Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Walking the Blues

Early last year, while looking for a way to increase my exercise and also see a bit more of the countryside, I realised that I could, if I wished, pick up the train, travel one stop, then walk the ten miles back home along the river that flows a few hundred yards from our back door. With a packed lunch and a flask of coffee it would be the perfect jaunt. I began taking longer local walks to build myself up for the task. Then I had my thunderclap headache incident, which knocked me sideways for a while. A little later I did something nasty to a ligament in my knee and suddenly the year was gone.

This year I've been thoroughly enjoying discovering new routes along the lanes, bridleways and public right of ways that criss-cross the countryside around our village and once again I've been steadily building myself up for that scenic ten mile riverside walk home. Ten days ago the inevitable happened. The day after my birthday we went out for another pre-lunch circular walk in an area we had high hopes for, but actually turned out a bit of a disappointment in terms of location and scenery. Also, after about a mile, I managed to twist my ankle, something I did with painless regularity as a kid. Unfortunately, the additional years on the clock and pounds round the waist ensured that this time it was anything but painless and it made an odd grinding, cracking noise when it happened, just to hammer home the point. In spite of the discomfort, the ankle didn't swell immediately, but a couple of days later it really puffed up and has been swollen and painful ever since. It's only a sprain, so it's not the end of the world, just a bit frustrating, but once again my very modest perambulation plans are, for the time being, on hold.

Here's an appropriately titled tune by the extraordinary Willie Dixon.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Smoking Trees

Pastiche, homage or parody? Los Angeles based duo, The Smoking Trees, walk a fine line between the three at several points on 'Acetates', their new album, which is available to check out in full here. A handful of the tracks unarguably provide sublime psych-pop moments though. Take 'Persuaded Rendezvous' for example. It's spellbinding stuff, despite the fact that I'm half-expecting a muted cover of 'Rain' everytime I hear that intro.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Record Store Day

As each successive Record Store Day becomes more popular than the last, I find myself, once a year, in the odd position of having the shops I worked in so many years ago (my own and that of a small chain), occasionally mentioned in passing on the radio or online, indeed both got a nod on Steve Lamacq's show this week. I still remember many of the long gone locations where I made my all-important early vinyl purchases in the 1970's and it's quite touching that I, and my fellow former retailers in sound, are sometimes remembered with similar affection.

I can't make it to a shop to celebrate this year's Record Store Day, so I've been having a rummage through what's left of my own, once large, record collection to mark the day with a couple of fine slabs of vinyl from the Swede archives.


'No Time For Talk' is the first track from a 1983 5 song 12" EP by The Box, an off-shoot of Clock DVA. Tremendously angular stuff. I was so blown away with this EP on release that I actually wrote to the band, in a state of high excitement, singing their praises. To my surprise they sent me a long handwritten letter back, even inviting me to introduce myself if I ever made it to one of their shows, which I unfortunately never did manage to do.


'Love' by Orchestre Jazira just turned up in a new release box one day in 1984 and after a single play I knew I had to have it. The record has been with me ever since and the two tracks on the 12" remain the only ones I've heard by the band. 'Love' is a fabulously infectious tune that comes in at just over 6 minutes, but wouldn't overstay it's welcome if it was double that length.

To those of you who will be up and about early to join the queues - happy hunting. But please remember, a record store is for life, not just for record store day.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

From Deer to Deerhunter

To ensure a healthy appetite for my birthday pub lunch yesterday, Mrs S and I first took a long walk on a wild and windy stretch of coastal heath, where the birdlife was plentiful, if sometimes a little distant. Not distant in any way, however, were these deer. As we passed a thicket of gorse bushes there they were, not ten feet away, looking straight at us. When I'm out walking locally, in a quiet lane or by the river, I occasionally spook a little fawn, which will run like the wind into the distance. Not these guys though. We were on their manor and they stood their ground and stared us out, as if daring us to blink first. I very gently took a couple of shots and then we moved on and left the beautiful creatures to graze in peace.



It's a tenuous link I know, but I'm nevertheless excited to learn that Deerhunter have a new LP, 'Monomania', due for release in a couple of weeks time. The album is the follow up to 2010's brilliant 'Halcyon Digest', which featured one of the very best tracks of that year, 'He Would Have Laughed'.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

It Was 50 (& 47) Years Ago Today....

In addition to the family tradition of the radiogram photo, every year on my birthday Dad did his best to capture my puffed cheeks as I blew out the candles on my cake, usually at a little party with friends or relatives. Here are two examples from the archives.


In 1963 I don't look 100% sure of what I'm supposed to be doing, although I clearly know that there is more food involved, judging by my tight grip on the cutlery.


By 1966, however, I'm an old hand at this candle blowing malarkey, demonstrating a polished technique and solid embouchure.

I won't be blowing any candles out today - it becomes too much of a fire risk after a certain age. Instead Mrs S & I will be celebrating my 53rd with a day at the coast, incorporating a pub lunch and leisurely walk.

Here's an audience recording of an appropriately titled traditional tune, dating back to the 17th century, from Nancy Wallace & Jason Steel. I was at this show in 2009 and regretfully it remains the only time I've seen either artist in concert. Nancy is surely long overdue for a new album, her solo debut, 'Old Stories', is a hugely recommended favourite of mine.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Joey Ramone - A New York Moment

In the early weeks of 2000, I finally bowed to the inevitable and closed my little record shop. I'd spent 14, mostly happy, years of my life behind the tiny counter, taking over the business when I was 26, but now here I was, knocking on 40 and I just couldn't sustain it any longer. I was a tense ball of stress and anxiety, with debts spiralling out of control. As I locked the door for the final time, mixed feelings of relief and an odd sense of bereavement kicked in.

Partly to help me through the mental anguish and partly to celebrate my 40th birthday, my cousin and her husband generously paid for me to go out and visit them in New York in April 2000. The break was just what I needed - a relaxing time with my family while I considered what I was going to do next. My cousin also gave birth to her second child towards the end of my stay. I happened to be travelling across town in a cab with her, when it became clear that the baby was coming and we quickly diverted to the hospital. A short time later I became ridiculously emotional holding the tiny, 15 minute old little girl, who will celebrate her own 13th birthday next week.


A few days earlier, on the afternoon of April 15th, the last day of my 30's, as I walked alone through the East Village, I crossed 3rd Avenue on 9th Street and noticed a small kerfuffle in a doorway to my right. There, towering above a throng of a dozen chattering fans, was Joey Ramone, signing autographs, talking to everyone at once, but clearly trying to edge inside the building. I fumbled in my backpack for some paper and a pen and waited patiently at the edge of the group. The great man was unstintingly polite, in spite of the barrage of questions and bits of paper being thrust at him to sign, but gradually, and before it came to my turn, he eased himself into the foyer of the building and, with a wave through the glass door, he was gone.

I didn't get Joey's autograph that day, but it was a memorable New York Moment for me. A moment that came spinning back 12 months later, when I opened a newspaper on the morning of my 41st birthday to find that Joey had passed away the previous afternoon, exactly a year after my close encounter with him. The extent of his illness hadn't been widely publicised, his death was a terrible shock and 12 years on, we miss him still.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Photographs and Memories



On April 11th 1925, 88 years ago today, in the back garden of a house in the East End of London, a group of people assemble for a wedding photograph. The marriage in question is that of my maternal Nan and Grandfather, who sit arm in arm at the centre of the image. To Nan's left is my Grandfather's sister Maud, who, a little over 35 years later, would be known to me as Aunt Maud. At the other end of the same row, holding what looks like a small dog, is Maud's sister Marie. Towards the right end of the back row, standing alone, is Nan's sister Beat and in front of her, wearing a dark top and holding a baby in white is her other sister Carrie. The baby is Henry.

My Grandfather died in 1956, four years before I was born, and Nan, Aunt Maud, Marie, Carrie, Beat and Henry were the only people from this photograph that I would get to know, albeit briefly in some cases, when I came along. I have many photos of family get-togethers from the 1960's and into the beginning of the 1970's and gradually Beat, Carrie, Marie and Henry disappear from them. I don't remember any sadness or funerals at the time, though no doubt I was spared any such upset at my young age. It's a strange thing that, when you're very young, older people sometimes slip away almost without you noticing - they just don't come around anymore. You only remember that they were ever there at all, many years later when you see a familiar face in a photograph.

Beat, Carrie and Nan circa 1967

In 1974 Nan and Aunt Maud came to live with me and my parents, an often fraught arrangement in a small family home. By this time they were both in their late 70's, Nan was struggling to walk while Aunt Maud had been virtually blind since the 1950's. They were very loving though, and I have fond memories of much laughter in the house, they could be real characters and each had their individual idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Nan, for instance, would pepper her conversations with peculiar old proverbial phrases of dubious context, often leaving me scratching my head in confusion. The most baffling (and most regularly used) of these was, 'If you can't fight, wear a big hat', the derivation (and intended meaning) of which is still something of a mystery to me. Occasionally though, her arcane phrases would verge on the poetic. For example, after getting out of bed earlier than usual in the morning, she would claim that she had been up 'before the streets were aired', a lovely image which stayed with me in later life, popping into my head on many a frosty morning as I scraped the ice from my windscreen at 5.30am.

Additionally, there were also a number of bona fide homegrown 'Nanisms', her own little quirky ways of saying things, some of which affectionately remained in my family's vocabulary long after Nan died in 1976. These included pyjamas, which she always referred to as a 'pyjam suit' and, as a consequence of Nan's failure to get to grips with decimalisation in 1971, a 50p coin is, was, and shall forever be known as, a silver ten-bob note.

Marie and Aunt Maud circa 1969

Aunt Maud died in 1982, still sneaking outside for the odd crafty ciggy until the end. She was a tiny lady and as I soared through the 6ft barrier in the late 1970's, she would look me up and down and declare in her soft cockney tones, 'I reckon I'm growing downwards!'

It's remarkable to think back and realise that Nan, Aunt Maud, Marie, Beat and Carrie were all born in the 19th Century and that, at the time of my birth, Nan's wedding photograph was only 35 years old, although it may as well have been 135 years to my young eyes. 1978 is now 35 years ago, but it feels like a fraction of that. Where does all the time go?

'Time goes, you say? 
 Ah no! Alas, 
Time stays, 
We go.' 
(Austin Dobson)


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

BC Camplight



BC Camplight is the artistic nom de plume of American singer-songwriter Brian Christinzio, who now resides in Manchester. The excellent 'Thieves in Antigua' is the first track to be released from his soon-come third LP and has just enough woozy Beach Boysiness about it to encourage me to believe that perhaps we really have, finally, seen the back of winter.


Friday, 5 April 2013

Carbon/Silicon

After a lengthy absence and without fuss or fanfare, Mick Jones and Tony James return, in their Carbon/Silicon guise, with a gentle, understated new song, 'Big Surprise', which is accompanied by a simple, but classy video, filmed on the cold streets of West London.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Smoking Popes

Here's something to blow away the cobwebs after a long Bank Holiday weekend. Ever wondered what The Ramones might've sounded like if they'd been fronted by Morrissey? Smoking Popes provide the answer with their 1995 belter, 'Need You Around'.

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