THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (23)

And now the end is near……and I think it’s fair to say that this series has demonstrated that Luke Haines will do things his way.

I’m a fan going back decades, but there have been times in listening to the back catalogue where I’ve been bemused and borderline-bored and so my thanks to those of you who have refrained from offering up your words of criticism when confronted by some more nonsense on recent Sunday mornings.

2016 saw the run of concept albums come to a halt with the release of Smash The System. One of the most noticeable things about this collection of songs is the comeback for the singing voice – there’s hardly any mumbling or whispering and next-to-no spoken word. It’s an album that initially leans on electronica, but before too long the acoustic and electric guitars are picked up and deployed to great effect….only for it all to descend into what could be a parody or tribute (it’s hard to tell with Mr Haines) of folk rock. The album veers all over the place, often catching even the most keen interested listener off-guard, and as such it provides further evidence to those who don’t like his stuff that Haines’s head remains wedged firmly up his own backside.

Maybe I expected a bit too much from the album as I wasn’t entirely convinced by much of its contents on initial listens – but at the same time I felt there were a handful of outstanding efforts that would always find a place on the i-pod. Over the past couple of years, my tolerance levels have increased and I can now listen to all the way through without reaching for the skip button, albeit the temptation is still there.

I think that there’s just too much going on lyrically, with countless references to real people, some of whom have featured in previous albums recorded by Haines in one guise or other. The song titles alone namecheck Ulrike Meinhof, Vince Taylor, Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, Marc Bolan and The Incredible String Band, with many others featuring in the lyrics. As I mentioned earlier, the music is incredibly varied, ranging from experimental electronica to fill-on power-pop that, in a different period, would have earned regular exposure on the radio.

The title track was released as a single:-

I can’t, however, not let this review pass without drawing your attention to the best impression of glam-rock I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. If they still made the show Stars In Their Eyes, then Mr Haines would surely win…….

mp3 : Luke Haines – Marc Bolan Blues

Smash The System got a few songs out of Haines’s system and it really was no surprise that he returned to the challenge of more concept albums about fantastical subject matters and situations with the release of I Sometimes Dream of Glue in 2018. In these situations, it’s best to let the record label PR provide the explanation:-

It started sometime after World War II – in the late 1940’s. A convoy of British Special Services trucks had been dispatched to RAF Middlewych, their cargo – 10 tonnes of experimental solvent liquid. Sticky and deadly. The mission – to drop the toxic liquid over Germany and finish the job of carving up Europe for good. The trucks never made it to their airfield destination, coming off the road – most probably helped by saboteurs – some five miles out of London…

Just off the Westway, in the motorway sidings, you can see a small sign. Actually you probably can’t see the sign as it is the size of a child’s fingernail clipping. The sign says ‘Glue Town.’ The name of a village. There is little or no documentation of Glue Town. You will not find any information about it on the 21st Century internet. Gluetown is a rural settlement born out of mutation. Of the estimated 500 or so dwellers, no one is thought to be over 2 1⁄2 inches tall. The citizens of Glue Town exist on a diet of solvent abuse and perpetual horniness. The residents only leave to carry out daring night-time ‘glue raids’ on Shepherds Bush newsagent shops. On a tiny screen in the town centre, an old Betamax cassette of ‘Michael Bentine’s Pottytime’ plays on a loop all day and all night. The reduced size villagers go about their daily business pondering whether the lessons of Pottytime can show them a way out of their drudge lives of sexual abandonment and human sacrifice…”

All of which means it’s no surprise that the album is a bonkers listen. 25 years on from The Auteurs bursting onto the scene and the frontman is regaling us with strange tales of the unexpected in which sex and glue sniffing feature prominently. There’s also another ode about football hooliganism, but in a surreal way in which the boot-boys are Subbuteo figures come to life, with everything sung over what some reviewers at the time perfectly described as pastoral music – the sort of stuff that, as a non-Englishman, I associate with Morris Dancing….of the type in the Smash The System video.

Only one of the fourteen tracks on ‘Glue’ extends much beyond a duration of two-and-a-half minutes which means everything skips along at a decent enough pace. It also means that just as your brain is coming to terms with what you’ve just listened to, it’s time for the next one to begin. Overall, it feels like a creepy soundtrack to an X-rated version of Camberwick Green, Chigley or Trumpton, a series of stop-motion animated TV series for children aired by the BBC in the 60s and 70s…..and it provides fans with another decent enough listen without ever threatening to make a high appearance in a rundown of favourite albums of all-time. Much like almost all of the Haines solo releases.

mp3 : Luke Haines – Everybody’s Coming Together For The Summer

The year ended with a low-key digital only release of the Glue EP, three tracks that were possibly inspired by the process of piecing together the concept album. Here’s a fun filled few minutes from it:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue

There were no releases in 2019 but this year will see the release of an album on which Luke Haines has collaborated with someone fairly well known. Here’s the promo blurb:-

Beat Poetry For Survivalists is the new collaboration between Peter Buck & Luke Haines.

Peter Buck was the guitarist for the biggest band in the world – REM.

Luke Haines was the guitarist for the Auteurs. The Auteurs were not the biggest band in the world. They were pretty good though.

Luke Haines also does paintings of Lou Reed.

One day, Peter Buck bought one of Luke Haines’ Lou Reed paintings. They had never met before but decided that the fates had brought them together and they should write some songs together and make an album.

‘Beat Poetry For The Survivalist’ is that album. With songs about legendary rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons, The Enfield Hauntings (of 1978), a post-apocalyptic radio station that only plays Donovan records, Bigfoot, and Pol Pot.

Luke Haines and Peter Buck will be touring the UK in April 2020, including Hebden Bridge Trade’s Club on 13th April and two shows at 100 Club in London on the 15th and 16th April.

I’ve got tickets and made travel and accommodation arrangements to go to the show at Hebden Bridge, which happens to be on Easter Monday. Jacques the Kipper is coming along for the adventure. It was only after doing all this and paying for everything up front was it announced that extra shows were being added……including Glasgow on 12th April! Typical isn’t it???

That’s the end of this particular singular adventure series. I’ll be holding off starting a new one for a short while as Sundays, for the next few weeks at least, will become a day in which SWC’s 45 45s at 45 will feature….which I’m sure will come as a welcome change to most of you.

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (22)

 

Just when you thought the solo output couldn’t get any more surreal or off-the-wall bonkers……

2015 saw the release of Adventures In Dementia. A 10” vinyl release with just six tracks packed into less than 15 minutes, it’s more akin to an EP than a fully-blown album. The concept this time, and I still shake my head in disbelief as I type these words, is that of a Mark E Smith impersonator towing a caravan, only for his vehicle(s) to collide with a car driven by Ian Stuart, the late singer of the neo-Nazi band called Skrewdiver (me neither!!).

I’m not entirely convinced that the concept really hangs together and perhaps it is something that would have made more sense (or at least a semblance of sense) if caught live at the outset when it was part of a performance within a wider arts-related event, curated by someone whose main gallery describes his output as being “infused with a cunning media savviness that deftly navigates between product, messaging, and desire.”

You’ll come across all sorts of musical styles on Adventures….., not least a kazoo-led instrumental version of the hymn Jerusalem, a tune that a number of folk have suggested by adopted as the national anthem should England ever find itself wholly independent and not part of the UK……,none of which hark back whatsoever to The Auteurs or Black Box Recorder. Lyrically, there’s more than a passing nod to the seemingly free-style stuff that Mark E Smith was famed for – i.e., it leaves listeners scratching their heads and wondering what the hell he’s on about – and, as ever with any Luke Haines release, there’s a few folk who are provoked, nor least the Skrewdriver vocalist (who in fact passed away in 1993) and the comedian David Baddiel, whose material, shows and writings over the years have divided opinion.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, it’s a release I’m not too sure about. I’ve often wondered whether it was put out to antagonise and test Haines’s fanbase, given that the vinyl went for the same price as a full-blown album and that a couple of tracks were no more than throwaway novelties. It’s certainly the one I go back to least of all, probably not having listened to it more than three or four times all told. This might give you an idea of what I’m trying to convey:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Cats That Look Like MES

Oh and ignore the sticker thay adorns the sleeve in the image above.  There were no singles lifted from Adventures in Dementia although Caravan Man was given a seperate digital release.

Later that same year, Luke Haines released another solo album. I’ll make things easy by lifting direct from the website of his record label:-

Beneath the surface of the UK lies a vast and secret network of abandoned nuclear bunkers. Sometime in the future the population of Great Britain has retreated into these bunkers. The reason for this exodus is not clear. Nuclear attack? Chemical attack? Germ warfare? Or perhaps even free will. What is known is that beneath the surface, in the bunkers, people live the utopian dream, communicating wordlessly via a highly developed new subconsciousness. There is no need for money and food is plentiful. The old gods have been forgotten. People now offer prayer to a piece of silverware, referred to as the ‘New Pagan Sun’, found in a bunker at Stoke on Trent, near to the location of the 1980 Darts World Championship final between Eric Bristow and Bobby George.

British Nuclear Bunkers is the new album by Luke Haines. It was recorded using entirely analogue synthesisers. Apart from an occasional vocal the only organic sound used is a recording of Camden Borough Control Bunker being attacked late at night by Luke Haines.

Maximum Electronic Rock and Roll.

British Nuclear Bunkers will be released by Cherry Red Records on October 16th 2015. It will be available on CD, Vinyl (with a free 7′ single) and the usual digital outlets.

Once again, it’s a fairly short piece of work, with its ten tracks taking up around 30 minutes of your life. It’s not hugely accessible but then again, it’s not totally unlistenable. It’s a work that hardcore fans of electronica would possibly lavish with praise, highlighting its merits with comparisons to others in the genre, but I’ll have to hold my hands up and say that I know as much about the folk-songs of Moldovia as I do about music which is released on a label such as Ghost Box.

I do, however, find myself switching in on and giving it a listen through the headphones when I’m looking for something to help me get over an unexpected bout of insomnia as it has an occasionally soothing ability.

Here’s the two tracks that came as the free 7″ single:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Electronic Tone Poem
mp3 : Luke Haines – Hack Green

Tune in next week for the final part of this series. It’s actually one that borders on mainstream!

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (21)

The overwhelmingly favourable reaction to Bad Vibes had re-awakened an interest in Luke Haines, a situation that was maintained the second art of his memoirs, when Post Everything : Outsider Rock and Roll, was published two and a half years later in July 2011.

It just so happened that the new book came out as Haines embarked on his next music venture, collaborating with Cathal Coughlan (of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions fame) and journalist/author Andrew Mueller to form the North Sea Scrolls, initially as a live performance show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, before the trio hit the studios the following year to record an album. Rather than include that project within this series, I’ll have a look at it separately in a few weeks time as it does merit a posting on its own.

Haines had been without any record deal of any meaning for a number of years, but 2013  saw him sign up with long-running London based indie-label Cherry Red, with whom he remains to this day. It seems to work quite well for both parties, with the label content to have someone of the stature and legendary status on their books, well aware he will provide good copy and offer the opportunity for more than the music press to feature any releases – the London broadsheets have long had a thing for Luke Haines, offering reviews of his new albums and live shows, giving him the same sort of profile and treatment as they do to the many visual, performing and installation artists based across the capital.

As for Haines, he has a home that allows him to indulge himself with the sort of projects that he seems most happy with, writing and recording concept/narrative albums on all sorts of subject matters, some of which are so left-of-centre that they make his wrestling effort from 2011 appear positively mainstream.

There have been six such releases on Cherry Red, and I’m going to feature them in three parts, before bringing this mini-series to a close.

The Cherry Red era kicked off with Rock and Roll Animals, described as a concept album that follows a narrative story about musicians represented as animals, with the main characters being a cat called Gene Vincent, a badger called Nick Lowe and a fox called Jimmy Pursey.

As with 9 ½ Meditations, there is a combination of songs and spoken word on offer, with the narrative duties undertaken by the actress Julia Davis. As with all Luke Haines records, there are potshots at those who annoy him and some of his wrath in this instance it aimed at the sculptor Antony Gormley, whose Angel of the North has long been lauded as transforming the perception of the Tyneside area of England (a view with which Haines takes great umbrage). It’s another surreal piece of work, one which has some great moments among others which are best forgotten. It didn’t quite work as well as the wrestling album, but against that, there was a single lifted from the album along with two new songs offered up on the b-side:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Rock n Roll Animals
mp3 : Luke Haines – Natural Mystic Furry Freaks
mp3 : Luke Haines – John Barleycorn Must Die

Two year later, and another concept album, New York City in the ‘70s, hit the streets.

Cherry Red describe it as ‘a mythic re-imagining of the New York Rock n Roll scene 1972 – 1979’. It certainly was easier a concept to grasp than songs about wrestlers or rock stars as animals. There are numerous name checks and shout-outs to the people, the and the landmarks of the era. I’ve written in the past on this blog about my late teens/early 20s desire to visit NYC on the basis of what I was reading in music papers and hearing on the radio – Haines brings those desires to life via this album and for that alone I can’t find much fault with it. It is great fun to listen to, and as ever when I feel my feeble words can do something no justice, I will rely on those of someone who earns a living from writing astutely and critically about culture.

There are nods to a number of artists and creative figures from the period throughout its 34-minute running time, with opener Alan Vega Says a delightful introduction to what Haines is attempting to achieve – naming the vocalist of American electronic duo Suicide.

“Alan Vega says it’s going to be a great big hit/ if Alan Vega says so, then it probably is,” Haines whispers with a sense of playfulness, over searching synths and an irresistible guitar melody. This playfulness is irrevocably tied to the album throughout, with title track NY In The ‘70s another example of his brilliantly tongue-in-cheek lyrics. “Everybody’s gay or bisexual/ a man called Jim getting experimental,” he sings, as fuzzy synths almost drown out a lackadaisical guitar hook.

As well as evoking the names of famous figures from New York during the ‘70s, another significant theme central to Haines’ latest LP is his use of repetition. It is something that crops up time and time again and while it is largely successful, there are occasions where it becomes a bit much. Jim Carroll and Tricks N Kicks N Drugs are two examples of where Haines gets the balance right, with punchy, repetitive guitar hooks providing the perfect backing.

The same cannot be said for the song titled after the legendary lead singer of The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, which does not quite reach the same level. As genius as Lou Reed unquestionably was, hearing his name repeated again and again and again is not nearly as appealing as it sounds. UK Punk is also a miss, with Haines repeating the song’s title over excruciatingly grinding synths, while the psychedelic Bills Bunker does not quite capture the imagination like the rest of the album.

Yet when Haines does get it right, New York In The ‘70s is a brilliantly witty and intoxicating listen. Doll’s Forever is an almost euphoric tribute to New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, before the infectious New York City Breakdown delivers another example of Haines’ brilliant lyricism. Then there’s the epic album highlight Cerne Abbas Man – yes, named after the ancient naked figure sculpted into the chalk hillside in Dorset – which sees Haines repeatedly chant “Mythic motherfuckin’ rock and roll”.

It would have been a suitable closer on its own – especially as it essentially sums up the record – but that honour is instead given to the dreamy NY Stars, which brings everything full circle by revisiting Alan Vega Says. Ultimately, Haines has once again succeeded in producing a surreal, engaging and magnificently wry collection of songs that provide a satisfying conclusion to his concept trilogy. As endings to trilogies go, New York In The ‘70s is definitely more Toy Story 3 than The Godfather Part Three.

Andy Baber, MusicOMH, 19 May 2014

One of the tracks that didn’t find favour with Mr Baber was released as a single, with a b-side that wasn’t previously available:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Lou Reed Lou Reed
mp3 : Luke Haines – Jeff Starship Superhero

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (20)


Television in the 1970s was a completely different beast to what it is today, with just the three channels available in the UK to entertain the masses, none of which broadcast very early in the morning or very later at night. Saturday afternoons saw BBC1 and ITV offer up sports programmes, while BBC2 would carry an old movie, more often than not from the era when Hollywood churned out Westerns and John Wayne was a global star.

ITV’s offering was a show called World of Sport, hosted by Dickie Davies whose name would later feature in a song by Half Man Half Biscuit.

mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Dickie Davies Eyes

Worth mentioning, in passing, that Brian Moore, who was another stalwart of World of Sport as the main football presenter, gets namechecked in the lyric of the above song.

Anyways, I can hear you wondering what the hell all this has to do with Luke Haines, so let me explain….and I’ll get there in the end.

World of Sport followed a formula each week. It started at 12.15 and ended five hours later, opening with a segment on football and closing with the all the football results from across the country, along with some reports of the games where cameras had been present and would feature on highlights programmes the following day. Much of the afternoon was taken up by horse-racing, with seven races from two or more tracks shown back-to-back, always destined to finish by 3.45 when the half-time football scores were read out.

The key time for World of Sport was the 4-4.45pm slot, the period in which they wanted to retain their viewers who only tuned in for the football scores and news. They chose to do this by offering up 45 minutes of wrestling in which you tuned in to the antics of a group of middle-aged men where the theatrics and story-lines were more important than the sport itself. In many ways, it was like being allowed to watch a pantomime, once a week, from the confines of your living room, complete with a cast of regular good guys and villains, with the latter inevitably being on the receiving end for the most part, albeit sometimes they were allowed to win to enable a new storyline to emerge or develop.

Luke Haines spent much of his young childhood watching the wrestling, and to be fair he wasn’t alone. At its very peak, the wrestling attracted 12 million viewers, which was around 25% of the viewing public in the UK. I was something of a devotee, spending every other Saturday afternoon between the ages of 5 and 12, when I wasn’t at the football with my dad, in the company of my maternal grandparents, and my nan loved the wrestling like nothing else on the telly. The names and faces of the participants are still fresh in my memory and I can still hear the mid-Atlantic twang of the commentator, Kent Walton, who covered the sport for more than 30 years until a new controller of the channel decided it had run its course and pulled World of Sport from the schedules.

Luke Haines took his childhood memories and turned them into a concept album that he released in 2011. In a career packed with strange and bold statements, 9 ½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s & Early ’80s is among the most bizarre….(to this point in time at least – there’s a few things just around the corner as will be revealed)

I said earlier that this was a concept album, but that would tend to suggest it had some sort of story line with a beginning, a middle and an end. Instead, the album offers up songs/tunes/spoken word numbers, all of which are in some way related to the characters who appeared on the television screens on Saturday afternoons in the 70s and early 80s between 4pm and 4.45pm, but which have their own narrative rather than then being interlinked.

It’s an incredible piece of fictional work, albeit memories of Haines’s upbringing are woven into the imaginary and fantastical tales of real-life characters such as Rollerball Rocco, Gorgeous George, Catweazle, Mick McManus, Count Bartelli, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki. There’s one thing I can tell you and that it’s not an album that would translate to a show in the west end of London or on Broadway.

The release of 9 ½ Meditations stirred up a huge amount of debate. Was Haines being particularly thrawn (a Scottish word for crooked or perverse)? Had he gone too far with his efforts to demonstrate that he was not your archetypal bloke with a record contract, far removed from those who every breath and bit of energy was devoted to commercial and mainstream success? Or was he genuinely, having just passed his 40th birthday, doing what so many do at that age and reflect back on more innocent and perhaps happy times? After all, jumping on the nostalgia train has made many a pretty penny for its passengers…..

The debate may have been wide-ranging but the conclusion of almost all reviewers was that the album was very much worth a listen, with most folk giving it a solid, 7 or 8 out of 10. Maybe the best summary of it all came from J.R. Moore writing for Drowned in Sound:-

The first thing that makes an impression is the humour. This is not a comedy album, however. It is a very personal project, inspired by a childhood enthusiasm for the sport and by watching wrestling with his father. The first lines “I was trying my best to understand / How a beautiful bouncing baby becomes an ‘orrible man / As a child I thought I’d grow up to become a dancer / But I became a fighter”, could apply as much to Haines as to any wrestler, and also evoke universal feelings of lost youth and innocence. As well as Haines’ own past, it is also about history in a larger sense; he is analysing a version of Britain that no longer exists.

J.R Moore? Surely it wasn’t his old mate from Black Box Recorder providing a leg-up?????

It’s an album that wasn’t really ever going to win him any new fans, but it was one that appealed greatly to those of us who had followed him with interest through the years or those re-attracted to him as a result of reading the hilarious and enlightening (and occasionally score-settling) Bad Vibes. It also felt as if Luke Haines, for the first time in a while, was seemingly enjoying being a recording artist again, that is if it can ever be said that Luke Haines is capable of enjoying anything via the creative process.

No singles were taken from the album. Here’s a track in which one of the wrestlers from the era grapples with a new piece of musical gadgetry:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Big Daddy Got A Casio VL Tone

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (19)

So, this is where I have a dilemma.

We are coming to a period where Luke Haines began to become, more or less, an albums-only artiste.  Techically, I could wrap this series with two, maybe three more entries depending on how things are categorised (and I’m thinking that quite a few of you would wish that I would!!)

But I’ve decided to re-interpet the title of the series in that every thing Luke Haines has ever recorded has been of a singular nature, and so will be devoting space to each of the releases between 2009 and 2018, sometimes wrapping a few up in one posting.

There will be a number of posts in which I will pontificate at length, but for today, I think it is best and easier to simply offer up a contemporary review of the 2xCD release of 21st Century Man/Achtung Mutha from 2009, the first new music from Luke Haines after the overwhelmingly positive response to the release of Bad Vibes, an occasion that offered up an opportunity to play to the mainstream once more. An opportunity, not unexpectedly, spurned:-

Despite having written probably the least discreet and most bilious – and funniest – of all pop autobiographies (Bad Vibes), Luke Haines still clearly relishes playing the Wyndham Lewis of his era, setting himself up as The Enemy of any cultural tropes that threaten to achieve critical mass.

As he notes in the self-condemning “Our Man In Buenos Aires”, “he’s brought a truckload of trouble down on everyone”. Hence his affinity in 21st Century Man for such stubborn, self-sabotaging outsider spirits as Peter Hammill and Klaus Kinski, prickly performers who plough their own furrows whatever the collateral damage. “Who needs people? Who needs friends? They drive you round the fucking bend,” Haines inserts into the latter’s mouth, whilst mellotron, acoustic guitar and glockenspiel compose a tender garland.

Elsewhere, he returns to the disputatious north/south divide in the glam-rock stomp of “English Southern Man”, characterises suburbia as a darkling idyll stained with sleazy portents in “Suburban Mourning”, and offers sardonic self-justification in the mockney “Wot A Rotter” and the wistful title-track, where references to Yasser Arafat, John Stonehouse and the Green Cross Code Man are draped in creepy mellotron and snarls of wah-wah guitar which sound much like his nemesis Suede.

Andy Gill, The Independent 30 October 2009

There’s actually quite a lot to appreciate on 21st Century Man, not least the thought that Haines is actually enjoying his latest brush with fame and that his way to deal with it is to become more self-deprecating “Looked in the mirror, I said who’s that fucking freak?” is another of the lines on Our Man In Buenos Aires.  The music veers in many directions – the Pete Doherty-baiting Wot A Rotter is close to glam rock, while Love Letter to London is almost Kinks-esque in places – but as many of the reviews of the time highlighted, the closing autobiographical track, at almost seven minutes length, is one of his best from any time in his career:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – 21st Century Man

The second CD, Achtung Mutha, is a quite different proposition altogether. 9 bits of music (it would be stretching it to describe them all as songs) over 27 minutes, the three longest of which are spoken word numbers that take up mpre than half of the disc and involve having a dig at the world of modern art and those who both produce and laud it.  It’s not the easiest of listens…..

mp3 : Luke Haines – The Great Brain Robbery (Part 1)

Tune in next week for something even more off the wall……….

JC

Bonus offering.

I’d forgotten that I have three tracks from 21st Century Man that were recorded for a radio session for 6 Music show hosted by Marc Riley in November 2009.  It’s evidence of how hugely entertaining Luke Haines is when he performs for an audience (note, however, that he cuts out any swearing so as not to fall foul of the bosses at the beeb):-

mp3 : Luke Haines -Suburban Mourning (radio session)
mp3 : Luke Haines – Klaus Kinski (radio session)
mp3 : Luke Haines – 21st Century Man (radio session)

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (18)

I’m guessing, that even if he said otherwise, Luke Haines would have been more than a bit peeved at the lack of attention given to Off My School At The Art School Bop and the Leeds United EP. Less than 15 years after The Auteurs had sparked into life, he was more or less a forgotten figure while a number of his Britpop peers remained very much in the limelight despite the fact that much of their music was fourth or fifth rate and would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for their history.

The next thing of significance to happen was that Black Box Recorder came together with Art Brut to release a one-off single in December 2007:-

mp3 : The Black Arts – Christmas Number One
mp3 : The Black Arts – Glam Casual

The a-side was written by Haines and Luke Moore, while the b-side was the work of Eddie Argos of Art Brut, although members of both bands performed on both tracks, all under assumed names, some of which were linked to those who had enjoyed Christmas Number One singles.

The a-side is every bit the pisstake/back-handed complement to the genre as you’d expect by now.  Don’t imagine, despite the tune being tailor-made for festive radio, that it got much airtime.

The following year proved to be a very quiet one in terms of new material. The only newsworthy item was the unexpected reformation of Black Box Recorder in October 2008 to perform at a benefit gig for the familt of the late Nick Sanderson (of the band Earl Brutus) – the others on the bill were the Jesus And Mary Chain and British Sea Power. Before the year was out, BBR announced two more gigs of their own for February 2009, both of which sold out very quickly.

In January 2009, Bad Vibes was published, and all of a sudden, Luke Haines was back in the limelight thanks to the universal acclaim for his first volume of memoirs. It somewhat overshadowed the BBR reunion with Haines very much the only one really in demand among the media, almost all of whom just wanted to talk about the book and his current thoughts and views on the state of modern pop music, to which he replied that he no longer read the music press, listened only to Radio 4 (the spoken word station) and as such he knew nothing about contemporary rock & roll. He also told everyone he was happy.

The anticipated new material from BBR never arrived and instead we were treated to new solo material, the first in more than two years…..but that’s for next week.

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (Part 16)

A GUEST POSTING by chaval

JC writes……

I know what you’re thinking…..wasn’t Part 16 of this series featured last week with the look at Off My Head… and Leeds United?  Indeed it was, but this is what should have been posted except technology let us down.  chaval sent it over in early December – twice – but on each occasion the contents ended up in cyberspace.  We both think the various files that were attached made it too large but neither of us got any notification about things.  Anyways, take this a Part 16…..last week’s as Part 17 and next week’s as Part 18.   Here’s chaval:-

VALA career curmudgeon whose innovative work was widely admired by his fellow artists while only occasionally flirting with the mainstream. A man with a scathing sense of humour, a habit of getting drunk and abusive in company and a wide ranging contempt for those contemporaries who had found success. His disdain for the people running his industry ran in parallel with a surprising ability to get them to stump up cash for projects with limited commercial appeal, including a work devoted to 70s terrorism. Yep, the English writer B.S Johnson really was a piece of work.

When film director Paul Tickell, rashly filming Johnson’s tricksy, post-modern terrorism novel Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry, happened to hear How I Learned To Love The Bootboys, he realised that if you needed a soundtrack for a film about a clerk who takes a grudge way too far, Luke Haines really was the man.

Happily the commission coincided with a period when Haines was feeling inspired, although not necessarily by the subject matter. He spent an intense ten days in an East London recording studio completing the bulk of the album in the winter of 2000. At that point, he admits, “I have still not seen a single frame of film footage”.

Probably wise. Tickell’s film was a mess, unable to decide whether it wanted to be a 21st-century take on the terrorist mindset, a homage to 60s kitchen-sink realism or a 50s-style Carry On spoof. These things are subjective of course, but I didn’t like the book, hated the film, but rather enjoyed the soundtrack.

Haines was inspired by a completely different story, the true tale of June and Jennifer Gibbons, disturbed twins who grew up on an RAF base in the 70s, suffered severe bullying and abuse and ended up in a Broadmoor psychiatric wing. Their story fuelled Discomania, a song that Haines rated so highly that he returned to it four times on the soundtrack, including a sparse funk version similar to the sound he had explored on Baader Meinhof

mp3: Luke Haines – Discomania
mp3: Luke Haines – Discomaniax

Johnson’s book was partly inspired by the Angry Brigade terrorist scares of the early 70s, subject matter close to Haines’s own fascinations although not really explored in the film. No matter, Haines scatters lyrical references to King Mob and Amherst Road (the Angry Brigade’s HQ address) and offers up a scathing slice of 70s underground social history in a track he describes as “prole-baiting”

mp3: Luke Haines  – How To Hate The Working Classes

The other standout on the album is a relentless assault on Nick Lowe’s classic. Lowe is a great songwriter but suffers the curse of usually sounding very affable on record. It’s not a problem Haines shares.

mp3: Luke Haines  – I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass

On the album insert, Haines emulates Malry’s habit of listing his grudges at society in the debit column. Number one is “Princes William and Harry not being in the Merc’.

The accompanying picture of Haines channelling a malevolent Johnson at his typewriter looks like a still from a superior 70s horror movie.

chaval

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (17)

I bet some of you had thought I’d forgotten all about this series.  Apologies for the unexpectedly long delay since Part 15, but I wanted to make sure none of the postings got lost in the festive stuff and the Steve dropped in his wonderful review of Rockaway Beach that just couldn’t be held back.

The Guardian, in December 2006, carried a superb appreciation of Luke Haines, penned by the always-readable Alexis Petridis. The article looked back with a bit of nostalgia to the days of the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, but in the main was rightly full of praise for a solo album released in October 2006 as I will now aim to demonstrate via a lengthy extract:-

Luke Haines is such an extravagantly talented songwriter, both unique and, one suspects, uniquely unsuited to mainstream success. It’s a fact underlined by the title track and lead single from his 11th album: for Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop, Haines called upon the services of sometime Sugababes and Rachel Stevens producer Richard X, then put him to work remixing a song that references transgressive performance artists the Viennese Aktionists, the 1914 Vorticist art journal Blast, Hungarian photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Nazi anthem The Horst Wessel Song. Despite the producer’s ministrations, the charts remained mysteriously un-busted.

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, which manages to be both accessible and deeply unsettling, matching crunching glam-rock guitar riffs and huge choruses to subject matter most songwriters would steer well clear of. The Walton Hop makes blackly comic capital from the topic of the teenage disco frequented by convicted child sex offenders including Jonathan King.

Pop-related paedophilia crops up again on the closing Bad Reputation, which retells the story of Gary Glitter’s downfall from the perspective of a member of his backing group, aghast at the effect The Leader’s sexual proclivities are having on his own standing. It offers perhaps the most improbable singalong chorus of the year: “Gary Glitter – he’s a dirty old man, ruining the reputation of the Glitter Band.” Leeds United is both naggingly catchy and about the Yorkshire Ripper murders. In the same way that the topics explored on Haines’ remarkable terrorism-obsessed 1996 album Baader Meinhof suddenly seemed far less esoteric five years after its release, it makes for pretty queasy listening in light of current events: “In the House of Lords, the Chamber of Horrors at Madam Tussauds, out with the old, we’ve got to make room for them all.”

Occasionally, Haines’ desire to provoke verges on the suicidal. That Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop was released to a response muted even by Haines’ standards may have less to do with its quality than with the presence of Heritage Rock, a viciously funny satire apparently aimed at the handful of magazines that usually champion him. Then again, one of the artists lovingly alluded to on the title track is Wyndham Lewis, the brilliant painter and sculptor whose belligerence effectively scuppered his own career, leaving him, as one contemporary put it, a “lonely old volcano”.

It’s a description that fits Luke Haines pretty well, but as Off My Rocker proves, when he erupts, it’s still pretty spectacular.

Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop is a tremendous listen, as good as anything he had ever released previously. It was an audacious and ambitious piece of work, full of humour, pathos and great tunes laced with knowing and cynical lyrics, as alluded to in the Petridis piece quoted above.

mp3 : Luke Haines – Off My RockerAt The Art School Bop (Richard X single mix)
mp3 : Luke Haines – I Am The Best Artist / Skinny White Girls

Should have been a huge hit…..tailor made for daytime radio!

The following year, another track was lifted from the album, to which three new songs and a live rendition of the title track were added to make a new EP, released only on CD, but given that the subject matter was a mass murderer and the failure of the police to track him down for years, it can be no real surprise that it was largely ignored by the media and received little, if any, airplay:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Leeds United
mp3 : Luke Haines – Bovver Boys
mp3 : Luke Haines – Country Life
mp3 : Luke Haines – Queen Elizabeth I
mp3 : Luke Haines – Leeds United (live in Leeds)

I can’t let this week’s posting go without giving space to the dig at the man born as Paul Gadd, whose loud, anthemic and stomping glam-pop music of the 70s was a staging post for many a young boy and young girl on the road to them becoming post-punk/new wave/indie devotees:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Bad Reputation

As a great philosopher once wrote – naughty, naughty, very naughty. But absolute genius.

JC

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (15)

I’d like this to be considered as an early Christmas present to everyone.

Das Capital – The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines and The Auteurs was released in 2003. Wiki states only that the album features orchestral re-recordings of some of his older songs from The Auteurs and Baader Meinhof periods, along with some new tracks.

It’s fair to say that the few who actually wrote up contemporary reviews came to differing opinions. Ben Hogwood at Music OMH said:-

“Haines comes across as the macabre balladeer, that sinister husky voice of his ever more to the fore. The expansive How Could I Go Wrong does well in this guise with the guitar line (shades of Santana?!) a majestic opener before the strings drape their treble line over the top. What’s evident here and elsewhere is that the music retains its urgency and edginess, nowhere more so than on Lenny Valentino, which still rocks, and on Showgirl, where the complete standstill half a minute in has the same powerful impact.

So what of the new material, 21st century Haines? Well Satan Wants Me is pretty self explanatory, a dirge with Haines spitting “Satan wants me, not you.” Then there’s Michael Powell, where Haines announces, “I’m just a horny devil baby, but I know how to treat a lady.” Dark alley, anyone? All of which leaves Bugger Bognor, a quietly venomous vocal highlighting similarities with Philip Larkin.

Production on Das Capital is heavy on the strings but not usually intrusive, with violins up in the heavens on Starstruck but subtly restrained on the sublime closer Future Generation. The male voice choir in the middle foreground of Baader Meinhof is a nice touch.”

On the other hand, Michael Idov at Pitchfork, in giving the album a rating of 5.1/10, states:-

“Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines and the Auteurs is a primo Situationist stunt. From the title on down, it concerns itself purely with the sound of money. Fat with winds, strings, chimes, echo chambers the size of Wembley stadium and, per liner notes, “the greatest sax solo in the history of popular culture,” the album is meticulously designed to mimic fundraiser quickies like The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays the Music of Oasis. The result, needless to say, is patently and intentionally ludicrous; it could be one of the greatest jokes ever played on a label by an artist.

I can’t help but applaud Das Capital’s meta-architecture, which incorporates everything from the cover art to the attendant interviews filled with bragging about the project’s cost – one small quibble, however, remains: The album is unlistenable………….I would never recommend a living soul to purchase Das Capital, and yet, full marks are due to Haines for making good on the hissed mission statement from his Oliver Twist Manifesto: “You better believe me when I say/ I never wanted to be liked.”

Me? I love it. The very fact that he was able to again persuade a record label to fork out money to capitalise on the recent success of Black Box Recorder with the promise of delivering a ‘best-of’ collection has to be appluaded. The further fact that he stood and delivered something so unexpected and near impossible to market and recoup its costs was the ultimate in highway robbery. Here’s Luke Haines own words from the CD booklet:-

“I cannot afford to buy an island, but I can afford to buy a theme park, or more accurately, Hut recordings in their speculative wisdom have provided me with the neccesary to create an aural them park, HainesWorld if you like. So, dear listener, take your token, climb aboard the waltzer, and as you spin into luxuriant orchestral delirium, hear me whisper in your ear, “I’m the man you camt to see fall into the machine.” I may be paraphrasing David Essex.

Alternately, the CD you have purchased is a brand new collection of old songs re-recorded, mainly of the 92-96 vintage. Why did these songs need to be recorded again? Because they were slipping out of view. Sometimes you have to point out to people what lies in front of their noses. Does this consolidate my place in musical history? You bet.”

There’s a couple more equally entertaining and slightly tongue-in-cheek paragraphs, before Haines’ own genuinely hilarious reviews of all the albums he had released with The Auteurs or under his own steam as a solo artists. Here’s some extracts:-

New Wave – My first masterpiece…best debut album of the nineties no contest, and as seminal as the first Modern Lovers; 5 stars

Now I’m A Cowboy – OK, sometimes the artist isn’t the best judge of his work. However this one requires serious reappraisal (from yours truly at least)…The Upper Classes was (yet another) precursor to the burgeoning Brit Pop thingy. My commercial peak to date; 4 stars

The Auteurs vs. μ-Ziq – Remixes by some kid from Wimbledon for £500. A lot of money for a teenager. Never listened to it myself. Went on to sell well in America. 100% of the publishing goes to me: 5 stars

After Murder Park – The most fun I had making a record, written in wheelchair confinement. Sonically great, Albini on top form and me too. An anti-zeigeist gem. Chris Cunningham has made a career out of recycling this sleeve art. Full marks to everyone involved; 5 stars

Baader Meinhof – My second masterpiece. Buy it so that I don’t have to. A testimonial to the joys of analogue recording; 5 stars

How I Learned to Love The Bootboys – Under-rated now and at the time. Unfortunately this record cannot be reappraised due to its anti-sentimental stance; 4 stars

Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry OST – My first foray into film soundtracks and my third masterpiece; 5 stars

The Oliver Twist Manifesto – You are not allowed to make record like this anymore….and as the credits roll, I would like to thank David, Paul and all at Hut Records….I say continue your worthless work and hang your heads in shame; 5 stars.

All that’s left now are these:-

mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – How Could I Be Wrong
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Showgirl
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Baader Meinhof
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Lenny Valentino
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Starstruck
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Satan Wants Me
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Unsolved Child Murder
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Junk Shop Clothes
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – The Mitford Sisters
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Bugger Bognor
mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Future Generation

You better be quick, as the links will be removed on Boxing Day (26 December)

Oh, and one more thing. There was a hidden track that could only be played by holding down the rewind button when you went play track 1:-

mp3 : Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Das Capital Overture

This track includes Back With The Killer Again, The Rubettes, Housebreaker, Tombstone, Buddah, Kids Issue, Light Aircraft on Fire, The Upper Classes and Discomania. I’ll leave it hanging around for a bit longer.

This series takes a short break as next weekend will see the introduction of a temporary feature with 22 daily posts covering the entire festive period. Luke will be back on Sunday 19 January.

Oh, and I’m going to see him play live in 2020…….click here for the info!

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (14)

Last week’s posting featured the final single to be released by The Auteurs, which was June 1999.

April 2000 saw Black Box Recorder hit the charts with The Facts of Life single.  The album went Top 40 in May 2000 but the follow-up single, The Art of Driving, ground to a halt at #53 in July 2000.

It was around this time that the budding secret romance between John Moore and Sarah Nixey became known to Luke Haines and he got mightily pissed-off….perhaps a bit hypocritically given that he and Alice Readman, the bassist in The Auteurs, had been an item throughout the period that the first three albums had been recorded.

He decided he needed to go off and do his own thing and there would be two releases in 2001, albeit one of them featured music that had been recorded more than a year earlier for a soundtrack to an as yet unreleased album and on which chaval will ruminate in due course.

The other album from 2001 proved to be the first time that David Boyd, supremo at Hut Records, had doubts about Luke Haines, with the tale of the album playback told in its full toe-curling detail within the pages of Post Everything.

The Oliver Twist Manifesto was, an still is, nothing like anything else Haines has ever recorded.  He was obsessed at the time with concept art and rap music, and in particular falling for the charms of Dr Dre/Eminem. He decided to make a high-art-hip-hop pastiche concept album on which he opens with the line ‘This is not entertainment, don’t expect me to entertain you’.

The album has a pop at many things, and the best thing I can do to sum it up is provide the NME’s review from the time….one which gave album fours stars out of five:-

The erstwhile Auteur loves saying the unsayable, and the bizarre Dickensian Slim Shady character that glowers through the music on ‘The Oliver Twist Manifesto’ – his first ‘proper’ solo LP – is his most hateful invention yet. This is Haines as cultural dilettante – a murderous misanthrope who brings fear and doom to all.

While he wastes valuable bile on worthless art bores (‘Death Of Sarah Lucas’), when he finds something to get genuinely upset about, Haines is a genuinely stunning writer. His unusually affecting treatise on mortality ‘What Happens When We Die’ is exceptional – the primitive synth-march of ‘England Vs America’ is possibly even better.

However, if you want evidence of what bitterness can do to a person, it may be worth tracing the manner that Haines’ voice has degenerated to a hoarse whisper as his albums have become more spiteful. He hisses like a pantomime villain throughout this bizarre, uneven assault on popular culture: [I]”You’ve gotta believe me when I say I never wanted to be liked”,[/I] he coughs on the title track. If that was his aim, then with the most unlikeable album of his entire career, he’s going the right way about it.

Here’s the opening and closing tracks of an album that clocks in at just 37 minutes. It’s still a fascinating if rather odd listen…..one that has come to make more sense in later years but was so out of leftfield in 2001 that it jarred somewhat.

mp3 : Luke Haines – Rock’n’Roll Communique No. 1
mp3 : Luke Haines – The Oliver Twist Manifesto

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (13)

The Auteurs broke up in the summer of 1996.

A few months later, the Baader Meinhof LP was released, a period of time wonderfully recalled in the pages of Bad Vibes, including the revelation that someone high up in Virgin Records, the parent label of Hut Records with whom Luke Haines had a contract, sent this in a fax to David Boyd, the head of Hut:-

“I would like to remind you that Virgin Records did not sign Luke Haines to make political statements. He is signed as an entertainer.”

In response, Boyd sanctioned a photo call at the Munich Olympic stadium where, in 1972 at the adjacent Games Village, 13 Israeli athletes had been killed after a terrorist attack. Haines really was testing everyone’s patience and understanding.

The Baader Meinhoff album gets mixed reviews in that it was loved and loathed in equal measures, best summed up by UK broadsheet newspaper The Guardian stating that Haines had wasted some of his best music on an impenetrable subject matter. No single is released to accompany it…. but there was a one-sided etched single given away free with vinyl copies of the album:-

mp3 : Baader Meinhof – I’ve Been A Fool For You

1997 proved to be a quiet year, but it was at this point in time that Haines formally hooked up with John Moore and Sarah Nixey to create Black Box Recorder.

Chrysalis Records signed the band, something which Hut Records seemed OK about, and in 1998 there were two flop singles – Child Psychology and England Made Me – before the release of a poorly selling album, also called England Made Me.

At the same time as this was happening, The Auteurs had come back together again….I’m guessing it was to fulfill a contractual obligation for a fourth album, as the reasons aren’t quite ever explained in Post Everything, the second volume of Haines’s memoirs, published in 2011 and covering the period 1997-2005. There are a number of aborted efforts at getting the recording process going, but eventually, from August – October 1998, things take shape.

The crazy thing is that the subsequent results yielded next to no reviews when the LP, How I Learned To Love The Boot Boys, was released in July 1999, but those who were paying attention, rightly recognised it as a masterpiece, such as this from Michael Hubbard in musicOMH, a London-based online magazine:-

If you’re going to be influenced by the music of decades other than the present one then you may as well allow that music to emphasise your own work rather than making your own music emphasise someone else’s.

Bjorn Again are great, no doubt about it – but they emphasise Abba. Who would they be otherwise? It has, in the recent past, been something of a conundrum; lots of ’70s disco music revivalist tripe has been scribed and has spawned comeback careers for everyone from Martha Wash to Burt Reynolds.

All great stuff – I’m sure the ’70s were fun at the time and Boogie Nights was a refreshing film – but really, mes fruits, this is the ’90s. Why live in the past? Why not just learn from it and improve upon it? The case for evolution has not been stronger since Charlie D popped his clogs and finally we have, in the shape of Luke Haines, a man prepared to lead the fightback.

Haines last graced the Albums shelves with his side project, Black Box Recorder’s England Made Me, which I loved immediately. The atmospherics of that record are transferred to How I Learned To Love The Bootboys and given some spices to further improve the flavour. Haines claims this record to be twelve singles; “maybe not twelve hits”, says the nihilist, but we see – and hear – what he means immediately.

At once a personal album (1967 was the year Haines first looked upon the world) and a fusion of myriad styles (Asti Spumante and Your Gang Our Gang, for instance), there are tracks that remind one of everything from The Sex Pistols to Ziggy Stardust, Gary Numan to Blur, yet I suspect that this eclectic record conjures different bands for each listener, depending on what they’ve heard before. Haines refines Numan’s atmospherics, he plays Johnny Rotten subtlely, he uses one or two Bluresque riffs rather than songloads and everything somehow works. In fact, in works bloody brilliantly.

Although every one of these songs shrieks CLASS!!! at the eardrums, stand-out tracks must surely be Asti Spumante, Your Gang Our Gang, Johnny and the Hurricanes, The Rubettes and title track How I Learned to Love the Bootboys. If you don’t yet own this album then you are missing out. Go buy.

In recent years, more writers haved belatedly heaped praise on the album, especially when it was reissued in 2014 as a 3xCD expanded edition in which the original 12 tracks were joined by an album of b-sides and rarities, along with a live album from November 1999, recorded at the London School of Economics, on the occasion of The Auteurs final UK gig.

There was one single taken from the album, complete with two new b-sides  All three tracks are very listenable:-

mp3 : The Auteurs – The Rubettes
mp3 : The Auteurs – Get Wrecked At Home
mp3 : The Auteurs – Breaking Up

The a-side featured backing vocals from John Moore and Sarah Nixey, thus providing a neat bridge between what had just come to pass and what would prove, the following year, to be the commercial high point of Luke Haines as an entertainer.

I’ve previously said that Black Box Recorder wouldn’t feature as part of this series, and I’m keeping it that way. The series will continue, running through early into the new year, with this idiosyncratic look at the solo career of Luke Haines, very little of which has seen the release of singles or EPs, but something in the region of 12 albums. You’ll be pleased to learn that chaval will be lending his talents to this venture…..

JC

PS : I might be away oh holiday just now, but I was reliably informed that an old friend was intending to come out of the woodwork today.  If my intel is good, then clicking here should do the trick.

 

 

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (12)

After Murder Park entered the album charts at #33, dropping down the following week to #52 before disappearing altogether. Sales are disappointing and Luke Haines decides to call a band meeting and to inform everyone that once all the touring commitments are over, firstly to the USA and then Europe, there will be no more Auteurs.

The front man was already planning his next move which was to take up the offer from the record label to work up the idea of a Baader Meinhof album, but there was to be one last hurrah for the band via the release of an EP about which one critic would later say ‘proved to be one the best things Haines has ever released… and probably the most miserable.’

Kids Issue features four songs, two of which, the title track and A New Life A New Family, hadn’t previously seen light of day.  They were all taken from a John Peel session, recorded on 20 February and broadcast on 8 March 1996, just a week after the release of the new album and just as it was falling out of the charts.

mp3 : The Auteurs – Kids Issue (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Auteurs – Buddha (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Auteurs – A New Life A New Family (session)
mp3 : The Auteurs – After Murder Park (session)

Confession time.

Until getting things underway on this series, I had no idea whatsoever that this EP even existed. Wiki states that it reached #163 in the charts….I had no idea that the singles chart went so deep (or least it did in 1996)….which probably equates to sales of about 1,000 (which is a complete guess on my part!).

I did know the songs from their inclusion on a 3xCD retrospective Luke Haines Is Dead that was released in in 2005 but I’ve now managed to pick up a second-hand copy of the actual EP.  These four songs are an absolute delight, and it is hard to reconcile them with the fact that they were recorded at a time when the band was about to give up the ghost………..well, for now anyway, as will be explained in Part 13 of this series which will be here at the same time next Sunday on this very same channel.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (11)

Previously on The Singular Adventure of Luke Haines:-

“It was April 1995 before he was in any sort of shape to return to the studio, where he took the songs he had been writing while recuperating and teamed up with Steve Albini, the producer best known from his work with Nirvana, It took just 13 days to finish work on the new album, which was given the title After Murder Park, and it was presented to the record label in May 1995. For one reason after another, its release is consistently delayed and it doesn’t see light of day until 1 March 1996. But that’s a story for another day”

We have now reached ‘another day’, via last week’s wonderful guest contribution from chaval with his thoughts on the masterful Back With The Killer EP.

It took just six weeks for Hut Records to issue the next 45 by The Auteurs, the all-important track to fully showcase the forthcoming album recorded so many months previously with Steve Albini. It came in at just over two minutes in length; it featured a swear word in the second line amidst a lyric that seemed to make little, if indeed any, sense; the responsibility for the promo video was handed to an up-and coming director named Chris Cunningham whose ideas  bordered on the surreal; and it had a title that, in the event of a war breaking out or some sort of aeronautical disaster incurring, faced an automatic radio ban:-

mp3 : The Auteurs – Light Aircraft on Fire

I really didn’t like this single when I first heard it, thinking it was the final nail in the coffin for The Auteurs and indeed for Luke Haines himself. It’s a hard-edged, rockier sort of sound, which to be fair, should have been anticipated given who was in the producer’s chair, miles away from the chamber/baroque-pop that had been such an attraction in the early days. It was only when I read Bad Vibes more than a decade later did it hit me that Haines had come to the conclusion he was both unable and unwilling to play the game in terms of being a pop star, with things like the broken ankles from the fall that had brought a previous tour to an end and the release of the Baader Meinhof single being clear signs that he wanted someone to drive the stake through the heart of his band.

And it was only in listening to the track alongside the others that would appear on After Murder Park on its release a month or so later, did it make some sort of sense why Light Aircraft on Fire had been selected as a single – the other tracks were even less commercial sounding, although many of them bordered on genius, albeit from the mind of a complex individual. It was a long way removed from country houses, cigarettes and alcohol and the lives of common people. The fact that the album had titles such as Unsolved Child Murder, New Brat In Town, Tombstone (in which he dreams of blowing up the hotel of choice for the Britpop cognoscenti) and Dead Sea Navigators are all you need to know, not forgetting a wonderfully powerful version of an old b-side, Everything You Say Will Destroy You.

The reviews were again reasonably positive, with one or two being astute enough to suggest that Haines had things in common with the newly revitalised Radiohead and that songs on After Murder Park would not have sounded out of place on The Bends.

But that was all for the future. The most disappointing thing from the release of the new single was that the b-sides felt like the b-sides, which seemed a first in respect of The Auteurs (albeit the demo showed promise!):-

mp3 : The Auteurs – Buddha (4-track band demo)
mp3 : The Auteurs – Car Crash
mp3 : The Auteurs – X-Boogie Man

All told, it was no real surprise that the single failed to crack the Top 50.

Tune in next week for another instalment is this tale of the top of the flops.

JC

PS : Video bonus

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (10)

A GUEST POSTING by CHAVAL

Cast your minds back a couple of weeks to JC’s celebration of Chinese Bakery, a single which featured a throwaway line about “Bob Dylan on a motorbike”. For Dylan’s 1966 Woodstock crash that released him from the album/tour/voice of his generation treadmill, Haines’s equivalent was that reckless drop off a wall in San Sebastian.

As well as instilling respect for the difference between sand and concrete, Haines’s leg fractures allowed him an interval of reflection. Like some post-Britpop James Stewart in Rear Window, Haines brooded and read, and like Dylan in 1967, unleashed his creativity in several directions, only tangentially connected with the pop marketplace.

By the end of 1995 and drift into 1996, Haines’s career was all over the place. The Auteurs’ best album After Murder Park was in the can but still awaiting release. Baader Meinhof, Haines’s unhinged, brilliant homage to 70s terrorism, was about to baffle critics with its mash-up of crunching retro-funk, dub and lyrics about hijacks. Always ready to muddy the waters, The Auteurs released the Back With The Killer EP, fresh material that took Haines’s lyrical provocations further than ever, albeit expressed very succinctly (the four tracks clock in at a total of just over nine minutes).

mp3: The Auteurs – Unsolved Child Murder is as uncompromising as its title, a dark depiction of an event dragged from the news headlines and given unsettling intimacy, exploring its devastating effect on a suburban family. Haines says it was based on a childhood memory of a local doctor’s family whose child went missing, presumed dead. Haines’s 70s childhood would prove a rich and often disturbing seam of material from this point on.

Haines had covered vaguely similar territory on Daughter Of A Child on Now I’m A Cowboy, but otherwise the only indie-rock point of comparison with regard to subject matter would be The Smiths’ mawkish Suffer Little Children from their first album. Where Morrissey’s lyric is mostly adolescent melodrama, Unsolved Child Murder is a richly detailed and empathetic depiction of tragedy, irrational desperation and a viciously judgmental world, wrapped up in a gorgeously melancholic tune (the EP version is enhanced with a French horn omitted from the album track that appeared later).

Along with the title track of After Murder Park, it showed how far Haines had shifted from the usual lyrical terrain of mid 90s popular music. The band had just finished recording these tracks in Abbey Road when Paul McCartney looked in and amiably asked if he could hear what Luke had been working on. “I politely decline the ex-Beatle’s request,” Haines recalled. “I don’t want him to be the first person to hear these songs; they’re too good for him.”

This startling work merited that kind of pride, but this EP contains another masterpiece:

mp3: The Auteurs – Back With The Killer Again takes the direct route of Lenny Valentino musically, although the atmosphere is distinctly psychotic. In Tim Mitchell’s deranged non-biography of Haines the author suggests the song is about “a man who takes drugs to turn himself into a murderer”, an explanation that may have come directly from Haines. Certainly the lyric offers a disturbing cluster of allusions to nerve gas, bad dope, primed bombs . . .

Those better versed in 70s counter-culture might be able to identify all the references in the line “John got Barrett for the lot, it must have been the Microdot”. All I can offer is that the Microdot happened to be the name of the early 70s gang of underground LSD chemists eventually busted by Operation Julie (as immortalised in the Clash song), who were rumoured to have links with the German terrorists Red Army Faction aka Baader-Meinhof, bringing it all back home to Haines’s reading lists. “A damning, self-mythologising riposte to the current crock that is the UK scene,” is how Haines described the song.

If the other tracks on the EP can’t match the impact of the first two, that’s not to say they are filler.

mp3: The Auteurs – Former Fan continues the murder theme, seemingly from the viewpoint of a Mark Chapman type obsessive whose disenchantment with a former idol turns homicidal. Or it might be a twisted love song, you tell me.

mp3: The Auteurs – Kenneth Anger’s Bad Dream name-checks the underground film-maker (or “pornographer” as Haines somewhat harshly calls him when introducing the song at live shows) and keen disciple of the Satanist Aleister Crowley. Haines’s insatiable cultural curiosity is on display once again, and given a pretty, folk-rock-ish tune.

The EP reached number 45 (says Wikipedia, Haines’s memory says 48), a commercial disappointment in the hit-crazed climate of Britpop, but undeniably a remarkable achievement considering the artistic reach and lyrical ambition.

chaval

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (9)

This is where things start to get just a bit messy when it comes to getting these releases in the right order in terms of chronology…I’m going by the info contained in one of my go-to-books, namely ‘The Great Indie Discography’, written by Martin Strong, published in 2003, and consisting of more than 1,000 pages. It’s slightly at variance with how Luke Haines lays things out in Bad Vibes, but that may well be down to him keeping the narrative flowing in terms of music rather than jumping back and forth.

So….Chinese Bakery had stalled at #42 in April 1994 while the album Now I’m A Cowboy released the following month, reached #27, which was higher than had been achieved by New Wave but was a sore one for Luke Haines given the success being enjoyed by many other acts whom he regarded as second-rate.

Last week focussed on one of his responses, in the shape of the The Auteurs vs. μ-Ziq EP. The release of that EP coincided with a period in which he was incapacitated – both ankles badly broken and the right heel smashed to smithereens, sustained after he jumped down off a 15-foot wall onto concrete after a gig in San Sebastian in northern Spain. His defence was that he had gone slighly crazy mid-tour and had decided to make the jump on the basis that if he landed unscathed, the tour, which was still to go Italy, France and Japan, would continue…and that he thought he would landing on soft sand.

It was April 1995 before he was in any sort of shape to return to the studio, where he took the songs he had been writing while recuperating and teamed up with Steve Albini, the producer best known from his work with Nirvana, It took just 13 days to finish work on the new album, which was given the title After Murder Park, and it was presented to the record label in May 1995. For one reason after another, its release is consistently delayed and it doesn’t see light of day until 1 March 1996. But that’s a story for another day.

Not long after finishing work with Albini, The Auteurs return to the studio and begin work on some new songs that would, as it turns out, see the light of day as an EP before the next album is released. But that too is another story for another day….(and I’m delighted to say that chaval will be the one to tell that story)

The next physical release to feature Luke Haines proves to be a 7″ single in which neither his nor his band’s name actually features. It came about because Luke Haines and his great mate Phil Vinall, who had produced the first two albums by The Auteurs, were bored and restless, and over a weekend they went into a studio to have a bit of fun, trying to match music to a lyric or two that Haines had pulled together about his latest fascination, a left-wing terrorist gang that had become famous/infamous in the 1970s.

The results were presented to his manager, who dismissed it as being uncommercial. They went next to David Boyd, the boss of Hut Records who had long regarded Haines as a maverick genius. His response on hearing it was to give the green light for a 7″ single release, just a few weeks in advance of the new EP by The Auteurs, and at the same time signal his support for the concept to be worked up into a full album.

Luke Haines is ecstatic:-

mp3 : Baader Meinhoff – Baader Meinhoff
mp3 : Baader Meinhoff – Meet Me At The Airport

To nobody’s surprise, the single doesn’t do anything much in the way of sales, but the unusual marketing campaign, which consisted of sending journalists a copy of the single along with a photocopy of a page from a booklet that described in detail how best to construct a nail bomb, did get column inches….the music press knew exactly who was behind the stunt…

JC