Back in a bit

I’m taking a short break from the blogging malarkey as I’m up to my tits in work at the moment. I should be back next week, but in the meantime here’s some videos from three blokes who all used to be in the same band (that sadly never made any records). You have to wonder how these three egos managed to all fit in the same room together.

The Teardrop Explodes “Ha Ha I’m Drowning”

The Mighty Wah! “Come Back”

Echo & The Bunnymen “The Back of Love”


The Fab Three

So here’s the band that “rescued” me from artists like Chris Rainbow. I sometimes wonder where and who I’d be if I hadn’t heard “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” when I did. Punk and post-punk opened up so much more than just your ears, it expanded your horizons in all sorts of directions. It was like a revolution in everything you thought and did. Would I have gone to art school and become the person I am without it? I don’t think so.

In a nutshell, The Jam were my generation’s Beatles and Paul Weller was our John Lennon. That didn’t make Bruce Foxton our Paul McCartney though. He only wrote a few songs which were mostly a bit naff and cliched, but (apart from his obvious best effort “Smithers-Jones”) I’ve always liked “Carnaby Street” which isn’t a particularly brilliant song either but it sounds terrific with The Jam at their young and thrashy best.

This was the b-side of their 1977 single “All Around The World” and at the time Carnaby Street was a dump trading on past glories, full of crappy shops flogging cheap tat for gullible tourists who had come to experience “Swinging London” not knowing it was long gone. In the song Foxton sees this as a metaphor for the decline of England in general. The street has moved back upmarket since then and so have old Mod brands like Ben Sherman which are still trading on the past only with much higher prices, which in many ways is another metaphor for England today.

Download: Carnaby Street – The Jam (mp3)

As a little something extra for the weekend here is the lovely “Life From A Window” which is a real pearl among the swine of their poor “This Is The Modern World” album. This is probably Weller’s first proper “grown up” song, dropping the slogans about youth explosions and the kids (man) in favour of a dreamy wistfulness like Ray Davies in one of his “just leave me alone with my thoughts and a cup of tea” moods.

Download: Life From A Window – The Jam (mp3)

In My Room

Most Saturday afternoons in 1977 you’d find me in my bedroom listening to the Kenny Everett show on Capital Radio which was the perfect way to fill some of that dead time between getting back from the shops with my Mum and the football results coming on Grandstand. It wasn’t just the adventures of Captain Kremmen (which you can download here) that kept me listening, like myself Kenny had a major ELO obsession and was constantly playing their then-new “Out Of The Blue” album. He must have played the entire double album (parts of it several times over) and this was before I got my own copy so I was glued to the radio. Kenny’s musical tastes leaned heavily toward the polished and elaborate like ELO, he was the sort who thought “Sgt. Pepper” was the pinnacle of western civilization and that snotty punk stuff was just horrible. I thought so too at the time, it just sounded like a moronic racket to my ears and whenever my sister played the first Clash album I’d take the piss by singing “White Riot” in a retarded D.P. Gumby voice.

Another album that got heavy play on his show I ended up buying was “Looking Over My Shoulder” by Scottish singer/songwriter Chris Rainbow. If anybody has heard of him these days it’s as lead singer of The Alan Parsons Project in the 1980s (I’m so glad to say I never knew he was) but in the 70s he recorded three solo albums which are to The Beach Boys what ELO’s were to The Beatles, full of sunny, intricately-arranged pop symphonies with heavily multi-tracked vocals. While a lot of “Looking Over My Shoulder” now sounds as dated and cheesy as the shirt he’s wearing on the sleeve some of it still quite gorgeous.

“Dear Brian” is a fan letter to Brian Wilson who at that time was still a recluse, drugged out of his head in a sandpit somewhere. Over it’s sublime six minutes he laments the destroyed tapes and lost outtakes that ended up on a studio floor and implores Brian to “step in the sandbox” and make music again. The ghostly “In And Out And Round About” washes in like a mist coming off the North Sea and gets a bit Proggy (but in a very pretty way) with some highly pretentious lyrics and a grand church organ arrangement. Kenny played this a lot and would get all wobbly over the whispery ending.

Download: Dear Brian – Chris Rainbow (mp3)
Download: In And Out And Round About – Chris Rainbow (mp3)

All of Rainbow’s albums are out of print now and go for rather large amounts of money as he’s something of a minor cult amongst fans of 70s soft pop. I wish I could tell you I spent my Saturday afternoons in 1977 being all punky and rebellious down the King’s Road, buying bondage trousers at Boy and getting into fights with Teddy Boys, but sadly I was only 15, still desperately unhip and listening to stuff like this instead.

A Proper Boozer

“We would sacrifice all our wires, wheels, systems, specialities, physical science and frenzied finance for one half-hour of happiness such has often come to us with comrades in a common tavern.”
G.K. Chesterton
What’s Wrong With The World (1910)

Now this looks like what I call a proper boozer. A friendly and unpretentious place presided over by a smiling, ruddy-faced landlord with half a tub of Brylcreem in his hair. Exactly the sort of place you’d want to order a pint, a bag of Cheese & Onion, and settle down for a few hours of talking bollocks with your mates, unmolested by the racket of satellite television, blaring music, or lads and ladettes getting loudly shit-faced on Cheeky Vimtos.

But like a lot of other simple old English pleasures the proper boozer has recently been under assault, besieged by the modern barbarian hordes of ghastly chain bars and “upscale” gastropubs*. Every time I go home it seems another old favourite pub has either closed or had a makeover and been given a new, stupid name like The Cabbage and Ferret’s Trousers. The Public Bar and Saloon have been knocked into one huge, noisy hangar of a space, the genuine old fixtures ripped out and replaced with fake ones, behind the bar is a surly Australian student and the new menu is all Brioche, Brie, and Balsamic Vinegar, with traditional grub like the Ploughman’s vanished like relics of that dark time before we were all dreadfully continental and sophisticated and didn’t know what Extra Virgin Olive Oil was.

If you find a proper boozer you should treasure it, I don’t live in England any more but some of the most pleasurable nights of my life were spent in it’s pubs, playing darts at The Andover Arms, watching the sun go down over the Thames outside The Blue Anchor, throwing up down my mates arm at The Spotted Horse, being stripsearched by the police in the gents of The Star & Garter, and getting headbutted in The Quill. Halcyon days.

Download: Two Pints of Lager And A Packet of Crisps Please – Splodgenessabounds (mp3)

*Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against good food in pubs, I used to drink (and eat) at the original gastropub, The Eagle in Farringdon back when it first opened and loved the place (they did a fantastic steak sandwich). But now every bloody pub in England thinks that “just” being a boozer isn’t enough and they have to offer fancy grub too, usually with poor and over-priced results. There’s nothing wrong with just serving crisps, nuts and pork scratchings, all you really need food in a pub for is to soak up the beer anyway.

Caroline Hello

My Dad was a big movie fan and his idea of a grand day out with me and my sister was to take us to the pictures. I loved it too, sit me in the dark with a Kia-Ora and I was a happy kid. A big event was seeing the latest James Bond film (I think “Diamonds Are Forever” was the first I saw) on the day it came out at the Odeon Leicester Square which I still think is the greatest cinema in the world with its football-pitch size screen. Aside from Bond, Dad also worshipped Michael Caine which meant we got dragged to see “Zulu” twice when it was re-issued in the 70s (no videos in those days).

My own cinematic tastes ran toward the ouevre of Ray Harryhausen and the stop-motion creatures he created for movies like Jason & The Argonauts and Mysterious Island, so when “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” came out in 1974 the old man took me to see it. Even though it wasn’t his cup of tea I’m sure he didn’t mind because the film had some rather nice eye candy in the form of Caroline Munro who played Margiana, a slave girl and love interest for lucky old Sinbad. Munro had been a scream queen in a couple of Hammer horror movies but her main claim to fame was being the girl in the Lamb’s Navy Rum billboards that were plastered all over London at the time. She wasn’t the sort of actress to give Meryl Streep sleepness nights and her part in the movie consisted mostly of standing there looking scared and trying not to burst out of her costume, but she did that brilliantly. Even though I was only 12 at the time I think I knew what girls were for by then and she was burned into my subconcious at a very impressionable age.

Caroline had a romantic fling with former Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone and I don’t know how long it lasted or how serious it was but when it ended Colin was moved to write a song about her on his terrific debut solo album “One Year” in 1971. The plaintive “Caroline Goodbye” is a gorgeous record with a whispery and sad Nick Drake-ish mood. He does sound a bit wet though, no wonder she dumped him.

Download: Caroline Goodbye – Colin Blunstone (mp3)
Buy: “One Year” (album)
Buy: “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (movie)

As a bonus feature to our program today here’s a one-off single Caroline made in 1967 when she was only 16. This is very nice 60s girl pop produced by “Teenage Opera” man Mark Wirtz and the musicians on it include Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Like her acting, she isn’t the greatest singer in the world but she sure sounds pretty.

Download: Tar and Cement – Caroline Munro (mp3)

Bunch of Forty Fives

This is a random selection of singles that came out between 1980-81 when I was in my Pale and Interesting phase, think of it as the soundtrack to my late-teenage angst. What they have in common is that they’re gloomier than a wet Bank Holiday, or what I like to think of as Big Overcoat Music. Though there wasn’t a post-punk “uniform” in the way there was for Mods or Skinheads, you could still spot a fan of the gloomy stuff: tight black jeans, pointed suede boots (mine were from Shelly’s on the King’s Road) and — most importantly — a big second-hand overcoat like the one Ian McCulloch wears on the cover of the “Crocodiles” album, with the collar turned up to protect you from the harsh existential winds that afflicted a sensitive young man. England felt like an Eastern Bloc country back then so we dressed as though we lived in one. The McCulloch hairstyle was optional, but that long fringe was useful for hiding your eyes from the world.

The Passage were a Manchester band with an erratic line-up that seemed to change from record to record. I think vocalist Lizzy Johnson was only with the band for the “Devils and Angels” single and her alluring feminine tones warm up the cold and eerie sounds provided by band leader Dick Witts. With it’s moody electronics and pop hook it’s amazing how modern this sounds even though it’s over 25 years old. Good grief.

Download: Devils and Angels – The Passage (mp3)
Buy: “Seedy: The Best of The Passage” (album)

Like current neo-post-punkers Interpol, The Comsat Angels used to pull the “Joy Division? Never ‘eard them before” excuse when people mentioned how much like them they sounded, but “Independence Day” does have the same spacey dynamics and tortured lyrics as the Mancunian misery mongers. A great single though (this is the original version) and that chiming guitar riff still sounds terrific.

Download: Independence Day – The Comsat Angels (mp3)
Buy: “Waiting For A Miracle” (album)

Au Pairs were like a musical version of “Spare Rib” magazine, writing very serious songs about sexual politics and gender roles. But don’t let that put you off, they played a Gang of Four-ish scratchy funk and sounded brilliant. “Diet” was a great single about brainless, tranquilized housewives though all these years later I do detect an annoying Polytechnic-educated Marxist’s moral superiority about it.

Download: Diet – Au Pairs (mp3)
Buy: “Stepping Out Of Line” (album)

Believe it or not but there was a time when Simple Minds weren’t overblown stadium rockers and were actually an interesting (if derivative) and arty electronic outfit in the Bowie/Kraftwerk mold. There was also a time when they were a punk band called Johnny & The Self Abusers but that’s another story.

Download: Changeling – Simple Minds (mp3)
Buy: “Real To Real Cacophony” (album)

I can pinpoint the moment I grew out of this stuff and “got happy” so to speak. I bought Siousxsie & The Banshees “Dear Prudence” single in 1983 and it just left me cold. Admitedly it wasn’t one of their best efforts but I’d been a huge Banshees fan up until that point and the rest of their stuff suddenly wasn’t doing it for me either. It all seemed like so much histrionic caterwauling over nothing, even “Unknown Pleasures” made me want to slap Ian Curtis and tell him to stop being such a miserable bleeder and cheer the fuck up. Then there was this new band called The Smiths everyone loved who just seemed a bit too whiny for me. The only thing I can put it down to is I’d just turned 21 and wasn’t that kid sitting all alone in his bedroom listening to John Peel anymore, dancing to Northern Soul was where I was at instead.

The School Disco

My American wife loves watching 1980s teen movies like “Pretty In Pink” and “Sixteen Candles” (she was at school herself during that era and I think she wanted to be Molly Ringwald) and what always strikes me watching these films is what a completely different universe an American school is compared to English ones. U.S. schools seem to be more like social clubs ruled by the good-looking and the athletic that revolve around dating, sports, being popular (the most important thing) and events like Prom and Homecoming dances which have a life and death significance in kid’s lives.

We don’t have Proms or Homecoming in England, what we had – if we were lucky – was the occasional School Disco. They weren’t the elaborate affairs that Proms are, with kids arriving in limos all decked out in tuxedos and ballgowns to be entertained by live bands and professional DJs. At my school the couple of discos we had were held in one of the classrooms with the music provided by some kid in the corner with a record player and a pile of 45s. There may have been some orange squash in paper cups for refreshments too but I’m not sure we even had that extravagance. In many ways this perfectly encapsulates the differences between the two countries (at least back then): you have the rich, glamourous Americans with their confidence and perfect teeth, while us Brits were a bit shabby and pathetic, making our entertainment out of old Cornflakes boxes and sticky-back plastic.

I went to an all-boys school which meant we were also missing one vital ingredient for a good disco – girls. They had to be invited over from the local girls school and they arrived as these exotic, alien creatures that we’d heard a lot about but had no idea how to communicate with. So the picture above shows exactly how the evening always ended up, the girls dancing together on one side of the room while the boys just stared at them from afar, too scared to cross the terrifying No Man’s Land of the room and talk to them. Occasionally there was a boy with the front to actually go and chat one of them up and you always hated/envied those confident, jammy bastards.

If I’d had the bottle to actually ask a girl to dance I might have a “special” school disco record to remind me of that moment. But I didn’t so there isn’t one. Reggae was always very popular though, you’d have to be a total spazz not to be able to singalong and dance to something like “Uptown Top Ranking” by Althea & Donna. This got to No. 1 in 1977 and was a massive favourite with everyone apart from the some of the West Indian kids at school who were into heavy dub and pooh-poohed this sort of light, pop-reggae (they even called Bob Marley “white man’s music”.) That dusty, skanking beat always reminds me of those days and in my head it’s playing on a tinny record player in the corner of some dingy classroom and I’m standing there all alone with a paper cup of warm orange squash in my hand, too scared to go and ask Jackie Bolton to dance.

Download: Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna (mp3)
Buy: “Young, Gifted & Black. Vol.1” (album)