Wednesday 31 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Fancy some Scottish reggae this week? Yes indeed, for Glasgow is the home of Mungo's Hi-Fi, one of the world's most in-demand sound systems. They are regulars at many of the major UK and European festivals, have their own record label Scotch Bonnet, and are firm faves of the BBC with the likes of Steve Lamacq, Mary Anne Hobbs and Don Letts featuring them on numerous occasions.

Mungo's have worked with the likes of Sugar Minot, Tippa Irie and Daddy Freddy, as well as exposing some of the best up-and-coming UK reggae talent. In 2013 they released the 'Boom Boom' EP with fellow Glaswegian Soom T. The title track is so infectious, it's guaranteed to get your summer beach parties/barbeques going. At the very least, it'll get you skanking in your living room while the Glasgow rain pisses down...

More reggae in a fortnight...

Monday 29 May 2017

Compiled #4

There was a trend in the 80s for compilation albums to be issued in two volumes - two separate records sold together as a kind of 'buy one get one free' offer, though some unscrupulous retailers would inevitably sell each record separately at full price. I bought a few of these back in the day, usually chart compilations. They pre-dated the Now That's What I Call Music dynasty and were often rather diverse.

Chartbusters '82 was one such pairing I owned. I was 11 at the time and was still finding my feet in the world of pop music. The quality obviously undulated, but there were some gems among the guff, and in a few cases it led to me finding out about artists I subsequently went on to love or admire. Looking back at the tracklisting now, I really can't remember some of the songs or even the artists. Anyone recall Panama? Paul Lorenzo? Oxgen? Or most obscure of all, the Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup Final Squad? (Sorry Jez...)

To be honest, you could easily take the best bits of both volumes and make a pretty decent single record. Sandwiched between Dollar and Aneka at the start of Volume One was Haircut One Hundred, a diamond between two turds. I still have a fondness for Love Plus One, even though it sounds soooooo 1982. There's no way you could get away with sounding like this now.

Head Over Heels by Abba also featured, which got a thumbs up from me. Also, there was I Could Be Happy by Altered Images, and XTC's Ball And Chain (which I'm not going to post purely because JC will get round to it as part of his excellent Saturday series very soon). And then there was this one, one of the first reggae songs I remember that wasn't Bob Marley. 'Tis a real ear worm, too.

But it's Volume Two where the real fun lies. It opened with a song that actually pre-dated 1982 by a few years and had been rather obscure, buried away on a soundtrack album. It had, however, been re-issued owing to the enormous success of the band over the previous 12 months. Of course, this was a very different Adam & The Ants to the line-up who became huge, but it mattered not. Ant fever was in full swing so any cynical marketing ploy was welcome, especially for an 11-year-old Ant fan like me.

Volume 2 also gave us Party Fears Two by the Associates (which I posted back here), Bow Wow Wow's Wild In The Country, Gary Numan with Music For Chameleons, and surprisingly (mainly because it wasn't a big hit), this utterly superb tune:

I actually forgot this track completely for years until I discovered SLF properly during the 90s through my older punk friends. I couldn't place where I'd heard it before, and it's only when I researched this series that I found it was on this compilation. I still don't remember it being on there, if I'm being honest, so clearly it wasn't a big influence on me at the time, but hell - I was 11. It makes this post because it remains one of my fave SLF tracks.

I should also mention that Listen was followed by Kick In The Eye by Bauhaus which I actually do remember from back in the day. But, again perhaps because of my age, I never investigated Bauhaus any further, despite learning of their huge influence on the later indie and goth scenes. Good track though.

Finally, we'll brush aside the inclusion of Tight Fit, Starsound and Huey Lewis to mention a band who went on to become one of the biggest in the world. Depeche Mode were still a plinkity-plonkity synth-pop band in 1982, yet to properly discover their dark side. In a few years they would be making brilliant songs like Blasphemous Rumours, Stripped and Strangelove, but when you consider some of the dross on Chartbusters '82, See You would easily make the single highlights album without a second thought. I'm not posting the song though - that's a sure-fire way to get the site taken down by "The Man". Dave Gahan would never be able to afford those leather jackets if we all gave away low-quality digital rips of 35-year-old Depeche Mode songs now, would he? So here they are, with Dave looking like he's only 11-years-old himself, on Top Of The Pops.

Friday 26 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #8

This series isn't all about the never-before-released tracks. Both of today's picks have been officially put out, but are either rare or not particularly well-known.

In 2008, R.E.M. released 'Accelerate'. It was a breath of fresh air. After two woeful records of mid-tempo, middle-of-the-road schmaltz, 'Accelerate' sounded like R.E.M. had found a new lease of life. A band rejuvenated, they actually sounded like they were having fun again. Its opening track Living Well Is The Best Revenge was without a doubt the band's best song in 10 years. In contrast to recent offerings, 'Accelerate' was short, but the quality was undoubtedly high.

The album's second single - the rip-roaring Man-Sized Wreath - included a version of Living Well that was renamed based on a studio discussion immediately prior in which Peter Buck poses the question "Did Jesus have a dog?" that reduces all present into hysterics. The subsequent take on the song is utterly superb - loud, fast and far more energetic than any recording by a bunch of middle-aged blokes has any right to be - and even beats the album version hands down.

R.E.M. had been issuing special fan-club only releases since 1988. Some were rubbish, some just had some standard live tracks on them, but there were quite a few that contained some real gems and surprises. The 2009 single was one of the latter. The cover of Lenny Kaye's Crazy Like A Fox was pretty decent in itself, but most notable was the line-up of the band: just a duo consisting of Mike Mills and Bill Berry. Yes, THE Bill Berry - R.E.M.'s legendary former drummer whose departure in 1996 many link to the band's subsequent decline. He and Mills sing and play everything on this track (with producer John Keane joining in the backing vox)

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Here's one of my all-time favourite reggae tunes. Once it gets in my head, it refuses to leave. The oddly-named Clint Eastwood (not the actor) was already an established deejay in Jamaica when he teamed up with British deejay General Saint in the early 80s. They went on to release a few albums together and enjoyed moderate commercial success.

Stop That Train, the title track of their second album, may be one of their best known songs, but you might be surprised how many others of theirs you recognise. You're getting the original 12" version today because you deserve it.

Monday 22 May 2017

Future 40's

Friday's post referenced this song. I used to have both the 7" single and its parent album 'Surprise' based solely on its R.E.M. association. It's a great song though, even now some 28 years later. Eek - 28 years? Where the heck did that time go?

Syd Straw was never particularly prolific, only making two more albums in the next two decades. I never heard much else by her, but seeing as I've been reminded of her (and as her stuff is all up on Bandcamp), I think I'll explore a little more.

The single version of Future 40's emphasises Michael Stipe's contribution a touch more than the album mix. No doubt the record company thought they'd take advantage of the presence of rock's most enigmatic frontman who was on the cusp of superstardom. Whatever, as a feminist rallying cry, it may sound somewhat dated nowadays. On the other hand, with a moron with such disrespect for women in the White House, maybe it's become sadly relevant once more. Maybe 28 years isn't such a long time after all...

Stipe can be seen loitering in the video while Ms. Straw wears lots of costumes and drives around the desert. How very 80s...

Friday 19 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #7

'Green' was R.E.M.'s first album for a *shock-horror* major label. It remains one of their best records, but also marked the beginning of a massive uplift in the band's career. The album spawned Orange Crush, the band's first Top 40 single in the UK (they even did Top Of The Pops - see this clip and the ignorant comment by the clueless presenter at the end...), another Top 40 single in the States (Stand) and was by far their biggest selling album to date. It continued - and indeed heightened - the band's political interest, this time bringing environmental concerns to the fore (hence the title). But perhaps most notably, the inclusion of three mandolin-led acoustic songs hinted strongly at a new direction R.E.M. would go on to explore much more deeply in the near future.

The Green Tour was massive. I saw them at Wembley Arena in London in July 1989, only my second ever gig. The shows on this tour are much vaunted, described as R.E.M. at their zenith. Visually, they were the most ambitious the band had put together with Stipe, always the focal-point, outdoing himself with stage props and acapella ad-libs. Some of the US shows were filmed and the concert movie 'Tourfilm' was made. That too has been hailed as one of the all-time greatest live concert films. Essentially, R.E.M. couldn't put a foot wrong at this point in their career - everything they touched turned to gold.

The now sadly defunct blog The Power Of Independent Trucking once posted a remastered audio of 'Tourfilm'. The guy behind the blog was known for his remastering work and he did a fine job of this. I've chosen a couple of things I think represent this era of live R.E.M. rather well. World Leader Pretend will probably forever remain in my personal R.E.M. top 10. It stood out the first time I listened to 'Green'. It's augmented here by an acapella intro from Stipe singing a snippet of Gang Of Four's We Live As We Dream Alone.

Similarly, I Believe (originally from 'Lifes Rich Pageant') was preceded by more Stipe improv. No one's quite sure where the spoken word bit comes from. In fact, in a 2008 Q&A, a fan quoted the whole piece and asked Stipe: "What is this?" His response was: "I don’t know but I recognize it. Did I write this? Where did it come from, it feels very very familiar and sounds like me." There's no doubt about the next bit though. Future 40's was a song by Vermont singer/songwriter Syd Straw. Stipe produced her debut album 'Surprise' and sang backing vocals on this song. Weaving it into the set no doubt helped to raise Straw's profile a little...

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Sophia George was a teacher of deaf children when she had a global hit in 1986 with Girlie Girlie. It made the top 10 in the UK, but she never charted here again. I've never been a big fan of the electronic reggae sound of the 80s, but always thought Girlie Girlie was such a great song. Perhaps too good, in that nothing else I've heard by her comes close to it.

Girlie Girlie is not a song about an effeminate man, but rather about one who has a girlie in every street in every town:

  "Him have one up here, one down there / One in Hannover, one down a Vere
  One she's a lawyer, one she's a doctor / One wey dey work with a little contractor
  One down a east, one down a west / Him have one up north, and two down south
  One a sell cigarettes pon de roll-about cart."

Ten years later, after five albums, George and her husband moved to the States and she retired from music. Trivia fans may like to know that her son, Patrick Chung, plays for NFL side New England Patriots.

Monday 15 May 2017

The Genius Of Nick Cave

#22: Jubilee Street

Today's pick is truly special. Even with a career so advanced as his, Nick Cave can still make my jaw drop. 2013's 'Push The Sky Away' is rightly regarded as one of his very best albums, and in the middle of it is a song that is, quite simply, genius. One of the best examples of Nick's work of any period. The album version is the one to have, of course, but although the video is soundtracked by an edit that fades out way too soon, it's worth posting here for the appearance of Ray Winstone who UK readers will know as the mandatory hard man in nearly every British drama of the past 30 years. Probably not suitable to watch at work though...

For the full effect, here's an amazing live version recorded in Hollywood during the 'Push The Sky Away' tour. This is just fucking phenomenal; it knocks me for six every single time I watch it.

UPDATE 2020: Unfortunately, the clip the above paragraph refers to is no longer available, so instead, here's another gigantic performance in a much smaller venue but with just as much energy. Up close and personal with his audience as always, whether he's playing to 100 or 100,000!

Friday 12 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #6

The Work Tour of 1987 was the R.E.M.'s biggest to date. They had a breakthrough hit single in the States which no doubt bolstered ticket sales, and were within a whisker of the Top 40 in the UK. 'Document' was (and still is) one hell of a record, loaded with political content and proof, if any were needed, that R.E.M. were going to be a major force in the not-too-distant future.

On the day 'Document' was released in the UK, the band played a show in Utrecht, Holland which has been widely bootlegged. It's probably one of the best live recordings out there and the boot I have - entitled 'A Bucketful of Worksongs' - remains a favourite of mine. The 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of 'Document' included a disc featuring this very show, though typically of such things it is incomplete. Four songs are missing - all cover versions.

Superman was released as the second single from 'Lifes Rich Pageant' the previous year. It was the first track on any R.E.M. album to feature Mike Mills on lead vocal. The original by The Clique is much loved my many, but (and maybe I'm biased) I much prefer R.E.M.'s take. Harpers, meanwhile, is a cover-of-sorts. Michael Stipe actually co-wrote it and produced the original by avant-garde band Hugo Largo. Stipe sings it accapella and struggles with the high notes, but it was a regular during encores for a few years.

I'll bring you the other two "missing" songs in a later episode...

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Ripton Joseph Hylton used to back a horse regularly. He lost quite often. After a few singles released under his own name in the mid-to-late 70s, Hylton adopted the name of that horse - Eek-A-Mouse - and unlike the old nag, he found some success.

Perhaps his most famous song is Wa-Do-Dem, a version of his earlier song Virgin Girl. Eek's style is unique. His nasal tone sings a kind of scat, lots of "biddly-bongs" and that kind of thing. Some people - everyone else in chez Robster, for instance - find him rather irritating. I get that. But he's made the Reggae Wednesday series because I like him. Some A Holla, Some A Bawl was the closing track on Eek-A-Mouse's third album 'Assassinator' from 1983.

Monday 8 May 2017

New things

Awful title for a post (I'm completely devoid of any better ideas), but it does aptly sum it up.

One of my favourite albums of the year thus far is the new one from ex-Pavement and Preston School Of Industry guitarist Spiral Stairs. Entitled 'Doris & the Daggers', it's his second solo record and the first in eight years.

One of the standout tracks is Emoshuns for which this very silly video was made...

Taffy first featured here as the subject of my first post in my It Came From Japan series. Not afraid to wear their (mainly British) influences on their sleeves, their new album 'Nyctophilia' has just been released and it is very dreampop oriented. Last year they supported The Charlatans on tour and by way of tribute, they've covered the Charlies' Come Home Baby which features on the album. Not afraid of a good cover this lot, and here they've really made a decent stab at making the song their own.

Friday 5 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #5

After the positive reaction to their debut EP, R.E.M. were keen to repeat the chemistry they had with producer Mitch Easter for their first album. The record label however had other ideas. They wanted an up-and-coming producer called Stephen Hague to do the job. And so it was that, in December 1982, the band went into the studio with Hague and cut the first track of the session - Catapult. It was to be the only track of the session. The band were unhappy with Hague's techniques, particularly Bill Berry who hated having to record his drum track over and over. Hague also took the tapes away and added synths. Synths!

The band expressed their dissatisfaction to the label who then agreed to allow a session with Easter and his partner Don Dixon. Whichever session the label felt yielded the best results would be the course of the album. Pilgrimage was chosen as the track to record. Easter and Dixon's hands-off approach allowed the band to record more organically. The resulting demo was, wisely, chosen as the better of the two by the label and so work on what would become 'Murmur' continued with Easter and Dixon.

When you hear the two tracks together, it's really not difficult to understand why that decision was made. Hague's Catapult is, quite simply, terrible. If this had been the R.E.M. sound, it is unlikely they would have made it out of the 80s. Instead, 'Murmur' has become a classic of epic proportions, a record revered by fans and critics alike. It's in my top 3 R.E.M. albums, without a doubt.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

This week, London is calling. The Skints hail from England's capital but if you didn't know any better you'd swear they were from Kingston, Jamaica. They describe themselves as "When you're a punk band, but reggae is life." The spirit of '77 lives on, then.

Where the Skints succeed is not only that authentic roots sound, but having three members who sing vocals, they can mix the styles up a bit. On today's track, they also rope in two London-based legends - Tippa Irie and MC/drummer Horseman. Five vocalists on one song paying homage to their hometown. This Town is taken from The Skints' third album, 2015's 'FM'.

Monday 1 May 2017


The so-called Haymarket Affair, that occurred on 1st May 1886, kickstarted a growing resistance aganst the elite and the fight for workers' rights in America. In the ensuing 130 years, Mayday has become an international day of protest against the rich and powerful.

It is worth noting the hysteria over migrant workers that surrounded the Haymarket Affair seems to mirror that perpetuated by today's media and politicians. Has anything really changed? Sadly, it seems not. It doesnt matter who you vote for, the government will always get in. As the UK gets ready to go to the polls in Theresa May's folly election next month, we'd do well to remember that as we place our X on our ballot papers.

To mark this day of uprising, here are a few protest songs I've dug up. To start with, Manchester's Cabbage, rising stars on the indie circuit. One of only a few young bands who are using their voices to ACTUALLY SAY SOMETHING!

The marvellous Barrington Levy released 'Robin Hood' in 1980. The title track compares one of England's most notorious characters - who stole from the rich to give to the poor - with modern day society, which works on a completely opposite philosophy. When Friday Come, from the same album, is a plea from a downtrodden construction worker to his "Mr Boss Man" to let him go home on Friday to see his family.

The much-missed Sharon Jones, meanwhile, poses an interesting question: at a time when schools and other vital public services are deprived of funding, why are our taxes being spent on weapons no one wants? What if we decided not to pay our taxes? Who would fund mass destruction then?

To finish, an undisputed classic. Grandmaster Flash's timeless rap about inner city life sums up what was wrong about politics and society in 1980, and to an extent, what continues to this day.

Does protest work? Without it, it's easy to just succumb to the inevitable and make it easy for "them" to exert their control. After 130 years you could argue little has changed, but that doesn't mean we should keep quiet. Silence just makes things worse.