Monday, 31 March 2008

Rain Mods

Over at Roman Empress at the weekend was a nice little post about rainy day songs. As some people may have noticed I have a little bit of a Mod obsession. I never associate Mod with sunny summer days or suntans. But rainy London you're talking Mod. Any excuse to wear a smart mac like Weller used to back in the early Style Council Days. Or a Crombie like Suggs.

Anyway, some Mod tunes with a rainy day theme going on:

The Direct Hits were a South London three piece back in the early 80s. They were a head on collision of The Beatles and The Who circa 1966, but imagine lyrics by Adrian Henri.

Madness were simply one of the best pop bands of all time. If you don't know Madness, then firstly where have you been? And secondly, do yourselves a favour and get their greatest hits!

The Prisoners are probably one of my all time favourite bands. Formed in the early 80s by Graham Day, they were a punky freakbeat kind of band. Touchstones for their sound include Hendrix, The Small Faces, The Doors, Deep Purple performing Hush and The Stranglers. The Prisoners released four albums then split. Graham Day has continued to this day through his bands The Prime Movers, The Solarflares and Graham Day And The Gaolers, ploughing a particularly singular furrow, but one of great passion and conviction. Oh and groovy tunage!

Finally The Jam. Covering The Beatles 'Rain'. This came from the 'Direction Reaction Creation' boxset.

Can I borrow your umbrella?

The Direct Hits - She Really Didn't Care
Madness - The Sun And The Rain
The Prisoners - Wish The Rain
The Jam - Rain

Go here to the fantastic TwilightZone blog and if you're lucky you may find the long lost debut by The Direct Hits and possibly some stuff by The Prisoners. But have a browse and say hi to Ride Your Pony (Hi RYP) and his amazing taste in music. Then go and buy Graham Day And The Gaolers!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Sounds For Sunday

I've been away for a week, visiting family. So no blogs for the past seven days. Normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime as the sun comes out and suitcases are unpacked a couple of tunes that came on during the drive home.

Young Holt Unlimited - Soulful Strut

Bobby Sheen - Dr Love

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Sounds For Sunday

Happy Easter. My wife and I were driving around South Wales yesterday, and we had a snowstorm. Not exactly the most ideal weather to have on our mini holiday.

Two tunes for today:

Summertime by Billy Stewart. One of my favourite vocal performances of all time. Really dynamic and powerful.

Blue Eyed Soul by the Biddu Orchestra. Biddu produced Kung Fu Fighting by Karl Douglas. This instrumental sounds like the theme to a Seventies cop show. A friend of mine has it as his ringtone. When his phone rings it makes everybody look!

Billy Stewart - Summertime

Biddu Orchestra - Blue Eyed Soul

Thursday, 20 March 2008


It's getting to that time of year when I'm in need of a holiday. My wife and I are heading to see our parents over Easter, three or four days with both. And it's going to be nice, being looked after. But it's not 'getting away'.

A couple of years ago we went to Scotland for a week. We flew up to Edinburgh, hired a car. From there we drove up to Inverness, stayed over night and then drove down alongside Loch Ness and then cut across to Skye where we stayed at a B 'n' B on the western side of the Isle.

I did my usual thing of working out a catalogue of music for our trip and spent a couple of evenings burning CDs. There were dreamy tunes for looking at mountains and misty lochs; there were singalongs for top of the voice shouting in the car; there were old comfortable favourites. I should add, I don't drive. My wife does all the driving. So there were a few discs of tunes she likes to sing along to, for those moments when she's bored of driving and needs perking up.

We made our way across the airport to the rental carpark. We got the keys to the car and headed across. My wife opened the car and climbed in while I put the suitcase in the boot. I jumped into the passenger seat with my big pile of cds. I looked at my wife who looked at me. We looked at the car dashboard and looked back at each other.

NO CD PLAYER. No CD player. CD player none! The car only had a cassette/radio. I hadn't seen one of those in a while. So I played around with the tuning and found a radio station that was playing some decent tunes and off we went, heading north towards
Inverness. A little while north of the city the scenery started to get more beautiful and rugged as we hit the Highlands. We arrived in Inverness, found our hotel for the night and hit the pub.

The next day we headed out for breakfast and drove south west alongside Loch Ness, stopping to take in the tourist things and take some pictures along the misty
Loch. By lunchtime we were heading west towards Skye singing along to oldies on the radio. The roads became a lot less busy than they had been, and the weather did that thing it does in Scotland of changing in an instant. Rain pouring down, scenery growing wilder by the minute. I looked at the map: there was nothing but road and mountains for at least another couple of hours drive. The radio poured out some more oldies for us to sing along to. The road we were on curved around the base of a mountain range, eventually running between mountains on it's path to the coast. Nothing but road and mountain I said, and I meant it. Looking at the map I had realized that the Highlands weren't exactly heavily populated and I realized why now. A road running alongside some lochs at the bottom of steep jagged mountains. Nothing else, not even sheep or anything. Just scary looking mountains. And guess what mountain ranges do to radio reception?


We looked at each other as we lost the radio. The scenery was beautiful and impressive. But it it was also scary and lonely, even though we were together. The sky was dark with rain and the whole thing kind of took our breath away; both from the wild beauty of it and underlying fear of this place.

No-Man Days In The Trees

*not a Scottish tune, but the feel of the track captures perfectly how I felt on that drive...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Hello? Is anybody out there? :)

Good morning!

Roman Empress (see my blog roll on the right hand side of this blog) has kindly pointed people in my direction. So I'm returning the favour. Head over to her blogs Roman Empress and Heroine Addict and bow down to her greatness.

But also go and pay a visit to any of the blogs listed. They're full of good stuff and manned by great people who've made me feel very welcome. Say hi to them all. Spread the love and join our club!

And as if by magic, the shop keeper appeared:

The wonderful Saint Etienne and 'Join Our Club'. :)

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Positive Feedback

I'm partially deaf. Both my eardrums are perforated; something I only found out a few years ago. I hear fine most of the time, it's just certain frequencies are missing. Which probably explains my love for music that is overly bright and shiny - early 80s pop, Motown or records like the first Clash album - or heavy on the bass - dub reggae, dance music from the mid 90s. Occasionally when I'm drunk and lose focus I start to miss what people are saying. When I'm very drunk I stop concentrating and people's voices start to blur. But the previously low level music in the bar becomes very loud.

I suffer from tinnitus. Mostly I don't notice but late at night it sounds like somebody is playing The Jesus And Mary Chain in the next room.

My first guitar amp cost me a fiver. When you turned it up it made everything sound like The Jesus And Mary Chain. Even when you didn't want it to.

Years ago I worked at The Virgin Megastore. I was on the customer service desk and this guy wanted to return an album. He said it was a bad pressing and that he couldn't hear the songs properly. It was Psychocandy by The Jesus And Mary Chain. I laughed. A lot. He demanded to see my manager. My manager, a great guy called Geoff, laughed too. The customer looked at us both, said he would be writing to Richard Branson to complain and stormed out.

This is my favourite song from that album.

The Jesus And Mary Chain - Taste Of Cindy

Friday, 14 March 2008


...was the year after I left school. I had money in my pocket thanks to a decent part time job and was meeting, thanks to transferring to a sixth form college, like minded people for the first time. Many of whom were girls. That was a pleasant surprise after being at a boy's school; the only girls I knew where the girls from my estate, who just thought I was weird. I also fell in love for the first time. I mean really fell, head over heels. That can't eat can't sleep can't breath when she's around kind of infatuation. And of course it was unrequited. Or so I thought. I found out years later that the only reason she kept her distance was my reputation (not undeserved I must add) for being a party animal. Oh well. She became a Liberal Democrat MP so maybe fate was kind.

The Godfathers - This Damn Nation
Sharp suits and ferocious garage rock.

The Redskins - Levi Stubbs Tears
A live version of the Billy Bragg classic by the left wing skinhead trio. Fantastic vocals.

The Wolfhounds - LA Juice.
More ferocious garage rock. Must have been something in the water at the time.

The Bodines - Heard It All
Melancholy jangle pop. Unfortunately this isn't the Creation single, this is the more slick Ian Broudie produced b-side from 1987. But hey, it's a great song nonetheless.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Sun Is Shining

After the weather of the past few days I'm feeling the first signs of spring. Blossoms on the trees lining the road to the station in the morning, and down by the church at the end of the street the bluebells are appearing.

Saint Etienne's Spring would have been suitably sunny but I opted for this, a nearly hit from the early 80s. Not quite as optimistic, but it gets me singing everytime:

"You spoil my day for the rest of the night"

The Bluebells: Cath

(The sunshine appears to have gone into hiding. Nevermind. I'm still feeling sunny...)

Monday, 10 March 2008


I love sixties music: my soul and my reggae and ska and jazz; The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Beach Boys, The Action, The Stones, Velvet Underground, The Doors, The Stooges, Dylan, The Byrds and The Beatles. I love Dusty and Scott Walker and Phil Spector.

But the following three, who I love as much as any if not more, for various reasons don't get celebrated as much as others:

David Bowie - Can't Help Thinking About Me. Yes, Bowie is Bowie now, but his sixties output gets forgotten by a lot of people. I think some of his best songs were hidden amongst it. This one, covered by The Purple Hearts on their album Beat That! is a storming little Mod Pop tune from '65, with some of my favourite vocals by Mr Jones.

Donovan - Sunshine Superman. Donovan always gets the Dylan Copy tag. But he was a great songwriter that for me had his own distinctive style, especially on his more 'swinging' pop tunes. I love this one, for it's pop-art feel. My dad loved Donovan at the time, more than Dylan or The Beatles. I guess it rubbed off on me.

The Yardbirds - Mr, You're A Better Man Than I. This is my favourite Yardbirds tune, I love the chords, the way the bass drives the chorus and the molten guitar solo. It has a great moody feel, more in common with the post punk sound than the blues. They were a ferocious band, far more so than The Stones. Although The Stones had Keith......


Whoah I’m so full of joy,
A feeling no one can destroy
Cos that boy’s caress
Drifts right through my dress
Seeking my wet suit
A wide open clearing
Why I find everything
Totally refreshing

This train we’re leaving
until the morning
This train of thought weaves
in and out and shake it all about”

Hmmm. Joy’s Address by Float Up CP and featuring the incomparable Neneh Cherry. Float Up CP were a spin off from Rip, Rig and Panic, and didn't seem to carry the weight that band did. But I thought this was the sexiest song I’d ever heard; it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was messy, sweaty, funny, smart. And Neneh’s voice…..aaahhh. The track was like a mix of Bow Wow Wow and The Supremes; a perfect summer tune for me back in 1984.

Neneh had the same effect on me when she dueted on Slow Train To Dawn with Matt Johnson and on her own song Manchild. So I guess it was probably Neneh Cherry that hit me like a ton of bricks, not just the song….

Float Up C.P. 'Joy's Address'

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Sounds For Sunday

The first of an occasional series.

Ever since I was a kid Sunday afternoons were about reggae and soul. Radio London used to have a Sunday lunchtime reggae show, which I used to listen to on my prized possession, a transistor radio I'd gotten for my birthday or Christmas when I was about six. And my best friend's mum, who'd come to the UK from Jamaica in about 1969, would also listen to the show while she cooked Sunday lunch. There was also a dealer who lived upstairs from us who would have parties on a Saturday night, which would often still be going on the next day. My mum must have hated it, but I loved the sound of heavy dub coming through the ceiling.

Meanwhile my dad , being something of a soul freak, would play old Motown and Stax tunes. So there's something of a tradition that I to this day still follow. Soul and Reggae on a Sunday afternoon while I'm cooking.

This tune is one of my favourites. It may sound familiar, there were a few cover versions over the years. But this is the original. Produced by Lee Perry, it's a dark sound, but hugely melodic and Keith Rowe had an amazing soulful voice. This is probably one of my favourite vocal performances of all time, alongside Billy Stewart's amazing version of Summertime.

Keith Rowe: Groovy Situation

The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Innocent....

My oldest friend Tony, who moved to Norway back in 1991, has just been in hospital. I got an email from his mum to tell me he had kidney failure, high blood pressure and heart problems. He, like me, is 39. He contacted me yesterday to say he's back at home, on all sorts of pills and potions. He's also had to stop drinking, smoking, eating too much salt and spicy food. He's 39.

Me and Tony met at school back in 1980. We must have seemed like an unlikely pairing. I was tiny back then, 4' 11" at most. A skinny little white kid, a bit of a brain, although too moody to fit in with the geeks. Tony is Jamaican, and at the age of 11 was already 5' 6". But we clicked. A love of Star Wars, comics, music, drawing and a shared sense of humour brought us together. The other thing that we shared was a short fuse that led to fights. I got broken noses. Tony got a reputation for being hard.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

1981 -1985 we were pretty much inseparable. Comics from Forbidden Planet on a Saturday morning; listening to the American Top 40 on a Saturday afternoon reading our purchases or drawing comics of our own; reggae on Radio London on a Sunday afternoon and taping the top 40 in the evening.

As we got older we started to explore music, branching out from our initial obsessions: Human League led to Kraftwerk and Bowie; Paul Weller led to The Who and punk - the British kind; which led us to Patti Smith and Talking Heads and the Velvets. We went mad for Prince in 1984. The year previous I'd gotten a copy of Star Wars on video, taped from it's premiere in October 1982 (the same day I appeared on Capital Radio reading out a story I'd written in a competition). We watched Star Wars until the tape started to warp, going home at lunchtime with chips to watch a bit, then carrying on after school. Twice a day during holidays!

But Prince took over in 1984. I can remember us watching the video for Lets Go Crazy over and over again one day from 9am until about 4pm. We'd also both started to learn guitar at this point. My dad taught me House Of The Rising Sun and I taught Tony his first chords. I was ok on guitar - I'm a pretty good guitarist now - but I had to work at it. Tony took those chords and videos of Prince, Paul Weller and Jimi Hendrix and within 6 months he was playing like a demon; seems like Tony was a natural musician.

By this point we were in separate streams at school. I was in with the brains, despite being surly and pretending to be Jimmy in Quadrophenia. Tony was in the lower set, despite being very intelligent. Tony just got bored easily and the system didn't give him the chance to do better. The only thing we shared at school was art. Both the art teachers loved music and encouraged us to bring our music in. One of the teachers had been a punk (he used to tell us about pogoing in front of Siouxsie at the 100 Club or somewhere, while she shook sweat onto him!) and he loved Patti Smith. He used to play Easter in lessons. Tony adopted one of the tunes from that album as his theme tune. If you know the album you'll know which track a guitar playing black guy would love....;)

The other thing about me and Tony, which looking over this piece I can see showing up in a few places, was that we had a pretty intense rivalry. In the early days it showed up in comparing our comic collections, or who heard a great song first. By the time we reached sixteen or so it tended to involve girls. We would either go for the same girls. Or if one liked one that the other had shown absolutely no interest in..well, you can imagine the sorts of things that happened. For five minutes we would hate each other. Then when the girl was off the scene we would be back to normal.

And the other thing that we competed for was the title of most depressed teenager. We were both angry all the time, even when we were having a laugh. And always falling for the wrong girls. Angry romantics, playing loud guitars. Drinking too much by now and dabbling in too many drugs.

By now we were in our late teens and at this point our roads diverged. the rivalry started to turn a bit off. We'd argue more than laugh. Tony moved into squats and busked; I went to work and couldn't get bands off the ground. Tony went to squat parties; I went to raves. I gave up on loud guitars for a while too; preferring acoustics following an obsession with The Pogues and Elvis Costello's King Of America album. For a couple of years we didn't see each other very much. Then Tony met a Norwegian girl who he married and followed to Norway. They had a daughter and although the marriage didn't last very long Tony stayed.

We've stayed in touch over the years. Every so often Tony would come back to London. We'd get drunk together for a few days, getting along great and then stop getting on. But eventually we managed to resolve our rivalry. I guess we grew up a little and realized that we couldn't spend our lives being jealous of each other. And since then we've gotten on great. I never made it across to Norway until last year, but that was pretty cool. We stayed up all night with our partners and drank ourselves stupid, while outside it never got dark.

The thing we both discovered was that whenever we would hear a great new band, or see a film we loved we both would have a conversation in our head with the other about it. Tony was the first person I thought of when I heard Arctic Monkeys or Goldfrapp's Black Cherry album for instance. The other thing I realized was that over the years I'd been half expecting to hear Tony had...gone. His partying overtook mine by some distance through the 90s. After years of consuming anything that was good for getting out of it I got a little more choosy; lager and whisky down the pub. And good vibes at clubs and raves....;)

Tony on the other hand, expanded his repertoire considerably. A love of acid for instance, which we'd both taken back in the 80s but I hated. Any other substance he could get his hands on for a while, especially the 'faster' drugs. And lots of booze. I've only known a few people who like to start the day with a can of lager and work their way up. A few too many possibly. But Tony made it an artform. So it's understandable that I would believe he was on a downward path. Self destruct even.

But no. Tony moved through that. An enforced break a few years ago when he came back to London for a while after a messy break up with a girl seemed to clear his head. And when he went back to Norway he moved to the country with a new girlfriend where he's been living in domestic bliss for about four years. And then this. Hearing he was in hospital was something that I'd expected all those years. Now he'd settled down a bit it was a bit of a shock. Apparently it may be connected to his years of partying or it may not. They're doing all sorts of tests. But it looks good; none of the tests have shown up anything dodgy so far. I'm crossing all sorts of fingers and toes. If I was religious I'd probably pray.

Reading over this, it sounds a bit like an obituary. It's not meant to. More a little celebration of my oldest friend.

I thought long and hard about the song I was going to post with this. And I kept coming back to one. It's obvious, but sometimes that's how it goes.

(The picture above is Hoxton Street looking down Myrtle Walk. Tony used to live about twenty yards down the left hand side.)

The Jam: Thick As Thieves

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Fire In My Heart

I've just watched the latest episode of Torchwood on BBC3. If you're a fan and you haven't seen it yet I won't give anything away. However if you're a fan you'll probably be aware that it features a wedding. In the episode, on the morning of the wedding, the bride-to-be wakes up to Super Furry Animals on the radio; playing 'Fire In My Heart' from their Guerilla album, one of the best albums of all time in my humble opinion.

SFA were a funny band for me in the 90s. I kind of liked them in secret, because I didn't know anybody else who liked them. Or so I thought until I met up with some friends at the Reading Festival and during a drunken moment found myself in the middle of a mass singalong of this song. Turns out SFA were one of the favourite bands of all my friends too. In secret. I'm not quite sure why we never mentioned it prior to that. It's not like they're a band to be ashamed of.

Anyway, back in 2001 I split up with a woman I'd been involved with on and off for 13 years. It hadn't been the best relationship ever; if I'm honest I'd never been properly happy in the relationship. And the signs had been there for a long time. On and off is an understatement, she called things off at least once every six months over the years. And the fact that she a) didn't know friends I'd known for years because she didn't want to come out to gigs and things - and that was because b) she really didn't like music and c) she didn't drink, probably should have told me to get out a lot sooner.

I moved out and headed back to my old manor in North London. I left behind a lot, in fact all I took with me were my guitars, clothes and music collection. I had some fun with a girl who was a lot less complicated, a lot more funny and back in North London I started to make new friends and build my life again. The new relationship fizzled out, which was a little sad, but not unexpected. And anyway I was living again, without the cloud of the old relationship hanging over my head. It really was a new start.

One night in 2003 I was out with some friends. So it hits about 1030pm and I suggest another round. Unfortunately they all had an early start so we said our goodbyes and I headed for the bus-stop. So I'm stood at the bus-stop waiting on a bus and this gorgeous blonde walked past me.

I'm not particularly shy, and I will talk to anybody. But chatting up requires a reason to speak to somebody. So I pondered, lighting up a cigarette. An aid to concentration. And it helps the bus come sometimes. As I lit up a cigarette so did she. And guess what? The bus arrived and she headed for it too. As we put out our cigarettes to get on, I said something stupid like "well, that was a waste of a good cigarette, wasn't it?" She sort of smiled cautiously like you do when you're approached by somebody drunk in the street - did I mention I was a little drunk? - and got on the bus.

I'll cut this short. We got talking and found that we lived two streets away from each other. A few days later we went for a pint, which turned into us being the last to leave the pub as the staff put chairs on the tables around us. Six months later we were engaged. Just under two years later we were married. My decision back in 2001 had proven to be the most life changing thing I'd ever done.

Anyway, the day of the wedding my bride to be didn't wake up to SFA singing Fire In My Heart, but she did walk up the aisle to it. Thankfully the wedding day was a little short of aliens....

Super Furry Animals "Fire In My Heart"