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A HAUNTING TUNE FOR HALLOWEEN

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R-701044-1296084424From 1994 in which a lead vocal, a backing vocal, an acoustic guitar and a cello combine to stunning effect:-

mp3 : Kristin Hersh – Your Ghost

It was the debut single from the Throwing Muses main protagonist and she called in a favour from her dear friend Michael Stipe whose band were probably just about the biggest selling on the planet at that particular time.   It’s a song that caught a lot of people by surprise – aficionados of Throwing Muses were astonished at the stripped-back beauty and simplicity of the track while R.E.M.‘s newest batch of fans were left scratching their heads and wondering why Stipe would feature so prominently on a recording by a musician more or less unknown in commercial or mainstream circles.

I was thrilled to pick up a mint copy of the 12″ single in a second-hand store the other week for just £2.  I actually reckon that the person who bought it did so on the basis of the backing vocal in the hope (in vain as it turned out) that Stipe would feature on the other songs.  It certainly appears to be a more or less unplayed piece of plastic.

Three other songs make up this lovely release, one of them being a rather startling cover of a Led Zeppelin track (and as someone who is not a fan of the rock giants I’m prepared to say that Kristin’s version is waaaaay superior!!)

mp3 : Kristin Hersh – The Key
mp3 : Kristin Hersh – Uncle June and Aunt Kiyoti
mp3 : Kristin Hersh – When The Levee Breaks

Oh and the lyrics of the middle song of these three refers geographically to Canada and it was wonderful to hear the province of Nova Scotia being refered to as New Scotland. I often forget just how many people from my wee country made their way to the rugged east coast of Canada to try to carve out a new life for themselves.

Finally…anyone who enjoys autobiographies of any sort really should track down a copy of Paradoxical Undressing, Kristin’s brilliantly-written and very frank, moving, often disturbing and occasionally laugh-out-loud-at-the ridiculousness-of-it-all memoir of a period in her life when she suffering from a debilitating mental illness.

Happy Halloween y’all.

 

A SCOTTISH SUPERGROUP (OF SORTS)

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Duglas T Stewart is the nearest thing we have to pop royalty in Scotland.

Back in 1986, he formed BMX Bandits who are still going strong today. Over the years, Duglas’s band has had almost as many members as have at one time been part of The Fall – the wiki entry on the band has some 25 musicians listed as current or past members.

To be fair, a number of the names were only in the band on a temporary basis, often for a one-off single or as part of a live band for a few shows. Back in 1991, an incredible line-up came together for the recording of what would be the band’s second studio LP and in particular its lead-off single Come Clean which, as the back of the 12″ single says was performed by

Duglas Stewart, Joe McAlinden, Norman Blake, Francis MacDonald, Gordon Keen and Eugene Kelly,

all of whom have, over many many years, been hugely influential in the development of the indie music scene in Scotland as performers, writers and producers amidst a myriad of bands including of course Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines, but also the lesser known but hugely admired Captain America, Eugenius and Superstar.

Come Clean is a cracking pop song which captures perfectly so much of what was going on musically around these parts in 1991/92 and if it wasn’t for Duglas’s distinctive and unusual vocal style (he’s not the most classical singer you’ll ever hear in your life) then you could have been guessing at a few bands as being behind the songs (no real surprise really given how interchangeable everyone seemed to be).

mp3 : BMX Bandits – Come Clean

The two other tracks on the 12″ contain a song on which Duglas allows someone else to sing (I’m pretty sure its Joe McAlinden) along with a track lifted from the debut album C90 and which remains a live favourite all these years on:-

mp3 : BMX Bandits – Retitled
mp3 : BMX Bandits – Let Mother Nature Be Your Guide

These three tracks appear on one side of the vinyl. Flip it over and you get a tremendous tongue-in-cheek tribute to Madchester and baggy…..or perhaps a sly dig at their good mates Soup Dragons who had abandoned the sort of indie guitar music that had dominated their debut recordings and gone down the route of dance with a touch of the Happy Mondays:-

mp3 : BMX Bandits – Come Clean (Jumping On Someone Else’s Funky Train Mix)

Great fun.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

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R-384982-1119452886Magnificent 7?

Surely Some Mistake – there’s only six guys on the cover……

Appearances can be soooooooooooo deceptive.

The band was indeed officially only six-strong in the early days. The seventh bloke to join Madness wouldn’t do until after this single was released, although up until then he had been part of their live shows as backing vocalist and dancer. And indeed would play a huge part in making this single so bloody popular:-

mp3 : Madness – One Step Beyond

It’s a cover of a tune by Prince Buster, a Jamaican ska artist who had enjoyed success back in the 60s. Madness had already paid tribute to him with their debut single The Prince before making sure he got a whole lot of royalties with their follow-up which reached #7 in November 1979.

The key difference between the original and this loving tribute is the addition of the spoken-word intro:-

Hey you,
Don’t watch that, watch this!
This is the heavy heavy monster sound
The nuttiest sound around
So if you’ve come in off the street
And you’re beginning to feel the heat
Well listen Buster
You better start to move your feet
To the rockinest, rock-steady beat
Of Madness
One step beyond!

Performed by Chas Smash and copied by kids in playgrounds all over the UK. With a wonderfully entertaining video to boot, this is the song really got Madness noticed and before long they cemented a place as one of the great British singles acts of the late 20th Century.

Just under a year later, Madness would release a truly astonishing single that remains my particular favourite. A soap-opera in just under three minutes. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy and girl have sex…baby gets created. Parents of the boy and girl react with anger and horror…and completely ostracize their own offspring.

Their crime wasn’t to become unexpected parents. Their crime was to create a mixed-race baby…

mp3 : Madness – Embarrassment

Based on a true story. The teenage sister of saxophonist Lee Thomson had a black boyfriend and became pregnant only to be horrofied by the fact that many in her family shunned her. The real life story turns out to have had a happy ending, with the family seeing sense after the baby girl was born. I’m guessing the existence of the song also played its part….

Happy Listening

G’DAY FROM OUR ANZAC CORRESPONDENT : DOOZIES FROM DOWN UNDER (3)

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More Kiwis this week, which I discovered on an Australian TV show, hosted by an American musician.

The show is called ‘rage’, an all-night music video show that has been screening on the ABC (Australia’s public broadcaster) every Friday & Saturday night for the last 27 years.   Most Saturday nights a guest presenter programs it, usually a visiting musician/band, but they’ve also had writers, artists etc (last year for example, just before the federal elections, they had a politician from each of the 3 major parties co-hosting it, which was pretty interesting actually – kinda shed new light on them).

Generally they have a few hours of tracks the host has chosen, with them introducing some of them, then a bunch of videos of their own.  As you can imagine, a great thing to come home to after a night out, when you’re not quite ready for bed yet (or to stay up for if not out-and-about).  Worthwhile checking out the website if you have the time… hmm, seems they’ve changed it a bit (hate that) – used to be able to scroll back over at least the last 15-20 years worth and see who programmed it and what they played, now seems to only go to 2007 (though you can still find earlier playlists with a bit of effort).

Alternatively, think of a band/artist you like who may have toured Australia and type into your search engine of choice: “so-and-so’ programming Rage”  (eg, some folk might be interested to see what the author Irvine Welsh programmed, or what New Order programmed when they hosted it. Many others of note have also been involved over the years, such as Beck, Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave… sorry JC, don’t think Morrissey has… though Henry Rollins did, and you may or may not want to see him explaining why he programmed a Moz song… )

Anyway, back in 2005 Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins was hosting it. He had been in NZ before coming to Australia and was quite taken by this track by The Bads, so decided to play the clip. Really glad he did cos L love it and hope you will too

mp3 : The Bads – Carry The Weight

Cheers, Craig

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

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I found another selection of what I had previously thought were lost postings from the old blog the other day. They were from the month of April 2011….a time when I needed to take a break from blogging but the wonderful Ctel, along with many other incredible friends from the blogosphere, stepped in and kept things going. I think its a series of postings I will return to at some point, but in the meantime, here’s an adaptation of something I wrote on 1 April 2011. And not as a joke either.

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Strange as it may seem, I wasn’t a fan of The Velvet Underground back in the 80s even though I knew that so much of their sound influenced many of my favourite bands; indeed most of said bands were not slow in putting out cover versions of VU songs.

This attitude was all because of my unwritten rule of thumb that I wasn’t all that interested in listening to old bands, especially those from the generation before mine. It’s also why I don’t ‘get’ The Beatles or Elvis Presley – I’ve never really given them a try. And being a totally inconsistent sod, I shouldn’t have ever given a chance to The Kinks or Johnny Cash – but I did and loved them.

But I was stubborn about VU for decades. Until last year (2010) when I spent all of £3 on a greatest hits CD compilation, I owned nothing of theirs.  Having given the CD a few listens I’m now willing to admit that some of their songs are pretty decent, including this handful:-

mp3 : The Velvet Underground – I’m Waiting For The Man
mp3 : The Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes
mp3 : The Velvet Underground – Rock ‘n’ Roll
mp3 : The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane
mp3 : The Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs

The 1967 debut LP Velvet Underground & Nico is the original home of both I’m Waiting For The Man and Venus In Furs. I first heard the former as a cover recorded by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as the b-side to their 1980 single Messages. I liked the cover enough to seek out a mate who had VU records to shove the original on a tape for me. I wasn’t moved enough at the time to fall in love with the song…..but at the same time I didn’t have a real dislike of it. It just sounded a bit dated and one-paced. It was only maybe 5 years later when I started really listening to Jonathan Richman that I realised that the sound, far from being dated was in fact timeless and still worth a listen. But I still didn’t buy any of their releases.

Venus In Furs is another track folk tried to get me to listen to when I was a lot younger. It didn’t do anything for me. But now that my listening tastes have matured, I can see that this is a hugely significant piece of music that has influenced so many, not least Tindersticks, a band I championed many a time over on the old blog.

From the 1969 LP The Velvet Underground there can be no surprise that Pale Blue Eyes gets featured as one of my five songs by the VU  given my love of the cover recorded by Paul Quinn & Edwyn Collins. A cover that in my humble opinion is way superior to the original…..

Finally, from the 1970 release Loaded, you will find the tracks Rock’n’Roll and Sweet Jane.

The former is one that I have only recently fallen for. I didn’t know it at all until I picked up the compilation CD…well that is not technically true as I had heard it a few times over the years at various indie-disco or club nights…..but it sort of washed over me.  But hearing it loud on the headphones while sitting on the beach under gloriously clear blue skies changed everything.  Shake your thang hispsters…..and play that air guitar solo!! The latter has an appalling first 17 seconds…..just ignore it and listen to Lou Reed telling you he’s standing on the corner with his suitcase in his hand…….and then take in the remaining near four minutes and accept that it is a wonderful song that I’m ashamed took me far too long to appreciate.

But despite all that I’ve said above in praise of these five songs there’s still too many of the VU songs, certainly on the Very Best Of….CD that still don’t do it for me. But c’mon, I have softened my attitude in recent years and am prepared to acknowledge they deserve their place in the list of important bands that have recorded popular music.

Enjoy.

THE MOZ SINGLES (33)

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I’d be amazed if this, the fourth Morrissey solo single, from back in November 1989 was ever put at the top of any fan’s list as being the best song he’s ever released. In fact, I wouldn’t be slow in calling anyone who said such a thing a big fibber.

It was not at all well received on release….in fact I didn’t buy it right away so confident I was that it wouldn’t be too long before I’d pick it up for pennies in a bargain bin.  And that’s exactly what happened. I think I paid 50p for it in the Cockburn Street branch of Fopp in Edinburgh…if indeed it was as much as that. There were loads of them in the bargain bin.  Now, I see it’s going for £12.99 at an internet site and is labelled as ‘a collectors item’.

mp3 : Morrissey – Ouija Board, Ouija Board
mp3 : Morrissey – Yes, I Am Blind
mp3 : Morrissey – East West

It’s a single rescued by the b-sides, and while Yes, I Am Blind is very much Morrissey-by- numbers, it’s the sort of slow-tempo song he’s done very well throughout his career.

The other track is a cover of a song written by Graham Gouldman (ex 10cc) and was originally the closing track on There’s A Kind Of Hush All Over The World, the 1967 LP by Herman’s Hermits. I remember playing the Morrissey version for the first time, and not realising it was a cover, and thinking that it wasn’t that far removed from some of the later-day songs by The Smiths. A rare example of a half-decent cover by the great man. Although I’ve since found the original and there’s no argument that it’s a tremendous pop song which can’t really be ruined if you stick to a faithful interpretation.

mp3 : Herman’s Hermits – East West

Enjoy

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 114)

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TV21 formed in 1979 in Edinburgh, comprising Ally Palmer (vocals/guitar), Norman Rodgers (guitar/vocals), Neal Baldwin (bass), Dave Hampton (trumpet) and Ian Greig (drums).

Two singles in 1980 were released on their own Powbeat label, at which point Ian Greig was replaced by former Rezillos drummer Ali Paterson. After a further one-off single in early 1981 with Demon records, the band were signed to Deram (which was part of the multinational Decca Records conglomerate) with many comparing their material to The Teardrop Explodes (a very lazy comparison based almost solely on the fact that Reward, with its prominent trumpet part, had been a smash single).

There were great hopes for TV21 and the band were teamed up with a then unknown but much thought of producer in Ian Broudie. The first of the material to emerge from this collaboration was Snakes and Ladders, a single released in May 1981, while its b-side, Artistic License, was produced by James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers of The Pretenders. The single also came with a bonus 7″ single which was co-produced by the band and Troy Tate, who of course was once part of the afore-mentioned Teardrop Explodes.

mp3 : TV21 – Snakes and Ladders
mp3 : TV21 – Artistic License
mp3 : TV21 – Ambition
mp3 : TV21 – Playing With Fire

Despite so many well-kent faces working with the band, the single failed to register with the general public, as indeed was the case with its follow-up Something’s Wrong in October 1981 and the debut LP A Thin Red Line released the following month.

A change of producer followed but the March 1982 release of All Join Hands also flopped. Later that year TV21 opened for The Rolling Stones when the latter had a mini-tour of smaller venues across Scotland (including the Glasgow Apollo where I had got myself a ticket) but instead of building on any new fans picked up from such exposure, the band broke up almost immediately after the tour was completed.

23 years later, and totally out of the blue, TV21 reformed since when they have gigged a fair bit and also recorded and released new material, including the LP Forever 22 in 2009 once again on Powbeat Records (29 years after that last relaese on that very label!!!)

One of their biggest fans is Mike from Manic Pop Thrills. If you click on this link you can more or less get the full story of the band since they got back together.

Enjoy

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