Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Glo-Ho-Ho!

‘Tis the season to be jolly…..

Elastica tend not to appear on many of the lists that constitute the Best Christmas Songs In The World…Ever. Back in 1995, only a year or so since they’d been ever-regulars on the covers of the music press yet long enough to have found them residing in the same ‘remember them?‘ category previously kept warm for them betwixt debut and follow-up album by the Stone Roses, they recorded a BBC Session for Mark Radcliffe that included a loose cover of Ding Dong Merrily On High.

It’s loose in all manner of the word. A band plagued by serious, secretive drug addiction could hardly put their name to a song called Ding Dong Merrily On High. And rather than run through a facsimile of the winter favourite, they instead rewrote most of the words, played the recognisable Christmas carol melody on gnarly bass and, with a nod and a wink to Patti Smith, kept the Latin chorus intact and renamed their version Gloria.

ElasticaGloria

It’s not bad in an arty, angular sort of way. Guitar strings scrape, the drummer keeps enthisiastic metronomic precision and Justine sulks her way through it doing her best Mark E Smith impression from behind her swinging, shining indie fringe. I wonder if they’d heard The Fall’s Christmas Peel Session by this point?

That’s a rhetorical question by the way. Of course they had.

Recorded around the same time as Elastica were the hot new thing, The Fall‘s Peel Session from December ’94 was notable for two things; One: The band did not one but two faithful, in a Fall kinda way, versions of Christmas standards. Two: The expanded line-up of The Fall at the time featured the glam-tastic sight and sound of two drummers, a shrivelled liver Glitter band for old post-punkers everywhere. Karl Burns was welcomed back into the fold and onto the drum stool after a 9 year absence alongside Brix, last seen on Fall duty 6 years previously.

Like malt whisky, that other great festive favourite, I find my appreciation for The Fall grows with each passing year. I discovered them around the time of Extricate and flirted with their back catalogue from thereon in, but it never really grabbed me in the way that I know it grabbed others. I admire them greatly though, whether they’re sawing their way through Eat Y’Self Fitter or going full-on garage band for their essential take on Mr Pharmacist or keeping it sparse and minimal on Hip Priest or spitting their way through Spoilt Victorian Child or….y’get the idea. There’s a Fall that’s suitable for everyone. It just takes some folk a while to find it.

The larger line-up in 1994 fairly suits the music. They bite and snarl their way through a daft version of Jingle Bell Rock, one-fingered keyboard parping the melody, lyrics changed to suit Captain Mark’s mood, the groop bottling the Christmas spirit in barely over a minute.

Hang on a minute! Christmas song done in band style? Rewritten lyrics?! BBC sesssion?!? I wonder where Elastica got that idea? They even nicked the snappy rattle of The Fall’s drum beat for their Christmas tune. They were never the most original of bands, Elastica, but then, you knew that already.

The FallJingle Bell Rock

Post Office rot in hell, Friday night on Oxford Street,

All walking with green M&S bags, join them up with old beef and sprouts,

That’s the Jingle Bell Rock.

Not quite yer finger-poppin’, frost dusted holiday hit first crooned by bobby soxxer favourite Bobby Helms. That’s the Jingle Bell Rock indeed. And who’s complaining?

Alternative Version, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Keeping It Peel 2013

john peel home studio

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, it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to expanding and informing listening tastes up and down the country. 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 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. Thank you, John.

This year’s Peel Session selection features Roxy Music from February 1972. It’s a cracker……..

roxy music 72

But first, a history lesson.

1972 was a pivotal year in music. The number of influential/classic albums released in those 12 months is nothing short of staggering (I’d like to say “off the top of my head“, but Google is a handy wee tool now and again).

Take a deep breath and off we go; Neil Young‘s Harvest (and the unreleased Journey Through The Past), Nick Drake‘s Pink Moon, Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side Of The Moon (hey – I’d never spotted that before – Pink and Moon…anyway…), The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot, both by Captain Beefheart (2 albums in one year, nae bother), Todd Rundgren‘s Something/Anything, Talking Book AND Music Of My Mind by Stevie Wonder (2 albums in one year, nae bother), T Rex‘s Bolan Boogie and The Slider (2 albums, one year…), Big Star‘s #1 Record, The Stones’ Exile On Main Street, Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust, the soundtracks to Superfly and The Harder They Come (Curtis Mayfield and Jimmy Cliff), Black Sabbath 4, Steely Dan‘s Can’t Buy a Thrill, Greetings from LA by Tim Buckley, Can‘s Ege Bamyasi, Transformer by Lou Reed, Marvin Gaye‘s Trouble Man, and the debut eponymously titled LP from Roxy Music. Crikey! That’s almost a classic album a fortnight! And there’s a ton more I haven’t even mentioned! Oh to have been a teenager with a disposable income in the early 70s……

Roxy Music At Royal College Of Art In London in 1972

Roxy Music looked as if they’d been beamed down from the first spaceship from Mars and sounded just as other-worldly. Dressed in a clash of tiger print and tinfoil, faux fur and flares, and with a sound giving as much space to the clarinet and oboe as to yer more traditional rock instruments (and we haven’t even mentioned Brian Eno’s synthesiser), they were so out of step with the fashion of the day (compare them to the list above), it’s easy to see why John Peel would champion them. Between January 1972 and March 1973, they recorded 5 thrilling John Peel sessions. Their session recorded in February 1972 (although not broadcast until 1st August – anyone know why?) is particularly brilliant, featuring the yin and the yang of Roxy Music in two tracks.

The Yin

A full six months (a light year in 1972 musical terms) before being released as their debut single, Virginia Plain was recorded as part of that February session. Over a minute longer than the released version, the Peel version is a proto-punk glam slam, overloaded with fizzbomb guitars and a seemingly improvised solo, all whammy bar and feedback sturm und drang. Hogging the limelight, Phil Manzanera made sure there was no room for the single’s twangy bass solo here.

Virginia Plain Peel Session, 18 Feb 72

Years later he would indeed be flying down to Rio! but, when he wasn’t purloining other bands’ equipment, I’m sure sticky-fingered street urchin and future Sex Pistol Steve Jones was cribbing notes on Manzanera’s guitar sound during this transmission. A verse sung over 2 open chords….. stray wafts of controlled feedback….. a fantastic, fluid and free-form guitar solo….. a four-to-the-floor jackboot stomp. A full 4 years before UK punk was ‘invented’, Roxy Music were doing it, maaaaan. If this version of Virginia Plain doesn’t make you want to go and learn a couple of chords and start a band in a desperate middle-aged attempt at hipster cool, nothing will.

roxy music 1973

The Yang

On the debut album you’ll find If There Is Something, a countryish clip-clopping slide guitar and piano-led song in (prog alert!!!) three distinct parts. According to that bastion of trusted information Wikipedia, it ‘s been said that the first part of the song is a youth wondering about love, the second part adults in the heat of passion and the third part the singer in old age thinking about their past love. Gads. Whatever you think, in length and libido it manages to invent both prog rock and Pulp. Heavily-effected saxophones waft in and out, guitars get fuzzier and quieter as the track progresses and the ending is bathed in synthesised melancholic heaven, Ferry crooning in his collapsed quiff like a pub singer after half a dozen Guinesses.

If There Is Something Peel Session, 18 Feb 72

The Peel Session version is free from slide guitar and twice as long as the released version, clocking in at over 12 meandering minutes, the track ebbing and flowing like the champagne at one of Bryan Ferry’s socialite soirees. A few short years later they’d be making syrupy cocktail dross like Avalon. Remember Roxy from 72; weird, wonky and wonderful, unparalleled and untouchable.

*Bonus Track!

No Roxy Music feature is complete without the funniest bit of telly ever. Johnny Vegas as Eno? Oh aye!

peel bathOch, John!

Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Keeping It Peel 2012

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, it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to expanding and informing listening tastes up and down the country. Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 12″, LP, 10″ ep, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent to him, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. John Peel is the reason my musical tasted 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 and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.

Long before iPlayers and listen again features and podcasts and illegal file sharing sights and camera phones and all that technological flim flam that clogs up the listening experience nowadays, back at the time catching a Peel Session was often a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Whole sub-cultures and cottage industries revolved around advertising copies of Peel Sessions in the inky sections at the back of the NME or Melody Maker. Quaint. That’s what they’d say today. I’d often find myself, fingers sweating over the ‘pause’ button as my C90 waited patiently to magnetise the latest session by the Wedding Present or The House Of Love or The Pixies or whoever. In between the African jit jive and dub reggae played at the wrong speed I would find myself bursting for the toilet, but afraid to go in case I missed the next In Session track. I’ve written this before, but it really was an art if you could start recording just as Peel stopped talking but before the music started. It was often a guessing game, but the more I did it the better I got at it. Nowadays, of course, I wish I’d been less careful with this – it would be great to hear the man’s voice again at the start of a track, or between back to back session tracks. When he does pop up on those old tapes, like on a House Of Love session “Hey man! The bongos are too loud!”, it’s like an aural comfort blanket that transports me back to my youth. I loved that a Peel session would regularly feature a new track, yet to be committed to vinyl, or an unexpected cover version you might never hear live. A Peel session was your favourite band’s way of saying, “What d’you think of this?” Peel tracks would often pop up on the band’s next LP, radically altered from the original Peel Version. For trainspotters like me, this was magic.

One such band was Inspiral Carpets. I taped their first session in 1988 roundabout the same time I saw them support the Wedding Present at the Barrowlands. Live, they were great. All bowl cuts and beads, they reminded me of a punkier, rougher version of The Teardrop Explodes. It was all simple stuff – straightforward basslines and basic open guitar chords behind a wall of what I would later realise to be Farfisa organ (and not Hammond as I’d assumed). The singer,  superglued to the microphone stand like a lampost and backlit in blue had a terrified thousand yard stare and the most enormous set of ears on anyone I’ve ever seen. Even then, you could tell that the guy behing the organ was their leader. On and off in 20 minutes, I’d eventually see them live about half a dozen times, each time the ned to bigger venue ratio increasing accordingly. But never have a band disappointed more – their early releases are terrific; steeped in Nuggetsy 60s garage band references and, for the late 80s, unlike anything around at the time (later on I’d find discover The Prisoners, so the Inspirals weren’t really all that unique), and they were essential. The first 2 or 3 EPs are far superior to anything off of the polished-up, chart bound Life LP and anything that followed after. But that’s a moan for another day.

My original Peel tape of that first Inspirals’ session is in the loft, but thanks to the wonders of illegal file sharing and the technological flim flam that clogs up the listening experience, I’ve managed to track down that 1988 session in listener-friendly lo-fi quality, complete with the odd burst of radio hiss and JP’s vocalised musings at the beginning and end of each track. It really is a wonderful session:

These tracks would all end up on future EP releases, but the spirit of those early Inspirals live shows can be heard in the youthful vigour in which they attack each song in the session. Personal favourite Greek Wedding Song, with it’s ‘never a frown with Golden Brown‘ stolen melody towards the end ended up on the rare Train Surfing EP, a record that really deserves it’s own post one day.
God bless you, John Peel, wherever you are. Thanks for getting me into the music.
entire show, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Peel Slowly And See

On constant rotation chez moi this week has been the new long player from the Super Furry Animals. It’s called Dark Days/Light Years and it’s a belter. But you probably knew that. So far ahead of everyone else in terms of originality and imagination, I would say that the Super Furry Animals are currently the Best Band on the Planet.

super-furry-animals

Except they’re clearly not on this planet. To the uninitiated, on the face of it the Super Furries are just another generic indie guitar band. But look closer. Are there any other groups who can go seamlessly from pastoral folk to fuzzed guitar psychedelia to nose bleeding Belgian hardcore-apeing techno to native language singalongs? Effortlessly? Often in the one song? Nope. Of course not. So that’s settled. The Super Furry Animals are the Best Band (almost) on the Planet.

The band clearly stockpile songs and only release them when the stars are aligned and the vibe is right. ‘Inconvenience‘ from the new album sounds like Golden Retriever from their Phantom Power album, only with better lyrics. Gruff Rhys has said it was an old song looking for the right album. Looks like it found it. Even the slow songs on this album are fast, he’s said. And they are. But enough of that. If you’re a fan of SFA you’vre probably got the album by now. If you’re sitting on the fence, get off it now and hop over to any good music retailer, physical or online and take a punt. You won’t regret it. If you’re one of those folk who say you don’t like them (and there can’t be that many people), click on the link below and for free you can download the band’s Peel Session broadcast from John Peel’s house on 12th July 2001. Then get yourself over to any decent music retailer etc etc…

sfa-gruff

The session in question that was broadcast from Peel Acres is a cracker. In front of a small audience they go through 3 tracks from the Rings Around The World album that they were promoting at the time. They also play a Welsh language track that featured on that year’s Welsh language album Mwyng. But the highlight for me is the first track. Written on the way down to the session, reveals Gruff, ‘Zoom!‘ would not make it’s official appearance until 2005’s criminally under-rated ‘Love Kraft’ album. Another old song looking for the right album.

superfurryanimals

This session is as good an introduction to the Super Furries as anyone needs. Opening track ‘Zoom!‘ is a slow-burning builder of a song; a nice combination of acoustic guitars and Pink Floyd synths. By the time it had made it onto ‘Love Kraft’ it was twice as long and had swimming pool splashes, trumpets and all sorts of sonic embellishments on top, but the version here is pretty much complete from the off. Second track, ‘Fragile Happiness’ is worth hearing purely for the way mumbling Gruff sings “We’ll go to Miami“. It also sounds uncanilly like fellow pastoral folkies Gorkys Zygotic Mynci (seek them out if you’ve never heard them). With my ignorance of the Welsh language I have absolutely no idea what is being sung on ‘Nythod Cacwm’, but it’s that melodic you can sing along without needing to know the words anyway. Sevem minute long lighters-in-the-air power ballad ‘Run! Christian, Run!‘ follows and the whole session finishes with the excellent ‘A Touch Sensitive’. Sadly, not a cover of the Fall track (and given the setting, you could be forgiven for thinking that), it’s a hypnotic instrumental that sounds like the theme to some long lost sci-fi spy film. Big bass line, bubbling analogue synths, an echoey, dubby piano riff and Krautrock drums. Yep. Super Furry Animals. Hands down Best Band (almost) on the Planet.

sfa_feb2009

Beardy, weirdy and bloody magic