SO LONG, LEONARD COHEN

I’ve taken a break from t’internet these past two weeks – all the posts on the blog were pre-packaged in advance and the plan had been to get back into things over the weekend.

But I just can’t let today go past without paying a small tribute.

I came late to Leonard Cohen in terms of appreciating him. As I said on a previous post, I became aware of his work from about the age of 13 as a mate’s older brother insisted on playing his stuff all the time. I can’t say I was too keen….it was all a bit doom and gloom and let’s face it, the majority of the subject matters went right over my head at the time. But as a number of my own favourite musicians in the 80s began to name check him as an influence I re-approached his material with a fresh mind and discovered that I was indeed a fan.

I was lucky enough to have just about the best seats in the house to see him perform in a 3,000 capacity venue in Glasgow back in November 2008. It was a joyous, uplifting and wonderful evening during which he was on stage for well over 2 hours and performed 26 songs from right across his incredible career. I felt afterwards as if I’d just put the biggest possible tick on my bucket list.

I first heard of Leonard’s passing via a friend’s comment on Facebook. It’s not a medium I use all that much but I did leave the following words:-

“2016 can go and take a fuck to itself”

It’s hardly the most poetic few words I’ve ever come up with, but it is heartfelt.

mp3 : Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
mp3 : Leonard Cohen – Democracy (live on Later, 1993)
mp3 : James – So Long, Marianne

The world is a sadder place today.

I AM A MUSIC SNOB….AND I HATE THIS HIT SINGLE

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I’ve said many good things about Aztec Camera over the years.  But I can’t bring myself to be positive about what was the biggest ever hit single (and it’s even more insipid b-side) that reached #3 in April 1988:-

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Somewhere In My Heart
mp3 : Aztec Camera – Everybody Is A Number One (Boston 86 version)

OK, by 1988 Aztec Camera weren’t really a band – more a name under which Roddy Frame recorded and toured. And as much as I had little time for the sound of the hugely over-produced Love LP, and the singles that it spawned, I was secretly pleased that Roddy was at last enjoying some long overdue commercial success and a wee bit of fortune. Oh and it’s not as if one producer was to blame for the sound of Love – there were a multitude of them. The hand on the buttons for this single and this version of the song that made it to the b-side was Michael Jonzun, best known in part for radio-friendly electro-funk stuff and for working with his brother Maurice Starr, who to intent and purposes, invented the boy-band phenomena of the 80s thanks to New Edition and New Kids On The Block (and there’s two acts I bet you never thought would get name checked on T(n)VV).

Incidentally, there’s an ever bigger abomination to be found on the 12″:-

mp3 : Aztec Camera – Somewhere In My Heart (12″ remix)

Stretching out to a tortuous seven minutes, it’s precisely what was wrong with so much music in the late 80s.

It was interesting that having tasted pop stardom, and all that it entailed in terms of promotion (daytime TV, kids shows, miming on Top of The Pops and similar shows across Europe), Roddy seemed to go out of his way to make a follow-up called Stray that was mostly downbeat and lovely, albeit it also had contained a massive hit with the ultra-catchy Good Morning Britain.

Somewhere In My Heart is of course a great crowd-pleaser and Roddy still performs it whenever he takes to the stage.  I do prefer his fresh take on it:-

mp3 : Roddy Frame – Somewhere In My Heart (live in Osaka, 2007)

Enjoy.

 

I’M YOUR BOY, YOUR 20th CENTURY TOY

It’s going through the record/CD collection that really makes me stop to think and realise just how quickly time is passing.

It was as long ago as May 1999 that Play, the fifth studio LP from Moby was released. I had it down in my head as maybe a decade or so ago, certainly not the last century.

What I do distinctly remember is buying it on the back of hearing most of it played in a record store during an afternoon’s browsing. In my lifetime, I’ve probably done such a thing maybe four or five times, and on every occasion bar one, when I took it home and shoved it onto my own system, the songs didn’t sound anything like half as good.

Play was and remains the exception and it quickly became a firm favourite on heavy rotation in Villain Towers. The mix of electronic dance, rock, pop, ambiance, folk and gospel just struck the right note with me at that particular point in time – it was the sort of record that could play away in the background and on every listen, my ears would pick up something that was fresh.

Within a few months, I began to notice snippets of the album getting used in a lot of TV adverts and then one of the tracks started getting very heavy rotation on MTV/MTV2 thanks to a hauntingly memorable video featuring Christina Ricci.

Next thing you know, Moby and his bloody record were everywhere you turned and it wasn’t difficult to feel bored about it all. Maybe it was a bit of the music snob in me that something I felt I had partly discovered was now very mainstream but in truth, it was simply overexposure at the time.

A few years back I picked up the CD again for the first time ages while I was seeking inspiration for postings on the old blog and was delighted to re-discovered everything about it that makes it a genuine classic, fully deserving all the plaudits that have been thrown at it.

It’s not one that is still on heavy rotation but I usually at some point during a beach holiday turn to it for something well-known and comforting to get me through either a hangover or an hour when the sun is at its hottest and you want and need no surprises or challenging listening through the headphones.

mp3 : Moby – Bodyrock
mp3 : Moby – Find My Baby
mp3 : Moby – Inside
mp3 : Moby – Natural Blues
mp3 : Moby – South side

One other thing worth mentioning is that a fair chunk of the profits made from this album allowed Mute Records to retain a few less commercial and poorly selling artists on the label for a while longer.

Enjoy.

DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME?

Back in the early 90s, Pulp were always one of those bands that you would read about in a music magazine every now and again, and depending on the particular journalist, they seemed to get a hugely positive or hugely negative review, whether it be an assessment of their records or the reactions to a live gig. But never really having heard any of their tunes, I was never in a position to make my own mind up. And although they were a band that did seem to divide opinion so much, I was never inclined to find things out for myself.

One day, in my usual fashion, I was watching the ITV Chart Show on a Saturday morning. In the days before satellite telly, there wasn’t all that much music on the box, and the best thing about this particular show was that every three weeks they had an indie chart in which you might be lucky enough to catch 90 seconds of the latest video by Carter USM, Lush, Pop Will Eat Itself or some shoegazing nonsense. I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the rundown one Saturday until about midway through a tune which hit me as something quite unique…..by now I had missed who the band was and what the song was called, but I recognised from the video that the singer was the bloke out of Pulp as I had seen his photo in the music papers a few times.

By the end of the video, I was certain the song in question was called ‘I Want To Take You Home’. I looked for it in a few shops around that time, but with no joy. It must have been the best part of a year later that I then saw another Pulp video on the same show….this time I clocked that it was for a song called Lipgloss. The following week I found a CD album of theirs called His’n’Hers in the second-hand section, so I bought it. About halfway through my first listen, the track I had previously thought was called I Want To take You Home suddenly came through the speakers loud and clear…

I know most folk rave about the quality of Different Class, the 1995 LP that turned Pulp into superstars in the UK, but I’ve a very soft spot for His’n’Hers which I reckon is a better all round record, albeit it doesn’t have the genius that is Common People. It was an act of negligence on the part of the record-buying public that Babies was a flop single on its initial release in late 1992, and I reckon the record label did the right thing with a re-release in May 1994, when they made the track the lead-off on the Sisters EP:-

mp3 : Pulp – Babies (EP Version)
mp3 : Pulp – Your Sister’s Clothes
mp3 : Pulp – Seconds
mp3 : Pulp – His’n’Hers

I don’t know why I never bought this particular EP when it was released – looking back it was a time when I was living in Glasgow in a small flat and travelling to Edinburgh every day to work. Space in the flat was at a premium, there wasn’t a lot of spare cash kicking around, and CD singles/EPs frankly didn’t seem worth the money if you already had the album (I didn’t realise until picking up a second hand copy about a decade ago that it was a re-recorded version).

Oh and here, from a BBC session recorded on 30th May 1992 for the Radio 1 Show, The Evening Session, is another version of I Want To take You Home :-

mp3 : Pulp – Babies (Session)

Enjoy

RECALLING LUXURIA

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I didn’t find out about Luxuria until a few years after they had come and gone. I’d loved Magazine and I have a soft spot for the very short solo career of Howard Devoto (two singles and one LP in 1983) and was delighted to hear that he was making a musical comeback in 2001 with Buzzkunst. But the press around his reunion with Pete Shelley talked about a band called Luxuria which he’s been in from 1988 – 1990, which just happens to be, for the most part, my musical wilderness years in which I failed miserably to keep up with contemporary music.

I know now that Luxuria was a duo consisting of Howard and Norman Fisher-Jones, aka Noko who, in just over two years released four singles and two albums on Beggars Banquet Records. Over time, I’ve picked up three of the singles, all of which have some merit (it is the god-like genius of Devoto we are talking about here) but not enough to make me desperate to hoover up everything in sight.

Much of my lack of enthusiasm is around the way the music has been produced – it is very much of its era and as a consequence the songs sound a bit dated these days. It’s annoying as I’m sure I’d have appreciated them more back in the day. Here’s what I have, all on either 7″ or 12″ vinyl:-

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The debut single, on 12″ vinyl, with a cover version of a Bob Dylan number on the flip side:-

mp3 : Luxuria – Redneck (extended version)

mp3 : Luxuria – She’s You Lover Now (Part 1)

mp3 : Luxuria – She’s Your Lover Now (Part 2)

 

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The third single, on 12″ vinyl :-

mp3 : Luxuria – The Beast Box Is Dreaming

mp3 : Luxuria – Beast Box

mp3 : Luxuria – Useless Love

 

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The fourth and final single, on 7″ vinyl, :-

mp3 : Luxuria – Jezebel

mp3 : Luxuria – Smoking Mirrors

 

 

To be honest, the final single doesn’t have much going for it. It’s a cover of a song, originally written and released in 1951 and a huge hit for Frankie Laine; in later years many others would have a go at it, either as a single, b-side or album track.  Oh and its b-side is a very limp and annoying instrumental.  Feel free to pass on both.

Worth mentioning too that after Luxuria split, Howard left music and built a career as a photo archivist while Noko, found a bit of fame with dance act Apollo 440.  The two would come together again in 2008 when Magazine finally reformed and Noko did a very fine job of replacing the late, great John McGeoch on guitar.

Enjoy.

OH BABY, I’M DREAMING OF MUNDY

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Edmund Enright was born in Birr, County Offaly, Ireland in 1976. Adopting the moniker of Mundy, he moved to Dublin at the age of 18 initially performing as a busker and later at open-mic nights

By the age of 20, he had signed with Epic Records with much expected of him, especially after one of his early songs, To You I Bestow, was included on the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s modern update on Romeo + Juliet.

Mundy’s debut album, Jelly Legs, didn’t do anything like as well as his label bosses hoped, and none of the singles lifted from it got anywhere near the charts. By the age of 24 he had been dropped.

Two years later, and completely as a result of the royalties he had earned from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack (which sold a staggering 11 million copies worldwide), he set up his own label Camcor Records upon which, since 2002, he has released six albums at regular intervals.

He remains hugely popular in his home country, regularly touring, often as the main support to internationally famous acts as well as under his own steam, while he is on many of the bills every years on the festival circuit. He’s enjoyed #1 singles and albums in Ireland but his music just hasn’t travelled well in terms of sales.

I picked up three of his mid 90s singles from a bargain bin after reading that he was possibly the Irish equivalent of Roddy Frame. I went in with reasonably high expectations but they weren’t really matched. I played the songs again recently for the first time in the best part of two decades and thought they weren’t all that bad, albeit they have that mid-90s production values that date them.

mp3 : Mundy – Life’s A Cinch
mp3 : Mundy – To You I Bestow
mp3 : Mundy – Pardon Me

You’ll hear all sorts of snatches of stuff that will bring other singers and bands to mind.

Enjoy

BUZZCOCKS SINGLES 77-80 (Part 11)

 

Moving forward to 1980 and what proved to be the beginning of the very end of things first time around for Buzzcocks.

They were no longer press darlings and the events of late 1979 when they had been blown out of the water on tour by their support band caused something of a crisis.

It would also seem, looking back, that they had fallen out of favour at United Artists and with no guarantees of hit singles the money spent on promoting and releasing the material was cut back.  Thus, the rather lacklustre sleeves as compared to the previous singles on the label.

It was also clear that the band were now being seen as a singles-only outfit which is why the first new recording from 1980 has ‘Part 1’ on the sleeve. Just how many ‘parts’ there would be in over the following months none of us knew.

mp3 : Buzzcocks – Are Everything
mp3 : Buzzcocks – Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore

With the benefit of hindsight, Are Everything is not the worst thing you’ll ever hear in your life but on release it felt awfully flat and devoid of imagination in comparison to what had come before.  And the gimmick of it seemingly fading out and then suddenly bursting back into life again some 45 seconds from the end must have it made a difficult sell to radio producers.  And yet it sold enough copies to spend three weeks in the UK singles charts in September 1980, peaking at #61 which was more than You Say You Don’t Love Me had ever managed.

The b-side is a Steve Diggle number that seems to have its roots in the rough’n’ ready stuff of new wave bands hoping to be discovered on the back of a catchy shout-out-loud chorus without much else to back it up.

The end truly was nigh.

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #48 : CANCEL THE ASTRONAUTS

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Cancel The Astronauts were a five-piece from Edinburgh consting of Matthew Riley (vocals/guitars), Kieran McCaffrey (guitar), Michael Craig (synth), Chris Kay (drums) and Neil Davidson (bass) who were active from mid 2009 to around late 2012. There were three singles and one LP of what other Scottish bloggers have described as ‘storming indie-pop’. I must have seen them live on a few occasions but couldn’t have made that much of an impression on me as I never bought any product; having said that, they were around at a time when Scottish indie-pop was going through a particularly fruitful period and it was night on impossible to keep up with everything.

I’ve two tracks on the i-pod – one is a live track from a compilation CD and the other is one that I must have downloaded from somewhere else, gave it a listen and thought it decent enough to hang onto:-

mp3 : Cancel The Astronauts – I Am The President Of Your Fan Club (And Last Night I Followed You Home)

Cracking title for a song I’m sure you’ll agree, and it’s not too shabby a tune either. Turns out to have been the first thing they ever did – it was a self-released effort in July 2009 and it got a good write-up in a local magazine:-

Two-chord melodic guitar riffing opens the title song on Cancel the Astronauts’ debut, quickly joined by all-white-notes on the keyboard playing. Propelled by rollicking heavy-on-the-toms drumming and topped off with songs about being in love, this is joyous stuff. Simple phrases are repeated until they stick in your head for days as keyboards emphasise the nursery-rhyme simplicity of the songs. While hardly groundbreaking, the band are clearly enjoying themselves. The fact that they recorded and released this five song EP themselves not only shows their dedication but also means that plenty of other people will be infected by their buoyant enthusiasm. A feel-good summer record then, careful you don’t spill your pear cider as you bob along with these fruity numbers.

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #94 : THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN

A GUEST POSTING FROM S-WC

Hiya mate – seven weeks in the writing, started at home, finished in the waiting room of a dentists.

An Imaginary Compilation – The Jesus and Mary Chain

“That’s going to take me for ever, stupid bloody 11th song rule, who’s stupid idea was that?”

I’ll tell you who’s stupid idea it was, mine, and I’ll tell you why the choice is going to take for ever in a bit, but first – let me tell you why we are Eynesbury in Cambridgeshire and have just been interviewed on local radio by the Cambridgeshire version of Simon Bates.

Every year around August, Badger picks a team who have entered this year FA Cup. We then follow that teams results and then follow them or whoever beats them all the way to Wembley Final We also try and go and watch a couple of the matches. Now usually we do Round One and Round Three, as we hope to see some Giantkilling Adventures.

This year just for larks we have decided to go and see some ‘Grassroots Football’, folks, its FA Cup Qualifying Round Three and we are two of about 120 people who are nicely spread out around ground watching Eynesbury Rovers vs Sutton Coldfield Town in Mid September.

Eynesbury is in Cambridgeshire, we’ve driven for four hours to get here and for some reason this has bemused the guy on the gate at the ground, when he remarks that he hadn’t seen us here before. “You’ve done what…You daft buggers”

Then he turns to a fat bloke wearing a 70s style jacket – which I think was actually a jacket he bought in 1978 – and shouts (literally shouts, despite porky being about five foot away – porky is holding a can of coke and bacon sarnie as it happens) .

“Here Roger, come and listen to what these two lads have done” – the fact he called us lads, shows how old he was.

So Roger ambles over, turns out Roger works for the local radio and decides that he wants to interview us because it would make a nice story. So after a four hour journey and some twenty five minutes before kick off, Badger and I are sitting in the ‘press box’ of this eighth tier football club eating their biscuits and drinking their tea whilst the radio guy asks us lame questions about our journey from Devon. He then gives us a Black Cat Radio car sticker and Badger swears he said ‘Keep on rocking’ before waving us on our way – seriously, it really was like travelling back to the late 1970s.

The game is terrible, I mean awful, Sutton Coldfield romp home 3 – 1 but to be honest if Badger and I had randomly picked a bunch of lads from pub around the corner, I think we could have given them a good game. Sutton Coldfield Town become our next FA Cup team (as it happens we’ve progressed a bit more – the First round is coming up and our team is now Dartford – a town in Kent, and as such I am supposed to despise them, because as a Gillingham fan I grew up with burly heavily tattooed blokes often telling me – ‘There is only one team in Kent’) and we slowly make our way back to the car park which is some two miles from the ground (behind the pub where we had lunch).

Now, the 11th track, we decided this time to not start the music until pretty late on, the rule we added was that nothing played on the motorway counted, so on the motorways we stuck the radio on and on local roads reverted back to the iPod – Badger’s iPod for what it worth, still filled with Radio 2 fodder that ‘he keeps forgetting to remove’.

So it arrives on the A420 just outside Oxford and it’s the Jesus and Mary Chain, one of the greatest bands of all time. Its bloody impossible and so that is why some seven weeks later I have finally finished the thing, but I’m still not happy with it – and no doubt there is a load of stuff that I could have put in that I didn’t. So someone needs to do a Volume II please. I’ll also add that ‘Psychocandy’ is one of greatest records ever made, and it was really hard to not just send JC that in a jumbled up order. I’ve also tried to avoid the singles, but that in itself was so difficult.

I’ll also say that back in 1990 I managed to get the entire school banned from sitting on the back row of the school lecture theatre because I scrawled into the table there, ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain fucking rock”. That ban lasted twenty years until they refurbished the block containing the lecture theatre.

I’ll spare you anymore of my wittering because the music starting and that is far more important.

Side One

Just Like Honey from ‘Psychocandy’ (1985)

This is their quintessential track, and the perfect place to start if you are new to the band – and if you are new to the band, WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN? ‘Just Like Honey’ is full of languid vocals almost definitely about sex, swaths of fuzz, an occasional drumbeat here and there, but its lovely and laid-back and for a change, catchy. Unlike…

Never Understand from ‘Psychocandy’ (1985)

I don’t know if you’ve ever been chased, or ever felt like you were going to be chased, but one night I wasn’t listening to this whilst walking back from Our Price Girls house. It was about midnight and for some reason, this song utterly freaked me out. I think on reflection it was the opening bit, the frenzied squalling wall of screeching feedback sounds exactly like the sort of noise an axe wielding maniac out on a midnight killing spree makes, and frankly that makes its utterly compelling and such a twisted slice of genius.

Everythings Alright, When You’re Down from ‘Barbed Wire Kisses’ LP (1991)

The first of a couple of B Sides that I found impossible to leave out, I love this for three reasons, firstly it was Our Price Girls favourite JAMC song – (did I mention she loved this band?), secondly, at times the blizzard of feedback and screaming noise could be distracting and so when tracks like this appeared you appreciated them even more and thirdly, once whilst waiting for a bus just outside Godalming I found myself singing along to this at a bus stop, and get an odd look from the old lady who had just arrived when I sang the ‘Fuck me now’ bit.

Nine Million Rainy Days from ‘Darklands’ LP (1987)

“Nine million rainy days have swept across my eyes thinking of you, and this room becomes a shrine thinking of you, and as far as I can tell, I’m being dragged from here to hell.” Yup, they were a cheery lot the Marychain. ‘Darklands’ is a very different album to ‘Psychocandy’ its melodic instead of violently caustic for a start.

Some Candy Talking from ‘Some Candy Talking’ EP (1987)

This was banned by the BBC I think on its release because of the ‘obvious’ drug references, which comes as a surprise to me because the songs clearly about those little candy cigarettes you can get from the sweet shop and considering how much the BBC played and promoted ‘Pass the Dutchie’ by Musical Youth I’m surprised they banned anything.

Still.

Its also worth checking out the two B Sides to this EP as well – the first is a sweet little tune called ‘Psychocandy’ and the second is called ‘Hit’. (I’ve tagged them on the bottom) – but the recording of ‘Psychocandy’ is shagged slightly because I recorded it direct from my battered 7” version. For me these two tracks show the bridge between Psychocandy (the album) and Darklands perfectly.

Side Two

‘Happy When It Rains’ from ‘Darklands’ (1987)

More rain, but this time the band are a bit happier and as it happens, this is my favourite JAMC track. Its my favourite for one single reason, once in 1992 in the pouring rain outside the Army and Navy pub in Rainham, Kent, Our Price Girl gave me the best kiss of my life – at the time at least – and then sang this to me sweetly in my ear as the rain dripped off our hair. We then walked three miles, soaked to the skin hand in hand and hardly said a word, because frankly she said it all.

‘Reverence’ from ‘Honey’s Dead’ (1992)

Sorry its another single, its only the fourth, I’ll try not to include any more, but this was the song that bought a whole new audience to the Marychain, again the lyrics were controversial and again the BBC refused by and large to play it, despite there being a ‘Radio Mix’ as well. This is a tremendous record all guitars, crunching drums and sneering. Its impossible not to love it.

‘Boysfriends Dead’ from ‘You Trip Me Up’ Single (1987)

Opening line ‘C___, Fuck!’

Some people say that the Marychain did this sort of thing to be deliberately provocative and to show but they were angry but I think on reflection it was weariness and frustration. Its songs like this that give us fans that were too young to witness the early chaotic violent gigs, some impression as to what they actually sounded like.

‘Guitarman’ from ‘Speed of Sound’ (1994)

I wanted to include a cover version, simply because the Marychain did a few, mainly old Blues rock numbers from the 60s, and this I think was the best one. I also recommend their version of ‘Little Red Rooster’ because the absolutely crush it, but for me the bit where Reid goes ‘Show ‘em sonnnn’ is bloody marvellous.

‘April Skies’ from ‘Darklands’ (1987)

I went this because it’s the best song on ‘Darklands’ its not my favourite but it’s the stand out moment on the album although the natural closer ‘About You’ runs it close. What ‘April Skies’ showed us was that the Marychain were not about to self combust (not yet anyway) and that behind the hair , the fuzz and the attitude was a band that actually loved proper songs.

Crikey that’s quite a long piece, sorry guys, but you know it’s the Jesus and Mary Chain, its worth it.

S-WC

Bonus tracks*

Pyschocandy

Hit

*recorded from JC’s vinyl copy of the single as it is less shagged than S-WC’s.

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #93 : THE PIPETTES

A GUEST POSTING FROM STRANGEWAYS

the-joy-of-the-pipettes

Gwenno. RiotBecki. Rosay. They are The Pipettes. Or they were The Pipettes. Well, one of them, I think, still is The Pipettes. Or maybe not.

It’s all rather complicated.

So during this Imaginary Compilation Album I’m going to concentrate on the incarnation above – best described as that terrible pop cliché the classic lineup. But I’ll also throw in a couple of respectful curveballs.

Like a lot of the 60s Girl Groups without whom…The Pipettes were, it seems, authentically, a creation. They were the joint design of one Monster Bobby – a sort of indiepop Victor Frankenstein from what I can gather – and singer Julia Clarke-Lowes. In 2003, in Brighton, they put together the band, recruiting Rose ‘Rosay’ Elinor Dougall and Rebecca ‘RiotBecki’ Stephens. Providing the brilliant Spector-inspired tunes: The Cassettes – Monster Bobby and pals – who, with respect, were essentially the three singers’ backing band.

As regards the definable We Are The Pipettes era that dominates this ICA, it didn’t last long: 2005/06, really. Perhaps the whole pouting, shape-pulling, polka-dotedeness of it all became too much. Maybe it locked-up rather than liberated. Whatever, with ill-advised confidence I predicted a 2016 reunion tour that would mark the ten years since the LP’s release. It was inevitable. And, inevitably, it didn’t happen.

So, no more Pipettes as we knew them. That first LP, though, and the b-sides that buzzed around its singles, are fantastic pop. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

The Pipettes: The Joy of The Pipettes – an Imaginary Compilation Album.

For this ICA I’ve allowed myself four LP/singles tracks, four b-sides and those two curveballs: one from the beginning of the story, one from what appears to be the end.

Side A

1. We Are The Pipettes (We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)

The first song in this ICA was the last to be chosen for inclusion. I actually tried hard not to pick it. I thought it too obvious. But in the end I had to concede that it really is the perfect way to kick things off. The band themselves agreed: this is track 1 of the debut LP. Prior to formal introductions, a kind of spooky, spacey, voodoo-ish effect implies the group are not of this earth. And who’s to say they are?

2. I like A Boy In Uniform (School Uniform) (single, 2005)

Curveball #1. The peep of a playground whistle and off we go. This is the last word in bawdy, rocketing, gender-mangling, impertinent indiepop. The Pipettes did a Sugababes some years ago – by 2008 no original members remained – and this, the band’s first single, features founding Pip Julia Clarke-Lowes. Julia would swiftly leave to concentrate on her own band, The Indelicates, and at that point Gwenno Saunders stepped in. This first-born song is a hoot, and a real lost indiepop gem. A hundred lines if you disagree.

3. Simon Says (b-side of Judy CD single, 2006)

An S&M nursery rhyme that sounds incredibly like Sarah Records‘ heroes, Heavenly. And it shares that band’s talent for concealing the serious or provocative (have a listen to Heavenly’s disturbing Hearts & Crosses) within a froth of chiming pop. Need more evidence? Track down The Pipettes’ ‘X’-rated, high-school rock ‘n’ rollish Feminist Complaints.

4. Pull Shapes (single/We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)

“Effortlessly hits the often-attempted but rarely visited sweet spot where commerciality and credibility collide.” Who wrote that? Me. Just there. And I’m being deliberately pompous. But I think it probably does summarise Pull Shapes quite well. Surely one of those songs that, once it’s safely recorded, someone dials the record company’s Guaranteed Hits Department to report in. On that score, the single peaked at number 26. Should have topped the chart. Features a misheard lyric “There’s a hot floppy forest… ” of minor repute.

5. Judy (single/We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)

Just what did Judy do when she was older and no one wanted to know her? This is a terrific single and its worth having a look at its fun comic book-style video too. If you’ve ever invited the collective wraths of the God of Pop and the God of, well, God by wearing an upturned LP sleeve on your head and pretending you’re a bishop, you could do worse than track down a copy of a limited 7″ of Judy. Its sleeve, brilliantly, can be unfolded and worn as a skirt.

Side B

6. The Burning Ambition Of Early Diuretics (b-side of Judy single, 2006)

It’s difficult to wrench yourself from the idea of Grease-era Olivia Newton-John striding towards you when you hear this one begin. To me, this is all switchblades, pocket-dwelling metal combs and sassy gum-chomping girls. The kind that kick your head in with the lift of an eyebrow.

7. I Always Planned 2 Stay (Earth vs. The Pipettes LP track, 2010)

Curveball #2. “A great song in a crappy album” posted one YouTube user. Certainly it’s the best song on an LP whose sound is several hundred polka dots from what had gone before.

Such is the disparity that it would have been easier to admit entry to this ICA only to the first LP and the material around it. But I thought it’d be interesting to contrast the likes of School Uniform with this number.

Produced by Martin Rushent, and sung by Gwenno and the then-latest Pipette, her sister Ani, this song is so clean you could eat your dinner off it. I do like it – but then I’m a sucker for bright, poppy intros, teeth-melting choruses and sha-la-las. The finest song Lily Allen never wrote? Could be.

8. Guess Who Ran Off With The Milkman? (b-side of Pull Shapes single, 2006)

The opening shots and credits of an imaginary film always play when I hear this song beginning. Join the Pips on a desperate sprint from the gossip, gardens and garages of settled-down suburbia. Fleeing for their lives from mortgages, dogs and babies, there’s just something in the milk bottle-clutching, wide-eyed way that this is sung that indicates a terrible, doomed inevitability. This song was matched with Pull Shapes, resulting in a corker of a 7″ single.

9. Tell Me What You Want (We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)

Dramatic tempo shifts. Luscious strings. A timeless you and me – on or not? pop theme. This is the band at its most theatrical and grown-up.

10. A Winter’s Sky (We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)

This is just such a lovely, delicate and unusual song. It shimmers and shivers. The way it falters, stutters and rises before ending – with a comforting parp of brass and a gently ominous, Smithsy sound effect – is delightful. Probably my favourite Pipettes song – and a fine way also to close this collection.

STRANGEWAYS

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #92 : MARTIN STEPHENSON

A GUEST POSTING FROM RICH CUNDILL

JC writes:-

I’m quite excited by this one.

Martin Stephenson, with and without the backing of The Daintees, has long been one of the most admired artists here at Villain Towers.  I had a plan to pull together an ICA some time ago but then I got a bit gallus and decided to approach Martin’s biographer to see if he fancied taking on the task.

While it is the case that Rich Cundill has contributed a number of comments to the blog over over the years, this is the first in-depth piece. He’s chosen some great tunes….

Rich writes:-

I’m taking a broad approach to this just to make things difficult for myself! Could easily have limited it to just his initial 4 albums with The Daintees between 1986 and 1992, but wanted to show just how wide ranging the great man’s music has been for over 30 years, including his solo albums and many different collaborations.

Side A

1. Crocodile Cryer (from Boat To Bolivia, 1986)

Impossible to get away from the magnificence of this, the first track on the first Martin Stephenson & The Daintees album. Writing with an insight and maturity that was one of the most startling things about his early work, Martin tells the tale of phoney mourners at a funeral just out for what they can get. John Steel on guitar and keyboards leads The Daintees with an equally old-beyond-their-years backing that could be The Band with added melody. Still a live favourite to this day.

2. Rain (from Boat To Bolivia, 1986)

Just Martin, an acoustic guitar and some poetry about the Rain falling. Live he will often play it with all the house lights down. Pins dropping. A moment of rare musical purity.

3. Slaughterman (from Gladsome, Humour And Blue, 1988)

From the 2nd album produced by Paul Samwell-Smith, Gary Dunn has replaced John Steel on lead guitar, but the Daintees still have that swagger and poise. The lyric concerns a young footballer whose Dad wants him to get a proper job. “No would-be Ian St Johns are gonna bring me down”.

4. I Can See (from Gladsome, Humour And Blue, 1988)

Almost hymn like in it’s spiritualism and a wonderful melody, with a light touch that probably only Roddy Frame could achieve back then. It’s about a need to find strength when you feel weaker than ever.

5. Spoke In The Wheel (from Salutation Road, 1990)

From the 3rd Daintees album that found Martin at a crossroads in his musical career. The record company wanted him to be a solo artist and tried putting him a studio in the USA with a bunch of session musicians, but he fought against it as best he could to keep his beloved Daintees brothers on board. The album shows the strain and is not his strongest work but through all the hassle comes this one great song, lyrically fighting against something that is trying to control him. How apt.

Side B

1. Neon Skies (from The Boy’s Heart, 1992)

After the Salutation Road experience the band dusted themselves down and reconvened back in Newcastle with the legend that is Lenny Kaye producing. The resulting album pushes Gary Dunn’s guitar playing to the fore and there is a punk attitude to a lot of the songs as if they know this music business malarkey is perhaps not for them. And so it’s not surprising that a highlight is Neon Skies, written when Martin was 16 and Patti Smith was his heroine. You get the link, yeah?

2. Something Special (from California Star, 2012)

Move forward 20 years and my word so much as happened. It’s cheeky of me to do this but you can read the full story in The Song Of The Soul available here http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-song-of-the-soul/ – but to cut a long story short we find Martin back with John Steel in a Daintees line up that is as strong as ever. Catch them live if you can, you will go home with your spirits raised. The album California Star features this ballad that can in many ways be seen as the re-write of the early song Slow Lovin’ (from Boat To Bolivia) but instead of finding young love it’s about finding that special someone in your later years. It’s got a helluva middle eight as well.

3. Lilac Tree (from Lilac Tree, 2000)

At the turn of the millennium a bunch of Daintees fans led by a formidable young lady called Jane Cooper developed an on-line forum and, more than that, a relationship with the artist that was very special indeed. It resulted in fans essentially funding the recording of an album called The Lilac Tree. I can remember to this day playing this the first track from it and feeling incredibly emotional that we had helped in getting this great piece of music out to the wider world.

4. The Crying (from Beyond The Leap, Beyond The Law, 1997)

In the mid-90s Martin began to collaborate extensively with many different musicians. Mainly for the pure joy of playing live. Recording these events and releasing them as albums happened intermittently, sometimes with mixed results, as that wasn’t really what it was all about. On one occasion though in the village of Leap in County Cork, Martin and members of The Devlins, The Prayer Boat and many other fine musicians made an album with a ridiculously tight budget that probably captures the spirit of Martin’s music better than any. Beyond The Leap, Beyond The Law. And this track The Crying is about a young son finding his Dad in tears.

5. Haunted Highway (from Haunted Highway, 2015)

And we wrap up with the title track from the latest Daintees album. Martin with John Steel (guitar and keyboards), Kate Stephenson (drums), Chris Mordey (bass). As fine an outfit as you will find anywhere in the UK these days.

RICH

JC adds…….

I thought it would make sense to dig out the review of The Song of the Soul which I penned back in 2009 just a few weeks after the book was published……

“I’ve never hidden the fact that I’ve long been big fan of Martin Stephenson, and I can give this book no higher praise than by saying it was every bit as enjoyable and entertaining as seeing the great man himself play a live gig.

While it isn’t a warts’n’all story, it is a piece of work that doesn’t flinch from certain things, and leaves you in no doubt that Martin, particularly during the time when he was drinking to excess, wasn’t always the nicest man to be around. The story of his behavior at one gig in the north of Scotland in 1996 is particularly toe-curling, but it proved to be the event that led Martin to getting on the phone to Alcoholics Anonymous and sorting out his life.

I was someone who bought loads of records by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees between 1986 and 1992, as well as going to see the band on numerous occasions. I also knew that Martin had gone off and done all sorts of things in his solo career from 1993 onwards, recording albums in all sorts of weird and wonderful places and in a variety of styles including country, bluegrass, folk and traditional. I was fairly confident that I was at least aware of all the records he’d been involved in, even though I might not have them in the collection.

I was astonished to learn however, from a brilliantly researched and informative discography that there are more than 20 solo albums out there if you want to get everything that Martin has recorded…I would have guessed maybe nine or ten if you’d asked me before now. A lot of songs appear on more than one CD, but recorded with a different set of musicians and in a different style, and the authors, Richard Cundill and Mark Bradley, do a fantastic job in describing the tone of each record acknowledging that, for the most part, only the truly devoted would describe every release as flawless…

Looking again at the book as I type this, what I especially like is the fact that it doesn’t concentrate on the glory days with the Daintees at the expense of the solo career when it was largely the efforts of a group of fans that kept Martin going through some very tough times, financially and otherwise. (Incidentally, this collection of fans was known as the E-Group – and that’s a reference to a type of mail and not a type of drug…). There’s just over 100 pages devoted to Martin’s childhood, youth, early musical efforts and his time with the Daintees and Kitchenware Records, but there’s the same again for the years 1994 -2008, and then the incredible 24-page discography.

I’m someone who devours musical biographies, authorised or otherwise, with somewhere in the vicinity of 150 of them lining the bookshelves. The Song Of The Soul is among the best of them – I’d put it up there with Andrew Collins‘ bio of Billy Bragg, and the self-written efforts of Bill Drummond, Julian Cope and Mark ‘E’ Everett.

One great thing I learned was that in late 2003, Martin Stephenson released an album called Airdrie, named after the town in which it was recorded. The authors describe it as one of the finer works in the Stephenson discography, but reveal that it is quite difficult to get a hold of as the singer fell out with his then manager and others who were working closely with him, and the CD wasn’t pressed in huge numbers. Thankfully, there’s e-bay nowadays and I was able to buy a copy just the other day, from which this song (a regular in the current live sets) is taken:-

mp3 : Martin Stephenson – Mountainous Spring

The book ends on a hugely upbeat and optimistic note, recalling how the Daintees have got back together for gigs and indeed a new album that appeared in 2008. It also makes the point that I’ve tried to make on this blog before that the best way to capture Martin Stephenson at his very best is to get along to a gig near your home town as soon as you can and see for yourself how witty, charming and talented this unique singer/songwriter really is.”

www.daintees.co.uk

 

THE CHARITY SHOP (VINYL YEARS) CHALLENGE : PART 1

JC writes…….

I sometimes think I’m the luckiest person on the planet. I certainly must be in terms of the quality of guest postings that appear here. The dynamic duo of JTFL and Echorich have been wowing everyone with their musings on all things musically from Gotham City. Today it’s the turn of the Eric’n’Ernie of the blogging fraternity with a post that features just as many post-modern cultural references as any Half Man Half Biscuit ditty. Without further ado…..

S-WC writes……

There I was minding my own business the other lunch time in Totnes, I’d popped out for a sandwich in between a day of long drawn out meetings and paragliding through a sea of shit. As I stood there in the sandwich shop awaiting my grilled halloumi and lightly toasted red pepper baguette (on granary), as the radio blared out the hits of Alexander O’Neal and Slade a very strange thing happened.

A light suddenly appeared across the road, it was emanating from the Oxfam Charity shop and a figure, spectral, and shimmering was beckoning me with a single finger, like the Grim Reaper, I suppose, only this figure was carrying a Six by Seven 12” single rather than a scythe and wearing a floaty dress rather than a black cape, but you know, pretty much the same thing.

I grabbed my sandwich (I was hungry, come on, I’d been in a meeting for three hours with a stale Bourborn and a crumbly Jammie Dodger for company) and wandered over to the figure. It spoke to me with this whispery voice, a bit like Bob Harris, only less sinister (he does sound a serial killer). Then a strange half bony, half plastic hand stretched out and handed me something, the whispery voice said “Here take this, use it wisely, save the Badger, provide him with warmth and fun in his hour of need”. Then it vanished, like mid nineties electro pop pioneers Electrasy, never to be seen again.

I looked down at my hand it contained £20. I surveyed my surroundings, I was outside the Oxfam Charity Shop in Totnes, possibly the finest second hand record shop in South Devon – with apologies to ‘Ricks Records’ at Dawlish Market, but face facts Rick, no one wants Bing Crosby Longplayers anymore, ok. This was meant to be, this was to quote George McFly, “My Density”. I walked in, to cries of “Halluejah!” from alternatively dressed angels and headed for the record section, which is lit with small red fairy lights and the faint playing of celestial trumpets can be heard, for a minute it seems like Slowdive are playing at a gig at the shop.

(Or, more truthfully, I bought Badger some old indie records from the charity shop, and gave them to him as a ‘Get Well Soon’ present, on the premise that he wrote about them for T(n)VV. But If I said that it would have been boring- right?).

Badger writes………………

I am sitting ‘recuperating’ on the sofa, to my left there is a small child, dressed in green and white with a hat with a cat’s face on it perched lopsidedly on her head. She is eagerly eyeing up the box of chocolate brownies that she has just given me as present. This is SWC’s daughter. Right in front of me is a cardboard box which has a badly tied ribbon around it. It has a note attached to it. To my right, sits SWC, he is also eagerly eyeing up the box of chocolate brownies.

The note reads thus

“Dear Badger, you malingering bastard, during this period of enforced laziness I have decided to buy you some records. Inside this box are seven individually wrapped 12 inch records that I have bought for you with some expenses that I was due. Please enjoy them. Oh and you have to write about each one for JC at T(n)VV as a thank you to everyone who was kind to you”.

I look at him, he smiles, I have no idea what 12 inch records he has bought me. Also, my record to mp3 skills are bad, to the point where the records jump, skip, and have very long intros as I forget to press play on the sodding machine. I reach for the Brownies, a hand comes across and slaps it.

“Records first”.

Dammit.

I untie the ribbon, this takes three minutes because it is so badly tied that it is more of a knot that a bow. I have to remind myself twice that I am in the company of a minor and therefore cannot swear. Eventually I just pull out my keys and stab a hole in the top of the box (mumbling die you bastard ribbon under my breath) and pull it open that way. The first record on top of the box is wrapped up in Peppa Pig Wrapping Paper. Only Peppa’s face has spots all over it. “I did that, because you’ve got chicken pox” – the small girl with the hat says. I nod and smile at her, for one so young she already has more compassion that her daddy, she is also funnier and has better table manners, but that is another story.

I pick it up and look at it, a sense of dread and uneasiness suddenly hits me,

“This is going to be awful isn’t it”.

SWC looks hurt and he says “No, that record in particular is rather wonderful”. I raise my eyebrows, and unwrap it…

Well actually the small girl unwraps it, because I am taking so long, she pulls off the paper like a seasoned pro and looks at it and shouts “Red is my friend Arwen’s favourite colour” and throws the record on the floor. SWC picks it up for me, it is “The Ingredients EP” by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.

Now, I have to break off from the scene of the lounge because here I am supposed to review the record, but suffice to say I was made to open all seven records and as it happens five of the seven are decent records and I’m pretty sure one of them was worth more than £1.99 than he paid for it.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – The Ingredients EP – Price £1.50

First a caveat – these are second hand records, I make no apologies for the sound quality. I do make apologies for the poor conversion though –i.e long intros, long outros that sort of thing.

This was the first EP (I think) released by Stourbridge’s Neds Atomic Dustbin and it was cleverly packed as a ‘double B Side’ – oh the wags, it still hurts when I laugh you bastards. The Unique Selling Point with Neds was that they had two bassplayers, which created this bouncy little noise, but ultimately they were The Wonder Stuff without the tunes. I think people saw them as a joke band, a joke band with a stupid name and stupid songs about “Killing Televsions”. Still, they were good at the time and I saw them on the ‘God Fodder’ tour and they were excellent and they went Top 20 in the UK which is more than can be said for other bands.

‘Ingredients’ starts with ‘Aim’ which is a jumpy little two minutes of grebo pop, which I remember being famous for a line about half way through in which the music stops and Jon (Who does the singing) goes ‘Manchester so much to answer for’, and when I was much younger I remember thinking he was right, they ruined Norman Whiteside. I also remember seeing Ned’s live a few times and whenever they played ‘Aim’ and got to the ‘Manchester’ bit they would change it to whatever song was irritating them at the time, so I heard them go ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and ‘Do the Bartman’. It was novel, but ultimately ‘Aim’ is quite forgettable. Seriously even now after I have literally just played it, I can’t remember anything about it apart from the ‘Manchester….’ bit.

mp3 : Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Aim

What isn’t forgettable is ‘Grey Cell Green’ which is the third track on the EP, easily the best track on the EP, and probably the Neds finest moment – although admittedly that is not hugely difficult. ‘Grey Cell Green’ is really catchy and the chorus is a bit of an earworm with its “You’re telling me…” section. Why the Ned’s didn’t just release this a single instead of the stupid Double B Side nonsense that went with. Also around three minutes in you get this guitar break which is terrific.

mp3 : Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Grey Cell Green

The other two tracks on this are ‘Plug Me In’ which again is relatively catchy and worth your attention for the two minutes that it lasts, and at the end you get “Terminally Groovie” – which is the first time I have seen ’Groovy’ spelt that way since 80s cartoon ‘The Groovie Ghoulies” which was as bad at sounds, and the song contains the immortal lyric “I made love to you until my face turned blue, just because I had to”, with wisdom like that it’s a wonder that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin didn’t end up having an X factor special evening based around their hits.

mp3 : Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Plug Me In

mp3 : Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Terminally Groovie

So that’s the Peppa Pig wrapped present done, Part Two and Three to follow, now where did I put those Brownies…