Monday, 28 May 2018
Sometimes at work, a random song (or part of a song) will get lodged in my head and become an eight hour long earworm. One day last week, for no apparent reason, it was 'This Feeling', the first single from 'Only Forever', the second LP by Puressence. I dug out my generic promo CD of the album when I got home and gave it a spin. It took me back. I saw Puressence just once, in 1998 a couple of months before the release of 'Only Forever', at The Barfly in Camden. That evening, I stood on one side of the room and my then recent ex-girlfriend and her new beau stood on the other. The tension in the air was palpable!
When I played through 'Only Forever' last week, I regretted never having picked up a proper finished copy of the CD in the ensuing 20 years. Yesterday morning, bright and early, Mrs S & I drove 20 miles to spend a couple of hours pottering around a large car-boot sale in a field just outside of Norwich. Half way along the very last row of stalls, as we were about to make our way back to the car, I crouched down to flick through a box of CDs on the ground - and there it was. A pristine copy of 'Only Forever'. Would you believe it? 'How much?' I asked, waving the CD above my head to grab the stallholder's attention. '50p' came the reply. Sold.
Puressence - This Feeling
Friday, 25 May 2018
Hang around Bandcamp for long enough, follow a few labels, download some tracks, buy the odd LP or CD and soon enough a steady trickle of suggested new releases by artists you've never heard of will start to appear in your inbox. This is how I stumbled upon 'Fake Lake', the third full-length album by The Coke Dares. At some point I must've liked something on Third Uncle Records enough to follow the label, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. I'm bloody glad I did though.
The first thing you notice about 'Fake Lake' is that nothing on the LP overstays its welcome. Eleven of the 35 tracks last less than sixty seconds and only four pass the two minute mark, the longest, 'Water Purse', clocking in at a lengthy 2.22. This might suggest that the record consists of a succession of brief, primitive thrashes, though nothing could be further from the truth. The music on 'Fake Lake' is very diverse - melodic, funny, angry, tender - and above all it's brilliantly arranged throughout. The songs might be short, but they are superbly crafted and bursting with more ideas than many bands come up with during the course of an entire career.
Think Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Grant Hart, a dash of The Descendents plus a smattering of Wire and a dab of powerpop and you're getting somewhere near, though 'Fake Lake' is so much more than that. Here are three samples, but I would highly recommend that you head over to their Bandcamp page, give The Coke Dares a full 44 minutes of your time and check out the whole album. It's the most richly rewarding new release I've heard so far this year.
Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Porter Wagoner was a fascinating character that's for sure. A star of the Grand Olé Opry, famous for wearing a range of garish rhinestone Nudie and Manuel suits, but unafraid to explore the darker side of life. 'The Rubber Room', a fabulous compilation from 2006, pulls together the bleaker and stranger strands of his long recording career. For bleak try 'The Party', a 1968 duet with Dolly Parton. And strange? They don't come much stranger than the 1972 title track.
Porter Wagoner - The Rubber Room
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton - The Party
Monday, 21 May 2018
Feeding time in the garden over the weekend. The kids are growing up fast. No wonder he feels the need to let off steam every morning!
Because of staff holidays I was offered a stretch of early shifts last week, which meant getting out of bed at 4.30 and into work by 6am. It was a long haul, but I successfully negotiated the week despite feeling more knackered than usual by the end of it. One morning (I don't remember which, they all blur into one) I fuzzyheadedly checked my clock and saw that it was exactly 4am, leaving another half an hour to doze. The pre-dawn light was weak. All was still and absolutely silent, apart from Mrs S breathing gently beside me. I closed my eyes. It felt like little more than a blink, but when I opened them again, the volume of the world had increased to a cacophonous level. The dawn chorus was in deafeningly full swing. I looked at the clock. It read 4.12. Just 12 minutes had elapsed, but in that time the local robins, sparrows, wrens, cockerels and finches had all kicked off big style. Even the visiting cuckoo somewhere out on the marsh behind the house was joining in with gusto. Leading the charge, as always, was the neighbourhood blackbird population, one of which uses the ledge above the dormer window in our bedroom as a vantage point each morning for maximum volume and sound projection. 'Shut up' mumbled a half asleep Mrs S as I slipped out of bed.
Just lately, during my breaks at work, when not digging into the recent batch of decent new releases, I've been reacquainting myself with the music of the 1960s/70s Canterbury Scene and related spin-offs. This past week it was the turn of Steve Hillage, whose early solo albums were big favourites of mine as a teenager, until the advent of punk and post-punk set me off in a different direction. The opening track from his third LP, 'Motivation Radio', felt a particularly apt one to revisit.
Steve Hillage - Hello Dawn
Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Along the lines of Charity Chic's annual New Years Day Homage to Hank & Townes and Brian's yearly Happy (Mitch) Easter postings, I've long considered establishing a once every 12 months tradition of Richard Swift Day, to celebrate the season's first sighting of my favourite bird in our local skies. Needless to say, I've never quite been on the ball enough to pull it all together (it was May 8th this year in case you're interested), but I hope this goes to show the very high esteem in which I hold not only the bird in question, but also the American singer-songwriter who shares its name. Frustratingly, Richard hasn't released an LP of original material since 'The Atlantic Ocean' in 2009, instead choosing to focus his attention on production work for the likes of The Shins, Kevin Morby, Foxygen, Laetitia Sadier and, notably, Damien Jurado, for whom he produced the excellent 'Maraqopa' trilogy of albums between 2012 and 2016. The combination of Jurado and Swift was a match made in heaven to these ears, so imagine my concern when I read a while back that Damien's new LP, 'The Horizon Just Laughed', was to be a much more low-key and self-produced affair. I needn't have worried though. Depending on who's counting, 'The Horizon Just Laughed' is either Jurado's 11th, 13th or 16th long player and surely his most personal in many years. There's an intimacy to these 11 songs that draws the listener closer and is in places similar in tone to the work of Phosphorescent and Iron & Wine. It's a quiet triumph of a record.
Monday, 14 May 2018
I very rarely get to hear his programmes as they are broadcast these days, but in odd spare moments over the past week or so I've been desperately trying to catch up with a batch of recent Marc Riley radio shows on the BBC iPlayer before they disappear into the ether 30 days after transmission. His session guests have been of a exceptionally high calibre of late. They include marvellous sets from Joan As Policewoman, Peter Perrett, Yo La Tengo, Wreckless Eric and Robyn Hitchcock & the LA Squires. I've attached a handful of individual highlights, but you'll have to dig through Marc's episode guide to check out the rest. Don't delay though.
Hitchcock's full session and between song banter with Marc was a particular joy for this old Soft Boys fan and if anyone out there is able to magically preserve these moments in an MP3 format for me, I'd be eternally grateful. Robyn is in the middle of a UK tour at this very moment, but I'm unable to make it to any of the shows. Bugger.
Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Neil Innes on stage in Ipswich
Neil Innes, Urban Spaceman, seventh Python, friend of the Fabs and the nicest man in showbiz, walked towards me having just concluded a hugely entertaining performance with The Rutles in front of an intimate gathering of 75 or so Ipswich punters. 'Ah, there you are' he said, shaking my hand vigorously as if greeting a long lost friend. 'I could see you in the audience from here upwards...', holding a flattened palm across the bridge of his nose to illustrate, '....and I thought, bloody hell, it's John Cleese!' Now I've been mistaken for a couple of famous people in my time (one of which I wrote about here), but never a septuagenarian comedy legend. 'Of course,' Innes continued, by way of apologetic explanation, 'I wasn't wearing my glasses at the time!' He smiled broadly as he signed my original 1978 Rutles LP, chatted a little more, thanked me for coming and firmly shook my hand once again. The show was by way of a full dress rehearsal for the month long 'Major Happy Tour', which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the film, 'The Rutles: All You Need is Cash'.
'Of course, for the purposes of the movie,' said Innes from the stage earlier in the evening, 'we pretended that The Beatles had never existed'. Short pause. 'But now, 40 years on, I suppose I can admit that there are certain similarities between their work and ours.' Cue a warm wave of laughter from the audience.
If the tour is due to pass through your town, I'd thoroughly recommend bagging yerself a ticket. You'll find yourself involuntarily grinning from ear to ear at the brilliantly interwoven Fabs references that litter Neil's terrific original songs from the 1978 LP, 1996's 'Archaeology' and recent release, 'The Wheat Album'. You'll very possibly also have to sniff back a tear or two if Innes & Co decide to keep their covers of 'All Things Must Pass' and 'The End' in the set.
A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
The Rutles - Shangri-La
Monday, 7 May 2018
On Saturday morning we found ourselves holed up in an old aircraft hanger in deepest Suffolk, taking part in a well established Vintage Fair & Makers Market, where Mrs S had a stall exhibiting and selling her groovy artistic creations. It was gloriously sunny and I was enjoying the first day of an extremely rare weekend off work, coffee in hand, mooching around the stalls and chatting to all and sundry. As I made my way back through the throng to check-in with Mrs S, I noticed a smart oldish gent sporting bright pink trainers standing adjacent to her stall. It was only when I drew a little closer that I realised the anonymous gent was in actual fact legend and all round good egg, Brian Eno. It's a bit of a dilemma coming face to face with a 'celebrity' in an off-duty situation. Do you stick out your hand and tell him how much you respect his work, not to mention him as a human being, or do you leave him alone to enjoy his downtime. Long story short I did the latter and, in retrospect, I'm confident that I made the right decision. I would only have made a fool of myself.
In 1973, along with records by the likes of ELP, Tangerine Dream, Amon Düül II, Klaus Schulze, Iggy & the Stooges, Focus, Greenslade and Lou Reed, Fripp & Eno's looptastic 'No Pussyfooting' LP was a soundtrack to my ever inquisitive musical mind, the track 'Swastika Girls' in particular. Fripp's bone-crunching guitar shunt at 8.13 remains one of my favourite moments in all music before or since.
Fripp & Eno - Swastika Girls
Wednesday, 2 May 2018
When Frank Dowding embraced Rastafarianism in the early 1970s, he amended his name to Kiddus I, Amharic for 'blessed one', and between 1971 and 1978 was a member of Ras Michael's Sons of Negus. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Kiddus recorded a number of solo singles, among them 'Graduation in Zion', which featured in the film 'Rockers'. During 1978 a handful of tunes were cut with Lee Perry at the controls, probably the best known of which is 'Security in the Streets'. The results of these sessions belatedly saw the light of day as 'Graduation in Zion 1978-80' in 2007, a worthy addition to any collection. After his brief period at the Black Ark, Kiddus continued to record for a number of other producers, before slipping from view at the beginning of the 1980s. Here's my personal favourite of those precious few Scratch produced tunes.
Kiddus I - Crying Wolf
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