Thursday, 29 December 2011

Phil Spector :1970s

As poor old Phil Spector enjoys his kosher turkey sandwich in jail this Christmas it started me thinking why it is that many great songs from his later period haven't been given the same box set and remastering treatment his work with girl groups such as The Ronettes and The Crystals have been given many times over. I agree that the 60's period was definitely his greatest run of work but that's not to say the 70's releases are without any merit what so ever, after all these were the times he spent working with John Lennon, George Harrison, The Ramones etc.

As no official compilation has been put together and the concept itself seems to be far away from his own pressing priorities at the moment I have taken it upon myself to list some of my favourite cuts from this 'forgotten' time line of Phil Spector's career. Some of these tracks you will hopefully know already and some may not be that familiar to you but thanks to youtube I'm sure you'll be able to find the majority if not all of them for your listening pleasure.

tomorrows sounds today!

count it off Hal...

'Awaiting On You All' - George Harrison - (1970) This wall shaking gospel song from the excellent 'All Things Must Pass' album shows the wall of sound was alive and well even after the commercial failings stateside of 'River Deep Mountain High'.

'Instant Karma' - John Lennon - (1970) The first official meeting between John Lennon and Phil Spector in a recording studio. An idea Lennon come up with of writing a song, recording it the next day, mixing the day after and getting it released by the end of the week. With no room for error or hold ups a professional was needed behind the glass and working the desk. Enter Phil Spector. These sessions convinced Lennon and the other Beatles to give the job of remixing, editing and producing the 'Let It Be' album which would later go on to win the group a Grammy.

'God' - John Lennon - (1970) From the primal scream 'Plastic Ono Band' album, proving that Spector could produce minimalist as well as bombastic with equal aplomb. His presence is felt over the final production and especially on this track as it was his masterstroke to introduce Billy Preston on piano to give the perfect gospel feel against Lennons more rudimentary playing throughout.

'Wah Wah' - George Harrison - (1970) Written during the fraught 'Let It Be' sessions after one of the many arguments with Paul McCartney, this track was worked on and rehearsed endlessly in the studio with Harrison showing each musician their individual parts and envisioning a more restrained acoustic based arrangement. Only when he heard what Phil had added to the final mix and actual tape did he see and hear the full effect.

'Try Some Buy Some' - Ronnie Spector - (1971) A strange song, some say dirge but one for the list definitely. Written by George Harrison during his krishna-krishna mindset of songwriting. Chords and melody bump into each other while Ronnie does her best to decipher the lyric. George later used this recording on his own 'Living in the Material World' album instead adding his own vocal take to the Spector production.

'I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier' - John Lennon- (1971) By 1971 Spector had produced his first album by The Beatles as a collective as well as making individual albums with 2 of them as solo acts. By 1971 he was again with Lennon making what would become the 'Imagine' album. The title track I'm sure you've all heard a million times but this track here shows the full trick bag with heavy percussion and waves of echo in full flow.

'New York City' - John Lennon and the Elephants Memory Band - (1972) This track from the confusing and below par 'Sometime In New York City' album would be the last Lennon/Spector production for 3 years and although most of the tracks included were lackluster protest songs there were a few high points, this old fashioned rocker being one. Around this time Spector also recorded the classic 'Happy Christmas (War is Over)' for John and Yoko which remains a Christmas essential even today.

'A Love like Yours (Don't Come Knockin' Every day)' - Nilsson & Cher - (1974) 1974 was a strange year for Phil Spector. He seemed to be going through his little black address book and meeting with people from his past in an attempt to re-create some of the magic from his earlier releases. Both Cher and Harry Nilsson had helped on earlier work with Cher (at the time girlfriend of close friend, gopher and general studio dogsbody for Phil Sonny Bono) singing backing vocals on many of the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love sessions. Harry Nilsson on the other hand who back in the early mid 60s was a struggling songwriter. He contributed songs such as 'Paradise' for The Ronettes and the classic 'This Could Be The Night' for The Modern Folk Quartet. Both artists recorded this one off single, a cover of this Holland/Dozier/Holland track which presented the new slow funeral pace of Spectors mid 70's work.

'Born To Be With You' - Dion - (1974) As the year progressed another artists appeared from Phil's formative years in the form of Dion DiMucci, formally of Dion and the Belmonts who's 1950's hits such as 'A Teenager In Love' and 'The Wanderer', 'Runaround Sue' (with the Del-Satins) had been a great influence on the young Phil and his entire generation. Here 20 years later after career lows and personal problems (heroin addiction) he is given the chance to make a truly wonderful album, the opening and title song 'Born To Be With You' shows the range of his vocal talents as well as proving that the producer making the calls could still catch lightening in a bottle once again. An influence on everyone from Spiritualized to Bernard Butler.

'Make The Woman Love Me' - Dion- (1974) Another song from the 'Born to Be With You' sessions paired up song writing legends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil once again with Phil after many years, proving that the overall final product is only as good as the material being recorded. Two old school professionals from the Brill Building give this song a strong melody and a great chorus.

'Only You Know' - Dion- (1974) Apart from being a great song for Dion, this was also a great meeting of minds with songwriter/lyricist Gerry Goffin who's songs with his wife Carol King included 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' for The Shirelles and 'Up On The Roof' for The Drifters as well 'Every Breath I Take' by Gene Pitney (produced by Spector). Apparently when they first met the first words Phil Spector said to Dion were what would later be the chorus of this track.

Only you know where you have been to
Only you know what you have been through
But there's better things you're gonna get into
And I wanna be there too

creepy fella our Phil.

'Baby Lets Stick Together' - Dion - (1974) Ok, Ok I'll shut up about the Dion album with this final track which I believe was the single and not on the original album but a full on wall of sound 45', could imagine T-Rex covering this, written by Spector and Jeff Barry. During the mixing sessions new kid on the block Bruce Springsteen popped in to watch his hero produce and was sat down and played this over and over as Phil told him "sure beats the hell out of Born to Run, dontcha think?"... well no, but it's a great track that deserves a replay.

'Angel Baby' - John Lennon- (1975) On paper the 'Rock and Roll' album couldn't miss. John Lennon choosing his favourite rock n' roll hits and then letting Phil Spector produce them. How could it fail? Add a ton of cocaine and vodka to the mix as well as about 50 musicians playing slightly out of tune with one another and you might get an idea. This is where the studio madness stories started to appear in the Spector saga. Both men were separated from their wives and living the bachelor lifestyle and with Lennon sharing a house with Nilsson, Keith Moon and Ringo the chances of him getting to bed for 10pm with a good book are beyond the realms of possibility. It wasn't all bad though, this cover of the 1960 Rosie & The Originals Doo-Wop gem is a great asset and proof that the sessions weren't always out of control and when it worked.

'Here We Go Again' - John Lennon- (1975) From the same sessions as 'Angel Baby' this Lennon/Spector original wasn't released until the posthumous 'Menlove Avenue' album. A true lost treasure. Only a shame they didn't collaborate more.

'Here It Comes (and Here I go)' - Jerri Bo Keno - (1975) During this time period Phil signed a deal with Warner Brothers and made another one off single. By then the rise of Disco was in the wings and although his name and reputation had kept him afloat had helped him ride the wave of limited chart success this was another single that failed to crack the top 20. Although with the luxury of hindsight it pops along nice and warrants a nice soft shoe shuffle across the dance floor.

'Memories' - Leonard Cohen - (1977) What do you get when you cross a couple of drunk dirty old men in a studio. Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen. The making of the 'Death of a Ladies Man' album was not a happy time for either party, far too much alcohol and a lot of demons being wrestled from both of them. Add guns into the equation and you have a recipe for disaster. Although with the wrecking crew called upon into the studio and a moment of light hearted fun you have this old school pervy song about big buxom young ladies at high school dances. Recently covered live by Alex Turner and Miles Kane as part of the Last Shadow Puppets.

'Lord, If You're A Woman'- Darlene Love - (1977) Just when it looked like Phil had used up his last chance, last phone number and good will from many studios it only took 1 woman to change the tide. Darlene Love, arguably his greatest singer in the stable of girl group voices to belt out this gospel tinged R&B banger, although out of fashion and never a hit, this is one that really stands up and goes down well even today at 60's nights (just don't tell that it was made during the punk era)

Which leads me onto...

'Rock and Roll High School' - The Ramones - (1979) The fabled Ramones 'End of a Century' sessions/album. The Ramones had been a group that Spector had loved and tried to record with ever since he'd heard their self titled debut upon release. The 2 minute fast no frills approach to singles was one he'd loved himself and after the onslaught of progressive rock and endless guitar solo's a group that just bashed through songs with true rock n' roll sensibilities was something that slapped Phil out of the dirge that had been his mid 70s period. He planned to turn Joey Ramone into the next Buddy Holly and loved that Joey's hero worship of him allowed him carte blanche in the studio and with the material. Johnny Ramone on the other hand hated the outcome and the grueling studio sessions. The rumour was the opening guitar chord on 'Rock and Roll High School' took 8 hours of repeats and takes until Phil was satisfied, although in Johnny Marr's opinion '"it's the greatest chord ever!!"

'Baby I love you' - The Ramones - (1980) The only hit the group ever had and it was a cover of The Ronettes 1963 smash which featured none of da'brudda's but Joey on the recording.

Since The Ramones album there has been little work by Phil Spector. In the 90's he recorded with Celine Dion although these tracks are in the vault thanks to problems between management and Spector. In the early 2000's 2 songs were recorded with UK band Starsailor, 'Silence Is Easy' and 'White Dove'. Only 2 songs were recorded before the group ditched Spector un-ceremoniously and un-graciously believing they could do better themselves. 'Silence is Easy' is still to date their biggest single release and after the album they've slipped back into the 3rd or 4th billing on the festival circuit.

"It seems that talented people must always be in a great pain -
their sensitivity is what makes them great artists - but what a
price to pay. He is and always will be one of the great originals
of rock music and it's true: to know him is to love him"
- John Lennon

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tonight we’re gonna party like its 1994!...

Tonight we’re gonna party like its 1994!...

It’s a common opinion that people are a product of their environment and that experiences and daily routine shape the personality and person that the individual will ultimately be. I can’t help but think that this is true especially when discussing music and tastes. The choice of bands, artists and overall genres of music a person hears in their formative years will always hold a special place in the listener’s hearts; did anyone ever listen to an album as intently as they did when they were 15-16? Every word and nuance of the music was assimilated and absorbed into the memory bank and psyche and was saved for ever. Last Sunday I joined a good mate for a night of teenage year’s reflection and redemption thanks to everyone’s 4th favourite band of the 90’s Shed Seven at Shepherds Bush Empire. It has been a gray haired 15 years since their ‘Maximum High’ album was released and in celebration they were going to play a gig to remind everyone why it’s such a great record and prove that there is still many miles left in the tank as a live act on the post-Libertines music scene.

It’s worrying how quickly the years fly by when you pass the 25-30 bracket and I can only assume it kicks up another gear at 40 before running flat out at 50 until life seems like a constant drive down the motorway to oblivion. The running order of the nights song choices are excellent and I’m glad the group have left the ego at the door and simply bashed out the classics one after another. Tracks such as ‘Going for Gold’, ‘Standby’, ‘She Left me On Friday’, ‘Getting Better’ and the encore ‘Chasing Rainbows’ are all played full tilt with passion and genuine joy at finally being appreciated after many years of being sidelined by the shadow of the Britpop hierarchy of Oasis, Blur, The Charlatans etc.

The group have gone through line up changes as they tried to incorporate new sounds and find their place during these later years before finally parting ways with each other. Time heals many things and I’m sure as memories became fond and new generations started looking back at the 90’s as a long ago era… *gulps drink to steady nerves* the music is the thing that is finally taking centre stage while the rest of the surrounding publicity and distractions of the time are casually ignored. I doubt many 17-18 year olds are trying to find back copies of Select, NME and Q magazine from the 90s to see the backbiting and publicity machine in full propaganda mode awaiting the release of ‘Be Here Now’ when the prophecy would be fulfilled for music and set us all free to be full time scallywags and professionally northern.

For and until forever here are some 90s indie classics for you all to dig out and appreciate with the beauty and shield of the 00’s to protect your ‘coolness.

‘Standby’Shed Seven
‘303’Kula Shaker
‘Love has Passed Away'The Supernaturals
‘Slight Return’The Bluetones
‘Kung Fu’Ash
‘Do You Remember The First Time?’Pulp
‘The Drowners’Suede
‘U16 Girls’Travis
'Love is the Law' - The Seahorses
'Richard III' - Supergrass

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Posthumous releases are always a musical tightrope between pointless cash in and genuine hidden/lost gems from the now departed artist on show. I was sceptical in regards to the ‘new’ Amy Winehouse album before its release mainly due to the fact that there had been so much of a gap between any new releases while Amy was still alive and combined with the rumours of record company pressures (i.e. tracks being turned down etc) it wasn’t expected that there would ever be a real contender to follow up the multi award winning ‘Back To Black’.

‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ is now here and although the tracks are from different stages of her career (from the last batch as well as those written during the ‘Frank’ era) they all managed to sit together comfortably as well as flowing easily for the listener from the start to the end.

After the 60’s girl group inspired tracks on ‘Back to Black’ its refreshing to see that her follow up material both continued this trend while at the same time including more of her jazz and reggae inspired chops she was known for (especially live). Out of the newer material on offer the excellent ‘Between the Cheats’ is a track which really stands out as a great asset to her already worthy cannon. Older tracks which made their way onto the track listing include her much loved cover of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (which includes a fuller arrangement over the vocal/guitar version that is commonly known to fans) this is a personal favourite here and it sounds particularly poignant. A great song, a faithful cover, sung beautifully.

Another highpoint of this collection of songs is the alternate versions of well known Amy tracks such as an earlier version of ‘Tears Dry’ which takes the listener on a completely different journey to the well known version and includes a warm string arrangement that cradles the vocals rather than the Motown sampled single from the album. Both can co-exist within their own space and this makes a genuine treat over the usual ‘take 2 stereo mix’ you usually get sold with this type of albums.

The only point on the album that I feel lets it down a little and smacks a touch of someone 1000 miles away phoning in a part on a leftover track is the Nas Featured ‘Like Smoke’ which is supposed to show Amy’s love of hip hop and that area of her soul but to me sounds too much like the label trying to get another ‘name’ on the album to help push a potential single release.

The other big collaboration here is the already available ‘Body & Soul’ with Tony Bennett which although is a nice mix of generations and is good for posterity neither is firing completely on all cylinders and seems to maybe once again fall into the category of “hey fellas lets get some current artists who will help sell this ‘duets’ album and hopefully bridge the album to a younger generation”. But that may just be my cynical head talking there.

It seems from interviews with Amy Winehouse and friends that she had deep love of soul music and especially Donny Hathaway whom she held in great esteem, the end of the album finishes with a stirring version of the Leon Russell track ‘A Song For You’ that was one of Hathaway’s signature songs throughout his own career and it’s a fitting tribute to him as well as Amy that it was chosen to end this album. Wonderful stuff

Overall a worthy bookend to Amy Winehouse’s criminally short career and one that in all honesty I will be playing a lot over the following months mainly due to the general upbeat and happiness in the music, a stark contrast to the realities of her last days. A double edged sword proving that against all the critics and press she was still in contact fully with the muse and was still capable of true beauty and great art. I look forward to the inevitable box set.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Broken free from the Rabbit hole...

I have done it. It wasn’t pre-planned but when the idea appeared I just went for it. I regret nothing. I have deactivated my Facebook account. This is big news! Surely everyone I have ever met and added NEEDS to know everything about my life. The nights out I didn’t invite them to (talk about rubbing it in!) Here are 10 pictures of me having a great time only miles away from you and you didn’t even get a text message from me beforehand. We are definitely drifting into the arena of the unwell when it comes to personal relationships on a grand scale.

Facebook is like the online transparent diary. Nothing is hidden, nothing private, as soon as you commit and add, tag or invite someone you are open to judgement and comments each step of the way.

Twitter is equally all encompassing although with 'tweeting' there is no turn around or lengthy wait for a reply or response. It’s more like writing a comment down reading it aloud and then throwing it in the abyss. With limited characters and space available each tweet is like a 21st century toilet cubical piece of graffiti, the only difference being that it’s your own toilet and your own thoughts (although if you can’t think of anything funny to say you can simply ‘re-tweet’ or steal someone else’s crack and casually pass it off as your own while crediting fully.)

How will I manage without Facebook? This was the sick fleeting thought that entered my mind as I re-entered my password confirming the total reversible decision I was about to make (after all they want you to come back and what better way to ensure that than to give you a little wink while deleting your page) the message pre-confirmation read “don’t worry we’ll just put it on hold for you in case you change your mind”. The intoxicated online profile junkie will never be free.

Should you really know that much about everyone you know? Obviously it’s useful to know their birthday, anniversary and telephone number but if you were really that close friends surely you’d probably know that anyway. The guy you met at work, do you really give a fuck which School they attended? Their Favourite foods in top 5 order? A comprehensive list of films, music and books they like? Who cares? Where has the art of conversation on a night out gone? When you meet your pal’s on a Friday night for a quick drink do you find yourself sitting in silence nursing a flat pint because everything remotely interesting that has happened to you in the past week was told in real time via your mobile.

I will probably flake out and return with my cyber tail between my legs, but for now let us imagine a world where there was still some mystery to people and their lives and the drabness of the reality wasn’t published in a fancy font and surrounded by a wallpaper of their choice.

operation ho-ho-ho...

Tuesday 13th December. We’re now onto the home stretch for Christmas cheer and it’s nearly all over, making way for broken diets, January Sales and the usual bought of Seasonal Affective Disorder. New Years will obviously be the biggest let down as per usual and Christmas day loses a spark each year as you get older until I presume by the time my forties appear it will simply be another Sunday with Turkey.

The music industry tends to go to sleep at this time of the year, the execs and their cronies fly off to the ski slopes and winter havens to enjoy their yuletide break and won’t return until the last week of January ready to start business. The only releases now will be the XMAS compilations and 'Best Of' albums from artists who shamelessly whore their music out one last time to either meet contractual obligations or simply help top up their pension considering most haven’t had anything resembling a hit for many a merry year.

The only necessity music wise for wise men and women out there is the playing of the formidable Phil Spector Christmas Album ‘A Christmas Gift for You’, if you don’t own this record then I really don’t know that we can be friends any longer as you are given a million chances throughout the year to purchase it. Songs are slipped into movies, adverts, TV shows and even X-Factor to help start the consumer inside you reach for your hard earned cash and rush to the shop to grab a copy.

To show what a nice guy I am (or elitist control freak depending which sites you read) here are the tracks on the album. You can buy, steal, borrow or even Spotify.

A Christmas Gift For You (From Phil Spector)

01. White Christmas – Darlene Love
02. Frosty The Snowman – The Ronettes
03. The Bells of St.Mary – Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
04. Santa Claus is Coming to Town – The Crystals
05. Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes
06. Marshmallow World – Darlene Love
07. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – The Ronettes
08. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – The Crystals
09. Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love
10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers – The Crystals
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
12. Here Comes Santa Claus - Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
13. Silent Night – Phil Spector And Artists

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Artrocker Awards 2011

Artrocker Awards 2011

Award ceremonies are a strange thing. I’ve never been in any situation professionally where being invited to such a thing would even be a possibility let alone a yearly event in the calendar. This year though I had managed to get my name inked on the press list and along with a band interview with the excellent Jim Jones Revue I would manage to see what went on when the cameras stopped rolling.

First of all like most things, the anticipation of the event and the eventual reality are very different. People segregate into small groups and pretend to talk to each other while scanning the room for more important people to talk to, while those looking dishevelled and tired tend to be either the latest rock and roll casualty or simply one of the roadies who’ve spent the last 20 minutes lugging equipment up the back stairs for ungrateful guitarists and drummers alike.

Look and demeanour seems to be something of great importance at these events and as I have recently started wearing glasses due to my 30 year old body recently starting to fail on me at an alarming rate and my needle point precision eye sight now being demoted into cartoon mole-like aimlessness, for tonights celebrations suitable corrective vision is needed. Obviously when matched with red jeans, low dropping neck line and a shirt hanging for dear life over my mid life paunch it seems a wonder that a few people with cameras must have assumed I was someone worth photographing (I’m really not)at least film has generally been replaced with memory sticks so nothing wasted there.

A few familiar faces were seen milling around the free bar although up close and personal a good 90% of these ‘stars’ were as cringe worthy as a Ricky Gervais comedy and as bland as a mash potato filled jacket potato, although it is still fun to spot people you recognise only from magazines and from on TV. I will say hand on my heart I thought award ceremonies were about showing appreciation to the bands and artists and their work throughout the year, celebrating ‘best albums’, ‘best breakthrough artists’ etc. Where as the reality seems to be just blatant networking, manly bear-hugs filled with fake sincerity and then to top off the evening a whole tee-pee’s worth of smoke that will be then blown up the new teen idols relevant backsides at any occasion possible to help the gangs of sycophants to keep their jobs for another 24 hours.

The drinks were free, there were free clothes on offer, no food of course as eating is cheating and the clothes only come in Small and Medium (this is the reason why I was probably handed a scarf rather than a slim fitting shirt…) back to bar I go. Many good books have been written in jail and even more sitting upon a barstool and although back slapping and congratulating is fun and can be worthwhile to boost a persons confidence surely if the biggest enjoyment I get personally is writing the pieces or reviews for you the good reader to enjoy I would assume that for these bands and artists the enjoyment and creative buzz from the ‘making’ far outweighs the award ceremonial ‘come down’ 5 months later in a darkened venue.

Highlights: IC1s heckling everyone within ear shot, free bar, The Jim Jones Revue, Gruff Rhys, Tim Burgess 'so deadpan and uncomfortable' thank you speech, trendy boys wearing free trilbies and acting like they didn’t notice the 10 other people wearing them as well.

Lowlights: Tom Vek NOT winning, Plan B’s awkward ‘speech’, everyone being so serious all the time, strangely trimmed facial hair, an alarming amount of people drinking soft drinks…whatever happened to my rock and roll?

My interview with The Jim Jones Revue will follow up next week...

many thanks to Ric Rawlins, Georgia Camp and Ronnie Joice

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Before we was Fab...

After reading some ill informed drivel in a daily rag about how good Cliff Richard is and how it was a disgrace that he wasn’t being played on 60’s radio due to the fact that he was deemed ‘not cool’, I felt compelled to fight the corner of the radio station.

Firstly he isn’t cool, he never was. He was a diet coke Elvis but with none of the sexual aspects or raw hillbilly rebel swagger to his character that Elvis had in spades. He was for all intense purposes simply rock and roll for your Nan to tap her foot to. The idea that he was some full on heavy rock and roller like Gene Vincent or Elvis is laughable. Firstly he was backed by The Shadows, a group so un-hip and vacuous that they took boring to a new level. Many people might talk in hushed tones about Hank Marvin's guitar ability and his introduction and use of the fabled ‘Whammy Bar’ but the gentle shimmer he gave was nothing compared to the out and out sonic abuse Ike Turner was dishing out over the pond in the USA at the same time with the same tools.

The writer in question who spoke about ‘Move it’ being the best rock and roll record to come out of pre-Beatle Britain has obviously never listened to any of the following that blast it out of the water.

Here are just 5 pre-Beatles British Rock and Roll Records that I picked out from a handful that I would say argue my case…

Shakin’ All OverJohnny Kid & the Pirates
Johnny Remember MeJohn Leyton
Wondrous PlaceBilly Fury
No Other BabyThe Vipers
TelstarThe Tornados (the first UK record to reach #1 in US charts)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


As with all BEST OF ALBUMS list you can be sure once the page has been turned and the advert from HMV SUPER SALE has been ignored there will then be the BEST TRACKS of 2011 they ever let you move and make your own minds up? Of course log into Spotify and find these slices of gold from the year formally known as twenty eleven...

On The Rebound - Dave Cloud & The Gospel of Power

I'll Let You Be My Baby - Agent Ribbons

The Stars Came Out Once The Lights Went Out - The Veils
A great track from a very average so-so EP by The Veils, a disgrace that this wasn't a massive hit.

re sledging - Screaming Maldini
Just for the out and out punk rock of putting a classical string arranged piece slap in the middle of an album full of indie rock. Pure beauty and criminally short.

Love - Rodeo Massacre
Woodstock nation, rise up...Rodeo Massacre seem like a group that were beamed from 1968 and literally have no interest in anything post Altamont. Grace Slick vocals over classic rock turned up to ten.

Whirring - The Joy Formidable

Shark Ridden Waters - Gruff Rhys

The Hellcat Spangled Sha-la-la-la - Arctic Monkeys
A great album and live track from the group. The sort of song Alex Turner casually knocks off in 20 minutes but that a group such as Viva Brother would spend their career trying to accomplish (and failing).

Suzanne And I - Anna Calvi

Piledriver Waltz - Alex Turner
I'm going to actually forbid myself from discussing 'Submarine' and it's soundtrack tracks, if you haven't got it by now then you never will...Like trying to explain 'The White Album' to a goldfish.

2012 is almost here...prepare thyself for flying cars, entire meals in pill form, teleportation and another handful of obituaries of great artist overlooked until the 2013 release of their posthumous anthologies...

Monday, 21 November 2011

awkward silence...

The hardest thing a writer has to face is the fact that there isn’t always something interesting to write about. You can always just churn pieces out ten at a time without breaking a sweat but after the first few pages you start to feel your own eyes glazing over in boredom, which strongly signals that if the writer responsible for the words that are appearing on the page are not even worthy to be read as they fall into creation then what are the chances that the poor soul unlucky enough to have stumbled on the article would possibly react any different?

I am currently in the middle ground, the writer’s purgatory just after questions have been submitted for interviews but also before deadlines are due, so work cannot be presented to the readership immediately. For the more keen eyed readers of my blog will see there have been some clues to future interviews and pieces scattered through previous write ups with only some actually coming into fruition fully (bleedin’ pre- Madonna rock stars and their wily ways) At this moment I currently have 1 write up awaiting a response and as the person is volatile (i.e. tantrum prone) to say the least I will leave it a few days before battering on his cyber door demanding some answers to my probing and probably rehashed questions that were presented.

Upcoming in the next month I also have the job of attending the Artrocker Awards to interview some of the winners, losers and those simply on a freebie locking for a few free drinks and free publicity. I will of course quote warmly and accurately.

In the mean time here are some spotify gems to help warm the cockles of your soul on this cold winters afternoon.

Her Eyes Are a Blue Million MilesCaptain Beefheart
Dinah (take 2)Thelonious Monk
Five YearsDavid Bowie
Soul SurvivorThe Rolling Stones
I Second That EmotionSmokey Robinson & the Miracles
Tell Me Something I Don’t KnowHerman Dune

p.s. I also have my BEST ALBUMS of 2011 going up DECEMBER 1ST.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


As 2011 rapidly draws to an end the world of music publications and websites all fight and struggle to get their reviews into the editors sweaty palm a month in advanced to make sure their opinions are taken into consideration over the other proles and hacks, in fact I’m sure all the ‘best of’ lists for 2011 are being typed up as we speak so it would only be fitting for my ego and drastic self grandiose style of writing to present my own personal fav’s.

I have been pretty lucky this year in the sense that I’ve been handed various music from a wide range of bands and artists to review and on the whole there have only been a few real stinkers (my impeccable manners stop me from mentioning such bands/artists i.e. Viva Brother.) Instead I was lucky enough to get albums from groups such as Arctic Monkeys as well as more left field artists such as the exquisite Agent Ribbons with their own brand of garage rock and pre war Berlin waltzes.

My top 10 of 2011 are as follows. I have attached links to my original reviews rather the rehash the same opinions. A dog never returns to his vomit after all…

10. Practice in the Milky WayDave Cloud & the Gospel of Power (Fire Records)
Original review:

09. Chateau CroneAgent Ribbons (Antenna Farm Records)
Original review:

08. What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?The Vaccines (Columbia Records)

07. Colour of the TrapMiles Kane (Columbia Records)

06. Rome - Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi (Capitol Records)

05. Hotel ShampooGruff Rhys (Ovni Records)
Original review:

04. Suck It And SeeArctic Monkeys (Domino Records)
Original review:

03. If You Can’t Smoke Em’, Sell Em’Rodeo Massacre (Smoky Carrot Records)
Original review:

02. Submarine (original Soundtrack) – Alex Turner (Domino Records)
What is their left to say about this album that I haven’t already bored everyone to tears with already? Run out and get this immediately. Alex Turner is definitely hitting a peak with his song and lyric writing and this album is the proof that he is now at the head table with his own heroes and contemporaries and in fact all the initial hype that followed him around at the start is completely justified and in fact deserving.
Original review:

01. Anna CalviAnna Calvi (Domino Records)
Well, well it seems that the best album of the year is in fact one of the earliest ones to be released in 2011. I first saw Anna Calvi LIVE at London’s Borderline and hadn’t heard any of her material beforehand. There aren’t many original artists out there today (especially on the live circuit) and to behold one so complete and still only on her debut album is a real treat. Her sound is colossal and especially when you consider her line up is so minimal i.e. Drums, harmonium/various percussion and Anna and her guitar. I’ve seen bands with double the number of players on stage come over like a wasp being recorded in an empty coke can but the Anna Calvi Group is a wave of sound washed in reverb alternating between blitzkrieg and a pin drop. The album itself is great throughout and in any order also (thank you shuffle mode) when mixed with the single ‘Jezebel’ and it’s Jeff Buckley influenced B-side ‘Moulinette’ you find yourself not bothering listening to any other music for days and days on end, a beautiful sonic poison. Choice favourites on the album itself are the overtly dramatic tracks such as the David Lynch-esque ‘The Devil’ as well as the guitar tour-de-force ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’, although the introduction ‘Rider To The Sea’ (which I still believe is the opener when performing live) sets the mood for the whole record perfectly. If you’ve been living under an indie rock for the last year and have missed the attention and press she has been getting from artists such as Nick Cave, Brian Eno etc, then look no further for your new favourite band.

Original review:

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Last Noel...

Growing old gracefully in music is something a lot of artists are destined to do whether they like it or not. The years of abuses and fast living either take their toll and cost the person their lives or they clean up and steadily make their way towards the middle of the road, where they decide to churn out nice comfy music for their fans (and themselves) but without any of the initial spark that made them exciting in the first place.

That’s the first option.

The second is that of the artist that doesn’t change physically, to whom maybe drink and drugs never played a big part in their psyche and instead it has just been their way of life and outlook that has changed. From being the rough and ready working class heroes with a gut full of fire and opinion now regulated to a public ‘face’ who’s main obligations and worries go no further than deciding which Savile Row suit goes with which pair of Gucci shoes and how much alimony they have to fork out each month to various ungrateful ex’s. It’s not to disregard this change of statue or lifestyle as being wrong of course, but your head on perspective has to change if the hunger that pushed you from the council flat has now assumed its place at the head table of music dignitaries. Basically your membership to the Eric Clapton, Elton John, Phil Collins and Paul McCartney party is in the post and feel free to leave your balls at the door.

Of course there are exceptions to the rules and from my viewpoint it seems that the only way to keep out of the comfort zone is to seek out new things no matter the consequences. David Bowie for example isn’t chained to a particular generation or ‘sound’ and is someone that still has that artistic drive and curiosity to try something new and damn the consequences, from his glam rock 70’s initial albums to his synth based pop in the early 80’s to even his jungle and industrial Reznor-esque tracks in the 90’s he has always morphed and reinvented himself along the way. He moved on along down the road where a lot of his contemporaries decided to dig themselves a hole and stay put as they were either un-able or are unwilling to add another aspect to their work in case it didn’t work out and the whole thing came crashing down around them.

There is a third view also and that is the band/artist that never fit on the scene in the first place. The outsider artist that was never in fashion, sold moderately and attracted the more cult like fans. Although even these so called rebels and mavericks aren’t willing to change the formula too much in case they go too far and actually get a hit! Suddenly they have gone up a notch, their pale young awkward fans desert them and they are now in the world of meetings concerning the budget for their next promotional video and plans for a world tour. It’s a tightrope of coolness.

Where are you going with this I hear you ponder? Well you’ve committed your time this far I guess so the least I can do is offer you the payoff. I have finally sat down and listed to the first solo album from Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds. It’s OK. That is really all I can say about it. I have listened to both the singles and the ‘padding’ filler tracks equally and although there are nice moments that don’t entirely rely on his tried and tested bag of tricks (the excellent ‘If I Had a Gun’ for example is a great addition to his cannon) there is nothing that makes me want to play it again once it’s finished. Whether its series 8 of Friends, Back to the Future part 3 or that 2nd time you tried mind altering substances nothing is going to grab your attention like the first time. Once the elastic has gone in your socks…it’s gone. For Oasis fans like myself (and I think for a lot of us if we are honest) when Noel used to pull his acoustic out and Liam took a break at LIVE gigs that was the perfect opportunity to get a loo break and queue up at the bar until the gig started again. Noel isn’t Neil Young or Bob Dylan and he can’t captivate an audience one on one with just his voice and guitar. Yes the songs are of a quality and professional to the last but there is no danger involved in the sense that the same songs performed at a gig tonight will be the same ones from last night and the same tomorrow. Neil Young for example might decide to pull one out of the bag from 1972 that he never released where Dylan might play his biggest hit in a different key as a waltz this time, Noel doesn’t seem ready to take that chance and will always play what is expected of him from the audience.

We are told that there is a real departure follow up album being released next year with his collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous and that it’s going to be more psychedelic and trippy and blah, blah, blah but lets cut the crap it’ll be as trippy as ‘Who Feels Love’ and at a push the craziest the whole thing would ever get would be comparable to his tracks with The Chemical Brothers in the 90’s, so ‘Revolver’ for dummies.

In my humble opinion...OK in my loudest of ‘know it all’ proclamations I think that Noel needs a band, he needs to be in Oasis. I think that Gem, Andy and to an extent Liam need to concentrate back on the singing and playing and leave the song writing to Noel, I mean you’d need some balls going up to the guy that wrote ‘Live Forever’ and handing him a track as weak as ‘A Quick Peep’. Everyone has a place in the band and towards to the end it was lost and out of balance. Check your egos at the door and do an album that stands up on its own merit rather than trying to blag it to the top of the charts under the power of hot air and obnoxious quotes about other bands, we’ve seen the strings and know how it all works now. Be HERE now… or in about 2 year’s time.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Bill Ryder-Jones Interview

The following interview is with Bill Ryder-Jones, former guitarist with The Coral and someone that has been praised and lauded by rock royalty for his guitar playing skills with the group. He left the band at the height of their popularity in 2008 after previously deciding not to tour with the band on live dates. Since then he has guested with artists such as Alex Turner (see 'Submarine' soundtrack) as well as created his own solo material. Below is the transcription of our recent Q&A session.

Q) Listening to both ‘If…’ and ‘A Leave Taking’ it is surprising that there is so little guitar in the forefront as this is something you are mostly regarded for (and indeed praised for from people such as Noel Gallagher and Graham Coxon) Is your guitar purposely taking a back seat for the time being?

A) I guess I stopped playing guitar properly and for fun a good few years ago. I didn’t realise there wasn’t much guitar on the record until we mixed it. I’ve always played other instruments though so I don’t think I've ever thought of myself as a guitarist y’know.

Q) I’ve read that ‘If…’ was influenced by the book of the same name and acted as an almost alternative soundtrack. Do you prefer working to an already established frame work such as a novel or instead starting an album with a complete blank canvas.

A) The record is meant to be a soundtrack to the novel ‘If on a winter’s night traveller’ by Italo Calvino. It’s more of an interpretation than anything, the canvas was still pretty blank mind. It started out as a little idea and just grew really, it became the perfect start really. I didn’t want my first record to ‘say’ too much about myself and would hate to have to give away more than I need to. I’m a pretty private person I guess.

Q) Your departure from The Coral was surprising for the fans and I’m sure the group as a whole, do you feel it was a necessary step that had to be taken for this side of your song writing to flourish and come into existence?

A) No I wasn’t thinking about songwriting or careers when I left the group. I just felt that I needed to leave, and that was it to be honest. Whether I’d be writing like I am now if I had stayed I don’t know, probably not. Now it’s all I do, all the time.

Q) Do you feel the groups ‘sound’ and format restrained you too much in this area? (song writing & arrangement)

A) Not really. I’d co written a bit with the band but they’ve got Jay (James Skelly) who writes so much and is so brilliant and all the other lads are great writers too so I guess there wasn’t that much room. I’d arranged strings with them too but it wasn’t until I left that I started to think about who I was musically I think.

Q) Listening to the arrangements there seem to be sonic footprints from people such as Robert Kirby and his work with Nick Drake as well as more recent ‘Coles Corner’ era Richard Hawley. Has either been influences on your work?

A) Well I still see myself as a blagger really. Someone like Robert Kirby I’d be embarrassed to be compared to but yeah his scores for Nick Drake are unreal. I think the arrangement that Harry Robinson did on River Man is the best on 'Five Leaves Left' mind. The first time I heard that tune it kind of made me feel silly about playing my guitar. The strings moved in this really unpredictable way and did this that I didn’t understand. That was probably the start of all this thinking about it.

Q) Who are you currently influenced by? Either musically or culturally (i.e. books, film etc)

A) I'm obsessed with Elgar 'Cello Concerto in E-minor' at the moment. It reminds me of poppy day in school somehow. I think if I wrote something that had like 10% the light that that piece has then I’d die happy. Other than that Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci are always there, Pink Floyd, Michael Galasso, Chopin.Book wise I mostly read history books. I like reading about European cities.

Q) The fact that a good portion of the music is instrumental didn’t seem to restrain the lyrical aspects to the melodies and the fact the vocals were only used sparingly throughout the album didn’t lose anything in translation. Do you think there is a stigma to ‘instrumental’ music in rock and roll rather than classical and jazz where it’s regularly accepted as ‘the norm’?

A) I've not thought about it really perhaps there is. I guess something like ‘The Rumble’(Link Wray) is a good example of not needing words to make an impression.

Q) Are there any plans to take either album out on the road? Do you worry about requests for ‘Bill McCai’ or ‘Dreaming of You’ from some of the die-hards?

A) Not yet, the album would be hard to do live. Maybe a one off show if I can blag an orchestra. I don’t pretend that I don’t hate playing live though so if there’s any way I can duck it then I probably will. I doubt people who want 'Dreaming of You' would come and see me, they’d be disappointed if they did.

many thanks to Paul Sandell at Domino Records
photo by Sophie Jarry

Monday, 31 October 2011

ALBUM REVIEW - The Louvin Brothers - Handpicked Songs

The Louvin Brothers
Handpicked Songs 1955-1962

The Louvin Brothers are a true mix of yin and yang; they manage to be one of the most un-hippest groups of all time, while at the same time influencing a whole roster of bands and artists across a wide spectrum of music with their gospel old timey close harmony country music. Their album covers regularly pop up in the ‘worst covers of all time’ lists with their literal takes on heaven and hell and God and Satan (Google ‘Satan Is Real’ for an example). On the flip side there is no cooler name to drop into the conversation in interviews for young country and Alt. country groups today when stating your influences in the country and bluegrass milieu.

Although The Lovins were primarily a gospel duo to simply dismiss them as a bunch of bible bashing hicks would obviously be a grave error as they have produced some of the strongest raw country music that the genre has to offer and brought the true power of music to both the shakiest of drunks and clean living housewife alike.

Country music is one of those genres that although is part and parcel of the inner fabric of rock and roll is still less appreciated than the cooler Blues and R&B side of the equation. Over the years the rock scene has dipped back into the country bag and with great results i.e. The Byrds ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ an album which equals anything in their more psychedelic back catalogue in my opinion. In fact on this ‘Sweeheart’ album the later line up of the group include a version of The Louvin Brothers penned track ‘The Christian Life’ proving that Ira and Charlie were indeed still appreciated and respected by the rock fraternity within their own lifetime. The main instigator behind this inclusion may have been the newly appointed ‘Byrd’ Gram Parsons who along with Bob Dylan was ignoring the San Francisco summer of love scene and headed out to discover their own down- home roots approach. Dylan in fact had ignored the whole ‘love generation’ and Woodstock ideal and retreated back to his log cabin to record ‘Nashville Skyline’, a record that included guests such as Johnny Cash as opposed to his speed influenced ‘thin wild mercury sound’ that had come before.

Gram Parsons especially had been using his knowledge and love of The Louvin Brothers catalogue as well as his country heritage to influence by osmosis The Rolling Stones late 60’s and early 70’s great run of albums. His influence helped pull them in the direction of Bakersfield rather than urban Brooklyn and showed them the music and legacies of George Jones and Merle Haggard. This new shot in the arm was instantly absorbed by the Richards/Jagger song writing team and gave a welcome boost to there usual daily diet of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters which in itself helped add hidden textures and a fresh canvas for the group previously bound by the 12 bar blues formula.

Like all music, the county and bluegrass genre evolved and became more commercial, whereas before it had been a skeletal group of musicians playing in theatres and small churches, it now turned into primetime entertainment. The small groups were now replaced by whole groups of musicians decorated in rhinestones trying to compete with the latest pop music of the day. But long before neon Las Vegas cowboys, and indeed the resurgence of true country music with the ‘Oh Brother Where art thou?’ resurrection in 2000, there was The Louvin Brothers.

The album here ‘Handpicked Songs’ is a compilation album who’s tracks have been individually chosen by other artists influenced by Ira and Charlie Louvin’s music including Beck, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Will Oldham and many more. You won’t find the loner lone wolf Man in Black style of Johnny Cash’s country or indeed the smiles and showbiz style of Dolly Parton version, but what you have instead is music from an almost other time altogether. When music was coming from the church was crossing and becoming something with an edge and rhythm to it. Tracks like ‘Cash on The Barrelhead’ musically sound like cousins of songs such as ‘Mystery Train’ or ‘That’s Alright Mama’ while keeping the halos firmly in place. While songs such as ‘The Great Atomic Power’ give an almost smirk to the future anti nuclear songs by turning the threat into a warning of the forthcoming Rapture while managing to keep the front row clapping and stomping along throughout. Some songs here are pure gospel and rival devotional offerings against any of the hand waving and fainting soul music you can mention. Songs like ‘I See A Bridge’ and ‘Almost Persuaded’ showing both sides of the coin from purest faith in God to the struggles of doubt that I’m sure everyone from Priest to Rabbi to Buddhist Monk, face throughout their lives every time they look into a mirror.

The story of The Louvin Brothers isn’t all smiles and sunshine and was filled with sadness throughout (Ira struggled with alcohol throughout his career and after the groups breakup was tragically killed in a car crash, a sad irony here was that it was the other drivers fault as opposed to the probable fault of the drunk Ira behind the wheel). With all the drama of a great gothic southern story this album is a perfect compendium of work left for posterity as a reminder of a time when white lightning was still was the biggest thrill of all.

Get it.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Miles Kane @ Electric Ballroom

Camden Electric Ballroom
Tuesday 25th October

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go on tour, every night a different town, the hotels, the travelling, the after show parties, I’m sure it’s an amazing way to live. But with the inevitable highs I’m sure you would get the downside also and as soon as the novelty wears off the ‘5 minutes before show-time’ nerves disappear completely by the 5th or 6th shows and then the simple reality of routine slips in and it all becomes the daily grind and part of your ‘working week’.

This would have been my viewpoint until I saw Miles Kane at the Electric Ballroom. I’ve seen him and his band 5 or 6 times this year alone, from Camden Barfly to Reading Festival. Amazingly, I think he’s getting stronger in his performance, his enjoyment and the overall feel of each gig. If this is the kind of stride he’s hitting after a single debut album then by the time he releases a 3rd or 4th album I would think stadiums will be the only way you’re going to see him this side of a main stage festival performance.

I have been to many, many gigs and although most of them are enjoyable enough to watch and experience, generally with the best will in the world a few songs into the set you’ll start to see the blue glow of phones clicking on throughout the crowd and twitter and Facebook status’ being updated, missing the musical wood for the trees. Again, this wasn’t happening tonight! From the opening ‘Better Left Invisible’ to the encore ‘Inhaler’, Kane had the audience staring into his eyes and caught between his guitar strings throughout. Personal highlights tonight for me included the now classic ‘Come Closer’, ‘King Crawler’ and his excellent covers of The Beatles ‘Hey Bulldog’ and Jacques Dutronc’s ‘The Responsible’ which shows his musical depth and appreciation.

As a long time fan of Miles Kane and his work before his official solo outing I’ve always had the pining for more collaboration with Alex Turner and more Last Shadow Puppets material although with a wave of good will he’s currently on I think album number 2 is and should be the priority at this time as wasting this individual power surge of attitude and rock and roll would be a shame.

Kaka boom!

Set list

1. Better Left Invisible
2. Counting Down The Days
3. Rearrange
4. Before It’s Midnight
5. Kingcrawler
6. Happenstance
7. Take The Night From Me
8. Quicksand
9. The Responsible (Jacques Dutronc Cover)
10. My Fantasy
11. Colour Of The Trap
12. Telepathy
13. Woman’s Touch
14. Hey Bulldog (The Beatles Cover)
15. Come Closer

16. Inhaler

many thanks to Alex Fordham at Authority Communications
photo by Sarah Doone

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

iPOD roulette

Legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs once said that “you don’t choose your music, it chooses you”, basically you might go out and buy/download/steal (delete where applicable) a whole rack of bands and artists music but over a short space of time you will subconsciously whittle it down to a handful of favourites, ones that get chosen by you over the others even though when asked the standard boring ‘getting to know you’ loaded question's like “so, what kind of music do you like?” you will most probably answer like a hipster robot “oh, everything really” when in fact you are in fact full of it. Nobody likes EVERYTHING, you might try and impress everyone with your music knowledge and highly eclectic tastes and rattle off some obscure Japanese girl band from 68’ but when faced with a wall of CD’s around a friends house you’re more than likely going to reach for something familiar and pleasing rather than ‘challenging’ and ‘envelope pushing’.

In the world of playlists and iPods you can keep and carry part (if not all) of your whole record collection with you at all times and although you obviously like the music you have lovingly added to your treasure trove of sonic wonderment you’ll find that when on the random shuffle option you probably actually like 1 out of every 6 songs that pops up. I am currently re-evaluating my playlists and trying to spring clean the weak from the chaff. Playing the noble game of iPod roulette I will ‘shuffle’ then if I don’t immediately think ‘tune!’ it’s deleted (well un-ticked, I’m not Stalin!)

Ok, let the games begin. (YES are keepers - NO are heading to bin)

- Post Break Up SexThe Vaccines – YES!
- Gates of EdenBob Dylan – YES!
- Two of UsThe Beatles – YES!
- Cotton FieldsThe Beach Boys – NO!!…Al Jardin whining version of Leadbelly song, probably added as Brian Wilson produced

Right first hurdle, next…

- Tumbling DiceThe Rolling Stones - YES!
- Oh! You Pretty ThingsDavid Bowie – YES!
- Hope I’m AroundTodd Rundgren – YES! YES!
- Down the HighwayBob Dylan – NO! , it isn’t all gold in them hills, and this track from the 3 star at best Freewheelin’ album is one that I could live without.

Next bunch…

- Mr BrightsideThe Killers – NO! *Dropkicks into the pit of despair*
- Tough LoverEtta Jamse – YES!
- I Should Have Known BetterThe Beatles – YES!
- Monkey ManToots & The Maytals – YES BREDRIN!
- Sweet N SourThe Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – YES!
- Young Blood BluesHurray For The Riff Raff – NO! Breezy Does IT…
- At The Chime Of A City ClockNick Drake – YES!
- Faust ArpRadiohead – YES!
- Boom BoomJohn Lee Hooker – YES! Haw haw haw haw
- How Could I Be Such a Fool?Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention – YES!
- Dropping Bombs On The WhitehouseBrian Jonestown Massacre – YES! A bit of BJM to blow away the cobwebs....

Last lot (this could go on a while)

- ChillsPapercuts – NO! *delete*
- FinaleFuneral Party – NO!
- HotpantsThe Natives – YES! A welcome blast from the past
- DesireAnna Calvi – YES!, should have won Mercury Prize Award this year…bleedin’ robbed.
- Act NaturallyThe Beatles YES!-NO!-YES!-NO! just leave it and move on…
- KokomoThe Beach Boys – NO!! GONE FOREVER!
- Standing Next to YouThe Last Shadow Puppets – YES!
- Try MeJames Brown

And finally, cos this is getting worrying that I actually hate some of my own musical tastes...

Last song *deep breath*

- River Deep Mountain HighIke & Tina Turner – YES!... oh uncle Phil you’ve never turned on me…

In the immortal words of Art Attacks Neil Buchanan - "try it yourselves"

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Great Appreciator

The Great Appreciator

The Music Snob
A person who believes s/he has a more refined taste in music and has much more knowledge in the field of music in general. Every song and genre is unacceptable unless the snob happens to like it, then it is absolute perfection. Music snobs feel obligated to enlighten everyone with unwelcome critiques and irrelevant musical trivia.

The music snob, the person that prefers to talk about music rather than listen to it and definitely prefers to talk over the music to the ‘lucky’ individual sharing the room with them at the same time i.e. “I love those drums, did you know when this was recorded the microphone was hung over the banisters to capture that natural echo?...etc”* Yes we can be a little annoying and it seems silly that something which is based on listening gets talked about in such great depth and for so long (I’ve lost count the number of books I’ve bought that just discuss individual singles that last less than 3 minutes but that the author has managed to stretch over 300 pages!)

Music is for everyone and everyone is entitled to an opinion but for the great lost scholars of music there is another layer, a secret club that you aren’t all allowed in unless you have that ‘look’, the thousand yard star of someone that has sat through at least 2-3 free form jazz albums and has tried to convince themselves that they like it, before reeling off some vague connection to ‘Eight Miles High’ to convince others that no music has escaped your provincial sonic gaze.

This whole journey started when I read a comment by a high up editor from an un-named music publication (go on be a devil…ok it was NME) and this individual stated in no uncertain terms that they hadn’t ever heard either the recently anniversary edition ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana (in it’s original or re-mastered format) or seminal British Indie album ‘The Stone Roses’ by the group of the same name (and one that had reformed the very same week after a breakup in the 90s no less.) Now if I may climb up on my soap box for a moment and tuck my t-shirt into my ‘Charlie Parker for President’ pants let me just say that I don’t expect everyone to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every Frank Zappa or Duke Ellington recording committed to memory for them to undertake a job as a music journalist but I would think at the very minimum you could run your eyes over pop culture for the last 20 years and pick out some of the most important bands and albums that were released before you start making a career in dissecting new and ‘original’ bands own material. How could you for example review the half arsed Editors album without hearing Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ you might make the grave error in thinking that it was original and give The Editors a 5/5 star rating and nobody wants that.

If you haven’t heard truly great music, then your boundaries are so skewed and limited. How do you truly know what a five star album sounds like if you haven’t heard a handful across eras, you might consider ‘Definitely Maybe’ a bona fide classic (as I do) but if you have heard ‘Sticky Fingers’ or ‘Blonde on Blonde’ maybe you would be more inclined to give it 4/5 before shouting from the rooftops that the boys from Burnage had made the greatest album of all times. This is why when week after week you get some flavour of the moment with an acoustic guitar strumming Dylan-esque wordy lyrics over softly finger picked accompaniment the reviewer is likely to mention Elliot Smith rather than Nick Drake and the pop-tastic new R&B single will draw Outkast comparisons rather than say Sly Stone or George Clinton.

Can you imagine having the nerve to walk into the offices at a movie magazine requesting a reviewers position there and casually dropping into the conversation that you’ve never seen ‘Star Wars', ‘The Shining’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ or ‘Jaws’ and that you prefer new films that your friends make on YouTube instead to going to the cinema? The punk ethos ‘year zero’ mentality is one thing but drowning in a self filled bath of your own ignorance is another altogether.

There is a light at the end of the darkness though young friends. Music magazines tend to get a little short of ‘copy’ come the start of the year so when the ‘best albums of 2011’ edition has been released then you can prepare yourself for the new years ‘BEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME/60s/70s/80s*delete wear applicable*)’ specials that will come thick and fast to fill the gap until the high flyer's in the industry come back from their Xmas breaks some time around early February. Flick through this lists, get on Spotify or hit the New Year’s sales and fill your collections up with music from the musical renaissance that was the 20Th Century before embarking on the new.

Barry: "You don't have it? That is perverse. Don't tell anybody you don't own f%*king Blonde on Blonde. It's gonna be okay." [sighs deeply and hugs customer]”(from High Fidelity)

*= if you know what song i'm talking about...welcome to the club

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

'The Third Coming?'

‘The Third Coming ?’

So it would seem that out of the ashes of a few solo careers, a band transfer to Primal Scream and the ‘not as bad as they were made out’ Seahorses, the news has come through that seminal band The Stone Roses will be raising from the indie flames once again.

The group will reunite for 2 shows at Manchester's Heaton Park on June 29th and the 30th 2012 and this will then be followed by a World Tour! I'm sure simply the support acts (probably fighting over the spot as we speak) will be worth the price of admission alone. But is this really great news? I'm in two minds.

The legend of the band rests on 2 albums, although when the smoke clears it’s the 1989 self titled debut that will be the one that is remembered as it brought something new to the table and charts and carved a baggy niche in the market that was completely their own. By the time of the follow up (5 years later no less) 1994’s ‘Second Coming’ seemed to be the sound of a band that had watched ‘The Song Remains The Same’ a few too many times and had decided that ‘more is more’ with added guitar solo’s and more Jimmy Page style riffing throughout, turning the group into everything the group wasn’t, a regular ‘rock’ band. It didn’t help that during the ascent of the band up the charts for the 2nd album the whole era and generation had changed, and any good will and expectations the band had, from the press and fans loyally awaiting the follow up, was swiftly kicked down a peg or two by the brand new Manchester export OASIS and their own debut album ‘Definitely Maybe’. The group bowed out and were left in the memories of the fans that loved them and on the ‘Best U.K Albums’ list for posterity.

Now after many, many false rumours, sightings and bitching in the press it seems that the group will once again be taking to the road to play their best material and although I’ll be fighting for my ticket there is still a slight weird feeling about the whole thing. The problem with bands reforming many years after their initial dissolution is that it’s impossible to recapture the times and feelings that you once had. From the fans points of view, the baggy Jackson Pollock splattered teens that crammed into cars to the 1990 Spike Island gig to watch the band at the peak of their powers are now pushing 40 years old! The thought of them trying to pull on their baggy jeans and scoring some low rent E’s while their own teenage children mock them from the side-lines shows that the times have already a’ changed a few times since and instead of revival it would instead creep over to the side of pastiche.

This may seem very venomous in my appraisal of the possibility of a reunion while at the same time praising acts such as Dylan and Neil Young for their constant output well into their 60th years but I only dismiss the idea of the generation re-hash. The Stone Roses album and songs will always sell, never in amazing quantities but like The Velvet Underground each generation will pick up on it and love it because it’s a great, great album and with songs like ‘Made of Stone’, ‘She Bangs the Drum’, ‘Waterfall’ and the indie night classic ‘Fools Gold’ what’s not to like?

Do some shows, big ones, give everyone a proper send off (as well as giving the band members a nice pay off) and end the story of The Stone Roses with a bang rather than a whimper, once and for all exorcising the 1996 Reading Festival disaster set before stepping back to watch the bands you influenced come through and take the music onwards.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Album Review - Forest Fire

‘Staring At The X' is the second album from Forest Fire and the follow up to the excellent ‘Survival’. The initial set up and feel of this album is similar to the debut although I would assume by osmosis that various influences have crept into the mix before this was completed as the jagged fuzzed guitar lines and drones are more prominent here than on the first outing (and just as left field with their placement) as well as the introduction of more synth based keyboard lines.

The band has always been a sonic jousting battle between the more Lennon style melodic songs and the audio feedback tidal wave from Nathan Delffs (guitar multi-instrumentalist) and when the balance is on horizon it works perfectly although in some of the songs here it can get overbearing and drown out the prettiness of the acoustic guitar and vocal parts.

Like a lot of New York bands, somewhere in their creative makeup you will find the DNA of The Velvet Underground and in my opinion Forest Fire are no exception although where someone like Adam Green would follow Lou Reed's journey Forest Fire seem to be the son’s of John Cale with drone notes and long amp torture mixed with dark and Gothic nursery rhyme like melodies.

Tracks such as the opener ‘Born Into’ show all the various aspects of the group and their own idiosyncrasies with it’s building opening verse leading on to the chorus, louder and louder like a mini expanding pocket symphony. Later on the track ‘The News’ shows the bands more commercial side to their song writing while at the same time introducing the more unrestrained ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ type guitar breaks washed in reverb and feedback, although here each phrase is kept controlled so it doesn’t take anything away from the overall piece.

On certain songs the lyrics and music (although complement each other well) sometimes can be confusing as they don’t make any sense and would leave even Bob Dylan and Van Dyke Parks scratching their heads. It’s reminiscent of a technique that David Bowie used by writing a bunch of lines on individual cards then mixing them up in a random order before piecing the verse together from this creative jumble. Of course I’m not saying this is the way it’s been done but any other way would suggest that simply making the words rhyme has been put higher in priority than giving the song any real meaning or depth, and that’s a shame.


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Trout Mask Replica

Trout Mask Replica
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Ok so I’ve read all about it, listened to other people’s descriptions of the recording sessions as well as the ideas and concepts behind the compositions themselves. Frank Zappa produced it; these are all little hooks drawing me in. I’ve now giving it a full listen while on the way to work, a time when I can lock myself away into my little iPod world completely isolated from the outside noise of tinny phone hip hop tracks, moaning old people deciding to go shopping at 8.15am then mumbling that the buses are too busy and general train weirdo’s watching Saw 2 on their laptops while wiping their chang abused noses with their ‘comedy’ ties.

I honestly don’t know what to tell you. Not in 'The Matrix', “nobody can be told what it is, you have to experience it” type of shtick but because it’d be like describing and reviewing the consistency of water, it’s all open to debate and to be fair it’s probably completely pointless anyway. The only way I can talk about this album is to either try and be un-pretentious or simply dive full in and go off the deep end of self congratulation and poetic description.

It doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve ever heard. It is probably one of the only things that I can hear that stops me thinking. There is no visual image of anything that is being played that I could visualise seeing live. I couldn’t imagine any of the music being used in a film for example, it’s too random but strangely intense at the same time. When I was at the height of my own guitar practice obsession I would listen to Jazz music to almost ‘log off’ from playing or thinking about playing as I wasn’t at the level to perform the pieces I was listening to and as they were being performed on instruments such as Horns and Pianos so there was no thread or link to my own guitar playing which would allow me to simply enjoy the music from a normal punters point of view and listen to it as it was intended. I feel the same affinity listening to ‘Trout Mask Replica’, when it starts you start thinking “this can’t be real, they are playing 4 different songs at the same time, it’s pathetic acid fried rubbish”, but at the same time you don’t turn it off, you keep listening and by track 4 you start to have a feeling that if you turn it off or flick to the next track the sonic lights will go off…you need to ride it out and see where this is going (probably nowhere but you need to be sure.)

Out of Captain Beefheart’s back catalogue the album that will always be my favourite would be ‘Safe as Milk’, it has Ry Cooder on slide guitar and it’s generally more song orientated and classic. Even writing this makes me feel like the biggest square and conservative killjoy in the world but I have to be honest, it’s better. Putting this to one side though and returning to the matter at hand I would say that listening to ‘Safe as Milk’ now after experiencing the onslaught of ‘T.M.R’ would be going back to black and white TV after you’ve watched ‘Avatar’ in 3D, it might in fact be your personal preference and sit better with you, but it’s very hard to ignore the fact that you know how deep the rabbit hole goes and then convince yourself you don’t and can’t consider the concept of the alternative once you’ve seen the other.

Once you’ve noticed the strings on the puppets you can’t keep your eyes on anything else.

It’s a phase that needs to be explored and then put away to one side like a little box of madness but I would recommend those who like their rock music freaky to give it a fair shake of the voodoo stick and see what they think.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Todd Rundgren - LIVE @ JAZZ CAFE

Live @ Jazz Café
Camden Town

Todd Rundgren is one of the last men standing out there that won’t be classified or boxed in. I can imagine record companies pulling out what little hair they have left after every meeting with him. Over the years whenever he has been on the brim of breaking through the ‘cult’ artist barrier into the mainstream he takes a swift left turn and creates either a new style of his own or becomes encompassed in underground music that even his most die-hard fans wouldn’t be comfortable with on first listen. In the 70’s when he’d released the power pop genius of ‘Hello Its Me’ and ‘I Saw the Light’ it seemed a dead cert that he could be one of the biggest selling stars of the decade but instead he went psychedelic, something most other artists had done 4-5 years previous, but by following his own path he went on to create the masterwork of ‘A Wizard A True Star’, an album that contains no obvious singles, no romantic piano ballads, in fact it’s a total 180 turn into a Dali world of imagination, soul music and space rock. He may have lost a few of his original fans but gathered up a lot more on the way and this is the reason he is the working and inspired artist he is today, unlike a lot of his auto piloted contemporaries.

‘An Audience with Todd Rundgren’ tonight at Camden’s Jazz Café is filled with fans of all ages, the young (yes I’m including myself here) the 80/90s fans and the 1970’s originals (easy to spot as they look like the cast of ‘That 70’s show’ at their 30 year reunion party).

The set is a mixed selection of new, old and personal favourites. Rundgren himself started proceedings and took a moment to explain his choices and selections by suggesting to the crowd that he was choosing the songs “that I feel you would have requested…if we took requests…which we DON’T” this subtle request to cease the shouting out for Utopia (T.R’s 70s prog outfit) B-sides fell on deaf ears as the more obscure and long forgotten tracks were called for between songs.

This is what happens when you’re a ‘cult artist’; your fans are geeks and can be very protective and annoying over the set list and omissions.

Throughout the evening one of the many highlights for me was the Soul Medley from ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ with songs from The Impressions, The Miracles and The Delfonics blended perfectly together to show an artist with a deep love and understanding of the music at hand and executing it to perfection. This soul song cycle (say that three times fast!) was then rounded off and completed with a lovely cover of Marvin Gayes ‘I Want You’ which fitted perfectly and took the set up a notch in my opinion.

Standards from his own canon including ‘Can We Still Be Friends’, ‘I Saw The Light’ and ‘Hello Its Me’ were all played to perfection almost note for note like the original recordings with only ‘It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference’ getting a Bossa Nova overhaul from his 90s ‘With A Twist’ album. Later tracks such as ‘Buffalo Grass’ showed his electric guitar chops match an artist such as Prince (himself another multi-instrumentalist and genre hopping artist and also a massive Rundgren fan.)

Later songs such as ‘Soul Brother’ and ‘Flaw’ from 2004’s ‘Liars’ show that he is still very much a contemporary in every respect and from the overall view of tonight’s show he is one that will continue to follow his own personal muse rather than the ‘career chart’ for many years to come… In Todd we trust.

special thanks to Jodie Meggs for pictures

Lucky 13

What’s wrong with playing ‘Louie Louie’? Nothing, what a stupid question, why even mention it? Good point. Well… sit upon my knee my son and I will begin. I’m currently demolishing in quick fire style Mike Barnes’ lovely page turning Bio of Captain Beefheart; and even though I truly love some of the Captains music (especially ‘Safe as Milk’) some of it just seems too much damn work to actually sit down and listen to. I ‘appreciate’ as much as the next Red Bull fuelled music fan but sometimes I just think music should soothe, excite, pep up and put a spring in your step rather than beat you into a confused pulp and ‘educate’ to a point where you don’t even know whether you like it or not. You think you should like it, all the magazines say you should, and it seems to be the commonly accepted position after all they’ve been correct and on the money about the other 9 best albums so why is it that this one isn’t doing it for you, your heart is staying un-fluttered and un-impressed by the ‘angular guitar’. The same can be said for Frank Zappa, for every truly great piece of work that he created there are 5 that cause a head scratching and a eyebrow raising "well that was 5 minutes of my life I’m never gonna get back" attitude to. Should music be that hard to listen to? Yoko Ono…oh NO...OH NO! Indeed. It’s ‘challenging’ and ‘outside the box’ and all the other buzz expressions to politely say annoying. Scott Walker went that way as well, from the beautiful Burt Bacharach and Jacques Brel arrangements of his earlier work he now routinely punches slabs of meat and bangs bricks together to ‘push the envelope’… spare us.

Here are a bunch of songs that will always work for me, always cheer me up and always recharge my battered psyche. Lucky 13

‘Let it Rock’Chuck Berry
‘Then He Kissed Me’The Crystals
‘Saved’Lavern Baker
‘I Saw the Light’Todd Rundgren
‘Wrap it Up’Sam & Dave
‘I Want You’Bob Dylan
‘The Rat’The Walkmen
‘Foxy Lady’The Jimi Hendrix Experience
‘Louie, Louie’The Kingsmen
‘Saturday Sun’Nick Drake
‘Tainted Love’Gloria Jones
‘Beast of Burden’The Rolling Stones
‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’The Smiths

Friday, 30 September 2011

the devils in the details...

Keeping and maintaining a blog takes some level of dedication and constant thought for the reader, at least that’s what it says in the book. I personally just spew out a load of random gibberish regarding whatever coherent views I maintain that day and some of it works. Every now and then when I see no albums/singles/EP’s/Gigs worth mentioning I create a list of various songs or artists for my beautiful online droogs to investigate in the hope that their own personal tastes and collections can be grown to include artists such as Todd Rundgren, Frank Zappa and Phil Spector records. Although I can’t perform miracles I still look forward to the day long in the future when some twenty something verjazzled bint wanders up to me and mentions that "that Captain Beefheart is bare sick bruv!" only then I will feel I have in some respect participated in this world.

I don’t really believe in the diary concept. The idea that thoughts and general musings are somehow supposed to be kept secret while at the same time noted down and kept in chronological dated order seems a bit suspect, surely if something is supposed to be kept personal then probably best not writing it down and logging it in your own fair handwriting would be a good tip. It's almost false modesty, "oh please don't read that, it's private...what do you mean the handwriting is messy!!" its the same as pop stars and movie icons thanking God in their speeches trying to be selfless and modest when what they are in fact saying if you read between the lines is "thank god for making me so fucking talented, it is truly a gift that I'm the greatest thing around" me a favour.

You can probably tell that I don’t have anything interesting to post music wise today, probably due to the fact the sun is shining, I’m stuck at work and the only music to pass through my psyche in the last 48 hours has been a constant loop of ‘Safe As Milk’ by Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band and a handful of pub rock songs for my upcoming foray from semi musical retirement into the world of cover bands and mercenary cash for hire type playing.

There will be proper posts coming your way in the next few weeks (ok next week) including an interview with Dev Hynes/Lightspeed Champion/Blood Orange as well as a review of the new album from Brooklyn band Forest Fire so in the mean time Friday is here, log off and go and get some fresh air…