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Saturday 30 November 2019

Authentic Celtic Band

It's December tomorrow and, unavoidably, the start of advent. Half Man Half Biscuit have a line for most occasions and today's is from 2009's Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo' (the owner of the limb in question is pictured above, either Pete Doherty or Carl Barat, or both). Nigel Blackwell takes them to task for many things, not least this-

'Advent on the high street
I point and sing
Busk when it's Christmas
You only busk when it's Christmas'

Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo

Achtung Bono, the album this song is from, is peak HMHB. Every song, all fourteen of them, is a laugh out loud funny, damning indictment of modern life. In Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo Nigel Blackwell deals with The Libertines-

'I could have put my head in a bucket full of porridge
And moaned about the hospital parking scheme
I would have saved fourteen pounds
That I just splashed out on your second album
For that’s what it’s akin to
And furthermore
You’ve got a shit arm, and that’s a bad tattoo'

The word 'furthermore' isn't used enough in popular music. 

Then he takes to task people who put the letter S onto the end of the Book Of Revelation (and those who do the same to Mary Hopkin). Unfortunately Pete and Carl do this in What A Waster-

'When she wakes up in the morning
She writes down all her dreams
Reads like the Book of Revelations
Or the Beano or the unabridged Ulysses.'

Just before the guitar solo he sings 'authentic Celtic band'. I've always assumed this is also a tattoo reference but it could be a musical group I suppose. 

No Christmas songs here, not yet anyway. 

Friday 29 November 2019

The Hillsides Ring With 'Free The People'

London Calling side two, pick the arm up, place the needle carefully on the outer ring, let it find the groove, a little static, and then...  Spanish Bombs kicks straight in, Topper's drum salvo followed instantly by organ (played by Mickey Gallagher on loan from The Blockheads) and Mick's guitar line, a crashing, uptempo chord sequence with Joe and Mick doubling up on part of the vocals. Joe had really taken Bernie Rhodes' advice about lyric writing to heart- forget love songs, write about the world- and Spanish Bombs is Srummer at his best, contrasting The Spanish Civil War and 'the days of '39' with the growing tourist industry of the late 1970s, 'Spanish weeks in my disco casino'. The Basque separatist group ETA were active meaning the bombs of the song could be from the 1930s and the 1970s. In the midst of all this imagery, firing out of the speakers with the music piling ever onward, Joe finds space for some really memorable lines, lines about the murdered poet Federico Lorca, a hero of Joe's, killed by Franco's fascists, lines about 'bullet holes in cemetery walls' and 'hearing music from another time' and the chorus in Spanish-

'Spanish bombs, yo te quierro y finito
Yo te querda, oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs, yo te quierro y finito
Yo te querda, oh mi corazón'

                                                               Federico Garcia Lorca

In his novel Powder Kevin Sampson, writing about a fictional rock band in the 90s based loosely (or closely) on The Verve, has a character explain that the tune for Saturday Night (by Whigfield, an international pop- house hit in 1994) and Spanish Bombs are the same- you can sing the words of one over the other. Since discovering this I have never, ever got tired of singing Spanish Bombs over Saturday Night. 

After Spanish Bombs comes The Right Profile, Joe throwing his subject matter net wider still with a song about movie heart throb Montgomery Clift. The song begins the staccato stabs of Mick's guitar and a hi- hat, Joe reeling off the films Clift starred in- 'say, where'd I see this guy? In Red River? A Place In The Sun? Maybe The Misfits? From Here To Eternity?'

                 Montgomery Clift (left, seated) with The Misfits including Clark Gable (right) and Marilyn Monroe (duh) 

Montgomery had a car crash that left him with a broken jaw and facial scarring. He'd hit a tree leaving a party at Liz Taylor's, pumped full of pills and booze. From then on he'd only be photographed from the correct side and angle, from the right profile. Producer Guy Stevens had given Joe a biography of Clift and suggested he write a song about the star's life. Joe, no stranger to drugs and alcohol himself, wrote about the last ten years of Clift's life, from the crash in 1956 to his death in 1966, a death some called the slowest suicide in cinematic history. Mick arranges the group and has The Irish Horns swinging about all over the place, everyone speeding up and slowing down, veering left and right, Paul and Topper driving things like Clift's car with Joe garbling and gurgling the words over the top, breaking down completely for the 'nembutal/numbs it all/but I prefer/alcohol' part. Joe gives voices to the crowd standing and staring- ' And everybody says'what's he like?', 'is he alright?/ can he still feel?' and 'it's not funny/that's Montgomery Clift honey!'. No other band, certainly none of the class of '77 could have written this, the music or the words. 'Go get me my old movie stills/Go out and get me another roll of pills/There I go shaking again but I ain't got the chills'. Poor Monty. 

Side two, track three is Lost In The Supermarket. Near Joe's flat in the World's End Estate was a supermarket, the International (numbers 471- 473 King's Road). After a disorienting late night shopping visit Joe went home and wrote Lost In The Supermarket, a song about the alienating effects of capitalism, commercialisation and the way the world depersonalises the individual- Joe only came in for a special offer, 'guaranteed personality' and left bewildered and broken. Mick wrote a lovely, slick tune for the song, a gliding chord sequence. The rhythm section, led by Topper's brilliant drumming, complement it completely. Joe sings about the suburbs (where he'd lived) and life in high rise flats (where Mick lived with his Nan, overlooking the Westway). As the song grooves on, a smidgen of disco in the drumming and guitars, Joe develops his theme-

'I'm all tuned in, I see all the programs
I save coupons for packets of tea
I've got my giant hit discotheque album
I empty a bottle, I feel a bit free

The kids in the halls and the pipes in the walls
Makes me noises for company
Long distance callers make long distance calls
And the silence makes me lonely'

Joe gave the song to Mick to sing, a gift, saying he wrote it partly with Mick in mind. From intro to fade out Mick sings and plays beautifully and Paul's bass playing is streets ahead of where he was two years previously.

Three magnificent songs into side two and there are a pair of songs to come that are as good as anything the band ever did. Clampdown opens with a squeal of feedback, the tsk- tsk- tsk of Topper tapping the cymbal and Mick bawling '1-2-3-4' off mic before the descending riff plays through for a few bars. Joe mutters over the top, words that are almost inaudible-

'The kingdom is ransacked
The jewels all taken back
And the chopper descends
They're hidden in the back
With a message written on a half-baked potato
The spool goes 'round
Saying I'm back here in this place
And I could cry
And there's smoke you could click on'

... and then the smoke clears, leaving Topper's boom thwack boom thwack, Mick counting everyone back in again and then the question 'what are we gonna do now?!'

Joe answers with a song about the rise of the far right, the dignity and indignity of labour, the crushing of youthful dreams and becoming what you once stood against, conformity and coercion, and a final part about 'evil presidentes getting their due'. The band are on fire, fully amped up, Mick leading the charge, and the effect is electrifying. Paul's bass playing is upfront and centre, especially in the remastered version from Sound System. Joe and Mick trade lines, call and response, intuitively- the segue from Mick's spoken middle eight to Joe coming back in with the 'But you grow up and you calm down' is hair raising. 

It's worth pulling a few of Joe's lines out, starting with the astonishing first line of the first verse-

''Taking off his turban 
They said 'is this man a Jew?' ''

Joe follows it with 'they put up a poster saying 'we earn more than you', the divide and conquer politics of the far right dissected in a few lines.

''We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers"

Forty years on from the National Front's resurgence we're right back where we were. The racists and immigrant scapegoaters that have dragged our politics and public life into the gutter over the last decade are still at it, people now emboldened by the rise of the populist scaremongers. If as he said last week the Clash are his favourite band it's pretty clear that Boris Johnson wasn't listening to the words. 

'No man born with a living soul
Can be working for the clampdown'

Joe urges the youth not to give in, not to fall in line, warning them of the older generation- 

'The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, boy, get running
It's the best years of your life they want to steal'

He also warns of being co-opted by them- 

'So you got someone to boss around
It make you feel big now
You drift until you brutalise
Make your first kill now'

The song was originally called Working And Waiting and the lyrics must have started as a warning about the grim realities of work. School leavers in the 70s were factory fodder and with the destruction of manufacturing industry and rising unemployment even that vanished.  As the song fades out and the group bash away Joe and Mick continue to hammer it home, 'work, work, work/ I give away no secrets/ work, work, more work, more work'. A major piece of work by Joe (the words) and Mick (the tune) and the group rise to the occasion pulling together a hard rocking song to match the lyrics. In a way it's a much an epic in its scope as (White Man In) Hammersmith Palais was a year before or Straight To Hell would be a few years later. 


In 1980 The Clash played Lewisham Odeon, with this blistering take of Clampdown recorded on film. Is there a better sight in rock 'n' roll than the moment at fifty two seconds where the three frontmen, all in black, step up to the mic to bellow the first line in unison?

Also in 1980 they played New York (a whole other story) and appeared on the TV show Fridays where they put everything- absolutely everything- into this performance of Clampdown.

Sometime during the recording of Give 'Em Enough Rope Paul realised that the money came from songwriting and during the rehearsal sessions at Vanilla brought in a song, initially known as Paul's Tune. It would become The Guns Of Brixton. Someone wrote somewhere that The Guns Of Brixton contains the greatest bassline of the Twentieth Century. Over this thundering, reggae inspired bass Mick adds some texture, some scratchy guitar and Topper splashes the cymbals. The sound of the studio chairs having their Velcro ripped apart is in there too. Joe was given an early version of the lyrics, which Paul wasn't sure about, and Joe encouraged him to work on them. When the words were finished and the music recorded Joe was given the lyric sheet but handed it back to Paul, saying he should sing it. Paul sings/shouts his words, South London style, a song about police brutality and the ghetto, suffering and surviving. He then brings in Ivan from The Harder They Come- 'you see he feels like Ivan/ born under the Brixton sun/ his game is called surviving/ at the end of The Harder They Come'. The dub rhythm swings and lurches, Paul throwing the bass around, moving from one foot to the other. The Guns Of Brixton sounds massive, filling the room when played loud. It is one of the most enduring of the songs off London calling, the bassline reverberating through pop culture as a sample and a cover version. The perfect way to close side two, under heavy manners. 

There are five songs on side two, five standouts, five album tracks better than most band's singles. They must have known how good they were when sequencing the album. It has flow, range and depth, showcases their quality as songwriters, inventiveness as players and Joe's unique abilities as a lyricist. 

As much as London Calling is an album about the world in 1979, the state of things in London and the faraway towns, it's also an album about people and their lives, the way they respond and react to the world, a world which kicks them and brutalises them and threatens to flood their homes. It's an album about Jimmy Jazz and Rudie, the narrator of Hateful and his dealer, Federico Lorca, Montgomery Clift, Ivan and Joe dazed and confused under the supermarket striplights. The Clash were a people band, they did things for their fans (letting them into gigs for free, not over charging them for albums, not stripmining albums for singles) and they wanted to reach as many people as possible. Writing about people was what they did. As Joe pointed out much later 'without people you're nothing'. 

In a few days- side three.  

Thursday 28 November 2019

Running To Paradise

One of my favourite 12" releases of 2018 was Craig Bratley's 99.9%, which came with an Andrew Weatherall remix and a gorgeous piece of slo- mo cosmic Italo called Take Me To Bedford Or Lose Me Forever. Craig has just put out another four track e.p. (which the postman delivered yesterday, raising his eyebrows no doubt at the number of 12" square packages that have been arriving at our house recently). The new e.p. is called A Message From The Outpost and finishes with this- Running To Paradise- another wonderful slow mo, cosmic/Balearic transmission gliding in from much warmer and sunnier climes. Rimini in 1991 perhaps.

Back in 2013 Craig remixed a track called One Time by Almunia (an Italian psychedelic/cosmic disco outfit) and which shows he's been perfecting this Italo groove for some time. As this one hits the three and a half minute mark the acid bassline and synth throbs become enough to make a grown man cry.

One Time (Craig Bratley Remix)

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Gran Paradiso

It's so dark at the moment- dark in the mornings, dark from the late afternoon and murky throughout the day- that some musical sunshine is required to try to burn though the gloom. This track came out in 2017, a blast of Italo, cosmic Balearica with a touch of acid thrown in. Prins Thomas did an official edit of a Rusty track called Everything's Gonna Change and when that was released by Hell Yeah Recordings he added two extras, one of which was this one, Gran Paradiso. Straight from the off a blaze warm and loud washes of synth, drum pads and some chirruping sounds with a spluttering synthesised bassline coming in. Four minutes of summer.

Gran Paradiso

Tuesday 26 November 2019

To The Faraway Towns

In three weeks time, 14th December to be exact, London Calling will hit forty. My copy (pictured above) was purchased second hand at some point in the late 80s, already a decade old then. Since then I've ended up with three copies on CD- a plain re-issue, the 25th anniversary re-issue with the Vanilla Tapes and the remastered one from the Sound System box set. Sometimes I think I should replace my vinyl copy which has seen better days but baulked at the price of green and pink re-release. And in many ways I'm happy with my original copy- it's lived in and we've all got a little worn over the last forty years.

There's an exhibition on at the Museum of London celebrating the album with Paul Simonon's smashed up Fender Precision bass as one of the exhibits. We can sit here and blather about punk hitting middle age and ending up behind glass in cases in museums, surely not what punk was about, and moan about them selling out- and people were accusing The Clash of selling out from the moment they signed to CBS right through to now- but instead I'm going to focus on the record, the nineteen songs spread over four sides of vinyl that make up what may very well be the Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Record Of All Time. I don't especially care for Best or Greatest Of All Time, it's all subjective and one man's trash is another man's treasure, but if I were forced to have cull the majority of my record collection, to pare things back to the absolute minimum, London Calling would be one of the survivors. I can't imagine my listening habits without it.

Some context- in 1979 The Clash were in a bit of a hole. They'd moved on from the purist, Year Zero-ism of 1977 and had faced some criticism for the Sandy Pearlman produced Give 'Em Enough Rope. In 1979 they'd put out album track English Civil War as a single complete with the magnificent cover version of Pressure Drop on the B-side. In May they released the four track Cost of Living e.p. a record so red hot it almost couldn't be contained by the 7" of vinyl it lived within- a searing cover of I Fought The Law (more grist for their detractors, rebel chic plus someone else's song), two new originals in the shape of Groovy Times and Gates Of The West (yet more grist for their detractors, the band who in '77 were so bored of the USA but were now singing about it) and a new recording of Capital Radio (Capital Radio Two) to beat the scalpers charging over the odds for the original.

The group had changed management, ditching Bernie Rhodes, which led to them leaving their Camden rehearsal base and both Strummer and Jones admitted after that they'd suffered from writer's block. For what would become the London Calling sessions Clash tour manager and roadie Johnny Green and Baker had secured them a new space, the back of garage in Pimlico, re-christened Vanilla Studios. They locked the doors, kept people out and began playing around with covers that each of the four members brought in from their background and wide range of influences- rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, reggae, ska, rhythm and blues. In the afternoon band and crew broke off for football over the road, a couple of pints and then back to the rehearsals. From this they assembled the songs that would become London Calling, three cover versions (four of you include the cover of Armagiddeon Times on the B-side to the lead single), one song written right at the end after the sleeve had already gone to print, a first song and lead vocal for Paul and fifteen Strummer- Jones originals. They recruited semi- retired, semi- legendary producer Guy Stevens to produce the album, tracked down by Joe in a pub. Stevens caused chaos in the studio, deliberately, to get the group into the right frame of mind, a rock 'n' roll atmosphere (which all four said they thrived on). They spent six weeks in Wessex Studios, Bill Price stepping in when Stevens went too far, and came out of it with a double album that they insisted would retail for under a fiver. Value for money was a key punk concern. London Calling may not be punk but it is made of the punk aesthetic- do it yourself, loud and fast, keep mistakes in if they add to the song, don't do what they tell you to- spliced into roots music and rock 'n' roll. It is personal and political, local and global, London and the faraway towns.

Side One

Opening with the strongest statement of intent they could, the title track and single crashing in on Jonesey's two chord intro and Simonon's rumbling bass, a clarion call. Joe strikes out straight away, looking out from the capital to the rest of the country- 'London calling to the faraway towns/ now war is declared and battle come down'- with a state of the nation address taking in the death of the 60s ten years earlier and punk a couple of years before, police brutality, impending nuclear and climate apocalypse, starvation, the zombies of death (a line widely thought to be a reference to heroin carving its way through the punk scene) and Joe sitting in his flat on Chelsea's World's End estate, where he lives by the river. Joe took an early version of the lyrics to Mick, who told him to re-work them as the chorus wasn't strong enough. Imagine that. The song ends with a burst of radio pips and Joe's plea 'London calling at the top of the dial/ and after all this won't you give me a smile?'

Then it's immediately into their cover of Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac. One of the attentions to detail on this record is the gaps between the songs and the instances of split second timing. No sooner has London called than Simmo's bass takes us into the rockabilly flash of 'My baby drove up in a brand new Cadillac'. This was the first song recorded at Wessex, the cover version warm up sessions paying off. Topper said they'd have to redo it to, it speeds up in the second half, to which Joe Stevens replied 'all great rock 'n' roll speeds up'. From there on in they were flying. 'Balls to you baby', Joe sneers updating Taylor's 50s single to the late 70s, 'she ain't ever coming back'.

Jimmy Jazz is a change of pace, initially a laid back sounding jazz- blues song, Mick's guitar playing decidedly non- punk, all echo and space. Joe comes in over the swinging backbeat with a tale of the police looking for Jimmy, threats to cut off his ears and head, Jimmy Dread and Satta Massagana, Joe eventually going all scat. Jimmy Jazz is the big sign on first listen, half way through side one, that things have changed, that other influences are all over this record. Jimmy Jazz, after the strum and drang of the title track and the amped up rockabilly of Brand New Cadillac, is a breather of kinds.

Jimmy Jazz

And then blam! Hateful, a three minute, three chord trick, a rocking Bo Diddley shuffle with lyrics about heroin addiction (again) and in the 'this year I lost some friends' a reference to Sid Vicious and his sad death in New York. Even their throwaway side one track four album songs are better than most band's singles.

Side One closes with Rudie Can't Fail, very much a London song, Mick responding to Joe's instruction of 'sing Michael sing' with a shouted 'on the route of the 19 bus...' We're deep into ska and reggae territory, horns driving the song emphatically, again with that Bo Diddley shuffle and beat. A celebration of the West London rude boys and drinking brew for breakfast, the youth being criticised for not settling down, getting a job from the paper and taking responsibility. In response Rudie loves his life, 'I tell you I can't live in service' he says, 'looking cool and speckless' in his pork pie hat and chicken skin suit. The band's rhythm and ska builds up, the guitars choppy and the horns parping. It's clear whose side The Clash are on.

Side One takes in so much in it's five songs, from apocalyptic modern rock to cool jazz, from rockabilly to funky reggae, it's tempting to just flip the needle back to the start and go through it all again. The band are flying, Joe's on fire lyrically and the songs up the ante from one to the next covering more musical ground than any other punk band would be able to. And that's before you've even flipped the disc over and played side two, possibly the greatest run of Clash songs they committed to one side of black vinyl. And I'll come back to that soon.

Monday 25 November 2019

Monday's Long Song

Based on two posts by The Swede I started to check out the back catalogue of Swedish band Kungens Män, six middle aged men from Stockholm who have been exploring the outer limits of psychedelic and drone rock since 2012- there's a lot of krautrock in their sound and some shoegaze too. They're playing in town in early December for the princely sum of £8 so I'm going along to that too. There's plenty of back catalogue to get stuck into, enough to keep me going for some time. But for today, their latest release, an album with not one or two or even three long songs but four long songs.

Kungens Män's latest album is a four track called CHEF (not a reference to the head cook but a word for the boss or the chief) . Opener Fyrkantig Böjelse (square bend, according to Google Translate, not always the most reliable source of translations) is eleven minute of dark, metronomic space rock with some trippy guitar playing. It's followed by eight minutes of Öppen För Stangda Dörrar, dubbed out, spacey and wind swept and building slowly in intensity. Track three is the ten minute fuzz bass romp of Män Med Medel (Man With Funds I think), with ensuing guitar freak out, the drumkit taking a right old battering. Album closer is the eleven minute Eftertankens Blanka Krankhet, repeated, cycling guitar parts and a hypnotic groove. 

Sunday 24 November 2019


Two random and unconnected pieces of Twentieth century pop culture for Sunday. The picture is a photograph/mixed media collage by Man Ray from 1941 titled Les Filles des Noix (Nut Girls). Forty five years later came the song below- Carino by T-Coy- a delicious marriage of Mancunian house and Latin music, created by the magic hands and imaginations of Mike Pickering, Richie Close and Simon Topping. It still sounds as fresh as you like. Carino, which has the honour of being the first UK house release and existed as early as 1985 before being released on Pickering's fledgling Deconstruction label in 1987.


Saturday 23 November 2019

Twenty One

Today is our eldest's 21st birthday. Isaac was born on 23rd November 1998 and, as some of you will know, from that point on has had a complicated and difficult time. Diagnosed with a serious, life limiting condition at eight months, multiple operations, deafness, physical and learning disabilities, all compounded by meningitis at ten years old (a result of the refusal of his immune system to grow back following two bone marrow transplants in 2000). Along the way he has refused to stop or slow down and brought joy and laughter to almost everyone he meets- questioning them about the motorways they use, the day their bins go out, the tram or train stations they use and the supermarkets they shop at. He is now in his second year at college and loves it (his college in Salford integrate the young adults with additional needs with the mainstream students on one campus). He goes out with his adult social services group, a service that has somehow survived repeated cuts by the Tory government and council over the last ten years. Things have been on a fairly even keel in recent years but you can't ever really take things for granted with him (his immune system is still shot to pieces) so twenty one is an achievement, a marker, especially for a young man who more than once while in hospital wasn't expected to survive the night. Happy birthday Isaac.

I only twigged recently that this event was also on the 23rd November, nine years earlier. The legendary night in 1989 when Top Of The Pops was gatecrashed by Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. At the time in '89 I remember sitting in my student house, finger poised over the record button on the rented VHS machine. Happy Mondays came on first, miming Hallelujah, the lead song off the Madchester Rave On e.p. Hallelujah on the 12" is a colossal, six minute piece of grinding Mancunian funk, produced by Martin Hannett pumped full of pills the Mondays gave him, not the kind of song to make the nation's favourite chart show. The 7" featured a Steve Lillywhite mix (The MacColl Mix) slightly smoothed out with Kirsty on backing vox. It still sounds like a groovy, out of sync, unholy racket, Shaun William Ryder wanting to 'lie down beside yer, fill yer full of junk'.

Kirsty joined the band for the TV appearance, dressed down in double denim and trainers. The Mondays had been to Amsterdam before the show for some 'shopping' and were all Armani-d up. As the cameras began to roll Shaun asked the nearby cameraman 'does me knob look massive in these strides?' Bez apparently remembers nothing of the day at all.

The Stone Roses appeared shortly after having ridden into the top ten with a double A-side, Fool's Gold and What the World Is Waiting For. The forty date spring tour and debut album saw them grow and grow, bringing more  and more fans on board, hair was lengthening and trousers widening. Fool's Gold was a step on completely from the album, nine minutes fifty three seconds of liquid, ominous funk, John Squire's guitar circling round and round, helicopter noises and wah wah bedlam, Reni and Mani were locked in tight. Over the top Ian Brown whispers about greed, the hills and the Marquis de Sade.

Thirty years ago today and still sharper than the rest.

Friday 22 November 2019

Deep Rave Memory

This is out today, new from Richard Fearless, an eight track album under his own name. If the title track is anything to go by it promises to be a techno- soul classic, 303s and whipcrack snares, melodic toplines, dark spiralling synths and kosmiche expansion. The title alone is a gift. Twelve minutes of twisting, laser light brilliance.

Thursday 21 November 2019

A Change Of Atmosphere

In 1990 the members of Big Audio Dynamite that weren't Mick Jones left the group. Mick ventured on with a new group of recruits, renamed as Big Audio Dynamite II, all Stussy bucket hats and combat trousers. Mick's song Rush stands out from that time, along with The Globe, evidence his songwriting skills were as sharp as ever and that he was still on top of things in the studio and in production. BAD II records are peppered with samples, new technology, house beats with guitars and some general Second/Third Summer Of Love vibes.


Mick played it a bit fast and loose with the release of Rush. It had already appeared on the Kool Aid album in a earlier form called Change Of Atmosphere. In 1991 The Clash were back in the press, charts and public consciousness with the use of Should I Stay Or Should I Go in the long running Levi's adverts. The song was re-released and went to number 1, a feat which Mick was chuffed about, the song playing in every cinema in the country and it was an achievement The Clash never managed during the group's lifespan. Mick insisted that the B-side to the single was Rush and then managed to get it listed as an AA side rather than a B-side (in an interview at the time Mick, a tad disingenuously claimed new bands always needed exposure and he saw BAD II was a new band). Apparently this didn't go down too well with Joe and Paul. Rush is a super smart song though, whatever the back story. Mick's voice crashes in, all reedy West London. 'If I had my time again' he sings, in the wake of the break up of another band, 'I would do it all the same'. The song then finds space for some crunchy Jones guitar chords, keyboard and organ samples from songs by The Who and Deep Purple, a stolen drum break and some distinctive vocal samples by Big Hank from the Sugarhill Gang and  Peter Sellers. In verse two Mick continues to regret rien...

'Now I'm fully grown
And I know where it's at
Somehow I stayed thin
While the other guys got fat
All the chances that are blown
And the times that I've been down
I didn't get to high
Kept my feet on the ground'

There's then a long sample driven, breakdown section before a little mea culpa in the third verse 

'And of all my friends
You've been the best to me
Soon will be the day
When I repay you hands and knees
Broken hearts are hard to mend
I know I've had my share
But life just carries on
Even when I'm not there'

Fast on its feet, full of life and with an exciting, catchy chorus, Rush is a giddy blast.

As well as the Should I Stay Or Should I Go single Rush was released as a single in its own right in the UK and in America, eight versions and mixes, partly aimed at radio stations in the U.S and MTV- which clearly worked, Rush was at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock chart for four weeks. The UK White Label mix turned up officially on an Australian BAD compilation, a mix very much aimed at British clubland.

Rush (New York 12" Mix)

Rush (UK White Label)

Wednesday 20 November 2019

⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ

A new release from the artist known as ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ, the Wingdings alias of Kieran Hebden/Four Tet. Unpronounceable in a way Prince could only dream of, the names of the songs are spelt out using Wingdings too. The new release has two songs, both featuring the familiar skippy drums, lighter-than- air production, sunlit melodies and fragments of vocals. Of the pair I think the first one,  ʅ͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡(ƟӨ)ʃ͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡ ꐑ(ཀ ඊູ ఠీੂ೧ູ࿃ूੂ✧✧✧✧✧✧ළඕั࿃ूੂ࿃ूੂ,  shades it for me but both are pretty wonderful, capable of lifting the spirits and taking you somewhere else for a few minutes and, lets be honest, sometimes that's all we need our music to do. 

Tuesday 19 November 2019

I Know As Much As The Day I Was Born

In the 1980s Paul Weller's decision to keep moving and jump several steps ahead of where his audience were (and his band) led to The Style Council. Out went parkas, targets and guitar- drums- bass post- punk/mod rock, in came jazz and soul and funk, Dee C Lee and Mick Talbot. Looking back at Weller's writing in The Style Council a lot of the lyrics that shows the same concerns- The Style Council's love songs are more lovey (Headstart For Happiness and Long Hot Summer for instance) and debut single Speak Like A Child was brilliant soul pop in a way that The Jam could never have been. Weller never avoided politics in his Style Council songs, if anything he was more overtly political than he had been in The Jam. Second single Money Go Round is as powerful as The Eton Rifles but its sung over 70s wah wah funk instead of driving post punk. And as relevant today as it was in 1983.

'Too much money in too few places
Only puts a smile on particular faces
Said too much power in not enough hands
Makes me think "get rich quick; take all I can"
They're too busy spending on the means of destruction
To ever spend a penny on some real construction'

Or how about this one, The Internationalists, from 1985's Our Favourite Shop?

'If you believe you have an equal share
In the whole wide world and all it bears
And that your share is no less or more than
Your fellow sisters and brother man
Then take this knowledge and with it insist
Declare yourself, an internationalist
If your eyes see deeper than the colour of skin
Then you must also see we are the same within
And the rights you expect are the rights of all
Now it's up to you to lead the call
That liberty must come at the top of the list
Stand proud as an internationalist'
Walls Come Tumbling Down- governments crack and systems fall/Cause unity is powerful- goes without saying. If anything, these songs go further than Weller ever did with The Jam, overtly socialist and calling for change.
On Saturday night a friend had a spare for a gig by The Style Councillors at Gorilla, a nine piece band playing the songs of Weller's second band. I never saw The Style Council back in the day so was hearing many of these songs live for the first time, loud and up close in front of an enthusiastic audience. The political songs mentioned above were all played, the words cutting through from the mid- 80s to 2019 and a world where Johnson, Rees Mogg, Farage et al are all at a top people's health farm and pulling the wool over people's eyes. This one, a 1986 single, Weller's own brand of self- realisation and positive thinking...
Have You Ever Had It Blue? was a single in 1986 but first appeared on the soundtrack to the film Absolute Beginners, Julian Temple's much maligned attempt at Colin MacInnes' 1950 novel. The soundtrack version of the song has an extended jazz intro before Weller comes in. 

Monday 18 November 2019

Monday's Long Song

Back in 2013 some tapes resurfaced from the depths of the Cold War, music commissioned by the East German state and created by the composer Martin Zeichnete. The music was for athletes from The German Democratic Republic to train to, warm up and warm down tracks, an artistic and sporting programme that began to prepare athletes for the 1972 Olympics and ran through to 1983. The tapes were released under the title Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music Of The East German Olympic Program and caused an internet sensation, krautrock from behind the Iron Curtain, extended synth workouts and motorik drums, tumbling keyboard melodies, driving basslines. This one, Die Lange Gerade (translation The Straight Line) is a thirteen minute excursion into the program, Zeichnete's music never running out of ideas, wild synths and forward motion. Fantastisch.

Die Lange Gerade

The truth behind the tapes is perhaps a little more prosaic. Almost immediately people began to say the entire thing was a hoax, the program and Zeichnete never existed and that the music was really the work of Edinburgh musician Drew McFadyen (a member of The Magnificent, an Edinburgh based electro- rock band).

Sunday 17 November 2019

Dead And Gone

Toy, Brighton based psych indie-rock five- piece, have a new album out soon, a selection of cover versions including their take on the Pet Shops Boys own cover of Always On My Mind. Their 2015 album with Natasha Khan as Sexwitch was one of that year's highlights, six psyche and folk songs from the Middle East via Sussex. Back in 2012 they released their eponymous debut, an album which had one track that stood head and shoulders above the rest- Dead And Gone, a seven minute sweep of euphoric guitars, softly sung vox and motorik drums. The build up in the fourth minute, breakdown and then guitar re-entry at 5.25 is heart-stopping.

Dead And Gone

It was remixed by Andrew Weatherall. He uses that hissy, steam powered drum machine he's so fond of and strips it all back, bass and wonky, whooshing noises, drones and synths from West Germany of the early 1970s, to make something utterly hypnotic and captivating.

Dead And Gone (Andrew Weatherall remix)

Saturday 16 November 2019


There's an article about 808 State in the latest issue of Electronic Sound which opens with a paragraph about the enduring appeal of their breakthrough song Pacific State, a genuine crossover tune and hit record in 1989. The writer describes the song as 'plucked from that golden age between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11' (adding that it is something we need 'to embrace more tightly now in the age of austerity, Brexit and the divide and conquer politics of populism').

It's interesting to see the 1990s described as a golden period. Politically the collapse of the Soviet Union was famously declared by US historian Francis Fukuyama as 'the end of history', the triumph of western liberal democracy meant that little could prevent it from being the only desirable form of government and the only way to structure society. Fukuyama has rowed back on that since- as you might expect given the War on Terror, the Arab Spring, the financial collapse of the global economy, the right wing populism of Trump and Farage and the swing to authoritarian regimes from Hungary to Turkey. I found myself wondering whether the 1990s really was a golden age. I was 19 when the decade started and 30 when it ended. Your twenties should be a golden period in your life, old enough to do what you want as an adult, young enough not to be weighed down by it all. I remember various attempts to brand the 90s as 'the 60s upside down' and there was a tendency at the cusp of 1990 to promote a more spiritual, optimistic spirit for the forthcoming decade. Positivity was much mentioned. Bands went dance, loosened up, wore white, the music was filled with a sense of openness. The Poll Tax was defeated. Thatcher went. Bush followed. The Labour Party and the Democrats were resurgent.

But much of what's wrong now can be dated to the 90s. Liberal, centre left governments seduced by the power of the market, the blending of public and private in state provision, the sale of assets like the railways to the private sector, the destruction of the social housing stock, the idea that 'we're all middle class now', the belief that commerce would solve all problems, all date from the 90s. The first Gulf War too and the horrors in the Balkans. Balance it up with the freedoms gained by the people of Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990, not to mention what was happening in South Africa at the same time. In the UK there was a genuine sense that music and youth culture were capable of creating community. Many people commented that acid house/rave was partly a response to Thatcher's declaration that 'there is no such thing as society'. Where am I going with this? I'm not sure. I don't necessarily disagree with the 808 State article and it's author (Ben Willmott), I like the idea of golden ages, they're seductive, and I like the idea of one that I lived through and was part of, but the truth is always more complex. Maybe for Ben Willmott and the people he describes responding to Pacific State in 2017, it's more about nostalgia, memories of youth. For the record, he says it isn't just nostalgia but something else- futuristic optimism plucked from that time and re-purposed in the present. I think I'm going round in circles now.

You can't wrong this can you? Wildlife noises, blissed out synths, synapse busting toplines, the rattle and thump of the drum machine and that sax part.

Pacific 202

808 State's new album Transmission Suite was recorded in the transmission suite at the old Granada Studios building at the bottom of Quay Street in town, the room filled with consoles and equipment and a wall with eighty television screens and the lingering presence of Tony Wilson. The album is fifteen tracks of finely tuned, precision engineered electronic Mancunian dance music, Detroit techno clearly part of its DNA but with an eye on the future and the next step. Futuristic optimism.

Friday 15 November 2019


One of the standout moments from Weatherall's recent Music's Not For Everyone show was by Acid Arab, a Parisian duo/collective. The clue is in the name- they combine, smart, tough acid house and electronic sounds with Eastern melodies, instruments and vocals. The new album Jdid (meaning new in Arabic) came out last month and takes its cues from the Mediterranean and the lands that border it. Music to transport from a cold Friday in November to a smoke filled basement somewhere near the Bosporus.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Spirit Counsel In Salford

I spent Sunday evening at The White Hotel in Salford. First things first, the venue is not and never has been a hotel. It is down a side street surrounded by derelict buildings, some empty lots, a few down at heel shops and takeaways and Strangeways Prison just across the road. If the building looks like a 1970s brick and corrugated iron converted garage, that's because it is. The steel shuttered doors are still in place and at one point Thurston uses one to play his guitar. Beer is served from the pit that once would have been used to work on the underside of cars. It is not salubrious. It is dingy and smells of oil. It is, therefore, the perfect place for some noise. Thurston Moore has always tried to keep one foot in punk rock and rock 'n' roll with the other in the avant garde and free jazz and this show does both but with the foot in the avant garde more firmly planted. No vocals, no singing, just three guitars and drums, the final night of a European tour with his band including Debbie Goodge, ex- My Bloody Valentine, on bass. The gig consists of one song, played for an hour, a version of the first disc of last year's three disc Spirit Counsel album. You might think finding spirit counsel in a converted garage in Lower Broughton could be tricky but Thurston and band do their best to lead us towards something transcendent.

Opening with a long ambient section, drummer Jem Doulton splashing the cymbals with beaters as the guitarists tune up (or detune up). Eventually the guitars start to hum and feedback gently and Thurston stands, head back and eyes closed. As the noise builds they wait, coming in together on Thurston's nod of the head, then stick in that groove waiting for him to nod his head again, tension and release. Later on as the noise builds he shouts the changes over the music '1- 2- 3- 4', the group piling in or dropping out bang on the 4. The hour long piece, Alice, Moki And Jayne, keeps circling back to a four note guitar part and although it looks improvisational it's clearly all very well rehearsed. When the four note refrain has reached the end of its part the band crash into some heavy riff rock or growly three guitar rhythms. At one point a beautiful chorus like melody takes over, the group locked in and hypnotised. There are freeform parts and drumless parts- in one section Jem pummels the cymbals over wailing feedback, shards of cymbal noise ricocheting around. There's a long feedback section, Thurston pushing his guitar against the steel shutter, over his head and then throwing his arms around the guitar. Freakout and meltdown. Repetition and flow. There are echoes of Sonic Youth, some of the chords and the playing the guitar with screwdrivers or pens on the neck of the guitar but it's also absolutely not Sonic Youth.You could watch it and think that it takes itself a little too seriously, that this is the practice room stuff of much younger men and women, jamming for hours without ever really getting anywhere, rock musicians playing at being avant jazz. But it's real and coherent, physical and powerful and as good a way to spend an hour in a garage on a Sunday night near Strangeways as you're going to find at this stage in proceedings.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

An Afternoon Without Keith Haring

On Sunday I spent much of the day in converted industrial spaces at art and music events. The afternoon event was organised by Dave Haslam, the man near the centre of much of what has been happening here since the mid 1980s. He's recently written a short book about Haring and, with the exhibition at the Tate Liverpool running at the same time, put together some events to celebrate Keith's life and to raise some money for AIDS and art charities. The venue was Fairfeld Social Club, a large, double arched space underneath the railway at the back of Piccadilly Station- a really good use of a post- industrial space with a very welcoming feel. There were DJs playing 1980s New York tunes, live music from a singer called Husk, an In Conversation With... Q and A with Samantha McEwen (who met Keith at college and shared a flat with him in NY in the early 80s), a recreation of Keith Haring painting Grace Jones (minus both Keith and Grace but with willing stand ins and it wasn't warm in there so hats off to the Teneille ), live painting in the style of Keith Haring by graffiti artist Boo Whorlow, an auction of the paintings and a Haring t-shirt and some energetic and passionate live poetry.

This is Grace Jones from her 1981 album Nightclubbing and a track which speaks for itself.

Art Groupie

In the evening I went to The White Hotel in Salford to see Thurston Moore. Of which, more to follow.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Slo Bird Whistle

Warp are celebrating thirty years of releasing records. One of the releases for this landmark is Aphex Twin's Peel Session from 1995, four tracks from Richard D. James including this one...

Making music that is weird or odd is relatively easy. Making music that is weird or odd and also shot through with brilliance and sounds genuinely timeless is less easy. Slo Bird Whistle sounds like nothing else and if you have a cat is likely to sent him/her on edge too.

Monday 11 November 2019

Monday's Long Song

Top- the field at Serre, the Somme, where 585 men out of the 700 Accrington Pals who went over the top on 1st July 1916 were killed or wounded in the first twenty minutes of the battle.

Bottom- the view towards the British lines at Beaumont Hamel, as seen from the German front line. The Newfoundland Regiment lost 700 men on the same day as they tried to cross the ground in the centre of the picture.

I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the way in the last few years the poppy has been politicised but remembrance is important. I also think as a nation we need to find a way to move forward from the world wars of the Twentieth century. There is an unhealthy obsession with aspects of them in some areas of British and English life.

This is new from an ambient/drone outfit called Private Mountain. Just A Strange World is seven minutes of immersive, melancholic noise and beautiful swirling soundscapes. The track Private Mountain that follows it is similar but twice as  long and with water and birds.

Sunday 10 November 2019

End Times Sound

It is time once again for our monthly sojourn to Music's Not For Everyone, Andrew Weatherall's regular two hour trip through dub, pysche, cosmische, techno, chugg and all points in between. 'The usual gubbins' as Weatherall himself puts it. This month's, especially the second half, is as far out and esoteric as it has ever been. The tracklist is here.

Saturday 9 November 2019

The Berlin Wall

Thirty years ago today the Berlin Wall began to crumble. The exodus of thousands of East Germans had begun in the summer as Hungary relaxed its travel restrictions following Gorbachev's softening of the USSR's position, not least his economic decision to start pulling the Red Army out of the satellite states. Many East Germans realised they could travel to Hungary from Dresden and from Hungary westwards to The F.R.G. On the night of the 9th November 1989 the East German government, faced with a losing battle and  mounting civil unrest lifted the their own travel restrictions. A bemused official at a press conference, when asked when the freedom to travel from East to West Berlin came into effect, shuffled his papers, shrugged and suggested from now. Crowds began to gather at the wall and pass through the border points without any kinds of checks. Guards looked on but did nothing. More and more people arrived. Some climbed the wall. Some danced on top of it. West Berliners arrived with hammers and chisels and started taking chunks out of the wall. East Berliners flooded into the western side of the city and filled the bars. Euphoric crowds partied through the night. Berlin had been divided by the wall since August 1961. Over 130 people were killed trying to cross it. Watching these events of November 1989 live on TV was bizarre and sticks in the memory as one of the seeming certainties of life vanished.

The Berlin Wall is littered through pop culture. Bowie and 'Heroes' and Iggy at Hansa in the shadow of the wall, Johnny Rotten in Holidays In The Sun 'I gotta go over the wall/please don't be waiting for meeee', Keith Haring painting the western side of it, West Berlin's isolation and interzone status, acting as a magnet for all sorts of outlaws, artists and reprobates- Einsturzende Neubauten, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. On the eastern side of the Wall life was more dangerous especially for those who chose a non- conformist lifestyle. There's a set of photographs here of East Berlin punks, photographed, arrested, beaten and harassed by the Stasi for their dress and haircuts.

The pictures above are from my visit to Berlin a few years ago. The section of wall with the graffiti on it, the only real length of wall still sanding in the city centre, is poignant- 'Astrid,maybe some day we will be together'. Checkpoint Charlie is more of a tourist trap but worth a visit. The line the Wall took is laid into the streets in Berlin so you can follow the route it took but it's difficult to visit today and picture the city of the 70s and 80s, divided in two, with watchtowers, the death strip, machine gun posts and roads stopping suddenly, bisected by a concrete Cold War boundary marker.

This is from a series of remixes and re-edits released on the legendary Trax label, classic Chicago house music redone for the 2010s. Bring Down The Walls by Robert Owens, re-edited by Leo Zero.

Bring Down The Walls (Leo Zero re-edit)

Friday 8 November 2019

Brian Rix And Charlton Heston

Two songs named after famous people from the late 80s indie world for Friday, tributes of kinds to Brian Rix and Charlton Heston.

The Brilliant Corners came from Bristol and were one of the quintessential jangle- pop, C86 bands. Their 1987 single Brian Rix became a millstone for them in many ways but is a classic of its kind and full of self- deprecating humour. Jingle jangle guitars, sweetly sung, four four snare, and this verse...

'Don't be so worried, we won't get caught
They won't be back until eleven o' clock
We fumbled around in front of the budgie
She started to laugh, 'Well what's so funny?'
It's just you remind me of Brian Rix
When you pull your trousers down
It sends me in fits'

Brian Rix was an actor and manager, a man famous for West End farces. He became a campaigner for disability rights following the birth of his daughter, born with Down Syndrome. Later on in his life, as Lord Rix, he campaigned for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. He died in 2016.

Brian Rix

In 1988 Stump released a single called Charlton Heston. Stump, with former members of Microdisney in their ranks, were a little more experimental than The Brilliant Corners. They were the archetypal touring indie group of 1988, always on the road, often in either the NME, the Melody Maker or both and appearing on The Tube more than once. Charlton Heston reached the dizzy heights of number 72 in the real charts, novelty indie almost- frog chorus, twangy guitar and the line 'Charlton Heston/put his vest on'. The lyrics are based on Heston's performance as Moses in The Ten Commandments. Until recently I hadn't heard this song for roughly three decades. Singer and lyricist Mick Lynch sadly died of cancer in 2015.

Charlton Heston was a Hollywood legend and an influential right wing activist. He abandoned the Democrats in the 60s to become a Republican and then an avid supporter of Ronald Reagan. He was elected five times as President of the NRA. Heston famously made a speech to fellow gun owners at the NRA national conference, waving a rifle above his head on stage, and challenging Al Gore by shouting 'I'll give up my gun when you prise it from my cold, dead hands'. This was one year after the Columbine High School massacre. he repated the line at the end of his annual speech for several years afterwards.

Better to remember Charlton Heston in Planet Of The Apes, a film packed with genuinely great moments, not least the final scene. 'You maniacs! You blew it up! Dam you! Dam you all to hell!'