Gone but not forgotten

Charity Records

L McCarron. Avril Campbell. Graham. Hugo. T Heywood. RP Baker. Brenda Clack. Anne Jefferis. We’ll get to these people shortly. But first, a story that is also a life lesson.

It’s early 1985. The plans for Live Aid haven’t yet been hatched but Band Aid is still very much in the collective conscience of a nation which has rallied round to raise actual millions for ‘the starving children in Africa’ ((c) everyone’s mum, dad, gran and auntie at the time.) Doing their bit, the 2nd Irvine BBs are having a ‘Bring and Buy’ sale and, doing my bit, I hand over a pile of 7″ singles (“I no longer listen to them,” I rationalise, with alarming short-sightedness. “If I can help raise some money, I’m being a good citizen.”) Yes, maybe, but a foolish idiot to boot. Even as I give them away – Baggy Trousers, Stand & Deliver, Ally’s Tartan Army, Ghost Town, amongst half a dozen others – an internal voice is telling me not to be so bold, but before I can start a proper argument with myself, a smiling Mr Davey has taken them from me and placed them next to the pile of Topical Times football annuals, Commando books and Warlord and Victor comics. I have donated a little part of my life and I will never see them again.

I wonder what happened to them? It’s a thought that, believe it or not, creeps into my mind at least once a week. The world is collapsing around us in all sorts of unthinkable ways but what concerns me most is whether or not some happy-go-lucky browser at the bring ‘n buy stall still has my records. I’m assuming with hope that they were all bought at premium, African children-saving prices rather than binned at the end of the Bring and Buy sale, and that whoever bought them bought the entire lot rather than cherry-pick the good stuff. It was all good stuff! Surely the lucky buyer recognised that?

I wonder too, do they ever wonder who the initials ‘CMcA’ belong to? My early teenage mark was penned carefully on the lip of all my 7″ sleeves, on the back at the top, just where the record slides in, just as I’d noticed my dad’s were. Whenever I browse through old records in a charity shop (and it’s been a wee while) I half expect to turn up a copy of one or more of my errant singles. The chest thumping that accompanies the uncovering of an Ant Music or a dog-eared Dog Eat Dog is louder than the Burundi drums that first brought those records galloping into my life, but, so far, no luck. It’s becoming a nagging obsession, truth be told.

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The long register of names that appear cursive and carefully printed on the labels and liners and back covers and bottom corners on many of the records in my own collection are a mystery. Who are they? Or who, perhaps, were they? Where did T. Heywood, with his one-time love of obscure Singaporian beat groups live? When did Graham choose to give all his Kinks 7″ singles to charity? Why did Brenda Clack choose to give her well-played mono copy of Help! to the British Heart Foundation shop? How did RP Baker’s mono Sgt Peppers sleeve (yes!!) end up with a stereo copy (och!) of the record inside it?

I suppose one person’s old clutter is another person’s golden treasure. And treasure hunters like us live for those moments when you happen to be in the right Cancer Research shop at the right time, when a back-breaking flick through the endless James Last and Super Stereo Sound Samplers returns an unexpected John Martyn record (aye!), or Talking Heads (aye, aye!!), or even a sleeveless Faces album. £1? Don’t mind if I do, thanks.

What journey did those records have before ending up with me? Were they, like those Two Tone and Adam & the Ants records of my own, bought with pocket money and brought home as fast as the purchasers’ legs could carry them? Were they played over and over until someone – a parent or an elder sibling, perhaps – demanded they be turned down or, “better still, off”? Did they soundtrack getting ready on a Saturday night? Did they blast at teenage parties? Or were they played once then filed embarrassingly away, unliked and unloved, before facing the indignity of being given to the charity shop along with all the other useless ephemera of life? We’ll never ever know. Well-worn, in some cases, hardly-played in others, these slices of black plastic – ‘pre-loved’, to use current parlance – are once again enjoying a new lease of life in my own record collection.

If you listen really carefully while they spin in thunderous mono and crackling stereo, their grooves breathe little sighs of joy.

Anne Jefferis may have chosen to biro a love heart around one of the pictures of Paul McCartney on the gatefold sleeve of Beatles For Sale, but then, she also enhanced the inner sleeve with stapled and sellotaped cut-out images of the Fab Four from Teen Beat or Beatles Monthly or whichever pop magazine of the era was her preferred reading material. Yellowing, crackling and flaky, the tape still holds in place most of the cut outs that were stuck there 56 years ago.

The BeatlesRock And Roll Music

Whenever I play the record, as I was doing earlier this morning, I like to think of Anne, wrapped up in McCartney (and, clearly, a wee bit of Ringo too), obsessing over the harmonies and chords and total fabness of the songs that fly off the the record with total giddy joy.

Did Anne Jefferis simply tire of The Beatles? Surely not! John Lennon’s sandpapered ‘n leathered larynx on that downhill-without-the-brakes-on gambol through Chuck Berry is enough to keep The Beatles close to anyone’s heart for evermore. Did Anne perhaps pass away, her well-loved records thrown out with the other unwanted remnants of her life? (What other records did she have?!?) We’ll very likely never know.

The music…and the people who first owned them – Anne, RP, Brenda, Hugo and the many others…all live on with every subsequent play. I hope those records of mine are still spinning somewhere too. They bloody well better be.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

The Untied State Of America

The revolution will not be televised
solely on ABC and BBC and CBS and CNN 
via twenty-four hour news channels repeating graphic images 
Repeating graphic images
Repeating graphic images
The revolution will be reported by bloggers and vloggers and looters and muggers
Twitters, Tweeters, fast-food eaters
hashtaggers and carpetbaggers, 
The good, the bad and the ugly
all giving their own perspective on the state of America as, overseen by a bully, a rapist, a racist, a disgrace, 
it swallows itself whole, 
a blinkered and bloated, unantidoted nation, where institutionalised hatred of non-whites is at its scraggy, entitled core and the police are given free reign to murder whoever they choose, live on camera. 


The revolution will not be finger lickin’ good
The revolution will be the real thing
Relying on the appliance of science
To get you all the news that’s fit to print
Because you’re worth it.

Tony L. Clark holds a photo of George Floyd outside the Cup Food convenience store, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died Monday in police custody near the convenience story.(Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)

The roots of racism run deep and long, particularly in American history and while there’s a general pretence that we’ve all moved on somewhat, that we’re nowadays more progressive, more liberal and tolerant, it’s not hard to debunk that particular myth. They say you’re never more than 6 feet from a rat, and in the same way, you’re never more than 6 seconds away from finding a racist on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes it’s out and out Tommy Robinson-style hideousness, sometimes it comes wrapped in that old ‘don’t white lives matter too?’ blanket, but it’s all there. Racists walk among us; the man on the street. The cop in Minneapolis – the Minnea Polis, you might say. Even (especially) the inflammatory Twitterer hiding out in the White House. Society’s cancer that refuses to die.

The George Floyd story is, depressingly, nothing new. The reaction has been seen before too. But not like this. Perhaps it’s the pent up release of a country in lockdown, hiding from one epidemic while another rages at its own door, brought to a head by a President who’ll use the situation to rally around the WASPish right as he clings to a job he’s not fit for doing. I don’t know. I’ll never properly ‘know‘. That matters neither here nor there though – I do know right from wrong. We are not all equal, but we should be. That’s obvious, right?

Gil Scott-Heron’s most-famous track, from whence that attempt at politico-prose at the top was inspired was recorded in 1970, just Gil and his firm, quietly assured voice, accompanied by some groovy percussion. The very definition of beat poetry.

Gil Scott-HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Small Talk At 125th & Lenox)

It’s an ‘answer track’ to The Last PoetsWhen The Revolution Comes, street-tough, proto-rap that leaves its cards face-up on the table – “When the revolution comes, guns and rifles will be taking the place of poems and essays.” It was written more than half a century ago, yet seems perfectly prescient for addressing America’s white elephant, so to speak, that refuses to leave the room.

The Last Poets‘ – When The Revolution Comes

A few years after recording his response, Scott-Heron re-recorded The Revolution Will Not Be Televised with added funk and jazz musicians. Its roll-call of cultural reference points and underlying message of activism over pacifism now a relaxed, meandering soundtrack, no less hard hitting but presented in soft-focus polaroid as opposed to stark monochrome. It’s a great soundtrack by which to get political. Agitate, educate, organise.

Gil Scott-HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Flo Motion

I’ve Seen Everything, Trashcan Sinatras‘ 1993 sophomore album (as they say over there) had the prime eight o’clock slot in last night’s #TimsTwitterListeningParty. Curated by the mushroom-heided focal point of The Charlatans, the concept, should you not know, is simple; cue up the album, pour a drink and open your Twitter feed on as many devices as you can handle (the reason for that is clear once the listening party gets underway). At the appointed kick-off time, drop the needle, press play, click the link or whatever you do to consume your music and, as the album spins forth, follow the hashtag while the band Tweet info and gossip and recount their memories of writing the tracks, all the while interacting with the fans as they go along. You’ll need multi-taskable fingers that can fire rapid text at key moments  – “that lyric!“, “that riff!” etc and simultaneously respond to comments that you find yourself tagged in. It’s a bit of a dizzy gallop to be truthful, but highly enjoyable and a great way to spend another evening in lockdown. The community spirit as it plays out is nearly as good as being at a gig. Nearly. You knew that already though.

In the afternoon leading up to the evening’s big event, the Trashcans were sending out little reminders across social media and, in the midst of it all, the news broke that Kraftwerk‘s Florian Schneider had succumbed to cancer and passed away. In no time at all, the Trashcans’ Twitter feed had posted this brilliant picture;

It shows a wall in front of a gas works, the legend ‘KRAFTWERK’ splayed across its Victorian bricks in industrial spray paint. Not just any wall, though. The gas works are in Irvine (actually, were in Irvine – they’re long-gone), original home to both the Trashcans and myself, and were boundaried by the wall (also long-gone) on Thornhouse Avenue at the Ballot Road/Bank Street end, across from the old tennis courts (they’re still there).

When I was younger I lived at those tennis courts – my pal and I jumped the fence in the morning for a quick couple of sets before jumping back over in advance of the caretaker opening up at noon. We’d play all day on our £5 season ticket, run home for tea, run back again until it closed at 8 o’clock then hide round the corner (near TCS bass player Davy’s house, as it happened) until the caretaker had locked up again, then jump the fence one more time and play until it was too dark to see the luminous furry ball until it was past you.

When Wimbledon was on, the part-time tennisers turned up in their dozens looking for a game and it wasn’t unusual to find yourself without a court for an hour or more. That’s when the gasworks’ wall became handy. There were three parts to it – the picture shows two – and there was a clear yet unspoken hierarchy to using it. The section with the wee yellow sign and the ‘ERK’ part of the graffiti was centre court and was reserved for only the best players. Even if you were the only person there, you’d think twice before using it. Gary Singleton and his fierce left-handed serve might be along at any top-spinning second. So you’d stand on the opposite side of the road, aim for one of the other two sections and serve towards it. The wee curved section below was just about the same height as a net, so you could practise serving and volleying to your heart’s content, at least until the ball skited up from the curved section or pinged off the jutting edge that separated the three sections (where the edge of the ‘W’ above disappears next to the ‘E’). If the ball hit either of those parts, you’d lost it forever to either the gas works or the hosiery that was next to it.

Back to the photo though. Who took it? And why did they take it? It’ll be at least 35 years old. Back then, photography certainly wasn’t as disposable as it is these days. Spools were bought. Development paid for. ‘Quality control’ sticker removed in shame. Someone intentionally took this picture and kept it for posterity. I don’t know if it’s Davy’s photo, but I like to think he snapped it one grey day in 1981. As I’m writing, I’m beginning to wonder if Davy maybe even graffitied the wall then took the picture, cool proof that he’d adorned the wall should it be washed off within the week. Until the day it was eventually washed away or the wall was knocked down (whatever happened first), it had seemingly always been there. Back at the time, as I clobbered tennis balls back and forth from it each July, I had no idea who or what Kraftwerk was – ironic, given that it means ‘power station’ (close enough to a gas works, I’d argue) although by the time of The Model and Tour de France, it became apparent that this was uber-hip graffiti in a town that was anything but.

KraftwerkDie Roboter

There will be people far more qualified than I that will write about Kraftwerk in the next day or two. Electronic pioneers, they’ll say, with soul at their synthetic heart. Perhaps even the most influential music makers since Lennon & McCartney – just look and listen to artists as disparate as Joy Division and Afrika Bambaataa if that sounds too far-fetched. I love love love the first side of Autobahn, its German-engineered, fan-cooled engine kicking off a wonderfully meandering road trip, and I’ve a particular penchant for the German-language versions of their better-known stuff – Die Roboter, for example. Strange, linear pop made by serious-faced boffins in matching suits, it still sounds like the future over 40 years later.

I also love how Berlin-era Bowie made no secret of the fact Kraftwerk were hugely influential to him on a trio of albums that have subsequently been hugely influential on others. Influenced by/influence on…. it’s the power that keeps the music world spinning ad infinitum. Here’s the tribute to Florian that eases you into side two of Dave’s “Heroes” album.

David BowieV-2 Schneider

 

Gone but not forgotten

On Parade

Parade was the soundtrack album to Prince‘s royally slated vanity project Under The Cherry Moon, an artily-filmed flop that aimed to evoke the golden era of 40s Hollywood; Art Deco, the French Riviera, silvery black and white tint ‘n all, but landed somewhat short of the mark. Over the course of what is a solid 8/10 album (insert the incoming sound of a million outraged Prince fans here) that flits between Mountains‘ on-the-one shuffling groove and the wonky jazz-inflected pop of Girls & Boys, the electro-funk of Kiss and the more standard perv-pop of New Position (he just about gets away with rhyming spunk with funk in the second verse) Prince runs the whole gamut of his flashy never-ending talent. He saves the very best til last though.

It’s the piano that does it. That and the sympathetically arpeggiated acoustic guitar. And the voice. The voices, actually. Three musicians, three voices, one great song. Coming at the end of Prince‘s eight album in as many years, Sometimes It Snows In April arrives quite unexpectedly, sent down from heaven to land as softly and prettily as a snowfall in April itself.

PrinceSometimes It Snows In April

Sometimes It Snows In April is sparse, downbeat and fragile, the very opposite of the machine-powered dirty funk that precedes it. It’s just Prince with Wendy & Lisa, making what would turn out to be their last appearance on a Prince album. It’s the perfect way to bow out too; tinkle some high up the board keys, breathe some airy vocals across the top and allow the boss to take the song where it needs to go.

It sounds almost played and recorded on-the-hoof. Unsurprisingly, Prince’s vocal is spectacular, flitting effortlessly through the octaves from whispered restraint to skyscraping falsetto, his phrasing floating around the melody with relaxed, close-miked ease.

The guitar is sparse because the player (Prince? Wendy?) isn’t yet exactly sure of what to play. The piano (Prince? Lisa?) is similarly bare-boned. There are no drums, no electric keys, little in the way of bass. It’s Prince in the wee small hours, his musical sidekicks at his beck and call, just out of bed and jamming it all out beside him in their nightwear, adding their reverb-drenched backing vocals at the crucial moments. By the third chorus, just as the three have found their sweet spot, they bring it all to a close. “All good things, they say, never last.” Given the girls’ tenure in Prince’s backing band it’s the perfect refrain.

At one point the song was given a full-blown, power ballad orchestral make-over, but that version remains, alongside gazillions of other delights, locked tightly in the Prince vault. Someone should dial in 1999 and I reckon the door’ll swing wide open.

Anyway. The lyric of Sometimes It Snows… relates to Christopher Tracy, the lead character in the movie – played by Prince, of course – a flamboyant, flapper-era gigolo – of course! – who gads about the south of France swindling outrageously wealthy French women. Of course. In the movie – spoiler alert – Prince’s character dies and the song soundtracks the moment in the film when his former friends and lovers are reminiscing on how great he was. If you can see past the ego and the massive heid (and who wouldn’t have a massive heid if they too were as groovy and talented and attractive as Prince?) you can’t help but think it’s just about the most perfect song Prince wrote. A bold claim, but I’ll fight you for it. Or fight U 4 it, as the man himself wouldn’t have said.

There’s been no snow this April. Just splitting sunshine, shorts on and barbecues roaring. Another indicator of the unusual times we’re living through, as unpredictable as Prince at the end of Parade but nowhere near as pretty.

Gone but not forgotten

Music’s Not For Everyone

Pioneering DJ and soundscaper Andrew Weatherall left us today. A quick look in the more esoteric corners of my record collection will find any number of 12″ singles, CD singles and compilations stamped with his unmistakable sonic signature; dark and dubby and as wildly creative as the hair on his face. Weatherall-enhanced records always grew on you (correction – still grow on you), revealing hidden layers with each new rotation, a sound that was simultaneously out of time and ahead of time.

It was Weatherall who taught Primal Scream that their records should be marathons rather than sprints, and he transformed them from a sniggered-at Asda-priced Guns ‘n Roses into a genre-hopping behemoth, welding MC5 chants to acid house beats to gospel samples to tripped-out, whacked-out house, sometimes within the same track. Before the release of Screamadelica, I’d wager that most folk who approached music from my stubborn and blinkered post-teenage point of view – guitars are where it’s at, dance music’s all nonsense, blah blah blah- would never have heard of Weatherall. That it’s now Primal Scream’s accepted era-defining classic is due mainly to the producer’s ability to channel the group’s punk spirit with the ‘new’ sound pumping out of the clubs. Proof, should it be needed, that the sum of a classic album is even greater than its constituent parts.

It was his magnificent melding of loose and tumbling Stonesy piano and crashing guitars on Loaded that signalled a brave new age in indie guitar music. It was now OK to tuck your melodies into a bed of beats. It was perfectly acceptable to loosen and lengthen your track to the point where it bore no resemblance to its original form. It was suddenly de rigeur to have a Weatherall or Two Lone Swordsmen remix on your single. Acts as wide and varied as Happy Mondays, Six By Seven, Tracey Thorn and Wooden Shjips have all benefited from the magic beats and bloops he sprinkled on top. A Weatherall remix, to use that hackneyed old term, rocked, but more importantly, they rolled.

Wooden ShjipsCrossing (Weatherall remix)

Bocca JuniorsRaise (63 Steps To Heaven)

His production alongside Heller and Farley on Bocca JuniorsRaise (63 Steps To Heaven), all Hanna-Barbera sampled starts, stolen Thrashing Doves piano loops and monster beats still sends the hairs on the back of my neck tingling in anticipation. Was it really played ahead of the Stone Roses gargantuan Glasgow Green show in 1990? I like to tell myself it was. I have some sort of warped memory of going bonkers to it at the time.

His thumping mix of Primal Scream‘s Uptown is a string-driven, disco-infused variant on The Clash’s Rock The Casbah going 15 rounds with Augustus Pablo and Elecronic’s Getting Away With It. Absolutely essential, if you listen to just one Weatherall remix this week…

Primal ScreamUptown (Andrew Weatherall Long After The Disco Is Over mix)

Sometimes, he beefed up the original record to the point where the Weatherall remix became the accepted version. My Bloody Valentine‘s Soon would be a case in point.

Sometimes, he’d take a tiny part of the original tune and steer it towards uncharted territory. The new shapes he twists from St Etienne‘s Only Love Can Break Your Heart were a step too far for these ears at the time. In the intervening years though, this slowcoach has caught up and jumped aboard.

Occasionally, the finished result bore no resemblance at all to the original record. His production on his remix of Flowered Up‘s Weekender, all 16+ minutes of it, is sensationally up there and out there, yet if the artist and title wasn’t on the label, I’ve no doubt that even the keenest of trainspotters would struggle to identify it.

Flowered UpWeatherall’s Weekender (Audrey Is A Little Bit More Partial)

An eclectic, catch-all artist – his setlists read a bit like a random John Peel show, with the added bonus that all tracks were played at the correct speed –  spanned 50s rockabilly…punk…acid house…new wave…no wave…nosebleed techno…avant garde ambience…and flowed seamlessly; dubby, clubby and ebbing and flowing like the best of nights out.

Sabres Of ParadiseTheme

The AsphodellsA Love From Outer Space

A true pioneer, his unmistakable stamp on the great records of the future will be greatly missed. For now, I’ll sate myself with the honest understanding that my knowledge of Andrew Weatherall’s work barely scratches the surface. I’m going in head-first for the next wee while.

Gone but not forgotten

реальный хорошо

Viddy Well, Devotchkas And Malchicks, Viddy Well.

That Bowie fella was a clever droog. In death he created one of his greatest pieces of art. The songs that make up Blackstar contained an outpouring of coded references to the pancreatic cancer that he would succumb to two days after its release. The benefit of such short hindsight allowed even the blindest of Bowie lyric decoders to join the dots and see the bigger picture. Only a small handful of folk knew, but Dave was terminally ill when he wrote and recorded his 25th album and scattered across the tracks were the clues that became so obvious in the days that followed. You know that already though.

Look at me, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be healed.”

Something happened on the day he died.”

Why too dark to speak the words?

If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me.”

I’ve got nothing left to lose…I’m so high it makes my brain whirl.”

Hope I’ll be free.”

I know something is very wrong.”

I can’t give everything away.

He maybe didn’t give everything away, but he gave a huge part of himself. The font used to display the tracklisting on the back? A relatively obscure one called Terminal, funnily enough. Even the sleeve itself is a perfect artefact. Bereft of it’s contents and held to the light, it reveals a galaxy of stars that shines with all the wonder of the cosmos. A certain, intentional metaphor for Bowie’s omnipresence, it’s his final gift to us all.

Blackstar wasn’t the easiest of albums to digest at the first sitting. Much of it is skewed and, unsurprisingly, doom-laden, carried by skittering drums and the sort of skronking jazz that’s only recently found itself on the margins of the mainstream thanks to the occasional rotation of acts such as The Comet Is Coming and Polar Bear on BBC 6 Music. Be it glam or electronica or new romanticism or even speed garage, Bowie was forever at the front of the queue whenever a new musical direction was being charted, in both senses of the word.

There are stellar moments, of course, some of which take half a dozen or more plays before they’ve worked their way into your head, by which point you’re revelling in one of Bowie’s most complex, most complete albums. Blackstar may not’ve been for everyone – my local independent seller was scathing of it upon release, but for those that get it… wow! There are truly brilliant moments on Blackstar, as euphoric as Absolute Beginners, as arty as anything from Low and as essential as the rest of the high rollers that immediately spring to mind when you’re asked for your favourite Bowie albums.

This week’s highlights: the song-within-the-song moment midway through the title track…the crashing guitars that colour the none-more-Bowie vocal on Lazarus….the jerky paranoia of Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)…..the straightforward piano and electric guitar ballad of Dollar Days, an album highlight that sounds most like the Bowie of old, whatever that means. It features a great sax line too, played, I imagine (I hope) by Bowie himself. Meandering, mournful and slowly unfolding, it’s the stately sound of Bowie facing death with stiff upper-lipped dignity. In a back catalogue of fantastic highs, Dollar Days is right up there as one of his very best.

David BowieDollar Days

Best of all though, arguably, is Girl Loves Me, a song smartly written in a mish-mash of two made-up languages, Polari and Nadsat.

Polari was the coded language (more decoding!) used by gay men in the 50s and 60s as a way of finding like-minded companions. With conversation based around combinations of slang and interpolated foreign words, gay men had the perfect means to hide in plain sight. Polari even made it onto the BBC when, unknown to the bosses, it was used extensively on Round The Horne.

In more recent times, Morrissey went through a short phase of adopting Polari. Piccadilly Palare, for example;

The Piccadilly Palare
Was just silly slang
Between me and the boys in my gang
“So bona to vada, oh you
Your lovely eek and
Your lovely riah”

His Bona Drag compilation album too. Translated from Polari, it means ‘good clothes‘. Anyway, I digress.

Alongside his adoption of Polari, Bowie borrows heavily from Nadsat, the half-Russian, half-English language that Anthony Burgess used in A Clockwork Orange. The Russian word for ‘good‘, for example, is ‘khrosho‘, pronounced ko-ro-sho. In keeping with the book’s theme of wanton, casual violence, Burgess cleverly twisted this into ‘horrorshow‘, so whenever a character in the book refers to something as ‘real horrorshow‘, they’re expounding on how great it is. It took me a while to work this out when I first read it, as of course, four pilled-up and violent teenagers giving an old guy a kicking really is a proper horrorshow. I’d no idea for many pages that they considered a ‘horrorshow’ to be a good thing. Jeez.

As a result of it’s lyrical styling, Girl Loves Me sounds weird, wonky and other-worldly. It’s real horrorshow, in fact.

David BowieGirl Loves Me

Cheena so sound, so titty up this Malchick, say
Party up moodge, ninety vellocet round on Tuesday
Real bad dizzy snatch making all the homies mad, Thursday
Popo blind to the polly in the hole by Friday

Where the fuck did Monday go?
I’m go to this Giggenbach show
I’m sailin’ in the chestnut tree
Who the fuck’s gonna mess with me?

Girl loves me

Despite the fantastic imagery that the lyrics throw up, the refrain of “Where the fuck did Monday go?” sticks out a mile for me. When I watched my dad pass away through cancer, he’d lie in a morphine-induced sleep for days at a time. When lucid, he had no idea what day of the week or time of year, or indeed, what year it was. For us carers, minutes turned to hours which turned to days which turned to weeks. Where the fuck did Monday go indeed. It’s the perfect line. Of all the death-related ones on Blackstar, it’s the one that resonates most with me.

Bowie has been gone four years now. He’ll live on forever though.

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Bathed In Light Of Love

Dubiety surrounds the release of Big Star‘s third album, ‘Third’. Was it a true Big Star album in the way #1 Record and Radio City were? Given that the recordings were enhanced by an ever-revolving rotation of session musicians who’d play around the axis of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens – Steve Cropper on the version of the VU’s Femme Fatale, for example, and given that Chilton wrote the lion’s share of the original music, it’s oft been considered the first real Chilton solo album. Studio tracking sheets from the time show references to Sister Lovers (Chilton and Stephens were in relationships with a pair of sisters at the time) which may or may not have been the intended name for the new record, or indeed, a new name for a band far-removed from its original identity. Despite the poor sales of the first two albums though, Ardent were dead keen to market it as a Big Star release and so, with little fuss or fanfare, Third was sent out into the world, Big Star’s ‘difficult’ third album with unfinished songs and little of the sparkling power-pop jangle that dusted the first two.

Big StarJesus Christ

Towards the end of side 2 you’ll find Jesus Christ, a mid-paced, straightforward celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. On top of the occasional Spectorish tumbling toms and a honeyed Stax sax break that gives birth to Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, you’ll spot references to angels and stars and Royal David’s City. The song is carried by Chilton’s instantly recognisable guitar style and sound, a welcome relief following the bleak and self explanatory Holocaust that precedes it on the record.

It’s a properly great Christmas tune, uplifting and joyful, yet as far-removed from the normal records that get played ad infinitum in shops, cafes, taxis, bars, wherever at this time of year. Indeed, the only time you’re liable to hear Jesus Christ in the changing rooms at TK Maxx will be from my mouth as I recoil in horror at the ill-fitting shirt from last season’s Katharine Hamnett collection that I struggled to get on and struggled to get off again. Jesus Christ, it was tight. Forgive me father etc etc…

Big StarJesus Christ (demo)

Chilton’s demo of Jesus Christ is great. Just Alex and a finely strummed acoustic 12 string, it has all the hallmarks of high watermark Big Star; Chilton’s ad libbed ooh-oohs, cracked, at the end of his range vocals on the high notes and the requisite sparkling jangle. What a great canvas for the other musicians to paint on.

Teenage Fanclub (of course) do a terrific version of Jesus Christ. Released on one of the two CD singles to promote Ain’t That Enough, the lead single from the gold standard Songs From Northern Britain album, TFC were in a rich vein of writing form at the time, firing out guitar-fuelled and harmony-filled songs with ridiculous ease. That Ain’t That Enough was released in June with a cover of an obscure Christmas song as an extra track (the other was a nod and a wink cover of the VU’s Femme Fatale, funnily enough) mattered not a jot. Recorded at perfect head-nodding pace and employing the twin vocals of Norman and Gerry, it’s proper, vintage Fanclub. A heady sheen of fuzzed-at-the-edge electric guitar, a tastefully twangin’ Raymond solo and a heartfelt, sympathetic take on the original make this one of TFC’s best covers.

Teenage FanclubJesus Christ

My job in education has changed in recent years, meaning that nowadays I don’t get to drag my class up to sing a Christmas song in the church. I always liked the challenge of this. It was the one time of year I could put my guitar skills to proper use and I was always on the lookout for a left-of-centre song to tackle. Jesus Christ was one I often considered, but it was forever overlooked in favour of something else.

The arrangement was going to be a full-on Phil Spector epic too; some tinkling pitched percussion at the start, eking out the melody against my plaintive strums, a single voice – probably the quietest girl in the class – singing the opening lines, the whole class coming in on the ‘Jesus Christ was born today! Jesus Christ was born!‘ Then there’s my bit – “MY BIT, BOYS ‘N GIRLS!” – where I do my Alex/Norman run up and down the frets before the second solo voice – this time a boy – “And o! They did rejoice!” brings us back to the whole point of the song.

By the second chorus, the entire group is swaying side to side in time to the guitar’s rhythm. By the third, they’ve added handclaps, like a peely wally west of Scotland gospel choir. They’ve lost most of their self-consciousness by this point too. Jack at the back is still fidgeting with the zip on his school trousers and Chloe, front row and centre, has still to lift her eyes from the rich red carpet in the vestry, but look! One or two of them are even smiling. And I’m in my element, pushing it towards the end.

The chorus is repeated a couple more times before we finish in a blaze of frantically scrubbed acoustics, clashing glockenspiel and rapturous applause from the assembled parents in the pews upstairs. The head teacher, as usual, fails to acknowledge both the effort and the spectacle and we move swiftly on to the next class who shamble their awkward way through Santa Baby to the embarrassment of all in attendance. I miss these times most of all.

*Christmas Bonus!

Here’s Alex Chilton’s fantastically louche take on TFC’s Alcoholiday. Teenage Fanclub have never hidden their love for all things Chilton-related, but on this tune the gamekeeper turns poacher. He just about steals the show too.

Alex ChiltonAlcoholiday

Master/Apprentices

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Sledgehammers

There are many great sounds in music; that jazz-inflected major 6th “Yeah!” at the tail end of The Beatles’ She Loves You for one. The vibrating air as Miles Davis leans into So What on Kind Of Blue. Johnny Greenwood’s stuttering pre-chorus crunch as he tries to mess with Creep. John Lydon’s phlegmy Fagin-by-way-of-Steptoe “‘Allo? ‘Allo! ‘Allo!! Heurgh-heurgh-heurgh!” announcement on PIL’s eponymous debut single. The eerie slide guitar that punctuates the juddering How Soon Is Now?…the Cuban-heeled stomp of London Calling… Adam & the Ants Burundi beat…Clarence’ Clemons’ honey-coated sax….. You’ll have your own no doubt, hearing them in your head right now as you read this. Those sounds are what separates you, me and the rest of us from other people who consider music no more than background colour, something that happens to be on as the dishes are washed or the ironing tackled. Obsessives like us listen to music and revel in the small stuff. The minutae. The little bits that you miss when the iron is hissing steam at you while you press next week’s workwear. The important stuff.

Just about my favourite sound in music is the sound of Nile Rodgers‘ guitar interlocking with Bernard Edwards‘ bass. When they hit their stride and find the groove, they’re unbeatable. Like a pair of old ladies clacking away at the bingo, the combined sound is instantly recognisable, totally danceable and, while often copied, it’s a sound that’s never been bettered. When Nile and Bernard formed Chic, the idea was to write songs for different groups. Chic themselves were modelled on Roxy Music’s basic vision of style; smart dress and street-smart females, elements that were to them as important as the songs they were selling.

Chic employed female vocalists and had success on their own terms – you know all the hits – but as the Chic Organization, Bernard and Nile penned hits for others. Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Carly Simon, Madonna, Bowie….all benefitted, and all came gift-wrapped in the same smoothly-clattering funk that coloured Chic’s biggest hits. Bowie’s Let’s Dance was a 12 string skifflish blues until Nile added those familiar massive rattling chords. Like A Virgin, with its keyboard and up the neck guitar stabs could’ve been a Chic hit rather than the smash that elevated Madonna into the conscience of half the world.

I’ve always had a thing for Carly Simon‘s Why. Hearing it out of context on Ibiza as an impressionable 18 year old perhaps helped. Here, it was no longer AOR radio fodder, it was late night/early morning comedown music, long, loping and lightly toasted reggae. In the right context, it made a whole lotta sense.

It’s what Nile and Bernard did for Sister Sledge on Thinking Of You that tops the lot. The chord progression is fantastic, an itchy and scratchy four chord progression from minor 7th to major 7th and back again, played between the 10th and 5th frets while the bassline bounces with fluid funk below. The staccato riffing as Kathy Sledge sings, “Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love…” (the perfect opening line for the song, by the way – it really sets it up the anticipation for what’s to follow) “...brought to you by an angel from above,” is god-like. Nile takes the basic chords, ignores his bass strings then builds hook upon hook upon hook with just the top 3 strings. Your man-in-the-street’s idea of what might constitute a Guitar ‘Great’ could never comprehend why Nile is such a brilliant player. He’s the perfect example of less is more, a fat-free, lean and mustard-keen guitarist.

Behind all of this the strings sweep and swell. Brass parps in all the right places. Unfussy drums maintain the beat. And that’s about it. You can identify every instrument on Thinking Of You. The perfect example, again, of less is more.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dimitri From Paris mix)

Dimitri From Paris took the original and, unsurprisingly, saw the beauty in what was already there and stayed faithful to it. No need for this remixer to strip a good song of its basic components and twist it out of all recognition. Dimitri’s mix is twice as long, allowing space for the breathy vocals to take centre stage before giving way to Rodgers’ incessant Strat, until he drops out and Edwards’ bassline is allowed to buckle and bend in the middle of the track. It’s a showcase not for Dimitri but for Chic, six and a half minutes long and not a moment wasted.

In 2004 Paul Weller took his stripped back, tastefully scrubbed acoustic version of Thinking Of You into the charts, proof, if it were needed, that Rodgers and Edwards songs transfer to all styles. It’s not a patch on the original, but the newly in love Weller’s vocal is pretty soulful and genuine and, given he was spare of decent self-penned material at the time, it was the perfect song to tide him over until his next visit from the song gods.

Paul WellerThinking Of You

Gone but not forgotten

Words-Worth

I’ve been reacquainting myself with the excellent Beastie Boys Book. Published a year ago, I got stuck into it almost immediately and, despite its chunky, clunky, half-brick size, I had finished it well before Christmas. Set out chronologically, it tells the story of the band, from their thrash punk beginnings, to meeting Rick Rubin and their reinvention as a three piece white rap act and the brilliantly eclectic, electric albums that followed, to their sudden, unexpected end following Adam Yauch’s death from cancer.

Rather like their music, it’s all-encompassing, full of unexpected turns, warm, funny and brilliantly informative; alongside lengthy and very humorous sections where Ad Rock and Mike D discuss music (their own, but frequently others’ – there are mix tape suggestions – the ‘Toyota Corolla Mixtape’, for example, that’ll have you off down an internet wormhole for a whole night or more), you’ll find superbly written chapters on such diverse subjects as Manhattan’s clubscene in the early 80s, the merits of on-tour catering, brushes with London bobbies, Charlie Chaplin impersonators, a recipe section, 70s clothes, and amongst it all, a never-ending roll-call of the great and the good in music and popular culture who cross paths with the band over the years; Mick Jones, Madonna, Perry Farrell, Lee Perry, slam dunking with Billy Corgan….it’s all in there.

It’s music though that runs through the book as liberally and majestically as the Hudson River meanders through New York State – Beastie Boys are music obsessives and they’re liable to point you in the direction of some of the best tunes you’ve never heard on every other page. Whatever the genre, they’ll happily recommend a handful of records you simply need to hear. There’s no pigeonholing with the Beasties – a record’s either good or it isn’t. Check the list below and tell me there aren’t at least a dozen tracks you haven’t heard. And tell me again tomorrow if it hasn’t sent you off on an enlightening mission to wherever it is you find your music. And tell me the day after if you haven’t found your ‘new jam’, or whatever it is folk say nowadays.

I signed up for one of those free 3 months trials of Audible – which I’m now paying for a year down the line and haven’t quite got round to cancelling – purely to hear the book in all its Brooklyn’d drawl, but never actually got round to listening to it until recently.

The audio version is the book in 3D. It’s fantastic.

The words fly off the page, often delivered in the same gobby sneer as the guys who made the records but always delivered with honesty and candour. It pours a whole new light on what was already an impressive book and for the past few weeks, it’s been sound-tracking the commute from work at the end of the day, with each spoken chapter just about the perfect length for the drive home; 12 hours and 42 seconds of total listening time that knocks the Shaun Keaveney 6 Music Show for six.

The two remaining Beasties read their own chapters just as if they were setting the record straight whilst sitting with you in the car. Occasionally, just as would happen in real life, the other will interject from the back seat to counter a ‘fact’ or set the record straight. It makes for a highly entertaining and very funny journey. There’s a clear warmth and love for one another. Adam Yauch is held in very high esteem as ‘Chief Beastie’, the one the others looked to for guidance and advice, the multi-talented quiet guy who could turn his hand to anything; creating tape loops in a pre-digital age, being the factor in his apartment block, booking Tibetan monks to open Lollapalooza, jumping out of planes to snowboard down mountainsides, and so on. The odd guest reader takes over duties now and again. I don’t have a good enough frame of American culture reference to appreciate some of the orators, but amongst the basketball players (?) actors (?) film makers (?) the occasional A-Lister appears behind the mic; Snoop Dogg. Chuck D, Kim Gordon. Spike Jonze. It makes for a varied and interesting listen.

None other than Elvis Costello reads a few chapters towards the end. It’s funny to hear him say very Beasties phrases such as, “they were so pissed at us,” and, “I mean, fuuu-uuck!” in his languid, natural voice, with none of the pent-up energy that you know so well from his records. Thrillingly, Jarvis Cocker pops up quite unexpectedly to read the chapter on the Beasties’ visit to London, when they visited Mick Jones and John “It’s Johnny fucking Rotten!” Lydon happened to pop round for a visit in the middle of it all.

Naturally, both versions of the book have led me back to the Beastie Boys’ own music and I’ve discovered a proper love for Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (there’s no Part 1, as you’ll discover if you read/hear the book), the group’s last album and one which, unlike the holy trinity of Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head and Ill Communication, I rarely played until the book nudged me towards a gentle reappraisal. As it turns out, it has all the essential Beastie hallmarks on it; phat beats and phatter bass, clever wordplay, fantastic playing and obscure samples. Or so you’d think.

Recording the album, Beastie Boys set out to play the greatest in-joke they possibly could. They deliberately set out to create an album that was full of fake samples, a record collector’s unattainable nightmare designed to mess with the minds of every crate digger who ever sought out an obscure break. They wanted you to think it was built around samples, but rather than the band lift a break from an obscure 70s record, they themselves went to incredible lengths by writing and playing the break then filtering it through studio trickery before building whole tracks around what appeared to be a sample. They went so far as to create fake writing and publishing credits in the sleevenotes. They even wrote a whole song – Long Burn The Fire – based around their own fake sample and included it in the middle of the record, “a totally backward way of sampling, an experiment in experimenting.”

Beastie BoysMake Some Noise

The big tracks on it stand with the very best of the Beasties; coming across like the long-lost half-cousin of Hello Nasty‘s Intergalactic, Make Some Noise, with its vocodered vocals and wasp-in-a-jar synth line is the brilliant show closer that the band never got to do in concert.

Beastie BoysToo Many Rappers (ft. Nas)

Too Many Rappers was built around one of Yauch’s drum loops. A terrible, sloppy drummer by all accounts, Yauch persevered until he had nailed the perfect section that could be chopped, looped and turned into a Zeppelinesque backbeat upon which the trio plus guest vocalist Nas could wind and weave their vocals.

Best of all is Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win, a fantastically dubby reggae track that introduces itself like The Orb’s Perpetual Dawn before taking a turn uptown with a guest vocal from Santigold.

Beastie Boys – Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (ft. Santigold)

Coasting along on a fluid groove of kangarooing up-the-frets bass married to pistol crack snares, room-rattling rim shots and hissing hi hats, it spotlights just how great the Beastie Boys were as musicians. Santigold floats across the top while the three Beasties jump in and out in the way they do, every last word in each line emphasised for effect by having the trio shout it OUT!, a technique stolen from Run DMC and still being employed to great effect on their final album.

20 bonus points are on their way to the first person to spot the Dylan lyric appropriation, one of at least two on the album.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Twin Axel Attack

Holy Thursday by David Axelrod is an astonishing piece of music. An amalgamation of hep cat west coast jazz, stinging guitar and the abrupt, angular, cinematic stylings of Lalo Schifrin, it’s a pigeonholer’s nightmare; hard to categorise but impossible not to love.

Holy ThursdayDavid Axelrod

This is proper music, written on charts to be played by proper musicians. There’s not one iota of jamming to be had here. From the piano and bass call-and-response intro, via the vibraphone and the pistol crack of the snare, every note, every bend, every brass stab and string sweep has been agonised over and carefully considered before becoming a constituent part in a finished piece that’s even greater than the sum of its groovy, swinging parts. By the time the freak-out electric guitar announces itself around the 4 minute mark, you’ll already be making plans to play it again and again. 

It’s the drums that do it most for me. Skittering, creative and always unpredictable, they’re a sticky-fingered producer’s delight. Various snippets of second-long breaks and beats have been sampled and looped and twisted and turned before being recreated as something new by dozens of hip-hop acts through the years. Stand up, Lil’ Wayne and UNKLE, I’m looking at you.

Holy Thursday would make ideal walk-on music, blaring loudly for a band to take the stage in front of an expectant audience. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if you told me that twonks like Richard Ashcroft (he was quick to make himself known as an Axelrod fan when the world began to catch up with the American’s living legend status in the mid 90s) or Kasabian had used it already. Aligning their own music to something truly grandiose and epic rather than the Asda-priced version that they peddle would certainly be the sort of thing those two acts might consider.  

Axelrod first found work in the 60s as a jazz arranger and producer, helping Lou Rawls to find his feet and sound in music. A heroin-addicted speed-freak, his production work on Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy album took him into both the US charts and the same studios as famed sessioneers The Wrecking Crew. Employing the Crew’s core rhythm section of Carole Kaye on bass and Earl Palmer on drums, Axelrod wrote the musically complex Mass In F Minor for The Electric Prunes. The ‘Prunes were unable to play much of Axelrod’s challenging music and by the end of the initial sessions, in-fighting and finger pointing led to the group disbanding. Unperturbed, Axelrod and his assembled Crew simply completed the album on their own.

Released in 1968, the finished record bore no resemblance at all to the previous two Electric Prunes albums. Classically-tinged Gregorian chanting psychedelia was waaay out there, even for 1968. Richly soulful, redemptive and meditative, album track Holy Are You is the one to go for. It might well be spiritual, the lost cousin of Marvin’s Wholly Holy, but listen closely and you’ll hear the first strains of prog crawling from the dank depths of Middle Earth, a cloak short of a hobbit, a keyboard solo away from full-on mystical wizardry. Unlike yer actual prog, though, it’s fantastic.

Holy Are YouThe Electric Prunes

By the 1970s Axelrod was adventuring increasingly further ‘out there’ until he found the sound he was searching for. Welding the avant garde with wacked-out recording techniques to a traditional band set-up, he produced some startling results, most of which are only now being afforded their rightful time in the spotlight, in this house at least, two years after his death.

Those two tracks above should give you an idea of what he was about; inventive, innovative and invaluable to groovy crate diggers the world over. Check his rich and varied back catalogue on that there streaming service of your choice.