Saturday 18 June 2011

Happy Birthday Paul

If this was the only song he'd ever written, he'd still belong in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
One of the greatest love songs of the last century. Apparently, McCartney was too self conscious to call it 'Baby, I'm Amazed', but I like the enigma of the title he went for. My favourite Macca song from my favourite Macca album. Wouldn't it be great if he had just one of these left in him?

Paul has made a few bad choices in his life. Linda was not one of them.

Happy Birthday. 

Thursday 9 June 2011

Grant Hart: Ecce Homo

We British love the Underdog. While our American cousins hold success as the ultimate prize, we Brits love the idea of a ‘tryer’. Grant Hart is a tryer. And a succeeder.  

He’s always been in the shadow of his Husker Du bandmate Bob Mould, primarily for the crime of not making records that sound like HD. His albums are always fascinating – grab bags full of different styles, moods and textures. Literary references rub up against feral Rock and Roll all topped off by his trademark voice. Oh man, that voice… His live shows are incredible with Grant dipping back into his enviable back catalogue and trotting out new classics with ease. His short lived band project ‘Nova Mob’ were an electrifying exercise in minimal, aggressive Alt Rock. I’ll be posting a live recording or two from them as the weeks progress. Meanwhile, enjoy this – the inexplicably deleted solo live CD ‘Ecce Homo’.

This is just Hart and an acoustic guitar…and 14 magical songs. It’s great to hear them in this format as you can actually ‘hear’ them – stripped of the raging guitars and drums, the tunes take on a new life – simple but beautiful. He’s a ‘strummer’ so if you’re looking for Nick Drake style fluid arrpegiation, look elsewhere. But if you want passion and energy, here ya go.

What a life he has had – a lot of it informs his writing, including the superb ‘2541’. That has to be one of the saddest songs ever written. The line ‘And it will probably not be the last time I have to be out by the first’ gets me every time. It’s featured here along with its original ‘B’ side ‘Come Come’.

The fact that Grant isn’t a major star makes me sad, but I guess his ‘cult’ status means he can stay under the radar and continue to make idiosyncratic music exactly to his specifications. That is, when he’s not creating 2D art or fixing up his beloved Studebaker.

(In a fit of egomania, I’ve posted some posters I was asked to design for a couple of his shows in the US. These weren’t the ones that eventually got used as they were a bit too ‘off topic’, but I prefer them to the finished product. Oh the tortured artist…)

(Actually, the Studebaker design got used as Grant really liked the car...)

Monday 6 June 2011

Like Punk never happened...

Ok, it’s like this.

When I was 17, it was a very good year (© F. A. Sinatra). It was a very good year for AOR. In fact, the only thing I have in common with Kurt Cobain is the fact that our favourite album of 1980 was ‘Departure’ by Journey. Goddamn that guy, he was always ripping me off…. Yeah I was a teenage AOR nerd. I loved it all, from the big (REO, Loverboy) to the small (Coney Hatch, Kim Mitchell). I paid a lot of money for US import LPs by bands no-one outside of Tinygulch Arkansas had ever heard of. And I loved them all. Don’t get sniffy with me Mr RockSnob, I wore my animal print, cap sleeve T Shirt with pride and Je ne regrette rien. And then along came The Smiths and, in particular, REM and my little world went topsy turvy. Occasionally, in an unguarded moment, I would confess to my former sins and accept the howls of derision from my learned muso mates. It used to hurt. It doesn’t anymore.

Tons of albums by leather-trousered, pointy guitar toting Rock’n’Rollers were sold to pay the rent in my darker days. Some I don’t miss. Some I bought again, on CD, when no one was looking.

When I saw that lineup at the top of the page boys and girls, there was no way I could not go. The 17 year old Rushbo that lingers within just would not let me walk away. So I went.

The result - Here are two words I haven’t uttered since 1983: ‘STYX RULE!’

This is STYX - don't pretend you don't recognise them...
(one of these men is wearing off-white cuban heels)
Say what you like about this genre of music (and I am braced for the brickbats in the comments section…in fact, I’ve started you off), last night at the LG Arena, I was E.N.T.E.R.T.A.I.N.E.D. The best performances were tight, concise, beautifully played and full of energy. Men of a certain age (some with suspiciously luxurious hair) racing around a huge stage and working a crowd up from polite to uproarious in about 35 minutes. Contrast this with the last time I saw REM at the same venue a few years back when it was all I co do to stop myself from playing solitaire on my ‘phone. Yeah, it was cheesy, but the Styx demographic DEMANDS cheese. And bombast. And audience participation. And loads of other stuff that readers of Mojo Magazine would find offensive. I grinned like an idiot throughout a mini ‘greatest hits’ set with NO filler, NO extraneous noodly crap and NO pretentions whatsoever. Pantomime? Hell yeah…but who doesn’t love Pantomime?

(Foreigner were decent when they played the songs without pulling them out into Black Crowesy workouts. ‘Cold As Ice’ was fab. Journey played great, but were WAY TOO LOUD. And I say that not as a 47 year old geezer, but a bloke who has been to about 1000 concerts. They were still ace, tho…)

At the risk of repeating myself (!), there are two sorts of music: Music you like and Music you don’t like. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are way too subjective. To illustrate my point, here’s a true story:
A guy comes into my record shop and pre-orders a CD. Not a new one – a cheap re-issue. He’s super-excited. On the day of its release, he’s outside the store when I arrive, almost hyperventilating with excitement. I open up and dutifully trudge to the back of the store (slightly peeved that this guy has delayed my morning coffee by 10 minutes) to retrieve his disc. He rips off the cellophane. His hands are trembling. And then he bursts into tears. Unselfconsciously, a grown man is so happy to purchase this music that he is weeping in front of a sales assistant. Being an Englishman, I have NO CLUE what to do in this situation, so I go to the other end of the counter and avoid eye contact while he gets it out of his system. Eventually (10-15 minutes later) he is composed enough to pay me and leave.

The music that reduced him to tears was... 

‘The Very Best of a Flock of Seagulls’.

…A Flock of Seagulls. Jeez.

I have sold thousands of releases by ‘Good’ artists - everyone from Nick Drake to Radiohead, from Bach to Coltrane, but the only person who ever wept for joy on purchasing a recording was the guy who bought ‘The Very Best of a Flock of Seagulls’. I dare you to tell him he's wrong.

So what’s my point? Guilty pleasures are OK? Don’t be ashamed of liking what you like, whatever it is? Sometimes, cheeseburgers taste nicer than Pate De Foie Gras? I don’t know. But I know one thing:


(For Pete Lutwyche...'I love you man!')

Saturday 4 June 2011

Levitation: Reading University 26 02 92

Levitation were a great live band and here's the proof. This is a dub of a limited edition FanClub cassette - only 800 were made, fact fans. There's a nice, everso slightly unhinged vibe to the whole performance, which I like a lot. And the drumming....oh the drumming. Stand up and take a bow, David Francolini.

Great Rock Entrances of the 90's Part 1. I only got to see the band once, supporting All About Eve* at a dreadful venue called the Aston Villa Leisure Centre - basically, an enormous galvanised bucket with a burger stand. Levitation (minus maestro Terry Bickers) took the stage and started plugging away in that swirly, nouveau-psychedelic manner of theirs. After about a minute of this, Terry B comes HURTLING from stage left, Guitar in hand, heading for the mic. His progress was hindered slightly by an unidentified obstacle on the stage, which he either hit, or swerved around (it was hard to tell, he was moving so fast...seriously). This caused the errant Guitarslinger to make a wide arc around the stage, his body at a 45 degree angle,  still moving at light speed. Amazingly, he was able to bring himself to a halt in front of his mic at exactly the right moment for him to start singing. He didn't miss a beat and made out like the whole thing was intended. Terry Bickers: Mr Showbiz.   

(* Long time readers will remember that I saw those other BPFE faves Kinky Machine scaring the life out of All About Eve fans. Just when they'd recovered enough to apply some fresh eyeliner and read a bit more Gormenghast, along come another bunch of ruffians. And I didn't stalk AAA, by the way, although I did have a bit of a crush on Julianne Regan)

Levitation: Reading University 26 02 92

World Around   
Pieces Of Mary   
Paid In Kind

Thursday 2 June 2011

Kinky Machine: 1st Album, Bent, EP Tracks

Funny old business, this Pop lark. You can be in the right place, have all the tunes, have a commercial look and still not make a crust. All you can do is watch a whole slew of non-entities shoot up the greasy pole, while you skulk in the doldrums with just a support slot with Sleeper at JBs in Dudley to keep you from going back to Pizza delivery. Ladeez and genlemen, welcome to Cultsville – population: Kinky Machine.

Formed in London in 1991, Kinky Machine seemed to be doing everything right. Fronted by future Rialto (nearly) star Louis Eliot, they signed to indie label Lemon and released the frankly awesome ‘Going Out With God’ which manages to sound as good as its title. They gigged like crazy gigging things and ended up on Oxygen – a boutique label under the not inconsiderable wing of MCA. More top drawer releases followed – ‘Shockaholic’, ‘10 Second Bionic Man’ (is this the only Pop single written about the perils of premature ejaculation?) and two albums stuffed full of the good stuff. All around them, lots of bands seemed to be ploughing the same Glammy-Kinksy-UKcentric furrow, but not as well. The difference was that these pale photocopies of the originals were drinking champagne with Alex James whilst the Kinkys were drinking warm Carling from someone else’s backstage rider. I have to point out to you kids that it was Britpop time and for every one worthy band there were ten Menswears just waiting to be on the cover of the NME.


In spite of being head and shoulders above their contemporaries, the Mott-The-Hoople stylings of KM failed to set the charts alight. They kept on gigging and I saw them by accident in ‘93 - supporting a clearly terrified All About Eve in Birmingham. As much as I loved everyone’s favourite Goth-Folksters. the Kinkys tore them to pieces like a playful mixture of the Buzzcocks and Hanoi Rocks. Oxygen let them go in 1994 and a year later they released their sole release on East West – the beautiful ‘London Crawling’. In spite of it being the best song Eliot wrote for the band, it sold poorly and Eliot and Guitarist Johnny Bull went off to form the slightly more successful (but not quite as good IMHO) Rialto. Kinky Machine remain a footnote in the last great movement in UK Pop.

'London Crawling'

I don’t know what’s not to like about KM. Maybe it’s a bit ‘London’, a bit too sneery…I’m clutching at straws here. These tunes are diamond hard Pop classics – and the band – oh my. Johnny Bull is a genius guitarist, the rhythm section was tough but supple and Eliot was a great frontman and superlative songwriter. They must have been sleeping with the wrong people.

As far as I know this is everything they ever recorded. The 90s was a boom time for multiple formats, so if something sneaked through on a coloured vinyl 12”, cassette single or limited edition wax cylinder, it ain’t here. This is all the stuff from the CD singles and both their albums. Almost every cut radiates class, whistleable tunes, great words and big fun tunes.

'Lounge Dummy' Live

Now, explain to me again why this band weren’t massive?

Kinky Machine


EP Tracks

Silver Sun: Xanadu

I'm sorry hipsters, but I just CANNOT resist posting this.

I love Rush in a very real and a very actual way. The years I spent apart from them (denying my dubious Metal/Pop/Prog past whilst hanging out with the cool kids and listening to Elvis Costello) I see as my 'wasted years' and I am truly, truly sorry. There are maybe three songs in the entire history of recorded music which are better than 'Closer To The Heart'...maybe four...or possibly two. I saw them at my local EnormoDome a few days back and they were, in a word, In-fugging-credible. And very self deprecating and self aware. That cannot be said of many bands, especially in whatever genre Rush inhabit these days.

But back to's a wonderful thing when two worlds meet. This recording is a wonderful thing. In one world we have the young and lovely SilverSun, bristling with Beach Boys harmonies and PowerPop the other world - Rush. Prog Rock princelings, wearing their Kimonos with pride. These disparate worlds shake hands, hug in a manly but affectionate way and 'Xanadu' is born - 11 minutes of literary influenced Prog Rock fuzzed up, coated in some delicious harmonies, squeezed into just under four fun filled minutes and chucked out as a bonus track on a CD single where the lead track was a Johhny Mathis cover. As our American cousins might say...'Go Figure?'

My hat is off to everyone concerned with this tune. A PowerPop tribute to Rush would be a fine, fine thing. can you imagine The Posies covering 'Spirit of Radio'? Teenage Fanclub covering 'Fly By Night'? ...I'm giddy with excitement.

Seriously, this is a great example of how to approach a cover - a genuine enthusiasm for the song, a little reverence and a lot of fun.