Monday 28 March 2011

Bill Nelson Live: 'Legends' DVD filming 26 03 11

Read 'em and weep....
Bill Nelson has always been an unlikely looking Guitar hero. In the days of Page and Blackmore, both of whom wore heavily customised silk kimonos, hand tooled cowboy boots and in Blackmore’s case, Oliver Cromwell’s hat, Nelson chose to dress like he was going to a wedding reception. Radiant in formal, 100% polyester attire, he would play melodic and expressive solos whilst his similarly dressed band played his ambitious music beautifully behind him. Nowadays, Mr. Nelson has the kindly demeanour of an eccentric geography lecturer or a landscape gardener, but he can still make that Guitar sound stellar. He also sports a unique combination of Pork Pie hat, woollen winter coat and leather trousers. He makes it look good tho’. 

Bill had assembled his current band - The Gentleman Rocketeers - for a very special gig last Saturday. As part of the ‘Legends’ series of DVDs, he was having his moment in the sun, although, the gig was considerably hotter. 125 people were squeezed into a TV studio which would have comfortably held 50, surrounded by cameras, lights and force fed alcohol. It was great fun. I have to stress how small the room was- the room and stage had the same footprint as Carl Palmers drum riser and every facial tic and bead of sweat was visible by everyone. The back of the room was also the front of the room.

Many thanks to Martin Bostock of the Bill Nelson
Forum for this fantastic live pic. More are available
on the site - the address is below

Bill came on to rapturous applause from a partisan crowd. It would have been oh so easy to sleepwalk through the hits and walk off, but he chose a fascinating selection of material, from the obvious to the obscure. And it was all bloody great. After four songs where he was backed by his trusty Revox (or 21st century equivalent), he was joined by Dave Sturt , Dave Standeven, Gavin Griffiths, Steve Cook, John Spence and Jon Wallinger and Memory Lane was strolled down big time. ‘The October Man’ led nicely into ‘Night Creatures’ – the glam-obsessed lyrics sounding positively quant in 2011. From there, we had a trolley dash through four decades of Nelson. You want ProgBill? Here’s ‘Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape’…PopBill? – ‘Do You Dream In Colour?’… GuitarHeroBill? Here’s ‘Sister Seagull’…NooWaveBill? – ‘Furniture Music’. You get the picture. All played with just the right amount of reverence. Of course he played ‘Ships In The Night’ and ‘Maid In Heaven’ – the latter twice as there were shenanigans in the vocal and guitar departments. All topped off with the depressingly au courant ‘Panic In The World’ – earlier that day, just a few miles from the stage, bits of London were under siege. 90 minutes passed like 10. He thanked us and we thanked him back. 

After the gig he was happy to answer monumentally trainspottery questions from the devoted (mine was so tragic, that even here – amongst fellow ubergeeks, I cannot bring myself to repeat it…) He seems to be a genuinely straight up bloke, which is refreshing. Often it’s a BIG MISTAKE to meet your heroes….

It was an unforgettable night. There'll be a drum-roll when my credit card bill hits the mat, but I don’t care. The DVD is out on May 23rd according to Amazon and it’s a must have for Nelsonites…and everyone else, for that matter. Attendees get a free one, so if it comes in advance, I’ll whizz a sample up here.

Bill Nelson – I salute you.

Thursday 24 March 2011

The Lemon Trees

Let me tell you about Ralph Dodger. As well as having a truly kickass name, he hosts a Blog called ‘Shoulda been huge’, where he talks eloquently and with passion about bands that ‘Shoulda been huge’ Neat eh? “Yeah, but what’s yer point?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s this – talk to any music fan and they will come up with at least one band who shoulda been huge. Talk to any Blog-toting, music-obsessed uber-nerd and they’ll come up with dozens. Here’s one of my dozens.

The Lemon Trees were a 1990s UK pop band consisting of Guy Chambers, twin brothers Paul Stacey and Jeremy Stacey, Alex Lewis and Paul Holman. The band formed in 1993 and recorded two albums, but the second was not released. They disbanded in 1995. (I just copied that from Wikipedia, can you tell?) I thought they were ace and tipped them for big things. This of course was the kiss of death (see Nyack and Belltower for proof). I saw them a few times, supporting bands like Jellyfish (oh my, what a gig) and others and they were always great. Tight playing, great songs, harmonies…they had the lot. Well, not everything – record sales evaded them and they sold about 20 records, unfortunately.

(Child Of Love)

I have no idea why they failed – maybe being a Psychedelic Pop band in the era of Nirvana was a bit of a drawback. When everyone was tearing holes in their jeans, The Lemon Trees were diligently polishing their Cuban Heels and Hofner basses and wondering where they’d put their love beads. They’ve left behind some great tunes tho’ – most of ‘em collected here. I’ve included their one and only album ‘Open Book’ and all the singles with non-album tracks I have. I am missing a few things, so if you’ve got anything that’s not here, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list. This was the era of the multiple format single, which meant that you had to hoover up a stack of different versions of the same song to get everything. What kind of loser does that? This kind of loser.  

I’d really urge you to check this band out. Anyone with a love of quality Pop-Rock with a 60s feel will love this stuff. There are echoes of tons of cool stuff in their music – Byrds, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ era XTC, Lilac Time, Diesel Park West….It’s ace, really.

Oh…and yeah, Guy Chambers went on to rescue the career of a certain Bob Williams, a former member of a former boyband or something…..

Thursday 17 March 2011

Alex Chilton

And there ain't no one gonna turn me 'round

We lost Alex Chilton a year ago today. We're still feeling it.

The world of Popular Music is littered with mavericks and misfits. Square pegs in round holes. Often, this contrariness is pose and posturing - a slightly more grown up version of ‘Mummy you're not watching me...'  Chilton was the real deal. 

My first exposure to his work (like yours too, I suspect) was during the mid-80's reappraisal of Big Star. His name was forever being dropped by the great and the good, so I finally gave in and traded in a couple of vintage Judas Priest concert programmes for the Big Beat records CD reissue of the first two Big Star albums. You know the rest. 

Those two albums, along with the dark, mythical third album, cast a shadow over the rest of his output. Bloodied by the poor sales of unarguably two of the greatest Rock albums of all time, his recordings became fragmented and scatter-shot. From an outsider’s point of view, he was being wilfully difficult and obtuse. Having got to know a little bit more about the man, he was actually just being Alex Chilton. 

The problem he faced was where could he possibly go following '#1 Record' and 'Radio City'? The pats on the back were killing him- but if you wanted to buy the records, the less than efficient distribution by an unsympathetic label, meant you had precious little chance of finding them in the shops. The frustration he felt manifested itself in alcoholism and idiosyncratic behaviour, resulting in some patchy albums, with the occasional diamond within.  He always seemed faintly bemused by the high regard that Big Star was held in - maybe he thought of those albums as 'juvenilia'. Maybe he associated them with failure. Maybe he preferred to play R&B songs. Maybe he was just being Alex Chilton. 


I got to see the later-day version of Big Star play in London a year before his death. I saw a man finally getting the rewards for a career like no other. A packed house cheered his every move - old songs and new songs alike. And quite right too, as without Chilton, dozens of our favourite bands (Teenage Fanclub, Replacements, Posies......) would sound a lot different. He wrote the PowerPop 'Louie Louie' in 'September Gurls' and set the bar for crafting a song so high that we're still reaching for it. 

Whether his best years were behind him is irrelevant. His legacy is enormous. As a role model...I'm not sure, but for attitude and bloody-mindedness, he's an example to everybody. 

If you haven't got '#1 Record' and 'Radio City', your record collection is incomplete. Rectify it. 

I've posted some odds and ends below, including a fantastic show from 1974. 

Everyone needs to play some Alex today. 

"I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song."

Go HERE to check out the progress of 'Nothing Can Hurt Me - the Big Star Story'

Saturday 12 March 2011

10CC: Live at The Tower Theater, Upper Darby, Philadelphia 05 12 75

You know when I said there where only a precious few recordings of the original 10CC line up? Well, I'm absolutely delighted to say that here's another one.

After reading my gushing prose about 10CC, the lovely ZED (a man who I have never met, but I am absolutely confident is a warm and wonderful human being) dropped me a line along the lines of, 'Oh, I've got a recording of the band from '75...wanna put it on the blog?"  After careful consideration of .01 of a microsecond, I replied in the affirmative.

I waited a week. A long week. It arrived. I played the two CDs...and it was good. It needed a bit of audio tweeking as one channel of the mono recording was noticeably quieter and hissier than the other, but considering it's 36 years old, and recorded on this:
...I don't think it's half bad. The set is very similar to the Santa Monica gig, but 'Une Nuit A Paris' is in the main set. There's a tape flip during 'I'm Not In Love' and there's a partial PA failure during 'Une Nuit...' - check out the rather bemused crowd... There's also a little confusion over the date - the ticket (thoughtfully included by the lovely Zed) says Dec 4th, but all the listings I've found say it was Dec 5th - go figure.

I've included a bit of fairly basic artwork. 

Here's a sample (I've given up on those MP3 players - I couldn't find one that didn't completely gum up the page, so here's a minimal movie, soundtracked by 'Silly Love')

In the grand scheme of things, an audience recording of a band whose hits were all in the 70's shouldn't be a big deal. But it is to me. And maybe to you. I am deeply and sincerely indebted to Zed for dusting off his Maxell Cassette, digitizing it and punting it to me. It's only fair and fitting that he should have the last word:
"I still feel like a little kid when I come across something cool like these 10cc recordings. I've collected records for as long as I was able to hold one. I've also played in bands going on forty years now, so music has pretty much been my life (or, as my bandmate Richard says, "It's our life sentence")."
Part 1
Part 2

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Belltower: Discography

The Belltower were another band (like Nyack), who I stumbled on while trawling through a batch of 'new releases' while working in a record shop. In amongst a pile of rather uninspiring Indie 'product' was the 'Exploration Day' EP by some obscure NY combo...What drew me to them was, firstly, the Terry Bickers production credit and the 'Paisley Underground-ness' of the whole thing - from the packaging to the fuzzed out drone rock of 'Outshine the sun' and beyond. Great hooky tunes sung brilliantly by Britta Phillips (surely the postergirl for the Shoegaze generation) with some ace Psych-Rock Guitar stuff happening behind it.

If you've heard of the band at all, it'll be for the Fountains of Wayne/Luna/Dean Wareham connections - all worthy, but this band deserve to be more than just a footnote. There seemed to be a whole slew of bands at that time (early/mid 90s) who were looking towards pop-psychedelia for inspiration (incl the brilliant Levitation, featuring the aforementioned Terry Bickers). Even Blur dabbled in it - how much does 'She's so high' sound like The Rain Parade? Sadly, very few managed sales which reached into double figures and it faded away, but we're left with some superb music.

(This is a rather odd video - there are a couple of promo vids on YouTube, but the sound quality is pants, so the next best thing is this. It seems to be for Japanese (?) TV and catches the band in their London flat making a rather unappetising looking meal of fried eggs. There are snippets of 'In hollow' and 'Outshine the sun' and some pleasant, if unrevealing interviews. I'm slightly confused by the accents, tho...)

As far as I know, this is the complete Belltower. They managed one LP - 'Popdropper', 3 EPs and a couple of singles. They're all included in the uploads. I had high hopes for this band, but I do have the uncanny knack of picking a loser (see Nyack...) To prove this point, I also walked out on The Stone Roses in a tiny club in Birmingham declaring them to be 24 hour wonders. About a million record sales later, I guess I was proved wrong.

I'd really urge you to take a chance on this stuff...what have you got to lose? If you're into Rain Parade, Opal, the noisier Mazzy Star stuff etc, this'll be right up your alley. Let me know what you think...

I'm indebted (as ever) to Wilfully Obscure and Forgotten Band Planet for much needed facts, figures and music.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Ding Dinge Dong...listen without prejudice

Everyone has a guilty pleasure…it could be bad food, trashy paperbacks, an unswerving devotion to a Canadian powertrio (no, not Triumph…or Mahogany Rush) or even needlepoint. Mine is guiltier than most, however. Mine is…(whisper it..) Eurovision. Not in that cheesy, kitsch, ‘It’s so bad it’s good’ way, but in a sad, musical critique way. I genuinely love it. Don’t hate me.

As any scholar of Eurovision will tell you, the heyday was the 70’s and the apex of the heyday was the mighty triumvirate which bestrode the middle of the decade like a mighty colossus*. 1974: Abba -‘Waterloo’, 1975: Teach In -‘Ding Dinge Dong’ and 1976, Brotherhood of Man ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’. Now THAT is a heady brew. Let’s turn our attention to 1975 shall we…

(There's a bit of a preamble - the good stuff starts at about a minute in) 

I have no idea who Teach-In are or were really. I’ve had a quick look at that catalogue of inaccuracy that is Wikipedia and it has just the bare bones of a story. But that’s OK as all good Eurotunes are really only designed to burn and shine for a moment. Apart from Abba.

Right, you’ve got this far without laughing too hard, lets analyse why ‘Ding Dinge Dong’ is a brilliant piece of Pop:
The melody. It burns its way into your brain and will never leave.
That lovely, simple Guitar lick that punctuates the tune.
The amazing harmonies…such close intervals.
And probably the greatest middle eight ever written.

Yep, the lyrics are complete and utter bobbins, but they’re no worse than ‘Come And Get It’ or ‘September Gurls’.

If this was recorded by The Cardigans, Saint Etienne or Belle and Sebastian (especially  Belle and Sebastian) we’d all be wetting ourselves over it’s ‘pure, unvarnished post modern Pop styling’ or something equally pseudo. But it was recorded by some happy looking Dutch guys and a charming young lady called Hilda.

Still got a problem with Eurovision? May I just gently direct you to the writer of the winning entry in 1997 for the UK?  ‘Love Shine A Light’ by Katrina And The Waves was written by a certain Kimberley Rew. Yeah…Kimberley Rew. The guy from the Soft Boys.

There are only two types of music: Music you like and music you don’t like. I really like ‘Ding Dinge Dong’. Give it a whirl. I dare you to leave me a comment.

*That’s one HELL of a sentence. Lester Bangs…pah!