Tuesday 31 December 2013

Hailu Mergia

If you're a fan of artists such as Mulatu Astatke and Getachew Mekurya, then 'Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye' is an album you really should track down. Recorded in 1985, but only gaining a wide release this year, it's a contagious meeting of Ethiopian rhythms and African pop. Bewarned, if 'Hari Meru Meru' doesn't get your party grooving gently, medical assistance may be required. Happy new year and thanks for stopping by in 2013.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Saturday Scratch #33 - Zap Pow

We came unstuck on Thursday, as we attempted to maintain our Boxing Day tradition of pub lunch followed by a bracing coastal walk. This year I chose a remote country pub a little inland, to be followed by a 2 mile walk along a nearby river, through a nature reserve, onto the beach and beyond. Lunch was delish, but it soon became apparent that we weren't going to get very far along our chosen route. I hadn't taken into account the residue from the recent dreadful flooding in our part of the world. We were quickly overwhelmed as pathways, fields and the river merged into one vast watery expanse before us. Ah well, there's always next year.

Boxing Day Blues - Too wet to walk...

Recorded at the Black Ark in 1977, here's Zap Pow, produced by Lee Perry, with their own, haunting, 'River'.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

T'was the Night Before Christmas...1963

Christmas Eve, the one night of the year that my parents didn't have to cajole, persuade or shout at me to go to bed. Newly purchased comic in hand, I'd head up the wooden hills to bedfordshire as early as I could get away with. The plan was to read myself to sleep in the quickest possible time. The sooner I fell asleep, the sooner it'd be time to wake up and open the pressies that had, by then, mysteriously arrived at the foot of my bed - this was usually around 5am, if not earlier. Here's one such Christmas, 50 years ago.......

Me. Right, I'm off to bed. 
Mum. What now? You've only just had your tea.... 
Me. (Yawn...) I know, but I'm done in....nighty night!

 (A few hours later) 
 Me. Hmmm. This is a good haul; games, chocolate, a yacht...one new slipper apparently, but where's that special present I asked Santa for? 

Me. Ah, there's the other slipper and.....yesssss! Boxing gloves, just as requested! I wonder if I can wear these when I start school next year? 

I'll leave you with the mighty Long Ryders, performing under the guise of The Spinning Wighats and musing on 'Christmas in New Zealand'. Stay tuned until the end to catch what Sid Griffin wanted for Christmas in 1986.

A happy, peaceful Christmas to you and yours, from all at Swede Towers.

Monday 16 December 2013

Version City #22 - Arctic Monkeys sing John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke happened to be a guest on Radcliffe & Maconie's 6Music show a few days after the release of the Arctic Monkeys fifth LP, 'AM'. JCC was, as you'd expect, asked for his thoughts on Alex Turner & co's reading of his own 'I Wanna Be Yours', which closes the album. The hosts were a little taken aback when the Bard of Salford confessed to having not yet heard the number in question, a situation quickly rectified by RadMac. At the tune's conclusion an unusually quiet and clearly moved JCC gave the interpretation a big thumbs up.

Sunday 15 December 2013

The Sufis

Fancy taking a spin through 22 of 2013's grooviest waxings? Then hot-foot it over to Monkey Picks and check out Mark's rather splendid year-end playlist (here). While I was sampling the delights on offer, 'No Expression' by Nashville combo The Sufis popped up, a tune I heard on the radio just once back in the summer. At the time, I was so impressed that I scribbled the title down on a scrap of paper, which, with horrible inevitability, subsequently disappeared. So, thanks for the reminder Mark!

Friday 13 December 2013

Ezra Furman

The shortlist for my 20 favourite albums of 2013 currently runs to a hefty 53 titles and so, in an effort to trim down the numbers, I'm diligently spending a bit of quality time with each one of the lucky blighters. Among them is Ezra Furman, who recently reappeared in my collection after a gap of five years. I lost touch with his output after his second LP, 2008's 'Inside the Human Body', but 'Day of the Dog', his fifth, is a very fine piece of work that had me scuttling off to catch up with what I've been missing.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Stirring Up Memories

Consciously and unconsciously, Dad taught me a lot of important stuff during his life, including the value of respect, a love of music and the joy of laughter. To my eternal regret, however, one thing I never did learn from him was his own unique bread recipe, which he'd perfected after many years of tweaking. He tried to share this secret with me on a couple of occasions, but my mind was elsewhere and as he never wrote it down, it's now gone forever. He did teach me his method for making good porridge though. I guess the time that it took was about perfect for my attention span. Now that the porridge season is upon us, I often find myself, early in the morning, coffee in hand, standing over a steaming saucepan of oats, with Dad's voice echoing down the years, '...stir, stir, stir, stir......keep stirring.....don't stop stirring.....it's very important that you keep stirring.....that's the secret of good porridge....never stop stirring.....' Not so much a method as a mantra. I stir Dad, I stir, but it never tastes as good as yours did.

On the subject of oats, I found this old sheet music in a charity shop last week and it sparked a warm glow of recognition. I became aware of 'Mairzy Doats' at 7 or 8 years of age via BBC Radio's Junior Choice, where 'Stewpot' played the contemporary version by The Innocence, while Dad, of course, was already familiar with the song from previous recordings dating back to his own childhood in the 1940's. Together he and I would sing this silly little song ad infinitum, much to Mum's bemusement. That's another thing Dad taught me - there's nothing wrong with a little silliness every now and then.

Friday 6 December 2013

Roy Orbison

Regrets, I've had a few...and many of them concern artists I never got to see in concert. Roy Orbison is a prime example. Thanks to Dad's record collection, I'd been listening to Roy Orbison since before I could walk - to this day 'Running Scared' can reduce me to tears. By June 1985, however, neither Dad or I gave serious consideration to travelling the barely one mile from home to see him onstage at the Ipswich Gaumont. Dad's tastes had moved away from 'pop' towards the classics and I was concerned that, by now, Orbison's performance would be a pale, embarrassing, showbizzy, shadow of its former glory, replete with lazy vocals and greatest hit medleys.

A week later, I ran into a friend who'd attended the concert. My heart sank as he raved about the show, confirming what is now commonly known to be the case, that Roy Orbison never 'phoned in' a performance in his life, not even in the lean years. His voice, a magnificent mystery, hit every glorious note and continued to do so, right up to his untimely death in 1988, 25 years ago today.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Jonathan Wilson - Live in Concert

How many artists, touring in support of only their second album, have the confidence and ability to play a set of over two hours in length, including a sprinkling of unreleased material, which has no dips, lulls, or wristwatch-checking moments? Step forward Jonathan Wilson, who, with his superb band, had the audience in Norwich agog from the get-go on Monday evening. A lesser band would doubtless have saved material as strong as the opening salvo of 'Lovestrong', 'Illumination' and 'Fazon' for their encores, but Wilson has considerable strength in depth, there are few weak-links in his catalogue. In fact he elected not to play one of his very best songs, 'Cecil Taylor', at all.

Jonathan Wilson's sound is past-acknowledging and forward-looking, musically rich and subtly complex, where time signatures shift and solos go off at unexpected tangents. Grandstanding is not his style, but it's quietly intricate, frequently breathtaking stuff all the same. Touchstones include everything from CSN&Y (collectively and individually) to elements of progressive rock, Pink Floyd in particular. One gets the impression that he is only just beginning to flex his musical muscles. Miss him at your peril.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Saturday Scratch #32: Special Edition - R.I.P. Junior Murvin

Very sad to hear of the passing of the legendary Junior Murvin at the age of 64 (or 67 depending on which report you believe). Murvin recorded with a clutch of great Jamaican producers over the years, but it's his work with Lee Perry on 1977's seminal 'Police & Thieves' LP for which he'll inevitably be best remembered. Here, from those sessions, is 'Memories', the b-side of the album's second single, 'Tedious'.

Saturday 30 November 2013

'You Old Rascal...' - Bob Dylan Live at the Royal Albert Hall

There's Bob, clear focused all around, moving between centre stage and the shadows of his keyboard retreat. After a strong opening, I'm mentally prepping for the 'Tempest' fest to come, first though, 'Beyond Here Lies Nothin''. Dylan, concentrating on one of those repeated piano phrases that he likes to lose himself in, suddenly stops playing and gazes out into the audience, all pursed lips and hand on hip (a favoured pose these days) as if to say '...did you hear that...?' I laugh out loud. Tension and release.

'Duquesne Whistle' and 'Pay in Blood' knock their recorded counterparts into a cocked hat, but it's 'Love Sick' that stops me in my tracks. A towering performance. The audience seems caught off guard by this one and there's a micro-silence between the end of the song and the explosion of applause, no-one wishing to break the spell we're under. 'Forgetful Heart', if anything, is even more intense. This is masterful stuff. I guess I must have breathed at some point during the song, but I don't remember doing so.

All too soon we're in 'Scarlet Town', knowing the end is near, but first, 'Long And Wasted Years', undoubtedly the song of the tour. Dylan as grizzled narrator and his band at their best. No 'Roll On John' for us tonight. Not a song I'm overly fond of, though I nevertheless welled-up on hearing the Blackpool rendition. 'Watchtower' and 'Blowin'' allow us all to kick back and let our hair down - we're in familiar territory. Bob high-fives some lucky front rowers, takes a last long look around and is gone.

(Stockholm, October 13th)

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Version City #21 - Bruce Springsteen sings Suicide

I'm delighted to note the inclusion of 'Dream Baby Dream' in the tracklisting of Bruce Springsteen's new studio LP, 'High Hopes', which is slated for release in January. Springsteen performed his interpretation of the 1979 Suicide single on over 60 occasions in 2005, releasing one of those live versions as a limited edition 10" single in 2008.

A few years ago there were a large number of audience recordings of the song floating about on YouTube, all taped throughout 2005, though many have disappeared in the interim. A few still cling on, however, and I'd recommend checking out the whole lot. From the early tentative run-throughs, to the glorious, epic performances towards the tour's conclusion, Springsteen's take on 'Dream Baby Dream' rarely fails to floor me and I'm pleased that it'll now gain the wider recognition it deserves.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Low - In Concert

There was a point, during Low's performance at the Norwich Arts Centre a couple of nights ago, when I became aware of having no idea how long I'd been watching the band, or indeed how long they had been playing for. It could have been ten minutes or ten hours. I was lost in music. It was as if the passage of time had been rendered immaterial.

Standing a couple of feet away from me, a man struggled to control his emotions as the evening progressed. He wasn't alone. At the conclusion of 'Just Make it Stop' he snapped, yelping an involuntary, 'Perfect!', ahead of the cascade of applause that filled the hall, dismantling the audience's breath-held rapture. Nicely put Sir.

Monday 18 November 2013

The Furrow Collective

'Hirta Songs', the fine new collaborative album by Alasdair Roberts and poet Robin Robertson, has barely had time to seep into my consciousness since the CD dropped onto my doormat late last week and yet already comes news of Alasdair's next project, The Furrow Collective. The Collective, who tackle 'the obscure world of balladry at its darkest and quirkiest', consists of folk luminaries Lucy Farrell, Emily Portman, Rachel Newton as well as Alasdair himself and their debut LP, 'At Our Next Meeting' is scheduled for a February 2014 release. A couple of teasers from the record have already been unleashed, one of which is 'Hind Horn'.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon's terrific new LP, 'Mug Museum', featuring contributions from Sweet Baboo and H.Hawkline, is her third full length release and first since relocating from Cardiff to Los Angeles. After just a couple of plays it's looking odds on to feature in my top ten albums of the year. Here's Cate, demonstrating another string to her bow, with 'Are You With Me Now?'.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Version City #20 - Christmas Number One

I note that a Facebook campaign has recently been launched, with the admirable aim of getting AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell' to the Christmas No.1 spot. All well and good and no doubt infinitely preferable to any of the likely alternatives on offer, but give me Ed Kuepper's interpretation any day. Ed Kuepper for Christmas No.1? Where do I sign up?

Saturday 9 November 2013

Version City #19 - Hamadth Kah sings The Police

For the past couple of days I've been immersed in the varied musics of West Africa, courtesy of Sahel Sounds. The label's output is diverse, ranging from raw, atmospheric field recordings to pitch-bending, auto-tuned experimentation and beyond. The best stuff is very good indeed and I'll be featuring more in the future, that's for sure.

For now, here's a familiar tune by Hamadth Kah, taken from the 'Laila Je T'Aime' compilation of field recordings.

As a bonus, my favourite cut from the same LP, the mesmerising 'Kaounare' by Alkibar Gignor.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Own Up Time

Old Pa, over at Tune Doctor, recently regaled us with the story of Steve, a man convinced of his own irresistibility to the opposite sex. The tale reminded me of Mark, a guy I knew when we were both about 18. Much like Steve, Mark thought he was God's gift to all women. He drove a souped up Ford Escort complete with the inevitable furry dice and whenever he spied a young lady he wanted to try and impress, he would sit at traffic lights in 1st gear revving and revving to get their attention, then let the clutch up as the lights changed and screech off, wheels spinning, down the street. He must've spent a fortune on tyres.

One day I was sitting in the passenger seat of his car, as Mark pulled up to red traffic lights and commenced his party piece for the millionth time. I just couldn't take it anymore. My right arm was leaning on the central armrest, so as he held the clutch down and revved the engine to attract the eye of a lady he'd spotted, I was able to pull the gear-stick back from 1st to neutral with a quick flick of my fingers. Unaware, he continued to rev, winking and smiling at the young lady in question as she crossed the road in front of us, until the lights changed, at which point he let the clutch up and floored the throttle. Except, of course, we didn't move an inch. It did, however, make a hell of a racket and everyone in the vicinity turned to see what was going on. The engine roar echoed around the narrow streets as Mark, red-faced, frantically tried to find a gear in which to slink away from the traffic lights. It was a glorious moment. Amusingly, after recovering from his embarrassment, he assumed that he'd missed the gear himself and never suspected me! 35 years later - I confess!

Monday 4 November 2013

Portrait Gallery

A splendid figure of a man don't you agree? I'm assuming he's a butcher and that it might be a leg or thigh wrapped up and tucked away under his arm. Whatever his trade, I wouldn't like to mess with him - he doesn't look the sort to suffer fools gladly. He's a recent car-boot sale acquisition.

The majority of my small collection of old photos are tucked away in boxes and albums, but a select few grace the wall I face as I type these words - including my friend the pipe smoking butcher. My very own private portrait gallery. If you think that's a cue for a song, you're bang on. Here's Luke Howard with a beautiful piece from his recent album 'Sun, Cloud'.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend

These days most bands reform eventually, to some extent or other, and by the time they do, it's old news thanks to social media. In 1993, when word spread that the Velvet Underground were reuniting for a European tour, it was a huge surprise. Two shows were scheduled for London, one at Wembley Arena, the other at The Forum in Kentish Town. It would have made sense to apply for Wembley tickets, with much more chance of being successful, but somehow the thought of VU in a barn didn't sit right with me, so I gambled on the smaller venue, sent off my cheque and stamped addressed envelope, sat back and waited. The gamble paid off.

It was a privilege to be in such a small room with The Velvet Underground during that brief reformation and witness, at close quarters, the glances, nods and smiles between band members as they rediscovered and rekindled their magic in front of us. The songs seemed frail, almost stapled and gaffa-taped together in places, by turns brutally primitive and utterly transfixing. When it came to the encore, we all howled.

As a postscript, here is the very last performance by The Velvet Underground. A song of farewell to their fallen comrade Sterling Morrison, filmed at the band's Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1996. Watch out for the glances, nods and smiles.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Jonathan Wilson

Two years after the fabulous 'Gentle Spirit' comes Jonathan Wilson's new LP, 'Fanfare', featuring contributions from Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Roy Harper and Gary Louris of The Jayhawks. Wilson is a respected producer, with, personal favourite, Father John Misty's 'Fear Fun' among his credits. 'Fanfare' is, in it's own way, as quietly diverse as that LP, basking in the golden glow of the Laurel Canyon one minute, before heading off into prog-lite noodlings, folky flourishes or gentle funk workouts the next.

In common with so many of my favourite efforts of 2013, 'Fanfare' is, unapologetically, an 'album' - best enjoyed when listened to from start to finish. Here though, by way of a taster, is 'Dear Friend'.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Version City #18 - Zee Avi sings Morrissey

Since we're on a Morrissey tip, here's Malaysian singer, songwriter and ukulele player Zee Avi's divine interpretation of 'The First of the Gang to Die'. This tune cropped up on one of the, otherwise interminable, background muzak compilations that we were obliged to play on permanent rotation at the coffee shop in which I worked. The discs, though regularly updated, consisted of 99% dismal aural wallpaper, with just a very occasional gem randomly dropped into the mix. It was little moments of pop delight such as this that got me through the day.

Thursday 17 October 2013

If you must write prose and poems the words you use should be your own...

It was once such a regular activity, to leave the house, go to a record shop and buy a new single or album on the morning of release - I must have done it a hundred times, if not more. Today though, I did something I've rarely done before - I purchased a book on the actual day of publication. After catching a breathy review of Morrissey's 'Autobiography' on the radio over breakfast, I made a mental note to look out for it in town later on, while in reality doubting that I'd actually be able to find a copy locally. WH Smith didn't make it easy either. I'd all but given up the search when I found a small pile of them at the very back of the shop in a small alcove near the Post Office, on the floor, literally.

So now I pause awhile in my quest to re-read all of Kinky Friedman's books before the year is out, in order to take a gander at what young Steven Patrick has to say for himself. Initial observations? No chapters or index pages and an opening paragraph that spreads itself over 4½ sides. So far so good.

Tuesday 15 October 2013


Here's the title track from Toy's forthcoming second LP, 'Join the Dots', due for release in December, a swift follow up to the band's 2012 self-titled debut. I've featured these guys on two previous occasions (here and here) and this stonking new tune is every bit as good as what's come before.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Saturday Scratch #30 - Leroy Sibbles

Form an orderly queue! This is recent bounty from the allotment, currently sitting on the window sill until it's ready to be transformed, magically, into spicy, hearty soup by Mrs S. The allotment produced many a mouthwatering treat this year, in spite of the best efforts of the local rabbit population. We're in the process of erecting a fence around our plot, which will hopefully keep the blighters at bay. Next year we might need a bigger window sill.

Here, from 1979, is one of the very last great tunes to emerge from The Black Ark Studio. Produced by Lee Perry, it's Leroy Sibbles talking about the 'Garden of Life'.

Previously on Saturday Scratch.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Yesterday's Hero

For a few precious months in 1967, the mean streets of Walthamstow were made safe by a mysterious masked superhero, wearing a hood, cape and, erm, sandals. He didn't shelter in a Batcave. He didn't need a Batmobile. He had no use for a Utility Belt. For he had in his possession a weapon that made the criminal fraternity of the day quake in their boots. He had one of his Mum's wooden coat-hangers with the metal hook taken out.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Version City #17 - Elvis Costello sings John Lennon

Here's some thrilling audience footage from a gig by Elvis Costello & the Roots in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago. The one-off show was to launch the new LP, 'Wise Up Ghost', but, in addition to album tracks and old favourites, Elvis and the band found time for a couple of choice covers, The Specials' 'Ghost Town' (wittily re-titled 'Wise Up Ghost Town' for the evening) and this, John Lennon's 'I Found Out'.

'Wise Up Ghost', incidentally, is one of the surprises of the year for me. An inspired collaboration and a very fine LP indeed. Check it out here.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Bloody Eye

Today we took ourselves off to Southwold for a refreshing blast of sea air, a chippy lunch and a pint of Adnams, beer of the Gods. As I wandered back from the bar after ordering the aforementioned feast, I had the sudden sensation of having been poked in the eye, even though I hadn't - a very odd feeling. When I reached our table Mrs S's expression spoke volumes. A vessel must have popped and the white of my right eye was already becoming blood red and fairly unpleasant to look at.

There is little better, after such a fine lunch, than an invigorating walk along an out-of-season beach, when the wind is howling and the waves are crashing into shore a few feet away. Bracing is the word and it really does remind you that you're alive, even if you are wearing sunglasses to hide an unsightly, bloody eye.

Friday 27 September 2013

Vieux Farka Touré

The sun is shining in a clear blue sky and the weather is still somewhat balmy, so allow me to recommend that you grab a glass of what you fancy and head on over to Tune Doctor, in order to sample an exquisite Desert Blues playlist, put together with tlc by flycasual. It's a beautiful labour of love and a mighty fine way to spend an hour.

Here's the haunting 'Ay Bakoy', from Vieux Farka Touré's recent 'Mon Pays' album, to get you in the mood.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

If You Want to Get Ahead....

I am a man of many ongoing projects, all of which involve transferring the contents of teetering boxes of stuff (be it audio or visual) onto a digital medium, and few of which I'll probably ever completely finish. Still, I'm having a great deal of fun along the way, particularly with my recent car-boot sale acquisition, a photo scanner, which is allowing me to fully explore the family negative and slide archive. Mind you, I've only just begun to scratch the surface and have already discovered many a dodgy snapshot of yours truly - the moustache period of the mid-1970's, what was I thinking? Then, of course, there was my early 1960's penchant for very small hats.

Monday 23 September 2013

A State of Emergency

A Small Good Thing - Saloon Dreams 
Famy - Dogg Dogg 
Elvis Costello & the Roots - Can You Hear Me? 
Derrick Morgan - Under Heavy Manners 
Paul Duncan - Red Eagle 
Houndstooth - Thunder Runner 
Ernest Rogers - Mythological Blues 
H.Hawkline - Telegram

Thursday 19 September 2013

Version City #16 - Edwyn Collins sings David Bowie

I'm working my way through some boxes of old cover mount CD's at the moment, ripping a few tracks here and there as I go, while rediscovering a handful of forgotten treats. Here's one from a David Bowie tribute CD issued with Uncut in 2003. The compilation's a bit uneven as a whole to be honest, but Edwyn Collins' excellent reading of 'Gospel According to Tony Day' is worth the price of admission alone.

Tuesday 17 September 2013


Time is kind of tight round these parts just at the moment, but I'm lovin' the excellent new MGMT single, 'Your Life is a Lie', taken from their self-titled third album, which is out today. Look and listen.

Friday 13 September 2013

Pond on Pond

With five albums since 2009 and a sixth already in the can (or perhaps on the hard- drive), Australian psych-rock combo Pond aren't hanging about in their quest for world domination. Their new LP, 'Hobo Rocket', contains the massive 'Xanman' - think George Harrison's 'Wah Wah' turned up a few notches. Hold on to your hat. 

Long before Nick Allbrook put his Tame Impala offshoot together, there was another Pond, a powerhouse three piece formed in Portland in 1991. The band produced three albums in total, but their self-titled debut on Sub Pop is the one to go for. It's loud, tight and melodic. Let's call it by it's name - it's grunge! I saw Pond perform in front of a criminally sparse crowd at the Camden Underworld in 1993 and they were a spectacular proposition in concert too. This is 'Agatha'.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Version City #15 - David Bowie sings Paul Simon

It became a little ritual of mine that, on the final evening of a visit to my relatives in New York, I would spend a couple of hours at the top of the World Trade Centre, watching the sun set on the city, before catching up with the family for one last dinner before I headed home the following morning. At the time, they lived on 23rd Street, but in the summer of 2001 they bought an apartment in Tribeca, which, thankfully, they hadn't yet moved into by the September of that year.

By chance, I came across this photo a few days ago. I took it on the final evening of my trip in 1996. The apartment that my family were destined to acquire, five years later, is in the brown building, at the very bottom and centre of the frame, with sunlight hitting the upper floors and what looks like just a small white roof between it and the base of the image.

Monday 9 September 2013

Version City #14 - Kronos Quartet play Bill Evans

'Peace Piece' by Bill Evans is an unrehearsed, solo piano improvisation, recorded in December 1958 and released early the following year on the brilliantly titled LP, 'Everybody Digs Bill Evans'. If you're not usually a fan of jazz, or the term 'improvisation' alarms you, fear not! This is a thing of singular beauty.

In 1986 Kronos Quartet included their own sublime interpretation of 'Peace Piece' on the LP, 'The Music of Bill Evans'.

Saturday 7 September 2013

H. Hawkline

I doff my titfer in gratitude to James Dean Bradfield for drawing my attention to the music of H. Hawkline, when he sat in for Stuart Maconie on 6Music recently. Oh my word it's good stuff. Mr Hawkline (Huw Evans to his friends) is a Welsh songwriter who also works with Cate Le Bon and Sweet Baboo and I urge, nay implore, you to go here to check out his slim, but exquisite back catalogue. Fans of artists such as Kevin Ayers and Gruff Rhys should definitely form an orderly queue.

Meanwhile, enjoy 'Ghouls' from his current EP, which can be sampled in its entirety here.

Friday 6 September 2013

Telephone Thing

Like most things that come into my possession, I'll continue to use my mobile phone until it, or I, conk out. I'm the same with cars, CD players, computers and clothes. I use them until they are unusable and only then do I go out and look for an upgrade or replacement. I've had the same simple pay-as-you-go phone since the previous one died in 2007.

Although it goes everywhere with me, I use it chiefly as a watch. I put £10 credit onto it in March, the only time I've topped up since October last year, and my balance is currently £6.14, so that gives you some idea of how often I reach for it to make a call or send a text. So when the phone slipped from my pocket and down inside the sofa while I was enjoying a coffee this morning, I was caught off-guard by my initial reaction to its inaccessibility - something approaching mild panic. After virtually disassembling the sofa to retrieve the blighter, I'm forced to acknowledge that this little-used lump of technology in my pocket is my own version of a mid-life security blanket.

Thursday 5 September 2013


It's good to hear Midlake on such robust form so soon after the departure of front-man Tim Smith. The band return on November 5th with their 4th album, 'Antiphon' - here's the title track.

Tim is in the early stages of planning his next musical adventure, Harp. Follow his progress here.

Monday 2 September 2013

Photographs and Memories #2

Dad had a good eye for a photo opportunity and, in the 1960s at least, owned a reasonably good camera. He felt that he couldn't justify the expense thereafter and made do with a series of cheap and cheerful point and press cameras for the rest of his life. Here are a couple of his snapshots from our travels in the 1960s.

 At the time, I wrote 'The best photograph Dad has ever taken' on the back of this one. 

Yours truly at the beach. Eat your heart out Gered Mankowitz.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Flip It! #3 - John's Children

While flicking through a scruffy cardboard box of old 7" singles, on a junk stall on Walthamstow Market, one Saturday morning in early 1973, my fingers alighted on a picture sleeve for 'Desdemona' by John's Children. I was nearly 13 years of age and knew that before T.Rex there had been Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose albums I had recently discovered via the 'Toofa' double LPs released by Fly. I also knew, somewhat vaguely, that before Tyrannosaurus Rex Marc Bolan had briefly been a member of a group called John's Children and made a single with them, but that was back in 1967, nearly half my lifetime ago. I'd certainly heard no music by John's Children and had seen only one photograph of the band, which, luckily, was the very one used on the picture sleeve in front of me. If it hadn't been for that particular shot, I might well have flicked right on by to the back of the box, none the wiser.

Diane Wynd, wherever you are, thank you.

So I was aware that this was a potential rare gem, but convinced that when I pulled the record from the sleeve, I would find either a copy of 'Desdemona' so damaged as to be unplayable or, even worse, a Frank Ifield single in the wrong cover. In the event, the sleeve contained a near pristine copy of 'Desdemona'. With uncharacteristic maturity, I tried to control my breathing and told myself not to become over-excited, as I swallowed hard and asked the price. The man in the cap who ran the stall took a drag from his cigarette, sucked his teeth, thought for a second and said - '10p'. That was the hardest moment of all, I stifled a yelp of delight. He didn't realise the significance of the record! Hands shaking, I gave him the coin, he dropped the single into a brown paper bag and I was off home, heart beating fast and sweat trickling down my back.

The old faithful.

Back in my room I fired up my trusty Fidelity HF43 mono record player and listened to 'Desdemona' a couple of times. It was impossibly thrilling to hear Marc's voice, instantly recognisable, as he echoed the title refrain. Then, needless to say, I phoned all my friends to gloat about my good fortune. Everyone was at my place within the hour and it was orange squash and jaffa cakes all round as we played the single several times over to let it all sink in and make all-important attempts at transcribing the lyrics. Then we played the b-side. If we'd considered 'Desdemona' to be somewhat raw and primitive, compared to the lush Tony Visconti T.Rex productions our ears were attuned to, the opening few seconds of 'Remember Thomas à Becket' completely blew our young minds. 40 years on from that first play, it still sounds pretty far-out to me.

'Remember Thomas à Becket' features no Marc Bolan involvement - that's his predecessor in John's Children, Geoff McClelland, on guitar. The song was re-written and re-recorded later in 1967, emerging as a slightly more trippy, less freaky A-side, with the flowered-up title, 'Come and Play With Me in the Garden'.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Left-off Wearing Apparel and Sacks of All Kinds

Vintage photographs, old newspapers, forgotten letters, ancient advertisements, antique documents and random aged scraps of paper. Ephemera, I love it. A glimpse into a world long-gone. How many hands has this ostensibly worthless item passed through before it fell into my possession? How did it survive this long? What stories could it and it's previous owners tell?

Take this old flyer for instance, though the term flyer wouldn't have been recognised at the time of it's distribution, as it probably dates from around the First World War, if not earlier. Mr Evans is clearly in the market for a broad range of products, from rabbit skins to mangles, and to prove it, he's written a poem. It's like a primitive jingle!


And here's a pair of photographs, plucked at random from a growing collection. Four dapper young men, in a splendid array of hats, pose for the camera. Nothing interesting here you might think. Brothers? Work colleagues? Drinking buddies? Take a look at the next shot of the same four men.

I wasn't prepared for that either! The costumes are so ridiculous and the faces so straight, I assume that these young men must be stage performers, perhaps in the Music Hall. Wouldn't it be great to know more though? Every picture tells a story, but I wish I could hear theirs.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Saturday Scratch #29 - Buddy Raphael

Yesterday was another of those heavy, sultry, humid days, resulting, late in the evening, in a Hammer Horror style mist on the marsh. Difficult to capture on film, but a wonder to behold.

This morning - rain! Lashing down and hopefully clearing the air a little. To celebrate, here's Buddy Raphael's 'The Rain Come' from 1975, recorded at the Black Ark, with Tesfa McDonald sitting in Scratch's producer's chair, and released on McDonald's own Tesfa label.

Previously on Saturday Scratch

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

There's been some discussion of late, among the folks who gather at the old watering hole, concerning how we buy, store and even listen to music in 2013. We each have our own problems, solutions and suggestions in this regard, but the common thread that binds us is that we are all in it for the long haul. By whatever means necessary, we'll be grooving to our favourites and digging the new, until we drop.

My primary issue is one of space. I've no doubt that if I had the funds and enough square footage, I would have a music collection of John Peel proportions. In the real world, however, we have a front room that I have to occasionally remind myself actually is a room, so crammed is it with boxes of books, CD's, records and sundry other stuff accumulated along life's highway. It needs addressing, both to reclaim the room and to be able to unbox and enjoy the stuff we do have. To that end, I've purchased a 4tb external hard-drive and begun wading through CD's, ripping as I go. It's a bittersweet experience I can tell you, as nearly every one of them is a memory of some kind. My aim is to get the physical collection down to a manageable level while backing-up and dispatching what's not essential, though, as we all know, what might appear non-essential today may well be life-affirming tomorrow.

In my dreams....minus the carpet

On the subject of life-affirming, I had long ago discounted a purchase of the forthcoming Clash box-set on the grounds that a) it isn't as comprehensive as it could be, b) I have all the music on it (sometimes in multiple copies), c) the expense and d) the dimensions! It would take up a ton of potential shelf-space that I'm trying to free-up. I was pleased with my resolve and proud of my self-restraint. Then, a few days ago, the following footage appeared online.

Familiar stuff to the average Clash fan, but in drastically better quality than has previously been available. As I watched this glorious performance, two of the four songs played by the band on the US TV show 'Fridays' in April 1980, my resolve melted, my self-restraint ebbed away and I slipped, tripped and fell in love all over again. I ordered the box-set. Something slightly less life-affirming will have to go to make way for it.

Happy Birthday Joe

Monday 19 August 2013

Version City #13 - Ed Kuepper sings The Kinks

First there's a distant rumble. Then a slight vibration. After that, we have just a few seconds to grab hold of anything breakable before it tumbles to the floor, as the whole house shudders violently. The local steam engines are on the move again.

Monday 12 August 2013

Nora Dean

Produced by Duke Reid in 1969, Nora Dean's 'Ay Ay Ay' (sometimes titled 'Angie La La) is one of the stranger records to fall under the reggae banner. The vocal is odd and disconcerting, full of squawks, whistles and ticks, while the tune itself has a claustrophobic arrangement that wouldn't seem out of place in a Mulatu Astatke release from the same period. Once heard, never forgotten.

Saturday 10 August 2013

This is Radio Clash

While not wishing to become a permanent advert for the BBC, another short programme aired yesterday evening on Radio 4 that deserves wider recognition. Front Row dedicated it's entire ½ hour to The Clash, including a new interview with Mick, Paul and Topper, reunited to promote the forthcoming box set. In addition, fiery excerpts from a vintage Joe Strummer interview were also broadcast and, if you ask me, were worth the 30 minutes of your time alone.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Nic Jones

My thanks go to the always wonderful Caught By the River for pointing me in the direction of a moving Radio 4 documentary, 'In Search of Nic Jones'. The programme doesn't seek to comprehensively detail Nic's career, but rather examines the man and his music, before and after his life-changing accident, via contributions from friends and family.

Nic is there too of course, modest, unassuming and seemingly without a trace of bitterness. He is content that the past can't be changed and is, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant - what matters to him most, is the 'Now'.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Saturday Scratch #28 - The Meditations

The Meditations were an in-demand vocal harmony group in the mid-1970s, recording artists in their own right and contributors to performances by Bob Marley, The Congos and Gregory Isaacs among others. They worked with a number of producers, but here's a fine Ansel Cridland penned tune, 'No Peace', produced by Lee Perry and released in 1978.

Previously on Saturday Scratch

Friday 2 August 2013

Parquet Courts

We've had a long hot day out and about in celebration of Mrs S's birthday. I doubt we drifted more than 20 miles from home, but would surely have been hopelessly lost in the unfamiliar lanes and villages were it not for the trusty ol' satnav. With it's help we found a little country pub and had a rather scrummy lunch as crazy thunder storms raged on the horizons around us - somehow we missed them all.

We're both feeling the pace of such a sweltering, sticky day now, but need to keep ourselves alert in the run-up to wine o'clock! So to help us stay upright, here's a stonking live version of 'Stoned and Starving' by Brooklyn band Parquet Courts, from their recent LP 'Light Up Gold'.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Los Porcos

A new song, 'C.F.W.', was quietly uploaded to Los Porcos's Soundcloud page a few days ago, the third since Famy's Bruce Yates replaced departed vocalist Ellery Roberts and the band's name was amended from Wu Lyf. Fine though it is, for me, the pick of their three available tunes is 'Jesus Luvs U Baby'. Insistent and subtly funky.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Kiran Leonard

'Dear Lincoln' was written and recorded by Kiran Leonard in June 2010 (when he was just 14 years of age!) and has been knocking about the internet for a while, though it's now going to receive an official release for the first time. He has a lot of music available to check-out via Bandcamp and Soundcloud including an incredibly ambitious 24 minute prog epic, 'The End Times', but with 'Dear Lincoln' he says all he wants to say in 112 thrilling seconds.

Tuesday 23 July 2013


Here's another shimmering psych-pop treat from Kettering's finest export, Temples. 'Colours to Life' continues the fine tradition of the band's earlier tuneage, 'Shelter Song' and 'Prisms' - well recommended listens if you've not already bumped into them.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Flip It! #2 - David Essex

The first three CBS released David Essex singles in 1973 and 1974, 'Rock On', 'Lamplight' and the often overlooked 'America', were exotic little pop oddities that retain their quirky appeal today. Flip these singles over and you'll find 'On and On' (a theatrical power ballad), 'We All Insane' (a bass-driven curio with nonsense lyrics, a drum solo and an unexpectedly sudden conclusion) and, best of all, 'Dance Little Girl'.

Once again driven by it's bassline, 'Dance Little Girl' is a strangely unsettling amalgam of stabbing strings, sleazy horns and a fairly peculiar, multi-layered, at times deliberately off-kilter vocal from Mr Essex himself. Loved it then, love it still.

Monday 15 July 2013

Version City #12 - David McComb sings Leonard Cohen

The late great David McComb of The Triffids was clearly an admirer of Leonard Cohen, particularly, it seems, of laughing Len's least loved LP, 'Death of a Ladies Man'. First McComb (with Adam Peters) covered 'Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On' for the 1991 tribute album 'I'm Your Fan', then two years later, in cahoots with The Blackeyed Susans, he delivered this sparkling reading of 'Memories'.

Previous visits to Version City.

Wednesday 10 July 2013


American comedian Steven Wright is the man responsible for my all-time favourite paraprosdokian, 'I went into a general store, but they wouldn't let me buy anything specific'. Genius. He's also the voice behind this sublime moment from Reservoir Dogs.

Wright's use of the word 'behemoth' came to my mind yesterday evening, when I happened to catch the last few minutes of Steve Lamacq's BBC 6Music radio programme, where, as his final selection of the show, Lamacq played 'Hocus Pocus' by deathrowradio, a mighty behemoth of a tune if there ever was one.

Chris Tate and Paul Christian Patterson have been making music together as d_rradio for several years, creating experimental sounds of a slightly more ambient persuasion, plus a very nice folk-tinged EP in collaboration with Lianne Hall. Now, having amended their working name to deathrowradio, they've traded their laptops for guitars on their new album 'Yummy', a bracing sonic assault of subtly shifting psych-inspired riffage.

Get a load of this glorious racket and then check out the whole darned thing here.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Flying Saucers Have Landed

Pole Hill, a section of Epping Forest in Chingford, was a regular haunt for me and my pals in 1972 and '73. The reason? Uninterrupted views across two massive reservoirs, long-rumoured locally to be a centre of heavy UFO activity - the Area 51 of North East London if you will. With our imaginations fuelled by too much Star Trek and Erich von Däniken, we would head off on a Saturday morning and spend hours sitting on the grass, cameras in hand, gazing out through our binoculars, waiting for....something, anything to happen. Funnily enough, we never did see any little green men, but I'm pleased to note that all these years later, the rumours of their existence in the area persist.

The soundtrack to our Pole Hill excursions and to our fevered discussions about every new titbit of UFO-related gossip, was 'Flying Saucers Have Landed', a groovy single by Paul St. John, released in 1972, but even then sounding more late 60's than early 70's.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Saturday Scratch #27 - Candy McKenzie

If you ever find yourself down Camden Lock way on a hot, sticky afternoon and in need of cool refreshment, I can heartily recommend a visit to Chin Chin Labs, a shop where white coated boffins use liquid nitrogen, to dramatic effect, in order to create incredible ice cream before your very eyes. Delish.

Here's Full Experience member Candy McKenzie, with an appropriate tune taken from the LP 'Lee Scratch Perry Presents Candy McKenzie', recorded at the Black Ark in 1977, though not released until 2011.

Previously on Saturday Scratch

Wednesday 3 July 2013


We're off to the smoke for a couple of days to catch up with the visiting New York contingent of the family, where we'll be swapping the veritable cacophony of birdsong that currently forms the soundtrack of our lives here, for the more general cacophony that is London.

A recently arrived and very welcome visitor to these parts is a lone Nightingale who has taken up residence in the tree across the lane, from where he flits back and forth to our chimney, charming all and sundry with his astounding range of whistles and trills. Bit of a show-off really.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Saturday Scratch #26 - Hugh Mundell

In the Summer of 1977, Hugh Mundell stopped in at the Black Ark studio to record two sides with melodica genius Augustus Pablo in the producer's chair, 'Why Do Black Man Fuss & Fight' and today's featured tune, 'Let's All Unite'. Both cuts were released as singles and would eventually find their way onto the following year's LP, 'Africa Must Be Free By 1983'.

Hugh Mundell wrote his own songs and was already a remarkably assured artist by 1977, all the more remarkable when you consider that at the time of this recording he had only just turned 15 years of age. A friend, the toaster Jah Bull, describes Mundell as '...a very young youth at the time but a very serious youth. When I say serious I mean he was like a likkle man, not a likkle boy.'

In October 1983, Hugh Mundell's house in Kingston was burgled and while the guilty party was caught and jailed, the perpetrator's brother later confronted Mundell on the street, shooting and killing him.

Previously on Saturday Scratch.

Thursday 27 June 2013

The Rolling Stones

It's only Thursday morning and already there are discussions about the possible contents of The Rolling Stones setlist at Glastonbury this coming Saturday. Really? Surely it will be a crowd pleasing hits set - and why shouldn't it be? I don't foresee any Springsteen-style fan requests, magic-markered on pieces of cardboard, being gathered up by Mick for impromptu consideration. Nor any odd, painfully obscure, rarities appearing in the running order for the satisfaction (sorry) of Stones geeks and completists.

All that being said, if the band should unexpectedly lurch into the following tune on Saturday evening, this correspondent's ears would certainly prick up.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Down By the River

After the ankle returned to full working order, following my little mishap in April, I initially restricted myself to walking only on country lanes and paths - good solid flat surfaces that presented little risk of another painful twist. Gradually though, I've carefully reintroduced a series of favourite local circular walks that wander off-road and down along the uneven surfaces beside the river.

There's one particular spot on the riverbank that I can't pass without at least pausing for a moment, though quite often I will stand there in silent contemplation for several minutes. It's a very simple outlook along a straight passage of what otherwise is a fairly meandering river, but for some reason it rarely fails to imbue me with a tremendous sense of well-being. If my camera is to hand, I'll invariably take a photo in an attempt to capture the moment - and fail to completely. For this reason I have dozens of shots from the same spot. Here's yesterday evening's effort, not bad, but you should've been there.

Monday 24 June 2013

Bobby 'Blue' Bland R.I.P.

One summer evening in 1982, at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, I had the great good fortune to spend some time in the company of Blues royalty in the form of a triple headed concert bill that featured B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Bobby 'Blue' Bland. The three giants played individual sets, Hooker, beneath a single spotlight, on a bare stage with just his guitar and stamping foot for company, while King fronted a large, gregarious, well-groomed band, though in truth, it was Bland I was mainly there to see. I'd recently become enthralled by a series of his albums from the 1970's, 'Come Fly With Me', 'His California Album' and, best of all, 1974's 'Dreamer', thereafter working my way backwards through his catalogue and discovering his, often majestic, Duke recordings of the 1950's and 60's.

At the conclusion of the show back in 1982, the three legends gathered on stage to perform a short series of songs together, to rapturous applause. The highlight of the evening came a little earlier for me though, when Bobby Bland led his own modest band through a terrific reading of 'St James' Infirmary'. Here, to mark his passing, is his sublime 1961 recording of the song.

Two more great Bobby 'Blue' Bland tunes are featured on these fine blogs, here and here.

Friday 21 June 2013

Denis Jones

Denis Jones throws the Dick Van Dyke notion of a one man band out of the window and is surely some kind of technical genius, embellishing his songs with loops, pops, crackles and beeps created live and in the moment. Yet for all the inanimate gadgets and gizmos on display, a resolutely human heart beats at the core of his songs.

Jones hasn't added to his tally of two long players since 2010's 'Red + Yellow =' (available to hear with associated visuals here), this though, is an absorbing live reading of 'Beginning', the perversely titled closing track from his 2007 debut album 'Humdrum Virtue'.

Thursday 20 June 2013

James Gandolfini R.I.P.

Today we heard the terribly sad news that James Gandolfini, star of The Sopranos, one of the greatest TV series to come out of America, has passed away very suddenly at just 51 years of age. This evening i'll drink a glass of red in his honour, but for now I salute him with my morning espresso.

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