Wednesday 23 March 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #4 - Jonquil

Sandwiched between the lo-fi sonic experimentation of  2006's 'Sunny Casinos' and the mutant disco of  2012's 'Point of Go' came 'Lions', the endearingly oddball folktronic sophomore album by Oxford combo, Jonquil. Throughout 2007/8 Mrs S and I fell hard for these guys. The cover mounted CDs issued with The Wire magazine provided all sorts of interesting avenues to pursue in those days and so it was with No.17, which featured A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Fridge, Husky Rescue and Kammerflimmer Kollektief  - all favourites at Swede Towers at the time, as well as introducing us to the music of the aforementioned Jonquil.

For 18 months Jonquil's name seemed on everyone's lips, but for some reason it never quite happened for them. During this period they recorded entertaining alfresco performances for the la Blogothèque Take Away Show series (available on YouTube in two parts here and here), plus had the distinction of becoming the band I've had to travel the least distance from my house to see, when they rolled up at the pub at the bottom of my road in July of 2007. 

As I mentioned at the top, Jonquil continued their journey in a different musical direction before apparently petering out, but lead singer Hugo Manuel eventually found acclaim under his synth-pop alias of Chad Valley, with whom he released four albums between 2011 and 2018.  

Jonquil - Sudden Sun

Jonquil - Whistle Low

Monday 21 March 2022

Monday Long Song

I particularly enjoyed the clutch of albums released by John Dwyer and various friends throughout 2020 and 2021, especially 'Bent Arcana' and 'Gong Splat'. The strength of these solo projects has me revisiting the music Dwyer makes in his day job with Oh Sees. I'm woefully out of touch with the band's prolific output (at least 11 albums since the last one I know from 2019!), but I have enough of their tunes dotted about the place to keep me out of mischief for a Sunday afternoon. 

'Keys to the Castle' from 2017's 'Orc' is a song of two halves...or more precisely of one quarter and three quarters. A two minute punk blast, followed by a six minute blissed out lugubrious groove.

Oh Sees - Keys to the Castle

Friday 18 March 2022

Friday Photo #20

When I was a kid growing up in Walthamstow, one of the highlights each Summer was the annual carnival parade, in which a long line of decorated flatbed lorries snaked around the town's streets, via the end of my road, raising money for local charities. Every year my folks would walk me up to the corner, give me a few coins to throw into a collection bucket and encourage me to shout my head off at the colourful passing show. It was all unspeakably exciting. In 1965 Dad took some photos of the event, including this one. 

Of course in the cold light of 2022, the visual evidence Dad managed to capture all those years ago, pricks the bubble of my hazy youthful memory. The floats and flatbeds slowly making their way through the crowds along Markhouse Road aren't the professionally reupholstered vehicles that I thought I remembered, but are actually amateurishly decorated old warhorses, crudely festooned with multicoloured crepe paper and hastily handwritten signs - no doubt held together by endless reels of sticky tape. It should be noted however, that a long forgotten hero did make a rather splendid effort when it came to creating that Dalek - credit where it's due.

My overriding memory of the carnival, sadly not captured for posterity, is that, standing at the junction of Markhouse Avenue and Markhouse Road, you could hear the whole shebang coming a mile off. Pots, buckets and old tin dustbins rattled with coins and were bashed together to ramp up the atmosphere - the shouting, crashing and honking of horns becoming louder and louder until the whole deafening parade was right in front of us. And then it was gone, gradually fading away into the distance until the following year. 

This from Niagara's third LP, 1973's 'Afire', is a somewhat more rhythmical approximation of the sounds I heard for a few minutes each year, while standing at the end of my road.

Niagara - Carnival

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Peace Will Come When All Hate Is Gone

Had he still been with us, today would've seen Fred Neil celebrating his 86th birthday. Neil was already a figurehead of the Greenwich Village folk scene by the time a young upstart by the name of Bob Dylan rolled into town in 1961, but even earlier than that he'd worked in the Brill Building and had a hand in writing songs for the likes of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. Many of Neil's compositions are best known in the hands of other artists. Harry Nilsson's version of 'Everybody's Talkin'' won a Grammy after it was featured in the 1969 film 'Midnight Cowboy' and 'Dolphins' has been covered by the likes of Billy Bragg, Beth Orton and, magnificently, Tim Buckley. Neil drifted into semi-retirement in the mid-1970s and dedicated much of the last 30 years of his life to the preservation of dolphins.

Here's Fred Neil's original 1966 recording of 'Dolphins' and, from the previous year, perhaps my favourite of all his songs, the wonderful 'Little Bit of Rain'.

Fred Neil - Dolphins

Fred Neil - Little Bit of Rain

Monday 14 March 2022

Monday Long Song

I've had a copy of Mark Lanegan's autobiography 'Sing Backwards and Weep' sitting next to me untouched for a number of months now, waiting for the right moment to enter what will undoubtedly be a long dark ride. It was only recently joined in the to-be-read pile by 'Devil in a Coma', the hastily published account of his 2021 battle with Covid. In the days following the dreadful news of Lanegan's death three weeks ago, I read all of the obituaries and listened to little else but his music around the house. I also picked up 'Devil in a Coma'. It's an easy, but extremely harrowing read, detailing not only his months of physical suffering, but also the prolonged mental torment of being trapped in a sick and broken body.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This
 little corner of the internet did Mark Lanegan proud, with a series of well written tributes around the blogs and a terrific array of music drawn from his sprawling catalogue. Here, belatedly, is my contribution. From the 2009 Soulsavers LP 'Broken', an inspired reading of Gene Clark's masterpiece, 'Some Misunderstanding'. 

Monday 7 March 2022

Monday Long Song(s)

Both Eliza Carthy and her legendary dad Martin are making plans to hit the road again, individually and occasionally as a duo, following the immense loss of Norma Waterson at the end of January. I've seen Martin several times in the relatively recent past, but when I catch up with Eliza in the Summer, it'll be for the first time in at least ten years.

Here's a set from Eliza's self-titled 1997 album with the King's of Calicutt and Martin with the terrific 2006 re-recording of  'Famous Flower of Serving Men', an epic murder ballad I've been privileged to see him play a few times and which originally appeared in an earlier incarnation on his 1972 LP 'Shearwater'. 

Eliza Carthy and the Kings of Calicutt - Sheffield Park / Polly Bishop's Slip Jig / Roger de Coverley

Martin Carthy - Famous Flower of Serving Men

Wednesday 2 March 2022

A Series of Brief Obsessions #3 - Brightblack Morning Light

You know those hot, clammy days that we sometimes get in the Summer? Days when it's a genuine effort to move from A to B, when sweat sticks the clothes to your skin and cool fresh air seems a distant memory? The music of Brightblack Morning Light is the aural equivalent of one of those days. It oozes and slithers from the speakers, as if weighed down by extreme humidity. It feels positively oppressive - in a good way, natch.

I was walking through Mrs S's studio one day in 2007 when I heard a Brightblack Morning Light tune coming from her laptop. They were a new name to me and I was instantly hooked by the dense, sultry, airless sound. I quickly hoovered up both the available long-players, 'Ala. Cali. Tucky' and the self-titled follow-up. The band's third and final album, 'Motion to Rejoin', arrived in 2008. 

My obsession with Brightblack Morning Light was brief, only by virtue of their catalogue being so slim. Their second and third albums in particular can be picked up relatively inexpensively and come highly recommended. Here's a track from each of them.

Brightblack Morning Light - Hologram Buffalo

Brightblack Morning Light - Everybody Daylight

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