The second solo album was released in September 1985, less than a year after the debut, and indication that Marc Almond was enjoying a particularly bountiful period of creativity. Once again, it was attributed to Marc Almond and The Willing Sinners and contained three singles, one of which pre-dated the album release.
The lead-off single carried the same name as the album, which in itself was a signal from all concerned that they felt it was the strongest of the new material. It reached #23 in the UK singles chart which was the first time Marc had enjoyed a Top 30 hit since his time with Soft Cell.
(4) Stories of Johnny b/w Stories of Johnny (with The Westminster City School Choir) (August 1985 – #23 in the UK charts)
(5) Love Letter b/w Love Letter (with The Westminster City School Choir) (October 1985 – #68 in the UK charts)
(6) The House is Haunted by the Echo of Your Last Goodbye b/w Broken Bracelets (January 1986 – #55 in the UK charts)
One review of the LP was effusive about the tracks chosen as 45s:-
“The troika of brilliant singles from the album’s first half makes the album a keeper alone: the tender title track (written about a young friend of Almond’s who OD’ed), a sassy remake of Mel Tormé’s “The House Is Haunted,” and “Love Letter,” where electronics resurface to a degree not seen since Soft Cell’s collapse.”
The House is Haunted by the Echo of Your Last Goodbye dates from 1934, written by Billy Rose and Basil Adlam. A bit of digging around t-internet reveals that it was first recorded by Paul Whiteman, the leader of one of the most popular dance bands in the United States during the 1920s and 30s, with vocals from cabaret star, Ramona Davies. The best known version was probably that by Mel Tormé who included it as one of the songs on his Tormé LP, released in 1958.
One of the most unusual but most enjoyable shows I went to last year was Glasgow Garden Festival ’18 at which an album of the same name was launched by Jamie Scott.
Here’s an article from The List magazine previewing what I was privileged to later witness:-
An evocation of the International Exhibitions of Victorian times, the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988 was a turning point in Glasgow’s history, a celebration which was part history lesson, part theme park and part exercise in urban renewal, all taking place on the cleared banks of the River Clyde where the city’s shipbuilding industry used to reside. Within a short period of time, the 1990 European City of Culture festival took place throughout the city, and Glasgow’s recent past as a beacon of flourishing post-industrial art, music and culture has only grown.
Thirty years on, as the regeneration process intensifies and cranes spring up across the city, it seems like a sensible point not just to look back on happy memories of the summer of ’88 (a time which has somewhat different connotations if you’re aware of the history of club music, for which it was the Year Zero ‘Second Summer of Love’) but to consider its implications. With this new themed concept record, producer and rapper Jamie Scott (of Conquering Animal Sound, CARBS and the Save As Collective) has done a bit of both, blending hazy recollections of futurist urban utopia with sober reflection upon the social conditions the Garden Festival was never going to change.
The record begins with a cheerful televised introduction from the period of the Festival’s ‘royal beginning’ in ‘the heart of the rainbow city’ (it was Prince Charles and Princess Diana in happier times, which dates proceedings), and advances through the cheekily-named ‘Make Scotland Shite Again’, which doesn’t quite deliver upon the cynicism of its title. Over a light electronic beat and the sound of steel drums, Scott begins by imagining that ‘when I grow up I wanna be Tom Devine / authority writ upon a thousand spines’, reflecting finally that ‘we are too young to have dug up the garden’; in between, he perfectly captures the confluence of political determinism, misty-eyed optimism and lack of social mobility which characterises Glasgow, the city where ‘we passed the land from laird to brand’.
It’s a warm and contemporary record, buoyed by Scott’s accessible production, his eloquently-formed storytelling raps and some gorgeous pop hooks. ‘The Tower’ is hard-edged, told from the point of view of life lived high up in a tower block, cut off from the city and ‘defined by its limits’; ‘Another World’ is a blissed-out ambient reflection upon place, belonging and nationality, singing ‘these streets criss-cross / with slave trader street names we should have long ago disowned… can the free state halt the rush of the Dear Green Place’s rot?’; and there’s a meditative, halcyon quality to ‘Glasgow Garden Festival ’88’, which is at odds with the sharp-edged and forceful contemporary pop of its companion piece ‘Glasgow Garden Festival ’18’.
The lightness of touch to this music counteracts the force and the honesty of Scott’s lyrics, modern folk tales relating the sense of impermanence he raps of amid ‘(Don’t You) Forget About Me’ (no relation to the Simple Minds song, title aside) and a yearning for a sense of community and halcyon good times which might not even have existed in the past. ‘If all we’re left with are our memories,’ he sings, tellingly, ‘why wouldn’t we make them great?’ Drawing in references to history and the world we live amid today, he’s created one of the definitive albums on the subject of the city of Glasgow.
It was very much a one-off and while a tad bonkers at times, was well worth going along to. I picked up a digital copy of the album (and commemorative t-shirt).
The show closed with a cover version not available on the album, but which was later made available to purchase via bandcamp – a rather poignant cover of Somewhere In My Heart by Aztec Camera (click here for more details).
Jamie did make one of the tracks reasonably widely available in advance of the show….I hope he doesn’t mind me linking a lo-fi version of it here today….again, you can still get a digital copy of Glasgow Garden Festival ’18 right here.
In New York on one of my occasional Stateside trips to visit relatives, I was walking on The Bowery one balmy evening in 2005, zigzagging across the street between the gridlocked traffic. ‘Hey man…’ a voice called out from an open car window, ‘..hey…Robyn Hitchcock…I love your music…’
At the time my greying hair was fairly unkempt and I was wearing a black & white polka dot shirt. I’m also quite tall, so I guess it’s a plausible mistake, not to mention a flattering one. I half-smiled in the guy’s direction as the traffic moved on, then noticed a small spring in my step. It was the first time I’d ever been mistaken for someone even slightly well-known, let alone someone whose music I’ve been a huge fan of since The Soft Boys‘ debut LP ‘A Can of Bees’ way back in 1979. Incidentally, I’d actually met Robyn Hitchcock ten years before my New York moment, in a room above a pub in Cambridge and neither he, I, nor anyone else in the room, remarked upon any physical similarities between the two of us!
Here are ten choice cuts from the great man.
If you want to dip your toe in with just one Soft Boys record, make it their second LP ‘Underwater Moonlight’ – influenced by equal parts Syd Barrett & Roger McGuinn and in turn hugely influential on the host of jangly US bands that emerged throughout the early 1980s. Out-takes and otherwise unreleased material have stretched and contorted the re-issued album over the years, but the original 10 song running order is virtually impeccable. Robyn still performs ‘Kingdom of Love’ onstage to this day. If he just so happens to be performing it somewhere in the East of England, then there’s a fighting chance that original Soft Boys guitar-slinger (later to become one of Katrina’s Waves) Kimberly Rew will join him on stage…and that’s when real magic happens.
‘…I would ramble all through time and space, just to have a butcher’s at your face…’
1) Kingdom of Love (1980)
Robyn’s debut solo LP actually featured contributions from all of his former Soft Boys band-mates in addition to saxophonist Gary Barnacle, Thomas Dolby plus members of The Vibrators and Psychedelic Furs.
‘Acid Bird’ became a live favourite following the formation of Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians and 4 years later an equally terrific version appeared their live LP ‘Gotta Let This Hen Out’.
‘…cutting out a silhouette between, everything is older than it seems…’
2) Acid Bird (1981)
In a just and proper world, ‘Heaven’ would’ve been a massive hit single and seen Robyn appearing on Top of the Pops for weeks on end. Of course, the world is neither just nor proper, but Robyn and The Egyptians did give a memorable live performance of the song during an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in support of the ‘Fegmania’ LP.
‘…and when you seek for it you peak for it all day, and when you choose for it you’ll ooze for it, I’ll say…’
3) Heaven (1985)
Hitchcock has long hailed ‘Visions of Johanna’ as being a key inspiration – ‘…the reason I started writing songs…’. He’s covered Dylan‘s masterpiece in concert many times over the years and there are two separate recordings of the song on his 2002 album ‘Robyn Sings’ alone.
‘Ghost Ship’, bafflingly tucked away on the b-side of the US ‘Balloon Man’ single, is where Robyn truly channels his inner Bob – with utterly magnificent results. A slightly inferior version of ‘Ghost Ship’ turned up on the 1995 odds & sods compilation ‘You & Oblivion’, but this is the one to seek out.
‘…across the wrinkled sea so vast…’
4) Ghost Ship (1988)
In the midst of his tenure fronting The Egyptians, Robyn released the almost totally solo ‘Eye’.
‘Queen Elvis’ appeared in two separate versions on the extended CD version of the album and is still performed regularly in concert, these days often as a duet with his partner, the singer/songwriter Emma Swift.
‘…people get what they deserve, time is round and space is curved…’
5) Queen Elvis (1990)
Sometimes Robyn wraps his songs in delightfully dense lyrical conundrums and other times he gives it to you so straight that it hurts. ‘She Doesn’t Exist’ is a beautiful example of the latter.
‘…I let her go like the fool that I was, thought I’d get over her soon, I smell her perfume when my eyes are closed, and I see her face in the moon…’
6) She Doesn’t Exist (1991)
1991’s ‘Perspex Island’ was released in the UK on Go! Discs and features guest performances from Peter Buck and Michael Stipe. Robyn & the Egyptians toured extensively to promote the LP, including a major trek supporting Billy Bragg. This period was as close as Robyn ever came to crossing over to the mainstream.
‘…I take off my clothes with you, but I’m not naked underneath, I was born with trousers on, just about like everyone…’
7) Birds In Perspex (1991)
His father, the author Raymond Hitchcock, died in 1992 and Robyn’s previously prodigious work rate ceased completely for a full three years. When he returned with 1996’s ‘Moss Elixir’, it was without The Egyptians. ‘
The Speed of Things’ ruminates on the passage of time and contains lyrics as moving as any I’ve heard in popular music.
‘…you held my hand when I was crying, you were allergic to bee stings, I threw some earth onto your coffin, and thought about the speed of things…’
8) The Speed of Things (1996)
In 2006 Robyn formally teamed up with Peter Buck of R.E.M., Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows, and Bill Rieflin of Ministry, recording three albums and touring for the next four years as Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3. Other collaborators during this period included former Soft Boys Morris Windsor and Kimberley Rew, John Paul Jones, Johnny Marr, Nick Lowe and, on the fun-packed ‘Saturday Groovers’, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists.
‘…I heard you cleaned your act up you old trout…’
9) Saturday Groovers (2009)
The first glimpse of ‘Be Still’ came courtesy of an informal pub rehearsal video that appeared online towards the end of 2012, where Robyn was backed by the likes of Terry Edwards, Stephen Irvine from The Commotions, Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, Bedders from Madness and a host of other friends. Here though, is the finished studio recording that appeared on ‘Love From London’ the following year. A really wonderful song, as strong as any from throughout his career.
‘…to where the night is falling on a lover or a friend, somebody’s beginning is just someone else’s end…’
10) Be Still (2013)
I’ve merely scratched the surface here. I feel a Volume 2 coming on.
From the outset, I had pigeon-holed Madonna as someone who was very capable of offering up pop fodder, either in the form of catchy but lightweight upbeat songs or moody ballads that wouldn’t have been out-of-place on albums by the poodle-rock brigade. I had every belief she was someone who would disappear off the radar just as quickly and unexpectedly as she had come to the wider attention, cast aside by the record label moguls as soon as the next sex-kitten emerged.
And then I heard this:-
mp3 : Madonna – Into The Groove
Long-time readers won’t be shocked by the revelation that I’m a huge fan of this song. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to disco-pop in terms of its simple lyrics over a killer tune that’s filled with hooks and little bits going on in the background that you don’t appreciate on initial listens. OK, it has what can be accurately described as a very mid-80s production, but it’s done in such a way that it transcends the mediocre and becomes memorable and more than capable of repeated listens. It’s aged way better than almost all of its contemporaries.
The other thing that I found quite remarkable was that Madonna was the co-author of the song, along with Stephen Bray, a Detroit-born musician she had met in the late 70s when she was studying dance at the University of Michigan. I had assumed, wrongly, that she was the type of singer for whom all the songs would be written by others – in other words, that she was a performer rather than a talented artiste in her own right.
I think it is fair to say that Madonna’s audience expanded as a result of the success of Into The Groove, helped also by the fact it was closely associated with the film Desperately Seeking Susan in which she gave an assured screen performance in a production that was as much a critical hit as it was a commercial success. What I hadn’t appreciated until doing a wee bit of background research for this piece is that while it was a #1 hit in many countries (her first here in the UK), it was ineligible for the Billboard charts in the USA as it had previously featured as a b-side to the hit single Angel. Someone at Warner Bros must have got their backside booted for that basic error…….
I love the fact that the song can be interpreted in a couple of ways. On the surface, it is really just a girl thoroughly enjoying herself on the dance floor but wanting a handsome boy in the room to start strutting his stuff right beside her – and more than likely being careful not to tread on her white handbag! But it’s also a lyric with a fair bit of innuendo and undertones – not least the line ‘Live out your fantasies here with me’
More than 30 years on and it’s still a piece of music that attracts critical acclaim. It’s been described as the ultimate 80s song which is maybe stretching things but understandable (for what it’s worth, not that I’m a fan of it, but Do They Know It’s Christmas? surely has to be given that accolade). A writer in Rolling Stone magazine points out that Into The Groove has an amazing bassline, which harks back to my own earlier point about it having things going on in the background that you don’t appreciate at first.
And of course it led to the most unexpected of tributes from Thurston Moore and Co:-
mp3 : Ciccone Youth – Into The Groove(y)
This was one of the tracks played by Stewart Braithwaite at our recent Simply Thrilled evening – it was received rapturously.
It was back in October 2015 that I previously featured The Flatmates on the blog. It was part of a year-long series looking at bands who had featured on the C86 triple-CD issued by Cherry Red Records in which I gave as much of a bio as I could from what I’d been able to glean while saying lots of positive things about their debut single I Could Be In Heaven.
There were a few very welcome comments added by readers, with some folk taking the opportunity to update the story I’d given with info that the band had, of sorts, reformed. Brian, from Linear Tracking Lives, is a huge fan of the C86 genre and he simply said “The band’s best moment… although Shimmer was pretty damn good too.”
I picked up a 12″ copy of Shimmer a wee while back. And as the heading of the post indicates, my great friend from Seattle was, yet again, on the money:-
mp3 : The Flatmates – Shimmer
Another Buzzcocks meets Shangri-Las type of song. Great fun.
Three tracks on the b-side:-
mp3 : The Flatmates – On My Mind
mp3 : The Flatmates – If Not For You
mp3 : The Flatmates – Bad
The middle track is a cover of a Bob Dylan track….one which actually means a lot to me.
It was back in 2000 when my young brother Stevie got married over in Orlando where he’d been living for about six years. The whole family and a number of his close friends went over for the occasion and I was asked, in advance, if I could read something appropriate which nodded to America, but nothing religious (Stevie is all too aware of my atheist tendencies).
I spoke to a few friends over here about it, including someone who had a huge knowledge of folk music as I thought that might be where I’d find inspiration, and it was he who said the words to If Not For You would work well.
And he was right.
If not for you Babe, I couldn’t find the door Couldn’t even see the floor I’d be sad and blue If not for you
If not for you Babe, I’d lay awake all night Wait for the mornin’ light To shine in through But it would not be new If not for you
If not for you My sky would fall Rain would gather too Without your love I’d be nowhere at all I’d be lost if not for you And you know it’s true
If not for you My sky would fall Rain would gather too Without your love I’d be nowhere at all Oh! what would I do If not for you
If not for you Winter would have no spring Couldn’t hear the robin sing I just wouldn’t have a clue Anyway it wouldn’t ring true If not for you
The Flatmates version is far more danceable mind you….and they make it sound like one of their own!
Oh, and because it was a second-hand copy of the single, I didn’t get to read the ‘free flatsharing guide’ given away back in the day.
Flimflamfan, in leaving behind a very welcome comment just over a week ago, stated an opinion that the Sonic Youth take on Superstar was the definitive version of the song and that the LP on which it featured was a great record.
The LP in question is If I Were A Carpenter, a compilation album released on A&M Records in September 1994 featuring 14 ‘alternative’ acts covering songs associated with The Carpenters. The acts, in alphabetical order, were, American Music Club, Babes in Toyland, Bettie Serveet, Cracker, The Cranberries, Dishwalla, 4 Non Blondes, Grant Lee Buffalo, Johnette Napolitano with Marc Moreland, Matthew Sweet, Redd Kross, Sheryl Crow, Shonen Knife and Sonic Youth, (and, yes, I did have to look up a few of them as they were names not known to me).
Going by on-line reviews on the likes of Amazon, it’s fair to say that It’s an album that seems to delight and disgust in equal measures – certainly those who bought it thinking it would be a straightforward sort of tribute record seemed to be appalled and have sent it straight to the local charity store.
The music critics were, by and large, much more forgiving, with Stephen Cook over at allmusic being fairly typical with comments that:-
”….this CD gets it right most of the time…..Matthew Sweet, the Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, Grant Lee Buffalo, and Cracker deliver the most straightforward interpretations here….., with the same amount of moody tenderness that made the originals so effective. On the other end of the spectrum, Sonic Youth gives “Superstar” a nicely claustrophobic and feedback-addled turn, while Bettie Serveet brings its Neil Young-inspired guitar attack to bear on “For All We Know.” On other fronts, Shonen Knife and Babes in Toyland contribute giddy lo-fi readings and Dishwalla and 4 Non Blondes go in for brooding swagger. Finally, American Music Club and Redd Kross get special mention for their tailored-made and respective helpings of despair and dreamy ’70s sensibility on “Goodbye to Love” and “Yesterday Once More.”
Flimflamfan said that he/she was particularly taken by the Shonen Knife contribution – it wasn’t one that I knew but on their recommendation, and the fact it was described in the above review as a giddy lo-fi reading, I had to track it down:-
mp3 : Shonen Knife – Top of The World
I had forgotten just how easy it is for Shonen Knife to put a smile on my face. I don’t actually have all that much of their output in the collection other than on cassette compilations put together by friends or via CDs given away with magazines, so the request is…..does anyone fancy turning their hand to an ICA? I’m sure there’s plenty other tracks as listenable as these:-
mp3 : Shonen Knife – Twist Barbie
mp3 : Shonen Knife – I Am A Cat
I do have another superb cover version of today’s tune by The Carpenters – one which was put out as an additional track on a CD single back in 1992:-
mp3 : Sugarcubes – Top of The World
Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eye….no way this song could have been written in Scotland in the middle of winter….or even in the middle of March.
It’s coming up for two years since Butcher Boy last put out some new music, in the shape of a 3-track EP for Record Store Day in 2017.
A lot of things have changed for the members of the band in recent years, not least that singer and lead songwriter John Blain Hunt has become a dad. It’s never been officially said, but it may well be that we have seen the last of Butcher Boy, something that’ll sadden a fair number of folk, not least this fanboy. I’m clinging on to the fact that there was a gap of six years between the previous album and the RSD 2017 release, so maybe something will hit the shops before I reach 60 years of age.
In the meantime, in this new(ish) series of mellow Monday tunes, here’s something which lasts less than two minutes, and which gave the title to their second LP back in 2009, the one which a number of members have said they are the most proud of:-
Up until now, I’ve had physical copies of almost all the material by the singers and bands who have featured previously in the various chronology of 45s series and where I haven’t, I’ve done my utmost to track down a digital copy or simply owned up that one or more tracks (usually b-sides or remixes) is missing.
It’s going to be a wee bit different for the next few weeks with the spotlight turned on Marc Almond.
First up, the series is going to concentrate on a specific time, namely 1984-1999, and it is also only going to feature 45s which had Marc Almond as the named performer – in other words, no Marc & The Mambas and no guest appearances, such as that with Bronski Beat in 1985.
I have some of the singles in the collection, but a fairly low percentage. It’s also a series which, if restricted to one per week, would take up the remainder of 2019 and we would all get bored in due course. I’m therefore going to feature a few of them at a time, taking the parent album (where appropriate) as the guide.
The first solo album was Vermin in Ermine, attributed to Marc Almond and The Willing Sinners, released in October 1984. It contained three singles, two of which pre-dated the album:-
(1) The Boy Who Came Back b/w Joey Demento (June 1984 – #52 in the UK charts)
(2) You Have b/w Split Lip (Single Version) (September 1984 – #57 in the UK charts)
(3) Tenderness is a Weakness b/w Love For Sale (November 1984 – #88 in the UK charts)
Joey Demento is one that fans of Soft Cell will enjoy…it’s a bit of a throwback to that era.
Love For Sale is a cover of a song written in 1930 by Cole Porter. It was from a Broadway musical, The New Yorkers but it caused controversy being from the perspective of a prostitute seeking to earn a living. Up until the 1960s, most versions had been instrumental in nature. Marc’s version is pure torch-song.
My own first exposure to the song came via hearing this excellent version on the Red Hot and Blue compilation, released in 1990 as an album and video-release, with the purpose of raising funds towards tackling AIDS:-
James Yorkston is a Scottish folk musician, singer-songwriter and author. A native of Fife, he was an integral early member of the Fence Collective, an independent record label based in Anstruther and Cellardyke in, Fife founded by musician King Creosote and run by The Pictish Trail until 2013.
Yorkston started out as bassist for punk band Miraclehead, which morphed into the band Huckleberry, who recorded a number of independently released records. Yorkston’s solo career began when John Peel played a demo of his “Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel”, in 2001 proclaiming it had the “song title of the year, no doubt”. This led to Bad Jazz Records scrambling for Yorkston’s details and releasing that track as Yorkston’s debut 7″ under the name “J. Wright Presents”.
By this time Yorkston had started to play solo gigs in Edinburgh, his debut supporting Bert Jansch in the Café Royal. Seeking more shows, Yorkston sent a copy of the single to John Martyn, asking him for a support slot on his forthcoming Edinburgh date, and Martyn responded by offering Yorkston all 27 dates on his UK and Ireland tour. While on this tour, Yorkston was seen by Laurence Bell of Domino Records, who was so impressed he had a recording contract sent to Yorkston’s lawyer the following week. Subsequently he signed to Domino Records, recording music with a number of friends and associates credited as The Athletes on his records. His debut album Moving Up Country, co-produced by Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins, became Rough Trade Record Shops Album of the Year for 2002.
For Yorkston’s second album, he asked Kieran Hebden of Four Tet on board as producer, and they made Just Beyond the River. Yorkton’s fan base continued to grow and he was offered tours with Beth Orton, David Gray, Tindersticks, Turin Brakes, Lambchop and Kathryn Williams.
The follow-up, The Year of the Leopard, was produced by Rustin Man, who had recently worked with Beth Gibbons (lead singer with the band Portishead) on their Out of Season record. In 2007, Domino Records released Roaring the Gospel, a collection of unreleased songs, which led NME to say “Yorkston has talent as deep as a mine shaft”.
Yorkston’s involvement with the Fence Collective continued: he has toured extensively with King Creosote and regularly contributed to the Fence Collective’s Homegames mini-festivals featuring guest performances by artists such as The Concretes and Hot Chip. Yorkston also plays in the Fence Collective bands The 3 Craws, Pictish Trail and U.N.P.O.C..
His fifth album, When the Haar Rolls In, was released through Domino Records on 1 September 2008. Guests included Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe, Norma Waterson and Mike Waterson. A special edition was released featuring an album of remixes and an album of James Yorkston covers by artists such as King Creosote, U.N.P.O.C. and Cathal Coughlan.
In August 2009, Domino Records released Folk Songs, an album of traditional songs, arranged and performed by James Yorkston and The Big Eyes Family Players. In March 2011 Yorkston’s debut book, It’s Lovely to be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent came out, via the Domino Press. That year he collaborated with The Fruit Tree Foundation, appearing on its debut album, First Edition.
In August 2012, Domino Records release Yorkston’s seventh album, I Was a Cat from a Book which had very favourable reviews and debuted on the Official Record Store Chart at number 6.
Domino Records’ eighth album with Yorkston, The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society, produced by Alexis Taylor of synth-pop band Hot Chip, was released in August 2014. It featured special guests KT Tunstall and The Pictish Trail amongst others.
In 2015 Domino Records released ‘The Demonstrations of the Craws’, a vinyl only release, featuring a compilation of demos from The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society and I was a Cat from a Book. Yorkston also began running his folk club Tae Sup wi’ a Fifer, in Kirkcaldy, Fife, which has thus far had such diverse guests as Martin Carthy, Alexis Taylor, Dick Gaughan, Richard Dawson, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, Karine Polwart, Lisa O’Neill, Steve Mason, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Malcolm Middleton.
In early 2016, Freight Books published James’ second book, his debut novel 3 Craws. Later that year Yorkston released the album Everything Sacred as part of the trio, with Jon Thorne (a double bass player best known for his work with electro outfit Lamb) and Suhail Yusuf Khan, an eighth generation Sarangi player from New Delhi, India.
His ninth album, Route to the Harmonium, recorded in the small Scottish fishing village of Cellardyke and co-produced by David Wrench, was released on 22 February 2019, via Domino.
An incredibly busy and versaile man, I’ve long admired him, never failing to be entertained on the five or six times I’ve seen him live. Who’s have thought I’d ever fall for a folkie?
This is the updated version of the song that got John Peel all giddy, as re-recorded for his debut Domino album in 2002:-
mp3 : James Yorkston & The Athletes – Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel
A GUEST POSTING by MARTIN ELLIOTT (Our Swedish Correspondent)
Been thinking about this theme a few times, and then when I the other day listened to one of my favorite Swedish albums of all times and my stand-out track from it – Alice – I thought “this is a great short story”. The thing being of course it’s in Swedish… so I had a go at translating it to English to see if it works. The band, Eldkvarn (“Fire Mill”) has been around forever, and are normally not a band that draws my attention, pretty straight forward rock’n’roll – a bit like our version of Bruce Springsteen, but to celebrate their 10 years as band they 1987 released the double album Himmelska Dagar (Days of Heaven) and suddenly it all worked out just wonderful. It’s a great album, pity they haven’t been able to reach this quality again (IMO). Side D is pure magic, 3 brilliant tracks with the middle one being the 9+ minutes long Alice, a homage to a love long gone.
She lived by the railway where her father had a job She had blue jeans and a leather jacket, and a straw hat with a feather on top I met her there every day after school in an abandoned wagon on an overgrown track Sometimes we sat on the embankment and dreamt ourselves away while the wind caught our hair Like pages in a book we separated Each went their own way it was all a loan
Her father is on the other side of the railway bridge in a grave under a stone in the old cemetery I’m sitting under the chestnut by the old canal It’s all memories now the houses and streets in the town And it’s strange that I haven’t seen in this way before so I guess I’ll continue for a while inside or outside the law
Alice, heaven can wait there’s a way and a place in the sun for every one Alice, heaven can wait put on your leather jacket it’s a long way and you walk alone
Your tears down the cheek while you apply make-up are like rain in September and only the wrong things get said Yes, it’s hard when nothing happens and harder still to get older I have tried to learn but even I don’t know it all Walk with me over the fields follow me to the sea If there’s something I want to show you it is this road When time catches up on us we get other things on our mind and both you and I know who is the most anxious
Alice, heaven can wait there’s a way and a place in the sun for every one Alice, heaven can wait put on your leather jacket it’s a long way and you walk alone
The years come back and I remember St Per’s Street I remember a young boy always in the window staring at the motorcycle gangs outside Rialto on their way to the end of the world there was no way back with black leather jackets and hair like Elvis Presley they threw us up in the air so the guns fell out of the holsters When the street lights lit everyone was outside Rialto and I was a small boy three flights up in the window
and the snow fell, and the snow fell, and the snow fell, and the snow fell
Snowfall and snowploughs a winter’s night ambulances and trams racing I saw Lucia processions with gnomes and trolls Zamora* and Bajdoff* and a gigantic football
and the snow fell, and the snow fell, and the snow fell, and the snow fell
I saw May 1st processions with swaying banners horses and police men sitting in saddles Students carrying the hope of the future elephants and clowns from Circus Scott Miss Norrköping waved and I waved back then came Floyd Paterson on a flatbed truck
I learned to work I grew up to a man good years and hard years came and went now I walk beneath the skies outside the barn Alice, i still see you in the blue jeans and the straw hat on your neck May the doors behind me always be open and I always carry your leather jacket tightly around my heart
Alice, heaven can wait there’s a way and a place in the sun for every one Alice, heaven can wait put on your leather jacket it’s a long way and you walk alone
* Zamora and Bajdoff were the nicknames of two legendary players during the 50’s and 60’s in the football team of their hometown, Norrköping, where all this once supposedly happened.
mp3 : Eldkvarn – Alice
“Off the record” – please make a sanity check of my translation, if it just doesn’t make sense, please delete this mail. 🙂
I decided, without even hearing this piece of music that I had to include it in this occasional series. Martin has gone way beyond the call of duty to translate the lyric….and it does make perfect sense. Cheers mate!
I’ve mentioned on a few occasions of a very stupid incident in late 1986 which resulted in me losing a few boxes of 7” singles.
Thanks to my recent purchase of the 5xCD Big Gold Dreams box set, I’ve had my memory jolted in respect of some of the bits of plastic which came to grief, one of which has turned out to be something quite rare and valuable:-
mp3 : The Suede Crocodiles – Stop The Rain
It was released on the Glasgow label No Strings in the summer of 1983. It was a time when Glasgow was awash with great bands making astonishingly good jangly-guitar based music, much of which has been greatly celebrated on this little corner of t’internet. I do remember the lads involved in the label saying that they were determined to sign the best of local talent and them having their eyes on the newly emerging Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. The big offer put on the table by Polydor meant they missed out that time and so the initial releases were 45s by two highly regarded local groups – Del Amitri and Popgun. But by the time the latter went into the studio, the name had changed to The Suede Crocodiles.
I bought the single without having heard it, but I had seen Popgun play a few times in small venues across the city. It was also being mentioned in the local media that No Strings was hoping to prove to be every bit as important as Postcard had been a few years earlier and as far as I was concerned, buying this particular piece of plastic was a no-brainer.
As it turned out, Stop The Rain wasn’t quite as outstanding and instantly memorable as I had hoped it would be. I’m not saying it’s a poor or disappointing single – far from it – but the thing is, it was being compared to a lot of other great stuff which was emerging from the city and it didn’t quite do enough to stand out. Having said that, I was pleased with the purchase and it did find its way onto a couple of compilation tapes that were made at the time and also managed through requests, to get it aired a couple of times at Strathclyde Students Union.
The next thing I heard, and it came from a mate who was a regular at the Student Union (and who knew a few folk directly involved in the local music scene) was that The Suede Crocodiles had split up as one of their two singer-songwriters, Kevin McDermott, wanted to pursue a solo career.
It wasn’t something that bothered me much – I did keep an eye out on what Kevin was doing, going along to a few shows and in due course buying some records; but, as with The Suede Crocodiles, it didn’t ever quite fully click with me.
Over the years, and not having the single to provide any prompt or reminder, that connection between Kevin McDermott and The Suede Crocodiles ended up being forgotten, brought only back into my mind by the occasional mention on a blog or website that I’ve stumbled across.
It was just the other day that I got to hear Stop The Rain again thanks to purchasing the afore-mentioned box set. Seeing a picture of the sleeve in the accompanying booklet was the reminder that I had actually once owned the single. I went onto Discogs to see what it’s going for nowadays.
There are six copies for sale and the price range is £100-£200 (albeit the most expensive comes signed by the four members of the band).
Wow. That was way more than I had expected….and again got me thinking about what I really should be doing with my vinyl going ahead. I’ve no kids to leave it to and other than Aldo (who isn’t all that much younger than me!!!) no-one is of an age to whom it could really be passed onto. I must have a few bits of vinyl that are worth a reasonable amount, and when you add it all up, it will be a very tidy sum. There’s even a few CDs that some folk might be interested in!!!
But all that’s for another time. Today is all about bringing you the one single ever recorded and released by The Suede Crocodiles. And I can even offer up the b-side:-
mp3 : The Suede Crocodiles – Pleasant Dreamer
Turns out that, back in the day, the band had made a number of recordings for potential release by No Strings and these eventually were brought together, along with a few live renditions that had been captured, and issued as a vinyl-only 13-track compilation on Accident Records in 2001, with a later CD version being released in Japan in 2010.
Oh and the Big Gold Dreams box-set has provided me with loads of potential material for the blog. You have been warned.
First, I’d like to thank everyone for their kind comments on my first ICA on Ash. They were nice enough to make me want to have another go, so here we are.
The other month, I was watching The Insatiable Ones, a new Suede documentary and I wondered if anyone had done a Suede ICA, as it’s something I thought I could have a go at. Imagine my surprise when I saw no one had, so I’m attempting it. I don’t claim to be a Suede expert, but I own the first 4 albums, the Sci-Fi Lullabies B Sides collection, the first comeback album, Bloodsports and the latest, The Blue Hour. I have also now heard the other 2 albums, although nothing from them has made this ICA (spoiler alert),
The Beautiful Ones – A Suede ICA
Animal Nitrate (from Suede)
Possibly the most famous Suede song (although that could be Trash). Their first Top Ten hit (at a time when Indie bands didn’t hit the Top Ten) and a song that we forget now was so out of step with the times, all big bold glam rock guitars at the tail end of the grunge era. Somehow its blatant drug references escaped the BBC sensors, as it was a massive radio hit.
Everything Will Flow (from Head Music)
The recording of Head Music was a troubled time for the band, Brett Anderson was a drug addict by this time and keyboard player Neil Codling was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The band largely recorded tracks for the album individually. On top of this, they were also trying to experiment with a more electronic dance influenced direction. Despite this, a lot of the album holds up well, none more so than this track. Fun fact, this song got to number 28 on the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, Suede on the Dance chart, who’d have thought it?
The Big Time (from Sci-Fi Lullabies)
Originally the B Side to Animal Nitrate, later collected on the Sci-Fi Lullabies compilation. This is a beautiful ballad, simple guitar, strings, a mournful trumpet solo and poignant lyrics, detailing the tale of a relationship breaking down due to the fame of one of the parties. “Now he’s in the big time, And you’re in the way.”
It Starts And Ends With You (from Bloodsports)
Suede’s reunion has produced 3 albums to date, Bloodsports was the first in 2013. When they toured this album, they played 2 sets, first they played the complete album in order, then after a break they played their singles in chronological order (when I saw them in Southampton, they got up to The Beautiful Ones), which was a brave decision, but I believe the album is strong enough to get away with it. This to me is the stand-out track on the album, very old-school chart friendly Suede.
The 2 Of Us (from Dog Man Star)
Dog Man Star is now regularly held up as Suede’s crowning achievement. Initially I preferred Coming Up, as it is more immediate, but Dog Man Star bears up to repeated listening, as you appreciate more about it and different tracks make an impression. This is one of those tracks, in some ways it’s a typical Suede piano ballad, however, I love the way it builds and then fades, also the lyrics are very evocative.
Beautiful Ones (from Coming Up)
The third album Coming Up was a contrast to Dog Man Star, more direct and poppy. It feels like an album of hit singles and five of them did go top 10. This to my mind is the best of the uptempo tracks, even if it is a bit reminiscent of New Generation from the previous album. It’s a typical rollicking Suede single with lyrics trashing mid-nineties celebrity culture.
Stay Together (Long Version) (from the single)
Their joint biggest hit (along with Trash) and the only standalone single they ever released. This was the first notice that Bernard Butler wanted to start producing epics and this longer version definitely feels like a production where the kitchen sink has been thrown at it, particularly in the four and a half minute outro. A clear signpost to what they would go on to produce on the Dog Man Star album.
Still Life (from Dog Man Star)
Another ballad from Dog Man Star. I prefer the ballads on this album (this, The 2 Of Us, The Wild Ones & Asphalt World in particular), as there are more layers to them. This track builds to an impressive climax, with contributions from the London Sinfonia orchestra. It was covered, surprisingly well, by of all people, Alisha’s Attic on the Childline album, a version worth seeking out.
Cold Hands (from The Blue Hour)
I toyed with sticking a number of tracks at this point. The piano version of My Insatiable One was considered, as was their cover of Shipbuilding, but there are too many ballads on this side of the ICA. We need something lively here and I thought about Metal Mickey, but I eventually settled on something less obvious. Cold Hands is a highlight from the latest album and is a short swaggering blast of energy, that fits nicely here.
Saturday Night (from Coming Up)
The closing track from Coming Up is a melancholic ballad, based around a straightforward guitar figure and some more poignant lyrics. I think the “Sha La La La” refrain as the song fades out is a great way to end this ICA.
You’ll hopefully recall this piece from a couple of months back in which I lamented the decision by Adam Stafford to take his leave of the music scene.
Tucked away near the end of that particular posting, I set out my hope that Adam would take up my offer of a sit-down over a beer or two at which I’d lend a sympathetic ear if he wanted to gripe further about the music industry.
My hopes were realised and, at the tail end of January, he came across to Glasgow, ostensibly to catch a show by Broken Chanter (the new band formed by David McGregor following the break-up of Kid Canaveral), but we hooked up a couple of hours beforehand and we got talking. We were joined a while later by Mike Melville of Manic Pop Thrills and I think it’s a fair assumption to say that we both spent a bit of energy asking Adam to reconsider his decision and offering to help out in any way we could.
We both felt we were pushing a wee bit at an open door as Adam was saying that his love of composing and performing hadn’t left him – indeed he’d been given a gift of an old-style synthesiser at Christmas on which he had been working up some new pieces – but he just felt really low and bitter about how the tail end of 2018 had been panning out. In a nutshell, he’d released a critically acclaimed double-album and yet he was unable to transfer such praise into enough sales to financially support himself and his family and his efforts to tour further afield than the cities in Scotland had left him out-of-pocket.
But more than the financial side of things, it was painfully obvious that he was doubting himself for what must have been the first time in decades, wondering if he really did have an audience. Our response was that, as long as we were still capable of listening to music, he’d always have at least two fans to buy his stuff and come see his shows.
I think it’s fair to say that, by the end of what turned out to be a great night (the live show was most enjoyable), Adam was quite drunk and had been given a bit of food for thought. I got a really nice e-mail from him the day after in which he admitted not remembering much of his train journey back to Falkirk and the walk from the station to his home, but that he’d appreciated the company and the encouragment I’d given him.
I knew there would be other folk out there offering similar words to Adam, including his family, close friends, fellow musicians and other fans similar to myself. So it was great to get this missive a couple of weeks ago:-
As some of you already know, in Nov last year, after a bad week of depression and insomnia, I hastily announced that I was quitting music, performing & releasing. It had been an eventful year: I was flattened by the deaths of two people I knew and greatly admired; an LP that I’d spent 8 years making was well received but a subsequent short tour of the UK was financially and emotionally ruinous. The shadows were closing in.
Thankfully I have a stupendous amount of supportive family and friends who dropped what they were doing to facilitate the massive whitey I was having and encouraged me to pause and reflect, respond rather than react.
To get to the point, I never have truly wanted to retire from writing and performing, but needed a break. In all honesty, I need to keep creating music to stop me from going insane and financially support my family. Thus, I am putting out this new EP of mainly soundtrack music that I’ve been working on over the last year. It is free to DL but any contribution (or a recommendation to a friend) would be greatly appreciated:
One of the issues that had come up during our drunken discussions in Glasgow had been how best to get the new music out there. I told Adam that I would be willing to get involved in any support costs in doing so and as the night wore on, I began to insist that he allow me to get involved in that way as it would be an honour and a privilege.
A few days later, in reply to his e-mail thanking me for being decent company at the gig, I reminded him of my offer and repeated my insistence. I was determined to try to make sure that he could start 2019 with something of a bang, through having new material available for sale and/or a couple of shows to look forward to. After much badgering, he accepted my offer. It’s not a great deal of money – I pay more for a season ticket at Raith Rovers and it’s come from a good couple of weeks making football score predictions and relieving an on-line betting firm of some cash – but what it has done is enable Adam to send this out:-
Adam Stafford returns in 2019 fresh from the critically acclaimed compositional album Fire Behind the Curtain (2018). This time he has hunkered down in his tiny studio with a newly acquired Synthesizer and laid down improv Synth jams over one week in a psychedelic sweatstorm.
The result is The Acid Bothy: a no-frills, no-bullshit hypnogogic slayer; a bad-trip brainmelch vomitorium spewing bubbling Synth lines that warp and contort in the shifting haze.
Fitting for an LP that was recorded live onto mono cassette, Adam is issuing The Acid Bothy on fruit salad (bi-red/yellow) coloured tapes limited to 50 copies.
Of these 50 copies, 15 can be pre-ordered HERE with the rest being available at two live shows:-
12 April: Leith Depot, Edinburgh
18 April: The Hug & Pint, Glasgow
(Turns out that the 15 pre-order copies are already sold out!!!….but you can still pick up a download version)
Who could possibly resist something described as a bad-trip brainmelch vomitorium spewing bubbling Synth lines that warp and contort in the shifting haze.
Paul Morley, eat your broken heart out.
In the meantime, here’s something from Fire Behind The Curtain, that critically acclaimed LP from 2018 mentioned earlier on:-
Up until doing the little bit of research for this post, I had assumed today’s song was a cover of a number by The Carpenters:-
mp3 : Paul Quinn & The Independent Group – Superstar
The mighty Quinn and his just as mighty bandmates* recorded this for the 1992 album The Phantoms and the Archetypes, with it also appearing as a track on the Stupid Thing single the following year. My previous knowledge of the song stemmed from my childhood when the brother and sister duo enjoyed a Top 20 hit in late 1971 – to be honest, I thought Superstar had been a #1 record, such was the frequency with which I recall hearing it, but I’m thinking now that it was more likely one of those songs that was the subject of numerous requests over the years and I’m conflating things over an extended period.
Not that it matters.
I suppose I should have realised The Carpenters were themselves offering up a cover, given the writing credits go to Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett.
It turns out the song dates from 1969. The original has a totally different type of the arrangement, with horns and a gospel style backing vocal. It was Bonnie Bramlett on lead vocal, Leon Russell on keyboards and, among others, Eric Clapton on guitar and Rita Coolidge on background vocals. There were a few more versions recorded prior to The Carpenters, including by the likes of Cher, Bette Midler and Peggy Lee. There’s also been a lorry-load of versions since 1971 across a range of genres.
Paul Quinn’s take on things demonstrates that Superstar is, when it all boils down, a torch song of the utmost quality, and it’s a rather sad tale from the perspective of a discarded groupie, one who wasn’t a career groupie interested in quantity of ‘bags’, but who thought the love and affection offered by the musician in question was genuine and meaningful.
Turns out too that one line in the original version was felt too risqué by Richard Carpenter and so he changed ‘And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again’so that Karen would now sing ‘And I can hardly wait to be with you again”, which is the line also sung by Paul.
The song was later, in 1994, covered by a very unlikely source:-
mp3 : Sonic Youth – Superstar
It appeared initially on the tribute album If I Were a Carpenter and was also released as a single. It has been used on a couple of soundtracks and is the only known version for which Richard Carpenter has expressed a strong dislike.
Oh and *the mighty bandmates referred to at the outset?
James Kirk (ex-Orange Juice) Blair Cowan (ex-Lloyd Cole & The Commotions0 Tony Soave (ex-The Silencers) Campbell Owens (ex-Aztec Camera) Robert Hodgens (ex-The Bluebells) Alan Horne (music impresario extraordinaire)
I promised you last week that the final part of this, what I hope has been an informative and enjoyable series, would be worthwhile.
Those of you who have been with me since the days of the original Vinyl Villain Blog (born 30 Sep 2006, murdered by Google on 24 July 2013) will know that Paul Haig embraced and encouraged the sort of things this and other places do to respect music and musicians.
In March 2009, I put up a post which featured two Edinburgh acts – Paul Haig and Hey! Elastica. To my surprise and anger, Google acted on a dmca notice and removed the post and the links. The bizarre thing was that the offending post had been written on the back of an e-mail from someone associated with Paul Haig’s management thanking me for featuring him previously on TVV, the knock-on effect of which led to Paul himself contributing a couple of lines to the post, which was just a huge thrill for me. Oh and the song was one which was impossible to have unless you owned a particular piece of vinyl from the 80s.
It turned out that Paul and his management team were every bit as pissed off about it as I was, offering encouragement and then getting in touch with Google to express their dismay. Paul then sent me an email to say I had full permission to provide a free mp3 of his single Reason as his way of expressing solidarity with music bloggers whom he knew were doing a lot to encourage the sale of music and not just acting as thieves or pirates.
All this led to the genesis of an idea for bloggers to say thank you back to Paul, which we did by having Paul Haig Day on 6 April 2009, with more than 50, the world over, of us dedicating our posts on that date to his music, whether solo or with his old band. It even got a mention on a music station in New York City!!
The idea was repeated in 2010, and even more bloggers joined in. But what made it particularly special was that Paul offered up, not only more words of encouragement, but provide The Vinyl Villain with the opportunity to feature what was, at that point in time, an exclusive brand new remix of a song:-
mp3 : Paul Haig – Trip Out The Rider (remix)
Trip Out The Rider was the lead off track from Paul’s 2009 album, Relive, a work which at long last was seeing him get credit for much of what was happening in the world of indie music, and in particular, his influence of the likes of Franz Ferdinand. It also saw him revisit a few old songs, including Listen To Me (from has time working with Billy Mackenzie and which I featured a couple of weeks back) as well as Round and Round on which he had worked with Malcolm Ross, with the latter including it on one his own solo LPs as far back as 1995.
Paul, in providing the exclusive remix, also let me tell the world that a further remix of Trip Out The Rider had been done by Fred Deakin from Lemon Jelly, the highly innovative UK electronic act, and would be made available as a very exclusive 7″ vinyl single later in 2010….1 November 2010 as it turned out:-
mp3 : Paul Haig – Trip Out The Rider (Impotent Fury remix)
And, alongside the track made available via the blog almost seven months previous, was this b-side:-
mp3 : Paul Haig – Signals (Impotent Fury remix)
The three tracks have, to this point, been the final single released by Paul Haig. In recent years, he’s gone back to albums only, releasing Kube in 2013 on ROL while 2018 saw him return yet again to Les Disques du Crépuscule for his 13th solo album, The Wood, in which he has pushed the boundaries even further than he did on his Cinematique series, featuring nine pieces of music composed over a three year period, packed with samples, electronica and passages of guitar for which one reviewer wrote:-
“Haig has put together a work that’s in turns provocative, danceable, obscure, immediate and beguilingly rum. What The Wood actually consists of is eight pieces that mostly are dance/trance-orientated with repeated vocal motifs. The concept gives it an added edge and with a little imagination you can feel the eerie peace of the Forest and the skips and dips of the mind. Aside from the concept there is plenty to get one to, cough, ‘cut a rug’. But everything here fits and you have to admire Haig’s craftsmanship in the way it has been put together – producing a musical storybook without words in effect. Forty years into his recording career he’s still breaking new ground.”
The 1980s me might have struggled a bit with The Wood, but my tastes have thankfully expanded. I’ll be saying more about this remarkable album in the fullness of time, but for now thanks for sticking with the past 20 Sunday posts. The spotlight will be turned on someone different, but equally as interesting, from next week.
The lesser-known songwriter within Orange Juice. He played on all the Postcard singles and the debut album, he composed my favourite 45 by the band and he was unceremoniously sacked by his old friend Edwyn in 1982 when tensions between them got too high.
James Kirk would, shortly after the sacking, release material under the name of Memphis before quitting the business and forging a new profession as a chiropodist. It was completely out of the blue when his debut album You Can Make It If You Boogie appeared in 2003 on the Hamburg-based Marina Records – and true to form, there hasn’t been anything since until his guest contribution to the Port Sulphur album last year.
You Can make It…..is an astonishing album, packed with great tunes and superb playing from James and his band as well as memorable contributions from a number of well-known guest backing vocalists. The songs had clearly been written over an extended period of time, with co-writing credits given to, among others, Alan Horne and Paul Quinn who had, by 2003, been long absent from the music scene, but the crisp and flawless production of Mick Slaven (who also played on the record as well as co-writing two of the songs) ensures the album doesn’t ever sound trapped in any era or decade.
I can never quite make my mind up which is my favourite track on the album. Today, as these words are being typed it is this:-
mp3 : James Kirk – Rehab
It’ll change to something else the next time I play the album.
The heading of today’s post are words attributed to Everett True, a UK music journalist (among many other things) of some note, when he speaking in 2008 about 80s indie outfit Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike, a band to whom I made passing reference in this posting about Twa Toots, back in November 2017.
I only knew of Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike (from here-on in to be referred to simply as TBRM) back in the day from seeing it in print in one or more of the UK weekly music papers. I may have come across some of their music via John Peel shows, but I can’t be 100% sure. It’s unusual in many ways as I shared a flat for 12 months with someone who had the largest collection of indie singles and albums in its day, much of which I collected initially via cassettes and ultimately in many cases purchasing the vinyl. He didn’t have anything by TBRB in his collection and thus neither did I.
It’s only the best part of 40 years later that you can find a reasonable explanation why folk in Glasgow didn’t own anything, thanks to the info that’s been put there on t’internet.
Turns out TBRM were a duo consisting of siblings Mark and Melanie Litten, forming in 1981 when he was a telephone technician and she was in sixth-form at school (which will make her ages or thereabouts with me!). They lived on the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England, and which is home to occasional TVV contributor, Jules B. (I’m wondering Jules, if you grew up on the island, whether you knew either of the Littens?).
Anyways, TBRM were very much at the forefront of DIY-music, recording their songs in a box-room within their home, issuing them in limited numbers with photocopied sleeves and sending them out via post. It’s an operation which makes the likes of Postcard appear conglomerate and corporate.
This was both sides of the debut 45, released in mid-1982 on their very own Chew Records:-
mp3 : Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike – Invisible Boyfriend
mp3 : Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike – A Splash of Red
Now, I know what you’re thinking……amateurish and coy beyond words….but this is exactly the sort of stuff my flatmate feasted on and I’m sure he would have wanted a copy. Indeed, it may well be that he tried to get his hands on one, but there were only 100 pressed up, the only record ever released by Chew. Its rarity means it is valuable and the one copy on Discogs has an asking price of £700.
A copy will be sitting somewhere in the vaults of a late and much missed DJ, as it was sent to John Peel, who not only played it but had them come to London and record a session which was recorded in July 1982 and broadcast the following month.
The duo would wait until the following year before releasing a follow-up the appropriately and accurately named 5 Songs EP, and included this so twee it is ridiculously beyond twee effort:-
mp3 : Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike – Trixie’s Groove
The EP, which I understand was recorded in Portsmouth, again had a very limited run and right now, there’s no copies for sale on Discogs!
After this, they got all rock’n’roll lifestyle, thanks to a friendship with Jane Fox of Marine Girls, who joined them for a second John Peel session in August 1983 and later on for a recording session in a professional studio on the Isle of Wight, the fruits of which proved to be a shared flexidisc and a 7” single which sold enough copies to reach the giddy heights of #29 in the UK indie Charts in late 1983:-
mp3 : Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike – Norman and Narcissus
Again, no copies currently for sale……
The following year, TBRM provided two new songs for Feet On The Street, a compilation album featuring singers and bands from the Isle of Wight before a couple more tracks, recorded in the home studio, found their way onto a German compilation cassette in 1986 by which time they had disbanded, with Melanie moving off the island.
Just about everything was gathered up and issued on a vinyl LP ‘The Intimate Sound of Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike’ in 1995 and that was it until 2012, at which point the band reformed!!!
An interview was given to the Penny Black Music website in October 2012 during which Mark Litten revealed he was now performing the songs but with his daughter Jane on vocals and instrumentation (Jane was 15 years old when he gave the interview). He had also worked on the release ‘All Day Long In Bliss’, a new digitial compilation for download on Bandcamp comprising 18 tracks, some of which were demos and others had been previously unavailable, the purchase of which allows the printing of a CD sleeve and a 20-page booklet with liner notes and photos. Click here to purchase.
And that, unless anyone has any comments to add, will likely be the first and last time TRBM appear on T(n)VV.
The second 45 from to be lifted from Grinderman 2 was another unconventional and far from commercial number. It’s kind of self-deprecating too, what with the protagonoist referring to his girl as a Snake Charmer, Worm Tamer, Serpent Wrangler and Mambo Rider before revealing that she calls him The Loch Ness Monster on account of ‘two big humps and then I’m gone’
It came out on 12″ green vinyl, and in addition to the album version, had a remix and a remake attributed to a collaboration:-
mp3 : Grinderman – Worm Tamer
mp3 : Grinderman – Worm Tamer (A Place To Bury Strangers remix)
mp3 : Grinderman/UNKLE – Hyper Worm Tamer
It reached #52 in the UK singles chart in November 2010. It was one of many tracks which sounded immense and hard when played live on the subsequent tour for the album, as evidenced by this TV appearance:-
The UNKLE collabortion is, however, the real highlight of this release…..
I don’t like using the blog to be negative about things, which is why, on occasion, a disappointing live show or album won’t get a mention. I did, over a year back, launch the idea of a series called ‘Had It, Lost It’ but quickly shut it down when it became clear that much of the TVV readership wasn’t comfortable with the concept.
But it is hard to post something about The Cardigans without having a sideways swipe at the dullness of the pop-rock stuff which personified their commercial peak…and I’ll come to that in due course.
The band was formed in 1992 in Jönköping, Sweden by guitarist Peter Svensson, bassist Magnus Sveningsson, drummer Bengt Lagerberg, keyboardist Lars-Olof Johansson and singer Nina Persson. The band’s principal songwriters were Peter and Magnus, both of whom had been in heavy metal bands previously, and so it was something of a surprise that debut album, Emmerdale (1994), was packed with the sort of light, intelligent and most easy-going of indie-pop, one which had more in common with the mid 80s than the guitar-driven Britpop sounds which was all the rage in the UK.
mp3 : The Cardigans – Rise and Shine
Mind you, the band did pay a nod to the roots of the songwriters with this cover (which surely placed ideas in tghe minds of those who would later form Nouvelle Vague):-
mp3 : The Cardigans – Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath
Emmerdale was one of those albums that ‘those in the know’ were quoting as being very listenable; the media, which has always throughout the history of pop music been besotted by bands with attractive female lead singers, were drawn by the charm and style of Nina Persson and before long, the band was gathering column inches. The sophomore album, Life, took up perfectly from where Emmerdale had left off, albeit it was more of a collective effort with all five members contributing in one way or another to the music and lyrics.
mp3 : The Cardigans – Carnival
It’s a peach of an album, its 11 tracks coming together to form genuinely wonderful piece of essential and very clever pop music, The Swedish critics remained euphoric and the buzz being generated was really growing. The decision was taken to try to ‘launch’ the band to the UK market through a different version of Life, one which removed three songs and replaced them with five from Emmerdale, including the tracks that had been hit singles in Sweden and the Black Sabbath cover – as much to give a different point of reference for those who were interviewing or profiling the band as much as anything.
It’s worth mentioning that The Cardigans, despite the critical acclaim being heaped upon them, weren’t selling huge amounts of records, even in Sweden. Emmerdale had reached #29 and Life hit #20, but none of the singles had done much. As such, it was quite a brave move to try to crack the UK and the initial efforts didn’t achieve much in the way of chart success, although the band was beginning to receive regular plays on the evening shows on Radio 1 and be invited to perform on TV shows, such as The White Room, hosted by Mark Radcliffe.
It turned out, however, that Life was a bit of a slow-burner, never quite getting enough sales in any one week to ever crack the Top 50 in the UK but eventually collecting a Gold Record for 100,000 sales. The band remained ridiculously popular in Japan, with Life eventually selling 500,000 copies there, a situation which led to the band being poached away from their Swedish label by Mercury Records.
The third album, First Band On The Moon, appeared in 1996. The advance single provided a #21 hit in the UK:-
mp3 : The Cardigans – Lovefool
The album was more akin to Emmerdale than Life (and still the former hadn’t been issued outside of Sweden and Japan), as evidenced by most of the songs being Svennson/Sveningsson compositions as well as yet another fun-filled cover of a Black Sabbath number.
mp3 : The Cardigans – Iron Man
And then something strange happened….which changed the band forever.
Lovefool was chosen to be part of the soundtrack to what proved to be one of the biggest films of 1996, the Baz Luhrmann re-make of Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the tragic lovers. MTV began airing a video for Lovefool which was composed in the main of clips from the film and the next thing you know, Mercury decide to capitalise with a re-release and were soon laughing all the way to the bank as it reached #2 in the UK, #1 on the US Billboard Chart and Top 10 all over Europe and in Australia. The Cardigans had, in the minds of the general public, finally arrived.
Fame and fortune did not, however, bring happiness.
Which leads me to the next record, Gran Turismo, which proved to be the commercial peak in 1997.
It’s an album which spawned three hit singles – My Favourite Game, Erase/Rewind and Hanging Around – but turned The Cardigans into a run-of-the-mill, dull and indistinguishable band. The light touch and humour that was so obviously on display on previous releases was replaced by boom and bombast, with expensively made videos on heavy rotation on all sorts of rock channels. It sold in huge quantities and brought them a wider audience – the songs were in demand for film soundtracks and the increasingly important and lucrative video games market – but in doing so everything that had been attractive about the band was lost.
And if you wanted an example of just how far down the indie-tree the band had fallen, just recall that 1999 saw them record a duet with Tom Jones for his covers album Reload, in which they butchered Burning Down The House by Talking Heads.
There were tensions within the band with them unsure of what to do next. Peter, Magnus and Nina all went off and did side projects, none of which were huge successes. It did succeed in helping them refocus and to get back together to write and record Long Gone Before Daylight after a five-year hiatus, by which time they were back on their original Swedish label, unwilling to play the game asked of by the multi-national major.
It was a huge change from what had come before, with no hints of the early pop or the later rock. There was even a change of image with Nina’ previously very Scandic blonde looked replaced by jet black. She had also taken responsibility for writing all the lyrics and what emerged was a tone, feel and mood which matched her new hair colour. Peter Svennson took care of the music, and all too often it matched the lyrics, which would have been fine if it had, for instance, been something of a torch album or given a hint of soul, but too many of the songs got lost in an AOR, almost Fleetwood Mac sort of sound. It sold well in Sweden where the band had now been accorded status of national treasure, but was a relative flop elsewhere. The lead-off single did give the band their last ever taste of chart success in the UK, reaching #31 in February 2003:-
mp3 : The Cardigans – For What It’s Worth
Interesting choice of cover song for the b-side:-
mp3 : The Cardigans – Das Model
Come 2005, their sixth album Super Extra Gravity was released. Once again, it was a huge hit in Sweden but a flop elsewhere. This was the lead-off single:-
mp3 : The Cardigans – I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer
Great song title, but rather an ordinary sounding song. Come the end of the tour to promote the album, which was played before diminishing audiences, the band broke up.
But they did eventually get back together, of sorts, in that Peter Svensson, the main musical force from the outset, declined to be part of it. Here’s wiki to explain:-
In 2012 the Cardigans received a lucrative offer from Hultsfred Festival to perform the album Gran Turismo in full. After initial hesitation, the band decided to accept the offer “as it felt like a good way of tearing us out of our strange new everyday life,” according to Persson. Peter Svensson declined to participate, although he had no objection to the band touring without him. They recruited singer-songwriter Oskar Humlebo to fill in for Svensson, and asked their agent to seek more shows for them to play. Ultimately, the band made their live comeback with shows in Lund and Copenhagen ahead of Hultsfred, before playing in Poland, Finland, Russia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan, with a scheduled concert in Israel cancelled by the promoter. Most of these shows involved performing Gran Turismo in full, followed by an assortment of hits from their other albums.
Still with Humlebo in place of Svensson, the band played career-spanning sets when touring resumed during late 2013 with shows in Japan, China and Russia, followed by more dates in 2015 which took them to South Korea, Europe and South America. In interviews promoting her 2014 solo album Animal Heart, Persson suggested that the success of their most recent live dates opened the possibility for future Cardigans recordings, though there were no firm plans. “It’s really fun to do greatest hits things, since there’s nothing else, but I think if we continue having this much fun we would like to make another record, because we like to create new things,” said Persson. The band’s only scheduled show for 2016 was at Qstock (Oulu, Finland) on 29 July. In 2017 they performed in Stockholm and in Turku, Finland.
In June 2018, the band announced their only live shows of the year: a four-date U.K. tour in December to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Gran Turismo in which they would perform the album in full again. In an interview to promote the tour, Persson stated, “There won’t be any more Cardigans records, I’m pretty sure. But we’ll keep doing little tours and shows as long as it’s fun, as long as we can do it well and feel that it’s something that’s current to us.”
The reviews of those UK shows were mixed, with many reflecting that the venues were less than full and those who came along seemed to prefer the second half of the shows in which material other than Gran Turismo was aired. I’d have reacted similar if I’d been there.
I’ve put this piece together, with nine tracks in all (including the video clip), as I was contemplating an ICA but given how few songs post-1996 would have featured, I went for the career perspective instead…and hopefully haven’t upset too many by being a bit snide about Gran Turismo.
In response to your recent post about The Who, and the divided opinion the band clearly generates, I thought I’d better have a go at a Who ICA. Mindful of some of the criticisms that earlier post elicited, eagle-eyed readers will notice there’s nothing here from Tommy (…even though everyone loves Pinball Wizard, right?)
Anyway, here goes – ten tracks to encapsulate the greatest band never to have a number one single (and yes, I’m expecting some flak for that too…)
1. My Generation
It has to be, doesn’t it? Not only did it lend its title to their debut album, it lent its message to a generation. And the beauty of this is that all the band get their moment – Roger gets that stuttery f-f-f-in’ vocal, John and Pete get to do a call and response with bass and guitar in the middle, and Keith gets to showcase the cascading, scatter-shot drumming that would come to be his trademark and which stills sounds fantastic now – the impact it must have had in 1965 is hard to imagine.
2. I Can See For Miles
How far the band had come, in just a couple of years, embracing psychedelia for all it was worth. The chiming guitar line that runs through the chorus is what really elevates this though, and warrants the inclusion here. It’s simple and, in places, sounds like it on the verge of veering off-key… but it never does. Of its time, yes, but also timeless, and an early indicator that a band that would never completely lose the Mod tag had other things on their mind from a very early stage.
3. Baba O’Riley
The opening track from the band’s most satisfying album, Who’s Next, with a keyboard line that, once heard, is never forgotten. There’s something about hearing a maturing band passing comment (judgement?) on a teenage wasteland that stands up today, perhaps more than ever? Pete lays down some great power chords in this too, punctuating the looping keyboard riff.
4. Behind Blue Eyes
Another from Who’s Next, this time illustrating beautifully how The Who weren’t all about power and bombast, but could lay down a delicate, semi-acoustic ballad as well as most. It also highlights the vocal harmonies that band could achieve, something that is often overlooked when the industrial-strength Daltrey vocals are so often the focus.
5. Won’t Get Fooled Again
If memory serves, this closed Who’s Next, and is a perfect song to close Side One here. If you asked me to summarise The Who in one song, it would be this – everything is here, and then some. From Pete’s windmilling power chords, Roger’s shredded vocals (“Yeeeeeahhhh!”), John’s thunderous, dextrous bass and the aforementioned cascading, syncopated Moon drumming. This, right here, is an archetype of The Who, and another track that benefits from a memorable keyboard part.
6. The Seeker
From odds and ends round-up Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy.
The Seeker was memorably used to great effect in American Beauty. There, it soundtracks Lester Burnham after he quits his job and goes off, somewhat literally, to seek some fun. You can see what they did there. Anyway, for a band that were often criticised for being too serious, too pretentious, this reminded us that they still knew their way around a feelgood, rock-out, punch-the-air tune.
7. I’m One
Sorry (not sorry) for this, the first of three tracks from Quadrophenia. Yes, I know it’s easy to knock. A pretentious concept album with allusions of grandeur, dressed-up in cod-psychology… I get all that. But it tells a story, a great story, here in album form (never mind the film [and yes, I bloody love that too]). Here, Pete takes lead vocal over a bucolic acoustic guitar line, singing of our hero Jimmy’s individuality (and of Pete’s too, no doubt). Another reminder that The Who weren’t all about power and decibels…
8. I’ve Had Enough
…although they could do power and decibels as well as just about anybody. Here, Jimmy has a bit of an epiphany, realising that his life, the parental abode and his job are all totally unfulfilling. Maybe even the things he has held dear – music, fashion, girls – maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be either. And here, in musical form, that sense of disappointment, of disillusionment, builds and builds, gets angrier and angrier and then emerges on the other side, musically lighter but lyrically bleaker. A breakdown in musical form.
I sometimes wonder if the band’s management ever thought, “You know, we’ll support you doing all this arty-farty concept album guff but do us a favour, at least give us a single or two.” And so Tommy got Pinball Wizard and Quadrophenia got 5.15. A great, dynamic song that directly follows I’ve Had Enough on the album, and is a perfect riposte from the schizophrenic Jimmy: a paean to not caring, to getting trashed, to rebelling, to not giving a toss. And how about the way the brass elevates the chorus? Oh, and the beginning, with the entwined guitar and piano behind the plaintive, “Why should I care?” is one of the band’s finest intros.
10. Who Are You
There’s a case to be made that the band should have called it a day after Quadrophenia. But they weren’t done, and were still capable of the occasional moment of genius. Who Are You is one such, with its semi-autobiographical Townshend lyric (after going out drinking with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Pete really was found in a Soho doorway by a policeman, who let him go if he could safely walk away). There’s great musicianship here too, not least for the soon-to-be-gone Keith Moon, and ex-Zombie Rod Argent contributing piano. Like a lot of Who songs, it has a false ending, almost petering out but coming back stronger. A great way to close the ICA, as it closed the album of the same name; as the last to feature Moon, there are many who feel that it should have closed the band too.
And that’s that. Narrowly missing out? Substitute, I Can’t Explain, Pictures of Lily, So Sad About Us, Bargain, The Real Me, and countless others. They might not have had a number one single, but as an albums band (unapologetically so), there’s depth to The Who canon. I urge the doubters and naysayers to explore it.