29 August 2005

Pixies - Hey (live in London 1988)

Sounds Machine 1 EP

I was down the front at the Pixies perfomance at the Leeds Festival on Sunday, and fuck me but they rocked like a bag of badgers.

All that bristling jagged power, all that noise and volatile fury, yet delivered with such effortless grace.

They wisely went for a set drawn mainly from Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. Whilst the other two albums have their moments, and the B-sides are great, it's those two and a half albums that really shine out, music that grabs your ears and shakes them like a ketchup bottle with a stubborn half inch left at the bottom.

The dark lunatic energy saturates it all - the Charles Manson and David Lynch connections are entirely appropriate - yet at the same time it feels like the chassis is made of early 60s Beach Boys surf tunes, all big bright bouncing choruses and simplistic basslines.

And whilst you really would never have thought them as a band of real showmanship - and doubly so in their present middle-aged 75% slaphead incarnation - special mention must be made of Joey Santiago's wigouts.

On Vamos he was wah-ing away, then just unplugged the guitar and touching his thumb to the live lead carried on making noise. Plugging the guitar back in he thrashes away further before placing the guitar on a stand and holding up a hand as David Lovering, without missing a beat, throws a drumstick which Joey catches and gives it a right old Jimmy Page bowing for several minutes, blistering sonic assault spewing out over Francis' insistent acoustic rhythm. That done, he throws the stick back, David justs lifts his hand and - again without missing a beat - brings the stick back into play. Mental!

It's been said that only a couple of thousand people bought the Velvet Underground before about 1985, but every one of them formed a band. It's good to see Pixies, another band whose influence exceeds their commercial success, getting what they deserve at last too.

I have a dusty pile of various artists 7 inches, and most of them are things that came free with late 1980s music papers. In a foolish non-cost-effective way to prop up their flagging sales figures, Melody Maker gave away an EP. None of those muffly flexidiscs, a proper bit of hard vinyl of exclusive tracks by bands you'd like to hear more of.

To keep up, NME and Sounds followed suit. Having painted themselves into a corner, MM did even more. And so it spiralled until Sounds went bust.

In a last bit of poor judgement on the part of Sounds, in 1988 they realised that people were buying an EP'ed music paper as a one-off so they did the Sounds Machine series of three or four EPs consecutive weeks in the desperate hope you'd just get into the habit of buying their second-rate metal obsessed rag.

The first one came out, if memory serves, in autumn 1988. Those of us in what was still called 'alternative' bands had all got deeply into Surfer Rosa by this point. We could feel our creative output being pulled onwards by that album.

It is hard now to convey the anticipation we had at the idea of a new Pixies track, exceeded only by the shock at actually hearing the thing.

Hey, recorded live during their support set for Throwing Muses at the Town & Country Club in London on 1 May 1988, was from another world entirely. The slow build of the first third of it, the anguished electric guitar, was this what all the next album was to be like?

It was months and months of waiting, and I was there in Street Records in Southport on the morning of release to pick up my advance-ordered copy of Doolittle, an album that still amazes, energises, challenges and inspires as much now as it did that day.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

24 August 2005

The Colourfield - Windmills of Your Mind


Take was their second single, following on from the blinding Fun Boy Three-esque eponymous debut (which I really should post here some time soon). Tucked away on the B-side of the 12 inch was this cover of Windmills of Your Mind.

Originally done in 1969 by British actor Noel Harrison (son of Rex, father of Cathryn), who ran a parallel careeer as a singer in the mid-late 60s, having several hits in the US but just the one in the UK. The song was from the movie The Thomas Crown Affair, and picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song.

The score for the movie, and the music for the song, were written by Michel Legrand, a French musician who started out playing with jazz giants like John Coltrane and Miles Davis before getting into film scores. He has a tremendous talent for sweeping melancholic moods, and nowhere is it better illustated than on this composition.

The lyric was co-written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman who had written ratpack schmaltz like Nice n Easy, but this lyric is something else altogether. A swirl of imagery, like it somehow manages to follow an absent-minded train of thought, cycles and transience with a hint of the maudlin, it trips so lightly over a feeling of isolation and broken love that should by rights be much heavier. A truly astonishing piece of songwriting.

Terry Hall's flat, almost dour tone that overlies his clear intelligence and sensitivity make him as perfect a match for the song as the lyric is for the music.

A fair bit of vinyl crackle on this one, sorry.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

15 August 2005

Willie Lindo - Norwegian Wood


Willie was part of the Lindo dynasty, a Jamaican muso family who litter recordings from the country to this day. The full title is A Darker Shade of Black (Norwegian Wood). I presume it's some kind of reference to ethnicity, but even if that is the case it's still somewhat baffling.

It's from the 'rare and unreleased' disc of the Muzik City box set, a 4-CD retrospective of the mighty Trojan label.

It's one of those labels like Motown where you wonder how the hell they recorded so many complete masterpieces in such a short space of time.

The Motown Connoisseurs series shows that there's rare and unreleased stuff as good as the classics we all know, and the fact that the first two discs of Muzik City are killer no filler, yet only half of it is on the double CD greatest hits compilation Young Gifted & Black shows some powerful creative magic was at work with these people too.

Trojan's back catalogue has been bought up by an active reissue company, and they're doing a sterling job. Particularly laudable is the 3-CD Ganja Reggae Box Set, fifty reggae tracks about cannabis. There is surely only one genre of music that can generate a title like Babylon Don't Touch My Sensi (Dub version).

There's a great warmth, a wonderful organic texture to these recordings that is inimicable. Everyone thought Lee Mavers from The La's was a nutter for wanting to make their eponymous debut album strictly on vintage 1960s gear, but the fact is he was on to something.

Contemporary technology has brought us many wonders in music, yet we have actually lost the ability to make records that sound like they used to. The slightly muddy tinge to these productions blends the music so it doesn't sound polished or synthetic in any way, and that grants a certain kind of richness of atmosphere that can't be got now.

Coupled with this is, despite many sides being cut with the UK pop market somewhere in mind, the tremendous looseness of the musicians recording it. Used to working fast they didn't labour it, but there's an overall ease of approach, a bright warm vibe that just doesn't crop up anywhere in rock n roll or white music in general up to then.

These records were made with an attitude simply incomprehensible to those with the European obsession with melody, and it would've been impossible to capture in the boffin atmosphere of mainstream British recording studios of the time.

Reminiscing about his studio techniques of the era, Lee Scratch Perry said, 'It was only four tracks on the machine, but I was picking up twenty from the extra terrestrial squad.'

Which I think ably illustrates the fundamental difference between himself and Stock Aitken and Waterman.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

03 August 2005

Madness - Un Paso Adelante

(Spain only)

Been a while since I blogged one of those inexplicable foreign language re-recordings.

So here's One Step Beyond, with that periodic vocal part re-recorded in Spanish.


[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]