Monday 31 July 2017

Compiled #5

(Problems with Pixeldrain again, so today's links come courtesy of Nippyshare...)

I had originally planned to write about some of my other favourite compilations like 'Ruby Trax' and 'Alvin Lives (In Leeds)' but I decided against it in the end. Why? Well JC did some in-depth pieces on the former a little while ago and I can't add much more to what he wrote, while the latter has been written about in some form or other by plenty of others over the years. I'm sure Brian must have done something about it at some point.

So, the final episode in this mini-series is a bit of a cheat, really. You see, I never actually owned a physical copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack so it can't really be considered influential in my life. But it's a really good, varied record that deserves revisiting. And it's not even a proper compilation album, more a soundtrack; most of the songs included were recorded live specially. So maybe it doesn't belong in this series at all. Regardless...

If you didn't know, 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' was a documentary released in 1986 about the music scene in the town of Athens, Georgia. I only ever wanted the soundtrack to 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' for the R.E.M. tracks. For some reason it seemed practically impossible to track down. Not sure why, but I just never saw it anywhere and my local record shops were unable to order it in. I finally got hold of the R.E.M. songs as bonus tracks on a European reissue of 'Lifes Rich Pageant' on CD, so never pursued it any further.

I did, however, buy the video of the film at some point and found it intriguing. I'd never heard of most of the bands who featured. Of course, R.E.M. and the B-52s were by far the most successful of the lot, and I'd heard of Pylon purely because of R.E.M.'s cover of Crazy. But some of the other bands went on to have quite lengthy careers. Take the Flat Duo Jets, for instance. Not only did they release eight albums before they broke up in 1998, but they were a massive influence on the raucous two-piece blues rock bands who followed in their wake. No less than Jack White name-checked them often.

Love Tractor were another lot who had staying power, releasing four albums before they split (and a further three post-reforming). Pretty originally appeared on their second record 'Around The Bend', but this live version was captured at the legendary 40 Watt Club.

Most of the songs on the soundtrack were recorded live as a way of capturing 'the scene'. There were one or two studio tracks though. The mighty Pylon contributed a song from their debut album, 1980's 'Gyrate'. Stop It remains one of Vanessa Briscoe Hay's best vocals.

Dreams So Real is a band I still know almost nothing about. They did release four albums before breaking up in 1990. Golden, the track that appears on the Athens, GA. soundtrack curiously didn't feature in the film itself. Nor did it appear on any of their albums, though it was included on the 1992 compilation 'Nocturnal Omissions'.

Of course, the R.E.M. tracks will feature at some point in my ongoing Friday series. Maybe. Perhaps if the B-52s had a track on the album I might have included that, but strangely there wasn't one. In the film all we got from them was some very unsatisfactory archive clips and a couple of interviews. So instead, I'll sign off with the opening track on the soundtrack which also found itself being put out as a single. The Squalls released just two albums that very few people bought. This track, however, is incredibly hummable. Well, the chorus is. It's made it onto a few compilations I've done over the years.

Eventually, I finally managed to get hold of a copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack, albeit digitally. Not the same, I know, but better than nothing.

Friday 28 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #17

The 1999 fan club single was the first to be issued on CD. My guess is any plans to make it a 7" were scuppered by the running times. Both songs were recorded live in October 1998 at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit concert in California. Young, in fact, features on both tracks. On one side was Young backed by R.E.M. (minus Stipe) performing Ambulance Blues, originally the closing track on Young's 1974 album 'On The Beach'. However, you're getting the other side.

As you probably know, Country Feedback is my favourite R.E.M. song. It's also Michael Stipe's. This epic nine-minute acoustic version features the then-touring line-up of the band with Young guesting on guitar. He plays a particularly long solo, but that's not wholly surprising I suppose. It sounds very different to the album version, mainly because of the piano and acoustic guitars-a-plenty. The album version will never be beaten, but this one is hardly inferior.

1999 was the year of Man On The Moon, the movie about US comedian Andy Kaufman. R.E.M. wrote and scored the mainly orchestral soundtrack which also included a couple of new songs along with the established title track. Kaufman was played in the movie by Jim Carrey who performed one of those new songs with the band. This Friendly World is a disposable pop song that Stipe sings nicely while Jim Carrey larks around supposedly in character in his annoying over-acting kind of way. No, I'm not a fan.

Not many people bought the soundtrack other than devoted R.E.M. fans, even though the single released from it - The Great Beyond - was the band's highest-charting hit in the UK. This Friendly World is a silly, non-essential piece, but a fairly unknown curio which is why I'm including here.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

OK, so this is an interesting one. Now, you probably know that Delroy Wilson (aka The Cool Operator) was a pioneer of reggae music, starting out in 1962 aged just 13. He saw the birth of ska, rocksteady and reggae and became the first superstar of the genre. He's namechecked in the Clash's (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (what higher accolade is there?) and has worked with more massive names in Jamaican music than I can be bothered to list here.

You'll know many of his songs, but this one - well, you'll know the tune but perhaps not the lyrics. I've had a real hard time finding anything out about this track. I can tell you it came out as a single in 1974 in both the UK and Jamaica, but it never seems to have made it onto an album or, indeed, any of the many compilations of Delroy's work. It did, however, make it onto a Trojan Records boxset called 'Motor City Reggae' in 2006. There are no writer's credits on the original records, but the box set names the legendary Holland, Dozier, Holland. As I implied just now however, the words are different to the ones you'll be familiar with, so I'm not sure who contributed what to this version.

I'm certain this isn't rated as among Delroy's best work, but I'm posting it because if nothing else it's intriguing.

Monday 24 July 2017

Out The Way!

The new Nadine Shah record could well prove to be the album of the year. She's put out three tracks so far and all are startlingly good, but this one in particular is absolutely mindlblowing. It's powerful, both musically and lyrically. Nadine's delivery is sparky and passionate, and the video is utterly stunning. Combined, it's all rather uncomfortable, but life really is for many people at the moment, particularly those who find themselves unwelcome in their own country (like this one) purely because of their ethnic origin. Or those fleeing from war and finding themselves not welcome by those who should be helping them. That's what Out The Way is all about.

Nadine's new songs sound confrontational and fiery, but that's proving to be a fine thing. The new album 'Holiday Destination' is out on 25th August. That's, like, a whole MONTH away. I don't think I can wait...

Friday 21 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #16

It's time for the infamous Bingohandjob show! There really can't be anyone who was ever a fan of R.E.M. who isn't aware of this, but here goes anyway. In 1991, the band embarked on a low-key tour to support the release of 'Out Of Time'. The shows they played were almost exclusively small, acoustic performances featuring Peter Holsapple of the dB's and a special guest or two. In March, they descended on London's tiny Borderline to play two nights to fans, friends and record company acquaintances. They have become the stuff of legend.

Bootlegs of the shows have been in wide circulation over the years, and a few songs were even officially issued as b-sides. I actually have two bootlegs - one on vinyl, the other on CD. The vinyl one came first and featured 21 tracks. I picked up the CD a couple years later. It contained more songs but with one or two tracks that were on the vinyl strangely missing. Even then, combined, they don't contain everything.

The sets contained most of the songs from Out Of Time, plus arrangements of fave songs from the back catalogue. But weaved in amongst them were cover versions, jams, lots of banter and general drunken silliness. Not only did the band play under the aforementioned moniker Bingohandjob, but each band member had an assumed name also; Stipe was 'Stinky', Mills was 'Ophelia', Buck was 'Raoul', Berry was 'The Doc' and Holsapple was 'Spanish Charlie'. They were joined by Billy Bragg ('Conrad') and Robyn Hitchcock ('Violet').

Both Bragg and Hitchcock played short solo sets during the show, but aside from a couple of songs where Stipe sang with Bragg, neither seem to have made it onto any of the boots. Also, the vinyl version contains a full band rendition of Hitchcock's song Listening To The Higsons, but this was omitted from the CD. Sadly, I don't have a copy of my vinyl ripped to be able to share that song, but I am going to post a few other gems from the show. Yes, you may already know them - you probably have a copy of the shows in some form or other - but no series covering R.E.M. bootlegs and rarities could ever be considered complete without including a Bingohandjob episode.

First up, another abandoned version of Jackson, but this time it leads into Stipe and Bragg duetting on Dallas with, erm, spontaneous lyrics... Later on, Michael entertains us with a little solo organ song introduced by his tale about his brilliant organ part in an upcoming song. That song is a cover of Bob Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, featuring the entire cast led by Robyn Hitchcock.

To round off, Stipe and Mills say goodnight with a spine-tingling acapella take on Moon River. The respect the audience gives the pair of them, listening in near silence, is something you simply don't get at gigs any more. You can just make out a voice at the very end of the recording saying "Perfect. Unbelievable." You can't help but agree.

And as a bonus, here's a song that never made it onto any of the bootlegs. Someone in the crowd appears to have filmed one of the shows and uploaded it years later onto YouTube. Not everything is there, but I was delighted to find this. It's just Stipe and Mills performing Syd Barrett's Dark Globe. Stipe is on top form, proving what a great frontman he was, particularly during this period.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Yet another legend this week. Little Roy first recorded in 1965 aged just 12 years old and had his first Jamaican number one aged 16 with what is believed to be the first song about the Rastafari movement. He was the first artist to record a song using the word 'reggae' and is considered one of roots reggae's founding fathers. Over the years he has worked with such luminaries as Prince Buster, Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Dennis Brown.

In 2011, he became what must be the first reggae artist to release an album of Nirvana cover versions. 'Battle For Seattle' was recorded with Prince Fatty and includes versions of songs that spanned Nirvana's short career. For the most part it holds together pretty well, although I could live without his take on Sliver.

The highlights for me are Dive, Polly and today's track Lithium, all of which sound like they could have been written as upbeat reggae numbers rather than angst-ridden grunge anthems. Stick this on your summer party mixtape and watch the place light up.

(There seem to be problems with Pixeldrain so today's link is with a different host. Let me now if you have any issues.)

Monday 17 July 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#24: Where The Wild Roses Grow

Nick's biggest UK hit came from an unlikely source - 1996's 'Murder Ballads' album, a record all about killing and death. As ever though, it was laced with trademark Cave humour and beauty. Probably the thing that sold this song to most is the presence of another famous Aussie, Kylie Minogue. The video is brilliant, some wonderful cinematography and it fits the song perfectly. And doesn't Kylie look absolutely delectable? Yep, MrsRobster's not going to be happy with me, but it really has to be said.

In 2013, while making the '20,000 Days on Earth' movie, Nick and the Bad Seeds played a stripped-down set at an intimate show in London. Since Kylie was in town, they asked her along to perform Where The Wild Roses Grow with them for the first time in 15 years...

Friday 14 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #15

I've been holding this week's bootleg back for a little while. It was deliberate. I wanted to reward those of you who have endured this series up to this point. There has been some sludge, and while there have been some undoubtedly wonderful selections up to now, I think today's tracks really are the best so far.

Demos for debut album 'Murmur' took place in late 1982/early 1983 with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. Even early in the sessions it was clear that not only were most of the songs complete, but they were already sounding exquisite. Listening to some of those demos - which have never been officially released - you can't help but think Dixon and Easter must have been beaming from ear to ear throughout. These versions I'm posting today were not the final versions - far from it - but my god do they sound wonderful.

Well, OK, Romance never made the final album and it wasn't released in any form until some years later when a re-recorded version appeared on a movie soundtrack. But it had been a regular in the live set and no surprise it was trialled for the record. This version is not a million miles away from that much later version, but clearly isn't as polished. Even so, it's a delight to hear it.

Shaking Through was a highlight on 'Murmur'. This version sounds lovely and bright. Stipe's vocal was later redone but here it is pretty close to perfection. But the best has been saved 'til last. The version of Sitting Still on the album is very close in sound to the original that appeared on the debut single in 1981. But this demo version is... well, just listen to it. Those backing vocals - are they simply MAGNIFICENT or what? They were buried in the mix on the album cut, but here - oh how they sparkle. Sitting Still remains one of R.E.M.'s best early songs, but if this was the version on the album, it would be head and shoulders above everything else they put out. I beam like a loony every time I hear this track.

I'm not overdoing it, am I?

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

The Wailing Souls formed in 1964 as The Renegades, changing their name a few years later. In their 50-plus years together, they have become one of reggae's best known and loved acts. Two of their founding members - Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd "Bread" McDonald - are still going strong, recording and performing. A new album is reportedly in the works with Sly & Robbie at the controls.

The early 70s saw the rise of a band known as The Wailers, led by some young upstart calling himself Bob Marley. You may have heard of them. Anyway, fearing confusion with this other lot, the Wailing Souls recorded under various different names for a while, including The Little Roys, Attamas and Pipe & The Pipers. A couple of singles were also released under the name of The Classics. One of these was Mr. Fire Coal Man.

The first time I heard this song was actually the cover released by Stiff Little Fingers as the b-side to Back To Front, but I've become more familiar with The Wailing Souls version in the intervening years. Well, I say version - the truth is they recorded the song several times and it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint the actual version you're listening to. The one I'm posting today is, I'm pretty certain, the version released under the Classics moniker. It came out in 1971 on the Banana label in the UK and Supreme Records in Jamaica. It's a great example of the new emerging reggae sound that still has something of a ska and rocksteady sound to it.

Monday 10 July 2017

Weaver fever

Electronic music doesn't generally grab me like the sound of squalling guitars, but every now and then I get teased, tantalised and tempted by something synth-based. Jane Weaver's latest album 'Modern Kosmology' is a great example of such electronica making me all hot under the collar. In a largely unfulfilling year so far, this is one record that's been getting quite a bit of play time in TheRobster family car. I enjoyed her last album, but this one really is the ticket.

Slow Motion is one of my singles of the year; a pristine piece of psyche-pop.

Follow-up single Did You See Butterflies? is altogether more dreamy and spacey, but no less engaging.

Friday 7 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #14

The Monster Tour was R.E.M.'s first tour in more than five years. It saw them playing enormous venues, moving on from the large arenas they played during the Green Tour to stadiums. MrsRobster and I hooked up during the UK leg when we saw them at Cardiff Arms Park. You can see why I have such fondness for this era...

Another concert movie was made to mark the significance of the Monster Tour. While Roadmovie may not have as high acclaim as Tourfilm did, it was still quite brilliant as far as concert movies go. In order to make more of a show within the vast spaces they were playing in, the band incorporated more of a visual aspect than they had before with large-scale projections used as backdrops. They also augmented their line-up with additional musicians (Scott McCaughey and Nathan December) something they had never done before in a concert setting.

Roadmovie is a worthwhile document of a much feted tour. I love most of the songs on 'Monster' and they sound amazing live. I might have to post I Took Your Name from this in a future post because it just sounds incredible. But for now...

This tour resulted in R.E.M.'s next album. All the songs for 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' were written during the Monster Tour, and most of them recorded live during shows and soundchecks. One of those new songs, Revolution, didn't make the subsequent record. By the time they came to compile it, the political references and themes in the lyrics had dated to the point where it was deemed out of step with the rest of the album. A studio version was recorded and given over to the Batman & Robin soundtrack, but the live version on Roadmovie is deemed to be far superior. I don't disagree.

Let Me In was Michael Stipe's tribute to his late friend Kurt Cobain. It is the outstanding highlight on 'Monster' and to this day remains one of my all-time top 5 R.E.M. tracks. Live, Mike Mills plays a guitar owned by Cobain, while Peter Buck plays keyboards. The flashing visuals flicker relentlessly as the sprawling guitar reverberates around the vast space, filling the air with the most unusual and unique sounds ever heard at an R.E.M. show. It is an intensely personal and emotional song for Stipe, and rather uncomfortable for the listener. Typically, this is probably why I adore it so much and always have. During the Cardiff date, I remember experiencing a real jawdropping 'wow' moment when they played Let Me In. Watching it in Roadmovie again takes me right back there.

I can't not post the clip now, can I...? Instructions: turn off the lights, close the curtains. Listen through a decent pair of headphones at high volume and watch full screen. Be blown away.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Bunny Wailer - roots reggae pioneer, original member of the Wailers, Bob Marley's stepbrother... yeah yeah yeah, we all know who he is and his standing in reggae circles. I'm not going to write any more about that. Instead, let's just have a tune.

Bunny's fourth solo album, 'In I Father's House', was a six-track effort released in 1980 in Jamaica only. A couple of years later it was given a worldwide release, though with a rearranged track order, two additional songs and a new title. Both versions of the record opened with the same track. On the original it was called Roots Raddics; on the reissue, it was dubbed Roots Radics Rockers Reggae and became the title track.

Bunny is still performing. Last year he toured performing his solo debut album 'Blackheart Man' to mark its 40th anniversary. He is one of only two surviving original Wailers. Anyone know who the other is?

Monday 3 July 2017


Here's a tune for your summer playlists. The Tambo Rays are from Oakland, CA. They have been kicking around for a few years, releasing singles here and there and they're just about to release a new EP titled 'Recharge'. The lead single is called Yes And No and while it's poppier than the sort of thing I usually go for, it's undeniably catchy, unashamedly summery and unapologetically fun.

'Recharge' is released on 17th July on CD and cassette (yes, cassette!) as well as digitally from the band's Bandcamp site. Check out some of their other tunes there too.