A REAL GROWER….

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The Blur v Oasis ‘war’ of 1995 had swung one way then the other. The Essex band were declared the initial winners thanks to Country House beating Roll With It to the #1 spot but before long the Gallagher Bros had captured the hearts and wallets of a nation once they heard Wonderwall.

Come 1997 a new and different sounding Blur emerged. The fun-loving Britpop band had gone to be replaced by an altogether more serious sounding lot. There was an edge to the lyrics, but much more impressively, there was also an edge to the music. Above all else, where Oasis had seemingly stood still and simply wanted to regurgitate the songs that were the cash-cows, Blur challenged their fans to keep on loving them.

The Comeback single was released on 20 January 1997.

mp3 : Blur – Beetlebum

Was it a dig at Liam & Noel with their never-ending fixation on The Beatles? That’s what it sounded like first time round. It was one of those tracks that sounded OK on the radio but not one that would instantly stick in your brain. But it was popular enough to reach #1, only the second time this had happened to Blur after the afore-mentioned Country House (strangely enough it would be the last #1 single they ever had).

But it wasn’t until around three weeks later that I really appreciated Beetlebum for being a truly great song. I bought the new album, called Blur, and gave it a listen. The lead single was the opening track and as I was impatient, I hit the skip button to listen to everything else afterwards. After about eight songs I realised I owned a CD that was a bit special so I stopped there and there and went back to the beginning. And listened properly to Beetlebum. It sounded so much better played loud on the stereo than it did on the radio…the talents of Graham Coxon, Dave Rowntree and Alex James really shone through…and Damon Albarn provided a great reminder of how good a singer he was. Forget the fact that Oasis were now in a different league to Blur in terms of popularity and record sales…..this was the sound of the most important British band of their era coming good yet again.

Here’s all yer b-side of the single. Warning…there’s a reason they didn’t end up on the LP…..

mp3 : Blur – All Your Life
mp3 : Blur – A Spell (For Money)
mp3 : Blur – Woodpigeon Song
mp3 : Blur – Dancehall
mp3 : Blur – Beetlebum (Mario Caldato Jr Mix)

Enjoy

THE £20 CHALLENGE (Week Seven)

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SWC writes…..

This week has been crazy. Exeter has been taken over by Radio 1 and it is bedlam. Badger and I have both been asked to work on the Saturday on site at Powderham Castle. This might sound exciting but it really isn’t. The office where I am sitting, I say office, I mean portacabin, has a view of the back of the urinals from one side and a ‘burrito stall’ from the other. I am not sure which smells worse. The place is over run by people who have never been to a festival or music event before. People who are complaining that you get precisely no change from a tenner from the bar when you order two bottles of pear cider. People who do not normally drink in the afternoon, and in the heat, people who are moaning that there is no big screen TV to watch the rugby.  We also ran out of toilet paper around an hour ago. Its ok – I’ve spied a copy of the Sun which I am reserving for any ‘emergencies’.

And then there is the music. Sigh

Saturday headliners are Mumford and Sons, I’ve seen one of them walking about back here in the ‘enclosure’ wearing a fedora and sporting a beard that looks like he has wrestled a cat and stuck it to his face. They are joined on the bill by the likes of Meghan Traynor (no me neither), Nick Jonas and an act called Sigma who to make matters worse have promised that they will be joined on stage by horse faced professional stupid person Paloma Faith and wanky professional tax dodgers Take That for their brand of watered down pop rave. Its torment. The one saving grace if you can call it that is Jake Bugg, he’s alright, if you like watching a teenager pretend to be Ian McCulloch. Which I do. So there.  Actually his set was pretty good – I watched it later on telly.

The ‘New Music’ tent is marginally better, you do at least get Chrvches, and Tame Impala which should be pretty good and I have scheduled my break in order to watch both. I have also just seen Spring King on the Introducing Stage who were amazing and if you haven’t heard them yet I urge you all to check them out as soon as you can.

mp3 : Spring King – City

To top all this, Badger has just swung by my office – he is one of the lucky ones who has been allowed backstage into the VIP area. He said that it is full of journalists trying to interview Gary Barlow – not that good – but they have flushing toilets, fresh fruit and free water back there. I have a warm bottle of Volvic, a banana that looks like it’s been smuggled anally from the Dominican Republic and a sandwich that looks like it has been trodden on by the crowd on the way back from watching the earlier performance by Sigma and Take That. Anyway, Badger has swung by with this weeks CD.

“I thought you’d be bored so I thought I’d drop this by for you to listen to”.

He’s right I have been bored, so bored that I have just finished counting that there are 73 screws and 19 bolts holding this portacabin together. When the bass from the nearby whirly-gig roundabout throbs the whole places vibrates.

“I got it from the Teignmouth branch of ‘British Heart Foundation’ price £2, I must go, I’m needed to drive Meaghan Traynor to Exeter Airport at four pm.”

This is a true story. Badger drove a pop starlet to the airport on Saturday. He has barely mentioned it.

I open the bag that Badger has left on the desk. It has a note stuck to it which in true Badger style is written in green ink. He does this all the time when he thinks he is being clever. The note reads ‘Another Greatest Hits CD to add to your growing collection’. It is the ‘Best of Blur’. It is the 2xCD set – but in true charity shop style, CD2 appears to be missing. Genius.

The other day I bought Badger’s next CD (from the Rowcroft shop in Totnes) – or I thought I did – it was a copy of the debut album by Rage Against the Machine – only to get it home and find out that it was copied version of the sleeve and inside was an burnt CD of American nu metal fucktards Korn – never has the sound of case crushing underneath wellington boot sounded so refreshing.

I’m not a big Blur fan. However I’ll say this for them, they were incredibly consistent. It is rather ‘Parklife’ heavy for my liking and their best album ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ is woefully under represented here – with ‘Popscene’ and ‘Chemical World’ omitted but the rubbish ‘For Tomorrow’ included.

The thing that used to annoy me about Blur the most was their singer Damon Albarn – his mockney Cockney Cheeky chappie persona annoyed me to the point of violent swearing. I find ‘Country House’ difficult to listen to – the use of the word ‘Jackanory’ to describe how things are going for instance – its just too fake. I also used to live near a bloke who looked like Damon – and then spent all his time and money on perfecting this – and in the mornings when I left for work I use to see him walking to the train station – and it always put me in a bad mood.

Although today, it is cheese making, mates with Dave Cameron, bassist Alex James that annoys me more – no idea why.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the material that made it to this record. The early not quite shoegaze shine of ‘She’s So High’ the bouncy dance cross over of ‘Girls and Boys’ and the newbie (at the time) ‘Music is My Radar’ to pick three excellent tracks.

mp3 : Blur – She’s So High
mp3 : Blur – Girls And Boys
mp3 : Blur – The Universal
mp3 : Blur – Music Is My Radar

It’s a good album – if you own no Blur albums – its worth checking out, but it’s definitely not good enough to joining my list of Greatest Hits Albums worth buying.

So here is the skinny

Bought from Teignmouth British Heart Foundation

Price £2

Left £7

Weeks left 3

S-WC

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (35)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MONDAY 7 APRIL 2008

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The first time I can ever recall Blur was seeing their video for early single There’s No Other Way on TV and more than anything else it was made memorable by the lead singer’s truly awful bowl-style haircut. The song was no more than a standard bit of indie-pop of its time that sounded pleasant enough on the radio and gave the kids something to shuffle around to on the dance-floor. That was early 1991.

The band then disappeared off my radar and I thought nothing more of them. Then about a year later, I picked up a 12” single of theirs in a bargain-bin for 99p. It was called Popscene and it was a radical departure away from the previous single that I had known about – it was fast and dynamic with a horn section blaring away in the background and quite unlike anything else being released at that time.

Again its hard for younger readers to imagine that music fans were once completely dependant on the likes of the NME every week or Q magazine every month to keep abreast of what was happening. All I could gleam was that Blur were trying to crack America without any degree of success, and Food Records were threatening to drop them. Then I read that their second LP had been delayed, partly because sessions with Andy Partridge hadn’t worked out.

In May 1993, they released the song that I’ve selected at #35:-

mp3 : Blur – For Tomorrow

I didn’t actually buy this single – it was a time when I had stopped buying vinyl, and wasn’t prepared to be ripped off at £3/£4 for a CD single when the album would soon be available at £10-£12. So I wasn’t someone who contributed to it reaching the giddy heights of #15.

I listened a lot to the LP Modern Life Is Rubbish, and felt sorry for Blur that the success they craved and deserved continually seemed out of reach. It was a fantastically inventive LP, not unlike so many others by XTC which was hugely ironic given the sessions with Andy Partridge had been ditched in favour of working with Stephen Street of The Smiths/Morrissey fame.

But then out of seemingly nowhere monthly glossies in particular began to take an interest in the band. The fact they were articulating an argument against grunge, which was just about everywhere at the time, struck a chord with a number of emerging young journalists looking to hitch their star to a different wagon. Thus the seeds of Britpop were sewn…

The attention given to the band became justified with the release in 1994 of the single Girls And Boys, a celebration/parody of the particularly British style of hedonism known as an Club 18-30 Holiday which gave the band a Top 5 success and further platforms to slag off the influence of America on British music. Other singers and bands started doing the same – and if you want a perfect example, just check out the song The Campaign For Real Rock by Edwyn Collins – one of his finest ever recordings, and one whose lyrics became part of a series called Poems On The Underground (one of my most treasured possessions is one of the posters from the underground signed by Edwyn…tune in next Monday for more on this!!).

Blur released the LP Parklife in 1994 and went mega. Then they went head-to-head with Oasis for supremacy, and while the single Country House won the initial battle, The LP The Great Escape lost them the war.

The band went off and re-invented themselves yet again. Comeback single Beetlebum struck a chord with many, although I always found it a bit too-Beatlesque to be wholly enjoyable. Then came ‘Whoo-Hooooo. When I Feel Heavy Metal…’

Song 2 is something I will never tire of, and would probably have been the single of choice from Blur, except for one small fact.

Back in May 1994, just before Girls and Boys/Parklife took the band to new heights, myself and Mrs Villain went to see Blur at a now demolished venue called the Plaza in Glasgow. It was an old-fashioned dance hall, and not widely used by touring acts. It was one of those magical gigs where the band hit a high on the first song of the night and never let the momentum drop. The highlight however was For Tomorrow which everyone was now beginning to realise should have been a classic that hung around the charts for months, only we were all too busy either shoe-gazing or listening to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

It was a genuine hairs on the back of the neck moment….and that’s why For Tomorrow got the nod over Song 2.

The irony of Somg 2 is that it became huge in the States thanks in part to its adoption by so many sports franchises as music to accompany clips played on large screens in baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football stadia. It was maybe as well that no-one dug too deep to find the anti-American sentiments that were being expressed just a few years earlier…

Blur haven’t officially broken up. Damon has enjoyed great success with his spin-off bands, Graham has become a bit of a cult act with his solo LPs, Alex has written a book, and Dave…..well he seems to be enjoying himself in his own techie-driven world.

We might yet see another album from them in due course. Or maybe not.*

*   that was a real sitting-on the fence prediction back in 2008 wasn’t it?????

 

A FORGOTTEN VICTIM OF THE BRITPOP WARS

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History shows that Country House by Blur beat Roll With It by Oasis to the #1 spot when both singles were released in the same week in August 1995. It also records that in the immediate aftermath, Oasis won the Britop war as the critics adjudged (What’s The Story) Morning Glory as far superior to The Great Escape, a view backed by the general public if sales were anything to go by.

The sad thing of course is that the initial singles battle was fought with two really inferior bits of music, especially when you consider the quality of the follow-ups, neither of which reached #1 despite deserving to do so.

The next single by Oasis was Wonderwall, released on 30 October and considered by many to be as good a song to stall ay #2 as any, and probably the song most associated with the band all these years later

Blur waited a further two weeks before releasing their follow-up and they went with the one truly outstanding track from the parent LP:-

mp3 : Blur – The Universal

It’s a song filled with melancholy and despair. It’s more or less saying, again, that modern life is rubbish and that there’s little chance of that ever-changing. The tune is haunting and moving while the icing on the cake is the truly magnificent video in which the band paid tribute to A Clockwork Orange, a movie which at the time was still impossible to see in the UK as its director, Stanley Kubrick, had had it withdrawn back in 1972 in response to accusations that the film had encouraged copycat acts of violence (the ban wasn’t lifted until after Kubrick’s death in 1999).

It’s a song which, if truth be told, would have been better served by wither being the lead single off the album or else kept off it entirely and released as a stand alone single once the promotional work for the LP had been completed. That way, it might have got what it deserved and not the miserly #5 chart position from where it quickly drifted away while Wonderwall kept selling and selling during a lengthy stay in the charts right up to and beyond Christmas.

The Universal came in 2xCDs, one of which featured four live recordings from a BBC Radio 1 session in September 1995 as part of the promotion of the parent album.

mp3 : Blur – The Universal (live)
mp3 : Blur – Mrs Robinson’s Quango (live)
mp3 : Blur – It Could Be You (live)
mp3 : Blur – Stereotypes (live)

Enjoy.

A LONG WAY REMOVED FROM PARKLIFE

Blur

In 1993 and 1994 it was all a bit ‘cor blimey guv’ and catchy upbeat sing-a-long numbers driven along by the classic sounds made by a line-up consisting of singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer.

Things had changed a lot by 1997….

To be fair, Blur released a lot of great songs in 93 and 94, many of them being introspective and sad ballads, hat have aged a lot better than the likes of Parklife and Country House. And yes, it wasn’t always down to the use of the guitar-genius of Graham Coxon to make these songs memorable – some of their best and catchiest somgs used keyboards – e.g. Girls and Boys.

But very few fans were prepared for the self-titled 1997 LP. It sold less in the UK than more recent albums but sold far more in other countries. Blur and Britpop had parted forever….indeed their turning their back on the sound and movement that had brought them immense fame and fortune was the beginning of the end. That and it being endorsed by politicians.

I was thinking all this the other day when a stunning remix of one of the tracks on Blur came on the i-pod shuffle. The song that to me was their sign-off from Britpop. Something that I had not quite forgotten how good it was, but for the first time I was listening with a decent pair of headphones and I turned it up loud. Sorry it’s the usual shitty mp3 low-fi quality on offer. But you should get the drift:-

mp3 : Blur – Death Of A Party (12″ Death)

It’s taken from a Japanese CD called Bustin and Dronin’ although it may well be available elsewhere. As I said, it’s stunning…..it’s more than 7 minutes long ….it’s a mix by Adrian Sherwood and it’s miles from the poppy stuff – it’s almost reminiscent in places musically of Ghost Town – and it has a chorus Mozza would have been proud of:-

Another night
And I though well well
Go to another party
And hang myself
Gently on the shelf.

Feel free to sing along girls and boys.

PS : I make no apologies for this particular re-post from October 2012 as it features a cracking piece of music that might surprise those of you who normally have no time for the band.

A LA FIN

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May 1994.

Blur had just enjoyed their biggest chart hit to date with Girls & Boys. The song chosen as the follow-up single was a bit of surprise. Instead of taking the easy way out with another upbeat indie-pop number, the boys went for a very sad ballad, complete with lush orchestration and some lyrics that needed subtitles:-

mp3 : Blur – To The End

It climbed to #16 in the charts which was higher than most of the band’s previous eight singles, but was probably something of a disappointment to all concerned at the time. The co-vocal is provided by Laetitia Sadier who was at the time part of the wonderful Stereolab.

The single was released in 2 x CD format, with one of the formats featuring a couple of non-album tracks:-

mp3 : Blur – Threadneedle Street
mp3 : Blur – Got Yer!

Both tracks are perhaps a little bit Blur by numbers, but that doesn’t mean they are dull and boring. Got Yer! in fact must have been a candidate for inclusion on the LP Parklife as one of those odd little tracks that the band were fond of using to break up the pop songs.

Of much more interest was the fact that two versions of the Pet Shop Boys remix of Girls & Boys were made available on the other format:-

mp3 : Blur – Girls & Boys (Pet Shop Boys 7″ remix)
mp3 : Blur – Girls & Boys (Pet Shop Boys 12″ remix)

Some 15 months later, an awful lot of people would find themselves owning a new, longer, lusher and more French version of To The End thanks to its inclusion as one of the tracks on the smash single Country House:-

mp3 : Blur – To The End (comedie)

This time the co-vocal was provided by the iconic chanteuse Francoise Hardy whose recording career stretches back to 1962. She was 50 years of age when she sang alongside Damon Albarn which seemed ancient to me back then.  I’m now nearly 51 years old………………

Enjoy

AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE : FEBRUARY 2007 (1)

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Interesting that this month saw me chastise myself for spending so much time writing live reviews and featuring stuff on CD singles.  The purist in me came up with a week-long series entitled going back to my roots which would be vinyl, vinyl, vinyl all the way Here’s a summary version of each post :-

Monday 5 February

From The Cost of Living EP, a re-working of the song Capital Radio along with an additional 45 seconds tagged on at the end…..a little Clash-mercial pleading with everyone to get down to their nearest Clash showroom

So here’s all 04 minutes and 05 seconds of:-

mp3 : The Clash – Capital Radio (Cost Of Living EP version)

Tuesday 6 February

Looking in the vinyl cupboard for something to show that there’s more than just twee-pop bands and the collective works of lesser-known Scottish geniuses living in there. And I found a 12″ single which, in the true spirit of TVV, put up a fantastic remix version that was available only on the reverse side:

mp3 : Senser – Eject (Over Zealous Mix)

Wednesday 7 February

Back in 1992, I bought a 12” single from a clearance/bargain bin in a record shop in Edinburgh for 99p. While it did reach No.32 in the charts, it was a record that was deleted shortly afterwards, never to appear again. It wasn’t included on the 1993 LP Modern Life Is Rubbish, nor was it included on the CD of the Greatest Hits package Blur released in 2000.

mp3 : Blur – Popscene

Thursday 8 February

So many things were going on in my life at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s that I wasn’t able to keep up with much new music.  Jacques the Kipper, aware of my fondness for what became known as Madchester, would periodically throw in my direction a rectangular box containing a cassette tape (young people – activate your google search now). Said cassette tape contained 90 minutes worth of songs, many of which I became very fond, not least today’s offering.

Fast forward to January 2007. A work colleague, on learning that I had started the blog, handed over around 15-20 records that he no longer wanted. Tucked away in the middle of the pile was this, and on the small indie label the band started out on:

mp3 : Paris Angels – All On You (Perfume)

Friday 9 February

I’m up late cos I can’t sleep. I never can when Mrs Villain is working away overnight. Right now she’s in Manchester on behalf of her company for a presentation to an important client just 24 hours after a previous presentation to a would-be client here in Glasgow who are likely to turn her down. Bastards.

So I thought I’d end my five days of postings from the original vinyl with the one song that always make me think of her.

There we were at a Carter USM gig at Barrowlands, Glasgow in the early 90s – me, Mrs Villain and Jacques the Kipper. Us blokes being experienced moshers felt it was just a bit too crazy with all those young folk being awfully lively down the front, so we were strategically placed just left-of-centre maybe halfway back.

Then the opening notes of today’s song came through the speakers.

DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAAAAAAAH

And before the same notes were repeated prior to the crashing guitars, Mrs Villain had gone….right down into the melee. I was gobsmacked. But I left her to it – we hadn’t long drawn up wills leaving all our possessions to one another.

5 and a bit minutes later she came back, drenched in sweat but with the most fantastic grin on her face.

So this is her song.

mp3 : Carter USM – Bloodsport For All

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