“Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive are tied up in memory.” Nick Cave
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
The Jesus & Mary Chain
Temporary Fandoms, the music listening group on Facebook that I'm part of, remains a gift that keeps giving. Allowing me to trawl through and relive youthful memories. Currently we are working our way through The Jesus & Mary Chain. Here are my thoughts about Psychocandy and Darlklands, their first two LPs and the important ones to me.
I was in Locarno, Switzerland on my gap year working in a hotel when J&MC emerged at the beginning of 1985. Obviously at that point in life for someone like me I missed music and the music papers more than anything else from the UK, especially as there was a lot happening at that point in time that I was interested in. For me I was mostly missing The Smiths, R.E.M and The Go Betweens and wanting to know more about The Triffids. There was a library in Locarno where they actually had copies of The NME and Melody Maker a few weeks out of date and I devoured them avidly whenever I was in town. The J&MC began to take up more and more column space as Spring became summer. My first impression, (not being able to hear the records), was ooh controversy, they look a bit dangerous, and they've modelled their hair on Ian McCulloch's but they might have washed their's first.
Right I've got it on the turntable now. Some records are best heard that way. Just Like Honey. That's some start to an album. Agreed John, its use in Lost in Translation is something else. First year at university. UEA, Norwich. I had three guys in my corridor who had just the same music taste as mine. Same went for films, books, politics and everything else. We should have formed a band really. None of us bought or even really discussed Psychocandy when it came out. They played UEA in February '86. I didn't go. I think I was slightly suspicious of their 'notoriety'. It was one of those legendary gigs you had to be at. My soon to be girlfriend Min was there, a budding photographer, taking photos with her classic camera. So was Rod, the guy in the room next to me, still in touch with him. He still talks about it. He came back virtually frothing at the mouth about how great they'd been. They'd kept the crowd waiting an absolutely ridiculous amount of time, an hour after they were due, to whip up the requisite rage and hysteria. When they came on they were pelted with beer. They turned on their heels, Jim said, 'don't be so fucking stupid' and they were gone again. Another half hour or so and they returned and you got the requisite twenty minutes of feedback and beauty. It must have been something even if that was as long as they could actually play at that point. I should have gone. The record still doesn't really do it for me, even though I recognise just how good it is, playing the copy I inherited from Min when we went our separate ways after university. She was such a sweetie. I remember her twisting her hand round like she was clutching a microphone and howling The Hardest Walk (one of the best things on here) into it. My tastes are more classical and I'm always suspicious of bands who say 'we're going to make one perfect album and then die in a plane crash leaving perfect corpses' but don't. Instead putting out album after album for decades and ending up sounding much like every other band. Manics, Guns & Roses and most regrettably Birdland and Gay Dad, who thankfully didn't last as long. Still, this was a really necessary record at the time, (Live Aid remember), and signaled that beneath the bluster, the Reid's were a couple of classic songwriters. Every song on here frankly, beneath the fuzz. Have really enjoyed listening to it again but I think the record needs a damned good clean.
Good set of songs. Some of them excellent. Without the feedback and Year Zero statement of putting out a debut album about full on revolution from your bedroom on a major they become another Rock band to some extent. Existentialism and Rebellion in the marketplace. Those Sympathy for the Devil woo woos in 9 Million Rainy Days are telling. Despite the pose and wishful thinking Punk can actually only happen once. From this point lyrically they're really confined to Jesus & Mary Chain fridge magnet sentiments. Making love on the edge of the night. Tarantino stuff. Doesn't mean there aren't plenty of great songs to be mined from it. It probably depends how powerful that existential imagery is for you. White T-Shirt, Black Leather Jacket, Shades, 501s, motorcycles, Leader of the Pack. It was very strong at that stage of the Eighties. That Nick Kamen ad in the launderette, films like The Breakfast Club, Wild at Heart, Mickey Rourke in virtually every film he was in, Springsteen even. Darklands of course is a very Springsteen title. It's a good record. But it's a pose. You're on WEA and you want us to buy your records and go and see you on your supporting tour. And you'll play a reasonably full set and give value for money this time round. But for many it might seem less exciting. A strong, well produced set of songs which I'm sure the label were really happy with. April Skies does stand out as a classic even though all the songs are pretty strong. They can write that's for sure.
Parts 2 & 3:
Some memories from these days. Being driven through London late at night in a van that appeared to be falling to pieces. Sat in the back with a German friend Holger by the back doors. In the company of my younger sister and her indie gang of mates. Heroes, Edwyn Collins, Jonathan Richman, Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope. Driven by Jeff who is now my brother-in-law. His words as we got in, 'I haven't had an accident in ages' not particularly encouraging. Going to Speed, an Indie Club with Douglas Hart DJ-ing in one of the squares behind Tottenham Court Road. The whole J&MC and Primal Scream and Creation bunch were there. I can't remember many other people. They really did hang around like a gang. Quite intimidating really. Records I remember. The kind of thing they played at Indie clubs in those days in London and Brighton. Suicide's Ghost Rider, Nancy & Lee and the one I remember from this night especially Orange Blossom Special by Johnny Cash which certainly served the purpose of clearing the dancefloor at the end of the night.
My other memory of these people from this time. Walking across Bushy Park in Teddington where my parents live, with my sister to Hampton Wick where Primal Scream are playing a gig to support their first album Sonic Flower Groove, ('Woo!' Bobby). They're all hanging around behind us in the small venue. We are talking to a bloke I went to secondary school with who appears to be completely washed up at the age of 22. It happened quite a lot in the privileged part of London I grew up in. He seems much more interested in chatting up my sister which I'm not at all happy about. He's really slimy, overweight and balding already. The support band are very clean cut and unmemorable. At the end of the set they say, 'This is a cover of a song by The Byrds. It's called Feel a Whole Lot better.' and play a perfectly presentable version of a great song. Behind us Gillespie and McGee laugh behind their hands really obviously and unpleasantly. It says it all about them. My sister and I still remember and talk about it. Gillespie and McGee both love The Byrds but they're such ridiculous elitist snobs. Primal Scream are essentially Byrds meet Love copyists at this point. But they're so superior and full of themselves. No one else can like them. Primal Scream go on to play an unexceptional set which is really just a tribute to their favourite records of 1967. I think Bobby is wearing his excellent polka-dot shirt. Right that's all of my J&MC / Bobby Gillespie anecdotes. I can just get on with enjoying the records from now on.
Ziggyology # 3 Lady Stardust
Song(s) of the Day # 3,315 The Royal Arctic Institute
With a name like The Royal Arctic Institute and an EP called From Coma to Catharsis, you get the idea these are people looking to be taken seriously. Poignant, spacey instrumentals and definite loveliness, not far from Yo La Tengo, Tom Verlaine or Blue Nile.
Monday, February 27, 2023
Ziggyology # 2 Soul Love
Song(s) of the Day # 3,314 Philip Selway
The Drummer's Tale. Part Two. Just a few weeks after Dave Rowntree's excellent Radio Songs showed there's more to him than the drum patterns on Blur records it's the bloke behind Radiohead's kit's turn.
Not quite so surprising this time. Philip Selway has made records before. His third album, Strange Dance, is exactly what it says on the tin. A lush, emotive waltz that is one part Pet Shop Boys, one part West End Musical.
Bolstered by collaborations with the likes of Adrian Uttley, Hannah Peel and Laura Moody pulls out the shots, leaving not a dry eye in the house. An impressive work indeed.
Sunday, February 26, 2023
Ziggyology # 1 Starman
Yet another book about Bowie. But a slightly different one this time. A fantastic act of imagination and making connections from Simon Goddard. Focusing on the Ziggy period. In the first 25 pages broadening the subject to discussions of Pythagoras, Galileo, Kepler and the Kabuki.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,313 Dougie Poole
Saturday, February 25, 2023
1983 Singles # 1 The Smiths
R.E.M were my own momentous personal discovery in 1983, but I would never pretend for a moment that the music year belonged to anyone but The Smiths . They came out of nowhere and conquered hearts and minds instantly. I held my own heart and mind back for a while, unsure about Morrissey. Ultimately as time has proved, you could never be entirely sure about Morrissey but there was so much about The Smiths that was utterly irresistible from the off.
They conquered BBC Evening Radio within weeks of signing to Rough Trade and the music papers were slain immediately too. Morrissey and The NME were plainly born for each other and the latter was rechristened the New Morrissey Express by many in time. Quite rightly too although the two fought like cats and dogs across successive decades.
This Charming Man was their moment of coronation. It landed them on Top of the Pops and most got their first glimpse of Morrissey. Marr too. And Joyce and Rourke had the look and style required. They were the compete package. So many great bands from the Punk and New Wave years had imploded over the previous couple of years, but The Smiths picked up the banner and carried it forward into the fray, largely single handedly for the next few years until they too succumbed and fell.
Morrissey was never quite enough on his own, regardless of what true believers maintained. Marr was a slightly wasted talent, (it has to be said, because his talent is so vast and undeniable), though he contributed to many fine records and has made good ones of his own. Really both he and Morrissey gave the best of what they had, and they both had so much, to The Smiths. Nothing either did thereafter, considerable as it was, measured up to The Smiths. How could it?
One of my own early memories of the band came from the December '83 college trip I went on to The Soviet Union. It was a hugely pivotal moment in my life. I look back on it as my entre into adulthood in some ways, even though I was by no means an adult just yet.
The trip was sponsored by the Russian Trade Unions and we visited and stayed in Moscow and Leningrad and also stopped briefly in Novgorod over a two week period. It was a highly romantic experience, even though it stripped us all of any illusions we might have harbored that The Soviet Union was a remotely romantic place. .Darkness and the vaguest hint of unutterable bleakness are what I remember most. Even though I loved everything about the trip so much.
It introduced me to many of the people I would spend the rest of my college days with. You are never really at a place until you meet your people and I met them there. They were mostly girls, and that was good for me too. What am is saying? Not just good. Bloody wonderful. One of these girls was Clare O'Riordan, the younger singer of Cait, bassist of The Pogues and already or soon to me inamorata of Elvis Costello
Clare had a strong and firm allegiance to The Smiths, youthful as they were. I recall her singing their praises for the course of the entire trip. We also got to know each other better during that time. The group's evenings were invariably spent in the hotel ballroom. getting drunk and even drunker on a sea of vodka then up onto the hotel dancefloor to dance or rather stagger together to the house band, who generally played The Birdy Song every set and some other stuff to encourage dance from its highly inebriated audience..
During one of these drunken sallies Clare lowered her head to my shoulder, opened her mouth and bit me, really, really hard. I'll never forget it. I have no idea whether there was any romantic intention on her part to this gesture, I only remember how incredibly it hurt .It felt like an initiation into pain, love's bedfellow. I can't help feeling that Morrissey would have thoroughly approved.
U.S.Girls - Bless This Mess.
The return of an artist not quite like any other.. Meghan Remy, who operates in the marketplace as U.S. Girls is back with her eighth album Bless this Mess and it's one quite unlike any you're likely to hear elsewhere this year.
Remy is a smooth operator indeed and I fell for her as soon as I discovered her belatedly with 2018's In a Poem Unlimited. She's someone with a deeply serious agenda, charting the spooky corporate, ever more rotten world we live in. But she sugar coats her product in the most alluring pop packages with sleek melodic and danceable songs gloriously reminiscent of peak Eighties Madonna, Prince and Jam & Lewis.
If you want to know what issues Remy is exploring and why, I'd direct you to a fascinating interview here on Stereogum. If not just enjoy the funky and immediate record. U.S.Girls are operating at the top of their game on both fronts. They're quite remarkable. Bless This Mess is merely the latest example of that fact.
En Attendant Ana - Principia
Parisian operators En Attendant Ana with their third album Principia. Remarkably its even more sleek, refined and notable than their previous record Juillet from 2020 and their star seems set to ascend further in the Indie firmament across the coming months.
The band clearly set their controls to coefficients previously mapped out many times by Stereolab in the Nineties. Comparisons are inevitable with the most casual encounters with any song on Principia. But En Attendant Ana are such skilled practitioners that the evident overriding influence becomes an asset rather than a burden.
The songs here, like Stereolab's best, are mathematical in terms of their precision and rigor. Ten songs, thirty five minutes of familiar yet fresh pleasure. An altogether wonderful pop record that slides across its rails like an express train making yet another smooth crossing of the Alps.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,312 Gina Birch
'They are so bad that every time the waiter drops a tray we get up and dance.'
Danny Kelly - Live review of The Raincoats, NME 1979
More than thirty years after its release, The Raincoats eponymous debut album remains a landmark album. On the surface inept. Its influence and impact has been profound and enduring. Just ask Kurt Cobain. Of course you can't, but he understood immediately that what they did was deeply aligned with what he and Nirvana wanted to do.
All of The Raincoats records are worthy of close acquaintance. It's truly inspirational stuff. Gina Birch, the band's bassist and co-writer and co-vocalist is back as she closes in on seventy with her debut album I Play My Bass Loud.
It's as discordant, snotty and unrepentant as you could possibly wish. Birch says famously of the Slits gig she witnessed that led her to follow a career in music rather than the one in art she might have pursued: ' It was as if suddenly I was given permission.'
I Play My Bass Loud is inspirational as everything Birch has been involved in has been Guided by intuition as all great art is. It encourages the listener to break rules and come up with new ones that make sense to them. It's Punk essentially as you'd expect it to be. Very good Punk at that.
Friday, February 24, 2023
Song of the Day # 3,311 Salt Lake Alley
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Song of the Day # 3,310 Teini-paa
Finnish band Teei-Paa have the best fun possible with your clothes on, on latest album Sata Syyta Aloitta (I hope I've pronounced it properly). You may not understand a single word but you will feel the sentiments instantly. It must, it just must be all about those precious teenage years. How it feels to be young.
Like a picture of Snoopy and Charlie Brown dancing it encapsulates these eternal verities. First crushes, first kisses, first loves. Out of tune female vocals that hit every note in the way that actually matter. Truly wonderful stuff and surely bit surely destined to be the Finnish New Wave Album of this year, even if it's only February.
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
1983 Singles # 2 R.E.M.
At the end of November in 1983 I had one of the great musical epiphanies of my lifetime. I go on about it a lot, (sorry folks), and surely bore people senseless, but it was a brief passage in my life that I really think about a lot and probably always will. A period of weeks when I went from being one person to becoming another and from which point I never looked back and don't plan to now.
On 18th November, Athens, Georgia band R.E.M. appeared on the Friday night live Rock show The Tube on Channel 4. I watched it on my own I think, in the family living room in Teddington, completely unaware of how utterly it was going to change me. The Tube was an absolute must watch in those days, and is incredibly fondly remembered by anyone who lived out their formative teenage years then.
What is less sharply acknowledged is how bad much of it was. The fact that the presenting was so clumsily and obviously made up as it went along to a frequently embarrassing degree. The comedians and poets that filled the support slots of its running order were more bewildering than entertaining. None of this mattered at all. Nobody would miss it anyhow.
That was largely because of the bands. Although the presenters barely seemed to know what they were doing at all, the bookers for the show clearly did, and during the years the show ran I saw some of the very best, probably the best live TV performances of my lifetime.
So that particular Friday I sat down to watch R.E.M who were on their first visit to British shores and were all but unknown, except to the very hippest of the hip. They made almost no impression on me at the time except that I thought they were weird and not quite like anything I'd ever seen or heard before.
Things move fast at that age though. In the next couple of weeks I read up on them in the music press and heard them getting play on evening radio. Gazed at the intriguing, entangled kudzu cover of debut album Murmur in Our Price in nearby Richmond, eventually felt obliged to purchase it, and played it on my newly bought stereo in my attic room in the house. Almost non-stop. For six months or so until their second record Reckoning came out and duly replaced it on the turntable with indecent haste.
R.E.M. were mine. They remained mine for years as I made my way through those precious changes and experiences. First crushes, first kisses, first true loves. I haven't stopped talking about them and how much they meant and still mean to me since really. I'm not ashamed. R.E.M. were my first true loves and guides and I'll always be grateful. How can you repay a debt like that.
Song of the Day # 3,309 The Loud Bangs
LA youngsters make an erm ... loud bang. Dubbed rather oddly 'the Pink Floyd of Shoegaze' they make one hell of a row on latest EP Stray Honey.
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Steady Holiday - Newfound Oxygen
'I was asleep in the backseat. When I woke up in the middle of my thirties.'
I've followed Steady Holiday a fair bit on here down the years and I'm glad she's back with a new record Newfound Oxygen. It supplies a fresh serving of bittersweet nostalgia for a time that probably never actually existed. Succor for those for whom the latest Weyes Blood record was not quite enough.
Dre Babinski, (for Steady Holiday is she) , is certainly working on the same seam as Weyes, though perhaps she harks back a few years earlier than Karen Carpenter's heydas. The songs on Newfound Oxygen seem to yearn foro prime time Sixties Pop. Beach or poolside parties. The age of Mad Men advertising.
This is a quite splendid record that probably won't get the attention that Weyes Blood does these days but certainly deserves it. Another for the growing pile of millennial yearning records, that's beginning to totter somewhat now. But definitely a record I'll return to in 2023.
1983 Singles # 3 Echo & the Bunnymen
'Conquering myself until. I see another hurdle approaching. Say we can, say we will. Not just another, drop in the ocean.'
The Bunnymen ushered in 1983 with the utterly resplendent and magnificent Cutter. It was and remains incredibly important to me. Forty years later. I risk coming across as self important and idiotic perhaps but it was a song that gave me self confidence and still does. Self-confidence is an important thing and songs can supply that. The world is not always an easy place to be in. Just listen to The Cutter if you don't believe me.
The Bunnymen bristled with defiance and intent. Sergeant, Pattinson and De Freitas were like a self-contained crack military cohort. McCulloch supplied the script. The attitude and bullets. Porcupine, the album that followed closely on the coattails of The Cutter, was ultimately just that bit too forbidding to pull the girl, but it remains a statement that endures. A record with many layers.
I wore long coats because of The Bunnymen for a while. Tilted my head at an angle when photographs were taken. It seems foolish from this remove but I stand by my Seventeen year old self . I was gauche and naive and probably slightly ridiculous but I was in the process of constructing my self around bands, books and films. I wanted Camus and Sartre and Midnight Cowboy and Apocalypse Now. Bunnymen fitted my wish list perfectly. They also breached the Top Ten which seemed like another victory.
Song of the Day # 3,308 Omat
Monday, February 20, 2023
1983 Singles # 4 Aztec Camera
'They call us lonely when we're really just alone.'
What Aztec Camera did with a few songs between 1981 and 1984 is quite remarkable. To say Roddy Frame was an extraordinary talent doesn't do him full justice. But wonderful though much of what he has done since is, and he still comes up with songs that stagger me, it's what he achieved in those years that are surely what he'll be remembered for.
I just listened to the whole of High Land, Hard Rain again. I never need much of an excuse. It's an often repeated mantra to friends on my part that it's the finest record made up of songs written by someone of seventeen, written about being seventeen. It came out when I was seventeen and I fell for it immediately, fell for it hard, and have fallen again and again for it ever since. It always makes me feel as if I'm seventeen. What more could you want from an album.
Frame has remained a player and put out some wonderful songs and albums over the following decades but this is surely his masterpiece. I doubt that even he would disagree with that. It set the bar just too high for everyone, perhaps even himself. I could have chosen either Oblivious or Walk Out To Winter for this but the byline for this post determined it was the former. It might be appropriate for Frame's gravestone when that day comes. One of the very great romantics. Lower or upper case. You decide.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,307 Shakey Graves
Americana musician in the classic sense out of Austin, Texas. You can almost hear the coyotes howling out o the prairie on his latest release, Deadstock, a career anthology.
Sunday, February 19, 2023
The Murder Capital - Gigi's Recovery
I didn't enjoy yesterday much, but it was mostly my own fault. I'd been out the previous evening, my Friday night, with a very good friend and we'd pushed the alcohol boat out good and proper. Even a couple of White Russians each to round off the night. Highly inadvisable at our age.
Then I'd woken up the next morning with the head I deserved and not felt like doing anything at all the whole day. I didn't go to the Native Harrow gig I had for because I didn't feel like it, much as I like them. And to top it all, my football team lost.
So what am I doing listening to The Murder Capital utter glumfest second album Gigi's Recovery early on Sunday morning? Am I determined to embrace misery all weekend?
Because it's a fine record. I've already listened to it any number of times since it came out about a month back, bought a copy and marvelled at its glass half empty, Friday Night, Saturday Morning muscle and I'm more than happy to do so one more time.
This seems to be the sound of Dublin right now. It's next to impossible to mention The Murder Capital without bracketing them immediately with Fontaines D.C. The two bands have so much in common.
Eventually both bands will need to develop more strings to their bow if they're to endure. But right now they're both spitting vitriol and hitting bullseyes. Sometimes there's nothing like a drop of pure anguish to cheer you up something rotten.
1983 Singles # 5 Orange Juice
So to the Top Five. The year my music taste changed. With the times. Orange Juice's second album was generally considered a disappointment when it came out on Polydor in 1983. Without particular good reason. It was a good record. But it was Orange Juice. So much expectation had built up with them, following those blistering Postcard singles, which invented a sub-genre single handedly that endures to this day. No band could possibly live up to that level of expectation. Not even Orange Juice.
Still, they had their hit. With the superlative Rip it up. The one that got them in the charts, on Top of the Pops and on the cover of Smash Hits where they belonged. I remember buying that issue of the magazine, something I rarely did, (leaving that chore to my younger sister and reading hers). I read it on the platform at Twickenham Train Station, on the way back from college one day. Funny how some memories stick.
Being ever contrary and quite aware of how incredible Rip it up is, I've always preferred the other two songs off the album Flesh of My Flesh and .I Can't Help Myself. Neither of them were hits. They both lodged in that eternal graveyard for singles in those days. The high forties. Not enough daytime radio play, despite the efforts of the heroic likes of Richard Skinner, sitting in for Simon Bates while he was on holiday. Bates would never have dreamed of playing either of them. Or Rip it up for that matter, until he was obliged to do so. All three should have graced the Top Forty but didn't. A worrying sign of the times. The best music was going underground for the most part after that year for a while.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,306 Bone Apple Tea
I can tell you nothing about Bone Apple Tea. Except that they hail from Brooklyn and have an eponymous album out just now that's worthy of a listen.
They seem to have no particular desire to plug themselves further. That's something I find quite refreshing. Mystery is an underrated quality when it comes to music.
Their album cherry picks favourites from the band's record collection. Mackin' sails uncomfortably close to T.Rex's Get it on, but then again, can you really sail as close as you want to Get it on.
Elsewhere the band kick back, generally in a definitively Seventies way. A cool drink, a cool record.
Saturday, February 18, 2023
1983 Singles # 6 Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel
A year after The Message. Another missive from the front line.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,305 Blues Lawyer
Internationally ignored song stylists according to their own publicity. The slightly oddly named Blues Lawyer out of Oakland, California make an interesting, guitar driven indie row on latest album All in Good Time.
Friday, February 17, 2023
1983 Singles # 7 The Cure
One of the most unexpected and welcome Pop transformations of 1983. Robert Smith, formerly a rather humourless writer, gifted as he undoubtedly was, and latterly a slightly overweight Goth, (the music papers started calling him Fat Bob, both cruel and unnecessary) , stepped into the spotlight as something of a budding Pop genius.
Love Cats and its altogether wonderful promo came quite out of the blue. He was remarkably, much more fun than he had seemed. A cat lover. A Jazz dabbler even apparently. The promo showed that The Cure understood exactly how cool Paris had been between the the Thirties and the Fifties even if they hailed from Crawley. Smith and his band were something utterly different from now on, having exorcised all of their remaining teenage angst with Pornography and the world was altogether a better place for that.
Song of the Day # 3,304 Surf Friends
Thursday, February 16, 2023
1983 Singles # 8 Fun Boy Three
All the more poignant now. Terry Hall was Pop's mournful boy next door by 1983. The wiser Smash Hits reader had his picture under their pillows. He warned them what was potentially ahead if you made the wrong choices that day at school. 22 catches and all that.