Tuesday 30 June 2015

Up Hill and Down Dale

North Norfolk. Vast empty beaches, big skies and....hills? Yup, North Norfolk has its fair share of leg-burners, we know, we walked a few of 'em. They may not stack up to much in comparison to those in Singing Bear's gloriously mountainous neck of the woods, but the long inclines certainly take it out of you after a few hours on the go. Luckily, there was always a cold beer on the porch of our cabin to look forward to at the end of each day, before we rested up and hit the road for more of the same the following morning.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Song of the Sea

When having a bit of a rummage for a clutch of CD's to accompany our brief trip to the North Norfolk coast, my hand happened to fall on a couple of Tunng albums, including the 2005 debut, 'Mother's Daughter and Other Songs'. It's on this LP that you'll find the gorgeous and appropriate 'Song of the Sea'.

Friday 26 June 2015

Out Of Town

By the time you read this, Mrs S and I should, all being well, be in the middle of a short stay on the North Norfolk coast. Our destination is only an hour and a bit away from Swede Towers, but rather than coming and going, we thought we'd snag a B&B for a couple of nights and make a break of it. The plan, as always, is for a bit of walking, a bit of eating and, who knows, maybe even a bit of drinking, though these days anything more than a couple of glasses of wine at one sitting sends us quickly on our way to snoozeville - lightweights!

My CD collection is still (still!) stored away in the spare room following our move in 2011, but whenever we travel I always have a fish about in the boxes and grab a few albums for the road. For this trip I've also lovingly hand-crafted a couple of brand new CDr compilations, the first in absolutely years. Here's a great live version of a tune that made the tracklist of one of those compilations, 'Hinterland' by Lonelady, a firm favourite round these parts since its release in March.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, Part 2 of 2

One evening after school in 1971, a pal played me 'Get It On' by T.Rex. I was 11 years old at the time and when I listened to the record it was as if a black and white curtain had been pulled aside, to reveal a vivid technicolour world beyond. It was a personal musical revelation. A life-changing moment.

So I've had roughly 44 years to consider what I might say, should I one day be lucky enough to meet Tony Visconti, the producer of 'Get It On' and of many subsequent records that ended up in my collection. I had a close call once, on a bitingly cold Winter afternoon in mid-1990's New York, when we passed each other on the street. We were both wrapped up against the fierce sub-zero winds so that our faces were only partially visible, but I recognised him instantly and also instantly decided that I wasn't going to disturb him in those hostile circumstances. I've quietly regretted that decision ever since.

On Wednesday evening (after this show) I found myself in a queue, edging ever closer to Tony Visconti, who was seated signing autographs a few feet away. I had just a couple of minutes of those 44 years left to decide what words I could possibly use to, A) adequately summarise what a profound effect the music he's produced has had on my life, and B) not sound like a gushing buffoon.

As I drew level with him, Tony looked up, smiled and said 'Hello'. This was my moment. 'Do you mind if I shake your hand?' I said. His smile broadened as he gripped my hand firmly. Quite suddenly I knew exactly what I should say. I didn't need a to make a grand statement or sweeping gesture to encapsulate the years of pleasure this man's work had given me. The solution was far simpler and more obvious than that.

'Thank you', I said, shaking his hand warmly and blinking back the stinging in my eyes. 'Thank you.'

Saturday 20 June 2015

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, Part 1 of 2

To begin an LP with a song as ambitious in scale as 'The Width of a Circle' is, at the very least, a bold statement of intent. For an ad-hoc band to attempt to cover said LP 45 years later and thus open their set with 'The Width of a Circle' must surely take nerves of steel. At the Norwich Arts Centre on Wednesday, the song was nailed to perfection. It was the first of many. The evening was billed, snappily, as 'Tony Visconti & Woody Woodmansey with Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17) perform David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World album and another set of classic Bowie songs from 1969-73', and did pretty much what it said on the tin.

The big draws were obviously Woodmansey and Visconti, although the 10 piece band each played their part in impeccably recreating every nuance of the original arrangements of the songs, all of which were welcomed like much loved old friends by the packed audience. To his immense credit, Glenn Gregory did not, at any point, attempt to 'do a Bowie', instead interpreting each song faithfully in his own voice and manner. And some of those songs are hard! Many of us could probably mumble our way through a passable 'Man Who Sold the World', but next time you're in the shower have a go at 'The Supermen' or 'Saviour Machine' or 'She Shook Me Cold'. Gregory did a faultless job on the whole lot.

The second half of the set featured 'Time', 'Changes', 'Life on Mars' and no less than 7 selections from 'Ziggy Stardust', including a blistering reading of 'Moonage Daydream', a real highlight of the evening. I briefly met Woody after the show and he was pleased with my observation that the pure joy of playing those wonderful songs was evident to everyone and literally poured from the stage. The show lasted two hours, it felt like 10 minutes. A great night.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

There's No Point to Wanna Comb Your Hair When It's Grey and Thinning

One evening, when I was 12, I persuaded Mum to put my long, thick, straight hair in curlers. I've always hated my shapeless hair and, for a couple of hours at least, it was fun to see it tumbling in Bolanesque corkscrews. The following morning, of course, it had dropped back to boring, straight normality. It's hard to believe that Dad didn't grab his camera and record the event.

Much as I disliked my boring Barnet, having it cut was the worst. Dad first took me to the local barber's shop when I was four. I was plonked on a plank resting across the arms of the chair and told to sit dead still while the barber clipped and buzzed around my bonce. It was easier said than done. I twitched and I squirmed, particularly when he got anywhere my right ear, which for some reason set off a convulsion down my spine, leading to stern looks from the barber and a stern word from Dad. My left ear was fine, but that right ear always seemed ultra-sensitive to the slightest noise and it was only years later that I learned to control my involuntary reaction.

When the family relocated to Ipswich in 1975, I cast around my new classmates for a recommended local barber. 'Go and see Kenny,' someone suggested, 'Kenny Cuff the dancing barber'. It sounded unlikely, but was actually true. Instead of ambling around the chair while he snipped and trimmed, like your average barber does, Kenny performed a continuous soft shoe shuffle as he worked and was something of a local legend. His salon was a meeting place for a handful of old retired Suffolk gents, who rarely seemed to get their hair cut, but treated the place as a hang-out, smoking cigarettes and drinking endless cups of tea all day. They all thought my London accent was a hoot and good-naturedly sent me up something rotten throughout every visit, especially whenever I twitched as Kenny clicked his scissors close to my right ear.


Here's the late great Mikey Dread with what's probably his best known tune, 1977's 'Barber Saloon'. The uploader has also kindly included the dub version, 'Lagga the Barber', featuring King Tubby at the controls.

Monday 15 June 2015


Retiree's sound shares certain sonic similarities with the late great Arthur Russell and I'll admit that it was this that originally caught my ear. On closer inspection however, it becomes evident that the Australian four piece plough a particular, subterranean, avant-funk furrow all of its own. The terrific 'Gundagai' is taken from their forthcoming EP 'This Place', which follows up 2013's 'Together'. I've listened to little else all weekend.

Read more and pre-order 'This Place' here.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Saturday Scratch #47 - Sonny and Debby

Following yesterday's humidity-fest and little of the predicted overnight rain to cool things down, this morning dawned thick, mild and muggy. We had a coffee crisis looming in the house. We were almost out of paper filters and would never have made it through the weekend, so I dashed off across the marsh to pick up fresh supplies from town. It took me a little under an hour to walk there and back and I returned soaked in sweat, looking like the proverbial drowned rat, but after a refreshing shower and with a brew in hand, I'm ready to face the day.

Here are Sonny & Debby from 1978 with 'Sweat Suit', which, depending on your point of view, is either a parody of, or an homage to the contemporary hit 'Uptown Top Ranking'. A particular tip of the hat to the uploader of this one, for creating a custom discomix of the tune by segueing into Scratch's echo-laden dub version.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Uncharacteristic Negative Musings

Some time ago, I penned a long and pointless stream of negativity entitled 'Who Do You Loathe?', in which I examined a number of much loved and respected bands that, for various reasons, I just don't get. In the end I decided not to publish the piece, as, by and large, I prefer to promote positivity. Ultimately, even if a particular band or artist is not to my personal taste, I can usually appreciate the qualities in what they do and understand their popularity.

Having said all that, Muse......what's that all about? I listened with interest to their recent hour-long chat with Steve Lamacq on 6Music, in support of their new LP, 'Drones'. They are without question a pleasant, funny, engaging, interesting, eloquent and thoroughly decent bunch of chaps, who I wish no ill towards whatsoever. It's just that when it comes to their music, I struggle to find a single solitary redeeming feature.


On a more positve note, here's a band who are currently pushing all the right buttons here at Swede Towers. Young Knives played a Marc Riley session last week, which I'm very glad I caught, as I was unaware of their recent 'Something Awful EP' up until that point. The title song from the EP deals in part with the death of singer Henry Dartnall's Grandfather from Alzheimer's disease in 2010 and the dark accompanying clip is '..an imagining of a deteriorating mind, like an old VHS tape that's been recorded on too many times'.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Allen Ginsberg, New York, 1994

In May 1994, I spent 10 days visiting the American based contingent of the family in New York. At that time, before they had any kids, it was just my Cousin and her Husband, living in a small apartment on 24th Street. It was the pre-internet era, so I diligently scoured the Village Voice for upcoming gigs and events of interest to fill any spare evenings during my stay, which is how I discovered that Allen Ginsberg was performing at a small independent bookstore in Soho, two days before I was due to leave for home.

Ginsberg sang and recited poetry for a little over an hour at the back of the tiny store. His set commenced with a selection of better known pieces from his catalogue (including 'Father Death Blues'), moving onto readings from his then current book, 'Cosmopolitan Greetings', before finishing with a brace of unpublished works. It was an informal event and at the end there was an unruly scramble to have books and other memorabilia signed. The place was packed to the rafters and it was all moving very slowly. I had a ticket for a gig later that evening, so I had to leave.

The following evening Ginsberg carried out a very much more formal book-signing session at the gigantic Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the corner of 22nd & 6th, a couple of blocks from my cousin's apartment. There was no performance this time, just a very long queue that snaked around the shop floor. As we neared the desk where he sat, head down, signing endless copies of 'Cosmopolitan Greetings', I was asked my name by a member of staff, who scribbled it down on a scrap of paper and tucked it into the front of my copy. As I edged nearer, a burly security guard stepped forward to address this portion of the queue. He told us in no uncertain terms that Mr Ginsberg would sign our copies of 'Cosmopolitan Greetings' ONLY and nothing else. Furthermore we were not to attempt to speak to Mr Ginsberg or distract him in any way and to move on immediately our book was signed. The piece of paper with my name written on it was so that Ginsberg could write a dedication above his signature without becoming embroiled in unnecessary conversation and thus holding up proceedings. The whole event was something of a military operation, the exact opposite of the previous evening.

Finally, I reached the desk and silently placed the book in front of Allen Ginsberg, open to the title page as instructed. He squinted at the scrap of paper on which the staff member had written my name, but clearly couldn't decipher the scribble. I hesitantly spoke my name to help him out. He looked up. 'You're not from New York', he said. I felt the eyes of security, staff and waiting punters burning into the back of my neck. '......err, no..' I replied, 'I'm from the UK, visiting relatives in the city.' Pause. 'I enjoyed your performance in Soho yesterday'. To my amazement and everyone else's annoyance he continued chatting as he signed and dated my book plus a postcard of him I'd picked up earlier, before handing them back and saying, '...enjoy the rest of your stay.' I told him that I was actually going home the following day, absent mindedly adding that I was bloody terrified of flying. Ginsberg reached out and asked me to give him the book back, he opened it and added a couple of extra marks to the title page, on either side of his signature. I asked him what he'd drawn. 'Wings,' he said, 'for a safe flight home.'

In 1996 Allen Ginsberg released a great single, 'Ballad of the Skeletons', featuring musical accompaniment by Lenny Kaye, Marc Ribot, Philip Glass and Paul McCartney. Not a bad band.  Here's the full studio take (there's a little swearing in this one, just so's you know) plus a clip of a Beat and a Beatle performing an early stripped down version of the song live at The Royal Albert Hall in 1995.

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