IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (30)

I’m serious.

The earliest music and indeed live shows by U2 are a world-removed from the bombastic style over substance era which began, arguably, with their appearance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in July 1985.

They certainly had come a long way in just six years, with their initial release being a 3-track EP on 12” vinyl, in a cheap record label sleeve, with a pressing limited to 1,000 copies, available only in Ireland (and for the most part, only in Dublin). The band were making a great impression on the local scene but struggling to be heard above everything that has happening in the UK in 1979 as post-punk/new wave became the flavour of the day for the industry bosses, albeit only as a way of trying to gain some critical credibility as the big monies were still being made from MOR chart fodder and disco (it’s worth remembering that CBS was the home to Abba as well as The Clash).

But, as David Byrne would come to sing, ‘How Did We Get Here?’

The abbreviated version is that they formed in 1976 while all still at school, going through a few personnel and name changes in the early years. They began life as a covers band, gradually incorporating more new wave/post-punk songs into their sets. In March 1978, they became a four-piece and took the name U2 and around the same time won a talent contest for which the prize was £500 and studio time to record a demo. They began to be hyped by Hot Press, a new fortnightly-published Irish music magazine and then approached by a 27-year old named Paul McGuinness who offered to be their full-time manager with the promise of booking gigs and studio time.

The band members were just 16-18 year old at the time and there is absolutely no doubt that without these developments, they would likely have sunk without much of a trace beyond the Dublin scene. Word of mouth that they were a great live act, with an energy not unlike many of the new UK bands who were making waves, ensured the youth of Dublin turned out in ever-increasing numbers. By August 1979 they were largely performing their own numbers and felt confident enough to return to the studio, determined that the mistakes made after the initial effort on the back of the talent contest the following year wouldn’t be repeated.

The said demo was three tracks and it was enough for CBS Ireland to show some interest. They offered to issue it on 12” vinyl but hedged their bets somewhat by making it a cheap release with just a generic sleeve and a run of 1,000 copies.

mp3 : U2 – Out Of Control
mp3 : U2 – Stories For Boys
mp3 : U2 – Boy-Girl

The initial 1,000 copies sold out quickly, and in due course the 12” would be re-pressed on at least seven occasions as well as appearing in 7” format, this time in a picture sleeve

Known as U2-3, it sold enough copies to go Top 20 in Ireland, leading to interest in the UK, with a London show in December 1979 being their first performance outside of Ireland. That particular show didn’t go well and so it was back to Ireland to think things over. The manager suggested a second single, which CBS Ireland were OK about releasing but without any further long-term commitment, as well as a tour which would culminate in a 2,000 capacity show in Dublin, one which would subsequently go down in local legend as one of the all-time great Dublin gigs.

Island Records swooped in as CBS continued to hum-and-haw. The rest, via a one-off single recorded in May 1980 with Martin Hannett, is history:-

mp3 : U2 – 11 O’Clock Tick Tock

The debut album, Boy, was released in October 1980. It included newly recorded versions of two of the songs that had appeared on the first release.

There is something about the early U2 releases which hinted they had something of a future, but I imagined at the time it would have been akin to so many other of the bands which emerged in the late 70s, namely a bright beginning followed by a fizzling away after a few albums. I had them down as being the Irish equivalent of The Skids…..

JC

HE WAS INFAMOUS FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES AND HE APPEARED ON PANORAMA

SWC and Badger, as part of this rather wonderful ICA on Carter USM that appeared back in November 2015, made the observation that Jim Bob wrote such wonderful lyrics that he had to become an author. As ever, the dynamic duo were bang on the money, with him now being the proud author of six books, two of which are autobiographical from his time with the band, and four highly readable and enjoyable works of fiction.

Jim Bob (real name James Robert Morrison) has long been a social commentator, with his lyrics, (and in later life his novels), making all sorts of observations about the unjust world we live in. He’s enjoyed chart success covering dark matters such as racism and bullying in the British Army, alcoholism and child abuse; he’s also targeted the rich, the pompous and the pampered, and on one occasion weaving all three attributes into a none too thinly disguised attack on the pop music industry.

Twenty years ago, he came up with one of his best – a blistering attack on slum landlords and the way they exploit their poor and vulnerable tenants in sickening and despicable ways,

Sheriff Fatman started out in business as a granny farmer
He was infamous for fifteen minutes
And he appeared on Panorama
Then he somehow got on board a Starship Enterprise Allowance Scheme
With a Prince of Wales Award
For pushing valium and amphetamines

Moving Up on Second Base
With Nicholas Van what’s His Face
At six foot six
And 100 Tons
The undisputed King of the Slums
With more alias’ than Klaus Barbie
Master Butcher of Leigh on Sea
Just about to take the stage
The one and only – hold the front page

Fatman’s got something to sell
To the Capital’s homeless
A Crossroads Motel
For the No Fixed Abodeless
Where you can live life in style
If you sleep in a closet
And if you flash him a smile
He’ll take your teeth as deposit

There’s bats in the belfry
The windows are jammed
The toilet’s ain’t healthy
He don’t give a damn
Just chuckles and smiles
Laughs like a madman
A born again Rachman
Here comes Sheriff Fatman

With his valium, amphetamines
Sicknotes and his phoney prescriptions
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the kitchen
Dead heads and cracked heads
Bunk beds and breakfasts
Wake up you sleepyheads
Check this

Moving up on second base
With Nicholas Van Whatshis face
At six foot six
And 100 tons
The undisputed King of the Slums
With more alias’ than Klaus Barbie
The Master Butcher of Leigh on Sea
Just about to take the stage
The one and only hold the front page

It’s a lyric that will, in all likelihood, make more sense to my domestic audience than those of you who reside overseas, so here’s a few wiki links to help with the background should you wish to explore:-

Panorama
Enterprise Allowance Scheme
Nicholas Van what’s His Face
Crossroads Motel
Rachman

The really frightening this is that nothing has changed in 30 years – indeed in many parts of the UK , the situation has got worse. It is estimated that more than 10,000 rogue landlords in England and Wales are collecting ridiculously high rents and offering sub-standard and cruelly inhumane conditions and the laws in place seem inadequate to prevent it happening time after time after time……

mp3 : Carter USM – Sheriff Fatman

The single was initially released in November 1989 when Carter USM were just beginning to come to the attention of an audience that went beyond the London pub circuit. It enjoyed a re-release in June 1991 and this time, despite most fans already having the song via the 101 Damnations album, it reached #23. The artwork and b-sides were the same on both the 89 and 91 releases, although they do have different catalogue numbers:-

mp3 : Carter USM – R.S.P.C.E.
mp3 : Carter USM – Twin Tub With Guitar
mp3 : Carter USM – Everybody’s Happy Nowadays

The first of the b-sides is another of the social commentary lyrics. Here in the UK, we have the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Birds (RSPCB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSPCC). Jim Bob combines all three to invent the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Everything and has a dig at ivory poachers, factory farming and sadistic parents.

The second of the tracks is an instrumental – a genre which Carter USM were particularly adept – and takes its name from a 1981 piece of Modern Art which is most often on display in the Tate Gallery in London but is presently on loan to the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle in Berlin.

The last on offer is a cover of the Buzzcocks single. The Carter USM version has its tongue very firmly pressed into its cheek, with the emphasis very much on life being an illusion……..

JC

DISARMED IN LIMBO – A MIX FOR TURNING 56


It’s becoming something of a tradition, merely for the fact that I want a new hour-long mix to listen to when I’m heading to work.

Feel free to join in with a download.

mp3 : Various – Disarmed In Limbo (a mix for turning 56)

TRACKLIST

Whatever Helps – Siobhan Wilson
Happy Birthday – The Birthday Party
Dare – Gorillaz
Ciao! – Lush
The Passenger – Iggy Pop
Say Sue Me – Say Sue Me
All Fall Down – Primal Scream
Humble – Kendrick Lamar
Intergalactic – Beastie Boys
Taste The Last Girl – Sons and Daughters
Why Are People Grudgeful? – The Fall
Let Them All Talk – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Promises – Buzzcocks
Sister – Tracey Thorn feat. Corinne Bailey Rae
Juxtaposed With You – Super Furry Animals
This Is The Day – The The
Monkey Gone To Heaven – Pixies
Intuition Told Me (Part Two) – Orange Juice

JC

HEART-SHAPED BOXES AND MARIGOLDS

Heart-Shaped Box was the first single in the UK to be lifted from In Utero, the third and ultimately final studio album by Nirvana.

It was released at the end of August 1993 and, in reaching #5, it gave the band their highest chart position on terms of singles.

The band had enlisted the services of Steve Albini to be the producer on the new album, intending to move away somewhat from the style and sound that helped Nevermind shift zillions of copies. They certainly achieved the desired outcome, much to the horror of the bosses at the record label, with the consensus being that it was bordering on the unlistenable and unlikely to get much, if any, exposure on mainstream radio – the suggestion was that it should be re-recorded or at very least, remixed. (During the subsequent row which broke out, the label denied they had felt this way and had put no pressure on the band to do anything in terms of re-recoding or remixing…..the facts of the matter have come to light in subsequent years)

It is fair to say that having left the studio and listened to the recordings back at home, the band members themselves were themselves having a few doubts over the end product – particularly with regards to how low the bass was in the mix and how so many of the lyrics seemed inaudible. Albini declined their request to do get involved in any remixing effort and so the band turned to Scott Litt, best known for his work with R.E.M.

Changes were made to a few tracks, including Heart Shaped Box, with Kurt Cobain also taking the opportunity to add acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies.

mp3 : Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box

There’s a very interesting story behind the b-side of the single.

During the period when Nevermind was being recorded, drummer Dave Grohl was busying himself in another studio writing and recording songs on which he sang and played all the instruments. He wanted to issue them in as low-key a way as possible and so they were sneaked out, as a cassette-only release on a small independent label. The album was called Pocketwatch and the work was attributed to an act called Late!. The only possible indication as to the true identity of the composer/performer were the words ‘all music and instruments by Dave G’.

The band, while in the studio with Steve Albini, recorded a new version of one of the songs that could be found on Pocketwatch, most likely always intending to issue it as a b-side to a subsequent single:-

mp3 : Nirvana – Marigold

Dave Grohl is on lead vocal on this recording. There was something of an element of surprise that, in the wake of Kurt’s death, he would find even greater and enduring success with Foo Fighters. Those who were perhaps paying closer attention to things might well say that his move into some sort of solo work was inevitable.

Here’s the original version of the single before Scott Litt did the remix…..the biggest difference is certainly in the vocal during the chorus and some harmonising during the verses….oh and the drums bring mixed right up top!!:-

mp3 : Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box (Albini recording)

And here’s the original version of the b-side, in its rough and lo-fi format:-

mp3 : Late! – Color Pictures of a Marigold

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Part 35-40)

And so to the last of this run through of the solo singles issued over the past 35 years by Marc Almond. One thing for sure, you can never accuse him of churning out the same old stuff, time after time…..

(35) Scar
(36) Pleasure’s Wherever You Are
(37) Bad To Me
(38) Demon Lover

(All taken from the 2015 album, The Velvet Trail)

The Velvet Trail is the twentieth solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released by Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records on 9 March 2015.

The Velvet Trail is Almond’s first album of original material since Varieté in 2010. It was produced by Christopher Braide and features a duet with Beth Ditto of indie rock band Gossip on the track “When the Comet Comes”.

Almond had previously stated that he would no longer record albums of original material following Varieté, calling that album “a kind of swansong”.He subsequently recorded a number of albums outside of the pop genre which mostly featured songs written by others. During this time he was approached by Braide, known for his work with pop artists such as Lana Del Rey, David Guetta and Britney Spears, who urged Almond to make “the ultimate Marc Almond album”Braide was a longtime fan of Almond and had in fact worked with Almond before, unbeknownst at that point to the singer. Almond explained the situation to Simon Price of The Quietus, stating “it was only afterwards that I realised where I knew Chris Braide from: he’d sung backing vocals on the Soft Cell reunion album Cruelty Without Beauty, and I’d passed him in the corridor”. Braide lured Almond back into songwriting by sending him three instrumental tracks, “hoping to change his mind about retirement”, a plan that worked when “all three were met with resounding enthusiasm”. They continued to work in this manner until the album was completed.

(39) A Kind Of Love (from the 2017 album, Hits and Pieces)

Hits and Pieces was a 35-track compilation of singles covering his entire career, and included Soft Cell hits and collaborations. A Kind Of Love was a new track, one which has been described as “three effortlessly breezy minutes that hint at Almond’s past the ‘light summery psychedelic sounds’ on that mid-60s transistor radio, the Northern soul scene that inspired Soft Cell to cover Tainted Love and What! without really sounding much like anything Marc Almond has recorded before.”

(40) How Can I Be Sure (from the 2017 album, Shadows and Reflections)

From The Line of Best Fit website:-

A title like Shadows and Reflections might make this album sound like a contemplative take on an illustrious three decades for synth pop pioneer Marc Almond, but it is certainly not a retrospective.

Recent success with his Hits and Pieces took care of previously released material; Shadows and Reflections is pure Almond, back on form and seemingly loving every moment. In fact, his new LP demonstrates that despite celebrating his 60th year in 2017, Almond has lost none of his heart stopping irony or youthful dramatic exuberance for mining 1960s back catalogues to create an astonishingly contemporary sound.

The songs on Shadows and Reflections were written or recorded by some of the most influential names in music over the last 50 years; veritable pop royalty including the likes of Burt Bacharach, The Action, The Yardbirds, Bobby Darlin, Julie Driscoll, Billy Fury and the Young Rascals. This impressive list alone stands testament to the reach and considerable influence Almond still wields after more than 30 years in the music industry.

Almond has never been one to shy away from theatrics, and so Shadows and Reflections is a showgirl of an album with sardonic delight bursting from under the petticoats of each baroque-styled pop song. As well as anthemic favourites such as Young Rascal’s “How Can I Be Sure” and gothic pop The Herd’s “From The Underworld” there are also new original compositions that provide “Overture” and “Interlude” to the performance.

When the curtain closes with yet another Marc Almond original “No One to Say Goodnight To” – composed and orchestrated by long-time collaborator John Harle – the dream is over and the tears can begin. For ultimately, in true Almond fashion, this musical nod to 1960’s Italian cinema is as much tragedy as comedy. The real tragedy however would be not to check it out.

And that final line is what I hope some of you will have been doing over the past few months of this series. Marc Almond is, very much, someone who should be in all your record collections and to a greater extent than you likely have.

My huge thanks to those of you who have dropped in to leave comments during this particular series – and yes, Echorich, there were times when I felt I was writing solely for your pleasure but that in itself was something of an honour and far from a chore.

Next up for the Sunday spotlight????  Ah…..you’ll need to tune in next week to find out…..

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #165: JONNIE COMMON

This is how his PR agency sells him:-

Jonnie Common is a Scottish songwriter, producer and performer known for making catchy, digestible pop songs from strange sounds and subjects. With his own special blend of electronic apparatus, acoustic instruments and field recordings, this is an artist who doesn’t quite fit into any box perfectly and that’s just how he likes it.

As you can see from his website, he’s been part of the music scene around these parts for about a decade.  He first came to my notice via favourable noises being made by Matthew, from Song by Toad Records and given he’s a man with fairly impeccable taste, I was soon paying attention.

Jonnie Common is another performer, akin to Adam Stafford, who makes great music on record but is best enjoyed in the live setting.  Given we are in mid-June, it makes sense to have this song, from the 12″ split single that was released on Song, By Toad back in 2014:-

mp3 : Jonnie Common – Summer Is For Going Places

JC

ANOTHER OLD SCOTTISH BAND DEBUTING ROUND THESE PARTS

Turning again to the Big Gold Dreams box set for inspiration and shining a light on Boots For Dancing.

The fact that this Edinburgh band, who were around initially from 1979 – 1982, didn’t appear in the alphabetical rundown of the Scottish songs that appears here most Saturdays is the perfect indicator that I didn’t, until the purchase of the box set, have anything by them in the collection.

Wiki advises that:-

The band was formed in late 1979 by Dave Carson (vocals), Graeme High (guitar), Dougie Barrie (bass), and Stuart Wright (drums). Showing influences from the likes of Gang of Four and The Pop Group, they signed to the Pop Aural label for their eponymous debut single, receiving airplay from John Peel. In the next two years, the band had more line-up changes than releases, first with ex-Shake and Rezillos drummer Angel Paterson replacing Wright, to be replaced himself by Jamo Stewart and Dickie Fusco. Former Thursdays guitarist Mike Barclay then replaced High, who joined Delta 5. The band also added ex-Shake/Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis for second single “Rain Song”, issued in March 1981. Callis then left to join The Human League, with no further line-up changes before third single “Ooh Bop Sh’Bam” was released in early 1982. Barrie then departed, his replacement being ex-Flowers/Shake/Rezillos bassist Simon Templar (b. Bloomfield), and ex-Josef K drummer Ronnie Torrance replaced the departing Fusco and Stewart (the latter forming The Syndicate). The band split up later in 1982.

Between line-up changes, the band recorded two sessions for John Peel’s BBC radio show, in 1980 and 1981. In 2015 they reformed and released The Undisco Kidds, an album of recordings from the 1980s.

An article in The Herald newspaper at the end of 2015, presumably to coincide with the band reforming and the release of The Undisco Kidds , expanded somewhat on this rudimentary information, including the observation that while they weren’t alone in enjoying and benefiting from the patronage of John Peel, they transcended the norm for the simple fact that the DJ was on record as saying they were one of the few bands whose music was liable to persuade him on to the dance floor.

Boots For Dancing were an unusual act, and judging from the constantly changing line-up, one which lived off a fair bit of creative tension. The constant presence throughout was Dave Carson, whom the Herald article describes as ‘frontman, vocalist, proto-rapper and mean mover’ It also refers to the 2015 album, which brings together tracks from the Peel sessions and mostly previously unreleased material from 1981, and gives it high praise:-

“The variety in the music is terrific, ranging from the foot-stomping chants of Get Up and Ooh Bop Sh’Bam that grew straight from that eponymous punk-disco debut, to the lounge supper club jazz aesthetic of Style in Full Swing and South Pacific and culminating in the uncategorisable Bend and Elbow, Lend an Ear. While the skill of the young musicians develops in provocative directions, the common thread is Carson’s way with an ear-catching lyric, cheerfully plundering a hinterland of showtunes, gospel and r’n’b for memorable phrases to repurpose.”

The track on Big Gold Dream is their third single, dating from 1982:-

mp3 : Boots For Dancing – Ooh Bop Sh’Bam

Upon hearing this, I have a feeling that I danced to it a few times back in the days at the Student Union – I probably went to the trouble of finding out who the song was by but wasn’t interested enough to take it further by seeking it out in a record shop. Kind of says more about the real narrowness of my tastes at the time than anything else.

Here’s the Talking Heads-esque b-side of the single:-

mp3 : Boots For Dancing – Money (Is Thin On The Ground)

And here’s a link to where you can pick up a copy of the 2015 album.

JC