Monday 31 December 2012

Happy New Year

Just a quick, but heartfelt, thank-you to anyone who has taken the time to stop by over the past 12 months. Have a magnificent 2013.

To sing us out, here's a relatively recent discovery at Swede Towers, Lord Huron. I've been digging their debut album 'Lonesome Dreams' since it hit the shelves in the States a couple of months back. Look out for a UK release in January. 

Saturday 29 December 2012

The Strypes

We live a fairly low-key life, I'll admit. We haven't owned a TV for 10 years. I rarely even buy a music magazine these days. But, hey...I don't live under a rock, so how comes I'm the last person on Earth to have heard The Strypes? I followed a link to this very performance in total ignorance just a couple of weeks ago and in very short order my chin was resting on the keyboard. I really thought I'd stumbled onto something unknown, but it seems that the whole world is talking about them. Where have I been?

The average age of this band is 15....15 fer flip's sake! But if you think they look young here, check-out their 2011 version of 'Taxman' elsewhere on YouTube, which makes them now look like grizzled old men by comparison. I realise theirs is probably a carefully calculated image, put together by someone with access to an excellent record collection (their parents...or grandparents?) and that there is a suspicion of a extra guitar being twanged behind the scenes somewhere, but I absolutely refuse to don my cynical hat. How exciting are The Strypes in this world of talentless X-Factor wannabes to which we've all  become accustomed?

It appears that, until recently, their set largely consisted of many of the same R&B covers that the Stones, Beatles, Who & Kinks cut their teeth on all those years ago, but now they've started writing their own stuff and if 'Blue Collar Jane' is anything to go by, they are no slouches.

When they become huge, as they surely will, The Strypes will no doubt drift off my radar and onto every bedroom wall in the country, and quite rightly so. For now though, it's enormous fun to hear these tunes bashed out as they should be - with youthful verve and abandon. I'll be back in 2017 to check out their psychedelic period.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Gerry Anderson R.I.P.

The products of Gerry Anderson's incredible imagination lit up my childhood, all the way from Fireball XL5 in 1963 to Space 1999 in the mid-1970s. These weekly sneak-previews of the future (as I was convinced they were) captivated me at a time when I had no more serious concerns in life than what style of  hover-scooter I'd require when I grew up and whether or not caps with flip-down communication devices would be available in my size.

Thank you, Mr Anderson, for the countless hours of pleasure. F.A.B., S.I.G., P.W.O.R.

Monday 24 December 2012

Seasonal Scratch

So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having f.....hang on a minute.....I've heard Nod & Jim's seasonal perennial so many times during the l-o-n-g build-up to the big day, that the words just roll out automatically. In all seriousness though, I really would like to wish all and sundry a splendid festive period, however you choose to celebrate it.

We'll be spending tomorrow with Mrs S's Dad and Nan. I'm driving, so no drinking for me until we get home in the evening, but I've heard tell that there'll be cheese, crisps and similar savoury snack-treats aplenty to keep me happy - I'm easily pleased. I will, however, be taking a bag of Bolivia Finca Canton Uyunense Teodocio Mamani (catchy name don'tcha think?) and a cafetière though. I can live without wine, but no-one's Christmas would be very merry if I couldn't have a decent coffee or two during the day! 

I'll leave you with a 1985 seasonal greeting from this blog's most regular contributor, Lee Perry. Saturday Scratch will return as a slightly more occasional feature in the new year.

Have fun and stay safe.

Sunday 23 December 2012

The Tracks of My Year

A few weeks ago, I was surprised and honoured to be invited, by the fine folk over at Tune Doctor, to come up with three of my favourite songs of 2012 for inclusion in their year-end round-up. A year of music condensed into three tracks - a tall order? A hellishly difficult task more like. Or, as flycasual wryly noted, a process akin to 'dumping your friends.'

I started with a very long list, whittled away at it until I was left with just 20 titles and from there chopped and changed until eventually settling on my three tunes. Of course, ever since I sent the email listing my final choices, several tracks that I'd overlooked have re-emerged from the cobwebs of my memory, but I'm very happy with the three that made the cut, which you can check-out here.

Thank you again to the Tune Doctor posse for inviting me to contribute.

Friday 21 December 2012

T.Rexmas 1972 (Part 3)

So the very first band I ever saw on a concert stage were...Bees Make Honey. The pub-rock outfit were T.Rex's support act on the evening of December 22nd 1972 and were greeted with a mixture of apathy and abuse - a tough crowd for sure. A few records (including 'All the Young Dudes' with the entire audience shouting the '... I got T.Rex' line) followed, before Radio 1's own Emperor Rosko was wheeled out to introduce Marc & Co in much the same fashion as he had at the Wembley shows earlier in the year, forever immortalised in the film 'Born to Boogie.'

The noise level was astonishing. The band alone was louder than anything I'd heard up to that point in my young life, but, with addition of the relentless wall of screaming, it soon became impossible to communicate with my pals John and George. My initial feeling was one of mild panic. It was hot too - a couple of thousand over excited kids were leaping around and working up a sweat, while many dutiful parents sat alongside their offspring, with fingers in ears. Condensation ran down the walls.

And so to Marc Bolan, Mickey Finn, Steve Currie and Bill Legend. Forty years on, in the cool light of 2012 and with hundreds of concerts under my belt, I can safely say that T.Rex in 1972 weren't a great live band. Legend and Currie certainly earned their £25-a-week, maintaining some form of structure to the music, indeed for long periods of the evening they were the band. Bolan did as he pleased, everyone was there to see him after all. Sometimes, as in the opener 'Chariot Choogle', his playing was sharp and tight, while at other times, notably during a 15 minute 'Hot Love' and 20+ minute 'Get It On', he became hopelessly self-indulgent, soloing endlessly and running a tambourine up and down the frets, creating cacophonous howls of protest from his guitar. Quite often he'd do nothing, he didn't need to. Just being in the same postcode as him was more than enough for most of us. Mickey Finn? He inaudibly hit a bongo occasionally, but spent much of the show throwing mini-tambourines out into the audience - hundreds of them, each one fought over to the extent that I doubt that any whole tambourines made it out of the hall in one piece at the end of the night, splinters and scraps must have been all that remained.

Having said all that, if I remove my 21st century hat (which could almost be a line from a T.Rex song), the show that night could not have been any more perfect for this 12 year-old boy and his chums. It was colourful, loud and exciting, featured an seasonal fake-snowstorm that engulfed the stage and part of the audience and starred a man at the peak of his popularity who, from our perspective, had seemingly beamed in from another galaxy. The evening was a musical rite of passage for us. We entered the Edmonton Sundown as boys and very sweaty boys, with our ears ringing! It was an overwhelming experience and, for me at least, a life-changing one.

(Postscript. When it was over, Dad was waiting for us outside in the appointed spot. We got into the car soggy, steaming and hoarse and drove home in exhausted silence. As we dropped them off at their respective houses, John and George wished Dad a Happy Christmas and thanked him for buying the tickets. I did too - and I hope I also remembered to thank him for trusting us, by not getting a fourth ticket for himself, which would have allowed him to chaperone us inside and throughout the whole show - where he would have sat, no doubt, with his fingers in his ears.)

Thursday 20 December 2012

T.Rexmas 1972 (Part 2)

I think I actually wept with joy when I opened the envelope. An early Christmas present from Mum and Dad. I genuinely had no idea, no clue whatsoever that they had purchased three tickets to see T.Rex at the Edmonton Sundown on December 22nd, one for me and one each for my two closest friends, John and George. Before Dad sent off the postal order (for £3.75!!) and all-important stamp addressed envelope, Mum called the parents of my chums in clandestine fashion to OK the whole adventure. None of us had ever been anywhere at night on our own, so it would've taken a bit of planning to get us there and back, even though the venue was only six miles from where I lived.

Come the 22nd, Dad rounded us up and drove us to Edmonton. Outside the theatre, there were people everywhere - confused, excited, disoriented young people, much like us. I had no idea what to expect and nothing with which to compare the experience. We had some money, probably given to us by relatives who were in on the secret from the beginning, so while Dad waited, we ran off to buy some of the quality merchandise on offer - a poster, a four page programme, a faux-silk scarf...a plastic pendent..! All good stuff! We threw our haul into the back of the car as Dad repeated, for the zillionth time, where and when we were to be after the show so that he could collect us. Then he was gone and we made our way inside.

One of the first things I noticed upon taking our seats, was the number of kids my age...accompanied by at least one of their parents! At the time I felt for my peers and was even amused by their predicament, but with hindsight I realise what a big step it must have been for our folks to give us our space and let us go into the gig alone. We were 12 years old, in an unfamiliar environment, with a couple of thousand strangers, in a strange town with no idea how to get home had we needed to. No mobile phones, no GPS, no Oyster cards. (To be continued.)

Wednesday 19 December 2012

T.Rexmas 1972 (Part 1)

In 1972, my favourite band didn't have a website on which to promote itself. There were no trending Twitter updates, no video clips on YouTube, no Flickr or Instagram photos to gawp at, no Facebook profile to check, no apps I could consult. No, in 1972, in order to get the hot scoops not available in Sounds, Melody Maker, NME, Record Mirror, Disc, or even Jackie, I had to sit tight and wait. Then, every six to eight weeks, an envelope would drop through the letterbox from the T.Rex Fan-Club with news and exclusive photos, direct, it seemed, from the band's inner circle.

The November/December 1972 newsletter was even more special, containing, as it did, a Christmas flexi-disc, featuring Marc Bolan and the band performing hastily composed seasonal songs and generally larking around. I had no idea that T.Rex were merely continuing a festive pop tradition established by The Beatles in the 1960s - why should I? The Beatles were black and white and gone. T.Rex were in colour and here and now.

I absorbed the newsletter and diligently filed it away, the next one being due towards the end of January 1973. The flexi- disc remained on heavy rotation on my little mono record player, alternating with current single 'Solid Gold Easy Action.'

Then one day in early December, quite unexpectedly, another envelope from the fan club dropped onto the door-mat. Inside was one sheet, more of an addendum really, containing up-to-date news about the 'Born to Boogie' movie premiere and a handful of Christmas concerts. I was 12 years of age, these events were outside my sphere of knowledge....and there were no photos! The information was like a foreign language to me, so I quickly went back to my record player. Unknown to me, however, Dad spotted this additional newsletter, noted its contents and put plans in motion to purchase a Christmas present for me that I would never forget.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Pete Seeger

In May 1994 I paid my second ever visit to New York to visit my cousin and her husband. In recent years when a trip to the Big Apple is coming up, I pre-book tickets for gigs or other events of interest online, but in those pre-internet days she would mail me a copy of The Village Voice listings guide to peruse a couple of weeks before I traveled, order any tickets I'd require by phone and I would settle up with her when I arrived. It was all very long-winded, but that was how I found out about an event entitled 'In Their Own Words - A Bunch of Songwriters Sittin' Around Singin''. This was a one evening only event at The Bottom Line, an intimate venue on West 4th Street, taking place bang in the middle of my stay and a show I didn't want to miss.

For my $18 I got to spend a couple of hours in the company of Ted Hawkins, Roger McGuinn, Pete Seeger and Joe South as they sat in a semi-circle on the stage talking about their lives and playing their music acoustically in a very informal setting.

I'd seen Ted Hawkins live in England in 1986 on his first wave of success following radio exposure from Andy Kershaw, but he'd fallen off the radar again quite soon after. By 1994, however, he'd been re-discovered and chatted enthusiastically on stage about his new album on the major label, Geffen, and played us a few songs from it. Tragically, Ted's life was to end seven months later as the result of a stroke aged just 58.

Hawkins played a big part in the evening, but the majority of the New York audience were there for McGuinn, Seeger and South, all of whom played their best known material interspersed with anecdotes and memories. Inevitably, given the location and the parties involved, Bob Dylan loomed large in several of the conversations. Roger recounted the 'give this to McGuinn' story regarding the opening line to 'Ballad of Easy Rider', Pete Seeger explained exactly why he wielded an axe the day Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and, perhaps most fascinating of all, Joe South spoke a little about the Nashville 'Blonde on Blonde' recording sessions in 1966. An unforgettable evening.

Sadly, we lost Joe South in September this year, the same month that Pete Seeger, at the age of 93, released what he has claimed is the first album of all original music he has ever recorded. 'A More Perfect Union' was written and performed with Seeger's long-time friend, stroke survivor and, in his mid-sixties, by comparison a mere youngster, Lorre Wyatt. Guests on the album include Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris.

'Fields of Harmony', sung by Seeger alone, stood out for me when I chanced upon the album a couple of months ago. The vocal, little more than an abrasive whisper, is almost unbearably moving.

'When my days have been consumed, like smoke
I will lay me down to sleep, in peace
Over fields of harmony , I'll fly.'

Friday 14 December 2012

Version City #3 - Toquiwa

I'm forever banging on about how a good cover version should take the song somewhere new and different, and that there's no point in a carbon copy of the original. Well forget all that for the next three minutes, because this is about as straight forward as cover versions get - and it's bloody marvelous!

Japanese band Toquiwa take on The Wedding Present's 1989 stone-cold classic 'Kennedy' as if it's theirs by right and, if you're not grinning like a Cheshire cat by the end of it, take a look on You Tube at some of the audience shot footage of the band playing the song live on stage - talk about infectious!

Toquiwa were spotted by David Gedge in Tokyo and invited to support The Wedding Present on their European and North American tours, he's also signed the band to his own Scopitones label. There's a man who knows a good cover when he hears it!

Thursday 13 December 2012

Tim Burgess

If you'd have told me, at the beginning of 2012, that twelve months later one of my favourite albums of the year would be a solo effort by Tim Burgess.....well, quite frankly I wouldn't have believed you. Not that I have anything against Mr Burgess, a man of impeccable musical taste, as demonstrated on his DJ stint on 6music, or The Charlatans, a band I was a fan of until I lost track of them at the turn of the century. It's just that Tim & Co had been off my musical radar for quite some time and his debut solo LP, 2003's 'I Believe', came and went without me even registering it. One chance hearing of 'A Case For Vinyl', however, changed all that.

'Oh No I Love You' finds Burgess in inspired collaboration with Lambchop genius Kurt Wagner and, in addition to Wagner's bandmates, features members of My Morning Jacket and Clem Snide alongside Tim favourite, R.Stevie Moore. It's a rich, understated album, that is one of the surprises of the year for me and highly recommended.

Wednesday 12 December 2012


With the tenth anniversary of Joe Strummer's passing fast approaching, it seems an appropriate moment to give a quick plug to the charity that bears his name. Strummerville was established soon after Joe's death by his widow and daughters, all of whom remain trustees to this day. Its aim is to offer support, resources and performance opportunities to artists who would not normally have access to them and fund projects that could, in Joe's words, change the world through music.

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for the Clash fan in your life, while simultaneously making a donation to this worthy endeavor, Strummerville's merchandising page offers a selection of t- shirts from baby size to XXL and a cool 'Forever Joe Strummer' 2013 calendar, featuring the photography of Bob Gruen. A terrific Gruen shot of Joe, taken on the snowy streets of New York City, is this year's Strummerville Christmas card, available in packs of 6.

The next couple of weeks will be tough for his family and for us old Clash fans, but it is at least comforting to know that his legacy is in safe hands and is being managed in such a positive and worthwhile manner.

Friday 7 December 2012

Happy Birthday Tom Waits

Singer, songwriter, legendary raconteur, star of my favourite film (Down By Law) and all round genius Tom Waits, is 63 today. Like fine wine he gets better with age. Long may he mature, but may he never grow up.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Saturday 1 December 2012

Saturday Scratch #19

Every member of my family wears glasses. In fact every member of my family that I can ever remember has worn them and although I have no brothers or sisters, my cousins of a similar age were all in spectacles before they hit their teens. Except me. I've somehow reached the halfway point of my 53rd year without the need for any ocular correction whatsoever. Until now.

On Wednesday I had an eye-test and although my sight is still apparently very sharp, it's the muscles used to re-focus from distant to close-up vision that are worn out and in need of a little assistance. So I left the opticians with a prescription and now have to choose suitable frames for my first ever pair of glasses, a selection I will make with the gentle guidance of Mrs S.

Though considering glasses and frames is a new experience for me, one thing I do know is that however good the specs, they won't give me 'X-Ray Vision'. For that i'll need Glen Adams & the Upsetters.

Enjoy your weekend.

Previously on Saturday Scratch.

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