Tuesday 30 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014

And so to the final post of 2014, my favourite albums of the year. It was a devilishly tricky old business ranking them, with positions changing a number of times as I listened and re-listened to the shortlist, though the top five were never in any real doubt. I've featured several of these artists on the blog over the past 12 months (click on the red highlights to check out the original posts and music) and hope to return to a few of those that have yet to grace these pages in the future.

Top 20

1. David Thomas Broughton & Juice - Sliding the Same Way
2. Quilt - Held in Splendor
3. Mazes - Wooden Aquarium
4. Boy and Bear - Harlequin Dream*
5. Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe
6. St Vincent - s/t
7. Robert Plant - Lullaby & the Ceaseless Roar
8. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
9. Micah P Hinson - MPH and the Nothing
10. Gruff Rhys - American Interior
11. Gogo Penguin - V2
12. Courtney Barnett - A Sea of Split Peas
13. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
15. Real Estate - Atlas
16. Pete Fij & Terry Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery
17. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
18. Big Blood - Unlikely Mother
19. Karl Hector & the Malcouns - Unstraight Ahead
20. The Soundcarriers - Entropicalia

Favourite Reissues/Compilations etc

African Gems (Various Artists)
Haiti Direct - Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978
Wilco - Alpha Mike Foxtrot
Musi-O-Tunya - Give Love to Your Children
Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako
Virgin Front Line - Sounds of Reality
Bob Dylan - Basement Tapes
Captain Beefheart - Sun Zoom Spark
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
William Oneyeabor - Complete
Bunny "Striker" Lee - Full Up
Hailu Mergia - Tche Belew

Bubbling Under...

King Creosote - From Scotland With Love
Temples - Sun Structures
Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems
Tinariwen - Emmaar
Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness Of Dancers
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
Steve Gunn - Way Out Weather
Sinkane - Mean Love
Damien Jurado - Brothers & Sisters of the Eternal Son
The Furrow Collective - At Our Next Meeting
Ibibio Sound Machine - s/t
Joan as Police Woman - The Classic
Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal
School of Language - Old Fears
Tuneyards - Nikki Nack
Joe Henry - Invisible Hour
Sleaford Mods - Divide and Exit
Eno & Hyde - High Life
Teleman - Breakfast
White Fence - For the Recently Found Innocent
Childhood - Lacuna
Golden Gunn - s/t
The Coral - The Curse of Love
Hookworms - The Hum
Rachael Dadd - We Resonate
Tweedy - Sukierae

It just remains for me to say a big thank you to everyone who stopped by in 2014 and also to all the bloggers out there who I read, listen to and am inspired by every day. A Happy New Year to you and those you love.

Let's do it all again in 2015.

(*Special thanks to Shell Hunter over at Tune Doctor for the Boy & Bear release date info!)

Sunday 28 December 2014

Still My Home

Christmas - a bit of driving, a bit of eating, a bit more driving, a bit more eating, a massively long country walk, yet more eating, still more driving, still more eating then one last weary drive. There was also a fair amount of snoozing scattered throughout.

The house is bone-chillingly cold, but the wood-burner is already roaring away and, as Viking Moses notes, it's 'Still My Home'.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Aldous Harding

Did I miss a meeting? We're in the dying days of the year and I've only recently bumped into New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding for the first time, despite her self-titled debut LP having been released back in the summer. Methinks there's something very special going on here. One to watch in 2015.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Christmas 1961

It's Christmas Day 1961, my second festive season, but the first at which I'm old enough to sit up and take notice. I'm clearly having a ball, while Mum keeps a close eye on me to ensure I don't become too over-excited. We're wearing paper hats, meaning the post-dinner crackers have been pulled. Dad has no doubt just finished the washing-up. The trusty family radiogram is probably piping soothing yuletide vibes into the room, via the BBC Light Programme.

Charles Brown's 'Please Come Home For Christmas', was first released in December 1960, but became a US hit 12 months later, right about the time this photo was taken. I doubt it made the Two Way Family Favourites playlist though, more's the pity.

Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful festive period, however you choose to celebrate it, from all the gang at Swede Towers.

Friday 19 December 2014

2014 - Unfinished Business

Inspired by my recent re-discovery of an end of year top 20 LP chart from 1984, I'm attempting to forge a similar selection from the albums of 2014. I'd forgotten how tricky it is. In recent years I've just produced an 'in no particular order' list for anyone who's interested and actually trying to rank each record this time around is proving a problematic task. I think I'm just about there, but leaving out so many great titles is heartbreaking, particularly if I didn't get around to featuring them on these pages in 2014.

With this in mind, here are a couple of tunes from albums that didn't quite make my Top 20, (though if I made another list from scratch tomorrow, they might well feature on it) 'The Soul of All Natural Things', the title track from the first Linda Perhacs LP in 44 years and 'How We Be', the lead single from Sinkane's fifth album, 'Mean Love'.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

African Gems - World Music Album of the Year 2014

If you are going to treat yourself to just one 'World Music' LP with your Christmas money this year, I would wholeheartedly recommend 'African Gems' on SWP Records. This isn't Jit-Jive, nor Afro-Beat or even Saharan Desert Blues. 'African Gems' is a compilation of field recordings made in Uganda, Congo, D.R. Congo, Chad and Cameroun between 1965-1984, where droning horns, polymetric xylophones and percussive soda bottles jostle for your attention. It's an extraordinary set of recordings, occasionally verging on the avant-garde while simultaneously remaining hypnotic and accessible.

Here's a 7½ minute sample, containing brief excerpts from a few of the tracks. Find out more about this remarkable LP here.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Sleaford Mods

There's no middle ground with Sleaford Mods, you'll either like 'em or loathe 'em. After seven years of toiling under the radar, suddenly they're visible, possibly due to the fact that they've finally released a record that isn't profanity-laden and so can be played on the radio. 'Tiswas' still hits hard, just minus the copious effing and jeffing that litters everything else they've done. It also contains the best couplet of 2014 - 'Cameron's hairdresser got an MBE, I said to my wife you'd better shoot me'.

Monday 15 December 2014

This Here Music, Mash Up the Nation - London Calling at 35

'London Calling' by The Clash was released 35 years ago this week. When discussing the album, I invariably paraphrase Brian Clough; 'I wouldn't say it's the best LP ever, but it's in the top one.'

Friday 12 December 2014

(Little) Boys Keep Swinging

I took a sabbatical from work in 2010 and was able to spend a great deal of time with Mum during the final months of her life. When she felt up to it, I'd throw the wheelchair into the back of the car and we'd go for a pub lunch, visit a garden centre or just take a drive in the country. Increasingly though, the destination for our outings was the hospital, for tests, X-Rays, blood transfusions and, ever more regularly, periods of in-patient care.

Unfortunately, when I think of Mum now, it's often as she was in those last few months - unwell, infirm, dying. Luckily though, there are many photos in the family archive to remind me of how I should really remember her. Take this one for example.

It's the Summer of 1964, we're on holiday at Jaywick Sands and I'm a four year old scaredy cat on the swings, barely moving and steadfastly refusing any offers of a push. Mum tries to encourage me by going higher and higher herself, showing me that it's safe. I'm at once excited and terrified, for her and for me. She's laughing, full of fun, full of mischief, full of life. And this is how I think of her today, the fourth anniversary of her passing.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Come See, Come See, Remember Me - 1984 Part 3.

A last look at my favourite albums of the year back in 1984. This was my top ten, thirty years ago.

'Gravity Talks' was Green on Red's debut full length LP, released in the USA in 1983, before appearing in UK record shops to coincide with the band's first visit to these shores. Green on Red were another band that I saw live many many times and I was delighted to catch up with main man Dan Stuart once again, earlier this year (here).

Do I really need to say anything regarding the inclusion of The Smiths first LP in this list? I don't think so. Other than to note, perhaps, that it's way too low down the order.

The were a lot of good, retro-tinged, guitar bands coming out of Australia in the mid-80s and The Hoodoo Gurus debut LP arrived as part of that wave. Albums two and three, 'Mars Needs Guitars!' and 'Blow Your Cool!', were probably superior, but 'Stoneage Romeos' is still a fun ride.

I saw Miles Davis in concert twice during 1984 and the time spent in the same room as this giant of 20th century music, overshadowed virtually everything else all year. Hence the high position for 'Decoy', a good late period LP, but, in my opinion, not as strong as its predecessor, 'Star People', or successor, 'You're Under Arrest'. Great to see this clip again though.

Rank and File operated within the short-lived Cowpunk genre. 'Long Gone Dead', the second of their three LPs, is a lot of fun, but is absolutely not the fifth best album of 1984!

Unfortunately, the nearest I ever got got to catching the mighty Gun Club in concert was passing a worse for wear Jeffrey Lee Pierce in the entrance to Dingwalls one night, as I was on my way into the venue to see another band. Mind you, this performance was a pretty cool thing to witness on tea-time telly at the time. (Somebody tell Jools that his mic is still on!)

I've no qualms about the lofty positions occupied by Lloyd Cole's first LP and REM's second - both terrific pieces of work that still hold up effortlessly today. Which brings us to The Triffids, with two albums in the top 10. 'Treeless Plain', was another one of those records that only arrived on a UK label in 1984 following its actual release (in Australia) the previous year - and a stunning debut it is too. With the benefit of hindsight, it's obvious that there are serious omissions from this list and erroneous inclusions in it, but if I had to make the top 20 again today, the number one would be the same. I've watched this clip a few times over the past couple of days and still struggle to make it through without becoming emotional. David McComb - gone, but never forgotten.

(Addendum:  A wider look at the full sheet upon which my Top 20s LPs of 1984 are listed, reveals a 'late addition' scrawled in the margin - and what a belter it is. The Nomads are still rockin' today, thirty years on.)

Saturday 6 December 2014

Come See, Come See, Remember Me - 1984 Part 2.

Towards the end of 1984, I and the rest of the staff at the record shop in which we worked, each put together lists of our top 20 favourite 45s and 33s of the year. I recently rediscovered my original handwritten copy and wrote a little about my singles selection here. Today I'll look back at the bottom half of my album top 20.

1984 was an ominous year for Madness, with Mike Barson announcing his departure from the ranks. Their music had gradually moved away from the early 'Nutty Boys' sound and I particularly liked (and still like) the darker elements of 'Keep Moving' and its successor 'Mad Not Mad'. 'Neville-ization' by The Neville Brothers was a tight little album, recorded live at Tipitinas two years earlier and pre-dating the band's, Daniel Lanois produced, success. 'New Sensations' is an oft overlooked Lou Reed LP, which, along with 1980's 'Growing Up in Public', I played an awful lot at the time and continue to enjoy.

All of which brings us to The Go-Betweens, a band that I had the opportunity to see in concert more than once, but, for many reasons, never did. A major regret. Here's the much missed G.W.McLennan, with 'Bachelor Kisses'.

I got into Jamaaladeen Tacuma via his recordings with Ornette Coleman in the 1970s and followed his solo career for a while into the 1980s. Unfortunately, while the playing on 'Renaissance Man' is undoubtedly top notch, it's a record that sounds very much of its time and isn't one I can listen to now.

'Born in the USA' also has production values that are very 1984. It was a massive LP in that year and continued to be so in 1985, but although it contains some great songs that I still enjoy in a live context, I don't return to the record very often these days.

In addition to the records I was listening to, my top twenty also reflects the concerts I attended during that period, the next two entries being good examples. I must have seen The Violent Femmes half a dozen times in the 1980s and any one of their first four albums is deserving of your attention. 'Hallowed Ground' is only bettered by 1986's 'The Blind Leading the Naked' in my opinion.

True West weren't around for very long, splitting in 1987, in fact I think I might have even caught the only two London shows they ever played, early in 1985. 'Drifters' is too high in this list. It probably shouldn't have made my top twenty at all. It's a very good LP, but not a great one. It does, however, contain one bona fide corker in 'Look Around'.

'Trap Door' is too high as well. It's another good LP (mini album actually), but not a patch on T Bone Burnett's fantastic self titled LP, which came two years later.

And so to Rain Parade, another live favourite. On my handwritten draft, I've mistakenly written 'Emergency Third Rail Power Trip', their fine LP from the previous year. I must have realised my error though, as I stapled an addendum, 'Explosions in the Glass Palace', to the sheet. This makes more sense. 'Explosions...', another mini-album, was actually released in 1984 and features the Paisley Underground classic, 'No Easy Way Down'.

This short series concludes next time with my remaining 11 favourite LPs from 1984. Yep, I said 11.

Friday 5 December 2014

Panda Bear

New music from Animal Collective's Panda Bear. 'Mr Noah' is currently available as the title track of an EP and will also appear on his forthcoming LP, 'Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper', scheduled for release in the second week of January.

Thursday 4 December 2014

R.I.P. Nick Talbot a.k.a Gravenhurst

What an awful week. First Bobby Keys, then Ian McLagen and today, news that Nick Talbot, also known as Gravenhurst, has passed away, aged just 37. Here's a short film about Bristol and the impact that the city had on his life and music, which was uploaded to Nick's YouTube page just a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Version City #36 - Hannah Peel & Låpsley sing New Order

Post 1982, I was never much of a New Order fan, odd tunes have grabbed my attention here and there over the years, but generally their appeal has somehow passed me by. I thought I'd be happy if I never heard 'Blue Monday' again, but, in the last week alone, I've bumped into two sweet versions of the tune.

Hannah Peel recently uploaded four interesting covers to her YouTube account, including 'Blue Monday', the others being 'Tainted Love', OMD's 'Electricity' and 'Sugar Hiccup' by The Cocteau Twins. They're all absolutely charming and deserving of a few minutes of your time. Check them all out here.

I only heard Låpsley's delicate music for the first time this very morning, thanks to Drew over at Across the Kitchen Table, so can tell you virtually nothing about her, but while clicking around a few of her tunes (try this one to get the idea), I found that she too has a nice reading of 'Blue Monday' in her back pocket.

Monday 1 December 2014

Jane Weaver

A big high-five to Swiss Adam over at Bagging Area for pointing me in the direction of the new Jane Weaver LP, 'The Silver Globe'. Two minutes into the featured track, 'Argent' (think Stereolab jamming with Neu), I was clicking around and buying the whole album - I've played nothing else all day. I could bang on about how good I think 'The Silver Globe' is for half an hour, or you could go here, to read a track by track commentary by Jane herself, while streaming the whole bloomin' record! What are you waiting for?

Don't take my word for it though, here's a taster, the Hawkwind sampling, 'The Electric Mountain'.

Sunday 30 November 2014

Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra

Latin Fusion? Afrocuban Library Music? Psychedelic Jazz? Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra's fourth LP, 'Pulsion', is all that and more. The album is a dense, at times claustrophobic, trip. In fact if we're bandying semi-official genres around, how about Murky Exotica? Highly recommended.

Friday 28 November 2014

Come See, Come See, Remember Me - 1984 Part 1.

Journey with me, back to 1984. At the time I was a branch manager in a small chain of independent record shops - a happy time, if you exclude the owner of the business from the picture. He was highly skilled at making my life, and that of every other manager in the chain, a misery. But let's not dwell on the negative. Towards the end of 1984 the staff in our store each compiled our own personal top 20 singles and LP's of the year and I recently unearthed the original handwritten copy of my selections, thirty years on.

Taking a look through my singles list, I was initially surprised to see three reggae tunes included, as I'm sometimes quick to dismiss any reggae made after 1980. An erroneous generalisation on my part. Aswad's last great moment, 'Chasin For the Breeze', Patrick Andy's melancholic 'Regular Heartbreaker' and Michael Palmer's wicked 'Lick Shot', still sound great to these ears.

Elsewhere, two singles apiece from The Smiths, REM and Bruce Springsteen made it into my top 20. The first Smiths LP and 'Reckoning' were massively important records for me, but, in retrospect, 1984 was a funny old year for this long-term Springsteen fan. A brace of unforgettable live shows rubbed shoulders with a very commercial album that I find difficult to listen to now. 'Dancing in the Dark' certainly wouldn't be at No.1 if I made the list today.

Clay Allison was the name on the sticker of an American import EP I bought in 1984, though by that time the band had re-christened themselves as Opal. The line-up featured Kendra Smith from The Dream Syndicate and former Rain Parade guitarist David Roback. Smith was replaced by Hope Sandoval in 1987 and the duo later found success as Mazzy Star.

The debut Jesus & Mary Chain single was an extraordinary thing to play in the shop, in amongst the endless Nik Kershaw, Sade and Miami Sound Machine tosh. I wasn't destined to become a long time fan of the band, but 'Upside Down' remains a quite magnificent racket. Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Two Tribes' is that rarest of beasts, a massive, virtually omnipresent, hit single that I never got tired of hearing. At the other end of the popularity spectrum was Float Up CP, a band who emerged from the ashes of Rip Rig + Panic, issued one fine album to a largely indifferent public, before disintegrating. Four years later, lead singer Neneh Cherry would release 'Buffalo Stance' and have her own massive hit single.

Glancing down the remainder of my favourite singles of 1984, I'm pleased to note that there are no absolute stinkers, no major regrets about what I included (though what I omitted is another matter - no 'C.R.E.E.P.' for example. What was I thinking?). Next time, I'll take a look at my top 20 LPs from 1984. Anyone care to guess what might have made the list?

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Nick Drake - 40 Years Gone

I stumbled upon Nick Drake's music in 1980, during my early days of working behind the counter of a record shop, via the 'Fruit Tree' box set. At the time I knew next to nothing about him or his music, but can remember being quite shaken by the cold bleakness of 'Black Eyed Dog', one of four hitherto unreleased songs in that original set.

Nick's short life ended 40 years ago today. It's remarkable to think that he'd only be 66 if he was still with us. This is my favourite Nick Drake song, originally released as part of the re-issued 'Fruit Tree' set in 1986.

Monday 24 November 2014

On the Street Where You Live

87 years ago, my Aunt was born in a rented Edwardian terraced house on this street in the East End of London. She has vivid memories of hiding in the cupboard under the stairs with her Mother, as the bombs of The Blitz rained down just a couple of miles away and she also recalls the euphoric street parties thrown at the conclusion of the War. When she married at the start of the 1950s, she and her husband moved upstairs, while her Mother lived on the ground floor. My Aunt and Uncle started their own family in the house. They all shared an outside toilet and had no bathroom.

In the late 1950s much of the area was condemned and the terraces were slated for demolition. The rental tenants were given the option to either take a flat on the new estate that would rise from the rubble, or move out of the area altogether. My Aunt and Uncle secured a sixth floor flat and my Aunt's Mother took a small ground floor apartment in the new development. For the first time in their lives, they were each able to enjoy their own indoor private facilities and wash in something more than the kitchen sink or a tin bath on the living room floor. My Aunt still lives in the tower block overlooking the spot where her house once stood and appreciates these luxuries to this day.

In the early 1960s, halfway through the redevelopment and after a local government rethink, demolition was halted and tenants of the surviving terraced housing were offered the chance to inexpensively buy their own properties and receive substantial financial aid to improve them. Those that weren't purchased by the sitting tenants were snapped up by property developers. In recent years, much of the area has gone through a period of gentrification. One of those small terraced houses in the photo, considered unfit for human habitation 60 years ago and only saved from the bulldozer by a hair's breath, recently went on the market for in excess of £1,000,000. Meanwhile, my Aunt's tower block and the estate within which it sits, are scheduled for demolition within the next couple of years, to be replaced by another, newer, version.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Lost on the Hard Drive #3 - The Emeralds

There are many good things about the easy access to music that we enjoy today. I want it. I got it. Quick as that. I can order a physical album without leaving my keypad, I can stream entire catalogues in any number of ways, or I can purchase and download individual tunes or complete recorded works in seconds. The problem with the latter comes when a stray tune hits the hard drive, is played and enjoyed for a while, before being lost in an anonymous folder on my computer. Which happens a lot. In this occasional series I'll be scouring my D and G drives, unearthing half-forgotten gems along the way. 

The fashions, the curtains, the carpet, the radiogram, the goldfish tank - the castanets! Could this anonymous photo possibly be any more 1965? How I'd like to rifle through that little rack of 45s on the floor. What do we think the Decca single is at the front? I really hope it's not something by The Bachelors or Kenneth McKellar. It may be a long shot, but I'm putting half a crown on it being this.

(I'm heading out of town for a few days. Should be back in action on Wednesday.)

Thursday 13 November 2014

Flip It! #4 - Dib Cochran & the Earwigs

Off the top of my head, I can only remember ever meeting a mere handful of my youthful prog-rock heroes in the flesh, usually while bagging post-gig autographs in the 1970s. One, who shall remain nameless, was, disappointingly, an utter arse, the combined membership of Van Der Graaf Generator were very amiable and Rick Wakeman, who was friendly and extremely funny.

A couple of evenings ago, round at our local petrol station, I was surprised to see Rick Wakeman walk across the forecourt in front of me, from the shop back to his car. I've no idea what might have brought him out to my neck of the woods, but was suddenly taken with the urge to go over and renew our brief acquaintance of nearly 40 years earlier. Halfway out of the car, though, I changed my mind. What could I possibly say to him that would justify invading his privacy?

In retrospect, perhaps I could've quizzed him about his involvement in a short-lived group, Dib Cochran & the Earwigs, which also featured Tony Visconti on bass and vocals, drummer John Cambridge (from the band Juniors Eyes) and a certain Marc Bolan on guitar. Dib Cochran & the Earwigs issued one single, 'Oh Baby', in September 1970, a month before T.Rex released 'Ride a White Swan'. What if 'Ride a White Swan had bombed? What if 'Oh Baby' had been the hit? The 1970s might have been a very different place.

The b-side of 'Oh Baby', a short instrumental sketch entitled 'Universal Love', features Rick to the fore.

Monday 10 November 2014

Version City #35 - The Gaylads sing Simon & Garfunkel

One day, six or seven years ago, when I was working for a well known high street coffee chain, I was on the till as the lunchtime queue stretched up the shop and out of the door. I took a lady's order and was about to move on to the next customer, when she said, 'Why do you put up with this all day? I wouldn't put up with it'. She wasn't complaining about the queue, she was pointing at a speaker in the ceiling. With a laugh, I apologised for the quality of the (admittedly crushingly dull) instore music, but she was deadly serious. 'It's not THIS music it's ANY music. Why is there music everywhere nowadays? I can't stand music. I don't see the point of it. Why can't we just live in silence?'

Over the years, in my capacity as a store manager, I had to deal with all manner of customer complaints and comments, but that one had me stumped and has stuck with me. Had I been on my toes, I could've responded by quoting Nietzsche, 'Without music, life would be a mistake'. Or maybe Robert Fripp, 'Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence'. Perhaps even, bizarrely, former LibDem head honcho Charles Kennedy, 'I couldn't imagine a day without music. It relaxes and stimulates me in equal measure. And I hate the sound of silence. The concept, I mean. Not the track by Simon and Garfunkel.'

(Inspired by a recent post over at Grown Up Backwards.)

Saturday 8 November 2014

Saturday Scratch #41 - The Mark E. Smith Connection

Did someone put together a compilation of tunes from the Amalgamated label for Mark E Smith in the early 1990s? If so it would help to explain The Fall's brief foray into the fine art of the reggae cover version. Best known is 'Why Are People Grudgeful' issued as a single in 1993 and based on a fantastic 1968 Joe Gibbs 7", released on Amalgamated, which was itself a reply in song to Lee Perry's scathing, 'People Funny Boy'.

Less familiar is 'Kimble', originally issued on Amalgamated by Perry (under the pseudonym, The Creators) as the b-side to Stranger Cole & Gladdy's, 'Seeing is Knowing', also in 1968. The Fall recorded their version of this obscurity in 1992 for a John Peel session - and it's a corker.

Monday 3 November 2014

Toast Returns

We watch an infinitesimally small amount of telly in this house, mainly because we don't have a telly, but one show we've been hooked on, since we bumped into the pilot on Channel 4's catch-up service in 2012, is 'Toast of London', which returns for a second series this evening. Written by Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews, it stars Berry himself as Steven Toast - actor, voice-over artist and pompous windbag. It's a hoot. Don't miss it.

Sunday 2 November 2014

John Cale - If You Were Still Around

A year to the day after Lou Reed's death, John Cale issued a re-recorded version of 'If You Were Still Around', a song originally released on the 1982 LP 'Music For A New Society'. The accompanying video is a moving salute to Reed and other fallen comrades from the Velvet Underground era, including Andy Warhol, Sterling Morrison and Nico, and finds Cale himself literally raging against the dying of the light. Stay tuned until the very end of the clip and watch as he staggers out of shot, emotionally spent.

Friday 31 October 2014

Hallowe'en and all that....

When exactly did Hallowe'en become a thing in the UK? When did trick-or-treating begin in earnest? As a kid in the 1960s, my memory is of returning to school in early September, after the summer holidays, and moving pretty seamlessly into standing on street corners next to a pile of old rags in a pushchair, with a saucepan for a head, shouting 'penny for the guy mister?' at passing strangers. I was aware of the existence of Hallowe'en from cartoons and American TV programmes, but the day was never celebrated or recognised round our way - Fireworks Night was infinitely more important. When did the change occur? It must've been in the 1980s when I wasn't looking. Nowadays, at this time of the year, you can't move for costumes and decorations hanging from shop displays and pumpkins rolling around all over the place. I don't think I even knew what a pumpkin was until I was in my 20s!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the harvest from our own allotment is currently taking up every available space in the house - I love 'em now! Happy Hallowe'en everyone!

Here's Charles 'Packy' Axton, in his guise as The Pac-Keys, with 'Greasy Pumpkin' from 1967. Axton's story is a fascinating one and this tune can be found on a terrific compilation of his work entitled 'Late, Late Party 1965-67'. Find out more about the man and his music here.

Monday 27 October 2014

Brazilia 70 & the Chico Lopez All-Stars

Just a few hours ago, in a charity shop some 40 miles from here, I speculatively handed over 50 of my hard earned pennies in exchange for an LP entitled 'South of the Border', by Brazilia 70 & the Chico Lopez All-Stars. In spite of the long-winded moniker, it's a rather anonymous affair, containing precious little additional information regarding the personnel involved. After listening to the first few tracks, however, it quickly became clear that both the quality of the playing and the production values are far superior to what you'd expect from a 1970 release on a budget record label.

The groovy, guitar drenched 'Trouble Spot' is worth the price of admission alone. Hold on to your hat!

Sunday 26 October 2014

Nobby and Rover

My Great-Aunt Maud was quite unwell and confined to her bed, so to keep her company, and her mind occupied, Mum and I sat with her and sorted through all her old photos. The year was 1969 and Mum knew only a few of the faces staring out of the ancient images, I of course, knew none at all. One by one, we showed them to Aunt Maud and asked her to put names to the anonymous faces, Mum then wrote the details on the back of each photo. Looking back, I'm sure Mum was worried that we might lose Aunt Maud at the time, but happily, not only did she recover from that bout of ill health, she actually lived until 1983, by which time she was in her late 80's.

In the four years since Mum herself passed away, I've often recalled that day sitting at Aunt Maud's bedside. The reason? If I'm ever looking through a box of old photos and wonder who on Earth the subject of a particular snap is, how they relate to my family or where the shot was taken, I turn it over and invariably Mum has provided me with some or all of the required information, written on the reverse. You might think that this isn't unusual, it's something many of us have done with old photos, but Mum took the idea a stage further. I've found that she also added hidden handwritten notations to several of her most treasured possessions. To aid her own memory, or as information for me to find later? I don't know.

Here are two examples. Meet Nobby and Rover, frail mantelpiece ornaments discovered packed away in Mum's loft, who've apparently been in the family since 1955, possibly given as wedding gifts to my Parents.


Friday 24 October 2014

Fire Engines

I know that I'm over the worst of a bout of the lurgy when the act of listening to music begins to become more comfortable - and right now this old favourite by Fire Engines sounds just about perfect.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Nic and Joe Jones - In Concert

As the house lights dim, Nic Jones appears from the side curtain, puts down his walking stick and makes his way unsteadily across the stage, pausing to wave and bow to the cheering and already emotional audience. Behind him, Joe, rake thin, jet black hair, steps to the microphone to affectionately address his Dad. 'What are you bowing for? You haven't done anything yet!' Later, Nic introduces Bill Worsfold's, 'I Only Spoke Portuguese', by explaining that it's the true story of a couple, neither of whom spoke the other's language, who were therefore unable to speak directly to each other throughout their long marriage. Joe, busy re-tuning his guitar, looks up for long enough to mutter, 'Yes, I expect Mum would've quite liked that...' Badum tish!

The set, beautifully paced, is weighted towards the classic 'Penguin Eggs' LP and for the latter part of the concert Nic and Joe are joined on stage by the original melodeon player on that record, East Anglian native, Tony Hall. The significance of this reunion isn't lost on Joe who stands strumming gently, grinning from ear to ear, between the two men, as they delicately rekindle their musical relationship. Not for the first time this evening, high emotion threatens to overshadow the moment and it's skillfully diffused by Tony Hall's quip after Joe introduces 'The Little Pot Stove'. 'What are we playing now?' he asks, pretending not to have caught Joe's announcement, 'The Little Pot Noodle?'

Joe, an astounding player, prompts approving smiles and warm paternal applause several times during the concert, Father and Son lightheartedly disagreeing about just how much guitar know-how Nic has passed on to Joe. 'Three chords' says Joe, 'No - I just told you how to hit the thing!' counters Nic. Though he's understandably frail, Nic's voice is strong, his phrasing undiminished. A towering presence, thought lost to us forever, but, against all odds, here he is, performing again. Long may he continue. An unforgettable evening.

(Nic and Joe in 2011)
(More Nic Jones here)

Friday 17 October 2014

By the Sea

Trying to keep any residual coughing and spluttering to myself, we took my visiting Aunt out to the coast for lunch yesterday. A hearty and delicious chick pea, mixed bean & vegetable cassoulet soothed my fevered brow enough to face a bracing walk along the pier, which certainly helped to clear the away the cobwebs.

Tuesday 14 October 2014


Apologies for my recent radio silence, but I'm laid low at the moment with some form of bug, possibly man-flu. This is day three and I'm hoping that it fast tracks out of my system before a long arranged two day visit from an elderly Aunt tomorrow afternoon, as I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Among the current symptoms are very violent cold shivers and the opposite extreme of overheating and heavy sweating, which combine to litter what little sleep I'm getting with crazy, feverish dreams.

I managed to watch a little of the BBC documentary on the Russian space Programme this morning, before passing out again. Was it one of those feverish dreams, or did I really hear Eduard 'Mr Trololo' Khil's singular performance of 'I Am Glad, 'Cause I'm Finally Returning Back Home' playing behind one of the scenes?

You've probably seen this clip a million times, but if not, take a look - you'll be convinced that you're the one with the fever. It has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.

Normal service will be resumed when my brain's working properly again.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Saturday Scratch #40 - Burt Walters

Even in the often confusing world of Lee Perry's huge supporting cast of characters, the contribution of Burt Walters would surely be seen as a minor one, were it not for a typically inspired slice of Upsetter madness. Discovered while singing barefoot on a street corner in early 1968, Walters was quickly whisked into the studio to voice a couple of covers with Scratch at the controls. A re-written 'Blowin' in the Wind' (credited to Bob Dillon), complete with low budget sound effects, eventually appeared on the flip of Perry's own classic, 'People Funny Boy'.

The only single to be issued under Burt Walters' own name was a cover of the 1954 Drifters hit, 'Honey Love', which initially released as a Jamaican only white label 7". It's pleasant enough, I'm sure you'll agree.

At this point, though, either the money ran out or perhaps Scratch just lost faith in Burt's abilities, because instead of recording another tune to put on the flip-side of 'Honey Love', Perry simply plucked the original vocal out of the mix, reversed it and laid it back onto the rhythm, titling it 'Evol Yenoh'. This straight forward act transformed a sweet little pop song into an unhinged thing of disturbing weirdness, featuring Walters appearing to speak in tongues. Unsurprisingly, Trojan in the UK passed on 'Evol Yenoh', only allowing 'Honey Love' to sneak out as the b-side to an unrelated instrumental cut, 'Thunderstorm', by King Cannon Ball in December 1968.

Thursday 9 October 2014

The Mysterious Case of the 24 Beat Instrumentals

Did I ever tell you the one about what was, until recently (see here), my second best ever car-boot sale find?* It was ridiculously early one Sunday morning in 1991, in a shady corner of a car park, adjacent to Ipswich Town football ground and as I ambled along a row of tightly packed wallpapering tables, bowing under the weight of a thousand unloved nick-nacks, I spied a cardboard box on the ground, pushed back beneath a table and almost out of sight. I pulled the heavy box forwards and lifted the flaps to discover a pile of magazines, topped by a vintage copy of the Radio Times. Nothing too exciting here, I thought. Delving a little deeper, though, beneath several more old TV listing guides, lay 24 random issues of Beat Instrumental Magazine from the late 1960s and very early 1970s. I got the whole box for a quid.

During that period, Beat Instrumental was a publication where Clodagh Rodgers rubbed shoulders with King Crimson and an interview with Glen Campbell jostled for position with Viv Stanshall's latest column. I had hours of fun ploughing through the magazines, reading about 'underground' band Tyrannosaurus Rex shortening their name to T.Rex, Jimmy Page unveiling the line-up of The 'New' Yardbirds and The Trogg's adventures on a package tour with a new young band called The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Towards the end of the 1990s, with finances a little tight, I sold all 24 of the magazines for an amount that, at the time, it would've been silly to turn down.

The only reason I mention this fairly uninteresting little tale, is that at the weekend I stumbled, in not totally dissimilar circumstances, upon another batch of Beat Instrumentals. The weird thing is that, once again, there were 24 of them in the box. Not consecutive issues, but 24 random ones. I picked them up 50 miles from the location of that initial haul 23 years ago and 120 miles from where I later sold them, so I doubt they're the same magazines, returning like a group of long lost homing pigeons (though I've yet to totally rule this out), but why 24 again? Why not 5 or 10 or 50? Perhaps people only dispose of them in lots of 24 - I did. Perhaps 24 is my lucky number. Maybe it's time I did the lottery. Either way, my spare time reading material for the immediate future just took a turn for the better.

Here's Coxsone Dodd's house band, The Sound Dimension, with a killer Studio One instrumental entitled 'Heavy Beat'. You see what I did there? Instrumental.....Beat..... Oh, please yourself!

(*My number one best ever car-boot sale find? I really must share that, one of these days.)

Sunday 5 October 2014

The Jim Jones Revue

By the time you read these words, The Jim Jones Revue will be no more. At the penultimate concert of their 'Last Hurrah' tour on Friday evening, the band, as always, played as if their lives depended upon it, determined to give everything they had right up until the very final moments of their existence. It was hot, it was exhausting and it was loud.

Here are the singles that served to bookend their career, 'Rock 'n' Roll Psychosis' from 2008 and, a personal favourite, 2013's 'Collision Boogie'.

Friday 3 October 2014

The Staves

Following their support slot on Bon Iver's 2012 American tour, Justin Vernon repays the kindness by twiddling the knobs on a sublime new Staves tune, 'Blood I Bled', the title track from their new EP.

Thursday 2 October 2014

The Human League

Many happy returns to Philip Oakey, who is 59 today. The hairstyle, and indeed the hair, may be long gone, but the early Human League stuff still sounds great.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

David Thomas Broughton

Last week, in a tiny subterranean bar, I attended my third David Thomas Broughton concert in five years. It was by turns funny, scary, touching, confrontational and beautiful, but above all it was, as always, a unique experience. Part singer-songwriter, part performance artist, Broughton treats his songs as raw material, to be dissected and reassembled at will, looping his voice, his guitar and various electronic gizmos, while incorporating any inanimate objects that come to hand. He wanders off mic and off stage, singing on the move, in the middle of the audience, even from half way up the staircase leading out of the venue.

Broughton's sonorous baritone (think a 21st Century Jake Thackray) is currently complemented by The Juice Vocal Ensemble, with whom he has recorded one of 2014's finest albums, 'Sliding The Same Way'. Over Juice's often unsettling, aural backdrop, Broughton's clipped Northern diction tackles dark themes on the LP, sometimes using very blunt language. 'I will glass every one of you pricks in this bar', isn't a line you'll find anywhere in the Folk tradition and was delivered with such mesmeric conviction during last week's concert, that I'm sure I wasn't alone in shifting uncomfortably in my seat. An essential album and an essential live performer.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Version City #33 - The Boss sings The King

In June 1981, I caught the final show of Bruce Springsteen's six night residency at Wembley Arena, it was my first Springsteen concert and much of the evening is still vivid in my memory. The tiny drum kit sitting in the middle of that vast stage, little more than a snare, floor tom, bass drum and a couple of cymbals. The opening song, 'Born to Run'....'Born to Run'! He started with 'Born to Run'! The joyous audience participation during 'Hungry Heart' and the tears during a whisper-to-a-scream-to-a-whisper 'Point Blank'. Seven covers (if you count the Detroit Medley as just one), a couple of songs he wrote but gave away and nothing from 'Greetings...' or 'The Wild, The Innocent...'. 31 songs in total, again counting the Detroit Medley as one.

What's left of my ticket after I left it in my pocket and it was savaged by the twin-tub.

Elvis Presley's influence on proceedings was particularly noticeable that evening. Springsteen offered a sombre early reading of his own 'Johnny Bye-Bye', which would remain officially unreleased until 1985 and deals, in part, with the death of Presley. In addition, two of the aforementioned covers were associated with Elvis. 'Can't Help Falling in Love' came towards the end of the final encore, but a largely re-written 'Follow That Dream' appeared early in the set. Bruce has sporadically revisited the song in subsequent years and here's a one-off performance from a show in Switzerland, during 1988's Tunnel of Love Express Tour.

Happy Birthday Boss.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Frank and David

I left school with precious little to show by way of qualifications, but, thanks to the deft intervention of a teacher who saw some potential in me, I managed to land a job in a large insurance office. When I arrived for my first day at work, I was socially out of my depth and felt very much like a boy in a grown-up world - even the junior clerks of a similar age to me appeared to have somehow achieved a level of worldly experience, gained by a few months spent in an adult working environment.

Fortunately for me, my desk was positioned between those of Frank and David. Frank and David, much like the other experienced staff in my section, seemed very old to me at the time. In reality they were only in their early 40's. They'd both been with the company for 10 years at that point and had no doubt already realised that, in all probability, they would see out their working lives behind those very desks. It was a job for life, if you kept your nose clean. They, unlike some of our more earnest colleagues, were also wise enough to realise that the job. and indeed life, were not things to be taken too seriously, all of the time. They helped me to do my work well, but they also encouraged me laugh, treating me as an equal, rather than a new kid on the block.

Inevitably, when you're in a close-knit working environment, a little micro-language develops, full of tics, catchphrases and regularly-used terms. Occasionally after work, I'd catch the same bus home as David, sometimes with our favourite conductor on board, who would, more often than not, go into hyper-mode as the evening rush hour progressed, chanting 'Cheers, cheers, ta,ta,ta, thank you, cheers, cheers, ta...' at ever increasing speeds as he charged up and down the packed bus collecting fares. David could gently mimic the guy to perfection, often reducing me to tears at my desk after I'd passed him a file or folder he'd requested. 'Cheers, cheers, ta,ta,ta, thank you, cheers, cheers, ta...', he'd jabber ad infinitum, as I struggled for breath.

Frank was a mischievous sod too, forever the joker, frequently causing gales of laughter to spread among the desks, only becoming serious when his wife, who worked in the same building, descended the escalator from the floor above. As she came into view, his eyes lit up and he'd smile the smile of a man who was utterly content with his lot and deeply in love.

I don't know the origin of Frank's most used phrase, it was already well established by the time I appeared on the scene. Whenever things became overly stressful or too full-on at work, Frank would grin broadly, stretch out his arms and say 'Easy, easy', as a kind of calming gesture. The words quickly entered my lexicon and I still find myself reassuring myself with them to this day.                                                                        
I worked at the office for less than two years, but, without wishing to descend into cliché, I went in a shy, socially inept boy and left as a young man with enough self-confidence to work in a customer facing environment for the next 30 years. I'm sure I owe much of this confidence to Frank and David's early encouragement.

A few nights ago, I caught up with Frank again. He beamed that familiar smile as we talked and reminisced. When the time came to leave, I reflected on my first steps into the 'grown-up' world at the insurance office all those years ago and thanked him for the acceptance and friendship he and David had shown, that had meant so much to me. At this point, I confess I became slightly emotional and, spontaneously, I threw an arm around his shoulder and patted him warmly on the back. 'Easy, easy', he laughed.

David died in 2010, ravaged in his final years by escalating multiple sclerosis. Frank passed away a couple of years earlier, shortly after losing his beloved wife. Frank's visit the other night, came in the form of a particularly vivid dream. Our brief period of working together in the office was over 35 years ago, but rarely does a day goes by that I don't think of one or both of them.


Frank wasn't particularly into music, but David was and we would talk about it for hours, when we probably should've been working. He didn't 'get' much of what I was listening to, but was always interested to hear about the records I'd bought or gigs I'd been to. David's era was a little earlier and this was one of his favourites.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Marc Bolan - 37 Years Gone

37 years? Can it really be 37 years? Here's one from (gasp) 43 years ago, featuring Marc, Micky and Steve, with a little help from Babs, Flick, Dee Dee etc, who kind of look as if they're dancing to a different song.

Keep a little Marc in your heart.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Gogo Penguin and Mammal Hands

Late last Wednesday, I was very pleased to learn that Gogo Penguin's second LP, 'V2.0', had been shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, a thoroughly deserved nod. The evening after the night before, Gogo Penguin played in Norwich, opening for local outfit Mammal Hands, who were launching their own debut LP 'Animalia'. Both bands played out of their skins. It was a night that none in attendance, on stage or in the packed audience, will forget in a hurry.

I featured Gogo Penguin a few months ago (here) and their music has remained on regular rotation round these parts ever since, but was unprepared for the sheer force of their live show. They groove, they swing and, yes, they even rock, Mick Blacka throwing occasional Keef-like shapes with his double bass. The band stretch and push the recorded versions of their repertoire into seemingly uncharted areas before bringing it all back home and finishing each tune on a dime, without any noticeable nods or winks between the three of them. The performance of 'One Percent' was worth the price of admission alone. Totally thrilling stuff. This isn't too shabby either.

Mammal Hands are another three piece, who, like Gogo Penguin, are blessed with an extraordinary keyboard player and drummer, unusually though, they have no bassist. The line-up is completed by Jordan Smart on saxophone who was also group announcer for the night (apparently they take it in turns). Smart is very quietly spoken and, in tunes like 'Mansions of Millions of Years', demonstrates similarly delicate phrasing on the soprano sax. His range is huge though. During an extended tenor sax workout in an untitled new piece later in the evening, he tore the place apart, prompting spontaneous outbursts of applause from the audience everytime he took it up another notch. This was my first encounter with Mammal Hands, but I bought the album after the show and I'll certainly be back for more. Here's a version of 'Kandaiki, recorded last year.

Mammal Hands recorded 'Animalia' back in December 2013 and are clearly already looking towards album number two, in much the same way as Gogo Penguin are pushing forward to album three. It was a memorable night and I'm excited to hear what comes next from these terrific bands.

Monday 8 September 2014

The Aliens

Two gentlemen on a small boat out at sea. Chatting, reminiscing on old times. Perhaps they served together in the Second World War. So what year would that make this photo? Late 1960s? Early 1970s? What if I were to tell you that these men, if they are indeed the age they appear, were probably too old to have served in the First World War and that the start of World War Two was still 13 months in the future? The photo is scanned from a glass slide dated August 1938. A timeless image isn't it? I picked up around 150 glass slides at a car-boot sale last week, all housed in 4 long wooden boxes. I've only gone through a quarter of them so far, but the quality of the best is outstanding. More to come, I'm sure.

Gordon Anderson (brother of Kenny, a.k.a. King Creosote) was a founding member of The Beta Band, writing the magnificent 'Dry the Rain' from their debut EP, among others. Anderson left The Beta Band in 1997 after a period of ill health, going on to produce a series of wonderfully adventurous releases under the Lone Pigeon moniker. Following The Beta Band's demise in 2004, Anderson reunited with two former members, John Maclean and Robin Jones, to become The Aliens, who issued two fine albums, before dropping off the map in 2009. 'Boats', originally a stripped down, solo Lone Pigeon tune, was re-recorded by The Aliens to glorious effect and issued on LP number two, 'Luna'.

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