Something for the weekend

The opening scene of “Abigail’s Party”.

Nothing actually “happens” in this short clip (a woman puts on a record, makes a drink, has a fag) but I think I could write a dozen essays about it. If you weren’t there at the time the furniture, fashion, and even the music probably seems terribly kitsch but to those of us of a certain age it’s like our every memory of the 70s wrapped up in two minutes.

Buy: “Abigail’s Party” (DVD)


What’s a blogger to do?

I’m up to my eyeballs at the moment with that annoying thing called “work” so new posts will be a bit thin on the ground for the next few weeks. So, breaking with our regular programming of wistful old-fart nostalgia here’s a video by the wonderful Bat For Lashes whose album “Fur and Gold” has taken up permanent residence in my stereo lately.

Music videos usually leave me cold but this is a treat. A pretty English girl on a bike, what’s not to love?

Little Miss Dynamite

Speaking of forgotten albums from 1978 — as I was last week — here’s one that does still sound good today. 16-year-old Rachel Sweet was a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, with a big voice that made her sound like a New Wave Brenda Lee (or was it Lena Zavaroni?) She was also a cutie with a certain jailbait sexiness that I had a bit of a crush on (I was only 16 myself at the time so there’s nothing creepy about that), and I’m pretty sure I bought her “Fool Around” album before I’d heard a note of it just because I liked the way she looked on the sleeve. Looking back at her now I think the appeal was that she looked like a girl I actually could go out with in real life (unlike that goddess Jackie Bolton), or would if I wasn’t such a loser with the opposite sex. She was the girl next door, but unfortunately it was next door to someone else’s house.

Whatever my reasons it turned out to be a wise purchase because “Fool Around” is a terrific album with Rachel belting out New Wave rockers and twangy Country ballads backed by Graham Parker’s band The Rumour. My copy of the album was on white vinyl which isn’t as valuable as it sounds because in a joke typical of her label Stiff Records it was the black vinyl copies that were the limited edition. I bet they thought they were being so bloody clever when they dreamt that gimmick up.

Download: Who Does Lisa Like? – Rachel Sweet (mp3)
Download: Wildwood Saloon – Rachel Sweet (mp3)

It’s grim up North

My Mum used to sing the opening line of Cilla Black’s “Liverpool Lullaby” to me all the time and even now I can’t hear “Oh you are a mucky kid, dirty as a dustbin lid” without coming over all soppy, wanting someone to wipe my nose and tuck me up in bed with my teddy. I think that’s the only part of it she knew though, which is a relief because the rest of it is so bleak and miserable if she’d sung this to me I’d have burst into tears and run away from home.

Oh you are a mucky kid,
Dirty as a dustbin lid.
When he hears the things that you did,
You’ll get a belt from your Dad.
Oh you have your father’s nose,
So crimson in the dark it glows,
If you’re not asleep when the boozers close,
You’ll get a belt from your Dad.

You look so scruffy lying there
Strawberry-jam tarts in yer hair,
Though in the world you haven’t a care
And I have got so many.
It’s quite a struggle every day
Living on your father’s pay,
The beggar drinks it all away
And leaves me without any.

Although you have no silver spoon,
Better days are coming soon
Our Nelly’s working at the Lune
And she gets paid on Friday.
Perhaps one day we’ll have a splash,
When Littlewoods provide the cash,
We’ll get a house in Knotty Ash
And buy your Dad a brewery.

Oh you are a mucky kid,
Dirty as a dustbin lid.
When he hears the things that you did
You’ll get a belt from your Dad.
Oh you have your father’s face,
You’re growing up a real hard case,
But there’s no one can take your place,
…. Go fast asleep for yer Mammy.

Not exactly a lorra lorra laughs is it? I think that last verse is the most depressing, the poor little kid is going to turn out just like his Dad, slapping the wife and kids around and blowing his wages on beer, Woodbines, and horse racing. Enjoy!

Download: Liverpool Lullaby – Cilla Black (mp3)
Buy: “Cilla In The 60s (album)

Sleeve Talk

Every now and then when I’m flipping through the racks at a second-hand record shop I’ll come across an album I used to own that I’d completely forgotten about, often by a band I’d also completely forgotten. The late 70s-early 80s era is a particularly rich one for lost bands (there’s a whole blog devoted to them) who came along in the punk and post-punk flurry, managed a single or album before vanishing forever, to be discovered years later buried in dusty piles of ancient vinyl. East London rockers Bethnal managed two albums before they split up in 1980 but neither of them sold at all and the band don’t even rate a footnote in rock histories these days, they came and went without leaving a trace except in the memories of sad old gits like me, and I would probably have forgotten all about them too if I hadn’t liked the sleeve of their 1978 album “Crash Landing” so much.

This is another Hipgnosis design with their trademark photographic surrealism which could often look a bit over the top but the black and white gives it a striking class. These days you could knock this image together in a jiffy using Photoshop but in the olden days (gather ’round, children) the image would have been put together by a mix of manual cutting and pasting of the individual photos (the bandaged figures, the band, the crashed plane, and probably the landscape and sky too), with a lot of airbrush retouching and some darkroom trickery to make the whole thing look seamless. Time consuming stuff and one of the many graphic production skills that have been lost in the digital age. I used to be able to do stuff like that, now I can barely draw a straight line as I do all my work on a keyboard.

Bethnal were most often compared the The Who and Pete Townsend actually had some production input on “Crash Landing” which at the time I thought was a terrific album, but listening to it now it sounds mostly like dull and ordinary stadium rock. Hipgnosis usually designed for dinosaur acts like Pink Floyd and Led Zep and I wonder if using them was conscious attempt to sell the band to that market — in 1978 you couldn’t get much more un-punk than a Hipgnosis sleeve. But with the exception of a couple of tracks the sleeve is the most memorable thing about the record, the title track still sounds pretty ace, the synths are a bit cheesy now but that crashing drum riff is great and the last track “Nothing New” has a rough, fist-pumping quality I still quite like. Though I liked it a lot more when I was 16.

Download: Crash Landing – Bethnal (mp3)
Download: Nothing New – Bethnal (mp3)

Keeping The Motors Running

I’m saving myself the bother of actually writing anything much today by quickly jumping on The Motors bandwagon started by Teenage Kicks and Raiding The Vinyl Archive. Much as I’ve love to prove my mp3 blogger superiority by picking some obscure gem I’m going with their biggest hit because I think it’s by far the best thing they ever did. “Airport” is as sublime and perfect as pop gets with more hooks than a fishing tackle shop.

I actually remember where I first heard this which tells you how I much it instantly bowled me over. It was on a show on London’s Capital Radio called People’s Choice where listeners would vote on on their favourite track from a selection of new singles and the winner would get heavy airplay on the station all the following week. Hearing those icy opening synth chords that day was one of those great pop moments when it feels like the clouds have parted, the sun has come out and you instantly fall head over heels in love with a record. I had to buy it as soon as possible which I did the next day and played it to death for weeks (those feelings don’t happen too often these days sadly). I wasn’t alone either, it won People’s Choice and went on to hit #4 in the charts in 1978.

Download: Airport – The Motors (mp3)
Buy: “Airport: The Motors Greatest Hits” (album)