Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Clandestine Classic LI - Blood Sports (live)

The fifty-first post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Last time I did one of these, I lamented the fact that it's hard to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history. How, I mused, was it possible to come up with a clandestine classic from The Smiths/The Jam/REM when 90% or more of this blog's readership is already very familiar with The Smiths/The Jam/REM? Not easily. But I did resolve to address this problem in future posts, and that change starts here. For today's post comes from quite early on in the second phase of Paul Weller's career, when his fans were still bellowing for Jam tracks but he was moving on. Yes - tonight Matthew, I will be featuring The Style Council.

The year is 1985. The Style Council are still riding the bow wave of a run of Top 20 singles, are about to release Our Favourite Shop (which will become their only chart-topping album) and have yet to completely deter all their old Mod fans with the arty stuff (The Cappuccino Kid liner notes, fey videos), or sidetrack into Red Wedge territory. It's a good time to be a Councillor. The first single from Our Favourite Shop is chosen, and it's the excellent, rabble-rousing, quite-possible-to-imagine-The-Jam-performing Walls Come Tumbling Down. Everyone is happy.

One of that single's B-sides is today's classic: a lyrical, almost pastoral in places, critique of the lunacy of hunting animals for pleasure, and the hideousness of those who do so, Blood Sports is a song that would do Morrissey proud. As musically apart from its A-side as a B-side can be, here is a song that shows a band at the peak of their powers daring to do something a bit different (again), and not being afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

On the off-chance that choosing a B-side still isn't enough to make this song clandestine enough for you, let's feature a live rendition. The video featured here is a clip from an 80's television programme called Worldwise, in which the band are introduced (and later interviewed) by Sarah Greene. Weller gets away with singing the line "Who gets a hard-on with blood on their hands?" too, which must have given someone at the Beeb kittens. Some might say Mick's keyboard solo is a bit "of its time", and that's generous, but he's trying to emulate a different sound, the pan-pipe sound of the recorded version. Anyway, give them a break and instead concentrate on the lyrics, Weller's delivery and, at a time when he wasn't playing much guitar, watch those chords - easy to play and tailor-made to be adopted by the cause... (except it wasn't - a shame).

There are a plethora of greatest hits and compilations from TSC out there, but choose carefully. If you want to pick up the studio version of Blood Sports you can find it on The Collection (choose even more carefully here, as there are several compilations called The Collection or variations thereon) or Here's Some That Got Away, both of which are excellent, and both of which also feature The Ghosts Of Dachau, a slice of haunting brilliance that I almost chose for today's classic. Or why not just treat yourself, and splash out on The Complete Adventures box set, a steal at under £30.

Until then, here's that live TV performance from 1985. Who'd have thought, 32 years later and in a supposedly more enlightened time, that this subject would still be an issue, with Theresa's shade of blue looking to repeal the foxhunting ban? In that context, it would be nice to see Paul reprise this at his live shows this year. On that note, over to Sarah Greene.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Europe. It's like a different country or something... IV

Now I knew they were making a comeback, but I didn't know it was in chocolate form.

As seen (and eaten - it's like an Aero-Wispa hybrid) in Amsterdam.

All posts in this very occasional series.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Blogger's Lament (or, proof that it's a good job I don't often write poems)

I don't know why I write this blog,
I'm really at a loss.
The hit count's low, the comments few;
The Web don't give a toss.

A guest post here, a retweet there,
But not much to delight in.
Maybe I should bin the lot
And do some proper writing.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Amusecast - episode 5

Haven't done one of these for a while, forgot how much fun it can be. You know the drill - one side of a C90...

Tracklisting:

  1. The Feelies - It's Only Life
  2. Elvis Costello - Beyond Belief
  3. British Sea Power - The Lonely
  4. Suede - I Can't Give Her What She Wants
  5. KT Tunstall - Beauty Of Uncertainty
  6. Dubstar - St Swithin's Day
  7. The Stone Roses - Fools Gold
  8. Gene - Does He Have A Name?
  9. Morrissey - We'll Let You Know

If you like the sound of that lot, here's the download.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Have you seen this book?

I'm considering going to a gig later in the year at the Hammersmith Apollo. I can't remember when I last went there, so I thought I'd refamiliarise myself with the venue by taking a quick look on Google Maps and firing up Streetview. Nothing unusual in that.

As I was scrolling around the venue, a seated figure caught my eye - here she is:

And more specifically, the book she was reading when the Google Maps car drove by caught my eye - here's a closer look:

  

See, I think I should know what this book is, but I can't for the life of me place it. Now I don't want to morph into Dave Gorman or anything, and turn this into a Google-based adventure, but does anyone have any ideas what this book is? Answers on a postcard to the usual address (by which I mean, in the comments below). Cheers.

If you want a closer look, here's a link to the Google Maps Streetview.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Some thoughts on Record "Store" Day

I'm in this queue but don't bother looking, you can't see me

I have mixed feelings about Record Store Day. Firstly, let's all pretend that my biggest bugbear isn't the fact that I go to records shops, not record stores, so why isn't it Record Shop Day? I get that it's a global thing, by which I mean American, but honestly this linguistic aberration irks me - it's right up there with talking about television in terms of seasons rather than series.

But as I said earlier, let's all pretend I have some proper concerns about RSD, rather than quirks that make me sound a bit precious. So my first real concern is that why isn't every day Record Store Day? Especially as we are regularly being told how sales of vinyl are on the up and up. Sure, when RSD started ten years ago the benevolent aim of giving these shops a boost was never more needed. But is that still the case?

Secondly, and this is addressed to everyone in an RSD queue who only goes to a physical record shop once a year, in the words of Not The Nine O'Clock News Songs of Praise sketch, "where were you bastards then?" If this was football, you'd be a part-time supporter! At least the guy half a dozen queue places ahead of me, who looked like he hadn't been near a record shop for thirty years, and who wanted "Springsteen, The Who, The Beatles and U2" (read from his laser-printed A4 list) only got Springsteen - the rest were in such limited numbers at the shop in question, and had long since been snapped up.

Thirdly, I've got nothing against avid record collectors at the front of the queue with their want-lists. I'm an avid record collector, and have been for more than thirty years. But to those people at the front of the queue with long want-lists that have since all ended up on Ebay at a hefty mark-up, well, sod you. That's not really in the spirit, is it? (Although a small crumb of comfort comes from the comedy of reading the media's surprise that this is happening - The Independent seemed to think it particularly newsworthy. In other news, they have also confirmed the Pope's Catholicism and bears' woods-based toilet habits).

So, I know how cantankerous I sound. These reasons, however petty and curmudgeonly, are why I have forsaken RSD in years gone by, even when there has been vinyl on offer that I would be interested in. But this year, I had to go. There was a new Smiths 7-inch, you see. Albert Finney on the cover. Two rare tracks (a demo of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and the Drone Studios version of Rubber Ring). Even a run-out groove inscription ("Trump will kill America"). I had to have it. Which is how I came to be queueing outside a record shop at ten to eight in the morning last Saturday, in the cold. It's a small record shop, Soundclash, and was operating a strict one-out-one-in policy, so I didn't actually get in the door until twenty five to ten. I was anticipating disappointment, and so had my back-up choice ready - The Wedding Present's Home Internationals e.p. And when I finally got to the counter, five minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to find both (four copies of The Smiths 7" were left, but I bagged the last one of three copies Soundclash had got of The Weddoes). I didn't even baulk at the price (call me old-fashioned but I think £12 for a single is a bit steep, as is £17 for a 12"); I went away £29 poorer but immeasurably richer in terms of my own record collection.

Of course, later than evening I couldn't help but check Ebay - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was going for £35 and Home Internationals for £30. From the intact cellophane on the listing photographs, the sellers hadn't even had a listen. Heathens.

Success!

Friday, 21 April 2017

I used to write software... II

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well, 13 years ago and 150 miles away, but you get the idea... I learnt to translate my classic Visual Basic programming skills to VB.Net. The specific task of personal interest that I used to teach myself was solving sudoku puzzles, as these were just starting to gain popularity in the UK back then.

Here's what I wrote about my noddy sudoku solver (and generator) at the time:

I wrote [this] mainly as an exercise in codifying logic - could I code the way I solve sudoku? The answer, for the most part, was yes, and this will solve all but the most diabolically fiendish sudoku...

The object of sudoku is to fill a 9x9 grid so that every row, column and 3x3 box contains the digits 1 through 9. Sounds easy, can be very hard (and addictive)! Anyway, this application lets you keep track of your progress by storing the grid contents, and helps you by showing available values for each grid square. It'll even generate a near-endless supply of new puzzles! And yes, I am aware that if you choose to generate a really hard sudoku, you might end up with one of the few that this program cannot solve programmatically... For the most part though, if you get really stuck, there are 'Hint' and 'Solve' buttons that will help you out.

Again, I failed to finish this quite as I'd like, in so much as there are some sudoku that are too hard for it to solve, and it only supports 9x9 puzzles. Other than that, it's okay, I think. Whatever, I'm starting to mothball the old website this was previously publicly available on, so I'm making it available here instead, for posterity: its own little software cemetery.

Anyway, enough history. Here's the download if you actually want to give it a spin. To install: unzip the download (try 7-Zip in the unlikely event you need help with that), run the MSI, accept all the defaults. Job done.

Oh, and in the even more unlikely event that you use this enough to need support, well, you could ask in the comments below this post. If I can remember, I'll try to help. No promises, mind.

I used to write software... I

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well, 18 years ago and 180 miles away, but you get the idea... I taught myself Visual Basic. One of best ways of learning a new programming language, I have found, is to give yourself a specific task to complete using that language (and here's the key bit, as it's where the motivation comes from) that is of personal interest. Now I've written websites since 1997 - these days I mostly just use Blogger or Wordpress but back then I hand-coded all my HTML, CSS and JavaScript using Notepad. And yes, that was a bit frustrating at times. So my specific task of personal interest was to build a website editor, using Visual Basic. Markup Processor was the result.

Here's what I wrote about it when I released it out into the wild, way back when:

Markup Processor is a powerful html/script editor written expressly for me! But maybe you'll find it useful too... from beginners, intermediate to professional web builders, Markup Processor is a web editing tool for anyone creating web sites or authoring scripts. Markup Processor is a fast, lightweight product months in the making but please bear in mind it has been designed to do just what I want... no-one else! In other words, please feel free to suggest changes but I have the final say on what makes it into the product, okay?

Markup Processor's rich feature set includes: customizable syntax highlighting; flexible edit pane; support for (S)HTML documents, Perl, ASP, Cascading Style Sheets, Javascript, VBScript and Java; integrated page previewing (if MS Internet Explorer™ is installed); page viewing in external browser; split editing pane (edit different sections of a document at the same time); code compression; integration of HTML Tidy: spell checking (if MS Word™ is installed); access to integrated HTML and CSS reference files; 'power bar' includes code wizards and frequently used code snippets; 'side bar' includes double-clickable tag and special character lists; integrated Javascripts; and loads more besides...

Best of all, Markup Processor is lightweight, and loads a lot quicker than many comparable programs. I never did finish it though, so it's only fair to also mention the shortfalls: for a start, there's no tag completion, a feature I'd really want if I was starting this from scratch. The biggest omission though is the lack of word wrapping, but if you can live without that, Markup Processor is a handy bit of kit. I use it all the time... but then I would, wouldn't I?

As I said then, it never got finished quite as I'd like. And looking back, I regret making it insert HTML tags in uppercase rather than lower - whatever happened to standards compliance?! But never mind. I'm starting to mothball the old website this was previously publicly available on, so I'm making it available here instead, for posterity: its own little software cemetery.

Anyway, enough history. Here's the download if you actually want to give it a spin. To install: unzip the download (try 7-Zip in the unlikely event you need help with that), run the MSI, accept all the defaults. Job done.

Oh, and in the even more unlikely event that you use this enough to need support, well, you could ask in the comments below this post. If I can remember, I'll try to help. No promises, mind.

Who's No. 1?

I once tried to get The Who a UK number one single. Actually, I tried twice... and failed twice. I won't be trying again - people just aren't interested. Because I'm retiring the website that hosted these campaigns, such as they were, this post is an archive, more for me than you, of what little did actually happen... Sadly, the one thing I was most proud of (getting the first campaign in The Guardian's Guide weekend supplement) was never online to link to, so you'll have to trust me that it really happened... similarly, a lot of the links that follow have themselves been retired. Lucky this post is just an aide memoire for me then, eh?

Press and media coverage of the 2010 campaign

Examiner.com (US news digest) | The Who Nederland (Dutch blog)

Press and media coverage of the 2009 campaign

Uncut Magazine | Planet Rock | Rock Radio | Soft Rock Classics show (listen to an MP3 of the interview on this show) | Helpless Dancer blog | Futuro 88.9 (Chilean radio) | Classic 21 (Belgian radio) | Examiner.com (US news digest) | The Who Nederland (Dutch blog) | Absolute Radio music news | Jachiche's Absolute Radio blog | Who's Who (tribute band) blog post

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." And a charger.

Last month's post about the touring Stanley Kubrick exhibition got quite a lot of love, so I should probably add that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has produced a companion app for the exhibition, and it's excellent, choc-full of hi-res images, film facts and general Kubrick curios. I'd recommend it, if you have any interest in the man or his filmed output. And even if you don't (because you should, really you should).

The Kubrick App in the Google Play store...

...and on iTunes, for those in the Apple corps

And whilst we're all on a Kubrick kick, I also found this little video interesting, featuring a conversation between Stanley and physicist-writer Jeremy Bernstein recorded in 1966. It gives a great insight into how he got started and how determined he was. Hopefully it also gives a kick to anyone creative who feels that they can't, for whatever reason, do that one thing that they yearn to do. You can, if you want to enough. Here's the interview: