Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Alternate Learning EP

…Mr Scott Miller, kindly avert your gaze…

When was the last time you looked at your secondary school (that’s High School to our American chums) photographs? They make you wince, don’t they? The hair…The trousers…The meaningful expression you’re desperately trying to carry off... To you, it’s deeply embarrassing - to other people it’s cute…charming even. A hint of promise  lurking behind the posturing. Welcome to the debut release by Alternate Learning.

The packaging looks absolutely sumptuous. Sadly, I’ve never seen one in the flesh, but some kind soul has uploaded a beautiful photograph on the ever-wonderful Game Theory/Loud Family Facebook page. It looks like a low budget ‘Armed Forces’ with loads of fascinating flapdoodles and stuff. And the music..? well, there’s four tunes here ranging from a neat little power-popper (‘When She’s Alone’) herky jerky Noo Wave (‘Green Card’) a smidge of Punk Rock (‘What’s The Matter?’) and, erm…’Gumbys In A Coma’. Was it really 1979? An album – ‘Painted Windows’ – emerged two years later which you can find here and the rest of the story you know.

Like most artists, SM looks back on his (really) early past with some disdain, but there’s really nothing to be ashamed of here. In fact, ‘When She’s Alone’ could have been on any Game Theory/Loud Family release right up to the millennium. Possibly without the slightly over ambitious drum break, tho…

The bottom line is, you’re a Scott Miller completist aren’t you? You haven’t got this, have you? Therefore, you’ll download it and, you know what – it ain’t half bad.

Now stop looking at your yearbook photograph and hit the button.

(I’m indebted to my old sparring partner Oxy for miraculously pulling this out of the air…gawdblessya!)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Take a picture here, take a souvenir

It was a Tuesday morning. Sometime in April, I think. I'd just joined a band - a band who worshipped at the altar of another, not quite famous band. In an attempt to keep up and show a bit of willingness, I'd purchased one of the not quite famous bands records...just for research purposes and to see if there were any Basslines I could steal. I picked the cheapest one, not wishing to throw money away on a dud. I played it once and it sounded alright...a bit low key and sadly lacking in the shredding Guitar solos that I loved so much. The cover was a bit murky too... some sort of bridge thing covered in weeds and pictures of four freshly scrubbed college students. "Don't these jerks know anything about packaging?" I thought as I looked longingly at David Lee Roth arching backwards on the rear cover of the first Van Halen album. I played it again. It sounded...better. What was the singer going on about? Nice Bass lines...good harmonies too. I put the headphones down and went to sleep. The next morning - Tuesday morning - I awoke and before breakfast, before brushing my teeth, before getting dressed I had to do one thing -play that record again. I've played it no less than once a fortnight since April 1986. I'm playing it now and it still sounds like nothing else.

'Murmur' changed my life. How fucking Hollywood is that? But it did - at a stroke, the REO Speedwagon and Sammy Hagar records scattered around my bedroom looked vaguely ridiculous. I couldn't bear to look at them after a while and those 'Pre REM' LPs that didn't get binned were placed on a high shelf...REM was all I needed now. I sought out everything by them- every record they mentioned in inteviews, every record that sounded like them, every record by bands which came from  where they came from. It was all so vital and thrilling and new... like drinking spring water after a lifetime of no-brand diet Cola.

They could do no wrong. They said they'd never mime in videos and they didn't (until MUCH later). They said Big Star were great and they were. Their live shows were chaotic, passionate and ever-changing. When they played 'Radio Free Europe' at the Hammersmith Odeon on September 12th 1987, I leaped out of my chair so hard I cut my shin.

Mike Mills became my hero. I ripped off his playing so much, I considered sending him a royalty cheque.

REM were my gateway into a new world and a new way of thinking...from music to dress sense to politics to Greenpeace to almost everything.

And now, they've split. I'm happy and sad at the same time. Happy that they aren't grinding on making patchy records that sound like other people, but sad that they aren't -well - a presence, I guess. A fixed point of reference. I'd have liked to have seen them once more, knowing it was the last time I was over going to hear some of those songs that altered the course of my life. The last time I saw them at some cattleshed sized venue in the UK, I was so bored I could barely concentrate...until I heard an echo of the music that made me wake up - just for a moment.

They've won countless awards and sold equally countless records. That doesn't matter. My story is not unique...I've met so many people in bands who started playing when they heard 'Murmur' or 'Reckoning' or any of those dazzling 80s albums. They inspired people. Me included. I'll miss them.

I'll miss them like I miss being 5 years old.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Love Letter to Scott Miller

Scott Miller is one of the finest writers of Popular Music the USA has ever produced. That should be beyond question. In a body of work which stretches back to 1981 he has consistently produced music of outstanding quality and invention. It’s a body of work to rival any major artist. Sadly, the vast majority of it has gone unsung with a huge part of it currently being unavailable. Sad, sad, sad.

He wrote to me once. Really. I sent an email to the ‘Ask Scott’ section of the Loud Family website – for the uninitiated, the concept was simple – you ask SM a question and you got an answer, which could be more than you bargained for. Often, straightforward questions about lyrics were answered by lengthy and learned treatises on Joyce and Pynchon. It was all essential stuff. My question was banal by comparison…as I was off to California with my new wife on our honeymoon, I just wanted to know if he knew any cool places to go and see, being a West Coast native.  I received no reply at first, which I shrugged off; after all, if someone asks you a question about some of the greatest authors of the twentieth century and at the same time, someone asks you where to go for decent indie CDs, which one are you going to answer first? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, after a few months, some unsolicited mail popped into my inbox from the Great Man himself, apologising for the lateness of the reply, saying that my initial post had slipped down a crack in his ISP. He wished me well, said hi to my wife and also broke the news to me that Will Glenn of the Rain Parade had passed away. I replied, thanked him profusely, congratulated him on a great album (Attractive Nuisance) and promptly deleted his previous email and erased his address. Why? The thought of having a hotline to his personal PC was too much to bear – the temptation to fire off some unsolicited fawning would have been too great. Trust me, its better this way.

Mitch Easter once said that all Scott Millers tunes have ‘overtures’, and I can see what he means. From the lovely arpeggiated ripple that opens ‘24’ to the cut ‘n’ paste samplefest that makes up the intro to ‘He do the police in different voices’, you can never tell what the rest of the song is going to be like after listening to the first 8 or 16 bars. Chord progressions twist and turn and fold back on themselves while the lyrics are both fascinating and unfathomable simultaneously. The scope is always cinematic, belying the fact that the records were often made with little or no budget. The attention to detail is incredible. It’s as if Brian Wilson had turned his attention from The Beach Boys and started working with Utopia.

Aimee Mann is a huge fan. Quite right too.

He made the College Rock ‘White Album’ with the majestic, sprawling ‘Lolita Nation’. He then followed it up with the Alt Rock 'Abbey Rd' in ‘Two Steps From The Middle Ages’. And at the peak of his game, he walked away and started again with a new band, which turned out to be even better than the one before. Seriously, what is not to love about that? Oh yeah, he also managed to make a live album which wasn’t just some contract filling, holding pattern, easy money, no brainer,  “What shall we do while the Guitarist is in rehab?”, waste of Polyvinyl Chloride that most of the genre are. ‘From Ritual To Romance’ works as a great intro to The Loud Family, a tip of the hat to some cool influences and a great ensemble performance. If there was any justice, it would have sold more copies than ‘Frampton Comes Alive’.

Scott’s last release was five years ago. It was great. Sadly, the lure of the day job has meant he’s turned away from Music and now supports his family doing something really clever with computers (I think…) And being a family man with a (less than stellar) musical past behind him, I can empathise and applaud the accuracy of his priorities. The selfish part of me still wishes he’d grab that Telecaster, fire up that solid state amp and bang out an albums worth of little symphonies for the kids.

Jeez, don’t I drone on? Here’s the point of all this scree…some Game Theory live recordings. My plan is to upload these over a month or two, in the same way as I did the Rain Parade/Be Bop Deluxe stuff. My thanks, as ever, go to the original uploaders of all this stuff and I hope I’m not treading on anyone’s toes by posting it here. This one is the earliest recording I have – October 1984 – and is from the delightfully named Fat Fonzies in Sacramento. It’s a decent audience recording…and check out the track listing – rarities abound.

Seriously, does this guy have to die to achieve the recognition he deserves?

...and if anyone has the mythical 'Lolita Nation' demos, can they pleasepleaseplease point them at me...a sizeable donation to the charity of your choice awaits...

(I’m indebted to the lovely Oxy for jogging my memory about a promise I made months ago to post some more Scott Miller stuff. )

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Big Plans is 100!

Hey hey! Hang out the streamers and all that Jazz - this is post #100!

Yep, 'Big Plans...' started in early Jan this year and is still going strong. I know some Blogs can knock out 100 posts in a month or two, but the wheels grind slightly slower here at BPFE towers. For me, it's a bit of a milestone for many reasons....

- I'm a great 'starter' - ie I'm full of enthusiasm for a brief moment and then another shiny object catches my eye and I'm off again, so to keep this up for nearly nine months is MASSIVE for me.

- I've corresponded with so many cool people over the year - a big HI! to Don V and the ASH types, Adelle, Ralph D, Sal at Burning Wood...the list goes on. Stout fellows all.

- I've been turned on to a bunch of great music (and a TON of stuff by my fave bands that I didn't know existed). Thank Jeebus for Broadband and MegaUploads reasonable subscription rates.  

There are no words to describe how much
I want that Bass...I already have the trousers...
- I've found out that there are at least 10 people who like Hugo Largo. Who knew?

- I've had a (semi) legitimate excuse to write cack about music on a regular basis and have a bunch of people read it and..ulp...enjoy it. Ta everso.

Right, before I get all 'group hug-gy' about this whole thing, lets get to the meat of this post. As a treat for your persistence, here's a mother-lovin' ultra gem of a post. Yep, it's demos, rough mixes and out-takes from Let's Active's magnificent 'Big Plans For Everybody' sessions. It couldn't really be anything else, could it? Decent sound quality, amazing tunes and your chance to play 'spot the difference' with the finished version, which I assume is on heavy rotation on your HiFi, right? It had better be.

('Writing The Book Of Last Pages' from OGWT 1986)

(Side note - I think I pulled this off Dimeadozen back in the day, but I see that the magnificent 'Wilfully Obscure' blog posted this stuff last year, too. Another thing I've learned is that whatever I want to post or write about, WO have done it first, better and with more grammatical accuracy than I could ever hope to do. Damn you!! - only joking, I love you guys...)

You don't need me to tell you that Mitch Easter is God, now, do you?

Thanks for the century Big Planners - you've made a sad old Music geek feel like he has a purpose.

Love, Light and Peace,


Shameless Plug Time...

By now, all you BPFE-ers will know that I'm a man of impeccable taste and discernment (cough)....a man who knows a good thing when he hears it. He may like dodgy AOR every now and then, but he knows his NEU! and his Todd and all that cool stuff that Mojo readers hold dear. Well, here's something you really should check out...

Regular readers will remember, in 'Rushbo's Guide #1', the story of my first rehearsal. Well, the man responsible for me being there - the lovely Darrall Knight (best Rock and Roll name EVER!) has finally got his act together and has begun to upload some of his many and various uber-cool projects. If you're a fan of bands like The Church, House of Love, Japan, you know, that sort of thing, well you owe it to yourself to check him out.

Here's a handy link: SONG OF SONGS

The first two tunes are from an album called 'Apex Creatures' which really needs to get out to a wider audience as it's superb. Intelligent, lyrical guitar based wonderment. Have I ever steered you wrong, gentle reader...?

Stop reading this immediately and check him out - and tell him Rushbo sent ya!