Friday, August 14, 2020

50 Days of Glam # 49 Bonnie St. Claire & Unit Gloria

Not a classsic but hey it's only # 49 and it is very Glam.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 8 The Ramones - Leave Home

More Ramones.

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 12 The Ramones

Song(s) of the Day # 2,403 Exploding Flowers

Gorgeous early Eighties jangling from LA's Exploding Flowers. Their latest album Stumbling Blocks, (their first in nine years),  might remind you of anyone from dBs to Soft Boys to the Chills to to The Three O'Clock to The Church to Wire when they chose to chime rather than drone. Soft, Psychedelic Guitar Pop music of a determinedly optimistic disposition.

If you're of a certain vintage age wise, this is likely to take you back to the days when you heard this kind of thing for the first time. Exploding Flowers definitely sound like they might have been early Flying Nun contenders.

The one city the band really don't sound like they come from is LA frankly. The joy all over Stumbling Blocks is so unconstrained that it feels distinctly provincial, but in a good way, if that makes any sense. There's a happiness here than seems born in the great outdoors.

Although I did slightly tire of the relentless perkiness a few tracks in and wanted a bit more light and shade than this offers, in short sharp bursts Exploding Flowers are hard to beat. Catch them while they're still in bloom.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Devo - Girl U Want

50 Days of Glam # 50 The Bay City Rollers

'We sang shang a lang and we ran with the gang...'

Another quite unnecessary and lengthy series but I'm always up for a challenge. Plus I'm making my way properly through Simon Reynold's excellent but enormous tome Shock & Awe, Glam Rock & Its Legacy so this should keep it company

So, fifty days of Glam. Another countdown. An imaginary, purely subjective chart. That essentially limits us from 1970 to 1976. All of the usual suspects will be here. One song for each. Two for the main players. All singles. Which disqualifies Iggy & the Stooges, who would have made it otherwise, to describe properly the movement's dark underbelly. But no proper singles were released from Raw Power so they're out.

So what do you get with Glam? Plenty of good songs for sure, some a bit camp, many rather silly. Generally a good tune that could get played on the radio. Sometimes something a lot better than that. Particularly when we get to the Top Twenty.  Mostly blokes. Mostly white, British blokes.

The other criteria for this rundown is that I will like the song. This isn't a favourite but it's good enough for # 50. So we start with The Bay City Rollers. It was this or Bye Bye Baby. They're both fine as songs. 

Full of yearning for the Fifties. Gangs, jukeboxes, heartbreak though of course it's all really just candy floss for teen magazines. Simon Reynolds doesn't mention the Rollers once in his book about Glam. But then he's a rather serious fellow. Not sure they can be written out completely.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 7 Iggy Pop - The Idiot

Twins well with Kraftwerk today. As it says in Trans Europe Express: 'From station to station. Back to  Dussledorf City meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 11 Kraftwerk

'despite being arguably the most influential single in this book, initially (it) sank without trace.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,402 White Denim

Much vaunted Austin, Texan rockers White Denim have often been too eclectic and flashy for my tastes, and I've never really listened to them at great length, even though I've been aware of them and their reputation. Perhaps for this reason, I barely noticed the release of their latest album World as a Waiting Room, which dropped a couple of months ago, and I'm only really catching up now.

I've given it a couple of listens now and I kind of like it. I'd probably slot it and the band into a category with two other contemporary West Coast Institutions Ty Segall and Oh Sees. Impeccable musicianship, covering a lot of ground, but often easier to admire than to love.

Because, boy do White Denim cover a lot of ground on World as a Waiting Room. Recorded earlier on this year, in a 30 days stretch at the start of Lockdown ,it seems to want to cram as many of the dubious pleasures of the first five years of the Seventies onto one album as it possibly can. 

So you're getting T.Rex, Todd, King Crimson, Bowie, ELP, Sparks, Yes and that's all just for starters. A couple of times they also reminded me momentarily of The Stranglers and Joy Division too, which shows they're no completely  allergic to the late Seventies either. But this is definitely, definitely not Punk.

It all might strike the casual listener as a quite inadvisable melange of Prog, Glam and mid to Heavy Rock that really shouldn't work. But actually it does. They even come up with one of my very favourite songs of the year too in Queen of the Quarantine which sounds like Robert Fripp or Tom Verlaine guesting on a mid-Seventies Bowie record. Quite gorgeous.

Elsewhere, DVD sounds like a shotgun marriage between Aeosmith's Toys In The Attic and Sonic Youth's Silver Rocket. There are some very odd things happening here sonically speaking. I kept actually telling myself that I should really be hating it but somehow it kept charming me back.

 I enjoyed it, more I'd have to say than some of the more recent offerings from Ty and Oh Sees. While World as a Waiting Room is essentially showing off, and it's always showing off, it's highly enjoyable at the same time and it never once hurt my ears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Trini Lopez 1937 - 2020

Sunshine Playroom, Brighton 1980s

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 6 Television - Marquee Moon

'New York's Television introduced beauty to Punk Rock...'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 10 The Clash

Billy Nomates to The Clash.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,401 Billy Nomates

It's quite unusual for me nowadays to become genuinely excited upon first hearing a young British musician or band.  Mostly, the new stuff I hear that really excites me comes from somewhere else. But it's good to hear that something fresh from the place I call home can still do it for me. Like this for example.

I first heard Billy Nomates last night, by chance on BBC evening radio. The track played, Hippy Elite, leapt out at me as a slightly new take on familiar themes, so I hunted down the eponymous debut album, just out, by the same artist and it had a similar, thrilling effect on me.

Billy Nomates is a young musician from Southern England, called Tor Maries . She's releasing this album on Jeff Barrow's (Portishead) label Invada Records. Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods guests on the record and has been voluble in his support for what's she's doing. So has Jon Robb, Punk stalwartand man behind the Louder Than War phenomenon. Marc Riley, BBC DJ, is also a fan.


So Billy Nomates has excellent credentials and testimonials. But what does the record sound like? It sounds like Punk. It sounds like Pop. It sounds terrific. It's stripped down to the bare bones. It itemises the minimum wage, down at heel humdrum, dead end job existence of British 'have not' life, which has always been here and if anything only seems to be getting worse. But it does so in a way that's sparky, energetic and pure fresh air, in a moment that needs it.

Bobby Nomates has eleven tracks, and only one of them goes much beyond the three minute mark. Bobby / Tor is pushed straight to the front right from the off. She can drawl, she can sing, she can do hobo street poetry, she writes and writhes and rants about the here and now and is clearly angry, but knows enough to channel her energy into something that's entertaining and fun first and foremost.

Being of a certain age myself, she reminds me of early Patti Smith, particularly Piss Factory one of Patti's finest and definitive statements. The picture on the album cover is perfect. Pure '77 cool. Shades, bowl of chips, coffee, definitive, miserable English seaside caff. A realisation of what actually makes these isles great. Not the given narrative.

There are other connections to be made. The Sleaford Mods ones makes sense. There's quite a lot of this kind of stuff around at the minute. Fed up, but up for a fight. Engaged.

So much going on here. No particularly seems like a manifesto. In interview Maries has said that she really started getting somewhere once she started saying No. Always a good idea when it comes to producing art that goes against the tide, an attitude which generally produces much of the best, proper art and always has. Probably always will.

Billy Nomates is currently biding her time, her career on hold as so many lives are right now what with Covid-19, she's moved back in with her Dad on the Isle of Wight and is doing her best to spread the word about the album via Zoom chats and the like.

Needs must. Anyhow the record is here and I love it! I'll be her mate if she needs one. I imagine I won't be the only one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Covers # 132 Tindersticks

Tindersticks do David and do him justice.

Dexys Midnight Runners & Joy Division

Songs Heard on the Radio # 376 Billy Nomates

Cool hipspeak attitude, half sung, half drawled. From her eponymous debut album, just out which I'll have to tune into.

Silverbacks - Fad

They're clearly putting something in the water in Dublin these days. For Fad, the debut album from Silverbacks is just the latest frothing, urgent punky racket to drop off the production line following similar recent missives from the likes of Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital.

Fad by no means disgracess itself in this distinguished company. It's an accomplished and varied record, certainly not lacking in self belief. One moment agitated and furious, the next reflective and detached.

The fact that songs alternate between a male and female vocalist helps matters to. This is certainly not a predictable record. Nor is it a comfortable one. I always got the sense that a major detonation was imminent.

It may take a few listens for the tunes to fully flower in your consciousness but I get the impression that it should be worth the effort.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 5 David Bowie - Low

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 9 Television

Song of the Day # 2,400 Valentine Dial

More from Melbourne. Slightly reminiscent of Mick Head of Shack this one.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Paul Cook & Mick Jones

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 4 The Congos - Heart of the Congos

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 8 Elvis Costello

'It's essentially I think the same warning as God Save The Queen, but with shinier shoes, a bigger love for perfect garage pop, a bleak cynicism worthy of Graham Greene, and an even greater, more timeless sense of dread.'

Song of the Day # 2,399 Drug Store Romeos

' I have the misfortune to be an English instructor. I attempt to instill a bunch of bobby-soxers and drug store Romeos with a reverence for Hawthorne and Whitman and Poe...' Blanche Dubois.

Drug Store Romeos. My new favourite band # blah, blah, blah. Youthful Fleet, Hampshire trio grab their name from a Streetcar Named Desire quote demeaning Southern clothes horse teens, and come up with a sound that is reminiscent of others but somehow wonderfully still their own.

They have three tracks available as of now. The latest, Quotations For Locations is the best and shows rich promise indeed. Young Marble Giants, Stereolab and New Order meet up for a blind date and sparks fly. One of my favourite songs of the year so far. They're working on an album. If this is anything to go by, it could be very good indeed.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

You Look Like a Star But You're Still on the Dole

Seeing as I've just posted my review of The Weather Prophets Mayflower, it might be a good time to re-post this. The first chapter of Luke Haines book, Bad Vibes. The Go Betweens in London. Haines recognises how great they were and gives a good kicking to other, lesser lights while he's at it...

The second chapter of Luke Haines' autobiography Bad Vibes. Another entirely  deserved doff of the cap to the namers of this blog. Brilliant in terms of tone in its sardonic bitchiness. It sums up indie London in the Eighties very well. I was at gigs with the Creation entourage and they were as snotty, self-important and comical as Haines paints them. He also describes the London of the time accurately. It really was a shithole!

Lawrence from Felt, Pete Astor from The Weather Prophets, Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster from The Go-Betweens. In their own minds these men are rock royalty, (the notion of indie does not yet exist). David Westlake and I sit at the end of the table waiting our turn. Nineteen years old. Winter 1987. Pre-gig pints in the Devonshire Arms, Camden Town. Shane MacGowan's manor. He's in the corner. This is pre-money London Town. When the place was still a shithole. The pubs all close at three in the afternoon for a few hours and there are only four channels on the TV. How did I get here?

Straight from school to Art College, where after one year on a foundation course I am thrown out. - asked to leave as I have 'a bad attitude to further education'. Not true. I have a great attitude. I blag a place at the London College of music in Great Marlborough Street - a make-do for those not good enough to get into the Royal College of Music or Guildhall - leave my parents' home in Portsmouth and head for my first rented room, in Stockwell, south London. Just in time for the first weekend of the 1985 Brixton Riots. My housemates Chad and Ange are manic dole fiends. We get drunk on looted lager from the Sunshine Supermarket on Railton Road. Then with a little bit of Dutch we head out and watch the final embers of Brixton burning.

I have not yet turned eighteen. Music college is everything I hoped it wouldn't be. Like every teenage Velvets nut with a guitar I hold out the hope that I will meet a John Cale to play alongside my Lou Reed, naturally. Time, time. Running and passing. Got to get something together before I turned 19. November 1986. I answer an advert in Melody Maker for the first and only time. 'Servants singer songwriter seeks musicians.' The songwriters name is David Westlake. I obsessively read the music papers) so I have heard of is band The Servants. He has just sacked them. Westlake and I hit it off., and we're into the same stuff: The Modern Lovers, Dragnet and Totale Turns by The Fall. The Only Ones first album. Adventure by Television. Wire and The Go Betweens.By March '87 I am in Greenhouse Studio Islington playing guitar and piano on Westlake's first solo album, destined to be released on the then fashionable Creation label. By the end of the year the album Westlake is out and greeted with a yawn of indifference by a world far more interested in ecstasy and the latest incarnation of the Manchester scene. We, perhaps unwisely revert to the old band name the Servants.

Lawrence from Felt, Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee, Grant McLennan, Robert Forster, David Westlake and me. Men convinced of their own genius though at 19 I am not yet a man, and it is strange to keep on meeting people who are at least ten years older. Pete Astor is the lead singer of the Weather Prophets, a Creation band who had their hour in the sun some six months ago. Pete's got the look and the regulation leathers. Ex-music journalist Pete has also got a theory on all rock'n'roll lore. Just as well because the one thing he ain't got is the fucking songs Bobby Gillespie wafts around saying little apart from who looks cool and who doesn't. Strangely people take notice of him. You're just too hip baby.

Tonight The Servants are supporting Lawrence's band Felt at Dingwalls. It is one of Felt's many farewell gigs to an indifferent nation. It will be a few years until Lawrence gets good and delivers his neo-glam masterpiece Back in Denim . Tonight, in the Devonshire, he is a classic example of  fabulous rock star egotism   in a hideous harlequin-motif jacket. Up his own enigma. Lawrence - a rock star in mind only - travels with a small entourage A lackey is always on hand to light Lawrence's steady flow of cigarettes, as the Felt singer pontificates in a Brummie monotone - to no one in particular - on the possibilities of 'sewing on a fringe'. You see, Lawrence has started to lose his hair and doesn't have the money for an Elton-style transplant. The somewhat unlikely option of sewing on a fringe has become an obsession. In later years he will on occasion, sport a hazardous wig. Photo sessions and video shoots will be at the mercy of the wig and it's inability to cope with inclement weather. On and on he goes. Another cigarette is lit. The lackey's are giving Lawrence's fringe predicament some serious consideration.

Unfortunately any suggestions provoke petulant fits from the eccentric genius. I don't want to be complicit in high-maintenance Lawrence mania., so I move over to Grant's table. Grant McLennan of the Go Betweens has become a mentor to David and me, pushing 30 and proud of his elder statesmanship to the assembled Creation mob. Alan McGee loves the Go Betweens; he even names his forgettable mini-Malcolm McClaren scam girl band, Baby Amphetamine, after an Only Ones fanzine that Robert Forster and Grant put together back in their native Brisbane. Thankfully McGee's respect is not reciprocated. Tonight Grant is on form and drinking like giddy up. The Go Betweens fly back to Australia for good the next morning, after a few tough years in unyielding, unforgiving 80s London. Tonight is partly a farewell drink for them. 'It's great to be here tonight with all my favourite English bands who all wanna sound like the Byrds and the Velvet Underground.,' muses Grant. 'Y'know Creation is my third favourite record label,' he adds with heavy sarcasm rubbing McGee's face in it.

Alan McGee, anointer of genius and self-styled record mogul. I first met McGee back in the spring of '87 in fury Murrays, a hellhole of a club behind Glasgow Central station. I am sound-checking my brand new Fender Telecaster. A Fender Telecaster I have scrimped and saved for in saved dole money and starvation. Hard won. If anyone so much as looks at this guitar in the wrong way they will unleash the winds of psychic war, Westlake and I are on the Scottish leg of a tour supporting the Weather Prophets.. McGee sidles up to the front of the stage and points at me. 'You. You're Tom Verlaine.' He is of course referring to the buzz-saw blitzkrieg maverick lead guitarist of seminal symbolist New York City art rockers Television. Maybe some people would be happy with this introduction. Not I. I am a stickler for manners and would have preferred a 'How do you do?' or even a simple 'Hello'. The eighties were plagued by these small time indie Svengalis, wannabe Brian Epsteins or mini Malcolms. Forever proclaiming some poor bugger to be a genius. Of course hype is fundamental to pop music. But it often says more about the hyper than the hyped. The start of the cursed holy bestowals.

'You. You're Tom Verlaine,' it says , utterly unbecoming. I fix the fool with a dead-eyed stare. Say nothing, say nothing. You, Alan McGee will pay for this transgression. You will pay.

Back in the Devonshire Arms Grant McLennan turns to me and whispers loud enough for anyone to hear, 'That Alan McGee, not much going on up top.'

Westlake, McLennan and I stagger up the road the 200 yards or so to the venue. The old long bar of Dingwalls. Robert Forster is in the shadows. Thirty years old and a lean six foot four. Always conspicuous. Forster has just come out of his Prince phase. His new look is somewhere between Raw Power period Iggy and Sherlock Holmes. With his long hair dyed silver grey - a homage to Dynasty's Blake Carrington no less - round wire-frame glasses and tweed cape. This is a bold, potentially tragic look, but Forster carries it off. David Westlake and I are in awe of the man. Everyone loves Robert Forster and no one can quite work out why he is not a huge star. He has hit a creative peak, having just written some of the best songs of his career - 'The Clarke Sisters', 'When People Are Dead', 'The House That Jack Kerouac Built'. A few hours earlier back in the Devonshire, Pete Astor developed a lecture on why all Robert's songs are merely 'filler material'. Yeah, yeah Pete. Whatever you say.

We do the gig. Too drunk to play well, we still - in the rock'n'roll vernacular - blow Felt off the stage. Everyone talks loudly through Felt's set. Lawrence is playing his latest epic, 'Primitive Painters'. On and on it goes. Somewhere, fresh paint dries upon a wall. Sadly, I am not there to watch it.

More drinks at the bar with Robert, Grant and Lindy Morrison, the Go Betweens terrifyingly blunt drummer. 'If you're gonna play Dingwall's you gotta fucken rock. Lemme hangs out here with fucken Johnny Thunders. You can't play like a bunch of fucken pussies. You've gotta fucken rock.' She has a point.

Lawrence. Pete Astor. Bobby McGee.. Alan McGee. Grant McLennan. Robert Forster. David Westlake. Me. All of these men convinced of their own genius. One of these men now sadly dead.'

* On Saturday 6th May 2006 Grant McLennan died in his sleep at his Brisbane home. He is sorely missed.

A Season in Hell

Music Critics # 3 Tom Hibbert

Music probably overtook Football in terms of my affections somewhere between the ages of 14 and 16. One book that probably played some small, imperceptible role in this process was The Perfect Collection edited by Tom Hibbert. They had a copy in the local library and I pored over it to a ridiculous degree, even though I was barely aware of most of the records it actually lauded. It certainly made a lasting impression on me in terms of highlighting exactly how much passion and babbling, almost incoherent enthusiasm could be invested into this stuff.

The basic idea behind the book was to list 199 albums that any self-confessed music fan should own. Compiled from the lists of contemporary writers and enthusiasts. Nothing new there. But the book was distinct from similar lists and projects in a couple of ways. Firstly, because it was really, genuinely funny in a way that I'd never experienced with music writing before. Secondly, because it was an education in itself. For example its listing there was the first time Television's Marquee Moon, a lifelong companion of mine, was brought to my notice. It was a particular favourite of Hibbert's and his unabashed enthusiasm for the record certainly piqued my interest, though it took me a couple of years to catch up entirely and actually buy the record.

Hibbert was a one off in many respects, in that he so clearly enjoyed writing about music but refused to take the process seriously and so his writing was scatological, irreverant and always first and foremost very entertaining. He made his name mostly due to his writing for Smash Hits and Q neither of which were particular favourites of mine but whenever I did browse through them his prose consistently stood out from those around him. In the words of friend Bob Stanley, 'His writing was offhand, intensely knowledgeable, iconoclastic, conversational and very funny.'

Pretty much a chain smoker, Hibbert was very ill for the last decade of his life before succumbing to a diabetes related illness in 2011 aged just 59. In many ways he's the polar opposite of writers like Jon Savage, who I've written about on this series previously. Hibbert never took the whole process terribly seriously and was all the better for that. Mark Ellen's Guardian Obituary here, sums up what made him so special.

El Goodo - Zombie

Calling yourself El Goodo is one way of making it absolutely clear what your musical goals are. The Ballad of El Goodo after all is one of the standout tunes from Big Star's hallmark classic debut # 1 Record. It seems fairly evident what lies in store for the listener. Ringing creamy harmonies, plangent melodies, the sound of heartbreak made as unstoppably attractive as it can possibly be.

Zombie the latest album from the Resolven Wales outfit, (their fourth in twenty years) , does all it can to live up to this billing. This is utterly old school Rock and Roll, from start to finish, drawing on Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds, Burrito Brothers, Badfinger and Big Star in equal helpings and coming up trumps song after song. There only a couple on its thirteen track running list that I wasn't keen on and I can certainly forgive them those.

It's interesting listening to a record that is so definitively rooted in the past as this one. It simply doesn't bother to recast its influences in any respect whatsoever. This is an album that could have come out pretty much any year between 1965 and 1972 yet it's being released in mid 2020.

It would be easy to be dismiss this if the songs weren't almost all so uniformly excellent. You've heard them all before, if you've ever treasured an album from any of the artists listed above. But then again of course you haven't heard them before at all.

Like Teenage Fanclub, Super Furry Animals, The Coral and The Allah Las before them El Goodo make Rock and Roll excavation sound like one of the best ideas there's ever been. I've just listened through to Zombie from start to finish and it's set me up wonderfully for a lazy, laidback Sunday afternoon. It's a glorious record.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 3 Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key Of Life

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 7 ABBA

Song of the Day # 2,398 Golden Hallway Music

Evocative instrumental album.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Songs About People # 1,151 Cole Younger

Kirk Brandon always had a thing about cowboys and indians. This is no Do You Believe in The Westworld. What else that he did was? For Cole Younger leader of his part of the James / Younger Gang.

Album Reviews # 77 The Weather Prophets - Mayflower

A journey back in time this one. Back to my youth, a time of mixed experience, lost opportunities and mistakes as well as much happiness. Just what youth is all about after all isn't it? Not just for me I suspect but also for the record and band I'm going to write about here.

So back to 1987, the year that I turned 22, still youthful I'd suggest, by more generous estimates. Not a particularly happy year among my own memories as I'd fallen ill during my second year at university with a rare and serious condition and I had to take a couple of years out of university.

I had much else to contend with, but I won't trouble you with all that here. I retreated to convalesence to the home of loving parents in Teddington. During the next couple of years, I caught up with reading for my degree but continued my obsessions with the weekly music papers and the London music scene, venturing out sometimes to see bands, usually at The Hammersmith Clarendon, the Indie Mecca of South West London at the time.

During one of these jaunts I saw The Weather Prophets who were the big hopes for those of a jingly jangly disposition for a couple of seasons in 1987. These hopes were slightly misplaced but at this point in time those who worshipped The Velvet Underground, The Byrds and Big Star, looked to Creation Records to supply them with their latest leather clad Rock Gods and while House of Love and then Ride were warming up in the wings to make this a genuinely viable possibility, we were left with Creation's main contenders at the time. Primal Scream and The Weather Prophets.

The Weather Prophets had emerged from the ashes of The Loft, early Creation contenders who had split in spectacular circumstances, (well if you think in Indie terms), onstage at The Hammersmith Palais during a Colourfield gig in 1985.

The roots of the severance were surely inarticulate, youthful male rage and ego. Regardless, in effect Pete Astor and Bill Morgan, the main songwriter and drummer of The Loft proceeded with undue haste to the formation of The Weather Prophets, primarily designed as a vehicle for Astor's songwriting, constructed on classic guitar beat poet lines

Astor was certainly a talented songwriter if arguably a rather conservative one. Other bands of a similar stripe were after all making inroads, at the time, artistically certainly but also commercially. The Smiths, R.E.M. The Triffids, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, The Go-Betweens, Prefab Sprout and others were all indicating that being sensitive and literate were not necessarily handicaps to getting on. Astor and The Weather Prophets might be contenders.

After all, they'd just emerged from the studios clutching their shiny debut album Mayflower,
 (released on WEA offshoot Elevation), twelve songs of lean, guitar driven suburban attitude, produced by Lenny Kaye of the venerated Patti Smith Group no less. 'Kaye plugged Astor into an heroic lineage of art, poetry and critically lauded rock'n'roll.' 

They'd also been granted a cover, by the still respected NME magazine. Wherein NME scribe Len Brown made slightly vaunted claims as to their worth.At the time the two prize goals of bands of the Weather Prophet's stripe was the cover of the NME and an appearance on Top of The Pops. They had achieved the former, if they wanted the latter Mayflower would need to provide it.

It failed to do so, though there are several worthy contenders here. Most notably Almost Prayed the band's debut single and probably their finest song where in less than three minutes they uttlerly evoke the ghost of Television and images of decadent lonesome indie cool, standing by the river on the dockside in the midnght hour, quiff and shades resplendent, lighting a cigarette, all the while thinking profound method actor thoughts.It gets absolutely everything right and then is gone. Should have been a hit.

Perhaps they should have saved Almost Prayed 'til later, but there are other contenders. She Comes From The Rain, also a single and a thing of limpid, liquid beauty, which limped to # 62 in the UK Singles Charts despite the NME cover push.

At which point the Weather Prophets moment as genuine chart contenders was probably gone. But almost 35 years on I can still warm to much of Mayflower. There's little that leaps out at you and grabs you by the throat but that is not Astor's way. There are 12 well constructed and solidly played Indie guitar songs dreaming of being something more though never quite attaining it.

Also opener Why Does The Rain?, (Astor clearly had a thing about rain), which was The Loft's debut single back in the early Creation days and such a good song that Astor understandably felt the urge to give it another plug here. 

But there was the rub. Why Does The Rain? was released as a single itself after  She Comes From The Rain's failure but didn't stand a chance. Simply because it's not a patch on the glorious original which captures once and forever the pure glory of a sulky type in his late teens waiting for his morning train into the city and his dull admin job. Semi- poetic thoughts popping like clouds in his head and wondering most of all, when he is going to be recognised for the star he clearly is and taken away from all this mundane, everyday tedium.

Never Pete, and here's the reason. Because you weren't quite good enough. Or perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because you did write some good songs, and a few approaching greatness.

Essentially though Astor was 'A fair songwriter who had neither the powerful voice nor the force or personality to appeal to listeners in large numbers.'

Never mind. We're all a bit older, and we hope wiser too. Astor is now a senior music professor at the University of Westminster, a good way to divert frustrated youthful dreams of stardom into a worthwhile career path that pays the mortgage. He still makes great records and tours occasionally as he pushes onwards towards Sixty. I'm fairly well on my way to that milestone myself.

So now, if I look back to that night at The Clarendon a Google search has helped me rediscover a flyer for the gig. Bottom of the bill Pop Will Eat Itself, who went on to some chart success themselves, (they, unlike the Prophets made it onto both the cover of the NME and Top of the Pops, on several occasions).

Also on the bill were The Servants who did several decent songs, were fronted by a talented songwriter David Westlake and also boasted Luke Haines in their ranks. A man who went on to form The Auters Black Box Recorder,  Baader Meinhof and more, and pen a particularly acidic portrait of Astor at the time which I'll repost here presently.

But more significantly than that, the other band on the bill that night, and the support I remember most, The Happy Mondays. I remember them because I had no idea who they were and because they seemed so out of place with the polite, groomed, middle class indie cool that was everywhere else that night. They were lairy, they seemd to be playing in five different bands, probably because they were on five different drugs. They made an impression. Their's after all, was the future.

Well Mayflower still sounds fine to me. A melodic, well crafted record that stands up all these years down the line. It's good, but certainly not great. Might as well leave the closing words to Astor himself..

'It didn't capture the vibe... It's that whole anal, antiseptic  way of making records that's ruined millions of good albums. People not undersranding how to record a rock'n'roll band. That was a lost art for many years.'

Don't worry about it Pete. Perhaps you were right. It bombed at the time. Made # 67 in the Albums Chart in 1987. Sounds fine now. What after all, do chart positions really matter.

Blog Discovery - Punk Girl Diaries

A latest blog find. Yesterday, when seeking further Internet information about Jill Birt of The Triffids of all things. During that random quest I chanced upon Punk Girl Diaries, now listed on the right hand side of this page. It's a treasure trove. One of the greatest things the Punk seizure did after all was throw open the gates once and for all for female musical and artistic expression. From Patti to Siouxsie, To Poly, To Ari and on and on and on. Itemised here to excellent effect by Lene Cortina and Vim Renault two women who were shaken by its seismic detonation burst at the time and are still clearly not entirely over it. And why should they be?.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 2 The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 6 The Damned

Song(s) of the Day # 2,397 Gaudi

The theremin, developed in 1920 by Russian Physicist Leon Theremin is one of the most ghostly and evocative sounds in all of music to celbrate its centenary, London producer Leon has applied its other wordly qualities splendidly to the echo chamber of Dub.

Supported in his project by proper genre heavyweights, Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor, The Scientist, Dennis Bovell and Prince Fatty, 100 Years of Theremin (The Dud Chapter) is, pure and simple, highly enjoyable stuff.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Raincoats

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 1 The Ramones - The Ramones

Having got a few days through This Is Uncool, I realised it was going to be a very interesting journey through time. So we might as well go through it's companion piece with it at least half of the way. The album equivalent. Only 261 of these, (rather than the 500 of the singles equivalent) ,because that was the number of albums that Garry Mulholland wanted to write about. Starting in another place that you should get started from.