PLAY IT TO THE ONE WHO SHARES YOUR CHOCOLATE CAKE

The Desert Wolves were Martin King (vocals, guitar), Nick Platten (lead guitar), David Platten (rhythm guitar), Richard Jones (bass guitar, trumpet) and Craig Wolf (drums).

The back of the second, and last, single, says:-

Here it is, the second vinyl helping from the Desert Wolves – just the thing to warm your romantic hearts after the dark and bitter winter.

“Speak to me, Rochelle” sees the Wolves on a Parisian faray among a jangle of Platten guitars and yearning vocals. Feel the heartache in every line. Don’t be so cruel when I adore you.

“Mexico” appears by popular request with Richard blowing a mean trumpet and the rest of the group coasting along down south of the border. Tasty.

Side Two opens with “Besotted” – one of my particular Desert Wolves favourites and a song close to my heart. Craig and Richard hold down a loping beat while the guitars battle it out with the late night lyric. Play it to the one who shares your chocolate cake.

“Speak to me, Rochelle” returns to bring the curtain down on this particular collection. Or perhaps you could plat it as an apertif before you flip the disc and start again.

Au Revoir,
Martin
x

The sleeve also reveals that the songs were recorded in December 1987 at Out of the Blue Studios, Manchester and that the producer was Marc Radcliffe who would go on to make a great name for himself as a radio/tv presenter and writer, while the engineer was Nick Garside who would later work with many other Manchester bands, most notably as engineer/producer with James and also Inspiral Carpets. Quality stuff all around.

mp3 : The Desert Wolves – Speak to me, Rochelle
mp3 : The Desert Wolves – Mexico
mp3 : The Desert Wolves – Besotted
mp3 : The Desert Wolves – La petit Rochelle

I also found this home made promo for the single which I featured yesterday:-

I think these past two days of posts do highlight that The Desert Wolves were one who slipped through the net, deserving of much more success and longevity than they achieved. I know there’s countless bands like that out there….if anybody wants to use this space to recall one of them, then feel free to fire over a guest posting. Or multiple guest postings if you’re so inclined.

JC

WHO WERE THE DESERT WOLVES?

They were a band I knew nothing of until I came across this track on the C88 boxset:-

mp3 : The Desert Wolves – Love Scattered Lives

The accompanying booklet to the boxset advises that they were signed by local Manchester label Ugly Man and this was their 1997 debut, mixing up Bart Bacharach with the style of neighbours Morrissey and Marr. A four-track EP Speak to Me Rochelle was released the following year but that proved to the swansong.

Lover Scattered Lives is a genuinely excellent piece of music, remiscent in places of Lloyd Cole but there’s also a hint of the sound of Wild Swans/Care in the tune. It’s almost beyond belief to think that something as joyous and infectious as this sunk without trace, but I suppose it was one of those instances where the smallness of the record label meant the distribution of the 45 was limited.

I’ve gone digging and managed to unearth the two tracks which were on the 12″, which was in fact the only format it was commercially released on:-

mp3 : The Desert Wolves – Stopped In My Tracks
mp3 : The Desert Wolves – Desolation Sunday Morning

These too, are excellent tunes. The latter confirmed my inital views of Care/Wild Swans but with added poignant trumpet….and a hint of Edwyn-inspired vocal delivery. So much so, that I ended up doing extra digging and will bring you some more of this undeservedly short-lived group tomorrow.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #180 : LUKE HAINES

A GUEST POSTING by ROL HIRST
My Top Ten Blog

Compared to The Auteurs (4 albums and a handful of EPs) and Black Box Recorder (3 albums and a compilation of odds & sods), Luke Haines’ solo career is pretty hard to keep up with. Indeed, during the course of compiling these ICAs I discovered the great man had released a new album, I Sometimes Dream Of Glue, earlier this year to very little fanfare. Haven’t been able to track a copy down yet so nothing from that is included here, but there’s much to enjoy in Haines’s solo career if you’re not afraid of concept albums and you’re prepared to humour the odd missteps such as the BBC-Radiophonic-workshop-does-apocalypse-instrumentals of British Nuclear Bunkers. Anyway, here’s a bunch of my favourites…

SIDE A

1. Rock ‘n’ Roll Communique #1

The opening track from The Oliver Twist Manifesto, Haines’ first official solo album, (although many argue that title should actually go to the last Auteurs album, How I Learned To Love The Bootboys), this is as clear a manifesto as you could want from any pop star.

This is not entertainment
Don’t expect me to entertain you
Any more than you could entertain me
It may not be pretty
People might get hurt
Reputations could be tarnished
(People round here don’t like to talk about it)

Run away if you don’t like it
You don’t need to worry your pretty head about it
Don’t beg for mercy, you’ll get none, now it’s war

This is rock ‘n’ roll communique No.1
Hell for leather, spare no expenses
Jammy bastards, sod the consequences
All named and shamed

This is not entertainment

Except it is! It really is!

 

2. Saturday Afternoon

Nostalgia for the 70s and 80s – the “good old days” of our youth – is a big part of Haines’ act these days. There are no rose-tinted glasses here though. Haines sees much to love in those halcyon days… but isn’t afraid to peer into the murky underbelly of the time either.

Saturday Afternoon is the most approachable track from the wonderfully bizarre concept album 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early ’80s, a record which does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. As such, its appeal will largely depend on whether you remember these days in the same way Haines does. If, like me, you grew up watching Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks fight it out on Saturday afternoon TV, this will push all the right nostalgic buttons…

Saturday afternoon
Saturday afternoon
There’s Evel Knievel
Catweazle’s false teeth
Fly out of the telly
And land at my feet

Mother, what’s for tea?
Liver sausage sandwich and cheese
They’re fighting on the terraces
Starting at two
There’s a tag team in the corner
Of our front room

3. Leeds United

The darker side of that particular vein of nostalgia is seen here, in a song that works well as a companion piece to David Peace’s Red Riding novels. Violence on the terraces and the sinister threat of the Yorkshire Ripper. My dad worked in Leeds during the 70s. Although I was very young, I recognise the shadow cast over that city that Haines successfully evokes here in a song told from the perspective of a young man in serious danger of being dragged into hell.

No leads for the West Yorkshire police
In Victorian Leeds, concrete Leeds
There’s a killer on the terraces, better call in Doris Stokes
The devil came to Yorkshire in the silver Jubilee
It could be Kendo Nagasaki, Jimmy Savile or the Queen
Leeds United – Leeds United – Leeds United – Leeds United
The North, the North
Where we do what we want
The North the North
Where we do what we like

At the time, Haines took a bit of flack from northern fans for the lyrics here. What right does that Southern Jessie have to talk about how grim it is or was up north? I’m reminded of Neil Young laying into Lynyrd Skynyrd in Southern Man, and Skynyrd hitting back with Sweet Home Alabama. In America, the North-South divide is reversed, of course. Alabama and Leeds were kindred spirits… and I say that as a proud(-ish) Yorkshireman.

4. English Southern Man

All of which led to this track, Haines’ response to the Leeds United hecklers. As proud a celebration of being a southerner as the aforementioned Skynyrd track, this tries to reclaim the term “God’s own country” from greedy, grabbing Yorkshiremen and relocate it to Haines’ beloved south coast. Tongue is, of course, firmly in cheek again, and anyone who takes offence at this really needs to get a life… or risk becoming the same northern cliché Haines was parodying above.

5. North Sea Scrolls – Broadmoor Blues Delta

Haines’ nostalgic obsession with the land of his birth reached its zenith with the North Sea Scrolls album, a collaboration with Cathal Coughlan and journalist Andrew Mueller. Described as “an alternative history of the British Isles”, it chronicles through alternating songs and spoken word pieces a bizarre parallel dimension where DJ Chris Evans is burnt at the stake, Enoch Powell becomes Poet Laureate, and Princess Anne’s kidnapper is the lead singer of Gomez (they’re both called Ian Ball, see). To be honest, pulling one track out for inclusion here doesn’t really work – you have to listen to the whole album to appreciate its true glory. But equally I couldn’t leave The North Sea Scrolls out of this ICA, because it is Haines at his surreal and acerbic best.

Side B

1. 21st Century Man

You may not appreciate the comparison, but this is Luke Haines’ version of We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel. You know how on that song (which you probably pretend to hate, but I’ll forgive you) Billy chronicles his life through the big names and events in the news and pop culture? Well, In 21st Century Man, Luke Haines does just the same. So this is the We Didn’t Start The Fire it’s cool to like! You don’t have to hide it way in back of your record collection the way you do that secret, stained Billy Joel 12”. Really. It’s the first step… after that, you can join my support group. We meet every Tuesday night in the old church hall behind the Spar.

2. The Heritage Rock Revolution

Have I used the word “iconoclastic” in this feature yet? Here’s a typically barbed love letter to the editors of Mojo and Uncut… and, I guess, most members of the music blogosphere – talk about biting the hand that feeds!

I love rock ‘n’ roll
I hope it never dies
Put it in a chocolate box and
Bury it alive

3. Alan Vega Says

Of course, just when you think you’ve got Luke Haines neatly pigeonholed, he goes and releases a record like New York In The 70s, reminding us that for all his grumpy Englishness, he’s long been a fan of American music too (as discussed in more detail back in Volume 1 of this ICA). The album pays tribute to many of Haines’ musical heroes from the titular city and decade, including the New York Dolls, Lou Reed, Jim Carroll, and especially Suicide’s Alan Vega. The repetitive lyrics and low key electro-punk work as a perfect tribute, making for one of Haines’ most accessible albums of recent years.

4. Smash The System

There comes a point in your live when you realise that rebellion and revolution is a young man’s dream. The title track from Haines’ 2016 album invites us to embrace Morris dancing, admit that we love the Monkees, and riot for the summer. Mid-life, middle-class crisis in song. Perfect!

5. Christ

And finally… If you haven’t yet read Luke Haines’ two excellent memoirs – Bad Vibes and Post-Everything – well, I realise there’s little chance of me persuading you… but perhaps you’ll listen to JC: here and here. As a taster, I offer you the final track on this most difficult to compile ICA (oh, the ones I had to leave off!), which is those two books condensed into one song. The manifesto from our opening track comes full circle here. And of course, Haines reveals his long-suspected God-complex in all its glory.

At the age of 33 and a third, the time that Christ spent on earth
I decided to cut all ties with showbiz
As the awards piled up in the bath, well I started to laugh
At all those who died in the name of light entertainment

Be thankful Luke Haines never became a big star. I’m pretty sure he is. He’s made far more interesting work on the sidelines. Continued success is overrated anyway.

ROL

TECHNICALLY, I’M NOW MARRIED TO A PENSIONER

I’ll pay for this posting……indeed, I’ll pay heavily!

Mrs V turns 60 years old today.  Rachel is, by far, the youngest and most active 60 year old I know, holding down a stressful and time-consuming job that involves a fair amount of travelling across the UK while maintaining a busy social life around her many different loves such as gardening, growing food, walking, music and literature.

We will be waking up in Barcelona, a city she has long wanted to visit, and this will be our third day of four.  We will be joined by a small group of friends to spend a day doing whatever it is Rachel most wants to do, rounding things off with some fine food and wine, with the vegetarian option being enjoyed by the birthday girl.

The trip will be the latest in what has been a year-long effort by her to do all sorts of things with different groups of friends.  There’s been a night at a Taylor Swift gig in Manchester, a weekend at the Rewind festival in Henley-on-Thames and soon she will be off to Oslo to follow a trail associated with one of her favourite authors, Jo Nesbo.  Her energy levels are incredible.

As I’ve said before, we have long enjoyed going to gigs together but in more recent years, especially since I became ensconsed in the blog, our tastes have somewhat drifted….I think Rachel deliberately goes for singers and bands that I wouldn’t dream of listening to.  It certainly makes for some interesting nights fighting over the remote controls….but occasionally something will give us some common ground.

Anyways, I am a very very lucky man to have her in my life….we’ve been living together now for more than 28 years having found each other after failed first marriages….and I hope you don’t mind me being self-indulgent in using the blog to air a few of her favourites:-

mp3 : Fall Out Boy – Dance Dance
mp3 : Good Charlotte – Lifestyles Of The Rich and The Famous
mp3 : Green Day – Minority
mp3 : Marilyn Manson – Disposable Teens
mp3 : Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do
mp3 : Lady Gaga – Born This Way
mp3 : Martin Solveig – Ready To Go
mp3 : Calvin Harris – Feel So Close

Happy birthday missus. Keep on rockin’, dancin’ and laffin’

JC

 

 

WHEN THE ROADRUNNER WENT COUNTRY ON US

The Lloyd Cole solo series is hopefully demonstrating that he is someone who rarely got comfortable and settled with any one genre, always looking to test and challenge himself and his fan base.

Jonathan Richman is another who has done similar over the years, particularly since he dropped the Modern Lovers moniker towards the end of the 80s.

He surprised everyone in 1990 with the release of Jonathan Goes Country. Its twelve songs included five cover versions and the musicians he brought on board for the recording included some of the best veterans of the Nashville scene. The danger of something like this is that it could end up as too much of a gimmick but what you get is quite clearly a frontman having a great time and delivering his songs in the way he always has – the exception being that his musicians bring a different set of skills and playing styles than what his fans would have been used to. But he pulls it off with style as evidenced by the album opener:-

mp3 : Jonathan Richman – Since She Started To Ride

Indeed, some of the tunes, particularly the covers, wouldn’t have been too far out-of-place on some of his other records:-

mp3 : Jonathan Richman – Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad

This is an instrumental take on a song associated with Tammy Wynette and here Jonathan adds his own rockabilly/surf style in the background to the wonderful country-style guitar lead as performed by album producer D Clinton Thompson.

Like so many other great country albums, room was made for a male/female duet, with guest vocalist Jody Ross. This turns out to be more flamenco than country:-

mp3 : Jonathan Richman – The Neighbors

And, finally, for fun, here’s Jonathan’s effort at writing and recording a song in the style of Johnny Cash:-

mp3 : Jonathan Richman – You’re Crazy For Taking The Bus

The entire album is a little over 30 minutes in length.  It’s not an essential one to own, but it is worthy of the occasional listen.

JC

LLOYD COLE THE SOLO YEARS : 2000

If you’ve been following this series then you’ll be aware that Lloyd Cole‘s future in the record industry was uncertain as the new century dawned.

The record label situation was shambolic and something of a legal nightmare. Lloyd was determined that his next release should feature The Negatives, a band of talented NYC musicians that he had first pulled together back in 1997 and with whom he was enjoying himself again.

LC was able to pull in a few favours in terms of funding and studio time and some of 1999 was spent working on songs, some of which were new and some of which had been written for the solo album which Mercury Records had refused to release back in 1996.

A French-based label, XIII Bis Records, had the stomach for the legal battle over publishing and recording rights thus enabling The Negatives to be released in November 2000.

Backed by Dave Derby (bass and vocals), Jill Sobule (guitars and vocals), Michael Kotch (guitars) and Rafa Maciejack (drums), not to mention contributions in the studio on the playing or arranging side from old friends such as Fred Quine, Neil Clark and Anne Dudley, the results proved to be one of the most unexpectedly high points of Lloyd’s entire career.

It’s an introspective album in many ways, with the tone set by the opening song whose title and lyric is full of references to LC’s career up to this point. It’s a work of genius:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Negatives – Past Imperfect

Every song seems to transpose the listener to another time – some were very reminiscent of the Commotions era, while others were a reminder of the solo years. At long last Lloyd sounded happy (by this time he was married with two young sons making up his family) and the record is an absolute joy from start to end. He even finds time to have a go at himself in which he remembers how the sound, look and persona he adopted in the early days of the solo career left him like a fish out of water:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Negatives – Tried To Rock

And in a sort of two fingers to the label, he took the aborted single that had been meant to trumpet the release of The Collection in 1998 and gave it the luxurious arrangement, complete with strings, that his paymasters had likely been looking for all along:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Negatives – That Boy

And then there’s the longest track on the album, at around five and a half minutes, in which the lyric is a throwback to the cleverness of the earliest material over a defiant tune which indicates that, from now on, Lloyd is going to do things his way:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Negatives – What’s Wrong With This Picture

Lloyd Cole & The Negatives went out on the road to some extent to promote the album, also performing material from the Commotions era.  I caught a show in Dublin in 2001 but sadly, it didn’t quite work.  The new material sounded fine but the old stuff sounded on the lumpy side – it was a similar experience to hearing Morrissey‘s backing band do very bad things to The Smiths songs.

In a solo career that had already provided many twists and turns, what was about to happen the following year almost beggared belief.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #126 : THE HEADBOYS

I have a digital copy of this song, which I downloaded from somewhere at some point over the past twelve years:-

mp3 : The Headboys – The Shape Of Things To Come

I did so as this 1979 single was one that I bought back in the day. It long has a place in my collection as being the cheapest brand new 45 I ever purchased, costing me 5p from the bargain bin in Woolworth’s.

The Headboys were a 1970s Edinburgh-based power pop band, consisting of Lou Lewis (guitar and vocals), George Boyter (bass and vocals), Calum Malcolm (keyboards and vocals) and, Davy Ross (drums and vocals).

Probably on the basis of this anthemic and catchy song, they inked a deal with the RSO label which, thanks to the Bee Gees, was as big as any at the time. The single got loads of airplay but only sold enough to reach #45 in the charts, but such was the power of their label this ensured an appearance on Top of the Pops.

I wasn’t a great lover of the record but at 5p it appealed to my sense of patriotism to rescue one of the many copies from the bargain bin. I’m guessing the store manager, perhaps having seen the TOTP appearance, thought there would be a run on the single straight after.

The band’s subsequent singles and debut LP went nowhere and so it is fair and accurate to say that The Headboys were very much a one-hit wonder, and a minor one at that.

Calum Malcolm would, however, go on to enjoy a long and succesful career in studio production and engineering, working alongside a varied roster of artists in Rock, Pop, Classical, Jazz and Traditional music initally at Castlesound Studios just outside of Edinburgh, a venture he himself founded in the late 70s, and more lately at his new studios.  He was involved in just about all of the early Postcard recordings……

JC

COMPLETELY OUT OF LEFTFIELD

Mercury Rev, after three poor-selling albums released between 1991 and 1995 came very close to calling it a day. What possibly saved them was that The Chemical Brothers had long been fans and had made a succesful approach to lead singer Jonathan Donahue to contribute a vocal to, and receive a writing credit for, the track The Private Psychedelic Reel which featured on the multi-million selling Dig Your Own Hole LP in 1997.

It not only brought Donahue to a wider audience than ever before but helped get him out of a creative lull in which he was showing no interest in writing any more material for his band. It also inspired him, and his band mate Sean Mackowiack, to try something different with the new material, moving away from rock guitars to a more gentle and melodic sound incorporating strings, horns and woodwinds along the way. It was something they had experimented with previously with one-off recordings not designed for commercial release.

The Chemical Brothers connection also led to renewed interest from record labels (the band had been dropped by Beggars Banquet in 1995) and a deal was struck with V2, the new label started up by Richard Branson with a decent budget afforded the recording process.

The album Deserter’s Songs was released in September 1998 to a fair bit of critical acclaim, helped by old friends The Chemical Brothers talking the record up in advance during the interviews they were giving to promote their live appearances at festivals over the summer months. Unusually, it was released without any single initially being lifted from it, a matter rectified the following month.

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Goddess On A Hiway

It transpired that this particular song was the best part of a decade old, having been written by Donahue during his time with The Flaming Lips, and having been forgotten about until being discovered on an old cassette tape. It was reworked beautifully into the style of music that Mercury Rev were encompassing for Deserter’s Songs.

The CD single came with two more tracks:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Ragtag
mp3 : Mercury Rev – I Only Have Eyes For You

The former, an instrumental,sounds exactly as the title would have you imagine….like a snippet that you would hear played in a nightclub scene of a movie set in the 1920s. It’s plain bonkers…..

The latter is a cover of the song written back in the 30s and made most famous by Art Garfunkel‘s cover which went to #1 in the UK in 1975. This version dates from a 1995 BBC session version on which there was a guest appearance by Sean O’Hagan, who first came to prominence as a founder member of Microdisney with Cathal Coughlan, before leaving to form The High Llamas and then in the mid 90s, becoming part of Stereolab. The recording may have been three years old, but it could now be seen as providing the pointer for the style that would be found on the new album.

Deserter’s Songs was named as album of the year for 1998 by NME. Anyone who had suggested that would be the case 12 months previously would have likely been locked up for their own safety.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #179 : BLACK BOX RECORDER

 A GUEST POSTING by ROL

from My Top Ten

1. Child Psychology

I still remember picking this one out of the new releases pile back when I worked in the radio station record library. We were always on the look-out for new music to play on our Sunday night indie & alternative show: the only time of the week we actually got to break free from the safety of the playlist.

I fell in love with Child Psychology on first listen. It’s dark, it’s wickedly funny, and it has Sarah Nixey whispering Luke Haines’ twisted lyrics. And then comes the chorus…

Life is unkind
Kill yourself or get over it.

I can honestly say I’d never heard anything like this before and it blew me away. It spoke to me personally. My 20s weren’t the best of times. Yes, there were lots of gigs and free records, but a lot of loneliness and heartache too. I was jaded, cynical and world-weary. This song could have been written for me.

According to iffypedia, Child Psychology was banned by UK radio except XFM. Well, excuse me, iffypedia, but we gave it a few spins on a Sunday evening… when we knew the boss wasn’t listening because he hated guitar music. In the US, the song was released just after the Columbine massacre, so the chorus lines were played backwards. Was that ironic, given the history of supposed backwards suicide messages hidden in pop songs… or did someone in the record company seriously think that was a logical solution?

2. Girl Singing In The Wreckage

There were two b-sides to Child Psychology, and both worked to complement the main track. Girl Singing In The Wreckage was also the opening track of the debut BBR album England Made Me. I don’t know if it was meant as such, but it feels like a sequel to Child Psychology, with the female narrator growing up and tackling the metaphorical car crash of teenage ennui.

(The third track on the CD single was a cover of Jacques Brel’s gloriously tragic suicide anthem Seasons In The Sun, originally a hit for Terry Jacks back in 1973. Once you’ve heard Ms. Nixey’s take, you’re liable to ask, “Terry who?”)

3. The Facts Of Life

Although the BBR songwriting chores were shared between Luke Haines (who, I’d guess, had more hand in the lyrics) and former Jesus & Mary Chain drummer John Moore, the band’s greatest asset was arguably Sarah Nixey.

I find it difficult to write about Ms. Nixey objectively without coming across as an old letch… but the best way to describe her would be in twisted comparison to Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell. Imagine a cartoon where a lovelorn young bloke has a pure, perfect, sweet-voiced angel dressed in white sitting on his right shoulder, encouraging him to be good and kind and virtuous. That would be the Sarah Cracknell angel. On the other shoulder, however, would be Sarah Nixey, dressed in black, also sweet-voiced… but that’s where the comparison ends. Now imagine that second angel was the teacher in your Sex Ed class…

Welcome to The Facts Of Life, a single which took Luke Haines into the top 20 for the first and only time in his career. If you’d asked me before I started compiling this ICA, I’d have told you this song must have been Top 10, probably Top 3… I mean, surely this was one of the biggest hits of the year 2000? It was in my head, anyway. In reality, it scraped #20 for a week then disappeared from the chart forever. A true sign of quality.

4. Andrew Ridgely

Another of Luke Haines’ ode to the 80s, and to the underdogs. The song begins with Nixey saying, “I never liked George Michael much… although they say he was the talented one”, before confessing a secret passion for the forgotten half of Wham!

This is a song about everything that was wrong with the 80s – plastic synthesizers and “Loadsamoney!” capitalism – yet Haines manages to make it sound not so bad really. Certainly, by today’s standards, most of us could probably find time for a little 80s nostalgia.

5. Keep It In The Family

After their third album, Passionoia, in 2003, BBR went “on hiatus”. Nixey and Moore were married by this point but split up in 2006. Then, a couple of years later, the band turned up again with a surprise gig in London. Plans were afoot for a new album and two tracks were recorded, but nothing else materialised and in 2010 Keep It In The Family and Do You Believe In God? were released online as The Final Statement. What might have been…

Side B

1. The School Song

A blatant attempt to recapture the success of The Facts Of Life, pitching Nixey as the sarky, sexy school marm telling us to wipe that idiotic smile off our faces and not to run in the corridor. Well, it worked for me. I never ran in the corridor again. Typically iconoclastic Hainesy chorus too…

Welcome to the school of song
It’ll help you achieve perfection
Destroy your record collection
It’s for your own protection

2. England Made Me

The story of a very English psychopath and the country that made him… or her. At this point, it’s difficult to distinguish between Haines’ lyrics and Nixey’s performance. Her angelic vocals were the perfect mouthpiece for his darkest fantasies…

I had a dream last night that I was drunk,
I killed a stranger and left him in a trunk,
At Brighton railway station,
It was an unsolved case,
A famous murder mystery,
People love a mystery.

3. The English Motorway System

American highways are full of romanticism… British motorways are dark and dreary in comparison. Trying to make a successful British driving song is hard work, but this is up there with It’s Immaterial’s Driving Away From Home and Billy Bragg’s A13 Trunk Road To The Sea in my mind. It’s about the end of a relationship, obviously… but even that can be beautiful and strange in the right hands.

4. Sex Life

Find me a better song about young men who see sex everywhere but don’t know how to get it. In your dreams!

5. The Art Of Driving

The song that rolls all Black Box Recorder’s obsessions into one delicious confection. Sex. Teachers. Driving. Seduction. Englishness. Innuendo. More sex. Car crashes. Death. What else do you want from a pop song?

ROL

JC adds…..here’s the fabulous Top of the Pops appearance to enjoy:-

 

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (22)

The Skids first ever release epitomised the punk ethic.

Four teenage mates from a small town in the east of Scotland just far enough away from Edinburgh to feel isolated, they feel they have the songs, drive, energy and ambition to take on the world. The problem is, nobody from any record label will travel to Dunfermline – the London ones are completely out of the question and the Scottish ones want to concentrate on the capital and Glasgow. The solution, as advocated in the fanzines of the day, is DIY.

Four teenage mates scrimp and save all they have and get themselves into small studio in Edinburgh in October 1977 where they lay down three self-produced and raw sounding tracks. The tracks are in a fit enough state to go to a printing press to be turned into a 7” EP and so the next step is to form a label to host the subsequent release. The four teenage mates get help from the owner of a music shop owner in their home town who is able to create a new label and call it No Bad Records.

A cheap looking sleeve is designed to house the plastic containing the vinyl. The front of the sleeve has four grainy images from photos that look as if they have been taken in the booth you find in train and bus stations, together with a stylised take on the name of the band – Skids. The reverse lists the three tracks on the vinyl as well as the most basic information about the band members:-

Stuart – Lead
Richard – Vocals
Alexander – Bass
Thomas – Drums

The engineer, Dougie, is credited and thanks are given to Mike Douglas, Clive, Oscar, Conn, Sandy…….(the last-named being the music shop owner)

It also says ‘Released through Aim Enterprises Limited (Dunfermline) 28464’ which could well be a phone number. It was released on 24 February 1978

This is what you heard if you played the vinyl:-

mp3 : The Skids – Charles
mp3 : The Skids – Reasons
mp3 : The Skids – Test-Tube Babies

John Peel heard it and then played it. His listeners liked it a lot and Skids were suddenly on the radar of many in the music industry. It didn’t take too long for them to leave No Bad Records behind as they signed to Virgin Records just two months after the EP had hit the shops. A successful career ensued.

The next release on No Bad Records was in 2017 when The Skids released Burning Cities, their first new album in 36 years. A lot had happened in the intervening period.

The Charles EP is a fine debut. It did exactly what it was designed to do and that was act as the showcase and calling card for Stuart Adamson (19 years and six months old when they went into the studio), Richard Jobson (16 years and a handful of days when they went into studio) and the slightly older Tom Kellichen (23) and Bill Simpson (aka Alexander) (20).

They would record better and more memorable singles, but none quite as important.

JC

HOUSE OF SOPHISTICATED POP MUSIC

In August 1979, Madness released their debut single.

The Prince was in tribute to ska singer Prince Buster. It was the their way of saying thank you for providing such influences on their look and sound, not to mention the band’s name which was taken from a song written and recorded by Prince Buster.

The debut single went to #16 in the charts.

Over the next seven years, Madness would release a further 21 singles, almost of all them memorable in some shape or form and from which you could forge an ICA that would be very hard to beat in any match-up completion.

House of Fun : #1
Wings Of A Dove : #2
My Girl : #3
Baggy Trousers : #3
Embarrassment : #4
Grey Day : #4
It Must Be Love : #4
Driving In My Car : #4
Our House : #5
The Sun and the Rain : #5
One Step Beyond : #7
The Return of the Los Palmas 7 : #7
Shut Up : #7
Tomorrow’s Just Another Day : #8
Michael Caine : #11
Cardiac Arrest : #14
One Better Day : #17
Yesterday’s Men : #18
(Waiting For) The Ghost Train : #18
Uncle Sam : #21
Sweetest Girl : #35

The later original material, while not charting as well as the nutty sounds of the early 80s, revealed a wonderful depth to the band both in terms of the music and the lyrics which increasingly explored social and political issues both at home and abroad; the exception being the rather underwhelming cover of the Scritti Politti classic which was, as demonstrated above, the poorest selling 45 by a long way.

The band broke up in 1986, leaving a fabulous legacy of singles, six albums, memorable videos and enjoyable TV performances. Nobody would have minded if they had left it at that.

They got back together in 1992 on the back of the success of a singles compilation album and attracted more than 75,000 folk to the Madstock! reunion gigs on 8 and 9 August in Finsbury Park, London. This led to them touring again, playing arena-sized venues in the UK and giving folk a good nostalgic night out. They went back into the studio in 1999 from which a first new album in 13 years emerged, including a #10 hit single in Lovestruck. The songs on the slightly tongue-in-cheek entitled Wonderful brought some new life and energy into the live sets which, until this point hadn’t changed much in 15 years.

The next release came in 2004 but The Danger Sessions, made-up entirely of cover versions, was poorly received, critically and commercially. The tensions over its recording also led to the departure of founder-member Chris Foreman, although he would later return to the fold.

What happened next was a very pleasant surprise.

May 2009 saw Madness release their ninth studio album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, a work that I’d argue that is, by a fairly long way, their best ever album.

OK, it doesn’t have any killer 45 tunes a la the 80s, but this is a record from a different beast than had emerged blinking from the shadows with the release of The Prince 30 year previously and demonstrated that Madness could be listed alongside such as The Kinks, The Jam, Squeeze and XTC as the best proponents of pop music that is uniquely and brilliantly English.

The reviews were universally positive. It was described in various places as a masterpiece, extraordinary and the most sophisticated and satisfying album of their career. The spirits of Charles Dickens and Noel Coward were invoked as ways of describing the scale and ambition of something which on the surface was a concept album about the city of London but is in fact packed with the most bittersweet and melancholy of pop songs covering subject matters such as love, loss, success and failure of which an understanding can really only come with the onset of middle-age.

Just as Weller & co had captured my teenage moods, as Moz, Johnny, Mike and Andy had made sense of the student days, as Stipe and his buddies from Athens GA mimicked the emotions of moving into my 30s, the songs and music of Madness on The Liberty of Norton Folgate were perfect for coming to terms with being middle-aged and, while perhaps my very best days were behind me, there was still so much that I could bring to any party or gathering thanks to being older, wiser and yes, sophisticated, in comparison to my own slightly more manic and nuttier days.

I’ve long wanted to wax lyrically about this album. I never quite found the right words at the time of its release and besides there was little I could add to the widespread reviews of the day.

These words have come about from giving the album a fresh listen, in full, for the first time in maybe five years. I thought that such a listen would have me tempering my praise and finding that the songs hadn’t aged well over the past nine years. Not in the slightest….

mp3 : Madness – Forever Young
mp3 : Madness – That Close
mp3 : Madness – MkII
mp3 : Madness – NW5

Growing up and growing old can be satisfying after all.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapters Fifteen)

I did say, away back in Chapter Two, that Tindersticks were a stick-on to feature again at some point.

The first time we flew it
It was cheap and cramped
The vodka running out half-way across the atlantic
Even the steward screamed and joined in
We didn’t think we were going to make it

Now we’re stretched out in wide, furry seats
Flicking through menus
A walk to the bar and there’s as much screw-top champagne as we can drink
We’re so easy
Taking turns having our photos taken
Sitting in front of smoked windows
Decanters of cheap whiskey in our hands
Drive into Manhattan on a date with a starlet who’s just talent
That’s what people pay the money to see?
Who are we to argue…

Five hours now it’s been going on
And still we’re watching all of it
Can you really believe all this?
Can he really lie in bed at night and marvel at his own genius?
When do you lose the ability to step back
And get a sense of your own ridiculousness?
They’re only songs

Midnight, and it’s all over
Now it can really make us laugh
We’re standing on our heads drinking sours of crystel schnapps
Now we’re unable to step back or forward
Swallowing a swallow
Tasting it again, it’s not so unpleasant
Perhaps it’s an acquired taste
The first time, it makes you sick
Then, little by little, it becomes delicious

Showbiz people
Always there to be interested in what you have to say
We are artists; we are sensitive and important
We nod our heads earnestly
Already half-way down the champagne
On our way to leaving the place dry
A $2,000 bar bill
Showbiz picks up the tab
And we’re on our way laughing
Laughing at what?

Los Angeles, eight days in
And our sense of irony’s running pretty thin
All the friends we’ve made
It’s 2 am, it’s closing time at the Dresden
Marty and Layton play one last sleepy “Strangers In The Night”
And the last of the martinis dribble down our chins
We’re sitting, chasing the conservation around the table
Jesus, how long have I been in this state?
The limousine’s still waiting outside
Anything you want to do?
Anywhere you want to go?
We’re on our way to the airport and a plane to Vegas

So many nights lying in bed shaking
Dreaming of pushing my daughter around the supermarket
The joy of seeing all those colours and shapes reflect in her wide eyes
My head leaning on the window
And we’re driving through the empty L.A. streets
And everything seems silent and beautiful
A guy’s face hits the floor
Police revolvers glistening in the streetlight
Onto Melrose and lurching through a sea of halloweeen transvestites
The flight’s cancelled, but it doesn’t matter
We turn this corner to a way that takes us wherever
Up to Sunset

We creep up the drive to the Shattuck
The suite Belushi died in
Or the one Morrison hung out the window
Oh, I’ll go for Jim’s
I would fancy a hotel window-hanging, myself, tonight, man
Straight over to the mini-bar
Open the champagne – one sip and it’s left to wake up to
Anyone hungry?
A team of uniformed waiters lay out an elaborate table for all us to ignore
Oh, the irony
How we’re used to living

Back in London on a cold friday night
Do you want another drink?
Well, I could try
Perhaps we could make it to the Atlantic
600 yards, 20 minutes later
We’re pushing through the waiting crowd, all fish eyes
An exclusive door policy
Exclusively for arseholes
And tonight? well, a nod of our heads, and we’re inside

Falling down the red, velvety stairs
Limbs flaying, hands searching for something to steady
Pick ourselves up, nothing broken
Just aches in the morning
No one seems to notice
I find a table, champagne arrives
I’ve been so drunk, I sit and look at you
We try and talk for the first time in a long time
Drunken confession
You shiver, it made you feel sick
We use the rent money to pay the bill

Bumping shoulders, we stumble out into Soho
Slipping over the sleeping bags
Shouting for taxis.

mp3 : Tindersticks – Ballad of Tindersticks

From the album Curtains, released in June 1997

JC

LLOYD COLE THE SOLO YEARS : 1996-98

It seemed that everyone at the UK record label was happy with the direction Lloyd Cole was heading in. Love Songs had carved out a bit of a niche for him as a talented acoustic-driven singer-songwriter and he spent much of 1996 in a New York studio carving out a new album along such lines, with a number of old friends, including ex-Commotion Neil Clark, flying in to lend a hand.

The completed album was well received by his direct contacts at the label but was vetoed by the head of the company who instead had a plan to put it on ice for the time being and release it in due course on the back of a new compilation album which would feature Commotions and solo material. The request was also made that Lloyd specifically write some new songs which could be released as singles to promote the planned new ‘Best Of’ collection.

Lloyd tried to play the game but everything got bogged down in record company politics. In the meantime, he got himself in and out of studios to cut songs for compilation albums and pulled together a new band called The Negatives, made up of NYC musicians, with who he played with live as well as putting down some tracks in the studio in the hope of them being released.

It took an eternity to get round to issuing the best of record, during which time Lloyd’s recording career was in limbo. The decision was taken to work with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley who had delivered Easy Pieces back in the days of the Commotions but it didn’t quite go fully to plan. Stephen Street, with whom Lloyd had worked on Love Songs, was brought into polish things off on two new potential hit singles.

The label bosses were still far from happy and declined to release either of the two new songs, leading to the farcical situation of The Collection (as it was entitled) to be issued without Lloyd being able to get out on the promotional trail. And to add insult to injury, the label further declined to allow the 1996 album to be released….and indeed came to a parting of the ways with the singer.

Messy doesn’t come close to describing the situation.

Here’s some of what was made available publicly available in this period of time:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole with Robert Quine – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself

An ironic song to cover given the circumstances he was in at that time, this was recorded in 1997 for inclusion on a compilation album of Burt Bacharach covers. The other irony being that just a few years after releasing half an album of Bacharach inspired songs on Don’t Get Weird With Me Baby, this cover is just vocals and guitars.

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Si Tu Dois Partir

Another contribution to a compilation entitled Pop Romantique : French Pop Classics, this time in 1998. The request had been for a French song but Lloyd felt he couldn’t pull that off and so he went for Bob Dylan‘s 1965 single If You’ve Gotta Go, Go Now but as interpreted and taken into the charts by Fairport Convention in 1969.

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Romany Soup

The same folk behind the Burt Bacharach project, which had been part of a series of records under the title of Great Jewish Music, got in touch to ask Lloyd if he’d care to contribute to another album in the series, this time featuring songs by one of his heroes, Marc Bolan. The track selected was from 1969 and the Tyrannosaurus Rex days.

Finally, there were two new songs which made it onto The Collection, with one being a re-working of a song that had been recorded with The Negatives. it was also supposed to be the lead off single for the compilation but was shelved everywhere, except for some strange reason, in Germany:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – That Boy

Really can’t fathom why it wasn’t allowed to be released as a stand-alone 45.

The b-sides of that release included the English version of the track recorded for the French compilation album and a song which had been co-written with Stephen Lindsay of The Big Dish which had almost made it onto Love Songs:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – If You Gotta Go, Go Now
mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Rain On The Parade

The other new song had been originally been recorded for the 1996 album that seemed as if it was ever unlikely to see the light of day; again, it would have made for a decent stand-alone 45:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Fool You Are

But, as you may have gathered from the way this series is unfolding, things would take another unusual turn in the coming years.

JC

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #125 : THE HAZEY JANES

As this is one I have courtesy of a compilation CD given away with a newspaper in 2007, I’ve had to reply on t’internet for your info:-

The Hazey Janes are an indie pop band from Dundee, Scotland consisting of Andrew Mitchell (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Liam Brennan (drums, vocals, percussion) and siblings Alice Marra (vocals, guitar, keyboard, synthesizer) and Matthew Marra (bass guitar, keyboard, glockenspiel).

Formed around 2000, the band plays music that has been described as a fusion of country-rock and indie-pop, with a penchant for heavy folk harmonies, reminiscent of Big Star, Velvet Crush and The Posies.

It was back in 2004 that they recorded a self-titled mini-album, followed two years later by their first full-length album, Hotel Radio which got a fair bit of positive media coverage.  They’ve been reasonably prolific ever since and have toured extensively both as headlining artists and as support to the likes of Snow Patrol, Elbow, Idlewild, Brakes, Aberfeldy, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, WILCO and Deacon Blue.

Dundee musician-songwriter Michael Marra is the father of the Marra siblings in The Hazey Janes.

mp3 : The Hazey Janes – Fire In The Sky

It’s a tad derivative and it hasn’t encouraged me to seek out anything else…..but I’ve heard and indeed highlighted worse on this blog!

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (21)

I don’t normally go as far back as the 60s on this blog, but I couldn’t do justice to this series without including this:-

mp3 : The Monkees – Last Train To Clarksville

I’m just too young to remember the first airing of The Monkees TV show which ran from September 1966 to March 1968. It was, however, something that was on a constant repeat on the children’s segment of BBC1 in the 70s and therefore was one of my earliest exposures to pop music outside of the radio and whatever was played by my folks at home.

I loved the show. It seemed so bright, colourful and wonderfully funny in places. To begin with, the music actually annoyed me as it got in the way of the ‘plotlines’ but repeated exposure to the songs, allied to the fact that I was now a big boy aged nine who was actually liking some of the songs I was hearing on the radio, meant I soon fell for their charms.

Last Train To Clarksville was my favourite for the simple reason that Micky Dolenz, my favourite of The Monkees, was on lead vocal. Oh and it also had the work Clark in part of its title and that was my surname…

Of course I had no idea that the songs on the show were covers and indeed that the fab four contributed so little to the actual music being aired. I was a kid, it was on television and therefore it was all 100% real.

It was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and there can be no question that it is very similar in sound to Paperback Writer; indeed, Clarksville was composed around the time The Beatles song was dominating the US singles chart and thus the coincidence is no accident. The duo are, in many ways, the unsung heroes of The Monkees story. Many folk can recall that a number of the hits were written by the soon-to-be-famous-in-his-own-right, Neil Diamond, but the names of Boyce and Hart can lead to a bit of head-scratching except among the anoraks. It was they who, well in advance of the show being aired, wrote and recorded the songs, backed by their band the Candy Store Prophets, and only once the cast had been finalised did the four singers/actors who appeared in the show re-record the vocal parts.

Clarksville is a simply thrilling little pop song, just under three minutes of perfection. It could even be interpreted as an anti-war song if you so wish, although the composers say that was never the intention. It went to #1 in the USA in September 1966, coinciding nicely with the first episodes of the TV show.

What I hadn’t realised until doing a wee bit of research for this piece is that it was initially a flop in the UK and indeed was only a hit on its re-release in 1967 as the follow-up to I’m A Believer, which hit #1 in January 1967. Even then, Clarksville stalled at #23 in the UK the following month……

Here’s yer very sixties psychedlelic b-side, again with a Micky Dolenz vocal, and composed by Gerry Goffin and Carole King:-

mp3 : The Monkees – Take A Giant Step

JC