It’s Pretty Oop North

I’ve heard it can be anyway. Being one of those Londoners who got a nosebleed (and cultural panic) if he ventured north of Watford I couldn’t tell you myself. Short trips to Manchester and Newcastle are my only experience of that part of the country.

This is a really gorgeous track by British folky Catherine Howe from her “lost” 1971 album What A Beautiful Place. Apparently it’s about her hometown of Halifax which I’ve never been to either, but I doubt if it’s as pretty as this song.

Download: Up North – Catherine Howe (mp3)


I Have Twelve Inches

I can’t remember why I bought the 12″ of “Where Does That Boy Hang Out?” by David Lasley in 1984 because I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard it (doubt if it was ever played on the radio) and I had no idea who Lasley was either. I think it was as simple as liking the song title and the fact that it was produced by Don Was. Some of you kids might find this hard to believe but in those pre-internet days you couldn’t hear every record ever made and sometimes bought them unheard on a whim or a hunch. Back then I had the disposable income to do so, too.

I’m really glad I did buy it because it’s a terrific blue-eyed soul record, and the b-side “Saved By Love” is equally great too. Lasley has a gorgeous, soulful falsetto voice and was better known for singing on other people’s records (Chic, Sister Sledge, and Odyssey among others) than his own, and he also wrote “You Bring Me Joy” for Anita Baker. He only made a few solo albums and the original versions of these were on Raindance which is out of print now.

Download: Where Does That Boy Hang Out? (12″ version) – David Lasley (mp3)
Download: Saved By Love – David Lasley (mp3)

Punk Is Dead

The Clash became instant punk gods with their debut album but then had the problem of “What do we do next?” — a problem The Pistols solved by breaking up, and The Ramones ignored by just doing the same thing again (and again). The Westway Wonders rightly felt that they couldn’t keep doing the same primitive three-chord thrash, and with punk pretty much being declared over by the end of 1977 they had to move on.

Their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope was an attempt to move forward that wasn’t entirely successful. It’s a decent album but some of the songs are a bit duff and I’ve never liked the production. In retrospect the track “Julie’s Been Working For The Drug Squad” is a signpost for the future, but at the time it was regarded as a novelty lark.

The first taste of where they were going next came in May 1979 with The Cost of Living EP. The first track “I Fought The Law” was as blazingly ferocious as anything on their first album but with a production that was cleaner and brighter than anything they’d done before. The next two tracks “Groovy Times” and “Gates of The West” (one of my all-time favourite Clash songs) were even more different, one featuring acoustic guitars and harmonica while the other was an ode to America, a country the band once declared they were bored with. Clearly they were shedding their old practices and prejudices, freeing themselves from the shackles of punk orthodoxy.

Though The Clash are pretty much canonized now as one of the great rock bands, their reputation wasn’t quite so secure back then. I remember reaction to the EP being mixed at the time, with some feeling that they were running out of gas, and covering old rock and roll songs wasn’t exactly a sign of a band with new ideas, was it? Now it sounds like a stepping stone because seven months later they released London Calling. You know the rest.

Download: Groovy Times – The Clash (mp3)
Download: Gates of The West – The Clash (mp3)

BONUS: This is the short “reprise” of the first track that ends the EP. It’s basically Joe Strummer doing a jokey ad for the record, and far as I know this is only available on vinyl copies of it.

Download: I Fought The Law (Reprise) – The Clash (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Cher, Bing Crosby, Queen, Lulu. David Bowie could sing duets and make records with anyone yet still keep his artistic credibility. Truly, the man’s coolness is bulletproof.

BONUS: There’s something truly surreal about seeing Bowie on American light entertainment television. Here he is bringing da funk — and some cool dance moves — to Dinah Shore.

My Mother’s Records

Not being in the mood for anything new I re-read Jonathan Coe’s nostalgic novel The Rotters Club on holiday the other week. The book is set in Birmingham in the 1970s and one of the major events in it is the horrific bombings at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern In The Town pubs in the city which killed 21 people on one night in November 1974.

Two characters in the story are in the latter pub that fateful night and one detail Coe adds is that the last song playing on the jukebox of the Tavern In The Town right before the bomb went off was “I Get A Kick Out Of You” by Gary Shearston. I can only assume Coe made that up because I can find no reference to it anywhere else, but it’s perfectly feasible as the record was a big hit at the time, getting to No.7 in the charts the month before the bombings.

Though she already had a version of the song by Frank Sinatra my mother bought the record because she loved Shearston’s lazy, laconic take on it — complete with an acoustic guitar intro stolen from “My Sweet Lord” — which really brought out the urbane ennui of Cole Porter’s lyrics. Despite his Ferry-esque croon, Shearston (who died last year) was actually an Australian folk singer and this was a one-off novelty hit that he recorded for a lark. Part of the success of such an old-timey record was probably due to the 1970s nostalgia vogue when even Laurel & Hardy and Glenn Miller got in the charts.

This is one of the records that most reminds me of my mother so I was a little bothered by Coe placing it in the terrible context of the Birmingham pub bombings, as if he was messing with my own memories. But one of the book’s strengths is that Coe avoids the superficial, I Love The Seventies! version of the decade — nothing but flares, Glam Rock, and big sideburns — which a more obvious signifier of the era like Bowie or T. Rex would have been. Going with a forgotten one-hit wonder — and slightly cheesy one at that — can tell you more about the actual, ordinary reality of the 1970s than “Starman” does.

Download: I Get A Kick Out Of You – Gary Shearston (mp3)

PS: How nice looking was the Charisma Records label?