There’s A Message In Milwaukee…

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7x7-1977

XTC: RADIOS IN MOTION (PEEL SESSION)

Like many other acts of a certain vintage, XTC are currently reissuing some highlights from their discography and just out is 1992’s Nonsuch, which is now available in two different versions, one a CD+DVD-A, the other a CD+Blu-ray edition, both with wads of extras.

Very good Nonsuch is too, crammed as it is with idiosyncratic pastoral pop from the perennially underachieving West Country combo who at this point consisted of Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory.

Opener The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead immediately demonstrates Partridge’s peerless ability to pen exquisite and peculiar pop nuggets – named after a pumpkin that he’d carved for his children one Halloween, the track developed into a tale of somebody who pays a price for being pretty much perfect, appropriately enough, it sounds pretty much perfect too; Humble Daisy harked back to the golden age of The Beach Boys and could have been a lost gem from an old bootleg of Smile and Crocodile is four minutes of joyous psych flavoured fun on the theme of jealousy.

Nonsuch, though, wasn’t much of a commercial success first time round even if it did earn the occasional glowing review in the music press. In the age of grunge, where guitars were loud and distorted and when young men with unkempt hair were howling out angsty lyrics, Seattle seemed to be on everyone’s lips. Swindon was not.

Maybe if Britpop had hatched just a little earlier, Nonsuch might have struck a chord with a much larger chunk of the British record and CD buying public who, via the likes of Blur, would soon be rediscovering the great British songwriting tradition of artists like Ray Davies. Certainly the influence of XTC is clear on Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish, released a year later.

Of course, XTC wouldn’t be taking advantage of this trend as it peaked in the middle part of the 1990s, as, pissed off with what they perceived as their label Virgin’s substandard promotion of Nonsuch, they went on strike and didn’t bring out another album till Apple Venus Volume 1 in 1999.

Actually musical fashion wasn’t the only problem facing Nonsuch, which, come to think of it, wasn’t the greatest title possible either was it?* Likewise, the cover wasn’t much of an attention grabber either but, worst of all, XTC’s touring days were already effectively over due to the acute stagefright that Partridge experienced whenever he appeared in front of an audience.

Back in their early days, XTC had actually been pretty prolific giggers. During the era of punk and new wave, they appeared at most of the cool venues of the time: the Roxy in Covent Garden, the Electric Circus in Manchester and Liverpool Eric’s – and, that November, on a short trip north of the border, they fitted in dates at the Maniqui in Falkirk and Clouds in Edinburgh. They visited Glasgow twice in ’78 but both times were booked to play at the students only QMU so I couldn’t get to see them – didn’t know any students and was underage anyway. Never did get to see them live. Boo. Hiss.

Like many new groups of the time I first heard them when John Peel aired a session of theirs back in 1977 when Radio 1 would shut down at 7.00 for three hours and transmit whatever happened to be on sister station Radio 2 before reappearing with Peel, who would broadcast from ten till midnight five nights a week, the station promptly closing down again immediately afterwards.

This version of Radios in Motion was recorded on the 20th of June at BBC Studio Maida Vale 4 and was transmitted by Peel four nights later.


Radios in Motion, which usually opened early XTC shows, was also chosen to kick off their debut album, 1978’s White Music.

The introduction with the radio dial tuning into a variety of stations was dropped when they went into the Manor Studio in Oxfordshire and producer John Leckie pointed out that Live! in the Air Age by Be Bop Deluxe, an album that he’d been heavily involved with, had used something similar. None of the band had heard that album.


Fifteen years after that first Peel sesh, XTC made what by that point was a very rare appearance on BBC 2’s The Late Show. Introduced by a young Kirsty Wark, they performed the song that originally closed Nonsuch, Books Are Burning, which possessed a late period Beatles feel and a fine guitar duel near the end between Partridge and Dave Gregory. The song, written largely in response to The Satanic Verses controversy was one that Andy was immensely proud of.

XTC Trivia: The line in Radios in Motion, There’s a message in Milwaukee, is mainly down to the fact that Andy Partridge had an aunt who lived in, you’ve guessed it, Milwaukee.

* A variant of nonesuch, in case you didn’t know (& I didn’t). It means a person or thing without equal.

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Gigantic x 2

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Tonight sees the final date of a sold-out European tour by Pixies at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. During the tour they’ve slotted in some new songs such as recent single Bagboy (and a cover of The Fall’s New Big Prinz) into sets still dominated by the sort of back catalogue that ensures that selling out venues like Hammersmith and the Barrowlands in minutes is a formality.

Talking last week in NME, Black Francis revealed that he would like what he terms ‘Phase 2’ of the band – with new bassist Kim Shattuck – to experience the same highs as when they first met with success in Britain and parts of Europe in the 1980s: ‘People were throwing themselves at the stage. It was like a religious revival or something. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something like that again but I always hope that can happen again.’

I can’t claim that my own reaction to the band was quite that intense when I first saw them myself in the spring of 1989 at Glasgow Uni’s Queen Margaret Union although I did pogo around to Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones before they took to the stage – well I had been on a bit of a Byres Road pub crawl beforehand – and did go just a little wild the moment Pixies appeared from the wings.

This was a definite highlight that night:

 
And now for another Gigantic, one that features in the latest edition of the Late Night Tales series of compilation CDs, which this time round is selected and sequenced by British musician, DJ and producer Simon Green, aka Bonobo.

This Gigantic, written and performed by Eddi Front, is sparse and solemn, an ethereal piano accompanying Eddi’s sweet but just a little husky vocals. I like the fact that the song is slightly eerie but also somehow soothing.

 
The track first appeared last year on her self-titled debut EP on Best Fit
Recordings, which helped her carve out something of a name for herself and led to her being compared with everyone from Lana Del Rey to Lucinda Williams.

I see her as being located somewhere between Cat Power and Julee Cruise myself, although for the latter’s influence you should seek out Texas, another of her songs from her EP.

An album should be out early in the New Year.

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Sexual Objects and Casual Sex

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OK, if you happen to be a perv who’s stumbled on here hoping for either a little titillation or even something downright naughty, sorry but this post is actually all about two of the very best singles to come out of Scotland this year so you know where YouPorn is.*

Firstly, an irresistible new track by The Sexual Objects, the latest band to feature the former Fire Engines, Win and Nectarine No. 9 frontman Davy Henderson. Last night the SOBs backed the legendary Vic Godard at Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms, performing Vic’s What’s the Matter Boy? album in full. They’re appearing again tonight with Vic at Glasgow’s CCA. Was hoping to be there myself but, due to unforeseen circumstances, sadly it wasn’t to be.

Vic Godard CCA 2013

Here’s Feels With Me, which according to their Facebook page, was filmed in Girona, Osaka and Dunbar by Soland Goose. Enjoy.

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You may well have been hearing a lot recently about Casual Sex, the band that is.They seem to be Vic Godard fans and their debut single Stroh 80, was released earlier this year on limited edtion 7″ vinyl and download on the Moshi Moshi Singles Club and very good it was too, especially the glammy guitar that sounded midway between Mick Ronson and Robert Fripp. They’ve just been supporting Franz Ferdinand on tour and have just brought out an EP from which this comes – Nothing on Earth, the video of which was filmed not in Girona, Osaka or Dunbar but in good ol’ Glasgow by Partikular Films.

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The Bastard Beat EP is available through We Can Still Picnic on limited edition 12” vinyl and digitally through all reputable outlets. And I can’t put it any better than one fan did on YouTube: ‘fantastische fantastische fantastische’.

* I’m not one to incessantly check the number of visitors accessing this blog but I am just a little curious about traffic numbers here over the next few days.

Space, Space Disco & Space Art

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7x7 1977

SPACE: MAGIC FLY

Over the past couple of days I’ve been listening to a 20 track compilation released last month and, as you’ll be able to tell from its less than snappy title, Cosmic Machine: A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (1970-1980), this isn’t the sort of thing that’ll be troubling too many radio playlists any time soon.

I bet Stereolab love it though.

Defining French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde music remains difficult even after hearing the album a number of times.

Temps X by Didier Marouani (mainly known as a member of Space) comes across as Tangerine Dream meets Jean Michel Jarre, while Rene Roussel’s Caramel Is sounds like it might have been recorded in Chicago years later and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the dancefloor at Shoom during the second summer of love, Universal Energy’s Disco Energy ,on the other hand, could conceivably have come from the soundtrack of a TV cop show set in the mean streets of Paris round about the time when millions of British households were tuning into The Sweeney.

Then there’s a track that was written after the aforementioned Didier Marouani was asked compose a music theme for an astrology related TV show to be shown in France. He decided that synthesizers would be ideal for his idea. He bought one and, within minutes, the hypnotic, futuristic disco of Magic Fly was born, one of the relatively few non punk/new wave chart hits of 1977 I’ve always found intriguing.

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This was Disco but I doubt they ever played Magic Fly any time Tony Manero and his buddies were out cutting a rug at 2001 Odyssey and I’m guessing that it wasn’t too big with the Studio 54 brigade either.

In the era of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, what was quickly dubbed ‘Space Disco’ took off in countries such as France and Germany and occasionally made a foray into the British and American charts too.

Think female singers dressed in skimpy silver outfits that nobody at NASA would have ever contemplated designing and men looking like extras from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, think performances and videos accompanied by some spectacularly silly special effects that must surely have looked dreadfully gimmicky even in the ’70s, think Dee D. Jackson’s Automatic Lover, a hit single produced by Giorgio Moroder and Supernature by Cerrone – surely a huge influence on Daft Punk’s track Giorgio Moroder. Cerrone, incidentally, are represented on Cosmic Machine by Générique (Début).

Space Disco, you won’t be too surprised to learn, wasn’t destined to have a terribly long shelf life, although many of the acts involved moved on in new directions and continued to record.

Here’s another track from Cosmic Machine, my personal fave, Love Machine by Space Art, whose Nous Savons Tout from 1978 could have been classified as Space Disco but who might generally be better described as ‘Cosmic Synth Pop’ if you’re really into categorising your subgenres.

Love Machine came out in 1980 and must have sounded like a breath of fresh air at the time.

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Remind you of any French electronic duo of today?

New Talent Alert – An Interview With Tess Parks

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Tess Parks 359 Music

Tess is a true believer in the church of rock’n’roll. She’s got great taste and is really sharp. I got lucky again!

Alan McGee

A native of Toronto, aged 17 Tess Parks made the decision to move to London, where she briefly studied photography at the University of the Arts before dropping out – although she is still a compulsive snapper. Tess did, however, stay on in London for three years afterwards, sporadically gigging as a solo act without making any major inroads into the business. Or so she may have thought.

Tess had though made an impression on one industry legend – step forward Alan McGee, albeit the timing of their meeting could hardly have been less ideal; McGee was no longer involved in music and Tess wasn’t even supposed to still be resident on these shores due to her visa expiring some months previously (see interview below).

An enforced return to Canada followed where she decided to augment her sound by getting a band together with guitarist Andrew McGill, bassist Thomas Huhtala and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Paxton-Beesley.

The Good People as they call themselves have now been wowing audiences for around a year, including a very well received spot at last month’s CBGB Music & Film Festival in New York – by which point, of course, Alan McGee had fortuitously decided to re-enter the music business and launched a brand new label. In the early days of planning 359 Music, he’d phoned Tess in Toronto to ask if she would like to be a part of the venture.

She did. She absolutely did.

Tess is currently back in Britain in the run up to the release of her album Blood Hot, an event that she describes as being ‘the project my whole life has been leading up to.’

This might sound as scary as it is exciting but if the bulk of Blood Hot is anywhere near the standard of the couple of tracks I’ve heard so far, then Tess is surely on to a winner.

The sound?

Absorbing, sensitive and evocative. As a rough guide think Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval fronting Slowdive – if they were from the other side of the Atlantic rather than Reading – with a little dreamy modern day psych folk thrown in for good measure.

The look?

Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue cover model from 1968.

And the outlook?

You’ve guessed, McGee did get lucky again.

With a compelling, melancholic sway, here’s the lead single, Somedays, which for my money might just be the most mesmerizing three minutes or so of music released all year.

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I’m guessing right now must be like a dream for you, a single just out with an album to follow on the new label of the guy who once signed your favourite band, Oasis?

Haha yes, it’s a dream!

You couldn’t tell from the music that you’re such a massive Oasis fan, could you? What other singers and bands do you most admire?

I don’t want to be too obvious stealing from my favourite band! I love Bob Dylan, I love the Rolling Stones, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spacemen 3…

The tale of how you met Alan for the first time is an interesting one.

Yes, I met Alan very serendipitously at 12 Bar in Denmark Street. I wasn’t even supposed to be living in London anymore.

Was being signed to 359 destiny or just good luck?

I couldn’t tell you! It feels like destiny… but it could just be a lot of good luck.

And speaking of luck, due to a lapsed immigration visa you had to leave London a few years ago and return home to Toronto – I might have suggested jokingly that you should have went down the fake marriage routine in order to stay in the UK but back in Canada you teamed up with a shit hot group of musicians who totally complement your songs so it looks like it turned out for the best.

Haha, I was SO sad to leave London, but it turned out for the best. Everything happens for a reason.

Looks like there’s a thriving music scene in Toronto at the moment. Ostrich Tuning are very different from you but sometimes have the same kind of hypnotic quality and BB Guns must be a great band to see live.

Yes! I love those bands so much! They’re some of my favourite people and best friends! Ostrich Tuning are insanely good live also. BB Guns are like a modern day sexy sixties girl band.

The reaction to your music so far seems to be routinely positive. Even on YouTube the video for Somedays hasn’t even had one person press Dislike yet.

No dislikes! Thank goodness! It’s cool yeah, I haven’t heard any bad words yet!

One of the tracks on the album is called This Time Next Year, so do you have an idea of where you want to be in November 2014?

I just want to be happy. And stay happy!

Thanks, Tess and good luck with Blood Hot!

Tess Parks (Luis Mora )
© Luis Mora

Blood Hot will be released on Monday, 18 November.

For more on Tess:

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Some Pirate Love

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7x7 1977

THE HEARTBREAKERS: PIRATE LOVE

‘The band plays rock and roll like guns fire bullets, like steamrollers flatten tarmac, like thunder rolls, like trees fall, like, hell, like you’ve never heard before,’ so enthused Record Mirror’s Barry Cain of a Heartbreakers show at Clouds in Edinburgh late in October 1977 to promote their recently released album L.A.M.F. ‘It’s unfortunate in a way that their name has been linked with the London bands that have sprung up in the past year because their brand of music is as timeless as it is iridescent.’

After the previous post, I couldn’t resist staying with The Heartbreakers and thought I’d invite Nina Antonia to choose her favourite track of theirs for the second in this blog’s 7×7:1977 series. Here’s her choice, a swaggering, staggeringly fine slice of 1970s NYC street punk – Pirate Love, originally written by Thunders a few years earlier as a demoralised New York Dolls edged ever closer to a break-up and thankfully retrieved for L.A.M.F. 

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Don’t they make it sound absolutely effortless?

Here’s an ad for the latter part of that Heartbreakers October 1977 tour from an ageing copy of NME, the quality isn’t great, even with my scanner at its highest resolution and a whole lot of footering around with Contrast and Brightness on my ten year old version of PaintShop Pro but I thought I’d include it anyway as I haven’t seen it anywhere else online.

Heartbreakers October 1977 Tour ad

And finally, Johnny may have sang of Pirate Love but, post-Heartbreakers, he did become increasingly pissed off with the pirates who continually circulated generally low quality bootlegs of his solo shows. Eventually though, he came up with the perfect solution to combat the situation.

As he puts it at the end of a version of Wipe Out, the final track on an ‘official’ release from 1990*: ‘First of all I looked at this book one day, right. And there was like fucking, uh, sixty five bootlegs of Johnny Thunders. So I said fuck, all these dudes making all this money. So what I did, myself, I had the idea that I would take a song from here, a song from there off these bootlegs and fucking bootleg the bootleggers. You assholes thought you’d put one over on me!’

And at this point Johnny lets out one almighty roar of well deserved laughter.

* Johnny Thunders – Bootlegging The Bootleggers. Jungle Records.

Johnny Thunders – The Movie (An Interview With Nina Antonia)

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Johnny Thunders In Cold Blood

Like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean before him, Johnny Thunders has a certain mythology. Perhaps it’s because there are so few authentic characters left in rock and roll, maybe it’s because he left behind a mystery.

Nina Antonia

Earlier this year, as Britain experienced a rare heatwave and celebrated an even rarer Wimbledon triumph, I interviewed author Nina Antonia just before she’d been invited over to Hollywood to meet the production team who had optioned the screen rights for her cult book Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood.

At that point, there were still many elements that needed to fall into place in order to get film off the ground but happily progress in the project’s development has continued apace since the summer to the point where, last week, Los Angeles production company L.A.M.F Films were able to announce that Alexander Soskin had been chosen to direct the biopic, with shooting scheduled for 2014; the film’s screenplay to be adapted by Chloe Fontana and Ada Guerin.

So with that exciting news for all Johnny Thunders, New York Dolls and Heartbreakers fans, I thought I’d update the section of the interview pertaining to In Cold Blood and find out Nina’s latest thoughts on the upcoming film. But first a little about Nina.

Nina Antonia - L.A.M.F Films
© L.A.M.F Films

Originally from Liverpool, Nina grew up between the crossroads of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. Not that she was ever a fan of the Fab Four.

This gives a clue into Nina’s artistic tastes. Speaking in her book The Prettiest Star of her discovery of Alice Cooper in the early 1970s, she wrote: ‘I began to develop a taste for the outlawed and outcast, the ostracised and the subversive.’

Aged twelve, she came across some articles and photos of an unsigned new five piece band from America who even the so called king of schlock rock couldn’t compete with – the ‘fabulously unsettling’ New York Dolls.

The fascination with the Dolls and their rooster haired lead guitarist Johnny Thunders would become a lifelong passion and Johnny would be the subject of Nina’s first book, which she began writing in 1982.

During her attempts to find a publisher, she was informed that women weren’t capable of writing about rock music, that Thunders wasn’t deserving of a biography and even, by someone interested enough to invite her to meet, that punk was dead and few would remember the likes of Johnny.

Well, everybody is entitled to an opinion. Even eejits.

Eventually in 1987, Johnny’s label, Jungle Records, published Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood. Although the original version is now out of print, an updated version is currently available through Cherry Red and the book has now rather impressively remained in print for 25 years, and was authorized by the man himself, who Nina met and befriended in London while working on the biography. For Nina Antonia, it has been a life altering journey and there is still more to be done, in fact, Nina is currently revising the book for a Kindle edition with an extra chapter.

Nina Antonia by Vanessa Lawrence
© Vanessa Lawrence

You started out writing some pieces for fanzines, then seem to have bypassed the Sounds/NME/Melody Maker route and went straight into your biography of Johnny.

Nina: ‘I would have loved to have contributed to the weekly music press but as a single mum living in the middle of nowhere, access to them was out of my reach. I went straight from having two pieces published in a local ’zine, into Thunder’s biography. It seemed easier to manage than attempting to make it as a journalist. I simply didn’t have the freedom or funds to live that way. Even going to gigs was difficult although I did get to see what I believe was the Smith’s second gig, supporting Richard Hell at Rafters in Manchester!’

My favourite part of ‘The Prettiest Star’ is probably where you take your daughter out in a baby buggy on a miserable estate with the neighbours looking on disapprovingly with no idea that the single mum in the funny clothes has been writing the first biography of one of the most influential musicians of the time, Johnny Thunders.

Nina: ‘It’s interesting what you said about the neighbours looking on disapprovingly. They may have disapproved even more if they’d known I was writing a book about Thunders, especially at that time. It’s worth mentioning that JT wasn’t particularly in vogue with the music press in 1982, not that I let that deter me. In fact it was something of a spur. A book has just come out about the Anarchy Tour, and it mentions Johnny Thunders – ‘In Cold Blood’ being greatly anticipated. Whilst it was a very nice statement, at the time of publication in 1987, aside from a couple of good reviews by Thunders aficionado’s, it got a pretty low key reception. Like all books that are eventually deemed ‘Cult’, its reputation has grown with the years. I had no idea it was going to snowball in the way that it has done. It’s now been in print for a record amount of years. Music books rarely have longevity. The original first edition is now very collectable, I believe the most that it has sold for was £500 which is crazy. I’d also like to point that the only person that usually profits from those kind of sales is the book seller, not the author.’

Are you actively involved in the film?

Nina: ‘I’ve been asked to be a consultant on the film and have already given feedback on the script. I feel a bit like a mid-wife at the moment! It’s a lengthy but very exciting process and watching it come to fruition is very rewarding. Life goes in cycles and there is a huge revival of interest in Johnny Thunders at the moment. I’m not sure if you are aware that there is also a documentary being made by Danny Garcia called ‘Looking for Johnny’? Danny has gathered some great interviews and footage and has been incredibly thorough in his research and dedication. Like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean before him, Johnny Thunders has a certain mythology. Perhaps it’s because there are so few authentic characters left in rock and roll.’

Are you pleased with how the film is shaping up?

Nina: ‘Definitely. Over the last couple of years, at least 6 different production companies got in touch about optioning the rights to make ‘In Cold Blood’ into a film. However, none of the contenders really hit the mark. For one reason or another, the pitch just wasn’t right until L.A.M.F Films, who are an independent production company from LA, got in touch. It was never about money but making sure that whoever the book went to had good intentions and were going to show sensitivity to the subject and that’s exactly what L.A.M.F Films have done. It isn’t just a case of making a rock n roll movie; Thunders has family, children and grandchildren. To have enabled something less than courteous to his memory just wouldn’t be right.

Who would you like to see play Johnny in the film?

Nina: ‘Now that’s the big question! Adrien Brody is a fine actor and I believe his mother used to be a photographer for New York Rocker which is a good start but you never know, there might be a great unknown out there who will take the role on. I’ve always rated the actor who played Christopher Montesanto from the Sopranos as well but age is a factor too. Al Pacino would have been ideal back in the era of ‘Panic in Needle Park’ and ‘Dog Day Afternoon.’

Michael Imperioli was actually the only person I could think of off the top of my head to play Johnny. A great actor who I’ve not seen on screen for a while. Saying that Adrien Brody might really work too and looks more like Johnny. I think he does anyway.

Nina: ‘It’s all conjecture at the moment, but irresistible none the less!’

Cheers, Nina and good luck with the film!

If you’d like to find out more about Nina and the film, the best place to start is via her Facebook page: Nina Antonia, Author

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