Monday, 4 September 2023

Zéro, Mille, Deux Mille, Ha Ha!

A couple of weeks ago our mutual blogging chum Charity Chic shared a handful of blistering punk tunes taken from a themed Mojo sampler (here), among them was the marvellous 'Paris Maquis' by French four piece Metal Urbain. The band formed in 1976, inspired by the burgeoning punk scene on this side of the English Channel and were gone by 1980, leaving three virtually perfect singles and a compilation LP of sessions, demos and b-sides behind them. They were notable at the time for using a rudimentary drum machine and sundry experimental electronic noises to embellish their gloriously primitive racket. 

Here are those three brilliant singles, all of which I bought back then and still have. 'Panik' on the French indie label Cobra, 'Paris Maquis', RT 001, the first ever release on Rough Trade and 'Hystérie Connective', issued in 1979 on Radar Records, early home to Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Nick Lowe, The Pop Group and, lest it be forgotten, The Soft Boys.


Paris Maquis

Hystérie Connective

Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Ten Go-to Albums

There's a thread doing the rounds of the YouTube vinyl community that's been difficult to avoid in recent weeks, concerning the ten albums you go-to most. Not necessarily your all-time favourite albums (though of course some of those might be included), but ten records that you might instinctively reach for as you gaze, otherwise uninspired, at your racks, boxes or digital folders, in search of something to play. Musical comfort blankets if you will. The thread got me thinking and I quickly jotted down a couple of dozen of my own go-to albums off the top of my head. Here, in no particular order, are ten of them. 

(For the purposes of this exercise I've deliberately avoided choosing any records from my personal big hitters - Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan, Robyn Hitchcock, Bowie, The Clash, Miles Davis, Alasdair Roberts et al ('...all the cats..' to quote Marc, ' know who they are...'), as they would quickly come to dominate a list such as this).

The Sundays - Reading Writing and Arithmetic

You'll often find me piping up about this one whenever discussion turns to defining the perfect album. I've always felt a bit sorry for 'Blind' and 'Static & Silence', either one of which would surely have been regarded as a formidable first outing in an alternative universe, but instead they languish in the immense shadow cast by the band's actual, impeccable debut. 

Joe Henry - Trampoline

At the dawn of the 1990s I was deep in the pocket of The Jayhawks and followed them over to Joe Henry's 1992 album 'Short Man's Room', where they functioned as the house band. It was Joe's 4th album and his 5th, 'Kindness of the World', also included sundry Jayhawks within it's cast. Then, following a three year gap, came 'Trampoline', an album unlike those that came before, a huge progression. Fine as those early albums were, for me, this is where Joe truly found his voice. Sometime last year in one of those online polls, I nominated 'Trampoline' as the album I'd most like to see gain a vinyl (re)issue. To my amazement, Joe got wind of my comment and reached out to thank me for it.

Nancy Wallace - Old Stories

Nancy is a serial collaborator who has contributed to the likes of The Memory Band and The Owl Service over the years, with 2008's 'Old Stories' remaining her sole solo full length release. It's a fragile, timeless delight of an album, recommended heartily to one and all, even though it doesn't actually contain my all-time favourite song of hers (this one).

Maria McKee - Life is Sweet

1993's 'You Gotta Sin to Get Saved' is a raucous gospel influenced affair, but it's the follow-up from three years later that is my go to. 'Life is Sweet' is a harrowing, over the top opus that baffled record label, critics and fans alike at the time, though for some reason completely connected with me. I have no idea what was going on in McKee's life back then, but in places on this album she sounds as if she's not far from the very end of her tether. Unhinged and utterly gripping music.

Mikey Dread - African Anthem

A joyful aural snapshot of Mikey's late 1970's JBC radio show, featuring dubs and instrumental backing tracks overlaid with mad jingles and eccentric sound effects. I'm not claiming that African Anthem is the greatest reggae album ever made, nor even my favourite of that genre, but if push comes to shove it's the one I still dig out most often. 

Ed Kuepper - I Was a Mail Order Bridegroom

Ed Kuepper put out great albums at a prolific rate through the 1990s, though it's this 1995 limited mail-order release that I've pulled from the racks most over the years. Recorded during rehearsals for a solo acoustic European tour, it's a career overview reaching back to The Saints' 'Messin' With the Kid' and also featuring a fine cover of The Who's 'The Seeker'.

Emerson Lake & Palmer - Trilogy

'Trilogy' was one of my earliest musical forays away from the hitherto Glam-only diet of T.Rex, Bowie, Sweet, Slade etc. I was 12 years old when I first heard this record that combines classical subtleties, progressive explorations, honky tonk hoedowns, bawdy rockers & tender ballads and I still play it regularly 50 years later. 

Chook Race - Around the House

If you, like me, enjoy guitars that jangle, choruses that chime and have an fondness for the early sound of the Flying Nun label, this one's for you. Effortlessly charming and instantly catchy. The band's second and still most recent LP from 2016. Are you still out there guys? 

Rozi Plain - Friend

'It will be reported to be, a difficult year, a tumultuous year...' So begins Rozi's third LP, a break-up album, yet suffused with optimism as well as regret. It's the aural equivalent of a comforting arm around the shoulder. She hasn't put a foot wrong across her five full length releases, but if you're a newcomer, start here.

Grant McLennan - Horsebreaker Star

It was Grant's 'Cattle and Cane' that originally drew me into the orbit of The Go-Betweens back in 1983. 11 years later, during the band's decade long hiatus, he released his third solo album, the magnificent double CD 'Horsebreaker Star'. I'm on record as professing my extreme admiration for Robert Forster's current run of 'The Evangelist', 'Songs to Play', 'Inferno' and 'The Candle and the Flame', four outstanding albums, but it's Grant's 'Horsebreaker Star' that I return to time and again. For me it's his very best work and yet another of my favourites never to have gained a vinyl release. What chance a 30th anniversary reissue next year?


Rather than overwhelm by posting a selection from each of the ten albums, here's just one from Joe Henry. The slowed to a crawl take on the 'Sympathy For the Devil' riff permeates 'Ohio Air Show Plane Crash', growing steadily in stature and volume throughout, drawing the listener ever deeper into the tale of the unnamed stranger standing at the bridge. The song runs for 6½ minutes, but I'd gladly take another half an hour of it.

Joe Henry - Ohio Air Show Plane Crash   

Friday, 4 August 2023

Friday Photo #50

My aunt, who turned 94 yesterday, has lived alone in East London since my uncle died in 1978 and is the last surviving family member to have known me since birth. She's still cooks all her own meals, does her own housework and washing, all the while keeping her mind active by knitting for England and completing endless wordsearch puzzles. In fact I sent her another half a dozen wordsearch books as a birthday gift, which should hopefully keep her ticking along for a few months. As I've mentioned previously, my aunt, uncle and cousin shared our house in Walthamstow for the first dozen or so years of my life, so I've long considered her as an extra parent and I know that my cousin regarded my own mum in the same way.

Today's photo was taken in the back garden in the early summer of 1963, just prior to my cousin's arrival. My aunt at the back, doing her best to hide her baby bump beneath a baggy pinny, mum in the middle knitting something pink for the forthcoming addition to the family and me in my best bib and tucker at the front. I can only imagine that I must've been bribed to look so angelic!


Lieutenant Pigeon were an interesting combo. They had a short run of hit singles in the 1970s that your nan would've happily nodded along to, while at the same time some of their b-sides and album fillers displayed a wacky, low budget sense of experimentalism. Here's the quite odd closing track from Mouldy Old Music, their debut LP, released in 1973.

Friday, 21 July 2023

Friday Photo(s) #49

Dad would've loved to have visited New York. He had a life long fascination with the city and would no doubt have spent hours walking its alleys, streets and neighbourhoods, but by the time my cousin relocated to the Big Apple in the 1980s and invited him over, it was already too late. The mobility issues that dogged his later life were beginning to take hold and he knew in his heart that he wouldn't have been physically capable of doing the things he really wanted to do, which would have frustrated him enormously. So he never made it there, but enjoyed hearing about my exploits whenever I returned from a stay with my cousin and I got into the habit of buying him a book about some aspect of New York each time. I got him one on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and another about the growth of the subway system, but his favourite was the one I picked up about the history of the Staten Island Ferry. If Dad could have been magically transported to New York and allowed to do just one thing, I think it would have been to have taken that iconic orange ferry, gazing back across the harbour as Manhattan disappeared into the distance. He simply couldn't believe that I'd never done it. This year, on a bright, chilly March morning, I put that right.

The Upsetters - Ferry Boat

Friday, 14 July 2023

Friday Photo #48

In early 1996, a few weeks before I was due to visit her in New York, my cousin managed to reserve me a ticket for a recording of  Conan O'Brien's Late Night TV show on Thursday April 4th. I believe she had filled a blanket application for all four of Conan's shows that week to ensure I got into at least one of them. If I'd had a ticket for Tuesday 2nd I would've seen O'Brien chatting with William Shatner and on Friday 5th Nathan Lane and Martin Amis were on the sofa. On my night the guests were Mary Tyler Moore and Ahmet & Dweezil Zappa. As luck would have it Conan's April 4th show also included a musical turn, Son Volt. Now I'd been lucky enough to have seen Uncle Tupelo in concert three years earlier in London and also caught a handful of Wilco's early UK shows, but Son Volt's performance of Drown that night remains the one and only song I've ever seen the band play.

These days TV talk show reservations are applied for online, which is exactly what I did prior to my return to New York a couple of months ago. The tickets are still free, but it's also still a complete lottery, so I filled blanket applications for both The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers, hoping I wouldn't get tickets for both shows on the same day. As it transpired I struck lucky with a Colbert recording on the Tuesday and Meyers the following day. There were no musical guests on either show this time around, though Jim Himes, a bee-keeping Democratic House Intelligence Committee member, gave me a glint of optimism for the future of American politics and author Margaret Atwood was a charming and funny interviewee. (I've linked both interviews if you're interested). Meanwhile, back in 1996.....

Friday, 30 June 2023

Friday Photo #47

Last Monday, a year on from our first get together in Edinburgh, a handful of bloggers descended on the fine city of York for 48 hours of food, conversation and laughter. And what a complete joy it was. Alyson, C, Charity Chic (+ Mrs CC), John Medd (+ Mrs M) and I were all present and correct once again, while Martin, who was unable to attend this time round, was sorely missed. Recollections to follow, I've no doubt.

Aside from shots of the participants, I took virtually no photos in York, so here's one I submitted to the BlogCon'23 WhatsApp group while en route to our rendezvous, taken while standing on Peterborough railway station, with a ticket for my destination.

Be Bop Deluxe - Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape

Friday, 23 June 2023

Friday Photo #46

A few weeks ago (here) I shared a photo taken beneath the Queensboro Bridge on Roosevelt Island. My cousin had bagged that particular day off work and joined me on my travels up and over the  Roosevelt Island Tramway and later for a bracing (read, bloody freezing!) ride on the East River Ferry, under the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn Navy Yard. After a revitalizing coffee and outrageously good doughnut in the Brooklyn Roasting Company on Flushing Avenue, we wandered up to Fort Greene, then back to the river via the iconic Dumbo neighbourhood. The plan was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and back to the apartment, but when we got to the bridge we found it closed because of a potential jumper in the middle. Multiple choppers hovered directly overhead, police boats patrolled the waters below, ambulances stood ready at each end and the crowd of people waiting to cross quickly became a huge goggling throng. Rather than just standing there, we ambled off through Brooklyn Bridge Park and on to Brooklyn Heights, before looking back some time later to see traffic and people moving across the bridge once again. The potential suicide had thankfully been successfully talked down. Darkness had fallen by the time we eventually walked across the bridge ourselves, the myriad lights of Lower Manhattan's skyscrapers guiding us home.   

Big Audio Dynamite - City Lights 

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