Saturday, 31 July 2010

‘A Feeling’ – Throwing Muses (1987)

“I never could see anyone besides you,
Believe it or not (probably not)”

It’s a Kristin Hersh Saturday double-bill. We’re all ‘Crooked’ below. And up here we begin where it began, with Throwing Muses.

Hands up all you 4AD obsessives. I discovered so many of my favourite bands through that one label. They still have a real ear for discovering the most wonderful new artists. But in the 80s, I’d buy most everything they released: Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Ultra Vivid Scene, and many more. If only for the glorious sleeves by Vaughan Oliver and v23 (though the Muses always did their own).

It was hard to make friends with Throwing Muses’ songs. They were wilfull and wayward and, well, wonky. And that just made you love them even more. ‘A Feeling’ is one of their more delicate compositions and the first time I felt the hug of friendship. And it nestled high up at number 3 in my Melody Maker Reader’s Chart back in 1992. (Where would it be today? I reckon number 3 still.)

Spotify linky:

Diary doodles 1990 - No.8

Now playing: ‘Crooked’ – Kristin Hersh (2010)

“Is this witchy?
My thoughts are cloudy.
This is weird: my mind is clear.”

(The return of my not-at-all-weekly-kinda-now-monthly post on recent releases – as a momentary pause from all the 80s goth memories.)

Books are the new vinyl. Sorta. Kristin Hersh has been looking at new ways to release her songs for the past few years. In that time, she’s been releasing demos, EPs and more online through the CASH Music initiative. They’re all free to share and even remix – you’re just asked to throw some money in the tip jar if you feel like it. More dedicated fans – Kristin’s ‘Strange Angels’ – also have the opportunity to subscribe to her work and in return get exclusive recordings, guestlist passes, and even the chance to visit her in the studio.

Kristin’s latest project is ‘Crooked’ – originally a series of works in progress on her site, that has now evolved into a beautiful set of essays, photos and downloadable studio recordings. These are the songs that have been distracting me on my train journeys to London. Usually I’d be reading. But Kristin’s songs always demand your attention, with their intricate phrasings and delightfully off-kilter melodies. Each listen reveals new treasures.

I’m already looking forward to Kristin’s next project: her ‘Rat Girl’ memoirs, which I saw her performing a couple of years ago as ‘Paradoxical Undressing’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

No Spotify linky for this one. Instead I’ll direct you to a stream of the album at Kristin’s site:

Diary doodles 1990 - No.7

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

‘Sweetness and Light’– Lush (1990)

“Only to stay, only to breathe, only to see,
That space and light are what I really need.”

Woodstock? Whatever. If there was one event you needed to be at it was the Slough Music Festival (on this very day in 1991). Never before have so many floppy-fringed students gathered in a field to gaze at their shoes all day.

Where’s the BBC4 music documentaries celebrating this seminal event? Slowdive. Curve. Ride. All present and correct. If Betjeman’s friendly bombs had fallen down on Slough that sunny day, Melody Maker and NME may as well have closed their doors for two years.

One band that wasn’t playing (somewhat surprisingly) was Lush. But flame-haired songstress and indie pin-up Miki was there (somewhat unsurprisingly) and I got to shake her hand and say embarrassing things. This isn’t much of a story as I think just about every one who went to a gig in 1990 got to meet Miki. It kinda came with the ticket.

Come 2011, it will be 20 years since we all moshed in a Slough park to Chapterhouse – time to start planning the anniversary festivities methinks.

(This post may seem all very well-timed and cleverly planned, and yes, it is, thank you. In reality though, it’s a complete coincidence as I already had it in mind to write about Slough today and was completely surprised to see it was 19 years to the day when I checked the date in my diary.)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Diary doodles 1990 - No.6

Today’s Diary Doodle has a song to accompany it. (“What!??!” Yes, that’s right, folks; I’m turning the format of this post on its head. For one day only. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride.)

This is actually going to be my most vacuous song story yet. It begins with me buying the ‘Velouria’ 12-inch at the Rock Box (the local indie store) in Camberley. And it ends with me then bumping (not literally) into the girl in the doodle. Karen. (No, I still can’t remember her second name.) And there’s nothing in between. And nothing before or after that I can remember.

But for some reason, I clearly recall holding this record and talking to her that morning twenty years ago. My diary says we chatted about “school (I’d left for college, but she was in her final year), hair dye, supermarkets and cheese graters.” I had a huge soft spot for Karen and clearly thought of her as a friend in the doodle, but really she was a friend of a friend who fancied one of my friends.

And, no, I don’t where she is these days. I kinda sorta actually lost touch with all my school friends.

Wow, I’ve really managed to stretch this out based on next to nothing.

‘Velouria’– Pixies (1990)

“Hold my head,
we’ll trampoline …
finally through the roof.
On to somewhere near,
and far in time.”

Spotify linky:

Sunday, 18 July 2010

‘E=mc²’– Big Audio Dynamite (1986)

“Ritual ideas, relativity
Only buildings, no people prophecy
Timeslide place to hide, nudge reality
Foresight minds wide, magic imagery.”

Guitar lessons got a lot more interesting after I was taught this song. Before that it had been all text book tablature. Nothing more modern than the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ or The Beatles. Then one Saturday morning, my guitar teacher (possibly sensing I was losing interest in strumming ‘Yellow Submarine’) asked me what I’d been listening to that week and if I wanted to learn it. This was a revelation. In the last five years, I’d never thought about actually asking to learn something I liked.

So I put this record on. And after the first verse and chorus, my teacher was playing along. And after the second verse, I was following his lead. (Listening back now, I can only smile at how rudimentary he must have thought this song was, with its two basic chords and six-note melody.) By the next lesson I’d mastered the bass riff to ‘Ghostbusters’. There was no stopping me now.

Most importantly, songwriting suddenly didn’t seem as daunting as before. By deconstructing these songs, I’d been taught how to construct my own. I’d already won the ‘Young Musician of the Year’ contest at school (hurrah for me!) with a song that I’d written but quickly disowned. It was about how rock ‘n’ roll would never die. Yes, I’m groaning too. You can see why I disowned it. (But to be fair, I found out a couple of years later that Neil Young had written a song with the same sentiments, so who’s laughing now? Oh, you are. Fair enough.) Now I felt ready to transcend those initial immature songwriting fumblings. Now it was time to write my own ‘Ghostbusters’. I’ll let you know how that worked out another time. (Clue: The fact you haven’t seen my name in the charts may suggest I never quite achieved this lofty ambition.)

Spotify linky:
Big Audio Dynamite – E=MC2

Friday, 16 July 2010

‘Supervixen’– Garbage (1995)

(Ooh … what’s this? It’s the first Garbage album. Pressed as 7-inch singles. In a box. Oh, and Tickle-Me Elmo - it'll all make sense in a minute.)

“Come down to my house,
And stick a stone in your mouth.”

Ever been woken in the night by a giggling Elmo? No? Just me, then. Well, actually not just me, as at the time I was living with someone (yes, I know … me … living with someone … I’m not making this stuff up). We’ll call her Charlotte. Because that was her name. And she woke me one night seriously spooked by one of my toys that had started laughing uncontrollably. (Yes, I collect toys … deal with it.)

The thing with Elmo is that he should only laugh when you squeeze his tummy. Since Charlotte was already convinced that our Hammersmith flat was haunted by an old lady, she was immediately freaked out. I suggested we simply take his batteries out. But then rather unhelpfully pondered how creepy it would be if he continued laughing with no batteries.

Charlotte suddenly had another idea. She raced across the room, grabbed Elmo and headed for the kitchen. When I caught up, I found Elmo stuffed in the oven. Apparently, this way we could gas him or cook him. Poor Elmo. I guess he realised Charlotte meant business, as he certainly behaved himself after that. I still live with the toys. The same isn’t true of Charlotte. Read into that what you will.

Garbage is the pick of the day, for Charlotte, who used to listen to them continuously and styled herself after Shirley Manson in our Hammersmith years. If I was being mean I could have picked ‘Stupid Girl’ (how rude! – and only joking! – and only because she loved that song). But instead I went for my own fave track from their debut.

Diary doodles 1990 - No.5

Monday, 12 July 2010

‘Friends Of P’– The Rentals (1996)

“If you’re friends with P,
Well then, you’re friends with me.”

Who doesn’t dream of meeting Mickey Mouse when they’re a child? Oh … that’s quite a lot of you. Well, anyway, it had always been my dream, but I had to wait until I was 25 for it to come true. (No, that’s not too old. Stop shaking your head.)

My Dad and I arrived in Florida to fireworks in the night sky – exactly how everyone should arrive in America. It was my first trip there and everything seemed magical and colourful and big and new. Here I was eating Chinese out of cardboard boxes like I’d seen Cliff Barnes do in all those episodes of ‘Dallas’!

MTV played ‘Ironic’ and ‘Champage Supernova’ over and over and over for those two May weeks. But it was this song by The Rentals that caught my ear. I’d never heard of them (and haven’t heard much of them since). I found the CD in a small record store in Orlando and it became my holiday song. (This is the same day I found my dad sitting in the windows of Hooters claiming he was unaware of the many scantily clad waitresses parading around him.)

And, how exciting was it finally meeting Mickey? Very. (Yes, even more so than my visit to Hooters.) As you can see in the pic below. (Yes, it was perhaps a little too hot to be wearing black every day.) I’ve met him many times since, with friends and family, in California and Paris. He never remembers me. Bit rude. But he still makes me smile every time.

Spotify linky:
The Rentals – Friends Of P.

Diary doodles 1990 - No.4

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

‘Christine’ – The House Of Love (1988)

“And the whole world dragged us down,
And the whole world turned aside.”

This song made me want to make friends with a Christine. I still haven’t to this day. It’s one of the great disappointments in my life. I love it when songs do that to me. It always adds that extra poignancy to a great song when it shares a name with one of your friends.

I knew a Charlotte, so The Cure’s ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ was made that bit more special. But I’ve yet to meet a Lola or a Velouria. I need more exotic friends. Especially if I’m ever to meet a Candy. That would surely top trump them all.

So I don’t have a Christine in my life to make me think of this song. Instead, it reminds me of sitting on the pavement outside the old Town and Country Club in Kentish Town (now the HMV Forum *sighs*) with my friend Chris the year this single came out. He’d talked me into coming up to town to see The House Of Love take part in the Creation Records ‘Doing It For The Kids’ gig. It’d been sold out for ages. We didn’t have tickets. And we never got tickets. But we enjoyed ourselves just hanging outside for a few hours with other fans. Those were simpler times.

P.S. If you’re reading this and called Christine, get in touch.

Spotify linky:
The House Of Love – Christine - John Peel 2/4/89
(The full-blown single version has yet to appear on Spotify, so I’ve linked to an acoustic radio session.)

On this day … 1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

“I water the garden. It’s all dead anyway.”

Monday, 5 July 2010

‘Last Exit For The Lost’ – Fields Of The Nephilim (1988)

“Summerland holds me in sumerian haze.”

“Gooooooth!” I used to hear this shouted at me about two dozen times a day at school. Most often in quite friendly ways – it kinda became my nickname back in the days when I was the only goth in school. But every so often it was some gang of lads in the year above heckling me between classes. That’s as far as they ever went though, until one day when I was in the Lower Sixth.

By some twist of good fortune, all the friends I made at my first school grew up to be the toughest kids in the playground in later years – the kind that would always be called out of class to see the Headmaster for smoking at break-time, bringing knives into school, or burning down the music room. Strangely enough, the toughest kids can be the most sentimental, which meant I always escaped their bullying as they’d remember the days we used to play with our Smurfs together up the park.

By the time I reached the Sixth Form though, my luck looked like it was about to run out as by then they’d all either left or been expelled (generally the latter). This left me in the clutches of my arch nemesis: the Head Boy. His favourite band was Level 42. Need I say more? He’d parade around school with two lackies and continually tell me to tuck my shirt in. This seemed to become an obsession with him. He seemed to feel I was undermining his authority by completely ignoring his request and walking straight past him without even looking up.

What I didn’t know at the time was that one day he finally snapped and was planning to ambush me with his mates up the school’s bridle path. But it seemed I had a guardian angel. Well, two really. A kid we called ‘Stir’ stepped in to warn them off for me – because his sister in the year below liked me (yes, I know, imagine someone liking me; I was as surprised as you). 'Stir' was one of those kids who would either charm or pummel you into doing something – the choice was yours. They left me alone after that. I only found all this out a few years back. So I’m sending a big belated thanks out now to ‘Stir’ and his fab sister. And a big “ner-ner-ner-ner-ner” to that Head Boy, wherever he is. Oops ... perhaps I shouldn’t do that. I haven’t anyone left to protect me these days.

Spotify linky:

Saturday, 3 July 2010

‘Pure’ – The Lightning Seeds (1989)

“Night-time slows,
Raindrops splash rainbows.
Perhaps someone you know,
Could sparkle and shine.”

Why did The Lightning Seeds only ever make one good song? No, not just a ‘good’ song. A sparkling pop gem. It’s one of the great mysteries of the world. (Yes, I’m sure there a few fans of ‘Three Lions’ who will dispute this with me. But you’re deluded.)

I rarely buy only one record from a band – my obsessive compulsive nature results in me usually tracking down every rare import and shoddy bootleg from every band I like. But I never had any interest in The Lightning Seeds after this first single. (I don’t think I even played the b-side.) And I’m surprised I liked it at all, as at the time I was all gothed up. It was the summer of 1989 and I’d just left school. I remember my friend Charlotte would call round a lot over those summer weeks and wonder why I always had this song on. I had no answer.

This seven inch version is still my only copy. Another peculiarity, as I always buy my favourite songs in new formats as they come along (from vinyl to CD to MP3). It’s like it has become some kind of treasured talisman. I even only allow myself to play it occasionally so as not to diminish its power to immediately transport me back to those days. (Ok, I’m just sounding odd now.)

Anyone else been strangely possessed by The Lightning Seeds? Is there a support group I should know about?

Spotify linky:

On this day ... 1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

“Spend the morning compiling a holiday tape for Lara. Full of obscure records to annoy her.”

Friday, 2 July 2010

‘Cruiser’s Creek’– The Fall (1985)

“See the street-litter twisting in the wind,
Crisp bags turning.”

Watching mid-80s US Brat Pack movies warned me off house parties. You know the ones … you invite a few friends over when your parents are away, they tell everyone at school, a rabble of older kids gatecrash and wreck your house while listening to Tears For Fears, and the kid who’s good at science drives your dad’s car into next door’s pool.

My parents couldn’t leave their house in safer hands when they went away. I hated parties. I rarely enjoyed being around more than one person at a time. And my tinnitus stopped me playing music too loudly. Yep, I sound like a real fun teenager, don’t I? Thing is, I’m exactly that way now too.

Only once did our neighbour come round to complain about the noise and he was quite surprised to find me in on my own. It was the summer of 1989 and John Peel had decided to play every session by The Fall over three nights. So I was listening to the latest show with all the windows wide open while doing some dusting. Yes, dusting. This is how I chose to spend my nights home alone as a teenager. I think my neighbour had rather hoped I was having a party so that he could report back to my parents that I was perfectly normal. Instead, he had to tell them he found me singing along to ‘Cruiser’s Creek’ with a feather duster in my hand. Very little changes in my life.

Spotify linky:

Diary doodles 1990 - No.3