Marc & Mickey, Beep & David & Henry (& the Nearest I Get to a Rock ‘n’ Roll Claim to Fame)

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Marc Bolan - Evening Times 16 09 1977

As you likely know, T.Rex frontman Marc Bolan died exactly forty years ago today. BBC 4 marked the occasion with Cosmic Dancer, an hour long documentary on the great man with contributions from some of the people who knew him best including second wife Gloria Jones, ex-John’s Children bandmate Andy Ellison and former publicist BP Fallon (more on him later).

My favourite description of Marc, though, came via another former publicist Keith Altham, who spoke of him being ‘a rainbow of contradictions’. Cosmic Dancer is definitely worth a watch and I found the sections on his time with John’s Children, and the recording of Zinc Alloy particularly interesting. I did think though that some mention of his old mucker Davy Jones might have been made.

T. Rex were absolutely massive in Britain in the early 1970s and Marc Bolan instantly became the nation’s biggest star when Hot Love knocked Mungo Jerry’s Baby Jump off the top of the charts in the Spring of 1971.

When these Glam Rock pioneers blazed in to Glasgow a few months later to play a packed out Green’s Playhouse they required a police escort just to get past a frenzied crowd and into the venue. T. Rex were experiencing Beatles style adoration and BP Fallon coined the term ‘T.Rextasy’ to describe the mass hysteria spreading across the country like wild-fire.

And here I have to say that when talking heads appear on TV to tell us all how grey the 1970s, I have to laugh. In fact, it makes me almost glad I’m middle-aged because, as a ten year old, I lived in a world of T.Rex and David Bowie and all the other androgynised peacocks with their swashbuckling stomps and glittery garbs while today bores like Ed Sheeran and Adele rule the airwaves.

From the Ringo Starr directed Born to Boogie, this is Telegram Sam, a British #1 back in 1972.

 
And here’s that little Rock ‘n’ Roll claim to Fame of mine. When Born to Boogie was given a limited re-release around selected British cinemas in 2005, it was accompanied by a short film called All Over Brazil. Which I wrote. The film had already screened at a number of festivals around the globe including some biggies like Berlin and the British Pavilion at Cannes but this was somehow a bigger thrill. Kind of like supporting T.Rex.

Okay, not quite but the nearest I could ever hope to get to it.

I did also get to know Mickey Finn when I lived on the south coast for a time in the 1980s but that’s another story although since this blog likes to talk about Scottish music, I’ll just mention that he was pretty keen to find out more about what was happening in Glasgow at the time with bands like Simple Minds and Orange Juice on the rise.

And now for a tribute within a tribute.

Listening for the first time to David Holmes’ Late Night Tales compilation, I was knocked out by just how mesmerizing the tribute to BP Fallon’s old pal Henry McCullough sounded.

Fallon is one of those remarkable figures in the business whose influence weaves right through music from the sixties to the present day, with connections to everyone from Led Zeppelin to My Bloody Valentine, Iggy Pop to Jack White. He mimed bass guitar with John Lennon when the former moptop visited the Top Of The Pops studios to perform Instant Karma, he managed Johnny Thunders for a time, interviewed Morrissey at London’s ICA and was (nick)name-checked by Marc Bolan as ‘Purple browed Beep’ in the lyrics of Telegram Sam. Beep really is a guy with countless rock ‘n’ roll claims to fame.

Recorded in one take, here are David Holmes and BP Fallon with Henry McCullough:

 
For more on Marc: https://www.facebook.com/marcbolan/

And for more on Beep: http://www.bpfallon.com/

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Goodbye, Holger Czukay

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Can: Animal Waves (Virgin)

I can’t claim to planned this series of my favourite 49 tracks (plus 1 bonus) from 1977 too much in advance but have always known that something from Saw Delight by Can would be included somewhere along the line.

With the recent death of Holger Czukay, it seems appropriate to post this now rather than leaving it till later.

As I’ve written before on here, I pretty missed out on Krautrock during my youth, mistakenly believing that the music was some form of German prog. I did, though, love I Want More when the song entered the charts in the second half of 1976.

Then punk exploded and by the time Can arrived in Glasgow to play Strathclyde Uni in March 1977, they had been forgotten. Filed under irrelevant. Which in hindsight was a mistake. A pretty big fucking mistake when you listen to music like this. My favourite version of Animal Waves is the edited one on Anthology but here’s a much longer version of the song that has never been officially released:


‘I have just turned 46,’ Holger Czukay told the NME back in 1984, while discussing a bathchair in the corner of his kitchen. ‘Still too young to marry! Ha ha. When I’m 80 I will get married and this bathchair will be the present to my wife!’

Unfortunately, Holger never did reach the 80 mark, dying earlier this week aged 79. He did though marry although I’m not sure if his wife Ursula ever received the chair as a wedding gift.

Sadly she died just a few months ago and with Holger’s Can bandmate Jaki Liebezeit passing away too back in January this really has been a horrible year for Can and their fans.

Also from Saw Delight, here’s Don’t Say No which obviously shares a very big resemblance to Moonshake:


RIP Holger Czukay (24 March 1938 – 5 September 2017)

These Days (Nico 1988)

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Nico 1988 Poster & Premiere

The latest in the increasingly frantic conveyor belt of rock and pop biopics, Nico, 1988, has just received its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, where it opened the Horizons strand.

At this rate we’ll soon be running out of singer’s stories to be told. I fancy seeing a Billy Mackenzie movie myself – with the opening scene consisting of The Associates being dropped in the London offices of their record company and then cutting to Billy as he steps into a taxi, explaining to the cabbie that this will be his last free ride on the company tab. Before telling him where he wants to be taken. Dundee.

Anyway, so far, there haven’t been too many reviews of Nico, 1988 but there is evidence of a buzz building and I dare say I’ll be heading out to have a look myself when it arrives in Britain albeit I’ll be going with, at best, moderate expectations. Decades of experience have taught me that this is the best strategy to employ when going to see any biopic.

Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli (that’s her in the middle of the photo top right), the film stars Danish actor Trine Dyrholm, who was very impressive last year in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune. Trine started out as a singer herself and it’ll be particularly interesting to hear how she tackles Nico’s unique vocal style, which many have likened to a foghorn.

I’ll give you she can often be off-key but I adore that bleak but mesmerizing baritone. Her version of The End makes The Doors’ original sound like a cheery ditty but that colder than Alaska in wintertime intonation is the perfect accompaniment to her music. And timeless too. You could imagine a chanteuse in Weimar era Berlin sounding like that, or even in a peasant woman in medieval times in the Alps with that voice entertaining her fellow villagers during a local celebration. Well, I can imagine that kinda thing anyway.

From Nico’s debut album Chelsea Girl this is one of the most beautifully melancholic songs you could ever hope to hear:


Born Christa Päffgen, Nico was a model, working with the likes of Coco Chanel; an actor – she participated in some of Lee Strasberg’s method classes – along with Marilyn Monroe if the legend is true – and was given a walk-on role in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita before moving to NYC and hanging out with the Andy Warhol crowd and starring in his experimental Chelsea Girls. She was also a muse to the likes of Brian Jones and Jim Morrison but where Nico really shone was as a singer and musician.

She may still be best remembered for the three songs she sang on the greatest album ever recorded, The Velvet Underground and Nico, but her solo work can be spellbinding too. Particularly on her second and third albums, The Marble Index (1968) and Desertshore (1970).

Nico x 4

Nico, 1988, though, examines the tail end of her career, think Tony Wilson’s Factory rather than Andy Warhol’s. Grit rather than glamour. This is the era of a scagged-up singer washed up in Salford and Manchester, playing to limited audiences for little money, that money inevitably being quickly spent securing smack from some scumbag dealer. No Lou Reed, no Edie Sedgwick, no Bob Dylan but instead a number of far less famous faces like her manager and local scenester Alan Wise, a key figure in post-punk Manchester.

Nico_1988_still_2

John Gordon Sinclair plays Wise although here he seems to have been renamed Richard (he was also renamed Dr Demetrius in James Young’s Songs They Never Play on the Radio). Nico, 1988, is based to some extent on interviews with Wise, who sadly died in 2016, Peter Hook calling him: ‘A true Salford legend’ and also claiming ‘God now has a great promoter!’

Now if I happened to be the casting director whose job entailed finding an actor to play the man, I must admit Sinclair wouldn’t be someone that would immediately spring to mind for the role. The idea being even less likely than choosing his old Gregory’s Girl co-star Clare Grogan to portray Nico.

Nicchiarelli, though, is aiming for the spirit of the characters rather than going down the mimicry/lookalike route.

In an online interview for Fred TV, she stressed that her intention (together with Trine Dyrholm) was: ‘Never to imitate the real Nico or never to be blocked by reality, by the fact that it was a true story. We tried to invent, we tried to be free… At the same time with the respect that is due to a true story.’ She also stressed that she wasn’t attempting to tell the whole story.

So, if you want to see a very linear tale of Nico from her childhood through to her final days, shot with the kind of slavish veracity that New York Times fact checkers would approve of, then this is not the biopic for you. But bear in mind that factual accuracy seldom helps make a film more dramatically successful.

Here’s a little taster for the film:

 
A UK release date is yet to be confirmed. The Venice Film Festival ends on Saturday.

Headless Children & Don’t Go Back At Ten

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As is often the case nowadays, Marc Riley’s 6 Music show is where I first came across Madonnatron, when they came in to play a session. Very good it was too. Since then they’ve recorded another sesh for Marc and their music has been showcased regularly elsewhere on 6 Music. They’ve toured with Meatraffle and The Moonlandingz as well as performing recently at the Green Man Festival.

Now they’ve released a self-titled debut album on Trashmouth Records.

Madonnatron

Movie gurus often instruct screenplay writers to outline characters when we first meet them in only three words and on their Facebook page, Madonnatron describe themselves similarly, in their case ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

If you’re worried about that last part, don’t worry, the album does include a couple of fluid Pink Floydy basslines and the occasional organ sound that I’m sure Rick Wright might well have influenced but these are more from the psychedelic era Floyd. There’s no grand concept here (unless it’s escaped me), no weird time signatures, no ten minute drum solos and no fold-out sleeve designed by Roger Dean (although the Pope might have preferred that).

Psychedelic Witch Post-Punk might be a more accurate three word description – well, Microsoft Word counts hyphenated words as one, so I don’t think I’m cheating here. Saying that, Psychedelic Witch Prog does have a better ring to it.

Madonnatron have only been together for around a year and a half and apparently they couldn’t play their chosen instruments when they started off.

More proof then that Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule – which I alluded to a few posts back – is far from infallible. They might not be as technically proficient as some but they sure know how to concoct a gloriously primal racket with desperate vocals and harmonies that (I guess) are sometimes deliberately discordant but all the better for it.

It’s an often dark, searingly angry and eerie album. And, yeah, it is rather bewitching.

Highlights include Mother’s Funeral and Sangue Neuf, where they strike up a furiously feral chant like a girl gang moonlighting as a garage band; Be My Bitch has a great rockabilly guitar sound with the reverb cranked up really high while Glen Closer comes over like a female goth band that have just recruited Elena Poulou.

Best of all is album opener Headless Children. This is one of the most invigorating tracks released so far in 2017 and it comes with an inspired promo too.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Moon (during the Witching Hour of course):


Three words to sum up the album. Top fucking notch.

Madonnatron are playing live tomorrow at the Windmill Brixton as part of the Strong Island Recordings all-dayer and they’re set to tour the country in early 2018.

If you wanna find out more, here’s where you can find them on Facebook and Bandcamp.

*

It’s been a whole fortnight since I last featured Girl Ray. Luckily they’ve just released a new video for Don’t Go Back At Ten from their fantastic debut album Earl Grey, which gives me a great excuse for including them here again.

‘The joyous visuals,’ according to the Fader, ‘transport things back to a time when TRL dominated the culture’, which I think means it’s a parody of the kind of crap videos that I spend my life attempting to avoid.

No need to avoid this though. Here is Don’t Go Back At Ten:


If you wanna see Girl Ray – and why wouldn’t you? – here are the band’s upcoming British tour dates:

Leeds, Headrow House (October 31)
Manchester, Gullivers (November 1)
Glasgow, Broadcast (November 2)
Newcastle, Think Tank Underground (November 3)
Birmingham, Hare & Hounds (November 5)
Oxford, The Cellar (November 6)
Bristol, Louisiana (November 7)
Brighton, Green Door Store (November 8)
London, The Scala (November 9)

For more on Girl Ray click here.

Girl Ray & Gemma Ray (with Sparks)

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Girl Ray & Gemma Ray (& Sparks)

Earl Grey is not my particular cup of tea. The lemony flavoured tea that is.
Earl Grey the album by Girl Ray on the other hand is flipping fantastic.

If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you’ll be aware of his 10,000 hour rule. This roughly holds that in order to truly excel in your chosen field you need to put in 10,000 hours of what he terms ‘deliberate practice’.* The author cites the example of The Beatles among others, pointing out the crucial part in their later success generated by their time spent in Hamburg, playing lengthy speed-fuelled shows night after night for months at the time.

Which doesn’t, though, explain why young bands like Girl Ray can arrive and already sound so accomplished.

Girl Ray consist of three teenagers from North London: Poppy Hankin (lovelorn & occasionally off-kilter vocals & guitar), Sophie Moss (bass) and Iris McConnell (drums). Earlier this year they recorded their debut album in Ramsgate with some help from their Man Ray, Mike O’Malley, who is now their touring guitarist.

Listening to Earl Grey reminds me on occasion of Gorky’s and Cate Le Bon and sometimes they even remind me of acts from outside Wales too although none of them could be filed under C86, a comparison that is often made.

Preacher starts out like one of those very idiosyncratic Velvets tracks that Moe Tucker might take over on vocal duties while the instrumental, second part of Stupid Things (Reprise) somehow made me think of old Rod the Mod’s version of I Don’t Want To Talk About It. According to Stereogum, both Rod and Girl Ray attended the same school. But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

There really are a myriad of influences here, many of them unexpected like the organ motif in Cutting Shapes that’s more than a little proggy. On their Facebook page they describe former snooker star Steve Davies as their hero so maybe they’re into all that Magma and Henry Cow stuff that he adores.

Or maybe they’re just being ironic.

Monday Tuesday meanwhile is wonderfully melancholic and comes over at times like a cross between Hefner and Judee Sill and on the near title track Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) they certainly do get stuck in a groove.

Amazingly the song lasts thirteen minutes but it’s the shortest sounding track of that length I’ve ever heard or am likely to ever hear. Around the five and a half minute mark, the band start on a kind of fade out coda that starts off with an incantation with gorgeous harmonies and then builds like an indie version of the nah nah nah nah nah nah nah second half of Hey Jude but with all kinds of different instruments like mariachi trumpets, wah wah guitar and jazzy flutes making guest appearances over a rock solid bassline. A bit like Tubular Bells now I come to think of it.

Oh and there’s also a wee touch of Bohemian Rhapsody in the second part of the song (it’s structured into three distinct sections) and a bit of an old fashioned wigout as the song reaches its climax.

You never got that on a Mighty Lemon Drops track, did you?

Big favourites of Unthought of, though, somehow and DJ Marc Riley, the girls played two stages at Glastonbury a few months back and they’ve just been longlisted for a Q Awards ‘best breakthrough act’ gong.

Named an album of the day by 6 Music and album of the week by
Stereogum and Under The Radar, I’ll go further. Earl Grey is the Album of the Month and very likely the Album of the Summer.

It’s newly out on Moshi Moshi Records and from it, this is Stupid Things:


Girl Ray will be touring Britain in the not distant future including a date in Glasgow’s Broadcast early in November. For more on the band click here for their Bandcamp page and here for their Facebook page.

~

If you’ve ever wondered how you could get to play Carnegie Hall, here’s your answer. And Malcolm Gladwell might well agree with the advice of Ron and Russell Mael.

‘Practice, man, practice.’

This is Gemma Ray with some help from Sparks and How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?


For more on Gemma Ray here’s her website.

* A quick calculation tells me that I’ve spent very approximately a thousand hours writing blogs over the past four years so if Malcolm Gladwell’s principle is right then by around 2053, I should be pretty damn nifty at this kind of thing.

 

Bad Cover Versions, Marc E. Smith in 2027, A Comparison between Arcade Fire and David Brent and the Best Thing to Come Out of Halifax since John Noakes

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Few moments in the history of pop music can rival the absolute grandeur of Scott Walker’s baritone soaring over the impeccable orchestrations of tracks like Mrs Murphy or Montague Terrace (In Blue). Utterly sublime, dontcha think?

Maybe best of all is the macabre MOR of Plastic Palace People, which somehow managed to be a damn sight more trippy than 99% of the psychedelia going around at the time of its release; distinctly uneasy listening I would guess for a majority of the mainstream audiences that might tune into the BBC’s Saturday night variety show Scott but were more likely to enjoy a bit of Engelbert to Noel Scott Engel.

So did Jarvis Cocker’s take on the song impress last Friday during the Scott Walker Proms tribute on BBC 4 at the Albert Hall, fanboy karaoke or inventive reinterpretation?

Answer: fanboy karaoke and verging on the cringeworthy too.

The others on the bill, John Grant, Susanne Sundfør and Richard Hawley were better but none really took Walker’s simple advice beforehand to ‘try to approach it in a new way.’ Like Scott’s take on a bunch of Jacques Brel tracks. Or for that matter Alex Harvey’s version of Next.

Terrible though Jarvis was I won’t let it put me off His n’ Hers, or for that matter, the Scott Walker produced We Love Life – which, of course contained a track titled Bad Cover Version with a dig at Scott’s ‘Til The Band Comes In.


I seriously think Mark. E Smith would have been a better choice to tackle a Scott masterpiece as he really does possess the effortless knack of approaching cover versions in a new way whether it’s Sister Sledge, R. Dean Taylor or The Move.

My plan this week was to hopefully feature something from New Facts Emerge but none of the tracks have any accompanying videos and, more importantly, none of them are anywhere near as good as best work of the band.

It’s almost unthinkable – well to me anyway – but The Fall have been on something of a downward spiral for the ten years since Reformation Post TLC and the departure from the band of Smith’s missis Eleni Poulou clearly hasn’t helped matters.

In another ten year’s time Smith will still be The Fall and on his latest album there will no no music as such. It will consist solely of one long piece where the singer rants incoherently about conspiracy theories; growls; coughs up his guts and cackles insanely at something which will never become clear. It’ll also likely make Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s from New Facts sound commercial, which is saying something.

I’ll still likely be daft enough to buy a copy though.

Instead of The Fall, here’s some Arcade Fire.

Their new album Everything Now was produced by the band themselves, along with Daft Punk‘s Thomas Bangalter and Jarvis Cocker’s old Pulp mucker Steve Mackey, with co-production coming from Markus Dravs. Recorded at a number of studios including Boombox in New Orleans, the album has divided opinion. Big style.

The Independent and NME both rate Everything Now 5/5, while the 405’s reviewer reckons it’s ‘horrendously misjudged, with songs that are not just boring but actively unlikeable’ and ‘a compositional mess, somehow both gratuitously moralising and morally repugnant, duller than watching already-dry paint.’ That’ll be a 2/10 which begs the question how rank rotten would this reviewer judge an album to be before he hands out a 1.

I’m finding Everything Now very uneven as a whole (although I do prefer it to their Springsteen influenced second album) and can’t work out they failed to include I Give You Power (ft. Mavis Staples) their single from earlier in the year but thought it was a good idea to accommodate Chemistry, a track that could have been part of David Brent’s set on Life on the Road.

I do, though, adore the title track and it’s two shorter variants – Everything_Now (Continued) and Everything Now (Continued). When I first heard it I thought of everything from You’re Just To Good To Be True and the piano on Dancing Queen through to girls on holiday dancing round handbags and Peruvian buskers on Argyle Street, which can’t be a bad thing – and few songs with such downbeat lyrics have ever felt so joyous, have they?


Singer Win Butler has been railing over the past few days about criticism of the album, particularly of his ‘rapping’ on Signs Of Life. He denies he was even attempting to rap and is utterly pissed off.

So now he knows how some fans feel when his band issue dress codes for their shows, ticket holders for some recent gigs being requested to refrain from wearing ‘shorts, large logos, flip flops, tank tops, crop tops, baseball hats, solid white or red clothing,’ while also warning, ‘We reserve the right to deny entry to anyone dressed inappropriately.’

Fuck that for a caper.

Although, to be fair, they might be on to something by banning baseball caps. And flip flops too come to think of it.

Arcade Fire have just announced some dates for Spring 2018, including a date at Glasgow’s Hydro.

For more on the band: https://www.facebook.com/arcadefire/

The Orielles are a newish indie act from the good town of Halifax – let’s not hold the fact that it’s the birthplace of Ed Sheeran against it.

The band feature a couple of sisters, Esmé Dee Hand Halford (bass & vocals) and Sidonie B Halford (drums) together with their pal Henry Carlyle Wade (guitar & vocals).

Signed to Heavenly, the band like Sonic Youth and Steely Dan, Pavement and The Pastels – and they’re absolutely chuffed that Stephen Pastel is now following them on Twitter. They also cite Quentin Tarantino as an influence.

Filmed while they toured Britain back in April, this is their new single I Only Bought It For The Bottle and very good it is too, in fact, I think they’re the best thing to come out of Halifax since John Noakes. Maybe better!


For more on The Orielles: https://www.facebook.com/theorielles/

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.

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