Friday, 30 July 2010

Hammer Time: The Witches (1966)

Watership downer

There is a small prize to anyone who can explain to me why I find these two short clips from 'The Mutations' (1974) so incredibly funny. Is it the way Pleasence lovingly caresses the rabbits? Is it Brad Harris' incredulous face? Or am I simply in need of a nice long rest and some Diazepam?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Unmann's choice: Electronica

More choice recommendations from the increasingly reclusive and hygiene obsessed Professor Dick Unmann, as barked to me through an intercom.

First up, it's 1979 and it's Robert Rental and The Normal, in a sequence taken from the documentary 'Rough Trade Live'. Ignore the crazy subtitles,but please note the suburban wasteland that this interesting and challenging music originates from, and the slightly bemused faces of the Stiff Little Fingers fans 'forced to listen to unfamiliar music'.

This blog has been most remiss in not thoroughly reflecting how much we love The Human League, especially the doomy future pop of their very earliest recordings. As part of the IOU, here they are performing 'Blind Youth'. I don't know who made this video, but I thank them. You may notice that it contrasts footage of Sheffield with clips from the Robert Rental film above to make its point.

'Dehumanisation is such a big word, it's been around since Richard the Third'. Great lyric, great group.

Finally, what sounded incredible, obscure and avant garde only a few years earlier is, by 1986, freely available to dickheads who look like B.A Robertson and Brian May's 'love' child. Such is life.

Things you just don't see anymore

Monday, 26 July 2010

British Statue Number Ten

Boudica (Unknown-61 AD)
North Station Road,
Colchester, Essex.
Statue by Jonathan Clarke.

Friday, 23 July 2010

An axe to break the ice

It is a sobering thought for even the most ardent Bowiephile that his last truly satisfying album was released thirty years ago. Thirty years!

But, if ‘Scary Monsters’ does turn out to be the last truly great LP Bowie made (there’s still time, Dave!) it’s a hell of a swansong.

The start of 1980 marked the beginning of a new era for Bowie, not just a decade.

He had left Berlin and was living back in the UK; his longstanding RCA contract was finishing; he was healthy and completely drug-free for the first time in years, and, to his chagrin, he had discovered that, despite eight years of success, he was virtually bankrupt.

‘Scary Monsters’ is Bowie’s first eighties attempt at selling out, a conscious attempt to take the wilfully experimental sound of the Berlin trilogy (‘Low’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Lodger’) and to streamline it into a commercial proposition: less improvisation, less extemporisation, sharper melodies and more considered lyrics, although the record still sounds odd and like nothing else released that year. Whereas it took the slick, bland ‘Lets Dance’ to really sell Bowie as a billion dollar brand across the world, ‘Scary Monsters’ did extremely well – hitting number one on the UK album charts and, for the first time, providing a number one hit single with the superlative ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

Full of great tracks, the LP is often seen as a response to the emergence of a new wave of Bowie influenced artists and groups, with the old man (Bowie was 33) of odd, angular electronic pop effortlessly putting Numan, Foxx, Ultravox and all the other pretenders in place, re-establishing himself as the top dog with a flash of his snaggle teeth.

‘Ashes to Ashes’ is a classic single, an amazing melding of art and pop that, as a kid, I was simultaneously excited and frightened by. Everything about it is perfect but, for the record, don’t do this song at karaoke whilst on a works do, people just think you’re unusual.

‘Scary Monsters’ is a long and energetic New Wave workout in which Dave adopts a mannered cockney accent to tell the story of a woman’s descent into madness and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp sprays napalm guitar everywhere.

‘Teenage Wildlife’ is the longest track on the album, an epic power ballad in the vein of ‘Heroes’ with an extremely mannered vocal (based on Ronnie Spector, apparently) and pointed lyrics that seem to spell out David’s distaste for his rivals and his desire to distance himself from the ‘same old thing, in brand new drag’. In 1980, it sounded like a farewell to the pop scene from a jaded and weary man determined not to become a cliché.

Three years later, of course, he was back on sale, peroxided hair piled high, prancing about like a tit and making millions. What can I say? He’s a very contrary fellow.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Tonight at Ten

The Ramones: (One) Two (Three-Four)

The Ramones fourth studio LP 'Road To Ruin' was a little slicker than their previous efforts: it featured overdubs, guitar pedals, percussive effects, acoustic guitars and songs which were slightly more serious and grown up than the gloriously goofy hymns to glue sniffing, child battery and brain surgery of the past.

'She's the One' is an instant classic from the first 'yeah, yeah' to the last: a simple song of love and optimism and typical adolescent ambiguity: okay, Joey's in love, but is it a reciprocal arrangement or is he is simply admiring/stalking her from afar?

Two minutes 13 seconds of pop perfection.

Fine drums from new member, Marky; great production from ex-member, Tommy, and, good God, is that a synthesiser part?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Things you just don't see anymore

Dummies: Roger

Little is known about this dummy other than the fact that, for many years, he was a fixture at notorious Barnsley sex club ‘The Blue Boudoir’ where he was fondly known as ‘Roger Wood’.

Confiscated during a Police Raid in the late nineties, he spent several years in evidence storage before finally being auctioned off at a benefit evening to an anonymous buyer.

It is not clear what he was used for at the club, or what he saw, but his fixed expression may help join up some of the dots.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Unfaithful reproduction

Good old Michael Rodd surprises us all with a talent for musique concrete, tape splicing and singing in this clip from the 1979 BBC documentary 'The New Sound Of Music'.

In this clip from the same show, White Noise’s David Vorhaus demonstrates some of the unusual instruments he employs in his home studio, leading to the unforgettable image of him noodling with the phallic looking Kaleidophon as an robotic soft porn soundtrack plays.

I know what you're thinking, 'wasn't Radiophonic Month in May?'. Yes and no: here, every month is Radiophonic Month.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Tonight at Ten Thirty

What goes around, etc.

Ramases (pictured, not at his best) first came to public prominence in 1279 bc when he became the third Egyptian pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. Incredibly popular with his people, he ruled for an astonishing 66 years, fathered around a hundred children and lived until the age of 90, a fair accomplishment now, an amazing one in pre-history where the simplest of ailments could kill you. He eventually died of toothache and arthritis in 1213 bc.

Three thousand and fifteen years later, he was reincarnated in Sheffield as Martin Raphael. Oblivious to his illustrious past for thirty years, Raphael was a successful central heating salesman until one mind-bending day when his former self appeared to him in a vision and gave him his true identity and mission on Earth. As this was the late nineteen sixties, Ramases (as he now called himself) decided to use the medium of song to spread the word.

Ramases recorded some early singles with his wife, Dorothy, who changed her name to Selket (to Dot’s credit, she was always one hundred percent supportive of her husband’s claims, no matter how outré) but it wasn’t until he was signed to Vertigo Records that things started to happen for him.

‘Space Hymns’ (1971) was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport with production and arrangements from the four founder members of 10cc and is an odd but extremely interesting pop record. Full of repetitive, insistent melodies and circular lyrics, it occasionally sounds like the work of cosmic buskers and, ultimately, fails in its over-arching ambition by not revealing any secrets of the universe or, indeed, a single glimpse of a coherent philosophy other than some stuff about dying swans . It has its moments, however. 'Quasar One' has nasal vocals and a hypnotic, Eastern sound; 'Earth People' is a wispy ballad with some nice backwards flute and an insistent question that, in the spirit of the LP, remains unanswered; 'Balloon' is a pretty good pop song which benefits from the vocal and musical talents of Messrs Stewart, Gouldman, Godley and Creme and has a great, sudden ending.

‘Glass Top Coffin’ was released four years later, after a relocation to Felixstowe. Despite being more song focused than the debut album it was a resounding failure and led to Ramases completely withdrawing from the music world. Even so, there are moments of great beauty on this record, not least the opening track ‘Golden Landing’ that sounds a little like a ‘Wizard Of Oz’ outtake and once unexpectedly brought a tear to my eye on a busy bus as I listened to it on my mp3 player. The title track also impresses with a rocky arrangement and a uncharacteristically aggressive vocal from the normally soft spoken Ramases. I'll bet Bobby Conn has heard this.

Sadly, a disillusioned Ramases committed suicide in 1978 but, if we're lucky, he should be back in 4997 ad.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Ramones: One (Two-Three-Four)

Idiots will tell you that The Ramones only had one song, they merely varied the lyrics and the tempo: these idiots are idiots.

The Ramones may not have gone in for suspended fifths and cadenzas but they effortlessly blended bubblegum melodies, buzzsaw guitar and comic book lyrics to produce machine tooled punk pop for the ages and, yes, great songs.

My favourite Ramones song is ‘Swallow My Pride’. It’s one of my favourite songs by anybody, ever. Over a typically no-nonsense arrangement, Joey Ramone tells us in fifty words or so a tale of indiscretion, compromise and the promise of romantic reconciliation after two years of estrangement (in the here and now world of The Ramones two years is a millennia). The lyrics are so succinct they sound like a haiku; the melody happy, sad, poppy, punky, brilliant.

Incidentally, when I first heard this song, a combination of Joey’s Noo Yawk accent and poor radio reception led me to believe this song was called ‘Muskrat’, which led to much smartarsery and sneering in the record shop when I asked for it.