23 June 2011

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - Canyons of Your Mind

Best Band Name Ever...
I found the 40th Anniversary show of the Bonzos in Poundland last week.  Loved it, and have been listening to them this week.  So it was no surprise this turned up.

If you have never heard of England's answer to the Mothers of Invention, press play, smile and learn to love the Dadaist surrealism....

1968 - and a what a wonderful year. It may un-surprise you, but I love the Bonzos.  I think the first time I saw them was this video, shown on some re-run pop program. Just listen to the fun they are having.

The second time I came across them was in that fateful Record Shop in my local town centre.  This was mid/late 80's - Madness were still big, Pop was king, Metal was popular.  And I overheard the two hippies talking to each other about their kids at school..

"So, little Danny's teacher asked the class who their favourite bands were"
"Oh yeah? What did he say then?"
"The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band"

They both started laughing, with pride at the greatness of this music geek offsprings answer.

They were a weird bunch, well spoken Englishmen, with the original Ginger Geezer, Vivian Stanshall as the lead singer and Rutles genius Neil Innes as main songwriter.  Single handedly they revitalised the Trad Jazz scene in the early sixties with their first two albums and with this track off their third they attacked 50's crooner standards.
A little look at the 40th Anniversary concert - the above song is found about 2 minutes in, sung by Phil Jupitus. Not the best rendition.  But you do find out that every comic voice Adrian Edmonson has projected  in 20 years has been because of one of their songs (Mr Slater's Parrot) and that Vivian from the Young Ones was named after Viv Stanshall. Their comedic influence lives on - not just Mr Fry and Mr Edmonson, but even across the pond to Family Guy.  No, really. When Stewie and Brian go to England, the childrens TV show they gatecrash is called "Jollity Farm" after one of their singles.  They did lots of work with Monty Python (The Beatles parody The Rutles was Neil Innes brainchild) and even had Paul McCartney produce their hit single.

Clearly an antidote to the over sensible rock scene of the 60's parodying the rock attitude and a healthy dose of surrealistic Dadaism, they managed 5 albums, but only had one hit "Urban Spaceman" why was this?  Well, the public as a whole really can't deal with eccentric weirdos too well.  We like 'normal' people as a rule.  I, for some reason prefer the stranger side of life and eccentrics.... As Vivian himself puts it...

Well, that's the great John Peel explaining a little about Viv. To hear how Viv explains himself fast forward to 6m14s.

Utter foolish nonsense. Humour and music as a combination at the best of times is difficult, as you can hear with some of his solo stuff, but get it right - as in the first video, and it's bloody priceless.

The music is a parody of 50's Doo Wop bands (even the background vocals), the guitar solo is probably the best "worst" solo in history.  It has all the structure of a classic 4 bar break, but just all the notes are wrong.  The thing that made them individual is the fantastic lyrics - they appeal to 6 year old children, 16 yr old teenagers and 60 yr old poets.  They are at points silly, adolescent and well judged.  Surrealism of this type is accesible to all who don't take themselves or life seriously.  Children 'get' it, the same way that they find Dr Seuss funny.  Grown ups have to pretend to be mature and ignore the beauty of living at a slight angle to the rest of the universe.

"And I kiss your perfumed hair, 
 The sweet essence of giraffe"

Superb writing, as the twist in the tail is reserved until the final word.

We don't have bands like the Bonzos anymore, and we never will.  The nearest we get is cheap imitation one hit wonders, but it is good to know that there was once a group of talented musicians who didn't take anything too seriously and kept at it for a few years. If you want to hear more, there is a fantastic CD set of all of their albums out there, and dead cheap too.

21 June 2011

Captain Sensible - Wot

My First ever Single
We were having a bit of a natter at work today - a bit late in the day, it has to be said, around sevenish and we were talking about playlists and first gigs (mine was Slayer....  nuff said).

Then the subject of "your first single" popped up.  There were some terrors, including the Ops Director admitting to Racy. 

My own admission is this... Captain Sensible's "Wot".

My god, it's not only coming back, but it is better than I remember....
I would have just turned 9 when this came out in 1982 and after saving up my pennies I went to Tesco in the local town.  Upstairs there was a music department.  Remember I came from a music free house, so I didn't even know record shops existed.

However, even in the clearly rubbish record section of Tesco there was a reduced section.  A 'Benefit Buffet' for music, if you will.  I counted my pennies and it came to the princely sum of 50p.  I am very aware that nearly 30 years later you can't buy a Mars bar for 50p, but I wanted this.  Had I heard it on the radio?  I wasn't aware that radios could play music.  I thought they only played Radio 4. In fact Mother Geej's still only do play Radio 4.

So it must have been the cover.  A fat bloke with an earth pounder and a strange looking chap with a red berret.  Not only that the word "What" was misspelled.  Dreadful.  Whoever had taken me out shopping must have questioned my choice, but they didn't warn me of the gravity of choosing your first single.  It is something that will follow you around forever. A bit like the memory of who you lost your virginity to, except that friends expect you to be honest about your first single. You will be judged on it.

I try not to, but being a bit of a music fascist, I do.  For example the first single for 'Deep Impact' was Joe Dolce - "Shuddupayaface". Even in the terms of comedy records that ranks the lowest. Not just crap and casually racist, but also it prevented Ultravox's Vienna from being number 1.  Sure, Ultravox are not the greatest band in the world, but as an 80's pop single, that was still amazing.

So who was Captain Sensible?  Well to the pre-double-digits Geej, he was a funny man. He did funny songs.  It was only later, with the re-broadcast of The Young Ones that I recognized him in one of the in-house bands.... The Damned
So before he was a pop jokester he was the guitarist/bassist/keyboardist/later songwriter for The Damned.  Nice.  Two Damned facts for you - (1) in order to out-do the Sex Pistols spitting on their audience, Captain Sensible apparently pissed on them [may not be true] (2) Do you see that spiky guitar the chap on the right is playing?  Apparently I own it.  I didn't know it was his at the time.
If I had, I wouldn't have painted it red, green, used it to launch fireworks from, let my girlfriend paint, covered in "DO NOT USE" tape, sanded down to raw wood and then French Polished.  Oh and I installed a JB humbucker in.

But what about the song?  It's quite catchy isn't it?

Starting with a hammer blow and then beautiful 80's over-clean slapback reverb funk guitar. And what about that bassline?  Probably the most well known bassline in the world....
Let's face it, we know where the guitar was stolen from as well. Nile Rodgers - the writer and producer extraordinaire. No Nile Rodgers, no decent 80's Bowie. No rap. Odd, isn't it?

So, do I still like it? Yes, for the pure value of Mr Sensible, if only I had known about his history and the music's history then.... But that's half my enjoyment of music, finding out about who inspired artists I like.  It's a bit like learning latin.  You do it so you can get a better appreciation of language.

That said, I still would prefer the correct spelling of "What".

15 June 2011

John Shuttleworth - How to be Happy in a Sad Sad World

As found on this "Hit" album
Wow.  What to say?

John Shuttleworth is what it means, for me, to be British.  I hate all that crap over 'national identity', if anyone asks me what I consider myself, I like to say "human".  Why?  We are all on this shitty blue globe together.

That said, if there is anyone who should represent our national character it is John Shuttleworth.

He is, of course fictional, and the product of comedian Grahame Fellow's mind.  A sharp mind, with the ability to write a good lyric.  In fact he, under the teen punk persona "Jilted John" wrote the greatest ever lyric in the English language in his Top 4 single "Jilted John" discussing the teenage breakup and heartache

"I was so upset, I cried all the way to the chipshop".

Nothing has even encapsulated young love, breakup and angst like that line.

However this song isn't on YouTube.  Shame.  It is nothing short of an accessible guide on how to deal with being sad.  A much needed philosophical rendition.

What else?  I bought Mother Geej a ticket to his live show, and it was the only the second time I have ever seen her cry with laughter. He is very funny (funnier than Peter Kay, who is similar) a bit of a nerd, loves DIY and once tried for the Eurovision Song contest.... and made a film about it...
His lyrics are sharp, his humor inoffensive, and appears very personable managing for his radio show "Radio Shuttleworth" to get Patrick Moore to take a xylophone solo on a childs toy instrument using biros as sticks.  One of his other films '500 Bus Stops' (referencing Frank Zappa's '200 Motels') showed him being forced to tour Iceland by his agent.  Not the country, but the supermarkets.....

What was it's rating? 3.  Is it staying there? Yes.  Whay haven't I listened to it?  No idea, but it came on at the right time.  I was sad, and it cheered me up a treat. Humor and music do mix.

14 June 2011

Four Tet - Parks

Four Tet - The album "Pause"
Just a short one today, as it is 11pm and I have just got back in from eating a cauldron full of Bi-valves, for Mother Geej's birthday.

That'll teach the lazy buggers.

Anyhow, onto music and one of those great moments I talked about with "Pure Reason Revolution" is when it is worth talking to your local indie record shop owner.


Because this little beauty was playing there one day and I had to buy it....

Another reason why it will be quick is that there is only this one video of this song available on You Tube - why?  It is not a single, it's an album track and people don't seem to concentrate on them.... not as popular.

This whole album was playing, and had just started when I walked into Scorpion Records one day.  After two tracks, I had to ask who it was, and could I buy their copy. "Four Tet" and "Yes" luckily was the answer.  Who were they?  The guys in the record store didn't know and Wikipedia didn't exist in 2001.  Christ, 10 years ago.

I didn't care as it seemed to mix what I was listening to into one little 43 minute album - Aphex Twin, a bit of Jazz, a bit world music, all linked by intelligent electronica and some great drums. The music press deemed it "Folktronica".  Well there in one word is why I hate genres.  What utter cobblers.

I used to listen to it whilst driving down to Weymouth on Friday nights to party all weekend.  The calm before the storm, as it were.  Perfect Sunday morning material as well.

Since, I have found out it is one guy, it was his second album and he has done others since, but this is by far the best.  I also found out that he had already done a track I had heard of.  Or rather he had remixed the opening track of Aphex Twin's Collected Ambient Works Volume II for the Warp Records 10+3 compilation.  If you haven't heard that album, go and get it as well.  Not the 20th Anniversary ones (not as good) but the 10th Anniversary of Warp records - here is that track...
Now that puppy is a 5 star winner straight and true.  What do they have in common?

Clean natural instrumentation, with an electronic sampled edge, great layering and mindblowing drums.  I still to this day can't work out if they are recorded or sampled and sequenced.
You can hear the jazz influence, a bit laid back Buddy Rich in the back beat.

However, the track Parks, is an even more laid back, DJ Shadow type drum pattern with oscillating backwards piano and cello lines rotating around until a plucked instrument (or harpsichord) lightens the tone. After that a long wooden flute gives us a rest.

The main overall feeling is of rotating, pulsing growing melodies all intertwined into something organic.  Probably the most peaceful track from the album, and perhaps the weakest, so not really worthy of 4 or 5 stars.  However as the album can be taken quite easily as a whole being so short it is still worthy or the original 3 stars I gave it.

An album that showed an artist with much promise and skill, but perhaps our tastes grew apart.  He went more mainstream, I went the other way. Perhaps that is the reason I haven't heard it in a while.

13 June 2011

Nirvana - Big Cheese

It doesn't really
Bleargh.  Mondays really are the pits.  What with my car being hit last Friday, potential whiplash and a whole hoard of other emotional family difficulties, I'm finding it hard to care.

However - Music makes me Invincible, as the phrase goes.  This weeks offerings, will be a little different....
Why is that?

Well, I'm slightly bored of the Playlist I have been using - lots of recognisable and easily known music.
This week I will only listen to music defined as;
"Rated 3 stars or above, but not listened to in 12 months"

I will have to re-visit my rating of it, stand by what it was and find a reason why I haven't listened to it for a year....
And first up is......


Nirvana - Big Cheese

Nirvana - Big Cheese

Well, things I don't want to talk about - the Nirvana that everyone knows.

But let us simplify for those who don't know, and we can never speak of it again.

Troubled young fellow starts a band, records a single and an album with Sub-Pop.  Doesn't do a lot.  Gets new drummer and Geffen releases their second album after getting a slick production into play. Hits the big time.  Like nothing else. Unsurprisingly has trouble dealing with the meat mincer of the music industry which he finds himself in.  Chooses drugs.  Records a few other albums.  Shoots himself.

Right.  No more.  The publics obsession over his life is why he sucked on a shotgun, the poor bastard.  Let us listen to the B-side of their first ever single...

You will find it as track 12 on Bleach, their first album recorded for Sub-Pop.  Even though it wasn't originally on the album.  Yup, the 1992 re-release had the single "Love Buzz" and this, it's B side added to it.  Interesting things of note about Kurt Cobain and his attitude towards lyrics....  I thought (thanks to the horrific release of a hardback book full of photostats of his diaries) that he would have thought of himself as a bit of a Bob Dylan, proud of his lyrical standards, but thankfully for Bleach he is quoted as saying that he "didn't give a flying fuck what the lyrics were about".

That's lucky because I have no idea what they are.

Of course, nobody knew about Nirvana until after Nevermind.  If they said they did, punch them in the throat and tell them it was from me. I remember borrowing a tape with this album on it from a girl on my school bus and having trouble with it.  I was 'into' cock-rock (David Lee Roth) and mainstream metal.  I could certainly hear influences of the later in this track, but it was still uneasy listening for me.

I was used to verse, chorus, verse and clean guitar sounds, even distorted guitars from the likes of Iron Maiden were pretty clean compared to this.  There was something underneath it all that did catch me.  A melody of sorts.  Just playing one or two strings instead of full chords.  Rough melodies that worked in ways that I hadn't been aware of before - a darker, but not 'metal' way.  Some of it reminded me of the West Coast punk tapes that had been doing the rounds at school, but dirtier.
It's all full of memories for me, but I like it not solely for its ability to remind me of younger times.  Even compared to other similar releases of the era (Mudhoney, Sonic Youth etc) there is something more accessible about it's composition - tunesmithery, if you will.  

Yes, when I hear this, I am reminded of that girl on the bus on the way to school and wonder if she is a grandmother yet (it was always on the cards) but it stands on it's own as a decent song.

So what was my original rating? 3 stars out of 5.
Has it changed? Nope - I still like it that amount - certainly not a 4, but not so bad that it should drop any either.
Why haven't I listened to it in a year? No idea.  Time to revisit the Bleach album I think.  It was re-released a year or so ago with a live set attached to it.  Sub-Pop only sold 40,000 units on it's first release - a pretty big hit for them.  On re-release after Nevermind hit, it sold over 4 million copies.

That's one of the effects of fame.  The other is what ended Nirvana.

11 June 2011

Garbage - Only Happy When it Rains

Garbage - Only Happy When it Rains
I guess this is in opposition to the previous post about wanting a bit of randomness and less perfection in my music.

Garbage's recording 'Only Happy When it Rains' is all about perfection.

Yes, a pop single turned up today as the 23rd Track.  Or rather it didn't.  This is left over from sometime last week, or the week before and as it has been caught in my head since then, it is time to just write about it, so I can get on.

Hip music of the 90's is a tough old cookie. Such a lot honestly happened, it was pre Internet (or rather pre-usable Internet), Brit Pop, Grunge, Dance and it's evolutionary descendants all rose up, flourished and died. Radio had it's last genuine stab at being a medium that could break music and MTV actually played music, rather than making programs about rappers cars and their rented houses.

People were into bands, the Seattle scene of Grunge made megastars of Nirvana and anyone remotely related to them.  The producer of Nevermind, Butch Vig, could charge anything he wanted to produce whoever he wanted. He chose some great bands and made some great records - Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and L7 all recorded their most successful material with him at the helm.

However, it was not really what he wanted to do.  He wanted to be in the band with the hit.  He had been a drummer with a band called Spooner and various others, to not much success.  It was after his name and money was made with production that he decided it was time to go back behind the skins and put his money where his mouth was.

He knew good musicians, but was wary of forming "another grunge band", he wanted to do something a bit different.  To  his credit, he found Shirley Manson, a Scottish singer for "Goodbye Mr McKenzie" and even though she had a 'terrible' audition, she eventually joined the band.

But what could they do?  They had the best producer of the time hitting the skins and relative unknowns in the other positions.  They made a bold choice and decided on pop music.  Admittedly with a rock edge, but aiming squarely at the pop market.

Vig knew the market and knew having a female singer with such a positively aggressive sexual attitude would be nothing less than great.  However the main thing about Garbage is the clean production.  None of what you hear is ad-lib or spur of the moment. Everything is carefully presented from the click track perfect drumming to the carefully processed guitar sounds, tweaked to within an inch of their lives. You can hear from that live version that this obsession also carries over to their performance. I have seen so many bands live that just clearly have not rehearsed. Garbage must have spent months practicing in order that their live presentation matched the recorded version.

It also helps that the songs themselves are not that grubby either.  This, one of their first singles broke them in the states and the UK and their status as 90's rock winners was secure with their other releases from this album.

Although an amount of 'feel' and 'improvisation' is essential for more emotional forms of music (soul, funk, jazz etc) when it comes to pop, the audience demands recognizability and predictability.  To this end, Garbage are probably the most competent proponents of the era in their genre.

10 June 2011

Why U2 are not really real any more

This chap puts it so much more succinctly than I can.

So do I agree with him?



If you remember, I not only vented my spleen but emptied it when talking about Snow Patrol and came to exactly the same conclusions.....

Just spent the evening in Elstree at a rather pleasant venue, enjoying the company and eating.  There was a band playing covers, and some of their own songs. 

Could I be critical of a group of people who have achieved more than I ever expect to? 

Yes.  Of course.

Firstly, the live mix - and I have come accross it before - the bass was too loud.  Not the instrument, but the entire bass range.  I know we can finally amplify bass better than ever before, but it doesn't need to be louder than every other frequency.  It was overbearing to the point of silliness, a bit like the eejits who drive past my work window with the bass bins in their cars vibrating everything inside.  No need. 

Clarity is where it is at.

Secondly - Still on the mix, I couldn't hear the guitar at all.  No idea if he was good or not,  I just couldn't hear him. Make sure everything can be heard.

Lastly, their skill.  Apparently they were X-Factor trained.  I presume that means something positive.  Yes they were tight, yes they were all technically brilliant (I only presume the guitarist was) but it lacked feeling. 

If you are covering Stevie Wonder, watch his old performances, see how free and laid back he is.  Getting something note perfect is good.  Adding a bit of your heart in place of accuracy is better.  Just watch the man in action here and tell me it is not better than technical perfection.  Enjoy yourself.

09 June 2011

Update - Now mobile device friendly

Weird one here - most people won't notice it.

I am experimenting with some background code that allows an automatic generation of this website for mobile devices.

If you open this webpage on your iPhone, for example it will look like the image to the left. Hopefully you aren't up reading at 1 minute past midnight with 6% left on your battery though....

I have no idea what it will look like on your iPad, Blackberry or whatever.  If you don't like it, vote using the buttons at the bottom of this post, or email me (geej at twenty third track dot com) and I'll stop playing with it.

In the meantime, you can just click a button at the bottom of the page under "Home" which says "View web version".

Let me know what you think...

PS I think I have managed to convince it that I am based in the UK, so no more postings which claim to be on Zanzibar times....
PPS No proper post today - am going out.  Sorry, but free food always wins...

08 June 2011

Eddie Day - Ultimate Wave

Well - I found it on this compilation
This is supposed to be a blog about music - to educate and entertain.

I can only do one of those today, because I can find out very little about today's 23rd Track.....

And that is the track.  If you have been reading this blog, you will know from yesterday, that I have been reminding myself of various surf guitar tunes (and looking longingly at Fender Jazzmasters, Mustangs and JagStangs on eBay).
There is a possibility that my rotten old carcass is to grace a minor stage again and although we don't know the tunes, key or anything the phrase "Surf Guitar" was used to describe what we have to play.

Unsurprisingly, I own a fair bit, so put together a playlist of about 150 different tracks to burn the playing style into my head.  I even play them at night through my non-patented MP3 pillow I made.

I know, I should get out more...

So Eddie Day came on as track 23 and it was sourced from the album you can see above.  No idea who he was so I hit Google.  Nothing.  Wikipedia?  Nowt.
On the third page of results I find that he was a member of the Lively Ones....

Aaahhhh that makes sense.

No, really.  Listen to it.  Look at the album cover - a bit like the Pulp Fiction movie posters with Uma Thurman isn't it?

"Ahhh", you are saying it does sound like that last track on the closing credits - yes it does.  Because 'The  Lively Ones' recorded that very same closing track - 'Surf Rider'

It is almost the same.  In fact it is almost a cover.....

The Lively Ones however were one of the main 'Classic' Surf Guitar bands along with bands such as the Ventures, Trashmen and Tornadoes. So what makes a surf guitar band?

Well, like all great advances in music - technology.

Disco came out of the Roland 303 drum machine, multi-track recording allowed massive harmonies (Beatles, ELO, Queen), the Floyd Rose allowed heavy metal guitar histrionics and with surf guitar, two separate advances in guitar technology - tremolos and reverb.

A tremolo is one great misnomer.  It doesn't tremolo at all - that would be something that raises and lowers the volume of the note.  A tremolo is the contraption on the bottom of the guitar that the base of the strings are attached to.  It is a mechanical hinge with a bar (in the parlance - a whammy bar) that bends, or detunes the strings and allows it to return to it's original position.  If you listen to 0:10 to 0:12 on the Pulp Fiction track, you can hear this.  The problem was that the strings would often detune when the bar was depressed, so it was used sparingly, until the 80's when Floyd Rose introduced the 'double locking' mechanism which 'prevented' de-tuning.  As a guitar player, I hate them.  But that is just me....

Reverb, however is fantastic. In short, the introduction of small relatively cheap spring reverb units meant that an 'echo' type sound could be used by anyone, not just recording studios.  So they were built into guitar amps.  And as usual, when you give a guitarist a knob, he will twiddle with it and leave it on 11. Reverb units are a bit like toasters.  To toast your bread, or add a bit of echo all you need to do is put it between 2 and 3 and leave it.  10 will burn down your house or in the case of reverb, change the sound entirely.

Surf guitar is all about picking close to the bridge, bending notes and creating echo distortion by leaving it on 10.  The odd noises produced defined surf guitar.  What sort of noises? A sort of 'clacking' noise from overloading the pickups and causing the springs to knock into each other.

Since Pulp Fiction, surf guitar no longer produces images of 50's american beaches but of 90's gangsters and Tarantino moodiness. Hence the album above.  10 years earlier and the content of the album may have been the same, but the cover would have been of a young blond chap on a surfboard.  It goes to show that what I discussed yesterday about The Cure's image works both ways.

Then I said that a band needs an image in order to appeal to a market in order to sell it's chunes.  The reverse is also true.  Music can generate it's own image based upon how it is marketed.  In this case to splatterfest film lovers.

07 June 2011

The Cure - From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea (Live)

The Cure - a live album!

Well, I've been listening to a lot of surf music today, as the Size Zero Albino wants The Bassman and I to play with him...  "Surf style" he said.  I asked what type of surf music? Santos and Johnny? Beach Boys? The Ventures? The Surfaris?  "Huh?  I only know Dick Dale"  So I burned him a cd full of great tracks (including an indian version of Pipeline - brilliant).

I was quite surprised when this turned up as the 23rd Track - it does mention the Deep Green Sea, so I guess it is technically correct.....

Well, it's another visit to 1992 again isn't it?  I think I'm going to fiddle about with my playlists to stop this happening.  If a track isn't either recorded between 1989 and 1995, or 1953 and 1956, I don't seem to care about it.  That just can't be true.

Right - all the who, what, when and where first...
The Cure, a British pop group fronted by Robert Smith.  A bloke with worse hair than Jo Brand and who took to wearing makeup before the second good Batman film came out.
Earlier material is a bit darker, they apparently peaked with their 8th album (Disintegration - released the same month as yesterdays Flying in a Blue Dream), but their follow up album to that was called Wish.  Honestly, a pretty darn good album in itself - recorded in the Manor, so it sounds good and was probably their most successful album.  They then toured that album worldwide to huge audiences.  A few nights were recorded and released on CDi (an early form of video disc, before DVDs) and this double album.

Hand on heart, probably one of the top five great live albums there is.  (In no order the others are; Slayer - Live Aggression, Bob Marley - Live, Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison, Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense) I think the live versions of the songs from Wish are just so much better performed and recorded on this CD.

However, we ought to clean up about The Cure first of all.  In the 80's their image was simple - miserable bloody Goths 
Well, that's just their image. Image is everything in pop music. It is also in reality nothing to do with their music.  If music were separate from image, I would be happy. But no band will sell records without an image to market, so an image is found for them.

So are they miserable? Not really "Friday I'm in Love" is pretty perky.

However, lets get back to this miserable old song and album, shall we.

I like it.  I liked it when I heard it at my first illicit teenage parties with curly haired girls, I liked it on my first portable CD player on the bus, I liked it when someone showed me a juddering pixelated video on their first computer.  I like it now.
And they still do it for me live.  Why? The delicate mixture of thick noise and delicate lines of music.
From the word go, when the acoustic guitar and bass play off against each other simple strumming and  a two note riff, as the drums tap away and in the background, the two electric guitars start little feedback melodies with each other, building to the point where the drummer leads everyone in together.
Then, a more ordered version of the previous playing, with the strumming following the snare pattern, the climbing bass line moving the tune along and the electric guitars drenched in reverb, delay and distortion managing to play light melodies, almost in counterpoint to the bass line. Now the vocals, Robert Smith is not Pavarotti or Sinatra - not an artistic singer by any means, but he does manage to direct his performance in a way that does supplement the music in a harmonious manner, writing it's own melodic lines rather than copying any other instrument.

It also has a great breakdown in the middle, where the guitar has the most magnificent feedback solo of just plain bloody noise.  All the while the 12 string acoustic drives the pace onwards, never slowing, but low in the mix - almost a tunes click track.

The whole double album is a practiced experiment with controlled noise - and I think that is probably why it appeals to me so much.

06 June 2011

Joe Satriani - Big Bad Moon

Joe Satriani - Big Bad Moon
Sometimes, you've just got to live with your past, whatever it may have been.  In fact if I ever met the younger me and he asked me for advice, I think now, I wouldn't give him any.

The mistakes in retrospect are the fun bits.

And the same goes for musical tastes, you have got to live with your choices there as well.

I'm not saying I dislike this, but I have to admit, the 37 yr old Geej would probably not buy this.

The 17 yr old Geej did and played it to death.  I can still hear every note running through my head as though it were yesterday.

1989 and over clean pomp metal had one last trick up it's sleeve before the dirty bands from Seattle decided to change everything for the better. A short period of technical virtuosos. To be honest, two people are to blame - Eddie Van Halen, for proving that you could play a lot faster than most people thought and Frank Zappa, for hiring Steve Vai as his 'stunt' guitarist.  This hiring brought the technical virtuoso to the foreground of rock media and forced everybody to have a go as being fast.

That, for the record, is the first time I have ever seen that video.

My god.

What the hell?  I bet that cost a fortune.  And it is awful. It's like someone bought a book on "80's Rock videos" and shoved it all in...
Dark lighting? Check
Windows to beams of light can flash across faces? Check
Bad Miming? Check
Model in lingerie? Check
Police (with moustaches)? Check
Rain for atmosphere? Check
Lead artist changes appearance? Check

The only thing missing is pointless explosions.
But let's remember 1989 and 1990 to see what else was going on in mainstream Rock-
The Cure - Disintegration
Queen - The Miracle
Aerosmith - Pump
Kiss - Hot in the Shade
Ozzy Osbourne - Just Say Ozzy
Bruce Dickinson - Tattooed Millionaire
Suicidal Tendencies - Lights, Camera, Revolution

It's all very vanilla.  Yes, if you look carefully at the releases for those two years there is interesting things, but nobody bought Nirvana's 'Bleach' for a few more years and Sonic Youth's 'Goo' probably sold more on its re-release 15 years later.

I was about 16/17 when this came out and was literally inhaling guitar magazines when they came out.  I even found a newsagents which got the American publications in and bought those too.  Why? Because everybody else did, we were young, impressionable and had guitars which we wanted to play.  Or learn how to play. Because whatever else goes on in the world of music - Guitars are Cool.

This was his third album and his second 'hit' instrumental guitar album (the first not being popular at the time).  His name had become famous as Steve Vai kept mentioning him in interviews - as friend and one time teacher.  Yup, he was technically competent beyond belief, but that's what happens when you go to Berkley School of Music.  They train you hard to be the best.  Most people get out that school immensely able to play their instruments, but lacking soul.

Satriani had the ability to play slower, melodic emotional pieces (such as the title track from this album, Flying in a Blue Dream).  However that didn't turn up as Track 23 today, this did.
And that video in 1992 just finalised it for me.  Cozy Powell, Nathan East - great names, great musicians, but they must be bored beyond belief playing music this simple. Music took a lot longer to get around 20 years ago, so this song was still 'new' to me. I watched and videoed the Seville Guitar concerts at the time, loving them all, but the 'Rock' night the most - it had Satriani, Vai, and Brian May - what more could I want at the time.  These guys were at the height of their popularity and the crowd went wild.  Today, I watch the Albert Collins and Les Paul gigs the most.  Why?  Because of what I have learnt to appreciate in the last 2 decades. 

It's not all about technique and distortion - in fact those two things can cover a lot of poor songwriting.  It's about ability to speak emotionally using your instrument.

Satriani has a go - he's singing, playing guitar, harmonica and using it as a slide, but the solo is just all ecstasy and no emotion - a bit like crack sex with an wild stranger - something you dream of, is bloody fantastic at the time, but when it is all over, it's rather disappointing.

04 June 2011

The Divine Comedy - Lost Property

The Divine Comedy - Regeneration
After a particularly hard day at the Crinklies today, I was in a mood. So I reached for the iPod and shoved on the playlist "Sad".  Now this playlist is not of sad songs (why would anyone want to be sad?) but songs to play when you are sad.

It was only when I got home and plugged the iPod back into the computer that I could find out what the 23rd track was today.  Am I happy that it was this one? Yup

For years I refused to accept The Divine Comedy as a group of musicians worth paying attention to. There are a few reasons for that (i) I am, on occasion, a music Nazi and do judge groups based upon their image. - look at Bjork to show how wrong that attitude is. (ii) They appeared to be pop pretenders - earlier they had a hit single with 'Something for the Weekend' a faddish hit. (iii) Michaela raved about them.  No mark against her for this, but she did also like the Eurovision song contest. And Richard Stilgoe.

However, browsing through a Virgin Megastore one day I heard great music coming over the PA.  "Odd", I thought, "They don't usually play good music in chain stores".  I went up and asked what it was.  The chappess behind the till looked embarrassed and proud, passing over this CD - The Divine Comedy - Regeneration.  The reason she looked embarrassed was that they are only supposed to play the 6 promoted albums on the shelf - record companies pay for them to.  She was fed up of listening to crap and had put her favourite album on.  And there was only one copy of it left in the store, as the rest had already been snapped up by other impressed punters.

I made a note of it, leaving her copy to continue playing to the store. Other browsers needed to know what good music sounded like.

The Divine Comedy's Regeneration falls into the category of 'Great Albums' - every track is worthwhile.  You can listen to the entire album in one sitting and not want to get up to skip a track.  There are three reasons for this;
1. Every track is individual -they are all different, drones, upbeat pop, rock, almost modern prog styling, love songs and perfect ballads.
2. Nigel Godrich - producer par excellence who had worked with Radiohead, Beck, U2 and erm, Natalie Imbuglia.  The man has great ears and stripped down their 'big thick orchestra sound' to a more intimate, almost sombre tone allowing each musician in the band space to perform.
3. Near perfect songs.  Neil Hannon, the main songwriter really outdid himself on this album - beautiful melodic chunes with charming musical twists and turns and touching lyrics.  And I'm not a lyrics man...

Which brings up back to this particular song.
It is, as Phil Hartnol from Orbital said, "The most beautiful list of lost items ever".  And that's from a dance music hard man.

Hannon's elegant tenor voice captures the loss and emotion related to missing property that is usually only reserved for dead girlfriends. In it he lists all of those items and conjours up such original rhyming couplets as "Two Tennis Rackets, Blue Rizla Packets" and "Silk Cut and Bennies, Ten Packs and Twenties". A verse, a chorus another verse and then the music builds to a high turnaround when we receive the enlightening conclusion;

"All that I'd like is to know
Just where do those lost things go?
When they slip from my hands
Then one night in a dream
I passed through a sheepskin screen
To a green, pleasant land
I found them all piled up into the sky
And I cried tears of joy

Now, as I have stated before, I'm not really one for lyrics in songs, I hear all the emotion and storytelling I need from a carefully crafted song in it's music, but those lyrics are pure bloody poetry.
It concludes so well, with the release and satisfactory conclusion of the tale in the final line.  As close to perfection as you can get.

Get the album and find yourself with the musical equivalent to a short story collection put to music. One that you will read time, and time again.

03 June 2011

The Small Faces - Song of a Baker

The Small Faces - Ogdens Nut Gone Flake
You know that you own a Stereo don't you?

Well, back in the day, having the ability to record and playback on two speakers was new, and people actually made use of it.

Not like today when everything is on both sides of your stereo image, perhaps with a slight echo or delay and vocals slap bang in the middle.

When The Small Faces recorded their masterwork Ogdens Nut Gone Flake (ONGF from now on) they went to work making the bloody most of it.

Have a listen...
Not a good video, but the audio is nearly right.  You have got instruments in the far left and right hand side, with great separation and it sounds fantastic.  Why don't people do this anymore?  A bunch of reasons, but mainly it's to do with being accessible for radio play. You need vocals and music the same in both, in case of mono broadcast.  Really?  In this day and age, when I can carry around months worth of music in a small box the size of an old cassette?  Yup.  It's for playing in Top Shop, shopping centres and the like without one side of your shop just getting bass and drums and the other getting just vocals and guitar.
We have reduced music production down to 'being suitable for Asdas shopping aisles'.

It's a crying shame that we don't have people really pushing home enjoyment of music, but I guess I am one of the last few who will sit down just to listen to music, rather than having it as a background noise.

However, production rant out of the way, who is this and what is it?

The 23rd Track today is a fannytastic corker of British Rock from the 60s check out a real 'live' version (aside, it isn't).
1968 and it was all going on.  Historically, Sgt. Pepper had been released the previous year and music had undergone a bit of a change - the effect of that album was the same as Nirvanas Nevermind - Grunge got rid of old preening Heavy Metal and Sgt. Pepper was so revolutionary bands had to stop and re-think their strategies.

This rocking mod group re-envisioned themselves as psychedelic masters with this album.  Apparently written during time out after touring whilst camping and travelling on a canal boat on the Thames, Steve Marriot and Denny Lane put together this astonishing album. It was released in a circular paper package that folded out (rather than a 12" square) and the styling was that of a tobacco box.

I first heard it at Jake Stephenson's house one evening.  Jake was a friend who sold CDs in our Uni on Thursdays.  He also recorded dozens of albums under different names, from psychedelic rock to Goa Trance and everything in between. I loved his lifestyle, wearing what he wanted, doing what we wanted, living his life, his way.  And he was always there with a cup of tea and something new to listen to.  We had spent the evening listening to Ambient LPs and smoking fags and drinking alcopops when he moved over to the stereo and put this album on.  It starts with this rather mind bending track....

What a dramatic opening.  All instrumental, with phased organs and then huge strings coming in.
I was hooked.
I remember listening to the whole of the first side in amazement.  Mainly that I hadn't heard it before.  Where was this in the 'must listen to' music I should have heard by the age of 22? I recognised none of it, apart from the last track on Side 1 - Lazy Sunday - I guess their most famous single.
They had carefully pieced together the album as a whole product - the first side all new songs, and the second side.... well... the second side is another story.

It was their version of Sgt. Pepper - a story.  A children's story full of surrealism and strange language courtesy of Professor Stanley Unwin.  "Who?"  My god, where have you been - this guy....
That is all the narration between the tracks.  Great stuff.  Unwin was a master linguist who had invented his own 'gobledeegook' language that made perfect sense (in a way) but he also built into it the patterns of speech and phrases he heard the band using themselves.  Man.

But what about 'Song of a Baker'?  What's it all about?  Apart from the great music and lead vocals from Denny Lane instead of the throaty Steve Marriot, it's about putting love into what you do. 
The lyrics spell out the bakers love and pride in his job, knowing that if he is passionate about it, the product will be of the greatest quality.  And that is true of this album as well.  You can hear the quality of writing, recording and musicianship on each track.

Because it was made with love. 

An essential album for anybody who likes the British rock scene of the late 60's.

What happened to the band is unfortunately very sad.  They split up the following year, with Marriot going solo, and Denny Lane reforming under a new name "The Faces" with little known vocalist Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronny Wood.  I wonder what happened to them?

Marriot died in a house fire, a schizophrenic alcoholic and Denny Lane of MS a few years ago. All penniless from being conned by their management.

But for one near perfect album, they were the epitome of classic British songwriting.

02 June 2011

Bjork - Big Time Sensuality (Live)

Bjork - Big Time Sensuality
Bits of me hurt today.  Bits of me that I forgot I owned.

I was forced to do exercise on Tuesday and frankly, I am a lot more physically unfit than even I realised. Quite worrying.

It amazes me that once upon a time I would be happily dancing my face off for hours on end in nightclubs to the remixes of today's 23rd Track - Bjorks fourth single from her album Debut.

Pop pixie.  That's what she's written off as isn't it?  Weirdo.  That's another one. She hit that reporter at an airport. Boom.

Easy tags for the pop press to grab hold of. It must get boring just to be shoved into little pigeon holes to fester in the minds of simpletons. But then again, Bjork isn't really an easy subject to write about. I've sat here for half an hour 'doing my research' and there is so much to write about her life, music, and gossip that I truly have no idea where to begin.  How about that album then?  Debut.

Bit of a misnomer, as it is her second solo album.  No really, look it up.  She released one when she was 11.  I didn't even have a tape player or record deck at 11.  I had my first guitar at 15.
Obviously, it's not of the same level as Debut, but it shows that songwriting and music played a massive part in her life from an early age.

One of the bits of gossipy tat that people do know about Bjork is that she used to be the singer for the Sugarcubes.  i had never heard them, but it was one of those bands that were 'hip' to like in the late 80's and very early 90's. I have one track from a John Peel collection (obviously the type of stuff he would like, the genius).  It's good, shows off her robusto soprano voice well, but is quite 'indie gloom pop'.

I'm very glad she found electronica and listened to Massive Attack. She listened to them and got in touch with Nellee Hooper, one of their producers in the form of the Wild Bunch.  Now he is also a bit bloody excellent. One of the few artists with a great ear for silence, space and timing.

If you listen to the original (or is it a remix itself...) you can get a wonderful sense of air in between the instruments.

1993 and 94 were a good time for music weren't they? Where is the inventive pop nowadays?
Amazingly, I can't find the album version - the live one at the top is the closest sounding.  Just think instead of the harmonium some 90's dance organ stabs (think the U2 lemon remix sounds) and a 4 to the floor dance beat. The whole album was more or less a collaboration between Hooper and Bjork and was (even nearly 20 years later) a defining recording for the period. 

It's been remixed more times than Fools Gold, by artists as diverse as Fluke, Moby and Radiohead - why? Because it was so new.  It was so open in it's formula that it invited experimentation.

And that is just fine with her.  She continually experiments, a couple of albums later she was working with Drum and Bass hero and idiot Goldie, then orchestras and glitch producers and more recently with African poetry.

What really set her apart though is her voice.  Nobody sings like her. She is an individual always pushing her own boundaries - which is why the live versions are so good.  She knows the borders on her music (which is usually her vocal lines) and fits the music around it.  In 2003 she released 'Live Box' a collection of her first 4 modern albums all performed live. During these albums she happily shows off the fact that the songs were carefully constructed works, not just producer polish. On the whole they are rather minimal, clear as a bell recordings and well worth investing in.
Here is a rather good late 90s version with Talvin Singh.
Unfortunately, she will not be remembered for her music, but the image that was built around her as the weirdo pixie.  Shame...