Monday, 29 October 2007

Cut - The Slits

I bloody love The Slits. They were one of those bands that emerged from the early punk scene that really embodied the punk spirit. They were not the greatest musicians in the world but they wanted to be in a band so they just went and did it. Fourteen year old lead singer Ariane Forster (aka Ari Up) and drummer Paloma Romero (Palmolive) met after a Patti Smith gig in London and formed a band called The Flowers Of Romance (along with one Sid Vicious on saxophone!!).
As was the spirit of the times The Flowers Of Romance didn't last long and Ari and Palmolive went to form The Slits. After a couple of line-ups, Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollit joined on guitar and bass respectively. They supported both The Clash and The Pistols in gigs in 1977 but it wasn't until 1979 that Cut was released.
It is heavily influenced by reggae and 'dub' in particular. In fact it was produced by Dennis Bovell who recorded some dub plates under the name of 'Blackbeard' and has the dubious distinction (to some at least) of being credited in inventing 'Lovers Rock'.
Cut was a far cry from the lilting apolitical soft sounds of Lovers Rock though. It is jagged, sharp, choppy and full of post-punk sentimentality. Songs about shoplifting (Shopping), Sid Vicious (So Tough, probably and Instant Hit, maybe) and all those girls who jumped on the punk bandwagon (Typical Girls) make up the album along with one of the most inspired cover versions ever. The version of Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' is a wonder. Deep and dubby with great guitar work from Albertine, Ari changes the lyrics to 'I Heard It Through My Bass Line' and warbles magnificently.
The cover may have caused a certain amount of controversy but the album should be remembered for much more than that. It still sounds fresh today and has attracted a new fan in my girlfriends seven year old daughter who loves this album. She plays in over and over again and knows all the words to the songs.
Ari and Tessa have recently started gigging again with a new line-up, including Paul Cook's daughter on backing vocals. There is no news of a return to the UK yet but we live in hope.

The Slits Homepage

Good Slits Online Biography

Ari Up

One interesting footnote to The Slits story and to add another Sex Pistols connection Ari's mother is married to John Lydon.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks

The album that changed my life

It seems only right and proper that my first posting on this shiny new album based blog should be about the one record (or 'wreck-could' as Malcom Mclaren pronounces it) that had such a profound experience on me, it was my Garden of Eden moment. The Sex Pistols were the hissing spitting serpents and Never Mind The Bollocks was the apple that led me up the garden path into temptation.

I waa a just a nip too young for Punk in 77, and only liked 'nice’ music . A few of the album scraps in my pre-teen collection were the Beatles (Red Album and Help) Elvis (40 Greatest), K Tel (Disco Fever and Disco Stars) comps and the stomping Action Replay.

Punk had no appeal for me, the patchy, Punky clips and snatches of coverage I'd seen were all shouty, spiky and as scary as singing Daleks. Until my best friend played me ( possibly the swear-off selections from ) his older brothers copy of NMTB.On headphones.And at some volume.

It was like being blasted with gramophonic gamma rays. And when the ‘phones came off I was as fizzing and fired up as The Hulk. ‘nice’ had been atomized - all I wanted to do was rage in raggy togs to pumped up punk.

I cut and dyed my hair.
I made my own Punk T shirts.
I made pilgrimages to Kings Road.
I wanted to play guitar like Steve or Sid.

What me hit right between the ears was the walloping great wall of sound, the absolute anger 'anger is an energy '  as Lydon later sang, - venom and violence in rottens voice.The hand-in-knuckle duster fit of the music and lyrics. But I was a late developer, for the past four year the Pistols had been roaming the country like safety pinned Pied Pipers, and pockets of punks had been popping up like pimples all over the teenage face of Britain

And when the time came to capture and set in stone the full on ‘filth and fury’ of the Sex Pistols sound, I hate to think what would have happened if this explosive piece of nitro Rock history hadn't fallen into safe (but shaky in Bill's case )hands Of Chris Thomas and Bill Price. I've heard ALL the demos - Chris Spedding and later Dave Goodman did commendable work, but Chris Thomas and Bill Price sculptured and spit polished the teenage rage of Mclarens dead end street urchins into a highly layered and lacquered full on Panzer attack album.

I'm still amazed at how crafted and fully formed these songs are right from the very first fresh as a daisy demo stage. The song structures, the bridges, each track with its own exclusively unique intro - the jingle jangle chimes of Vacant, the minor chord menace of Bodies' the rip-start riffing of No Feelings.There are no weak links on NMTB and even the left overs Did You Know Wrong, Satellite, are cut from the same high quality cloth. Add to this Chris's mighty production ear for detail - The cymbals on GSTQ heighten the excitement, the 'guitar soup' which insulates this wall of sound - and Bills Engineering genius - the gated drum technique just add to the build quality. Think how many other albums from the first wave of punk - now sound thin, tinny and haven't endured. NMTB is a team effort and was crafted to last.

I don't know how many times I've heard NMTB since getting my first copy but I never get 'not in the mood ' moments. And if the mood is chipper it's like hearing a national anthem and I puff up with spikey pride.

God save the Sex Pistols, and thank God for Chris Thomas and Bill Price for delivering the end of the world from the worlds end

You can Read some Pistol packing facts

And my interview with Simone Stenfors
Recommended Reading
The Making Of NMTB DVD
The Making Of NMTB book
Anoraky In The UK
God save the Sex Pistols Site
Filth and the Fury - Sex Pistols Site
The Best Of Westwood and McLaren
Englands Dreaming - John Savage
Anarchy in Sweden - Sex Pistols Scandanavian Tour

Thursday, 25 October 2007

John Peel 1939 - 2004

It doesn't seem possible but today is the third anniversary of the death of John Peel. In a way this site is a tribute to John in so much that he was one of us (or rather we are one of him). We're obsessives who love our music and seek out new and interesting sounds and who maintain a healthy regard of the music that influenced and shaped us.

John was often the first person to play an important album. Bands knew he was the most important DJ in the country and that he was the best person to give it exposure. In the days before albums were leaked on the Internet or bands previewed new stuff on Myspace the only way to hear a new album was on the radio and John was there to play it.

I wish that was still the case.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

What's Going On - Marvin Gaye

What can be said about 'What's Going On' that hasn't already been said? It rightly has its place amongst the very best records ever released. It features in many a music journal's Top 100 albums and is still hugely influential. I can't add much to its many plaudits but I can tell you why I think it is so great.

When it was released in May 1971 it was like a breath of fresh air to what had become, to some at least, a rather stagnant soul scene. The fact it was released om Tamla Motown just added to its mystique. Motown released 'pop' records and yet here was an album tackling subjects such as drug addiction, war and poverty. What is more it was Tamla golden boy Marvin Gaye who was singing about them.

Gaye was credited as the sole producer on an album of nine tracks which, on the whole melded into one another. For all intents and purposes it is a concept album. The songs are written from the point of view of an soldier who has just returned from the horror of the Vietnam War and it really captures the anguish of a young man who had been through such a shocking experience.

Apart from Gaye's absolutely gorgeous voice, what stands out for me is the musicianship. The best house band in the universe Motown's Funk Brothers lay down some seriously funky rifts with James Jameson (to some the boss when it comes to bass players) is understated spot on on side one , Joe Messina plays some nice guitar and Gaye himself (on this listen more than just the greatest soul singer ever) plays some lovely piano and some funked up drums on several tracks.

The album spawned three classic singles; 'What's Going On', the gorgeous 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) a song steeped in the politics of the day when Nam was on the agenda and the disaffected youth of the ghetto said enough is enough.

My favourite track though is 'God Is Love'. It is 1 minute and 11 seconds of absolute bliss. I am an atheist but even an old skeptic like me is moved by this hymn to Marvin's Lord. It moves beautifully and seamlessly into Mercy Mercy Me and is a perfect end to side one.

The songs may be introspective and the subject matter bleak but 'What's Going On' is far from a depressing album. It isn't the joyous fodder that made Motown so famous but it is an album of hope. It is angry, yes, and quite rightly, the early seventies were a time of political upheaval and many Americans were disaffected (whether this has changed much is another story), but the sheer beauty of Gaye's voice and the fabulous music that accompanies it make it, almost certainly, the greatest soul album of all time.

I once read an advert in NME that was advertising Sony Walkman's, the advert had a cassette of 'What's Going On' next to its latest technological breakthrough. The strap line under the cassette was 'Everyone Should Have One Of These'. Quite right too. You owe it to yourself. You won't be disappointed.

  1. What's Going On
  2. What's Happening Brother
  3. Flying High (In The Friendly Sky)
  4. Save The Children
  5. God Is Love
  6. Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology)
  7. Right On
  8. Wholy Holy
  9. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Power In The Darkness - Tom Robinson Band.

I owe the Tom Robinson Band a lot because they helped shape my musical future. Before I heard them I had had a strict diet of Showaddywaddy, Darts and other chart fodder. I remember seeing 2-4-6-8 Motorway on Top Of The Pops and liking it well enough but it was when I heard the follow up Rising Free EP that I really took to them. The stand out track from the EP was, for me, 'Right On Sister' a song written in solidarity with the woman's movement, although, perhaps not surprisingly, it was 'Glad To Be Gay' that attracted attention.

'Power In The Darkness' was released in 1978 and was produced by 'Never Mind The Bollocks' producer Chris Thomas. It was the first album I can remember being excited about owning. I was just coming up 13 at the time and I remember getting it home and pouring over the sleeve and the stencil of the band logo that was included in the package (I still have mine intact and unused). There was something intrinsically exciting about records in those days. The feel of the sleeve in your hand really meant something. I don't think cd's, even with their superior sound quality and robustness have ever captured that feeling.

The album opened with, what is still, one of my favourite singles of all time 'Up Against The Wall'. From Danny Kustow's opening riff, through his excellent, solo to his closing feedback it is a powerhouse of a track. Robinson's lyrics about the disaffected youth of London, might still ring true today and shows not a lot has changed for some in the last 29 years. It's by no means a subtle message but it hits you right between the eyes. In my view it is a classic and has been sorely overlooked.

The rest of the album is packed full of songs of, as Robinson said, "street fighting songs". I wouldn't disagree; along with 'Up Against The Wall' there is the equally hard hitting 'Long Hot Summer' and 'You Better Decide Which Side Your On' and 'The Winter Of 79' in which Robinson imagines a future looking back on a particularly tough period in his life and reminiscing about a time of violence, strikes, and the rise of the right. This was, remember pre-Thatcher and at the time the her form of 'society' was yet to raise its ugly head. It didn't quite pan out as Tom envisioned but some of it rings very true.

The title track 'Power In The Darkness' is quite different from the other tracks on the album. Robinson's bass line is quite funky (for a new wave record) and it drives the song along nicely. Typically for Tom the lyrics tell a story of struggle against the establishment and how, in order to gain freedom we have to stand and fight. This time however the establishment answers back. Robinson, in his very best posh voice, plays the part of 'The Voice From The Other Side' talking about his freedom. 'Freedom from the likes of you' he shouts at the end. It is quite a clever song as it parodies the enemy nicely.

The only non-political song on the album is 'Grey Cortina' where Robinson dreams of owning a Mark II Ford Cortina and having all the kudos owning one could bring (how times have changed). Apparently Robinson eventually did fulfill his dream.

'Power In The Darkness' is not the greatest album ever made, and I doubt anyone would claim that it is. However, it has an important place in my heart as it made me sit up and take notice. It brought my attention to Rock Against Racism for instance and injustice against all kinds of minorities in this country. But more than any of that it made me realise that there was more than just pop music out there. That loud guitars and meaningful lyrics were far better than the rubbish that was in the charts. It made me care about music passionately and for that reason alone it has a very special place in my collection.

1) Up Against The Wall
2) Grey Cortina
3) Too Good To Be True
4) Ain't Gonna Take It
5) Long Hot Summer
6) The Winter Of '79
7) Man You Never Saw
8) Better Decide Which Side You're On
9) You Gotta Survive
10) Power In The Darkness

Something quite exciting happened after I wrote this post. Danny Kustow and Tom Robinson are both Myspace friends of mine and I dropped both of them a line to tell them about the post. I was inspired to do so by Mondo's recent meeting with Bryan James of The Damned (which you can read about over at Planet Mondo). Tom sent me an email back saying that he was going to take a look at the blog which was rather exciting. Even better than that though was a message I received from Danny:
It really is brilliant what you have written, what I like about it is its truthful !! I am dead impressed and proud, thank you from bottom of my heart for penning this,
Bless you
All I can say is wow!!

Saturday, 20 October 2007

A New Venture.

Planet Mondo and I have decided that it would be good fun to write about some of our favourite long playing records( as they were called once upon a time). We have quite different tastes in music although we are firmly based in punk/indie side of things. There will be the odd slice of jazz and knowing Mondo a bit piece of funk as well as glam (another Mondo fav) and post-rock (my obsession) as well as loads of stuff that may not make it to the Top 100 lists in Q and Mojo magazines.

I hope you enjoy the ride. It's coming very soon.