Heaven, Sittin Down to Heroin

Have set myself the challenge to write a blog post a day throughout May. Probably going to regret it, but here we go.

THERE are a few habits which have developed when it comes to writing blog posts on this A-Z journey through my iPod. It adds up to the following routine.

  • Listen to a load of songs on my iPod.
  • List the tracks worth mentioning in the next post.
  • Try to find some theme for the next post among those tracks or work out how to shoehorn them into the subject matter already worked out.
  • Find loads of other things to do rather than actually write.
  • Decide it is time to stop putting it off.
  • Spend too much time looking through YouTube videos to drop into the post.
  • Watch TV.
  • Finally get round to writing – largely ignore what you worked out, head out on some tangent, realise you have overwritten and then cram in mention of the music at the end.

Managed to follow the first two of these through the latest section from track 4,701 past 4,800 (at least at the time, there’s been a few additions) and the second threw up a longer than normal list of tracks.

So rather than try to knit them together into some form of coherent narrative (or squeeze a few of them on the end of something else), let’s try something new and rattle through that list. Not every song, just the ones which somehow seemed worthy of note when drawing up that list.

Heaven, Sittin Down – Phosphorescent
We are doing some catching up here, the lack of posts in recent weeks means there has been a bit of a backlog. To the point that this was track 4,701 when listened to but has dropped to 4,724, courtesy of new arrivals on the iPod.

Phosphorescent fall firmly in the ranks of Americana acquired when staying at a friend’s with no TV, no WiFi and only his music collection to keep me entertained when getting a job after my first bout of prolonged travelling had just ended.

This is their take on an old blues standard.

Heavy Metal Drummer – Wilco
Two outings for this one from a band which took me a while, all while they were being eulogised by one major influence on this journey.

Their more muso moments still pass me by a little bit, but when they are good, they are very good. And this is one of their best.

Hell Is Around The Corner – Portishead & Tricky
This loop was pretty much everywhere for a while as Portishead started to mean more than a place where we somehow got taken for an unlikely day out near the seaside on the edge of my Dad’s patch as a rep for a builders’ merchant. Great song.

Hell Is Chrome – Wilco
Wilco sort of took over one trip to the gym with two versions of this as well. There’s a lot of bad drumming on the weight machines.

Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles
This whole journey started with A Day In The Life and opened with a wall of The Beatles in the first 100 or so songs. It would appear they wrote an awful lot of songs beginning with H as well. Three versions of this while on the treadmill in the gym.

Help Save The Youth Of America – Billy Bragg
Frequent visitor on this journey and always a very welcome one. Bragg has been a constant in my music collection for more than 30 years and this is not that far below the rarefied air of his very best.

Two versions, one from the first Bragg album in my collection and one live recording from Russia. Which is up there on that video.

Help! – The Beatles
Told you they were popping up a lot. Three times again, plus a version by The Damned which is preferable purely for ditching the exclamation mark.

Helpless – Ryan Adams with Gillian Welch
Think (can’t be sure, went through a stage of getting pretty much anything by him) this was in Adams’ post-Whiskeytown days when he was fighting a difficult reputation.

As opposed to… oh.

Helpless – Sugar
To go with those rules on the process of posts for this blog, a few others have emerged over the last 4,700+ songs.

One of them is pretty simple – anything off Sugar’s Copper Blue album gets a mention.

At The Drive-In come close with Relationship of Command, but it remains the choice when you want to blast away the cobwebs with some loud guitar and you don’t carry the metal gene. Not sure how a spoonful of Sugar did not damage my hearing.

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
Something a bit quieter. Twice. Another in the category of bands which are always welcome visitors, but rarely leave a major impression.

Helter Skelter – The Beatles
It’s not just The Beatles, there are also the cover versions which somehow have worked their way into my collection. Siouxsie and the Banshees and, surprise surprise, Oasis this time.

Her Majesty – The Beatles
This is getting silly.

Here Comes A City – The Go-Betweens
It’s a bit slicker, a touch more polished in the production than some of their early stuff, which perhaps explains why The Go-Betweens’ second coming got sort of shunted aside in my mind towards Radio 2 territory.

Right up to the point when another listen reveals something missed along the way. It’s not in the same league as the wonderful Cattle & Cane, but better than first thought.

And Robert Forster’s new solo stuff well worth a listen.

Here Comes A Regular – The Replacements
A bit of research (or timewasting) on YouTube reveals this was used to soundtrack the death of a character on One Tree Hill played by Sheryl Lee. So maybe The Replacements killed Laura Palmer.

Mixing the cultural references, the school in the film Heathers (Westerberg High) was named after Replacements singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg as they were star Winona Ryder’s favourite band.

One of those great songs this A-Z journey has rediscovered.

Here Comes The Blackout – Stornoway
Pretty sure agreed to see Stornoway live without hearing anything by them – not the first and one of the great advantages of review tickets. And well worth the visit it was.

Shared fondness with a fellow traveller soundtracked a couple of mellow evenings sat on the beach in Togo watching the sun go down over the incoming oil tankers on the horizon.

Here Comes The Summer – The Undertones
Yeah, yeah… Peel loved them, Derry boys and all that. But for nine-year-old me still largely unexposed to anything beyond my parents’ music (even then was fairly sure The Band of the Royal Marines and Glenn Miller was not the way forward) and whatever was on the radio (Junior Choice?), The Undertones were just fun.

Remember loving this and then they released My Perfect Cousin – the first song I knew all the words to, still remembered in my first attempt at karaoke. Many years and quite a few pints later.

Here Comes The Sun – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Oh yeah, The Beatles as well. Again. Twice.

Here Comes Your Man – Pixies
Two things popped up in recent weeks about the Pixies (one fewer than appearances by pretty much their poppiest track).

First a Facebook music group was discussing a gig at Gloucester Leisure Centre which has cropped up on YouTube and a live bootleg. Was tagged in it as someone who was there and if there is anything to promote some form of cool among younger people with any concept of good music, having seen the Pixies live is pretty much there.

Remember it being very loud. Or rather quiet, loud, quiet, very loud. Leisure centre closed as a live venue due to structural issues not long after. Wonder why.

Secondly, Doolittle came out 30 years ago last month. Was still in my teens for Christ’s sake. It’s still brilliant.

Here Today – The Chameleons
In studio was track 4,800, accompanied by a live version. Beyond that, not much too add. Think this got loaded onto my iPod in a bout of, ahem, borrowing ahead of travelling.

Here, There And Everywhere – The Beatles
Look, this is really silly now.

Here’s Where The Story Ends – The Sundays
For about five minutes, they were the future of slightly introspective, jingly indie guitar music. Best viewed through a fringe. Can’t Be Sure still on several playlists.

Heroes – David Bowie
Confession time. Was never a massive Bowie fan when younger. Certainly not compared to many.

But have sort of revisited and re-evaluated over the last few years, especially a bout of downloading focused on filling in the gaps in my knowledge most serious music fans are not supposed to have.

And you can’t really knock this, can you?

Heroin – Velvet Underground
Think this is on my iPod from the same bout of musical education. Bowie had more of an impact than his old mate Lou Reed and co.

Heroin (Live) – Echo and the Bunnymen
Somehow fitting the Bunnymen, albeit with someone else’s song, round off the first blog since the loss of Steve Tucker – a shared musical passion.

He’d have been appalled at my less than glowing reviews of Bowie and Velvet Underground though, pointing out the error of my ways over a few pints in The City Arms.

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Antistar to Ashes of American Flags

THE past week has been dominated by departures – one expected but with a string of problems, the other unexpected but with a hint of better times ahead (well, hopefully).

Both have taken up the bulk of my time, thoughts and conversations, over the last few days, meaning this entry has been delayed and taken us a fair bit further along my A-Z journey through my iPod.

Departure number one saw the tenants leave my house in Cardiff.

Installed four years ago while the house stood empty on my overland journey from London to New York (helped by a string of calls and e-mails between Cardiff and China which had the agents trying endlessly to calculate time differences), they remained as my return to the Welsh capital was shortlived.

April_Skies_(single) Even as their latest contract ran out, that was one issue ahead of heading to Africa which looked simple – they sign another one and worries about paying my mortgage were sorted. That was until they announced out of the blue they weren’t signing and were moving out.

And move out they did, seemingly by grabbing a few bits and pieces, walking out the door and heading to pastures new.

At least, that’s how it appears, judging by what they have left strewn across the uncleaned house and unkempt garden, sadly bereft of a few pieces of my furniture which seem to have walked out of the door with them.

The constant amending of to-do lists for Africa, this blog and life in general has been replaced by a to-do list for sorting out the house, but only after a few very deep breaths to calm down.

As well as anger, their actions and attitude in leaving the house in such a state totally amazes me – how can anybody not be consumed by embarrassment to leave somebody else’s house in that condition?

When the time comes later this year, my flat will be attacked from all angles by an array of cleaning products and, bar a few dusty bits and one or two difficult to access places in the bathroom, it is already in a pretty presentable state.

Having just about calmed down from a trip to confirm what the agents had told me – via a journey that included an almost hour-long traffic jam in Chepstow, of all places, which helped scoot the A-Z journey along at a healthy pace and past the 400 mark (Apple Blossom by The White Stripes) – the second departure crept up on us on Monday morning.

The sacking of Nigel Davies as Gloucester’s director of rugby was not totally out of the blue – after all, the season has disappointed from start to finish and Saturday’s closing defeat at relegated Worcester was, frankly, laughable as the Cherry and Whites mixed touches of genius with splashes of ineptitude.

While the loud-mouthed bloke behind me at Worcester will not be alone in celebrating Davies’ departure (his main reason being that the outgoing boss is Welsh), his reading of the situation was remarkably misplaced and badly informed.

This, after all, was a man who only realised in the second half when he could see the names and numbers on the players’ backs that he had been slagging off the wrong player for 40 minutes while claiming that flanker Matt Kvesic had only made about three tackles all season and should be sold. His tackle numbers actually put Kvesic fourth in the entire league.

Personally, with reinforcements arriving, my opinion was that Davies deserved time next season to shape what is finally his squad – not short on talent this term, but lacking in depth and, at crucial times, leadership and direction – probably until the Six Nations at least.

But, having made the decision, the board were right to act quickly – stay or go, this could not drag on all summer.

And they now need not only to find the right man, but the right structure. Davies spent a lot of time during the season working on bringing in those signings and, from a distance, that was time Gloucester needed him sorting out the problems on the pitch – two jobs, one man just didn’t add up.

Of course, this poor season (and when we have had bad seasons before it was, unlike this one, largely expected) coincided with my first season ticket in four decades of watching rugby at Kingsholm, the first time when playing, working, travelling or living away did not keep me away from Castle Grim for long periods.

Fellow fans will be delighted that being in Africa for most of the season will mean no renewal.

So, that’s the background to the last few days, what has been the soundtrack?

wilco-ashes-of-american-flags-dvd-338-300Starting with the new longest so far (Antistar at Massive Attack comes in at 19.41, but more than half of that is largely silence bar a few background beats), we have seen classic first  entries by The Housemartins (Anxious), The Jesus and Mary Chain (April Skies, which a friend once tried to teach me the bassline to, without success) and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (Are Your Ready To Be Heartbroken?).

Also popping up for the first time – and blowing away a few emotions on the drive back from Cardiff – were At The Drive-In with Arc Arsenal while Prefab Sprout’s Appetite gave a more gentle first touch from their Steve McQueen masterpiece (the first side of which is almost flawless) and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend slipped from the opening track of the whole countdown on a previous attempt to somewhere near 400.

Arseholes, The Shirehorse’s much preferable version of Robbie Williams’ Angels, provided a rather different direction while The Clash and Joe Strummer have different readings of Armagideon Time.

To wrap it all up on a high note, Wilco provided two versions (live and original) of probably my favourite song of theirs, Ashes of American Flags.

And blasting that out on the drive home from work was enough to provide a great end to a testing few days.

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Add It Up to Airportman

WOKE the other morning to headline news of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s ‘conscious uncoupling’.

Normally, this would have been met with justified indifference and an attempt to get at least a few more minutes in bed before stumbling the into shower.

But having initially misunderstood and thought Conscious Uncoupling was the bizarre name for their latest sprog, two startling concerns hit me.

First that we were going to be subjected to acres of newsprint wasted on something so desperately uninteresting to anybody not involved and, secondly, that Martin would use his feelings for a new Coldplay album.

The first, which has happened, is just about tolerable and easy to ignore. The second – and there are warnings of a new selection of songs to creosote to – is a fearsome prospect.

There is no Coldplay anywhere on the road from A to Z on my iPod and, while the second episode has not been littered with too many sparkling highlights, it has been infinitely superior to Martin and his cohorts’ earnest greyness.

Amid a wide selection of album tracks and songs burned off compilations given away with magazines were a few first entries from major bands who will pop up regularly – just not their best.

Three of those maiden appearances came from acts at the top of my best live gigs list – Ryan Adams, Radiohead and REM.

Radiohead (Airbag) have chalked up a hat-trick of gigs from supporting James at Gloucester Leisure Centre via a big tent in Newport to a stunning appearance at Cardiff’s International Arena.

REM appeared at track number 102 with Airportman – well after Bill Berry had left and they had ceased to be a reliable trademark for quality (Murmur to Automatic for the People must rank as one of the greatest run of top-quality albums from any band).

And their gig at the Newport Centre just as they were about to become massive ranks right at the top of my list.

Haven’t counted but Adams, who leads a growing collection of Americana in this list, will probably appear as much as anyone in this blog. That’s partly due to me being a bit of a completist and Adams’ lack of quality control (three albums in one year could easily have been squeezed into one).

But when he’s good – as he was at Wales’ Millennium Centre – he is very, very good.

At least one friend of mine will perk up at the very mention of Neil Young (who also appeared with After The Gold Rush as part of a recent attempt to study a few supposed classics) and acclaim him the greatest living singer-songwriter.

My feelings for Adams are not quite that strong, but he’s getting there, even if his first entry Afraid Not Scared only fits somewhere in the middle of his quality scale.

There were more firsts from Arcade Fire (After Life), Prefab Sprout (Adolescence from last year’s surprising validation of Paddy McAloon’s talents, Crimson/Red), Sufjan Stevens (the less than sparkling Age of Adz), Sonic Youth (Against Facism from their finest hour, Dirty), Carter USM (After The Watershed – probably the only song on this list to namecheck an ex-Hereford United goalkeeper) and the Violent Femmes, who kicked off this section with Add It Up. All will return.

Other notables included …And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead (Aged Dolls), who provided an answer in my favourite round of University Challenge.

The question required four clueless students to identify the three famous people after which the songs played were named after – Sylvia Plath by Ryan Adams, Einstein A Go Go by Landscape and Mark David Chapman by Trail of Dead. They got none, two of them will appear later in this list.

Annoyingly, Jeremy Paxman declined to say the band’s full name.

And so we rattle along to the end of this section and the end of the first 100 tracks. The honour of that landmark went to Wilco with a live version of Airline To Heaven, hot on the heels of the version they did with Billy Bragg as part of the Mermaid Avenue Woody Guthrie project.

So that’s 100 down (and another two, to be honest), just 11-odd thousand to go.

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