Monday, 30 November 2015

Jeans Genie

It's always good when an artist never rests on their laurels and continues to evolve. Even better when they completely reinvent themselves without warning. Some of them are like chameleons, forever changing their colours making it difficult to know exactly what they're up to. Beth Jeans Houghton is a chameleon.

Her self-titled debut EP in 2008 showed her to be ambitious and difficult to pin down, though the psych-folk label would probably apply, whatever it means. The second EP the following year had a much more country and bluegrass feel to it.

It was her full-length debut album that really raised the bar though. Now recording with her backing band The Hooves Of Destiny, there was another shift in musical direction. While she retained a folky element, the music on 'Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose' sounded at turns operatic, soulful and sometimes rather eccentric. There were, however, some cracking tunes on there, and it was actually one of my top five albums of 2012.

After a failed attempt at a second album with the Hooves Of Destiny, Houghton suffered a breakdown and retreated to the US. There she travelled the country and teamed up on her journey with Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring. Every so often, a song would emerge.

With a renewed vigour, Beth returned to the UK to record a new album. For this one, she decided a change of musical style wasn't enough - she felt a name change was in order too. Now bearing the Du Blonde moniker, Beth released 'Welcome Back To Milk' earlier this year and it's another belter. Altogether rockier than all her previous efforts, it nonetheless retains an eclectic range of sounds.

The two albums are well worth investigating if you're not familiar with Beth Jeans Houghton's work and you like what you've heard here. It remains to be seen what she'll get up to next.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

From Inside The Pod Revisited #13

Pod 32: re:Covering 6
(compiled Easter 2012 - previously unreleased)

You can consider today's post a treat. My Autumnal Covers series didn't really seem to go down as well as I had hoped, but I enjoyed it anyway. By way of heralding its demise, I decided to dust down a podcast I compiled for the old blog but never posted. It was, in fact, the very last one I did. From Inside The Pod bit the dust before I had even written any notes for it. So what you are getting today is a previously unreleased podcast with brand new notes and artwork.

Turns out I recently posted one of the tracks in the Autumnal Covers series (the Melys one), but I'm not going to let that dissuade me from sharing it. And there's the obligatory Cardiacs track too.

1. Drugstore - Sugar Sugar [1995, b-side of Fader]
original by The Archies
Now here's a band I always liked. Drugstore seemed to revive the sound of the Velvet Underground and had the tunes to match. Isabel Monteiro's lazy delivery even seemed to emulate Lou Reed. Sugar Sugar was a hit for The Archies, a made-up band who were presented purely in cartoon form. The original Gorillaz, perhaps. Then again, maybe not...

2. Smashing Pumpkins - Never Let Me Down Again [1993, BBC Evening Session]
original by Depeche Mode
Ever wondered where Billy Corgan ever lost that long mop of hair he sported back in the Smashing Pumpkins' early days? I'll tell you where it is. It got stuck up his arse when he tried to pull his head out of it one night. I do find him ridiculously irritating, yet the first two or three Pumpkins albums were just pure class. As were Depeche Mode from the late 80s to mid-90s. Never Let Me Down originally opened 1987's brilliant 'Music For The Masses' album and remains one of the band's best tracks. Corgan and his cohorts offer a more downbeat take on it, but it's still a worthy version.

3. Melys - Girls On Film [2004, Peel Session]
original by Duran Duran
As I mentioned a couple months ago: "I absolutely fucking hate Duran Duran." So that's quite enough about them. As for Melys: "Melys have featured on these fair pages a couple of times before, but are always worthy of another mention. The Welsh wonders once did a version of Girls On Film for a John Peel session in 2004. It was their eighth and final session for the great man who passed away later that year. Quite frankly, Duran Duran are not fit to lick Melys' boots. So there!"

4. Stephenhero - A Forest [2008, Spring 08 EP]
original by The Cure
Stephenhero is the solo project of Kitchens Of Distinction frontman Patrick Fitzgerald. He's released a series of EPs and free tracks through his website. One of those tracks was his ghostly cover of The Cure's A Forest, one of my top five fave Cure songs. Wonderful, this.

5. Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy - California Über Alles [1992, Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury]
original by Dead Kennedys
An updated version of the Dead Kennedy's classic from Michael Franti's overtly political (and brilliant) Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy. As sadly short-lived as they were, they did release one of my fave albums of the 90s 'Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury'. As for the Dead Kennedys - one of the greatest and most important bands that ever existed. I maintain that if you don't like them, there's something wrong with you. Very wrong...

6. 2 Nice Girls - Sweet Jane (With Affection) [1989, 2 Nice Girls]
originals by the Velvet Underground and Joan Armatrading
Both the Velvet Underground and Joan Armatrading have featured within these pages before. The former in particular have been a long-time fave of mine. I know bugger all about 2 Nice Girls other than what their Wiki page tells us. There were four of them and they described themselves as "dyke rock". They released just two albums and an EP; this clever intertwining of Lou Reed's evergreen Sweet Jane and Joan's Love And Affection featured on their debut.

7. Plastic Bertrand - Sha La La La Lee [1978, AN 1]
original by Small Faces
Poor Plastic Bertrand, he really did try. One massive worldwide hit with Ça Plane Pour Moi, then almost total obscurity until a stint at representing Luxembourg at the Eurovision Song Contest brought failure. Nowadays he's viewed as little more than a novelty. Probably still makes a bob or two from royalties of that song though. The Small Faces however - different kettle of fish. One of the best bands to come out of the 60s, and in Steve Marriot one of rock's finest voices. Sha-La-La-La-Lee was the band's third single and the first of their 8 top ten hits.

8. Cardiacs - Suzannah's Still Alive [1990, single from Shangri-La - A Tribute to The Kinks]
original by Dave Davies
Dave Davies was always overshadowed by his brother Ray in the Kinks. He did attempt to record a solo album but it never got beyond a couple of singles, one of which was Suzannah's Still Alive. It's almost as if it was written for Cardiacs; it sounds like it could be a Tim Smith composition. As it is, it's the only cover Cardiacs ever recorded. Here's the glorious video:

9. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - Hit [1993, b-side of Lean On Me, I Won't Fall Over]
original by the Sugarcubes
Björk's take on an accidental pregnancy was the Sugarcubes' only hit single. Funny that, huh? Do you think they knew it was going to be when they titled it? Carter beat it to a pulp as they tended to do with most songs they covered. While not their finest moment, it is quintessentially Carter and that's never a bad thing in my book. (Oh, and check the original's vid out - Björk is just adorable...)

10. Catherine Wheel - Spirit Of Radio [1996, Like Cats & Dogs]
original by Rush
You'll know from my early posts on Is This The Life? that I'm not afraid to share my guilty pleasures with you. Well, in my teens, when I discovered metal and classic rock, I adored Rush's Spirit Of Radio. Still do, if I'm being honest. Later, when I was heavily into indie, I loved Catherine Wheel. Still do, if I'm being honest. Here, that pairing comes together. OK, so I'm not convinced it's as amazing as its constituent parts, but it's a fun way to end nonetheless.


Friday, 27 November 2015

Memories of a thousand* gigs #46

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

#46: Hawkwind
Summer Daze Festival, Stapleton Farm, Langtree - 27th July 1996
Support: Trip, Captain Rizz, Bates Motel + about 30 other bands and DJs
Also present: MrsRobster (before she became MrsRobster)

I'm sure it must be written in some ancient rock and roll text that every man, woman and child who has ever attended live music events since 1970 must have seen Hawkwind at least once. It is pretty much a given, even if you don't remember it. My one and only experience of the Grandmasters of Space Rock came just a few miles from my house in deepest, darkest North Devon.

Summer Daze was a one-day festival that had run a few times in the area. Its main organiser was a lovely guy called Alex Duncan and the site was his parents' farm. I knew Alex in my capacity as the local music journalist and I'd covered his band Circle Of Hands a few times. A year or so later, I would venture into his recording studio with the band I was playing in at the time and he would produce our demo 'Hubris'. My involvement in the festival aside from writing about it in the rag, was to pen a few programme notes about some of the performers.

The future MrsRobster and I had only been going out for seven months. Being the old romantic that I am, I wondered what possible better way there was to express my love than to take her to see Hawkwind in a field and spend the night in a tent. Yeah, I knew how to spoil her alright. Of course, this meant I was not going to end up like I had done at previous Summer Daze events. One year, I ended up eating most of the chocolate cake I'd baked, and passed out under the mixing desk. It was probably down to a certain ingredient in the cake...

I got thanked! (click to enlarge)
There were three stages - the Main Stage, the Fluid Emissions Stage (curated by a local promoter of young bands) and a dance stage. I flitted between two of them throughout the day, and spent an awful lot of the time talking to people and drinking cider. To be honest, my memories of the day are extremely vague, except for one element: the headliners.

I'd only ever had a passing interest in Hawkwind, but I was captivated by their show. The lights were extraordinary and the music enthralling. It didn't really matter what they played (to me, anyway) as I wasn't familiar with most of their work, and there were a fair few others there I suspect were in the same boat. However, Silver Machine was the one true common denominator and the whole place came alive. I thought one day I would try to see Hawkwind again, but it never happened. It remains the only show of theirs I've ever been to. In fact, it was also the last time MrsRobster and I have spent a night under canvas.

This was the final Summer Daze Festival. There were stories of bikers gatecrashing the site without paying, and of some people trying to wreck the stage. In the end, the main reason was one of money; Alex made a massive loss and ultimately this would prove the death knell for Summer Daze. But he wasn't bitter. As he told me: "It's everyone's dream to have their favourite band playing in their back garden. I actually did it."


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Welsh Wednesday #63

#63: Drug Store Woman by Budgie

Time for some proper Welsh rock. Swansea's Budgie are actually one of the most influential acts to ever emerge from Wales. They have been cited as a major influence by the likes of Metallica, Iron Maiden and Queens Of The Stone Age. All these, along with Van Halen, Soundgarden and plenty others besides have covered Budgie songs. They were the first heavy metal band to play a gig behind the 'Iron Curtain' (in Poland in 1982) and were huge in Texas!

Along with the likes of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, Budgie pioneered heavy rock in the 70s and continued into the 80s before breaking up in 1988. A brief reformation to play some live shows took place in 1995, but it wasn't until the turn of the decade that a more solid line-up got back on track, initially playing live, but eventually releasing their first album in 24 years in 2006 with 'You're All Living In Cuckooland'. In 2010, singer Burke Shelley suffered an aneurism and resulting surgery left him unable to perform. The band has been on hiatus since, but not officially broken up.

So, today's Welsh Wednesday track takes us all the way back to 1972 and the band's second album 'Squawk'. Drug Store Woman sounds like it could have come out of the Led Zeppelin songbook of blues standards, but it was in fact written by the then Budgie lineup. Something to get your blood pumping. Gadewch i rocio![1]

[1] Trans. 'Let's rock!'

Monday, 23 November 2015

It Came From Japan #6: Stereopony

Back with the girls this week. And when I say girls, that's really not far off. Stereopony were all still in their teens when they formed in 2007. Their career was short - a mere five years - but they enjoyed a taste of success, releasing three albums in the process.

Their sound is probably best described as pop-punk in the Weezer mould and they certainly had the polish and sheen that the might of the Sony Corporation could lavish upon them. They provided a number of themes to anime shows which no doubt aided their popularity. The band split following singer Aimi's throat surgery.

My favourite track of their's is Viva La Viva La which featured on the final album 'More! More!! More!!!', possibly their best. Cracking track and everso slightly barmy. I've also included Hanbuko a highlight from their second album.


Here's the video for Stereopony's debut single.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Autumnal Covers 12

Aside from a special bonus treat for you next week, this is the last of the Autumnal Covers series. Yep, it's almost winter. However, I simply couldn't let the series pass without a mention of the great man himself - "Our Dave" - Mr Bowie. Now there are countless Bowie covers to choose from, some brilliant, some not so brilliant and some, pretty bloody awful. Of course, Dave is fond of a cover himself, taking on everyone from Jacques Brel and the Beach Boys to Jonathan Richman and Pixies.

For today's post, I've decided to plump for a couple of the not awful interpretations of early Bowie songs; you can decide how high they rate in the grand spectrum of things. The first sees Mancunian legends The Chameleons tackling Moonage Daydream. Originally recorded in 1971 as part of Bowie's side-project Arnold Corns, it flopped when released as a single (only 800 copies were sold, so the story goes). The following year it got made over by the Spiders From Mars line-up and featured on the 'Ziggy Stardust' LP. The Chameleons don't do anything radical with it, but they do extend the coda and in doing do add a more satisfying conclusion to the song, in my opinion. It closed the band's last album 'This Never Ending Now' from 2002.

Mercury Rev have churned out a few decent covers in their time. Memories Of A Free Festival originally appeared on Bowie's second self-titled record (later rechristened 'Space Oddity'). When released as a single, it was re-recorded and split into two halves, one on each side. Mercury Rev chose to do the second part (aka 'part 2') for their 2006 compilation 'Stillness Breathes'. Like the Chameleons, they don't go overboard, opting instead to go all out on the closing section. Quite a majestic end to the series, I think.


Friday, 20 November 2015

Memories of 2015 gigs 10 & 11

#10: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Colston Hall, Bristol - 23rd October 2015
Support: Dead Rat Orchestra

So this was always going to be something a bit special. I wasn't disappointed. It was worth going out of my way to pick up our mate Colin in Cardiff, getting lost trying to get out of Bristol after the show and even the ridiculous people who went to the gig only to spend most of it running in and out of the auditorium to go to the bar/toilet every 20 minutes while I tried to immerse myself in the extraordinary sounds of GYBE.

Colin was immediately taken by the support act, a couple of blokes with bushy beards called Dead Rat Orchestra who describe themselves as "avant-folk". They were a bit like putting John Cage, Dead Can Dance and a wily old fisherman in a room together to see what happens. I wasn't convinced, but Col has bought their CD so I'm not going to argue.

Godspeed were an altogether different affair though. Two hours of enormous, slow-building epics that not only filled the Colston Hall, but pretty likely the whole of the city. They appeared onstage gradually. An opening drone kept us on tenterhooks before the cellist and violinist entered stage right. For the majority of the show though, all 8 members (and their massive supporting cast of effects pedals) combined to create a sonic thunder of post-rock tension and euphoria. Visuals flickered and pulsed on the screen behind them, but they were somewhat secondary and, other than during the final track, didn't really add a great deal to the overall performance. No vocals, of course, but who needs them? GYBE's music says more than mere words can.

Both longform tracks from the band's latest album 'Asunder, Sweet And Other Success' were aired, but like everything they play live, were altered or rearranged for the concert setting. Highlights included Gathering Storm (a segment of Storm from the band's seminal record 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!') and the quite frankly incredible closer The Sad Mafioso (a segment of East Hastings from debut album 'F#A#∞').

MrsRobster said there were times she drifted off and forgot where she was before being drawn back in by the music again. This is probably the intended effect of the band's music. It does transport you sometimes, although sadly too often for the younger 'hip' members of the audience and their ever-shortening attention spans, it was to the bar. For those of us who do not seek instant gratification, who can sit for two hours without once checking our phones, who can remain riveted to a 20-minute instrumental piece, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor show can be a highlight of our year.


#11: Slaves
The Great Hall, Cardiff Uni - 15th November 2015
Support: Wonk Unit, Spring King

I'm not a big fan of the Great Hall, if I'm being honest. It just sounds so hollow in there. And it's full of students. Bah! I don't care if it is in the Student Union building, they're still all annoying little brats, aren't they? At least I had MrsRobster with me for some grown-up company. Mind, I use the term 'grown-up' rather loosely in her case...

Anyway, despite the distorted loudness and obnoxious bearded folk, this turned out to be well worth the entry fee, well worth venturing out on a diabolical stormy Sunday evening for, and yes, even well worth spending three hours in a hot, sweaty venue surrounded by hot sweaty students. If we're talking about the consistency in quality of the whole bill, then this was probably right up there with our best gigs of the decade so far.

Opening were Spring King whose claim to fame is that they were the first band played by Zane Lowe on Beats 1 radio's opening night. No, me neither. But they do have the potential to make a name for themselves. Some excellent songs, including the cracking new single Who Are You? and last year's Can I?, showed why. While they ran out of steam a little towards the end when it started to get a little samey, I did enjoy most of what I heard. And I say it again - that new single is cracking!

Wonk Unit on the other hand were just staggeringly brilliant from start to finish. They've been a part of the London punk scene for a few years. They feature ex-members of the Flying Medallions and are fronted by poet Alex Johnson. Sound-wise, I'd say Snuff would be a pretty accurate reference point, blending hardcore punk with a touch of ska and a shit-load of humour. Their amazing set included songs about horses, a haunted house, the singer's nan and Lewisham, though Rambo was the majestic highlight. One of the best support bands I've seen in many a year.

It's worth noting that when Slaves started out, it was Wonk Unit who gave them a leg up, getting them gigs and support. Now that the Tunbridge Wells duo have gone stratospheric, they felt it only right to pay their old mates back by taking them on tour. Nice, humble lads yeah? MrsRobster certainly thinks so. Slaves are one of her fave bands and she was taken by how normal and down to earth they seem under the screamy, shouty punk noise they emit. And how they emit it. Two blokes on a stage with just a guitar and a drum kit, yet they conquered.

While their set contained pretty much all their 'Are You Satisfied' album (including my fave, Ninety-Nine, about people who never look up from their fucking mobile phones!), there was room for a couple of new songs, the b-side OK and the fan favourite Where's Your Car, Debbie? Sadly, there was nothing from the debut 'Sugar Coated Bitter Truth' mini-LP, but what we did get was a blast - and I mean BLAST - of fiery punk with a grin on its face a tongue in its cheek. There was a proper mosh-pit, which is something that's becoming increasingly rare these days. They got an audience member on stage to recreate their now dead manta ray that 'swam' about the stage during Feed The Manta Ray. They did an acoustic number whilst perched on top of the speaker tower. Energy in abundance and a deafening noise. I did wonder if Slaves could carry it off in a venue the size of the Great Hall, but on this evidence they could probably shake Wembley Stadium to its foundations.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Welsh Wednesday #62

#62: Start Your Car by Trwbador

Formed in Newport while both members were at university, Trwbador could be described as the missing link between folk and techno. The duo - Owain Gwilym and Angharad Van Rijswijk - moved to Carmarthenshire after uni and slowly built themselves a reputation which saw them gain recognition not just in their native Wales, but right across the UK.

Their minimal, sparse sounds soundtracked ads for Visit Wales and Lindeman's wine, and even inspired the Manic Street Preachers song Builder Of Routines from 'Rewind The Film'. Trwbador's self-titled debut album was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize and they performed at the London 2012 Olympics. Collaborations with Cornershop, Richard James and rapper ESSA followed, and second album 'Several Wolves' was released last year to glowing reviews.

Then things went quiet. Sadly, Trwbador split in September 2015; a real shame as they were gaining a reputation as a serious name for the future. Owain now lives in Berlin and performs under the name Somers, while Angharad remains in West Wales performing as ACCÜ. She also works with Richard James as Project Locus.

I've chosen one of their poppy electronic tracks today. Start Your Car is taken from that second (and final) album and probably sounds a bit like Saint Etienne or Broadcast, or both. Or neither. You decide.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Vintage Vinyl #13

99.9F° by Suzanne Vega 7"
Bought from: D'Vinyl 

Price paid: £1

You may remember I told you about how I had intended to visit D'Vinyl but became waylaid by another record shop along the way. Well, I did make it back to D'Vinyl in Cardiff's student mecca that is Cathays, and I've never seen a place like it. The place is so bursting with records, you actually cannot access them all. There are boxes of records placed on top of boxes of records placed on top of boxes of records. In order to see the ones at the bottom, you have to physically move the ones at the top out of the way. This immediately poses two problems: one - the boxes are very heavy because they are crammed with records; and two - there's nowhere to put them if you do manage to lift them, other than back on top of the records you've just moved them off of!

Of course, this all just adds to the fun and curiosity value. I spent a bit of time there wading through the intimidatingly huge horde but quite frankly you'd need a month to get through the place, and by then there'd be a bunch of new stock to work through. MrsRobster dropped in to haul me out and even she was taken by the place, hanging around for a few minutes to take it in, and even having a chat with the owner, a lovely guy called Huw, who let her take a couple photos of the shop. At some point, I shall venture back in when I've got some time on my hands and money in my wallet. On this particular visit though I managed to contain my excitement and picked up a small clutch of singles.

I quite like Suzanne Vega. She's made some great records, but everyone seems to only remember the first two albums. '99.9F°', released in 1992, was her fourth album and by this time her commercial popularity was on the wane. The title track was released as the album's second single and is an undoubted highlight. I love the dominant bassline, almost reggae-like. Suzanne's voice is warming and reassuring. The overall sound though is somewhat claustrophobic, with a close, comsuming production that perhaps tries to emulate in some way the discomfort of the temperature implied in the title.

I think it's a really good single. The record-buying public didn't agree. But then, when the fuck did the so-called record buying public know anything?


Still not able to rip my vinyl so no b-side I'm afraid. But then, it's just a live version of Tom's Diner. Record companies did this a lot back in the 90s - stick a live version of an old classic on the flip to try and sell a few more copies. A cynical ploy, and I'm not sure it worked.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Autumnal Covers 11

Lemmy has always been one of rock's greatest wild men. Women, whisky and loud, fast rock 'n' roll is what has fuelled him for several decades, and all power to him for that. Sadly, all his excesses are now beginning to show, but he's led more of a life than most of us could ever dream of.

Motörhead once wrote a song in tribute to the Ramones called R.A.M.O.N.E.S in which Lemmy sings "Keep it up, rock n roll / Let the music save your soul". Both Motörhead and the Ramones had parallel careers, though Lemmy's gang have outlasted Da Bruddahs by some 20 years. Interestingly, of all of Motörhead's back catalogue, the Ramones chose to cover the tribute to themselves! Pretentious? Well, I'm not sure you could ever accuse the Ramones of that, but it is a curious choice nonetheless.

Lemmy himself grew up to the sounds the original rock 'n' roll heroes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry et al. As well as Motörhead, for the last 15 years, he's been recording on and off with Head Cat who also feature members of the Stray Cats. They've made three albums of classic-era rock 'n' roll numbers, including a rather raucous reading of Eddie Cochrane's Something Else. Sounds like Lemmy's having an absolute blast.


Friday, 13 November 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #30: Welcome To The Pleasuredome

Intrigue. That's one of the key things that has maintained my love of music all this time. Without it, I'd have lost interest long ago. There is very little intrigue in most music and artists, but those that possess it quite often lure me in. It is rare that maintaining this intrigue crosses over into commercial success, and even rarer that when it does, it is viewed as little more than a novelty. Bowie is one of those rarest of artists - someone who can maintain intrigue, enjoy huge success AND keep it all going for decades.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood weren't so lucky, but my god did they make an impact. They certainly did with me, a curious teenager who didn't seem to fit in properly anywhere. When Relax and Two Tribes took over the airwaves, I was transfixed. Those records, and the clever marketing around them, intrigued me. It dawned on me, perhaps for the first time, that not only was it OK to be different to everyone else, it was way fucking cooler to be so.

Even by today's standards, 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' is an audacious record. For a debut, it is possibly up there as one of the best of all time. Who else would have dared release this following three number one hits, mass crossover appeal and press adoration? They could have lost all that in one fell swoop. It is an album like very few others. It isn't 'safe'; it is imbued with odd snippets of controversy - sex, art and politics colliding like one big dirty weapon of mass destruction. It was a double album too. Like, WTF? As your debut? And with absolutely obscene artwork too? With AIDS the hot topic in 1984, and with FGTH featuring two openly gay members who often wore bondage gear, this brazen act of defiance could well have alienated many. Yet it all fell into place. 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' presented a bonafide phenomenon in all its seedy, sordid detail with a huge unashamed grin on its face.

If I'm going to be honest here, it's difficult to know exactly how much input the band themselves had in the finished product. Stories abounded that all their musical contributions were replaced with session musicians, but even if that was not true it cannot be denied that producer Trevor Horn had a massive hand in the record. Side one, for instance, was a 15-minute musical collage based around the title track which itself lasted about 5 minutes. Side two featured remixes of both smash hits and a b-side. Side three kicked off with a triplet of cover versions, including a rousing take on Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and a surprisingly faithful rendition of Bacharach & David's eternal San Jose.

However, the final third is where the real delights are held. The Ballad of 32, the sound of a woman expressing her sexual pleasure over an instrumental backing track was actually not the flagrant display of Mary Whitehouse-baiting it might appear on the surface, but a soulful conclusion to side three that set us up for the explosion that was Krisco Kisses at the start of side four. This was the sound of the Frankie to come. No one spotted it at the time, but Krisco Kisses hinted at what direction the band would take on their second album. Black Night White Light probably stands out as the highlight of record two and again, would not have sounded that out of place on the follow-up.

The Power Of Love was probably the only song capable of closing the album, showing how the band could be tender and meaningful and create something that would be more endearing and longer-lasting than the rest of their legacy. It also sounded like nothing else on the album, another example of the intrigue Frankie held. What were they actually capable of achieving? How far could they take this? And more immediately - what was next? Well, the follow-up is far from as bad as it's made out to be, but it did spark the band's break-up. It was a more conventional rock album, and Holly Johnson decided he wanted to make dance music. After all, much of Frankie's dominance in the early days had been sustained by the clubs. Many say, stripped bare, it was clear FGTH was an explicit example of style over substance. I disagree, although I admit I was drawn into the hype in a big way. But 31 years later, I still rate 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' as one of the great British albums of all time. It also means a lot to me personally, something of an epiphany moment in my life.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Welsh Wednesday #61

#61: If I Could Shine by The Sweetest Ache

The Sweetest Ache were from Swansea and were held in much reverence on the local South Wales scene. Their debut single If I Could Shine was released on the mighty Sarah Records in 1990. It sounded kind of out of time, coming as it did a few years after the jangly C86 movement and at the peak of the baggy Madchester scene. You could, however, argue that it's more shoegaze than jangle, but if that's true, it's more shoegaze-lite.

They made two albums, 'Jaguar' through Sarah, and the very bland 'Grass Roots' in 1993. There were also half-a-dozen non-album singles but if I'm being honest, nothing quite reached the promise shown by that debut single. They split just a few years after they formed yet still made enough of an impact to be remembered some 20+ years on.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Being Savaged

Different kind of post from me today. I just have to share my love of the new Savages track The Answer with you. Watch/listen to this and tell me it's not totally fucking awesome:

They have form. Here's their last single, the live 9-minute epic that is Fuckers. Seriously intense stuff.

There's definitely a bit of Siouxsie Sioux being channelled through Jehnny Beth. But as well as the voice, the sheer energy and uncompromising nature of the music and performance come through strong. They are primarily a live band. As if to prove the point (not that it needs to be proven), here's an extraordinary appearance on Jools Holland's show a few years back:

The band's second album is due in the new year. Probably on a par with Bowie as my most anticipated album of 2016. They are touring but as yet there's nothing scheduled anywhere near my neck of the woods. Here's hoping...

So you get your MP3 fix, here's a track from Savages' live EP 'I Am Here' from 2012. City's Full appeared on their studio debut the following year. Blinding!


Saturday, 7 November 2015

Autumnal Covers #10

Ssshhhhhhhh...... *silence* ...

Strangely, pop music has long heralded silence. Simon and Garfunkel sang of the Sound Of Silence back in 1965. It remains one of the finest songs of the 60s, one that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stick up with its brilliance. Kimberley Anne, from South London, has great hair and could prove to be a name worth watching. I wrote of her earlier in the year when I saw her support First Aid Kit. MrsRobster is a bit of a fan and was understandably moved by Kimberley's eerie yet sublime take on Sound Of Silence. It is spine-tingling. Few things make me say "Wow!" out loud after hearing them, but this was one of them. She does a cracking version of Womack & Womack's Teardrops too. 

One of Depeche Mode's greatest moments came in the form of Enjoy The Silence, a pivotal moment on the career-defining album that is 'Violator'. What. A. Song. What an album! Many have attempted their own versions of it, with mixed success. Tori Amos likes a cover. In 2001 she released a whole album of them, taking on songs by the likes of Tom Waits, Joe Jackson, Eminem, the Velvet Underground and Slayer. Yes, Slayer! She also did Enjoy The Silence, and her execution of it is masterful. It's minimal and sinister. Say what you like about her - she may be as barmy as a bag of badgers, but Tori is a treasure. I have a soft spot for her, anyway.


Friday, 6 November 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #29: A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window

Just the mere thought of having to justify this album's inclusion in my coffin collection is ludicrous. I mean, you all know how much I worship Mr. Tim Smith. The only question you may have is: Why 'A Little Man...' over the epic 'Sing To God'? Well, it's simply because it is the one I heard first, the record that got me hooked on Cardiacs.

I suppose this is the band's most accessible album, but it can't really be described as 'accessible'; it is a Cardiacs album, after all. It is loaded with good tunes though. Some of them were already familiar to longer-term fans. Three songs - Is This The Life, R.E.S. and A Little Man And A House - had all appeared on the band's previous album 'The Seaside', and Icing On The World had been in the band's live set for a couple of years. The versions that appeared on 'A Little Man And A House' were what I consider to be the definitive ones. This was their best album in terms of sound quality and production (even if the mastering was slightly off). It was also their most consistent collection of songs.

This was Cardiacs - or at least the so-called classic line-up - at their finest. Equally chaotic and ordered, meaningful and nonsensical, funny and sad. Cardiacs, intentionally or otherwise, mastered the art of contradiction, marrying more ideas in a single song than most artists ever dream up in their entire careers. This is the record where it all seemed to come together. There are fans who don't like it, seeing it as a safe, almost commercial record. That's complete rubbish of course, but it was the first Cardiacs record that seemed to make some kind of sense. It hangs together well as a whole and it's a lot of fun. Lots of people would probably hate it more than the guy at the NME who reviewed it when it came out (though I strongly suspect he was just following the edict of the rag at the time which forbade anything remotely positive to be written about Cardiacs). I don't care for those people (well, except MrsRobster).

It's unfair to pick out certain tunes to represent the album, but I've already posted articles on Is This The Life and In A City Lining, so I've gone for a couple of different selections. But for full effect, you really have to have the whole thing.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Welsh Wednesday #60

The Biggest Kick by 60ft Dolls

You guys. Whenever I get one of my irrational meltdowns, your lovely words lift and reassure me. Thus, I've decided to keep this series going. Yaaay! When I was considering drawing it to a close, I decided to get as far as #60 and end where I began - with the 60ft Dolls. Their brilliant Stay was the very first Welsh Wednesday post. That was a song that heralded what should have been a very successful career. It didn't work out that way.

Drained after a gruelling world tour, the band reconvened to record their second album. By the time it was released in 1998, they were no more. It's a shame as it also had some cracking tunes on it, one of which was The Biggest Kick, which wouldn't have been out of place on their debut. Having said that, it does sound a little more produced which I suppose is to be expected. I reckon it might well have been a single had they not split when they did. Good tune, big sound - the sound of Newport during Cool Cymru.

Once again, diolch yn fawr! See you next Welsh Wednesday.

(Sorry for the version below - it's the only one I could find...)

Monday, 2 November 2015

This Monday Reggae Feeling

Blood And Fire by Niney The Observer

Now here's one of THE great reggae tunes. Blood And Fire never fails to get my pulse racing with its infectious riddim and those superb backing vocals: "Burning, burning, burning..."

George Boswell, aka Winston Holmes, is one of the most influential artists and producers in reggae's history. After losing one of his thumbs in an accident - whereupon he gained the nickname 'Niney' - he worked as an engineer for KG Records. He started recording his own songs in the mid-1960s on his own Destroyer label, worked with Bunny Lee and was pivotal in launching the career of Dennis Brown. In 1970 he recorded Blood And Fire for the first time. Released on his new label Observer, it went on to sell more than 30,000 copies in Jamaica.

His reputation as a producer increased throughout the 70s and now recording as Niney The Observer, so did his reputation as a serious artist, though his work behind the controls for other artists dominated.

If you've not heard this song before, you may still be familiar with it. PJ Harvey sampled it on the track Written On The Forehead from her mindblowing album 'Let England Shake' from 2011. The riddim has also been used numerous times on other recordings. The version I'm posting is not the original 1970 version, but a cracking later 12" mix. I'm not sure from where or when it hails, but it hardly matters when it's this good.