Saturday 28 February 2015

The Genius Of... David Gedge #8

#8: Quick, Before It Melts by Cinerama

One of my favourite Gedge lyrics without question. Like Wow, it's about being seduced by a woman when he's already in a relationship with another, only this time he's concerned his nervousness may affect his performance.
Quick, Before It Melts was recorded for Cinerama's third and final album 'Torino' which came out in 2002. An extended version appeared on the album.

From the off we get an idea of the situation our hero is in. It's very possibly the greatest opening verse in pop music history:

  "And when you said: 'I've got nothing on beneath this dress', that was such great flirting!
  I usually find such candidness sort of disconcerting.
  But you said: 'I don't wear underwear because it leaves a stripe.
  People sneer, but do you think I care? They're usually not my type!'"

That flirting continues as the drinks flow before things become a little more physical:

  "You put your hand onto the very place my girlfriend's hand should be,
  You haven't exactly got the kind of face that invites honesty."

Musically, the big chorus really lifts things after the quiet verses. It veers towards Wedding Present territory in places with Sally Murrell's keyboards reminding us it's very much a Cinerama record.
Quick, Before It Melts is their best track without a doubt, and definitely one of the best in Gedge's entire canon, if I'm being honest.

Friday 27 February 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #18, #19 & #20

Here are three important albums I've already written about in the past 12 months. The text is lifted from the original articles which I have linked to if you want to read them in full.

#18: Empires And Dance – Simple Minds
(adapted from ‘Great Minds’, 3 March 2014)

I Travel was the opening track on Simple Minds’ third album ‘Empires And Dance’ from 1980. On first listen, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I Travel was hugely influenced by the burgeoning European dance music scene. It’s hard to imagine now, but this song failed to chart on three separate occasions. Today it would be an instant classic. Thirty Frames A Second is begging for a hundred remixers to get their grubby mitts on it and turn it into a dancefloor filler, though it is its spiky minimalism that gives it a unique appeal; and This Fear Of Gods just bubbles and pops with fitful excitement throughout its seven glorious minutes.

‘Empires And Dance’ was, and still is, a brilliant, brilliant record. As a whole it displays qualities that placed it way ahead of many of their contemporaries even if it wasn’t appreciated at the time. Its minimalist approach is heard in so many records released today. You only have to listen to the likes of Alt-J, Hot Chip, Metronomy, CHVRCHES and numerous other current hipster favourites to see how lasting this amazing record is (if only those bands sounded nearly half as good).


#19: So Tough – Saint Etienne
(adapted from ‘This Is Pop!’, 28 Feb 2014)

Pop doesn’t get any poppier than Saint Etienne. Having said that, there is something about their moodiness which sets them apart from the rest. When I say moodiness, I don't mean miserable; Sarah Cracknells' sweet and blissfully light vocals can put a smile on even the grumpiest old git's face. There is a definite air about them, though.

The opening "ooohs" on Mario's Café lead into a glorious stream of observations - the people, actions and conversations in a London caff. Dull? Not likely – it’s a slice of real life. Musically, it's still relevant because a lot of it was quite retro at the time of release; You're In A Bad Way is like an understated Phil Spector-esque girl group minus the wall-of-sound, while Conchita Martinez mixes Italian house piano with a sample of Rush's Spirit Of Radio. Hobart Paving is a lovely song I listen to even when I'm not in the mood for something so light; while Avenue is an entrancing and rather offbeat seven-minute opus which demonstrates a slightly more adventurous side to the group.


#20: Stone Roses – Stone Roses
(adapted from ‘Happy, stoned and cool as f*ck’, 7 April 2014)

Everyone seemed to be constantly banging on about the Stone Roses in 1989 but I remained rather cautious about them, refusing to be drawn into the hype machine. Then one day I heard their album and it all changed.

The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album is often cited in such lists as ‘greatest debut albums of all time’, ‘records that changed the world’, ‘best ever records ever made ever!’, and in all honesty I can’t find myself disputing its eligibility. In spite of my guarded, cynical approach, that record blew me away, and it pretty much still blows me away to this day. While I maintain R.E.M.’s ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ has the best opening sequence of songs on an album, without a doubt the best closing sequence occurs on ‘The Stone Roses’: Shoot You Down, This Is The One and I Am The Resurrection. Impossible to separate those tracks, in my opinion, they work as one.


Wednesday 25 February 2015

Welsh Wednesday #25

#25: Evil by Tom Jones

Yeah, I hear you. How predictable, what a cliche... a Welsh music series that includes Tom Jones. Yawn. Well, whether you like it or not, Tom Jones is probably the most famous Welshman in the world (only Gareth Bale and Anthony Hopkins come close). Whatever you think of him, you can't ignore him.

This post could easily be linked to two of my
other series': Blues Monday and The Genius Of... Jack White. Evil was written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Howlin' Wolf. In 2012, Jack White called in the great Sir Tom to record a version of this blues classic as part of his program of 7" single releases on White's Third Man label. On first listen it's quite clear who's behind it, and it's even clearer who's out front. It's an energetic and powerful rendition that proved even aged 70-plus, Pontypridd's most famous son still had it.

Evil, backed by a cover of Wayne Shanklin's Jezebel, was released in March 2012. It was pressed on tri-colour vinyl. Only 150 copies were made, 50 of which White sold through his label's mail-order service. The other 100 were sold in just one store - the oldest record shop in the world, Spillers in Cardiff. Fans from around the world queued overnight to get their hands on what would be one of the rarest and most collectable of Sir Tom's releases. It's certainly one of the best things he's released in a few decades.

Monday 23 February 2015

Memories of a thousand* gigs #40

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

#40: Oasis
Knebworth Park - 10 August 1996
Support: Prodigy, Manic Street Preachers, Ocean Colour Scene, The Chemical Brothers, The Bootleg Beatles
Also present: MrsRobster

The overriding memory I have of this show is that I was there, and that’s really all you need. Like Nirvana at Reading in 1992 and Pulp at Glastonbury in ’95, Oasis at Knebworth has become the stuff of legend and I can proudly say “I was there” at all three.

This was “the fastest-selling ticket in British concert history”[1], but as gigs go, it doesn’t rate among my best ever. The bands however played to their biggest audiences to date, and for most of them the biggest crowds they would ever play to.

The Bootleg Beatles opened the show, adorned in Sgt Pepper uniforms. The Chemical Brothers were frighteningly loud, and Ocean Colour Scene were instantly forgettable, in spite of being absolutely huge at the time.

The same can’t be said of the Manic Street Preachers though. I recently recounted the first time I saw the Manics, in Torquay during the ‘Gold Against The Soul’ tour, and how I hated everything about them. At Knebworth though they turned me. It was a difficult time for them of course, it was less than a year since Richie Edwards disappeared without trace. Whether it was the emotion, the occasion, or a combination of both, the Manics rose to the occasion and played a fantastic set that forced me to reconsider my whole attitude towards them. A Design For Life in particular was enormous.

MrsRobster’s fave band of the day was the Prodigy. She was well into them at the time and particularly liked Keith. He was like some kind of mad animal on that stage; riotous and very, very watchable. I think for most people the Prodge were the highlight of the day aside from the headliners.

And what of Oasis? Well, I saw them at the aforementioned Glasto the previous summer when they were upstaged by Jarvis and co. Like then, they were good. But that’s it. They weren’t spectacular, they weren’t particularly interesting to watch. They did play a really good set of songs from the first two albums (and a couple that would turn up on ‘Be Here Now’), everyone sang along and had a great time. But I didn’t leave Knebworth thinking “wow, that was incredible.” I was, however, mistaken for Rik Mayall by some poor girl who soon realised she was mistaken and sloped away disappointed… We also encountered a car-load of pissed-up meatheads shouting abuse at people, but apparently that was normal at Oasis gigs.

Overall, it was an event I’m glad I attended, it just didn’t quite have that defining moment that Reading ’92 or Glastonbury ’95 had. But at least “I was there!”


Addendum: It was revealed this weekend that Oasis are planning to release a CD and DVD of their Knebworth antics. Full details here.

[1] According to the Knebworth House website.

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Genius Of... Jack White #7

#7: Love Interruption by Jack White

This is probably the best track Jack White made post-White Stripes. It's also one of the least Jack White tracks Jack White has ever made. Love Interruption is a soul duet featuring Ghanaian singer Ruby Amanfu and revolves around some brilliant Wurlitzer work from Brooke Waggoner giving the song a slight Son Of A Preacher Man feel. Accompanied by Jack's acoustic guitar and a couple of clarinets, the vocal and keyboard centrepieces compete for top billing, but the vocals just win out.

Those of us upset by the confirmation of the White Stripes split found ample comfort in this. Clearly, Jack still had a lot of amazing stuff in his locker. While his debut solo album had much to admire and enjoy, nothing else quite reached the sublime quality of Love Interruption

And by way of a bonus, take a look at the marvellous, wonderful, delightful First Aid Kit performing a cover of Love Interruption for BBC 6 Music.

Friday 20 February 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #17: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

While all the albums in this series mean something to me personally, few can claim to actually have changed things. Here's one that can though. 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions...' practically reinvented the entire hip-hop genre and no rap record before or since can hold a candle to it.

Now I'm very aware that much of my readership has little to no interest in this kind of music, but if you're one of them and still reading, I urge you to investigate this record. Listen to it through, read up about it[1], then listen to it again. I don't know or care much for rap music myself, I can only rate it against rock music, but without a shadow of doubt, Public Enemy's second album rates as one of the most extraordinary, groundbreaking and downright powerful records of all time.

For me, it's the sheer might of the sounds created by the Bomb Squad married to Chuck D's booming vocals that cause the most devastation. It is a masterpiece of production, where the studio guys shine as members of the band. Well-armed with a huge batch of samples, beats and noises, Eric Sadler and the Shocklee brothers concocted a rich stew of sounds that excites to this day. There's so much going on in there, it's difficult at times to make head or tail of it. It takes someone like Chuck D to get himself heard over the top. Yet despite its intricacy, it all makes perfect sense.

But it's not just Chuck's vocals that take centre stage; his fierce polemic contrasts with Flavor Flav's surreal comedy frenzies creating a dynamic that is intriguing, occasionally confusing and frequently astonishing. But let's not forget how 'Nation of Millions' crossed musical boundaries, blending a myriad of samples from the most diverse corners of the musical spectrum. Anthrax and Slayer mix it with James Brown, Bowie and free jazz. It feels at times like some sort of weird experiment, yet the results are so strong, the songs so immense. Bring The Noise and Don't Believe The Hype kick the media between the legs; Caught, Can We Get A Witness? gives a slap to the music industry and legal system for their anti-sampling stance; and in She Watch Channel Zero?! you get the most brutal song that will be played at my funeral, for sure.

The social messages are even stronger. Racism, drugs and direct action against the state are all tackled with equal measures of fury, humour and intelligence. But whatever your political bent, in the end it all comes back to the music, and for me Nation of Millions is one of the greatest and most innovative records ever made. It was fast, dynamic and explosive. It was inventive, inimitable and influential. It was brilliant and, 27 years on, it still is.

[1] Wikipedia has a decent entry here

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Welsh Wednesday #24

#24: When The Windows Shook by Paper Aeroplanes


Not a word I like to use that much, but in the case of Paper Aeroplanes it's kind of appropriate. Hailing from the west Wales port of Milford Haven, the duo Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn make a sound that's comparable to the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Suzanne Vega, very Radio 2-friendly. Not that that's an entirely bad thing - they certainly know about melody, that's for sure.

Since formation in 2009, they have to date put out three albums and four EPs (the most recent being last year's 5-track 'Circus'. A fourth album is due around springtime, but for now enjoy the opening track to 2013's acclaimed 'Little Letters' album When The Windows Shook. Pretty sure The Mac would be proud of this one. Nice.

Monday 16 February 2015

Vintage Vinyl #6

The Jam - Funeral Pyre 7" / Beat Surrender 7"
Bought from: Strawberry Fields, Cardiff
Price paid: two of a batch of singles I paid £8 for.

I wasn't expecting the five singles I picked up in Strawberry Fields to cost as much as £8 (they weren't priced), but with hindsight I didn't do too badly. After all, I could have paid as much as that for these two records alone in some places. Jam stuff remains pretty collectable and although there is nothing special about this pair of singles, Weller fans still seek them out it seems.

Funeral Pyre is an odd one for me as it doesn't sound like a single. It's not particularly memorable or radio-friendly, yet it flew to number 4 in the UK charts when it was released in late Spring 1981. This may be more to do with the Jam being one of the biggest bands in the country, and it being their first new track since the previous summer's monster number one hit Start! It's not one of my fave tracks by the band, but lyrically it is one of Weller's best. On its flip is a cover of the Who's Disguises. It's pretty much what you'd expect from Weller & co, a relatively straight run-through, but minus the weird sound effects and noises that graced the original. Notably, Funeral Pyre did not appear on any Jam album until the singles collection 'Snap!' in 1983, and only then in remix form.

Beat Surrender was the Jam's swan song and achieved the (then) highly unusual feat of entering the UK chart at number one in its first week. In fact, 1982 was particularly special as two records accomplished this achievement that year - the other was the double A-side A Town Called Malice/Precious, also by the Jam. Beat Surrender was their fourth and final chart-topper and was a rather exuberant number to go out on, all Northern Soul-style horns and everything, heralding Weller's new dawn in the Style Council. Like Funeral Pyre, it too never appeared on an album until 'Snap!', though it was included on the recent deluxe reissue of 'The Gift'.

As for its B-side? Well to be honest, it's best forgotten. Shopping is, to be kind, not one of the Jam's finer moments. That's all I'm going to say on the matter as the Weller die-hards among you will no doubt be sharpening your swords ready to do battle...


Saturday 14 February 2015

The Genius of... Tim Smith #7

Nurses Whispering Verses by Cardiacs

This one dates right back to the early days in Cardiacs history. It first appeared on the band's second self-recorded, self-released low-budget cassette album 'Toy World' in 1981. A similar, but better quality version was then included on the next album 'The Seaside' in 1984. Both these versions are very rare; 'Toy World' has never been re-released, and the CD reissue of 'The Seaside' only comprised nine of the original 13 tracks as the master tapes containing the other four songs was damaged and could not be used. Nurses Whispering Verses was one of the casualties.

Therefore the song was only available on bootlegs for many years as even the band's official live albums never included a rendition. Then, during recording for Cardiacs' greatest work 'Sing For God', it was resurrected. Partly re-written with new lyrical contributions from drummer Bob Leith, Nurses Whispering Verses became a monster, a towering shrine to the majesty of the band's past and an audacious vision of the grandeur and sumptuous delights still to come. 'Sing To God' was a magnificent record, the sort of album Nurses Whispering Verses was born to grace.

The central guitar riff will stick in your head, the lyrics will bamboozle you (no surprise there then) and the whole thing should make you smile like a goon if you have any kind of feeling. It's another of Tim's masterpieces that has more than stood the test of time - 34 years, no less, since the original broke loose. Testament indeed.

Here's the original version from 'Toy World...

And here's the version from 'The Seaside.

Friday 13 February 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #16: Life's Too Good

My first dalliance with the music of Iceland came aged 16 when Simon Greetham introduced me to the Sugarcubes at college. Their debut album had garnered all kinds of glowing reviews, was sitting atop the indie charts, and boasted three cracking singles. Of course, the one everyone knows and loves is Birthday, without doubt one of the great indie tunes of all time.

The one thing that endeared me to the Sugarcubes was that it sounded so different to anything else I had heard before, yet retained a certain degree of familiarity so as to make it not completely alien to me. Björk’s voice was that of a sweet, but mischievous Arctic pixie, cheekily cavorting around a playground of peculiarly arranged instruments played by bandmates who at times didn’t sound like they really knew what they were doing. Except, of course, that was deliberate – they most definitely knew what they were up to.

Then there were the playful interruptions of Einar Örn which were unfairly knocked by critics. I loved Einar’s contributions; they were fun and quirky (and I like quirky). There was always something rather chaotic and rambunctious about the Sugarcubes’ music and Einar’s vocals added to that, in a good way in my opinion. It was kind of like early B-52s with Icelandic accents.

The Sugarcubes’ debut album ‘Life’s Too Good’ is an absolute must have record. It’s so unashamedly playful, it’s almost childlike. Birthday is perhaps the most downbeat track on it as, elsewhere, Björk yelps and whoops like a little girl who’s drunk too much fizzy pop, and Einar squawks excitedly about meeting God and teaching angels to play the harmonica! Meanwhile guitars that sound like they’ve been borrowed from the Cure circa 1979 chime away awkwardly as choppy, nutty, Talking Heads-esque percussive flurries not only bind the whole thing together as a wonderful whole, but actually make it all so irresistibly danceable. Ha, yes, an indie band you could dance to in 1988 – who’d have thought it? Well, I say dance, maybe ‘spasmodically twitch’ would be a more accurate description of the movements you were likely to make whilst ‘Lifes Too Good’ invaded your soul, but let’s not split hairs here.

It’s odd though, because the Sugarcubes were formed from the remnants of dark, gloomy anarcho-punk bands, in particular Kukl. This new band was supposed to be a bit of light relief, a joke even. That they would become one of Iceland’s greatest exports is somewhat ironic, but it is testament to how different they were, how ‘Life’s Too Good’ connected with people, and how the Sugarcubes probably just got lucky – right place, right sound, right time.

They would go on to make two more albums; the patchy but still enjoyable ‘Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!’ deserved far more praise than it received. Its brilliant single Regina rates as one of the band’s finest moments, with Björk singing a tribute to an acclaimed local journalist while Einar rants about lobsters. Their swansong ‘Stick Around For Joy’ contained the band’s only bonafide hit single, the perfectly-titled Hit. A surprisingly good remix album (‘It’s It’) followed, but the Sugarcubes never quite recaptured the excitement and acclaim they garnered at the beginning and they called it a day in 1992. Björk went solo and the rest is history.

The Sugarcubes are still regarded as an important band in the story of so-called alternative music, and rightly so. They became popular by accident but stayed true to themselves and defied convention. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, they can still put a smile on this cynical old git’s face.

And as a bonus treat, here' the original Icelandic version of Birthday.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Welsh Wednesday #23

#23: A New South Wales by The Alarm

Mike Peters is a fiercely proud Welshman, so you can only imagine how he and his fellow compatriots felt when the Evil Thatcher Monster wreaked havoc across this fair nation by closing the coal mines and with it destroying communities and condemning generations to poverty, unemployment and little in the way of hope for the future. Many of these once thriving mining towns and villages have yet to recover, the devastation still evident.

A New South Wales is Peters voicing his despair in song, though he seemed to hold a glimmer of hope for the future. So amongst the sadness and pessimism:

  A man walks home alone
  Past a church full of mourning souls
  Throughout his lifetime he has fought
  He has given his life
  In tears the congregation sing
  Cwm Rhondda Oh my Lord

there's some optimism that this might unite the nation and Wales could be great again:

  Great, great change in the fair country
  The future lies with the sons and daughters
  South will meet with North

The language and emotion is strong, Peters denouncing the "rape" of his country, the anger of those communities affected and the bleak and uncertain outlook faced by future generations. It's not your typical Alarm track - there are no guitars or drums - but it's as powerful as anything they ever did.

A New South Wales was released in 1989 and featured the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir. It was recorded live in Cardiff for the BBC and produced by Tony Visconti.

Monday 9 February 2015

A year in the life?

One year ago today, I posted my very first article on Is This The Life? It wasn't my first blog, but I knew it would be different to others I'd attempted before. I intended it to be somewhat autobiographical, aligning my life to the music I was listening to at the time. I achieved that, but carried on regardless, posting regularly and surprisingly still having plenty of things to say.

And so here we are - one year later and 190 posts to the good. A couple of meltdowns and tantrums along the way have nearly ended the whole thing but thanks to you lot and the interest you've shown, Is This The Life? is still alive and kicking. Well, it's breathing anyway...

To celebrate this special day I'm going to post two tracks, one rather old and one newish. There's no theme or link here, I just like 'em, OK?

Wolf Alice is one of the most hotly tipped new bands of the last couple of years. MrsRobster and I will be seeing them in a couple of months on what is believed to be their last tour of small venues before they go stratospheric. Their debut album is due later in the year. Expect big things. She is a track from the 2013 EP 'Blush'.

I recently found a new barbers in Newport. It had loud reggae blaring inside so I obviously had to check it out. I got one of the neatest trims I've ever received from the Rastafarian barber. I could have stayed there for hours just for the music. One of the tracks that I remember was this take on Cat Stevens' The First Cut Is The Deepest by I Roy. It featured on his debut album in 1973 which launched a successful career for a decade. Sadly his popularity declined in the 80s during the dancehall era. Illness and homelessness plagued his later years before he passed away with heart failure in 1999 aged just 55. He left some great tunes.


That was going to be it for this post, but just before going off to bed last night, I came across this and just had to share it. His Holy Godliness Bob Mould live on Letterman on Friday night. Fuck me, can Bob rock! Amazingly incredible awesomeness to get your week started.

Saturday 7 February 2015

The Genius of... David Gedge #7

Three by The Wedding Present

1992's 'Hit Parade' project was remarkable in a number of ways. The good old seven inch single was dead; I was working at Our Price at the time and can say this with authority. No one wanted these silly little bits of black plastic anymore. So what do Gedge and cohorts do? They release 12 singles on 7" vinyl format only. A winner, yeah?

Well actually, yeah. Following the critical acclaim of 'Seamonsters', the Weddoes hit upon a surprise period of commercial success. Each of their strictly limited monthly singles made the Top 40 which was a UK chart record (only Elvis had ever achieved this before, but none of his hits were self-penned). They remain the only British act to achieve this feat. What's also interesting is that compiling all 12 a-sides together actually creates a cohesive album[1].

Three was the third of the series (Ha! Clever!) and is one of my fave Gedge tunes. It's somewhat restrained in its approach, a little quiet and understated, but lyrically it's probably as saucy as Gedge ever got.

  "I'm yours, she's mine
  Two's company but three have a better time."

Is he trying to initiate a ménage à trois here? Probably, the naughty devil. Yet it's downplayed in both his vocal delivery and the music which is notably slower than many of the tracks from the 'Hit Parade' project. Gedge isn't going to shout about his encounters from the rooftops a la Van Halen or Aerosmith. This is a private matter between him and his partner(s). It's another fine example of how Gedge gets the best out of his songs and is a bit of a dark horse in his canon.

[1] Originally the first six A-sides and B-sides were compiled, followed by the latter 6 A's and B's. Subsequent re-issues of 'Hit Parade' have been double CD affairs with all 12 A's on one disc and the B-sides on the other. Far more sensible.

Friday 6 February 2015

Anyone for tea?

Our first gig of 2015 was First Aid Kit at Cardiff's St. David's Hall last month. Supporting that night was singer-songwriter Kimberly Anne from Croydon who hit upon a brilliant piece of promotion at the merch stand. As well as selling her EPs, she was also giving away teabags with a free download attached! Not something I've ever seen before, but it really is a great idea.

Kimberly has been making a lot of friends on this tour, so look out for her in the future. Even if you decide you're not keen on her music, you can't deny she has awesome hair! Here's a lovely acoustic version of last year's single Hard As Hello. If you like it, check out her other stuff on Soundcloud.


Wednesday 4 February 2015

Welsh Wednesday #22

 #22: I Want To Choose When I Sleep Alone by Martin Rossiter

There's probably quite a few Gene fans out there who never knew Martin Rossiter was Welsh. He was born and raised in Monmouth in the south east. It's probably the least Welsh area of the nation - it's a traditionally Tory safe seat (a rarity in Wales), it was the only part of Wales to vote against more powers for the Welsh Assembly in a recent referendum, and as far as the rest of the nation is concerned, it might as well be in England! Monmouth is the location of the famous Rockfield Studios. Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody at Rockfield, Oasis made 'Morning Glory' there also, but perhaps more importantly, it's where Pixies recorded last year's marvellous comeback album 'Indie Cindy'.

In December 2012, eight years after Gene played their last show together, singer Martin Rossiter released his debut solo album 'The Defenestration Of St. Martin'. No rush, eh? You'd think he'd spent the time creating an experimental masterpiece or a rock opera of something. Instead what we got was a tender, understated collection of ballads consisting almost entirely of just voice and piano.

Of course, it's all about the voice. Martin always was Gene's USP and on his solo record his voice is accentuated by the minimal backing. It trembles delicately on I Want To Choose When I Sleep Alone as if he's holding back tears. It's among the most moving songs he's ever sung.

Monday 2 February 2015

Blues Monday #6: Special Agent by Sleepy John Estes

As with many blues greats of the age, the story of Sleepy John Estes is a fascinating and rather mysterious one. Having written and recorded classic tracks such as Milk Cow Blues and Drop Down Mama in the 30s, Estes all but disappeared from public life following his final recording session for Decca in 1940. He was rediscovered, now completely blind, in 1961 and became a star during the folk and blues revival that saw rejuvenated careers also for Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and the like. During the early sixties he also found an unexpected (by him) appreciation of his work in Europe, even recording a live album in England and Denmark.

Estes' nickname 'sleepy' was coined owing to his habit of nodding off with surprising regularity. Some put it down to a blood problem causing narcolepsy, while others claim he just drifted off when life became boring. His songs were about the people, cultures and events he experienced in his life, often purveying a sense of desolation and desperation. He's regarded as one of the greats, and rightly so. Special Agent was recorded in New York in 1938.