Friday, 26 February 2010

Week 24 - Ode to Humberside

A cheeky little blog this week. It's pretty much a way to crowbar a new discovery into it. But anyway, let's carry on with the charade as usual!

Although I was born in the north-west, I've grown up what was previously known as Humberside, which encompassed what are now the snappily titled East Riding of Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire. Humberside covered from Bridlington in the north to Grimsby in the south, from Goole in the west to, erm, Withernsea in the east. Two of those towns will feature later on...

But first up is a town that I grew to know and like when I worked there for 18 months a few years ago. Known ironically as Sunny Scunny, it's a steel town and quite often the butt of jokes. It's actually quite a nice group of towns. The first song is from a comedy punk band from Sunderland renowned for their chart smash in which they regaled the story of a elephant who packed her truck and said goodbye to the circus. The elephant's name was Nellie. Trump, trump, trump.

This song, whoever, is a parody of the Charlie Daniels country classic The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The Toy Dolls altered the title. Hear it here: The Toy Dolls - The Devil Went Down to Scunthorpe.

Next, we head to the coast and the old harbour town to the north of Humberside. This track is bizarre. It's beautiful, but I can't figure out how the hell this title came about! It's by John Darnielle and Mountain Goats. Bear in mind they're from North Carolina, how did they come to write a song that references a small town on England's east coast?! Enjoy it here: The Mountain Goats - Going to Bridlington. I love the line 'the moon was rising over Bridlington and you had blood all over your hands'.

Finally, from a small harbour town to the centre of the fishing industry - and back south of the Humber. I wasn't looking for this track when I found it, but by Christ I was happy I did! He's not everyone's cup of tea, but he's defnitely no Phil Collins. Thankfully. From his glam-rock ditties, accompanied by outrageous glasses, this guy has also had one of (if not the) biggest ever singles - the saccharine ode to Diana, Princess of Wales. I'm sure everyone will agree that if he can write a song about her, the least he could do is write one about Grimsby...!

Thankfully he has. Off his 1974 album Caribou - the one that contained The Bitch Is Back and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - is a track called simply Grimsby. There are too many great lyrics to quote, but my favourite two are: 'Oh England you're fair, but there's nothing to compare with my Grimsby', and 'Take me back to your rustic town, I miss your magic charm. Just to smell your candy floss, or drink in the Skinners Arms'.

Hear it and love it here: Elton John - Grimsby.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Week 23 - Freaky Laughter

After the seriousness of the past few weeks, I'm going to get a bit more light-hearted in this blog.

I'll be combining two of my favourite genres which I didn't think went well together. Until I thought about it. Those two genres are comedy songs and psychedelia.

I like humourous tracks, be they downright silly or those that contain lyrics to make you smile. However, I also like psychedelia - in particular mellow, trippy psyche. So yeah, why shouldn't there be some songs that fit into both categories?!

Thankfully there are a few, otherwise this blog would be thankfully short.

When you think of comedy songs from the psychedelia era, you probably think of the Bonzos or the Rutles - Neil Innes at least! So did I. However, arguably the Bonzos' best psyche track, Keynsham, isn't particularly 'comedy' - apart from the ending: "Tell me more about Keynsham.... 'I don't want to talk about it'". Probably the finest purveyors of the chanson comedie are Half Man Half Biscuit (surely, more on those in a forthcoming blog). Again though, they don't really touch psychedelia, prefering to stick to indie, folk and post-punk.

The comedy song genre has been ridiculed in the past - quite rightly in many circumstances - but in the past 15 years or so, it has seen a revival. A couple of TV shows and some Radio 1 DJs have overseen this. Don't worry folks, the DJs don't include Chris Moyles.

Those DJs were the original (and best) saviours of the breakfast show - Mark and Lard. I was never a fan of Radio 1, but these two were a huge reason to listen to it. Their afternoon show was simply a must-listen-to, packed full of nonsense segments and good music. Lard, who was a one-time member of Mark E Smith's The Fall, and Mark Radcliffe, who had spent many years trying to gig round the Manchester area, formed a 'band' - The Shirehorses.

The premise of The Shirehorses was simple enough. They were the true creators of contemporary hits and the acts that had seen chart success with the tracks had ripped them off: John Squire's Seahorses being a rip off of The Shirehorses, and the former's hit, Love Is the Law (containing the lyric 'now we know where we're going, baby') being a rip off of the latter's Now We Know Where We're Going, Our Kid. Both The Shirehorses albums are worth getting, indeed the second one (Our Kid Eh?, which was later 'ripped-off' by Radiohead) contains a brilliant spoof of Eminem's Stan, called Tony.

But it's from the first album that my first track is taken from. Sir John Mills begat Hayley Mills who, in turn, begat the lead singer of Kula Shaker - the leaders of the 1990s' Indian psyche revival. Actually, they were the only ones in it, weren't they? Kula Shaker had a hit called Tattva. But, according to The Shirehorses, they had a similar song first! Judge for yourself - here's The Shirehorses doing Ta La. It involves the duo mucking around with sitars, so that's a good start, and also contains the lyrics: 'Shall we take a pilgrimage to our spiritual Mecca, oh bollocks to it let's have curry and rice'. Brilliant.

Next up, an all-consuming cult (I said cult, I wasn't on about Chris Moyles again) TV show. I stumbled upon The Mighty Boosh when it was still being shown late at night on BBC3. I couldn't believe the BBC had commissioned it, it was hilarious, surreal and had bizarre but good songs.

Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett's show originally saw two zoo keepers getting up to all manner of odd scrapes, but in the second series they moved in with their shaman friend, Naboo, in Dalston, north London. Barrett's character, Howard Moon, is a pretentious oaf who is convinced he's a jazz supremo and adventurer.

It's in his guise as the latter that the crew visit the wilderness. Howard is desperate to photograph the yeti, but he gets entranced by them, leaving Fielding's Vince Noir, Naboo and his familiar, a gorilla called Bollo, to save him from 'yeti magic'. See how that goes here - The Mighty Boosh, Yeti Magic.

There's some similarities between the Boosh and the next lot. Fans of each seem to put themselves firmly in one camp or the other. Why?! I'm a fan of both. Just because something you've been waiting for has finally happened twice, why just like one of them?

You've probably guessed who I'm on about. This lot are a duo from New Zealand. In fact, they billed themselves as New Zealand's 4th
most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo. I think the main difference between the Boosh and Flight of the Conchords is that the latter started off with the comedy songs and then went into television.

In the show, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are two innocents abroad. They've gone to New York in search of fame and fortune, but have found it hard to come by - largely thanks to the incompetence of their manager Murray (the excellent Rhys Darby). Like I said, they are quite innocent, which segues quite nicely into details of the next song.

At a gig, the duo are wooed by two hot girls and go back to their flat. Bret is given an acid tab, but only swallows a tiny amount. However, this has an effect on him and we get to see his velvet-clad psyche alter-ego: The Flight of the Conchords - Prince of Parties. I love sitar in psyche, and the reversed loops are great too. I've had a certain bit of this in my head all week, the bit where it goes a little like this (hit it): 'Rava shalank a lank a Ravi Shankar'.


Friday, 12 February 2010

Magic Crazy as This – a Valentine’s Special

February 14: a date that’s in the heart of everyone - especially those in the greeting card and floristry industries. But this isn’t a snide sneer at St Valentine’s Day. It’s aimed at showing, musically at least, there’s more to romance than Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Steve Wright’s Sodding Love Songs.

I’m sure I’ve already stated my dislike for the trilling shriek of Houston. To me, anyway, that’s not romance, that’s the result of 15 years’ spent locked in a room with only a Chihuahua and a rubber mallet. Maybe an egg and cress sandwich too, in one of those triangular plastic packets.

Anyway, I’ve managed to narrow down my favourite ‘romantic’ songs to just three. Tracks like The Beatles’ I Need You and Ed Harcourt’s Apple of My Eye miss out, but that’s the kind of stuff I’m on about, rather than the latest jazz vocalist to rip the remaining soul out of Have I Told You Lately.

Quite appropriately, the first track is Bright Eyes’ First Day of My Life. I went to a wedding last year and they played You & Me by the Wannadies as they left the church. A good choice I thought as it was lively and everyone left with a smile on their face. However, I’d forgotten about this track. I can’t think of anything better as you leave the church than this. “This is the first day of my life, swear I was born right in the doorway”. You know, like the doorway of the church. Good, eh?

Another motif that runs through my choices is odd lyrics. Bright Eyes uses the line: “These things take forever, I especially am slow”. Not particularly hilarious or mind-blowingly prophetic, but I like it. Having said that, it’s no: “I sing bad poetry in to your machine”.

Nice segue, eh? Yeah, that’s right. My next choice is REM’s At My Most Beautiful. At the time this song (and album, Up) totally passed me by. It's a fine line between romantic and creepy and REM tread that line expertly in this. If you take the song to be the start to a successful courtship of a person, it's a lovely track. However, if the wooing failed, it was probably because Stipe was perceived to be stalking the object of his affections!

Thankfully I choose to believe the former and the line “I’ve found a way to make you smile” is lovely. It also backs up my theory.

Finally, it’s my favourite romantic song. It’s one that I’d like to be my first dance if I were to get married. Nick Drake’s Northern Sky is beautiful and kind of revolves around a pre-nuptial agreement: “Would you love me for my money,
Would you love me for my head,
Would you love me through the winter,
Would you love me 'til I'm dead.
Oh, if you would and you could,
Come blow your horn on high.”

However, the first verse is the one that gets me:

“Never saw magic crazy at this,
Never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea,
Never held emotion in the palm of my hand,
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree.
But now you're here,
Bright in my northern sky.”

It’s poetic and never has a more beautiful song ever been written.

Happy Valentine’s Day, I feel quite touched.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

30 Years, the Final Part

This is it then. My top three albums of the past 30 years. Like I said at the start, these may not be the most influential or the most well known, but they are the three that I can put on at any time and enjoy. I also said I was quite surprised by the results, and I stand by that!

First up is Wish We Never Met by The Gadjits. They were a ska punk-ish band (with a touch of rockabilly) from Kansas who, through differences and
a lack of recognisable success, have split up - which is a shame. Their sound is underpinned by a quality organ and lead singer Zach's brilliant voice. The subject matters revolve around the seedy underbelly of midwestern life.

The first time I came across them was on a compilation album from Hellcat Records, founded by Rancid's Tim Armstrong. On that was the brilliant Bad GaDJit. This is a great starting point when trying to discover the Gadjits.

In Angel and a Devil
they sing about the choices you make when growing up with regards to drugs. It's also a track that conjures up memories of Sublime, with cool guitars and rhythm.

A cheeky track is Manuhkin, which seems to be about having sex with a blow-up doll with the faces of famous people grafted on to it. It's quite tender, but always with a glint in its eye.

There's so many good songs on here that it was so hard to pick out just three. Somebody's Wife, Outsider and Cowboys Always Win are rollicking, organ-heavy tracks; Carnival Sense is a rock 'n' roll-style fun track; and Jenny Jones (Leave the Death Rock Kids Alone) is a choral ribbing of US chat shows like Montel and, obviously, Jenny Jones, that see a teen dressed differently and automatically presume they're evil.

Do try to get this album, it's just pure enjoyability. And cool as hell.

I mentioned Tim Armstrong in the Gadjits' write-up, and he's back here in my second favourite album.

Rancid are often compared to The Clash, which is praise of the highest order. However, in the self-titled album and And Out Come the Wolves, they were White Riot era Clash. They didn't seem to have anything to suggest they could come up with a Sandinista or London Calling.

How wrong that assumption was.

Life Won't Wait is a full blown punk classic. While contemporaries NOFX were goofing around (brilliantly, I may add!) and Green Day seemed to be going faux-political, Rancid went serious - and it paid off massively.

Not that you'd know from the start. The Intro is straight from the early albums and could easily be pinched from Rats in the Hallway. Bloodclot is a 'hey-ho' thunderbolt, but again, not radically different.

Hoover Street signals that something new is going on here. It's polished, political and powerful. There's plenty of quieter sections to hear Armstrong's lyrics about Salvadorian immigrants living in dire conditions. The chorus is basic, to say the least, but it works. Black Lung lets the listener know that new inspirations have been sought. This album was partially recorded in Jamaica, where the band struck up a friendship with ragga/dancehall star Buju Banton (who features on some tracks). The mix of these styles takes this album to a new level. Despite not being a particular fan of Banton's style, I really love the result.

Rancid? Ragga? Revolution? Perfect! The title track, Life Won't Wait is simply stunning. It mixes ska, ragga and punk to such a degree that it even outshines stuff by The Specials. It was co-written by Rancid with Banton and The Slackers' Vic Ruggiero and features Banton singing in a few verses. It's just sublime and very danceable too. This is a call to every musician - more of this kind of stuff please!

New Dress is a beautifully political song, with kicks. Lyrically it's involved with the break down of Yugoslavia and how the West helped in the independence of those states. However, with independence, the West also brought capitalism to unstable economies and countries, so the result leaves confused youngsters in Nike shoes and what-have-you in a new war-torn nation. Warsaw also offers a view on the rapid spread of capitalism to eastern Europe.

Think of Rancid and there's no chance you'd think of this next track. Crane Fist features rinky-tinky piano a la Jools Holland and samples. Don't take my word about it though, listen to it yourself.

Despite me saying this is a rapid departure from form, Rancid show they still can rock in the style to which their original fans were accustomed. The likes of Leicester Square, Lady Liberty and The Wolf are pure punk - power chords and raucous, soaring choruses. The latter being one of my favourites, rivalling The Clash's White Riot and NOFX's The Brews.

For a 22-track album, it flies by in a flash (well, 60mins) and I'm struggling to think of a track I don't like. Life Won't Wait was released in June 1998. So was 5ive's album. Christ.

Next up is my favourite album. Woo! This was one of the easiest choices I've made. I could probably tell you this decision in my sleep. Quite out of character - especially considering my past nine choices - this band are my favourite. Uncoincidentally, it also contains my favourite song.

It's Levelling the Land by the Levellers from 1991. It kicks off with the anthemic One Way and also contains Liberty Song. There are also a few political songs such as Another Man's Cause, which reveals the futility of war, particularly the Falklands, and how it's the soldiers and their family are most effected, not the decision-makers.

First up for my choices is the campfire-tastic Boatman. It really speaks to me as it's my ideal live, a rover, a boatman and whatever. Plus I love the campfire singalong style of it, but more of that later.

My next choice is another campfire singalong blast, apart from mishearing 'weir' and 'wee'. Have a listen to it - Far from Home. Again the imagery conjured up really appeals to me - a nice, honest life on the road.

The last song on the album tells the not-so-glamourous side of being a traveller. It's a true tale too, and incredibly heart-breaking and anger inducing. The Battle of the Beanfield was a real event in 1985 as a convoy of travellers converged on Stonehenge for a free festival. The police tried their hardest to stop them, laying down exclusion zones and roadblocks. What resulted was disgraceful, view the unedited ITN footage here. The Levellers' song narrates brilliantly.

My final song is a lot more cheerful, it's about the fearlessness of youth. Drinking and smoking and taking 'a drink of the Rev Jimmy Jones' and setting 'the table for the barber Sweeney Todd'. It's The Riverflow and easily my favourite song of, well, ever I think. Upbeat, rollicking and pleasantly lairy.

So there it is, I've quite enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

30 Years, part two

So, here we are. Another week, another run-down of my top 10 albums from the past 30 years. Last time I told you of the first four in chronological order, and I'll carry on in that vein - for this one anyway.

Onwards, but staying in 1997 with one of the coolest bands of the era.

Taking inspiration from the Velvet Underground amongst others, the Dandy Warhols were arguably America's most successful band of the BritPop era as their sound fit in perfectly. However, their suave and occassionally humourous outlook saw them stand heads and shoulders above most of the other artsy bands.

The Dandy Warhols Come Down is their best album. It starts of with the monsterous shoegaze track Be-In, but really kicks in with the fabulous Boys Better. With a rollicking backing and excellent keyboard riff, this tune could go on for ages before I get bored of it.

The Dandies really got noticed over here in the UK when Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth got plenty of airplay. The chorus of 'heroin is so passé' really caught the ear of many fans. As did the anthemic Everyday Should Be a Holiday.

With songs like Minnesoter, I Love You and the somewhat controversially titled Hard On for Jesus, Come Down is a quality album, but it's a song about another idol of theirs that really takes this into my top 10. Pixies bassist Kim Deal was an idol to most indie rock kids of that era, she just exuded cool, and their song Cool as Kim Deal saw them take a sideswipe at the posturing indie rocker scenesters: 'I'd rather be cool than be smart', 'I'd rather be cool than be loved', 'Just wanna girl as cool as Kim Deal'. It's a bit of a weird message considering many of their fans would be those that they were having a dig at!

As you'll have noticed, the word 'cool' has featured prominently in this. Quite rightly too, the Dandies are cool, they conjure up images of bohemian apartments in Greenwich Village.

I was listening to Guy Garvey's excellent 6Music show the other week and he played a song by the next band. He said that if you didn't have their debut album, you were missing out. He's right. Sunshine Hit Me by the Isle of Wight's The Bees is excellent - certainly considering it was recorded in a shed.

However, their follow-up album was recorded in the slightly plusher Abbey Road Studios. It's no less good though, in fact it's better. The songs on 2004's Free the Bees are, to a track, brilliant.

It's hard to pick just three songs from this, but I'm going to give it a blast. The trouble is, the styles are quite radically different. There's the fun freakout of Chicken Payback; the Beastie Boys-ish organ-tastic Russian; the trucking Wash in the Rain; a garage rock blast in No Atmosphere; the hazy meander of Go Karts and others.

But the three I'm going to include start with the first track. Beginning with a garage rock version of the Beatles' Hard Day's Night intro chord, These are the Ghosts is beautiful, combining indie rock and hints of psychedelia - something the Bees do brilliantly.

Next up is the album's penultimate track - a superb indie-folk-psyche dance tune about asking a girl's parents if you could take her to a hootenanny, or is it a hoedown? Listen to One Glass of Water and I'd be amazed if you weren't dancing around the room. It also contains the lyric: I'm no King Kong, I may be hairy but not quite as strong. One of the most joyous songs ever!

Finally, in this sense and also on the album, is surely Britain's answer to Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land - mainly because the title is similar. This Is the Land makes me think of a super-speedy trip through the roads of the country. Either way it's great.

Anyway, on to the final album for this week. It's the most recent of my ten favourite albums of the past 30 years too, being, as it is, from 2007. I've done quite well since my early blogs in avoiding this artist, but there's no avoiding him here.

So, what is the best Ryan Adams album? Let's face it there have been plenty. Gold? Rock'n'Roll? Demolition? Cold Roses? Cardinology? All great, but it's Easy Tiger for me. The album cover should tell you all you need to know about it: Ryan Adams sat, almost with his head in his hands, and a cigarette on the go. All that's missing is the bourbon, but he'd given up the drink by this stage.

I've already used Halloweenhead and Sun Also Sets in previous blogs, so I won't go there again - despite them being utterly brilliant. There's
also the country rock ballad Two, on which he sings alongside Sheryl Crow, and the cheekily monickered Oh My God, Whatever, Etc. The album's final track is bewilderingly sad. I Taught Myself How to Grow Old is a tale of lonesomenes and being distant from love and life.

From the end to the start. Easy Tiger kicks off brilliantly with Goodnight Rose, which harks back to Adams' Cold Roses era, vocals of anguish and quite harsh country rock music - in a good way!

Next, I've chosen an unusual Adams song, Pearls on a String. It certainly dabbles more than its toes into bluegrass, even if it's not fully submerged. It's an uplifting tune about hope (which makes it more unusual for Adams!). Plus, it's got a great chorus to sing along with.

And finally...back to Adams at his typical best in These Girls. Talking about 'bad' girls and how he can't help himself sometimes - 'god bless all the late night girls' and 'I get hypnotised and I wanna go to bed. There's also two cracking lines in this: 'One Christmas I got a funeral and they handed me the reciept' and 'how many lies I tell without my tongue'. The former is a great example of bad luck and getting kicked when you're down. The latter could either be lying to yourself, or using your eyes to convey something to one of these girls. I dunno, I didn't write it. But I do enjoy listening to it!