The Return of Alvvays (with added Plum)

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YouTube has been known to provide me some strange suggestions on subjects I might like. Tonight, though, it was spot-on, alerting me that a new video is out today for the new Alvvays single In Undertow, the first taster for their upcoming album Antisocialtes album.

It’s alvvays good to get some new Alvvays, so here is the new video:

 
According to singer Molly Rankin: ‘This record is a fantasy breakup arc and my life nearly imitated art.’

If In Undertow is any indication of its quality then this looks like a must-buy album.

Since I first wrote about the band, Alvvays have went from strength to strength, even reaching the dizzy heights of having previous single Marry Me, Archie chosen as Song of the Day on Radio Scotland’s Off the Ball (Okay, if you’re not Scottish I am being slightly ironic here).

They have though played Coachella and toured North and South America and Australia and New Zealand, headlining shows and supporting the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Courtney Barnett, Chvrches and Tame Impala.

Alvvays have also recently announced a new tour that will take in Britain including, as the keen-eyed among you will see, a date on 27. August at St. Luke’s in Glasgow, a venue that sounds ideal for the band. I hope to be there.

Alvvays Tour Dates 2017.jpg

Also out soon is Plum by Wand, an act that I really don’t know much about apart from the fact that Cory Hanson is their singer and guitarist – and here I would like to point out that since I somehow failed to include Hanson’s single Garden of Delight in my Best Of 2017 list, my head has largely been hung in shame.

Wand will also be coming to Glasgow in the not too distant future with a G2 date in January 2018.

Here is Plum:


For more on Alvvays click here and more more on Wand here you go.

Supernature & A Track from Seventh Tree

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Cerrone: Supernature (Atlantic)

7-by-7-1977-logo-2016

Musician, composer and producer, Jean-Marc Cerrone is the man behind Supernature. He recorded his first LP, Love In C Minor, in 1976, creating one of the most influential French disco albums in the process, Blues & Soul magazine describing it as ‘Euro-disco at its very best’. It might have been at the time but a year later he surpassed it with his Cerrone III: Supernature album, an edit of the title track going on to became a top ten hit in Britain in 1978.

Around this time some critics began referring to Jean-Marc as the ‘French Giorgio Moroder’ and while I wouldn’t say he was quite of that calibre I can see why the comparisons might be made – and while I’m at it I’ve always thought that Daft Punk’s Giorgio by Moroder sounded a lot like Supernature than any track that the Italian producer has ever been involved in.

Compare and contrast, folks:

 
 
The track was also apparently used as the theme tune on The Kenny Everett Video Show, something I have no recollection of ever watching having a deep dislike of the host.

The other main trivia point about the song is the fact that the lyrics were penned by a young Lene Lovich, who prior to being signed up by Stiff had been busking, providing screams to be dubbed onto horror movies, playing in a funk band and – well according to one site anyway – working as a go-go dancer on Radio One, although what the job description of a radio station go-go dancer might entail is frankly beyond me.

When the Supernature album came out in 1977 though she failed to receive a writing credit – her contribution only being finally recognised when a remix of the song was released in the mid ’80s.

Supernature_'86

Goldfrapp also recorded an album called Supernature and included a track titled Cologne Cerrone Houdini on Seventh Tree.

What yer man Cerrone has to do with this track is also beyond me but I would guess it was just the first word that Alison Goldfrapp thought of that rhymes with Cologne. Well, it certainly beats crone, groan or loan.

I do kinda like clone myself though albeit Cologne Clone Houdini would definitely be a bit of a tongue twister, especially live.

Anyway, here is Cologne Cerrone Houdini:


For more on Cerrone click here.

For more on Goldfrapp, here you go.

‘They’re not very good, and they know that, right?’ (A 20th Century Women Two for Tuesday)

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20th Century Women quad poster

I recently watched 20th Century Women, a poignant film set in California at the tail-end of the 1970s. I would definitely recommend it as it’s beautifully written and directed by Mike Mills – the man behind videos for everyone from Yoko Ono to Air, who even named a song after him on Talkie Walkie. There’s also a great ensemble cast that includes Annette Bening, Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon), Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant) and Greta Gerwig, once dubbed ‘the Meryl Streep of Mumblecore’ although Gerwig has appeared in a lot more good films than Streep has managed in recent years.

Come to think of it so have Bening, Fanning and Crudup.

Bening is particularly strong here as Dorothea, obsessively overanalyzing everything and obsessively smoking too – to the extent that Don Draper might even believe she should cut down. She’s sarcastic but supportive; anti-authoritarian but keen to daily check her stocks and shares. She owns a sprawling and messy house that sometimes resembles a mini commune – she has given a home to budding photographer Abbie, who is fighting cervical cancer and who dyed her hair red after seeing The Man Who Fell to Earth, William a hippy handyman and, at nights, Julie, who Dorothea’s fifteen year old son Jamie fixates on.

Together these five central characters form a kind of makeshift family.

Dorothea gave birth to Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) late in life and as he likes to points out ‘she was raised during the depression’ as if this was an entirely different world.

As ancient as she is, though, Dorothea retains an open mind and investigates a punkish local club and evaluates her feelings about bands like The Raincoats. She attempts to make sense of young people and the ways they have changed since she was a girl although Jamie, Julie and Abbie often remain a mystery to her – just as I don’t get teenagers of today getting excited about a ringtone or the latest Xbox release – she’s 55 (the age I am now) in 1979, while the Julie character is seventeen (the age I was then).

Here are her thoughts on hearing The Raincoats for the first time:

Dorothea: They’re not very good, and they know that, right?

Abbie: Yeah, it’s like they’ve got this feeling, and they don’t have any skill, and they don’t want skill, because it’s really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that’s raw. Isn’t it great?’

Actually one of the things I think I like about The Raincoats is the clash within their ranks of the musically accomplished (violinist Vicky Aspinall had been playing since she was five and had a classical training) with the intuitive (the rest of the band).

The Raincoats have always been a band that people tend to love or hate. Danny Baker utterly slated them after seeing them play live early in their career; Kurt Cobain adored them and when, in late 1993, the band’s three studio albums were re-released, he happily agreed to supply some liner notes.

Like The Raincoats, 20th Century Women also split opinions. In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw described it as ‘exasperatingly supercilious and smug – unfocused, self-consciously cute, nostalgic and empathetic, but never properly funny’.

Ouch.

Bradshaw isn’t a fan of anything indie and quirky and I while I struggle myself with uber kooky efforts like Napoleon Dynamite and Eagle vs Shark, I obviously found the film far more enjoyable than he did and while Bradshaw detested the stills, intertitles and archive footage that punctuate the movie I thought their use was often inspired. We see stills of Debbie Harry and Humphrey Bogart, typographic quotes from Judy Blume and Susan Lydon, we see Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech and even a little sequence from Koyaanisqatsi.

There are also multiple-narrative voiceovers, usually rotating between mother and son but with each of the five main characters contributing.

From the spring of 1979 and released (almost inevitably) on Rough Trade, this is The Raincoats and Fairytale In The Supermarket:


Just like a recent and similarly themed film, 2015’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, this has a fantastic soundtrack. No Television, T.Rex or the Dwight Twilley Band but Neu! and Suicide, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Buzzcocks. I never could have guessed that Why Can’t I Touch It? would play over the end credits of a film nominated for two Golden Globes and an Oscar.

Amazingly enough Roger Neill’s score – utilising early synths of the period with a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer to the fore – failed to garner even a nod from the Academy. Slant even went as far as to decry it as ‘ambient music of the yoga-clinic waiting-room variety’.

Me? I reckon it is one of the very best scores I have heard since the end of the 20th century – yeah, that good, full with the kind of wonderful ambient washes that Eno can only dream about nowadays.

And speaking of Brian Eno, here’s another track from the soundtrack, co-written by Bowie, Eno and Carlos Alomar. If The Raincoats split opinions, Bowie as much as just about any artist living or dead unites the musical tastes of Joe Public. Here he is with DJ from his 1979 album Lodger:


For more on The Raincoats, click here.

A Shel Talmy Two for Tuesday

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Ace Record’s Producer anthologies are always worth investigating – previous compilations have included Jack Nitzsche, Kim Fowley and Shadow Morton – and this week I picked up the latest instalment in the series, Making Time, which features the work of Shel Talmy.

Shel Talmy cover

Shel is certainly a fascinating guy. He worked closely with The Kinks, The Who and The Creation and he also briefly crossed paths in the studio with the young David Bowie (when he was still Davy Jones), Lemmy when he was a Rockin’ Vicar and Jimmy Page when he was a humble session guitarist. He recorded Lee Hazlewood – oh how I wish I could sing like Lee – and also Goldie & the Gingerbreads, who it is claimed were the first all-female rock band to be signed by a major record label – and whose Spectoresque mini-masterpiece titled That’s Why I Love You is one of many highlights here.

Making Time features all these artists as well as some fascinating music by acts that have only ever featured at best peripherally on my radar: Belfast’s Perpetual Langley, and Oliver Norman, whose Drowning in My Own Despair is the best The Four Tops rip-off you will ever hear and then there’s The Rokes, who I’ve just discovered were a bunch of English expatriates who became one of the biggest bands in Italy during the mid ’60s.

The only drawbacks for me is the inclusion of an schmaltzy track by Chad and Jeremy while his production job for The Damned, Stretcher Case Baby, fails to make an appearance.

Here’s something special by one of England’s most under-rated bands of the 1960s. Originally released on Talmy’s Planet Records, this is The Creation and the track that gives the new compilation its name:

 
When Sheldon S. Talmy first arrived in London in 1962, it’s highly unlikely that it would have been described as swinging this being the Britain of Harold Macmillan, heavy smogs and kitchen sink dramas but the American liked the town anyway and in order to extend his stay he hatched a money-making plan, setting up a meeting with Dick Rowe at his Decca office.

Talmy by all accounts was not a man whose motto in life was necessarily ‘honesty is the best policy’. He did possess some experience of working as a recording engineer in L.A. but exaggerated this to the point where he had actually produced a number of records, The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari being maybe the most notable example.

Rowe gave the songs a spin and liked what he heard. Shel landed a job but there was a downside. His first assignment was cutting a single for terminally unhip Dublin act The Bachelors – the track Charmaine was a top ten hit though and Talmy was given the choice of more credible bands.

Within a couple of years he had become synonymous with edgy mod combos playing razor sharp pop with guitar pyrotechnics, the kind of thing that’s usually referred to as freakbeat nowadays.

Talmy certainly captured the blazing crash-bang-wallop of these new acts with a rarely matched panache but, before the end of the decade, he had also succeeded with folk rock in the shape of Roy Harper and The Pentangle and soul in the shape of the aforementioned Perpetual Langley and Oliver Norman.

This, though, is one of Talmy’s purest excursions into commerciality, a wonderful slice of poignant pop which I’d mistakenly thought was called Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. Jones. Extensive research though – thanks, Wiki – tells me that this was indeed the original title given to the song although a modification was made when it occurred to the Manfreds that their recently departed vocalist Paul Jones (who had only just been replaced by Mike D’Abo) might suspect that the song was some kind of dig at him.

From 1966, here’s the first big British hit record to feature a mellotron. This is Manfred Mann and Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James:

It was 50 Years Ago Today

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Sgt Rutters

Exceptional bands often possess a history that is almost as intriguing as their music. Take The Sex Pistols: hooking up with Malcolm McLaren; swearing live on TV and making front page news; getting the heave-ho from EMI and later A&M; banned shows; God Save the Queen being denied official number one status; breaking up in America at the climax of a tour and the sad demise of Nancy Spungen and then Sid Vicious. All that in just a few years.

Compare that to the story of Coldplay where the most interest generated was a celebrity wedding to an over-rated actress.

Imagine trying to write a page turning book or make a gripping film about that lot.

The history of The Beatles was consistently fascinating: their residency at the Star Club in Hamburg; the infamous rejection from Decca; their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance; Beatlemania and Shea Stadium; MBEs and LSD; John Lennon’s ‘more popular than Jesus’ controversy; the death of their manager Brian Epstein and the retreat from playing live until the Apple rooftop concert – these are all just off the top of my head.

Likewise The Rutles stand firmly in the bands with an exceptionally engrossing history camp. And that history does parallel The Beatles to a spookily bizarre extent: just think of their Ratkellar residency in Hamburg; mass adulation in the shape of Rutlemania; their concert at Che Stadium; Nasty’s bigger than God controversy (when sales boomed as devout Christians bought their records just so they could burn them); the weekend near Bogner in the company of Surrey mystic Arthur Sultan and the Stig is dead rumours.

Released fifty years to the day, their phenomenally successful album Sgt. Rutter’s Lonely Darts Club Band undoubtedly had a seismic influence on music and popular culture and remains for many their high point. From it, this is the closing track, the achingly sad Cheese and Onions:

 
You remember the very awkward date between gangster’s moll Mia Wallace and hitman Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction? Mia telling him that: ‘There are only two kinds of people in the world, Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally.’

If the choice was between Beatles and Rutles people, I could claim that I’m actually more a Rutles man myself but claiming to prefer a spoof act (however talented) to the band that gave the world A Day in the Life, Revolution and Helter Skelter would border on striving to become the Katie Hopkins of musical opinions – even if I am happy to acknowledge that The Beatles also gave the world a number of rank rotten ditties like Rocky Raccoon, Wild Honey Pie and Ob-La-Fucking Di, Ob-La-Fucking Da.

I may well, though, honestly prefer The Rutles to Oasis.

From their Tragical History Tour, this is Piggy in the Middle:


Oh, I’ve just remembered something else about Coldplay which might be at least of some interest (and which you likely already know yourselves). Chris Martin once invited David Bowie to collaborate on a track that Coldplay felt would be perfect for the Godlike genius to contribute backing vocals to.

Bowie gave them a knockback, explaining: ‘It’s not a very good song, is it?’

For more on The Rutles, click here.

Manchester 22. 05. 17

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Around a dozen or so years ago, my ex-partner’s teenage daughter was delighted when she managed to get her mitts on tickets to see Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera at what I seem to remember being the MTV Music Awards. This was something I would have paid good money to avoid but she was hugely excited by the chance to attend and when the time arrived she enjoyed her night thoroughly.

Of course, it made me happy to see her obvious joy before and afterwards.

Relatively speaking, I’m usually pretty good at shaking off national tragedies but the events on Monday night at the Manchester Arena were so inhumane that it’s proved almost impossible to get the tragedy out of my head and the very thought of what unfolded means my mood shows no sign of lifting – reading about Eilidh MacLeod, a fourteen year old schoolgirl from the Isle of Barra, who in the past few hours has been confirmed as dead is simply heartbreaking and how her family or the families of any of the victims cope with their losses is just about beyond me.

‘Eilidh was vivacious and full of fun,’ her parents said in a statement. ‘She loved all music whether it was listening to Ariana or playing the bagpipes with her pipe band.’

Just to make things even more depressing, it’s hard not to suspect that similar massacres will take place in concert venues across Britain in the future with shows by the likes of Ariana Grande being the most likely to be specifically targeted due to their appeal to mainly girls and young women.

As James Harkin noted yesterday in a Billboard essay on Islamic State’s hatred of women and war on western music: ‘To them, the empowered sexuality of a singer like Ariana Grande appears to have been a dangerous, godless combination — one which their self-appointed witch-finder went to murderous lengths to put back in a box.’

*

Manchester is a town that I have only a few connections with, I once had a short play showcased there at the Contact Theatre on Oxford Road and I review films for a website based in the city. I’ve only visited three times but on each of these occasions I’ve had a fantastic time and found the locals, like Glaswegians, to be a friendly bunch. Manchester is also, pound for pound, my favourite British music city from big names like The Buzzcocks, Fall, Smiths and Stone Roses through to less widely known acts such as Easterhouse and King of the Slums.

Come to think of it, during the 1980s, you could argue that more good music originated in Manchester and its surrounding area than anywhere else on the planet.

Here’s something from that decade. Recorded over the course of two days back in June 1988 at Manchester’s Moonraker Studios and featuring a very brief Derek and Clive sample, this is Moss Side born A Guy Called Gerald and Voodoo Ray:

 
RIP The victims of Manchester Arena.

Initials BB, FG, VS & EB (Yé-Yé Sunday)

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Ye-Ye_book

After featuring the track Bonnie and Clyde in my last post I searched out my copy of Yé-Yé Girls of ‘60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, a book that will appeal to anyone with a liking for the golden age of Gallic grooviness (that’s me) or just a liking for photos of pretty young Parisiennes wearing very short dresses and kinky boots (that’s me again).

The book really will do nothing to dissuade people like me that everybody in 1960s France looked like they had just walked on to the set of À bout de Souffle. We are talking tres, tres chic here.

First up today is Serge Gainsbourg, who as someone pointed out in a comment last week, once made an arse of himself live on French TV, telling Whitney Houston that he wanted to fuck her.

Sadly for the clearly pished up, ageing Lothario, the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Back when Serge was at the top of his game, his affair with Brigitte Bardot was put on hold when the actress flew off to film Shalako along with Sean Connery in Almería in Spain, the home of the spaghetti western.

Saddened by the situation, Serge penned Initials B.B.

With some vocal help from Bardot, here is that track, the opener on his 1968 album also titled Initials B.B., with a little of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 thrown in for good measure:


The 21st century has definitely witnessed a revival of interest in Yé-Yé.
For starters Belle & Sebastian and The Arcade Fire have both covered Poupée de cire, poupée de son while TV and film have also embraced the movement with Zou Bisou Bisou making an appearance on Mad Men and Françoise Hardy’s Le Temps de l’Amour being included on the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Maybe the most high profile ye-ye moment, though, came via Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof.

This would be his first film to prove, at least in relative terms, a commercial and critical failure,* although few would complain about the quality of its soundtrack, with music ranging from Jack Nitzsche to T. Rex; Ennio Morricone to Joe Tex. The film closes with a version of Serge Gainsbourg’s composition Laisse tomber les filles, re-named Chick Habit with English lyrics supplied by April March.

But here is the original and superior version by France Gall:


Next up is Victoire Scott and her single 4ème Dimension.

The video is taken from her appearance in 1968 on French TV show Au Risque De Vous Plaire and includes surreal artworks by Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux and Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher occasionally superimposed in the background.

Here’s the Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe verdict:

‘ “4ème Dimension” is a baroque pop masterpiece, a Paris Existentialism-meets-American psych rock kind of thing. Its string arrangements, atmosphere, and texture created a unique vision.’


And finally Clothilde, or Elisabeth Beauvais to give her birth certificate name.

The career of Clothilde was short and sweet with the teenager apparently never enjoying her brief spell in the spotlight, disliking the clothes that she was told to wear and the songs given to her to sing. Which surprises me as Fallait Pas Ecraser La Queue Du Chat is a crazily catchy slice of frothy 60s pop with a tinny harpsichord (I think) riff that’s unlike just about anything I’ve ever heard before and a fantastic arrangement that includes French horns presumably played by Frenchmen or French women – which is pretty, um, French.

The Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe verdict: ‘Her two EPs were like a beautiful Hollywood set hiding a desolate landscape, or a nice little semi-detached house in a very cozy suburb, in which a desperate housewife has just turned on the gas and is hesitating before striking a full box of matches.’


* I put this down at least partly to the Jungle Julia character being nowhere near as cool and charismatic as Quentin obviously wanted her to be – and if you’re gonna make a case for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich being a better band than The Who, it might help if you didn’t repeatedly call them Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch & Tich.

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