Saturday, 3 April 2021

Fairey squarey


I've been putting together a fair few playlists over Lockdown (pictured above is some of the artwork). I find compiling them very therapeutic. They've gone out to all and sundry: family, friends, Twitter buddies have all been on the receiving end of these digital mixtapes; lasting no more than 60 or 70 minutes they're an ideal way to while away an hour or so. And let's face it, we've got bugger all else to do.

Often I'll get a text or maybe an email back from the recipient with a "Thanks" or a smiley emoji. However, earlier this week after sending one over to my daughter-in-law's father, I was pleasantly surprised when I got this most unique of responses (and as my reply pointed out, I look forward to receiving a similarly detailed critique for each of the other 10 tracks!) 

Over to Andy...

"So, for those interested in cosmic interconnectedness, the first track is played by the Fairey Band based in Stockport so James & Janneke can probably hear them when the wind is in the right direction. Harry Mortimer was their musical director for 30 years and inspired me to play cornet in the local band. Fairey Aviation built the Swordfish aircraft in WW2 and at the end of hostilities set up Fairey Marine to build sailing dinghies. In 1959 they built the Swordfish that I'm currently repairing and hope to sail this year. It's called Sue and my sister, another Sue, was also built in 1959. It's number 215 the last they built and one of the very few that survive. If there's ever a Swordfish world championship I'd stand a good chance of a medal. Welcome to my Cosmos!"

...

The Williams Fairey Brass Band - Pacific 202 (1997)



Thursday, 25 March 2021

How?


I shan't keep you long today, just a quick show and tell. A song came on the radio earlier this week that, I don't mind telling you, knocked me for seven. And hearing it for the first time I naturally assumed it was a new tune. Well, you do don't you? Wrong! How has this gem, this utterly perfect slice of dreamy pop passed me by? I've been racking my brains and I must have gone to Mars in 2005; that's all I can think. 

...

Emilíana Torrini - Sunny Road 


 

Friday, 19 March 2021

Menacing



I was made aware this week of a rather significant (and genuinely newsworthy) anniversary: My childhood hero Dennis the Menace has just celebrated a significant birthday. Apparently, young Dennis first graced the hallowed pages of The Beano on 12 March 1951, so I make that 70 years. And because he arrived as a fully formed 10 year old that would make him 80 if he's a day. 
I began reading about the naughty schoolboy's scrapes in the late 1960s when I was a little bit younger than him; though, I've got to hand it to him, he's aged a lot better than me.
Along with The Dandy (for my younger bro) I remember both comics dropping on our doormat religiously every Thursday morning. Looking back I don't think my parents cancelled the subscriptions at the local newsagent till both my brother and I were well into our teens; I would often find dad poring over one or the other in his favourite armchair, guffawing loudly. Happy Birthday, Dennis! 



Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Game Changer

Lou Ottens died at the weekend. He was 94*. And although I never met him, Mr. Ottens changed my life; he probably changed yours too.

In 1963, Lou, working for Phillips, presented the first plastic encased cassette tape at an electronics fair. Carrying the strap line ‘smaller than a pack of cigarettes!’ his invention would go on to sell over 100 billion units. As well as countless portable cassette recorders which at a stroke consigned clunky reel-to-reel recorders to the glue factory.

And so the playlist was born. Compilation tapes (mix tapes, if you will) become the currency with which everyone in my school - and the world - shared their music. As I've mentioned many, many times here before, the songs I listened to then (and taped off the radio) essentially laid the foundations my life was built on. Seriously; cut me and I will bleed O Rhesus Glam. Rest easy, Lou.


* Some wag on Twitter said they were pleased he got to see 90.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Bookish


You may be forgiven for thinking today was just another lockdown day; another identikit Thursday - if Thursdays even mean anything anymore. But today was World Book Day; no, I'm not sure what that means in the context of a global pandemic either. I guess it's all about promoting books, bookshops, writers, writing, reading and anything remotely bookish. With most kids not even in school at the moment I don't know how this year's event reached younger readers. By Zoom, I guess. Like everything else.

For what it's worth I'm currently reading Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage and am also dipping in and out of Henry Normal's latest poetry anthology. Oh, and I've just ordered the new Magnus Mills. 

...

If you don't mind sharing, I'd love to know what you're reading right now...


Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Sprung

Archive photo from 2019

Has Spring sprung? Does hope, indeed, spring eternal? Whist the evidence of light at the end of the tunnel may still be in some doubt I can confirm that the light streaming through my bedroom curtains first thing in the morning over the last few days is very real. I said to C over at Sun Dried Sparrows whilst the first cuckoo of Spring may still be a few weeks away, I had my first "99" of the year at the weekend. Should I mark the occasion in some way? I'm not saying we should have a feast day or even a Bank Holiday* (what would we do with another flaming Bank Holiday right now?) but it felt kinda significant.  I guess you get your kicks where you can these days.

The Producers - Springtime for Hitler and Germany (1967)



* I will, however, attach myself to St. John's Day.


Thursday, 25 February 2021

Quotidian*


I'm not quite sure how to put this - I'm becoming ever so slightly obsessed with Status Quo. I find myself playing them most days*. Don't worry, I've not taken to wearing Quo patches or walking round with my thumbs in my belt loops; not yet, anyway. 

My interest in them musically, as I said here, stopped at around 1975 but that doesn't mean I don't want to read Francis Rossi's recent autobiography I Talk Too Much or watch obscure interviews on Youtube they did on Italian TV. I'm as interested in the relationship Rossi had with Rick Parfitt, his on stage partner of 50 years standing, as I am by anything they ever recorded. Weird, isn't it?

...

How can anyone with a pulse not find this clip from 1970 (courtesy of Granada telly) absolutely riveting? It was the single that came to define their sound. Which is ironic as they never even wrote it. For a record that only made No.12 in the hit parade it stuck around in the charts for 17 weeks. I know, that's longer than this current lockdown. Normal service will be resumed I can assure you; I just don't know when.

Status Quo - Down the Dustpipe (1970)





Monday, 22 February 2021

Sunshine's better on the other side



On the day when the dreaded mantra 'Stay at home' was formally put on notice I'm not quite sure how I should be feeling this evening. It's (way) too soon for elation. Hell, it may even be presumptuous to buy green bananas, but there is a distinct possibility that in the not too distant we may be able to collect our goods and chattels from left luggage and go back out into the big wide world. I'm sure when I've had chance to process this new intel I'll get up on my soap box and tell you what I think(!)

In other news, John Creedon played this tonight on his excellent RTÉ 1 radio show.


John Martyn - Sunshine's Better (Talvin Singh remix) - 1997




Monday, 15 February 2021

Rock stars at home (where else are they gonna be right now?)


I'm sure we've all been falling down various rabbit holes as we've tried to seek out live music (or what passes for live music in these crazy times) over the last year. Nigel Clark, Megson, Pete Morton, Megson and Tom Wardle being just a few of the musicians I've been tuning in to as they pull up a stool and play to  the red dot on their respective cameras. Hopefully (and I say this very guardedly) as we approach the beginning of a tentative easing of lockdown restrictions, the need for these virtual gigs will begin to give way to the real thing; whatever the real thing will look like in three, six, nine months time.

...

Continuing the theme, not only have some musicians been doing these 'live' shows, some have also been busy recording and releasing new material. Even Macca has been having something of a purple patch - he's just scored his first Number One album in donkeys years with his imaginatively titled McCartney 3; fair play, Paul. And here's the thing, it's actually not bad. Not that he needs me to tell him that. The lad's an accomplished songwriter and has fronted a couple of decent bands over the years (file under nothing to prove).

...

Someone who doesn't receive even a fraction of the column inches the above mentioned ex-Beatle commands is Canadian singer songwriter Ron Sexsmith. I've been dipping in and out of his career for 25 years now and still find myself marvelling at just how bloody good he is. Ron too has been busy recently; though the new album, Hermitage, was pretty much finished before lockdown, like McCartney, he recorded it at home in his front room and plays most of the instruments on it himself. Here's a preview of what you can expect:


Ron Sexsmith - When Love Pans Out (2020)



As a footnote to today's edition I can't not mention how f**king cold it was yesterday. I bring this up for a couple of reasons; not least that I was reminded of another Ron Sexsmith song whilst walking along the Trent with a biting windchill making it feel like -5 degrees; not since I moved back from North Yorkshire nearly four years ago have my bones felt so cold. 

So cold I needed a hat. And I don't do hats, particularly.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Tree update

As you may be aware I embarked on a little art project last Autumn: I'm photographing the beech tree outside my house every day for a year; I started back in October so I'm about a third of the way thru. When it's complete I'll have 365 images which James and I are going to turn into a short film. I've also asked him to score it with an original soundtrack - I can't wait to see (and hear) the results of our handiwork.

In the meantime here's a couple of recent photos to give you an idea of how it's looking lately. The top image is from January 24th when we had our first dumping of snow. And the one below was taken this morning. (You can track the daily updates here on my Twitter feed, should you get the urge).


P.S. An arborist came out to look at the tree just before Christmas as part of a TPO* survey he was carrying out. When I asked him how old it was he was able to tell me with with a fair degree of certainty that it dates back to around 1880. 

* Tree Preservation Order

Monday, 8 February 2021

No guitar, no concertina



Reading a review of a recent Mungo Jerry compilation* sums the band up as follows: 'Doing the simple thing well and in a memorable way is a far harder skill than it might appear, but Mungo Jerry had in spades.' Quite. Starting life as a skiffle/jug band they scored their first Number One in 1970 with 'In the Summertime' and a little later - when they'd expanded their sound and embraced the stompiness (if that's even a word) of glam - a second with 'Baby Jump'. 

So it was on the back of these flattering words that I decided to dig out their first album: 'Mungo Jerry' was released in 1970 and captured a band that already were fast becoming a festival favourite; that may sound a tad trite but just have a look at some early footage from the period and you'll see what I mean. 

I only have one problem with this album - and it's not even a problem as such, more an observation: in 1970 jug bands were all about keeping it real - banjos, upright pianos, harmonicas and jugs (obviously) were a staple part of their sound; so too were kazoos. To the point that when I listen to some of the selections on this (mostly great) album there are times when instead of seeing their mutton chopped leader Ray Dorset (pictured above) belting out another Alright Alright Alright, all I can picture in my head is a grey fluffy puppet character who, as Sooty's nemesis, was always getting into - what were referred to in the 70s as - scrapes. I speak, of course, of Sweep. Probably, after Eric Morecambe, the funniest funny man** of the decade. 

OK then, here are exhibits A & B. First up, a fabulous song from an album nearly as old as me. 

 Mungo Jerry - Maggie (1970)



And here we have one of the finest comedy sketches of the 1970s. Fast forward if you will to 22:40 to see what happens when Sooty decides to perform a violin recital. Just listen to the anguish in Sweep's voice as Mr. Harry repeatedly sends him away with a flea in his ear. 'No guitar and no concertina' is my new mantra.

Sooty and Sweep

     

* This latest collection is rather clumsily titled 'A & B sides & EP Tracks 1970-75'. Though anyone buying it couldn't possibly argue its moniker was in anyway ambiguous.

** Sorry, dishevelled glove puppet.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

The death of fun



Long before Coronavirus I think Jonathan Richman was onto something when he said people would rather watch TV than hear a real person sing; for all his whimsy and clownlike goofiness, in 'USA Parties' Richman documents the rapid decline in fun and dearth of parties & encapsulates it beautifully in a tight 60s homage to both 'Louie Louie' and 'Hang on Sloopy'. In this miserable post-Brexit, Covid world we currently find ourselves in I think we could all do with Jonathan Richman in our lives right now. 


"People are moving to California who hate the beach and things, 

 I think they'd rather watch TV than hear a real person sing."


Jonathan Richman - Parties in the USA (1992)


Friday, 5 February 2021

Orwellian

You find me on this Friday morning clinging desperately to a gossamer thin strand of hope that brings with it a gradual easing of lockdown - if not before the first cuckoo then hopefully the second. Or maybe the third...

Whilst many, I'm sure, see this enforced incarceration and privation as nothing more than a violent tilt of life's pinball machine, some will, I hope, see it as a chance to start over. Wipe the slate; reset the controls; make peace with their fellow man; whatever.

However we pick up the pieces of our old lives and begin to navigate the new uncharted landscape, I hope we all try and do it a little more peacefully than last time; a little bit quieter than last time; and also with a degree of humility. We don't own this world, we're just keeping the seats warm before the next lot come in.

And when the shackles are finally removed I know everyone will be planning holidays, visiting family and friends we haven't seen for months and generally making up for lost time. Just writing this is triggering all sorts of flash forwards. And, like you, I'm already making a random list in my head of places to go, people to meet. More on that to come, I'm sure. But where will I go first? That's easy. I'll see you in The Moon Under Water, where it's always quiet enough to talk. Can I buy you a drink?

In the meantime, keep staying safe.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Longing it out


There's some pretty major shit going on right now - Covid, Brexit fallout, Trump fallout, a potential Russian uprising, a military coup in Burma, and that's not even the half of it. If you stopped too long to think about it you probably wouldn't bother getting out of bed in the morning.

The news is probably a major contributor to most people's worries and anxieties: I stopped taking a daily paper a couple of years ago instead opting for just a couple of Sundays; I don't even bother with that now - though I do miss the long read. Getting my news in bite size chunks off Twitter and BBC/LBC sound bytes is probably leaving me with a very jaundiced view of the world right now (the UK, anyway), so maybe I need to once more make that pilgrimage to the newsagent on a Sunday morning while my sausages are browning in the oven...

Talking about long reads, when the future of this blog hung in the balance last year (rumours were rife that New Blogger would be making it nigh on impossible for writers such as myself to continue in the way they had been doing for years), I remember saying that one option open to me would be to wipe the slate clean and start a more literary based blog (no messing about with coloured fonts, no cutaway videos, no photo montages) based around the long read format found in Sunday papers and the myriad of supplements contained therein. But I pricked my own bubble and said, basically, that if that was the style of writing I was going to pursue wouldn't I already have moved in that direction long ago?

My writing style, such that it is, combines brevity and levity and leans more in the direction of 'My Top 5 Biscuits' rather than a serious look at 'Biden's First 100 Days'. Though if there is a way to link the two I'm sure I'd find it if I stroked my chin for long enough. That's not to say that I shy away from political hot potatoes. For instance I'd call anyone out for being a hypocrite: show me someone who gets on their high horse about the current mental health of children at the moment and I'll point to that same person who voted for 10 years of Tory austerity and say to them "I don't remember you having a problem pulling funding for mental health and closing libraries." But, and I think this is the point I want to make, as much as I often feel my blog is far too silly or trivial at times, it's only because there are writers far better equipped than me to really tackle the big issues of the day. Leave me to tell you what Brian Connolly of the Sweet used to have for his breakfast in 1974 and I'm yer man. Though if our dimwitted PM makes one more fuck up I'm just as likely to sharpen my pencil and say "Oi! Johnson! No!"


 

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Cover to cover


As usual, I've got my head in a book. I'm re-reading Raymond Chandler - I finished The Big Sleep yesterday and am now nearly half way thru The Long Goodbye. Classic Chandler; classic Marlowe. Not for nothing is there a quote on the dust jacket - c/o the Literary Review - proclaiming the author "One of the finest prose writers of the twentieth century." It was first published in 1953 and to the best of my knowledge has never been out of print since. 



Pictured (above and below) are some of its previous incarnations. If and when shops ever open again I'm going to hunt them down; a few days away scouring antiquarian bookshops - I honestly can't think of anything better right now.





Thursday, 28 January 2021

'ow do!

I'm a sucker for the spoken word intro. Who can forget Ian Hunter's laconic "'ello" on Once Bitten, Twice Shy or Brian Connolly's now legendary " Are you ready, Steve?" heralding the Sweet's Ballroom Blitz? Not me, that's for sure. 

I'll wager you'll have your favourites too tucked away in the recesses of your record collections. The Damned have got a couple that spring to mind. Can it really be 45 years since the Damned's Dave Vanian's uttered the immortal "Is she really going out with him?" before Rat Scabies fell into his drum kit marking the start of New Rose?

I said they'd got a couple; here's the other one.


The Damned - Love Song (1978)




And here's the source material. It comes from a series of music hall monologues recited by the actor Jack Howarth. Howarth, best known for playing the miserable Albert Tatlock in Coronation Street kicks off proceedings with a very dry "Ladies and gentlemen, 'ow do."

Jack Howarth - 'ow do (1971) 



Jack Howarth (1896-1984)

Monday, 25 January 2021

Hello!


My listening tastes are all over the place at the moment. I blame lockdown. As much as I like to keep an eye on what's currently shakin' on the hill I find myself wandering back, way back; see posts passim - not least this from yesterday. I guess if I was to sum up in a sentence where I am I'd have to borrow a strap line from the wonderful Sun Dried Sparrows : "I was born in the 60s so I grew up in the 70s - that's all you need to know." Perfect. That's me.

So, over the last few days, I have mainly been listening to 'the Quo'. Often derided, often ridiculed, but there was a time when the three chord wonders from south London with a penchant for double denim couldn't put a white trainered foot wrong.

And what time would that be I hear you ask? Well, since I've never been one to shirk a question (a career in politics has never beckoned) I can tell you that you're looking at the period 1973-75. In particular a trilogy (holy?) of albums that still stands the test of time - Hello! ('73), Quo ('74) and On the Level ('75). In fact I'd go as far as to say you don't need any other Quo albums (or indeed singles); everything you could possibly want is contained within these three giant slabs of no nonsense, heads down see you at the end, boogie. 


  

That said, a rather tasty book-end to their story came about  a couple of years back kickstarted by way of an acoustic (Aquostic, if you will) gig they did at London's Roundhouse in October 2014. Recorded only two years before Rick Parfitt's untimely demise in December 2016, it captures the band in a less frantic setting and eschewing their trademark duh duh duh duh sound. I caught it on BBC 4 when it was first broadcast and loved every minute of it.

This is from their Hello! album. You may remember it sounding like this.


Status Quo - And it's Better Now (2014)




Sunday, 24 January 2021

Hey!


One of the defining sounds of glam rock - that jungle like double drum kit beat underpinning an onslaught of distorted guitars and horns - can trace its lineage back to a musical genre poles apart from mirrored top hats and platform boots; something, in fact, very Irish. Showbands - large ensembles of musicians that would specialise in covering cheesy hits of the day and perform them in dance halls up and down the land.

Borne out of the Mike Leander Showband in the mid-1960s their trombone player & musical arranger John Rossall peeled off to become the Boston Showband. The Bostons who were neither from North America, or indeed Ireland, decamped to Germany in the mid 60s to ply their trade and toured with every man and his dog including Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. During this period they did their ubiquitous 10,000 hours and came back to a very changed UK in 1972 as one of the tightest backing bands around. 


The Boston Showband - Hey Diddle Diddle (1967)




Seeing which way the musical wind was blowing (following a meeting with Mike Leander) and with a liberal smattering of bacofoil stuck to their stage jackets they soon became The Glittermen backing the newly re-badged Gary Glitter (who as Paul Gadd/Raven had sung with both Leander and the Bostons) with his brand new tub thumper Rock and Roll Parts 1 & 2 (written by Leander and Glitter).

The Glitter Band (they were only the Glittermen until 1973), like Cliff's backing band 10 years earlier, soon escaped the shadow of their Leader and starting releasing record under their own steam. And very good records they were too. Stacking up an impressive seven Top 20 hits; the first of which - Angel Face - was lifted from their debut album, Hey!, in 1974.


The Glitter Band - Angel Face (1974)


I love this next clip. Fast forward 15 years and things are very different. Although Glitter is still in public circulation, he's no longer the pull he once was and he and the Glitter Band are both in reduced circumstances. But this film, for all that, I think still captures very essence of glam. Yes they may well be playing in a pub and yes they're a very stripped back band by this time but, by God, this is one hell of a performance. Gerry Sheppard is channelling his inner Glitter like he was in a venue 10x the size. Enjoy.

The Glitter Band - I Didn't Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock and Roll) (1989)



Gerry Sheppard (1951-2003)

Monday, 18 January 2021

"STAY IN YOUR HOME!"

Faye*

I rang my best friend, Steve, this afternoon. Like me he's almost at the end of his rope with the lockdown; but needs must when the Devil vomits in your kettle - as a wise man once said. We listed all the things we miss (I'm guessing you do the same thing too) and how once this bloody war is over we'll never take anything for granted again (though in time, of course, we will).

Steve has a daughter* currently living in Vancouver and he's missing her, I can tell. I miss James like crazy and he's only in Manchester - though to all intents and purposes Manchester may as well be in Canada - the way this pandemic has confined us all to barracks. 

We always end our calls shouting "STAY IN YOUR HOME!" in our most demented of voices. It comes courtesy of the Stranglers' Curfew lifted from their Black & White album. You should try it; it's very cathartic. We've been doing it that long we probably won't be able to stop ourselves, even in peacetime.

The Stranglers - Curfew (1978)




Friday, 15 January 2021

Overanalysing


Jake Bugg's new single is already shaping up to be among my Records of the Year - not bad going considering we're only 15 days in. Every time I've heard it it's caught me unawares. It makes me happy and sad at the same time if that makes sense. It's bouncy and full of hope, yet I fear that if it were a book or a film it wouldn't end well. Am I reading too much into this? I don't know. I probably need to get out more; wait, no. Fuck.


Jake Bugg - All I Need (2021)




Thursday, 14 January 2021

Espresso Martini


I've just finished watching Lilyhammer - to borrow a phrase from Charlie Brooker's Death to 2020 I binged the shit out of it. Accepting Steven Van Zandt as anyone other than Silvio Dante for me was always gonna be a big ask, though I guess Springsteen fans had to make their own leap of faith when they saw the former E Street Band guitarist transmogrify into a Jersey mobster the first time around; The Sopranos has got a lot to answer for.

Anyhoo, I thought it was terrific. Imagine Fargo meets Goodfellas and you won't be far off the mark. The soundtrack was none too shabby either. While I'm here I may as well confess that until a few days ago I've never heard anything by Van Zandt. However, this instrumental featured in the show (though I can't off the top of my head remember in what context) and it's really rather nice.

Steven Van Zandt - Espresso Martini (2014)



And here he is without his syrup. But with a rather tasty house band. I watched an interview he did for another talkshow this afternoon and I've got to say what a thoroughly nice fella Mr. Van Zandt is.


Espresso Martini - Live on the Aresenio Hall Show




Thursday, 7 January 2021

Sarah Shiels


Fast & Bulbous Records are a brilliantly titled new micro label based in Hull and are going to be releasing a digital single every month during 2021. Now that's what I call a New Year's Resolution.

This month's offering is 'Fruits of Life' by 24 year old songwriter and multi instrumentalist Sarah Shiels. Sarah, formerly of Ming City Rockers and Black Delta Movement, also plays bass with fellow Hull musician Sally Currie a.k.a. The Dyr Sister.

Sarah's list of influences is very interesting, name-checking Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen and Suzanne Vega; glimpses of which can be detected in the DNA of this her stunning debut recording. Sarah describes the song as an ode to the modern world, capturing that feeling of watching those who have the world in their hands time and time again throwing away the chance of happiness.

Sarah Shiels - Fruits of Life (2021)




Links:

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Caravans as flags


I can honestly say (to the best of my knowledge) I've never knowingly taken a photograph of a caravan before. Which is why I can testify right here, right now - may God strike me down now - that this will not be the start of a regular feature; or even an irregular feature. When I stumbled upon this rather jazzy wagon this afternoon it did kinda put me in mind of a flag; which led me to think that there may well be other examples of mobile homes out there resembling nations' ensigns... 

...

I realise that this opening salvo may not be the most auspicious of starts to a New Year, but in keeping with a very quiet Christmas and an even quieter birthday, this is, for now anyway, how it crumbles, cookie wise. Bear with me, I'll hit my stride again before too long. You just see if I don't.