Friday 29 September 2017

Joyeux Anniversaire Brigitte

I dug out a few of Brigitte Bardot's Serge Gainsbourg collaborations yesterday, by way of marking BB's 83rd birthday. Then I headed over to YouTube to check out some footage from the period, kicking off with familiar clips for 'Comic Strip', 'Harley Davidson' and the fantastic 'Bonnie and Clyde', all from 1968, before heading back to 1963 for a groovy 'L'appareil à Sous' - at face value an innocent enough little ditty, although it's worth remembering that things are rarely the way they seem when it comes to Gainbourg's lyrics. My big discovery was a video for 1968's 'Contact', possibly my favourite of the Gainsbourg penned Bardot songs, which for some reason I'd never bumped into before. Far out!

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Walking Boss

My new boss had a torrid time of it last week, as one after another of his full time staff members called in sick. As a consequence, he had to work several consecutive 12+ hour shifts to cover all the no-shows. His facial expressions as he worked were all painfully familiar to me - anger, frustration, exhaustion and despair - I'd been there and done that during my own time in management. As it happens, I had an absolute stinker of a cold last week myself (which only eventually lifted yesterday), but managed to drag myself into work, medicated to the hilt and sweating profusely, for all five of my allotted part-time shifts. I couldn't bear the thought of letting the poor guy down.

Here's the remarkable Clarence Ashley, born 122 years ago this week, with 'Walking Boss', a song he learned directly from African American railroad workers in the early years of the 20th century and finally recorded in 1962. Ashley is a captivating and hugely important figure in American music, who I fully intend to return to on these pages before too long.

Clarence Ashley - Walking Boss

Friday 22 September 2017

Red Gold & Green #23 - Dadawah

Leading purveyors of the Nyabinghi sound, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus have released at least 25 albums over the last 43 years, though early on in his career, Ras Michael (Michael Henry to his Mum) produced music under the Dadawah moniker. 1974's 'Peace & Love' consists of four extended trippy excursions, all of which were allegedly recorded and mixed by Henry and producer Lloyd Charmers during the course of a single long night. It's been claimed that this album is the closest reggae comes to psychedelia and that's a valid point of view - but it's a pretty darned funky LP too. Just listen to Lloyd Parks' bass as it anchors 'Seventy Two Nations'. Absolute bliss.

Dadawah - Seventy Two Nations

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Finally, 43 Years Later - Sparks in Concert

I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us'  in 1974. I can also vividly remember arguing with another kid in a school playground about the merits of the song - I said that it was amazing and unlike any pop record I'd ever heard, but he didn't like it at all. Funnily enough, this strange Sparks-related Marmite effect continues in my life to this day, as Mrs S reacts to their music in much the same way as most people would do to nails scraping down a blackboard.

43 years on from being blown away by 'This Town...', 'Kimono My House', 'Propaganda' and all the many great records that followed, I finally saw Sparks in concert in Norwich on Monday evening. Ron and Russell's total confidence in their new album is evident and justified. The band liberally scattered a full seven songs from 'Hippopotamus' throughout the set, where they blended in seamlessly with the older, more familiar material. Those of us of a certain age felt ourselves welling up throughout 'Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth', then threw ourselves around like we were 14 again during 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us' and 'Amateur Hour'. Crucially though, the new stuff was every bit as good. 'What the Hell Is It This Time?', 'I Wish You Were Fun' and the title track itself are all up there with their very best work.

I can thoroughly recommend 'Hippopotamus' and if the current Sparks tour wends its way to your town, do not hesitate - buy a ticket. I can't remember the last time I smiled so much during a gig.

Monday 18 September 2017

Big Thief

'Capacity', Big Thief's second LP in the space of 12 months, has been getting a lot of love in this house just lately, 'Haley' is particularity bewitching. I'm short on time this morning, so I'll leave you with that tune plus the video for 'Mythological Beauty'. You can check out two further tracks and/or order the album here.

Big Thief - Haley

Friday 15 September 2017

Work in Progress #4: T.Rex - Metal Guru

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Marc Bolan's tragically early death. I've written frequently about Bolan's massive influence on several aspects of my life and will no doubt do so again, but for now it's all about the music. Today I'm extremely honoured to have had an Imaginary T.Rex Compilation Album published over at The (New) Vinyl Villain and would like to offer my huge thanks to JC for shuffling his posts around to fit mine in, particularly as I was so very late in getting it across to him! For the purposes of the ICA I deliberately avoided the hits, but for the latest instalment of my Work in Progress series I've gone for T.Rex's 4th and final No.1 smash, 'Metal Guru'. It's interesting to note that the acoustic studio demo of 'Metal Guru' bears an uncanny resemblance to 'Lady', which originally appeared on it's b-side, though all similarities fades when the full might of Bolan & Tony Visconti's 'T.Rex Treatment' is layered across the track, which includes backing vocals courtesy of Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan of The Turtles.

T.Rex - Metal Guru (Demo)

T.Rex - Metal Guru

Wednesday 13 September 2017

The Psychedelic Furs

The last time I saw The Psychedelic Furs perform in concert, they were touring in support of their seventh LP 'World Outside'. That was in 1991 and, criminally, they haven't released another full album of new songs since, although front man Richard Butler has put out material under both his own name and Love Spit Love in the intervening years. The band reconvened in 2001 following a prolonged hiatus and continue to tour regularly in the USA. A couple of evenings ago, I caught up with the UK leg of their 'Singles' tour. What I half-envisaged was a perfunctory run through of the hits, but what I got was a band at the top of its game, playing each song as if it was their latest and having a whole heap of fun doing so.

The setlist was confidently laid out in broadly chronological order, so we got big hitters 'We Love You', 'Mr Jones' and 'Pretty in Pink' very early on, while 'Don't Be a Girl' from 'World Outside' and 'House' from 'Book of Days' appeared towards the very end. The band held back a gorgeous 'Heaven' to round off the main set though and encored with an atmospheric 'Sister Europe' and a positively bruising 'India'. My personal highlights of an excellent night out came with the contemporary interpretations of 'Midnight to Midnight' period material. Richard Butler himself has described that particular LP as being 'hollow, vapid and weak' and it certainly hasn't aged too well, but on Monday evening 'Heartbreak Beat' and 'Angel's Don't Cry' were unexpectedly powerful.

They didn't play my all-time favouite Psychedelic Furs song this time around, but then I didn't expect them to - it's a singles tour and the tune in question was never a single. You can find 'Torch' tucked away on their final CBS LP, 1989's Book of Days', a terrific and unjustly overlooked record. 

Psychedelic Furs - Torch

Monday 11 September 2017

From A to Z

You may remember that a couple of years ago I decided to undertake this endeavour. Now, finally, at long long last, I have acquired some shelving for my CDs and for the first time in 7 years can access them all with ease. Expect to hear periodic selections pulled from the shelves over the coming months as I reacquaint myself with a few old favourites, but for now here's a tune each from the top and the tail of the alphabetised collection.

The Accidental was a one-off side project featuring members of The Bicycle Thieves, Tunng and The Memory Band, who put out an album, 'There Were Wolves', on Thrill Jockey in 2008. If you're partial to the gentler side of Tunng, it'll be right up your street.

'Odessey and Oracle', the classic 1968 album by The Zombies will be familiar to most. My copy is the 1998 30th Anniversary Edition containing both Mono and Stereo versions. It's essential stuff, whatever version you can lay your hands on.

The Accidental - Knock Knock 

The Zombies - This Will Be Our Year (Mono Version)

Friday 8 September 2017


Between entertaining the visiting American contingent of the family, darting off down to London for two consecutive long weekends and throwing myself headlong into a new job, I haven't had much time to devote to the blogosphere just lately. My 88 year-old aunt's cataract operation was a resounding success, my thanks to everyone who wished her well. By the morning after the procedure she was already reporting a significant improvement in her eyesight, something I had assumed would take some time, and by that afternoon I was having to shout at her to get her to sit down and rest! All very positive.

I made a few CD compilations to soundtrack this recent stint of driving and one of the highlight tunes was 'Motorbike' by Flat Worms, a band assembled from the alumni of Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Kevin Morby and Wet Illustrated. What a fuzztastic racket it is.

Monday 4 September 2017

Where Am I Now?

A little competition to keep you amused while I'm away on family duty in London. Last week an Ipswich newspaper ran a feature on the insurance company where I spent the first 2½ years of my working life. More accurately, the aim of the feature was to celebrate the company's head office, a building that has won a stack of design awards over the past 40 years. A number of old photos appeared in the article, including this one taken inside the building, circa 1978/79. It was something of a shock to spot a substantially younger version of myself hidden amongst the massed ranks of staff posing for the camera. Can you spot me, or at least guess which person I might be? You should be able to click on the image to enlarge it. I've shared several photos from my misspent youth over the years, so you could use those to narrow down the search.

Here's an appropriate tune from Girl Ray's terrific debut LP to soundtrack your musings. Happy hunting!

Friday 1 September 2017

Home Again

On the hottest Bank Holiday Monday in living memory, my cousin and I spent a couple of hours walking along the towpath of the River Lea from Stratford to Walthamstow, a stretch that we both regularly walked with our Dads when we were young children in the early 1960s. It was the first time my cousin's husband and kids had visited our old stomping grounds, while for us it was a period of reflection and not a little nostalgia - over 40 years had elapsed since we last walked alongside that river together.

Here's Doug Tuttle from his recent LP, 'Peace Potato'.

Doug Tuttle - Home Again

(This is just a flying visit i'm afraid. I'm off back down to London for a few days, to look after my aunt as she undergoes a cataract operation.)

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