather ominous beginnings however. During the Specials' US tour in 1980, Terry Hall had an affair with Jane Wiedlin, guitarist with support band the Go-Go's! Later, Hall sent Jane a letter to Wiedlin. She set some of the lines from that letter to music, added some lyrics of her own and Our Lips Are Sealed was born.

The following year it became the Go-Go's debut single, making the US Top 20 and launching the career of one of the most successful all-girl rock bands of all time. Arguably, this version remains the best. Wiedlin's teasing muted guitar and Belinda Carlisle's girlish vocal form the focal point of the song and give it that sunny Californian pop sound that would become so prevalent throughout the 80s. They set the benchmark, for sure. It sounded so innocent which totally belied both the origins of the song, and the notoriety that would soon follow the Go-Go's around.

Two years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Hall recorded a version of his own with his new band Fun Boy Three. Essentially they were 50% of the Specials, though their sound differed in many respects. Our Lips Are Sealed featured on their second and final album 'Waiting' and featured drums and backing vocals from June Miles-Kingston (formerly of the Mo-Dettes, and later a member of the Communards). Wiedlin describes this version as "gloomier" than her band's effort, but has anyone ever seen Terry Hall smile? While the Go-Go's version stalled outside the UK Top 40, Fun Boy Three fared somewhat better, making number 7. It was their final hit.

A few years later, a college friend had leant me a tape featuring lots of early Soup Dragons songs. It included their cover of Our Lips Are Sealed and resembled the Go-Go's poppy version more than the Fun Boy Three's more downbeat one. It reminded me just what a great song it was, and as the Go-Go's version had never been a hit over here, I hadn't actually heard it played like that before. It became an instant fave of mine.

As far as what the essence of a great pop song is, Our Lips Are Sealed has it nailed. Upbeat and sunny, or gloomy and cloudy, a great song can translate just as well whatever the mood or setting. If I had to choose the version to be played at my funeral, it would probably be the Go-Go's, but to be honest I wouldn't mind too much if the Fun Boy Three version was played instead. Not that I'd be in much of a position to do anything about it...

Sunny Claifornian video for the Go Go's...

Bleak, dour Midlands video for Fun Boy Three. Can you spot Bananarama?

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Welsh Wednesday #9: Under Dubwood

This week marks the centenary of the birth of one of Wales’ most revered and famous sons – Dylan Thomas. There’s a whole host of events marking the occasion across the country, but centred particularly on his birthplace and hometown of Swansea.

Cerys Matthews has released a new double album of Dylan Thomas-inspired material, but I’m not posting anything from that as it’s brand new and you should buy it anyway, if only because it’s Cerys! No, instead I’m posting one of the most unusual yet utterly delightful records to have been released in the last couple of years. And I’m not sure it even strictly qualifies as Welsh…

One of Dylan Thomas’ most well-known works was the play ‘Under Milk Wood’. It is, essentially, one of the great works of Welsh literature (although it wasn’t written in the Welsh language). In a nutshell, it is a study of village life in Wales, set in the fictional village of Llareggub (which is ‘bugger all’ backwards!)[1] More specifically, it concentrates on the hopes and dreams of the residents in a touching, but frequently humourous way. Of course, I’m always going to align myself with Organ Morgan, the music-obsessed church organist.

The role of narrator is most closely associated with Richard Burton, himself born in the South Wales valleys near Swansea. He starred as the narrator in four adaptations of Under Milk Wood; three BBC radio versions – the last of them posthumously in 2003 – and the 1972 movie which also starred his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor and numerous other notables such as Peter O’Toole, Victor Spinetti and Ruth Madoc.

And so to today’s track. Now I have absolutely no idea who Dubwood Allstars are or where they’re from. That’s a complete mystery. However, in 2012, a 7” split-single was released on the Rivertones label. On one side, it featured a track called Under Dubwood by The Dubwood Allstars.[2] In essence it is a mash-up of Richard Burton reading a segment of ‘Under Milk Wood’ set to a blissful dub reggae backing track by King Tubby. It’s bizarre, yet completely charming.

So the quandary I had was: does Under Dubwood qualify as a Welsh Wednesday entry? I don’t have a clue if the Dubwood Allstars – whoever they are – are Welsh, and King Tubby certainly isn’t. But little says “WALES” more passionately than Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas (although surely that new Cerys album comes pretty darn close!), so for that reason alone it makes it. My series, my rules, right?

‘Under Milk Wood’ continues to be loved by generation after generation who are equally inspired by its charm and wit. A 2014 TV adaptation made by the BBC (who else!) starred a plethora of Welsh talent including singers Tom Jones, Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins and Bryn Terfel, plus acclaimed Welsh actors Jonathan Pryce, Michael Sheen, Ioan Gruffudd and Eve Miles (best known as Gwen Cooper in Torchwood).

If you’ve never seen, heard or read ‘Under Milk Wood’, you should try to do so this week as a salute to arguably the greatest Welsh scribe in modern history.

    [1] Terry Pratchett fans may be aware that the country Llamedos in the Discworld novels is ‘sod ‘em all’ backwards, a direct nod to Thomas.
    [2] On the other side was an act calling themselves The Time And Space Machine with the track River Theme, a “reconstruction” of a song called The River by psychedelic rock band Octopus from their 1971 album ‘Restless Night’.

    Monday 27 October 2014

    Just because...

    I'm always on the lookout for interesting, non-conventional music, something that makes me think "Hmmm... I want to hear more of that..." I've just heard something by a Canadian artist of Inuit descent whose music is based around the traditional vocal game of throat singing. Her name is Tanya Tagaq and she's quite astonishing.

    Her latest album, entitled 'Animism', has an animal theme. I thought I'd post a track from it JUST BECAUSE it intrigues, entrances and pleases me. For best effect, listen to it through some decent headphones.


    Saturday 25 October 2014

    From Inside The Pod Revisited #5: Keeping It Peel

    Today is Keeping It Peel Day. Some of you will know that for the past few years, our good friend Webbie has been running #keepingitpeel, a blogger’s tribute to the late, great John Peel. Alongside his always entertaining Football and Music blog, Webbie runs the #Keeping It Peel blog which details all the events taking place to mark John Peel Day.

    I took part in this celebration for the first two years on my old blog From Inside The Pod, compiling two Peel-related podcasts. To mark this year’s event (which incidentally takes place 10 years since Peelie sadly left us), I thought I’d repost one of them along with the notes I strung together to accompany it. I remember Webbie offering some very kind words when it appeared first time around. I hope those of you who missed it back then enjoy it now as much as Webbie did!

    pod 08: #keepingitpeel - the podcast
    (first published: 25 October 2010)

    Today we celebrate Keeping It Peel, a special day of tributes to the late great John Peel by bloggers around the world. It is surely an acknowledgement in itself that one extremely humble man is deemed worthy of an internet tribute of this nature, and that his name is known and revered so far and wide.

    Enduring an entire John Peel show was often just that - an endurance. But then, John Peel was never one to make it easy for people. The music he played was the music he liked, whether it was the jangliest indie, the hardest drum & bass, the heaviest grindcore, or the deepest, bassiest, strangest reggae.

    One thing was guaranteed though - each show was infused with the love, passion and belief in music that John exuded in enormous quantities. We frequently talk of artists' influences, citing numerous other artists they may have taken inspiration from. But let's not forget, John Peel was himself a massive influence on many. Had he not persisted in bigging up reggae throughout the height of punk, would bands like the Clash or the Ruts have been inspired to dabble with the genre? Would acts like the Kills or the Black Keys have received much in the way of attention had Peel not almost single-handedly built the White Stripes up to near global stardom?

    OK, you can argue about that as much as you like. In the meantime, I have compiled a special Peel-themed podcast. In truth, this could have contained 100 tracks and still not have been fully representative of the man. I mean, there's no Captain Beefheart, Nirvana, Misty In Roots, Joy Division, Extreme Noise Terror... the list goes on. Maybe next year. But these ten include some of his favourite artists and records. More than half of the artists on here owe their subsequent success to John Peel as no one else at the time was ever likely to play their records. Since his passing, no one has taken up his mantle, which is actually pretty depressing.

    1. PJ Harvey Fountain (1992, Dry)
    Peel voted PJ Harvey's debut single Dress Single of the Week in Melody Maker, commenting "the way Polly Jean seems crushed by the weight of her own songs and arrangements, [it's] as if the air is literally being sucked out of them." She remained a fave of his long after her ascent into the big time.

    2. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci Patio Song (1996, Barafundle)
    Peel was about the only British DJ who would play Welsh language music (save for a handful in Wales itself) and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were one of the acts he championed from their early days. Gorky's have the ignominious distinction of being the only group with eight UK Top 75 singles without ever making the Top 40. This track ranked #8 on John Peel's 1996 Festive Fifty countdown.

    3. Don French Lonely Saturday Night (1959, single)
    A box of 7" singles was found when John's family was sorting through his belongings after his death. It was a personal collection of the records he would save should his house catch fire. Contained therein were some extremely rare, obscure gems such as this. Don French, a singer so unknown that even a Google search proves virtually fruitless, released only two singles of which this was the first. Peel owned two copies.

    4. The Fall Free Range (1992, Code: Selfish)
    It's common knowledge the Fall were John's favourite band, being the only act to have its own space in his immense record collection. They recorded 24 Peel sessions in 27 years, a feat no one else came even close to matching. The utterly brilliant Free Range is my fave Fall track by far, but Peely was less discerning when it came to his heroes: "With the Fall you never knew what you were going to get. It may not be what you wanted, but it's the Fall, they're all you need."

    5. Bridget St.John Curl Your Toes (1969, Ask Me No Questions)
    London singer-songwriter who touched Peel so deeply, he not only produced her debut album, he also set up a record label so it could be released. He once described Bridget St. John as "the best lady singer-songwriter in the country", and her popularity peaked in 1974 when she was voted fifth most popular female singer in that year's Melody Maker readers poll.

    6. The Wedding Present Come Play With Me (1992, Peel Session)
    Championed by Peel shortly after their debut single back in 1985, David Gedge and his cohorts continued a long association with the great man right up to his untimely demise 20 years later, recording numerous sessions, including three comprising entirely of traditional Ukrainian folk songs.

    7. Stanley Winston No More Ghettos In America (1965, single)
    Another of those obscure gems unearthed in John's record box. "It genuinely brings tears to my eyes," he confessed. "Don't bother trying to find a copy, I've got one of the few that were ever pressed and I won't be selling it to anyone."

    8. The White Stripes Lord, Send Me An Angel (2000, single)
    Peel was the first, and for quite a while, the only UK radio DJ to play the White Stripes. Even after the band attained global success, they remained close friends with Peel right up to his death, even playing a show in his living room for a live broadcast. This interpretation of Blind Willie McTell's 1933 classic remains unavailable on any White Stripes album and was ripped from my own scratchy 7" vinyl copy, hence the ropey quality...

    9. The Misunderstood I Can Take You To The Sun (1966, single)
    Californian pioneers of psychedelic rock. John Peel managed the Misunderstood and produced their records, championing them throughout his entire career. Shortly before his death, he stated, "If I had to list the ten greatest performances I've seen in my life, one would be The Misunderstood at Pandora's Box, Hollywood, 1966. My god, they were a great band!"

    10. The Undertones Teenage Kicks (1978, The Undertones)
    Yeah, I know it's predictable, but no Peel tribute can be complete without it. In 1978, he was reduced to tears upon hearing this record and went on to play it twice in a row on his show. Peel often rated new bands' songs with 1 to 5 stars. He awarded Teenage Kicks 28 stars! In 2008, a headstone engraved with the line "Teenage dreams, so hard to beat" was placed on his grave.

    Friday 24 October 2014

    50 songs to take to my grave #19: Car

    Darker than a dark thing on a dark night. With your eyes closed. I can't be completely sure how I learned about this record, but I suspect it was probably Single of the Week in NME or something. Whatever, I took a punt and another great decision was made.

    Car was the debut single by Come, released in 1991 and their sole release on the legendary Sub Pop label. On first listen it scared me to death, but then I always thought I'd die with a smile on my face. I certainly had one after hearing Car. I played it again.

    It's a bruising experience, listening to this song. It bursts into life immediately with the frantic sounds of umpteen fuzzed-up squalling guitars before a masterly drum pattern assembles some sort of order. What we get from that point in is a menacing, brutally raw and loud blues song fuelled on Birthday Party and Swans records with just a touch of the grunge hysteria that was prevalent at the time. 

    It wasn't until I started reading about the band that I realised the growly singer was actually female. This was a shock as there is little to give that away on the records. Thalia Zadek's vocals are more genuinely angst-strewn than all those whiny white boys that fronted those American alternative bands the world was going mental for. Maybe Kurt Cobain could have made a case for the defence, but Thalia Zadek would have been remorseless in her cross-examination.  While Kurt constantly moaned about how crap everything was, Zadek would snarl about doing something about it.

    "I don't have the patience for this shit," she scowls, and boy does she mean it. "I can't be your victim anymore."

    The band subsequently recorded their first album - the bloody good '11:11' - but strangely omitted Car from it, and only a live version appeared on last year's re-issue. It's therefore a rather rare record which makes me even prouder to own it.

    Come's debut release is a six-minute endurance test that borders on the terrifying, but repays your efforts several times over. Just expect some scarring and a few bad dreams afterwards.

    Wednesday 22 October 2014

    Welsh Wednesday #8

    Hooked by Catatonia

    One of the great mysteries of life is how the flippin' heck Catatonia's second single remains practically unknown to the world. Hooked came out in 1994 as the follow-up to the For Tinkerbell EP and is a delightful little thing, swooping around our ears with joyful abandon before all-too-quickly disappearing into the distance. Sadly, it seemed to go so far into the distance that it never made it onto the band's debut album two years later, whereas all the other early singles were re-recorded for that record.

    Say what you like about Catatonia but darn it could they write a good pop song. Hooked, for me, is up there with the best of them, which is why it's even more of a shame no one knows about it. Cerys Matthews' voice is sweeter than sugar (as always) and that layered chorus is to die for. If there's one criticism it's that the production is lacking slightly, but this was a band in its infancy so there wasn't exactly much of a budget. Even so, had it been redone for the album, it could have sounded huuuuuge! Extending the final chorus, turning everything into overdrive and just letting Cerys loose with those glorious vocals of hers would have turned every listener to jelly. Well, me anyway...

    Yeah, yeah, I hear you... "Here he goes again with his wonderful Cerys this and his lovely Cerys that..." Mark my words, one day the world will truly appreciate this fine woman. One day...

    And here you'll find an early live performance for Welsh music programme The Slate featuring the original Catatonia line-up with Clancy Pegg (keyboards/vocals) and Daf Ieuan, later of Super Furry Animals(drums).

    Monday 20 October 2014

    Memories of a thousand* gigs #33

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

    #33: Stiff Little Fingers
    Plymouth Hoe - c.1996/8
    Also in attendance: MrsRobster (and possibly an infant Madster…)

    While I remember this event, I cannot for the life of me pin the exact date. Plymouth City Council used to run a free music festival on Plymouth Hoe in the summer during the 90s. I attended one of them with MrsRobster. Now, she reckons we had TheMadster with us in a buggy, which would probably make the show 1998. I don’t remember TheMadster being born at that point though, so that would make it 1996 as neither of us remember MrsRobster being heavily pregnant (which rules out 1997). Strangely I cannot find a single mention of it online. If anyone is able to fill in the blank, I’d be grateful (where the hell is S-WC when you need him?!) Anyway, what is definite is the fact that among the acts who played that day were Eddie and the Hotrods and a Thin Lizzy tribute band who were uncanny in both look and sound. 

    Stiff Little Fingers headlined and I waded into the moshpit from the off. Before they came on, a rather inebriated old punk seemed to take exception to a group of teenage girls down the front. This, he felt, wasn’t the place for them. “You haven’t got a fuckin’ clue who Stiff Little Fingers are,” he slurred. “No fuckin’ idea. Wait ‘til the moshin’ starts.” They looked at him, bemused, amused and a little perturbed. The band came on playing Suspect Device, the moshpit kicked furiously into life and one by one, the teenage girls were lifted out of the crowd by the security crew; none of them lasted to the end of the first song. Sadly, the pissed punk was proved right.

    The rest of the Stiffs’ set was generally a crowd-pleasing affair which drew largely from their early back catalogue, but also included a smattering of their more recent songs. Of course, At The Edge was the big highlight, a rousing rendition bellowed out by band and audience alike (though not, one suspects, any teenage girls).


    Saturday 18 October 2014

    The Genius Of… David Gedge #3

    (In case you missed the first two installments in this series - and going by the viewing stats it appears most of you probably have - you can revisit them here and here...)

    #3: Kerry Kerry

    The first David Gedge release to bear a name other than The Wedding Present, Kerry Kerry was a big departure from the trademark indie sound us fans were used to. Gone were those guitars, whether jangly or crunching. Gone too was the pounding backbeat. In their place, lush-sounding orchestral swoops, reminiscent of classic movie soundtracks from the 1960s. Strings and woodwind dominated, while Gedge and girlfriend Sally Murrell provided delicate, sometimes melancholic vocals that were far removed from the darker, grittier moods of Dalliance and Corduroy.

    Yet lyrically, it remained David Gedge all over. He’s discovered his lover is seeing someone else and is now confronting her about it:

      You bought him presents with my money
      That makes me feel just great, although
      I’ve got to say that it is kind of funny
      That you could think I’d never know

    Hardly Shakespeare I know, but quintessentially Gedge, which in view of the radical change of musical direction was some kind of comfort. Oh, speaking of Shakespeare:

      But now the longer that I hang around
      The more anxious that you get
      Oh it looks like Romeo has found
      A nervous Juliet

    Kerry Kerry scraped the UK charts at #71. It was the highest charting single they put out. Not that that matters a jot to be honest. There were much better Cinerama tracks to come, but Kerry Kerry is significant as it introduced us to a new David Gedge that in many ways was also the same.

    Friday 17 October 2014

    50 songs to take to my grave #18: Song To The Siren

    For the record, we are talking This Mortal Coil's version here. Quite simply, the most beautifully plaintive, desolate and haunting record ever recorded. Liz Fraser's vocal transcends singing, the minimalist backing track proves beyond doubt that less really is more, and the production is absolutely exquisite. It not only blew my mind when I first heard it, it entered my bloodstream and has been part of my soul ever since. And it still blows my mind.

    Hell, I'm not even going to try and justify this selection any further. If you remain unconvinced, go and buy a One Direction record and spend eternity in musical hell. For everyone else, JC featured this record a few weeks ago; read his piece on it here. Then listen and die a better person.

    Wednesday 15 October 2014

    Welsh Wednesday #7

    Pric by Super Furry Animals

    OK, time to bring out the big guns. Super Furry Animals are one of the best known and best loved of Welsh bands, which is odd considering their penchant for experimentation and rather quirky tunes. Although they formed in Cardiff, only two members of the band hail from the capital originally - Guto Price and Huw Bunford. Brothers Cian Ciaran and Dafydd Ieuan[1] are from the North West Wales city of Bangor, while Gruff Rhys and fellow original member-turned Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans were born and raised in Haverfordwest on the Pembrokeshire peninsula in the far southwest.

    Throughout this series so far I have endeavoured to present a few of the slightly lesser-known names of the Welsh scene, but the Furries are bordering on royalty as far as I'm concerned, so rather than one of their many 'hits', you're getting something a little more esoteric. Pric is not a rude word, but is Welsh for stick. It is also the title of the closing track on the Furries' last album (to date) 'Dark Days/Light Years'. I love that repeated rolling bassline throughout, it just has an irresistible incessant groove to it. In fairness, the whole album has that kind of warm groovy feel, it's a shame the band is more remembered for the poppier songs than the more interesting psychedelia they do so well.

    Pric is written and sung by Cian, and the full version includes four minutes of ambient electronic noise at the end. I've clipped this as it doesn't really add anything to the song. It still runs for six minutes regardless. There'll be plenty more SFA-related posts as this series progresses because they are/were[2] a simply fucking awesome band.

    [1] Pronunciation guide for non-Welsh speakers: Cian Ciaran = kee-an keea-ran; Daffydd Ieuan = dav-eth yie-yan; Gruff Rhys = griff reess; Rhys Ifans = reess ee-vans. The other two are easy: Guto = goo-toe; Huw = hue. Their surnames are pronounced as in English.
    [2] The band went on 'hiatus' following the release of 'Dark Days/Light Years' in 2009 with each member undertaking side projects galore. No word on them getting back together any time soon. *sad face*

    Monday 13 October 2014

    Vintage Vinyl 2

    Laurie Anderson – O Superman (7”)
    Bought from: Strawberry Fields, Cardiff
    Price paid: one of a batch of 6 singles I paid £8 for. You do the maths!

    I just happened to chance upon Strawberry Fields as MrsRobster and I were exploring one of the many smaller shopping arcades dotted around Cardiff City Centre. The box of old singles outside is what actually caught my eye, but I ventured inside to see what else was lurking. The shop is crammed floor to ceiling with... stuff! Loads of it, including showbiz memorabilia and, of course, records. Perhaps most interesting of all is that it is owned and run by a Scouser who claims to have been a founder member of Underworld. Yes, this lot! Nowadays, as well as the shop, he works as a bit-part actor in TV shows like Doctor Who, Merlin, Gavin & Stacey and Casualty.

    There was a smaller selection of singles inside the shop. These were considered to be a bit more special than the ones outside. Among them was one of the most bizarre, fluke hits to ever grace the UK charts. O Superman really wasn't a pop single, it was a piece of experimental art, a segment of a much larger work entitled 'United States'. It was released in 1981, my 10th year. I couldn't make head nor tail of it, but its "uh-uh-uh-uh-uh" pulse was infectious to the point of irritating. I suppose to most people it was a novelty record, though its subject matter was far more serious (read the Wikipedia entry for details). Naturally John Peel loved it, but this didn't mean it was going to be a hit. In fact, that it charted at all was a massive surprise. But it kept selling and selling and selling, eventually reaching number 2!

    I never owned it originally, but my cousin John did. I played his copy several times but just couldn't understand what the record-buying public saw in it. I still can't if I'm being honest - the record-buying public have never been very open-minded, certainly not open-minded or adventurous enough to accept a record like this - so unusual, so haunting, disturbing even. Yet something about it captured people's imagination, and that's what makes it a rather special record.

    So I bought it from Strawberry Fields along with five other singles that will feature here in due course. Total price £8, which isn't bad considering a couple of original Jam singles were among them.


    Saturday 11 October 2014

    The Genius Of… Jack White #2

    The White Stripes playing their debut show: 4th Street Fair, Michigan, Detroit in 1998

    #2: Let’s Shake Hands

    This is where it all started really. The White Stripes didn’t so much burst onto the scene as crept in through the back door. They played their very first show in a street fair in Detroit before entering the studio shortly afterwards. During those early studio sessions, two songs were recorded that would comprise the debut single.

    The b-side, Look Me Over Closely was a song made famous by Marlene Dietrich, but it was the main track which signalled the band’s intent. The recording was lo-fi, the musical arrangement raw and basic, emulating the stripped down, turned-up-loud ethic of US garage bands of the 1960s. Meg White’s drumming was rudimentary at best, yet her pounding beat allowed Jack White’s primal howling and scratchy guitar work to do its own thing whilst maintaining a semblance of order and tempo.

    Let’s Shake Hands makes good use of stop-time, with instrumentation pausing on the first beat of the ninth bar of the verse, and resuming on the first beat of the 13th. But let’s not get all muso-like here because the White Stripes were all about simplicity.

    Only 500 copies of the single were originally pressed in 1998, all on red vinyl. A second pressing of 1000 on standard black vinyl was made in 2002, the year the White Stripes exploded onto the mainstream, while a secret third edition of 1000 hand-numbered copies in a special sleeve was sneaked out in 2008. ‘Tis a highly sought-after item, expect to pay an awful lot of money for a copy these days.

    While the White Stripes would undoubtedly make better records than this, the Let’s Shake Hands 7” certainly is a notable piece of modern pop history.

    Friday 10 October 2014

    50 songs to take to my grave #17: Weekender

    For a while I thought Flowered Up were little more than a bunch of Cockneys pretending to be the Happy Mondays. With hindsight, I think I wrote them off a little too quickly. While I couldn’t give them the credence and respect I had for the Mondays, I didn’t actively dislike Flowered Up. I even bought a couple of their singles. There was a feeling I had that they were overhyped by the London-centric music press who seemed desperate to align their beloved capital with the massive buzz happening in the rebellious north. To me, Flowered Up were standing at the side of the road with their thumbs out and the NME and Melody Maker were all too happy to stop and let them jump onto their bandwagon and give them a lift all the way to the front pages.

    When Flowered Up released Weekender, my viewpoint shifted dramatically. Initially, it was the novelty that made me buy it – a limited edition one-sided 12” containing a 13-minute song. Hearing it, I finally became aware of what the fuss was about. If there had always been a glimmer of something special in the Flowered Up armoury, then here it was fully realised in the form of one of the best tracks of the 90s.

    Weekender tackles the subject of those who live a boring, mundane existence in uninspiring day jobs from Monday to Friday only to finally get their release at weekends. Liam Maher’s damning endictment of such lifestyles is delivered with an explosive ferocity that sets the song apart from others in its peer group. Anger was normally the preserve of the grungers; the ‘baggies’ were all about partying and having a good time with chemically-enhanced grins plastered across our faces!

    It raises questions though. Is Maher damning the day-to-day drudgery of the lives of most people, merely earning a living doing jobs they hate in order to enjoy a couple days freedom at the end of it? Is he condemning the actual people themselves for allowing themselves to be caught in the mire? Or is it a wider social comment on the fact that we are all ultimately at the mercy of ‘The Man’ who allows us to have a blow out on a Friday and Saturday night as long as we’re back at work on Monday morning to make him lots more money? I’ll let you mull that one over amongst yourselves, though it’s worth mentioning Weekender samples dialogue from Quadrophenia, a movie the song is clearly influenced by. That possibly provides a number of clues.

    The other thing I like about it is the band’s and record company’s apparent refusal to bow to commercial pressures from the likes of radio. While there were two radio edits made available, one was simply the full-length version with the swear words blanked out, while the other merely shortened the intro by about 40 seconds or so; it still weighed in at 12+ mins and the f-bombs were intact. There was no snappy 4-minute edit for Simon Mayo to play on the Breakfast Show, which resulted in practically no radio airplay at all. In spite of this it still became Flowered Up’s biggest hit, making number 20 in the UK charts the week after its release. I suspect this was mainly because of the limited quantities available, and that it did not feature on the album. The fans rushed out to buy it in the first week, and by week two it had all but disappeared from the listings.

    Although very much a band of their time – Flowered Up only released one album and broke up shortly after Weekender was released – I can still listen to this extraordinary song now and enjoy it without feeling it has dated badly, unlike some of their other material. Things didn’t work out for Flowered Up; drugs inevitably played their sorry part in the group’s demise. Following the break-up, the keyboard player formed Republica to huge commercial, if not critical, acclaim, while in subsequent years, both Maher brothers have passed away. Flowered Up have been consigned to history, symbolising a heady era of hedonism and counter-culture rebellion. Most of the 90s ravers and baggies have long since succumbed to the daily grind as depicted in the song, yearning for Friday afternoon to end so they can “go out, have a good time.”

    Weekender is undoubtedly a fitting soundtrack.

    Wednesday 8 October 2014

    Welsh Wednesday #6

    Sure Thing by The Darling Buds

    Returning to Newport for this week's post. Well, sort of. It's actually Caerleon[1], a town just a few miles north of Newport and reputedly where the legend of King Arthur was based. It was also once an important Roman city with an impressive amphitheatre which remains a tourist attraction to this day.  Caerleon was also where the Darling Buds were from.

    Andrea Lewis and boyfriend Harley Farr formed the Darling Buds in 1986. John Peel (who else?) championed their debut single and the band signed to Epic in 1988 with whom they released three albums. Chart success was sparse to say the least, with only one single - Hit The Ground from the debut album 'Pop Said...' - troubling the Top 40. They were lumped by the ever-predictable and lazy music press in with the 'Blonde' movement - bands featuring a blonde-haired female singer and dark-haired male musicians - along with the Primitives and Transvision Vamp. Each subsequent album release was met with less and less critical and commercial acclaim, which is a particular shame as they actually got better as they went.

    Andrea Lewis in 2014
    In 1992 the band released what was to be their final album 'Erotica' which contained the single Sure Thing. By now their sound was louder with punchier and slightly psychedelic guitars. 'Erotica' made number one in the UK album charts that year - but it wasn't the Darling Buds record. No, someone called Madonna had the cheek to release an album with the same name just a couple of months after Andrea and the boys and took all the glory! The Darling Buds' 'Erotica' was practically ignored.

    Disillusioned, the Darling Buds split in 1993. They have reformed on a couple of very brief occasions (without Harley Farr), the most recent being just last month at the Indie Daze festival in London[2]

    Sure Thing is one of those great lost singles. I debated with myself which track to go for as I like most of the Darling Buds' catalogue, but this one edged it on the day. May well feature another of their songs before this series is out.

      Monday 6 October 2014

      Blues Monday #2: Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes by Lightnin' Hopkins

      This month's offering comes from a giant of the blues - Sam John "Lightnin'" Hopkins. Mentored by the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson following a meeting at a church picnic when Hopkins was just 8 years old, he went on to become one of the most respected performers in the genre's history. For much of his early career he was practically unknown outside his home state of Texas, finally breaking out nationally during the folk revival of the early 1960s. Hopkins is reputed to have recorded more albums than any other blues artist in history recording somewhere between 800 and 1000 tracks.

      In 1961 he released Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes, a song that has its roots in an old American folk song. Numerous versions were recorded during the 1930s, but it was folk singer Eric Von Schmidt who had a hit with a new version in the late 1950s entitled Baby Let Me Follow You Down. Hopkins blended the original with Von Schmidt's version to come up with this, one of my favourite recordings of his.

      Hopkins made some of the best quality blues recordings of the times which is partly how his reputation grew. I particularly love those where it's just him and his guitar. He doesn't overcomplicate things; the simplicity of his arrangements allow the songs to take centre stage. His extended instrumental segment is where his musicianship could shine, but he never loses sight of the fact that it's the song that matters most, not how good a guitarist he is.

      Meanwhile, also in 1961, a young folk singer was recording his debut album which included a take on Eric Von Schmidt's version of the song. This version would eclipse all others in terms of popularity thanks to this new upstart's rise to superstardom over the following decades. His name? Robert Allan Zimmerman, alias Bob Dylan.


      Saturday 4 October 2014

      The Genius Of... Tim Smith #2

      #2: Jibber and Twitch

      This is one of those songs that if someone asks "What do Cardiacs sound like?", you can say "Like this!" It's an utterly ridiculous song, shambolic and chaotic. Yet it all fits perfectly and couldn't possibly work any other way.

      Jibber and Twitch first emerged on the Cardiacs' third cassette-only album 'The Seaside' in 1984[1], the first such album of theirs to have a half-decent sound quality. It demonstrated, perhaps for the first time in recorded form, the intensity of their music and Tim Smith's brilliantly deranged musical mind. It remains the only studio version of the song, but it did reappear as the opening number on the 'Special Garage Concerts' CD which captured Cardiacs live in 2003 playing some of their earliest material. Hearing this, you realise there's no secret studio trickery going on in the original - it is  meant to sound like this even in its most organic form.

      It's a fun song, more than anything. Well, it is if you can stick it - many can't. It is Cardiacs at their maniacal best.

      [1] I have a bootleg of them playing it at Stonehenge Free Festival[2] in 1981, so it was already an established live track.

      Friday 3 October 2014

      50 songs to take to my grave #16: Leave Them All Behind

      I saw Ride live during their tour for their debut album ‘Nowhere’ and remember feeling quite unmoved by the experience. I was more impressed with their support band Mercury Rev (pre-‘Deserters Songs’ and the massive acclaim it brought them) – they were altogether louder, noisier and more interesting. Ride were pretty, well, meh!

      I still wanted to like them though; I felt that had something, some potential that remained untapped. I was sure they had at least one record in them that would make me love them, even just a single song, something that would stop me in my tracks and make me go ‘wow’!

      That record came out in early 1992 and was called Leave Them All Behind.

      In many ways it was a strange choice of single – particularly the lead single for the second album. It’s more than eight minutes in length, it has a ‘false intro’ – just when you think you’re off and running, it seems like it starts all over again – and it has no chorus. It does, however, have loads of swirling guitars, some trademark Ride “aaahhhhhs” and a brilliantly rousing crescendo. It was everything I expected from Ride, but with that little bit extra that finally made me love them.

      Leave Them All Behind is an absolute beast of a record that has such a great time, it doesn’t know when to stop. Only when the rug is pulled from under it after eight minutes does it tumble into the abyss, but even then those guitars are still playing. It also led me back to that debut album which I seemed to appreciate more then ever before – Vapour Trail and Polar Bear became big faves. The much-anticipated follow-up ‘Going Blank Again’ opened with Leave Them All Behind, but took a different direction with songs like Twisterella, Mouse Trap and Making Judy Smile lending a much cleaner, pop-sounding element to the proceedings. It’s a good example of how far Ride had come since their lauded early EPs and debut album, but they never came close to a track of such majesty as Leave Them All Behind. It stands alone.

      Wednesday 1 October 2014

      Welsh Wednesday #5

      Dim Deddf, Dim Eiddo by Datblygu

      Datblygu (pronounced 'dat-blug-ee') formed in Cardigan, Ceredigion, and were one of the most influential bands in Wales during the early 90s. They paved the way for the likes of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals and various other young Welsh upstarts of a weird and wonderful disposition. Their name - which translates as 'development' - pretty much sums up their experimental nature.

      Datblygu 2014
      They released three albums between 1988 and 1993, though they began to release material on cassette as far back as 1982. John Peel was probably the only DJ outside of Wales to play their music on the radio, even giving them five live sessions.

      It's difficult to listen to a whole Datblygu album. They usually contained a lot of songs which varied widely in style and mood. It is therefore rather difficult to choose a track that represents them to those who have never heard them before. I've chosen Dim Deddf, Dim Eiddo (trans: No Law, No Property) from their final album because it's perhaps one of their more accessible tunes, in a Krautrock-meets-The Fall kind of way. So not that accessible really, but I like it.

      Datblygu recently reformed and released the mini-album 'Erbyn Hyn' in June.