Sunday, 30 December 2012

Desert island Discs 74 A Different Lifetime by Spearmint

74 A Different Lifetime by Spearmint 2001

Spearmint have featured before in Bigger Than The Beatles and across 6 lps and 2 compilations have shown a consistent ambition in songwriting way above that of other indie guitar bands. Partly driven by lead singer Shirley Lee's ongoing ambition to write a musical , a number of the lps have a central concept whether christmas eve for the residents of a small town , a weeks holiday or 4 people meeting in paris.

A Different Lifetime for me is the most fully formed  simple telling the story of falling in love , being in love , falling out of love.

This is what Shirley writes on the band's website about the story of the lp

A Different Lifetime

Halfway through making "A Week Away" I was already thinking about writing "A Different Lifetime". A couple of my friends were going through difficult break-ups, divorces in fact. I had an idea that love is a cycle, and one way or another it always ends. A gloomy thought, but one that is so core to life that it should be wallowed in and celebrated. Most of all we should make the most of it at the time - this is the same idea as a lot of Spearmint songs: to make the most of life as it is happening.

I wanted the album to feel like a novel or a movie, and had "Umbrellas Of Cherbourg", "Birthday Letters", "A Farewell To Arms", or "The End Of The Affair" in mind. I started putting aside odd ideas for songs for this album. In fact I finished a song called "Start Again" with the intention of it going near the end of "A Different Lifetime", but we were so into the track as a band that it forced its way onto "A Week Away". the same thing happened with "I Went Away" on "Oklahoma!" - this was written for the middle of "A Different Lifetime", but we liked it so much it got used sooner.

In retrospect, I wish "A Different Lifetime" had been longer - a fully fledged double-album including these songs and some others. I find there are gaps in the narrative, particularly the reason why this love fades, and also the "in love" section feels too brief for me, I guess because I was mainly writing about break-up. I have mentioned in the past that we could do a "director's cut" of the album live, and I think we could expand sections by adding songs.

We recorded the album in a studio called The Garden near Spitalfields Market towards the East End of London. We worked with a "proper" producer called Pete Hofmann. The studio was owned by Matt Johnson of The The. A friend of Pete's, James Banbury, came in and turned the melodies I hummed as stringlines into properly written down parts for live strings. The whole project was very grand and very expensive, but again I was totally wrapped up in the vision of it.

We were aware that if we had a chance of commercial success it was by making more of the "A Week Away" style disco Pop, but that idea seemed silly compared to the opportunity to make this album, which felt really important to us. I remember promising the record label in Japan that there would be "A Trip Into Space"-esque dance tracks on this album. This was partly a false promise, but partly true - on the original demos I did have some Dancey tracks which never made it to the final album as they seemed inappropriate. "Scottish Pop" initially had two versions - the other being a Dance track. I have not heard that since I did the demos, but Jim said recently that his wife Janis always preferred that version.

I remember coming back to face the band after that meeting in Tokyo and them being really worried that I had made this promise about the album. In fact, we have never been invited back to Japan since then... Jim sometimes claims to be working on an album called "Return To Space" so that we can do some shows over there again!

We made the album in 3 separate 10 day sessions. We had a good working routine - I would get in around 10.30 in the morning and talk about a song with Pete. He would then record a guide vocal version with acoustic guitar. Most of the vocals on the album are these takes as they felt quite spontaneous. the downside was that I sang quite quietly and whispery, as it was early in the day and they were only guides - I am not fond of the whispery vocal sound on the album. This was the first album to feature Andy Lewis on bass. After a couple of years of playing bass, Jim persuaded us that we would sound better with a second guitarist. Implying that my sparse rhythm style was not enough! We auditioned and drafted in Dickon Edwards, who is a wonderful London personality and has his own band Fosca. Dickon toured with us, and brought loads of character and style to the band, but Jim was frustrated that he could play the guitar parts much better himself. So I had to fire Dickon, an experience akin to deliberately running over a small dog with your car. Jim finally got what he had really wanted all along and became our guitarist in 2000. That was when we got the estimable Andy Lewis in on bass.

Weirdly my friend Graham and I used to go and see Andy Lewis DJ at the Locomotion Northern Soul nights years before. We thought he was an amazing DJ and Dancer, as well as being rather terrifyingly "wired"! Andy started coming to Spearmint gigs and liked us, which was a real compliment. When he heard that Dickon was leaving he got word to us that he plays bass, and he joined straight away. It turned out he is
an ace bass player.

So Ronan and Andy would come in and record drums and bass in the afternoon. While they were doing that I would either go out for a walk (I had a book of City walks), or sit in the chill-room upstairs watching movies - I saw "La Dolce Vita" for the first time here. I also remember watching "Julian Donkey Boy"... Once bass and drums were done, we would record my guitars. At tea-time Jim and Si would arrive and we would start on keyboards, harmonies and more guitars. At 6.30, one of us would cook a huge curry or pasta dish, and we would stop for 20 minutes to eat together. That was nice. Then we would work through until about 11 and Pete would give me a lift home. Pete was amazing - very focused with absolutely no slacking.

Jim wanted to use photography for the artwork - we convened at the home of Jay Brooks in Islington one Saturday morning to do some snaps in his back garden. We did lots of shots and were breaking for coffee inside (it was a cold grey day), when I picked up a Polaroid photo that was lying on the table. It was a test shot Jay had done to look at light and colour, and it showed green grass in the lower half then a fence and blue sky in the upper half. "That's it - that's the album cover!" I exclaimed to James. Somehow it was just right, conveying loss, loneliness, beauty, inevitability and also for me almost had the atmosphere of an empty World War I battlefield in spring. It became the sleeve and I still love the image. The shots of us in the garden appear elsewhere in the artwork and I am not too fond of them - too much like a band doing photos. We are not U2 after all. Quite funny though.

Jim has a habit of not getting certain tracks for ages - he did this with "Sweeping The Nation", didn't like it at all for a long time, then suddenly loved it. He was the same with the song "A Different Lifetime". He didn't get it at all through demo and rehearsal through recording. Then one Saturday afternoon he came in to listen to the latest mixes. Pete put the song on really loud and James and I sat in the control room listening. I remember him spinning round on his chair at the end with tears in his eyes and saying "Now I understand!" - he suddenly loved it and has done ever since. So sometimes now when Jim doesn't like a song at the early stages, I secretly think it is a good sign.

I once referred live to "A Different Lifetime" as being a song back from the grave. People took that to mean we hadn't played it for ages, or that we had previously discarded it. I did not make myself clear. What I meant was that in one sense the narrator on this song is singing back to his lost love from the afterlife. The album got great reviews and appeared in a couple of end of year polls, but sold zilch. Too many copies were pressed and we still have quite a lot in storage. We lost a lot of money on the project, and we lost any commercial momentum in Sweden and Japan, where we were told they preferred the "Pop" Spearmint. The album got a good response in Germany, where "Scottish Pop" became one of our most popular tunes (and seems to have made people think we are Scottish). In retrospect, I wished we had pressed fewer copies, but do not regret spending so much on making it - it suited the grand concept of the album - and after all we spent less on the whole project than a major label would on a single video. I am every bit as proud of this album as of "A Week Away", possibly more so. Again, it is not perfect, but the essence is there.

The lps has a trio of classic indie pop songs in Julie Christie , Scottish Pop and Flaming Lips

The centre piece though is the title track. I love teh extended instrumental meanderings at the end

A Different Lifetime - Spearmint

I'll finish with what Spearmint do best a good old jangly sing along

Julie Christie - Spearmint

You can buy a Different Lifetime here

Friday, 28 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 75 First Love Last Rites by the Passmore Sisters

75 First Love Last Rites by the Passmore Sisters 1988

Not sisters and no one called Passmore , I first came across the Passmore Sisterd when a 12" single of theirs features in a lucky dip bag that Jumbo records in Leeds used to run every now and then. You would buy a sealed bag of singles for a set amount and took your chance on getting a couple of gems.

I followed up going to see them at the Duchess of York in Leeds and then buying their debut and only lp.

On one hand typical indie fare but on the other hand a set of songs that would not have seen out of place on lps by bands that got a lot more success. There are echoes of the Smiths , the Housemartins , etc all of which lift this lp way above the usual indie fodder.

These next 2 tracks show the bands two sides , the dreamy Byrdsy June is in the Water and the frantic acoustic strum of Red Star Blue Heart

June is in the Water - Passmore Sisters

Red Star Blue Heart - Passmore Sisters

A shame they never got to make a second lp as the variety  and knack with a catchy tune on show here makes you think they would have only got even better.

Hunting a copy of the lp down is a bit of a challenge.

Now for something completely different here is my top 10 lps of the year

10 Tree Bursts in Snow - Admiral Fallow
Not quite as good as their debut, more of a slow burn , but full of top tunes

9 Forever So by Husky
Some lush chamber pop from New Zealand

 8 The North by Stars
A return to their Pet Shop Boys meets New Order meets the Smiths best

7 The Defenestration of St Martin by Martin Rossiter
first solo lp by Gene singer. Piano ballads of sorrow

6 Given to the Wild by the Maccabees
this seems to have been the year of guitar art pop with Django Django , AltJ , etc. This was the first and the best

5 Oh Pioneer by Duke Special
Straight forward pop songs for once , well as straight forward as Duke Special can get. The sleeve notes explaining the songs show catchy pop doesn't need to mean stupid pop

4 My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men

Part Bjork , part Belle and Sebastian, part the Stars ,  but really a sound all their own . Fantastic Scandinavian pop

3 Hipsters by Deacon Blue
Just an unbelievably strong set of songs , their best since Raintown.

2 Crown and Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Emotion and songs among the studio trickery

1 Mid Air by Paul Buchanan
Snippets  and sketches of life set to a piano and one of the best voices going

Here is a track by each best of 2012  The order is a bit out so I'm afraid you will have to play a bit of guess who is who

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 76 Shoebox Full of Secrets by Andy Pawlak

76 Shoebox Full of Secrets by Andy Pawlak 1989

The bastard child of Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera, Andy Pawlak's debut lp is a real lost gem. Already mentioned by Phil In his top 125 I couldn't agree more with the sentiment that everytime you hear it you just wonder why it wasn't more successful.

It has that smoother than smooth production that a lot of Scottish pop had in the late 80s

This was an lp that I bought in the sale bin almost purely on the basis of the cover (it reminded me of Everything But the Girl's Love Not Money and Deacon Blue's Raintown). I've had a lot of misses doing this but struck gold with Shoebox. As I've written before, it is full of gorgeous melodies, clever lyrics and memorable songs. I always felt that if he had taken the Roddy Frame route and given himself a band name then I think he would have got a lot more exposure. I struggle to understand how he had such a low profile. The songs on the lp are certainty chart friendly whilst subtle enough to remind me of the smoother Prefab Sprout tracks as well as bands like Love and Money and the Blow Monkeys.

Here are a couple of examples.

Mermaids shows him at his poppy best

White Eagle is a ballad to melt to

hard to find , there are a couple of 2nd hand copies here. If you like the Bible , Love and Money , and the other late 80s usual suspects then I'm pretty sure you'll love this it is a lost classic

As the xmas pudding settles here are my top 10 books read this year. There are a couple I've got to late , one very late

10 - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - a warm funny and wise family history told from the point of view of a hermaphrodite

9 - Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell - 12 books across 4 volumes and 3000 pages took me all year to read . A social history of the first 3/4 of the 20th century

8 - Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzra - interlocking stories across centuries with faith and belief as the theme. Kind of like a californian Cloud Atlas

7 The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky - coming of age novel with a real heart

6 Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn - the morals and the manners of the upper classes. A welcome antidote to Downton Abbey with Princess Margaret making a very funny guest appearance

5  The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - what happens when performance art gets in the way of parental responsibilities. A wes Anderson film waiting to happen

4 Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich - Another coming of age novel , snigger out loud funny and one of the most memorable main characters I've read in ages

3 The Sister Brothers by Patrick DeWitt - A western , no come back , more Coen brothers True Grit than Clint

2 The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - a baseball book for people who know nothing about baseball

1 The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson - a modern myth that just stays the right side of twee

Monday, 24 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 77 Laugh by Terry Hall

77 Laugh by Terry Hall 1997

I was in the middle of a divorce as I was trying to promote it, so it was pretty impossible," he says. "I just allowed myself to fall apart I think. Just let it go. Doing a solo record, you try to write about who you are and what you know, and if life's overtaken that it's very difficult to explain it. It becomes such a painful process. I thought, 'Why am I putting myself through this? I'm talking about divorce and loss and all this shit. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, I can avoid doing this.'"

Ever the sucker for a bit of artistic misery it is the above context that means that Laugh just pips the equally as good Home into the top 125.

Laugh continues the sixties style of classic pop that emerged on Home , this time pulling on Stephen Duffy and Damon Albarn a co writers , although most songs were co written by ex Smith Craig Gannon whose gorgeous guitar playing is all over the lp.

A lot of the songs focus on the break up of Hall's marriage, there is some bitterness but the overall feeling is of sadness and regret

you promised lasting days before you walked away

The lps title features in a number of songs lyrics often dripping with irony

Happy go Lucky - Terry Hall

The best song on the lp is the single Ballad of the Landlord which starts off as a direct link back to the Colourfield's first lp and then moves into a big swirl of a song that feels like it has come form the soundtrack of a classic 60s film

The only track that doesn't really fit is the cover of I saw the Light. Works well on its own merits but feel kind of tagged on at the end of the lp

Often feeling like you are uncomfortably eavesdropping on someones personal sorrow Laugh is one of the great break up lps

you can buy laugh here

Not very festive I know so hope you and all your loved ones have a fantastic festive period

It is also that top ten time of year so here are my ten favourite films I've seen this year

10) The Descendents - a proper grown up film of grief and family belonging

9) Kill List - disturbingly creepy and one of the bleakest endings going

8) Killer Joe - the blackest , seediest noir

7) Crazy Stupid Love - when is a rom com not a rom com , when it is as smart and as funny as this

6) Snowtown - Australian gem about the koss of innocence in the most shocking brutal way possible , a bundle of laughs this isnt

5) Drive - as stylish as film can get

4) Headhunters - classic anti hero film , marvel at how all the loose threads come together in the end and see it quick before the inevitable hollywood remake

3) Prometheus - disappointed many , plot holes you could drive through but I loved it - the only fim I've seen enhanced by 3d

2) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - never have browns and greys looked so sinister

1) Skyfall - I'm as populist as ever when it comes to film (too many art house experiences as a student!) this got a round of applause at teh cinema I saw it at and fully deserved it was too.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

desert island discs 78 Daisies of the Galaxy by Eels

78 Daisies of the Galaxy by Eels 2000

yes I am intense , quite obsessed

Mark Everett or Eels as he records as, has experienced  tragedy followed  by tragedy, as part of his coping mechanism is to turn the experiences into something positive ie his music. For those who don't know, this is what has happened to his family

Father - a genius who developed the theory of multiple universes, who died of a heart attack , Eels discovered the body.

Sister - committed suicide

Mother - died of cancer

Cousin - was an air stewardess on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
Daisies from the Galaxy sees him coming out the other end of this and is an lp of joyous tunes full of optimism

Ignore the awful video (the song was used in one of the endless American films that became the bastard children of American Pie) and I defy you to listen to Mr E's Beautiful Blues without smiling.

The lp starts with what sounds like a New Orleans funeral march before launching into a great little pop song that skips along

Grace Kelly Blues - Eels

Somehow the line  Royal Families don't have time for all that shit sums up what I love about Eels and this lp especially.

It isn't all sweetness and light . Its a Mother fucker is one of her best sad songs going built around a lovely piano refrain

It's a Motherfucker  - Eels

A lot of the songs are at the perfect pop song time of 3 mins ,  and some of the melodies almost child  like with the sweetness of the backing complimenting the sourness of Eel's slightly gruff and strained vocal.

Like listening in on one man's therapy session backed by gorgeous tunes

You can buy Daisies here

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 79 Fin de Siecle by Divine Comedy

79 Fin De Siecle by Divine Comedy 1998

I'm not sure this one is going to be everyone's cup of tea at all. Neil Hannon is exactly the kid of person that would have my dad reaching for the "too clever for his own good" like comment. Whatever he does he does to extremes. When his eyebrows are arched they are off his head, when he writes catchy songs they stick in your brain like the worst novelty hits. When he does dramatic it tends to be with full orchestra and kitchen sink arrangements. His lyrics can be amazingly smart or annoyingly throwaway. His voice can go from pub singer croon to wanna be opera and everything in between.

Fin De Siecle combines all the best and worst of Divine Comedy in one wildly ambitious state of the nation address.

Preceding Generation Sex single managed to cover the death of Princess Di, evolving sexual morality, vivisection, the red tops celebrity obsession all in a jaunty 3 min pop song. The tone is set. 

What followed I think is one of those tracks that sums up why people love or hate the band. Jaunty , catchy, funny , annoying , throw away, irritating , sing along ......

This isn't the social comment of Billy Bragg , it is all a political , a social observation satire  a tale of the times covering the obsession with excess , stalking , the end of the world , hacking etc. If there is an overall theme it is about not looking back and living for today but not in a naff fortune cookie or self help guide way.

The instrumentation matches the lps ambitions , every songs seems to swell to an over the top orchestral climax.

My two favourite tracks come at the end of the lp . The first taps into the whole end of the century Millennium bug feeling and the second ends the lp on a hopeful note with the Irish peace process

Sunrise - Divine Comedy

I knew that there was something wrong
But I kept my head down and carried on

You can buy Fin De Siecle here

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 80 - White Bread Black Beer by Scritti Politti

80 - White Bread Black Beer by Scritti Politti 2006

I've not gone for the highly polished stylised perfect pop of the 80s or rap pop fusion (sounds like a new type of restaurant) of the first come back. Instead I've gone for the mercury nominated earthier home made sound of White Bread Black Beer.

On one hand it sounds like a diy lp recorded in his kitchen , on the other a richly layered wildly inventive set of songs that taps into Green's Brian Wilson tendencies

The result is a set of pop songs that hold their own with with the cupid era

The lyrics hint of a troubled few years

Looks like maybe we'll lose our home
Out of pocket and all alone
I should have worked and should have known
Seen the dark clouds coming

Harmonies abound , acoustic guitars rub shoulders with programmed beats and playful arrangements. Listen to how this track goes from to layered harmonies to a simple acoustic song then on to a Beach Boys big chorus and then onto an almost throwaway Prince like funk coda that is good enough for its own song all in 6 mins

Mrs Hughes - Scritti Politti

Of the 14 tracks the only slight misfire is when he tries  a semi rock out.

Any lp that has you singing along to such nonsense as

the boom boom bap
the tapa tap tap
that's the beat of my life  deserves its pace in the top 125

If hooks could kill indeed

You can buy White Bread Black Beer here

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 81 - Soft Bomb by The Chills

81 - Soft Bomb by The Chills 1992

One of those lps that is laden down with hooks, Soft Bomb mixes spikey pop songs with lush orchestral ballads all backing the quirky lyrics and fragile voice of main man Martin Phillips

The lp spawned 2 singles both showcase Chills at their catchiest best

The Male Monster of the Id - The Chills

Double Summer - The Chills

There is a darker edge to the songs once you dig beneath the summery sing along tunes, which isn't surprising when you consider the band have experienced death of band members , drug addiction , major illness and continuous line up changes. It is Martin Phillips singular vision as the only consistent member

Sanctuary - The Chills

married with children and a dog
to a man who hits when he is wild
overbearing undercaring
keeps her like a frightened child
she has made a man in side her head
who is gentle good and strong

In places sad , in places up lifting and in places just plain weird , the thing that keeps the whole thing together is Phillips ear for a melody that deserves at least some of the sales that went to fellow New Zealanders the Finns

You can buy Soft Bomb as a download here

Friday, 14 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 82 Plenty by Red Box

82 Plenty by Red Box 2010

There was a time when Red Box's second lp Motive would have  been comfortably placed in the heart of my top 125. Then out of the blue a couple of years ago the third lp Plenty appeared. A joy in adult songwriting the chants and nursery rhyme lyrics replaced with slower songs of introspection. The stripped down simpler backing lets the songs breathe.

Occasionally straying to Coldplay territory especially in Hurricane which really should have been all over the radio

Unforeseen success in Poland has even led to a video being made for one of the singles

At the heart of the lp is a set of gorgeous songs of love and loss

I remember when I first played the lp I had a nervousness of hoping after all this time that it wouldn't be a let down. I'm not sure what i expected, I knew deep down there was no way it could be a Motive part 2 , the world had moved on for 20 years but from the opening chords of the first track I knew i needn't have worried.

Stay - Red Box

What started off as a great surprise has ended up one of those lps that I try and force on anyone who comes round.

You can buy Plenty here

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Desert Island Discs - 83 Born in the UK by Badly Drawn Boy

83 Born in the UK by Badly Drawn Boy 2006

I've got a feeling I might be in the minority here. The hat , the slightly shambolic nature , the reputation for on stage grumpiness to rival Van the Man tend to put a lot of people off. However, when he is on form I think he is one of the best songwriters going. His early lps may have lacked a strict sense of quality control but Born in The Uk is a filler free set of songs.

Loosely themed on his growing up it starts with his birth in 69 and 70s childhood and ends with meeting his future wife in One Last Dance. Apparently over 25 songs were recorded with 12 making the final cut

Born in the 70s captures that time perfectly recognising that for most people Johnny Rottten was minor character to the Silver Jubilee, and for a child Jilted John was way more important than Joe Strummer

Virginia Wade was winning our hearts
She made us want to live
Vicious and his brothers
Were trying to set us free
But much more than this to you and me
This was the Silver Jubilee

The main theme I think that runs through the lp is one is not events themselves shape who you become but rather the memories of those events

Just promise you will remember
That promises last forever
Still after the last dying embers
Of a fire that burns so slowly

The sound is a mix of styles at times orchestral and the occasional massed voices make it sound like a musical

Welcome to the Overground - Badly Drawn Boy

The lp is full of the same national contradictions that shaped the Brucie one that formed part of its inspiration

You can buy Born in the UK , part concept lp , part musical , therapy through songs here and if you've avoided before now this is the one that is worth giving  a second chance to

Monday, 10 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 84 Horsebreaker Star by Grant McLennan

84 - Horsebreaker Star by Grant McLennan 1994

The only double lp on my list and part of me still wonders if this should be a lot higher. I guess it is here as although I love the solo lps there is a sense of sugar without the spice that made the Gobetwens so good . Also as ever with double lps there is a sense that in every great double and perfect single exists.

"I wanted it to be the kind of record that could be played by anyone, but not too obvious. You know, the London Symphony Orchestra doesn't have to do the ballads, Johnny Cash doesn't have to do the country songs. I don't like to be that predictable. I like surprises,"

As ever the lp sold poorly but it is full of delights and whilst not as extreme as the Triffids Black Swan the lp is a mix of styles and surprises. The overall feel is more American than anything else he had done or did since.

Sixties pop , sat along side acoustic ballads , mixed with Americana and a shot of country all over 24 tracks

As ever with his lyrics you are never sure which are from personal experience and which are Carver like short stories and character portraits. Although one thing this that is consistent is his ear for melody that makes his songs instantly familiar.

My favourite track is this one and I used to think it was addressed to Robert Forster and read into that a reunion was on the cards ( the desperation of a male fan!) which did happen eventually but listening back I think I was reading a hell of a lot more into it than was intended

Coming up for Air - Grant McLennan

Disc one is consistently tremendous  whereas the second disc has 2 or 3  misfires strangely all in a row, which makes them feel like an odd little blemish rather than a temptation to hit the skip button

As usual the lp seems to be going for silly money but you can get some second hand copies here and it is worth it for  such peerless songwriting

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 85 Keep Going by the Lilac Time

85 Keep Going by Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time 2003

So this was a tough choice , it was almost the chamber pop of an Andy Partridge produced Paradise Circus or the pastoral folk pop of the debut which, strange as it seems now, sounded like nothing else at the time.

Instead I've gone for the slightly rootsier sounding Keep Going just because song by song I just think it edges it.

My only gripe is the credit  - it is either a lilac time lp or a stephen duffy solo , the halfway house just feels like a record company ploy.

Stephen Duffy lyrics always tend to come from interesting place , some autobiographical some not so and this lp has some of his best

There is a verse in We Used to Be So that I think sums up the Lilac Time in 4 lines

Have you read of Fitzgerald’s descent
Have you seen Eat the Document
I know you’ve heard Tim Hardin’s lament
Haven’t you

We Used to Be So - Lilac Time

The lp has some lovely pedal steel and slide guitar not enough to to dominate , but just enough to compliment and never better on this gorgeous ballad

I Wasn't Scared of Flying - Lilac Time

The lyrics do suggest that at the time Stephen Duffy wasn't in the best place with themes about being lost , giving up etc running throughout until the unknown girl gives him the rallying cry in the title track. I'm glad he did because two years later he finally got his richly deserved time in the sun by co writing Robbie Williams 8 million selling lp

My epitaph will be
“In dazzling obscurity
He played his songs for free
And a royalty

His website says there is a new double lp on the way in the spring but until then you can buy Keep Going here

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 86 - Surf by Roddy Frame

86 Surf by Roddy Frame 2002

Genius is one of those labels that is bandied about a lot in terms of musicians . Of all the people i like there are 2 may be 3 that I'd happily use that description for . Paddy Mac , David Bowie (and that is more the ability to repeatedly surround himself with the right people at the right time) and Roddy Frame. the fact he was writing the songs he was and playing guitar the way he was at 16/17 is astounding.

However, number 86 comes from a lot later in his career when he had already kissed goodbye to a chart return. Surf is a collection of  break up acoustic songs that features voice and acoustic guitar.

Sonic variation is not what this is about and the whole thing would have faded into blandness if the melodies had not been as strong as they are. Such a stripped down approach lets the songs breathe and brings the lyrics into even sharper focus. The whole thing feels immensely personal , reinforced by the lack of contributors.

My favourite song on the lp is Over You which typifies a more direct approachch to the lyrics on Surf. in this one the bumping into an ex

"Heard you were around sw3
talking about how you were over me"

For some people the narrowness of sound and style won't make this everyone's choice , but for song by song it is the strongest of the three lps he has recorded under his own name

If life was like the songs,
I'd surf across the curved horizon

and forget her and be gone

Surf can go for silly money but there are some reasonably priced second hand copies here

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 87 - Devil's Tavern by The Blow Monkeys

87 The Devil's Tavern by The Blow Monkeys 2008

I think this is so high as I'm still in the same bit of shock as I was when I first heard it. A great singles band, I'd never really got into any of the Blow Monkeys' Lps although I had a couple of Dr Robert's solo efforts which I liked.

I noted news of a reunion with only passing interest , thought the cover of the comeback lp interesting (always makes me think of Angel Heart) and some surprisingly 5 star reviews stood out. For some reason , maybe a slow month for new releases I took a punt on Devil's Tavern.

It is the best thing they have done , the sound of a band without a record company to tell them what to do and so what we get is a bunch of great musicians sounding like they are having a blast as their creative legs are allowed to run.

There is a bit of everything , some bluesy sounds , driving pop songs  ........

Bullet Train - The Blow Monkeys  ...... bit of soul , bit of folk , quiet reflective songs , bit of brass , bit of strings but all held together by Dr Robert's older but still as smooth vocal

The centrepiece for the lp is the 8 min track Save Me , where you are swept along an such a gorgeous bit of 70's soul backing that just doesn't want to end

Save Me - The Blow Monkeys

They followed up with Staring at the Sea which is good but doesn't touch this and serves to highlight it as one of those once in a career lps

The lp is already creeping up in value but you can get it as a reasonable download here . Give it a listen even if you did or didn't dig their original scene (sorry couldn't resist)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Desert Island discs 88 - Trapped and Unwrapped by Friends Again

88 - Trapped and Unwrapped by Friends Again 1984

I'm afraid this is almost a repeat post from a week of posts I did on this band and what it splintered into a while back

One lp , 4 singles , 3 of which would be in a top 125 of my favourite singles was all that Friends again delivered before Chris Thomson and James Grant broke up the band to form the Bathers and Love and Money. From a time when Scottish music meant big guitars with short straps , a pop, soul , funk cross over , sharp cheek bones, and obtuse lyrics.

Trapped and Unwrapped is one great jangly summer record, close to Orange Juice in spirit but also Haircut 100 in sound it is a lost pop classic with every track a potential single.

State of Art used to be a fixture on pretty much every compilation cassette i made and forced on people and is so good that it manages to transcend the awful video. It features a guitar solo that James Grant would take with him along with the band's rhythm section to Love and Money

For Honey at the core not strictly a Friends Again clip but a relatively recent acoustic version from Chris Thomson and James Grant. The quality is not good but worth having a look for a spine shiver moment. The lyrics were always a puzzle and for years i though he was on about Barbara Castle falling down as some political statement! I was never quite sure about the moon boots fixation either.

Finally Sunkissed which would have could have been the title for the whole lp

Sunkissed - Friends Again

oh yeah my my

a dated sound but timeless pop which I cant help feeling I should have put a lot higher

As with the last post if you want to buy a copy then good hunting

Friday, 30 November 2012

Desert Island Discs 89 - Will i Ever Be Inside of You by Paul Quinn and the Independent Group

89 - Will I Ever Be Inside of You by Paul Quinn and the Independent Group 1995 
What is the sound of faded glamour and broken dreams? Well take one should have been a contender 80s singer mix him in a band and songwriters from Glasgow's early 80s jangle brigade (various Bluebells, commotions , Juicers , etc) and get them to write and record a load of torch songs.
I had already got their debut (on the relaunched post card records) which had come and gone in a blink when i saw a review for this lp which again disappeared with barely a splash. 
Will I Ever Be inside of You (not a chat up line I've ever been brave enough to contemplate using!) to me is he sound of a singer's last chance. Age has turned Paul Quinn's voice into the mellowist of croons, but one shot through with pain.  I'm sure it will be pure pub singer to some but to me it is one of the greatest pop voices going
The lp starts with a 9 min title track  in which you can almost smell the smoke an feel the red velvet curtains 9stick around for the operatic backing vocals at about the 5 1/2 min mark)
What follows is 8 further songs of sorrow ( and even then 2 are different versions of the same cover) that all take their time and yet leave too soon
The only film footage I could find was this frustratingly short extract of Stupid Thing the song that featured on my very first post

It is one of the many wish I'd been there moments but the lp got a one off live performance at the Glasgow film school

A Passing Thought by Paul Quinn and the Independent Group

One more tear won't make no difference to the rain

The whole thing has added meaning as since then apart form one more guest vocal ...  rumours of poor health and silence.

The only copies of the lp I could find on Amazon were close to £100 so it fingers crossed on ebay. Although I think anyone who owns it will be like me and keep it as one of their most treasured records

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Desert Island Discs 90 - Feather and Stone by Tom Baxter

90 Feather and Stone - Tom Baxter 2004

The early years if the century saw a rush of singer songwriters as record labels searched for the next David Gray / Jeff Buckley and threw money at people who at another time may have kept on struggling in obscurity

There are some great lps from that time and one of the best is Tom Baxter's debut Feather and Stone. He could do the big emotional ballads with sweeping strings. However thankfully what separated him from the James Blunts of the period was a much more imaginative use of arrangements and a lack of saccharine in the lyrics.

The whole set of songs seem to tell a coming of age story (or maybe I'm reading too much into it as usual)  

The lp mixes quiet ballads , lighter aloft moments with more straight forward pop songs all backed by some of the best string arrangements I'd heard in an age

Under the Thumb - Tom Baxter

There are a couple of times when ambition gets the best of him and the song doesn't quite pull it off but rather that than a couple of play it safe fillers.

Not unique at all , just better than most and even if you think I've heard this all before it is worth digging deeper

you can buy Feather and Stone here

Monday, 26 November 2012

Desert Island Discs 91 - Great Day for Gravity by King L

91 - Great Day For Gravity by King L 1995

Gary Clark decided to follow up the silky smooth Steely Dan  ish solo lp by forming a band and making some noise.

Some of best tunes he has written and the worst band name pretty much anyone could have chosen , Great Day For Gravity is a one of those lost lps that should have done much better.

I saw them play the lp live and it is one of the loudest concerts I'd been to. Released in the dying embers of grunge (my vote for the worst time in british music) the lp had a lot in common with some of those bands. The difference was that Gary Clark was writing the songs so instead of teenage american angst you got razor sharp pop tunes.

The below track is the most Nirvana in style

Tom Driver - King L

The lyrics have a directness that Danny Wilson lacked but still full of killer lines "I was only lying because thats what liars do"  , often take more of a short story / character study approach to the songs.

Tragedy Girl , Dumbest Story, etc stick quickly and linger long , helped by Neil MacColl's fantastic guitar playing

However there are a couple of quieter moments , a heart breaking track called two cars collide (worth the price of the lp alone) and this tale of a being bruised in hollywood

Don't Believe in Hollywood - King L

Don't believe in anywhere where the sky is always blue ( a bit ironic with the success Gary Clark has had in LA as a songwriter for hire)

I've waited much more in hope than any kind of expectation for a follow up but it seems this is going to remain a glorious one off

You can buy Great Day for Gravity here

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Desert Island Discs 92 - Black Swan by the Triffids

92 The Black Swan by the Triffids 1989

This is what I've written previously about the Black Swan

This is the last record the band made before they split up. it is a masterpiece just because of the quality of the songwriting and the variety of styles. It is flawed just because of this variety. Originally planned as a double the mission was that each song should be in a completely different style to all the others, as a result it is almost too varied with the album not really holding together (styles jump from vaudeville, to gypsy, to 60s girl group). As could be guessed the record company balked and the band had to edit the original down to a single cd.

Ever a sucker for wildly over ambitious intentions, it is for this fact that it just pips Calenture to the top 125.

That and the fact that despite the variety in styles there isn't really a song that doesn't work. These 2 tracks show just how varied the styles are. First up is a country song , subtitled the country widower it is a widescreen story of loneliness. Compare that to the glacial electronic pop of Falling Over You!

New Years Greeting - The Triffids

Falling over You - The Triffids

Finally a 60s girl group pop song that further proves the rule of good bands awful videos make

You can buy the Black Swan here this is the extended version where you can enjoy the lp as it was meant to be heard in all its 19 track glory, plus a 2nd disc of demos

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Desert Island Discs 93- Draw by Matthew Jay

93 - Draw by Matthew Jay  2001

From a time when male singer songwriters were all the vogue instead of women and the record comanies search for another Jeff Buckley. Matthew Jay's debut lp on one hand is nothing special in that I'm sure a few of you will play these tracks and think well that sounds like a 100s others.

However I love this lp as the difference with Matthew Jay and the 100s of others is that he also knew how to write a great pop tune. He was just as good at doing the fragile as the sing along

The first lp was the only release when he was alive as he tragically died before the second was released.

Below is my favourite track with a film released on the 7th anniversary of his death by his family

It's been a long time since we hung around together in the street
And I miss those days, when the world would wait for us
With our crowd of friends we'd sit along the pavement near your house
'Till the sun came down and we brought the stars out

The opening verse captures that looking back on a childhood to perfection beforee the song takes a darker turn. When the world would wait for us and we brought the stars out gets me everytime. The duality of the song about the death of a childhood friend but with a sing along backing sums up a lot of what I like about the lp

Finally here he is with just voice and guitar in more traditionally singer songwriter mode , a life and talent cruelly cut short but with one hell of an lp as a legacy

Four minute Rebellion - Matthew Jay

You can buy Draw here

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Desert Island Discs 94 Fitzcarraldo by the Frames

94 - Fitzcarraldo by the Frames 1996

It is one of those mysteries of life as to why one of Ireland's biggest bands is met with such disinterest here in the UK.

Fronted by the powerful voice (the dictionary definition of angst) of  the Commitments' guitarist Glen Hansard the Frames have 2 types of sound , emotionally draining quiet and emotionally draining loud. The fact that these 2 approaches would often appear in the same song had them in the their early days tagged as an Irish Nirvana

Their UK profile rose a bit in 1986 with the release of Ftzcarraldo as it was part produced by Trevor Horn. I think this lp just nudges a fine body of work due to the fact that the whole thing sits so well together and it features a number of my favourite Frames lps. Later lps have a more experienced feel but this one has a sense of them knowing what they were doing but still with that rawness of a relatively new band (it was their second lp)

The title track is simply immense

It isn't all bluster though , sometimes they are at their best when they are at their most delicate

Your Face - The Frames

You can buy the lp here