Archive for the ‘Hard-to-find’ Category

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Readers And Writers

January 24, 2015

It’s the 25th January. If you’re an Ayrshire man or woman, that date is indelibly stamped on you subconscious. It’s a date that’s as easily remembered as Guy Fawkes Day, Christmas Day and your own birthday. The 25th January. Robert Burns’ birthday.

burns

If Rabbie was alive today he’d be 256 years young. His poems and songs are read and recited at Burns Suppers the world over. This weekend alone, an estimated 150,000 Burns Suppers will take place in countries as far afield as Russia, Japan, India and the United States. You might even be attending one yourself.

Not everyone attending those suppers will know exactly what’s taking place – weird rituals involving knives and haggis. The bagpipes, fiddles and occasional kilts – not something worn in Burns’ time, but now seemingly the de-rigueur dress code for the event. People talking in a strange language. People singing while holding hands in an unusual manner – by the way, it’s Auld Land Syne, as in ‘sign‘, not ‘zine‘. Only English folk, Americans in movies and Brian Wilson pronounce it with a zed.

A Burns Supper is a very Scottish thing, yet the content of Burns’ work is universal – he was a nationalist yet is loved internationally. He could paint a picture with the words he wrote. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Ayrshire, we all understand the thoughts and feelings in the words he writes; whether it’s the feeling of love for someone dear or the feeling of despair at man’s attack on nature or simply complaining about a bad dose of the toothache. Burns was both a romantic and a realist, something that even the most hardened of Calvinist Scots are at some times in their lives.

His songs can be a strange breed. In the best traditions of folk music, the tunes were passed down from his mother, and once learned, he added his own poetic twists and melodic turns to them. Organic and ever changing, he’d probably be horrified at the more traditional readings of his songs. Burns Suppers can be awfy stuffy affairs. Don’t sing the song in the ‘right’ way, and a thousand sniffy noses turn upwards in disgust.

Two folk who’ve kept the tradition alive while remaining true to themselves are Michael Marra and Eddi Reader.

michael marra

As is often the way, Michael Marra is probably now more appreciated in death than he was when he was with us. That’s certainly the case in my house. I am ashamed at how little attention I paid to him when he was a jobbing, gigging musician. I now think of him as the Scottish Tom Waits – uncompromising, totally unique and each song a little rough diamond packed full of soul. Why was I wasting my time with the latest Primal Scream album when I coulda been discovering Michael Marra? He’d often turn up to play Irvine Folk Club with an old ironing board taking the place of his keyboard stand. The sparse audience would be warmly welcomed into his Dundonian world sung in that coarse voice of his. Like Burns, Michael Marra could be romantic one minute, unbelievably sad the next and ridiculously funny when you least expected it.

Michael MarraHamish

His song Hamish, named after Dundee United’s goalie Hamish McAlpine and written about the time Princess Grace of Monaco turned up to watch a European game at Tannadice between United and Monaco is typical of his work.

Gus Foy pointed to the side of the goal and said

‘There’s Grace Kelly by ‘Taylor Brothers’ Coal’

Michael MarraGreen Grow The Rashes

Green Grow The Rashes is almost standard fare at a Burns Supper. One of Burns’ most popular songs, it’s been sung by many people in many ways. Michael’s version comes from the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow a few years back. Pin-drop quiet, he hammers out the tune on a grand piano and sings it superbly. Not an ironing board in sight. The thunderous applause at the end tells you all you need to know.

One singer one song? Not quite…

eddi and john

Oor ain Eddi Reader, Ayrshire by way of Glasgow, does a terrific version of Green Grow The Rashes.

 Eddi ReaderGreen Grow The Rashes

Fronting an assembled stellar cast of folkies that includes John McCusker, Phil Cunningham, Heidi Talbot and Mr Eddi Reader, John ‘Trashcans’ Douglas, this live version of Green Grow The Rashes fairly skips along, the band playing the sort of arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zep III while Eddi’s voice floats above the melody like a bird on a breeze.

A bit like haggis, I know she can be a bit of an acquired taste for some, but give this a listen. Then go and catch yourself one of our wee furry friends and have your own Burns Supper to yourself.

haggis

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Beta Blockers

January 14, 2015

Please the press in Belgium“, once sang Morrissey at his most withering, in such a way as to suggest the Flemish outpost was the last place on Earth you’d want to be trying to please the staff of Snoecks Magazine. Belgium isn’t a country high on the cool-o-meter when it comes to pop. It’s given the world Poirot and a seriously strong lager that induces the propensity to batter one’s spouse, neither of which are much to do with music at all. Plastique Bertrand would appear to be the jewel in their flimsy crown.  “Ca plane pour moi, moi, moi, moi, moi!” Instant cool points ‘n all that, but then, that’s about it. Almost…

wallace collection

Wallace Collection were a late 60s/early 70s smooth vocal group, seemingly formed in order that the words ‘easy‘ and ‘listening‘ could be glued together with a dollop of saccharine-sweet syrupy gloop to create a brand new genre. By comparison, they make The Carpenters sound like Motorhead. Look at them – you might never have heard them, but you know how they sound. Wallace Collection’s musical arrangements featured lots of strings, lots of flutes and lots of whispered, half-spoken vocals.

Their track Daydream is their best known track.

Gently descending (and owing a large debt to Isaac Hayes’ Ike’s Mood), with a chanting choral refrain, it proved to be ripe for samplers. Hip hop acts such as The Pharcyde stole the bassline and turned it inside out and back to front on their own records. If you’ve been playing it as you read, no doubt you’ll recognise it.

Somewhat freakishly, two acts sampled the track and released respective records built upon it almost on the same day.

i monster

I MonsterDaydream In Blue

In June 2001, Sheffield’s I Monster put out Daydream In Blue, a record that jigsawed the vocal refrain and descending strings from the original onto a contemporary vocodered piece of what the style press had probably stopped calling trip-hop by that point in time. Mid paced and slightly plodding, you can’t have escaped hearing this record at the time. It was everywhere. I have a memory of hearing it wafting out of Iain Beale’s cafe on the Eastenders omnibus one hungover Sunday afternoon. It’s held the test of time quite well, although I much prefer The Beta Band’s ‘version’.

beta band

The Beta BandSquares

Initially named Daydream (I have a promo single so named) it was to be the lead single and first track on the band’s follow up to their first LP proper, but as the band were pressing Hot Shots II, I Monster’s track was on its way to the shops and onto the radio. By the time the first versions of Hot Shots II had been boxed and ready to go, The Beta Band were coming to the realisation that the hottest new track on the radio was a track featuring the self-same obscure sample that they were about to unleash on the world. More than a wee bit ticked off, the initial copies of the LP were withdrawn, plans to release the single were shelved and the album came out with the first track re-named Squares. The track was released as a single after I Monster’s track had disappeared off the radar, but the potential ‘hit’ impact for The Beta Band’s single was no more.

There’s a promo-only version of Squares that features *Don ‘Magic’ Juan, a former pimp, preacher and hip-hop personality. It‘s kinda bizarre…

The Beta BandSquares (Bloah Remix)

I must do a proper Beta Band piece one day – one of the great under-appreciated bands.

*I think. There are quite a few Don Juans in the world of underground rap.

 

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Under The Influence

January 4, 2015

It’s 1987 in San Francisco. Or maybe L.A. Bono, atop a building, perhaps a hotel, it doesn’t really matter, his arms outstretched in messianic fashion, has just informed the crowd of unwitting gatherers below that “Rock ‘n roll stops the traffic!” If I was on my morning commute, I’d be mightily pissed off at this uncalled-for inconvenience. The traffic is indeed stopped. Lights change from red to green and back again, but the procession of buses, cabs and sedans is gridlocked. A huge crowd swells, folk in suits and ties, briefcase-carrying urban professionals, crane their necks and squint in the morning sunshine at the spectacle above them. “OK Hedge, play the blues!”

u2 roof

The Hedge, so-named because of that thick thatch of collar-baiting pony-tailed hair, thinning rapidly on top but hidden underneath a carefully perched cowboy hat rattles off one of his trademark ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka guitar riffs, and the most unbluesy guitar solo ever echoes out across California. “All you need is three chords and the truth!” spouts Bono, who by this time is halfway up a water tower and totally unaware of the long arm of the mirror-shaded law lurking behind Larry Mullen Jnr’s drum kit. It’s U2’s Saville Row moment, just one more example of them (literally) elevating themselves into rock’s lofty position as premier league players. The nitwits that they had just become.

I don’t know about the truth, but all you need is indeed just three chords. You don’t need me to tell you that. The foundations of rock ‘n roll were formed on such base ideals. Silly old Bono dressed the fact up in grandiose, wankery fashion. Punk bible, Sniffin’ Glue said it best;

sniffin glue chordsMany a band was formed with the guitarist having an arsenal of two chords, with that tricky third still in production.

eddie cochraneKing of the Swingers

Eddie Cochran was there at rock ‘n roll’s birth. If Ike Turner was pushing and grunting for all he was worth, Eddie was there at the end of the bed, holding the towels and hot water. Or more likely, he was fighting off Little Richard for mirror space as he greased his hair into that spectacular D.A. of his.

Eddie only knew three chords. “There are three steps to heaven,” he sang.

Step 1, you play a C. Step 2, you play that tricky F. Step 3, you play a G. And that sure sounds like heaven to me.

Eddie CochranThree Steps To Heaven

Actually, Eddie knew far more than just three chords. A quick listen to a couple of his records will tell you that. But he was an economical guitar player, never frilly, never flashy. He played what his songs demanded. A minor chord here perhaps, a 7th there, all rhythmically skirling toe-tappers. And his songs sound more honest, more soulful than the entire output of Bono and his rooftop singers.

bowie beeb

When David Bowie ditched the theatrics, the miming and the long, long hair on the road to Ziggy‘s straight-ahead guitar boogie, the spirit of Eddie Cochran loomed large.

David BowieQueen Bitch

Queen Bitch from Hunky Dory is Three Steps To Heaven in a funky jump suit with added sneer and a good dollop of Les Paul courtesy of Mick Ronson. Listen carefully. The moaning and groaning you hear in the background is the sound of Ziggy being conceived.

Broncho“We’ve played some right toilets in our time…”

New (wave) kids on the block Broncho know a thing or two about the simplicity of the three chord song. Their own What sounds like a glammed-up mix of Queen Bitch and Lou Reed’s Vicious, as sung by Marc Bolan. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that;

BronchoWhat

Taken from their Just Enough Hip To Be A Woman LP, it’s an album that escaped my attention earlier last year, but one that could do with further investigation.

Rock ‘n roll – it’s dead easy, isn’t it?

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P.O.P. B.O. ’14

December 31, 2014

Somehow, this is the end of the 8th year of this blog. 8 years! I never for a minute thought I’d be down this road for so long, but here I am, slowing down slightly, but still writing whenever the muse takes me. In the past, I used to write loads over the Christmas period and store it all up like a squirrel hiding nuts in trees, so that when I was busy with my real work I could drip-feed my wee articles online at regular intervals when time was of the essence. These days, holidays mean holidays. For the past week or so I’ve done sweet F.A. apart from sit around in my underwear eating cheese until 3 in the afternoon. Occasionally I’ve tidied up a bit, but that’s only after the Applewood smoked or Wensleydale and cranberry has run out.

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It’ll be good to get back to the old routine in January and, along with work, get back to writing about music on a (hopefully) more regular basis. Until then, here’s the annual end of December post.

Around this time of year I employ a team of stat monkeys to sift through everything published on Plain Or Pan over the last 12 months. Numbers are fed into a specially-constructed silver machine, crunched and spat back out. Amongst the stainless steel saliva lie the 25 most listened to and/or downloaded tracks of the year.

Below is that list, a CD-length collection of covers, curios and hard-to-find classics. Download the rar file, sequence as you please and burn away.

 

pop8

Baby HueyListen To Me

The Lovin’ SpoonfulDo You Believe In Magic?

French FriesDanse a la Musique

Oscar BrownThe Snake

Al BrownHere I Am Baby

RadioheadThese Are My Twisted Words

Bob DylanBoots Of Spanish Leather

Ian Dury & the BlockheadsHit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

Michael MarraHamish

Paul WellerFlame-Out

Bo DiddleyShe’s Fine, She’s Mine

Barbara & the BrownsYou Don’t Love Me

Tommy James & the ShondellsCrimson & Clover

LightshipsDo Your Thing

The BeatlesIt’s All Too Much (Much Too Much bootleg version)

Les Negresses VertesZobi la Mouche

Trash Can SinatrasGhosts Of American Astronauts (Live at Fez, NYC 2004)

Eddie FloydI’ve Never Found A Girl

The SmithsThere Is A Light That Never Goes Out (demo)

Curtis Liggins IndicationsWhat It Is

ThemI Can Only Give You Everything

Kim Fowley - Bubblegum

A CampBoys Keep Swinging

The SlitsI Heard It Through The Grapevine (demo)

Madness - Un Paso Adelante

 

And here’s to health, wealth and happiness to you all for 2015. All the best!

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Un Paso Adelante!!!

December 15, 2014

Hey you! Don’t read that, read this! This is the heavy heavy monster read! The nuttiest read around!

One! Step! Beyoooooond!

 Prince-Buster

One Step Beyond is a skankin’ slice of primo Jamaican ska written by Prince Buster. It first appeared on the b-side of his single Al Capone, itself the blueprint for The Specials Gangsters.

One Step BeyondPrince Buster

 

It’s largely instrumental, a rasping saxophone-led knees-up, occasionally punctuated by some frantic chickaboom-chickaboom-chickaboom-chickaboom-chick ska-tting and Prince Buster’s titular cry.

But you knew all that already. Thanks to Madness, you’ll be more than familiar with the tune. If you’re of a similar age to myself, you’ll be well aware of how important the tune was to your formative years. It was one of the first tracks I heard that made me appreciate the power of music. It was loud, catchy and novel enough to grab the ears of young listeners everywhere. We didn’t know it wasn’t an original, we just loved doing the primary 7 approximation of the nutty dance to One Step Beyond by Madness.

madness

Madness owe a lot to Prince Buster. After a brief flirtation as The North London Invaders, they named themselves after one of his tracks, which they themselves covered on the b-side of their first single, a single they called ‘The Prince‘.

Prince Buster - Madness

To further cement the Prince Buster connection, Chas Smash’s opening vocal earthquake on One Step Beyond is hotwired and paraphrased directly from another Prince Buster track, The Scorcher.

Prince BusterThe Scorcher

The Madness take on One Step Beyond is practically a photocopy of Prince Buster’s version (why would you try and improve perfection?) but if you listen closely, really closely, you’ll maybe catch the incessant thuggish background chant of “Here We Go! Here We Go!” that plays throughout most of the track.

The released Madness version was actually a demo that originally lasted all of 70 seconds. Madness knob twiddlers of choice Langer and Winstanley looped the original track to double the length, but before they were able to mix it properly, the track had been sent off to the pressing plant and was skanking its way up the charts by the time anyone else had noticed.

Realising they had a multi-national hit on their hands, the people in charge of such things thought it’d be a good idea to have Madness release language-specific versions for various territories.

Hence the Spanish version, Un Paso Adelante

 

..and the Italian version, Un Passo Avanti

What a great idea! I love these versions!

two tone

*Bonus tracks!

Prince BusterAl Capone

The SpecialsGangsters

 

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Band Aid

December 8, 2014

I’ve been enjoying the recent latest release in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Number 11 shines a light on the Basement Tapes, the name given to the set of landmark recordings Bob did with The Band in 1967 in the basement of Big Pink, the cabin in the woods that served as a commune/writing/rehearsal space for The Band.

As any music scholar knows, the Basement Sessions unwittingly became the first bootleg LP, when some tracks were spirited out of Big Pink, into the ether and onto a record titled ‘The Great White Wonder’. Bob fans lucky enough to lay their hands on a copy marvelled at the down-home, rootsy feel of it all. Taken in context, the musical world was ingesting heaps of hallucinogens, dressing up in silly clothes and humping anything that moved, under the guise of ‘free love’.

 Bob Dylan

A burnt-out Dylan eschewed all this nonsense by totalling his Triumph in a motorbike crash and taking to time to convalesce at his own speed. The recording at Big Pink found him running loosely through a set of songs that had their roots in long-forgotten Americana, creating an arcane set of mystical wonder.

For years it’s been easy enough to uncover complete sets of this stuff in the darkest corners of the internet, but much of it is poor quality and while you might be of the notion that the song is key, a lot of it is unlistenable.

The official release comes in a couple of formats – the eye-wateringly expensive Complete Sessions that I’d assume is just that, though I’m certain that some Bob Cat somewhere has a version of Yea! Heavy And a Bottle Of Bread or Don’t You Tell Henry sung by Rick Danko’s dog that the compilers missed for some reason or other. Look in the darkest corners of the internet and you can no doubt find it too. I went for the recession-friendly 2CD set, which compiles all the essential stuff at a far better sound quality than my old CD bootleg from years ago.

bob and band bw

Recorded on a mobile recording unit loaned to them by Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman through microphones borrowed from Peter, Paul and Mary, it’s terrific stuff, with Bob leading The Band through first versions of never-since played originals and exhumed olde worlde tunes. It’s not music Dylan intended for mass consumption. It’s him and The Band (and the occasional dog at their feet) merrily running through whatever the hell they like, however often they feel like it. Had they known it would become the stuff of legend, it’s possible the group would’ve tried to make it more contemporary. Thankfully, this music remains as pure and clean as the air around Big Pink. Nowhere on the Basement Tapes will you hear the sound of the beat group, nor will you hear “the sun’s not yellow it’s a chicken”-type lyrics.

Following the constant record/tour/release schedule that had eaten up all of his time for the previous 2 years, Bob essentially used the sessions as a way of recording new stuff that could be somewhat cynically sent to other artists to have hits with, ensuring Bob’s pockets stayed healthily full whilst maintaining a low public profile. Much of the stuff from the sessions did indeed do this;

Both The Band and The Box Tops put out versions of I Shall Be Released. The Mighty Quinn became a hit for Manfred Mann. The Byrds made You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere the lead track on their Sweethearts Of the Rodeo LP.

My favourite is This Wheel’s On Fire, a weird ‘n wonky slice of claustrophobic nonsense, all walking basslines and odd chords.
Bob Dylan & The Band – This Wheel’s On Fire

bob basement

Even better than Bob’s one take wonder is Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll’s, who released the definitive version in 1967; all swirling psychedelia and phased vocals, with shimmering Hammonds and eerie mellotron.
Brian Auger and Julie DriscollThis Wheel’s On Fire

 

No stranger to a Bob tune, Rod Stewart wraps his gravelled tones around a version that is too rock for solo Rod but not swaggering enough for The Faces. A rather misplaced cover, if y’ask me. As a ballad singer, he did Mama, You Been On My Mind far, far better. Worth searching for.
Rod StewartThis Wheel’s On Fire

 

Siouxsie & the Banshees had a good stab at it too, going for an eastern gothic feel more in tune with Auger and Driscoll than Dylan’s, 12 string guitars competing with both a rattling snare and Siouxsie’s ice maiden vocals for attention.
Siouxsie & the BansheesThis Wheel’s On Fire

 

Predictably, both The Band and The Byrds had a go at it. You’ll know where to look if you need to hear them.

basement cover

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High Kimpact

November 18, 2014

Kim Fowley is a throwback to the record industry of old. A wheeler, a dealer, a mover and a shaker, he’s had his fingers in as many musical pies as he could manage at the one time. He’s done it all; manager, writer, producer, artist, promoter, you name it – a great example of a jack of all trades yet master of none.

From the late 1950s onwards he seemed determined to involve himself in as many projects as possible, in the hope that one of them might stick long enough to guarantee himself a financially secure future and his place alongside Andrew Loog Oldham, Phil Spector and Brian Epstein on the Mount Rushmore of pop.

 kym fowley 60s

Fowley might not be as well known or commercially successful as the names above and although he always seemed to be a half-step out of time with the trends of the day, his influence went far and wide.

As The Beatles were clanging their first augmented 7ths off the Cavern Club’s walls, Kim was plying his trade as a West Coast Tin Pan Alley-style in-house writer. His daft novelty pop records credited to fictitious groups like The Hollywood Argyles sold by the bucket-load, even if you’d have trouble whistling them today (Alley Oop and Like, Long Hair, anyone?) His ear for A&R led to The Rivingtons having a hit with Papa Oom Mow Mow, a slice of duh-duh-duh-duh-duh doo-wop so blinkin’ catchy it spawned Surfin’ Bird, a tune that was the catalyst for bringing the brothers Ramone into the same rehearsal room. So, (at a creative stretch) no Kim Fowley, no Ramones.

By the mid 60s, Kim was recording and releasing his own little blasts of garage punk strangeness. Selling less than zero, they quietly found their way back to obscurity before being picked up years later. Fowley’s original material has been oft-bootlegged and deserves to be heard. You’d like it.

kim fowley girls

Animal Man

1968’s Animal Man is the jewel in an off-kilter crown. A Hendrixian squall of strangulated Strats, it riffs along like the snotty-nosed big brother of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a bass-less, thrilling ramalama. Kim comes across like a proto Iggy, yelping and yowling, barking and burping his way through a list of sexual desires – “I’m a pig! Oink Oink!”, getting pervier and pervier by the second until it fades out in more of that ear-splitting lead guitar.

Bubblegum

Another from 1968, Bubblegum grooves along on organ, restrained percussion and more of that wild guitar. Very of its time. But in a good way. Given that it comes out of the speakers sounding like a tank going into no man’s land, I think this version is the full-fat mono recording.

Underground Lady

66’s Underground Lady is a one chord blues stomp, the kind you’ve heard a million times before, Kim sneering like a young Van Morrison fronting Them, Cuban heels stomping out the beat on the floor below. Young bands like The Strypes would kill for this sound.

The Trip

The Trip famously appeared on the original Nuggets LP. It‘s the claustrophobic, street walkin’, jive talkin’ oral equivalent of being 3 acid tabs to the wind. Itchy, scratchy and faintly unpleasant. It’s an essential listen, obviously.

Following his failed assault on the pop charts, Kim moved into writing and producing, then management. In the 70s he wrote for artists as varied as Alice Cooper, Leon Russell, Kiss and Kriss Kristofferson. He also produced material for Jonathan Richman, although it failed to make the band’s debut LP.

runaways

 

He then recruited 5 disparate female musicians, dressed them head to toe in figure-hugging denim, lycra and the occasional basque, called them The Runaways and set the pulse of every 15 year old mid-Western male racing. The Runaways paved the way for future all-girl acts such as The Bangles, The Go-Gos and Girlschool, proving that for once in his musical life, Kim was a step ahead of the curve.

He’s still going strong, is Kim Fowley. In 2012 he published the first part of his autobiography and just a couple of months ago, at the age of 75, he married his long-term girlfriend. The second part of his story will be written on his death bed and published posthumously. Not your average Joe at all.

Interview, 1977

Kim Fact #1.

When a nervous John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared at the last minute as special guests at 1969’s Toronto Rock & Roll Revival show, it was Kim’s idea for the audience to greet them by holding aloft their lighters and matches. Thus began a 70’s cliche…

Kim Fact #2

He looks a wee bit like Lou Reed, aye?

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