Saturday, 17 December 2011

2011 - Closing Thoughts and A Little Reading For The Holidays

As 2011 draws nearer to its end, the music writing world and list compilers appear to be divided about whether or not it was a good year for music. You'll all have your own opinions about that I'm sure. I'm not going to bore you with another list but I thought there were some cracking albums this year. In terms of new releases The Amazing's Gentle Stream was a revelation, Meg Baird's Seasons On Earth will no doubt grace my stereo for years to come, but my favourite album of the year is People Changes by Nat Baldwin. An incredible blend of emotionally charged songs, free jazz, and unique and intimate arrangements. It stood out above most everything else I've heard. And there were some amazing re-releases and compilations along the way too, for example the collection of 60's/70's Thai pop from the Soundway Record label, (though that may have come out in 2010 I only got round to it this year.)

Click over the jump to continue reading this article.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Matt Deighton - Villager (1995)

Out of step with Britpop, pre cool-folk, definitely due a re-appraisal. This album was part of my soundtrack back in the mid 90's and I've been meaning to write a piece about it for some time. It's recently been re-issued so now is as good a time as any. Proof indeed that there was more to the 90's than Britpop, post-rock, boy bands and bling.

Click over the jump for more on Matt Deighton's Villager LP.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Riffs Recycled #1 - Louie Louie

Duh duh duh....duh duh....duh duh duh....duh duh....

Yeah man, you knows it, that simple but effective ten note riff. We all know it best from The Kingmen's frat-party anthem Louie Louie, written by Richard Berry with supposedly obsene lyrics resulting in the FBI opening a case on the song. But the tune and its rhythmic riff has a history both before and after The Kingsmen's landmark 45. Read on punks...

Click over the jump for more riffs recycled...

Friday, 18 November 2011

White horses in music - A Video Playlist

Waves crashing, pagan symbolism, drug reference, spiritual redeemer, or maybe just a horse. If you look back over rock and dance music's history there's a fine tradition of the old white horse appearing out of the mist. A loaded metaphor in so many ways. A shame then that perhaps the greatest horse song, The Byrds' Chestnut Mare doesn't feature a white horse! No mind, for our purposes we're sticking with the white ones. The LP cover above is XTC's English Settlement. It seemed to sum up the mystical vibe of at least some of the tracks in this list. Until the next white horse comes along, feast your eyes on the playlist. Saddle up and let's ride!

Click over the jump for my video playlist.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cold War Pop - A Video Playlist

Seems like quite some time since the end of the Cold War. The world continues to open up in so many ways. Been thinking about the Cold War a lot recently since watching "The Lives Of Others", so thought I'd put together a video playlist of some of the most memorable tracks inspired by that era.

Click over the jump for my Cold War video playlist

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fruit In Rock - A Video Playlist

It's been a while since my last post as I've been catching up on some soul-refreshing reading. After reading the Bill Drummond piece on damsons in the new "On Nature" book brought to us by the good folks at Caught By The River (click here for more details), I've decided to compile a new video playlist.

Click over the jump for my "fruits in rock" video playlist.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Danny And The Champions Of The World - Streets Of Our Time (2010)

2nd album from Danny Wilson's South London indie-country collective.

This album arrived at my house as I was suffering from an extremely debilitating chest infection. I'd been laid up in bed for the best part of a week. Couldn't face much reading, or food so had spent most of my time coughing and ruminating on life's twists and turns. A strange week of introspection. This album seemed to arrive at just the right time, forcing from me the easy tears of a convalescent. It's themes of family and friendship striking a deep chord.

The photo on the sleeve shows a close up of a pair of road-weary trainers placed on railway tracks that stretch off into the hazy distance. It's a clue to the reflective lyrical themes that lie within these 9 songs. Danny Wilson takes a mid-life stock take, looking back at distance travelled, while keeping a hopeful eye on the journey still to come. 

Opening track “Henry The Van” laments the breakdown of a tour bus but is really about fanning the dying embers of youthful passions and ambitions. It comes drenched in gorgeous CS&N style harmonies courtesy of Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou.

“Lose These Rags” is a community empowering anthem Springsteen might have written had he grown in Wandsworth rather than New Jersey.

Recurring references to familial love, community, ageing and nature, most notably rivers and birds, continue throughout the record. Strong autobiographical song writing and an assured English country sound makes this a very rewarding listen.

Here's a clip of the band playing an impromptu  version of "Restless Feet".

Friday, 29 April 2011

Siblings in Rock - A Video Playlist

Here's a video playlist for y'all. This could have been so much longer but I kept nodding off while trawling through clips of The Corrs. Please add some suggestions for additions in the comments box, I may add them to the list. I'm gonna dedicate this to my brothers, you drive me up the wall sometimes but I love you to bits. Enjoy!

 Click over the jump for my video playlist

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Coral - Butterfly House (Acoustic) 2010

Scouse-psych folk-rock opus gets the unplugged treatment.

It would be easy to see this album as a cynical cash in, milking the goodwill towards last year's classic album for maximum financial return, while giving little in return.

Although missing the character and bite of the original versions, this is a master-class in melody and a better insight into James Skelly's vague yet meaningful lyrics.

The 12 songs from the original album (plus new instrumental “Dreamland”) are stripped of the Forever Changes style baroque folk flourishes, and re-worked with no percussion, and heavy on vocal harmony and 12-string jangle. Recorded in one session the album is not without its imperfections, but that's part of its demo-ish charm.

Not essential, but an absorbing stopgap from a band at the top of their game.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Bill Callahan vs. Fingerbobs

I happened to hear this track last night by Bill Callahan. It's featured on a CD that was given away with Mojo magazine a couple of years ago. The compilation is entitled New Harvest and features the hip and happening of American songwriters and bands. This track by Bill Callahan is taken from his album "Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle". It stopped me in my tracks somewhat. It just reminded me of something I'd heard long ago that was buried deep within my psyche. Took me a while to figure out what but I think I may have dug deep enough to find it.

Compare and contrast with the theme tune from '70s craft-based children's TV classic Fingerbobs.

NB. This post is not meant to be derogatory to either Bill Callahan or Fingerbobs but does make for an interesting juxtaposition I think.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Nippon Girls - Japanese Pop, Beat & Bossa Nova 1966-70

Take a look at your record or CD collection, or at the mp3's on your player. Chances are the vast majority of tunes are by white westerners, usually male to boot. Certainly the case for my own collection, I'm afraid to say. This CD compilation, released in 2009 goes some way to rectifying this embarrassing fact.


Like Britain, Japan is an island nation with a complex, sometimes suspicious interaction with the rest of the world. Just over a couple of centuries ago no foreigner was allowed to enter the country and all foreign trade was conducted via a man-made gated island at the port of Nagasaki. (For an insight into this era I recommend reading David Mitchell's excellent novel "The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet").

Japan also has an amazing track record of hardiness and re-invention after suffering devastating horror and destruction, both natural and by mankind. Think of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, along with devastation caused by the recent tsunami. Japan may currently be suffering and greiving but the new Japan that emerges from this most recent disaster will certainly be a country worthy of our respect and admiration.

But I digress, we're here to talk about music, so what can you expect from this CD? 25 tracks of 60's kitsch, western influenced grooviness that would help Austin Powers get his mojo back. The clue is in the title really, the songs here have borrowed heavily from British and American pop from the same era, as well as taking cues from the French yé-yé scene. There's something extremely refreshing about not having a clue as to what's being sung about, and the range of emotion on offer is broad. From jaunty and disposable (Eiko Shuri - Yé-Yé), to sophisticated and longing (Mari Atsumi - Suki Yo Ai Shite). And it's emphasised by all the hallmark instrumentation of the time, fuzz guitars, sweeping strings, muted brass, Farfisa organs, and McCartney-esque bass counter-melodies. 

It was released on the Ace Record label and was compiled by girl-group expert Sheila Burgel, who also wrote the fantastically imformed sleeve notes. It's worth checking out Sheila's wonderful website dedicated to all things girl pop.

Here's the first track from the CD, Jun Mayuzumi's "Black Room"...

Monday, 4 April 2011

Colin Betts - Frozenlight/Shininglight (e-book)

I recently treated myself to an Amazon Kindle.One of the more interesting and unique e-books I've read on it has to be this 60's memoir from Colin Betts. A bright but rebellious teenager, Betts' interest in the the burgeoning counter-culture is piqued by regularly seeing The Rolling Stones rip it up at his local night-spot. In true Beat style, (not Beatnik, there is a difference as explained in the book), Betts drops out of formal education and takes to the road, living hand to mouth with money earned from busking and the odd trick turned.

Shortly he manages to blag his way into a job as a roadie for The Stones on one of their early UK tours. There follows spells busking in the south of France with the then unknown Nick Drake, globetrotting exploits as a drug runner, and fascinating first hand descriptions of the scale and intensity of the Paris riots of May 1968.

The second part of the book (Shininglight) is a play based on the time Colin spent in Aix-en-Provence with Nick Drake.

The book comes with a recommendation from none other than Joe Boyd. If you've ever enjoyed reading Joe's own book White Bicycles - Making Music In The 1960's, or Howard Marks' Mr. Nice then this book is for you.

For more information about Colin Betts' Frozenlight/Shininglight go to

Friday, 1 April 2011

Local Band Rivalry

Being in an unsigned band is for the most part a plateau of mundane experience punctuated by occasional highs and lows. The highs may include the kudos of playing the odd festival in the summer or getting some late night national radio play. The lows are when it costs more to get the van through its MOT than the amount you originally paid for it. Or somebody leaves and you have to replace them, losing any amount of momentum the band may have had. The mundane part is lumping gear around, organising practices, booking gigs and burning cdr's which you can't even give away.

There seems to be a limited set of experiences that all band share, signed or unsigned. Ask any gigging musician and they're bound to have tales of dodgy promoters, late night trips up or down the A1, playing to the proverbial 2 men and a dog in sticky floored venues. And that's just the good stuff!

One of the more ridiculous band experiences is that of local band rivalry. The music scene in general is a small gene-pool, any local scene even more so. These bands are all scratting round for the same gigs, may have to support bands they think should be supporting them. The first reaction to any other band's good fortune is to think that that should have been us. etc etc etc. I'll bet good money that even someone as successful and popular as Paul McCartney still bristles with resentment towards some also-ran Merseybeat combo. Perhaps that's human nature, I dunno.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that it gives me an excuse to show a clip from one of the greatest rock films ever - "Slade in Flame", where Noddy Holder, singer with The Undertakers gets locked in a coffin by their local rivals. The fashions may change but the song remains the same....

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mystic Scouse - A Video Playlist

Seems to me that everyone from Liverpool loves Beefheart, Pink Floyd and Arthur Lee's Love. The city also has an amazing legacy of mind-altering pop. In recognition of this I thought I'd put together this playlist. It's not meant to be definitive, is highly personal, and may well be added to. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Check it out la!

Click over the jump for my video playlist.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Zachariah - DVD (1971)

There's something so enduringly naive about this movie that keeps pulling me back to it. Every couple of years I just have to dig it out and watch it again, usually on my own as it gets the thumbs down from everyone I've ever tried to show it to. Maybe I've bigged it up too much and it can only lead to their disappointment.

Anyhow what's not to like about a movie from the short lived "Acid Western" genre?! It's got all the usual western hallmarks - guns, saloons, loose moralled women etc.,  along with Fender guitars and tail end of the sixties acid blues rock.

The film is loosely based on Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha and is basically a moralistic buddie movie starring starring John Rubenstein as Zachariah and Don Johnson (yes that one!) as his sidekick Matthew. The addition of rock music from The James Gang and Country Joe And The Fish is what really sets this film apart though. Yes it is cheesy in places, thin on plot, and very much of it's time, but hey that's what I like about it.

It's billed on the cover as the film The Beatles would have made if they'd got around to filming their much mooted western (it's not, though don't let that put you off). 

A few years ago a friend was staying over at our house on the settee. He wanted to watch a movie late in to the night before going to sleep and asked what videos or DVD's I might have that he could watch. "On the Waterfront, or Dylan's Dont Look Back on VHS" I said, "or this thing called Zachariah I've got on DVD." He took a look at the cover and said "I'll pass on the Zachariah". I still think he missed out.

One of the best things about this film is the appearence of jazz drummer Elvin Jones, drummer of choice for no less than John Coltrane. Here he is in full flow..

Monday, 28 March 2011

Bert Jansch & John Renbourn - Bert And John (1966)

I want to talk a little about this record. I picked this up for 50p in a charity shop in Muswell Hill, (one of my better chazza shop buys as Record Collector values it at £12). It's a short record, mainly instrumentals featuring the magical acoustic meanderings of the Pentangle boys, the odd vocal here and there. Probably recorded in an afternoon session with a basic set-up - a couple of mics, teabags, a kettle and some rolling baccy.

One thing I really love about it though is the cover. They're sat by a window with the murky brown curtains half drawn, playing the ancient Chinese game of Go. If you're not familiar with this game it's very simple to learn, but richly strategic. I think it's actually considered a martial art in Korea with Dan style gradings of ability. There's tea on the side, and fags about to be sparked up. For some resason I always think they're nursing a hangover, it's probably the half drawn curtain. And that they're having a wake-up game of Go before getting round to quickly recording the LP, so that they can get out on the lash again for that hair of the dog pint and whisky chaser. That probably speaks volumes about my lifestyle at the time of acquiring this LP. I'd moved to to London a couple of years previously and shared a room (actually even a mattress) with my elder brother for a year or so of sowing wild oats, getting outrageously drunk, smoking plenty of cigs and generally partying too hard. eventually common sense and/or exhaustion intervened and we both calmed down and became more or less respectable (and healthier).

Somehow though, everytime I look at this sleeve I see myself and our kid, at a time in our lives when everything was new and fun, tomorrow was not to be thought or cared about. It was perhaps the only time I've ever truly been a ramblin man. (In truth I was no doubt a complete prat but let's stick with the romantic version).

Over to Bert and John...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Eric Matthews - Fried Out Broken Girl (1995)

Well I finally got round to starting a blog. Where to start? Well I'm gonna indulge myself. Eric Matthews LP "It's Heavy In Here" from 1995 has been one of my favourite album of all time. I bought it on vinyl (yeah baby!) when it first came out. The hole was slightly off centre so listening to it could be a little disorientating. But the songs were all pure gold. It was on Sub Pop, though not grunge and stood apart from everything else at the time. (Think superstar DJ's, industry boybands, too cool for school trip-hop, and chirpy throwaway britpop). It somehow had "weight". Emotional and yet detached. It was indeed Heavy In There! I don't know how well it sold and I always thought liking it was somehow membership of some minority club, but Radio One DJ Mark Radcliffe dug it too from what I recall. He always seemed to be playing the single "Fanfare" on his late night show. Not too long after buying the LP I thought the songs deserved to be heard without the distracting wow and flutter so I bought the CD.

Fast forward to early March 2011 and I'm burning a CDR of the album for a pal of mine whose opinion I respect and welcome. He has an open mind and open ears. A week later he tells me that he's had an out of body experience while listening to what he refers to as "track 6, the one with the brass on it".

Folks I give you track 6, the one with the brass on  it...