THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Parts 4-6)

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.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #155 : JAMIE SCOTT

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.

mp3 : Jamie Scott – Another World!

JC

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #210 – ROBYN HITCHCOCK

A GUEST POSTING by THE SWEDE

The brains behind the wonderful Unthought of Though Somehow blog

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.

THE SWEDE

 

ONLY WHEN I’M DANCING CAN I FEEL THIS FREE

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.

JC

BRIAN…..YOU WERE BANG ON THE MONEY AGAIN

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.

JC

LOOK AT ME, MA……

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.

JC

MONDAY MORNING….COMING DOWN (8)

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:-

mp3 : Butcher Boy – React or Die

Sigh

JC