Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Round-up

We all know that those end of year lists are so predictable. But nevertheless...

The 2007 "I so would" award--Joss Stone

I know she's had a less than stellar year, with her mid-Atlantic accent and those pesky ex-managers (and you know it's bad when they're prepared to go on the record to slag you off), but even though I've possibly only heard ten minutes of Joss Stone in my life (and wasn't especially bowled over), she walked it. I mean, just look at her! Two words, as Howard Stern used to say. Hoo. Fah.
(Runners-up in the over-40s category--Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall)

The 2007 "Not Even With Yours" award
--Amy Winehouse

Christ, those teeth...

2007's "Surprisingly good" album award--Section 25 Part-Primitiv

Let's face it, these albums by reformed post-punk icons tend not to be very good, right? Well, the Cassidy brothers buck the trend by delivering something that's never less than credible, and at times damn near essential. The songs nod towards their "dirge-rock" beginnings, as well as their later electro phase. The late Jenny Cassidy makes a posthumous appearance too. Which is no bad thing. Buy it at LTM.

The 2007 Single Of The Year

A toss up between "Someone Great" (hey, it's good enough for Pitchfork) and "That's That" by Cass McCombs.

2007 "Sticking It To The Man" award--Radiohead for their on-line release of In Rainbows.

Also joint winner of the "most unperceptive media coverage" award. Much has been made of the fact that the album's average online selling price was less than three quid, as if the "set your own price" release had somehow backfired on the band (see here for example). I haven't seen mention anywhere of the fact that, even after overheads are taken into account, this is still way more per album than they would have seen out of releasing the album by the traditional route (say 13% of 90% of the retail price, according to Steve Albini). Of course, in a belts-and-braces style, the band are also releasing In Rainbows on CD this week.

2007 Album of the year

Again a toss-up. Possibly LCD's "Sound of Silver". Possibly Roisin Murphy's "Overpowered". What the hell, let's go with Roisin Murphy over James Murphy, if only 'cos she (probably) looks better in red latex gloves (see right). And here's track no. 5 from the aforementioned album. You lucky people!

Download Roisin Murphy Movie Star MP3
(deleted May 2008)

That's all folks. See you next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Deck the Hawleys

Oh, go on then. I can't resist. Because it's Christmas.

From his Myspace page, Richard Hawley sings Silent Night (MP3) (deleted May 2008)

Write now

In the final days of 2007, as the MP3 blogosphere descends into a maudlin orgy of Christmas records (and I really couldn't top last year's collection at Irk The Purists, so I'm not going to try), I thought I'd provide some respite from the festivities by focussing on that perennial favourite among sonic aficionados, literary/musical crossovers.

First up, the grande dame of American letters, Miss Maya Angelou. Yes, that Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou. Heart Of A Woman, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, that episode of Moesha, you know... Long before her gilded writing career, Angelou plied her trade as a calypso chanteuse, and cut an LP for the Scamp label in 1957. While she plays it down today, the LP contains her stabs at Caribbean standards such as Run Joe and Peas and Rice, and is certainly worth a listen (the cover is also worth a look. Hoo-fah!). Here for your edification is her take on Scandal In The Family, which I always thought was another standard, but here the writing credit is to one Maya Angelou. The song has been covered many times by the likes of Odetta, Bob Marley and Madness. Hmmm. Does that mean that Angelou is getting royalties each time?

Bringing things slightly more up-to-date is Irvine Welsh, who teamed up with Primal Scream in 1996 to create the unofficial Scots Euro '96 anthem. What's that? We've just had Primal Scream? So sue me. Though actually, I think I'd win on a technicality, because this is Primal Scream in name only (in fact, the single delights in the soubriquet Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh and On-U-Sound presents..the Big Man and the Scream Team meet the Barmy Army Uptown. Really rolls off the tongue doesn't it?). Gillespie, Innes, Young and co. don't play much of a part in the single, at least to my ears, though they clearly provide the spiritual vibe (and possibly the Augustus Pablo-esque melodica heard partway through the track). Instead, the donkey work is shouldered by Adrian Sherwood's production, Doug Wimbish's bass and the leather lungs of Denise Johnson. And Welsh's Scots burr, of course. The three-track single includes Welsh's vocal take presented a capella. The latter is really worth a listen if you can track it down, as it shows that, while he clearly knows how to write, he's not a great speaker, nor does he have much of an idea of metre (so kudos to Sherwood for managing to keep him roughly on the beat in the final edit). Anyone who saw his lamentable cameo in Trainspotting may have have twigged this already.

In a similar vein (no pun intended)*, part-time author and full-time talking head Will Self lent his stentorian tones to a track on Bomb The Bass's peerless 1995 long player Clear. Entitled 5mm Barrel, it may be of particular interest to U.S. readers, as it failed to make the cut for the American edition of Clear. I've already included one track from this album (Bug Powder Dust, last year) on this blog, but I'm not making any apologies for linking to a second. Every track is dynamite, and there's a particularly literary bent to many of the tracks too; Benjamin Zephaniah provides vocals for one song, as does legendary stoner, model and writer Leslie Winer (one of my resolutions for 2008 is to track down a copy of her sole album from the mid-90s). Check it. In case you need further reasons to download and listen to this track, which deals with the cheery subject matter of a calcyfying venous system, the bass guitar is provided by Mr. Jah Wobble.

Finally, while he was probably better known for the last twenty years of his life simply for being himself, Quentin Crisp's initial notoriety came about as a result of his memoir The Naked Civil Servant**, and much of his written output still bears scrutiny today (How to Become A Virgin and How To Go To The Movies are particularly recommended). While one of his many aphorisms is that "music is a mistake", this didn't deter Morgan Fisher from including Crisp's Stop The Music For A Minute on his 1980 album, Miniatures, a collection of 51 short recordings by the likes of Andy Partridge, Fred Frith, Neil Innes and Ralph Steadman. It's included here, though I've taken it from the recently-reissued (in a deluxe version, no less) Cherry Red compilation Pillows and Prayers.

Enjoy. And have a good Christmas, y'all.

Download Shame and Scandal by Maya Angelou (deleted May 2008)

Download Primal Scream, On-U, Barmy Army, Irvine Welsh etc.. (deleted May 2008)

Download 5ml Barrel by Bomb The Bass and Will Self (deleted May 2008)

Download Stop The Music by Quentin Crisp (deleted May 2008)

* Didn't Self and Welsh have a little spat at one point with the former accusing the latter of never having injected heroin? Or did I dream this?

** Strictly speaking, I think his acclaim came some years later with the Thames TV production of the book. By all accounts its initial publication didn't cause much of a stir.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


While cleaning the oven this morning, I inadvertently left the radio on as 6 Music breakfast presenter Shaun Keveaney segued into the despicable George Lamb (see blog posts passim). I continued to listen, and an hour in, he hadn't made too many cock-ups, apart from lauding this idiot in Glasgow who continually parks on double yellow lines as a "Don". But then he played The Electric Prunes' I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, and back-announced it with the following: "That was I Had Too Much To Drink Last Night, very appropriate for this time of year..." and in one fell swoop turned the Prunes' psychedelic musings into a Zoo-readers anthem. Good work fella!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Noise annoys

I will determine whether I've been naughty or nice this year by whether or not Santa brings me New York Noise, a fabulous new book by the nice people at Soul Jazz. A visual companion piece to their three-volume New York Noise CDs, it documents that especially fertile period in downtown New York where, as they say, "everyone in a band was also an artist, every artist was also a film-maker and every film-maker in a band." Featuring mostly unpublished photos of the likes of Keith Haring, Arto Lindsay, Debbie Harry and Fab Five Freddy, it looks like a great souvenir of the era.

To accompany this plug, I've uploaded a toon from the second volume of New York Noise. The first volume rounded up all the usual suspects (Liquid Liquid, Dinosaur L, ESG, Mars, James Chance), but the second and third go into more detail, looking at the second string players on the scene, such as Y Pants, Rhys Chatham, and The Static, who were Glenn Branca's second band (he also was one quarter of The Theoretical Girls, along with Wharton Tiers who also plays a big part in the no wave scene of the era). All this was before his guitar symphonies with future members of Sonic Youth. Anyhoo, the sleeve notes of the series are pretty comprehensive, and along with the photo book, are required reading for the Optimo crowd. Here's a taster, then, of The Static.

Download My relationship by Glenn Branca and The Static (deleted May 2008)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vision on

I know that conspicuous consumption is non-U (or is it? I can never quite keep up), but I think this looks seriously excellent...

More info here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen
August 22 1928 to 5 December 2007

Tears for Spears

I like to think I'm a man of the world. I've been around a bit. But I'm still baffled as to what exactly "tractor style" is. Can anyone fill me in? (Insert your own joke here)

Or, better still, point me to a pic?

Valentine's day

Until recently, the prospect of a new album by Irish sonic terrorists My Bloody Valentine was about as likely as Christian Slater and Robert Downey Jnr. opting for "a quiet night in". But, no, according to Kevin Shields, prime mover in MBV, a new album (already some 11 years in the works) is nearly finished and may be in the shops later this year. Well, I'll believe it when I see it. But what is incontrovertibly true is that they plan to play live in 2008, and have already sold out dates in Glasgow, Manchester and London. More dates have been added, according to this website.

Presumably they're still signed to Island, to whom they defected after nearly bankrupting Creation Records in 1992 with their magnus opus Loveless, but for whom their output thus far (15 years into their contract) has amounted to one song, a by-the-numbers cover of Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World". Presumably the group have taken this as their motto for the duration of their hiatus, the length of which made Kraftwerk and Kate Bush seem like workaholics by comparison.

Despite the jibes, Shields has not been totally inactive for 15 years. During much of the late 90s and early 2000s, he was a fairly pivotal part of Primal Scream, contributing to all of the best parts of their high-water mark Xtrmntr, and much of their follow-up Evil Heat. In case you haven't heard these, they're both recommended, but Xtrmntr is absolutely essential, and backs up the widely-held view that the quality of Primal Scream's albums is generally inversely proportionate to the length of Bobby Gillespie's hair. For Xtrmntr, Gillespie and co. had buzz cuts and sported military fatigues. The music was commensurately radical, and Shields' trademark tinnitus-inducing input was evident on tracks like Accelerator and Shoot Speed/Kill Light.

More astonishing still was his total reworking of the Scream track If They Move Kill 'Em. Originally appearing on the previous Primal Scream album Vanishing Point (also recommended), ITMKE was a funky little instrumental, the sort of thing the James Taylor Quartet might come up with if asked to score a Hollywood remake of some British 70s TV policier, like, say, Randall and Hopkirk Deceased. In Shields' hands, the song, which was remixed and re-presented on Xtrmntr, turned into a six-minute demented, Bollywood-inflected raga, that finishes with waves of headache-causing feedback throb. Naturally, and with a nod to Sun Ra, Shields christened himself The MBV Arkestra for the purposes of this recording. I, for one, would pay handsomely to hear the MBV Arkestra remixing the whole of Xtrmntr, in the same way that Adrian Sherwood turned out Echo Dek, a dub version of Primal Scream's Vanishing Point.

As an aside, I will mention that I was lucky enough to see Shields playing with Primal Scream in 2000, promoting Xtrmntr. Though I didn't think he'd turn up (the gig was outside the UK), dang me if he wasn't stooped stage right over an array of effects pedals while Gillespie gurned and Mani (who was looking increasingly like Derek Smalls by this point) riffed. Shields was hardly the most statesman-like presence (his appearance went unannounced and unremarked, and I'd doubt that more than 5% of the audience knew he was even there), and I'd be hard pushed to say exactly what he did in his hour and a half onstage, but I can tell you that it was an entirely memorable event. And that the most recent Primal Scream album, with Shields absent, was a godawful, forgettable mess.

Shields went on to contribute to Sofia Coppola's last two soundtracks, and found time to engineer and remix bands like Curve, EAR, The Go! Team and Dinosaur Jr. His former band-mates' activities, however, have been more sporadic. Debbie Googe, for example, was reduced to driving a cab, while Colm O'Ciosoig managed one collaboration with Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star.

Exactly who will accompany him on stage next year is unclear. Of the Loveless MBV line-up, only Bilinda Butcher seems to have confirmed. Given that it could all fall apart before next summer, I'm not going to worry about it too much. In the meantime, while we wait for more material, enjoy the following:

Download I Only Said from Loveless (deleted May 2008)

Download Sueisfine from Isn't Anything (deleted May 2008)

Download If They Move Kill 'Em by Primal Scream remixed by MBV Arkestra (from Xtrmntr) (deleted May 2008)

Download If They Move Kill 'Em (original version) by Primal Scream (from Vanishing Point) (deleted May 2008)

Loveless- from Perfect Sound Forever

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lidl Britain

Possibly likely to only raise a laugh with UK readers, but never mind...

As seen in my local Lidl, their own-brand version of Smirnoff Ice.

This is so great on so many levels. I really don't know where to start.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lamb to the slaughter

Bad news for all music lovers, I'm afraid. The excellent and entertaining Gideon Coe has been shunted from his daytime slot on BBC 6Music to make way for the appalling George Lamb. Sadly, Lamb is not the Eton-educated son of a viscount (this would at least give him some interesting stories to share rather than inane chatter). Instead, like so many of the BBC's presenters, he seems to have been chosen not for his aptitude or radio-presenting skills, much less his knowledge of or enthusiasm for music. No, like Stephen Merchant and Dermot O'Leary (and I can't fathom the appeal of either of these), he seems to have risen to his position solely on the basis of his telly work. Not that being good at one thing necessarily precludes you from being good at another; at 6Music Don Letts, Guy Garvey of Elbow, Craig Charles (Pebble Mill poet, crack cocaine enthusiast and Coronation Street cabbie) and even Sir Bruce Dickinson of Iron Miaden all preside over excellent shows because of their genuine enthusiasm for the music they play, and all of them more than make up for their lack of radio background.

Now I was prepared to give George Lamb (of whose existence I was unaware heretofore) the benefit of the doubt after he was parachuted into the ten o'clock graveyard slot on the station (the one now occupied by Coe). And like most occupants of the slot, he was instructed to play a mixture of old sessions, live appearances, old BBC In Concerts etc. I mean, how hard can that be? But I almost threw my DAB radio at the wall when he mangled the name of The Rezillos in his first week, before sniggering dismissively and admitting to his producer that he'd never heard of them (and from what I could infer, his producer hadn't heard of The Rezillos either). A similar incident happened the next time I listened, and Lamb cheerily admitted ignorance of Boo Hewerdine, whose recorded work was due to be featured later in the show. Now some may say George Lamb's unprofessionalism is refreshing, and that it breaks down the barriers between DJ and audience, that it's the antithesis of the slick Smashey and Nicey era. Well maybe.

Friday, October 26, 2007

DFA freebie

Thanks to that nice James Murphy, you can click here to download a free three track DFA EP featuring the aforementioned LCD Soundsystem, Shocking Pinks and Fall sound-a-likes Prinzhorn Dance School. And, hey, it's worth every penny.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Street smarts

While her ex-husband Phil (seen on the left--and isn't that new Genesis P- Orridge* look that he's rocking really quite fetching?) has been facing murder charges, Ronnie Spector's four-part documentary on doo-wop (Street Corner Soul) is currently airing on Radio 2, and is highly recommended. Tracing the history of the genre from The Orioles onwards, it gives an insight into why aficionados like Brian Eno and Martin Rev of Suicide fell for this "Martian music" when it crackled through the airwaves at the birth of the fifties.

To my mind, one of the high points of Western art (let alone of doo-wop), and right up there with Fallingwater, or Duchamp's Fountain, is The Flamingos cover of I Only Have Eyes For You, written in the 1930s and popularised by Peggy Lee, among others. The song is deceptively simple, infinitely complex, and is only connected to the songwriting tradition in the same way that a Wright building is connected to traditional architecture. It sounds like nothing else on earth. It is sui generis. The first three guitar chords lull you into a false sense of security, and then four seconds in, you're hit with an incredible wall of sound. That insistent piano note. Voices that sound like they were recorded in a submarine. At the bottom of a sea. On Mars. Forget street corner soul: The Flamingos are street corner Satie; spare, minimal, sepulchral.

Martin Rev, one half of Suicide, took this template and updated it in the seventies and eighties, and similarly married technology with New York street corner soul. His sparring partner and lyrical foil in Suicide (Alan Vega), however, eschewed the saccharine subject matter of doo-wop and instead told harrowing tales of dystopia in the songs they did together as Suicide, even if their insistent, repetitive melodies owed as much to the Orioles, the Flamingos and the Coasters as they did to Suicide's CBGBs contemporaries. It was only in his solo albums (especially Clouds of Glory and See Me Ridin') that Rev was able to pay explicit homages to the music that he'd have heard in his youth. Whisper, from his aforementioned album Clouds of Glory, doesn't actually have any lyrics, but if it did you can imagine that they'd be sing-songy paeans of everlasting love, and its arpeggiating harmonies could easily be replicated by four voices standing on a Brooklyn corner.

Download the Flamingos' I Only Have Eyes For You (MP3) (deleted May 2008)

Download Martin Rev's Whisper (MP3) (deleted May 2008)

* For those that want to compare and contrast, Genesis is pictured below...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

StSanders is God

With apologies to those that may already have seen this, but I had to share it, as it is the best thing on YouTube right now... Slowhand plays some free jazz. Skronk out! The sax at 1.33 is the bit that tips most people over the edge...

...and kudos to the comment that Thurston Moore would sign Clapton to his label in a heartbeat if he really did sound like this.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blanc looks



After watching the grand finale of The Restaurant this week, I couldn't help noticing the distinct similarity between Gallic restaurateur Raymond Blanc and Harry H. Corbett, aka Steptoe fils. Could they by any chance be related etc...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

And the nominations are...

While I'm mentioning Blur, it seems apropos that I mention Alex James' recent autobiog, which I'm partway through. It's mostly a pretty breezy read, though James is no Peter Ustinov or David Niven. He's had a pretty charmed life though, with few of the struggles that typify rock biogs; Blur are fully formed by page 38, and have had their first hit by page 67.

One passage stands out so far. Not because it's well written, or revealing, or shocking, however. Instead, he's describing hotel life and touring...

Having worked in a hotel, I knew exactly how demanding guests could be and I set about making myself a nuisance, calling reception and asking for more pillows, more towels, more bubble bath, some matches, board games, books, whether they serve Ricicles at breakfast and if they knew anywhere I could get Golden Nuggets.
Okay, it's hardly Led Zep fishing for sharks with groupies, or even The View flooding a Travelodge. But I can't help thinking that unlike Robert Plant, John Bonham, Jimmy Page et al, James had actually worked in a hotel. And therefore his actions are even more reprehensible. For taking the piss out of underpaid and overworked staff, Alex James is officially the Irk The Purists ***TWUNT OF THE MONTH***

Nominations for November's Twunt of the Month will be announced shortly.

Duke Spirit

The world can be divided into two sorts of people, IMHO. There's the sort that leaves a movie the moment the moment the story has finished, leaving in a noisy tipping-up of seats, crunching popcorn underfoot and generally getting in the way of the screen. And then there are those who stay resolutely glued to their seat until the very last frame of the credits has spooled through the projector. I bet you can't guess which category I fall into, eh? I usually tell my long-suffering companions that I want to ensure that "no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture", but really I feel I owe it to the hard-working best boys, Foley artists, gaffers and focus-pullers to see their work credited appropriately. You often learn a lot too; you start to see the same names, the ones that help you to navigate around And you get to see the music credits, which are often the most interesting part of the film. At least with some directors. Oliver Stone, for one...

Anyway, you may not be surprised that I'm rather similar when it comes to record sleeves and CD booklets. I tend to pore over every credit; the sleeve designers (and thank you Malcolm Garrett, Stylorouge, Keith Breeden, Reid Miles, Vaughan Oliver, Benoit Hennebert and countless others), the engineers (Martin Bisi, Jason Corsaro, Gary Langan, Bob Kraushaar) etc. It's probably how I came across the name John Metcalfe, whose name appears in the small print of many CD booklets. Metcalfe has been the strings arranger of choice for Morrissey, Durutti Column, Lloyd Cole and Stephen Duffy among others. While this provides his bread-and-butter, I get the feeling his heart is really in his solo work and the side project he has with Louisa Fuller and Ivan McCready, The Duke String Quartet. Exploring the canons of composers such as Joby Talbot (of League of Gentlemen fame), Kevin Volans, Graham Fitkin and Michael Nyman, the Duke Quartet are nothing if not versatile (they also work with the Dixie Chicks and The Pretenders).

In his capacity as viola player for the Durutti Column in the late 80s and early 90s, Metcalfe was instrumental in establishing the Factory Classical Label, and one of their first releases was the Duke Quartet's first CD. It's long out of print and now fetches a pretty penny on Ebay, but I've added a couple of tracks below, the first movement of Shostakovitch's String Quartet no. 8 Opus 110, and the third movement of Michael Tippett's String Quartet No.3. I've also included a download of Blur's Tracy Jacks. This doesn't really need an excuse to have an airing, but it's included here because if you scrutinise the small print of your Parklife CD, you'll notice that the spiralling strings are provided by none other than The Duke Quartet.

Download Tippet String Quartet no. 3 (deleted May 2008)

Download Shostakovitch String Quartet no. 8 Opus 110 (deleted May 2008)

Download Tracy Jacks by Blur (deleted May 2008)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cracked LCD

....but first this. The new LCD Soundsystem single is insanely good, even if they have speeded it up somewhat compared to the album version. I'm pretty sure the version they're playing on the radio is the regular ol' album version. Anyhoo, I'm told the video director was Doug Aitken, for those that care about these things.

Do you remember when New Order sounded this good? Yes, it was a long time ago.

All apologies

"It's been a long time/I shouldn'a left you/Without a strong rhyme to step to..." Thanks, Rakim.

And thanks to you readers for sticking with me. I'll try and update more often. I did promise, in a rash moment some months ago, future posts on Moose, Explosions In The Sky, Miles Davis, the Duke Quartet and others; this was mostly to give myself a kick in the pants, and spur on my posting rate. Well I'm still only posting sporadically, but I do intend to make good on my promise. Before 2008, if you're lucky. Anyhoo, today, I will get round to a look at The Duke String Quartet...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Use The Enemy

"Then again, I could use the money," Bomb added.

Not new, I know, but it made me laugh like a drain.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Virgin on the ridiculous

You may have missed the reports this week of another nail in the coffin of the music industry as we know it. It was announced by the fledgling record label that grew into a multi-armed hydra encompassing airlines, trains, cola, perfume, finance and condoms. Of course, I'm talking about Fierce Panda. Just kidding. No, Virgin (for it is they) announced they were selling off their retail division, the Virgin Megastores.

Now that's not the news that makes me fear for the sanity of the music biz. By 2007, Virgin were barely in the music biz anyway, despite the record label's terrific heritage that took in Mike Oldfield, Faust, Henry Cow, Gong, The Sex Pistols, Magazine, Japan, The Human League, Rip Rig and Panic, Culture Club Collins. Branson took his eye off the ball musically sometime around the early 80s, handing over the running of the label to people like Simon Draper. Sales of CDs are tanking, so in many ways this was a (financially) smart move by the Virgin group.

The stores have been bought out by a management consortium, but it's not this that makes me fear for their future either. In theory, a team of managers could turn the stores' fortunes around and make them relevant to today's reluctant consumers, assuming, that is, that they had some degree of aptitude.

No, the news that told me everything I needed to know about the sorry state of the music industry and the people who run it was buried at the bottom of the press release. In a bid to ditch 35 years of brand heritage (Mike Oldfield, Faust, etc..), the new owners of Virgin have decided to rebrand the stores and name them Zavvi. That's Zavvi. Zavvi. What. The. Fuck?

According to the management team's spokesperson, this new name was a "modern and independent take on the word savvy". Modern. Independent. Hmmmm. If by modern and independent he means "bearing no relation to the written word as we know it, and implying no values whatsoever" then I'll go along with that. Or perhaps "condescending and doomed-to-fail attempt to appeal to txt msg-crazed and wordblind kids" is closer to the mark. Whatever the explanation for this spectacularly awful rebranding, you just know it came out of a focus group, the same sort that (probably) brought about Consignia. And it tells you all you need to know about the fiasco that is today's music business. That it's more concerned with marketing a lame-duck product than with improving the product itself.

Just in case you think I have some sort of great affection for the mechanics of the music industry, I don't. Music predates the invention of the phonograph and will continue to exist for a long time after the last record shop closes its doors. But it absolutely beggars belief that people who don't seem to actually like or care about the artform are in charge of marketing and selling it, and therefore helping to provide a living for the artists themselves. I know none of this is news. But it depresses me every time I see concrete evidence of folly, as I did this week at the unveiling of Zavvi.

The one piece of good news for the biz that I read this week was from the New York Times' profile of Rick Rubin, now joint head of Columbia Records. His radical idea is that the music itself is the most important part of the marketing chain. Or, as he puts it, "We're in the art business." Whoulda thunk it?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Feelgoed Ink

Another terrific blog here:

In particular, check out the Ryuichi Sakamoto album, Beauty, posted recently (featuring Paisley Park chanteuse Jill Jones, Arto Lindsay, Sly Dunbar, Robert Wyatt and a cast of thousands). It's a bit naughty posting entire albums, but as this seems to be a Japanese release, I'll let it slide.

Also, the April 28th posting about the Compass Point All Stars is all killer; the Barry Reynolds track is especially brilliant. Is it true that I Scare Myself by Barry Reynolds is now out of print? And that my vinyl copy is worth upwards of sixty quid? Sheesh...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yes Letts

After disappearing from view for large parts of the 90s (seems he was in Jamaica for much of the decade shooting Dancehall Queen), Don Lett is currently everywhere you look, from a recently-published autobiog, to his regular slot on BBC 6 Music. Which is entirely right and proper; since the man has been at the centre of the action for over 30 years, it's good to see him at last getting his due out front rather than behind the scenes.

Known initially as the man who provided punks with tunes at The Roxy, Letts found early notoriety as a video and documentary director. His Punk Rock Movie, shot on Super 8 in 1977, is possibly the most authentic document of the period; it features must-see footage of The Slits at their most raw, and and a pre-signing performance by The Banshees. However, it also captures much of the crassness and stupidity of punk from mid-77 onwards, and this is why it's such a valuable film. It wasn't all as Julien Temple would have us believe. In Letts' film you can see Genesis P. Orridge, for example, acting like a berk and waving a flick-knife around in Boy, and a young Shane McGowan jumping around like an imbecile. You can even see Eater attacking a pig's head for no apparent reason other than to pander to expectations.

So he was there, and like Dziga Vertov, Letts was the man with the movie camera. Videos for The Clash and others followed, as did a stint in Big Audio Dynamite alongside his old mucker Mick Jones, before bailing out to join electro-dub outfit Screaming Target. Things went a bit quiet until the release of Dancehall Queen in the late 90s, but since then Letts has been making documentaries at a rate of knots, with recent features on The Clash ( Westway To The World) and mid-7os U.S. punk (Punk: Attitude) particularly recommended. He's also found a niche compiling CDs of reggae and hip hop for labels like Trojan and Heavenly.

The man has lived quite a life, and must be one of the few people on earth to count Bob Marley, Joe Strummer and Federico Fellini as acquaintances. Fellini apparently said Letts "had the vision of a terrorist", and more churlish critics have pointed out that he misspells the name of his admirer as Frederico throughout his autobiography, which slightly spoils the effect. I can overlook this, though, as the man has a nice line in self-deprecation, pointing out in the book that the famous shot of him seemingly fronting out the cops at the Notting Hill Carnival (a shot that later became the cover of Black Market Clash, left) was no such thing. He was, it turns out, simply crossing the road.

This self-deprecation, and refusal to lose a sense of perspective, was presumably one of the impulses behind the recording of Haile Unlikely, Letts' sole collaboration with Jah Wobble and Keith Levene from 1979. Released under the confusing title of the Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread EP, the Rasta-baiting title tells you all you need to know about the Don Letts worldview: equally at home in Jamaica or London; respectful of reggae traditions but not in thrall to voodoo mysticism; engaged but aloof, the consummate observer. Above all, this is a man that refuses to be pigeonholed. As such, Mr. Don Letts has earned a special place in the Irk The Purists hall of fame.

Download Haile Unlikely by Stratetime Keith, Jah Wobble and the Electric Dread (deleted May 2008)

Good interview with the Don

An even better interview

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Modern Romance

Just came across this great MP3 blog and had to share...

Systems of Romance

They even have a piece on LeLu/Lus, a long-forgotten Blackpool outfit who I didn't even know had released any records....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Dan

Just wanted to draw attention to the excellent interview with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on Radio 2 yesterday (you can listen again here for a week). The duo, the creative nucleus of Steely Dan for nigh on 35 years, regaled us with stories of hawking their songs around the Brill Building, of their love of jazz, and of the highs and lows of their songwriting partnership. In particular, they devote some time to discussing the track Show Biz Kids, which according to contended grizzled interviewer Johnnie Walker, could have been an international hit, save for one judiciously-placed expletive . The Super Furry Animals made this profanity-laden line the central sample of their 1996 non-hit (and tribute to Cardiff footballer Robin Friday) The Man Don't Give a Fuck. They're both first-rate choons, and guess what? They're presented here for you to compare and contrast.

Download Show Biz Kids by Steely Dan (deleted May 2008)

Download The Man Don't Give A Fuck by Super Furry Animals (deleted May 2008)

Buy Steely Dan

Steely Dan site

Buy SFA stuff

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mission: "Control"

I had the pleasure of seeing the Anton Corbijn movie Control earlier this week, and while it provided few surprises, it was solid enough entertainment...if "entertainment" is the correct term to use in describing a film about the events that lead to the protagonist's suicide. In fact, Corbijn's film, which received the CICAE Art & Essai awards at Cannes this year, struggles in two respects; first, the fact that the film's narrative arc will be known to most of its viewers, and second, that a previous film, Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, covered roughly the same territory five years before.

On its own merits, however, Control has much to recommend it. Sam Riley's performance as Ian Curtis is little short of uncanny, especially in the live scenes, where Riley gets Curtis' eyes-closed, eyebrows-raised, hunched over the mic stance dead-on. Samantha Morton plays against type as Debbie Curtis, the singer's wife, portraying her as slightly mousy and unremittingly homely, especially when compared to her husband's free-spirited, independent and worldly Belgian mistress Annik Honore. That Honore is portrayed in the film in an even-handed way and not in the slightly (and understandably) derogatory tones of Debbie Curtis' book Touching From A Distance, on which the film is based, is no doubt down to the intervening hand of the scriptwriter, Matt Greenhalgh. The actors who play the rest of Joy Division (Joe Anderson, James Pearson, Harry Treadaway) give engaging performances, and extra kudos to them for playing all the songs live rather than miming to the original tracks. Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell) provides occasional, and much needed, moments of levity, especially in his scenes with the hapless Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance (AH "Where's my twenty quid?"/ RG "In my fuck-off pocket!"). John Cooper Clarke, playing himself at a recreation of the last night of the Electric Circus, is good value as always (and as my wife pointed out, is probably the only survivor from that era who could still comfortably fit into his old clothes. In fact, come to think of it, I don't actually think he's changed clothes since 1978...). The mise-en-scene is astonishingly accurate, down to the Golden Wonder crisps, and recreates the bleakness of the era in vivid monochrome detail. The soundtrack is exactly right, taking in Bowie, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk as well as Joy Division. And while there are few surprises in such a well-known story, there was one revelation, for me at least; was the insistent tss-tss sound on She's Lost Control really produced by a deftly-deployed aerosol canister?

While Greenhalgh's script is commendably non-partisan, he clearly missed the screenwriters' class where they teach them that "show, don't tell" is the best way to move narrative forward. Thus, there's a particularly clunking scene where, after an early gig, the band are greeted backstage by a tousle-haired, bespectacled stranger, and the following paraphrased dialogue ensues...

Gretton (for it is he): "You're good, lads, but you need a good manager..."

Band: "Who are you?"

Gretton: "The name's Rob Gretton."

Roadie: "But they've already got a"

Gretton: "And who are you?"

Roadie: "I'm Terry Mason."

There are a few other cavils. Tony Wilson, played by Craig Parkinson, seems to be channeling the spirit of Peter Cook, as others have pointed out. But most of all, the film is exactly as you'd expect an Anton Corbijn film about Joy Division to be. Slightly predictable, in other words. There's little use of moving camera, no spontaneity, even in the gig scenes. Many of the shots are so well composed, it's like looking at a 120-minute Depeche Mode or U2 photo. And despite the moments of hilarity provided by the Rob Gretton and Peter Hook characters, it's almost entirely reverent, portraying Curtis as a doomed, tortured genius, rather than the often-selfish, occasionally-childish flawed character of Debbie Curtis' book. I missed, for instance, moments like this, at the Leigh Festival of 1979...

"I was wary about what I had been told about turning up at gigs without the other girls, so I made sure I collected Sue Sumner from her flat before driving to the festival. It was a bright, warm day and I was disappointed because it hadn't occurred to me to take Natalie along. I mentioned this to Ian, but he was so busy discussing the size of a particularly large turd in the toilet tents that he didn't seem to hear me." (Touching From A Distance, p.89)
The whole thing is a bit like an extended version of Corbijn's video for Atmosphere. And if you think that the most obvious thing that the director of a film about Joy Division could do would be to put Atmosphere over the closing scenes, then I hope I'm not giving anything away by revealing that Corbijn obliges. It's all a bit too tasteful, a bit Peter Saville; classic-looking, hagiographic, not-at-all gritty, despite its subject matter. In this it suffers slightly by comparison to Winterbottom's earlier film, which was, I suppose, the Central Station take on the Factory story; irreverent, anarchic, free-wheeling. And it's this that I missed most in Control. The film feeds the Ian Curtis mythology, that of the tortured, enigmatic genius, and while 24 Hour Party People played fast and loose with the facts, I can't help feeling that it was closer to the messy, complicated truth of Factory and the characters that surrounded the label than Corbijn's black-and-white (in all senses of the phrase) version.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Clash of 2007

So what is/was the best punk album ever? It's a question that has been vexing precisely no-one, but Irk The Purists will endeavour to settle the non-existent debate once and for all. Never Mind The Bollocks? Some great singles, obviously, and the inclusion of Bodies puts it right up there, but there's also some filler (Submission, anyone?). The Clash's first album? More of a contender, possibly, but still some duff tracks. Another Music In A Different Kitchen? A good LP, but it missed the punk boat (it was released in 1978)... Eater-The Album? Okay, now you're getting silly.

Really, the album's title should tip you off, but I can now reveal that the best punk album in the world, ever, is.....(drum roll, please...) Fulham Fallout by The Lurkers! Oh no, hang on, there's been a steward's enquiry. No, it is in fact, the album pictured above, entitled The Best Punk Album In The World...Ever. Now notwithstanding the fact that the sleeve is like a GCSE art student's homage to Jamie Reid, that the track information is scanty at best, and that most heinously, Virgin subsequently saw fit to release the oxymoronically titled The Best Punk Album In The World...Ever 2 (which, to my mind, is right up there with the Stallone vehicle First Blood II in the "shurely shome mishtake?" stakes), this 48-track double CD, released some 19 years after our parents fought the punk wars, really is the best document of the era.

Compilations like this usually feature approximately 33% good tunes, and 67% that are brought in to pad out the album to something that punters will pay £12 for at Christmas. So while The Best Punk Album contains stone classics like Identity by X-Ray Spex, New Rose by The Damne, and Television's Marquee Moon, you'd be within your rights to expect it to also contain making-up-the-numbers tracks by the likes of Splodgenessabounds, Sham 69 or the aforementioned Lurkers. You'd be wrong in this case, however. This compilation really does cover all the bases, from Richard Hell & The Voidoids' Blank Generation to Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner, from Buzzcocks to The Jam to The Undertones. Even when it does step outside its remit, bringing in post-punk from XTC, Talking Heads, PiL and Magazine, the songs are so strong you really have to cut it some slack. Quite honestly, this is all killer and no filler whatsoever. Even the less revered groups in the canon (e.g. Boomtown Rats, Stranglers) contribute their 'A' material (Peaches, Get a Grip On Yourself and Lookin' After Number One). You can see the full track listing for the two CDs here, and I dare you to disagree with the inclusion of any of the songs, even if many of them aren't strictly "punk". I think the fact that Virgin had its own vaults to plunder, along with those of EMI, explains the strength of the CD; they didn't have too many rights to negotiate. In fact, while the odd purist may cavil at the exclusion of, say, The Dead Kennedys, I think most would look at the track listing and say that the only real glaring omission is that of The Clash. CBS, The Clash's label, presumably didn't want to play ball on this one.

Not that The Clash are short on exposure at the moment. The increasingly cadaver-like Mick Jones is currently 50 per cent of Carbon/Silicon, along with his old mucker Tony James (note to self-- a Sigue Sigue Sputnik post over the next few weeks...hmmm......), while Paul Simonon teamed up with Damon Allbran at the turn of the year to some acclaim. However, it's M.I.A. that's going to bring most attention to the Clash's back catalogue over the next few months, I suspect. Her new single, Paper Planes, produced by Big Dada artiste Diplo, samples "Straight To Hell" to startling effect, and rocks so hard that I'm prepared to break the unspoken credo of the MP3 blogger and make it available to you right now, even though it's not released as a single for another few weeks. I'm doing this in the hopes that everyone will fall in love with it, and then buy Paper Planes, as well as Kala, the album from which it's taken. So don't make a fool of me. Think of it as a free sample, a bit like those small bottles of shampoo that sometimes come through your door. If you like it, buy it! As well as biting The Clash, another of Kala's tracks, Bamboo Banga, quotes from Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner. Which is roughly where we came in. And so, as all those leather jackets used to proclaim circa 1983, punk's not dead. In fact, like zombies in a George Romero movie, it's roaming all over the shopping malls in the 21st century. And when the music it's engendering is as vital as M.I.A.'s Kala, it'd be churlish to get too upset.

Download Paper Planes by M.I.A. (deleted May 2008)

Buy Kala

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Factory floored

There's not a lot to say about the death of Tony Wilson that won't be said elsewhere more eloquently by others. It was hardly unexpected, as he'd been ill for some time. But Tony really did change lives, mine included. And for a large group of thirty-somethings who grew up in the North West in the 1980s, and were too young to recall So It Goes, there was that wonderful moment when the penny dropped, and we realised that that the man who read the news every night on Granada Reports was also largely responsible for Blue Monday. It was quite sobering. For those that lived outside the Granada region, I'd imagine that if Reginald Bosanquet had let slip that he was one of The Residents, the effect would have been similar.

So instead, of a lengthy encomium, I'll pay tribute to Tone's life in the most appropriate way, by showcasing some tunes by some artists, many of whom went on to bigger, though not necessarily better, things, and some of whom were legends only in their own lunchtime. All enabled and paid for by Anthony Howard Wilson and the nice people at Factory, without whom...

Download Brighter by The Railway Children (deleted May 2008)

Download Hymn From A Village by James (deleted May 2008)

Download Reach For Love by Marcel King (deleted May 2008)

Download Electricity by OMD (deleted May 2008)

Download Time Goes By So Slow by The Distractions (deleted May 2008)

YouTube stuff:

Tony tribute from GranadaTV c 2002

Happy Mondays on Other Side of Midnight

The Fall on So It Goes

Wired feature on Factory c 1988

Steve Morris, Paul Morley, Peter Saville et al on Newsnight 10/8/07


Anthony. H Wilson b. 20th Feb 1950 d. 10th Aug 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Wolfe tones/ Sexy MF

My holiday reading this year has been the latest Tom Wolfe novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. The story of a small-town naif (or presumably, since the protagonist is female, that should be naive) at an Ivy League campus, it wasn't terrifically well received by critics on its release a couple of years back, but it covers similar stylistic ground to Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full so if you rated those you'll probably dig this. Most of Wolfe's literary tics are present and correct. His ear for dialect, for example, is as acute as ever. His microscopic observation of current social mores (the status of academics at American universities, for example, and the unfettered use of what Wolfe calls the "fuck patois") is bang-on, of course. In fact the only give-away that this is written by a 75-year old Southern WASP rather than a staff writer for The OC, is his frequent use of the neologism "Bango!" to signify a sudden interjection in the narrative. Here, the school's basketball coach is pouring scorn on one of his charge's desire to break out of stereotypical jockdom and take a high-level course entitleed The Age of Socrates...

Coach ignored all of that and said "You know who Mr. Margolies is, by any chance?"

"No, but I hear he's really good."

Like his previous novel, A Man In Full, IACS contains a lot of references to rap music. Luckily Wolfe, possibly stung by criticism of the untypically inaccurate characterisation of the rap scenes in A Man In Full (one featured the improbably-named Doctor Rammer Doc Doc), has raised his game in this book. While the name of the rapper that soundtracks the basketball team's locker-room antics in IACS (in this case, he's named Dr. Dis) still isn't quite on the money, it's a lot more plausible than Doctor Rammer Doc Doc, who always sounded more like a Haitian voodoo priest and part-time porn actor than a hip-hop superstar. However, names aside, Wolfe's attempts at writing fictional raps to put into his fictional rapper's mouth are, to my mind, pretty much on the one. Certainly, the thugged-out mixture of humour, scatology, bragadoccio and nihilism in Dis's putative rhyming wouldn't sound out of place coming from the mouth of say, DMX or Trick Daddy. Here's a verse from Dr. Dis's masterpiece "Know'm saying?"...

"Know'm saying?
Call yo'self a cop? Swap yo' dick and yo' ass,
Ev'ry time you shit, yo' balls go plop plop.
Wipe yo' dick and it bleeds choc'late.
You needs to fuck with yo' butt, cocksucking cop cop.
Know'm saying?"

Fo' shizzle! Damn homey. For a guy in a white suit pushing 80 years old, that's some flow. And all the more accurate for being so knowingly crass. Not quite up there with wordsmiths like Rakim, Nas or Common, but certainly better than much of the stuff covered in Nik Cohn's Triksta. And hell, that was fact rather than fiction! So, a tip of the fedora to Mr. Wolfe.

While the fictional Dr. Dis could probably hold his own against much of the dreck that passes for entertainment on Tim Westwood's show, he can't hold a candle to the great MF Doom. Doom's been a long time underground and even collabs with DangerMouse haven't quite pushed him into the mainstream yet. This is a shame, as, for my money, he's the best out there right now, just edging out Roots Manuva. As DangerMouse comments admiringly, with Doom's rhymes there's "no waste". Every word counts, and every reference is worth following up. His magpie mind flits from 1930s cinema to pop art to the realities of street culture in the early 21st century. Best of all, he seems to have as much reverence for the cartoonish and the escapist as he does for the need to represent. His costume and outlandish persona hark back to old school mysticals like Rammelzee and Afrika Bamabaataa circa "Planet Rock". If more of today's rappers looked to Stan Lee rather than Glocks and AK47s to settle their beefs, I can't help but think the scene would be in better shape. Okay, sermon over. But, of course, metal masks and superhero costumes would count for little if the goods weren't up to scratch. Thankfully, they are. Doom's narcoleptic narratives pull you in. This guy's so good, he doesn't need to proclaim; if you want to listen, you can, but he ain't going to break a sweat to make sure you hear. The listener has to put in some work, but it's always worth it. His choice of breaks helps, too. Below are a couple of tasters courtesy of The Wire magazine; Hoecakes uses Anita Baker's Sweet Love to good effect, while Frendz is a cautionary tale of the corruscating effect of fame.

Download MF Doom's Deep Fried Frendz MP3

Download MF Doom's Hoecakes MP3

MF Doom on Myspace

Friday, July 27, 2007

Loose Fred

One of the albums that has spent most time in my CD player these past few months is the terrific Triptych, compiled by Fred Deakin, one half of Lemon Jelly. Nothing to do with the Scottish festival of the same name, Fred's 3 CD opus is the best mix-tape you'll ever hear, and as it blithely mashes 90 tracks up against each other with a blatant disregard for genre, it gets the Irk The Purists seal of approval. Within its four hours you'll hear Mike Nesmith rubbing shoulders with Roni Size, the Durutti Column mixed into Grand Puba, George Michael getting it on with the Jesus and Mary Chain...Pentangle, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, The Selecter, Bernard Cribbins, even a house track by Michel Houellebecq, ferchrissakes. All is grist to Deakin's mill. He seems to take particular delight in confounding expectations, and while some have complained that the track listing is too random and doesn't flow, 90% of what he mixes is pure gold, regardless of provenance, and if Deakin likes it, that's usually good enough for me. He introduces some artists you've (I've) never come across, and digs up the less obvious tracks from those that you have. It's a cliche de nos jours that DJ's "take you on a journey", but in this case it's true, even if that journey is from Tim Hardin to James Last via Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys.

As it's a mixtape-type affair, with each track bleeding in to the next, I've refrained from putting up individual tracks; instead I'm presenting for your listening pleasure a short sequence from the second CD, courtesy of the technological marvel that is Audacity. (Incidentally, CDs like this point up the failings of MP3 players; try ripping it to listen to on your I-Pod and you end up with those annoying gaps between tracks. Grrr. Apparently there are ways around this, but what a bloody faff it is.)

In this little excerpt, Todd Rundgren's plaintive Torch Song gives way to XTC's obscure A Dictionary of Modern Marriage, which a bit of Googling tells me was a dub version of Battery Brides from their Go 2 album of 1979. This is overlaid with a capella vocals from Das EFX's Real Hip Hop, then we're straight into a nice bit of Love Rears Its Ugly Head by Living Colour. The band were always a bit too earnest to really love, but this (and I quote) "Soul Power Hip Hop Mix" really hits the spot. Finally, to calm things down, we hear a little snippet of Dudley Moore's Amalgam. If you like this, you won't be disappointed by the other 85 tracks on the CD, and for around a tenner you can't say fairer than that. Fred's notes on each track are worth a tenner on their own.

Incidentally, when he's not producing mind-expanding mix CDs, Fred seems to spend large parts of his time doing graphic design for Airside, the company he co-founded. I'm particularly well disposed towards Airside as they once made my two small children very happy. It was at the V&A's summer garden fete a few years back; these are peculiar events, village fairs transplanted into Kensington, with the great and good of the London design industry letting their hair down. Michael Marriott runs the tombola, Graphic Thought Facility do a "beat the goalie" stall, etc. I seem to remember that the winning entry in the children's dressing up competition (judged by Ron Arad and Matthew Hilton, natch) was a four year old dressed up as a Sony Walkman, and not any old generic walkman, but the very first Sony Walkman, the TPS-L2. It was exact in every detail. I'm pretty sure that the four year old played no part in its construction. Anyway, Airside were running a stall where you had to race some miniature remote controlled cars (which they'd brought back from Japan, natch) around a cardboard track. They'd also clearly overbought on the prizes, and even though my two ankle-biters could barely keep the cars on the tabletop, they both walked away with armfuls of gifts. So, thank you to Airside for their generosity. And thanks to Fred for the CDs.

Download an excerpt from CD2 of Fred Deakin's Triptych (deleted May 2008)

Visit Airside

Buy Triptych here

Friday, July 13, 2007


On the few occasions when my devout atheism wobbles, I call to mind the fact that a just and fair God would not allow Shaun Ryder and Shane McGowan to still be walking among us when Robert Palmer is six feet under. This isn't a value judgement on their music (though I've never understood the appeal of The Pogues); merely an observation about the relative health of all concerned. Shaun and Shane, who've been responsible for a large percentage of the GDP of Afghanistan, Bolivia and Dublin between them, are still dragging their cadaverous frames around the circuit. Palmer, on the other hand, who looked like a walking advert for Shredded Wheat (fit, tanned, peroxide-white teeth) took out a mortgage on a pine bungalow in 2003. Where's the justice?

To add insult to injury, I get the impression that Palmer's musical stock is pretty low too. Most people's image of him is of a self-satisfied smoothie, soul with the rough edges sanded down. And yet Robert Palmer produced a string of terrific LPs, and had a musical CV that oozed credibility. For fuck's sake, he roped in The Meters and Little Feat to make his first solo album, and you don't get much more credible than that. He also worked with Lee "Scratch" Perry, The System, half of Chic, Talking Heads (Chris Frantz guested on Clues; Palmer returned the favour by appearing on Remain In Light), Gary Numan (don't laugh- Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor are totally on the money when they cite him as an innovator), and, er, two of Duran Duran, and had the taste to cover Allen Touissant, Toots and The Maytals and Bob Dylan.

So, why is his name now accompanied by a sneer among the cognoscenti? Well, the Terence Donovan-directed video for Addicted To Love didn't really do him any favours in the long run. Sure, it was his biggest hit, but it also cemented the image in the public's mind of Palmer as a smug Lothario surrounded by bimbos. Even in Saturday's Guardian, Chromeo can't see past the tailoring (though they're correct when they say he's been all but forgotten).

So, does Palmer really have the funk, as Chromeo maintain? Well, judge for yourself. A few choice cuts are reproduced below. The first, Best of Both Worlds, is from Double Fun, his 1978 LP, the cover of which features a grinning Palmer surveying a couple of recently discarded bikinis by a swimming pool. While both the song and the album cover are a product of their time, there's no doubting the quality of the instrumentation on this gently lilting, reggae-inflected classic. In case you still don't believe that Palmer, now viewed by most as a slightly hipper Tom Jones, once had credibility to burn, this track(and much of Double Fun) is produced by Tom Moulton. Who hell he? Well, he's only the man who practically invented the 12 inch single and the genius behind Love Is The Message by MFSB. In fact, Tom Moulton is so achingly hip that those arbiters of urban cool at Soul Jazz have recently compiled a "best of".

The next cut, You Are In My System, is a cover of a lesser-known tune by The System (Palmer also had an endearing knack of championing the less obvious-- I remember an episode of The Tube where he was raving about the new album by The Family). Its digital, brittle funk may seem a little dry when placed next to the slinkier grooves of Sneakin'Sally Thru The Alley or Pressure Drop, but he was always able to intuit the zeitgeist, and this is exactly the sort of thing that was au courant in 1983, especially around Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, where the likes of Tom Tom Club and Grace Jones had seemingly taken up residence, and where Palmer's albums Clues and Pride were both recorded under the auspices of the late Alex Sadkin. Incidentally, this version of the track is taken from a cheapie "best of", and not from Pride, which I don't own on CD; from memory, the vocal sounds like its been re-done on this one.

If his reputation has suffered, it probably dates to the time he left his spiritual home, Island, to sign with EMI at the end of the eighties. Out went the collaborations with Talking Heads and other darlings of the NME. In came the singles with the likes of UB40, and the playing up of the lounge lizard image. However, one album from his EMI years stands out, and is worth checking the bargain bins for. Strangely, and despite the above, it's an album of covers of 40s and 50s standards by Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Sinatra and the like, entitled Ridin'High. Usually this sort of lazy cash-in is the last refuge of the creatively bankrupt (cf. Bryan Ferry's Dylanesque), but in this instance it works, thanks in part to the daring orchestration of Clare Fischer, who also scored The Family's album, cited above. For my money, and this really will set the cat among the pigeons, Fischer beats Nelson Riddle's original orchestration into a close second place with his take on Witchcraft, and while Palmer's vocal on the track isn't quite on a par with Sinatra, the man from Batley adds enough brio to make this cover his own.

Download Best of Both Worlds MP3 (deleted May 2008)

Download You Are In My System MP3 (deleted May 2008)

Download Witchcraft MP3 (deleted May 2008)

Buy A Tom Moulton Mix here

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

George you're on my mind

While it wasn't entirely unexpected, the death of George Melly leaves the world a slightly less interesting place, and deprives us of a particularly talented polymath. Though known primarily for his surrealist tendencies, his jazz stylings as "Good Time George", and as the long-time vocalist for John Chilton's Feetwarmers, it was through his writings rather than his music that I got to know his work, and if you've never come across his books, then his autobiographies (in particular Rum, Bum and Concertina) are a good place to start. His opus of 1970, Revolt Into Style, is as good a look at British pop culture as you could wish for, simultaneously detached and intrigued by the rise of the Stones and the Beatles, and able to key into parallel accomplishments in the theatre and film. Unfortunately, it's now out of print, and second hand copies start at an eye-watering £80 it seems. I'm also very fond of his coffee-table book Paris and the Surrealists, which features ravishing black and white photography of the city in question, and which imparts a particularly sinister subtext to all those deserted arcades, dusty boulangeries, and shop windows full of dolls' glass eyes (which otherwise wouldn't be sinister at all, eh?). This too, seems to be out of print, though second hand copies won't set you back nearly as much.

Anyway, on the assumption that you came here to listen rather than to read book reviews, here's a neat bit of video, which serves as a lovely post-script to his life, and which reminds us of his always-present anarchic streak. It also (nearly) makes you want to forgive The Stranglers for the rest of their career... a tip of the fedora to the original poster of this video, too. Good work, fella.