Friday, 17 September 2021

Friday Photo #13

Robyn Hitchcock on stage at the Ipswich Transport Museum

Over the past 18 months I've tuned in to over half of Robyn Hitchcock & Emma Swift's twice weekly Sweet Home Quarantine live streamed shows - that's about 90 hours of music all told. Us regulars in the audience have become collectively known as The Groovers to Robyn, Emma and each other - a band of brothers, sisters, friends and strangers, spread around the four corners of the Earth, tuning in to forget about our problems for an hour or so, be they personal, political, local or global. While the outside world was steadily going to hell in an ongoing series of handcarts, on Sweet Home Quarantine nothing was off limits - Soft Boys classics, back catalogue gems, deep obscurities, newly penned songs and cover versions galore were joyfully delivered from their laptop to ours, all interspersed with warm conversation and regular appearances from adorable Scottish Folds, Ringo and Tubby. And apparently the show will go on. Even as we tentatively tiptoe back towards some form of 'normality', Robyn and Emma have expressed a desire to maintain the community and continue to broadcast Sweet Home Quarantine shows into the future, as and when real life commitments allow. 

The real life commitment currently causing a hiatus in Sweet Home Quarantine shows is Robyn's much delayed UK tour. Last Saturday I was at the Ipswich Transport Museum to witness him play a wonderful set on a stage laid out between a tram and a trolley-bus. One of Robyn's life long passions is ancient, redundant modes of  public transportation, as can be witnessed in the lyrics of several of his songs and he seemed genuinely overwhelmed by his surroundings, claiming it to be the most perfect venue he'd played in 45 years on the road. The setlist reflected the transportation vibe - 'Fifty Two Stations', 'I Often Dream of Trains' and a really beautiful 'Trams of Old London' were all given outings. Most poignant of the lot though was 'Raymond and the Wires', the story of a 1964 trolley-bus trip young Master Hitchcock took with his father (the author Raymond Hitchcock). Robyn sang the opening line ' eyes have seen the trolley-bus...' and paused, gently strumming his guitar as he looked left and right at the ancient vehicles all around him - an emotional moment at the beginning of a particularly personal song.

Robyn Hitchcock - Raymond and the Wires 

Friday, 3 September 2021

Friday Photo #12

I have no idea how my parents persuaded me to sit on this little horse, let alone ride it, so timid was I at three years of age. I appear to be having fun nevertheless. The year is 1963. The venue? Possibly London Zoo, but that's just a guess. How cool is the lady guiding the horse though? I like to imagine her nipping off to meet friends at the 2i's in Soho after work, for an evening of fab tunes and frothy coffee.

Here's a really fab tune, albeit from the early 1970s rather than the early 1960s. The LP 'Dedicated to You, But You Weren't Listening' by The Keith Tippett Group was originally issued on the legendary Vertigo swirl label in 1971. A copy in decent condition will now set you back an eyewatering sum, should you be lucky enough to find one. Even reissues from 2012 are changing hands for £50 plus, so I'll have to stick with the CD for now.

Monday, 30 August 2021

Rainford Hugh Perry 1936-2021

A legend, photographed with another legend.

Perhaps it's an example of where I went wrong, business-wise, with my record shop, but one day over the Christmas period in 1997, instead of playing a current chart album like 'Butterfly' by Mariah Carey or 'Falling Into You' by Celine Dion as my competitors no doubt were, I was giving some in-store airtime to the recently released 'Tibetan Freedom Concert' triple CD. 

About a third of the way through the second disc, a customer wandered over and enquired who the singer of the current song was. I told him that it was the great Lee 'Scratch' Perry performing 'Heads of Government' and asked him what he thought of it. 'I've never heard anyone sound so totally exasperated and pissed off in my life', he said! 

My customer was right of course. Scratch screams and rants his way though an utterly compelling performance like a man possessed. It's a tune I still reach for to this day, every time some jumped up nincompoop in power says or does something dangerous, ridiculous or downright scary - so it's on pretty much constant rotation round these parts as you can imagine. 

Rest easy Upsetter.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Friday Photo #11

Early morning on the last day of the festival. Wandering through the site in search of coffee.

My profile round these parts has been lower than ever of late as a result of a hefty stretch of overtime to cover staff holidays and Covid-related gubbins at work. When I'm into a run of long shifts, I find that I rarely have the required concentration levels to focus on the laptop of an evening after I've showered and eaten. I usually just hit the sack ridiculously early and read a sentence or two of a book before falling asleep. Such a lightweight!

Then, at the end of last week, I took a long-arranged short break myself. I went to FolkEast, a reasonably local festival, held over three days in the grounds of a Suffolk stately home. Usually FolkEast boasts a hundred plus acts across at least half a dozen stages, a cinema tent, a makers market and myriad other distractions to be enjoyed, but this year, unsurprisingly, things were somewhat scaled down. There were just two stages, running alternately, featuring a total of only 30 acts across the whole weekend. Having said all that, it was an absolute blast to be outside, listening to music and, cards on the table, drinking several pints of beer. The event was very well attended, but the acres of additional space on site made everyone feel completely safe. Proof of double-vax was required on entry and there was a heightened medical presence on hand, just in case. The threatened thunderstorms never materialised, instead, beneath unexpectedly strong sunshine, I ended up overdoing the outdoor life and getting a lightly roasted nose and forehead!

Highlight of the weekend? The fantastic Alden and Patterson. If Christina and Alex roll up in your town, either in the duo permutation or with the addition of steel guitar virtuoso Noel Dashwood, do yourself a favour and seek them out. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

RIP Charlie

One weekend, more years ago than I care to remember (somewhere around 1985-ish I reckon), I was back in Ipswich staying with Mum and Dad. On Saturday evening I'd driven from my Essex base, where I was the manager of a record shop located within a shopping centre, dropped off my car and dirty washing at home and twisted Dad's arm to cadge a lift into town so I could meet a group of friends at the pub. Some hours later, after a riotous evening of imbibing, we said our goodnights and headed off for our respective homes. There were no night buses and my parents lived a two mile wayward stagger out of town. It took an eternity. 

On Sunday morning when I stumbled downstairs for coffee and cereal, Mum told me that there was a car-boot sale round in the hospital carpark. I put on some shades, pulled myself together and ambled the short distance to where the event was already in full swing. I couldn't really concentrate, had a thumping hangover and was about to head back home for more coffee when I spotted a large pile of LPs laying flat on the tarmac, one on top of the other. I flicked through a few before spotting a real good 'un that helped to clear my foggy head pronto - 'Gris-Gris' by Dr John, which I promptly stuck under my arm. Moving down the pile it quickly became apparent that this was an extraordinary bunch of records to find at a car-boot sale even then, some of which joined Dr John under my arm ('Fire on the Bayou' and 'Trick Bag' by The Meters, Cream's first album, 'I Feel It' and 'Don't You Want to Go?' by The Meditation Singers (both US imports on Checker), a Japanese pressing of 'Oh Yeah' by Charles Mingus and one or two others). Quite near the bottom of the stack and perilously close to a puddle, I came to a copy of 'Beggars Banquet' by The Rolling Stones. It was one of those hairs on the back of the neck moments as I looked more closely - the sleeve was signed by the whole band. Desperately trying to remain calm, I slid 'Beggars' into the middle of my pile of LPs and waved at the stallholder for a price. I got the lot for less than a fiver.


We lost Charlie Watts yesterday and, even though he was 80 and in shaky health, it still hurts a lot. Both Mick and Keith have regularly acknowledged what an absolutely fundamental figure he is to the band and one wonders where they can possibly go from here. In this clip of 'All Down the Line' from 2006, the camera stays on Charlie for the entire performance. If you're not fussed about hearing the song, skip forward to his expression at the 4.35 mark - it's priceless.

Rest easy Charlie. 

Monday, 16 August 2021

Monday Long Song

U-Roy & Big Youth

The list of golden-age reggae greats who are still performing grows ever smaller with the passage of time. One of the true greats, the mighty U-Roy, passed away in February and his final studio album, 'Solid Gold' has just been released on Trojan Records. It's a mixed bag to be honest, the guest-heavy reinterpretations of classic material are a little hit and miss, though when they are good, they are very very good indeed. Take for example the epic re-working of 1978's 'Every Knee Shall Bow', featuring terrific guest turns by Big Youth and Mick Jones no less. Remember him this way. (Buy 'Solid Gold' here).

U-Roy - Every Knee Shall Bow (Feat. Big Youth & Mick Jones)

Friday, 13 August 2021

Friday Photo #10

In early 1960, after nearly five years of marriage, my parents got a mortgage on a house in Walthamstow. The cost of the house? £1100. When we moved out of London in 1975, Dad sold the house for £11,000. A quick search online tell me that my childhood home is now worth (depending on its current state) in the region of £750,000, which is making my eyes water to be honest. Anyway, I digress, in 1960 £1100 was a massive stretch for my folks - Mum was expecting me any day and Dad worked in a shop selling electrical goods. It was a big house for one family and their plan was to rent out upstairs, which is where my Aunt and Uncle enter the picture. My cousin came along in 1963, which is how we grew up as Brother and Sister, each with an extra set of parents on hand. Dad's investment was a shrewd one. It was also the only time in his life that he took out a loan. He never owned a credit card and was an old fashioned believer in saving up for everything he wanted to buy.

Though we had a toilet downstairs, the only bathroom in the house was upstairs, in my Aunt and Uncle's part of the house, which we did use by arrangement, but other options were explored from time to time. For instance, for a period in the early 1970's we used a foldaway plastic shower in our kitchen, with hot water that had to be manually pumped up to pressure. It was an enormous faff to unpack, erect, empty and pack away again. Perhaps Dad was considering having another bathroom installed downstairs, though that of course would have entailed taking on a sizeable loan, which he would've been unwilling to do

As a very young boy I bathed in a metal bath on the floor of the kitchen, or, if it was particularly cold, in the living room in front of  the paraffin stove. But before that, way back in June 1961, I and my rubber duck still splashed about in a plastic tub on the living room table - which is where you find me in the photo above. What a little angel!


Here's Stephen Coates (aka The Clerkenwell Kid) in his guise as leader of The Real Tuesday Weld. The band employed an attractive retro/electronica hybrid that had me picking up a fistful of their albums throughout the noughties. 'Bathtime in Clerkenwell' from 2002, comes with an animated video by Alex Budovsky (the first of a number of collaborations), while the origins of the song itself go back to 'Sweeter Than Sugar', a 1934 number by The Mills Brothers.

The Real Tuesday Weld - Bathtime in Clerkenwell

The Mills Brothers - Sweeter Than Sugar

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