Sunday, September 25, 2016
Sixties English Pop Star, known for various things; the original version of The Crying Game, Don't Gimme No Lip, later covered by the Sex Pistol,s and this, which was a Number One in Belgium and Holland where he still has celebrity status. This is a Ray Davies song, a fact that is immediately recognisable, and was also covered by The Kinks. It seems unmistakeably a sixties artifact, a product when this stuff, these emotions and the instrumentation and presentation all seemed so fresh and new.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
(That's Danke Schoen. Apologies for the misspelling above)
Wayne Newton, a Las Vegas staple throughout the sixties and seventies. This is his signature tune, much beloved of John Cooper Clarke, who regularly uses it as the signing off track on his radio shows, Newton, whose mother is half Cherokee and father half Patawomeck, although he also has English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh stock. No wonder his delivery is somewhat unusual here.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Generally associated with the sub-genre of Outsider Music, The Space Lady, (Susan Dietrich Schneider), is a real find for anyone on a constant search for the new, not in this case just for its 'odd factor' but for the sheer quality of the music itself. Conceived in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico at the time of the reputed Flying Saucer crash, a factor that surely impacts deeply on the other-worldly nature of the music she went on to make, in the 1980s and '90s Schneider achieved a small local profile as a street musician in Boston and San Francisco. Wearing a plastic silver winged hat topped with a flashing light and initially accompanying herself with accordion, she upgraded in 1983 to the Casiotone MT-40 battery operated keyboard which is when she really found her sound.
Playing a few original numbers, supplemented by some highly inventive and haunting covers, this stuff sounds utterly pioneering thirty years on. Thankfully The Space Lady has advanced considerably in terms of profile over the intervening years, largely due to the inclusion of her cover of The Electric Prunes, I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night on the fabulous 2000 compilation Songs in the Key of Z, which set off a gratifying rediscovery of her music which has continued ever since. She's now touring the world playing to enthusiastic and appreciative audiences.
The Space Lady's music is truly all about space. The compilation Space Lady's Greatest Hits. released three years back and still readily available. makes a compelling case for her virtues. Suicide, the legendary CBGB's duo, is probably the most apt comparison point in terms of what this all draws on and the ghostly effect of the songs. Silver Apples, an important inspiration for Suicide and Laurie Anderson are also worth mentioning. Whether she actually took on the influence of the three of these is frankly by the by. She's certainly operating in a similar space.
The Space Lady's approach to covers is particularly worthy of comment. Among their number are the aforementioned Electric Prunes song, Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild, Peter Schilling's Major Tom, The Doors 20th Century Fox, Sweet's Ballroom Blitz, Golden Earring's Radar Love, Steve Miller's Fly Like an Eagle and the Irving Berlin standard, Puttin' on the Ritz. What's great about all of these is that she doesn't choose to enter the original's universe, instead dragging them triumphantly into her own, thereby shedding new light on the songs she's covering each and every time.
Also featured on Space Lady's Greatest Hits are a clutch of originals penned by Schneider's former husband Joel L Dunsany. These slot perfectly in with the covers and make a claim as small classics in their own right.
So, The Space Lady, my own small personal discovery of yesterday and an artist I'll surely keep coming back to time and time again for her incredibly personalised sound and vision. For more on this artist click here.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
From a late night themed show where the DJ, the wonderful Gideon Coe is performing a show from his North London shed in honour of his 49th birthday where every song is themed around houses and their various facets. Here's a window song and a great one!
Twenty one year old York resident Luke Saxton whose debut album, 2014's Sunny Sadness is highly reminiscent of the lived in, melodic melancholy of Harry Nilsson. Appropriate then that he should pen a tribute to his guiding inspiration on its third track.
The record sleeve of Lawrence Arabia's recently released album Absolute Truth is a small Twee masterpiece. An animated approximation of the artist's face with mountain contours (Mount Schnozz), lakes and a beard forest it's a wonderfully realised piece of whimsical art that would look great at the front of any pile of records, clearly its intention. As a collector, I'm beginning to covet it myself.
'You made a splash. It was concentric. As you'd expected.'
Fortunately, the record itself more than does it all justice. Arabia's is a gentle, understated muse that would perhaps pass you by if you merely heard a solitary track on evening radio. It makes much more sense if you take the time out to listen to the whole album at which point his talent becomes a beguiling, greatly diverting one. It's another favourite album in a year which has reaped a rich harvest of them for me.
'In urban parks, the burnt pink limbs of lovers entangled. Acting like mayflies these sunkissed loves. So doomed and so fragile'
What makes it even more attractive is that Arabia, (James Milne) is a New Zealander putting out records on the Flying Nun label, one of the truly legendary independent labels in pop history. Milne does the label's legacy proud, even though it sounds nothing like The Clean, The Chills or any other of those early landmark bands.Watch the promo videos posted here for a more complete idea of his sensibility.
I recommend the album highly, it's a thoughtful alluring meditation on the sweeter, domesticated aspects of life. It's surely a grower!
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
So while we're with Carson, here she is again in a re-post of one of the best fictional passages ever written about the power of music over the human heart.
Veering into Literature. But the best passage in fiction that I know about music and the impact it can have. From McCullers' first novel which was published in 1940 when she was just 23. Mick, a fourteen year old girl, in many ways the novel's central character and certainly the one with the largest portion of McCullers DNA in her, is sat outside a neighbouring house in a small town in the Deep South because she wants to hear some music. Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) is the piece of music she listens to.
'When Mick came to the house she waited to be sure no person could see. Then she went through the side yard.
The radio was on as usual. For a second she stood by the window and watched the people inside. The bald-headed man and the gray-haired lady were playing cards at a table. Mick sat on the ground. This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden by herself. The radio was no good tonight --- somebody sang popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of beads --- one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so empty there wasn't even a feeling or thought in her.
One program came on after another, and all of them were punk. She didn't especially care. She smoked and picked a little bunch of grass blades. After a while a new announcer started talking. He mentioned Beethoven. She had read in the library about that musician --- his name was pronounced with an a and spelled with double e. He was a German fellow like Mozart. When he was living he spoke in a foreign language and lived in a foreign place --- like she wanted to do. The announcer said they were going to play his third symphony. She only halfway listened because she wanted to walk some more and she didn't care much what they played. Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat.
How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one side to the other. Like a walk or march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her --- the real plain her.
She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget --- or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at last the opening music came again, with all the different instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight fist that socked at her heart. And the first part was over.
This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the night. The second part was black-colored --- a slow march. Not sad, but like the whole world was dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then the music rose up angry and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march again.
But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she loved the best --- glad and like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.
It was over, and she sat very stiff with her arms around her knees. Another program came on the radio and she put her fingers in her ears. The music left only this bad hurt in her, and a blankness. She could not remember any of the symphony, not even the last few notes. She tried to remember, but no sound at all came to her. Now that it was over there was only her heart like a rabbit and this terrible hurt.
The radio and the lights in the house were turned off. The night was very dark. Suddenly Mick began hitting her thigh with her fists. She pounded the same muscle with all her strength until the tears came down her face. But she could not feel this hard enough. The rocks under the bush were sharp. She grabbed a handful of them and began scraping them up and down on the same spot until her hand was bloody. Then she fell back to the ground and lay looking up at the night. With the fiery hurt in her leg she felt better. She was limp on the wet grass, and after a while her breath came slow and easy again.
Why hadn't the explorers known by looking at the sky that the world was round? The sky was curved, like the inside of a huge glass ball, very dark blue with the sprinkles of bright stars. The night was quiet. There was the smell of warm cedars. She was not trying to think of the music at all when it came back to her. The first part happened in her mind just as it had been played. She listened in a quiet, slow way and thought the notes out like a problem in geometry so she would remember. She could see the shape of the sounds very clear and she would not forget them. Now she felt good. She whispered some words out loud: Lord forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do. Why did she think of that? Everybody in the past few years knew there wasn't any real God. When she thought of what she used to imagine was God she could only see Mister Singer with a long, white sheet around him. God was silent --- maybe that was why she was reminded. She said the words again, just as she would speak them to Mister Singer:
Lord forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do.
This part of the music was beautiful and clear. She could sing it now whenever she wanted to. Maybe later on, when she had just waked up some morning, more of the music would come back to her. If ever she heard the symphony again there would be other parts to add to what was already in her mind. And maybe if she could hear it four more times, just four more times, she would know it all. Maybe.
Once again she listened to this opening part of the music. Then the notes grew slower and soft and it was like she was sinking down slowly into the dark ground.
Mick awoke with a jerk. The air had turned chilly, and as she was coming up out of the sleep she dreamed old Etta Kelly was taking all the cover. Gimme some blanket --- she tried to say. Then she opened her eyes. The sky was very black and all the stars were gone. The grass was wet. She got up in a hurry because her Dad would be worried. Then she remembered the music. She couldn't tell whether the time was midnight or three in the morning, so she started beating it for home in a rush. The air had a smell in it like autumn. The music was loud and quick in her mind, and she ran faster and faster on the sidewalks leading to the home block.'
--- From The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
©1940, Carson McCullers
©1940, Carson McCullers
Suzanne Vega's forthcoming album sounds like an interesting project. Entitled Lover, Beloved: Songs From an Evening with Carson McCullers, an adaptation of her own stageplay, it promises to be exactly that. A suite of songs from the perspective of one of the most intriguing novelists of all, and one of my own personal favourites.
Here, in a pre-released track from that, we find Vega, as Carson, musing on her place in the scheme of things, apropos her literary contemporaries and in her eyes very much rivals. Most anxiety ultimately is invested towards Harper Lee who would eventually effectively steal McCullers thunder with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, which would essentially capitalise on so much of the groundwork McCullers had herself established, in terms of Southern Fiction.
Hunky Dory is probably Bowie at his Twee-est! Fill Your Heart beats out Kooks in a shoot off as its emblem in this respect though there are definite elements of the sensibility in Oh You Pretty Things, Andy Warhol, Life on Mars, Bewlay Brothers and elsewhere too!
Pablo Moses was responsible for some wonderful, 'out there' roots music. from his album debut, 1976's Revolutionary Dream, (produced by Geoffrey Ghung and Joe Gibbs at Lee Perry's Black Ark studios), onwards, Moses' voice has a ghostly, otherworldly quality. Here are two potent offerings, seven years apart.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Oh that's good to hear! One of the very best Replacements songs of all and one of the few times they truly cut through all the surface bravado to the core of what they were really all about. Also clearly in the Top 10 of songs ever written about drinking culture. I can't think of the other nine off the top of my head though there would definitely be a Pogues song in there somewhere. Quite an Autumnal song, as the DJ quite rightly commented afterwards.
The quite brilliant Gabor Szabo. A Hungarian, (as his name inescapably suggests), folk and jazz musician who relocated to the States and produced some wonderful interpretations of pop standards in the sixties and seventies. Atmospheric beyond belief!
Audrey Hepburn, a Twee icon of course but much more than that too, an absolute twentieth century western ideal of beauty. This song, an appropriately lovelorn, down at heel offering from low key Sheffield outfit Little Man Tate pays proper tribute to that ideal.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
'To any of the countless prolific dreamers of my generation - those of us who were adolescents in the sixties - Brian Jones meant something, and from the moment we made contact with his perfect blond impudence it was weird love at first sight. When I first saw him live with the Rolling Stones it was early 1964, I was twelve, they were only weeks away from being the biggest thing to hit England since the bubonic plague - and oh, I will never forget it. They looked simply out of this world, like a new delinquent aristocracy, and they played music of a stunning arrogance and unbridled potency. And they had Brian Jones, who really appeared like their leader that night, with his china-cat smile of contagious evil assurance. He looked to me like a young man who had everything - charm, beauty, grace, success, infamy - every wondrous virtue this world could hope to offer, and for a long time afterwards his vision epitomized everything I in turn could hope to aspire to.'
Nick Kent, The Dark Stuff
'You're trying much too hard to make your life seem like a dream..'
Felt are a very special concern for those that care about these things. Lawrence, their leader and visionary is the pop star that never was, with Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker and Stuart Murdoch successively stealing his thunder over the years and making it to where he so much wanted to be, the bedroom dreamer who is still dreaming the best part of forty years on. This song stands for the whole as well as any Felt record, a put down of a hipper than thou type sounds like an indie Dylan update to the English midlands in the eighties. It's certainly all delivered with that Dylan drawl.'You're reading from A Season in Hell' (Rimbaud), became 'You're reading from The Book of the Dead' in successive versions but whatever. He still doesn't know what it's about.
French indie clothes horses, and their new record Mystere. It's a highly eclectic record, like rifling round a hipsters music connection. So may of those things you've painfully assembled through years of record collecting are here joyfully cherry picked on one handy collection.
There's so much here. In the words of the recent Guardian review, 'delivered in blank affectless voices by male and female voices - is an alluring grab-bag of styles from synthpop to surf-rock to Stereolabish indie motorik, to near-baroque guitar playing, to faux-Morricone western soundtracks, to almost pastoral psychedelia.' Great fun and a hugely rewarding record.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
'Probably the funkiest hit single ever to come out of the San Francisco rock scene (at least if you don't count Sly and the Family Stone as part of that scene which the Haight-Ashbury bunch definitely didn't). It's a complete racial / musical collision too: a Mexican-American guitar player steeped in the salsa of the Eastern Carribean playing a black blues song written by a British / Jewish guitarist turned fundamental Christian. What's amazing is how well the smouldering power of Santana's guitar and the husky yearning of the vocal have held up - a lot better than anything the other members of San Francisco's psychedelic squadron can claim.'