Album of the Year: They Worshipped Cats

Track of the Year: Indus Waves

Best Band Seen at Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia

Best Gig Line Up: Les Big Byrd, Lay Llamas, Goat at The Roundhouse 03/10/14

I might have missed Les Big Byrd if it wasn’t for my friend spotting a reference to them in the Shindig Psyk Festival supplement on our train up to Liverpool. After all, the name is far from promising, but the best (and worst) things in life often hinge on such chances.

Peter Gabriel makes up

Peter Gabriel makes up

Joakim Åhlund

Joakim Åhlund in action

I hope I’ll find time to write more about the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia – but since I didn’t ever get around to posting my Best Albums of 2013 blog, I wouldn’t hold your breath – the key issue was the appropriation of the term psychedelia to describe drone-heavy stoner rock. Sadly, we found melodies and stage craft to be in short supply, so when a band came on fronted by a guy in a silver version of Peter Gabriel’s Playtime era monkey make up, and with a mini torch attached to each finger I was optimistic that we might actually get a performance – and indeed we did.

I’m not a musician, so I often struggle to describe music in a way that I feel does it justice, and a phone video is always going to reduce a live band to a tinny group of insects scurrying around in your palm,
See what I mean? So I’ll just offer a few snapshots:

  • I loved the fat Rickenbacker bass sound – after years in the wilderness of uncool, 2014 seems to have been the year in which it became de rigeur to reference Hawkwind, and this definitely evoked early 70s Lemmy.
  • Guitarist, singer and band leader, Joakim chucks out great rock riffs with a remarkable degree of nonchalance, and
  • The vintage synth lines have just the right degree of brightness to them to lift the tracks and give them a freshness that was sadly in short supply at the festival.

I was delighted to discover that they’d be supporting their compatriots Goat the next weekend at the Roundhouse, and so I made sure my party of chums were amongst the few who got to enjoy their punchy opening set there.

LBB rock the Roundhouse

LBB rock the Roundhouse

As they left the stage my neighbour turned to me to ask ‘where’s the merch stand? I need to buy their album straight away’. I think that’s a pretty good endorsement.

I’ve been listening to Indus Waves, the albums opening track, like an obsessive teenager – I don’t remember listening to a track so much since discovering Mr Scruff’s Chicken In A Box. I even ordered a vinyl copy of it from Sweden. A couple of bars of acoustic strumming soon give way to rock guitar and analog synth riffs over the (near-compulsory in 2014) motorik beat. I’ve no idea what the echoey vocals are about, and that suits me fine, they’re just part of the architecture of the tune, and these guys have served their time and know how to put a song together – Joacim having been part of the Caesars, responsible for the unreasonably catchy Jerk It Out.
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As for the rest of the album, it’s mainly the instrumentals that really grab me,
and I find the two tracks with Anton Newcombe of the Brain Jonestown Massacre the weakest, although Joakim’s Ace Frehley outfit in this video is well worth checking out.

So before we leave 2014 too far behind, I thought I’d better enthuse about them – here’s hoping they make it back to the UK in 2015.

Hey, I nearly managed to get through a whole year without posting to this blog, but I’m just creeping in before 2015 – you never know, I might even manage to post the blog I nearly finished about my favourite albums of 2013!

Anyway, here’s a Spotify playlist of my favourites from this year

I’ll try to write a little something about each of them – One of them is a substitued track from 2013 because the artist doesn’t put their stuff on Spotify any more, and one of them was released in 2012, but I didn’t hear it until this year, and one of them has only just come out so I don’t know if I really like it yet, but it’s by one of my favourite bands.

Last night, I dreamt that I revisited my old school – in a tone of golden gratitude, which differs quite markedly from the ambivalent relationship that I have with my alma mater – an ambivalence that I imagine most people share. By coincidence, Facebook tells me that it is the birthday of an old school friend, who happens to feature in this old Granada documentary about Genesis.

If you scroll along to 22.22 then you’ll see a section filmed at Penny Lane Records, which includes a number of boys from my school.

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Me & my rucksack c. 1980

The Liverpool Blue Coat School is just up the hill, about a quarter of a mile from the north end of Penny Lane (the Beatles song is actually about the locality near this end of Penny Lane, rather than the street itself), and I spent many a lunch break flicking through the racks of lps and poring over the hand-written list of all the singles they had in stock. At some point I’d love to write more about Penny Lane Records, Probe, and the other record shops of Liverpool that I frequented in my teens and early 20s.

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A corner of my bedroom c. 1980

I wasn’t a Genesis fan at the time, as this picture of my bedroom and rather camp shot of me and my school rucksack demonstrates, I was more of a heavy rock fan in those days, and associated Genesis with the kids who did all three sciences, always did their homework, and were chronically and acutely uncool. Times have changed, and I’m looking forward to seeing The Musical Box perform their version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway later this month – here’s a taster of what I can expect.

There are tons of songs about school days, I guess that’s because most bands are formed by school kids or by folk who haven’t long left school. Here are a couple more that have been battling for bandwidth in my mind this morning – a bit of Steely Dan

a bit more Graham Parker & the Rumour

and this is my old school

I watched a very enjoyable documentary about Graham Parker and The Rumour last night. You may have heard that they feature in Judd Apatow’s latest movie, This is 40, during the making of which they reunited and played together for the first time in 31 years, and that this exposure has helped them to tour successfully in the US.

I enjoyed Parker’s phlegmatic response to his circumstances, having been catapulted to near stardom at the start of his a career, and then spending decades playing restaurants to keep an income coming in. As he says, “I didn’t pay my dues at the start of my career, I’ve been paying them since.”*

The documentary was funded through Kickstarter and they began making it some five years before Parker was contacted by Apatow, so the delightfully playful and harmonious reunion of Parker with his old bandmates must have come as a pleasant surprise to them. By the way, the same guys also made a fine documentary about the Ramones which I recommend. If you’re in the UK you can watch Don’t Ask Me Questions: The Unsung Life of Graham Parker on BBC iplayer.

Anyway, here they are performing the lead track from their reunion album on Conan

Here’s a piece about how they came together for the Apatow movie, which includes quite a bit of footage from the documentary

…and of course, here’s Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions

Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions contains one of the rare uses of cod-reggae that works – Live and Let Die is another – can you think of any more?

*I’m quoting this from memory so may have the exact wording wrong, but the spirit is accurate.

My friend and gig-going chum David is a great fan of the Canterbury scene and has written a blog about the recently deceased Kevin Ayers, which you should definitely read – especially as it links to a blog offering a huge archive of Canterbury related music.

I know far more about Ayer’s salacious reputation than his work, but can’t resist reposting this very silly video from 1973 which David describes as ‘one of the campest video I’ve ever seen” – who else can you nominate for the camp canon?

I read Sounds magazine religiously for over 6 years from the end of the 70s into the 80s – in fact I still have 300 or so copies in the loft if anyone is interested in making me an offer. In all those tens of thousands of words about bands and music I don’t recall one single use of the word ‘motorik‘, but in the last 18 months or so the word seems to come up almost every time anything is reviewed.

Over the last week, I’ve been catching up on about 3 months of the Guardian’s weekly music podcast, and the M word was used a good few times. One such use was in their discussion of Jeremy Greenspan’s Drums&Drums&Drums (sic) which is apparently “a re-edit of experimental music pioneer Laurie Spiegel’s ‘Drums’.” I confess that I’ve never heard of Laurie Spiegel, and while I’ve heard the name Jeremy Greenspan, I know nothing about him or his work – but it’s a cracking (or should that be banging?) track, which builds in a way that reminds me of Severed Heads’ ‘Gashing the Old Mae West’ – but that’s another blog post.

If you’re tempted to learn more you can follow the links to find out what Jeremy has to say about the track , and read the venerable Simon Reynold’s article about Laurie Spiegel.

Any tips for Jeremy’s other work, or other early electronic folk you can recommend? We were always fond of Morton Subotnick when I were a lad.

I lived in Bristol for over a decade, and I never quite got around to visiting the SS Great Britain, one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions. Now I live near Greenwich in London – I’ve never visited the Cutty Sark, and I haven’t visited the Tower of London since a weekend trip to the capital with my parents when I was about eleven. I’m sure you can think of comparable local attractions that you have never visited. It’s the same with rock and roll: there are a number of perennial attractions that I’d like to see, but each time they come around I tell myself I’ll catch them next time.

Wilko was one such artist. I’d always thought I’d catch him some time, having been astonished by his bug-eyed performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test, where he seemed to shuttle around the stage on castors, a manic counterpoint to Lee Brilleaux’s seething menace. Last year, Julian Temple’s affectionate documentary about the early years of Dr Feelgood, Oil City Confidential, (which you can currently catch on BBC iplayer) had me texting old band mates I hadn’t seen in years, exhorting them to watch it as soon as they could. But I still didn’t buy a ticket for the next tour of former English teacher, John Wilkinson.

Then we heard about his cancer diagnosis, his decision to reject chemotherapy, his genuine farewell tour, and an extraordinary round of media interviews, the like of which we haven’t seen since Dennis Potter’s deeply moving last interview with Melvin Bragg in 1994. Having been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and even the music press, for the best part of 30 years, Wilko was an unpolished interviewee. Pauses were often long, and his manner was unpolished. However, he is an intelligent and articulate man, if slightly dulled by decades of wholehearted amphetamine abuse, and he spoke in a way that was unusually direct and honest for a media filled with the disingenuousness spin of business and politics, and the empty posturings of fame and fashion.

Much of what he had to say about his experience of diagnosis and facing up to his imminent death reaffirmed the teachings of Buddhism: if you truly face the inevitability of your own death then you feel a great release; you see that many of the anxieties that have seemed to surround you are unimportant, and let them drop away; you feel a great urge to resolve conflicts and difficulties. Wilko, previously a self-proclaimed ‘miserable bastard’, who has been in a state of extended grief since the death of his wife Irene in 2004, experienced a surprising bliss and a sense of being vividly alive.

Two days before Wilko’s final farewell tour gig at Koko, it was announced on Facebook that a further 80 tickets would be made available. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and managed to get a couple of these tickets for what was listed as his final gig of the farewell tour – although I’ve since heard suggestions that there might be further gigs as long as his health holds up.

I’d not been to a gig at Koko before, and it’s a slightly weird venue, with a bar from which you can’t see the band, and terraces of tiny balconies, which betray it’s Victorian music hall origins in a more obvious way than many other venues with similar roots. I’ve learnt that I usually enjoy gigs most when I’m part of the crowd fairly close to the stage – I want to be part of something rather than merely a spectator at something. But there was no way into the scrum of black-shirted, middle-aged men on the ground floor, and so we watched from one of the balconies, where we were able to glimpse Wilko over others’ shoulders – as long as he stayed at his mic, which of course he doesn’t do very much.

Looking back, I was clearly setting myself up for a fall: I imagined I was going to Wilko’s last ever gig – there would be huge emotional scenes, with tearful farewells and guest appearances by Alison Moyet (who had sung with him at the same venue a few days earlier) and maybe others. That wasn’t what I got. What I got was Wilko doing another gig: proficient, and extraordinarily energetic for man of his age even if he wasn’t terminally ill, but just a normal gig.

It seems churlish to complain, and I only dared to whisper my disappointment to my companion as the delighted devotees queued to leave up the single iron staircase (with a number of us wondering aloud how on earth people would get out if there was a fire). The truth is I wanted to love it, I wanted it to be great, I wanted to be able to tell people that I saw Wilko at his last gig and it was fantastic, with the same pride that I tell folk I saw AC/DC with Bon Scott. But it wasn’t like that – at least it wasn’t like that for me.

It’s great that Wilko has had so much publicity, and that the celebration of his life and work has taken place before his death rather than after it, so that he has been able to know the great affection in which he is held. I feel a bit mean saying this, but the truth is that Wilko’s best work and his major contribution to popular music took place nearly 40 years ago. Like many others in rock and pop, his star burnt brightest at the start. I can’t say whether it really is better to burn out than to fade away, but I guess that’s one of the reasons I hadn’t been to see Wilko before – because I wasn’t sure that he could live up to the power and fevered intensity of early Dr Feelgood on his own – even with his great vitality and the support of Norman Watt-Roy on bass.

Perhaps my experience at Koko will galvanise me to get off my butt and buy tickets for the Stranglers and Stiff Little Fingers, and all the other other artists I keep meaning to go and see. I imagine I’d have preferred seeing Wilko in a small club with a few hundred other folk, free from the weight of my own expectations. A couple of nights ago I saw Joseph Porter of Blythe Power playing to 30 people in a tiny cafe, and although I knew none of the material and am unlikely to listen to any of it at home, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and found it very satisfying. Some charity fundraisers I know used to have a slogan ‘be positive, and have no expectations’ – it’s the expectations that get you every time.

Here’s Wilko saying bye bye that night

 

As I mentioned in my first post, whenever I travel to or through Deptford, I always think of Deptford Fun City Records. Last night I was in New Cross, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that my travels in that part of town always start me singing this to myself

For several years I lived in south London while my girlfriend lived in east London. Whenever I drove to visit her I invariably got stuck in traffic along the edge of Lewisham Park. As far as I know, nobody has ever written a song about Lewisham Park, but it’s so close to ‘Looking for Lewis and Clark’, that it always got me singing that great song by The Long Ryders

I saw The Long Ryders play at Liverpool University in 1985, and they split up in 1987. When I was teaching meditation at Glastonbury festival in 2004, I was delighted to discover that they had reunited and were going to be playing their first set since 1987. I managed to agree a teaching timetable with my colleagues that would allow me to trek from the Green Fields to the Acoustic Stage – a distance of about a mile and half – in time to catch their reunion performance. While I was teaching meditation during the afternoon, I vaguely heard the strains of Looking For Lewis and Clark drifting up from the Other Stage (or NME stage, or whatever it was called that year) and thought ‘Oh, that’s nice, someone has heard they’re reforming and is covering their best known number as a tribute’.

I finished teaching, and set off on the long dry trek across the site (I was also there the next year for the great flood, but that’s another story*). When I got to the acoustic tent it was suspiciously empty. A few folk wandered in, and after a while a klezma influenced band started to play to a dozen or so largely indifferent people. It turned out that it had been The Long Ryders themselves that I had faintly heard playing on one of the larger stages earlier in the day. It doesn’t seem very long ago, but in 2004 we didn’t all have 3G smart phones, and there was no easy way of finding out changes to the programme. In fact even the folk in the official site information kiosks hadn’t known anything about it.

Sid Griffin of The Long Ryders now lives in London and appears regularly on Radcliffe and Maconie’s afternoon show on BBC Radio 6 Music as their ‘resident musicologist’, although sadly I’ve never heard them play anything by The Long Ryders – they do make plenty of references to his current bluegrass band, the Coal Porters

While checking some details for this post, I’ve discovered that The Long Ryders might be reforming again (re-reforming?) to play a few dates this summer – fingers crossed that I get to be in the right place at the right time this year!

So two questions for you this time – who have you nearly, but not quite, seen? and which songs remind you of places and places remind you of songs?

*Some other time, I’ll write more about my mixed experiences of, and ambivalent relationship with, Glastonbury Festival.

Tonight I’m going to see Blythe Power Duo in a vegetarian café in New Cross. As the name suggests, this consists of Joseph Porter, who is Blythe Power’s founder, songwriter and main man, playing an acoustic set with one other person – a kind of Blythe Power Lite.

One of my chums is a big Blythe Power fan, and even though I’m mainly going to spend some time with him, I do feel a certain respect for anyone who has spent 30 years writing and playing songs about trains, cricket, and an extraordinary range of historical and contemporary issues – they even stage an annual Blyth Power Ashes festival!

Here’s one of their earliest and best known numbers

And here’s a rather lovely song called Joseph Porter, which I found while researching this post. I have no idea if it’s about the Joseph Porter of Blythe Power – it seems unlikely from the surf imagery, and the lyrics give very little clue, but there are no other obvious Joseph Porters.

Which musicians do you admire more than you enjoy?

*The title is a reference to Robyn Hitchcock, who apparently Often Dreams of Trains, and whose 60th birthday gig I recently missed. He’ll be getting his own, much deserved, blog post before too long.

I wrote a post about N Senada yesterday, and then I deleted it.

To make up for it, here’s some Residents

My old friend Phil Harris blew his car speakers with this.