Tuesday 31 January 2017

Sunday 29 January 2017

Wedding Song

While one of my other blogs, Dear Diary 1952, drew to a natural conclusion at the end of December, over at Before the Streets Were Aired, my repository for old anonymous photos, things continue much the same as ever. 'Why do you get so obsessed with old photos?' I hear you ask. Here's a good example of why - an ancient photo album I picked up at a car boot sale, forgotten and unwanted. The first few pages are concerned with the marriage of a young couple. Here are two of my favourite shots from their wedding. I'd guess that we're talking the 1920's or early 1930's judging by the spats.

A splendid couple aren't they? The album continues with several photos of the bride and groom relaxing on a beach - their honeymoon perhaps? - before settling down to images from their day to day life as a young husband and wife. Inevitably, when looking through a collection of old photos, I wonder about what might have become of the people pictured. While looking through this particular album, a loose photo dropped out onto my lap and my question was instantly answered. It might be the loveliest one of the lot.

Whyte Horses - Wedding Song

Thursday 26 January 2017

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry

(Photo taken by Andi of Outline magazine)

The doors had only been open for 30 minutes on Tuesday evening and many people were still filing into the venue when Billy Bragg and Joe Henry walked unannounced onto the stage at bang-on 8pm. The pair launched into a strong six song selection from their recent collaborative LP of great American railway songs, 'Shine a Light', each one being individually set into context by either Billy or Joe. After concluding their opening segment with a version of Gordon Lightfoot's 'Early Morning Rain', Billy took his leave and left Joe alone in the spotlight, to perform a five song solo set. Some of the audience around me became a little restless during Bragg's absence and following Joe's first song, 'Trampoline', the chap next to me lent over and idly asked what I'd thought of the show so far. I told him that though I'd been lucky enough to see Billy Bragg many times in my life, I'd waited 21 years to see Joe Henry sing 'Trampoline' and it had absolutely made my night. He admitted that he'd never heard of Joe Henry before the present collaboration and looked at me gobsmacked. To my surprise this memorable performance wasn't even the highlight of Joe's set. That came with a cover, 'Freedom For the Stallion', proceeded by a moving tribute to his great friend Allen Toussaint who died in 2015. Here's an audience recording of the same song from last year.

After a short intermission, it was Billy Bragg's turn to sing a few of his own songs, including two brand new compositions. One, 'The Times They Are A-Changin'...Back', is unlikely to be formally recorded, but I can see it becoming a constantly re-written and updated staple of Billy's set for the foreseeable futre. The other, which may or may not be called 'The Dreams of Reason', is an equally powerful work in progress - just five days old on Tuesday. Following Billy's well received solo set, he was rejoined by Joe for more from 'Shine a Light' plus a fine cover of Dylan's 'Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You' during the encore. An excellent night.

Monday 23 January 2017

Sacred Paws

I feel sure that it was one (or more) of my blogging chums who initially introduced me to Glasgow/London duo Sacred Paws and just lately, everytime I hear that brassy intro to 'Rest', I realise I'm well and truly hooked too - it's a poly-rhythmic post-punk joy . Their debut long player, 'Strike a Match', arrives on January 27th on Rock Action Records.

Friday 20 January 2017

KC Rules OK

In all the times I've seen King Creosote perform since 2005, no two shows have been remotely similar in repertoire or musical accompaniment. Over the years I've witnessed him play variously as part of a duo, a trio, a four piece, in a Fence Collective supergroup, with Jon Hopkins performing the whole of 'Diamond Mines' and, memorably, there was the occasion when he limped onto the stage on crutches and in a full leg plaster, accompanied only by a djembe player. This past Tuesday evening in Norwich saw KC, bizarrely, in glam-rock mode (glitter, make-up, the works), fronting a seven piece band and showcasing, almost exclusively, songs from his most recent LP proper, 'Astronaut Meets Appleman'. I emphasise proper because in addition to this official release, KC has also been responsible for a flurry of low key, limited edition LP's and CD's over the past 18 months, many of which were available on the merch stand and, frustratingly, none of which I could afford.

Musically, the gig was nigh-on impeccable. 'You Just Want', 7½ minutes on record, was extended to a dramatic 12 minutes, creating an atmospheric opening to the show, while the insistent 'Surface' brought the main set to a similarly intense conclusion. The highlight of the night for me though was a stunning performance of 'Betelgeuse', which knocked the original studio recording into a cocked hat - it really was spellbinding stuff. In fact my only minor quibble with the whole shebang would be the amount of time KC spent chatting to the audience in between each song. Don't get me wrong, his humourous banter has always been an integral and enjoyable part of every KC show I've seen, but on Tuesday it was off the scale. Had he curtailed his waffle just a little, he could have easily played an additional two or three songs.

Only during the encore did King Creosote venture away from 'Astronaut Meets Appleman' material, first delving back to 2014 for an airing of his own 'I'm A Great Believer In Threes', before concluding the evening with a terrific reading of 'Star of Hope', a reprisal of his cameo on Mairearad Green's recent LP, 'Summer Isles'.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Farewell Bill Price

The dismal year of 2016 landed one final blow on Monday, with the belated announcement of the death of noted producer and engineer Bill Price on December 22nd, at the age of 72. In a career which started in 1965, Price twiddled the knobs for a rich and varied cast of characters over the years, including Tom Jones, Pete Townshend, Davey Graham, Englebert Humperdink, Peter Cook, The Pretenders, Bill Fay, Free, Paul McCartney, British Sea Power, Mott the Hoople, Human League, Camel, Sparks, Roxy Music, The Saints, TRB, Elton John, XTC, Guns N' Roses and many more - plus of course he worked with both The Clash and The Sex Pistols, virtually simultaneously.

Bill Price was a quiet giant of the recording industry for over 40 years and his passing will be mourned by artists and audiences alike. Here are just three examples of his production talent.

Racing Cars - They Shoot Horses Don't They (1976) 

Jesus & Mary Chain - Happy When It Rains (1987) 

The Waterboys - The Return of Pan (1993)

Monday 16 January 2017

All That Jazz #1 - Herbie Hancock

For a long time, a very long time, I've wanted to introduce a Jazz series to these pages. I'm keenly aware that this might prove less than popular in some quarters and I can respect that, but it's a musical genre that takes up a great deal of my listening hours, so please forgive an old man's indulgence. Fear not though, the series, much like its Reggae counterpart Red Gold & Green, will be an occasional one. The title, All That Jazz, is a nod to my Dad (himself a Jazz fan in the 1950's) who would often, apropos of nothing, conclude a sentence with the phrase '...and all that jazz'.

I'll kick things off with the nearest thing to a safe bet that I have at my disposal, 'Cantaloupe Island' by Herbie Hancock. The tune was recorded in 1964 for Hancock's fourth Blue Note LP 'Empyrean Isles', on which he is joined by three musicians who will definitely reappear in this series down the line somewhere - Freddie Hubbard on cornet, Ron Carter on bass and the great Tony Williams on drums. The tune achieved renewed recognition when it was heavily sampled to form the basis of 'Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)', a hit single for Us3 in 1993.

Herbie Hancock - Cantaloupe Island

(Buy 'Empyrean Isles' by Herbie Hancock here)

Thursday 12 January 2017


Considering that we spend 24 hours a day in the same building, the Swede Towers Venn diagram of musical obsessions doesn't overlap as much as you might think. The tuneful taste-buds of Mrs S & I are often complementary, but rarely absolutely identical. Currently, however, we are in complete agreement, sharing an ear-worm that gets us both throwing ill-advised shapes around the kitchen when we reconvene for lunch. Congolese singer, songwriter and rapper Baloji has a substantial catalogue of fine music under his belt and is currently signed to Bella Union, who released the '64 bits & Malachite' EP in November. From it, the tune that Mrs S & I can't get enough of is 'Spoiler'. Be prepared to be hooked.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

One Year


The homeward road is long 
You've left your prayers and song

Monday 9 January 2017

Feeling Gravity's Pull

In her final years, as her frailty and ill heath became gradually more pronounced, my Nan would quite often grab my arm for support, pull me close and whisper in despair - 'Don't ever get old'. I remember it distinctly. I also remember shaking my head at the absurdity of the very notion. I was young - I wasn't ever going to get old. Nan was living with us by then, as was her Sister-in-law, always known to me as Aunt Maud. Aunt Maud bore her own old age in a more stoic fashion than Nan. She laughed a lot, she enjoyed a drink and a cigarette and was generally the more sociable of the two, in spite of her increasing deafness and having been registered as blind for most of the second half of her life. As I went through a growth spurt in my mid-teens and shot up past them both, Aunt Maud, a Cockney through and through, would peer up at me as best she could and exclaim, 'Blimey, I reckon I'm growing downwards!'

Your humble author in 1975, aged 15, with Nan and Aunt Maud.

It would appear however, regardless of my very best efforts over the intervening 40 odd years, that I am in fact getting old. Or at least old enough to qualify for a recent invitation to our local medical centre, to have a general health and well-being check. Questions were asked, blood was drawn and readings measured. I'm doing ok apparently - BMI, weight, heart, pulse, cholesterol and blood sugar all tickety-boo. 'One last thing...' said the nurse as I was about to leave, '...step over here and we'll check your height.' 'Six foot six, I chimed confidently - I'd already told her as much, earlier in the examination. The nurse stood on tiptoe for a moment to adjust the measure so that it rested lightly on top of my head. 'Six foot four actually' she countered with a smile. 'Blimey,' I said. 'I reckon I'm growing downwards'.

REM - Feeling Gravity's Pull

Saturday 7 January 2017


All my own work!

Among the ever increasing list of accidental omissions from in my recent end of year posts is 'Ceremonial' by Anchorsong, which was issued so early in 2016 that I became convinced it had actually been released in 2015. Schoolboy error. The LP, on the Tru Thoughts label, is oozing with beautifully realised cross-cultural pop tunes. Look out - here comes one now. (If you like it, there's more here)

Anchorsong - Butterflies

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Version City #57 - Pete Townshend sings The Beat

Talking as we were about The Beat, I'm reminded of Pete Townshend's admirable cover of 'Save It For Later', which was originally released on the band's final LP, 'Special Beat Service' in 1982. Townshend recorded the song in the studio during the sessions for his 1985 album 'White City', a version that eventually appeared over 20 years later on a deluxe CD reissue. Here though is a live performance of 'Save It For Later' from 1985, which wound up seeing the light of day on 'Deep End Live!' the following year. In the clip, Pete references the song's unusual tuning and the direct phone call to composer Dave Wakeling that cleared up his confusion. In 2006 Dave Wakeling recalled the same phone call, and subsequent meeting with Townshend, from his own perspective.

Monday 2 January 2017

Side to Side

The news that Ranking Roger's Beat (as opposed to Dave Wakeling's English Beat) were to release 'Bounce', their first album for 30 years, didn't exactly fill me with anticipation. Don't get me wrong, I loved the original incarnation of the band and one of Roger's showcases, 'Pato and Roger a-Go Talk', was a big favourite round at my house in 1982. Dave & Roger's post-Beat outfit General Public released a few storming tunes too. But that was all a long time ago and Roger's new line-up of The Beat (featuring his son Ranking Junior as co-vocalist) contains no other original members of the band. The latest single from the album, 'Side to Side', proves that this old cynic was a tad hasty to pass judgement though. It's ancient, modern and very catchy.

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