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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

2 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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.

Some Mostly Inconsequential Writing & Three of the Finest Duets Ever Recorded

2 Comments

Last Saturday, on the way to see The Skids in Glasgow, conversation after a couple of pre-show bevvies turned to the greatest duets ever recorded. A couple of tracks by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were mentioned as were a couple of tracks by Marvin and Kim Weston including, of course, It Takes Two. Good shouts.

William Bell and Judy Clay’s Private Number was also quite rightly praised as was I’m a Fool For You by James Carr & Betty Harris.

It didn’t take long before someone suggested Morrissey and Siouxsie and Interlude but I must admit, that was a track that probably promised slightly more than it delivered. Not a view that everyone agreed with. Then again, not everyone was happy about me rubbishing Bowie & Queen and Under Pressure.

Thankfully no one brought up the even worse Bowie collaboration with Mick Jagger.

The Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield and What Have I Done To Deserve This? coulda been a contender but only if just about anybody other than Neil Tennant had been partnering Dusty on vocal duties.

If a vote had been taken then Some Velvet Morning would likely have edged it as our favourite ever duet: a hypnotic and surreal masterpiece that’s even a little disorientating and also to my mind a lot more psychedelic than anything the likes of The Grateful Dead ever recorded (not that I’ve ever spent much time listening to that particular band).

 
Up there for me is Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot with Bonnie And Clyde, a track that somehow managed to be just as supercool as Arthur Penn’s movie of the same name that helped kickstart that whole, very wonderful era of New Hollywood cinema.

I think this is taken from a special edition of the Brigitte Bardot Show, broadcast on New Years Day, 1968:

 
Not surprisingly the debate on Serge/BB led on to Je t’aime or to give it its full name Je t’aime… moi non plus, a track that Serge composed the lyrics to while he was having an affair with Bardot, although the later Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg version is far better known. Being banned by the Vatican probably helped.

Inevitably, irony reared its head around this point with Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield and Up Je T’aime being thrown into the hat, followed by Arthur Mullard & Hilda Baker’s You’re The One That I Want.

Once a degree of seriousness returned to proceedings there was mention of Aerosmith and Run DMC and numerous others including Sheena Easton and Prince – cue a discussion on when two of us saw Sheena perform on Glasgow Green at an event to mark my hometown becoming European City of Culture in 1990. Sorry Sheena but we did boo.

I forgot to put forward Bob and Marcia’s Young, Gifted and Black and Tramp by Carla Thomas and Otis Redding – well I was on the Stella with the odd whisky chaser and my head was moving swiftly towards befuddlement on the way to oblivion. I did, though, remember to nominate northern soul classic I’ll Hold You by Frankie and Johnny.

Frankie was Maryhill’s Maggie Bell though Johnny’s identity remains something of a mystery with the general consensus on internet soul sites believing him to be a Scottish singer called Johnny Curtis (also known possibly as Frankie Kerr just to confuse matters slightly).

If you’ve never heard this one then prepare yourself for a absolute treat:

 
Actually Maggie Bell and B.A. Robertson and Hold Me was acknowledged to be a guilty pleasure by one of us and fans of obscure music trivia might know that Timi Yuro, who sang the original version of Interlude once covered Hold Me too.

Not that we discussed this at the time, the conversation being steered instead towards the subject of Taggart – Maggie Bell, of course, supplying the theme tune for that show back in the 1980s and 90s.

Some more duets were recommended but by this point fewer and fewer gems were being proposed and I’ve forgotten a big majority of them, although despite the fact that we were going to see the band that wrote and recorded The Saints Are Coming I’m sure nobody uttered the words Green Day and U2, their take on that song being in every way musically inferior to The Skids’ 1978 original.

I’m a King Kong man, I’m a voodoo man, Oh I’m an apeman

Leave a comment

This week I got round to buying English Weather, the latest collection compiled by Bob Stanley (this time together with Saint Etienne mainstay Pete Wiggs). The album focuses on that post-Beatles, pre-glam early 1970s era of British music that is seldom remembered with any particular fondness.

Grabbing a copy of the album wasn’t one of my better ideas. There’s an awful – and awfully long – Daevid Allen track that begins: ‘I met a man, a wise old man’ and there’s also a band represented here called Aardvark.

Do I really need to say anything more about anybody that ever thought calling themselves Aardvark was a good idea?

Worse still is Til The Christ Come Back by Bill Fay, which has been described as ‘spiritual heavy rock’ and contains this couplet: ‘Alas, said the cloud, what have we here? I believe it’s the world and it’s covered in fear.’

Jesus wept.

Admittedly a couple of track are excellent: John Cale’s Big White Cloud and O Caroline by Matching Mole, and there are also a number of intriguing enough listens: Moon Bird by The Roger Webb Sound is nicely atmospheric and could have been lifted from a not very frightening English horror film where sexy lesbian vampires are never far away and there’s a pre-Pilot band called Scotch Mist with a song called Pamela, and oh, oh, oh it’s far from Magic. Or January.

But I much prefer this gloomy folk number to their lightweight pop though.

The dawning of the new decade might conjure up images of boys and girls in badly knitted tank tops; Please Sir!, Queenie’s Castle and Magpie and pints of mild served up in dimpled pint tumblers by an Alf Ramsey lookalike, probably known as something like Cyril or Selwyn. For me it’s when I began to develop an increasing interest in music, big chart singles like In The Summertime, My Sweet Lord and Spirit In The Sky.

Released towards the end of the year (and even better) was The Kinks’ Apeman with its catchy calypso tinged feel and amazing lyrics – ‘I’m a King Kong man, I’m a voodoo man, oh I’m an apeman’ and with one of them, John Gosling, dressed up as an ape while he pounded the piano on Top of the Pops.

This was as good as it got for an eight or nine year old.

From the snappily titled Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One here is Apeman:

 
Slightly before Apeman came out another single I loved was released: Ride a White Swan by T. Rex. This took it’s time to head up the hit parade, spending eleven whole weeks before peaking at its highest chart position, number two, by which time we were into 1971.

Ditching incense and Tolkien and embracing satin and tat (and electric guitars) proved a masterstroke for Marc Bolan and it wouldn’t be long before the term T. Rextasy was coined, reflecting the band’s phenomenal rise. Pop was becoming very important to me and my fellow children of the revolution, mainly thanks to Ride a White Swan, a ‘boogie mind poem’ that helped kick-start glam rock.

‘Over and done inside two minutes,’ Bob Stanley noted in his book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, ‘it was simplicity itself and genuinely exciting.’

Something that you couldn’t say about a single track on English Weather.

With the kind of crazily catchy three note riff that even the giants of rock and roll would have envied, here is Ride a White Swan:

 
For more on the The Kinks click here, and for more on Marc Bolan/T.Rex, here you go.

Older Entries