Wednesday 27 December 2017

Is this 2017? (part two)

Some blogger and his #2 fave album of the year (more apologies to The Swede...)

More of my top picks of the year, and the girls are dominant again...

Jane Weaver 'Modern Kosmology'
Until Nadine Shah's album came out, this was my favourite record of the year. A surprise seeing as it is rare I would rate anything so electronic so highly, but that seaks volumes. 'Modern Kosmology' has been hailed by many critics as Jane's masterpiece, and it is a real psychedelic/Krautrock odyssey - glistening synths and floaty vocals abound, but at the heart of everything is a good tune. Really good tunes, in fact. Slow Motion is one of my singles of the year, The Architect comes close too. Blissful, shimmery vibes - a proper lazy summer evening album.

It's telling how this record has appeared on so many Best of 2017 lists I've seen so far. A lot of those have posted Slow Motion so I'm going for The Architect just to be different!

British Sea Power - 'Let The Dancers Inherit The Party'
They never let you down, this lot. Another consistently good set of songs infused with some unexpected twists and turns, a bit of weirdness and melodies that stay with you long after the record has finished. Business as usual then.

Mammút - 'Kinder Versions'
Mammút's first English-language record - and their first to be released outside their native Iceland - proved to be a winner. A bit of a departure on their earlier stuff with more keyboards and a more lush production, but that's no bad thing. Some really good songs and sounds on here, making 'Kinder Versions' probably their best record to date.

Waxahatchee - 'Out in The Storm'
Talking of best records to date - Katie Crutchfield just keeps getting better and better. I played this album more times this year than I thought I would and I still haven't grown remotely tired of it. It's one I keep coming back to.

Here's a killer live take of Never Been Wrong featuring Katie playing one of my favourite guitars...

Public Service Broadcasting - 'Every Valley'
Of course, this one was always going to feature, wasn't it. A record about the decline of the South Wales mining industry doesn't immediately invoke 'album of the year'-type thoughts, but what PSB did with 'Every Valley' was bring the emotive elements to the fore to create exactly that. They also drafted in some special guests to sing some proper vocals for the first time. A sign of things to come, perhaps. Here's the angry Miners Strike song:

Other mentions must go to:
Annie Booth - 'An Unforgiving Light'
Marika Hackman - 'I'm Not Your Man'
Further proof (if any were needed) that the fairer sex seems to be making the best music at the moment. I owe CC a pint for introducing me to Annie Booth.

Spiral Stairs - 'Doris & The Daggers'
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 'Who Built The Moon?'
Classic songwriting at the heart of these two records. It's Noel's best to date for sure.

And of course, there was Mark Lanegan Band's 'Gargoyle' and the Popguns' 'Sugar Kisses' that have already been written about a-plenty on other notable blogs from over there on my Blogroll. I ought to also mention Wolf Alice, Cold War Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, Prophets Of Rage, Feist and Bully have also got loads of plays this year. I've probably forgotten plenty others too...

The year was tinged with disappointments as well, though. The Charlatans, one of my favourite bands, delivered a bit of a stinker with 'Different Days', very uncharacteristic of them. Same for Weezer's latest offering 'Pacific Daydream', and Morrissey's 'Low In High School', an at times bordering on awful record. I never thought I'd write that about Moz, but then he's becoming increasingly unlikeable as a person so I don't feel guilty about it. Then there was LCD Soundsystem's comeback record 'American Dream' which sounded like, well, like LCD Soundsystem only with not-as-good songs.

And just to prove the girls aren't infallible I did feel a little let down by the latest efforts by Laura Marling and Torres. Laura, who up to this point has been flawless, seemed to have just channelled Joni Mitchell and just made a 'girl-with-acoustic-guitar-by-numbers' record, while Torres just rehashed Lana Del Ray and made a couple of controversial videos to get people talking. Not good enough.

That's yer lot for now. What of 2018? Well, as you know, I've struggled to keep the momentum up as far as blogging goes so I'm not making any plans for this place beyond Bowie Week and the marking of the blog's 4th (final?) Anniversary. We'll see what happens. Some bloody good music on the way though. Django Django, First Aid Kit, Franz Ferdinand, Buffalo Tom and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club all have new stuff imminent. The Breeders, Yak, Gulp and Estrons will probably all put albums out too. We have tickets booked to see British Sea Power and Belly - yes, THE Belly. They're back! So very much looking forward to those. Whether I'll write about them depends on whether I can be arsed.

See you next year.

Friday 22 December 2017

Is this 2017? (part one)

Some blogger and his #1 fave album of the year (with apologies to The Swede...)

I was going to do something a bit different this year for my end-of-year round-up. I started it, but then the malaise that struck me back in the autumn kicked in again and I just couldn't be bothered to continue. Sorry 'bout that. To be honest, it was a bit of a naff idea anyway. Not that some of you would mind that of course...

So instead, here's a quick run through some of my fave records of 2017. There'll be more next Friday. Firstly though, it's worth noting what a great year it's been for female artists. My two favourite albums of the year have been by solo females, while many others are either female-fronted acts or have significant female contributions. My fave songs on the Broken Social Scene album, for instance, are sung by the lady members - Leslie Feist's turn on the title track is just wonderful. Even the Jesus & Mary Chain drafted in Isobel Campbell, Sky Ferreira, Bernadette Denning and the Reid brothers' sister Linda to sing some parts.

Nadine Shah - 'Holiday Destination'
An in-yer-face opus that not only astonished me, but knocked me sideways, upside-down and back-to-front. Direct and confrontational, nothing else had the effect 'Holiday Destination' had on me this year. Its main themes were immigration, the refugee crisis and mental health - not particularly easy listening perhaps, but by god it was moving. This record can stand proudly alongside last year's Savages album 'Adore Life' as one of the albums of the century so far.

(While I'm at it, I'll happily name Out The Way as my song of the year, and Nadine's show at The Globe in Cardiff as my gig of the year too. A clean sweep, no less!)

Alvvays - 'Antisocialites'
Pop album of the year. That's POP! with a capital P. O. and P. Pure, unashamed POP! tunes in a classic indie style. This is how C86 would sound if it came out in 2017. Never fails to get me singing and smiling this one (which is not a particularly pretty sight or sound, but few records can achieve it).

Which leads us nicely to...

The Jesus & Mary Chain - 'Damage & Joy'
Didn't think I'd like this one as much as I did. Jim and William's first album in what must be 1,000 years was - and still is - a pure joy. One of my most played in-car albums of the year and definitely the most welcome surprise of 2017 for me. This song in particular fills me with delight:

Queens Of The Stone Age - 'Villains'
Now MrsRobster keeps her cards close to her chest when it comes to music critiquing (unless it's Björk or anything Paul McCartney has ever been involved with, in which case she becomes almost psychopathic). So when, during a car journey soundtracked by 'Villains', she utters the phrase: "This is a good album," you know it must be pretty special. She loves a good riff and few excel at them better than Josh Homme.

Broken Social Scene - 'Hug Of Thunder'
If you omit the last two songs from this record, it would be Broken Social Scene's finest. Some absolute corkers here, from the rousing multi-member anthems they're known for (Protest Song, Halfway Home), to the arty swagger of Vanity Pail Kids and Stay Happy, by way of the mellow, more restrained moments of Take Me With You and the absolutely gorgeous Feist-fronted title track. It has a lovely warm production too which makes it ideal for these long, cold nights!

Other mentions must go to:
Ride - 'Weather Diaries'

Echobelly - 'Anarchy & Alchemy'
Grandaddy - 'Last Place'
Three excellent comeback records. I was particularly taken by the Echobelly one which is not only drenched in blues, but also shows that far from diminishing with age, Sonya's voice has matured magnificently!

H. Hawkline - 'I Romanticize'

Sparks - 'Hippopotamus'
Records for those who like their music to be a little... quirky? eccentric? different? Both bloody good though.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - 'Feed the Rats'
Crystal Fairy - 'Crystal Fairy'
Proper loud records for when I needed to vent my spleen without actually venting my spleen!

More next week. Have a good holiday everyone.

Friday 15 December 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#29: Babe, You Turn Me On [live]

The double-album set 'Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus' is usually spoken of as one album, but to me, the reason each disc has its own title is because they are two different records. Sure, both have the gospel-tinge that Nick introduced at the time, but while 'Abattoir Blues' is full of energetic, sometimes loud songs, 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' is quieter, more restrained and a bit darker. One of the best things about this set though is it is what turned MrsRobster into a somewhat reluctant Nick Cave fan. She'd never rated him before this, but she enjoyed these albums and can now appreciate Nick's other work. Result!

Babe, You Turn Me On is from 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' and is lyrically wonderful. Nick uses the imagery of nature to describe a courting ritual, but can't resist adding a touch of his humour to proceedings:

  Now, the nightingale sings to you
  And raises up the ante
  I put one hand on your round ripe heart
  And the other down your panties

This version is from the 'Abattoir Blues Tour' DVD filmed at Brixton Academy.

Monday 11 December 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #10

Support: Chroma, Palomino Party
Clwb Ifor Bach - 9 December 2017

The last gig of the year and again we made it to double figures. This one was a bit of a no-brainer really as it was cheap (always a good thing) and it featured a band I've been trying to see for a while and never quite made it. If Estrons release their debut album in 2018, expect them to become pretty big pretty quickly. Which is why I was looking forward to finally catching them in the tiny Clwb Ifor Bach along with two other up-and-coming Welsh bands.

I knew nothing about Palomino Party, and to be honest it will probably stay that way. They sounded like a throwback to Britpop, but the arse-end of Britpop when all the best bands had either broken up or moved on. They describe themselves as 'art-rock', but let's be fair, so did Menswear. The most interesting thing about them for me was their singer who looked like he'd found Morrissey's lost wardrobe in his sister's make-up cupboard and decided to combine the two.

Chroma have been getting talked up quite a bit around these parts. Hailing from Pontypridd, they make a right racket despite there being only the three of them. They cite Reuben and Biffy Clyro as influences but they sound rawer. Mind, they've only been together a couple of years. Chroma's short set started off promisingly, and the songs also showed potential. The one thing I would say is they need to tighten up a bit, and if singer K-T could reign in the growling and screaming and concentrate on singing in tune, they might be the next ones to watch.

I like a good growl and scream, mind. You know that. Just, it needs to used sparingly to enhance the sound. Tali of Estrons manages to get the balance right, and that is undoubtedly what sets Estrons ahead of the pack tonight. They balance the rawness and energy with good, punchy tunes that stick in yer head. They played a load of new ones in their hour-long set which hints that there might be an album on the way (fingers crossed) and tore through some established faves - Make A Man, Strobe Lights, I'm Not Your Girl, Drop, etc. And they did so with ease, already seeming like hardened pros despite having just a handful of released tracks to their name.

Extra kudos points goes to the band revealing their loathing of the awful TV show Made In Chelsea (a partly-scripted drama about a load of over-privileged posh young people discussing "relationships, yah?"). The music played on this pathetic excuse for entertainment is generally very good, but Estrons revealed that when they were approached by the producers to use one of their songs, they categorically refused, not wishing to be associated with it. Hurrah! I love this band just that little bit more for knowing this.

If only I'd felt like joining the young 'uns in the pit, I'm sure I'd have had a whale of a time, but this time of year really brings me down so I'm not firing on all cylinders. We stood nearer the back where I struggled to see what was going on (combined with the low stage and my rapidly failing eyesight). I think I therefore missed out on some of the energy being transmitted from the stage. Even so, Estrons did excite me enough to look forward to 2018. That debut album should be cracking, whenever it appears.

Sunday 26 November 2017

So Tough

A bunch of Saint Etienne albums were recently reissued on vinyl. I think they are limited pressings so are not available for long. I made sure I grabbed a copy of my fave Saint Etienne record 'So Tough', a record I love so much it made my list of albums to take to my grave. Even now, some 24 years after its release, 'So Tough' delights me. It hasn't dated one jot, maybe because it was imbued with the past throughout, very retro yet very modern and timeless all at the same time.

It's easy to love any of its individual songs, but ultimately 'So Tough' should be enjoyed as a whole. That said, here's a couple of the singles released from it. Avenue remains a long-standing fan favourite, though the single edit sounds a bit rough to me. The full 7-minute version is perfect; this cropped version doesn't really do it justice, but nonetheless, it's still a great way to spend four minutes.

Better still is Hobart Paving. This is by far my favourite Saint Etienne moment. This single version eclipses the album mix. The added strings sound beautiful, but for me the highlight is the wonderfully mournful French Horn solo absent from the album mix. A real eye-moistener.

Monday 13 November 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#28: Night Of The Lotus Eaters [extended version]

One of Nick's most hypnotic and eerie songs, it's essentially based on Mick Harvey's three-note riff repeated over and over. Taken from 2008's 'Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!' album, it's credited to the Bad Seeds, but sounds more like what Grinderman were doing around that time. In fact, the line-up - in the video at least - features only three Bad Seeds: Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos were both in Grinderman with Nick, but here it's Harvey in place of Martyn P. Casey.

The meaning of the song is rather opaque. In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters were a race of people living on an island dominated by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy. Nick uses chivalrous symbolism for the role against the "philistines and barbarians" - a heater is a kind of shield and a sap is a short club. Therefore are the lotus eaters the brainwashed materialistic masses "roaming the shopping malls"? Is he urging us to fight back against our "catastrophic leaders" to keep our honour and integrity? Or am I way off the mark?

Friday 27 October 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #9

Public Service Broadcasting
Colston Hall, Bristol - 23 October 2017
Support: Palace

You're probably getting tired of me writing about Public Service Broadcasting. The stats suggest you were never that interested to begin with.

Don't care!

Public Service Broadcasting ARE one of the best bands around right now. Their records are intriguing and original, and their concerts are something of an event. We first saw them four years ago - twice - in tiny Cardiff venues, around the time of their first album's release. Both dates were sold out, the venues packed. Back then, just Willgoose and Wrigglesworth were onstage with their visuals guy discreetly lurking in the shadows, projecting the cleverly put-together film clips and effects that illustrate the songs onto a big screen at the back of the stage and a stack of vintage TV screens at the front. We've seen them twice more since in very different settings (read here and here).

On Monday night, we travelled to Bristol to see them for a fifth time at the Colston Hall, one of our favourite venues. I had a feeling it would prove to be the perfect venue for PSB, and I was proved right. And my, how they've grown. The venues they're playing now are considerably larger, accommodating 10 times as many people - but they're still selling them out. The line-up is also greater; as well as the two mainstays and the visuals expert Mr B., they now have a full-time fourth member JF Abraham and a touring brass section (more on them later). The visuals and lighting are more ambitious and high-tech than ever too.

The show's intro music is David Bowie's Sound & Vision, an apt description of what is to follow. And what followed was 90 minutes of extraordinary sound and vision from a band I never grow tired of watching. Personal highlights for me were plentiful. The Other Side, the story of Apollo 8's manned mission to orbit the moon, was stunning. The bit where signal is lost with the spacecraft and mission control - and us - await to hear from the crew as they emerge from the other side of the moon is spine-tingling. There's near silence, the audience rapt and on tenterhooks as the tension mounts. From the new album, They Gave Me A Lamp was wonderful, the band joined onstage by Haiku Salut, the trio who provide the vocals and accordion on the record. All Out, the one about the miners strike, is a right rebel rouser. When the female voice utters the words "I was brought up to respect the police. I don't respect them now," I always smile. I don't know why.

For me, the biggest high point was the encore. The band emerged onstage with none other than James Dean Bradfield of my beloved Manic Street Preachers in tow. He proceeded to deliver a stirring rendition of his contribution to 'Every Valley', Turn No More (see pic). MrsRobster, who was never a Manics fan (to put it lightly), was cheered up by the next song. Gagarin was the moment on 'The Race For Space' when PSB got funky. The brass section shines on this one, especially when they launch into their impressive dance moves before being joined by two more dancers in spacesuits. This was the real fun moment of the set, although in truth, there's nothing that isn't fun about a PSB set.

It's been great seeing a band mature from the days of small, sweaty, dank clubs to theatres and mid-sized concert halls in such a short period of time. They will continue to grow, I've no doubt, and maybe I'll still be writing about them despite no fucker reading.

Don't care!

No MP3s today. Instead, a couple of videos. First, I found PSB's performance of Go! in Leeds a few nights before the Bristol show:

And here's their latest single. Yep, the one with that Manics bloke. This was absolutely IMMENSE live.

Monday 23 October 2017

"Dust turns into gold..."

One of my favourite albums of 2017 is 'Kinder Versions' by Mammút. It's their fourth album; the first to be released in English and the first to gain a release outside their native Iceland. Very, very good it is, too. They're playing Cardiff next month so watch this space. In the meantime, here's the new video for one of the record's best songs.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #8

Nadine Shah
The Globe, Cardiff – 15 October 2017
Support: Life

On the eve of a hurricane hitting the British Isles, I was getting blown away in a small live music venue in Cardiff by one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in recent times. Nadine Shah’s new album ‘Holiday Destination’ has become my favourite record of 2017. Tackling such themes as immigration, the refugee crisis and mental health, it’s an often uncomfortable listen, but incredibly forceful and moving at the same time. Its transformation to the live setting is nothing short of astonishing.

First off, a few words about the support band. Life don’t have a name that you can Google all too easily but if you’re searching for a new band with a bit of an edge in these dark times instead of the increasing torrent of insipid electro-pop dross, I think you may find solace in this quartet from Hull. To describe Life simply as a punk band is to do them a disservice, but their energy and attitude evokes a certain spirit that often emerges in troubled times. While their singer displays characteristics of a Jarvis Cocker bent, he can also bellow messages of anger, frustration and, most welcomingly, hope.  There were certainly a few memorable moments in their set and I, along with I suspect a few others, will be checking out their self-released album ‘Popular Music’. In fact, I spotted a guy I work with, who was also in attendance, clutching a vinyl copy at the end of the night.

Nadine Shah first came to my attention a couple of years ago when singles from her last album ‘Fast Food’ were getting regular plays on 6 Music. By contrast, I haven’t heard a single tune from ‘Holiday Destination’ aired by said station this year. That’s tragic. Not only do we need its messages more than ever right now, we also need to hear more music of such remarkable quality on our radios. It really is an extraordinary album, and we were treated to an opening salvo of its first three tracks tonight. The addition of the sax to Nadine’s sound is an interesting move, but it serves to accentuate the most menacing aspects of some of these songs.

‘Holiday Destination’ is a very rhythmic, percussive-sounding record that translates wonderfully to the live setting. As a result, the earlier songs that were aired were reinterpreted to fit this sound. They sounded all the better for it. Aching Bones and Runaway sounded fresh and reinvigorated, while Stealing Cars and Fool sit comfortably with the brooding, dark nature of the new songs. Nadine’s deep, tremulous voice rounds off the ominous, yet emotive feel of the whole set. Yet, when she speaks to the audience, it’s like the sun comes out.

You see, for all the darkness in her music, Nadine is actually very funny. There’s something about people from the north-east and their wit. Quick and incisive, Nadine lightens the mood with her tales of “Simpsons heckling” during Radiohead at Glastonbury and writing Fool about “a lovely, lovely fella” who she almost immediately reveals is actually a “total cunt”. She also informs us that ‘Holiday Destination’’s closing track Jolly Sailor was number one in the iTunes chart in Lithuania. “I don’t know what that’s about,” she muses. “I’ve got an ex-boyfriend there but he definitely hasn’t been buying it, cos he fuckin’ hates me.”

Yet when it comes back to her songs, the emotion and sheer passion comes flooding out. Speaking as a second-generation immigrant, she extols the virtues of immigration and being able to draw on different cultures to become a richer person, soaking up the bigotry and violence that often accompanies it. She speaks from experience, adding: “Anyone who reckons immigration is a bad thing is a fucking idiot.” That gets one of the biggest cheers of the night. The band then launches into Out The Way, one of the most rousing, yet abrasive songs of the year, and without a doubt my fave. It damn near set the place alight! The evening’s final song, new single Mother Fighter, about a Syrian refugee who goes back to her homeland to help fight for its freedom and provide a safe future for her family, is clearly one of the songs Nadine feels most strongly about. She gave an impassioned speech about the plight of refugees around the world and the seemingly non-existent coverage of the issue in our media. It looked for a moment like she was going to break down in tears as she spoke. The performance of the song was stunning and heartfelt.

In this day and age, when everyone wants everything quick, cheap and disposable, it’s becoming increasingly rare to find an artist who is so genuine and powerful as Nadine Shah. Making the album of the year is one thing, but to be so utterly convincing on stage, the hardest place to hide of all, is another entirely. A “wow!” escaped my lips at the end of the show. That hasn’t happened in some time.

Monday 16 October 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#27: God Is In The House [live]

This just has to be one of my all-time favourite performances from Later... With Jools Holland. Nick and the Bad Seeds around the piano for an exquisite, intimate rendition of God Is In The House from 2001's 'No More Shall We Part'. There's a bit during the last verse where the camera pans in slowly on Nick as he practically whispers, hovering in closeup while he sings "If we all hold hands and very quietly shoouuut 'Hallelujah'..." before it retreats for the final few lines. I love that part. The song? A tale of a rather sinister-sounding Christian utopia sung in places with barely-concealed venom. Only Nick Cave is capable of a song like this, and the performance - simply stunning.

Friday 6 October 2017

"Sinner I... oh oh oh oh!"

The Breeders have released a new song, their first in nine years! This is fantastic news of course, especially as it is the 'classic' line-up that recorded 'Last Splash' back in the day. Wait In The Car sounds like it would have slotted in nicely on that record, and it is the first of three 7" singles the band is releasing before the year is out. Is there a new album due as well? I dunno, but let's be grateful for this for now. Anything Kim Deal puts her name to is positively dripping with brilliance, and this song puts a HUGE smile on my face.

Tuesday 3 October 2017


I wasn't planning on posting anything so soon, but I'm pretty crushed after hearing Tom Petty died. The first time I came across him was when this video was shown on a Saturday morning TV show when I was 13-14 years old.

It freaked me out a little at the time. He made a marvellously creepy Mad Hatter. I suppose my favourite Petty album has to be 'Full Moon Fever' because of those songs, but 'Into The Great Wide Open' was a huge store favourite when I worked at Our Price. It was hardly off the deck for the best part of a year.

Then there was his work with the Travelling Wilburys. Handle With Care is still a wonderful, wonderful tune, and reminds us, sadly, that three fifths of them are no longer with us.


Tom Petty was 66. Far, far, far too fucking young. A couple months ago he played Hyde Park looking fit as a fiddle. There are so many songs of his I could post, I love loads of them. But I'm going to finish off with this live version of Learning To Fly which has the added bonus of having Stevie Nicks on backing vocals. Let's face it, very few people could ever boast that!

Monday 2 October 2017

Lose my mind

Estrons are probably Wales' brightest new hope. I've raved about them two or three times here already, but they still seem to be putting out songs of the very highest quality. There have a been three new songs over the summer, but we still await news of a debut album. In the meantime, check out the video for one of those new songs, the rip-roaring Strobe Lights. Great stuff this.

Monday 18 September 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#26: Shivers

Now, the first thing to point out here is that Shivers was not actually written by Nick Cave. It was penned by Rowland S. Howard who brought it to Boys Next Door when he joined the band. The reason I'm including it in this series is because of Nick's vocal. My god, it's incredible, isn't it? This was released in 1979 when Nick was but a mere lad, yet it remains one of his greatest vocals. Shivers closed The Boys Next Door's debut LP 'Door Door', an album Nick once described as "complete wank." Certainly side one is the sound of a young band churning out basic three chord punk songs, but side two - recorded after Howard came on board - hinted at what would happen as they morphed into The Birthday Party.

Monday 11 September 2017

Alvvays and forever...

Absolutely loving this new song by Alvvays. It's from their new album 'Antisocialites' and was apparently influenced by supporting the Jesus & Mary Chain. Which begs the question: if this is an ode to Jim, where's William's ode?

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Reggae Wednesday

You know, I might be labouring for material, but I feel like I could continue this series forever. After 20 instalments though, I think it's time for a break. After all, summer's technically over, even though the best sustained period of good weather we've had this year has been over the last three weeks. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I think September has to be it.

To conclude things then, we get a London-born, Jamaican-raised singer with a track boasting a production by the legendary Harry J, an arrangement by last week's Reggae Wednesday stars Sly & Robbie and the writing genius of, erm, Sting. Well, let's be fair here, Sting was actually pretty good once upon a time.

Sheila Hylton released more than 25 singles between 1976 and 1983, but there was just the one, self-titled album in 1979. Its follow-up 'Steppin' arrived some 27 years later in 2006 and since then - nowt. She enjoyed a UK Top 40 hit in 1981 with a cover of The Police's Bed's Too Big Without You. It doesn't deviate too much from the original, keeping Sting's distinctive bassline and the minimal instrumentation. This is the original full-length 12" version.

And as a special bonus, here she is performing the song on Top Of The Pops back in 1981:

Monday 4 September 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #7

Wolf Alice
The Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd - 21 August 2017
Support: Head Noise

Wolf Alice? At a small local arts centre in the Welsh valleys? Nope, I didn't dream it. Wolf Alice really are playing some tiny venues you've probably never heard of in the lead up to the release of the second album in September. The last time I saw them was in the tiny Cardiff venue The Globe just before they released their debut. Since then they've been all over the place playing to huge crowds around the world, doing TV and radio and have generally been adored. They've already sold out some of their larger-venue tour in October so the chance to see them again in a small space was just too much to resist. Tickets were scarce (only 200 available) and quite difficult to get but I snapped up three - one each for MrsRobster and I and one for TheMadster as the show was taking place on her 20th birthday! Two of my colleagues Neil and Pete were there too.

The Muni was saved from closure by a consortium of investors and reopened in its current form as a charitable concern in 2015. That's a good thing as it is a really nice little space, ideally suited to gigs. It was our first visit, but Neil regaled the tale about tagging along with a friend who had a free ticket to a show there once. Neil was too embarrassed at first to reveal who he'd seen, but later confessed to it being "the singer from Dr Hook." So not even Dr Hook then, just the singer...

Local bands have been given the opportunity to support during this tour and tonight was the turn of Head Noise from Cardiff. Here are three young guys who soooo desperately wish it was the 80s. The singer in particular looked like he should have been in The Goonies. He even played a bloody keytar. Sadly, they didn't do it for any of us. Maybe the excitement of the occasion was too much, maybe they had too much fizzy pop before going onstage, but they sounded shambolic and untogether. Their recordings sound a little better (even if it's not my thing at all - I never much cared for 80s synthy stuff in the 80s, I sure as hell don't like most of the 21st century derivatives) so perhaps you're better off listening to some of them over at their Bandcamp page than take my word for it. However, their attempt at covering the Chemical Brothers' Hey Boy, Hey Girl (with a verse of Get Free by the Vines woven in) was absolutely woeful. I cannot give them any benefit of any doubt whatsoever for that one!

For the record though - I LOVED The Goonies. Like, who didn't?

Wolf Alice kicked off with a new track - Don't Delete The Kisses - followed by a couple of old familiar ones before launching into the raucous (and somewhat hilariously-titled) Yuk Foo, the lead single from the new album. And that set the tone for the night really - a set of crowd pleasers interspersed with new songs, some of which hadn't been heard yet. My personal highlights were You're A Germ, Moaning Lisa Smile and Yuk Foo.

pic by TheMadster
But here's the rub - Wolf Alice are an exceptional band. They have some really good songs and make some great sounds, and live they can certainly kick into another gear and ratchet things up a level. Yet neither of the times I've seen them have they made me go 'wow'. They've not blown me away, and I think they're the kind of band who ought to. I can't explain it - and I'm certain most of the (admittedly very young) audience there were completely blown away - but I still yearn for that moment even 29 years after my very first live show. And it still does happen now and again, just not this time.

But this show does have its significance. Wolf Alice came on stage at 9:30pm. Exactly 20 years earlier at that exact time, TheMadster came onto life's great stage in the maternity unit at North Devon District Hospital. MrsRobster summed up the moment. "I just thought as they came on stage that this was the moment you dreamed of 20 years ago," she told me. "That she'd be at a gig with us and say 'I'm going in the mosh pit'." It wasn't Madster's first gig, and it wasn't even her first mosh pit, but MrsRobster (as usual) is so right. For that alone, this show will stay long in my memory.

And TheMadster herself? Well, following a day dragging her boyfriend round the shops (during which she picked up Wolf Alice's first record on vinyl), she drank vodka, joined the sweaty masses in the pit, took some photos and bought a t-shirt. Sounds like a pretty damn good birthday to me!

Friday 1 September 2017

No Plan

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the blog is becoming a bit of a chore right now. That said, I don't want to end it as it does act as something of a release for the (very limited) creative side in me. It does mean, however, that I'm going to make it less regimented. You'll probably find a decrease in the number of posts I make here and fewer series. I want to be more sporadic and only post when I have something to say, rather than feel I have to continue a series until I reach a certain number of posts.

Well, that's the plan - for now, anyway. So some weeks I may post three or four things, other weeks may yield nothing. The plan is no plan. Well if it's OK with Mr Bowie it's OK by me...

This song was written by Bowie for the Lazarus musical where it is performed by teenager Sophia Anne Caruso in her role as 'Girl'. She made her debut in the part aged just 14! The full cast recording was made shortly after her 15th birthday. OK, so it's a little bit stage-school in its delivery, but theatre is supposed to be different to rock & roll, isn't it.

Couple of things to come next week so stay tuned for that...

Wednesday 30 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Sly & Robbie are probably the most successful and prolific duo in reggae music history. Someone once estimated they've played in excess of 200,000 tracks together, not including remixes! Of course, many of those were as backing musicians for some of reggae's biggest names, but they are still going (their latest album came out earlier this year), so they may well be heading towards a significantly higher number by now. To date they've put out more than 70 albums since 1979.

During the mid-to-late 80s, they went down a more commercial, electronic direction, even enjoying a UK #12 hit with Boops (Here To Go). But as with so much music of that time, it has not dated well.

1984's 'Reggae Greats (A Dub Experience)' is widely regarded as one of the best dub records of all time. That is very high praise when you consider they have peers like Scientist, Mad Professor and Lee 'Scratch' Perry who have all been as equally prolific over the years (though Perry has been at it for quite a while longer). Demolition City definitely sounds like something that inspired 'Screamadelica'-era Primal Scream. Some of the remixes that were spawned from that album sounded not unlike this.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

One of my favourite reggae artists this week. Ewart Beckford was dubbed U-Roy by a young child relative who couldn't pronounce his name properly. He pioneered the toasting vocal style and was hailed as one of the most unique artists of his genre. Some say he changed reggae music for good during the early 70s.

Originally a DJ, toasting over other people's records, he was spotted by Paragons singer John  Holt who landed him a recording session. A version of the Paragons' The Tide Is High was one of a number of singles that followed, many of which featured on his first album release 'Version Galore' in 1971. In 1975, U-Roy's third album 'Dread In A Babylon' became a surprise hit in the UK. The following year saw 'Natty Rebel', perhaps his finest moment, hit the shelves. It got him international renown and another four albums came out before the decade was over.

As reggae became more and more electronic and digitised, U-Roy remained true to his roots and continued to make great-sounding records that still sound timeless. His last album to date was 2012's 'Pray Fi Di People' which has some wonderful tracks on it and features the likes of Marcia Griffiths and Horace Andy. But today I've gone for something from that classic fourth album. Babylon Burning is such a great song which makes me think of Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Listen to it and you'll know what I mean. Tell 'em, Roy!

Friday 18 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #20

This might be the last post in the series. It might not. The future of the blog has been up in the air for some time now. I'm running very short of ideas and I'm feeling less and less inspired, less and less motivated and less and less excited about the whole thing. This series should have enthused me, but while it started out strong, it has frustrated me a few times and as it has gone on I've found it harder to continue. To be frank - it's all becoming a bit of a chore and, perhaps worse, a bit of a bore also. Yeah yeah, I know, I've said this all before. I'll probably find another second wind from somewhere and get back to business as usual...

So here's what's happening: after today, there's going to be a bit of a hiatus while MrsRobster and I enjoy a late summer break. The Reggae Wednesday series will continue as I have the last few instalments already written and prepared. In September I'll think again. I have loads of great things to share which would keep this series going up to Christmas at least, it's just whether I can be arsed to write about them. The blog needs a new focus if it's to continue, something that I enjoy doing. I don't really know what that is at the moment though, so we'll see.

In the meantime, to bring the series to a (maybe temporary, maybe permanent) close, we're going back to where we started - that very early Tyrone's gig from October 1980 that to date remains the earliest known recording of R.E.M. in circulation. Three songs all with very different futures ahead of them. Dangerous Times was a favourite of R.E.M.'s early live sets and may have been demoed once or twice, but it didn't survive long once the band's songwriting had moved on. As far as their earliest material goes, Dangerous Times isn't bad but it's hardly up there with Gardening At Night.

All The Right Friends did make it onto record. Although credited to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, it was actually written by Buck and Stipe before they'd even met Mills and Berry. The song was originally recorded for 'Murmur' but not used. That version later appeared on the European reissue of 'Dead Letter Office' a decade later. During the 'Reckoning' sessions, the band gave it another go but again it was discarded. A third attempt was made for 'Lifes Rich Pageant' and once more it was passed over. The 25th Anniversary reissue of 'LRP' contains that one. Finally, in 2001, one final attempt was made, more than 21 years after it was written. Having been asked at very short notice to provide a song for the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, the band recorded All The Right Friends (with new lyrics) and deemed it good enough to issue. What you're getting here though is possibly the earliest known version of the song.

To round off, a song that was not only recorded, but ended up on an album and released as a single. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville was penned by Mike Mills as a plea to his then girlfriend not to leave town. In fact it's Mills who often sang lead vocal in the band's late era, the song remaining in the live set right to the end. You can hear how fast the original was played, "kind of like how Buddy Holly would've played it" as Peter Buck once recalled. It enjoyed a country-style makeover for its eventual release on 'Reckoning' four years later, but very little else was done to it.

See you in a few weeks. Maybe.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

One of John Peel's favourite records of all time was 'Live At The Counter Eurovision', the debut album by Misty In Roots. The London collective became one of the most popular British reggae acts, spreading the word of Jah in their shamelessly Rastafarian-themed songs. Never terribly prolific in the studio, they nonetheless toured relentlessly, being the first reggae band to tour South Africa, Poland and Russia.

As a result of spending a lot of time in West Africa, the band integrated more and more African sounds and rhythms into their music, but that's no bad thing; it was something that set them apart from their peers.

Misty In Roots recorded no fewer than nine Peel Sessions between 1979 and 2002 and credit the legendary DJ for much of their success. A compilation of Peel highlights was released in 1995. It included many songs the band never released in any other form, including today's track True Rasta Man. This was from their second session in 1979 and features an impressive line-up of 11 singers and musicians.

I'll be taking a couple weeks off after Friday, but I've pre-written and scheduled Reggae Wednesday for the next fortnight to tide you over. No need to deprive you of some tasty irie vibes.

Monday 14 August 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#25: From Her To Eternity [live]

This tale of the girl upstairs "wearin' them bloo stockin's", the title track of the first Bad Seeds album from 1984, remains a highlight of Nick's entire career. But in the live setting it becomes even more visceral. This particular performance at Belgium's Rock Werchter Festival in 1989 is probably the best I've seen. Nick gives an absolutely blistering rendition. The rest of the Bad Seeds aren't half bad either; Harvey, Powers, Bargeld, Wydler... the whole damn lot of 'em. This is why the Bad Seeds sell out every time they play, whatever the line-up. This is a real 'wow!' moment.

Friday 11 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #19

It's back to the Green Tour this week and a boot I bought on vinyl which has subsequently been issued on CD and digital formats. There seems to be some kind of loophole which allows some bootlegs to be commercially issued kind of semi-officially without infringing any laws. That's the case with this one. You can buy it on Amazon if you like the sound of it.

Anyway, I played this one quite a bit back in the day as it was great-sounding, probably as a result of it being taken directly from an FM radio broadcast. The sleeve claims the show was recorded in Orlando, Florida on 30 April 1989, but the majority of the record seems to be taken from a show in Miami the previous night. Exactly what tracks are taken from which show is unclear, but it's hardly important. It's the most widely-booted R.E.M. performance but probably not one that those who are not R.E.M. collectors are likely to have heard. The boot has been released under various titles but there are many versions called 'Songs For A Green World' which happens to be what my vinyl copy is called.

I've chosen three tracks from it to share with you. Crazy is the Pylon song. Pylon supported R.E.M. during the final leg of the Green Tour from late October to mid-November across the southern US states. Up to then, Crazy featured in R.E.M.'s set and I reckon this is a more than decent rendition. Get Up was one of 'Green''s poppiest moments. It works well live as the calls to "Get up, get up" could be hollered by the crowd. Apparently, Stipe wrote it as a call to Mike Mills to get his lazy arse out of bed during the recording sessions. And the simultaneous musical boxes in the bridge were Bill Berry's idea after it came to him in a dream. OK, enough Get Up facts...

The final track is dedicated to MrsRobster. It's her birthday today and the title reflects all that she is and forever will be. "I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music." You Are The Everything was a surprise highlight on 'Green' and hinted strongly at the direction the band would take next. Live, Bill Berry played bass, Peter Buck played mandolin and Mike Mills played accordian. It's a phenomenal track and Stipe sings it so, so well.

Happy Birthday babe. "The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen / And they're there for you."

(Mind you, the first of these songs might relate to her too...)

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

For the fourth week in a row, it's a cover version, although to be fair in this case it's the cover that is probably better known. In 1982, Rita Marley released her second solo album 'Harambé'. It included this fantastic version of a song originally by The Love Joys. And it is a joy. It's basically about getting stoned.

Now I know I usually write more than this, but you surely don't need me to tell you who Rita Marley is and her history, etc. If you do, you're definitely reading the wrong blog and are probably not into music. Try this instead. For everyone else, well one listen to the tune and you'll realise that, in all honesty, words are not necessary - this is all you need.

Monday 7 August 2017

Feeling Feisty?

Leslie Feist has been rather busy just lately. As well as releasing her fifth solo album back in the spring, she also teamed back up with her old mates Broken Social Scene for their first record in seven years. Both albums have been played A LOT around here, so here's a track from each.

Century features Jarvis Cocker musing on how long a century is. His maths is wrong and he fails to account for leap years, but putting that aside, it's Jarvis so he can get away with it. The video features The Jarv and a brilliant face off between Feist and Maria Doyle Kennedy, formerly of the Hothouse Flowers but best known as an actress in Father Ted, Downton Abbey and, currently, Orphan Black. She kills it here, too! The only downside is the way the song ends. Yes, it's intentional, but I still find it bloody annoying...

Feist takes lead vocal on the title track of Broken Social Scene's 'Hug Of Thunder'. No video exists for this track, and she hasn't performed live with the band during the current round of pormotional duties, but the studio version still sounds wonderful on its own.

Friday 4 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #18

OK, so I teased you a bit on Monday. I had every intention of posting the two exclusive R.E.M. tracks from 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' even though many of you probably have them. 'Lifes Rich Pageant' was the second R.E.M. album I ever heard. The same guy who tipped me off about 'Document' also lent me his cassette of its predecessor. I loved that too. I still think the first four tracks are flawless in their sequencing.

Interestingly, 'LRP' contains two of the band's earliest songs that to that point they'd never recorded. These Days was being played as far back as 1980, the very year they formed, while What If We Give It Away dates from just a year or so later and was originally called Get On Their Way. I'm not sure why it took until 1986 for them both to be finally recorded, but there is a feeling the band may have been short of material. Surely not? Well, when you consider the original tracklist comprised just 10 songs with two more - a cover version and a cheesy bossa-nova filler track - flung on at the last minute, you can see where such an idea came from. The final 12-track version still weighed in at less than 40 minutes. Yet, listening to it even now is 40 minutes well spent.

In 1992, all the band's IRS albums were reissued in Europe with bonus tracks. I bought a few of them as imports. While some of the bonus tracks were previously released as b-sides, one or two exclusives did emerge. One such track was on the 'Lifes Rich Pageant' release. Tired Of Singing Trouble is a short pseudo-gospel pastiche which seems to act as a vehicle for Stipe's vocal experimentation. His voice was now venturing much higher into the mix on record and tracks like this might have helped him establish the vocal style he would adopt on subsequent albums. Tired Of Singing Trouble has never appeared on any other reissue so it remains something of a rarity.

Also on that European reissue were the tracks recorded for the 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' documentary. Swan Swan H. was on the original album but this live rendition is wonderful. As is its companion piece, a take on the Everly Brothers classic All I Have To Do Is Dream. This is even more wonderful. I love the way Stipe and Mills sing together. Mills' harmonies were rarely anything other than spot on, and his harmonic basslines served to compliment things further (as you can hear on Swan Swan H.). I've never understood why he has never made a solo record.