Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Great Vinyl Revival

There have been numerous stories of late about vinyl’s resurgence. Kids, apparently, have discovered some of the joys of 7” singles, even if the main joy they offer – being played over and over again as you, spellbound, watch them spin round as they magically transmit sound – is denied to the kids as they don’t have record players.

As ever in culture, there is nothing the media’s gatekeepers like more than relating all aspects of contemporary music in the terms of the 1960s. Blur Vs Oasis, you will remember, was just like The Beatles Vs The Rolling Stones (whose single releases never clashed, who never had slanging matches with each other and who both featured members who’d read some books); Kids Buying 7” Singles is just like the 60s, apparently, cos that’s what kids did then.

Back in the real world, however, the vinyl revival has been happening for over a decade. Let’s go back to Oasis, who from their 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe, established a tradition of the vinyl being issued as a double. For a new band, the idea was to presumably give them an air of provenance, of existing in the same rarefied atmosphere as their heroes of old.

What has been rather tiresome is for every subsequent album to come out on double vinyl. This overuse of vinyl has its roots in the 12” single boom of the 70s. Then record company executives discovered they could release a single in a larger format and charge twice the money for it. They only had to include another b-side – some cast off always did the trick – or slip an anonymous German who had a passing familiarity with Kraftwerk a few quid to do a new-fangled “remix”. Kerching!

Vinyl’s revival has been accompanied by similar money-grabbing motives. The louder the audiophiles’ argument has become and the more support it has gained, the readier are record companies to issue albums on vinyl. You will notice, however, that this readiness coincides with vinyl’s market occupying the same high moral ground compact discs held in the 80s – they sound better.

I agree that there’s a case to be made that since the democratisation of compact discs – they’re so cheap now! they’re (almost) free on the cover of every music magazine! they’re free inside newspapers most weeks! – there has been a movement towards vinyl as a premium commodity. However, it is equally true in all aspects of commerce this century that concomitant to globalisation’s encroaching reach is a return to simpler, older, often niche, forms of produce.

Like compact discs in the 80s, you will also have to pay a premium for your vinyl now. This is why record companies are so ready to press vinyl albums – there’s more profit per unit. This is why there are stacks of new labels devoted to reissuing old albums on vinyl and doing very well out of it, too. What it might mean for buyers of a certain vintage, however, is that it’s the third time they’re buying the same album. First time on vinyl when it came out, then replaced by a compact disc, and latterly on 180g vinyl (quite likely the weight of the original, but don’t let marketing get in the way of the truth).

For this buyer, he never lost his love of vinyl. He fetishes it, in fact (the records only, in case you’re afflicted with an image of me in bondage gear). Some friends have thought me stupid over the years, and I admit my very late adoption of CD technology might have made me miss out on some decent music, but as the owner of Minus Zero said to me as I bought the recent Midlake album (fucking great, since you ask, but avoid previous efforts for their prog love, I am strongly advised): “That’s worth what you just paid for it, and still will be in 5 years’ time. The CD’s value goes down by 90% as soon as you take it out of the shop.”

But then I’ve never bought new records for the collectable value. I buy them for their music, because they look fantastic and because I can think of nothing better than sitting watching it spin round and magically transmit great pop music. You can’t tell that to any independent label, though. Every new release in the past decade has been a “limited edition”.

I’ll tell you why it’s been a limited edition of 500: that’s all you’ll fucking sell, pal. Press 1000 and it’ll be 500 copies going to the landfill megastore. Where’s the ambition in advertising that you’ll only try to sell 500? And where’s the independent labels’ love of their audience if they patronise their faithful customers so much by telling them they must buy the single immediately. It’ll still be on sale until you buy it, as it’s only you and the other 499 regular punters who are ever going to buy it.

Major labels, with the rise in popularity in guitar bands (let’s not call them indie, shall we?), push out two versions of the 7” with different b-sides for that all-important “straight in at number 29” spot. Still, by selling them at 99p each, the only bank it’s going to break is the band’s.

The most stupid story, of course, is this week’s about some press whores who’ve released 100 copies of a 12” at £100 each. Yes, but what does it sound like? No one appears to know, or care, in all the headline-grabbing press that it’s got.

WIAIWYA Shrag Balance Sheet

The reality of the situation for the indie record label is shops still expect to sell singles for a couple of quid. WIAIWYA, a label where breaking even is a foreign land, have kindly given me the details of the last Shrag single costs. And that’s before the mixing’s been paid for. You can see why these people lose cash.

I’m just getting used to singles costing a lot more this year. Last week, Douglas Armour’s Prince Of Wands, a spirited essay in the fiery jangle of ealy REM kissed by the magic of the Californian sun, set me back £4.79. But then there were only 750 of those (and it's an import). This week, Swing Your Heartache by Young Galaxy – feel that Galaxie 500 atmos! – is £3.29. But then there are only 100 of those (“available to this country” anyhow).

You know, they’d both be cheaper if there were more copies. But the cold, hard facts of this kind of record shopping are that not many people get it (at first, anyway) so the unit prices are necessarily higher (unless you expect to pay less for a single than a pint and think that all indie labels should lose money). And the finer things in life – great pop music on 7” being one of the very finest – can cost a little more. Plus I’ll only be buying it once, anyway. Oh, thanks for asking, my record player of choice in recent years is this beauty. Sounds great. Especially when you play great 7” pop singles on it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Hit Parade Vs Miaow

“We get people coming to talk to us, but there aren’t many who do things like fling their knickers on stage which is a bit unfortunate as I’m a bit short of underwear at the moment – I’m medium by the way readers.”
Cath Carroll

The Hit Parade's sixth single, I Get So Sentimental, was released in a publicity blitz in the spring of 1987. At the same time, Miaow's second single, When It All Comes Down, was issued in the type of media fanfare usually reserved for royal weddings, world cups and Jesus corporeal return on a cheese and onion crisp.

Underground magazine celebrated the occasion by getting the musical brains behind the singles, moonlighting journos both, to interview each other. International recording star Julian Henry of west London's titans of teen The Hit Parade, and sultry Mancunian indie poster girl Cath Carroll, grill each other above. And below some other hacks offer their considered opinions of I Get So Sentimental.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Summer Sun

The weekly summer song series continues its way through what now feels like the season’s dog days with the appropriately mournful Summer Sun by The Beathovens (mp3 fans go here), a wistful couple of minutes spent contemplating the sun setting on a love affair while Ray Davies, somewhere in the background, kicks himself for not first crafting this absolute beauty.

I have this on the triple(!) CD, Stora Popboxen, which came out 11 years ago. Very shortly after buying it, more than one Swede scoffed at me for my financial profligacy as, apparently, the record shops of Sweden were overflowing with unwanted, heavily reduced copies.

For those of you in Sweden, then (and I know there are such people out there, as there are readers from many nations, who bring a much-appreciated international flavour to this blog), perhaps the EEC Stora Popboxen mountain is still to be found in the record emporiums of your homeland. It’s worth getting one. This is the standout track of the 89(!) collected, but there are many gems therein. The liner notes contribute this information about The Beathovens' Summer Sun:

In the mid-1960s Ray Davies of the Kinks, with his acoustic guitar and nasal voice, could have patented the word “melancholy.” Just think of songs like “I Go to Sleep,” “Let the Bells Ring,” “Too Much on My Mind,” and “Sunny Afternoon.”
But then the Beathovens came along with “Summer Sun,” a song with a tight but effective production, where Bengt Anderssons voice and the lyrics communicate a feeling that autumn is approaching, a feeling of lost love and moments gone forever.
In Sweden it would be almost 10 years before John Holm succeeded in communicating something similar in “Den Öde Stranden” (“The Deserted Beach”).
But why keep writing, when the radio keeps tormenting us with “Sommaren är kort” (Summer is short).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Midget Submarines

Ten albums in ten years – ring any bells, people? With Felt it was an accident (Melody Maker, 1989: “What was the best idea you had all year?”; Lawrence: “Break up the band after ten albums and ten singles and pretend it had all been a plan”). With Canadian label The Beautiful Music, however, there is a plan: release ten Television Personalities tribute albums in ten years, featuring 200 songs.

In the liner notes to the first volume, Nikki Sudden writes succinctly about If I Could Write Poetry and cover versions in general:

“I loved this song above all Dan Treacy’s others. I like the Phil Spector wall of sound effect Dan achieved on the original. Even though I changed them slightly I like the original lyrics. When I record a cover I always change one or two sentiments to make the words sound as if I wrote them. There’s no point in recording someone else’s song unless you make it into something of your own.

"Covers rarely capture the grace of the original but Epic and I gave the song a different lilt…”

It’s one of my two or three favourites on the album; the release of the second volume sees The Shambles respond with an equally fine version of If I Could Write Poetry. There are plenty of songs on these volumes that capture what made the TVPs one of the greatest bands the UK’s ever produced: pain, bitterness and stricken emotional outpourings mixed with an acute understanding of punk’s venom, inspired interpretations of simplistic 60s pop with psychedelic flourishes and Dan’s faux-naiveté.

There are some songs I like far more than others, but I’m not going to point the finger at versions I find less favour with, simply because it might just be that I’m too close to the original to properly engage with the new take. And because there are plenty of good songs to paper over any cracks.

It’s an ambitious project and I look forward to seeing what bands come up with in the future. I was particularly pleased, for instance, to hear Phil Wilson cover God Snaps His Fingers on the latest compilation.

Naturally, I would like even more for Dan Treacy to get over the drugs, stop shambling on stage completely drunk and hopeless, and for one of the greatest musical talents this country’s ever produced to be as big as The Beatles (ok, I’ll settle for the Arctic Monkeys’ fame level, then). Because, as things stand, he’s not even got what he set out for, which was to be as infamous and legendary as Syd Barrett.

The man who recorded I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives as a young man in 1980 has spent the subsequent years making brilliant music – and some infuriatingly terrible efforts – and screwing up his life with drugs. The path he’s chosen appears to be one of wilful destruction in the belief that by creating a bewilderingly high number of classics, then making some crap records and disappearing he would be feted as the new Syd Barrett.

It didn’t work like that, of course. Treacy made far too many good records for far too long to be another Barrett. As we know, history repeats itself first as tragedy (Brian Wilson) and second as farce (Dan Treacy). I don’t see a rehabilitation on the cards, but give these tributes a listen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cause Co-Motion!

This band is a glorious reminder of days when bands formed some time before guitar practice was over. Revelling in the skittishness of early Orange Juice, the broken-hearted numbness of The Modern Lovers, the slapdash pop-art pop of the TVPs and the simple 60s-tunes and punk-energy worshipping of those early Razorcuts sides, the Cause Co-Motion! make their pop loudly, brightly and irresistibly. And it’s magnificent.

They say that they’re “trying to steal favorite parts of songs and bands based on remembrances, realizing later they're not at all alike, and sticking with the remembrances” and I fancy This Time Next Year tips its hat slyly at one of The Kinks’ great (overlooked) songs This Time Tomorrow.

They’re chaotic and ramshackle and restlessly lively and you keep expecting it to collapse, but it never does. Apparently, their gigs are over in 20 minutes and if they can recreate on stage the animation, vim and vitality that they harness on record, you can bet they're a riot

You can hear music at their website or their myspace (or, you know, buy their records).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Soundcarriers

If The Stone Roses had spent the years between their two albums listening to Fairport Convention instead of Led Zeppelin, then they’d have come up with something very similar to I Had A Girl, the debut single from Nottingham’s Soundcarriers.

This song has the gentle psychedelia of Elizabeth My Dear and (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister (or even the hypnotic buzz of Norwegian Wood, from where the single probably gets its title) refracted through a folky glaze and pinned down by a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a funk breaks album and is simply astonishing.

Even better still is the b-side, Without A Sound, which is driven softly by a piano and captures the come-down of leaving the club at dawn or sitting in the departure lounge at Ibiza Aiport.

Of course, it’s probably nothing to do with that, but this casually brilliant song recalls (to these ears at least) the atmosphere of remorse and hope in a way not heard since The Beloved’s The Sun Rising all those (18) years ago.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Fischers

Many of you will already be familiar with The Fischers (and, if you've been in the right place at the right time, you can't have failed to notice that they are pretty bloody good live).

Jamie Holman, the leader of the band, has penned a biography of The Fischers for this very blog, telling how they came to pass (and how Tompaulin came to finish).

We have supported bands who aren’t fit to tune our guitars (though they should perhaps tune their own)

After Tompaulin I was really down. I had low confidence in songwriting and singing and I was just pissed off with the whole thing really. I felt that Tompaulin had got close to achieving something but had just got lost along the way.

We did of course have some really good times…Glastonbury and the other festivals we played, Peel sessions of course, working with Jim Reid and Ben Lurie and going to Europe to play were all excellent. We had good press for our releases and there's nothing like hearing your record on the radio or being on TV.

Like the story of all bands ever it started as a bunch of friends in a bedroom with no expectations - those were the really good times - and ended with heated phone calls, emails and a bit of falling out.

The Fischers originally came from me and Stacey (McKenna, Tompaulin) wanting to do something together. I wrote some songs for her and had no intention of singing anything at all. I was working with Vinny Peculiar while they recorded their LP and when that was done we talked about making another record.

The idea was that it would be me, the Vinny Peculiar band and Stacey singing and that we would do it quickly and just get on with it. I played a bit with Vinny and then met up at Salford Lads Club to rehearse some ideas and see if we could take it further and also did some demos with Vinny but it just didn’t click. It all just faded away to be honest. Back to square one. I had spent months with Mike, Alan, Craig and Andy (till he left) working on the Vinny stuff and was just biding my time to do my own.

Joe Fossard has a superb studio here in Blackburn, we had been working on sessions with Shack, Candie Payne, Louie, Biffy Clyro, Idlewild, Duke Special, I had been organising and assisting these sessions with Joe. It was exciting but nothing was going on for me. So I thought it was all over. It was ironic because there was still interest in Tompaulin but I couldn't get anything off the ground for ages. So I just started DJing at a great venue in Blackburn and that’s where I got together with Lee (drums) and Boony (bass). They had both played in bands I knew and had both done a lot of good stuff, some really high-profile but we were all without a label, direction or hope.

Lee had been dropped from Virgin and had been on tour supporting Oasis, Weller, the Stones, The Coral and countless others. He was a real find. A great drummer with the voice of an angel. Boony had been dropped from Necessary Records after Hard Fi took off and Maupa didn't; he's an incredible songwriter himself, plays anything and also sings like a man possessed. It shouldn’t have worked out but it did straight away, first practice. We played live at King George's Hall Blackburn supporting Nigel Clarke from Dodgy within four weeks of getting together.

That was the difference between playing with Mike Joyce et al (Vinny’s backing band), it just didn't click musically, although Vinny recorded with us on Down The Days and has played live guitar for us at quite a few of the Fischers gigs.

So as a three piece we rehearsed two days a week, wrote songs and demoed them. We worked on harmonies, how the stuff should sound, what we would be like on stage. But most importantly we started having a laugh and listening to records again. We just worked really hard at getting good.

Track and Field and Fortuna Pop, two labels Tompaulin had worked well with in the past, turned us down pretty much straight away, and it has been a struggle to get up and running. Much harder than I thought it would be. We have supported bands who aren’t fit to tune our guitars (though they should perhaps tune their own) and every gig has brought a victory of some sort.

But we have played all over - London , Liverpool, Machester, Glasgow , Leeds, and Blackburn of course - and are continuing to get in the van and play. This is a very different culture than I was used to in Tompaulin. In Tompaulin we released our first single before we even played live and we were reticent to play the songs live even when we were being offered great gigs and supports. The Fischers have a policy of putting the other bands to the sword and leaving blood up the walls.

There was/is a lot of baggage from the Tompaulin days but it’s going with every gig/myspace listen and we are of course a very different band, much more upbeat and a lot noisier than Tompaulin - very confident live and great in the studio. It is starting to happen now. There’s a single coming out, we start recording our LP in a few weeks and the songs are great. We are the best new band in Britain (though it has taken a label from Sweden to notice!).

The single is called Down The Days, it's released on the new Lost Music label in October. It is of course wonderful.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ice Cream Man

The sun continues to shine; before I’m called upon by desperate farmers in Australia to summon rain to their crops or Inuits beg me to visit greater cold on their thawing plains through the power of song, my meteorological magic touch offers you this week’s summer song: Ice Cream Man by Clover.

A great piece of UK psych-pop from 1967 complete with a children’s choir, this whimsical outing is a mixture of pure innocence and drug-addled mayhem, and as a result is quite magnificent.

You can imagine the streets of Cambridge ringing out to this song while Syd Barrett, during his wilderness years, drove an ice cream van touting for trade. Well, it’s a nice thought, at least.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Lurch

No music is so bad it’s good. There are many reasons to love music, but none of them are because it's bad; most music is bad and as such its principal function is to increase the joy of good music by contrast or relief when it does arrive. Part of pop’s allure is its novelty value and the novelty song genre has produced some stone cold classics, few better than The Lurch by Ted Cassidy.

Cassidy, most famous for his role as ‘Lurch’, the butler in The Addams Family, used his deep, spectral tones to great effect on this titular song. The lyrics suggest that it’s an attempt to start a dance craze, although its 1965 release would suggest that it was a little late in the day for that sort of success, and was largely songwriter Gary Paxton’s attempt to replicate the success of his 1962 hit, Monster Mash.

Mrs FET says she can find no merit in this song no matter – or perhaps especially – how many times I play it. According to her it’s stone cold crap. But then she does own a couple of Eminem albums. What do you reckon? I think this song is the bee’s tits.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dusty DVD

This DVD of Dusty Springfield's TV series is something to get excited about. Of course, if it included the Motown Special she hosted for Ready Steady Go, it would be incredibly exciting.

The press release tells you all. Well, not quite all. I mean saying "scoring her first number one in 1966 with ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’" would suggest there were other number ones when there weren't. And saying "Bacharach & David, arguably the most successful songwriting duo ever" is a bit rich, as there's no argument to be made, only facts to be stated (B&D are not the most successful songwriting duo ever).

The press release also suggests that Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd produced Dusty In Memphis, when it was Wexler and Arif Mardin; Tom Dowd was the engineer. You can bet there'll be magazines recycling that mistake in the coming months.

Anyway, that press release:

Dusty Springfield
Legendary BBC series released for the first time ever. Live At The BBC DVD – October 8th 2007.

In a career spanning five decades, Dusty Springfield was the finest white soul singer of her era, her consistency and purity unmatched by any of her contemporaries.

October 8th 2007 sees the release, for the first time ever, on DVD of her legendary BBC TV series from the sixties on Universal. This superb collection compiles the surviving shows into one powerful collection of 9 shows and 61 songs.

As well as featuring over 2 hours of lovingly restored footage from her TV series, Dusty Springfield – Live At The BBC also contains extra footage from the Morecambe & Wise Show, Tom Jones Show, an interview on Saturday Night At The Mill, as well as an audio jukebox and a photo gallery. There will also be a limited collector’s edition containing 4 exclusive picture postcards. This is the first time the series have
been available since they were first aired over 40 years ago.

Without doubt one of the UK’s most acclaimed and successful female singers, she proved a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic.

The early part of the 1960s saw her team up with her brother to form The Springfields who enjoyed a moderate degree of success. By 1963, and inspired by the new sound of Motown, Dusty embarked on her solo career. Her first single, ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ entered both the US and UK charts and by the mid-sixties she had become one of the country’s biggest stars scoring her first number one in 1966 with ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’. She was also the first artist to appear on the iconic TV series Ready Steady Go.

Her two BBC TV series in 1966 & 1967 were followed in 1969 by what many see as her finest album, ‘Dusty In Memphis’. Having already worked with Bacharach & David, arguably the most successful songwriting duo ever, Dusty, inspired by her love of classic American soul, de-camped to Memphis to make an album with renowned soul producers Tom Dowd & Jerry Wexler. Featuring the likes of ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’, ‘Dusty In Memphis’ remains one of the most acclaimed records of all time.

The 1970s saw her work with the likes of Gamble & Huff and in 1987 she again tasted success when she teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys on the single ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’

The full tracklisting of the DVDs is as follows:

Dusty BBC TV Show

Series 1

1st September 1966
The Real Thing
Some Of Your Lovin’
Bring Him Back
Poor Wayfaring Stranger
The Mood I’m In
Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa
Packin’ Up

8th September 1966
Call Me Irresponsible
Tell The World About You
I Don’t Want To Go On Without You
Won’t Be Long
I’ll Never Stop Loving You
The Real Thing

22nd September 1966
You Lost The Sweetest Boy
To Love and Be Loved
Anna (El Baion)
Gonna Build A Mountain
Losing You
Won’t Be Long

Series 2

15th August 1967
Live It Up
I’ll Try Anything
The Water Is Wide
I Only Wanna Laugh
If You Go Away
Everybody Needs Somebody

22nd August 1967
Get Ready
The Beautiful Land
All I See Is You
Medley: Do Re Mi, Soulville

29th August 1967
Come Back To Me
Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream
Peel Me A Grape
If You Go Away
You Can Have Him

5th September 1967
By Myself
Two Brothers
Time After Time
You'd Better Run

12th September 1967
Let The Good Times Roll
If My Friends Could See Me Now
I Wish You Love
It Was Easier To Hurt Him

19th September 1967
Nowhere To Run
Sweet Lover No More
My Lagan Love
The Mood I'm In
It Ain't All Honey
You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
26 August 1970: THE MORECAMBE & WISE SHOW (BBC2)
How Can I Be Sure

28 December 1972: TOM JONES SHOW (BBC1)
I Am Woman
Since I Fell For You

Interview/I'm Coming Home Again

Photo Gallery

Audio Jukebox of tracks plus hit singles:
I Only Want To Be With You
Son Of A Preacher Man
I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
I Close My Eyes & Count To Ten

Collector’s Edition contains:
4 Unique Picture Postcards from the TV Series
Limited edition numbering

5.1 surround sound

Muscle Bustle

There’s more summer pop magic right here. Yes, I know I spoil you. Today it’s Muscle Bustle by Donna Loren, a great girl group romp from the 1964 film Muscle Beach Party.

Written by Brian Wilson and Gary Usher with the - to me - mysterious Roger Christian, here’s where I hand over the reins to Mr Harvey Williams, who knows everything about Brian Wilson and his associates, and has kindly offered these insights:

Roger Christian (or as he was sometimes known, Hot *Rod* Rog) was an LA disc jockey, and occasional writing partner of Brian. I have his "Little Street Machine" (or similar) somewhere. He doesn't exactly have a voice made for singing, so he basically narrates the song instead of singing it. I kind of like his lyrics as an evocation of the lifestyle, but more often than not they're basically lists of engine parts. The Hanes Manual of rock lyrics.

My favourite beach movie clip is here:
The Beach Boys “Little Honda”. Watch out for the girl shimmying next to Dennis (from around 40s in). Oh, I see you've already spotted her...what a woman.

Thanks, Harvey. Now would be a good time to remind anyone who hasn’t got a ticket for Harvey’s gig on Friday with Rose Melberg and The Dreamers to get one. Remarkably, there are still a few tickets left.

This would also be a good time for me to confess that last week I was remiss in posting Theresa Lindsey’s Gotta Find A Way from the old Goldmine compilation, Ultimate Girl Groups. That version has been remastered very badly and sounds well below par.

Better by far is the original 7”, which you can hear right here. It may have a couple of crackles but it’s got the rasp and guts and full-bloodedness absent from the reissued version. I believe Ms Lindsey when she sings the original.

If you can find it, however, the Ultimate Girl Groups compilation is worth having. You won’t know how you ever managed without Madeline Wilson’s Dial ‘L’ For Lonely or Cheryl Williams’ Everybody’s Happy But Me or the Sherrys’ Put You Arms Around Me after you’ve lived with them for even just the shortest time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rough Trade East

I’m all in favour of Rough Trade East. It’s an easy walk from my flat, it’s open late so I can go after work and it’s just round the corner from Beats Workin’, an ace second-hand record shop on Sclater St run by my mate.

The downside from a purely personal point of view is that I will probably be in debtors’ jail before Christmas. The only reason I ever went to west London was to the Rough Trade shop on Talbot Road (now, of course, there’s the Luminaire venue to draw me westwards); even so, I didn’t go that often.

You might think not going often was a little stupid when I tell you that I think it’s the best new record shop I know, but it usually meant a weekend visit when the decks would almost always be hogged by pseudo-DJs working through piles of 12”s. Plus it’s in west London and I didn’t want to end up in debtors’ jail.
Record shopping icon

Rough Trade East, then, gets a thumbs up for its location. As for the shop itself, it’s currently badly under-stocked. The “5,000 square foot megastore” is just too big for the present stock which relies heavily on piling multiple copies of one record in the racks. As for the 60s/70s Country section, all but one of the albums being by Johnny Cash is a bit lame. Have a Johnny Cash section by all means, but don’t pretend you know about country or stock it when you’re so limited in your outlook.

These, though, are simple problems which I imagine – well, I bloody hope – will be overcome soon. More problematic is the design of the shop. Rough Trade in Talbot Road conjures, to my mind, the most iconic image in independent record shopping; I’m certain many others feel the same way. With such a brand, very little needs changing. Why, then, have the RT Shop brains decided to create not so much a shop as another trendy Shoreditch “space”? They’ve sacrificed their iconic status for anonymity. For shame.

Still, I christened the shop by “dropping” £85. I’ll be back this week for a more modest spend. And every week until debtors’ jail.

The 7” stock is, as you’d imagine, excellent. Pick of the bunch last week was Trust by Gravenhurst which – I kid you not – is a dead ringer for Cling Film by The Sea Urchins. These are strange times we live in. The b-side reveals shoegazing tendencies which don’t fill me with joy; in fact very little of the so-called shoegazing revival gives me much pleasure, although a single I got last year, Forever by Shade, is worth checking out

You will probably want some pop now, so on the Trust theme, A Question Of Trust, the debut single by Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring from a couple of weeks ago is a joyous, infectious piece of indiepop that’ll make your heart beat a little faster.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Summer Means Fun

It would be wrong of me to claim full credit for the recent upturn in weather following the tireless promotion of some of the world's greatest summer songs on this blog, but, false modesty aside, it is too much of a coincidence for any of us to pretend that there's no link.

It would be just as wrong of me to rest on my laurels. To this end, I spent the best part of half an hour yesterday thinking what might constitute the next run of persuasive summery pop perfection to keep the sun gods smiling, and then digitising it.

Perhaps it would be churlish of me to point out that this service is provided for free and I expect no financial reward (although it would be appreciated if you bought me an ice cream if you're ever down my way); you might, however, want to go out and buy the records - or some suitable compilations - featuring the songs showcased here.

The theme today is surfin', and we start with Little Pattie's He's My Blonde Headed, Stompie Wompie Surfer Boy from 1963. If the truth be told, I think the title - which is obviously a little inspired by Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - is the best thing about this Australian number, but you decide.

Pattie, real name Patricia Amphlett, is the cousin of The Divinyls' Chrissie Amphlett. Will that ever come up in a pop quiz? I doubt it. But forewarned is forearmed.

You can find HMBH,SWSB on Girls In The Garage volume 11.

An even better surfin' experience comes in the form of Tell 'Em I'm Surfin' by The Fantastic Baggys. Numbering PF Sloan and Steve Barri, who earned a footnote in pop history (summer edition) by singing backing vocals for Jan and Dean, this 1966 single was the first of three they made.

There's a great interview with PF Sloan here, but if you don't have the time to read it all, here are some highlights:
You actually started in the music business when you were 12, didn't you?
Yes. In 1959, I released a single on the Aladdin label. One day I went to a music store in L.A. to buy a guitar, and Elvis Presley was also visiting the store at the same time, and he taught me a few chords! Then, when I was 16, I was in charge of A & R at an L. A. label! One of my most vivid memories from those days was in 1963, when a box of singles arrived from the U.K.. There was a very strong discrimination against British music at that time, and anything which came from there usually went straight into the bin! This particular box contained 4 demos by The Beatles, I think the singles were 'Love Me Do', 'Please Please Me', 'From Me To You', and 'Thank You Girl'. I realised their potential, and got them their first U.S. deal with the Vee-Jay label. Unfortunately none of these early records became hits! I later met them when they came to L.A., and saw their 1965 show at the Hollywood Bowl. But none of them were really interested in surf music! The Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was totally into The Beach Boys and other surf groups. When he and Mick Jagger were in L.A., they heard some Baggys demos, and Mick loved them, saying they were "Fantastic!". And, unlikely as it sounds, that's how the Baggys really got their name

Did you ever work with the Stones?
Yes, I was actually the producer of the 'Paint It Black' session, although I wasn't credited for it. It was my idea for there to be a sitar on that record. I saw one in the corner of the studio, and I knew the song needed something a bit special, so we built it into the arrangement.

What was Steve's contribution to the Fantastic Baggys output?
He wrote about half of the second verse of "Summer Means Fun", and I let him do the vocals on that number. That was about it. Unfortunately, he has begun to claim that he wrote songs which he had absolutely nothing to do with, which has put a lot of strain on our relationship. Why would anyone who has had incredible success as a producer of artists like Michael Jackson, The Four Tops, etc., be concerned about a few insignificant surf songs? We worked together from 1963 to 1967, and then we separated, because we didn't have much in common. But in recent years, we've been getting along better. In 1985, I did a show at the Bottom Line, New York, and I performed "Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann" at his request. Then in 1994, a tribute concert to me was held at the Troubador in L.A., where he now lives, and he appeared on stage with me, but we didn't perform together.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face

The summer song this week ("we might not have the summer, but we have the songs" or something like that anyway) is I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face, as done by...well, take your pick.

First up is Dusty Springfield from her magnificent 1967 album, Where Am I Going, the second best in her oeuvre, pipped by 1970's A Brand New Me (aka From Dusty With Love). Controversial, I know, but I go for Gamble and Huff's Philly strut, lush arrangements and melodramatic heartbreak over its Southern predecessor, Dusty In Memphis. And anyway, there is something annoying, isn't there, about the post-Pulp Fiction canonisation of Son Of A Preacher Man and DIM.

You will notice not only that this is where St Etienne borrowed the tune for Nothing Can Stop Us Now, but that my copy's a little crackly.

I'm not certain who the original version's by, but the northern soul kids go for The Monticellos. This could just be because it's the rarest, of course. For my money, Justine "Baby" Washington delivers the best version, although there are others to choose from (including Aretha Franklin and Sonji Clay Mohammed, Ali’s ex-wife) I'll stop here.

Disclaimer: I do hope I've put the right versions up, but due to certain complications (administrative uselessness and no sound card at work to check, there may have been a mix up. Let me know if there are any mistakes. Ta).

Edwyn new single

Edwyn Collins
Announces the release of new single.

Edwyn Collins releases a new single, You’ll Never Know, through Heavenly Recordings on September 10th 2007. The single is taken from his forthcoming album, Home Again. The 12 track self-produced album is released on September 10th.

The single will be available on CD and 7” and includes a ‘dub’ from producer / reggae legend Dennis Bovell who has worked with the likes of I Roy, Steel Pulse, The Slits and Dexys Midnight Runners.

Home Again, Edwyn’s 6th solo long player, was recorded at West Heath, his own North West London studio in late 2004 / early 2005 before he suffered a serious illness. Work to complete the album was resumed earlier this year following a long period of rehabilitation.