Monthly Archives: November 2015

Skids – Days In Europa – 1979 – Virgin

Now here’s an old trouper that’s taken me through some happy times from being a 15 year old in a group of lads all into one thing. New wave and punk music. My old mate Simon was the owner of this album when we were kids. We all owned different albums back then and listened to each others to keep variety alive. Again I had it on tape for years and never got round to buying it until about 3-4 years ago again buying it for pennies.

The Skids were a ‘new wave’ band from Scotland who hit the airwaves with ‘Into the Valley’ in 1979. A school disco favourite with us boys all in a row kicking our Dr Martens high in the air whilst singing ‘Ahoy Ahoy, Land Sea and Sky’ as Richard Jobson had demonstrated on Top of the Pops. By the end of the year the had released there first album ‘Scared to Dance’ (which is well worth your time and is probably the better of the two although I continue to waver on this point to this day) and this one as well as 8 singles in the 78-79 period. That’s hard work!

Richard Jobson was a wandering, stylish poet minstrel type and became more ludicrous as he progressed through the eighties becoming if I remember rightly a TV presenter. However back then (although this album is chock full on pretension) he made a great energetic front man. Ira Robbins puts it perfectly ‘Jobson’s hearty singing sounds like an eighteenth century general leading his merry troops down from the hills into glorious battle’. Precisely

Stuart Adamson as you will all remember was the man behind Big Country fondly remembered, for he died tragically young, for his anthemic guitar riffs and er…bagpipe solos. Why do so many Scottish bands sound like that?

These two are joined by original bassist William Simpson and Rusty Egan on drums Formally of the Rich Kids; later of Visage. They are also helped out by ex Bee Bop Deluxe member Bill Nelson who produces and plays keyboard.

Hey, check out this cover art. It is really gorgeous to look at. Yep, look how muscular and blond the gymnast on the front is, look how blond and fit the lady presenting the prize is. Oh yes and er… study the writing why don’t you. It does feel a bit Teutonic doesn’t it. Well that’s what a fair few of the press thought too and they accused Jobson of being a bit Nazi-ish. Where would they get that idea….the Eagle has Landed?

 

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Oh dear….

Anyway, the tragedy is that this fabulous piece of Art Deco cover work (no not this one above) was withdrawn and replaced by the most boring cover in vinyl history

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zzzzz

So, into the contents.

Splat goes the first electronic snare accompanied by big (country) riffs and what’s that? Is that lots and lots of synthesiser? Yes, Bill Nelson is so in the house rail-roading the Skids towards the eighties. This sound was met with a mixed response I seem to remember. It was thought that the Skids had sold out; that they were too polished. Actually with hindsight it sort of works and for some reason I just love this album. There are some great tunes on the record. Animation, Charade, Olympian and Working for the Yankee Dollar are dead catchy and the riffs are massively solid. Charade and Yankee Dollar were both big old singles both of which I bought at the time. There are big ‘ohh ohh’ sing-a-long chorus’s (although you can barely understand a word Jobson sings most of the time). I shall try to transpose. Try it. Its a hoot

ya baby paid to the interverse, capo wha and the few were there, go in fwer copa jerse, a ve the far bah for la jerse…..CHARADE…..CHARADE

Right, listen up! Time for pretension. There is a song with a latin chorus ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ based on a Wilfred Owen poem (actually rather touching concerning life in the trenches) and on the second side there is a song from Greek mythology ‘Thanatos’ meaning death. Oh Please Mr Jobson, behave. On Olympian he sings ‘Look at this man….an Olympian’ Could that be you Richard.

There are a few duller moments. ‘Thanatos’ and  the title track both appear to be a mid to end album dip and Home of the Saved is a bit lumbering but then right at the end I think they come up with a little gem although most will probably disagree because it could be seen as another of Richard’s vanity pieces. ‘Peaceful Time is a backwards track. All sort of Waterfall/Don’t stop (Stone Roses) vibe with Mr Jobson reciting his poetry. All in all its actually rather beautiful.

Oh for sure this is a flawed record but it first of all takes me back to teenage and gives me a great slew of memories. Its a good Skids album. I should know I have 3 (the first 3). I wouldn’t bother to look any further than that. Of course Richard Jobson went entirely nonsense and Stuart Adamson continued the Skids but called them Big Country and became stadium huge. But it all started with Doc Martens and the Youth Club.

Try ‘Peaceful Times’ put together with another art deco classic

 

And here’s the whole album with dull cover!

 

 

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Swans – The Seer – 2012 -Young God Records

Swans ‘The Seer’ is a monster record. Its an epic, a behemoth, an aural odyssey. It takes effort to do ‘The Seer’. You have to dedicate time to this one. You almost have to set aside a weekend. It’s like all the very best things in life. You have to really work at it but once you get it, it gives back in droves. I have been contemplating this particular review for weeks but ,as with every Swans listen, I have had to get myself in just the right place to do it. As I said you have to have time but also its quite an anti social record in a busy household and not everyone appreciates listening as much as me so I started open listening but was soon told in no uncertain terms to climb into my headphones (which is a great place to really appreciate what really happening in this record).

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Anyway this is a record I bought second hand last year after buying ‘To Be Kind’. I had seen it pass from a distance but had not looked very closely. I had heard good things about it but thought I should probably keep well away from old rockers even though Michael Gira had always been a very principled and forward thinking man. By 2014 the curiosity was getting far too much and ‘To Be Kind’ swooped in from left of centre to give me a big aural kick up the arse. It was a similarly epic record requiring application and from there I looked backwards.

The Swans have been around for years grinding out some of the ugliest music of the late eighties and nineties. Gira abandoned the Swans ship for a good few years to concentrate on ‘Angels of Light’ but then wished to go out touring again and brought together a band of what appear to be child murderers and circus freaks….I’m certain you’ll know what I mean when you view their picture. Norman Westberg was a long time Swans guitarist, Christoph Hahn and Phil Pulio also played previously. Chris Pravdica and Thor Harris, a gong banging hairy muscle bound percussionist, joined in 2010 to produce the ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to the Sky’ record.

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‘The Seer’ was the second in this series of monster albums based not on jaunty pop songs but grinding noise terror and most importantly atmosphere. This band sound like no one else. There are elements of noise rock and metal and post rock etc etc but they are entirely indefinable. There are repeated themes, drones, masses of percussion including dulcimers and bells and layers and layers and layers of layers.

It all starts fairly tamely with ‘Lunacy’. Flick flack guitars and a passing screech produced probably by Hahn’s lap steel. Yes, a lap steel. Not played as you would expect. It is used to make yelps and squeals. The vocal brings to mind a Indian chant. Gira soon tells you that your childhood is over. You ask yourself what it is that he is trying to tell you. What he is saying is that its going to get a whole lot more difficult for all of us.

 

Apostate is a proper 23 minute epic. Air raid sirens are heard overhead. Appropriate for what’s coming. Its all quite subtle at first. This serves up as warm up time. I saw them in the summer and the first 20 minutes were dedicated to Phil Puleo playing cymbals and Thor playing tubular bells. For Gira build up and time taken are most important. Its all about layering until submission. Then after 5 or 6 minutes the power starts with what seems to be about 30 people hitting as many percussive instruments as possible progressing to great percussive thuds of guitar between what appears to be bursts of Thor and Pulio gunfire. It’s not until 13 minutes that any king of groove starts on Thor’s bells and Gira starts his vocal shouting, screaming ‘g g g g get out……. we’re on a ladder to God’ gradually progressing to what sounds like a coven of witches engaged in dark worship and a huge earthquake.

‘A Piece of Sky’ is an ethereal piece starting with fire or water or something elemental. A choir of Buddhist angels appear to hover over drones and then the dulcimers start again really adding to the ethereal feel (are there Christmas bells in there)leading to a fairly identifiable riff in turn leading to a rather tuneful ending unusually

’94 Ave B Blues’ commences with clarinet whale song that turns into rather sinister and darker wolves in the forest and culminates in an extraordinary percussive firework display. I’m not making this up

‘Daughter to the Water’ and Song for a Warrior’ are a couple of fairly standard tracks bringing in Karen O for ‘Warrior’ in a rather melodic end to the third side.

Back on track with Mother of the World. A repeated riff allows Puleo room to punctuate with sharp drum stabs as Gira breathes in and out and in and out. Avatar again brings Thor’s bells to the fore. The next huge tracks are the title track and ‘The Seer Returns’. Commencing with, wait for it, bagpipes, it is a master class in building tension. The mantra ‘I see it all, I see it all’ repeats and repeats while the band build behind droning up to pure sludge to a crescendo of huge hits each one sounding like an end chord for about 10 minutes extending the pain. And I can vow through experience that a Swans gig hurts. They are soooo loud you can feel odd chest movements as the hits burst through you. The final drones of The Seer pass directly into ‘Returns’ and see’s out the record. Of course the Cd version is entirely differently arranged with ‘Apostate’ last which I think is the correct position for it.

All in all this is an extraordinary lesson in drone and percussion. Puleo and Harris really excel and timing is everything on this album.  It rather pours water on any claim that 60 year old guys cant bring something new to modern music when you compare them with bands half their age happy to copy the music of the past. My son was certainly taken by surprise by them. The Swans are planning their last album as we speak. I, for one can’t wait to get another dose of this brand of (grand)dad rock. Oh by the way. Please go buy this album. Gira expressly asks you not to upload it onto the internet on the sleeve although it is there. So I will not direct you there myself as I think he’ll be round to kick my head in.

 

 

 

MC 900 Ft Jesus – One Step Ahead of the Spider – 1994 – American Recordings

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The rumbling of storm clouds signify the  start of this truly odd piece of work. This is a CD I brought a few years ago but had on tape for years. A mate of  mine used to do a radio show and threw this one at me to listen to at the time. I recorded it. Kept it as a car cassette for years and finally bought it for pennies about 4-5 years ago.

Here we have a thoroughly unclassifiable album of music….or is it music. It is by degrees jazz, funk, electro, hip hop, spoken word, poetry, film music etc etc etc. MC 900 Ft Jesus or Mark Griffin was a Texan classically trained trumpet player turned rapper. He plainly has a love for Miles Davis and words. This was his last album and soon after this he withdrew from the music industry. It’s a shame because Mark Griffin is clearly someone with something very very different in his head.

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As I said the rumbling of storm clouds are heard as this album starts its sinister first track which sounds like a mangled road movie. You can see the end of ‘Vanishing Point’ in this title track; the eleven minute story of a girl driving out by the New Moon. You can feel the dust of ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ as the insistent repeating jazzy bass and drums support the telling of this sorry tale with a little free organ on the top. A minimalist drum solo fading away with the dark builds suspense and the bass struts back in to announce that things are going to get nasty ‘Fix the stare straight ahead’ and on ‘One very loud tick of the clock’ the mayhem of a car accident is recounted as ‘1000 startled crows erupted’

Now Mr Jesus doesn’t sing us these things. He tells stories. He is a poet. He is described as a rapper but this fella isn’t classic hip hop. Oh no. There is not a hint of street pretence here. This middle class white boy doesn’t speak of these things. No fast cars and fast girls. Well perhaps girl in a fast car but then throws her into the nearest hard object. He doesn’t have a classic rap style. He just says it. He sometimes says it through a megaphone. It’s sometimes fairly disturbing but  and sometimes intensely hilarious.

He dismantles a definite album theme immediately with a catchy piece of funky electro with a jazz flute solo in the middle in ‘But if you go’.

His next offering is another piece of funky electro but this time with an entirely daft vocal about ‘er gee whizz, if I only had a brain’

Then we are in repeated minimalist mode with ‘Stare and Stare’. Wah wah guitar and repetitive bass line go round and round until towards the end the guitar sounds like Frampton talk box at half speed. Very Odd

It is not until ‘Buried at Sea’ that we begin to hear his hip hop influences. The beat and sampled sax get you right in the mood for some ‘Rebirth of Cool’ style trip hip hop and….er… Mark gets his megaphone out and delivers almost one syllable at a time. Always contrary!

Time to change style again and you can now hear that he is a trumpeter and is rightly obsessed with Miles Davis. Bitches Brew/On the Corner funky saxophone back up Mark as he leads a one man tirade against you. The plainly obvious crazy guy. Mmmm look in a mirror MC.

‘Do not make the mistake of believing that I am the person speaking to you’ ‘Do not obviscate with science or other baloney sandwiches’ Please do not change colour when I am speaking to you’ and so on. Its a gas!

Gracious Pepe is a little slice of Spanish electro with add Marimba and Rhubarb is a load of industrial noises whilst a guy talks about the 1980 comedy piece ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’. Yep. Of course it is

The real epic is the immense ‘Bills Dream’ in which Bill, a corpulent opinionated Ignatious J Reilly (Confederacy of Dunces) character yells at the TV on New Years Eve whilst the band emulate some of the best moments of ‘In a Silent Way’ That Miles feeling is really intense during this one. It should be the last track but that goes to Rhubarb with its storm clouds that now bring rain filling up already swollen puddles.

To be honest although I love this album for its sheer oddity, nonsense, smooth jazz sounds but something about it’s whole doesn’t quite work. The album hasn’t quite got enough strong tracks however I find this fact just underlines the whole contrary nature of it.  So if you want something truly original that you wont have heard before immediately find and listen to this album

Try this for starters

SE Rogie – Palm Wine Guitar Music – The 60’s Sound – Cooking Vinyl – 1988

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That’s…..how much?!

Well there I was decanting my most recent home made wine and I thought mmmm, I know, how about some wine music. Oh yes some warm wine music. Some Palm Wine Guitar music.

Enter stage left Sooliman Ernest Rogers or SE Rogie as he was known in his native Sierra Leone. SE Rogie was a bit of a national treasure in Sierra Leone being the premiere exponent of Palm Wine Guitar music. He was active in his native land in the 1960’s and 1970’s with his band The Morningstars and with a variety of local musicians banging gourds, boxes, maracas, congas and all kinds of improvised percussion which of course you must do if you are short of instruments.

This is a record I bought probably in 1988 or 1989 and looking on the front got it for the bargain price of £1.99 in the Our Price sale. Unbelievably cheap for such gorgeous molasses sweet West African tenderness. I remember I had a cooking vinyl sampler at the time and recognised the name from that. I couldn’t believe my luck. This was a compilation done by the really eclectic Cooking Vinyl back then. Of course there was a bit of a African trend going on at the time with The Bhundu Boys, The Four Brothers, Kanda Bongo Man etc and I was really into all of those but this was a sound I had not come across. I was African music from a generation back. These days you could easily pay £20 for this original (1988…Ha!) version although I notice they have released another vinyl version at about £14.

I have alluded to the use of improvised percussion but I think the recording must have also been largely improvised because it all sounds like it was recorded in a toilet (solo) or in a village hall (with the Morningstars). This definitely does not detract from the quality here. All the better for it.

The album leaps off the vinyl with some massive chiming West African guitar chords and a driving bassline quickly joined by Mr Rogie’s great big fat baritone advising us to ‘Twist with the Morningstars’ I’m up for it Mr Rogers! This is a dance band playing to a hoard of slightly palm wine lightened Sierra Leonian teens in the local hall. You can see it. You can feel the heat off this record. Most of the rest of this side are more intimate numbers with SE and his wood banging chums. He has a seductive deep voice that makes every effort to pronounce his words fully. That seduction also gets a bit saucy at time as he asks his girls to do him Justice and the then get’s caught ‘…red hot’. He even offers excellent ‘Advice to Schoolgirls’. Now there’s a song title that wouldn’t go down so well today eh? He also does a fine job of romance with his most well know song ‘My Lovely Elizabeth’. I’m not sure if that’s her above on the cover. What a gal! And isn’t SE looking mighty dapper in his high waisters. He also notes that us guy’s ain’t very good at reading women on ‘Man Stupid Being’. This is a great track recorded in a Liberian Radio Store where he introduces all of his band members. It is one of my favourites with ‘Twist with the Morningstars’ ‘Baby Lef Marah’ and ‘Do Me Justice’

I reality all of these tracks are really top class mostly made up of SE Rogie’s primary sound of guitar and percussion immediately indicating the roots of that West African guitar. His melodious chord progressions go round and round complimenting his warm caressing tones occasionally punctuating the progressions with a little guitar break or indeed whistling.

Please listen to Mr Rogie. You wont regret it for its sheer joy. Unfortunately this album isn’t on You Tube but various tracks are. Here is my favourite Do Me Justice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_sofcaKCU4

I particularly like the high woman voice, low man voice introduction and have heard this in many African tracks from the Four Brothers, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band and others. Goodness only knows what that’s all about

Unexpected record haul

I love to get some bargains and today I scored some beauties. Went to a media sale in a local radio station and there were loads of bargains there of £1-2 per item. A selection of vinyl included two very beaten up albums from Mr Fox (The Gypsy 1971) on transatlantic and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity (StreetNoise 1969) on Marmalade. These two are very desirable although in the condition I wouldn’t expect them to reach stellar prices. I also found albums by the B52’s (Whammy) Blondie (Plastic Letters), a much better version of the Undertones than my one, Rev Up by the Revillos, Marianne Faithful’s Broken English and several others and a CD or three all for about £15. That’s what I call a bargain!