Friday, November 30, 2007

Power Pop: Raspberries

The British invasion is well over by 1972, but the after-effects of The Who's punch, The Small Faces' verve and The Beatles' melodic instinct are still being felt in the USA. The Rapsberries' second album, Fresh, set out the template for power pop: energetic guitars, strong riffs, soaring harmonies and enormous tunes.

These clean-cut boys from Cleveland, Ohio with the whitest teeth and the glossiest hair made the biggest, brightest and richest noise: were it not for the rehabilitation of Big Star in the early 90s, the Raspberries would – deservedly – be getting all the plaudits now and their second album, Fresh, would be recognised as the wonder it is.

I Wanna Be With You is the greatest song from this truly great album. Freak Emporium is having a half-price sale so now might be a good time to get Fresh.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fucking Badges

In that parallel pop universe, Sweden, the look this season is this very fine badge. Daniel, who runs the So Tough! So Cute! club in Malmo has created this very stylish accessory and will be giving them away at the next club night on December 22, which will feature guest DJs from Sweden’s home of the hits, Labrador Records.

Daniel is very kindly sending some badges to me, which, I think it only fair to warn you, I will be giving to friends to save money buying them proper presents increase their festive cheer. For anyone who can’t make it to So Tough! So Cute! and to anyone I won’t be seeing over the Christmas period, there’s a chance I’ll have a badge or two spare, so I’ll happily send you one (if you live in the UK, that is). Contact me and I’ll see what can be done.

Parallel Universe

Last weekend, witnessing the mosh pit and an attempted stage-dive at the Harvey Williams gig in Gothenburg, my mate – such a veteran of indiepop he even sang on a Sha-la-la flexi and has grown to hate most indiepop over the years because it (quite accurately, I suppose, if a little unfairly) isn’t reggae enough – turned to me in a state of bewilderment and spluttered: “This is a parallel universe.”

There is some truth in that statement, as the Swedish audiences in both Malmo and Gothenburg displayed both a reverence for and an utter joy in seeing one of the elder statesmen of the indiepop era play some old classics.

I noticed, however, a strange paradox, that while a special affection exists for “English and Scottish” (looks like the Helen Love Swedish tour will never happen, then) indiepop, great music closer to home is either overlooked or not celebrated enough.

Perhaps part of the attraction of UK indie for Swedes might be a feeling of “authenticity” and romance due to its geographical provenance; indeed, part of the attraction of indiepop in general may be that while producing some truly great music it remains an underground, marginalised movement.

Sweden seems to be turning out an ever-increasing number of superior indiepop acts and many of these bands are getting serious attention in the UK – this week (and sometimes it does seem like every week there’s a new Swedish band to rejoice over) it’s Lacrosse. I sensed, though, in Sweden a measure of if not resentment then certainly indifference towards or even ignorance of some lesser-known Swedish bands.

Two of the best pop songs of the year, Doom di Doom and Sweet Careless, can be found on The Isolation Years' latest ep, Snoose Boulevard. This is the kind of pop music that calls for public holidays and national celebrations such is its boundless brilliance.

Agent Simple, whose Shaking An Egg ep was recorded at home, sounds like I’m From Barcelona after the party’s over – numbers reduced by 90%, a dour demi-monde of leather jackets and cigarette smoke in which the greatest music in the world is the louche hook of the Mary Chain's Sometimes Always – but with just as much crazed invention. They should be held up as a shining example of everything that can be great in pop music (they claim to play, among other instruments, “pianos, maraccases, eggs, sambagobells, claves, cabasas and - of course – tambourines").

I expected that Swedes I talked to would be into this music as much as I am. That they’d prefer to listen to Glasgow’s Zoey Van Goey (and Foxtrot Vandals is a great record) for example, points as much to a notion that many indiepop fans have a tendency to look for the obscure, for the foreign, to add to the romance of the package as it does to the music from any one country being better than the other.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bobby Gillespie is a fucking anorak

Bobby Gillespie, former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer, anorak devotee, erstwhile champion of the bowl-haircut, long-time stranger to shampoo and famous fan of Led Zeppelin, wrote of “Zep” in The Observer Music Magazine last week:

“It’s gone that swing and that swagger. The Stones had it and Zep had it. Indie-rock killed it off. All those fucking anoraks with their retarded girlfriends.”

I know Gillespie’s taken some drugs in his time – what else could explain his dancing style of an arrhythmic Mick Jagger fan with no sense of direction caught in a force-10 gale? – but to blame “those anoraks” for killing rock’s swagger is delusional.

Those anoraks are, according to Gillespie, male. The women involved are retards, apparently. Allow me to cast my mind back to August 1989: a small club in Birmingham where Primal Scream, who’ve just started their risible rock phase, are playing the opening night. I’m backstage (Bobby, you won’t remember me, but I was the young lad who asked, “Are you missing Jim Beattie?” and you snorted derisorily, “What do you think?”; I said I thought, in fact, that your songs were far better with Beattie’s contribution) and this couple turns up, him bedecked faithfully in the clothes and hairstyle you sported on the sleeve to Gentle Tuesday.

His retarded girlfriend – quite an attractive young lady, I remember – you took ‘somewhere private’ to be serviced. Very gallant of you rescuing her from that anorak, but sexual exploitation of what you call retards is a criminal offence. But we’ll leave the semantics for another time, perhaps.

The tour was part of the introduction of a new Primal Scream, a proper rock band, a band that wouldn’t be shamed by something like writing decent tunes, but would instead blanket everything with bluster and brawn. Your attempt then to inject that “swing and swagger” into your music was cackhanded at best and embarrassing for the most part. Donning some leather trousers and discarding basic hygiene wasn’t enough to convince anyone: if you were that rock, that dangerous, had any swing or swagger, why didn’t you show it? Because you’re a fraud. You threw fucking sweeties into the crowd that night because you’re a fucking anorak, pal.

Why, Bobby, when you were desperately trying to distance yourself from a few decent singles you’d made in the past, were you woefully reheating The Stooges (in 1989! Everyone had heard it all before, and better, and even then it wasn’t much good)? You failed completely to capture anything of the spirit and zest and manic mayhem of your idols because your music was just a cheap confidence trick.

Your first rock single, Ivy Ivy Ivy, borrowed its title from a song by chamber pop maestros The Left Banke, and its b-side, You’re Just Too Dark To Care, stole its title from a line in Neil Young’s finest effort with Buffalo Springfield, Flying On The Ground Is Wrong.

Not that rock, eh? In fact, pretty much the music that inspires those fucking anoraks you hate (and who hate “Zep”; and, naturally, your clownish self). The same music that used to inspire you but were pretending then, as now, to despise, in fact. Even at 16 I knew from where you’d stolen your source material. The problem was – and still is –that you have such disdain for your audience that you don’t ever think they’re on to you. Most of those fucking anoraks and their retarded girlfriends know that you’re a fucking anorak.

You’d have been on the scrap heap, probably working in Record and Tape Exchange since 1990, had it not been for Andrew Weatherall creating the one album that’s guaranteed you press coverage forevermore. You know that. That’s why all your pronouncements are based on bullying rhetoric rather than informed opinion. How was it you excused the use of the Confederate flag as cover art? Oh yes:
"People think the flag is a symbol for like slavery and racism. But that's not what the Civil War was about. It was about like freedom, you know.”

You told Select in 1994 your worries over Primal Scream’s legacy:
“The only thing I don't want is us to be nailed down as some motherfuckin' curators of some rock 'n' roll fuckin' museum. We love all sorts of music, and I'm glad to turn people on to sounds they've never heard - y'know, go and buy Superfly by Curtis Mayfield, or the Impressions' Greatest Hits, or Culture’s Two Sevens Clash.”

Do I have to point out the irony in that statement? You’re worried about being seen as curators, then immediately impose your rock curatorial bent: being rock curators is what justifies your existence. If you shout your off-the-peg didacticism loud enough from your media-sponsored position of privilege, then enough people will believe it to keep the Primal Scream Travelling Circus on the road.

Also, you patronising little shit, most people will have heard those records you recommend. By the way, Bobby, there are at least three Curtis Mayfield albums you should buy before Superfly; and don’t waste your pennies on an Impressions’ Greatest Hits: there are at least four albums by them that you should own.

The argument that you’re a fraud, a clown, a bully and a fucking anorak is unassailable. I feel, though, that I should introduce some more personal knowledge to the situation to compound your penance:

About 15 years ago you went to bed with a friend’s housemate. It was a shame that your conquest had her period, but she said that you – gallantly, again, I must say – told her to flip over and then proceeded to fuck her up the arse. Unused to such anal attentions, the young lady shat on you.

She later opined about reading an interview with you in which you were asked what the most embarrassing moment of your career was:
“I’m not telling you, but it’s got something to do with excrement.”

Of course, you were asked this some years before you made Country Girl.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pale Fountains live

It's true, you know. Sunday February 3 at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. The day I'm going on holiday. This will teach me two things:

1. Do not book holidays far in advance.
2. Book all holidays around gigs I want to see abroad. It has worked well for me in the past. I may never get to Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia, but that is a cross I am prepared to bear.

You can watch the Jean's Not Happening video here. Or you can BUY TICKETS HERE.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Hit Parade interview

A couple of months ago, this blog’s integrity was compromised by printing press releases for the BBC proms with the quid pro quo that the head of the PR machine, Julian Henry, aka The Hit Parade, aka Acton’s Tycoon of Teen, would grant this blog an interview.

Quite a lot (23) of questions – some of them even quite interesting – were penned, but two months later Julian whinged: “Can't you just pick five? Or maybe I could answer one question a year for the next 23 years.”

Going by the rate of one question a year, the five questions should’ve taken five years, but Julian’s obviously more industrious than he lets on. Still, we’ll never know if The Hit Parade would have chosen a different name to distinguish themselves more easily on internet searches had they started in the digital age, who would play Julian in The Hit Parade biopic, what Julian thinks The Hit Parade’s greatest contribution to popular music is or whether he gives any of his showbiz pals copies of his albums (and what they think of them).

But he did answer these:

Rock love god or PR guru – will the real Julian Henry please stand up?

I work in propaganda because I love good stories, rooting out original sources, discussing what's honest and what's not. Do you remember Winston Smith in 1984, busy re-writing the history books? Well that's me. Like you, Fire Escape, I like playing with words, language and presentation. But I can never be a bona fide PR guru because, sadly, I struggle when asked to lie with enthusiasm.

A rock god you say? Please go and lie down for a few hours, Fire Escape, you have been too long at that computer screen of yours. My gravestone will read simply 'guitar player with the hit parade and father of two fine children' if that's of any help.

Let me tell you more about my life: In days of yore, Fire Escape, ordinary folk would drink their hot chocolate and offer their prayers to the Lord last thing at night. I have adapted this routine. When I get home I sit alone praying to early Beach Boy records and then thumb through poetry anthologies to try and give my songs meaning. I do this until I fall asleep and then I dream about being George Harrison in 1965 or Paul Weller in 1979. Then when I wake up I shuffle off to work much like everyone else.

How did The White Stripes inspire you to pick up your Rickenbacker 330 again and return to the world of contemporary music?
Well they have their priorities right don't they, Fire Escape? They are great and greatness is inspiring. I was at the Chelsea Pensioners gig you know. I was the old bloke in the wheelchair with the red jacket, second on the left. You will probably have seen my hands twitching throughout as I tried to keep up with the beat.

But it's not just the White Stripes. When I saw Busted do 'Psycho Girl' it made me remember that people with a limited talent can make their own modest contribution to pop culture. Any half wit can do it, Fire Escape, even you and I.

Can you tell us about the girl on the cover of With Love From The Hit Parade?
Good question, Fire Escape. You have gone straight to the nub of the matter like any good investigator. She is more important in the overall scheme of things than is probably realised. In fact some people would say it is all her fault.

She is called Jo Wood. I can say this now because she is many miles away in America. Her initials - JPEW – are used as the catalogue number for Hit Parade CDs by those busy people from JSH Records.

Anyway, she had a strange and hypnotic effect on me for several years. Some people say she still does. I was in a trance. I asked her to marry me so many times I lost count. Eventually she said yes. I was very happy. But a few days later she changed her mind and told me she was going off to live with a tall American man instead. We've got over that now, Fire Escape, so it's all buried in the past. Or at least it was until you brought it up.

This started a pattern which has been repeated through my life. It hasn't corrupted my faith in the ideal of falling in love with women tho.

Flaxen-haired indiepop legend Harvey Williams has whispered to FET about new songs of yours called "Rainy Day In Newlyn", "From Here To Land's End" and "The Boy Who Loved Brighter". Tell us more! And tell us why you're so self-referential!
Do you really want to go there Fire Escape? This is about to get very boring…

The song 'Rainy Day In Newlyn' is about a girl who marries a Cornish fisherman. They live in Newlyn, at the top of the hill in a cheap house overlooking the harbour. He works out on the boats and goes to sea for days on end. When he gets back he heads straight to the pub by the fish market, the swordfish, with a few hundred quid in his pocket. He sits there drinking with his mates. He ignores the calls from the wife as she sits at home waiting for him. Eventually he staggers home drunk and abusive. Next day he is hungover and sits silently in front of the telly. A few days later he leaves for another week away on the boats again.

The song is the story of their relationship, how the woman feels neglected, forgotten, insulted and passed over. Her life descends into routine and monotony, and she stares at magazines, waiting and wondering if there's a better life and how she became trapped.

All this is made up and imagined, Fire Escape. I go to these places and sit in the pubs and the chip shops and watch people. Then I go home and write the song. Not sure what you mean by self-referential…I just write stuff about what I see around me, isn't that what everyone does?

The song about Land’s End is more complicated, Fire Escape. Let's save that one for the next time you put a beer in my hand.

The boy who loves brighter is about being obsessed. Matthew Arnold wrote a poem which talked about 'mortal millions who live alone' [“To Marguerite: Continued”] and this boy is one of those. He is introverted and thoughtful. Nothing like you or me thankfully, Fire Escape. The story is told in a song that's supposed to sound like Keris had written it. This boy’s life suddenly comes to a standstill one day as he falls in love with the girl from the flat upstairs.

The boy listens to 'inside out' and 'noah's ark' and 'around the world in 80 days' again and again as he sits in his flat, smoking cigarettes. Each evening he hears the girl come home and listens as she climbs the stairs and goes into her flat. She barely notices him when they pass on the stairs the next morning. In the end the boy sacrifices himself in a failed attempt to get her attention.

This rather predictable story is told in our song through stuff unsaid and gentle suggestion. It's how most Hit Parade songs are written, Fire Escape. Hours of toil and labour go into this meaningless drivel. Imagined vignettes. There's the noise of the gas oven going on. He talks about slashing himself with a knife, and it ends with 'leaves falling from the trees' which is a polite way of saying he kills himself.

OK so now you know what I mean about boring. Every song the hit parade has ever recorded has got this amount of crap behind it and so this is why I am always knackered.

What was your involvement in the launch of The Spice Girls?
Oh dear. I thought this was an interview with Fire Escape not Nuts magazine. I have been involved with them for a long time helping their manager behind the scenes with ideas and planning for how he can promote what they do. Do we have to say any more about this, Fire Escape?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jock & Roll

In 1981 the BBC made a TV programme about the Scottish pop scene, Jock & Roll. Among the Bay City Rollers footage and Midge Ure interview, there is a fascinating interview with Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins, followed by a film of Orange Juice performing Poor Old Soul live in a club (trend watchers may be keen to learn that Edwyn was wearing braces as part of his stage outfit). Better still, the latter features James Kirk – this is the only film of Orange Juice with Kirk that I’m aware of.

We are first treated to a tour of the Postcard Records office in Glasgow, or more accurately the building’s communal areas and then cut to Alan Horne (fashion watchers may be keen, as the cameraman was, to focus on Alan’s red leather sandals and argyle socks) in a tiny office, who opens a wardrobe revealing a few A4 folders, essentially the workings of the record label.
“This is Orange Juice fan mail [one folder of letters, which he tips on to the floor]. This is Postcard Records here in the wardrobe. These are accounts [shows a ledger]. They’re not really sorted out and the tax man will get us for this. This is Postcard’s publishing [another folder, which he drops]. All of the press is here, too. We get lots of press, but not as much money.”
Alan then shows each Postcard release, dropping each casually to the floor. The last he describes as “Orange Juice’s lp”, although it is clearly the Velvet Underground and Nico.

The show’s presenter was BA Robertson, a man for whom the term “quite a character” would be perhaps the politest description. For the interview with Alan and Edwyn, Robertson is sat between them on a sofa; a female mannequin, replete with blonde wig, short dress and gash of red lipstick sits on the far left, next to Alan, who feels free to caress the prostheses beside him.

To appreciate why both Alan and Edwyn – and Edwyn in particular – seem to treat the interview as a joke, and laugh barely controllably behind their hands much of the way through it, it may help to know that BA Robertson was a contemporary Scottish singer-songwriter, then known for hits such as Kool In The Kaftan.

EC: We’re also tentatively signing some other groups, too, who are secret. Are they, Alan?
AH: Er, no, not totally secret. We could give their names away on TV. The first one might be called The Bluebells and if that one works we’ll have a go at The Jazzateers and finish it off with The French Impressionists.
BA: They could record Give Me Monet, I suppose.
AH: (heavily sarcastic) Oh yes, that’s funny.
BA: I’m rapidly turning into the Jenny Hanley [presenter of children’s TV show, Magpie] of pop here. Would you say you had to start this cos the rest of the people in the UK were blind to what was happening in Scottish pop music?
AH: No, no. We just started it because we wanted to start it ourselves and it was just fun to do. We knew eventually that we’d have to find a way of getting Orange Juice onto records. It seemed a lot easier than going round talking to major companies who seemed really funny at the time, just running after anything new wave.
EC: There’s no reason why we shouldn’t operate from Glasgow. There’s no reason why if we want a major record contract then the major record company shouldn’t come up here and bring the coals to Newcastle and the fish from the fire. [Both EC and AH collapse into giggles]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pet Politics

Just like Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, fellow Swedish pop act Pet Politics have looked to The Silver Jews for their name. The comparisons with Swedish indie pop’s summery sound end there though.

Pet Politics’ new ep The Spring – not, of course, to be confused with their last ep, The Spring (apart from the title track, which is the same) – is caught between the sounds of hope and despair, of The Velvet Underground’s hypnotic drone and the Modern Lovers’ energetic, adolescent interpretation of the Velvets' blueprint.

These three songs – every one of them a fucking peach – by Magnus Larsson (for it is he who is the Pet Politics one-man band) have the restless ambition and off-beam naivety of Daniel Johnston in 1983; the disjointed awkwardness of the TVPs at their most stricken and agonised; the childlike wonder and simplistic pop instinct of The Pastels; and the rugged charm and pastoral idealism of The Kinks.

There are only 300 copies of this utterly essential 7”. Be quick or be sorry, I guess.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Raw Herbs video

The Raw Herbs - was there a band who better combined country music's heartbreak with indiepop's introspection (clue: no)?
Was there a band more unjustifiably overlooked (probably, but, for fuck's sake, this lot really did deserve front pages and number one hits)?
Should there be a career-spanning compilation(fuck yeah! The unreleased stuff is amazing, too)?
Do you want to see the video for Don't Bury Me Yet? I know Ally does ("I hope there's some film somewhere because you really have to see Derek's hips wiggle as he sings").
Does singer Derek Parker look like the young Edwyn Collins (uncannily so, yes)?

Andrew Wake, head honcho of that finest of (sadly now defunct) record labels, Medium Cool, sent over a link to the Don't Bury Me Yet video. You know what to do.