Sunday, 11 September 2016

Love of Reggae

Better known as Prince Buster, Cecil Bustamente Campbell was a pioneer of bluebeat, ska and rock steady.

With the sad news of his passing, I felt it was high time I wrote about my love of reggae (on this blog that's mainly about indie rock). It's a genre and a longstanding passion of mine that few of my friends and family are aware of, to be honest. I've been building up a small but precious collection over the years.

I know that my draw to reggae can be pinpointed back to the reggae pop hits of my teens in the early 90s - It Keeps Raining, as covered by Bitty McLean was one of the first singles I bought on tape. Baby I Love Your Way by Big Mountain was a massive smash hit song of one of the greatest summers of my teens, a song that my classmates used to sing by the swings at lunchtime. Shine by Aswad was another perfect August summer's day burst of pop. All this gloriously upbeat, warmth and all these lilting, bass-happy, love songs being around grounded me in my love of reggae.

Maybe what cemented it all, was years later, after turning to guitar music, getting into The Clash, feeling and appreciating reggae's influence and also their use of dub bass and reggae time signature in their punk songs. The Clash's cover of Pressure Drop was pivotal - and many of the songs on the band's first album too (particularly, their version of Police and Thieves - although I'm aware that this wasn't received well by Jnr Murvin and Lee Perry - and their own White Man in Hammersmith Palais. In their later catalogue, of course, the almighty Guns of Brixton, surely their pinnacle feat).

The legendary imprint, Trojan Records brought out some superb boxsets of compilation series, really accessible stuff suited to the curious beginner. There was Rock Steady, collections of Dub and so on. Those boxsets were 3 discs, and came cheap, between £6 and £12 in shops like Fopp and HMV. Island Records brought out a great compilation called Islands in the Sun, too. They've been my education - covering great breadth of artists and versions. 70s and 80s films like The Harder They Come and Babylon were also influential to me (I even had to track down one of the films on VHS from eBay as it was yet to come out on DVD).

One book I would recommend is: Young, Gifted and Black, The Story of Trojan Records, for setting the historic scene and naming the important figures and a look-back on the context for reggae's development. I've seen books like The Rough Guide series which look useful too, for learning your stuff.

I love digging around at record fairs, discovering specialist record shops - Soul Brother Records in Putney, Honest Johns in Kensal, and People's Sound on the once infamous All Saints Road in W11. I have a few albums on vinyl, but it's a costly genre as it sounds best on wax.

I thought it was long overdue that I write a music blog post about my all-time favourite reggae songs. Mostly, rock steady, as I've come to realise that along with dub, it's my favourite genre.

Pat Kelly: Somebody's Baby:
A song that can always raise me up - and I love the female power of it, and the use of patois - Queen of The World, by Lloyd & Claudette:

Of course, Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals:

The Harder They Come, by Jimmy Cliff:

Johnny Too Bad, by The Slickers:

Dub from Jnr Murvin:

007 (Shanty Town), by Desmond Dekker:

Rudies All Around, by Joe White:

Rock Steady itself, from Alton Ellis:

And the mighty Al Capone, by Prince Buster:

Sunday, 20 September 2015

In anticipation of my first Morrissey concert

It's not that I stand by every word this man could ever utter ‐ nor that I could forgive him anything... It's the songs, and it's his voice, and how ‐ even to this day  he can be a saviour of sorts*.

That it's taken me 20 years to be going to see Morrissey in concert I can't begin to explain, but nonetheless I am excited. And it's his solo work I want to hear. I've gradually concluded that his voice became deeper, stronger, at its best after The Smiths. There is such a wealth of work, and maybe his lyrics and song subjects became more varied, and those unique and overwhelmingly great and fascinating melodies are rife.

World Peace is None of Your Business is an anthem for these times, so I'd hope for either that song as powerful opener in concert, or I can hear Kiss Me A Lot as triumphant introduction to the night:
Also hoping for Speedway as a closer ‐ those drums, those lyrics and the vocal delivery, immense:
An unlikely wild card song I would love to hear is Jack The Ripper, as I've just rediscovered/remembered how powerful it is, and how much stronger it sounds performed live:
Morrissey fever is apace. I'm reflecting a lot on certain periods of my life: unavoidably, because he helped define swathes of my life, and connected me to many people, ideas and things. I'm also reading a load of old interviews compiled in book form. I've ordered his new novel from the library, and they are going to buy it in which is brilliant.

More thoughts to follow later, I think.

  (*in the nonreligious, literal sense.)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The early albums of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and teenage summers past

I can't imagine a band as weird (and young) and experimental and exotic sounding as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci existing now. This band caught me off guard, in the mid 1990s, aged 15, enough to rabidly scrawl the band's name on the back of my homework book: spelled GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MONKEY, of course.

From haunting, childish ballads about picnic hampers, to unabashed, anthemic Welsh language jollity, to what sounded like acid trips in the woods, this band soundtracked my transition from GCSE revision to starting sixth form, and they were incredible.

I only tracked down the band's Lucy's Hamper EP in the last five years or so, as hopes of a provincial, commercial music shop selling it at the time were vaingloriously shallow... Getting hold of the band's Ankst Records releases at the time was a real coup, being where I was. I was yet to approve of my parents' record collections, so all this 70s style acid soaked folk mixed with xylophones, recorders, synths, and whatever else Gorky's felt like dabbling with literally blew my mind. Growing up when I did, I can't help but think that teens these days might not be quite so fazed (and dazed) in the here and now, what with all the accessible past. And yet, as I say, I can't imagine anyone dabbling like this, creating anything as imaginative as this. Times are so desperately drab. John Peel is surely running around kicking things over in disgust as he looks down...

The simplicity and stripped back experimentalism of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's early album, Tatay, has the sound of a bunch of young pals delighting in home recording. They've learnt their instruments, but the elements of fun and exuberance are so clear. The colours, the textures created are alive and wild.

Tatay, followed by Bwyd Time, were albums full of ludicrous songs. The band dressed as wizards in a forest on one CD sleeve served to stoke the sense of psychedelic. Cartoons of mystical elves and recruits from Puff the Magic Dragon adorned sleeves too, and I drank it all in soberly but wide eyed and keen, in disbelief.

The intro to the album Bwyd Time, of the same name, probably serves as a perfectly bizarre starting point:
As I listen to the album again, two songs in particular stand out still, and are still evocative of a wonderful summer of 18 years ago:
Miss Trudy, a wacky, dramatic, funny song about violin lessons and smashed up violins that's also a tribute in pretty ballad form.
Oraphis Yn Delphie is a fantastic instrumental song that follows Miss Trudy on the album. It's a swirling haze of brass and playful, sweet humming, simply like nothing else. Certainly not like Menswear or Supergrass!!!

After those albums came the single Patio Song, which was one of the most brilliant, vivid, lilting, alluringly tuneful singles a young teenager could hear. Totally at odds with all the brash 'Britpop' that had come before. Casually breaking into the Welsh language was a natural part of the song, and I only sang along to it more fiercely, even if I hadn't a clue what was being sung. There was no internet about then, so I can be forgiven for just going along with things, open minded, unable to decipher. Whatever it was, it was fucking amazing! Jools Holland saying of the Welsh language singing: 'That in itself deserves a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen', must have sounded like so much insulting bullshit to the band as they appeared on his show. Though it did feel revolutionary to English speakers, and exciting to me as a teenager, it was the band's mother tongue and it was more about our attitudes and our acceptance than offering a patronising 'Well done'!

Diamond Dew as a single was equally heartstopping, then I bought Young Girls and Happy Endings with its super pop catchiness, which was on the radio often. I helped both get into the top 50 of the charts.

The band delighted me so much, they were honestly a hugely pivotal part of why I chose to go and study at a university in Wales for a time.

I can't boast to have learned Welsh, but I do still carry massive amounts of fondness for Gorky's, and they remain truly creatively great.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Brix And The Extricated, at the 100 Club, 29th May 2015

Brix was a pivotal part of many of The Fall's best creative periods. The thrill of her returning to music, with intentions to publish an autobiography, is still reverberating. A moot point for some, but for me this club gig with other former Fall members outstrips anything the Mark E Smith group have done in a decade. While Kicker Conspiracy, CREEP, Hit The North, Dr Faustus, LA, Big New Prinz, Totally Wired, Cruisers Creek are songs that wouldn't fill up a usual Fall setlist nowadays, they are played resoundingly powerfully tonight – and are all we could wish for and more. It's not the hankering for the old, but hearing these songs fronted by the almighty and wonderful Brix in such a commanding manner.

Whilst Brix is clearly reliving the glory of 80s and 90s Fall, and must have a lot of great memories, she is also buoyant about the present moment, being frontwoman, innovating a cracking set of songs. This is a new and absorbing experience. Certain Fall fans faithful to Mark E Smith as centrifugal overlord are wrongly wary. Questioning Brix's credentials is not an option: she has nothing to prove. Hearing this batch of songs and many more from those years, emphasises her imagination, ideas, contributions through several crucial epochs of The Fall. In the interim between her departure from the MES-led Fall and this current venture, Brix had a pop career – Adult Net, a sunny sounding rock act with gentle, lovely vocals that represent a different side of her – now she's here playing her favourite old Fall songs, and she's singing with more fierce force and power than Mark E Smith. Her voice is deep and dark. The intent in her delivery is full of sure-fire strength. Wilful ignorance or gendered contempt from a certain kind of Fall fan is not to be tolerated. Pining for MES ('it's not The Fall without Mark!') is tiresome. How about instead opening your ears and mind to a positive alternative from someone who was equally a key player in the finest Fall achievements? Mark E Smith is a great, but it must be admitted that the live shows have become poor: continual celebration of frothy, drunk mutterings as spectacle becomes hollow and sad (Mark can be sharper, and all the better for it).

Brix's confidence and control show her seriousness of purpose. With the celebrated Hanley brothers on bass and drums, and Fall Heads Roll era Steve Trafford on guitar, this is no tribute: this is still the music of legend very much alive. Lay of the Land is a surprise highlight of the set, and that classic, crunching, tight, rhythmic sound so definitive of early Fall kicks up a storm. Likewise, 2 X 4 is a surprise and heavyweight addition. We are spoilt with Hit the North and Mr Pharmacist - and Big New Prinz, possibly Brix's defining moment (from The Fall's most overlooked LP, I Am Kurious Oranj), is the perfect closer to a compelling gig. Brix shouting the lyric: 'He is not appreciated!' seems at odds and feels poignant (she must be appreciated!). This isn't about nostalgia because the new songs sound beyond worthy in comparison, and the old stuff has been enlivened anew. If Brix and The Extricated are to be a long-term concern, they threaten to surpass current Fall standards by a long shot. These are invigorating times.


U.S. 80s-90s
Feeling Numb
Leave the Capitol
2 X 4
(a new song)
Cruiser's Creek
(2 new songs)
Hotel Bloedel
Dead Beat Descendant
Totally Wired
Lay of the Land
Hit the North
Mr Pharmacist
Big New Prinz

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Housemartins are the band of the moment here

The band whose music most sums up these times, for me, is The Housemartins. Just before the UK election, the animated anthems from the band's first album summed up many sentiments: Freedom about the voting system and power ('So this is freedom, they must be joking'), or Sheep about people thoughtlessly romanticising certain parties, tribe-style, sometimes rooted in the past ('It's the sheep we're up against!'), or Sitting on The Fence about voters' indifference.

It became very clear that I'd overlooked this band at previous opportunities over the years, not listened to the lyrics with care. I could sense the politics in my teens, even with the happy clappy Happy Hour hit single that's actually more sour than most care to realise, but only recently have I appreciated the intensity and brilliantly spoton, political vitriol abundant in the rest of their catalogue.

Now the shock of the election outcome is somehow settling into reality, The Housemartins seem an even more pertinent band to be listening to right now. I want to sing out these protest songs loud and clear.

The World's On Fire sums up the feeling most citizens woke up with on Friday 8th May:

'Oh! What a beautiful morning
Oh! What a beautiful day
What a sickening feeling
It took this long to make it
Now we're throwing it away.'

You Better Be Doubtful feels like the ultimate depiction of what we're stuck/faced/threatened with. The demonisation of (predominantly peaceful) protesters as 'hate mobs' by The Daily Mail over the weekend as well as countless cases of students being banned from protesting in public or being threatened with criminal results has just come... we're losing our right to speak up against. Not only this but the Conservatives had it amongst their policies that they would 'scrap' the Human Rights Bill (scrap the Human Rights Bill, it's worth repeating since it's in no way a casual thing...!).

'You better be doubtful
You better beware
You better not shout now
You better not care'
Where Build once seemed like an innocent ballad, it now looms like an anthem from the government who so aggressively push everyone towards buying property (not even calling it a 'home', as a home is to live in, not invest in and make money from.. and yes, we do need more housing, but there are other options like addressing the situation of countless empty properties first, as well as not bulldozing social housing to make way for building of more costly or even luxury flats). Since first writing this post, a certain newspaper has started up competitions to 'Win a Buy To Let House', and I feel more disgust and doom about attitudes towards housing, than ever.

My partner thinks that The Housemartins outsmart The Smiths, and I'm veering towards agreeing. I would love a Housemartins reformation. The band warrant far greater reassessment, respect, and so on.

Friday, 20 March 2015


Feel like remembering some of the great orchestral indie pop bands of the mid and late 90s.

I rediscovered Animals That Swim not so long ago, as written about here. Whipping Boy have been a constant favourite. Now I'm recalling the band Jack. I collected a couple of singles/EPs over the years, and certain songs made it onto compilation tapes often. There are various distinctive song titles I recall, and hearing more of their songs on Youtube, I'm easily transported back to my teenage bedroom, half expecting Steve Lamacq to chirp in with a back announcement on the radio...

What a gloriously sophisticated sounding, lyrical, romantic lot Jack produced. There was an otherworldliness to their songs, hearing them as a teen who was yet to start going out... picturing Parisian style cafes of London, suave, bookish people, dimly lit clubs playing debonair songs of the 60s, dramatic romances, that sort of stuff...

Looking back, it's pretty criminal that it was the likes of Rialto that were having hits and primetime TV championing. Passable pop rather than seriously good songwriting... standing up as a 
a bit indie boyband and lightweight in comparison. Ditto with the likes of My Life Story having repeat comeback concerts and reminisces in recent years... I quite liked them, but they were nothing like as soaring, mature, dreamy, literary. Introspection mixed with unaffected grandeur, Jack were one of those perfect indie bands.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Chrissie Hynde live at Koko, Camden, 16th December, 2014

Brass in Pocket was instantly put onto one of the first compilation tapes I made, as a teenager, in the 90s*, at a time when I was digging around for music from the past that fascinated me. It's strange that I never pursued the band beyond that one song, somehow, until recent years. First, acquiring the band's debut LP from someone who was happy to pass it on. Then, late last year, I was curious about seeing Chrissie Hynde live, when a date was announced in London. I have a friend who is a great fan, and the idea of seeing a strong voiced female performing really appealed. I don't have enough musical heroines, least of all whom are frontwomen. I instantly booked up, despite the hefty fee, as I was working my socks off and deserved some fun.

I bought Chrissie Hynde's solo album, Stockholm, amazed that this album was not only recently released, but was her first solo work. It's a marvellous album! Strong, deep, low female voices are the ones I love best, maybe because I more easily match that if singing along. The album lit up my world, felt strident, ace. So many good tunes, excellently produced, and with her brilliant voice and lyrics to the fore. It's odd that at the age of 34 I should be seeking strong female icons to admire**, but I revelled in finding Chrissie Hynde to be just this, last autumn. A couple more Pretenders albums on vinyl were bought up in secondhand record shops, and many instances of singalongs and euphoric dancing followed... until it was time for seeing Chrissie live.

I don't know all that much about Chrissie Hynde, personally. The music stands strong alone, for me, and that's also what counts. I've heard negative things said about her, derision, but I'll go with forming my own opinion based absolutely on her musical output.

It felt genuinely exciting to be heading over to the gig, and I rarely feel that old, pure, innocent feeling about gigs. My friend felt the same. We were instantly engrossed by the range of merchandise on sale at Koko, sweatshirts and fanzines. I bought the fanzine style programme right away, it was only £5 too, rare to find such things so affordable! Gazing at a T Shirt resplendent with a full length Chrissie Hynde rocking out with her guitar, I just thought how rare it is to see the image of women with guitars, on T Shirts, in culture, anywhere...

Seeing Chrissie Hynde centre stage, with guitar, blew me away, too. I cannot apologise for saying all this, because what I felt are revelations, and that's to be celebrated. I found myself dumstruck and thinking: just when have I seen a female, right up in the centre of attention, playing rock music, leading a band, all eyes on her, screams of adulation from both women and men? People were just shouting her name. She replied with a playful 'f*** off', which was hilarious and humble. She had so much presence, and her voice was incredible. Her guitar sparkled gold and felt like an emblem to me and my friend. We both left the gig, saying how we wanted to pick up our dusty guitars and play music again.

Since this gig took place, in November, last year, my friend has bought a new guitar from Denmark Street, and I have been there to pick up new strings and music books. I like to think that we've both become more powerful, impassioned, inspired, driven!

It was a really emotional gig. I loved hearing all the songs from Stockholm. You Or No One is fabulously 60s shimmery girl-group pop. Like in the Movies is really cool. And, Dark Sunglasses has a great pop hit sound.

I wasn't expecting Pretenders Greatest Hits territory, but we were privileged to be gifted Don't Get Me Wrong, a pure groove-along. Then there was Back in The Chain Gang, which has really grown on me lately. We also got Precious (!), and a pre-Christmas present (alas without faux snow), in 2000 Miles.

The dance at the end that the band did 'for the grebo fans' was surreal, and felt like it showed humility towards the Pretenders' roots and a sense of fun for the original fans. I can't escape mentioning: that pout! Chrissie pouts away to perfection, as she ever did.

I'm looking forward to the wealth I have to read about and hear from Chrissie Hynde, in interviewee mode, and musically. And to dancing my vegan boots till their worn, again, some time...

Found a gig setlist for that night, here.

*The song was wedged in between Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, and Somewhere in my Heart by Aztec Camera... I took a little while to improve on the ways of mix tapes...
**Interesting to note that Chrissie Hynde was 34 years old when Don't Get Me Wrong was in the charts. Inspiring to know!