Lucky Dip

I’m feeling the deadline pressure at work again so no time to finish that long post on the life and work of Gilbert O’ Sullivan and how his single “Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day” reminds me of the grief I felt the day my hamster died*

So things are going to be a bit random here for a few days, dipping into my iTunes playlists for songs I like and have meant to post for a while but don’t have anything interesting to say about, with pretty pictures that may or may not have something to do with the record.

Download: I Start Counting – Basil Kirchin (mp3)
Buy: “Fuzzy Felt Folk” (album)

*Yes, I’m making that up. But for all you know everything I’ve ever written here about my past could be a lie too.

The face rings a bell

This picture was taken in 1977 at The Roxy club in London and if you can tear your eyes away from the two leggy young ladies in the foreground for a second, have a look at the bloke at the back on the left. Isn’t that Howard Devoto? I think it is.

Any excuse to post some Magazine.

Download: Give Me Everything (live) – Magazine (mp3)
Buy: “Play” (album)

My Dad’s 8-Tracks

A lot of you probably recognize the blond bird in the middle of this photo as Britt Ekland: actress, sex symbol, Bond girl and former main squeeze of Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart. Some of you might know that the guy on the left is actor/director Lionel Jeffries, best known for his roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Railway Children. But who’s the bloke on the right grinning like he’s the happiest person in the world at that moment? That’s my old man, that is.

The picture was taken in 1972 on the set of a movie called “Baxter!” that Jeffries was directing and my old man had a bit part in it. In the 60s and early 70s Dad was a London taxi driver with dreams of being an actor and one day he picked up Jeffries in his cab, the two got chatting and my old man told him he was an aspiring actor so Jeffries offered him a part in his new film — playing a taxi driver. If you’ve never heard of “Baxter!” that’s because it was a flop and sank without trace when it came out, it’s never even been out on video far as I know. I’ve only ever seen it once and if you blink you’ll miss my Dad and his one line of dialogue (he picks up Britt in his cab and says something like “Cheers, love” when she tells him to keep the change.) It wasn’t much but still, he was in a movie with Britt Ekland — not bad for a cab driver from Shepherd’s Bush. Unlike me he preferred blonds which partly explains his huge grin in the photo.

After this brush with fame Dad bought himself an old Rover P4 which he called Baxter. It was a beautiful car, tan exterior with cream leather seats and an 8-track player which was the latest in high-fidelity mod cons back then. Of all the albums my Dad had on 8-track the one that most reminds me of that car is Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key of Life”, especially the track “Joy Inside My Tears.” It was never my favourite on the album, it followed the ridiculously catchy “Isn’t She Lovely” and always seemed such a downer after that — it sounds like it was recorded at the wrong speed and sort of plods along like it’s all woozy on cough medicine. But there’s something hypnotic about it and when I hear it now it’s that foggy and muggy warmth which reminds me of sitting in that car on a cold day with the windows misted up, having a day out with my Dad which usually involved a lunch of egg and chips with a banana milkshake and going to the pictures.

Download: Joy Inside My Tears – Stevie Wonder (mp3)

The acting thing didn’t work out for my Dad, after the movie he had parts in television commercials for The Sun newspaper and Slimcea bread but that was all far as I remember. He did far better behind the scenes though and became a Stage Manager at the National Theatre in London where he had a very successful career (his first boss was Lawrence Olivier and he counted many famous actors and writers among his friends. He even got to meet the Queen, not too shabby) until he retired.

On The Town

“The night was glorious, out there. The air was sweet as a cool bath, the stars were peeping nosily beyond the neons, and the citizens of the Queendom, in their jeans and separates, were floating down the Shaftesbury Avenue canals like gondolas. Everyone had loot to spend, everyone had a bath with verbena salts behind them, and nobody had broken hearts, because they were all ripe for the easy summer evening. The rubber plants in the espressos had been dusted, and the smooth white lights of the new-style Chinese restaurants — not the old Mah Jongg categories, but the latest thing with broad glass fronts, and Dacron curtainings, and a beige carpet over the interiors — were shining a dazzle, like some monster telly screens. Even those horrible old Anglo-Saxon public houses — all potato crisps and flat, stale ales, and puddles on the counter bar, and spittle — looked quite alluring, provided you didn’t push those two-ton doors that pinch your arse, and wander in. In fact, the capital was a night horse dream. And I thought, ‘My Lord, one thing is certain, and that’s that they’ll make musicals one day about the glamour-studded 1950s.'”
Colin MacInnes
“Absolute Beginners” (1959)

And make a musical out of it they did, though sadly it was a real stinker, unlike the novel which is still wonderful and stylishly captures London coming out of it’s drab post-war cocoon and becoming the young, hip, and multicultural city that it is today.

Anyone who’s ever been young and hit the town on a Saturday night with money in their pocket and wearing their sharpest clothes knows the feeling he’s talking about above. Those glorious moments when you feel like you’re at the centre of the universe and there’s nowhere else in the world to be at that moment: The city, the lights, the people, the music, the clubs, the buzz — you just drink it all up. For me it was London in the 80s and early 90s, stepping out of Leicester Square tube station with my mates, heading into Chinatown for a few drinks at the Dive Bar, then off to a nightclub for hours of dancing to fantastic music and flirting with beautiful girls (very occasionally getting somewhere with one), then maybe a late night coffee at Bar Italia or more drinks at one of the after-hours bars on Hanway Street before catching the Night Bus from Trafalgar Square (and eating one of the nasty, greasy hamburgers the street vendors sold there while waiting), sometimes not getting home until the sun was coming up. Even with a skinful of booze inside me I never felt more alive.

Now, of course, I’m an old geezer who flakes out after a few drinks at 11pm. But back then, well, to quote William Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!

The film might have been a load of rubbish but it did give us the best record David Bowie made in the 1980s (post-“Scary Monsters” anyway). This is the mega-long, 8-minute version.

Download: Absolute Beginners – David Bowie (mp3)

Foxy Lady

I’ve never heard Kate Bush mention the group Fox as an influence but I bet that if you’d gone into her bedroom in 1975 (and I bet you’d love to), along with the Alphonse Mucha poster on the wall and the dog-eared paperback of “Wuthering Heights” on the bookshelf, you’d find their debut album on her record player.

They’re almost forgotten now but I’ll eat my hat if the teenage Kate wasn’t a big fan of their plush, poppy psychedelia and their lead singer Noosha Fox wasn’t the virtual template for her style. Not only did she have a similar high-pitched vocal style but she also put on the same sort of wide-eyed, ethereal bohemian wispiness that was all silk dresses and theatrical hand movements. While singles like “Imagine Me, Imagine You” were jaunty, glittery pop there’s a decided Kate Bush-y vibe on their first album with ornate, spacey tracks like “Red Letter Day” which have the sort of flowery imagery (the song mentions unicorns!) and magic fairy dust that was sprinkled all over Kate’s early oeuvre. Even song title like “Patient Tigers” and “Pisces Babies” sound like something she’d write in her more purple velvet moments.

Download: Imagine Me, Imagine You – Fox (mp3)
Download: Red Letter Day – Fox (mp3)
Buy: “Fox” (album)

I can’t remember if I ever fancied Noosha but I know plenty of boys did (in reality she was an Australian folk singer named Susan Traynor). A lot of arty and quirky girl singers came along post-punk, but in 1975 she was pretty unique next to the likes of Suzi Quatro, Lynsey de Paul and Kiki Dee. But I’m pretty sure that when Kate Bush saw this on Top of The Pops she must have taken notes.

Clare Grogan and Alison Goldfrapp got a lot from her too.

The mad girl in the attic

When I first heard Kate Bush’s debut single “Wuthering Heights” I had no idea what she looked like and her screechy, witchy vocal gave me a mental picture of some batty old woman who spent too much time locked up at home with her cats and frightened the local children. But then this poster started appearing around London which just goes to show how wrong you can be. Very happily wrong in this case.

But even though she turned out to be young and smoking hot Kate still had a touch of the dotty old bat about her — the polite English term for this is “eccentric” — with her peculiar songs, outside-the-box individuality and penchant for funny costumes and interpretive dance. In his book “England Is Mine” Michael Bracewell described her as “pop’s equivalent of the mad girl in the attic…covering the territory of Angela Carter’s A Company of Wolves in the guise of a pre-Raphaelite raised on Jackie” (if I wrote a line that good I’d retire.) But what do you expect from someone who spend her childhood dressing up like this?

Judging by these photos Kate had a rather bohemian and free-spirited childhood, growing up on an old farmhouse with a piano-playing father, folk-dancing mother, musicians and poets for brothers and lots of costumes and make-believe — it sounds like something out of Dodie Smith’s “I Capture The Castle.” The sort of atmosphere that would produce a girl precocious enough to write and record something as amazing as this when she was only 16.

Download: The Man With The Child In His Eyes – Kate Bush (mp3)

I had a Kate Bush poster on my bedroom wall but it wasn’t because I was such a huge fan of her records (hint: she was wearing a leotard), though I loved a lot of her singles I had a hard time making it through a whole album and could only take her in small doses. She was like the sexy girl you meet at a college party who dazzles you with her passion for music, poetry, art, and theatre, but after a while her moody drama queen act, Ophelia complex, and habit of reciting Sylvia Plath poems out loud gets really annoying and you yearn for someone a bit less “interesting” — you only stayed with her as long as you did because the sex was amazing.

Still, you’ve got to love someone who mentions Gurdjieff in a pop song and writes one as beautifully elegiac about the old country as “Oh England My Lionheart”.

Download: Them Heavy People (live) – Kate Bush (mp3)
Download: Oh England My Lionheart (live) – Kate Bush (mp3)

Our Pauline

Been a while since we’ve had a random Pauline Murray track so here’s something off Penetration’s much-maligned second album “Coming Up For Air” from 1979.

Download: Shout Above The Noise – Penetration (mp3)

Like every other group of old punk pensioners these days Penetration recently re-formed and have been touring, they’ve even recorded a couple of new songs (“Guilty” and “The Feeling”) which you can hear on their MySpace page. To be honest I don’t think the new songs are that brilliant and I’m usually highly dubious about bands trying the recreate the glory days but I must admit this live video of them doing “Don’t Dictate” is pretty great. Glad to see Pauline is still looking good after all these years too.