FROM THE SOUTH-WEST CORRESPONDENT..WHAT’S IN YOUR BOX (21)

cds-in-murfie-box

The Shoebox of Delights

Regular readers will remember that some time ago I was given a box of CD’s by my Dad. These were CDs that I left in a box in his house in 1998 when I graduated from university and moved to Devon. Every week I picked one at random and wrote about the music, some of this music was quite good, some was terrible.

Well, brace yourself, because at the weekend, I found another box. It wasn’t at my Dads, it was in my own house. In the loft. There is a story behind this box, if you will indulge me….

Mrs S-WC asked me to go in the loft and move some bits and pieces and to bring down a few other items that we were taking to the charity shop and the tip, domestic life is bliss in S-WC towers. So up in the loft I went, I found the items that were being thrown out, a pink surfboard (not mine or for that matter Mrs S-WC’s), a hoover box full of small pieces of foam (no idea), a piece of spare carpet (not the same colour as the rest of the carpet in the house), and some books, ignored baby toys and clothes for the charity shop. I moved them one by one towards the loft hatch.

Now, all my CDs are loving stored in waterproof, childproof, bombproof, dampproof, and animalproof boxes in the loft, there are quite a few of them (far less than there used to be, but a lot never the less) and I pretty much know what is in each box. Underneath or behind all the stuff that I had just moved was a shoebox, (Duffs Shoes, and for the record I have never owned a pair of Duffs Shoes) inside this shoebox was roughly 35 CD’s.

I scratched my head. Not because I was perplexed but I thought a spider fell on it about ten minutes ago and I’ve been jumping at the slightest itch ever since.  But this was strange…..I went over to the CD boxes, and opened up one of them, and where these CDs should have been were four books. About cats. Now our cat, died about two years ago from Kidney failure, and it was a horrible thing to see and to go through and each of these books was about caring for a terminally ill pussycat. Mrs S-WC took the death of the cat very badly, so I do the right thing, I leave the books where they are and shut the box lid.

But strangely Mrs S-WC chose the CD Box full of the CDs that I have not yet got round to converting to mp3 – she couldn’t have possibly known this, so I take the box downstairs and put it to one side. I make Mrs S-WC a cup of tea and pull a CD out…..

‘The Magic Treehouse’ Ooberman is, as you expect by the name of both the band and the album, a bit twee. They are a band with strong indie, folk and progressive tendencies that sadly split in 2003 after their second album ‘Hey Petrunko!’ failed dismally. I think they might have since reformed but I may wrong in with that.

Their debut album was the ‘The Magic Treehouse’ and the opening line of the entire album is ‘A star in heaven knows my name’ and it kind of sets the tone. If you don’t mind a little (ok a lot) tweeness in your music, then Ooberman are for you. If you own even one Slipknot record then its probably not for you. The Magic Treehouse is so twee it is dressed in pastel colours and wearing sandals.

They hailed from Bradford originally but didn’t really gel as a band until they moved to Liverpool and started releasing records in the late nineties. I first heard Ooberman when I was sitting in an office at work and Jo Whiley played ‘Shorely Wall’. In 1998 it was named Single of the Year by the Times Newspaper. It is that kind of song, catchy, adorably sweet and contains this spoken word bit at the end by Sophie Churney the band’s keyboard player in which I’m pretty sure she is close to tears.

Trust me if you haven’t heard this before it will be all over you from the first second you hear it. Seriously if you don’t think this in an incredible piece of pop music then you were born with something missing.

mp3 : Ooberman – Shorley Wall

I’m guessing that Ooberman’s closest musical peers would be Belle and Sebastian in that they rarely gave interviews and live shows were few and far between – but they kept in touch with their fans through their Internet site and as such grew an audience that were devoted and dedicated. Personally after listening to it I think its sounds like it comes from the same asylum for the musical insane as Gorkys Zygotic Mynci. Either way its all a bit lovely and gorgeous.

mp3 : Ooberman – Sugar Bum
(this was the bands first record released on Graham Coxon‘s Transcopic Label)

mp3 : Ooberman – Blossoms Falling
(The bands first Top 40 record on Independiente)

mp3 : Ooberman – Tears from A Willow
(The follow up single – it reached number 62)

mp3 : Ooberman – Roll Me in Cotton
(A soppy ballad from the album – perhaps the dictionary definition of ‘Twee’)

So – one down 34 to go. Actually 28 to go, 6 were compilation albums from the NME so I’ve put those to one side (one had So Solid Crew on it and we don’t need to hear that). I’ve numbered each one, some are singles, some are albums. Pick me a number folks…………….

S-WC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #27 : MARTHA AND THE MUFFINS

A guest contribution from Alex G.  It features a band that I’m proud to say I caught playing live at the Glasgow Apollo when they opened for Roxy Music on the Flesh & Blood tour back in 1980..

GetInline

Here’s an imaginary album by a band that I might, were I being insultingly reductive, call Toronto’s answer to Talking Heads. Which I just did. Sorry. Of course most people know them as the band who did Echo Beach: one great song, three and a half minutes in the spotlight, then gone. Whatever happened to Martha and the Muffins? All of the following…

This imaginary album Cooling The Medium is a selection from seven LPs, from The One With Echo Beach On It (Metro Music, 1979) to The Kind Of Folky One (Modern Lullaby, 1992). They did release a comeback album in 2010 but I never got into that, and besides, covering these seven albums in ten tracks was hard enough.

Side one

1. Swimming (from This Is The Ice Age, 1981)
2. About Insomnia (from Trance And Dance, 1980)
3. Cooling The Medium (from Mystery Walk, 1984)
4. One Day In Paris (from This Is The Ice Age, 1981)
5. Black Stations / White Stations (from Mystery Walk, 1984)

Side two

1. Was Ezo (from Trance And Dance, 1980)
2. Everybody Has A Place (from Modern Lullaby, 1992)
3. Echo Beach (from Metro Music, 1979)
4. Song In My Head (from The World Is A Ball, 1985)
5. Several Styles Of Blonde Girls Dancing (from Danseparc, 1983)

From the beginning, then… Martha and the Muffins formed in Toronto in 1977 and within a year had settled down to a line-up of Martha Johnson (vocals, keyboards), Mark Gane (guitar), Carl Finkle (bass), Andy Haas (sax), Martha Ladly (backing vocals, keyboards) and Tim Gane (drums). A self-financed 7”, Insect Love, brought them to the attention of Virgin Records, who signed them up to their new DinDisc label and brought them to the UK to cut a debut album Metro Music (Canada 1979, UK release 1980). The first single lifted from the LP was Echo Beach (side 2, track 3).

I nearly didn’t put Echo Beach on this compilation. After all, you already know it, you’ve probably got it, and if you want to hear it, you can just hang around any supermarket with an in-store radio station and it’ll turn up soon enough. But it’s here anyway, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because inevitably nothing else on “Metro Music” really comes close. I was going to use the follow-up single Saigon, but the write-up came down to “it’s pretty good, but it’s not Echo Beach”, so what’s a diligent compiler to do? More importantly, if we’re going to pretend that this could be a proper vinyl album, then let’s face it: there’s no way on Earth that you’d ever do a Martha And The Muffins compilation and NOT put Echo Beach on it. Apart from anything else, it’s just too damn good. So good, in fact, it was very nearly a career killer.

Desperate to cash in, Virgin sent the Muffins on a lengthy promotional tour and then demanded a second album, pronto. Recorded in between live commitments, Trance and Dance (1980) was the typical rush-released follow-up and drew upon songs rejected from the first album, revisited B-sides and a cover of Chris Spedding‘s  Motor Bikin’ which must surely be taken as a joke, albeit a somewhat inscrutable one. Barrel-scraping notwithstanding, I actually think “Trance and Dance” is a stronger album overall, and it’s represented here by two of its singles, both written by Ladly and appearing here in their re-recorded 7” forms.

Lead single About Insomnia (side 1, track 2) features a lyric full of words like “viaduct”, “nonchalant” and “tableaux”, half a verse in French for no discernible reason, a saxophone solo to make your ears bleed (the one on the album version is comparatively well-mannered), and no chorus. Well, there’s something resembling a chorus but they only do it once so I’m not sure it counts. All surprisingly good fun and of course it made no impact whatsoever. Was Ezo (side 2, track 1) delves into Japanese history and revolves around the wonderfully rhyming fact that “Hokkaido / was Ezo”. You will be singing it!

“Was Ezo” was Ladly’s finest moment with the group; shortly afterwards, she quit to pursue other ventures, including a spell working with Peter Saville Associates (the design on the front of the 1981-82 EP by New Order  is hers). Finkle quit too, and fatefully, Jocelyne Lanois became the new bassist. With “Trance And Dance” failing to produce any hits, Virgin’s plan for making a return on their investment was to impose a name producer on the group, but the Muffins chose instead to retreat to Toronto and record with Jocelyne’s brother who owned a little studio there, to which the label responded by slashing their budget.

You wouldn’t know it, though, because the then-unknown Daniel Lanois proved to be hot stuff, and the resulting album This Is The Ice Age (1981) doesn’t sound at all cheap – in fact it’s widely considered to be the Muffins’ magnum opus, and its opening track Swimming (side 1, track 1) is the opening track here. Representative of the more experimental, expansive sound of “Ice Age”, the Mark Gane-sung “Swimming” is undoubtedly one of their finest moments, and set the bar for a trilogy of albums with Lanois at the controls. The intro is supposed to sound like that, by the way.

Also here from that album is the piano ballad One Day In Paris (side 1, track 4), which if I’m honest I’m not that fond of, but a lot of reviews pick it as a highlight, and I need a gentler song at around track 4, so here it is. Were I not sticking to the “ten tracks” restriction, I would certainly have included more from This Is The Ice Age. I know the idea of this series isn’t necessarily a “greatest hits” or “ten very best songs”, but I do wonder whether I’m doing the right thing by leaving out Women Around the World at Work. Oh well…

Fourth LP Danseparc (1983) was the end of the road for Martha and the Muffins as a full band. The “Ice Age” line-up remained largely in place (though Haas dropped out in acrimonious circumstances), but creatively the group was really now Martha Johnson, Mark Gane and Who Cares?. The album wore its transitional nature on its sleeve: shifting away from the new wave whimsy of “Martha and the Muffins”, Mark and Martha had settled on the minimalist moniker “M+M”, and put both the old and new names on the front cover. Showcasing Gane as both vocalist and guitarist, the angular funk of Several Styles Of Blonde Girls Dancing (side 2, track 5) is the album’s longest, grooviest and arguably funniest track (what the hell is going on at 1.58?). And it allows this compilation to start and end with Mark Gane vocals. Which is nice.

The dancier Mystery Walk (1984, under the M+M name) completed the shift to a duo + session players format, and surprisingly enough actually seems to have had the reinvigorating effect Gane and Johnson hoped for, spawning an unexpectedly popular single in Black Stations / White Stations (side 1, track 5). This made it to number 2 on the US dance chart (a song lambasting radio stations for refusing to play black dance records was always going to be more popular in the clubs) and came tantalisingly close to a top 40 placing in the UK (it made #46), making it their second-biggest hit here, although obviously quite a lot smaller than you-know-what. It did somewhat kill its chances of being covered for years to come by making rather a big deal of the fact that “This is 1984!”.

Alas, there was no room on this compilation for other great “Mystery Walk” tracks like the ethereal Garden In The Sky (which I initially pencilled in for the closing track) or the anthemic Rhythm Of Life (on which Lanois gets to deploy his stadium rock tricks), but Cooling The Medium (side 1, track 3), another pop-dance track with just a smidgen of “tribal” flavour, had to go on – if only because it provides the perfect title for the whole collection. And besides, I just really like this song, so there.

With Lanois increasingly in demand elsewhere (his next project was U2‘s The Unforgettable Fire), “Mystery Walk” would be his last collaboration with M+M. The World Is A Ball (1985), largely produced in the UK by David Lord (previous credits: The Korgis, Peter Gabriel, XTC) was a disappointing collection with one spectacular standout, Song In My Head (side 2, track 4). In a world where “Echo Beach” didn’t exist, one could imagine this incredibly catchy pop song being the megahit they would never shake off instead. You’ll hate it, but you’ll have it in your head for the rest of the week.

After six albums in as many years, it took as long again for the seventh to appear. 1992’s Modern Lullaby saw the return of the Martha and the Muffins name, and yet another new sound. Its folk/country leanings may put some people off (it certainly seems to have had that effect at the time), but I genuinely like it. Not as much as Ice Age or Mystery Walk, but… it’s pretty decent. There were no singles released from the album, though videos were made for three songs, including the mellow Everybody Has A Place (side 2, track 2). I think thematically and musically this song sits well next to Echo Beach, and I like the idea of the newest track on the collection leading into the oldest. In fact, were I compiling this album for real, I’d probably do a little crossfade between them. As an aside, the sound of this track and “Modern Lullaby” in general owe a lot to session violinist Stuart Gordon, who died last year. An obituary can be found here:

http://www.sonicstate.com/news/2014/09/10/stuart-gordon-extraordinary-musician-passes-away/

So there you have it, ten songs from seven albums by Martha and the Muffins, disparate enough for everybody to hate at least one. Ah well, at least it’s got Echo Beach on it.

Alex G

JC adds………….

When this arrived in my inbox the other week I was really interested to download the songs and have a listen.  As I said, I did see the band some 35(!!!!) years ago and remember them being a great live act who were afforded a superb reception from what was a notoriously difficult audience to please.

The other thing that intrigued me was to listen to the Martha Ladly tracks as she, in addition to joining Peter Saville (and that was a new one to me as was the revelation that she was behind a New Order Cover), was to briefly be a member of Associates, a band that is much-loved round these parts and it is her keyboards and backing vocals that are such a major part of the hit single 18-Carat Love Affair.

I’ve had the advantage of listening to the songs for a few days and I’m happy to say that this is a band that deserves a much wider recognition than they have generally been given.  They are far too good and far too talented to be thought of merely as one-hit wonders…..

mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Swimming
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – About Insomnia
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Cooling The Medium
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – One Day In Paris
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Black Stations/White Stations
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Was Ezo
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Everybody Has A Place
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Echo Beach
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Song In My Head
mp3 : Martha and the Muffins – Several Styles Of Blonde Girls Dancing

PS

Although the links to the songs have been removed by now, the original author Alex G (whose place is the esteemed We Will Have Salad) can help out.

https://wewillhavesalad.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/top-muffins/

 

 

 

THE JAM SINGLES (1)

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I’m assuming that all regular readers will be aware of The Jam and so I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by doing any potted history or bios. Instead, I’m going to use this new series as a way of giving myself a bit of an occasional rest by simply re-producing the sleeve, posting up the tracks and offering small bits of trivia and the occasional alternative version.

The debut single was released on 29 April 1977 and reached #40 in the singles charts, the first of 18 successive chart hits for the band.

It would go onto be re-released as a 7″ single by Polydor Records on three more occasions – in 1980, 1983 and 2002, hitting #40,, #47 and #36 respectively, meaning that its best chart performance was a full 25 years after its initial release.

mp3 : The Jam – In The City
mp3 : The Jam – Takin’ My Love

A live version, recorded at the 100 Club in London on 11 September 1977 was later made available on the live LP Dig The New Breed:-

mp3 : The Jam – In The City (live)

Two other versions on offer today.  The first is an alternative mix (possibly a demo) released as part of the Direction, Reaction Creation box set:-

mp3 : The Jam – In The City (version)

And finally, from a session recorded for John Peel on 26 April 1977 and broadcast six days later:-

mp3 : The Jam – In The City (Peel Session)

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #26 : XTC

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Absolutely chuffed that Johnny the Friendly Lawyer has popped up with this particular contribution. He’s another who has contributed to both blogs on numerous occasions offering his views and thoughts on many a posting.  And unusually for an American legal eagle, he’s never once invoiced me!!!

An Imaginary Compilation Album: Colin’s Ecstacy

Of all the UK post-punk bands that should have hit it big in the States but didn’t—The Jam, Elvis Costello, the Bunnymen, Smiths, Magazine, and countless others—Swindon’s XTC are among the most criminally overlooked. Maybe it’s because they stopped touring in 1982, when principal singer-songwriter Andy Partridge was overcome by stage fright. Maybe it’s because they didn’t get the label support they needed from Virgin. Maybe it’s because American radio was then and remains to this day absolute crap. In any event, the reason is NOT because XTC didn’t have the tunes.

And the man responsible for some of the band’s best tunes is founding bassist and co-vocalist Colin Moulding. Partridge fronted the band and wrote the majority of its songs, including some all time classics (‘Senses Working Overtime’, ‘Respectable Street’ and ‘Mayor of Simpleton’ come to mind). But the less quirky, unprepossessing bassist wrote more than his share of classics. This imaginary compilation offers a modicum of recognition to one of the most unsung heroes of the era, Colin Moulding.

Side A

1. Life Begins at the Hop

Although the band had been around for a while and had already released two albums, XTC really clicked into gear when original member Barry Andrews jumped ship to join Robert Fripp and his League of Gentlemen (decamping soon thereafter to form Shriekback). In came guitar wiz/fellow Swindonian Dave Gregory and XTC’s two-guitar, pop-focused sound was nailed down. 1978’s White Music and Go 2 contained several Moulding songs, but nothing that compares to this masterpiece. It was released as a non-album single in 1979 but was included as the lead track on the American version of Drums and Wires, the band’s 3rd LP, but first minus Andrews and plus Gregory. Instantly catchy like all good pop songs, ‘Hop’ is the true beginning of XTC and the perfect re-introduction of Mr. Moulding.

2. Making Plans for Nigel

Another single and the opening track of the UK version of Drums and Wires. One of the band’s best known and loved songs, but what is it about, exactly? Parents planning their child’s future? A comment on English society’s emphasis on steady employment? Never been able to work that out, but I do love this number. Interesting to note that ‘Nigel’, ‘Life Begins at the Hop’ and the Moulding-written ’10 Feet Tall’ were all included on the American release, and were the only singles from the album.

3. Generals and Majors

The lead single from XTC’s 4th release, Black Sea. I was lucky enough to see the band during this tour, in a tiny club in my suburban hometown of Roslyn, Long Island, New York. A true shame that they stopped touring; they were an outstanding live act and were talented enough to play to perfection anything they recorded. (Although I was a tad disappointed to see that the ‘whistling’ on this track is played on a synth!)

4. Love at First Sight

XTC are, for lack of a better word, a singable band. This track, also from Black Sea, only has a few chords but the vocal line is so melodic it makes the song irresistibly catchy. Even the middle eight (“Mouse takes the bait…”), with its standard C-G-A-D progression, sounds fresh with Moulding singing lead, as he does on most (but not all) of the songs he wrote.

5. Ball and Chain

The second single from the band’s 5th LP, English Settlement. XTC have often been called ‘Beatle-esque’ and it’s sort of true with this track, which to my ears bears a passing resemblance to ‘Getting Better’.

Side B

6. English Roundabout

One of the charming things about XTC, for us in the colonies anyway, is how profoundly English they are. Maybe that’s the reason they never made it over here. I don’t know—I hear the opening line “People rushing round with no time to spare” and it reminds me of millions of people, swarming like flies round Waterloo underground. The pace of the song, the intricate guitar figures, the vocal melody—all these show a band at the top of its game. But, soon after this record, Partridge shut down the touring machine, drummer Terry Chambers left, and they lost the plot. It took them years to get it back.

7. Grass

Four years and two more albums to be exact. XTC released Mummer in 1983 and The Big Express in 1984, both of which sank without a trace. ‘Wonderland’ was a Moulding single from Mummer which many people liked (not me). But XTC found their feet again in 1986 with the brilliant, Todd Rundgren-produced Skylarking. Often described as a ‘pastoral’ album, Skylarking is terrific start to finish. Widely considered Partridge’s tour de force, the LP nonetheless contained four great Moulding tunes, including this one, the album’s lead single.

8. The Meeting Place

“And here’s yer other album single”, as our host might say. Little known fact: XTC made headlines with the controversial Partridge tune ‘Dear God.’ It’s a great song with an interesting video to match, but it first came out as the B-side to Moulding’s ‘Grass.’ It was only after U.S. college radio stations picked up on the song that it got its own single release, eventually replacing ‘Mermaid Smiled’ on later pressings of the LP. More trivia: the drummer on Skylarking was Prairie Prince, the original drummer of American corporate rock perpetrators Journey and later a member of art/glam/goof band the Tubes.

9. King For A Day

Second single off Oranges & Lemons, whose title I only recently learned was from an English nursery rhyme. Notice how we’re up to song 9 of the Moulding compilation and seven of the tracks were singles? Not bad for the band’s auxiliary songwriter.

10. One of the Millions

Here we are at the end of the set and I’ve yet to mention how great a bassist Moulding is! If it wasn’t obvious from the previous tracks it should be from this one, on which his melodic, fretless lines are themselves little songs. Had Moulding never written a note or sung a word, XTC wouldn’t have been complete without his exceptional bass-playing. I bought my first bass in 1980 at aged 17, and Moulding quickly became a personal hero, ranked only behind the remarkable Graham Maby (from Joe Jackson’s band) and the all-time best bassist of the era, the Attractions’ Bruce Thomas.

XTC followed Oranges & Lemons with Nonsuch in 1992, then went quiet for seven years, eventually releasing Apple Venus and Wasp Star in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Then they packed it in. Moulding wrote songs for all of the last three albums, but none, I think, that merits inclusion in place of any of my chosen ten. Haven’t a clue as to what Mr. Moulding is up to now.

Bonus Tracks

Indulging their 60’s psychedelia fetish to the extreme, XTC released an excellent EP and LP under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear.

What In The World??…, written under the name The Red Curtain (Partridge called himself Sir John Johns) appeared on 1985’s 25 O’Clock, his bass front and center in a McCartney/Taxman bounce.

The Dukes returned in 1987 with Psonic Psunspot, on which Moulding/Curtain’s Vanishing Girl appeared. The Dukes’ two releases were later compiled together as Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. This kitschy homage to Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the Beatles and the Beach Boys contains some of the band’s best work and is well worth a listen.

JTFL

mp3 : XTC – Life Begins At The Hop
mp3 : XTC – Making Plans For Nigel
mp3 : XTC – Generals and Majors
mp3 : XTC – Love At First Sight
mp3 : XTC – Ball and Chain
mp3 : XTC – English Roundabout
mp3 : XTC – Grass
mp3 : XTC – The Meeting Place
mp3 : XTC – King For A Day
mp3 : XTC – One of the Millions
mp3 : Dukes of Stratosphear – What In The World??…
mp3 : Dukes of Stratosphear – Vanishing Girl

JC adds…..

There’s another good friend of mine called John who is also a huge fan of XTC.  He was a very regular contributor to the old blog and one of the annoying things about it being taken down without advance warning a few years back is that almost all the musings of Mr John Greer were lost.  But I was able to salvage his piece on XTC and Dukes of Stratosphear for re-posting in May 2014.  It’s well worth a read:-

https://thenewvinylvillain.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/this-is-pop/

 

SELL HIM YOUR SOUL, NEVER LOOK BACK

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My first exposure to Propaganda came one night at the end of an episode of what by then was called Whistle Test, when a memorable pop promo for a song called Dr Mabuse was played out over the credits sometime around early 1984.

It turned out that this was to be the second single released on the ZTT label – the first being the amazingly successful Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I was immediately captivated by its charms – it was a big booming tune that offered something different each time you played it. Oh and in co-vocalist Susanne Freytag, they had one of the most stunningly gorgeous women in the pop world.

The single was only a minor hit, peaking at #27, and with subsequent FGTH singles also being multi-million sellers, the relatively small ZTT had to put all its eggs into one basket, so Propaganda were left to one side for the best part of 12 months and it was April 1985 before the follow-up single Duel was released.

For the rest of the year, the band enjoyed quite a high-profile, including a number of TV appearances, live gigs and the release of the debut LP A Secret Wish in July 1985. Incidentally, the vinyl and CD versions of the album are very different – they were released some three months apart, and the CD has extended and slightly remixed versions of a number of the tracks.

I loved A Secret Wish. It was the sort of record I had imagined Simple Minds going onto make on the back of their earliest releases instead of gravitating towards the stadium rock behemoths they were becoming. And it was no real surprise that the Propaganda which went out on tour featured the ex-Minds bassist Derek Forbes…..

The debut single offered different versions on the 7″ and 12″. My 7″ copy has long gone – a victim of stupidity when all my 7″ singles were ‘lost’ in Edinburgh in 1986 but I do have the 12″ songs to offer up:-

mp3 : Propaganda – Das Testaments Des Mabuse
mp3 : Propaganda – Femme Fatale

Yup, another 80s band besotted by The Velvet Underground…..

Oh and there’s another version of Dr Mabuse also tucked away on the b-side, but it’s just a bit too industrial for my liking today.

Enjoy.

NEXT YEAR’S NOSTALGIA FEST (Part 27 of 48)

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Creation Records thought they were onto a good thing with The Loft. The four piece’s first two singles – Why Does The Rain and Up The Hill and Down The Slope in late 1984 and early 1985 had picked up a fair amount of critical acclaim and sold reasonably well for a purely indie-based label.  Theirs was the sort of music that had mainstream radio chart potential.

But The Loft called it a day in mid 1985 and out of the ashes emerged The Weather Prophets just under a year later with Pete Astor (vocals/guitar) and Dave Morgan (drums) joined by Oisin Little (guitar) and David Goulding (bass).

The debut single, Almost Prayed, wasn’t all that far removed from the sound of The Loft and by the end of the year a second single and a German import LP that had come out on an overseas imprint of Rough Trade Records had seen many tip them for great things in 1987.

By now Alan McGhee had been given money by Warner Brothers to form a new label which he named Elevation Records and its first releases involved The Weather Prophets – two singles (one of which was a re-recording of The Loft’s debut 45) and an album.  But pop music and critical acclaim have always had a fickle relationship and those who had supported the band through the Creation years were disparaging with the Elevation releases although musically there wasn’t much between them.

The band went back to Creation in 1988 and released two more singles and an album which was a little bit rockier than previous efforts but still success eluded them. The band broke up in late 1988 at which point Pete Astor pursued a solo career and Messrs Morgan and Goulding became part of a new alt/country group called The Rockingirds.

The Weather Prophets are still fondly remembered and regarded as one of the ‘should’ve been’ bands of the era and so it is no surprise that they were included on the CD86 double CD. The song was one of the b-sides on their 12″ debut single for Creation back in may 1986:-

mp3 : The Weather Prophets – Like Frankie Lymon

The actual single itself is a belter:-

mp3 : The Weather Prophets – Almost Prayed

Enjoy

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #21 : BASTARD MOUNTAIN

SbTR-A-030 Outer Sleeve EX
From the Song, By Toad website:-

Bastard Mountain are: Pete Harvey & Neil Pennycook from Meursault, Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow & the Workshop, Rob St. John from eagleowl & Meursault, Rory Sutherland from Broken Records & Reuben Taylor from James Yorkston & the Athletes.

Farewell, Bastard Mountain was recorded in October 2012. Jill, Neil and Rob each brought three songs, one to sing themselves, and one each for the other two vocalists to sing. Over the course of a week the group wrote and recorded music to go with these new versions, the result of which is Farewell, Bastard Mountain.

It’s a record full of drones and textures, but not as dark and oppressive as that might lead you to imagine. Instead, the semi-improvised nature, live recording and playfulness of the album gives the record a real lightness and sense of unity, to the extent that the vinyl has been pressed without any track breaks at all, as it all just fits seamlessly together as a single piece of work.

This approach to collaborative music was inspired by the Cold Seeds album we did several years ago with Animal Magic Tricks, King Creosote and Meursault. That album was more ad-hoc, there was no real plan for how it was going to happen, the music was almost entirely improvised and it all sort of fell together by happy accident.

This time around we wanted to reproduce that level of experimentation and excitement, but once the musicians got together it turned into something more like a conventional band. They may not have had much time, but they still rehearsed everything a little and then recorded the bulk of each song live, playing off each other to mitigate the uncertainty of trying to record a song they’d only learned a couple of hours ago.

The results are absolutely beautiful, with new takes on older songs as well as new and previously unheard tunes by all three main songwriters, as well as a first ever officially released song by Rory Sutherland which we all liked so much we’re pushing him to write a solo record as soon as possible.

Tracks written by:
Meadow Ghosts & Palisade: Rob St. John, Drone Armatrading: Rory Sutherland, The Mill, New Boy & Pissing on Bonfires: Neil Pennycook, Swam Like Sharks, Old Habits & My Crime: Jill O’Sullivan, Something On Your Mind: Dino Valenti.

mp3 : Bastard Mountain – Something On Your Mind

Enjoy.

NEITHER A HIT NOR A FLOP

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Having got to #1 with the Norman Cook remix of Brimful Of Asha back in early 1998 it looked as if Cornershop had a deserved profile after years of toiling in obscurity.

If there was any justice in the world, then this, one of a number of outstanding tracks from the LP When I Was Born For The 7th Time, would have also crashed high into the charts.

Sadly, Sleep On The Left Side stalled at #23, which in my books is enough to keep the band away from those that are listed as ‘one-hit wonders’, but proof that the record-buying public would only embrace the band’s unique mix of indie, dance and Asian music if someone famous like Fatboy Slim put their name to it.

The single is an edited down version of the original track that was on the LP, but it also came with other innovative and wonderful mixes:-

mp3 : Cornershop – Sleep On The Left Side (Radio Edit)
mp3 : Cornershop – Sleep On The Left Side (Ashley Beedle’s Right Hand Radio Edit)
mp3 : Cornershop – Sleep On The Left Side (Les Rythmes Digitales’ Living By Numbers Mix)
mp3 : Cornershop – Sleep On The Left Side (Ashley Beedle’s Right Hand Extended Mix)

New Order fans everywhere will surely adore the LRD mix…….

Enjoy.

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (10)

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File under a sad ending to a recording career.

Altered Images had signalled they were calling it a day but ensured that all touring dates would be honoured, including their first ever gigs in North America.  The record label decided it would be fitting to release one last song from Bite and so, in October 1983, this was released on 7″, 12″ and pic disc:-

mp3 : Altered Images – Change Of Heart

It was the third single from the Mike Chapman sessions to be released as a 45 which meant that only Another Lost Look from those sessions hadn’t seen light of day via that format, although you will recall that an alternative version of said song had been put on the b-side of single #9 Love To Stay.  But hang on, what’s this on the b-side of this latest single?

mp3 : Altered Images – Another Lost Look

There was absolutely no incentive to buy this single on 7″.  The two songs had been available for more than four months.  So what about the 12″?

Eh……there’s no extended or dance mix, the b-side is the same….and to rub salt into the wounds the label put the 7″ versions of Happy Birthday and I Could Be Happy onto it.

Absolutely pointless.  So it is no surprise that the single didn’t chart.

And that dear readers, concludes a look back at the ten singles released by Altered Images between March 1981 and October 1983. Collectively, they delivered three Top 10 placings, six Top 40 placings and a total of 60 weeks in the Top 75.

Next up in the singles series…………The Jam.

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES….COURTESY OF SID LAW (7)

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A very welcome one-off summer special…….

Happy Summer Holidays Mr Vinyl Villain! I’ve been enjoying the Altered Images series and the Devoto “Rainy Season” was good to hear again. I remember being in the front row of an Edinburgh Fringe Show with Claire a few years back (and I still have a lovely signed risque poster). It was called “Lady MacBeth Firmed My Buttocks” and was a delight… however I digress.

I attach a completely unreleased track by The Associates featuring Billy and Alan. It is a cover of Paul Ryan’s song which was a big hit for brother Barry Ryan. Billy loved those kinda “Cabaret” Bacharach style, full-blown songs. On “Eloise” we can hear a young Billy (probably 1979) crooning his way through Rankine’s punky, guitar driven arrangement. Probably recorded at Craighall Studios in Trinity Edinburgh in 1979 with the same unnamed “Cabaret Musicians” responsible for the demos which were released as “Double Hipness” by Virgin in 2000.

Enjoy

Sid

mp3 : Associates – Eloise

JC adds…………It’s a long long way from the sounds that became the hits.  As Sid says it is very punky and having been lucky enough to see the Big Gold Dream documentary the other week it is very clear that the boys fitted in perfectly to the scene that was building up in and around the capital city in the late 70s.

OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN….

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The thing is….I need to apologise to everyone for a terrible drop in standards.  And not for the first time.

The thing is, I do my best to provide a daily posting but there is no way I can sit down every 24 hours and type something up.  Things are done in batches, post-dated and the magic of modern technology normally does the rest.

Problem is however, I do make mistakes often through tiredness but nowadays thanks to my advancing years, forgetfulness.  Which is why the songs that should have accompanied the piece on 14 Iced Bears last Sunday were missing.

And the reason it took so long to resolve the issue is that I’ve been away for the past three days with no access to the music files.

Sorry.  But I can’t promise it won’t happen again.  You’ve been warned.

mp3 : 14 Iced Bears – Come Get Me
mp3 : 14 Iced Bears – Sure To See
mp3 : 14 Iced Bears – Unhappy Days

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #25 : UNDERWORLD

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This one comes of my namesake Jim C who has not only been a long-time reader going back to the old blog but an occasional guest contributor:-

HEY JC…

Finally after months of procrastination… Here’s my Underworld compilation. I’ve just concentrated on the songs I genuinely love and have loved for years. I’ve seen them live on countless occasions and they never disappoint – I guess that’s influenced most of my choices – the ones I like them to play live. They’ve kind of soundtracked my life since the early 90s and so many of these songs remind me of happy times and friends. It’s incredibly difficult to pick ten songs and then write ten different stories – essentially most of these should all say – ‘This song is euphoric, it makes me smile and I like dancing to it’. My favourite album by them is Dubnobasswithmyheadman – I’m not sure how I’ve managed it but I’ve not included a single track from it – a couple of b-sides and a live version are about as near as I’ve got.

And at 1 hour and 48 minutes long these eleven tracks would have to be split over a double album!

xxxjim

Side A

01 BEAUTIFUL BURNOUT
From “Oblivion With Bells”

This is the Underworld song I play most these days. Dark, brooding – the perfect soundtrack for driving through a city late at night. It wouldn’t have felt out of place on Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

02 DARK TRAIN
“Dark and Long” B-Side

I always put Underworld on my ipod when I am on my way home drunk. It soundtracks public transport and keeps me awake – and this is always one of the tracks that I go to. I do try and stop myself punching the air when the big chords kick in. Essentially it’s a remix of Dubnobasswithmyheadman opener ‘Dark and Long’ – but it does what all good remixes do and turns it into a completely new track.

Side B

03 SHUDDER/KING OF SNAKE
From “Beaucoup Fish”

Side B kicks off with SNAKE! Always shouted by me and my mates when they play it live.

04 WHY WHY WHY
Rez B-Side

This song is euphoric, it makes me smile and I like dancing to it.

05 DOWNPIPE
Single

The most recent song on the list – a collaboration with DJ Mark Knight. If this is the future direction that Underworld take I’ll be a very happy man. I first heard it on the drive to Glastonbury a few years ago – it set up the weekend quite nicely.

Side C

06 8 BALL
From “The Beach soundtrack”

Another slow one to start side C. This just makes me smile. I wish I’d seen Karl Hyde’s solo shows where he played this – look it up on youtube (but don’t tell JC) it’s great.

07 JUMBO
From Beaucoup Fish

Tough call – it was either this or Two Months Off – but as much as I love dancing to that, I guess I like this song just a little bit more.

08 PEARLS GIRL
From “Second Toughest In The Infants”

The first of two tracks named after greyhounds (the other one is Born Slippy fact fans). And the only one with what sounds like a helicopter taking off in it.

Side D

09 REZ/COWGIRL
From “Bootleg Babies”

A bit of a cheat this one – combining two of their finest records into one with a live version from the “Bootleg Babies” mix – essentially it was the Underworld messageboard putting together a mix of all the best Underworld live tracks to create the ultimate Underworld disc. And this really doesn’t disappoint – it gives a real flavor of what Underworld are like live.

10 MOANER
From Beaucoup Fish

JC posted this song recently so I was in two minds about whether to include it – but for me, there isn’t really any other song that could have ended this compilation – it’s almost impossible to follow. They pretty much always played it last as it was guaranteed to get you dancing like a machete and give you whiplash.

BONUS TRACK: BORN SLIPPY (NUXX)

Might seem a little obvious but how can you resist those euphoric opening chords? Seeing them a couple of times on their recent tour this song always turned into an enormous celebration for the audience – everyone smiling and hugging. It’s crazy to think that this was a B-side – I bought the original when it came out in 1995 and told everyone I knew that this was the best song EVER. Eighteen months later it got to no2 in the charts on the back of its inclusion on the Trainspotting soundtrack (and because it really is fantastic). It was also the nearest that my wife and I got to having a ‘first dance’ at our wedding!

xxxJim

mp3 : Underworld – Beautiful Burnout
mp3 : Underworld – Dark Train
mp3 : Underworld – Shudder/King Of Snake
mp3 : Underworld – Why Why Why
mp3 : Underworld – Downpipe
mp3 : Underworld – 8 Ball
mp3 : Underworld – Jumbo
mp3 : Underworld – Pearls Girl
mp3 : Underworld – Rez/Cowgirl
mp3 : Underworld – Moaner
mp3 : Underworld – Born Slippy (Nuxx)

READ IT IN BOOKS : JAMES YORKSTON

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It’s not that I’ve stopped reading in recent months but of late I’ve been engrossed in a couple of tremendous sports books and haven’t had time to delve into my extensive collection of those volumes related to music and musicians.

But over in Ireland for my annual long-weekend in mid-July saw me grab my copy of It’s Lovely To Be Here by James Yorkston and give it a re-read in the hours spent on planes, trains and inside terminals.

As the subtitle on the cover indicates the book is , a series of extracts from diaries written while the musician was on various tours. On the surface this might sound a bit dull and monotonous – you know the sort of thing….woke up with hangover, travelled to venue, did sound check, gig was great/mundane/OK/awful* (* delete as appropriate), got drunk afterwards and went to bed after crazy party/realising again how much I miss my family back home* (“delete as appropriate).

But this book is nothing at all like that.

It begins, somewhat very helpfully to anyone who might not know too much about the author,with a 20-page introduction explaining how he became part of the roster of the critically acclaimed and increasingly popular indie-label of Domino Records. There then follows five separate chapters for tours covering 2004-2009 in different parts of the world promoting different records to different audiences.

Much of the content of the diaries seems to centre around James  trying to convince himself that he is as good and talented a performer as everyone else is telling him.  This is not a man who is brimming with the utmost confidence and who seems to be bewildered that he is ‘making it’ as a musician. It’s also very clear from the outset that the author is indeed a true gent from his behaviour towards fellow artistes, including support acts or those above him on the bills and that he is one of life’s genuinely decent blokes in an industry where egos run rampant and you can never really be sure of who your friends really are.

The book is great at reminding anyone who is the slightest bit envious of the rock’n’roll lifestyle that much of it is mundane and repetitive with the added worry of never knowing in advance how well your performance will be received. It’s worth remembering that to musicians this is a job first and foremost…..and I don’t care what anyone says, there are days when nobody wants to go to their work no matter how different or exciting it might seem to most folk.

Other recurring themes are the need to get a decent meal – James is a committed vegan and many a promoter has failed to grasp just what that means – and his feeling that only drink and Valium can get him through the fear of flying. I know all this sounds a bit downbeat and depressing, but at no point does the author seek your sympathy. There’s a great deal of self-deprecating humour in the writing (a trait that he shares with that other T(n)NN hero Malcolm Middleton) and all told you cannot help but feel a lot of warmth and affection for the author….he’s the sort of bloke you’d be proud and honoured to call a mate.

You really don’t need to know anything about the records James Yorkston has released over the years to get something out of this book, and I recommend it highly to all and sundry.

Here’s some songs….

mp3 : James Yorkston & The Athletes – I Spy Dogs
mp3 : James Yorkston & The Athletes – Surf Song
mp3 : James Yorkston & The Athletes – Cheating The Game

Enjoy

NEXT YEAR’S NOSTALGIA FEST (Part 26 of 48)

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The potted histories that I’ve been providing throughout this series come from a combination of personal memories, material I have in a couple of reference books and info that is out there on t’internet. But I’m having problems trying to provide a definitive guide to 14 Iced Bears as there are differing accounts out there and being a Brighton band that I can’t personally recall from the era I can’t pretend that what follows is 100% correct.

They did form in 1985 and there is no doubt that in their initial existence across some seven years that they had an ever-shifting line-up of musicians and were on a number of different labels.  They did however, centre around two principal songwriters in Rob Sekula (vocals) and Kevin Canham (guitars). They were an atypical 80s indie-pop outfit who had a number of devoted followers, particularly in and around their home town which has of course since become home to many talented and influential musicians of different genres but was seen in those days as being ‘not quite London’.   They concentrated on singles for the most part, with Come Get Me, their fourth 45, coming out in April 1988 as one of the earliest Sarah singles and thus now worth a fair bit of money if you’re lucky enough to have an original.

There were five performers on this single with the two main protagonists joined by Steven Ormsby (bass), Graham Durrant (drums) and Susan Freeman (backing vocals).

By the time a self-titled debut LP was released six months later, the band were on a different label with a new bass player and no sign of Susan…..

By 1992 it was all over but they were a band that many later emerging acts on the indie scene frequently name checked as an influence, although whether that was true or was simply the idea of quoting an obscure name in an attempt to be hip is hard to tell.

For a band that sold next to nothing back in the day it was a bit of a surprise that 2010 saw a reunion with a series of gigs, tours and eventually a high-profile slot at the Indietracks Festival in 2012. The following year saw Cherry Red Records release a Hold On Inside, a 2xCD retrospective of their entire back catalogue.

It was the Sarah single that was included on CD86 :-

mp3 : 14 Iced Bears – Come Get Me

It’s a catchy enough bit of music whose chorus will lodge itself into your brain but I’m not convinced that it is a ‘classic’ but that is a matter of personal taste. Here’s the two b-sides to the single:-

mp3 : 14 Iced Bears – Sure To See
mp3 : 14 Iced Bears – Unhappy Days

Enjoy

** links to songs now active….see additional posting on Tuesday 21 July!!