Archive for the ‘My Shuffleathon 2007’ Category

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 9

17 April 2008

Norma Waterson – Reply to Joe Haines

Joe Haines was a journalist who wrote, to quote the sleeve notes, “an iniquitous article …on the subject of Freddie Mercury’s disclosure that he was HIV positive (indeed that he had full blown AIDS) and which the Daily Mirror saw fit to print”.

This is a song written by Norma’s late sister Lal, all of whose songs were some of the most beautiful skewed lullabies written in the last fifty years. Occupying a middle ground of somehere between Syd Barrett, rural English folk and Leonard Cohen, if that can be imagined. There are far too few of them but those that there are are shining gems.

Norma Waterson does of course have one of the great voices of our age and of any age. Shes a modern day living breathing Piaf or Caruso and I wish more people would see it.

A sad song but very beautiful.


Shuffleathon 2007. Part 8

14 April 2008

Shack – Finn, Sophie, Bobby and Lance

“What we see and what we seem, are but a dream, a dream within a dream”

I bought the “I Know You Well” twelve inch single for fifty pence from Our Price in Manchester’s Arndale Centre sometime as the eighties turned into the nineties and the Mondays and the Roses ruled the world. It was sublime, although it could have easily been mistaken as a Johnny Come Lately Stone Roses copy. But Shack had been raiding the nineteen sixties for years before then, ever since their Pale Fountains days with their hints of Love and Burt Bacharach. I liked the Pale Fountains and even bought their second single “Thank You” and in particular loved its wonderful soft focus b-side “Meadow Of Love”. But in retrospect I feel the Paleys were a mere rehearsal for what Shack were going to be. The first album Zilch was a sort of halfway house between the Pale Fountains sound and Shack proper but from then on they were motoring. Or not as the case may be what with lost albums, drug addictions and a baffling lack of commercial success. Their time nearly came in the mid nineties when their record company tried to tag them on to the Britpop phenomenon and while “HMS Fable” did reasonably well, it didn’t gain them the size of audience which was being enjoyed by the likes of The Verve or Oasis, which should have been their due. Maybe they were just too real and grounded for the 1990s. Of their six albums released since 1990, three are perfect. These are Waterpistol, The Magical World Of The Strands and On the Corner of Miles and Gil. My favourite is the The Magical World.. which was released under the name Michael and The Strands and is just a beautiful idyllic hazy dreamy summers day folk record.

Now I am the first person to admit that I know nothing about Home and Away. Apparently this song refers to characters from the long running Aussie soap. This shuffling, murmured song is so beautiful. It could easily be off The Magical World … but is from their last full studio release “On the corner of Miles and Gil” which was a return to form after the patchy “Here’s Tom With The Weather”. It sorts of sounds like some strung out beatnik poet landing in the world of daytime television and trying to make head or tail of it. It also namechecks “Dick and Judy”. ‘Tis good.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 7

7 April 2008

Midlake – Roscoe

Such a good song. Yes, it wears it’s Fleetwood Macisms on its sleeve, but it manages to sound both beautifully evocative of a certain 1970s scene and completely at home in 2006 as well. The lyrics are as far removed from the Mac as you could get. The album this comes from (“The Trials of Van Occupanther”) is great too. They remind me of Grandaddy in their looking backward at the same time as looking forward.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 6

14 February 2008

Chris Bell – I am the cosmos

I never really got what was so great about Big Star. During my college years in the late eighties and early nineties, my muso friends were all and they were constantly being given the heads up by the likes of REM, Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Bobby Gillespie, up there on the greats list with The Beach Boys, Neil Young and The Byrds. Most of Teenage Fanclub’s early work was heavily indebted to Big Star. Yes, September Gurls was a great song and all three of their albums, #1, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers had some lovely songs on them, but they just didn’t seem to jump out as being anything more than nice west coast sounding (albeit made in Memphis) early seventies rock. The particular spark/voice/chord sequence that makes me fall in love with a song or record just didn’t seem to be there. In my mind they were one of those bands who benefitted from having been ignored for many years and then picked up as “lost classics” by the cognoscenti, being records that were out of print hard to find and rare as hens teeth at the time (mid to late eighties). Anyway, I didn’t get it. But then when my mate Julian played me “I am the Cosmos” I found something a lot more interesting and worthy of attention. Chris Bell, who was the drummer in Big Star, left after their second album “Radio City”. His solo work sounds less laid back, rawer and more vulnerable. Probably partly down to his struggle with clinical depression. The two tracks which grab you first are the title track and “You and your sister”. The rest take a bit more getting into. The album is effectively a collection of tracks which were recorded at different times and in different places. They could so easily have got lost in the ether but fortunately didn’t and were released as a collection until 1992. I think the title track is my favourite and it appears in two different versions on the most recent cd re-issue. It is otherworldly and mundane at the same time, sounding in part like a cry for help and partly like a manifesto, albeit the lyrics are couched in terms of a break up. Bell died in December 1978 when he lost control of his Triumph TR-7 in East Memphis on the way back home from his family’s restaurant. Another loss of real talent.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 5

31 January 2008

Bhundu Boys – Hupenyu Hwangu

More music from Zimbabwe. This brings to mind evenings listening to the radio programmes of John Peel and Andy Kershaw in the 1980s. Bhundu Boys were one of the first wave of “world music” (an awful phrase, I know, but I am not sure what else to use) to go overground and become genuinely popular and successful in the west.  Theirs is a sad story. After getting together in 1983 and then being discovered in 1985, they came over to the UK in 1986 and toured constantly, building up a hugely enthusiastic audience and actually supporting Madonna at Wembley Stadium for three nights. Their first album Shabhini was a big seller. A second album “Tsvimbodzemoto” was released after which  they signed to Warner Brothers International and then things started to fall apart. Biggie Tembo left the band after internal disagreements, a new member was recruited and the band continued playing and recording but the bands popularity waned during the 1990s. Three members of the band died of AIDS related illnesses and Biggie Tembo hanged himself in a psychiatric hospital in 1995. The band collapsed completely in 2000 when one member was jailed on a charge of aggravated assault. Two members remain in the UK and continue to play music under other names. It really is a tragic story after what promised to be an incredible success story for a group of local lads from Harare.

Putting all that to one side, if you can, try listening to “The Shed Sessions” and not grinning. This is a 2002 compilation of all the music which they recorded in Zimbabawe including their first two albums. This is joyous music, catchy vocal lines over twinkling skipping silver guitars which seem to float out of the speakers with a huge smile on their face. If house music had never happened, I swear that this would be the music that people in the early years of ecstacy would have been listening to.  Brilliant musicianship and songwriting as well. There is no question that when they were playing together in those days they were loving it, the fantastic uplifting music, the camaraderie, the fact that these intricate bouncing sounds looked like they might be taking them from a township in the middle of Africa to the other side of the world and fame and fortune. It is some of the happiest music I know.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 4

18 January 2008

Alemayehu Eshete – Eskegizew Bertchi

Mentioned in my Earworms of the week here  (Entry for Friday October 19). This what I said:

“Alemayehu Eshete is an Ethiopian singer who sings in Amharic and has been going since the 1960s. This is a really funky track which I think dates from the 1970s and has an insistent nagging beat. I also love this because it sounds like he is singing the whole thing backwards.”

I am not sure that I can expand on that. It is utterly beguiling and utterly bonkers at the same time.  And you can dance to it. What more could anyone want ?

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 3

16 January 2008

Iron and Wine – Woman King

I didn’t quite get Iron and Wine when I first listened to them. All the signs were good – the reference points referred to in reviews and extracts of songs I had heard all pointed in the right direction namely mellow Americana, a relation of sorts to Will Oldham, downbeat back porch beauty – so I duly went out and bought “The Creek Drank The Cradle” and listened to it and not a lot seemed to be happening. Maybe it was the wrong time of year (I tend to associate different types or pieces of music and even artists with particular seasons and find it hard to relate to some of them outside of that particular time of the year. Yeah, I know. I am mad.) , I don’t know. Then a while later I heard his early demo sessions in full and his version of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” and this and I was won over. I think the most succinct description of Sam Beam’s music is “understated”. But it’s very beautiful. This track actually seems to be the point at which he stopped being quite so introspective and spare and introduced a musical arrangement behind the song – something which he continued to do with last years album “The Shepherd’s Dog” (which is consistently excellent and thoroughly recommended). This track sort of thrums and throbs and gets into your bones, with a fairly chunky acoustic backing which nonetheless does not intrude on the trademark half whispered half sung vocals. I think those vocals are a significant part of Beam’s appeal as they seem to be sung directly into the ear of the listener rather than at an audience. It’s very one to one music. I like him and I like this track very much.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 2

14 December 2007

Patti Smith – Gone Again

I don’t go out of my way to buy everything she releases but Patti Smith  is an icon. When at college in the early nineties, I went out and bought Horses and Marquee Moon from Piccadilly Records, just because so many musicians had raved about them and their influence. I think I had also just finished reading England’s Dreaming. Marquee Moon was okay – nice bouncy angular rock and Tom Verlaine sounded great – it filled in part of the gap in my musical knowledge between the late sixties and punk and was certainly great music – but Horses was fantastic. So much anger and power and beauty from one gawky looking twenty nine year old woman from New Jersey. And it must have seemed like something from another universe when it was originally released. I don’t think there is a single wasted moment on that record, it’s incredibly powerful.

I bought Gone Again in 1996 and I bought Trampin’ a few years back which is also a fine record. It took a while to get into Gone Again, as it was a bit more subdued and less immediate than much of her early work, but the magic was still there. This is the title track from that album and reminds me of a particular flat I lived in in the mid nineteen nineties and the life I was leading then.

I think her strength lies in the fact that she is another genuine individual who certainly lives what she speaks. She has had a tough life. She ignored music from the mid eighties to the mid nineties in order to bring up her kids and good for her – why not ? She never lost touch with reality – like Kate Bush I suspect she does her own washing and ironing. She has been successful in the fields of poetry, music and photography, and as a poet and thinker she has the sort of gravitas which few others command in these shallow and fickle times. But she has no touch of the diva about her – she was briefly shown in the great BBC4 documentary “Once upon a time in New York” earlier this year talking about when she first saw Television play live (at CBGB’s) and she still sounded like an excited young girl at her first gig.  For me, she is up there with many of the greats of the 20th Century. Oh, and she is still not afraid to speak out against injustice and up for what she believes in. Arguably she is the last link with the beat generation we have.  I recommend this Victor Bockris biography for more about her.

And I am really looking forward to this

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 1.

5 December 2007

 I thought I would write a bit about my choices for the Swiss Toni’s Shuffleathon cd I prepared for Joe in Vegas.

 Track 1 Bellowhead – Jordan

I love Bellowhead. They are possibly one of the best live acts I have ever seen. When I saw them as the headlining act on a festival Sunday night in the late summer this year they created an atmosphere which came the closest to approaching the incredible communal  high of a Blackburn warehouse rave circa 1990 in 15 years. I tell you I was buzzing. It was permanent hairs on the back of the neck time and the whole experience just resonated. And it wasn’t down to inebriation as I had only had three or four pints of fine English ale thank you very much.  Bellowhead did this by creating a loud layer of bastardised traditional English folk music using large chunks of music hall, disco, world music and an expansive horn section as well as the usual traditional instruments. Obviously one of the reasons why it was so good was the enthusiasm of the crowd who were completely up for it. I don’t go to many gigs these days but the front of the crowd at your most feverish loud indie rock gig had nothing on this lot. They were loving it. Mad for it. Pogoing like there was no tomorrow. It looked well sweaty. And Benji Kirkpatrick is the bounciest bouzouki player I have ever seen. He makes Tigger look like a total amateur. He plays his instruments like a thing possessed as well. And (it sort of goes without saying) the whole band are clearly excellent musicians.  In short, go and see them in a large venue when they are headlining, where there will be a large contingent of Bellowhead followers and you will have a good night out.

Their first ep from 2005 was great but doesn’t approach the wonderful 2006 album Burlesque which was a mix of different styles, turning traditional tunes into high octane horn clad morris tunes, orchestral ballads, music hall melodrama, shouty singalongs and Middle Eastern influenced song stories. Its a great great album. It may upset some folk purists (and the people I attended the above gig with were far from impressed – “Too much going on” was their verdict ) but I think it works wonderfully and it does take traditional folk in new and interesting directions. They seem to function on two levels – their recorded output is definitely good for listening to – clearly demostrates the musicianship and allows full appreciation of the arrangements, but live is the real deal – ultimately they are a dance band and they DO make you want to dance. Madly.

Jordan is one of the aforementioned shouty singalongs and originates from the American minstrel movement. One reviewer describes it as a “thunderous, apocalyptic marvel” which is fairly spot on. Try seeing them play it live and not singing along.  Here they are on Jools Holland doing it.