Monday, 29 June 2020

Boogie with a Suitcase

I bumped into my friend David yesterday. He was striding towards me wearing a resplendent salmon pink shirt and a rather smart pair of headphones. 'What ya listening to?' I enquired. 'M's first album*' he replied. 'Ah, the one with Pop Muzik on it' I said; though a bit like listing the handful of men who have walked on the moon, we all struggle after Neil Armstrong. 'That's right' he said, 'the first single I bought.' After a couple of  further pleasantries and just before we went our separate ways I asked David if he wouldn't mind telling me in a 100 or so words what he liked about Pop Muzik. 'Leave it with me' he said, before heading up Mansfield Road. This dropped in my inbox last night:

"I was quite mature, musically, for a nine-year-old. Having three older brothers who would not tolerate any teeny-bopper rubbish, the first time I heard Pop Muzik by M it seemed a little frivolous and silly. Yet the more I heard it, the more I liked it. It's got a pounding electronic dance riff behind the commercialist iconography. Ironically, I think it was their performance on Cheggers Plays Pop that convinced me I needed to acquire this little piece of pop history. And so began a growing early record collection that me and my primary school friends could listen to and swap, and progress towards the 1980s… "

David R. Thompson

M - Pop Muzik (1979)

* 'New York-London-Paris-Munich' (It featured David Bowie on handclaps. Seriously, it did)

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Grounds for Separation

I've just re-read Block Buster! by Dave Thompson. As the title would indicate, it's the definitive biography of glam rockers the Sweet; nothing to do with the chain of video shops.

Their rise to teenybopper stardom - and Top of the Pops ubiquity - followed later by (begrudging, often) critical acclaim was far from overnight; yet their demise was comparable with the speed with which Laurel and Hardy's piano came hurtling down those steps in the film 'Music Box'. Though, as you can imagine, not half as funny.

And the reason why they fell from grace with such indecent haste? Two words: Brian Connolly. Sorry, make that three words: Brian Connolly's drinking. In 1974 after releasing Sweet Fanny Adams and being invited by Pete Townshend to support the Who at Charlton Athletic football ground and play in front of 60,000 fans, Connolly went on a bender. A proper bender. Not for the first time he then got into a fight and was badly beaten up, suffering critical bruising to his throat (they really did kick his head in). As a result the tour to support the album (the album that should have been flying off the shelves) was pulled, as was their chance to play in front of the biggest crowd of their career supporting their heroes. The rest of the band weren't happy; to say the least. They seriously considered playing Charlton as a three piece; they even considered getting a replacement for Connolly. But they gave their friend another chance.

Fast forward a couple of years and, after an 18 month lay off from touring, the band sought solace at the Ch√Ęteau recording studio on the outskirts of Paris. Armed with a shedload of new songs they recorded their most coherent album to date: In early 1978 Level Headed was promoted massively in the States where they were embarking on a massive tour with hopes of finally 'cracking America'.  With the album's lead single Love is Like Oxygen picking up airplay it was all set fair. However, Connolly's love of the bottle scuppered the band yet again. By now bloated and out of shape (physically and vocally) he was turning up pissed at most of the shows and the tour soon descended into farce. The record company pulled the plug on the remaining dates and the band were flown home in disgrace.

Connolly was kicked out of the band the following year. And with him went any last vestiges of future aspirations the band may have had. The remaining trio of Andy Scott, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker limped on with three wheels on their wagon till the Cherokees finally caught up with them in 1981. Game over.

When Andy Scott wrote Love is Like Oxygen it was no secret that he was a huge fan of Hall & Oates. Steve Priest alleges that Scott ripped off their 1975 track Grounds for Separation when writing his lyrics three years later. Scott will no doubt tell you different. The bridge Andy Scott may or may not have liberated comes in at 1:20. I'll let you decide.

Hall & Oates - Grounds for Separation (1975)

The Sweet - Love is Like Oxygen (1978)

Friday, 26 June 2020

Harry & Henry

Hands up if been in lockdown has caused your creative juices to flow? Thought so. With the exception of a couple of friends who are really flying (one of whom is something of a loner at the best of times so has barely noticed the change), this forced incarceration hasn't really kickstarted anyone I know into a frenzy of artistic discovery.
Speaking personally I can't remember the last time I wrote a new song (one that I'd call a keeper, anyway), though that doesn't mean I won't find the right words to hang around the right tune at some point - but I'm not putting any timescale on it; it doesn't work like that for me.
Instead, I'm quite content to borrow from others and learn a couple of covers instead. And it's not as if I've got anywhere to play them at the moment; though maybe a couple of outdoor opportunities may present themselves in the not too distant - we'll just have to wait and see.

So, in no particular order, here are two songs that appeal to me and my pop sensibilities; that and the fact that they're really simple chords and I've been able to arrange them in a key I can sing them in!

I love mavericks; which is why I have a lot of time for Harry Nilsson. Never one to play by the rules - like his good friend John Lennon - Nilsson had many songwriting styles that covered film and TV soundtracks (most notably 'The Point' - later a stage show), personal songs with, ahem, forthright lyrics ('You're Breakin' My Heart' - a damning indictment on his failed second marriage). And he had a good ear for a cover: he recorded an album of Randy Newman songs in 1970 and, of course, 'Without You' - his signature tune written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger. It first appeared on his album Nilsson Schmilsson in 1971 and, when lifted as a single in the December, went to Number One all over the world in early '72. Paul McCartney once said Without You was the killer song of all time. It's a point of view, Paul. Though I prefer this self penned ditty taken from the follow up album Son of Schmilsson.

Nilsson - Lottery Song (1972)

I wrote briefly about Henry Pristman a few weeks ago. Henry was - and indeed still is - a key player in Liverpool's illustrious musical history, as was recently demonstrated on his recent appearance on David Hepworth and Mark Ellen's A Word in Your Attic. His chunky playing CV includes Yachts, It's Immaterial and the Christians, as well as production and writing duties for many others including artists as diverse as Graham Gouldman and Mark Owen. I'd love to do a Q&A with him for this blog, so hopefully that's something that could happen later in the year; I guess it depends if he hears my version of this beautiful song which appeared on his solo album The Chronicles of Modern Life - my second lockdown cover.

Henry Priestman - Grey's the New Blonde (2008)

Wednesday, 24 June 2020


I'm in procession of an I.O.U. A highly prized I.O.U. It entitles the bearer (me) to as many hugs as is deemed necessary post-C19. I'm not sure my calculator has enough 0s to calculate such a number, though I'm sure James and I will be monitoring it closely.

In these crazy, crazy times it was, despite a distinct lack of hugging (see above), a shot in the arm to finally see James & Janneke again on Sunday. A diet of phone calls and FaceTiming only goes so far. So breaking bread with them in their lovely garden was, undoubtedly, the highlight of my year so far. 

James told me his employer has informed him and the rest of his team that they can expect to be working from home till at least next January. January! (And yet our esteemed government are quite happy to see us traipse back into death pits pubs from July 4th). Sorry, I digress.
A very talented artist on James' team has been secretly drawing his work colleagues during lockdown. This appeared on my Twitter feed yesterday: 

Auditioning for Scooby Doo (James in the green tee shirt)

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Still Fabulous

Not for the first time during this horrendous lockdown period I've found solace in David Hepworth and Mark Ellen's magical A Word in Your Attic show and tell videos. I even borrowed the theme myself recently when on a video call with friends - asking each one of them to share a personal object/heirloom with the rest of us. Highly entertaining.

The latest episode to have found its way onto my radar was musician and comedian Tony de Meur; his band the Fabulous Poodles were always a big hit at Medd Towers, if with not the rest of the record buying public, or even their label at the time, Pye. His story about Don McLean (the singer, not the bloke off Crackerjack) is priceless. So if you've got half an hour to spare - and, let's face it, who hasn't? - take a look (and check out the others while you're there).

Looking back through some of my back issues and I see that I wrote about Tony's band in 2010. In the piece I linked to a fantastic little Lego film of their 1978 smash*, Mirror Star. He and fiddle player Bobby Valentino reprised it last year:

Fabulous Poodles - Mirror Star (2019)

* Criminally, none of their singles ever charted. This from a band that John Peel regularly shouted from the rooftops, and who supported both the Ramones and Tom Petty.