Monday, 21 July 2014

Lost on the Hard Drive #1 - The Hooterville Trolley

There are many good things about the easy access to music that we enjoy today. I want it. I got it. Quick as that. I can order a physical album without leaving my keypad, I can stream entire catalogues in any number of ways, or I can purchase and download individual tunes or complete recorded works in seconds. The problem with the latter comes when a stray tune hits the hard drive, is played and enjoyed for a while, before being lost in an anonymous folder on my computer. Which happens a lot.

In this occasional series I'll be scouring my D and G drives, unearthing half-forgotten gems along the way - and what an absolute corker to kick-off with.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Buzzin' Fly

I sometimes need reminding that we actually have another room in this house. Virtually since we moved in, three years ago, the front room has been our de facto storage facility, full of boxes of stuff stuck in that limbo state between being kept or disposed of. We have little sort-outs and re-shuffles now and again, but more often than not, we pull the door to and try to forget about it.

A few weeks ago, as we were getting ourselves together in the hall, preparing to leave the house, a jackdaw flew out of the front room. Let me tell you that they're pretty damned big when you get close up. To say it made us jump would be an understatement, but, to be fair, I think the bird was also a bit shocked to find itself flying around inside a house, so close to a couple of flailing human beings. Recovering from the shock, we opened the street door and it gratefully swooped out, up and away, leaving us a few squelchy mementos of it's visit on the floor. The jackdaw had fallen down the chimney and somehow managed to kick out the draft prevention board that's fitted above the fireplace.

Today, as we made similar preparations to go out, we noticed half a dozen large bluebottles buzzing around the hall. I let them out, but on our return there were seven or eight more banging against the glass in the street door. The situation repeated itself a couple more times this afternoon. I fear another jackdaw may have fallen down the chimney, but not been so lucky or determined as the last, perishing in the dark and, even as I type, is being consumed from within by maggots, which are, in turn, becoming our new house guests. Tomorrow we go into the front room, move some boxes, take out the board above the fireplace and hold our breath.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Squares - a postscript

The Squares' original discography runs to just three singles, all released between 1978 and 1980. First came the aforementioned 'No Fear' on their own Airebeat label, subsequently re-recorded and reissued on Sire. Next, in March 1979, Sire put out the lightweight 'Stop Being a Boy', a disappointing choice I thought, knowing that the band had stronger material to draw on. They nevertheless gained some good publicity around the single, supporting The Undertones on a UK tour. A third Sire single, 'Carry Me Home to Die', was scheduled for October 1979. The song, a bona fide 'lighters in the air' anthem and quite unlike anything else in their repertoire, was a popular live favourite, but ultimately never released, as the group were dropped by the label.



In Summer of 1980, The Squares signed to indie label, Hype Records, who released single number three, 'Buddy Holly', with one of the band's very best songs on the b-side, the excellent, powerpoptastic, 'I May Be Bitter' (nowhere to be found on YouTube unfortunately). I'm not sure of the exact circumstances, but two months after the Hype Records release, in September 1980, the single reappeared (albeit repackaged) on Airebeat, the band's own label. They were back where they started. 

From my perspective, The Squares seemed to judder to a halt after 'Buddy Holly', though i'm sure that they continued to play around the Leeds area. Contact with Brian, the guitarist, songwriter and band member I knew best, became ever more sporadic. Time rolled on, life happened, and by 1983 we had lost touch altogether.

Early in 2014, I was astounded to stumble upon a compilation CD by The Squares, entitled 'Scene From the Sky', which was released in 2011 on a Japanese label, 1977 Records. It compiles studio recordings with unheard demos and is a welcome, if incomplete (no Sire material) memento of those crazy days, bombing up and down the M1 in my old Vauxhall Viva. After picking up a copy of the CD, I did a little looking around the internet, to see if Brian or The Squares had any kind of online presence, but to no avail.

Following my post on the band a couple of days ago and the positive comments it generated, I renewed my online search for any recent information on The Squares individually or collectively. On this occasion, however, I immediately got a hit. The news wasn't good. Tragically, Brian passed away a few months ago, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes I hate the internet.

In my mind's eye, Brian is still the twenty-something, pop-loving, floppy-haired guitar slinger that I briefly knew 35 years ago. Perhaps that's the one consolation about losing touch with someone at a relatively young age - you only ever remember them in full flight.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Squares

Towards the end of the 1970s, I became friendly with a couple of bands from the Leeds area, one of whom, The Straits (no, not them), would, in 1980, support the Tom Robinson Band on a national tour. The other was a band called The Squares, who in May of 1978 issued a single, 'No Fear' on their own Airebeat label. As a result of this release, The Squares were signed by Sire Records, who asked them to go back into the studio and re-record 'No Fear' with a visiting American producer. That producer turned out to be Tommy Erdelyi a.k.a. Tommy Ramone.

The resulting single was quickly issued by Sire in September 1978. This all took place shortly after Tommy had left the Ramones (although he co-produced their 'Road to Ruin' LP, which, coincidentally came out in the same month). So was 'No Fear' by The Squares, Tommy's first post-Ramones project? I'm pretty sure that it was his first UK production job. Either way, it's a great little single.

The original Airebeat release

The Tommy Ramone produced re-recording

(Tommy produced one other track for The Squares, 'Magic Love', which appeared on the 'Sire Machine Turns You Up' compilation, also in 1978 and is otherwise unavailable. Well worth hunting down.)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Tommy Ramone R.I.P.

Sad news to start the weekend. Tommy Erdelyi, a.k.a. Tommy Ramone, the last original member of The Ramones, passed away on Friday. Tommy played on those first three groundbreaking studio LPs in 1976/77, setting the style template for his successors on the drum stool, principally Marky, to follow until the band's dissolution in 1996. He's also behind the kit for what I consider to be among the very greatest of all live albums, 'It's Alive'. Additionally, Tommy handled co-production chores for three of the four LPs I've mentioned, co-wrote 'Blitzkrieg Bop' with Dee Dee and went on to produce the great 'Tim' for The Replacements in 1985.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

We Have Lift Off


In the 1970s we took our pop music on the telly wherever we could get it, be it via groups appearing in guest slots on 'The Basil Brush Show', 'Crackerjack' (all together, Crackerjack!), 'Magpie' or any one of a handful of other tea-time TV favourites. Meanwhile, producing 8 series between November 1969 and December 1974, 'Lift Off With Ayshea' was a long running example of a purely pop music show, broadcasting a total of 144 episodes. Tragically, today only 3 of those 144 episodes survive in the ITV archives.

The host, Ayshea Brough, herself an accomplished pop singer, introduced us to everyone who was anyone during those pivotal years, including The Sweet, David Bowie, T.Rex, Slade and Roy Wood, in both his Move and Wizzard guises. A firm friendship appears to have developed between Brough and Wood during this time, with Ayshea featuring on a number of Wizzard's Top of the Pops appearances. Roy repaid the compliment by writing and producing a single, 'Farewell', for Ayshea in 1973. It's a fantastically bonkers, everything-thrown-in-bar-the-kitchen-sink production, sounding exactly like a contemporary Wizzard number with Wood's vocals lifted out and Ayshea's dropped in.



(I'm a Wizzard fan, but no completest. Is there a Roy Wood voiced version of 'Farewell' out there? If there is, I'd love to hear it.)

Monday, 7 July 2014

Walking in Circles

Locally, there are a handful of circular walks to choose from, on road or off the beaten track, depending on what the weather decides to throw at me. Inspired by a recent post over at Sun Dried Sparrows (here), I took my battered old camera out one evening a couple of weeks ago, to record one such walk. At the other end of the year I tend to leave the house in the chill of the early morning, but round about now, I head off after dinner. This particular walk takes me down the lane for a mile or so, before returning along the winding riverside path and then back across the marsh. To get the very best out of it, timing is crucial.

It's time to head out. The sun is low and there's somewhere I want to be when it sets.

 Three years ago, before we came to view the house that we eventually bought, we put the postcode into Google Street View to take a look at the area and this rundown cottage a couple of hundred yards away was the first thing that appeared on our laptop screen. I think it's known in the trade as a 'fixer upper'. It's been abandoned for over 20 years and has a crazy overgrown jungle of a garden, which will be great for wild berries in a couple of months. No time to dawdle though, I'm losing the light.

  The lane is quiet and narrow, Before long, i'm in the tiny hamlet that lies between our village and the next. There are only about six houses here, all spectacular.

 A little further and a sign that sometimes disappears completely into the foliage, guides the way down steep muddy steps. 

 A narrow path winds through the gathering gloom and between the trees I get a first, brief, sighting of the river. High above, a cuckoo's call echoes around the canopy.

This section of the riverside path is wildly overgrown at the moment, those weeds are over six feet high, though suddenly I'm at the water's edge. See those ripples in the water on the far bank? A second earlier an otter was swimming quietly along, but it plopped out of sight as I raised the camera to capture it.

A 180° turn - and this is why i'm here. For a few precious weeks every year, the sun sets right down the middle of the river, as viewed from this spot. It takes my breath away and I never tire of watching or photographing it (here's one from last year). I'm actually a little later on the scene than I wanted to be, but still the colours change and deepen with every passing second.

Reluctantly turning my back on the glorious sunset, I press on along the river.

A few hundred yards further along the path, on slightly higher ground, I glance over my shoulder for one last glimpse of the sun, while overhead the moon sits high in the evening sky.

I pause again to watch as a kestrel hangs silently in the air, hunting for a meal. Then, onwards.

This hidden spot is the river's closest point to our house. From here, I'll head back towards home across the marsh. 

Turning away from the riverside path, I head down towards a fence and over a stile. A couple of nights after taking these photos, I stood at this fence in awe for over ten minutes watching a barn owl quartering directly in front of me. An absolutely majestic creature. Off in the distance, across the marsh, is the nearest town.

There's little remaining evidence that trains once passed through this remote stretch of countryside, other than the long abandoned railway bridge that stands as a silent memorial to those bygone days of steam. Ahead is the field familiar to every dog-walker in the village. There is no officially designated footpath across or around it, but for over 70 years the landowners have been happy to allow access to locals who are 'in the know'!

Here's the 'secret' entrance to the field - the narrowest of gaps. This is the marsh end of the lane that leads up alongside our house, a couple of hundred yards ahead. It looks bright, but it's actually getting very dark. Too dark to see if popular local character, the Little Owl, is bobbing about this evening. He's a funny little fella.
I've been out for about an hour. It must be time for a glass of wine.