Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday Moments - Woman's Realm

Belle and Sebastian are one of those marmite bands, a lot of my friends try and tell me they made a good lp and then basically went about re-recording it every couple of years. I love them and think Stuart Murdoch took on Morrissey's mantle after the demise of the Smiths in writing some of the cleverest and funniest lyrics around. The only time they go off the boil for me is when the band becomes a democracy and the songwriting gets shared around a bit. This was never more apparent in the greatly titled but disappointingly uneven "Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant".

However, it does contain one of favourite songs of theirs, "Women's Realm". It has everything , hand claps , twangy guitar solo, girl/boy vocals and it canters along as all the best Belle and Sebastian songs do

My monday moment is toward the end where in true London burning style there is a great bit of overlapping vocals

I don't care whether you hear this
I don't care if I'm alone here singing songs to myself
There's nobody else around, around
Meet you up at the Indian part of the town
The town's shut down, the people left with their bags
Their kids so there's not a sound a sound

But I must get from there to here
There's a small voice crying on the other side of the river from here
It's too late to phone her now
What went wrong, your grades were good
It would take a left wing Robin Hood to pay for school
Your dad's a boozer and you keep him alive

Just a minute close your eyes
If we settle for this compromise I'll stay with you
The river looks so good tonight
I don't know what's with your friend
She met a boy and at the summer's end
She said she'd had enough of playing games

I don't care cause I'm by myself
All the dancers left but I can't dance
So I will stay and clean the mess they left behind
But I dream as I set to scrub all the floors, the walls
I'm thinking of a song or two, a boy a girl a rendezvous

Are you coming or are you not?
There is nothing that would sort you out
There's nothing I could say or do
You're going to crash, I'll set the bails in front of you
Are you coming or are you not?
There is nothing that would sort you out
An interesting way of life
Deny yourself the benefits of being alive

You slept better in a sleeping train in a shed in a station
With a torch and a Woman's Realm to keep you warm
To keep you company
You slept better in a sleeping train in a shed in a station
With a torch and a Woman's Realm to keep you company tonight

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - Ian Mcnabb

Lazy Sunday and this week top of the shuffle pile is the opening track from Ian McNabb's Gentlemen Adventurer lp. The former Icicle Worker is a national treasure and just keeps quietly releasing greta lp after great lp to mainly indifference from th emusic press , the charts and generlly anyone apart from the core hard core fans
A simple short song with some sumptious west coast harmonies

Friday, 26 November 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Freedom

It has been 9 years since the publication of Jonathan Franzen's last novel "The Corrections" the story of a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner that was hailed as a sign of the times piece of writing.

"Freedom" has suffered the fate of many books that come with big expectations. At first it was hailed as the novel of the century and was published to reviews people dream of, as critics almost rushed to outdo each other with writing about how good this book was. Then as usual came the backlash, early review in the UK especially started rather sniffily in that slightly jingoistic tone we are so good at that the book arrives on the back of impossibly good reviews in the American press. Whilst not actually saying it there was a hint of emperor's new clothes.

Well as ever the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Freedom is a great read and at times says a lot about what freedom means to us and more importantly the price it brings when we have it. The writing as ever with Franzen is spot on with some passages up there with the best of anyone. However book of the century well it's not even best of the year.

The opening prologue, one of the best bits in the book paints a picture of suburban America and the seemingly too good to be true Berglund family (Walter , Patty and their two children). We meet them through the eyes of their neighbours who faced with such perfect domestic bliss can't help sniping, but this just reinforces the all round goodness of Patty and Walter.

However the prologue ends with the neighbours shock as the wheels start to come off the Berglund family.
The rest of the book tells the family story at times focusing on different members , the son Paul and the lust for his friends sister, his swim with the corrupt politicians in the building of a new Iraq, Walter and his mission to save the earth starting by saving an American species of bird, but it always comes back to Patty, the mother and the key relationships in her life.
The only one who feels a bit short changed is the daughter, who is only really used to hold up a mirror to the actions and decisions of the rest of the family.

A number of different techniques are used with Patty's story mainly told through a two part "autobiography" written on the suggestion of her psychiatrist. It is these 2 sections that work best and ring truest. We see her character grow whilst always keeping a complexity of emotions and motivations.

Walter and Patty are so well drawn it is with the supporting cast that Franzen slightly misses. Two key characters. Walter's long term friend and cult rock star Richard and his young female assistant in his fight to save the endangered warbler just don't fully ring true. Although at least we hear Richard's voice enough to get an idea of what is going on his head.

I have seen Freedom reviewed as a laugh out loud comic novel. ( book reviewers seem to have an entirely different set of humour rules to the rest of us). There is humour but it is in the smile at the cleverness of a turn of phrase rather than a good old chuckle. In fact the one section that has a big this is funny sign hanging over it, involving a swallowed wedding ring, tries too hard and seems extremely forced and sits out of sync with the rest of the book

As for a message , well I'm not sure maybe simply Freedom is messy and it is how we deal with its consequences that ultimately define us

Just reading this back I may have been a tad harsh , Freedom is a great read with different levels and although some elements work a lot better than others , overall it is good read and the kind of big family saga that we just don't seem to be able to produce in this country

You can buy Freedom here where you can also download a preview.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Life of Live - Bob

I've only ever seen a support act blow the main act away once (not counting when I went to see hurrah when they were bizarrely supporting pop will eat itself) .

For some reason I went to see 1000 violins at the now deceased Duchess of York in Leeds, I must have got dragged along by a friend as I owned nothing by them. They were awful and to give them the benefit of the doubt in the age of the internet I've tracked down some of their stuff and it still sounds not for me.

However the support band were brilliant - so good it even prompted me to buy an enamel badge with their name on , and what a name ...Bob , genius.

Right from the off their total energy married with infectious tunes just got the whole place dancing. They came out of the same school as 100 other jangly guitar bands. However they weren't a one trick pony, they had a variety and a sense of fun that were missing from these other bands as well as hooks to spare. The measure for me was when 100 violins came on the energy seeped out of the room.

I've posted 3 tracks , to show the variety and invention, if you listen to just one make it the stand out single Convenience and wonder why they never got beyond indiedom

Convenience - Bob

Daybreaker - Bob

What a Performance - Bob

They released a number of eps but if you manage to track it down "leave the straight life behind" is their main lp and a great place to start

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Former Lead Singer of ... Dr Robert

Dr Robert was the lead singer of the Blow Monkeys who made a number of polished pop singles with smooth soulful,funk sound that often disguised lyrics with a real bite. When the Blow Monkey's eventually fizzled away he started to release a steady stream of solo lps with a much earthier folky sound. He did start hanging around a lot with Paul Weller which did worry me that his debut would be a bit dad rock. However Realms of Gold contained some beautiful songs, mainly driven by acoustic guitar and built around simple melodies and Dr Robert's distinctive vocal style

For some reason I didn't go for the next couple of lps but the4th lp "Flatlands" I couldn't resist simply as I grew up in the heart of the flatlands ..the fens and again the lp has a folky feel maybe slightly rootsier

I've posted one track from each of these lps

Sanctuary from Realms of Gold
Sky is Falling from Flatlands

Best place to start if you like these 2 tracks is this compilation

It seems like the solo stuff is on hold for now as the Blow Monkeys have reformed and about to release their 2nd lp since getting back together

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday Moments - Crocodile Cryer

Monday moments this week is form what is still one of my all time favourite songs. The first thing I heard by Martin Stephenson and the start of seeing play live countless times and buying up pretty much everything he has released.
Inspired by a young Martin feeling angry at the mourners at his grandma's funeral, this tells the tale of a gold digging funeral visitor as he hovers about hoping for a mention in the will

In a house full of fair day fakes
The next door neighbour made the cakes
With Elton John records playing loud upstairs
It could be just the time to strike
I'll be casual and ask about
A will that could be mine throughout
An opportunist you might think
But I have to earn my brass

My monday moment comes in the wonderful instrumental break where a game of tag goes on as the baton is passed from the organ to the acoustic guitar to be picked up by the strings before the chorus come sin again all weaving around the gorgeous melody
I still can't understand how Elvis Costello is a national treasure and Martin remains something of a cult
If you haven't got it please buy Boat to Bolivia here you won't regret it (especially as this version has an extra cd of tracks from the band's other 3 lps)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - The Associates

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from The Associates's Sulk lp. What do I like about it , well as with all their stuff it walks the tightrope of genius and madness

Friday, 19 November 2010

New Music - Unkle Bob

Four years ago Glaswegian 4 piece made for me both the single of the year in "the Hit Parade" and the lp of the year in "Sugar and Spite". With their perfect harmonies, acoustic driven songs and simply gorgeous melodies they reminded me of the kind of Scottish bands from the late 80s whose sound looked to across the Atlantic.

Well they are back with a new lp "Shockwaves" which again is partly produced by James guitarist Saul Davies. The sound this time is a little rougher round the edges has a rockier feel and is more electric than acoustic.

However what remains the same are the heart breakingly good harmonies , the knack of producing great pop songs with melodies that suck you in and don't let go. In touring with James they've picked up the trick of using a repeated phrase as a hook that almost becomes an instrument in itself.

The lead off single Satellite and it's follow up In My Head show case all that is good about the lp but for me the best track is Proud a ballad of sorrow and confusion.
"Stop Crying Stop Lying"

At first I was worried with reviews I read that talked about the more electric sound but having had the lp for a week now am glad they didn't try and do a Sugar and Spite part two. If you bought the first lp or just like your music with a bit of west coast feel (Clydebank or California) then give Shockwaves a go

You can buy the lp here
You can visit the band's website here where you can see a great video for the new single
Their myspace site is here where you can hear the tracks I've mentioned plus others

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Former Lead Singer of - Neil Arthur

Blancmange were the 80s electro duo that lasted 3 lps and had about half a dozen chart hits. Neil Arthur the lead singer tended to have two approaches either the slightly deranged David Byrnesque of Living on the Ceiling and Blind Vision or the measured croon of tracks like Waves.

For some reason it took 8 years following the band's split for a solo lp to appear. Suitcase doesn't see a radical departure just an updating of the synth sounds, but it still contains a fair few great pop tunes and I always liked his voice even at its most manic

Breaking My Heart - Neil Arthur

I Know about You - Neil Arthur

Apparently the band have reformed and are touring, although Phil who often leaves comments on the blog has said that they are the worst band he has seen live so maybe just look out for any new material

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Junk Mail

Since starting this blog the cathedrals of sound e:mail address has been swamped with junk mail. I am now a multi millionaire due to luckily winning loads of lottery draws that I hadn't entered, I've helped many a dying woman find a good cause for her millions away from the clutches of her family and any concerns in the bedroom have long since left me due to endless offers of penis enhancements and viagra I've taken up. However the one I received in june is pretty unique. I'll quote it in full

This is the only way i can get in touch with you for now, this may sound surprissing to you it's nothing but fact. I have been assigned so terminate you by someone I beleive you call a friend with some reason listed to me but i have been watching over you for a while and i see that you are innocent of the accusations level against you. Do not inform police or try to send a copy of this to them because if you do I will know and I might be pushed to do what I have been paid to do.
Besides, I pity you to betrayed my job and i want you to help yourself. Now listen, you will pay the sum of five thounsand dollars ($5,000) so that i can cancel the mission and I will arrange a meeting with you to see face to face. I repeat, do not arrange for the cops and if you play hard to get, it will be extended to your family member and i will also warn you not set any camera to cover us or set up any tape to record our conversation, my client is in my control now. Payment details will be provided for you to make a part payment of $3,000 first, which will serve as gurantee that you are ready to co-orperate,after this i will post a copy of the video tape that contains his request for me to terminate you which will be enough evidence for you to take any legal action against the person before he employs another person for the job. You will pay the balance of $2,000 once you receive the tape.

Warning: do not contact the police and make sure you keep this to yourself until you finally get the recorded video tape from me,if you neglect any of these warnimgs, you will have yourself to blame. You do not have much time, so get back to me immediately.

Note: I will advise you to keep this within yourself alone, not even a friend or a family member should know about it, because he could be one of them,You are warned.

Glad to know this friendly assassin has my best interests at heart!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday Moments part 33/52- Being Boring

When Behaviour came out reviews described it as when the Pet Shop Boys got serious, a bit over simplistic as So hard is still a classic hi tempo tune and the first 2 lps were hardly shallow pop fluff.

This week's Monday moment comes from still my favourite single of theirs. A series of snap shots as Neil Tennant looks back on his youth "I came across a cache of old photos and invitations to teenage parties dress in white one said with quotations"

I love the way Neil Tennant's voice gets across that sense of longing , wistfulness and regret all tied up in thinking of the past and a disappearing youth. Not the world's best singer but my monday moment this week is 2 fold , firstly the confidence in the song that means that almost 2 mins is given to set the mood before the vocals start. Secondly as Simon Cowell would say "Neil you nailed that lyric and made the song all your own"

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - Beth Orton

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from Beth Orton's Central Reservation lp. What do i like about it , well she has the perfect sunday morning voice

Friday, 12 November 2010

Strange Covers - Laughing Len

When I was in the 6th form at school we had an English teacher who swore that Leonard Cohen was a genius and that his lyrics should be on the a level english lit syllabus. At the time it all sounded a bit folk and a bit 70s - all of which seemed a million miles away from the music I was in to (the ignorance of youth)

It was only when I went on hols to Spain and everywhere I went the I'm Your Man lp seemed to be playing coupled by the fact that they very people he seemed a million miles away from started to go on about how good he was, that I started to listen more closely.

I bought I'm Your Man, along with the lp of his songs Jennifer Warnes recorded as well as a greatest hits all in close proximity and started to listen to his stuff more and more. There is a part of me though that still prefers covers of his songs than the originals.

Here are two great examples

The first was the lead off single from Ian McCulloch's second solo lp and the second is a version by Lloyd Cole of my favourite Laughing Len song which also is one of my favourite sets of lyrics and the one where I finally agree with my English teacher

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record.

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife.

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane's awake --

She sends her regards.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

-- Sincerely, L. Cohen

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Life of Live - Frazier Chorus

Support for yesterday's life of live came form Frazier Chorus a trio who specialised in dreamy pop with whispered vocals. They had already had a minor hit with Dream Kitchen. They released their second lp Ray (the first one was called Sue) at the time when the record company's answer to everything was let's get a remix and preferably a Paul Oakenfield one.

This is one of those times when they were right. I've posted the first 2 singles in remix form. Cloud Eight is the catchier of the two but it is with Nothing, a sugary tune , breezy beat , but despairing lyric that really works

Nothing (has been proved mix) - Frazier Chorus

Cloud Eight (future mix) - Frazier Chorus

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Life of Live - Black

Black was the recording name for Colin Vearncombe, they'd had an indie hit with Hey Presto but a couple of slow sad songs , "the Sweetest Smile" and "Wonderful Life" had given him the breakthough.

The new lp Comedy was set to cement his position in the upper reaches of the chart, however, first single "The Big one" disappointed and the lp never really recovered. This was a real shame as the sound was a lot richer and varied, although I can imagine the record company saying .."yes but we want another Wonderful Life"

I remember going to see Black live and not really sure what to expect. It seems that free of the restraints of the record he could let flow the different styles and influences, so everything had a bit more energy power and expression. One song a good tune on the lp is suddenly live built around a mad bit of flamenco guitar. The other thing I remember is just how powerful his voice was and again a much wider range than came across on the lps.

The song I've posted is not his best by a long chalk but it was one of the ones that live blew everyone away

Colin Vearncombe is still recording and like others such as Lloyd Cole has embraced the web and operates outside the usual record company arena. He knows who his fans are and what they want. There is a wealth of info on his website here which is worth checking out and where you can also buy his backlist

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday Moment - Breaking Point

If you read any of the music blogs that I do then I guess you already have this. Probably the biggest lost single of the 80s this should have been massive and kick started Paul Quinn to a glittering career, instead of a number of false starts and cult hero worship.

One of the best voices going, it is in full glorious flow on this adrenalin rush of a single. I don't think it has dated at all and still send s the same shiver down my spine as when I first heard it. The follow up Careless was good as well but as a band I suspect they would have never hit these heights again if they had kept going. Paul Quinn eventually trumped even this with the first Independent Group lp, but that is for another day.

My monday moment comes with the first urgent stab of the strings and then after 27 secs the first line "I stake my claim" in a voice that sweeps you away

Breaking Point - Bourgie Bourgie

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - The Harvest Ministers

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from ex Sarah band the Harvest Ministers . I like the boy girl contrast backed by the simple piano melody. A song to hum along to.

Temple to Love - The Harvest Ministers

Friday, 5 November 2010

Latest offering - Blue Nile

The final offering in Blue Nile week comes from the latest lp "High" released in 2004 it marks a return to more of the sound of Hats rather than the previous lp Peace at Last released 8 years earlier. I've posted the lead off track which typifies an almost tonal approach that drives a number of the tracks.

With only 6 years since the release of High I'm not holding my breath for any new material soon. Especially as the last tour saw Buchanan and Bell tour, billed as a Paul Buchanan solo tour. This was because Moore has left the band and out of rep sect to him they felt they couldn't tour as the Blue Nile. All of which doesn't suggest a rush of activity any time soon... still I live in hope

The Days of Our Lives - The Blue Nile

You can buy all of the Blue Nile's lps here. Reflecting back on the 33 lp tracks I realised that despite the long gestation period between lps , there are still, certainly in the last 2 lps, 2/3 songs that I could take or leave. However, the thing with the Blue Nile is that when they are good they are untouchable and they are good for most of the time.

Also the first lp Walk Across the Rooftops is timeless and one of those lps that every home should have, for those times when what is called for is a bit of wallowing in melancholy

Thursday, 4 November 2010

How it all started - Blue Nile

Today's offering is where it all started. I Love This Life is the debut single and the one that resulted in The Blue Nile getting signed by Linn records apparently to record a record that Linn could use to show off their hi-fi systems. It is about as jaunty as the Blue Nile get and you can hear the seeds of some of songs on Walk Across the Rooftops in there.

Extremely difficult to get hold of, I was lucky to find it in an Oxfam for the princely sum of 50p

The cover looks more like a release from someone like Yazoo. The single didn't lead to an lp and the band spent the next 2 years writing and honing their sound until Linn stepped in.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

4 lps 29 years - Hats

The Blue Nile's second lp Hats came out in 1989 a relatively brisk 5 years after the debut. Apparently during this time an entire lp worth of material was scrapped. During that time the musical landscape had moved on the the sound of the lp reflected that. The music is a lot smoother and polished and in a lot of ways a more minimal sound. However this is suited perfectly to Paul Buchanan's emotive vocals.

Some of the mystery had gone in that no longer was there a feeling of how on earth did they get that sound as the use of synths started to appear on nearly everything. However in those 5 years the band's following had grown as Walk across the Rooftops started to appear in best ever lp charts and so another type of mystique appeared in terms of who were they and what on earth had they been up to.

Commercially it is still the band's most successful lp. It features this song covered by among others Annie Lennox , an okay version and Rod Stewart which thankfully I've not heard.

The song builds and build until a typical Blue Nile ending of throwing words, snatched images or short phrases together for an overall effect. Neon and trumpets are typical "Blue Nile" words if that makes sense, in the same way that a Suede song isn't really a Suede song unless it has the word gasoline in

The neon's and the cigarettes
Rented rooms and rented cars
The crowded streets, the empty bars
Chimney tops and trumpets
The golden lights, the loving prayers
The coloured shoes, the empty trains
I'm tired of crying on the stairs
The downtown lights

Monday, 1 November 2010

Monday Moments - Family Life

When writing yesterday's post and I found out that The Blue Nile in 30 years (well strictly 29 years) have released 4 lps with 33 songs, I thought well maybe it was time for a Blue Nile week.

This is their second appearance on Monday moments and this time it is from their 3rd lp "Peace at Last". Released in 1996 and 7 years after the last lp it had a lusher sound with acoustic guitars more to the forefront and a couple of songs that could almost be described as lively.

Suddenly there comes one of the saddest songs going. A simple piano ballad on the breakdown of a family.

Starlight do you know me
Please, don't look at me now
I'm falling apart
Silver on the window
Like the bike I once had
At home in the yard
Jesus love let me down and I know where you are
It might lead somewhere

Gather me in snowfall
And the cars going by the north and the south
Flowers on the table
And the coffee gets cold
Like the milk in my mouth
Sailing on no honeymoon
Just separate chairs in separate rooms
Jesus, please
Make us happy sometimes
No more shout
No more fight
Family life

Tomorrow will be Christmas
We'll be singing old songs
And light up the tree
God and all the mercy
And say all your prayers
For little old me
Jesus, you
Wipe the tears from her face
And the sound of his voice
Family life

Yeah, yeah

Jesus, I go to sleep and I pray
For my kids
For my wife
Family life

Paul Buchanan's mournful vocal , the simple piano, the building strings and his voice cracking as he almost whispers Jesus please make us happy sometimes.

However my monday moment comes near the end with a short fanfare of trumpet like synth sound gives a small sense of hope amidst the despair

I was lucky enough to see them tour with this lp and play the Royal Albert Hall. They seemed genuinely taken aback at the almost religious reception they received and when they played Family Life , there was a lot of people suddenly found that they had something in their eye.