Saturday 28 June 2014

Version City #29 - Zara McFarlane sings Junior Murvin

We're hitting the highway, heading down to our nation's capitol for a few days to hook up with the visiting New York contingent of the family. Normal service (whatever that is) should be resumed in the middle of next week. I'll leave you with a familiar tune in an unfamiliar musical setting, with a clip filmed a short hop from where we'll be staying.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

White Fence

New music from Californian recording artist Tim Presley, trading under the name White Fence. Marc Riley on 6Music recently played 'Like That' back to back with an early single by The Who and I can see what he was getting at. A bustin' little tune though, with a cool accompanying clip, taken from the forthcoming LP, 'For the Recently Found Innocent'.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Crispy Ambulance

It's one thing to celebrate the anniversaries of LP's from my long gone school days; 'The Slider', 'Ziggy Stardust', 'Exile on Main St' etc, but quite another to be informed that Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures' turned 35 last week. THIRTY FIVE! This was only seven years after those classics from T.Rex, Bowie and the Stones, but, viewed from this end of the telescope, the gap seems far wider. I demand a recount.

Meanwhile, from a mere 33 years ago, here are fellow Mancunians and Factory artists, Crispy Ambulance. The connections don't end there of course. One night in 1980, singer Alan Hempsall was temporarily called into service by Joy Division after Ian Curtis suffered an epileptic fit, just before a show in Derby. The tune is the frankly magnificent 'The Presence' and, in one final link, it was produced by the legendary Martin Hannett.

An edited 'performance' video of the song is available here and it's well worth 6½ minutes of your time, but I make no apologies for choosing to concentrate on the full 13 minute version of this masterpiece. Enjoy.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Version City #28 - Happy Birthday Ray Davies

Many happy returns to Ray Davies, who hits the big 7-0 today. His legendary catalogue has been a popular source of cover material for nearly 50 years and here are three of my favourites, from The Nomads, Gravenhurst and Steve Wynn.

Friday 20 June 2014

Meet the Beetles

Back in the day (the day being a couple of hundred years ago), the walls separating our gaff from next door didn't exist and it was all one house. For the past 120 years or so, the building has been divided roughly 2/3 & 1/3, with internal doors still linking them both on each floor. When we moved in nearly 3 years ago, these final connections were boarded over and sealed up for good. Needless to say, we live in the 1/3 bit and recently a young couple moved in to 'the big house' next door.

Over the past couple of weeks our new neighbours have been doing some serious demolition of internal walls, ceilings and staircases, as part of a major renovation of the old place, causing occasional dust storms to surge up through our floorboards. The banging and crashing has also disturbed other residents of both properties. We've noticed higher numbers of spiders and beetles than usual hanging out in our pad, many presumably seeking refuge from the temporary chaos next door. Here's one I escorted from the premises earlier.

Any excuse to spin the Fabs... (Belated birthday greetings Sir Macca!)

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Terry, Lil' and The Power Game

Mum's christian name was Lilian, which is what Nan invariably called her. To my cousins, she was Aunty Lily and to practically everyone else, she was just plain Lily. Except Dad. To him alone, she was always Lil'. Terry and Lil' were married 59 years ago today. I wrote a little bit about their anniversary a couple of years ago (here) and had no intention of doing so again this year, until one of life's funny little moments tapped me on the shoulder at the weekend.

Unknown to me, for my 6th birthday Dad sent a request into Two-Way Family Favourites on the BBC Light Programme. The tune he asked them to play for me was 'The Theme from The Power Game' by the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra, which I was obsessed with at the time. Much to my surprise and delight, Michael Aspel read my name and address out on the radio and duly played the record. Dad was on hand to capture the moment with his trusty reel-to-reel and I played the resulting tape of the broadcast to death after the event. Surprisingly, given that later in life I spent 21 years behind the counter of a record shop, I never did pick up a copy of 'The Theme from The Power Game' on any format, but I do still have that reel-to-reel tape.

Last Sunday morning, as I browsed idly through a box of singles at a car-boot sale, there it was. 'The Theme from The Power Game' by the Cyril Stapleton a picture sleeve no less! I'd never actually ever seen a copy and I confess that I nearly had a bit of a 'moment' as I slid the record gently from the sleeve to discover that it was in pristine condition. The man on the stall was asking 20p, which I gladly handed over. Back at home, a couple of hours later, I blasted that big tune out at full volume, three or four times, one after another, reflecting on the lifetime that's passed since the afternoon in 1966, when Michael Aspel read out a little boy's birthday request on the radio.

As I gathered my thoughts, I began to wonder what might be on the b-side. The sleeve just mentions the title of the a-side and the only other Cyril Stapleton tune I know offhand is the theme from 'Department S', but that came a few years later. I lifted the single from the turntable, flipped it over, read the label and smiled. The b-side is entitled 'Lil'. Of course it is.

Here are both tunes.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Saturday Scratch #38 - A Fear of Flying

Have I mentioned that I hate flying? Over the years I've tried it drunk, sleep deprived and otherwise subdued, but the result is always the same - abject fear. Actually, that's not quite true. In the early 1990s, following my first few ventures skyward, I gained an unexpected measure of confidence. The flights thus far had been remarkably smooth, the on board entertainment distracting and terror minimal. Then, on perhaps my third or fourth trip out to visit my cousin in New York, I experienced one of those flights. Constant, violent, turbulence, akin to driving in a car, without suspension, over endless sleeping policemen, at full pelt, for about seven hours. There were tears, there was screaming, there was upchucking a gogo - and that was just the cabin crew.

Two weeks later, I was all set to fly home alone and found myself sitting next to a lovely old lady who was heading back to blighty after visiting her Daughter and meeting her Grandchild for the first time. We got chatting as the plane queued for a take- off slot and she told me how she'd experienced a new lease of life since the sad death of her husband, who hadn't really liked to travel. She'd flown to several European destinations over the previous couple of years, before taking on the long haul to America and found that she absolutely loved it. In fact she'd actually been flying around the States alone for over a month, before stopping in on her Daughter for the last ten days of her trip. She was 75 if she was a day and a quite remarkable lady.

I expressed my admiration for her achievements and somewhat shamefacedly mentioned the flight from hell that I'd endured two weeks earlier, which had left me an emotionally drained wreck for the first few days of my holiday. At this very moment the Captain's voice came over the intercom to inform us that we'd been cleared for take-off and the plane began to roll forwards. 'I just don't like flying...', I said '...and I particularly hate this bit' I muttered. As the engines roared and we began to hurtle down the runway, the old lady smiled and gave me a reassuring tap on the back of my hand, which clenched the arm rest with a vice like grip of pure fear. She then uttered the most ill-timed and least helpful phrase it's ever been my misfortune to hear. 'Don't worry young man, there's nothing we can do about it. If it's your time to go, it's your time to go'. The wheels left the ground. We were on our way home.

Here, from the 1975 LP 'Musical Bones', are The Upsetters, featuring the mighty trombone of Vin Gordon, with 'Fly Away'.

Friday 6 June 2014

Feed the Birds

Here's Mum, aged 15, enthusiastically feeding pigeons near Trafalgar Square. The year was 1948 and the horrors of war were a fading memory, with the promise of good times just around the corner. Dad was just around the corner too. My parents met within two years of this photo being taken and courted for the next five, before marrying in 1955.

18 years later, at the same location, I'm not nearly so confident. Note the big empty space around me. Those pigeons could sense that I wasn't keen. Dad tried every trick in the book to make me interact with the blighters, but I was having none of it.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Kleenex / LiLiPUT

Championed early on by John Peel (which is how I bumped into them), Swiss band Kleenex signed to Rough Trade in 1978 and, in a six year career, blossomed from scratchy art-punk primitives into angular, melodic adventurers. Given their chosen name, they can't have been altogether surprised when, in 1979, a solicitor's letter dropped onto the doormat, threatening legal action if they didn't re-brand themselves pretty damn sharpish. So, in 1980, after one of their occasional line-up re-shuffles, the group re-emerged as LiLiPUT and continued, undaunted, on their post-punk way. 

Kleenex/LiLiPUT released an EP, five singles and one LP between 1978 and 1982, with a second album arriving in December 1983, by which time they'd already split up. Since then there's been a 46 track compilation of their entire studio output and a CD/DVD collection of live rarities, together cataloguing every recorded moment of their existence.

Objectively selecting representative tracks by a group you love can be a fiendishly difficult business, so I've simply plumped for three personal faves. Single number four, 'Die Matrosen' from 1980, spotlighting that most under-used weapon in the post-punk armoury - the whistled chorus. Also from 1980, the brilliant 'Hitch-Hike', a song that, in a sane world, would've been a single, but instead was lost, hidden away on a various artist, Swiss music sampler album. And finally, the faintly unsettling 'Terrified', from that posthumous 2nd LP in 1983.

Monday 2 June 2014

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers

Just recently, I've been greatly enjoying the melancholy beauty of 'Out of Time', a new single by indie veterans Pete Fij, formerly of Adorable, and Terry Bickers, from The House of Love and Levitation. Clicking around the ol' interweb a few hours ago, I noticed that the duo are among the forthcoming attractions at a really tiny venue, not a million miles away, so I took a moment to check out more of their material - and blow me down if each successive tune wasn't better than the last. The videos are just fantastic too. I immediately headed back to the venue's webpage and bagged myself a ticket.

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers' debut LP, the brilliantly titled 'Broken Heart Surgery', is released on July 7th.

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