Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 round-up part three

Best gig:

I was a Barrowland virgin prior to this year. This, despite the entreaties of various friends and colleagues extolling its virtues as a venue (hello Lesley Stokes!). In truth, it actually sounded faintly unpleasant; sprung ballroom floor, decor out of a 70s amusement arcade, unpromising location in the arse-end of Glasgow. Not exactly the Ministry of Sound. And, yes, at first glance the surroundings are exactly as described, a potential set from Life On Mars. But as is so often the case, the unpreposessing decor belies the experience to be had. Because Barrowland (or the Barrowlands as most seem to call it) has that indefinable, elusive quality: soul. Like Nottingham's Rock City and London's Forum, the venue has seen better days and looks frankly shabby in the cold light of day. But when the lights go down and the beer starts to fly through the air, it comes into its own.

Of course it helps if you're seeing the right kind of act at the Barrowlands. Motorhead, the Beastie Boys or The Cramps would kill. Devendra Banhart, The Blue Nile or Fleet Foxes, on the other hand, wouldn't really cut it. Luckily we saw The Streets, and he/they were absolutely made for the Barrowlands.

I was a Streets virgin, too, having nodded along to his output on the radio but not especially exerted myself to seek out his CDs. And while I wasn't exactly going to see him under duress, I'd be lying if I said I was greatly excited about the prospect of seeing The Streets live. However, as soon as Mike Skinner took the stage, he had the audience eating out of his hand. He's the consummate showman, cajoling, exhorting, and with a strong enough sense of dynamics to punctuate his set with moments when the assembled throng could go absolutely mental. He's a good improviser too; unlike so many bands now that refuse to communicate with the audience at gigs (see below), Skinner essayed an impromptu take on Daddy's Gone by Glasvegas, mashed up one of his hits (I can't remember which) with the Prodigy's Out of Space and generally whipped up the crowd into hysteria with his stage-diving and his professions of love for Glasgow in general and the Barrowlands in particular. Gig of the year, no question. You can get some idea of what it was like below:

I'd never seen The Fall live either up until October of this year, and despite my fears that it would be the Mark Smith cabaret hour, the band's current line-up proved to be adept and capable when I saw them at Edinburgh's Queens Hall. So for exceeding my (low) expectations, The Fall deserve a mention in this category, though points are deducted for singularly failing to acknowledge the audience (par for the course with MES, I suspect), and for John Cooper Clarke bottling out of his support slot.

Download The Streets The Sherry End (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Download The Fall Reformation! (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Best book:

Pop Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones. The latest in a long line of exposés of, variously, the airline business, the hotel business and the fashion industry by Edwards-Jones, Pop Babylon reads like Jackie Collins meeting Albert Goldman. Strung around a generic narrative featuring the rise of a fictitious boy band, the novel details various showbiz excesses, sharp practices and scandals, vouchsafed to the author by anonymous moles. Unusually, names are named, and Take That, The Spice Girls, Jay-Z, Simon Cowell and others all get it in the neck.

Best single:

Wearing My Rolex by Wiley. So he's a grime sellout. Who cares? This is totally aces. Despite the video, one of the year's WTF?! moments, and doubtless made without the input or consent of the artist.

Also, a mention for Q-Tip's Gettin' Up: a close second. And Please Come Back Home by Glasvegas, Phil Spector by way of the Gorbals.

Best album:

I haven't yet heard The Bug's London Zoo, which made a lot of end-of-year lists, so I'll have to reserve judgement on that. Otherwise, I'd have to plump for the Vampire Weekend long player. I half-expected the David Byrne and Brian Eno album of this year to sound like this. Typically, it didn't, and full marks for subverting expectations again, lads. But if, like me, you quite like a bit of scratchy, jittery, Afro-inflected buttoned-up preppy pop, two parts Graceland to one part Remain In Light, then Vampire Weekend were right on the money.

See you in 2009; first up will be Guns and Roses vs. Crass. You see, I do plan ahead! This stuff doesn't just write itself, y'know.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 round-up part two

Gone but not forgotten:

Levi Stubbs, Paul Newman, Yves St Laurent, Eartha Kitt, Ken Campbell, Bobby Fischer, Arthur C Clarke, Jeremy Beadle, Freddie Hubbard, Miriam Makeba, Humphrey Lyttleton, Paul Raymond, Isaac Hayes, Harold Pinter, Oliver Postgate.

Biggest ego:
It's been a long time coming (cf his award show outbursts- "My video was the best 'cos it cost a million dollars and had Pam Anderson"- well that tells you everything about his value system...) but this year Kanye West's messiah complex went into full effect.  See, for example, his ludicrous posing as Christ on the cover of Rolling Stone, after his mom claimed that he was comparable to Gandhi, Jesus and Martin Luther King.  Sure he is, Mrs. West!  She later died during plastic surgery, which tells you everything you need to know about her judgement.  Now, egos are nothing new in music, and in American R&B in particular; most musicians need one, and occasionally they can back up their ridiculous claims with groundbreaking, innovative music (Prince, Michael Jackson, LL Cool J...)  This year, however, Kanye borrowed Cher's old Autotune, came up with some one-finger melodies to accompany his vocoder warblings and flung it in the public's face with the claim that we should be grateful for living in a time of such genius. The gulf between self-belief and recorded output has never been wider.

Self-fulfilling prophecy award:
Florence and the Machine have been announced as the recipients of the 2009 Critics' Choice Award at next year's Brits.  This is the new-ish award, the mechanics of which  where a previously (more or less) unknown act is anointed by the powers-that-be at the BPI as the next big thing.  Which is pretty much what then happens.  Last year's award winner was Adele, who at the time had yet to release any music.  Which tells you a lot about how the music biz operates.  
It all reminds me of a story that Bernard Butler used to tell, about how a nascent Suede were called into the office of the NME, and told they were going on the cover (prior to any actual singles being released) as it had been decided behind the scenes at the paper that they were going to be the NME's "Band of 1992".  "So that's how it works..." thought Butler.

Most uncompromising comeback:
Portishead Third: John Carpenter overtones, skronk jazz wailings and drums nicked from Trans-Europe Express.  Put that on yer coffee table, yer middle-class twunts!

More to come tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

As the oracle predicted...

Just call me Mystic Meg...

Compare and contrast:

Personally, I think it was the horrible name that caused its present woes, rather than the collapse of EUK, but then, pace Mandy Rice-Davies, Iwould think that, wouldn't I?

Incidentally, I'm not gloating in the least over potential job losses, so I really hope the chain can get its house back in order. Changing its name back to Virgin would be a start...

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008 round-up part one

As has been traditional for, ooh, three years now at Irk The Purists Towers, it's time for the end of year round up. This year, I'll be stretching the awards over a few blog posts.

Worst CD cover:

A slam-dunk for The Kings of Leon, whose Only By The Night looked like an explosion at the Adobe Photoshop development lab.

Honorable mention to Keane's effort, the inaptly-named Perfect Symmetry, which resembled a ten year old's interpretation of Mondrian. It's a long way from perfect. And it's not even symmetrical.

Best TV show:

A few contenders here: Steve Coogan's Sunshine was a strong contender, as was Ashes to Ashes. But the hands-down winner for me was AMCs Mad Men, an American import. A look at a Madison Ave. ad agency in the pre-Kennedy era, the show was pitch-perfect (no pun intended). Morally ambiguous, subtly-detailed and superbly-acted, it's incredible to think that the normally astute HBO passed on this. The office interiors are to die for, featuring a parade of mid-century classic furniture by the likes of Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames, and much of the clothing on show makes Hedi Slimane look like Mr. Byrite. The characters are carefully delineated too by their mise-en-scene; the young, eager secretary Peggy's clothing, for example, is slightly farmish and frumpy compared to that of the vampish and worldly Joan (played by the astonishingly pneumatic Christina Hendricks), while the young newlyweds house isn't filled with early 60s classics as you might expect in a less nuanced production; instead Pete Campbell and his new spouse make do with outmoded, pre-war furniture that would have been passed down from in-laws.

But its the acting and scripting that really astonish. Characters are allowed to reveal themselves slowly, in a way that TV usually doesn't allow; Peggy's pregnancy, for example, was so subtly developed over the course of most of the last series that for about five weeks my wife and I were saying to each other "has she put on weight?". Most series would have had her fainting, patting her belly etc. , and generally underestimating the viewer's capacity for inference. This is one of those rare programmes that actually credits your intelligence and repays close examination.

As an example, just look at the clip above. It looks fantastic, for a start. It's an object lesson in design and marketing history (it's like
The Hidden Persuaders at 24 frames per second- and, incidentally, it's one of the programme's strengths that it uses real products and real ad agencies in its narrative). It's also superbly acted. While on one level the scene could be read as a schmaltzy, all-American celebration of family values in the service of sales technique, its moral ambiguity is laid bare when you know that senior ad-man Don, who's making the pitch based on his own wedding photos, is actually a philandering bum. But he's not making the pitch cynically, either. He wants to believe in the American dream. He just ends up falling short. Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, do so with all due haste.

Incidentally, can I just lay to rest the canard that appears in the Guardian and other broadsheets with dispiriting regularity? The morons who write for these papers would have you believe that US viewers are spoiled for choice with a 24-hour diet of shows of the calibre of The Sopranos, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Larry Sanders and similar. Well, sorry to bust your bubble. American TV is
not inherently better than British TV. And there's nothing inherently better about having teams of writers on a show, either. 98% of US TV shows are cack, just like 98% of the shows that are made over here. The reason that US TV seems superior to ours is that we only ever see the good stuff! The vast majority of crud never makes it out of their country. Homeboys in Outer Space, anyone? The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer?

OK, rant over. Oh, merry Christmas, BTW. More 2008 round-up soon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

About Face

Any remaining regular readers will have noticed the paucity of blog posts in the past month or so. One reason for not putting finger to keyboard in recent weeks has been my discovery of the fantastic website of Ms Fiona Russell Powell. Those of you with long memories may remember Fiona as one of the best reasons to read The Face in its Neville Brody-designed heyday. The site (maintained, seemingly, by La Powell herself) is an archive of her best columns and interviews from The Face, Arena, Loaded, and answers quite a few questions about the seeming disappearing act she performed in the 90s. It doesn't answer every question, in particular the one I'd like to ask about what she's up to these days (I bet she's worn better than Julie Burchill, heroin addiction or no), but it's a damn good read nonethless. Especially if you can ignore the shortcomings of her OCR reader.

If you do remember Fiona's journalistic zenith, you may also remember her brief stint as one quarter of ABC, under the psuedonym Eden. Along with the mysterious David Yarritu, she was recruited by Martin Fry and Mark White for visual reasons rather than musical ability during the group's How To Be A Zillionaire period (their best album, just edging out Lexicon Of Love, IMHO)- Fry has since said he wanted the group to resemble a Fellini film. It's funny how ABC are (sometimes) tarred with the same brush as, say, Howard Jones or Kajagoogoo. I mean, just look at the videos for Be Near Me (below), or How To Be A Millionaire. You can see that Dee-Lite based their entire career on ABC, can't you...

Sadly, I couldn't find a clip of the group performing on The Tube; Fiona Russell Powell was playing keyboards wearing a bullet belt filled with vibrators, if I remember correctly. Instead, you can download A to Z below, in which you can hear Fiona saying a rude word, and you can marvel at Keith LeBlanc's drum programming.

Download A to Z by ABC (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Read Fiona's 1997 take on her time in the band

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Come Again

As this is Irk The Purists, there's only one place you can go from Whitehouse. And that is, as if you couldn't guess, Strictly Come Dancing. I love, love, love almost everything about this show. The costumes. The celebrities. The judges (especially Len Goodman- where is this man's knighthood?). Cherie Lunghi's gloves. Mark Foster's bizarre costume choices. Bruce's increasingly lame jokes. And Tess Daly's total inability to display any dancing aptitude whatsoever, despite the title of the show she co-presents.

But, there are times when I simply have to leave the room. And those times are when the couples (or possibly the show's producers) eschew the classics and decide to dance their tango, their foxtrot or their waltz to something modern, upbeat and appealing to the fabled 18-24 demographic, by, say, the Kaiser Chiefs, Amy Winehouse or the Pigeon Detectives (OK, I may have imagined the last one, but the first two have definitely made appearances in this series).

I know that on a blog devoted to the contrary, the uncool and the impure, you might expect your correspondent to laud such choices. Well I don't. It makes me cringe. This series, for example, we've had paso dobles danced to Blur's Song 2, Survivor's Eye of The Tiger, Europe's The Final Countdown and Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love (and this Daily Telegraph correspondent eloquently expresses just how vulgar and jarring such juxtpositions are), as well as tangos to 20th Century Boy by T Rex and David Bowie's Rebel Rebel. And while some modern songs are occasionally, surprisingly sympathetic in the context of the show (Estelle's American Boy worked quite well for Heather Small's cha cha), in general the sight of celebs performing dances that are often steeped in history to upbeat pop with jarring lyrics gives me the boak. Seeing as the BBC seems to be in a conciliatory mood at the moment, can we have a ban on all music post-1953 in the next series, please?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gordon Bennett

May I draw your collective attention to the excellent blog maintained by Mr. William Bennett at Readers of a certain age and disposition may recall that William was the lynchpin of noiseniks Whitehouse from their inception to their recent demise.

Surprisingly, and despite the presence on his former group's albums of such charmingly-titled ditties as Ravensbruck, Lightning Struck My Dick and Rapeday, his blog doesn't dwell on his top 10 serial killers or necrophiliac fantasies. Instead, he'll wax lyrical on his old cat, his love of mango (not the Saturday Night Live character), airport security and his fondness for schmaltzy kids' movies. In other words, he's a fairly normal, eloquent and witty person with a pronounced libertarian streak. Which may come as a surprise to those who had Whitehouse tagged as fascist misanthropes.

He's now doing something called Afro Noise (Fela Kuti meets Squarepusher: check it here) as well as having an alter-ego, the Cornetto-scoffing DJ Bennetti, who regularly plays Italian disco in Edinburgh. He comes across as an extremely well-balanced and personable chap, something you wouldn't necessarily infer from Whitehouse's music. For any newbies to the finer points of the industrial noise scene, see below.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Star's on 45 (and CD. And download.)

Sam Taylor-Wood and the Pet Shop Boys (neither of whom I get particularly excited about) are about to release a cover of The Passions' I'm In Love With A German Film Star. As I haven't managed to hear it yet, I'll reserve judgement, but the cover (right) doesn't fill me with hope. Far too literal. Then again, it's on Kompakt, so it might be OK.

Aaah, who am I kidding. It couldn't possibly be as good as the original, a sublime and hypnotic track that younger readers may recognise from the first episode of Ashes To Ashes. At the time of its release, the Polydor PR people said it was "a dream in sound and words", and for once, they nailed it absolutely. It's a pocket symphony with added Echoplex, and it really keys into that Fiction records/early Cure thing (though the group had split from Fiction after an initial liaison), while presaging the shoegazing/dreampop thing of 10 years later. I've linked to the original just below.

Download I'm In Love With A German Film Star (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Buy the new version

Buy 30,000 Feet Over China

The Passions (nice site, BTW)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kilty pleasures

The Thistle LP

I had to give a short talk at the Scottish Learning Festival (an exhibition-cum-conference at the SECC) a couple of weeks ago: an occasional occupational hazard. It took place in a hotel suite. I was just closing the laptop and turning off the projector when the next speaker walked into the suite, ready to set up for his presentation. Instead of seeing a sallow man in a Next suit (as is usually the case at these events), I was confronted by a tanned figure wearing armour, a kilt and a helmet, carrying a broadsword. Which is something you don't see everyday.

Most people that I've mentioned this to have said "It wasn't Jesse Rae, was it?" And yes, it was. Who hell he? Well, apart from being famous for wearing his kilt and armour at all times, (has anyone ever seen him without it?) he had a number of near-hits in the pop charts in the mid-80s; the video for one in particular (Over The Sea) was played on The Tube a lot (and greatly admired at the time by Martin Scorsese, if I remember correctly).

Now, given Jesse's preferred garb, you'd be forgiven for assuming that his stock-in-trade was twee Scottish whimsy, Donald Where's Yer Troosers-type stuff. Incredibly, however, he's chosen to take his chances in the world of soul and funk. And not just a feeble British pastiche of the genre, either. On his CV, Jesse can list work alongside heavyweights like Roger Troutman of Zapp, Bernie Worrell (that's him in the video for Over The Sea) and Mike Hampton of Parliament/Funkadelic, Jocelyn Brown and Tackhead (see mp3 download below for a sample of JR with Keith LeBlanc, Skip McDonald and Doug Wimbish). Equally incredibly, he also wrote Inside Out for Odyssey, the royalties for which presumably kept the wolf from the door for a few years (though sadly, not enough to prevent the Royal Bank of Scotland from bankrupting him a few years ago. Check the name at the top of the letterhead. I bet Mr. Rae is laughing right now). On top of all this, he seems to be standing as an MSP in 2011, too.

So what was he doing giving a talk an education conference? Well, according to biographies he was an early adopter of ISDN technology, using it to record with musicians around the world from the comfort of his home in St. Boswell's. He's now extending this experience with Brick FM, an online radio station that is forging links with local schools and which similarly connect disparate communities around the world, the global and the local, just as his early videos did. The title of his talk, Be Yer Sel, reminds us that all his work, from the Brooklyn Bridge-to-The Borders video for Over The Sea to the present, is connected with identity, whether his own constructed identity, the fractured self-identity of today's learners, or the identities of other disparate communities around the world. Or something like that.

You can see Jesse's official, record company funded videos on YouTube*, but the best stuff is the privately shot, unofficial stuff on Jesse's own channel. Here you can see an ecological rap by David Bellamy, the late Roger Troutman performing on the back of a lorry in a field in Scotland, and a funk workout on a Scottish patio adorned with upturned children's toys and a disused barbecue. Enjoy, and salute the slightly unhinged, nationalist genius of Jesse Rae.

Download All Souls by Strange Parcels with Jesse Rae (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)


Monday, September 29, 2008

Beat Dis

A couple of weeks ago I had to undertake a few long car journeys, and took the opportunity to keep tabs on the Nation's Favourite (i.e. BBC Radio 2) as I did so. A curious station, its eclectic output in the evenings can accommodate Paul Jones, Mark Radcliffe, Desmond Carrington, The Organist Entertains ("I bet he does" says the missus), Charles Hazelwood and Matthew Wright. However, during the day, mediocrity reigns supreme. And unfortunately I was driving during the day.

Which is why I was subjected to Steve Wright, the Lowest Common Denominator in British radio. It just so happened that the Kaiser Chiefs new single is on "heavy rotation" as they say. Now I'm not going to suggest that they're going to save the music industry (though the Mark Ronson-produced Never Miss A Beat is a perfectly serviceable blend of Glitter Band stomp and new wave blankness à la The Regents). Equally, Ricky Wilson's lyrics are not going to give Andrew Motion any sleepless nights. Despite this, the single contains a few witty observations, succinctly expressed, chiefly the line What do you want for tea?/ I want crisps. Unfortunately, the subtlety of the line eluded Wright, who, chortling after playing it, reprised the line as What do you want for your tea?/ I want a packet of crisps, the dumb insolence squeezed out and all sense of metre and scansion excised.

The next day the moronic and dull Dermot O'Leary also played the single and remarked on the same line. It is pretty good. But, as usual, O'Dreary missed the point by a country mile, mangling it to What do you want for dinner?/ I want crisps. Dermot, you twunt, the whole point is that the characters being portrayed wouldn't have dinner like some BBC ponce on expenses. They'd have tea. Dinner's what you have at lunchtime. Give me strength.

Okay, like I said, it's not Auden, and maybe I shouldn't get so het up about it. I'm sure Wilson doesn't care (and actually, now I think about it, doesn't their drummer write all the songs?). But it's rather like listening to people paraphrasing Monty Python. As all comedy aficionados know, you've got to get the words exactly right, otherwise it's not funny. Same with a David Mamet play. There's no room for improvising.

OK, sermon over, and I've learned my lesson- avoid daytime Radio 2 if you've got half a brain. In the meantime, here's the video. And yes, Chris Cunningham should be calling his lawyers.

Year of the Jetpacks

Ladeeezanngennelmen.... we have a winner in the "Band Name of the Decade" competition. May I present....

We Were Promised Jetpacks

playing in Glasgow, Perth and Dundee soon. The music can't possibly live up to that name, but go anyway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Heller good

There aren't too many things that are great about living under dictatorships, as even Julie Burchill is starting to realise, but one of them is that they're pretty good at marshalling ranks of citizens in the service of a huge nationalistic spectacle, as was demonstrated in Beijing last week to great effect at the closing ceremony for the Olympics. European democracies, however, with their pesky pluralist ideas and their relativist philosophies, tend to get queasy at the thought of large nationalist rallies. Which in some ways is fair enough; you don't have to be AJP Taylor to know where that sort of thing can lead. But I just wish sometimes that we could put aside our qualms and just create a big f-you spectacular on a par with China, or Russia, or the US (which isn't a dictatorship ["...yet!"-Kevin Turvey] but is far less self-conscious than Europe about promoting its virtues).

I'm thinking, of course, of the abject handing-over ceremony that Britain put on immediately after China's spectacle. After the Lord Mayor's show that was the Chinese party, the British effort looked like a garden fete presided over by a Soho ad agency. Instead of fireworks, synchronised movement, colour, shape and noise, the world was treated to the sight of a lollipop lady, a zebra crossing, 20 umbrellas, and a dance routine for 30 people that could have been choreographed by Action Image Exchange. The musical equivalent soon made itself apparent: Jimmy Page and Leona Lewis (standing on frickin' astroturf) miming to a bowdlerised version of Whole Lotta Love, the sort of pairing only Alan Yentob would think was a good idea. As my wife asked "When is the mini-Stonehenge going to come on?" She's got a well-developed sense of timing; at that moment a stylised skyline of London (possibly made to resemble topiary) became visible on the sides of a double-decker bus. It must have been all of thirty-six inches in height. Remember, folks, this was in a stadium holding some 91,000 people. The whole event would have been risible in most contexts, but to put on such a feeble show after the breathtaking Chinese spectacle immediately prior just compounded the embarrassment.

This isn't just a British thing though, of course, we do make a virtue of amateurism and whimsy. I'm sure if the Dutch (for example) had been curating a closing ceremony it would have featured wheels of cheese, windmills and It's A Knockout figures, and would have been equally as bathetic.

All of which brings me to Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State , a comprehensive look at propaganda art. From Mussolini's Italy to Stalin's Russia to Mao's China, Steven Heller's fantastic and weighty tome illustrates the point that demagogues of all stripes were past masters at branding their product. Colour, language, typefaces and logos were all subordinated to the state. Of course, the downside was that competing art forms weren't given a look-in; the Nazis in particular were hostile to anything that fell outside the official state-sanctioned definition of art. Which was bad news for the Bauhaus, Otto Dix and others. But good news if you liked mass rallies of like-minded people.

Now on the whole I don't like those sorts of things (mass rallies, I mean). And you don't have to be reminded of how Bryan Ferry was dropped by M&S (for pointing out that the Third Reich wore nice clothes) to realise it's a short, slippery slope from looking at the past from an art history perspective to being accused of harbouring Nazi sympathies. So let's not go too far down this path. But, just for a moment last Sunday, like Steven Heller, while I'll continue to abhor the politics of totalitarianism, I was full of admiration for the aesthetics.

Crud on the tracks

Jakob Dylan (ex The Wallflowers) is back promoting a new album, I see. As per, he's wanting to escape the (huge) shadow of his father (Bob Dylan, in case you hadn't guessed), and complaining of critics who compare his music to that of Dylan Senior. Which, you might think, is fair enough.

But ask yourself this. If he really did want to avoid comparisons, and sidestep accusations that he's merely trading off his father's name, why didn't he call himself Jakob Zimmerman?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some Friendly

How great is this? Straight outta St. Alban's...

Friendly Fires sound like Slowdive fronting a tropicalia band, they're named after a Section 25 song (possibly), and they are fantastic, despite my wife telling me she thought they were singing "Jump in the Poo". This song has put a huge smile on my face. That the video is impossibly gorgeous is a bonus.

It comes out next week, I believe.

Friday, August 22, 2008

When the Levin Breaks

After (of necessity) wallowing in the post-punk era for a while, where better to turn than some mid-90s obscure post-modern classical music?

I'll admit that even though I have both of the albums Todd Levin made in his short musical career, I know next to zip about the man, so I'll have to waffle around this. But I can tell you that his swansong, DeLuxe, is an audacious and occasionally astonishing album, melding high camp, science-fiction, opera, and whip-smart pop sensibility, and featuring a picture of the composer bouncing around on a space-hopper on its sleeve. Which was possibly a first for Deutsche Grammophon, the Rolls Royce of classical labels, and the imprint on which DeLuxe was released in the mid-90s. I mean, you wouldn't catch, say, Herbert von Karajan doing that, would you?

Levin had previously come to my attention in 1992 as the composer of Ride the Planet, a rather less metropolitan set of compositions that used guitar and keyboard textures (i.e. traditional rock tropes) in the service of classical methods. That album appeared out of the blue on Philip Glass's excellent and much-missed Point Music label*. Just in case the rather ethereal sleeve (see left) didn't tip you off that you were in the presence of art rather than common-or-garden rock and/or roll, the sleeve notes were written by Jenny Holzer, who also helpfully provided all the song titles. These include the snappy "In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy" and "It Is Heroic to Try To Stop Time". The music? Oh, I nearly forgot. Imagine Michael Brook fronting Pink Floyd and you wouldn't be far off.

However, some three years later, Levin had gotten a haircut, a smart suit and a job at Sotheby's (according to the sleeve of DeLuxe), as well as a change of label. Luckily for all fans of post-modern whimsy, he found time to knock up some compositions inbetween pricing up gewgaws at the auction house. I've included a couple of his works below. Blur (presumably not named for the Britpop chancers) is quite audacious, and somewhat giddy-making. You're also getting a 6 and a half minute snatch of the incredibly arch, and knowingly annoying, Todd Levin, the autobiographical third track on DeLuxe. The unedited track is 35 minutes long and may a) try your patience and b) screw with my monthly bandwidth allowances, so you're only getting an edit of it. If anyone is really desperate to hear the whole thing, drop me a note. And yes, that is the theme tune to Space 1999 interpolated into Todd Levin at the start of the track. In fact, if you listen carefully, I reckon you might just be able to hear the kitchen sink being thrown in too.

If anyone can shed any more light on the whereabouts of the mysterious Todd Levin, again, drop me a line.

Download Blur (Fragrance Free Mix) by Todd Levin mp3 (deleted Aug 2009)

Download Todd Levin (DG Ultramix) by Todd Levin mp3 (deleted Aug 2009)

A contemporaneous review

The New Composers- Levin, Andriessen, Bang On A Can etc.

* Which reminds me of my one and only Philip Glass anecdote, which I'll now gratuitously shoehorn in. I once spoke to the man himself briefly-- I'm sure it's etched on his memory. Anyhoo, it was a record signing; he'd just brought out The Heroes Symphony and was signing copies. My brother was and is a big Glass fan, so I got Phil to sign the CD "To Big Al", Big Al being my brother's nickname through childhood. "Big Al, huh?" mused Big Phil, "I wonder, did your brother ever meet Little Al, who used to run a record store in Greenwich Village?" "Not unless Little Al ever visited Thornton Cleveleys," I replied, to general bafflement.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jive talking.

I've just returned from a foreign holiday, where I was privileged to hear, among other Euro-pop nonsense, a cover version of Jive Bunny and The Mixmasters' That's What I Like, which, as readers of a certain vintage may recall, consisted of hits by Chubby Checker, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chris Montez given the then-fashionable MARRS treatment (i.e. sampled, scratched, mixed and collaged).

The cover version was clearly played by a band (rather than sampling the original records); they even sang in cod-English with a Spanish accent. All of the stuttering bits of Jive Bunny's original were kept intact.

One question. Why?

Cherry. Oh Baby....

And so without further ado or a don't, Cherry Red's Pillows and Prayers. There's not much left to day that hasn't been said before about Pillows and Prayers (often involving a combination of the phrases "chart-topping", "winsome" and "Kevin Coyne") so I'll just post a quick track from said album in hopes that you'll buy the thing.

XOYO by The Passage is, as anyone listening to John Peel in 1983 will know, one of the shoulda-been hits of the era, and sounds a lot like Soft Cell if Marc Almond's preferred reading matter had been Brave New World rather than the collected works of Sacher-Masoch. Though since I've heard the lyrics in high-fidelity, rather than on crackly late-night AM, I've realised exactly why it could never have been a hit (Dick Witts' playful, polymorphous visions proved something of a bar to daytime radio-play, I imagine).

Like the Some Bizzare Album (below), Pillows and Prayers has recently been re-released for the umpteenth time, and garnered plaudits from Q Magazine at this year's Q Awards (Catalogue Release of the year, apparently). So if you haven't yet got a copy, it's not too late. Though you will have to pay a little more than 99p, I'm afraid.

Download XOYO by The Passage (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Buy The Passage CDs

Buy Pillows and Prayers

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Random Access

I’ll quickly round up my accompanying pieces for an article I wrote in John Cooper’s Scream City no. 4 (now sold out, I believe). I had intended to write these while the zine was still on sale. What on earth made me think I could increase my miserably poor blogging rate over the summer? Oh well; another lesson learned.

In case you’ve only just joined us, the article was about sampler albums of the post-punk era, and I still need to blog about Stevo’s Some Bizzare Album, and Cherry Red’s iconic Pillows and Prayers.

First up, Some Bizzare [sic]. Whatever you might say about Stevo’s business practices (and some people have been less than complimentary), he could certainly spot talent, and this album features early tracks by Blancmange, B-Movie and Depeche Mode, who all decamped for other labels, as well as acts that Stevo managed to retain such as Soft Cell and The The*.

While Jell didn’t go on to fame and/or fortune, they were one of the more interesting acts on the compilation. Though “they” is perhaps not the correct word here, Jell being another nom-de-synth of Eric Random (né Eric Ramsden), a bit player in some of the more interesting music that came out of the early 80s, including sides by Cabaret Voltaire, Durutti Column, The Tiller Boys and his own band, the Bedlamites. Their (his) contribution to the Some Bizzare Album, entitled I Dare Say It Will Hurt A Little, is available below for your downloading pleasure.

Like On-U Sound’s Pay It All Back Vol. 1, the album used to go for silly money, but no more. It has recently been re-released with the original 12 tracks being supplemented by bonus material from The Residents, The Normal and Fad Gadget. So buy it and keep those pesky ISPs off my back.

Download I Dare Say It Will Hurt A Little by Jell (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Buy Eric Random's CD

Buy Some Bizzare Album

* mea culpa, I said in the Scream City article that The The had also left. Not true; they stayed loyal to Some Bizzare until the mid-90s. I think I was remembering that my copies of Infected, Mind Bomb etc. all sported the Epic logo. Stevo, as was his wont, tended to licence Some Bizzare’s recordings to majors, The The to CBS/Epic, Soft Cell to Phonogram, Cabaret Voltaire to Virgin, etc. Incidentally, I’ll always have a soft spot for The The’s fellow Epic recording artists Wham! because they said in 1986 that Infected was their favourite album of that year. George Michael also used to say that his and Andrew’s favourite LP of all time was Closer by Joy Division. I wonder if that’s still the case?

BTW, did I ever tell you story of my friend Audra and her encounter with Matt Johnson? No? Another time, perhaps…

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Steady On

While we're at it, I heard the redoubtable Gideon Coe comparing media darlings the Hold Steady to Bruce Springsteen the other day. Well, I can just about see the similarity. But to my ears, the Hold Steady (on their new single at least) occupy the exact midpoint on the musical continuum that connects latter-day Butthole Surfers to Bruce Hornsby and The Range.

See if you agree:

Stainless Steel in the Hour of Chaos

First off, apologies for leaving you hanging. I've been out and about in the real world (of which more in future posts).

We'll get back to the sampler album tracks shortly. In the meantime, though, I've had Neon Neon's excellent new single going round in my head for weeks now, and it's finally released this week, with accompanying video. The video (below) segues partway through into the single's B-side, Trick For Treat, featuring Spank Rock and Ron Jerem.....sorry, Har Mar Superstar... but don't let this put you off.

Okay, so the Psychedelic Furs and Thomas Dolby have called to say they want their sound back. But when a group has the balls to create a concept album (about John DeLorean, no less) in this age of instant downloads and short attention spans, that has to be applauded. The people at the Mercury Music Prize obviously think so-- said album (Stainless Style) received a nod for best long-player of the year in the Mercury shortlist yesterday.

If you like I Told Her on Alderaan, there's every chance you'll enjoy the short mixtape that Gruff and BoomBip of Neon Neon provided to Pitchfork. It outlines their influences for Stainless Style, which include Neil Young's derided Trans, Janet Jackson and Debbie Gibson. Hooray! Download this here.

(Bonus pic: two pre-teen vandals in front of a DeLorean. In Coventry.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pay pals

More album samplers: this time, Pay It All Back Vol. 1, the first in On-U Sound's long-running series of budget-priced introductions to the label. I’ve selected the cut that kicks off the album, and which sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the LP: Bedward The Flying Preacher by Singers and Players.

The man with the gravelly voice is Prince Far I, who was shot to death in Jamaica in 1983, not long before Pay It All Back was released. However, he recorded so many vocals for producer Adrian Sherwood that his voice keeps cropping up many years after his death; he played a prominent part in Primal Scream’s Echo Dek, for example, some 14 years after he collected his last royalty cheque. Along with artists like Eskimo Fox, Crucial Tony, Deadly Headley, Keith Levene and Ari Up, Prince Far I was the backbone of the On-U label in its first five years, and is sorely missed.

(As per, I don’t actually own a digital version of this album, and I’m not faffing about with turntables connected to computers right now, so what you’re getting is the version of the track from the Singers and Players album Staggering Heights. A slight cheat, but if memory serves, this version is more or less identical, though the Pay It All Back version starts with some echoey drumming taken from (I think) Pounding System by The Dub Syndicate.)

Check the rest of the album, which features tracks by short-lived artistes such as Voice of Authority and The Circuit, as well as long-serving On-U warhorses such as African Headcharge and Mark Stewart ; the original vinyl, which retailed for a princely £1.49, is hard to find, but CD reissues are relatively easy to come by.

Download Bedward The Flying Preacher by Singers and Players (Mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)


I loved this, from an advance notice of a new compilation CD of tracks by Spherical Objects:
"Spherical Objects...ceased operations in 1981, after Steve Solamar resolved a lifelong contradiction by becoming a woman."
You gotta admit, it beats "musical differences"...

Could they by any chance be related...

More looky-likeys:

Massive Attack's Mezzanine and the new Flying Lotus album, Los Angeles (which is getting stellar reviews).

Booka- Prize idiots

Memo to Booka Shade: If your logo's so illegible that you have to append the name of the band underneath it, it's time to rethink your logo.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tumb raiders

As promised, another quick post to accompany a recent article in Scream City on label samplers. This time the spotlight falls on ZTT and their 1985 selection entitled Zang Tuum Tumb Sampled.

Here's French chanteuse (Paul Morley referred to her at the time as a "scorch singer"- isn't he a wag?) Anne Pigalle and one of the two tracks on the album by her, Intermission.

Download Intermission by Anne Pigalle mp3 (deleted Aug 2009)

Where is Anne Pigalle now? I'm glad you asked. She's apparently at Glasto this year. I'm sure she'll look fetching in her Yves St. Laurent dress and wellies. And you can see her paintings at London's Aquarium Gallery.

In the article I big up Instinct, who, due to a falling out with Trevor Horn, only released one song in their short career. I haven't got the track (Swamp Out) they recorded for the sampler album -- indeed, I don't have a copy of the ZTT sampler itself any more, after lending it out 20 years ago and not getting it back-- but if you scoot over to here, you can download three session tracks they recorded, which at least give you an idea of their sound. Sure, the production means that Instinct can't quite transcend their time, but like their contemporaries Win, their lack of success belies their talent, and they retain their position as leading lights among the massed ranks of Nearly-Weres.

Eric idols

If you're quick, you can catch the fab documentary about seminal Liverpool nitespot Eric's on the BBC's listen again thingy. It's up for another two days at time of writing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mutant moments

Some of you may have found your way here via your purchase of John Cooper’s (excellent) Scream City 4. Your sense of disappointment is no doubt profound. Many apologies.

However, now you’re here, it would be remiss of me not to give you a few tidbits to accompany the article in the mag on various artist label samplers. So over the next few days (or possibly weeks, given my usual posting rate), I’ll post some further info and some aural accompaniments to my musings.

First up, Mutant Disco. As I mentioned in the article, half the songs on the original 6-track album featured Kid Creole (or August Darnell as he’s known to his mum) in one guise or another. It’s really time for a reappraisal of Darnell, I think. The thing is, the nice people at Strut seem to think the same way, and are working hard to restore him to his rightful place in the disco firmament via this timely compilation. At the moment, Kid Creole is plying his trade in the lead of the long-running theatrical revue Oh What A Night, and you’ve really got to admire the guy on one level at least. Whereas most former stars whose careers have taken a downturn would rant/rail/resort to drink, Darnell, like the old Broadway stager he so closely resembles, dusted himself off and declared “the show must go on”. Good on him. It shows a work ethic that that the likes of Pixie Geldof would do well to emulate. It also led to a situation straight out of the pages of Viz a few years ago, when (former NYC sophisticate and darling of the no wave/disco scene) Darnell was appearing in OWAN at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, and took up temporary residence in the leafy environs of Poulton-Le-Fylde, as documented by the local paper. (Even more bizarrely, he was apparently a one-time resident of Rotherham, having married a Yorkshire lass...)

He's all over Mutant Disco; as well as his own track, he produced Coati Mundi and executive produced Don Armando's 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band (see below) on the original six-track release; the expanded reissue contains seven tracks that feature his input, including great tracks by Cristina.

While Darnell worked with many of the Ze acts, he wasn’t responsible for the production on Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s Funky Stuff; instead the production duties were shouldered by Steven Stanley. (And it’s a bit of a cheat, because this track wasn’t on the original release of Mutant Disco. It is on the CD re-release however, and it’s such a chooon that it deserves a showcase here.) While there's the faint whiff of that early eighties "noble savage" thang surrounding much of Descloux's output, she can be forgiven, as (unlike, say, The Slits, who were mining a similar seam of nostalgie de la boue) she really did walk it like she talked it, eventually taking up residence in Africa with the Marxist scion and Rough Trade producer Adam Kidron.

Adam Kidron really deserves a whole post to himself, so expect that at some point over the next nine months. In the meantime, here are two tracks from Mutant Disco... more compilation goodies soon come.

Download Deputy Of Love by Don Armando's Second Avenue Rhumba Band (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Download Funky Stuff by Lizzy Mercier Descloux (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Buy Ze stuff

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's just been brought to my attention that nobody has been able to download any mp3s since at least last week, as I've exceeded my file host's bandwidth allowance. Apologies are due. My allowance will be reset in the next day or two, so you should be able to download stuff after that. HOWEVER, this also means that I'm gonna have to delete some of the stuff from Feb 2007 onwards.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Instant Comma

Greatly enjoying Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend, one of the greatest (and only) songs about an obscure point of punctuation to date. I can see this bunch soundtracking a Wes Anderson movie at some point. Possibly even starring in one. They've got that Yale freshman, Jason Schwatzman thing down.

In fact, I'm wracking my brain to think of other punctuation-related songs. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Ranking Full Stop by The Beat and Message Oblique Speech by Associates. Of course, you could also have anything by Question Mark and the Mysterians. Or Willie Colon. Any more for any more?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Golden Section

It's rare that Section 25 get played on the radio. It's rarer still that they get played on The Nation's Favourite (i.e. Radio 2). But that happened last night on the Radcliffe and Maconie show when The Charlatans elected to play Looking From A Hilltop in the show's regular "Show and Tell" slot. Listen again here for one week only. It's about an hour and 40 minutes in.

Or there's always the video (below). I particularly like the ending, where Lee Shallcross (?) climbs into a car with a driver that looks suspiciously like Lindsay Reade. If you look closely, you'll see that the passenger door isn't quite closed as the car trundles into the distance, and Lee is manfully hanging on to it to stop it swinging open. Presumably, the budget didn't run to a second take.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Orange crush

collinsI was a little too young to fully appreciate the impact of the short-lived but celebrated Postcard record label ("The Sound of Young Scotland") in its heyday, but I followed the subsequent careers of the label's acts (Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Paul Haig of Josef K, and, to a lesser extent, The Go-Betweens) throughout my adolescence, and it's hard to open a magazine these days without contemporary bands like Franz Ferdinand or Camera Obscura acknowledging the debt they owe to Alan Horne's pioneering imprint.

So it was fortuitous for me that two of the labels mainstays (the aforementioned Paul Haig and Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice) played within 8 days of each other recently in Edinburgh. It was even more fortuitous that Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera is currently deputising as guitarist in Edwyn's band, and so within a short space of time, I was lucky enough to see the three major artists associated with Postcard up close and personal. In addition, a companion noted that Dave Ruffy was tanning the skins in Edwyn's band. I was aware of his past as drummer for The Ruts (and I know people who swear that The Ruts vs. The Mad Professor's Rhythm Collision Dub is the greatest work of art in western history- hello Richard Oakes) , but was unaware till today that he had also served time with Aztec Camera as well as playing with Edwyn in the days when he was signed to Alan McGee's Elevation. To complete the Postcard-tastic experience, Malcolm Ross who played with Josef K, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice was spotted in the audience... surely some enterprising promoter can rope in Robert Forster and put on a Postcard revue?

I've already written a brief review of the Haig show below. However, for sheer emotional impact, Collins' and Frame's appearance at the Queens Hall last Monday had the edge; emotional because this was one of Collins' first live appearances since two well-documented and near-fatal brain haemorrages and a consequent bout of MRSA two years ago. The strokes he suffered have left him extremely unsteady on his feet, he had trouble speaking clearly and spent the gig, quite reasonably, perched on a stool; however the fact that he was present in any short of shape was nothing short of miraculous, especially as he had been unable to speak or walk two years ago. It was entirely correct, therefore that he and his band were greeted with the sort of standing ovation normally reserved for the likes of Nelson Mandela. I saw the show with a couple of people involved in rehabilitation therapy, and while their attendance was out of musical rather than medical interest, it was heartening to hear their positive prognoses on Edwyn's condition.

You can download a recent podcast where Roddy and Edwyn converse here:

It's of interest partly because of the content, but also because you can hear the extent of Edwyn's recovery and his struggle to overcome his limitations. You also get to hear that his familiar hyuk-hyuking laugh is still intact.

The audience's appreciation was rewarded with three gems straight out of the gate, Falling and Laughing and Poor Old Soul, two of the early Postcard singles, and What Presence? from Orange Juice's purple patch c. 1983. "It's good to be back," he intoned with some difficulty, to deafening cheers. He wasn't quite able to hit the high notes on Rip It Up or A Girl Like You, but then again he wasn't really able to before his stroke, either. The interplay between Frame and Collins was quite touching, nearly thirty years of friendship and amicable rivalry informing their onstage rapport.

The show concluded with brisk run-throughs of Blue Boy and Don't Shilly Shally; kudos to him for coming back on to do an encore, something even the able-bodied Paul Haig didn't manage the week previously.

Now, at this stage in the blog post, you're probably expecting an MP3, right? I know that's why most of you come here. I'm not under any illusions. You're probably hoping for a rare B-side. Or possibly Simply Thrilled, Honey. Well, instead you're getting a sensitive and reverential cover of the song that made Edwyn an overnight millionaire. Please see below for A Girl Like You by a little-known band called The Shirehorses*. Enjoy.

Download A Girl Like You by Edwyn Bobbins (The Shirehorses) mp3 (deleted Aug 2009)

* aka Mark and Lard

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hood winks

Those of us with fond memories of Thunderbirds may have been experiencing deja-vu while reading recently of newly-appointed, chrome-domed Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel...

The Hood

Selby date

I was alerted by yesterday's Guardian that the 26th April 2004 was the 4th anniversary of the death of Hubert Selby Jr., probably best known for his novels Requiem For A Dream and Last Exit To Brooklyn, both later turned into screenplays by the author. His readers and fans may be familiar with his recorded output too, but for those that aren't, and those that are curious to hear Selby's voice (which could be charitably described as "lived-in"), here's a track from Live in Europe 1989. The track is The Queen Is Dead (the working title for Last Exit), and indeed it's a short excerpt from the book that inspired the title of The Smiths' magnum opus. And it's only a day late!

Download The Queen Is Dead Hubert Selby Jr. (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Official Selby site

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Haig convention

Saw Paul Haig live on Sunday.

Saying it like that makes it sound like an everyday occurrence; on the contrary, it was his first full gig in nineteen years. Given his new-found status as a name to drop, I half-expected a room full of nubile Franz Ferdinand aficionados; disappointingly, the room was full of thirty- and forty-somethings with thinning hair (your correspondent included). Haig himself, however, looked terrific; while most post-punk heroes making a return to the live scene are barely recognisable husks of their former selves, one suspects that Haig, like Richard Jobson, Gonnie Rietveld and a few others, has a portrait in the attic that is slowly aging while he gets younger. Okay, I'm exaggerating slightly, but they're all remarkably well-preserved.

You'd have forgiven the man for having a few first-night nerves. Not a bit of it; he seemed ebullient. The set was an extremely short and sweet eleven songs, with no encore, performed by a tight backing band (actually Haig's side project The Cathode Ray), and included two Josef K songs (It's Kinda Funny and Sorry For Laughing, natch), as well as recent single Reason, Justice, and Something Good. No Big Blue World or Heaven Sent, sadly, but after nineteen years away, the audience knows better than to push its luck.

What I hadn't expected was how funny he was. I always thought of him and his former group as intensely serious- in fact, I'd read that Josef K never talked to the audience, and I didn't get the impression that his solo gigs were laugh-a-minute gag riots either. I actually wondered why the prankish and terminally unserious Billy Mackenzie considered him a suitable musical accomplice for much of his final years. Well, now I can see. It wasn't exactly amiable banter with the audience; it was more like a Goons monologue or a Reeves and Mortimer sketch as Haig essayed various voices, impressions and gnomic utterances (actually, now I come to think of it, I had also read that Malcolm Ross and Haig traded Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin routines on stage...). Example: after the first song, and possibly apropos of the palatial splendour of the venue, he channelled the late Frank Butcher and blurted "Point o' lager and a whoite woine for the lie-dee" in a very passable cockney accent. Later in the gig he mused to no one in particular "Do you prefer a bourbon or a garibaldi?" (this time as Miss Jean Brodie). Later still: "Dirty boy! Go to bed!" (a west Scotland accent)- whatever was he talking about here? Can anybody enlighten me? Suffice it to say he had me laughing.

He plays Nottingham and London later this week, with sojourns to Glasgow and Dunfermline also pencilled in for May, so for a top post-punk comedy turn, don't be vague- ask for Haig.


Ghost Rider

Download Paul Haig Nitemute (mp3) from Cinematique 3 (deleted Aug 2009)

Buy CDs

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ready steady Kook

While I'm at it, now that The Kooks have released an album entitled Konk, will the 80s NYC no-wave group Konk reform to release an album called The Kooks?

It's happened before of course:

David Bowie

Nick Lowe

Lazy Madonna

Is it just me, or does the new (rubbish) Madonna single sound like the new national anthem for a former Soviet state (say, Uzbekistan), as commissioned by a crazed energy oligarch, and remixed by the Black Eyed Peas?

Just me then? O-kaaayyyy.

Did I mention that it's rubbish?

Hear for yourself here. (and see Maddy on top of a Triumph 2000)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that the site has had a slight re-vamp in the last day or so. You can now share anything that particularly annoys you with others by e-mail, or via Digg, Facebook, Reddit and all those other Web 2.0 thingys that "the kids" (© Alan McGee 1986) are telling me about. Just click on the "Share This" widget underneath posts. If you were a subscriber, you may need to subscribe again. Sorry 'bout that.

Motor rollers

Just managed to catch a terrific show on the always-excellent BBC4, entitled Motor City’s Burning. Unfortunately, it’s now disappeared from the BBC’s iPlayer (which is where I saw it after downloading it a couple of weeks ago), but these things usually get repeated ad infinitum, so keep an eye on the schedules and there’s a good chance it’ll turn up again.

Tracing the history of Detroit’s music over that fertile period from the early-1960s to the early-70s (i.e. from the inception of Motown to the last throes of Iggy and the Stooges, by way of the MC5), the programme mixed contemporaneous footage with modern-day talking heads reminiscing. While neither the subject matter nor the documentary’s tried-and-tested format could be described as new or ground-breaking, the quality of the interviews was what made Motor City’s Burning so engaging. From a bare-chested Iggy Pop (does this guy own any shirts whatsoever?) to the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Rob Tyner, via an incredibly well-preserved Mary Wilson of the Supremes, the show joined the dots between the ubiquitous motor industry, Berry Gordy’s company, and the political and financial disenfranchisement that led to the riots of 1967, before taking in the White Panther movement and the Stooges primal howl. If it had been extended by half an hour and managed to take in Detroit’s latter years as a hotbed of techno (again, the presence of Ford, General Motors et al not a coincidence), then it would have been nigh-on perfect.

Perhaps the most eloquent and sympathetic interviewee was John Sinclair, marijuana martyr and MC5 manager. Seemingly chastened by his experiences, he appears to have opted for a quiet life away from revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll, though he gleefully reminisced about the band’s appearances in now-decrepit and abandoned Detroit ballrooms.

The show sent me back to the MC5’s astonishing first album, Kick Out The Jams (as the documentary asked, would any record company sanction a live album as a group’s debut these days?). And it still holds up, though the impact of the title track has been slightly blunted through over-playing. So, instead, here’s the first track on the album, Ramblin’ Rose, a to-the-point workout that clocks in at only 2 and a half minutes if you exclude the lengthy spoken-word introduction, and which, to my mind at least, sounds a bit like Cream if the latter had been taking amphetamines rather than heroin.

Download Ramblin’ Rose by the MC5 (deleted May 2008)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Corner shopping

Sony/Columbia has, for many years now, been milking the Miles Davis legacy, creating box set after box set based on the sessions for later albums such as In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Tribute to Jack Johnson. At £50 and up, these sets appealed to completists, audiophiles and spendthrifts alike. But, like the BBC putting off making Titus Andronicus until the very end of its Complete Works of Shakespeare cycle, Sony has shied away from issuing a box set based on the extended sessions for On The Corner, notoriously one of Miles' more "difficult" albums. Until now.

With On The Corner we’re a long way from Kind of Blue. Miles is in full-on early-70s black power mode. He doesn’t give a fuck. You can tell this just by looking at him—he’s wearing those glasses that look a bit like welding goggles. On The Corner is not an easy listen, and Miles isn’t pandering to the critics; a pre-Camper van Beethoven Eugene Chadbourne reviewed the LP for Coda magazine on its release, and opined:
His new music is pure arrogance. It's like coming home and finding Miles there, his fancy feet upon your favourite chair.
Miles reputedly felt that jazz had increasingly become a dead end, and this was his response, a soupy fusion of funk riffs and rock chops that owed more to Hendrix, James Brown and Stockhausen than it did to Coltrane. Incredible though it may seem when listening to the LP, he didn’t mean to alienate his rapidly shrinking fan-base, though that was the album's ultimate effect; in fact, he felt that the (con)fusion of On The Corner was the best way to connect with younger black audiences alienated by Nixon and Vietnam.

While Miles’ name is on the sleeve, much of the credit must be given to Jack DeJohnette (that hissing, insistent hi-hat), Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Herbie Hancock. However, the lion’s share of the plaudits must go to producer Teo Macero, who trawled through hours of Davis’ crack band’s noodling with a pair of scissors, and somehow managed to salvage some sort of shape out of the endless jamming. The album is constructed almost entirely of tape loops and edits, and so audiences that have been exposed to Squarepusher and Autechre will not find it quite as alien as punters did in 1972.

The album received almost universally appalling reviews (even some of the musicians who played on it hated it-- tenor saxophonist David Liebman was particularly scornful), sold poorly and caused Miles to cease studio work until the 1980s. Its reputation grew slowly, though; so much so that the album was cited as a touchstone for bands such as Defunkt and Living Colour. Now it's held in high esteem by bands like The Noisettes, at least according to this article, which gives more background to the box set's release.

Reportedly, this is the last box set that Sony will issue of Miles’ work with them; presumably they don’t feel that the Complete You’re Under Arrest Sessions will sell big, or that there’s much of a demand for The Unreleased Tutu Recordings. And, to give Miles his due, he had changed his working methods by the early 80s, relying less on extracting materials from hours of extended jams, and more on structuring songs before going into the studio. Which means there probably isn’t all that much left in the vaults.

The box set, which confusingly also contains material that eventually surfaced on Get Up With It and Big Fun, is possibly overkill even for Miles enthusiasts. But just in case you think you may be in the mood for six hours of electronic jamming, I've included a quick download of one of the original album's shorter tracks, Black Satin, below. If you like it, you might like the album, the second side of which is variations on Black Satin. And if you really like it, there's always the box set, which you can buy here. As a bonus, you can also download a Sly and Robbie cover of the tune from their peerless Language Barrier album below.

Download Black Satin by Miles Davis mp3 (deleted May 2008)

Download Miles (Black Satin) by Sly and Robbie mp3 (deleted May 2008)


The Drood's website weighs in with a review of the original release