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'.)

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