I’m not a kid, and you’re not a baby

This is poor, even by my laggardly standards…

Six (yep, six), weeks ago, I went down to The Lantern in Colston Hall to see the dazzling and always rewarding Field Music, and then, apparently fell asleep at the wheel. To be fair, I was convinced I had written a post, uploaded a few recordings and, starting off on another jaunt to Madrid, had very much filed this under “dealt with”. Imagine my surprise…

Hmm. I’m listening to my recording of the evening now to try to regain a little of the frisson and some of the exhilaration of another evening in the company of The Best Band in Britain. And maybe… just maybe…

Think very hard, people, and maybe we can achieve one of those surely not credible time-ripples employed on children’s TV shows to such great effect.

Field Music, The Lantern

Imagine a younger, less grizzled PP, still in possession of a full head of hair – naïve, hopeful, yet to be brought low by the cares and vicissitudes of a pitiless world. Simpler times.

It was under circumstances pretty much similar to these that I found myself alongside a similarly youthful, sable and care-free Coleser, both of us as giddily expectant as any right-thinking man would be, awaiting the arrival of the Brewis brothers. I think I’ve seen them five times now, and it’s still a uniquely assured experience – you know you’re not going to be disappointed.

The new album, “Open Here”, is another entertaining, ambitious and complex affair, with a few straight up, near political statements that confirm the band’s status (if it were ever in doubt) as a couple of Life’s Good Guys.

And so it came across onstage.

Seventy five minutes of apparently effortless precision – noisy bonhomie, fidgety riffing and general goofing around with time signatures. I may be imagining it, but I felt there was something of a leap in confidence in the performance – there was none of the apologetic, almost disbelieving, gratefulness at the audience reaction. It looked to me like it may have recently dawned on the lads that they have a hell of a product; a genuine gifting.

And also, by now, a pretty devoted following. There was a time when I feared for the boys, imagining that grinding under-appreciation and lack of cash might do for them, but actually I don’t worry about it anymore. They look like a band secure in the knowledge that they’re doing it right and that people know they are. They looked happy, secure and confident in a load of good songs and in particular a great new record.

The minutes flashed by and the announcement that they were now on their last song was greeted with puzzled disbelief as a group of enchanted punters, collectively looked at their watches and scratched their heads.

Many, many highpoints, but I give you a couple of sparklers from “Open Here” and their “big hit” of yesteryear (as if…)

Count It Up

Disappointed

No King No Princess

Such a band…

Buen camino!

I’m guessing this is not much good to you, but I do have a great set of recordings from the recent Field Music soiree that I attended in Bristol. And I did fully intend to get them up and dash off a few careless lines about the gig, but well, here we are again…

And now I’m gadding off to Cadiz for an Easter break. I’m guessing it’ll be pretty much like this…

 

 

(I cannot, of course, condone the use of firearms. Or wearing Kiss merchandise…)

I’ll see you on the other side…

Here lies … Here lies man…

Having started watching BBC Four’s wondrous series about minimalist music, my word of the moment is “atonal”. So with a few things to post about, it’s tempting (pretty, even) to surrender to the disorder of modern life, cast off the manacles of time, dip into the repeating motifs of the last weeks and draw a clever, oblique picture of the modern gig-going life.

I have neither the wit, skill or, of course, the general arsedness to bother with all of this, so let’s just stick to going chronologically, shall we?

Here Lies Man, the Exchange

One of the lesser publicised by-products of the snow drop we had at the start of the month was the cancellation of this date – the very day the West Country shut down, cancelled school, lit the fires and went all Cat in the Hat, gluing it’s snubby little nose to the window and waiting for it all to stop.

Fortunately, the date was rescheduled and consequently, Coleser and I found ourselves skimming down the M5 for a rare Sunday afternoon session. I’m growing to like the Exchange with its tiny bar, record loft and wonky stage and it felt strangely louche to be leaving a sunny Sunday afternoon behind and stepping into the twilight.

Support band, Bristol’s Evil Usses were great fun, wildly unconventional and good enough to persuade me to buy their CD afterwards (although, I do have form in this area). I’ll not say anymore because I have some recordings and they merit a post on their own (I promise).

Having come back out to the bar for a refill during the interval, I was waiting to go back in, when a vaguely exotic looking waster leaning against the wall asked us who we were seeing and what they were like. I mumbled some ill-considered foolishness about afro-rhythms and psychedelia:

“Wow! Cool…”

Standing in the hall a few minutes later as Here Lies Man set up, Coleser pointed out a familiar figure plugging in his base and fiddling with his amp. I couldn’t resist going up to him (JP Maramba, for it was he) and jokingly reproaching him about making me look daft outside. He grinned sheepishly, seemed happy to chat and put it down to “research”.

The Here Lies Man record is a pretty basic affair slightly akin to that Goat record of a few years ago. It’s wild and couples its seventies rocker roots with a fair dose of Afro-Cuban rhythms, not that surprising given Marcos Garcia’s Antibalas roots. There’s a good interview with the man here.

The slightly odd, roast-and-Yorkshire-pudding feel of the afternoon situation didn’t seem to put off Garcia and chums – they arrived all tooled up, packing heat and ready to party like it was 1969. In my head, I’d been expecting a lot of wah-wah and a more wigged out, Zam Rock sound than HLM eventually launched into. It was actually a bit of a fuzztone assault (I’ve gone over all music journo, there, a “fracas” at the very least), more early-Zep than late-Yardbirds, and for all the zinging in my ears of the next few hours it was immense, eye-squinting fun. The squiggly splinters of organ that embellished each track were interesting and charming counterpieces to Garcia’s furious riffing, and although the conga player has apparently left, the scuffling, funky drumming of Geoff Mann and Maramba’s driving bass gave each track something of a swing.

In truth, Here Lies Man are more fuzztone than you could ever need but I left the gig, blinking idiotically in the sunlight, ears buzzing, a more than happy man.

The recordings are quite good, although, being the musos they clearly are HLM mostly ran songs into each other and it was sometimes hard to pick out which was which.

Animal Noises

Here Lies Man (by Here Lies Man, from the Here Lies Man album – I love a Full House!)

Letting Go / I Stand Alone

Your gold dress is shaming the stars, a thousand melting Dali Guitars

From time to time, you’ve got to indulge yourself a little, no? We all work (quite) hard, we all need a bit of down time. We deserve this…

Of late, this righteous act of forbearance has been tending to take the form of a few snatched moments of tender loving XTC. Whether it’s enjoying the breathy burr of Skylarking or the breathless industry of English Settlement, there’s nothing quite like the genius of Andy Partridge.

While the local news salivates over a West Country Perfect Storm – “the Beast from the East meets Hurricane Emma” (I think I saw that one. Abbott & Costello were in it), there’s the welcome prospect of a duvet day in the offing. Now seems a good time to draw the curtains, pour myself something warming, chuck another stump on the fire and slide into something melting…

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball

Somebody gave me a copy of this a while back but I don’t think I really investigated it properly at the time, and I’ve only really began to appreciate it in the last couple of days. You’ll know all this, I’m sure, but just in case… Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a compilation of two wonderfully batty psyche albums released in the late eighties by the Dukes of Stratosphear. “It’s sort of a nostalgia thing, because I just wasn’t old enough to be a hippie.” said Partridge (for it was he) “My parents wouldn’t let me grow my hair long. I really do love that kind of music.”

The initial release, a six-track EP (ask your dad, kids) called 25 O’clock, was intended as something of a playtime away from the troublesome sessions that were producing Skylarking, and Dave Gregory credits the fun and frolics of this wacky side-project as having a large part to play in the band’s survival through the period. And it certainly seemed to have been a lot of fun with an unofficial rulebook being adhered to for the sessions:

  • No more than 2 or 3 takes
  • Vintage equipment
  • and er… “Psychedelic” conventions

Each current member of XTC was involved and they took on the whole adventure with some enthusiasm and a healthy joie de vivre, taking psyche pseudonyms (Gregory’s brother Ian, joining on drums, was “E.I.E.I. Owen”); sporting kaftans and other exotica for the sessions.

But actually, pretty quickly the “joke” stopped being one, and Partridge (in particular) began to become comfortable with a real fondness for English psychedelia and bubblegum bands. And it really shows. As you go through each track, particularly the six 25 O’clock ones, you quickly find yourself ticking the references. Rubber Soul (“What in the World”); Tomorrow (“Bike Ride to the Moon”); Syd (“Have you Seen Jackie?”); the Prunes (“25 O’clock”); Midas in Reverse (“Vanishing Girl”) I am the Walrus (“The Mole from the Ministry”); but with every backwards riff, every farfisa chord, they still can’t help being XTC, all taut, clever song writing and wry observations. There are some real gems here, at least two of which (“Collideascope” and “Pale and Precious”) Dave Gregory ranked with anything the “real” XTC recorded.

It’s enormous fun for anyone with even most passing of acquaintances with sixties psychedelia. The songs are all pretty strong on their own, but like the band themselves are exotically garbed in the dippiest of sixties gear – guitars a-jangling, backwards loops, distorted Pinky & Perky voices, birdsong, Liverpool accents (“Bloody Nora!”), faux Lewis Carroll spoken pieces. The lyrics are also lovingly daft but coming from Partridge’s dazzling palate, avoid too much “whimsy” – subversive moles grapple with sexually frustrated (and confused) youths and menacingly magical women. Phew…

It’s all tremendous cool(aid) fun.

Pounds and pennies aren’t the only kind of capital!

 

Spring’s a-coming!

 

Friday week to be exact…

Thought brought the drought about

A fortnight on and I’m still struggling to say anything sensible about Mark E Smith’s passing… (I’ve agonised about this post – I wanted to get it right – but in the end…)

There have been a slew of farewells, reminiscences, funny stories and “life of a Fall fan” pieces, most of them heart-felt, most of them well worth reading. The radio tributes have been genuinely good and I particularly enjoyed the Radcliffe and Gideon Coe programs. And there’s quite a bunch of stuff on the BBC that I’m yet to go through.

One of the things I read was by Stewart Lee, who talked about how it was important not to make tributes all about yourself (before he went on to do so) but it’s hard not to, really. Smith’s legacy differs from person to person, and I think is probably more personal than most others. Although not always a die-hard fan (I have friends who can – and do – measure the passing of their years in Fall concerts), Fall records have always been there… What are we going to do now?

I’m quite surprised how much of a surprise it has actually been – even though his waning was clear for even the dopiest to see, his lifestyle hardly suggesting he’d be around for ever… I did kind of think he would be.

And.

Another thing that I wasn’t expecting was quite how little people would care about it. Although there has been plenty of media coverage, and my own close buddies and everyone I follow on Twitter were all appropriately stunned, not one of my various work colleagues was remotely bothered (and only a few knew who he was). I’m living in a bubble, clearly.

So anyway, Josie in bed with flu, I found myself in the spare room that night and drifted off to sleep listening to the radio, playing sundry Fall pieces, including “Middlemass” from one of the Peel sessions, and it occurred to me that, winding back a fair few years, the first time I’d actually heard the track, from that session had been in similar beneath-the-bedclothes circumstances back on the day of transmission. Hmm… My Peel Sessions boxset has been in the car ever since. So Peel and Smith being forever linked, and in the absence of anything clever to say, let’s do one of these…

Lucky Seven – The Fall: Seven Peel tracks that made you glad to be alive.

Lucky Seven – Mark E Smith

I’m not sure I’d ever read them before but the liner notes for the boxset by Daryl Easlea are very good. Apart from the session details (interesting in themselves), the main notes are a great read. And it is hard not to see the following lines (about Peel) in particular without a sense of gloomy prescience…

“Hearing the music he played for the first time was a dramatic, life-changing experience. Everyone has memories of hearing their first Peel session. It was a drifting off to sleep moment, awaiting the next school day…”

So I’ll start with this one.

Middlemass – Session 3 (31/3/81)

“The boy is like a tape loop”

Picture if you will a green youth who should’ve been working on his Hardy essay, furtively abed, puzzling over the dark, compact sounds of this 1981 session. As ever, I’d not quite listened properly and went off to school the next day, vaguely impressed that Smith was apparently a George Elliot fan – I’d no doubt have been disappointed by the suggestion of it being about football fans (although Marc Riley was convinced it was about him).

Steve Hanley’s loping bassline impels the song onward while Riley and Scanlon’s scratchy guitar lines add venomous colour to Smith’s words. I had no idea what he was on about and am only a little clearer these days. The sense of the oddness of it all and the befuddlement that I was left with as I drifted off that night is something I’ve grown to cherish.

Garden – Session 6 (23/3/83)

“He’s here! I swear! I saw him! He’s on the second floor!”

I think this is the first of the two-drummer line-up’s sessions, and the doubled down intensity of the drumming that opens the track leads us into ten fun-filled minutes of unyielding obscurity. Craig Scanlon is particularly unforgiving. I only really discovered this song a couple of years ago, and it’s one of Smith’s denser and more intimidating lyrics, which I’ve returned to again and again. Again, I’ve still little idea what’s going on here, but I love it and I love the fact that I’ll be gnawing on these and other Smith lyrics for years to come.

(I’ve always thought it a shame that the similarly impenetrable “Spector Vs Rector” never made it onto a Peel session reel…)

Dead Beat Descendant – Session 12 (31/10/88)

“Take five dead beat steps”

I remember a friend playing me the Mr Pharmacist cover when I first left Gloucester for London. I’d knew they’d recorded it and being a self-styled garage punk fiend by this time, I’d imagined it’d not be a patch on the Other Half original. As ever, I was knocked sideways by what a stonking great romp it was and it opened a door to how much Smith loved a good Nuggety riff – a now obvious fact I’d somehow not twigged. The twangy guitar for DBD was straight off a Seeds (or even Link Wray) record and I’m guessing must’ve triggered mayhem on the floors of student unions and workingmen’s clubs up and down the country.

I could’ve chosen “Cab It Up” for all the same reasons.

New Puritan – Session 3 (24/9/80)

“Hail the new puritan! Righteous maelstrom! Cook one”

This scarcely believable version of an already released song is an example of how Peel Session versions were sometimes really different to the ones that emerged on vinyl, and sometimes even better. Easlea refers to Peel versions as “news bulletins and work in progress from Planet Fall” except this one has become pretty much definitive. The lyrics are feverishly spat out and Smith seems at times to leave Riley and Scanlon playing an uneasy game of catch up.

I know there’s a whole thing about it being a savage tilt at music-consuming elitism and as such the “puritans” are the target of his bile but I much prefer to take it as a hairshirt-wearing Smith’s own crack at a post punk Opus Dei. Paul Hanley’s drums are particularly damaging, and as it plays out each brutal thud, now that I’ve started to think of it as some sort of self-mortification, is making me flinch…

(Also I love the Beeheart thing in the introduction…)

Beatle Bones ‘N’ Smokin’ Stones – Session 20 (18/8/96)

“The strawberry mouth, the strawberry cloth, strawberry cratten-killer, strawberry butterfly, strawberry fields forever”

The Fall were always good for a few unlikely covers, and there were some truly great ones – “Mr Pharmacist”, “Ghost in my House” and “Victoria” all leap to mind – but today I’m going for a cover of the good Captain. I’d venture that for all that Smith was a great original, he couldn’t have gone to half the strange and illicit places he did without some help from Beefheart. Unsurprisingly, the Fall make a deeply spirited stab at an obdurate classic with Brix going over all Antennae Jimmy Semens (recently passed away, too…) and Smith giving the cement mixer to a ragbag of already pretty impressionistic lyrics.

I can’t think of another band whose covers sounded as good as the Fall’s…

New Face in Hell – Session 3 (24/9/80)

“… uncovers secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions.”

Easlea’s liner notes suggest that this session might be the best one of all and it’s hard to argue with that when you consider that the other two songs are a sheet-lightning “Container Drivers” and “Jawbone + the Air Rifle”,

I’m choosing this one though because it showcases the man’s incredible, eccentric shrieking delivery – truly a frontman who “sung” like no other. The “new face in hell!” here is a sound from a scary, scary place, as troubling as it is thrilling. He of course made it clear that he didn’t sing at all (hard not to argue with that) but from the distinctive Gallic –uhs added to the end of lines to the astonishing squeals and high-pitched battle yells, his is one of my favourite voices in music. And that’s before he got the megaphone out (an iconic stroke of weird genius that, by the way)

C ‘n’ C / Hassle Schmuk – Session 3 (31/3/81)

“Oh dear friends, I can’t continue this…”

The seventh one I’ve chosen is again quite different from the record version that turned up on, in this case, the Grotesque album. At the “mithering” point in this version, the band careen off instead into a mickey take of Coast to Coast’s silly “Hucklebuck” song (at the time of the session, sitting at number three in the charts).

The Arthur Askey line is just plain funny – and I wouldn’t ever want to forget that the man was genuinely witty. Nasty, maybe, but always able to make you laugh. (At this point, I should direct you to this page on the NME site for a nice collection of MES savageries – I know, I know, I won’t do it again, but seeing as I’ve borrowed the photo from their site…)

So, there you are. Seven Peel tracks I particularly treasure, in no particular order and each one of them damn lucky to be there – if you’d caught me on another day, there’d be seven other buggers there…

R.I.P

 

She speaks a word and it gently turns to a perfect metaphor

Yesterday’s rather pathetic little note aside (I was worrying that I wasn’t going to get anything said at all…), I’m still processing the huge news of Mark E Smith’s passing, mostly unsuccessfully. But instead, here’s something completely different that’s been germinating for a couple of weeks…

I’ve felt for a while that I should, you know, concentrate harder on stuff. I spend far too much time flitting drunkenly from one sticky treat to another, like some sort of doe-eyed lush, lazy, ill-disciplined, and unwilling to apply myself. But I’m better than that, I tell myself, I’m a gentleman of a certain age, after all, it can’t be beyond me…

So, 2018, here we go. Load up with some Laura Marling, have a crack at something different, I’m up.

Laura Marling

(Just reading those lines back, I’m making a bit of a meal of it, aren’t I? It’s hardly Throbbing Gristle or Stockhausen – it’s light, it’s gentle. it’s acoustic, nothing to fret over. The problem as such is that she’s not Latin or African; she doesn’t use a wah-wah; she sings in English (for God’s sake) and at a mere 27 she’s still very much alive. She’s white, popular, well-heeled and articulate. Where’s the fun?)

Semper Femina is actually Marling’s seventh album, I believe, (so, once again, we’re arriving at the party fashionably late), and has garnered armfuls of sought-after awards and nominations for her previous six. I’m not yet up to speed about any of these other ones, but that’s something I’ll need to sort.

She’s apparently pretty sparing with her interviews, so I’d definitely recommend a read of this one from The Line of Best Fit, either to catch up like me, or to puzzle your way through some of her taut, complex ideas…

When you listen to a new artist, you tend to look for easily-drawn lines and boxes to put people in (to get a handle, as much as anything) but the thing that struck me as I went through the initial listen, is how different the first three tracks sound to each other. The clunky, catchy rhythms of opener “Soothing” sound as if they could’ve come from a Tom Waits record. Ah-ha, I think, until the more conventionally singer-songwriter feel of “The Valley” flitters into view. OK…, thinks I, and then we’re into the vaguely soulful trembling chords of “Wild Fire”. All three songs are really strong but slightly disorientating for a newbie trying to bed in.

There’s a similar range throughout the record, which may well be a Marling “thing”, but leaves you feeling a bit heavy-footed as you venture in deeper. I’ve now listened to the record a good few times and can honestly say I don’t feel much closer to knowing what Laura Marling sounds like. It’s all a little unsettling.

I’m guessing this is not an accident. You go through some of the reviews, and the first thing they mention is that this is an exploration of femaleness and the artist’s identity – and if that’s not intimidating enough for a clumsy middle-aged bloke, the songs are all frighteningly accomplished. She plays with poise and with purpose, the arrangements are confident, and although I’m labouring a point about the different vocal styles, they’re never less than spot-on. I’m impressed, (and intimidated).

The title of the record, addresses the issue of femininity directly (if indirectly – it’s part of a quote from Virgil about the fickleness of women – as any fule know), which is another dimly flashing light for this old git. It’s like a lighthouse that seems to say “Don’t go near these rocks, you won’t understand”. And, lo and behold, I don’t. This is a set of lyrics that certainly don’t over-explain themselves, the songs are personal and feel like they’ve been pared down to the bone at times. There’s no context and little time wasted on filling you in. Keep up, they say. Try harder!

All of this would suggest that Semper Femina is not for me, that it’s a land of prickly, unfriendly metaphors that I’ll not be comfortable with, that I should actually go back to my safe place of goofy psychedelia and fuzzy garage, but actually I can’t leave the damn thing alone. Each knotty line sticks wilfully in my mind from one song to the next. It’s the best sort of ear-worm and bizarrely enough, I think I’ve played it more than the Fall Peel Sessions box set I armed myself with Thursday morning.

I’m particularly fond of this ungainly thing with its dual bass-lines…

 

There are a number of songs here that I’m still not really clear about but this is OK, and the enchanting prospect of getting to know them better is running through my mind as I write. I know it’s a mistake to think the most recent record is the one all the others have been leading up to, (although, there’s also the thing about the title having been tattooed on her thigh for the last ten years) but… I can’t help thinking that the recording of Semper Femina is something significant for Laura Marling.

I think I’m going to have another listen…

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