30.1.13

OUR DAUGHTERS WEDDING : Lawnchairs 7" (Design/EMI America, 1980)

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Simply one of my favourite 7"s ever, purchased with 50p of own, hard won pocket money from Woolworth's' ex-chart bargain bin. Chances are you may already be familiar with it, though perhaps you've not heard it for a - gasp! - quarter of a century, or more? If not... better late than never, eh?

Originally from San Francisco, Our Daughters Wedding - no apostrophe - began making headway as a prototypical synth trio in New York in 1979, playing New York's legendary Hurrahs club alongside James Chance, Mi-Sex & anybody else they could scrounge a support slot with. "Lawnchairs" was their second single &, like the earlier "Nightlife" 7", was initially released on their own Design label in 1980. An instant U.S. college radio hit, & championed in the U.K. by both Smash Hits & Melody Maker, it was quickly picked up by EMI who commissioned a complete overhaul & re-released it themselves the following Summer. Though it only made #49 on the British charts, it became a massive dancefloor hit both here & in the States, eventually breaking into the Billboard run down & racking up a million+ sales along the way. It's not difficult to see why - loaded with hooks while retaining an aloof, experimental edge, "Lawnchairs" appealed to both the acutely commercial & burgeoning "alternative" music scenes of the period, without debasing it's self-reliant D.I.Y. origins. Crucially, the b-side ("Airline") was almost as good, & both songs remain high water marks in synthpop's convoluted lineage. By virtue of EMI's optimistic pressing run - their label was evidently anticipating a far higher chart placing - affordable, original copies are still relatively easy to track down. Incidentally, ODW were also early advocates of Casio's groundbreaking VL-1 keyboard, which endeared them to many enthusiastic amateur synth boffins (me included) at the time. Many a lonely hour was spent secreted in my pre-teen bedroom, tentatively tapping out Yazoo melodies thereupon with a single, hesitant finger.

Sadly, due either to pressure from their label or a paucity of interesting new ideas, ODW ran out of steam pretty quickly. The subsequent Digital Cowboy EP contained 4 decent enough synth-centric rock songs (5 overseas), but 1982's Moving Windows album was a patchy, compromised affair & EMI dropped them shortly afterwards. Their final release, the U.S.-only "Take Me"/"Machines" 12", didn't appear for another 2 years, by which time they'd come full circle & were back on Design.

The only ODW retrospective to date, 2006's exhaustive Nightlife CD, is already highly sought after, with an exorbitant price tag to match. Early copies were accompanied by an original Design pressing of the "Lawnchairs" 45, returned to them by EMI after their 1981 reissue was released, &"given to you from the band as a way to say thanks for the continued interest in the band". It's that original, superior version I'm posting here.

LINK REMOVED - Both sides of this single are now available c/o iTunes & Amazon Digital.

n.b. An earlier version of this post was published in June 2011.

24.1.13

NICE STRONG ARM : Reality Bath LP (Homestead, 1987)

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Nice Strong Arm's debut Reality Bath LP was one of my inaugural shares on this blog, originally posted way back in early 2009...

I can't remember how I originally acquired it, though the sleeve of my copy has a tell-tale, brutal corner nick, suggesting it was a promo copy that Selectadisc had dumped in their already crammed second hand racks. Of course, the late '80s was a boom time for off-centre guitar music, & if a record was cheap, released by Homestead Records, & generally looked a bit odd, I'd more than likely risk a few quid on it, secure in the knowledge I could offload it the following week if my cream remained unclotted. Reality Bath ticked all 3 boxes.

26 years on, I still know virtually nothing about Nice String Arm, merely that they were a shadowy trio of Austin origin (thereby continuing Texas' steadfast psychedelic lineage - from The Elevators & The Red Krayola, via The Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, & The Jesus Lizard, to latter day psychotropic explorers like The Black Angels, & Charalambides), & that Reality Bath's eye-catching Allen Burris sleeve art seemed to be everywhere when it first appeared. Presumably still flush from Sonic Youth's early success, Long Island's prolific Homestead Records issued it alongside a seemingly non-stop sequence of Live Skull, Volcano Suns, Phantom Tollbooth, & Death of Samantha albums - quickly cementing the "Homestead sound" (hint: there wasn't one). Despite being granted acres of column inches & advertising space by the more reliable underground music mags of the era (Forced Exposure, Chemical Imbalance, Your Flesh, Option, et al), Reality Bath was lost in the vinyl melée & quickly achieved a forlorn bargain bin omnipotence. Tellingly, I've never met anybody else who owns a copy, so I assume, despite it's bottom dollar "remaindered" status, virtually no-one bought it at the time...

Though they'd release a further 2 albums, neither equaled the often downright peculiar Reality Bath for bent-minded, quasi-grunge hallucinogenica. It's finest moments still remind me of Helios Creed's earliest solo records - a bedraggled, patchouli-reeking, backwoods Hendrix figure, staggering out of a drug-warped American south in oil-stained bells & a tatty Guru Guru t-shirt. It's never been granted a CD issue either (a 2-fer with 1988's Mind Furnace would've made complete sense) so, like many outstanding Homestead records of the period, it sadly slipped off radar some time ago.

19.1.13

ETON CROP : Gay Boys On The Battlefield EP (Bigger Bank Balance, 1983)

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Taking their name from a severe, slicked-down haircut favoured by England's educated gentry (& later adopted by singer / dancer Josephine Baker), Eton Crop formed in 1979 as an Undertones-inspired pop-punk band in Nieuwkoop, Holland. Anglophiles from the outset, their lyrics freqeuntly referenced British culture (New Conservatives, Bob Monkhouse, Bell Fruit tokens, et al), & mined similar sonic territory to The Fall, The Mekons, & early Gang of Four.

1983's "Gay Boys on the Battle Field" 12", their third single, was the last (& best) of their initial, post-punk influenced releases. Issued c/o their own, short-lived Bigger Bank Balance label, it was produced by Jon Langford, a founding member of both The Three Johns & The Mekons. Returning the favour, The Mekons occasionally performed this e.p.'s "Roger Troudman" live - as can be heard on Hits & Corruption's "all killer, no filler" Skin & Bone cassette from 1985 (a crucial document of a near-forgotten musical era). Somewhat inevitably, I first heard "Gay Boys on the Battlefield" on John Peel's show, & wasn't entirely sure what to make of it if I'm honest - I was still immersed in New Order's elemental strum und drang back then, so Eton Crop's comparatively light-hearted (though, thematically, no less morose) anti-war chant sounded very odd indeed, & was certainly a bit of an eye (& ear) opener. In common with many primary bands of the "proto-Shambling" period, Eton Crop's mid-'80s back catalogue has never been reissued, so if you want to own this intriguing trio of songs you'll have to fork out for an original copy of the 12" (don't panic, it's still affordable - I picked a copy up for under a tenner a couple of years ago). Peel was evidently very fond of them as they recorded five sessions for him in all.

Immediately hereafter, having spotted a potentially lucrative niche, Eton Crop evolved into a very British-sounding indie-pop band, virtually a Les Trois Jeans homage act in fact - writing catchy guitar-driven songs of a similar persuasion, commissioning Jon Langford sleeve art, & even borrowing their legendary drum machine (as did the nascent Sisters of Mercy & March Violets, of course). They'd also record a terrific cover of The Nightingales' "Paraffin Brain" at this juncture (they missed a trick by not releasing it as a single, I reckon), & tirelessly toured the U.K. a staggering seven times. Later still, they'd change direction again, recording a possibly ill-advised cover version of The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" (yikes) before pursuing a chart-friendly, dance-inspired sound. Predictably, therefore, it's their earlier, left of centre sound I'm most fond of. It's a shame they didn't complete an L.P. prior to their transformation, it would've been a minor classic, I suspect?

Finally, the customary completist's plea: if anybody can help me out with copies of their debut Timmy Barker is a Coward 7" (1980), or any of their experimental cassette releases, please get in touch.

17.1.13

NICO : 1st Peel Session - 2nd February 1971 (BBC recording)

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As requested, here's a re-up of Nico's indelibly haunting debut John Peel session, recorded live for Top Gear on 2nd February 1971, & broadcast a week or so later. Unusually, though I originally wrote about them than 3 years ago, these 4 imposing elegies are still not listed in the BBC's official sessions archive. Clive Selwood's much missed Strange Fruit released them briefly (on vinyl) in 1988, & Castle reissued them (on CD) in 1991, but both versions will set you back £20 nowadays. Sadly, only "Secret Side" has been included on Island's recent deluxe edition of The End, despite there being ample room to accommodate them all. Sound quality is A+, Ms Päffgen & her harmonium have rarely sounded better...

● NEW LINK: No one is there

14.1.13

MARS : Live NYC 1977-78 (Les Disques du Soleil et L'Acier, 1993).

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There has been a flurry of archival live Mars releases recently but, unless I'm mistaken, there's only minimal crossover with the material on Mars Live. Though it does utilise several of the same tapes that were sourced on Widowspeak's 1986 Mars '78 compilation, Mars Live fortunately dispenses with J.G. Thirwell's troubling "remastering" thereof. Instead, this selection was "reprocessed by Mark C., Enric Les Palua, & Gat in Barcelona, January 1993". Released later that year on France's Les Disques du Soleil et L'Acier, Mars Live was patchily distributed from the outset, & has been unavailable for many years.

The original recordings were made, on standard cassette, between October 1977 & August 1978 at Max's Kansas City, CBGBs, & Irving Plaza. According to a brief sleeve note, Mars played around 25 shows during that period without ever leaving Manhattan, their final performance taking place at Max's in December 1978. For me, the highlight herein is, without a doubt, the climactic 13+ minute rendition of "N. N. End", featuring additional guest dissonance from No Wave / free jazz guitarist Rudolph Grey. It's a visceral, pummelling juggernaut of a "song", a brutal vortex of disjointed, shattered glass discord that literally sounds like it's deconstructing itself in real time.

Mars obsessives will doubtless already be aware of Anióma's triple cassette box-set of previously unissued Mars odds & ends, curated by Mark Cunningham  himself. The first pressing sold out in a flash but I've been closely watching their website for news of a second.

● Fractions

13.1.13

ROBERT FRIPP : God Save The Queen (Under Heavy Manners) LP (EG, 1980) / Silent Night flexi (Praxis, 1979)

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I originally posted these 2 hard-to-find Robert Fripp releases way back in June/July 2010. Both proved to be particularly popular selections, but were deleted when Megaupload unexpectedly bought the farm. I've had a few requests to re-up both records so, with all due respect to the distinguished Mr. Fripp, here they are again.

In the same way that 1979's Exposure LP relates explicitly to his work with Peter Gabriel (on his 2nd, massively underrated, solo album) & Daryl Hall, so God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners correlates to Fripp's parallel, & wildly innovative, period of career defining experimentation with Bowie ("Heroes" / Scary Monsters & Super Creeps) & Talking Heads (Fear Of Music).

Released by EG in January 1980 - remarkably, just 6 months after Exposure - God Save The Queen is, as it's complete title implies, an album of 2 distinct halves. Instrumental throughout, excepting David Byrne's pseudonymous cameo (as Absalm El Habib) on "Under Heavy Manners", side 1 exclusively employs the spellbinding Frippertonics system as it's template, adapting it somewhat on side 2 for a process Fripp craftily labelled "discotronics", i.e. posthumously combining his treated guitar loops with a studio-based rhythm section. The bedrock material for the entire album was recorded live in concert in 1979, with Buster Jones & Paul Duskin (bass & drums respectively) adding their contributions later. Though he'd already established The League Of Gentlemen as a touring unit by this point, Fripp clearly intended the LP to be recognised as a solo project &, not wanting to suggest a thematic connection with Eno's collateral ambient work, the album's original title, Music For Sports, was substituted at the last minute.

Astonishingly, for an artist of Fripp's eminent stature, God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners has never been reissued (on CD or otherwise), so if you want to own it you'll need to scour eBay for an original copy.
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Fripp's elegant version of "Silent Night" - "Silent Night á la Frippertronics" to give it it's full title - was given away, as a red 6" Eva-Tone Soundsheet (i.e. flexidisc), with issue #3 of Chicago-based arts journal Praxis in December 1979. Fripp's label, EG Records, also used it as an aural Christmas card that year - a savvy bit of self-promotion perhaps, but also a beautiful gratis demonstration of the Frippertronics system's haunting melodic qualities. Subsequently, it was included on King Crimson's Sex Sleep Eat Drink E.P., a 1995 odds & sods collection that has been out of print for several years. That's the source I've used here, so it's free of the invasive polyvinyl surface noise that might otherwise have tarnished it's fragile, shimmering ambience.

(By rights, I probably ought to have re-posted this one last month, oh well...)

n.b. Those readers requiring further, in-depth elaboration upon Fripps's methodologies, may wish to spend 10 minutes perusing this ever-so-slightly mind-boggling contemporaneous interview.

● A Small Mobile Independent Intelligent Unit

UPDATE: These files have been deleted by Hotfile - presumably at Mr. Fripp's request - for a second time, so I suggest you head directly to Discogs & pick up an original copy of GSTQ on vinyl (the likelihood of it ever being officially reissued is looking increasingly slim).

12.1.13

WIRE : Peel session #4 - 24th April 1988 (BBC recording)

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Another Wire re-up: I've had a root 'round on the 'net &, surprisingly, I can't still find this session anywhere else. As details of this set haven't been listed on the BBC's Keeping It Peel resource, I'm assuming it's nothing like as well known as their initial run of late '70s evening show appearances? Frankly, I'm puzzled as to why that might be - Wire were signed to Mute (one of Europe's largest & most respected independent records labels), & were constantly featured in the European & American music press at the time, after all?

The reconvened "phase II" Wire only recorded this sole Peel session - on 24th April 1988 with celebrated glam rock curmudgeon Dale Griffin producing. It was the band's first Radio 1 commission since their infamous, largely improvised "Crazy About Love" outing from September 1979, after which they drifted apart to pursue all manner of unorthodox extra-curricular projects. As I've always found the A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck album's reliance on imposing electronic textures slightly stifling (though, in all fairness, it hasn't dated anywhere as badly as I expected it might), I much prefer this looser, guitar-centric version of "Boiling Boy" (long since established as a regular part of their live repertoire & an acknowledged Wire "classic"). "German Shepherds" originally appeared on the b-side of their "Silk Skin Paws" e.p. &, subsequently, on the I.B.T.A.B.A. live/remix album, but the BBC take is, in my opinion, the definitive version. Third/finally, a breakneck techno revision of the propulsive "Drill" - a mere 8½ minutes of it on this occasion, but still quite a ride. Incidentally, I've sourced this session from WMO's deleted 1997 Coatings compilation, so sound quality = A+.

11.1.13

LIAISONS DANGEREUSES : Live at The Hacienda

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One of the often overlooked pros of The Hacienda's forward-thinking approach to gig promotion was that, despite many of the gigs they promoted being notoriously under-subscribed, the venue had been expensively kitted out with state of the art video equipment &, at the end of the night, every band that played there was presented with a recording of that evening's show, for better or worse. Several of these tapes would be licensed for release the Factory Records-funded Ikon VHS label - notably Joy Division's inadvertently iconic Here Are The Young Men, & The Birthday Party's brutal Pleasureheads Must Burn! - though many of them were only ever produced in minuscule quantities (VCRs cost a bomb back then, after all, & a 30 minute pre-recorded cassette retailed for the equivalent of £100 nowadays).

One of my favourite bands of the 1981-82 era, Germany's E/B/M-innovators Liaisons Dangereuses, only released one Conny Plank-helmed L.P. during their brief lifetime though, fortunately, it's a bloody good one (never bettered, in fact). Following a single whirlwind tour of Europe, & hyped by the British music press as "the next big thing", they unceremoniously parted company - though nobody seems quite sure why. Fortunately, the Manchester date of said sojourn was taped for posterity, & was briefly issued by Ikon, quickly becoming a veritable Holy Grail for anybody with a serious interest in pioneering post-punk electronic sound, or in techno's murky genesis. Recorded on 7th July 1982, their Hacienda gig was (legendarily) so sparsely attended that, frequently, the only figure on the dancefloor was a flustered Stephen Morris, desperately rushing hither & thither in an attempt to discover where the anticipated crowd had melted away to. Incidentally, there's a copy of the original VHS for sale on Discogs at the moment, a steal at £160+.

Though a handful of extracts from Liaisons Dangereuses' Manchester performance have been viewable c/o Youtube for several years now, this is the first time that their Ikon tape has been uploaded anywhere in it's entirety. Three decades on, it remains a breath-taking, trailblazing performance that, tantalisingly, showcases many otherwise unavailable songs, suggesting that a second album may already have been gestating, thereby posing the inevitable query: do demos thereof exist?

9.1.13

WIRE : The Peel Sessions (BBC recordings 1978-79) (Strange Fruit, 1989)

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I originally posted Wire's Peel Sessions album a couple of years ago but, like so many other uploads of the period, it was unceremoniously laid to waste during last year's exasperating Megaupload brouhaha, & has remained off radar ever since.

What was so astonishing about Wire during the period these BBC recordings were made - i.e. terminal 1970s - was how incredibly fast they were evolving, certainly in relation to many of their trad-punk peers. Their January '78 debut, taped when Pink Flag was still only a couple of months old, suggested that they had already made significant progress towards formulating it's follow-up (& probable phase #1 masterpiece) Chairs Missing, & were eager to put their nascent Roxy-era recordings to one side. One song, an exercise in sneering discomfort titled "Culture Vultures", was lost during this transition & remains otherwise unavailable.

They seemed equally restless on their second appearance, which was broadcast just over six months later to promote Chairs Missing's release but which was composed exclusively of embryonic versions of songs that wouldn't officially see the light of day for a further 12 months, on their penultimate 154 album. On this second session, the "Punk Floyd" aspects that would ultimately be ridiculed by the narrower minded factions of the British music press had yet to be explored & incorporated, & Wire's operandi remained noticeably more minimalist & propulsive than on 154, though just as thought provoking - a view from the other window, perhaps?

The 3rd & final set here, comprised solely of the notorious "Crazy About Love", was recorded in September '79 - the same month that 154 finally emerged, though it bore little relation to the stately progressive electronic post-punk structures established thereon. 17 minutes long & totally improvised (opening line: "A group of flies make a sludge denial while fiddling the weights"), it set the coordinates for their suicidally experimental post-EMI/Harvest period, catalogued in grisly detail on Rough Trade's disobliging Document & Eyewitness collection. Due to popular demand (it says 'ere), "Crazy About Love" briefly appeared as a standalone 12", coupled with a wickedly bellicose reworking of "Our Swimmer" & some playfully enigmatic Dome-like odding & sodding. I've no idea if people were still buying Wire records in significant quantities by that point but, in retrospect, "Crazy About Love" was a bold move, if rather demanding of an audience already shell-shocked by D&E's frequently baffling Dadaist gestures.

Strange Fruit released these 3 benchmark sessions on vinyl & compact disc in 1989, & again in 1996, but both editions have since become relatively scarce.

n.b. Click here for a rather fine selection of phase #1 vintage Wire photographs, c/o Eugene Merinov.