Monthly Archives: November 2015

I WON’T LOOK BACK IN ANGER

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I always preferred The Style Council.

There I’ve said it.

I really did – the Council were part of a movement I now realise thanks to Wikipedia was called Sophisti-Pop, not that I had mercifully ever used that term in my life. You will find it covers everything from Spandau Ballet to Animal Nightlife via Sade and the Blow Monkeys – all of which will pop up on here some time soon, I would imagine.

I just didn’t really like The Jam or more accurately, the kids at school who really liked the Jam. They were always the pale ones who carried penknives and liked cross-country running. They would all become angry so quickly – not unlike their idol, Mr Weller when he was a callow 14 year old, I imagine. They all used to positively froth with excitement when ordering winkle-picker shoes and Lonsdale T-shirts by mail-order from Melanddi on Carnaby Street.

And oh how upset they all were when The Jam split up at the height of their popularity and Paul Weller started up the far more poppy and jazzy Council. I think I just liked the Style Council more, simply because it so aggravated The Jam fans.

I can feel them silently fuming even now as they read this.

But wait…

I want to talk about The Jam’s fifth album, “Sound Affects” so put your Swiss Army away. This was after all Paul Weller’s favourite Jam album.

Let’s start with the opener and what an opener. “Pretty Green” has an astonishing one note bass riff which kick out of the speakers like thunder and then accompany what is almost a nursery rhyme like lyric about the fecklessness of being young, with stinging guitar slashes. Don’t forget Liam Gallagher named his clothing line after this belter.

And then comes the first of what feel like very Kinks like influences with the beautiful almost elegiac “Monday” which when stacked up with the very mod-ish “Boy About Town” carries the influences of the Brothers Davies not just in the content but also in the beautiful harmonies, which avoids the usual shouty Jam backing.

The Beatles “Revolver” is often held as major influence from the 60s too and of course, the lift of the riffs from “Taxman” on number one hit “Start!”. Interestingly, an informal market research group amongst the band’s friends chose this to be the single against record company advice. It also has wonderful harmonies mimicking its influence but somehow still avoiding pastiche.

But these are not the only influences for this was the height of post-punk New Wave and “Set The House Ablaze” with its unconcealed anger has the hallmarks of equally powerful contemporaries, The Clash – think “English Civil War”.

This was a truly dissatisfied generation.

And it’s further reflected by the ramshackle skirmish with ska on “Music For The Last Couple” – although The Specials they conclusively are not – conjuring up the styling that was very much the turn of the decade sound of choice, apart from…

…disco.

Weller regularly talked about listening hard to Michael Jackson’s “OffThe Wall” during the making of this album and whilst that might sound surprising, there is a remarkably relentless rhythm through this entire album, largely driven by the rarely praised Bruce Foxton, whose playing is tremendous throughout – exhibit A – “Dreamtime”.

Then there’s the one of the best selling import singles of all time in the UK and certainly one of the finest songs Weller ever wrote – and still performs – “That’s Entertainment” an acoustic ballad with unexpected pace. It is a rip-roaring panorama of the grimness of living in  Britain in the early 80s – I was always glad I didn’t live next door to him – but it has such an unexpected combination of instrumentation that even as a studious avoider of the band, I had always admired this song.

Despite being very much a product of its time, it is still truly exciting piece of vinyl. And he knocked it off in about fifteen minutes. What an inspirational elysium, Woking must be.

So all in all, regardless of its obvious multitude of visible influences, this album has an originality all of its own – like Oasis’s “What’s The Story Morning Glory”. It feels surprisingly comfortable in its own skin even now and its production helps its listenability (and I never found The Jam always that listenable) together with Foxton and Buckler’s locked-in backing.

I freely admit it – this is an enjoyable album. But if you think I’m putting on some trainers and going cross country running with these knees, you can think again.

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BACK FROM THE DEAD

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In the summer of 1982, the highlight for me was not a classic World Cup in Spain but instead that period will always be dominated by the fact that I first saw the Rolling Stones and – for those that know me even slightly – thus began a life’s devotion that has never left me. To close the tour, which had surpassed all expectations for tickets, they added an extra date at Roundhay Park in Leeds which was an immense event with over a hundred and twenty thousand fans turning up.

Even back then, we all thought that ‘this might be the last time’.

So the bill was filled with the support that had been with the Stones throughout most of the tour – blues favourites, George Thorogood & The Delaware Destroyers as well as the J. Geils Band – having an unexpected brush with success thanks to “Freeze-Frame”. However, because it was outdoor, a huge crowd and a long day, they added Joe Jackson and his band to join the afternoon’s bill.

My two recollections were, firstly, of a fantastic acapella version of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” which really brought the crowd to their feet; you’ll find it on the bonus disc of the deluxe edition. Watching a version recently from the same time – at the Regal Theatre Hitchin, no less (which may back up my earlier point that his popularity was at that stage waning) – it’s really a bit ragged but a brave thing to do in front of a crowd as large as there was in Leeds.

Most memorably, however, the entire band came to the front of the stage at the end of their set with their cameras to take pictures of the audience because, as they said, they thought they would never play in front of a crowd that large again.

And that admission was probably true.

Joe Jackson had had a couple of really good albums in “Look Sharp” and “I’m The Man” in 1979 and was thought of as something of a new-wave tyro but even by 1982, we had all rather forgotten about him. Undoubtedly, his move towards more jazz-based recordings with “Beat Crazy” and “Jumpin’ Jive” (both good) satisfied his own style but left his audience rather bemused, despite the fact that there was a kind of Latin Swing vibe going on at the time with Kid Creole and Blue Rondo A La Turk (on them both, undoubtedly more in another session). Perhaps the audience would have preferred a snarl to a smile.

So the self-deprecating remarks in Leeds seemed charming but honest.

Until of course, along came that strange phenomenon of MTV which had a very strange knack in the early to mid 80s of breaking any single with a decent promo, often far ahead of its UK release.

Enter Joe Jackson with “Steppin’ Out” and the video – directed by master in his field, Steve Barron – featuring the dreams of a New York hotel chambermaid and Joe, himself as a down at heel pianist – both transformed into chic denizens of Manhattan nightlife. A huge airplay hit nearly three months ahead of its foray into the British Top 40. It was an odd trend whereby the UK exported these hits to America where when they became successful exported them back to us. A Flock Of Seagulls anyone?

It’s well documented that the Second British Invasion of the 80s came to America on the strength of the UK’s huge catalogue of well-made and interesting cinematic promos, which was an art-form that at the time eluded the States.

But firstly, the promo, whilst looking a little dated now, was a remarkable piece of work, it had a Hollywood-like story with a neat twist and asked its main musical protagonist to simply perform – no real acting required – and barely even look straight at the lens.

That said, it’s doing the song and its accompanying album a huge disservice to say it was a fluke on the back of a video because it is still a fascinating recording that uses New York as the inspiration of all its numbers and so you can hear Latin, Jazz and Soul popping up all over the place, enhanced by lasting keyboard melodies and sequenced accompaniment.

It split itself into a Day Side and a Night Side that sequenced the songs together in a seamless segue which just heightened the atmosphere that the album attempted to create. The opener, “Another World”, absolutely captures the heady feeling of setting foot in New York for the first time before sending you hurtling into “Chinatown” with its suitably Asiatic theme and then catapulting you into the Cuban stew of “Target”.

The Day Side is strange in that it doesn’t feel any less night-time than the reverse. “Cancer” and “Real Men” hark back to the angry young man of British New Wave albeit in its new Big Apple veneer but it is the two slower numbers that bookend this side that are the real highlights – and I never tend towards the more downtempo numbers.

“Breaking Us In Two” is a poignant and honest reflection on the bond within relationships whilst “A Slow Song” offers a lot more than its title would indicate. It’s about loving music and wanting to here the right song at the right time – perhaps it’s that kind of inspirational thinking that made me – via this blog – get round  to encouraging us to dig out just the right sound not necessarily the newest one. Whatever, it is a wonderful builder of mood, taking you high and then suddenly dropping down again.

“Night And Day” is a comparatively short album but wonderfully varied and captures the mood of its performer and how he felt about his new environment at the time perfectly. I think if you try it again you may feel as I do now, that its mix of jazz rhythms and acerbic lyrics reminds you of a Steely Dan record. And that’s intended to be high praise.

And whilst I may have a few doubts about the Night/Day split, I think a word should be said about the cover (drawn by Phillip Burke) which is a superbly classy affair which sets the stall out for what we should be expecting. Covers were after all so much part of the pleasure of the experience at the time and this album will present you with plenty of that.

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DESTINY CALLING

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Often, it’s interesting to think about an artist and the key moments when their world suddenly caught fire and then accelerated to a level beyond. The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show is an obvious example or David Bowie performing “Starman” on Top Of The Pops. Then there’s Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk at the Motown 25 event.

I was thinking about this when I had seen so many people posting about how much they enjoyed the recent U2 Tour. Now whether you like them or you’re not that fussed, you have to have U2 in your live bucket list – especially as they are now a venerable 35 years treading the boards.

All of which brings me to “Under A Blood Red Sky”.

Some might say that the key moment for U2 was Live Aid and the extended version of “Bad” with Bono bringing the girl onstage from the then fairly fried audience and others talk about the rooftop concert for the “Where The Streets Have No Name” video.

I disagree.

The moment U2 were bound for real greatness was the night the Tube dedicated nearly an hour (unheard of for any band let alone one with only one top 10 UK hit) and showed their incredibly cinematic concert from Red Rocks which is an incredible natural amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado. It is a film full of incredible soundbites and imagery – as if Bono knows this one is for posterity. Cauldrons of flames, an unworldly blue/red filter, Bono carrying a white flag up the scaffolding.

Even his mullet seems forgivable – Lord knows I wanted one like that.

And in truth, it was critically important for U2. Their recent “War” album had broken through but it was their third release and really in the global stakes they were still lagging behind other Celtic invaders such as Simple Minds and even Big Country – and indeed would still do for a little longer. In this day and age I doubt a record company would have been prepared to show such patience.

And so this album – or Mini-LP as it was marketed – basically collated most of the opening and closing tracks of their then live set which covered  the highlights of their songbook to date and one strange obscurity. However, everything sounded tougher, braver and more exciting than their studio versions had done; especially, “I Will Follow” (a rather weedy recording as a 45) which feeds off the crowd’s energy even without the accompanying visual.

Now we had better clear up one important discrepancy, this Mini-LP only had two of its tracks actually recorded at Red Rocks, the rest came from Germany and Boston but the film and the album really became one entity. A fiery display of chiming guitar riffs, roof-raising anthems and a band that had now mastered its art completely.

Of course, nothing’s perfect so we can’t avoid mentioning Adam Clayton’s bass solo  in the otherwise stunning “Gloria” which seems incongruous at the start of the album, although to be fair it did actually come from the band’s encore.

That apart, every song included raises the temperature in the crowd and you can hear it bleeding through the speakers. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and its ‘This Song Is Not A Rebel Song’ intro defined the whole aspect of U2’s performance dynamic and connection with the world. But even its familiarity does not diminish the power such a song had at a time when the Irish problem was a decade away from any kind of settlement.

I said earlier there was one obscurity and it is “Party Girl” which had been the B-Side of “A Celebration” and I doubt anyone had heard much before. I know I hadn’t. Yet even during what is a fairly throwaway song (with a curiously tremulous guitar solo) and a slower moment in the set, the energy and relationship with the audience does not drop. I doubt anyone had the first idea how to sing along to it but it remains as rousing as its more exuberant entries in the running order.

If therefore, you are one of those who has just come back raving from a U2 performance, this is where it surely all started. This is the point in time when you realised what a tight band they were and how aware they were of the opportunity this performance would give them. And whether you like Bono or not, he, like Jagger and Springsteen, knows how to send every single member of the audience home happy even if you are sitting nearly a quarter of a mile away from the stage.

Incidentally, I’ve been to Red Rocks though not for a concert and it is as impressive as it looks but is actually much smaller than you realise.

This is still my favourite U2 album and honestly, my favourite live album by anyone probably because it adds so much to the songs performed that they feel entirely reinterpreted – although strangely “New Year’s Day” which was so familiar at the time, is the one that falls down slightly.

To conclude, this album is not just a triumph of marketing a band. Sure, it has soundbites, themes and stunning visuals of course, but it also has a product that really captured something magical, together with an audience that knew its role perfectly.

I had never really liked U2 that much before and whilst I do like them still, I have never enjoyed them again as much as in this 35 minute recording.

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DOING THINGS WITH STRINGS

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When discussion centres on Everything But The Girl (apart from the story of how they took their name from a bedding shop in Hull), it normally ends up referencing their two distinct periods – before “Protection” (the trip-hop single Tracey made with Massive Attack) and afterwards when Ben Watt discovered house, drum and bass and  breakbeats. As such, these are best exemplified by the acoustic debut “Eden” and the equally sparse “Walking Wounded”.

You are left with the impression of a rather downbeat band with a gloomy outlook on life especially when you throw in the lovelorn classic “Missing”.

I like both of these “periods” but where does this recording fall then. It has to be their sunniest and most optimistic record – there’s none of the space found in the early recordings nor the starkness of “Walking Wounded” and beyond. It is joyously orchestral and wonderfully uplifting kicking off with the splendid waltz (yes… waltz) of “Come On Home” which has all the élan of Dusty Springfield at the height of her powers, whilst “Come Hell Or High Water” could easily be Patsy Cline.

In fact, the 60s influences are all over this album from the kitsch sleeve to Ben’s ‘Revolver-ish’ backward guitar on “Don’t Leave Me Behind” and I would imagine some Jimmy Webb had been on the turntable while ideas for the album were being conceived.

And all of this is without mentioning the fantastic 60s homage and tribute to Marilyn Monroe that is “Sugar Finney” whose lyrics have all the depth and darkness of a James Ellroy novel, suffocated with strings and stabbed with horns.

However, the skill in this (their third album) was that so many of the earlier successful themes of their previous albums – especially “Love Not Money” – were ditched to create a wholly different recording. Gone were the political themes – excepting “Little Hitler” – and instead the familiar hopelessly romantic themes that were to become so prevalent in  the next few albums.

Is there anything I don’t like on the album?

I do find the abrupt change on “Little Hitler” from orchestral crescendo to acoustic coda very puzzling and for me confuses what should be a really fine end to an album. But this a surprising album from a surprising band so perhaps the joke’s on us.

That said, I can put up with anything for “Cross My Heart” my favourite EBTG song of all time and there’s is a truly impressive songbook. Bacharach and David would be proud of this. And yet it’s a desperately sad (I’m going to say lovelorn again -sorry) tale of discarded love and ‘mental stalking’ – revisited 8 years later to global acclaim on “Missing” – set to a sunny San Jose string-driven rhythm with girl-group backing. Honey for your ears.

The bonus disc highlights are some great covers which of course reaffirm the album’s influences – Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” and Glen Campbell’s “Where’s The Playground Susie” – and keep the drama of the whole recording intact.

Look – I love Everything about Everything But The Girl.

All the albums, all the styles, all the experiments – a genuinely distinctive voice like Tracey Thorn’s ensures you could forgive just about any musical misdemeanour.

But this is my favourite.

For sound. For songs. For sheer pleasure.

Next time, you’ve decided to play your new Adele album (not that there is anything wrong with that) for the umpteenth time (which there is) why not give yourself a change and let the Stars Shine Bright.

Because they will.

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