12 December 2006

The Greedies - A Merry Jingle


The Greedies - A Merry Jingle cover

Get this: Huw Lloyd-Langton, Hawkwind's original guitarist, later toured in Leo Sayer's live band.

What the hell was that like? Was there swirly coloured oil lamps and a twelve minute wigout in the middle of One Man Band? Did they at least get Leo belting out Silver Machine in rehearsals? Oh for a bootleg to confirm it.

From Hawkwind, I jump to Silver Machine's vocalist; when I saw Motorhead the other week - utterly and perfectly rock, by the way - they covered Thin Lizzy's Rosalie and dedicated it to Phil Lynott. What Lynott up to 27 years ago? Let me take you back...

It's Christmas 1979, YMCA may be at number one but there's an altogether seedier thing happening lower down the charts.

The Sex Pistols played their last gig the previous year, Lydon's already a year into Public Image Ltd, Sid's dead, but what are the other two up to?

Cook and Jones close the year with a bizarre one-off single. It's them and Thin Lizzy doing a medley of We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells.

What does it sound like? Exactly like Thin Lizzy and the Sex Pistols doing a Christmas medley. That dark murmur of Lynott's voice with the balls, bite and beef of Jones's guitar; the quasi Brian May squealing from Lizzy's lead guitar and the heads down fizzy power of Cook's drums.

Why? Fuck knows. But here it is.

[MP3s deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!]

27 November 2006

The The - Armageddon Days Are Here (Again) (Orchestral version)


The The - Armageddon Days Are Here (Again) cover

Hello! Hello! It's good to be back, good to be back, hello! hello! hello!

Ah, even that relevant lyric quote might be a bit too much these days. It's impossible to play any Gary Glitter without feeling soiled and uneasy.

And yet do we get the same thing from listening to Wagner? Would we get it from listening to Ted Nugent, if he'd ever recorded anything worth listening to?

Glitter took that Joe Meek Have I The Right powerstomp sound and liberally splashed it with glam rock's futuristic vaudeville sensibility, resulting in some stonking dense glam classics loaded with with heavy, moronic genius. And what's more the majority of the good ones had an exclamation mark in the title. Can't ask for more.

Yet last time I DJed a Glitter record I was abruptly informed by a jittering skinhead that I should desist as the artist was a nonce who wanted his balls cutting off.

On a glamrock tip, I recently listened to The Sweet's run of four perfect singles (Blockbuster, Ballroom Blitz, Hell Raiser, Teenage Rampage).

They're everything glamrock should be, loaded to the gills with hooks, guitar-driven, utterly outlandish, sleazy, teenage, raucous, yet poppy as hell. God knows what parents brought up on rationing and How Much Is That Doggie In The Window made of it all.

Hell Raiser contains a line that is all of glamrock lyricism distilled; 'She took me completely by surprise with her ultrasonic eyes flashing like hysterical danger signs'.

You've got an impressionistic wide-eyed swirl of teen thrills, wildness, space-age visions, frenzy and danger, and all of it absolutely meaningless codswallop. Fuckin great.

They kicked out those four faultless singles in just a year, January 1973-January 1974. It overlaps with Slade's equally great run of four from September 1972-June 1973 (Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy T'Jane, Cum On Feel The Noize, Skweeze Me Pleeze Me). And that overlaps with Bolan's riffiest singles.

Bowie gets a lot of credit for glam rock, and Ziggy Stardust unquestionably had a massive prototypical influence, but at the end of the day the genre was more boistrous than Bowie's cerebral approach could muster. He clearly had more poise and talent but lacked the kinetic power and sonic attack of the others I mentioned. In your head Suffragette City's fast and dirty, but play it alongside 20th Century Boy and it sounds positively pedestrian.

After the breathless chart anschluss of the glittertroops, Bowie came back in February 74 with Rebel Rebel, his only proper glam rock single and the last great yawp of the movement. Dig out those Sweet tracks and see how stupendously potent and incalculably exciting they still sound.

Anyway, Ballroom Blitz starts with a fast and frisky snare drum shuffle and 'are you ready Steve? Aha! Andy? Yeah! Mick? OK! Well alright fellas let's GO!'.

It made me get out Mind Bomb, The's The's 1989 masterpiece (with The The - a one-man project by Matt Johnson - every album is a masterpiece), as Armagedon Days Are Here (Again) cheekily starts with that Ballroom Blitz intro altered to 'Are you ready Jesus? Aha! Buddha? Yeah! Mohammed? OK! Well alright fellas, let's GO!'.

The lyrics are more relevant today than ever.

Islam is rising
The Christians mobilising
The world is on its elbows and knees
It's forgotten the message and worships the creeds

It's war, she cried, It's war, she cried, this is war
Drop your possessions, all you simple folk
You will fight them on the beaches in your underclothes
You will thank the good lord for raising the union jack
You'll watch the ships sail out of harbour
and the bodies come floating back

If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
He'd be gunned down cold by the C.I.A.
Oh, the lights that now burn brightest behind stained glass
Will cast the darkest shadows upon the human heart
But God didn't build himself that throne
God doesn't live in Israel or Rome
God doesn't belong to the yankee dollar
God doesn't plant the bombs for Hezbollah
God doesn't even go to church
And God won't send us down to Allah to burn
No, God will remind us what we already know
That the human race is about to reap what it's sown

Johnson has an incredible gift for getting to the core truth of his subject and expressing it totally and simply. It's just as true whether he's addressing politics, religion, urban humanity or the deepest workings of the heart.

I've put the orchestral version of Armageddon Days up here. After all my glamrock ramblings, this version skips the Ballroom Blitz intro. But it's not on any album, (only on the B-side of the single version), and the just voice and strings arrangement is phenomenally arresting and tense.

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

04 November 2006

Rose McDowall - Don't Fear The Reaper & Crystal Days

Rio digital

Rose McDowall - Don't Fear The Reaper cover

Sorry I've been away for so long. I'll get back to more frequent postings soon. Meantime, here's an oddity for you.

Blessed with a distinctive, pure captivating singing voice, Rose McDowall first made records with Glasgow Punk band The Poems, releasing a couple of indie singles in the early 80s. A brief pop stardom beckoned with her next band, the duo Strawberry Switchblade. I run their foremost fan site - do check out its downloads page for the version of the Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning. It's quite simply one of the most beautiful things ever recorded.

Strawberry Switchblade split after just one album, and Rose had an album's worth of bright Switchbladey songs which she demoed. These only saw the light of day a couple of years ago as the limited edition Cut With The Cake Knife CD (available here).

I believe this single was culled from those sessions. There's a story that Rose really didn't want it released but failed to stop it. Certainly, while the A-side's an interesting take on the Blue Oyster Cult classic with rolling bass and some wonderful flamenco guitar, it does sound a bit thin, weedy and, well, like a demo.

The B-side, the Rose-penned Crystal Days, is another matter. Bright, shining pop with a big chorus, a darker melancholic undertow somewhere in there, festooned with Rose's trademark harmonies, it's a delight of a track.

A re-recording was issued as Crystal Nights under the name Ornamental.

Rose has continued to make beautiful pagan music ever since. Check out her site for more info.

[Sorry! MP3s deleted to make room for new ones]

10 August 2006

Indians In Moscow - Naughty Miranda


Indians In Moscow - Naughty Miranda cover

A bouncy backing on cheapo electronics with a jaunty Caribbean rhythm and a graphic lyric of psychotic patricide. What more can you ask from pop music?

Saw this one on The Tube in 83, and it was one of those records that if you've ever heard it once, you remember it forever. Bright, breezy and utterly insane.

The other side, Miranda, was a bit of a cop out. The same music but an altered lyric. Still not quite right, mind, detailing as it does her father's jailing for untoward activity and keeping of prize octopi.

But it's this track that really does a job like no other. The way she bounces along with the rhythm in the line 'I slit his guts with my blunt Hedgeplay scissors and sucked out his brain with a straw' is just brilliant.

I got a subsequent single, Jack Pelter and His Sex Change Chicken, on lovely white vinyl, which is worthy of posting here. I'll try to get round to it soon.

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

30 June 2006

Cuddly Toys - Madman


Cuddly Toys - Madman cover

Madman was one of two songs written by David Bowie and Marc Bolan in September 1977.

Marc had been the acoustic elfin kid, the glam rock pioneer and prime star, then gone through a mid 70s cocaine fuelled two-parts-glam-one-part-soul period (which everyone slags off but I really like).

Then he moved back to London, got into punk, went teetotal and was getting it together.

It's hard to explain just how much punk was hated by the establishment. Even within the music press, it was decried as just noise and not proper music, as encouraging violence and glorifying squalor. But Bolan saw in it the same vigorous youth energy he'd always loved in early rock n roll. He wrote articles defending it, praising punk bands for 'holding a mirror up to society'. He got The Damned in as the support on his 1977 tour.

He was given a TV show, presenting and playing two or three songs and introducing other bands. There was some cack that the Industry paid to be on - Bay City Fuckin Rollers in 1977, for fuck's sake - but he also got on The Jam, The Damned and Generation X.

His own band was still a load of sessionists in overalls, but as the Marc show's punky versions of his old hits demonstrated, he was ready to head out into something with more balls.

For the last show, his old mate from way back came over to play a new song. Bowie and Bolan had been friends in the early 70s. Their shared producer, Tony Visconti, recalls the two of them having long conversations about the importance of retaining artistic control and not letting managment dictate your career. When Bowie's band The Hype played their only gig in 1970, Bolan was the only audience member who'd got into their spirit of outrageous costumes and came along dressed as a gladiator.

They played on a couple of tracks together that year; the single Oh Baby, credited to Dib Cochran and The Earwigs, and Bowie's original single of The Prettiest Star (might put either or both up here if anyone wants 'em).

Then Bolan became a huge star while Bowie released a rapid succession of great records that nobody bought. Hunky Dory, with Changes as the flagship 45, and it utterly stiffed! What the fuck else was anybody buying that justifies that?

When he demoed his next album, the song that went on to be Lady Stardust was called Song For Marc.

As Bowie's star ascended far higher, Bolan went a long way down the avenue of peculiar concept album titles. Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow; or A Creamed Cage in August. I shit you not. Great album, mind.

But by 77 both of them had been through weird times and were getting it back together. Bowie had gone to Berlin and abandoned any attempts at commercialism whilst being monstrously prolific. That year he'd already put out Low and co-written and played on Iggy Pop's The Idiot and Lust For Life. He'd just finished Heroes when Marc talked him into coming on the Marc show.

On 9th September they recorded it. Bowie did Heroes, and he and Marc were going to do two numbers they'd just written together, Sitting Next To You and Madman. Both are exactly the kind of wired, simplistic and compelling artrock that you'd expect 1977 Bolan and Bowie to come up with of the top of their heads, loose yet anguished.

Filming of the show had over-run, and they were only half a minute into the first song when Marc fell off the stage and technicians on a work-to-rule overtime ban stopped filming. Bastards.

On 15th September Marc had a night out in London with friends and his partner, Gloria Jones. In the early hours of the 16th, their car failed to make a corner and hit a tree on Barnes Common, killing Marc instantly. He was two weeks short of his 30th birthday.

By strange coincidence, not only did Bowie appear on Marc's show only to have the presenter die before it was broadcast, but the same thing happened that year with his appearance on the Bing Crosby Christmas special.

It's said that Marc had given a tape of Madman to some fans. Whatever, the song first saw the light of day as this Cuddly Toys single in 1980.

The band on the back are wearing glittery clothes - waaaaay out of date for 1980 - and the personnel are listed as Sean Purcell, Tony Baggett, Faebhean Kwest, Billy Surgeoner and Paddy. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that, ahem, Faebhean was the singer.

According to the practically definitive Illustrated David Bowie Discography (who've taken their astonishing downloads section down, grumble grumble), Madman was written by Bolan, Bowie and Steve Harley.

The originals of Madman and Sitting Next To You have appeared on numerous shitty bootlegs over the years, but in 1995 all takes of them were released in decent audio quality on a bootleg CD called Marc Bolan With David Bowie And Other Friends (Bolan Collectors Series MBCS102). There's also The Last Sessions, which does the same job.

I'd give my nads for a copy of either disc.

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

16 June 2006

Frazier Chorus - Anarchy In The UK


Frazier Chorus - Anarchy In The UK cover

I know nothing of this band other than this one single.

The A-side is Sloppy Heart, a piece of 80s slow sterile breathy overprecious cack, po-faced style over substance, self-conscious and empty, like someone's surgically removed the sliver of soul from Dream Academy.

Just look at them ferchrissakes! That peroxide ponytail, you bunch of mega-eighties ponces!

The B-side has much the same delicate faux-luscious arrangement and style, but it's Anarchy In The UK. It's utterly hilarious, especially the plinky bell sound the keyboard uses for playing the guitar solo.

Just like the delight of finding a drunken version of King Of The Road on the B-side of REM's So. Central Rain, so this cracks the mask of the A-side which (I'm guessing) is more typical of Frazier Chorus' output.

They keep it up right to the end, and it's all the funnier for not having any clumsy humour introduced.

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

05 June 2006

Pete Townshend & John Williams - Won't Get Fooled Again


The Secret Policeman's Ball was a comedy/music fundraiser for Amnesty International. The four shows at Her Majesty's Theatre, London ran on consecutive days from 27th-30th June 1979. Two live albums came out from the gigs, one comedy one music.

Performers included Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly and most of the Monty Python team for the comics, and Pete Townshend, Tom Robinson, Neil Innes and John Williams in the muso corner.

Incidentally, that's the British classical guitarist and then Sky member John Williams, not the guy who does the music for all the Spielberg movies.

One of these days I'll sort out doing a Glad To Be Gay month, putting up the dozen or so released versions of Tom Robinson's masterpiece (the Secret Policeman version is particuarly good, the first updated lyric and delivered with more venom than on any other).

But for now, Pete Townshend's startling acoustic Won't Get Fooled Again. It's credited to the unlikely combo of Townshend and Williams, but you have to strain to hear anything that could be the latter fret-fingerer.

Not that it matters. The real glory is hearing Townshend's masterful riffing unaccompanied. For all his electric powerchordery, it's that clipped staccato approach, that tight twitchy tension that grips you so hard.

These are tight, mean hard riffs right in your face. The sparse setting makes them all the more powerful in the same way that a psychotic killer creeping up behind you and whispering in your ear is much scarier than seeing them come screaming from 800 metres away.

I'm this far in and I haven't even mentioned that this is one of his greatest lyrics; whilst not shying away from the late 60s revolutionary fervour, he points to the way all changes of leadership are just a switch of the brand name on your shackles.

A couple of years back there was a documentary on Jagger's latest tedious solo effort, and it showed Townshend recording a guest guitar spot. On the album it's buried politely in the mix, but on the TV show it had Pete in the studio, greying and a tad rotund, yet as soon as his guitar was on it was a loud, violent ak-ak-ak-ak of power and control that blew your head off. This track has much the same effect.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!. Leave a note with your email address in the comments if you want me to send it to you. I've also encoded Pinball wizard and Drowned from the same album, if you want either of those too just say]

25 May 2006

Mari Wilson - Dance With A Stranger


Mari Wilson is best - perhaps solely - remembered for her beehive hairdo and matching 60s kitsch sound on her one proper hit Just What I Always Wanted.

She followed it up with a cover of Julie London's jazzy ballad Cry Me A River (limited edition had a free hanky!), setting the course for this subtle and affecting version of Peggy Lee's Dance With A Stranger as the title song for the movie.

If it doesn't look like how you remember Mari Wilson on the cover, that's because it isn't. It's the movie's lead actor Miranda Richardson.

I saw Richardson outside Russell & Bromley's in Southport around this time, pretty soon after seeing Mike Score out of A Flock Of Seagulls outside a shoeshop in Liverpool's Church Street. What was it with me and minor celebrities adjacent to Merseyside footwear retailers in the mid 80s? Who knows?

Anyway, Richardson's familiar for being Queen Elizabeth in Blackadder II. A more different role is hard to imagine.

The film tells the tempestuous story of Ruth Ellis, last woman to be judicially hanged in the UK, and the violent relationship that culminated in her killing her boyfriend. Scripted by Shelagh Delaney of A Taste Of Honey fame, it's got that same unglossy sense of real lives that made her name, and Richardson's performance opposite Rupert Everett is superb.

Rather like Blue Velvet, they've taken a sweet contemporaneous song and made it eerie by juxtaposing it with a dark and troubling film. Once you know that, the recontextualising leaves a twist on the song forever. The song is all about meeting a stanger, it is light and full of understated tingle at the potential in meeting someone who makes you go all fuzzy inside. Yet you approach the film knowing the ensuing affair is brutal and ends horrifically. This provides the key element in most great pop music; to address simulataneous conflicting emotions.

Faithful to the 1951 original, Wilson's version is remarkably warm; this was the 80s, a time of such shiny digital sterility, yet this sounds so authentic that you could readily believe it was recorded any time in the last 50 years. Dreamy, soft, playful, intimate, seductive, but with an uneasiness lent to it by the film, it's a lost gem.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry! Post your email address in Comments if you'd like it emailed you]

15 May 2006

Jack Frost


Jack Frost was a chance happening, a duo of Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens and Steve Kilbey from The Church. Both eminent songwriters in their dayjob bands, they worked swiftly and easily together on this eponymous album. The drum machine on some tracks is dated, but there's a warmth, a mystery, an intricate and rustic evocative feel to the album that perpetually rewards me.

Five years later, they reconvened for the very different, much more rock second album Snow Job.

It's with sadness that I've been inspired to post these four tracks. Grant McLennan died in his sleep on May 6th, aged 48.

Steve Kilbey does a blog with an astonishingly disciplined daily posting policy. Unsurprisingly, several of them have been moving thoughts and memories of Grant.

I've picked four songs from the first Jack Frost album to post. Civil War Lament is astonishing, an almost music-box prettiness to it but with the melancholy heaped on by the lyric, from the perspective of a dead soldier watching from his grave as his beloved goes about her life.

Number Eleven is quite unsongy, an atmosphere hanging seething lightly like the mirages the lyric is set among.

Providence aches, melodic yet metronomic, resigned yet yearning.

Despite being the first song they wrote together, Didn't Know Where I Was shows the punchier direction of the second album better than any other on the debut. Snow Job is certainly a good record, but there's something rich and alluring on this first Jack Frost album, something deceptively simple, enigmatic, internal and yet present and unpretentious that always pulls me back, pulls me in further and yet is never fully revealed.

In one post, Kilbey talks about the album.

grant wasnt some minor talent now gone
and everyone trying to make him into something more
believe me, he was the real deal
he picked up a guitar and sang
and you hadda original
no mistaking his voice, his songs
i saw on amazon they gotta few copies of the 1st jack f record
do yerselves a favour
if you aint got it, get it
im so proud of that record

civil war lament
grant had already written this
i loved it and i got to sing it
he could knock songs like this off
like most people write shopping lists
i liked the ambiguity of
"and all you do is carry on"
to grant this meant that she continued
to me it had other connotations
we thrived on this kinda ambiguity

number 11
grant n i imagined we were lost in a plane crash
i know you can keep me warm
beautiful, grant, beautiful

one of my fave songs ever by anybody anywhere
obviously you can hear grants bits and my bits
so sad
so much sadness in this song
"remember when we were lovers, the things we used to do"
it always gives me goosebumps
so romantic,
so lost.

didnt know where i was
our 1st song we wrote together
sorta velvets-y i guess
" a damaged doomed charles bronson, stumbling on this earth"
who else could write stuff like that
boy, im gonna miss him

As with the death of any good artist, we mourn his passing but are grateful for the work he leaves behind. Thankyou Grant.

it was a fucking privelege to work with him
i loved this man
i will play providence and other jack f songs
till the day i day
and i hope that when i get to fucking heaven
grant is waiting for me
his guitar strapped on
"now, steven, are ya ready for our third album

[MP3s deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

20 April 2006

La Granja - Magia En Tus Ojos

We conclude Yay Yay Billy Bragg Rah Rah Rah Week with She's Got A New Spell sung with Spanish lyrics.

From La Granja's Azul Electrica Emocion album, it doesn't appear to be a translation - Magia En Tus Ojos means 'magic in your eyes'.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry! Post your email address in Comments if you'd like it emailed you]

17 April 2006

Paul Young - Man In The Iron Mask


Oh I am a bad man. Here it is, when it should surely be consigned to the dark corners of the record collection that only get visited in order to settle bets.

On the B-side of the Tomb Of Memories single, Paul Sodding Young slaughters Billy's early heartbreaker. I suppose there's worse covers out there. I mean, I've heard Anita Dobson's jaunty uptempto cover of You've Lost That Loving Feeling. At least Young respects the tempo and gravity of the tune, even if he's not really got the chops for it.

This twat was commonly called soulful in the early-mid 80s, yet with hindsight his voice is anything but, a startlingly paperthin small-range shallow rasp that makes Sinitta look talented, a sort of one man Robson & Jerome trying too hard.

Yet Squeeze's master songwriters Difford and Tilbrook grace the A-side of this single with backing vocals. Fuck knows what that's all about.

Go listen to Billy or X-Mal Deutschland's version, see how they deliver proof - as if we needed it - that Paul Sodding Young should be strung up by his conkers.

And there's more. You think this is weird? Try Young's cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart. I'm not making it up, it really exists.

For now, soil your ears with Paul Sodding Young's ritual dismemberment of Man In The Iron Mask. Sorry. I haven't felt like this since I uploaded Deacon Fucking Blue's cover of Julian Cope's Trampolene.

Another Bragg cover in a couple of days!

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry! Post your email address in Comments if you'd like it emailed you]

13 April 2006

X-Mal Deutschland - Girl In The Iron Mask

889 708-7 (7"), 889 709-1 (12"), 889 709-2 (CD)

Wow, have you seen the new Billy Bragg reissues? They're doing them all as double discs with every extra track we know and a few we don't. Billy and Johnny Marr in Billy's front room in 1986 doing Back To The Old House, A Lover Sings and the Stones' The Last Time!

I've just got the swanky box set and it's superb.

Billy's not only released non-album B-sides, he's put a lot of exclusive tracks on compilations over the years.

I'd planned to post a wonderful yet obscure version of Man In The Iron Mask from a 1984 compilation LP called Jamming! A New Optimism. It's better even than the album version, with a gorgeous plaintive trumpet solo. But nope, that's on the new reissues.

So, it's time for other people's takes on it.

On the single of I'll Be Near You, 4AD-ers X-Mal Deutschland did this version with a gender change in the lyric. It appears to have only been released on this single, and only in Germany. Talk about rare.

They give it the gorgeous solemn stillness and ache of Bragg's original with a tender softness of vocal delivery.

Pop back in a few days for another cover of the song.

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


Oh, there is actually a bit of unreleased Bragg available for download. He's just - like only just, like recorded it on 22nd March - rewritten Dylan's Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol in memory of Rachel Corrie. It's downloadable from here

04 April 2006

Birdland - Hollow Heart

LAZY13 (LAZY13T 12")

Birdland were a breakneck amphetamine firecracker of a band. Four guys from the English midlands with peroxide bobbed hair, shrill, pacey, feedback sodden yet melodic, like Psychocandy on 78rpm.

A big influence on the early Manic Strret Preachers, their 1989 debut single Hollow Heart blazed so bright. The 12" had three songs on the A-side, all crashing into each other in a wail of feedback, no gaps. And that's exactly how they played it live.

I saw this band devotionally. I first went cos a friend recommended it and you got a free live LP. What a great idea! In the days before burnable CDs, bands just did not give away their music at gigs. Birdland figured that to press up a one-sided vinyl LP with no outer sleeve was cheap, if it's live there's no recording costs, and it'd surely bring enough extra punters in to cover its costs. And yet it's not a con-gimmick, everyone gets something worthwhile. It worked on me.

God, they were fucking incredible. Fast and guitarry, taking punk speed, 60s Stones cocksure energy, Patti Smith art-primal attitude, and shooting out these white hot shards of kinetic force with something soaring and pop in there.

The later singles had their merits - good songs and a lot of energy - but sounded somewhat two dimensional. There was a full-surround fury to the live shows that only the tracks on Hollow Heart and its follow up Paradise get close to.

It's like when you listen to Merseybeat bands like Gerry & The Pacemakers or Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas and they all sound so twee, but it doesn't take a big effort to mentally scrub them of their record company gloss and put them in leather jackets belting out rock n roll to a sweaty walled Cavern and see what the fuss was about.

When Birdland's album came out I hitch hiked round Britain following the tour, 13 gigs in 15 days. Every one amazing, though often radically different vibes. Sometimes an hour and a half and five triumphant encores. Sometimes the gear goes wrong ten minutes in and they'd smash everything up and leg it.

The first 10,000 copies of the album, incidentally, came on white vinyl, white label, in a plain white sleeve with 'BIRDLAND' printed on the front in white (you have to tilt it to the light to read it). Oh fucking yes. They were great for that sort of thing - singles coming with a limited edition 4-track EP version with posters and a badge and what have you.

No band can sustain such power and intensity for long, so we can't really lament their passing. We should just be glad that we have those blinding screaming early singles like Fuzzbox's XX Sex or Birdland's labelmates The Primitives' Stop Killing Me.

Birdland hit that thing in a way that no other band ever quite did. Still sounds so incredibly exciting and explosive, an amphetamine pessary of a record.

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

17 March 2006

Lieutenant Pigeon - Opus 300


This is the maddest thing a major label ever released on 7 inch.

A distorted marching drum beat, the single repeated word 'mother', with a spliced in section of jazzy calypso singing 'get your shoes from the menders and don't be late'.

Madder, it's done by a band consisting of three blokes and one of their mums.

Lieutenant Pigeon are a great one hit wonder. Out of nowhere they got to number 1 with Mouldy Old Dough. Bizarre, hyper-real nightmarish and insanely catchy, with the only lyric being the title, it somehow won an Ivor Novello songwriting award.

The follow up, Desperate Dan, barely scraped into the top 20 and there were no more hits after that. Opus 300 is the B-side of Desperate Dan, and it is just fucking nuts.

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

06 March 2006

Cowboy Junkies - Dead Flowers


Cowboy Junkies are, to my knowledge, the only band who consistently do cover versions that far exceed the originals.

Whilst they have a major songwriting talent in guitarist Michael Timmins, it's in the way they tackle the works of others that we get the clearest view of their power and worth.

They find a dark melancholic stillness in the heart of a song, and Margo's strong yet delicate voice curls like smoulder smoke through the core of the track and up beyond it.

Neil Young's Powderfinger, Springsteen's State Trooper, they even do Sweet Jane in a way that - coming from a very different angle - equals the Velvets' original.

It appeared they'd drawn the short straw on the Rubber Soul tribute album This Bird Has Flown, doing John Lennon's worst song, Run For Your Life. Disposable, unimaginative, misogynistic, disowned by its writer, we'd be none the poorer if it had never existed at all.

Then the Junkies work their magic and once again do a cover that teases out a sombre and compelling atmosphere. Their Run For Your Life is a brilliant seething sinister threat of a track.

The Rolling Stones' 1971 masterpiece Sticky Fingers has several classic riffy corkers, but also a couple of astonishing Cowboy Junkies-esque slow dark spacious tracks in Sister Morphine and Moonlight Mile.

The Junkies, though, went for Dead Flowers. The Stones do it upbeat with Jagger's voice delivering the lyric in a semi-comic twang. Cowboy Junkies see the lyric has an unrelenting broken, morbid, desolate sentiment perfectly suited to them. Slowing it down, giving it their classic arrangement of guitar, voice, bass, subtle drums, mandolin, accordion and slide guitar, they make it entirely their own.

Dead Flowers comes from an aborted first attempt at recording the album that would become 1990's The Caution Horses. The tracks from that session have recently had a full release as Sharon. It was only released on the cassette single of Sun Comes Up It's Tuesday Morning, and on two promo-only CDs.

I got it on one of the latter, a limited promo CD that came with initial copies of 1992's Black Eyed Man bought at HMV shops in the UK. It shares the disc with two album tracks and a cover of the traditional tune Captain Kidd (another Sharon session track, previously released on the single of Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning).

The band released a B-sides and out-takes album that didn't include Dead Flowers. A track that's better than most bands best efforts, just left lying around on a long forgotten promo. Twenty years and still making magnificent, ornate, sad and beautiful music. Talent to spare.

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

27 February 2006

Red Guitars - Good Technology

Self Drive
(reissued 1984 SD009 7" and SD008 12")

In December the venerable Zoe over at Goldfish Nation did a post quoting the lyrics for this track. I asked her about it and she didn't know the song, so it's nudged me to post it here. With the pulling-me-apart pace of my life these days it takes me ten fuckin weeks to get round to doing a half-hour job. I need to amend this.

Incidentally, whilst I can refer to Zoe as 'Zo-ster' (rhymes with 'toaster'), I find it very difficult to find a way to spell the word. 'Zoster' looks like it rhymes with 'roster'. 'Zohster' likewise. 'Zoaster' looks like there's a syllable break there, 'Zo-aster'. The hyphenated version used above delivers the right phonetics but looks a bit clumsy. I'd be grateful if you'd tell me of a solution to this problem.

So, on with the music. Good Technology is one of those tracks that grabs you by the ears on first listen, the sort of thing that even before it's halfway through you know you love. Tense pulsing background with sharp spikes of guitar, it's clearly not long after early Talking Heads and New Romantics. It swells and spreads, expansive and awkward, but the thing that sets it apart and makes it worthy of remembering 20 years on is the arresting lyric.

We've got photographs of men on the moon
We've got water that is good for us
We've got coffee that's instantaneous
We've got buildings that are very tall
We've got cigarettes that are low in tar
We've got policemen can tell us who we are
We can reproduce a work of art
We've got missiles can tear the world apart
Good, good, good, good, good, good technology

We've got trains that run underground
Aeroplanes that fly very fast
We've got music that is popular
We've got machines that sound like orchestras
We've got ability to transplant a heart
We've got freezers full of body parts
We've got computers that can find us friends
We know roughly when the world will end
Good, good, good, good, good, good technology

We've got animals with transistors in
We've got pills that can make you slim
We've got factories turning frozen chickens out
We've got ovens that cook in seconds flat
We've got plastics that are indestructible
We've got deodorants that make us smell of flowers
We've got detergents to clean up the sea
We've got sounds can turn you inside out

Sometimes I wonder what it is all about
There's lots of leisure time to sit and work it out
There's a TV show I've got to see
Good, good, good, good, good, good technology
Good technology

It's that final bit that does it for me. After this random list of the things that we have, the mundane and the extraordinary, the fucked-up and the fantastic, it turns to the liberation from drudgery offered by labour saving devices. And what do we do with the time given us? Watch telly.

As I've said elsewhere

These days the hearth is the TV. Living rooms are arranged exactly like a hundred years ago, but with that one difference. The average Briton watches four hours of TV every day!

Which is really worrying. People would spend four hours looking at a hearth, but TV is so one-way. It doesn't present you with coloured patterns that let your mind wander and exercise, it tells your mind to shut the fuck up while it tells you what to think about and what to think about the things you think about. It delivers itself as absolute and authoritative. It shows 'experts' in whatever field, who are always portrayed as more informed and eloquent than you, which takes away your sense of power and feeling of ability and worth, and the idea that you might be able to go out there and affect the things that affect you.

And they are lying, TV is so superficial that its main task is to stop you realising its superficiality and artificiality. They pretend things aren't carefully edited to make implications. They try to make it look like the situation being shown is normal, and not rendered fake by an intrusive TV camera being there. We think if someone looks shifty on TV they must be shifty, whereas it's probably actually cos they're not used to having 600 watts of lightbulb in their face while they try to explain years of experience in an eight second soundbite. It's all about veneers. I've actually done TV shows where I've been portrayed as an authoritative expert, and I got believed. I found the MPs and ministers and journalists were bluffing even more than I was!

It doesn't matter that loads of TV is junk. The problem is that it treats everything the same, that a war or a football match or a McDonalds special offer are treated with equal import. It's OK when junk is undisguised junk, when it's meant to be forgettable nonsense. But when it pretends to be serious it distracts us from the real serious stuff, it lowers the standards of what we consider serious. As TV has become the dominant medium, other media have learned that they must imitate TV or die. Have you noticed how our newspapers now look like TV, and our radio sounds more and more like TV? Even when the TV is off, it has set out the methods by which we understand what's going on. The result is a whole TV culture that makes us as individuals insignificant and disconnected, and everything seem irrelevant and unreal.

Four hefty paragraphs, yet Red Guitars say it all in three lines. That, my friends, is what we mean by poetry.

Background stuff about the track - recording info etc - is on this page.

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

20 January 2006

Feargal Sharkey - Listen To Your Father

JAZZ1 (JAZZY1 picture disc)

Less than a year after singing Never Never for the one-off Assembly single, Feargal Sharkey did another great oddity.

Madness had been around for years and had just left Stiff Records to set up their own label. Peculiarly, they didn't kick off with their own stuff, but with this.

It is basically a Madness single with Feargal on vocals. It was written by Madness' Carl Smyth (aka Chas Smash), and Madness play all the music.

Like other Smyth songs such as Michael Caine, there's no clear meaning but somehow the words fit the music brilliantly; impressionism rather than literalism.

Madness shifted to a more reflective vibe for much of their remaining work (basically the Mad Not Mad album) as typified by the haunting elegant anti-Tory single Yesterday's Men. This, though, has all that gleeful pounding stomp we knew and loved them for.

A year later, autumn 1985, and Sharkey was back with his eponymous debut album and it's flagship single, the Maria McKee-penned A Good Heart. It was all a bit glossy and saccharine, lacking the kick of the Undertones, the emotional punch of Never Never and the kinetic bounce and boistrousness of Listen To Your Father.

At the end of 1985 Madness did a new year's eve concert at Hammersmith Odeon, and Sharkey came on and did Listen To Your Father with them (relased on the Mad Not Mad Party bootleg album if you can find it).

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

06 January 2006

The Assembly - Never Never


He didn't hang around much in the early 80s, Vince Clarke. Formed Depeche Mode and wrote their debut single I Just Can't Get Enough, then promptly left them to form Yazoo. Barely a year of that, then split.

A few months later he got together with EC Radcliffe of The Silcon Teens and put together The Assembly. Clarke wrote Never Never and thought Feargal Sharkey's plaintive pleading tone would suit the song. They rang Sharkey who readily agreed and swiftly cut the track.

Thinking it would always be that easy to get well known high calibre singers on to their record, they started planning an album but nothing ever came of it and this single remains an anomaly.

The lyric is one of relentless isolation, beautifully complemented by the starkness of Clarke's electronics, yet there is a sparkling splendour to it too. This song of alienation and coldness is one more example of how we can put our darkest feelings out and create something of beauty and consolation, something affecting and gorgeous that has the net effect of enhancing those it touches.

Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens said, 'it's neither fair nor reasonable to expect sadness to confine itself to its causes'. Letting it beyond its causes into art and bright pop music is certainly nothing new, and in that arena we can see that it also seems neither fair nor reasonable to expect the only effect of expressing sadness to be more sadness.

The tremendous ache and tingling icy beauty of Never Never are utterly captivating and, provided you're not a hopelessly alienated outcast like the protagonist, the fact of something so gorgeous existing scatters shards of silvered affirmation all over you, it prods your heart and makes you feel more alive.

Veteran British sessionist Clem Clempson gets a credit for guitar on the track but I'm buggered if I can hear a guitar in it.

There were a few such peculiar 'let's get an established singer' projects around that time. The previous year Heaven 17 put together British Electric Foundation Presents Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One, an album featuring all kinds of oddities; Tina Turner doing Ball of Confusion, Gary Glitter doing Suspicious Minds, Billy MacKenzie doing Bowie's The Secret Life of Arabia. MacKenzie also wrote a lyric for an excellent Yello single, The Rhythm Divine in 1987, that had Shirley Bassey doing lead vocals (the 12inch had a version of MacKenzie's own take).

See what I mean? Loads of this sort of thing at the time.

Within a year of The Assembly, Vince Clarke put together Erasure and Feargal Sharkey recorded Listen To Your Father, a corking one-off single with Madness that I'll put up as the next post here.

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