Friday 28 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #4

R.E.M. undertook a mammoth world tour in 1999 in support of 'Up', their first record without drummer Bill Berry. 'Up' remains a difficult record. It's undeniably too long and a few songs wouldn't be missed. On the other hand, it catches the band in experimental mode and some of the songs are right up there among the finest of their post-80s material. MrsRobster and I caught them at Earls Court in London on that tour, but shortly after the album was released in 1998, Jools Holland dedicated an entire episode of 'Later...' to the band. Some of the songs from that set made it onto b-sides of subsequent singles but the full performance - including today's selection - has never been officially released.

One of the highlights on 'Up' was The Apologist. Stipe sounds genuinely emotive on this song, to the point where I can even forgive him for using the awfully hackneyed lyric "I get down on my knees and pray". New Test Leper featured on the previous album 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' and is, to this day, one of my favourite R.E.M. songs. A wonderful track whose lyrics remain poignant.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Pablo Moses burst onto the reggae scene in 1975 with his single I Man A Grasshopper, a song influenced by the TV series 'Kung Fu'. Despite the initial acclaim, he struggled to attain the fame and recognition many of his fellow countrymen did around this time. It wasn't until the early 80s that he found himself receiving major plaudits once more with the albums 'A Song' and 'Pave The Way'.

Today's track, however, is taken from 1983's 'In The Future' and is the one I normally turn to when it comes to mixtape/playlist compiling. Pablo is due to release a new album next month. 'The Itinuation' will be his first record in seven years.

Monday 24 April 2017

RSD: Sweet as Sugar

I've resisted Record Store Day before now owing to the whole idea of fighting swarms of people (who will probably just put their purchases on eBay) only to find whatever I'm after has sold out. Plus, most of the items are overpriced and not particularly exciting. However, Saturday saw me casting my cynicism aside and queuing outside of Spillers in Cardiff (the oldest record shop in the world). I'm in the slow process of collecting as many of my 50 albums to take to my grave on vinyl as I possibly can. Some I still have from when I first bought them, some I replaced with CDs and some I never bought on vinyl in the first place. In this latter category was Sugar's 1992 masterpiece 'Copper Blue'.

Record Store Day saw a very special release of 'Copper Blue' - a triple LP on three different colour platters. The original album is on silvery-grey. The other two discs contain a great live show from the time and are on gold and blue vinyl respectively. It was simply too lovely-a-thing to miss. Worth getting up early on a (frankly gorgeous) Saturday morning for.

I stood in the queue with a lady I know through work and a young Mancunian guy who is a student nurse. We talked music, gigs, a teeny bit of work, and more music. After an hour we finally crossed the Spillers threshold and managed to get what we wanted. Yes, I bagged a 'Copper Blue', and believe me it's even more beautiful in real life.

The experience was far nicer than I thought it would be. Friendly, relaxed and, dare I say it, fun. Quite looking forward to next year now...

Here's a couple of live tracks from that Sugar set. The version of JC Auto is particularly brutal.

I also managed to grab Spillers' last copy of 'The Home Internationals' EP by the Wedding Present. Many of you will know the track Wales from last year's brilliant 'Going, Going...' album. As well as that song, Gedge and gang recorded three more post-rock instrumentals for the EP, each one named after a UK nation. England contains a poem written and narrated by Simon Armitage, while Northern Ireland is a paen to a certain legendary footballer called George Best, who I seem to remember a previous record was named after...

A video of the band in the studio has been released for Scotland and includes some sounds from a Scottish pub, no doubt something more than a few readers will be familiar with.

Friday 21 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #3

While promoting their second album 'Reckoning' in 1984, R.E.M. gave a live performance for the fledgling MTV. It was broadcast on a show called Rock Influences. The majority of the set consisted of songs from the first two albums, plus two from 'Chronic Town' and a couple of b-sides. But there was also room for three brand new songs.

Two of these newies were to appear the following year on the band's third album 'Fables Of The Reconstruction'. Both Old Man Kensey and Driver 8 sound almost finished in this performance (although Stipe seems to forget the words at the end of the second verse of Driver 8). It shows how prolific the band was. No sooner had one album come out than they already had songs for the next one ready.

The other new song didn't feature on 'Fables...'. Instead it was held over for 1986's 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. Hyena sounds about 75% of the way there in this performance, but would undergo a bit of tweaking before its eventual release.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the pic at the top is not from this MTV show. It was taken at the Marquee Club in London during the 'Reckoning' tour the same year.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

A new weekly series for the summer sees me delving back into my reggae collection. I thought I'd get us off and running with a classic that you probably all know and love but is more than worth posting anyway.

Dillinger (real name Lester Bullock) rose to fame in the mid-70s working with renowned producers such as Lee Perry, Yabby You and Augustus Pablo. His success earned him a name check on the Clash's White Man (In Hammersmith Palais). Cokane In My Brain became his biggest hit in 1976 and remains his best known song. Even MrsRobster - not a big reggae fan - can be heard 'singing' this one from time to time.

Dillinger struggled to emulate the success of this song for the rest of his career. Nowadays he still performs and produces work for others, but records only occasionally. His last album came out more than 10 years ago. Still, Cokane is a great track to get us started.

Monday 17 April 2017

Compiled #3: Now That's Disgusting Music

Back in 1990, it seemed as though the British were basking in the blissed out E'd up vibes of Madchester while the Americans were the angry, noisy voices of the disillusioned. In truth, there was plenty of noise in the UK, you just had to dig a bit deeper to find it. In northwest London, a tiny venue called The White Horse hosted The Sausage Machine every Saturday night. Very loud bands would play and make a fantastic racket. Two such nights were recorded and out of it came a landmark record.

'Now That's Disgusting Music - Live At The Sausage Machine' was the first ever release on Too Pure Records, a label that would very quickly become one of the most noted and highly respected indie labels in the country. It contained 12 songs by 8 bands, including the very first recording ever released by Peel favourites Th' Faith Healers.

They would become Too Pure's first signings with their debut single released shortly after. I can't believe this is also the first time I've ever posted a Th' Faith Healers track here. Must try harder. I have, however, waxed lyrical about Silverfish a couple of times before. They had two songs on this record, the double-whammy of Weird Shit/Don't Fuck, the originals of which featured on their debut EP the previous year.

The Heart Throbs were the first live band I ever saw, being as they were the support to The Wedding Present in 1988. By now they were about to release their debut album which featured studio takes of the two songs on 'Now That's Disgusting Music', I See Danger, and this one:

l-r: Th' Faith Healers; Silverfish; The Heart Throbs; Snuff; Mega City 4
The headline acts on the nights captured were both relative veterans compared to the other bands on the bills in that they had already released albums. Snuff's debut album came out the previous year and to this date boasts the best title for any record released ever. EVER! 'Snuffsaidbutgorblimeyguvstonemeifhedidn'tthrowawobblerchachachachachachachachachachachayou'regoinghomeinacosmicambience'. It included a version of this Specials cover:

Mega City Four probably went on to become the biggest band on this comp. They had, like, Top 40 hits and everything. At this point however they were still establishing themselves, their second album would be released within six months, but it wouldn't be until their third that they would trouble the charts. So this blast through their second single is a fine document of a fine band at a relatively early stage in their existence.

I still love this record. It's a snarling beast, yet loveable and comforting at the same time. It's a piece of vinyl I've kept since the day I bought it some 27 years ago. I don't intend to part with it any time soon.

Friday 14 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #2

Eleven years after their formation, R.E.M. found themselves on the cusp of world domination. 1991's 'Out Of Time' would not only yield their eternal hit single, but would also prove to be their worldwide mainstream breakthrough album. Last year, the obligatory 25th Anniversary deluxe reissue featured 19 previously unreleased demos from the 'Out Of Time' sessions. However, it was by no means a complete set.

This was a particularly productive time for the band. They never seemed short of material, but this period was especially fruitful. The album marked a departure from previous efforts as the use of electric guitars was dramatically scaled back in favour of acoustic instruments. 'Out Of Time' was a record of upbeat songs in contrast to its far more melancholy follow-up.

For these reasons, it's quite easy to see why the three songs I'm featuring today didn't make it onto 'Out Of Time'. Strangely, none of them were to feature in last year's deluxe package either. It's A Free World Baby did get a full production but, for whatever reason - maybe its lyrical theme which doesn't quite fit that of the rest of the album - it was cast aside. Instead it was issued as a b-side to Drive and appeared on a couple of soundtracks. I always preferred this earlier demo take though.

Here I Am Again (also sometimes known with a bracketed sub-title of Kerouac #4) was a very early song in the 'Out Of Time' story and ended up becoming two songs. Some of its lyrics were used in the brilliant Fretless - a song that was inexplicably left off the album - while the instrumental part turned up on a later b-side as Organ Song.

Finally, it's quite obvious why Speed Metal didn't get onto OOT, though it wouldn't have surprised me if it had been held over for 'Monster' or 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' given its far more rocky nature. It's not 'metal' by any means, but it is a bit of fun and it's kind of a shame that it never materialised in any form other than this demo.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

The Devil's Music

You Need Satan More Than He Needs You by Future Of The Left

I revived this series because the original was fun and it was quite popular among you lot. This time around though it has been greeted with almost complete indifference. Owing to some level of OCD I had to keep going to reach a nice round number before I ended it, so this is the tenth and final instalment of this incarnation of The Devil's Music. I have to say, the Prince Of Darkness is a little disappointed - he had quite a few other tunes he wanted to share with you. It took quite a bit of persuading to keep him from forcing them upon you.

In the end, we agreed this would be the final tune. He reckons the title is apt. I'm happy to include one of my favourite Welsh bands, so it's a win-win.

Monday 10 April 2017

The Genius Of Nick Cave

When I brought this series to a close last autumn, I did so reluctantly. The views had trailed off to the point where I thought my beloved readers had lost interest. Thing is, I still had quite a number of tracks I wanted to post. I've decided to put that right and revive the series, though it will now be monthly as opposed to weekly. To kick things back off, something quite ridiculous...

#21: Babe I'm On Fire

Babe I'm On Fire closed 2003's 'Nocturama', an album that may not rate among Nick's finest, but which still has some wonderful songs on regardless. This one is 15 minutes long and is so hilariously silly, it dispels the myths people have about Nick being depressing or dark. A 3-minute single edit was released but it was far from adequate. The video features the full version with Nick and each Bad Seed playing multiple roles. Brilliant and, as I said before, quite ridiculous.

Friday 7 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M.

My little teaser a few weeks ago provoked a little bit of positivity among you, so I've decided to press ahead with the series I hinted at. As long-time readers will know, R.E.M. hold a very special place in the hearts of MrsRobster and I. Over a period of several years I acquired all manner of rare and unreleased gems from market stalls, record shops, mail order, the fan club and, later on, the Internet trading community. I'm going to post all manner of things from my stash in the coming months for as long as you remain interested.

A lot of what I have is on vinyl that I haven't managed to rip, but who knows, if this series is a success I may consider a follow-up at some point in the future should I ever get around to ripping any of those old records.

I'm going to cover the band's entire career, but am debating whether a chronological series is a good move or not. My hunch is many of you will give up once we get to the end of the IRS period, so I'm going to opt for a more random approach. That said, I'm starting at the beginning. Literally.

R.E.M. formed in the spring of 1980. They spent much of the year rehearsing and gigging. In October of that year they played a hometown show at Tyrone's which was recorded. It remains the earliest known tape of R.E.M. in circulation (although according to this article, there's some even earlier video footage in a private collection). It's raw and more than a little rough, but it's a wonderful document of one of the world's most successful bands in their infancy. Remember, they'd been together just a few months but were already being given the tag of 'Athens' best band', which for a town with such a rich musical legacy really was some accolade.

The set contained a mix of covers and some of the band's earliest self-penned material. Some of the songs they would go on to record in the studio. Today I'm offering up two songs from this show - I'll post some more another time. Firstly, a song that despite being one of their first, had to wait six whole years before a studio version emerged - Just A Touch featured on the band's fourth album 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. This version is less furious than the studio take and Stipe is clearly still getting to grips with the lyrics and melody.

The second song is one that didn't have the staying power that Just A Touch did. Action fell out of favour by the time 'Chronic Town' came out, probably because by then R.E.M.'s music (and in particular Stipe's lyrics) had evolved somewhat to become something a little more complex. However, it certainly fits the mood of those wildly energetic early shows.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

The Devil's Music

Lucifer And God by Bob Mould

Bob Mould is something of a god in the alternative music universe. Exactly what his relationship with Satan is I can't be sure, but the ear-bleeding volume of his live shows over the past 30-odd years - from Hüsker Dü, through Sugar and his solo career - is beyond devilish. Of course, any opportunity I get to squeeze one of Bob's songs into a blog post I'm going to take with both hands. Today's offering is taken from last year's 'Patch The Sky' album.

Monday 3 April 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #3

Colston Hall, Bristol - 31 March 2017
Support: Amber Arcades

It's 20 years since Grandaddy's debut album 'Under The Western Freeway' hit the shelves, and 25 years since their first recordings. So it's fitting that they've seen fit to release 'Last Place', their first album since their 2006 split, this year. It's a corker too, one of my faves of the year so far in fact. I never got the chance to see Grandaddy first time around, so was delighted when they included Bristol in their current tour. I love Grandaddy, see.

A pleasant surprise was the announcement of Amber Arcades as support act. I don't know a lot about her, but am taken by her current single It Changes so hoped she'd deliver. Sadly, I was rather underwhelmed. The songs were OK, but she seemed to let herself down vocally, her voice just didn't come across too well. At times it seemed to disappear behind the music completely. Even so, I'll be checking out her new EP and last year's debut album 'Fading Lines' because she does have some decent tunes. Incidentally, as well as being an up-and-coming musician, Amber also has a fascinating day-job which, even if you're not enamoured by her music, you cannot help feeling enormous respect for her because of it.

An amusing observation of the audience was their dress sense. Never before had I seen so many check-shirts and baseball caps. Grandaddy seem to have spawned their own fashion. I own neither a check-shirt, nor a baseball cap. Neither do I have a beard, of which Grandaddy are also fond. MrsRobster and I were able to play a little game in the interval though. A point for every shirt spotted, one for every cap and one for every beard. Special bonus points for a combo of all three, and spotting a woman sporting any of them. In fact, triple points for a woman with a beard. That last one eluded both of us, but MrsRobster is an excellent people-watcher and totally wiped the floor with me, even getting the full combo and the female shirt-wearer. Rather amusingly, we played this to a soundtrack of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass which filled the hall during the interval. I'm guessing the DJ didn't turn up...

A slightly nervous Grandaddy took to the stage - nervous, according to Jason Lytle, as guitarist Jim Fairchild was forced to leave the tour owing to "an emergency", so their friend (and former guitarist for Elliot Smith) Shaun stepped in at very short notice. You'd never have guessed he had to learn the set in super-quick time -  he killed it. The set seemed to fly by, full, as it was, of crowd-pleasing material spanning the band's career. You could write the setlist yourself, in fact: AM 180, Hewlett's Daughter, The Crystal Lake, Now It's On, Summer Here Kids, and He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot all present and correct. The new stuff fitted right in with Way We Won't, Evermore, The Boat Is In The Barn and I Don't Wanna Live Here Anymore sounding like established favourites. No complaints about the material then (although the icing on the cake would have been A Lost Machine from 'Last Place' and Disconnecty from 'Just Like The Fambly Cat'). The sound was also superb, but I've come to expect that at the Colston Hall. Even the visuals get a thumbs up - projections of films depicting the American wilderness, rural life and industry. And trains. Lots of trains.

Difficult to find fault other than how long they played. Or so I thought. It turns out Grandaddy were onstage for about an hour and a half, yet it simply flew by which is some indication of how enjoyable it was. Had they played another hour I wouldn't have complained.

And here's Evermore also from the 6 Music Festival: