Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lazy Sunday - James Kirk



Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from ex Orange Juicer James Kirk.  I like it as it is a bit of a throw back to postcard days with hint of Scottish Country and Western if such a thing can exist

Western Pier - James Kirk

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Why I Love Country Music - Labelled With Love



This track form Squeeze is a country and western classic that enede up in the pop charts. All the elements are there , the bar room piano , tales of drinking , slide guitar, a maudlin voice and one of Chris Difford's best set of lyrics.

Like all good lyrics the power is in the little details

She unscrews the top of her new whisky bottle
And shuffles around in her candle-lit hovel
Like some kind of witch with blue fingers in mittens
She smells like the cat and the neighbours she sickens
The black and white T.V. has long seen a picture
The cross on the wall is a permanent fixture
The postman delivers the final reminders
She sells of the silver and poodles in china

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
Winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love
During the wartime an American pilot
Made every air-raid a time of excitement
She moved to his prairie and married the Texan
She learnt from a distance how love was a lesson
He became drinker and she became mother
She knew that one day she’d be one or the other
He ate himself older and drank himself dizzy
Proud of her features she kept herself pretty

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
Winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love

He like a cowboy died drunk in a slumber
Out on the porch in the middle of summer
She crossed the ocean back home to her family
But they had retired to roads that were sandy
She moved home alone without friends or relations
Lived in a world full of age reservations
On moth-eaten armchairs, she’d say that she’d sod-all
The friends who had left her to drink from the bottle

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
Winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
Winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love


Labelled With Love - Squeeze

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Life of Live - The Blue Aeroplanes


I've written about the Blue Aeroplanes before here . The one time I saw them live was in the Princess  Charlotte pub in Leicester which was one of those pubs that doubled as a small gig venue as was the Duchess of York in Leeds. Every city used to have them , although sadly it seems one by one they are closing down. What I remember is the seemingly endless number of band members jostling for space on a cramped stage all with half an eye on avoiding the flailing elbows of Lead singer Gerard Langley and classically-trained dancer Wojtek Dmochowski, who is still the best band dancer ever (admittedly when you are up against Bez and Howard Jones's mate in mental chains this isn't that big achievement but still)


Still going strong they are about the release their 10th lp (this doesn't include the additional 11 live/compilations lps they have also put out all with an ever changing line up. To give any kind of detail to releases and line up changes you'd need 100 posts but there is a good summary on the bands website here

I've posted the almost hit and the one that seemed to send the temperature in the Charlotte up about 10 degrees 

And Stones - The Blue Aeroplanes 

Here they are live on a slightly larger stage

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Close to Silence part 2 - Halloween Alaska


The closest I can come to describing Halloween Alaska is imagine Hats era Blue Nile but made by an American Band who sound vaguely European instead of a Scottish band who sound vaguely American.. no you are right that isn't much use to anyone.

A four piece from Minnesota have released 4 lps (plus a 5th one of remixes) starting with the self titled debut in 2004. Reading various reviews the words moody and emotive keep re appearing. The band tend to deal in sparse arrangements. They are also fond of the odd cover including Brucie and LL Cool J.

If you like the track I've posted or despairing at there never being another Blue Nile lp then they are worth a go

You're It - Halloween Alaska

You can buy their lps here

Monday, 25 July 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Duncan Sheik


Not Another Singer Songwriter this week heads across the Atlantic for Duncan Sheik. His debut self titled lp released in 1997 features lush reflective songs with a hushed Nick Drake type vocal. It went gold in he US and featured one top 20 hit and a Grammy award. Since then there has been 5 more lps and an anthology, but hasn't really troubled the charts (apart from strangely a US dance chart number 1)

He reminds me a bit of a slightly poppier David Sylvian. Like David Sylvian he gets involved in a hell of a lot and wide variety of other projects. The most successful of these being composing the music for the Tony award winning  musical Spring Awakening (which apparently he wrote over a period of 8 years).

This month sees the release of a new lp intriguingly titled 80s cover (actually probably not that intriguing as it is an lp of 80s cover versions). I've no idea if it has a UK release but having looked at the track listing , all the songs are where I really like the originals. It includes New Order's Love Vigilantes, Japan's Gentlemen Take Polaroids , The Smith's William and interestingly Thompson Twins' Hold Me Now (although Howard Jone's What is Love I'm not so sure about!)

You can stream a couple of the tracks here - a great version of Depeche Mode's Stripped (which you can get as a free download on his site here) and an okay Tears for Fears's Shout

As an idea of how it all started here is a track from the debut lp which reminds me of Secrets of the beehive era Sylvian

Reason For Living - Duncan Sheik

You can buy a compilation of his songs here

Sunday, 24 July 2011

oooops

I missed providing the link to today's David Sylvian post (a lazier than normal lazy sunday)

I've now added it in on the original post

Lazy Sunday - David Sylvian



Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile is a cheery little ditty by David Sylvian

Let the Happiness In  - David Sylvian

..... and this is worth watching just to see that he can smile ! (although it is right at the end)


Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - The Lovers / The Whisperers



One of the problems of a year in books is when I've read something that is part of an ongoing series. How do you talk about a book without getting stuck in what has gone before, without getting lost in back story? What are you writing about,the book or the whole series? The problem is bigger when it is book 8 in the series and bigger still when I liked it so much I promptly read book 9 straight away afterwards! I guess I should stick with talking about the series

The series in question is written by John Connolly and features Charlie Parker an American ex policeman who now operates as PI in the state of Maine. So far nothing that isn't in 100 other crime novels. As you'd expect he has a troubled past, Charlie's wife and child were brutally murdered by a serial killer , the capture of which formed the basis of the first book Every Dead Thing. So far so Silence of the Lambs, however what makes the the  books a tad different is the suggestion of the supernatural that seeps in and builds with each book until it becomes clear that Parker has more to deal with than just the usual two a penny serial killers with over active imaginations

The other thing that makes the book so different are the cast of supporting characters, the two most prominent are Loius and Angel a couple of gay hitmen that act as Charlie's personal protectors. It is a measure of Connolly's skill that the reality is nowhere near as ridiculous as I've just made it sound.

Connolly doesn't deal in black and white, every character has major flaws and ambiguous motivations. However, through the course of the 9 books the ties that bind Parker and his 2 friends strengthen and their friendship becomes the one constant.

The books are bleak shot through with the odd stab of black humour and dialogue that echoes Chandler and Hammett (although Connolly cites Ed McBain and James Lee Burke as bigger influences.) Not only is the dialogue razor sharp but also the villains are truly frightening. Most writers can do this one or two times but across 9 books to keep coming up with something different and a new kind of fear without falling into character is measure of Connolly's imagination and his skill as a writer.

Connolly is Irish and yet he his American voices seem so genuine that you would swear he was a native. His "foreignness" may be more apparent to his American readers although with the prizes he has won stateside somehow I doubt it. The fact that he has chosen to set the  books in Maine home of Stephen King shows he must be pretty confident in his talent

Gruesome crime and the supernatural are two genres that I don't usually read but this series has me hooked and keeps getting better and better

You can buy Every Dead Thing , the first in the series here and if interested it is well worth visiting his website where there is a plot synopsis for each book as well as a Q and A with the author






Thursday, 21 July 2011

Life of Live - Deacon Blue



I'd seen Deacon Blue before just after they had released Raintown and it was one of the best gigs I'd been to. Three more lps had been released with the last 2 starting to show diminishing returns. I had high hopes for Whatever You Say Say Nothing. it had been produced by man of the moment Steve Osborne and lead of single Your Town sounded decidedly fresh and different. Not quite at the level of The Fly with Eno but enough to say yes when a friend suggested we went to see them live.

In the time since I'd seen them last the venues had got bigger and the show slicker, but some of the enthusiasm from the band seemed to be missing. They still put on a hell of a show  but some of the great extended versions and songs within songs seemed less impromptu and more rehearsed. I guess the measure is that whereas  both the first time I saw them and again more recently are burned on my memory, I can't really recall any specifics about this time

The lp when I bought it was a bit of a disappointment mainly I guess because it wasn't the experimental departure that I was hoping. The problem wasn't with the songs but the production ( I wander how much record company pressure there was to go with Osborne)

A few years later when the greatest hits was released one of the songs from the lp turned up on the b side of a re released Dignity and reminded me both of what I loved about Deacon Blue and maybe what Whatever You Say could have been like

Bethlehem's Gate (piano and vocal version) - Deacon Blue

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Why I Love Country Music - Boothill Foot-Tappers


Latest part in the very occasional series on pop music with a country tinge. Someone at work did me a cd recently and at the end they included a couple of tracks form the Boothill Foot - Tappers. I'd not heard them for ages having had their only lp on a long since stretched cassette.

The lp suffers a bit from an attack of the jack of all sounds,with multiple vocalists and styles. Their best song is the country style of Jealousy

Jealousy - The Boothill Foot-Tappers

The band still play together for reunion and festival gigs

You can buy a copy of the re-released debut and only lp here complete with the usual cherry red extra tracks

Monday, 18 July 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Andy White


I first saw Andy White form Belfast on the tube doing one of those slots where they had someone  playing in foyer as people queued t0 get in ( I'm pretty certain i first saw Billy Bragg for the first time do the same slot) At the time he was touted as an Irish Bob Dylan (acoustic guitar , lots of words , voice that was a bit of an acquired taste, mop of curly dark hair....okay maybe the hair was irrelevant). He played this track which I loved so I promptly went out and bought the debut lp. Even the cover looked like It had come from an old Dylan lp.

Religious Persuasion - Andy White

I didn't listen to the lp much as it was of those lps where the abrasive nature of the songs work better as individual tracks rather than an whole lp. However by the second lp Andy White had already broadened  and to some extent softened his sound and made this gorgeous bit of political commentary

Down to the Sea - Andy White

Other lps came and went and I missed them all, until on the back of an lp he recorded with the lead singer from Hothouse Flowers and Tim Finn (ALT) I bought a compilation released in 1999

I loved the songs , especially the following (being a sucker for anything with home in the title)

Get Back Home - Andy White

Having been introduced to Australia by Tim Finn, Andy White moved there and later lps with an ever maturing sound feature a number of guest musicians and co writers. The last track comes from the 2003 lp Boy 40 which is on balance I think my favourite

Tell Me Why - Andy White

He has since released 2 more lps Garageband and 2009's Songwriter which has some of his best songs on.

You can buy all his lps direct from his excellent website here as well as hear a couple of samples from each lp. If you are going to start anywhere then I'd go for Compilation and if you are feeling flush then Boy 40 and Songwriter

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Lazy Sunday - Human League


Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is the best thing about the Human League's follow up to Dare. I really like the treated guitar line (at least I think it is a guitar), although I'm not sure it was a wise choice as a single.

Life on Your Own - Human League

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Life of Live Pele

Pele were one of those bands that the music press seemed to love to hate. The had the misfortune of being a folky guitar pop band in the time when dance dominated the charts. If they'd just managed to hang on until Britpop their time may well have come. Every new single was slated with the kind of vindictive comments that made you wonder why they had bothered to review it in the first place. I'm not sure why they generated such ill feeling, the band leader Ian Prowse was opinionated and gobby (but this never seemed to do Ian McCulloch any harm) and at their worst the hum along violin skates close to Come on Eileen Dexy's.


However, I love the fact the songs have that great sing a long quality and cliche alert but they really come alive in concert. At the time I had to come down to the Leeds office quite a bit and when I did I'd stay at a friend's house in Bradford (which would involve eating an extra large pizza hut pizza each and playing an early version of Mario Kart until the early hours - we are both fans of the healthy lifestyle ). Occasionally we would wander out and Pele were one of the bands that we used to go an see as they seemed to be permanently on tour.


The first time I saw them was to promote the debut lp Fireworks and most of the audience seemed to know all the songs off by heart and were singing along from the off. The pacing was frenetic form the start and it was definitely a soaking t shirt kind of gig.


At the time their logo was really strong and I bought a t shirt from the merchandise stand with the lyric " I think too much and I drink too much" on the back. I used to play Badminton on a Tuesday night in Leicester and for some reason ended up wearing this t shirt. The coach was this old guy in his lat 60s who was a bit of a puritan . He wasn't too impressed with the t shirt and suggested it wasn't appropriate wear for an athlete (the first and last time I'd ever been described as an athlete) he then proceeded to give a talk aimed at the girls ( I say girls but they were all in the 30s which made the whole speech even odder) in the group which basically translated as clean living athletes made the best husbands (unlike boys in Pele t shirts). From then on in it became a battle of wills with the coach not talking to me as I kept wearing the t shirt until I eventually moved to London.

Ian Prowse had strong political views and I'd like to think he would have been happy that his lyrics could have caused such a bizarre reaction.

The track I've posted seemed to be played twice as fast live and even now if I hear the words Sean O Casey (which admittedly I don't that often) I have to stop myself going into a chicken slam dance
You can buy Fireworks here

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - The Imperfectionists

 
 
Tom Rachman's Imperfectionisits is neat idea for a book, the story of a Rome based English language newspaper told through 11 key characters , 10 of the staff and one avid reader. Each chapter features one of the characters as a lead but they all weave in and out of each others stories. It is this cross over as well as the fact that a few pages at the end of each chapter tells the history of the paper that makes this more than a book of linked short stories. It is a clever structure and just about works.


The book tackles the changing face of media, news and journalism through the lives of these damaged people."The corrections editor Herman Cohen nixed all talk of a website "the interent is to news what car horns are to music"
 
 However a more personal theme of life choices and loneliness also comes through. Among others we meet are the paper's accountant who get stuck on an 11 hour flight next to a journalist who she has made redundant, the rather stuffy with the younger attractive partner and the editor contemplating an affair with an old lover,


The novel suffers from the curse of the cover quote as it is described as hilarious (I won't do my usual rant about what humour planet book critics come from) and as usual for that description the humour is not laugh out loud but gentle and well... humorous. Most of this comes from the usual details of office life and the quirks of a life in papers.


The only problem I had with the book was that all the main characters are damaged people and at some level unhappy either in their relationships and or their work at the failing paper. The characters aren't perfect but are well enough drawn to care what happens to them and for most of them it is more sadness and loneliness that awaits. Therefore you have this weird mix of gentle humour that lulls you into a everything will be okay with the sadness and tragedy of failed hopes failed relationships and unfulfilled dreams.


It is a skill that over the course of a short chapter Rachman can generate feeling so empathy and sympathy but the small scale human sadness makes me wish he had shown a touch more towards his own characters as their lives slowly fall apart.
 
You can buy the Imperfectionists here

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Strange Covers - No Surprises

Luka Bloom is no stranger to doing the odd cover, His version of LL Cool J's I need Love is a revelation. I've gone for something a bit more straightforward. Here is his version of Radiohead's No Surprises

No Surprises - Luka Bloom

Monday, 11 July 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Luka Bloom



This week's not another singer songwriter takes in the more traditional approach. Barry Moore the brother of folk singer Christy Moore had recorded 3 lps before he left Ireland for America, settling in New York. A new country and a new name, taking a Suzanne Vega song and a James Joyce character, Luka Bloom was born.

Luka Bloom's first lp Riverside dealt with the experiences of living in New York and was released to a lot of positive reviews.

2 more lps followed , Acoustic Motorbike and Turf, although both of these lps were recorded back in Ireland. Surf was the last lp I bought and since then he has released a lot more stuff including an acoustic lp, a covers lp, a live, a collaboration and an lp with a Romany sound among others.

I've posted 2 tracks one from each of the 2nd and 3rd lps both of which are pretty representative of his sound at that time.

Bridge of Sorrow - Luka Bloom (from The Acoustic Motorbike)

Right Here Right Now - Luka Bloom  (from Turf)

You can buy Luks Bloom's lps here and you can't really go wrong with any of the 3 I've mentioned above

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Lazy Sunday - The McClusky Brothers



Lazy Sunday and this week top of the shuffle pile is a track from the McClusky Brothers' hidden gem of an lp Favourite Colours . Both were members of the Bluebells and what I lik eis that this skips along in a breezy kind of way

Lonely Satellite - McClusky Brothers

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Life of Live - The Phoenix Festival

By 1993 I was living in Leicester in a house where there were windows where walls should be and walls where windows should be , a plague of spiders,3 blokes and a weetabix eating nurse with hairy legs who I'm pretty sure was an alien.

There wasn't much to do in Leicester and one weekend I had a load of friends from poly come to stay and when the local tourist board suggested a visit to the museum of gases I knew I was on my own. Luckily that weekend it was the Phoenix festival and although there wasn't much on the main stage that I wanted to see, the smaller stage had a load of stuff I knew we all would like.

I got tickets for everyone and we headed down for the saturday pm. It was a gloriously hot day and combined with the fact that the smaller stage was in a sauna tent and I had the mother of all hangovers means it is all a bit of blur

I remember Trashcan Sinatras had managed to spray paint their name across the boundary fencing. I remember The Men they Couldn't Hang playing a riotous set and that is about it although looking at the line up on the second stage it featured some of my favourite bands of the time.

This was of course before festivals exploded and became big corporate / entertainment events (no such thing as a literary tent here)

I've posted 2 tracks the first is the story of Francis Farmer by The Men they Couldn't Hang (it is a great song with an horrendous title) and the second is a great hum along tune form The Trashcan Sinatras second lp

Lobotomy Gets Them Home - The Men They Couldn't Hang

I'm Immortal - The Trashcan Sinatras









Friday, 8 July 2011

Strange Covers - Stay Home



A bit of a follow up to Monday's post. Eg White's first solo lp included this fantastic bit of pop. Originally recorded by one hit wonders with questionable dress sense Jellyfish (The King is Half Undressed), Stay Home wasn't a hit either in its original or covered form, which is a shame as it is a classy bit of songwriting. It has all the ingredients , sing along chorus , bah bah backing vocals , a squeaky clean production and hooks galore, but was largely ignored on release.

Stay Home - Eg White


Unfortunately the lp it is from seems to be one of those that only goes for silly money so is ripe for a cherry red re release!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Beatles

Last year I read a great book called the Half Brother written by  Lars Saabye Christensen who writes a bit like a Norwegian John Irving..... or so I thought. I've just finished reading another book by the author written 17 years before the Half Brother. the book is called Beatles and although in it is a coming of age novel the style and structure are completely different to the Half brother and the John Irving comparisons don't stand up. Not that this is a bad thing because the Beatles is a great read.


The book starts in 1962 with 4 Beatles obsessed school friends. Over the next 10 years we follow the 4 friends and their lives and friendships evolve. What remains constant is their love of the Beatles , to the extent that their nick names for each other are John Paul George and Ringo. Each chapter takes its title from a Beatles song and the themes of that chapter tenuously reflect those of the song. Also the 10 year journey has echoes of the changing relationships within the fab 4, they start as an inseparable before drug use , politics , religion and women pull them apart.


There is no big over riding theme just a heady mix of all the uncertainties, excitement and discovery of growing up. What is great about the book is the way Christensen covers familiar feelings of growing up but with a different time culture and country which means everything is recognisable but different enough to no feel like a 100 other coming of age novels. ( for example political rebellion is played out against the prospect of joining the EEC!) The core voice of the novel is Kim, the Paul character, and through him we experience the thrill of music (eg the ritual of getting friends together to listen to the first time to a new release on a battered record player which I remember doing this for each New Order 12") the awkwardness of new love, the politics of youth football and that weird period when you drift away from your parents whilst still living under the same roof.


Although not as quirky or as epic as the Half Brother, themes of friendship and the fading of childhood is one that everyone experiences which in itself makes it a great read. It also makes me think that with the 2 books 17 years apart what other great novels has he written and are sitting there waiting to be translated
You can buy Beatles here

Monday, 4 July 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Eg White


Bit of a change for this week's not another singer songwriter in that Eg White is now best known for the songs he has helped to write rather than the ones he has sung.

Originally part of Brother Beyond, Eg White left when he the band became part of the unholy trinity of Stock Aitkin and Waterman. He formed a duo with ex model Alice Temple and produced one of the great lost lps under the name Eg and Alice.

He then became a bit of a songwriter for hire , hitting the big time when Will Young recorded Leave Right Now which won Eg an Ivor Novello award.

He has also written for Duffy and Adele and you can read a great interview originally published in the Telegraph about writing songs for others here which covers both his songwriting and more interesting his views on the "songwriter for hire" thing

However the reason for the post is the 2 solo lps he has produced. The first of these released in 1996 Turn Me on I'm a Rocket Man continued where the Eg and Alice lp left off with smooth radio friendly songs saved from dinner party hell by great sense of quirkiness both in the lyrics and in small shifts in structure.

13 years later a second lp arrived and by this time he was one of the in demand songwriters and as a result it feels a lot more relaxed than the first lp. The lp features a number of co -writes eg with Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy, Ricky Ross and a reunion with Alice Temple.

The track I've posted was written with Louis Elliott of could have been contenders Rialto. It is a great example of a how a sing along pop song hides a slightly left of centre lyric

Weird Friendless Kid - Eg White


You can buy Adventure Man here

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Lazy Sunday - Jarvis Cocker


Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from Javis Cocker's solo lp. What I like about it is that losing some of the histrionics has made him a better singer

From Auschwitz to Ipswich - Jarvis Cocker

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Close to Silence part 1 - Red House Painters


The start of another occasional series this time with the title quiet music and featuring well quiet music. First up is American band Red House Painters. In some ways a typical 4AD band with gorgeous lp artwork and languid almost other worldly music.

The debut lp released in 1992 consisted of a series of demos that got them signed by 4AD after it was passed to the label by American Music Club's Mark Eitzel.

The second lp was a double and released a year later and this is the one that I bought. At the time they were kind of lumped in with other shoegaze bands but I think were much closer to bands like the later day Talk Talk, in the that the whole thing was about mood more than sound.

The band released 4 more lps up until they broke up in 2001. Mark Kozelek the lead singer and main songwriter then formed Sun Kill Moon which he has described as a continuation of Red House Painters but what is slightly odder or completely inspired is his solo lp completely made up of ACDC cover versions

I've posted one track the beautifully haunting Mistress (piano version) from the second lp known as Rollercoaster after the cover art, to distinguish it form the 3rd lp as they were both officially titled simply Red House Painters.

Mistress - Red House Painters

You can buy a compilation of the 4AD years called Retrospective here

Friday, 1 July 2011

Strange Covers - Hurrah



Strange Covers time and this time it is a pretty straight froward version of the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane. Not really much more to say about it, if you like Hurrah then worth a listen as with a lot of Hurrahs' faster songs it is at its best when the whole thing seems on the verge of falling apart only for the harmonies to hold it together

Sweet Jane - Hurrah