THE XTC SINGLES (Part 12)

One that I had to go and pick up from Discogs. And it wasn’t that cheap once I added P&P.

Respectable Street was and remains one of my favourites songs on Black Sea. It’s the opening song on Side A and it sets the tone for what turned out to be, at that point in time, the most tuneful, accessible and witty album by XTC. I loved the old-fashioned, crackly way that the song opened before bursting into a superb riff and, unusually, straight into the chorus before the first of the verses having its sly dig at behaviour in suburbia. But it had no chance of being a single thanks to a few ‘naughty’ words like contraception, sex-position and abortion, not to mention a couple of product placements for Cosmopolitan magazine and Sony.

Turns out the clever folk at Virgin Records had anticipated this and so had asked Andy Partridge to re-write some of the lyrics and replace some of the possibly offending words that could lead the BBC to refuse to air the song. The move turned out to be a waste of time and money as the different version still didn’t get played and the single flopped completely on its release in March 1981.  I still reckon much of that was down to forgetting to replace the product placement stuff:-

mp3 : XTC – Respectable Street (single version)

It wasn’t a 45 I bought at the time as, being of age when such things mattered, I hated the idea of the censored lyric. Turns out that it wasn’t included on the Waxworks compilation which is why I had to send off for it. The b-sides weren’t includes on Beeswax, the companion album to the compilation and so I never heard either of these songs until 36 years after their release:-

mp3 : XTC – Strange Tales, Strange Tails
mp3 : XTC – Officer Blue

The fact that this was the fourth single released from Black Sea and it managed to yield two new songs as b-sides when a previous single had relied on a live track should set alarm bells ringing. This was reaching down into the bottom of the barrel and scraping away. The band have publicly stated that they are among the worst things they have ever put down on vinyl.

The former sounds half-finished from a lyrical point of view and the tune veers all over the place as if it’s a jam gotten out of control. The latter is actually not all that bad in the grand scheme of things, but I suppose when you’ve been spoiling fans with the quality of the songs on the two most recent albums it will feel as if you’re now offering something a bit second-rate.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #76 : DOT ALLISON

Dot Allison first came to prominence as the vocalist with One Dove who enjoyed a fair degree of success in the early 90s with a sound that sought to provide a cross between club music and electronic pop. If I can be allowed to be lazy, think along the lines of a Scottish St Etienne.

The band broke-up in 1996 some up three years after the release of their only LP but it would take until 1999 before the singer’s solo career got underway with the LP Afterglow which yielded no fewer than six singles from ten tracks, none of which were commercial successes. This was one of the singles:-

mp3 : Dot Allison – Mo’Pop

She remained a very active musician throughout the first decade of the new century, working in diverse areas either as a solo artists or in partnership with others. Among her credits are vocal and writing contributions with Death In Vegas, Massive Attack, Pete Doherty, Bobby Gillespie and Hal David. Her last release would appear to have been the LP Room 7 1/2 back in 2009.

JC

DAS IST GUT! C’EST FANTASTIQUE!

Where would we be without wiki? I certainly would be struggling for enough info and material pertaining to whatever song or act plucked from random to be on these pages on whatever day.

It was only by consulting the on-line encyclopaedia that I learned the following:-

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is the 90th best-selling UK single of all time (as at June 2013)

– The music was inspired by the distinctive piano part of Wake Up and Make Love To Me, an earlier Ian Dury & The Blockheads song

– Some of the lyrics were from as far back as 1974 but the majority were written in 1976, more than two years in advance of its recording and release

– There were 11 separate takes of the song recorded but the one eventually chosen was one of the earliest

– Producer Laurie Latham was never happy with the mix selected as, in his view, there was too much piano and vocals and not enough bass; he’s since said however, that such blemishes are probably what made the song so catchy and memorable

– The song was recorded as live with all the Blockheads placed in different positions across the studio

Stiff Records announced that they would delete the song as soon as it hit 1,000,000 sales; it turned out that 979,000 copies of the 7” and 12” were sold in late 78/early 79 and the millionth copy wasn’t until many years later in the digital era

– It was initially kept off the #1 spot in the charts by YMCA

– The choice of b-side  – There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards – was deliberate so as to provide royalties to one of Ian Dury’s old writing partners in Kilburn and The High Roads

– The song was also recorded as a duet in 1994, with one half being a legend of German alternative music.

It is one of the most memorable, engaging, enduring and enjoyable singles of the era. One that appealed to music fans of all ages and with all tastes. And one of the few songs in which I don’t mind the sax solo.

mp3 : Ian Dury & The Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
mp3 : Ian Dury & The Blockheads – There Ain’t Have Been Some Clever Bastards
mp3 : Freaky Fukin Weirdoz & Nina Hagen – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

JC

HERE WAS ME THINKING ONLY CHART SONGS WERE ON TOP OF THE POPS

A few days back I was flicking through You Tube looking for a vintage Jonathan Richman clip from a Whistle Test appearance when I found this:-

TOTP 2 was a show that used to fill up time on the schedules of BBC2. It was basically clips of old Top of the Pops shows from the 70s and 80s with the occasional new song thrown in. The fact that they showed a clip of Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers performing New England in April 1978 baffles me. The song never made the Top 75 and yet seems to have been recorded and aired. Unless of course the recording was made while the band happened to be in London and kept for use in case the song did become a hit. I was an avid viewer of the show in the 70s as it was just about the only music shown on TV in those days of just three channels and I don’t remember seeing the clip before finding it on t’internet. Does anyone recall differently?

Anyways, I love this particular song. There’s something utterly joyful about its sentiments and the tune matches it perfectly. I don’t own a copy of the single but both it and its b-side can be found on the Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers LP from 1977.

mp3 : Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – New England
mp3 : Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Here Come The Martian Martians

Great fun.

Oh and I did also find the clip I was hunting for. It was shown on Whistle Test at some point in the 80s and captures perfectly the sheer enthusiasm of Jonathan as a performer.

JC

DID THEY CUT THE MUSTARD IN 2017? #6 : THE PONDEROSA ACES

SUNDAY 23 APRIL : THE PONDEROSA ACES

GULLIVER’S, MANCHESTER

I had mostly stayed off the drink at Butcher Boy and Teen Canteen as I had an early start the next morning, down to Manchester for the third and final gig of the action-packed weekend.

It was only the fact that Jonny the Friendly Lawyer, is bass player with The Ponderosa Aces (where he goes by the name of Jonny Bottoms) that made me decide to venture south on the National Express bus for the first time in at least 30 years (the trains were off as a result of engineering works and this was the easiest way to go).

To be perfectly honest, I went down regarding the gig as secondary for it was all about hooking up with JTFL. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post how much fun the hook up proved to me and how it was the prefect appetizer for the then upcoming Bloggers’ Weekend. I also did a short posting on Facebook in which I described the meeting as providing a really satisfying feeling thanks to Jonny being a highly talented and very funny man and also said The Ponderosa Aces were a mighty fine outlaw country music combo. This post is about the gig itself rather than anything else.

The venue was Gulliver’s a cracking old boozer on Oldham Street, nor far from Piccadilly and just a little bit further up the street beyond the legendary Dry Bar where a drug-addled Shaun Ryder once went amok with a pistol in a fit of rage with high-heid yins at Factory Records. I was in the company of a long-time friend Ian who lives in nearby Rochdale and who was putting me up overnight afterwards. The thing is, I’d never let onto Ian in all the 20+ years I’ve known him that I had a music blog until explaining why I was coming to watch a country band in a city more than 200 miles from home and having to take a day off work afterwards to fit it in. Jonny was quite bemused that I kept word of the blog so low-key…..

But I digress (again)!!

The venue at Gulliver’s is upstairs from the bar. It has a capacity of 150 inside a grand high-ceilinged room with a proper, raised stage that made for great sight lines and even better acoustics. There was an enthusiastic and highly knowledgable crowd inside which was no doubt a joy to the Ponderosa Aces given they are fairly well-known in their home state of California and are gaining a reputation slightly further field in Texas, but for the most they are an unknown quantity in the UK; after this particular tour I would suggest they won’t be a secret for much longer.

Fans had travelled from many parts of the north-west and further afield, including three people from Belfast with tonight’s gig being the closest to their home city, with everyone having a great time as the band proved to be a ridiculously talented four-piece (they are normally five-strong but the pedal steel player didn’t come on the UK tour).

I can’t claim to be an expert on country music. I don’t own much beyond Johnny Cash although growing up in Glasgow and being present at family gatherings has long exposed me to all sorts of renditions of songs recorded originally by Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard among others. Many of my own favourite indie-era stars have incorporated country styles into a number of their best known tunes while of course the likes of Elvis Costello has gone much further. So it wasn’t as if I was being exposed to something that was completely alien.

But nothing prepared me for just how great a band the Aces proved to be. Jonny has written on here before about how he was blown away by the welcome he got from singer Mike Maddux, guitarist Hoss Griggs, drummer Arthur Rodriguez and Steve Meitzer on pedal steel when he showed up firstly to audition and then to rehearse, but more so by the fact the guys were, in Jonny’s words, ‘monster musicians’.

Believe me, that doesn’t come close to doing them justice.

It was a fantastic set that chugged along at a fairly frantic pace for the most part. To these ears, it was if Prefab Sprout had turned up and decided to do an entire set around variations on their song Faron Young. I was especially blown away by Hoss’s perfectly effortless guitar playing which was such that Roddy Frame alongside him would have looked like a beginner…and I’m not exaggerating. I’ve long said that you can judge how well a set has gone down by the number of folk at the merchandise stall afterwards and it looked to me that most went home after picking up a copy of their most recent LP Honky Tonkin My Life Away that was released last year and/or a t-shirt.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was lucky enough to enjoy a pre-gig chat with the band and they’re up there with the likes of the two Davids (Kid Canaveral and The Wedding Present) as being the nicest musicians out there performing.

The band played a few new songs that they will be recording in due course for an LP either later this year or into next; these will be the first on which Jonny appears* as the previous LP had the now departed bass player in the studio with them. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy in due course. But for now, here again are two great songs from the current canon:-

mp3 : The Ponderosa Aces – Make Things Right
mp3 : The Ponderosa Aces – Judgement Day

The band have given an interview back in the States describing the entire tour with great and often funny insights into what went on.  Click here for a read and more images.  (It floored me somewhat as I was described in the article as a ‘Scottish music writer’.  That’s another life-long ambition realised!!!!)

*I should mention that this will not be the first time Jonny’s skills will have been captured on vinyl as I found out when we hooked up. But that’s a story, and a review, for another time.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #125 : R.E.M. (2)

TAKE YOUR INSTINCTS BY THE REIN

I feel after 12 successive guest postings that I should have another go myself.  The last time I had such a quality run like this I took on the task of an ICA for R.E.M.  It’s history repeating….

There’s a lot of amazing stuff being posted out there in the little corner of the internet occupied by the those folk to whom you can easily visit by clicking links over on the right hand side of this place. Fans of R.E.M. should be particularly delighted with a new series launched a few weeks ago by The Robster over at Is This The Life?

“Over a period of several years I acquired all manner of rare and unreleased gems from market stalls, record shops, mail order, the fan club and, later on, the Internet trading community. I’m going to post all manner of things from my stash in the coming months for as long as you remain interested.”

There’s been four postings in the series thus far, all of which have been of the utmost quality. Some of the versions offered in the first few weeks indeed have been superior to those available via studio albums or previously available live/alternative versions.

As a way of saying thank you, I thought I’d have a stab at a second ICA for the band. The last time round was a posting that I took a great deal of time and care over, and it was only completed thanks to the imposition of a combination of rules including that I couldn’t include singles, I was restricted to one track from each album (or a b-side from one of its singles) and that all tracks had to feature the legendary Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe line-up.

To my immense relief and satisfaction, the ICA was very well received with suggestions that I have a go at Volume 2 and not to let the rules get in the way. It’s taken a while and I make no apologies for that as I’ve had to cut down what was a very extensive list down to just ten. It’s an ICA which I think contains a few surprise selections but the thinking all the way through wasn’t to just pick out ten great tunes for the sake of it but to forge something that would make for a second volume that worked across across both sides of the would-be vinyl without being predictable.

SIDE A

1. FINEST WORKSONG (from Document, 1987)

Tempting as it was to go for the Mutual Drum Horn mix for something a little bit less known, I couldn’t pull myself away from the original version that opened up the LP that introduced the band to a bigger audience than before. Oh and of course, it also provides the sub-title of this ICA.

This was a big and thumping introduction to a record that in sound and production was a fair way removed from what had come previously. It was almost as if, having quietly delivered, some would say murmured, a number of softly sung and beautiful sounding protest songs up until now, Stipe was determined to make sure that his voice was going to be heard this time round. And nobody should doubt that he was angry and wanted his fans to rally with him.

2. (DON’T GO BACK TO) ROCKVILLE (from Reckoning, 1984)

I wrote about this track at length in December 2014 and am happy to repeat what I said then.

A sad tale of long-distance love told over a quite exquisite tune that can’t quite make its mind up if it is indie, pop, honky-tonk or country.

Such is my belated love for this track that on the only occasion business has ever taken me to the Washington DC (it was back in 2002 and I was delighted to learn that the conference venue, which was where I was also staying for three nights, was the Watergate Hotel), I used a spare afternoon to hop on a commuter train out to Rockville, where I had a walk around for about an hour and took some photos.

There are days, and many of them at that, when I think that this is my all-time favourite R.E.M. song. I know that many folk out there feel exactly the same way.

3. MAN SIZED WREATH (from Accelerate, 2008)

There’s very few who will speak out in favour of Around The Sun, released in 2004 to the most unfavourable reviews and really poor sales. Even the band members were quick to dismiss it once the obligatory promotional efforts had been dispensed with and the fact it took the best part of four years for the next material to be released showed they were determined not to repeat the mistake of making a boring sounding record by a bored sounding band.

Supernatural Superserious was chosen as the comeback song, its online release in February 2008 pre-dating the new album, Accelerate, by around six weeks.  It was a bit of a worry as it sounded as if it had a riff based on Since You’ve Been Gone by Rainbow.  But over the ensuing period, as the band did some promo work, more of the album tracks got an airing.  My ears pricked up a bit when I heard Man Sized Wreath and while I’ll be the first to admit that in the overall canon it is a long way from the everlasting quality of the earlier material it was just a relief to hear the band sounding energised once again and for that alone I’m happy to include it within this volume and it fits in well with the overall feel and tenure of this ICA.

4. MUNICH (live) (from Radio 1 Live Lounge, 2008)

The promotional work for Accelerate saw the band members do a few things they hadn’t for a few years. On 26 March 2008 they went into the live lounge of BBC Radio 1 where they played a version of the first single from the new album (see Track 3 above), talked about their upcoming gig at the Royal Albert Hall in London and, in keeping with the tradition encouraged by the live lounge production team, played a stripped down cover version.

The song they chose was Munich, a single that had been released by indie-guitar band Editors back in 2005. Each of Stipe, Berry and Mills had declared themselves fans of the UK band who weren’t all that well-known outside of Europe having tried but failed to crack America. Whether it was a back-handed compliment to the fact that Editors had put a well-received cover of Orange Crush on an earlier b-side or the fact that the lyric of “People are fragile things, you should know by now. Be careful what you put them through” resonated so much with the band on the back of the criticism of Around The Sun only they themselves know. Think of it as the delightful little oddity that is necessary to help with sales of second volumes of compilations.

5. MAN ON THE MOON (from Automatic For The People, 1992)

One of the big sing-a-long hits really has to be included. I shied away last time round but refuse to do this time. It would be disingenuous of me to ignore just how massively popular the band became as the 90s dawned on us just because they are the songs that took them into arenas and stadiums, justifying the high-price contract offered by Warner Brothers. Let’s be honest and frank about it. If R.E.M. had remained something of a cult act throughout their career, then a song which celebrated the life and times of a recently deceased comedic actor who was the very definition of cult would be seen by many as the height of cleverness and indeed genius. Lyrically and musically, this is a great song that no amount of sing-a-long audience participation, or indeed guest vocal contribution from the bloke out of Coldplay*, could ever ruin.

(NB:  this was written long before KC’s ICA of last week; it’s just taken a long while to get round to posting it; honest!!)

SIDE B

1. ELECTROLITE (from New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996)

The closing song from the final album recorded by a four-piece R.E.M. has long been one of my favourites. It’s a song that seems to perfectly draw that particular era to a close but perhaps stripped of that context and its particular placing on that particular album runs the risk of not working within an ICA.

The band was, of course, no strangers to including piano-led ballads within their albums but what makes this a cut above the others is that a seemingly simple sounding tune conveys an epic and seemingly metaphorical lyric, one which says goodbye to both the 20th Century and their ailing drummer. Sublime and beautiful in equal measures.

2. WALK UNAFRAID (live) (originally from Up, 1998)

Up was always going to be a difficult album to come to terms with, being the first without Bill Berry. There were many, particularly among the critics, who thought that the band should have called it a day when one of the original members was forced to quit because of concerns around his health. It was a million miles away from the very early R.E.M. and a million miles away in the other direction from the platinum-era R.E.M.

And yet, it’s an album that in many places contains some of their most compelling material from any part of their career, particularly the clearly autobiographical Walk Unafraid in which Stipe acknowledges and indeed celebrates his transformation from timid frontman to articulate spokesman for the disaffected and deeply concerned. I wasn’t convinced by the song as it appeared on the new album – the tune didn’t quite somehow back up the message – but the spunkier and more defiant version I first saw and heard in Manchester in 1999 on the promotional tour for the album, and which was replicated in the live CD/DVD from gigs in Dublin in 2005, is more like it.

3. GARDENING AT NIGHT (from Chronic Town EP, 1982)

It’s now 35 years since this particular song was first heard by the general public, thanks to its inclusion on the Chronic Town EP. Rumoured to be the first original song they were ever truly happy with, it’s clearly one that is of huge significance to the band as evidenced by:-

– the original version has been added to with three other takes of the song, all from the early days, being included on various compilation albums that have been released over the years
– it was performed during the band’s induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2007
– there have been five live versions made available through official releases
– the song title also inspired the name of the band’s publishing company, Night Garden Music

I do fully accept that the production makes this song very much of its time, but it does more than hold its own with so many other of the classic releases from that classic jingly-jangly pop era and it still fills the floor at indie gatherings for folk of all ages.

4. SO. CENTRAL RAIN (from Reckoning, 1984)

“Go build yourself another dream, this choice isn’t mine
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”

Gut-wrenchingly beautiful. At a time when Morrissey’s songs of a love gone wrong were taking much of the UK by storm, here was an example of the genre from the other side of the pond that was equally brilliant.

5. KING OF BIRDS (from Document, 1984)

I don’t know why, but I have more problems selecting the final track on my ICAs than any other. It’s that need to identify and choose the killer song that would make the listener want to go to their turntable to flip the vinyl back to Side A for a further listen while recognising that most studio albums don’t finish with a track that was selected as a single. The secret of any success in closing out an ICA is to use something of a hidden gem. I think I’ve succeeded here……………………..

Once again, I’ve left off so many that I really wanted to include. I reckon I could churn out at least three more volumes and still not be close to completing the task of offering up essential R.E.M songs but given how hard it was to nail down Vols 1 and 2 then I’m going to draw a line.**

But please, feel free to offer up your own version if you’re so inclined.

JC

*why I’m not fond of Man On The Moon played live – here’s the version with Chris Martin as recorded live in London in 2004 at a benefit gig for the OXFAM charity

**I reserve the right, in the very fullness of time, to compile Vol 3 solely on the tracks being offered up by The Robster.

BONUS POST : DID THEY CUT THE MUSTARD IN 2017? #5 : TEEN CANTEEN

SATURDAY 22 APRIL – TEEN CANTEEN

NICE & SLEAZY’S, GLASGOW

There wasn’t much time to waste following the conclusion of the Butcher Boy gig. After saying thanks to the band members, and taking my leave of Stuart Murdoch (yup, the very one!!) who had been seated next to me throughout, it was a two mile train trip into the city centre and then a haul up the hill to Nice n Sleazy’s to see if I could blag my way into the Teen Canteen gig that was also a special part of RSD 2017.

I never leave things to the last-minute but in this instance there were some plans that may or may not have seen a crowd of us going along to Sleazy’s or maybe to other events in the city that evening and nothing could be determined or finally decided till late on.  In the end, circumstances dictated not everyone could be part of an extended stay and by the time arrangements could be firmed up I was annoyed to find that there weren’t any tickets left for the show featuring Glasgow’s most dynamic all-girl pop band.

Luckily for me, there was a single return on the door and I was able to get myself inside where I would be in the company of Aldo and Jondo, both who had been seated on the other side of me at the BB gig, along with Gary who is a mate of Aldo’s and has long been a champion of the band along with many other emerging talents within the wider Glasgow scene.

Teen Canteen have always been a joy to watch and listen to but there was something a bit special about this performance which elevated it higher than any others I’ve been lucky enough to witness previously. Maybe it’s down to the fact they have been together now for an extended period and that they have been receiving near unanimous critical acclaim with each release. It could also of course be linked to the fact that Carla Easton has also been lauded for her work with Ette whose album, Homemade Lemonade, was my favourite release of 2016. Her stage presence, manner and confidence is way beyond what it was from shows of a couple of years back, but the very same can also be said of her sidekicks Sita Pieracinni, Chloe Philip and Debbie Smith. The new songs from the Sirens EP which was being officially launched at the gig proved to be majestic while the older material packed a punch that I thought had occasionally been lacking in previous outings.

A previous review of the band saw them described as part wall-of-sound and part-Postcard records. Whoever it was coined the description has nailed it. Great vocals above great booming pop tunes but with the odd touch of fragility and cuteness that made early Orange Juice such fun to listen to. Oh and there’s a fair bit of Clare Grogan in there too…. Entry to the show also came with a copy of the new EP on 10″ transparent blue and red vinyl with white splashes and it’s a piece of vinyl treasured every bit as much as many of my other bits of plastic from waaaaay back.

The show was a huge success, leading to demands from an appreciative and adoring audience for an encore, something which clearly thrilled the band; it’s been years since I’ve seen a group come back on with such wide grins and expressions of delight.

mp3 : Teen Canteen – What You Gonna Do About Me?

Teen Canteen deserve to be massive pop stars, appearing on network TV shows the length and breadth of Europe and further afield. But as we all know, genuine talent rarely gets what it deserves. Next month sees the band play a huge show, opening for The Divine Comedy at the 2,500-capacity Kelvingrove Bandstand here in Glasgow. Neil Hannon and his mates will need to be on their finest form to stay in front of the support act…but for those of you who have tickets, you’re in for a real treat the entire night.

JC