Monday 27 February 2017


Jesca Hoop's new album is being raved about everywhere; Drowned In Sound gave it 10/10, The Skinny rated it 5/5. Pretty much everyone else is hailing it as her best work. They're right - it is. Typically eclectic, it's also very organic-sounding. Here's the title track which is just one of the record's highlights.

Friday 24 February 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #6

Surely there cannot be anyone worth knowing who doesn't pop over to A History Of Dubious Taste at least once a week to participate in the marathon series that is The Chain? 'Tis perhaps one of the finest things to be found anywhere on t'internet. Half Man Half Biscuit seem to pop up quite frequently, which is not terribly surprising seeing as they've written songs about pretty much every facet of daily life.

Now, the proprietor of Dubious Taste is Jez, a chap who quite frankly deserves a medal for his mammoth efforts, if only because it gives self-indulgent nerds like me a chance to show off and smugly suggest obscure songs in The Chain's comments section. Anyway, back when I first asked for contributions to this series, Jez offered this piece which he had just run himself. He kindly agreed to allow me to lift it practically word for word - so here it is. Bear in mind, his original publication date coincided with the annual farce that is the Mercury Music Prize...

Originally published on A History Of Dubious Taste on 17 September 2016

Every year, around about this time, the Mercury Music Prize is awarded. As you will probably know by now, this year the prize was scooped (that’s what you do with prizes, you scoop them, apparently) by grime artist Skepta for his 'Konnichiwa' album. Almost immediately afterwards, social media was awash with people tripping over themselves to state that this is an artist and album they’ve been into for ages, how they they’ve been predicting he would win to anyone who cared to listen, the underlying, unspoken boast being how cool they are, how their finger is bang on the pulse of contemporary music. This generally happens every year (excluding the year M People won, of course) and in the past I’ve doubtless been guilty of it myself.

I think there’s a direct correlation between my waistline and my interest in appearing cool, by which I mean as the former has expanded so the latter has waned. By which I mean I’m at an age where being cool no longer interests me.  I have never knowingly heard anything by Skepta. I’ll probably check out the album to see what the fuss is about. Maybe. Sometime. When I get round to it.

But every year, around about this time, I’m reminded of a song by a band unlikely to ever get nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, not because they’re not very good (they’re actually nothing short of brilliant) but because they are viewed by many as a bit of a 'joke' band. The song I have in mind is Paintball’s Coming Home, specifically a version they performed on Andy Kershaw’s radio show which references both the award and the band’s slim-to-non-existent chances of winning it (Kershaw once described them as “the most authentic English folk group since The Clash”). The lyrics to this version are so different to the version which featured as the closing track on their 1997 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Road' album (which makes no mention of the award), that I thought I’d post both.

It seems every time I post a song by the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit I find myself reassessing what my favourite lyric by them is, and Paintball’s Coming Home is no exception, containing as it does a litany of reasons lead singer and songwriter Nigel Blackwell dislikes a couple he knows, set to the tune of He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. Take your pick from:

  “They didn’t choose their cat, the cat chose them”
  “They go to one day cricket in fancy dress”
  “They made some real good friends on Henman Hill”
and, what for today, at least, is possibly my favourite lyric ever:
  “They buy soup in cartons, not in tins.”


Thanks Jez. And out of interest, did you ever get around to listening to that Skepta album?

Wednesday 22 February 2017

The Devil's Music

No Sympathy From The Devil by Public Enemy

One thing is for certain - for as long as Public Enemy are around, there will be no shortage of things for them to write about. Still fightin' the power, Chuck D will always set the sparks flying. Hell, there must be a good three albums in him with what's been going on in the US in the last six months alone. Here, he lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that he's far from finished:

  "Since when did you decide / The truth should hide / You 20-30-40, I’m 55"

And just to make sure we get the message: "I'm in my September / But the devil remembers." Keep rockin' it through December, Chuck. Man plans, God laughs, and the Devil rubs his hands with glee. Bring the noise.

We return to the Devil's lair in two weeks...

Monday 20 February 2017

Compiled #1

Something a little while back inspired me to dig out some old compilation records and I got to thinking about all the music I've discovered over the years thanks to various artists comps. I've therefore decided to feature some of my most fondly remembered ones. This isn't intended to be a 'Compilations to take to my grave'-type series, neither am I planning to put a particular number on how many I'm going to write about. I'll probably dig out one or two a month and see how long it takes to get bored of it. You might be surprised by one or two of them.

#1: IQ 6 Zang Tumb Tuum Sampled

This is one I used to have on vinyl and, until recently, thought I still had. Turns out though, it's missing. I was actually quite upset about this so went online and bought the recent CD reissue which includes bonus tracks and a DVD. 'IQ 6 Zang Tumb Tuum Sampled' was originally released in 1985 when the label's flagship band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, was at the height of its popularity. The record's selling point was the inclusion of two then-unreleased Frankie tracks. That's what made me buy it, anyway. I was a tad disappointed. Disneyland would have been one of 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome''s weakest moments had it made it onto the album, while the so-called "live" version of Born To Run (yes, the Springsteen song) was essentially a recording of the band miming it on The Tube. It sounded almost identical to the studio take on the album.

My dissatisfaction was tempered somewhat by the inclusion of some other great tracks. Most notable of these was a quite brilliant mix of Propaganda's p:Machinery. I'd previously come across Propaganda when I heard Dr. Mabuse on 'Now That's What I Call Music 3' the previous year. But this track, in all its 8-minute glory was the one that grabbed me, and has remained with me since. I can't understand why Propaganda weren't as huge as they should have been. Claudia Brücken’s sharp, German accent may not have helped their cause, but to me this just made them sound more exotic. 'Sampled' also contained Propaganda's cover of the Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale, previously a b-side of Dr. Mabuse. I had no idea who the Velvets were at the time, but it's interesting now to hear this version again having become so familiar with the original in the intervening years.

l-r: Frankie Goes To Hollywood; Propaganda; Anne Pigalle; Instinct

A brand new discovery for me was a band called Instinct. Their track Swamp Out was another big fave of mine, but I never followed them up for some reason. Not that there was anything to follow up. During the recording of their debut album they fell out with producer Trevor Horn, ditched the recordings and split. I still think Swamp Out sounds good, if rather dated.

Elsewhere, there were a couple of Art Of Noise tracks (a band I already knew), two extracts of a composition by modern classical artist Andrew Poppy, and two songs by French chanteuse Anne Pigalle. I wasn't sure at the time if I liked Pigalle's music; it intrigued me but I didn't make a habit of playing it that much. Her only album for ZTT, 'Everything Could Be So Perfect', remained her only album full stop for more than 25 years. It was recently reissued and is well worth tracking down.

I remember playing 'Sampled' quite a lot back in the day. I thought I was quite sophisticated owning a record containing what I regarded as rather arty, esoteric music. I was only 14 at the time... In 2015, it was reissued on CD as 'The Value Of Entertainment'. The CD contained some rather unremarkable bonus tracks ('alternative versions' of the Instinct track and the Frankie not-really-live track that sound almost exactly like the originals; an Andrew Poppy live track and a bunch of Art Of Noise noises), but the draw is the DVD featuring the documentary The Value Of Entertainment. This was a film made during the concerts held to promote 'Sampled' and features some great footage of Propaganda, the Art Of Noise, Instinct and Anne Pigalle. The downside is that it is presented by ZTT co-owner Paul Morley, a man so up his own arse he can probably taste what he ate for dinner the previous evening. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating watch. On the whole, 'Sampled' sounds very much of its time - it hasn't aged well at all - but it remains one of my all-time fave compilations.

Friday 17 February 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #5

This week, we are in the presence of greatness, the high priest of our music-blogging community. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Vinyl Villain himself - JC. All be upstanding please...

We don't have kids and therefore have no possibility of being an issue should myself and Mrs Villain ever decide to split up. But we both have friends who are in completely different situations and the custody of the kids has been, and in one particularly on-going and very messy situation still is, the most important thing to fight for in any divorce battle.  It can be vicious, disgusting to observe, heart-breaking and inhumane.

It clearly is no laughing matter. Far from it.

And yet....these particular lines, more than any other in the thirty-plus years that HMHB have been recording, made me laugh out loud more than any other:

   "I’m gonna feed our children non-organic food
   And with the money saved take ’em to the zoo."

Totnes Bickering Fair, is a divorce song, but not in any way similar to the heart-rending tune made famous by Tammy Wynette back in the 70s.  HMHB celebrate this particular permanent separation with great aplomb, offering us a joyous rant from a bloke to his now ex-wife. At long last, after lord knows how many years, he no longer has to suffer in silence living with someone whose entire being centres around the latest and costly fad into which the the entire family had been sucked whether they liked it or not.

There is unbridled joy in his voice and no longer is he worrying about political correctness, politeness or what anyone else thinks.  He's free to be like a Soup Dragon, via a Rolling Stone, and to do what he wants, any old time.

And you get the feeling that the kids will be 100% on dad's side. Let's go feed the lions...

JC will be back later in the series as he rattled off three of these in one evening. That, my friends, is why he is the guv'nor!

Wednesday 15 February 2017

The Devil's Music

Low Lays The Devil by The Veils

I know next-to-nothing about The Veils. I heard this played by Steve Lamacq one evening on his 6 Music show and loved it. Not sure why, it's nothing new, but I don't really need a reason to like something. There's just a hint of mischievousness that hints at ol' Satan's presence, having a bit of fun. Low Lays The Devil is taken from the band's fifth album which came out last autumn.

Monday 13 February 2017

"House in order..."

I've considered doing an R.E.M. series for some time. I have lots of bootlegs I collected during the 90s with all kinds of unreleased gems on them. Some are on vinyl which I can't rip currently, but there's some interesting things I can share. So to test the water (and also because I've not got anything else lined up for today), I thought I'd give you this as a taster.

Around late 1981/early '82, the band recorded some demos at Mitch Easter's Drive-In Studios in Winston-Salem, NC. Among the songs they recorded was this take of Wolves, Lower a song that was destined to feature on the 'Chronic Town' EP. It's slightly faster than the released version and sounds a little rough around the edges, but it was far from a work in progress. I really like the sound of the backing vocals in the chorus on this. There seems to be more emphasis on Bill Berry's lower tone than the later version.

If you want more of this sort of thing, just say the word. I might make it a regular(ish) feature. Maybe.

And here's the original video for the 'Chronic Town' version. Granted, it was low-budget, but even so, the production skills are still somewhat... questionable...

Friday 10 February 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #4

Back in the dim and distant past (2010-2012), I ran a blog called From Inside The Pod. Although music orientated, it was quite different to this one. One of the blog's earliest champions was Webbie, also known as the fella behind Football And Music, and the guy behind the annual internet John Peel Day. As you know, Webbie often drops by here and leaves some pearls of wisdom in the comments section.

Last year, he asked me to contribute to his place as Wales shocked the world by reaching the semi-finals of the Euros. It was a great honour for me. Well today, I return the favour as the great man himself tells us about his Half Man Half Biscuit epiphany. He calls it: "My initial disdain of the Biscuit."

Confession time now.  At first I did not like Half Man Half Biscuit. I used to listen to John Peel, but I was coming into that age when I was out all the time. Sometimes all night. Not drinking as such, just being a teenager and doing the teenage stuff. Ah the spirit (and energy) of youth.

As I said I heard some tunes on the John Peel show but I was half listening. With being that teenager there were many other distractions. I was dipping in and out of the John Peel shows (I’m very happy that the Peel Wikia exists now, thirty years later I’ve been able to catch up on much of what I missed).

I did see them listed in the independent charts in Record Mirror, but at that point I still really hadn’t listened to any of their songs. Or if I did I didn’t pay attention. I did think that it was a stupid name for a band. And what about these silly titles ? Nah not for me.

It was on The Chart Show, just beginning on Channel 4, that I first saw some videos for the singles from these indie bands. The pop artists you could easily see on Top Of The Pops, but the Chart Show showed us what Peel was playing. It was there you could see The Godfathers, The Fall and many others.

It was on one of these broadcasts that HMHB first showed up. It was just a brief clip of them and the video on the chart rundown, but it was enough to make me take notice. “Hang on, was that…?” It was at a time of no social media, no way of instantly looking it up to check. If you were taping the programme you could stop and rewind, but back then I had to wait for the repeat at some time or other in the morning to see that again.

I did finally get to actually listen and see that clip as it rolled past; this time I took notice, this time I heard. The very next day I went to my favourite record shop and because of their name, easily found Half Man Half Biscuit singing Dickie Davies Eyes.

An absolute stone-cold classic, we all know, but I love that it is the song that won over a sceptic's heart. I still think "Brian Moore's head looks uncannily like London Planetarium" is one of the very finest lyrics ever written. You may disagree, but you'd be wrong.

"You issued a very difficult challenge when asking to write about just one HMHB tune," Webbie confessed. "I might do another if that is OK." Mate, it's more than OK. In the meantime, here's your first choice.

Of course, some of you may not know of all the cultural references in this song. You're either not from the UK or far too young (or both). So here's a quick guide: 

Dickie Davies
Brian Moore
Michael Moorcock
Roger Dean

"A Romany bint in a field with her paints"

Wednesday 8 February 2017

The Devil's Music

Devil's Dance Floor by Flogging Molly

I saw Flogging Molly live a few years ago when I took TheMadster to her first ever gig. They were supporting Frank Turner and were rather excellent, as you can imagine. If Hell was a bar, this song would be playing and everyone would be brawling drunkenly whilst singing along. Some call it 'Celtic Punk'. I call it damn good fun. Twist a little more!

Monday 6 February 2017


The picture? Well, what's wrong with bunnies? I know it'll make MrsRobster go all gooey. Anyway, it's not the fact it's bunnies that's significant, but how many bunnies there are.

This week marks the third anniversary of Is This The Life?, which is a bit of a surprise. I didn't think it would still be going. If I'm being totally honest, I'm really not sure how much I have left in me, but that might just be my current ongoing less-than-happy mood talking.

Regardless, I ought to say thanks for bothering to stop by and read the words, play the tunes, leave the comments and all that. So thanks. No, really, it means a lot. I dont know what else to say, so let's have some music.

The very first thing I posted here was a Velvet Underground track. Today, I'm going to give you something else by the late, great Lou Reed. Modern Dance featured on his 2000 album 'Ecstacy', one of my fave Lou solo records. This live version was recorded in Dusseldorf that same year and is from a superb bootleg I have.

One of the blog's biggest focuses is on the music of Wales. So here's one of the bands who featured in my Welsh Wednesday series, The Earth, who feature a couple of Super Furry Animals like so many great things in life.

And to round things off, another of the blog's favourite bands with a fitting track to mark its birthday. I just wonder how the boy Gedge managed to keep a straight face during this video...

Friday 3 February 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #3

This week, a few words from one of my favourite Germans. Walter from A Few Good Times in My Life rose to the challenge of selecting his favourite HMHB song for us:

If it is hard enough to select 10 songs by them than it is almost impossible to choose one. But I try and say it will be With Goth On Our Side. It shows the genius of using words and it is held in an acoustic way.

Yep, genius - for that is what it is, as illustrated by this verse alone:

  "Now my overweight girlfriend, she sits and she crimps
  Her mother’s convinced she’s communing with imps
  Her brother’s alright though, he’s a good lad is Wilf
  ‘Cos he’s into Placebo and Cradle Of Filth."

For what it's worth, I used to know a guy who played in Cradle of Filth. Perhaps there's a Half Man Half Biscuit song in there as well... Danke, Walter.

I'm still open to offers! If you want to contribute a piece about your fave Half Man Half Biscuit track, drop me a line at the address over on the right of the page. Walter himself will be back later in the series...

Wednesday 1 February 2017

The Devil's Music

Devil House by Shonen Knife

Yes, He's back. In this fallow period for my muse, I thought I'd give our old friend Satan a call to see if he'd like to offer up a few more tunes, seeing as the last time we did this it went down rather well. You can imagine my delight when he not only agreed, but suggested we play Shonen Knife as the first tune of the new season. Can't argue with that.

Devil House originally featured, in Japanese, on Shonen Knife's 1986 album 'Pretty Little Baka Guy'. Following Kurt Cobain proclaiming his undying love for them, they re-recorded it in English - along with numerous other oldies - for 1992's 'Let's Knife'. To celebrate the Dark Lord's return, let's have both versions today.