Sunday, 29 June 2008

Cheesy Choonsday: More Sitar Grooves

Following on from the last edition of Cheesy Choonsday, i'm bringing you two more sitar treats...

Gianpiero Reverberi is an Italian pianist and composer, and it was he that brought us Rondò Veneziano in the late 70's - remember them??! Renaissance-clobber wearing chamber orchestra, playing classical music in a rock styley (believe it or not, they are still going, and have cranked out over 70 albums!)... Back in the 60's though, Reverberi created this slice of genius, 'Sequence 36'. Not a heavy sitar driven track, but it's in the mix, and is a groovy little fella of the highest order. Reminds me of hazy smokey evenings at the Laurel Tree in Camden, circa 1994.

Gianpiero Reverberi - Sequence 36:

The second track is from Pakistani composer Sohail Rana, who in the 60's created some of the finest film soundtracks ever. This super-funky gem is called 'Soul Sitar'.

Sohail Rana - Soul Sitar:


Friday, 20 June 2008

Sparks: Hello Young Lovers - Live Review

Sparks: Hello Young Lovers, Live at the Carling Academy, Islington, London. 11th June 2008.

Before I start this review, I'd just like to say a big thank you to photographer extraordinaire Tony Bartolo. Believe it or not, Tony was the only press photographer to cover every night of 21x21 - ensuring this historic event was preserved. He has kindly allowed me to use some of his stunning photos for this review, and also for my previous Propaganda review. More about Tony and his photos in the links section at the end of this article.

Back in 2002, Sparks fans were looking forward to Ron and Russell's first album of the 21st Century… but with the best will in the world, I doubt many expected the masterpiece that was Lil’ Beethoven. The creativity of the Mael brothers never ceases to impress, but this album broke yet more new territory, and took them to an even higher level. Critics and fans alike put this, their 19th album, as their best yet. So, after more than 30 years in the business, Sparks had finally reached their peak right? Well no actually, because album number 20, 2006’s Hello Young Lovers, topped it!

I can't tell you how much I love this album, but suffice to say, eight and a half years into the 2000’s, it’s still looking like I'll have the easiest choice ever for my 'album of the decade' award. It’s just about as perfect an album as I think I'll ever find - this multilayered gem has so much in it, that it is almost impossible to 'get it' within the first few plays. This is no background music -- it's a complex album that demands your full attention for the full duration. The phrase "blown away" is severely overused (I actually heard someone at work last week claiming they had been "blown away with the new Coldplay album", now come on, is that really very likely?!), but I genuinely was with this album (and still am). I'd never heard anything quite like it and just couldn't stop playing it, even now it's impossible to just play once.

For me, Hello Young Lovers sums Sparks up perfectly – it’s intelligent, arty, funny and experimental. It's classical music and its rock, it opera, pop and it’s dance… quite often all at the same time! So here I am, waiting to see if they can possibly improve on this album, live. The stakes were high, could this gig possibly live up to all my expectations?

Ron and Russell enter to tremendous applause for this, their final night at the venue that has become their home in the last month or so. The stage is set up radically different to my last visit, due mainly to the inclusion of the jumbo video screen sitting on the stage – an addition which has become a regular feature to accompany the live shows for the more recent Sparks albums. As a consequence, the rest of the band are squeezed either side of the screen, and they perform behind a black mesh.

Straight away we're into the opening song, Dick Around. I've sung the praises of this track before, but suffice to say, live, this fabulously OTT opener is more intense than ever. The supporting band either side of the video screen are plunged into darkness, each member lit only by a single spotlight from the floor. As the band are rather cramped for room, by necessity they are all standing at different levels, and the result is very Bohemian Rhapsody looking -- which may well be deliberate... Dick Around has the feel of a 21st Century This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us, and many believe that song was a big influence on Queen when writing Bohemian Rhapsody.

Perfume sounds fresher than ever, and it’s already clear that tonight is going to be no disappointment. By the time we reach track three, The Very Next Fight, the jumbo screen has come into its own, and 'real life' Ron is taking on a 'digital' Ron for a no holds barred fight. The timing of each punch thrown is perfect, finishing with a sucker punch from live Ron that sends his 2D counterpart flying off screen! The Very Next Fight also gives the crowd their first real chance to join in, as they ‘help’ Russell out with the repetitive “open displays of affection” line!

Anti-war song (Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country? is next…. Y’know, it’s a natural temptation for people to write off older artists -- as either 'past it' or living on their past, but watching Russell completely commanding the stage, as he marches up and down (accompanied by an on screen army of military Maels!), you realise he is still one of the best front men in the business. Ron straps on a Vintage electric for Rock, Rock, Rock, where he become guitar hero (for one track anyway) and cranks out a deafening heavy metal strum that would have Velvet Revolver heading for cover…indeed the on-screen stack of cartoon speakers are wobbling and bulging like something out of Tom and Jerry with every attack of the strings!

There have been some grumblings about the sound quality at some of these shows, but as the gorgeous piano sound kicks in on Metaphor, I suddenly realise that tonight, the sound (and just about everything else too!) is just perfect. Ron takes another trip to the screen to catch, and then discard, the falling words that drop as Russell sings them… “a diamond ring”, “the first day of summer”… The crowd have been very interactive throughout, but Metaphor is a fun song with lyrics just aching for a bit of audience participation, and it’s great to hear them take full advantage…

Russell: Whose up for a metaphor?
Crowd: We're up for a metaphor!
Russell: Are you chicks up for a metaphor?
Crowd: Yes, we're up for a metaphor!
Russell: Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't mix them
Crowd: We, we, we won't mix them!
Russell: Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't mix them
Crowd: We wouldn't dream of mixing ‘em!

Waterproof is as good a ballad as Sparks have ever written, and although it’s impossible for me to pick a favourite track, this would have to be a contender. I go all goose-pimple-ly for the entire song, as Russell gives a note-perfect performance. 20 nights in, and his voice is holding up wonderfully. The video screen provides Russell with the perfect set of backing singers for Here Kitty Kitty… four felines in their best suits!

There's No Such Thing As Aliens is hauntingly stunning, and the two creepy figures with the big hands directly behind Russell add to the eerie feel of this song. The show has flown by, and incredibly it’s already the final track, the frantic madness that is As I Sit To Play The Organ At The Notre Dame Cathedral. Complete with maniacal church organ and the scariest hallelujah chorus you're ever likely to hear! At one point, Ron takes to playing a cartoon organ on the jumbo screen! It looks incredible, and makes yellow submarine look quite sensible in comparison!

The applause at the end of this performance goes on longer than I think I've ever witnessed at any gig – it must be close on ten full minutes. The band look almost embarrassed as they stand there with no signs of it stopping. There is genuine emotion on display, as all the band members hug each other as though they’d just completed a marathon (which in musical terms, over the last 4 weeks they have!). Although there is one more night of 21x21 to come (the very first performance of their brand-new album at Shepherd's Bush in two days time), there is a feel of completion tonight. These first 20 nights were the past, from now on it’s the future.

The encore tonight, unlike most of the previous nights, has nothing to do with the album performed. Profile, is one of their best ever b-sides (the flip of 1975’s Get In The Swing), and the crowd go crazy for it!

An incredible night, which leaves me completely stunned… yet the cherry for tonight's cake was still to be served. A fortuitous ‘bump’ into a friend of a friend, means I end up in the after show party, and within minutes, I’m standing 2 feet away from Ron and Russell. Surely no better opportunity to finally meet my heroes? Well, no, not really. They are happily winding down after the performance, and it's not really that kind of environment. Over in the corner we spot ex-Sparks bass player Ian Hampton, seconds later Ron and Russell spot him to. It's obviously been a long-time and there are genuine shows of affection all round as the three are reunited. It's my last memory of the evening, and what an appropriate one. This whole mammoth feat -- performing 21 albums in 21 nights -- was all about reacquainting ourselves with old friends, both musical and human…job well and truly done.


Tony Bartolo is the only photographer in the world who took profesional photos every night of the whole 21x21 event. He has some very exciting projects under way, and you will soon be able to purchase some of his incredible work from the Sparks Spectacular. Be sure to keep watching his website - Snazmusic - for full details. Tony currently has a competition running to win a signed Sparks album cover... so be sure to check his site out here

See my review of the Propaganda show here complete with more exclusive photos from Tony Bartolo.

Download or listen to the full 22 minute interview that Sparks gave Simon Mayo to promote 21x21 here

See my Introducing Sparks article here, containing exclusive comments from Ron and Russell Mael!

My exclusive interview with ex-Sparks member Martin Gordon is here and here

My interview with indie popsters Silvery is here, and there's plenty of Sparks related chat!

Visit the official Sparks websitee here

Visit the official Sparks MySpace Page here


Monday, 16 June 2008

Cheesy Choonsday: Mathar

I kicked this semi-regular feature off a couple of weeks ago over on Planet Mondo, where as guest blogger, I posted 3 Cheesy nuggets by Peters and Lee, James Last and Henry Mancini... follow the link above if you missed 'em.

This week, Mathar. Not particularly rare to find, but you'll struggle to find a better piece of sitar big beat psychedelia than this!

Dave Pike was a jazz musician in the 50's and early 60's. In the late 60's he formed the Dave Pike Set and experimented with a more funky jazz sound, incorporating experimental sounds. The 1969 LP "Noisy Silence - Gentle Noise" featured the Sitar led track Mathar, which some 25 years later became a massive club favourite in the early BritPop\Cheesy Listening era. In 1994 the track was re-recorded by Indian Vibes (which was actually Paul Weller in disguise). Oddly, his version is now a much rarer item than the original.

They are both here for you to enjoy, get ya dancin shoes on....

Dave Pike Set:

Indian Vibes:


Friday, 13 June 2008

Magic Ship: Maiden Voyage

Climb on Board the Magic Ship - Destination Americana!

I was delighted to receive Magic Ships' debut CD ‘Love Tel Motel’ last week - regular readers will already know them as fellow blogger Axe Victims' band. Over on his site, we’ve seen this project go from a twinkle (or maybe a ‘twang’) in Axes’ eye, through to final fruition with the album release and accompanying gig to launch it last weekend. The regular blog updates certainly added to the whole appeal for me, and gave a great insight into the labour of love that goes into getting a project like this off the ground… Over the months I’ve heard the demos, read about the rehearsals and recording sessions, viewed various potential designs for the artwork, and been privy to all the trials and tribulations the guys have been through on the way. So to see the final product drop through the letterbox was rather satisfying even for me… imagine how Axe and his (magic) shipmates must be feeling??!

Ok, so I’ve already appreciated all the hard work and effort that went into getting the CD off the ground, but how does the finished article fair? Pretty damn well actually! And it’s just about lived in the CD player ever since I got it!

It’s obvious from the outset that these guys know their stuff, they are experienced musicians with an in-depth knowledge of music. As they storm through this blistering, riff laden, 10 track album there are nods to everyone from the Stones and the Faces to the Byrds and Neil Young. From the Black Crows to Oasis and even the Fratellis. Vocally, Axe evokes comparisons with Mark Lanegan, Joe Cocker and Leon Russell.

But don’t go thinking this is some pseudo sound-a-like album, Magic Ship are much smarter than that. There is a restrained light touch on all the influences… a dash of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a drop of Tom Petty, a sprinkling of Primal Scream… What comes out is 100% Magic Ship.

So if you’re looking for a bona fide rocker to see you through the (long?! hot?!) summer, Magic Ship could be just the band for you – Gawd bless ‘er, and all who sail in her!

All the links you need:

Magic Ships' Official Website
Axe Victims' Blog
Buy Love Tel Motel from Stone Island Records


Friday, 6 June 2008

Richard Cheese

Firstly, an extra warm welcome to any new visitors, who have wandered over due to my ‘guest spot’ over on Planet Mondo. Thanks for dropping by! Have fun clickin’ around and I hope you’ll pop back from time to time…

I love the way you stumble across new music. Lately the iPod has become a real boon for this, as people now walkabout with room-fulls of music in their back pocket. A while back, I was heading off to a meeting in London, and bumped into an old friend on the train. Both music fiends, we spent the whole journey connected to each other's earphones, linked only with sentences like "check this out" "have you heard these" "I can't get enough of this" etc etc. And it was this chance meeting that introduced me to Richard Cheese, whose complete back catalogue I now own.

Richard Cheese’s slant is genius, Sinatra-fied versions of punk, metal, rap and indie toons! Ah! I hear you cry, we’ve seen all this before with Paul Anka... But Mr C actually predates Anka’s cover albums by a few years, and has been releasing his brand of lounge classics since 2000. To be fair, Paul Anka is playing it pretty straight with his CDs anyway. He’s chosen sensible-ish songs with sensible-ish lyrics. Had you not known the originals, you'd probably be happy to take them as Anka originals (my father for example loves Anka’s covers albums, but is unlikely to know the Van Halen, Pet Shop Boys, Oasis originals).

With tongue firmly in cheek, Richard Cheese makes a beeline for songs with quirky, odd and downright rude lyrics, making the whole experience much livelier… oh, and much much funnier! Martini Metalica anyone?! How about some Swingin’ Snoop Dog or maybe a Chili Pepper Cocktail??! These songs are ‘laugh-out-loud’ funny, yet at the same time, you can't help but be impressed at the quality of the arrangements, production and the musicians involved (who, by a remarkable coincidence are Bobby Ricotta, Gordon Brie and Buddy Goulda!). After six albums of bizarre covers, the latest release by Dick (yes I know, Dick Cheese…) is a CD choc-full of TV themes.

I urge you to investigate the Dickster, or at the very least check out the three samples I’ve added below…. It was tough to narrow it down to 3, but in the end I went for a shot of ‘Slipknot at the Sands’ (I mean, anyone, who can make a Slipknot song sound good, MUST be a musical genius right??!), and a slice of ‘ring-a-ding’ Radiohead. All finished off with my personal favourite, a dash of Dead Kennedys.. Las Vegas style!


People = Shit (Slipknot):

Creep (Radiohead):

Holiday in Cambodia (Dead Kennedys):

Oh and don’t forget to check out Richard’s website, where you can buy all his CDs and only the finest quality merchandise!

If these toons have given you the taste for more cheesy morsels, why not pop over to Planet Mondo, where as guest blogger, i've just posted 3 forgotten nuggets!


Thursday, 5 June 2008

Destination Mondo Land

I’ll be nipping over to Planet Mondo tomorrow as guest blogger, where I’m being let loose at the controls for this weeks edition of the legendary 'Funky Friday' feature. Joining me for the journey will be three mature slices of cheesy listening -- all taken from my personal collection, and Caerphilly (sorry!) converted from vinyl to MP3 for your delectation. Do please pop over and have a listen…

My appearance on Planet Mondo heralds the start of a new regular feature here at Start The Revolution Without Me, which I’m calling 'Cheesy Choonsday'. I'll be diggin’ deep into the vaults at Piley Towers, to bring you a gourmet cheese-fest, as I unearth lost gems from the 60s and 70s. All the tracks will come from LPs that I've picked up at charity shops and car boot sales over the years, the vast majority of which have almost certainly never been released on CD. Download ‘em week by week and by Christmas we’ll have you looking like an extra from Randall and Hopkirk or Jason King!

See you over at Planet Mondo!!