Blur Fanclub Singles

Blessed Is The Cheese Maker

Damon Albarn fairly splits opinion. On the one hand, the oikish mockney Cockney wiv an omnipresent Errol Flynn on his boat race, “Oi!, on the other the indie Sting, admirably keen to break out from the expected norm of Blur recordings, releases and tours by teaming up with the Chinese Ensemble, groovy cartoon characters, some of The Clash, the cream of Africa’s elite percussionists and, seemingly, anything else that takes his fancy. Not all of it works, but when it does, the results, such as the recordings he’s made with the elastic-limbed drummer Tony Allen or the West Coast meets East London stylings of his Gorillaz collaborations with Snoop Dogg can be spectacular.

With Blur seemingly no more, it’s as good a time as any to reappraise Music Is My Radar, their 2000 single released ahead of and solely for the purposes of promoting their Best Of album from the same year. Like all the best singles bands – of which Blur are undoubtedly one – Music Is My Radar stands alone as a single without a parent album, save that hits compilation. As such, it’s almost the great lost Blur tune, despite its blink-and-you’ve-missed-it appearance at 10 on yer actual hit parade.

It’s quite the tune, bridging the gap between Pop Blur and Art Blur. The skittering drums and paranoid locked-in groove mooch in like the long lost cousin of early Talking Heads while Graham Coxon’s guitar alternates between oriental expressionist and foodblender set to spin, given free reign to colour the whole thing as he sees fit.

 BlurMusic Is My Radar

Damon’s vocals are double, triple tracked, conjuring up melodies and counter melodies that breeze across the top. His repetitive ‘Aah! Don’t stop me!‘ and ‘Do-do-dooh‘ refrains burrow deep into the ear and settle in the frontal lobes to be called up and played on repeat at will. He adds a line namechecking the aforementioned Nigerian Tony Allen – ‘He really got me dancin’, he really got me dancin’,’ yet beneath the surface there’s enough interesting stuff bubbling to keep even the most ardent of anti-commercial indie purist happy.

Nagging wee keyboard refrains jump in and out when least expected, save you were planning on nodding off to the noodling groove. Extra guitar lines weave their way like needles creating the freefrom pattern on one of those Fair Isle sweaters that Sarah Lund wore in The Killing. It’s the bassline though that hits hardest.

That lanky, wanky, foppish twit that plays bass wanders up and down the frets, apeing the guitar line here and there but mainly driving the whole thing forwards with unfaltering purpose and groovy swagger. He fairly surpasses himself and without the bass player on this form, Music Is My Radar may well have been a sloppy, unravelling mess, a bowl of musical spaghetti in need of some glue to hold it together. The cheese maker is that glue, commiting to record his finest four minutes in a Blur shirt.

Interestingly, the released version was shortened from Squeezebox, the original 6 minutes + demo.

BlurSqueezebox (Music Is My Radar demo)

Probably the correct choice as this version tends to wander aimlessly up a blind alley occassionally. Just shows what a good producer (Ben Hillier on the single version) can do for a band, turning a meh track into a killer single.

Bonus Track

The b-side to the single – actually track 2 on CD1, as was the fashion at the time, is a really great tune, with loads of crackin’ Coxon guitar lines, electric piano and a gospel choir on the chorus, coming in at a lengthy and bluesy 8 and a half minutes. Jason Pierce would kill for a track like this.

BlurBlack Book

Blur b-sides tended to be crappy, experimental, half-arsed demos or unnecessary wonky, skronky remixes. Black Book is neither, a bona fide lost classic in a back catalogue littered with rubbish. Great singles band though.

Cover Versions

Songs For Swingin’ Lovers

 bowie lodger kodachrome 79

That there’s David Bowie, doing the wonky pogo and captured on Kodachrome for what would become the cover of 1979’s Lodger LP. A hit-or-miss LP by Bowie’s standards, it’s notable for being produced and augmented by Eno and for featuring a couple of tracks that used the exact same chord structure, sequence and setting as one another.

The opener, Fantastic Voyage was a mid-paced meandering crooner, exactly the sort of Bowie track that leaves you cold on first listen but after, oooh, 20 years or so reveals itself to be a stone cold Bowie belter. What took me so long?!?

David BowieFantastic Voyage;

Encouraged by Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards to ‘Use Unqualified Musicians‘, Bowie made the assembled band swap to unfamiliar territory (although rumour has it that the bass was overdubbed because bass-playing drummer Dennis Davis was rubbish) , cranked things up to twice the original speed and created a metallic squall of post-punk brilliance. Forever on the edge of unravelling at the seams, Boys Keep Swinging is carried along with a nod and a wink and a raised and plucked eyebrow or two to the more flamboyant side of life.

David Bowie Boys Keep Swinging;

When you’re a boy, other boys check you out,” intones Bowie, all put-on machismo and high camp. That he dressed himself up as a trio of drag-queened tarts in the video only served to hammer the point home – Bowie liked boys who liked boys to be girls who liked girls to be boys….

bowie boys keep swinging

Boys Keep Swinging is right up there amongst my very favourite Bowie tracks. Worth a listen if only for Adrain Belew’s Pere Ubu do the Isley Brothers guitar meltdown at the end, it sits head and shoulders above anything else the mainstream was releasing at the time.

A couple of chancers who liked Bowie’s new single were The Associates. Short of record deal but long on ambition and ideas, they somewhat illegally recorded their own version of Boys Keep Swinging a mere 6 weeks after Bowie’s had been released, and put it out on the tiny Double Hip record label.

associates boys keep swinging 7

Not surprisingly, the record’s existence brought them to the attention of eagle-eared music industry insiders but amazingly, on the back of it, The Associates landed themselves a record deal with Fiction Records. Would that ever happen nowadays? I doubt it.

The AssociatesBoys Keep Swinging;

Billy MacKenzie of the band would a few years later be the titular subject of The Smiths’ William, It Was Really Nothing. Friends with Morrissey, the pair of them spent many an afternoon in the early 80s skirting around one another’s affections. But you knew that already.

*Bonus Track(s)!

Side project of The Cardigan’s Nina Persson, A Camp‘s version is fairly faithful to the original.

A CampBoys Keep Swinging;

Nothing ground shattering, but what a shallow excuse to stick a picture of a beautiful Swedish lassie on these pages.

nina persson a camp

Perhaps more interesting is the story of Blur and ‘their‘ track M.O.R.

Written a la Bowie and Eno with the exact same chord progression as Fantastic Voyage/Boys Keep Swinging, it originally escaped the notice of anyone who deals in these matters. Subsequent releases however credit the track to Blur/Bowie/Eno. Have a listen.

BlurM.O.R.;

You can sing Boys Keep Swinging over the top of it, aye? And Coxon freely embraced the guitar freak out at the end with great gusto. Good, innit?

And any excuse to post Blur’s own tribute to 1979. Blurred Lines, anyone…?

blur blondie

Blur Fanclub Singles, demo, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

B.L.U.R.D.E.M.O.

Have you got Beetlebum?”

No. It’s just the way I’m standin‘.”

The happiest job I ever had (and possibly ever will have) was when I worked behind the counter of a well-known High Street music retailer. A stop-gap job that somehow lasted 11 years, it took me all the way from Inverness to Leeds and back again via Ayrshire. Amongst the minority of planks, skanks and wanks in management that I was unfortunate enough to share a tea break with, I met a fair number of like-minded music obsessives, film obsessives and the odd stereotypically sulky sales assistant happy to hang off the counter and unsettle casual browsers looking for chart fodder. Like the one quoted above. He did actually say that, and it was funny.

Anyway. Down to business. I’m not about to get all high and mighty here, but I am about to show a shocking sense of double standards. I don’t really like illegal downloading. Rich, I know, from someone who’s happy to provide crappy mp3s of all and sundry to anyone who fancies them. But I’m not talking about harmless, out-of-print singles from 1973 and whatever else makes its way onto these pages. Is that really affecting anyone? What I don’t like is what I’d term mass-market illegal downloading. The recent BBC report that showed Manchester to be the worst offenders in the UK was quite interesting. Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran are the big losers in the whole thing, as it seems that every school kid and upwards has illegally downloaded their music. It’s said that they’re the generation that understands music to be free, and I’d have to agree. Aye, some percentage or other of them may end up buying the album in the future, but that’s debatable. Anyway, here’s where my shocking double standards really kick in.

I like Blur. I like them a lot. I have done since She’s So High way back when. I’ve bought every single on or around the day of release. Even the shitey ones, and there’s been a fair few over the years. I’ve bought the albums on day of release. Even the shitey ones. Though, they’re all good in their own way, even if some have endured better than others. Leisure and The Great Escape are, to put it politely, ‘of their time’. Think Tank is by far the best, since you’re wondering. So. I have all the singles and all the albums, including Japanese imports and such like. I also have the 10th Anniversary Box Set, bought for a recession-friendly price in the Our Price sale. And there wasn’t even a recession at the time. I have the lot, as they say. Or, at least, I had the lot, until this summer when Blur 21 came out. All the albums. All the singles. All the remixes. Plus some demos and live stuff. At an eye-popping £150, this was one purchase I’d find hard to justify. So, a bit of Googling here and there turned up a download. Low-fi and crappy, but it meant I got all the rarities I wouldn’t have otherwise. The live stuff you can keep, but in amongst the rarities are a few diamonds. Here’s some to chew over:

She’s So High (pre-Blur Seymour demo) Drum machine and studio chatter before some out-of-tune distorted guitar and even more distorted vocals. I can’t listen to the bassline without seeing the cheese-making fop with his floppy fringe mincing about stage right.

Popscene (1991 demo) Mad, noisy, toys-out-the-pram shout-fest. Excellent, as Monty Burns might say.

For Tomorrow (Mix 1 of an early demo). Mainly acoustic guitar and vocals, with the odd bit of shaker for percussion and some synthesised strings. Nice double-tracked la-la-la backing vocals. It’s hard to tell if it’s Damon or Graham who’s singing lead here.

Badhead (demo) The most under appreciated track from gazillion-selling Parklife. Round ‘ere it was all “Oi! get some exercise mate!” Meanwhile, Badhead, with its wistful melancholia and Syd-lite psychedelia was where the real music fans got their Parklife kicks.

Squeezebox (Alternative version of Music Is My Radar) Imagine if Talking Heads got up one morning and instead of micro-biotic, high fibre health food shit ate a big bowl of guitar effects pedals. This is what they’d sound like. Really!

Graham Coxon Fact 1: He favours Converse trainers on stage, as the white toe-cap helps him find the correct effects pedal on which to stomp.

Graham Coxon Fact 2: He told me that on Twitter.

Now. Off you go and buy Blur 21, there’s a good chap.

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Excess All Areas

Fritter about on the margins of success. Get signed. Release a hit single. Release a hit album. Tour bigger venues. Release a small run of future classic singles with killer b-sides. Release further singles and albums with ever-decreasing returns. Implode around 5th/6th LP when key member leaves or dies. A year or so down the line, entice same member back (unless dead) for one last hurrah and pay-day, but by then the magic is gone. All this is of course played out to a backdrop of drink and drugs and guns and girls and boys and Bentleys and bad and/or bent management. The trick for all bands is to make the upward trajectory as quick as possible, plateau for as long as everyone can stand you then make the downward trajectory as smooth and pain-free (and lucrative) as you can. (cf. most of your favourite bands, even that Stone Roses lot,  – they all fit the model to some degree or other, but you knew that already).

Happy Mondays were well into the downward trajectory of their life when they decamped, in part to escape the Manchester drug scene, to Barbados to record …Yes Please!, the album that proved to be their last. Unable to secure the services of Paul Oakenfold, the uber producer who’d sprinkled their previous work with hit-making fairy dust, the band instead chose to work with Talking Heads’ rhythm section, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. On paper this sounds great – a decade earlier, Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club had taken the Talking Heads scratchy funk/punk blueprint and created proper full-on dance records, of their time, yet simultaneously ahead of the game, and Happy Mondays, via Oakenfold’s magic touch, had taken their clattering industrial funk and  propelled it into the charts, the mainstream and the collective minds of most of the under 25s in the UK. In practice, however, things were not so great. Never has an album been more aptly named. Paul Ryder and his brother Shaun (suffering heroin withdrawal when he left Manchester), a pair of walking, talking Scarface caricatures who at the best of times could make any substance shoved under their noses disappear in Dyson-quick doubletime, arrived in a Barbados that was buckling under the weight of a crack epidemic. Want some? Yes, please. The cost of funding this adventure eventually broke Factory Records and Shaun spent so much time building crack dens out of sun loungers beside the studio pool, that he forgot to write a single lyric for the album, a fact only discovered back in the UK when Tony Wilson was forced to pay £50 ransom to Ryder for the return of the studio mastertapes.

When it eventually materialised, …Yes Please! took a bit of a kicking. Melody Maker posted a lazy, half-arsed review that simply said, “No thanks.” Nirvana and their ilk were in full flow and for the first time ever, Happy Mondays seemed antiquated and irrelevant. It’s right there on the shelf behind me, but I can’t even remember buying it. Like many bands once they reach a certain point in their life, I bought it out of blind loyalty rather than musical merit. However….

…listening to it again recently had me doing some sort of mini re-appraisal. First single Stinkin ‘Thinkin’, with its ringing guitars and stoned, whispered vocal still stands up to repeated listens. The very antithesis of twistin melons, callin’ the cops and all that jazz, it’s downbeat, reflective and unlike anything Happy Mondays had done before or since. Drug confessional Angel is another that still cuts the mustard. “When did the Simpsons begin?” slurs Shaun, eyelids heavy with the fug of the night before. Although spoiled somewhat by foghorn-voiced Rowetta, the big haired, big mouthed wannabe rock chick the ill-advised Mondays brought into the fold for their later stuff, it‘s still a cracker. Currently appearing in pantomime at a medium-sized arena somewhere near you, Happy Mondays seem certain to eke out a living, Drifters style, from now on in. Stinkin’, yes. But not really thinkin’. Stop! Now!

Anyway, whether he’d ever acknowledge it or not, those two Happy Mondays tracks above were a definite influence on Damon Albarn when he wrote the tracks for Blur‘s final LP, Think Tank. I’ve been playing Think Tank a lot lately, what with the Blur reunion (of sorts) and the excellent No Distance Left To Run documentary on the TV the other night. The dark horse in the Blur catalogue, Think Tank is famous for being an almost Coxon-free zone, the guitarist contributing to the woozy, wobbly Battery In Your Leg before having left after being increasingly frustrated at the (sigh) direction the band’s music was going in. Recorded in Morocco, there’s a noticeable space between the grooves that allows the album to pop open the top button of its trousers and, like, breathe. (Sadly) it’s not tied up in any of those jerky, spasticated 2 minute shouty freakouts that Coxon does so well. (Thankfully) there’s none of those terrible bleep/bang/bleep/scree tune-free bits or free-form atonal rackets best saved for b-sides or solo LPs. Think Tank as a whole is dubby, spacey and tinged with African bangs ‘n beats. Now that I think about it, it’s basically a precursor to Gorillaz, without the big-name special guests. Best track by a country mile is Brothers And Sisters, a track so clearly in debt to those two Happy Mondays tracks that Shaun Ryder would indeed call the cops if he was ever sober enough to listen to it properly. Built on a bed of elastic band bass, Albarn’s loose, stoned, vocals practically stage whisper, “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Shaun Ryder!” Caffeine. Codeine. Cocaine. White doves. He reels off a tick-list Paul and Shaun would’ve had no bother putting away before breakfast.

Think Tank is also notable for featuring Me, White Noise, a hidden track you can find by rewinding from the start of the first track. With a backing track sounding like a fly trapped in a bass bin, Phil Daniels mutters and mumbles and shouts and swears his way through almost 7 minutes of thrilling stuff. “Fack orff!” he snarls. “I’ve got a gun, y’know…and I’d use it!” Thanks to this and Brothers And Sisters fore-mentioned prescription list, Think Tank got one of those stupid Parental Advisory stickers.

My parental advice? Split up when you’re at your peak. Leave them wanting more. Don’t reform. Ever. You’ll come back looking like this:

You might even become a respectable, bespectacled married member of society…

Holy fuck

*Bonus Tracks!

Although a Coxon-free zone by the end of the LP, Blur as a 4-piece recorded tracks during the Think Tank sessions that were never quite finished due to the guitarist walking out. Here’s a couple of Coxon-enhanced crackers that turned up on future b-sides.

Money Makes Me Crazy

Morricone

This half-considered Damon nicking off the Happy Mondays theory of mine may have legs. On the b-side of Happy Monday’s 24 Hour Party People single, you’ll find a track called Wah-Wah (Think Tank) Call The Cops!

Punch. Repeat. Punch. Repeat. Punch. Repeat.

Why could he not have walked out instead?

 

Blur Fanclub Singles, demo, Hard-to-find

His Arse Was Just A Blur

That’s the punchline to a well-quoted Billy Connolly joke, where he explains the joys of cycling at high speed. You yourself better get on yer bike and download the following tracks ASAP before the internet police remove some or all of them quicker than you can say “Wow! More Blur fanclub singles!” Go! Go! Go!

This is the second volume of the Blur Fanclub Singles. You can find out the background to the singles here, where the first few tracks are still available (after much re-uploading).  

sing_cover_big

2000: Sing (To Me)

Early version of an insignificant album track (Leisure) that gained it’s rightful status as a melancholic piano and vapour guitar-fest when it was included on the soundtrack to Trainspotting. This early version finds Damon mumbling and shouting nonsense a la a Home Counties Mark E Smith over the top of a piano seemingly played by Les Dawson. “So what’s the word?” The word is excellent, Damon. Top notch.

bsidesep_cover_big

2001: Tracks from a Camden Electric Ballroom gig in September 1999

I’m Fine

Bone Bag

No Monsters in Me

Young & Lovely

The gig itself was a one-off b-sides gig where Blur played nothing but, er, b-sides. For the record, the original studio version of I’m Fine can be found as an extra track on the 12″ and CD single of Popscene. These days, it’ll cost you an arm and a leg to buy. In the days of Nirvana, the post-Leisure pre-Modern Life… Popscene single was considered a bit of a flop and quickly forgotten about, much to the band’s chagrin.

Bone Bag backed CD2 of For Tomorrow, the single that introduced the band’s new found kicking-against-the-pricks anglified-and-proud-of-it organic Kinksian Modern Life Is Rubbish sound. Nah. I don’t know what that means either. And I wrote it. But you get the drift.

No Monsters In Me is a late era Blur b-side, making its appearance on the CD single of The Universal, that tune that Britrish Gas hijacked for their TV adverts. Young & Lovely was a track I always thought could’ve been held back for greater things. Instead, it was stuck away on the b-side of Chemical World. In hindsight, that makes Chemical World that rarest of things – a Blur single with good A and B sides. Let’s face it. Some of Blur’s b-sides are a bit ropey, aye?

wont_cover_big

2002: 2 tracks

Come Together (demo)

Won’t Do It (demo)

No, not a cover of yer Beatles Chuck Berry rip-offathon. Paul Weller and assorted showbiz pals got there first with that one. A live version of Come Together graced CD2 of the Chemical World single, but I think I’m right in saying the demo version featured here is the only studio recording to see the light of day. I’m sure Blurophiles will correct me if I’m wrong. I’m also sure they’d agree Come Together wsas perhaps best left in the studio. A noisy mess is how I’d describe it. Oops!!! Come Together is on Leisure. Of course it is. In my defence, I only have a promo copy of Leisure that has no tracklisting with it.

Won’t Do It graced the 12″ of There’s No Other Way. The demo version sounds exactly the same – the sound of a band finding their feet; one foot firmly placed in the experimental/feedback/racket side of the fence, the other foot making tentative steps towards that green faraway place known as ‘melody’. The first foot wins.

Anyway, enough of this tuneless fanclub nonsense. Only one sleep till the real Fanclub – Teenage Fanclub live in the rock n’ roll hotbed of Motherwell. Review and the usual pish about how great they are to follow.

Oh, and one more thing. The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the first post in this series ended at 1998 and this post begins at 2000. Somehow, I’ve lost the 1999 tracks and artwork. My computer detectives are onto it……

 

entire show, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Hey! Hey! Come Out Tonight! Popscene! Alright!

Mention Blur and most folks think of Brit Pop, very big houses in the country and all that terrible stuff, or gurning smart arse Damon Albarn, who with his side projects involving World Musicians, hip-hop and opera (hip-hopera?) is becoming the indie Sting. Me? I still like them a lot. I have all the Blur singles. From 1990’s ‘She’s So High’ on 12″ right up to 2003’s ‘Good Song’ and everything inbetween. And not everything inbetween was good. ‘Sunday Sunday’ is one cockernee oompah-pah knees up too many, and lots of their b-sides were decidedly average. But I still bought them. On 7″, 12″, CD1 and CD2. The 10th Anniversary Box Set (£10 in the Our Price sale!!!) Box Sets aside, EMI must’ve made a fortune out of me. I even bought the Japanese import stuff, which is where this post is leading.

‘Bustin & Dronin’ is a Japanese compilation that collects all the remixes, b-sides and stuff from the singles that were released off of the ‘Blur’ album from 1997. This was the album that lost the band many of their fans but it’s my favourite. It’s loud, wonky, experimental and has Graham Coxon all over it. Not that the other albums don’t have Graham Coxon all over them either, but this album is the sound of a pissed-off guitarist fed up with where the band were being pigeonholed. It spawned the catchy ‘Song 2’  (which I am led to believe is more popular these days than Sweet Child O’ Mine as the riff of choice for spotty wee boys in guitar shops) and made them massive in America. It’s said that ‘Song 2’ was influenced by the stage antics of Pavement‘s Bob Nastanovich. Anyway……

Spread over the various formats of the ‘On Your Own’ single you can find assorted Blur tracks recorded live for John Peel at Peel Acres (his house). Bustin & Dronin’ has the whole 6 song set in order and it sounds fantastic. Recorded on 8th May 1997 it’s a right royal racket of a set. It starts with a hundred mile an hour trumpet-free blast through ‘Popscene‘ and continues in wonderful fashion from there on in. It sounds nothing like the Blur that the tabloids focussed on. It sounds like nothing or no-one else to be honest. Imagine the sound of a shitty amp wired to fuzzbox being dropped down a flight of stairs along with a box of drums and a cheap keyboard. Yes, it’s that good. It’s the ideal snapshot of where Blur were at in 1997. If you saw them live around this tme you’ll know what I mean. And it’s all here below….

Popscene

Song 2

On Your Own

Chinese Bombs

Movin’ On

M.O.R.

Tonight Matthew I’m going to be Michael Caine

Incidently, a wee Blur fact. David Bowie and Brian Eno were given a co-writing credit for ‘M.O.R.’ Acknowledging the song’s similar melody to ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, Blur gave them credit before getting the phone call and lawyer’s letter.  

Special bonus track. The frankly weird Earl Zinger reggae version of ‘Song 2Wo’. It’s hardly essential, but have a listen.

Blur do Blondie

Nowadays, the guy on the left really does live in a very big house in the country. Bit of a fanny, wears tweed jackets, makes cheese. His book‘s really good. You should read it. I once saw Blur and Radiohead play the Barrowlands around the time of ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Possibly 1993. Radiohead were just back from America where Creep was massive. Thom had that Birdland haircut he was fond of before he went bald. Radiohead were shite. No-one belives me when I say that, but they were. Rank rotten shite. Blur were fantastic. 40 minutes of in-your-face, no-nonsense punk pop. There were only about 150 people there. True story that.