Saturday, 19 August 2017

Stephen Solo at La Chunky

I wasn't intending to write a blog on Stephen Solo's album launch party at La Chunky Studio in the Hidden Lane. I had already waxed lyrically about Pii 2 in my previous blog. However, there was a special magic in the air of Finnieston last night and I wanted to try and capture in a blog.

The venue helped - turning off the West End of Argyle Street down a cobbled lane that leads to all kinds of independent and arty studios and offices, you go to the far left top corner and come across La Chunky Studio.

Owner Ronan Breslin has a long association with Stephen and has also worked with a number of other LNFG artists. Pii 2 is a rather unique album, so we wanted to launch it in a rather unique place, Ronan was the perfect host, La Chunky the perfect setting.

You enter through the studio control room, a huge vintage desk dominates the right hand side, a sofa, old equipment and memorabilia are on the other side. The walls are decorated with releases from all kinds of Scottish bands and artists that have worked there.

You then enter the live room, which doubled as the ticket office, cloakroom and bar (through a raffle system) and hang out area. But the coolest part of La Chunky is probably the huge back room over 2 levels. Ronan and his team had cleared amps and equipment to allow for a 50 capacity venue. So we had people sitting on stairs, watching from 2 'balconies' and people literally in front of Stephen. Old retro lamps were the stage lights, there was a nice homely and relaxed feel.

There was a mood for celebration - Stephen and LNFG had an album out - and Craig, a great friend and former band-mate of Stephen's had become a father earlier in the week.

The stage was set for a small band.....but Stephen Solo entered alone and proceeded to weave his magic over the crowd with his wonderful songs that he has recorded over the last few years.

Internet Song has been in my head all day, Freak sounded sublime, Secrets That You Keep is utterly gorgeous, Broken Record sounded insanely brilliant and made so much sense when played live. Crying Because melted hearts and Solo's between song banter ranged from In The Night Garden, to lack of sleep, to the break up of his aforementioned band and the death of David Bowie and Bruce Forsyth.

As yes Bowie, Solo played David Bowie Never Had To where he rhymes off a list of things that David Bowie Never Had To do - like take cat litter out, cancel his home entertainment package due to lack of money..... the chorus is just sublime.

It was a mesmerising solo performance with Stephen's voice rising and soaring with ease or dropping and falling - it won hearts. Impressive.

Solo then announced that his former band (Sonny Marvello) would be joining him for the second half of the show, so there was time to buy some more raffle tickets to win some more beer.

Sonny Marvello were Stephen, Mick (guitar), Craig (bass), Walker (keys) and Bryans (drums). You'll find their music on Spotify and iTunes and plenty about them in previous blogs down the years.

Last night they came together to help their friend create some of the magical songs he has created on his iPhone in a live environment. What a great job they did!

Think Strange was all lush and warm, LocoCoco was full of melodies and invention while No Pill For What I've Got was just jaw droopingly good. What a song, what a performance! It was great to hear the songs played by a band.

The band ended (at request) by rolling out an old Sonny Marvello song - unrehearsed - Fire Went Out is a real fave of mine and the closing section was truly spine tingling. It was great to see and hear the 5 friends playing together again - magical.

A special show in a special venue by a special talent.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Pii 2

2016 was a good year for albums, I had a number of contenders vying for the 'accolade' of my favourite album of the year - in the end it was Pii by Stephen Solo that won through. An eclectic eccentric album recorded on an iPhone 6 taking in sublime Albarn-esque melodies, Boards of Canada soundscapes, a song that was like a Limmy sketch, imagination and experiments.

Pii 2 has also been recorded completely on an iPhone and it is a psychedelic, melodic, imaginative, crazy, melancholic beauty.

Check it out for yourself on Spotify.

The freedom of being able to record on the hop, not having to book or finance a recording studio and having a supportive label that has a ready made audience and is as interested in the people they work with as the music they release, allows experimentation and creativity - something sadly lacking from a lot of music these days.

Songs were recorded in the work car park, the living room, the laundry cupboard and one - the stunning No Pill For What I've Got in the bath.

Other standouts for me include LocoCoco, the sublime Think Strange, the fragile Secrets You Keep and the glorious flowing Slipstream. Then the closing quartet of David Bowie Never Had To (more on this later), iPhone psychedelia on Can't Wait, the aforementioned No Pill For What I've Got and the beautiful touching Bye Bye Song featuring Stephen's son.

Pii was written around the birth of Stephen's first son, Pii 2 around the birth of his second. This isn't a pattern he sees continuing, but he did take a unique approach to recording the 'difficult' second album - recording that, ditching it and then writing and recording the joyous 3rd 'comeback' album.

The debut album was released on a USB credit card, the follow up is out today on a USB cassette tape! You can also download from iTunes or stream on Spotify. If you like it, then buy a super cool USB cassette via

Internet Song starts off with a mood of clever insanity before verging off into dreamy gorgeousness. Solo (real name Farrell) can seemingly pluck a melody from thin air and when the chorus comes in it can take you somewhere special.

Feel like I'm glowing
When you're downloading
Feel like I'm floating
When I'm uploading

How does he do it? LocoCoco captures attention immediately, the melody, the voice, the backing vocals, the hooks - it does all seem effortless. Check the switch into this section of the song - sensational!!!!!

I'm tired
From feeling that I got nobody to talk to
I'm wired
From punching the clock cause it never stops
It never stops at all

A psychedelic guitar riff picked out over lush warm synth ushers in Think Strange. It is a gem. All of Stephen Solo's material is interesting and imaginative, but when it all really comes together it is incredibly special.

For a fleeting second I think of the bands selling their souls without a hope in hell of producing anything as gorgeous at this....and I laugh.... cause this guy is producing something as good as this on his iPhone 6! I've just listened to it 4 times in a row.

It's hard to admit when you're wrong about somebody

A dreamer in love with the dark
Hoping it will never come back

Farrell's love of being able to freely experiment when he has a moment to himself with his phone is joyfully expressed throughout the album. Mini Metal Girl is one of those moments where you think what goes on in this guys head? But in a good way.

I mentioned that Secrets You Keep is a highlight; Stephen singing over an acoustic guitar with just the odd little synth bubbling in the background is just gorgeous. And when he harmonises with himself it is pure Beatles.

I love you more with every secret you keep
I love you more with every cut that goes deep

David Bowie Never Had To is madcap genius. Farrell takes us into his world by comparing it to David Bowie's. I laughed out loud on first listen and then promptly listened a further 6 times to appreciate the humour, imagination, reality, songwriting and melodies.

David Bowie never had to carry a washing machine up 3 flights of stairs
David Bowie never had to downgrade his home entertainment package because he's on a zero hours contract
David Bowie never had to consider using his keys as a weapon at a dodgy bus stop

Don't want my own universe
But I'd be happy in my own little world

The song has a great twist at the end where Bowie joins in the conversation from the other side. Just listen to this - please. It is genius.

Can't Wait is home made psychedelia and then Farrell introduces another one of those magical moments from 2-minutes onwards. Flowing melodies and harmonies - sheer beauty.

I have friends who I always trust when it comes to music. So when my friend Craig asked me if I had heard Stephen's song No Pill For What I've Got then I knew it was going to be special. And it is. Recorded from the bath (which you can hear at the start). It has a sleep, dreamy, melancholy vibe with a beautiful melody and soulful reflective lyrics.

The album closes with Solo playing ukulele and singing to his eldest son about the colours of the planets of the solar system. It is a captivating insight into how music plays such a part of his life and evidence of how he can just come up with ideas and melodies with ease.

Order the incredibly cool cassette USB album from the online store (click just the album) or head to iTunes to download or Spotify to stream. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Flaming Lips at Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom

L I F E   A F F I R M I N G

Ah the Barrowland roar, I don't hear it as often as I once did as corporate venues like the Academy and the ABC have infiltrated the Glasgow gig scene. The ABC isn't a bad venue....but the Academy is a soulless, shi**hole of a venue on the southern side of Glasgow that I only venture to when absolutely necessary. The fact that I haven't bought a ticket for The Charlatans, one of my all-time fave bands, in December speaks volumes. I hate the Academy, any band that books it over the Barrowland has a soulless or greedy booking agent.....or one that has never experienced the best venue in the world. Mix that with the best crowd and you have something unique.

Of course bands need to make money, but I think of the bands that have broken through over the last decade or so that haven't experienced the Barrowland Ballroom.... it is their loss.

On to Tuesday 15th August 2017, an incredible 13-years since The Flaming Lips had last played our fair city. Oh how they made up for lost time.

Opening with Race For The Prize in a blaze of technicolour glory, confetti cannons, lights and smoke, they poured their heart and soul into song and performance and they were matched by the crowd.

Yoshimi was next, singer Wayne Coyne stretched for the high notes, willed on by the Barras crowd who were behind him from the off. This 56-year old was riding a unicorn round the legendary ballroom by the third song in, his lysergic pop and vision for a show was being lapped up, audience and band were one.

There is nothing like a Barrowland roar. Any band lucky enough to experience it will never forget it, there were several tonight and The Flaming Lips were quick to acknowledge it, stating that this would go down as a legendary show.

There were plenty of reasons for the Glasgow crowd to be responding in voice; Coyne is a frontman who wears his heart on his sleeve and songs from the seminal Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi albums have melted hearts worldwide. Throw in acidic pop like the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song and new song How? amongst others with a light and stage show like no other then you had something truly remarkable and special taking place on a Tuesday night in Glasgow. This was no show, it was a happening, a celebration; punk, pop, acid....these freaks were out to party.

Their cover of Bowie's Space Oddity was one of many highlights with Coyne encased in an inflatable bubble for the start of the song before climbing out over the audience to a small stage in the middle. It was memorable and euphoric. The crowd were already on Coyne's side, now they were ready to go to war.

A Spoonful Weighs A Ton was nothing less than mesmerising but the encore was something else. A piano rendition of personal fave Waitin' For A Superman was heart wrenching but the closer of Do You Realize? brought tears to many eyes as people hugged friends and punched the air in life affirming delight.

What a special f**ked up band. You don't get 'em like that these days.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Superstar by Sonic Youth

Cover of the month #28   Sonic Youth cover The Carpenters

Superstar and Yesterday Once More are songs I discovered when a split single by Sonic Youth and Redd Kross was released back in 1994, taken from The Carpenters tribute album If I Were A Carpenter.

Superstar is yet another cover of the month where I found that the original version of the song wasn't recorded by who I thought it was. The original version was released as Groupie (Superstar) by Delaney and Bonnie and I had never heard their version until I started researching and writing this blog.

The original title gives a lot away. This is a love song from a groupie to a superstar and it is pretty heartbreaking. She has been used, told that it was love, promised he would be back and reality and loneliness are kicking in. It is a beautifully written and performed song with gorgeous vocals. The chorus soars with great harmonies and horns kicking in.

The Carpenters version slows things right down to really emphasise the heartbreak in the song - especially the lines

Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here, it's just the radio

The Carpenters version still has a soaring chorus, but you feel the heartbreak so much more, especially on the kiss off line; I love you, I really do. The strings that follow also bring a real sombre mood leading into Karen singing loneliness is such a sad affair.

It's beautiful, it is stunning and it is heartbreaking. There seems to be an extra oomph behind the second chorus and it is immediately repeated

On to Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore really sounding heartbroken. There is an effect on his voice that makes it sound a little psychedelic and the feedback used in the instrumental between the first chorus and the second verse definitely stamps Sonic Youth's mark on the song.

They (rightly) don't rip the song up and try to do anything outrageous, which, being Sonic Youth in 1994, is probably something you would have expected. They respect the song and it is interesting to hear it sung by a male - more of a fan boy than a groupie?

I'm going to include a second cover version of the month seeing as I discovered both of them at the same time. The Carpenters Yesterday Once More is a beautiful song, but it's a bit more MOR than Superstar. Karen Carpenter still pulls on the heart strings, but (at least for me) it doesn't have the raw feeling that Superstar delivers, it's a bit too clean cut. Even the live version below is just a bit too contained/restrained - if you get my meaning.

Redd Kross do a kind of punky karaoke version and just about get away with it. They also remain pretty faithful to the original and scuzz and fuzz it up a little, adding a little rawness to the mix.

So Sonic Youth win this duel of Carpenters cover version for me. They really get into the song, they become part of it. For a full list of artists that featured on If I Were A Carpenter CLICK HERE

Previous covers of the month

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Brian Wilson at Kelvingrove Bandstand

Hearing a 70+ year old Brian Wilson sing and deliver songs he wrote and dreamt of in his early 20's brought a magical and mystical air to Kelvingrove Bandstand last night.

I don't mind admitting that there was a tear in my eye during God Only Knows and hearing lyrics like I know perfectly well you've been patient with me became all the more apt when confronted by a clearly frail and fragile author. Of course we were patient, it is not often that you are in the presence of a genuine genius.

Last night at the Kelvingrove Bandstand was magical....biblical....a religious experience.

I had the pleasure of witnessing Brian and his band perform twice before. The first was on his comeback tour in 2002/3 when he played Edinburgh Playhouse. Grown men watched in tears and disbelief as their hero seemingly stepped from his sandpit onto the stage to play songs they had only dreamt of previously experiencing live - certainly from their author. The shiver that ran up my spine during Good Vibrations that night will always live with me.

The second time I caught Brian and his band was at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, sitting 3 throws from the front in a central position meant that my wife and I could witness his strengths and weaknesses all to close. Brian could still sing beautifully but he also zoned out at times in mid verse and needed back up to make the songs work.

Last night was magical. The stunning setting of Kelvingrove Park and a passionate Glaswegian crowd helped - of course it did. But hearing Brian sing the majority of Pet Sounds as a 70+ year old brought a whole new meaning to the songs. And his 11 (sometimes 12) piece band were exceptional creating wonderful 9 part harmonies at times. Watching and listening to the layers of the songs being created live was very special in such a setting.

I know so many people who think they can do it alone
They isolate their heads and stay in their saftey zone

The first half of the show was a mixture of Beach Boys hits, rarities and favourites, commencing with California Girls and taking in classics like Dance, Dance, Dance alongside the likes of I Get Around ensured the crowd were on his side from the off.

Throw in gems like Let The Wind Blow, Feel Flows, Darlin' and Wild Honey then there was plenty of time for the band and audience to warm up. Personal fave Aren't You Glad also got an airing.

Beach Boys founder Al Jardine looked a million times better than Brian, lean, trim and full of beans in comparison to Brian who looked exceptionally overweight and almost incapable of walking on or off stage. His son Matt joined him on stage to sing all the high parts in the setlist and both were exceptional. But I'm not going to go into whether or not Brian should be touring in his state, I am just going to appreciate that he was.

It is worth remembering that Brian didn't take the lead on Beach Boys material in the 60's, leaving that to Carl, Dennis and other members of the band. The trouble is that in 2017 he is front and centre stage and at times this was quite heartbreaking as Brian displayed no emotion sitting behind a keyboard that I doubt was plugged in. There were some songs where he sat motionless as his exceptional band played his timeless songs.

But hey, it was a brilliant show. Brian's 11/12 piece band were exceptional, Al and Matt Jardine were faultless on vocals and Blondie Chaplin won the crowd over with his vocals, guitar and tamourine playing and the fact that he looked like a cross between Keith Richards and Yoda!

It was in the second half of the show that things really took off. The band and Brian were suitably warmed up and darkness was falling as they begun Pet Sounds. It really was a delight, they played and sung beautifully.

As mentioned, Brian sang most of the songs and it just brought a whole new meaning to them. They are soulful, timeless and life affirming. The reaction to Sloop John B and God Only Knows was incredible. Brian's voice was stronger on songs like Darlin', God Only Knows and through the encore.

The additional encore was one of the best moments in my gig going history as the Bandstand rose to acclaim a genius and to dance and sing to Good Vibrations, Help Me Rhonda, Barbara Anne, Fun Fun Fun, Surfin' USA before Wilson ended with a beautiful and poignant Love and Mercy.

Was this his last show in Scotland/Glasgow? Many believed that it was. Well it was beautiful, soulful and life affirming, just as Pet Sounds was in 1966, just as it is in 2017.

Thank you Brian, thank you for the music.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Never Ending Mixtape Part 11

I listened to loads of great music through July, so stand by for the largest monthly addition to the Never Ending Mixtape on Spotify to date..... a whopping 36 songs are added, so the total tunes on the playlist has reached 193 - 13 hours and 33-minutes of music!!!!

We begin with 6-songs posted by Gerry Love from Teenage Fanclub on his Facebook page. I had only previously heard one of them. I'm very fortunate that bands I have loved for so long have members who regularly share their fantastic taste in music - Gerry Love, Tim Burgess and Duglas T Stewart regularly post/tweet links to brilliant music.

Scotland is represented by Remember Remember with the epic flowing John Candy instrumental. There is rock n roll as raw and loud as it gets courtesy of the New York Dolls, a psychedelic beauty hidden away on The Beatles Yellow Submarine album, a couple of incredible modern pop tunes by Prince, 6 sunshine tunes from The Go! Team and The Avalanches that were all added on Monday 24th July when Scotland basked in glorious sunshine, and tons of mod and northern soul songs that I was listening to in the lead up to Somethin's Cookin' in Uddingston at the weekend.

Dig in. More songs will be added throughout August and collected in my Never Ending Mixtape update at the start of September.

Play from the start, from where you left off or on shuffle.

(I Thought) You Wanted To Know - Chris Stamey

Comin' On - David Kilgour

How The West Was Won - Peter Perrett

Come Live With Me - Dorothy Ashby

Marjory Daw - Morning Glory

Be Thankful For What You Got (Pt 1 and Pt 2) - William De Vaughn

I Don't Mind - Twerps

Personality Crisis - New York Dolls

John Candy - Remember Remember

It's All Too Much - The Beatles

Soul Time - Shirley Ellis

I Wanna Be Your Lover - Prince

You - Spanky Wilson

You - George Harrison

Ladyflash - The Go!Team
Everyone's A VIP to someone

Since I Left You - The Avalanches
Because I'm Me
A Different Feeling

I'm The Face - The High Numbers

Making Time - The Creation

Wat'cha Gonna Do About It - Doris Troy

You're Gonna Make Me Love You - Sandi Sheldon

The Night - Franki Valli and the Four Seasons

Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy - The Tams

Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) - Frank Wilson

I Got The Fever - The Prophets

Seven Days Too Long - Chuck Wood

Ain't That A Lot Of Love - Taj Mahal

Just Loving You - Ruby Andrews

Something About You - The Four Tops
You Keep Running Away
Walk Away Renee 

Love's Theme - The Love Unlimited Orchestra

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Introducing Dead Man Fall

I first heard of the band named Dead Man Fall a few years ago when they somehow managed to get their song Bang Your Drum involved in a big way on the Craig Ferguson Show in America. The results (noted in the interview below) were nothing short of staggering for a young unsigned/DIY band from Scotland.

That success is only part of their story. Like every band or artist I am friends with or have spoken to; there are challenges, frustrations and thankfully moments where you are reminded why you do it.

Despite hearing about them back in 2014 I never managed to see them live until May when they supported their friends Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 at their Academy show. I was thoroughly impressed and said as much in blog review.

I dug deeper and what I have heard mixes a celtic melancholy with euphoria, heart and soul with hope  and dreams. They are impressive. I should have checked them before now!

The band have released a string of singles over the last few years, check this Spotify playlist;

I got in touch with the band to find out more about their history, what makes them tick and to find out what else they have planned ahead of their headline show at the wonderful St Lukes in Glasgow on Saturday 5th August. TICKETS HERE

Check their most recent video below for What's The Point which, for me, mixes Doves with Hot Chip.

1. How did Dead Man Fall form? Where and when?
DES: I intially started DMF in my own bedroom in Cumbernauld. I was drumming in another band called Odeon Beatclub and was writing tunes in the background. Once that all came to an end in 2013 I started pushing forward with the songs on my own. I had recorded a few songs to get things going then gradually got the guys involved by letting them hear the recordings and the kind of sound I was pursuing. We all went to school together and had been in many other bands, but never in the same one. The name Dead Man Fall comes from a game we used to play out in the street, sometimes I think it makes us sound a bit darker, almost like a goth or metal band but It's grown into itself.

2. Did you have a sound in mind when you formed, songs written?
DES: In the early days the sound was very electronic based. I would program beats, synths and all that then start to put real instruments and vocals over the top of that. It started to go in the way of the bands I had grown up listening to such as Joy Division and New Order as one of my older brothers always blasted that out when we shared a room, combined with the bands I was starting to listen to round that time such as The Rapture and Hot Chip. I had about five songs written before anybody else joined. Nowadays songs come from myself in the same way, but also from jamming as a band in the Studio. That's exactly how Bang Your Drum came about so it's helped to add a different element to our sound.   

3. You received some incredible exposure in America, how did that come about?
VINNIE: It all started from me sending Craig Ferguson a tweet with our video for Bang Your Drum which I just hoped he would retweet to his 2 million followers.  He then set up his own tweet saying “another great band from Glasgow” which included our video.  Then about 5 minutes laterhe followed us and sent us a DM asking us to come over and play on the Late Late Show. I nearly passed out when that came through.  My hands were shaking when I was trying to phone the guys.  Anyway to cut a long story short we never got the Visa but he then asked if he could use our song for his final episode. We of course said yes.  When we seen how it was used it blew our mind.  He had all these A-List celebrities lip synching to our song and then a live performance in the studio after that with guys like Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols on guitar.  It was mad.  Then about two days later we went to number 1 on the American iTunes Rock Chart, number 1 on US Amazon digital downloads, number 2 in Canada and around number 25 in the uk.  Our social media exploded.

4. Was it frustrating not to be able to get over there afterwards?
VINNIE: Like you wouldn’t believe.  A lot of time and money was wasted to not even get a sniff.  It took up so much of the band’s time so we looked as if we were doing nothing for a while.  We also couldn’t get a Visa this year to go over and play the Firefly Festival in Delaware.  The whole American visa process is a farce.  It’s just a big money making industry in it’s own right.
5. What else have the band achieved to date? What has been your favourite live show to date?
DES: A highlight was playing the Tbreak stage at the first time T in The Park headed to Strathallan. I would't say that was my own personal live favourite. We played The Record Factory and King Tuts within about two months of each other, and both of them were rammed, hot and sweaty. It was also the first gigs were we had people singing the lyrics back to the tunes. Our recent support slot with Colonel Mustard at the O2 was a brilliant show although we had a few stressful technical difficulties up on stage. Gareth our Drummer loved that one! Mainly because the audience were great but also he thought it was a buzz wondering what was going to go wrong next....My Bass decided to cut out mid song(s), My acoustic guitar slipped out of tune with new strings the day before. Gareth's bass drum beater also flew off mid song, he had to run and grab another kick pedal and screw it on before the beat was supposed to come back in. He managed to do it though!   

6. What have you been up to most recently?
VINNIE: We’re just back from Amsterdam last weekend after going over to film our video for our next single Andy Warhol.  We filmed it all ourselves and got a lot of good footage.  We were all dressed as Andy Warhol although we could have easily been mistaken for Tim Burgess.  It got a bit messy later on.  I lost my mind then lost my phone.  Luckily most of the footage was on Gareth’s phone.  It was only minimal footage on mine although some of it would’ve been good stuff.  It was a great trip though.  By that I mean the trip to Amsterdam.

7. What have you got planned?
DES: We really need to hit the festivals next year. We're playing a brand new scottish festival 'Argyll Gathering' down in Helensburgh in August. It's a cracking line up with Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, The Lafontaines, Mickey 9's and Bwani Junction playing too. We're also playing a Musicians against Homelessness show in the Drygate in September but after that we're going to be applying for every festival we can. When we play to a new crowd more often than not we really win them over. I would like to think that the set we can blast out is more than deserving and suitable for a number of festival stages.    

8. What music are you all listening to at present?
VINNIE:  I’ve become slightly obsessed with Arcade Fire of present.  I had been wanting to see them for years and got to see them at the Corn Exchange only last month.  It blew me away.  Now I’m just watching clips of them on Youtube and stuff like a little teenage girl.  It’s not healthy.  The past few weeks I’ve been jumping between them, LCD Soundsystem, Nick Cave, Radiohead and Coldplay….and I don’t care who knows that, I love them.
Gareth’s just been listening to the song Everything Now by Arcade Fire, Kev has been listening to Suuns.
DES: I probably don't listen to as much new music at the moment. Today I had on AM by the Arctic Monkeys. It's one of the rare albums I never ever skip a song on. The other day I was delving back into The Prodigy reliving the glory days. Sometimes I'll stick on older stuff like Marlena Shaw and Motown stuff, Ain't No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell must be one of my favourite tunes ever. 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Songs From Northern Britain

Last year I came to the conclusion that Songs From Northern Britain (SFNB) is the best Teenage Fanclub album. I dug back into the treasure trove of the bands back catalogue after seeing the band 4-times over a 3-month period when they were promoting their fantastic new album Here.

Songs from SFNB featured heavily in the setlists to the delight of the Teenage Fanclub Fanclub.

My favourite TFC album is still probably Bandwagonesque, given that I discovered it (and the band) at the age of 15 - it was perfect timing.

I was 21 when SFNB was released, 20-years ago. 1997 was a seminal year for music with many bands and artists pushing boundaries and highlighting their musical and songwriting development - Spiritualized with Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space, Primal Scream with Vanishing Point, The Chemical Brothers with Dig Your Own Soul, the Super Furries with Radiator, The Verve with Urban Hymns ..... the list goes on. Google best albums of 1997 and you'll be met by a lengthy list of online features to mark the 20th anniversary of some incredible releases. (can any match SFNB track for track?)

The title of the album was a marked response to Britpop and 1997 was the year that music moved on. It is notable that Oasis released Be Here Now - a backward step - while everyone else was moving forwards, including their arch rivals Blur with their eponymous album released in February of 1997.

Teenage Fanclub never followed or jumped on trends, even if Creation/Song attempted to get them involved with Britpop and multi formatted singles for the release of Grand Prix. It was notable that the bands next release was the Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It EP.

The album begins with the aptly named Start Again written by Norman Blake. Warm guitars usher us back into the Fanclub's world and what a wonderful world it is - hooks, harmonies, glorious guitars and the sound of a band gelling with ease.

Gerry Love's first offering is Ain't That Enough with its sky scraping chorus that has caused me to punch the air with delight and pogo like a teenager every time I have been at one of their live shows.

Here is a sun rise ain't that enough?
True as a clear sky, ain't that enough?

Can't Feel My Soul may well be my favourite Raymond song. It flows superbly, like all of his best work, and it also contains ferocious guitar to lift the chorus. The guitar solo is electrifying.

Back to Norman for the wonderful I Don't Want Control Of You. The Fanclub melodies and harmonies are set for stun - this is simply beautiful, written for Norman's young daughter.

This song took on a whole new meaning for me when I caught Norman playing a solo set in Blackfriars basement many years ago and he explained who it was about. Then it went to a new level when I became a father myself. It brings a tear to the eye every time I hear it now, particularly when the key change lifts it even higher.

I don't want control of you
It doesn't matter to me
The very heart and soul of you
Are places I wanna see
And every day I look at a different face
The feelings getting stronger with every embrace

Planets is a Blake and Francis MacDonald co-write and the opening lyrics fit perfectly with the album title and probably with how the band were feeling at the time. The strings are exquisite.

We're going over the country and into the highlands to look for a home
We're leaving nothing behind us and no-one will find us when we're on our own

McGinley's It's A Bad World is classic Raymond, picked guitar, soothing lyrics and voice and a natural flow around the circular riff.

Enter Gerry Love with the glorious Take The Long Way Round, this guy knows how to bring a smile to my face with genius guitar pop with a sense of euphoria.

Sunshine every beat when I'm around you
Feels like maybe I've been here before

The guitars kicking in after the first chorus are brilliant - chiming and lifting the song and listener. Love is at his best.

Pull the subway to the station
For that golden light sensation

The break down is unexpected and clever, before building to an epic and euphoric conclusion.

On Winter, Blake writes again about getting away from it all to a place where he and his love are cut off from everything. It is a theme that Blake and Love both return to regularly in their writing; romantic dreamers wanting to head out of the city to the sunshine and peace and quiet.

Sky is forever clear
Road never made it here
Forest so deep and green
Like nothing we've ever seen

McGinley's guitar playing is outstanding throughout SFNB, especially on the aforementioned Can't Feel My Soul and his next offering I Don't Care. He coaxes brilliant sounds and riffs and the harmonies on the choruses are the Fanclub at their best. Listen to Blake on the headphones, helping to lift the song - stunning.

Mount Everest has a beautiful extended guitar intro before Love sings in that glorious almost hushed voice of his.

Although Can't Feel My Soul may be my favourite Raymond song, Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From is arguably his finest moment. Acoustic, considered, loving, simple, soulful....

One of McGinley's many strengths is in his almost unique songwriting - it's so (seemingly) simple and at the same time so meaningful and soulful.

My sadness don't lie
My feelings can't hide
I just can't deny
What I feel inside

Again, McGinley finds his knack for creating something that flows superbly, hitting the sweet spot with the chorus and keeping it going. This song is a favourite of many of Teenage Fanclub's Fanclub when played live with Norman on the glockenspiel.

Gerry Love closes under 44-minutes of guitar pop genius with Speed Of Light. It is heartfelt, romantic and has a melancholic euphoria that Love seems to hit time and time again with his songwriting.

Need a changing face
When the wind's around you blowing
Don't forget to let your feelings go
Waste in space
If you're looking for persuasion
Everything you need can grow

So there you go; Teenage Fanclub at their very best in under 44-minutes. It leaves you wanting more, you want to play it again....and again - the sign of a good album.

As a Teenage Fanclub fan I am fortunate that the band have so many good albums to play again....and again. From the wonderful sound of a band finding themselves and having fun on A Catholic Education right through to the most recent Here - Teenage Fanclub deliver - love, dreams, romance, the sunshine, the city, the country, guitars, harmonies, choruses, warmth, melancholy, beauty

You'll find all of that and more in Songs From Northern Britain and anything else the Fanclub have written, recorded and produced. It's what they do.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Cover version of the month #27

Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Slits
cover I Heard It Through The Grapevine

I Heard It Through The Grapevine is one of the most famous and loved songs ever to be released by the legendary Motown Records.

3 of their biggest stars recorded and released the song between September 1967 and October 1968; beginning with Gladys Knight and the Pips. The song became an instant hit, reaching number 2 in the charts and deservedly so.

Everything about the song is exceptional - the story of hearing of a lost love, the groove, the beat, the organ.....

The Gladys Knight and the Pips version has a stunning vocal - Gladys talking directly to her lost love and telling of how she is just about to lose her mind, pleading for him to listen.

Losing you would end my life you see
Because you mean that much to me

The song was originally recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Smokey has/had an incredible voice but for me this version doesn't capture the hurt that the song portrays.

The song was then recorded by Marvin Gaye in the Spring of 1967 but wasn't deemed a single so it was sidetracked on to his In The Groove album.

It was only after the Gladys Knight version became a hit that DJ's also began playing the Marvin version on radio, so Motown put it out as a single and it reached number 1.

The Marvin Gaye version is the definitive version. He captures the song in a way that Gladys Knight (who had to change the lyrics ever so slightly) and Smokey Robinson don't. He lives it, or he lived it, you hear it in his voice. It is sensational, rising at all the right moments, hitting notes others can only dream of. Check this incredible a cappella version. His band get the groove and they play it with an edge that the song deserves and demands.

Gaye may have recorded the definitive version, but my own personal favourite is the mind-blowing 11-minutes and 11 seconds version by Creedence Clearwater Revival that I discovered in my teens on their Chronicle Volume 1 (best of) album.

It really did blow my mind; the way the band lock into a groove, John Fogerty has the soulful voice to deliver the song, the guitars and the way they head off on a 8-minute jam that takes the song into previously unexplored territory. Gaye's version ends at 3-minutes and 12 seconds, just as the Creedence version really gets going with an explosive guitar solo.

Fogerty comes back in for a chorus and then the guitar is really unleashed, all the time backed by a rhythm section as tight and funky as they come.

The drums are outstanding throughout - from 5-minutes on they are let loose with the guitar with just the bass and rhythm guitar keeping the groove. I recall hearing this for the first time and then playing it to one of my best friends (remember this Reddy?) to marvel at it together. 

Doug Clifford on drums may well deliver my favourite drums ever on this version of a Motown classic. He ups it at 6 minutes and 48 seconds and then just keeps it going, hammering his symbols, making up fills, sounding like he is having the time of his life.

Fogerty joins in and at 8-minutes and 20 seconds he finds a brilliant playful riff and his sensational band keep on going. Fogerty then comes out of that groove and slows it down slightly at 9-minutes and 9 seconds, his band still lost in the magical groove they have found.

The rhythm groove is allowed some breathing space, I like to imagine Fogerty just standing back and enjoying the groove. The song is faded out - how long did it go on for?! Is there a longer recording?!

Many other artists have recorded I Heard It Through The Grapevine. The Slits version, below, captures the song in the heady days of punk and has an explosive raw quality to it.

However it is the Creedence version that grabbed me - and it still does. Hope you enjoy.

A list with links to previous cover versions of the month is noted below.

Friday, 21 July 2017

My favourite Beatles song

Don't Let Me Down has been my favourite Beatles song for a long time now. Probably since my late teens or early 20's. There are many, many others I love - Got To Get You Into My Life, Tomorrow Never Knows, I Saw Her Standing There, Something, Here Comes The Sun, Strawberry Fields Forever, I'll Follow The Sun, Two Of Us......

However, at least for today, I thought I would write why Don't Let Me Down is my particular favourite.

In a nutshell, it is the bluesy, soulful rawness that is evident from Lennon's count-in (on this version) that brings in Billy Preston on organ, beautiful guitar by Harrison and Lennon's rich voice. McCartney and Starr lock in to a groove and create a solid platform for the others.

Lennon is so head over heels in love with Yoko Ono that he had to say it in 4 words rather than the usual 3. Lennon lays himself bare, committing himself completely and urging (pleading with) Ono not let him down. It is soulful, powerful and emotional. Lennon leaves the listener with no doubt.

The middle eight is possibly my all-time favourite, Lennon really goes for it and I love the melody and flow.

I'm in love for the first time
Don't you know it's gonna last
It's a love that lasts forever
It's a love that has no past

Don't let me down

The legendary rooftop performance

This is my favourite Lennon vocal performance and he is singing a love song like no other - he sings to Yoko in the choruses and his friends and the world in the verses, telling his tale, so good he had to tell someone.

And from the first time that she really done me
Ooh she done me
She done me good

By the last choruses Lennon is shouting 'hey' and 'whooping' as he really goes for it, his vocals are raspy and raw, Billy Preston plays some exquisite organ and just listen to Macca's bass.

The rooftop version (above) is my favourite; The Beatles last stand. They look fantastic - Lennon with his classic long hair, middle parting, side burns, round granny glasses and fur coat; McCartney in black suit, shirt and brown shoes complete with beard; George somehow making green jeans, converse and a fur coat look the coolest outfit going, Ringo looks a little cold and stoned in his red mac.

There are smiles - look at the way they all look at each other at times. They not only look fantastic, they sound AMAZING. If I ever get my hands on a delorean, some plutonium (or the knowledge of where and when a bolt of lightning would strike) and a flex capacitor - then I would head back for this show rather than the Cavern Club, Shea Stadium or Hamburg.

It's a tantalising glimpse of how good they still were - despite the differences between them at this stage.