Tuesday, 31 December 2019
The last day of the year, time to get 2019 over and done with. I said in my end of year review that musically it's been a bumper year but in many other ways 2019 has been a headlong descent into the abyss, a continuous political nightmare with no way out for at least five years. Johnson looks set to carry out the formal separation of the UK from the EU at the end of January, getting Brexit done as he hammered home during five weeks of campaigning. His majority in parliament and electoral mandate gives him the freedom to do it as he pleases. Some kind of hard Brexit will be done by the end of 2020 with the Farage/Johnson fanboys and fan girls triumphant. Grim as fuck. In the USA imperial tyrant toddler Donald Trump is in the process of being impeached but it doesn't seem to actually mean anything as the Republicans in the senate will fall in line and clear him regardless. Again, grim as fuck.
*shakes head, slaps cheeks, exhales*
Blogging is a good platform to celebrate the positive and to find the best in things and in these circumstances you've got to get your kicks where you can. I posted this clip at the end of the summer but it remains one of my highlights of 2019. Back in August Eric Cantona stood up at the UEFA to receive the President's Award, a recognition of his commitment in helping to improve the lives of others and as 'a man who refuses compromise, stands up for his values and puts his heart and soul into supporting the causes he believes in'. In accepting the award Cantona quoted King Lear and then went off at an even further tangent...
“As flies to wanton boys, we are for the gods. They will kill us for the sport. Soon, the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal. Only accidents, crimes, wars will still kill us but unfortunately crimes and wars will multiply. I love football.”
I ripped the audio from the clip above and have dropped it into playlists and onto compilation CDs. You can do the same if you want.
Eric Cantona speech August 2019
This came out in the summer, a long slow deep house thumper from Scott Fraser and Louise Quinn. It still sounds like a good way to spend ten minutes.
And then there's this one from Roisin Murphy, one of the most creative, consistent and exuberant writers and performers on the planet. In June I fell hook, line and sinker for Incapable. Her next masterpiece Narcissus came out in November and is disco perfection. I didn't post it at the time and today feels like as good a day to do it as any.
Happy new year everyone. Have a good one tonight whether you're in or out, going big or staying small and to quote Mr Weatherall from his monthly transmission for NTS radio 'don't let the grubby little opportunists drag you down'. See you in 2020 for more of the same.
Monday, 30 December 2019
Vaughan Oliver died yesterday aged 62. He was the man responsible for the creating the artwork that graced the sleeves of a slew of bands in the 1980s and 90s and the entire visual identity of 4AD. The selection above shows how distinctive, eye catching and beautiful his work was but also how varied. It helps that the music contained within the 12" by 12" squares above was always of the highest calibre- Lush, Pixies, This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Ultra Vivid Scene, MARRS, Colourbox, Pale Saints (and also Throwing Muses, The Breeders, AR Kane, Belly... the list goes on). From the days when buying records based on the label they were issued on was commonplace and when the artwork mattered as much as the music.
Here in 1991 are Lush performing their single Sweetness and Light at The Dome, shoegaze pop with a Manchester swing to the rhythm. Vaughan Oliver RIP.
Daniel Avery's Falling Light, twenty two minutes of sounds as part of an audio/visual installation for Leeds International Festival, has recently been made available as a freebie. You can get it by signing up to the mailing list here. Opening with a piano heavily drenched in reverb and then noise, drone, haze and static before eventually being replaced techno drums and rising synth chords.
Sunday, 29 December 2019
This is newish from Field Of Dreams who released the excellent No 303 e.p. earlier this year. Rebuild comes in an original mix which is an acid tinged chuggy stomper. The flipside is this, the Deconstructed Mix, which is heavy on the dub techno tip and adds space age sci fi sounds. The vocal sounds ominous but is asking for for a better life- 'we need to stand up, fight against corruption, injustice, intolerance... rebuild, rebuild, rebuild'. Ten minutes of unseasonal but life affirming stuff.
Saturday, 28 December 2019
On Boxing Day night sitting in the room with all the records in it we played the game where someone pulls a record at random from the shelves and we play it. First to go was my daughter, who had already said she didn't like what my brother- in- law were listening to when she came in- 'it's not music, it's just noises' (Richard Norris' Abstractions Vol. 2). She was given the first go and pulled out St Etienne's 1994 12" single Pale Movie.
Pale Movie is off Tiger Bay, the sleeve with a tiger on both front and back. I photographed the tiger above at Port Lympne safari park in Kent a few years ago. I don't think keeping tigers in cages is a good idea (apart from the obvious conservation arguments) but the tigers at Lympne had a lot of room and seeing one close up and hearing it roar was pretty exciting. I digress. We played the single version of Pale Movie from the choice of four mixes on the single. Pale Movie is classic mid- 90s St Etienne, equal parts Eurobeat, Spanish guitar and Sarah singing lyrics about a boy and girl ('he is so dark and moody/she is the sunshine girl'). Pete, Bob and Sarah went to Nerja in Spain to shoot the video.
I went back to the 12" afterwards to re- listen to the other three mixes, all of which were worth giving a spin. Mark 'Spike' Stent, the man who mixed the song (and Hug My Soul from Tiger Bay as well), did the Stentorian Dub, a straightforward but effective clubby remix- plenty to enjoy in it with its bleepy synths and chunky drums.
Pale Movie (Stentorian Dub)
The longest remix was ten minutes from Kris Needs in his Secret Knowledge guise. It starts with an extended intro which builds into the first of several peaks. The Secret Knowledge Trouser Assassin mix goes pretty trancey with pummelling drums and Sarah's vocals dropped in along with the kitchen sink. Kris Needs was a master of this kind of thing in the mid 90s.
Pale Movie (Secret Knowledge Trouser Assassin Mix)
Finally a remix by Underworld (credited solely to Rick Smith), the Lemonentry Mix, one that clocks in at just over four minutes, very short for Underworld at the time. Rick worked on Tiger Bay too, mixing and programming Like A Motorway, Cool Kids Of Death and Urban Clearway. The Underworld remix of Cool Kids Of Death is one I'll come back to when I do a follow up to the Underworld remixes post from a week or two ago. The Lemonentry Mix is a slowed down, dubby affair, darker and moodier than the rest, with Sara's vocal intact.
Pale Movie (Lemonentry Mix)
Just to show how random the following selections from the shelves were my niece followed St Etienne with Gnod and a song from their Just Say No To The Psycho Right Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine album. We played the opening song, Bodies For Money, a glorious piece of feedback guitar led noise, every instrument recorded with the needle tipping into the red and Gnod raging against late period capitalism.
Mrs Swiss then pulled out a six track maxi- single The House Sound Of Chicago and as Gnod's noise dissolved we had Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk's 1986 song Love Can't Turn Around, featuring the sublime vocals of Daryl Pandy, a song that was the first US house track to hit the UK charts. It still sounds huge, crashing pianos, 808s and 303s. Magical.
Love Can't Turn Around
Fun for all the family as I'm sure you can see.
Friday, 27 December 2019
There's an album of acoustic guitar cover versions of Sonic Youth songs, all texture and ambience and small hours vibes, by Belgian artist Wixel. It came out back in 2008 and lives on in Wixel's Bandcamp page (Wixel doesn't seem to have released anything since 2013). Welsh outfit The Long Champs have taken Wixel's cover of Expressway To Yr Skull and blissed it out, turning it into a gorgeous, shimmering, meditative haze, perfect for this time of the year. I can't recommend this highly enough, it's sublime. If you move quickly- and I appreciate moving quickly two days after Christmas may be relative- there's a free download.
Wixel's cover versions are worth some of your time too.
Thursday, 26 December 2019
This should perk you up after yesterday's excesses and lift you out of your Boxing day slump. Tom Tom Club back in 1981 showing that it wasn't only David Byrne in Talking Heads who could do inventive, forward thinking, naggingly catchy art- pop.
'Words can make you pay and pay
Four-letter words I cannot say
Panty, toilet, dirty devil
Words are trouble, words are subtle
Words of anger, words of hate
Words over here, words out there
In the air and everywhere
Words of wisdom, words of strife
Words that write the book I like
Words won't find no right solution
To the planet earth's pollution
Say the right word, make a million
Words are like a certain person'
Wednesday, 25 December 2019
Tuesday, 24 December 2019
It was Christmas Eve babe and... here's Mark Peters, the guitar and synth shoegaze/ambient maestro behind the Innerland albums and he has a four track single out called Winterland. The lead track is a lovely, atmospheric Yuletide thing called The Box Of Delights.
Versions of Silent Night and Jingle Bells follow with chiming guitars and sleigh bells and then a superb Maps remix of The Box Of Delights. Well worth £3.00 of your money.
This, The Specials on Top Of The Pops on December 18th 1980, is the only acceptable appearance of Christmas jumpers I can think of. Do Nothing.
Happy Christmas to you all, have a good one, whatever you're doing and whoever it is with.
Monday, 23 December 2019
I read an article recently that claimed that making end of year lists was merely an attempt to forestall death, that ranking and ordering things is for people who have an unnatural fear of death and who must be constantly trying to leave things in order before they go. A bit dark perhaps. A similar argument says that making lists is an attempt to place order on a chaotic and uncontrollable world- and one glimpse at the news will confirm that the world is both those things and getting more so- and people (men mainly) feel that if they can rank their albums/books/films then they have at least controlled a part of that world. So, with all those things being as they are, here's my end of year list. It doesn't seem to have much in common with the end of year lists I've read in the 'proper' music press or websites- so I must be out of step with what's really the best of the 2019. All I can offer you is what I've loved the most this year and some examples to sample.
There's a lot of chuggy, cosmic, Balearic, ALFOS style releases in this list, a top 30 for 2019, a golden year for music that evokes outer space, Mediterranean beaches and/or basement clubs thick with dry ice.
1. Silver Apples Edge Of Wonder (Andrew Weatherall Remix)
Released for Record Shop Day in April this remix is nine minutes of total joy, a dream turned into sound- the pitter patter drum machine giving gentle propulsion, the bouncy keyboard riff and metallic sounds echoing round and round and the softly sung vocal- 'waves, waves, Neptune's metronomes... relentless heartbeat of the sea'.
2. A close second was this three track release from Pines In The Sun, Albanian Balearica via Brighton. I know next to nothing about them but the wordless, sunshine shimmer of Sun and the gorgeous sprawl of Zig Zag Sea (plus Duncan Gray's remix of the latter) soundtracked much of my summer.
3. Apiento's single Things We Do For Love came out back at the start of the year, a slow motion dance floor shaped ode with synth bass and whispered vocals. My main regret is not being quick enough to get a copy of the limited run of 7"s.
4 and 5. A Certain Ratio have spent the year celebrating their fortieth anniversary and released this pair of superb songs, one a previously unreleased cover version from 1980 that was intended to be voiced by Grace Jones, the dark funk of House In Motion and the other a very Mancunian remix of their Dirty Boy single (featuring Barry Adamson and the voice of Tony Wilson), remixed by Chris Massey. The Dirty Boy remix in particular has floated my boat.
From this point onward there are a slew of singles, remixes and e.p.s that I've enjoyed this year, loads of brilliant music showing that 2019 has been a really good year. The next dozen or so especially have all been on heavy rotation.
6. Moon Duo Lost Heads
7. Meatraffle Meatraffle On The Moon (Andrew Weatherall Remix)
8. Four Tet Teenage Birdsong
9. A Mountain Of Rimowa A.M.O.R. e.p.
10. Plaid Maru (Orbital Remix)
11. Hardway Bros Chateau Comtal
12. Scott Fraser and Louise Quinn Together More
13. Four Tet Anna Painting
14. GLOK Dissident
15. Roisin Murphy Incapable (plus the pair of incredible Crooked Man remixes/dubs)
16. Craig Bratley Message To The Outpost e.p.
17. Field Of Dreams No 303
18. Fjordfunk Exile (including the Hardway Bros remix)
19. The Comet Is Coming Summon The Fire
20. Ride Future Love
21. A Man Called Adam Paul Valery St The Disco (Prins Thomas Remix)
22. KH Only Human
23. Shape Of Space Manifesto
24. Warriors Of The Dystotheque Things In The Shadows (Tronik Youth Remix)
25. ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ e.p.
26. Shunt Voltage Link Up/ See It In Your Eyes
27. Boy Division Hot Pants
28. Dan Wainwright Keep Me Hangin' On (with Hardway Bros dub remix)
29. Duncan Gray Much Much Worse/ Where Clock Goes
30. Terr Tales Of Devotion (including the Prins Thomas Diskomiks)
Four Tet/Kieran Hebden has had a particularly good 2019, always innovative and entrancing and producing some of the best moments in a variety of guises and across a series of releases, including a live album recorded at Ally Pally in the summer that I've only just started listening to.
Edit: just realised I forgot San Pedro whose e.p. in June was a blast and should be in the list above somewhere.
I've bought and listened to what seems like an enormous amount of albums this year. The internet and streaming has made individual songs the focus again, a return to the halcyon days of the 7" and 12" single and their B-sides, and occasionally people write about the death of the album and the forty/seventy minute format (depending on whether its a vinyl album or CD). Looking through my pile of records and CDs and lists of downloads the album looks in really good health to me. There's more breadth to my album list, a wider variety of sounds and styles. I've fallen into an ambient/drone wormhole many times this year, a wonderful place to stay for extended periods. Psychedelia and cosmic psych rock has been at the front of the pile a lot. These are in no particular order, the first eight I genuinely couldn't pick between in terms of a favourite or a ranking, they're all the albums of the year.
Andy Bell (the guitarist from Ride) released the surprise of the year, a rich, gorgeous flotation through cosmic psychedelia, motorik drums and West German sounds, awash with floaty, dreamy synths and guitars. From the Tron-esque sleeve to the luminous green vinyl to the grooves contained within everything about this album was spot on.
Richard Norris Abstractions Vol. 1
Richard Norris has been exploring ambient music throughout 2019 (and before). This year he has released a pair of albums, Abstractions Vol. 1 and 2, filled with extended repetitive sounds, loops of melody, chimes and washes, drones, ambient noise, waves of reassuring sounds- deep listening. This year has been a car crash in many ways. The whole Brexit debacle, the constant noise and feelings of loss of control over our politics and culture, the sense of loss and the feeling that we're being driven over the edge by fanatics. This album has helped me switch off from it. I can put this on and it works in a calming way that nothing else does. If there's an N.H.S. left in five years time, this pair of albums should be available on prescription.
Meatraffle Bastard Music
Bastard Music is a strange record, surreal, bold and in places very funny. A vision of dystopia set to a ramshackle beat and some memorable melodies. Lyrically it deals with everything- nationalism, the exploitation of workers, Brexit, living in London versus living in the country, immigration, the price of renting, sexism, science fiction, activism, everything... but it's never overbearing or humourless and the lyrics and vocals force you to listen to it rather than just have it on. Musically it's lo fi synthy disco, horns and Pulp Fiction guitars, home made rhythms, reggae and post punk. In some ways Bastard Music makes no sense and in others it makes more sense than any other album released in 2019. It's an amazing record in lots of ways not least in the the song Meatraffle On The Moon, one of the very best things I've heard this year- a song that really should be up at the top of the singles list with Silver Apples and Pines In The Sun- a dub pop exploration of human workers enslaved and working on the moon, their comradeship and valiant attempts to survive with only the meatraffle to look forward to. Semi- stoned drums, a snaking horn, dub bass and the ace vocals.
Moon Duo Stars Are The Light
My favourite guitar/synth/drums psych- rock explorers put out their latest album in September, Stars Are The Light, and have found a new love of disco and dance music and ecstatic grooves. It's still clearly the work of the band who made the darker, heavier Occult Architecture albums but now with their faces turned to the sun. The synths and drums dance around, the rhythms are aimed at the feet and lighter than before and the twin vocals are airy and optimistic. Their live show in October was an immersive psychedelic experience. I don't think there's an album I've bought this year that I've listened to more than this one.
Steve Cobby Sweet Jesus
One man cottage industry from Hull, Steve Cobby dropped Sweet Jesus onto the internet live back in the summer, twelve songs recorded in his shed, taking in cool Balearic vibes, lush instrumentals, downtempo funk and synths and lots of acoustic guitars. The opening song, As Good As Gold, inspired by Led Zep's third album acoustic guitar picking folkiness in mid- Wales with added mellotron, has been one of my favourite tunes of 2019 and one that I keep going back to. There's something about it that really hits the spot in a way I can't quite put my finger on.
Rich Ruth Calming Signals
This album from Nashville resident Rich Ruth is often described as ambient but it's not ambient in the rain- falling- while- lying- in- bed- with- the- volume- slightly- too- low Brian Eno sense. It's an instrumental album, nine songs that take in minimalism, repetition and drones, a beautiful soaring, squawking saxophone, built around synths and guitars. On first listen you're never quite sure where it's going to go next and in places it is utterly gorgeous.
Richard Fearless Deep Rave Memory
This only came out recently so I'm still getting to know it but it is a perfectly paced and sequenced, intricately constructed techno journey. Completely absorbing and in places edge- of- your- seat tense, taut techno but with some beautiful melodic passages and some pulsing, calming tracks too.
Underworld Drift Series 1 Sampler
I've mentioned this project and album twice recently so don't intend to say much else. The best Underworld album for ages. Try this one...
These eighteen too, roughly in the order that they're listed in below. A bumper year for the long player round here.
Steve Mason About The Light
A Man Called Adam Farmarama
Bob Mould Sunshine Rock
Private Mountain Blue Mountain
Mark Peters Ambient Innerland
Stiletti Ana Ab Ovo
WH Lung Incidental Music
Rude Audio Street Light Interference
Kungens Män Chef
Acid Arab Jdid
Solange When I Get Home
Rose City Band Rose City Band
Jane Weaver Loops In The Secret Society
Joe Morris Exotic Language
Lana del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell
Mythologen Antisocial Background Music 2017- 2019
Sunday, 22 December 2019
Joe Strummer died on this day in 2002, seventeen years ago. It seems fitting to remember this each year and especially so this year, London Calling being all over the media and the internet. There's a good BBC show here where Pennie Smith, Don Letts and Johnny Green listen to the album and talk about their memories and role in it.
In 2001 Joe and his Mescaleros had released Global A Go- Go, an album which had back at the top of his game and leading a band who suited him. The gigs they played to promote it were raucous and life affirming affairs, Joe mixing up the new songs with Clash ones. I was at the opening night of the tour at Manchester Academy, November 17th, the venue packed with all the young punks and the old punks too, out in force. Early on there were a few beers arcing through the air towards the stage. Bass player Scott Shields scowled as he got a soaking, lager down the front of his shirt. Joe noticed this and when the song finished told Scott, over the mic, not to worry about as things were about to get a lot worse- they then ploughed into Safe Eurpean Home and the whole venue went up in the air as one, seconds before more pints were flung towards the stage. The gig finished with a memorable version of Yalla Yalla and then Joe returning for the encore with a child on his shoulders before they group followed him on to play Bankrobber.
The song that closed Global A Go- Go was a version of a traditional Irish song, The Minstrel Boy, an eighteen minute lilting lament to the boys who have gone off to war.
A different version of the song, shorter and with Joe's vocals, was played over the closing credits of the 2001 film Black Hawk Down, a Ridley Scott about the U.S. army's raid on Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.
The Minstrel Boy
The lyrics are a version of Irish Republican Thomas Moore's words, written in the late 18th or early 19th century.
'The minstrel boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you'll find him...
...thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery'
Saturday, 21 December 2019
A friend whose musical judgement I trust has recently suggested that this song is the song of the year.
The Comet Is Coming are a futurist jazz three piece- Danalogue plays synths and keyboards, Betamax plays drums and King Shabaka plays saxophone. The song above, Summon The Fire, is as much fast psychedelic dance music, amped up rave, supercharged cosmic prog or weirdo punk as it is jazz. They get compared to Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane a lot and I don't really know enough about either of those two to comment I'm afraid. But I do know that Summon The Fire is a total blast with its huge fuzz bassline, ace skronking sax , fast rattling drums and sweeping synth sounds, is over and done in under four minutes and has one eye firmly looking forwards. The album, Trust In the Life Force Of The Deep Mystery, is clearly worth checking out on this basis.
My friend also suggested in a separate social media post that this is the track of the decade.
Also new to me, Nautilus came out back in 2012. Anna Meredith is a composer who came out of the proms and symphonies world and towards, for want of a better word, pop. In 2016 she released an album called Varmints, experimental and electronic. This has led her to perform with the likes of James Blake and These New Puritans. Nautilus, which if you've clicked above you'll now be familiar with, opens with a fanfare of horns and doesn't let up, techni-coloured and hyper music, a supervillain's theme tune, the opening music to the news in the 23rd century, a march for aliens as they disembark.
Track of the decade is something I hadn't considered writing about. I haven't even finished a 2019 list yet. I just realised as well, that today is the winter solstice and after today, the longest and darkest of days, it starts getting lighter longer a little bit every day. That's worth raising a glass to.
Friday, 20 December 2019
Today is the last day of work in 2019 for me, the end of an extremely long feeling term. This week's posts have been largely dominated by anger in response to the UK in 2019 so there's a double reason for trying to end the week with some positivity and some uplift. This came out in 1992, truly a golden age for electronic dance music records, from the combined talents of Michael Hazell and Paul Hartnoll of Orbital plus Frank de Wulf on remix duties. Hazell and Hartnoll called themselves Golden Girls and the main elements of this track- Kinetic- have been re-purposed and re-used by Orbital umpteen times but never better than on this remix. From the celestial voices that open it to the insistent synth riff, the bleeps and flute/pan pipes part, this is the type of track that will have you throwing your hands in the air while blinking back tears. Optimistic, idyllic and emotive.
Kinetic (Frank de Wulf remix)
Thursday, 19 December 2019
Bringing together several recent themes today I'm offering you some prime Underworld remixes from the mid 90s, a time when we could actually feel fairly optimistic about the world.
Underworld have been all over my stereo recently with the Drift Series 1 Sampler (posted at the weekend). In addition the 90s incarnation of Underworld (Hyde, Smith and Emerson) were at The Vinyl Villain fairy recently with their epic ten minute remix of Human Behaviour- a beat heavy, tribal techno delight, Bjork skipping into the night, called by the drums.
Dreadzone have made a career out of righteous dance- floor based sounds, dub, reggae, techno and progressive house mixed into a heady stew with some politics in there to shake it all up. In Zion Youth singer Earl 16 give the wrongdoers a simple message- heads up Tories...
'You'll never get to Zion without Jah love
Never reach that land you're dreaming of
You must be good you must be careful
Live upright like you know you should...
...No evildoers will be there
No backstabbers will be there'
This remix is a ten minute long excursion- a looped keyboard part, Earl's voice, some echoey, whooshing noises bouncing around and those trademark Underworld rhythms building up a head of steam. There's a break down at eight minutes in and then it's all back on the dub techno train to the fade.
Zion Youth (Underworld Mix)
I have pondered before about an Underworld remix album, a compilation of the cream of their 90s remixes, and am really surprised no one ever put one out, especially in the heyday of CDs when a double disc remix edition would have surely been a winner.
This one from 1993 would have made the cut, a thirteen minute rejigging of William Orbit's Water From A Vine Leaf, a stomping chugger of the highest order. In among all the sonics there's a magnificent piano riff that is worth the price of entry alone, a parping synth part, a nagging upper register synth riff that goes straight to the back of the brain, a snatch of Beth Orton's vocal and a squiggly acid bassline that would cut straight through the dry ice- layers of sounds aimed at feet and the head.
Water From A Vine Leaf (Underwater Mix Part 1)
Here's the 1993 remix of Bjork, the 110 BPM version from the A-side of the 12". On the flip was a faster one, the 125 BPM Dub, but to my mind this is the pick of the pair. The build up alone is longer (and better) than many songs. This sort of thing could pack a dance-floor tight in the early/mid 90s.
Human Behaviour (The Underworld Mix 110BPM)
This could run and run and I have posted some of these before- there are some heavy duty One Dove remixes, a pair of very techno Chemical Brothers bangers, a tasty remix of The Drum Club's Sound System, a fifteen minute St Etienne remix, Orbital's Lush and some outliers like Front 242 and Shakespeare's Sister (neither of which it seems I own either digitally of physically).
Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Some righteous fury for Wednesday from the 1993 collaboration between Leftfield and John Lydon. Leftfield were at the height in 93 mixing techno with dub and progressive house and found a variety of guest vocalists to give their music some focus. On Open Up Lydon is back at his best too, the butter advert, celebrity jungle game show, Sex Pistols re-unions and Brexit backing bollocks being some years away in the future. In Open Up he takes out his fury at least partly on Tinsel Town with the 'Burn, Hollywood, burn' line and 'open up, make room for me' refrain but the earlier lines could have been written with any number of people in mind- 'you lied, you faked, you cheated, you changed the stakes'. I don't know what Lydon's views on Boris Johnson are (and actually don't want to just in case Johnny has decided that Boris is ok). As everyone knows when the song came out there were real forest fires blazing through parts of Los Angeles and threatening Lydon's own home.
Musically Open Up is a thumping Leftfield tour de force with pounding kick drums, hi hats buzzing away at the top end, a pummelling bassline and in your face squiggles and synths. It is enormous and a massive adrenaline shot.
Open Up (Vocal Edit)
The 12" remix single came with versions by Sabres Of Paradise and The Dust Brothers. Sabres found the dubbier parts of the song, some metallic guitar lines and stripped it down leaving Lydon's vocal sounding even more at- the- edge than on the original mix.
Open Up (I Hate Pink Floyd Mix)
Tuesday, 17 December 2019
I keep making the mistake of opening Twitter or the newspaper and going back to what happened last Thursday, like a dog returning to it's own vomit. There's nothing much to be gained by it at the moment, all the news, comments and opinions are giving different but equally depressing views on the same shitty mess. Johnson's supporters are obviously cock- a- hoop and the right wing is invigorated and emboldened. The Labour Party has been tearing itself apart since the moment the exit poll slammed down at 10 pm on Thursday night. Boris Johnson has already made some threats against the BBC, to decriminalise non- payment of the license fee and, in a move straight out of Trump's handbook on how to damage democracy, is boycotting some BBC programmes.
The Redskins 1986 single keeps bubbling up in my mind. Funny how we revert to the protest songs of the 80s. The Redskins famously wanted to be a combination of The Supremes and The Clash and in Keep On Keepin' On wrote a song that delivered on that promise.
Keep On Keepin' On
Keep On Keepin' On (Ted de Bono 12" Mix)
Monday, 16 December 2019
I don't what's going on in Stockholm at the moment, whether it's something in the water or the Scandinavian air but the music coming out of it is top class. Hans Hjelm plays guitar in Kungens Män and is also one of the players in Automatism, a four piece guitar band finding long lasting sweet spots in improvisation. This song, off this year's Into the Sea album, is a nine minute wonder, the lead lines never getting boring or doing the same thing twice but constantly leading the song into new places. The drums pitter patter softly before becoming more Neu!ish, the bass provides momentum and the guitars twist and turn themselves inside out.
Automatism is the state of being out of control of one's actions, not conscious of what one is doing- in law it is a legal defence that a person cannot be found guilty for their actions because they did not know what they were doing. In art it refers to creating art without conscious effort, bringing up material from the unconscious mind. On their Bandcamp page the band say they 'search for the moments where the music plays itself without effort'.
Sunday, 15 December 2019
In town yesterday among the hordes of Christmas shoppers and groups of young men in Christmas jumpers out for an all day session were a small but persistent group of Christians spreading goodwill and peace to all.
Underworld's year long Drift project has seen them release a new song every Thursday starting in November 2018 and finishing last month. It seems to have reinvigorated them completely. They've released the entire thing, music and films, as a box set plus an easier to digest single CD/double vinyl album called Drift Series 1 Sampler. The fourteen songs that make up the sampler album are the best thing Underworld have done since whatever your last favourite Underworld album was. It is a brilliant, innovative and moving collection of songs that come together amazingly well, especially given the manner they were recorded in, on the hoof and freewheeling.
The song that closes the Drift Series 1 Sampler originally came out back in April and is an absolute beauty, a ten minute marriage of slight euphoria and melancholic regret. Custard Speedtalk opens with drums and there's a synth part which is a bit Rez-y, capable of triggering all kinds of early 90s flashbacks and dewy eyed nostalgia before the bass buzzes its way in and the piano and happy sad keyboards take it up. At about two minutes forty someone says 'this is good' and a little later Karl starts singing, seemingly about a ex- lover who has gone but who he's just seen somewhere with someone new and the pangs of regret that come with that. Strings and maybe a guitar come and go and the piano part becomes more insistent. Dreamy, layered music and a very internal vocal.
'You don't know what's going on
But you're not stupid
You refuse to change
You're much more well rounded'
By the end it feels pretty uplifting, like you've been saved from something. God knows we could do with some of that right now.
The video is lovely as well, filmed from the windows of a train from night through to the early morning sun, rushing past railway stations, bridges, train yards, canals, cranes, office buildings, blocks of flats and allotments with other trains filmed in reflections, all in a sideways motion.
Saturday, 14 December 2019
When Mogwai nail it they really nail it. Their 2017 album Every Country's Sun contained several career bests and this one was superb, led by plunging bass, dreamworld guitars and distortion and the echo drenched, otherworldly vocals of Stuart Braithwaite. Space age miracles are mentioned in the first verse but this is 21st century guitar music of the highest order.
Party In The Dark
Friday, 13 December 2019
This was written before the result of the general election was known but in gloomy, pessimistic anticipation of a Johnson win. Maybe I was wrong and he's been turfed out into a cold December Downing Street, the door banging shut behind him.
Music is important isn't' it? It brings us together, gives us shared experiences (personal listening experiences and shared ones at gigs or on the dance-floor). It gives a voice to people. It allows us to recognise ourselves in the art others have made. Music gives us something to dance to in the face of disaster and disappointment, both personal and political. Lifts us up and brings us down. Makes us laugh and smile, cry and sigh. Makes you feel like you can face the world.
A Certain Ratio have been celebrating their 40th anniversary this year with a tour and a box set and two new releases (an old one in their unreleased version of Houses In Motion and a new one in the Chris Massey remix of Dirty Boy, both featured here previously). In 1989 they were only ten years old and had left Factory for the major label environs of A&M. 1989's The Big E album had several songs I'd consider to be keepers but didn't sell well. The single Backs To The Wall was remixed by Frankie Knuckles, one of the originators of house music. He adds a chunky house beat and pumps up the disco elements of the song although in 1989 terms this remix feels quite slow. Nice job though, the symphonic stabs are good, there's some funky guitar riffs and housed up piano chords, a bubbly bassline and several vocal lines that jump out given the current situation, not least the ones about the economic hard times and money talking, 'we're going nowhere, nowhere fast', 'we all need friends to help in the end but nothing lasts forever' and the chorus...
'Backs to the wall
Stand up tall
Don't let 'em get you down'
Back To The Wall (Frankie Knuckles Remix)
Thursday, 12 December 2019
It never fails to amaze me how servile this country is- a thousand years of monarchy coupled with a political upper class who have managed to hoodwink enough of the voters that they know best, that they are born to govern, have done us in. That has led us to where we are today. There was a new item on the BBC last week focusing on a food bank in Grimsby. A couple who had been priced out of Margate had moved north and survived using the food bank.
The fact that we are accepting the use of food banks in 2019 tells its own story and shows how far people have accepted the fate the Conservatives have delivered to them. In the last five years the use of food banks has increased by 73%. By March 2019 over one and a half million people in the UK relied on them. A third of these people use food banks because their income doesn't cover the basics. A third of the rest are because of issues to do with Universal Credit, either changes to benefits or delayed payments. There are now more food banks in the UK than branches of McDonalds- how's late period capitalism working for you?
Back to Grimsby. This couple were interviewed by the reporter and asked who they were thinking of voting for. Forced out of their home, surviving on charity food handouts, at the back end of a decade of government by the Conservative Party, the man said 'I like what Boris is saying'.
Somewhere there's a complete disconnect between the impact of the three worst Prime Ministers this country has seen since 1945 and the effects of those Prime Ministers on people's lives. Each of the three has been engaged in a frantic race, in half the time of the previous one, to reach new lows. From Cameron's ideological cuts to public spending propped up by the Lib Dems and offer of a referendum through fear of the nutjobs and racists at UKIP to May's loss of an election that forced her to be propped up by the DUP to Boris Johnson- the only British Prime Minister to have been found guilty of illegally shutting down parliament to prevent it from discussing his key policy, we have been governed by the most incompetent and foul trio of leaders imaginable. And still people say 'I like what Boris is saying' and 'I know he's a liar but I trust him'.
This election campaign has been the most depressing few weeks, the faked news reports in the last few days about the little boy suffering from pneumonia on a hospital floor, the lies told by Matt Hancock to distract from this, the fabricated story about a Labour activist punching a Tory aide at Leeds hospital, the mass use of spambots to pump out lies about the original photograph, the failure of two of the top political journalists to do even basic fact checking- it is shameful and should make anyone who think the UK is modern, fully functioning democracy think again.
If you vote Tory you are voting for Boris Johnson, a leader who has illegally prorogued parliament, compared Muslim women to bankrobbers and letterboxes, called homosexuals 'tank topped bum boys', called black people 'piccaninnies', suggested EU nationals should go home to their own countries, tried to politicise the murder of two people two weekends ago for his own benefit, has lied and cheated his way through life and politics, who has been kept away from both the public and TV interviewers the longer the campaign has gone on and who this week pocketed a journalists phone when confronted with the photo of the child on the hospital floor. You're voting for his cronies too: Priti Patel who suggested recently while being interviewed in Barrow that poverty wasn't the fault or responsibility of government; for Dominic Raab, the Brexit minister who didn't realise how much trade comes through Dover and hadn't read the Good Friday agreement; for Jacob Rees Mogg, a Tory so embarrassing and politically unsafe that they've hidden him away from the voters; Nicky Morgan insisting in the face of all rational evidence and basic that 50, 000 new nurses containing 50, 000 current nurses being retained is not 50, 000 new nurses; a party that doctored news footage of Keir Starmer and spread it via social media; a party whose manifesto has little in the way of actual detail other than that they will get Brexit done, as if the whole thing is finished once the UK leaves the EU when in reality that's when the business of Brexit actually begins. He, Johnson, and they, the Tories, are laughing at us- the hate us and they laugh at us because they know they can do what they like and people will still vote for them. It's almost as if with Boris Johnson they have decided to see what they can actually get away with in plain sight. 'Look, here, an actual total fucking bumbling poshboy idiot- vote for him'. The deference the Tories get stems from this bizarre British belief that they ar the natural party of government, that they are the safe pair of hands. Nothing they have done since 2010 or that Johnson has done since becoming Prime Minister in the summer justifies that deference, that servility, that doffing the forelock as the Eton boys go by.
It's looking like the best we can hope for is a hung parliament. We have to do the best we can to stop these people. Vote Labour, vote SNP, vote Lib Dem, vote Plaid Cymru, vote for the independents thrown out of the Tory party but vote anti- Tory. If they get a majority Johnson and the Tories will be laughing in our faces while they piss on our shoes for the next five years.
I'm not sure any of this helps but I feel a little better for typing it. It's difficult to feel positive or optimistic about things at the moment. Watching the TV or reading the paper makes me depressed, hopeless or angry. I guess anger is more useful than the other two and that's mainly what's fuelled this post.
This song by Aztec Camera and Mick Jones from 1990 has been picking away at the back of mind for the last few months. In the lyrics Roddy Frame takes the four countries that make up the UK in turn- Scotland ignored by the Conservative government despite never voting for it, Northern Ireland with it's Catholic population at the end of a gun and the butt of Paddy jokes, Wales suffering from population decrease a a result of incoming holiday home owners and England under the cosh of police brutality and illiberal attitudes. Roddy and Mick's rat- a- tat delivery, trading song lines and guitar lines, and the sheer bounce of the tune carry it all along, totally upbeat and Roddy tries to end with some positivity-
'Love is international
And if you stand or if you fall
Just let them know you gave your all
Worry about it later
The past is steeped in shame
And tomorrow's fair game
For a life that's fit for living
Good morning Britain'
Good Morning Britain
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
I woke up recently with Pete Wylie's single Sinful running through my head. Sinful came out in 1987, a hit that saw him return to Top Of The Pops with Josie Jones and three backing dancers dressed as nuns.
Ace isn't it? The song, the Zeus B. Held production, what looks like Paul Weller's pop art Rickenbacker, the performance, the presenters (John Peel and Janice Long), the sheer Wylie spirit. I've posted the Top Of The Pops clip before but shockingly, and in a clear breech of the bloggers convention that all music blogs must post Wylie or Wah! at least once in any given calendar year, there hasn't been any Wylie or Wah! to date in 2019.
Here the same line up perform/mime on Wogan. Magic.
I've got an uneasy feeling that we're all going to wake up on Friday morning in a very unpleasant state. There isn't anything I've seen over the last few weeks that makes me feel optimistic about the result of the election and I think we going to be saddled with five years of Tory rule with a lying, racist, homophobic and vacuous Prime Minister.
In 1982 Pete Wylie, then operating under the name Wah!, wrote a song called The Story Of The Blues. It was partly in response to the then Conservative government and the portrayal of life and unemployment under that government in Alan Bleasdale's series The Boys From The Blackstuff. The Blues of the title can be interpreted as the Tories. The first part of Wylie's song is an exhortation to people who are about to give up, who have been kicked and kicked again, to be positive and strong, to organise and resist.
'First they take your pride
Turn it all inside
And then you realise
You've got nothing left to lose
So you try to stop
Try to get back up
And then you realise
You're telling the story of the blues'
Wylie was also expressing his frustration with his record company and the way they were trying to market Wah! and reduce the multi-faceted, rough edged group down into a single, shiny marketable product. Everyone hated their record labels in the 1980s didn't they? It was par for the course for those inspired by punk to sign to a major for the advance and the distribution and then face battles in everything they did.
Wylie and Wah! recorded an extended version which took the pop single, full of female backing vocals and violins, further with a long spoken word section- The Story Of The Blues (Talkin' Blues) and they run as one song on the 12". In this section Wylie blasts the news media for selling Thatcher's economic policies and for criticising people, young people especially, for being unemployed, as if being in the dole made you less of a person. These were all big issues in the early 80s- unemployment, the right to work, the destruction of manufacturing industry and the jobs that went with them, the throwing of people onto the scrapheap.
'...well that's my story and I'm sticking to that. So let's have another drink and let's talk about the blues. Blues is about dignity, it's about self-respect, and no matter what they take away from you - that's yours for keeps. I remember how it was, how every medium - T.V. and papers and radio and all those people were saying: 'you're on the scrap-heap, you're useless', and I remember how easy it was to start believing that. I remember how you'd hear people take it for granted that it was true - just 'cause someone with an ounce of power said so. And that's a problem now, too many oddballs, too many pocketbook psychologists and would-be philosophers with an axe to grind. But there's a solution, it's not easy, but it's a matter of coming to terms in your heart with situation you're in, a matter of choosing how things go for you and not having things forced upon you. There are plenty of forces against you, forcing you against your will, your ideals - you've got to hope for the best, and that's the best you can hope for - you've got to hope against hope... I remember something Sal Paradise said, he said: 'the city intellectuals of the world are debauched from the full body blood-of-the-land and are just rootless fools'. So listen, when the smile, the condescending pat-on-the-back comes and says: 'we're sorry, but you're nothing, you've got nothing for us and we've got nothing for you', you say: 'No', and say it loud: "NO!", and remember, people who talk about revolution and a class-struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love, and what is positive in the refusal and constraint...since people have a corpse in their mouth..."
In 2013 the I'm A Cliche Edit Service website presented an unoffical re-edit of The Story Of The Blues, credited to It's A Fine Line (Tim Paris and Ivan Smagghe). This is a killer re-working of Wah!'s original with a long looped opening section, the backing vocals fading in behind the violins and then Wylie's words. The last few minutes are quite heady and when you get to the end it's very easy to just click replay and listen to it all over again. Several times. Even better, it's still available to download for free.
I was going to go full Pete Wylie and post Come Back and Imperfect List as well but maybe we should come back to them another day. Come Back is a political love song, an anthem and call to arms and Imperfect List a purging, a shitlist of all the things Wylie and Jones hated (two versions, one in 1990 and one in 2013). But I think I'll come back to them another day.
Tuesday, 10 December 2019
A thing of beauty from Jon Hopkins and Kelly Lee Owens, which began life as a remix of one of the songs from his Singularity album, gained a vocal from Kelly and then took on a life of its own, developing into this seven minute, weightless journey through time and space.
Monday, 9 December 2019
A couple of days later than I meant to post it- apologies for my tardiness- here's the latest transmission from Andrew Weatherall and his monthly gnostic sonics session for NTS. In Ancient Greece various early Christian and Jewish groups were labelled gnostics by their enemies. The gnostics were into personal spiritual knowledge in place of the established, orthodox teachings and authorities. Many gnostic teachings and texts from the 1st century AD do not deal with the concepts of sin and repentance but with enlightenment and illusion. They eschewed the rituals and instruction of the early church and instead favoured personal, internal motivation and intuition. Transcendence through personal experience was the way of the gnostic.
This episode has much to commend it, from the head-spinning psychedelia of the three opening tracks to the end with one from the excellent Rich Ruth album. It also has three new Weatherall releases too- a new one from Woodleigh Research Facility, a ghostly, echo-laden affair with Nina Walsh on vocals and two excellent remixes of Fireflies. Tracklist is here.
Sunday, 8 December 2019
Kungens Män played a week long tour of small venues last week, starting in Glasgow and then heading south via Newcastle, Todmorden, Manchester, Bristol and then Chelmsford. On Wednesday I saw them play The Peer Hat in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, on a small stage in the basement of a bar tucked away down a side-street. Seeing such a good band close up in such a small venue was a cosmiche treat. Kungens Män have three guitarists- Mikael, Hans and Gustav- lined up across the front of the tiny stage, kicking up a storm of FX driven guitars, three different parts, riffs, chords and lead lines complementing each other, circling around and building layers of noise. Drummer Matthias keeps a rocksteady motorik groove throughout and stage right Peter Erikson's table of synths and effects add texture and a psychey, space rock swirl. The second song is powered by a massive wah wah bass riff with the guitars piling on top, hitting the spot for well over ten minutes. For one song, well into the seventh or eight minute a saxophone is brought out and the skronky, free jazz floats and dives around the room. Finger cymbals announce the arrival of the final song, an ambient start soon overtaken by more dreamy, fired up, repetitive krautrock from Sweden. We get four (maybe five) songs in the hour they play, inventive, melodic and noisy, jams that have become something more focussed. A real joy to watch.
The sax playing guitarist with the shaven head entertains us between songs- he talks of it being a pleasure to be in the UK, ironically informing us that it is 'where krautrock began', tells tales of a Swedish radio DJ with a husky voice and later on introduces the band, cabaret style. He is unfailingly polite after the gig, selling merch from the table and ensuring I get my change for my purchase. All the band's members are friendly and happy to chat to members of the audience before and after the gig. Hopefully they can come back soon and play to slightly larger crowds. In 2016 they released Stockholm Maraton, a seven song space rock album but there are plenty of other albums at their Bandcamp site, any one of which is worth your time and trouble.
Saturday, 7 December 2019
A London Calling postscript. On 7th December 1979 The Clash released London Calling as a single. I wrote about the song in the first of my posts about the album here so don't intend to add much to that. Except this, the video, filmed by Don Letts on a wet night on the Thames on a barge at Cadogan pier. Letts didn't know the Thames was tidal and that the pier, barge and boat he was filming from would rise and fall- and then it started to rain heavily. Despite all this The Clash, all in black with brothel creepers and quiffs, filmed against the black of the night, give it all.
The B-side to London Calling is Armagideon Time, a cover of a Willie Williams song from 1977. This is politicised righteous Clash rock reggae, the world where a lot of people are going hungry and aren't getting any justice, where they are gong to have to stand up and kick it over. Joe had been talking before the recording about the ideal length of time a song should last- two minutes and twenty eight seconds according to Strummer- and at that point in the recording of Armagideon Time Clash fixer/road manager Kosmo Vinyl can be heard on the studio mic telling the group their time was up.
Strummer responds instantly 'OK, OK, don't push us when we're hot!' all of which adds to the take. Mick later added some electric sitar and there are the noises of fireworks and bombs going off. Armagideon Time is yet another Clash B-side that stands alongside their A- sides in terms of quality and passion. For the 12" they pushed it even further with a nine minute dub excursion.
Justice Tonight/ Kick It Over
Friday, 6 December 2019
Flip side three over, the drama of The Card Cheat fading in your ears. Place it on the turntable, lift the arm of the stereo, let's have it, London Calling side four.
Lover's Rock opens up side four and it's the worst song on the album for me, by some distance. The tune is alright and Mick's guitar playing has some moments but it's a one idea groove largely. The song's title is named after the hugely popular, commercial style of 70s reggae, a genre with some brilliant songs from artists such as Janet Kay, Dennis Brown, John Holt and Susan Cadogan. However Joe's lyrics are confused or confusing. In the first verse he tells the listener to 'treat your lover girl right' but then goes on to blame her for forgetting to take her contraceptive pill and warns that 'no one will know the poor baby's name'. In the second verse he steps into a book he was reading at the time, The Tao Of Love And Sex, and points the finger at western men who need more self control in the bedroom before setting out what a genuine lover should do-'... take off his clothes/ he can make his lover in a thousand goes'. I don't know what Joe was intending with this song- a genuine attempt at dealing with sexual politics? A pisstake of lover's rock's lyrics? Shaming men for the way their bedroom technique? Whatever he meant, I don't think it works and it's causes the only real dip in quality across the nineteen songs. Best to move on, move to....
Tsk- tsk- tsk- tsk clang! Four Horsemen!
'Well they gave us the grapes that go ripe in the sun
That loosen the screws at the back of the tongue'
Four Horsemen is a ridiculous song (in a good way) and I love it. After all the apocalyptic mayhem, nuclear errors, card cheats, murders, capitalist alienation and sufferation Joe now imagines the band as the Four Horsemen- not the biblical ones from the Book of Revelation bringing war, pestilence, famine and death but four comical horsemen. These horsemen do not bring the end of the world but are ageing, stoned incompetence-
'One was over the hill
One was over the cliff
One was licking them dry
With a bloody great spliff
When they picked up the hiker
He didn't want a lift
From the horsemen'
The Clash loved to write about themselves- see Clash City Rockers, Garageband, All The Young Punks and The Last Gang In Town for starters- but here Joe has his tongue planted well in his cheek. Maybe this adds to the argument that the previous one is a joke and what opens side four is a pair of joke songs. Four Horsemen is definitely here to lighten the mood, not to be taken too seriously, but for all that Mick's tune is a belter, Topper is hammering those drums full pelt and Joe gives a full throttle vocal performance. The verses tumble by in a mass of words and images, a crashing chorus, a middle eight with a spoken vocal part (a bit of a recurring technique of the album) and over the ending Joe singing 'we know, only rock 'n' roll/we got rock 'n' roll'. The band freak out, guitars squealing and Topper pounding leading to an over the top, crescendo. It's almost Death Or Glory inverted, or a Bizarro World version of it. Then there's the final one of those clever segueways leading us straight into I'm Not Down.
Mick piles into I'm Not Down with a pair of chords and then Paul comes in with a lovely bass riff, a bar or two of funky guitar and when Mick calls 'hup' they lock into a great descending riff. Paul's bass playing on this is superb and Mick's guitar shines throughout, several Les Paul parts stacked up. Mick sings I'm Not Down, very much an autobiographical song detailing the things that have gone wrong in his life over the previous year, singing and playing his way out of bad times-
'I've been beat up, I've been thrown out
But I'm not down, no I'm not down'
At the end of 1978 his flat had been burgled, he was attacked in the street by a group of Teddy Boys and then early on in 1979 his relationship with Viv Albertine ended. After all the topics Joe has written about on the album, from Three Mile Island to the Spanish Civil War, from drug dealers to working for the clampdown and then the comic nature of Four Horsemen and God knows what of Lover's Rock, Mick doing a bit of self- affirmation and positive thinking Clash style is rather good. A proper, singalong, arms aloft Mick Jones song.
Revolution Rock then arrives to take us through to what should be London Calling's end, a cover of a Danny Ray and The Revolutioneers song, the original out not long before The Clash recorded their version. I once played this song when DJing at a wedding and it down a storm. Revolution Rock is introduced by a Topper drum roll and then those frisky, catchy Irish Horns. This is The Clash go party, percussion and cheese graters leading the way, horns and dance rhythms after all the dread. Joe makes a few lyrical changes, turning 'everybody get off their seat and rock to this brand new beat' into the punkier 'everybody smash up their seat...'. At the end of London Calling El Clash combo sign off with reggae and calypso via West London at the tail end of the 70s, a song to raise the spirits and end the night. Joe slips in a reference to Mack The Knife with the line 'careful how you move Mac, you dig me in the back/ And I'm so pilled up that I rattle' but ultimately this is a rave up and a celebration with Joe exhorting 'tell your Mama Mama/ tell your Papa Papa/ everything's gonna be alright'. The drop in the middle with the organ break and then Joe and the band coming back in is nothing short of wonderful. As the horns and organ and drums/bass/guitar begin to wind up their circling groove Joe goes into full on sequined jacket entertainer mode with the show band end of song announcement...
'Any song you want
Playing requests now on the bandstand
El Clash combo
Paid fifteen dollars a day
Weddings, parties, anything
And bongo jazz a speciality...'
And that should be that but at the very end of the sessions, almost as the amps are unplugged and lights turned off Mick turns up with another song, one written the night before- Train In Vain. Riding in on a chugging railway rhythm, a superb instantly recognisable drumbeat from Topper, some harmonica and a funky guitar riff, and Mick's feathery vocal about being left and alone, Train In Vain is a Clash pop song and none the worse for it. There's a nod to Tammy Wynette in the my- girl- done- left- me lyrics (and she had left him Train In Vain being the second song on the album to be written in the aftermath of Mick's break up with Viv Albertine) and to Ben E King with the 'stand by me' refrain. Mick's in fine voice on the song especially the bit where he sings the 'you must expl-ai- ai- ainn... why this must be' part and it's genuine and heartfelt. Joe was a bit dismissive of the song, a corny love song in his view, making vomiting faces when they played it live sometimes. It broke them in the USA though, a top 30 single. Viv, no stranger herself to being confrontational and spiky not least in song lyrics, says in her book Boys Clothes Music it is one of her favourite Clash songs.
Train In Vain wasn't listed on London Calling's sleeve. This led to various rumours and for a while it was going to be put out on an NME flexidisc giveaway but this fell through so it was put at the end of the album, the sleeve having already gone to print but the discs not yet gone to press. It's difficult to imagine London Calling without it and after everything you've listened to and engaged with over the four sides that precede it, it's a great way to fade out. On 18th February 1980 they played it at Lewisham Odeon, a gig some readers of this blog attended.
I used to work with a man who lived next door to Ray Lowry in Waterfoot, Lancashire. Ray was the cartoonist and illustrator who designed the album's famous cover and then accompanied The Clash, at Strummer's insistence, as their official war artist, sending hand drawn and written accounts to the NME as they toured the USA. My ex- colleague said Ray was a lovely bloke, a genuine character with tales to spare. Sadly Ray died in 2008 but there was an excellent exhibition of his work at Salford Art Gallery in 2009/2010 which I went to. There's lots of his work here.
The sleeve obviously is legendary mainly due to Pennie Smith's shot of Paul as he brings his bass guitar down on the stage at the New York Palladium, taking out his frustrations at the seated venue and the gig, his skinny, splayed legs instantly part of popular culture. Pennie famously had to step back quickly to take the picture and has always said it's slightly out of focus- Joe always insisted it was the album cover from the moment he saw it. I've always loved the shot of Mick on the back cover too, skipping out of the spotlight onstage in Atlanta, Georgia with the crowd right up against the lip of the stage, no crush barriers or photographer's pit, no distance at all between band and audience.
Value for money was a punk trope, the importance of not ripping the fans off was paramount. 'Two albums for the price of one' Joe claimed regarding London Calling and later 'no Clash album will ever cost more than a fiver'. CBS didn't agree. The band took a hit on the price of London Calling with (I think) it having to reach a sales figure of 100, 000 before they started making money from the royalties. The 40th anniversary vinyl re-issue is priced at £34.99, with a transparent sleeve that is removable so you can take off Ray Lowry's Elvis inspired typography to see Pennie Smith's shot of Simmo about to destroy his bass on its own. I'll resist the temptation at that price thank you very much. Even with inflation factored in that's a lot of money. Maybe, as The Clash pointed out themselves earlier in 1979, that's The Cost Of Living. Or maybe its just another example of turning rebellion into money.
The punks and the purists say that London Calling is a long way from punk, and I suppose it is a long way from Year Zero, 'No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones' and the absolute single mindedness of 1976. But The Clash had realised sounding like 1976 forever was a dead end and as a group they had to move on. The whole point of signing to CBS was to reach as many people as possible. Critics say that London Calling just put the group into the tradition of rock history, aligning them with the very lineage they were supposed to be a break from. They say that London Calling's rebellion is posturing, a safe and comfortable rebellion, with the familiar sounds of ska, rock 'n' roll, reggae, soul, funk and rock all showing that the band were never really punks at all. But there's plenty in the nineteen songs on these four sides which is exhilarating, confrontational, questioning and infused with the electricity of punk, the raw spirit of what fired them up in the first place. There were bands at the same time going deeper, going to the existential extremities of post punk- PiL released Metal Box in the same year, Unknown Pleasures came out earlier in 1979, both are more internalised, bleaker and more experimental excursions out of the punk. London Calling isn't an internal expression of bleakness or suppressed emotions, it looks out into the world, takes glee in the colours and varieties on offer, takes shots at those in power and stands up for the underdog. Punk, looking back, wasn't a new start, it was a full stop, the last gasp of the cycle of garage bands that began in 1955, spun round to 1966 and arced again in 1977. The new start was what came next, the splintering of the new groups and sounds in a thousand directions, something which continued to resonate in the next youthquake of the late 80s. The Clash found their own road out of punk's cul de sac with London Calling, a record that is thrilling, emotional, open minded and most of all alive.
Paul Simonon 'I never wanted to go back and relive the glory days, I just want to keep moving forward. That's what I took from punk. Keep going. Don't look back.'