Best of the Year 2016 (Part Three)

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Of my final ten tracks of the year, one is by Bowie and two by big pals of Bowie.

This might just be construed as sentimentality but really this isn’t remotely to do with the death of the icon. I happily included the track Blackstar in my best of 2015 list and while his final album probably wouldn’t feature in my list of ten favourite Bowie LPs, I reckon it displayed as much creativity as any album released in 2016.

If not more.


I’m sure I don’t need to explain the connections between Bowie and Iggy or Ian Hunter but you might not know that the ex-Mott singer was far from an Iggy fan, once putting the boot in by claiming: ‘I think Iggy’s the most overrated star ever. Iggy has all the attributes of stardom, except that he doesn’t deliver on any level. He’s the all-time ‘should-have-but-didn’t and it’s because he’s just not good enough.’

Well, Mr Hunter got that one spectacularly wrong but hey, Iggy fans were pretty thin on the ground back then.

The first two Stooges albums met with mostly scorn from critics and music lovers – well, the minority of them that had even heard the records, Rolling Stone, for example, branded their debut as ‘loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish.’

Sandy Robertson, the author and former Sounds journalist, once told me that when import copies of Raw Power first hit Britain, one guy serving behind the counter of a music shop was utterly flabbergasted that he wanted to buy a copy.

This might strike you as strange and I struggle to get my head around it myself having only discovered The Stooges later. James Newell Osterberg, Jr. was obviously out of sync with the pre-punk times and way ahead of the curve. Of course, nowadays he is enshrined as a music legend and just about everybody hailed his Post Pop Depression as a late period masterpiece. Which it might just be.

Incidentally, whether Iggy rates Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople I have no idea but I’m sure that he surely must harbour at least a soft spot for Dandy, Hunter’s tribute to David Bowie from his album Fingers Crossed. ‘This world was black and white, you showed us what it’s like to live inside a rainbow.’

Anyway, back to the man who I guess doesn’t have too many shirts hanging on  the rail of his wardrobe. This is Iggy and Gardenia live at some hall in London:


After their drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in 1996, the idea of the three remaining members of Lush continuing on as a band was too painful to contemplate and although there had been talk of a reunion for some years, it wasn’t until 2015 that they decided that they really should get back together.

A couple of months ago, Lush issued a statement that they would split up again after their Manchester Academy show. ‘It is now time for us to return to our families and homes, and bring our time together as a band to a close.’

So not one of the longer reformations in pop history.

Their time back together, though, wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia and they recorded four new songs, released together as an EP titled Blind Spot.

From it, this is Out of Control, which resembled their early ethereal phase rather than their rollicking pop days of the mid-1990s:


Radiohead are always a band that put a lot of care into their promos, making sure they pick an imaginative director with a distinct vision. Just think of Michel Gondry’s Knives Out or Jonathan Glazer’s Karma Police for starters.

Last year they persuaded Chris Hopewell to produce the video for Burn the Witch and Hopewell certainly provided them with another classic with this tribute to The Wicker Man and Camberwell Green. Here it is:


These are my thirty favourite tracks of the year in no particular order:

David Bowie: I Can’t Give Everything Away
Ian Hunter: Dandy
Iggy Pop: Gardenia
Lush: Out of Control
Radiohead: Burn the Witch
Holy Esque: Tear
White: Private Lives
Dot Dash: Dumb Entertainment
The Eastern Swell: Run Down Country Palace
Ian William Craig: A Single Hope
Gabriella Cohen: Downtown
Steve Mason: Planet Sizes
Anna Meredith: The Vapours
Girl Ray: Trouble
Fat White Family: Breaking into Aldi
Rituals: Black River
The Limanas: Garden of Love
Stoor: Witchfinder General
Cate Le Bon: Wonderful
The Parrots: Too High to Die
Gold Furs: Nobody Knows
Honeyblood: Waiting for the Magic
Pixies: Classic Masher
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Amputation
Those Unfortunates: The Servant
Explosions in the Sky: Logic of a Dream
Chorusgirl: Chorusgirl
Lurkers GLM: Nearly Home
Miracle Glass Company: T.R.O.U.B.L.E
The Strokes: Drag Queen

And here I’ll give a special mention to Dot Dash, an act that have featured in all of my best of the year lists since the first in 2013. Why they aren’t better known I have no idea but they should be.

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As for re-issues, well, last year I tried to cut down on buying too many of those although I was tempted by a couple of Soul Jazz compilations that deserve to be highlighted, namely Venezuela 70, the first-ever album of its kind to concentrate on experimental rock music created in Venezuela during the 1970s and Les Punks: The French Connection, which examines the first wave Of French Punk.

Sharon Signs to Cherry Red is another goodie, a compilation of British female acts from the post-punk era. It maybe isn’t as consistently strong as the two Soul Jazz comps but it was very enjoyable to hear Strawberry Switchblade, The Twinsets and Sunset Gun again.

Also recommended is the 4 CD boxset, Action, Time, Vision (another Cherry Red release, this time of British independent punk releases of the 1970s) which had many a good track on it including our own Subs, Skids and Johnny and the Self Abusers.

I was tempted by the Alex Harvey The Last Of The Teenage Idols 14 CD box-set too and I’ll maybe add it to my collection in 20017, although as I already own so much of the music collected in the boxset I’m finding it hard to justify the cost. Lastly, it was fascinating to finally hear The Gouster on David Bowie’s (that man again!) Who Can I Be Now?

Best of the Year – Cinema

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Before I start on the good stuff, some words on the dud of the entire year.
In the lead up to the American Presidential election, Robert De Niro lashed out against Donald Trump, admitting in a video: ‘I’d like to punch him in the face,’ and explaining that he was very worried that about the direction his country might take under Trump.

Well done you may say although I would rather De Niro concentrated on the direction his own career has taken over the past two decades or so. From Goodfellas to Dirty Grandpa. That’s a career decline every bit as severe as McCartney going from A Day in the Life to that Frog Chorus nonsense but at least Macca had the excuse that We All Stand Together was aimed at children.

It’s not that I object to the infantile humour on display in Dirty Grandpa – I laugh every time I see Brian projectile vomiting on Family Guy and even found the inside the humping elephants scene in Grimsby pretty amusing – but this was just rather sad and the script’s unfunny grossouts really aren’t helped by some sanctimonious claptrap that the De Niro character dispenses to his uptight grandson.

Misconceived from its first scene through to its last, Dirty Grandpa as entertainment, rated somewhere between being forced to watch the boxset of the complete Mrs Brown’s Boys and sitting through a Westboro Baptist Church lecture about God hating fags. Maybe a Golden Raspberry would remind the greatest actor of his generation to consider putting his reputation before potential paychecks.

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2016 was far from a vintage year for films set in Scotland although some Scots did excel in the world of cinema and played a part in four of my favourites over the last twelve months. Kate Dickie put in a pitch perfect performance in one of the year’s most unsettling films, The Witch, while the ever reliable Tilda Swinton shone in her brief appearances as Thora and Thessaly Thacker (yes, you read that correctly) in the seventeenth Coen Brothers movie, the dazzling Hail, Caesar!

Karen Gillan didn’t impress quite so much in In a Valley of Violence but director David McKenzie (Young Adam, Hallam Foe) deserves to receive some attention from the Academy for his latest offering, Hell or High Water but probably won’t this time around. I expect Jeff Bridges to be more fortunate and earn a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars although Mahershala Ali is a stick on to win that category for his performance in Moonlight. Put your money on it.

Okay, the top ten.

10. Deadpool: A surprisingly entertaining watch for me, albeit I did enter the cinema with far from high expectations. Yeah, it goes out of its way to show how clever its creators are but hey, that’s preferable to most of the lowest common denominator formulaic rubbish that regularly hits cinema complexes. Ryan Reynolds is perfect for the self-referential superhero (of sorts) and lines like his one about David Beckham and good looks had me chuckling loudly.

9. 10 Cloverfield Lane: A far more interesting film than Cloverfield with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in very good form.

8. In a Valley of Violence: Although not a spaghetti western, this does have a definite pasta-ish feel and John Travolta puts in possibly his best performance since Pulp Fiction. And if there was an Oscar for best animal actor, then Jumpy as Abbie would be taking home the gong.

7. Hail, Caesar!: Fans of the Coen Brothers will lap this up, in fact, fans of cinema should lap this up, especially for the exquisite pastiches of 1950s Hollywood on display: a Noël Coward drawing room drama starring a singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich); Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in a lavish Busby Berkeley style aquatic production; a very entertaining song and dance number from the kind of musical that usually starred Gene Kelly called No Dames, where a bunch of sailors mourn the fact that they won’t see a woman for eight months after they report back for their next voyage (but after seeing their superbly choreographed routine I think they’ll be fine) and a Biblical epic Hail, Caesar! that stars George Clooney. A swell way to spend 100 minutes of your time.

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6. De Palma: Watching this documentary in the GFT a few months ago reminded me of just how many great films Brian De Palma has directed over the years such as Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables. I’m now even tempted to give Bonfire of the Vanities another chance.

5. The Witch: Watching The Witch, or The VVitch as it is styled, got me thinking of the way that even all this time later there are still parts of the world where religion reigns totally; where men are thrown off buildings for being gay, where women are forced to marry men who rape them and, even in one case I read about early last year, a Iraqi teenager was publicly beheaded for listening to Western music. The Witch is a harrowing watch but also a very worthwhile one.

4. Sweet Bean was never going to cause any stampedes in the queuing areas of cinema chains but this Japanese film about an elderly lady finding fulfilment in a job making the filling for pancakes was one of the most satisfying watches of 2016. My review here.

3. Hell or High Water: A neo-Western heist thriller by David MacKenzie, a director who has always chosen the music for his movies wisely. For The Last Great Wilderness he persuaded The Pastels to provide the soundtrack, for Young Adam he turned to David Byrne while this time around its Nick Cave, along with Warren Ellis, who supply the score.

2. The Hateful Eight: Released in America last Christmas but Britain had to wait until January to see the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino hence its appearance in this list. My review here.

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1. The Neon Demon:

Warning: Spoilers

A surprise number one I would imagine, having been booed at its Cannes premiere. It also failed to get anywhere near the Rotten Tomatoes top hundred films of the year and polarized critics yet managed to unite many conservatives and liberals, pissing them off equally, mainly due to a lesbian character indulging in some necrophilia and the most grotesque scene involving an eyeball since Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali gave the world Un Chien Andalou.

According to Rolling Stone, ‘The Neon Demon is a special kind of awful’ while the Telegraph’s Tim Robey called it ‘the most offensive film of the year.’

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who is best known for Drive, the 2011 film where Ryan Gosling drives fast and says little, The Neon Demon is hyper-stylized and drenched in startling, super-saturated blues and reds with every frame obviously being shot with the utmost care by someone with an artist’s eye for composition.

Just as impressive is the brooding electronic score by Cliff Martinez, that recalls Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream’s soundtracks back in the 1980s.

Set in the superficial world of fashion where a bigwig designer can declare without contradiction: ‘Beauty isn’t everything; it’s the only thing’ and where young models talk about getting plastic surgery on their ears so they can wear ponytails in the same way they would discuss what they’re having for dinner (which, incidentally, probably consists of a stick of celery and a few grains of boiled rice).

At the centre of the film is Jesse, played by Elle Fanning (Super 8), just turned sixteen and beginning a career in modelling.

Agency heads and high end photographers uniformly adore her and the more she is fêted the more Jesse lets the flattery go to her pretty little head. Her looks, though, attract just as much jealousy as praise – rather than an exploitation film this is a film about exploitation. Mainly of Jesse.

The plot isn’t the best quality of the film and elements of it might even have David Lynch scratching his head. Like Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, The Neon Demon plays out as much like a dream – or, more precisely, a nightmare – than a realistic drama.

There’s also some Lars Von Trier style surreal sadism in the mix and the kind of triangle symbolism that would give Kubrick a run for his money.

Macabre and menacing, haunting and hypnotic, The Neon Demon reminded me in some ways of my experience of seeing Under the Skin for the first time. At times I was borderline bored but as soon as I stepped out the cinema I couldn’t stop thinking about the film and almost immediately wanted to see it again.

The Neon Demon might not be the best film of the year but it is the most memorable one.


Finally it was good to see two splendid British films re-issued, namely Kes and Psychomania. The former a social realist masterpiece about a boy and a kestrel, the latter a horror tale of an English biker gang coming back from death with the aid of a frog. Sons of Anarchy it definitely wasn’t.

That series had shootings, stabbings, stranglings and general mayhem. Psychomania had bikers acting like a bunch of brattish schoolboys in a suburban mini-market. Both Kes and Psychomania featured scores by John Cameron, who, strangely enough, went on to play on the old Top of the Pops – Whole Lotta Love theme tune.

The best re-release of the year, though, has to be Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, which came out on Blu-ray for the first time in Britain during the summer. An anti-war classic and right up there with the director’s best work.

For my review of Kes, click here and for my review of Paths of Glory, click here.

Best of the Year 2016 (Part Two)

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Before I get on to the return of some big hitters, I’ll mention Gold Furs, the solo project of Becca Murray, an up and coming Glaswegian lo-fi singer/songwriter with an intriguing, sometimes Nico-esque voice that also reminds me of Siouxsie at times.

Becca lists her influences as ‘ghosts, magick, rock n roll, time travel, dreams, death, lust, alcohol, sex, anything with soul’ and is a fan of a very wide array of artists from The Cramps through to Ennio Morricone.

Her Dreams EP is out now via Bandcamp and if you’re even more old school than me you might want the limited edition cassette release of this, the cassette casing being flecked with gold glitter which looks fantastic.

From it this is Nobody Knows:

 
Next up is Honeyblood, an act that I have featured twice before and adore. The lead single from second album Babes Never Die, this is Waiting for the Magic, which along with Justine, Misery Queen is my favourite track from a consistently strong album:


And now the return of two big hitters. Firstly, Pixies.

Pixies released their first new album in ages last year – no I don’t count collections of EPs like Indie Cindy as ‘new’ albums.

For a while in the late 1980s, Pixies were one of my two favourite bands in the entire universe along with My Bloody Valentine. Nowadays, sans Kim Deal, they still make fantastic music but we all know they will never be as manically brilliant as they were back then with Black Francis’ ferocious, tonsil-shredding screams and hollered unhinged lyrics, and that amazing barrage of razor sharp guitar, furiously pounded drums and malevolent basslines that left you frazzled whenever you were lucky enough to see them live.

Head Carrier is nowhere near as good as Doolittle or Surfer Rosa. Many critics loathed the album, usually ones that enjoy bores like Kate Tempest whingeing on about whatever easy target she whinges on about.

On tracks like Might as Well Be Gone, Tenement Song and All I Think About Now the quartet do still shine, although I preferred the latter song when it was called Where Is My Mind? Only joking. I think.

Directed by bassist Paz Lenchantin (who is a very good Kim Deal tribute act it would have to be said) this is Classic Masher:


Finally, the Jesus and Mary Chain are back.

Produced by Youth, who also provides bass on the record, their first new album in umpteen years, Damage And Joy, will be released on March 24th 2017.

According to Paste: ‘It’s a far cry from their early shoegaze sound, and develops the cleaner, distinct layers they opted for later in their career, though their iconic distortion isn’t totally absent and the music still feels raw.’

Despite having always thought of myself being a Mary Chain fan since their early days I seem to have missed their ‘early shoegaze sound’ but anyway, this was the first taster from the upcoming album, this is Amputation:


And here’s six more of my top 30 songs of 2016:

Those Unfortunates: The Servant
Explosions in the Sky: Logic of a Dream
Chorusgirl: Chorusgirl
Lurkers GLM: Nearly Home
Miracle Glass Company: T.R.O.U.B.L.E
& The Strokes: Drag Queen

For more on Gold Furs: https://www.facebook.com/goldfurs/

For more on Honeyblood: http://honeyblood.co.uk/

For more on more on Pixies: http://www.pixiesmusic.com/

& for The Jesus and Mary Chain: http://thejesusandmarychain.uk.com/

Young Soul Rebels & Teenage Kicks – The Best Music Books of 2016

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This was a very good year for music books unless you were hoping Johnny Marr’s biography, Set the Boy Free, would replace Mozza’s Autobiography as the ultimate memoir by a former Smith. It compares unfavourably with Mozza’s book in every respect although it might just be better than List of the Lost.

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Two books stood out: Stuart Cosgrove’s Young Soul Rebels and Michael (Mickey) Bradley’s Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone.

Young Soul Rebels is an illuminating personal history of Northern Soul that spans the roots of the movement in the 1960s and its 1970s heyday through to the recent past of a resurgent scene that’s embraced YouTube, Spotify and Facebook and now that attracts aficionados of all ages from Blackpool to Barcelona, Todmorden to Tokyo.

This is a vividly told story and Cosgrove’s words crackle with passion as he describes the sometimes quirky world of northern soul all-dayers and all-nighters: the music, clothes, dancing, drugs and record collecting.

Here he is on locating a record and tape store with a stash of very rare secondhand soul singles, while on a visit to Washington DC: ‘What had begun as a grey and overcast day suddenly erupted into burning sunshine.’ As he further explains: ‘For northern soul collectors there is nothing more visceral than a ‘find’. A sudden surge more emotional than meeting an old friend, more powerful than an away goal, and more satisfying than sex itself.’

That day there were many finds.

Young Soul Rebels also acts as an alternative social history, taking in police raids on northern nights, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s.

A must-read for soulies.

Michael Bradley’s Teenage Kicks, like The Undertones’ music is an absolute delight. Bradley is self-deprecating, genuinely modest and he possesses an admirably conversational writing style.

This eminently readable portrait of one of the most fondly remembered bands from the punk era captures brilliantly the camaraderie and raw enthusiasm of a bunch of young working class lads from a troubled part of the world, whose unique brand of pop-tinged punk was truly special.

I should admit that I’m only halfway through Lonely Boy but so far it is really is fascinating stuff but if, like John Lydon’s Anger Is An Energy it goes downhill the longer it goes on, then I would replace it on my list with Record Store of the Mind by Josh Rosenthal the guiding light behind San Francisco independent label Tompkins Square and crate digger extraordinaire.

Jonesy is searingly honest about his troubled early life and, unusually, I found this part of his memoir every bit as fascinating as his time as a Sex Pistol. I’m looking forward to devouring the second half ASAP.

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Predictably, following his death in January, an avalanche of David Bowie related books have been published, the most high profile being Paul Morley’s The Age of Bowie.

If the old maxim ‘Nobody likes a smart-arse’ happens to be true then Paul Morley in all likelihood did not have to devote much time during December to scrawling festive messages to friends on Christmas cards.

Morley is at times pretentious as hell here. There’s also far too much for my liking on the Victoria and Albert Museum’s David Bowie Is exhibition (where Morley served as an artistic adviser) and there’s plenty that you might disagree with or even disregard completely, for example, here he discusses Bowie taking the lead role in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, to be directed by Alan Clarke: ‘Clarke, at home with the traditional and the avant-garde, had directed British classics such as Kes and Cathy Come Home, and was a committed populiser of Brecht’s work.’

No Paul, Alan Clarke did not direct Kes. No Paul, Alan Clarke did not direct Cathy Come Home. Ken Loach did.

In the Spectator, Johnny Rogan judged that: ‘the book reads like the shambolic product of an almighty first-year cultural studies essay crisis’ while the Irish Times condemned it up as, ‘A labyrinth of confusion and verbosity.’

So why exactly is this book joining the others on my list?

Well, when it’s good, The Age of Bowie can rival just about any book penned about the great man. As a comparison, if this was a Bowie album it would maybe be Heathen. Inconsistent and sometimes self indulgent but with regular flashes of brilliance that makes it pretty much essential all the same.

Shock & Awe looks at ‘Glam Rock and its Legacy’ and that legacy according to Simon Reynolds is still reverberating – so there is far more on Lady Gaga than the kind of acts that often find themselves labelled Junkshop Glam nowadays – there’s even more on Nicki Minaj (3 entries in the index) than Iron Virgin (only 1) which I can’t quite get my head around.

Despite this gripe, Reynold’s rigorous homage to satin ‘n’ tat and cosmic hazy jive is immensely readable, the former Melody Maker journalist impressively evoking the visual dazzle, androgyny, excess, narcissism and giddy pop thrills that constantly accompanied the movement.

A blockbuster of a book – its spine is around the size as a good sized platform sole – Shock & Awe will hopefully help rehabilitate a genre of music that is still sometimes ridiculed and this child of the glam revolution enjoyed it thoroughly – and it’s always good to read something new about Alex Harvey even if he was never any kind of glam rocker.

Here are my five favourites:

Stuart Cosgrove: Young Soul Rebels – Birlinn (my review here)
Mickey Bradley: Teenage Kicks – Omnibus Press (my Louder Than War review here)
Steve Jones: Lonely Boy. Tales From a Sex Pistol – William Heinemann
Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie – Simon & Schuster
Simon Reynolds: Shock & Awe. Glam Rock and its Legacy – Faber & Faber

Best of the Year 2016 (Part One)

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Thirty tracks, ten films and five books, so a festive 45 of sorts. Not a vintage year for music (sadly I seem to say that every year nowadays) but as ever there has been plenty of excellent new singles and albums, in fact, I could easily have compiled a top one hundred.

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This 50-something’s favourites include music by a man in his 70s, a man pushing 70 and a man who died aged 69, namely Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop and, of course, David Bowie but I’m going to kick off with some new talent in the shape of Australian singer/songwriter Gabriella Cohen.

Former front woman of The Furrs, Gabriella has been lazily compared to Courtney Barnett; well, both are female, Melbourne based and get filed under indie but they don’t really have that much in common musically apart from a flair for making instantly enjoyable music.

Cohen’s debut album, Full Closure and No Details, is a self-produced collection of ten tracks brimming with an assurance and vitality that suggest she is definitely one to watch. Here’s my favourite cut from it, Downtown:



I did think Steve Mason deserved to win this year’s SAY Award with Meet the Humans but instead the judges voted that Scotland’s Album of the Year was Varmints by Anna Meredith, which would have been my number two.

One of the things I like about Anna is that in an age where every second Scottish act sometimes seem to be playing almost identikit folk inflected indie, she does her own classical/electronic/art pop/experimental thang with a perky playfulness that proves to be sonically intriguing, sometimes even provocative.

In the past this former Composer-in-Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been commissioned to make music utilising MRI scanners and performed ‘body percussion pieces’ which I haven’t seen/heard but which sound more innovative and ambitious than some sensitive indie guy singing songs of yearning on his acoustic guitar.

I’m gonna have to warn you that this video contains strobing/flashing lights throughout. This is Anna Meredith with The Vapours:


And now for some of Anna’s Moshi Moshi labelmates.

A big favourite of Unthought of, though, somehow, where I first came across them, Girl Ray (no relation to Man Ray or even poor old Johnnie Ray) recently recorded a session for Marc Riley and have supported the likes of Ezra Furman and Hooton Tennis Club in the past coupla months. Hopefully we get to hear a lot more of them in 2017.

Here they are with Trouble:


Here’s six more favourites to make up the first third of my musical selections:

Fat White Family: Breaking into Aldi
Rituals: Black River
The Limanas: Garden of Love
Stoor: Witchfinder General
Cate LeBon: Wonderful
&
The Parrots: Too High to Die

For more on Gabriella Cohen:
https://www.facebook.com/gabriellacohenmusic/

Steve Mason:
https://www.facebook.com/Steve-Mason-197724901872/?fref=ts

Anna Meredith:
http://www.annameredith.com/

Girl Ray:
https://www.facebook.com/girlraylondon/

Vashti, Françoise & Dennis: Three Festive Tunes for Friday

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A post that includes some Christmassy tracks that I haven’t seen featured elsewhere this year. A Christmas post was something I hadn’t imagined doing although as Half Man Half Biscuit once sang, ‘It’s Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas’.

First up some Vashti Bunyan, an artist not universally loved by bloggers but someone I adore.

Whatever your thoughts on her music, it would be hard to deny that Vashti has an interesting backstory. Emerging as a singer in the swinging ’60s, she signed to stable of smitten Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham and released a couple of pop nuggets, Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind (penned by Mick and Keef) and Train Song, which she co-wrote.

As Oldham put it in the second volume of his memoirs, 2Stoned: ‘Alas, Vashti was viewed as an auburn Marianne Faithfull spin-off, which more than dented the trail I had hoped to blaze for her.’

A new set of songs were written as she made her way very slowly by horse and cart from her home in London to a commune in Skye and these tracks were later recorded by Joe Boyd just before he worked his magic on Nick Drake’s Bryter Later. Like the previous singles, nobody paid much attention to Just Another Diamond Day, although the LP did very slowly earn cult status, eventually being re-issued in 2000, when it rightly received plaudits across the board from critics.

I first saw Vashti play at Belle and Sebastian’s Tramway Day in 2005, by which time she had made her return to making music, releasing a brilliant second album, Lookaftering, thirty five years after her first. Bit of a gap on the CV you might say but Vashti has never been one to follow a predictable path.

On the day I was told that this was her first ever Scottish show, even though she had been living here for decades – until her artistic rebirth, she hadn’t even picked up a guitar since the commercial failure of Just Another Diamond Day years except to teach her oldest son to play.

Vashti, it would have to be admitted, is not one of the most naturally self confident performers I have ever clapped my eyes on and she cut a rather vulnerable presence throughout the show – If I had known her, I’d have invited her to join me in Heraghty’s for a snifter beforehand to help quell the nerves.

Those nerves and the fragility of her voice – Maggie Bell she ain’t – made her performance all the more compelling and her set was one of the most delightful shows I have seen so far this century.

This is Twice As Much & Vashti with The Coldest Night Of The Year:


In 2Stoned, Andrew Loog Oldham also compared Vashti to Françoise Hardy, an artist I have to admit I knew little about until she sang on a version of To the End on one of Blur’s Country House CD releases – which was far superior to Country House and, come to think of it, Roll With It too, meaning that of all the tracks released during the so-called Battle of Britpop, the best was sung partly by a French woman.

Since then I have learned more about Françoise, mostly from the Blow Up Doll website that specialises in groovy yé-yé gals. If you’re interested in that kind of thing just google Blow Up Doll and hope for the best, or alternatively, click here.

From her 1970 album, Alone, this is Song of Winter:


The Dennis Wilson of 1977 was a very different one to the Dennis Wilson of Little Saint Nick and The Man With All the Toys. Famously Dennis was the only Beach Boy that actually surfed and by the mid 1960s he’d become the poster boy for Californian sun, sea and excessive sex.

What followed though included a quickly regretted association with Charles Manson, divorce, increasingly reckless behaviour and way too much booze and drugs.

With hindsight, Dennis’s scorching rasp here seems to reflect the many regrets in his life and maybe even some self-loathing and desperation too. If you’d heard him singing this on Christmas morning, you’d dread to think how he might be feeling by night-time.

Recorded at the tail end of November 1977 at The Beach Boys’ Brother studios although the track never saw the light of day till many years later, this is The Beach Boys with Dennis on vocal duties with his song Morning Christmas:

 
If you don’t already know Dennis Wilson’s magnificent solo album Pacific Ocean Blue then I’d advise you to seek it out. I’ll write about it in more detail in 2017.

Independent Scotland #9

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The Skids: Charles (No Bad Records) 1976

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I won’t need to remind anyone reading this blog that 2016 witnessed an unusually large number of deaths of musicians and music industry figures: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Brett Smiley, George Martin and Dale Griffin of Mott being just a handful of names of talents that spring to my mind. The high list of casualties has even led some music journalists to stupidly speak of the year having a hex on it as if strangers to the notion of coincidences.

Locally, one name whose death came back in April has remained largely under the radar. Sandy (Alexander) Muir might not be the most important figure in the history of Scottish music but the owner of Muir’s Record Shop in Dunfermline’s Queen Anne Street did play a vital role in the rise of Skids, managing the band for a spell as well as setting up a label to put out their first record.

No Bad Records, like two fellow Scottish based independents of the time, Sensible (The Rezillos) and Boring (The Exile) wasn’t a name to automatically excite, more a self-deprecating joke at the label’s expense – and I should point out here that the no here is short for not, as in when asked how you are doing, you might answer, ‘Aye. No’ bad.’

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The basis of The Skids’ line-up was supplied by two former members of a covers band called Tattoo, a key feature of whose sound belonged to self taught guitarist Stuart Adamson, who’d become almost effortlessly efficient on his instrument while still at Beath High School, where his pal, bassist Bill Simpson, also attended.

Next to join was a granite-jawed punk with raccoon striped hair who could sing (kind of), had charisma in bucket-loads and who even wrote lyrics. The son of a miner, Richard Jobson had been given little encouragement at school and could easily have embraced the punk cliché of ‘no future’ at a time when many of his contemporaries were leaving school and either signing on the dole, starting a life as factory wage slave, or else, often in order to acquire an apprenticeship, signing up for a spell in the army, usually in locally favoured regiment, the Black Watch.

To complete the band, one final part of the jigsaw was required and found via an ad in the Dunfermline Press: ‘DRUMMER wanted for new New Wave band young and energetic. no hairies please.’

Tom Kellichan evidently did not have hair down his back and was in.

A new band name was required and after a run of daft suggestions such as Dr. White & The Plastic Bags, they settled on The Skids and under that name played their debut show in the summer of 1977 at the weekly Friday rock night at the Belleville Hotel in Dunfermline, where they supported the memorably named Matt Vinyl & the Decorators, an Edinburgh outfit whose punky R&B riffs proved reasonably popular when I saw them later at Satellite City in Glasgow, albeit they never looked likely to make any kind of real breakthrough.

Playing with a mix of borrowed and hired instruments, Richard and the boys excelled, unleashing their energetic rough and ready, though already distinctly Scottish, punk/new wave sound.

One interested member of the crowd at the Belleville gig had been Sandy Muir, who the band had personally invited to come along.

Muir was no punk aficionado but was immediately struck by the band’s talent and potential, in fact, so impressed was he that – after discussions with Bruce Findlay, the man behind Zoom – he agreed to help out the band, speedily setting up AIM Enterprises Ltd to promote them and No Bad to release material by them.

Some punky pseudonyms were adopted and used in press releases – Alex Plode (Bill), Stevie Cologne (Stuart), Tom Bomb (Tom) and Joey Jolson (Richard) – and these names were how the band members were known for a time, such as when they were being lauded in early issues of Fife fanzine Kingdom Come, where the photo below is taken from incidentally, although by the time of the release of Charles they had reverted to more conventional handles.

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Three Stuart Adamson compositions were laid down at Edinburgh’s REL Studios (produced according to the record’s back sleeve by ‘Skids etc’). The Charles E.P (NB-1) was launched in March ’78 with Reasons and Test-Tube Babies making up the three track single.

Best-selling crime author and Fife boy Ian Rankin was an early fan, admiring the lyrics of Charles with that that twist at the end. ‘Charles’ was about a guy who worked in a factory like the one I worked in,’ he told Stuart Adamson biographer Allan Glen in the book In a Big Country. ‘It was about the kind of life waiting for most people in Fife back then, It was saying, ‘Don’t get stuck in a rut, don’t think that’s the only option – be bigger and braver’. Their songs were exciting and anthemic – and from very early on you knew they were destined for great things.’

According to Ripped and Torn fanzine Charles was ‘the best punk record to come out of Scotland yet’.


The song helped create a real buzz about the band with John Peel yet again becoming an early champion.

Within a year of their formation The Skids agreed to sign with Virgin. Sandy Muir telling the local press that the boys had been given, as big, if not a bigger break than Nazareth to prove themselves in the world of rock music, Nazareth just in case you don’t know being a successful band that had also been formed in Dunfermline but who would never have advertised for no hairies.

2017 will see The Skids back touring, dates including Edinburgh Liquid Room, Glasgow O2 ABC (where I’ll be going to see them), Montrose Town Hall and the Glen Pavilion in Dunfermline, Scotland.

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Burning Cities, their first album in thirty five years should also be out sometime next year. For more on that, click here.

For more on The Skids, here you go.

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No Bad continued after The Skids departure to Virgin, although with acts that would never enjoy the same level of media profile of The Skids, releasing a single from Biocar, a Dunfermline five-piece rock act whose other main claim to fame was supporting Girlschool at the Kinema in the summer of 1980, and a couple of albums by folk act Heritage, Some Rantin’ Rovin’ Fun (1980) and When the Dancin’ It’s A’ Done (1981) neither of which I have heard.

An episode of Andy Stewart’s STV early evening show Hear Here was devoted to Heritage in March of 1982, while When the Dancin’ it’s a’ Done made Scotsman critic Alistair Clark’s best folk albums of the year list. The band are still on the go.

 

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