Sunday, 27 July 2014

Good Technology

Just before the weekend, I had occasion to visit the kindly family GP (fear not, twas nowt serious). It's been a while since I last went to the doctor's surgery. So long in fact, that it's now no longer actually known as a doctor's surgery, it's been upgraded to a Medical Centre. A whole heap of expensive work has been done refurbishing and improving the place, inside and out, since my last visit, including the installation of an intranet connecting the doctors and nurses with each other and putting the reception desk in instant contact with all the staff in the practice. It's all very impressive. While I was there I had to have separate tests with staff located in different parts of the building and there were no hurriedly scribbled notes to be handed over, garbled phone calls made or shouted instructions barked along corridors. A quick internal email or two from my doctor to the relevant colleagues was all that was required to make the necessary arrangements. My whole visit was hi-tec and seamless, at least until the very end, when a survivor from the 20th century put in an unexpected appearance.

Returning to my own doctor at the conclusion of my visit, she suggested that I needed one more little test, one that couldn't be done there at the Medical Centre, but would require a trip to the out-patients department of the nearest hospital, 20 miles away. Not a problem I thought, expecting her to swing back to her keyboard and tap in an email request for an appointment, but no. She told me that I'd be informed of my appointment later in the day, as she'd first have to...., wait for it...., fax my details over to the hospital. Fax! I guess it goes to show that, for all the millions spent upgrading and improving the infrastructure, technology and communications, if a tried and trusted system still works and ain't broke, why fix it?

Here's a tune by the Red Guitars, from a time when fax machines were the very cutting edge of 'Good Technology'.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers, slight return.

This evening, Pete Fij and Terry Bickers are playing a very cool, teeny-tiny venue about 20 miles away, a gig I've been looking forward to for nearly two months (since I wrote this actually). Their terrific album, 'Broken Heart Surgery', hasn't been far from my ears of late and will undoubtedly figure as one of my favourites of the year. So why aren't I buckling up my seat belt and hitting the road? For the past few days I've been feeling increasingly lousy and, with spectacular bad timing, today is the lousiest of all. I've been trying to fool myself all day that I'm good to go, but a couple of hours ago I gave in to the inevitable and waved the white flag. I'm gutted.

I know I included 'Downsizing' in that earlier post, but at the time I don't think I fully appreciated it for the stark, devastating, beautiful masterpiece it truly is. Have a good one guys, catch you next time around.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Lost on the Hard Drive #1 - The Hooterville Trolley

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 - and what an absolute corker to kick-off with.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Buzzin' Fly

I sometimes need reminding that we actually have another room in this house. Virtually since we moved in, three years ago, the front room has been our de facto storage facility, full of boxes of stuff stuck in that limbo state between being kept or disposed of. We have little sort-outs and re-shuffles now and again, but more often than not, we pull the door to and try to forget about it.

A few weeks ago, as we were getting ourselves together in the hall, preparing to leave the house, a jackdaw flew out of the front room. Let me tell you that they're pretty damned big when you get close up. To say it made us jump would be an understatement, but, to be fair, I think the bird was also a bit shocked to find itself flying around inside a house, so close to a couple of flailing human beings. Recovering from the shock, we opened the street door and it gratefully swooped out, up and away, leaving us a few squelchy mementos of it's visit on the floor. The jackdaw had fallen down the chimney and somehow managed to kick out the draft prevention board that's fitted above the fireplace.

Today, as we made similar preparations to go out, we noticed half a dozen large bluebottles buzzing around the hall. I let them out, but on our return there were seven or eight more banging against the glass in the street door. The situation repeated itself a couple more times this afternoon. I fear another jackdaw may have fallen down the chimney, but not been so lucky or determined as the last, perishing in the dark and, even as I type, is being consumed from within by maggots, which are, in turn, becoming our new house guests. Tomorrow we go into the front room, move some boxes, take out the board above the fireplace and hold our breath.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Squares - a postscript

The Squares' original discography runs to just three singles, all released between 1978 and 1980. First came the aforementioned 'No Fear' on their own Airebeat label, subsequently re-recorded and reissued on Sire. Next, in March 1979, Sire put out the lightweight 'Stop Being a Boy', a disappointing choice I thought, knowing that the band had stronger material to draw on. They nevertheless gained some good publicity around the single, supporting The Undertones on a UK tour. A third Sire single, 'Carry Me Home to Die', was scheduled for October 1979. The song, a bona fide 'lighters in the air' anthem and quite unlike anything else in their repertoire, was a popular live favourite, but ultimately never released, as the group were dropped by the label.

In Summer of 1980, The Squares signed to indie label, Hype Records, who released single number three, 'Buddy Holly', with one of the band's very best songs on the b-side, the excellent, powerpoptastic, 'I May Be Bitter' (nowhere to be found on YouTube unfortunately). I'm not sure of the exact circumstances, but two months after the Hype Records release, in September 1980, the single reappeared (albeit repackaged) on Airebeat, the band's own label. They were back where they started. 

From my perspective, The Squares seemed to judder to a halt after 'Buddy Holly', though i'm sure that they continued to play around the Leeds area. Contact with Brian, the guitarist, songwriter and band member I knew best, became ever more sporadic. Time rolled on, life happened, and by 1983 we had lost touch altogether.

Early in 2014, I was astounded to stumble upon a compilation CD by The Squares, entitled 'Scene From the Sky', which was released in 2011 on a Japanese label, 1977 Records. It compiles studio recordings with unheard demos and is a welcome, if incomplete (no Sire material) memento of those crazy days, bombing up and down the M1 in my old Vauxhall Viva. After picking up a copy of the CD, I did a little looking around the internet, to see if Brian or The Squares had any kind of online presence, but to no avail.

Following my post on the band a couple of days ago and the positive comments it generated, I renewed my online search for any recent information on The Squares individually or collectively. On this occasion, however, I immediately got a hit. The news wasn't good. Tragically, Brian passed away a few months ago, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes I hate the internet.

In my mind's eye, Brian is still the twenty-something, pop-loving, floppy-haired guitar slinger that I briefly knew 35 years ago. Perhaps that's the one consolation about losing touch with someone at a relatively young age - you only ever remember them in full flight.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Squares

Towards the end of the 1970s, I became friendly with a couple of bands from the Leeds area, one of whom, The Straits (no, not them), would, in 1980, support the Tom Robinson Band on a national tour. The other was a band called The Squares, who in May of 1978 issued a single, 'No Fear' on their own Airebeat label. As a result of this release, The Squares were signed by Sire Records, who asked them to go back into the studio and re-record 'No Fear' with a visiting American producer. That producer turned out to be Tommy Erdelyi a.k.a. Tommy Ramone.

The resulting single was quickly issued by Sire in September 1978. This all took place shortly after Tommy had left the Ramones (although he co-produced their 'Road to Ruin' LP, which, coincidentally came out in the same month). So was 'No Fear' by The Squares, Tommy's first post-Ramones project? I'm pretty sure that it was his first UK production job. Either way, it's a great little single.

The original Airebeat release

The Tommy Ramone produced re-recording

(Tommy produced one other track for The Squares, 'Magic Love', which appeared on the 'Sire Machine Turns You Up' compilation, also in 1978 and is otherwise unavailable. Well worth hunting down.)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Tommy Ramone R.I.P.

Sad news to start the weekend. Tommy Erdelyi, a.k.a. Tommy Ramone, the last original member of The Ramones, passed away on Friday. Tommy played on those first three groundbreaking studio LPs in 1976/77, setting the style template for his successors on the drum stool, principally Marky, to follow until the band's dissolution in 1996. He's also behind the kit for what I consider to be among the very greatest of all live albums, 'It's Alive'. Additionally, Tommy handled co-production chores for three of the four LPs I've mentioned, co-wrote 'Blitzkrieg Bop' with Dee Dee and went on to produce the great 'Tim' for The Replacements in 1985.