Wednesday 30 January 2013

Version City #5 - Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock is a past master of the well chosen cover version, but not content with taking on individual songs by an artist, he has, on a number of a occasions, given live performances of entire albums by the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, David Bowie and Syd-period Pink Floyd. His Dylan passion went a stage further on one memorable night in 1996 at London's Borderline, when he, and the band Homer, recreated Bob's legendary 1966 'Royal Albert Hall' (Manchester Free Trade Hall) concert note for note, word for word and off-the-cuff remark for off-the-cuff remark. 

Today, though, I'm featuring a couple of songs from a Robyn Hitchcock CD of dubious origin, entitled 'Invisible History', that I've had in my collection for nearly 20 years. The two tunes are Van Morrison compositions, from the beautiful 'Veedon Fleece' LP of 1974 and were both performed by Robyn on the same evening, in May 1991, at McCabe's Guitar Shop in California. 'Linden Arden Stole the Highlights' is given a faithful reading, while Robyn affectionately accentuates a few of Van the Man's vocal mannerisms during the performance of 'Fairplay'.

Friday 25 January 2013

Local Natives

It's been a very long time coming, but the new Local Natives album, 'Hummingbird', is almost with us. The Los Angeles band's brilliant debut LP, 'Gorilla Manor', appeared in the UK way back in November 2009, a full four months before it's American release.

I saw Local Natives live in early 2010 when their Californian harmonies, rhythmic attack, bristling moustaches and all-round good-eggedness, effortlessly won over an initially sceptical, sparsely populated audience. Since then they have toured relentlessly, lost their original bassist and finally readied album number two.

Here are a couple of choice cuts from album number one.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Version City #4 - Warren Zevon

From the album's title and on through a number of it's tracks, the themes of death, decay and the passage of time are never far away on Warren Zevon's 2000 LP 'Life'll Kill Ya' - in the jet-black humour of 'My Shit's Fucked Up', the moving 'Don't Let Us Get Sick' and the ironically subdued cover of Steve Winwood's 'Back in the High Life Again.'

Two years after the album's release, Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, from which he died in September 2003. Instead of receiving debilitating and ultimately pointless treatment, Zevon chose to spend what time he had left in the studio, a period documented in the excellent film 'Keep Me In Your Heart', named after the final song he ever recorded.

Warren Zevon would have been 66 today.

Monday 21 January 2013

Buttercups and Oojahs

I'm not really a cakey person and, as I've mentioned before, I'm easily pleased. So after dinner on most evenings, what I like to do by way of dessert is put some plain yoghurt in a cup, add some fresh granola and a big dollop of our fruit of the week, stir thoroughly and consume.....then I'm ready to get on with the washing up.

A few weeks ago the fruit of the week was our frozen harvest of locally scavenged blackberries, before that, raspberries from the allotment and, earlier still, apples, windfalls courtesy of the chap across the road, stewed with a little added dried fruit - perfect. Last week, however, we ran out of locally sourced fruit and picked up frozen strawberries from the supermarket. Cooked down to a jammy consistency and swirled into the yoghurt - lovely. We managed to make the strawberries last about six days. So for six consecutive evenings after dinner, I reached into the fridge for the tub and on six consecutive evenings I also involuntarily reached into the very furthest depths of my musical memory to summon a call that has echoed through my life at such moments.....

'Strawberries... shan't be round tomorrow....the donkey’s pinched all the strawberries...' being the closing phrase from Anthony Newley's 1960 novelty hit version of 'Strawberry Fair.'

I didn't like strawberries as a kid, in fact, much to my parent's consternation, I didn't really do fruit at all, perhaps the occasional banana, but definitely nothing with pips. I realise strawberries don't have pips as such, but try telling that to me as a 4 year-old. I did, however, enjoy fruit in things; fruit cake, orange ski yoghurt, banana Nesquik (does that even count?) and best of all jam sandwiches - preferably strawberry jam sandwiches.

Grabbing any opportunity to get me to eat something even approaching fruit, my folks ensured that jam sandwiches were regularly on my menu. As Dad prepared my tea in the kitchen, he would sing 'Strawberry Fair' at the top of his lungs, complete with the 'buttercups & oojahs' and 'buttercups & wotsits' asides, so I could hear it in the living room. As he re-entered the room, my beaker of milk in one hand and jam sandwiches on a plate in the other he'd pause in the doorway, clear his throat, tip his head back and complete his performance by yelling....

'Strawberries... shan't be round tomorrow....the donkey’s pinched all the strawberries...'

45 years later, Anthony Newley's final market stallholder style shout-out is permanently ingrained into the recesses of my brain, thanks to Dad's repeated performances of it throughout my very early childhood. It lays there, dormant, until I am confronted by the fruit in question, when, as if awoken by a hypnotist's keyword, it rises from it's slumber and tumbles from my lips like a benevolent verbal tic.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Saturday Scratch #20

Count Sticky began his career performing Jamaican Mento and Calypso in the mid-1950's and released a number of singles in this style in the early 1960's, chiefly on the Caribou and Kalypso labels, which have never been compiled, however several are available to sample on YouTube. Moving with the times, the cusp of the 1970's found Sticky plying his trade in the nascent DJ style, which is where we meet him, as a short-lived member of Lee 'Scratch' Perry's stable of artists.

Here's Count Sticky, backed by an unusually funky Upsetters, with the splendidly titled 'Rockford Psychedelion', a tune that belatedly saw the light of day for the first time on the Pressure Sounds release, 'High Plains Drifter', in 2012.

...and if you're struggling in the current wintry conditions, here's Scratch himself to show us how to remain cool in the snow.

Previously on Saturday Scratch.

Friday 18 January 2013

Meanwhile, Back in the Winter of '63

Me: Mum, can I ride my bike in the garden?
Mum: What, in this weather? It's the winter of 1963 you know, this snow won't clear until March and they'll still be banging on about how cold it is in 50 years time - you mark my words.
Me: Pleeease?
Mum: Alright then. I'll get a broom to clear the path. 

Mum: Brrrr, it's cold out here. Are you all done up?
Me: (Impatiently) Yes Mum.
Mum: Ooh look, Dad wants to take a photo of us in the snow.
Me: OK, hurry up Dad!

Dad: (to Mum) Take one with me in it.
Mum: Pose nicely.....
Me: (Sigh) Alright just a quick one. I want to get on with riding my bike...oi Dad! Don't sit on it, you'll break it!

Me: Right, that's enough photos. Give me that broom Mum, I'm going to get this path clear. Honestly, if you want a job done you've got to do it yourself!

Me: Step aside folks, I'm coming through!

Thursday 17 January 2013

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

American/New Zealand trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra release their second album, 'II', early in February. If the band is a new name to you - join the club! Thus far, this is the only track I've heard, but I like it a great deal and will certainly be forming an orderly queue for the LP. I presume it must be in their press release, as 'Stevie Wonder producing Plastic Ono Band into Nuggets-like gems' is the phrase that seems to pop up in many online reviews of the band - I'm intrigued and look forward to hearing more.

'Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)' was originally a tour-only 7" single in September 2012.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Icy Icy Land

Most of the day I sit upstairs at my computer, facing the outside wall of my room, with a window to either side of me, overlooking the lane below. For the 15 months we've lived here, a couple of times a day, strolling, casual-as-you-like, out of the driveway to my left comes my pal the pheasant. Phil (as I think of him) walks along the lane from left to right, through the blind spot of the wall, appearing in the window to my right and trotting off into the garden beyond. An hour or so later he'll make the return trip. He's a creature of habit.

I think pheasants are magnificent birds. Dumb, but magnificent. What I find hard to grasp is why, when we're out walking and a pheasant spots us from two fields away, it will run in panic as if it's very life depends upon it and yet the very same, seemingly cautious bird, will blithely hop out from a hedgerow onto a noisy main road and into the path of many oncoming vehicles and certain death. I can only assume that they associate humans on foot, however innocent and distant, with guns, which often go off around these parts when some of our neighbours indulge in the barbaric slaughter they call sport. Maybe the pheasants are not so dumb after all.

Meet Phil.

We had a big snow flurry yesterday afternoon and the picturesque views from my windows were an easy distraction from work. As I gazed down onto the lane, along came Phil. Perhaps the wintery aspect confused him, or maybe he was just looking for a little shelter, because he didn't follow his usual path, wandering in circles until he found a suitable hedge to scurry under. I don't blame him, it was icy-icy.

Stay warm Phil and keep your head down.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Wilko Johnson

I'm terribly saddened by the dreadfully upsetting news of Wilko Johnson's terminal illness. I vividly remember watching the following performance on The Geordie Scene after school one day in 1975 and immediately phoning all my friends to discuss what on earth it was that we'd just witnessed. None of us had ever seen anything like Dr Feelgood, and specially Wilko, in our young lives.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Yo La Tengo

Impervious to fad and fashion, Yo La Tengo continue to deliver engaging music after 27 years together. Their last album, 2009's 'Popular Songs', was an varied cocktail of Motown influenced pop, Sonic Youth-style angular alt-rock, funk, avant-noise, Krautrock and all points in-between. 

Word is that their new LP 'Fade', due any day, won't be quite so diverse as it's predecessor, however the three tracks that have 'leaked' ahead of release show the band's quality control is still impressively high at the tail-end of their third decade.

Here's 'Ohm' - love that Ringoesque drumming.

Friday 4 January 2013


After the annual lookbackathon that is December, it's good to now be looking forward to some of the musical treats in store over the first few months of 2013. One of the albums highest on my list of priorities is 'The Invisible Way', new from Low and due for release in March.

An added attraction for me this time round (as if one were needed) is the presence of the great Jeff Tweedy in the producer's chair. I've been a fan since Uncle Tupelo's debut in 1990 and continue to follow him in the always brilliant Wilco and many side-projects to which he increasingly lends his name.

To celebrate the forthcoming new album, Low have made a live EP, 'Plays Nice Places', available as a free download - grab it now! Meanwhile, to further whet the appetite, here's a recently recorded live version of a cut from 'The Invisible Way', 'On My Own.' Sounds pretty darned fine to me.

Thursday 3 January 2013


Almost without pausing for breath, three fifths of the recently disbanded Pete & the Pirates return as Teleman. Here is their debut single, 'Christina', produced by Bernard Butler and scheduled for release in mid-January.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Hot Feet

Hot Feet announced their presence to the world in November via a five track EP, written in Sweden, recorded in Scotland and produced by Laura Marling cohort Pete Roe. This is the quite wonderful title track of that EP, 'Wood House', which, since I stumbled upon it a couple of weeks ago, has had me re-configuring my list of favourite tunes from 2012 to make way for it's belated inclusion.

Check-out/buy the whole EP here.

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