Thursday, 15 December 2011

They have not heard of Euros Childs

I ventured to Dalston last night on a trip to see Euros Childs – all edge and that as I hopped stations to pastures new [but not green] to stand in the company of many more and marvel at the simplicity of it all. I have written several times about Euros Childs – he’s kind of gotten under my skin [and gotten hold of my heart] It’s the simplicity coupled with the lunacy that I like. The turn of phrase and the subtle shift in lyrical matter that sends you smiling but at times reeling and [poodle] rocking.

He’s a slip of thing with a voice rich in insight – a kind of genuine soul artist. When I was asked in the office what he was like – I found myself stumbling and using words like psychedelic, welsh, a folk artist, a comedic Skellern, a raconteur, a good musician, that bloke from Gorky’s. It fell on deaf ears – I should just direct them to the National Elf Library.

He is none of those things – he’s more than that. And because of that we were treated to a slice of the magical misery that is Ends – another new album’s worth of diamond material that will never take out the X-Factor Xmas release. It was him and a piano – a lovely great grand piano on a tiny stage in East London. It says something that he sticks with the new material – he isn’t one to change his view – he’s often out to change ours.

I saw him once at King’s College and he gave us the entire Miracle Inn – all 14 minutes of it – told us not to clap. We just listened. It was wonderful. And last night was like that to – from the gothic horror of Cavendish Hall to the suffocating lament for safety in your Parents’ Place – it all made sense and touched me – I guess. As music is wont to do. I know I’ve argued that it doesn’t change the world – and I’ll stick by that.[ And don’t throw Live Aid at me – that changed fuck all – apart from the further removal of the state to intervene and a nice sideways Thatcher/ Cameron – we’re all in it together - so give us your fucking money hey hey hey Pyjama punk fuckers] But it can touch you – and you could feel that last night as Patio Song was wrestled away from him and into the mouths of the audience as we sang and he listened – all cruise sHIP and nods and winks.

It is always a pleasure to be in a room with him. I don’t think I’d feel the same with the X Factor ‘stars’ all tantrums and talc. I had a chat – got the CD signed – talked with the support act H.Hawkline and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Life gets simple when you get to forty. As for the X Factor – if I’m honest it is no different to the whole music scene – be it independent or major [and it’s hard to see the split these days] but part of me feels we should take all of those fuckers and do a Wicker Man on them. I guess it’s because afterwards as I stood shoulder to shoulder in a crowded train – slightly damp from the rain and awkward to overheard conversations from ‘city boys’ all devoid of politics and rage discussing corporate deals and bullshit power – I genuinely heard the following exchanges about the X Factor as a couple spoke to a fellow city minion:

He [out of focus and suffering from drink]: She was in the first round – yeah the ones before the judges come.

Her [all lashes and lipstick – but slightly saggy and a touch too shabby]: Yeah they’re just looking for a story at that point.

He: Yeah they either want the really good singers or the totally shit ones

Her:[not understanding that her boyfriend had confirmed her mediocrity in his attack of the whole media system] I mean I’m not bothered – I’m working on my own material – and if I can make it on my own terms then that will be better.

The conversation did not gather pace – it died in sighs and stupidity. They have never heard Euros Childs - they never will.

Everybody should know at least one song perhaps even two.


Costa Rica [going wrong] followed by Love radiates Around [A cover but on Ends]

and Horseriding [on Miracle Inn]

Friday, 2 December 2011

It’s not like I’m Jimi – you know.

And sometimes I pick up the guitar and play. I bought that guitar in 1992. A double payment from the dole office. Income support and unemployment benefit. A double cheque – clearly with no checks – as they never came looking for the money. The guitar and the wah-wah.

Now we got the funk.

Its paint is chipped – the single coil pick-ups worn – the knobs just metal. But it is my guitar. I can play that guitar. One day I will own the Fender Jaguar but in some ways some ways that will be an old man’s purchase – a vanity guitar – it will never have the love and attention like that one. The struggle to pick out a new chord on the neck, the wearing away of the wood, its weight in my hands. A new guitar – however much better and beautiful - will not really be the same. I am precious about it – but also non-committal – it can fall over – the kids can bang it.

It’s a guitar – it is built to kill fascists – it can take a knock.

Sometimes I open the pages of those ‘How to play’ books and rattle through a song – making shapes that resemble a chord and noises that pass for a tune. I was very anti-muso as young un – and there’s something of a sneer in me when I see a rocker grinding the axe man. Not when I witness the spectacle of an orchestra – it’s most likely a class thing. That elitist thing – which as I age and discard the postmodern pointers that equate the mundane with the sublime – I increasingly subscribe to - I blame reading F.R. Leavis at an impressionable age – although Emma will tell me that you can’t elevate the Pistols over Wham because they’re all pop – and therefore disposable. But we’ll leave that for another day – another rant. You’ve still got a hierarchy in pop.

But I was anti learning in a way. Not when I was at school – I lapped it all up – Christ I attended every lecture at University - bar one I think through illness. I loved it. But when it came to the guitar – I didn’t want to ‘master’ it – I wanted it to feedback and scream – I wanted it to buzz and fuzz. I didn’t care about tunings – or proficiency to the point of abstinence.

Three chords really was a mantra. Or four.

The first guitar I owned – all Kay’s catalogue and slightly too short strung perfectly for a week until the top E broke and I continued to learn – fucking up my finger positions as five strings was better than six. I had heard Keith Richards had done this – clearly this was not true. The spirit of the stones in Scunthorpe homes. Except it wasn’t – because I was anti – blues – I was anti this and anti that. I should have just shut up and played the guitar. I should have studied Scotty Moore’s technique, or the Stooges riffage, the arpeggios of Simon and Garfunkel and the major to minor Beach Boys cadence.

I didn’t - I learnt four – possibly five chords and refused to do cover versions.

This would haunt me for some time. Those knockabout sessions – where a guitar appears and people say you play – but you don’t really – you know chords – not tunes. So you make excuses but really want to hold it – but no one will sing along to your tunes. They are not hits my friend and never will be. Oh I could’ve been a YouTube sensation – but the net didn’t exist back then [this is an outright lie – I mean only 20 people ever read this] So this reluctance to learn was grounded in a sneer to the muso scene – the Phil Colllins thumping or the bass slapping of that Mark King from Level 42. It put up walls to it. And thus built walls around far too many things. So it’s taken a while to appreciate the skills and sleight of hand of many guitarists – because I was anti – music. As if Will Sargent couldn’t play or Johnny Marr or Bernard Sumner [actually he couldn’t - he’s more my kind of style]– but I don’t practise much these days.

And now I can appreciate it - I should.
A week ago I was in Nottingham placed firmly at the back of a merry pack of blistering guitarists. We played Valeria by The Zutons, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, Panic by The Smiths and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You by Andy Williams. I was able to mask my incompetence through stumbles and jangles. It's not like I’m Jimi – you know.

So here’s to three chords or four – but no more than five and what you can do with them. When the Pistols arrived all full of froth and posture – it was a two fingered salute – a start – that quickly went nowhere – bound to really – it’s far too easy to claim you’re bored when you doing nothing to stop the rot[ten] but at least it was a start. It was clouded in this and that – it didn’t care. But clearly it resonated – clearly it was a stone dropped in the pond.

And I should learn those chords as an old man. I should play the tunes to the family – all strummed out.

So here’s to simplicity and anger – all wrapped up in that Steve Jones style. It’s good to make music using your hands.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

When I was younger and working through my Shakin’ Stevens phase

When I was younger and working through my Shakin’ Stevens phase – all bootlace ties and rockabilly clothes – my brother was slowly becoming a goth. Not a complete one – more of a rowdy dark punk – all Birthday Party and Banshees.

But his biggest love was The Cure.

Dragged up to Scotland to wait indoors whilst Paul and my cousin watched The Top explode on stage at Edinburgh Playhouse - I’ll admit I wasn’t that enamoured by the funereal gloom of the cassette tapes of Pornography and Faith purchased in WH Smiths – upstairs for a few pounds that Paul would play in to the wee dark hours on his Sony Walkman.

However as my teenage years came rushing in – and my aversion to the day-glo pop started to cement into attitude and arrogance – I found myself whistling to the tune of the underground – I say whistle – you can’t really whistle A Hundred Years – but you get my drift. It wasn’t Frankie now – it was something different. So over the course of the year – through trips to record shops and heads buried in Music Papers you could say my tastes were changing. A Smiths concert under my belt and then off to see The Cure.

So this year I was on the bus to Edinburgh – sat next to my cousin, her friends, my brother – all black eyeliner and ill fitting clothes – I was having my piece of it – my head on the door tour and there in the mists and rain of Scotland developed a lasting love for the Robert Smith howl, scowl and prowl. All black suits and white boots – lipstick smears and endless beers. I was reading an interview from Mr Smith in the Guardian – not the real bit – you know The Guide – the listings not the politics part – not that the Guardian is on the edge of radicalism. It was a Guide from the summer – I don’t keep them – I started this post a while a back.

Anyway Smith was being interviewed and I was suddenly transported back there – 1985 and the dry ice in The Playhouse and the Cure arriving on stage all beautiful and strange. I’d even had my hair done like Porl Thompson – all curls and ribbons – now my hair is also like Porl’s – lost and thinning. He can command a stage can Robert Smith – he does it with ease – all nerves and humour – that connection with the audience through blunder and lack of confidence. But it takes some guts to front The Cure – to keep it going over 30 years.

And as ever I have fallen in and out with their music – this fascination [street] slowly dipping as I watched them night after night at my brother’s insistence through the Kiss Me Kiss Kiss Me and Disintegration Tours. These behemoth events of largesse for the mass[es] in black. But I guess there is integrity within this unit of misfits that underpins the gloom. You don’t really hang around for that long if you don’t believe it [note the current whereabouts of The Mission]. So Paul and I would venture off to see The Cure every time they announced a tour – and we’d end up in cheap dives – hostels and B&Bs near Wembley as we met with the ‘scalpers’ to get another row closer to the stage – and they’d all be proper London ravers on the take from mugs like us – hiking a front row ticket to a monkey – or a carpet. It was both intimidating and exciting – but we exchanged the cash and tickets and all got we wanted.

Then it would be into town – shoparound and back to the back gates as Smith and co arrived – with cursory nods and glances and then chats and jokes – bits of things signed and anecdotes. You see I guess they understood the need to meet and greet and discuss things – it makes your day. I know in an early piece of writing I talked of meeting Morrissey and Brian Wilson and and and – but Robert Smith was an unassuming front man in some ways – but clearly he wanted us to look at him. I’ve always done that with cultural tribes – you know stare at a Punk – it freaks them out – they want to frighten you – so stare – and stare hard. Obviously if this is the rule then Goths are adorning themselves in a narcissistic manner and want your adoration – so look away. Simple really. It might just have prevented Columbine.

But we came to gawp at The Cure – this feeling waned in the end. I was getting down to the Spaceman3 sounds and resisting the urge to backcomb my hair.

However – where is this post going – what’s it dealing with? Essentially it’s about sincerity and integrity - and there’s not a lot of that in the music industry – they pile them high and sell them low – we just consume. Yet Robert Smith has held onto that feeling of giving you a piece of himself in a tune – which is what the fans want really – a connection – a shared experience. And I felt it again in the interview – in The Guide.

A truthfulness.

So I returned to The Cure – not Shakin Stevens – although that might come – all rockabilly denim and greying quiff and listened to the Head on the Door. Which I hadn’t done for about twenty years. It still holds up – that independent spirit yet playful promise of a band who would grow and grow – blow up but not go pop. I have since lost my Head on the Door t-shirt and tour programme – I have not yet lost my memory.

They are a good bunch The Cure – they run a tight ship.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

University life – Fantastic life [PART 1]

On arriving in London – that long odd journey down with my dad at the wheel – thinking about that now – he was only 40 years old. That’s me this year. My mum helping with directions – specifically after the Blackwall Tunnel, but let’s say it hadn’t been an easy ride from Scunthorpe to the smoke – i blame the directions on the A2 – you want Blackheath take the Peckham turning. But we were not to know. My sister tucked in the car - journeying to London with her brother. 

And a girlfriend in the back – all young love and pots and pans, bowlheads and dreams. Well that wouldn’t last.

I wasn’t exactly fresh faced – I had grown up in a northern steel town – the girls there would break their arms just to get out of PE – but London was a different place - I say London – this was Lewisham [before the Police Station – still rocking the Army and Navy] Been rolling up that hill - been running up those streets – to Granville Park. It wasn’t a bad place to begin a romance with London. 1989 – Goldsmiths’ – halls with students and the fading grunge scene mutating into ecstasy and sharp suits. This was the ‘baggy’ crossover writ large – like the trousers I would wear. ‘Tell mum to get no less than 20 inches – otherwise they might as well be a pair of straight legs’ – I had said to my brother – as my mum took a trip down to Ashby Market – but hey Ashby has always been a touch seventies so the stalls had those loons stacked high- waiting – just waiting.

I had arrived deep in love with the velvets and leather – from our dalliance and then friendship with the Scream. Straight up to Camden – for fifty pound biker jackets and dreams of Sid Vicious like behaviour in the clubs as we bounced bike chains of NME journalists heads. We didn’t – but we did once shower Bob Stanley in fanzine confetti in Deptford because he said we were too obvious – all Mary Chain and predictable – when we thought we were loud and dangerous. We weren’t and he wasn’t right either but perhaps he didn’t deserve it – although I always hated St Etienne after – irrational but deep seated.

Being in London then was exciting –it still is exciting. I love the city – I was returning from Nottingham this weekend and as the 125 approached this sprawling mass I had to marvel at its size. It’s sheer bloody vastness. All stories and streets. In the city I’ve a got a thousand things I want to say you. And as a slightly vacant, opinionated and arrogant young thing coming to London gave me a further spring in my step. Student life started at Granville Park – all Victorian floors and grandness – I was coming out a three bed semi council house – this was a different experience completely. One wrapped in cheap cassettes and cigarettes.

I remember the interview at Goldsmiths’ – I’d had a couple already Liverpool, Birmingham and Bradford – and I ventured down to this one with a yearning to get in. I had chosen my universities and polytechnics because I wanted to see bands – go to gigs – feel the throng of the crowd – and of course London was the holy grail of gigs – of the ULU, Camden Falcon, the Town and Country Club and Hammersmith Apollo – all those adverts in the NME announcing tours and shows by singers and groups that bypassed the North East time and time again.

But to this fine city they came – again and again. I had travelled by train – my mum lying about my age and using the family railcard to purchase a ticket for a pound. I would leave her in central London and make my way to New Cross station and then follow the map round to university. Suited and awkward I travelled on trains – with my rucksack full of notes and this and that.

And there it was a simple building on a busy road. Home of the YBAs and soon to be Blur, the studying point for John Cale and Brian Moloko although not at the same time – the list goes on and they tend to with universities – they attract people – people that do stuff. So it was show around and wait a bit – me nearly blowing all my chances as I asked if my interview at 2pm could be moved – why – because I wanted to record shopping – I needed the afternoon to peruse the racks – turned out my interview was even later – I’d jinxed it see. Met Phil on that day too – a wonderful friend who I’ve since let go by the wayside –like the fool I have always been. He takes pictures now – he does stuff.

So ushered in to a small stuffy room expecting to quizzed on the ideology of Marx, or critique the construction of sexuality in the modern age – but Mike Phillipson talked about the fanzine I had written and put in my application. It was an instant connection – an anthropological trawl through the sub culture of style. This place had Dick Hebdidge – I wanted to go. Tutors talked of art, of politics and fanzines.

I wanted to go so badly. So I worked a little harder – it’s as simple as that.

Left as dusk was coming – I had to meet my mum at HMV on Oxford Street. Simple. No phones then – no text to tell how the interview had gone. Just meet outside at 4pm. So I got there. Get off at Tottenham Court road and walk up Oxford Street. And wait. Well buy a few records. And then wait.

Time ticking – darkness setting in. Waiting for my mum. I’m waiting for my mum.

Not panic – more frustration. She wasn’t showing – which meant I wasn’t going home – picking up the train and making our way back to sulphuric skies and blast furnace dawns. So what do you do? You can’t phone – you shouldn’t leave your spot – she might appear. I think I spent half my teenage years waiting at specific places for faces that I needed to see.

However – what you need to know in all of this is that Oxford Street is a fair size and HMV had two shops. You can work out the rest. Suffice to say we used the managers to convey messages and eventually made our way to Kings Cross and home.

Tucked inside the rucksack was My Bloody Valentine’s Ecstasy and Wine – a Lazy compilation to unite the chiming and bending guitars of the group who would go on to break Creation [I know this is a lie] I often return to this album more than Loveless and Isn’t Anything. It has a spine tingling beauty and youthfulness that I like to wallow in sometimes.

It’s filled with possibility – much like I was back then in London.

This also has added karaoke appeal

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Super Furry Animals are welsh

I am not welsh

I listen to a lot of welsh acts

I like the welsh acts.

I need to confess that I missed the Furries first time round – I’d had my fill of McGee filled rock at that point. It was all getting messy and everyone was being touted as this and that on covers of magazines and newspapers that lasted a week to two months. It was an explosion of laddishness that I hated but somehow appropriated through a swagger and a nod to the ladies with my rolled up Loaded under my arm – it used to be the FACE.

It was all style over content then – still is.

So it was with a slow shuffle and an emphasis on the late that I finally tuned in [turned on and didn’t drop off] to The Super Furry Animals. Once again my brother Paul played his part – in forcing my attention to the West [that being the geographical location of the country - not his part in making me embrace a capitalist culture – which I haven’t – but that’s another story – and it doesn’t involve Billy Bragg – but it might discuss The Housemartins] I arrived, as I said late in the day, I remember Fire in my heart – filling with me an ache - the simplicity of words capturing those feelings of emerging love – so simply put by Gruff Rhys that eventually explodes with the ba ba baas of The Beach Boys.

It was a beauty to say the least.

So I guess it started there [ it had to start somewhere] and then I think I read that this Beach Boys influence permeated the whole package – these psychedelic druids mining the harmony and humour of their place – their space. This is a group who with their first advance bought a tank – and went raving [or so the story goes]. A sort of hard edged acid tinged Family Stone for the 1990s. And with Rings Around The World – came that realisation that I had been missing out on a whole stack of tracks.

Yes – Rings around the World is the ‘critically acclaimed’ album – the most mainstream – but so what – you form rock bands to play to the masses. Not fucking stay at home and live your art maaan – this is pop – pure and simple. So from the opening Hellos to the final chords – SFA triumphed in the manner in which they conceived a stormer – form A then down to Zee. What followed from this was back catalogue mining and library sales finds of Minng and Out Spaced – not that this will happen again. The Tories are closing them down – not the Super Furries – the libraries – dismantling any sort of access the working class once had to other thoughts and ideas other than the X-factored opinions of pricks and dicks. I know I live in a wonderful part of London – christ my part is known as the village – but they were quick to shut the library down – and all the wives of the bankers who live on the streets in houses through gated driveways – complained bitterly into their fucking Starbucks coffees – short of a principle or an ideology of equality about the ‘sad loss to the village’. It is shocking though – boxes piled high with ‘For Sale’ scribed on the side – they will sell the stock away – they will not replenish nor buy it back – the libraries are over. And it is in libraries that I found solace and sounds – taking out a tape, a record or video – not forgetting the books and magazines that added to the thoughts already growing in this tiny mind. This is where revolutions happen – in the head – and then on the streets.

You amass culture through exposure to stuff. If there’s nowhere to find it – then how are you gonna mine it? It can’t happen – and I am certain that whatever story these bands I write about would tell – one will be of shared experience and access to ideas – through friends, from books, listening and borrowing – learning they call it.

But back to the Furries – this behemoth of a group – carved with wit and excitement – roots and culture in woolly hats and slight tinges of the Britpop explosion. But there were better than that – McGee could see that – we all could see that [in retrospect in my case] this band providing something much beyond the weekend and seeping into my life through their combination of the harmony and the techno undertow that makes their music flow.

So with pleasure I forked out for tickets to be entertained and amazed in 5.1 as their music ran rings around my ears in a hall in Hammersmith. We don’t get out much in my house - and this was a mid week adventure. It was years ago – but I remember it fondly. Building from Slow Life in space helmets through the majority of Rings with nuggets thrown in along the way – the Furries commanded the stage with authorative cool. Although it was an odd experience to be back inside a concert hall – as gig goers had changed – this new success for them – of which I was riding the tailcoat of had brought with it the one album purchase fan – the disinterested punter – on the phone and talking during the quiet ones. I’ve never really understood that – if you don’t like it – then fuck off home. Even with the support acts – get the fuck out the front of the stage – we’ll make room for you after.

So we spent that time in the company of welsh men – welsh musicians. And we enjoyed it.

And then they left the stage. For awhile – encore time – running late – trains to catch at London Bridge – the screens lit up – and sounds came through speakers – all governments are liars. All governments are liars and murderers. Strobes and squelches – as guitars and keyboards came together to tell us about the man and how he feels about us. This crescendo of techno – I was back in the clubs – liquid bass lines and breakbeats – they’ll do it for a forty year old man – the Furries tap right into that well, that moment when it all comes together and you feel euphoric.

But we had to leave.

We had to catch a train.

And Paul told me they appeared again in their ‘Golden Retriever’ suits – all super hairy and furry. It’s on record though – locked down on one side of a 12 inch. Absolutely beautiful and at about 7 minutes in you can hear me leaving [you can’t]

I will witness this again – and I will stay to the end.

Here it is in two parts.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

When it became embarrassing to talk of Funk

I am a heavy admirer of the super heavyweight sounds of the US funk scene – but somewhere over the years it became a cliché. A north London DJ route that’s all open sandwiches and jazz bars. I blame ACID JAZZ – I shouldn’t I know - but the whole music got wrapped in a soul boy styling when we should have just been sharing the tunes not trying to dig so deep in the crates that every record played was a one-off – a unique slice of soul that no one had heard but made you hip because it was rare – man – really rare.

I‘ll tell you what’s rare – Polar bears they’re rare.

Anyway, I once was a deejay – for a night sometimes – not as a career choice – dropping 45s of funk as we warmed up a room ready to go wild for the drum and bass – right in tha face at the end of an evening. And those nights were fuelled with our chemical beats for all those speed freak – northern soul stompers making way for the hardcore partiers in tha house. I loved finding a funk 45 that had been sampled and dropping those tunes – the essence of the hip hop scene – distilled in a bass line and a drum break that would make you stop in your tracks [which of course is ironic given we were playing tunes to make you dance]

And clearly I spent many years safe in the notion that I had the funk. But somewhere amidst the James Brown hollers and the loose booty of the family stone a barrier was built. So I’m trying to figure this out. You see I was trying to make a compilation the other day/ night and I’m the selector – so it’s about my choices – I control the flow – ya’ know – but I take a walk in the park and right by the Johnny Pate selection, WAR don’t get a look in, I’ve got reasons for not selecting Mary Jane Hooper and I’m [Humpty] dumping the Vibrettes.

Why is this?

It’s not that I don’t like the songs – it’s as if something has crept in beside it and sullied it and part of me feels it was the sudden rush to funk up the 90s and the noughties that killed it for me. Throughout those youthful years – before wrinkles and weight would make me weary – I would happen across a gem – a diamond – a belter of a tune. In a car boot cardboard box [Slaughter’s Big Rip Off soundtrack by James Brown for 50p], or stall in Greenwich [Richard and I carving out the cash to purchase Me and Baby Brother by WAR for four pound] or in a handful of scuffed and scratched records in SCOPE on the high street [Memphis Soul Stew on an Atlantic 4 track ep] or PDSA near Sainsbury’s in Beeston [that’s Nottingham folks - where I would purchase funk delight after funk delight as animal lovers offloaded vinyl by the cartload]

Mixed in with these finds would be the scraps of information picked up in reviews, interviews, or conversations with older folks, hip hop headz and soul boys. Scouring the sample clearance information on Three Feet High and Rising to see where that Potholes beat came from – which of course is the mighty Eric Burdon & War’s Magic Mountain – listen for yourself at – it’s easier now to find this and that.

No one was taping their records for the internet generation. Not that I’m against it – it’s wonderful to tap right in – drill on down to the sounds that inspire the underground that go overground for us all.

But the funk scraps we were fed were tantalising. I remember a wonderful friend of mine’s brother – Carl he was called, a true funk and soul aficionado – crafting columns for Blues and Soul, starting up his own magazine and building up a collection that rivalled any North London wannabe – this was real NORTHERN soul – brother. And he gave me a box of records – stuff he wasn’t hip to – for a small fee – early Mo’Wax, compilations, Acid Jazz, Grant Green and Mick Talbot’s solo album. But there on side two of a nondescript funk album was Jimmy James’ Root Down – soon to be sampled by The Beastie Boys – this huge ever pulsating tune from the centre of the Funkiverse – building from bass through drum roll and organ swipes – setting the funk up for the day ahead. I lived with these tunes – the market find of Black Ceasar in the Loire Valley while we camped – the Quest sample album picked up in Selectadisc on the way home from work – or the random 7inch from The Five Stairsteps [ok – I know it’s soul – but it’s a little funky – their bassist used to hang with the family stone – you’re bound to let that rub off on the fretboard] thrust into my hand by the owner of a lovely yet incredible messy store on Lee High Road [that’s Lewisham folks]

Mixed with that came tales of legendary films with Dolemite and Coffey Brown – or watching The Mack on video through a find from Chris – Carl’s brother and all round wonderful bloke – lost touch with him but fondly remembered in these parts - discovered in a discounted bin in a shop in Ridings [that’s Scunthorpe folks].

So what changed?

As I said I think the ubiquitous use by advertisers to sell us the carnal and exotic became demeaning – divorced the fury from the funk and rendered it solid – commodified through hot pants, knee socks and bubble blowing girls – forgetting the struggles that funk had endured. Rendered in vibrant colours to represent that 70s swing – they were burning records back then – they were burning lots of things back then – including the cross. And now it’s a photoshopped urban image with a day-glo vibe shifting tunes that spoke volumes about circumstance and opportunity. Check the Chi-Lites For God's Sake Give More Power To The People for want of anthem about being oppressed and depressed. But those off the peg fancy dress – let’s ridicule a style – appropriate the hate and laugh at the threads of sub cultures fighting for a corner kind of made me wary of the whole thang. Whilst Tarantino told us how hip he was in his blatant ripping off of film making by directors who were never given a chance with mainstream audiences.

Somewhere in all of that – I stopped listening and starting skipping the tunes.

It is not funk’s fault that it got sold out. I should stop being embarrassed and remember to listen more because when the bass and guitar and breaks connect – it makes me want to dance. And I have always loved dancing – you can’t do that to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports – you can do it to The Meters.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I should paint the [blue] room

There was a time when I immersed myself in electronic sounds. Those synthetic beats and the squelch of the 303. Around then – back in the early nineties - the band I was in [which was mostly in my head] had mutated to a three piece – drum machines, analogue synths, sequencers, tape decks, guitars and dub bass. I would set up elaborate recording sessions – those bedroom beats – emanating from the record deck or sequenced on the Korg – with the Roland Juno 6 providing the arpeggiated pulse of the post summer of love.

I was no Aphex Twin.

But those moments exist – locked down on C60s and C90s – waiting to explode again when I eventually buy the Amstrad Studio 100 from ebay – to reanimate them and revel in more nostalgia. [but i said no more nostalgia rides]

These [acidic] experiments were fuelled by the electronica that was slowly filling my waking and walking hours and drifting ever more into my dreams. I was a postman at this point, in communications you see – after all that degree had to count for something. Being a postman had its pluses – its positives – you get to the sorting office – you sort your letters – pop them in the frame – bag up [I am carry bag man] and get out – the time is then yours – through those concrete streets, that when you wondered stopped you going under.

And at weekends I would fill my head with electronic sounds. In the clubs at volume – through purchases across northern record stores and Nick, Danny, Darryl or Chris’s recommendations

And over the last week I have attempted to listen to The Orb.

It had been a week of oddness, of vagueness and cravings and hallucinations as infections rolled around my face and seeped into my teeth. I’ve felt like this many times – all full of something and reeling. And wanting to paint the house - but not moving a muscle - feeling that draining feeling and not sleeping. 

And I always return to the ambient ways of the techno pioneers. Lying upstairs as Smokebelch slowly beats its 13 minutes into my skull and soothes the gums that swell and provide far too much heat in my face. And then mustering the energy to get down stairs and selecting The Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume Two – whilst putting on Football Focus as Papa Doc Crookes and Robbie Savage banter over Swindon’s form or whether Blackburn deserve it this season.

I think I first heard Aphex Twin on John Peel – Analogue Bubblebath or possibly Didgeridoo - all analogue production and rolling acid lines. That DIY approach – recorded on cassettes and cheap four tracks. I remember getting our first computer – a Spectrum 128+ - Daley Thompson loaded in bleeps and whirrs – and simple programming to make it hold a note. You could get a Cheetah keyboard to link up with it – I coveted that keyboard. Never bought it or received it – but imagined the possibilities of machines making music. Richard D James made the sounds in all our analogue heads – those echoes and arpeggios that soothed the soul and chimed with the industrial backgrounds of steel towns.

Washed out and slow – rhythmic but not precise.  Pure ambient work[s] for the sleepless youth.

But I was talking of The Orb and their ambient riffing. I have been trying to listen to them. Not lots of Orb songs – just Blue Room. The epic prog –ambient tune that made it on to TOTP. It’s 47 minutes long. Taking me back to those days and nights when sleep was not required.

It was the day of my twenty first birthday when Alex and Thrash played chess on Top of the Pops – this odd appearance on a pop show for the teens all awash with dub bass and swirls and squelches. I watched it with Paul and then ventured to The Beefeater on a roundabout on the way into town to buy my own and others drinks as I came of age. Listening to The Orb live was a wonder – a vibrant dubbed up sonic experience for the new age. I remember Kilburn Ballroom – bedecked in laser light and smoke – all dark corners and exchanges as their dub merriment carried us upwards and onwards. Music was opening up back then. We were listening to all sorts – everything and anything went.

Thrown in the mix by the good doctor.

And I guess that’s the same for all the young ones today – as they raid the vaults and collide the sounds into new spaces and experiences for their own long nights and emerging dawns. But these electronic sounds are just as important as Heatbreak Hotel – this chain reaction from machines to man through minds and switches and chains and patches – as musique concrete gave way to loops and moogs and the radiophonic workshop switched us on to the low LFO [the work of the good doctor again – except this was a different one – Alex has yet regenerate]

Thrown out at two o’clock onto Kilburn High Street all disorientated as lamp light beams stretched and radiated glows signalling the way home. We decided not to get the night bus – navigate our way through streets and across roads – back street suburbs and mansions as eyes widened to the dark and laughs and nonsense came readily from our mouths.

The Orb could have that effect – all soothing and safe in their ambient arms. And on this magical mystery tour of North London past Abbey Road and houses with one light on – I glanced a bin bag – a simple black bin liner. No reason to get it in my sights – but I fixed on it nonetheless – as we made our way to Trafalgar Square – when buses could drive all the way around it – and between us we opened this bin bag up – a random sack on the roadside and out tumbled ‘Turtle Crazy’ by The Toy Dolls – all glaring cover in a two colour print.

It was a sack full of them – unplayed and unplayable I suppose – but a sack full nonetheless - I would say it was a unique moment – but things like that happen when you’re young and fancy free. But finding them in that sack somehow chimes with the Orb’s sense of fun – that playfulness that keeps your feet dancing and your head expanding.

It was good to listen to The Orb – it was good to get back to my electronic roots – and in the midst of revisiting that room in my room – I stumbled on this – what The Orb do best.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Box sets and boredom

I am starting to obsess over lists of records I never play. Cataloguing music that is silent – on the internet.

It never ends – this exploitation of memories. There was an article in The Observer, in the review section – not the main part – the politics parts – badly written but politics nonetheless – no the review section all hip and wise – hanging with the youth [of today] and telling us stuff we don’t know [including what to wear and listen to at the same time]

And here was a disparate piece reminding us that The Smiths had existed and that people had liked them – and that people still liked them. The Smiths are just about to reissue all their albums all Marr mastered and marvellous now – in a box with stuff inside it.

But what do you want to pay?

It seems that the age I have now reached comes with an offer to buy back all my musical youth in new forms – housed in elaborate pieces of cardboard with cloth or replica tickets and photographs of 7 inch sleeves on tea towels. Do you want vinyl with that – that’s extra? That CD of sessions is available as a download with the code from the second set of gatefold digipack releases. All authentic and genuine with liner notes from Everett True [because he knew Nirvana – well Kurt especially and Kurt sells shit – lots of it]

And part of me is hooked – wants an in – a bite of the apple [reissues] yet part of me feels it’s just clogging the system. Okay – I guess at a shove I can appreciate a re-mastered version – a one off thing. And I am longing for someone to re-master the World of Twist’s Quality Street – it needs it – to be the honest the world needs it – but the world doesn’t always listen. I think it’s just the sheer commerciality of the whole enterprise. I own all the Sea of Tunes CDs that document the takes and aches of Beach Boys classics – from scratch vocal to final mixes. Really, there are four CDs for the Christmas Album alone. Four discs – hours of outtakes just for that album – which is an outtake itself. I have not listened to all of them – in fact I have hardly listened to them at all – I do not have this time – I cannot make this time. I have the albums – they have the songs on them – I like the albums. I like most of the songs.

But the boxes keep on growing.

My brother Paul tends to be able to get hold of all these things – cataloguing as we do – so things invariably wind their way to me on CD. All track listed and unlistened to. I know I should care about those demos that The Smiths made, or the lost La’s tapes or the mono mix of Smile. But I’m digging the scene that exists I guess – not raiding the archives for another touch of brilliance. There She Goes is wonderful – can bring you to your knees – it doesn’t matter what the story is of its evolution – it’s development – it is a piece of plastic rotating at 45rpm – it is a song – that we sing. I don’t want an alternate mix or different set of lyrics – I wanna sing the simple songs that make me [dr] feel good. Not wade through CD5 of the b-sides and demos - which I did yesterday – through curiosity and writing this [don’t want to be a hypocrite – I guess] so I listened to the Mary Chain – the Power of Negative Thinking box set – starting with a demo I had never heard and then running through alternate sounds, screams and sighs, feedback and racket and rushes of hate and anger.

But it is not Psychocandy – its the experiments before – the beginnings and whilst interesting – it takes the gloss off. To me the Mary Chain are fucking rock n roll – the Glaswegian Underground all surface noise and internal heartache – all black clothes and colourful souls. Who made a debut album that seemed plucked from nowhere all echoing and resonating with contempt for the MAN. Yet these songs suggest that they had to be written [ and I know they did – I’m not an idiot] but when I first heard these songs – these finished songs – in my bedroom as Paul turned up the volume – it felt like they came readymade – a band just plugged in and played – we have amplifiers, we have guitars and that – we write songs. Do I need William and Jim’s ‘journey’ to be told – to be dissected over the course of five discs?

Do I want another Smile Sessions box set? Wilson finished it – he put it out in 2004 – it is Smile – brought to you from the ears and mouth of the man who wrote it – Van Dyke finished the lyrics – it is over – Smile is excellent – I do not need the Mike Love sneer under the roughly mixed recordings whilst Brian was pushed over the edge in 1966.

I appreciate that they exist I guess.

But don’t dip my wallet because you know we are obsessive. That’s a fucking liberty.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

This argument that pop can change the world – does not stand.

All these restless vessels - brains wit nuttin in them – all sugar coated ideas and misspent youth – all mispronunciation and misreading the signs – but filling up their holes with pop and blast. It’s easy for the middle classes to claim pop as something that it isn’t – it’s easy to see the beauty in the rhymes and the reason of the singers and wannabe poets for the generations of teens who rebel and yell at their elders.

But as I get older – it doesn’t really cut it anymore.

This argument that pop can change the world – does not stand. Yes it can move me – but it isn’t changing me – reading does that.

I watched the end of the Mercury Prize the other day – all fills and rolls and riffs and rockin. But no one could really say anything – all speaking [like a child] but not communicating. There isn’t a lot to say about it really – it just keeps people in jobs – people who aren’t like you and me.

You know a question about whether PJ Harvey would have been surprised at the result – or that her album was ‘really daring’ and ‘unique’.


I mean she is beginning to take herself far too seriously. Lose the headdress – and get politicised. I mean imagine using Pinter as a reference point – check the record – check the record – check the guy’s track record.

It’s all so A-level English and 1970s fabrics from Heals or Habitat

I want pop music to matter – I want the stakes raised – but we need authentic voices and intelligence asking the right questions and not playing the game. I’ve been reading Lester Bangs – he didn’t make it easy – so here’s to music’s banality and not its false elevation to Sunday supplements and prizes – yes it moves us – yes it has an impact – but it just pops when we examine it – it just pops and fizzes.

A moment – that we return to. Nothing more – a moment.

This is Psychotic Reaction by Count Five. Garage rock from San Jose – hot and sandy with capes. High school friends making junk rock in bricked up rooms – and then disappearring without trace – well for a while anyway. In 1972 Bangs wrote "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung." In the essay, Bangs credited the band for having released several albums — Carburetor Dung, Cartesian Jetstream, Ancient Lace and Wrought-Iron Railings, and Snowflakes Falling On the International Dateline — that displayed an increasing sense of artistry and refinement.

None of these albums actually existed, except in Bangs' own imagination. This is how music should be.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

I took on the industry and it won

In this bloated world of pop culture excess I find myself caring less for the mindless operations of capitalist music companies and more so about the endless betrayal of the working class and all we could have amounted to. This exercise in eradicating our common collectiveness and sense of equality for all galls me somewhat. I was watching Upside Down the other night –the documentary about Creation records. I started a record label when I was younger [in my mind it was going to become a pure egalitarian operation – with no strings attached – a Factory [records] for the future.]

I think it mattered to us all once. Taking a stance against the man.

You see vinyl mattered – it was bound to – it was all we knew. There wasn’t CD, mp3, download it straight away from i-tunes without the sweat of the wait to see if it had arrived on its day of release. Those trawls to Record Village, invariably with Paul to see if the Chain with no name reps had offloaded the latest independent release we’d set our heart on that week.

And then there were the floppy bits of plastic – that scratched and buckled in an instant. This was music for the masses. The flexi disc was a part of my youth – a disposable pop aesthetic – we did not need the industry – we would be our own industry – without the hang ups of capitalism – we just wanted to distribute sounds – cheaply and quickly. In some ways if we had had the internet then we would have invented myspace.

I still have most of these ephemeral pieces of pop. Sold a few and lost a few along the way. But that’s the nature of disposal pop. Except this writing is setting it all in stone – elevating this group over that group and rolling around memories of past musical exploits and placing it all in rank order. There is no rank order and there is no hierarchy.

It is all music.

Some of it good and some of it bad. And I guess that all of it is really an attempt to extract the cash from the masses – through feel good times and sounds that puncture the mundane. I remember getting all the Are You Scared to get Happy fanzines and Trout Fishing in Leytonstone, Simply Thrilled, Sowing Seeds, Woosh all sorts of stuff – you’d buy them at gigs – 50p and a free flexi – how could that be wrong? That fizz and pop as you placed the needle – wating for the next sha lal la experience. I seriously fell in love with the Baby Lemonade one and The Clouds [a seriously underrated band if there ever was one] But now I’m thinking about them there was Remember Fun, Emily, the Sea Urchins all were special and brilliant in there way. I still play Summershine in the car – it’s on a compact disc full of sounds for journeys and trips to the Thames Barrier. It’s that kind of tune.

Fanzines got me through my teenage years. They just summed up stuff at the time.

I started my own fanzine Get That Anorak Off when I was 15 – Paul and I alongside Darryl and chris had been following The Primitives around the north in Hillman Imps and rented cars and I wanted to tell the world that we kind of knew them – it’s always been a vanity thing – a fame thang. So I just wrote up the experience – sowing the seeds right there for this – there wasn’t a great deal inside it - I remember Paul did a review of The Fall’s new album and there was stuff about other groups – what I was listening to– I got it photocopied in the steelworks office where my dad worked – he did it when the foreman wasn’t there and then I tried selling it round Scunthorpe and gigs I was going to at the time.

It sold – so I did another one – this was more indie based – I started interviewing more bands – a kind of Smash Hits meets Record Mirror type approach – banal questions recorded on mini tapes or the trusty Phillips tape deck. By the second one I was getting professional in my eyes I had interviewed The Brilliant Corners, The Chesterfields, Razorcuts and bands that made true independent music. It came with a crayoned cover sold out fairly quickly and basically I kept producing them until I started university. The final one [I think there were five in all] was finished at university [it had Dinosaur/ Spacemen 3/ The Telescopes/ Primal Scream in it] and by then I was drifting into the whole acid house culture and the indie scene felt a little backward looking – I know now it wasn’t but I was getting my energy from other sources – so fanzine culture wasn’t a big part of it and all that writing got lost in the warehouses and repetitive beats of the late late eighties.

However, I think the whole thing about fanzines and the culture that goes with it was/ is the sense that you can put your thoughts down – you don’t mediate the same way as a newspaper – you have values and ideologies but they really are your own. You end up getting letters from Singapore from Collin – or Australia from like minded people who are into the same scene – it was about having a voice and during that period I felt I could express it – on the most part in a clumsy, inarticulate manner – but it was my voice nonetheless. And this is my voice again. Not dictating this time and with a readership in single figures – but the writing is better believe me. In that way I think blogging is the way forward, I’m not always sure that it reaches the audience in the same way – but young kids are fairly hip and tell each other about what’s going on all the time. I’m the paper generation but the blogging community is keeping that independent spirit alive – more power to it.

But that bedroom writing led to bedroom recording – led to connections coming out the boredom and ideas and ambitions above my station. As I said before you do lots of thinking in small rooms as a teenager – small rooms and big ideas. Sort of. So why not start a record label. If McGee could or Martin Whitehead or Matt and Clare – why couldn’t I?

So a record label was born – and promptly closed – but it felt good getting it started. Deciding to release tunes for others. A flexi disc – a cheap, convenient and disposal way to share ART maaan.
Suffice to say my band was going on it – so in some ways it was a vanity press sort of thing - recorded on the strangest 4-track recorder in our bedroom. I’d met Jo in Leeds- a true independent spirit – she was writing fanzines promoting gigs – living the scene dream - she sold me her fanzine ‘What’s it like to be Scottish’ and introduced me to pale saints – we hit it off and discussed the possibility of doing a joint flexi together. Through letters and telephone calls on phones joined to walls we would hatch out a plan. She knew a band from Leeds called Esmerelda’s Kite – of whom the singer would go on to become The Gentle Despite who released some fragile and beautiful songs on Sarah records. At the time finding the money to do it was difficult – but we made it back from the sales – she sold out [of the flexis – not to the man – if you get me] – by now her fanzine had changed its name – mutated to Shoot the Tulips instead. Whether this was a veiled reference to killing the Fat Tulips I do not know – although there where times I had a seething animosity towards them – borne out of no reason at all – but that was the independent scene. And I sold all of mine.

Jo hated the fact that I called the label Sunshine [in retrospect she was right] and when we got it back from the manufacturers it had three tracks as opposed to the two listed – so it was even better value for money. And then John Peel played it on the radio – Jo rang and said he was going to play the flexi – and we thought he’d play Esmerelda’s Kite – it sounded more garage – well to be honest it sounded much better – it had been recorded properly but we had forgotten that he had a son named William. I remember him introducing it and Paul and I just trying to tape it – it was weird to hear it on the radio. So we were walking tall the week after – indie giants of Brumby corner. After that it got picked up by some other European stations and even ended up in some charts.

Having John Peel play your record means he had to listen to it – make a decision and put in the show – those two hours a night when he put out the sounds of the underground for the fringed mass(ive).

I listened to him every night. Still he never gave us a session – despite the hundred of tapes we gave him.

But getting back to some sense of where I began. I wanted to take on ‘the man’ – and for a brief moment it felt like I could break him. Perhaps because I was yet to read to Marx and hadn’t quite understood that when you think you want a revolution – you can count me in but most people out. Because they want curfews and long sentences and quiet nights of compliance and restraint. They want to take fucking brooms to the streets and be state cleaners.

And watching McGee discuss the creation of Creation – it reminded me why some things mattered then.

But ultimately even McGee with all the right intentions killed it all.

The industry wins every time and I haven’t got the energy to become an industry. The Man don’t give a fuck. So here’s to fizzing and popping and warping and cracking – let’s start a flexi disc revival.