XTC – “I Can’t Own Her”

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Pete Roe (Birmingham 29/9/09)

Also supporting Mumford and Sons at the Glee Club last night was singer/songwriter  Pete Roe – he’s bloody good as well. He even reminded me a little bit of my all time hero – John Martyn.

Take a look…..

Mumford and Sons (Birmingham 29/9/09)

Excellent gig at the Glee Club, Birmingham last night; and even better value for money, ticket prices were only £6.00. Bloody good considering we got to see the wonderful Mumford and Sons as well as two support acts.

Throw in a great, up for it Birmingham crowd and a wonderful night was had by all – the band obviously really enjoyed it as well judging by the banter coming from the stage.

If you get the  chance to see them in the near future, DO IT!! Failing that, their debut album is released next Monday, (5/10/09), by Island Records…..

While we’re at it, you should also take a look one of the support acts from last night, Sons of Noel and Adrian.

Maybe So, Maybe No

I first heard Mayer Hawthorne earlier this summer, and to be honest, I was totally blown away. I wasn’t sure if what I was listening to was a cover version, or even an old track from the early 1970’s. What I didn’t know at the time was that Mayer Hawthorne was in fact a multi-instrumentalist coming out of Detroit, and based very much in the here and now….

So, here is the video for ‘Maybe So, Maybe No’ – one of my tracks of 2009.

The song is taken from the album ‘A Strange Arrangement’ – out now on Stones Throw Records .

True Magic

PetSoundsCoverDo you believe in magic? I don’t mean in the dodgy, end of the pier routine type of way –  but in real magic; when something happens, or you hear something that is so special that you can’t quite believe that it is for real… Pet Sounds was recorded during 1965 and 1966. It is the bands most creative piece of work, and is often referred to as the best album ever recorded. In short: a work of genius.

Let me make one thing clear before I continue: I absolutely LOVE this album, and have done for probably the last twenty five years or so of my life. For me, this album perfectly encapsulates every human emotion possible: love, hope, happiness, jealousy, wanderlust, redemption, sorrow –  and then some…………..

The album starts off full of hope for the future with ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’, and ends with ‘Caroline No’ – a song yearning for the past, and lamenting on how a girl whom he once loved has changed so much over the intervening years. In between, pure magic awaits.

First things first: Is this really a Beach Boys album? Brian Wilson, the bands leader and creative lynchpin stopped touring with the band in 1964/5 due to nervous exhaustion. He decided to concentrate on song writing and bringing the songs to life in the studio. Apart from the vocals, the rest of the band did not play on Pet Sounds; the instrumental tracks were painstakingly put together by Wilson along with a team of LA’s finest session musicians, (apart from some Carl Wilson guitar work). Each track has such depth, and so many layers; you can only imagine the time spent putting this all together.Wilson also sings lead vocals on most of the albums tracks.

Wilson was unique in the way he would use different instruments; all playing the same melody line to create a whole new sound. For example he would take a guitar and organ and fuse the two sounds together to create something new. Phil Spector, (a massive hero of Wilson’s), had worked in the same way to create his then famous, ‘Wall of Sound’ recording style. In those days, artists would only have had four or eight tracks at most to record on; musicians therefore had to be so much more creative with regards to what went down on tape. It’s also amazing to think that albums like Revolver and Sgt Peppers by The Beatles were also recorded on four track recording machines. Wilson continued to add different elements to the recordings, using instruments such as the bass harmonica that you can hear throughout the album; as well as multiple layers of strings and percussion. As a result it can sometimes be hard to tell what instruments are playing the lead melody lines.

Several members of the band were dismayed and sceptical about what Wilson was trying to achieve; they felt that it was a huge commercial risk to move away from the traditional Beach Boys sound, and in some ways this turned out to be true especially in the USA.

However, work continued. Wilson was heavily influenced by The Beatles ‘Rubber Soul’ album that had been released that year. His aim was to artistically top that album by producing what he described would be a teenage symphony to God. I’ve already mentioned two key tracks on this album; the ones in between are of equal or greater importance. I have several favourites on this album, songs that have meant a lot to me over the years, during different times and situations. Music, when at its most magical, should soundtrack experiences and periods of your life.

I have listened to Pet Sounds during happy times, sad times and times of great loss. It has sound tracked the beginning, and end of several relationships and the loss of certain people who were very close to me.It is an incredibly emotional album and also one of great beauty.  Songs like ‘God Only Knows’ or ‘Don’t Talk, (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)’, could melt the hardest hearts; and I for one should know……

The album was finally released in 1966. Commercially it bombed in the USA; apart from the lead track, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, there were no other obvious Beach Boys sounding singles, (‘Caroline No’ was released as solo Brian Wilson single). The rest of the band had assumed that ‘Good Vibrations’ would be included on the album, and be released as a single prior to the albums release. Wilson refused to release the track and spent a further six months working on the song). However it other parts of the world this was not the case. Thanks to pre-release reviews the album was a massive success in the UK; the manager of the Rolling Stones at that time, Andrew Oldham, even took out full page adds in the music press telling people to go out and buy the album a wonderful gesture, considering that he had no financial interest in the record – he just wanted people to listen to it. Paul McCartney has described it as the best album ever released.

There’s a lot more to say with regards to what happened after this; not least the recording and non-release of the famous ‘Smile’ album. This left Wilson in a fragile state; and coupled with his increasing drug use, he started to withdraw from his position as the Beach Boys creative force. His two brothers, Dennis and Carl began to come more to the forefront; with Carl becoming in effect the de-facto leader of the group; not only on stage, but also in the studio. Sales wise, the group suffered throughout the remainder of the 1960’s in the USA. The group seemed to lose its way, and didn’t fit in with the late 60’s acid culture that had sprung up around them. However, in the middle of this the band produced some of their best work; albums such as ‘Friends’, ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Surfs Up’, contain some of the best Beach Boys songs. Brian Wilson’s contribution during this period was minimal; however, you only have to listen to ’til I die from ‘Surfs Up’ in 1971 to hear what a tortured genius he was. The song is probably the most heartbreaking and pleading song the band ever recorded. Wilson recorded it mainly on his own, as a few members of the group had refused to include it on the album due to the desolate nature of the lyrics. In the end it was included following various discussions – thank God it was, as it remains my favourite Brian Wilson track to this day.

If you’ve never heard this album, I urge you to do so. You may have a clear idea in your head as to what the Beach Boys sound involves – please leave that to one side. Anyone interested in music should own a copy of this record. It might well pass you by the first time you listen to it; however at some point you will come back to it again and again and again, and discover the beauty and magic contained within. Once that happens you’ll be hooked; just as I, and countless others have been in the past. As Brian Wilson sings on ‘Don’t Talk, (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)’, “Listen, Listen, Listen”….

I Remember That……

paddymcaloon

I thought it might be hard to describe the new Prefab Sprout album, ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’. After all, it was recorded in 1992, and what we’re hearing now in 2009 are cleaned up versions of the original solo demo recordings.

The original recordings were shelved in 1992, following a misunderstanding between songwriter Paddy McAloon and their record company, Sony. The reasons why don’t really matter anymore; like so many McAloon projects, they are lost in time and space.

We should just be grateful that it’s finally here at long last.

Granted in places it sounds rather dated. So what though; much like the youthful sound of Paddy’s voice, listening to these wonderful songs transported me back in time to when, as a seventeen year old, I was enthralled by the sound of ‘Jordan…..The Comeback’ – Prefab Sprout’s epic 1990 album.

I guess this record is a concept album of sorts – the power of music being connected with God, and used as a force for good in the world. Not being a huge fan of concept albums, it surprises me to say that it actually works. There can be little doubting the legendary status of Paddy McAloon as one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced, and once again, he doesn’t disappoint here, producing some truly touching and heartbreaking moments along the way.

McAloon is totally immersed in music. On standout track, ‘Music is a Princess’, he sings “Music is a Princess; I’m just a boy in rags”. Thereby worshiping at the feet of the unobtainable – it’s a powerful theme, and one that’s repeated throughout the remaining songs; touching on love, God, the Earth and Mozart along the way.

Over the past seventeen years, McAloon has suffered from major health problems involving both his sight and his hearing, as well as what he himself describes as a major ‘crisis’ several years ago. As a result he feels unable to perform in public, let alone record new studio material from the boxes of demo tapes piled up in his home studio.

As heartbreaking as this is, what will be will be. Paddy is now fifty-two, and has a young family to raise. We can only keep hoping though that he finds it within himself to keep working, and perhaps release more material in the future for a very grateful public.

‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ is on release now from Kitchenware Records. 

A Gift to the World – “New” Prefab Sprout Album!

The new Prefab Sprout album. “Let’s Change the World With Music”, was released today – I say ‘new’, in fact it was recorded and shelved in 1992; more about that later though.

Anyway, as it happens, the album is bloody ace – just as well, as us ‘fans’ have been waiting years for it.

A full length blog will follow, but for now, here is the lead track off the album – “Let There Be Music”

Even more old crap from 2006…..

Don’t know where I keep digging these up from…..first written in 2006.

Sly & The Family Stone: There’s A Riot Going On

Try to imagine the most fucked up, off its head album that you can? If you multiply that thought by about a hundred the answer you’ll get is There’s A Riot Going On; the 1971 album by Sly & The Family Stone.

By 1970, the band should have been at their creative and commercial peak. A run of top selling albums and singles had been topped off with a performance at the Woodstock music festival. However, things were far from good; the band had been missing performances and Sly was slipping into drug problems of epic proportions.

On top of that, their new album was taking forever to record.

The majority of the album was being recorded at Sly’s rented LA mansion. His home had become like your worst nightmare; full of friends, hangers on, drug dealers, drug addicts, armed bodyguards and several pets. These included a vicious pit-bull and, for some reason, a baboon.

Recording sessions went on and on. Sly, often working for days on end without sleep; kept awake by a cocktail of cocaine and PCP. The bands record label, Epic had no idea what was going on at the house; recording costs increased and the release date was put back time and time again. Even the bands manager had no control over Sly; who by this stage had become a law unto himself.

People involved with the making of this record are not even certain if their contributions are included on the finished recording. If you look at some of the people possibly involved however, its amazing. At some point, Miles Davis, Billy Preston and Bobby Womack were involved, although its almost impossible to tell where. Billy Preston however, was almost certainly responsible for the electric piano parts on Family Affair.

We talk these days about Lo-Fi albums; recorded work that has a rough, recorded at home feel to it. This was the original Lo-Fi album. The songs sound raw and the sound quality at times is really poor. Don’t think that this was on purpose however. The only reason the recordings have this quality to them is because the tapes were almost worn out due to the amount of re-recording and overdubbing that took place in the studio. One story recalls how Sly would get various girls to sleep with him on the basis that they could sing backing vocals on the album. This would take place and when they’d left and Sly had had his way, he would wipe the vocal tracks and start again.

I think this album is amazing. Compared to the bands earlier work, its a very dark, bleak recording. If you compare it to the other major release of 1971; the seminal Whats Going On by Marvin Gaye, you can see how these two albums are the polar opposites of each other.

Gaye’s album shows concern for the environment, war and the people affected by the fall out of Vietnam. But most of all it does carry a positive message of hope and faith in God. The Family Stones album is down in the gutter; its the 1970’s and life looks bad. Too many problems, not enough time, and no solutions.

This is a late night album; one which sounds best at three in the morning when you cant sleep and the world seems against you. Its very easy to sink into the tracks on this album, to become part of them, letting them envelop you – proper headphones music.

This album contains some key Family Stone tracks, Family Affair, Runnin’ Away and (You Caught Me) Smilin’ amongst them. I love the whole album, in Slys hands, warm funk rhythms become a vehicle for regret and despair. The first four tracks on this album, (Family Affair included), Luv’ N’ Haight, Just Like A Baby and Poet are just incredible; lyrically and musically.

If you’ve not listened to this before – get it. You need this album

Some old crap from 2006…..

This is an old blog I found the other day, written when I was still full of hope for the future!!!!

Worcestershire, May 1991: I’m stuck at home revising for my A-Levels. God its boring, summers just started to arrive, and I’d rather be anywhere then here in my bedroom, surrounded by history and economics text books.

Most of my mates have left school already, and are probably making the most of the weather getting pissed down at the local on cheap beer. Not me though, I’ve got to stay here for the time being; working and feeling sorry for myself. I really want to get this all over with; finish school and get to my eighteenth birthday in July, then I’ll be free of all this unbelievably tedious shit

Home, July 2006: Thinking back, 91′ was such a great year for music for me personally, (leaving out the start and demise of my ill-fated band – think New Order / Happy Mondays with Birmingham accents). Two of my all time favourite albums had been released that year ‘Blue Lines’ by ‘Massive Attack’ and ‘Road to Freedom’ by The Young Disciples. Both releases radically changed the way I looked at, and thought about music.

So,lets go back to 1991. Probably looking for an excuse not to do any work one day I was flicking through a copy of Melody Maker. As usual, I was casting my eye over the singles reviews for that week; in doing so, one in particular catches my eye; a new release by some band from London called Saint Etienne. The single was called ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’.

Being the ‘big fish’ musically amongst my group of friends, I’d always thought that I was clued up when it came to new bands and new releases; but I knew nothing about Saint Etienne – had never heard of them before.

The review made the record sound incredible; over the intervening years I must have damaged a few brain cells, but I can still just about remember general gist of things. The reviewer mentioned that the record felt like the first day of summer; the first really warm day of the year, when the leaves are out, the birds are singing away and you can take your school jumper off and wrap it around your waist. More importantly anything could happen..

This review captured my imagination so much – sure the sun was indeed shining outside and the birds were singing; but I was trapped inside revising. I wanted to know what this record felt like. More importantly, I wanted to see if the review was in fact correct, or if he’d been talking a load of old shit.

As I often did back in those days, (before the wonder of the internet), I caught the bus into down and purchased a copy from the local Our Price; I’m still amazed that they actually had it in the first place.

The cover gave little away, (God, I LOVE reading record covers!!), except for a gorgeous photo of the singer Sarah Cracknell on the back, (you can imagine what a seventeen year old thought about that). It was always, (still is), so exciting buying new records; jumping off the bus and walking home as quick as I could, running straight up the stairs to my bedroom to play this latest gem – almost quite ritualistic in a way.

I had no idea what to expect, none at all – and then I heard it for the first time.

By St Enids toenail what a record!!!!! The Northern Soul bass and drums, the magical guitar stabs, all topped off with Sarah Cracknell’s wrap around, gooey vocals..

The review was so right, this record sounded almost perfect to me; despite the 60s soul references, the record sounded so new, clean and modern. The main thing however was that it planted a massive smile on my face – its still there fifteen years later as I sit here listening to the record again whilst writing this.

A great record should make you feel something; make you giddy, feel drunk or high; make the blood rush to your head. A great record should make you want to dance, sing, fall in love, kiss someone – it should make ANYTHING seem possible.

That record was aptly named, because it made me feel all of those things back then; and it still does now

They could have left it there; just released that one, perfect record. That would have been enough; of course though, they’ve released stacks of great records in the years since then.

TPW 4/7/06