Wednesday 23 November 2011

Clandestine Classic XX - She Gets Out The Scrapbook

The Wrong People - an album you need to ownThe twentieth 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.

I wanted to feature something a little bit extra-special for the twentieth post in the Clandestine Classic series. So what have I gone for? A band that you probably don't remember. An album that you probably don't own. And an album track, rather than the accompanying hit single. See? Extra special.

The band in question were Furniture. Formed in 1979, various line-ups recorded a couple of early mini-LPs, but it wasn't until the mid-80s when the line-up settled down and the band signed to Stiff Records that things started to happen (you already know this isn't going to end well, don't you?). The band's third album, The Wrong People, featuring new tracks and re-recorded highlights from the first two mini-LPs, was released in 1986. Lead-off single Brilliant Mind hit the Top 30 and, I think (though I may well have misremembered) garnered Furniture an appearance on Terry Wogan's thrice-weekly TV chat show. Things were promising. But... there's always a but, isn't there? Stiff Records had liquidity problems, and couldn't produce any more copies of the album after the initial pressing of 30,000 copies sold out (which happened quickly, on the back of Brilliant Mind). No CD copies were produced at all, and this was 1986, when the CD was really starting to take off - the new-fangled digital format was tailor-made for the rich musical tapestries that Furniture were weaving, yet the two never came together. This was a travesty, really, because the songs on the album are complex affairs, marrying restrained jazz inflections with honed pop sensibilities and distinctive vocals.

But never mind though. I bought a copy of the album on cassette so, unlike you, I know how good every single sodding track on it is. Sadly, cassette tape doesn't age well, and my Wrong People is oxidising at an alarming rate. Better hurry up and share something from it with you then, eh?

Choosing today's classic was hard, because there are so many outstanding tracks on the album. I could have chosen Brilliant Mind, but you've possibly (probably, if you listen to 6Music much) heard that already. I could have chosen the agenda-setting opener, Shake Like Judy Does, the up-tempo next single Love Your Shoes, the angry ode to jealousy that is Make Believe I'm Him or the heartbreaking paean to lost love, I Miss You. In fact, you could argue that the first six tracks of The Wrong People are as strong an opening as you are likely to find anywhere. Now if you were counting you'll have noticed I've only mentioned five tracks so far... which brings us nicely to today's offering, track four on side one of The Wrong People: She Gets Out The Scrapbook.

Yes, it's long (around six minutes). Yes, it's downbeat (but then it does chart the unravelling and eventual painful end of a relationship). But it also has skilfully crafted lyrics (this really is a piece of flash fiction set to music), a layered vocal performance, a beautiful piano line and a total change of direction after about two and a half minutes. All in all, this is my kind of love song. Maybe it's yours too. Love lost is still love, after all.

It took Furniture three years or so to extricate themselves from Stiff. They signed to Arista, recorded the Food, Sex and Paranoia album (which I also have on disintegrating cassette) and gave it another go. Singles were released but flopped - all momentum had been lost. Two fifths of the band went on to form, and have more success with, Transglobal Underground. All that was left of Furniture was a memory of what might have been and the PRS cheques that Brilliant Mind will always deliver.

But then, finally... Cherry Red records picked up The Wrong People, repackaged it with some bonus tracks (B-sides and demos, mostly) and gave it the CD release it has always deserved. Now I know I eulogise about every song in the Clandestine Classics series, but if you don't own this album already I really can't emphasise enough how much your life will improve if you do. So go and buy it now while you still can.

I didn't really expect to find too much for the naughty downloaders amongst you, and I wasn't wrong. But YouTube at least lets you listen to this incredible song, and sample a flavour of an incredible album. And no, incredible is not an word I use often, which hopefully tells its own story. Enjoy.

Friday 18 November 2011

I need to travel more

How can I have got into my fifth decade without visiting South America? Or Africa? Or anywhere in Asia other than Singapore airport?

I hereby resolve, with you as my witness, to remedy at least one (if not two or three) of those omissions by the time my fifth decade ends (2020). If I'm still blogging then, remind me I said this.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Can you have Too Much Sex and Violence?

Too Much Sex and Violence - surely a (partial) oxymoron?Questions to which the answers must surely be no and yes, respectively.

There. That's dealt with the (intentionally) obvious pun that the title of this latest independent comic project, from Rol Hirst, demands. Now I have a confession to make - although I read a lot, I don't tend to read comic books that often. If at all. But in this case I was happy to make an exception. Rol is an engaging writer, both in his fiction and at his always-entertaining blog. So when a copy of TMSAV, as I shall henceforth acronymise it, dropped into my inbox, I was more than happy to have a read. And yes, I do know that acronymise isn't a word... but it should be, okay?

Back to TMSAV. This isn't Rol's first foray into the world of indie comics. His previous, People Just Ain't No Good, was essentially of a collection of distinct stories with a common theme (that being, people can be horrible). Artwork for PJANG (Rol acronymises too) was by various artists and, as Rol explains in the intro to TMSAV, there are many reasons for this. Artists are collaborating and offering their services for free - expecting them to draw for an entire series of comic books would be a bit much really. But where TMSAV differs from PJANG is that the story is a continuing work, rather than anthological. Yes, there are numerous sub-plots, as befits a story with a large cast, but effectively TMSAV is an ongoing tale.

And what a tale it is shaping up to be! Too Much (I'm getting a bit tired of acronyms now) is set in the fictional seaside town of Fathomsby, home to a litany of misfits, ne'er-do-wells, creatures of the night and all-manner of mutants. It's a weird old place, four parts League of Gentleman, one part Marvel comics and two parts Stephen King short story. Oh, and with a dash of Hot Fuzz too, in the shape of our hero (I think?), an honest copper transferred to this small, weird place. An intriguing combination, I'm sure you'll agree.

This, the opening instalment, is necessarily introductory. We meet our hero, the cop. We meet a shape-shifting old guy who's had enough of the neighbourhood kids. We meet a woman with telepathy that seems to limit itself to, or at least be dominated by, sexual fantasies. We meet a vampiric, though classically cheesy, local radio DJ. And a whole host of others. And through necessity, each episode in the comic book (rightly or wrongly, I came to think of them as chapters) is drawn by a different artist. This, for the most part, works surpringly well. My initial concern that the change in styles would jar (and there are a variety of styles here) proved mostly unfounded. Instead, I found that the different styles actually suited their "chapters" very well - I particularly enjoyed Andrew Cheverton's art for the "angry old man confronts local kids" episode, and Nigel Lowrey's seemed perfect for the "sex-empath" episode. I do wonder how the different artists approach will work with future issues though - once you've got used to seeing a character drawn a certain way, how will you react when you encounter him drawn completely differently? Time, I guess, will tell.

So, Too Much Sex And Violence. This isn't the kind of review that ends with a star rating, oh no. But what I can say is that I enjoyed TMSAV very much, and that I quickly forgot I was reading a comic. I was simply reading something well written and expertly put together - there's a lot of talent contained within these 28 pages. Will you enjoy reading it? Well, I'd like to think that if you're the sort of person that is reading this blog then there's a good chance you will. My advice would be to go and buy a copy and find out - I don't think you'll regret it.

You can buy TMSAV from Rol here - it’s only £2.50 for the print copy and £0.99 for a PDF, which strikes me as a bit of a bargain. What are you waiting for?