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IN PRAISE OF 30 SOMETHING

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Postpunkmonk, in commenting on today’s ICA from Carter USM, has asked which album he should start with.

I’ll throw in my opinion with a repost (with updates) from the old blog, back in December 2011, complete with the comments left behind at the time.

While recently re-reading the excellent Goodnight Jim-Bob : On The Road with Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (a highly recommended book available from its publishers here), I was struck by the following passage:-

On May the 10th backstage at the Carlisle Sands Centre we received a phone call to tell us that 1992 The Love Album had entered the charts at number 1. That surely should have felt a lot better than it did. I was cock-a-hoop head over heels as happy as a sandboy’s dog with two tails called Larry when 101 Damnations went into the Top 40 and even more so when 30 Something went to Number 8. Straight in at Number 1 should have killed me. But for some reason it was a bit of an anti-climax. Maybe it was because we expected it. All the planning and marketing and not releasing it the same week as Iron Maiden’s new album. I don’t know. We opened a couple of bottles of champagne on stage that night and sprayed them all over the audience like the Schumacher brothers but it should have meant a lot more. And yet that Sunday evening in Carlisle I was almost disappointed.

Maybe the unsaid thing from Jim Bob is that he knew the band’s poorest LP to date had been the one to take them to the pinnacle and it left a bit of a sour taste.

The band had come a very very long way in a short period of time. Late 1989 had seen the release of the critically acclaimed 101 Damnations on Big Cat Records. An LP that wiki describes perfectly as a critical account of life south of the River Thames, full of black humour, cynicism, wordplay and puns – as indeed was so much of Carter USM’s output over the years.

February 1991 saw the release of 30 Something on Rough Trade Records. It was at this time that I got my first ever live experience of the band with an incredible performance in the tiny space at Glasgow Tech Students Union (Jacques the Kipper was with me that night). I caught them live again later in 1991 and again was amazed by the show. They were energetic, lively and hugely entertaining. And in 30 Something, they were promoting what I reckon is one of the best and most overlooked LPs in critics lists – one that has stood the test of time almost 25 years on.

It got them a move to a major label – to Chysalis Records – and 1992 was the year when the UK and much of Europe went bonkers for Jim Bob and Fruitbat, much of it lovingly recalled in the book. There were headlining slots at festivals and just over a year after not selling out a student union, Glasgow was treated to two nights at the Barrowlands – they could just as easily have packed the 12,000 capacity SECC. But the songs on 1992 The Love Album seemed for the most part a bit dull compared to what had appeared on the first two records.

Reputedly costing less than £4000 to record and produce, 30 Something is a masterpiece. From the opening snatched and oh-so accurate dialogue lifted from an episode of Red Dwarf:-

“When You’re younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like and still climb into your 26-inch trousers and zip them closed. But then you reach that age….24, 25…your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag and without any warning at all you’re suddenly a fat bastard” ….

all the way through to the melancholy and sadness of the closing track The Final Comedown, there isn’t a wasted moment across its entire 41 minutes.

There’s great passion, energy and humour in the lyrics even when they are dealing with really dark and serious issues such as alcoholism, racism, bullying, domestic violence and depression. There’s a great warning of the perils of consumerism which include the use of a sample of the voice of Joe Strummer and so many attacks on the state of UK society with the have and have-nots thanks to Thatcherism. For me…..it is the most punk of albums with an electronic twist. And as I say, one that today still hasn’t lost its ability to have me jumping around the room like an idiot (even if nowadays I do it in my head rather than in reality….)

It’s an Immense Record. At and more than 50 something it still speaks to me.

Comments

The Robster said… Brilliant piece, JC. There’s not a word I disagree with in there. I too loved Carter and first saw them on that 30 Something tour (Exeter Uni). One of the roughest gigs I’ve ever been too (rougher than UK Subs, Stiff Little Fingers, Therapy?) – covered in bruises I was – but it was worth it. Their subsequent records never quite reached the heights of those first two and 30 Something really is a great lost classic. 12:51 pm, December 15, 2011

Anonymous said… Carter forever! likewise at 45 this music is still talking to me , there were great and they are still amazing Filip 12:52 pm, December 15, 2011

Simon said… Will And Testament is my favourite Carter track, although I do like the whole album, but that one has always stood out for me, one of my favourite songs of that whole era pre-grunge, post Roses. Still one of my favourite bands for lyrical content too, in fact I sometimes think their music wasn’t always good enough for their lyrics, which I can read on their own and still enjoy. 1:47 pm, December 15, 2011

Anonymous said… Love this and 101 Damnations. The Final Comedown is destined for my funeral. ctel 2:45 pm, December 15, 2011

Rigid Digit said… Saw Carter in the fleapit that was The Carribean Club in Basingstoke in 1990. 101 Damnation s was a fine, fine album (“GI Blues” anyone?), but 30 Something was the defining album of my late youth. The key house party mosh track were “Surfin USM” & “Shoppers Paradise”. Still played fairly regularly, usually as a Sunday morning wakener. 1992 was good, but it would’ve taken something extra special to surpass 30 Something. I wasn’t quite 20-Something when it was released, and being 30 Something was a lifetime away. I’m now 40 Something and that album will remain in “My Top Albums Ever” List 7:10 pm, December 15, 2011

Push said… Good piece. I interviewed Jim and Fruitbat loads of times back in the day – including their first ever interview in the national music press (Melody Maker, 1988). You can read that and also another Carter interview (from 1993) on my website if you’re interested. All being well, my name should be a link. Cheers! 8:32 pm, December 15, 2011

Anonymous said… Fruitbat! I have worn my cassette of this and the 1992 album to a stretched out mess. Dark and humorous in a way not many bands can actually pull off. 12:45 am, December 16, 2011

—————————-

Means a lot when I get praise like that from The Robster…..and Ctel’s comment about The Final Comedown being destined for his funeral brought a wee lump to my throat.

JC : 16 December 2011

 

And here’s the cover version I would have to include in any Carter ICA.  Don’t ask me though to remove any of the 1o that S-WC and Badger came up with.

mp3 : Carter USM – Rent

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #50 : CARTER USM

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Just two guys messing around (part 7)
An Imaginary Compilation (of Sorts) by SWC and Tim Badger

carter_USM

“Do you know” said Badgerman as we sat at his computer and waited for the computer program to load. “It would be quicker, to just pick a name out of a hat”. Obviously, he is right, although personally I enjoy typing the names of 168 different football clubs into a spreadsheet, then watching him type a massively long and vastly complicated formula into it and then gawp in delight as half a second later the machine brings back a number. Seriously if the FA Cup draw was half as exciting as this it would get 50 million viewers. I might write to Gary Lineker.

We’ve decided to do another little trip – this time we have included the Scottish teams – and have a vague plan to meet up with JC and half of Glasgow should we get a Scottish club. Saying that I was looking at the location of some of Scottish clubs and secretly am now praying that we don’t end up in Forfar or Stranraer.

The results are in….It’s Rochdale.

I’m not sure I can quite describe how underwhelming this is. We have literally the whole of England, Scotland and two places in Wales to choose from and the stupid computer chooses, Rochdale. One of the dullest places on Earth. It is a well known fact that Rochdale has been voted the Britains most boring town 715 years in a row. It’s so boring that its twinned with the small Scottish village of Dull.

There is usually a get out jail card with these things – the team we pick has to be at home on the day we are going (November 7th).  Sadly for us, Rochdale are at home, it’s also the cup. I start researching Rochdale and what there is to do there in case we are massively early– the polite answer is not much. There is a museum, but not only is it closed its also dedicated to Nigel Mansell.

Rochdale are playing Swindon. As a Gillingham fan, I am supposed to hate Swindon, I have no idea why this rivalry exists, Swindon is nowhere near Gillingham – I would imagine that in 1974 the teams played out a close 0-0 thriller and the Swindon fans cruelly mocked the Gillingham fans for living in caravans or something. I therefore immediately start to warm towards Rochdale, and besides it can’t be as much of a dump as Crewe.

Later that day I tell JC that we are going to be in Rochdale – it turns out that JC is actually president of the Scottish Rochdale Supporters Club (president by the fact that he is actually the only known Scottish Rochdale Fan) and that his good friend Jacques the Kipper is a Swindon fan (I make a mental note to mock Jacques should we ever meet). Sadly they are going to watch Auchernauldy Utd vs Fort William Reserves in the Irn Bru Challenge Cup (or something) so he and Jacques can’t make it.

The day of the trip arrives, and again Badger and I decide to do a compilation on the 11th track that comes on the iPod. As its Badger’s birthday on the Monday I let him use his iPod and I drive. I also offer to go first. I’ll point out here that Badger secretly loaded up his iPod with Radio 2 friendly pop music the other day on the off chance that one of them would come up as my 11th track. “The risk of me getting one of them is worth it for the look on your face” he said. The sixth track on the way up is by Savage Garden and the ninth (now that is close) is by M People. I so hope this is going to backfire on him on the way home.

We drive past Bridgewater Services this time, deciding that despite the fact we are hungry, desperate for a piss and a cuppa, we’d rather eat the crumbs off of my daughter car seat, piss our trousers, and then wring them out and drink that than ever set foot in that place ever again. The 11th track comes on somewhere near Highbridge, delayed slightly by the 12 minute Underworld track that came on as track 8. We both grin – its Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. A band universally loved – I have never ever met a single person who didn’t love them. This is a band that I have thought about doing an ICA on before and one that JC reveals to me later in the week that he too has one planned for them.

For the next hour Badger and I discuss our favourite Carter tracks and gigs – he mentions at length one he went to in London at a tiny place called The Venue in New Cross it was a secret gig – which celebrated the release of Rubbish. I chose a gig at Shepherds Bush Empire in 1996. Weirdly we were both at the same Carter gig on the ‘Post Historic Monsters’ Tour in Tonbridge – we didn’t know each other at the time. Of course our favourite moment was the time that Fruitbat twatted Phillip Schofield live on telly.

I was wrong about Rochdale – it is worse than Crewe;  Crewe looks like Beverley Hills compared to Rochdale. We find the only pub in the area which doesn’t have blood stains on the pavement outside, a place called ‘The Albion’ and try to compile our Carter Imaginary Compilation. After two pints, a couple of lukewarm burgers and some rubbery lettuce, we have decided on four tracks (the first three and the last one). We spend most of the time debating whether or not we should do a Carter covers compilation or a B Side compilation or a mixture of the lot. We could actually do all three but decide on a mixture. We also decide to limit it to four singles and try to include tracks from at least four different albums.

Side One

Surfin USM (from 30 Something) – This one took us about eight seconds to decide upon. In 1992 I went to see Carter with my friend Rob –it was his first ever gig.  To this day I have never seen someone grin as much as he did when that Red Dwarf sample starts up, then the crowd start chanting ‘You Fat Bastard’ at the (starry eyed?) bollock naked guy on stage and then the guitars fire up. This was why we all loved Carter. The amazing lives shows and the sense of belonging you got at one of them.

Sheriff Fatman (from 101 Damnations) – Another obvious one, and for many, still their best song, and easily their most recognisable. The first Carter song I actually owned, having got it on Happy Daze Vol 1 (I think) – which was a Christmas present from my brother in 1990.  At Reading 1991, I bought a Sheriff Fatman TShirt which had the words ‘ YOU FAT BASTARD’ on the back of it. I wore it to sixth form college about two months later and promptly got marched back home by Kent’s finest officers about seven minutes after leaving the house. I still have it – it doesn’t fit anymore – but I just can bear to part with what is my last remaining item of teenage rebellion

Shoppers Paradise (from 30 Something) – My favourite Carter track. Essentially a pop song with wonderful lyrics which make you realise why Jim Bob had to become an author….Here’s a snippet…

“Ground floor Shoppers’ Paradise; habit-dashery, needles, spoons and knives; knuckle-dusters, glass jaws and wooden hearts. Spend your money girls on sprays and lipsticks; tested on bunnies, girls, strays and misfits; ozone friendly rape alarms for those blinding dates – another summer of hate”

I genuinely could listen to the lyrics of this for hours on end.

Skywest and Crooked (from 1992 the Love Album) The Love Album is in my opinion the weakest of all the Carter albums, yet this is the standout track from it. I love the range on this – it almost slightly operatic in its style and the inclusion of the late great Ian Dury on it is just magical.

Ceasefire (from Worry Bomb) – Clocking in at nearly nine minutes long I think this is the longest track Carter ever recorded. Its also one of the most emotional and poignant. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in 1996 I saw Carter start a gig with this – 5000 people were so up for it and Jim Bob came on alone and did the first three minutes acapella. 5000 people stood there fixated on the stage – but nothing happened, no fireworks, no explosions, no lights, just Jim and that voice shouting ‘Bang Bang’ – it was brilliant.

Side Two

Sheltered Life (Single) – Chris, my former friend (he of the Dubstar argument – and just in case, it’s Halifax you donkey brained knobjockey) bought this for me ‘as a present’ in 1991. He then three hours after he gave it to me charged me a fiver for it, claiming he’d never said present at all. I got revenge though as I once spilt tea all over his copy.

Bedsitter (B Side to Bloodsport For All) – When Bloodsport for All was originally released it was at height of the war in the Gulf – and radio stations started to get very twitchy over playing songs about war, the army etc. Radio One in all its wisdom played this track instead, until they realised that at the end, you can hear Jim Bob shouting ‘Fucking Arsehole Bastard’. Between us Badger and I have 17 Carter cover versions, we only have room for one – so we listed them with the best at the top. On both our lists, this came top. Its brilliant and in my opinion miles better than the original. Badger also put their version of Trouble by Shampoo in second place.

Re Educating Rita (B Side to Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere) As well as the obligatory B Side cover version, there were some B Sides that were just as memorable and incredible as the singles. For me ‘Re Educating Rita’ is the archetypal Carter song – the clever pun in the title, the relentlessly sing a long nature of the chorus. It really should have been a single, particularly as its miles better than the track that it was stuck away on the B Side of.

Bloodsport For All (From 30 Something) – When I was 15 I nicked a fiver out of my dad’s wallet, I then walked four miles to Chatham and bought this on 12”. It was my first ever 12”. Ironically I bought it from Our Price – the same shop that I would later meet Our Price Girl in. I told my dad two days later about the fiver – he grounded me for a week. It was worth it – every second.

G.I. Blues (from 101 Damnations) – The perfect end perhaps – one thing that Carter always did when they ended a show with this was changed the words to this the ‘I wish I was in….’ bit usually became whichever town you were standing in at that moment – it seems clichéd now, but when you were there, it made you feel like you were in the most important place in the world. Apart from if you were in Croydon. When you felt like shouting back, ‘No, no you don’t’.

mp3 : Carter USM – Surfin USM
mp3 : Carter USM – Sheriff Fatman
mp3 : Carter USM – Shoppers Paradise
mp3 : Carter USM – Skywest and Crooked
mp3 : Carter USM – Ceasefire
mp3 : Carter USM – Sheltered Life
mp3 : Carter USM – Bedsitter
mp3 : Carter USM – Re-educating Rita
mp3 : Carter USM – Bloodsport For All
mp3 : Carter USM – G.I. Blues

So there you go – Carter. Essential listening.

Rochdale won the football – 3 goals to 1 and this was largely thanks to a hat trick from one of their guys, the obvious class act on the pitch. We are aiming to do this again – in early January for Round 3 of the FA Cup. Please let us know if anyone else wants to meet up, we’ll do the science, and let you all know where we will be.

S-WC and the guitarist out of The Badgers

WRITTEN BEFORE THE OUTCOME IS KNOWN

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519IYKFtLIL

The title track of the 1998 LP will sum up the views of many folk today, no matter if we have voted ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

mp3 : Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – I Blame The Government

The Saturday series and Moz singles will be in their usual place over the weekend and come Monday, normal service will hopefully have been resumed.

Thanks for your patience.

THE BURNING QUESTION OF THE DAY

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scottish-independence

Today is the day that the people of Scotland get the chance to head over to a polling station, pick up a pencil and put their mark against either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in response to the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country.

This is just a simple, small and hopefully enjoyable music blog. I therefore have no wish to take up any of your time asking you to have a read over the reasons why I have decided to vote in a particular way. But it would be remiss of me not to at least acknowledge this most historic of days in modern history in the small corner of planet earth where I spent the overwhelming majority of my time. It’s been a contentious campaign and a lot of people all over Scotland are going to wake up tomorrow feeling battered, bruised and deflated by the outcome and with a bitterness that could lead to them saying the wrong things at the wrong time and so putting friendships in jeopardy.

I’m going to accept the outcome and live with it. If I ‘pick’ the winning side I will not gloat, and if I end up on the wrong end of the result then I will be sad but not to the point of despair. Today’s song is for everyone in Scotland:-

mp3 : Jamie Wednesday – Vote For Love

Jamie Wednesday formed in London in 1984, and released a grand total of eight songs on two EPs. The band consisted of James Morrison (acoustic guitar, lead vocals), Leslie Carter (bass guitar, backing vocals), Dean Leggett (drums and percussion), Lindsey Lowe (trumpet) and Simon Henry (saxophone).

Neither record sold well and the band remained virtually unknown until after they split up.  A final scheduled gig never happened but band members James and Leslie took to the stage as a duo and improvised for the most part.  Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine had just been born and before long the main main were better known as  Jim Bob and Fruitbat respectively.

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (20)

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If yesterday’s friend electric can provide 500 reasons why the 80s didn’t suck, then today’s featured blogger extraordinaire can give you 500,000 reasons why club music is the dog’s bollocks…

Ctel, the brains and driving force behind the legendary blog Acid Ted is one of the real inspirations for what I do. There’s a whole load of reasons for that, and those of you who have been on this journey with me since back in September 2006 will know many of those reasons why.

Back in February 2010, when it looked as if Ctel he was giving up on blogging I typed:-

“Now I can’t claim to be a huge lover of the dance genre that was championed over at Acid Ted, but I made sure I went in on a very regular basis and read all that was said if only to learn a lot more about acts and music that was often alien to me.

It was actually almost impossible to keep up with ctel’s prodigious output – sometimes he could produce six postings over a 24 hour period. He began his A-Z of the genre on Thursday 14th February 2008. Two years to the day afterwards, he completed his epic task and laid down his keyboard.

Ctel is a long time friend of TVV. He has posted here on a reasonably regular basis and not just when I’ve been away on holiday and given him the run of the place – I will always be in his debt for him stepping in to keep the blog going during a spell when I ran into some difficulties with my hardware crashing at home, all the while keeping Acid Ted ticking over as well.”

Little did I know that within a few months, I was to experience a personal and sudden tragedy when my young brother died in a car crash…without any prompting, Ctel again took over my blog for an extended period and elicited some astonishing pieces from many people as my internet friends rallied round in my hours of need. I can never thank him enough for that incredible gesture….and its the loss of those particular postings when google pulled the plug on the original blog just over a year ago that really angered and upset me.

I was lucky enough to meet the great man in the flesh a few years back when we shared brunch in London one Sunday morning when I was down there for a weekend break.  He was tremendous company and we spent the time dissecting music, politics, sport and life in general; if anyone passing by looked across or listened in they must have thought we had been mates for decades and that the brunch was some sort of ritual we carried out on a regular basis such was the flow of chat and the sheer joy we took being in each other’s company.  I’m hoping to be down in the capital for a few days later in the year and fingers crossed we will again meet up.

I had planned to feature some dance music to go with the post but instead I’m turning to another band who meant so much to both of us when we were of that age when going along to gigs was the be-all and end-all.

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine came out of seemingly nowhere to become bona fide chart stars in the early 90s. Much of their meteoric rise can be attributed to the energy and vibrancy of their live shows, all of which got off to the most perfect of starts thanks to the deployment of an MC called Jon’Fat’ Beast.

Sadly, Jon Beast passed away a few days ago, but the extent to which he was an essential part of Carter USM, as well as wider the role he played in the music scene in London, can be seen from this piece in one of the major UK newspapers:-

“Tributes were paid today to Jon “Fat” Beast, the music promoter who was best known as the warm-up act for indie pop band Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

Fans and friends pledged nearly £5,000 to an internet appeal to raise money for his family following his death aged 51.

Carter lead singer Jim Bob, told The Independent that the former MC had been ill for some time and was understood to have been suffering from septicaemia.

“He didn’t have any money and he had been in and out of hospital for the past few years. We got a message a couple of days ago that he was quite seriously ill then pretty much a day later we found out he had died,” he said.

Beast was a much loved feature at Carter gigs before which he would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him and he traded insults back.

But before that he had run the highly influential Timebox club at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town, north London.

In the mid-1980s it was one of the most important venues of the then thriving indie live scene celebrated as a place that would give unsigned or even unheard acts the opportunity to perform in London.

Among those that played there were Voice of the Beehive, Half Man Half Biscuit, Jesus Jones, Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter USM.

“We met him when we played there, and he was doing the lights as well as running the club. For some reason he had his own microphone and he used to heckle us from the stage,” recalled the singer, now an author whose latest novel, The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81, is written under the name J.B Morrison.

“He was a very lovable character,” he said. “He asked us to come on tour but we said no and he just turned up. The audiences really liked him,” he added. “When we reformed in 2007 he came back for those shows. He was a handful. He was so enthusiastic about everything all of the time but he was genuinely lovely,” he added.

Carter are due to play their last ever shows in November which sold out in a matter of minutes. These are now expected to include a tribute to the former warm-up man.”

These are for ctel and all Carter fans:-

mp3 : Carter USM – Surfin USM
mp3 : Carter USM – Rent
mp3 : Carter USM – After The Watershed (Early Learning the Hard Way)
mp3 : Carter USM – Bloodsport For All

More Friends Electric tomorrow

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (1)

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July is shaping up to be a ridiculously hectic month for me and I’ve got grave concerns that I’ll be able to devote enough time to keep the blog up to the standards that you’ve come to expect. But, like the hapless Baldrick, I have a cunning plan.

Over on the right hand side of TVV you will find a list of blogs that are a lot like my relatives (including my parents) and my dearest friends in that I’m constantly aware of them being near to me but I never find or make enough time to give them the attention they deserve.

My excuse is that there are only so many hours in a week that I can devote to blog-like activity and by the time I put my own daily posts together then there’s nowt left for visiting other people and leaving behind appreciative comments.  I’m going to try and make it up to those good people by paying tribute in a way I hope nobody minds.  It basically involves thieving….

I’ll be going into some of my favourite blogs and nicking an entire posting from them in an effort to show you the quality of what else can be found out there (just in case you weren’t previously aware).  The stuff you normally find in here with the exception of the weekend stuff (ie Moz and James series, the Saturday singles from Scotland) will return in August when I’ve got the time to do my own things once again.

I’m starting all this with The Robster whose blog is called Is This The Life?

This blog only started in February 2014 and it has proved to an astonishing piece of work in which the author sets out his life in words and music in numerous periodical installments.  He did this in a series of postings over a period of three months and unlike many others, there’s no re-writing of history to  exorcise those bands/singers/songs that many years on are now embarrassing to admit a liking to and unlike many others, there’s no shirking away from memories which are very personal and very painful.  Such as this:-

I suppose if you want to blame anyone for kickstarting my interest in all things music it would probably be my mum. Personally, I could never thank her enough. It was her records that I first picked up and listened to and it was she who bought me many of my earliest singles as I started to develop my own taste. And while she may have hollered at me to “turn it down” on more than a few occasions, she never once even suggested that I might be spending a little too much time listening to records in my bedroom and that I should be out doing something more constructive.

My earliest memories of my mum’s musical influence on me I’ve already documented but perhaps my fondest memories, as well as one or two of the saddest, come much later on.

The weeks that followed my first gig, the Wedding Present at Exeter Uni in 1988, involved me playing Wedding Present records often and loudly. Every so often, mum would pass by the bedroom door and remark: “They played that one, didn’t they.” Apparently, she heard the last 20 minutes of the show from the car park while waiting for us to come out. Not only that – she took in every tune and could identify them weeks afterwards! Not bad for a Frankie Vaughan fan, I thought.

Mum was never shy to offer her opinion when she felt the need:

“I think that record’s smashing.”
“I like his voice.”
“He’s a lovely looking chap.”

Those latter two were directed towards Tim Booth, enigmatic frontman of James, while the first statement was used to refer to the original version of their single Sit Down. (She was also known to remark “What a bleddy racket” about all sorts of things, but that’s another story!)

Sit Down was first released in 1989 when the band was in a sort of limbo state. They had been dropped by Sire records but not yet picked up by Fontana. The band released two singles on Rough Trade in this intervening period, the other being Come Home. Neither were hits at the time, but both were later re-released by Fontana and catapulted James to stardom.

I bought that original 12″ of Sit Down. It contained the extended 8 minute version with the lengthy instrumental ‘dub’ segment and it became one of my most played records. Because of this, it was inevitable that mum would become exposed to it at some point. When she was, she was immediately hooked.

Mum liked a good song, a proper song; a good strong melody, meaningful lyrics and no faffing about. Sit Down ticked all those boxes, plus in Tim Booth, it had a singer who could properly communicate the song. He’s one of those rare performers who sounds so perfectly genuine, even in his more obscure, arty moments. This wasn’t lost on mum. She was drawn to Tim Booth by his vocal expressions, the way he sang as much as what he sang.

Sit Down became our song and I always think of mum whenever I hear it, whatever version is played, and I smile because I’m reminded of how happy it made her feel.

“Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me.” – ‘Sit Down’ by James

Another song that reminds me of mum, for entirely different reasons, is This Is How It Feels by Inspiral Carpets. Now there’s another band who knew how to write a decent tune, a prime example of a superb singles band (though their albums got progressively better; ‘Revenge Of The Goldfish’ is certainly worthy of a critical reappraisal). This Is How It Feels was released in 1990 as the lead single from the band’s debut album ‘Life’. The single and album versions had slightly different lyrics, but one particular line, present in both, still resonates with me and makes me think of mum.

In the 12-18 months leading up to that point, mum had started to become ill. There were no visible symptoms, but it started when she keeled over in the street for no apparent reason one afternoon. At the time she laughed it off as just clumsiness. Mum laughed all the time, and she was as stoical as the day is long. No fuss and nonsense for her, just laugh at your misfortunes and get on with it – that was her way.

But then, a week or two later, it happened again. Then again. That’s when she began thinking something was wrong. The next few months consisted of increasing visits to the family doctor, followed by misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis. Cancer was ruled out, multiple sclerosis was in, then out, until eventually we were told it was Motor Neurone Disease. The problem was, none of us knew anything about MND, and even our GP admitted he had never seen a case of it himself. Often the unknowns are far worse than the knowns.

Looking back, it’s easy to reflect on how terrified mum must have been. She would, in all likelihood, have been told her condition was terminal, but the lack of information available in those pre-internet days would have only served to stoke the fear and worry she must have felt. I know pretty much for certain her biggest concern would have been her boys and what would happen to us when she wasn’t here.

Meanwhile I just carried on as normal. It was like some form of denial I suppose, but at the time I refused to let what was happening affect my life. I’ve torn myself up over this ever since, but accept the guilt I feel as deserved punishment for the way I acted in the face of this catastrophic event.

Amidst all of this however, the one abiding memory I have is something my mum said to me as she passed my bedroom one evening. I was, as usual, playing records. On this occasion it was This Is How it Feels. It’s not a happy song, rather it evokes the feelings of helplessness, despair and turmoil in the face of domestic trials such as unemployment and depression. Mum heard a line which particularly resonated with her:

“Kids don’t know what’s wrong with mum
She can’t say, they can’t see
Putting it down to another bad day.”

“That’s like us,” she said. “Kids don’t know what’s wrong with mum, putting it down to another bad day.”

That’s all she said, but it’s all she needed to say. She understood. She couldn’t fully explain what was happening, and she knew I had to cope with it in my own way. Her citing of this lyric showed her empathy, compassion and warmth along with her own regret that she didn’t feel she could really tell us how she felt. I’ve thought about that an awful lot in the intervening years. I still carry the guilt but gain some comfort from that one moment. Of course, it also showed how she knew music was the one way she could truly communicate with me.

Things didn’t improve. Mum’s condition got progressively worse. She became wheelchair-bound, unable to dress herself, feed herself or go to the toilet by herself. She even lost the ability to speak. Her dignity and pride gradually ebbed away along with her capability to control her own life. Even worse, her mind was intact. She was fully aware of everything and everyone, but was unable to do or say anything. And all the while I just carried on regardless.

She passed away in a hospital bed one evening. I wasn’t there. I think I was watching TV. Arthur, our closest family friend who had recently become engaged to mum, was at her side. But I wasn’t. That remains the single biggest regret of my life. I can never change it. I hate that so much.

All I can do now is remember with fondness the way mum connected with me through music. She would probably hate that I can’t forgive myself for how I behaved back then, but that’s the sort of person she was. “Let’s just put it down to another bad day,” she would be telling me now. “Come and sit down next to me.”

I got round to reading that post about six weeks  after The Robster put it out there back in March.  I wanted to leave a comment but just couldn’t find the right words.  It is an astonishingly beautiful, heartfelt and moving piece of writing that reads as if it was composed by one of those much-heralded and award-winning columnists who populate the weekend supplements of our UK newspapers.

A couple of weeks ago, The Robster got right up to date with his life story, but thankfully, he’s keeping the blog going for now and most recently was sharing his personal memories of going to Glastonbury in the 90s.  It’s well worth a visit. In the meantime, here’s the tracks from the 12″ version of the songs that helped inspire that piece, together with an angry and very good cover version

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mp3 : Inspiral Carpets – This Is How It Feels (extended)
mp3 : Inspiral Carpets – Tune For A Family
mp3 : Inspiral Carpets – This Is How It Feels (radio mix)
mp3 : Inspiral Carpets – Seeds of Doubt
mp3 : Carter USM – This Is How It Feels

More Friends Electric tomorrow.

AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE : FEBRUARY 2007 (1)

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Interesting that this month saw me chastise myself for spending so much time writing live reviews and featuring stuff on CD singles.  The purist in me came up with a week-long series entitled going back to my roots which would be vinyl, vinyl, vinyl all the way Here’s a summary version of each post :-

Monday 5 February

From The Cost of Living EP, a re-working of the song Capital Radio along with an additional 45 seconds tagged on at the end…..a little Clash-mercial pleading with everyone to get down to their nearest Clash showroom

So here’s all 04 minutes and 05 seconds of:-

mp3 : The Clash – Capital Radio (Cost Of Living EP version)

Tuesday 6 February

Looking in the vinyl cupboard for something to show that there’s more than just twee-pop bands and the collective works of lesser-known Scottish geniuses living in there. And I found a 12″ single which, in the true spirit of TVV, put up a fantastic remix version that was available only on the reverse side:

mp3 : Senser – Eject (Over Zealous Mix)

Wednesday 7 February

Back in 1992, I bought a 12” single from a clearance/bargain bin in a record shop in Edinburgh for 99p. While it did reach No.32 in the charts, it was a record that was deleted shortly afterwards, never to appear again. It wasn’t included on the 1993 LP Modern Life Is Rubbish, nor was it included on the CD of the Greatest Hits package Blur released in 2000.

mp3 : Blur – Popscene

Thursday 8 February

So many things were going on in my life at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s that I wasn’t able to keep up with much new music.  Jacques the Kipper, aware of my fondness for what became known as Madchester, would periodically throw in my direction a rectangular box containing a cassette tape (young people – activate your google search now). Said cassette tape contained 90 minutes worth of songs, many of which I became very fond, not least today’s offering.

Fast forward to January 2007. A work colleague, on learning that I had started the blog, handed over around 15-20 records that he no longer wanted. Tucked away in the middle of the pile was this, and on the small indie label the band started out on:

mp3 : Paris Angels – All On You (Perfume)

Friday 9 February

I’m up late cos I can’t sleep. I never can when Mrs Villain is working away overnight. Right now she’s in Manchester on behalf of her company for a presentation to an important client just 24 hours after a previous presentation to a would-be client here in Glasgow who are likely to turn her down. Bastards.

So I thought I’d end my five days of postings from the original vinyl with the one song that always make me think of her.

There we were at a Carter USM gig at Barrowlands, Glasgow in the early 90s – me, Mrs Villain and Jacques the Kipper. Us blokes being experienced moshers felt it was just a bit too crazy with all those young folk being awfully lively down the front, so we were strategically placed just left-of-centre maybe halfway back.

Then the opening notes of today’s song came through the speakers.

DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAAAAAAAH

And before the same notes were repeated prior to the crashing guitars, Mrs Villain had gone….right down into the melee. I was gobsmacked. But I left her to it – we hadn’t long drawn up wills leaving all our possessions to one another.

5 and a bit minutes later she came back, drenched in sweat but with the most fantastic grin on her face.

So this is her song.

mp3 : Carter USM – Bloodsport For All

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