Archive for the ‘Hard-to-find’ Category

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Too School For Cool

July 17, 2016

Elvis Costello played Glasgow through the week there. One of the few greats I’ve still to catch in concert, the extreme burst of half-arsed lethargy with which I greeted the sale of the tickets ensured this was a fact that remains so today. There have been some great reports of the show and of course, I now wish I’d made more of an effort and gone. Maybe next time…

Like many folk of a certain age, my first encounter with Elvis came via him playing Oliver’s Army on Top of the Pops. A Buddy Holly for the Sniffin’ Glue generation, this knock-kneed, open-mouthed twitching nerd in turned-up drainpipes and his Dad’s old suit jacket (a ‘look’ I would make something of my own a decade later), replete with a Fender guitar that was too big for him and a massive pair of defining National Health skelpers (were they actually NHS-issued?) confirmed Elvis as geek chic before such a thing existed.

elvis c bubble gum

Oliver’s Army is literal and wordy and at the age of 9, something I couldn’t care less about. It was catchy, he had a funny voice and it mentioned Oliver, not a name I’d ever heard sung in a pop song before. He sang about the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne and white niggers, whatever they were. As it turns out, the song is partly about the skilled workforce that was needed during the war effort. If you had a particular skill, Oliver Lyttleton, Churchill’s Trade Secretary, made sure you did your bit for him, not with a gun but with your hammer or screwdriver or whatever.

Elvis wrote the song quickly after visiting Belfast at the height of The Troubles and seeing first-hand how young the soldiers in the firing line were. “They always get a working class boy to do the killing,” he remarked wryly. Those working class boys were the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne.

Elvis CostelloOliver’s Army

The inspiration for the tune’s grown-up and none-less-punk arrangement? Elvis and the Attractions were on tour in the US and driving through the American mid-west, radio playing, when Elvis was struck by the lightning rod of creativity. Abba’s Dancing Queen was currently drifting across the airwaves and its descending piano motifs between the lines proved to be the catalyst that turned a good song into a great record. They’d make the perfect opener for his new song when they came to record it, Elvis considered. And, as it turns out, they did. So arguably, without Dancing Queen there’d have been no Oliver’s Army. (Incidentally, without George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby, there’d be no Dancing Queen, but that’s another story).

elvis c armed forces

Oliver’s Army‘s parent album, Armed Forces was my first introduction to Elvis the artist, as opposed to Elvis the pop star. Again, it was wordy and literal, but offset by twitchy, synthy, noo-wavey, skewed guitar pop. You’ll know that already though.

I had no idea what any of it was about but it sounded terrific. It starts with ‘Accidents Will Happen‘, another brilliant piece of Elvis pop that just bursts in, as if you’re listening to the song half way through. Wherever that idea came from, or whoever he half-inched the notion from, it’s a masterstroke.

Elvis CostelloAccidents Will Happen

Armed Forces came in a great fold-out Barney Bubbles-designed sleeve too, all pop-art graphics and technicolour. It’s an album I come back to now and again – indeed, it was spinning just last night- and in the days before iTunes counts or any of that nonsense that gets in the road of a good listen nowadays, I must’ve played it from start to finish at least, oooh, I dunno, 37 times.

elvis c armed forces inner

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Hook Lines

June 7, 2016

Majestic, magnificent, mid-80’s New Order. Is there anything better?

new order kev c13 ½ of New Order by Kevin Cummins 

Long before the running of the Hacienda that seemed to take priority over the music and the inter-band fights that ultimately led to their sorry downfall, the band were imperial. Their 3rd album, 1985’s ‘Low-Life‘, tracing paper sleeve ‘n all, is a high point in a full-fat discography choc-full of high points. It’s the album where post-punk morphed into dance rock – stadium house for floppy fringes and German Army surplus, if you like.

Side 1 closer ‘Sunrise‘ is New Order’s collected output in miniature; the elegant minor key keyboard swells in the intro giving way to one of those Peter Hook basslines that you kinda just always took for granted – fluid and high up the frets, and dripping with liquid quicksilver from the fingers of the Viking alchemist. It’s window cleaner-whistleable and never lets up the entirety of the song.

hooky kev cHooky by Kevin Cummins. Of course.

New OrderSunrise

Barney’s guitar is forever on the verge of being out of tune, playing a demented take on a Spaghetti Western twang, fizzing and wheezing its way through the song between vocal lines, crashing to a frantically-strummed crescendo somewhere around the 6 minute mark when the ‘F’-shaped chords rattle out like Nile Rodgers fronting the Buzzcocks. Even his vocals, never his strong point, let’s be honest, hang on in there, straining at the high notes before being drowned out by his furious strumming.

It’s a beauty.

Peter HookHeads down, no nonsense.

Even more of a beauty is last year’s homage to Anthony Wilson, St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson. The brainchild of Manchester poet Mike Garry who’d performed the poem, beat poet-style in Manchester’s hipper venues, it was offered to a local composer who added large elements of New Order’s ‘Your Silent Face‘ to the spoken-word track, creating a gorgeous, lush, string-laden track that runs an alliterative A-Z of all that makes Manchester great.

The Arndale…Acid House…Bez, The Buzzcocks, The Bouncing Bomb, The beautiful Busby Babes…. Curtis, Cancer, Crack…. Dance, Design, Durutti, Devoto… I could list it all, but it’s better to just listen to it and soak it all up for yourself.

St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson (Andrew Weatherall mix)

anthony h wilsonSaint Anthony himself

When it came out last August I was totally obsessed by it. Although the original version is the one I heard first, the Weatherall remix is a 9 minute monster. Motorik, relentless and repetitive, it’s the one you want to hear first.

Treat yourself to the vinyl or CD here. Go on!

New OrderYour Silent Face

*Footnote!

I’m no audiophile, but when the New Order back catalogue was re-released by Warners a few years ago, there was a huge outcry over the shoddy mastering of the music. For a band steeped in technology and futuresound, the music on the discs was tinny, weak and flimsy when compared to the original vinyl. My LP is currently spinning as I type and I can attest to this. Don’t let that put you off though – if you like the 2 New Order tracks featured here and are hearing them for the first time, just imagine how terrific they sound when played on the right format. In fact, you should probably pop down to your local record shop (every town has one nowadays) and buy them.

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Soul Brothers

June 1, 2016

Siblings in soul is, as Tom Jones might say, not that unusual. The Isley Brothers weren’t so-called for nothing, ditto the Family Stone, with Sly fronting a band including his brother Freddie and sister Rose.

Erma and Aretha Franklin both developed singing careers from a church background. Their father was a travelling preacher, a pop star in his own right who’d go from town to town raising hell with his fire and brimstone sermons before his daughters raised the roof with their pure gospel. Big sister Erma would go on to have a hit with ‘Take A Little Piece Of My Heart‘, but it was Aretha who went on to far greater success. You may have heard of her.

Then you had the Jackson Sisters and, no relations, a whole hairy-headed handful of brothers in the Jackson 5, who had expired long before Michael would climb the charts all over again, duetting with little sister Janet.

There are loads more, of course, but to acknowledge them all would turn this article into a listathon, and who wants that?

One of the more interesting musical family rivalries was that of the Butler brothers. Big brother Jerry was a songwriter chiefly, but a decent crooner in his own right. Like many of his ilk, he found his voice via gospel and actually ended up being the lead vocalist in the Curtis-free first line-up of The Impressions. Mayfield certainly made the bigger, er, impression, as Jerry and his voice were soon dispatched to make way for Curtis and his distinct vocals.

jerry butler

Most of Jerry Butler’s tracks never get out of 2nd gear; shiny-suited and highly pompadoured mid-paced mushy love songs that were expertly delivered, easy on the ear  and admired by many. To me, he’s a bit too wallpaper, ie, he’s there, but kinda in the background and unnoticed. This track from 1968’s ‘The Ice Man Cometh‘ LP though is a stone-cold classic.

Jerry ButlerNever Gonna Give You Up

Wee brother Billy on the other hand favoured up-tempo soul stompers. In an act of how-to-piss-off-your-brother-pettiness, his early material was produced by Curtis Mayfield. Loud, in your face, driving brass-led blasters were his speciality.

billy butler

In the mid 60s, Billy had a hit with ‘The Right Track‘, a dazzling slice of Temptations-inspired northern soul. You can take any meaning you fancy from the lyrics – ‘I’m gonna keep on steppin’, never lookin’ back, I believe I’m on the right track‘ could be the rallying cry of a manifesto-wielding civil rights supporter, but it could also be the rallying cry of the weekend mod and his pals, pilled-up and looking for a good night out. Take yer pick.

The Right Track‘ has it all; clipped guitar, blasting horns, a piano riff absolutely ripe for sampling and, with Billy outta the traps like a talcum-covered whippet, all over and done with in under 2 and a half explosive minutes.

Who disnae like this, eh?

Billy ButlerThe Right Track

northern soul dancers wigan casino 1975

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Never Mind The Bollocks

April 17, 2016

So, the dust has settled on RSD ’16. That’s ‘S‘ for ‘Shop‘, by the way. ‘Store‘?!? Pfffffttt. Not in my house. I celebrated this year’s event not in the queue at my local record shop (we have a decent one in our town, but I wasn’t planning on getting into a scrum at half 7 in the morning), but rather up Goat Fell on the island of Arran. It’s classed as a large hill, I believe, not even Munro status, but let me tell you – I might’ve scrambled my way up a hill, but I came down a mountain. My legs are still aching as I type. At the top there are sensational views of the west of Scotland and beyond; in one 360° sweep you could see Bute and the mouth of the River Clyde, the two Cumbrae islands, the Mull Of Kintyre (no mist rolling in from the sea on this clear day) and there, on the horizon beyond Ailsa Craig, the east coast of Ireland, faint as a bookies’ pencil line on last week’s National betting slip, but there in front of the naked eye all the same. Arran’s jagged peaks below us made us feel as though we were on top of the world, perhaps the same feeling you might’ve experienced when you landed your grubby mitts on whatever slab of black plastic you were desperate to part upwards of £15 for yesterday. I dunno, but I’m pretty sure my experience just felt a lot more cleaner and honest.

arran sunsetArran from the ferry home last night.

I’m not really a fan of RSD. I’m all for the promotion of record shops and music and buying records and all that, but I find the whole thing a ridiculous cash-in by everyone involved. Why would you pay silly money for a reissued Associates 7″ when you can pick an original copy up on eBay for 75p? I don’t get it. But I’m a total music snob – I love exclusivity and uniqueness, so I do kinda get it when bands release one-off tracks especially for the day. Last week I picked up Paul Weller‘s Flame-Out (from RSD ’14) for 99p. Couldn’t get it for love nor money two years ago, but there it was, sad and unloved (and still shrink-wrapped), some unscrupulous scalper’s failed pension plan cast adrift on eBay for eagle-eyed digital crate diggers like myself.

s'express promo

Maybe in a couple of years I’ll be able to pick up a mint copy of Primal Scream‘s offering for this year, a surprisingly good take on, of all things, S’Express’s Mantra For A State Of Mind. The original is terrific; end of the century disco music, all rinky dink Italo house piano, sugar coated in bleeps and whooshes and carried along on a wave of hysterical female backing vocals. If you listen very carefully you’ll hear the sound of Bobby G and co taking notes as they prepare to record Don’t Fight it, Feel It. How has no-one noticed this until now?

S’ExpressMantra For A State Of Mind (Elevation Mix, Parts 1 & 2)

pscream 16pscream16pscream16

Primal Scream slow things down rather a lot. Their version sounds like something they might’ve done 25 years ago and comes across like S’Express on Benylin. It’s got Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce on guitar duties and that very same hysterical lassie that S’Express used to beef up the original version. It‘s bloody magic, truth be told.

Primal ScreamMantra For A State Of Mind

pscream 16

If you had the chance to talk to Bobby, he’d probably fix you straight in the eye and tell you straight-faced that their version was a punkrockdoowoppsychedelicatrippedoutcidhousepartycomedowngroove or other such bollocks, Little Richard jamming with Sun Ra and produced by Lee Perry, StonesWhoPistolsClash-influenced with, y’know, added bongos. But you know and I know that Bobby is now one big lanky streak of a caricatured stupidity, about as current as that Grand National bookies’ line I was talking about earlier. Primal Scream nowadays are a total irrelevance, with record sales as flimsy as Bobby’s fringe. Apart from Kasabian fans, who still likes them? If they made more records in the vein of Mantra, though, Primal Scream would still be hot property.

Right. I’m off to seek out that Radiohead 12″ from RSD ’12. I hope I get it before you.

 

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It Was Plenty Years Ago Today (50, to be exact)

April 4, 2016

Half a century ago this week, The Beatles were in the studio recording the tracks that would make up their Revolver LP. Amazingly, the first track worked on was Tomorow Never Knows, the cut ‘n paste, experimental, looped track that still sounds futurtistic, frightening and like nothing else in the entire Beatles’ canon. It was only three short and manic years since She Loves You, but it may as well have been three million light years, such is the leap in their vision and outlook. You could be forgiven for assuming that for the session the band reconvened in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 with a handful of solo acoustic tracks just waiting to be Beatlefied. Nothing could be further from the truth.

beatles revolver back

For Tomorrow Never Knows, the band set up in the studio to jam the main backing track, with Ringo’s compressed and relentless thunk driving the track in tandem with McCartney’s droning bass. Listen with eyes closed and you’ll hear a little organ, a wonky tonk piano in the fade out, a perisitent rattling tambourine and a couple of guitar tracks; the fuzzed out one manipulated to play backwards and the other fed through a Leslie speaker to give it that widescreen swirl that would in time become synonymous with the era.

On top of it all there are sound effects that could well be the calling sound of the Great God Pan himself; Fanfaring trumpet noises. Scraping, sweeping, jarring strings and what sounds like the divebombing seagulls that bother the fish and chip eaters at Largs shorefront. It’s fairly astonishing for 2016. Imagine hearing it for the first time in 1966. Wow!

The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows (released mono version)

Making the track involved more than just the four Beatles – George Martin orchestrated the whole affair, ably assisted by Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick who’s job involved deadening Ringo’s drum sound by stuffing an old jumper inside the bass drum and shuffling it about until the right sound was achieved. The backing track took just three takes over 2 days to perfect, before Lennon’s vocals were given the requisite attention.

Famously, Lennon’s lyrics came from Timothy Leary’s LSD manifesto, ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead‘ and flowed in a stream of epoch-defining consciousness…

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,
It is not dying, it is not dying.

Lay down all thought, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

That you may see the meaning of within,
It is being, it is being.

That love is all and love is everyone,
It is knowing, it is knowing.

That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead,
It is believing, it is believing.

But listen to the colour of your dream,
It is not living, it is not living.

       Or play the game ‘Existence’ to the end,
Of the beginning, of the beginning.”

At the mixing desk, after hearing how the guitar track sounded through the Leslie speaker, Lennon insisted his vocals were given the same treatment. “I want to sound as though I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top. And yet I still want to hear the words I’m singing.”

It’s also been said that John wanted the sound of 4000 monks chanting ad infinitum in the background. I’m not certain he achieved either goal, but what was eventually committed to vinyl was brave, bold and big of beat.

Here’s the druggy, fuggy first take:

The BeatlesTomorrow Never Knows (Take 1)

Keen-eared Beatles spotters will be aware that the first copies of Revolver were sold with the wrong mix of Tomorrow Never Knows included. These records were quickly withdrawn and recalled, although not before a good many had disappeared into the hands of unsuspecting record buyers. Discovering this a few years ago, with shaky hand I checked the matrix number on the run-out groove of my ‘first’ pressing Revolver, bought for £4 in Irvine Indoor Market in the mid 80s when the Beatles were anything but cool. Pah. One digit out. Meaning it wasn’t technically a first issue, and nor was it worth the £20,000 it might have been. I wouldn’t have sold it anyway*.

Back in Abbey Road’s Studio 3, just after half seven that evening when Tomorrow Never Knows had been expertly finished, the band veered back towards the middle of the road to tackle Got To Get You Into My Life, another drug-inspired song and another story for another day.

beatles revolver sessions 66Just out of shot, a young Paul Weller, keen to rip off George’s Taxman and apparently, his entire wardrobe.

*Aye, right.

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Why You Wanna Leave Me, Baby?

March 23, 2016

If you’re a fan of soul music, in particular the sweet, high falsetto’d restrained soul of Curtis Mayfield or Prince when he’s in a wooin’-the-laydeez kinda mood, you could do worse than discover Didn’t I by Darondo.

DarondoDidn’t I

darondo street

It‘s quite possibly the finest slice of underground soul that ever was; a sparse minor chord-led groove, all frugging bass, doo-wop intro and call and response vocals, with a gutteral grunt one line followed by that high! high!! high!!! falsetto the next. There’s a subtle string section shimmering its way through the background, the odd flute and oodles of proper soul.

It first came to my attention a few years ago when Teenage Fanclub’s Gerry Love selected it as one of his Six Of The Best for this very blog. It was very likely a record that in its own small way influenced Gerry’s only solo LP, the terrific Lightships album. It too has a fair sprinkling of flute and plenty of pastoral strings while spinning at a relaxed pace. Ever since Gerry mentioned it, it’s lain in that dark corner of the blog, discovered only occasionally by a few very specific Googlers or in-depth readers each month. The time is long overdue to give the record its rightful place in the spotlight.

Born William Daron Pulliam jnr, the teenage William ran the streets, where he went by the name of Daron, a name soon augmented to Daron-do on account of him always having a pocketful of dough. Quite where that dough came from is anyone’s guess. There are rumours a-plenty that he was a pimp before he was a musician, and judging by the pictures above and below, you could well believe that. He certainly dressed like one, and the white Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (personal license plate not shown) adds to the notion. He gigged sparingly, was classically ripped off by his label and disappeared almost as quickly as he’d arrived. In-between having a nervous breakdown, travelling the world by cruise ship and being mistaken for Little Richard, he studied and qualified as a physiotherapist, a job he does to this day. In my house, though, he’ll always be known as the one that got away. On the evidence of Didn’t I and Legs, below, he coulda been another Sly.

Dig it, brothers and sisters. I told you you’d like it. Didn’t I?

*Bonus Track!

DarondoLegs

darondo car

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Never Mind The Buzzcocks

March 19, 2016

Telephone Operator by Pete Shelley gallops along like a post-punk, electro mash up of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses and Take Me I’m Yours by Squeeze. Shelley is in full-on sneering-camp mode and as the record plays, you can just picture him looking side-on to an imaginary camera, left eyebrow slightly raised, arch and knowing.

It’s post punk and therefore post Buzzcocks, but it’s lost none of the key ingredients forever associated with his part in the punk Beatles – a nagging riff (played on synth rather than guitar), a melody with more hooks than a metre of Velcro and a sensational production courtesy of Mancunian marvel Martin Rushent. The track practically bursts out of the speakers with its room-filling throb. I think you’d like it.

Pete ShelleyTelephone Operator

pete shelley telephone 7

There’s also a Dub Version that can be found in the darkest corners of the ‘net. I’m not certain in what capacity it was released as it doesn’t appear on the b-side of the 7″ I have. It’s hardly essential – lots of echoey guitar riffs, some bloops and bleeps and sweeping synths, but sadly, none of the magic that makes the original version such a brilliant record.

Pete ShelleyTelephone Operator (Dub Version)

Telephone Operator is taken from Shelley’s second solo LP, XL-1, a loose-concept album that originally came with a programme that allowed you to play it via your ZX Spectrum (the iPad of 1983, kids), where lyrics and graphics would appear on-screen in time to the music. Ahead of the game, then, although the record buying public failed to engage with it. Four weeks after release, XL-1 had dropped out the charts, never to be seen again. Telephone Operator was the ‘big’ single from it, crashing in at a lowly 66 before vanishing likewise.

Despite this, Shelley’s post-Buzzcocks output is quite interesting and definitely worth investigating. He knows his way around a pop melody and has a sound that is defiantly his. The Buzzcocks may be the act that keeps him in new shoes, but there’s plenty other interesting stuff with his name attached to it.

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s long-gone nobodies Big Dipper with their take on Homosapien, Shelley’s first solo single and a song that suffered from a BBC ban at the time due to some fruity lyrics and allusions to same-sex sex (‘Homo Superior, In My Interior‘).

Big DipperHomosapien

pete shelley bw

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