Saturday, 30 June 2012

'Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father' - Various (1988)

"A crowd of people turned away.
But I just had to look,
Having read the book."

Cult bands covering classic albums. It seems MOJO magazine glues one of these to their covers every month now – most recently ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’. But back in 1988, the NME’s ‘Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father’ was the first of its kind. (Or was it? Perhaps not. Let me know if I’m wrong.)

Released to celebrate 21 years of the original ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ album and to raise some cash for the charity Childline, this tribute is probably most remembered for its chart-topping cover of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ by Wet Wet Wet.   

Now here’s a revelation for you: I’ve never really cared for Wet Wet Wet. Shocked? Well, here’s another: I’ve never much liked The Beatles either. Beyond one or two songs. The rest just sound like nursery rhymes to me. So the appeal of this album was primarily The Fall’s cover of ‘A Day In The Life’. Every second a marvel. I’d never heard it before, so this became the definitive version for me. (Yes, I’m quite sure that’s some kind of sacrilege and I’ve lost all you Beatles fans from today.) Cracking covers by the Weddoes, Bragg, Sonics and Frank Sidebottom were all bonuses.

Although the shine of novelty has lost its luster, I still find these cover albums inordinately compelling. I’m really hoping MOJO is now working on a tribute to The Thompson Twins’ ‘Quick Step & Side Kick’.    

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars' - David Bowie (1972)

"You’re not alone,
Gimme your hands.
You’re wonderful,
Gimme your hands."

Happy 40th, Ziggy! My memories on the release of this seminal album? Well, I was just a year old, so everything’s a bit hazy. And I wasn’t even in my home country. I was about as far away as you could posibly be, in Australia.

In those days, you were actively encouraged to emigrate to Oz on a ten pound ticket. So my Dad found a job in Sydney and hopped on a plane a few months after I was born to set up our new home. My mum and I followed by ship. A three-month journey that called at every port on the way. The one photo of me on our travels is from a ‘Beautiful Baby’ competition they ran onboard (I'll scan it in if I find it again). I won, apparently. (I suspect there were very few babies on this long haul expedition.) Pushy mums, eh?

By the time we arrived, my Dad was already disillusioned with his new job and home. So I blew out the candles on my first birthday cake (all my presents from home were stolen in the overseas post) and plans were hatched to return to Blighty. My Dad then flew off again. And I think you can guess how my Mum and I journeyed back.   

Of course, I have no true recollection of any of these events. Even though it feels like I have some memories from the world’s shortest antipodean migration, I know those are just afterimages from our family cinĂ© films. I sometimes wonder about the person I’d be now if we’d stayed. As a sun-dodging aquaphobic, I can only assume I’d be very different indeed. Would the Goth in me have blossomed in all that heat? We’ll never know.

Grab your best jumpsuit and you can recreate this pose
 in London's Heddon St (just off Regent St).
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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

'Material Girl' - Madonna (1985)

"Boys may come and boys may go,
And that’s all right you see.
Experience has made me rich,
And now they’re after me."

They were hearing only bad news from Radio Africa. While the pop masses could only tune in to Radio Ga Ga, Radio Goo Goo and Radio Blah Blah. But on Frimley Park Hospital Radio in the mid-Eighties, they were listening to my homemade 17-minute Madonna megamix.

Disc Jockey was one of my dream jobs growing up. (The others included designing T-shirts with giant slogans on and filming the further adventures of Princess Leia.) My school friend Mike beat me to it on the DJ front, landing a  job on local hospital radio. Mike was one of those guys that looked five years older than anyone else in our year. And he was obssessed with Fern Britton (who presented the regional news at the time).

Mike invited me down to the hospital one Sunday afternoon to watch him at work. Which I translated as ‘co-present’. So I came loaded with TDK C90 tapes full of endless remixes that I’d made. Blame Jive Bunny. Throw a few songs together and get to number one. You just needed a good memory for drum breaks and a fast finger on the pause button. Yep, Jive Bunny and I were leading today’s mash-up generation.   

Somehow I convinced Mike to play my Madonna megamix towards the end of the show. Kinda forgetting to mention that all my mixes were ridiculously long. If you liked Madonna, that was a great afternoon to be in hospital. It got cut off about two thirds of the way through though, as we risked crashing in to the next show. And on future visits, it was thought best that I leave the remixes at home.

Mike went on to his dream job the next year: providing Tannoy announcements at the local football club. And I’m still working on that Princess Leia screenplay.
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Call this a remix 'Jellybean'? Only 6 minutes long! 

Monday, 18 June 2012

'Car Wash Hair' - Mercury Rev (1991)

Saturday, 16 June 2012

'Elephant Stone' - The Stone Roses (1988)

"It seems like there’s a hole,
In my dreams."

As the eldritch embers of the Great Goth War began to dim and cool, a new fiefdom rose in the North. The times of Baggy were upon us, and the twin dynasties of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were in ascendance.    

The legions of the Baggyhood quickly spilled forth from the misty moors of Madchester to exalt their anointed kings across the great lands of Britannia. From the gilded tower of Blackpool to the fervent isle of Spike, the rallying cry rang out and the masses did rave on.

Many pale pretenders to the throne were to follow in their wake. (Yes, I’m looking at you Candy Flip.) And the eventual self-destruction of both dynasties would birth myriad myths and legends. But in their stead remains a venerated chalice of canticles to a fallen empire that is testament to their impassioned ideology.

"It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at" – Ian Brown, 1989.

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Produced by Peter Hook, fact fans.

Found this Smash Hits sticker tucked in the sleeve.
Yes, I really do hoard too much.

A big thanks...

The completist in me is now very happy indeed. 

Met up with my old school friend Chris this week for the first time in many years, and as a wonderful surprise gift he’d found me the remaining Wedding Present singles from 1992 that I needed for my collection

They are a delight to behold and a glory to hear on vinyl for the first time. Super chuffed and immensely thankful.  

Thursday, 14 June 2012

'Mercy Seat' - Ultra Vivid Scene (1988)

"Apply the heat that gently turns,
My sickness in to health."

Not all goths are created equal. According to Howard. Picture Howard as the Elder Goth. One who sires other fledgling goths. Like in those vampire shows. Howard was always talked about in revered tones by kids in the years above me at school. And teachers would say to me, "Oh you must know Howard, he’s a goth too".

Can’t remember how or where I finally met him. But in the summer of 1988, Howard used to turn up at my front door every couple of weeks. Under cover of darkness, of course. Head to toe in black. And always with a tape for me. Usually something by Clan of Xymox or Cindytalk. Fully approved goth bands to his ears.

On Howard’s sliding scale of gothdom, I was a mere demi-goth. I had made the cardinal sin of listening to Fields of the Nephilim, which knocked off loads of goth points, apparently. But I clawed some back by owning most everything on 4AD at the time – though I never quite understood what was so ‘goth’ about that label, as the majority of their bands seemed more influenced by the Velvet Underground and Tim Buckley.

We quickly fell out of touch after that summer. Finding Belinda Carlisle in my record collection was probably the final insult to Howard's pure-bred gothic sensibilities. I like to think he’s still sitting on his throne of molten Nephilim albums, seeding plans for the next gothic uprising. If he’s been reading this blog, somehow I don’t think I’ll be invited.   

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Monday, 11 June 2012

'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial' - John Williams (1982)

'How do you explain school to higher intelligence?'

"Hang on, Michael. Didn’t we do E.T. two months back?" Well, um, yes. But today we’re celebrating the film’s 30th birthday. Kind of. "Oh, this is going well." In the UK, the film wasn’t actually released until December 1982. Imagine that today. Having to wait six months for a Spielberg blockbuster. It would be illegally streaming half an hour after the first US screening. And even back then, it played a huge part in boosting the bootleg video market.

Eleven years old and very much a child of the Star Wars generation, I was a supernova of excitement for any and all sci-fi films. My mum was taking my sister and I to see it at the Empire Leicester Square on the first Saturday of release – this would be my first trip to a West End cinema. But calamity loomed. A boy in my year had got hold of a dodgy Betamax copy and brought it in to school on the Friday. And, for some unknown reason, one of the teachers decided it would be perfectly ok to hold a special assembly that afternoon and screen it for the whole school!? Not quite sure of either the educational value or moral lesson there.

Yes, it was certainly a welcome change from the ‘Way We Used To Live’ low budget dramas we were usually shown. But this wasn’t how I wanted to experience ‘E.T’ for the first time. Or any time. Poorly recorded and projected. Daylight streaming through the ill-fitting hall curtains. Russell trying to impress the row of girls in front with his remarkably poor "phoooone hoooome" impressions. So for two hours I sat with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears to avoid spoliers. And it just about worked. None of the magic of the London screening the next day was tarnished and it remains much loved. Happy birthday, E.T. !

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Saturday, 9 June 2012

'Lazybone' - Shonen Knife (1992)

"You don’t need to be serious,
You don’t need to be a walrus.
You don’t need to be nervous,
You don’t need to be an eggman."

If you were reading Melody Maker in 1992, chances are you own a Shonen Knife record. This gloriously kooky Japanese buzzpop trio were on every page. Everett True would be eulogising about the Knife from the mosh pit of some pub gig in Camden. While Kurt Cobain would be going giddy over them in a centre page spread. And so it was off to Rough Trade to dig through the import section to finally hear what they actually sounded like.

Melody Maker was always great at making you feel connected to a musical ‘scene’ – from ‘Eskimos’ and ‘blonde’, to the ‘new wave of new wave’ and 'alt-country'. Even if those scenes were primarily limited to its readership, lasted about two months, and you only knew one other other person who had even heard of them in your day-to-day life.  

Yes, for this reason alone, we need Melody Maker back. Right now. Who knows how many other wonderful Japanese buzzpop trios we’re missing out on in its absence.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Monday, 4 June 2012

'California' - The Wedding Present (1992)

"Anything you want to do,
I just know,
That I’ll want to do it too.
But we must go."

The completist in me is not happy. Twenty years ago, The Wedding Present had the ingenious idea to release a single a month. An original song on the A-side and a cover (from the Twin Peaks theme to an Elton John festive classic) on the reverse. Each limited to 10,000 copies on 7-inch vinyl only. It’s a novelty that would most probably have little impact today. But in 1992, it gave the Weddoes 12 Top 30 hits in one year – matching the record set by Elvis. And, as a result, it meant Top of the Pops became immensely enjoyable, as David Gedge would now make regular appearances to mumble and fumble around the stage.  

But the combination of me being on the dole that year and away from my beloved London indie stores meant that I only managed to pick up a couple of these wonderful singles – June’s ’California’ (produced by The Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie, fact fans) and December’s ’No Christmas’ (produced by Brian Paulson, er, Slint fans). For the other songs, I had to make do with the CD compilation – boo.

‘California’ was one of those rare Weddoes songs that wasn’t about searing heartache, and a few years later I managed to annoy my friend Charlotte by continually singing it on our way to the Golden State. "Let’s go to California, noooooooooow…"

Me. California. 1998.
In my summer wardrobe of black and more black
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Saturday, 2 June 2012

'Story and Songs from Peter Pan' (1969)

"He can fly...
He can fly.
He flewed."

1977. The Silver Jubilee. Punks are on the offensive – in every sense of the word. It feels like the old musical dynasties are about to be blown away. A truly catalysing time. But I’m six. So you’ll find me listening to Disney read-along records.  

As the police were raiding the Sex Pistols’ boat party on the Thames, I was round my friend Richard’s house swapping the Jubilee mug and silver coin we’d been given at school for Star Wars cards.

It seemed like the whole neighbourhood was partying in Richard's back garden. We played darts. Not proper darts. Those Velcro® ones. That’s about all I remember. If anyone from the BBC is reading, feel free to use any of these glorious recollections in your Jubilee documentaries.  

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