Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Lost on the Hard Drive #2 - Clear Spot

There are many good things about the easy access to music that we enjoy today. I want it. I got it. Quick as that. I can order a physical album without leaving my keypad, I can stream entire catalogues in any number of ways, or I can purchase and download individual tunes or complete recorded works in seconds. The problem with the latter comes when a stray tune hits the hard drive, is played and enjoyed for a while, before being lost in an anonymous folder on my computer. Which happens a lot. 
In this occasional series I'll be scouring my D and G drives, unearthing half-forgotten gems along the way. 

Clear Spot were a short-lived trio comprising drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig from My Bloody Valentine, guitarist Simon Johns of Stereolab and future Heliocentrics member, Mike Burnham, on keyboards. Their recorded output comprises just one 7" single, 'Moonman Bop', issued in 1998 on Stereolab's Duophonic label. My original copy, possibly on blue vinyl, is buried deep in a box somewhere in this house, but luckily I had the good sense to download an MP3 rip of this instrumental nugget, when it turned up on a blog a few years ago.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Marc Bolan - 37 Years Gone

37 years? Can it really be 37 years? Here's one from (gasp) 43 years ago, featuring Marc, Micky and Steve, with a little help from Babs, Flick, Dee Dee etc, who kind of look as if they're dancing to a different song.

Keep a little Marc in your heart.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Gogo Penguin and Mammal Hands

Late last Wednesday, I was very pleased to learn that Gogo Penguin's second LP, 'V2.0', had been shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, a thoroughly deserved nod. The evening after the night before, Gogo Penguin played in Norwich, opening for local outfit Mammal Hands, who were launching their own debut LP 'Animalia'. Both bands played out of their skins. It was a night that none in attendance, on stage or in the packed audience, will forget in a hurry.

I featured Gogo Penguin a few months ago (here) and their music has remained on regular rotation round these parts ever since, but was unprepared for the sheer force of their live show. They groove, they swing and, yes, they even rock, Mick Blacka throwing occasional Keef-like shapes with his double bass. The band stretch and push the recorded versions of their repertoire into seemingly uncharted areas before bringing it all back home and finishing each tune on a dime, without any noticeable nods or winks between the three of them. The performance of 'One Percent' was worth the price of admission alone. Totally thrilling stuff. This isn't too shabby either.

Mammal Hands are another three piece, who, like Gogo Penguin, are blessed with an extraordinary keyboard player and drummer, unusually though, they have no bassist. The line-up is completed by Jordan Smart on saxophone who was also group announcer for the night (apparently they take it in turns). Smart is very quietly spoken and, in tunes like 'Mansions of Millions of Years', demonstrates similarly delicate phrasing on the soprano sax. His range is huge though. During an extended tenor sax workout in an untitled new piece later in the evening, he tore the place apart, prompting spontaneous outbursts of applause from the audience everytime he took it up another notch. This was my first encounter with Mammal Hands, but I bought the album after the show and I'll certainly be back for more. Here's a version of 'Kandaiki, recorded last year.

Mammal Hands recorded 'Animalia' back in December 2013 and are clearly already looking towards album number two, in much the same way as Gogo Penguin are pushing forward to album three. It was a memorable night and I'm excited to hear what comes next from these terrific bands.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Aliens

Two gentlemen on a small boat out at sea. Chatting, reminiscing on old times. Perhaps they served together in the Second World War. So what year would that make this photo? Late 1960s? Early 1970s? What if I were to tell you that these men, if they are indeed the age they appear, were probably too old to have served in the First World War and that the start of World War Two was still 13 months in the future? The photo is scanned from a glass slide dated August 1938. A timeless image isn't it? I picked up around 150 glass slides at a car-boot sale last week, all housed in 4 long wooden boxes. I've only gone through a quarter of them so far, but the quality of the best is outstanding. More to come, I'm sure.

Gordon Anderson (brother of Kenny, a.k.a. King Creosote) was a founding member of The Beta Band, writing the magnificent 'Dry the Rain' from their debut EP, among others. Anderson left The Beta Band in 1997 after a period of ill health, going on to produce a series of wonderfully adventurous releases under the Lone Pigeon moniker. Following The Beta Band's demise in 2004, Anderson reunited with two former members, John Maclean and Robin Jones, to become The Aliens, who issued two fine albums, before dropping off the map in 2009. 'Boats', originally a stripped down, solo Lone Pigeon tune, was re-recorded by The Aliens to glorious effect and issued on LP number two, 'Luna'.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Version City #32 - Laughing Gravy sings The Beach Boys

I haven't eaten meat for nearly 25 years, but I refuse to become one of those irritating, 'holier than thou', vegetarians who make exaggerated gagging noises if someone dares to eat a ham sandwich within a hundred yard radius of them. Indeed, personally, I'm far more repulsed by the thought of a plate of mushrooms landing on an adjacent restaurant table, than a big juicy steak. There is, however, one regular misconception about vegetarianism that rarely fails to wind me up. The fish thing.

Our local pub re-opened late last year. It was purchased by a resident of the village who has put a great deal of time, effort and money into the establishment. The decor is clean, the staff pleasant, the beer well kept and I'm happy to report that business appears to be booming in the old place. As I perused lunch menu on my first visit to the newly re-opened hostelry, it appeared that veggie lasagne was my only option. Not a problem, but I thought I'd double check with a member of staff. 'Is there just the one vegetarian option on the menu today?' I asked. 'Oh no sir, we have fish and chips or salmon as well' came the very polite reply. 'But I'm a vegetarian' I said. 'Oh, but some vegetarians eat fish' she said. I sighed inwardly. A very deep sigh. I thanked her and left it at that.

The veggie option

About a month later, I dropped into the pub again, intending to grab some lunch. The staff on duty on this visit were different, though just as polite and helpful, but the conversation was virtually identical. 'Some vegetarians eat fish' said the lady. 'They're not vegetarians then,' I replied with a smile. 'Oh yes,' she continued, 'I've got a friend who's a vegetarian and she eats fish...' I sighed inwardly. A very deep sigh. I thanked her and left it at that.

I'm reluctant to make a fuss. I worked in catering for over 10 years and know what a demanding job it is and just how demoralizing a seemingly awkward customer can be. Also, I don't want to be perceived as one of those vegetarians. I did, however, feel that I ought to give a little feedback, so I emailed the Manager of the pub, congratulating him on the staff, service and quality of the beer and, rather than complaining, merely enquired if there were any plans to expand their selection of vegetarian offerings, explaining that there was only one such item available on each of my previous visits. A couple of days later I received a very pleasant reply from the manager thanking me for my comments and pointing out that the pub also offers a range of fish dishes that are suitable for vegetarians! This, I have to say, floored me and I immediately drafted a terse response, explaining the definition of vegetarianism at great length and how it differs from pescetarianism. But, as I said, I hate to make a fuss. So, after a few minutes, when I'd calmed down, I decided not to send the email. Instead, I sighed inwardly. A very deep sigh and left it at that.

Mind you, this doesn't look particularly appetising. Anyone fancy a salad?

As if that wasn't bad enough...... A couple of weeks ago I paid a return visit to our local Medical Centre, to get the results of some recent tests. Previously, my blood pressure was a shade high, but this time it seemed normal. The nurse expressed some concern, however, at my cholesterol levels. My 'bad' cholesterol is a bit high apparently and she urged me to cut down on red meat and fatty foods. I explained that I've been a vegetarian for 25 years and although I used to consume mountains of cheese sandwiches and veggie pasties, these days I virtually live on salad and fruit, with any variance from this diet (such as on chip night) being regarded as a bit of a treat. My 'good' cholesterol, however, appears to be a bit on the low side. I asked the nurse what steps I could take to improve the situation. 'Eat more fish' she said. I reminded her that I've been a vegetarian for 25 years. 'Oh,' she said, 'don't you eat fish? Some vegetarians do you know'. I sighed inwardly. An extremely deep sigh. I thanked her and left it at that.

Here's Dean Torrence (Dean from Jan and Dean) trading as Laughing Gravy (vegetarian gravy, natch), with an interpretation of 'Vegetables', released just one month after The Beach Boys original, in October 1967.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


As I believe I've mentioned before, I possess an inordinate number of left feet and am consequently a confirmed non-dancer. Last Tuesday evening, however, in a darkened room full of strangers, I found myself unconsciously cutting, what can only be described as, a rug. It probably wasn't a pretty sight, but blame it on Tinariwen. Standing still just wasn't an option. (Read a great review of the concert here.)

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Keeping it Peel

In 1980, I and a couple of friends formed a band and we wrote to John Peel to tell him about it. I don't really know what made us think he'd be at all interested, but, at the time, it seemed the natural thing to do. We didn't have a tape, we'd never played live, we barely had any songs - in fact we were barely a band at all. We just wrote and told him how much we enjoyed his show, that we'd formed a band and to look out for a tape....... sometime in the future! Amazingly, he wrote back. In a handwritten letter of encouragement he said that he looked forward to hearing our 'fab teen combo' and signed it 'music lovin' Johnny P'. We were all astonished that he took the time to personally write to us and the letter took pride of place on the wall in the drummer's house, where we regularly met to practice.

The band, unfortunately, didn't last. We played three local gigs, never committed anything to tape and, within a matter of months, ground to a permanent halt. It was great fun while it lasted though. Our drummer, Andrew, won custody of Peel's letter. Andrew went on to create experimental electronic music of some note, which he continues to do to this day, and yes, his music was eventually played on John Peel's show.

Our short-lived little group was massively influenced by the music Peel was playing at the time, specifically Joy Division, to the extent that we covered 'Wilderness' from 'Unknown Pleasures' in our set. Here's the original, for Andrew and Chris (the boys in the band) and, of course, for music lovin' Johnny P, who would've turned 75 this weekend.