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
davidrthompson.info

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 Château 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

Teams

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.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Every Little Helps


Before I go any further I feel I must place on record the fact that I love Liverpool; always have done. And Scousers. You probably already knew that; but, for the avoidance of doubt, I just need to reassure you that I'm posting this video from a place of love. It made me laugh when it landed in my inbox over the weekend, and I'm still laughing now. And, let's be honest, the prevalence of humour has hardly runneth over during during the last three months. OK, that's the caveat out of the way. Here goes:


Monday, 15 June 2020

What I Don't Understand is This

Mrs. Swinburne (English) & Mr. Chaplin (Woodwork)
'I'm not in a good place at the moment; I don't mean mentally, I'm in the UK.' So said a wag on my Twitter feed yesterday. I know how he feels. I'd probably go one step further: I'm not in a good time; I detest 2020 with every fibre of my being. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't that jazzed about 2019, either. Or 2018. Or even 2017. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I started re-watching The Beiderbecke Affair last night (I've watched it countless times - it's what I do when I want to retreat from the world; I suppose it's my equivalent of going into stasis).
I'm now immersed in a parallel world comprising woodwork teachers and jazz cornet players. Of cubs football matches played on desolate parks watched by characters called Big Al and Little Norm. A world occupied by platinum blondes. And when I've finished the Beiderbecke Affair, I shall move on to the Beiderbecke Tapes and the Beiderbecke connection. Alan Plater's writing is nothing short of perfect and with James Bolam (the laconic Trevor Chaplin) and Barbara Flynn (English teacher cum conservation activist) heading up the cast, you can see why I shall have to be dragged back into 2020 kicking and screaming.

The Beiderbecke Affair (Intro) - ITV, 1985

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Going Dutch


Some sad news reached Medd Towers yesterday: on the phone to my dad - our weekly lockdown catchup - and he told me that a much loved family friend had sadly passed away. Roelof der Nederlanden married my mother's maid of honour in the late 1950s and the couple made their home in Roel's hometown of Hillegom, 25 miles south of Amsterdam. Roel was a gentle man with an infectious smile and a never ending supply of stories.
Although it had been a long time since I'd seen him, I remember fondly the frequent visits he and Margaret (and their daughters Susan and Caroline) would make to the UK and their regular stopovers at my parents' house.
But it's a visit we as a family made to the Netherlands that I particularly remember. It was, I think, 1975 so I would been around 14. The trip was memorable in all sorts of ways. And not just because I discovered chocolate sprinkles on white buttered bread, or Dutch music magazines I couldn't read, or even trips to both Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It goes beyond that. 

Any thoughts that 1975 was a fallow year for sport (no football World Cup or Olympics) should be dispelled now: it was the year L'Escargot won the Grand National, West Ham beat Fulham in the FA Cup and Jack Nicklaus won the Masters. It was also the inaugural year of the cricket World Cup - West Indies beat the Aussies, since you ask. But all the above pales into insignificance. And I'll tell you why. Set up in our hosts' dining room when we arrived was a wooden board about six feet long and a foot and a half wide, with a kerb a couple of inches high around three of its sides, and a shed load of circular discs. We were bemused. But, after pleasantries were exchanged and a few ground rules explained, the Medds had been introduced to Sjoelen. Such was our passion for the game that every morning for our two week vacation that year the kids would arise bright and early and play Sjoelen till the noise emanating from downstairs woke the adults. We were addicted. Before we came home I persuaded begged my dad to buy our very own board - which, to his eternal credit, he did; but only after acquiring a brand new roof-rack in order to bring the (very long) game back on the ferry - stuck on the vinyl roof of his Hillman Hunter. 
And thus our love affair with this most quirky of games began. A love affair that still thrives to this day, 45 years later. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Sjoelen. 
A lovely footnote to this story is that James' wife Janneke is half dutch and both Janni & her family were quietly shocked that her new husband and in-laws were masters* of the Dutch national game**. A great way to cement Anglo-Dutch relations.


I'm also grateful to Roel for introducing me to the world of stamp collecting. Roel was an inveterate philatelist and his enthusiasm was so contagious I totally 'got it'. Roel mentored me and donated many items form his vast personal collection to get me going - a collection I'm still proud to own. It was after a long lay off from stamps that in 1990 after the birth of James I collected every UK first day cover in his name - which he had delivered up to and including his 18th. birthday.

Rest easy, Roel.



* Sorry, did I say masters? I may be exaggerating a wee bit.
** Of course it isn't. I don't think it is anyway.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

M*A*S*H


Apparently the definition of a novelty song is a comical or nonsensical song, performed principally for its comical effect. OK, it's a point of view. I must 'fess up to owning several exponents of the genre and whist freely admitting they don't exactly pass for high art, the very word novelty is pejorative and as such you'll find no further mention of it here; he said hoity-toitedly. (Although as a kid I remember being a fan of Ed Stewpot Stewart's Radio 1 show and didn't bat an eyelid when Sparky or the Banana Boat Song was played. Every. Sodding. Week).

I've mentioned, I'm sure, Monster Mash before on here. Probably when I was working in the lab; late one night. I won't, therefore, play it again today. Well, not that version version anyway. Here's the thing: if Bobby Pickett's 1962* graveyard smash is a novelty niche record, what the hell is this blistering version of said recording sung in Spanish?

Los Straitjackets - Que Monstruos Son (2013)


You wait 10 years for a novelty record...

Those with a highly tuned ear will have worked out by now that Monster Mash was basically 'Alley Oop' re-badged. Gary Paxton had produced the one-off hit (it certainly caught on in a flash) for the the Hollywood Argyles a couple of years earlier, and saw no reason not to tart it up and give it a monster workout. 

The Hollywood Argyles - Alley Oop (1960)


Bowie completists may or may not know that the Life on Mars line 'Look at Those Cavemen Go' was lifted from Alley Oop. You're welcome.

* Or 1973, depending on your vintage.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Palace Laundry


In June 1972 the Rolling Stones embarked on a sellout stadium tour of the United Stares. Unsurprisingly, the tour was not without its problems. No official album or film of the two month trek exists, though many bootlegs are in circulation, as is the infamous Cocksucker Blues movie which depicts the underbelly of life on the road with the greatest rock and roll band in the world tm.

Renowned photographer Jim Marshall captured many images of the band around this time; not least this stunning shot of Mick seemingly giving priceless advertising for a south London launderette.


Stevie Wonder was the support on the tour and he and his band would often come out at the end for a joint encore.



Rolling Stones & Stevie Wonder - Uptight/Satisfaction (1972)

Friday, 5 June 2020

Are You Ready Steve?


Not all heroes wear capes. But mine do. (And I still have several scrapbooks* to prove it). Although we never met**, Steve Priest and I did, in the late 90s, exchange many emails: in 1997 we were both on the brand new AOL and, for reasons that escape me now, we would regularly have real time chitchats - me in the UK, Steve in California - where he'd been living since the 80s.

The Caped Crusader (second from the right)


Between 1972 and 1974 Steve and his three amigos*** were rarely off our TV screens; their tub-thumping glam anthems are the very touchstone of this blog (see the bar on the LHS of this blog if you don't believe me) and as such made the Sweet a household name; Thursday nights in the early 70s - when Top of the Pops was in its pomp - saw the majority of British teenagers glued to their sofas for the best part of 40 minutes whilst at the same time wishing their parents would just bugger off and let them soak up these glam(orous) sights and sounds alone.
Steve Priest  (1948-2020)

And that's how I want to remember Steve who sadly passed away yesterday: the clutch of singles (and blistering B sides)& string of albums his band made in just a handful of years are the very building blocks the rest of my record collection was built on.

* I found half a dozen scrapbooks at my dad's just before lockdown - all full to the gunnels of Sweet photos and cuttings. After lockdown I'll try and post some extracts on here.
** Unlike Brian Connolly. Here is the link to my infamous Brian Connolly story.
*** Brian Connolly (1945-1997)
Mick Tucker (1947-2002)
Andy Scott (1949-)


Thursday, 4 June 2020

Banger

Rotterdam 2020 - Iceland: Douze Points

In the overall scheme of things the fact that a cheesy talent show due to be held in the Netherlands had to be cancelled is neither here nor there. With worldwide deaths pushing half a million it's nothing more than a mere annoyance that our lives have temporarily been put on hold; if you're still this side of the grass you can count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Also, as Brits we've probably had our fill of European vote based shenanigans.

However, had Eurovision 2020 taken place in Rotterdam last month then, in my humble opinion, I think it would have been a one horse race. I say this purely because the Iceland entry was a banger. It would have been both the judges and viewers 12 pointer and wiped the floor with any and all Boom-Bang-a-Bangs in its wake. No ifs. No buts. No maybes.


Daõi - Think About Things (2020)

Monday, 1 June 2020

Shall I compare thee to Hitler?


Oh boy, where to start? After witnessing the unfolding horrors in Minneapolis (and now in countless other major cities in the U.S.), I predict that it's only a matter of time until we see what is happening in America mirrored on this side of the Atlantic. Anyone who thinks that Trump's attack on black people, journalists, anti-fascists (ANTIFA, eh?) and anyone else who gets in his way will not be adopted in the very near future by our despicable bunch of bigoted Tory Trump sycophants is, I'm afraid, sadly deluded.
And like most bullies, when the going gets tough the tough (yeah, right) go into hiding: yesterday the most vile, morally weak, egotistical president ever to have held high office was last seen taking refuge in a bunker beneath the White House whilst upstairs the lights were extinguished. Sound familiar?