Friday, 26 February 2021

At last: a proper banger

 At some point in the late nineties I got transfixed by Northern Soul, that magical northern British subculture with its own aesthetic and moves. A friend's father had played me some Geno Washington live albums (still wonderful) and then I found out about the Northern Soul scene, still strong in places like Stoke and Wigan - you can still see people squeezing into some great clothes and pulling off audacious dance moves at all-nighters across the north and midlands. I couldn't get into the real collectors' circles on a student income, but I did buy quite a few compilations and re-releases: not being particularly competitive I was grateful for the advent of CD collections, whereas some of the scenesters resented their rarest records becoming commonly available. Two of my favourite tracks are well-known now: Dobie Gray's 'Out On The Floor' 

and The Human Beinz' 'Nobody But Me'

but this 1979 Carol Anderson number is superb - beautifully melancholic but you can dance to it. She died unheralded in 1984. 

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Single of the Day: the importance of being earnest.

 Compared with everything else I was buying at the time, American Music Club's 'Can You Help Me?' counts as a crowd-pleasing hit - Mark Eitzel's crew were critical darlings in the NME, Select and Vox, as well as in the inky fanzines I bought in the local record shop. Until I looked it up today I had no idea that 1994 was the eleventh year of their initial 12 year history: they sounded like classic 90s Americans to me. 

What can one say? It's quite bland. If Cher from Clueless were here she'd definitely be listing it alongside Radiohead as 'complaint rock'. The Wikipedia entry for AMC suggests that they were a seminal influence on post-rock and 'slow core' (which conjures up the superlative Galaxie 500 and Low to me) but the single doesn't really do it. Sounds like something Beverley Hills 90210 would use as a teen breakdown montage. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Eyes down for some post-rock

 I unashamedly adore this next record. After Britpop died of shame I got into post-rock quite heavily: Mogwai, Slint, Velvet Underground, Ectogram, Slowdive and the shoegazers were my gateway drugs into often wordless, krautrock or kosmische-influenced drone rock. It also appealed because I've long been into minimalist music - I find the incremental shifts in long, repetitive pieces profoundly moving. Try this Meredith Monk piece from 1971!

So one day in 1999 I found myself on my own in Cheltenham Town Hall for a whole day of electronic drone acts - mostly very shy people staring at their effects pedals and creating the most otherworldly noises. I bought this single - 'Misstype Doolittle' by AMP Studio - at the record stall there and subsequently bought everything that came out on Earworm Records - particularly Electric Sound of Joy. Isn't it lovely, as a physical object and piece of music? 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Do Not Adjust Your Sets

 …it's Alternative TV

They were a big name on the post-punk circuit in the late 70s/early 80s because the frontman was Mark Perry (editor of Sniffin' Glue) alongside many, many other members, then reformed in the Nineties for another go. It must have been recommended to me because I can't recall ever knowing much about them or seeing them live. 

It's deliberately amateur, quite endearing, melodic synth-driven pop-punk. No doubt Bis and Helen Love adored it. 

Monday, 22 February 2021

It Crawled From The South (of Wales)

 So today's obscure single is Alphane Moon's 'Our Glassie Azoth'. Purchased from Recordiau'r Cob in Bangor for £2.99 (a lot in 1994) with a sticker reading 'Strangeness From South Wales'. For a shop staffed entirely by druid drone-rockers, that's quite something. I don't know much about them, though Alphane Moon is lifted from Philip K Dick's short story and debut novel, 'Clans of the Alphane Moon', which isn't very good. Amazingly, Alphane Moon is still sort of in existence: Dafydd released archive recordings recently. 

It's a defiantly indie production, from the orange vinyl to the hermeneutic cover design. As to the track itself (which is amazingly available on Youtube), it's rather delightful: gossamer-light indie-goth-prog. Definite shades of Flying Saucer Attack, BBC Radiophonic Workshop or Children's Film Foundation soundtrack, mixed with 70s European contemporary classical music. I liked it a lot more this time round than when I bought it. Very pleased to rediscover this one. 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

(Split) single of the day

Another mystery today - a 1997 split single from Dedicated Records (the fifth in the series) featuring three bands who were less up-and-coming and more came-and-went: Alone, Burst and Homesick. The EP is available from Discogs for 50p, so not one that will be keeping me warm in my old age. 

Sadly there's no online version of any of these songs nor any further trace of their existence, but be assured that you're not missing anything at all. It's all dreadful sludge - the forerunner of the previously-mentioned Landfill Indie. There are other bands with these names, and they're terrible too. 

Have I learned anything from this? Not much. Younger me had little discrimination. Never go back. Youth is wasted on the young. 

That is all. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Single of the Day: Goth-Folk. No, wait!

 I really like All About Eve - they're a mix of two genres I've always enjoyed, folk-rock and goth. So I'm not sure why I only own one of their singles, and a late one at that: 1991's 'Strange Way'. Perhaps because they'd been and gone before I got into music and I just picked up this second-hand single cheaply somewhere. I know I've got a couple of Julianne Regan's later singles as Mice, and the LPs are all there. 

'Strange Way' isn't totally representative of their main work and the production might seem rather dated for 1991 but it's a good pop-rock ballad. I don't think I've listened to it for 20 years, but I'm taken with it all over again. I'd still recommend you start with 'Flowers In Our Hair' though. It's a banger. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Single of the Day - Underachievers and Proud

After yesterday's foray into lazy satire it's back to 90s Music You Never Wanted To Hear Again. Top quality showbiz anecdote with this one though: I own it, the accompanying album and a t-shirt because the band's flautist was a primary-school friend of a friend. I assume the Daily Mail will come knocking if they find anything interesting in her bins (just as I occasionally get an email asking if I'll comment on the private life of someone I didn't know at school who once dated a royal so far down the order of succession that her nickname should be Barely Regal). 

Anyway, the band is Alfie and the single is 'A Word In Your Ear'. 

Alfie were a post-Britpop indie band, but if that sounds damning, hold your horses - far from being what became known as Landfill Indie, Alfie had a folky whimsy that stood out for me amidst the hordes of sportswear-clad lads pretending to be football hooligans, indicated by the rather twee cover design. There's a degree of melancholy and some social commentary on their albums that echoes some of the other late-90s Manchester bands like Doves. There's a lack of edge to them which fitted in with a slew of soft indie 90s groups - Coldplay, Keane, Travis, Elbow and more, but I always thought Alfie had a little more depth to them. It didn't help though - 4 underachieving albums then oblivion. 

This one's rather nice. Not a formula for musical world domination, admittedly but easy on the ear. 

Monday, 15 February 2021

Goldilocks the Public Historian, or, Just Right History

Once upon a time there was a young Culture Secretary called Oliver. When he was walking in the woods one day looking for the trees, Oliver found a snug little building called History. 'Oh ho', he thought. 'I like floral tea towels. I'll call in'. And so he did, tripping lightly over the threshold into a chamber with three doors. Always on the look-out for offence, he picked the door on the Left. It contained a sweet young lecturer with plaited braids and a pinafore dress, talking to some apple-cheeked children in front of a picture of a lovely country mansion like the one Oliver had grown up in. 'This is lovely', thought Oliver. 'I wonder what she's talking about', and he sat down, crossed his legs and listened very hard. But oh no! Her lecture was much too salty! She kept mentioning the servants, and pointing out that every brick of Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax MP's great big house was funded by the blood of his Caribbean slaves. This was Too Much History.

Oliver didn't like this. He liked cream teas and dressing-up boxes. So he left the room and chose the middle door. The only thing in the room was a great big television showing a period drama. 'Much better', said Oliver. 'I liked the man diving into the lake in front of his nice house and emerging dripping wet even though it's not in the book. That's why we put an insincere quote from one of her characters on a bank note'. And so he sat down, and crossed his legs, and tuned in. But oh no! It was The Crown! He didn't know any more whether he was friends with the dead blonde posh one or the big-eared still-alive posh one but he definitely knew that neither of them had ever watched Tiger King in a onesie because nice people in those days didn't like television and onesies were common. This was Not History and people needed a big sign to tell them that it wasn't Proper History because they couldn't tell the difference between reality and real people pretending to be other people who were dead or older now and anyone who suggested that other regimes that publicly declared some art to be Good and other art to be Bad (Oliver had seen this on Channel 5 while waiting for Hitler's Greatest Trousers) were not ideal role models deserved to be Cancelled, but not in a left-wing way. 

So Oliver uncrossed his legs and left the room, choosing, finally the door on the Right where he really belonged. This was much better. He sat down, crossed his legs and watched agog as Jacob Rees-Mogg gave an adoring throng of fish proper British names like Sextus and Septimus, before giving in to their demands to be chained up and sent to work in the family mines. 'They're happy, because they're British, Britannia really does rule the waves', sighed Jacob while his nanny sponged his trousers clean, and Oliver clapped his hands with glee. This History was Just Right. 

And so Oliver skipped home to find his friend Gavin and together they decided to give their friend Toby the key to the dressing-up box so that he could be the Universities Free Speech Champion to make sure that everyone could say what they wanted about ladies' breasts or black people unless it was Too Much History, while Oliver arranged his dolls in front of him and gave them a long lecture on why they couldn't say what they wanted unless it was to be nice about his friends. And they all lived happily ever after. 

Friday, 12 February 2021

Single of the Day: it's a mystery

 Yet again we're in Glasgow. Or maybe Chicago: this is a tricky one. I'm not a wilful obscurantist, but some bands appeared and disappeared leaving no trace. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes because things just didn't work out. 

Today's record is an EP called 'Airport Songs': two original tracks and a Morricone cover that clearly had some influence on the new songs. It's on All City records of apparently Glasgow and Chicago but I can't find much trace of either – there's a Dublin label of the same name with some Glasgow connection but it appeared later. There's a suggestion via an Ebay listing that this band is a Pastels offshoot, which would make sonic sense, so this looks like an American release of a Scottish record bought in Wales.

I can't let you try it either: it's so lost to history that nobody has posted it to Youtube or any other service. You'll just have to take my word for it that is't pretty good - a mix of film music, French pop and American college rock that goes down nicely. Much like the Pastels, in fact. Apparently their 1999 shows were 'transcendent' - and check out the other singles released that week

In lieu of this record, have the Morricone/Gastoni original and a Pastels track. 

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Single for the Shy

Finally, an act that isn't Scottish: today's band is Airiel, an American shoe-gazing tribute act from the late-90s who released 'Shirley Temple Tidal Wave' on Roisín Recordings back in 1999. (Shoegaze because they were all so non-pop that they played and/or danced staring at their shoes rather than make eye contact).

I was a bit late to music so missed the first wave of shoegazers (Ride, Curve, Swervedriver, Slowdive and all the others) but I ransacked the vaults as soon as I heard Slowdive's Souvlaki LP in about 1994. The genre was wiped off the map by the crude Britpop bandwagon, but seems to have inspired a second generation of anglophiliacs over in the US: Trespassers William's cover of Ride's 'Vapour Trail' is one of my most treasured songs, and is easily as good as the original. 

As for Airiel: I suppose they're endearing also-rans. 'Shirley Temple Tidal Wave' sounds utterly lovely to me, but it could have been recorded by any British shoegaze band between 1988-1992, rather than in Indiana in 1999. 

As a bonus, here's the aforementioned Trespassers William cover. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Wilful acts of lo-fi

Amazingly, we're in Scotland again for today's single: Country Teasers' Against The Country Teasers EP. 

As you can tell from the cover design, it's deliberately anti-art and anti-pop in a knowing kind of way. Country Teasers no doubt thought that they were daring sonic pranksters but there's a very strong whiff of too-clever-for-their-own-good about the clatter found within. 

It's not awful, in fact it's quite fun, but I can hear Paul Calf behind me muttering 'stewdents' in a withering fashion. And also my dad, shouting 'it's just noise'. I'm very much for generic subversion, wit and intellect in pop, but you've got to come up with the goods. And if you cover dance hit 'No Limits' and then licence it to a Subway ad, you're not daringly subverting either art or commerce, you're a Johnsonian Cakeist. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Adventures in Stereo's Adventures in Stereo.

 Well here we are in Scotland yet again - Glasgow really was a hive of jangly activity in the 80s and 90s. I have a huge soft spot for Adventures in Stereo despite only having one of their singles on 7" - there's more on split singles and compilations dotted around my collection. I like the way they meld the slightly shambolic lo-fi of the Glasgow Scene with the electronics and krautrock of Stereolab. This is quite an early one with the emphasis more on the Vaselines or Pastels-style naive-pop sound than electronics. I notice that it's on Creeping Bent - a label that seemed to specialise in cult bands or, to put it more cruelly, interesting musicians almost nobody liked. 

This is the Peel session live version - short and sweet. I still like it - Adventures in Stereo and so many other bands on small labels came and went with little fanfare, but they're evocative of a more hopeful time: pre-War on Terror, pre-crash, pre-pandemic and heralding in 1997 the imminent overthrow of the Conservative Party for ever and the ushering in of a fairer world! OK, slightly naive, I grant you. 

Monday, 8 February 2021

Good ol' boys, bad ol' music

What is it about 90s indie bands and Confederate imagery? 

Today it's Action Spectacular; last week it was A, but I assume the immediate influence was the hipper-than-thou Primal Scream, who used the Stars and Bars in neon (a detail from Eggleston's Troubled Waters) for the cover of their Give Out But Don't Give Up album. 

Image result for give out but don't give up

Eggleston was an American from Tennessee, and his work is often garish, nightmarish and troubling: there's an implied critique in his photography that isn't there in the good-time blues stylings of Primal Scream (a talented band without a brain cell) nor in these lesser bands' appropriations of Southern imagery. OK, these were British bands and so distanced from the daily impact of pro-slavery culture and Jim Crow in its home setting, but even back in the 90s we knew that the Confederacy were the bad guys.

I only own this one single by Action Spectacular: even back then I must have decided that for all their craft, they had nothing to say beyond borrowing clothes without a second thought. Clearly the band or their record labels have belatedly decided that 'General Lee' is inappropriate: while their albums are on iTunes, this song is nowhere to be found. Instead you'll have to make do with their oh-so-witty 'I'm a Whore', in which some young men discover that work isn't entirely brilliant while being unable to decide what musical sub-genre they prefer. 

'General Lee' isn't any better. 

Oh well. Adventures in Stereo tomorrow. 

Friday, 5 February 2021

Seven inches of indie joy

 Until I went to Youtube to find a copy, I had absolutely no memory of what AC Acoustics sounded like, despite buying several of their singles and in some cases ordering them in advance. I must have liked them, but never saw them live. I can't even remember whether I heard them on Peel, Radcliffe and Riley, the Evening Session, or whether they were foisted on me by the denizens of my Local Record Shop. I may even have bought their stuff because they were signed to a label I liked - I did a lot of that kind of thing back then. Or perhaps because they were from Glasgow - pretty much all good music came from Glasgow when I were a kid. 

Any good? Serviceable pop-punk-indie. A bit like Ash without the compelling back-story. 6/10 would listen again. 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Single of the Day

A propos of nothing, I remembered that I've also recently read Val McDermid's modern retelling of Northanger Abbey (called Northanger Abbey). It's fun - especially some of the characterisation and repartee, but feels a bit forced in places - the social conventions really have changed a lot. Shifting the setting from Bath to Edinburgh during the Festival was a really smart move though - lots of comedy material available from teasing the English luvvies who colonise the place and ruin it for the locals for a month. I'm teaching Udolpho and then Northanger Abbey in a few weeks so this was a good palate cleanser. One day I'll do a whole Austenmania module. I've even bought and read all the 'Horrid Novels' Austen mentions in Northanger that were thought to be made up until a copy of one was found in 1905 or something. 

Anyway, today's single is a 'I Can Buy You' by A Camp - the pseudonym used by Nina Persson for her first solo outing away from The Cardigans. I liked The Cardigans for the sweet sound married to sharp lyrics and enjoyed seeing them becoming globally huge for a few years - I've kept buying music by post-Cardigans Swedish indie bands. I saw them just once, on a tour which put them on a bill with The Bluetones (hyped as the very next Big Thing in 1995), Fluffy and Heavy Stereo for £5. Heavy Stereo and Fluffy were terrible - who'd have thought one of the former would end up in Oasis as punishment? Need I add that I own multiple singles by all these bands?

I think this one stands up. She's got a good voice, writes great pop songs, and Mark Linkous was a sensitive producer (Sparklehorse was a fantastic band - more of them later).  

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Notes for a new year

Last year I filled in time by posting selected photographs. I may yet return to that, but I thought that a slow trawl through the largely embarrassing and obscure depths of my musical history might amuse an enlighten. If it's good enough for Tim Burgess, it's good enough for me. (Talking of Tim Burgess, I first saw The Charlatans in the late 90s in the depths of their unpopularity. Midweek gig, half-full in a provincial town. They played like it was a packed stadium and they were at no. 1, so I've always respected that band). 

As luck would have it, I'm half-way through photographing my 7" vinyl collection, so I'll post a picture and hopefully a recording of each song. Some caveats: I listen to a wide range of music that isn't reflected in this particular format - almost none of my classical and folk collection is on 7". I've never stopped buying music in large quantities but I rarely buy  7"s any more. LPs for rock/indie, CDs for classical and the occasional download these days, but never singles: I'm no longer as excited by the immediate as I was then. Nor do I have a weekly music press to tell me what to think. I was such an NME victim, partially mitigated by being in Cymru Cymraeg at a particularly interesting period. 

So what you're really getting is my teenage and early-20s idea of what was cool, plus all the music forced on me by the charmingly insistent staff of Recordiau'r Cob in Bangor, but minus the 400 rarities I sol in the early-2000s when my £6000 p.a. PhD scholarship proved insufficient. I'd go in each week from 1993-8 and order from the list of next week's releases. Then they'd tell me that everything I wanted was awful and add their own choices. Not entirely coincidentally, their additions were by their own bands or the record labels they ran. It felt like something between a mugging and an education. 

Because I'm a nerd, my collection is in alphabetical order, so there's no slow chronological revelation or development. Hopefully though there might be the occasional re-evaluation of the ephemeral. Inevitably though, the first band is A. How they must have chortled when they picked their name. Guaranteed to be on the front rack in every record shop. The hilarity was doubled when they called one song 'No. 1' (spoiler: it wasn't). Genius! But history has the last laugh because they're essentially undiscoverable in the era of web searches. 

I don't think you need to hear every A single I bought, and I clearly didn't feel the need to buy their album - though I did buy both releases of 'No. 1', but my memory is of catchy pop-punk. 

The picture disc - inescapably 90s. 

…as was the double release (different coloured vinyl) and the re-release

I fell for it every time. 

Here's 'Number One'. 

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I've never seen the video before. The Dukes of Hazzard pastiche looks a little…unreflective these days. There's a certain energy to the song though. Did they make it big? Well, all I can say is that they don't have a Wikipedia page. That's pretty damning considering there's one for lint shavers.  

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Lowered horizons

I'm finding it very weird not getting a sense of excited dread around 1.30/2 p.m.: the time when Donald Trump picked up his phone every morning and said something racist and/or untrue. There's no structure in my day any more. All the old certainties are gone. It's like an extension of my life as a football fan: it's the hope that kills you. All Biden has to do is not bomb anywhere (which he will, eventually) and he'll be greeted as the new messiah, like a Stoke City manager who doesn't get us relegated, eking out a string of 0-0 draws without a spark of life. It's a bit depressing to have such low expectations but that's where we are. Mind you, I wish my annual appraisal was conducted with such lowered expectations…

Some of us were talking the other day about Things We Miss. I realised that all the big stuff – concerts, hugs, family weddings, archive visits, conferences and the like – mean nothing to me, compared to the one thing I want. I want to sit in a flock-wallpapered local curry house and be served just one dish. A huge, pillow-like naan (chili and garlic by preference) so fresh that the hot oil on it glistens and steam puffs out of the bread bubbles. The sheer bliss of the heat, the flavour and the texture would cure all ills. 

Restaurant Style Garlic Naan | The Belly Rules The Mind

Ah well, one day. For now I'm subsumed in marking, course administration and teaching. I'm deeply lodged in 18th-century literature at the moment Moll Flanders and The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy. They're a hoot - it's been wonderful re-reading free-wheeling books that feel like they were written on the wild frontier of a new genre and I'm relishing the opportunity to mess with my students' heads: wait until we get on to BS Johnson's The Unfortunates (and I'll know they haven't read it if they don't mention its one defining feature). Stylistically, I'm a sucker for prose which believes strongly in Capitalisation For Emphasis and believes that any thing and no thing require no hyphenation. 

Part of this novel course will be about the genre's development alongside capitalism, protestantism and the patriarchy, and partly about the way the novel had to adapt the shape of lives not determined by western male heterosexual bourgeois concerns - such as eventually not always leading up to a white wedding. Moll is titillating and moralistic: like Paradise Lost her sins are enunciated clearly and in great detail to subsequently demonstrate our weakness and God's Providence, but Defoe's clearly a bit worried: the preface mentions the 'Vicious Reader' who might be there just for the dirty bits rather than the moral education. Sterne – although an actual vicar – is a lot more relaxed. The only private reading I'm doing is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: 10 years after everyone else read it. I quite like the unerring and slightly ironically pedantic Augustan narrative voice and the novel's fantasy-world engagement with the spiritual and intellectual trends of eighteenth-century English culture, but it really needed editing. I know size matters in these kinds of novels, but you can have too much of a good thing. Still, multiple people I respect have told me to read Clarke's new book, Piranesi, so that's next.

Back to the marking…