Friday, 11 July 2008
As far as agit-pop goes, one record really sums up the time: "Whistling In the Dark" by Easterhouse. A chiming slice of classic 80's pop, it was full of rage and exhortation: a diatribe about a country riven apart by industrial strife. "Whistling..." is available on "Contenders", a Cherry Red compilation which I can heartily recommend. However, less is known about the band that followed Easterhouse: The Cradle. The Perry brothers, Ivor And Andy, who made up Easterhouse, had a major falling out, and Andy disappeared. Ivor went on to form The Cradle, who are perhaps most notable for the fact that they included future member of The Smiths Craig Gannon in their midst (this rounded off a nice Smiths connection, as Easterhouse's first gig in London was supporting The Smiths at ULU).
This song makes me seriously nostalgic for the 80's. Not because it's a definitive 80's classic, but because I can hear the musical landscape shifting as this piece of vinyl spins on the turntable. The days of the independent charts producing great crossover hits was fading: just over the horizon was the birth of Dance culture and a thousand new genres, feeding off each other. This record feels like the proud last stand of an old guard. But, despite all of that, it's wonderful. Like so many of the tunes I post here, the reason I love it so much is that it acts as a landmark, a beacon, a snapshot of a time which has passed. Enjoy.
The Cradle "It's Too High" (mp3)
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Though my real passion was for Old School Hardcore (check the archives!) the rise of Drum'n'Bass still managed to produce some truly incredible records. Just like Hardcore, the key here was innovation: every month brought new sounds, new stlyes, new waves of samples and textures; as a genre, D'n'B began an exponential growth that wasn't to slow down for many years. The tunes I bought in 1994, for me, showed the most progression. Though there was raw power and energy in the "darkside" anthems of 1993, 1994 saw the rise of the portamento b-line, on tracks like Dead Dread's "Dread Bass" , the power and finesse of Ray Keith's "Terrorist" and the sonic invention of Deep Blue's "The Helicopter Tune". There are elements of "Helicopter..." in this tune, it's got that same burbling percussion, but the real story here is the massively chopped up Amen breaks. The snares skitter, stutter and roll, twisting into impossible shapes. The rhythms draw you in, forcing you to find the flow within their complex programming, carrying you along with them. This is a tune with propulsion deep within its DNA.
And what of DJ Nut Nut? Well, not much, I'm afraid. I know she was a female Drum'n'Bass DJ, who recorded a few sides for Production House, and a few tunes for Hard Leaders And Tru Playaz, but I've not been able to find her currently online. Mad Ragga Jon (or John, as he's credited here) is a similar story, a flurry of tunes in the days of Hardcore, with some due to come out on pre-eminent Hardcore label Suburban Base, before a personality clash led to him being released by the label. For someone who was obviously talented enough to push the envelope with the twisted beats of this remix, it's hard to understand that this would be one of his last productions. After 1994, he too drops off the radar.
If you need a copy of this, it'll set you back about 25 quid. But for now, turn it up, loud, and lose yourself in those breaks.
Sunday, 22 June 2008
It's so easy to find music now, isn't it? Hold your mobile phone up in a club, dial Shazam, get a text with the name of the song that's playing. Check out google, or discogs, and find a band's history, or any of their releases. Surf around the itunes store, filling in the gaps in your collection. Spend a while on ebay or gemm, or on message boards, tracking down an elusive CD, or a double for that old 7" that's starting to sound a little scratchy. But it wasn't always this way- when I started collecting, it was much, much more tricky. Back then, it seemed as if I had a long list of tunes stored up in my head; and I'd have to spend a huge amount of time trying to tick them all off, every time I visited a new record shop. There really was no effective way of sourcing things that weren't naturally stocked in your local shop: you could try and make a special order, but the process was very hit and miss. Without computers to check availability, or stock levels, an order might sit in a shop for weeks (or months) on end. The catalogue for actually placing orders was a giant red book, that most record shops had, but seldom used - another problem being that looking through a book of such size for a record whose title you weren't perhaps 100% sure of, wasn't something that most shop assistants would really care to attempt.
So, as I said, it was the "internal list" that I relied upon. Secondhand stores, out of town shops, record fairs, and a lot of "digging in the crates". This song is one which was on the list for quite some time. First heard in 1979, I tracked a copy of the album down in 1985 (without a sleeve!) in an Our Price in Watford which was having a closing down sale. Then, about 15 years later, finally found another copy in the Record & Tape Exchange. I've never seen a CD, though I think one was released in Holland in the late 80's: I'm presuming it's now out of print. But why was I searching so hard for this one song? It's all about how I found it, I suppose....
I first heard it on The Old Grey Whistle Test, in 1979. For the previous Christmas, I'd been given a brand-new Radio-cassette player, which I'd been using to religiously tape John Peel, and I also used it to tape stuff off the telly. So, on that Sunday night, I sat in front of the TV, gingerly holding up the recorder in front of the tiny speaker of my parents Sony Trinitron, and recorded it. Here's the exact clip I saw ( well, the second half is - the song comes in after about 4 mins)
And I just played that cassette to death. So, the fragility of the way I found the song meant I was desperate to actually own a proper copy, lest anything happen to the tape. I always felt that If the tape snapped, or got mistakenly recorded over, that I'd lose the song forever. So began the search. I'm still looking for the CD, though the album will do for now. I've never actually played any of the other songs on the album; "I Love You...." is track one, side one - so once that's finished, that's the album finished for me too. Childish, I know, but that's the way it goes.
Some more info on the song? Well, it's taken from a film with a flimsy plot about a bank robber, tied into the Dutch punk scene. It features (amongst others) Nina Hagen , Lene Lovich , and of course, Herman Brood. Brood is a fascinating character, and rightly revered as a true Rock'n'Roll legend in Holland, though his reputation didn't really cross over into many other territories - he managed a one-off hit in the US ("Saturday Night") and that was about it. However, in Holland, his influence is still felt to this day, as a performer, as well as an artist and sculptor. A long-time drug-user (and one who made no secret of the fact), he tried for many years to rid himself of his demons, but in 2001 was eventually devastated to find out that he was suffering from a terminal illness, and that he had mere months to live. On the 11th of July 2001, Herman Brood leapt to his death from the seventh floor of the Amsterdam Hilton, before that illness could claim him. There's more on Herman Brood here and his available recordings can be bought here (confusingly, there actually is a "Cha Cha" CD in print, but it's not the OST to the film). The song itself? Well, it's all about Brood, and the way he throws himself into its performance. He sings as if his life depends on it. The song can be taken, simply, as a paean to the love he's lost, or more obliquely, as a plea for help to break the spell of the substances he's using as a crutch to escape the pain of that lost love. Whatever the meanings, it's just a wonderful song, and always brings that same frisson of excitement I felt as a 12 year-old kid, holding a cassette player in front of a telly, in a small house, in a tiny village in the west of England, one Sunday Night. RIP Herman.
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
I've always hated compartmentalisation in music. The idea that certain types of music should be removed from others. I grew up visiting record shops where everything was crammed into the same tiny space. If you wanted a punk album, it was in a rack right next to a whole bunch of metal stuff - if you wanted Reggae, that was a few paces to your left, next to the old R&B, which was next to the normal pop stuff, and so on. The shops I frequented then were staffed by people who would play just about anything they fancied, and that mix of sounds often opened my ears to things I wouldn't otherwise have considered buying. In 1981, this unconscious blending of sounds and styles was reflected in the other ways we were exposed to music: the music press were just as likely to put The Bhundu Boys on the front cover as Billy Bragg, Peel could play Scientist next to Orange Juice and we wouldn't bat an eyelid.
Some time in the late eighties, all this started to change. Record shops became all about the volume, not the variety. A visit to a new "Megastore" would reveal huge long racks of CD's, but close inspection showed it was just 10 copies of each album. The jumble of sleeves, cardboard cut-out artwork and stickers which adorned the walls of my old shop were replaced with cool neon signs, looking great but saying little. Everywhere was clean, chromed, carpeted, and deadly dull. Worst of all was the insidious rise of the compartmentalizing of music. Certain genres were taken away, removed from the main body of the shop. Jazz, Classical, World. If you went into a huge Virgin Megastore, you could be just looking at a wall of Rock CD's, when a few paces and a push through a smoked glass door would suddenly take you into the "Jazz" room. The music suddenly stopped, to be replaced by some David Sanborn (at reduced volume), the air conditioning seemed to be set slightly higher (so it was actually quite cold) and there was a rather bored looking assistant twiddling his thumbs by the cash desk. For me, the whole fun of Record shopping was being forced to listen to Ornette Coleman by the same hyper-enthusiastic muso who'd just made me listen to The Residents. Where had that spirit of inclusiveness gone? To this day, I tend to seek out shops like Rough Trade, where that eclectic outlook and musical melee still exists: places like Rough Trade are a joy to shop in, as a result. Of all the genres which suffered from this Stalinist policy of removal and ring-fencing, "World" music suffered most. It went from being another part of the music we listened to back then, to something which you had to find a specialist outlet in order to indulge your passion. As a result, the casual record buyer became alienated and cynical about World music, and the days of King Sunny Ade on the front of my weekly music magazine seem a long, long way off. It's been slowly changing over the past couple of years, and could that possibly be due to the gradual disappearance of the huge Chain store record emporiums from our high streets? So many people will shop via itunes now, which offers a main page that presents all of it's wares in one place: a jumble of genres, charts, adverts and images. Rather like an old record shop, though smelling slightly less of B.O. and Woodbines.
So here's a record from an era where "World" hadn't even been invented. Where a record by someone from Zaire (though he was a french resident at the time) would sit in the racks just along from Echo and The Bunnymen, would be on the radio airwaves just after something by Suicide, and would be on my cassette compilations after something by Magazine or The Flys (probably). And it's also a record which first came to my attention via a cassette, the NME's "Jive Wire" which came out in 1982. It was originally part of an album called "En Action" , recorded by the expansively-named Pablo "Lubadika" Porthos in Paris in 1981. the four tracks on that album were released by Island records as part of their newly-founded "African" imprint (the second 12", "Bo Mbamda" is equally excellent, and I'll be happy to post that up as well, If anyone is interested). "Madeleina" was also featured on the long-out-of-print CD "Sound D'Afrique Vol 2: Soukous" (if you want a copy, it's about 35 quid) However, both the NME tape and the CD compilation both feature the edited version of the song, and for this delicate slice of bittersweet, chiming sunshine to really work, it just has to be the full 12" version. I can't think of any other records in my entire collection which are guaranteed to raise as much of a smile as this song does when I play it; it's just perfect. Enjoy.
Sunday, 25 May 2008
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
Anyway, before normal blog service is resumed, here's a couple of links (the ones I got most emails about) for you to catch up on, whilst I get my act together. Enjoy.
Cozy Powell "Na Na Na" (mp3)
And, here' the one I get the most feedback (sic) about, and the one people seem to love more than any other:
The Jesus And Mary Chain - Live At The I.C.A. (mp3)
Friday, 25 April 2008
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
The memories that flood out while listening to this are so strong; I could absolutely swear to being 13 years old all over again. This is one of my most cherished singles, and I still can't quite understand why its not revered by the entire world as a true slice of rock perfection. It's three and a half minutes of complete yob-rock genius. I can vividly recall hearing it for the first time, on a tiny reel-to-reel tape player my Dad gave me, in 1974. My Dad would tape the Radio 1 top 20, on Sunday evenings (with Tom Browne) and put them onto tiny little tapes for me. In an age when most kids I knew just had access to their parents music centres, or maybe had an old Dansette record player in their room if they were lucky, I was able to take this tape recorder with me wherever I went. It was a sort of proto-walkman, and did make me the envy of my mates for a while! Also, it being a reel-to-reel, the sound of it was quite incredible: rich and powerful, but with loads of great top end too. Which made it perfect for listening to this; to the point that even now, it's never managed to quite recapture the magic of hearing it whilst watching the reels slowly spinning round, as I sat cross-legged on my bedroom floor. "Na Na Na" sent such a frisson of genuine excitement through me, the first time I heard it: every single element of it is absolutely perfect. The booming tom-toms at the start, swiftly followed by one of those classic "tennis racket" windmilling guitar chords...then there's the two-fingered salute of the chorus, the crowd noise in the breakdown.......
A lot of its sheer power comes from the inventiveness of the production, which was provided by Mickie Most at the top of his game. If you listen to it on headphones, you'll see what I mean: every single element of the song occupies a space around your head, without overlap, confusion or chaos. It's a little like tasting a glass of wine, closing your eyes and saying "well, there's vanilla, and oak notes, some peach, some grassy flavours...." This record is just like that- the separate elements are able to work together, yet retain their unique identities. The net result is that EVERYTHING sounds perfect, and the wave after wave of ideas just combine to create something unforgettable.
I'm fairly sure also, that it wasn't just me who was enthused by this record in the mid-70's. Have another listen to the start. Now tell me that there weren't some nascent punk rockers out there who were leaping around their bedrooms just like me. Specifically, the intro drums- remind you of anything? I'm willing to bet Rat Scabies had them somewhere in his mind when he pelted out "New Rose" for the first time. Then, there's the huge guitar chords before the first verse. We all know Glen Matlock ripped off Abba's "SOS" for "Pretty Vacant", but did Steve Jones ever hear "Na Na Na" and think "Hmm, maybe I could use that for Holidays In The Sun"? Yobbish oik-rock like this would have been as much an influence as the more obvious Stooges/Mott/T Rex reference points. With all of that in mind, I'm constantly shocked that this song doesn't crop up more often; even losing it's place on the available compilations to the (admittedly more commercially successful) "Dance With The Devil".
Cozy Powell, of course, went on to have a hugely influential and productive career, before his tragic death in a car smash on the M4. A full overview of his life is here , and CD's are available here, though it would seem that no-one has really taken charge of his back catalogue. There would appear to be no really definitive retrospective to speak of, and some of the newer compilations have a whiff of "cash-in" about them, which is a great shame.
And above all, I love this song for the middle eight. Have there ever been lyrics more designed to instill revolution in the heart of a thirteen-year old kid? I think not.
"I know you get your kicks playing Hendrix licks, you're the wizard of Wembley Central, You're the JS Bach of Belsize Park- but me, I'm just plain mental. When I play my boogie, when I play my blues, it's like a whole tank regiment on the move.....you can play the notes, you can tell the story- me, I'll just settle for the power and the glory"
Amen to that. It's a little crackly, this one, but I'm convinced it only adds to its charm, its power, and its magic. Enjoy.
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Let's place this record in some sort of context, shall we? It's 1991. My career as a musician is at its height. I'm a member of a highly successful indie rock band. And what am I listening to? Maybe some Carter USM? Kingmaker? Any of the other indie rockers filling the pages of the Melody maker or the NME? Nope. All I listened to was house music, and *points down* Breakbeat Hardcore. For several years, from roughly 1987 through to 1994, that was it for me. I was so immersed in the whole scene, so completely involved, that I ended up working in a Record shop in North London, specifically to feed my vinyl habit. The shop was called The Record & Disco Centre, or "the R&D" to its legions of regular customers, and was situated in the basement of a video rental shop in the suburban hinterland of Rayners Lane, at the northern end of the Piccadilly line. In between tours, gigs, and press appointments, I'd hop on the tube, get to the shop, get behind the counter, and feel completely, utterly at home. I've seldom been happier than when I was behind the pair of technics we had at the end of the counter, playing new tunes to an eager group of punters. The shop was right at the cutting edge as far as tunes went, we would have constant deliveries of new stock, and every new tune would be instantly assessed and devoured by a bunch of DJ's, desperate for the freshest tunes that their money could buy.
I vividly remember the feeling of breaking open a 25-count box of vinyl, fresh out of the Van that delivered it to the shop, seeing all those 12" sleeves, tightly swathed in shrink wrap, and snapping one open to play it for the punters. The world of record buyers are divided into two groups: those who use a fingernail to slice open the shrink wrap, and those who use the leg of their jeans. I'm in the latter group. It's quite simple, you find the "opening", give the 12" a shake so the vinyl inside nestles nearer to the edge, then rub the edge a few times, really fast, on your upper leg. Job done. Once the record inside has revealed itself, I always loved the smell of the vinyl as it emerged into the air of the shop for the first time. Pristine, dust-free, shiny, perfect. As quick as possible, I'd place it on the deck, slide the needle over....and wait. Years of listening to tunes focuses your diagnostic skill to a fine point: you tend to know in about 10 seconds whether it's a real tune or not. And so did all the DJ's crowding round the decks; at roughly the same point in the song, either a huge shout of "TUNE!" would go up, or a collective shrug of the shoulders would consign the tune to the bargain bin, from whence it would struggle to reappear. This particular record emerged from a huge pile of Strictly Rhythm releases (the label seemed to put out an almost constant stream of 12"s) and, at first glance, seemed like nothing special. Rhythm Section hadn't really recorded anything of real note before, there were no in-vogue remixes on offer (Wild Pitch, etc) and overall, it looked like any other generic slice of New Jersey Warehouse funk. How wrong I was. After a small, breathy vocal sample, the record started, and began to weave its spell on me. It's driven by a clattering almost garage-like set of beats, but it's all the melodies that make this one: a series of long, sustaining string samples, almost discordant, punctuated by niggling little vibraphone and keyboard riffs. Floating over the top is a sample of Ten City's Byron Stingily, repeating the title like a mantra: "Love Will Make It Right......" And he's right isn't he? Love WILL make it right, won't it? Every time I hear him sing, even if I don't believe it, you can bet I WANT to believe it. the relentless nature of the tune, coupled with the tension created by the shimmering sustain of the chords, means I always drift off into a sort of reverie while listening to it: it's house music at its very, very best. It's primal, urgent, compelling and just flat-out wonderful. Keen Jesus Jones fans will spot how much I loved this song, by noting that a sample from it appears in the JJ song "Want To Know" (the B-side of "The Devil You Know") that's a measure of how obsessed by this song I was- the entire JJ song was basically me trying to find a way of paying homage.
These days, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a second-copy of it, should you want one. SR 12"'s are a common sight in Dance shops, and many people tend to dismiss them as a result: "Well, if there's a huge pile of them, they can't be that good, can they?" Well, amongst that pile of SR 12"s in your local second-hand emporium there will probably be a copy of this, and it probably wont cost you more than a couple of quid. You'd be a fool to miss out. I've included both mixes of the A-side, the first is the full version, the second is sparser, more dreamy, and allows the melodies even more room to breathe. Both are, as you might gather, highly recommended.
Urban Rhythm "Luv Will Make It Right" (Hardhouse Mix) (mp3)
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
I think I've got time for another piece of Old-School Hardcore GENIUS, don't you? Here's another one of those tunes which is now virtually impossible to find, More's the pity. This was a staple of DJ Sy's sets back in the early 1990's, and it's easy to see why: for a scratch DJ, the breaks are hectic, but wide open, leaving lots of room for furious scratching over the top of the track. The tinkling pianos and rushing sample lines make this one another tune that presages the rise of happy hardcore, without fully surrendering itself to the cheesier stereotypes of that side of things. Jem 77 released a number of tunes on 21 Records, before, as was so often the case back then, moving off into more "Progressive" directions, recording as The Good Strawberries. This, for me, is my favourite of all of their output; though if you can find the EP from which it comes, there are some other great tracks on it (including one which samples "Eruption" by Van Halen!) what's less well know about Jem 77 is that it was (partly) the work of Joel Bogen, who i'm pretty sure was the Guitarist in Toyah's band.
Monday, 10 March 2008
"How We Fell Apart" is the sound of 1993, distilled into about 5 minutes. 1993 was a strange year for Hardcore, the scene was beginning to fragment, and the spectre of Drum'n'Bass was waiting in the wings. The two biggest musical movements of the time were "Darkside" tunes, dense doom-filled slabs of breakbeat paranoia which reflected the comedown from the glory days of great pills and smiley faces. Stronger, more evil drugs were filling the scene: Skunk, Crack, and "Snowballs" which gave the kids MDA (with all its intensity and darkness) as opposed to MDMA (with its happy faces and hugs).
On the other side of the musical divide were the "happy" tunes, filled with euphoric breakdowns, waves of pianos, and helium-pitch vocals. These songs were to be the precursors of Happy Hardcore, just as the Darkside tunes eventually morphed into Drum'n'Bass. DJ Seduction, Vibes, DJ Red Alert & Mike Slammer.....the list of tunes in 1993 seemed endless. For me, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest, though I'm not quite sure why. Let's face it, it's such a simple little tune: a rolling breakbeat, some little scratch samples, and that impossibly squeaky vocal. It's what we always used to call a "ladies tune" as it would give some sort of respite from the Testosterone rush of the darker tunes.
The helium vocals are what firmly places this in 1993- at that time, timestretching wasn't really possible on the samplers that were in common use (Akai's S900 and S950), but when the next generation of samplers was ushered in with the S1000, time-stretching became more commonplace, and the need to pitch vocals up to match the frenetic beats vanished. If the vocals squeak, you can bet it's either from late '92, or 1993. A year later, tunes like Dread Bass's "Dead Dread" laid out the template, as Ragga Jungle took over and samples began to turn themselves inside out. The sound of these helium vocals became locked in time. I guess that's another one of the reasons why I love it: it's another one of those Zeitgeist moments. It's completely of its time.
DJ's Kid Andy & Nickle Bee "How We Fell Apart" (Back To My Heart Mix) (mp3)
Junior Walker & The All Stars "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling"/"Clinging To The Thought That She's Coming Back" (Soul Records, 1970)
But, for me, there's one song which sticks out a mile. It's not the A- side of this single "Gotta Hold On.." but it's the flip side, "Clinging To The Thought That She's Coming Back". And, luckily, it fits the rules of this blog as it's unavailable on CD at the moment (though the A-side crops up on all the regular greatest hits compilations)
"Clinging...." is all about someone holding a candle for the love they've lost, it's one of the most sweetly poignant lyrics I've heard; simple and direct in its pleas for forgiveness and resolute in its hope for a better future. All of it topped by Walker's coruscating Sax, and a typically lush production by Soul legend Johnny Bristol, who was the person who first discovered the band, back in the early 60's.
It's one of those records I play CONSTANTLY, and put into my DJ sets wherever and whenever I can. It's a life-affirming piece of soulful genius, and it gets me every single time.
Junior Walker & the All-Stars "Clinging To the Thought That She's Coming Back" (mp3)
Monday, 3 March 2008
You've Got Foetus On Your Breath "Wash It All Off" (mp3)
Friday, 1 February 2008
This song is one of four that were on a free EP given away with the initial pressings of the Swell Maps debut LP "A Trip To Marineville". For reasons I don't quite understand, some of the other tracks on the EP have appeared on retrospective Maps compilations, but this truly wondrous vignette remains unreleased.
For all of you out there who may not have heard of The Swell Maps, do check out that Wikipedia page, and follow some of the links. Theirs is a story too long for me to rehash here: suffice to say that without their innate knack of mixing noise with melody, post punk would never have happened ( or at least, it would, but it would have been even more po-faced). I knew Jowe Head via the TVP's (we've done this, haven't we?), but was lucky enough to count Nikki Sudden as a friend for a large part of the 90's. He was going out with a friend of mine, and would occasionally turn up, in the dead of night, on my doorstep, armed only with a bottle of vodka, 200 cigarettes, and a desperate need to listen to sleazy rock music until dawn. Believe me, those are the nights that hurt, that wipe years off your life expectancy, yet that make it all worthwhile. I was terribly saddened when he passed away. RIP Nikki.
It's him, incidentally, that provides the guitar genius on this song, and it's Jowe (Steven being Jowe's real name) who provides the vocals. The song itself may, or may not, be an insight into Jowe's upbringing (the sleeve certainly alludes to it), with the oblique nature of the lyrics (trans: what the hell is he going on about?) we may never be sure -and that's just the way I like it.
If you don't own any Swell Maps CD's, now's the time to right that wrong. Do it now.
Swell Maps "Steven Does" (mp3)
Well, here it is then. The song about Columbine I was referring to in my previous post. I know very little about this single, i'm fairly sure I got it whilst working at Xfm, in 2000 (for the love of God, does nobody check their website? I can't believe my page is still there!!). It may well have been posted to me, I can't recall for sure. I've only seen one other copy of it from that day to this, and I bought it on the spot, so I'd have a double. Google searches for info on the record turn up absolutely nothing; and I can't really give you any more details than the name of the artist, a title, and a photo of the label.
But what really counts in this case is what it sounds like. It's a supremely moving piece of drama- no suprise, given it's subject matter- but what elevates this from a simple slice of cut'n'paste collage into something more cerebral, is the sense of connection to the emotional impact of the senselessness of Columbine: this is a record that begs us to think, to question, to try and feel some of the pain. It does it by layering a series of snippets from news reports and general media sources over what sounds suspiciously like a Delfonics backing track (if it is sampled from somewhere, can someone let me know what it is?) The slow, lush, soulful backing track is increasingly unhinged by the stream of voices, as they get ever more hysterical; culminating in, what is for me, the coup-de-grace, as a clearly shocked student wails:
"....and he shot the black kid...because he was black...."
Terror and confusion never sounded quite so stark, so spine-chillingly evil. It's still the moment in the song that brings me out in goosebumps every single time.
Thursday, 24 January 2008
See what I mean?
Anyway, there's that, there's another song called "Highschool Massacre", which is about Columbine (and is actually quite heartbreaking) and there's this little gem from Honey Bane. It's got that perfect mix of anger and sweetness, a sense of longing and love, underpinned by the breathless chase from evil, the unseen menace that stalks the subject of the song: as she descends further into desperation, the evil gets closer; you can almost feel it's breath on her back. Of course, all of this would probably be nothing without Crass providing the backing
track (it's credited to "Donna & The Kebabs", with delicious irony, for perhaps the most high-profile group of Anarcho-Vegetarians of the punk years). Crass were masters of the sinister, adept in churning out uneasy waltzes of confusion and paranoia: driven by Penny Rimbauds strict drumming, and overlaid with waves of scratchy, twitching, fuzzed-out punk anger.
Yet this single also displays something of a tender side to Crass: at its heart it's a pure pop song: from the "Boredom" riff, with its two-note semaphore, to the clever little guitar chords, floating over the time signature; this is a consummate piece of pop brilliance. But, it was never seen as such, and probably never will be. It still places a chill in my heart though: it's Honey's detachment, her matter-of-fact vocal sneer, it's the vicious treble wash of the guitars, it's that horrific flushing noise at the end of the track, as the song seems to vanish into some sort of vortex of unfeeling savagery, it's still quite the most wonderful mix of sweet and savage.
Honey Bane had an upbringing which added extra gravitas to this single, and seemed to be on the run from pretty much everything when it was released. She had previously voiced the Fatal Microbes single "Violence Grows", and a homage to it, "Porno Grows", appears on the other side of this single. Her talents would be temporarily, and unsuccessfully channeled into trying to be a bona fide pop star after this, as Jimmy Pursey produced a couple of her singles for Regal/Zonophone, which tickled the lower reaches of the charts. However, you always got the feeling Honey was slightly uncomfortable with the whole thing, and she vanished from the sight of the mainstream, to enjoy a lower, but more creatively enriching profile, from that day to this. She's still very much with us, and her myspace can be found here.
And, as a final footnote: how great was it to have "pay no more than..." on the single sleeve? It simultaneoulsy makes a statement of intent, and also freezes that single to a moment in time: remember when singles cost 65p? That's what I payed for this when it came out, and it was worth every single one of those sixty-five pennies. Enjoy.
Honey Bane "Girl On The Run" (mp3)
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
I was posting on Westway the other day, extolling the virtues of Record Fairs, and declaring my love for old Rough Trade 7"s. Well, here's another one of those Rough Trade singles, and it's one that has never had its moment in the spotlight.
Mark Beer is one of those artists that never quite made it: a handful of singles, what looks like a self-financed album, and that's about it.There is a connection via one of those singles to Thomas Dolby, and another one of his collaborators was Jean-Marc Lederman, who played in Jules et Jim, with Julianne Regan, from All About Eve. Along the way, he seems to have picked up a tiny number of curious fans and he's been rewarded for all his years in the wilderness by having one of his songs: "The Man Man Man", turn up on a compilation of DIY UK post-punk releases. So, there are tantalising links to other bands, to other careers, to other lives. But when you try and find out what happened to Mark himself, there's nothing. No myspace, no CD's on Amazon, no website, nothing. Very odd.
This single itself is a bright little piece of pop, though in its rush for acceptance, its message seems to become somewhat muddled. Mark sings about how being pretty is his salvation, the "antidote to my despair". Yet later in the song, he's musing that being pretty is merely "a type of superficial grace". He seems to have a love/hate relationship with the process of self-examination and evaluation, and this sense of confusion and fragility really comes across in the track: the song is always on the edge of becoming over-wrought and merely theatrical, a heartbeat away from losing its integrity to base vanity. It also has the delicious prospect of a "dub" on the b-side, though in truth it was just a chance to give the echo box a workout.
Despite it's lo-fi sound, and, at times, simplistic production, Rough Trade obviously had high hopes for the single. My copy came with a plugging sticker on the back, which means that it was sent off to compete with all the pop heavyweights of the day, when in truth, it probably never had a chance. And in that one moment of pure hope, is the reason why I really loved Rough Trade: they never let common sense get in the way of their dreams. They were adamant that their records deserved a chance, no mater how slight that chance was. The sheer optimism and pride of record labels in that first flush of the Indie boom has been somewhat forgotten, and this single serves as a timely reminder of just how important it is for a label to believe in their artistes, and to follow that belief through, all the way.
Sunday, 13 January 2008
So, here's that other Boys Wonder single I was on about in the post below, which, for me, is the highpoint of their career. Everything about this single is just perfect, from the opening salvo of guitar riffs, to the proggy little burbles of synths which move the melody from verse to chorus, from the soaring middle eight to the key change, right down to the tongue-in-cheek kiss-off of the ending; it's just a textbook example of how to write, structure and perform the ultimate pop song.
This single followed on from the relative disappointment of their years at Sire Records, where hopes had been high, budgets had obviously been bigger, and that lack of success could have easily resulted in a rather jaded outlook on life and the music business. Instead, Boys Wonder focused their attention on rather different targets: the eighties obsession with out-of-date idols. Every home seemed to have a poster of James Dean in his "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" pose, the stars of a bygone era were supposed to be touchstones for the youth of a forward-thinking and technologically exciting age. the charts were full of Motown reissues and Stax covers, old soul sold to us via Levi's ads, and Rock'n'Roll condensed into short bursts of Jive Bunny mediocrity: something was very, very wrong. Boys Wonder lined all of these sacred cows up in a line, and shot them all down, one by one.
As it turned out, sadly, no-one was really listening. This single sold even less well than their previous releases. Something had to give, and Boys Wonder began, slowly but surely, to reassess their situation. The end of the eighties saw the rise in power of dance music in the UK, and there were few bands who weren't changed by it, or who would openly flirt with the medium. Boys Wonder continued for a while after this release, putting out a couple of white-label dance 12"s, and another single, the Balearic break-funk of "Eat Me, Drink Me", with its Steve Proctor remix. After that, as mentioned below, Corduroy beckoned. But this single will always remind me of what could have been, and will stay with me as a consummate example of the Majesty of a simple, cocky pop song. Enjoy.
Friday, 11 January 2008
"Something To Do" came out in 1984, a year before they really arrived with what most people thought was their debut EP "All Day Long". Well, this single was actually their debut, and it's interesting for a number of reasons. First off, it's actually recorded by most of the Shoppies (David, Sarah, Laura and Ann) but Aggi And Stephen from the Pastels are on there as well (it's Aggi who provides the vocals). The song remains, intriguingly, the sound of what the two groups would be like if they were melded together: there's the twee, coy charm of the Pastels, draped across two minutes of fuzzed-out Ramones pop-punk crash'n'burn. To these ears, it sounds perfect, but it obviously wasn't going to work: Aggi and Stephen went back to just being The Pastels, and The Shoppies added another drummer and turned up those guitars even louder.
It's also interesting for its sheer rarity. Copies go on eBay for anything up to about £125, which is quite unbelievable. It's truly one of the "Holy Grail" singles for C86-era collectors. This rip isn't the greatest quality, but the quality of the song still shines through, loud and clear. Once heard, never forgotten. Enjoy.
Buba And The Shop Assistants "Something To Do" (mp3)
Thursday, 10 January 2008
Cast your mind back, gentle reader, to when you first heard about Oasis. Remember what we were promised? Well, we were promised the "Sex Beatles"(It's in there somewhere). That was the phrase that Creation's PR department had managed to get the press to use; the "Sex Beatles". Let's face it, which self-respecting journalist wouldn't have jumped on the phrase? It promised the best of two of our most iconic acts: the swagger, punky attitude and insouciance of The Sex Pistols, and the wonderful pop melodies of The Beatles- perfection!
But what did we get? Well, we certainly didn't get The Sex Beatles. In fact, after we'd got about halfway through "Definately Maybe", there were a great many people who'd realised we'd actually been sold The Eater Clark Five. Damn.
What fools we all were then, not to notice that the "Sex Beatles" had actually happened a few years before. They'd emerged, in a flash of brio and hype, in a swirl of flashy clothes and oik accents, with manifestos, tunes, Les Pauls blazing, and harmonies ringing in our ears.They had the swagger of the Pistols, the pure pop knowledge of the Beatles: they had it all, and weren't afraid to shout it from the rooftops: trouble was, not enough people were prepared to listen. In another time and another place, Liam and Noel would be running a pound shop in Burnage, and Boys Wonder would have played to several ecstatic sold out crowds in Knebworth's sumptuous grounds. But it wasn't to be. But why? Honestly, I haven't got a clue.
The heart of the band was the Addison twins, Ben and Scott. I had the pleasure of meeting them when I worked at the Rough Trade shop, and they came in to do a gig. You couldn't hope to meet two more committed and passionate pop fans. I remember we spent a good half hour rhapsodising about the healing power of the seven inch single, with Ben reserving particular space in his heart for all his Small Faces EP's, and all of us arguing about the best Label designs ever. They were sharply dressed, but had sharper pop minds, their enthusiasm and energy sparking out of them as they sat behind the shop's tiny counter. We met a number of times in the next couple of years, when my band was taking off, and they always had the time of day for me, were always incredibly polite and interested in how I was doing, never jealous that I had appeared to fluke some sort of success whilst Boys Wonder never really took off. I had a lot of time for them then, and have followed their careers with interest ever since.
This particular single, their second, is as perfect a snapshot of both their style and their substance as you will find. The guitar riff bursts in like The Clash on "Jail Guitar Doors", but ten times bigger. The snotty vocals talk of a pride in our country, without ever sinking into stereotyping, or worse, racial slurs. The song is a celebration of our diversity, a flag-waving, chest-beating fist in the sky about how great it is to live here, with all the other races and peoples who've made this such a unique place in the world. Many have tried to do it, but this is (along with "Waterloo Sunset", which is WAY more parochial) probably the most perfect summation of national pride I've ever heard. This particular version is the 12", for that EXTRA dose of swagger: the Clanger/Winstanley production is an absolute "Kitchen Sink" job: just when you think it probably couldn't get any louder; it gets louder.
To see them doing the song live, check this out, but try not to punch your screen when Ben Elton introduces them......
And, the crazy thing is, it's not even their finest moment. That belongs to a later single "Goodbye Jimmy Dean" (which I'll post soon). But for now, if you're not acquainted with Boys Wonder, this is a great place to start.
And what became of them? Well, Ben And Scott went on to be lynch-pins of the arch, but wonderful Acid Jazz outfit Corduroy, who reformed last year. More info on them can be found here and a good place to start with their albums would be to check this out.