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The Blond Waltz

August 27, 2015

Bob Dylan‘s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands is one of his very best. And with a canon of songs as rich and impressive as the one that he has casually amassed over the last 50 years, that’s really saying something. Bob Bob Shoobeedoo Wob.

Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (Mono version)

dylan blonde outtake

It’s a love song, of course, waltzing in on a breeze of liquid organ, trademark wheezing harmonica and that thin, wild mercury sound that the Zim was eager to perfect around this time. A musical onion, it’s multi-layered, shrouded in mystery and code and jam-packed full of words and phrases I won’t even begin to pretend I understand.

It’s a straightforward paen to Sara Lowndes (Lowndes/Lowlands look quite similar, dontchathink?) who, at the time of writing it was Dylan’s wife of 6 months. If you listen to the self-explanatory ‘Sara‘ on the decade later Desire, Dylan admits that much;

Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel

Writin’ ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ for you.”

Even this is coated in very Dylanesque ambiguities and contradictions though.

Some accounts have Bob writing the song in the studio in Nashville while his crack team of expensive sessioneers played cards and twiddled their thumbs in an adjacent room, patiently waiting for their boss to tell them the song was complete and ready to be committed to tape.

Others have insisted that the song arrived fully formed in the Chelsea Hotel and ripe for recording by the time of the Blonde On Blonde sessions.

Gonzoid speed freak Lester Bangs claims to have it on good authority that Dylan wrote the song whilst wired out of his nut on some cocktail of amphetamines or other, but then, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Two or three half-truths don’t make the whole truth, but I’d wager the real story is an amalgamation of those accounts. What can’t be denied though is that the finished track is sprawling, majestic and epic (it fills the entire 4th side of Blonde On Blonde) and is the result of a one-take recording at 4 in the morning, Dylan’s dawn chorus for the dreamers and the doomed.

dylan sad eyed lyrics

Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands has that late night/early morning feel, understated and creeping around on tip toe, as if the band are scared to hit the strings too hard and are playing quietly so as not to disturb the neighbours, with some of the chord changes coming in slightly behind the beat a result of the band listening carefully to Dylan or watching him for their cue to change.

The musicians (including Al Kooper on keys and Charlie McCoy on guitar) didn’t really know what they were in for. They hadn’t actually heard the finished song and so were understandably rather surprised to find the song clocking in at over 11 and a half minutes. With the unspoken telepathy that comes from playing with the very best of musicians, they joined the song on its journey, climaxing when the chorus came in, only to find themselves faced with verse after verse of meandering beat prose and harmonica breaks. By the 6 minute mark most were assuming the song was nearly over, which is why it builds to a crescendo on more than one occasion. Dylan must’ve had a right laugh at their expense.

dylan saraBob ‘n Sara, 1966-ish

Postscript

George Harrison was a big fan of Sad Eyed Lady… Its lilting waltz was a defining influence on The Beatles‘ under-apppreciated but eternally groovy I Me Mine……

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Sound Affects

August 11, 2015

The Small Faces were the perfect group; a pint-sized pocket dynamo of r’n’b and soul, windmilling guitars and swirling Hammond. They dressed the same, sported the same haircuts and were a walking, talking, living and breathing advert for Carnaby Street and Swinging London. None of the four of them stood taller than 5′ 6″ (it was the 60s, therefore imperial units of measurement counted) and were mod to the core. In the street parlance of the day, a ‘face’ was the most respected, sharpest looking mod about town. The band name wrote itself. 

small faces

With disparate roots in American blues and soul and cockney music hall (thanks in part to Steve Marriott’s training at the Italia Conti stage school), The Small Faces cooked up an original brew of heady mod pop.

As the sixties progressed and trouser legs widened, The Small Faces’ sound drifted away from the cor blimey Pearly stomp of the mid phase Faces to a more pastoral, whimsical and expansive psychedelic sound, but by 1968 the band were brought back to terra firma when Marriott penned Tin Soldier.

tin soldier 7

Small Faces  – Tin Soldier

Tin Soldier was a no quibbles return to their r’n’b roots – an off-mic count-in gives way to piano and Hammond before Marriott’s stinging electric guitar and rallying cry of “Come on!” lead into the verses. It builds and drops before building again into a wonderful crescendo of tumbling toms, grinding riffs, gritty soul adlibs and a hysterical female (PP Arnold) hell bent on raising the roof. If The Small Faces are the perfect group, this is the perfect record. If you listen really carefully, you’ll hear a little scratching noise in the background – that’s Paul Weller writing his crib notes.

Sound affects, indeed.

Jenny RylanceJenny Rylance. Whatever did Rod Stewart see in her?

Steve Marriott wrote Tin Soldier for the beautiful yet unattainable Jenny Rylance, a leggy model who was at the time Rod Stewart’s girlfriend. He intended to give the song to his current beau PP Arnold, but on completion, realising he’d created such a brilliant track, he gave Arnold If You Think You’re Groovy instead and kept Tin Soldier for The Small Faces. A wise move, as it turned out. When Randy Rod finished with Rylance, Marriott ended up wooing her and married her a year later. Like the Artful Dodger he once played on stage,  Marriott ended up with both the song and the girl. The perfect ending.

I usually steer clear of sticking YouTube clips in posts, but this is fantastic – a top of their game Small Faces on French telly, live vocals, mimed instruments and with a little help from a somewhat sparkled PP Arnold. Check the eyes! Oh to have seen them in concert.

 

* Bonus Track 1!

Here‘s a live version of Tin Soldier from Newcastle City Hall in November 1968.

I get the impression the screaming and incidental crowd noise has been mixed in afterwards to create a more ‘live’ sound, though I may be wrong. Either way it sounds like The Small Faces are playing in a cave to 20,000 appreciative ace faces, and not the sweaty box bedroom-sized r’n’b club you might’ve expected. (Newcastle City Hall being neither, as it turns out.)

* Bonus Track 2!

Here‘s PP Arnold doing If You Think You’re Groovy

pp arnold nme

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Anti Dance Music / Intae Dance Music

August 9, 2015

Back at the start of the 90s I was anti ‘dance’ music. It almost goes without saying that I liked Chic, Sly Stone, James Brown…all that kinda stuff, and I was fond of doing my rhythmically-challenged thang to In Yer Face and Voodoo Ray when no-one was watching. But on the whole, dance music, the one real alternative to indie music and chart music, the one true genre of music guaranteed to annoy parents and anyone over the age of 25 did nothing for me. Which is somewhat ironic given I was neither a parent nor a quarter centurion.

rave

Thump thump thump thump thump. Soulless and repetitive, it was a four-to-the-floor car crash with all the sex appeal of a just-landed trout from the River Irvine. Given the option, I much preferred repeat-playing the b-side of the latest Chapterhouse or 5.30 single than give in to anything of a dance bent. Quite a ridiculous choice in hindsight. But in those days, if you wanted to stay out late, it was dance music that inevitably soundtracked your night. To go home early and potentially miss out on whatever I might be missing out on, I tended to stick it out, tolerating rather than enjoying the tunes.

And then I heard this.

FSOL-PapuaNewGuinea-UK-12-Label-A

The Future Sound Of LondonPapua New Guinea

What a fantastic record! It was Future Sound Of London’s debut single and, as it turned out, one they would never better.

Here‘s a shortened version, taken from a Hacienda compilation that I like to stick on now and again while I’m cycling.

Papua New Guinea is that rare thing – an electronic dance record that’s synthetic yet soulful. It’s not just Lisa Gerrard’s skyscraping vocals (sampled from Dead Can Dance‘s ‘Dawn Of The Iconoclast‘, with thos oo-ah-oh vocals coming lock, stock and barrel from a dance track called ‘Shelter‘ by the mysterious Circuit) that go straight to the heart and it’s not just the staccato bass (sampled from Meat Beat Manifesto’s Radio Babylon, much to their displeasure) that goes straight to the feet, it’s the whole thing; the clattering breakbeat drums, the wee keyboard pings and dings, the swooshes and whooshes and the way it all drops out before revving into gear again, lead always by the ubiquitous bass and vocals.

Papua New Guinea was put together by a couple of stereotypical studio boffins (the bald one and the ponytailed one) that most folk would fail to recognise as the creators of one of the best records ever.

fsol

Everything about this record is perfect. Even Lee Mavers, the bowl-cut skiffle king of 1989 rates it as one of his most favourite records. And I bet he never cared much for what constituted ‘dance’ music much either.

Here are those constituent drum parts, sampled from Fuzzy HaskinsThe Fuzz And Da Boog and Bobby Byrd‘s Hot Pants and stuck together with invisible ambient breakbeat glue:

Fuzzy Haskins The Fuzz And Da Boog

 

Bobby ByrdHot Pants

A truly groundbreaking record, like most of its contemporaries it came in a multitude of re-releases and remixes. In fact, by the end of 2013, Papua New Guinea had been re-pressed and re-released over 30 times. Maybe you could download those tracks above and have a go at doing it yourself, though you’ll be hard pushed to better the original.

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s a longer, more ambient version, illegally remixed and released by Ozgur Ozkan.

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The Mighty Wah

July 31, 2015

Wahw-wah-wah-wahw-wah-wah-wah-wah-wahw-wahw-wahw-wah!

“Vox’s fabulous new wah-wah pedal opens the door to a variety of great new sounds!”

So says this epoch-defining trade ad from 1967. “Make your guitar grrrrowl! Make it sound like a see-tar! Listen to the funky bass guitar sounds you get!”

wah wah vox 2

Vox Wah-Wah Ad (5 minutes long and worth listening to every minute):

The wah-wah was created by happy accident, when Vox engineers got the circuitry mixed up in a new range of Beatles-inspired amps they were producing. Realising they’d just created an electronic version of the effect jazz trumpeters had pioneered in the 20s by muting their horn with a hat, they seized on the potential and began producing wah-wah pedals.

hendrix wah

Almost immediately, guitar players saw their appeal. Jimi Hendrix was an early adopter of the effect – Up From the Skies on Axis: Bold As Love was one of the first tracks recorded with a wah-wah, and from then on in, it featured heavily in Jimi’s incendiary output. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, All Along The Watchtower, Voodoo Chile (of course) – all featured the screamin’ sound of the wah. There he is above, quite literally rockin’ the wah.

Before long, no self-respecting psychedelic act was without a wah-wah, and the the pedal became an integral part of the sound of the era. As a general rule of thumb, the wider the flares, the wilder the wah. The Electric Prunes even went as far as endorsing the effect.

Electric Prunes Vox Wah Wah Ad

george harrison 1970

George Harrison, newly freed from the shackles of The Beatles and with a sackful of songs he was eager to release under his own name employed Vox’s pedal on the self-explanatory Wah-Wah from 1970’s All Things Must Pass.

George HarrisonWah-Wah

It’s a cracking track, almost throwaway pop, although it maybe buckles a wee bit under the pressure of Phil Spector’s over the top production. Sleigh bells? Aye! 35 backing singers? Of course! More brass than a colliery band? Well, it is being produced by Spector. A multitude of guitar tracks?  Well, it is being played by George Harrison. The main riff is suitably Eastern-influenced, a call and response one chord groove that swaggers like Muhammad Ali in the 15th round. It soars with each key change, guitars free-forming over the top while the original riff underpins the whole thing. George even has the cheek to steal the chorus from that Vox ad at the top there. Listen again to the last 30 seconds. Who noticed?!? Kula Shaker certainly did – George’s track practically gives birth to the daft four-piece, but don’t hold that against him.  Om shanti shanti shanti.

wah wah vox

By the 70s, the wah-wah was being employed to great effect by the soul community. Curtis Mayfield….Sly Stone….The Temptations….they all had wah-heavy records out. Rather than solo, (that would be far too ‘rock’), the players created the distinctive wacka-wacka sound that’s now become the ubiquitous sound of the wah-wah. Y’know, Theme From ‘Shaft’ ‘n all that.

Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)

Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)

Here‘s the lesser-known (by Shaft standards at any rate) Psychedelic Shack from The Temptations:

Since then, the wah-wah pedal has featured on all sorts of tracks by all sorts of musicians, from Joni Mitchell and John Martyn to Metallica and The Melvins. It’s reassuring to know that in any given record collection, you’re never more than 30cm from a track featuring a wah-wah.

john squire

Here’s Fools Gold, of course….the full-length version, of course…

Stone RosesFools Gold

fools gold tab

 

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Cook Bernard Matthews

July 21, 2015

My daughter hates Meat Is Murder, the final track on The Smiths‘ LP of the same name. The grinding slaughterhouse machines battling for ear space with distressed cows has her shouting, “TURN IT OFF!!” every time it comes on. As all good dads should do, I sometimes turn it up twice as loud and make her listen all the way to the end, which she perhaps understandably hates me for.

smiths ors

The SmithsMeat is Murder

It’s the statement that Morrissey is perhaps most well-known for, and such was his influence at the time, Meat Is Murder turned many teenagers vegetarian. It’s a brilliant track, based around Johnny Marr’s cycling Wythenshawe waltz-time riff and fleshed out (pardon the pun) on record by some understated sparkling piano work from The Smiths’ musical alchemist.

That was a riff I’d been playing around with for a few days before,” recalls Marr. “Really nasty, in open D. I didn’t know the lyrics but I knew the song was gonna be called ‘Meat Is Murder’ so it just all came together in the take.

It certainly came together. Meat Is Murder favours mood over melody, and Morrissey’s lines, rhythmic, rhyming and alliterative  – ‘The meat in your mouth as you savour the flavour of murder‘ pull no punches.

meat is murder lyricsThe song was a staple of The Smiths’ live set for the next year or so, usually performed atop a tape of the abbatoir noises that so horrify my daughter. You’ll find a good version of it, recorded live by the BBC in Oxford on the b-side of the That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore 12″.

When the band played Irvine on their September ’85 tour of Scottish backwaters, Morrissey introduced it thus;

Just remember one thing, dear friends. Next time you bite into that big, fat sausage…..YOU’RE EATING SOMEBODY’S MOTHER!!

The SmithsMeat Is Murder (Irvine, 22.9.85)

I never went to this show, a fact that will haunt me until the day I die. Idiot that I was.

smiths irvine review

Playing it at the Victoria Hall in Hanley a few months earlier in March, a fan threw a string of sausages onto the stage just as the song began, smacking Morrissey on the mouth.

They hurled it so accurately that I actually bit into it in the action of singing the word ‘murder'”

Known for walking off stage at the slightest thing these days, I’m not so sure the old grump would be quite as frivolous about such an act nowadays:

no meat*Cook Bernard Matthews

This was inscribed on the run-out groove of The Smiths’ Sheila Take A Bow single. But you knew that already.

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Tapes ‘n Tapes

July 14, 2015

This post comes on the back of a pal’s Facebook status update at the weekend. He had been in his loft and brought down a box of tapes. Not just any tapes, but a collection of live bootleg tapes. Bought at record fairs and market stalls, under the counter in independent record shops and from the back of the music press, they were all the rage in the mid-late 80s. I had tons of them. Some of my own might also be in the loft, but I suspect I gave the better ones away and skipped the rest when I moved home a decade or so ago. Sacrilege, I know. And a wee bit stupid too.

Not Iain. He’s kept his, and there they were, proudly on display, neatly filed and cared for (out of sight in the loft, but clearly cared for), preserved in all their glory for 30+ years.


The spines, all faded primary colours and badly photocopied typeset were like a post-punk hall of fame; Wire. Josef K. The Fall. Pete Shelly (sic). The gigs, long-since faded memories, lived on in the ferrous oxide therein.

Bootleg tapes tended to come in two forms – ‘audience quality‘ or ‘excellent quality‘. ‘Audience quality‘ was exactly that. Taped on a portable dictaphone from under the lapels of a donkey jacket, they had a sound akin to the band playing underwater 60 miles away. On playback, sometimes the only clue you’d have as to the song being played would be the fevered shouts from the audience as the band played one of their biggies. Unless you’d been there though, 9 times out of 10 you couldn’t be certain that you were listening to the track in question.


My one brief foray into bootlegging began and ended with The Stone Roses. I taped their now legendary Glasgow Rooftops show, just as the band were on the cusp of going massive. Stuffed down the front of my jeans until the lights went out, my dad’s clunky old dictaphone was called into action. The wee blinking red light meant it was recording. Looking furtively to the side I noticed a guy about the same age as me looking at the machine in my hand. He nodded conspiratorially and gave me a wee thumbs up. At the end of the gig he found me and gave me his address, with a promise to send me some bootlegs in return. The Stone Roses were absolutely on fire that night, a terrific gig. I couldn’t wait to get home to play the tape.

“Pffffffffff….Sccczzzzzzzz………Adored……..vmmmmmm……..Adoooo–ooored….’Over here Steven!’……sell my soul……’Here!’……’Steven! Here!’…..skkkkkkshhhhhh…..IwannarIwannarIwannar I Wanna Be Adored……”

It sounded shite.

Sorry if it was you who gave me your address. Your memory of a great gig would’ve been ruined forever. I truly did you a favour. Home Taping Is Killing Music indeed.


A tape marked as ‘Excellent Quality‘ was nearly always misleading. This usually meant the taper had found a quiet spot away from the whirling masses, away from flying elbows and shouts for ‘Hand In Glove‘ or ‘Feeling Gravity’s Pull‘ every other song. The tape still sounded like the concert was playing underwater and 60 miles away though. And get this! It was actually a considered theory that the best way to listen to a bootleg such as this was to play it in one room while sitting in another! Imagine that! I did it, too! Listening to Dylan mangle ‘Visions Of Johanna‘ in the living room while I cooked the tea in the kitchen. Sounded great as well!


These tapes are a whole subculture, a forgotten relic from the days of yore. Young folk nowadays, with their video phones and social media and whathaveyou just wouldn’t understand the lengths you had to go to obtain a crappy memento from the best gig of your gigging life. But I bet if you’re of a certain age, they’re still great to get out and look at, and dare I say it, play them, now and again.

One of Iain’s tapes was of Magazine. Before I knew the band, before I had heard ‘Shot By Both Sides‘ and was bitten by their music, I had heard of Howard Devoto only through reading NME. He was distinctive to look at, a bit weird I thought, and not really someone whose music I presumed I’d like. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and narrow-minded as a teenager.


The saddest thing I have ever seen was in the Virgin Megastore on Glasgow’s Union Street. It must’ve been 1987/88. There, sat at a table in the front of the bay window and facing inwards to a crowd of no-one was Howard Devoto. He was surrounded by a sea of books and/or LPs (I can’t quite remember) that no-one wanted to buy or get signed with a personal message. He noticed me noticing him and he gave me the saddest expression – his mouth may have been upturned into a smile, but his eyes were pleading. ‘Help!’ “Me!’ ‘Now!’ Of course, I ignored him and went back to looking for the New Order section. I’ve felt bad about this to this day. I wish I’d gone up and at least said ‘Hello‘.

I’d love to think that if I ever met Howard and told him this story, he’d reply the same way he does when he makes his cameo in ‘24 Hour Party People‘ – “I have absolutely no recollection of this ever having taken place.” You never know.

Anyway, here‘s Howard and the rest of Magazine giving Sly Stone‘s ‘Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again‘ a good post-punk going over. S’all about the bass, ’bout the bass….

MagazineThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again

And here‘s Sly’s original, all finger poppin’, booty shakin’, dripping, brooding funk. If you don’t like Sly there’s just no hope for you. None at all.

Sly & the Family StoneThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again

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We Have Lift Off!

July 6, 2015

I was driving past Glasgow Airport the other day, the runway loaded with planes all set to jet off to weather better than we were presently experiencing. I had a flashback to a few years previously, to a time when I’d dropped my in-laws off there when they were going on holiday. On the way home, just as I had left the airport and was about to join the M8, a strange and beautiful coincidence took place.

runway haze

The iPod, on shuffle, turned up a terrific Weller remix, just as a 737 raked itself into the sky directly above my head. Its skyscraping rumble, combined with the vapour around the engines and coupled with the low setting west of Scotland sun created a spectacular scene, all haze and shimmer and very reminiscent of the TV pictures I remember when Concorde took its first few flights.

Back then, those images were almost always accompanied by the mellow throb of Albatross, it’s faraway bluesy meander the perfect soundtrack to the aeroplane in flight. Here in the 2st century, what I was looking at was accompanied instead by a dubby, spacey, magnificent clatter, all bleeps and whooshes and laden with all manner of shiny studio effects.

The track in question was the Lynch Mob Bonus Beats remix of Kosmos and it was thrilling.  Call it corny or whatever, but it was a perfect moment.

Kosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats)

We have lift off.

Kosmos (SXDUB 2000)

Almost a beatless version to the busy Bonus Beats mix above.

Kosmos (Original album version)

This is a terrific version, the track that brought his first solo LP to a close. D. C. Lee is all over it, competing for space with some tasteful funk guitar.

Those Lynch Mob productions were a staple part of Paul Weller’s releases in the early-mid 90s. And unlike the artist himself, who these days is going for a look akin to Andy Warhol as played by Robert Carlyle, they’ve aged spectacularly well.

weller 2015

I’ve lived with his latest LP, Saturns Pattern (no apostrophe, tsk) since it’s release and to be honest I’m just not really feeling it. To these ears it’s a wee bit flat and one dimensional, trying too hard to be the equal of the last few LPs and spoiled by the odd mockney vocal and what ‘ave ya. In the cold light of day, it’s nowhere near as good as the kaleidoscopic sonic palettes evident on the preceding triptyche.

It has its moments – the angry man squall of White Skies, in itself an Asda priced sanitisation of all his recent best bits, Whole Lotta Love bass lines ‘n all, the chicken scratch Meters-lite Pick It Up and the fuzzy, meandering Phoenix, but while it’s not a bad LP, it’s not one of Weller’s finest. I’m sure, a year or so down the line when he looks back in retrospect, he’ll tell you the same himself.

Console yourself instead with another Lynch Mob-produced spacey remix from 1984.

Eye Of The Storm, b-side of the Peacock Suit single.

brendan lynchBrendan Lynch

 

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