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Keeping It Peel 2014

October 25, 2014

JOHN PEEL EADT 20 10 05

Keeping It Peel is the brainchild of Webbie, who writes the excellent and informative Football And Music blog.  An annual celebration of all things Peel (this year’s event is especially poignant, given that it’s 10 years since John died), it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer. Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.  John Peel is the reason my musical tastes expanded beyond the left-field avant-garde edginess of Hipsway and Love And Money and the reason why my mum stopped singing her own version of whatever it was I was playing (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.

This year’s Peel Session selection features Pixies from October 18th 1988.

The PIXIESThe thin ‘n hairy years

Pixies in 1988 were betwixt and between releases. Surfer Rosa (their best album, and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise) was 7 months old and still stuck to the turntables, and Doolittle was but a sparkle in Black Francis’ eye. They were a PHENOMENAL live act around this time; full-on and feral and could do no wrong.

Their session for Peel in October was a cracker. Half of the songs were barely a minute and a half long, little blitzkrieg blasts of wonky time signatures, heavy breathing, strange chord structures and larynx-loosening primal screams from Black Francis – “Uriah hit the crapper! The crapper! Uriah hit the crapper….DEAD!” – what the devil was he on about? Who knows, but who cares? This was a thrilling taster of the new stuff still to come. Tame, Dead and There Goes My Gun would all end up on the Doolittle LP the following year. Dancing The Manta Ray would eventually see the light of day as the b-side to that LPs big single, Monkey Gone To Heaven.

I thought I still had the old TDK of this session with Peel’s introductions, but I fear it’s lost and gone forever. It’s certainly not in the first (and only) place I looked. For authenticity’s sake I was going to post those versions, but instead Tame comes from the Rough Diamonds bootleg and the other three come from the official BBC Sessions CD.

Tracks in order of broadcast;

Dead

Tame

Dancing The Manta Ray

There Goes My Gun

These tracks and a gazillion more are released shortly on the 3CD Doolittle 25 release, available at the recession-friendly price of £12. A bargain for sure. Available via Pixies’ online shop here.

pixies-doolittle-inlay

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Ari Styles

October 21, 2014

I Heard It Through The Grapevine was first committed to vinyl by Gladys Knight & The Pips, although it’d be Marvin Gaye who would have the first hit with the song. But you know all that already. If not, I’ve written about it before. For me, the most interesting (but not necessarily the best) version of  …Grapevine comes from The Slits.

  slits

In ye olden days of punk rock, Slits stood out. A female 4-piece, their lead singer was a 15 year-old German girl whose mother would later marry John Lydon. Guitarist Viv Albertine lived in a squat and was Mick Jones’ girlfriend. Drummer Palmolive was born in Spain and lived for 2 years with Joe Strummer. Not at all like the ‘typical girls’ they sang of on their debut single.

They under-rehearsed, they dithered over releases and they supported The Clash on a couple of tours (To quote Joe Strummer – “They need to do thirty gigs in thirty days and they would be a different group. Then they’d be great.”)

Formed in 1976 at the birth of punk, it took The Slits 3 years to release their debut LP. In those three short years, music progressed by several light years but Slits stuck at it, honing their talents in a couple of John Peel sessions. It’s been said that Slits couldn’t play their instruments, but that’s clearly punk talk from the blinkered few who wanted to keep them authentically ‘4 Real’.

The Slits could play! They eschewed all forms of rock music (a dirty word in Slits’ world) preferring instead to form a unique sound built from reggae and the more interesting musical corners of the world. Itchy, scratchy, claustrophobic and defiantly dubby new wave pop music. Nowadays, lazy writers would call it ‘angular’, a term thrown at everyone from Franz Ferdinand to the Kaiser Chiefs. But at the tail-end of the 70s, no-one sounded like The Slits.

the slits

Their demo version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine is terrific – in equal parts quirky, jerky, punky and funky.

The SlitsI Heard It Through The Grapevine (demo)

Like an aural sharp elbow to the gut, it’s designed to irritate, grate and annoy. It’s very uncomfortable – twitching away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye in the midday sun. The scratchy guitar and dubby bass, coupled with the rat-a-tat percussion is as far removed from ‘punk rock’ as you’d care to imagine, making it a west London cousin to Talking Heads, its catholic musical policy a precursor to that band’s Tom Tom Club alter ego.

By the time Island Records had enlisted Dennis Bovell to produce the album, the band’s sound had rounded out slightly. He took the blueprint of the demos and added a cavernous, bottom-of-the-well booming reverb to it all, enhancing bits here and there with wonky, skanking keyboards and banshee wailing backing vocals. I Heard It Through The Grapevine comes out of all the whole process sounding mightily fine. Indeed, if you pay close attention, that sound you can hear in the background is the sound of a thousand soul boys wailing in despair at what The Slits have done to the Marvin version.

The SlitsI Heard It Through The Grapevine (LP version)

The album and associated singles still stand up to repeated listens today, a bona fide alternative classic in a Mojo-endorsed world of Dylans ‘n Beatles ‘n Zeppelins ‘n Stones. You should investigate further….

 

Slits play the Electric Circus, Manchester, in 1977.

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The Hardest Working Band In Slow Business

October 15, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, the NME published a list of ‘50 Unfashionable But Brilliant 80s Bands That Time Forget‘. Considering the bulk of the 50 bands listed were still gigging going concerns that made, y’know, actual records and that, it was a bit shoddy. Perhaps the list would have been better titled ‘50 Brilliant Beard-Free And Therefore Not Trendy Bands.’ Sitting snuggly between The Replacements in 3rd place and the James Taylor Quartet in 5th (both still going strong) were the Trashcan Sinatras.

tcs 2014

Yep, they’re still around too. Aye, they take their time to release their music, but it’s always worth the wait. Many bands have had entire careers between Trashcans LPs. But that’s OK. TCS fans are famous for their patience. As I’ve said before – fads ‘n fashions will come and go, but there will always be a Trashcan Sinatras. Split between America and Scotland, the band are even less productive than they once were. But no less brilliant as a result. MP3s regularly zip between laptops in Pasadena and Glasgow, each time embelished and enhanced before being returned. This is 21st century songwriting, grandpa, and it works just fine.

And now, yes!, the fruits of their labour are about to be realised. On Friday, 10th October, I returned from work to discover that the band had released details of their 6th album. It’s written, but it’s not been recorded yet. The recording part is where the band need your help.

Free from the madness that seems to follow them whenever they sign a recording contract, the band have opted to go it alone. They’ve set up stall on Pledge Music, where fans pay in advance for a product yet to be made. You can contribute any amount. The more you contribute, the more you’ll benefit. $10 gets you a download of the album. $24 gets you a download plus a CD. An extra $5 will get you a signed CD, and so on. Those with fatter wallets may choose to pledge $250, where Paul from the band will pop round for a guitar lesson and teach you any Trashcans’ song you care to fancy.

Amazingly, the most expensive item ($2509), the ‘Executive Producer’ package, has sold out. But there are a multitude of fan-grabbing items. You can do your bit for the band by visiting here. Many of you already have – as I type, the band have reached 77% of their intended target. If you haven’t so far, you probably should get across and do your bit. There are still some handwritten lyrics sheets, coloured vinyl, signed birthday cards… all manner of Trashcans’ memorabilia just waiting for you.

Way back in the good old/bad old days, the Trashcans were regular visitors to Japan. The Japanese really embraced the band and they have fond memories of their times there. Stephen who plays drums told me once how weird it was playing in venues that were inside 24hr shopping malls, where the audience would sit in total silence until the very last of the cymbal crashes or feedback had faded to nothing before politely clapping a round of applause then quickly settling back down before the next song started.

During their time in Japan, the band recorded a couple of tracks. One of them, ‘Snow‘ was a cover of the Randy Newman track. Very good it is too, and although it’s quite rare, it pops up on eBay from time to time. If you’re a copmpletist (and most Trashcans fans are), it goes without saying you need it. Snow was one of the very first things I blogged about, way back in the good old/bad old days.

town-foxes-cover

More interesting to Trashcans fans is the band’s Town Foxes ep.

Made especially for their Japanese tour in March 2010, only 500 copies were pressed. It could well the be Holy Grail of Trashcans collectables. The a-side (if a CD single can have an ‘a’ and a ‘b’ side) was the band’s own version, more of a demo than a finished article, of a song dating back to I’ve Seen Everything days. Town Foxes grooves along on some slightly wah-wah’d guitar playing atop some of those signature Trashcans major 7ths. To these ears it sounds like it owes a wee debt to Odyssey’s Native New Yorker, which is in no way at all a criticism of it. It’s not the best TCS song you’ll ever hear (probably why it’s never really seen the proper light of day) but it’s a great wee song.

sds

The b-side features the vocal talents of Sokabe, singer with Japanese touring partners Sunny Day Service. Long-time friends and admirers, Sokabe from SDS is given the Jim’ll Fix It treatment (can you still say that?) by taking over Frank Reader’s lead vocal, making him briefly (for 3min, 30seconds) the singer in the Trashcan Sinatras. It’s in Japanese, obviously, which goes some way to explaining the collectability of the Town Foxes ep.

It was a nice surprise, then, when around the time of that Japanese tour a jiffy bag dropped through my door. Two copies of the Town Foxes CD, both cases smashed to bits through mishandling across the continents, but both covers and discs thankfully blemish-free, accompanied by a short note;

AWRIGHT CRAIG! I hope ye like it. It’s only a 4 track demo – no’ as guid as we played it in Japan.”

There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. The other CD was for Colin who does the excellent Five Hungry Joes site. Don’t go thinking I cashed in on an excellent freebie.

It’s almost impossible to buy Town Foxes. But you can do your bit for The Hardest Working Band In Slow Business by pledging to the new LP. You really should…

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/trashcansinatras

 

 

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(Senti)Mental Machine Music.

October 5, 2014

Although it was actually released at the end of January, 1994, this week sees the 20th (20th!!) anniversary reissue of Underworld‘s ‘dubnobasswithmyheadman‘ LP. Given the kind of music Plain Or Pan normally features, you might be surprised to learn that I’m really looking forward to this. Indeed, my excitement might only be surpassed if The Queen Is Dead or Blonde On Blonde were to be suddenly released as 5 CD super-deluxe box sets featuring scores of previously unheard session outtakes and retailing for a tenner. Along with those two releases, dubnobasswithmyheadman holds a place in the higher echelons of my favourite albums of all-time list.

undworld dub

It’s dance music, Jim, but not as we know it.

For starters, dubnobasswithmyheadman dispenses with the notion that dance music is all about the ‘now’ – it may well be the first dance album with genuine longevity. In that respect, it opened doors for Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers. But to these ears, both those act’s various LPs now seem a tad dated. Twenty years on, dubnobasswithmyheadman still thrills.

Opening track Dark & Long is exactly that:

What is ‘Dance music’ anyway? Dark & Long could almost be Joy Division.

dubnobasswithmyheadman sounds nothing like its ‘contemporaries’. There’s none of that generic hysteric female vocal that was prevalent on every release at the time. And sure, it has it’s four-to-the-floor moments, but nothing as crass as the handbag house hits of the day that cluttered up a gazillion Ministry Of Sound compilations and their ilk. There’s not a James Brown sample or a “Baby! Baby! Baby!” anywhere near it.

At times the album sounds as if it’s running on the same sort of energy that pulses through I Feel Love. Elsewhere it sounds as if someone’s turned every knob on every keyboard all the way round as far as they’ll go, drowning the listener in a bath-full of acid squelches and road drill beats.

Occasionally it sounds stoned and other-wordly. River Of Bass could almost be Can, with its repetitive guitar riff and whispered vocals.

undworld1

dubnobasswithmyheadman is a true one-off – it’s percussive, it’s relentless and it ebbs and flows like all good albums do. It’s got guitars on it! Lovely chiming, echoing, layered guitars that fade in and out when the mood arises. The vocals are a one-off; half-spoken snippets of overheard conversations and cut ‘n paste phrases, mirroring the cut-up, random cover art.

I see Elvis!

“‘I’m just a waitress’, she said.’

Don’t put your hand where you wouldn’t put your face.

undworld3

Cowgirl is perhaps the most instantly-accessible track.

Nagging and creeping, like a virus worming its way under your skin it’s a full-on four-to-the-floor smash, glo-stick techno at its longest, loudest and best, a precursor for sure to the band’s big Lager! Lager!Lager! breakthrough hit a couple of years later.

You can take each track in isolation and get something from them, but the best way to listen to dubnobasswithmyheadman is to bunker down and swallow the whole in one go. In amongst the rollin’ and tumblin’ sequencers and rat-a-tat percussion there’s a fluidity to it and because of that it’s been a recurring soundtrack to my cycling, speeding me up hills that I have no inclination to go up, whisking me back home when I’d rather take the last few miles a bit easier. Now and again I’ll hear the sound of the chain snake its way through the sprocket bleeding into the mix and this just adds to it.

When it comes out this week with all manner of weird and wonderful remixes, lost tracks and souped-up remastering, it’ll help me get many extra miles in on my bike.

  undworld2

 

 

 

 

 

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Wackawackawackawackawacka

September 29, 2014

The Curtis Liggins Indications were from Kansas and only ever released one single…..but what a single!

A game of two halves on 7″ vinyl, one side drips in pseudo-Stax sweat while the other skips along like Curtis Mayfield on a summer’s day. Is it funk? Is it soul? Is it northern/funk? Who knows? Who cares?

curtis liggins indications

A Side Funky Monkey Right On is a magic piece of late 60s funk. Beginning with a rickity-tickity Theme from Shaft hi-hat pattern and ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!‘ crie du guerre, it quickly morphs into a soup of clattering funk.

Underneath the slightly generic vocal, there’s a great band at work. The massive bass line sounds as if it was recorded in a cave. The drummer rattles and rolls his way through a couple of key changes with all the loose-limbed dexterity of a seasoned jazz player, never once stopping to catch breath. The incessant twin guitar riff could be Happy Mondays at their most industrial. Sean Ryder and co. should’ve done a version of this back in 1990. Slowed down to half the pace and Joe Blogged to within an inch of its life. “Is your monkee foonkee? Foonkee Moonkey Riiight On!

curtis liggins 7

The B Side is even better.

Like its partner, What It Is sounds as if it was recorded live in one take. What It Is leaves behind the frantic funk of the a side and instead grabs a hold of Curtis Mayfield’s coat tails as he heads further towards socio-politico soul. The falsetto vocal flits and floats across a bed of woo-oo-ooh backing vocals, lightly toasted bongos and the sort of chords Marvin Gaye employed on What’s Going On, all major and minor 7s  (I think), stopping now and again to allow the guitar player to play a familiar, ripe-for-sampling three note riff, bum notes ‘n all. “Right on! I heard someone yell.” Does it matter that none of the band sound as if they’re playing in time with one another? It matters not a jot.

What It Is is truly life-affirming and beautiful, the sort of record I could play over and over. Which I have been doing as I write this. Not the actual record, sadly. Given away by the band at their shows at the end of ’69, start of ’70, only 50 copies are thought to be in existence. Not long after cutting it, Curtis and the Indications died in a tour bus crash. If you’re lucky enough to unearth one of these singles, you won’t get much change out of £250.

Curtis Liggins - What it is

Someone who probably has a copy of this record is Paul Weller. He MUST have a copy of it. To these ears, he modelled much of the musical manifesto of the Style Council on it. Close your eyes while you listen and you can ‘see’ for yourself. Just imagine a guitar-free Weller backed by his pop-soul playing multicultural band, cricket jumper thrown over his shoulder as he forces his white-man-sings-Otis vocals into one of those none-more-80s skinny microphones. Good for you if you can listen to this record without hearing this. And sorry if I’ve now spoiled it by saying so.

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Van Go!

September 22, 2014

Van Morrison has the dubious honour of being the most boring, souless, bum-numbing act I’ve ever had the misfortune to endure live in concert. Sometime in the mid 90s (94? 95? I can’t quite remember) we went to see him at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. It’s a terrific venue, unlike the vastness of the SECC it’s built for purpose, and everytime I’ve been there I’ve left wishing all my favourite arena-sized acts would play there. Van’s show that night was memorable for two reasons.

Firstly, Van was playing two nights in Glasgow on this tour. Our tickets, bought and paid for months in advance had gone missing in transit. By the time admin had caught up with this fact, the night we’d planned to attend was sold out. We were offered tickets for the next night instead, in prime middle of the house seats. Problem was, this night clashed with the football, and as a season ticket holder at Kilmarnock FC, I was torn between the big match with Rangers at home or the Van Morrison concert, an act I’d never yet seen live. I chose Van.

Secondly, and more crucially, Van had a bloody cheek to bill his show as a ‘Van Morrison‘ concert. His co-vocalist (I’d say backing vocalist, but as it transpired as the night unravelled, backing vocalist would have been a label more suited to Van himself) was Brian Kennedy, a Butlins’ Red Coat version of Marti Pellow, a Mr Darcy of a plank with flowing locks ‘n red suede coat ‘n cheshire cat grin ‘n all. To say Brian loved/loves himself would be a massive understatement. He posed and he preened and whenever Van gave him the nod, which was often, he’d let his Irish tenor’s warble loose on the best bits of Van’s back catalogue. It was criminal. Van seemed content to scowl and scat and hang onto his saxophone for comfort. Housewives’ favourite Brian performed his expensive take on karaoke for nigh on two hours and we all went home thoroughly underwhelmed. To put the tin lid on it, I think Killie secured a rare victory over the lavishly bonused tax dodgers from the Southside.  Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated, as someone once quipped.

Anyway, long before Van was singing about brown eyed-girls or reminding us how much he loved us, he was Ivan Morrison, vocalist in Belfast’s Them.

van them

A Northern Irish equivalent to The Animals or The Troggs, Them played thumping caveman rhythm and blues with a snap and a snarl. On their second LP you’ll find I Can Only Give You Everything.

Them I Can Only Give You Everything;

A feral Van welds his vocal to a nagging fuzzed-up garage punk stomper. It‘s crazed, demented and absolutely magic; a glorious Cuban-heeled clattering racket, the sort of record that makes me want to throw Jaggeresque handclapping poses, grow my hair into a bowlcut and squeeze my fat feet into snooker cue-thin Chelsea boots.

Talking of haircuts, Beck sampled the riff for his own Devil’s Haircut tune, but you probably knew that already. Actually, he may have played the riff live, rather than merely sample it. Either way, Beck built his record around the riff.

I Can Only Give You Everything is everything you need in a record – it’s just over two and a half minutes long but you know how it goes after two and a half seconds. The fuzz guitar riff NEVER changes at all. A Farfisa (?) organ appears during the second verse before leading the inevitable instrumental break and key change halfway through. Throughout, Van sings with a soul and passion much missing in action that mid 90s Glasgow night. The whole thing kicks like a mule.

*Bonus tracks!

Here’s Patti Smith doing Them‘s Gloria, no doubt at the insistence of Lenny Kaye, guitarist in the Patti Smith Group and also the compiler of the terrific Nuggets LP, the Bible of garage rock.

lenny kaye

I like to think that Lenny discovered Them as a wide-eyed teenager and it was this that prompted him to learn guitar. Who knows?

Patti Smith Group Gloria

Jimi Hendrix Experience Gloria

Van Morrison and Them Gloria

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Aye Tunes

September 17, 2014

I’ve dithered and swithered over this for a month or so now. Do I keep politics off these pages or do I throw my tuppence worth into the ring of fire and nail my colours to the saltire-draped mast? I’ve never liked mixing pop and politics, even though many of my favourite records, from The Clash to Curtis Mayfield to Bob Dylan to The Smiths are nothing but. If I was to stop and think about it, ALL my favourite records are probably political in some way, but I’ve never been all that comfortable with the serious stuff. I suppose when it comes down to it I just like to dance to records with a message. With hours before the polling stations open, I doubt this piece will sway many voters one way or t’other (and it certainly isn’t intended to), but for what it’s worth, what follows is Plain Or Pan’s man-on-the-street view of the Referendum.

Since the Referendum date was set a couple of years ago, I became a quiet ‘Yes’ voter. I wasn’t a soap box ranter. I couldn’t (still can’t) quote you facts, figures and government misinformation.  But I believed Scotland could be a better place without Westminster rule. Over the past few months and weeks, this feeling has intensified and I’m now a full-blooded, hand-on-heart ‘YES!’ man.

What you’ll read here you’ve read elsewhere. Social media is thick with it. Propaganda, lies, deceit and the odd soundbite of truth are all over it like a big tartan blanket. Like I said, I can’t quote you facts and figures, but I can tell you what other folk’ve said.

My ‘Yes’ changed to ‘YES!’ at the end of last week. The Sunday Times poll put us in the lead for the first time, and much like Scotland scoring against Brazil in Spain ’82, this only served to get the other side really angry. David Cameron, a man who openly cared little for our great nation yet who’d somehow found himself ruler of it, a man who’d previously said he’d let us fight this Referendum business out amongst ourselves, suddenly woke up with a start and along with those other two barometers of democracy and decency Miliband and Clegg, and a train load of worried looking politicians in false smiles and grey suits, turned up in Scotland in a last-ditch attempt to swing the vote.

His promises of more devolution are laughable. Ask most Scots and they’d probably tell you that Devo-Max was the preferred option all along – Scotland get maximum power and control whilst still remaining a part of the UK. But that was a tricky one. Some people might vote for that, they thought. Best just give them the Yes/No option. The powers that be honestly thought it’d be a landslide for No, so now that the race has turned neck and neck, with Yes leading one day to be pulled back by No the next, everyone south of The North is panicking. Their offer is too little, too late and, if y’ask me, not to be trusted one iota.

A couple of nights ago I was asked to appear on The Gist, a weekly podcast broadcast from New York. It mixes politics, current affairs and the odd bit of music. It’s definitely too highbrow for my level of political nous, but they were keen to find a Scottish man on the street with no background in politics. I fitted the bill. I spoke with Mike Pesca, the congenial presenter, for around 30 minutes before my ums and ers and uneducated rantings and ravings were edited into a more palatable 5 minute soundbite. There’s lots they cut out – the fact that seemingly almost the entire population will be turning out to vote, the fact that there are decent and not so decent arguments and counter arguments on both sides for oil, pensions, the NHS, currency (you know all that already), the fact that one of the reasons I was a ‘YES!’ voter was because the UK had been in cahoots with the US over illegal wars and I wanted no part of that (wonder why they cut that bit out?)  But the podcast didn’t have a full half hour to air my spiel. I’m on after about 4 mins…

Another thing that wasn’t fully aired was the story of the oil field not more than 20 miles from where I type. Talking about this recently, my pals and I remembered in the 80s seeing a couple of oil platforms out in the Firth of Clyde, just off the coast of Irvine. They were drilling for oil. And they found oil. 100 years worth, if you’re to believe some of the reports. But the government wouldn’t allow continued drilling on account of the fact that right above the oil field was where the submarines carrying Trident missiles sailed. Trident is based not too far up the coast and no-one could risk a potential disaster if oil drilling was to begin. So it was all packed up, hushed up and forgotten about.

Amongst taking control of our own taxes, decisions and society, one other thing a Scottish government has promised to do is rid ourselves of nuclear weapons. Put simply, the terror threat has moved on and we don’t live under that kind of threat any more. Nuclear weapons are plain and simply a huge waste of money. A Scottish government will re-direct that money to the things that can help Scotland stand on its feet once again. And this would also allow oil exploration to begin once again on the Firth of Clyde.

Aye, it’s a huge leap of faith if you plan to vote ‘YES!’ But Scotland has the potential to be one of the happiest, wealthiest, safest nations on the planet. Who wouldn’t want to live in a place like that?

Who knows how it’ll all go? We find out early on Friday morning.

Buffalo SpringfieldDown To The Wire;

 

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