Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Catching Up with Micah and Dan

I'm in the middle of a little flurry of gigs at the moment. Last week, I finally caught up with Micah P.Hinson, 10 years after his brilliant debut 'The Gospel of Progress'. In 2010, I thought I'd lost any chance of ever seeing Hinson in concert after he was involved in an horrific traffic accident. At the time, doctors doubted he would ever regain the use of his arms, but there he was, alone on stage, accompanying himself on guitar. On the night, he battled with uncooperative technology and his own frailty, but when he lent into the mic and allowed that sonorous voice to flow, time stood still.

Here's a version of 'She Don't Own Me' recorded in Italy shortly before his accident.

Last night, I returned to the same venue for erstwhile Green on Red frontman, Dan Stuart. I don't remember exactly how many times I saw his band in the 1980s and early 1990s, but it must be in the region of 20. Dan effectively disappeared from view in the mid-1990s, re- emerging sporadically since 2005, but this is the first time I've caught him live since those halcyon days. He was aided and abetted throughout his set by the formidable guitar accompaniment of Antonio Gramentieri and the wave of affection rolling from the audience to the stage must surely have been palpable to both men. Stuart was as sharp and witty as always and the two of them played a wonderful show. As they left the stage I looked around the audience - we were an emotional bunch.

After the show, as I walked through the dark streets towards the car park, I unexpectedly bumped into Dan and Antonio loading their guitars into a hire car. I just about held it together as I shook their hands and thanked them. Dan seemed genuinely moved that I'd travelled just to see him and was gobsmacked when I told him that I used to do 140 mile round trips to see Green on Red in London. He then apologised to me for forgetting the words to one of his songs that evening! What a guy.

Here's audience footage of Green on Red's classic 'Time Ain't Nothing' from Dan & Antonio's London show last week.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The First Thing I Do In The Morning

I usually wake sometime between 6am and 7am, earlier if it's an exceptionally bright morning. I've never been one to 'lie-in', I get restless and bored, so, I'm out of bed quite quickly. We sleep in the loft, with dormer windows looking out over the marsh. The view is often gorgeous at this hour and subtly different every morning depending on the weather, so I invariably pause here to see what permutation of mist, mizzle and sunshine is out there, before heading carefully down the narrow staircase. In the kitchen, my trusty Chemex awaits and within 15 minutes of waking I'm sat on the sofa in the conservatory, enjoying a peaceful pot of coffee and checking out the early birds rummaging around the garden. And so begins another day.

 'The First Thing I Do In The Morning' by Joyce Williams has appeared on a number of compilations with titles such as 'Eccentric Soul' and 'Rare Funk Liberation', which, let's face it, if you saw sitting in a record shop, you'd buy without hesitation wouldn't you? I have the latter in my collection and I can assure you that the album more than lives up to its cool title.

Thursday, 24 April 2014


Out of Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire) come, the perfectly named, Quilt, with album number two, 'Held In Splendour', a fine amalgam of folkish psych-pop grooves and lightly sprinkled prog-inspired noodlings.

Quilt recently completed their first European tour and are currently on the road in the States with Woods. They return to our shores in a couple of weeks to support the mighty War on Drugs.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Nancy Wallace

Last week, Nancy Wallace launched her very own Bandcamp page. Go there and you'll find 'Young Hearts', her debut solo EP from 2005 and 'Old Stories', the terrific (and still one and only) full length LP from January of 2009. You'll also be able to sample some brand new music in the form of the lovely, atmospheric 'Up on the Roof' EP, recorded in Marrakech at the beginning of this year.

The fourth title on Nancy's Bandcamp site is 'Stumbling Over Chairs', which compiles a selection of 'odds and ends recorded at various times over the past few years'. Track 6 of this compilation is one I've been trying to find for a l-o-n-g time. Put it this way, I first came across it on her MySpace page and when was the last time any of us could say that about a piece of music? If it ever had an official release, I've never managed to locate it, but now, at last, it's mine. The tune in question is 'Everything's Finer', as perfect a love song as I've ever heard. This one's for Mrs S. Always.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Radiogram Years...slight return

On this day, a couple of years ago, I shared a handful of childhood photos of yours truly, plonked in front of the family radiogram (original post here). As I explained at the time, the birthday snapshot was an annual family tradition, which, as far as I recalled, came to an abrupt end in 1976. At the time of that post, I'd found eight photos in the archives and was trying to locate the rest to complete the set.

Two years on, I can exclusively reveal that, not for the first time, my memory wasn't serving me well. I have indeed unearthed more radiogram shots and unexpectedly these include three taken after 1976. (Just yesterday evening, at the end of an undeveloped strip of negatives, I found one from the dreaded moustache period.) It now appears that the very last Radiogram photo was actually taken in 1981, on my 21st birthday. There are still gaps to be plugged though, so there may well be further updates to come, somewhere down the line.

Meanwhile, here I am 50 years ago today, wearing a fetching bow tie & shorts combo and looking as if butter wouldn't melt in my mouth. I got a good haul for my 4th birthday, including a basketball, my first big-boy's bike (stabilisers hidden behind the jigsaw puzzle) and, crucially, a transistor radio. My very own personal source of music. Life would never be quite the same again.

(Great song, sorry about the shocking clip!)

Monday, 14 April 2014

Version City #25 - Aphex Twin Vs Philip Glass and David Bowie

Anyone who is as old as me (quite old and about to get older) will probably be able to remember an example of the primitive tannoy system. Basically a bunch of cone speakers, connected by draped cables, hung high on posts around a field for a school sports day, fete, or similar parochial event. The combination of audio delay and wind speed were never considered as a factor in those days, so with the slightest breeze, the sound could drift in and out of shape, causing unsettling sonic collisions as different passages of the same piece of music reached the eardrum simultaneously.

I felt a similar sensation when I heard this on Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone recently. It's Philip Glass's 1996 symphonic interpretation of 'Heroes', mashed up with a smattering of David Bowie's original vocal and given a faintly disturbing remix by Aphex Twin. Is it possible to like and be weirded out by something at the same time?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Saturday Scratch #37 - Shaumark and Robinson

Shaumark and Robinson, a mysterious duo. The Robinson in question is Lloyd, who handles lead vocal duties on their only known Black Ark recordings, 'Peace and Love' and 'Weak Heart Feel It', ably backed by The Upsetters. The identity, or even existence, of Shaumark is seemingly lost in the mists of time.

Friday, 11 April 2014


I have to confess that I know very little about California band Eels. Somehow, 'Novocaine for the Soul' aside, their music has passed me by all these years, but 'Mistakes of My Youth', the band's recent single, has given me cause to rue my negligence. The new Eels LP, 'The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett', is released on April 22nd. It's in the diary.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Poor Thing

At a quarter to eight this morning, I could be found in a field about 20 miles from home, squinting in the low sunlight, trying to decipher the signature on an old, framed, sketch. I was at a car-boot sale and the christian name on the piece in question appeared to be Paul or Porl or Pooh..., while the surname could've been Thys or This or even Thirsty! Regardless of the artist, I was completely taken by the delightful sketch of a Blue Tit in flight.

'I don't know if that's a comment on the bird or the drawing', came a voice over my shoulder. It was the stallholder. I looked at him, puzzled. He looked back at me and, noting my confused expression, gestured at the squiggle I'd been trying to make out. I looked back at the sketch. Of course...how stupid I'd been. The Blue Tit wasn't in flight, it was dead. The unknown artist presumably recorded the bird where it fell, as the work appears to be on the back of a sheet of headed or watermarked notepaper. After completion, at the bottom right hand corner, instead of signing the lovely little piece of art, he or she was then moved to leave a personal comment. Poor thing.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Jesse Winchester

A few years ago, while on holiday in America, I made a special effort to catch an episode of Elvis Costello's TV show, 'Spectacle', as Ron Sexsmith was one of the guests. Ron was, as always, great, performing covers of 'Ring Them Bells' and 'Every Day I Write the Book', in addition to his own 'Secret Heart'. What really stood out that night, however, was Jesse Winchester's incredible performance of 'Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding', which moved me, as well as fellow guest Neko Case, to tears. 

Earlier today, I read a number of articles reporting Jesse Winchester's death and immediately searched out and posted this performance in tribute to him. It now appears that reports of Jesse's passing were premature, although he remains gravely ill.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains

While we're in the neighbourhood, here's a couple of tunes from my favourite contemporary French band (by way of Bristol), Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains. The first song I ever heard by them, five years ago, was 'Be Water (Je Suis de l'eau)' and what a beauty it is - an irresistible shuffle. Also, take a listen to their latest single, 'La Vérité', perfect pop and catchy as hell.

The band have made four albums and, believe me, it's all good stuff. The latest, 'Piano Ombre', is out now on Domino.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Metal Urbain

The current playlist on the sidebar over at Grown Up Backwards has a French theme - and a damn fine listen it is too. To compliment those tunes, here is Metal Urbain, a French group of a slightly noisier persuasion, who formed in 1976 and were gone by 1980, leaving three virtually perfect punk singles and a compilation LP of sessions, demos and b-sides behind them. The band were notable at the time for using a primitive drum machine and sundry experimental electronic noises to embellish their glorious racket.

Here are those three great singles - 'Panik', 'Paris Maquis' (the first ever release on the Rough Trade label, trivia fans) and 'Hystérie Connective'.

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