Thursday, 27 February 2014

Haiti Direct

I'm currently grooving to 'Haiti Direct, Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978', a fantastic new compilation from Strut, 28 slices of mambo, merengue and much more besides. I'm still getting my head around the sheer quality of this treasure trove, but try 'Pile Ou Face' by Les Loups Noirs from 1972, a tune which left me unsure whether I should get up and dance or run screaming from the room. An extraordinary piece of music.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Saturday Scratch #35

The LP might sonically seem a little dated now, but on its release in 1987, 'Time Boom X De Devil Dead' was by some way the strongest material to have been released by Lee Perry since the glory days of The Black Ark. Produced by Scratch and Adrian Sherwood and featuring the On-U Sound house band The Dub Syndicate, the albums imminent arrival created a noticeable frisson of excitement in the music business at the time, enhanced by a last minute distribution deal with EMI. As a consequence of this major label support, the first single from the LP, 'Jungle', was issued in three formats (7", 10" and 12") all with slightly different mixes. Here though is the original LP version - what a lot of coughing.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Hippies Vs Ghosts

Hard information is scant about Welsh band Hippies Vs Ghosts, though they are apparently an amalgamated offshoot of We Are Animal and Castles. Their deep instrumental grooves tap into similar territories as firm favourites of this parish, Beak. Count me in.

Hear more here.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Dials

'Mondo Space', the new single from Brighton band The Dials, is a pitch perfect homage to Syd-era Floyd and comes complete with a fine fan-footage compiled, psych-inspired video. The tune is taken from their recent LP, 'The End of the Pier', which finds them touching a number of musical bases over the course of its eleven tracks. The Dials have been around since 2002 and 'The End of the Pier' is their third album. I'm a latecomer, but the quality of 'Mondo Space' has definitely got me intrigued.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Courtney Barnett

'A Sea of Split Peas' compiles the first two EPs by Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett. 'History Eraser', originally released on 'How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose', the second of those EPs, seeped into my consciousness late last year, before totally winning my heart with the song's final line, which namechecks a band very close to my heart. Courtney's lyrics are conversational and the recordings themselves are equally direct, allegedly just three passes of each track were made, the best being selected for inclusion on the finished product. Barnett is apparently anxious to ensure that this collection is not misconstrued as her debut album, which should follow later in 2014. Can't wait.

Check out 'A Sea of Split Peas' in full here.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Customers of Note

My little record shop was tucked away in a small town on the east coast of England, a place not known for being a celebrity hangout, so, in the course of my 14 years of loyal service, man and boy, I was singularly untroubled by a-listers browsing my wares while being hotly pursued by the paparazzi, had no incognito visits from megastars discreetly purchasing the latest Michael Bolton LP and gave refuge to no teen heart-throbs evading the affections of their over-zealous fans. In fact, off the top of my head, I can recall just three names of note who graced my modest establishment as customers, or potential customers, in all those years.

There was Twink, a man who happens to be a connecting link to many of my musical interests, who turned up one day in the early 1990s, with the initial aim of flogging me some stock from his own record label, but stopped back intermittently over the next couple of years as both supplier and customer. I'm sure I bored him to death with my fanboy questions about Tomorrow, Steve Peregrin Took and Syd Barrett, but he cheerfully indulged my enthusiasms, before gradually turning the subject back to pushing his latest Pinkwind or Hawkfairies release.

Then there was the day I looked across the shop to see a vaguely familiar face, looking down, browsing through the CD racks. It was one of those faces you somehow recognise, but was wildly out of context in the surroundings of my shop. Luckily the owner of the face made a purchase and paid by cheque, enabling me to confirm the identity of my unlikely customer. It was Walthamstow based psych-rocker and one time Countdown contestant, Nick Saloman, a.k.a. The Bevis Frond. Before I could strike up a conversation he was gone and so I don't know what brought him to my neck of the woods in general, or my shop in particular. He did, however, make an album with Twink back in 1990, so one assumes they were chums. Who knows, perhaps he checked out my gaff on Twink's recommendation?

In the mid-1980s, it seemed that every gig I went to in London was also attended by Andy Kershaw, he was everywhere. By the mid-1990s my omnipresent shadow at London shows had become Stewart Lee, whose musical tastes at the time clearly overlapped my own, judging by the sheer number of times I spotted him in audiences all over the city. In 1995 (or possibly '96) Lee and comedy partner Richard Herring brought their 'Fist of Fun' tour to a hall in my little town. It was an optimistic booking for a venue best known for its family variety shows, tribute acts and the occasional Irish country singer. On the afternoon of the show, Stewart Lee walked into my shop. 'Aha. Do you know....', I blurted out without thinking, ''ve been at practically every gig I've been to in London recently...' I'm not sure what the exact legal status of stalking was in the mid-1990s, but Lee would've been quite justified in expressing concern at my over-excited opening gambit. To his credit, however, he flicked through my stock for a few minutes, as we chatted about bands we'd seen and would like to see. Eventually he turned to me and, gesturing at my racks of LPs and CDs, said 'You've got some good stuff here', which was nice of him to say, but he didn't actually buy anything! The Fist of Fun show that evening was very funny indeed, but, as I feared, appallingly attended, perhaps 50 of us in a seated venue with a 900 capacity.

All that was in another lifetime and although I haven't crossed paths with Twink or Nick Saloman in the years since, I have continued to admire the work of Stewart Lee and a couple of evenings ago I caught a date on his latest stand-up tour, 'Much a-Stew About Nothing'. Unlike his previous live shows, which usually have a linking theme throughout, by necessity, 'Much a- Stew About Nothing' consists of four unrelated individual sections. The necessity arising when, soon after the BBC dropped his TV show 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' after two series, the programme won a BAFTA, causing a swift (and, I would imagine, somewhat embarrassed) re-think. Two further series were belatedly commissioned by the Beeb and Lee has used this tour to knock the material, destined for Series 3, into shape, refining a rotating selection of half-hour set pieces over the past four months. On Saturday evening he was thought provoking and hilarious. Really hilarious. I'd love to elaborate, but you'll be able to see for yourself when the new series of 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' airs in the Spring.

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Couple of Close Shaves

I've done some daft things in my time and here are two of them. The moustache years. What was I thinking? What was I thinking? Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. Throughout my early teens I looked forward with excitement to the day when I would be 'grown-up enough' to have to start shaving, but, when the time came, I quickly became bored with it and, having no chin hair to speak of, swiftly sprouted a full and luxurious 'tache. Of course I should have just as swiftly hacked the damned thing off, but unfortunately it stayed - for way too long. I grew to hate it, but convinced myself that everyone would laugh if they were suddenly exposed to my bare upper lip. This was 1975-79. I attended my first Clash gig wearing a moustache for goodness sake! Eventually, one evening, I'd had enough and took a razor to the offending bristles. The following morning I steeled myself in preparation for the ridicule that would surely come my way when I reached work. No-one batted an eyelid. Not one bloody comment! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

In subsequent years I've flirted with various facial hair permutations, from goatee to soul patch, but never again the solo 'tache. Every Movember I consider joining the terrifically worthwhile charitable fray, but wind up donating my way out of actually participating. Who knows though, perhaps a moustache would suit me more, now that I'm in my dotage? Maybe this year I'll summon up the courage to be among those receiving the donations, as well as giving them come Movember, as I dazzle one and all with a dashing handlebar, chevron or walrus!

                              Summit of Helvellyn (destroyed feet not pictured)                Looking back along Striding Edge   

The other daft thing I was going to mention? In 1977, aged 17, I went on holiday to the Lake District with three mates (all equally 'tached up as it happens). While there, we climbed Helvellyn, the third highest mountain in England. Impressive? Well, looking back, I was remarkably fortunate to have made it up and down unscathed. My chums were fully kitted out in walking boots and all-weather gear, while I made the climb in shirt, jeans (flares!) and regular street shoes, not forgetting an Iggy Pop t-shirt for extra warmth! It's not Everest, but people die attempting to scale Helvellyn and I was insanely ill-prepared for such a trek. By the time we made the final scrabble from Striding Edge to the summit, the backs of my heels were cut to ribbons and bleeding profusely. The views from the top were spectacular, temporarily numbing the pain, but it took us a further three hours to get back down and, in fading light, locate the car. I couldn't walk properly for days.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Version City #23 - Broken Bells play The Beatles

Broken Bells, the band comprising Danger Mouse and Shins front man James Mercer, turned in a dark, mesmerising reading of 'And I Love Her' on David Letterman's show a couple of nights ago. To add authenticity, they used a looped drum passage from 'I Am the Walrus' as the bed of the tune and then cleverly featured Ringo himself as part of their on-screen performance.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

David McComb - 15 Years Gone

I don't remember exactly how many times I saw The Triffids live, around fifteen I'd guess, but I do know that the first was in a sparsely populated, subterranean, Romford night-club in 1984. Also in attendance that night was early champion John Peel. By 1989 I'd seen them headline prestigious London venues such as The ICA, The Town & Country Club and both The Shaw and Dominion Theatres. The world, it seemed, was their oyster, but despite critical praise and a devoted fanbase, the mass sales, required by major label Island, never materialised and the band drifted back to their native Australia and then drifted apart. The Triffids left behind a marvellous body of work, but, for my money, an enduring masterpiece still lay ahead of them, just out of reach.

In May 1994 David McComb returned to the UK to play a handful of shows in support of his only solo album, 'Love of Will'. I caught McComb, accompanied by his band The Red Ponies (named after a Triffids song), in a cramped and sweaty Borderline, where they played a blistering set, comprising tracks from the new album, classic Triffids material and well chosen covers. While in the country, McComb and the band stopped in at the BBC to record a couple of tunes for Jools Holland, from where this thrilling clip is taken. Note a pre-Bad Seeds Warren Ellis on the psychedelic fiddle.

It's almost too heartbreaking for me to dwell on David McComb's fate for too long. After undergoing a heart transplant at the age of 33, his final three years were spent plagued by ill health and personal demons. He recorded more music, but much of this remains unreleased. David died 15 years ago today, two weeks short of his 37th birthday.

Previous David McComb/Triffids posts here and here.

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