New Zealand singer songwriter Nadia Reid is getting a lot of attention at the minute and if this, from her latest record Preservation, is anything to go for, no wonder. This is a big, evocative sound.
Monday, October 23, 2017
Sunday, October 22, 2017
'If there'd been any question bout whether the Stones could keep the quality up without Brian Jones, the release of Honky Tonk Woman the day after his funeral settled it. The clunking cowbell was weird, Charlie Watt's downbeat an epitome of white funk, and the country bluestang of Keith's guitar cinced the issue. Even Jagger's vocal, nicely layered with echo, rang with malicious conviction. Of course, the lyric was stupid and sexist but when you're dancing this hard, it can take a couple of years to notice.'
'It's not like it is in the movies. There may be police involved..'
And to underline the quite marvellous wonder of the record reviewed below, here's its opening track. An ode either directly or indirectly to Pablo, about inadvisable obsession.
As good a way possible to spend the early part of a Sunday morning. Listening to Adios Senor Pussycat, the latest album by Mick Head & the Red Elastic Band, just out this Friday. Head has a long backstory, he's been doing his thing for coming onto forty years now and has experienced much to contemplate during those years. It shows. This is a highly contemplative piece of art. The work of a man in his mid-fifties rediscovering his mojo and surveying the rocky road that life and his own decision-making have taken him down.
Originally the leader of Pale Fountains, a wondrous early eighties Liverpool band who were feted for huge commercial success at the time they were signed to Virgin Records in the early eighties but denied that success by poor record company decisions and a certain wilful attitude on the part of the band. Since then Head has continued making records intermittently, with his next project Shack and under his own name. Plagued by drug and alcohol dependency for the best part of thirty years, he's finally sober, has got 'piece of mind' in his own words, as he sings on 'Winter Turns to Spring'. And here are the results. A small masterpiece.
He's one of the finest pop songwriters Britain has produced over the last forty years, though he's barely ever had a brush with the actual charts. Adios Senor Pussycat, establishes the truth of that fairly on and goes on to explore the subtle, but quite exquisite songwriting and arranging gifts the man possesses over thirteen thoughtful, flecked and dappled songs. Very much a Liverpool record with its songs of the sea, the booze and romance
The album is not hugely different from several that Head has put out over the course of his career. Just slightly older and wiser. A disciple first and foremost of Love and Arthur Lee and The Byrds, he's used their example as the basis of his art but over the years has crafted it all into an utterly specific personal vision. A sound that's all his own. Full of poetic Scouse dreaming, Adios Senor Pussycat feels like an early Christmas present that you'll want to wrap and unwrap again and again over the next couple of months. It'll catch you by surprise with joy every single time.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
The last couple of weeks appear to have been a relative quiet time for great new albums with only a few notable exceptions. Here's one! Yesterday saw the release of the debut album from Glasgow band Catholic Action, In Memory Of and it's surely one to sit up in take notice of.
It all exists within the noble tradition: Teenage Fanclub, Franz Ferdinand and Travis (when they were good), The Pastels, great guitar acts going back to Glam beyond. Catholic Action, (oh and the name is wonderful too), know how to have a great time and understand and relish up ripping up the pop tradition and laying it down for the kids who weren't old enough to experience it all, ten twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago. They also sound as if they're having the time of their lives!
It's not an original record really except in that it's unusual to hear an album that sounds as good as this one does, in this particular tradition in 2017. Catholic Action are masters at what they do, astonishing for ones so young. Song after song either sounds like a hit single from 1973 or a masterful re-take of Teenage Fanclub's hair-raisingly wonderful Everything Flows. A joyously wonderful record inappropriately bedecked with floral memorial wreaths around the bands guitars and drums. This is surely a beginning not an end. Catholic Action are writing and performing the songs that the Gallagher brothers would surely love to be coming up with in 2017 but are quite incapable of.
The further I delve into In Memory Of, the more astonished I am at how good it can be. How remarkably assured in its grace. Catholic Action prove themselves to be masters of something of a last art. There may not be the mass-market for this kind of thing anymore. Attention seems to be elsewhere and what momentum there is seems to be directed towards the likes of Ed Sheeran and the aforementioned Gallagher shysters. This is a crime. Spotlights should be on the likes of Catholic Action instead. Where the action really is. Seek them out!
Friday, October 20, 2017
Thursday, October 19, 2017
If you do these things every day like I do, you can't help but notice the trends. The 'deer' bands, the 'rat' bands, and now it seems the wave of 'worm' bands. Cut Worms, the project of Max Clarke, have a nice way with that echoey American early sixties sound of Del Shannon and Roy Orbison showcased nicely on their new EP Alien Sunset. This song Song of the Highest Tower, stretches out to almost seven minutes yet doesn't seem a second too long.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
So here's the review I started off with on this blog four and a bit years ago.
'The first thing you notice in looking at the sleeve and taking the record out to play is the attention to detail. These people really thought about what they wanted things to look like. The name of the album, the lettering, the tangled kudzu grass on the cover, the song titles, the photos of the band. A lot of thought had been put into this. This was an assured and confident group of people.
R.E.M had played scores of dates before this came out. They'd emerged out of the Athens, Georgia college scene which also produced such notables as The B52's, Pylon and Love Tractor amongst others. They'd worked in record shops, played in college bands, done cover versions and worked on half-baked underdeveloped originals while they developed their style and absorbed music and culture to the point where they knew what they wanted to do and how to deliver.
They'd released a mini-album called Chronic Town with some cracking songs but an unrealised vision. Murmur meanwhile is incredibly sure-footed from the off. It kicks off with Radio Free Europe which is a statement of intent. It's pretty close to some Who stuff in terms of dynamics but offers something never heard before and builds and builds 'til the killer punch on the final chorus. Something's afoot.
Pilgrimage continues in pretty much the same vein. It's not clear what Michael Stipe is singing about. This is a consistent feature throughout and one of the main reasons I really fell in love with this album. Somebody suggested that Mumble might be a better album title than Murmur.The band responded that you wouldn't get the script of the film you were going to see when you went to the cinema so why should you be spoonfed here. The lyrics that are discernable - 'rest assured this will not last,' 'the pilgrimage has gained momentum' are about movement, change and growth. Just the stuff to appeal to pale, literate, teenage boys. The vocals from drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills here are extraordinary and to my mind unprecedented.
Laughing draws on Greek myth and Talk About the Passion talks about poverty. In a way it's the most conventional thing on here chiming like a post punk Byrds. Moral Kiosk is more urgent. Both of these songs are political but in an oblique way. R.E.M emerged at pretty much the same time as Reaganomics. They became more explicit on later albums in terms of their critique of what was going on. I'm not really sure if they became more effective.
Perfect Circle is often mentioned as one of the band's favourite songs. Quite rightly so. It's supposedly inspired by Stipe watching a group of kids playing baseball. I imagine it also may be about being in a great band with a group of friends
Catapult starts the second side and may be the weakest song on the album but was once considered the potential break-out single and New Order's producer Stephen Hague was brought in for an ill-judged remix. Sitting Still which is up next is indescribably good. I think I almost cried on hearing it first. You'll do well to hear a whole line of coherent lyrics here. It's all emotion and youth.
9-9 is the least conventional song and it took me a while to come to terms with it. Again there are Who dynamics there and it's reputed to have a Gang of Four influence though I've never really heard it myself. Shaking Through is marginally the longest song on the album and one of the best. Like much of the album it's driven by a beat generation inspired optimism and fervour. Great use of piano here.
We Walk is truly Southern. The album draws on Southern fiction throughout. Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner are all there. We Walk is pure Harper Lee, pretty much hokum but the band is so assured that they pull it off. Even their jokey song is pretty much streets ahead of the competition. The Smiths were the only guitar band firing on this level for me at this point.
This leaves us with West of the Fields. A song that to all intents and purposes is about death with more Greek myth in the mix. But despite the theme they gallop back for one more chorus to bring the album home.
I love this LP pretty much more than any other. It never tires or dates for me and if you're not familiar I suggest you give it a go. I used to listen to it time after time at the top of the house in Teddington. It cast a spell on me! I would listen through to it differently every time alternatively the vocals, the production, Peter Buck's guitar work, the bass or the backing vocals and hear something new every time. R.E.M produced several great albums and I'll write about them on here at some point but for now I'll just commend this album.
I've no idea how often I've listened to this record or how much I'll listen to it. I'm immersed in it. It's part of me. Everybody should have a record that means this much to them. When I put it on to listen to it today part of me wanted to go back to that time and space I listened to it first as an eighteen year old on the top floor of my parent's house in Teddington. But I can't go back there Nor do I want to. I'm in a different time and space and happy to be here.But I will always love and listen to that album. I will age while it won't. Perhaps it's my Picture of Dorian Grey.'
As with so many people, I have no choice with my # 1 album, this will always be this one for me. When I discovered it, shortly after its release in the UK it felt like I'd come across a mighty secret. The band's growing success over the following years vindicated me in this respect, but I would not be overstating the case to say that I constructed a good deal of my personality on these twelve tracks, the record's packaging and the impenetrable appeal of the band itself. Quite timeless!
They're not reinventing the wheel. Vancouver's Pack A.D. have been around for quite a while, ten years or more and it's perfectly clear by now what they like. A little bit White Stripes, a little bit Black Keys, a little bit Queens of the Stoneage and a little bit themselves. But I'm not one for always demanding originality, (of course the duo are both women which I guess is worth stating), and they do it all very well on their latest Dollhouse their seventh album, out this year. It's a terrific, upfront, relentless, rocking, punky record.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Taken from the splendid new classical leaning record from London-based French artist Angele David-Guillou. Not about Tony or Luchino but Bianchi Maria Visconti. The track is inspired by the 15th Century Visconti-Sforza tarot deck celebrating her marriage. Visconti was also known as the 'warrior woman' and successfully defended the city of Cremona from an attack from the Venetians.
And so back a week or so ago to that original review.
'Four and a bit years ago, when I started this blog, one of the, (perhaps the), major instigator of my decision to do so was an event called The Record Player held at an upstairs lounge in the Tyneside Cinema in the heart of Newcastle. It was something I'd discovered a couple of years earlier towards the end of 2011, and it had become a major part of my social calendar and something I looked forward to and relished greatly.
And so back a week or so ago to that original review.Taking place on Thursday evenings, always the best times to do these kind of things, just as the weekend beckons, the format of these events was simple. An opportunity for the audience to gather, greet each other and buy drinks while taking in the pre-record slides. Then a short intro to that evening's selected album from host (Mr.) Steve Drayton. Then the record itself, played on vinyl, (of course, the format was coming right back into vogue at just this point in time), to the accompaniment of a longer slide show related to the band or artist concerned.
No interruptions, except for the moment where Steve emerged from under his desk where he invariably slumped during the playing of the albums, only evidenced by his tapping DMs) to turn the record over. Then a round of applause when it ended, a chance to discuss the record and refuel or take a leak and then a quiz with a music related theme, a chance to win some prizes then goodnights all round and out into the Newcastle night, almost invariably invigorated and feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. I never had a bad evening there, even with albums I didn't care for, except for the time Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Murder Ballads was played. I truly hated that one and took a long time to forgive Cave for it.
And the reason such a simple idea invariably worked, apart from the idea of actually listening to wonderful music in a room full of people who you knew or got to know, in its best format, (no room for discussion on that one). There are a number of other similar events that have popped up nationally and globally, but in The Record Player's case in Newcastle the reason for its original and enduring success is down to its host Steve Drayton.
A striking looking man, well over six feet tall with a resplendent quiff and beaky nose, always very well turned out, Steve is a local celebrity, comedian, BBC producer, DJ, and generally go-to renaissance guy in this part of the world when you're seeking a host for these kind of events. He has an understanding of how to work a room, make people feel at home, a back to front gift for showbiz delivery, and, most importantly in this context, a deep-rooted love and understanding of music.
So, thanks to Steve and The Tyneside Cinema, I've had a number of wonderful evenings at the Record Player there and at other related venues over the past six years. But recently these evenings have been further and further apart. Steve has got involved in a number of different ventures, a lot of the key records that would come to mind have been done, and done again. In any case, I've missed it, and a lot of the regulars I got to know through it.
So I was delighted, a month or so ago, when I saw that a series of four more evenings would be held throughout October to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of 1977, British Punk's high summer. I'll be going to all of them and why not write about them here. So first, naturally to The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, which I attended with a friend a couple of evenings back. I've got the record of course, anybody with a record collection related to these things should have it, it's one of the ones.
But I don't listen to it all the way through and never have, since I bought it, probably thirty years back, even though I love many of the songs. Why not? Because I was labouring under the misconception that you didn't need to. One song at a time was enough and anyway the whole thing is such a cultural monument now that perhaps even that wasn't necessary. It's stamped indelibly on your memory anyhow.
I was wrong and will be listening to it much more from now on. In his prelude to the playing of the record Steve said a number of interesting things about it. He was there at the time after all, a young Punk on the rough streets of Scunthorpe. I can't remember most of the things he said I'm afraid but there was a comment made by Noel Gallagher, (a man who I generally don't have much time for, but this was pertinent), which was particularly memorable.
Gallagher said it was the best Pop record ever made and having listened through to it on Thursday along with the visuals, I'd agree. It's a better Pop Record than Revolver, a better Pop Album than any ABBA ever released, even better than The Ramones or Parallel Lines. It's only real competitor as a Pop Record to my ears is Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and I wouldn't like to choose between the two. Nevertheless, despite agreeing with Gallagher here, I'd stick to my conviction that Oasis themselves are strictly lower division, and am unlikely to change my opinion there, unless perhaps Mr.Drayton has a Definitely Maybe evening and I doubt he'll ever do that!
So Bollocks is still a wonderful record and document on its own terms. Of course it sounds unbelievably different to how it would have done at the time. I can't verify this personally, I was between eleven and twelve at the time and far to timid to be seeking out The Sex Pistols, I was scared enough of the first Punks I was coming across on the streets of Richmond. But it sounds funnier now than it must have done at the time when it was and was widely perceived to be a genuine threat. The singles stand out of course, that's why they were singles but every song merits its place. Submission sounds like nothing else on it, pointing the way to PiL and post-Punk. Bodies, Problems, Seventeen and EMI , particularly are wonderful supporting players. It's great to hear Steve Jones re-inventing Chuck Berry and the band sound like a ten ton truck. Great evening, why should I be surprised, and I'll be back next Thursday for the Damned and The Clash.'
The original inspiration for this short series. One thing I've noticed since then is that some people have a strange, involuntary body reaction when one of the songs from this record comes on the jukebox. Very difficult to describe, but it happens!
Two songs from the excellent new A.Savage, (Parquet Courts), record Thawing Dawn. It doesn't sound quite like an album as such, more of a collection of songs the man has assembled over the years and deemed not altogether suitable for one reason or another for his main project.
That's not to say it's not well worth a listen. On occasion he veers into Courts territory but that's probably where the record is at its least interesting. Elsewhere he's more introspective and his Texas origins show through, occasionally coming close to Gram Parsons. Well worth the effort!
Monday, October 16, 2017
The album that Blondie will ultimately be best remembered for of course though their other albums are regrettably neglected in its shadow. I may feel a series coming on related to this subject. In the meantime, here's something from the one that made them one of the biggest bands in the world and pushed Debbie Harry centre stage transfixing any number of teenage boys and doubtless girls all over the world too.
Three tracks from the splendid new Barr Brothers album Queen of the Breakers, (their third in all), which came out last Friday. It's Rough Trade Record of the Week which is always a fairly sure sign of quality as the people there know about these things.
Hailing from Quebec and not all brothers, they're evocative songwriters and musicians, their songs giving off something of the feel of those great records of the eighties of bands like the Go Betweens, The Triffids, and The Blue Nile with an occasional nod to classic Simon & Garfunkel. They have a knack for atmosphere. It's a Monday morning and I'm obliged to head back to work but listening to this as I prepare to do so makes me feel OK about that state of affairs.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
A British TV presenter of the sixties and seventies of course best known as the boorish host of the interview where The Sex Pistols set the airwaves alight with profanity and Punk either exploded or was never the same again according to your perspective. Grundy certainly never recovered. The song here is another Ed Ball association. He was in O Level, today's Song of the Day and also Television Personalities along with Dan Treacy.
A vinyl listening event I attend at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle. Here's a review of Week Two of their October Punk season.
A strange one this one. First the attendance. Almost a sell out, in comparison with the Pistols the week before which had barely broken into double figures audience wise. Then, the reaction. When it came to the popular vote after both albums were played The Clash won as you might expect but only by fifteen votes to fourteen and host and compere Mr. Drayton later said that if he'd had a vote he would have cast his for The Damned drawing them level.
For the record, I didn't think much of Damned, Damned, Damned, the first time I'd listened through to one of their albums in its its entirety but much of the audience loved it and every single person there who I actually knew and spoke to said it was quite wonderful. Meanwhile there was some quite cutting reaction to The Clash. It's always been that way with Punk. The artier side verses the pure no nonsense Rock and Roll side. And though The Clash could rock like nobodies business, there was also an element of artiness and opportunism in their package which some reacted to negatively, (or at least they certainly did last Thursday), whereas with The Damned there was no pretence of art whatsoever then and now. What you saw was and is what you got and get.
I didn't like much of what I got from them that evening! I rated the two great singles, Neat, Neat, Neat and New Rose which kicked off each side. I also appreciated a couple of other tracks, but much of it sounded like demos or horrid noise and the fact that they finished off with an Iggy & the Stooges cover was indicative to me of their lack of originality or ideas of their own. I was also minded of The Rocky Horror Show at too many stages, something I've never cared for since the constant playing of it at teenage parties almost traumatised me. A bit better than the Dead Boys first record I'd say but nowhere close to The Ramones. I voiced my opinion that it was poor when queuing for a beer at the break and was told I knew nothing by a man with a great fondness for John Denver, Rush and Styx, so that put me firmly in my place.
Meanwhile for The Clash I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through. It's actually a pretty sophisticated record for a Punk Rock debut, (compare their version of Police & Thieves with The Damned's Stooges cover). Strummer and Jones knew their stuff even at this early stage. Also the visual assault highlighted by the slideshow that accompanied the playing of the album. There's something very knowing about Strummer's stance at the mic in those '76 and '77 gig photos. He's a preacher and the audience are eating out of his hands. Seeing them then must have been something else!
Perhaps, just perhaps, it's a couple of tracks too long. Nevertheless, I think it's just blistering. That wasn't the reaction of those I knew on Thursday though when we discussed it after it finished. 'First two tracks, only decent songs' was one response. And when I said that The Clash changed lives while The Damned just didn't I was countered with, 'Yes. Taught people to suck corporate cock and buy jeans' (excuse the language readers but these were the words used). This from another friend and regular who worships Duran Duran. I couldn't quite work it all out. I called them all a bunch of bloody provincials, (I'm lucky to get out of some of these events alive really), and left confused. Such is the beauty of Record Player. Still my last word would be The Clash still won the vote so you guys and your opinions don't matter anymore. I've been waiting to say that since Brexit! *
* Footnote. Jokes were told in the writing of this review!.
An album that was originally eleven tracks but then became twelve when Reward was a hit, leading to the re-release of the record with that song bolted on. So a bit of a cheat for this series in that respect but then any album is going to be improved once Reward is added.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
No need to say more. The American flag on the album cover says how important this is. Just play the record!
A couple of tracks from the eponymous Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich debut album from 1966. They were an odd band. A curiosity. In Quentin Tarantino's also decidedly odd film Death Proof he features Hold Tight, again from this record and uses it to soundtrack a car conversation between the four girls the film focuses upon driving home from a Friday night out just before they're killed by a full on collision quite deliberately set up by a psychopathic nutter. In the discussion the DJ of the group talks about the band as it plays on the radio mentioning that at one point Pete Townshend had an opportunity to leave The Who and join the band and probably made the wrong move in not doing so.
He didn't, but the band are still worth a listen fifty years down the line just to give you a fuller picture of what the British pop scene was like back then. They're poppy to a ridiculous degree, seem to be targeted at eleven and twelve year olds rather than the sixteen or seventeen year group that most of their contemporaries coveted. Built on music hall values but not taking the dadaist route that The Bonzo band chose, they were a novelty band that was built to last, scoring hit after hit in the UK between '66 and '68 when at one time were so successful that they were spending more time on the singles charts than The Beatles.
Friday, October 13, 2017
After a puzzling night at the Record Player at Tyneside Cinema, (of which I'll write more later), I went back to Rosie's for a closing pint for the night and some jukebox songs. I was delighted to find Air's splendid Late Night Tales there. At which point I played The Cure's All Cats Are Grey, Japan's Ghosts, Lee Hazlewood's My Autumn's Done Come, (wonderful to have access to this, it'll get played loads) and this. I may have to go back and play the rest of this wonderful compilation!
The early Radiohead high water mark before they made the moves that turned them into the most revered band on Earth. Still a wonderful listen start to finish!