Friday, December 15, 2017

Favorite Reissues of 2017

Every year I pledge to concentrate my time and money on new releases, and every year I fail miserably. I just have to face it. I'm an old guy stuck in bygone eras. This was a particularly rewarding period for looking back, and I didn't even come close to grabbing all of the compilations, live albums, box sets, lost albums and deluxe editions that I wanted. For example, those Cherry Red box sets on Liverpool, Manchester and post-punk have my name written all over them, but I just didn't have the funds. I had to pass on box sets by Luke Haines, Lloyd Cole and Kitchens of Distinction too, but that hurt a little less because I had quite a bit of that content already. I touted that retrospective on the Orchids, but there was only one song on the set I didn't already own. So, I passed.

As far as my list of oldies but goodies goes, I capped it at 20, but it could have been much longer, especially if I had included all of the albums I bought from Firestation Records. I decided to cap the representation of my favorite indie-archive label at three releases, but know that Keen, the English McCoy, the Pressure Group and a couple of more could have easily made the countdown. As for other honorable mentions, 'Action Painting' by the Creation and the phenomenal multi-disc blowout of Prince's 'Purple Rain' are the first two out on this list. Enough. OK, let's get on with it.

20. Lost Tapes - 'We Thought It Was Okay At The Time (2013-2015)'
Shelflife collects the early singles of Spain's finest dream-pop duo.

19. Secret Shine - 'Singles 1992-1994'
One of Sarah's stable was awfully close to shoegaze.

18. China Crisis - 'Working with Fire and Steel - Possible Pop Songs Volume Two' (Deluxe Edition)
First three LPs get blown out. This has always been my favorite.

17. Strawberry Switchblade - '1982 4-Piece Demo'
Fascinating 7" chronicles a time before the hits.

16. The Apple Moths - 'Fred Astaire EP'
Firestation's 12" resurrects the 1990 7" and adds three bonus tracks.

15. 14 Iced Bears - '14 Iced Bears'
Debut album becomes a double LP chock full of extras.

14. The Siddeleys - 'Songs From The Sidings - Demo Recordings 1985-1987'
Everything else is out of print. Get it while you can!

13. Michael Nesmith - 'At The BBC Paris Theatre'
Twangy set from '75 captures the former Monkee at his peak.

12. The Replacements - 'For Sale: Live At Maxwell's 1986'
First official live album was "recorded in front of more than 30 people."

11. Smart Remarks - 'Foreign Fields: 1982-1984
Discover a power-pop outfit that once opened for the Replacements.

10. The Beach Boys - '1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow'
'Wild Honey' with a slew of extra curiosities.

9. The Modulators - 'Tomorrow's Coming'
More underground Jersey power pop. Bonus tracks on '84 album too.

8. 14 Iced Bears, Aberdeen, The June Brides ‎– 'Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions'
Legendary radio show captures indie-pop pioneers.

7. The Jazz Butcher - 'The Wasted Years'
Beautiful four-disc box gathers early albums in their entirety.

6. Love Parade - 'Out to Sea'
Firestation unearths long lost jangle from '91.

5. Various Artists - 'C88'
Who knew it was a very good year? Cherry Red did.

4. The Wedding Present - 'George Best 30'
In 2008, Steve Albini helps Gedge rethink a classic.

3. Marshall Crenshaw - 'Thank You, Rock Fans!!'
Let's take a time machine to a show from '82.

2. Look Blue Go Purple - 'Still Bewitched'
Missed these gals the first time around. Thank you, Flying Nun!

1. Various Artists - 'The Test of Time: A Turntable Friend Records Compilation'
German label collects 40 of its indie-pop classics on three heavy pieces of vinyl housed in a dazzling tri-fold sleeve that includes an album-sized scrapbook of the company's history. The packaging is nothing short of perfection.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

11th-Hour Release Worthy of Year-End Accolades

As 2017 comes to a close, I have been busy compiling my year-end lists while at the same time keeping an ear to the bevy of new releases that have made this a dizzying December like no other in all my years of blogging. Last Friday alone my shopping list grew with the new long player by the Just Joans, the debut single from Elizabeth Morris' new band Elva and a special EP worth much more than a passing mention.

It's clear by now Wendy and Simon Pickles of the Popguns are big favorites around here, and the duo in life and in song have resurrected side project the Perfect English Weather with a gorgeous EP that will leave longtime fans surprised and longing for more. When the Perfect English Weather debuted with 'Isobar Blues' around this time last year, I described my No. 2 album of 2016 as Wendy and Simon "turn[ing] it down just a little bit" and "rivaling their best work." Put another way, there were moments that didn't seem so far away from the band from which they are known. The songs on the just released "English Winter EP", however, are not the Pickles Family with a new branch growing from the Popguns tree. This feels more like that Popguns tree dropped a seed and a whole new sapling is sprouting nearby. And like a sapling, these four new songs are fragile.

From the first notes of EP opener "Still", you know Wendy and Simon are going for something different. This is electronica that may remind you of St. Etienne, Lightning in a Twilight Hour or the softer side of the Luxembourg Signal. The atmosphere is thick, and the sounds are very contemporary. Shaun Charman, formerly of the Wedding Present and the Popguns, collaborated on this song, as did Wendy and Simon's daughter Anna. No knock on Simon, but I think we know where Anna's beautiful pipes come from. No hyperbole. "Still" will be vying for song of the year on these pages.

I'm a real sucker for melancholy holiday songs, and "Christmas in Suburbia" stirred up so many emotions. On the surface, holidays are all about making spirits bright and all of that, but we know that's not always the way, is it? While absorbing the song, one moment I was smiling, and the next I was longing. I know my hometown back in Illinois is nothing like it was when I was growing up, and it has become more and more difficult to return there... especially for the holidays. Everything has changed, including me. What more can you wring out of a three-minute pop song?

In keeping with the theme of an English winter, third song "Cold Out" keeps the electronica going and will have you ready for a warm blanket and a good snuggle. The EP concludes with a stripped-down version of "Dusty in Here" featuring Wendy and Anna. This has to be one of your favorites from the 'Before Hollywood' era of the Go-Betweens, and it may very well bring a tear as you listen to this beautiful cover and think of how many songs we could have had in the years since losing Grant McLennan.

The always dependable Matinée Recordings is ready to ship the "English Winter EP" to you right now. Give yourself an early Christmas present.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 13)

Some will argue bands with numeric names such as 10,000 Maniacs or 20/20 belong in their own section at the end of the shelf. This lot may scroll to the bottom of the artist list on their iPods as evidence. Please. These folks are dead wrong and need time on the couch of a well-paid analyst. In short, numeric names are always filed as though spelled out. Do we need to take this outside? Fine. Do what works and gets you to the album you're looking for the quickest. Just know you're doing it all wrong. With hard work and discipline, you can break the cycle of alphabetizing your albums incorrectly.

I do not go back to 1986 and the start of 14 Iced Bears. I learned of the band in name only sometime in the late '80s, but I never saw any of their records at the shops I frequented. It's a moniker you never forget though, and I hoped to hear their music someday. With the pedigree of 14 Iced Bears, why wouldn't I? The band released their first couple of singles on Mark Flunder's Frank label, home to the McTells and other indie-pop legends. Yes, that's Mark Flunder from Television Personalities. John Peel loved 14 Iced Bears, and they would record a session for his show in both 1986 and 1987. The third single came out in 1988 on a new label trying to get its footing called Sarah. Perhaps you have heard of it. A couple of well-received albums would follow, but it's these first three singles in particular that are so highly coveted by indie-pop geeks like me.

In 2001, Slumberland Records, one of the greatest labels out there to this day, rescued these recordings and threw in the Peel Sessions and several other nuggets on a comp called 'In the Beginning'. It's a little less of a big deal now, what with all of the work Cherry Red and Optic Nerve have done in recent years to resurrect their discography, but this CD was a godsend 16 years ago.

To announce this compilation was in the pipeline, Slumberland put out a double-A-sided 7" earlier in the year with debut song "Inside" on one side and second single "Balloon Song" on the flip. That's what we will listen to today. I knew I was going to love "Balloon Song" because another Slumberland band I was enamored with covered it so well in 2000. I highly recommend you give the version by the Aislers Set a listen too. You'll find it on the band's sophomore album 'The Last Match'. "Inside" is loud, fuzzy and would have been a nice fit on NME's 'C86'. By Balloon Song", 14 Iced Bears were a little less about racket and more about melody. Simply beautiful.

"Balloon Song"

This has been a stellar year for fans of 14 Iced Bears, and I'll have more on that when I unveil my lists of favorite new albums and reissues in the coming days.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 12)

We already listened to Friends Again in this series, but you can't really have Friends Again without having Friends, right? Friends is the musical outlet of the talented William Jones, and he founded Summerhouse Records in 1986 to release his take on indie pop. Like so many bands from the period, I was attracted to the jangle and the trumpet. There were other great groups that came through the doors of Summerhouse, including 4,000,000 Telephones and Rumblefish, but it's Friends that have been there from the beginning and have continued to release new music now and again even into this decade.

Like the Hit Parade and many other indie bands of that ilk, Friends have always been much a bigger deal in Japan than in their native UK. My favorite song by Friends is third single "The First Day of Spring", and I recommend you seek that out, but I have it on the inferior format and this is a vinyl series. Today I go with "Foreign Money", a brass-heavy 7" from 1994 that also triumphantly opens the 'Sundrowned' album. Sadly, I believe this marks the last release by Friends that came out on vinyl. I'm not sure if this has remained true to this day because I have lost track of Friends in recent years, but through a slew of albums and singles Jones never had a song with the word "love" in it. Because of its overuse in pop music, this was a matter of policy. He always tried to find other ways to express the feeling.

"Foreign Money"

Monday, December 4, 2017

Worthy of a Monday Misstep?

The plan is to wrap up transferring the letter F of my vinyl collection this week before jumping into my favorite albums of 2017. Before all of that, I have dug up another record from that area on the shelves that might very well qualify for my cringe-worthy Monday Misstep series. I'm on the fence about this one, but I'll let you be the judge. I seem to still like this one despite knowing I shouldn't. I was always much more offended by this band trying to cover Buzzcocks than I was the King.

This 12" single from 1986 is the only piece of vinyl you'll find by Fine Young Cannibals in my collection, and I think it has survived the decades because there is someone else in this house that is even more fond of it than I am. You may know how that goes. There are four songs on the record, including a very decent nearly eight-minute dub version of "Suspicious Minds", but perhaps an even better B-side is a remix of early single "Johnny Come Home", a No. 8 UK smash from 1985. It even managed to break into the Billboard Hot 100 here in America (No. 76). Is this maxi-single trash, a treasure or something in the middle? Certainly better than the Fixx last time around, right? Seems I'm defending Fine Young Cannibals. OK, let me have it.

"Suspicious Minds" (Suspicious Mix)
Johnny Come Home" (That Other Mix)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 11)

I'm not sure there is too much more I can say about Terry Hall. He has featured on these pages many times as either a solo artist or with Vegas, the Colourfield, the Specials or Fun Boy Three. I did manage to dig up something from the shelf that hasn't had an airing here before. This, the third and final single from FB3's self-titled 1982 album, is probably my least liked of all the band's singles, but that's far from a rebuke. I particularly like the horns supplied by the Swinging Laurels. Remember them? Terry, Neville and Lynval are quite impressed by someone who gets lots of invites via the phone. Man, do I hate talking on the phone. I sigh every time it rings. This was quite a year for Hall and the rest of the splitters from the Specials. If you count the trio's work with Bananarama, there would be five top 20 hits. "The Telephone Always Rings" peaked at No. 17 on the UK chart. Here is a beefed-up take that gives you about two more minutes than the 7".

"The Telephone Always Rings" (Extended Version)

I had this song on my mind tonight. So, here is a bonus... also from 1982. I played "Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares" here a couple of years ago, but I have never featured the extended version. As a 12 or 13 year old growing up among the corn fields of Illinois, the fact that FB3 and Bananrama were protesting with this song went completely over my head. I just liked that it had the same eerie quality as "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum" and the Specials' smash hit "Ghost Town". You'll find this much longer take as the B-side to the 12" single of "Really Saying Something".

"Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares" (Extended Version)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Another Musical Trip Inspired By CC

Our pal CC just celebrated five years at the helm of Charity Chic Music, and that's quite a feat when you consider he's one of those disciplined bloggers that somehow finds a way to put something up every day. Man, that's a plethora of posts. A tip of the cap, sir. What I like about CC is he always seems to highlight a song that gets me thinking about something else I have on the shelf. That often starts a chain reaction that ends with me holding a stack of albums and wondering where the evening went. Here are a couple of records I listened to over the weekend after CC had back-to-back submissions on Elvis and Elvis.

On Thursday, CC lamented Elvis Costello's last great album was 'Brutal Youth'. That was 23 years ago, folks. Wow. Like many of you in the comments, I pondered both that last great album statement and whether 'Brutal Youth' was, in fact, a great album. (Yes on both, by the way.) I think what made that time so exciting was the return of bassist Bruce Thomas. I pulled Thomas' book 'The Big Wheel' off the shelf a few days ago to refresh my memory on the dust up that got him dismissed from the Attractions in the first place (and, it turned out, in the second place). I planned on this being a quick read through the preface of the new edition to get his thoughts on the drama surrounding the band's induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but now I'm fully immersed in Thomas' work of "fiction" for the first time in several years.

While on the Bruce bus, I decided to listen to 'Mad About the Wrong Boy', the 1980 album the Attractions did without their famous leader. Most of the songs were written by Steve Nieve or the mysterious team of Brain/Hart, whom we later learned was Nieve and then-girlfriend Fay Hart. There were a few fine moments on the album, most notably "Single Girl" and Sad About Girls", but most of it was a bit of a stinker. Here was Bruce's best effort...

The Attractions - "Little Miss Understanding"

CC's musings on Elvis Presley, and the song "Mystery Train" in particular, instantly made me think of others who have tried to emulate the King. I'm guessing when you think of "Mystery Train" you probably don't immediately turn to 'Everybody's Rockin'', Neil Young's ode to rock 'n' roll's infancy that he released in 1983, but I do. This album came out the same month my hometown got MTV, and the single "Wonderin'" was a mainstay on the video channel. I loved the retro sound of the song and ran out to get the album. Although I hadn't listened to 'Everybody's Rockin'' for many years, since CC's post on Presley, I can't seem to get it off the turntable. Thanks, CC. Here's to another five years.

Neil Young & the Shocking Pinks - "Mystery Train"

Monday, November 20, 2017

When Oh-OK Found the 'Sweet' Spot

That song written by Matthew Sweet for the Springfields featured here at the end of last week got me going to the shelves for another one of his rarities from the '80s. Sweet went to school briefly at the University of Georgia in Athens where he was pals with Michael Stipe. They had met earlier when R.E.M. made a tour stop in Sweet's hometown back in Nebraska. Through that friendship he met Michael's sister Lynda, a bassist and songwriter with the trio Oh-OK. At that point, the band had already released the 'Wow Mini Album' on the legendary label DB Recs, home to the B-52's. Pylon, the Swimming Pool Q's, Love Tractor and many other local bands. What I always found interesting about that 1982 EP is there was no guitar. Drums, bass, vocals. That's it.

In 1983, Oh-OK would shuffle the lineup a bit for the second (and last) release. Linda Hopper and Stipe remained. Drummer David Pierce was replaced by David McNair and Sweet joined on guitar. The lighthearted tone and humor remained from 'Wow Mini Album', and Oh-OK's sound became just a little bit more accessible on the six-song 'Forevermore What' EP. There is nothing here that screams Sweet, but I find the EP more than just a passing curiosity. It's off-kilter, fun and a good listen. And given Sweet's well-documented love of felines, I think the cover of 'Forevermore What' is a smile.

'Such n Such'

Sweet would remain busy on the Athens scene. There was the short-lived Community Trolls side project with Michael Stipe. Sweet would also join up with Oh-Ok's original drummer to form the Buzz of Delight, also on DB Recs. Of course, it wouldn't be long before Columbia came calling, and after a couple of generally praised but poorly sold solo albums, the rest, as they say, is history.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention you can get both of Oh-OK's EPs along with a 1984 live performance from the Peppermint Lounge in NYC on one beautiful piece of vinyl HHBTM Records put out in 2011 called 'The Complete Reissue', and it's still in print!

Friday, November 17, 2017

'Sweet' Treat From Ric Menck

Here's a bit of trivia for you. Did you know there's a tiny connection between Sarah Records and Matthew Sweet? Ric Menck, probably best known for his power-pop outfit Velvet Crush, or for a few of you as Sweet's drummer on some of his best work, was in a couple of great but slightly lesser-known indie-pop bands in the '80s that deserved more of the limelight. One of those, Choo Choo Train, was on Subway Records, a label that gets touted here with regularity, and the other was the Springfields, an American band from Champaign, Illinois, that caught the ears of Clare and Matt. Sarah 10 was "Sunflower", a three-track 7" from 1988 with "Clown", a Hollies' cover, and the Sweet-penned "Are We Gonna Be Alright?" Sweet has never released a recording of this beauty given to the Springfields.

I have a couple of singles from the Springfields, but I don't own "Sunflower". Instead, I have all three songs from the single on 'The Ballad of Ric Menck' compilation that first came out on Summershine in 1996. I can't recommend this one enough. You'll find some Choo Choo Train, Springfields and solo recordings on there. I like it so much I bought it on two formats! Action Musik reissued it in 2004 with extra songs and liner notes from Menck. If I come across that one, I guess I'll own three copies. Doing this post reminded me of another seldom heard Sweet recording that I'll get to next week.

"Are We Gonna Be Alright?"

Yes, that really is how the songs ends.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Two Good Songs That Sound Great Together

Back when we spent all of our free time making mix tapes, perhaps you did this too. Even if my ear knew they didn't necessarily work as a tandem all that well, I liked to place a song about a musician next to a song by said musician, such as an Alex Chilton tune followed by "Alex Chilton" by the Replacements or "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground and "Velvet Underground" by Jonathan Richman back to back. Like the artist that sings about an artist, in a small way, I always felt like I was thanking one of my heroes by this placement. It was especially fun to put two musicians together that seemingly had very different sounds, such as something by Duke Ellington next to "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder. That's the direction I'm going in today.

Over the weekend, I thought about "Breakfast in Bed" from Dusty Springfield's 1969 album 'Dusty in Memphis' because today is my birthday. I secretly hoped maybe I would get my breakfast served that way this morning. Alas, that's a pretty tall order on a school day and, as is the ritual, I was the one making breakfast for everyone else. I knew I had an album with a song called "Dusty Springfield" in my music room somewhere, but the band wasn't coming to me right away. Let's just say I have had a number of birthdays under my belt, and I'm not quite the savant I used to be when it comes to remembering such things. I was singing it to myself yesterday. So I knew it was jangly indie pop from the golden age of jangly indie pop and probably from the UK. Finally, it hit me like a bolt of lightning a little while ago. If you're curious about just how many birthdays I have had, I'm the same age as 'Dusty in Memphis.' Sigh.

As an aside, I had no idea until today the album cover for 'Dusty in Memphis' was different for folks in the UK. The one above seems so iconic to this Yank.

Dusty Springfield - Breakfast in Bed
The Haywains - Dusty Springfield

Thursday, November 9, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 10)

Apologies, indie fans. A bit of a curve ball today but, perhaps, an interesting curiosity if you kneel at the altar of Brian Wilson. As many of you know, for much of the '90s, I became disenchanted with pop music. I increasingly turned to the loves of my childhood, absconded from my mother's record collection when I was 10, particularly the Kinks and Beach Boys. In the early years of that decade, it was a terrific time to be a fan of the Beach Boys. Reference books, biographies, box sets and other reissues were being released at a furious pace. After reading so much about Brian's influences, naturally, I began seeking out that music too. Again, the timing was perfect. Among my favorites, I really took to Phil Spector just as his 'Back to Mono' box set hit the shelves. I also picked up a decent comp of the Four Freshmen that received a few plays.

In the late '90s, while living in Washington, D.C., my fandom for Brian reached a fever pitch as he began releasing new music and flirting with the idea of touring. During that period, I went to a record convention in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I was shocked as I happened across a booth that had absolutely nothing but Four Freshmen memorabilia. I introduced myself to the fella at the booth and explained my interest due to the Wilson connection. His name was David, from nearby McLean, and I learned he was a Virginia representative of FFS, the Four Freshmen Society. Trust me, it's a big operation. It was a fascinating day of learning as David took me through some of the group's best recordings and explained their place in music as the group moved away from barbershop and introduced jazz elements that kids like Brian really dug as he listened in his bedroom back in Hawthorne, California. Did I just use the term barbershop on this blog?

The album changed everything for Brian was the 1955 release 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones'. Wilson once said of the album, "I was 14. They had a demonstration booth where you could listen to it in the store, and I found the Four Freshmen. My mother said, 'Do you really wanna hear this?' and I said, 'Sure!' So I went in this little booth, and I played it and fell in love with it. And I bought it. I loved the sound of the trombones. Wonderful songs -- 'I Remember You', 'Mam'selle'..." In another interview, he went further, saying of the song "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "This is where I learned to arrange harmonies, and also where I learned to sing falsetto. Their four-part harmony was totally original -- not five or three parts, but four parts. Wow!"

I have several albums by the Four Freshmen, but I think the two pictured above, 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones' and the comp 'Freshmen Favorites' are the only two I listen to with much regularity. My copy of 'Trombones' is very rough. In fact, while listening, you might run to the window thinking it has started raining. Sorry, that's surface noise. Here are the three songs Brian dropped in the quotes above. It will take you about 10 seconds to realize how much Brian was influenced by them.

"I Remember You"
"You Stepped Out of a Dream"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 9)

Here's a quick explanation of where I have been. Three weeks ago, my computer died. The repair shop told me the hard drive was fried. After a couple of days of contemplation, I decided to get a new laptop. The old one had already experienced a major repair last year, and who was to say the fan or screen wouldn't break the day after replacing the drive? I chose a model rather quickly, but then I found out there was a good chance it would be going on sale in a week's time. I waited.

The day it went on sale, I returned to the shop with a pile of cash. The model I wanted was not in stock. I could get the sale price, but the laptop would have to be ordered. It would be mailed to my house in 3-5 business days. With a weekend thrown in for good measure, I lost another week. The package arrived yesterday. I quickly took it to the repair shop to have the files on the old hard drive moved to the new one. I just picked it up a few minutes ago. It will probably take me a couple of days to get all of the missing software reinstalled, but I should be all set by the end of the week. In the meantime, I did have the next band in my vinyl collection already ripped. Let's get back to it.

One last thing. It would seem the worst part of the ordeal would be living without that one piece of equipment all of us have come to depend on for just about everything. Nope. For me, it's knowing I won't be able to buy records for a good long while as we try to replenish the coffers. The shopping list is as long as it has ever been.

I realize a post on Friends Again is for about two readers out there (JC and FORW, presumably), but I would be kicking myself if I skipped one of my favorite Scottish bands from my youth. I came to them from a little different angle than JC. He liked them from the beginning, listening to those early singles before they recorded for a major label. When I was a kid, my first taste of Friends again was the band's one and only album, 'Trapped and Unwrapped'. For those who had followed them since the 'Honey at the Core' single in 1983, the 1984 album was a bit of a disappointment. In particular, some of the songs were inferior recordings of those earlier releases. It's an old story, isn't it? I, of course, had nothing to compare them too, and I thought "Lucky Star" and others from the album were terrific pieces of jangle.

Fast forward about a quarter of a century, and I find JC's original Vinyl Villain blog. He starts playing these original versions from Friends Again, and I'm just floored. 'Trapped and Unwrapped' begins collecting dust as I start seeking out the old singles. As you can see from the photo above, during the past five or six years, I have collected quite a few trophies on my hunt for Friends Again relics. Here are a few of my favorites from the band. This is as good a time as any to thank JC for the education.

"Lullaby No. 2" (from 'the Friends Again EP')
"Sunkissed" (Extended Version) (12" single)
"Lucky Star" (original B-side to the "Honey at the Core" 7")

Monday, October 16, 2017

Misstep Mondays: The Fixx

Time to dust off another less than stellar piece of vinyl from my collection. As I mentioned last Monday, this week's pick is another band from the UK that couldn't buy a hit in their homeland but struck gold (platinum, actually) with those of us in America who couldn't keep their eyes off of upstart MTV. That's a pretty apt description of me in '83 when the Fixx's 'Reach the Beach' climbed the Billboard ladder.

My hometown didn't get MTV until the fall of that year, but I was already hooked on the music-video genre through friends' cable systems in other towns and programs like TBS's new show "Night Tracks", USA Network's "Night Flight", HBO's "Video Jukebox" and NBC's "Friday Night Videos". If you timed your channel surfing just right, you could even catch a video on Nickelodeon between shows. I just got nostalgic to see the opening sequence of "Friday Night Videos". The first clip I found says the Fixx will be coming up. Figures.

What can I say about the Fixx? Bland comes to mind. New wave for the masses, maybe. Anyway, my 13-year-old self thought lead single "Saved By Zero" was great. Loved the spooky video too. By the time the song was being used to tout zero-percent financing on television adverts, let's just say the novelty had worn off. The song peaked at No. 20 over here. It didn't even bother to chart at all in the UK.

Follow-up single "One Thing Leads to Another" is, without a doubt, the band's signature tune, reaching the dizzying heights of No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100. In the UK, an anemic No. 86 would have to suffice. The third and final single from the album, "The Sign of Fire", only got to No. 32, but that was still much better than not charting at all at home. When the dust settled, 'Reach the Beach' would sell two-million copies in the United States. Not sure what that says about us, but it can't be good. Other hits would follow, but 1983 would be the Fixx's finest hour.

The Fixx. Not the worst, but a misstep, nonetheless. Did I really just follow Aretha Franklin with the Fixx?

"Saved By Zero"

Saturday, October 14, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 8)

Skipping around the letter F quite a bit, but there is no way I'm going to waste an opportunity to pay homage to the Queen of Soul. It would be too predictable to go to Aretha Franklin's '67 or '68 output, and I probably should just so I can write all about how she had four (yes, four!) top 5 albums during that two-year run on Atlantic Records, but today I'm opting for her lesser known early years.

'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin' was her second album for Columbia, released in 1962 when she had just turned 20 years old. Franklin was being called the "New Queen of the Blues" then, and the music sounded a lot like what another favorite of mine, Ray Charles, was doing at the time. Still, you can already hear her range, and that patented yell of hers was already evident during some of the numbers, albeit accompanied by standards such as "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive".

Many of her songs during these first albums were written and/or arranged by John Leslie McFarland. He's probably best known for co-writing "Stuck on You", Elvis Presley's first hit following his two-year stint in the Army. One of those songs may just very well make you blush. "Rough Lover" is about as politically incorrect as anything you'll find in my collection. Well, maybe I give that nod to the Bacharach/David composition "Wives and Lovers" as sung by Frank Sinatra, but when you consider Franklin was a teenager when she was in the studio belting this one out... you might squirm a bit. Let's just say Franklin sings this one like she means it.

"Rough Lover"

Now, listen here, girls
I'm gonna tell you
What I want right now

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
And I'll find him if I can

He's got to bite nails
Fight bears
And if I get sassy
Be a man who dares
To shut me up and kiss me
So I know he cares
I want a man

Don't want a mean daddy
I want a boss
I want a mean, sweet daddy
Who the devil wouldn't cross

He's got to spit fire
Chew iron
Get mad and start roaring
Like a mountain lion
Then whisper that he loves me
So I know he's mine
I want a man

I'm looking for a guy
Who's big and strong
But weak for me
I'm looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man, oh, yeah

I'm looking for a guy
Who's raving strong
But weak for me
I’m looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man

I want a man
I don’t want no creampuff, baby
Don’t want no butterfly
I want a man

Oh, yes, I do
Oh, yes, I do

To contrast the booming sounds of "Rough Lover", let's turn it down and listen to what I think is Franklin's best moment on the album. As for 'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin', this one wouldn't bother to chart, and it would be quite a few more years before the general public would succumb to Franklin's charms. Of course, you know all about that.

"Blue Holiday"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 7)

Although I never stopped trying, I just couldn't get into the Fiery Furnaces. I found the work of siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger to be too much of a challenge to my pop sensibility. Yes, the duo tried my patience, but I always gave their latest work a listen out of loyalty to the fact they originally hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, which was very near where I was living during their heyday.

With the Fiery Furnaces on a hiatus that has stuck to this day, Eleanor released her first solo album in 2011, and the song "My Mistakes" got stuck in my head that summer and has seemingly never left. Unlike her previous band, she keeps it simple here, and I'm entranced by her laid-back sing-speak style that reminds me a little bit of Patti Smith. There is an intimacy to the entire album that makes you feel like she is sitting there with you, spinning yarns about friends and places you both have in common. Eleanor has had two albums since then, and I have enjoyed them both immensely, but it's 'Last Summer' I spin the most.

"My Mistakes"
"Roosevelt Island"

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 6)

I don't know about you, but after the latest Monday Misstep, I'm feeling the need to cleanse the palate. This beautiful piece of sophisti-pop, in the same vein as Carmel, Everything But the Girl and the Style Council, should go down better than lemon sorbet. "Window Shopping" from the Friday Club would be in the conversation for my favorite single in the collection. It's one of the most coveted on the shelf, too, regularly selling for $100 or more on Discogs. Why? It's not so much because "Window Shopping" is the only release the somewhat obscure seven-piece outfit from Scarborough ever put out. Rather, it comes down to the label and the timing. You see, this is the last recording and the penultimate release in the legendary 2 Tone discography.

In 1985, the Friday Club found out where Jerry Dammers lived, which was a squat in Stockwell, and they dropped a tape and a gig flyer in his mailbox. Dammers actually came to the show. Afterwards, he laughingly told the band he had "never heard a band so out of tune". So they were shocked when he called the next day and told them he wanted to produce and release "Window Shopping" on 2 Tone. Simon Bates started playing it on Radio 1, and "Window Shopping" broke into the top 100. Unfortunately, he went on vacation, and that was that. The Friday Club spent the last couple of months of the year opening for Madness. I will surely make the "Mad Not Mad" tour one of my first stops when we all have time machines, but there isn't too much more to say about "Window Shopping." No, it's never going to be remembered like the songs of 2 Tone's salad days, but, as Dammers summed it up, it's a nice song about being skint."

There is a 12" extended version of "Window Shopping" that's even tougher to find than the 7", and it's the one piece of vinyl I most desire. So, keep your eyes peeled and remember your old pal Brian. Thanks.

"Window Shopping"
"Window Shopping" (Instrumental)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Misstep Mondays: A Flock of Seagulls

Yep. A Flock of Seagulls. In general, I only flew with the flock for about a second, but I never did completely grow out of this particular single, released in late 1982. There is a haunting quality to the song that has stuck with me, and I have always preferred the mammoth 12" version. If this band gives you the shivers, don't play this one. It clocks in at more than nine minutes, and you'll by in the corner curled up in the fetal position by the end.

A message to my fellow countrymen: We have always been told a Flock of Seagulls were solely an American phenomenon, created by MTV, and that the Brits were far too smart to fall for this schlock. I have subscribed to this theory for 35 years, but I just checked the charts... not really the case. We did take to early single "I Ran (So Far Away)" with much more zeal, but the UK stuck with the band longer. As for "Wishing," the song peaked at No. 10 in their home country and No. 26 here in America. That was more or less the end of the line for the folicly-confused band in these parts.

Back next week with another UK band from the letter F, and this one actually was a bigger deal in this part of the world.

"Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)" (Long Version)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 5)

I have written about my love for the Flatmates and the Subway Organization ad nauseam. Saying this is my favorite band from my favorite label will have to suffice today. Just like Fire Engines featured last week, a stellar CD compilation of the Flatmates has seemingly made taking the time to pull out the old singles seem like a chore, but then I played the vinyl last night and realized that's a completely foolish sentiment. Not only do they sound great, pops and all, but just looking at the details of the covers, inserts and sleeves is such a treat.

Here is the complete 12" single of "Shimmer," the audience pick for second-best Subway single earlier this year on these very pages. Coincidentally, "Shimmer" peaked at No. 2 on the indie chart in 1988. Where are you, Debbie Haynes?!?

"On My Mind"
"If Not For You"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 4)

For me, Minutemen were practically over before they began. I was 14 when 'Double Nickels on the Dime' came out, and it was one of those life-changing albums that, as the Robster would say, I will take to my grave. This one release opened up the entire world of SST Records to me. That same year, Minutemen would make a tour stop at Mabel's in Champaign, Illinois, a legendary club about 80 miles from where I grew up. I begged my parents to let me go, but there was just no way that was going to happen. It wouldn't be long before D. Boon would die in a van accident. I never got to see my beloved Minutemen.

By the time I went off to college in Chicago, Mike Watt and George Hurley had reunited, along with Ed Crawford, to form fIREHOSE. I love Ed's story. In a nutshell, Ed was a huge Minutemen fan attending Ohio State when he caught wind Mike and George might be ready to give it another go. He found Watt's phone number and called him in California to ask for a tryout. That didn't work, but he didn't give up. He left Columbus for San Pedro and asked him again. Next time you think about shirking a challenge, think of Ed. There weren't many band's working as hard as fIREHOSE. Between 1986 and 1993 they would release five studio albums, a couple of EPs and play nearly 1,000 shows. Chicago was a regular stop when touring, and I caught fIREHOSE every time they would swing by, which was often.

fIREHOSE was one of those early '90s alt bands that got swept up in the indie pilfering the major labels pulled after Nirvana took over the world. Although I hated to see them go to Columbia, in my opinion, fIREHOSE was one of the rare bands that didn't dip much in quality when they moved to the big leagues. Having said that, I'll take side one of their first album, 'Ragin, Full-On", over anything in their discography. There are still vestiges of Minutemen found here. Yep, this trio definitely knew how to jam econo. Here are three songs to prove it.

"Brave Captain"
"It Matters"
"Another Theory Shot to Shit"

Monday, October 2, 2017

Misstep Mondays: Fiction Factory

As many of you know, I have spent more than a year now (closer to two, actually) transferring my vinyl to a digital format. It's a huge undertaking, even with skipping many less-than-vital albums and singles, and it turns out I have a bevy of those. This is especially true of the synth-driven bands of my youth. Rather than flipping by these not-so-proud moments, I have decided to come clean with these missteps.

As I mentioned last week, from 1982 to about 1985, there didn't seem to be a new wave or new-wave inspired hit from across the pond that I didn't buy. Sure, I have shared a few of these, such as B-Movie, but most of the bands featured on Misstep Mondays will be a step or two down the musical ladder from a song like "Nowhere Girl". Then again, that will be for you the audience to decide.

That brings us to this inaugural pick. I'm busy transferring vinyl from the letter F, and that's where we will find our first couple of inclusions. Fiction Factory ticked a few boxes for me in 1984, but the most important was that they were from Scotland. You will certainly know the pretty ballad "(Feels Like) Heaven", a No. 6 smash in the UK that also went top 10 in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Ireland and did quite well in other places around the world. The song did nothing in my home country, but the video did get a few plays on shows I was watching at the time. Funny thing is, thanks to a certain nostalgia-fuelled satellite-radio station, I hear it more now than I even did when I was a kid. I have to admit when it comes on I don't touch the dial.

As for the album the song comes from, "Throw the Warped Wheel Out", it's one I'm not sure I have played since 1984... well, at least not until last night. Utterly forgettable. Perhaps I have played it before but just don't remember. The follow-up single to "(Feels Like) Heaven" was "Ghosts of Love". Wow, what a momentum killer. It peaked at No. 64 in the UK and only charted in one other country. There were better choices from the album but only marginally so. There would be no other hits for Fiction Factory, and the band would release their last album a year later. I'm not a big fan of the term one-hit wonder, but if the shoe fits. Back next Monday with another misstep from the letter F.

"(Feels Like) Heaven"
"Ghosts of Love"

Friday, September 29, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 3)

Alan Horne wanted them, but Bob Last was the one that snagged Fire Engines. Their first shows outside of Edinburgh were with Orange Juice and Josef K in Glasgow, playing for the likes of Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee and the brothers Reid. Can you imagine? Actually, if you think about who was there, it all starts to make sense. In their short time together, the impact of Fire Engines would be dramatic and far reaching.

If you weigh both sides, I think the "Candyskin" 7" is the band's best single, and that's where we start today. Davy Henderson trades in the yelps for more conventional vocals and produces an indie smash, but it's the instrumental B-side akin to the earlier recordings that gets more plays in this house. What a racket! Follow-up single "Big Gold Dream" is as commercial as Fire Engines ever got, and it would prove to be the end of the road for the band. Henderson said shortly after, "Around the time of the second John Peel Session, we were shit -- our compass was a fake -- we should have trusted our magnets -- we should've trusted our inability." A great song, nonetheless.

I really enjoyed pulling out these two seven-inch singles last night. In 2007, Acute released the band compilation 'Hungry Beat' on an inferior format, and I was first in line. Ever since, whenever I have needed a fix of Fire Engines, I have played this CD, leaving these perfect pieces of vinyl to collect dust. I pledge to right that wrong starting right now.

"Meat Whiplash"

Big Gold Dream"
"Sympathetic Anaesthetic"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 2)

It's pure coincidence I find myself up to Bryan Ferry at the same time JC has had two interesting posts on Roxy Music. I have always been a much bigger fan of Roxy Music than I ever was of Ferry's solo work, but I was really into his two mid-'80s albums, 'Boys and Girls' and 'Bête Noire'. I can think of a few reasons for this.

This was the time of my life I was most into Roxy Music. So, it just made sense to buy Ferry's new music. I was also into the aesthetic. As an impressionable teenager, I loved Ferry's look and the way he carried himself. He was the essence of cool. Still is, actually. The album covers and sleeves were sharp too. Finally, and maybe most importantly, my girlfriend really liked him. I have it on good authority she still does. I should know. I married her.

I would say Ferry's work with Johnny Marr during this period played a part as well, but that relationship didn't get me to buy "Avonmore' in 2014, did it? In fact, I never owned any albums by Ferry after 'Bête Noire', but I always give his new releases a listen with the hope this will be the one to bring me back in the fold. I may not own anything after 1988, but I do have a slew of 12" singles by Ferry from the 1980s. Here are a few of my favorites. Class.

"Slave to Love" (Special 12" Re-Mix)
"Don't Stop the Dance" (Special 12" Re-Mix)
"The Right Stuff" (12" Dance Mix)
"Kiss and Tell" (Extended Remix)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 1)

I took the entire summer off from this vinyl-ripping series because, well, I got burned out. Tonight, I feel refreshed and raring to go, but I am going to be more selective with my choices. I may only choose 10 to 12 bands per letter to keep things moving. I also thought it would be fun to come clean about some of the more cringe-worthy selections from my vinyl collection. When I was a lad, specifically between 1982 and 1985, I seemed to buy just about every hit that came from across the pond... as long as it had a synthesizer in it. Save your laughs and groans for next week when I unveil Misstep Mondays. In the meantime, let's get this f-ing thing started.

The Feelies have featured on these pages many times in the eight-and-a-half years this blog has been operating, and I believe all six of their LPs have already had a proper airing. That doesn't leave much for me to play today, but there is no way I'm going to pass up an opportunity to tout a band in my collection I consider to be in the upper echelon of absolutely essential. So, how about a cover?

The Feelies have been performing inspired covers from the word go. Songs by the Beatles, Stones, Velvet Underground, Stooges, Monkees, Jonathan Richman and Neil Young have appeared with regularity on LPs, B-sides or as crowd-pleasing show closers since 1980. VU's "What Goes On" is my absolute favorite (already featured here before), but a close second would be Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot". The band has been playing that one at shows since the '80s, and a recording of the song showed up at least twice during that decade, including as a B-side of the 12" promo single for "Away" in 1988 and on a flexi that came with an issue of The BOB magazine in 1989. Tough finds, though.

Fortunately, in 2016, a four-song vinyl EP of covers called "Uncovered" was released for Record Store Day, and "Dancing Barefoot" was included. With my days as RSD lemming long behind me, I wasn't willing to wake up early and line up for it. Luckily, my local mom-and-pop shop still had a copy when I stopped in the next day. Bassist Brenda Sauter takes the lead vocals, and she does a hell of a job with one of Smith's most beloved songs.

"Dancing Barefoot"

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New Orchids Retrospective Strives for Perfection

How's this for a name drop? I found out about Cherry Red's upcoming release 'Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective' from the John Scally, guitarist for Glasgow-based band the Orchids. You never know who is out there reading, do you? This set is split between a 20-song best of on disc one and an impressive odds-and-sods collection of rarities on disc two.

As the title suggests, the songs on the best-of disc are evenly spread across the band's career. The first 13 songs are from the Sarah years, and the disc opens with one song from each of the first three singles. There is little to nitpick about, but choosing "Apologies" over "I've Got a Habit", from Sarah's second-ever release, is the only real head-scratcher. Initially, the same could have been said about using "Defy the Law" rather than "Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink", but there is a reason for that choice that we'll get to in a bit. The rest of the disc is perfection. If you're a fan that uses the 1992 Sarah compilation 'Epicurean - A Soundtrack' as your go-to Orchids long player, you will want this set too. There are only six songs that overlap, and you get the bonus of seven songs from the band's second life. The three albums that came out between 2007 and 2014 are all must haves for fans of the Orchids. If you haven't heard them, however, the songs chosen for this set are just the taster to get you to pick them up.

Disc two is chock full of the demos, alternative versions and radio sessions that are sure to get the completists off the sofa. The real highlight is the first track. "From This Day" comes from the 1987 split flexi the Orchids did with the Sea Urchins for Sha La La, Matt Haynes' fanzine label that came before Sarah. One release that's missing here is "An Ill Wind That Blows", the 7" Bob Stanley put out on his Caff label in 1990, but many of you may already have it as a bonus track on the 'Lyceum' reissue LTM released in 2005. The disc closes with a 2017 re-recording of "Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink". Would you rather have the original, or are you curious about this new version?

'Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective' is fully remastered and comes with liner notes by ex-BBC radio DJ John Cavanagh and the uber Sarah producer Ian Carmichael. This one comes out Sept. 29, and there are a limited number of signed copies available at the Cherry Red shop. Preorder now. Here's the complete tracklist from Cherry Red. I have added the relevant original release info for disc one because I'm into that sort of thing.

Disc One: The Best Of...

1. APOLOGIES ("I've Got a Habit" 7", Sarah 2)
2. DEFY THE LAW ("Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink" 7", Sarah 11)
3. WHAT WILL WE DO NEXT? ("What Will We Do Next?" 7", Sarah 23)
4. IT’S ONLY OBVIOUS ('Lyceum' 10" mini album, Sarah 401)
5. CAVEMAN ('Lyceum' 10" mini album, Sarah 401)
6. SOMETHING FOR THE LONGING ("Something for the Longing" 7", Sarah 29)
7. LONG DRAWN SUNDAY NIGHT ('Unholy Soul' LP, Sarah 605)
8. PEACHES ('Unholy Soul' LP, Sarah 605)
9. BEMUSED, CONFUSED AND BEDRAGGLED ("Penetration" 12" EP, Sarah 42)
10. THAUMATURGY ("Thaumaturgy" 7", Sarah 66)
11. OBSESSION N°1 ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
12. A KIND OF EDEN ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
13. STRIVING FOR THE LAZY PERFECTION ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
14. ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT ('Good to Be a Stranger' LP, Siesta, 2007)
15. SHE’S MY GIRL ('The Lost Star; LP, Pebble, 2010)
16. THE GIRL AND THE SOLDIER ('The Lost Star' LP, Pebble, 2010)
17. THE WAY THAT YOU MOVE ('The Lost Star' LP, Pebble, 2010)
18. HEY! SOMETIMES ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)
19. SOMETHING’S GOING ON ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)
20. WE MADE A MESS ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)

Disc Two: Rarities

17. OOH WEE!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Name Game

I spent a good chunk of last night stuck on a name. While listening to a couple of albums by Cats on Fire, I was perusing the liner notes, as we do, and my eyes kept being drawn to a behind-the-scenes guy named Nick Triani. Why did I know that name? Triani had mixed one of the albums, and he was the first person thanked by the band on another. I finally gave up and went to the Web in defeat. It took about 30 seconds to realize I knew Triani from an indie-pop band he was in back in the '80s. I should have known.

The Bridge was from the Staines and Egham area, and they only had a couple of singles, but there was an A-side from 1986 that was a real keeper. "Shame is a Girl" was written by bandmate Mark Davies, and one of Triani's songs was relegated to the B-side. At one point, the Bridge was signed to Chrysalis, but this 7" came out on Norwich indie Backs Records. Backs was a record shop, label and distributor, and I can't help but wonder if our pal the Swede knows this lot from his days when he had his own shop. When you listen to this one, you may be transported to the sounds of Prefab Sprout in the band's earliest days. That's what I hear, anyway. If the Bridge grabs you, I highly recommend 'Face Down Everybody Looks The Same', a band compilation Firestation released a few years ago. Getting tough to find these days, but worth the hunt. There is a Triani song on that one called "Problem Child" that is my favorite from him. Sounds like the Wake circa 1985.

In the '90s, Triani was in Supermodel, a band you may know better than the Bridge. He has gone on to make quite a name for himself as a presenter on Radio Helsinki and as a producer and label head (Soliti) in that part of the world. Thus, his connection to the aforementioned Cats on Fire and, it turns out, a number of other bands I plan to dive into in the coming weeks. This turned out to be a pretty fun way to spend an evening. Here's that 7":

"Shame is a Girl"
"The Loveless"

Monday, September 18, 2017

Forster's Intimate Evening in Nottingham

Nottingham correspondent MisterPrime returns with a look at a special night he had on the 5th of September when Robert Forster opened the current leg of his book tour to promote 'Grant & I: Inside and Outside the Go-Betweens' at the Nottingham Rough Trade. I'm full of envy and elation in equal measure. Take it away, MisterPrime...

I'm not really much of an autograph hunter. Above and beyond the uncomfortable level of social interaction necessary to acquire them, I don't generally see the point. I went to the album launch for 'English Tapas', the latest by the Sleaford Mods, at Rough Trade Nottingham earlier in the year, saw a storming pub-sized performance by the band and picked up my copy of the record -- on very fetching red vinyl, I might add -- without feeling its intrinsic worth to me would be very much increased by it having the words "Cheers, Jason", or equivalent, scrawled somewhere on the cover in permanent marker, for example.

I can think of three notable exceptions that I have in my possession, though. One is a copy of Sugar's 'Copper Blue' on cassette, it's inlay card signed by Bob Mould. My wife -- then girlfriend -- got that one for me at a signing at Nottingham's much-missed Selectadisc record shop, presumably in 1992, as I was too nervous to queue up and ask for it myself. I also have a ticket for a Wedding Present gig at the Wherehouse in Derby (also in '92, February, in fact, the helpful Scopitones Web site informs me) that I got David Gedge to sign for my wife -- then girlfriend -- who wasn't able to make it to the gig for some, presumably common-sense, reason. The social interaction aspect was somewhat alleviated on that occasion by the fact that my friend Dave was already having a conversation with Gedge about the possibility of selling some of our fanzines off their merch table. And now I have a lovely signed copy of Robert Forster's book, 'Grant & I: Inside and Outside the Go-Betweens' that I picked up on my way to see the author promoting it with songs and chat -- again at Rough Trade -- and then got Mr. Forster to inscribe afterwards whilst he was enjoying a well-earned latte and a piece of carrot cake.

Now, it just so happens that a combination of factors (I'd inadvertently sat right by the signing table -- actually more of a rough-wood stand-up DJ bar incongruously padded up for the twin-turntables -- Forster was raring to go, signing-wise, and in general the usual crowd at Rough Trade is a little too cool to storm straight to the front) meant that I was just second in the signing queue –- after one very eager couple whose photo I had to take with the Great Man. Had I hung around for a minute or two (gone to the bar or the loo) I'd certainly not have bothered to join the room-length queue that eventually formed to shake the hand and secure the signature. That said, this was one event that certainly seemed worth the commemorating.

The evening had been billed on the Rough Trade Web site as a more compartmentalised event where journalist Pete Paphides would interview Forster before an audience Q&A and a short live set. In fact, it took the looser form of a couple of hours worth of a more 'In Conversation' format. This meant that, after his introduction, Forster strode in with his guitar, sat down just a few feet away from me at the front of the room and opened proceedings with a rendition of "Rock and Roll Friend". It was a magical moment, real hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. He explained how the woman he was seeing at the time had asked him to write a song about her -- she worked nine to five, he was out nights with the band; he, typically, wrote about himself, but from her perspective. And then, better still, a little later on he played "Karen", something more than I'd have hoped for, and a beautiful rendition, despite a preceding disclaimer that these were "the words of a 20-year-old" and he might very well forget them. (He didn’t!)

Paphides kept things on track, giving the conversation a broadly chronological structure and, as an avowed long-time fan, asking the sort of questions that made a follow-up Q&A redundant. He even refused to bring up a couple of anecdotes from the book for fear of spoiling the audience's eventual enjoyment of it. Forster was as urbane and avuncular as you would hope, not to mention scrupulously frank and honest -- and very entertaining. He used the guitar to make particular points -- about the chords he learned from Roddy Frame, for example, on tour with Aztec Camera and used to take his songwriting in a more popwardly direction. At one point, he illustrated the way that Grant's classic "Cattle and Cane" came together -- playing first the bassline and then the guitar part and then singing the first verse. (I'll swear he even adopted a slightly-more Grant-like vocal tone.) And as for the songs... well, suffice to say he played "People Say", "Part Company", "Head Full Of Steam" and "Darlinghurst Nights" -- taken on their own, a succinct enough little set of classics from the Go-Betweens canon -- and finished off with solo numbers "Learn To Burn" and "I Love Myself (And I Always Have)", though I must (shamefully) admit I'm somewhat less familiar with his more recent work.

It was a thoroughly entertaining -- often spellbinding -- evening. The intimate surroundings of the Rough Trade bar giving the feel of the kind of living-room gig you would not expect to catch an artist of this caliber in. (I must admit I'd almost missed it myself. Thanks, Brian!) Apparently there were, criminally, still a few tickets available at the door; perhaps the Curse of the Go-Betweens lives on....

As for 'Grant & I', it's been a great book so far. The prose is sharp and poetic but always warm and full of life and wit, just as you would expect. I'm only about a third of the way through, but that's because I'm deliberately reading it slowly. I definitely recommend picking up a copy -- autographed or not....


Friday, September 15, 2017

A Welcome Return... Even As We Speak

Nearly a quarter century since the Sydney-based band recorded its last single for Sarah Records, Even As We Speak has made a triumphant return to the new-release racks with a 10" on the always dependable Emotional Response Records. If you're a cynic who thinks, oh boy, another Sarah band cashing in on the wave of goodwill for the once critically abhorred label, then you haven't actually listened to the five-track 'A Black Forest' 10". This is inspired indie pop that will surely be lauded in December as comeback of the year by the same fickle press that was so wrong about Sarah.

For the record, the press was actually far kinder to Even As We Speak than many on Sarah. I'm grouchy because, having mentioned Beth Arzy's first band earlier this week, I thought of this clip I will never be able to shake...

With that off my chest, on to more happy news from the Emotional Response and Even As We Speak camps. You have been able to stream and download 'Yellow Food: The Peel Sessions' for a few years now, but that's not enough for those of us who want to hold the merchandise, is it? John Peel loved Even As We Speak, and the band was one of only a handful of Aussie groups that recorded a session for him. A few others, in case you are interested, were the Birthday Party, the Triffids, the Go-Betweens and Laughing Clowns. Later this month, all four sessions Even As We Speak recorded for the BBC in 1992 and 1993 will be available on CD from Emotional Response. You can give it a listen on the EAWS's bandcamp page:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Indie Pop From a Couple of Old Favorites

Whenever there is an announcement pertaining to Pete Astor, that's top of the fold banner headline news in these parts. Astor released the best album I heard in 2016, and he's followed that up with a move to Hamburg-based Tapete Records, home to favorites like Lloyd Cole, Robert Forster and the Monochrome Set, and a 7" set for release in November. Here is a preview of the two-tracks. Like the songs of 2016 album 'Spilt Milk', James Hoare of Ultimate Painting, Proper Ornaments and Veronica Falls remains Astor's confidant on "Water Tower" and "What a World". Preorder here.

When your labor of love is a blog that focuses on indie pop, you're never going too many posts without the name Amelia Fletcher popping up. Lately, it feels like Fletcher is sharing the title of quintessential indie-pop heroine with the great Beth Arzy. If you only know her from previous bands Aberdeen and Trembling Blue Stars, then you haven't been paying much attention the past couple of years.

Arzy has been populating my year-end lists as a member of both Lighting in a Twilight Hour and the Luxembourg Signal, and now she adds a third active band to her resume. Jetstream Pony just released its debut 7" on German label Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten, and the following two songs prove Arzy still isn't stretching herself thin. If you're wondering who is playing the fuzzy guitar below, that's indie stalwart Shaun Charman. You know him from being behind the kit in the early years of the Wedding Present, Popguns and, more recently, the Fireworks. You can order the "Like You Less" b/w "Had Enough" single at Discogs.