THE WORST LIVE SHOW I’VE EVER SEEN…..BUT……

The lead song from this 1981 release was supposed to be part of the throwaway and disposable New Romantics EP which I put together for my wee brother’s birthday yesterday.

The thing is, A Flock of Seagulls are, by a long chalk, the worst headline band it’s ever been my misfortune to see and after the gig, at Strathclyde Students Union in 1982, I never again listened to them knowingly.

They were so badly off-key and out of sync on the night that they were genuinely painful to listen to, with many walking out. It seemed strange, given that all the UK music papers were full of how the Liverpool quartet had conquered the USA and were about to do the same over here. In the end, they enjoyed a fleeting moment of fame when Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You) hit the Top 10, but it was far less than what they had experienced with earlier single I Ran (So Far Away) which sold millions in the States, thanks in part to the video being on heavy rotation on the newly launched MTV.

I’ve long ago lost or given away my copy of the debut album, but I do still have a 12″ EP and, as I said at the top of this post, was ready to give it away the lead track very cheaply just yesterday…..until I played it.

The opening minute and forty seconds or so are not what I remembered or expected….it’s as gothic as anything from The Cure/Bauhaus/Sisters of Mercy and indeed, if heard in isolation, the guitar work is akin to the late and great John McGeogh.

mp3 : A Flock of Seagulls – Modern Love Is Automatic

It does kind of degenerates a bit when the vocal kicks in, but even then there is the occasional burst of guitar to rise above the averageness of the melody.

The next song also caught me out in that the guitar playing is very reminiscent of The Skids!!

mp3 : A Flock of Seagulls – Telecommunication

I suppose I shouldn’t really be too surprised given that the production on this track is credited to Bill Nelson who worked very closely with the late Stuart Adamson on the album Days In Europa.

The third track on the A-side of the EP….and another surprise with a guitar-led instrumental:-

mp3 : A Flock of Seagulls – D.N.A.

OK, it does get a tad repetitive but it doesn’t go on for too long at just two-and-a-half minutes.

Flipping over to the B-side:-

mp3 : A Flock of Seagulls – Windows
mp3 : A Flock of Seagulls – You Can Run

Ah….this brings back those memories which were buried very deep.

Windows was one in the live setting where the singing really hurt the ears while the latter is one of those clichéd efforts that should be have been left at the demo stage (also sounds as if it’s a different lead vocalist than usual).

But hey, let’s face it, I’ve found that there was more to AFOS than a lead singer with a dodgy haircut, later immortalised in Pulp Fiction.

JC

53 AND COUNTING…..

It’s become something of a tradition to use the 19 February posting to wish my wee brother, SC, a happy birthday.  This year, I’ll give him a New Romantics EP to remind him of the time when, as a teenager, he went about dressed a wee bit silly.  Only wish I had a photo from that era to share with you…..

mp3 : Duran Duran – Planet Earth
mp3 : Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This
mp3 : Visage – Fade To Grey
mp3 : Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short

Incidentally, there was a song intended for this post but which I’ve pulled so that it can feature on its own tomorrow.

JC

PS : The lady holding SC is our mum, who herself turned 80 just a couple of weeks back.  And who can hold her drink and party harder than either of us!

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF PAUL HAIG (Part 16)

Given that nobody was interested in assisting his efforts to become a pop star, it was no real surprise that Paul Haig turned inwardly and that his next release proved to be experimental and as far removed from a commercial sound as could be imagined.

He was assisted by an old acquaintance, James Nice who, as a schoolboy, had founded the LTM label in Edinburgh in 1983 issuing material by bands previously associated with Factory Records. After attending university, James ended up in Brussels where he worked for Crépuscule and kept his own label going, specialising in the reissuing of long-deleted cult albums and material on the new CD format with some of the biggest sales coming via a Josef K CD compilation and the reissue of the Postcard album by the band. He was keen, however, to issue new albums from scratch and provided a home for Paul to record and release Cinematique in 1991, a wholly instrumental album of imaginary film themes.

At the same time, Crépuscule was determined to do justice to the work that had been shelved by Circa (see last week’s posting for details) and sought about finding a way to have it see the light of day.

And so, in 1993, a full four years after its completion, the album that should have been called Right On Line was released by Crépuscule as Coincidence vs Fate. A three-track CD single was also issued to help support the promotion of the album.

mp3 : Paul Haig – Surrender
mp3 : Paul Haig – Heaven Help You Now (remix 93)
mp3 : Paul Haig – Coincidence vs Fate

The lead track was on the album, and is Paul’s take on a Suicide song dating back to 1988.  It’s quite unlike any other 45 in this series…..and it’s one of his best…..nothing like Josef K, nothing like his electronica period and very like something out of a David Lynch movie.

You might recall that the press release included in last week’s posting refered to the fact that Mantronik had been working with Paul on an update of one of his most dynamic old songs and at long last, it was available. It was well worth the wait.

The final instrumental(ish) track, despite being the name of the parent album, was only available via the single which just seemed to be such a Crépuscule/Haig thing to do.

Neither the album nor the single sold all that well (there’s a shock!!!) and it proved to be the end of Paul’s long relationship with Brussels.  It would also mark the beginning of a very quiet period for Paul, with a full five years before any more new music appeared.

JC

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #148 : JACKIE LEVEN

Today’s piece is an obituary from The Guardian newspaper, penned by Robin Denselow. Says it all way better than I could.

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Jackie Leven, who has died of cancer aged 61, was a brilliant outsider, a remarkably prolific Scottish singer-songwriter who built up a devoted cult following during his lengthy, wildly varied and often turbulent career, but never achieved the level of success that he deserved. An intense, passionate giant of a man, he first came to attention in the late 1970s and early 80s, as leader of the highly praised but commercially unsuccessful band Doll By Doll. He went on to found a successful charity, the Core Trust, which treats “addicts of any sort”, before continuing his musical career as a soloist – still acquiring devoted fans, but never selling many albums.

Born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, of Romany descent, he began singing his own, blues-based songs in local folk clubs, but said he was forced to leave the area because he was picked on by a local gang. He was first married at 16, but began travelling, sometimes working as a labourer, although still performing, now sporting orange hair and using the name John St Field.

His friend Joe Shaw, the guitarist with Doll By Doll, remembers meeting him in a folk club in Bridport, Dorset, and finding that their common interest was “not folk songs about young maidens, but Hendrix and Van Morrison”. He says that Leven was “very intense. He could make you feel uncomfortable or the best ever – and he made me feel the best ever. He was the best friend I ever had.”

They shared a squat in a farmhouse in Dorset, and met up again in Hamburg “and spent all our time jamming on guitars”. Later, when Leven moved to another squat, in Maida Vale, London, he suggested they bring in a bass player and percussionist to form a band, and they started rehearsing “with mattresses around the walls to deaden the sound, but still annoying the neighbours”.

The result was Doll By Doll, dominated by Leven, whom I described at the time as “a mixture of Van Morrison and a psychopath”, but who could mix edgy, brooding rock songs, such as Butcher Boy, with stirring, lyrical Celtic soul, including the exquisite Main Travelled Roads.

The band recorded four albums between 1979 and 1982, including Gypsy Blood, which would later be hailed as a forgotten rock classic. At one memorable show at the London Venue, they were supported by the young U2. Shaw says: “It’s a mystery why we didn’t make it, when all our contemporaries did well. And our live shows were something else.”

In 1984, Leven’s musical career was brutally interrupted when he was mugged as he walked home at night in north London. His ribs were broken, and his larynx was “almost destroyed”. With his career apparently wrecked, he turned to heroin, and told me later: “I was spending £150 a day, and found I had no money.” He beat the heroin habit using acupuncture and reflexology, and with Carol Wolf founded the Core Trust to help addicts by using alternative medicine. He and Wolf recruited other counsellors offering free treatment, and was helped by Pete Townshend and Westminster city council. When I met him in 1988 he seemed far keener to discuss Core than Concrete Bulletproof Invisible, the short-lived band that he and Shaw had then started with the former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock.

For the last 17 years, Leven worked as a solo artist, recording for the independent label Cooking Vinyl. “It took me two years to sign him,” according to Martin Goldschmidt, who runs the company, “and since then we have released 26 of his albums. I kept telling him there were too many, but he kept coming up with scams to get another album out.” Some of his albums were credited to Sir Vincent Lone.

His remarkable solo output also included the 1994 album The Mystery of Love is Greater than the Mystery of Death, which included contributions from the poet Robert Bly and musician Mike Scott, along with one of his most thoughtful, lyrical songs, Call Mother a Lonely Field. It was ranked by Q Magazine one of the “best 100 albums of all time”. On other albums he was backed by former members of Doll By Doll, by his partner Deborah Greenwood, and by David Thomas of Pere Ubu. After finding that he was mentioned in one of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels, he contacted Rankin, and the result was the stage show and 2005 album Jackie Leven Said (a parody of a Van Morrison song) in which a Rankin story is matched against Leven’s music.

Leven was himself a great story-teller, and delighted in teasing his followers. According to Goldschmidt, his much-publicised whisky brand Leven’s Lament was “a complete scam – new labels on old bottles”, and so was Leven’s claim to have written a song with Bob Dylan on a train to Moscow. He was a hugely likeable, larger-than-life figure, with a legacy of more than 400 songs, and I suspect his music will reach a wider audience still.

Leven was married twice, and is survived by Deborah; his son Simon, from an earlier relationship; and his sister, Wendy.

• Jackie Leven , singer-songwriter, born 18 June 1950; died 14 November 2011

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mp3 : Jackie Leven & David Thomas – Hidden World Of She

(I don’t actually have all that many songs, and most have come from compilation CDs or via internet.  This is from the 2001 LP, Creatures of Light and Darkness)

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #206 : SLAPP HAPPY

A GUEST POSTING BY ALEX G
From We Will Have Salad blog

How to describe Slapp Happy? Literate yet playful might be a start. Or you could go with Wikipedia’s description of the band as “a self-described ‘naive rock’ group which mixed simple pop structures with obfuscatory lyrics drawing equally from semiotic and symbolist traditions”, a description which seems a bit obfuscatory in itself. Asking the internet for bands who sound like them, you just find posts saying nobody does – or listing so many disparate acts that it stops being a useful comparison at all. All of which makes them sound rather more outré than they actually are, though they certainly did always go their own way, and that way was by no means a straight path.

The Slapp Happy story starts in Hamburg in the early 1970s, where English composer Anthony Moore was writing music for films, and releasing albums of a minimalist, modern-classical bent, along the lines of Terry Riley or Steve Reich – very a la mode, but not the sort of thing that set cash registers ringing. If the likes of Riley and Reich were cult artists, Moore was downright obscure, and Polydor Germany were losing patience with their wunderkind signing. Couldn’t he, they suggested, go away and write something that would, you know… sell?

Slapp Happy were Moore’s attempt to comply with that request. Recruiting his German girlfriend Dagmar Krause as vocalist and American schoolfriend Peter Blegvad on guitar, with Moore himself playing keyboards, the three avant-gardists determined to make a pop record. Were they successful in this? That question is answered by the title of their 1972 debut album: “Sort Of”. It was the start of a career that packed in plenty of twists, turns and sideways lurches before the group split just three years later, followed by four decades of on-off reunions.

Slapp Happy have a relatively small catalogue with some fairly jarring stylistic shifts from album to album, making it quite a challenge to pull together a reasonably cohesive compilation. This may explain why they’ve never done it themselves. At a basic level, you can split their career into four phases according to who their backing musicians were at each point: there are two albums (1972-3) on which they were backed by members of krautrock innovators Faust, one proto-chamber pop album (1974) with session musicians, two albums (1975) credited jointly to Slapp Happy and jazz-proggers Henry Cow, then intermittent reunions with essentially just the basic trio, which cover a long period (1982 to present) but have produced only one proper studio album, 1998’s Ça Va. For this ICA I’ve featured two tracks from each phase plus two wildcards, which as it turns out are both from the “reunited trio” phase, but sixteen years apart. If you want to explore further, at least this should give you a pretty good idea of which albums you’re likely to enjoy… and which ones you probably won’t!

Side One

Casablanca Moon (from “Slapp Happy” a.k.a. “Casablanca Moon”, 1974)

Slapp Happy recorded their debut album Sort Of (which we’ll get to later) in Hamburg with help from members of Polydor labelmates Faust, and returned to the studio thereafter to make a second LP with the same style and line-up. Which, as it turned out, didn’t please Polydor one bit. The first album had been slightly more successful than Moore’s solo LPs, but still not a huge seller, so when presented with more of the same (albeit with, in my opinion, considerably stronger songwriting), they rejected the second album and dropped the group.

It didn’t stop Slapp Happy for long; they quickly fell in with the then experimentally-focused Virgin label, relocated to London and set about re-recording the album at Virgin’s own studio The Manor with more polished arrangements played by session musicians. The result was a self-titled LP from which this was the lead track and only single: one of the group’s most accessible and catchy numbers, and with its espionage theme it also features one of Peter Blegvad’s more straightforward lyrics. For the parent album’s 2010 reissue (as a twofer with follow-up Desperate Straights, which is an excellent deal), the album has even been retitled after this song.

Europa (from “Desperate Straights” with Henry Cow, 1975)

For the follow-up, Slapp Happy invited Virgin labelmates Henry Cow to fill the role previously taken by Faust. The collaboration generated two albums, Desperate Straights and In Praise Of Learning – the first essentially a Slapp Happy album with Henry Cow participating, the second vice versa.

The Desperate Straights tracks were by far the hardest to fit onto the ICA, but it would be a shame not to have the album represented somehow. Desperate Straights has much more of a Berlin cabaret feel to it, and is a stepping stone toward Krause’s more idiosyncratic recordings with Henry Cow splinter group Art Bears. You get the impression that Moore was rather relishing the chance to go a bit more avant garde again, but this particular song has a pleasing daftness to it and some nice use of brass.

Child Then (from “Ça Va”, 1998)

Having returned to his native New York and lost touch with the UK art-pop scene, Peter Blegvad had never heard of XTC frontman Andy Partridge before Virgin suggested him as producer for Blegvad’s 1983 album The Naked Shakespeare, but their working collaboration proved so fruitful that it has continued on and off ever since. This Blegvad/Partridge composition found its way onto Slapp Happy’s 1998 reunion album Ça Va. Having made their previous LPs in their mid-20s, the group were now approaching 50 and like much of the album, this song finds them in reflective mood, but an arrangement with some unexpected Indian touches stops it from getting too maudlin.

Everybody’s Slimmin’ (Even Men And Women!) (single, 1982)

Nothing maudlin about this one! A one-off single on something called “Half Cat Records”, which never released anything else and which I therefore assume was their own label, this synthpop outing was just too much fun to leave out. Peter Blegvad’s lyrics always tended toward the humorous (“I am to my bones a flippant individual” he declared in a 1996 interview) but this one is outright jokey. You could imagine this becoming a novelty hit in the musical climate of 1982, which is an interesting idea. It didn’t, though.

The Unborn Byron (from “Ça Va”, 1998)

Following the release of “Everybody’s Slimmin’”, Slapp Happy belatedly made their live debut with a one-off show at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts, but after that, nothing was heard from the trio until 1991, when Blegvad and Moore were commisioned to write an opera, Camera (as in room, not imaging device) for German TV, and brought in Krause to play the lead role. It came out on CD a few years later and it’s pretty cool but I’m not including anything from it here as it’s not really a group release, nor very amenable to having songs taken out of context.

Nevertheless it led… eventually… to a proper reunion, and what is to date their last studio album, Ça Va. For this one they decided to do without backing musicians and used a lot of electronics instead. Another change is that although Blegvad had lost none of his delight in the sound of words, his lyrics were generally less flippant and for the most part you could actually tell what the songs were about. You certainly won’t have any difficulty deciphering this one, and since I’m a bit of a Byron fanboy anyway, this charming fantasy was an easy choice.

Side Two

A Worm is At Work (from “Desperate Straights”, 1975)

My second and last selection from the Henry Cow collaboration. I’ve skipped over the second Happy/Cow LP In Praise Of Learning as it’s clearly more a Henry Cow project with long proggy instrumentals and only one Blegvad/Moore song, “War” (later covered – after a fashion – by The Fall).

Although the Happy/Cow pairing was reasonably successful (certainly by the standards of the two groups involved, both having rather a “cult” following at best), it also sowed the seeds of the dissolution of both groups. Slapp Happy’s Blegvad and Moore found their humorous approach at odds with Henry Cow’s more politically-engaged outlook, and left the collaboration, only for Krause to stay behind. The depleted duo issued only one single, with Moore on vocals, before going their separate ways. Henry Cow themselves splintered soon afterward, with one camp becoming the Krause-led Art Bears, considerably less accessible but worth investigating if you like the Desperate Straights tracks. On the other hand, if you dislike the Desperate Straights tracks, I can promise you’ll absolutely hate Art Bears!

Charlie ‘n Charlie (from “Slapphappy or Slapphappy” a.k.a. “Acnalbasac Noom”, recorded 1973, released 1980)

This track begins a run of three songs on the ICA that I first heard as covers. In fact, Charlie ‘n Charlie was probably the first Slapp Happy song I ever heard, courtesy of an early 90s cover by Leicester art-pop supergroup Ruth’s Refrigerator. Their version isn’t much different to the original – even Slapp Happy’s version sounds like a janglepop song that could just as easily have come out in 1993 as 1973.

As to its origin… remember that album which Polydor rejected? Well, in 1980 Henry Cow’s Chris Cutler had it rescued from the vaults and issued on his own Recommended Records label, initially in a limited run as Slapphappy Or Slapphappy [sic] and then on general release as Acnalbasac Noom (under which title it remains on Recommended’s catalogue to this day). Personally, I tend to prefer the re-recorded album issued by Virgin, though I know a lot of people, including both Blegvad and Moore, favour the original recording. But hey, why not have both? In any case, this song – a vocal version of the instrumental title track from Sort Of – didn’t appear on the remake, so Acnalbasac Noom is the only place you’ll find a studio recording.

Blue Flower (from “Sort Of”, 1973)

A mere eight tracks in, we finally go all the way back to the start. Sort Of is very much an album of two halves: side one is mainly blues rock pastiches sung by Blegvad and Moore, with Krause only coming into full voice on side two’s stronger, folkier material. I would suggest it’s a “finding their feet” album. This Velvet Underground-influenced track is probably the album’s – and maybe the group’s – best known song, thanks to a couple of early nineties dreampop covers by Mazzy Star and Pale Saints.

The Drum (from “Slapp Happy”, 1974)

In the corner of the blogosphere I tend to visit, the 1991 cover of this song by Edinburgh duo The Impossibles seems to be considered a bit of a minor classic, due in part to a 12” mix by Andrew Weatherall. That cover is based on the 1989 version by US experimentalists Bongwater, but this is the original… well no, strictly speaking the version on Acnalbasac Noom is the original and this is a remake, but this was the first version released. Slapp Happy’s catalogue gets confusing like that. The Drum is basically a bit of a nonsense song, but it’s nonsense that sounds good.

Scarred For Life (from “Ça Va”, 1998)

Scarred For Life is actually the first track on Ça Va, but it seems more like a natural closing number, and thus, here it is. Perhaps the closest thing to a conventional pop song on the ICA (it only took them a quarter of a century!), but still with a clever lyrical conceit. We’re unlikely to ever hear anything new from Slapp Happy again (they still play the odd live show, but haven’t debuted any new material in over twenty years) but this isn’t a bad way to go out.

ALEX G

PS : Alex does such an incredible job with his ICAs, providing high quality copies of the tracks as well as the unique artwork for the front and back of the imaginary record cover.  It’s only fair that I make these available as one file for downloading in addition to the individual tracks above.  Click here for the package.

JC

LIMOGES

Limoges – an historic and picturesque city of around 140,000 residents, located in west/central France. Not a place that I was ever familiar with until the early 80s by which time I was in my 20s. In fact, if quizzed, I’d have struggled to identify it as being in France. Things might have been different in the city had been home to a decent football side, plying their trade against the likes of St Etienne, Bordeaux, Strasbourg , Souchaux and Nantes, places that I would never have been able to pick out on any map but which I could tell you were located in France thanks to the exploits of their teams in the one or other of the three competitions played out each season by European club sides.

It all changed when Paddy McAloon came into my life.

One of the biggest legacies of Postcard Records was that it demonstrated it was very possible, in the UK, to build up a scene and a record label around the music being played in a particular locality. The north-east of England, and in particular the area around Newcastle, was particularly blessed with talent in the early 80s and it was no surprise that two locally based club promoters – Keith Armstrong and Paul Ludford – decided to start up Kitchenware Records to which they then signed a number of popular, locally based acts. One of these was Prefab Sprout, a band who were fronted by a superb wordsmith and musician who drew immediate comparisons to Roddy Frame.

The band’s first single for the label was in 1983 and it was one which, the previous year, they had self-released on Candle Records, copies of which are ridiculously rare and therefore very valuable. It was the strangely named Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone), a gentle mid-paced ballad built around acoustic guitars, soft drumming and a harmonica. It feels like and it sounds like a love song, but one in which love seems to have been lost and yet the protagonist remains hopeful. The lyric is remorseful but far from desperate. Indeed it is a song which carries an air of optimism and hope. But what, exactly was it about?

Limoges was the answer. Or to be more precise, the fact that Paddy McAloon was missing his girlfriend as she had left Newcastle and moved to west-central France.

Lions
In
My
Own
Garden
Exit
Someone

Utter genius. And a helluva love song for Valentine’s Day.

mp3 : Prefab Sprout – Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)

Kitchenware, in collaboration with Rough Trade, had two stabs at making this a hit single, trying again in 1984. It’s still beyond me that it was never picked up and given any sort of decent listing by BBC Radio 1 and was restricted to being played in the evenings. This should have been a huge hit.

It also came with a very listenable b-side.

mp3 : Prefab Sprout – Radio Love

It is a gem of a debut and there are times when, despite many subsequent superb releases, I often think Prefab Sprout never bettered it.

 

JC