Tuesday, 21 October 2014

THE PHROGS - "BABY, I'M GONE" (2001)

The Phrogs were a regular fixture as the live attraction in Mod and 60s clubs back in the mid to late 90s. I saw them more times than I can remember and they were easily one of the better bands doing that circuit. They had a fiery British Beat/R&B thing going on and covered things “Leave My Kitten Alone” which sticks in my mind. The other thing I recall, which made them unique, is they had a frontman who didn’t do a great deal other than shake his maracas, blow a bit of harp and sing the occasional song. He did look cool though. The band, from Southend-on-Sea, were centred on the drummer who not only bashed his kit but sang and during a few songs (I think “I’m A Man” was one) played the organ at the same time. Some trick that. Now, they have a 7” single, “Baby I’m Gone”, out on Manchester’s Crocodile Records. Recorded back in 2001 at Toe Rag studios, it’s a right Elevators/Watchband rave-up. There’s also this breathless footage of them filmed at Channel 4 in the same year. If you can avert your eyes from the vest you're in for a treat. The band are still gigging and the single is available now from www.vinylrevivalmanchester.com

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

GRAHAM DAY & THE FOREFATHERS - GOOD THINGS (2014)

There’s a moment after the lute solo in “Sucking Out My Insides”, and just before the orchestra and choir come in, when for the first time in his career Graham Days breaks into a beautiful falsetto to deliver the song’s heart-wrenching final verse.

Yeah, right. No, what the listener finds on the first album by Graham Day & The Forefathers are a dozen new versions of songs from Day’s back catalogue (six Solar Flares, three Prisoners, two Gaolers, one Prime Movers) delivered in a reassuringly familiar manner. In fact, they aren’t really what one would call new versions – there’s nothing like Bob Dylan playing Name That Tune with his audience or even Howlin’ Wolf psychedelicizing his blues – Day’s simply got songs out of storage and blasted the dust off with a crate load of Medway TNT. These are brash and boisterous songs performed with super-charged, pent-up energy. It’s like Graham Day of old, only more so. His vocals and wah-wah guitar assaults are the stuff of legend and with Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard’s formidable rhythm section striking everything with extra gusto it’s a heavyweight collection.

If accepted wisdom tells us Dave Davies’s crunching power-chords gave birth to heavy metal then it doesn’t take a DNA test on the Jeremy Kyle Show to show Good Things as one of its errant offspring. It’s such a hard rocking album one can’t help wonder how much of Day’s audience continues to be populated by Mods whose traditional musical preferences lie elsewhere. There is, it seems, space for at least one guitar hero and rock god in everyone’s life. The only time I take my air-guitar off its stand is to play along to Graham Day and I snapped a few strings giving it a workout to Good Things.

Much of Day’s audience though has dipped in and out over the years so some song choices here will be more familiar than others but Good Things is a great leveller. Covering four bands and about twenty five years of song writing it would take an incredibly perceptive ear to distinguish the origins of each track; such is Day’s singular vision to no-nonsense tunes.  

It’s fleetingly tempting to listen to these tracks back-to-back with the originals versions to play better/worse but that’s not the point. Good Things is best enjoyed without drawing direct comparisons with the originals; I’ve pointedly not listened to the versions back-to-back but my hunch is some are slightly improved. Day’s music has never been something to over-analyse, so think of this as a live-in-the-studioBest Of Graham Day album. Stick it on your record player, whack it up as loud as your neighbours will allow, and enjoyGood Things

Good Things by Graham Day & The Forefathers is released on Own Up Records at the band’s gig at the 229 Club in London on Friday 31st October.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

THE PRIMITIVES - SPIN-O-RAMA (2014)


I was bemoaning recently there hasn’t been any great albums released this year; a remark which prompted a host of suggestions that I duly ploughed through. There were some good songs here and there but very few albums which kept my attention for the duration. Of those that did, I’ve not feel suitably inspired to listen again. Much was far too earnest and not a lot of fun. I thought I was becoming easier to please; maybe not. Maybe I’m more of an old stuck in the mud fuddy-duddy than I care to admit.

And then, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared with the new long-player from the Primitives. Spin-O-Rama is half an hour of glorious pop classism: the intoxicating blend of old and new; of familiarity and discovery. Why reinvent the wheel when it all it needs is a shiny polish? It’s a record packed with tightly constructed songs by a band still enamoured with 60s girl groups, the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, Blondie and eyes-blinking-in-the-morning-sun psychedelia. It was a heady mix when they made their classic Lovely in 1988 and it’s a combination which remains irresistible. Everything one loved in that LP is present and correct here. It’s the fifth Primitives album but feels like the true successor to their sparkling debut. They know pop music boils down to having a couple of verses, a chorus and/or a hook. There’s no need to dress it up too much, to make it more complicated. Sure, embellish the basic guitar, bass and drums a little but keep things short and sweet (or sometimes sour).  

That isn’t to say, by any means, the Primitives are either lacking in imagination or are attempting to regurgitate their past, even if they echo it. There’s so much crammed into this one record - it whizzes past at such a lick (eleven songs in 28 minutes) it’s difficult take all in at once - it begs, and gets, repeated plays. Whether Tracy Tracy is crooking her little finger at the listener or Paul Court takes off on a giddying space flight the effect is close to bliss. The title track introduces itself like a distant cousin of “Crash” with a similar finger picking guitar motif; “Hidden In The Shadows” romps after it with simple rhymes and pounding rhythms; “Lose The Reason” is a big rolling and tumbling duet; and the ludicrously intoxicating rush of “Petals” surely has to be released as a single so I can set the video recorder to tape them playing it on Top of The Pops. “Working Isn’t Working” - with a hint of the Monkees’ “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” - has Paul singing “I just want to sit doing nothing”. That Paul took 23 years since the last album of original Primitives songs to make this I’ll take him at his word. It’s a fab track, thank heavens he finally rustled up the enthusiasm and knuckled down to get it together.

That enthusiasm pours from the grooves. Spin-O-Rama is the sound of a band enjoying what they do, with little to prove, free from expectations, free from record company pressure. For all their perceived perkiness they've had their prickly moments (and aren't half as cheery as one might think). Lest we forget after the Prims brush with fame their first single from album number two, Pure, had them stroppily protesting they were “Sick Of It”. Even though Pure (1989) and Galore (1991) were good much of their exuberant spirit dissolved and only fully returned in 2012 with the joyful covers "comeback album" Echoes and Rhymes. They’ve come full circle, Spin-O-Rama, if you will. Back to their beginning, back to the spirit of those early independent singles – “Really Stupid”, “Stop Killing Me” etc - and it suits them perfectly.

Anyone who has ever cared for the Primitives will love this LP, and anyone coming to the band from scratch should start here. Either way, it could be the most enjoyable new music you hear this year.  

Spin-O-Rama by The Primitives is released by Elefant Records on Monday 13th October 2014. They play the Garage, Highbury & Islington, London on Saturday 18th October (the only UK date in support of the LP).

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

THE SMITHS on CHARLIE'S BUS (1984)

It's April 1984 and The Smiths appear on TV-AM's SPLAT riding something called Charlie's Bus. "Where are we going?" asks one of the many children on the bus. "We're all going mad," replies Morrissey. "I thought we were going to Kew Gardens," says the kid. No flies on that young lady.

Off they trot to Kew Gardens and who should turn up but Sandie Shaw to serenade them with "Jeanne", a song about graves and failure.

Thanks to @binkydawkins for sending in this gem.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

FIVE THIRTY'S TARA MILTON BACK IN THE STUDIO. KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN FOR SERPENTINE WALTZ


Oh Tara, it’s been far, far too long. As one of the driving forces of Five Thirty, Tara Milton released Bed in 1991, an album which to this day sits firmly in my all-time top ten. (See review). In 1998, with The Nubiles, he released the uncompromising Mindblender, a record which sounds more impressive with each passing year. Since then, silence. Until now.

After years in the wilderness, Tara is back in the studio working on a brand new album, Serpentine Waltz. He says:

“It's been a long time, since I've made a record in earnest. That was never intended to be, after my last band The Nubiles split, I felt it was time for me to stand on my own two feet for a while; although as a musician and a song writer, I felt that I was only just getting started. I made a silent pact to myself, that I should return to the world, and come what may, if I were any kind of writer, then surely life would provide all of the necessary ingredients for me to furnish my songs.

Being alone and without a band for the first time since I was 15 years old, I fully expected to get lost, and that I did. In fact, it's true to say that my life skills were so far adrift, I was found floundering… But still there's a unique excitement that comes with being lost.

In March 2002 I landed in Japan, pretty much penniless, or yen less if you prefer? For about 6 weeks I was as sick as a dog. A 'girlfriend' put me up for a while. I can understand her frustration, sometimes she would chase me around her apartment with sharp implements, slashing at the Japanese shoji blinds, like a scene from The Shining. Gleefully, I was forced to consign to my perdition.

This collection of songs, Serpentine Waltz, represent to some extent me getting back on my feet over the years. I'd probably describe the songs as, 'Kitchen Sink Dramas' but with abstract twists and a late night vibe! I will generally tell my story through an emphatic third party.”

With the album approximately half-finished, Lee Rourke, who runs the amazing five-thirty.co.uk site, has helped Tara set up a Kickstarter page to raise funds to complete the project, with Little Barrie’s Barrie Cadogan and George Shilling, who mixed Bed, on board. Pledge your support now and when Serpentine Waltz is released your donation and your album (and perhaps other goodies) will wing its way to you. It doesn't take a great leap of faith to know it promises to be a special record. 

For more info, to hear work-in-progress, and details of how to get involved are available here. This project will only be funded if at least £2,500 is pledged by Friday Oct 24 2014, so get a wriggle on if you're interested. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

SEPTEMBER PLAYLIST


This month I have mostly been listening to…

1.  Lucille Bogan – “Till The Cows Come Home” (1932)
Sexually explicit songs have been around since time began but to hear the language used on recordings by Lucille Bogan in the 20s and 30s still comes as a shock to modern ears.  Check out her “Shave Me Dry” too, just not in front of the kids.

2.  The Brigands – “(Would I Still Be) Her Big Man” (1966)
Snarling vocals and lyrics, a nifty nagging guitar riff and the world’s biggest tambourine lay the foundations for The Brigands’ only 45, a well-produced garage punker straight outta New York City for Epic Records before they mutated into the Third Rail the following year.

3.  The Garden State Choir – “Who’s Over Yonder” (1967)
By jingo, The Garden State Choir were in one heck of a hurry to check over yonder for the Lord. Slow down brothers and sisters, soldiers of the cross, He’ll still be there when your time comes.

4.  Harper & Rowe – “The Dweller” (1968)
Or, as some wag on-line remarked when this was doing the rounds recently, “The P.Weller”. Remarkably Style Councilesque, “With Everything To Lose”/”Have You Ever Had It Blue?” in particular springing to mind. Surely a coincidence... 

5.  The Isley Brothers – “Sweet Seasons” (1973)
The Isleys cut three Carole King tunes on Brother, Brother, Brother; this summer breezey one is a joy.

6.  The Staple Singers – “Trippin’ On Your Love” (1981)
Back in the late 80s a then-current Arthur Miles version of this filtered its way into “our” clubs. I distinctly remember it played regularly at a Northern Soul do at Drummonds by King’s Cross (Chuck Jackson’s “All Over The World” spun next to it). It divided opinion but, trying to be a progressive thinker and embracing modern soul at the time, I loved it. Had no idea it was originally by the Staples. Listening now, Arthur’s version is still pretty good but the Staples one is sublime. Sing along with Mavis to that intro: “I don’t need no speed or weed…

7.  Paikan & The Mighty Mocambos – “Ballad of the Bombay Sapphires” (2010)
Thirsty work being this goddam cool.

8.  Big Boss Man – “Aardvark” (2014)
The new Big Boss Man album, Last Man on Earth, sees the band continue to chance their arm away from the safety of their well-established funky soul-jazz instrumentals by incorporating elements of folk and psych rock to the mix plus a few more vocal tracks. As laudable as that is, and they remind me of Mother Earth in that mode, the highlight of Last Man on Earth is the single “Aardvark”; with swinging Hammond, punchy horns, bongo groove and soul claps it’s Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames at the Flamingo revisited. 

9.  Martin Carr – “The Santa Fe Skyway” (2014)
The Boo Radleys were a bit hit or miss but this sunny lead track from Carr’s new The Breaks album definitely falls in the former category. The “Shaft”-style outro came as a surprise (although it won’t now to you, sorry). 

10.  The Oxbow Lake Band – “Mr. Strange” (2014)
Great opener to their Boy Angus EP, Aberdeenshire’s The Oxbow Lake Band throw everything but the kitchen sink into this fiery floorshaker. Early Dexys horns, some wicked flute, Hammond solos turned up to eleven, and a fag-throated vocalist who sounds a ringer for Chris Dean of the Redskins, who would’ve loved a track like this for themselves. Keep on keeping on.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

THE WHISPERERS (1967)


Dame Edith Evans is most remembered for her marvellous and much imitated exclamation of “A hand bag?” as Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but in 1968 she won a Best British Actress BAFTA and was nominated for a Oscar for her role as Mrs. Ross, an elderly lady, poor and alone in her flat, living on benefits, who hears voices in the taps and the silent wireless and believes her neighbour is being kept against her will in the flat above. 

Bryan Forbes’s film, based on a 1961 book by Robert Nicolson, is as bleak as they come. Frequently confused and deluded (although at times keenly observant) Mrs. Ross is visited by her thieving son who hides money in her flat which she discovers and believes is her long awaited inheritance. As Mrs. Ross grandly tells the Welfare Board she no longer requires assistance and plans a trip to Barbados her real troubles are only just beginning. I won’t to say too much more about events as I never understand why folk would want a full synopsis before watching.

There are no laughs or light hearted scenes to be found. With the exception of the man at the Welfare Board there are few likeable characters, they’re all out for themselves, usually at the expense of the vulnerable Mrs. Ross. Made in 1966 and released in the summer of 1967, The Whisperers was filmed in black and white, which only underscores the dark and gloomy atmosphere and increases the kitchen-sink feel. The clues to the year are few and far between (an old man looking blankly at a lava lamp and a couple of mildly beatniky teenagers) and the crumbling, decaying, slum streets which Mrs. Ross gingerly walks, filled with stray cats scavenging in dustbins, adds to the end-of-days mood.

Evans fully deserved the accolades for her role and there are plenty of other familiar faces to spot throughout: Nanette Newman, Gerald Sims, Avis Bunnage, Eric Portman, Michael Robbins, Leonard Rossiter and Oliver MacGreevy. It’s a tremendous, deeply moving film.