Unauthorised item in the bagging area
Sunday, 30 June 2019
This is a three hour mix from DJ John Paynter from a radio show he hosts called A Space Age Freak Out- an accurate name all things considered. Plenty of chuggy, cosmic, psychedelic house and techno from the likes of Tiga, Somerville and Watson and Future Unit. It's all top fun and optimistic, forward looking stuff. Perfect on the hottest weekend of the year with something cold and wet.
Saturday, 29 June 2019
Alderley Edge has a long association with the mystical and esoteric. Legend has it King Arthur sleeps below the ground, inside the cliff at the Edge, waiting for the moment England needs him to come back and save it. 'Yo, Arthur- think that moment might be coming' you might be thinking. Merlin, Arthur's wizard, is associated with the site too. This little house is on the side of the road near The Wizard Pub, a strange little one up, one down affair. Today Alderley Edge is mainly associated with footballers, who live in enormous houses dotted around the village and frequent the wine bars and brasseries. People say the charity shops often have excellent, barely worn stock as a result. This may be rumour though- like Arthur's supposed return. Maybe if he does emerge he'll come bedecked in Balenciaga and Prada on his way to tackle Johnson and Farage with Excalibur.
Fireflies have a single out, a spooky, slow and smokey cover of a Kip Tyler song- She's My Witch, a song Arthur and Merlin could have sung. In this case vocals are from Dani Cali with Nina Walsh and Franck Alba. It's in the new series of Killing Eve (which I haven't seen but people are saying isn't as good as the first one. Ain't it always that way).
Kip Tyler featured here many years ago, back in the Friday night rockabilly series, a 50s rock 'n' roller and bongo player.
Friday, 28 June 2019
This record is all over the place (in a good way), the result of feverish minds and access to technology. Released in 1987 by Shock Taktix, it was big in the Belgian New Beat scene, and featured on the Liaisons Dangereuses radio show that operated out of Antwerp (apparently- I wasn't present at the Belgian New Beat scene and wasn't tuning into radio stations broadcasting out of Antwerp in the mid- to -late 80s). Massive thumping beats, a huge sequenced bass, nice ascending synthlines and a one fingered keyboard riff, a skronky saxophone coming in more and more as it builds, a pitched down voice intoning 'this is not jazz'.
This Is Not Jazz
Thursday, 27 June 2019
More golden age hip hop for you today but seriously less angry than Public Enemy's 1989 single Fight The Power that raised the temperature here yesterday. I've been meaning to write about De La Soul and their thirty year old debut album. I was listening to Eye Know recently and it sounded ace, really fresh and inventive. But instead today we have De La Soul's Native Tongue's compatriots A Tribe Called Quest. The group's debut single I Left My Wallet In El Segundo came out in 1990. A year later it was remixed by the then fairly unknown Norman Cook and this version was put out as a promo. Norman samples/borrows liberally from/rebuilds the song entirely around Donna Summer's State Of Independence. El Segundo's rap is led by Q- Tip, whose lighthearted drawl sounds wonderful. He narrates the story of coming into some cash, heading south to Mexico and the dangers that lie within- buying gas, eating enchiladas and at the moment of payment being so distracted by the beauty of the waitress that you forget your wallet. Easily done.
I Left My Wallet In El Segundo (The State Of Independence Mix)
As a bonus track here's Donna's sublime early 80s single. State Of Independence was written and originally recorded by Jon and Vangelis. Donna recorded and released her take on it in 1982, a lolloping reggae based groove with sunshine drizzled all over it and Quincy Jones at the controls.
State Of Independence
Bonus, bonus track. In 1992 State Of Independence was covered by Moodswings, laid back, downtempo house groove with Chrissie Hynde and Martin Luther King on vocals. Moodswings were James FT Hood and Grant Showbiz. Grant spent his 80s being road crew and guitar tech for Billy Bragg and The Smiths.I'd imagine being a roadie for The Smiths involved moodswings on a daily basis. The version here is nine minutes of bliss.
Spiritual High (Moodfood Megamix)
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Yet another thirty year old record for your ears, this one first released in June 1989, almost thirty years to the day- Public Enemy's Fight The Power. The first line of Chuck D's explosive vocal states the year, as if you had any doubt, '1989, the number, another summer, sound of the funky drummer'. Before that though there is a sample from a speech by civil rights activist Thomas Todd describing African American men and their attitude towards the war in Vietnam- 'Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to fight. Matter of fact, it's safe to say that they would rather switch than fight".
From there The Bomb Squad take over, bringing the rhythm and the noise, riding in on several James Brown samples- loops layered over loops layered over loops- plus parts borrowed from the lineage of black American music including Sly Stone, The J.B.s, Bobby Byrd, The Dramatics, The Isley Brothers, Rick James, Afrika Bambaataa, Trouble Funk and Kurtis Blow, plus Bob Marley, and for good measure sampling themselves. It's a production tour de force, both furious and made to be danced to, seething with anger and righteousness but funky as you like. Chuck D's voice is an instrument in itself, the tone and timbre of his voice and the rhythm and flow of the words, with Flav cutting in. The only 'live' instrument is Branford Marsalis' saxophone, further cut up and dropped in by Hank Shocklee. It's a 1989 peak, a Public Enemy peak, an anyone ever peak.
Chuck's lyrics for the third verse are are among his best and most provocative. The group always said that the song was about fighting the abuse of power. In the third verse he takes it to another level, aiming squarely at white America and the entire music industry, stealing from black artists to sell white performers to white consumers- 'Elvis' he rasps, his vocal chords igniting, 'was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me, straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain', 'yeah' comes in Flavor Flav, 'motherfuck him and John Wayne'. Chuck D later said he wasn't attacking Elvis personally but that Elvis represented the theft of black music, the lack of acknowledgement that there was black music before Elvis. John Wayne's racist views, on the other hand, were widely known. It's a powerful, incendiary line and followed by one almost as good 'cause I'm black and I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped, most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps'.
Fight The Power's release in 1989 came with the film Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee's exploration of racial tensions in the summer in Brooklyn, simmering disputes between Italian Americans and African Americans and Korean Americans, white cops and black residents and ends with an explosion of violence by the end of day and the film, partly caused by a pair of scuffed Nikes. The film opens with Rosie Perez dancing to the song. Radio Raheem blasts it out throughout the film from his boombox. Spike Lee commissioned Pubic Enemy to write the song, something 'defiant... angry... rhythmic' It's fair to say they delivered.
There are two versions of the song- this one, the soundtrack version, worth posting it with the video which is a definitive and dramatic piece of work in itself, filmed in Brooklyn.
The following year a slightly shorter version of Fight The Power closed Public Enemy's album Fear Of A Black Planet, the third of their three classic lps.
Fight The Power
Tuesday, 25 June 2019
This came out in 1993, Desert Wind by Banco de Gaia. Around 1992/93 the dance music scene splintered into multiple paths and sub- genres. There was a whole scene built around ambient dub spliced with world music, trance with tribal rhythms and vocal samples borrowed from Middle Eastern records, which probably started out with a crossover between The Orb and bands from the festival circuit.
Banco de Gaia were a one man operation at first, Toby Marks from Leamington Spa, and this track was the first released in its own right (he'd put out tracks on various compilations before). A year later Banco's first album followed, Maya, and then Last Train To Llhasa in 1995 (and others since). Desert Wind is a joy, opening with chanting and the voice of Ofra Haza, then drums, dubby bass and layers of keys and synths. It should hopefully inspire you to dig further.
Monday, 24 June 2019
This is rather gorgeous and at just under nine minutes pretty long too- banks of cosmische synths, waves of warm sounds, insistent drums. It's by GLOK and called Pulsing, appropriately.
There's a very limited edition cassette of a seven track album already sold out but fear not, the album is out digitally in early July and opens with a twenty minute epic called Dissident. GLOK, it turns out, is Andy Bell, the guitarist from Ride (who also have an album out later this year). This is by some distance the best thing that any former member of Oasis has been involved in.
Sunday, 23 June 2019
It's frightening how quickly these monthly Andrew Weatherall radio shows come around- music's not for everyone and time's not slowing down. That's June almost over.
Last month's was particularly good, fit to burst with good tunes and songs. This month's is the now standard stew of psychedelia, dub, garage rock, global sounds, icy electronica- music from the fringes of popular culture. Tracklist.
Saturday, 22 June 2019
Together More is the latest release on Andrew Weatherall's Bird Scarer label- BS007 if you're keeping a count- from Scott Fraser and vocals from Louise Quinn, a slow burning, deep house rumble, a track with a kind of dark energy. The flipside of the limited edition 12" is an Andrew Weatherall remix and in a weird and unexpected turn of events I'm digging the original version more than the remix at the moment.
Back in 2012 Scott Fraser's A Life Of Silence was the second Bird Scarer release, a 12" that is one of the best releases of its kind of the last decade. That may sound like hyperbole but it's a magnificent beast- nine minutes plus of juddering, synth led beauty with a bassline like prime mid 80s Peter Hook and a choppy guitar part.
A Life Of Silence (Timothy J. Fairplay's 'Fall Of Shame' Remix)
Friday, 21 June 2019
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day, midsummer. This time last year we were deep into a heat wave and weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine. This year less so. But still, we should have a celebration of midsummer nonetheless.
St Etienne's early singles were so carefree and joyous, hopped up on the spirit of the times and the possibilities that 1990 seemed to offer. Their debut 12" cover of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart and the follow up, their cover of The Field Mice's Kiss And Make Up, are both prized records for me. In a way, if they'd done nothing else I'd have been happy. Obviously they went on to record loads of good songs and several really good albums but there's an innocence and purity about the early days singles that sets them apart.
The Kiss And Make Up 12" came in a green sleeve with the European Union flag stars in white, reversed for the remix 12" where Pete Heller takes the original and makes it even more loved up. The vocals on this are pre- Sarah Cracknell, with Dead Famous People's Donna Savage at the mic. Turn it up a little bit louder and celebrate midsummer as the sun stays around longer than on any other day.
Kiss And Make Up (Midsummer Madness Mix)
Thursday, 20 June 2019
This came out back in April, a lovely piece of electronic music from Plaid. The album is out now. Back in the 90s this sort of ting became called IDM- intelligent dance music- a label which always seemed ridiculous to me, snobbery in dance music epitomised. Plaid and their parent project The Black Dog, their numerous other side projects plus various other acts who put records out through Warp, became the embodiment of IDM and the label still irritates me when I see it today. But this track is sublime, whatever labels get stuck to it.
At the album's website you can play with the sounds that make up the new album- deconstruct it is probably the correct way to put it- but essentially you can muck about with them. If you play the song on Youtube and start to mess around with the sounds on the website at the same time you can remix it yourself live.
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
This one follows on fairly well from Monday and Tuesday's posts, an uptempo, burbling, adventurous track from Birmingham's Field Of Dreams. I've written about them before, first last year when they released an ep called Nothing Is Perfect which included an Andrew Weatherall remix and then earlier this year with their still superb sounding three track No 303 ep. This one came off an ep called Whatever Happened To? which came out in between the two, in August last year, and sounds ace, a slow motion chug, bleepy and spacey with an echo-laden voice exclaiming 'It was euphoric, it was like the most amazing thing...'
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
DJ and producer Phil Mison has released records as Cantoma, a Balearic project from a man who held down a two year residency at the Cafe del Mar. The album Just Landed came out in 2014 and was followed by some vinyl only remixes and extra tracks, all of which were collected into a digital release in 2015 called Remixes And Bonus Tracks. Self explanatory. The extras albums is easily as good as Just Landed, chock full of laid back summer charms and some dancier, uptempo tracks. This one is a current favourite, opening with funky drums and percussion and then awash with bubbling synth lines, dreamy basslines and flutes.
Tabarin (Whatever/Whatever Remix)
Monday, 17 June 2019
This is ten minutes of bliss from 2017, a Steve Cobby remix of a track from Tempelhof and Gigi Masin's Tsuki album. The song sets out at a leisurely pace with xylophone, synth strings and pattering drum pads and isn't in any kind of hurry to get anywhere.The vocal floats over the top, the words just so slightly indistinct that you can't quite make them out. If only the sun would come out and we didn't have to go to work, this would be the perfect way to start the week.
Sunday, 16 June 2019
All those guitars this week have been good but they've left me wanting something more soothing for the weekend. Test Pressing is a website promoting all things Balearic, mainly the music and its attendant culture. It's here. If you dig around in the Mixes tab you'll find scores of downloadable mixes from the likes of Phil Mison, Leo Mas, Apiento, Gilles Peterson and Toby Tobias- more blissed out, chilled tunes than you can shake a flip flop at.
One that I've been enjoying has gone up very recently, an hour long mix called The Shopping List, tracks out in June 2019 that come with the Test Pressing recommendation. It's slowed down, electronic and dubby, experimental and ambient, available to listen to or download and very good indeed. There doesn't seem to be a way to embed it but you can find it here.
Saturday, 15 June 2019
Longley Lane runs from Northenden to Wythenshawe. Before you get to Sharston tip (sorry, Household Waste Recycling Centre) there is a sprawling industrial estate with some magnificent 1930s buildings, all still in use today. The one above is a gigantic concrete hanger, containing I don't knows what. I couldn't get the whole thing into one shot on my phone's camera but you can see the curve of the roof on the front well enough and the enormous windows down the side. If you like industrial architecture- and I'm sure some of you do- then this place is paradise. Those of a certain disposition will see or hear the words industrial estate and instantly hear this running in their head...
There, that's cleared your ears out hasn't it, The Fall back in 1979.
'Yeah, yeah, industrial estate
And the crap in the air will fuck up your face
Yeah, yeah, industrial estate
Boss can bloody take most of your wage'
And the crap in the air will fuck up your face
Yeah, yeah, industrial estate
Boss can bloody take most of your wage'
On the main road is this building, currently occupied by Siltint Industries Ltd, brickwork all painted white, which I love beyond reason.
Friday, 14 June 2019
The little girl in this photograph, our daughter Eliza, turns sixteen today (coincidentally also the day she takes her last GCSE exam). The toddler in The Clash t-shirt seems a long time ago now. In recent time honoured fashion she has booked a day ticket for the Leeds festival, a rite of passage for today's teenagers. Happy birthday Eliza- enjoy the physics exam and your last day at school.
For many years Eliza and her friend have gone to dance classes, joined the team and performed locally and at shows. I've often gone to pick them up in the car from the classes. On one occasion when they were both much younger I had Misty Waters by The Kinks playing on the car CD player. They latched onto it and started singing along. It then became a thing, playing Misty Waters and all of us belting it out on the drive back from dance. We were still doing it a few weeks ago.
Recorded by The Kinks in 1968 Misty Waters was an outtake- an outtake!- that failed to make it onto either Four Well Respected Gentlemen or The Village Green Preservation Society and only turned up much later on The Great Lost Kinks Album.
Amps cranked up and at double the speed, Billy Childish and The Buff Medways covered the song for their 2000 album Steady The Buffs, about the time I started to get into Wild Billy Childish and his enormous back catalogue.
Thursday, 13 June 2019
I have recently read Jon Savage's book about Joy Division- This Searing Light, The Sun And Everything Else: Joy Division: The Oral History. When I first heard about it I wasn't sure an oral history, constructed from interviews old and new, was what I wanted from a Joy Division book by Jon Savage, one of the best writers of his generation. What I wanted was Jon's writing, his thoughts and words, his insights. But within pages of starting the book I was realised I was wrong- the selection of quotes from interviews, the perspectives of the participants and eye witnesses, is exactly the way the story of Joy Division should be told. Some of the excerpts and quotes are familiar, from the Joy Division documentary from 2007, from interviews and articles I've read elsewhere. Some are taken from reviews and contemporary music press accounts. Some are new. The genius of Jon's assemblage of the quotes is in the constant forward momentum of the story, told from within the band and from outside it, and the way he manages to make time shift. Clearly we all know the ending and some of the passages are from interviews with Sumner, Hook and Morris talking now about then, but despite them having the benefit of hindsight the book has a real immediacy, as if events are unfolding in front of your eyes. The shifting focus from one person to another, with interviews conducted at different points between 1978 and 2018, is really well done. The final few chapters, hurtling into 1980 and Ian's increasing issues with his epilepsy and the side effects of the medication, the ongoing situation with Ian, Deborah Curtis and Annik Honore and the sense within the group that they should stop and give Ian a rest- while at the same time they're making Transmission, Atmosphere, Dead Souls, Closer and Love Will Tear Us Apart- is brilliantly portrayed, heartrendingly so as the whirlpool sucks Ian further into it, and the loss of control by all involved. If you have any interest in the Joy Division story or the music they made, I can't recommend it enough.
Fittingly, for a group so defined by the graphic presentation of the art and the beauty of Peter Saville's work, it is a superbly put together book too, from the shiny reflective cover with the book title in the font used for Closer and grainy band photo, to the selection of gig shots and posters. There are a pair of quotes placed at the end of two of the chapters that are genuinely breathtaking, that make you stop, turn back a few pages and read again, so that the quote comes at you once more- one is from Tony Wilson, that gives the book its title (you should buy it, read it and enjoy that moment yourself). The other is from Annik Honore where she says 'They made [the music] very naturally... and that's why it was so good, because they were not self-conscious about it. I think it was coming from deep within them... it was spontaneous, it was not calculated, you know, not artificial; they had the light, the spirit.' For a group that lasted only a couple of years and wrote and recorded no more than eighty songs, that had an enormous impact on those around them and in their audience at the time- Annik's quote goes some way toward explaining their particular brilliance.
In 1978, before Factory existed, Joy Division got some studio time from RCA (who had an office in Manchester at the time). The session didn't go very well and they almost walked out. It was suggested that they record a cover of version of N.F. Porter's northern soul classic Keep On Keeping On. Hooky says they could never do covers, they never turned out well, they couldn't work out the parts, but in this case they kept the guitar riff which became Interzone. It would be one of the ten songs that became Unknown Pleasures, recorded in Stockport's Strawberry Studios with Martin Hannett in 1979. Hooky and Bernard hated Unknown Pleasures. Hannett took away their aggressive, punky live sound and made it something else, something with space and atmosphere and a doomy sense of things going wrong. Everyone else loved it. The rest, as they always say, is history.
Keep On Keeping On
Wednesday, 12 June 2019
While looking for something else I found a CD I'd forgotten I owned- Zero: A Martin Hannett Story 1977- 1991. It's a compilation of songs recorded and produced by Hannett, from Boredom by Buzzcocks onward. Zero is a really good compilation, even with U2's presence, showing the range and depth of Hannett's talents and the importance of the man to the sound of some key bands. The final song on the CD is World Of Twist's 1991 cover of She's A Rainbow and it struck me that this week's posts were developing a cover versions theme and that I should go with the flow.
World Of Twist are much missed in some corners not least round here- they got pulled along in the early 90s Manchester slipstream but didn't really fit in with the sound or the look. Their cover of She's A Rainbow was originally a B-side to their debut single The Storm and then re-appeared in 1992 in various guises and with remixes as the record label attempted to get a hit and some sales. The version here was one of the last songs Hannett worked on before his death in April 1991 aged just 41. In a way She's A Rainbow was one of World Of Twist's less interesting songs, a pretty straight cover version and it doesn't really show Hannett's peculiar production genius especially either. But it's fun and fits in with the group's aesthetic.
She's A Rainbow
Hannett lost five years in the 80 to heroin addiction and the groundbreaking productions he did in the late 70s and early 80s especially with the Factory bands- Joy Division, New Order, Durutti Column, Section 25, ACR- was well behind him and unlikely to be equalled (although he really pulled it out of the bag with Bummed).
The original of She's A Rainbow was on The Rolling Stones 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lightweight, pretty tune, sing-song psychedelia with la la la backing vocals, Nicky Hopkins on piano and some Brian Jones Mellotron. A most un-Stonesy single and song, coming at a mid-point between Paint It Black and Jumping Jack Flash.
She's A Rainbow
Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Out in town on Saturday night we ended up in a pub at the northern end of the city centre with a decent selection of music playing. Mazzy Star's 1994 single played, the sort of song that can silence a pub- it didn't silence us, we discussed the various attractions of the song and its singer.
Fade Into You
Lovely isn't it? Acoustic guitar, a slide guitar part, a lazy drumbeat and Hope Sandoval's wondrous, hazy vocal. A song that is is much more than the sum of its parts, its all about the playing, the performance and the dust and heat that it evokes. Deserts and lust and suchlike.
In 2013 J Mascis recorded a cover version which is pretty wonderful in its own right, twin acoustic guitars and J's cracking, weathered voice.
Fade Into You
Monday, 10 June 2019
I'd forgotten until I posted Galaxie 500 last week that they did a cover of Ceremony, a B-side on the 12" of Blue Thunder.
Galaxie 500 slow it down and make it a bit looser than the original. Dean Wareham's guitar playing is stellar, just enough distortion and fuzz and the drums are less mechanical than Stephen Morris' and avoid the tom toms completely. It's a slow burn affair, less quiet-loud-quiet than New Order's versions of the song.
Ceremony was one of the last songs written by Joy Division and then New Order's first single- it was released in two different versions in 1981, the first recorded in January and then re-recorded in September when Gillian Gilbert had joined the band, and then issued with two different Peter Saville sleeve designs but both versions were numbered FAC 33. Subsequent pressings saw either version put into either sleeve which seems typically Factory- an obsession with detail coupled with can't be arsed. Famously when they came to record the song they couldn't find Ian Curtis' handwritten lyrics and had to work them out from the demo version, recorded onto cassette- some of Ian's vocals were unclear and they had to put the tape through a graphic equaliser. Even then Bernard was guessing at some of the lines.
In June 1983 New Order played Chicago's Cabaret Metro, a semi-legendary gig due to the heat knocking the power out and the synths and sequencers malfunctioning. Towards the end of the set they played Ceremony, rawer, faster and more ferocious. On fire in fact, as Galaxie 500 called their album.
Sunday, 9 June 2019
Here's something new from Roisin Murphy.
Incapable was recorded with Sheffield house/techno mainstay Richard Barrett (Crooked Man/DJ Parrot) and is a super-funky, deep house groove, a bit disco round the edges, Roisin trying out a lyrical point of view- that someone could be 'incapable of love'. The vocal, the hand claps and the build to the chorus are all first rate and the part where the bass joins in, around fifty seconds, makes me want to jump out of my seat and run around the room.
Saturday, 8 June 2019
Every week seems to bring another RIP, another musical maverick gone. This week brings the news of the death of Dr. John (Mac Rebennack). In 1968 he recorded the album Gris Gris, a debut that built a completely self contained world, swampy rhythm n blues, Louisiana voodoo, New Orleans funk and psychedelic rock. Sonically it is far out, voices appearing suddenly out of the mix, ominous and acidic, with tales of witchdoctors and curses, Dr. John's slurred drawl winding its way though the songs, the lyrics a mixture of Creole, patois and slang. A spooky listen if played late at night in the gloom but a brilliant, innovative and individual record. This song works on any compilation or mixtape, a genuinely brilliant song- 'Je suis the Grand Zombie... with the King of the Zulu'
I Walk On Gilded Splinters
He reappears in my record collection a few times- a CD compilation album spanning his career up to the 90s with Iko Iko, Right Place Wrong Time and Junco Partner. In the 90s he played on Spiritualized's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, a record that deals with drug addiction, something Mac Rebennack knew about having fled to London in the 80s to kick his own heroin addiction. In 2012 an album recorded with Dan Auerbach which recaptured some of the Gris Gris spirit and sound. RIP Dr John, the Night Tripper.
Friday, 7 June 2019
Yesterday's post showed both the limitations and advantages of blogging as a medium for writing. I wrote yesterday's piece about the rush of great guitar music in the 1988/89 years in response to a comment on Facebook from a friend. I'd thought about it a bit in advance- on the way to and from work mainly- and came home and wrote it in the evening, an hour's work probably. I proof read it and re-read it, did a bit of tinkering and then published it yesterday morning.
The limitations of blogging are that it's usually just one person, writing a fairly quick response. I didn't bounce it off anyone or discuss it. I didn't really research it, talk to others for their point of view, haven't got an editor to to make suggestions or propose alternatives. A more widely considered piece with the opinions and perspectives of others would be better, more reliable maybe, more thought through and joined up.
The advantages of blogging are that it gets some instant responses by people, in some cases hundreds of miles away and in different countries, who can throw in their perspectives straight away, in the comment box on the blog and by commenting on social media. It becomes a conversation (and therefore the original post is in some ways just the first draft. Kerouac said first thought is always best- he'd have loved social media wouldn't he, Tweeting his way back and forth across America). Going back and inserting new sections into the original post didn't seem like a good idea but adding a follow up post did so that's what is here today, the perspectives of others who chipped in to answer the question Aditya posed on Facebook on Tuesday- why was 1988/89 such a fruitful time? (I hope this isn't just a case of Blog Will Eat Itself).
My post is here but in summary I said that guitar bands flourished by the late 80s because of the gains made by punk and the ensuing construction of the independent scene (labels, distribution, outlook); John Peel; the weekly music press; post punk's spirit of experimentalism; cheap technology; the dole and full grants for higher education; a gap left by the split of The Smiths; the polarised and oppositional nature of culture and politics in the 1980s which led to a defiantly non- mainstream mindset.
Martin left a comment about the split of The Smiths and the vacuum they left behind in the music press and the way that for ages they, the NME especially, used to constantly label bands 'The new Smiths' (they did the same with the Sex Pistols too). James and Raymonde both got that particular kiss of death, and I've got a feeling it was associated with The House Of Love and The Wedding Present too. Being branded The new Smiths didn't do James any favours- it raised expectations they couldn't meet, they sounded nothing like The Smiths anyway and by 1988 they were without a deal, had left two record companies and had to persuade their bank manager to loan them the money to release a live album. One Man Clapping was recorded at Moles in Bath over two nights in November 1988 and came out on their own label. The bank manager agreed to lend them the money after attending a gig in Manchester and being blown away by both band and crowd.
Really Hard (Live)
For a Smiths related extra the photograph at the top is one of mine, taken recently at Stretford Mall (formerly Stretford Arndale), a shopping centre Morrissey must have spent some hours in. There's a second hand record stall called Reel Around The Fountain.
Mark Ratcliff left a long comment on Facebook in reply which adds masses to my original post-
'The dole in the 80s was like art school in the 60s and 70s...it enabled you to pursue an interest whilst still being able to put a roof over your head and food in your belly. But i think there was another factor at work, too. The early to mid 80s were a dour time and youth culture was quite dogmatic. The music press at that time was very powerful and dictated what the hipper end of mainstream youth culture was allowed to like...God forbid you own up to having a Zeppelin lp in your collection of agit prop, post punk and proper soul. I left the UK to go to uni in the States at the time of the miners strike and everything in the culture felt either shrill and dictatorial, or incredibly earnest, obsessed with authenticity. Plus politics was horrible - there was no light at the end of the tunnel. A trip to a London club in 1984 or 1985 was terrifying if you didn't look the part. I remember coming back from New Orleans for a summer break and going to clubs with my sister, where everyone felt hyper conscious about what they looked like, or what kind of music they were allowed to enthuse over. But by the end of 86 and early 87, when i came back, i felt a change in the air - i think people felt that Thatcher was no longer quite as omnipotent and there was a loosening up of all those stifling musical strictures that had made it very hard to be completely honest about what you liked. The music press lost some of its authority around that time. People had got bored with being serious and po- faced. I remember going to Wendy May's Locomotion club at the Town and Country in late 86 and very early 87 and the sense of fun in the club was liberating. There was no E around, very few people had even heard about it and there was no house music being played but the mix of northern soul, a bit of Motown, some hip hop and the occasional dance inflected indie anthem from a band like That Petrol Emotion (Big Decision!) felt liberating after all the mid 80's London club bullshit. When E and acid house hit town in early 88 all the faces i used to see at The Locomotion pitched up at Land Of Oz and Spectrum - they were ready for it because they were chomping at the bit for something different, having had a taste of it already. In effect they had been primed for it. I also have some theories about why guitar music had a resurgence then, too but this is already the longest fb post i have ever written and is in danger of becoming a rant. '
Feel free to drop those theories you refer to at the end off whenever you're ready Mark.
Michael agreed with Mark about That Petrol Emotion, a band who embraced new technology (sampling) and the sense of possibilities that was in the air as well as guitars plus a large dose of politics. Big Decision was a massive song at the indie disco/alternative night.
Michael sees '88/89 as 'an incredibly liminal period where barriers between music started to drop... people became less precious or scared about shouting their influences, people rifling through their parent's record collections for great tracks or sounds for samples'. The barriers dropping definitely seems to be important in the Manchester guitar bands. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays with one foot in the 60s and one at a club and the music they made being two different sweet spots in between.
The barriers were coming down all over in '88/89- not least physical barriers in Berlin- and the pick 'n' mix approach to making records resulted in several great singles that broke new ground and sold in vast quantities- Pump Up The Volume, Beat Dis and Theme From S' Express for three. Maybe liminal, transitional periods are much more interesting than periods where things are finished and fixed. That seems to be as a good a theory as any.
Beat Dis (Extended Dis)
Thursday, 6 June 2019
Each day on Facebook I post a link to that day's Bagging Area blogpost- I like to keep Mark Zuckerberg updated with music from the last few decades although he never comments himself or thanks me. When I published Tuesday's post- Galaxie 500's Blue Thunder from their 1988 On Fire album- a friend thanked me for reminding them of the song and album and posing the question 'why was 1988/89 such a fruitful time?' I replied and then thought about it a bit more.
The reason for the explosion of dance music and acid house in the years 1988-1989 has been well explored and well documented. In summary, in the north Mike Pickering had recently returned to Manchester from Belgium and headed Factory's A&R. He was also given control over the musical policy at the Hacienda. Dave Haslam's Temptation night was growing but from opening in 1983 the nightclub was often largely empty (and open almost every night). In its first few years it was more gig venue than nightclub. Pickering began to play the music that excited him, the new music coming out of the USA, house music from Chicago and techno from Detroit. At a similar time Shaun Ryder and friends developed a sideline to being Happy Mondays, importing ecstasy and selling it in the Hacienda. The combination of music, nightclub, youth and drugs quickly gathered steam. In the south a similar revolution took place but this time starting with four friends (who were also DJs) who spent a summer in Ibiza dancing to a wide variety of tunes, including some of those early house records, in open air nightclubs under Balearic skies fuelled by the same pills the Mondays had discovered. When they got back to the UK they decided to try to re-create this scene in London in the autumn- Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway, Johnny Walker and Danny Rampling. Within months Spectrum, Shoom and The Trip opened. Acid house ensued.
The reasons for guitar music entering such a fruitful period between 1987 and 1989 are maybe slightly different. The bands putting records out in the late 80s were at the tail end of what had started with punk, in particular a model of Do It Yourself. An entire system of independent record labels was well established with a distribution model that got records into shops all over the country while avoiding the majors. In the US the bands inspired by punk had spent years criss-crossing the states building up a network, playing gigs in clubs and bars, meeting promoters, fans, fanzine sellers and the DJs from late night regional and college radio stations. In the UK John Peel existed as an outlet for even the most experimental and outlying bands and getting played by Peel was a reasonable ambition. The weekly music press (three papers remember, Sounds, NME and Melody Maker) had pages to fill, with opinionated and passionate writers and they held real sway and influence- NME Single Of The Week felt important. The post-punk period of roughly 1978-83 extolled being experimental, sounding like yourself and independent, leftfield, leftwing values. Technology was available and cheapish so recording a decent sounding demo tape was attainable. Cassettes were cheap and easy to reproduce and could be sent off to Rough Trade or Creation or 4AD or whoever. By 1988 this was all well established and bands had a mains to plug into, plus the back catalogues of the psychedelic groups of the 60s, the girl groups, the proto punks of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, Nuggets and punk and its aftermath found cheaply in second hand shops or taped onto cassette with hand written inlay cards.
I think there are two other explanations- bear with me, if you're still reading and I fully understand if you've clicked off and gone elsewhere- and which are specific to the 1980s. Firstly (and Aditya agreed with this on Facebook) one reason for the boom in guitar music was state funding of bands and music- the dole and to some extent the student grant which sent young people from all backgrounds to university or polytechnic or art school. The dole and education grants gave people the income which bought them space to create. It wasn't much, there was just enough income to survive week to week but it was guaranteed as long as you met a few basic criteria (turn up at the job centre once a fortnight and sign on, turn up at lectures and hand an essay in once a term). Many of the British bands of the 80s came from dole culture. Some of the labels were funded by Thatcher's enterprise culture- there are several who got a business grant or loan to start up. As Aditya put it on Facebook yesterday 'You need a guaranteed income if you're going to try anything highly speculative, such as writing a 20 minute white out in the middle of You Made Me Realise'.
You Made Me Realise
Today's young people have to pay for their further education and the Tories have completely monetised university education, made it a financial transaction- what you are going to earn and how you are going to pay it back are the primary considerations. Leaving home to go to a new city, do a philosophy course, form a band, mess around and take your time doing it, are no longer possible (or valued). Trying to exist on the dole while putting together guitar, drums and bass seems increasingly unlikely.
The second explanation could be this- the 1980s were a polarised and confrontational period. You picked your side and it informed all your decisions. I saw a Tweet recently from someone disgusted by Morrissey and his appearance on US television wearing the badge of a minor British fascist organisation. The Tweeter said something along the lines of 'in the 80s The Smiths were my gateway into an outsider life, of books, music, cinema and politics. Morrissey formed my adult life'. As an aside the fact that The Smiths had split up in 1987 possibly also accounts for something here, a gap where they had been now existed. But to get back to the point, the polarised world of the 1980s meant that making experimental/challenging/lo-fi/home made/trippy/weirdo/out there/leftfield music was a way of life and a basic requirement. The mainstream was the enemy and to be avoided at all costs. Rick Astley, Phil Collins, Queen, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel- whatever you think of these artists now (and I still can't understand why some of them have been allowed back in)- were to be repelled and pushed away from. Bands defined themselves by this, by being outsiders, by taking a stance. Every town had a nightclub that had an alternative night, usually a Monday, when it would otherwise be empty. The music was an alternative to the charts and the mainstream. Lionel Ritchie or My Bloody Valentine? Stock Aitken and Waterman or Creation, 4AD and Factory? Queen or Sonic Youth? Tango In the Night or Surfer Rosa? Bad or Bummed? Thatcher's Britain and Reagan's America and the glossy, bright, mainstream culture that it spewed forth brought about cultural reactions- the guitar groups instinctively knew this and responded in kind.
Ten years later this oppositional approach was gone- guitar groups, especially Oasis, sneered at what they saw as small time bands and a lack of ambition and wanted sales, number ones and stadium gigs. Naked ambition and a mainstream sound was in- Morning Glory and Urban Hymns are mid-tempo, smooth-edged, mainstream rock, rather than that gateway into a hidden world the Smiths fan I mentioned earlier found with guitar music.
Here are some Pixies.
Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix)
Wednesday, 5 June 2019
This song was mentioned in the comments to my Roky Erickson post on Sunday and I thought it was worth dragging up- a 1992 cover of a 13th Floor Elevators song by The Jesus And Mary Chain. Reverberation was on the 1966 debut The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators. The Reid brothers covered it and released it first as a B-side to the loved up Almost Gold single (the 12" version but not the 10" or 7" releases) and then on 1993's B-sides and rarities compilation The Sound Of Speed (the CD version but not the vinyl one). Their trusty drum machine pounds away and Jim snarls the words while William fires off squally guitar lines and waves of feedback.
Almost Gold is a moment of genuine bliss and beauty in the Mary Chain's back catalogue, William dewy eyed and in love. I think this was when he was going out with Hope Sandoval, so who can blame him?
Tuesday, 4 June 2019
Galaxie 500's On Fire album is thirty years old this year. So many great songs, singles, records and albums were made in 1989 it seems like a blogger could spend most of 2019 doing nothing else but writing about them. On Fire seemed to drop out of the sky in autumn '89 despite it being their second album- I'd missed their first one but the rave reviews for On Fire caught me hook, line and sinker. The album opens with Blue Thunder, a slow motion, reverb heavy, lo- fi dream. Kramer perfectly recorded and produced the shimmering guitars and Dean Wareham's yearning falsetto vocal. Naomi's bass, influenced by Peter Hook, centres everything and gives the songs their weight. As an album it's an easy one to immerse yourself in, in all its textures and off kilter centre of gravity. Stunning still.
Monday, 3 June 2019
I've been doing a lot of Spacemen 3 related posts over the past few weeks/months. For some reason something has clicked back into place and their music (and that of the post Spacemen 3 bands, especially Sonic Boom's Spectrum) makes perfect sense currently and is right where my head is at. They are/were also very good at the long song, two chords repeated blissfully for as long as you like, a kind of focused looseness.
The Perfect Prescription was Spacemen 3's second album, released in 1987 The album was supposed to replicate a drug trip, from start to finish, the highs and lows. This double track is the peak, the orchestral Ecstasy Symphony part ebbing into a cover of Red Krayola's Transparent Radiation, mid 60s DIY psychedelia from Texas (recorded and released in 1967 and with fellow traveller Roky Erickson on harmonica).
Ecstasy Symphony/Transparent Radiation (Flashback)
Sunday, 2 June 2019
Rest in peace Roky Erickson. I can't remember when I first heard 13th Floor Elevators- it would most likely be through a compilation, Nuggets maybe, or a tape someone else made. They were a band whose name was always thrown around by interviewees and the music press in the late 80s. Julian Cope seems to be a likely starting point. Primal Scream covered Slip Inside This House on Screamadelica. From there on in, pre- CD reissue culture, it was a matter of scouring second hand shops and stalls and taking a leap into that lysergic world. Without a shadow of a doubt, without Roky and The 13th Floor Elevators leftfield, alternative music would be a very different place- You're Gonna Miss Me is one of the foundation stones of psyche-rock. He died on Friday aged 71. RIP Roky.
You're Gonna Miss Me
She Lives In A Time Of Her Own
Saturday, 1 June 2019
Rikki Turner, former Paris Angel, ex-New Southern Elektrik and The Hurt, is a restless soul who just keeps moving- when one project ends another begins. His latest group is San Pedro Collective, named after the town in California that was home to Rikki's favourite writer Charles Bukowski (and also home to Bagging Area favourites Minutemen). San Pedro are preparing for a release in July, an e.p. called The Demon Sessions, which will include this song (appearing here in a brief snippet and remixed by The Winachi Tribe).
The Things You See is a collaboration between Rikki and Suddi Raval, with a thundering acid house bassline, plenty of late night, dancefloor vibes and a sultry vocal from Millie MacBean. Also involved are Simon Wolstencroft (ex- Fall drummer), Antnee Egerton of The Winachi Tribe and Manc poet Karl Hildebrandt. The e.p. will feature the original mix of The Things You See and two further songs, San Pedro and A View From The Drowning Pool- the latter is a moody, electronic beast, bleeps and sirens over an 808 and Rikki's street poetics, spoken word vocal.
Suddi Raval was one half of Together who made two records I hold dear. The first was 1990 rave anthem Hardcore Uproar, piano house, a Star Wars sample and the crowd sounds from a rave in a warehouse at the Sett End in Blackburn.
The second was an unfinished remix Together did of Durutti Column's Contra-Indications. In 1990 Vini Reilly was experimenting with samplers and drum machines and his Obey The Time album chimed perfectly with the times. Together's remix was unfinished due to the tragic death of Suddi's partner in Together, Jon Donaghy, in a road accident in Ibiza. I've been coming back to The Together Mix for almost thirty years now and always get chills when I play it. Despite being unfinished Tony Wilson declared it magnificent and released it as a single anyway.
The Together Mix
Rikki's former bands have all released songs that I've raved about here. In 2016 The Hurt released Berlin, a moody Scott Walker via Bowie, collar turned up against the falling Manchester rain.
Paris Angels were from Guide Bridge, near Ashton under Lyne, east of Manchester. Their first single is a legendary slice of 1990 Manchester, a marriage of acid house bass, jangly guitar lines and rattling machine drum with Rikki and Jane Gill's dual vocals. I once bumped into Jane at the Boardwalk- literally- and she told me to fuck off. Which was probably fair enough- I wasn't looking where I was going.
Perfume (All On You)
Perfume came out on indie label Sheer Joy and was widely played and praised. They followed it with two 12" singles- Scope and I Understand- before signing to Virgin (who re-released Perfume) and then put out an album called Sundew. Virgin was sold to EMI and a cull saw various bands removed from the label, Paris Angels among them (and PiL too). Which shows what major record labels know.