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.