Thursday, 31 December 2015

Albums of the Year 2015 - 6 to 10

Here we are at the end of another year. Where did it go? A big thank you to everyone who stopped by my little corner of the internet over the past 12 months. Particular thanks go to all my blogging chums who continue to inspire me every single day. I'll leave you with numbers 6 to 10 in the countdown of my favourite albums of 2015. Top 5 tomorrow!

A Happy New Year to you and those you love. Let's do it all again in 2016. 

6) This is the Kit - Bashed Out

7) Low - Ones & Sixes

8) The Apartments - No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal

9) The Staves - If I Was

10) The Charlatans - Modern Nature

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Albums of the Year 2015 - 11 to 15

11) Dungen – Allas Sak

12) Sexwitch - Sexwitch

13) Sleaford Mods - Key Markets

14) C Duncan - Architect

15) Songhoy Blues - Music in Exile

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Albums of the Year 2015 - 16 to 20

Mrs S had a bad case of the dreaded lurgy for a couple of weeks in the run-up to Christmas, though thankfully felt a lot better come the big day. Now, somewhat inevitably, I can feel myself going quickly downhill with similar symptoms. Joints are aching, throat is sore and my brain is even more cloudy and befuddled than usual. So I'll be keeping my spiel to a minimum over the next 4 days as I unveil my favourite 20 albums of the year. Most of these artists have put in an appearance on the blog at some point, some more than once. Any that haven't will no doubt feature in greater depth in due course. I've included a tune with each entry, though not necessarily my absolute favourite, as I've tried not to duplicate any previous postings. Here's the first batch....

16) Bill Wells & Friends - Nursery Rhymes

17) Four Tet - Morning/Evening

18) Ryley Walker - Primrose Green

19) Colleen - Captain of None

20) Föllakzoid - III

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Compliments of the Season

I've been chasing my tail this year. For the past few weeks I've been re-listening to as many of my favourite albums from the past 12 months as I possibly can, but the task isn't complete and time has run out. So I pulled a long list together, hoping that this would make deciding on a top 20 a little bit easier. Unfortunately, the 'long list' proved to be exactly that - 69 titles. I'm actually waiting for a brand new release to arrive from Australia. It's by one of my favourite artists so I'm pretty darned certain that it will end up in the long list, at the very least. So make that 70 titles. Anyway, the long list didn't really aid the process, in fact if anything, seeing them all written down in front of me only compounded my indecision. Every year I swear I'm going to be more organised, like so many of my blogging chums, and keep a tally of potential favourite records as I come across them throughout the following 12 months. Perhaps I'll try that again in 2016. You never know, it might work.

Anyway, in the manner of a parent recklessly choosing the favourites of his beloved children, I selected 20 albums from the long list in a few minutes of blind panic (actually, the top four or five are pretty much set in stone, but you catch my drift) and have even attempted to arrange them in some kind of order. All will be revealed next week. Right now, I'm just stopping by to convey seasonal greetings from all the gang here at Swede Towers. Have a very happy, peaceful Christmas, however you choose to spend it.

I'll leave you with a festive message from one of our sponsors.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Tracks Of My Year

I'm currently trying to hammer out a list of my favourite 10 albums of the year and as time wears on, I realise that it's a task I should've started a lot sooner. So while I'm mulling it over for the millionth time, here are 5 of my favourite individual tunes of 2015.

5. Drinks - Hermits on Holiday. When I posted this in May, blogging chum Swiss Adam memorably described it as 'weirdo lo-fi shit, in a good way'. Couldn't have put it better myself.

4. Lonelady - Hinterland. The scratchy post-punk-funk of Lonelady (think Gang of Four meet A Certain Ration) was pretty much the soundtrack to my year. One of my live highlights too.

3. Birds of Hell - Hometown Rage. This haunting lo-fi snapshot of Pete Murdoch's childhood concludes with a genuinely moving snatch of a 78rpm recording of his late Grandmother's voice, echoing down the years.

2. Daniel Knox - Blue Car. Singer, songwriter, part-time movie projectionist and Instagram artist extraordinaire, Daniel Knox played locally in March. Standing a couple of feet away from him as he sang the stunning 'Blue Car' was an absolute 2015 highlight.

1. This Is the Kit - Silver John. The lyrics are a gentle musing on the end of life as we know it, but in spite of the heavy subject matter, 'Silver John' is like a thick warm coat on a bitterly cold winter evening.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Reissues Of The Year - Richard Dawson

I have an ongoing and ever-growing list of artists who I'd quite like to see live. I also have a much shorter list of artists who I'm utterly desperate to see live. At the very top of this second list, surrounded by asterisks and underlined several times, are two words. Richard Dawson. I featured a handful of Richard's tunes in a post earlier in the year (here), a period when his profile was growing rapidly, but much of his back catalogue was nigh on impossible to track down. A couple of weeks ago, Weird World Records went some way to rectifying this deplorable state of affairs, when they reissued 2011's 'The Magic Bridge' and 2013's devilishly tricky to find, 'The Glass Trunk'. If you want to dip your toe, try 'The Magic Bridge', but both are just jawdroppingly great. With nothing more than his voice and a battered guitar, Richard Dawson can reduce you, sobbing, to your knees one minute and virtually pummel you into submission the next. It's extraordinary music made by an extraordinary man.

Here's 'Wooden Bag' from 'The Magic Bridge' and 'A Parents Address To His Firstborn Son On The Day Of His Birth' from 'The Glass Trunk'. I've also included an absorbing new 20 minute documentary, made during Richard's 2015 tour. Watch it and perhaps you'll appreciate why I'm so very anxious to see this man in concert.

Friday, 18 December 2015


I know that there's a lot of love for TeenCanteen in this little corner of the internet. By all accounts, their long-awaited debut LP is virtually complete and should be with us in the first half of 2016. Carla J Easton, the mighty voice of TeenCanteen, has simultaneously been working on a side project, Ette, who also have a debut album, 'Homemade Lemonade', due early next year. Before all that though and with consummate timing, this week Ette released a fine festive tune, 'Spending Every Christmas Day With My Boy'. Find out more here.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland

If you enjoyed the recent 'Nursery Rhymes' LP by Bill Wells & Friends (as featured here) and have room in your heart for something of a similar style, but festive in nature - look no further. In 2012, Bill, in collaboration with members of Francois and the Atlas Mountains, The One Ensemble and Golden Grrrls, together working under the misleading moniker of The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland (there are 5 of 'em and it ain't really jazz), released 'Christmas Album'. 'Like 'Nursery Rhymes', 'Christmas Album' is produced by Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and the two records share a similarly dark and haunting tone. Familiar tunes are disassembled, keys are changed, time signatures are tinkered with and the result is a beautiful collection that is less joyful and triumphant and more bleak mid-Winter. Here's a selection to demonstrate what I'm trying to get at. Check out the whole of this excellent LP here.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Version City #48 - The Mad Lads sing Glen Campbell

Charity Chic caused a good natured kerfuffle last weekend, when he posted a pretty shocking cover of 'Wichita Lineman' by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (check out the grizzly evidence here). All is well in the world once again though, following yesterday's post, which featured a brace of Jimmy Webb penned classics performed by Glen Campbell himself (here).

Many, many years ago, a friend who worked in local radio let it slip that he was due to interview Glen Campbell later that week. The next time I bumped into my chum, I 'coincidentally' happened to have a couple of Glen's singles from my own collection tucked under my arm. My mate took the hint and managed to get the labels signed for me after the interview. Unfortunately, Glen was under the impression that the records actually belonged to my pal, making the dedication out to him instead of me. No matter really, I'm well pleased to have them.

I always though that Roy Orbison should've had a crack at 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix'. Here though are The Mad Lads from the Summer of 1969 with their soulful take on the song. The single, on Stax subsidiary Volt, was produced by Al Jackson of the MG's and proved to be the group's final hit. Check out those moves.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Trembling Bells

Following their excellent collaboration with Bonnie Prince Billy on 2012's 'The Marble Downs' and recent live work with Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band, Trembling Bells take the 'Rock' element of their 'Folk-Rock' genre-classification, up a notch on their fifth LP, 'The Sovereign Self' - actually, we're talking Psych-Folk-Rock here folks. On 'Killing Time in London Fields', there's perhaps even a hint of Psych-Folk-Kraut-Rock. 'The Sovereign Self' is a heady and engaging brew, which, as with so many of the very best albums, just keeps getting better with repeated plays.

Monday, 7 December 2015


I'm not sure how I'm going to mark the end of the year on the blog. At the conclusion of 2014 I put together a long, sprawling post looking back over the music of the previous 12 months (it's here if you're interested), though still managed to miss out some absolute corkers. I doubt I'll have time to produce anything quite so elaborate this time round, but while I wait for inspiration to hit, I've been re-listening to some much loved albums of 2015 that, up to now, haven't put in an appearance on these pages.

French sound sculptor Cécile Schott, who performs as Colleen, released her sixth LP, 'Captain of None', in the Spring and it's a beautiful thing, full of rhythmic loops and delicately catchy vocal shenanigans. Here's 'Lighthouse', my favourite song from that record, plus a live version, filmed in the Summer, that shows just how she makes those glorious noises.

I'm somewhat alarmed to note that I bought Colleen's first album, 'Everyone Alive Wants Answers', back in 2003 - 12 years ago. 12 years! Aaargh! The spooky 'Ritournelle', from that very record, was the first thing I ever heard by her.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Saturday Scratch #52

It's been a while since the last edition of Saturday Scratch and this one comes bearing some bad news. A couple of days ago, part of Lee Perry's Swiss home was destroyed by fire. Thankfully no-one was hurt in the incident and, clearly distraught, Perry himself took to Facebook to explain what happened.


Awful news. We wish you the best and send good vibes your way Scratch.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Kingsbury Manx

I happened to mention The Kingsbury Manx in a comment I left over at Charity Chic Music the other day. What a fine little band they are. Their sixth LP, 'The Bronze Age', was released in 2013, but the only time I caught them live was way back in 2001 on the New York stop of a US tour they undertook with The New Pornographers - an excellent double bill. The Kingsbury Manx can be a subtle proposition at times and I remember wandering around the hall a bit that evening, in an effort to get away from the chatterers in the audience, not to mention an over zealous Uncle Tupelo fan who wanted me to sell him the t-shirt I happened to be wearing. Anyway, I dug out a couple of Kingsbury Manx albums this afternoon and am happy to confirm that they sound as good as ever. Here are a couple of good 'uns from their self-titled debut of 2000.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Bill Wells

Bill Wells has collaborated with many fine artists over the years, in a rich variety of musical styles, most recently on an excellent pair of albums made with Aidan Moffat. His new long player, credited to Bill Wells & Friends, features a whole host of great names together on one record - Yo La Tengo, Deerhoof, Isobel Campbell, Annette Peacock, Syd Straw, Karen Mantler and Bridget St John among them. Oh, and did I mention that the whole shebang is produced by Teenage Fanclub 's Norman Blake? The LP is called 'Nursery Rhymes' and yes, it does what it says on the tin. 15 traditional children's songs, or at least what are popularly considered to be children's songs, are stripped of their sugar-coating in an effort to reveal the dark heart of the matter that lies beneath. The results are often bleak, sometimes unsettling and occasionally the stuff of nightmares. I've only had 'Nursery Rhymes' for a couple of days and in that time I've listened to little else. I've also taken to sleeping with the light on. Highly recommended.

Listen to the whole album here.

As a bonus, I can't possibly mention Bill's collaborations with Aidan Moffat without playing the masterpiece that is 'The Copper Top'. Birth, love and death - the only reasons to get dressed up.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Haiku Salut

Derbyshire born, Norfolk based three piece, Haiku Salut, have variously employed the phrases 'loopery and laptopery' and 'instrumental-dream-pop-post-folk-neo-everything', in an effort to describe the music they make. Lazier commentators (like me) plump for the catch-all term, 'folktronica'. Their second long player, 'Etch and Etch Deep' arrived in the Summer and is an effortless blend of traditional instrumentation (ukulele, glockenspiel, trumpet) and electronic noodlings. Mighty fine it is too. Recommended for fellow admirers of Múm and early Four Tet. Listen to the whole album here.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Six Dukes Went a-Fishing

Just lately I've been mildly obsessed with the stark 17th Century traditional ballad, 'Six Dukes Went a-Fishing'. The song, which was collected in 1906 by Percy Grainger, tells of the discovery of the Duke of Grantham's drowned body by a group of his peers. The later verses detail the preparation of the corpse for burial ('they took out his bowels and stretched out his feet') before describing the funeral and the Duke's widow in mourning ('the Royal Queen of Grantham went weeping away...')

Here are three distinct versions of 'Six Dukes', drawn from the many available. From 1960, leading folk revival figure, A.L Lloyd's second recording of the song, Shirley & Dolly Collins' unsettling reading from their 1970 LP 'Love, Death and the Lady' and an interesting contemporary approach by Mishaped Pearls from 2014.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Come Here

Do me a favour. If, on your travels through thrift stores and flea markets in the States or charity shops and car-boot sales in the UK, you happen to stumble upon a reasonably priced LP by Kath Bloom and Loren MazzaCane Connors (any one of 'em), please clutch it close to your chest, hand over the necessary spondoolicks to the cashier, run home and contact me immediately - I'll see you right. Folk singer/songwriter Bloom and outsider guitarist Connors released half a dozen LPs together between 1981 and 1984, each in minutely limited quantities. I held one of those precious records in my sweaty hands once, about 15 years ago while in New York, and it was priced at over $200 then. These days, original releases from their slim catalogue turn up now and again on popular auction sites and can still command three figure sums, despite a couple of CD reissues in the intervening years.

The music Bloom and Connors made together was a frail avant-garde-freak-folk, breathtaking in its intimacy. If you know one song by Kath Bloom, it'll be the wonderful 'Come Here', which featured prominently in the 1995 film, 'Before Sunrise'. 'Come Here' was re-recorded for the film by Kath, following a long period spent away from the music scene, raising her family. The original appeared on 'Moonlight', her final collaboration with Connors in 1984. Compare and contrast the two versions.

The story of this great song doesn't quite end there though. There exists an even earlier distant cousin to 'Come Here', entitled 'Come Here My Sweetest One'. It isn't the same song, though there are obvious themes that link the two. It's a thing of desolate beauty.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Jeff Buckley

Born 49 years ago today and taken far too soon.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Return of the Bear

While at a terrific Sam Lee & Friends concert last night, retired blogging pal and fellow Sam fan, Singing Bear crossed my mind. I resolved to drop him a line when I got home, to report on the gig and have a general catch up. When I flipped open my laptop a couple of hours later, I was surprised to find an email from the very same Mr Bear awaiting my attention. His unexpected missive contained excellent news - the blogging Bear is back in action! Check out his sparkling new gaff here. Welcome back Singing Bear, the old place ain't been the same without you. (You missed a blinder last night mate).

Thursday, 12 November 2015


A while back, in the comments section of one of my blogging chums, I seem to remember contributing to a conversation about great 'lost' Britpop era singles. I think I may have even half-promised to dig out a couple of examples. With several ideas for potential posts bubbling away, but no spare time on my hands at the moment in which to knuckle down and write them, this appears as good a time as any to throw in one of the tunes I had in mind.

Autopop released just two singles in their short life, the glorious 'Being Seen' being their swansong. The A&B sides of both singles, plus a further four studio recordings,  were issued as a mini-album, 'Selection Box', on Vinyl Japan in 1996.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Allen Toussaint R.I.P.

Very sad to hear of the passing of New Orleans giant Allen Toussaint. Lee Dorsey's 'Yes We Can', 'Fire on the Bayou' by The Meters as well as his own LP's, 'Toussaint' and 'Motion', all cropped up in my own record collection fairly early on and are cherished there still. Rest easy Sir.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Version City #47 - Morrissey sings Waylon Jennings

I've long contended that Morrissey should seriously consider putting together his own 'Pin-Ups' style album. Whatever you think of his recent recorded output, there's no denying the fascinating array of cover versions he's sprinkled through his live sets over the years (I've previously touched on a few of my own favourites here). At the end of August, in California, he performed what must rank as his least likely cover yet, a one-off reading of 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?', written by Country legend Waylon Jennings. Extraordinary.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Something Shakespeare Never Said Was 'You've Got To Be Kidding'

If you happen to own a bootleg recording of the Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians concert at the Cambridge Junction in January 1992, please allow me to offer my sincere apologies. Not for the show - it was fantastic. Neither for the quality of the amateur recording, which is excellent. Rather for the moment during the encore when Robyn surprises the audience by introducing erstwhile Soft Boys colleague Kimberley Rew to the stage to play a couple of their old band's tunes. While the majority of those assembled react with understandable enthusiasm, one individual, standing very close to the taper's microphone, loses his cool completely. 'F**k' he screams. 'It's f**king Kimberley Rew' he adds, approaching hysteria. 'It's a f**king Soft Boys reunion.....' Yes, I'm afraid that shrieking buffoon was me. Sorry.

23 years later, longer in tooth and calmer of disposition, when Robyn pulled the very same rabbit out of the hat for the encore of his solo concert in Norwich last Sunday, I managed to control my emotions somewhat more successfully. This time, his short set with Kimberley featured 'I Often Dream of Trains', 'Queen of Eyes', 'Tonight' and new composition 'My Eyes Have Seen the Trolley Bus', before they wrapped things up with a pair of covers that The Soft Boys used to play back in the mists of time, 'Mystery Train' and 'Cold Turkey'.

Prior to Kimberley's appearance, Robyn performed stunning solo arrangements of material drawn from all stages of his career, including 'My Wife and My Dead Wife', 'Listening to the Higsons' and 'Saturday Groovers'. Best of the lot for me though was 'Chinese Bones', a song originally released on the 1988 LP 'Globe of Frogs' (and covered in concert that same year by Suzanne Vega and the Grateful Dead!). The version he played last Sunday was a thing of utter beauty, not unlike this one, recorded in 2007.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Rozi Plain

Soak's show last week was a well deserved sell-out, following Bridie Monds-Watson & Co's Mercury Awards nod for début long player, 'Before We Forgot How to Dream'. The three piece line-up gave a strong, tight performance, enriched by sound quality as good as any I've ever heard at that particular venue. The set drew extensively from the LP, with the addition of one new number and a solo encore of Bonnie Raitt's 'I Can't Make You Love Me'. The highlight was an extended 'Oh Brother' that noisily pulled and stretched the song beyond all recognition. It'll be interesting to see if this is a direction she (and the band) will pursue in the future.

Good as Soak were, I was mainly there to see support act Rozi Plain, who, for various reasons, I've managed to miss on her previous visits to my neck of the woods. Her excellent third LP, 'Friend', released in the Summer, is one that I optimistically included in a pre-Mercury announcement punt a couple of weeks ago, though in the event, like a number of my other predictions, she was overlooked by the people who actually make these decisions. The album boasts a number of unobtrusive guests such as Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip, Serafina Steer and members of This is the Kit (of whom she is an occasional member) and François & The Atlas Mountains. On stage, as on record, Rozi is a sparse, restrained presence and her songs are wistful delights.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Only Passing Through - Two Nights With Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall

Bob Dylan was on truly great form at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013 (here) and in 2015, at the same venue, the great man is still in fine fettle. In the interim he's dropped a few of his own compositions in favour of a 'Shadows in the Night' inspired selection scattered throughout the set, all of which drew deservedly rapturous applause from the audience. 'What'll I Do' is a simple little thing that usually gets to me, whoever's singing it. I made it through Bob's performance of the song unscathed on Friday, but let my guard down and felt the sting of tears at the same point in the set the following evening. 'The Night We Called It a Day' and its Saturday replacement, 'Where Are You', were both terrific too, as was 'Autumn Leaves', haunting and wounded on both nights.

Two years on and Dylan's own songs continue to receive generally solid readings, though lyrical tinkering has weakened 'Long and Wasted Years' and 'Spirit on the Water' has, for me, lost its momentum somewhat. Perhaps 'Spirit...' has retained its slot in the set solely for the final, audience galvanising, 'You Think I'm Over the Hill...' verse. In 2013 'Love Sick' was a gorgeous, breathtaking, midway point in the set, now it's a beefed up final encore, which allows the band, and us, to stretch out one last time before we head out into the night.

 'Love Sick'. Paris, 19th October 2015.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Skank Bloc Bologna

My family moved out of London in 1975 and wouldn't you know it, no sooner was I was safely away up the A12, than lots of exciting stuff started to happen in the capitol - even in the bit where I used to live. The Punk movement grew over the following 18 months and crucial new record shops began springing up all over the place, including Small Wonder in my old hometown of Walthamstow. Over the next few years, my trips back to visit friends took in as many of these record shops as time and cash flow would allow. One destination I rarely missed was Rough Trade Records in Ladbroke Grove, initially at 202 Kensington Park Road (now a 'Shabby Chic Couture' shop - it makes you weep) and later at 130 Talbot Road. I bought some great records at Rough Trade on those trips and would usually also pick up the latest issue of Sniffin' Glue or Ripped & Torn fanzine to read on the train ride home. Just thinking about the full to the brim, Aladdin's Cave nature of the place in those days makes me curse my current lack of a fully working time machine. Most of those early purchases are sadly long gone, but a precious few still nestle in my collection. Like this one for instance. In my mind, I picked up 'Skank Bloc Bologna' by Scritti Politti on a 1978 visit to the old shop, but Rough Trade relocated to Talbot Road around that period so I can't be sure. It was all a very long time ago, but this record still sounds utterly fantastic nonetheless. (This one's for you Brian.)

Monday, 26 October 2015

All About You

I didn't own a VCR in 1981, my first piece of kit lay 4 years in the future. Fortunately though, I knew a man who did. My mate had a rented Betamax machine. It was the size of a fridge, weighed a ton and took 40 minutes to rewind a tape, but after the pub it was all back to his place to watch his clunkily edited TOTP compilations, full to bursting with performances by the likes of Altered Images, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Jam and Teardrop Explodes. There was the occasional gem from the Old Grey Whistle Test too. We already knew Scars from the angular post-punk of the previous year's single 'They Came and Took Her', but nothing prepared us for the magnificent dark pop of 'All About You'. It became an instant Saturday night post-pub Betamax favourite. Watching the performance again in 2015 the band scream 1981 from the very core of their being, but listen to that song. Crank it up.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Clean Up Woman

During the 1970's and 1980's, Radio 1 broadcast their own version of the venerable Radio 4 staple 'Desert Island Discs', re-christened 'My Top Ten'. It was a programme aimed squarely at the young music-loving fraternity, where the weekly guest (normally a pop or TV star) would choose his or her ten favourite records and chat a little about their life in the spotlight. Marc Bolan appeared on the show in 1973 - I've still got a tape of the show in a box somewhere. Tellingly, he selected a track by Gloria Jones among his ten. We didn't know it at the time, but he and her were about to become a public item. Also on Bolan's playlist that day was 'Clean Up Woman' by Betty Wright, a single taken from her second LP, 'I Love the Way You Love'. Apparently Marc was so enamoured of the song that he gave a copy to Noddy Holder, suggesting that Slade record a version of it. That would've been an interesting cover.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

All Sideways

I think I may have unwittingly alarmed a few people when I mentioned in the previous post that I'd reduced my 7" singles collection by such a large amount. To be fair, the majority of those records were never really a part of my collection as such. What usually happens is that when browsing at car-boot sales and flea markets, I pick up a handful of interesting singles and the stall-holder says words to the effect of 'you can have the whole box for a fiver'. He's clearly seen me coming and knows that I am physically unable to resist. The long and short of it is that I end up back at home with the handful of singles I originally wanted, plus a box of old rubbish. These boxes have accumulated over time, hence the long overdue clear out. I foolishly sold a lot of my really good 7" singles (along with too many great LP's) several years ago, when times were hard and cash was sorely needed. pains me to think about it even now. But I've still got a small clutch of singles that are like little polaroid snapshots of a moment in time to me. I'm out of town on Bob Dylan, Robyn Hitchcock, Soak and Rozi Plain related business until early next week, so I'll share a selection over the next couple of posts, while I'm away.

First up is 'All Sideways', a 1994 single on Domino by American trio Scarce. The band morphed out of Anastasia Screamed with whom I'd been impressed in the support slots I'd caught a couple of years earlier. The Scarce story was nearly over before it began though, when front man Chick Graning almost died after suffering a brain aneurysm in 1995, which required him to totally re-learn how to walk, talk and play guitar. He somehow managed this herculean task, only for the band to split in 1997. Back in the Summer of 1994, I played this song to anyone who would listen.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Be-dum Be-dum Be-dum

My amplifier is in for repair, so I'm unable to actually play any records at the moment. This small matter didn't prevent me from sorting through my 7" singles over the weekend though - it was a long overdue job. I thinned out about 400 of the blighters, all of which are currently boxed up downstairs, ready to be dispatched at the earliest opportunity. I came across a few surprises as I rummaged (why do I own 3 copies of 'Theme from Shaft' by Isaac Hayes and 2 copies of 'Geniuses of Crack' by Tsunami?) and rediscovered a few old favourites, such as 'Curly' by The Move, purchased almost a lifetime ago from a market stall on Walthamstow High Street. This one's a keeper.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?

This past week has seen a fine celebration of all things Crucial Three related in my little corner of the internet, with many of my favourite bloggers digging deep into the respective careers and back catalogues of Messer's McCulloch, Cope and Wylie. When leaving comments on a couple of those blog posts, I've mentioned my own fondness for an oft overlooked work in Ian McCulloch's canon, 'What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?' by Echo & the Bunnymen. The LP was released in 1999 on my 39th birthday, at a time when my record shop was going down the tubes and my personal life was in a certain amount of turmoil too. Perhaps that's why the title, 'What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?', struck such an immediate chord. That and the air of melancholy hanging over the whole album ensured that it was on heavy rotation both at work and at home for much of that period.

Will Sergeant reportedly hated 'What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?' and one can sympathise with his predicament, as there's not that much for him to do on it. With hindsight, the album could almost be categorised as an Ian McCulloch solo venture. On the desolate 'History Chimes' it virtually is.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Martin Carthy

Looking back through my old emails (I never delete anything), I note that the first concert ticket I bought for 2015 was actually purchased on December 28th 2014. The gig in question was the great Martin Carthy, who, back in February, played to an audience of around 200 in the beautiful surroundings of a 17th Century octagonal chapel.

Earlier today I booked my first concert ticket for 2016 and once again it's for Martin Carthy, though this time I have to wait a full five months, until mid-March, for the show. The venue on this occasion is a tiny basement room where I've previously seen both Hot Feet and David Thomas Broughton. Capacity? I reckon if they try to squeeze more than 75 through the door we'll have to hold our breath. 

One of the many highlights of Martin's performance in February was his solo interpretation of 'Her Servant Man', a song originally recorded with his daughter Eliza on their 2014 LP 'The Moral of the Elephant'.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Birds of Hell

The lo-fi childhood reminiscences of 'Hometown Rage', the new single by Birds of Hell (a.k.a. Pete Murdoch), hint at some tough times in the past. The song ends with a charming 78rpm recording of Pete's late Grandmother's voice echoing down the years, which he gently sings along with to genuinely moving effect. Buy the single here.

Elsewhere, in 'Ransom', the subject matter is dark and so is the humour. Check out more tunes by Birds of Hell here.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Something's Gone Wrong Again

A channel dropped out while I was playing a record about a month ago, leaving just a crunching noise coming from one of the speakers. I checked the leads, fiddled with settings and cursed a bit. Everything else feeding off the amp appeared to be working fine, so I reasoned that it must be a connection in the turntable. After a little research, I discovered a place about 20 miles away that carries out general electrical repairs, so I took my turntable in for a service. Back at home, literally an hour later, my old laptop died. (I have a new laptop, but I still haven't got around to transferring all my photos and music across) I phoned up the same servicing place to find that yes, they were confident that they could get the laptop up and running again, at least for long enough to allow me to retrieve everything from the hard drive. 'Bring it in' they said.

A week later I made the 40 mile round trip to pick up the turntable and drop off the old laptop. When I got home I plumbed the turntable back into the system and sat back to enjoy some tunes. After a minute a channel dropped out, leaving just a crunching noise coming from one of the speakers. The fault was somewhere in the amp all along.

On Monday I got the call to say that my laptop was ready for collection. I mentioned the amp to the guy on the phone. 'Bring it in', he said. So, yesterday morning, I disconnected everything from my trusty vintage amp, placed it carefully on the back seat of the car and set off on another 40 mile round trip to drop it off and pick up the laptop. Two miles down the road the engine started stuttering and lights began to flash on the dashboard. The car shuddered to an undignified halt. I raised the bonnet and stood by the side of the road looking at the engine in despair, as traffic whizzed by inches away.

I only want to listen to a record.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Flip It! #6 - Teenage Fanclub

An occasional series, focusing on flipsides.

Marie, over at the consistently excellent It's All in the Grooves, recently posted Tommy Roe's 1963 hit 'Everybody', which inevitably set me thinking about Teenage Fanclub's appropriation of large parts of the tune as the basis for their own 1996 track, 'Kickabout'. I asked Marie if she'd ever heard 'Kickabout'. It turns out that she hadn't at the time, but I think it's safe to say that she was less than impressed when she did catch up with it! I have to confess that I'm somewhat surprised that Teenage Fanclub failed to acknowledge the pretty obvious, ahem, inspiration of Roe's original on their own composition, but I've always loved its lightly psychedelic joie de vivre nonetheless.

'Kickabout' initially cropped up on a surprisingly good Euro 96 related compilation, 'The Beautiful Game', before reappearing the following year as the b-side of 'Ain't That Enough', the first single taken from my favourite Teenage Fanclub LP, the mighty 'Songs From Northern Britain'.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Sniffin' Sleeves

A recent post by C in her terrific 'Random Access Memories' series over at Sun Dried Sparrows (here), began with her thoughts on a humble LP sleeve. This got me thinking. Am I the only one round these parts who was prone to sniffing their LP sleeves? It might sound a bit weird these days (ever tried sniffing an MP3?), but sometimes the combination of ink and cardboard created a certain unique fragrance that, over time, became as evocative as the design on the front and the music housed within - well to me anyway. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still recall the individual smells of my original copies of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's 'Impossible Dream', Pink Floyd's 'A Nice Pair' and 'Raw Power' by Iggy & the Stooges. In fact at a car-boot sale a couple of weeks ago, I picked up and discreetly took the nose of a copy of 'Caribou' by Elton John, just to see if it had the same distinct and memorable aroma that my own LP sleeve had, back in 1974 - alas it didn't.

One LP in my collection that definitely smells exactly the same as the day I bought it in 1982, is 'Strawberries' by The Damned. Initial copies came with a heavily scented lyric sheet and the sickly sweet fake strawberry smell is still detectable a mile off. I don't need to put my nose anywhere near it.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Version City #46 - Junior Parker sings The Beatles

Junior Parker's 1970 LP, 'The Outside Man', included no less than three Beatles covers. 'Lady Madonna' was pulled from the album as a single, but for me it's the versions of the less obvious 'Taxman' and 'Tomorrow Never Knows' that really hit the spot. What a voice the man had.

('The Outside Man' was reissued in 1971 under the new title of 'Love Ain't Nothin' But a Business Goin' On'.)

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Furrow Collective

For the penultimate song of their tremendous performance in Norwich on Thursday evening, The Furrow Collective deployed that most underused of instrumental combinations - guitar, harp, banjo and musical saw, after which Emily Portman, Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton stepped around the microphones to bid us farewell with a gorgeous unamplified reading of 'Blow Out the Moon', from their recent EP of the same name.

Listen to / buy the whole EP here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Here's Johnny

John Lydon was interviewed on 6Music a couple of weeks ago and he was everything you always hope he'll be - witty, sharp, wry, knowing, mischievous, entertaining. Perhaps it was the questions he was asked or the mood he was in, but there was no trace of the narky bitterness that sometimes creeps into his conversations. I'm not sure that the latest LP, 'What the World Needs Now...', is quite as strong as 2012's comeback album, 'This Is PIL', but it does include what I reckon is Lydon's best 3½ minutes in over 25 years.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Ghost Of You Walks

If he were the proprietor of a High Street shop, he could quite legitimately hang a business sign above his door stating something along the lines of - 'Richard Thompson: Making Other Singer/Songwriters and Guitarists Look Pretty Ordinary Since 1968'. On Friday evening Richard Thompson (fronting his Electric Trio) did just that, throughout an incendiary set that touched on all periods of his long career. Highlights? Blimey, now you're asking. '1952 Vincent Black Lightning' never, ever gets old and was utterly spectacular. 'Beatnik Walking' one of several treats from his latest LP, 'Still'. 'Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?', possibly the only song from 'Shoot Out the Lights' I'd never previously seen him perform in concert. A totally inspired cover of beat classic 'Take a Heart' by The Sorrows as a final encore. Best of all though, was a frankly staggering reading of 'Hard on Me' (originally issued on 'Mock Tudor' in 1999) in which Thompson's extended solo was beyond comparison with any other guitar-slinger that I've ever come across and should more realistically be musically likened to how it must have felt to experience John Coltrane in full flight.

I recently flicked through an article that rated all of Richard Thompson's solo LP's in reverse order and was marginally horrified to read that the author had ranked the 1996 double album 'You? Me? Us?' as his worst. I couldn't tell you offhand what title I'd put at the bottom of the heap, the man's quality threshold is so high, I can tell you that it wouldn't be 'You? Me? Us?' though. Fortunately for those punters sitting in my vicinity, Richard Thompson didn't play 'The Ghost Of You Walks' on Friday evening, because If he had, there wouldn't have been a dry eye in my little corner of the house.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

This Is The Kit

I've been a very lucky lad so far this year. The stream of local gigs has been steady and of consistently high quality - although I've just realised that I've foolishly neglected to mention some of the best of them on these pages. Never mind, I'll catch up with those in the end of year round-up.

One band I really wanted to see, but unfortunately missed out on, was This Is the Kit. Their third LP 'Bashed Out' is very good indeed and the terrific single lifted from it, 'Silver John', will, I'm certain, also feature prominently in that end of year round-up. One of my songs of 2015, no question.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Something Nice Might Fly By

During the course of a recent real world natter with a good friend of this blog, I found myself, not for the first time, struggling to put into words why exactly it is that I continue to seek out new music as relentlessly as I do, in spite of owning more than enough records, CD's and mp3's to last a lifetime. For years I've justified my irrational excesses and endless searching by being panic stricken that if I don't check out every single piece of music that comes my way, I could very easily miss the best thing I might ever hear in my life. That's still the case, but lately Lauren Laverne has taken to using an eerily similar quote on the trailers for her BBC 6Music radio shows. So I've decided that from now on, if my peculiar obsession is called into question, I'll just quote the mighty Robert Lloyd (of The Nightingales and The Prefects) from his time fronting The New Four Seasons in 1988. 'I get scared that something nice might fly by, and I will miss it out the corner of my eye'. Sonically, the recording may have dated a little, but the lyrics of this great song resonate more and more with each passing year.

Here's a rare TV performance of 'Part of the Anchor', another gem by the same combo.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Saturday Scratch #51 - Residence La Revolution

Saturday Scratch, an occasional series that shines a light on a selection with a Lee 'Scratch' Perry connection. 

I've been largely absent from Internet musings over the past seven days, thanks to a long planned week of decorating. Long planned by Mrs S that is. Long dreaded by yours truly. If I don't see another paint brush for the next couple of years, you won't hear any complaints from me. Still, we've managed to tick a few little jobs off of the very long list of stuff that needs doing in and around the house, which is all to the good.

And now for something completely different. Saturday Scratch traditionally deals in wicked cuts from a bygone age, but on this occasion the selection is virtually bang up to date. In April 2015, XL Recordings boss Richard Russell, trading under the Residence La Revolution moniker, issued a 12" single, 'I Am Paint' and the tune, a stabbing aural collage, features heavily sampled chunks of Lee Perry vocals high in the mix. Each sleeve of the ridiculously limited run of 250 copies was personally hand (and foot) painted by Russell and Perry themselves in one all night session, documented in the accompanying clip. The resulting artifacts weren't distributed through traditional outlets and were only ever obtainable via a bartering system from the RLR website. Intriguing stuff. Read more here.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Saturday Scratch #50 - Dennis Alcapone

Saturday Scratch, an occasional series that shines a light on a selection with a Lee 'Scratch' Perry connection.

Mrs S asked me to give her a hand over at the allotment the other evening. This only ever happens if she's really up against it - I'm sure that I'm far more of a hindrance than a help. I did my best to follow instructions though, but for my troubles I got bitten by bugs on my arm, elbow and side of the face. As you can see, my arm subsequently blew up into a rather alarming shape. I'm just not cut out for this outdoor lark!

In spite of being munched on various parts of my body, unlike Dennis Alcapone, I was untroubled by back biters. On this beautifully crackly rip of his 1972 single, Alcapone DJ's over Lee Perry's 'People Funny Boy' rhythm, with the additional accompaniment of Ron Wilson on trombone.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Why Did the Slug Cross the Road?

It's a good question and one I've asked myself several times over the past week or so. Coinciding with the recent burst of damp weather, I've noticed huge numbers of slugs crossing pavements and roads, presumably to get to the other side. But why do they leave perfectly functional fields and gardens to cross a road, thus risking a splatty death, just to get to another identical field or garden? I dunno, but when I'm out walking up and down local country lanes I do my best to avoid flattening them. Cars are less careful.

Slug, the musical project as opposed to the slimy creature, is the brainchild of Field Music alumnus Ian Black, indeed his former bosses, the Brewis brothers, lend their considerable talents to the debut LP, 'Ripe'. 'Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic' was the first taste we got of Slug, at the tail end of last year. The song boasts a very catchy chorus, but it's a bugger to sing along with.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bob Bob Robyn Along

Following Charity Chic's recent post devoted to firm favourite of this parish Robyn Hitchcock (here), things have been even more Robyn-centric than usual here at Swede Towers. I had a little wobble a couple of days ago though, when Hitchcock announced a short UK tour in late October. My instant fear was that any local date might coincide with one of the pair of Bob Dylan Royal Albert Hall shows that I already have tickets for during the same period. To my huge relief, Robyn's gig in Norwich comes the night after my two consecutive Royal Albert Hall extravaganzas. Perfect.

In May 1996, I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Borderline in London when Hitchcock and a fine group of musical accomplaces lovingly recreated Bob Dylan's legendary Manchester Free Trade Hall concert that had taken place exactly 30 years earlier. A wag at the back of the room even shouted 'Judas', right on cue, just as the band were easing into 'Like a Rolling Stone'. Much of this gig was later included on the double album of Dylan covers, 'Robyn Sings', issued in 2002. Who knows, maybe Hitchcock will drop a Dylan nugget or two into his sets this Autumn, as a nod to Bob's concurrent UK visit.

I've featured two of my personal favourite Robyn Hitchcock songs in previous posts (here and here) and if he were to play either of those tunes in Norwich in October, I'd be happy as Larry. However his repertoire is vast and his set lists ever changing, so here are a couple more that are on my wish list. The latter, 'One Long Pair of Eyes' contains the quitessential Hitchcock couplet, "Doctor doctor, I'm on fire!', 'Oh I'm sad to hear that squire - we're closing". Genius.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Stephanie Hladowski and C Joynes

In 2012, Cambridge based guitar maverick C Joynes collaborated with vocalist Stephanie Hladowski to create 'The Wild Wild Berry', an album of traditional songs selected from archive recordings at Cecil Sharp House. It's an extraordinary record, nowhere more so than on the stark and beautiful closing track 'Died For Love', based on a 1975 performance by Jasper Smith. I'll return to the remarkable C Joynes in the future, but in the meantime, if you enjoyed this taster, you can hear the whole of 'The Wild Wild Berry' here.

As a bonus, this is the live debut of the song, if anything even more moving than than its studio counterpart.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Version City #45 - Hyde & Beast sing Zoo

Dave Hyde (from Futureheads) and Neil Bassett (formally of Golden Virgins) return with the 'Hard Times Good Times EP', which follows 2014's 'Keep Moving', the second long player released in their guise as Hyde & Beast. The EP leads off with a throbbing, groove-tastic cover of the title track from (French Jazz Rock band) Zoo's third and final LP, issued in 1972. Zoo also released an earlier, less polished take as a single in 1971, which is the version I've included here, to compare and contrast.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Down in Front!

Anyone who's been to a gig in the last 15 years will be familiar with the irritation/anger/fury caused by fellow audience members who attempt to record all or part of the event on their mobile phones. Over time, I've grown reluctantly accustomed to bobbing and weaving my way through an evening, in an effort to catch a clear view of the stage through the sea of up-stretched arms. In one tiny venue a couple of years ago, I actually watched a long stretch of Courtney Barnett's set through an iPad (an iPad!) that was being held aloft by someone standing directly in front of me!

In another lifetime, I'm afraid I too was briefly guilty of straying into other people's sightlines, as I did my best to capture live snapshots for a fanzine my pal and I were busy dreaming up. All this was back at the dawn of the 1980's. Nothing ever came of the fanzine, or the photos. Until now.

Gang of Four in 1981, photographed by Yours Truly

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Version City #44 - Choir! Choir! Choir! sing The Clash

Based in Toronto, Choir! Choir! Choir! is a twice weekly gathering of musically open-minded people who just love to sing. In their 4 year history they've tackled songs by a wide variety of artists, such as Big Star, Haddaway, Fleetwood Mac, Sex Pistols, The Muppets, Wilco, Pink Floyd and dozens of others (see here for a full list) in addition to performing in concert with Patti Smith and Tegan & Sara.

There's a whole host of Choir! Choir! Choir! performances available to check out on their YouTube channel (here). Their stirring interpretation of 'London Calling' had the hairs on the back of this old Clash fan's neck standing to attention.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


We've returned from a lovely few days of grazing our way around London with the US branch of the family - and a fine old time was had by all. Back at HQ there is much catching up to be done - posts to be read, music to be heard and, yes, a new laptop to be unwrapped and understood. This could take a while. 

Nestling in my in-box upon my return was 'Drumside Part 1' by Rodinia, an extract from a new LP, 'Drumside/Dreamside', due for release on Now-Again Records in late September. Rodinia is a collaboration between multi-instumentalists, Jay Whitefield (who I know best from his work with Karl Hector & The Malcouns) and Johannes Schleiermacher from the Woima Collective. They're tagging the music they make 'Ambient Krautrock' - and why not? I like this preview a lot and I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

Read all about it here.

Friday, 14 August 2015

It's Cool to Love Your Family

Throughout the 1960's and into the mid-1970's we lived in a terraced house in Walthamstow. Mum, Dad and me downstairs. My Aunt, Uncle (Dad's Brother) and Cousin upstairs. My Cousin and I grew up more like Brother and Sister, plus we each had what felt like a back-up set of parents on call at all times. My Uncle died suddenly in 1978 and my Cousin relocated to New York in 1988 with her job and has lived there ever since. My Dad passed away in 2007 followed by Mum in 2010. My Aunt, who has just turned 86 and is still very active, lives alone in East Ham, less than a mile from where she herself was raised. Her dozen years in Walthamstow was as far as she ever moved. My Cousin, who's now been married for 25 years, has three fantastic kids of her own (18, 15 & 12) and around this time every Summer, she brings the full New York contingent over to visit her Mum... and of course, her older Cousin.

As you'd expect, there are hundreds of photos of my Cousin and I growing up. This funny little shot is my favourite.

So by the time you read these words, I'll be down in London catching up with 12 months worth of family shenanigans, wondering just how much taller the kids can possibly get, introducing my Cousin's American husband to more fine British ales, confusing all and sundry with my English colloquialisms and doubtless eating my own body weight in unhealthy snack foods. I'm not sure what the plan is or where we're headed yet, but there's been talk of a trip out to Kew Gardens. Her mob have definitely never been there and the last time my Cousin and I visited the place was nearly 50 years ago, when we were dragged along, under protest no doubt, by our own parents. Something tells me that we'll appreciate the experience a lot more this time around.

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