Thursday, 20 September 2018

The chart show... reveal

...and the first video on the New Amusements YouTube channel to 500 views was... Sleeper performing Sale Of The Century. Somewhat predictably, not even Paul Simon could live with a resurgent Louise Wener, despite being online to view for more than a year longer. Funny what attracts attention and what doesn't - I really thought another Sleeper video from the same gig, their live mash-up of Atomic and Love Will Tear Us Apart, would have been more popular, but that currently only has 93 views and no likes. I don't understand people.

Anyway, this is also a reminder that the band are working on a new album, and you can pledge for it here.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

All about Eve

If you have access to BBC America, you'll already know all about Killing Eve, but now the series has returned to the mothership, as the programme has launched here on BBC1. This is what the Beeb's media pack for the show has to say:

The BBC’s new eight-part thriller, Killing Eve, has been adapted by Bafta Award-winning writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) from the novellas Codename Villanelle. Produced by Sid Gentle Films Ltd (The Durrells, SS-GB), Killing Eve centres on two very different women.

Eve is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfil her fantasies of being a spy. Villanelle is a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. Killing Eve topples the typical spy-action thriller as these two fiercely intelligent women, equally obsessed with each other, go head to head in an epic game of cat and mouse.

Starring Sandra Oh as Eve, and Jodie Comer as Villanelle, the series - a combination of brutal mischief making and pathos - is filled with sharp humour, originality and high-stakes action.

And if you think that sounds good, well, it seems to be, and is as original as the press pack suggests. Here's a trailer:

Anyway, on the basis of having watched the first episode, I'd say this looks worth investing some time in. What you might not get from some of the reviews is that the soundtrack is also brilliant but, frustratingly, not detailed in the credits. Thank goodness, then, for Tunefind, which attempts to catalogue all the songs. From series 1, episode 1, I particularly enjoyed these:

Oh, and as an aside, can you imagine any other channel running three such brilliant dramas as this, Bodyguard and Black Earth Rising at pretty much the same time? The BBC spoils us, and we are lucky to have it.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The chart show

Unbelievably, this humble and largely unread blog has a YouTube channel. It is nothing to write home about at all and I don't put a lot of time or effort into it; rather, it's just somewhere to offload videos that I have recorded, mainly grainy gig footage. It sees very little traffic.

Still, at the moment there is a bit of a race on - which will be first to 500 views: a fairly close up video of the reformed Sleeper performing Sale Of The Century, in which the picture quality is good, the cameraman (me) predictably focuses mainly on Louise and the bass drum is a bit too much for the mic on my camera to handle; or, a grainy, camera-phone video shot from way up high of Paul Simon performing Late In The Evening? A distant third sees Morrissey recycling How Soon Is Now? I suppose he could put on a late spurt but at the moment it seems to be a two-horse race.

Here's the playlist of my current ten most popular videos... none of which, as you will see, are very popular. First to 500 views? Place your bets.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Monday Sunday Morning ... 2

I haven't blogged much of late, as I am not in the right frame of mind. I am sort of drafting a piece on the new Paul Weller album, in my head, and an accompanying theory that is probably way off the mark. But until then, I heard this on the radio a week or so ago, and think it is pretty good. I know very little about Paul Jacobs other than that he comes from Montreal. That's it. Anyone fill in any gaps for me?

Friday, 7 September 2018

Clandestine Classic LVIII - Lettuce

The fifty-eighth 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.

Everyone loved The Undertones. A great, Peel-endorsed singles band with a cheeky attitude and a distinctive vocal style. Even a song about Mars bars. What was not to love? A fair proportion of the fanbase might have felt a bit short-changed by Feargal Sharkey's solo career though, aside from a couple of catchy singles - the smooth, polished sound was miles away from the rough and ready rock and roll he'd been making with his Derry mates before getting all sophisticated. Lucky for us all then that two fifths of The Undertones (guitarist and songwriter John O'Neill plus his brother Damian) went on to form That Petrol Emotion, a band whose name was, John explained, meant to evoke the frustration and anger of those living in Northern Ireland at the time.

This new five-piece, fronted by Seattle-born singer Steve Mack, released their debut album, Manic Pop Thrill, in September 1985. It would eventually limp to number 84 in the charts, although would top the indie chart. Far more diverse musically than most of The Undertones' output, the band wore their influences on their sleeves. It was also a step forward lyrically, moving away from songs about cars and girls towards politics and social issues. As guitarist Raymond Gorman memorably suggested, it was "like the Undertones after discovering drugs, literature and politics, with a lot more girls in the audience dancing." And it was a denser, heavier sound than the highly-produced pop sheen their former band-mate Sharkey would embrace.

Manic Pop Thrill was critically, if not commercially, successful. John Peel continued his endorsement and Rolling Stone magazine described the band as "The Clash crossed with Creedence", which is a pretty good tagline for any band. And it was the start of a moderately successful career that would see them release six albums, the last in 2000, after which they split. There have been subsequent reunions, of course, but not much in the way of new material.

Today's classic is an album track, not one of the three singles from Manic Pop Thrill, and is called Lettuce (Rol, take note, should you ever do a 'salad' top ten). It's a great example of the heavier sound O'Neill was now chasing, whilst retaining the increased musical complexity of the last Undertones recordings. Crucially, the knack of producing an infectious riff, an ear-worm, has not been lost. Before today, I hadn't listened to this for at least ten years, yet every note remains ingrained. O'Neill's innate pop sensibilities hadn't been lost either - this is all over in less than two and a half minutes. Lyrically? A bit more obscure, I think; it's either about getting laid or getting high, I reckon. Who knows.

There's no That Petrol Emotion "best of" anywhere, which seems like a bit of an omission on somebody's part. If you want to pick up today's classic you're looking at Manic Pop Thrill or an equally good version on their Peel Session. Alternatively, it's on the excellent (and highly recommended) New Season Peel compilation, which is where I first found it. Or there's YouTube, of course.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Clandestine Classic LVII - You Can Talk To Me

The fifty-seventh 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.

Remember when John Squire left the Stone Roses, first time around, leaving them to scrabble around with stand-in guitarists to fulfil concert obligations? Yeah, you're my age or thereabouts, of course you remember. And remember how excited everyone got when Squire's new project, The Seahorses, emerged, seemingly fully formed, within a year? Okay, so there were mutterings... that Squire's lauded guitar playing had descended into self-indulgence, that the Seahorses' singer was a busker, and that the two didn't see eye to eye that well... that sort of thing. But the mutterings were overlooked, debut album Do It Yourself was generally quite well received, and the singles from it - Love Is The Law, Blinded By The Sun and Love Me Or Leave Me - all did well (#3, #7 and #16 in the singles chart respectively). I seem to remember a performance of Love Is The Law on Top Of The Pops where the crowd bowed, we're not worthy style, before Squire's riffing. Forget vocalist Chris Helme's excellent voice and teen-girl-bothering looks, it was Squire's project, and he was supposed to be the star.

And maybe that was part of the problem. Yes, Helme was spotted busking by Squire's guitar tech, but he could really sing, and he wrote songs too... just not the sort of songs that Squire was interested in. Indeed, John was hesitant about Chris from the start, concerned that he "closed his eyes when he sang and only folk singers do that", and later observing that "he can write the odd tune but I don't really like them and it might be a problem later on if he wants to record them with the band." Equally, Chris, once established in the band, felt undervalued and concerned about Squire's guitar onanism - he would later describe Squire's material as "muso wank". As if that wasn't enough, fan rumours about the band's name were rife, The Seahorses being an anagram of He Hates Roses - a trivial coincidence, but Squire felt the need to deny it, which the NME lapped up, of course. Plus the material was patchy - yes, the singles were great but parts of the rest of the album seemed a bit Fisher-Price, to the extent that some wondered whether the acclaim and column-inches afforded the band had been earned. And to top it all, the band were parodied by DJs Mark and Lard, as The Shirehorses. For all Squire's serious aspirations, the band seemed there to be lampooned.

But there was to be a parting shot. The band, now just Seahorses, dropping the definite article in a fruitless attempt to escape the anagram theorists, released one final single, today's Clandestine Classic, You Can Talk To Me - this saw Helme and Squire share the writing credits, and is perhaps their best co-composition. Helme's voice soars as it is want to do, whilst Squire reins in his over-blown tendencies and plays it with a straight bat, keeping the chords quite simple - it feels almost like a traditional folk tune. Although if you study the lyrics closely, you can almost see the join between the Helme and Squire lyrics - the middle eight with the natural born killer/Polyfilla rhyme feels a bit out of place. Whoever's song it really is, Helme still performs this live, as part of his stripped down solo set, and it still works.

Whatever. The band's last single limped to #15 in the chart, but the expected parent album failed to materialise, and the band imploded (as bands with Squire in tend to do, sometimes more than once). This then was their swansong and, for me, remains the best, most sing-along single from what was most definitely a singles band: Helme (literally) ends on a high note and Squire tacks a bit of muso rock noodling on the end, for old times' sake.

There's no Seahorses "best of" that I can find, so if you want to own today's classic you're talking silly money on Amazon. YouTube it is then.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Coincidence or no?

I rewatched Terry Gilliam's excellent Twelve Monkeys earlier this week, partly because it was referenced in the highly recommended Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema sci-fi episode, partly because it happened to be on the iPlayer and partly because I wanted to remind myself how good it is. And in watching it, I noticed something I hadn't picked up on before.

There's a scene roughly half-way through in which our protagonist, James Cole (Bruce Willis), beats up some lowlife before they beat him up. His heroine, Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), fears that he has killed them, to which Cole replies, "All I see are dead people." Which seems to foreshadow the tag line from another Philly-set Willis vehicle, The Sixth Sense, in which Haley Joel Osment's character Cole Sear explains, "I see dead people."

Coincidence or intentional reference by M. Night Shyamalan? Who knows? And apart from me, who cares?


From one Cole to another...

Twelve Monkeys pre-dates Sixth Sense by four years.