Unauthorised item in the bagging area

Thursday 23 May 2024

Submerge


In April last year M- Paths released an album on Mighty Force, one of a string of first rate releases on the Exeter label in recent years, label boss Mark Darby clearly knowing his musical onions. Mighty Force's Bandcamp is a treasure trove of electronic albums and EPs and this year celebrates it's 33rd anniversary with a series of MF33 compilation albums, one already out and another to follow shortly. 

M- Paths 2023 album Hope was  born in the early 90s influences of chill out rooms and the ambient/ indie of the 4AD bands but went beyond both of those, an ambient/ electronic masterclass, music bathed in the warm glow of analogue synths and made with the intention of connecting the listener to nature, each other and optimism. The new album, out a few weeks ago, is titled Submerge and is definitely an album to get lost in, to listen to with headphones on and sink into. There are thirteen tracks with Submerge and Emerge bookending the album, the feel of drifting below the surface and falling deeper into the ocean as the strange undersea world engulfs you, is present from the opening moments of the title track, sub bass, synths and then a clattering drum beat... 

Many of the tracks have single word titles- Panoramic, Reflect, Celestial, Beach, Contemplate- that reflect the album's theme and signpost the wonderous ambient techno that Marcus Farley and Nick Murray have crafted. Celestial is as good an example as any, six minutes of soaring electronic music, washes of synth bleeps, rippling toplines with the steadying, pushing thump of the drums.

Other tracks give strong suggestions about the nature of the music in their titles too, In No Hurry, On The Up and In The Warmth, all speaking for themselves. After over an hour of this ambient techno submersion things come to the surface with Emerge, a track that comes in gently with some piano notes picked out, Erik Satie all at sea, gradually joined by an industrial clanking for a rhythm track, as if great iron chains are lifting the submarine out of the water. Warm bass and a heavenly choir drift in and the clanking becomes electronic drums, panning between the speakers- it's a wholly beautiful and blissed out way to finish the album and the experience of listening to it, the sense of a journey completed and the hit of the sun on your face as you finally break through the waves and breathe the air again. Buy or listen at Bandcamp




Wednesday 22 May 2024

ACR: NCH

A Certain Ratio finished their tour with a hometown gig at Manchester's New Century Hall last Friday night, a set of two halves- first the new album, It All Comes Down To This, played in full and then a second set of career spanning ACR classic. In truth, it's all one set, there's no gap between the two halves, the stripped back ACR never sounding better. I first saw them play live in 1991, have seen them periodically ever since and in recent years have seen them regulalrly at various Manchester venues (the Main Debating Hall at the university, Gorilla, The Ritz, New Century Hall a year ago, Band On The Wall and most recently Soup- a few years ago a group of us had a jaunt to see them in Blackburn too. Sometimes it feels a bit like this blog is just a constantly updating ACR live review service and I make no apology for that, they are in many ways Manchester's finest band with a rich back catalogue, a quintessential Factory act in the 80s, a dalliance with a major label, some turn of the 80s/ 90s acid house adventures, a re- appraisal in the early 2000s, and since signing to Mute have had a run of records that are as good as any of their previous ones). 

ACR have stripped back to the core trio of Martin Moscrop (guitar, trumpet, weird Brazilian percussion instrument, sometimes drums), Jez Kerr (vocals, samples and keys) and Donald Johnson (drums and bass) with new bass player Viv covering for Jez. This pared back version suits them, they sound as good as ever if not better. They play It All Comes Down To This in order, from the opening title track, all clanging guitar and urgent vocals to the chiming closer Dorothy Says, Jez quoting Dorothy Parker in the lyrics. It's already one of 2024's best albums, made by a group over four decades in, who are renewed and energised. As well as the two mentioned the penultimate Where You Coming From is a highlight, driving bass, scratchy guitar and a vocal that rolls the years away. 


The second half is jaw dropping, the band powering through their back pages, cherry picking a dozen highlights and playing them with a freshness and energy that cut through the room. Long time instrumental set opener Winter Hill buzzes with electricity and dark drones, then they dive into the stepped staccato punk- funk of Du The Do and The Fox from 1981's To Each... album, arty New York inspired scratchy funk originally recorded in NY with Martin Hannett. They stay in New York for their sublime cover of Talking Heads' Houses In Motion, the song with Grace Jones that never was, resurrected live for their 40th celebrations, a bendy, shape shifting cover version. 



ACR's recent albums have been so strong that songs from them are part of tonight's set and they stand alongside the ones that would make up any Best Of ACR album. Berlin (from 2020's Loco) is sleek, Mancunian guitar melancholia. Samo (from 2023's 1982) is early 80s inspired funk/ rap. 


The Big E is dedicated to Denise Johnson who Jez tells us they still miss terribly, and is the cue for a mass audience singalong, the build up to the chorus and the line, 'I won't stop loving you', as much one of this city's mainstays as any by bigger and better known bands. Good Together, a 1989 acid house banger with squiggly acid bassline, throbbing synths, purloined Beach Boys lyrics and massive dance music energy, is a highlight and is followed by Shack Up, their calling card in many ways, a song they borrowed from funk band Banberra and never gave back. Martin gives an impassioned between song speech about supporting smaller venues, something of an issue in Manchester at the moment with the farrago at the much vaunted brand new Co- op arena and the farcical delayed opening, its boss (who resigned a few weeks ago) having previously made comments about how the problem with smaller venues is that they're sometimes very badly run- lol, as the kids say. 

For the final two songs they invite support act and singer Ellen Beth Abdi back on stage to join them, powering through the 1982 song Knife Slits Water, a song with a weird tension and stuttering drum pattern, echo and minor chords, demob haircuts and army jumpers, greyed out funk for the early 80s. Tonight it's a powerhouse, Don slapping the bass and Martin playing trumpet and guitar simultaneously. They finish with Get A Grip (from Loco), Ellen skipping and singing her way through a song that as much as any demonstrates ACR still have so much to give. 

Tonight's gig is being filmed. Hopefully in the near future it'll be released so that those who weren't there can see what all the fuss is about- and those who were can relive it. I have friends who went to the Bristol and Aberdeen gigs who were equally blown away by ACR and their live show. Genuinely life affirming stuff from a group who just don't seem to want to stop. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Bagging Area Book Club

The first rule of Bagging Area Book Club is, uh, you can talk about it. It's an irregular series of music and literature crossovers starting today and heading into the next few weeks, maybe beyond. Last Monday night I attended Richard Norris in conversation with Dave Haslam at Blackwell's bookshop at Manchester University. Richard recently published his memoir, Strange Things Are Happening, an account of his life and musical journey written as he explained to us in the first person present, a technique that gives the entire book a real immediacy and presents every scene as happening in front of you (Richard says he learned this from Viv Albertine's autobiography Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. He also notes that that book opened the door for many others to write their memoirs and autobiographies, the generation who grew up with punk and its aftermath, including himself). 

Dave opens proceedings by noting that him and Richard have a number of parallels in their pasts- both ran club nights called The Hangout, Richard in Liverpool and Dave in Manchester, both lost parents at a young age, there were one or two others as well but they escape me now. Both also came to music with at least half an eye on writing about it as well as participating as musicians/ DJs, Dave writing his fanzine Debris and Richard writing one titled Strange Things Are Happening- there's a literate side to both of them that informs everything they've done. Dave dives into the Q&A starting in the middle with The Grid on Top of The Pops firstly in 1993 with Crystal Clear and Mancunian door face Elton on vocals. 

Richard talks eloquently about their experiences on the show, later appearing four times to promote Swamp Thing, a song they wrote as a joke which ended up becoming a smash hit, one which took them all over the world playing to huge crowds, something they eventually became tired of especially when the record company stated to put the pressure on for a follow up. Dave and Richard then go backwards, to St Albans in the late 70s and the nascent punk scene Richard becomes a mover in and the older folk crowd in the town who not only tolerate a group of fifteen year olds but encourage them. Dave says Richard's evocation of the St Albans scene is endearing and inspiring, something that struck me when reading the book- people crating scenes in small towns, across generations, finding places to play and making music. Not long after Richard's band, The Innocent Vicars, make a 7" single and Richard's dad drives him to London where they sell the entire run of singles to Rough Trade and then turn up at Radio 1, ask to speak to John Peel, meet him on the doorstep of the BBC and give him a copy of the record which he plays the following night. From that point Richard is off on a lifelong journey in the music world. 

I won't give to much away- you should read the book if you haven't already. Richard Norris music runs through my record collection like the writing in a stick of rock- from the psych compilations on Bam Caruso to his adventures with Genesis P. Orridge and the acid house album they made in 1987despite not having heard any acid house records at that point- Jack The Tab- to his writing in the NME which switched me onto stuff and his records with Dave Ball as The Grid. In the mid- 90s he wrote and recorded several songs with Joe Strummer, songs which were instrumental in Joe getting a band back together again. Richard is asked from the audience how it ended with Joe- 'badly' is Richard's short explanation, the circles around former members of The Clash not always easy places to navigate. Yalla Yalla is one of the results of that partnership, for my money one of Joe's greatest solo songs. After that episode Richard spirals on making music with Erol Alkan as Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve, makes psychedelic acid house as The Time And Space Machine, forms The Long Now and The Order Of The 12 releasing albums both both and then from c2019 and into lockdown and beyond, his long running series of Music For Healing/ deep listening and ambient pieces, a project still arriving on a monthly basis at Bandcamp- Richard says that he sees Bandcamp as a new Rough Trade, the conduit between artist and listener.


Richard reads from his book for us, the chapter on meeting Strummer, the arrival of Joe and his entourage at Peter Gabriel's Real World studio and the ensuing fun and madness which followed. As he reads he causally flings each completed page aside, a piece of stage craft he points out in a tongue in cheek way he learned from someone else doing a reading. 


Richard's book is full of other stories- the time he spent with Sky Saxon, his adventures in New York at the NME's expense in 1986 and his encounters with ecstasy, making a record in Amsterdam with Timothy Leary, a road trip to Mexico in Joe Strummer's Cadillac with Shaun Ryder and Bez, and more, a life well lived with music at the centre of it. At the Q&A Richard does pause at one point to question what it's all about, what the meaning of it all is. He recounts a trip fairly recently to Spain, hiking with Penny Rimbaud of Crass. Penny, Richard says, is a wise man, someone who surely knows what the meaning of life is. He asked him and was told sagely, 'to serve'. 

Dave Haslam is a great host, asking the right questions, clearly interested and alert and who has also lived a life with music at the middle of it. Dave has just finished writing and publishing a series of mini- books through Manchester publishers Confingo. These are short, essay length books on very niche topics, each book small enough to fit in your pocket and short enough to read in one sitting. He had a list of topics to cover and felt a series of small books was the best way to do it, not for making a pot of money but for the joy of the writing them and then publishing them. The series tackles a variety of topics starting with Dave's decision to sell his entire record collection (something Richard has done in recent years too), then exploring specific periods of people's lives: Keith Haring and 80s New York; the semi- mythical months Courtney Love spent in Liverpool in 1982; Sylvia Plath's sojourn in Paris; the Angry Brigade cell that existed in Moss Side in  the late 60s; the life and times of Cresser, Manc face, and Stone Roses dancer; Picasso's time in early 20th century Paris; and the night Grace Jones almost recorded Houses In Motion with A Certain Ratio and Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios in Stockport in 1980. All of these are tales worth telling and tales well told (ACR will almost certainly appear at this blog again later this week). You can get all eight here or buy them individually here.  

Back to Norro, as Joe Strummer christened him- in 2016 Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve released this song,a gloriously melancholic piece of electronic pop, drums that patter away like Spacemen 3's Big City, synths like mid- 80s New Order and Hannah Peel's wistful vocals. For the full effect, go to the 12" version. 





Monday 20 May 2024

Monday's Long Song

Last weekend's aurora borealis lit up a lot of people's Friday nights. I was asleep, unaware this multicoloured, massive global electrical storm triggered lightshow was taking place. I woke up to it the next morning via a phone full of images taken by people near and far. The following night they said we'd see them again but Manchester's skies were cloudy last Saturday night- quelle surprise. But the afterglow of the northern lights has led to this track recorded by San Francisco's Marshall Watson, an eight minute synth journey titled Beautiful Light. Marshall says it's got more than a hint of Rick Smith and Underworld in it- which it has- but it's more than good enough to stand on its own two feet. The synths kick in immediately, in rippling waves and long euphoric chords with a kick drum providing propulsion. More synths enter at two minutes, dancing melody lines like those flashes of purple and green and blue in the sky. The ghost of a voice appears a little late, hinting at the track's title. Beautiful skies indeed. Get it here

In 1979 Neil Young and Crazy Horse released Rust Never Sleeps, an album that was in some ways a response to punk and in some ways, int typical Neil Young fashion, a reworked version of Chrome Dreams (which didn't come out in the mid- 70s but finally appeared last year). Pocahontas starts with the line 'Aurora borealis/ The icy sky at night', Neil setting the scene for a massacre of Native Americans, Neil describing the people being killed in their teepees, babies left crying on the ground, and then the buffalo being slaughtered too. 

Pocahontas, known to her people as Matoaka, then becomes the subject of the song as it jumps about jumps about in time, taking in the Houston Astrodome and TV, and then a line about wanting to sleep with Pocahontas 'to find out how she felt', a line which felt a little uncomfortable to listen to whenever you first heard it, never mind now in 2024. It ends with Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Neil. Marlon Brando refused to accept an Oscar for his role as Don Corleone in The Godfather in 1973 in protest at the treatment and portrayal of the Native Americans, sending Sacheen Littlefeather to attend in his place. It's a beautiful song, one of the centrepieces of Rust Never Sleeps, and one that I always hear playing in my head at any mention of the aurora borealis. 

Pocahontas


Sunday 19 May 2024

Fifty Four


I am 54 today- and all of a sudden the mid- fifties have arrived. I have tried to put together a number 54 based Sunday mix. It turns out 54 isn't a particularly popular musical number. As so often happens Mr Weatherall came to my rescue along with The Clash and a very famous and debauched New York nightclub and a blinding reggae song. This mix is as a result somewhat varied stylistically and gets even more random towards the end- maybe that's a metaphor for one's 50s.

Forty Five Minutes Of Fifty Four

  • Grace Jones: Nightclubbing
  • Tom Tom Club: Genius Of Love
  • The Clash: Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
  • Two Lone Swordsmen: Shack 54 (Joe Mckechnie Remix)
  • Patrick Cowley and Sylvester: Menergy (Rich Lane 'Too Hard' Cotton Dub)
  • Big Audio Dynamite II: The Globe (Studio 54 Remix)
  • The Velvet Underground: I Can't Stand It (2014 version)
  • The Rolling Stones: All Down The Line
  • Toots And The Maytals: 54- 46 That's My Number
Studio 54 was a New York nightclub located at 254 West 54th Street, midtown Manhattan. It was converted from a theatre to a club in 1977 and for a while was the world's premier disco nightclub, a place with a famously loose approach to sex, drugs and extravagance. It had apparently the world's most difficult entry policy but once in 'the dancefloor was a democracy'. A list of Studio 54's celebrity clientele includes Grace Jones, Woody Allen, Bianca Jagger, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Bowie, Cher, John Lennon, Diana Ross, Lou Reed, John Travolta, Margaret Trudeau, Divine, Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicolson, Liza Minelli, Rick James and many more. Some of those people were thusly shoehorned into my mix above. Chic famously were turned away at the door and went home and wrote Freak Out, a disco track which started with the phrase 'Fuck You!' chanted as the chorus instead of the eventual title. 

Grace Jones, a Studio 54 devotee, released her album Nightclubbing in 1981, an early 80sunk/ reggae/ post- punk/ new wave/ disco masterpiece, recorded at Compass Point in the Bahamas. The title track is a cover of Iggy Pop's 1977 song, an ode to numbed out nighttime adventures on the floor. It's Grace's birthday today as well- happy 76th birthday Grace.

Tom Tom Club's Genius Of Love is also from 1981, a brilliant slice of New York post- disco/ synth- pop/ art rap that nods its head to a cast of black musicians- James Brown, Sly and Robbie, Hamilton Bohannon, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Bob Marley- and was a big tune at Studio 54. Its creators, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz only went a couple of times, they claim, preferring the Mudd Club or Danceteria. 

The Clash went to Studio 54 once and Joe Strummer said they were observed by the Warhol crowd like animals in a cage. Joe wrote The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too about the experience. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe is from Sandinista!, and includes the line 'so you're on the floor at 54', imagining the Cold War as a competition on the nightclub's dancefloor, a Soviet- America disco face off, sung by Topper Headon. It's not my favourite Clash song but it fits this mix. 

Shack 54 was on Two Lone Swordsmen's Wrong Meeting Part 2, a 2007 album with Weatherall and Tenniswood by this pint deep into live rock 'n' roll/ garage rockabilly territory. It was great fun, Andrew once again turning on a sixpence and wrong footing people who expected him to keep doing the same thing. This remix of Shack 54 by Joe Mckechnie is I think unreleased. 

Patrick Cowley and Sylvester were both Studio 54 attendees. For his Cotton Dub edit Rich Lane ramps up the campness and Hi NRG to the max on a song that wasn't exactly lacking in either. 

Big Audio Dynamite II's The Globe was the best single the second incarnation of the band released, a  1991 single that samples Mick's most well known Clash riff. It was a Mick Jones and Gary Stonnage co- write and produced by Mick and Andre Shapps (making both of them related to current Tory Minister Grant Shapps, a man I sincerely hope loses his seat and his deposit come election day).  The Studio 54 remix adds some disco strings and keys and has never been officially released but is on the bootleg series The B.A.D. Files. 

The Velvet Underground have Studio 54 connections via Lou Reed and Andy Warhol but there's a big disconnect between the sound of the Velvets and Studio 54 so really this was just an excuse to shoehorn in this 2014 version of a Lou reed song that should be played daily by everyone, Lou and Sterling taking the Bo Diddey beat and rhythm guitar to its logical limit. The part where Lou counts down from 8 is among my favourite moments on any song. 

Bianca Jagger once rode into Studio 54 on the back of a white horse, an eye- opening way to celebrate one's birthday (a party for Bianca thrown by fashion designer Halston). Bianca later said she didn't ride the horse to or in the club, she just sat on its back once it was already inside. I was going to say, with a knowing smirk, hey, we've all been there- but then I remembered that at the Golden Lion last November at the end of a night David Holmes played at the pub there was a horse at the bar having a pint with its owner, so actually, maybe we have all been there. Bianca was married to Mick from 1970 to 1978, a period The Stones made their final absolute classic album, 1973's Exile On Main Street from which All Down The Line is one of four superb songs that make up the album's fourth side. 

Toots And The Maytals released reggae classic 54- 46 Was My Number in 1968. 54- 46 was Toots' prison number when he was jailed for possession of marijuana and for the next 365 day trip around the sun, 54 is my number. 


Saturday 18 May 2024

V.A. Saturday

Boy's Own began in 1987, four friends inspired by records, clubbing and clothes (and football)- they started a fanzine inspired by Peter Hooton's Liverpool based fanzine The End. Andrew Weatherall, Cymon Eckel, Terry Farley and Steven Hall had come together through connections in the Windsor/ Slough area and via Paul Oakenfold began hitting the early acid house clubs. Boy's Own ran for several years as a very funny, sharp and hipper- than- you fanzine, the 'acid house parish magazine'. I never saw a copy at the time but did pick up a few issues of The End. Eventually Boy's Own became a record label too and a band, Bocca Juniors, grew out of it releasing two singles, the first the superb Raise and a second, Substance. Boy's Own Recordings put out a series of the period's defining 12" singles, records by Less Stress, Jah Wobble, One Dove and LSK as well as their own Bocca Juniors singles. Eventually Andrew Weatherall moved on and did something different, as he was wont to do any times over the subsequent decades- he had a knack for knowing when to switch course or change lanes. 

In 1992 Farley and Hall created a spin off label, Junior Boy's Own which stated by putting out a run of essential 12" singles, some of the key dance music/ house/ techno releases of the mid- 1990s and then moving into the brave new world of dance acts making albums. The Chemical Brothers started on Junior Boy's Own and Underworld released their three 90s albums on the label, dubnobasswithmyheadman, Second Toughest In the Infants and Beaucoup Fish. In 1994 they compiled a various artists compilation that pulled together some of the records from those first few years, tracks that in some ways are the sound of the period- if you went clubbing in 1993/ 1994 you would have been dancing at some point in those long nights to some or all of Fire Island, X- Press 2, Underworld, Outrage, Roach Motel and The Dust Brothers. The influence of New York house, gay club culture and UK techno is here. The emerging sound of what would become Big Beat and the Heavenly Sunday Social scene can be found here too, not least in the massive sirens and crashing hip hop drums of Song To The Siren, The Dust Brothers' calling card. 


X- Press 2 released London X- Press in 1993, a percussive, relentless house groove and some funky guitar, synth sabs, thumping bass and that 'raise your hands' sample accompanied by sirens. 


Roach Motel were Pete Heller and Terry Farley, funky, early 90s house, deep, soulful, influenced by New York's club sound. Would still rock a dancefloor today. 


Underworld appeared on Junior Boys Own Collection twice, once as themselves (with Rez) and once as Lemon Interrupt. It originally appeared as 1992 12" with Eclipse but Bigmouth eclipsed Eclipse, a huge ten minute long Underworld drum track with head spinning lead harmonica on top, a swampy, chuggy, uplifting, funky, shot of 1992, Darren Emerson pushing Rick Smith and Karl Hyde into new places. 


The Junior Boy's Own Collection sleeve was a very knowing mid- 90s thing too, portraits of various faces done as 1940s cigarette cards- Michael Caine, Tommy Cooper, Pete Townsend, Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia, Captain Scarlet, Al Pacino, Norman Wisdom, Sid James, Marlon Brando, Travis Bickle, Mick Jagger, Patrick McNee, Sean Connery, Terry Thomas, W.C. Fields and Zachary Smith. 

Friday 17 May 2024

Friday TV Noise

Two blasts of noise from the late 80s/ early 90s indie/ punk/ alt- rock underground on the verge of going overground on Tv to celebrate reaching the end of the working week and getting to Friday. First is Sonic Youth at their peak, Daydream Nation era, playing the epic rush of Silver Rocket live on MTV in 1988. I remember being quite anti- MTV in 1988, it was one of the frontlines in the indie wars. This performance holds nothing back, Thurston, Kim Lee and Steve bringing the noise, the tempo, the melodies and the energy. 

This live version of Silver Rocket was released as part of disc 2 of the Deluxe CD edition of Daydream Nation that came out in 2007. Thurston dedicates it to Andy Warhol. Daydream Nation is the perfect summary of Sonic Youth's abilities, ambition and expression. An essential album.

Silver Rocket (Live in NYC, June 1988)

The second blast of noise is from My Bloody Valentine, miming on Spanish TV on a programme called Plastic in 1991. This is around the time Loveless was recorded, the second giant leap they made in terms of sound and songs. On Plastic they mime to You Made Me Realise, released in 1988. There is an contrast between the energy and flailing that Debbie and Colm put into miming on bass and drums respectively and the complete lack of physical action from Kevin and Belinda which really does make this clip. 


That song, it's wooziness, the slurred vocals, the rattling drums, and the life affirming noise kicked up the guitars, is a late 80s pearl. Live it's middle section would become a test of how much an audience could take, pushing the freak out to its extreme in terms of noise, volume and length. This is the studio version, as released on Isn't Anything. 

You Made Me Realise