Friday, 21 March 2014
Friday, 15 June 2012
40th Anniversary celebrations abound. Some of which would put the recent spectacle of HRH’s Jubilee to shame. I for one would have loved to have gone and had my sagging, jacket potato face photographed in Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, where the iconic front cover photo of Bowie was taken, standing under the ‘K West’ sign (no longer there) guitar in hand. I didn’t make it to Heddon Street, but I did manage to make it into the brim of Drew Crow Star’s top hat during his excellent rendition of ‘Moonage Daydream’ recorded and filmed as his own tribute (it's on You Tube!) That will do nicely.
When I first heard Ziggy I was 8 years old and it would have been early in 1973 (Bowie of course was by that time a global superstar, just about to release the follow up; ‘Aladdin Sane’ and would, just a few months, later kill off Ziggy completely in a shock announcement at the end of a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon – but such was the pace at which the great man moved in those days) Although by that time I already loved music and records genrally, I was, lets face it, only 8, and therefore concepts, complex lyrics and quality of production would have been lost on me for a good few years yet, but I had already been blown away by the legendary Top of The Pops performance of ‘Starman’ the previous year and I already owned my first Bowie single, a copy of ‘The Jean Genie’, which was a gift from a Catholic missionary priest and friend of my Mum’s (he sent it to me in the post, along with a copy of ‘Burning Love’ by Elvis for my sister Maria) but that is, of course, another story.
My brother Brian – a regular in these blog tales of mine, was sent down one evening to St Paul’s in Wood Green to meet me from cubs and of course walked me home along the alley-way alongside the railway lines – the alley-way we were under no circumstances allowed to walk along – and said something like “right then Col; I’m going to smoke a cigarette. You are not going to say anything to Mum and Dad and when we get home I’m going to let you listen to my Ziggy Stardust LP” Seemed like a result to me.
Much as I’d love to go on and on about how it ‘blew me away and changed my life’ etc, it didn’t really - at first – certainly not as much as the fear and thrills on first hearing as ‘Diamond Dogs’ (see earlier entry) or the tears of anger on my first hearing of ‘Low’ (see future entry) but it was still a very special experience. Looking back, that cunningly contrived piece of (I have to say – having never been a snitch – unnecessary) bribery by my beloved brother was the real beginning of my love of Bowie’s music and that first listen became a second, third, etc until poor old Brian probably got fed up with hearing the album because I played it so much.
Nowadays I make no secret of it, Ziggy is not my favourite Bowie album (fond of it as I am). I think he had made better before it (Man Who Sold The World) and would go on to make better after it (where do I begin?) but I am pretty sure it is his best album – if that makes sense. Forty years on, in an era where, sadly, Bowie has not released a new album in nearly a decade, it continues to be massively influential and a very important record, containing some of Bowie’s finest songs; ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Rock And Roll Suicide’, ‘Starman’ and ‘Suffragette City’ to name just a few.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the great Mike Joyce doing a DJ set at a photo exhibition preview at Camden Proud. He played ‘Suffragette City’ early on in the set and it was enough for me to just look around the room and see the affect it still has on kids of all ages. I also remember like it was yesterday – of course – when the Ziggy album was 20 years old back in 1992; at that time Nicky Campbell was a Radio 1 DJ doing the 10 – 12 slot (not sure where Peel was) and he described Ziggy as ‘the Sgt Pepper of glam rock’ I thought that statement was a bit crass at the time and still do, however, if you consider that The Beatles initial idea of Sgt Pepper was to create a fictional band behind which they could hide themselves, then I suppose the comparison makes sense.
Ziggy Stardust was the first of many personae and characters behind which the real David Bowie (if there ever was or is a ‘real’ Bowie) hid. All he had to do was give these characters life, which he did, astonishingly.
So, a very happy 40th birthday to this fine record. If you haven’t heard Ziggy for a while, give it a birthday listen. If you have never heard it – now is the time. Just remember to pay good attention to the strict instruction on the LP sleeve;
‘To be played at maximum volume’
More to follow…….
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
Confined to the cellar, with only Mrs Norman Bates, an intimidating glow in the dark Jesus, a life size Edwardian sideshow mechanical laughing clown (with a tendency to ‘go off’ at random) – oh and a pen, paper and a job lot of Pot Noodle, Arthur has been wrestling with a bit of writer’s block. Time to make amends……..
Haven't even got a subject for this one to be honest, this is more like a dip of the toe back into the water, a cautious peep back into the daylight with squinting, dazzled eyes before - hopefully, I might feel inspired enough to get cracking once again on my enthralling tales of what I had for supper the day I first heard 'Hunky Dory' whilst watching episode 2 of 'The Talons Of Weng Chiang' (come to think of it, I could think of worse ways to spend a Saturday evening...)
I won't try and recap as far as back as Easter 2011, the night I wrote my last blog about 'Diamond Dogs' I reckon I'll just try and summarise 2012 so far, seeing as time is flying by at it's usual rapid rate and it might as well still be January considering how wet, cold and miserable it is outside. 15th May? Never.
The year started with a cracking New Year do courtesy of my sister and her family, which led inevitably to a filthy hangover the next day which I rode out by listening to Stuart Maconie on BBC6 playing 20 minute long epic freakouts by some early 1970s looney tune called Don Bradhsaw Leather. Still, if you're going to try and learn / hear something new every day, you might as well start on 1st January. I was supposed to be starting an ambitious podcasting project this year and my daughter Hayley gave me a lovely headset / microphone combo for Christmas for this exact purpose. Sadly, the bit of podcasting I had done in the past had been in the company of (and with all the technical expertise of) the seasoned old pros at Simply Syndicated, but it's a different story when trying to go it alone, without others there to bounce off (and to do some of the talking!) and a knackered old PC on it's last legs, even if you have got a superb, sexy and stylish headest / microphone combo (thanks Hay x) However, all is not lost on that front and I do still plan to get it up and running some time this year. Perhaps I ought to just get drunk one evening and crack on with it. We shall see.
Another huge but welcome distraction this year is that I also got for Christmas a Kindle, which I know wouldn't have come easy owing to our ongoing shaky circumstances, making it even more special. Of course these little things cost big pesetas to fill up, so naturally enough, like most new Kindle owners who are in their cups, I filled a large chunk of it's memory with 'the classics' - all in the public domain and can be downloaded completely and legally free. I won't start banging on about what I have read so far this year, but I am unashamed to admit that I love a lot of the Victorian and Edwardian fiction and it provides genuine escapism when times are stressful - for some reason a bit of Wilkie Collins, H G Wells or W M Thackeray can have the same calming effect on me as a few Scott Walker albums or a box set of The Persuaders on a damp and miserable weekend.
So that was another idea - a 'blog, son of blog' based on classic books. Nothing too scholarly, no big frilly blouses and catching the clap in the hills of Italy, just a light hearted guide and recommendation, much as I do with my favourite albums. The idea is big within my heart and mind, but not so easy to get going. I might need to consult my brother Brian for guidance - I know he usually reads these - what do you think, bruv?
I also aim to do as much as I can to promote the work of two very good friends of mine, one (Paul 'Ed' Edwards) an aspiring and genuinely excellent author, the other (Andrew 'Drew Crow Star' Warner) an accomplished and very talented musician, composer, songwriter, recording artist and performer. I aim to promote as much as I can their works (all currently available through various channels) and hopefully have the honour of collaborating with them in doing so. Drew, in fact comments regularly on my blog posts, all of these comments perserved for posterity amongst the back catalogue.
So, thar's about it for now - I hope to try and get back into this, if not daily or even weekly, but certainly a bit more often than yearly! I would love to hear from anyone who reads this - and my thanks to those who do - with any ideas you may have, a favourite record, film, TV show, book, play etc that you think might benefit if I took it down to Arthur in the cellar along with his meagre supper so that he might give it the Chairman's treatment.
More to follow?
Sunday, 24 April 2011
A few nights ago (Good Friday 2011 to be precise) I could not sleep for love nor money (or even a bit of both) so I ended up reaching for the ever faithful ipod and instead of the soporific tranquility of Brian Eno's 'Thursday Afternoon' which usually does the trick, I felt awake and jittery enough to listen to Bowie's 'Diamond Dogs'. I got through the whole album, still couldn't sleep and then lay there conceiving the blog I am about to write. As this is the first chance I have had to sit down and get the thing written, I hope it comes across as well as it did in my head at 3am the other morning..............
I am pretty convinced that I became the person I am today - at least in terms of how I love music and how music affects me - on a particular night in 1974 when I was a mere 9 years old. Mum and Dad went out for the evening and the usual list of babysitters must have been so unanimously out of action that the job eventually fell with my brother Brian and a few of his friends. Our folks left Brian with a list of do's and dont's, vague bedtimes for us all and the price of a Chinese takwaway for all. The 'Chinese take away' the boys went and bought consisted of a bottle of Teachers, 40 cigarettes and enough Coke, crisps and sweets to keep the rest of us happy and also quiet. To complete the picture, the two brothers from up the road arrived with a copy of the recently released 'Diamond Dogs' which was played, over and over, on Dad's old radiogram for the entire evening. I don't remember there being any respectful, silent appreciation of the album - it was just kind of happening in the background, but as the older boys got more and more hammered on Whiskey and I got more and more charged on the sugar and inevitably deadly additives in cheap 1970s sweets I became more and more transfixed with what I was hearing. Quite content to stand in a corner out of the way, chopping Townsend-like at my makeshift tennis racquet guitar, I couldn't quite believe that music could have such a physical affect on a human being, as goosebumps rose on my arms, my scalp tingled and my chest hurt (it wasn't the three packs of Refreshers I had scoffed either) Not only was I transfixed by the album, I was also terrified by it as well, particularly the howl that kicks it all off and the terrifying imagery in the spoken 'Future Legend' that follows, as 'fleas the size of rats' suck on 'rats the size of cats' - In fact, for at least a year afterwards, I played 'Diamond Dogs' with numbing regularity, but everytime carefully placed the needle far enough over to miss out 'Future Legend' completely. I'm sure my brothers and my sister will remember just how scared I was of an album I enjoyed so much.
So the evening in question came to a not too sticky end. We managed to tidy up, get our comatose babysitter into bed and his friends off home - in fact we even managed to somehow muster up a chow mein and a couple of spring rolls from somewhere, just to make the deception complete. (Sorry Mum and Dad - it was all Brian's fault of course) and eventually Brian got his own copy of the album, only for me to comandeer it and play it until I wore the vinyl out.
'Diamond Dogs' is an exceptional album, possibly Bowie's best (very close though - my jury is still out on what is my actual favourite, if indeed I even have one) Whilst is misses a lead guitarist of the calibre of, say Mick Ronson or Earl Slick (at that time, past and present Bowie guitarists respectively) as Bowie himself opted to play all the guitars on the album, you do still have the wonderful avant guard piano of Mike Garson and some excellent sax playing from Bowie himself who also brings in Moog and Mellotron synthesizers to great and eerie effect. Aside from the chilling 'Future Legend' you get the (very Stones like) glam shuffle of the title track and the lead off single 'Rebel Rebel', the US Cop Show funk of '1984', the rousing ballad 'When You Rock and Roll With Me' and the dark and sinister 'We Are The Dead' - which is one of my favourite Bowie lyrics (it wasnt until years later when I bought a CD release with printed lyrics that I realised that what I thought was him singing 'funky bumps' is actually 'fuck-me pumps'). The real moment of magic on the album comes with the ten minute medley 'Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing Reprise' - a beautiful and melancholy construction in which Bowie compares casual sex to 'putting pain in a stranger' and invites his friend / lover to 'buy some drugs and watch a band and jump in the river holding hands'. The whole show ends with the eerie Mellotron 'choir' that introduces the prayer like appeal to a higher God of 'Big Brother' (this 'choir' effect would be used to similar grand effect a decade later on XTC's 'Deliver Us From The Elements' and a further decade later on Radiohead's 'Exit Music') and ends with the quirky, almost funky, 5/4 shuffle; 'Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family' and the repeated echo to fade of 'Bro...bro.....bro....bro.....' which to me, did and still does sound like 'Brian, Brian, Brian, Brian' - When you consider the circumstances under which I first encountered this incredible album and then nurtured a love for it that holds strong to this day, that seems quite fitting to me. Cheers Hedge!
By the way - if you are one of the kind few to read this blog, please do add yourself as a follower and also you might care to read a lot of the comments added to past entries by my fine friend, the excellent and accomplished musician, poet, performance artist and psychoanalyst to the living dead, Mr Andy Warner, aka Drew Crow Star - I really do appreciate the comments he has added and have no reservation in saying that what he writes is a damn sight better than what I produce. Your good health, My Lord.
More to follow?
Thursday, 21 April 2011
'The Sun Machine Is Coming Down' or "Mum, what's a phallus?" - Bowie's Space Oddity album revisited.....
As you should all know by now (all five of you that read this anyway!) I always write about albums in terms of my own experience and impression of them. And so it came to pass that I first heard 'Space Oddity' the album in the dull summer of 1977. I had just finished my first year at secondary school, adolescence was kicking in and to make matters worse I was carrying a huge pre-pubescent torch for a friend of my life long and therefore long suffering friend Rachel. I dont remember much about this object of my affections now, other than she wore paisley headscarves and at the age 12 already had the demanour of an angry librarian who you have just told that you've dropped your books in a muddy puddle. It never came to anything you understand. Poor Rachel, she had to put up with a lot growing up two doors down the road from me, and I'm sure she did her best to fight my cause with the wonderful Headscarf Harridan. Thanks Rach!
The more I have gained in years, the more I regard 'S.O.' as a guilty but quite intense pleasure. Listening to it earlier this evening for a pre blog reappraisal I was relieved to find that I still love it to bits, still sing along with all the words and even still get a bit excited at the end of the lengthy hippy indulgence of 'Cygnet Committee' - a song that completely blew me away when I first heard it. The album is in places, let's be honest, as cheesy as a great big overripe Brie and with all its late 1960s fey folkiness it does sound at times like it was conceived, performed and recorded by Trevor and Simon's legendary early 1990s kids TV pastiche 'Singing Corner' but this all adds to its undoubted charm I'm sure.
Back in 1977 I hadn't read a single Bowie biography and had no real regard or concern for any chronology in his work so as far as I was concerned he had always been a big famous rock star and hadnt spent the whole of the 1960s in vain pursuit of a hit single or two. He was also, of course, light years away from the loved up hippy folk rock of Space Oddity by 1977 and was about to release 'Heroes'. I cared not.
Of course things get underway with the title track, about which I cannot say any more really and I expect if you are reading this then you may well have heard it a few times already. This is followed by the easy going bo diddley jam of 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed' which (honestly) prompted me to ask "Mum, what's a phallus?" because of the line 'I'm a phallus in pigtails'. 'Letter To Hermione' and 'An Occasional Dream' are (in my opinion) two of Bowie's most enduring love songs. Terribly dated of course, and there is still that urge to shout 'swing your pants' from time to time but I still reckon they are very sweet and slightly melancholy songs. 'Cygnet Committee' clocks in at just under 10 minutes and is Bowie's passionate rant against the hippy principles. It is a bit cringe inducing with hindsight, but I still love it and just a few hours ago I was relieved to still find myself bellowing out 'I want to livvvaaaah' at the end, the goosebumps rising on my arms once more. Bowie's ode to 'Janine' (a name given such a bad press in the aftermath of Spinal Tap and Eastenders) is a little more lively and the strange but beautiful 'The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud' sounds like something from an avant garde late 1960s stage show. Possibly that was the intention at the time? One of my favourite songs on the album is the Dylanesque 'God Knows I'm Good' - a genuinely sad tale of a poor and skint old dear reduced to pilfering from a supermarket (a tin of 'Stewing Steak' no less) and getting caught in the process. I was very moved indeed. Still am. The poor old woman. Someone give her a shilling to pay for it and let's let bygones be bygones you bastards!!! And so to the final song, the hippy anthem that never was, and none other than Bowie's own 'Hey Jude' (if I say so myself) - 'Memory Of A Free Festival' Actually, its great. OK there's the grimace inducing, posh Cambridge spoken intro ("errm, maybe I should announce it") and some pretty hairy hippy imagery ("We talked with tall Venuisans passing through") but so what. Just as I did (quietly) as a 12 year old, headscarf fixated, pre-teen oik back in 1977, I found myself singing (loudly); 'The Sun Machine is coming down and we're gonna have a party' over and over again earlier this evening with great passion, and feeling all the better for the experience.
As an early Bowie album this is indeed 'rugged and naive' but to me it is still incredible nonetheless.
More to follow.....
PS Visit David Buckley's website here;
He is a seriously good rock writer, a thoroughly decent bloke and I do hope to have the chance to get inebriated with him in person at some stage in the very near future.
Friday, 1 April 2011
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Be happy people, if you can. And remember to spell 'happy' with a Little H.
Here we go with a little more of my blog and it's time for a game of ‘Random 10’ – its easy to play. All you need is a collection of music on a pc or portable device and a random or shuffle button. So as not to appear in any way technically prejudiced, you can play this with a stack of CDs, tapes, or vinyl, but in that case you would also benefit from a blindfold, a willing accomplice and a vivid imagination (suggested instructions and rules could be supplied on request. Yes, I do need to get out more) Whether or not this makes for quality blogging material who knows, but I propose to hit ‘shuffle songs’ play through the first ten songs it throws at me and write just a little about each. One very strict rule – no skipping, ignoring or starting again – if it decides to throw a 40 minute Brian Eno ambient experiment into the mix then…… well it will be a long evening I suppose. OK then, here goes….
1. King Crimson – Lady Of The Dancing Water. ‘Uh-oh’ - King Crimson – could be in for a long night after all – no, wait, its under three minutes. Yes, very nice little acoustic number with some very pleasant flute and (what?) trumpet added in. The sound of a misty and mystical medieval glade, without the bad smells and murderous marauding pillagers. From Lizard (1970)
2. Sapphire Thinkers – Please Understand – Ah, this is good. Sun drenched, harmony filled US psych-pop that’s just edgy enough to avoid being too twee. Yet another excellent discovery thanks to the marvellous Psychedelic Lion website / blogspot (http://psychedeliclion.blogspot.com/ ) Taken from From Within (1969)
3. Echo And The Bunnymen – Monkeys – Suitably dramatic stuff from their 1980 debut Crocodiles – all echoey guitars and trademark Ian McCulloch histrionics. I was a few years late jumping on this particular bandwagon, after spending a fortnight in Ibiza in the summer or 1984, where ‘The Killing Moon’ was played nightly at the local disco. Crocodiles was given to me later that same year as a pressie for my 20th Birthday. What wouldn’t I give to go back and have 1984 all over again? Certainly not my ipod that’s for sure.......
4. Tears For Fears – Watch Me Bleed – One of the great pop bands of the 1980s, although I would never have admitted that at the time of course. This is a fairly likeable, but hardly classic track from their debut album The Hurting (1983). Hints at greatness on their debut would be fully realised on the excellent follow up ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ then overdone to the point of bloated excess on their third and final album of the decade ‘The Seeds Of Love’ The older I get the more I am willing to concede that the 1980s was a great decade for British pop music. Right on.
5. Kings Of Leon – Camaro – I’m still not completely sure about Kings of Leon. Certainly one of the better bands to emerge in the last decade and this is one of their better songs. Good rocking pace, incredible bass and top notch idioosyncratic lyrics about hot chicks in cool cars. From ‘Because of The Times’ their third album released in 2007
6. Elliott Smith – Christian Brothers. Starts with the line ‘No bad dream fucker’s gonna boss me around’ – excellent. I got into the music of the late Elliott Smith a few years ago when I heard his superb album ‘Figure 8’ from 2000. This song is taken from his eponymous second album released in 1995 and is fairly standard Smith – intense, breathy vocals over acoustic guitar and lo-fi backing. I’m still getting to know the rest of his back catalogue and I’m sure there will be much of a similar calibre to ‘Figure 8’ to be found.
7. Oasis – (As Long As They’ve Got) Cigarettes In Hell – I often forget how great Oasis were. And they recorded some cracking b-sides too. This is typically Beatle-ish, complete with a plodding Hey Jude / I Am The Walrus rhythm, Strawberry Fields mellotron and an excellent vocal from Noel, who usually sang at least one b-side per single. This was one of the b-sides on the ‘Go Let It Out’ CD single and to me is yet another heady reminder of the complete insanity that was the fine summer of 2000.
8. Frank Sinatra - The Gal That Got Away / It Never Entered My Head – From The Reprise Collection box set. Sounds like a live medley from later in his career. I’m still getting my head round Sinatra and hoping that it’s not too much longer before I am able to listen to and enjoy his stuff at other times of the day than 2am when I’m feeling sorry for myself and can’t sleep, but for now that will do nicely.
9. The Beatles – Mr Moonlight (Live At The Star Club, Hamburg 1960) – Somewhat inevitable that something by this lot would turn up in a random 10 – shame it had to be this one really. Archive Beatle recordings are priceless historical artefacts of course, but in truth they usually sound like a big old heap of turd. I think I have played the Hamburg Live album only once all the way through and this is a reminder of why. I’m sure the all-night, amphetamine fuelled marathon gigs played to pissed up German sailors were incredible if you were there of course. Let’s hope we get a decent finale.......
10. Blur – Till The Cows Come Home – Oh yes – that will do nicely. Blur’s brilliant 1993 single ‘For Tomorrow’ was the first CD single I bought, having left it quite late to get hold of something to play them on. Remember when you bought ‘Part 1’ of the CD single in a funky package with space to put ‘Part 2’ in that would be released the following week? So I got the box with the aeroplane on and both parts of the single to fit in it. This is one of the b-sides from ‘Part 2’ and is a fair indication of the Union Jack, Knees Up Muvva Brown, Best Of British path that Blur were to tread with their next few albums, which saw them enjoy the peak of their commercial and critical success.
So there you have it. Not such a bad bunch at all. If you feel inclined to play this at home, why not send me your ‘Random 10’ lists along with your comments, get a guest spot in the blog and save me all the hard work! Otherwise, I will return soon and there will most definitely be.......... more to follow.