DOING IT FOR THE KIDS VIA C88

For years, thanks to its inclusion on the Doing It For The Kids compilation, released by Creation Records in 1988, I’ve had one song by pacific in the collection:-

mp3 : pacific – Jetstream

I always found it a bit on the dull side, one that was often subject to the skip button when the CD was getting played. It just felt too light and whimsical with the trumpet part taking a bit too close to jazz cafe music for my liking.

Many years later, I doubled my collection of songs by the band:-

mp3 : pacific – Barnoon Hill

This, on the other hand is quite splendid. Yes, it’s still light and whimsical but the faster pace and tempo makes it way more palatable.

It came as part of the C88 boxset released a couple of years back by Cherry Red and the liner notes in the accompanying provided some useful information:-

Fronted by Dennis Wheatley who sang, played guitar and created noises via an Atari computer, Pacific melded traditional indie with the intelligent off-kilter pop explored by The Colour Field or, later, The Lightning Seeds. On their debut EP, 1988’s Sea of Sand, they used cello and trumpet and a deft Japanese spoken word intro on Barnoon Hill.

Wheatley had fallen into the Creation camp whilst at college in Brighton…..a second single – the seven-minute epic ‘Shrift’ followed in 1989, followed by a split flexi with My Bloody Valentine courtesy of the Catalogue magazine.

In all, they recorded eight tracks, seven of which were compiled on Inference, a 1990 release on Creation. One UK seller on Discogs is asking for £50 for an unplayed vinyl copy,but you can seek out second-hand versions from some overseas sellers from about £13 plus shipping should your heart desire. It should be noted, however, that the version of Shrift on the vinyl version of the compilation album is about three minutes shorter than that put out as a 12″ single. Oh and it also doesn’t have the track put out as the joint flexi with My Bloody Valentine.

I went digging….found out that the band comprised Dennis Wheatley, Rachel Norwood, Vanessa Norwood, Nick Wilson and Simon Forrest.

I think it’s time I lived up to my name….here’s everything else they put out. Just don’t ask how:-

Sea of Sand EP (CRE 058)

The 7″ (pictured above) had two tracks – Barnoon Hill and this:-

mp3 : pacific – I Wonder

The 12″ had both those tracks, the afore-mentioned Jetstream and this:-

mp3 : pacific – Henry Said

One thing that proves is that Dennis Wheatley didn’t exclusively supply the vocals!

Shrift EP (CRE 064)

The 7″ had these:-

mp3 : pacific – Shrift
mp3 : pacific – Autumn Island

The 12″ had an extended version of the main track, plus one other song not on the 7″:-

mp3 : pacific – Shrift (12″)
mp3 : pacific – Minerals

Flexidisc

mp3 : pacific – December With The Day

Turns out that the track I most dislike was the one on Doing It For The Kids….a sampler which was supposed to draw you into seeking out other material by the featured singer or band!!!

JC

GETTING OLD JUST AIN’T NO FUN

The Just Joans will be appearing on the Saturday run through of Scottish singers/bands in the not too distant future, but a dig through some vinyl singles that had been bought in 2017/18 but left unkempt in a plastic bag for over a year, unearthed a gem of a 45 which just has to be shared.

They formed in 2005 and were, as the main protagonists have always admitted, an initial shambling effort of a band who rarely, if ever, took themselves that seriously. As time went on, and they began to attract an increasing fan base from well beyond their natural habitat of Glasgow and its neighbouring south-easterly towns in Lanarkshire, they took things up a few notches and began to release singles and albums that went beyond rudimentary.

The band has always centred around the siblings David and Katie Pope. Indeed, for much of the past near 15 years, the duo have taken to the stage as The Just Joans but there has been an increasing use of other musicians to flesh out their sound, both on record and in the live setting. David is a very talented and observant writer, penning witty and wry lyrics that are more often than not from the perspective of one of life’s eternal losers, albeit someone who never loses optimism or hope. He’s the first to admit that he’s not blessed with the most classic of singing voices but his delivery, always in the most direct of local dialects, fits perfectly with the subject matters in hand.

Katie’s role in the band has grown immensely in recent years. She’s well known in Glasgow as a visual artist, with her works often selling for substantial sums of money to collectors and fans alike. She’s painted many of the sleeves for band’s singles and albums, bringing to mind the work of Jenny Saville for Manic Street Preachers – an ugly side of reality but with the brightness of colour. Katie has taken on more vocal duties in recent years, either on lead or performing duets with her brother, providing not only a very fine contrast but enabling many of the songs to be seen through the prism of an unlucky and sad but optimistic female.

The band’s most recent album was You Might Be Smiling Now, released on Fika Recordings in late 2017. It was their third after Last Tango In Motherwell (2006) and Buckfast Bottles In The Rain (2012). Their preference has been the EP with seven of them released between 2007 and 2013.

You Might Be Smiling Now is a fabulous record from start to finish. There might just be too many local references and in-jokes to have it make perfect sense further afield, but at long last the previously used description of them being ‘the missing link between The Magnetic Fields and The Proclaimers’ made sense. They were now a six-piece, featuring Chris Elkin (lead guitar), Fraser Ford (bass guitar), Doog Cameron (keyboards) and Jason Sweeney (drums) – and yes, it’s the same Fraser Ford who performs with Butcher Boy – and while the song themes were still, for the most part self-deprecating, the playing made for a great listen, regardless of whether or not a listener understood the cultural or geographical references.

There was one single lifted from the album. It’s the most ambitious piece of music The Just Joans have tackled, with cellos, horns and female backing vocals added in for good measure.

Katie’s wistful delivery of the tale of someone coming to the realisation that they are no longer of an age to dance the night away, and indeed the horror that their preferred look is now that of a middle-aged aunt rather than a stylish teen, is one to make everyone of a certain age, regardless of gender, smile in recognition. The fact that it is delivered to a tune that just makes you want to get up and dance, with its chorus in particular making a passing nod to 60s Motown, only adds to the joy:-

mp3 : The Just Joans – No Longer Young Enough

And the 7” came with a gloriously evocative painting by Katie.

And a more than half decent b-side:-

mp3 : The Just Joans – Breakfast For Our Tea

It’s indie pop at its most indie and its most pop. What more could you ask for?

I’ll be back with more of this lot in a few weeks.

JC

DON’T MESS WITH ME……..

One of my favourite albums of last year was bought on a whim.

The cancellation of the next train home meant I could spend some bonus time in a record store close to Glasgow Central station. I always like to buy something when I’m in the shop, even if it is just a cheap paperback book or DVD. I noticed a display near the shop entrance promoting a new album by Tracey Thorn, something I wasn’t, until this point previously aware.

Regular readers will know that I’ve long been fond of Everything But The Girl but that I’ve also used the blog to offer the opinion that Tracey’s greatest vocal performance came when she guested for Massive Attack. I’ve a couple of her recent solo albums in the collection, neither of which I’ve regarded as essential listening, albeit they both contain a number of very fine moments. I have, however, enjoyed Tracey’s forays into the world of books, particularly her autobiographical work Bedsit Disco Queen, one of the most engaging and honest tomes about life in the music business. It was my thoughts about the book rather than the more recent albums which made me take a CD copy of Record to the counter.

It turns out that Record (ree-cord) is quite an extraordinary record (rek-ord), in which Tracey offers reflections from the perspective of who and what she is – a 50-something mother of three whose life-partner has been to hell and back in terms of his health, and who herself now has a breadth of knowledge and experience that can only come with age. Tracey has experienced things that just weren’t on her radar when she was young, fearless and feeling more or less unstoppable (not in any bravado way….just simply that fact that the vast majority of young folk are hardwired to feel like that).

It’s also a work in which the music is as clear and uncluttered as anything she’s done before, benefiting immensely from the fact that all the tunes are her own as well as her being able to utilise the talents of a number of high quality collaborators from the worlds of indie and pop. It’s a work which obviously means a lot to Tracey – she certainly went out on a limb by describing it as ‘nine feminist bangers’. The danger with such language is to over-promise and under-deliver, but in this instance, from the very off, this was never going to be the case.

Like many of my favourite releases of recent times, Record has changes of mood and tempo throughout, never threatening at any point to be monotonous or mundane. Synthpop, ballads, disco and indie are all on display with that distinctive and soothing voice to the fore. It’s an entertaining, charming and enjoyable album, very moving in places and continually thought-provoking. It doesn’t sound like an album by a 55-year old and it’s probably fair to say that Tracey has been influenced by the music that her grown-up kids listen to.

One of the best songs, Sister, was released also as a single, complete with radio edit and some remixes. It’s an absolute triumph on all fronts:-

mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister
mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister (radio edit)
mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall remix)
mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall dub)

The co-vocal is from Corrine Bailey Rae, whose soulful pop/jazz debut was a huge hit in 2006 on both sides of the Atlantic, but who just two years later had to cope with the tragic death, by misadventure, of her husband. She has since released two more successful Top 20 albums as well as rebuilding her life….

The energetic and driving bass and drums come courtesy of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa from indie band Warpaint.

Essential listening if you don’t mind me saying.

JC

BONUS POSTING : IN PRAISE OF THE TWILIGHT SAD

You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m, understandably, a bit obsessed with The Twilight Sad this week.

The poster above indicates that our Simply Thrilled night, in which we get to host the official post-Barrowlands gig event, has completely sold out. What it doesn’t indicate is that the sell-out involves the entire space within The Admiral Bar, both the basement level where the club night normally takes place together with the ground floor bar area. The band have a good number of guests coming along but we have sold over 300 tickets which means there will be a substantial donation going the way of the Scott Hutchison fund.

The planning and preparation for the Simply Thrilled night has kind of overshadowed the fact that I’ll be seeing the band at the Barrowlands beforehand – I’m still working out how best I can quickly get out of the venue and make the mile and a bit journey to The Admiral for the 11pm start time and as such, a taxi may well be utilised.

I didn’t think things could get much better but at the tail end of last week the band announced a warm-up gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow for Tuesday 26 February with tickets available only via a link from their mailing site. Tickets went on sale the following morning (Friday) at 9am, but with a capacity of just 300, and each person entitled to two tickets, it was always going to be a long shot to land lucky, even getting into the queue would be something of a result!!

I clicked on the link…..pressed a few keys on traffic lights to prove I wasn’t a robot…..entered in that I would like two tickets please…..and waited all of ten seconds to be advised that tickets weren’t available just now and to try again later. I did and went through the same process except this time I clicked on few cars in squares to demonstrate that I was genuine flesh and blood, and again was advised to try again.

Third time lucky????? Well, I wasn’t asked to prove my credentials but then again I was quickly advised no tickets were available….in other words it was a sell-out.

I checked up with four other folk who had been trying and each had the same sad story to tell but then my dear mate Aldo, who had been incommunicado because of work issues, got I touch to say I wasn’t to worry!

I found out later that while most of us were sitting at laptops with the fastest possible wifi speeds, he had been walking along to his office at 9am and casually clicked on his mobile phone to have a try and not only got into the queue but got the tap on the shoulder to enter in the full payment details. And I’m going to be his +1!

It also looks as if a couple of the Simply Thrilled gang are getting in via the guest list, so all in all, it’s shaping up to be a memorable evening and hopefully my hearing will recover in time to do it all again four nights later.

The critics have given an enormous thumbs up to the new album It Won/t Be Like This All the Time, and understandably so. There is no question that the four year gap since last being in the studio, during which time they played cavernous arenas and outdoor shows as the special guests of The Cure, has been good for The Twilight Sad with the new record meshing all that they have put down before – the loud guitars, the sombre electronics and the intense vocals from James Graham – but adding in places a number of almost pop-like hooks and melodies that can only bring them to the attention of a wider audience. I’ll be very surprised if hear a better album in the rest of 2019.

I was lucky enough to attend this show in Leeds last year at which three unreleased songs that were aired and it was immediately clear that the band’s new material was going to be quite sensational. They have, some twelve years down the line since the first album, penned a song which will most define The Twilight Sad. James has said in interviews recently that the line ‘there’s no love too small’ is one of the most hopeful he’s ever penned which nevertheless is surrounded by lines which are full of anxiety and fear. He’s also said that the album was written while the band was dealing with ‘birth, death, illness, uncertainty and self-hatred’. But in an album of outstanding numbers, it is this upbeat tune with its optimistic refrain which carries the biggest and most important message.

The other ten songs on It Won/t Be Like This All the Time are every bit as strong…..here’s some more footage to help illustrate that:-

Oh….and is that isn’t enough to get me thinking how special the next few days are going to be, the Simply Thrilled team have been given another huge honour in respect of this Saturday as will be the first to air, outside of a couple of radio stations, a new song by the incredibly talented Siobhan Wilson, whose debut album There Are No Saints, released in 2017, just gets better and better with age.

Her sophomore album, The Departure, is being released in May 2019. I’ll certainly be giving it a mention or two around then.

Seems appropriate to return to The Twilight Sad and their tour de force from 2014’s Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. This was the one which Robert Smith couldn’t wait to get his hand on, and no wonder.

mp3 : Robert Smith – There’s A Girl In The Corner

Just occurred to me…..all that is needed to make this week unbelievably perfect is for Robert, should he happen to be attending the Barrowlands gig, to come along and say hello at The Admiral afterwards.

Dreaming is Free.

JC

MONDAY MORNING….COMING DOWN (5)

The previous time I featured Cousteau on the blog was in August 2014 when I posed the question ‘Anyone Remember This Lot?’

It was very pleasing that a number of very favourable comments followed on, including a couple of personal anecdotes from folk who knew, for one reason or other, vocalist Liam McKahey.

This oustanding piece of music is tailor made for this particular series.

mp3 : Cousteau – The Last Good Day Of The Year

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF PAUL HAIG (Part 17)

The period after the final release on Crépuscule saw Paul Haig back in Scotland where he rekindled not only his friendship but his working relationship with Billy Mackenzie, the two of them getting together every now and again in Paul’s home studio to work on tracks that could, perhaps, one day see the light of day. Neither of the two geniuses had record deals at the time (which in itself is indicative of the sad state of the music industry) and for the most part, it was all about enjoying one another’s company.

Billy’s suicide in September 1997 was devastating to his family and friends, and even today, more than 20 years on, there’s a sense of disbelief about it.  Paul was sitting on the music they had made, and in 1999 he took the decision to make available nine bits of music they had put down between December 1993 and July 1995 as the album Memory Palace, attributed to Haig/Mackenzie. It was released on ROL Records, newly revived by Paul for the purpose and the first on the label in 18 years.

A few lucky people had been able to hear one of the songs prior to Memory Palace, thanks to a very limited 7″ vinyl release in 1998.

Syntanic was a label based in Vienna which, from 1993 to 2001, released records, tapes and CDs, specialising in exceedingly limited editions.

100 individually copies of the song Listen To Me, backed by two tracks, Looking and Irresponsible, formed the release with the catalogue number nice49. Of these, 15 were even more exclusive with a signed card lyric insert.

It’s not something I have in my collection – there’s currently one for sale on Discogs just now from a German dealer who is looking for £50. I might treat myself at one point in the future…

I’m assuming that the version of the song is that which was released on Memory Palace the following year:-

mp3 : Haig/Mackenzie – Listen To Me

Billy’s backing vocals make this a really moving and emotional listen, and it’s interesting to ponder if a more widely available release would have perhaps troubled the charts….but most likely not.

It’s a song that Paul that has returned to a couple of times. First of all, on his 2009 album Relive:-

mp3 : Paul Haig – Listen To Me

I can’t help but feel that Paul would have welled up a few times recording his fresh vocal, thinking back to the happy times he spent with his great friend.

And then, just last year, a different version was made available on the compilation, Goosebumps – 25 Years of Marina Records. It’s a much more gentle and sedate take, and it comes with a wonderfully imagined string section, arranged by Dave Scott of The Pearlfishers. And while it didn’t enjoy a release until 2018, the notes in the accompanying booklet date the recording back to 2005:-

mp3 : Paul Haig – Listen To Me (orchestral version)

Worth also mentioning that a track called Looking (the name of one of the b-sides of the Vienna release) was recorded for Paul’s album Cinematique 2, released on ROL in 2001. Again, I can’t be sure if it;s the same as the 1998 single, but here’s the 2001 version:-

mp3 : Paul Haig – Looking

I know this post has been a bit all over the place time wise, but I did want to make available all three versions of Listen To Me that I have in the collection.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #149 : JACOB YATES & THE PEARLY GATE LOCKPICKERS

from wiki:-

Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers were formed in 2007 by Jake Lovatt, former front man with Uncle John & Whitelock. The band was initially a three-piece, consisting of Lovatt on vocals and guitar, Ric Holmes on bass guitar and Michael Bleazard on drums. This lineup was later augmented by the addition of former Uncle John & Whitelock member, Jamie Bolland, on keyboards and guitar. In 2011, former Paper Planes guitarist Christopher Haddow was added to the lineup. Taking many of the signature “Horror R&B” elements of the previous band with them, The Pearly Gate Lock Pickers’ music has been described as Doom Wop.

Their debut album, Luck, was released on 20 June 2011. The album was well-received, with the music described as “dark with a mischievous grin” and as having a “Mississippi-meets-Maryhill sound”, drawing comparisons with Tom Waits, Nick Cave and The Cramps

And here’s the superb opening track from said album which ceratinly holds up the Cave comparisons:-

mp3 : Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers – Mark

JC

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

It was last November when Malcolm Middleton released Bananas, his tenth solo album if you include the efforts issued under the guise of Human Don’t Be Angry and his collaboration with the artist David Shrigley. It’s a highly significant release, being the first in nine years that he’s focussed on having his guitars at the forefront of new material as well as being his first venture back into the studio following the triumphant and acclaimed live reunion of Arab Strap.

It was perfectly understandable, after some 15 years of ploughing the indie-guitar furrow, that Malcolm would get tired of the same old scene and to seek to make a different sort of music. The debut effort under Human Don’t Be Angry was a fantastic piece of work, showing just how many dimensions there were to his talents. The albums since haven’t quite hit those heights in terms of overall quality, but they all had their fair share of minutes to make them worthy purchases. Nevertheless, I always pined for him to return to what I feel he does best and this was thrilled to read in a message sent to those on his mailing list that 2018 was going to be that year.

It is hugely satisfying to report that Bananas is a fine a solo album as he’s ever made, and indeed is as good as any other album that was released in 2018. It contains just the eight tracks, but during a very brief chat at Mono Records on the day it was launched with an acoustic set, Malcolm explained that he wanted it to come initially on vinyl and to have it retain a high standard of sound, and as such there was only enough space for a limited number of songs; and, as if to demonstrate this, the acoustic show (and indeed the full band show a few weeks later) featured written but as yet-unreleased songs of a very high quality.

The album opens up with the very jaunty and seemingly uplifting Gut Feeling, in which he again demonstrates he can be every bit the wordsmith as he is an axeman, with a very honest appraisal of what it’s like to deal with depression and how even making what appears to be the most basis of decisions or choices is riddled with difficulties – “I don’t have a gut feeling, I’ve got loads and loads of wankers inside my head shouting my gut feeling down….all the fucking time”

Every album, going back to 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine in 2002, has contained songs of self-loathing, often delivered with a very large side-order of self-deprecation and sprinkled with humour. Bananas is no different, but this time it does feel as if Malcolm is prepared to be more open about his mental health issues – maybe indeed, the tragic suicide of Scott Hutchison has changed things for ever – and on the second track, “Love Is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing”, he does it all, with the ridiculously catchy and laugh-out-loud chorus sequence of Fuck off with your happiness”. In doing so, he has provided what is now my favourite of all his solo songs, and if you recall just how much praise I was heaping on the older material in an ICA just last September.

The 1-2 opening punch sets the tone for the rest of the album and while it is a return to guitar-led material, there’s no lack of ambition or depth of sound, none more so than Buzz Lightyear Helmet, an eight-minute opus with nearly as many tempo and mood changes as Bohemian Rhapsody, which Malcolm introduced, with his tongue slightly in cheek, at the all-band show as his effort at composing a rock opera.

‘Man Up Man Down’, with its reliance on electro-pop is a fine reminder of what Malcolm’s been concentrating on these past nine years and, if this was an era when stand-alone singles could be released and make some money, then it would be an obvious candidate.

It is truly wonderful to hear such a ‘comeback’ albeit, our man never really went away. Bananas is now available to buy on CD (a full three months after the vinyl was put into the shops) and of course you can take advantage of a digital download. Simply make your way over to Malcolm’s bandcamp page for details. You won’t regret it.

And that’s where you’ll also find a couple of the songs in demo form, available a free downloads, under the guise of Unripe Bananas:-

mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Gut Feeling (demo)
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Love Is A Momentary Lapse In Self Loathing (demo)

 

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #207 : SON VOLT

A GUEST POSTING by HYBRID SOC PROF

LONG INTRO, BEWARE:

I remember when The Washington Squares album came out (shades of my parents’ Kingston Trio records!), and soon thereafter Michelle Shocked released The Texas Campfire Tapes… wait, what?! Punks gone folk? How can that be? And this was after the confused adoration I’d felt when Meat Puppets II was released and my easy love of Jason and the Scorchers’ first LP, Fervor… While I was convinced by newspaper and magazine reviewers that Steve Earle’s Guitar Town was cool country music and Dwight Yoakum’s, Guitar, Cadillacs, etc., etc. was enough of a throwback to an prior, authentic time to be OK (and, heck, he hung out with the guys from Los Lobos!), I really didn’t understand very much about the meaning of DIY in the mid-80s.

Given who I was and when I came of age, I thought the The Long Ryders, Lone Justice and Green on Red were harkening back to the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield… I didn’t know that those bands were also recalling to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and Leadbelly. It took until the BBC/PBS History of Rock ‘n’ Roll series for me to begin to understand that the Blues, Jazz, Country, Folk, Rock, Soul, Funk, and Punk were all DIY traditions and any and every permutation and combination of them – particularly after the rise of what Horkheimer and Adorno called The Culture Industry in the 1930s – were forms of bottom up resistance to injustice, to power, to manufactured tastes, and more.

All of this is to say that, by the time I started grad school in 1987 and grabbed a spot on the university radio station, I was almost ready to understand what the band Uncle Tupelo was up to as they melded the punk sensibility of the Minutemen with the Appalachian folk of the Carter Family on their 1990 LP, No Depression. A lot of people trace the start of Alt-Country/Alt-folk to that record, but that ends up making no sense given the history above – much less the prior existence of the Pogues, Mekons and (for all that I can’t listen to them) Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Whatever it signaled, however, No Depression is a great record – and I really like everything Uncle Tupelo released.

Which made it a real disappointment when the band split up…. But Jeff Tweedy quickly formed Wilco and released A.M. and Jay Farrar put Son Volt together and released Trace. I loved both but Son Volt more and, as with a lot of Uncle Tupelo fans, felt half-obliged to choose one to prefer, one camp to side with… Jeff or/vs. Jay. Idiocy, I know, but fandom can be stupid and irrational. You see, Tweedy and his songs always leaned a little more towards pop and Farrar’s always tilted to pain… and Farrar has a voice like no other, both lyrically and sonically. I’m the moody artsy political one and my wife’s the dancing pop fun one when it comes to music… I lean Son Volt, she leans Wilco.

While Wilco stayed the course with country/folk influenced tunes for about a record and a half, Son Volt doubled down on it, sometimes a little too experimentally, and at different points getting a little stale, but always deep in the muck. Each has done a turn with the Woody Guthrie archives, Tweedy and Wilco with Billy Bragg, on the Mermaid Avenue discs, and Farrar with Will Johnson, Anders Parker and “Yim Yames”, on New Multitudes. I can’t recommend those five CDs enough.

But this was supposed to be about Son Volt…and so here’s some great music (It’s 11, rather than 10 cuts because of the short instrumental intro.)

1. Son Volt – Chanty (from Wide Swing Tremelo, 1998)
2. Son Volt – Midnight (from Notes of Blue, 2017)
3. Jay Farrar – Drain (from Sebastol, 2001)
4. Son Volt – Medicine Hat (from Wide Swing Tremelo, 1998)
5. Son Volt – Lookin’ At the World Through A Windshield (from Rig Rock Deluxe (A Musical Salute to The American Truck Driver, compilation album, 1996)
6. Son Volt – When The Wheels Don’t Move (from American Central Dust, 2009)
7. Son Volt – Threads and Steel (from Notes of Blue, 2017)
8. Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker and Yim Yames – Jake Walk Blues (from New Multitudes, 2012)
9. Son Volt – Ten Second News (from Trace, 1995)
10. Son Volt – Left A Slide (from Straigtaways, 1997)
11. Son Volt – Windfall (from Trace, 1995)

My sense is that Wilco is well-enough known that they may not need an Imaginary Album, but Uncle Tupelo probably does. We’ll see what I can do.

HSP

 

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