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CALL ME STAR-STRUCK, UNCLE SAM

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I’ve always been fascinated by New York City.

As a young kid I thought it was the most famous place in the world thanks to it being the backdrop to so many films and TV shows. Hell, it even was the setting for one of my favourite cartoons – Top Cat – while there was no mistaking that my favourite comic book hero’s home of Gotham City was the just a different name for NYC.

It was, in my young eyes, everything that America stood for where everything was bigger and better than you could wish for while growing up amidst the monochrome or at best faded-beige UK of the mid 70s. If someone had asked me, as an 11 or 12 year old why I wanted to see New York they would have got the 11 or 12 year old’s classic answer…….just because!

If pushed I would say it was all to do with the fact it seemed to be the best place for sport with the best known names such as the Jets, the Yankees and the Harlem Globetrotters (little did I realise the last of these was showbiz and not sport!). In ‘soccer’ you had the phenomenon of the New York Cosmos and I was desperate to be given the chance of seeing Pele and Franz Beckenbauer take to the field amidst pomp, pageantry and cheerleaders.

Boxing was another sport I watched – particularly the exploits of Muhammad Ali – and it seemed that every other month there was a world championship fight taking place in NYC at Madison Square Gardens. I wanted to be part of such a loud and raucous crowd (albeit years later my first experience of a live boxing match put me off for life)

Oh and then there was the fact that I was fascinated by the idea of hot dogs, hamburgers and milk shakes, none of which you could get in Glasgow at the time (well you could, but you knew that they were all fifth-rate and not a patch on the real things).

Then I got slightly older and began to fall in love with pop music. NYC began to loom even larger as all the best bands in the world constantly talked about how it was the greatest city to play in and how the energy and vitality of the place brought so much to the performances. It also appeared to be where some of the best new music was coming from. And it seemed as if all the women were as gorgeous as Debbie Harry.

But the sheer cost involved meant that visiting NYC in my truly formative years was always going to be an unfulfilled dream. It was difficult enough finding the money to go and visit London far less get on a plane and cross the Atlantic. I didn’t even know how to go about obtaining a passport……

The idea of visiting in later years did come up – myself and Mrs Villain talked about going there for my 30th in 1993 but in the end we went for a beach holiday in the Caribbean. Her 40th in 1998 was another possibility but again the lure of the sand and the sun proved too much.

By now I was in a job that had me seeing a fair bit of the world as I was a senior aide to the equivalent of the Mayor of Glasgow and accompanied him on a number of occasions, especially when he was to deliver a keynote speech at a conference or event.

I had always hoped the opportunity to do so in NYC would occur and so when he received and accepted an invitation to be part of a conference on Waterfront Regeneration, taking place at the Brooklyn Marriott, the dream of so many years was set to some true.

I began to plan everything in terms of how I would spend my free time at the conference and before long I had arranged to stay on for a few extra days at my own expense. Greenwich Village, Central Park, Times Square, Madison Square Gardens, Yankee Stadium, the Chelsea Hotel, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim and the Statue of Liberty were all on the list as was a ride in a yellow cab. I’d find small and bohemian record and book stores and have the time of my life. I was counting down the days to the conference which was taking place from September 20-22 2001.

It’ll soon be 15 years to the day that the Twin Towers came down and changed everything we thought about the world in the proverbial blink of an eye. It’ll soon be 15 years to the day that I made my first ever visit to NYC as incredibly enough, the conference wasn’t postponed.

It’s true that more than half of the delegates cancelled, including I would reckon 90% of those scheduled to come from Europe as travel plans were predictably chaotic and uncertain.

As it turned out, I was a passenger on the first Glasgow-Newark flight after 9/11. What I experienced during my stay will stay with me for ever. There’s an entire book can be written about my experiences over the following seven days – understandably it wasn’t what I ever imagined NYC to be in my long-held dreams. But if anything, I fell in love deeper and harder than I thought possible.

I’ve returned a couple of times since and seen more of the ‘real’ New York and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But everywhere I look there seems to be a haunting and chilling memory of my first time…..

I was hopeful of returning to NYC this year, on my 53rd birthday no less, to fulfil the ambition of attending a gig at Madison Square Gardens as The Twilight Sad were supporting The Cure that day. But some months out I knew that events close to home would mean I had to be in Scotland for something important the day after my birthday and so the plan was shelved.

I almost set myself up to head over this past weekend with today being Labor Day at the end of a long holiday weekend in the USA with my beloved Toronto Blue Jays playing at Yankee Stadium. But I chose instead to head to Toronto later this month and enjoy an extended break of a week rather than a few days.

Maybe NYC will be on the agenda for next year. Or maybe I’ll wait a while longer and go over when I have as much time on my hands as possible and do things properly and not in a rushed way, hopefully with Mrs V in tow.

There’s a reason for these particular paragraphs appearing today which will reveal itself in 24 hours’ time. For now, here’s some music from UK and Irish bands just as equally fascinated with the city, including the song from which I stole the title of todays’ posting:-

mp3 : Prefab Sprout – Hey Manhattan!
mp3 : The Clash – Broadway
mp3 : The Frank & Walters – Fashion Crisis Hits New York

Enjoy.

FROM THE SOUTH-WEST CORRESPONDENT…THE F-WORD

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Tim Badger chose the letter F…

Three of my favourite bands start with the letter F – these are The Family Cat, Four Tet and Fucked Up but the rules state that I can’t post the same band twice, so I have to skip over these bands, so this week I have gone for a bit of electronica, a bit of old school indie and what is definitely my favourite song of the year so far. I also know Tim Badger quite well and he mailed me and said, that the ‘F better contain Weekender by Flowered Up, as it’s the best song by a band beginning with ‘F’ ever’. He’s wrong. As usual. That honour goes to I Want to Know what Love Is?  by Foreigner and secretly you all know that I’m right.

Firstly I want you to have a read of something…. Finished laughing…Good. Now swap the word UB40 for the words Fuck Buttons and this story becomes instantly more believable. I would love to read what happened to Anna Webster’s ears after she attended a Fuck Buttons gig. I can see the quote now ‘I left after 45 minutes because my eardrums had exploded and my bottom lip had come loose from the pounding non stop beat’. By the way I love Fuck Buttons and would probably consider it an honour to have my hearing permanently damaged from one of their live shows.

For those of you who don’t know, Fuck Buttons are two piece from Bristol that formed in 2004 and are heavily influenced by Aphex Twin and Mogwai and you will hear that from the sound that they create, a sound that was once described as something akin to the noise made at the end of the world. If this is true then it is perhaps only fair that their music was chosen to feature in the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics. Just before the queen jumped out of the chopper with James Bond, if I remember rightly.

Their third album Slow Focus was released last year and a brief hiatus whilst Ben Power from the band worked on his Blanck Mass side project (also excellent and worthy of your attention). It certainly didn’t disappoint and featured heavily in the end of year music polls that we all find so interesting. I don’t think there is anyone out there right now doing anything as adventurous and as aurally stimulating as Fuck Buttons. In the past they have used old Casio keyboards, power tools and karaoke machines to make music with, who does that! Their sound is difficult to categorise, they make sensual exhilarating and majestic music, lets put it that way. The track I’ve posted The Red Wing starts with a simple percussion beat and then they just add layers and layers to it – you can almost see the percussion shrinking away in the background to a tiny pinprick. Once they described their name as ‘Playful and Abrasive’, that describes the music perfectly.

mp3 : Fuck Buttons – The Red Wing

It’s difficult to follow Fuck Buttons with anything but let’s try some old school indie. I first heard How Do I Exist? by The Frank and Walters when I walking to local shop when I lived in Plumstead.  Regular readers will recall that I was burgled whilst living there and to be honest I didn’t much like the place. I used to get CDs sent to me all the time, my job was to review them and hope so paper published what I thought of them.  I’d been into The Franks when I was younger, but had kind of ignored anything released after the terrible After All record.

So I was sceptical – I’d even pre written the review, ‘It’s the Frank and Walters. Buy something else instead, you won’t regret it’ or something equally rubbish I think I’d written. Then on a stroll down the road to buy some biscuits, listening to a cassette on a Walkman, it came on. A gorgeous string inspired tear stained wonder of a record and then you remembered, that The Franks made great records, records that if you put them all together would soundtrack a very good summer (apart from After All, that is terrible). ‘How Can I Exist?’ is as close to perfection as the Franks ever managed it is bursting with more truly heartfelt emotion than most bands ever manage in their careers, yet it avoids sounding pompous or overblown. It makes me wonder how on earth they managed to fall off the radar when they made records as great as this.

mp3 : The Frank and Walters – How Can I Exist?

Talking of great records, a few weeks ago Future Islands released Seasons (Waiting on You), which is right now holding firm as the best record I have heard this year.  Yup better than Happy by Pharrell Williams.

Just after the release of their fourth album Singles the bad were invited on to the Letterman Show and there they played ‘Seasons’ and delivered a performance so staggering, so jaw droppingly fucking magnificent that all of a sudden a big secret had been let out of the bag.  Put ‘Future Islands Letterman’ into a search engine and you will understand.

Take the singer – Here is this guy with sensible clothes on, a receding hairline and dancing like he is at a wedding and he is delivering absolute pop perfection on a TV PROGRAMME  that doesn’t happen and he doesn’t give a wet one in a spacesuit how uncool he looks because after that we will all look him, dance like him and pretend we can sing like him. He knows that they are destined for big massive epic things, the thing is, he could be you or me (well the chaps among us). What does it sound like? Reader, this is the best song New Order never wrote. If Barney Sumner wrote this in 1987 we would still be talking about it to this day. That’s what it sounds like.

mp3 : Future Islands – Seasons

Next week its the turn of Q,

Oh and I was joking about Foreigner.

S-WC

IT’S COVERS WEEK ON T(n)VV : DAY 4

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S-WC outlined all sorts of reasons why cover versions are recorded.  As he mentioned, sometimes it can be for a tribute album.  From wiki:-

The Smiths Is Dead is a tribute album to the 1980s’ English alternative rock band The Smiths, released in 1996. It was compiled by the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles and released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of 1986’s The Queen Is Dead. The album was released at the height of the Britpop phenomenon and contained covers by many popular Britpop acts such as The Boo Radleys, Supergrass, Bis and Placebo.

It’s very much a mixed bag and I think it’s accurate to say that none of the covers improve at all on the originals, but that would have been a near impossibility to begin with. The other biggest problems are that too many of the tracks fail to digress all that much from how The Smiths themselves recorded the songs or that the band asked to do the cover do so in a way that even Morrissey’s backing band would have been embarassed by the efforts.  However, an honourable mention must go to Boo Radleys for what is a hugely different take on the title track…..one that too me many years to really appreciate but nowadays is the only one I have on the i-pod :-

mp3 : Boo Radleys – The Queen Is Dead
mp3 : The High Llamas – Frankly, Mr. Shankly
mp3 : The Trash Can Sinatras – I Know It’s Over
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Never Had No One Ever
mp3 : The Frank & Walters – Cemetry Gates
mp3  : Placebo – Bigmouth Strikes Again
mp3 : Bis – The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
mp3 : Therapy? – Vicar in a Tutu
mp3 : The Divine Comedy – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
mp3 : Supergrass – Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

Enjoy.

RECALLING THE EXCELLENT DEBUT SINGLE (Part 1)

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I’ve always, over the years, tried to come up with some new ideas for a series of postings.  Here’s another one which might take off…..

It’s usually the case that debut singles are among the best songs that any singer or band will release over the course of their career, whether that is one over in the blink of an eye or one which carries on for decades.  I thought it night be nice to share some of these with you.

I’m starting off with something from one of the finest combos to ever come out of the Irish city of Cork.

mp3 : The Frank and Walters – Fashion Crisis Hits New York

Originally released on Setanta Records in their native land, the song picked up a bit of airplay here in the UK.  My initial exposure came via its inclusion in one of the many compilation tapes put together for my in the early 90s by Jacques the Kipper.  I tracked down a CD version of it and fell in love, not just with the single, but the other tracks on the disc.

To my great delight, Mrs V also fell for the charms of The Frank and Walters and we soon got along to see them play live at small venues in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.  The support act was an up and coming English mob who called themselves Radiohead,  Then we got to see Frank & Walters play larger venues as they toured in support of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

The live shows got them excellent press and before long they had inked a deal with Go Disc! Working with producers as talented as Edwyn Collins and Ian Broudie, great efforts were made to turn them into a chart band, and eventually in December 1992 these bore fruit when After All hit #11 in the UK charts. Sadly, that was it as far as fame went.  A re-mix of the debut single narrowly missed the Top 40 in early 1993 after which the band disappeared from view for three years.  By the time they returned, the fan base had moved on.

There’s been a lot of excellent material released by the Frank and Walters – six LPs and countless singles in all – but I’m not sure if anything has ever bettered the debut.

Here’s the other tracks on the initial CD which are very much a sound of what was indie-pop in the UK around the time that grunge was taking hold….I remain very fond of the song Angela Cray.

mp3 : The Frank and Walters – Rasputin

mp3 : The Frank and Walters – Daisy Chain

mp3 : The Frank and Walters – Angela Cray

Enjoy.