27.2.10

NICE : Debut LP (1991)

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Feel Good All Over was a fine little endeavour, one of the first American labels to make serious in-roads towards issuing some of the terrific, off-kilter music that began pouring out of New Zealand & Australia at the end of the 1980s. Though short lived, it's early roster included Antipodean legends such as The Dead C, Crabstick, The Terminals, Cyclops & The Cannanes.

The Cannanes were, I suppose, Australia's answer to Beat Happening (who were also briefly affiliated with FGAO), & their amateurist, weak-kneed folk was/is a fine example of a parochial music that, having gestated in splendid isolation, ended up sounding utterly unique. Wichetty Pole, FGOA's compilation of early Cannanes recordings, was rarely off my stereo in the mid-90s, peculiar pop songs like "Brain" & "Love Only Takes A Minute" often sounding like a scrawny, shambolic Go-Betweens or Verlaines. The voice of many of those curious songs was one Randall Lee & when, after a handful of Cannanes releases, he & the rest of the band parted company, Mr. Lee's immediate riposte was Nice, whose self-titled debut is a long-lost must-have masterpiece of baroque, country-influenced melancholia.

At this point I should probably admit that I've never actually owned a copy of Nice's debut. It was difficult to track down from the off & I only ever had a cassette dub of it, taped for me by a minor English indie celeb (ahem) who'd swapped it with the band themselves for records of his own. I loved it the moment I heard it &, believe me, that unassuming cassette was played & replayed to within an inch of it's natural life.

Nice's debut is an album of two halves. About 50% of it is written & sung by Lee & it's those songs that I fell in love with first, rather obsessively in fact. The other half, written by or with bassist Susannah Stuart-Lindsay, unfortunately suffer by comparison to Lee's tremendous efforts (but are definite growers). The opening "Dear John" creates such a dark-hued mood of loneliness & unspecified impending doom that I've always had difficulty getting as far as the next track (the lilting, yes lilting, "Head In The Hay") - even now, I just want to play that first, hypnotic song over & over. Though it initially seems like a run-of-the-mill spurned boyfriend song there's evidently something more unsettling at work here. I can't help but wondering who's most pitiful - poor, abandoned "John" or his nameless, estranged lover, who's obviously intent on keeping him at arm's length with her self-deluding descriptions of an exotic, new found (possibly ill-fated) "happiness"? Like "Pink Frost", "Cattle & Cane" or "Death & The Maiden", "Dear John" is another in that long line of timeless Antipodean pop songs.

Throughout, Lee's songs paint a darkly romantic, uncanny rural landscape of clouds, sheep & not a lot else (the deadpan "Pastoral Disaster" provides a handy summation). There's a faint disquiet underscoring everything however, never more so than on"Christiana Amore", it's lonely protagonist struggling with unrequited sexual longing & faltering religious conviction like some backwoods Bill Callahan. And like Callahan, I suspect Lee might be an accomplished character actor, in song at least.

Lee split Nice after one more LP (the less focussed Apple Pie) to concentrate on Ashtray Boy, who still perform & record intermittently (their The Honeymoon Suite LP is certainly worth a listen) & whose line-up currently includes a couple of ex-Cannanes.

N.B. Many, many thanks to Mr./Mrs. Anon at The Mythic Signifier who provided the bespoke link for this.

24.2.10

SCOTT WALKER : Any Day Now & Stretch (1973)

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As promised, two more neglected LPs from the Scott Walker canon. I won't dwell on them for too long, they've not been ignored without good reason after all, but it goes without saying that, if you're a Scott fan, you must hear them.

Stretch, released on CBS in 1973, is my personal favourite of the two. It's actually listenable throughout (if you're not chronically averse to frequent lashings of easy listening schmaltz that is) & only Jimmy Webb's cringe-worthy, though well-intentioned, "Where Does Brown Begin?" sets the gag-0-meter hurtling into the red. A handful of Stretch's songs are actually so good that I'm confused as to how they've managed to remain a secret for so long - at least one of them, the astonishing "Someone Who Cared", could almost be a Scott 3 outtake. Based around a maudlin lyric, beautiful orchestration & a magnificent vocal, it's one of the finest things Scott recorded during his wilderness period & deserves to be welcomed back in from the cold immediately.

Any Day Now, from 1973 again & his final Philips release, scrapes the bottom of the barrel a little more noticeably but, once again, is just about tolerable if you're in love with that voice. Promisingly, Johnny Franz is still on board as producer & Peter Knight conducts & arranges, though even they can't rescue c'n'w schlock like "All My Love's Daughter", while "Maria Berthania" sounds like something Roy North might've knocked out on Get It Together (a Godawful English kids' show that, thankfully, has been unceremoniously wiped from the public consciousness - Mr. Roy would have been better off sticking with Basil Brush I think?). However, tracks like "When You Get Right Down To It" & "If Ships Were Made To Sail" are better than anything The Walker Brothers recorded during their brief 70s regrouping, & Scott's gentle take on Bread's "If", a song most folk still recall (reluctantly) from Telly Savalas's unavoidable no.1 1975 megahit, is invested with yearning vulnerability rather than Kojak's semi-traumatic post-coital sleaze. I'd be daft to say it compares with Scott's interpretations of Brel but I am so I will.

Any Day Now has never been reissued & remains Scott's rarest album. Stretch briefly reappeared on CD in 1997 as a 2-fer with his other Columbia LP, 1974's We Had It All, which I'll share here shortly...

Any Day Now / Stretch

22.2.10

THE DURUTTI COLUMN : Intruders At The Palace (1988)

Intruders At The Palace was my introduction to The Durutti Column &, thereby, the music of Vini Reilly. Recorded at London's Dominion Theatre in July 1988, it was a series of benefit shows for The ICA, the bill also featuring David Bowie (with avant garde dance troupe La La Human Steps), David Byrne & The Kronos Quartet. Excerpts were broadcast on BBC2 over August Bank Holiday that year, including all three of Vini's songs, which I conveniently stumbled across while restlessly channel-hopping. Completely transfixed, I went out & bought my first Durutti Column record the following day (The Guitar & Other Machines, just so you know). Seeing it again, more than two decades on, time stalls, my heart skips a beat & a chill inches down my spine, it's such a first-rate performance (are they always this good?). "Jacqueline", their third & final song, is simply exceptional- Vini & Bruce (Mitchell, long-term Durutti Column percussionist) continually pushing each other onwards, honestly appearing to astound each other by the time it's over. It's so refreshing to see musicians enjoying themselves for once...
Massive thanks to Spacehopper 70, whoever he/she might be, for bothering to upload this invaluable footage - I've watched it half a dozen times already...

19.2.10

KING OF THE SLUMS : Barbarous English Fayre

Barbarous
It was Sarah Curtis's searing electric violin that collared me initially. Instantly, in fact. Hearing "The Pennine Spitter" snarling, like an Ancoates John Cale, out of John Peel's show one evening in early 1988 (c/o their England's Finest Hopes EP), I was hooked within the first five seconds.

Though as excitingly visceral as anything that America was throwing at us at that point, Manchester's King Of The Slums sounded unmistakably English - & Northern English at that - though sans any of that misguided football hoolie patriotism that Oasis would, in time, boorishly capitalise on. Once the violin had left weals in my ears, Charley Keigher's bitingly sarcastic lyrics stepped in. A desperate sink estate underdog with a witheringly contemptuous turn of phrase, his pre-ASBO vignettes of leery bleeders, unfit mothers, unemployable backstreet nutters, dubious Hulme liaisons, hard-faced cows on doorsteps, scutty washing lines, archaic outside bogs & the silent, lurking Moors would be diluted & repackaged two decades later by those faux chavs, Arctic Monkeys. Keigher sounds like he was really immersed in the thick of it though: "I'm stood on a doorstep / The moon's full-on, the roofs are wet / I shin up a drainpipe / The Pennines are in range / I slip back down to my life in this town / My God, I'll end up breeding whippets / I am a mere Mancunian of no fixed abilities / And I'd turn on a sixpence to be led astray / My only claim to fame is I can spit with an exquisite aim". In retrospect, the only half decent comparison I can come up with is Luke Haines (of The Auteurs, etc) but he's far too knowing & nowhere near as vehement. Misanthropica, I call it.

Despite Peel championing KOTS's early EPs (there's a great Maida Vale session out there somewhere too), the uptight English music press never really embraced them, appearing to take their cocksure outsider polemic as some kind of parochial affront. In fairness, their choice of cover star for the Vicious British Boyfriend 12" - a leering Enoch Powell set atop a pink Union Jack! - probably didn't help much.
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Everything King Of The Slums released is out of print, making Barbarous English Fayre, a collection of their early singles & suchlike, of cardinal importance. They're in outlandishly fine form throughout though, sadly, the priceless "King Steptoe & The Strangeways Headcase" (from Debris magazine's Head Over Ears compilation) has been omitted. If anybody can point me in the direction of that or the "Haemophiliacs On Tacks" flexi please drop me a line, I'd love to hear them both again. I might actually still have them stowed away somewhere, but that'd entail a visit to The Shed & I'm not ready for that just yet!

Charley Keigher is recording again after a lay-off of almost 20 years. He's got an official site here & there's the obligatory (& v.good) KOTS fansite to pillage too.

18.2.10

TO ROCOCO ROT : Horses, Horses, Horses 7" (2008)

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Two exclusive To Rococo Rot tracks presented on a limited edition, elegantly packaged 7". "Horses" snuck out in the immediate wake of 2008's ABC123 e.p. - it gave me the slip back then, maybe you missed out on it too? Simple, frost-encrusted melodies rising out of an itchy, minutely detailed electronic backdrop. If To Rococo Rot do make bad records they've certainly never gotten 'round to releasing any of them...

15.2.10

METAL URBAIN : On French T.V. (1978)

I've been posting a bit too much Youtube junk on here lately, but this clip really is worth sharing - the original Metal Urbain line-up, circa 1978, performing their brand new Rough Trade 7" (RT 001, in fact), looking & sounding absolutely phenomenal! Clode Panic is sporting a particularly fine outfit here I think (I had no idea they were such a cool looking band, The Skids on TOTP look pretty grotty in comparison, eh?) & if their brutally efficient guitar/drum machine line-up has been improved upon nobody told me about it...

14.2.10

NIGHTINGALES 2, DERBY 0

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Nipped up the road to Derby, for the second time in 6 months, to see Robert Lloyd's marvellous, regrouped Nightingales &, as per their previous visit, it was another slightly frustrating evening. Drinking my way through 3 (3!!!) mismatched support bands (only one of which, the lightheartedly shambolic Hotpants Romance, wasn't bile-inducingly rotten), I was verging on smashed by the time The Nightingales finally clambered on stage &, by the looks of them, so were they (the preceding, nameless punk throwback outfit obviously having taken their toll though, typically, the Friday night audience seemed to prefer them to the headliners). If not quite as tight as last time I saw them (that'd be the grog, Bob), The Nightingales were still spot-on - their records simply do not do 'em justice. Having said that, last year's Insult To Injury is as good as anything they released in their 80s heyday... & it's produced by Faust! By rights they ought to be as half baked & inspiration-free as The Fall are nowadays - instead they've become a rumbling, Krautrock-worshipping pseudo-Glitter Band, boozily mangling Beefy's Trout Mask Replica as they unceremoniously stagger into middle age. I'm generally very suspicious of bands hitching a lift on the comeback trail but, admirably, The Nightingales' sets are made up largely of current phase material, with just a smattering of fogey-appeasing pre-split "oldies" ("How To Age" was a v.pleasant surprise) & a couple of controversial covers (The Troggs & Alvin fucking Stardust, folks!). Fantastic stuff, not that the doleful Derby audience appreciated it one bit. No change there then. Rock'n'roll, eh?

N.B. I'll refrain from posting any Nightingales' recordings as everything's still in print (though the Idiot Strength 7" can be a bugger to find). However, there's a live set (recorded while they were supporting The Fall) from last October here, & you can purchase their latest, Faust-affiliated, magnificent LP here.

CLIFF RICHARD DOES THE MOODISTS

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Two bits of welcome, totally unexpected news were waiting for me when I logged on this afternoon. First up, Cliff Richard's Neck, one of my favourite blogs, is finally back in action & secondly, amidst a veritable squall of activity, they've posted both of The Moodists' crackin' Peel sessions from 1984/85. The second of these remains, very simply, one of the band's finest recorded moments - chronicling them as they approached the end of their career, miserably slumming it in dreary London & flirting, perhaps just a little awkwardly, with tentative commercialism for the first time. Some of these songs would appear in embellished form (with horn sections & everything) on their final flurry of releases, notably a long forgotten 12" on Creation Records & the blink-&-you'd-missed-it Hey Little Gary EP but, mark my words, you'll never find 'em. Is anybody ever gonna anthologise this stuff?
Anyway, massive thanks to Cliff Richard's Neck, I'd given up on ever hearing "Take The Red Carpet Out Of Town" again, you've made my day!

9.2.10

SERGE CLERC

Yes, yet another impossibly cool French gent named Serge. I first drooled over Serge Clerc's absurdly beautiful line work when the New Musical Express, briefly deeming him flavour of the month back in the early 1980s, commissioned him to illustrate their review & gossip sections alongside a posse of similarly talented artists like Ian Wright, Savage Pencil, Chris Long & Graham Humphreys. A veteran of France's punk-era bandes dessine &, subsequently, the legendary Heavy Metal magazine (via Metal Hurlant), New York's terrifyingly hip Danceteria nightclub noticed Clerc's work & request that he design some of their promotional material, thereby bringing him into contact with the NME.

Specialising in gloriously passeist jazz chic & trashy rock'n'roll cool, his tendency towards impossibly proportioned femme fatales made a rather profound impression on me as a spotty, awkward 14 year old. Though his most recognised works in the U.K. are still, arguably, his mid-80s sleeve designs for Carmel & Joe Jackson, Clerc remains enormously popular in France where his stylised 50s/60s classicism has never slipped out of fashion. Check out this superb fansite to see what he's up to nowadays...
3Clerc
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6.2.10

WIRE : Behind The Curtain (Early Versions 1977-1978)

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Recently, in a strange backpedalling manoeuvre, not only have Wire reissued their Harvest-era LPs sans the additional tracks featured on earlier CD issues (suggesting that there's probably a hefty boxset in the works?), they've also allowed invaluable archival documents such as The Peel Sessions (1989) & Behind The Curtain (1995) compilations to slip out of print.
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Though not necessarily as mandatory a listen as the Peel selection, EMI's Behind The Curtain is fascinating stuff (of course!) for the Wire fanatic: 30+ songs recorded during the first 2 (vital) years of their existence. Wire, as you may know, were a 5-piece initially - founder member George Gill originally co-wrote the songs & played guitar (Colin Newman was solely the vocalist at that point) but was ousted very early on due to his un-hip pub rock tendencies. Admirably, his fleeting presence hasn't been completely excised from this compilation: an unexpected cover of J.J.Cale's "After Midnight" (Gill's idea I'm assuming?) has been retained. Though often scrappy & largely inferior to the definitive Harvest takes, what's astonishing about these recordings is the glimpse into Wire's startling frenetic evolutionary process that it presents. Starting out as a meat & potatoes, Roxy-affiliated punk band (albeit a very intelligent one) sarcastically snarling "Mary Is A Dyke" in April 1977, by the closing track, December 1978's thunderous "Former Airline", they've mutated into an angular, Eno-indebted art-rock ensemble. Charting the multi-faceted creative transitions between their 3 long-celebrated 70s LPs, Behind The Curtain offers up versions of Chairs Missing songs recorded to the skeletal Pink Flag template, & 154 tracks still cautiously awaiting Mike Thorne's occasionally overwhelming electronic reworking. Several excellent abandoned pieces crop up along the way, "No Romans" & the studio version of "Underwater Experiences" (at last!) being the genuine ones that got away.

Oh, & in case you hadn't noticed, I really fucking love Wire.

5.2.10

FRANCIS LAI "Un Homme Et Une Femme" (1966)

Soundtrack
I've never seen Claude Lelouche's 1966 film, Un Homme Et Une Femme unfortunately, but I fell in love with the soundtrack LP the second as I spied the fantastic sleeve. Actually, it was Codeine's clever appropriation of the LP sleeve that I spotted initially. During a joint tour Euorpean tour with Bastro in 1991, Sub Pop issued a very limited tour 7" featuring both bands, Codeine's contribution being a rather fine cover of "A L'ombre de Nous" from Lai's original soundtrack. Though, on reflection, Bastro's side is far less interesting, this 45 remains one of the genuine obscurities in both Codeine & Bastro's back catalogues & is still really worth checking out if you're fond of either ensemble.
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Un Homme Et Une Femme won both the Grand Prix award at Cannes & "Best Foreign Language Film" at the Academy Awards in 1966, while composer Francis Lai earned a "Best Original Score" nominations at the BAFTAs & the Golden Globes a year later. No doubt you'll recognise the elegant main theme from numerous crummy holiday magazine shows & suchlike ("Dabadabada, dabadabada", it's still occasionally wheeled out nowadays) but you'll probably be as surprised as I was to discover that the BBC also adapted the instrumental version of "Aujourd'hui C'est Toi" for Panorama in the 1970s. More than four decades on, Lai's score still sounds like a masterclass in chic Gallic melancholy...
7"

Merci, etc: SingersSaints & People Mover.

2.2.10

MAX HEADROOM & THE VOICE OF VRILLON : Culture Jamming 1977-87



The Max Headroom Broadcast Interruption Incident was a renown hijacking of the prime time television signal in Chicago, Illinois. It's a thus-far unequalled instance of what is known in the t.v. industry as broadcast signal intrusion, or culture jamming in media activist circles. Taking place on the evening of 22 November 1987, the intruder was successful in interrupting 2 television stations within 3 hours, & neither the hijacker nor his accomplices were ever identified (though Devo & The Residents were presumably rounded up for questioning!). The disturbing thing about it is that it's so cryptic - the lack of any apparent meaning resulting in perplexed head-scratching for the unsuspecting viewer rather than anger & outrage. Fortunately, as the second interruption took place during an episode of Dr. Who ("The Horror Of Fang Rock" actually), plenty of people were recording at the time...

Additionally, this earlier English incident - though an audio-only intrusion & thereby nowhere near as spectacular - sounds pretty hilarious (or creepy, depending on your perspective) too. David Icke's a big fan of this one - surprised?