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.

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