Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Robert Forster: A Fashion Tribute

Robert Forster’s gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday was a belter. Long-term fans might have been surprised, however, by Robert’s rather muted attire. The trademark canary-yellow safari suit was gone and the sombre grey imagery of The Evangelist album cover (‘captain of industry relaxes at country club’) was sported.

We should not, however, forget Robert’s colourful contribution to rock fashion. Typical of his egregious taste in shirts was the number you can see him modelling (above) on stage at Tower Records, London, on August 25, 1994 (yes, I did tape-record that gig; no, I don’t know how to digitise it).

After many years’ admiring Robert’s shirts, in 1996 I decided to pay tribute to the great man’s fashion sense. Before his gig at The Garage (12 October, 1996) I marched into a charity shop on Chapel Market, interrupted the workers’ shy flirtations and announced: “I would like the vilest shirt you have on offer. It must be so offensive to the eye that middle-aged American tourists would be repulsed by its vulgarity and colour-blind sex maniacs would consider it too outrĂ©.”

The young lad broke into a silly grin and scampered downstairs to the stock room. During his foraging the young girl asked me if I was going to a fancy-dress party. Something much more important, I assured her: “I am going to see Mr Robert Forster, international rock star and fashion icon, to whom I am going to offer a shirt as a pagan tribute.”

The lad returned with the three ugliest shirts I’ve seen. Obviously, I chose the worst. At the gig, my friend threw it at Robert. It landed on his mic stand. You will see from the shirt that Robert’s wearing in the picture that the shirt offered to him was in keeping with his “style”.

Robert threw the shirt into the audience. Some bloke right by me caught it. I expect it’s probably mounted in his trophy cabinet as a piece of Rock Memorabilia. At Robert’s next London gig, my friend who threw the shirt got Robert to sign a CD. Following an explanation of his exploits at Robert’s last show, the inscription read in part: “Thanks for the shirt."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lost Soul: Herman Griffin & the Boys In The Band

Are You For Me Or Against Me is one of the great overlooked singles of Detroit’s golden age of soul. The pounding beat is there, as are the surging strings, the clamorous party vibes and a General Johnson-style rhotic burst ("brrrrr!"!), all escalated by Griffin’s dizzying tenor. The only thing that’s absent is the respect this record should have got
during the near-40 years since its release.

Griffin’s short recording career at Motown didn’t showcase his dynamic talents to their best advantage; his post-Motown efforts were artistically a much greater success. Unbelievably, this song has never been reissued.

Are You For Me Or Against Me was co-written by Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, whose death on September 9 garnered far less attention than his Motown contemporary Norman Whitfield’s passing nine days later, perhaps because Wylie’s greatest contributions to Detroit’s amazing soul legacy came after his brief tenure at Motown in the early 60s and are therefore relatively unheralded outside of the Northern fraternity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lawrence of Belgravia

I remember what Vic Godard used to say when he was asked why he hadn’t been more successful. He’d say it was because 'I haven’t made a record that deserved to be'. And I’ve thought of saying that myself, but then I’ve gone back to the records and thought, 'No, we deserve to be massive'.
Lawrence, October 1985

The long-awaited documentary Lawrence of Belgravia gets its first screening at the Barbican on 4 November. It will be shown with another Paul Kelly documentary, Take Three Girls: The Dolly Mixture Story.

Tickets are going quickly, so get them while you can.

And here’s a Felt press release from 1986 which has been tucked inside my copy of Rain Of Crystal Spires for over 20 years:

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Death Of The Dunedin Sound

The Flying Nun music back catalogue is quite simply one of the most outstanding of any of the independent labels in the world.
Martin Phillipps

It’s pretty sad, because a big part of our work is locked away and lost. The average fan overseas should be able to buy the CDs. It’s a big problem, a big bone of contention.
Robert Scott

Flying Nun alumni are getting their pants in a wad over Warners – who own the FN catalogue – failing to keep recordings available in either physical or digital formats, as the article below from Dunedin’s D-Scene newspaper explains.

I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for large parts of the Flying Nun back catalogue – particularly many of the classics that Robert Scott and Martin Phillipps have made – but my suspicion is that a major label like Warners can argue easily that basic economics rules out physical reissues. No matter how much anyone loves The Bats or The Chills or The Magick Heads – and believe me, I love them to distraction – they know that, however unjust it seemed at the time, those bands didn’t sell enough records to push them into the big boys league of Rock Classics That Will Never Be Deleted.

The case for the Flying Nun catalogue being available as downloads, though, is a simple one. All that’s needed is someone at Warners with some support for Flying Nun. In the end, this story is one of music’s oldest: major record company doesn’t care about music, doesn’t employ enough people who care about music and ignores the commercial potential of their smaller acts.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lost Soul: Funky 8 Corners

This piece of street-corner funk from 1969 by Willie & the Mighty Magnificents is lively with chatter and raucous laughter. You can bet many bottles were opened during this recording, which features a string of jokes which aren’t bad by music standards (“Why didn’t you catch that bus?”; “What bus?”; “The bus that ran over your face!”) including what must be one of the earliest outings of a YOUR MOMMA insult in music.

In a little over two minutes, the house band of Sylvia and Joe Robinson’s All Platinum label scorch a tight groove with driving horns and chicken-scratching guitars that belies their New Jersey background. Funky 8 Corners doesn’t sound out of place next to Southern funk greats like Archie Bell and the Drells, The Meters and The Highlighters Band.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New on WeePOP!

Vermont’s Let’s Whisper open their debut ep, Make Me Smile, with a curveball: Dylan’s Song might be more appropriately named McLennan’s Song, as it reaches back to when Grant McLennan first marked The Go-Betweens’ dance card with a dusty country feel on Don’t Call Me Gone.

Open Road finds Let’s Whisper engaging in vibrant West Coast (LA and Glasgow versions) rusticity, while Hey Sunshine, with its neat nursery rhyme simplicity and goofy pop guile, might more accurately be called Hey Sunshine Pop.

They can be a little too sweet at times – When You Were Eating Ice Cream will give you toothache – but otherwise this is a very promising start.

The Lorimer Sound's Greenstreets ep has, in songs like Photograph and Brooklyn Bound, the awkward naivety and shy romantic tendencies that recall The Lucksmiths of over a decade ago.

An instrumental, Block Party, rather wonderfully reveals the band to have a mastery of 60s girl group pop party music that hints at ambitions outside of their otherwise dominant indie milieu.

Perhaps, like The Lucksmiths found, The Lorimer Sound would benefit from more studio time. Whichever way, give this band 6 months and their coltish exuberance could just grow to become a force to be reckoned with.

Monday, September 15, 2008

NZ Connections: The Chills, The Clientele and The Puddle

The Chills played in Auckland with a choir, bell ringer and pipe organist at an industry junket last week. No light has been shed on the significance of the rhythmic gymnasts, but I trust it’s not indicative of a new vaudeville direction for The Chills.

Those of you who have secured a copy of The Clientele’s new ep, That Night, A Forest Grew, will be familiar with the song George Says He Has Lost His Way In The World. It’s about George Henderson of The Puddle, whose most recent album No Love No Hate is an essential purchase; its standout track, I’ve Lost My Way In The World, was the inspiration for The Clientele's song.

George’s brother Ian, Puddle drummer and Fishrider label boss, has made a great video for I’ve Lost My Way In The World, which you should direct yourselves to right now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lost Soul: Donnie Burkes

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! DONNIE BURKES!” Oh yes indeed. Satisfaction Guaranteed is club soul at its very finest. You can picture the cocktails, the loosened neckties and the cigarette smoke in this panting club classic from 1965.

Mr Burkes’ audacious delivery and the cooing girlie backing vocals that underscore his confident claims suggest he’s a bit of a fanfaronade. I am, though, struggling to decode all of the lyrics. When he sings
Baby I will make you feel so fine
Now you may have had some other love
But it wasn’t mine
I can do the most impossible feats
Make you feel so high
Cos my love’s so deep
I wonder just what it is he’s promising. I think there might be a hidden message that I'm not grasping.

Perhaps someone wiser and worldlier than I can point me in the right direction...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More Messthetics

The Performing Ferrets' debut vinyl single, Brow Beaten, rubbed shoulders with Orange Juice’s Falling And Laughing one night on John Peel’s wingding in 1979. Maidstone’s The Performing Ferrets went on to much smaller things than Orange Juice, but Hyped2Death’s retrospective, No One Told Us, reveals a band that deserved more than the 364 album sales they achieved in their career.

Their ramshackle amateurism – at times the serendipitous collision of a kazoo, a broken tambourine, plastic sandals, a melodica and some suitably wayward guitar – mines the same rich seam as the Modern Lovers’ proto punk, The Feelies’ new wave drive, the awkward bedroom punk-funk of The Go-Betweens’ Send Me A Lullaby and, perhaps most obviously, The Fall’s agreeable discord.

With only three releases between 1979-82, the 28 tracks on this comprehensive compilation offer a scattergun approach to the Ferrets’ recording history, but there are more hits than misses in this inviting exploration of one of DIY’s best kept secrets.

Intriguingly, and rather pleasingly, Ferret guitarist Steve "Star Boy" Maguire and Chris "Drummer Boy Coich" Fenner later joined Miaow. Who were great. But I’m sure you know all about them.

Dry Rib also get the Messthetics treatment. The CD would be worth buying just for Ed Ball’s sleevenotes:

"Rob Vasey's guitar style of blurred chord stylings coupled with continuous tremolo arm pre-empted My Bloody Valentine (or anyone else) by the best part of a decade. [He] wasn't like Eric Clapton or Paul Weller in way/shape/form... Which could only be a good thing because, he superseded these fellows for sheer guitar innovation and songscapes that neither could even conceive of...”
Combining contemporary diary entries and a balanced view from almost 30 years’ distance, Ball provides a compelling account of one of post-punk’s should-have-beens. At its best, the music is no less persuasive, capturing as it does the TVPs’ rudimentary assault with the more accomplished mod-stylings and psychedelic dalliances that would become the hallmark of the Groovy Cellar scene.

Your view on whether Dry Rib were a complete artistic success will depend in part upon your tolerance of Beefheart’s excursions or John Cale’s experimentations. Check them out here for yourself.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Crystal Stilts

The reissue of Crystal Stilts' ep and 7” in one handy package on Woodsist reminds us of two things:

1/Much of the best music today is coming out of Brooklyn (see also: Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Boy Genius, Vivian Girls, Cause Co-Motion).

2/ The Felt revival (1981-3) is upon us. Without the dramatically static poise of Felt’s early triumvirate Something Sends Me To Sleep/My Face Is On Fire/Penelope Tree, Crystal Stilts would not exist. I imagine the band have all written wills (not just because they have a certain morbidity about them…) declaring they want to be buried with those singles.

Crystal Stilts are nervy and sullen, their monochromatic rumbling reaching into the darkness like the Velvet Underground; there’s an intriguing distance to their dysfunctional garage rattling, all muffled beats and darkly drawled vocals, that is compelling precisely because it suggests fragility. You could hear them singing that line from Space Blues, “I’m not adept with my fellow man”, and meaning it.

They wouldn’t sound out of place on Rough Trade (just like The Blue Orchids) or Flying Nun (just like The Clean) in the early 80s, but they wouldn’t sound like they do were it not for Felt.