Saturday 31 October 2015

Autumnal Covers #9

Singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, librettist, novelist, screenplay writer, poet, actor. Is there nothing Nick Cave can't turn his hand to? Seemingly not. I'm a massive fan and I know many of my loyal readers are too. So this week's covers feature the man himself.

Cave wrote the screenplay for the brilliant 2012 gangster flick Lawless. He also co-composed the soundtrack (along with his longtime mucka and Bad Seeds sidekick Warren Ellis) and formed a band to perform it. The Bootleggers consisted of Cave, Ellis and the vocal talents of Mark Lanegan, Emmylou Harris and octogenarian bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. One of Emmylou's contributions is on So You'll Aim Toward The Sky, a curious choice of song. Written by Jason Lytle, the original closed Grandaddy's classic album 'The Sophtware Slump' from 2000.

Nick does love a good cover version as much as he loves a good collaboration. When Pulp invited fellow artistes to contribute a cover version of one of their songs for the b-sides of Bad Cover Version, Cave roped in Richard Hawley and his twangy guitar to do a waltz version of Disco 2000. Tis a bit of fun, but oddly credible.


Friday 30 October 2015

The Genius of Tim Smith #15

This is basically a tweaked repost from March 2014. I featured this song in my 20 songs to take to my grave series. Its worthy of another airing being arguably Tim Smith's greatest ever song. It is also a fitting end to this series.

#15: Dirty Boy by Cardiacs

Where does one start with Dirty Boy? It is probably one of Cardiacs' 'biggest' songs in that it sounds anthemic right from the off. Where it goes over the following nine minutes (yep, it's a long one) is not immediately apparent. The song's subject matter is also not totally obvious, but such is the lyrical obliqueness of Tim's writing. I think it's loosely about religious fanaticism, death (murder?), a crazed mind, redemption, perhaps some kind of cult... who knows? 

WE WILL PRAISE HIM off his pins
Clear him of all sins
Oh my! We sang with strength to carry on
Encouraged him to sing along
We sang of all the world and praised him HOORAY!

Stay alive to live or without
And he is down all over and out

Watch us hang on shoulders as tall and as gold as
Feely hand and finger around all we
And look to see if we care if he is heaven sent or
Hell bent but WE WILL PRAISE HIM
Praise him all away"

Musically though it is a religious experience. It climbs and climbs towards paradise, often pausing its ascent to explore its surroundings before setting off again. A choir of (fallen?) angels arrive mid way and accompany the song ever upwards. After 6½ minutes, it arrives, the awe and splendour of its destination holds it in suspense, the final word uttered - "out" - rings out continuously as the song, now having reached its goal, joyfully reaches its conclusion. The gates open, it goes inside. By the grace of whatever superior force (or none) that brought it here, Dirty Boy is done, forever to radiate its magisterial elegance on us mere mortals below.

If there is just one negative, it's the production - it just sounds a little thin and top-heavy. Sadly, that's something Cardiacs have suffered from throughout their career, but if you could actually hear the bass, Dirty Boy would be even more MASSIVE than it already is.

Quite where this song came from cannot be explained. Was it from a brilliant or deranged mind? You might argue you can't have one without the other. Tim Smith may be both or neither, but there's no escaping the fact that in Dirty Boy we have one of pop music's great triumphs. Truly unique, joyously euphoric and utterly, utterly brilliant.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Welsh Wednesday #59

Plentyn by 9Bach

Nine in Welsh is nau, pronounced 'nye'. Bach is pronounced in much the same way as the German composers. However, the band name 9Bach is a clever play on words which actually relies on the English pronunciation of the number:

“9 is as in Nain, (pronounced nine), which means grandmother in the North of Wales, Bach means little and is also a term of endearment in Welsh. In one language 9 is something so mundane as a number, but in Welsh Nain is a cosy, family-orientated lovely thing: your grandmother is a person we can relate to and visualise.”

9Bach are from Bethesda in north west Wales, a town that has the highest quotient of Welsh-language speakers in the country. It was also where Gruff Rhys grew up. Formed by singer-songwriter Lisa Jên and guitarist Martin Hoyland in 2005, 9Bach's music has been described as alternative folk or acid folk (whatever that is). It is spellbinding stuff and has made 9Bach one of the most widely appreciated Welsh language acts around. Their second album 'Tincian' won Best Album at this year's BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, making 9Bach the first Welsh act to ever win the award. They are about to record their third album and I suspect a late Spring release as a major UK tour is scheduled throughout May 2016. You should go see them if you can - you'll be captivated.

Today's Welsh Wednesday tune is taken from that award-winning album. Plentyn - which means child - is probably my favourite 9Bach song.

Monday 26 October 2015

It Came From Japan #5: Asian Kung-Fu Generation

It's dawned on me that this series has been somewhat female dominated up to now. Nowt wrong with that per se (just ask Dirk), but I thought I should include at least one all male band. Asian Kung-Fu Generation have a really crap name, but their brand of punk-influenced rock 'n' roll disguises that somewhat.

There are not many bands that feature on this blog that can boast number one singles, but AKG is one such act. They have also attracted worldwide success, with non-Japanese fans once petitioning to get the band's second album 'Sol-Fa' released outside Japan. It worked. The band has also found fame through anime with their music being used in episodes of various series.

Each year, Asian Kung-Fu Generation host their own music festival in Yokohama, attracting artists from all over the world. Ash, Weezer, Tegan & Sarah and the Stereophonics have all played sets there over the years as well as a host of Japanese acts. AKG's eighth studio album 'Wonder Future' was released in May, and next year they celebrate their 20th anniversary. With the line-up remaining constant since they formed, and with their popularity showing no signs of waning, this is something of a real achievement.

I've chosen two songs that will be more than familiar to fans of the band, but to everyone else, they act as a more than worthy introduction.


Sunday 25 October 2015

From Inside The Pod Revisited #12

A special bonus post today to mark Keeping It Peel Day. As you know, our good friend Webbie started this back in 2010. Last year, he called time on it though his site is still active with news of Peel-related events taking place. I'm going to mark this year's 25th October with a repost of my second Peel podcast that I compiled for the 2011 event. The article is much as it was when it first appeared on From Inside The Pod, save a couple of tweaks for the sake of relevence.

Pod 20: #keepingitpeel2
(first published October 2011)

Today is Keeping It Peel Day 2011. When I decided to take part in the inaugural event last year, I had no idea how well received my contribution would be. Last year's podcast (Pod 08) was bigged up by #kip main man Webbie and became the most downloaded file I'd done.

It was a lot of fun doing that one, so this year I decided to do something a little different. While 2010's effort concentrated on some of Peelie's favourite artists and records, this year's is made up exclusively of session tracks recorded for his shows. Naturally, there were hundreds, nay, thousands of songs to choose from. Some were pretty tricky to track down, but well worth the effort. Some of the acts never achieved much in the way of commercial success (though proved to be quite inspirational to those that followed), while others went stratospheric. Either way, Peel championed them even when nobody else wanted to know.

As usual, I've stuck to my 10-track, 30-ish-minute rule, but I could have put together hours worth of stuff (my list of what I left off is as fascinating as the list of what made it!) Interspersed amongst the music are some words from the great man himself. What's interesting is the contrast of the young Peel's voice (early to mid-70s) and the more familiar baritone drawl of his later years.

I've decided against a eulogy this year. I said all I needed to say last year, and besides far better people than I will have said it all and far more eloquently. Instead, it's time to let the music do the talking. Oh, and no, I've not included Teenage Kicks or anything by the Fall. Been there, done that...

(And kudos to anyone who can identify the sheet music in the artwork...)

1. Cinerama Quick, Before It Melts (May 2001, 7th of 10 sessions)
Maybe only The Fall made more Peel sessions than David Gedge who recorded a total of 19 in less than 20 years. The first nine were as frontman with the Wedding Present, the next 10 were with Cinerama (though the last of these fell during the latter's transition back into the Wedding Present). This is probably my favourite Cinerama track and tells the story of a man's reluctant infidelity.

2. Robert Wyatt I'm A Believer (September 1974, 2nd of 2 sessions)
He may be one of rock 'n' roll's casualties, but Robert Wyatt is also one of its unsung heroes. Following the accident that left him paralysed in 1973, John Peel compered a benefit concert for Wyatt headlined by Pink Floyd. The following year, after a standoff with stuffy BBC executives, Wyatt eventually won the right to perform his version of I'm A Believer on Top of the Pops in his wheelchair. Apparently, bosses had initially deemed the prospect as unsuitable for family viewing. How times have changed, thankfully. Bizarrely, he has even spawned a new verb: 'Wyatting' - the practice of playing weird tracks on a pub jukebox to annoy the other patrons. Try it...

3. Laura Cantrell Pretty Paper (December 2003, Peel Acres, 5th and final session)
Peel described Laura Cantrell's debut album 'Not the Tremblin' Kind' as "my favourite record of the last ten years and possibly my life". The track Bee from her third album was dedicated to his memory. This beautiful performance of the classic Roy Orbison hit was recorded live in the Peel family's living room less than a year before John's death.

4. Datblygu Rhag Ofn I Chi Anghofio (January 1991, 3rd of 5 sessions 1991)
Datblygu were picked up by Peel through their debut single and went on to record five sessions for him. No one played Welsh-language music on English radio, except our John who also championed Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals. The title, by the way, translates as 'In Case You Should Forget'.

5. Napalm Death Raging In Hell (March 1988, 2nd of 3 sessions)
Who else but John Peel would play Napalm Death (and other bands of their ilk) regularly on the radio? While most acts recorded three or four tracks per session, this lot would have to do upwards of 10 in order to get a fair share of airtime. To Peel, grindcore artists such as Napalm Death were not novelties as they were to many others, but a genuine musical movement worthy of as much respect as anything else he played.

6. Misty In Roots Rich Man (June 1979, first of 9 sessions)
Another of Peel's all-time favourite records was Misty In Roots' debut 'Live at the Counter Eurovision'. His championing of it helped bring roots reggae to a white audience. They became regulars on his show, releasing a compilation of session tracks in 1995. They continue to tour. This also reminds me that there is not nearly enough reggae on this blog. Hmmm, must right that wrong...

7. David Bowie Port Of Amsterdam (January 1970, third of 6 sessions)
John Peel's relationship with the young Bowie is well-known. Peel nurtured the precocious talent from as early as 1967 when Bowie recorded his first session for him. In fact, it is widely accepted that it was John Peel who 'discovered' Bowie and was largely responsible for his ultimate fame. Sadly, the pair lost touch as soon as Bowie exploded into the mainstream in 1973, something John took personally. Here's Our Dave (as he's affectionately known in my house) with his version of the Jacques Brel song Amsterdam (which is based on the melody of the 16th C. English folk song Greensleeves which itself is often mistakenly attributed to Henry VIII).

8. Pixies Tame (October 1988, second of 5 sessions)
The greatest band to walk the Earth in my lifetime! John Peel obviously saw something in them as well, he had them in session five times! Tame is originally from the band's masterwork 'Doolittle'.

9. Queen Great King Rat (December 1973, 2nd of 3 sessions)
Yes, even Queen did Peel Sessions, three in fact. The first two were recorded for a show John presented called 'Sounds Of The Seventies'. The third, in 1977, came after the band had become huuuuuge and included a frankly amazing version of Spread Your Wings (available on the recent deluxe edition of 'News Of The World'). Great King Rat however, remains one of their finest early songs.

10. Son House My Good Gal [edit] (July 1970, only session)
How good is this? The legendary Son House played his only Peel Session in 1970 sounding as if he was possessed! To see him perform was like watching the devil himself - head thrown back, wailing and hollering, guitar practically beaten into submission. His unique style can still be heard in a slew of young upstarts, in particular Jack White who has long cited Son House as one of his biggest influences.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Autumnal Covers #8

There's no doubt the Stax label produced some astonishingly good music during its peak period in the sixties. Its biggest star was Otis Redding, whose passing in 1967 marked the beginning of the end for the label. One of Redding's most famous hits was Try A Little Tenderness, a song dating from the 1930s and previously sung by the likes of Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke. Redding's version however saw the track take on an entirely different arrangement. It only reached #25 in the Billboard chart in 1966, but has since become regarded as one of the greatest recordings of all-time.

Otis Redding's backing band on Try A Little Tenderness was the Stax house band Booker T & The MGs, who had enjoyed a number of big hits in their own right. In 1969, having been mightily impressed with the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' LP, the band decided to record their own take on the record. Entitled 'McLemore Avenue' (the address of Stax HQ), it was a completely instrumental interpretation of the Beatles record that itself had only been released a matter of months earlier.

The Von Bondies were as much influenced by the r&b stars on labels such as Stax, as they were by the noisy garage bands of the same period. They recorded a version of Try A Little Tenderness which appeared as the hidden bonus track on their second album. It doesn't sound much like Otis' version, but then you wouldn't expect it to. I love it, but I doubt everyone will.

I've also included a segment of track 4 from 'McLemore Avenue'. It only had four actual tracks, but Booker T and the boys decided to expand on the Beatles' approach of song montages and segued a number of songs together, creating lengthy continuous medleys. There's some nice guitar work by the boy Cropper in there too.


Friday 23 October 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #40: Freak Scene

Back in June, Adam wrote the following about Dinosaur Jr.'s definitive moment Freak Scene: "J Mascis’ guitar sound is brilliant - controlled but chaotic, spinning distorted notes off all over the place. His vocals are resigned, almost bored to tears with the whole thing. Post-indie punk, pre-grunge, with a pop tune. And swearing too." It's a perfect description.

I really don't recall when or where I first heard Freak Scene, but I probably loved it right away. I've never changed my opinion. Whenever it crops up on a playlist in the car I crank the volume up and holler: "Just don't let me fuck up will you / 'Cause when I need a friend it's still you."

Few bands represent 'indie' like Dinosaur Jr., and if 'indie' should have a theme song, there are few better contenders than Freak Scene. They were pretty dysfunctional as a band and they sounded it. Sometimes that weird chemistry just works in the most unpredictable way and the results are pretty startling. Mascis signs off by drawling: "What a mess." Indeed. What a beautiful mess.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Welsh Wednesday #58

All I Wanna Do by The School

Some of you will know that Brian over at the magnificent Linear Tracking Lives is a big fan of The School. If you've still not taken his hints and investigated their poptastic tunes, think of them as like a kind of cross between Camera Obscura and Cinerama produced by Phil Spector. They are based in Cardiff and the cover of their latest album was shot in Kelly's, the wonderful record emporium where I've purchased a number of singles I've featured in the Vintage Vinyl series.

The picture above was shot in Cardiff's Roath Park. The clock tower in the background is a memorial to Captain Scott and his expedition to the Antarctic. You may not know that Scott and his crew not only had Cardiff connections, but that the expedition set sail from there.[1] The goose, as far as I'm aware, is neither a member of The School, nor connected to Scott. It is, however, one of many wonderful birds that frequent Roath Park all year round. Do pay them a visit if you're ever in the area.

Anyway, All I Wanna Do was The School's debut single released in 2008. It later featured on their debut album 'Loveless Unbeliever' in 2010. It's a great tune with some lovely backing vocals. I'm still in two minds what to do about this series at the moment, but with songs like this in the locker it really would be a shame to end it.

[1] If you're interested, you can read more here.

Monday 19 October 2015

Vintage Vinyl #12

Homosapien by Pete Shelley 7"
Bought from: Kelly's
Price paid: £3

A tad pricey? Hmm, maybe, but it's in decent nick and above all it's a cracking tune. Homosapien was the first single Pete Shelley released as a solo artist following the Buzzcocks' split. Released in 1981, it set the standard for electronic-influenced new wave for the next few years. You probably know of its BBC ban (for its supposedly explicit references to gay sex: "Homo superior in my interior...") and that it and other songs from the resulting album of the same name grew out of demos for an intended fourth Buzzcocks album. But did you know producer Martin Rushent's next job would be on the Human League's 'Dare'? After 'Homosapien' it seems like a logical move in hindsight.

While the media and Buzzcocks fans were miffed at Shelley's new direction, Homosapien became a big club hit, especially in the States where it made the Billboard Club Play top 20. It was also a top 10 hit in Canada. In Shelley's UK homeland however, it failed to chart. The following year, the song was re-released and again did nothing over here. A shame because it is probably the best non-Buzzcocks thing he ever did. Shelley's solo career was, erm, patchy to say the least. Homosapien could be the last great song he made, even post-Buzzcocks reformation.

So £3 - worth it? Kelly's is rather expensive, but it seduces me on every visit. Lovely, sweet vinyl in little plastic sleeves, glistening and gleaming, whispering "buy me Robster... buuuuuy meeeeee..." Three quid? Oh, go on then...


Saturday 17 October 2015

Autumnal covers #7

Following on from last week's post which you may have missed, two more Kate Bush covers this week. Way, way back in time (like the mid-90s), when I was working for my then local rag, I saw China Drum. A local promoter was trying to bring some bigger bands to the area. China Drum were creating a buzz nationally and were available. He booked them for a new venue he managed to get into. This was probably his biggest mistake. For the venue was a pub in the mid-Devon village of Bow. In the middle of bloody nowhere. There were about 12 people there. For what it's worth, China Drum were actually pretty good, and they played their full-blooded version of Wuthering Heights.

Ra Ra Riot hail from Syracuse, NY. Their debut album came out in 2008 and it featured a version of one of Kate's oddest songs, Suspended In Gaffa, from my fave album of hers 'The Dreaming'. It's OK, but fails to set my pulse racing in the way our Kate does. But you have to salute their gumption for trying. They've not made a total hash of it, it's just a bit... meh! That's not something Kate was ever guilty of.


Friday 16 October 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #39: Do You Realize??

My love affair with the Flaming Lips was short-lived, but I still rate Do You Realize?? as a song that just has to accompany me when my time is up. How many other songs about death do you know that are as celebratory and anthemic as this?

I suppose it is a bit of an obvious one. I came to Flaming Lips through 'The Soft Bulletin', but was blown away by Do You Realize?? when I downloaded it around its release in August 2002. It made the album purchase a no-brainer. It remains one of the band's most accessible tracks, though that may in part be because the stuff they've put out over the last few years has been largely unlistenable. Either way, it's a terrific pop song.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was conceived during a dark period. While recording the 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots' album, Steven Drozd was having a tough time kicking heroin. Wayne Coyne had also recently lost his father and the combination of the two inspired him to write a song about how precious and fragile life is. It was also a life-affirming love song to his wife. To me, it's a song about facing death head-on and not being afraid, about how people come and people go and each of us needs to try and get as much out of our short existence as possible.

If three and a half minutes of your life is spent listening to this song, even just the once, it's been worth it.

(I have to be honest - as much as Wayne Coyne irritates me nowadays, the video does make me smile. Quite a lot, actually.)

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Welsh Wednesday #57

How Come by The Earth

I'm struggling to maintain momentum with this series of late. Interest in it amongst readers has reached an all-time low. So I'm really hoping this week's song is the one that can turn things around and convince you all that Wales truly is the epicentre of popular music. To be fair, it is an absolute belter.

The genesis of The Earth came about when Dafydd Ieuan (drummer of Super Furry Animals) was making music with The Peth, who also featured the vocal talents of Dionne Bennett. Later, at a family wedding, Daf bumped into Mark Thomas, formerly of Catatonia. The pair teamed up to write songs for Dionne, but it soon became clear that a band was evolving and, along with bassist Tristan Marley (ex-The Scooters), The Earth became a bonafide four-piece.

The band's debut album 'Off/On 1' is just wonderful; 36 minutes of Northern Soul infused with a touch of psychedelia and a hint of Welsh rock. Dionne Bennett uses her voice smartly, never over-singing yet belting it out when the mood calls for it. Last year's follow-up 'Keltic Voodoo Boogaloo' was less retro and soul with more emphasis on the rock and psychedelic elements. It's no less invigorating and enjoyable though.

So the series-saving song? How Come is from The Earth's debut and just knocks me for six whenever I hear it. Listen to it and tell me you're unmoved. Tell me the Welsh scene has nothing to offer you. Go on - tell me; I dare you.


Monday 12 October 2015

Memories of 2015 gigs 9

#9: The Darling Buds
Le Pub, Newport - 4th October, 2015 ('We Shall Overcome' anti-austerity benefit)
Support: Helen Love, Thee Faction, Burning Ferns

The Tory scum government we've been lumbered with seems intent on running those of us who are not blessed with ridiculous wealth and power into the ground. They do not give a shit. Seriously. That is their mandate and by god they're doing everything they can to see it through. Unsurprisingly, whenever the Tory scum is in power, a wave of rebellion seems to follow. People are actually getting off their arses and trying to make a difference. Instead of blaming the Left and immigrants, we are actually intelligent enough to see what's happening.

We Shall Overcome is a movement aimed at raising awareness of poverty, homelessness and the other symptoms of the cruel austerity measures Cameron and his public school knobhead mates have forced upon us. The first weekend of October saw a host of events across the UK which not only attempted to make people aware of what's happening, but also try to help, in some small way, those in need. Newport's Le Pub hosted four days of music and literary shows. Tickets were cheap, but donations of cash, food and other essentials were encouraged. MrsRobster and I made it to the final night which had a bill I just couldn't resist: the Darling Buds AND Helen Love? Together? No-brainer.

The show opened with an unbilled act who failed to set the place alight. However, Newport's Burning Ferns followed and that's when things picked up. Shimmering power-pop in the traditions of Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Now as you might have guessed, I was born and raised a Socialist; red blood flows through my veins. On the strength of this alone, Thee Faction from Reigate in Surrey would have got a thumbs up from me. However, the fact that they were quite frankly brilliant simply added to the occasion. Imagine, if you will, a nine-piece rhythm & blues outfit with an exuberant frontman, blasting out top-notch Socialist anthems with passion and humour; imagine they sound like a cross between early Dexy's, Dr. Feelgood and Chumbawamba; imagine their tunes being punchy, catchy and full of energy. That's Thee Faction. I love the fact their brass section call themselves Brass Kapital, too! MrsRobster has already scoured YouTube to find out more. They consider Le Pub "a home from home" so we'll be looking out for their next visit.

Helen Love was playing her only gig of 2015. I'd never seen her before but expected something fun and high-spirited. It didn't really happen. For starters, Helen doesn't look like a pop star. She looked like a housewife who'd got lost whilst doing the school run. She stood in the same spot for most of the show, swigging from a bottle of water, never once interacting with the audience, not even to say hello or goodnight. Her set was rammed with old faves though - Yeah Yeah We're Helen Love, Joey Ramoney, Girl About Town... all present and correct. A few excitable middle-aged fans at the front jumped about a bit, but for me it soon became a little boring. A rousing rendition of Does Your Heart Go Boom at the finale almost put Helen in danger of actually moving and showing a bit of vigour, but aside from that it was a tad frustrating. MrsRobster wasn't impressed either: "How many times can you bloody mention the Ramones?" was her parting shot.

The Darling Buds bear little resemblance to the band who lit up the indie scene in the late 80s/early 90s, with only singer Andrea Lewis remaining from the original line-up, though various other former members do make up the numbers. My spirits were lifted when Shame On You was blurted out right from the off. From that point on we got a spot-on run through of the band's back catalogue, from the early pop of If I Said and Hit The Ground, through the psychedelia-tinged second album and the sparkling, but sadly overlooked, final attempt at stardom that was 'Erotica'. The highlight was the back-to-back triple whammy of Sure Thing, Tiny Machine and Let's Go Round There, though there were also a couple of surprises in the form of Honeysuckle and Big Head.

The cause was a worthy one and the music was generally top-notch. All that for a fiver and a few tins of food? Thatcher will be spinning in her grave. Good!


Sunday 11 October 2015

Special celebratory Welsh Sunday

To mark the Welsh national football team's remarkable achievement of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships - their first major tournament in 58 years - I'm posting an appropriate tune.

Despite losing to Bosnia last night, the team's wonderful performances over the last couple of years have brought them deserved success after decades of failure. Add to that the nation's injury-ravaged rugby team reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup and it's a time of great excitement in Welsh sport right now.

So here's Catatonia and their rousing anthem International Velvet. Now, I'm English, but being an honorary Welshman (according to my mates) even I can relate to how the people of my adopted homeland can sing, with heartfelt abandon, "Everyday when I wake up I thank the lord I'm Welsh."

Saturday 10 October 2015

Autumnal covers #6

Early followers of this 'ere blog will know I am massively stupidly in love with Kate Bush and her weird and utterly wonderful world. I'm not the only one, you know. Now, if I had much in the way of musical talent, I probably still wouldn't really try to cover one of Kate's songs as there's no way I think I could ever do it justice. There are those who do possess such talent, however, and are brave enough to have a go. There have, as expected, been mixed results.

Jane Birkin is better known for her saucy vocals on Je'taime...Moi Non Plus with Serge Gainsbourg, but she's been making records of her own since the early 70s - 12 studio albums to date. In 2006 she released 'Fiction' which contained a rather lovely version of Kate's Mother Stands For Comfort. Ian Black was once the bass player of Field Music. Nowadays he records as Slug and released his debut album back in the Spring. He's also put out a version of another Kate Bush song from 'Hounds Of Love' - Big Sky. In his words:

"The approach was not try to match the majestic original (for I would have lost....badly) and have some fun with it. It has Rundgren pianos, daft synthesisers, a Led Zeppelin breakdown and myself struggling with the vocal delivery that only Kate would be able to pull off so brilliantly. Hope you enjoy it."

I did, actually.


Friday 9 October 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #38: Free Range

As a rule of thumb, you either love the Fall, or you hate the Fall. But you know, I've always been a rule breaker. I neither love nor hate them. I admire them - or more to the point, I admire Mark E. Smith - and I like some of their music. A lot of it I can take or leave. Smith is a bit of a twat sometimes. OK, quite often, but stone me he's unique and still one of the most interesting people in music, even if I can only understand three or four words in any sentence he speaks.

I never bought much music by the Fall, just the odd single here and there. But I bought Free Range. And I LOVE Free Range. I really, really LOVE Free Range. It's a fucking fantastic single and one of the best to grace my record collection. I hadn't actually heard it when I bought it. I did so on the strength of it being 99p and that it was housed in a limited edition, numbered, hand-painted sleeve. Bargain, I thought. I did things like that back then. It was 1992 and I had disposable income see, and I was working in a record shop. I didn't realise what a bargain it was until I took the thing home and played it.

Musically, it wasn't vastly different to the band's recent work, though it was tinged with some electronics that just seemed to give it that extra dimension. Lyrically, it showcases some typical MES streams of consciousness. Influenced by the fall of the Iron Curtain, Smith references old East European regions (Moravia, Moldavia) and German culture (Also Sprach Zarathustra, This Will Be A Spring Without End). Exactly what he's on about is anyone's guess, but it's one of the very few Fall tunes I can actually 'sing' along with.

There are several versions of Free Range out there; the single mix is far superior to the thinner-sounding album version in my opinion. Hardcore Fall fans will no doubt disagree with me here, but Free Range is by far the best track the Fall ever made. Released 23 years ago, it marks a peak in their career. It just scraped the Top 40 and they've not been close to it since, chart-wise, but the Fall were never about chart positions. They were never about... well, anything in particular I suppose. While Smith and his current band of troubadours appear to be on a roll both creatively and critically, Free Range is where the Fall really nailed it as far as I'm concerned. I mean, how can you resist Mark squeaking "It pays to talk to no one - NO ONE!"

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Welsh Wednesday #56

#56: I Tried To Find It In Books by The Keys

The Keys hail from Cardiff and don't believe in faffing around. For instance, their latest album 'Ring The Changes' (which came out a year ago) was recorded to 8-track in a single weekend. This retains the scuzzy, lo-fi feel they exude when they play live. I suppose if you want some reference points to their sound, it's probably going to be Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, though they cite Velvet Underground, the Stooges and Violent Femmes.

They seem to appeal to marketing companies with two of their songs recently used in women's fashion ads - this one for Missguided and this lovely lingerie ad for Peacocks. I Tried To Find It In Books is taken from 2011's debut full-length 'Bitten By Wolves'. It's a corking, no-nonsense rock and roll number. When released as a single, it was given a radical psychedelic makeover by none other than Cian Ciaran of Super Furry Animals and Zephyr Wolves. I've decided to spoil you this week by giving you both versions. No need to thank me, just check The Keys out and share the love.

Monday 5 October 2015

This Monday Reggae Feeling

Lion Rock by Culture

Now if there's a reggae band that knew a damn good tune, it was Culture. They've made some cracking songs over the years, their most famous being Two Sevens Clash and The International Herb. Both are more than worthy of being included in this series, but for me, Lion Rock wins out every time.

Singer Joseph Hill played with bands and deejayed around Jamaica for several years before forming Culture in 1976. He was the only constant member of the band for 30 years, releasing no fewer than 19 albums, before his death in 2006. He is regarded as one of reggae's greatest voices - and rightly so. Culture continue to this day, Hill's son Kenyatta now fronting the band.

Lion Rock was the title track of Culture's eighth studio album released in 1982. That same year, the band recorded their first of four sessions for John Peel. Included in the set was this brilliant version of Lion Rock which I have to admit I prefer to the studio cut. An outstanding four and a half minutes of Jamaican bliss.


Saturday 3 October 2015

Autumnal covers #5

Horses are such magnificent beasts, are they not? Majestic and graceful, and if you back the right one potentially lucrative! No surprise then that they provide such inspiration to songwriters. Two jaw-droppingly good horsey songs are offered today.

There's a lot of love for the Sundays in these parts as regular readers will know. They once did a gorgeous version of the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses, probably one of Mick 'n' Keef's finest moments, I reckon. When sung by Harriet Wheeler, its beauty is magnified a thousand-fold. Lovely.

Diane Birch is a singer-songwriter from Michigan. Although steeped in gospel, soul and R&B, and despite being brought-up in a deeply religious household, she was a goth in her teens. In 2010, she teamed up with NYC's Phenomenal Handclap Band to record a 7-track EP called 'The Velveteen Age' featuring songs she listened to at that time. The pièce de résistance is her version of the Sisters Of Mercy's enormous goth anthem This Corrosion, but that's got nothing to do with horses. Instead, I'm posting another track from said EP, her take on Echo And The Bunnymen's sublime Bring On The Dancing Horses. She really doesn't do a bad job at it.

I canter think of a-neigh-thing else to write about horses. Off I trot.


This post is dedicated to George, whose animal-related posts over at Jim McLean's Rabbit are sorely missed.

Friday 2 October 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #36 & #37: Don't Look Back....

#36: Don't Look Back In Anger by Oasis
#37: Don't Look Back Into The Sun by The Libertines

I suppose both these bands most people either love or hate. I was always an Oasis fan, though not fanatically so. I can't defend some of their poorer output, but will always make a strong case for them being one of the best rock bands of our time, and one of the greatest singles bands ever. The Libertines on the other hand were just a bunch of twats who got lucky. That's the way I see it, anyway. In spite of this, they did make a few good tunes and one absolutely outstanding one. Oasis made a number of outstanding tunes and one in particular that just gets me every time.

Don't Look Back In Anger stood out the very first time I heard the 'Morning Glory' album. I bought it in Portsmouth while on my journalism training. I went back to my lodgings and it knocked me sideways at how good it actually was. But Don't Look Back In Anger really did take things to another level. I've always preferred Noel's vocals to Liam's, and his soaring chorus really shows just what a good singer and great songwriter he is. OK, so in essence, the song steals blatantly from Let It Be and Watching The Wheels, but that matters not to me. It's a real, proper, magnificent TUNE and still moves me some 20 years on.

I thought the first Libertines album was OK, but I wasn't fussed on the band themselves. I also thought their fans were a bit creepy and scary, kind of like besotted One Direction fans on heroin. Anyway, I was willing to accept they were not bad at the songwriting lark, but they just sounded a little too rambunctious to be taken seriously. Then they released Don't Look Back Into The Sun and suddenly it became clear. Not only is it the best song in the Libertines' repertoire, it's also a strong contender for song of the decade. Its intro reminds me of Another Girl Another Planet, the way the lone playful guitar starts things off, before being joined by the other instruments. Then, when it properly kicks in, there's a great little lead riff before the vocals start. Like Don't Look Back In Anger, it is an outstanding TUNE and really turns me into a grinning idiot.

Though the two songs are very different to each other, there are a number of parallels. The similarity in the titles for a start, and the fact that neither band ever bettered these efforts, although in fairness, Oasis got a lot closer to it than the Libertines (whose second album was rubbish). I'm not in the least bit interested in the Libertines reunion, nor was I ever even remotely fascinated by the various members' other projects. I am a fan of Noel Gallagher's solo stuff though, but Liam's Beady Eye output was very below par.

I suppose trying to compare these songs with any of their respective creators' other work is a bit like comparing a cappuccino served by a beautiful waitress on a sunny Italian piazza to a dodgy mug of Tesco own-brand instant coffee round your mate's house the night after a particularly heavy binge.