Hard-to-find

It’s Just A Simple Metaphor

A week before my 16th birthday, with freshly-minted National Insurance card in my hand, I went into the local supermarket with my pal and left half an hour and one unexpected interview later – “Q. With what method should you lift a heavy box? A. “The mechanical method, of course.” –  with my first job. 4 hours on a Saturday morning and a further 3 on a Monday night would give me enough disposable income to buy a record and pay for a pint if I was lucky enough to be served, with enough left over to allow me to save a fiver for a rainy day. I can barely save a fiver nowadays, but back then the world was my oyster and the possibilities were endless.

That job paid for some of the best records in my collection. Once I’d discovered The Smiths, I’d buy a different 12″ each week until I’d caught up with their latest release. Likewise with New Order. The only other person I knew who liked The Smiths was Steven Cairney, so when he mentioned them in the same sentence as Echo & The Bunnymen and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, those bands were next on my hitlist. A record collection that was thus far populated by the most generic of records – every evenly-numbered ‘Now‘ album for example, but only up until Now 8 (my gran bought me a Now album every Christmas and died after Now 8), a smattering of Adam & the Ants and Madness albums and a couple of Greatest Hits collections from Blondie and Queen – began to take shape, growing in direct corelation to the quiff on my head, previously cultivated in tribute to Love And Money’s James Grant but handily becoming more Morrissey-esque with each subsequent Smiths’ record.

To an extent mirroring what would become my current working environment as the token male teacher in a primary school, I worked as the only ‘man’ alongside a gaggle of slightly older girls, all friends who went to a different school from me. They were all at least a year above me. One or two had actually left school, and were students in Glasgow. When you’re 16, 18 year old girls seem incredibly exotic and so far out of reach. These girls weren’t actually that exotic – they were mostly from the Ayrshire backwaters (which, to some, makes them incredibly exotic) but they were definitely out of reach. All had boyfriends and chittered and chattered about them for every long hour of their shift. One or two of the boyfriends had cars and one, Tony, (I may have changed his name) had a motorbike. They always asked me about my hair, which I knew was a constant source of amusement for them. “Is it sticking up when you wake up in the morning?…….How d’you keep it up?” they’d ask in barely disguised metaphors. “With Brylcreem,” I’d reply obliviously. Giggle Giggle, gaggle gaggle, chitter, chatter, chitter, chatter, hee-hee-hee! For four hours every Saturday and three on a Monday after school.

On one shift, over the click-click-click of an old hand-held pricing gun, one of the girls got chatting to me about music. “D’you like Lloyd Cole?” she enquired. I’d only just bought Rattlesnakes on the back of Steven Cairney’s mentioning of them, so I talked a wee bit about it. In truth, I loved Rattlesnakes, I still do, but I wasn’t going in feet-first with that admission. “D’you like the song ‘Forest Fire’?” she asked. It was my favourite track on the album. “D’you know what Tony wrote to me? He left a note in my bag that said ‘We’re a forest fire, every time we get together.’ Isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?” It was just about the most adult thing I’d ever heard at that point in my life, that was for sure, and I can never hear Forest Fire without the flashback memory, me in my over-sized company work jacket, cuffs turned up out of necessity rather than in tribute to Don Johnson, she in her work-provided gingham dress and grown-up outlook on life. Flash bastard Tony, with his motorbike and his brilliant-looking desert boots and his collapsed-quiff fringe and his just-left-school boy about town swagger has forever killed it for me.

Lloyd Cole & The CommotionsForest Fire

It’s a great track though, and probably the first I heard where I realised a guitar solo didn’t have to mean a lightning-fast blur of fingers on the 24th fret of a jaggy-shaped hideous guitar. Johnny Marr didn’t go in for guitar solos at all and was the very antithesis of what a guitar hero was supposed to be. Will Sergeant peppered Echo & The Bunnymen’s finer moments with effect pedal-heavy shimmer, something I was unable to replicate on the cheap plank of wood I had the cheek to call a guitar. But on Forest Fire, Neil Clark’s slow-burning twang fits the mood perfectly, closing side 1 of the album with a brilliant repetitive refrain. It’s a guitar solo you can sing. It’s even a guitar solo I can play. It was, for many a year, the only solo I ever needed. Even if it’s been ruined by Tony forever.

Hard-to-find

Sole Music

Who Knows by The La‘s is the track that time forgot. Their one perfectly imperfect album, famously overcooked by a succession of well-intentioned producers, prodders and preservatists, and, despite John Leckie rounding up an actual Abbey Road mixing desk that had channelled yer actual Beatles and a Lennon solo session, devoid of the requisite amount of authentic 60s dust to sate Lee Maver’s unsatisfied and unsatisfiable mind nonetheless contains a dozen short ‘n snappy, frantically scrubbed belters; Way Out, Doledrum, I.O.U, I Can’t Sleep, There She Goes – I really should just list them all – clatter, clang and chime like the best of the band’s undeniable influences.

Mavers, and therefore by default, the band, hated the finished album so much they immediately disowned it. Everyone else though was enthralled by its lo-fi urgency and keening need to drag ‘indie’ music, at the time populated by greasy-fringed posh boys from the Home Counties who played their tunes through banks of overcooked effects pedals, back to a classic songwriting mentality. Too late for the golden era of 60s pop and too early for what would become (gads) Britpop, The La’s ploughed a lone, stubborn furrow for roughly the length of time it took their visionary leader to smoke a six foot spliff to the roach before vanishing in a fragrant puff of smoke.

With each passing year their legend grows. Aborted sessions with young Liverpool musicians too young to have appreciated The La’s first time around, sporadic, erratic live appearances including a short, unpublicised tour 7 or 8 years ago (drums played by the fella who cut Lee’s grass) and a rare spotting of Lee in a Liverpool local banging the bongos at an open-mic acoustic night have all gone a way to helping maintain the myth with a much-resigned and decreasing fanbase.

That sketch above appeared online a couple of weeks ago. Purportedly scribbled by Mavers himself, it’s another reason to hang in there. What else lies in drawers, in cupboards, in studios, long-forgotten?

Will we ever hear new La’s material again? Don’t be daft. Of course not. Thanks to the world wide web, there are a multitude of La’s demos, sessions and alternate versions to gorge yourself upon. Despite this though, two things remain tantalisingly conspicuous by their absence;

1. Lee Mavers has absolutely no online presence at all. He is a 21st century hermit. A recluse happy to live off the not insubstantial royalties that pour monthly through his letter box on the back of There She Goes‘ enduring appeal.

2. You can search and search. You can ask Siri. You might even still be able to Ask Jeeves, but you’ll never find more than one version of Who Knows, The La’s track that time forgot.

The La’sWho Knows

Who Knows is fantastic. Going by its non-appearance on any of the La’s demos or live shows that circulate, it was seemingly recorded once and once only, commited to tape and preserved forever as a one-off recording. Featuring a simple, cyclical acoustic riff and a fragile, voice in the dark vocal, it floats across the ether on a vapour trail of morse-code guitar transmissions, radio static and a heavy reverb that swallows the whole track up at the end. Someone should see that it soundtracks the shipping forecast and it would be the best thing ever.

Who knows what tomorrow knows? Who knows what the future holds? Who knows?

That’s it in a nutshell. Lee. In a room. Playing for no-one but himself. Thank goodness someone (Bob Andrews, since you’re here) magnetised it all to tape. It made its only appearance on the b-side of the original There She Goes single. The cosmic, slightlydelic yin to the shiny, radio-friendly yang. Those in the know should’ve put it on the album at the expense of Liberty Ship. It would’ve made the perfect Side 1 closer. Why didn’t they? Who knows indeed.

Mavers. 2017.

Hard-to-find

Just Like That


Last Tuesday morning I went to my parents’ house. 

In the early hours of Wednesday morning I left my parent’s house. 

A week ago tonight my dad passed away. We were all expecting it. Four years fighting cancer doesn’t come without paying the ultimate price, but it was still a terrible shock when it happened. You think you’re mentally prepared for these events, but it turns out you’re not. I described it to someone as like being suddenly smacked across the face with a rusty shovel. A sharp and shocking ‘take that!’ from someone who doesn’t give two hoots for your feelings. 

Is it worse to experience a sudden, unexpected death or is it worse to sit and watch someone fade in front of you? The grief is overwhelming no matter how it happens. I can confirm that. I’ve experienced both. We were all there at the end last week, surrounding him with love and barely-contained fear. Maybe the fear part was just me, but I don’t think so. Stay strong for dad was the unspoken motto, but no matter how strong we were, we couldn’t help him when he needed us most. The afterwards though was in many ways even worse. 

One call to the funeral director unravelled a whole sequence of never-before considered events. 

An on-call doctor confirmed the death. My dad’s GP will have the death certificate ready in the morning, she tells me, just like that. She’s quiet and respectful but very matter of fact. Formal. Efficient. She has living people she must attend to after she leaves. 

The next day I picked up the death certificate made out in my dad’s name from over the counter of the GP practice. “Sorry for your loss,” mumbled the girl awkwardly. We know one another, but not that well, so it was uncomfortable for the both of us. She went back to her typing and filing. I went back to the car and stared at the certificate for a good 10 minutes, focusing on my dad’s name at the top, unable to drive for tears. 

The following day we go to register his death, armed with a handful of yellowing paperwork; birth certificates, marriage certificates, pension info, all manner of documentation that triggers a wave of bureauocratic activity. As I type, admin assistants in offices around the country will also be typing, updating their records. 

Deceased. Dead. Delete. 

Just like that. 

For the past year or so my dad held a blue badge, allowing him to park in disabled spaces. The woman opposite tosses it to the side. Just like that. The full death certificate prints and I’m handed a fountain pen with which to sign it. I’ve just registered my dad’s death. Just like that. 

It’s numbing. Shocking. Final. 

There have been upbeat moments though. The day after he passed we were in the kitchen sharing stories. I told a good one about the time we went to see Scotland v Spain a few years ago. It was another of our football team’s failed attempts at qualifying for a big tournament (the Euros, I think). My dad was so busy watching the Spanish substitutes warm up at half time that he failed to notice the girl sitting right next to me turn round and bare her breasts for all to see. “Did you see that?!?” he enquired excitedly. “The way that pass bent across the pitch…fantastic!” He had no idea what he’d really missed though. 

As we’re laughing and relaxed, momentarily forgetting dad is in the past and not the present, the doorbell rings again. It’s the umpteenth time already that day. An old neighbour pops in to say he’d heard the sad news. Every one of us in the room, the ones who’d been laughing and joking moments before revert to downbeat, sad stereotypes. We must be sad at this time. We are all sad at this time. It’s quite funny if you stop to ponder it. 

I put together the Order Of Service for his funeral last night. He’d planned it all himself. Dictated his wishes while we’d written it all down. It wasn’t hard to put together but it was hard keeping it together. Typing in my dad’s birth and death dates was another of those shocking, final moments. The big final moment is this Friday, after which everyone who’s been through this tells you it starts to get better. I’m sure it does. You’ll be able to tell, as the music posts will begin again in earnest. 

Social media is full today of tributes to Tom Petty. It’s always terrible when a favourite musician dies. A tiny piece of your own fabric dies with them; the memory of buying a record or going to a gig, entwined with the times in which you first experienced their music. It’s a powerful thing when they go. But it’s nothing compared to losing your dad. Nothing. There’s a pun just begging to be written here about Petty/petty but I’ll leave that to someone else. 

Hard-to-find

Clocks

My parents’ house has two front rooms. The smaller one is currently doubling up as a bedroom/sick ward for my terminally ill father. There’s never a clutter of collected tea cups or half-eaten biscuits as my mum busies herself tidying around us, an always-on-the-go highly strung mother hen, just about keeping it together for the good of her brood. The telly is often on, its volume muted, subtitles jerkily appearing out of sync. Now and again one of my dad’s favourite folk CDs will be playing softly in the background. When left alone, my mum sits beside my dad, maybe singing, always holding his hand.

The larger of the two rooms has always been known as ‘the good room’. We are only really ever in there at Christmas and New Year or maybe for someone’s birthday. It would need to be a special birthday though. Compared to the other front room, where the cream carpet has been turned a grubby shade of grey due to non-stop foot traffic over the past two weeks, this room is indeed ‘the good room’. If the nurse or the doctor or the carers turn up, we tend to decamp to the good room while they do their stuff. A couple of days ago my wife and I sat in silence, half listening to the muffled voices coming from the other room, but mainly being distracted by the tick-tick-ticking of an old clock above the fireplace.

I hate that clock,” I muttered to my wife. “It reminds me of being bored at my gran’s.” I’d be waiting for the telly to start, 70’s TV being characterised by the epoch-defining girl playing knots and crosses with the clown – a screensaver before they’d coined such a term – listening to the ticking of the clock working against the clickety clack of my gran’s knitting needles and the smackety snap of her substitute for Silk Cut chewing gum, willing time to speed up and for something, anything to happen.

Now I’m desperate to slow time down. Turn it back even.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Tick tock.

Outside, traffic flashes past on its way to wherever, busy people leading busy lives. And time goes on.

In the supermarket I meet my dad’s pal, a big, proper man’s man, and we burst into tears at the sight of one another. No one seems to notice.

The Chinese takeaway asks if I want a bag. Well, who wouldn’t want a bag for their piping hot, metal-cartoned food?

The woman in the petrol station asks if I have a Nectar card and do I want cash back and would I like a receipt with that? Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock. No thanks.

Driving to my parents’ house I’m stuck behind a literal Sunday driver and I overtake him where I shouldn’t, pushing my old car to the extremes so that I can get to my dad before the nurse does. She has medication in her bag and the big news of the day is that he’s been ‘talking’ to my mum and my sister. ‘Talking’ has been put in inverted commas as he’s more communicating through a series of painful moans and heavy-armed points in the rough direction of his mouth, but still, the prospect of him being awake enough to be aware of who’s in the room is enough to make me press my foot further to the floor. Now I’m the traffic flashing past, a busy person leading a busy life.

I get to my parents’ house.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

This is hellish.

Hard-to-find

Massive Respect

They’re not a ‘group’ in the traditional sense; there’s no lead singer, no egotistical frontperson, no focal point and certainly no lead guitarist, yet despite this, (because of this?) Massive Attack are one of our most important groups.

From Bristol, they’re a multicultural melting pot of accents, ideas and vision. Robert Del Naja, better known as 3D has his roots in Italy’s Naples. Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall is a Bristolian, born to West Indian parents. Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles brought his talents as a soundsystem DJ. Tricky, known to his mum as Adrian Thaws, has his own parallel career as as a solo performer. Combine their backgrounds and musical tastes and you have a pigeonholer’s nightmare; they blend elements of hip hop, dub and soul, post-punk, ragga and cinematic score to ceate their own unique music.

Massive AttackSly

Sly in name and sly in nature, Sly was created from an uncredited Sly Stone sample (Africa Talks To You, on There’s A Riot Goin’ On). In keeping with Massive Attack’s multicultured and open policy approach to music-making, it features a magical vocal from Nicolette Suwoton, a Scottish-Nigerian living in London. Nicolette sings elsewhere on the Protection album, but, for me, this just shades her other efforts.

Often sample-led, though not in the obvious way, Massive Attack’s music tends to be low on BPM, high on wide open space and spoken word verses and wrapped in rich production. Some of the low-end bass sounds on their first couple of albums are astonishing. By the time of 3rd album Mezzanine, they were sampling Siouxsie Sioux and had added a creeeping sense of impending doom to some of their material. Stick some earphones in and go for a walk with Mezzanine playing. You’ll find yourself in your own movie. Try it with the Velvets and Wire-sampling Risingson (and see if you can spot the less-than-obvious samples)

Massive AttackRisingson

Always moving forwards, always seeking new ideas, the key to their success is in no small way due to their choice of vocal collaborators. With no lead singer, they’ve worked with a succession of inspirational vocalists. Soul belter Shara Nelson takes the lead on a few debut album tracks, most memorably on Unfinished Sympathy, their first biggy, the band’s signature tune and arguably their best track. Tracey Thorn adds down-at-the-mouth bedist disco queen vocals to Protection, the title track of their second album. Liz Fraser pops up in Teardrop, an astonishing record that eschews her usual Cocteau Twin’s gibberish for a straightforward native-tongued love song. Love, love is a  verb, love is a doing word. I don’t know who wrote that lyric, but it’s perfect; poetic yet straightforward, straightforward yet poetic. For what it’s worth, I’ve read somewhere that it’s Madonna’s favourite record.

For what it’s also worth, here’s my (current) favourite Massive Attack tune. In the spirit of Plain Or Pan it’s a less-than-obvious choice. Euro Zero Zero found itself on the CD single of Teardrop. It’s a remix of Eurochild from the Protection LP and features each member of the group taking a verse each. Tricky nicks some of the lyrics from The Specials’ Blank Expression for his part. It’s terrific.

Massive AttackEuro Zero Zero

‘Genre’ menas nothing to Massive Attack. If the voice fits, they use it. Look elsewhere throughgout their rich and varied discography and you’ll find the undisputed vocal talents of reggae legend Horace Andy, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Sinead O’Connor, Damon Albarn…..it’s an endless list, really. They’ve also allowed their music to be remixed by Underworld, Paul Oakenfold, Primal Scream, Tim Simenon, Mad Professor, Brian Eno, U.N.K.L.E., Manic Street Preachers and Blur. An embarrassement of riches and a huge ‘fuck you’ to people like me who prefer their music neatly categorised. If your interest in Massive Attack waned after the second or third album, you’re missing out on a whole load of brilliant music. If you’ve kept up with Massive Attack, you will, as the saying goes ’round here, know that already.

 

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Is 3D really Banksy? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest he may well be. As well as being happy to show off his skills at producing very stylised stencilled art, there’s the theory that a new Banksy pops up wherever Massive Attack are on tour. Only 3D can answer that question. And I kinda hope he never does.

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s the evergreeen, forever-rolling Perfecto remix of the Billy Cobham-sampling Safe From Harm. It’s a cracker.

 

 

Alternative Version, Hard-to-find, Live!, New! Now!

Waltz #2

Hailing from Caithness, near John O’ Groats at the very top of Scotland, the furthest outreach on the British Isles, Neon Waltz are as far-removed from any ‘scene’ as possible. The six-piece are an insular unit; self-sufficient, self-reliant and self-absorbed.


The music they make is, if you’re of a certain age, nothing you haven’t heard before, but no less thrilling. In songs such as Dreamers and Heavy Heartless they have that unique way of creating an uplifting melancholy; world-weary vocals carried along by chiming, fizzing guitars and a heavy swell of Hammond organ. You might find comparisons with The Coral, The Charlatans or Teardrop Explodes, bands who know how to brew a heady swirl of guitar and organ that’ll lift you to giddy new heights. Lazy folk might label them ‘indie’. I prefer to call them slightlydelic.

Neon WaltzHeavy Heartless


As befits a band that is so far off the taste radar of hip opinion as to be almost non-existent, they have the freedom to come and go as they please. Regular zig-zagging across the highways and biways of the UK combined with a hermit-like lifestyle in their rehearsal space in an abandoned croft – Music From Big McPink, if y’like, has helped the band forge a sound that led them to Atlantic Records and a deal with Ignition. And a month from now, two years since first being signed, their debut album will be released. It won’t come with much of a fanfare or blustery media hype, but it will come with the guarantee of a melody-rich debut, a record that may well prove to be the year zero for future bands. You can quote me on that when the time comes.

A recent photo session on the Isle of Stroma, halfway between the very north of Scotland and the southerly tip of the Orkneys proved fruitful. Shooting the photos that will presumably appear on all promotional material for the imminent album release, the band chanced upon the long-since abandoned school house. Amazed to find it was accessible, they entered and found an old harmonium, lying dusty, untouched and exactly as it had been left when last used. More amazingly, keyboard player Liam Whittles was able to extract noise from it; eerie, ghost-like and gossamer thin, the old harmonium wheezed into life. A spontaneous version of  Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ was followed by this beautiful reworking of their own Heavy Heartless. It’s magic; understated, creaky and exactly how a harmonium-enhanced band should sound.

Neon WaltzHeavy Heartless (Stroma Schoolhouse Session)

Neon Waltz go on tour shortly. Their debut album, ‘Strange Hymns‘ is out at the end of July on Ignition Records. It  can be ordered direct from the band here and in all the usual places.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Live!

Pepper (Slight Return)

The previous post (on Elliott Smith, below) was written on the back of the Sgt Pepper anniversary/reissue jamboree. By coincidence, so is this one.

Sgt Pepper turned the world on its axis. The day it was released, the 60s went from the monochromed mundanity of a smog-filled Britain with wee men in bowler hats running the country to a cosmic technicolour planet where anything was possible. And anything was possible. On the 4th June 1967, just two days after Pepper came out, Paul and George found themselves at The Saville Theatre for a Jimi Hendrix Experience show. Hendrix, perfectly aware that half of The Beatles were in attendance had the mother of all aces up his silken batwinged sleeve.

Hendrix had appeared from nowhere, brought to Britain by The Animals’ Chas Chandler, immediately establishing himself as a top fixture in all the right clubs in swinging London. He was a top-heavy hippy in military garb, supported by sparrow-narrow legs with hair as wild and electric as the upside-down Strat he toted. Jaw-dropping in both sound and ability, Jimi could play lead and rhythm concurrently, his big right thumb working the bass notes the way a conventional guitarist might use his first finger. With black-as-coal hamster eyes permanently sparkling he sent multicoloured notes of amplified electric greatness out into the ether. He was untouchable.

To open The Saville Theatre show, Jimi and his Experience worked up a version of Sgt Peppers‘ lead track, slow and sludgy, loose and on the edge of falling apart, unmistakeably Hendrix and super-thrilling. Jimi replicated the whole thing, even playing the brass section as guitar riffs. A guitar-heavy track to begin with, Hendrix made it his own. A thrilled Paul and George watched from the balcony as Jimi caught their eye and smiled his knowing, lopsided, stoned grin.

Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’, and it had only been released on the Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment. It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost. (Paul McCartney)
Jimi Hendrix ExperienceSgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Saville Theatre, London, 4.6.67)

One of the best Beatles’ covers? Quite possibly. You’ll have your own ideas, no doubt. Beatles’ covers are ten-a-penny. We all know that. The Sgt Pepper album was treated to the full monty in 1987 when the NME, back in the days when it was still a barometer of hip opinion, released the whole album in cover form. It’s a fairly stinking album, all truth be told. It did raise money for charity, getting Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends‘ to number one in the process, and it did give Billy Bragg a back-door entry to the top of the charts (the barking bard from Barking’s version of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ was on the b-side) but, 30 years on, it’s best forgotten about.

In contrast to Jimi’s spectacular take on the title track, Three Wize Men (Google won’t help) bravely attempted a none-more-80s hip hop version of the same track. Perhaps at the time it was a radical thrill (I doubt it) but nowadays it sounds about as edgy as something Age Of Chance might’ve left lying unloved on the studio floor.

Three Wize MenSgt Pepper

 

The album closer, by that most NME of bands The Fall, is a bit better, this album’s saving grace, even, even if Mark E Smith sounds totally bored by the whole concept. He probably was.

The FallA Day In The Life

She’s Leaving Home…..