Thursday, 30 January 2014

Move move move

I woke unusually early this morning and, as I lay in the dark listening to the pre-dawn chorus of cockerels crowing far and near, for some reason I counted up all of the places i've called home throughout my life - 14 so far. That's 13 moves in nearly 54 years, the first with my parents in 1975, the latest two with Mrs S and ten in-between solo, or with friends and other strangers. Is there an average number of moves one makes in a life? I find the whole business ridiculously stressful, so i'm in no hurry to to add another to the list. Fortunately for me, Mrs S took charge of the situation a couple of years ago, when we moved from our rented place in the city to a slightly more rural home of our own. There were a few moments back then where it was all proving too much, my chest became tight and I seriously felt as though I might have a heart attack - never again!

This is a 1961 photo of home number one, the house in Walthamstow where I lived from birth until the age of 15 - that's me sitting up in my pram in the front garden. While recently thinning out some old family paperwork, I discovered that Dad took a mortgage out on the place in 1958 for the mighty sum of £1100. When he sold up in 1975 it went for £11,000. I have no idea what property values in the area are now, but no doubt the figure would make my eyes water. I haven't ventured back into the old neighbourhood for over 20 years, but then, there is no real need to anymore, it's all up here (taps head). Besides, these days if I ever get the urge to actually revisit my old stomping grounds I can simply jump online to Google Street View, where i'll quickly discover that the old stomping grounds up here (taps head), are long gone.

Here's the great Alan Hawkshaw to add some groove to your next move.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A Bird You Must Not Miss

During my recent flying visit to London, I was struck by the selection of wildlife noises I heard in my Aunt's neighbourhood, quite a different range to those I'm used to around these parts. Take the skulk of urban foxes, screaming up and down her small back garden throughout the night and disturbing my slumber. In the two and a bit years we've lived out here in the sticks, we've seen precisely one fox - and that was being shot (possibly illegally) by a farmer at the time. Then there were fellow scavengers the magpies, by far most predominant birds I saw (and heard) during my stay and way more confident and cheeky than their country cousins who live in my neck of the woods. Not quite as confident as the creature perching on this young lady's head though! It's a c.1950 photo I picked up at a car-boot sale a few years ago in which the young lady in question appears amusingly oblivious to the sharp-beaked creature pecking away at the top of her head. 

From this funny little snapshot it's just a short, extremely tenuous, leap to the 1970s kids TV show Magpie, ITV's cool answer to Blue Peter, which was co-hosted by corkscrew haired Mick Robertson. Already looking the part, Robertson tried his hand at the pop game in 1974 and 1975, releasing three singles and an album through CBS Records. The results weren't the run-off-the-mill, embarrassing drivel you might have expected to emerge from a TV presenter apparently cashing-in on his notoriety, far from it. Singles one and two,'The Tango's Over' and 'Then I Change Hands', are distinctly quirky, quietly ambitious songs, produced by future Rah Band overlord Richard Hewson. I loved these oddities then and I love them still, but for some reason never did get around to buying the LP....until now, 39 years later - thanks to eBay. Single number three? A Clifford T Ward produced, non-album one-off, released at the tail-end of 1975, after which Mick Robertson shelved his musical ambitions to concentrate on his day job.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Dieuf-Dieul De Thies

Unlike a calendar year, a musical year never really ends. For many of us, the search goes on as we continue to seek out missed hits and lost treasures from days and decades gone by. A new discovery for me last year, albeit one that only gained a full release for the first time in 2013, is 'Aw Sa Yone Vol.1' by Dieuf-Dieul De Thies. This fusion of Senegalese rhythms, impassioned vocals, Afro-Jazz brass and dense fuzz guitars was recorded in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but wasn't made widely available at the time. The nine long tunes are a fabulous, often hypnotic trip and this wonderful album comes with my highest recommendation. Here, as a taster, is a short edit of the opening track, 'Na Binta'.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

When We Fall

Remarkably, I didn't actually break any bones when I was a child, but did seem to be particularly accident prone and consequently became something of a regular visitor to the Whipps Cross Out Patients department, for treatment to all manner of cuts, grazes and gashes - even a dislocated knee-cap (see photo). I still bear various scars on my head, chin and legs to confirm the point. So I fell over a lot, but, like most kids, for the majority of the time at least, I bounced straight back up again. Even at that age though, I was aware of the distinction between me 'falling over' and an older relative 'having a fall'. In contrast to the bumps and bruises I gathered in falling over, I knew that if, for instance, Nan had a fall, it was potentially a much more serious affair.

I would occasionally overhear Mum discussing the worries of an elderly relative's fall in hushed tones with my Aunt, whose family shared our house for the first 12 years of my life. Last Wednesday that Aunt, at 85 now an elderly relative herself, had a fall, slipping on a step in the rain and going down flat on her left side, briefly knocking herself unconscious. Her daughter, my Cousin, now living with her own young family in New York was understandably panic stricken at the news. I quickly ventured down to London in order to assess my Aunt's injuries. Mercifully, in spite of looking as though she's been in a punch-up, her only major injury is a broken wrist - a painful inconvenience for sure, but we're relieved that it wasn't much worse.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Melt Yourself Down

I'm about to make one of my ever more rare forays out into the real world - back in a couple of days. I'll leave you with a selection that almost makes me glad I don't have a record shop anymore. I mean, where exactly would I file the remarkable 'Melt Yourself Down' LP? In the avant-ethno-jazz-funk-electronica section I suppose. Whatever you choose to call what they do, the band produce a superbly bracing racket, but a word to the wise - don't watch the clip for 'Fix My Life' if you're sporting a hangover!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Small Claims Court

On his BBC Radio 6Music breakfast show, Shaun Keaveny runs a regular feature called 'Small Claims Court', during which listeners call in with true-life, but ridiculously tenuous, brushes with the rich and famous - very small claims to fame. A personal example would be that I once had a double espresso made for me by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio.

Then there was the time in 1997, when I pulled into the car park beneath the Bournemouth International Centre prior to a Bob Dylan show, to find a lady having trouble with an uncooperative pay & display machine. The lady was PJ Harvey and by our combined efforts we managed to coax that pay & display machine back into action.

Finally, about 10 years ago, I attended the launch of a Sesame Street DVD at a small theatre in New York, with my cousin and her young children. The bash was for media personalities and their kids, my cousin was invited through a friend who worked in TV. The hundred or so assembled kids went bonkers when Ernie, Bert, Elmo and Big Bird appeared 'live' on stage before us, as part of the presentation. A couple of rows in front of where we were seated, presumably accompanying his own child, was Martin Scorsese, who stood several times to record the family event on a small, personal, hand-held digital camcorder, which he also panned around the entire audience, to capture the atmosphere. I can therefore boast, in all honesty, that I have appeared in a Martin Scorsese film!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Saturday Scratch #34 - The Upsetters...and a bit of Dillinger

Swans are a common sight on the marshes around these parts, alone, or more commonly in pairs. While out walking one day early last summer, I stood silently for a full quarter of an hour watching one such pair in the early stages of constructing a nest, a little inland, by a riverside path. They displayed such co-operation and attention to detail - it was quite something to behold. Here's the thing though. Every now and again, if I'm lucky, I'll see swans in flight and they are invariably in a group. Why not as a pair, or solo, the way they live on the ground? Is it a social thing? Communal exercise perhaps? Just the other afternoon, while chopping wood, (does that make me sound like a great outdoorsman?) I heard the familiar sound, which always reminds me of the slow motion helicopters in the opening scenes of 'Apocalypse Now'. That unique whooping thwack of wings keeping ungainly bodies aloft. Then I saw them, seven majestic swans flying in formation across the garden and down towards the river. Breathtaking.

To my knowledge there are no black swans locally, I've certainly not seen any, but here's a shot of one I saw foraging around near Manningtree a few years ago. I wish I had photoshop on my laptop - I would've taken out the brick! The reason I mention black swans is that the record label Black Swan, popular for it's Ska output in the early 1960's, was briefly revived by parent company Island Records in 1976/77, and was an outlet for a small selection of Lee Perry productions. Around a dozen singles and a couple of LP's were issued before Black Swan shut up shop once again. The rekindled label's catalogue may have been slim, but the quality was high. Here, from the flip of George Faith's sublime cover of William Bell's 'To Be a Lover', are The Upsetters with 'Rastaman Shuffle'. Oh, and if you're wondering how exactly Dillinger's disembodied and out-of-sync toasting fits in with opening two minutes of the tune, doesn't. Apparently Scratch would re-use blank tracks on previously recorded tape for financial reasons and in this case an unrelated section of 'Roots Train' somehow made it through to the final pressing.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Sweet Baboo

With a certain inevitability, no sooner had I put down the metaphorical pen on my 'Tracks of 2013' list, the tunes I forgot to include began popping into my head with alarming regularity. 'The Morse Code For Love' by Sweet Baboo is just one example. Stephen Black (as he's known to his mates) has fingers in many musical pies (Cate Le Bon, Gruff Rhys, The Voluntary Butler Scheme and The Slow Club to name a few) and yet still finds time to create irresistible pop moments such as this.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

At Night in Dreams

At first it seemed like a little yappy fox pup, so I opened the gate to let it in, but as it came closer I saw saliva dripping from it's mouth and the yap became a yelp became a bark became a blood curdling howl - then it lunged at me. Close up, the dog was big, very big indeed. Rancid breath, teeth sickly yellow, biting at my legs. I tried to get away, but it was too large and too strong, so I kicked out again and again, swinging my leg wildly in blind panic at it's head. My foot connected full in it's face, but it didn't flinch, just growled terrifyingly and kept biting and biting me. I had to get free, but couldn't. No escape. Kick, kick, kick. 

Then I woke up. It was 3.30am, dark and quiet. My foot hurt like did Mrs S's leg apparently. Surprisingly, she's still talking to me.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Tracks of My Year #2

I'm honoured to, once again, be included among the contributors to Tune Doctor's year-end round-up, where I've selected 20 of my fave raves from the past 12 months (here). As usual most of my choices are in no particular order, but this year, for the first time in a long time, I've stuck my neck out and actually nominated my own personal toppermost of the poppermost.

A tune that doesn't feature in my 2013 selection is the fantastic 'Birth in Reverse' by St Vincent, which arrived slightly too late for consideration, but, as the album isn't due until the end of February, you can expect to see it vying for position in my 2014 picks, come the end of this year.

(While you're in the neighbourhood, be sure to sample Tune Doctor's entire 'Best of 2013' range!)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Benjamin Curtis R.I.P.

Some very sad news to start 2014, with the announcement of Benjamin Curtis's death at the age of just 35. Curtis was a member of Tripping Daisy and Secret Machines, before forming School of Seven Bells with twin sisters Claudia & Alejandra Deheza in 2007. Benjamin was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in February 2013 and passed away on December 29th. School of Seven Bells released three albums of quality indie pop, often infused with an indefinable melancholia. Here are two fine examples.

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