Thursday, 30 June 2011

Life of Live - The Men They Couldn't Hang

In the late 80s the Men They Couldn't Hang were one of the best live bands going but a mixture of musical chair record companies , bad timing and bad luck meant that they never quite made the deserved break through. For example one of their catchiest singles was nudging the lower reaches of the chart when radio one banned it form their playlists as it was felt the line "have come here to watch me hang" was insensitive in relation to a current news story. This despite the song being clearly about rebel sailors in the time of Wellington!

In 1990 they released their most straight forward commercial op/rock lp. The Domino Club toned down some of the folky stylings but the ear for melody and the story telling lyrics were as strong as ever

The songs fitted right into the live set and I remember the concert being the usual mix of manic dancing and passionate singing/shouting along.

I've posted 2 tracks from the Domino Club, the bitter sweet ballad Australia and Great Expectations that has all the catchiness of a hit single that never was. Both tracks have friendships drifting away. With Australia it is geography and with Great Expectations it is settling down, relationships and a job verses wild schemes and petty crime.

The lp came out as I left poly and these 2 songs always take me back to that final summer

Great Expectations - The Men They Couldn't Hang

Australia - The Men They Couldn't Hang

The band broke up after the Domino Club, as if they had given it their best shot and thought well if it didn't work with this lp it never will. They are back together again touring and releasing lps. I saw them recently play live again. Still the same manic dancing although by the look of some at the front it may have been prudent to have the St John's Ambulance on standby

Up to date info can be found on their website here

Monday, 27 June 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter part 9 - Paul Tiernan

Another Irish singer songwriter that I found out about in my early days of broadband

I don't know much about Paul Tiernan except that he has produced solo 5 lps, having started out in the snappily named Flex and the Fastweather. The one I have Belle has a quiet, reflective style that echoes the American /Canadian singer songwriters of the 70s.

I've posted the title track which is pretty representative and you can buy the lp here , which also features a track (How to Say Goodbye) which appeared in the film Nick and Nora's infinite play list

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Lazy Sunday - James

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a b side from James. This was form the time when they obviously loved the tune they had written for Come Home as not only does it form the basis of the b side but a variation also weaves its way through the next single How was it For You.

I like the fact it does form a bit of a bridge between the pre and post Sit down James

Fireaway - James

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Strange Covers - The Icicle Works part 2

With their third lp they got a bit of a better reception from the music press with the lead off single Understanding Jane getting those "didn't know they had it in them" kind of reviews. A couple of the singles flirted with the top 40 without making the break through that would have lead to top of the pops and all that stuff.

This cover is a version of the Neil Young song and was recorded for the anti heroin project fund raising lp. There is a bit of a contradiction as in his autobiography Merseybeast Mcnabb admits drugs were featuring quite prominently for him at the time but hey its a top tune
The track also features the god like genius Pete Wylie on co vocals

You can buy the 3 disc version of If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song here (lp titles were never their strong point!)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Strange Covers - The Icicle Works

Two of the Icicle Works lps have just been re released in glorious 3 disc cd versions that include a number of b sides , tracks that haven't been released before as well as radio sessions and live versions.

It was on their b sides that they often recorded cover versions. This one comes from the re release of their 2nd lp A Small Price of a Bicycle. The lp was released with high hopes on the back of the success of Love is Wonderful Colour in the Uk and Birds Fly in the US.

If ever an lp was out of time it was this one. Whilst the charts were all about shiney pop and synths. Ian McNabb had grown his hair and tied his soaring choruses to a big west coast guitar sound.The Uk music press hated it and the band for some reason got a lot of negative press. Ten years later it would have sold in the bucket load.

This cover is a pretty straight forward reading of the Goffin / King classic Goin' Back

You can buy the re- released Small Price of a Bicycle here

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Former Lead Singer - Tom Robinson

Bit of a cheat this one as the band that Tom Robinson was the former lead singer of was the Tom Robinson Band.

However as a bonafide solo artist Tom Robinson produced 2 of the greatest 80s singles. The one that everyone knows is War Baby , but the follow up Atmospherics was just as good

During the 90s he continued to make quality lps and saw the decade in with the best thing he has written , the single Blood Brother whihc unbfortunately I only have on a very scratched and warped lp. The politics remained but a number of songs would have a more personal nostalgic theme

He is now a resident sony award winning dj on BBC 6

I've posted 3 tracks the first 2 are the singles from the mid 80s lp and the third is a 90s track that takes a look back at the days of punk

Now Johnny's wearing Mambo suits with fitting orange hair
And Josephs in his combat coat , a denim millionaire
And me , I'm glad to be a dad and living with a girl

Atmospherics - Tom Robinson

War Baby - Tom Robinson
Days - Tom Robinson

Monday, 20 June 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Suzanne Vega

I remember buying Suzanne Vega's debut lp when the shop assistant in Jumbo records (the only reason to visit the Merrion Centre apart from trying to cash a cheque in Morrisons) in Leeds told me if I liked Martin Stephenson to give this a go. It wasn't normally the kind of stuff I listened to feeling a bit like a throw back to Joni Mitchell.

However, I was sucked in by the voice that was at once vulnerable and strong, the clever lyrics, the deceptively simple arrangements and some great guitar playing. The highlight was Marlene on the Wall and it still is one of my favourite singles.

The follow up lp Solitude Standing was a bit more polished and had the hit Luka on it. A friend of mine at poly had it on tape and for a while when we were in halls of residence it was the lp of choice for the early hours. The only issue is that across the corridor lived James, who viewed the lp as a key part of his seduction technique so whenever he was entertaining someone in his room (which was pretty often to the rest of our amazement) he would stumble into Richard's room slightly stoned and demand the tape. As we were all slightly fascinated by this we always said yes.

I now can't hear anything off the second lp with out seeing James wrapped in some kind of tie dyed sheet, eyes a bit unfocused asking if we could spare the vega. It put me off to such an extent that I didn't buy any of her other lps

Suzanne Vega got back in the charts thanks to a dance version of Tom's Diner and made a further 5 lps up to last year, often experimenting with sounds and structures

Last year saw her produce 2 lps of new versions of a selection of her back catalogue with 2 more due this year (I think there is an element of retaining copyright control as well as for the purely artistic)

However I go back to what I still think is her best song

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Lazy Sunday - Elbow

Another lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from Elbow's debut lp Asleep at the Back. What I like about it is that on one level it is a chilled out tune and on another there is a build up of menace

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Strange Covers - Gloomy Sunday

This track is featured on Sulk and is a cover of an Hungarian song made famous by Billie Holiday. There has been a bit of an urban legend built up around the song in that it is supposed to have inspired countless suicides within Hungary (Billy Mackenzie's own death adding fuel to the fire)

AS will all Associates tracks at their peak Mackenzie's voice is matched perfectly by the interesting stuff going on in Alan Rankine's backing track

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Life of Live - Pele

There are a few bands that for a short period of time I would become obsessed about seeing live , much more so than buying their records.

I moved to Glasgow with the aim of seeing loads of new Scottish bands and yet the band I saw most of for the next couple of years were a bunch of scousers who the music press seemed to take a delight in slagging off.

They were a full on energetic live band from start to finish. It helped that their debut Fireworks was chock full of singalong tunes.

I've posted a track that would lead to frantic dancing and a sore throat.

Inspirational stuff or poor man's Dexys decide!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Strange Covers - Holocaust

One of the lps I played obsessively in my younger days was It'll in End in Tears the debut from This Mortal Coil, a collective of 4AD artists and other like minded musicians. The ended up making 3 lps all featuring radical cover versions and dream like instrumentals.

Their best known track is probably their version of Song to the Siren with Elizabeth Fraser on vocals and one of the sexiest and sensual records ever made.

The debut lp is probably the one lp more than any other that got me interested in stuff that had wider ambition than jangly guitars and unrequited lovelorn lyrics.

I've posted one of the stand out tracks ,a cover of an Alex Chilton song song by Howard Devoto. The piano and some gorgeous cello work compliments Devoto's fragile vocal. It says a lot about the cover that despite all this time I've never had any interest in seeking out the original and still have no idea what it sounds like . I just know it won't sound as good as this...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Places To Visit - Quietus

Every now and then I stumble across a website that makes me think how have I missed this. This may be familiar to all of you but I've only just started reading The Quietus

I'll leave it to the founders to describe what it is all about

The Quietus - A potted history

At the start of 2008 we were of the opinion that there was a massive gap in the market for an online music publication not in thrall to snarky one-upmanship, hype, or an overload of fast-click, low-quality content. We also thought there was a gap in the market for a magazine that treated music of all genres from the last 30 years with the same reverence that titles such as MOJO and Word treat the rock & roll hall of fame.We chose a completely spurious Year Zero of 1974 because that's when Kraftwerk released ‘Autobahn’ as a single. It seemed to us the birth of modern music. Modern sounding, that is.
Since then we've aimed to bring you the best of everything. We're here to give music ranging from dubstep, death metal and post punk to hip hop, pop and spacerock the coverage it deserves. We'd like to inject some much-needed humour, intelligence and passion back into journalism, so we run in-depth features, reviews and opinion pieces from the best new writers and established greats. We also cover film, books, TV and comics, old and new, concentrating on quality over hype.
Whether we've achieved all this is not for us to say, but Record of the Day gave us the Music Publication Of The Year (Student Award) in 2008 and Music Website of the Year award in 2009. Da Capo's respected Best Music Writing guide also picked out three of our features for praise in its 2009 edition, edited by Greil Marcus. Add to this praise from publications and broadcasters including the Guardian, The Sun, Fader, Observer, Independent, BBC, New York Times and Chicago Time Out, and we're at least confident we're doing something right.
The fact that we've grown to this size in less than two years, with no post-launch investment, suggests we were right to stick to our guns. We've had a wealth of scoops on names as diverse as Slayer, Jarvis Cocker, John Lydon, Metallica, Sir Patrick Moore, Pet Shop Boys, Grandmaster Flash, Keane, Judas Priest, The Pixies, Yoko Ono, The Fall, The Bad Seeds and Marilyn Manson. This summer, we'll be moving into live events, curating stages at London's Field Day and Stag & Dagger Festivals, working with Birmingham's Supersonic Festival and Jersey's Branchage Film Festival.
Our independent approach allows us avoid the pitfalls faced by comparable print and web publications: our word-counts are generous and we're not afraid of surprising our readers. We have regular contributions from many of the best music writers working today - you may recognise their names as published authors, broadcasters on the BBC, Sky and beyond, or members of bands like The Bad Seeds and Pulp, and from newspapers, magazines and websites

It features a mix of news, features and reviews and combines the mainstream with the fringes of music. The writing is consistently strong and at times surprising and there always seems to be something of interest to catch my eye

On the current home page among others are

- a personal reflection on the Suede reissuses

- an interview with Green of Scritti Politti

- comedian Stewart Lee's top 13 lps

I may well be preaching to the converted but if not The Quietus is worth a visit

Monday, 13 June 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Mark Geary

Mark Geary is an Irish singer songwriter based in New York. He entered with a green card when he was 19 and headed over to East Village where he started writing and preforming his songs.

He comes from the quiet, laid back acoustic kind of Nick Drake school. The track I've posted comes from his debut lp 33 1/3 Grand street and is pretty representative.

This was one of those lps I bought un heard when I first got broadband and discovered a sadly now defunct website that was basically a database of links to Irish artists. This meant a constant stream of padded envelopes through my letterbox.

You can buy Mark Geary's lps here

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lazy Sunday - The Leisure Society

Another lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile is a bit of summer pastel pop from the Sleeper lp (still one of my favourite covers)

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - The Psychopath Test

I've been doing a lot of train travel for work recently and so getting through a lot of reading and am a bit behind writing about it, so here is the 2nd year in books post in as many days Jon Ronson's tv career has seen him unfairly described as a poor man's Louis Theroux. He operates in a similar field and has that same almost nerdy bumbling approach than often gets more insight than slicker more aggressive interviewers.
However Louis Theroux hasn't had a book of his made into a film starring George Clooney (admittedly an awful film that really only only had the title in common with the book .. but still)

 The Psychopath test is a bit like Ronson's other 2 books (Them:Adventures with Extremists and The Men Who Stared at Goats) in that it feels like he almost stumbles into his subject by chance and is quite happy to veer off into different directions as he progresses. As a result sometimes his work can feel like a series of loosely connected anecdotes and encounters.

This books starts with a puzzle. A number of leading neurologists have been sent anonymously a self published book that feels like one big cryptic puzzle. Jon Ronson is contacted by one of the neurologists and asked to find out what it is all about and solve the puzzle. So begins a journey into madness.. The next stage on the journey is a meeting with the church of Scientology and their ongoing quest to show the failings of psychiatry which in turn leads to a Broadmoor inmate who claims to have faked madness to avoid jail and now can't convince anyone of his sanity.

To balance this we meet the Drs responsible for treating the inmate as well as the psychologist who developed the industry standard psychopath test and who argues that many business leaders and politicians, if they took the test, would be seen as psychopaths. This takes the journey to interviewing a deposed dictator and a discredited businessmen as Ronson gets a tad over enthusiastic with his new skill in unearthing psychopaths What is great about the book is that you really feel like you are taking that journey with Ronson. His preconceptions are challenged and his ideas are reshaped only for the solid ground of his understanding to crumble again and a new set beliefs emerge before the process is repeated again. This isn't helped by the fact that everyone he meets comes across as extremely confident and extremely credible whilst Jon himself is wrestling with his own insecurities.

 There is a risk that the Columbo style of disguising sharp incisive questioning and interpretation within personal clumsiness and fears could be overdone (I'm struggling to avoid using the Louis Theroux comparison again) however the humour that runs through the book coupled with some real stop and think about your own beliefs moments make this both an entertaining and thought provoking read about what we mean by mental illness and what we mean by mental health

You can buy the The Psychopath Test here

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Imperial Bedrooms

There is an argument put forward by his detractors that Bret Easton Ellis basically has written one novel about the living dead of privileged LA youth and all subsequent works repeat the format but either with a different population eg The Informers or with a lot more violence eg American Psycho or both eg Glamorama.

I've read all of his books, finding the endless self absorption and emptiness of his characters strangely compelling helped by the fact that his stories are shot through with the darkest of humour. However the last one Lunar Park was all a bit too post modern for me and I gave up half way through. I found the whole thing so disappointing and frustrating I decided that was it, enough wasted empty wealthy lives for me.......however....

When Imperial Bedrooms was released, I couldn't help but be sucked back in. Billed as a sequel to Less Than Zero, the signs were good right down to the Elvis Costello inspired title.

The book picks up with Clay , now a successful screenwriter but as vapid as ever, Blair now married to Trent, Julian still on a self destructive path and Rip creepier and more sinister than 25 years ago. The book's opening has Clay reflecting on some guy who wrote a book about them all which brings everyone up to date and has the neat trick of characters in a book reflecting on their portrayal in both that book and the disappointing film that followed. This is as near as Ellis gets to Lunar Park territory (where an author called Brett undergoes a mid life breakdown and is "haunted" by characters from his past books).

We soon find that although things have moved on , life in their 40s is just as shallow and empty as in their 20s with the same sex, drugs and drink to hide the darkness (although the casting coach and film world has replaced the endless college parties.

What is added is the consequences of not letting go something you can't have (difficult if you are used to getting what ever you want), a skilfully building sense of paranoia and what starts as hints and whispered stories of extreme violence. This takes the writing into a LA noir / murder mystery territory and Ellis does this really well.

There is the unnerving feeling that none of the characters are what they seem and as layers are peeled back the heart of darkness is revealed their core. As things build to a head the exploitation increases and the violence becomes real .

Clay's voice remains as cold and distant as ever which is part of why Ellis still has the power to make me flinch slightly.

At less than 200 pages it is a quick read and the book is better for it. You don't have to have read Less Than Zero (I struggle to think why anyone new to Ellis would pick this up though) but it is a richer read if you have.

You can buy Imperial Bedrooms here

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Life of Live - The Beautiful South

Paul Heaton and David Rotheray don't really seem to get half the credit they deserve. As the Beautiful South they have written some of the classiest pop songs going full of timeless melodies and the lyrics of character's lives that would be just at home inhabiting a literary novel as a 3 min pop song.

I saw them play in Bradford promoting the 0898 lp. It was in a hall that felt more like an over sized community centre rather than a concert venue. A feeling reinforced by the fact that you got your hand stamped when you went in ( a bit like the school disco)

The concert was okay although if I'm being honest the band lacked a bit of personality and i came away thinking that the mini kitchen sink dramas didn't translate as well live as the mini politics of Heaton's previous band (although the cavanous sound couldn't have helped)

One song that went down a storm was a track from the new lp 36D, the lyrics of which had a go at glamour models partly led to Briana Corrigan leaving the band. David Hemmingway later admitted "We all agree that we should have targeted the media as sexist instead of blaming the girls for taking off their tops"

I kind of hope that everyone who bellowed along with the chorus got the ironic intent Close your legs, open your mind Leave those compliments well behind Dig a little deeper into yourself And you may find Come over here just sit right down Needn't comb your hair, needn't pout or frown I hear you've turned our young men Into dribbling clowns 36D so what (D) so what Is that all that you've got?

36D - The Beautiful South

Monday, 6 June 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - David Ford

There is deinitely a theme within a theme appearing here. Well recieved debut leads to a lot of press, some high profile support slots and tracks used as backing for American ongiong TV series. Second lp dissappoints record label and 3rd lp returns to low key release.

David Ford fits the template although adds in the previous life as lead singer in a band, in this case Easyworld. The debut lp (the bit of a mouthful I Sincerely Apologies for All That I've Done) is full of tunes that tackled big emotional themes with a voice to match. You certainly get the feeling there is some soul baring going on and not much is being held back It also contains one of my favourite sad songs and I think the best thing he has done

What Would You Have Me Do - David Ford

A couple more lps have followed, Songs for the Road and Let the Good Times Roll. He has also released a number of self financed eps which you can get from his website here

If you liked the track posted but want to hear his more fuller sound then his myspace page here has a number of more recent tracks

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Phils cd part 4 - Magic Circles

The Magic Circles are a Scottish band and feature as co songwriter Douglas MacIntyre who for a short time was in Love and Money as well as playing with Hipsway led singer Graham Skinner. He set up the Creeping Bent record label on which the Magic Circles only lp Kirk Street was released The lp released in 2008 is a bit of a throwback to the melodic pop of Scottish bands past. I've posted the single and best track Meet me in Milan - The Magic Circles You can buy a copy of Kirk Street here So ends this week smini theme of some of he stuff that featured on a compilation cd I was sent by Phil - hope you've discovered as I did some new stuff to buy

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Phils cd part 3 - Matt Pond Pa

We've had Scandinavian pop and now it is time to move across the Atlantic for a bit of chamber pop music from Matt Pond and his band. I'd never heard of the band or the singer until Phil's cd and so I'm afraid I've had to lift from wikipedia Matt Pond PA is a New York based band formed in Philadelphia by singer-songwriter Matt Pond. They have released eight albums and seven EPs since 1998. Pond has been the only consistent member, although Chris Hansen is now considered to be a core member of the group. In the studio, they often collaborate with other musicians including former members to achieve their diverse instrumentation and expansive sound. In recent years, Pond and Hansen have produced the recordings from a cabin in Bearsville, NY. 8 lps! I only have the latest one Dark Leaves which has appropriately a dark autumnal sound with cello and viola as prominent as guitar and drums. The lyrics tend to have a nature them (as I guess they would if they'd been written in an isolated cabin!. I've posted the opening track to show how all of this can fit together into a great pop song

You can buy Dark Leaves here

Friday, 3 June 2011

Phil's cd part 2 - Dylan Mondegreen

The clean cut fellow featured above is Børge Sildnes from Norway who records under the name of Dylan Mondegreen. To date he has recorded 2 lps of gorgeous pop songs kind of a more mellow, dreamy Wannadies possessed by the spirit of Paddy McAloon Both lps are sung in English and there isn't a duff track on either of them. They remind me of the best pop , simple but clever at the same time The debut lp While I Walk You Home was released in 2007 and I've posted the lead off track Wishing Well which skips along like a summer breeze

 Wishing Well - Dylan Mondegreen

The second lp came out in 2009 and you definitely get the feeling that Dylan really wants to be in Prefab Sprout. No more so than in Albuquerque that is chock full of references to Paddy McAloon songs and has the best sprout like dreamy harmonies

Neither lp was released in the uk which is a real shame as with a bit of exposure both lps would be a big hit with anyone hoping in vain for a new Prefab Sprout lp or longing for the days when bands like Danny Wilson could have hits.

You can buy both lps from his website here . It does take a bit of working out. You are taken to Norway's paypal site and I struggled at first to find a uk reference. I had to highlight the US to get a translation and then change this to UK ( down purely to my ignorance of how United Kingdom is spelt in Norwegian.)

Don't be put off though , persevere, there are 2 pop gems of lps. Mine came thoughtfully signed which was nice

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Phil's cd part 1 - Hollow horse

As mentioned previously Phil who often leaves comments on the blog recently sent me a couple of compilation cds. Unfortunately as they were so good I've ended up spending a shed load of money on various cds. So begins a mini theme of stuff featured on these cds and first up is Scottish 3 piece Hollow Horse.

They have released 3 lps, all produced by ex Big Disher Brian McNiel, of ,as Alan McGee describes, "righteous music for music lovers".

Righteous or not, all 3 lps are high on melody and heart felt vocals. I've posted the lead off track from the debut lp 5 Year Diary which is pretty representative of all 3 lps. There isnt any radical departures rather a gradual evolving of the sound with the focus on the songwriting and a feeling of if it ain't broke why fix it.

You can buy all 3 lps direct from the bands website here. At a push I'd recommend the middle one Beggarstown which is just my favourite but you can't really go wrong with any of them.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Second Hand Furniture - Because

Apologies for the awful pun! I've written about one of the unluckiest bands ever Furniture here Following that post Phil who often leaves comments wrote about the fact that one of the songwriters and singers went on to record one lp as part of a duo under the name Because. Phil recently sent me a couple of compilation cds one of which included the following track from the Because lp.

Well this spurred me into action and I finally bought a copy of the lp that had been released on The Bible's label haven records I'll quote what the label's website has to say about the band.

'Mad Scared Dumb and Gorgeous' is the sole album by BECAUSE, who are Jim Irvin (vocals) and Chris Ingham (keyboards, guitar). This album, recorded during the autumn months of 1992 for Haven, was the first collaboration between Chris and Jim, whose friendship over many years had crystallised into a sublime songwriting partnership. Jim's previous career is better documented as the singer for the sorely missed band Furniture, who are best remembered for the hit single 'Brilliant Mind' as well as the critically acclaimed albums for Stiff and Arista. He also now operates as a music journalist. Chris, whose roots lie in the jazz clubs of East Anglia, has a career that has spanned both rhythm'n'blues and modern jazz bands over the years, and even once included a band with Eddi Reader purely for Rowan Atkinson's wedding reception. He also now freelances as a music journalist. This album, recorded at a home studio for a budget that would hardly cover some studios' coffee bills, is primarily a songwriting project. This is a collection of ten superbly crafted songs, whose singular melodic structures and lyrical resonances can leave you breathless. This album will have you including the names of Ingham and Irvin in your lists of classic songwriters of today. BECAUSE are songsmiths - craftsmen in a sadly neglected art.

The word jazz would normally have me running for the hills however this is one great lp. It feels like a more chilled and relaxed Furniture. I've been kicking myself for waiting so long to get it. Both band members now work as music journalists (Jim Irvin I think mainly writes for Word) which is a real shame as I'd love to hear a follow up.

The lp is deleted but the label does have some stock left you can get details by contacting Derek at

If you like melodic pop music , have enjoyed the recent re-release of Wrong People or loved Furniture the first time around then I'd really recommend you get a copy it is a lost gem of an lp.

The cds Phil sent were so good that they've prompted their own mini series of posts starting next week which will be imaginatively titled stuff on Phil's cd