Wednesday, 30 June 2021

A potentially expensive new hobby

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a keen (but very amateur) road cyclist (think sportives, not races), and that later this year I will be cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats in nine days. Well, as part of getting my kit together for that, and to help with fundraising, I designed myself a custom cycling jersey for the event; it arrived last week, and I am pleased to report that I'm very happy with the result.

So much so that I got to thinking... I could put literally anything on a jersey. Anything! This could be the solution to not being able to find many jerseys that I like. Designs like these, for example:

Yes, I did put the Reception Records rose logo on the sleeve of the George Best jersey. And yes, that is the vinyl run-out etching message "The Impotence of Being Ernest" on the sleeve of the Hatful of Hollow jersey.

I could get carried away with this, I really could. There are so many album sleeves, book covers and film posters that would make great jerseys. But these aren't cheap. They are custom-printed one-offs and ship to the UK from Germany. I could very quickly spend a lot of money...

...or I could just take orders?

Monday, 28 June 2021

Manic

A recent Instagram post from everybody's favourite Bangle and 80s crush, Susanna Hoffs <<insert obligatory sigh here>> who, in case anyone has forgotten, was born on January 17th, 1959. That's right, maths fans, Susanna is 62, and must have some kind of a portrait in her attic, I reckon.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Sunday shorts: Face in the Crowd

A frantic, joyous 117 seconds of late 70s Mod revival from The Merton Parkas, with a certain Mick Talbot on keys.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Blue Friday: Camera

There's been a lot of R.E.M. doing the rounds of our blog bubble, lately: firstly, JC at T(n)VV ran an excellent 58-part series on the band's singles, after which The Robster at Is This The Life? picked up the baton with his exceptional Imaginary 7"s series. Then Craig at Plain or Pan wrote an excellent piece about Catapult too.

All of which has prompted me to revisit some of Athens' finest's albums, and in particular Reckoning and Murmur, which are probably my favourites. I was introduced to both these albums in my first year at university by, well, I've mentioned her before, an American girl who moved into our hall at the start of spring term. We hit it off immediately, and remain firm friends thirty years later, despite physical separation and, you know, life.

If this was an upbeat series, I would post We Walk from Murmur, and recount how La Américaine would recall singing it in her freshman year with friends when boozily returning to campus. But this is Blue Friday, so instead I will play, for perhaps the first time in nearly thirty years, Camera from Reckoning. Whenever we would listen to that album, in one or other of our rooms, we would fast-forward past this song (a habit I have retained), for it reminded her too keenly of a close friend who had died just weeks before she, my friend, had come over to England to study. I remember most details of the story - seeing her friend in an open casket, for one. I cannot imagine that. I also remember that a car was involved in the girl's death, adding an extra layer of resonance to this song, since it was written about Carol Levy, the band’s frequent photographer and close friend of Michael Stipe’s, who died in a car accident while the band was touring.

I'm lucky, I guess. Even into my sixth decade, I've never really had to face death like that; sure, extended family have died, but no-one I've felt especially close to, no-one whose departure has left me bereft. It will happen, of course, inevitably. I don't know how well I am equipped to deal with it, but we'll find out, I guess. Until then, here's an achingly sad song from early-period R.E.M.

Post script: completely coincidentally, Swiss Adam at Bagging Area has also written a "there's been a lot of REM on the blogosphere lately, which has got me thinking" post today, about Murmur. It is excellent, definitely worth a read, and it's right here.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Monday long song: Confessions of a Pop Group

The title track from The Style Council's unfairly-maligned swan song album, Confessions of a Pop Group is, in many ways, an update on the previosuly featured Money-Go-Round (and not just the bassline similarities). Paul and Mick were not happy with Thatch, nor her '87 general election victory, nor the general direction of the country ... and they weren't afraid to say so.

The album from whence this comes wasn't for most people, with an A-side leaning towards jazz and classical influences. I remember being a tad disappointed myself, wanting to embrace the new direction but finding it hard. The B-side was better, I thought at the time, but still not the Weller I wanted, and I wasn't alone in my thinking: it charted at #15 but only stayed on the chart for three weeks. The band recorded another album after this, but Polydor wouldn't release it, and that was effectively that for the Councillors. With more mature ears though, I can truthfully say that there's a lot to appreciate on Confessions, both sides of it.

Anyway ... here are the lyrics for today's song. Sad, isn't it, that so many of them still seem so relevant.

Cheap and tacky bullshit land,
Told when to sit don't know where you stand,
Too busy recreating the past to live in the future.

Poor relations to Uncle Sam,
Bears no relation to the country man,
Too busy being someone else to be who you really are.

Shitty plastic prefab town,
Mind where you walk when the sun goes down,
Too busy hating others to even love your own.

Bobbies on the beat again,
Beating blacks for blues again,
It's one way to get involved in the community.

Love me, love my jeans,
I must buy shares in Heinz baked beans,
Too busy buying up, selling out, selling off.

3,2,1, in others terms,
Win a life sentence and a queen mum perm,
The individuals that state, in a state of seige.

Do pop and press and mix, do tits and news stew,
The next one in the poor house could be you,
Too busy saying "thank you" to say what for?

No time to spare - "spare me a dime",
The Great Depression is organised crime,
Their confessions are written in your blood.

Kiss your ass an' dreams goodbye,
Come back when you've learnt to cry,
Too busy tryin' t'be strong to see how weak you are.

Wave your flags and waive your fate,
The freedom you claim is the one you hate,
The victory you seek will never come.

Brutal views through brutal eyes,
See no future, hear no lies,
Speak no truth to me or the people I love.

When I grow up I want to be,
All the things you've never been,
And your opinion will count for none.

Headed for the breakdown (repeat)

Friday, 18 June 2021

Blue Friday: Let Me Kiss You (cover)

Depressingly, it's probably only a matter of time before Steven turns on the laughable GB "News" channel.

Until then, here's a great version of one of his songs, an ode to unequal love. The images are from Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête but you don't need to watch them, just listen to the song.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

About being timeless

I found this postcard of Sophia Loren in my stationery drawer this afternoon. When you've recovered from mocking me for having a stationery drawer (in fairness to myself I should point out the drawer contains lots of things, stationery being just one of them), take a moment to consider that this photograph was taken in 1966 by Milton H. Greene (best known for his work with Marilyn Monroe).

1966. Fifty five years ago. And yet it looks pretty contemporary, doesn't it? Not hard to imagine a current star, maybe Mila Kunis, striking a similar pose, with similar results.

Is that the definition of timelessness, then? To age, whilst remaining contemporary? Or is it rather that fashion has gone around so far as to be back where it started?

I think I prefer the idea that this is timeless...

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Step back

I knew Step On by the Happy Mondays was a cover. I expect you did too. But I'd never heard the original, until Monday afternoon, when Simon Mayo played it on his commercial radio drivetime show. It was written and recorded by one John Kongos, and I think it's brilliant. Here it is.

Now I'm not down with the kids, but aside from the occasional proto-T-Rex glam chords, I don't think this sounds 50 years old. 50! Imagine this coming out of your radio, over crackly old Medium Wave, in 1971. Your ears would have been blown. No wonder it peaked at #4 in the singles chart.

Some (including the folk at the Guinness Book of Records) also suggest that this was the first commercial release to include a sample, but I don't think that's true, I think it's just some skilled use of a tape loop... but what do I know? The Internet loves a theory though, right, even when it's wrong. Maybe especially when it's wrong.

The Mondays cover reached #5, but over time has become a landmark track, a staple of the collective memory, a definition of the whole baggy/Madchester thing. Certainly their addition of a high, chiming piano helped, as did melon-twisting lyrical additions and a bit of whistling. It (along with Kinky Afro) was their own chart highpoint, and maybe they felt they owed Kongos some more royalties, because they also covered his only other significant hit, Tokoloshe Man, for the compilation album Rubáiyát, ostensibly to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Elektra Records. Kongos's original of Tokoloshe Man is far superior though, and it also reached #4 in the UK.

Wikipedia tells us that Kongos released two albums, and that there were other singles after Tokoloshe Man but they failed to chart. After those, he concentrated increasingly on studio and production work, supplementing that income by writing music for jingles and TV themes. Apparently he programmed the Fairlight for Def Leppard when they were recording Pyromania ... which is about as far from the Mondays as you might want to get.

Anyway, both the tracks featured here, the other singles and a selection of album tracks can be scooped up in one hit via the 1988 compilation Tokoloshe Man Plus, should you so desire. But these two are the tracks you need.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Thursday, 10 June 2021

All things must cost

I get a regular email shot from recordstore.co.uk that highlights interesting new vinyl releases. I don't buy much from there, but it's often an interesting read.

Today's email flagged a number of new releases to commemorate the 50th anniversary of George Harrison's rightly lauded post-Beatles triple LP, All Things Must Pass.

Forgetting the CD releases, here are your vinyl options:

All things must cost

So if the standard triple disc isn't enough for you, at an already eye-watering £56.99, there's the "Exclusive" package with green and black splatter vinyl, bizarrely. A bargain at just £66.99. And if Exclusive isn't enough for you, there's the "Deluxe" package at £78.99, for which tidy sum you get five slabs of plastic instead of three. "What's better than Deluxe?" asked a marketing man, somewhere, sometime. "Super Deluxe", apparently, at a barely credible £174.99.

"What's better than Super Deluxe?" asked the marketing man's accountant. "Uber Deluxe", it seems. And it also seems that you can charge £859.99 for a record if you have enough rabid Beatles fans and you throw in a wooden box.

Yep. You read that right. Eight hundred and fifty nine pounds and ninety nine pence. Mother of God. And you still have to pay seven quid to have it delivered. Pah! Judge for yourself if you think it's worth it.

It's hard not to wonder what George would have made of it all. As for me, I borrowed this album from the university library way back when, and taped it. That'll have to do for me.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Caught beneath the landslide

Sonya Madan of Echobelly
For more than a decade Kevin Cummins was chief photographer at the NME - sounds like a dream job, right? Hanging out with cool bands, creating iconic images, being backstage at gigs, being ahead of the curve for whatever was coming next, being "in". Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? I'm not at all envious...

One collection of his 90s/Britpop photography has already been published, as While We Were Getting High, and now there's this, Caught Beneath The Landslide, a small hardback book that includes a few more photographs but this time bundles them with CDs, with sleevenotes from all manner of sources. It's a four CD collection which, if I can borrow from the promotional blurb, "brings together artists that topped the chart and set the agenda, some who were lauded one week and laughed at the next, and others who were just along for the ride. From an era of Lad’s mags and Girl Power, “football’s coming home” and chart battles making news headlines, it brings together Oasis and Blur, Pulp and Supergrass, Sleeper and Suede, Elastica and Echobelly, Gene and Menswear, and many more." But as Kevin himself makes clear in his intro, this is a broader take on indie music in 90s Britain, rather than just another Britpop coal-raking exercise.

Jarvis Cocker
More interestingly for me, as someone who already owns a lot of material that this compilation focuses on, it also claims "71 classic tracks, lost gems, live and alternative versions, b-sides and single edits", together with "in-depth sleeve notes exploring the bands, their influences, the labels and the individuals who defined the era"... so I treated myself, basically. Early orders, like mine, came with a signed A4-sized print of the cover art too. Guess I need to find a frame.

I'm still working through this, as we speak. I already know what my favourite photos from the book are, but I'll spare you more Louise Wener and Gene photos (it's not like either of them are strangers to this blog) and instead choose one of Sonya from Echobelly, in which she has SUCK MY EGO written on her fingers, and one of Jarvis Cocker, in which he looks like he should be teaching English at a selective boys' grammar.

Regarding the photography, Kevin has this to say: "I wanted the artists I worked with to look as cool as they sounded. That was the difference between working for the NME and other music publications. We approached our time with the bands as some kind of art project, as opposed to the chance of a pub crawl around Camden."

It's quite the art project...

Here's the song that CBTL picks for Echobelly; they feature an excellent live version, but that's not on YouTube. Must be rare then, right?

Caught Beneath The Landslide isn't cheap, but it's a nicely assembled item that would grace many a bookshelf. Here's the tracklist in full...

Tracklisting

Which track catches your eye? And which would you never want to hear again?

Oh, and did I mention the sleevenotes...?

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Not C86

Exploring Bandcamp again, as I have been a fair bit lately, I stumbled upon a collection entitled Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987, which apparently "aims to shed light on this forgotten era of jangly, melodic rock music that emerged from the ashes of post punk and helped kick start the indie rock boom of the early ‘90s that continues to this day." Not only that, the compilers "guarantee it’s an essential listen for any fan of classic ‘80s indie bands like the Go-Betweens, Felt, the Church, the Bats, Shop Assistants, and the like."

An American C86, basically.

What this means in practice is that it features a lot of college-rock bands trying to plough the same furrow as early REM and others, with results that can mostly be described as ... well, neither under- nor overwhelming. Just whelming. Here's a couple of the better efforts.

All fine, but I can't help but return to the subject of margins: those fine differences that elevate some to greatness and condemn others to obscurity. We all know who REM were, and they and their music will be listened to and talked about for years to come. I would challenge you to know any of the 28 bands on Strum and Thrum. Yes, these margins are fine. but you can hear them, can't you?

That said, there's enough to enjoy about this compilation, should you be a Bandcamp tourist like me. Enjoy.

Friday, 4 June 2021

More new to NA ... and more reasons to be grateful for 6 Music

This is Sand Fight by the splendidly named Folly Group. I heard it on the always-interesing 6 Music; Nemone, filling in for Shaun Keaveny, played it this time yesterday, as I had my lunch.

I hadn't heard this track before; indeed, I hadn't heard of Folly Group either. But this is excellent, I think. It puts me in mind of what The Cure might sound like if they were just starting out now, taking their late-70s teen sensibilities and influences, and transferring them wholesale to a 2021 landscape. There's something of The Blue Aeroplanes in the spoken word delivery too. Anyway ... see what you think.