24 December 2008
09 December 2008
Nearly mid-December now and time for an update. We haven't been doing a whole lot lately, aside from the Cornwall holiday last month.
We did go see Frankie Boyle at the New Theatre in Oxford about a week ago. We stopped off at The Mission, the Mexican food place on St. Michael Street, before the show. I ordered two massive chicken burritos--finished the first and and barely made it through half of the second. Pretty tasty and fairly cheap..I'd recommend trying there if you're in town. The support act was Martin 'Bigpig' Mor, hailing from Northern Ireland. Most of his set was of the 'point-out-people-in-the-audience-and-tease-them' variety. He did generate some laughs, but for us in the upper deck, it wore thin from not being able to see the people he was hurling his barbs at. Frankie took the stage and performed a set that was just over an hour. Most of his material came from the stuff he's used on Mock The Week, but there were bits I hadn't heard. He riffed on some 'behind-the-scenes' aspects of M.T.W. as well, like jokes he'd had to leave out of the show. One of the "Scenes We'd Like To See" segments involved "Things To Kill The Mood At A Dinner Party" and Boyle said "If we're all at this dinner party, who's watching Madeleine?" He also joked that the cast are very close and often have group sex before filming an episode--he said he gets there late and it's like a 'fleshy jigsaw puzzle'. Needless to say, Boyle doesn't have much time for being P.C. He riffed on the Shannon Matthews trial, saying "That three weeks was probably the best time of her life...have you seen her mother?!!" There was the oblilgatory "point-out-people-in-the-audience..." portion of the act as well, but Frankie made it a lot more entertaining than Mor had. A guy in the audience said that he's studying music and Boyle asked him if he's going to get a band together. The bloke replied 'Yes' and Frankie came back with "I hope you enjoy working in that call-centre a year from now." A heckler tried his best with 'When are you getting The Proclaimers back together?' and Boyle unleashed a torrent of insults nearly comparable with Bill Hicks' Rush Limbaugh poem. In fact, Boyle admitted at the show that Hicks is a big influence on his comedy. Of course, Boyle doesn't seem to be a slavish Hicks imitator to me--his Scots humour is far too upfront for that. I kinda wish he had tried out some new material, instead of using a lot of the "Mock The Week" stuff--but all in all, I'm glad we caught him on the crest of his popularity. You know how fickle John and Jane Q Public are. He could be playing The Old Fire Station next year.
I've been on a bit of a 'prog-lite' (or radio-friendly prog) kick lately. Listening to some Kansas and Alan Parsons Project records. I know - I don't really know why either. I did see the re-issued A.P.P. discs on Amazon and purchased the first few (Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, I Robot & Pyramid). At the same time, I bought the re-issued self-titled Kansas album and the 2002 re-issue of Point Of Know Return (which I thought I owned already, but when I checked the collection, found I didn't at all). Both bands remind me of the early 80s, when Dust In The Wind was making the regular rounds on the AOR stations (soon to be christened 'classic rock' stations) and the A.P.P. had the biggest hit of it's existence with Eye In The Sky. Thing is, I'm enjoying the music. Trying my best to remove the albums from the influence of my memory and any sort of 'coolness' criteria, I've found that, despite the (sometimes) over-produced sheen and blatant attempts at chart-bothering, there are great moments on the albums. Parsons, of course, was the tape-op on the last few Beatles records and the producer of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon. The A.P.P. albums, bearing his name, would naturally be worked and re-worked to his specs. The band, made up of session musicians, deliver that kind of polite, late 70s rock--but it's a bit weirder than Chicago or Fleetwood Mac. Kansas were fans of Genesis, Gentle Giant and Yes and tried to create an American version of UK progressive rock. They nearly succeed in some of their tunes, though they lack the whimsical, humourous aspect of Genesis' and especially Gentle Giant's music. I'd recommend each group's 70s out-put. Kansas seemed to stray far from their prog roots after their 1979 release Monolith and the A.P.P. had already started with "Eye In The Sky", released in 1982. Both groups finally called it a day in the late 80s...though Kansas have re-formed with different line-ups since. They've released a few records of slightly dubious quality as well.
Speaking of polishing turds...oh we weren't? My mistake. We will now. The big X-Factor finale is tonight..yippee. I haven't watched any of it since the mass auditions at the beginning of the series. I know it's cruel watching deluded no-talents butchering R&B and soul tunes in front of a panel of industry hacks, but I do find some of it very funny. Don't bother telling me who "wins" tonight--I dont really care.
Lastly, I apologise for the lack of a new podcast episode. I meant to have one ready a few weeks ago--but I've been rather busy. I'm aiming to have one finished before X-Mas, but it may have to wait until January.
30 November 2008
As a follow-up to my 'White Album' tribute, I thought I would post a recent news story. The always-timely Vatican have seen fit to forgive John Lennon for Lennon's remark, spoken in interview in 1966, that "the Beatles are more popular than Jesus"--28 years after his death! Man, those Romish cult leaders really have their collective finger on the pulse of stuff. Apparently, according to the Church, he "was dealing with sudden fame" and it all went to his head. Well, that was swell of them to drop the matter then. Except, er...he had been internationally famous for roughly two years by then. Still, if that's what all those pointy-hat guys want to believe... Personally, it doesn't really matter if he was forgiven or not--I mean, who really cared in the first place? Apart from 'that old queen in Rome' and some rubes and sheet-wearing bigots in the American South. Anything that annoys them is quite all right with me.
I suppose it'll be another 30 years before Lennon is forgiven for the Two Virgins LP cover photo (I seem to recall that really stuck in the craw of Al Capp) and the lyrics to Imagine, especially the line "And no religion, too". It's O.K., though, Catholics still can't support Amnesty International and the Church is still against sex education in schools. Nice to know some things don't seem to change.
Has anyone checked out Victoria Jackson's website lately? For those not in the know, Jackson used to be part of the Saturday Night Live cast in the late 80s/early 90s, where she gained some notoriety by being type-cast as 'the ditzy blonde' in the sketches she appeared in. She also appeared in a couple of crap films around the same time (Casual Sex? & 'Weird Al' Yankovic's lame UHF)--and then...well, she all but disappeared. This past year, though, she's been making inflammatory statements at her site about the Obama campaign--everything from "he's a Communist" (with a captial 'c') to "he has traits of the Anti-Christ". I'm not making this stuff up--read it here. She also believes the Bible is "fact" and seems to be a fervent 'end-times' X-tian. She claims that FOX News is the 'only channel that resembles journalism' and shares far-right paranoia, with the twin bugaboos of Socialism and Communism destroying America. Now, I can read her bile with enough Buddhist detachment to last me a couple of paragraphs before I start picturing her computer exploding in her smug face. I'm not even the biggest Obama fan--but sheezus...the Anti-christ? I never thought she was that funny anyway--but if I were a fan of hers, I would really have to try hard to ignore her goofy politics and still like her. See, I can do that with Miles Davis--he seemed to be a notorious race-baiter and was a complete bastard to the women in his life--but damn did he make great music. Someone let me know when Victoria Jackson makes a better record than Bitches Brew and I might be willing to overlook her nutjob-ness and dogma addiction.
As an added bonus, here's a clip of Victoria on The O'Reilly Factor. The intellectual power on that broadcast must've been through the roof!
Thanks to Cheek for the Jackson website link.
18 November 2008
1968 turned out to be a completely different year from the previous one. The "peace, acid & love" vibe of the 1967 counter-culture was drowned in the wake of police crackdowns, continued carnage in Vietnam and 'harder' drugs flooding hippie enclaves. The mood turned uglier with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Students and laborers, despite their mutual suspicions, banded together in France and effectively brought the nation to a standstill for a few weeks. Students in the UK and especially in the U.S. were becoming more radicalized as they watched their peers being sent to an unjust war at the whim of some old men in Washington. The music world responded to these changes in kind.
Bob Dylan weighed in early on with John Wesley Harding, released at the end of December '67. It was his first full-length after his 1966 masterstroke, Blonde On Blonde. The general reaction was bewilderment--as the stripped-down folk and country-ish tunes were almost completely at odds with the expected psychedelic sounds of the time. The Rolling Stones, still getting over their perceived disappointment with their 'acid' LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request, returned with the Jumpin' Jack Flash single in March 1968, a straight-ahead rocker, lean and mean. They would release the Beggars Banquet LP later in the year, which ditched the psychedelic whimsy for blues-and-rock riffing (aside from Factory Girl, a gentler folky track). Even Cream rocked out harder on their double-LP set, Wheels Of Fire, while keeping a few of the trippy touches of it's predecessor, Disraeli Gears. And what was the biggest band in the world up to?
The Fabs were also getting over a disappointment--the poor ratings for their self-produced film, Magical Mystery Tour, shown in black-and-white and then again in colour on the BBC. 1967 had been a momentous and trying year for them. They rode the crest of the hippie wave with their Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP and their All You Need Is Love single, with the television broadcast of the song being one of the first ever worldwide satellite link-ups. In the same few months, though--their manager Brian Epstein died of a drugs overdose and they started to pull in different directions. Paul McCartney appeared to try and step into the gap and lead the band, causing resentment in John Lennon and George Harrison. In August '67, they attended a lecture by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Bangor, Wales--before filming for "Magical Mystery.." started. The Maharishi would have a large impact on the creation of the only double-album they ever recorded, simply titled The Beatles (also known as 'The White Album').
At the start of 1968, they released the jazzy pop single, Lady Madonna--written by McCartney, featuring a sax solo by English jazz legend, Ronnie Scott. The single was backed with The Inner Light, another Harrison Indian-inflected song. It was decided that the band would go to the Maharishi's ashram for training in trancendental meditation. The ashram was located in Rishikesh, India. The Fabs were joined by Donovan and Mike Love, of The Beach Boys...along with actress Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence. They stayed for a couple of months, well, except Ringo Starr, who left after a couple of weeks. He was quoted as saying the ashram was "like Butlins" and reportedly brought tins of beans with him, in case he didn't like the Indian veggie food. The rest attended meditation sessions, walked around the compound and got the acoustic guitars out for jams with Donovan and Mike. Don apparently showed Lennon and McCartney his finger-picking style and a couple of the tunes that ended up on The White Album show this to be true. The remaining three wrote a lot of songs while in Rishikesh.
After a time, though, rumours started up about the Maharishi's more earthbound desires, particularly for Prudence. She became withdrawn and the others were concerned for her. Lennon wrote a melody for her, called Dear Prudence--which would appear on the completed album. Lennon and McCartney felt they had enough of the ashram and headed back to England while Harrison stayed on for another month. They re-convened to record the Hey Jude single (McCartney's ode to Lennon's son Julian when learning of John's split with his first wife Cynthia), which was backed with Lennon's Revolution, a scathing aside to would-be violent radicals. "Hey Jude" made the chart history books as the longest single to top the charts, clocking in at 7+ minutes, thanks to it's sing-along coda. In late spring 1968, the boys gathered at Harrison's Esher bungalow and recorded some acoustic demos of the various tunes they had written while in India. Soon after that, they returned to Abbey Road Studios to start the proper sessions.
The sessions were frought with tensions and Starr even left the band a couple of times, only to be cajoled back by the others. Yoko Ono, John's new paramour, was also present at the studio, all the time--Lennon insisted upon it. This caused McCartney and Harrison some unease, as they were used to recording with only the four of themselves and the production team. Some of the sessions also had a shambolic nature. George Martin, the Fabs usual producer, was away for the night the band recorded Macca's 'rock-and-roll-cacophony', Helter Skelter. With engineer Geoff Emerick and tape-op Ken Thomas at the board, the session lasted most of a night. McCartney would be screaming into a mic while Harrison ran around the studio with an ashtray, it's contents on fire, held over his head in an ad-hoc impression of Arthur Brown. Lennon would be so exhausted (or stoned) sometimes, that when it came time for his vocals, he would lie on the floor of the studio. The fractious nature of the group was exposed and at times, only two band members would be in the studio. It was almost as if they were acting as a backing group for whomever's song was being worked on. For Lennon (and Yoko's) Stockhausen-influenced tape collage, Revolution No. 9, only Harrison helped out with the many tape loops required for the finished piece. Recording was finally completed in October 1968. They had so many songs that a one-record track list couldn't be agreed-upon, so they decided on a double-album. A plain white sleeve was commissioned, in sharp contrast to "Pepper" and the colourful "Magical Mystery Tour" LP jacket. A poster was included in the initial pressings, along with four large photos of each Fab. A number was also stamped on the lower right hand corner of the front cover, with "The Beatles" embossed a bit above it.
The music itself was the most eclectic that the group ever produced. Forays into faux-30s jazz, proto-hard rock, quasi-folk..even an attempt at honky-tonk (albeit through a Liverpudlian filter), with the Ringo-sung Don't Pass Me By. The individual facets of each band member are far more pronounced. McCartney the tunesmith, with his melodic sensibilities..as in the folky Mother Nature's Son and Blackbird (rumoured to be a 'coded' message of support for the Black Power movement). Harrison the introspective one, with While My Guitar Gently Weeps (featuring his friend Eric Clapton on a nice solo) and Long Long Long. Lennon's acerbic wit on Happiness Is A Warm Gun (a "3-songs-in-one" medley which would inspire the side-long medley on the Abbey Road album and Radiohead's Paranoid Android, nearly 30 years later), The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill (a swipe at alpha-male 'Saxon mother's sons' that he perceived to be the source of most wars) and Sexy Sadie (allegedly written about the Maharishi's foibles). Ringo, ever the droll clown, had "Don't Pass.." and the treacly Goodnight, which closes the second record in the set. For all that, though, it still seemed difficult to completely pin them down. Lennon gets sensitive on "Dear Prudence", featuring that Donovan-picking and on Julia, an ode to his late mother. Macca rocks out on Why Don't We Do It In The Road? and "Helter Skelter". Harrison lets his hair down on Savoy Truffle, another track with Clapton and even written about Eric's sugar jones.
There are some "full band" moments scattered throughout, in case anyone thought the group had completely fragmented. Back In The U.S.S.R., which opens Side 1 of the first LP, is a Chuck Berry-esque rocker which also manages to be a Beach Boys hommage/piss-take. Birthday, a light, fun ditty, also sounds like the four mucked in together to complete it. Revolution No. 1, a slowed-down version of Lennon's B-side, has a 'band feel' to it as well...especially with it's false start. The underpinning blues riff sounds off on an acoustic guitar and then stops. Macca says "Take two" and Lennon responds with "O.K." and the riff starts the tune proper. Then there are the oddities. Wild Honey Pie (covered by The Pixies in the late 80s) sounds like an Appalachian hoedown on Saturn. Harrison's Piggies couches cynical, almost insurrectionary lyrics into a sprightly melody, featuring harpsichord as a lead instrument. And then, of course, "Revolution No. 9"--a tape collage by turns unsettling and remarkable. Whatever you think of it, it was certainly a bold move to include it on the album at all. I suspect it bewildered even those fans who'd stuck with the Fabs through all of the changes in 1966 and '67.
The record set, as with every new Beatles album, received a warm response upon it's release in November 1968. Unfortunately, in 1969, it became forever associated with the murder of Sharon Tate and others by Charles Manson's 'family' of hippie runaway delinquents. Manson was convinced that the Beatles were communicating with him through the music, especially "Helter Skelter", "Piggies" and "Revolution No. 9". He thought a race war was imminent and used the murders to try and foment the war. His plan was to hide out in the Mojave desert until the war was over, then make his way back and take over as supreme leader over the African-Americans, whom he figured would win. The band themselves distanced themselves from the tragedy and those songs weren't performed for a long time by any of the members, even during their solo years. When the 'White Album' was released on CD in 1987, American comedian Sam Kinison had a routine about having faulty speaker wire, because he couldn't hear The Beatles talking to him. He would launch into a tirade, shouting "MANSON...IT WAS JUST A FUCKING ALBUM..YOU WERE ON ACID!" U2 covered "Helter Skelter" on their 1987 tour and Bono would announce, before starting, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles, we're stealing it back". Harrison did perform "Piggies" again on his 1991 tour and McCartney has recently been performing "Helter Skelter"--as in his Glastonbury set a couple of years ago.
The group were back in the studio in January 1969 for the ill-fated "Get Back" sessions. It was clear by that time that they were moving in separate directions, as foreshadowed during the recording of the 'White Album'. They would rally one final time for the recording of "Abbey Road" in the summer of 1969 and then, in August 1969, they quietly split, though the noisy legal battles would commence soon after. A post-split LP, Let It Be, pieced together from the "Get Back" sessions, was released in 1970, along with an official announcement that the band had broken up.
There are still debates about whether the sprawling double-album could've been whittled down to a very stellar single LP. In the 1995 Anthology TV special, George Martin is shown as saying just that...that he wanted to edit it down to a single record. Macca is shown just after, saying "I never agreed with all that, well...it should've been a single album...it's The Beatles, it's the White Album...shut up." To me, it shows the biggest band in the world willing to go out on a limb, even if it means alienating some of their die-hard audience. Maybe it was out of necessity...perhaps they had to record the songs they did for no other reason than to assert themselves as individuals in this thing beyond their control called The Beatles. It's still one of the best double-albums in the history of popular recorded music, well, to me anyway.
15 November 2008
We set off on Monday morning in torrential rain - it was so bad that on the motorway I couldn't see a thing due to the spray from the lorries. We got there and were in the cottage in 5.5 hours, which isn't bad considering. We stayed in a little cottage in Port Gaverne - 1/4 of a mile down the coast from Port Isaac (as seen in Doc Martin and Saving Grace). Port Gaverne is a tiny little cove filled with holiday cottages and one pub. My family first came to know if in the 70's (I think) when my mothers cousin Gary worked in the pub/hotel. At the time it was owned by an eccentric old Biddie who we think has now died - her apartment was empty and being refurbished. She owned both the hotel/pub and also a set of old fisherman's cottages opposite. We used to take Herbie down there and stay in a cottage called Marigold - right opposite the pub. This time though we stayed in the one called Jasmin as Marigold held too many memories for me.
When we got there we went for a walk in the mud over the headland but soon turned back as it was so wet. We walked up to Port Isaac and strolled round the quaint old streets, looking in some of the shops. There were a few other people about but not many. On the way back we managed to befriend a little cat which we christened Bertie. He followed us for so long I thought he was going to come all the way back with us (he actually turned up one night just outside our cottage !). We went for a drink in the pub that night and both had Doom Bar - a local beer brewed in Rock and named after a sandbank between Rock and Padstow. It's a really good beer but tastes much better from the tap in an authentic Cornish pub, with a roaring fire.
The next day we set off for Rough Tor to scatter Herb's ashes. We got there early and were the only people there - which added to the bleakness. It came back to me why Herb had liked it so much - he wasn't friendly with other dogs and this place was so huge and lonely that the chances of him seeing another dog were slim so he could enjoy his walk without any anxiety. We set off, over the stream at the bottom and then made our way to the left and then up. We got to the top and started looking for a suitable place - finally deciding on the 2nd of the 3 "peaks", mainly due to the fact that it was a very windy day and it was slightly more sheltered. We scattered his ashes, including some dried daffodils we'd picked in April from the little patch over the road (he used to go berserk sniffing them for some reason !) and then carried on with our walk - around the final peak and back down to the car. It was a lovely walk and a very sad moment. I think he's happy there though as it truly was his favourite place.
After we'd eaten our lunch we set off for Polzeath Beach - another of his favourite haunts. The tide was coming in (or going out) so most of the beach was under water but the sea was rough and we had a potter round, fascinated by the waves and movement of the sea. We watched some idiots - I mean Surfers - including one with no wet suit. We left there and had a quick visit to Rock and then back to the cottage before it got dark (I refuse to drive in the dark - especially along those Cornish roads). We went out for dinner that night and ended up in a place called The Crows Nest - it was nice, the food was good. The only other pub in Port Isaac didn't have any vegetarian options but it had a nice Beer brewed by St Austell's called HSD.
The next day we completed our Herb tribute with a trip to Lanhydrock - a National Trust property just outside of Bodmin Moor. It sort of reminds me of a smaller Blenheim Palace, with a hugely impressive house and nice circular walk. We walked Herb's usual route but unfortunately strayed off it into a field for a few minutes. This seemed to anger the field's owner for some reason and she shouted at us to "get out of her field". Pure comedy ! We did, but were still looking for the path in the next field along and she seemed to disaprove of this too, and came up to us still shouting to get out. TPG decided to shout back but I told him to shh and pretend we were lost. When she realised this she reluctantly said she'd show us where the path was - I played dumb (not difficult) and made her take us all the way back to the turning we should have taken. If she'd been politer I wouldn't have done it but screw her !
After Lanhydrock we took a trip to Padstow. I'd never been there before and was very impressed. It's a largish harbour and very touristy, mainly thanks to TV Chef Rick Stein who owns restaurant/cafes/ a Deli/ a hotel/ a fish and chip shop etc etc there. As TV Chef's go I really like Stein - although he cooks a lot of fish dishes I always try to watch him as he's very unassuming and nice. We had a wander round the harbour, took a walk nearly to the beach, bought authentic Cornish Pasties (well, a Cheese & Onion and Chicken and Stuffing) for dinner that night and then visited Stein's Deli. We had a list of stuff for a work colleague and also picked up some Chutney for my parents and some chocolate cookies for ourselves. It wasn't cheap but the quality is good.
The next day - Thursday - we decided to visit The lost gardens of Heligan. It was raining really hard and the drive took 90 minutes ! When we got there the rain didn't show any signs of stopping but we bravely spend 3 hours wandering round, fascinated by it. My favourite bits were the bird hide, the Italian Garden and the Vegetable Garden. After 3 hours we were soaked and freezing so we went to the cafe and had a hot drink - my hands were so cold I wrapped them round the mug and couldn't feel a thing. After we'd warmed up a bit we set off for St Austell - with the main intention of finding the Brewery. We walked round the centre but didn't see it anywhere so left - 0n the way back we saw signs for it though so followed them and found it ! We bought some beer and cider and then set off for the cottage.
That night we ate in the Port Gaverne pub - a Cheddar Ploughmans for me and Fish for TPG. Also more Doom Bar. There were a very annoying couple in that night - the woman was possibly the most irritating person in the world. She obviously wasn't happy with just her Husbands company because she kept leaving her table to go and talk to the Barman and the regulars (who were from London and Manchester !). She tried to drag us into conversation a few times but we didn't get sucked in - instead concentrating on our food and beer. There were a couple of cute dogs in that night - a spaniel called Indie and a black lab called Freddie. We spent most of our time watching him and commenting on how good he was !
Friday we had to leave - unfortunately. We stopped in Tintagel for a bit and walked around the shops and up the the castle. We bought a few cheap souvenirs from a bookshop and then set off for home. The drive home was uneventful - but quicker than the journey there. We got home late yesterday but both wish we were there still. Maybe we'll go back next year with the whole family for Christmas.
09 November 2008
A small post to mention the Halloween episode of The Kaleidophonic Stroboscope is now live (well, it's been live for about a week). I know, the holiday is over--but you can still savour the scary sounds, especially on a rainy and cold day like this. Listen to the episode here. The artwork still isn't loading at MyPodcast, so I've posted it here instead.
Pixie and I are heading to Cornwall on holiday this week. We're staying in Port Isaac and we'll be going to visit Herb's old haunts and scatter his ashes on Bodmin Moor, one of his favourite 'walkie' spots. We've rented a cottage near where Pixie's family used to stay on holiday, so it shall be nostalgic for her and a whole new experince for me. This will be my first visit to the west Cornish coast. I'm taking my hiking boots and plenty of warm clothes.
Be back in a week...see you then!
07 November 2008
Anyone else see Brian Eno on Question Time last night? Pixie and I tuned in for a bit, when suddenly ol' Dimbers fielded a question to the Liberal Democrats' "Youth Advisor"....Eno!
I only watched a bit of the programme, but just enough to see Eno dis Jack Straw over the "dodgy dossier" used to instigate the war with Iraq. How cool was that?
Personally, I think Brian should form his own anarcho-libertarian party..or join The Monster Raving Loonies (the only respectable active political party--aside from the Guns And Dope Party). I'd vote for him. Imagine that...Prime Minister Eno.
You can watch the "Question Time" programme on the BBC iPlayer here (for the next week only - then it's gone).
04 November 2008
20 October 2008
(I'm not sure why the artwork isn't showing up--I think it's a problem at MyPodcast.com, hopefully it will be repaired soon).
The next episode will be posted in the next couple of weeks.
17 October 2008
October's been busy so far. One of the panels of our back garden fence decided, after months of being pressed by the triffid growing in the neighbour's garden, to become unattached from the rest of the fence. It's now rested at a jaunty angle. We've had the fencing bloke over to check it out and he's replacing two of the panels soon. We've also had a plumber round to fix the hot water tap for the tub and the cold water tap for the bathroom sink. Ah, home repairs...
You may have seen on some other blogs, namely Only Maybe, Fly Agaric's blog and Clinamen, Borsky's blog--that there's now a Maybe Quarterly print edition. It's called simply "Maybe..." and the first issue is culled from past MQ on-line editions, with excellent artwork from the very talented Bobby Campbell. Your humble author had his Robert Anton Wilson haikus published in "Maybe..." and there's contributions from Fly, Borksy, Bogus Magus and other MLA'ers like Zenpunkist and Minja. It's a fantastic read--I breezed through it in about an hour or so. Big thanks go out to Bogus, Bobby and El8ted1 for cobbling it together and making it available..with extra cheers to Bogus for hooking me up with a couple of sample copies (complete with R.A.W. patatows! They've gotta be worth as much as pounds, dollars & yen at the moment). El8ted will send you a box of "Maybe..." copies, as long as you pay the postage fee. I'm going to order some for distribution to friends & anyone who's interested. Let me know if you'd like a copy and I'll get you one as soon as. Hail Eris! Hail Pope Bob! Hopefully, we'll all get cracking on some new stuff for another issue. I've been a bit quiet, as far as the MLA goes, lately. There's some great courses happening at the moment--I'd really like to take the Crowley Tarot one, led by Lon Milo DuQuette, but again...the bread hassles, man. Ah well, I've got his Crowley tarot book and a set of the cards, so it may work out better if I read the book on my own and take the course later.
I've nearly finished the 6th podcast episode! The tough work is all done, I just need to upload it to MyPodcast.com and write the blurb. I'll post a link here once it's ready. Send in some requests...post 'em in the comments here or at MyPodcast.
Our pal Singing Bear sent us some musical goodies a couple of weeks ago. The brand-spankin'-new Lambchop record, OH (ohio). It's the 2-disc special edition and it's nice. Sorta typical sound for them, but still, Kurt Wagner ain't fixin' what ain't broken and I don't mind too much. He also sent a copy Duncan Browne's 1968 psych-folk album, Give Me Take You and Ivor Cutler's A Flat Man. All recommended, especially the Duncan Browne--he sounds like a more sombre Donovan and the arrangements are high quality--those very-British late 60s strings, harpsichord & flute sounds. Cheers, Bear!
I'm waiting on the rest of my stuff to arrive from Conn. My brother dropped it off at the shipper's a few weeks ago. I think it's in the UK now, the shippers will let me know when it'll be dropped off at the house. It'll be nice to have all of my LPs again...and my sitar. That sucker's gonna need a tuning, though. The last time it was properly tuned was probably six or seven years ago. My battered old Strat and acoustic 12-string will be delivered too--it's gonna be time for a jam session! I'll post more about that when the stuff is actually here.
Besides Bear's fine additions to the collection, I treated myself to some other musical goodies. Robert Fripp & Brian Eno's seminal 70s ambient collaborations, No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, have been re-issued through Eno's Opal and Fripp's Discipline Global Mobile labels. They sound great and the digi-pak cases add a nice touch--pick these up before they are housed in plain old jewel cases. I've nearly got all of The Moody Blues SACD editions of the first seven records (well, the second to the eighth--if you count "The Magnificent Moodies" as their first official LP and not Days Of Future Passed). I just bought A Question Of Balance--so now, I've just got the 2-disc "Days...", Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and Seventh Sojourn to go. "A Question.." definitely benefits from the SACD mastering--it sounds much crisper than the '97 re-issue. I'm selling off all of my Moodies Japanese mini-LP editions--hopefully I'll get a bit of dosh from them. I've also started buying the recent Os Mutantes re-issues. I've got the Omplatten re-issues of the first three albums, but a couple of years ago, Universal/Mercury/Polydor/etc/etc decided to re-release the entire Mutantes catalogue, aside from the last two (Tudo Foi Feito Pelo Sol & Ao Vivo). I've got a mish-mash of different labels for the rest of the albums, so I figure I'll snap up the rest of the 2006 re-issues. They're about £5 each, if you check Amazon's 'new & used' section. There's a bunch more stuff...The Nice's 2-CD editions, Second Hand's Reality (the Sunbeam Records re-release), Ange's Par Les Fils De Mandrin Millesime '77 and two of the Genesis 1970-'75 SACD + DVD re-issues (Foxtrot & Selling England By The Pound)...but I'll stop here.
I'll post when the next Kaleidophonic Stroboscope goes live. See you soon.
03 October 2008
I've always been curious about how many people actually visited my various blogs over the years, but never got round to installing a site-visit counter or anything like that. I noticed that Only Maybe has a thing called a "ClustrMap", which shows the number of visits, plus where people are visiting from. With Blogger re-tooled, I took the plunge and decided to install a ClustrMap. It's over on the left sidebar - I check it fairly regularly.
I checked it yesterday and noticed that there have been 10,000 visits! Wow! I realise that's not much, compared to some blog's traffic rate (especially the celebrity gossip ones and the political ones)--but hey, I'll take what I can get. 10,000 visits in 6 months (I installed the map last April) ain't too shabby, from my perspective.
Now, site counters and the like are probably just ego-strokers in the end--but it does feel comforting knowing I'm not just whispering into the aether and no-one's receiving. Sure, a percentage of those visits may be spam-bots (I'm sure I'd find that out quick if I disabled the word-scramble device on the comments), but I think a lot were genuine human check-ins. I'd like to thank those who've stopped by, even if it was just a single time. I'd like to think you found something humourous, or thought-provoking...or maybe discovered a band you hadn't heard about before.
Right, be back soon with (hopefully) something a bit more substantial.
22 September 2008
I hope everyone enjoyed their first day of the new autumn. Pixie and I had a lovely walk out in the sunshine, down a bridleway to a local park. The weather was beautiful and it really started the season in style. Happy Mabon!
Listening to: Brian Eno - Discreet Music
Reading: William Faulkner - Go Down, Moses
15 September 2008
Sorry for not blogging in a while - I've been going through a bit of a rough patch the past week or so. I aim to be better soon and back to regular posting.
It has been officially announced that Rick Wright, keyboardist and singer, of Pink Floyd has passed away, due to cancer, at age 65. It comes as a shock to me, because I wasn't even aware he had been diagnosed with the disease. He was a co-founder of one of the most well-known rock bands ever...and one of the few bands from the nascent English 60s psychedelic scene to achieve international popularity and success. I am saddened by the loss of another of the original Floyds (Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett died a couple of years ago).
I'll post a proper tribute to the man when I'm feeling more up to the challenge...but for now, a few of his finer musical moments....
See Emily Play - The Floyd's second single from 1967 and partly written for their appearance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in May of that year. Wright's Arabic-tinged organ solos were very much part of the early psychedelic Floyd sound.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond - Parts VIII & IX - The closer to the Wish You Were Here album, released in 1975. Rick's playing on this piece (which, in nine parts, opens and closes the record) is among his best. In part VIII, he shows a surprisingly funky side, while the last part just glides along on wistful and elegiac chords and melancholy trills. The playing at the fade has been my favourite Rick Wright solo ever since I first heard it.
Summer '68 - This one's on the Atom Heart Mother album, Floyd's first record after the Ummagumma double-set. This seems to me to be one Wright's best vocal performances. His mournful tone suits the verse lyrics about remembering an encounter with a groupie. It all goes a bit Turtles' Happy Together at the chorus, but still a great turn at the lead mic for Rick.
The Great Gig In The Sky - The man's supreme moment. Stealing a chord change from a Miles Davis album and featuring the powerful vocals of Clare Torry, "The Great Gig.." is poignant from start to finish and the perfect closer to Side 1 of the Floyd's greatest triumph in the studio, The Dark Side Of The Moon.
31 August 2008
Where did August go? It certainly seemed to go by quite quickly. As I explained in a previous post, Pixie and I decided not to attend a music festival this year. We did decide on a camping trip and got her family in on the plan. Her brother found a campsite in Dorset called Burnbake - he recommended it and from the photos on the website, it looked O.K.
It transpired that he and his family wouldn't be able to make it--so her parents and ourselves packed up and trucked down there last weekend (Bank Holiday weekend). The site itself is near Corfe Castle, only it's about two miles down a side road--quite a ways away from the village. We nearly were lost a couple of times, but eventually found it. After scouting some of the pitching areas (the site was already quite full when we arrived on Friday morning)--we found a pitch suitable for our small-ish tent and Pixie's parents' camper-van. A family was packing up their tent, so we asked if we could have their spot--then set up the tent once they had gone. It took Pixie's parents a bit of time to locate a level enough area for the van, but once they had settled, we then headed off to Studland Beach for the day.
We were blessed with decent weather and the beach was quite crowded. I had never been there before and found it a lovely beach--with fine sand and very little seaweed, aside from one stretch that was covered with dried clumps of it. the group split up and Pixie and I had a nice stroll down the length of the seafront, while her parents walked along the road leading to the beach and the area where the ferry departs for Poole (only about a ten-minute journey). Studland does have a 'naturist' (i.e. nudist) section, which is marked off by signs. I did feel a bit out of place, walking through there fully-clothed, but the naturists didn't seem to notice anyway. There were others traversing that stretch, wearing bathing suits--so I didn't feel that awkward. After stopping in Wareham for fish and chips (except Pixie, who's vegetarian), we returned to the campsite to find that our tent had been virtually surrounded by a few families that discovered the pitch and crammed in all of their gear in a relatively small space. They were quite noisy and had several children along, which added to the din. Pixie got to calling them "The Clampetts" after a while.
After a night near "The Clampetts", we decided the best option was to move our tent--so the next morning, we (rather efficiently) half-packed it and moved it over to the other side of the pitch, near the van. It was on a slight slope, but that didn't bother me--at least not as much as "Johnny - The Devil Child"s caterwauling in the night and early morning. Pixie's brother and our neices were able to travel down for the day - so we all trooped back to Studland Beach, this time with swimming gear and frisbee and camp chairs. The neices busied themselves by burying their Barbies and Dr. Who figurines in the sand, then by digging a hole in the beach and discovering water underneath. The rest of us went paddling in the water, which was cooooooooold (it appears the Gulf Stream doesn't quite reach that part of Britain)--followed by a game of frisbee. I was drafted in to help with the beach hole project...and after building a wall with the dug-up sand, decided to craft it into a sea dragon. It looked pretty good, with spikes on it's back and small black stones for eyes. I'd post a picture of it, but I haven't down-loaded the photos off of the camera yet. The time for leaving came around and we packed up our stuff and left our sculpture behind (surrounded by one of the neices' "Do Not Touch" signs scrawled into the sand). We stopped in Swanage for a pub-food dinner and then said goodbye to our visitors. Us campers trekked back to the campsite to see the night in and then crash out.
Saturday night was filled with a rainstorm, which continued into Sunday morning..making it a pretty miserable waking-up moment. We even considered packing up and returning home, but the rain cleared a couple of hours later and we set off for Lulworth Cove. The cove itself is quite spectacular, but it's a bit difficult to walk around, as the beach is covered with shingle. We wanted to see the Durdle Door, since we didn't trek there the last time we visited Lulworth. Up the huge hill and over to the Door we went. It's an impressive sight, viewing it sort-of up-close...after looking at photos and TV documentaries for so long. I started to feel a bit light-headed and had to sit down for a little while, so Pixie was on camera duty and snapped a lovely photo of it (another one to d/l from the camera). We had planned to walk down to the beach by the Door, but I didn't think I'd have the stamina to walk down the steep steps leading to the beach and then all the way back to the car park--so we left it for another time. I'm sure we'll be visiting Lulworth again. Returning to the campsite, we shared some dinner with Pixie's parents, then played a couple rounds of Scrabble and then it was time for sleep again.
On Monday morning (Bank Holiday Monday), we quickly packed up the tent and stowed the rest of our gear, had a nice breakfast with Pixie's folks--then got on the road. We detoured for a little while in Dorchester, the birthplace of author Thomas Hardy. I had never been there, but it seems like a fine small town. Pixie and I mainly just walked around in the shopping district, stopping in a couple of shops. I found a cool used bookstore, which contained a few boxes of LPs in it's basement section. I didn't see anything I absolutely had to have, so left them there, maybe for a future visit. After buying some lunch for the road at the local Waitrose, we got back on the road. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, other than viewing the beautiful countryside around Salisbury and Oxfordshire. We arrived home in the late afternoon, unpacked the car and sorted the clothes and other stuff from the suitcase. The rest of the evening was devoted to chill-out time. Another swell holiday for the record books (and photo albums).
Haven't been doing much the past week - just going back to work, listening to the 2-CD reissue of Anthony Phillips' The Geese And The Ghost and Danielle Dax's Jesus Egg That Wept EP and reading a couple of Jonathan Coe novels. Our own Singing Bear has started up another blog, after the demise of Tiz Yer Tiz. He's continuing his 'guerilla blogging' adventures by raiding the YouTube treasuries and posting musical clips of some of his favourite artists, giving a blurb on the artists' history and prominent recordings. It's called Action-Time-Vision and can be found here. Get over there and savour the man's posts, before he moves on again. I'll be starting on the new podcast episode soon--I'm working over a track list in my mind at the moment. See you there.
20 August 2008
Just a quick note to the freeks waiting for their next dose of The Kaleidophonic Stroboscope, I can now announce that the fifth episode has been posted!
I've added a brand-new feature as well..hey now! I won't disclose what it is here, you'll have to go and experience it for yourselves.
Take a listen here and get ready for some re-grooving.
16 August 2008
Pixie and I, after reviewing our holidays and cash-ola situation for the year, decided not to attend the Cropredy Festival, which happened last weekend. The line-up this year didn't really seem like a "must see" event, especially after the 40th anniversary of Fairport Convention last year, which saw the remaining members of the 1969 version of the band perform the Liege & Lief album in it's entirety. This year, aside from Supergrass, Stackridge and The Family Mahone - I wasn't that jazzed about much. The Muffin Men (featuring Jimmy Carl Black) put on an excellent set at Cropredy a couple of years ago and it was nice to see "the Indian of the group" still rocking out, but I wasn't too fussed about missing their 2008 performance. So, no Cropredy report this year...it turned out that the weather was pretty horrible last weekend and we were actually glad we didn't go. I heard that Legend, the Bob Marley tribute band, lifted the crowd's spirits on a very rainy Saturday--but still, definitely glad I wasn't standing out there, trying to get my ticket money's worth. The Green Man Festival is happening this weekend, but again, we couldn't make it. It would've been nice to catch it before it gets really huge and becomes "just another festival". We may go next year...fingers crossed...
I was randomly checking out links on some friend's blogs and saw an article about David Byrne and Brian Eno's new record (their first full collaboration since My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, released in 1981), called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, on The Quietus. If that wasn't cool enough - I found a review for the re-issued Penguin Cafe Orchestra albums. Wha???? When did that happen? Turns out they were just released last month...but it's times like that, that I miss working in a record store. All of the studio albums and the live one, When In Rome, have been re-released on Virgin. The PCO records haven't had the treatment yet--especially the first three, which have only been released on disc once, in the late 80s--so you don't get a feeling of deja vu with say, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, whose catalogues are now on their fourth series of CD re-masters. I've ordered the first two albums, Music From The Penguin Cafe, first released in 1976 and the follow-up, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, released in 1981. I plan on buying the others in the coming months.
Here's some more re-issues that have grabbed my attention recently:
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (2 CD-set): The indie-rock equivalent of a Beatles reunion (well, since The Pixies' reunion a few years ago) happened earlier this year and now a deluxe edition of their second, and most oft-imitated, album, is being made available. The first disc is a re-master by the band's sonic guru, singer and guitarist, Kevin Shields and the second disc is supposedly a lost mix from 1991 from the original tapes. I've ordered it and can't wait to hear it. I didn't get to see them live this year, so to have a re-issued "Loveless" will be a fine salve for any disappointment. There's a re-master of their first full-length, Isn't Anything, on the way too - though Amazon's showing a 2010 (!) release date at the moment. Typical Kevin Shields...making us wait yet again.
Supersister - Present From Nancy/To The Highe$t Bidder/Pudding En Gisteren/Iskander: Supersister were a Dutch progressive rock band with a strong "Canterbury scene", as well as Frank Zappa, influence (amongst other things). They were relatively unknown outside of Holland--but interest in their music has been picking up in recent years, mainly due to their reformation in the late 90s, but also through prog-rock internet forums. I first heard them when I bought the Supernatural Fairy Tales prog box-set (Supersister's track Radio, from the "Pudding En Gisteren" album, is featured) about ten years ago. Their stuff was out-of-print for a long while and tough to find. Esoteric Recordings have changed that with their re-issues of the first four records. I've bought the first three ("Nancy", "Bidder" and "Pudding") and they sound great. The booklets seem well-researched, with lots of rare photos and of course, 'restored artwork'. I would recommend these to any prog-fan, not just the hardcore collectors. Esoteric have also done an excellent job with their series of Man and Egg re-issue discs too.
Hawkwind - Space Ritual (Collector's Edition): One of the best live albums ever (i.m.h.o.) was first released on CD in the early-90s, but that edition (released on One Way Records in the U.S.) sounded a bit flat. EMI then re-issued all of the early Hawkwind albums (up to Hall Of The Mountain Grill) in 2001, with bonus tracks and better-sounding mixes. The '01 "Space Ritual" also restored two tracks that were edited on the original LP set, due to time constraints, Brainstorm and Time We Left (This World Today). Last year, a 3-disc "collector's edition" of "Space Ritual" was released...2 CDs and a DVD with 5.1 surround-sound mix and trippy visuals (sadly, no concert footage of the original shows--none probably exists, as any camera crew at the time would've been as stoned as the band and audience). I bought the '92 One Way re-issue, so I figured it was time for an upgrade and went for the 2007 edition, though you can still buy the 2001 re-master, if you want to save a bit of dosh.
Genesis - The 'Peter Gabriel-era' albums: The Genesis double-disc SACD + DVD series finally gets around to the really good stuff. According to Amazon, all of the albums from Trespass to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, will be released on September 15th. I'll be shelling out for them...for the third time now. The two that I've bought already, Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering, sound excellent--and the bonus stuff on each DVD is definitely worth owning ("Trick Of.."'s DVD has the complete Genesis In Concert film from 1976). They're a bit pricey, so I'll probably buy a couple at a time...probably start with Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot (my two faves from Genesis' early prog phase). These re-issues will be getting plenty of disc-player time in the next few months. Oh yeah, there's a boxed set with all of the 1970-75 albums in it....but it's £95!! You do get a bonus disc of rare tracks, but most of them have already been released as part of the Genesis Archive 1967-1975 box.
Love - Forever Changes (Collector's Edition): Arthur Lee & Co.'s masterwork also gets it's third re-issue on CD. I thought the 2001 release, with bonus tracks, was the definitive version. I guess some more alternate mixes were located and so Elektra Records (or whomever owns them now) have churned out this 2-disc edition. The first disc is the complete album, re-mastered again and the second disc has all of the extras. I'm guessing the booklet has been expanded as well, with some more anecdotes about the making of the record and the eventual demise of the 1967/'68 line-up of L.A.'s premier psychedelic band (sorry, Doors fans--I like them, too, but Love seemed a lot more creative to me). The collector's edition will probably only appeal to the obsessive Love fans--the rest will probably just keep their 2001 re-issue.
The Orb - The Island albums (Pomme Fritz to Cydonia): The re-issues of The Orb's Island Records output has now finished. Each 2-CD set has the original set on one disc and a bonus disc of unearthed early mixes from studio sessions, plus a few mixes only included on CD single releases. The booklets contain informative essays by Kris Needs, who was a member of the group at the time the albums were recorded and toured. My only (small) complaint is that the artwork seems a bit 'fuzzy'--not as crisp as on the original releases. Maybe that will be addressed in later pressings. After "Cydonia" in 2001, The Orb left Island and their work has appeared on various labels, such as Kompakt. The quality has inevitably dipped a bit as well, but then, it's probably very tough to top a brilliant record like Orbus Terrarum. I recommend the new re-issues, especially "Pomme Fritz", never the easiest album to enjoy--but the bonus disc will provide a more relaxing listen, when compared to the abrasiveness of the original record.
08 August 2008
The latest scapegoat for the "crumbling of civilisation" (after paganism, jazz, rock and roll, drugs, homosexuality in the military & society, pornography, video games and the Internet) "are" those so-called 'lads mags'. You know, ones like Nuts and Zoo and Maxim and FHM and Stuff and Scrotal Jackhammer... They always feature the latest media-saturated 'hot chick', talking in interviews about how much she loves sex--the more the better...blah blah. Then there'll be an article about some guy who sawed his face off accidentally and it was a miracle of surgery that he recovered, but he still gets tension headaches every so often. Next, there'll be a section on men's fashion--clothes & scents to make all those "honeys" in the club want to shag you right there on the dancefloor. Then some very incisive CD and film reviews along the lines of "I really like this band, therefore this CD is good--it sounds like a lot of other CDs I like". There's some ads in the back for sex-chat phone lines and mobile ringtones and other gewgaws you don't really need.
So, Michael Gove, the "cultural propaganda minister" for the Tories - or whatever his job title is, has gone on the rampage, taking on the editors of "Nuts" and "Zoo" and charging them with helping to erode decent society. And you thought the Mary Whitehouse brigades had ceased to exist after their patron saint, Maggie Thatcher, was deposed. Gove really wants you to believe 'the right' cares about your family. I'm surprised he didn't quote that "I believe the children are our future.." song. I strongly suspect he inhabits a 1950s reality-tunnel...stemming the tide against the rising waves of filth and the "broken society" all around him and his political party. Thing is, there were "lads" magazines around in the 50s and women seemed to have a far rawer deal than they have now - at least in the post-industrialized, post-feminist nations. Women in the 50s were expected to be obedient wives and sexual harassment was not only allowed in the workplace, it seemed to be almost encouraged. I'm not sure, but is that what Gove thinks of as a "fixed" society?
I don't even like "Nuts" or "Zoo" or any of the others...they all seem to be aimed at teenagers and men in their early-to-mid 20s (maybe even late 20s) who think they're still back at the frat house, chuggin' & smokin' with their homeys, talking about gettin' laid n' stuff. The writing, such as it is, is peppered with "dude"s and five-year-old hip-hop slang that has finally filtered down to the wannabe hipsters (things like "pimp my __" and Snoop Dogg-speak)--even in the UK mags. Of course, there's plenty of photos of scantily-clad women in provocative poses and stories of 'steamy' real-life encounters, told by "real" attractive women. It all seems so contrived and the pure same-y quality to all of these articles dulls any aspect of titillation. Still, someone's buying them, I suppose. I also suspect (rather optimistically) that sombunall of the readers of lads mags get the joke...that, really, it's just entertainment--you're not supposed to take it seriously--you realise that women aren't as available to you as these publications suggest. For those who would swear by "Nuts" and "Zoo" as gospel...well, I don't think they will be rehabilitated by Michael Gove's fire-and-milquetoast speeches and I rather doubt he wants them in his Tory-led fixed society anyway.
If the objectification of women is Gove's complaint as well, then to me, shows like Sex & The City and magazines like Heat do the same thing, only in a different way. The message with those shows and mags seems to be "if you don't have this pair of shoes or have the same hairstyle as (insert 'celebrity' name here)--then you're not worth looking at". Just as insidious as making women out to be 'pleasure dolls' and also coming from the mostly male-dominated fashion industry. Same with all of those fashion make-over programmes on the toob--making women feel better about themselves by giving them plastic surgery and a new wardrobe to conform to society's standards of what beauty "is". Where's Gove's speech about that? He probably doesn't mind, as long as they're creating future voters...er, I mean families.
I suppose the lesson here might be not to believe what you read about in "Nuts" and "FHM"--but also not to believe what you read in political speeches, especially ones given by egghead Tories with creepy fascinations regarding your family.
30 July 2008
Flippin' 'ell - is she really 50 today? It's also been 30 years since her first album, The Kick Inside, was released. I first heard her in the summer of 1985, when I heard Running Up That Hill on someone's car radio. Being more into The Police and Van Halen at the time--I didn't think much of it except I thought she had a unique voice (I was more used to Stevie Nicks' L.A. husky cocaine drawl and Madonna's plastic pop whine). Fast forward five years and I was able to take away a cassette copy of The Sensual World, her 1989 release, from a record store I was working at. There were a box of returned cassettes that had apparently been there for months and hadn't been sent back for credit, so I managed to convince the shop owner's son that if they weren't going to get credit for them anyway--they were better off in my grubby mitts. Most of them, admittedly, seemed pretty crap--but the Kate album definitely got a few spins.
Fast forward again to 1993 and I was working in another record store--this time when her first album since "The Sensual World", The Red Shoes, was released. By then, I was pretty much on my way to being a total Kate fanboy. The store received a promo copy, which I promptly snatched and listened to a lot...I mean a lot. I then started buying all of the earlier albums, from The Hounds Of Love and The Whole Story..back to Lionheart and "The Kick Inside". I listened to all of them quite a bit, but eventually my faves boiled down to The Dreaming and "Hounds", though I do have a soft spot for Never For Ever as well. In 1996, I found the This Woman's Work boxed set at a Record Show in Hartford. It set me back about $100 and it's the Japanese edition--so no reading the booklets for me. It contains all of the studio albums up to "The Sensual World" (aside from "The Whole Story")..plus two discs of B-sides and rarities and a groovy extra booklet of photos. In '93, there were rumours that she would tour for "The Red Shoes", but unfortunately, that's all they were. She hasn't played live since her English "Tour Of Life" in 1979 and she's only made a few appearances since then...at one of the Secret Policeman's Ball events and at the Q awards a few years ago.
She released a 'companion' film to "The Red Shoes", called The Line, The Cross & The Curve, in 1994. It starred herself, Miranda Richardson and Terence Stamp. She put in a decent (if somewhat wooden) performance, for someone with no formal acting training. After that...not much for a long, long time. In the meantime, a phalanx of younger singers clearly influenced by Kate, stepped up to try and steal her crown. Only Tori Amos got close with the Under The Pink album in '94, but she couldn't match Kate's striving creativity and for me, "The Hounds Of Love" will always be a benchmark of what can be accomplished with enough ingenuity and drive. Amos' "ready-for-MTV" records lacked the sheer weirdness and playfulness of Kate's finest recordings.
I was starting to think she had retired from music, especially when it was announced that her son Bertie was born in 1998. Then, in 2005--she was back with a double-album called Aerial. The tunes were divided up into parts. The first disc featured disparate tunes like Pi, about a mathematician's obsession and The Coral Room, about the passing of her mother. The second disc was a connected suite of songs about time passing over the course of a day. This set-up echoed "Hounds" 20 years before..one side of disjointed songs--the second side a conceptual suite about a woman who's a survivor of a shipwreck and what runs through her mind as she's drifting through the water.
So here we are...and Kate is 50 today. I'm still waiting for DVD versions of "The Line, The Cross.." and The Single File, a videocassette which collected all of her promotional films up to "The Dreaming"--there's also a collection (well, three videos) of her "Sensual World" clips, if you're lucky enough to find a copy (I've got one!). Oh yeah, nearly forgot the Live At Hammersmith VHS/CD pack, filmed during the "Tour Of Life". I wish EMI and CBS would get off their backsides and make this stuff available on DVD. Hopefully, she won't wait another twelve years to release another record. Here are some of my favourite Kate recorded moments:
Army Dreamers ("Never For Ever", 1980) - Her third full-length was a departure from the 'girl-and-her-piano' tone of the first two. She expanded the instrumentation beyond just keyboard and backing band--to encompass sitars, violins, mandolins...and the Fairlight CMI synthesizer. The Fairlight was a very lo-fi, primitive keyboard-based sampler, but Kate (as well as Peter Gabriel) utilised it to it's full capabilities. On "Army Dreamers", it provides a percussion instrument out of sampled rifle bolt clicks. The song itself seems to be about a mother's guilt over her son's death during manoeuvers. She thinks of other things he could have been...rock star, politician, father...but didn't seem to have the options available. "What a waste...of army dreamers", Kate coos while the tune plays in waltz-time. A very subtle anti-war song. In the early 80s, it was Northern Ireland and the Falklands..now it's Iraq and Afghanistan. What a waste of more army dreamers. "Never For Ever" also contains the superb anti-nuclear war song Breathing as it's closing track.
Pull Out The Pin ("The Dreaming", 1982) - "The Dreaming" is probably Kate's most defiantly artistic record. It showed her bucking all of the trends in the early 80s and sales be damned! Of course, EMI probably weren't so happy that one of their lucrative acts decided to create some strange, neo-psychedelic songs about Harry Houdini and bank robbers--but she stuck to her direction in the face of the bigwigs...a more "punk" move than what most of the Class Of '77 were doing at the time. "Pull Out The Pin" is a song about the Vietnam War, but from the Vietnamese perspective. As if that weren't radical enough, the point-of-view is from a female Viet Cong volunteer. She views the American soldiers as "big and pink and not like me" and "they see little light..see no reason for the fight" Pretty ballsy. Contrast that with Billy Joel's Goodnight Saigon, released the same year. I know "Goodnight.." isn't all 'rah-rah..'Nam was kick-ass", but it's sentimental chorus at the end renders it somewhat ineffective. Kate doesn't flinch from the violence, but doesn't glorify it either. It's a means to an end for the song's protagonist--screaming "I love life" as the song nears it's coda. David Gilmour (who 'discovered' Kate in 1974 and financed her first demo recordings), on the run from the rapidly dissolving Pink Floyd, provides a freaky guitar solo and some backing vocals. Top stuff!
The Ninth Wave (Side 2 of "Hounds Of Love", 1985) - Wha? "A whole album side (or...the second half of the CD for you young'uns)?" you ask. Yep...the whole friggin' thing...start to finish. This was where she perfected everything she had done up to that point...and to be honest, it seems to me that she still hasn't bested it. If you're still of the opinion that women can't create progressive rock music--I challenge you to play this suite and tell me that"is" still so. Sure, some of the production sounds a tiny bit dated now--but I don't care. She takes the listener through so many moods and moments and scenes and dreams though the course of "The Ninth Wave" (the name taken from a Tennyson poem), you'll feel like you've listened to a double album. That's how many ideas are packed into this 25 minutes of connected songs. Kate deserves every accolade heaped on her just for this suite alone. I'm not even going to say anymore--just get thyself to a CD player (or turntable) and listen...then listen again. Man, that's good......are you still here???!!!!
Love And Anger ("The Sensual World", 1989) - Admittedly, "T.S.W." seems a bit patchy...but after the triumphal "Hounds Of Love", how was she really going to top it? She shied away for a few years, releasing the "greatest hits" package "The Whole Story" with new single Experiment IV, about a secret military project that goes horribly wrong. "Love And Anger" is another of Kate's relationship songs, where she outwardly goes through her trepidations about the big "L" and being caught between it and her desire to be free. I like the melody of it and Kate's pleading vocal is one of the best on the album. Definitely a stand-out, with an uncharacteristic wailing guitar solo, courtesy her old buddy Dave Gilmour (on hiatus from the revived Floyd). Her laugh at the very end of the tune is a nice touch also.
Oh! England, My Lionheart ("Lionheart", 1979) - The title track to her second album might be a bit twee for your taste, with lines like "Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park", but this sparse piano song features a heartfelt vocal by Kate. The song title plays on England's symbol and her own Sun Sign. The lyrics seem like a wistful look at post-war Blighty..with imagery about Spitfires and over-grown air-raid shelters. In some ways, it echoes Johnny Rotten's "England's dreaming!" battle-cry...but in others, it still celebrates the magic of the "green and pleasant land". It almost seems like the last gasp of 70s hippie reverie, before Thatcher and the conservative culture warriors swept in the 80s. A poignant and beautiful tune.
I could go on and list more - but then you wouldn't feel like reading anymore (if you've made it this far...). I'm just glad she's still on the planet--thanks for all of the music, Kate, and a very Happy Birthday!
26 July 2008
Yep, it's official, Sir Michael Philip Jagger turns 65 today (..and I missed writing a "When I'm Sixty-Four" post for Sir Macca's birthday a couple of years ago..). Mick's a pensioner now..not that he actually needs it. I get a chuckle from picturing him standing in the queue for his bus pass.
I won't go into the whole cliched observation about "growing old gracefully in a rock band"...that's been done so often that the cliche itself doesn't seem graceful anymore. Still, it seems strange to think of the man who wrote Sympathy For The Devil and Brown Sugar being able to get a 'senior discount' at shops. Apparently, he's toned down his debauchery over the years....maybe. He is currently 'dating' a Yank model who's about 40 years younger than himself. What was that about cliches? Ah well, more power to him, I suppose. From counter-culture revolutionary to knighted-by-the-establishment in the span of 3 decades. The bloke's an icon and an example of the triumphs and failures of the baby-boomers--like Macca as well.
I concede that the Stones haven't made a solid record since Some Girls in 1978 (I do find some of Tattoo You bearable and can even point to a few decent tracks on Steel Wheels, especially the 'return to psychedelia' of Continental Drift) and Jagger's solo stuff..well...the less said, the better. He's out-lasted a lot of 'em, though--even Jerry Garcia. The tunes may be bland and hackneyed now, but the man can belt out the classics with gusto. I'm glad he's still around.
To celebrate ol' Mick's arrival into pensioner-hood, a list of some of my favourite Stones tracks:
Can't You Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers album, 1971): I suppose this one's more of a guitar-fest than a showcase for Mick's vocals--what with Keef and Mick Taylor trading riffs in the coda jam. Jagger commands the first part of the song, though, especially when he snarls "Y'all got cocaine eyes/you got speed freak jive" and then pleads "Hear me baby, ain't no stranger" seconds later. My fave track on one of my favourite albums.
2,000 Light Years From Home (Their Satanic Majesties Request album, 1967): One of the almost-universally agreed-upon "good" tracks on of their most divisive records. Personally, I like "T.S.M.R."--if you can get by all of the "wannabe Sgt. Pepper" derision, it may reward you, with multiple listens. "2,000 Light Years..." seems to be in the same mold as Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine--highlighting the fear and apprehension of space travel. Jagger's understated vocal and Brian Jones' queasy mellotron figures combine to create an atmosphere of unknowing dread. Leaving the planet can be exhilerating, but terrifying, too. Check out this groovy promo clip, filmed in 1967.
Jumpin' Jack Flash (single - released 1968 - also found on Hot Rocks 1964-1971 collection): This is not only one of my favourite Stones tunes..it's one of my all-time fave tunes. Seriously, there's not a single bum note or second in this entire song. From the initial acoustic guitar stabs (courtesy Keef) to the organ trills as it fades out, everything seems completely economical. No frills, just the chugging rhythm and Jagger's hard-as-nails lyrics and vocal delivery. "I was raised by a toothless bearded hag/I was schooled with a strap right across my back.." "Jumpin' Jack Flash" perfectly sums up the chaos and turmoil of 1968--possibly even more than The Fabs' Revolution. Jagger offers a sliver of hope with the "It's all right now, in fact it's a gas.." line--but sadly, for him and the rest of the Stones (and indeed, the counter-culture in general), things wouldn't be alright for a long long time. Some credit should go to the late Jimmy Miller for his excellent production. Here's a '68 promo clip for the song--featuring a slightly more menacing Stones..dig Charlie Watts' Egyptian eye make-up and Jagger's war-paint.
Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street album, 1972): As tax exiles living in France for most of 1972, our heroes holed up in a decrepit mansion...Keef's smack habit accelerating and Jagger nearly matching him for decadence. Eventually, they released a double album of woozy blooz/rock tunes, shot through with weariness and heartache. There were a couple of bright moments here and there (Sweet Black Angel, a shout-out to African-American activist Angela Davis...and Shine A Light, done all gospel-stylee)--but mostly it seemed like the Stones were watching age catch up with them and trying to take stock. "Rocks Off" is the lead-off track to Side 1 (in the old LP days) and it's a kicker! If they were trying to let folks know not to write them off just yet, they succeeded..with Sir Mick spitting out lines like "What's the matter with ya boy/She don't come 'round no more/Is she checking out for sure/She ain't gonna close the door on me.." The horn section is right on and I even like the weird, 'psychedelic' break in the middle--where Jagger's voice skitters across the speakers in a strange filtered echo. Top notch!
I'm Free (Out Of Our Heads album - also December's Children (And Everyone's) album, 1965): An earlier track now, back to 1965. I like the optimism of it...very mid-60s, when rock bands and rock audiences still thought they were going to change the world. Admittedly, the lyric seems pretty simple...but wedded to the near country-shuffle of the music--the whole becomes much greater than the parts. Cream would record a tune with a similar theme a year later, called I Feel Free, which appeared on their debut album. The Soup Dragons hit pretty big in 1990 with a cover version of the Stones song--but to me, still didn't improve on the original.
....and a bonus section of a few more obscure ones:
Memo From Turner (single release, 1970 and on the Performance soundtrack, 1970): This is billed as a Jagger solo tune..but it's pretty much Stones in all but name. Raunchy slide guitars and a very Charlie Watts beat skank along with Mick's very-un-PC lyrics about "faggy little leather boys" and "shorter bits of stick". It sounds like it could be an out-take from the Let It Bleed sessions (maybe it was).
When The Whip Comes Down (Some Girls album, 1978): Another Jagger 'provoke-'em-if-I-can' slice of life about an L.A. gay man who moves to New York City and gets involved in 'the scene' (I'm guessing the S&M scene--judging by the song title). The rest of the band get credit for the taut riffs and solid beats. Part of it does reek of trying to "out-punk the punks", but hey, if that's what motivated them out of their mid-70s stupor--it was well worth it.
Citadel (T.S.M.R. album, 1967): One from the psychedelic era that I really like as well--with a catchy, spiralling saxophone line and a chiming bell sound throughout. The lyrics have the usual hippie, "get out of the city, man" vibe--"Through the woods of steel and glass" and "In the streets are many walls". Keef's insistent guitar riff also propels the tune forward and keeps things focused. Jagger's vocal has the right amount of rock-n-roll snarl, balanced with acid daze, to make it one of his better performances on the album.
Factory Girl (Beggar's Banquet album, 1968): If you can forgive Jaggs the poor imitation of an American country drawl--this song will put a smile on your face every time--it does mine, anyway. The acoustic guitars are almost playing clipped ragas and apparently, Charlie Watts is playing tabla with drumsticks (!) for the beat. Ric Grech (in the band Family at the time) provides the keening fiddle runs. The lyrics are a completely middle-class view of poverty, but though they may seem cloying--they show a sense of devotion and even happiness amidst hardship. A bit of a rarity, as they never really recorded anything like this again (aside from Country Honk, the acoustic version of Honky Tonk Women, that appears on "Let It Bleed").
100 Years Ago (Goat's Head Soup album, 1973): This one's a bit of wistful, country-tinged ballad on an album that's sorta all over the shop. The Stones has started to believe in their own press and cranked out stuff like Dancing With Mr. D, just to freak out the squares. There's a definite Gram Parsons influence on "100 Years Ago" and it seems a bit out of place on "Goat's Head Soup" (compared with Angie--the other ballad on the record). Jagger hits all the right notes to convey the heartbreak and the band back him in classy fashion. Honourable mention also goes to Can You Hear The Music?, an early 70s version of psychedelia that I figured the Stones would never even attempt.
As the Ramones said to Montgomery Burns.."Happy birthday, you old bastid!" Raise a glass for Sir Mick, the O.A.P.