Archive for the ‘Get This!’ Category

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Medals

April 29, 2014

In his unwavering pursuit of great music John Peel famously listened to every demo tape/self-financed flexi-disc/debut single/8 track cartridge and Wham recording that ever came his way. Peel was terrified he’d be letting down the artist who’d spent time and money ensuring a copy of their music found its way to his ears and that by not playing it he’d miss something of huge cultural importance, and so what began as a simple mission quietly and not-so-quietly (did you listen to Peel?) took over his whole existence.

I get sent lots of music. Tons of the stuff. I could easily fill the pages of Plain Or Pan with Scandinavian death/grime/sludge/hardcore, rootsy Irish Coldplay soundalikes, a gazillion quirky identikit indie bands based anywhere between Inverness and Idaho and enough wishy washy ‘soulful’ singer/songwriters to break you out in an irritating rash of Adele proportions. Amongst the stuff that finds its way here there is no doubt the odd gem, but I am not John Peel and nor do I have his patience, listening dexterity or desire to unearth the next Velvet Underground. Have you read this blog? I’m still trying to unearth the first Velvet Underground. Plain Or Pan is first and foremost a retro-looking music blog, celebrating the records of the past for anyone who still cares enough about them. ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People‘ as the tagline says.

Today Plain Or Pan makes an exception.

medals practiceNever judge a book by its cover…

Medals are a thrilling new act. Initially a studio-based project from Ayrshire’s JP Reid, they come with terrific pedigree. JP’s first band Sucioperro (Spanish for ‘dirty dog‘, if my pidgin Spanish hasn’t deserted me) are 4 albums and several T in the Park appearances to the good. Not content with that, along with Biffy Clyro‘s Simon Neil, JP is half of Marmaduke Duke, 6 Music favourites and purveyors of wonky, skewed alt-rock. To say he’s been on the fringes would be something of an understatement. To say ‘Next Big Thing‘ might sound arsey if it wasn’t likely true.

Medals emerged towards the end of last year with a 6 month studio tan and an album (‘Disguises‘) that veers between Biffy-inspired riffage, weirdy/beardy bits and JP’s love of hip-hop and modern shiny pop. The whole thing has been put together solely by JP, who brought in other players and producers as and when he needed them. Think Prince, Beck, Peter Gabriel or David Byrne. Auteurs who have a vision, know what they want and how to get it. It sounds faintly ridiculous talking about a wild ‘n wooly Ayrshireman in the same terms, but that’s essentially what we have here.

That rinky dink white man-plays-Nile Rogers guitar coupled with the full-on phat fuzz bass and pitter-pattering percussion is total Prince. Not in sound, y’understand, but in vision, aye? There’s a lot going on in this record. Played once, it sounds very now. A shiny production that could quite happily find itself on the playlists of Radios 1 and 6, all synthesised beats and a rhythm track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foals or Vampire Weekend record. Play it a few dozen times and you’ll start noticing the subtle little things that colour the whole thing in, which all helps make Used To Be A Dancer one of the tracks of the year so far.

Down In The Well is one of a handful of big, anthemic Medals rockers, all punchy beats and razor-sharp riffs. The album might be full of little weird bits, multi-tracked vocals, unusual parts and clever use of percussion, but opening track Down In The Well leaves all that aside, kicks the front door in and goes for the jugular before leaving as quickly and unannounced as it had arrived, with dirty great footprints left behind in your cream carpet.

Hey! Is that a Trashcan Sinatras’ vocal sample in there? The girly backing vocals in The Therapist? It sounds awfy like it! Maybe not. Either way, Sit Back Down, Judas is perfect for radio, the ‘joyous pop rock‘ that JP was aiming at in the studio. Catchier than the cold in a classroom full of coughing kids, I’d love to hear it live while watching the lighting guy make the big white spots sweep up and over the audience as the chorus kicks in. Plinky-plonk glockenspiels vye for space with perfectly produced guitars and a boy/girl vocal. This is the track that all the girls’ll love as the sun sets on Glastonbury next year, I tell you.

As I type this, ears will be ringing in King Tuts as Medals make their live debut supporting Biffy Clyro. Next Friday (9th May) Medals play their first headline gig at Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre. The wheels are turning on the Medals machine. Studio tans have faded and the band has been drilled and rehearsed as thoroughly as James Brown’s Famous Flames. Look out for them. JP has put together a proper band (not studio musos), but a band of friends who play together for the joy of it all. “Getting lost in music,” as JP says. “There are far too many ‘careerist’ bands. We’re playing for art’s sake first and not necessarily commercial success.”

There’s a real buzz about Medals. I don’t normally fall for this ‘next big thing’ nonsense, but in this case I think it’s a distinct possibility. They might be playing for art’s sake, but I don’t think it’s long until the commercial success comes their way. Medals, boys and girls. You heard about them here first.

You can find out more about Medals in all the usual places, including;

Bandcamp, where you can listen to and buy the album.

Soundcloud where cheapskates can listen to the album.

Facebook, where their upcoming set of gigs will be announced.

Twitter where the band are particularly active.

 

medals

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It’s Shop, Not Store. Right?

April 21, 2014

Paul Weller Record Store Day 2014 - Brand New Toy

Paul Weller‘s dropped the sturm und drang sonic assault of his more recent work and is clearly back listening to his Kinks EPs again. Brand New Toy, his super-limited 7″ (750 copies) for this years Record Shop Day (I refuse to say ‘Store‘, OK?) is a right royal mockney knees-up around the old joanna, complete with a name-check for ‘Raymond’, descending ‘aaah-ing’ and ‘ooo-ing’ backing vocals and a very brief whistling section. Chas and Ray Davies, if you will. The solo, which comes on the back of a lovely little Style Council major 7th chord is short, sharp, ‘clean’ and full of  backwards-ish sounding bends, somehow conjuring up that least-likely of Weller influences, the clog-wearing Brian May. Brand New Toy is a somewhat bizarre record but I like it immensely.

 

paul-weller-flameout-virgin

Compare that to last year’s RSD offering, Flame-Out.

A clanging, droning, Eastern-tinged post punk racket of a record, it”s a cracker. Listening to it, you can practically see the veins bulging on Weller’s neck as he spits/sings it with total conviction. He means it, maaan. Sonically it’s the sound of Weller in the 21st century, all heavily effected guitars played by a band as tight and sharply creased as the lead singer’s trousers. The odd spoken word breakdown brings to mind Scary Monsters-era Bowie, though I’m sure Weller wouldn’t thank me for saying that. I think it’s right up there with his best work of the past few years, and the fact that PW chose to leave Flame-Out off any of his albums of the past couple of years only adds to the essentiality of this record.

I see that there’s a Modern Classics Vol. 2 in the offing. Initially I thought what?!? He can’t be due another greatest hits set. Then I saw the tracklisting – both tracks above feature, incidentally – and it clicked… Paul Weller really has been responsible for some of the best music of the past couple of decades. But you knew that already.

weller bellySee me walkin’ around, I’m the blob about town that you’ve heard of

And another thing….

I like the idea of Record Shop Day. Who doesn’t? Anything that highlights the cultural value of record shops must be applauded.  But I hate Record Shop Day. Those two records above were on eBay even before RSD 13 and 14, with bids upwards of £50 being encouraged. I mean, come on! I like the idea that your favourite bands make one-off special releases specifically for the event, but I hate that they are so limited and scarce that the only apparent way to secure a copy is to start queuing round about the January sales. But that’s another argument for another day.

Slight Update 22.4.14

Here’s Paul Weller’s take on Record Shop/Store Day…

This is a message to all the fans who couldn’t get the new vinyl single on Record Store Day and/or paid a lot of money for a copy on eBay.

I agree with all of you who have sent messages expressing your anger and disappointment at the exploitation of these “limited editions” by touts.

Apart from making the record, the rest has very little to do with me but I am disheartened by the whole thing and unfortunately I won’t be taking part in Record Store Day again.

It’s such a shame because as you know I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting and goes against the whole philosophy of RSD.

There were copies of my single on eBay the day before Record Store Day and I’ve heard stories of people queuing outside their local record shop only to be told there were none left at opening time!

It only takes a few to spoil a wonderful concept for everyone else. Shame on those touts.

Don’t support their trade and don’t let them use Record Store Day to ruin the very thing it’s designed to support.

Onwards. PW

 

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No, No, No. (Yes, Yes, Yes)

April 11, 2014

December 1970 Sheet 772 frame 5 San Francisco, CA

Bo Diddley. Doesn’t/didn’t get the credit he deserved when it comes to the foundations of rock and roll. Yer Chuck Berrys and Little Richards are undeniable founding fathers of the thing that brings us all here, but so too was Bo. It’s amazing how many bands/records have been influenced by his flat scrubbed approach to the blues. (Off the top of my head) without Bo no Not Fade Away. No Willie & the Hand Jive. No I Want Candy. No Magic Bus. No How Soon Is Now? The list is endless, and some proof at least that Bo was a giant among mortals.

bo diddley

Bo’s 2nd single Diddley Daddy had a track called She’s Fine She’s Mine on the b-side;

She’s Fine She’s Mine is all reverb, shimmer and twang, a three chord blues carried along by rudimentary maraca percussion and a wailing harp. Borrowing heavily from it, Willie Cobbs‘ cut his own hollerin’ dustbowl blues version, re-titling it You Don’t Love Me. The young Brian Jones was certainly listening closely by this point, as was Buddy Guy who re-wrote it as You Don’t Love Me Baby in 1965.

By the late 60s, with The Kinks, Beatles and Who reaching a creative peak, the sticky-fingered garage bands were listening closely enough to appropriate the best bits, with not one but two bands taking You Don’t Love Me and creating terrific slices of angst-wridden melodramatic teen pop, allowing their efforts to escape the confines of the dusty garage long enough in order to be commited to the confines of 7″s of dusty vinyl. Vinyl that would ultimately be unloved and for the main part vastly unheard by almost everyone.

Kim And Grim‘s swingin’ alley cat version of You Don’t Love Me adds Hannah Barbera-style backing vocals and replaces all brass riffs with the same melody played on scratchy twangin’ guitar. Richard Hawley must surely be a fan of this record. Great music to sweep floors to as well;

The Starlets‘ version is wee a bit rougher around the edges, and a whole lot more thrilling for it. A pre Glitter Band caveman stomp of handclaps and brainless tub thumping it adds some terrific ear-splitting guitar that would appear almost note-for-note one year later on The Other Half’s Mr Pharmacist (later done in almost note-for-note fashion by The Fall. But you knew that already).

barbara and browns

Fast forward into the next decade and the song had grabbed the attention of the Stax recording studio. In 1971, Barbara & the Browns cut a fine southern soul version, incorporating both twanging guitar riffs and brass underpinned by electric keys and a backing section (The Browns) that shoo-be-doo and ad-lib like a low-rent end of the pier Supremes tribute act. Which is a compliment, obviously.

dawn_penn

20 or so years later and the song hit the charts once again, this time as a dubby, skanking Jamaican reggae track. Dawn Penn took her version to the Top 10 of umpteen countries around the world, doing the decent thing by ensuring Willie Cobb received an equal writing credit (though not Diddley). As he should. Although, while the skeleton of Penn’s version is undoubtedly based on Bo’s original and Cobb’s arrangement, musically it is on another plain.

 

I wonder if, back in the 50s, Bo Diddley knew just how far his wee song would travel. I doubt it. That’s the power of music folks. And it just goes to show that nothing’s original, no matter how much you might believe it is.

 

 

 

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It’s All Right Marr, I’m Only Bleeding

March 20, 2014

I got my first real six string when I was 16. Bought it second hand from a wee guitar shop in Irvine that disappeared the day after I paid my £30 for it. The guy who ran it was never seen again. About 2 days later, indulging in a spot of fat-fingered She Sells Sanctuary riffing, the pick-up gave me an electric shock and a temporary Sid Vicious haircut.  That guitar was a right temperamental block of wood, but I loved it. I played it till my fingers bled. To paraphrase even further, it was the Summer of ’89. That’s when I realised I’d never be Johnny Marr.

I’ve always loved Johnny Marr. In The Smiths, he wrote an obscene number of brilliant, inventive tunes. Lazy writers would go on about his ‘chiming‘, ‘jangly’ guitar sound, but there was far more to his arsenal than that.  There was always, even in the Smiths’ most tender moments a bite to his guitar. He could fingerpick. He could play inventive chord patterns. He could fingerpick and play an inventive chord pattern underneath it at the same time. With 10 fingers sounding like 25. ‘Like Lieber and Stoller piano lines playing alongside the guitar‘, to misquote him from the early days in The Smiths. Then there were the open tunings, the Nashville tunings, the hitting strings with knives to get the desired effect. He reinvented the wheel.

Johnny was (and probably still is) my idol. Even though he dyes his hair. And runs over 50 miles for fun each and every week.

Slightly on the wrong side of cocky (and so would you be if mercurial quicksilver tunes like those fell off your fingers and onto the fretboard as effortlessly as a bride’s knickers), he’s not much older than me, yet he’s done a ridiculous amount of music. Previous posts on here have gone on at length about all the non-Smiths stuff he’s done. There’s literally hundreds of things he’s been involved in. Not always up there with the vintage riffing of yore, but always fresh-sounding and never anything less than interesting. Clearly, he’s the guitarists’ guitarist, the one they call when they need a bit of magic sprinkled on top.

Last week when he broke his hand, my first thought was, “I wonder if I can play ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ better than him now?

Probably not, is most definitely the answer. One of my favourite non-Smiths Johnny moments is on Electronic‘s Forbidden City, from the patchy Raise The Pressure LP released in (gulp) 1996.

It runs the whole gamut of Johnny’s guitar attack. A heady rush of major and minor chords played on an acoustic guitar here and electric guitars there, Johnny picking his trademark arpeggios atop some mid-paced strumming. He plays terrific little 2-string run-downs and fills between the singing that are concise and snappy and perfect. On the chorus he lets the right notes ring out at the right times. In a lesser pair of hands, it all might sound a wee bit lumpen. But Johnny knows just how to make his guitar sparkle and sing. By the middle eight, he’s flung in a backwards bit and dooked the whole lot in a bath of feedback before coming back to the song in a ringing, shimmering blaze of glory. The whole track is, of course, carried along brilliantly by a Bernard vocal that recalls New Order at their uplifting, melancholic best. And I believe that’s Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos on drums as well.  What’s not to like?

johnny marr bang

In a typically Marresque coda to all of this, Johnny’s broken hand was put into a special sling that’ll allow him to perform his day job without compromise. Broken hand or not, no-one plays guitar like Johnny.

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You Can Call Me Al

February 27, 2014

Green and Brown. My colour blindness wasn’t apparent until Primary 7 when, as you do in Ayrshire schools, the class created a Robert Burns Tam O’ Shanter frieze. My job was to do the tree next to the bridge where poor Tam’s horse has her tail yanked off by the pursuing witch. My tree had, yes, brown leaves and a green trunk and I had no idea why I was the laughing stock of the school for the next few weeks. An official colour blindness test proved this a few months later. Now I know.

al green

Here I Am (Come And Take Me) was a top ten hit for Al Green in 1973. A brilliant piece of tight ‘n taut southern soul, producer Willie Mitchell has the uncanny knack of making it sound as if the drums are playing right there in the room with you. A warm Hammond vamps throughout, mixed in just behind the brass section while the Reverend’s vocals flit across the top, emotion squeezed out of his voice the way you or I might wring the last remaining drops of juice from a real lemon when following a Jamie Oliver pasta recipe to it’s fat-tongued conclusion. Got. To. Get. Every. Last. Drop. Out. Of. It. Cost. Me. Forty. Nine. Pee.

Green

Al Green’s track is terrific. Of course.

al brown 7

Here I Am Baby was a superb rocksteady version of Green’s track by his skankin’ namesake Al Brown. My version comes from one of those excellent Soul Jazz Records Dynamite compilations (300% Dynamite, I think) that really ought to be in everyone’s record collection. Many of the tracks featured are rubadub reggae versions of popular soul hits – the Jamaican musicians tuning into US radio would hear the originals, get the band together, roll a fat one, play it at half speed and claim it as their own. Al Brown was no different. Dubby bass, chukka-chukka backbeat and a Casio keyboard player with his (or her) own idea of what constitutes a meandering solo, it’s a rather spliffing made-in-the-shade perfect partner;

Brown

Ironically, Al Brown would go on to make a name for himself in The Paragons, whose The Tide Is High would somehow filter its way back across the airwaves to New York where Blondie were fortuitously tuning in. And that folks is how the music world goes around.

 

 

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‘Head Music

February 18, 2014

Radiohead play both types of music – arty and farty, and they’re still the band by which all others must be measured. In comparison, everyone else just doesn’t sound like they’re really trying, do they?

Radiohead haven’t stood still. The left-field rock double whammy of The Bends and its more adventurous follow-up, OK Computer would’ve been the pinnacle of many a band’s career – lesser bands would maybe even have stopped after such an explosive one-two. Other bands (hello Coldplay, we’re looking at you) took lowest common denominator Radiohead and churned out the Asda price version, to much ringing of cash registers around the world. How could you improve on two great albums? Not many could. For some people, Radiohead couldn’t either. But you know better…..

radiohead2

I like the experimental, itchy, claustrophobic Radiohead. The static bursts. The skittering drums. The are-they-guitars-or-are-they-keyboards? The cut ‘n paste approach to the vocals. The way everything is wrapped, womb-like in its own wee Radiohead bubble. Recent Radiohead has been all about the sonic textures. The ebbing and flowing. The peaks and troughs. The grooves rather than the grunge.

These Are My Twisted Words was put up for free download a few years back on the band’s website. I’m sure you’ve heard it;

From the warped intro via the chiming, falling-down-a-hole guitar riff that surfs across the top, the whole thing jerks and twitches away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye whilst maintaining an actual tune – the perfect amalgamation of all that makes Radiohead great. Lots of people moan that the ‘Heid have lost their way with a tune. Sit them down and play them this. The only way it could be better was if it was three times the length.

yorke

Where I End And You Begin is all swirling ambience and one chord groove. Hip hop drums and phat bass. But still slightly wonky and weird. It’s on Hail To The Thief, a quiet contender for title of Best Radiohead Album. I’m sure you’ve heard it too;

simple minds early

Post-rock Radiohead remind me an awful lot of pre-rock Simple Minds, back when they were releasing arty, Eastern European influenced glacial soundscapes. Equal parts post-punk snottiness and Bowie metallic art punk with a Kraftwerk man machine-like muscle, this was not music to punch fists in the air to. It was cerebral yet danceable. It aimed for basslines rather than headlines.  Perfect headphone music. Mandela Day and Belfast Child were somewhere in Western Europe, a million light years away.

Here’s a couple of early Simple Minds tracks. Note the influence on mid-period Radiohead. They won’t deny it.

Theme For Great Cities

This Earth That You Walk Upon

 

Have you got Polyfauna, the Radiohead app yet? What d’you think?

radiohead app

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Zal And Sebastian

January 25, 2014

All the local town hipsters dug Orange Juice. There they were, in their collapsed quiffs and looking quite the thing in their dirty brown suede jackets, a shade on the small side but bought from Flip for a fiver. As long as you didn’t raise your arm to adjust the Rayban copies, no-one would notice the wee rip under the armpit. Irvine boys, you know who you are.

When Orange Juice did the unmentionable and had an actual bona fide Top 40 smash hit, a new band was needed. Looking backwards for inspiration, The Beatles were quickly disregarded (Paul McCartney in the 80s….). As were The Byrds (too obvious). And The Doors (Jim Morrison…). Love. Now, there was a band. Decent tunes, small back catalogue and obscure enough to deter the rest of us. As were the Lovin’ Spoonful.

lovin spoonful

Formed from the same alumni of assorted jug and folk bands that would give birth to the Mamas and Papas, the Lovin Spoonful’s star shone briefly but brightly before the cliche of drugs split the band.  Put together by Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian, between 1965 and 1967 the Lovin’ Spoonful released a series of stripey jumpered, tight panted, pointy booted, denim jacketed pop nuggets, in equal parts sparkling 12 string blasts from heaven and soft focus introspection.

Do You Believe In Magic?

First single Do You Believe In Magic is a beauty. But you knew that already. John Sebastian was infatuated with the hollerin’, handclappin’, speaker-blastin’ energy emitted from Martha & the Vandellas Heatwave, so set about reconstructing it. Essentially, he just played the intro twice as fast as the Motown original and no-one noticed. Then he wrote a set of lyrics about how brilliant music is. Perfect.

We’ll go a dancin’ baby then you’ll see, how the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me.

It’s over and done with in 2 minutes. What more d’you need?

lovin spoonful ad

Summer In The City

Dig through the back catalogue and you’ll find all manner of film themes, quirky 2 minute pocket symphonies and enough looney tunes and merry melodies to soften even the hardest of hearts. Summer In The City‘s my favourite.  “Cool cat lookin’ for a kitty” they sing, on top of a descending electric piano riff. A claustrophobic anthem to wilting heat and sticky summer pavements, the breakdown features honking horns, road drills and a great wee drum break/guitar riff that runs until the end. Long lost indie band Eat did a version at the turn of the 90s. Which is almost 25 years ago. A quarter of a century. Ouch. Having just listened to it, the Eat version hasn’t aged all that well. Double ouch.

Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?

This record surely gave birth to Duglas T Stewart and the BMX Bandits.

You might argue that without having heard the Lovin’ Spoonful, the whole ‘C86′ movement would’ve shambled along to a different beat, Sarah Records wouldn’t have existed, Lawrence might never have formed Felt and ‘indie’ music as it was when that sort of thing mattered would have been very different. Or perhaps not.

We’ll finish with the close-miked and breathy Coconut Grove.

D’you know how the Lovin’ Spoonful got their name? It’s from an old blues lyric actually, but the blues lyric refers to a phrase associated with the male reproductive system. It’s also how 10CC came (ahem) about their name. Google it. And then go and buy a Lovin’ Spoonful LP.

lovin spoonful 2

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