A POINTLESS, MONEY-GRABBING EXERCISE

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In 1993, the LP Dreamland was released by Aztec Camera.  Three multi-format singles were lifted from it.  Fans who bought the various formats  hoping for new material that hadn’t made the cut for the LP were left sorely disappointed but there was some consolation prizes, initially at least.

First up was Spanish Horses.  It came out in three formats and the b-sides consisted of 7  live versions of old songs appealing enough to fans to make it a worthwhile purchase. But it still only reached #52.

Next was Dream Sweet Dreams.  It also came out in three formats and consisted of 6 live versions of old songs; again, these were of enough appeal that it reached #67.

The third and last single was Birds.

This was the opening track on the LP and seen by many as one of the best songs on a record that had received mixed reviews and hadn’t sold well.  Being the third single off an LP was always going to be of limited appeal, so you’d think everyone concerned would do something special on the b-sides.  Instead what we got was a pointless, money-grabbing exercise as the single was issued on 2 x CDs with the five tracks on the b-sides – Working In A Goldmine, Knife, Somewhere In My Heart, Oblivious and Good Morning Britain – all being the exact same versions of songs that had been released some years earlier.  There was absolutely no incentive whatsoever to buy Birds other than for the sake of completeness.

You won’t be surprised to hear it didn’t dent the charts. In fact, I’d be surprised if sales reached four figures….

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Birds

File under rip-off.

B SIDES KILLERS AND FILLERS

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Back in 2000, Idlewild released a hugely enjoyable LP called 100 Broken Windows.

Four singles were lifted from the LP, all of which charted  – none higher than #23 and none lower than #38 when they were all deserving of a minimum of Top 10.  It was an era when singles came out in multiple formats, which was usually 2 x CDs but sometimes you’d also have a 7″ single thrown in.

It’s no real surprise that many acts ended up putting remixes or different versions of previously released material to fill up all the required b-sides, while cover versions were also a popular way of doing similar.

CD2 of the third single lifted from 100 Broken Windows is a perfect example of what I mean as it featured an acoustic version of the most recent single and a cover of a track that was bound be well-known to and therefore be of appeal to most of the band’s fans:-

mp3 : Idlewild – These Wooden Ideas
mp3 : Idlewild – Actually It’s Darkness (acoustic version)
mp3 : Idlewild – Rescue

The acoustic version is quite lovely and rather fragile. Not only does it show how good a song it is but it helps display a softer and highly accomplished side of the band that is all too often neglected. The cover of the Echo & The  Bunnymen track however, in the opinion of someone who is a fan of both band is rather pointless and bitterly disappointing. It just sounds like a pub covers band’s take on the song…

Enjoy…..in parts.

CLUMSY KNOT by RANDOLPH’S LEAP

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I’ve temporarily taken over S-WC’s spot this week as I want to draw your attention to what has a very strong chance of finishing 2014 as my favourite LP of the year.

Officially released yesterday, but launched at a gig last Saturday evening at a venue about a mile from Villain Towers, Clumsy Knot is the ‘proper’ debut LP by Randolph’s Leap. It has come out on a relatively new label, Lost Map, which is run by Johnny Lynch, (aka The Pictish Trail) a name which will be very familiar to fans of Fence Records, a venture which he was a huge part of  until late 2013.

I was lucky enough to have been passed on an advance copy of Clumsy Knot about three weeks ago and it has been on heavy rotation ever since.   While I’ve been well aware of the band for a while, not least for the fact that some of the best and most knowledgable Scottish music bloggers out there (and in particular Mike from Manic Pop Thrills and Lloyd from Peenko) have been raving about them, this was the first I had really sat down and given the music my close attention.

There are 13 tracks on the LP.  Some of them are re-workings of songs previously available on a range of low-key and lo-fi recordings these past couple of years.  Now I’m in the fortunate position of not having to compare the merits of the earlier home-made versions against what has now been released and so I’m coming to Clumsy Knot without any pre-conceived ideas.  And I’m prepared to say that it is an exceedingly fine record with loads of moments that thrilled me in ways that are all too rare nowadays when I’m listening to new and emerging bands for the first time.

There are loads of bands out there, particularly here in Scotland, who are incredibly adept at blending folk, indie and pop in ways that are hugely enjoyable.  But Randolph’s Leap have raised that particular bar just a bit higher.

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It’s an album on which the talents of all eight performers can be appreciated,  especially on the big-sounding, uptempo and impossible not to dance-to songs such as past single Hermit where the keyboards, violin, trumpet and trombone invoke marvellous memories of Dexy’s at the height of their powers but with lyrics that invoke the gentle humour and playfulness of Neil Hannon.  On the other side of the coin, there’s a song like Weatherman, a gut-wrenching break-up song laced with a couple of wry and amusingly bitter one-liners,  while Black & Blue is one which musically got me thinking about some of the acoustic material written back in the early years by Martin Stephenson.

And thinking about it further – just as  Boat to Bolivia veered all over the place some thirty years ago in a way that has made it one of my favourite albums of all time, then Clumsy Knot is a record impossible to pigeon-hole given the wide range of styles employed throughout.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that, on the first couple of listens, I was also struck by a similarity that some of the songs had in sound to material written and recorded by Paulo Nutini. This observation was and remains based admittedly on a limited knowledge of the Paisley troubadours material, but given how his catchy and radio-friendly songs have earned him millions of pounds while keeping on the right side of the critics, then there’s surely enough room and interest to put the band and this new label firmly on the map.

However, my praise for this particular record and the band is not simply down to a few weeks on the i-pod.

Readers of old will know that the music snob in me holds back from giving out fulsome praise until I’ve had the chance to see if the singer or band in question can cut the mustard in a live setting, and up until last Saturday, I had only seen Randolph’s Leap-lite – i.e either frontman Adam Ross on his own or with just some of his bandmates and never as the main attraction.

This time it was the full thing, and despite being handicapped by a venue that was less than ideal for sound (it’s part of 100-year old former school building with a lot of echo) as well as what seemed like a bit of an below-par PA, Randolph’s Leap turned in a mesmerising, energetic and captivating performance, roared on by 250-strong audience delighted to be part of what was such a special occasion.  My roars were as loud as those who have been following the band from the beginning.

It was a gig I went home from with a big daft grin on my face.  One that stayed with me all of Sunday as I went through to watch my football team compete in a cup final for the first time in 20 years.  The daft grin just got wider as I watched my team defy the odds and pull off what many regarded as a shock win.

Today, I went back to work and again played the album one more time.  The gig and the football match are now intertwined events in my mind and always will be.

Forget the  ‘strong chance’ I gave Clumsy Knot for album of the year.   It’s a shoo-in………….

mp3 : Randolph’s Leap – Hermit

Clumsy Knot is available to buy here. It can also, for a short time, be listened to here.

Enjoy

A GREAT UNACKNOWLEDGED LP

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My posting on The Specials last week triggered off a search of the archives of the old blog for something I’d done on another of The bands that Terry Hall enjoyed success with.  I’ve updated and modified it slightly, but this is more or less what I said back in October 2008.

My introduction to The Colourfield came via TV, and a video commissioned by The Tube for their debut single*. It was a totally different sound from that of Terry Hall‘s previous bands – lots of acoustic guitar with a very clean production – quintessential pop music with a hint of indie in many ways.

It came as such a shock to long-standing fans and many other music critics that one reviewer was led to write:-

‘This lot have absolutely nothing going for them. No sense of humour. No glamour. No good melodies. No danceable rhythms. No excitement. No controversy. No emotion. Nothing whatsoever. They are, in short, ruddy awful’

He was of course, quite wrong, and while the band didn’t have anything like the impact or success of The Specials or Fun Boy Three, the first set of singles and the debut LP were quite exquisite and exceptional.

The debut  single itself reached #43 in January 1984.  The follow-up single, Take, bombed at #70. But in January 1985, a bitter-sweet pop song, started to get a lot of airplay, and gradually it started to climb the charts. Thinking Of You eventually peaked at #12 in February 1985.

Virgins and Philistines hit the shops in April 1985, by which time the morose but beautiful Castles In the Air, a single that sounded as if had come straight from the mid-60s had failed. Unsurprisingly, given that just one of their 45s had sold in any numbers, the record-buying public shunned the LP. But its their loss.

This is a record that was ahead of its time. Just four years later, Paul Heaton formed The Beautiful South and released a bundle of hit singles and albums that aren’t a million miles away from that of The Colourfield. And just after that, Ian Broudie formed The Lightning Seeds to great acclaim, and again much of the sound of his band could be traced back to The Colourfield.

Ten tracks long, and just under 40 minutes long – it didn’t include the debut single but the three follow-ups  were all there. It’s a gloriously mellow piece of work, sometimes low-key, but filled with gorgeous pop music throughout – hints of Spanish guitar, synth-produced strings, woodwind instruments and keyboards all appear at different times on different songs. And there’s even a protest song – the very catchy Cruel Circus which slates animal cruelty, and in particular those creatures who are born in and confined to research laboratories.

Thinking back, I think its fair to assume that the main reason no-one took it seriously was that Terry Hall had forged a reputation as a representative of disaffected youth and having been pigeon-holed in that fashion not too many were keen to allow him to carve a different and more lasting niche.

Virgins and Philistines is an album that for years had been long deleted, and indeed when I wrote the original post it had never been given a CD release in the UK, but that was rectified some 2 years later in 2010.

As such, when I ripped the vinyl to mp3 to accompany the post, it was the first time I had played the LP in its entirety for the best part of 20 years and it remains a real favourite re-discovery that I still flick to when I’m on a bus or train journey-

mp3 : The Colourfield – Thinking Of You
mp3 : The Colourfield – Cruel Circus
mp3 : The Colourfield – The Hammond Song

* I recently picked up a copy of the debut single. It was then I noticed that the song AND the band was called The Colour Field.  Two separate words.   An ‘oops’ on my part back in 2008.  Here is the debut:-

mp3 : The Colour Field – The Colour Field

This gave me the chance to listen for the first time to the b-side.  It provided a real ‘wow’ factor in that I’m a bit of a sucker for the bitterly honest and straight from the heart break-up songs. You know, the sorts that Elvis Costello and David Gedge have often specialised in over the years.

This is up there with the best of them:-

mp3 : The Colour Field – Sorry

Enjoy

THE MOZ SINGLES (Part 4)

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Until 2013’s low-key release of Satellite of Love, the chart performance of Hold On To Your Friends back in May 1994 held the distinction of being the lowest ever position of any Morrissey  single when it peaked at #47. Matters were not helped by the fact that only one song was added to the various formats (7″, 12″ and CD single) in the shape of a rather pointless cover of a song that dated back to 1961:-

mp3 : Morrissey – Hold On To Your Friends
mp3 : Morrissey – Moonriver (extended version)

His version of the Henry Mancini song, which has been covered by dozens of other artists, including the likes or R.E.M., Strangelove and The Divine Comedy (as well as just about every easy-going MOR singer you care to think of) is very very ordinary to the point of dullness. And at 9mins 39 secs in length, it could have done with some serious paring-down.

Happy Listening.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 87)

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I’ve reached a great part of the alphabetical rundown.  The word Paul followed by the word Quinn.

Today it’s just those two words.  The next three Saturdays have the word ‘and’ to follow. I make no apologies at all.  All you need to know about this talent and genius can be found at the The Punk Rock Hotel

This single has already featured on T(n)VV back in October 2013.  As I said at the time, it’s from 1985, it’s on Swampland Records and it is credited to Paul Quinn alone for the reason that the song’s composer, arranger and main instrumentalist had contractual issues preventing him being fully credited as a performer.  Here’s the tracks from the 12″:-

mp3 : Paul Quinn – Ain’t That Always The Way
mp3 : Paul Quinn – Punk Rock Hotel (closing time)
mp3 : Paul Quinn – Corrina, Corrina

The middle track is an instrumental by Edwyn Collins & Paul Heard. Now…..the only info I can find on any musician called Paul Heard is that he was a keyboardist with M People. Does anyone know if it is the same bloke on this track?

Oh and Corrina Corinna is a song that dates back to 1928…it has a fascinating history.

Enjoy

A LOT OF THE FOLK PICTURED ON THIS SLEEVE WILL BE GRANDPARENTS NOW…

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There are loads of stats that can be thrown about from today’s offering.

– in February 1981, this became just the second EP ever to reach #1 in the UK singles charts; the first had been back in 1976 when greek crooner Demis Roussous took his Phenomenon EP to the top of the hit parade

Too Much Too Young became the first live track to reach #1 in more than 9 years; the previous occasion had been Chuck Berry with My-Ding-A-Ling

– at 2:04, the lead track was the shortest #1 throughout the 80s

– the five tracks on the EP had ten different composers

Terry Hall‘s dad was in the audience for the Coventry gig at which the b-side was recorded; this was the first time he’s seen The Specials perform in concert

I’ve long hummed and hawed about whether to use this 45 on the blog for the simple reason that it is record in terrible condition with all sorts of hisses and crackles.   But in the end…..

mp3 : The Specials – Too Much Too Young (live)
mp3 : The Specials – Guns Of Navarone (live)
mp3 : The Specials – Skinhead Symphony (live)*
* features Longshot Kick The Bucket, Liquidator and Skinhead Moonstomp

Enjoy. And hopefully you can track down versions with a far better sound quality.

THEY CALL HER NATASHA WHEN SHE LOOKS LIKE ELSIE

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Before I get started on the music…..I just want to say that if you want evidence of how far we’ve come in terms of interior design and decor then have a look at the sleeve above.  That carpet and wallpaper was incredibly representative of just about everyone’s homes in the late 70s.  Nowadays, you have to go to certain pubs in certain less salubrious parts of towns and cities to get the full effect.  But I digress.

From 1978.  A deserved Top 20 hit for Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea

Here’s a wonderfully penned review:-

“(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea” is a brilliant ska-inflected rocker from Elvis Costello’s debut with crack backing band the Attractions on the excellent This Year’s Model LP. The track was inexplicably left off the original American CBS release in 1978, U.S. fans having to wait to hear this bristling jolt of pop until a collection of British B-sides, Taking Liberties, was issued in 1980.

“Chelsea” features the flashy yet powerful drumming of Pete Thomas and a taught bass line from (brother in name only) bassist Bruce Thomas locked in an impressively tight groove, providing the surging engine over which Steve Nieve adds some swirling organ. Costello makes economic use of his guitar, contributing a stinging quick riff and well-placed accent chords throughout. The lyrics rain down in a torrent, Costello blurting out accusatory lines with an embittered sneer, “Photographs of fancy tricks to get your kicks at 66/He thinks of all the girls that he’s going to fix/She gave a little flirt gave herself a little cuddle/But there’s no place here for the mini-skirt waddle/Capital punishment, she’s last year’s model/They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie/I don’t want to go to Chelsea.”

The music modulates for the chorus dropping down as Costello continues his tirade against the shallow nature of vanity and fixations on beauty: “Oh no it does not move me/Even though I’ve seen the movie/I don’t want to check your pulse/I don’t want nobody else/I don’t want to go to Chelsea,” the band slamming to a quick stop on the last line.

An excellent live version can be heard on Live at El Mocambo, recorded in Toronto in 1978. The band plays up the ska quotient, adding a kind of shuffling dance beat, the song played at a furious tempo. Costello adds back slashing reggae accent guitar. The band stretches out making dramatic use of the song’s many breaks, at one point reducing the music to two pulsing notes, Costello expertly milking the vocals for dramatic effect, squeezing as much venom from the word as possible. The band powers through a brisk syncopated finish.

Those words got me to track down said live version:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea (live)

It is rather tasty if not quite living up to the powerful review.  But it was well worth the 79p download from itunes.

Chelsea was a 45 long gone from the collection but I found a second-hand copy quite recently.  Here’s the b-side:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – You Belong To Me

A song with its roots in the pub rock sound that was very instrumental in paving the way for punk/new wave here in the UK.  Only a b-side/album track, there’s a lot of bands of that era would have jumped all over it as a single if they had written it…

Enjoy.

A POP SONG THAT STAYS JUST ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF NOVELTY

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I won’t insult anyone by recounting the life and times and ultimately the tragic and untimely death of Kirsty MacColl.

Like most of you who are aged 40 and upwards, I’m guessing the first time she would have appeared on your radar was when she took this into the charts back in the spring of 1981:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis

Released in an era when many refused to believe the ‘King of Rock’nRoll’ had really died four years earlier, this is a  humourous pop song that just stays on the right side of novelty from the pen of someone who Johnny Marr has described as one of England’s greatest-ever lyricists….and from a man who has worked so closely with Morrissey and Matt Johnson, then that has to be seen as praise of the highest order.

It’s a single I picked up cheap quite recently and outside of maybe a couple of plays on radio I haven’t heard it much over the past 33 years.  Sad to say, I found myself a bit underwhelmed by it – it was a lot duller and far more mainstream that I had ever remembered and I found it all a bit disappointing.

For a long time after ‘Chip Shop’ it looked as if Kirsty was going to go down as a one-hit wonder, but thanks to her cracking cover of a Billy Bragg song she was able to kick-start her career in 1984, and while she rarely made an impact on the higher echelons of the chart, all of her records were afforded critical acclaim and respectable sales.

There were two b-sides to ‘Chip Shop’, one of which is features an alternative take on the single:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Hard To Believe
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis (country version)

Again, I was left a little disappointed by these.  They are certainly not as good as the later material she would release.

Enjoy.

FROM THE HUNGARIAN CORRESPONDENT – A TALE FROM EASTERN EUROPE

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Greetings to everyone, my name is Laslo Friop and I live in Budapest in the suburb of Erzsebetarvos and I would like to thank Mr JC for allowing me to compile todays piece for the Vinyl Villain.

I met JC on a trip to Glasgow a few years ago and he taught me all about its quality food and music. I have tried with limited success to get fish battered and chocolate that has been fried in Hungary it does not happen. Also the radio stations refuse to play Arab Strap or Mowgai, I did manage to get some Orange Juice though but it did not go down that well, it was too commercial and there was no gypsy punks. After just one hour with the JC I can now say that Glasgow is my sixth favourite city in Scotland after Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy, Cardiff, Dumbarton, and Stranraer. Since that afternoon at the train station I have followed this blog space with passion. I love to read about early 80s bands that for years were banned from Hungary for not being communist enough. Particularly Billy Bragg and The Redskins. They would have been very happy behind the Iron Curtain.

Anyway today I would like to talk you about revolution and the inspiration of a generation through music, in fact the inspiring of a generation by one band. For years in Hungary, music was terrible, under the Russians it was largely frowned upon to listen to anything Western, I think that the Beatles were not encouraged, and anyone caught listening to progressive rock from the 1970s usually disappeared to the Saltmines of Debrecen. They did this so that you could not grow your hair and say ‘Woah Man’ a lot.

Then as the West became more acceptable the Iron Grip loosened and the free republic commenced. It wasn’t all good but in one strange day back 1999 one band changed our lives for ever. It is a well known fact that David Hasslehoff singlehandedly brought the Berlin Wall to it knees.

 

Yet in Hungary on that day in 1999, a lesser known musical phenomenon occurred.

In September in what is now known as ‘Victory Square’ in Budapest the crowds had started to form to chant anti-government slogans and chants, the police had been heavy handed and we screamed at them ‘Ez mind össze képtelenség’ which roughly translated into Hungarian means ‘We will be free, we will win’. At that point the skies opened and the clouds burst and it rained. Those of you who have been to Budapest will know that this happens a lot, but at that moment we felt defeated, ruined by unemployment and now the weather. All we wanted was to have the same choices as our neighbours in Austria had, and not go the same way as other neighbours Romania had gone.

Now Western Radio and music has started to become relatively popular in Hungary around this time. We were massive fans of the reggae star Pato Banton and for many the arrival of Eminem was a crucial point in our history. Or ‘Nem ez nem volt’ as we like say when we discuss Eminem. So it was not unusual to hear Western songs on the radio or being churned out from the many cafes and shops. Now as the rain pelted down on our tear stained cheeks, one song, ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me’ by the Scottish Band Travis came on. On hearing this Hungarians found solidarity and together we rose and defied the weather, we defied the police and we defied the government. After that day, Travis became the Number One band in all of Hungary, they were so popular they even had a brand of goulash named after them, people would go into restaurants and say ‘ez a teljes lószart’ and the workers would know that you were one of them. Their songs became synonymous with the protest movement in Hungary, ‘All I want to do is rock’ became the theme to our campaign to become more western, ‘Tied to the 90s’ became an ironic song about not returning to the days of communism with its cheeky ‘Remember the 80s…’ lyric and ‘Turn’ and ‘Sing’ remain anthems for the working parties in Hungary even today.

Travis are heroes in Hungary, their concerts here are sold out mega gigs and their singer Fran Healy has recently been awarded the highest ever accolade possible for a Non Hungarian the prestigious ‘Hatalmas Hazugság’. Very few people have been awarded this in Hungary.

I hope you enjoyed reading this piece, I hope my English has not been too crazy, I used Google Translate and hope that if you translate the Hungarian bits back to English you will get some idea what this band means to us. I would post their tracks but I think you will already own most of them. So instead I post tracks by two of my favourite bands, the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stone Roses. Bands that I was lucky enough to see live in Austria at festivals. They have never played Hungary to the best of my knowledge.

mp3 : The Jesus and Mary Chain – April Skies
mp3 : The Stone Roses – Fools Gold

I bid you farewell I will leave you with a good luck phrase in Hungarian

‘Mindez igaz, hogy minden szemetet. Kérlek, bocsáss meg, a normál szolgáltatás folytatódik a jövő héten’

Laslo