Wednesday, 30 June 2010

‘The Sounds Of Star Wars’ – The Sonic All-Stars (1977)

“Mission control calling all eathlings. Pickwick International have broken through the inter-cosmic barriers with a new and hitherto unidentified sound.”

Many of the first albums I owned as a kid were soundtracks. In those days (otherwise known as the 70s), there were only two ways to see films: at the cinema or broadcast on telly (three years later). So soundtracks and novelisations were the closest you could get to re-living your favourite films.

I’m quite certain my grandparents bought me this record, as I saw ‘Star Wars’ with them countless times when it came out. And as a 6-year-old, I really wasn’t that worried that instead of the original John Williams score, I was listening to The Sonic All-Stars conducted by Bruce Baxter. As a 39-year-old listening back to it now, I think Pickwick International pretty much nailed it with their description at the top there: there is indeed very little you can identify on here. “Why bother with an orchestra when you can use one of these new synthesizer things?”

The album does immediately take me back though to those days of playing with my Star Wars figures in my room, reading Star Wars comics in the woods, and drawing more Star Wars adventures with my Star Wars pencils from my Star Wars pencil case, before falling asleep on my Star Wars pillow in my Star Wars pyjamas. Of course, at my age, I shouldn’t still be doing those things, but hey.

My Star Wars memories could fill a blog of their own … Watching it at the free cinema at Butlins with the sound two seconds out of synch. Watching ‘Return Of The Jedi’ and the film melting just as the Death Star explodes (oops – spoiler). Watching the original trilogy as an all-dayer with my cousins – and having the cinema almost to ourselves for nine hours. Popping over to Boston to see ‘The Phantom Menace’ the day it came out (three months ahead of the UK). And so on. Have you given up reading yet?

“So today’s song pick was simply an excuse to write about Star Wars?” Yes, it was. May the Force be with you. Always.

Spotify linky (rest easy: Spotify doesn't have the Pickwick version):
London Symphony Orchestra;John Williams – Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner - Medley

Monday, 28 June 2010

‘Lorelei’ – Cocteau Twins (1984)

“And we can go …”

There was a time when I wanted children. I think it was 4th May 1989. But the feeling passed.

In that fleeting moment though, I immediately had that whole tricky naming them thing sorted. That was thanks to ‘Treasure’ by the Cocteau Twins. I’d simply name them after each album track: Ivo, Lorelei, Beatrix, Persephone, Pandora, Amelia, Aloysius, Cicely, Otterley and Donimo.

Yes, ok, poor Otterley may get a bit of stick in the school playground, and Aloysius will be forever repeating his name to call centre staff, but each one struck me as simply wonderful. However, since I won’t be needing them, feel free to use this idea yourself.

Spotify linky:
Cocteau Twins – Lorelei

Bonus Diary Doodles 1990 - No.2

Diary doodles 1990 - No.1

"What is this supposed to be?!!?" Me. Vacuuming. In my Charlatans 'Looking for the orange one' T-shirt. Obviously.

During the summer of 1990 (aged 19), I began capturing daily events using a black felt-tip pen, some crayons and my left-hand (I'm naturally right-handed - I was teaching myself to be ambidextrous). I thought I'd stick some up here over the next month or so.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

‘I Don’t Wanna Be Friends With You – Shop Assistants (1986)

“Say you want to leave while you still like me.
Is this what you do to the people you like?”

People say that it’s hard to find presents for me. It’s not. Just buy me badges – or buttons, if you’re reading this in the US.

At school, my bag and coat were covered in badges I’d bought in Kensington Market and Carnaby Street. Or made myself, by cutting pictures from the music papers. They always featured the names or album sleeves of obscure indie bands, such as the Shop Assistants. It was all part of my social vetting process. A nod of recognition would spark a lifelong friendship. More often than not though, it was shrugs of indifference from my Bon Jovi-loving classmates. My friend Chris took another approach and would try to antagonise the teachers with badges declaring his love for Gaye Bykers on Acid and Alien Sex Fiend.

Let’s take a peek at my bag and coat today. ‘Home is where the record player is.’ ‘Can’t sleep; clowns will eat me.’ ‘Ninjas are watching you.’ And a fab weather-worn Moomins badge my friend Tarnie made for me (and some woman on a train once wanted to buy).

I recently lost a wonderful Pat Phoenix badge that I’d had since school days. Shop assistants (ooh ... nice bit of symmetry there) would often ask me who it was … and then quickly wish they hadn’t bothered when I used to start recounting tales of 'Coronation Street' from the 1970s. Anyhoo … now you know what to get me for Christmas.

Spotify linky:

On this day ... 1986 (aged 15)

Scribblings from my diary …

“A new burger bar opens in Frimley. Madden and I get half price off lunch at our usual chippy ‘cos we don’t go to it.”

Now playing: ‘Home’ – Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros (2009)

“Do you remember that day you fell out of my window?”

You know when you buy a compilation album and a couple of tracks immediately stand out? Yes? And then you put it on again a few months later and a whole new song grabs your ears. That’s what happened here.

Apple’s Genius thingy told me that if I liked The National then I’d probably like to listen to this track from the latest ‘Counter Culture’ collection from Rough Trade. And it was right. As I walked from Farringdon down to Temple t'other night, I listened to ‘Home’ over and over. And then over again. There were tales of adventure and deep longing. There was whistling and tambourines. And a little bit of banter in the middle. I always love a little bit of Nancy & Lee-style banter in the middle. Glorious.

I loved the fact they’d sprung from nowhere that evening and I knew nothing about them. That’s how I want it to stay for a while. I refuse to discover anymore about them. All I need is this song. See if you agree.

Spotify linky:

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

'Heroes' - David Bowie (1977)

“I …
I wish I could swim.
Like the dolphins.
Like dolphins can swim.”

Bowie popped up in my life a number of times before he really caught my attention. Not literally, obviously. It wasn’t like I’d be staring out the window in Geography class and he’d be waving furiously at me from the playing fields. Though that would have been cool.

No, the reality was more the odd song on the radio here, the odd Top Of The Pops performance there. But none of them made me want to dip into his music any further. I think this was because my Bowie was 80s Bowie. I’d just missed the real good stuff.

The first time I clearly remember hearing one of his songs was at a disco (yes, kids, a disco) on another dreaded school trip. My first and last disco. The song was ‘Let’s Dance’ which was number one at the time. It stood out because it wasn’t Duran Duran, which was about the only thing the DJ (or Mr Abbott the PE teacher, as he was otherwise known) had been playing all evening.

My second encounter of the Bowie kind was in ‘Labyrinth’. At some point, this film appears to have achieved cult status and everyone in their late 20s seems to love the Goblin King. But at the time I just remember thinking, “Who’s this guy getting in the way of all the ace muppets?”

And then, in 1990, EMI began reissuing all Bowie’s albums as he went on tour to play all his big songs (except ‘The Laughing Gnome’) one final time. (And then one final time again a few years later. And then again a few years after that, etc.) At this time, Chris Roberts (my favourite music journalist then and now) wrote a review of the ‘Sound And Vision’ greatest hits collection in Melody Maker that I can still picture to this day. I’ll thank him now for it. The way he wrote about ‘Heroes’ made me want to immediately hear early Bowie. And he even brought new depths to later songs I’d already heard, such as ‘Blue Jean’. I went out that lunchtime at college and began building my Bowie collection. Yep, even the 'Labyrinth' soundtrack is in there. But that’s another post.

Spotify linky (the full length album version):

On this day ... 1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

“Help Lara with an English essay on dreams. I make up a simply stupid story about a pillow that fills your head with dreams, but it obviously goes wrong and the person using it never wakes up.”

Monday, 21 June 2010

Frank Sidebottom (1956 - 2010) RIP

Sodden nights in Berkshire fields. Sticky donut sugar fingers. Stench of burning polystyrene. Watching a man with an over-sized papier-mâché head sing to a hand puppet with a matching papier-mâché head. “Guess who’s been on Match of the Day.” The raucous crowd chants back: “You have! In your big shorts!” These are some of my fondest memories of the Reading Festival in the late-1980s.

Frank Sidebottom defines ‘one-of-a-kind’. Unless you count little Frank. Which we should. So, ok … ‘two-of-a-kind’. His annual Reading Festival appearances in the comedy tent made me and my friend Chris huge fans. And when he began popping up on Saturday morning telly shows such as ‘Number 73’, I could finally share his genius wonky-voiced comedy nonsense and hatstand bobbins pop covers with my younger sister. ‘Bemused’ would probably be the kindest way to describe her reaction.

It’s been over a decade since I last saw Timperley’s finest on stage, but I always hoped one day I’d share another sugary sweet donut and rainy Reading night with him. Sadly, that’s not to be as Frank Sidebottom (real name, Chris Sievey) collapsed and died at home in Greater Manchester today, after recently recovering from treatment to a tumour on his chest.

Frank, we dearly miss you. “You know we do. We really do.”

Spotify has yet to recognise the mighty Frank, so we turn to YouTube for two tip-top live clips:

‘Manchester Medley’

‘Hit The North’

Sunday, 20 June 2010

'Little Star' - Stina Nordenstam (1994)

“You must have wanted him to know.
You must have wanted the world to know.”

On the first day of my first job, I was savaged by a table of directors at ‘a big British energy company’ for a documentary script that wasn’t mine. It wasn’t the comfortable day of settling in to life in a Soho video production company that I had imagined. I should have taken it as a warning of things to come.

My new boss (the one who thought I looked like a penguin snatcher) had in fact written the script, but knew they weren’t happy so I had been sent in with instructions to pretend it was mine. It was a gruelling hour of four old men looking dismissively at me while I had to nod along in silent acceptance of every mistake I hadn’t made.

I arrived back at the office with my new pad full of notes and amends which I handed to my boss so he could crack on with a new draft. But it seemed that wasn’t the plan. This was now my project and was to be my first script. And I had two days to turn it around.

Sixteen years later, I’m actually grateful for having such an eventful introduction to life as a writer. It makes you pretty fearless. And my revised draft got the thumbs up, which was a big confidence boost. But at the time, the only bright point to the day was buying Stina Nordenstam’s new album ('And She Closed Her Eyes') at Selectadisc and hearing this exquisite song. I’d need many more songs like this to get through the next five years in that job.

Spotify linky:

On this day ... 1994 (aged 23)

Scribblings from my diary …

“Talk to Dad on the phone briefly. He couldn’t recall if I’d had chickenpox or not. The sort of thing only mums know.”

Now playing: 'So Runs The World Away' - Josh Ritter (2010)

“That’s the sad thing with life;
People always leaving just as other folks arrive.”

(Number four in my not-quite-weekly series of recommended new releases.)

Let’s chat for a minute about the adorably kooky Mary-Louise Parker. (If you haven’t seen ‘Weeds’, you need to grab yourself the first series on DVD today.) She provides the little sticker quote on the front of this album. “If you love music and have a device on which to play it, you should listen to Josh Ritter.” Just another reason to love her.

Josh Ritter has a certain folky Dylan thing about him which hooked me in a few years back – though he’s been expanding that style with each album. He should always release albums in Spring as his songs seem to suit the season perfectly. Go find a musical device and give this album a listen – if not for me, for the lovely Mary-Louise.

Spotify linky:
Josh Ritter – Folk Bloodbath

Friday, 18 June 2010

'Thru The Flowers' - The Primitives (1987)

“You won’t ever know,
what it took to let you go.”

In the summer holidays of 1988, my cousin Matt and I decided to become writers for My Guy magazine. Yes, that’s right, the one with all the photo stories for young girls. Now obviously there were a few barriers to overcome. We hadn’t written a photo story before. And we didn’t exactly have that much insight into the minds of the target audience. But I’d read a few copies of my sister’s Just Seventeen. And, most importantly, Matt had actually been in a couple of My Guy photo stories. See? Doesn’t sound so stupid now, does it? Oh, alright, it still sounds kinda stupid.

Matt had been instantly typecast by My Guy as the ‘irresistible bad boy indie kid’, which meant he got to wear his Primitives T-shirt and leather jacket in every story. Using his insider knowledge we could surely sell a story of our own. Or perhaps not. A couple of rejection letters later it was time to head back to school and the project was forgotten. Until now. Well, actually, it’s still pretty much forgotten as I can’t recall anything we wrote. I’m quite sure I must have copies of those stories somewhere though – if they turn up, I’ll post some excerpts.

Spotify linky:

On this day ... 1986 (aged 15)

Scribblings from my diary …

“In Information Technology we use a package called ‘Mail’ and send messages between computers.”

Thursday, 17 June 2010

'Godstar' - Psychic TV (1985)

“I wish I was with you now;
I wish I could save you somehow.”

What’s the latest big musical movement? Is there one? The last one I remember is emo from a few years back. It seems to me there’s about two generations coming up behind me who have no shared musical experiences beyond ‘X Factor’. I blame the Internet. This often unifying force has fractured musical tastes by giving everything and focusing on nothing.

In just the decade between 1985 and 1995 (when I was 14 to 24 years old), I got to pick ‘n’ mix from indie, new wave, goth, grebo, blonde, baggy, drone rock, art rock, shoe-gazing, slow-core, ambient, grunge, slacker, the new wave of new wave, Britpop, trip-hop and alt-country. And then there’s all the other flavours that weren’t to my taste (yes, “aciiieeeed” kids, I’m looking at you).

‘Godstar’ was the very first indie single I bought (back when ‘indie’ was an ideal, not just a label). I loved it immediately and love it still. Just listen to that chorus. You’ll immediately put it back on again. I clearly remember standing in a car park in Camberley on a cold February afternoon and carefully extracting everything I could from the gatefold (it was a double single!) sleeve while my mum went to the Pay and Display machine (or ‘Cash and Flash’ as my cousins used to call it). I knew nowt about the band. I didn’t know that they had a singer called Genesis P-Orridge or that they had emerged from Throbbing Gristle. The sleeve told me this was the theme song to a film about the ‘Life and Times of Brian Jones’. But the film was never made (I looked out for it for years after). This somehow makes it even more perfect.

Psychic TV was my first connection with a musical movement that to this day inspires new ideas and founds new friendships. I hope the generations to come have their own ‘Godstar’.

Spotify linky:
Psychic TV – Godstar

Monday, 14 June 2010

'Drive Blind' - Ride (1989)

“Can’t see the lights,
or the blue orange signs.
Can’t see the road,
or the long white lines.”

For six weeks in the autumn of 1989, no cyclist was safe on the roads of Farnborough. This is because my Dad had decided to fund a dozen driving lessons for me. His idea was that I’d be able to help him with some computer deliveries for his company. The problem was that I had zero interest in learning to drive.

It would have helped if there was somewhere I wanted to go. But I could get the train to London and I was happy walking my home streets. It would also have helped if I could concentrate on the road for more than two minutes. But my mind wanders. And the next thing you know, I’ve reversed into someone.

That’s what happened on my test. The date was set for Hallowe’en – hurrah! – my fave day of the year. But it was timed for the school run. Which meant cyclists. Lots and lots of cyclists. It was like the Tour De Farnborough out there. I think I either clipped, cut up or terrified a good half of them. And almost killed one, by reversing without really looking and forcing him to swerve onto the pavement. I made a mental note of some of the good advice the cyclist was screaming at me (which amounted to ‘Look where you’re going’ – once you removed the expletives) and the instructor made some notes of his own in thick red pen.

To this day I still can’t drive (I never took another lesson) and like to annoy people who ask why I don’t try again by quoting Alex Cox’s ‘Repo Man’: ‘The more you drive, the less intelligent you are’.

Spotify linky:
Ride – Drive Blind

On this day ... 1982 (aged 11)

Scribblings from my diary …

“We recapture the Falkland Islands. Have a fight on the playing field.”

Saturday, 12 June 2010

'Katy Song' - Red House Painters (1993)

“Can’t go with my heart,
when I can’t feel what’s in it.”

My first boss nearly didn’t hire me. It probably didn’t help that I refused to get my hair cut for the interview (even though it was for my dream job as a scriptwriter), so I went in resembling Edward Scissorhands. Fortunately, it was just before Christmas, so I told him it was for panto and I’d have it cut in the New Year.

The real reason though was that apparently I reminded him of the scriptwriter he’d just fired. Who’d walked out of London Zoo with a penguin under his arm. Yup, that’s right: a real, live penguin.

So the odds were against me. And, in fact, I was turned down at first. But the person they hired instead didn’t work out. So I got a phone call saying they were willing to accept my assurance that I had no plans to abduct any exotic birds and the job was mine. And there begins enough tales to stuff a spin-off blog …

Spotify linky:

Now playing: 'No Ghost' - The Acorn (2010)

“You can’t understand the clouds above your head,
but they stir your heart.”

FAQ No.1: “Where do you find these bands?” When I was a kid, it was in the pages of Melody Maker, NME, Sounds, Record Mirror, Select, Vox, Lime Lizard and various fanzines. And on John Peel’s radio show, of course. And The Tube, Whistle Test and SnubTV (if the Controller of BBC2 is reading, how about bringing that back?). And lots of gigs. These days, of course, new music is all very easy to find on this here World Wide Web. And then there’s Uncut magazine – a trusty source for many delicious new finds. Such as The Acorn.

Their last album, ‘Hope Glory Mountain’, hooked me in with its comparisons to the glorious Sufjan Stevens (let’s chat about him some time soon). And this latest one finds The Acorn following their indie-folk heart in many new, delightful directions. Apparently, it was recorded in a cottage out in the wilds of Quebec. It should put the place on the map.

Spotify linky:

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

'Unbearable' - The Wonder Stuff (1989)

“I didn’t like you very much when I met you …
And now I like you even less.”

The mosh pit. A beer-soaked, heaving scrum of flailing limbs and tortured groans. Basically a playfight set to music. My 39-year-old self wonders just what the touch sensitive, 8-stone, 16-year-old-me was thinking. A knee in the groin. An elbow in the face. (To quote the Mancunian Bard.) Good times.

As a teenager, moshing was about the only form of exercise I got. They should have put it in P.E. lessons. Far more useful to me than climbing a rope or doing some star jumps.

Diving into any mosh pit at London’s Astoria with my cousins felt like coming home. (Kind of. A mosh pit would be a weird sort of home. But you know what I mean.) And the Stuffies remind me most of those times. A strange, painful bonding process. But every bruise was a sign of affection.

These days it’s all acoustic, alt-country shows at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for me. Not so much moshing at those. Probably just as well. But there’s still a part of me that wants to try that other gig-going rite of passage: the stage dive. Maybe it's time for me to book tickets for the Stuffies reunion tour.

Spotify linky:
The Wonder Stuff – Unbearable

(Regular readers won’t be in the least bit surprised to hear that my Dad hated this song – I’m not picking these deliberately, he just hated a lot of my music.)

On this day ... 1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

“I can usually tell that I’m having a good day as I start walking into things. This evening I walked into a wall!”

Monday, 7 June 2010

'Just Like Heaven' - Dinosaur Jr (1989)

“Strange as angels”

Ahhh … flexi discs. That’s right kids, in the days before CD cover mounts, the music mags used to give away tracks on square wobbly vinyl. You can guess how good they sounded. To stop them warping, you had to place them on another record and then weigh them down with spare change. This all required a bit more patience than playing an MP3. But we loved them,

The one above is a Blast First double-header from The Catalogue. Lunachicks take the lead, but I picked it up for Dinosaur Jr. Here they are being brilliantly Dinosaur Jr all over a cracking cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’. Bliss. I’d first heard this late one night on the John Peel show and smiled ear to ear. And then it abruptly stopped. Which usually meant Peel had pressed the wrong button again. But this time it was all part of the song. I have no idea to this day why it ends like that. But now I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m all for sudden endi

Spotify linky:
(Mind your ears with this one.)

Spotify bonus linky - the original version:
The Cure – Just Like Heaven

Sunday, 6 June 2010

'World In Motion' - Englandneworder (1990)

“There’s only one way to beat them:
Get round the back”

My interest in the World Cup begins and ends with this record. It was the only year I knew the name of anyone in the squad. “Oh, yeah, John Barnes. Great rapper.” And it was bemusing to see the nation embrace our most obstinate and wilfull indie heroes. This is a band that for years wouldn’t do interviews or even appear on their own album sleeves, and now here they were on TOTP gurning with Gazza.

It was New Order’s last release on Factory Records, fact fans. And originally titled ‘E For England’ until the FA pulled their worried and frowny faces. Don’t say you never learn anything reading these posts. (Though you can say, ‘You just looked that up on Wikipedia’ – I wouldn’t be able to argue with that.)

It’s a big shame they never got round to writing their long-rumoured Eurovision entry. Maybe there’s a chance yet. The petition starts here.

Spotify linky:
England New Order – World In Motion

My life in passport photos - Part 2

Woolworth's photo booth, 1990 - aged 19.
Tie-dye shirt from Kensington Market (£10, or £15 for 2).

On this day ... 1990 (aged 19)

Scribblings from my diary …

“I hope New Kids On The Block don’t make any more records this year.”

Saturday, 5 June 2010

'Snake Dance' - The March Violets (1984)

“Pay my price in pearls of wisdom,
Tell me stories of my fame”

For three years at the end of the Eighties, every stitch I wore came from Kensington Market. You could find everything you wanted across its three floors. Well … as long as everything you wanted was kinda gothy or punky. A real rag-tag collection of treasures and people were to be found as you tried to orienteer yourself through the dark, narrow passages between overstuffed stalls. It was like walking into a scene from Blade Runner.

Long-tailed, over-sized Robert Smith-style shirts. Multi-buckled suede ‘winkle-pickers’. Ex-army trench coats. Poorly printed Mary Chain t-shirts. Sisters of Mercy bootlegs. My bags would be bulging. I was never quite brave enough to get my hair cut in the basement barbers or try the food, but you really could have lived there – and many of the more curious looking folk that I saw around me probably did.

Don’t look for it now, as someone decided this delightfully individual London landmark should make way for another hotel about 10 years back. It’s much missed, and has got me thinking about other wonderful places I can never visit again: the Luminaire cinema; the Astoria, the (original) Intrepid Fox. Hmm … more of all those another time.

Spotify linky:
The March Violets – Snake Dance

On this day ... 1990 (aged 19)

Scribblings from my diary …

“It’s off to HMV Trocadero with Matt and we see Henry Ramsey from Neighbours!”

Friday, 4 June 2010

'Sight Of You' - Pale Saints (1989)

“What’s going to happen?
How will I know …
when things are back the way they used to be before?”

“For beds in Reading, the place to be heading is Reading Bedding.” Fact. (Well, according to an advert that used to play continuously on local station Radio 210. I hate that I remember this jingle so well.) For shoes in Reading, I’m not so sure. But that’s where my Dad sent me to get some ‘smart’ shoes (which translated as something without buckles or pointy toes) for my college interview. Instead I came back with this record. My Dad wasn’t too pleased.

He sent me back to Reading the next day and I just bought the first pair I saw. I wore them once. Yet I’ve listened to this record probably every month for 21 years. There’s something in the lolloping bass line and the dejected vocals. Better than any pair of shoes (high praise indeed).

Spotify linky:

On this day ... 1982 (aged 11)

Scribblings from my diary ...

“Go to the cinema and see ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Buy a poster.”

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

'Serpent's Kiss' - The Mission (1986)

“Forever young
and blessed with nameless graces”

The Mission at Guildford University in November 1986 wasn’t my first concert. (That would probably be Basil Brush at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon when I was about 6.) But it was my first without any parents/guardians. In fact, I went on my lonesome since I was ‘the only Goth in the village’.

These days, it seems like 15 is the average age at any gig. But back then, when I was 15, I was certainly the youngest in that small, sweltering hall by a good couple of years. But we were all goth brothers. Me and the Eskimos. Snake dancing through the dry ice. Probably just as well I was alone – no-one wants to see that.

Formed from the splinters of The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission had released two great EPs over the summer and even managed to get their (somewhat DIY) videos played on the Indie section of The Chart Show – which in those days was a dazzling achievement for the groups I liked. It’s where I first heard ‘Serpent’s Kiss’ and I was smitten. Now their first album was out and it felt like this tour was a giant celebration – complete with confetti, human pyramids and Newcastle Brown.

My dad picked me up – just down the road a bit of course, to maintain some sense of cool (yes, I said cool – I know the very fact that I was at a goth gig negates any claim to coolness, but whatever). The tour poster was immediately Blu-tacked to my door and the Melody Maker gig guide became a weekly highlight of my teenage years. More of that another time.

Spotify linky: