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'.

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