Date With The Night to Deado

BACK in the early days of this blog, an appearance by Echo and the Bunnymen prompted a recollection of my first proper gig (excluding, on musical grounds, being taken to watch Culture Club a few years earlier).

As well as triggering my teenage obsession with the Bunnymen (which still surfaces reasonably regularly and had me wallowing in the peerless B side of Ocean Rain just a few days ago), their Songs to Learn and Sing tour stop-off at Gloucester Leisure Centre was also the first live experience for actor Simon Pegg.

That confession also came with a recollection that those of us who were likely to don long black overcoats and spend hours dissecting music and lyrics by, to quote John Peel, ‘white boys with guitars’ were not overly well-served with live music on our doorstep in Gloucester.

SongsToLearnAndSingWhich is what prompted a bit of a telling off.

Still stick by that assertion, but a long-time friend who appears to be a relatively loyal reader (which rather narrows it down somewhat) was at a lot of those same gigs and remembers it rather differently.

She reeled off a list of gigs she had been to at the same venue – several of which had totally passed me by, either through lack of attention or some musical snobbery – and it was fairly impressive.

It was just compiled over the best part of a decade when those of us compiling a soundtrack to our teenage lives could have done with far more regular live outings and somewhere to see smaller, newer bands we had read about in the NME but were never going to fill the large box which was the sports hall at the Leisure Centre.

We eventually got one in the shape of Gloucester Guildhall – the old Mayor’s Parlour where generations of city children had assembled for their one invite to the annual Christmas Party, converted into an arts centre – which provided regular Friday night live music as my teens rolled towards an end and beyond (there’s a story about EMF and their video for Unbelievable, but we’ll get to that at some point, never mind an argument with the keyboard player of a minor indie band during their set).

And the Guildhall still offers an eclectic mix of live music and somewhere which needs frequenting a bit more often.

It also offers something the Leisure Centre never could – decent sound.

Far from flawless (but who needs Carnegie Hall at small live venues), but certainly much better than that echoey box – built for badminton and five-a-side football, not music – with the sound bouncing back off the walls end echoing around the walkways above.

Had no idea of this at first (certainly not as the Bunnymen were luring me into their web -warren?), but as my musical knowledge (and, let’s be honest, snobbery) took hold, it became ever more noticeable.

Didn’t stop me enjoying some great gigs there, mind.

Pixies
Pixies

And very near the top of the list of gigs there lie the Pixies. Suggest only The Smiths and the Bunnymen are alongside them in the top echelon (Radiohead took their place among my top gigs at later outings, not supporting James).

Pixies stand alone, however, as they got round the sound problems by being just so bleeding loud. And the word bleeding is used advisedly.

The only bands that can compete on volume are the Red Hot Chili Peppers (seen rather accidentally and who had to be loud in the vastness of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium) and Sugar, who seemed much louder but it was in a much smaller venue. Basically rather like being upstairs in a pub.

In an interesting take on their trademark, much-aped sound (which is what Kurt Cobain was trying to do when he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit), they were quiet, loud, quiet, incredibly loud.

And they were fantastic.

Apart from the volume, the fact Frank Black (or whatever name he was using at the time) came across fairly unhinged and Kim Deal was… well, Kim Deal, two things stick in my mind from that night.

Firstly, the band opened behind a curtain which dropped at the end of the first song (Cecilia Ann?) into a thunderous Allison and, secondly, one of our group lost his watch and only recovered it after my full-blooded rugby tackle on half of the mosh pit.

All this – as any regular reader knows, if they are not too busy disagreeing with any of the above – acts as a preamble to working round to mentioning the latest batch of songs on the journey from A-Z on my iPod, which is sort of the whole point.

The latest section took us from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (one of those bands which many other people seem to rate much higher) to Stephen Malkmus (who deserves to be rated much higher by many other people), via plenty of Day and Dead songs.

Among them, of course, was Pixies’ Dead (the video at the top may have tipped you off on that one) from their classic Doolittle album (which may well pop up again in the next entry, as anyone with a working knowledge of its track listing should be able to work out).

They Might Be Giants pre-show coffee
They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants popped up with a, rather different, song of the same name, while there were some more interesting Dead songs, notably Dead Letter Office from King’s Daughter & Sons (ensuring the Americana quotient was sustained) and Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.

Not just The White Stripes’ version, but also a lovely acoustic rendering from a young singer songwriter, Juliana Richer Daily.

We’ve stumbled across her before on this trip, the regular videos she used to post on YouTube having popped up on my screen when looking for a version of Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (used in the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are) to use as background music in a video and getting diverted to hers.

More established artists popped up –  The Jam’s David Watts, the Guildhall-bound Wedding Present (twice) with Davni Chasy from their Ukrainian period, The Beatles, three times, with Day Tripper, which also (minus the space) reappeared by Otis Redding, and Billy Bragg’s Days Like These and its American version.

All together now… “Wearing badges is not enough, on days like these”.

 

 

 

 

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Blue Eyes to Bonny

THE first job anyone paid me for was in the newspaper industry, several years before somehow impressing enough rewriting press releases during a couple of weeks’ work experience to be taken on as a trainee reporter.

Well, someone’s got to deliver newspapers – or at least they did, back in the days when they were the only way to sit down and digest news.

Several years before starting to write for them, my newspaper round was inherited by someone else in the village about the age of 14 or 15.

Newspapers B&W (5)It couldn’t have been any older, spells at a DIY store/garden centre (briefly) and in the produce department at Sainsbury’s followed before A Levels, but it was old enough that getting up for a Sunday morning paper round was given the extra handicap of the twin effects of playing rugby and nights out on Saturdays.

Those Sunday mornings could be grim, starting at the bottom of the hill towards Gloucester Docks and heading steadily uphill – complete with a heavy bag bulging with papers and Sunday supplements – to our village.

They were made more manageable by one of my early personal stereos. The one mentioned in an earlier post that had a built-in radio. It was falling apart, had no cover and ate tapes at any given opportunity, but it had a radio. That was quite something back then.

The radio sticks in my mind as, for some reason, habit necessitated a switch from tape to radio about halfway through the round. Probably because a tape had been chewed or low batteries ruled out rewinding and no pencil was available.

For some time before and, increasingly with a hangover, for years to come, the soundtrack to a Sunday morning was the Archers’ omnibus, wafting up the stairs with the smells of cooking the roast as my mother not so subtly got the message across that it was time to shake off the effects of the night before, get up and take the dog for a walk.

But for those months out delivering papers in all weathers, the sound of Sunday mornings was Radio 1 and Peter Powell. Look, I was young, OK.

One of the features which developed on his show, which seemingly veered away (if ever so slightly) from the normal playlist chart fodder, was the Slipped Discs section. Focusing on singles which failed to crack the Top 40 but garnered a fair amount of affection (back in the days when you had to sell a fair number of singles to make the charts and when my knowledge of numbers 1-40 was pretty impressive), it took off and culminated in an end-of-year chart voted by listeners.

Very few of those songs, stick in the memory but The Pogues certainly had a couple of entries in the upper echelon – and they popped up, twice, in the latest section of my iPod with The Body Of An American, largely overlooked until its use in The Wire.

But beating all comers with two tracks at the top of the list was Prefab Sprout.

Steve McQueenThose songs – Faron Young and When Love Breaks Down – are still some way off on this journey, but this section included two other tracks from their simply wonderful Steve McQueen album, Blueberry Pies and Bonny.

Steve McQueen – or Two Wheels Good as it is known on the other side of the Atlantic due to a legal dispute – was another of the key albums of my teenage years and still gets wheeled out on a reasonably regular basis.

Rather like stumbling on old photographs or bumping in to old friends, it brings back a lot of good – and not so good – memories and has even been known to make me emotional.

And, above all, it is still a bloody great album stuffed with excellent songs – When Love Breaks Down still sounds as good now as it did 30 years – and is one of that elite selection that needs to be listened to from start to finish in order. No shuffling or skipping here.

One of my longest-standing musical arguments is that the second side of Ocean Rain is about as perfect a run of 20-odd minutes ever produced. The first side of Steve McQueen comes close and while it may wander off the quest for perfection midway through the second side, it is undoubted proof that Paddy McAloon is one of the great songwriting talents of his generation.

One of the most overlooked ones – partly, it seems, due to personal choice – but a unique voice that needs cherishing.

Bonny wrapped up this section, kicked off with Blue Eyes by Destroyer that had the distinction of being the 1000th track. Just another 10,507 to go – and growing.

The monster which is Blue Monday popped up three times – twice by New Order and once with a dodgy cover by some lot called Biosphere. Remember hearing it for the first time when performed live on Top of the Pops and wondering who this bloke was mumbling about “shallow bays” and struggling to keep a straight face.

Pixies also popped up three times with Bone Machine, while some bizarre alphabetising put The Jam’s A Bomb In Wardour Street into the heart of the Bs.

And there was also one of the more bizarre entries on my iPod – which came as a bit of a surprise – was Blue Moon by Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli. Very odd and proof the method does not transfer to singing.

Bodies by Pale Seas came courtesy one of those pleasant surprises you get rarely when getting to a gig early enough to catch the support band, while there was a lovely little run of less heralded tracks with Blue.Pt ii by Waxahatchee and two tracks called Blue Ridge Mountain by Fleet Foxes and Hurray For The Riff Raff, who also popped up with The Body Electric.

A recent addition well worth exploring further…

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Bastard Son of Dean Friedman to The Bell

AS well as a meander through my musical tastes over the past three decades or so, this journey through my iPod is demonstrating how much the way we listen to and collect music has changed.

Now it is almost exclusively digital, although off to my left are two tall CD towers packed with what we were told at the time was the unbreakable future of listening to music.

The CDs now largely sit gathering dust, all but a discarded few sitting in the iPod we are wandering through that sits neatly in my pocket, while under the desk is a much smaller collection of vinyl.

Records are much more desirable than a digital file or a CD, complete with sleeve designs, liner notes and an inherent coolness. Shopping for vinyl was so much more fun, flicking through rack after rack and emerging with your chosen offering in a proper bag, as opposed to soulless CDs on glistening display stands – once you have found your way past the discounted DVD box sets.

But that was only a short stint in my music-buying past, having not had a record player until well into my teens – the only access being to my Dad’s (strictly off limits) and my sister’s (who was never keen on me using it).

Without any records to call my own, there was also very little to play as neither collection which went with them is likely to be replicated on my iPod.

So for most of my teenage years, the music came in the form of tapes, either on one of the “portable music systems” my Dad managed to win by selling enough of the maker’s power tools (we also had a huge collection of plastic sponsored pint glasses) or, latterly, a string of Walkman R.I.P.Walkmans.

Look at them now and they look antique and positively huge next to an iPod, but the arrival of my first Walkman was an amazing moment – although maybe not for my parents, who didn’t realise my insistence on cranking the volume up making sure the stereo is far from personal on cheaper headphones in the back of the car.

Still have no idea if it actually did anything, but my first Walkman came complete with graphic equaliser, while a later one had a radio. It fell apart and was huge, but it had a radio.

Totally Bitchin' Recording 1987The dawn of the Walkman also heralded the pre-holiday selection of what music to take, the chosen few – supplemented by a couple of compilation C90s – tucked into my hand luggage in an old washbag.

And the cassette collection also saw the dawn of my compulsion to store my music in alphabetical order (the DVDs to my left are exactly the same while the bookcase is broken down, in the main, into categories. Then A-Z).

But the need to alphabetise – in stark contrast to the way everything else is arranged, or not, in my life – at least stems from a practical reason.

The cassettes were stored in a growing number of briefcase-style boxes by the side of my bed, each with its own spot so they could be found while lying on the bed with my headphones on in the dark.

Back in the early days, there were not that many so remembering the order was easy, but it was well into the third box before the plan started to fall apart – even with new arrivals changing the positions – but by then there was a record player and a new source of music.

Which cassette was first is not quite so clear. The first two, bought with my own money, were The Hurting by Tears for Fears and The Jam’s Snap, just not sure in what order – back in the days when buying an album involved saving up pocket money.

Tears for Fears haven’t made it to the digital age, but The Jam are dotted through my collection with their parting shot Beat Surrender cropping up in this latest section, which takes us from (more) Half Man Half Biscuit to a new arrival from First Aid Kit.

We also had Begin The Begin by REM, from the first album of theirs to sit in those cassette boxes. Life’s Rich Pageant was bought, on special offer, one Saturday from the basement at Boots, back in the days when they sold music, and sparked a journey through their back catalogue which provided a huge part of the soundtrack to my life for the next decade and beyond.

R.E.M. MurmurIt was not a total leap of faith. Closing track Superman had filled the same role on a C90 provided by my brother-in-law – back in the days when he was just my sister’s boyfriend – which provided introductions or widened my knowledge of the likes of Sonic Youth, Husker Du, The Replacements and a whole generation of guitar bands which will pop up with varying regularity before we get to Z.

Not on that tape, but another key part of that teenage soundtrack (possibly the key part before slightly edged aside by REM) were Echo and the Bunnymen, who popped up with Bedbugs and Ballyhoo. Possibly their last great song, there were two versions by the whole band and one live rendition from Ian McCulloch.

There were other vintage classics with Behind The Wall of Sleep by The Smithereens and Being Around from The Lemonheads, some Bees and Beetles (one of each from Warpaint) and a couple of new discoveries.

Behind A Wall from Blood Red Shoes was a discovery worth revisiting (acquired amid a recent downloading binge) and took the 750th spot on the list, courtesy of being shunted back a few places by another bout of downloads which included the new album by First Aid Kit. The Bell suggests that too is worth a longer listen.

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