Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Factory Records Documentary

There have not been many great pop music documentaries. Factory From Joy Division to the Happy Mondays was one of the better ones. To say I enjoyed it – I did – would be to overlook the fact that it was in parts poorly researched and lacked the scope and intelligence on many occasions to put its subject in a wider musical or cultural frame.

Yes, it’s an oft-repeated observation by Factory supremo Tony Wilson that “when faced with historical fact versus legend, that one should always print the legend,” but a documentary is the place to separate fact from fiction and to use the advantage of time to put the facts in a historical perspective.

Largely, this Factory programme did its subject justice; in some way it sought to redress the caricature sketches of 24 Hour Party People, but it would have served its purpose far better had it been more careful with the facts.

Why were we told that 1988’s summer of love belonged to The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays? The Stone Roses released Elephant Stone in October that year, their first release in the 18 months since Sally Cinnamon; Happy Mondays released Wrote For Luck in November of 88, their first release in over a year. Neither band broke big until the summer of 89.

Why could the documentary not find the time to celebrate the Hacienda’s role in changing those groups’ directions, laying the foundations for baggy, indie-dance and the house music invasion (the latter of which is in other histories always credited to London) rather than focussing on its many troubles?

And why – this is really un-fucking-forgivable – did they soundtrack that section with Groovy Train by The Farm? That was a summer novelty song from – wait for it – 1990 that had nothing to do with Factory or Manchester.

There were other errors and the editorial and research team obviously didn’t know their stuff - they were generalists. Specialists would've picked up on interviewees’ statements that contradicted past statements. That would’ve made a more interesting programme. For example, Wilson has said in the past that he would never have worked with Morrissey because he thought him too difficult and he didn’t want the aggravation; why, then, was Wilson allowed to blame his Factory partner for not signing The Smiths and suggest he'd wanted to sign them all along?

Pop music has been the most creative and inspiring art form of the past 50 years. Where it would be safe to say drama’s heyday was in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, pictorial art blossomed most richly in the 300 years from the 16th to the 18th centuries and the novel belongs to the 19th century, pop music – despite its detractors, its naysayers, the killjoys and the snobs – remains the world’s most vital form of artistic expression.

It is nothing more than crude condescension that sells short pop as an art form. That it isn’t afforded the same editorial rigour and cultural weight as more traditional art forms by our TV stations is an insult not just to the fans but to the people who have provided – and continue to provide – the greatest artistic highs offered by any discipline of the past half century.

Friday, September 14, 2007

House of Love...don't look back

Last night's gig was good, you know. Playing their 1988 debut album a few weeks ago, I was reminded why I haven't played it for years - it completely lacks the fire, the spirit and the distortion that The House Of Love brought to the stage at that time.

Once again, those songs - which sounded terrible live in 89 after Bickers left - were reinvigorated, rejuvenated and given new leases of life. But, of course, it wasn't as good as in 1988. Lightning never strikes twice, and while this was an at-times thrilling recreation of the magic they had briefly, before losing it to the usual suspects of quarrelling, ennui and forgetting the fury and fire that originally inspired them, it lacked something.

That something was timing. It was 19 years too late for this gig. It was a fantastic gig 19 years ago, but Christine and Destroy The Heart haven't just been issued with barely a heartbeat between their releases for a stunned public to catch its breath. At its very best, pop music suspends belief, makes things you hadn't thought of seem possible. Last night, the only thing that seemed possible was that they might play another revival gig some time.

Maybe I should've given my ticket to a teenager who hadn't seen them first time around. But, likewise, the gig wouldn't mean much out of context to teenagers. I buy new records and see new bands every week. I would have much rather seen Let's Wrestle, The Poppycocks, Cause Co-Motion!, Hatcham Social or Kid Canaveral, for example, last night, all new bands who have got me excited this year.

There's nothing better than going to a gig and feeling the electricity of the band and the excitement of the audience, sniffing the very anticipation and expectation. That's what it was like in 1988 at The House of Love; last night was a faded facsimile of those things. Yes, it was good, but there are better, shinier, newer things out there.

Whoever booked the support act, Los Albertos (or "Lost Albatross" as the bouncer unwittingly called them) should've been taken outside and beaten unconscious. Presumably on the basis that the HoL audience would now be of an age where they enjoy anodyne yuppie ska, some fucking idiot chose to book a band who think they should bridge the gap between Los Lobos and The Mavericks, when the only thing needed between those two bands is not a bridge but a very large bomb with a very short fuse.

Monday, September 10, 2007


“Do you remember how the things look when you were young?”

If you thought you were getting left behind because all your mates are liking weird leftfield Icelandic music, betraying a youth of too many bloody 4AD records, when all you want is some great pop music, Seabear have come to the rescue.

This Icelandic seven-piece’s debut album, The Ghost That Carried Us Away, is simply magical. Taking a childlike approach – all wide-eyed wonderment and unbounded joy - at the simple pleasures and glories of pop music, Seabear look towards the sunny pop of The Lucksmiths, the kooky orchestration of Grab Grab The Haddock and folk music’s fairy tales for a giddy, impish trip down pop music’s bewitching, enchanting byroads.

They have songs called Good Morning Scarecrow, Cat Piano, Owl Waltz and Summer Bird Diamond. You’ll love this band.

If you want more Icelandic pop, Benni Hemm Hemm’s bolder approach – you just know they’ve been living that Athens, Georgia sound for years – is very seductive (although, note to fellow monolingual dolts, most of the lyrics are Icelandic) and you should go hunt them down when you have a minute.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

BBC Proms (aka Bribery, Corruption and The Hit Parade)

Keen followers of this blog will remember last week´s Hit Parade interview, 1987 vintage. Julian Henry, now a PR bigwig, has charged one of his many minions with the task of bribing me thus: publicise the BBC Proms and none other than Mr Henry himself will deign to engage in idle chit chat with this very blog.

Being weak of will, easily impressed and seeking content, I have agreed. I know that few of my 44 loyal readers will, if it is indeed possible, think less of me.

So, before the Proms information, should any of you have questions you´d like Julian to answer for a 2007 vintage interview, please send them in. Right, those Proms then:

Five days, eight venues and more than 80 artists

Kaiser Chiefs and Mark Ronson to perform at the 2007 BBC Electric Proms

The BBC today revealed the first of more than 80 artists who will be performing at the 2007 Electric Proms. Confirmed for this year’s five day festival are Mark Ronson and Kaiser Chiefs both of whom will be staging unique collaborative performances for the crowds at The Roundhouse in Camden and for those watching and listening on the BBC.

Taking place from October 24th to 28th, BBC Electric Proms is specifically designed to create new moments in music. Each performance seeks to create something different. It may feature collaborations between new and established acts or new material performed for the first time. Whatever the artists decide, audiences are guaranteed to see and hear something truly memorable.

Mark Ronson and guests with the BBC Concert Orchestra

Mark Ronson will be performing reworked tracks from his hugely successful album “Version” featuring very special guests including Lily Allen, Terry Hall, Santo Gold, Candie Payne and Tim Burgess.

Kaiser Chiefs via David Arnold

Post punk rock heroes Kaiser Chiefs are linking up with legendary Grammy Award winner David Arnold. Arnold, famed for his work scoring James Bond films, will be taking a brand new approach to the arrangement and performance of some of the band’s biggest anthems.

He said “Hopefully, under the umbrella of the Electric Proms, we can throw away the rule book of what you can or can’t do with a rock band and a bunch of musicians that you may not expect to see on stage with them."

SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS with Jamie Cullum

Uber Japanese club jazz band SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS will be performing with piano maestro Jamie Cullum for a night of musical mind expansion in The Roundhouse’s Dr Marten’s FreeDM Studio.

Sigur Rós – Film and performance

Elsewhere in Camden, at Cecil Sharp House, will be the UK Premiere of Heima - a new film by Sigur Rós. Heima, meaning both 'at home' and 'homeland', is a cinematic and musical feast, providing an insight into one of the world's shyest and least understood bands. The band will also give a unique stripped down acoustic performance of their music.

Sigur Rós: Heima is just one of a collection of music films that will be screened at The Roundhouse during the Electric Proms.

A tribute to Lal Waterson

The music of one of folk’s greatest heroines, Lal Waterson, will be celebrated at Cecil Sharp House as part of Folk Night at the Electric Proms. Featuring performances from Norma and Mike Waterson, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Lal’s work will be performed by those who knew her best at London’s spiritual home of folk.

Electric Proms on the BBC

Further artists and performances will be announced in the next week. The festival can be viewed and watched via a number of different platforms on the BBC:

Radio – There will be live and recorded broadcasts from all areas of the festival on BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 1Xtra, 6Music, The Asian Network and World Service.

TV – Highlights from this year’s Electric Proms will be screened on BBC Two with additional performances available to Freeview, satellite and cable customers via their red button interactive service.

Online – Complete performances will be available to watch for a week after the festival along with photos and interviews at

Full listings information will be available on the Electric Proms website shortly.

Festival Director Lorna Clarke said, “I am delighted that the first artists on this year’s line up have embraced the central challenge of the Electric Proms – to create new moments in music. I know that they will give our broadcast audiences across the country something truly special.”

There will be further additions to the line up revealed on 10th September and tickets will be on sale from midday 12th September. For further ticket information and TX details please visit:
BBC Electric Proms information hotline: 08703 333 432

Monday, September 03, 2007

Orange Skies

There can be no serious summer songs series without Orange Skies. This week’s offering is Bryan MacLean’s solo version.

Always a minor player compared to the towering genius of Arthur Lee, in most other bands MacLean would have been a major star. If only he’d had passed the auditions for The Monkees.

Still, the night he failed that Monkees gig, he saw Lee’s pre-Love band The Grass Roots. Afterwards, Bryan said, "I'd give my right arm to be in your group," to which Arthur responded, "No - you're going to need it!"

Bryan, a pretty boy from the suburbs, had no chance against Arthur “Polo” Lee, who he described as “the toughest guy from the toughest part of south LA”, which is why he felt that in the studio his talent never quite got the chance to fully shine with Lee present.

The closest the two ever came to blows was when MacLean’s other masterpiece, Alone Again Or, was mixed so that Lee’s harmony swamps MacLean’s lead vocal. “No one has actually heard how pretty that melody actually is,” he said in 1997. “It’s a much nicer melody than you think.”

Bryan was 17 when he wrote Orange Skies, based on Jim McGuinn’s break in Bells Of Rhymney (MacLean was tour manager for The Byrds in 1965), bringing a folky flamenco flavour to Love’s psychedelic flurries and mariachi exhilaration.

Orange Skies and Alone Again Or are from the orange vinyl 7” that came with 1997’s Ifyoubelievein compilation. My feeling is that these songs benefitted from Lee’s quicksilver touches, but it’s great nonetheless to hear them in their stripped-down form by the songwriter.

Orange Skies
Alone Again Or

● At 17 Bryan heard The Beatles for the first time. "Before the Beatles I had been into folk music. I had wanted to be an artist in the bohemian tradition, where we would sit around with banjos and do folk music, but when I saw A Hard Days Night everything changed. I let my hair grow out and I got kicked out of high school."

● Bryan joined a Christian ministry called the Vineyard, that was the same church that converted Bob Dylan.

● Bryan’s half sister is Maria McKee and he wrote Don’t Toss Us Away for the Lone Justice debut album.

● He played an unsuccessful reunion with Arthur Lee in 1978 on two dates but wasn't paid, so he turned down an offer for a U.K. tour which was to have been billed as the 'original' Love.

● Ironically the Bryan MacLean Band got a gig supporting Arthur Lee's Love at the Whisky in 1982.

● He died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1998.