Tuesday, 6 May 2014

'The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld' - The Orb (1991)

“What were the skies like when you were young?”

“Are next door mowing their lawn?”
“No, Grandad - that sound’s on the record.”
“Oh. Who is it?”
“The Orb.”

“What’s that dripping noise? Has nan left a tap on?”
“It’s on the record, Grandad.”

“Is that a plane? Or is this still The Orb?”
“No, that’s a plane. But the spaceship you’re about to hear taking off is The Orb.”

My grandparents and I loved those early Orb albums - my Grandad quickly acclimatised to the layers of samples woven in to each track. They were the soundtrack to our Sunday lunch. And our afternoon Scrabble games in my post-college unemployed years. Perhaps not the audience or the environment Dr Alex Paterson had in mind for his visionary ambient experimentations. 

They are also great albums to put on while writing. Which I remembered today while tapping away at the day job. And for an hour I was transported. Off to the Ultraworld. Via my grandparents’ dining-room table.  

Further reading: 'U.F. Orb (1992)'

Sunday, 4 May 2014

'Automatic' - The Jesus And Mary Chain (1989)

“Catch me getting it wrong from the start.”

“Happy 4th anniversary, Michael!” Oh, thanks for remembering. “And congrats on your 200th post.” Wow, have you been counting? Thanks again. “Anything special planned? Perhaps you could finally tell us why you chose May 4th to start writing this blog. Is it to do with Star Wars?” No, you’ll be surprised to learn that it isn’t to do with Star Wars. But tradition dictates that I write about a Mary Chain record on each anniversary. “Yeah, but no-one is actually that concerned about your self-imposed traditions, Michael. And besides, you missed last year.” Ok…

In 1989, May 4th was a Thursday. Which meant it was a school day for me. But far more importantly, it was also the day tickets went on sale for The Cure’s Prayer Tour - with three nights at Wembley to support the launch of ‘Disintegration’. These days of course, every seat would be snapped up in nanoseconds online by a horde of merciless tout-bots. But back then you could suffer through double geography, art and industrial studies, and still be in with a chance of getting good tickets when you rung the box office number that night. The only concern was whether your dad would be home with the credit card and how you were going to pay him back.

Naturally resigned to going to the show alone (my default Goth setting), I hadn’t paid much thought to asking along the one person in the world that I would most like to join me. So I surprised myself by doing just that as the bell rang for the end of lunch in the Sixth Form common room. That person was Toni, of course. (Or not ‘of course’ if you’ve just joined us for this Episode 200 extravaganza. In which case, you may want to pop over to the Origin story. It involves snowballs. We’ll meet you back here.) In a flash, there was a wonderfully excited ‘yes’. The rest was lost in a giddy haze. 

It was a small moment, 25 years ago. And I’ve long since lost touch with Toni. But May 4th is infused with that memory of her. And always brings a smile. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

'Tower Of Strength' - The Mission (1987)

“And you’re true to me,
And still I need more”

If you were looking for me on a Saturday night in 1987/88, the best place to start would have been The Astoria. Formerly on Charing Cross Road. Now dust on the wind. (Oh, how very poetic. Wayne Hussey would surely approve.) And much missed.

Not my pic. Happy to remove if anyone wants to claim it.

Snake-dancing to All About Eve. Moshing to The Wonder Stuff. Choking on dry ice to The Nephilim. So very many formative gig experiences happened for me within its dark-to-the eye and tacky-to-the-touch walls. Most always in the company of my cousins or my friend Chris. We’d go back to school the following Monday laden with tales of taking an elbow to the face from a zealous stage-diver during ‘Too Many Castles In The Sky’ by Rose of Avalanche, while our classmates talked about a great pair of Hi-Tecs they’d bought in Farnborough. Could never understand why others didn’t want to share our world. “Hey, I got elbowed in the face. You don’t see the great joy of life in that? No?” 

Let’s avoid making a list. But if we were making a list, and it was called ‘Bands I Saw Most Often At The Astoria’, then straddling the misty peak like a gothic colossus would be (you guessed it) The Mission. They seemed to be the house band in those years. Even when they weren’t actually on the bill, various band members would pop up on stage for other people’s shows. And every time I saw them was a petal-strewn delight.       

My final visit to The Astoria was for Kate Nash, Soko and Noah & The Whale. In 2008. There had been almost a twenty-year gap. But nothing had seemingly changed. Those walls were as dark and tacky as ever. Except, I noticed for the first time there was a balcony. It must have always been there, but us teenage goths had no time for balconies. Now none of it remains. Pushed aside to become an underground station entrance when they finally finish rebuilding Tottenham Court Road. Unlike all the ‘80s bands I saw there that have since come back together, this is one icon that unfortunately we won’t get to see reform.   

Oh, yes - those beloved multi-formats.
Here's the limited 12-inch Bombay Mix.

With insert and sticker.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

'Rat Rapping' - Roland Rat Superstar (1983)

“With a penthouse suite, swimming pool,
Pretty young guinea-pigs playing it cool.”

The Stones. The Who. The Bermuda Dimensions. A classic rock lineage. “Woah! Back it up! The Who?” Yes, the Who. Roger Daltrey. My Generation. “No, no…. the BERMUDA Who?” Oh, sorry. The Bermuda Dimensions. Otherwise known as TBD. (No-one ever called us that, but let’s shorten the name now or we’ll be here all day). Yes, my second band. Well, not mine, as such. The second band I was in with my cousins, Grant and Matthew. (New readers can catch up on the adventures of our first band right here.) 

You haven’t heard of TBD? Pfft! Where you you in 1983? (Oh, really… well that explains it then. Anyway…) No, I’m not sure about the name either looking back at it. There were three of us. We had read some stuff about the Bermuda Triangle. 3D was on a second go-round at the cinemas. So, you can see where we were coming from at least.

With cousin Matt on vocals, cousin Grant on keyboards and myself on rhythm guitar, we could best be defined as a ‘bedroom band’. Or even better defined as ‘the spare bedroom of my grandparents’ band’. There was no touring the pubs and the clubs of the UK for us. Mainly as we were only 12 years old. Our arena was the C90 cassette. And our sound was… well… kind of diluted rocky, poppy, shambolic noodling. Our influences were Dexys, ABC, Adam Ant, and the Human League. And we sounded spectacularly like none of them. Even when we were doing countless cover versions of their songs.   

It was another of our bands mainly inflicted on close family, and occasionally friends. But we did have one celebrity fan. Oh, yes. (Wait for it.) Roland Rat! "What?"

Taking a cue from the cheeky self-promotion and enigmatic marketing of ZZT Records (Frankie, Art of Noise, Propaganda), much of our time which would have been best utilised rehearsing, was spent creating an image around TBD. Extravagant cover art and lyric books. Tour posters for tours that were never going to happen. And, of course, a fan club. For one flat fee of 10 pence  (bargain!) you got monthly newsletters, badges, album discounts (yes, ha ha), and loads of other stuff which most probably soon found a bin. 

Our school friends all humoured us by signing up. (And my dad quickly lost his humour when he discovered how much printer ink I was using up for just 10p a fan.) But we knew what we really needed was a celebrity endorsement. And celebrities didn’t come much bigger at that time than Roland Rat. So I popped him a letter in the post offering free membership. And this came back…

Success! Of sorts. But, well, you know the ending to this. You've never heard of TBD. You won’t find our name in any Halls of Fame. Roland Rat didn’t help boost cassette sales in my school playground. Within a year we had gone our separate ways. But not for long. For about six weeks, in fact. As by the next half-term we were re-energised and our third band awaited. One that actually played a show. Kind of. But more of that in another post. (Hey - you only had to wait four years for this follow up.)   

Saturday, 8 February 2014

‘You’re The One That I Want’ – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (1978)

“I got chills… 
They’re multiplying.”

Imagine a time when singles came without picture sleeves. “Woah! Singles! Pictures! Sleeves! Slow down, please.” Ok, first imagine a time when people actually bought singles. Let’s call it 1978. And now imagine them without picture sleeves. Yes, those were miserable times. All your favourite three minute vinyl wonders would be housed in cheap uniform paper sleeves. It’s almost like the global-multi-mega-conglomerate record labels didn’t care. As if these potent pop treasures were all thoroughly disposable.

But I cared. I wasn't having all my singles dressed so shabbily. So, I got to work with a copy of Look-in magazine, kitchen scissors and sticky tape to create my own picture sleeves. With debatable results…  

Oh, yes. It’s pretty clear to see the fledgling art director struggling to soar free within me at aged seven, I think we can all agree. Though whether this is an actual improvement on the plain sleeve provided is something I’ll leave for you to decide for yourself.

My love of sleeve design flourished further with the advent of recordable tapes. There was no way I was letting all those C90s stack up on my shelves with just the handwritten labels showing. Uh-uh. So I’d root through the music papers for suitable sleeves. Which, as this was my Indie/Goth era, most usually meant stark black and white images of abandoned buildings. As we can see…

Probably should have thought about adding titles to the covers. Save me having to remember them all.  The 4AD/Factory fan in me wouldn't allow for that though.

A missed career opportunity, methinks.   

Friday, 7 February 2014

'Ant Rap' - Adam And The Ants (1981)

“All things lively must be used.”

Going to the dentist after school. Nothing worse. “Slight over-exaggeration perhaps, Michael?” Nope. You’ve already had to endure hours of double Science, orienteering (is that really a thing outside school?) in the driving rain, and an assembly about the dangers of climbing electrical pylons. And now you have to be picked up straight from end-of-day registration to go get your annual dental check-up. Which means you’re going to miss Danger Mouse, Dramarama and Blue Peter - and today they’re making a TARDIS out of a shoe box. And it will never be repeated as no-one has bothered inventing video recorders or the Internet yet. Argh!       

Oh, and guess what? To prolong the torture, you’ll be kept waiting in the stuffy, windowless dentist’s reception room for an age. (An ‘age’ being more than three minutes in any young kid’s mind, of course.) And the TV in there is always broken, so no chance of seeing that TARDIS get built. Instead you can listen to the intermittent sound of drills and screaming. While watching a goldfish being victimised by a toddler throwing faux-Lego bricks in its tank. 

So far, all pretty much the norm. But today, on this late Tuesday afternoon in the early ‘80s, a new dimension of horror awaits. Oh, yes. For today I’m not (finally) being called to the dentist’s room. Today I’m being led down a new corridor. To a new door. That opens up to reveal giant steps down in to a darkened basement (you didn’t expect it to be a well-lit basement, did you?). This can’t be right. Hey, stop shoving. Ok, I’m going. Down. Down.

What’s this? Why is Worzel Gummidge here? This is most odd. And somewhat terrifying. Why is my dentist secreting a life-sized model of Jon Pertwee dressed as ITV’s Saturday evening scarecrow superstar? And can we put some proper lights on instead of this weird red glow?

To this day, I do not know the link between good dental hygiene and that chamber of fear. Was this some UK-wide Government initiative or the machinations of a lone dental practitioner with a love for anthropomorphic farm-based characters? Was tatty old Worzel meant to represent a state of decay that would shock you in to brushing your teeth more? Or was he meant to be a welcoming face for children? I would have gone for Metal Mickey instead. 

I do know that I spent half an hour scared witless while chewing some tablets that turned my mouth red. And that Worzel came back to haunt my sleep that night. And the night after. And, to be honest, he’ll probably be coming back tonight after this.   

Thursday, 6 February 2014

'Which Smiths Record Cover Are You?'

Michael, if this was a proper blog, you’d have one of those link-baiting personality tests everyone loves so much.” You’re right. Again. That’s why I love you so. Let’s get to it…  

Just answer the three simple questions below to discover which Smiths album sleeve you are...

Do you have a favourite colour? (I don’t want to know the actual colour - it will have a negligible impact on the end result, believe me.) 

Have you ever watched a television show? (You have? Excellent. This is going well, isn’t it?)

Something random about fruit. Erm… Do you believe in bananas?     

Ok, that’s it. And I’ve decided that you are… 

Yep, ‘The World Won’t Listen.’

Make of that what you will. It could mean you’re terribly introverted. Or then again, perhaps incredibly extroverted. Who am I to say? Try doing it again if you’d like another album. You won’t actually get one, but it will reconfirm your first choice. 

Back to our regular programming tomorrow. Probably.