Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Season's Greetings

This morning, before another long day of retail madness commences, I'm briefly firing up the old laptop for the first time in nearly a fortnight to pass on compliments of the season to one and all. By any measure, 2020 has been a shocker and I remain constantly grateful for the two principle communities that I'm a part of - the gang of oddballs at work, who it lately feels like I'm spending my whole life with, and the geographically far-flung bunch of likeminded souls that hang out in this little corner of t'internet. 

I finish work at 6pm on Christmas Eve and am back in the store at 8am on Boxing Day. My highlight of Christmas Day itself is already set in stone. At 8pm I'll settle down before my computer, as I have done 40-odd times already this year, to watch Robyn Hitchcock & Emma Swift perform another live Sweet Home Quarantine show from their East Nashville HQ. It's an absolute joy every week.

It feels like I've listened to very few song based records this year, erring instead towards ever longer, meandering instrumental pieces with which to carve a path through my cluttered brain. In contrast though, I'll leave you with three very short, distinctly diverse festive-themed tunes, each clocking in at 2 minutes or less.

Take care all. Enjoy your Christmas however you can and stay safe.

Bill Orcutt - White Christmas

David Tattersall - Yes! Jesus Loves Me

Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis - Christmas Night

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Supermarket Soundtrack


One morning in October as I clocked in for my shift, I couldn't help but notice that music was playing through the public address system, a system until then only used for imploring reluctant members of staff to 'jump on a till' when an unexpected rush occurred or to berate an inconsiderately parked customer into moving his or her vehicle. Yes, a nominal internal company radio station was on the air - in reality an external drive playing a selection of random tunes interspersed with social distancing information. The music, however, was awful - truly awful. I'd consider myself to have a working knowledge of pop music, but this stuff was unrecognisable and bland in the extreme, falling slap-bang into the category of aural wallpaper. The weeks went by and gradually it became the default background noise of a working day. Of course I expected to hear random Christmas songs phased into the playlist as we entered the festive season, but what I didn't bank on when I walked into the store on December 1st was to hear this belting out of the system.

The Coral - Jacqueline

You could've knocked me down with a feather. It was yer actual Coral....playing at work! Next up was 'Talk of the Town' by The Pretenders. Then 'One Vision' by Queen, which was slightly less welcome to be honest, but you get my drift. Suddenly, without warning, we were getting proper songs by proper artists instead of endless bucket loads of dreary muzak. Yes, this stuff is indeed interspersed with the anticipated Christmas songs, but wondering what tune is coming up next has certainly put a spring in my step each day. To date we've had music from artists such as Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley & the Wailers, The Supremes, Steve Winwood, The La's, James Brown, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sam Cooke, early Rod Stewart, The Travelling Wilburys, Dusty Springfield & The Four Tops to name but a few - and just yesterday 'Penny Lane' by The Fabs themselves, it really is all over the place and has become a welcome soundtrack to my working day. Even the festive tuneage stretches beyond the blindingly obvious. I mean when was the last time you heard this one going head to head with Slade and Wizzard in your local supermarket at this time of the year?

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Christmas All Over Again

Monday, 7 December 2020

Monday Long Song


For the first time ever, I've had some trouble with the new Blogger. It happened when trying to embed the Bandcamp link for today's Long Song. I hope I've nailed it now. Be sure to strap in and remove any breakables from high shelves before you hit play - untethered stuff will start to move about. The band is vert:x, the tune is Clus and it's taken from their magnificently titled 2018 'Death to False Motorik' LP.

I have an inkling that someone may have posted this one before. If so, apologies all round - I'm starting to lose track!

Monday, 30 November 2020

Monday Long Song

Driving home from work at quarter to five on a crisp, cloudless Thursday evening, the sun, which set a full 45 minutes earlier, had left a glowing orange residue low in the sky, while off the road to my right a dense mist enveloped the Waveney Valley. It was all too beautiful. My in-car soundtrack was one of a selection of old self-made compilation CDrs rediscovered during the recent house move. I had no way of knowing what tunes it contained, but this one started to play as I drove towards that dimming orange horizon and I thought to myself, right at this moment, there's nothing I'd rather be listening to.  

Lambchop - The Hustle

Monday, 23 November 2020

Monday Long Song

Richard Youngs is a man rarely known for looking back throughout his 170-odd album (and counting) career, so it's a particular joy to find him circling around to rekindle the terrific AMOR project once again. A new 4 track 12" EP is due for release in January, resulting from pre-lockdown Glasgow sessions in cahoots with Norwegian combo LEMUR. 'Unravel' is the first taste - order the EP here.

AMOR/LEMUR - Unravel

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Three Notable Neighbours

Following our move out to the sticks in 2011, on one of our first ventures into the local small market town up the road, Mrs S & I decided to to check out a promising looking deli/coffee shop. Once inside, the place had a distinct Mary Celeste vibe about it and I wondered if it was actually closed. Suddenly, without warning, a man popped his head up from behind the counter and explained apologetically that he was just looking after the place for a few minutes while the owner had gone to the bank. His sudden unexpected appearance made me jump, not least because the man behind the counter was none other than Yosser Hughes, or to be more accurate, the actor Bernard Hill. Younger readers may be more familiar with his work in films like Gandhi, Titanic and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but to my generation he'll always be associated with his iconic role in Alan Bleasdale's Boys From the Blackstuff television series. It transpired that Hill lives locally and I've seen him around town many times in the years since that first encounter.

------

At my old gaff, Swede Towers, the locals would frequently take in parcels for neighbours who weren't at home - we all helped each other out. One day about three years ago, the postman knocked at the door to ask if I'd mind taking a parcel for the young couple who'd recently moved into the big place next door but one to me. The postman was impressed by my neighbour, but I hadn't seen him and the name meant nothing to me. Turns out it was Norwich City and Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul. He and his wife were also regular visitors to the supermarket where I work, where he was endlessly polite and accommodating to selfie requests from customers and fellow staff members alike.

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One afternoon last week, as I scrambled around on my knees, trying to squeeze a few extra packs of crumpets onto a very low shelf at work, I heard a strangely familiar voice say 'Excuse me'. As I struggled to my feet, the man in question asked if we sold gluten free pizza bases. I replied that we certainly did and took him and his wife round to the relevant aisle. 'Perfect' he said and thanked me warmly. It's fairly common knowledge that he owns a property in a nearby village, but this was my first ever actual encounter with Brian Eno in town. (I did have close call a couple of years ago though).

Brian Eno - Third Uncle

Monday, 16 November 2020

Monday Long Song

I have a choice of two roads to take me the six miles from my new abode to my place of work. One is flat, characterless and often quite busy. The other winds its way up hill and down dale as it quietly snakes through the Suffolk countryside. I'm sure you can guess which road I prefer. A couple of weeks ago, as I trundled along through dawn's early light, following a safe distance behind what I assumed to be a police car (it wasn't), a barn owl swooped across the road between us. I let out an involuntary woo-hoo in celebration. These majestic creatures were once a regular fixture of my evening walks around this part of the world, but this was the first one I'd seen in nigh-on three years. Then, at 5.30 this very morning in the pre-dawn gloom, I narrowly avoided rear-ending a deer as it ambled idly across the road in front of me. This was no cute little muntjac either - it was a large blighter and a collision might've caused us both significant damage. Fortunately, on both occasions, I was pootling along, rather than dashing - enjoying the tunes. I've been on something of a David Axelrod kick lately and Cannonball Adderley's 'Tensity', written and produced by the great man in 1970, has been an oft repeated soundtrack to my brief commute.

Cannonball Adderley - Tensity

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Stranger in Town


Well that certainly took a lot longer than expected. Exactly one month on from my move, broadband has finally arrived at the all new Swede Apartments. I steamed through what little data I had on my phone in no time, what with signing up for this and deleting accounts for that, and have been waiting for the brand new router to drop through my letterbox ever since. 

How's everybody been? I feel hopelessly out of touch and can't pretend that I'll be able to catch up with absolutely everything I've missed over the past four weeks, but am looking forward to gradually sticking a digital head around the respective doors of all my favourite hangouts to find out what's been going down in blogtown while I've been otherwise engaged.

I'll save more detailed updates for later, but suffice it to say that I'm now ensconced in a second and third floor apartment within a converted 19th century maltings in a small Suffolk market town, just 6 or 7 miles up the road and over the river from where I used to live. The new gaff comes with a shared half acre waterside garden, which really is quite lovely - the photo at the top was taken at the end of it, one drizzly afternoon a couple of weeks ago.  

I'll conclude this brief re-emergence post by thanking one and all for the positive vibes and good wishes that were left after the previous one - I was (and remain) extremely touched and very, very grateful.

The Crystalites - Stranger in Town

Thursday, 8 October 2020

House We Used to Live In

Swede Towers in the 19th Century, when it was the village shop

On Monday, almost nine years to the day since Mrs S & I tipped our final van-load of belongings into Swede Towers at the end of an exhausting series of back and forth trips to and from our rented place in Norwich, I leave this house for the very last time, alone. To say I'm heartbroken really wouldn't come close to describing the state I'm in. I've bounced off these walls in solitude for over a year now, reflecting on the cul-de-sac my life has ended up in and I'm not ashamed to admit that it's proved to be a traumatically difficult period. But, even in my darkest hours, I take great comfort from the 14 years I shared with this remarkable woman and though much diminished by her leaving, I know for certain that I'm a far better person for having known her. 

Swede Towers from roughly the same angle in 2019 (ours is the green door where the shop window once was)

Mrs S dropped round a few weeks ago, soon after I accepted the offer on the house, to pick up the last of her outstanding bits and bobs. It was the first time I'd seen her since February. We wound up sitting in the kitchen overlooking the remnants of her amazing garden, nursing our respective cuppas and catching up like old friends do - at one point we reduced each other to breathless tears of laughter following some silly remark or other. In the wake of her visit, I plummeted into a really dreadful emotional place for the following ten days or so. It makes no sense for me to try and keep in touch, or to meet up with her again in the future. I can't see her because I so very much want to see her. So that's the end of it. 

If you've made it this far, thank you and I apologise for wallowing in my own dismalia yet again. Going forward, you'll be pleased to hear that it's not something I plan to make a habit of anymore. Our mutual blogging chum Drew offered some simple, yet simultaneously profound advice in the comments a few days ago '...take the good memories of the house with you and forget to pack the ones that are not too good...' Amen to that. 

Wish me luck - I'll see you on the other side, as and when I get the broadband sorted in the new gaff. 

Monday, 5 October 2020

Monday Long Song

It's taking noticeably longer than usual for me to walk past the bedroom window at the moment. From day one I've been easily distracted by the view out and over the marsh. The big skies, the sunrises, sunsets and perhaps most distracting of all, the mists that can gather dramatically at dawn and dusk. I must've taken a hundred photos of that view, including the one on this blog's masthead - another is included in this post (click on it to enlarge). I'm paying particular attention now because these next few days will be my last chances to take it all in. Just before the weekend, contracts were finally exchanged on my sale and purchase. On Monday 12th, I ship out and try to move on.

Here are Helsinki's Soft Power, with a tune from Brink of Extinction, one of  my favourite LPs of 2020.

Soft Power - Window of Opportunity

Monday, 28 September 2020

Monday Long Song

Social distancing wasn't an issue when this photo was taken at the end of our Walthamstow back garden in 1961. That's me looking a bit unsteady on my feet in the middle, with my hands being held aloft by my aunt and uncle, who we lost in 1978.

'Whistles blowing, people get on trains...' is the opening line of today's tune. I'm not sure how much whistles are still involved in modern day rail travel (the line should probably now read '...buzzers buzzing...' or '...digital displays flickering...'), but all being well, I did get on a train on Saturday evening and will be getting on another one to come home later today. After much soul searching and consultation with my cousin in New York, I decided to take a trip to London to visit my aunt, who's been living alone in virtual seclusion since March. In contrast to last year's grand celebrations, her 91st birthday passed quietly at the tail-end of lockdown. With travel between the UK and USA a strict no-no, my cousin could do little more on the big day than phone her Mum, send a bunch of flowers via Intaflora and ensure that she'd received the latest of her twice monthly grocery deliveries.

I haven't visited my aunt since January, which in itself is probably the longest period I've spent away from London in my entire life. Clearly I was unable to travel there during lockdown and I feel a definite sense of unease about doing so now, but the way things are shaping up, this could be the last chance for me to check in with my aunt this side of 2021. I'll be doing my best to keep a strict social distance in spite of the slightly cramped surroundings of her East London terrace, though I will have to move a little closer when I whip out my phone to connect the surprise Skype call my cousin and I have secretly made plans for. My aunt is strictly non-tech savvy, so this'll be the one and only opportunity mother and daughter (and grandchildren) will have to clap eyes on each other this year. I dare say it'll be emotional.

Here are Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch, with a dark Dylanesque epic from 2015.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

A Time to Sow and a Time to Reap

Ian Brown, Van Morrison, Noel Gallagher...erm...that bloke from The Corrs - the list of pop stars who've chosen to eschew science and embrace conspiracy theories seems to grow daily. And Lee 'Scratch' Perry? Well admittedly his starting point was possibly already quite a way from what many would consider to be the beaten track, but increasingly over the past couple of years his all-caps social media posts have given us still further insights into his own particular world view. Take for example '...THERE IS NO MORE RUNNING AWAY TO JAMAICA FROM THE CHEMTRAILS! POISON EVERYWHERE!!! AND NOW THEY ARE GOING TO ROAST US AND MICROWAVE US WITH THE 5G...' or  '...CA WILDFIRES ARE MANIPULATIONS AND WEAPONIZATION OF WEATHER AND WATER! CLIMATE CHANGE IS A LIE...' 

Fortunately we have an almost bottomless treasure of sublime Scratch recordings, created in comparatively less terrifying times, to help distract us from some of his more recent, ill-advised musings.  

Lee Perry - Dreadlocks in Moonlight

Monday, 21 September 2020

Monday Long Song

Many happy returns of the day to The Originator, Ewart Beckford, better known as the mighty U-Roy, who turns 78 today. Here he is on sparkling form back in the year of 1978, recorded live at the Lyceum just off The Strand in London, with a couple of his best known tunes. A damned good way way to kick off the week I reckon.

U-Roy - Chalice in the Palace/Wear You to the Ball 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

A Frail and Broken One




A few years ago, to add to my already excessive collection of anonymous photos, I purchased a couple of hundred antique glass negative plates. A selection of them were of particular local interest, which I sold quite quickly for a price that more than covered the cost of the whole lot. Since then, the remainder have sat on a shelf...waiting. Now as I pack my life into cardboard boxes in anticipation of an upcoming move, I have to find a way of safely transporting these ancient artefacts from here to there. They're frail, so I hope there'll be no broken ones at the other end. (Click on on any of these samples to enlarge the image).  

Bill Fay - A Frail and Broken One

Monday, 14 September 2020

Monday Long Song


Under normal circumstances, if a combo continues to ply its trade after all the original members have, in one way or another, moved on, I'd consider that to be a tribute act. A notable exception to the rule is Gong, an outfit who, with its various offshoots and side-projects, is as much a continuum of musical ideas as a band (interestingly, another exception to the rule is fellow Canterbury Scene alumni Soft Machine). Instigated, nurtured and encouraged by Daevid Allen from 1967 until his death in 2015 (in spite of his own periods of absence from the core line-up), Gong continue to tour and release new music to this day, their latest LP being last year's quite wonderful 'The Universe Also Collapses'. The record features knowing nods to the past, but also keeps a keen eye on the future and I can warmly recommend it to all former, or current, Pot Headed Pixies.

Gong - Forever Reoccurring

Monday, 7 September 2020

Monday Long Song


One of the fringe benefits of staying with a relative whilst on holiday, is that one doesn't have to cart unnecessary luggage halfway around the world. There was never any need to pack excess clothing when visiting my cousin and her family in New York, as her washing machine was always available to us and, by the time of our last trip in 2010 with three young kids in the apartment, that washing machine was invariably going morning, noon and night.

So our cases were half empty and we travelled light, at least on the way out to the US. On the way back however, we usually travelled very heavily indeed, our cases full to bursting. The reason? We spent much of our time between the going away and the coming home trawling through the myriad CD shops that were still to be found scattered around the Five Boroughs back then, most of which had dusty bargain bins crammed with interesting looking nuggets, often retailing at less than a dollar a pop. Throughout the noughties we bought home copious amounts of these cheap CDs from our NYC trips, really ridiculous amounts. Some were already on our shopping list, but many were spontaneous purchases, interesting looking oddities. Needless to say  a fair few of these CDs ended up in UK charity shops once we'd checked them out, the interesting covers being the extent of their attraction. Others led us to a fuller appreciation of the artists in question and on to further, full price, purchases, Ohio band The Six Parts Seven being a case in point. Best described as melodic instrumental post-rock, though with none of the bombast or tricky time signatures often associated with the genre, we eventually ended up with a clutch of their albums on our shelves after initially plucking 'Silence Magnifies Sound' from the bottom of a grubby cardboard box in a dimly lit corner of an East Village CD store in 2004, for the grand sum of 87 cents.

(This is my first attempt at using the new Blogger format. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but I think I've managed to stumble my way through the process without incident. The only thing I've so far not figured out is how to actually save the set date and time option - is anyone able to help a guy out?)

The Six Parts Seven - Changing the Name of October

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Straight To The Copycat Head


Much to my astonishment, the moment lockdown began easing, my estate agent called to arrange viewing appointments for Swede Towers. I'd naively assumed  that the last thing anyone would want to do would be to walk around a house that had been occupied throughout the whole period, but I was wrong and in the first couple of weeks I welcomed over a dozen masked and sanitised visitors into my home. It's a quirky place as I've mentioned before and so not suitable for everyone, but in due course an offer came in. It was substantially lower than I'd hoped for, though generally realistic given the age and condition of the place. Long story short, I accepted the offer and immediately went out and found a new gaff for myself. All that was a couple of months ago and, while the legal machinations rumble on, I've been steadily packing my life into cardboard boxes ever since. It's easy to get distracted from the endless endeavour, as I did the other day when rifling through the hundreds of old anonymous photos I still appear to possess, in spite of several, supposedly thorough, clear-outs. It's easy to see why I kept this one though - both amusing and slightly unsettling at the same time.

The appropriately titled soundtrack is provided by a sweet tune on the Bangarang rythm courtesy of the mighty King Tubby & the Aggrovators, which originally appeared as the flipside of  Derrick Morgan's 1975 single 'The Original Watering Man'.

King Tubby And The Aggrovators - Straight To The Copycat Head

Monday, 31 August 2020

Monday Long Song


Back in the days when pocket money dictated the length and breadth of my expanding musical horizons (and record collection), the humble budget LP played a key role. 'The Faust Tapes' and Gong's 'Camembert Electrique' were welcome additions to the household in 1973, the two of them combined coming in at just over a quid. Amon Düül II's 1969 debut album 'Phallus Dei' was also repackaged and reissued at around the same time, on the otherwise largely middle of the road Sunset label, at around 69p. My pals and I swooped on it it, how could we resist that far out sleeve? We each took our copies home, later re-grouping to share our thoughts. At the tender age of 13 or thereabouts, we of course had no immediate frame of reference for the proto-Krautrock racket coming out of the tiny mono record players in our respective bedrooms, though when we listened to the LP together, I vividly recall that we particularly enjoyed singing along to the '...give me a lamp...it's going to be weird...' line at just shy of the 4½ minute mark on 'Luzifers Ghilom'.

Amon Düül II - Luzifers Ghilom

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Rewinding to Get High


After work one evening in 1997, I clambered into a friend's car and together we drove 50-odd miles to see Swedish band The Soundtrack of Our Lives play a show in a small Essex pub, on what I presume was their first UK tour. I'd blagged the tickets from a record company rep. He had one pair to give away and no-one else working in any of the record shops in the whole of East Anglia had shown the slightest interest in the band, but from the moment I'd heard their debut single, 'Instant Repeater '99' the previous year, I was smitten. I'd pursued the free tickets, concerned that the gig might've already sold out, so convinced was I of the band's greatness. I needn't have worried. To this day it's still the least populated concert I've ever attended. If there were any paying customers at all, the number definitely didn't stretch to double figures. To their credit though, The Soundtrack of Our Lives played as if they their very, ...ahem..., lives depended on it. They were bloody magnificent.

Several years ago I sketched out an idea for a Desert Island Discs series for this blog, but, like so many other things, I never got around to completing it. 'Instant Repeater '99' was high in the running order for that series and it remains my absolute favourite song of the 1990s, by any artist.

(Fun fact: There were two bands supporting The Soundtrack of Our Lives that evening. In the middle were a local combo whose name has been lost in the mists of time. First on were a bunch of youngsters who'd travelled a very long way to play in front of the proverbial one man and his dog, but they too threw themselves into their set all guns blazing. It was Idlewild.)

The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Instant Repeater '99

Monday, 24 August 2020

Monday Long Song

I dig all the various Soft Machine permutations from across the years to some degree or other, but I'd particularly like to thumb a lift on any passing time machine that could whisk me back to witness the Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, Robert Wyatt line-up in full flight. Fortunately, while I'm waiting for someone to invent said time machine, there are far-out clips like this one to keep me grooving.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Monday Long Song


As regular readers will know, the mighty Kungens Män and their many offshoots have become regular fixtures in my house and on these pages over the past few years. 'Trappmusik', their most recent long player, was issued in February and in September Automatism (¾ of whom also play in Kungens Män) release their second full length effort, 'Immersion'. At the time of typing, only 32 of the of  the 300 white vinyl limited edition LPs remain unspoken for on their Bandcamp page, so if you like the sound of 'Heatstroke #2', you'd best get you skates on.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Trashed


A song cropped up on the radio recently that sent me whizzing back to a specific moment of a relationship I shared in the mid-1990s. J & I had been mates for some time before it became more and we ended up spending over two years together. We laughed, we went to a ridiculous amount of gigs, we went on holiday to America, we got silly drunk, we had a lot of fun. Everything in the garden was rosy. Then J introduced a notion. Perhaps saying that she wanted to settle down there and then would be to put too formal a stamp on it, but she was certainly looking for some form of....commitment. I wobbled, clearly thrown by the thought, even though at this point I was already in my mid-thirties. In reality I was an immature, overgrown teenager and selfishly I didn't want our innocent, unencumbered fun to end.

Inevitably and quite rightly, J eventually kicked me into touch. I was pretty upset, but somewhere deep inside I knew it was the right move for her and for where she wanted to go in life. She eventually married and had four fantastic kids. J & I have remained friends and I even went to her wedding, ultimately becoming pretty good mates with her husband. I've been to a number of gigs with him over the years, including one in 2019 with their oldest son who's now in his twenties.

So the song and the memory that sent me spiralling back? Late one evening in the Summer of 1996 (from this remote distance it feels like it might well have been the most carefree evening of my entire life) J & I fell laughing out of  a bar, drunkenly stumbling and weaving our way through the completely deserted town centre. A favourite song of the day came to us and together, staggering along arm in arm, we sang it loudly into the night air, joined only by the echo reverberating from the dark shuttered shopfronts. When it came to the chorus, our impromptu, but appropriate amendment of the lyric saw us collapse to the ground in fits of giggles.

'...we're trashed, you and me...'


Monday, 10 August 2020

Monday Long Song


2001’s 'The Glow Pt.2' was an important record in the earliest days of my relationship with Mrs S. It was she who introduced me to the music of Phil Elverum, who was at that time trading as The Microphones, and together we followed his prolific journey, off and on, throughout our whole relationship. Elverum actually put The Microphones name to one side in 2003 when he issued the first of a steady stream of records under the Mount Eerie moniker, the most recent of which, 'Lost Wisdom pt. 2', a joint LP with Julie Doiron, coming late last year.

For his latest release, 'Microphones in 2020', Phil Elverum resurrected his former nom-de-combo to deliver a single 44 minute, largely autobiographical song, over the course of which profound personal memories jostle with odd, seemingly mundane little observations. It's more structured than Mark Kozelek's particular style of stream of consciousness, though if you're a fan of that artist, there is undoubtedly something for you here.

Elverum has put together what he describes as a '...powerpoint karaoke slideshow...' to compliment the LP.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Monday Long Song


Side two of Lonnie Smith's terrific 1971 LP 'Mama Wailer' is taken up by the 17½ minute 'Stand' - and it's a tune of two halves. For the first eight minutes and twenty seconds it's a pretty darned funky and at least partially recognisable reinterpretation of the Sly & the Family Stone classic. At 8.21 however everything changes, totally. The superstar rhythm section of Billy Cobham (drums) and Ron Carter (bass) lock in to an incredible, ultra-tight, pulsating groove, over which both Grover Washington (sax) and Jimmy Ponder (guitar) throw wild solos, before Dr Lonnie Smith himself reappears to scatter random bursts of stardust across his keyboard, like so much psychedelic confetti. Proceedings gradually peter out as if the individual players are one by one collapsing with exhaustion, which given the pace of the piece, is eminently possible. It's a bloody wonderful, exhilarating ride.

Lonnie Smith - Stand

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Walkin' Up a One-Way Street


I've had a lot of overtime recently, covering a mixture of staff sickness and colleagues finally feeling able to make some use of their annual leave. The last couple of weeks have been pretty full-on actually and several days went by where I didn't even open the laptop once. Yesterday was a day off though, one that I was determined not to waste. In the event however, I dragged my aching bones out of bed, plonked myself down in the garden with a pot of coffee and sank into a morning of utter lethargy.


By midday I was fuming at myself for my inactivity, yet still struggled to find adequate reserves of energy or enthusiasm to move. I knew that getting out for a walk would do me the world of good, but couldn't quite gee myself up for it. Finally, I dragged myself to my feet muttering '...just to the end of the lane and back then...' - twenty minutes of movement, max.


Almost the instant I stepped across the threshold of the house I felt better. In the end I roamed off the beaten track for over four hours, barely seeing another soul and in the process discovering a couple of remote footpaths that were new to me, which considering I've been wandering around this area for almost nine years is really quite amazing. The day wasn't wasted after all.

'Walking Up a One-Way Street' is a fabulous 1965 Willie Tee b-side that can more easily be found on the 2001 'In Crowd - Mod Collection' box set.

Willie Tee - Walkin' Up a One-Way Street

Monday, 20 July 2020

Monday Long Song


Hills formed in Gothenburg in 2007 and make music focusing on improvised grooves and rhythms rather than traditional songwriting structures. The band aim to '...create a feeling but not necessarily explain it through words...' Their third (and most recent) studio LP 'Frid' was released in 2015 on the excellent Rocket Recordings label in two separate limited edition runs.

'Och Solen Sänkte Sig Röd' translates roughly as 'And the Sun Sank Red'.

Hills - Och Solen Sänkte Sig Röd

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

While Growing My Hair

Pat Jennings in 2020

In recent weeks, in spite of all the many real problems facing the World right now, the chatter among colleagues at work has increasingly revolved around our respective, uniquely out of control hairstyles. Grey roots, floppy fringes and impromptu mullets have all gradually become the norm, along with several quite alarming self-inflicted haircuts that initially appear reasonably acceptable when the person concerned is walking towards you, but reveal themselves to be somewhat, erm, inconsistent as they walk away.

I myself have involuntarily cultivated something of a retired 1970s footballer look. More precisely, that of Pat Jennings, a man whose own hairstyle has remained virtually unchanged for over 40 years. With local hairdressers gradually reopening, I'm now debating whether or not to continue letting my hair grow or return to a clipped, spiky normality.

While I consider my options, here's a brief proggy interlude from 1970, a time when both Pat and I gloried in locks that were lush, dark and long.

Egg - While Growing My Hair

Monday, 13 July 2020

Monday Long Song


Staying on a reggae tip again this week, here's Linval Roy Carter, better known to the world at large as Prince Jazzbo, with 'Crabwalking', a 1972 Coxone Dodd produced reworking of Horace Andy's classic 'Skylarking'.

Prince Jazzbo - Crabwalking

Monday, 6 July 2020

Monday Long Song


Here's the great Augustus Pablo, riffing on Leroy Sibbles' 'Guiding Star' riddim, which goes back to the 1971 Heptones single of the same name. 'Classical Illusion' was produced as a 7" single by Gussie Clarke in 1975, with this extended version appearing four years later. 'Guiding Star' was later covered by New Age Steppers on their 'Action Battlefield' LP in 1981.

Augustus Pablo - Classical Illusion

Friday, 3 July 2020

I know You're Out There


I spent much of 2019 standing down at the deep end in the great swimming pool of life, with the water lapping just under my chin. I had hoped that 2020 would've seen me ease into a better place and gradually edge back towards the shallows - that didn't happen though. I was already struggling, even before world events took their many ominous turns and in recent weeks I've more than once found myself standing on tiptoes in even deeper waters, with my nose barely visible above the surface. But of course, in spite of my moans and groans, I know all too well that I'm one of the lucky ones - I have my health, an income and a roof over my head. There are a great many people who are not so fortunate. What I'm finding particularly distressing on a personal level is that the black cloud leaves me struggling to focus on anything requiring even a modicum of concentration -  listening to records, reading books, watching films or indeed fully engaging with the blogging community. Weeks and months have drifted by - so much time wasted.

The steady flow of streamed gigs over the past few months have provided welcome distractions, moments of comfort and genuine pleasure. Richard Thompson, Steve Wynn, Ed Kuepper, Alden Patterson & Dashwood, Rozi Plain, This is the Kit and Alasdair Roberts have all played online shows, most of them more than one. None of my musical heroes has been quite as busy as Robyn Hitchcock though. Robyn and his partner, singer-songwriter Emma Swift, are nudging towards their 30th Sweet Home Quarantine show since the pandemic crisis began. Together they've tackled nuggets from Hitchcock's vast back catalogue, fan requested rarities and a fascinating array of covers, including whole evenings devoted to the works of Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, The Beatles and David Bowie. Friday at 8 is the absolute highlight of my week and at different points in every single show I sing along with gusto, I laugh out loud and I cry real tears - much as I would do at a Robyn Hitchcock gig in the real world. Each Sweet Home Quarantine concert lasts 45 minutes, costs around £4.50 and is not officially archived - if you miss it, it's gone, just like an actual live concert - you remember them don't you? I really can't recommend these shows highly enough. They're helping me to keep my head above water.

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Here's one home recorded performance Robyn and Emma have shared with the wider world, a brilliantly re-written version of a 1986 song, originally issued on the 'Element of Light' album. No prizes for guessing who this scathing new interpretation takes aim at. (The link takes you to a non-embeddable video of the performance, recorded in their East Nashville kitchen).

Robyn Hitchcock & Emma Swift - The President

Monday, 22 June 2020

Monday Long Song


Pianist Keith Tippett, who died last week at the age of 72, has been a hugely respected pillar of  British jazz, jazz-rock and prog since the early 1970s. Robert Fripp hired him to play on three early King Crimson albums 'In the Wake of Poseidon', 'Lizard' and 'Islands' and also produced two of Tippett's own long players, 'Blueprint' in 1972 and 'Ovary Lodge' the following year. The contemplative 'Song' opens proceedings on 'Blueprint'.

Keith Tippett - Song

Monday, 15 June 2020

Monday Long Song


Authentic instrumental acoustic Americana this week, from an unlikely source - The Netherlands. Joost Dijkema (pronounced Yowst Dykuh-ma) was born in 1989 and started his musical journey behind a drum kit before having his head turned by LPs such as Leo Kottke´s ´6 & 12 String Guitar’ and Michael Chapman’s ‘Time Past and Time Passing’ after which he spent several years developing his own fingerstyle acoustic guitar technique. Dijkema has thus far released two solo albums, 'Sacred Revelations' in 2016 and last year's 'Time Thief' (both available to check out here). 'Why in the World Evansville' is a new tune taken from the latest instalment of Tompkins Square's ongoing Imaginational Anthem series, 'Vol. X : Overseas Edition'.

Joost Dijkema - Why In the World Evansville

Monday, 8 June 2020

Monday Long Song


For all sorts of reasons buying records has slipped down my list of priorities just lately, but a new LP that I was very glad to bag was one of the 150 available copies of 'Dickfehler Studio Treffen I' by КОМВУИАТ ЯОВОТЯОИ. The German four piece have issued a steady stream of music through their Bandcamp page over the past couple of years (here), but frustratingly little of it on vinyl, thus far at least. Here's a 2020 tune, not featured on the new album.

КОМВУИАТ ЯОВОТЯОИ - KR IV.III

Friday, 5 June 2020

Farewell Steve Priest


On Friday December 21st 1973 I saw Sweet at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park. It was only my third ever concert, but the second time I'd seen the band at the iconic venue that year. Five years would elapse before I saw Sweet live again and a further three years before I caught them for a fourth and final time, albeit in a Brian Connolly-less trio configuration - a three piece Sweet if you will.

Bassist Steve Priest passed away yesterday at the age of 72, leaving Andy Scott as the sole survivor from the classic line-up. The December 1973 Rainbow show was recorded and seven of the thirteen songs played that night appeared two years later on the double compilation LP 'Strung Up'. 'Hellraiser', which had reached No.2 in the singles chart earlier that year, opened the set.

Sweet - Hellraiser (Live)

Thursday, 21 May 2020

The Texture and the Flavour

My Dad did it for years. The former Mrs S did it for a while. A number of my friends are doing it on a regular basis. Our mutual blogging chum John Medd is a past master at it. My social media platform of choice is full of photos showing the results of complete strangers doing it. I'm referring of course to the baking of bread. And now, at the ripe old age of 60, I can report that I too am belatedly getting in on the act, after giving further consideration to a comment I left over at Alyson's place last month....

'While on a birthday Skype call with a couple of friends last week, they each impressed me with tales of their respective sourdough bread making exploits. I absolutely love sourdough, but haven’t got the first clue how to make it – nor the patience to try I suspect. Also, if I did somehow manage to make an edible loaf, I doubt that it wouldn’t last more than five minutes before I demolished it! I try not to eat too much bread in general, but have little willpower where a fresh, warm loaf is concerned. 
Towards the end of his life my Dad got into baking his own bread, baking two loaves at a time – one for he and Mum to use straight away and one to put in the freezer for later in the week. It took him a very long time and lots of tweaking to perfect his own particular tasting recipe, but it was well worth the effort. The highlight of any visit home was a big toasted slab of Dad’s bread. When he died suddenly in 2007, his last loaf was left in the freezer. A couple of weeks later, Mum and I defrosted and shared the loaf, knowing that we’d never taste his bread again – it was quite a moment.'

So last week I had a go at baking my first ever loaf of bread. Fully expecting to have to chuck away my first half a dozen failures (as I recall my Dad doing all those years ago), I attempted the most simple, straight forward, plain white loaf....... and was frankly astonished to produce a surprisingly edible debut effort.


This week, still flushed with success, I, perhaps over-ambitiously, attempted a boule and added a selection of seeds into the mix. The result was visually a little lacklustre, but the seeds improved the taste considerably. The long term aim is to move on to sourdough, but patience is a virtue, I have to learn to walk before I can run.


In the old world, I was scheduled to catch up with Mark Lanegan in concert again this week, but it was not to be. Here he is with Screaming Trees back in 1992 covering The Small Faces.

Screaming Trees - Song of a Baker

Monday, 18 May 2020

Monday Long Song


This one's been in the bag for a while, as you'll appreciate if you glance over at your calendar. The Eighteenth Day of May's particular take on hazy psych-influenced folk lasted a little over a year and then they were gone, leaving just the one self-titled album behind them. I took the CD for a spin in the car just a few months back and it sounded every bit as good to me as it did when I first bought it 15 years ago, so I was surprised and delighted to spot an imminent double LP re-release featuring a bunch of additional rarities and demos, which I ordered without hesitation.

My self-imposed rule for the Monday Long Song feature is that it has to be over seven minutes long to qualify, making today's offering at just shy of 6½ minutes my shortest ever, but hey, it's the opening song from a very fine album and, well, take a look at the date. Then listen to more here.

The Eighteenth Day of May - Eighteen Days

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Times Were So Tough, But Not as Tough as They Are Now

The cancer that attacked your lung last year, then moved to your brain, has finally taken you. We'd been given notice that the end might be near, but nevertheless we're reeling. The one comforting aspect in all this is that you were at home with your amazing wife and daughter at the end, not locked down and out of reach in hospital.

Inevitably, since the news came through, I've been poring over photos, reigniting memories of when the five of us really were as thick as thieves - the fun, laughter, jaunts, music and, it has to be said, substantial quantities of alcohol. One day I'd like to be able write more about you and our exploits, but right now the words won't come.

We had some bustin' times though didn't we?

The Jam - Thick as Thieves

Monday, 11 May 2020

Monday Long Song


When it became clear that long cultivated NYC-related plans for my recent 60th birthday were destined to come to nothing, I decided to allow myself a vinyl treat or two to make up for the disappointment. One of the records I picked up was a copy of 'Platte', the 2003 LP by Electric Orange. To quote the band's blurb, they've been delivering '...krautrock and psychedelics from Germany since 1992...' Their catalogue is substantial and a smattering of it can be found here. It's well worth a poke about if you ask me, I mean who could resist dipping into an album entitled 'Krautrock From Hell'? Meanwhile, back at 'Platte'.....

Electric Orange - Holzbock

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Richard Swift Day


I've spent most of my walking time over the past couple of weeks looking upwards in vain for any early sign of returning swifts, walking into lampposts and nearly getting run over in the process. Yesterday morning I woke up and without even getting out of bed, saw three of them looping around in the sky through the dormer window! They have arrived! It's an annual event I've come to christen Richard Swift Day and May 5th is the earliest on record - or at least in the 9 years since I moved into Swede Towers and started keeping records. When the final swift disappeared from the local skies last July, I honestly believed it would be the last time I'd see them from this location, but with all thoughts of selling the house on hold for the time being, I now get to spend one more summer in close proximity with these amazing creatures.

Richard Swift died two years ago at just 41 years of age. He left a superb body of music of his own as well as production work for The Shins, Kevin Morby, Foxygen, Laetitia Sadier and, notably, Damien Jurado, for whom he produced the excellent 'Maraqopa' trilogy of albums between 2012 and 2016. Jurado released a fine new album 'What's New, Tomboy?' a few days ago, which contains 'Ochoa', a tribute to his late friend and collaborator Richard Swift.

Damien Jurado - Ochoa

Monday, 4 May 2020

Monday Long Song


If I'm walking along the river, down the lane or around the fields, I'll never take any music with me. There are more than enough noises coming from the skies, hedgerows and trees to keep me entertained for hours. When I'm on a mission though, marching along the road across the marsh and heading into town, I'll sometimes stick the earbuds in and listen to a few tunes on the way. That's exactly what I was doing one day last week when today's long song popped up to add an extra spring in my step.

Mouth (or rather 'mouth', no capitol letter apparently) formed in Cologne in 2000. They are and always have been a three piece, although the individual elements of the band have fluctuated from time to time over the years. Their latest release, the 10" 'Past, Present, Future EP', arrived last summer and is a collection of oddments stretching back to 2002. The EP saw Mouth's return from a hiatus following the tragic death of bassist Gerald Kirsch in 2018. Kirsch features prominently on 'Chase '72', a well titled studio jam recorded in 2017. Check out more of the band's music here.

Mouth - Chase '72

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

New York USA

So my trusty Google calendar reminds me that today I should be returning to work following a two week stay in the Big Apple. The original arrangements were that I would fly into the UK overnight on Sunday, landing in the early hours of Monday morning, spending the rest of the day and Tuesday snoozing and generally catching up with stuff, before heading back into the store this afternoon. The trip would've marked my first visit to New York in exactly ten years, but of course it was not to be. Here are a few snapshots that survive from previous visits in 2008/9/10 to keep me going until next time.






After my initial visits to the city in the early 1990s, I was never too bothered about hitting the tourist traps of Times Square, Fifth Avenue again, instead I'd usually head for lesser visited neighbourhoods, walking for hours fuelled only by endless coffee and bagels. On the rare occasions that my travels did take me to the mid-town area, I'd invariably strut along the sidewalk with Serge Gainsbourg's superb 'New York USA' as my internal soundtrack. The song comes from the 1964 LP 'Gainsbourg Percussions', his last full length outing for 4 years.

Serge Gainsbourg - New York USA

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