Friday, 27 November 2020

(New) Normal


Earlier this month the acclaimed Nottingham Poetry Festival celebrated its 5th anniversary (can it really be 12 months since last year's event?*); befitting of the times it was, of course, held totally online with 'ticket holders' enjoying gigs and readings in the luxury of their own homes via, you've guessed it, Zoom. 

Will the word zoom, I wonder, in years to come, fill the population with varying degrees of dread or, will it, at its mere mention make our hearts go boom? One for future linguistic historians I'm sure. This year we were privileged to have one of my favourite poets - and co-founder of the festival - former local lad, Henry Normal. Henry was beamed into my kitchen last Friday direct from his Brighton home. Not the same as the real thing, you'll agree, but I'd have struggled to have enjoyed his performance any more even had he have bombed up the motorway on what was a wet and windy Nottingham night.

Henry's new collection is called The Escape Plan. As soon as bookshops are open again I shall be blagging myself a copy, nothing's so sure. And when I do it'll be hard not to hear Henry's dulcet Nottingham vowels in my head as I read it in my kitchen; whilst slurping a cup of tea, most likely.

Henry Normal - 'Not My Cup of Tea' (2020)

* Er, no: it's actually 18 months. And a huge thank you to Georgina Wilding for helping to lay on such a lavish festival in what has been a challenging year to say the least.

Friday, 20 November 2020

Ready, Steady, Friday!

A woman of many tee shirts

For this week's Be-Bop Friday I'm delighted to hand over the reins to a new Twitter friend of mine, Carolyn Perry. Carolyn only came to my notice fairly recently; I knew she was a huge punk fan, but it was the tee shirt she was sporting in her profile picture that gave the game away - wearing an iconic '45' shirt can only mean one thing - another Generation X disciple!
Thank you for taking the time, Carolyn. 

"I didn’t get to see Generation X until 1993 when they played a reunion gig at the Astoria as part of a Billy Idol concert. I grew up in Stourbridge and it wasn’t until I started going out with a punk in late ‘77 that I occasionally managed to get into Brum for gigs, though it often involved sneaking out of the house and getting changed at mates’ houses. The lyrics to Kiss Me Deadly really bring back that time for me, just substitute the number 30 bus for the 130 to Birmingham.

‘Seven o'clock they stand in rank

For the thirty bus uptown

And later in a downstairs room

She pulls her lover down

In ecstasy but they can't make a sound

Case her mother might come down’


By the time I left home and moved to London in September '79 Generation X were all but done, and then Billy Idol moved to the US and went solo. It was an exciting time for music with the launch of MTV and Billy’s songs were perfect for new media of music video. Accused of being ‘too pretty for punk’, Billy really suited this format and is a charismatic performer (also I am a sucker for blond spikey hair, which the aforementioned boyfriend also had). I particularly like Billy’s early solo stuff – White Wedding is a phenomenal song and Rebel Yell is my favourite of his albums. I even joined the Billy Idol fan club at one point and have still got the T-shirt!

Idol with guitarist Steve Stevens (Carolyn's pic)

Idol and James wrote some great songs together, and I know I’m in the minority but I think Generation X/Gen X were underrated. I’m hoping that there might be another reunion at some point, but until then I’m glad that Billy is still rocking. I saw him on his 2014 and 2018 tours and he didn’t disappoint. He’s responsible for a lot of timeless tunes and let’s face it, 2020 has been the year for Dancing With Myself*P.S. This video of still sends shivers down my spine."

Generation X - Kiss Me Deadly (1978)


* Funnily enough, Carolyn, I was only saying the same thing myself.  

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Love Fife


Mental health issues, spiralling debts and a penchant for self destruction. No, I'm not talking about the present incumbent of the White House. Or even our own hapless Prime Minister. They are, however, the three main reasons why the finest folktronica band ever to come out of Fife are no longer with us. They sadly, though not unsurprisingly, pressed their very own nuclear button in 2004. 
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Beta Band. 

Dry the Rain (1997)



Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Ode to Billie Jo

Blankets - not 100% safe

Who remembers when the KLF got it on with Tammy Wynette? Yep, it was 1991- the musical landscape at the time was, to say the least, very housey and drenched in acid (sorry, Aciiiid!) and their resulting lovechild became something of an ear-worm, long before such a thing was even a thing.

Bent tried something similar a number of years later when they and Billie Jo Spears, ahem, laid their blanket on the ground. The electronica duo from Nottingham sampled two of Billie Jo's songs (But I Do and Hurt - both from 1975) and set them against the most infectious bass line you're ever likely to hear. What Ms. Spears thought about the fruit of their union is sadly not documented. I'd like to think she'd have approved. 

Bent - So Long Without You (2003)

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Brevity; the idea that less is more. It's a notion I swear by. If you can say it in an eight line poem, then do so. With apologies to Tolstoy, but I'm sure War and Peace could have been condensed into two sides of A4.
Like Bowie, Robert Frost's command of the language was such that he could write a poem as powerful as Nothing Gold Can Stay with room to spare. Autumn - and life - encapsulated in a mere 40 words. It's one of my favourite pieces of prose.

Nature's first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf's a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay.

27 October 2020

There is a beautiful beech tree outside my front door. It must be 200 years old if it's a day. Although I've only lived in this house a little over three years, I feel as if I've known this tree all my life.
I took a photograph of it at the end of October with a fish eye lens. I then tweeted it and said that if I was to take another photograph of it 24 hours later it would look different again. It did. And it has done every day since. These two photos are separated by just over a week - the collage below is a daily record. (I know what I'm like - I can see me continuing to photograph this tree every day.)

5 November 2020


Friday, 30 October 2020

Baby Baby Baby! (It's a Beano Friday)


Welcome to another Be-Bop Friday - slightly rebadged today in honour of one of my best friends. That's Mark (Beano to his buddies) pictured above - the photograph will make perfect sense, I'm sure, by the time you've read his love letter to a band that still make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, some four decades after he first discovered them.

***

"Do you remember your first kiss? Of course you do! Mine was from a girl called Sarah Blackburn, she lived on our street and I would have been maybe 10, fancied her like mad for ages. Likewise, I bet you remember the first band you discovered. I do too, and their music still gives me goosebumps to this day. At one time they were the biggest band around. They reached the dizzy heights of Number 1 no less than six times in the 70s - and remember you needed to sell a million copies in those days to reach the top spot. Three Number One 1 albums followed; one of which is considered up there with the very best live albums ever (I’ve just voted for it in Classic Rock’s best live album poll). 

They made a film too, a proper one, which you went to the flicks to see. It was way ahead of its time and showed the dark side of the music business. Years after its release it would be described by BBC film critic, Mark Kermode as 'the Citizen Kane of rock musicals.' The movie subsequently went on to achieve critical acclaim.

Know who it is yet? Well, Q magazine once described  them as ‘the missing link between Oasis and the Beatles’ - Oasis would go on to record a splendid cover version of one of their hitz and then play it in front of an adoring 60,000 fans at Maine Road, Manchester. But let me guess, you still don't know who it is. (I think we do, Mark! John).

The band is SLADE, and they get little recognition for their considerable input to this great nation’s music scene other than for a certain festive hit. Not that is until you venture into my world: bitten by the bug in the early 80s via one of those compilation albums SLADE Smashes, I couldn’t believe what I was listening too. It was awesome, with that voice hitting you between the eyes like a sledgehammer. The Black Country Boyz even returned to the charts for me, reinvented with Noddy as the Rock 'n' Roll Preacher. Every locker in my school had the words ‘BEANO – SLADE’ plastered all over them: Beano being my nickname (still is, 40 years later) and SLADE being my band

Their second coming lasted till the mid 80’s when they were cast aside chart wise, but I still got my fix by going to Slade related TV shows & and conventions - attended by the Magic 500, a bunch of like minded super fans whose sole purpose was to turn it up to 11 and 'Stamp your feet and clap your hands.' These events have created some amazing friendships which go far wider than just the love of music, and nobody can take that away; no matter what the non-disciples may think.

And the love affair continues to this day, with walls full of memorabilia and guess what? My band returning to the album charts (in the Top 10, again) with a look back at past glories in the shape of Cum On Feel The Hitz. Time for this SLADE super fan to feel normal again, well at least for a little while!

So, don’t forget your first love, and, remember, SLADE are for life, not just for Christmas!"

A huge thank you to Mark for this. As you can see, Beano is now the proud owner of Jim Lea's confetti jacket - the one he wore on the front cover of their 1972 album, Slayed? Though I'm told it's a little on the snug side.


Monday, 26 October 2020

Dapper


One day I'll tell the story of the Dap-Kings, the funk powerhouse behind Sharon King, and the band who provided all things funkular on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black album. That they are signed to Daptone Records shouldn't really come as any surprise. As I say, one day. 

Another horn heavy act on the label is The Budos Band. Their sound is a tad more aggressive but with a sprinkling of soul and Afro Beats thrown into a glorious mix of loud guitars, horns and percussion. Think Rocket From the Crypt (sans bowling shirts) rubbing shoulders with John Barry. Kinda like this:

Budos Band - Gun Metal Grey (2020)



Friday, 23 October 2020

Jack Jones


The ultimate social distancing song? Well that's easy, innit? When Billy Idol and Tony James visited Tokyo in 1979 they went to a couple of clubs where they saw kids dancing on their own in front of a bank of mirrors. On the plane back to the UK James scribbled a few lyrics down and Idol, once back in London, hung a tune around them (it was always that way around). 

There were to be several versions of Dancing With Myself; the original demo featuring Generation X guitarist Bob Derwood Andrews - that never saw the light of day for 20 years as the band broke up the minute Derwood unplugged his amp. Idol and James then licked their wounds and regrouped (literally) - as Gen X - bringing in a raft of session guitar players including ex-Pistol Steve Jones. But they too split up - only two months after the finished version made its way on to their Kiss Me Deadly album released in January 1981.

And then Billy took it to America where he faded all the guitars and instead cranked up the percussion - turning it, you've guessed it, into a dance track. The song made him (with a little help from MTV) and he never looked back.

So which version have I gone with today? The answer is: none of the above. I hope you like it!

Chloe Feoranzo - Dancing With Myself (2019)



With thanks to Rol

Monday, 19 October 2020

Swiss Time


In 1964 Switzerland held a national exposition. The Swiss like expositions - they have one every 25 years; you can almost set your watch by them. This one was was known colloquially as Expo 64 and was hosted by Lausanne, situated on the Lake Geneva shoreline. Amongst the myriad of attractions were the Spiral Tower and the Monorail - which amazingly survive to this day. However, looking at the monorail it was no match for the one at Butlins - both of a similar vintage.

One of the many Kodachrome slides in my collection is this one dated September 1964 - written on the back is LAUSANNE EXPO. 1964. Researching  what was on display at the time I think this photograph may have been taken in the L'art de Vivre (Art of Life) section. It's a personal favourite of mine.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Bracing


Edward Hopper - self portrait

I slipped anchor this weekend; a getaway to the seaside for 24 hours in a bid to energise my failing batteries. With a fair wind and a watery sun I pointed the car in an easterly direction and trusted to luck. I can't remember the last time I visited Skegvegas, and even if I could I doubt very much it would make my Top 10 Memories list.

Like a lot of seaside towns its fall from grace (if grace was indeed where it fell from) is apparent the minute you clap eyes on it. The kebab shops and amusement arcades look even more tacky than before and the air was thick with chip oil, candy floss and despair (not necessarily in that order). Wait till it gets dark I thought to myself; like Ray Davies' Lola she'll look better at night. And, sure enough, at the stroke of dusk, with nothing more than a splash of neon, the turd, though not polished, is temporarily rolled in glitter. I took loads of photographs to commemorate my smash and grab raid on the town, but the one I want to share with you is a terrific Art Deco Italian restaurant down a little back street away from the glitz. It was like something Hopper would have painted - if he was unlucky enough to find himself billeted 22 miles north-east of Boston, Lincolnshire, that is. 

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Love Comes in Waves


I split my Saturday evening listening between BBC Radio London's perpetually excited Gary Crowley and BBC Radio Nottingham's Dean Jackson (more becalmed than GC but still excited on the inside - celebrating 30 years of his excellent Saturday show 'The Beat'). But I can't for the life of me remember which one of them played this next tune I'm featuring. It's by Andy Bell (yes, I know there's two; it's the Ride and Oasis one, not the Erasure one).

Unlike his previous employer, Noel Gallagher, who was forever channelling Beatles tunes overlaid with Marc Bolan riffs, Bell appears to be picking up where the Stone Roses left off and is resurrecting a sound that many listeners will remember as part of the Madchester/Baggy scene; whilst others (with younger ears) will probably tell you it's a sound that never went away.

Either way, here's his new single. It skips along at quite a pace and I think it's worth four minutes of your time. Can't say fairer than that now can I?

Andy Bell - Love Comes in Waves (2020)


Saturday, 10 October 2020

Is all Hope Lost?

I went out on Thursday evening. My sojourns into town have been getting less and less frequent. Hopping on a bus and going out for a drink is no longer the carefree, joyful experience it once was; yes, even going into the city on a No. 17 bus was, I realise now, joyful - I just didn't know it at the time: no masks, no drivers behind  perspex screens, no sanitising stations, no Orwellian safety announcements on the tannoy. And disgorging at the other end, piling into a bar and meeting friends is now a very different proposition; the hoops we now have to jump through just to make any of the above happen have ensured that every last bit of fun has been utterly squeezed out of life. 
This isn't living; this is nothing more than existing - we're all, every last one of us, merely going through the motions. And it's gonna get a whole lot worse. When the widely predicted stricter restrictions come into force next week (as they surely must), any last glimmer of hope for a return to even just a modicum of normality will have finally been extinguished.

(I took one last photo. It was dark and miserable. Quite.)  

Friday, 9 October 2020

Can You Make This Thing Go Any Faster?


W
e lost another one of our own this week. I think it's safe to say that Eddie Van Halen was the guitarist's guitarist. We were talking about him in the pub last night and my friend Richard said he always played with a smile on his face. Not something many guitar players do; think of any guitarist off the top of your head and you can almost see them grimacing as they squeeze out another tired solo. Not Eddie. Rest easy, my friend.

And how many guitarists sound even better when you speed them up 2X? Even 3X? I can only think of one:

Apollo 440 - Ain't Talkin' 'bout Dub (1997)



And for the purists:

Van Halen - Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love (1978)



Edward Lodewijk Van Halen (1955-2020)

Thursday, 8 October 2020

How Men Are


I've said it on here before, but I love songwriting. The idea of starting the day with a blank piece of paper and finishing it with a bunch of lyrics hanging on a melody that hadn't existed when the sun came up is still a fantastic feeling. My dalliance with the craft can best be described as fleeting - I only flirt with it (I'd love to commit, but I'm hampered by my questionable ability), hence if I write two songs a year then I'm doing well. To make up for my cripplingly low output I bask in the songs of others; proper songwriters.  

So what makes a proper songwriter? You know how good a songwriter is when your peers want to cover your songs. Roddy Frame is one such exponent. Both with Aztec Camera and solo his mastery of the dark art is not up for debate. Clive Gregson (no songwriting slouch he) obviously concurs. In 1990 when Clive was still knocking around with Christine Collister they recorded a beguiling version of one of Roddy's signature tunes as part of a blinding covers collection entitled Love is a Strange Hotel. It still knocks me for six every time I hear it. But here's the original. And this knocks me for seven.

Aztec Camera - How Men Are (1987)


Friday, 2 October 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#10)

I was certainly standing on the shoulders of giants when I commissioned myself to write this homage series; the idea that there are 10 objects I'd run into a burning building to rescue is really nothing more than me storing my thoughts in a safe place so that I can maybe look at them again when my memory maybe isn't as sharp as it is now. Which, in all honesty, is probably why, a decade after I started, I regularly update this journal, this web log. (Without getting too deep here, I'm not afraid of dying; but I am afraid of getting old; there, I've said it. When I look back at my life thus far I often think that much of it happened to somebody else, not me; a version of me, but not the me I recognise through the lens of 2020.)

But I digress. I said at the outset of this project that I would also mention the items that didn't make the cut. Of course I can't possibly list all the trinkets that have come into my possession over the last six decades. But here are a few that just missed the crucial cut off: my paperback copy of Magnus Mills' All Quiet on the Orient Express; my guitar; the bagatelle Santa put in my sack in 1966; a square of my Nanna's sewing; a set of Beatles autographs (fakes, but I don't care); one of my (many) watches; my mother's music box; the mixing bowl I use to make bread. All precious to me, but not as precious as this.

I've wanged on about this band quite a lot around here so, I won't bore you any further; suffice it to say this is my last item and these are the stats.

What's it called? Block Buster!

Who's it by? The Sweet

When and where purchased? January 1973/Grantham Market

How much? 25p

Number of plays? 17,550 in its first year alone*

Has there ever been a better single released since? Hell, no!

Will it be going in my coffin with me? Of course




* That's a very precise number, I hear you say. But I reckon I listened to it at least 50 times a day thru 1973 (less my two week holiday in Ireland). So, I make that (365 -14) x 50 = 17,550.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Summer Fever


I guess it was quite fitting that the last piece of music I should hear tonight, just as September stepped politely to one side and ushered another hapless month in, was a track called Summer Fever. However, this is one Summer I won't be looking back on with anything other than contempt; similar to the withering look I give people in supermarkets if they're not wearing a face covering. Considering I'm only using my eyes it's a look I'm quite proud of, strangely.

Anyway, this track. I'm really quite taken with it. It could have been written by Ron Sexsmith or Andy Partridge. Or even Paul McCartney. That's how good it is. I hope you like it too. Stay safe everyone. And wear your f*cking mask. Please. 

Dzihan & Kamien - Summer Fever (2009)



Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Cracking the Code


In a world already tipped on its head, the very thought that I would be offering New Blogger tips to others (and not vice versa) would, you'd have thought, be a stretch of the imagination too far even for regular visitors to this remote outpost of the internet. 

But I could see that in my recent posts, and posts by fellow bloggers too, featuring uploaded Youtube videos, the video footage could only be viewed whilst in 'web version' (i.e. when you're looking at the post on a PC or Mac), but not in 'mobile version' (it disappeared totally when viewed from your phone). And the reason why? It's all in the html code. However, after a little chin stroking and not an inconsiderable amount of exasperation, I've been able to crack the code. Me!

So, if you have trouble viewing your blog videos on your phone, please drop a self stamped addressed envelope to Medd Towers and I promise I'll get back to you before the clocks go back.

In the meantime here's the ridiculously talented Rachel Flowers playing a Keith Emerson piece she learned by ear.


Rachel Flowers - The Endless Enigma



 

Sunday, 27 September 2020

What in the name of all that's Holy?


Psychic Temple have just released their latest album, Houses of the Holy. Their previous recordings were titled Psychic Temple; Psychic Temple II; Psychic Temple III; and, yes, Psychic Temple IV. Temple leader Chris Schlarb has already got a bunch of demos ready for their next album, tentatively labelled Phys Graf. Of course he has.

Psychic Temple - Let Me Comb Your Hair (2020)

Friday, 25 September 2020

Sensational


As a youth it always struck me as odd that whilst all the bands I was routinely listening to at the time were way younger than my dad (with quite a few being not that much older than me), there was one glaring exception: step forward Alex Harvey. Born and raised in Glasgow's infamous Gorbals and playing rock & roll in pubs from the time he could walk, Harvey's life did not, in any way, mirror that of Gordon Medd; yet they were both born nearly five years before WW2. 

"He's older than my dad" I can remember me saying on the bus down to south east London when I saw him support the Who at Charlton in 1976. "He's older than my bloody dad!" Though when he and his band burst onto the stage that afternoon and played the opening bars of Faith Healer, any thoughts I may have had regarding either Harvey's mobility, or indeed faculties, were soon dispelled.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Faith Healer (1973)


Alex Harvey passed away in 1982. My dad had never heard of him. 

Friday, 18 September 2020

C-Bop Friday


I can't tell you how pleased I am to announce that today's guest on Be-Bop Friday (my irregular featurette written by people I like about their favourite artist) is C - head honcho at Sun Dried Sparrows. C's musings have been a regular fixture on my sidebar for as long as I can remember. Reading her blog is an antidote to all the ills currently befalling civilisation. Thank you for taking the time, C. And I look forward to a time when we can hold our Bloggers' Summit (in real life and without masks!) Let's all meet up in the year 2021, to paraphrase that well known polymath from Sheffield.   

***

"It’s a dreary, damp Saturday afternoon as I write, the kind of Saturday afternoon that anyone who grew up in Britain knows well.  The kind that taps into our memories and effortlessly transports us to the most unremarkable yet evocative days of our youth. Afternoons when we dragged ourselves into town, sheltered from the rain in the jeans shops, fluffed up our hair in the reflection of the Freeman, Hardy & Willis window before diving into the record shop, eager to exchange the pound notes we’d been saving up for the most exciting thing in the world: a piece of 12" vinyl. The Clash, their first album, or Pink Flag by Wire, perhaps – in my case, anyway; whatever it was we favoured at the time.

But our love for those bands might be fleeting. It’s hard to have a favourite which lasts a lifetime; so much changes, both us and them.  So instead my focus turns to a band who somehow encapsulate that very idea – the way we change as we wend our way through life, the influences, the everyday.  The unremarkable yet evocative. Saint Etienne are the band I choose to hear on dreary, damp Saturday afternoons. But they are equally well received against the backdrop of Summer skies, crisp Autumnal Sundays, or street-lit city nights. I think a lot has to do with the fact that Bob, Sarah and Pete are my contemporaries - we share an English '70s past and thus also our middle-aged reflections.  I wrote once before about how, lyrically, they soothe my unease at getting older by reminding me that, actually, it’s alright to be where we are now in our lives because of all the great markers along the way which made us who we are. So, that all seems a bit deep and philosophical, but somehow Saint Etienne convey it with natural ease and no pretension.

It would be hard to pick just one song, there are so many to choose from, but with lyrics which perfectly describe the youthful joys of buying our first records, 'Over the Border' from the album 'Words and Music', seems the most appropriate right now." 


Saint Etienne - Over the Border (2012)


Tuesday, 15 September 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#9)


The Summer of 2005 was a brilliant Summer for all sorts of reasons - Phill Jupitus came to Medd Towers and did his breakfast show live from our lounge and we took James to New York for the first time (he loved it so much we went back the following year).
It was also the Summer an artist friend of mine, Gerry Laffy, painted James. Still only 15, James was in a band that were tearing up trees at the time. Winning Battle of the Bands, recording a dazzling EP and getting played on the radio - I wanted a permanent reminder of just how amazing (and how amazingly proud of him I was - and still am) that time was.


Gerry didn't disappoint. While we were in NYC I was regularly checking my emails in sleazy internet cafés (remember them?) where Gerry was emailing me progress photos of his painting. The final one being of the canvas drying in his north London back garden. 

A couple of days after returning from America I bombed down to Swiss Cottage and picked up the canvas which, even with the back seats folded down, only just fitted in the back of the car. James' mind was blown when he first saw it. Truth be known, 15 years later, it probably still blows his mind whenever he comes back home to visit his mother and father.



The reason for the delay in posting this is that I was desperately trying to find the photo of me and Gerry posing in his kitchen in front of the canvas. But could I find it? Three house moves in seven years and despite thinking I knew where the photo lived I suspect it might be in one of the as yet still unopened packing cases. I will find it! 


Saturday, 12 September 2020

I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas


I'm yearning. I think we're all yearning. Yearning for a time when we can leave the house without a mask. Go to a gig. Hug friends. Jump up and down. Walk backwards. Anything.
Watching this video of El Goodo on the road and it's like everything we've lost encapsulated in just two and a half minutes. I know I'm being selfish, but I want it back. Just bring it back; I won't ask questions; I won't press charges.

El Goodo - Things Turn Around (2020)

Friday, 11 September 2020

May I?


Tempting as it maybe to chip in with my two penneth about the demise of civilisation all around me, I think I'll stick to writing about music and musicians from the 1970s; which was kind of this blog's modus operandi in the first place. So, hard as it may be - forget Covid. Forget Brexit. Forget Johnson & Cummings. And forget Trump. Yeah, right.
***

Since returning from a relaxing few days away (my Easter break had been put on ice for six months) I've immersed myself in artists and bands collectively known as the Canterbury Scene. I'm sure many of you know its origins - if not, here's a quick overview. The roster of musicians and artists that came to prominence in this magical period (straddling the late 60s/early 70s) and the albums they churned out was prolific. And like most genres, and indeed sub-genres, there was the good, the bad and the ugly. But, you know what, even the bad and the ugly make for compelling listening. And some of the the stories that came out of 'the scene' are now legendary. For instance, when Robert Wyatt was kicked out of the Soft Machine (his own band), he formed a rival group straight away. He called them Matching Mole - a pun on machine molle - the French translation for Soft Machine.

Which would lead you to think I'd plump for a Matching Mole track today. Well, as my mother used to say, you know what thought did. 

No, instead I've gone for a beautiful song from one of the most influential musicians of all time. And if you don't believe me, this is what rock critic Nick Kent once said about him:


"Kevin Ayers and Syd Barrett were the two most important people in British pop music. Everything that came after came from them."

Kevin Ayers - May I? (1970)


Kevin Ayers (1944-2013)

Thursday, 3 September 2020

"Sorry for Everything"


Dad never talked about his brother much. I've only pieced the story together from speaking with my auntie who in turn had based her version of events purely on a handful of postcards she received over 50 years ago.

Don was a dreamer. He left the UK in 1953 and paid his passage on a cargo ship that left Southampton bound for New York. Although his exact whereabouts were never known, it appears that he was washing pots in a sleazy Manhattan hotel in the Summer of 1955: an English school friend of his on vacation in upstate New York, and visiting NYC for the day, saw him quite by chance - in his kitchen whites - on the steps of the hotel and arranged to meet him in the bar when he came off shift. Don never showed.

In addition to the five postcards his sister received between 1954 and 1963, was a letter dated August 1st, 1964. The last communication from him she ever received:

"Dear Maj, sorry for everything. Getting married on Saturday. That's Betty on the red blanket. You'd love her. I do. D x"

And that was it. Until 1970, when Auntie Maj received a letter from the Home Office marked Private and Confidential. It said, quite matter of factly, that Don & Betty had been involved in a road traffic accident between Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, and were both pronounced dead at the scene. A cremation had already taken place and there were no wills, no estate and no personal effects. It's as if they never existed.

***

I'm away for a few days tomorrow. I'm conscious of the fact that I still have two remaining items in this silly little series of mine. I want to run them back-to-back but am waiting till I can locate a missing photograph. Hopefully I'll find it before Legacy Blogger is, like Don 50 years ago, withdrawn from service. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

One Nation Under a Roof

Polyester Polymath

Jarvis Cocker is something of a polymath (like a northern Stephen Fry, only with better songs), and although nobody wants to be trapped in a lift (not least in a pandemic), I'm guessing if you were stuck in an elevator with this gangly Yorkshireman till the engineer came, the conversation would probably be quite memorable. If you have been stuck in a lift with the former Pulp frontman please drop me a line.

I know what Jarvis was listening to during lockdown, but just out of interest can you account for what was being played on your sanitised turntable whilst you were eking out the last of your bread & bog roll supplies?

JARV IS - House Music All Night Long (2020)

Monday, 31 August 2020

Flat White

The original face covering

This arrived in the post yesterday. It is utterly splendid. Being Baxter Dury it would be, wouldn't it? I'm particularly taken with the Jarvis Cocker remix on the flip side.
Talking of Jarvis, there's a track of his I really want to share - but I'll keep that up my sleeve till tomorrow, if that's alright with you.



Jarvis Cocker - Miami (2017)



Saturday, 29 August 2020

His name was always Buddy

Be in no doubt, I do not want to pull the shutters down on 'Are We There Yet?', but as you can see here, the glitches at New Blogger haven't gone away - and they probably never will. The last drop of gas in my tank will probably take me to sometime in September, after which they turn the Legacy Blogger life support off and it's, well, Goodnight Vienna.
As you know, much of my output over the last 10 years has comprised pieces littered with hyper-links, photographs and imported videos, and generally having fun with fonts, layouts and colours: all tasks which were once easy (HTML code made it so), but now rendered overly time consuming if not virtually impossible. And, as you'll have read in the above link, HTML has been consigned to the glue factory.
For me to continue I can either pack up my things and move to Wordpress. Or throw myself in the Trent; non-starters both. Or I stay here and become a more essay based site (Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, anyone?), but if I'd wanted to do that I'd be in that market already. And I'm not. Nor do I particularly want to be. Aaaaagh!

***

Buddy Rich was a great drummer, but not a very nice person. He would sack members of his band for growing beards, be abusive to fellow band leaders and was genuinely hostile to anyone who had the audacity to ask him for his autograph. And what he had to say about country and, indeed, rock music really isn't fit to print. 
His daughter had a good voice though. Here is Cathy - aged just 13 - with her father.
I was able to download and share this video in seconds flat - just one of the many reasons why I love the immediacy of blogging. It suits how I think; it suits how I write. Or at least it did.

Buddy Rich (featuring Cathy Rich) - The Beat Goes On (1967)


Buddy Rich (1917-1987)

Friday, 28 August 2020

Ch-Ch-Changes

Looking out of my window this morning and the first signs of the changing seasons are apparent. I'm typing this in a long sleeved shirt: my own personal barometer telling me that Autumn, whilst not yet knocking at the door, can only be a couple of streets away. A metaphor maybe for where this blog is going. Are We There Yet? still wakes up every morning and reaches for the pile of tee shirts in the top drawer; reaching for the woolly jumpers hibernating in the bottom drawer is not a natural manoeuvre. I'm kinda clinging to Legacy Blogger like a man on a sinking ship refusing to jump in the lifeboats. To be continued...

***

Gillian Anderson: Bidialectic
So this week I've mostly been watching The Fall. I'm half way thru Season 2 and still no sign of Mark E. Smith. Gillian Anderson may well be keeping him chained under the bed; it really wouldn't surprise me.
And that was going to be the nub of today's blog - I'm fascinated with Anderson's accent: I thought she was channelling her inner Emma Thompson with her clipped received pronunciation. That was until I found out that the American actress best known for X-Files is actually bidialectal. As is Linda Thorson (such was her British accent in The Avengers I didn't realise Thorson wasn't English and actually hails from Canada) who, like Anderson, can slip in and out of accents depending on which side of the Atlantic she finds herself on.

But as much as I wanted to write 500 words on Bidialectals, I'm afriad, not for the first time, I got sidetracked. If you knew me you'd know that happens more often than not.
On weekday mornings, despite the annoying adverts, I listen regularly to James O'Brien on LBC - in my opinion the best broadcaster currently working in this country. Bar none. If this blog does indeed continue I'd love James to do a Q&A for me. Maybe that would be the kickstart I need to push my ten year project into its next phase.
One of those pesky adverts has got one of the catchiest riffs these ears have heard in a long while. I'm sure many of you out there will know it already but it's new to me. And it's already been elevated to Banger status. In fact so good is it I shall have to buy a vinyl copy of it. High praise indeed.

SOFI TUKKER - Drinkee (2016)

Monday, 24 August 2020

And I mean that most sincerely


I read a really interesting article the other day about sincerity in music; meaning it, playing like your life depended on it. If you put your soul into every note - good, bad, or indifferent - the audience will get it. I do, anyway. To my mind alchemy happens when musicians take their feet off the bottom and go out that little bit further each time.
Listening to the second Bees long player recently (for the first time in a very long time) reminded me just how exciting they were. Wrap yer ears around this album opener and see what I mean. And at 1:44 there's a yelp/scream that tells the listener just how magical it must have been to be in that band in 2004. I don't think you can fake sincerity like that. And, me being me, I'm curious as to how you'd spell this vocal ejaculation: for what it's worth I'm going with "Hooo!" I could be wrong; wouldn't be the first time. 

The Bees - These are the Ghosts (2004)

Friday, 21 August 2020

Another Be-Bop Friday


Back in May of this year I was singing the praises of ex-Christians and It's Immaterial songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Henry Priestman, whilst at the same time - probably a tad unfairly - bestowing upon him the accolade of Unsung Hero. As you can see, Henry embraced the term (at least I think he did) and after writing about him again here (and bracketing him with Harry Nilsson no less) I approached him about doing something on my blog. The warm email exchanges that followed were, at every turn, reminiscent - I think anyway, and I'm sure Henry would agree - of two old boys who'd known each other all their lives; though we've never met - maybe that will change as soon as this bloody pandemic buggers off. I hope so.

So I asked Henry to tell his musical story up to the point where he met the Christian brothers. I've always thought that the best tales always happen before the main story.

"I was brought up on a 60s diet of Beatles/Kinks/Tamla/Stones etc, then moving on to psychedelia, then 'underground' or 'progressive' (as it was called in those days) in tandem with Bowie and Roxy. My abiding passion as a teenager was just music music music, and all I ever wanted to do in my life was play in a band. I attended Hull Art College in 1974 for a one year Foundation Course, having failed miserably in my 'A' levels(except Art), and, of course, bands form at Art Colleges (well, they did back then), so it was the obvious path for me.

Towards the end of my time at Hull I formed a band featuring John 'Brad' Bradbury on drums (who later popped up in the Specials), and future Yachts guitarist Martin Watson on guitar (with whom I would end up going to Liverpool Art College after the summer). We rehearsed for weeks and played the end of summer term party, supporting a chap from the main college called Eric Goulden (aka Alan Addis), whose band went under the marvellous moniker Addis and the Fliptops (featuring the Binettes). Two years later (Wreckless) Eric and I would both be signed to Stiff records.

Liverpool was actually my second choice for the three year Diploma Course; I applied to Leeds Art College, but failed the interview. Interestingly enough, if I had got into Leeds, I’d have been on the same Fine Art Course (and same year) as Marc Almond & Dave Ball of Soft Cell. It could’ve been all so different! So Martin and I both headed to Liverpool with ideas of forming a band. What sort of band we weren’t sure, and had no thoughts of actually writing our own material. We were lucky, punk came in (meaning you only had to be vaguely proficient on your instrument...ideal for me!): songs became shorter, less than three minutes, but full of 'honesty and energy' (as my later song 'Did I Fight in the Punk Wars for This?' stated). We formed the typical Art College band, somebody suggested we write our own songs and two years later fortune smiled upon us as we (now called Yachts) released our first single 'Suffice to Say'. With Yachts we had a good run for our money: a couple of albums (even scraping into the Billboard charts), toured the States twice, toured Europe supporting the Who...but all bands reach their sell-by date at some point - even if they don’t split up.

It was whilst in Yachts that I formed a hobby band with Yachts’ original singer John Campbell called It’s Immaterial - we’d find obscure songs by American garage/punk/psych bands (like the ones that would appear on Lenny Kaye’s wonderful Nuggets compilation, but even more obscure...so people might think we’d written them!), and just play for fun round Liverpool. I was away in the States touring with Yachts, and when I returned John and Jarvis from Itsy had come up with this idea for a song 'A Gigantic Raft in the Philippines'. Suddenly my hobby band was doing more interesting stuff than my main band, so I made the decision to leave Yachts and do It’s Immaterial full time. The only thing was that I was no longer a writer in the band (I’d been the main writer in Yachts), which started off fine; it was nice not to be having to come up with an album’s worth of tunes every year, and I became the sort of Brian Jones of the band - instrument-wise I’m jack-of-all-trade (master of absolutely NONE), playing a bit of keys/guitar/clarinet/sax/marimba/cello etc etc. This was fun for a while, but I was starting to come up with ideas for songs, and realising I probably wouldn’t get them away with Itsy, I stashed them, and began thinking about whom I could get to sing them. It’s Immaterial were working on a song (that became a single) called 'Ed’s Funky Diner', and we’d heard of this a cappella band of brothers who would be ideal for singing on the chorus of this new song. I was working at that time as an engineer in a demo studio that belonged to Itsy’s manager Pete Fulwell, and the brothers Christian were booked in to add their vocals to the track. I was the only member of Itsy at this session, and when the session ended, I plucked up courage to ask “would you like to hear some of my songs?” Two of them had a game of tennis booked, and didn’t really appear interested, but the three brothers Garry, Russell & Roger  all stayed to hear my demos and we began working together on songs that would end up on the Christians' eponymous triple platinum debut album. You could say that was a fortuitous meeting, and I’m glad I asked them to listen to my songs!"

***

And so to the second part of me quizzing Henry. Could he, I asked him, tell me in 200 words who his favourite band/artist is? Of course he could!

"I go through phases, last month it might’ve been Roy Harper, the month before that Belle & Sebastian; it changes, but currently, having just finished Johnny Rogan’s Ray Davies biography, I’m into all things Kinks - which is sort of where I came in. My friend and neighbour, John Lewis, his dad ran the Hedon Bakery, and John had all the latest singles, so it was a case of free cakes & Vimto, and afternoons listening to his amazing record collection -  Beatles, Byrds, Pretty Things, Stones and THE KINKS. Mum liked the Beatles (she’d bought me 'From Me To You' for my 7th birthday) tolerated The Stones, but couldn’t STAND The Kinks, which of course made me like them even more! And then I found out that me and Ray share the same birthday! So, having saved up my meagre pocket money, my next step was to buy my first album (with my own money). The Marble Arch label came to the rescue: for twelve & six you could buy 'Well Respected Kinks', it had all the classic early singles on, and the B sides were fabulous too. I was hooked. I’m currently trying to buy up all the Kinks LPs I sold in my ill-advised LP cull of 2010. They’re not cheap; lend us £50, would you, John?"


Henry Priestman at home, August 2020 (photo courtesy of Mrs. Priestman - a.k.a .'Her Ladyship')

A huge thank you to Henry who as well as being a perpetually busy man - writing and recording - was also in the middle of selling his house when writing this for me.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Good Heavens!


A recurring theme of late on this blog - maybe Covid and the general state of the world (and my head) has something to do with it* - is time; as in where does the time go? One minute I'm reaching for the stars, the next I actually make an audible noise when I reach for the salt**. And what really brings it all into sharp focus is photographs. Finding photographs of ourselves as we used to look; maybe some of us are still clinging on to the misguided notion that we still do look like our younger selves. Young. Carefree. And the world at our feet.

When someone on Twitter recently posted a photograph of the stunningly beautiful Susan Penhaligon taken in 1974, it was Ms. Penhaligon herself who came back with the following two word response: "Good Heavens!" Thinking about it, what other possible two word response could there possibly have been?

The Connells - '74/'75 (1995)


* It's certainly fucking up my sleep patterns, that's for sure. 
** I don't actually partake of salt, it was a merely a way of demonstrating the onset of my impending decline!