Things To Make and Do

Kids today don’t know they’re born. Back in my day we didn’t ‘ave any computers, video games, or iPhones. We had to make our own fun, like making a mask out of an old pair of tights and using BISCUITS FOR EYES.

Try telling kids today that and they won’t believe you.

Download: Paper Mache – Dionne Warwick (mp3)

This image isn’t some Scarfolk gag either, it’s from a real 1976 book called Creative Masks for Stage and School.


New Monday

With so much new music competing for your attention on the internet you have to have some filters to narrow down what you decide to listen to. Being a superficial designer type my choices are often based on visuals so I checked out the new album Plaza by the Boston band Quilt  purely because I liked the the sleeve. I thought it looked vaguely like something George Hardie would have drawn for a Hipgnosis album cover in the 70s.

I’m really glad I did too because it’s great album (their third), a terrific blend of trippy Psych-Folk and jangly Indie. Not sure what the sleeve image has to do with it though.

Shack Up, Baby

“Shack Up” remains a song best known as a Hip-Hop sample and, for people of a certain age, by the 1981 cover version by A Certain Ratio. The 1975 original by Banbarra wasn’t a hit but became a cult favourite in Northern Soul clubs which is where ACR would have heard it.

Not much is known about Banbarra beyond the fact that they were from Washington, DC and this was the only record they released, supposedly due to manager shenanigans. But in this age of knowing everything about every record ever made I like some things remaining a mystery, it makes the record even better.

Download: Shack Up – Banbarra (mp3)

We Got The Funk

I don’t know if the alternative culture program Twentieth Century Box was ever shown outside of London but it was essential viewing. Produced by Janet Street-Porter, it gave a very young Danny Baker his first TV gig and was on the air in the early 1980s during a golden age for British youth culture (and had a theme tune by John Foxx). It devoted episodes to the Rockabilly scene, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the Blitz Kids, often providing their first coverage on television.

At the time Danny Baker was at the NME where he’d been a champion of soul and dance music before it was trendy so he may have been the instigator behind this terrific episode about the British Jazz-Funk scene as he had just written a cover story about it for the paper.

As Danny says at the start of the program the scene wasn’t covered properly by the music press and even today it remains a mostly unknown story. The histories of Mods, Skins, and Punks have been chronicled down to the last shirt collar detail, but Soul Boys (and girls) have never received the same attention beyond the occasional joke about Essex boys and Escort XR3is with fluffy dice. Northern Soul gets far more respect despite being conservative and reactionary at heart — we don’t want now’t to do with that soft southern funk rubbish. Brit-Funk was a multi-racial, working class scene full of kids creating their own original styles but it was never as cool. Maybe it was too genuinely working class and non-elitist, you didn’t need the right trousers to join in. It really was all about the music which didn’t give music writers much of a hook.

The thing that strikes me the most watching the wonderful club footage in this show (which starts around the 13-minute mark) is how damn happy and joyous the atmosphere is. I’d forgotten all about that, and it brought a little lump to my throat. This was an era of violence between Punks and Teds, Mods and Rockers, and tense rock concerts where you had to be worried about being crushed by a pogoing mob or nutted by some skinhead, so the kids all saying “there’s no trouble” meant a lot more than it seems now.

My musical tastes were too varied to be 100% part of any scene back then (I liked Earth, Wind & Fire and Joy Division) but I often went to the Lyceum Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights when Steve Walsh, and Greg Edwards were DJ-ing. The place was always packed to the rafters with kids wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the names of their Tribes from different parts of London — Brixton Front Line, Dalston Soul Patrol — all blowing whistles and chanting along with the records.

The highpoint of the evening was usually the massive communal line-dance to the funky Latin groove of “Jingo” by Candido. Other big tunes from this time were the glittery “Casanova” and the anthemic “Love Has Come Around”. All these are the extended 12″ mixes so get ready for some big downloads, and some dancing.

Download: Jingo – Candido (mp3)
Download: Casanova – Coffee (mp3)
Download: Love Has Come Around – Donald Byrd (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Storming first appearance on British telly by Saint Etienne. I think I only ever watched The Word when I got home drunk from the pub so I thought the flashing colours and swooping camera was my head and not the show.

But why post just the one vintage Saint Etienne clip when you’ve another equally great one of another So Tough classic?

Neanderthal Love

Thinking about 10cc led me back to this novelty record they released before they had the name 10cc, or were even a group at all.

“Neanderthal Man” was the first track to be recorded at the famous Strawberry Studios in Manchester which was owned by Eric Stewart and where he and the other members of 10cc to-be worked as session musicians and producers. Apparently this odd-sounding track was just the result of them testing out some of the new equipment in the studio, but a passing record exec happened to hear it and the lightbulb that said HIT! went off over his head, so it was put out as a single and they invented the name Hotlegs for it.

That record exec was right as it got to #2 in 1970 which is amazing when you consider what a primitive, repetitive dirge it is. But this was the 70s when all sorts of strange pop lunacy got in the charts. You could even make the case that it’s tribal drum sound was very influential on Gary Glitter and by extension even Adam Ant. Not bad for a studio test drive.

Download: Neanderthal Man – Hotlegs (mp3)

Hold The Line

10cc were known as a “clever” band who made quirky, pun-laden records, and even when they wrote a beautiful love song they gave it a twist and called it “I’m Not In Love”. But while the singles they made in the 1970s are some of my favourites of the decade I was never all that keen on their albums where their clever-dick tendencies often became annoyingly wacky.

But when they did show some restraint they could produce tracks like the bitterly lovely “Don’t Hang Up” from their 1976 album How Dare You. The story of a marriage from beginning to sad end which, typically 10cc, is a long, multi-part play of song told through a one-sided phone call, but untypically has a simple and low-key treatment — though they still can’t resist punny lines like “When the barman said ‘What’re you drinking?’ I said marriage on the rocks” which makes me think Elvis Costello must have been a fan of the song.

Download: Don’t Hang Up – 10cc (mp3)

From Bedsit to Dancefloor

Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn have been the First Couple of Indie for as long as there has been such a thing as Indie, and a lot of us have become adults along with them. The thing I like about these two photos is that you don’t have to have had a successful music career (or still be with your college girlfriend/boyfriend) to relate to the story they tell.

I was a student just a couple of years later than they were and looked the same as they do on the left: the second-hand clothes, the cheap haircut, the white socks. Living in cold rooms and eating tinned food, drinking litre bottles of cheap cider at parties, evenings in the pub putting the world to rights while sinking pints and filling ashtrays. You’re awkward and unsure of yourself, but the freedom of living away from home for the first time widens your horizons and you start to become the person you’re going to be when you grow up.

Then you leave college and take those first steps into the big wide world. If you’re lucky you get a job and have some money in the bank (or an overdraft and credit card bills if you’re me). Your clothes and haircuts get better, you appreciate good food and stop looking like you live on a diet of cold baked beans and roll-ups. Increasing experience and responsibility over the years means you’re no longer a callow amateur but a professional and an adult. 

The photos are also a good illustration of the musical trip Ben and Tracey have taken, from fragile acoustic Indiepop to sophisticated electronic club music — the clothes got better there too.

Download: Night and Day – Everything But The Girl (mp3)
Download: Before Today (Chicane Remix) – Everything But The Girl (mp3)