An Expat Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving here in American today. It took me years to get used to having a festive roast turkey dinner in November instead of December but now I like having the extra holiday which makes up for the fact that most Americans only get one day off for Christmas.

I will, however, never get used to the fact that they have their big holiday meal with mashed potatoes instead of roast. I love mash but I always associate it with after-school tea when I was a kid (usually with sausages or fish fingers), and it just doesn’t seem special enough to serve with a roast bird, stuffing, gravy etc. Times like this I think I will always be a stranger in this country no matter how long I live here.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers. Why not give roast potatoes a try this year?

I posted this song before many years ago but it’s great enough for a repeat.

Download: Thank You – Pale Fountains (mp3)

Image: Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell.


The Feminine Principle

A big part of post-punk philosophy was a rejection of the macho posturing of traditional rock music, with many bands disdaining masturbatory guitar solos and playing music that was more influenced by black rhythms because white rock was seen as conservative, sexist, and reactionary.

Another revolutionary thing about these groups was that many of them were either all-female or led by women. Some were more politically strident or musically radical than others, but bands like The Raincoats, The Slits, Delta 5, The Mo-Dettes, Marine Girls, and Essential Logic all challenged how rock music should both sound and look, and brought a feminist perspective to traditional rock song subjects like love and relationships.

Birmingham combo the Au Pairs were one of the most committed to that perspective, and though a co-ed band they were dominated by the striking voice and attitudes of Lesley Woods (the NME cover girl above) who, while not as well known as your Siouxsies, Traceys, and Paulines, really should be considered one of the great female icons of post-punk and one of its best singers.

In an era overflowing with classic debut albums the Au Pairs’ 1981 Playing With A Different Sex is one of the greatest, casting a savage eye on female sexuality, gender relations, and politics over some of the best post-punk-funk music ever made. There was a dryly sardonic edge to Woods’ voice that made her bitter pills easier to swallow and you could dance to it too, it’s like the funkiest lecture on feminism you’ll ever hear. Songs like “Come Again” are brutal but funny on the subject of sex, and with lyrics like “Do you like it like this?/Please, please me/Is your finger aching?” it’s not surprising it was banned by the BBC.

Download: Come Again — Au Pairs (mp3)
Download: It’s Obvious — Au Pairs (mp3)

The 1980 single “Diet” wasn’t on the album but I think it’s the best thing they did, a devastating little Play For Today of a song about Stepford housewives.

Download: Diet — Au Pairs (mp3)

Making Plans For Crackerjack

Though it’s undeniably silly I hope that XTC were well chuffed with this. Getting played by John Peel or appearing on Top of The Pops are nothing compared to having your song performed on a great British television institution like Crackerjack. I would have retired happy after this.

A friend of a friend of mine worked on Crackerjack in the early 1980s and got a group of us tickets to see a show. We had a bloody marvelous time, Stu “Ooh, I could crush a grape!” Francis was the host then and Depeche Mode were on performing “Monument” (apparently, I’d forgotten). Every time we shouted CRACKERJACK! the Boy Scouts sitting in front us turned around and gave us funny looks as if they were thinking “What are these old people doing here?”

I still have the ticket.

We didn’t get Crackerjack pencils but the bloke we knew on the show got us copies of Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame album signed by all the band. Like a fool I later gave mine away to my girlfriend, it wasn’t a great album but really wish I hadn’t done that now. Wonder if she still has it.

New Monday

I must admit I haven’t heard much by Geordie folk group The Unthanks since their amazing 2007 album The Bairns but after hearing this new single I might have to go back and check out their other records too. Though this is based on a traditional Dorset folk song, The Unthanks merge the sound of Olde England with Jazz flourishes, particularly the cool sound of Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis, to create something quite beautiful and new.

Left Back in the Changing Room

I wasn’t very good at football when I was a kid. I played in my Primary School team but I don’t think any of my teammates can have been that great either because we only won one game all year. The only thing I remember about that victory is when it was announced in morning assembly the whole school cheered as if we’d just beaten Germany 10-0 in the World Cup Final. They meant it too, Primary School kids are too young for sarcasm.

I was put in defence which was a big mistake as I was too much of a wimp to tackle anyone and would back away when a forward approached with the ball. I can still hear our teacher/coach Mr. Grant shouting “Get to him! TO HIM!” at me from the sidelines which was the only instruction I remember him ever giving anyone — in typical English fashion his coaching philosophy was all about getting stuck in physically instead of fancy ball skills. He switched me to midfield for a while (less of a liability there, I think) and I wasn’t quite as bad, or so I thought. I could run a bit with the ball, was a decent crosser, and fancied myself to be a “tricky winger” type player. I was probably still useless but at least I remember enjoying those few games, the rest were miserable experiences: Saturday mornings standing on some cold, muddy pitch in my cheap Woolworth’s football boots hoping I wouldn’t have to tackle someone.

I still liked football, but having a casual kickabout in the street or the park with my mates was more my idea of fun. A “real” game on a pitch with proper goals and boots only rubbed in how rubbish I was, but playing a game of three-and-in or rush goalie it was easy to pretend I was better than that. Every goal scored was the FA Cup winner at Wembley or was greeted with a triumphant shout of “Rivelino!” — even if you were only playing with a tennis ball. Sometimes by some fluke you actually would do something skillful which you’d remember with pride for days or even longer (seriously, I can still remember one particular goal I scored in a game on my estate when I was about 13). The worst thing you’d have to deal with was getting the ball back from some old ladies garden or an argument over whose turn in goal it was.

I ended up playing hockey in Secondary School along with all the other “picked last” losers who were no good at football or not tough enough for rugby — though you felt plenty tough when you got a hockey stick in the balls — but luckily it wasn’t the sort of school where team sports were a big deal. I don’t even know if we had a school football team, I assume there was one but I had no idea who played for them or how they good they were. Thankfully there were no “Jocks” at the school unlike in American High Schools, the sociopathic bullies and sadistic PE teachers were bad enough for a four-eyed weed who was crap at games to deal with without there also being some golden-boy centre forward who was incredibly popular and got all the pretty girls to hate too.

Thank God I had pop music and comics.

Download: The Stars Of Track And Field — Belle and Sebastian (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

I saw The Bee Gees at Wembley in the late 80s which was about as brilliant as you can imagine. They opened with “Tragedy”, encored with “You Should Be Dancing” and for the two hours in-between nearly every song in the show was a stone-gold classic. I’ve never seen a band with such an astonishing back catalogue before, only Stevie Wonder could touch them.

Bonus video: Because I can’t pick just one Gibb brothers record. We all know the God-like beauty of Al Green’s version of this but the ethereal original is pretty damn special too.

Picture Post

Billy Idol was never taken seriously by music critics in the late 70s who saw him as a dumb pretty boy whose band made cartoon punk records. This is a pretty silly record but it’s a whole lot of rocking fun, and owes as much musically to Glam Rock as it does punk.

Billy was to have the last laugh a few years later of course.

Download: King Rocker — Generation X (mp3)

Photo: René, Westminster Bridge 1968, by Frank Habicht
(Yes, I know the record should be Queen Rocker)