Monday, 31 December 2007

My First Gig

It’s weird how articles can change once you start writing them. This post was going to be about the extortionate price of concert tickets these days, and as a lead in I thought I'd write a few lines about my early gigs. This got me thinking, who the hell was my first concert? I then went off down a completely different train of thought and below is the result! Rest assured my rant on the price of concert tickets will surface sometime next year!

I have been regularly going to concerts for over 25 years now. I’d been taken along to shows with my parents much before this (mainly easy listening stuff like Johnny Mathis, Jack Jones, Frankie Vaughan… Vince Hill anyone?!), but I don't count these as they were not really my choice. I've been racking my brains trying to remember what my first official gig was, then suddenly it all came back to me…

My first gig was staged after hours at my senior school in 1981 (I would have been 14 at the time). I have no idea how it came about, but all of a sudden the word went round the school that a heavy metal band were to play in the main hall. Posters went up a few days later to confirm that 'Cyrus' (not Billy Ray!) were indeed hitting King John School as part of their world tour. There was a big heavy metal vibe around at that time, and I recall a big interest in attending. I picked up my ticket -- something like 50p and the school laid on free orange squash all in the deal if I remember rightly.. what a steal! Jeans were strictly banned at King John, but as soon as the 'end of school' bell went, everyone changed into their regulation denim outfits that had been brought along especially for the show. Those really into metal, pulled out rather impressive denim waistcoats covered in all the relevant patches (AC\DC, Whitesnake, Saxon, Scorpions etc). I’m not entirely convinced these kids really knew who all these bands actually were, but in those days the 'sheep mentality' was all-encompassing, and I think poor suffering mums were sent off to the market to pick up the right patches and dutifully sew them on.

I remember there was a real buzz about the show, and it was the talk of the school for several days - this was almost certainly the first live music that the whole audience had ever seen. Finally the day arrived - all the greaser kids were head banging in front of the speakers and getting all sweaty, whilst the rest of us stood around awkwardly and tapped a foot! As concert virgins, nobody really knew what they were supposed to do! But it was an initiation to live music nonetheless, and must have had some impact on me as I've always remembered it and have a vivid recollection of the evening.

But there is an interesting footnote to the Cyrus story. Some 15 or so years later, I’m at some works piss up and talking bollocks to one of my colleagues. I have no idea how the subject came up, but I think he must of asked me what school I'd gone to. I tell him and he says "oh I know that school, I did a gig there once…". A couple more questions and then I realise I've been working alongside the chief axe man from Cyrus, Martin Read, for the last 5 years! The real bonus was Martin had photos of the gig which he subsequently brought in. It was really weird to see snapshots of something that had only existed in your brain for the last 15 years. It was too much to ask that a young Piley sipping orange squash would turn up in the background of the photos, but it was really interesting to see them -- and pretty close to how I always remembered it too.

Although I no longer work with Martin, I'm still in fairly regular contact with him, so I asked if he'd mind sharing his memories of the band around the time of my inaugural gig, which he kindly agreed to do – he also scanned a few of the photos taken at that King John School bash, shown at the top of this post - Martin is the one with the long hair (click on the photos to see a larger image). Thanks for being a sport and helping me out on this Mart, over to you:

I must have joined the band in early 1981 as my friend Pete Calvert (who I had played with in my first band while we were at school) had joined a bit earlier and managed to get me in when their rhythm guitarist decide to call it a day. They were originally a Christian rock band and although they were gradually moving away from this I think we still got the occasional gig on this basis. I think this was the case with the school gig you were at. This leads to one of my main memories of that gig which was the criticism we got from certain people connected with the band when we all shot off down the pub after setting the gear up and sound checking before the gig. I think Pete and me were seen as a bit of a bad influence on this front. Overall I think the gig went reasonably well apart from me suffering from every guitarists nightmare which was hitting the opening chords of the set only to find no sound coming out. This eventually turned out to be a broken lead, so a quick change and I was back in business. That's probably about as much as I can remember about the gig. As you can probably see from the photos I sent, Pete was a lively bass player and used to throw some great shapes on stage.

The band line up at that time was;

Pete Calvert - Vocals & Lead guitar & songwriter
Pete Einchcombe and his brother Dave on bass guitar and drums respectively (not sure about the spelling of the surname)
Me - Rhythm guitar

We also had 2 people come along to help out at gigs (Andy & Mick I think). We used to rehearse at a church hall in Rainham. We managed to do a few gigs here and there and got a couple of support slots at the Electric Stadium (now closed) in Chadwell Heath. We did the obligatory 4 track demo at a studio in Collier Row (I think). It all gradually fell apart although I'm not entirely sure why. I think Pete wanted to move on and I seem to remember it just went downhill from there. It was also around then that I started to lose the plot a bit and began disappearing into a haze of vodka and valium so I probably wasn't particularly easy to deal with at the time. The band must have actually been wound up as I eventually got a cheque for £35.00 after it had all finished. I did however resist the urge to move to Jersey.

Overall it was good fun and I'm sure we had plenty of laughs along the way. A few years later I got back together with Pete and Dave (the brothers), Andy and a new guitarist but it just never worked out and that was the last involvement I had.

Martin continues to play in a couple of bands, although I understand the free orange has been knocked on the head.

Happy New Year to all


Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas

Despite my musical snobbery at times, I'm a bugger for a Christmas album! I've got almost 100 of them - far too many to even play at Christmas in fact, yet I still can't leave it alone, and always end up buying a few more every year.

As a kid, one of my most vivid memories of Christmas is of my Dad digging out his impressive collection of Christmas albums. My father was at sea with the Merchant Navy for around 16 years (from the age of 16 until 32), and picked up many of his records when docking at places like the USA (New York was always the best place for records he tells me) and Canada (import albums in the 50's were virtually impossible to get hold of) . He had festive albums by all the classics - Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett etc and I have since bought them all up on CD over the years. But the album I have the fondest memories of is the 1958 Johnny Mathis LP "Merry Christmas". In the last couple of years it has finally been released on CD (in fact I now have no less than 14 Christmas albums by Mathis!). In his 'guest editor' post a few weeks back, E.F Rice made some interesting observations, where music can take you right back to the past. Well even now, hearing that album (in fact just looking at the cover) takes me right back to those special Christmases of the 70's, and memories of those people I miss so much today.

Other Christmas gems I've picked up in recent years include The Carpenters, Paul Anka, Bluegrass Christmas, Ray Conniff and even Twisted Sister!! yes really! Nothing is too cheesy or OTT for my pallet when it comes to Christmas! (hell, I can even take about 20 minutes of the Chipmunks Christmas album after a few egg-nogs!), and the more sleigh bells, Christmas bells, kid choruses they can cram in the better! The Twisted Sister CD (A Twisted Christmas) is a bizarre one, featuring Heavy Metal versions of all your favourites, culminating in their very own version of the 12 days of Christmas (titled 'Heavy Metal Christmas'). Instead of the usual stack of shite that my 'true love' gives to me, Dee Snider and co provide a much more useful haul of gifts:- 12 Silver crosses 11 Black mascaras 10 Pairs of platforms 9 Tattered t-shirts 8 Pentagrams 7 Leather jackets 6 Cans of hairspray 5 Skull earrings 4 Quarts of Jack 3 Studded belts 2 Pairs of spandex And a tattoo of Ozzy Osbourne.

But they aren't all gold, the most disappointing Christmas album purchase was the Beach Boys - not a name that instantly reminds you of winter and snow admittedly, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway. It is truly awful, and the fact 'Little Saint Nick' is included no less that 3 times, shows they were probably struggling from the off.

But it's interesting to see just how many succumb to the lure of a Christmas record, and the potential cash involved must be a tempting lure (and make no mistake, if you get it right, a guaranteed income every 12 months for ever more, IS tempting, just ask Noddy Holder!). Who'd have thought 80's indie rockers the Wedding Present would come up with such a storming cover of Elton Johns 'Step into Christmas'? Or ex-Stray Cat Brian Setzer would release two of the finest rockin' Christmas albums ever? But one of the worst must Be Billy Idols version of White Christmas. When I spotted he'd recorded an album of festive faves (two now!), I imagined some right ol stompers, and with his classic White Wedding in mind, expected great things from his version of White Christmas. What we got was so turgid and boring, it made Bing's original seem quite a rocker! What a shame Bing died in 77, just before he could release his punk compilation album.

I had hoped to do a Christmas count-down in the lead-up to the big day, hosting some of the best and worst of my festive songs. But as it is, please enjoy these couple of gems, one is a Christmas cracker, the other most definitely a turkey.

The Aforementioned Wedding Present doing 'Step Into Christmas'

Possibly the worst Christmas cover version i've ever heard... Tom Mcrae really give it his all here. If you are having a party this yuletide, Tom is bound to get it going (be sure to leave the rope and razor blades in a handy place, so your guests have easy access). This guy has turned his had to Maccas 'Wonderful Christmastime' which while never a particular favourite, was a million times better than this rubbish. Give it a go, just to see how bad it is! and if you know of a glummer Christmas record than this, do let me know!

Well, that just about wraps it up for me, so thanks for all your kind comments and e-mails over the last few months, and remember…. "although it's been said, many times many ways, Merry Christmas, to you"


Monday, 17 December 2007

The Wolfmen Cometh

They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, and it's never been truer with music. Dreaded words from casual acquaintances like “Oh, my son\dad\brother\nan etc etc (delete where appropriate!) is in a band, I'll bring you in a CD” or “ I'll lend you the latest Sting album if you want” fill me with dread (usually for good reason). But when it goes right it makes it all worthwhile. I have some trusted friends who when they say “ you've got to listen to this…”, I sit up and take note. And that is exactly how I came across The Wolfmen. A mate popped round a couple of weeks back, and before the door had even closed, he was eagerly thrusting a CD into my hand… and it's pretty much remained in the CD player ever since (and I am dreading him asking for it back!). This was one of those rare finds, when the deal is sealed on the very first play and you instantly know it’s for you.

The Wolfmen contain some much loved musicians from my past, namely Marco Pirroni (chief ‘Ant’ and also Adam's right hand man during his solo career) on guitars and Chris Constantinou (also part of Adam Ants' solo set-up) on vocals and bass. Another former Ant - Chris Hughes (a.k.a 'Merrick'), has also been contributing to some of their material.

The quality of the material on this five track promotional CD I have here is so good, it could easily pass as a mini album, and I am stunned at the variety of sounds and styles crammed into this 16 minute disc. If The Wolfmen are happy to throw away tracks like these as mere samplers, I can't wait to hear the material they are saving for the debut album!

First up is Jackie Says. Of the five tracks on show here, this one comes closest to an Adam Ant solo sound (circa Viva Le Rock/Apollo 9). An upbeat rocker that is so damn catchy, it was engraved on my brain after the first play.

Next we see The Wolfmen take the Brian Eno track Needle in the Camels Eye and claim it as their own. There are nods to Roxy Music and a driving 'I’m Waiting for the Man' style riff underpinning it throughout. Add to this the unmistakable sound of Marco’s guitar providing a mesmerising solo midway through, and you have the classic cover version: respectful, fresh and bang up-to-date.

Track three is recent single, Cecile. It is an atmospheric little number, and Chris’s vocals evoke memories of a 1980's Iggy Pop, as he croons darkly. There is a genuine edgy feel to the song, which just when you think has reached its peak -- takes a surprising (and brilliant!) detour with a haunting flute solo. It's half Jethro Tull, half intro to 'Down Under' by Men at Work! but it works beautifully. Not enough flute in rock 'n' roll these days! There is a catchy little riff throughout this song, and everytime I hear it, it reminds me of Submission by the Pistols!

Track four is a stormer of the highest order. Love is a Dog is The Wolfmen doing T-Rex for the new millennium… 21st Century Boys if you will. A stomping Glam riff and even Bolan-esque vocals from Chris, make this the standout track for me, and a real contender for my top five songs of the year. Crank the PC volume up as high as it'll go and enjoy it for yourself.

The disc finishes with While London Sleeps. The vocals are firmly back in the Iggy Pop territory for this track, which has the most beautiful 'melt in the brain' melody that I defy you not to fall in love with the moment it touches your ears! Try it for yourself now!

This CD has left me buzzing for more and desperate to see them live (oh, and scouring eBay trying to track down a copy before my mate asks for it back!) - The guys played their inaugural gig last month (15th November) at the Islington Academy, and by all accounts it was an amazing night. Word is the next show will be in February 2008.

This episode sums up why music plays such a big part of my life -- fuck drugs and alcohol, ain’t nothing else around that can give me a high like the one I've been on since discovering this little gem.

I'd struggle to find someone who I wouldn't recommend this too. 60's\70's punk fans, 70's glam, 80's\90's Ant fans will all love it, but I genuinely think fans of today's indie scene will get it too. Just to prove their wide appeal, another recent release (October 2007), ‘Two Eyes’ was a collaboration with bhangra star Daler Mehndi – is there nothing they can’t turn their hand to?!

My thanks to Marco and Chris for allowing me to host two tracks here, for you to try out for yourselves.

The Wolfmen are currently working on their debut album, scheduled for release early to mid 2008.

Visit The Wolfmen Official website here

To see the Wolfmen on MySpace click here

Finally, view the video for Cecilie right here!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Guest Editor Week: Musical Memories by E F Rice

I'd like to say a big thank you to my very good friend E F Rice. I asked him if he'd consider writing an article for the blog sometime, and true to his work he has come up with the goods. E F Is one of a handful of very close mates who have been together through thin n thinner! Clubbin, pubbin, Gigs, football, cinema, we've done it all together over the years. These days it's usually a meet up in the local, and even after 20+ years, the conversation rarely strays beyond music, football and films! Just how I like it! Last Christmas the boys got together for their yearly Christmas piss-up, and were given a task... come armed with your all time top 5 albums, top 5 debut albums, top 5 songs and most disappointing album. Being a typical bloke, I can't tell you how agonising this was! It pretty much ruined my fucking Christmas worrying about it!! It was a great night, with a few surprises along the way (and a few guilty pleasures announced). E F Came up with some curve balls we weren't expecting, so I am very pleased he is explaining a couple of them again here. He did on the night of course, but it was several pints in.... So here he is, making a very good case that he really should start work on that empty blog of his! over to you E F:

When Piley approached me to contribute to his blog a few weeks back I was truly honoured. Being a parent myself I knew how pushed for time and energy he would be (and Julie of course!) and seeing as I hadn’t quite plucked up the courage to contribute anything to my blog site, this felt a great opportunity to cut my teeth. However, Piley’s blog is an excellent read and I feel under a lot of pressure as I type this (no way can I beat the Sputnik entry!).

The piece below has just come to me on the trudge home from work tonight, inspired by another s*** day in an organisation that can p*** 25 million people off at the click of a CD drive. It is about one of the main sources of enjoyment I gain from music, which is the memories and emotions I attach to certain tracks when I hear or play them. This is a top 5 below, there are plenty more but these seem to be the most prominent in my mind and I would hate you to lose the will to live.

1. Roxy Music ‘Angel Eyes’
I amazed my friends when I cited this as one of my top 5 tunes of all time last year, due to my heavy shoegazing tastes. This track brings me back to the late 70s and brother (aka Jack Gestures). We shared a room at home at the time and he rolled in one night and woke me to tell me about this fantastic film called ‘Alien’. Anyone who knows my brother will tell you that when he explains something he doesn’t do it by halves and you get a comprehensive account. You will also here the same story repeated many times in a short space of time, but that is a different topic.

So Jack tells me all the gory details of this Alien film, and promptly gets into bed and falls asleep. There lies me at 9 years old cacking myself that a little Alien will either a : erupt from my stomach or b: scuttle around our room! Roxy Music were on the Radio a lot at the time and my Mum played this track regularly on her cassette player in the kitchen. Everytime I hear the intro I s*** myself! I do think it a fine record by the way and I have lots of Roxy Music stuff.

2. David Bowie ‘Ashes to Ashes’
1981, St Thomas More High School for Boys, 11 years old, shy, tubby, stupid haircut, yep the start of secondary school and I hated every minute of it. This track got a lot of air play at the time and it is a classic for many. For me it brings back those horrid memories of the early days, older kids trying to destroy your brand new uniform, trying to make new friends, harder work and disgusting school dinners. I got through the next 5 years by enjoying English, History and Geography and grinning and bearing the rest. Ashes to Ashes always brings me right back to the school playground though.

3. Pulp ‘Sunrise’
I’m not a Pulp fan as such although there are bits and pieces which I think are master pieces. This track is fantastic for two reasons, namely the fantastic guitaring and secondly it is the first track I heard on XFM after I learnt I was going to be a Dad! My beautiful daughter Ellie was born 9 months later and there are now a whole host of records I associate with her five years of life so far.

4. Stone Roses ‘I am the Resurrection’
A fantastic track off a fantastic album, yet for 5 years after December 1989 I could not bring myself to play this track or virtually anything from the album. This album, which I loved so much, coincided with the loss of someone very close to me. It sounds pathetic saying it now but I could not contemplate playing it. As time grows and you get older my personal experience is the best way to cope with a bereavement is to remember and celebrate that persons life. As a result from about ’96 onwards this track and album were firmly back on the menu, and I smile everytime I hear it !

5. Jive Bunny medley type thing !
This one reminds me of Piley! I used to work with Mr P and during one particularly drunken Christmas party, Piley announced to me he was off home cos he was drunk and wanted to get a bus, he then left into the cold night. The following morning he arrived at work late and very distressed. It turned out the 'falling asleep on the last train home from London' syndrome, also applies to buses! Piley ended up on Canvey Island and if that wasn’t bad enough, he fell asleep on the return journey as well. Anyone who knows where Piley used to live will appreciate Canvey is a fair distance on from where he should have got off.

Anyhow, this Jive bunny stuff was kicking around the charts at the time, and I remarked to Piley how I would love to put his journey home to music and Jive Bunny would be my choice! I have no idea why I thought that was funny but as a result I’m sorry to say Piley, Jive Bunny reminds me of you!

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Cheers Piley!

E F Rice

Friday, 30 November 2007

My 21st Century Boy!

Over the last few weeks, since our Tommy was born, we have been genuinely overwhelmed with the show of love and kindness from friends and family. Cards, baby clothes, toys, teddies, flowers, even a couple of bottles of Champagne for mum and dad! All very welcome and all very much appreciated. But there was one gift that took us by surprise... Before that though, lets go back to 1985, by which time the young Piley was completely immersed in music…

Everything revolved around music, three nights a week were spent at various 'alternative music' clubs, and every remaining penny was spent on gigs and records. The CV was maturing nicely, and by the age of 18 included the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music, Bolan, Sparks, Sex Pistols and the Damned. But despite my love for these acts (and I obviously chose well as I still love all of them today) there was something missing. I was playing 'catch up', and although many of these artists were still going, many of their iconic periods were behind them, I’d been hitting the back catalogue, because I'd missed the boat. Sure there had been acts that I got into 'as it happened' -- two in particular that I have had a lasting relationship with are Soft Cell and Depeche Mode. But I was still at school when I got into them, and although I did manage to see both bands live at the time (around 1981/82) I couldn't really say I was part of 'the scene'.

I used to watch every music programme on TV, and as my mum and dad had just invested in their first 'top loading' VHS video recorder, I took the opportunity to record many of the performances I saw (particularly on programmes such as The Tube). Then in 1985 it happened. I was watching the Tube replacement programme Bliss, and was presented with the most exciting band I'd ever seen. I had no idea who they were but knew immediately that they were everything I ever wanted. Literally within 10 seconds of them taking over my TV, the video was recording, as I instantly fell in love with the whole package. The sound was a genuinely unique and exciting mix. A driving, mesmerising bass like I've never heard before, a mix of Eddie Cochran and Marc Bolan on lead guitar, two drummers (and I'd always been a sucker for two drummers, my earlier loves had included Gary Glitter and Adam and the Ants), and the most outrageous preening peacock of a lead singer sounding like a cross between Elvis and Johnny Rotten! And just to top it all off there was a fabulous 'Ultra Vixen’ playing sound effects and film dialogue over the top of the whole thing. And how about that look? A space age futuristic mix of patent leather, plastic and rubber, make-up, high heels n high hair. It was awesome!

I had shivers down my spine through the whole performance as I remained hypnotised to the screen. The moment it finished, I was continually replaying it on the VHS. I hadn't been able to identify the name of the bad during the show, so it was another couple of weeks before I knew that it was Sigue Sigue Sputnik who were about to dominate my life!

At this point the band were still unsigned, and it was fantastic to be in there right at the beginning -- at last, this was my very own Ziggy Stardust. The excitement was unrivalled, I started going to see them at every opportunity. The Buzz at their gigs was incredible, the band always looked amazing... even the audience were glamorous. What a blast! Then the media started to get wind of this underground happening, and they went seriously overboard, and within a few months, you couldn’t keep the band off the front page of the tabloids. Soon, everyone knew who they were, and they hadn’t even released a record! But like all good things, it couldn't last. Once the band had been signed to EMI (£4m was the figure bandied around, but it’s unlikely that it was anything like that), the hype machine went into overdrive, and the backlash started not long after the first single was released. The fans were faithful, but for everyone else, Sputnik bashing became a national sport. Looking back I think people were simply rebelling against the hype -- they resented having this band rammed down their throats. Had people really bothered to see or hear them? Probably not, but it's easy to jump on a backlash bandwagon, especially when the tabloids get involved. Sputnik were ahead of their time, and became a victim of it. In what seemed like the blink of an eye on it was over, and in 1989 they split. But their music never disappeared from my playlist. All through the 1990s I was continually going back to their recordings, and every play evoked memories of those exciting times in the late 80s.

Then after a decade in the wilderness, the unthinkable actually happened... Sigue Sigue Sputnik the reform! The 21st-century band had teleported into the future, to a time that had caught up with their incredible sound. I'll admit I was a tad nervous when I went to see that first reform gig on Easter Sunday 23rd April 2000, but I needn't have been. It was like they'd never been away! As it turned out, there were lots of dedicated fans like me still out there and soon the band were selling out shows just like the old days. New material was next, and again although initially worried, what a fantastic album PirateSpace turned out to be! All the best of the original sound brought bang up-to-date… Had some underground alternative dance act (Daft Punk or LCD Soundsystem) recorded it, it would no doubt have got the recognition it deserved, but as it was it was largely ignored -- people have long memories when it suits!

The gigs and the new material kept on coming, and the reformed Sputnik actually released more albums this time around than in the 80s. But just like before, it seemed over in a flash. This time a massive internal row saw them split (almost certainly) for good.

But a Phoenix has emerged from the flames in Sputnik2, lead singer Martin Degville's all-new band carrying on where Sigue Sigue Sputnik left off. His passion for the classic Sputnik sound shines through in the solo work he's released so far, and his live shows are a real treat! New songs stand side by side with those from the 80s and early 2000 and the result is seamless. Martin has a faithful audience of old, and a healthy injection of students discovering the 21st century of rock 'n' roll for the first time.

I have the utmost respect for Martin, and more than two decades after Sigue Sigue Sputnik burst onto the music scene, he has proved beyond doubt that he was (and still is) the blood pumping through the veins of the Sputnik monster.

So after reading all of this, you’ll perhaps be able to appreciate the shock I experienced on opening a parcel addressed to young Tommy, only to find a handmade, personalised ‘Sputnik Baby’ T-Shirt, a handmade, personalised baby card and a signed picture of the man himself! So how did it all come about? Well I am one of a large number of fans who post on Martin's messageboard. I happened to mention on there that Tom had arrived, and the next thing you know…. a parcel arrives direct from Sputnik HQ!

In a time where the traffic between artist and fan is almost exclusively one way, I think Martin and his right hand (wo)man Lynn both deserve a large pat on the back for their thoughtful and kind gesture – I can assure you it was very much appreciated, and is something that will be treasured forever.
For the last 2 or 3 months, Martin has been competing in season 3 of Famecast. This is a global X-Factor kind of idea with a novel twist... all the contestants have talent! All the entrants write their own material, play instruments and sing. Round after round he has come though, and he has now made it into the final 5 of his section (Electronic), so is flying out to Austin, Texas for the grand final, which will be shown live online. The winner will be the one who receives the most online votes, so why not give Dirty Degz a helping hand? Even if you're not much of a fan, surely he deserves a few extra votes just for being an all round good egg?! Martin's performance in the final is on the 5th December, and voting (which is free... no X-Factor 50p a vote rip-offs here!) starts next Saturday (8th December). You can submit one vote per day.

For more information on the Famecast finals and to submit your vote click here

Martin's page on Famecast is here

If you’d like to see what Martin's up to these days why not check out his website here

Finally, 22 years on, here is part of that incredible appearance on the Bliss TV show that kicked it all off for me. I love the bemused look on 99% of the audience faces! Only the goth chic with the shades on (and her mate) really get it, and then there's the slightly pissed guy in the white shirt and white socks down the front, who looks like he said "fuck it, I can wobble along to this"!! Enjoy:


Saturday, 17 November 2007

Reflectoporn: The Return

Of all the posts I've done over the past few months, there is one that I am always getting asked about... The one about people exposing themselves on e-Bay! (‘That eBay Thang').
It sparked dozens of e-mails, and I'm still getting them! mostly asking "what the hell am I supposed to be looking at in the table and chairs picture"!! If you too are still struggling on that one, I draw my learned friends attention to the top left hand corner of the photo...

The other question I keep getting asked is how I knew about it in the first place... I think people are implying that the only way I could know is because I participate!! Rest assured, it was just something I read about, it sparked my imagination and initiated quite a bit of investigation. I can often be found trawling the kitchenware on eBay, searching for toasters (looking for that elusive pop-up!). It is strangely addictive, and once you've spotted a fatboy with a camera in one hand, you're hooked!

So, by popular demand, here are a few more pictures from my collection. A few classics here, and as a special treat for my bloggin' buddy Axe Victim, I've included this guitar related one... although as a confirmed music lover rather than player, I'm not completely sure what part of a guitar it is... Axe??!

This Kettle picture is thought to be the instigation of the Reflectoporn phenomenon. That may or may not be true, but it was certainly the first to be spotted (how many have gone completely undetected?).

If on you travels through the land of eBay you happen to stumble on one of these pictures, be sure to drop me a line, but for now enjoy these - they are all 'clickable', and will enlarge for your viewin' pleasure!


Friday, 9 November 2007

Silvery - Exclusive Interview!

Like their badges say, ‘I Quite Like Silvery’. I came across them in the early part of this year – when I heard the track ‘Orders’. Hearing that single track just once was all I needed to know that they were a band for me. I was genuinely excited on hearing it – it was raw, spikey and bursting full of energy, with a quirky new slant for an indie scene which has needed a kick up the arse for some time. In just over 2 minutes (2 minute 12 to be precise!) I was a convert!

My recent article on the Sparks album ‘Introducing Sparks', finished with a demo of the Silvery track ‘Horrors’, as I genuinely felt fans of Sparks would appreciate their sound. Anyway, one thing lead to another, a few e-mails went back and forth, and within a fortnight, I’m interviewing Silvery!

So many thanks to lead singer\guitarist James Orman for taking the time out to do this interview, in which we chatted about everything from Silvery past, present and future, Sparks, Debut albums, Blow Up records and the Pete Doherty\Kate Moss sex tape! Here’s how it panned out:

Looking at the current indie scene, I think Silvery have a really refreshing sound. There is certainly a bit of Sparks in there, but who else influences the bands sound?
I’d like to think we are in that seam of English eccentrics pop: Gilbert And Sullivan, XTC, Cardiacs, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, Billy Childish, Syd Barratt, early Suede. But lyrically almost anything goes: From “The Fortean Times” and old Underground maps to The Far Side and the Victorian Diarists.

So when did you first discover Sparks and how?
It was a gradual thing really. I was into Bowie and Queen when I was about 7 or 8 and read so much about the UK music scene in the early 70’s. I invested my pocket money in some compilations tapes with names like “Glam Slam!” and “Glam Crazeee!”. They all had “This Town Ain’t Big Enough” on, which I recall already being aware of at the time. I remember being very young and they were on TV and my mum saying something along the lines of “Oh dear God they’re not still going are they?” in an affectionate way, of course. I had them written off as a one hit wonder, like so many of those other bands, and was pleasantly surprised to see them reappear in the mid 90’s with Bernard Butler playing guitar on Channel 4’s “The White Room”. The “Now That I Own The BBC” video was on TV a few times and I though that was brilliant. It was then I started finding out more about them, and was able to fill in the gaps in my understanding. My first purchase was of course “Kimono My House” and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say it totally and utterly BLEW MY MIND. I very quickly bought up everything, puzzled that I’d never started earlier.

So what is your favourite Sparks album then?
Crumbs, that a tough one. As a glib answer I’d say either “Kimono My House” or “Propaganda”, but I will always have time for “Number One In Heaven” and “Whomp That Sucker”. I lived inside the original Halfnelson demo album for ages, it fascinated me. “Lil Beethoven” was an absolute joy to see live so many times. I really really like the budget “In The Swing” compilation which was a perfect introduction.

And your 3 favourite Sparks tracks?
RIGHT THIS MINUTE, my favorite 3 Sparks songs are: the Plagiarism version “Change” (a beautiful sentiment, with a fantastic vaudeville feel), “Waterproof” (reminiscent of Glam era Sparks) and the 1973 demo version of “I Like Girls” from the Profile boxset which is as powerful as anything on the first two records. Can I have “Cigarettes And Politics” too? The best song they never released.

I recently did a piece about the ‘missing’ Sparks album ‘Introducing Sparks’, which was finally released on CD this week. It certainly is a very different album to their other 19. Reaction to it has always been a bit Marmite (‘love it’ or ‘hate it’, with nothing much in-between) What do you make of it?
“Introducing” and “Big Beat” were the last two albums I was able to find, albeit on original vinyl. Both Curates’ eggs, I think. “Introducing” has its moments, of course… “Those Mysteries”, “Occupation” and “Goofing Off” were favorites when I first had the record, but I’ll be honest, it’s not an album I listen to much. I will definitely reappraise it on the new CD though.

So will you be buying the Ron or the Russell cover??!
I’m sorry to say I’ll probably buy both. And put them side by side on my mantelpiece.

One of the things I have always loved about Sparks is their unique image. Fuck trying to compete with the pretty boy preening of all the glam bands around at that time, Ron and Russell went full on odd-ball! As a kid, I think the first thing I noted was just how scary Ron looked as he stared eerily in the camera! A maniacal cross between Hitler and Blakey from ‘On The Buses’! Every kid in the 70’s could do a Ron on ‘Top of the Pops’ impression! Then there was the opposite end of the scale with the ever animated Russell. It was compelling viewing. Take a look at this footage of Ron and Russ from 74:

That’s the Top Of The Pops clip isn’t it? The one I remember seeing as a little chap. The early deadpan delivery is the key here, I’m not too sure about the later stuff with Ron dancing etc. That said “Mickey Mouse” on Saturday Night Live is extraordinary. My favorite clip of them remains “Get In The Swing” on Top Of The Pops … Russell in little shorts and Ron dressed as a lab assistant, Absolutely brilliant.

And then there were those crazy album covers too! Some of which made you feel a little uncomfortable (Ron and Russ as a bride and groom! An angry looking Ron wearing a Russ puppet on his hand). You were never quite sure where they were coming from and what that relationship was like (which was exactly the idea of course). Do you think and edgy, odd-ball image such as the boys had back then could work these days? Or in the 21st century media friendly world, do you have to have a cool image to make it?
The major difference between Sparks album covers and those of other similar 70’s and 80’s rock band ‘comedy’ sleeves is that the Mael’s have a genuine artiness, which raises even their wacky sleeves beyond tacky to something more knowing. Like all the best bands, they are totally aware of the absurdity of being in a band… even someone as po-faced as Bowie has the ability to laugh at how ridiculous he is. We are following that kind of idea, which I have a feeling no one else is at the moment, obsessed as they all are trying to be the new Libertines or The Jam. I’d hate to think anyone thought we were trying to be cool… we’re too busy just pleasing ourselves!

So are we likely to be seeing a bound and gagged Silvery being kidnapped on the cover of the new album then??!
I think we agreed a long time ago that we’d never appear on our own sleeves! Keep a bit of mystery!

Lets talk about the new album – I hear it’s all recorded now? Where did you record it and how did it go?
We spent a week in a little place called Pinna in East London with a chap called Kev who we did some previous demos with. It was a beautiful experience creating it… there were so many songs to choose from, but we selected the ones that fit into some kind of narrative.

So it’s a concept album?
Yes… but in a very very curious way. We’re that kind of band.

And do you know who is going to be mixing it yet?
We’ve been mulling over mixers … currently we are talking to Martin Gordon.

Personally I think Martin would be an inspired choice! He will ‘get’ what Silvery are about, that excitement and energy you create live, and capture it. He must be someone you’ve always admired?
His work has brought me much joy. I’d urge everyone to track down a copy of the album by his post-Sparks band Jet. It’s basically a slightly more ridiculous Kimono My House, a real Junk Shop Glam classic. Even his most recent solo stuff has some absolute corkers on it. I always play his version of “My Gallant Crew” from The Captain Of The Pinafore when I DJ around town.

And you are signed to Blow Up records right? That’s a cool label! How did that deal come about?
I’ve liked Blow Up for a long time, since Paul’s days in The Weekenders. And when we met earlier this year we had some great chats about Sparks and Bowie. I sent Paul a CD of Silvery and he said he’d like to release our music.

Do you have a title for the album yet? When’s it due out?
I really wanted to call it “Railway Architecture” or “There May Not Be Another Time Forever” (a lyric from “Orders”), but as it’s a first record, I think everyone is happy just to call it “Silvery”. We are looking at April for the full release, which will be lovely, just as it starts to get warm again.

Any plans for a single in the near future? And if so, what format(s) is it likely to be in?
Being a great record collector I can still see the romance of vinyl singles so hopefully a couple of them before the album. And of course on Itunes. I’m not sure you need anything else these days. There are so many possible singles on the album it’s difficult to choose, although I think we’ll start with a nice new mix of “Horrors” in the new year.

So take me back to the beginning, when did Silvery form and how did you guys get together?
I'd been writing songs for a while, playing gigs with whoever was around... having a decent drunken time around London and not really achieving much, dreaming and dreaming. I met Simon the organist at Piccadilly Circus about 3 years ago and we got on immediately... so much so that I got him to join the loose ‘band’ I was in at the time and something clicked straight away. We got Alex on drums a few months later and went through a few bassists each time getting better and better. By the time Joe played his first gig with us at the start of this year we were fully formed.

I love the Silvery look, how did that come about?
It’s just a symptom of the band pleasing no one but ourselves. The sound and the look works perfectly together, it’s a great big worldview we have of this Olde London thing. I remember even NME called us the indie “Victorian Constabulary”, which I loved. We’re much less theatrical than we used to be though… I remember we’d be doing bizarre things like presenting each other medals mid song, or doing handstands instead of guitar solos. As we got more confident in the music that side got neglected, but we have kind of rediscovered it recently.

What plans for Silvery in the future? Any shows coming up?
Once the album is mixed we’re really looking forward to people hearing it. Our Christmas party at The Metro on Oxford Street on 13th December is our last gig of the year so that’s going to be a lot of fun.

Most Rock 'n' Roll moment to date?
Basically 2006 was one massive rock n roll cliché that will one day make a brilliant film. Death by Strongbow and Stella. It was like if Chris Morris had written Spinal Tap. My favorite episode was when I spent a fortnight fending off e-mails and phone calls from tabloid journalists because the Popbitch gossip website reported we had a copy of the Pete Doherty / Kate Moss sex tape. Totally insane.

What’s playing on the Silvery iPods at the moment?
I like the current Cardiacs single “Ditzy Scene” very much and am looking forward to their new album. I’ve been rediscovering David Devant & His Spirit Wife which is always nice to do, and also the Tindersticks second album, which is a record I will cherish until I die.

Apart from Silvery, who is one to watch in 2008?
Very tricky to say…. The band that I was most recently impressed with was We Are The Physics. Utter mayhem live.

Finally, have your 3 favourite Sparks tracks changed again?
Yes. I’d have “That's Not Nastassia”, “Tearing The Place Apart” and “Falling In Love With Myself Again”, which when they played the whole of Kimono My House at Morrissey’s Meltdown in 2004 was the highlight for me. Excellent arrangement.

Thanks again James for a tip-top interview!
Silvery have been kind enough to allow me to host the demo version of 'Orders', the track that started it all off for me. Enjoy!

ORDERS (demo):

And just because it's you, here is 'Horrors' again in all it's glory!

HORRORS (demo):

Silvery Links:

Link to Silvery on MySpace

Silvery play the Metro Club in London on 13th Dec 2007


Saturday, 3 November 2007

Life is Sweet!

When I set this blog up, the intention was never to talk about me... my thoughts, my interests of course, but I didn't want it to be one of those 'up their own arse' style blogs I've had the misfortune to read, with riveting posts that include such bombshells as "I had beans on toast for me tea today.." I find it kinda insulting that people think others may actually be interested in every last detail of their hum-drum world. With this is mind, I wonder if you'd grant me a day off and allow me a self centred post...

My first child, Thomas, was born this week, and man, what an experience! A dig in the ribs just before 4am was the rude awakening that something was happening, and by 10am he was here! Those 6 hours (which at times seemed like weeks, and at others seemed to fly by in seconds) included some of the most amazing emotions I've experience in my whole life. From the 'lows' of worry, distress and feeling helpless, as you see your partner in such pain, to the unrivalled 'high' of seeing the little fella take his first breath. A real roller-coater!

But y'know I'll be honest... although desperate to become a father, in the lead up to the big event a few doubts started to creep in, and I started to worry about how our new addition would change my life. I'm sure everyone goes throught the same thing, but the nearer it got, the more i worried...

Loss of freedom: 35 years on from buying my first 'record', and more than 25 years on from my first gig, my enthusiasm for music (and in particular LIVE music) is as passionate as ever. How was having a child going to affect our lifestyle of giggin' and liggin'? After a lifetime of being able to drop everything and head off for a last minute show in London, how easy would it be to come to terms with the loss of this freedom? something that was always taken for granted in the past. We put a block on gigs from mid-October onwards, and it was incredible how the floodgate of 'quality gigs' seemed to immediately open from that point onwards! Even the Sex Pistols reformed for November, just to try and piss us off a bit more! The frustration of not being able to book up shows I wanted to go to was very odd and very real.

Lack of money: I've been worrying a lot about how we will manage, especially as my partner, Julie, will be taking un-paid leave for a while, followed by returning to work 'part-time' at best. Will we still manage? and will I still be able to keep up my 20+ a month habbit (CD's that is!)? I have untreated book and DVD addictions, and numerous comic subscriptions to support!

But the second the little chap arrived none of that seemed to matter any more. It's like my brain instantly re-prioritised my life.... Of course it will change your life, it's MEANT to change your life! It's no longer about me and Julie, it's about us as a family.

I'm looking forward to the future like never before - and i know without a doubt, whatever sacrifices I\we have to make, they will be re-payed ten-fold by the joy our new arrival is already bringing.

If you got this far, thanks for sticking with it! Normal service will now be resumed, and there are some exciting articles in the pipeline, an exclusive interview with up and coming indie band Silvery (see last weeks post to hear them), and some fantastic 'guest editor' slots on the way.


Friday, 26 October 2007

Introducing Sparks... At Last!

A 30th Anniversary Review, with exclusive comments from Sparks!
Before I start this weeks post, I would just like to say a very special ‘thank you’ to Ron and Russell Mael, who although currently very busy in the studio, took the time and trouble to answer a couple of questions I had whilst writing this article. Those of you who have read my article when bands go bad, will know I am a big fan of Sparks, so receiving their reply really was very much appreciated.

Has there ever been a band that were so ground-breaking, so influential, so innovative, so consistent, so experimental, so prolific… and yet so underrated (in comparison) as Sparks? Don’t get me wrong, they have a massive and loyal fan-base, but for some reason seem to go fairly un-noticed in the ‘outside world’.

A career spanning five decades (yes really!) has seen them continually pushing the boundaries and challenging their listeners ears. How many other artists can say that? Indeed, how many artists are likely to have their 19th studio album sited as quite possibly their best to date by both critics and fans alike?! This is what happened to Sparks when they released Lil' Beethoven in 2002, more than 30 years after the release of their first album. And what an album it is too, crammed with lush layers of orchestral arrangements, choirs, some inspired lyrics and a healthy dose of wit! all mixed in with that unmistakable Sparks 'sound'. Record Collector magazine here in the UK, a well revered and respected publication, even went as far as to say "one of the best albums ever made" - praise indeed.

It took a few bands names and line-ups before brothers Ron and Russell Mael finally became Sparks (Moonbaker Abbey and Farmer's Market in the mid 60's and Urban Renewal Project in 1967), but it was as Half-Nelson (formed in 1968) that they would release their first album. Heavily influenced by the British Psychedelic sound of the late 60's, this little gem is actually very listenable, and although there is an early Floyd-John's Children-Kinks-early Quo kinda vibe going on, the fact that this is a (future) Sparks release is clear to the ear - particularly on Wonder Girl which with the right arrangement, could fit in on pretty much any of their albums. And I think this is one of the things I love most about Sparks, they have this unique way where they can hugely diversify their sound, yet be instantly recognisable, all at the same time - the Mael 'seal of approval' on every release!

It sometimes makes me grumble when Queen's 'magnum opus' Bohemian Rhapsody is ritually dragged out and put on a pedestal, with the same arguments pulled out time and time again… it's rock, it's opera, it's grand, it's over the top, it's creative writing second to none. Yet Sparks have been quietly banging out their own brand of Bohemian Rhapsody's for the best part of 40 years! Take last years Hello Young Lovers album for example, and the opening track Dick Around. A breathtaking track, and every bit as creative as This Town Ain't Big Enough (32 years its senior!). If it’s easy, background music you're after, then Sparks is not for you. Their music is complex, and demands your full attention. Right from the opening bars, Dick Around is one intense track, building and growing as it progresses over 6 haunting minutes. By the time the menacing guitar riffs start kicking in half way through, you need a cigarette to calm down (and I don’t even smoke!).
Over the last couple of years, we've been treated to quality re-releases of some of Sparks finest albums, Kimono My House (1974), Propaganda (1974), Indiscreet (1975) and Big Beat (1976), have all received '21st century edition’ releases, complete with extra tracks, interviews and booklets overflowing with information. But of the 20 albums released to date, there has always been just one album suspiciously missing from the CD set, 1977's Introducing Sparks.

At the time of release, it received mixed reviews (I wasn't old enough at the time to appreciate such subtleties!), and has always seemed to be treated like the black sheep of the family. But like a fine wine, it has matured over time, and finally after 30 years, the wayward son is coming home.

This is a unique album, wedged between the previous ‘Glam-esque’ releases (although to be fair, Big Beat was starting to head towards a more American sound), and prior to their full blown move to the Euro Electronic sound. By the mid 70’s, Sparks were pretty big all over Europe (particularly in Britain), and the band were keen to make inroads in their own backyard, so this album was to take on the US market – even the title seems geared to their prospective new audience, although knowing their wicked sense of humour, it was more likely just a piss take title for their seventh album! I asked Russell and Ron to spill the beans on how they ended up with it, they told me “We just felt it a propos to title our 7th album Introducing Sparks. Most bands don't name their 7th album 'introducing'. That's probably what appealed to us. In fact, most bands don't even have a 7th album!”.

No expense was spared for this Columbia records release. The very best session musicians of the day were brought in to perform, and although some say this made the album sound soul-less, you can’t help but appreciate the lavish quality of these recordings. I asked Sparks what their thoughts were of this album 30 years on “It's been a long time since the recording of Introducing, in both a time sense and in our sensibilities as musicians. We still have a fondness for the album, even though we've moved on musically since then” It certainly has a unique sound, there is a definite West Coast\Surfin’ kinda feel to the album (particularly ‘Over the Summer’ which just about out-surfs the Beach Boys!), mixed with that MOR sound that Alice Cooper was experimenting with around that time. But the Sparks humour is very evident throughout, and no better than in Occupation where various job options are raised and then instantly dismissed by Russell:

We athletes run around and round,
We moan and groan and hit the ground,
And when we get to 35,
We sell cosmetics and survive

We salesmen can sell a storm,
We sell you blankets when you’re warm,
And if you’re really really warm,
We’ll sell you two, we’ve got that charm!

Whilst there is no doubt that the songs on Introducing Sparks have a very different sound to anything that came before or after, lyrically (as the above lines show), they could fit just about anywhere in their vast back catalogue. For years, I’ve always been interested to know if these songs were all written especially for the album, or if any were unused tracks from earlier in their career. But Ron and Russell confirmed to me that “All the songs were written especially for Introducing”. This was a bit of a surprise to me, as I can almost hear a Kimono\Propaganda style version of Occupation in my head! But when I asked the boys which song from Introducing Sparks they would most like to re-record today, Occupation wasn’t mentioned, “Those Mysteries could fit into a contemporary context and sound great re-recorded today”. Finally, I asked if in hindsight, they had learnt anything from the making of Introducing Sparks, the reply was short and sweet “The only thing we learned from the experience is, don't trust session musicians!”

At the time, this release didn’t trouble the charts on either side of the Atlantic, but once again, perhaps the boys were ahead of their time. Look how cool Brian Wilson is again these days! Introducing Sparks is Ron and Russell’s very own ‘Smile’! Buy it, enjoy a piece of history, and marvel at just how unique this Sparks ‘missing link’ is.

INTRODUCING SPARKS IS RELEASED ON 5TH NOVEMBER (and you can even pick a 'Ron' or 'Russell' cover!)

If you’re a Sparks fan, then you may be interested in a great new band I recently discovered. They are called Silvery, and are certainly very influenced by Ron and Russell! They have just finished recording their debut album, and are currently looking at offers to mix it (one of which could be Kimono My House legend, Martin Gordon!)

Have a listen to this demo of the track Horrors and see what I mean:

Silvery are signed to Blow Up records: Link to Silvery at Blow Up

While you're here, why not have a read of my reviews of the recent 21x21 shows. The Propaganda review is here, and the Hello Young Lovers review is here

Also, don't miss my EXCLUSIVE, extensive interview with ex-Sparks member Martin Gordon, and he had plenty of interesting Sparks stories to tell! part 1 is here and part 2 is here

Want more Sparks? Check out the 'Graphik Designs' Fan Page, quite possibly the most detailed Sparks site on the web Sparks Pages

Below is the video for the shortened version of Dick Around by Sparks:

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

It was to be the sweetest revenge. 30 years on from when the Sex Pistols were conned out of a number one single, finally they were going to get their just deserts. Back then, the Pistols were robbed by an oversensitive nation who in 1977 felt that 'God Save The Queen' going to the topper-most of the popper-most would overshadow her Maj's Silver Jubilee celebrations (indeed, it was actually thought the song would somehow topple the establishment…..??!) . So the chart was apparently 'nobbled' and Rod Stewart's 'I Don't Want to Talk About It' was given the crown in dubious circumstances.

But 30 years on we can just about handle the outrage of the Pistols finest moment, and a campaign to finally get the single to the top of the charts commenced. And what a campaign it was too… magazines backed it (NME in particular championed it with great enthusiasm), music celebs endorsed it, websites promoted it, radio stations covered it and even one or two broadsheets commented on it (even the Queen and Prince Philip were up for downloading it… probably). Everything was looking good for the fairytale ending.

Not since the 80's have I been so keen to hear the latest chart run-down ('Kid' Jenson no longer does it apparently…). In my day it used to be unveiled of a Tuesday lunchtime. Years later it moved to Sunday afternoons (presumably to spice up the flagging 'top 40' radio show, which up until that time was always promoting a chart just about to be superseded). These days however, Monday is the big day (is it a big day for anyone anymore?). So on Monday this week I was there, Union Jack party popper in hand, ready to celebrate a real achievement of 'people power'. On tracking down the new chart, I even looked at it in reverse order, just to try and re-create the excitement of the 80's! The further up the chart I got, the more excited I became… into the top 10 and still no mention… top 5… top 3… it's not number 2! They've done it! And this weeks number 1 is…. The Sugababes. The fuckin Sugababes??! A wider search for the full top 75 showed the Sex Pistols as a new entry at number 42.

So what happened? In a world where you only need to sell a couple of dozen singles to get in the top 10, how did all the hype and promises of buying multiple copies fail so miserably? To me the answer is fairly clear, it was virtually impossible to actually buy the fucking thing!

I really bought into this campaign, and despite already owning the track a dozen times or more on various singles, LP's and CD's, was happy to do my bit for Queen and country… BUT (and this is a big, age-showing BUT) for me to do my bit, I need something tangible to show for my money. I'm sorry, but 79p for the privilege of downloading a track I already own is not going to tempt me. If I'm prepared to show willing, and buy something I already own, then I need the record company to meet me half way and offer me something in return, to make it worth my while. ‘God Save The Queen’ on CD single would have been nice, but it was not to be. Still, they did decide to pump out a 7” single with the original sleeve artwork, so that was the way I’d make my vote count.

A visit to my local Virgin on release day (8th October) was fruitless. They no longer stock 7” singles (which they only started stocking again 18 months ago!), only CD singles. No matter, HMV is close by… However I discovered they no longer stock chart singles, but I was informed that there was a 7” single section at the back of the store, so off I hurried. Describing it as a ‘singles section’ was somewhat over-egging it, as what I found was more reminiscent of a car boot sale than a national music chain-store. The ‘section’ referred to was infact a grubby box of dog-eared singles, precariously perched on the edge of a display counter. Still, it was good to see they at least carried them, and ever more heartening to see so many new releases in this format. And what a bargain too, all at 99p each! I used to pay more than that in the 80’s! Spurred on I flicked through the box, and finally, right at the back, there it was.. ‘God Save The Queen’ on 7” single in original artwork sleeve… FOUR QUID!!!

It sums up the music industry perfectly for me. A buzz had been created by the general public to right an longstanding wrong. But rather than saying “some good publicity here lads, pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap”, the greedy bastards push it out at full mark-up. Every time HMV or Virgin has a sale (most months!) The Pistols classic album ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ is always there at £2.99, so £4 to purchase one song from it can hardly be seen as good value – especially as the vast majority of the people who were up for buying it, already owned it! I didn’t buy it, and judging by the lowly chart position, not many others did either.

I’d like to think that Virgin Record Company will learn from this, but know full well they won’t. It’ll just be used as an excuse not to press further vinyl releases in the future. No doubt they’ll be continuing with their main hobby of pleading poverty and moaning about illegal downloading, without once seeing the irony.

As a consolation prize, I downloaded a (free!) God Save The Queen 30th anniversary wallpaper for both my PC and my phone… anarchy eh?!


Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Trouble With Tributes

To be honest, I was never a fan of the tribute band scene. The whole thing seemed kinda tragic (hey, possible name for a bad Queen tribute there!), as flat chested Dolly Partons, balding Robert Smiths and 6ft 5 Princes across the country gave it their all. It all seemed a bit too 'Stars in Their Eyes' for my liking, all that was missing was Matthew Kelly appearing at the end of the show to tweak their elbow and say - in his most insincere manner - "… you were great you were".

As a passionate music fan, I seemed to have some sort of inbuilt snobbery within, that automatically looked down on this type of act. Remember the famous John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch on the British class system? Well John Cleese was my 'proper music' looking down on him - Ronnie Corbett being my 'tribute act'!

I'd always imagined that the people who went along to these shows, couldn't really be 'true' music fans if they were happy to settle for these impersonators. Why the hell would you wanna go see a Bowie tribute act when the real deal still tours? I concluded that the audiences must be made up of the same people who as kids, bought those 'Top of the Pops' albums from Woolworths, crammed with all the latest chart hits, but alas, performed by session musicians (I fuckin hated them too!).

But you know what? Finally, I get it! And although I'll never be replacing all my 'legit' gigs with tribute ones, I now see that they can really serve a purpose. The tribute scene has certainly got a lot smarter over the years, which has helped its cause no end. Originally it was just belting out the 'hits', but now a number of acts are using their talents to re-create the past. A time machine back to the 1960's and 70's for £6 and the price of a pint - what a bargain! Yeah, Bowie still tours, but he's no Ziggy Stardust anymore (more Ziggy Stairlift), and even if he does still sing material from that album, you'll be lucky if it's anything more than the title track. So tribute acts such as Jean Genie, who do a whole set that replicate the shows from that period of Bowies career, do fill a legitimate gap in the market. I absolutely love Bowie, but his Ziggy period was way before I was old enough to go to gigs, so other than watching some grainy ol' footage, Jean Genie is the closest I'm ever going to get to sampling this part of his career 'in the flesh'.

There are also some pretty shrewd tributes (particularly for some of the more 'worthy' acts, Who, Floyd, Zeppelin, Stones etc) who are now picking different 'sets' and eras for their performances. 'Whos Who' are known to knock out the whole 'Live at Leeds' album set (including the missing tracks), which is predominantly tracks from the Tommy album. So unbelievably you can now have the same grumble of a tribute as you can of the real McCoy ("can't believe they didn't do…") - but personally, I think the homing in on particular periods and sets is a smart move.

So what was the epiphany that finally won me over to the dark side? It was the Marc Bolan tribute act Too-Rex ( Evan as a big Bolan fan, I doubt I'd have ever bothered to check 'em out, were it not for the fact that a mates band (none other than Mr Planet Mondo himself ( got a support slot with them a year or so ago. We wandered along to provide some moral support, and of course, you might as well hang around for the main act. And that was it! We've been to see then 3 or 4 times now. Although a 4 piece, Too-Rex is essentially Bobby T and a backing band. Bobby is the only member who dresses for the occasion, whilst the rest of the band are happy to take a back seat in their civvies and provide the faithful reproduction of that T-Rex sound (if not the sight).

Despite what it says on his birth certificate, Bobby T IS Marc Bolan. Not only has he got the basics required (the voice, the outfits and some 'stick on' glitter), he got the stance of Bolan, his walk, his facial expressions, he's the same size and build as him, he looks like him, and incredibly even has his teeth and smile!

Bobby was a Bolan fan in his youth, and his love of the man shines through. Yes you get all the hits, but the set list regularly changes, with b-sides, album tracks and rarities all making an appearance. And if this can introduce new, younger fans to the world of Marc Bolan and keep his music alive, how can this be anything but a good thing?

The biggest compliment I can pay Too-Rex is that I take them seriously. It's not a case of leaning at the bar and sniggering, these are top quality musicians (find me a better drummer than Steevi Bacon!), who have completely nailed Bolans look and sound. Within a few minutes of them taking to the stage, your brain starts to play tricks on you (you know like the way it'll suspend belief during 4 Die Hard films, to let you think that ANY of the content could be remotely believable!), you forget Bolan died 30 years ago, you forget you've gone to see a tribute act, tonight Mathew, they ARE T-Rex.

If you are still one of the disbelievers, check out the clip below that I took a couple of weeks back at a Too-Rex show (on 30th September, the date, bizarrely, that would have been Bolans 60th Birthday).

And if you fancy a bit more, this if far better than the dodgy clip I filmed on my phone. Too-Rex performing Jeepster earlier this year:


Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Ross Noble - Live Review

Ross Noble - Nobleism. Live at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend - 8th October 2007.

Before we start, let’s get one fact straight, Ross Noble is a comedy genius.

Like Frank Skinner (see earlier post!), I go back further than I care to remember with Ross, and again it was at our local comedy club that he first came to my attention. As someone who has watched live comedy for over 20 years, seeing hundreds of acts in the process, Ross is probably the comedian I most admire. The vast majority of comedians turn up with the set memorised, heckler 'putdowns' written, and the jovial audience banter well scripted (and the next time they turn up you can hear it all again word-for-word!). Ross Noble however pretty much just turns up and wings it!

The evenings at the Joker comedy club where we were lucky enough to have Ross as a compere, will probably be the funniest nights the club will ever see. All Ross ever needed was to see something and he'd be off - someone's T-shirt, a bit of décor in the room, a late comer sloping in, anything! - a springboard into the ad-libbed pool of comedy, each topic providing a link to yet another piece of on the spot improvisation. There was always a bit of scripted material in the back pocket for emergencies, but to be honest, it was rarely needed. If you've never seen him perform, don't go thinking that the guy must be a lazy good fer nuthin’ who can’t be bothered to write material. The stuff he creates live before your eyes is nothing short of stunning, and every single show he performs is totally unique. How scary must that be?! Walking out to deliver two hours of carefully crafted material is probably nerve-wracking enough, but walking out to ad lib for two or three hours??!

Fast forward to today, and Ross is arguably the hottest comedy act on the ‘big venue’ circuit. Married to an Australian, he has set himself up with the perfect life -- 6 months in Oz, six months in the UK -- and in both countries the majority of that time is spent on tour. It's genuinely what he loves to do.

Unlike some comedians who move on to the big circuit, Ross has never felt obliged to reinvent his act for the large audience -- essentially he does what he always did in the small smokey clubs, just walk on stage and see what happens! The announcement of a new tour for most acts heralds the arrival of fresh material -- but with Ross you get that every night (bar the odd bit of scripted material shoehorned in). Back in 2002, my partner and I followed the Sonic Waffle tour for a bit, seeing four or five shows in the space of a couple of weeks, and every show was at least 90% different.

Noble’s ramblings were once again up to his usual high standard, he does close on 3 hours tonight, and the whole time he paces the stage, like a caged tiger looking for a way out. Caught in traffic on the way to the venue he tells us that he found himself stuck outside the Jehovah's Witness church in Southend, leaving his mind to wander on how they would react if he had to knock on their door in the event of an emergency… A line about his own funeral arrangements had a friend and I in serious trouble - both unable to control our laughing for several minutes after he had moved on! And all he said was he's thinking of being placed in a coffin with sausages down his trousers, a few chops down his pants and a pound of mince meat under a top hat. He said he liked the idea of everyone salivating as the coffin rolled slowly into the flames, roasting the contents to perfection…. You probably had to be there, but his overactive brain throws this stuff out all night long.

Nope, Ross is as good as ever, yet something has changed, and not for the better. Ross relies on his audience to provide him with the raw material for his act, but in the last couple of years a worrying trend has started. People (and for people read 'wacky student types') seem to have decided it's not good enough for Ross to get his comedy from unsuspecting subjects (couples arriving late, the woman in the front rows lovely scarf etc), and they now wants to be the 'stars' of the show. We've seen a marked rise in youngsters in the front few rows sporting stupid hats, knowing full well Ross won't be able to resist the bait. But the ridiculing of someone who wants to be ridiculed somehow is no longer fun. By far the most annoying trend has started during the half-time interval, where armies of wacky ones leave all manner of shite on the stage; funny notes (I use the word ‘funny’ in the loosest possible way), crappy homemade T-shirts, pieces of popcorn, sweets, you name it – whatever it is, they all have the same thing in common, they ain't funny. But like a junkie walking out to see 30 lines of coke set up for his pleasure, Ross can't help himself, and will always make a beeline for this tat. Tonight was the worst I’ve ever seen, the stage was covered, and it took him just over 45 minutes of the second half to work his way through all the rubbish that had been left there. The truth is, it's funny for one or two people in the audience (i.e. the twats who put it there), for everyone else it’s boring. How funny is someone's bus pass going to be for an audience of 1500 people? Of course the owner of the bus pass goes home feeling like ‘Charlie Big Potatoes’, thinking (wrongly) he was the star of the show.

The second half of Noble gigs are starting to become a bore I’m afraid, as he methodically works through these 'gifts' – and the rest of the audience loses out on 45 minutes that could have been filled with good material. And of course, each time he does it, he seals his fate for the next time he returns to the venue, as those who see it this time plan to get in on the act next time around.

How we got in this mess I don't really know -- Ross really shouldn't pander to these cretins, he has the audience in the palm of his hands and could stop the trend almost immediately, yet instead chooses to alienate the vast majority of his audience by allowing it to continue. Personally I'd walk on stage with a bin liner, chuck the fucking lot in and then carry on the act is normal... or better still have a stage hand walk out and clear it before returning for the second half.

Everyone I've spoken to who went to tonights gig has said the same thing (without any prompting from me) the first half was genius and the second half was tedious whilst he went through all the crap left on stage.

So there you have it, Ross still is a comedy genius, his new trendy audience however are far from it -- and are in danger of ruining his act for him.


Here's a clip of Ross in Action that you can view from the comfort of this blog, rather than hiking it over to You Tube.. enjoy!