Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Stax Live

BBC Four showed a Stax concert recorded in Norway in 1967. It was absolutely superb. YouTube as ever comes to the rescue. These are cut in some odd places, halfway through songs, but it has to be watched. Check out Steve Cropper's face during the first Otis number. Sheer joy!

Part 1


Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Monday, 28 July 2008

Forgotten 80s

One of the best thing about the mp3 blog world is how many tunes turn up that would just be forgotten. All those records that people had that were simply never hits. And I'm not talking about wilfully obscure indie bands either, but those artists releasing records on big labels, getting lots of radio play back in the day. And then disappearing without a trace. I always think it's a crime that some of the records I loved, that formed a major soundtrack to my life were never really heard by anybody else.

Of course sometimes there's a reason for that. Going back and listening to songs years after the fact leaves you with the impression that you had really bad taste.

Hopefully not with these two anyway...

First up is quite possibly the worst band name ever - Bonk. Bonk was a gent called Barry Flynn, who also released material under the name 'The Chant Of Barry Flynn'. "The Smile And The Kiss" was a single 82/83. It's a nice piece of typical 80s pop, landing somewhere between The Human League and Motown. It was all over the radio at the time, but probably stalled somewhere around number 67. It must have made it into the Top 75 because my local record shop would only order songs that did.

It's place in history was slightly secured by one fact though: the brilliant female backing vocals that made me go a little weak at the knees at the time were by one Toni Halliday, later of Curve, who was also on the cover of the single.

Bonk - The Smile And The Kiss

Second up today is a single I was given. The band are called Still Life and the song is called Away From This Town. Again this got a lot of airplay and the band supported Culture Club on tour and that's about all I know. I got this in a bundle of 7" singles I got when I visited Capital Radio after winning a contest in October 1982. I wrote the last chapter to a story and my prize was to read it out on air. It was all pretty exciting, and strangely dull all at once, being at a radio station. For starters, most of the rooms were no bigger than cupboards, with lots of equipment in them. I did get to meet Mick Brown the DJ, later of Pat and Mick infamy. See, exciting AND dull. All at once!

I got home with this pretty large bundle of 7"s, which later on I realised were just unwanted promos. And most of them were pretty crap to be honest. This one though just stood out, and for me, like the Bonk tune, I can't really work out why it wasn't a hit. After I heard it I played it to people and off they went and bought it themselves. Obviously I didn't play it to enough people!

Jon Newby, the singer from Still Life has a Myspace page with a nice acoustic version of this:


Still Life - Away From This Town

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Sounds For Sunday

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think I wanna dance now.

Parliament - One Nation Under A Groove

Monday, 21 July 2008

Tapper Zukie/Horace Andy

I had one of those moments today, walking through North London, the sun was out and the perfect tune came on the iPod.

Rub A Dub A Weh Them Want by Tapper Zukie, a glorious slice of dub, with beautiful horns and a gorgeous bassline, in perfect timing with the sunshine on Seven Sisters Road. And here as well is the original tune produced by Tapper and sung by the wonderful Horace Andy, Natty Dread A Weh She Wants.

I can't think of a more perfect sound for Summer.

Rub A Dub A Weh Them Want - Tapper Zukie
Natty Dread A Weh She Want - Horace Andy

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Sounds For Sunday

There are some songs that you feel you know inside out. They are the definitive version. Dionne Warwick's version of the Bacharach And David classic 'Walk On By' is one of those tunes. Or it was until I heard another version.

Isaac Hayes had been one half of a successful songwriting team for Stax with David Porter, writing songs such as Soul Man and Hold On I'm Coming for Sam And Dave. In 1967 he'd released his first album 'Presenting Isaac Hayes' which pretty much flopped. A return to writing and producing was on the cards. Then following the death of it's major star Otis Redding and the sale of it's back catalogue to Atlantic Records, Stax needed records and fast. Isaac Hayes was one of the people asked to produce an album. Having seen his first album flop Hayes wanted complete control over his next album or he wouldn't do it.

Hot Buttered Soul was the result. And it opened with a 12 minute version of 'Walk On By' which is a monster orchestral funk jam of completely epic proportions. If you feel the song is overly familiar to you then listen to this. It completely tears up the blueprint and turns it into something else entirely.

I must have heard this song a million times, hey I've heard Isaac's version countless times too. But it still surprises me.

Remember: turn it up!

Isaac Hayes - Walk On By

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Roddy Frame

Adam posted both of the original versions of these two tracks earlier this week at Pretending Life Is Like A Song (yes, he's back...check out my bloglists for the link). And while I love the originals I've been listening to a couple of live versions far more than they.

So here's Mr Roddy Frame with some songs recorded live at Ronnie Scott's back in 2005.

How Men Are, with it's segue into People Get Ready in the middle and an absolutely stunning Good Morning Britain. Who knew it could be so gorgeous and glittering?

Roddy Frame - How Men Are
Roddy Frame - Good Morning Britain

(I've mentioned on more than one occasion the presence of Spandau Ballet's Kemp brothers in the old boys list from my old school. But possibly more interesting, and certainly in connection with this post, was the attendance of one Ronnie Scott...)

Nine Below Zero

The autumn before he released the first single with The Truth Dennis Greaves had still been in his old band Nine Below Zero, who landed somewhere between the bluesy pub rock of Dr Feelgood and the punky mod pop of old Mr Weller and The Jam. After the demise of The Truth, following an awful American style rock album which actually saw some success in the States, Dennis reformed Nine Below Zero and they're still going strong now.

Back to autumn 1982 and a new series started on BBC2 called The Young Ones. Yes, that series. Halfway through each episode a band played a song live. Nine Below Zero were the first band on and played this:

Nine Below Zero - Eleven Plus Eleven

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Truth

My first gig I paid to go to: The Truth featuring Dennis Greaves (Nine Below Zero). Still to this day one of the best live bands I've ever seen. Here's a couple of tracks: their first single Confusion (Hits Us Every Time) and a live track Just Can't Seem To Stop which was always the last song they played at gigs.

I'm not sure where it was I saw them: possibly the Electric Ballroom sometime in 1984. I just remember being at the front and being lifted up above the crowd during one song and finding myself carried over their heads to be deposited at the side of the venue!

And: "we are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are the mods"

Ah the perils of three pints of lager in plastic glasses at the age of 15....

The Truth - Confusion (Hits Us Every Time)
The Truth - Just Can't Seem To Stop

Friday, 11 July 2008

Angeliou - Van Morrison

"Walkin' on a city street
who would think you could ever be touched
By a total stranger, not me
But when you came up to me that day
and I listened to your story
It reminded me so much of myself
It wasn't what you said but the way it felt to me
About a search and a journey just like mine"

And then: "Will You Be My Baby?"


(Link removed upon request.)

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Alarm

Back in 1984 there wasn't much going on musically. My best mate liked The Smiths, but for some reason I didn't get into them; even now they don't move me like they do loads of other people. Meanwhile I liked the emerging Jesus And Mary Chain, and Mick Jones' Big Audio Dynamite. We were both listening to Prince and the Style Council. A mate of ours played us the first album by The Alarm, Declaration. We'd really liked their single 68 Guns and we fell for the album.

I liked them for about 3 years then left them behind, never to listen again until about 5 years ago. Don't know what happened. I have some idea that they seemed too simplistic, and all the critics calling them a bargain basement U2 or Clash rubbed off. Maybe they were just one of those bands you get into when you're 15 that you grow out of. And then there were the haircuts...

My best mate had Declaration on a cassette which had the soundtrack to the hip hop movie Wild Style on the other side. Seems a little odd to pair the two now. We used to head down to the Barbican Centre where he would practice spinning on his head to Wild Style and then we'd go and buy some cider and Super Tennants from the off license and get drunk. Hearing Declaration now reminds me of getting really drunk and smoking Benson & Hedges and getting sick. I remember listening to it one Saturday morning in 1984 about 5am and then letting the tape turn over to Wild Style and feeling really disorientated. And then flipping the tape back to listen to 'Shout To The Devil' which just sounds evil when all you can taste is Super Tennants...

But anyway, The Alarm. They sound really good to my ears now. I can hear the influences loud and clear - The Jam, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. I can hear why they were compared to U2 and Big Country in that emerging stadium rock thing that happened around then. But there's an energy and timelessness to a lot of it, thanks to the Dylan thing. All those acoustic guitars and harmonicas have stopped it dating too badly compared to some of the more post punk sounding bands.

A lot of it is, like the critics said at the time, meaningless tosh, but exciting and energetic all the same. That rush of voices into the chorus of 68 Guns still sounds pretty thrilling. But in the end it is a little like looking at old photos of yourself. You recognise the times but feel a little disconnected.

Still, there's a bit of me thinks it's fantastic...

The Alarm - 68 Guns
The Alarm - Marching On
The Alarm - Shout To The Devil

Won't Talk About It - Norman Cook

Occasional Favourites part 376.

Yes, that Norman Cook, once bass player in The Housemartins and future...well Beats International, Freak Power, Fatboy Slim and Mr Zoe Ball.

This track was the B-Side to a tune called Blame It On The Bassline, which came out in 1989. The A-Side was a typical sample heavy dance tune, using Blame It On The Boogie as it's foundation. Won't Talk About It was another beast entirely.

Built around the intro to Billy Bragg's Levi Stubbs' Tears, Won't Talk About It is a melancholy groover, mixing blue eyed soulboy vocals, doing their best Curtis Mayfield impression and some very Isley Brothers guitar solos. What was most surprising about it was the fact that the Weller-esque soulboy vocal is Mr Bragg himself. At the time it was like: "Bragg? Well. Who knew he could sing like that!"

Levi Stubbs' Tears is a fantastic song and this doesn't reach the same heights. But it was one of the first times I'd heard somebody use a sample in a really creative way, rather than just catchphrases and drum loops, and come up with something almost as good as it's source.

And at the time there was some serious freak out power in hearing that familiar intro in a club. I did wonder if I was imagining it some nights....

Norman Cook (featuring Billy Bragg) - Won't Talk About It

Power Pop!

Here's The Bangles from the 1985 album All Over The Place with Hero Takes A Fall and Dover Beach. Hero was one of my favourite singles that year. Perhaps it was Susanna Hoffs dressed as a french maid in the video playing a Rickenbacker. Perhaps...

The summer of 1985 we'd finished our exams and summer came - raining heavily all the time and so sitting around catching our breath after escaping from school listening to this album was what we did. I was particularly taken with the way Susanna sang "If I had the time I would run away with you" as I recall....

Here's also two tracks by Australia's Hoodoo Gurus (who toured a lot with The Bangles) the classic What's My Scene? and Good Times, which features The Bangles on backing vocals.

Susanna Hoffs recently did an album with Matthew Sweet of 60s covers, including a great version of Different Drum, which I might post sometime. Sometimes there's nothing better than some straightahead Power Pop on a rainy day!

(OK I admit it, this was simply an excuse to post a picture of Susanna Hoffs...)

The Bangles - Hero Takes A Fall
The Bangles - Dover Beach
The Hoodoo Gurus - What's My Scene?
The Hoodoo Gurus - Good Times

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Goodbye Lucille #1 - Prefab Sprout

"Life's not complete till your heart's missed a beat"

That pause as the track misses a beat: marvellous.

Beautiful. Evocative. Heartbroken and heartbreaking.

Somewhere there's a world where Paddy McAloon was bigger than The Beatles.

Prefab Sprout - Goodbye Lucille #1

Occasional Favourites - Elvis Costello

"Its the stupid details that my heart is breaking for
Its the way your shoulders shake and what they're shaking for
Its knowing that he knows you now after only guessing
Its the thought of him undressing you or you undressing"

I've a funny relationship with Costello; for a few years of my life he was possibly my favourite musician. But then he became, in my opinion at least, a parody of himself. So I've not bought a new Costello album since Brutal Youth back in 1994.

But from 1977 to 1986 he released a series of albums that are simply superb for the most part. Which makes it difficult to pick favourites: I could pick the whole of Get Happy for instance or Blood And Chocolate.

I've gone for what I think is his best song, perhaps one of the best songs ever written by anybody.

I Want You. It's not necessarily a song I enjoy listening to. It's too real, capturing perfectly that state of mind that hits when you've been dumped. That pain of the loss, the bitter anger and paranoia as you trawl over the memories for some sign of what was going to come. That almost obsessive imagining of what the other person is doing, sometimes only in your head. But none the less painful for that.

Town Cryer and New Lace Sleeves make up today's trio. It could have been any number of songs, as I said, but these two are ones I like to sing along with. Costello's singing style is actually too easy to parody; his phrasing verges on the mannered. But there's no mistaking the feeling. Town Crier, from his Imperial Bedroom album, is a magnificent song and the orchestral arrangement that builds throughout heighten the emotion. And New Lace Sleeves from Trust sounds like a hangover after the excesses of Get Happy. But the way Costello sings the second verse gets me every time:"Oh I know they've got their problems; I wish I was one of them".

Elvis Costello - I Want You
Elvis Costello - Town Cryer
Elvis Costello - New Lace Sleeves

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Sounds For Sunday

All I can say is Saint Etienne have bloody good taste in records. This is fantastic.

Bobby Reed - The Time Is Right For Love

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Out Of The Blue (Into The Fire) - The The

More occasional favourites: If you were to force me (go on I dare you) to name my top ten albums I would probably put The The's Infected album on the list somewhere. It was a soundtrack to my late teens and early twenties even before I reached them. A prophecy if you like. "I was trying so hard to be myself I was turning into somebody else".

A lot of my problem back then (back then...try always) was sex. I discovered that, for me anyway, getting laid was easy. It was what happened next that was the problem. And no sex education warns you about the ego trip it can be. Yup I was a bad boy, and I gained a pretty bad reputation amongst people I knew. But it was also about losing yourself. Add all the other ways you can lose yourself. I was aiming for a good time and also to find something but....It never really worked, and for a few years (and again a few years later) I lost sight of who I was, or maybe more importantly, who I wanted to be.

I first heard this song back in 1986 when Channel4 showed the whole album in it's rarely seen video form. So instead of an MP3 you've the video, in all it's sleazy glory.

Annie Get Your Gun - Squeeze

13 going on 14, teenage moodswings, darkness and light all at once, girls turning into aliens from another planet, black flight jacket, one speaker not working record player, vintage shirts, capital radio on a sunday, star wars on video, walkman batteries running down, broken nose, 1983 was nothing like 1982, adidas, sergio tacchini, stacey, saddest vocal ever.

Another occasional favourite: Listening to it now, it's the way Glen Tilbrook's voice breaks on certain lines that gets me and the 'don't shoot that singer' part of the chorus. I'm still not quite sure what the song is about; and that's a huge part of it for me, the emotion is enough to get me through it.

Squeeze - Annie Get Your Gun

Friday, 4 July 2008

Save It For Later - The Beat

First one in an occasional series of some of my absolute favourite songs.

Lots of things about this song: the lovely melancholy chords; the line "I don't know how I'm meant to act in front of you lot, Sometimes I don't try"; the innuendo throughout the song from the title down; Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger's vocals; the beautiful strings; the saxaphone.

It sounds like being fifteen all over again. It sounds like first loves and lost loves. It sounds like the snow falling and the sky falling in.

I love it.

PS: It's "The Beat", never "The English Beat"......

The Beat - Save It For Later

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Reading And Writing

I'm heading to the Reading Festival next month. I haven't been for about three years; prior to that I didn't miss one for over ten years.

But I've never paid. Not because I creep in unseen by security. But because my dad is a regular performer at Reading. He's just been confirmed for this year. Which will make him the performer with the most Reading appearances ever apparently. 12 in all. Which is pretty damn cool. Almost as cool as his film appearances. How about The Spy Who Loved Me? Or Star Wars?

Back in the 70s my dad worked as a film and TV extra. Z-Cars, I Claudius, Stand Up Virgin Soldiers, The Spy Who Loved Me and Star Wars. As a nine year old the last one funnily enough wasn't the most impressive at the time. It's easy to forget that Star Wars wasn't part of history back in 1977. It was some weird space adventure. I loved that kind of thing as a kid, but my dad just thought it was something a bit silly. James Bond, on the other hand....

But a year or two later and Star Wars was everything, the beginning and the end. My wife is a different generation. She really didn't get how big Star Wars was. Until she saw me and some of our friends making lightsabre noises, and quoting dialogue like some strange cult.

My dad never stayed in film and TV; it was purely a job. His 'career' if you like, has been on stage. First as a magician, then later and for the last twenty or so years as a hypnotist. If you've ever read Danny Wallace's book 'Yes Man' then you'll know who my dad is!

The tune for today is by Black Grape who were probably the best act at Reading I've ever seen. They were just superb. Given Shaun Ryder and Bez's history the last thing you'd expect was one of the tightest funkiest bands I've had the pleasure to dance to.

And, if you're going to Reading this year head for the comedy tent on the Saturday and look out for the mysterious man with the magic black dog. That's my dad that is....

Black Grape - In The Name Of The Father