Alternative Version, Get This!, Kraut-y, Sampled

A Lifetime Of Surprises

You can take The Lexicon Of Love away, but I’m keeping Remain In Light….

The Mystery Jets, in their (as it would turn out) ironically-titled ‘Greatest Hits‘, knew the score when they were penning their great break-up song. ABC’s album is a masterclass in heaven-sent melodies and hit singles, but stuck in the 80s with slightly more style than substance and a Trevor Horn production to boot. Talking Heads‘ 4th album endures, remains in light even, to this day.

Arty, smarty, punky and funky, Remain In Light benefits from the combined talents of the four ‘Heads, Brian Eno on sonic architectural duties, Bowie foil Adrian Belew on weird ‘n wonky guitar textures and R’n B belter Nona Hendryx on occasional backing vocals. It’s an astonishing album which, as the cliche goes, sounds as relevant and fresh today as it did in October 1980.

Side 1 (Pffffft. Everyone’s a hipster nowadays) begins with the knockout blow of Born Under Punches, a track that starts as if you carelessly dropped the needle near enough, but not quite at the start. Not for Talking Heads a gentle warm-up to ease into the flow. From the off, Frantz and Weymouth, the symbiotic, married rhythm section drive the track with polyrhythms and a body-poppin’ bassline that George Clinton might’ve strived his whole life to perfect. ‘Take a look at these hands!‘ barks David Byrne, before his own call-and-response vocals allow the chorus to ebb and flow. The music though is relentless throughout, a fantastic opener that sets the scene for what follows.

And what follows is more of the same. Crosseyed And Painless maybe even betters the opener. Short, sharp, barking verses and crooned choruses, with the band whippersnap tight and taut. Eno’s contribution is undeniable. The band are on fire, but the extras he adds lifts the whole thing into the stratosphere. Whooshes and effects, possibly heavily-treated guitar, possibly cutting edge keyboard technology are liberally splashed across the top adding colour to the Talking Heads’ stark noo wave punkoid funk. ‘I’m stiiiiiill waiting!‘ points out David Byrne, as he’s doubletracked with himself into oblivion.

Talking HeadsCrosseyed And Painless

Even more incredibly is the 3rd track, side 1 closer The Great Curve. Without ever dropping a beat, Frantz and Weymouth’s incessant funk continues. Thers’s space here for both Nona Hendryx to do one of her skyscraping hollers in the chorus? The verse? The bridge? Who knows?!? and Adrian Belew to get in on the act with a metallic squall of lead guitar that coulda come straight from a Bowie ‘Lodgers‘ session. It’s just as well you’re forced to get up and turn the record over at this point, as to this day, I still need to catch my breath when the side closes.

Side 2, without being glib, is more of the same; one chord grooves, polyrhythmic percussion, effect pedal-heavy guitar and Eno’s golden ambient touch. Houses In Motion, the flop second and final single from the album is the perfect juxtaposition of Sly Stone’s pitter pattering skeletal funk and Talking Heads’ own Slippery People, still 3 years from release, but surely conceived in this very moment?

Talking HeadsHouses In Motion

Seen And Not Seen is an atmospheric spoken word groove, with a backing track that Grace Jones might’ve utilised to her advantage. Second last track Listening Wind is very Can. Or maybe Can is very Talking Heads. Chanting vocals, meandering, textured music…..  there’s lots going on here. It’s great late-night headphone music. You should try it. Pour yourself a drink of whatever, maybe supplement it with an extra something of your choice. Then close your eyes and see where it takes you, but remember to get up before final track The Overload kicks in. If the previous track is very Can, then The Overload is very, Very, VERY Bowie. More chanting vocals and more ambient textures, it closes the album with a sense of impending doom. Scary Monsters indeed. Perhaps they should’ve left it off the album. It still scares me half to death whenever I forget to lift the needle before it starts.

The big track on the album is Once In A Lifetime, the number 14-with-a-bullet hit single. It’s omnipresent and, I’d wager, so ingrained in the fabric of most of the readership on here that you can hear it just now as you read. You can call it up from the virtual iPod in your brain and it’ll play for you from start to finish, with no need for you to go and find the actual track. The chorus is playing just now, I bet. Amazing that, isn’t it? But have you ever stopped to truly listen to it? It’s an incredible piece of music.

Talking HeadsOnce In A Lifetime

How do you even go about writing a song like that? Did it come from the band riffing on the light ‘n airy grooves of Fela Kuti, whose ‘on the 1’ influenced James Brown? Once In  A Lifetime starts ‘on the 1’, but as Eno has since said, each member of the band had a different ‘1’ to follow. That’s what makes the track sound so different. There’s that brilliant opening bass whoomph and bam! we’re on the one and away with it…..

Did Tina Weymouth come to the session with a killer bassline looking for a song? Did Jerry Harrison, swapping guitar for synth, say, “Hey! I’ve got this little synth riff that I kinda stole from the Velvets’ What Goes On – let’s build a song around it!” Did producer Eno pioneer his Oblique Strategies on the track, the four Talking Heads plus guests individually recording overdubs, unaware of what their fellow band mates had played?  The answer really is that the song is (even) greater than the sum of its parts.

Want more? Here’s the extended version of Once In A Lifetime.

Talking HeadsOnce In A Lifetime (Extended Version)

Random fact. Bassheads‘ 90s rave anthem Is There Anybody Out There? samples the wee tingaling bleeping and blooping keyboard track that weaves it’s way throughout Once InA Lifetime. But you knew that already.

 

*Bonus Track!

As if to underline that Fela Kuti reference, sounding like a manic Moroccan market in the height of summer, here’s Fela’s Riff, an African-influenced unfinished outtake from the album.

Talking HeadsFela’s Riff

If you’ve never heard Remain In Light, I suggest you rectify this forthwith. You can thank me later.

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, New! Now!

Crate Digging In The 21st Century

One of the benefits of being told to “take it easy, relax, do the things you like to do” is that I can find the time to plough through the plethora of music I’m sent on an almost daily basis. A lot of bloggers get real, actual things sent to them in the hope they’ll review them positively and give the company concerned a wee bit of cheap advertising. I wish! I never get anything physical sent my way, but I do get tons of links to Soundcloud, offers of free album downloads, Facebook friend requests and all manner of nice things written in the hope I’ll feature this band or that band on Plain Or Pan.

crate-dig-3

Just so you know, I listen to all my music on a 20 year-old Denon CD player, a near 30 year-old Dual CS 503-1 turntable, an iPod classic through a Bose SoundDock Series II (that won’t charge anymore) and via iTunes on my old steam-powered PC that’s on its very last legs. If anyone out there would like to send me some updated audio equipment, I’d be more than happy to upgrade my listening experience and pass on my positive thoughts to the tens of thousands who drop by here every week. You don’t ask, you don’t get, ‘n all that…

There’s a clue in the strapline up there – Outdated Music For Outdated People – that suggests I may tend to favour old(ish) music on here, and for a particular demographic (marketeers note – I speaka de lingo). Also, as anyone who’s a regular reader here will tell you, not only is the music of the more vintage bent, it’s also fairly easy to pigeonhole; some soul stuff, a whole load of what you’d call ‘indie’, and the occasional post featuring a classic artist, posted with fingers crossed that the DMCA don’t take offence to the embedded (not shared, note!) music file and send me one of their wee ‘take down’ requests. The curse of the music blogger, I get sent lots of them as well.

Despite the strapline and regular subject matter, I get all manner of rubbish sent my way. I’d like to think the folk sending me the links have read the blog, but clearly, these links have been whizzed my way by some misguided robot, lost in space and looking for any port in a storm. Belgian industrial techno. Wimpy, bed-wetting acoustic troubadours. The most derivative, Oasis-inspired tuneless rubbish. They all end up in Plain Or Pan’s inbox, looking for some love and attention.

crate-dig-1

Hello! I would love for you to listen to my clients latest album!

Client? Really?! And no apostrophe! Straight into the virtual bin.

Hey! I work with (band name held to protect the innocent) who I think would be perfect for your rad blog. They do old school glam rock and the lead singer is a daughter of GNR guitarist Gilby Clarke.

Eh. Bin.

Hi! Since I like what you do, I figured you might want to know what I do. I’m a DJ and I’m releasing a house EP…

Eh. Bin.

Hi Plain Or Pan! As a lover of classic rock, I thought you might enjoy the new single by (band name held to protect the innocent). With influences ranging from Whitesnake to Foreigner, they’d be a perfect feature on your cool blog.”

Eh. Bin.

Hey! I just put out my new song (title held to protect the innocent) yesterday and would luuuuuve to know what you think of it. This song is really important to me because of the message behind it…the best world is the one that you create for yourself.

Eh. Bin.

Hey Pain Or Pan! I can’t help but saying I’m a big fan of your blog….loving the features you’ve done. I’ve just put out my projects first single and waffle waffle waffle blah blah blah….”

Big fan. Pain Or Pan. Hee-hee. Projects? Really?! No apostrophe. Bin.

There’s millions more. Gazillions. It’s depressing. John Peel famously listened to everything sent his way, scared that he’d miss the next Velvet Underground or Bowie or Smiths or Half Man Half Biscuit if he ignored them. Not me. I’m happy still discovering the Velvet Underground and Bowie and Smiths and Half Man Half Biscuit. There’s no time for new stuff when there’s so much old stuff out there, waiting for reappraisal and higher status.

 crate-dig-2

That said….

…..the odd nugget does come my way.

Hi man – appreciate you usually work with tracks from ‘the golden age’ but came across your piece on TVAM. I saw him supporting Fews in London a little while back and was blown away, one of the most exciting live acts I’d seen in ages…

Anyway, as you were into him I thought you’d appreciate hearing W.H. Lung, a brand new band straight outta Manchester too with their debut single ‘Inspiration!‘, also taking influence from just the right side of East Germany.”

Great, innit? Takes all the right influences and makes it into a new thing. The singer reminds me of the guy from Flowered Up. They only have this one track online for now, but I’m keeping an eye out for anything else.

 

Keith Canisius lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. He blends shoegaze, dream pop, ambient and lo-fi using alternative production techniques. His new album is called ‘We Are The Dreamers‘. The first track is ‘Milky Way.”

Great, innit? Weird, wonky, other-worldly, it sounds exactly as you’d expect.

 

Max Norton is the drummer for Benjamin Booker. He is also a songwriter in his own right and observes stories through photographs and travelling the world. The sun, desert and 1960s inspire him. He is releasing his solo record, ‘Blood Moon‘ this year.”

Great, innit? Rootsy, tuneful, Fleet Foxes by way of Ryan Adams.

From the tons of emails, there’s three acts featured. I could probably feature another couple, but that’s for another time. There are plenty of great new bands out there. So, if you’re in one of them and you understand what Plain Or Pan is about, send some stuff to this here cool, rad blog. If it’s good it’ll feature here at some point. Until then, where did I put that Stax box set?

 

 

Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Stinky

J-J-J-Jack (and Jill) Yr Body

Loose Booty is perhaps the standout track on America Eats Its Young, the 4th album by Funkadelic. A leftover from George Clinton’s Parliament days, it’s a one-chord groove, packed full of dental-bothering basslines and duh-duh-duh doowop counter vocals fighting for your attention with an out of control clavinet. Imagine a drunk 70s Stevie Wonder, or an excitable class of Primary 5s being let loose on the keys for a few minutes and you’re some way there. Despite the irritating keyboard line, fonky honkys might be inclined to call the track ‘phat’. Certainly, it grooves in all the right places.

FunkadelicLoose Booty

The lyrics, bizarre as they are, are meandering and drug-addled, mixing nursery rhymes with a self-aware social conscience. Imagine a Bummed-era Shaun Ryder (“Chicken Lickin’, Turkey Lurkey“) in one of his less lucid moments. Desperately trying to get out from between the grooves is an anti-drugs message – “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo, catch a junkie by the toe...”, which, given that half the band were on another planet altogether at the time is a bit rich.

You might think Funkadelic called the track Loose Booty on account of some hot woman or other, or because the funkiness of it all causes your own booty to shake uncontrollably, but in fact it’s so-called because of the effects of heroin withdrawal. Gads. Jack your body indeed.

My kids like it because they can sing half the words. I mean, how many times have you heard the Jack & Jil l Went Up The Hill nursery rhyme in a song?

Well….

can-78

Funnily enough, those forward-thinking Germans Can utilised that self same rhyme in one of their groovier moments. I like Can. Not always an easy listen, but I’m ok with that. I prefer them at their wild and funkiest though, when they riff on a chord or a groove for 16 hours or whatever it may be.

Pauper‘s Daughter And I from 78’s ‘Out Of Reach‘ LP does just that.

CanPauper’s Daughter And I

Despite being the only Can album not to feature Holger Czukay (causing it to be subsequently disowned by the group), it’s still got the Can sound; a non-stop beat (in this case a four-to-the-floor ‘n hi-hat disco shuffle) expertly played instruments and a babble of pidgin English floating on top.

It might even pass for early Talking Heads if you didn’t know. The first Michael Karoli guitar riff that comes chiming in is all clean-picked, high up the frets riffing of the sort Johnny Marr might’ve made more of had he spent his formative years in Mozambique rather than Manchester.

It quickly seesaws from the sublime to the ridiculous though, so just as you’re getting into the swing of it, Karoli turns on the flash and an incessant, seemingly never-ending noodling guitar appears. It’s like Guitar Guitar on a Saturday afternoon, only worse. The temporary vocalist, feeling like he needs to do something, jumps in with a straight-faced run through of Jack & Jill Went Up The Hill while the rest play on regardless. It’s quite bonkers. Or shite (depends on what you’re smoking) and the whole thing continues until Michael Karoli has disappeared up his own jacksie and noodled on down to sell his soul at the prog crossroads.

karoli-can

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Keeping It Peel 2016

Keeping It Peel is the brainchild of Webbie, who writes the excellent and informative Football And Music blog. An annual celebration of all things Peel, its purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer.

Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.

john-peel-bw

John Peel is the reason my musical tastes expanded beyond the left-field avant-garde edginess of Hipsway and Love And Money and the reason why my mum stopped singing her own version of whatever it was I was playing (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Pfft! Never Understand, indeed.

Thank you, John.

Not quite a Kennedy moment, but I distinctly remember where I was 12 years ago when I first heard of his death. Midway through a month-long placement in a pre-school nursery as part of my teacher training, it was my wife who told me. Being a student, we ran just the one car and she picked me up that day.

(I’m paraphrasing here)….

Shops…school….I’ll be taking it back….this happened earlier…’Loose Women’….butternut squash soup…school….I’m taking that back too….oh yes – that DJ you like died today. John Peel? Is that his name?

Thump.

It was fairly shocking. Certainly, for a ‘celebrity’ death it hit me far harder than it had any right to. I didn’t know him, yet I did. Nightly I’d have a sweaty finger hanging over the pause button on my tape recorder, with the sole aim of capturing every note of the latest House Of Love or Inspiral Carpets or Wedding Present session, minus any of his speaking. I was good at it too.

Somehow, I wished I had failed slightly in those self-imposed tasks and had managed instead to capture him forever on my crappy 3rd generation C90s. The odd moment survives – “Hey man! The bongos are too loud!” (whispered after The House Of Love premiered The Beatles & The Stones) but in the main I managed to get all of the music and nearly none of the great man.
I like to think if he was still educating and informing us with his 45s at 33 inbetween the Stump tracks and Electro Hippies sessions, Peel would’ve found time to play this:

It’s perfectly Peel.

Obscure.

Current.

Groovy.

Mysterious. Who are/is TVAM?

Influenced by all the right things west of East Germany.

Mancunian. OK, I Googled them. Him, actually.

Hard to find. (You can buy it here).

And ace.

(No they’re not)
Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Hook Lines

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.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Highs & Lows

One week into a Bowieless world. Sadly, it takes the shock of an artist suddenly passing before their true worth is wholly appreciated. Words, paragraphs, articles, whole publications have been written in the past 7 days, waxing lyrical about every facet of his ridiculously rich back catalogue. Everyone’s tripping over themselves to declare the lost genius of Reality or ‘Hours…’ or even, unbelievably, 1. Outside. All have their moments, but calm down a wee bit at the back there, eh?

bowie man who fell 1

I’m not alone in this re-evaluation and appraisal. Last week’s commute to work was soundtracked exclusively by Bowie. Hunky Dory. Ziggy. Aladdin Sane. Station To Station. The big hitters. I was even asked to be a guest on a local radio station, introduced as ‘a knowledgeable local music blogger’ and encouraged to give my tuppence worth on what David Bowie meant to me – great songs, of course. Great, great albums, varied and deep with a superb hit-to-miss ratio. Even the less acclaimed material, like Loving The Alien (from Tonight) and Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Heathen) would make it into the lower reaches of my Top 50 Bowie tracks (for years I’ve had a 40 Bits o’ Bowie playlist on my iPod, but if I were to expand it, those two tracks would be in there.)

He was also king of the catchprase-as-hookline, from Absolute Beginners‘ ‘Bomp Bomp Bah-Ooh‘, ‘Fa-fa-fa-fa-Fashion‘s beep beep‘ and Suffragette City‘s ‘Aaah, Wham Bam Thank You Ma,am!‘ right up to to Ziggy‘s  ‘Woah Yeah!‘ in the outro. He had a real good way with them. You could probably think of half a dozen more in the next 20 seconds. But anyway, I digress. Where was I? Oh aye…

bowie low +

Reappraisal. Along with the albums listed above, I developed a new-found love of Low. Until now I always found it a bit hit ‘n miss. The highs – Sound And Vision, Be My Wife, offset by the (cough) lows of Weeping Wall and Subterraneans. They’re not really lows as such, but they’re more difficult to get into. Instrumental, for a start. Less immediate. More arty. Glacial and cold. Sometimes with Bowie you’ve just got to work at it before the true beauty emerges. That second side, all elegiac and funereal started to make much more sense last week. But it was a track on side 1 that became my ‘must play everyday’ last week.

David BowieBreaking Glass

Breaking Glass, the 2nd track in, was that song. Like much of the album, it‘s a cold and stark affair, with a cheesegrater-thin heavily processed guitar giving way to Bowie’s robotic funk; cracking steam powered drums, synth sweeps and rubber band bass offset by marching Teutonic vocals, half spoken, half sung, double-tracked for maximum effect. It’s soul music, Jim, but not as we know it. In a too-quick fadeout, it’s over and done with in under two minutes, managing to capture the spirit of 70s Berlin AND invent Franz Ferdinand at the same time. Which, for me, is the real reach of the artist. Loved universally by musicians from every possible genre, they all get something from him.

Bowie on Soul Train. Bowie with Lennon. Bowie with Bing Crosby. Cross dressing and crossing borders. And the outpouring of tributes since last Monday? That brilliant video of the DJ mixing and scratching Let’s Dance into a black hole…..Madonna and Springsteen both doing Rebel Rebel in concert…..David McAlmont vamping it up with a super soaraway Starman…..Elton doing Space Oddity…..Glasgow’s Broadcast venue packed on Saturday night for a heartfelt tribute from all manner of scuzzy no-mark indie bands. Bowie touched them all. Can you name any others for whom there is a universal love and respect? I can’t.

bowie gif

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s the aforementioned Franz Ferdinand tackling another of Low‘s highs, with a little backing vocal assistance from Girls Aloud. Really.

Franz FerdinandSound & Vision

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Double Nugget, Dylanish, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Most downloaded tracks, Sampled, Six Of The Best

We Are 9

Somehow, some way, Plain Or Pan has turned 9. Or, to be more accurate, is just about to turn 9. But at this time of year, when you can never be entirely sure if it’s Sunday morning or Thursday night and inspiration goes out the window along with routine and work ethic, it’s tradition that I fill the gap between Christmas and Hogmany with a potted ‘Best Of‘ the year compilation, so I’ve always made this period in time the unofficial birthday for the blog.

i am nine

Not that anyone but myself should care really; blogs come and go with alarming regularity and I’ve steadfastly refused to move with the times (no new acts here, no cutting edge hep cats who’ll be tomorrow’s chip paper, just tried ‘n tested old stuff that you may or may not have heard before – Outdated Music For Outdated People, as the tagline goes.) But it’s something of a personal achievement that I continue to fire my wee articles of trivia and metaphorical mirth out into the ether, and even more remarkable that people from all corners of the globe take the time out to visit the blog and read them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, one and all.

Since starting Plain Or Pan in January 2007, the articles have become less frequent but more wordy – I may have fired out a million alliterative paragraphs in the first year, whereas nowadays I have less time to write stuff and when I do, it takes me three times as long to write it. To use an analogy, I used to be The Ramones, (1! 2! 3! 4! Go!) but I’ve gradually turned into Radiohead; (Hmmm, ehmm, scratch my arse…) Without intending it, there are longer gaps between ‘albums’ and I’ve become more serious about my ‘art’. Maybe it’s time to get back to writing the short, sharp stuff again. Maybe I’ll find the time. Probably I won’t.

The past 9 years have allowed me the chance to interview people who I never would’ve got close to without the flimsy excuse that I was writing a blog that attracted in excess of 1000 visitors a day (at one time it was, but I suspect Google’s analytics may well have been a bit iffy.) Nowadays, it’s nowhere near that, but I still enthusiastically trot out the same old line when trying to land a big name to feature. Through Plain Or Pan I’ve met (physically, electronically or both) all manner of interesting musical and literary favourites; Sandie Shaw, Johnny Marr, Ian Rankin, Gerry Love, the odd Super Furry Animal. Quite amazing when I stop to think about it. You should see the list of those who’ve said they’ll contribute then haven’t. I won’t name them, but there are one or two who would’ve made great Six Of the Best articles. I’m not Mojo, though, so what can I expect?

pop9

A quick trawl through my own analytics spat out the Top 24 downloaded/played tracks on the blog this year, two for each month:

  1. Michael MarraGreen Grow the Rashes
  2. Wallace CollectionDaydream
  3. Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin
  4. The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man
  5. New OrderTrue Faith
  6. Bobby ParkerWatch Your Step
  7. Jim FordI’m Gonna Make Her Love Me
  8. DorisYou Never Come Closer
  9. Ela OrleansDead Floor
  10. Mac De MarcoOde To Viceroy
  11. Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True
  12. Iggy PopNightclubbing
  13. George HarrisonWah Wah
  14. MagazineThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again
  15. Future Sound Of LondonPapua New Guinea
  16. Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands (mono version)
  17. Richard BerryLouie Louie
  18. REMRadio Free Europe (HibTone version)
  19. The CribsWe Share The Same Skies
  20. Johnny MarrThe Messenger
  21. McAlmont & ButlerSpeed
  22. Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ version)
  23. Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child
  24. Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

And there you have it – the regular mix of covers, curios and forgotten influential classics, the perfect potted version of what Plain Or Pan is all about. A good producer would’ve made the tracklist flow a bit better. I just took it as I came to them; two from January followed by two from February followed by two from etc etc blah blah blah. You can download it from here.

See you in the new year. First up, Rufus Wainwright. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Head Music

As fresh as it sounds, this track coulda been recorded an hour ago by some hep band of skinny-jeans ‘n slick-backs from Brooklyn. Listen again and you could be forgiven for assuming that it was spawned a decade earlier in the windswept deserts of Africa, playing out tinny AM radios anywhere between Mali and Mozambique.

The more switched-on amongst you could be forgiven for suggesting Can in one of their relatively straightforward moments; foreign chanting, infused with the groove and with nary an eye on the clock. Squint, and it could even be Happy Mondays around their first album; chiming and repetitive, a hands-in-pockets baggy-trousered circular mooch around the scuzziest parts of town. Slow down the little counter riff that plays between the chanted lines and it’s almost the later-era Loose Fit.

talking heads blurry

Truth is, it was recorded in 1979 by Talking Heads and featured on their 3rd LP, ‘Fear Of Music‘.

Talking HeadsI Zimbra (LP Version)

It’s African in origin – a twin guitar attack – one playing the incessant, loping guitar riff that rises and falls with the tide of the song, the other playing a demented desert blues somewhere beyond the 12th fret, both fighting for ear space with poly-rhythmic Afro beats pinned down by the muscle of Tina Weymouth’s  solid ‘n steady bass.

tina weymouth

It’s snake-like, enhanced somehow, someway, by sonic architect Brian Eno. He’s credited with adding guitar to the stew, but I doubt we’ll ever really know for sure. Done in the days before his oblique strategies, perhaps he told himself to play more orange, or something like that. Either way, the combination of musicians, producers, instruments and ambience created one groovy mover.

The extended 12″ version is even better…

Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ Version)

Altogether now,

Gadji beri bimba clandridi
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
A bim beri glassala glandride
E glassala tuffm I zimbra!

A couple of things….

  1. On the LP credits for I Zimbra, the conga player is Gene Wilder, Surely not the wild-eyed actor of the same name? Anyone know?
  2. Drumming ‘Head Chris Frantz once agreed to do a ‘Six Of The Best‘. I must chase him up…

talking heads i zimbra

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Sampled

Good Felas

What a shitty few weeks. The previous post below will fill you in if you’re an infrequent visitor. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments. I read them all, even if I couldn’t face replying. Truly, thanks.

Anyway, what better way to get back on track than by digging out some slick Nigerian Afrobeat from 1977?

fela kuti

Fela Kuti is a real musicians’ musician. A multi-instrumentalist, equally at home on sax, keys, trumpet, drums….you name it, between 1960 and his death in 1997 he was responsible for around 60 LP releases. Perhaps only The Fall would appear to be able to top that. Much like The Fall, many of his albums are live affairs. A few are also dubious-looking compilations of indeterminate origin. Amongst the regular studio recordings, there are whole LPs of collaborations with other musicians (‘Stratavarious‘ with Ginger Baker, ‘Music Of Many Colours‘ with Roy Ayers.)  All Fela’s albums are tight and taut, superbly played and full of meandering grooves underneath the politicised lyrics.

In the 70s, Fela changed his middle name. Ransome, he said, was a slave name.  And Fela was nobody’s slave. He was a folk singer. The Nigerian equivalent of Woody Guthrie, singing the songs of the ordinary man.  He took to singing in his own unique pidgin English as a way of ensuring Africans throughout the continent would understand his message – they all spoke in their own native tongue, but they also all understood basic English. He sang of the barbaric Nigerian Government and had a smash hit (‘Zombie‘) on the back of it. This resulted in him barely surviving with his life after a severe beating from government flunkies whilst his studio was burned to the ground. More than just a fly in the ointment, Fela galvanised his fellow countrymen into action, a real anti-establishment hero.

fela kuti 2

Fela’s music is terrific. There’s a real discipline to the playing. Much of it is simple and  repetitive. The musicians could easily break out and rattle off a little lick or two, and sometimes they do. His brass section in particular (sometimes just Fela) are fond of the odd up-the-garden-path solo. But mostly to Fela, the rhythm is King. It’s a bit like Can at their grooviest – hypnotic, shamanistic, designed to subconsciously affect the limbs. Feet will tap. Hips will sway. Heads will bob. Before you know it you’ll be on your feet and wondering how you got there.

1977’s Sorrow, Tears and Blood LP is typical of his work at the time. The title track formed the entire first side, a relentless guitar ‘n sax-led tour de force, all polyrhythms and funk bass, lightly toasted with electric piano.

Fela KutiSorrow, Tears And Blood

Atop the non-stop one chord groove is a lyric worthy of Joe Strummer at his authority-baiting best;

Everybody run….Police they come….Army they come….confusion everywhere…..someone nearly died….Police don’t go away….Army don’t disappear….them leave sorrow, tears and blood….

Fela’s work is absolutely ripe for sampling and reinterpretation. Mr Mendel has done this excellent remix of Sorrow, Tears And Blood:

Fela KutiSorrow, Tears And Blood (Mr Mendel mix)

fe la soul

….and a couple of years ago, someone came up with the brilliant concept of Fe La Soul, where they took the Daisy Agers raps and placed them on top of Fela’s funkiest fills. There are whole albums of the stuff if you look in all the right places. Here‘s one of my favourites;

Fe La SoulItsoweezee

….and no doubt inspired by the relentless, driving grooves of Fela, during the sessions for 1980’s Remain In Light, Talking Heads recorded Fela’s Riff, a terrific piece of instrumental New York, new wave funk. I really need to do a Talking Heads feature at some point…

t heads

Kraut-y, Live!

Kerr In The Community

My formative teenage years were soundtracked by a holy trinity of 12”s – Talking Heads’ Slippery People, New Order’s Blue Monday and Simple Minds’ I Travel. Before the age of trying to get into pubs, my pals and I would spend a few hours each Saturday at Andy’s house, where his more liberal parents allowed us to play snooker in their loft and listen to music whilst hiding our grimaces from one another as we drained a couple of cans of razorblade-sharp Holsten Pils, before negotiating the loft ladder down into reality and the mazy walk home to our unsuspecting parents. They were great times.

Fast forward the best part of 30 years. Did I (shhhhh! – don’t tell anyone!) want to go to a one-off, top-secret, intimate Simple Minds gig? It was guest-list only and my name was on it. The address would be given to me on the day of the concert itself. My teenage self would’ve spontaneously combusted at the thrill of it all. Nowadays, after their years of bloated bombast and my changing musical tastes, Simple Minds mean much less to me, but of course I was desperate to go. My lips were sealed.

Now. Plenty of bands have done intimate gigs. There’s something fantastic about seeing the big acts up close and personal, even if you’re maybe really not that close. The stadium bands like Foo Fighters sometimes pop up in the smallest of places at the shortest of notice. Arena bands downsize now and again to play club gigs – I’ve seen Bob Dylan do his ‘club’ gig in the Barrowlands, close enough to see the sweat drip from the brim of his cowboy hat and onto his keyboard during Ballad Of A Thin Man. I nearly saw Prince do his after-show thing in The Garage many years ago, but a huge, house-sized American bouncer counting loudly along the line stopped a few folk in front of me and my pals, sliced the line with a chop of his arm and loudly declared, “Anyone behind this line will not get in. Repeat. Anyone behind this line will not get in.” We were behind the line. We did not get in. Repeat, we did not get in. I’ve seen Blur, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers….countless big names in King Tuts, but these weren’t intimate gigs as we know them – the venue was the venue because that’s the number of tickets these bands could sell at the time.

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Simple Minds were playing in a 3rd floor tenement flat in the west end of Glasgow. A nice flat. A big flat. But still a flat, with neighbours to the side and below. It belonged to John Dingwall, hot shot music writer at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail. The guest list was comprised, said John, of 48 of the coolest people on ‘the scene’. Evidently there was some mistake. At the very best, I had somehow wangled my way onto the list of cool at number 48, but I was there. A venue-sized PA was manhandled up three flights of winding stairs and the living room transformed into what can truly be described as an intimate gig. It had all the makings of a decent New Year’s party with added volume.

The band (Jim, Charlie and Jim’s brother Mark on additional guitar) played only 5 songs, but what a thrill! They were here to promote Big Music, their new album out on the same day. The gig was being filmed for broadcast on the Record’s website. They could’ve chosen to play 5 tracks from the album and scarpered. But no. We got a bite-sized version of a stadium show instead. It was incredible.

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When we first started out, there was a club in London called Dingwall’s,” explains Jim Kerr. “We aspired to play there but we never got the chance. Now the club is gone, but we’re still here, finally playing Dingwall’s! We used to play lots of covers at first because people didn’t want to hear our own songs. So we’ll start tonight with a cover.”

And off they went, playing their way through a stripped-back version of The Doors’ Riders On The Storm, surprising myself at least, as I expected maybe a Bowie or an Iggy or a Roxy cover. Charlie on the left is firing off little lead acoustic solos. Mark on the right is keeping the rhythm. Jim centre ‘stage’ is loving it. He’s pulling off the rock star poses. Leaning into the mic. Pointing to people sitting on the floor. Playing as if he’s doing a normal gig at some enormodome stadium in the mid-west of America. He doesn’t know how to do anything different. He can make a stadium seem like a living room, but he can make a living room seem like a stadium. A true performer.

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A weird thing happens during the second song. The band are playing Alive And Kicking when I get a Pavlovian rush; a knotted stomach, an intense feeling of guilt. The 14 year old me told his mum he was going to buy the new Simple Minds single with his paper money. His mum told him that he spent far too much money on records and, no, he wouldn’t be buying it. 14 year old me bought it anyway, which I’d have gotten away with if I hadn’t actually played the bloody record.

As soon as the first bars wafted from my bedroom and downstairs, my mother was up like a shot, mad that I had “wasted” even more money on vinyl. Every time after, when I pulled the record out to play, I got a rush of guilt and I always played the record at a low volume, so as not to incur the wrath of my mum. And here I am, 30 years later, feeling that same rush of guilt. It’s the knotted stomach all over again. I half expect my mother to barge into the crowded room and demand the band stops playing. It’s really weird. I actually find myself laughing nervously to no-one during the second verse. “You lift me u-up…ho!” Weird. Much later in the evening I find myself face to face with Jim and I tell him the story. I get a pat on the shoulder and a wee hug for telling him. I’ll never hear that song in the same way anymore.

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Introducing the one new track played, Honest Town, Jim has genuine tears in his eyes. It’s a song about life and death, about close ones dying – Both Jim and Mark’s mum and Charlie’s dad passed away during the recording of the album. It’s the one sombre moment of the night. As soon as the last notes of the track have faded, the band are into Don’t You Forget About Me, played with all the energy and passion of the glory years Simple Minds. More memories of spinning the vinyl on my wee record player come flooding back. If anyone had told me when I bought it that 30 years later…etc etc…blah blah blah.

We get an option for the last track – “What d’you want to hear?” asks Jim. And in the split silence before the audience make their suggestions I manage to blurt out “I Travel!” It’s an acoustic gig, I have no chance of that and Jim knows it, arching an eyebrow and fixing me with an unspoken grin. “You can have a Bowie song orThe American’,” he replies. The wee crowd votes unanimously for The American and the Minds are off and running for the last time, playing a stripped back version of a song I never expected to hear performed.

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Regardless of your thoughts on Simple Minds, they are still a great, great band. What a unique gig to have had the fortune to be at.

Here’s 3 of the post Krauty, pre-stadium Simple Minds. Still sounding as fresh as the day they were committed to wax.

The American (Original Version);

I Travel (12″ Version);

Love Song (Album Version);

IMG_4684There’s Wally!

I’m at the back in the orange jumper. Ooft. That wide angle really accentuates the man boobs. I’m off out for a run…

(last photo (c) Daily Record)