Holda You (I’m Psycho) to Honey

Day six of the blog post a day in May challenge

NEITHER is the toughest challenge in the world.

Certainly when you compare them to the world record Jamie McDonald has spent the last week breaking across the Docks from here – 524 miles on a treadmill in aid of his Superhero Foundation (check out adventureman.org for details or to donate, believe me he’s earned it).

But combining two different challenges has thrown up a few slightly different (slightly less exhausting) tests.

Listening to my iPod from A-Z is merely an excuse to listen to music and provides the simple answer if cannot decide on what to pick from the 13,713 tracks (sure it was more than that at one point).

And been able to do it at my own pace – very slowly at times.

But combine it with the attempt to write a blog post a day throughout May and it starts getting problematic.

Not the writing – although finding the time to get something down on screen without finishing it and posting some time around midnight is proving easier some days than others – but getting enough music under my belt.

Put simply, three A-Z posts in six days means catching myself up, even with a bit of a head start.

Recent form suggests three such posts would cover at least three months – far longer than planned but have had to stop listening to avoid too big a gap between listening and writing.

But with this challenge and a schedule mapped out for the first 20 days (including a novel solution for this problem which will be revealed when we get there), A-Z is down for today so let’s see what gems have popped up in the latest batch of listening.

Not a lot to be honest.

Partly because the need to write more regularly means we have only covered 53 tracks from White Denim to Torres.

Have fallen in holes, gone on holiday to Hollywood and home again, probably the most notable moment was the growing frustration while on the bike in the gym, waiting for the hidden track after several minutes of silence at the end of Holy Roller Novocaine.

And not just because it was Kings of Leon.

That’s slightly unfair. The first album from where it came was worth a listen, certainly at the time. Even went to see them live when the second album came out – at pretty much the exact moment their true worth was revealed.

The bearded, backswoodmen had transformed into slick, rock pin-ups on their way to omnipresent anthems and the attraction of anything after that debut album is a complete mystery.

Probably the musical highlight of this section was Holes by Mercury Rev, which popped up in album form and a live version (albeit with the ever-present threat of boogie-woogie piano after a Jools Holland intro).

Can remember my first hearing of Holes, mainly because it was (and still is) so different from anything else around.

Was sat in the car at a drive-through McDonalds in Newport one Sunday lunchtime (next to a supermarket which came with the chance of bumping into Nicky Wire in the aisles) en route to putting together the paper’s Monday sport supplement.

It must have been near Christmas because Danny Baker was asking Danny Kelly for his song of the year and he chose Holes. Spent the next few weeks listening to Deserter’s Songs, including a few nights lying on a sofa in a French ski resort while suffering from food poisoning.

Remarkably, Kelly choosing a song of the year for Baker on the radio was also my first exposure to Creep. Before it was a hit on re-release.

No idea when first heard Honey by Moby, not sure too many people are. Believe me, you know it – the one from that advert or background music that’s not Sigur Ros.

Billy Bragg popped up twice (nothing unusual there) with Home and The Home Front, while we grabbed a couple of punk holidays – In Cambodia with The Dead Kennedys and In The Sun with The Sex Pistols.

We stopped off at Hollywood 4-5-97 from American Music Club, from an album listened to on pretty much constant repeat for a few months but not for years. More from them in the near future.

And a couple of classic bits of Paul Simon – one born out of turbulent southern Africa, the other written on Widnes station.

Can’t be sure but almost certainly first heard Homeward Bound being played by my parents, certainly became aware of it (and much of Simon & Garfunkel’s catalogue) sat in the harbour in St Ives listening to a couple of buskers.

Always wanted to do the same – just a lack of talent getting in the way.

Homeless, not surprisingly, was a fairly regular part of the soundtrack of my African adventure and transports me back not just to under African skies but also to seeing Simon on the Graceland tour.

Not my usual live music experience but certainly one worth having.

Hey, maybe don’t have to listen to so many songs for each of these posts after all.

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Bonus Beats to The Boy Done Good

SOME are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them over a few beers in an Irish bar.

Well, not exactly greatness, more the role of manager for a band and the fact they are unknown to all but a select few readers of this blog – including band members themselves – suggests great seriously overplays my ability in the role.

The Mighty Badger was – and, geography, childhood issues and opportunity allowing, still is on fleeting occasions – a band producing some unique takes on well-known songs.

My first contact with them came shortly after moving to Cardiff as one of my first housemates – most notable for taping hour after hour of Jerry Springer to watch endlessly over the weekends and wearing a range of novelty animal slippers – would head off once a week to play guitar in a band.

My stay there was brief (there is only so much time you spend in your bedroom trying to drown out shouts of “Jerry, Jerry” from the main room TV), but a move across town and switch of jobs later, it came out that the new colleague leaning against the bar with me had been introduced when he popped round to visit my former flatmate.

A little more chatting and a few more beers revealed another of my new colleagues and a couple of the guys who had just joined our group of drinkers made up the band our Jerry Springer-loving guitarist had since left.

IMG_0037Over a considerable number of more beers across the following months, many of them in The City Arms, friendships were formed and my next move across Cardiff was into the drummer’s spare room.

As tended to be the case, one Saturday night found us in Dempsey’s, one of our revolving rota of different venues once we had moved on from our City Arms early evening meeting place.

And over the top of a table crowded with pint glasses came the question: “Why don’t you manage us?”

Quite what, apart from the contents of those now empty glasses, persuaded them my particular brand of no musical talent, complete ignorance of how these things worked and total lack of organisational skills made me the right person for the job, doubt even they could tell you.

But, for a while there, my role as fourth Badger (never officially been culled, but as the four of us now all live well apart, there’s not much call for that job to be revisited) involved a lot of ferrying and lugging gear around, arranging gigs (not enough of that), buying band drinks during gigs (way too much of that), persuading the landlord we were worth paying (and then handing most of if back over the bar) and sorting out the sound.

That last job was (drink buying apart) my key role at gigs and involved a crash course in twiddling knobs to see what worked (helped by a quick tutorial from one gig goer which basically resulted in me shifting amps a few inches and cranking the master knob up until the threat of bleeding ears became a reality).

Move around the gig listening in various spots, making occasional tweaks to the levels and somehow people assumed it wasn’t just guesswork – which it generally was, given that most of the tweaks involved turning everything up as loud as possible to counteract the drummer’s insistence on smacking everything at full whack.

Once the sound was vaguely passable – or everyone was drunk enough not to care – it was time to stand back, enjoy the gig and watch the reactions of those who had never borne witness to The Mighty Badger in full flow.

Nodding heads would be replaced by quizzical looks and swift conversations. Were they really listening to Lionel Richie’s Hello, the theme for Minder or Through The Barricades by Spandau Ballet played at full volume and flat out?

Generally, they were pretty well received once people realised exactly what was going on and we even branched out on a couple of tours – Nottingham, Skegness and Boston – alongside Truck (or Shit Truck as they preferred not to be called).

The essence of rock ‘n’ roll is surely sleeping in a car outside a venue in Skegness after watching a sizeable pre-gig crowd disappear along with the landlord to watch Stiff Little Fingers.

As I said, Badger sightings are fleeting nowadays, but they remain captured for posterity after a night in a studio to record the three-track Dirty Bristow EP. Sure some survive somewhere (we had boxes full of them), but we certainly shifted a fair few.

The tracks, Son of A Preacher Man apart, wouldn’t have been my choice from their repertoire and it doesn’t quite capture the live energy, but it also included Through The Barricades and Born To Run, which popped up in the latest short section through my iPod from NWA to Billy Bragg.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street BandWe also stumbled across Springsteen’s original – judge for yourself who does the “1-2-3-4” better – Born To A Family by The Go-Betweens and The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel, whose music first really entered my world watching a pair of buskers in the harbour at St Ives as a child.

Born In 69 by Rocket From The Crypt captures one of those moments in time from when it popped up on a C90, just as we turned up a picturesque valley road en route to a skiing holiday.

And Bottle Rocket by The Go! Team sparks memories of a friend’s trip to hospital after a mid-gig coming together with their bass player.

We’ll come back to that one, but let’s just say there was not much sympathy in the office when news of the incident came through.

 

 

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America to Angel

Hey Chel you know it’s kinda funny, Texas always seems so big
But you know you’re in the largest state in the Union
When you’re anchored down in Anchorage
Anchorage – Michelle Shocked

MICHELLE Shocked’s retelling of a letter received from a friend at the heart of ‘the largest state of the union’ is one of those lovely musical rediscoveries which pops up from time to time.

It earned a place in my collection and regular rotation back in the days of tapes and Walkmen, only to vanish as, briefly, vinyl and then the shimmering new invention of CDs took over.

AnchorageBut Anchorage resurfaced to provide the most obvious of titles for a post on my London to New York blog four years ago and wormed its way onto a number of playlists which have helped it into the top 20 of the most played tracks in my iTunes collection (currently ensconced at number 17 which, must admit, came as a bit of a surprise).

And boy did she – or, to be more accurate, her letter-writing friend – get it right. Alaska is big. Over the course of a little more than two weeks, we clocked up mile after mile (more than a thousand at one point without hitting a single traffic light) into the heart of the 50th state and a brief detour over the border into Canada and it is huge. And stunningly beautiful.

Chilkoot Lake, Haines, Alaska
Chilkoot Lake, Haines, Alaska

Locals will proudly tell you that you can cut Alaska in half and it would still be the two biggest states (“Pissing off Texans for 50 years” was a popular slogan as they celebrated half a century as part of the union) and such were the natural wonders on display around every corner, you can (almost) forgive them for giving the world Sarah Palin.

Anchorage itself is functional. Surrounded by some magnificent countryside (but that’s pretty much a given up in that part of the world), the state’s largest city is designed to withstand the harsh winters and supply those working all around it.

It also contains one of the most remarkable bars, Chilkoot Charlies. Not too much to look at from outside or even when you first go in, it unravels itself as you head through the various different parts as the night wears on – as it seems to do endlessly under the midnight sun.

There was lots of people, there was a band playing for hours on end, there was a bloke selling pizzas in the middle of the bar at 2am and there was a bloke from Philadelphia in the beer garden who was distinctly hostile until we got into a prolonged, passionate debate about baseball. Beyond that, it was all a bit hazy.

But it left an impression, as did much of Alaska and large chunks of America as a whole – which is where this section of the iPod journey came in.

Three very different songs simply titled America kicked things off – by Howler, Laura Veirs and Simon and Garfunkel’s finest moment, which is saying something, and provider of another blog post title on that trip from sea to shining sea.

To say nothing of America Snoring by Grant Lee Buffalo (lead singer Grant-Lee Phillips used to pop up as the town troubadour in The Gilmore Girls, fact fans), American English by Idlewild, American Idiot by Green Day, American Music by The Blasters and two versions of American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem (although apparently with the same vocal delivery on the acoustic version as on the fully plugged original).

That’s all somehow apt as travelling in America and music go hand in hand. There’s something about the wide open spaces which has infused so much of the sound produced there and a string of road trips to – to date – 39 of the 50 States have always involved plenty of live music.

And any road trip has to have a soundtrack to help eat up mile after mile.

Americana has become the hip phrase for some of that music – “Country music for people who like The Smiths” according to Billy Bragg – and it is a style that is increasing across my collection, none more so than that produced by Ryan Adams, who popped up again with Amy, one of the centrepieces from his classic break-up debut album Heartbreaker.

Throw in …And Carrot Rope by Pavement and this chunk of songs was dominated by our friends over the pond.

To go with all this Americanisation, this side of the Atlantic responded in this group of tracks with three versions of the quintessentially English Anarchy in the UK from the Sex Pistols.

And it rounded off in Bristol with Massive Attack’s Angel, but only after two tracks from Boston, Massachusetts with the same title from Belly and the Drop Nineteens, gazing through their fringes at their shoes in a run through of the early Madonna track.

Along the way, we have gone past the 300 mark – all 30 seconds of And You Will Know Them… by …Trail of Dead – reached 11,000 to go and got halfway through the As.

And we thought Alaska was big.

 

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