Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Moon Turn the Tides...Gently Gently Away

Hearing the news about the recent death of Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell when my mind was in an unguarded moment prompted a deluge of sadness and two immediate thoughts. First, all I ever seem to be doing these days is recording yet another Rock ‘n’ Roll death on this blog and second, is this the first time that a death has permanently consigned a major 1960s band to that great live date in the sky?

In answer to the first thought, it does seem as though time and tide has waited for no man and we are now well and truly into a period when deaths are apt to follow in rapid succession. With the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, most of the early pioneers are now likely to be in their 70s or older. Discounting premature demises as a consequence of the inherent lifestyle it seems that that most unnatural of rock ‘n’ roll deaths, natural causes, is now upon us and will not be going away any time soon.

The second point is more poignant. With Hendrix himself gone since 1970 and Noel Redding eventually following a few years back it was only Mitch who held the baton for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But with his recent death, the band is gone and as far as I am aware this is the first time that every member from a major band (rather than individual artists, obviously) from that early period has passed away.

Despite deaths in the camps of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who, The (Small) Faces, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones (albeit, interestingly, only Brian Jones in 1969), there is at least one member of each outfit still flying the flag. Even more amazing, there are still bands out there that have all members still living like The Kinks and Fleetwood Mac. There is something rather comforting to know that all these old men and women of rock are still around even if they are no longer throwing TVs out of hotel windows (got to look after that bad back these days) but when the last of a band succumbs you know it is all over.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience is now consigned to the annals of that dusty subject, History, as surely as the Beatles and the Stones will be some day and future generations will only know them from books, memories and through their recorded legacy. Who ever thought my generation would be in the position, like our parents before us, of recommending long dead artists to our children and grand children?

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Gender Gap

Nurture or Nature? It is a question that has exercised the brains of psychologists and educationalists since political correctness was in nappies. Do children follow certain paths because of their inherent gender or their treatment during their formative years? I may have mentioned that my wife is a primary school teacher and it is her view after 20-odd years teaching the little dears, that in general, Nature usually wins, no matter what the trendy educationalists and the government will try to do to load the dice. In other words ‘Boys will be Boys’ and vice versa and there’s not much you can do about it, or should do about it except work with the fact.

Earlier this year, there was a news article dealing with a report from The Institute of Education on the subject of which musical instrument children chose to learn that tends to enforce the view that nature has taken a firm grip when it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Looking at which instrument is favourite when it comes to individual choice, it seems that the boys rush to the guitar whilst the girls are picking up a flute or, gulp, the harp. Try getting that in the back of the car for home practice!

So, surprise surprise, whilst boys are fighting for the guitars, drums and brass instruments to make as much noise as possible, their feminine peers shut the door to get a bit of peace to practice that difficult D♭ arpeggio on their oboes and flutes. It must’ve made school a very confusing place for the likes of Joan Jett, June Millington, Nancy Wilson, Vicki Peterson and every other guitar totin’ woman. Or indeed, Ian Anderson, Thijs Van Leer and their flautist brothers.

Seems to me that actually, instruments pick you rather than the other way around. Looking at most bands, the drummer is always the mad restless one, the keyboards player is studious, the bass player laid back and the guitarist the extrovert. Each instrument then picks their player from across the sexes. Of course, more men than women are aggressive extroverts but more women than men are relaxed and socially inclusive. Note how many more female bass players there appear to be than raving lead guitarists.

Two fundamental truths arise here. One – men and women are, thankfully, different and there’s no use saying otherwise. They will always be drawn to different pursuits despite what any ‘expert’ may tell you. Two – there are always exceptions to any rule and holding back boys and girls who desire to be ‘different’ is as damaging as forcing them to act against their nature. Now, where did I leave my Bagpipes?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Rock 'n' Roll (part 547)

Ha! I’ve just seen that Gary Glitter’s 70s hit ‘I’m The Leader of the Gang (I am)’ has been removed from the UK education’s GCSE Music syllabus where it was recommended ‘related listening’!

I’m not sure which amazes me most. The fact that it has taken all this time to remove the work of a convicted paedophile from our children’s learning curriculum, or the fact that pop music was in the curriculum in the first place. When I was slogging through ‘O’ Level Music (an earlier incarnation of GCSEs for younger readers) in the 70s, popular music just did not exist. It was never, ever mentioned by teaching staff whose world revolved around Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and other worthy works and if any student dared to utter words like ‘The Beatles’ it was met with the vacant stare of someone who found the concept of any artist/composer being alive and well to be utterly incomprehensible.

Thus my state-provided musical education centred on studying four classical pieces, the lives of various (dead) composers and trying to learn the Bassoon. Luckily much of the musical theory I picked up in this endeavour is directly transportable to the popular music world and having left school that is where it strayed...permanently. So quite why popular music has crept into state education is beyond me. Must be all those trendy new teaching methods.

But back to G Glitter or Paul Gadd as he is known in legal circles. I can say here and now, without fear of contradiction, that I never rated him - much to the derision of many of my mates who thought glam was a huge laugh and should lie at the centre of a good night out. To me, a dyed in the wool progger, the glam-rock of the mid 1970s was the wart on the face of a noble art and when The Sweet, The Rubettes, Mud, Alvin Stardust, Gary Glitter and all of their ghastly peers ruled the singles charts during that period I was in hiding making do with a meagre diet of Eagles, Steely Dan and even Supertramp until punk arrived and I could emerge, blinking into the daylight again. The only band I had a sneaking regard for was Slade (and T Rex at a stretch) but to admit to that was tantamount to accepting the whole ghastly glam-rock scene, so I kept quiet. But if I met Noddy Holder in the street today I wouldn’t shy away from a friendly handshake. Just don’t let me ever meet Les Gray...

So I have no time for Glitter and as far as I am concerned he is not only guilty of paedophilia, he should’ve asked for several other offences to have been taken into consideration including ‘Hello Hello I’m Back Again’ and the stomach-churning ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)’. Good riddance I say.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Ones That Got Away

The trouble with being a bit of an obsessive and following a broad spectrum of bands and artists is that it is not financially, or indeed physically possible to own everything they release unless you have several storage rooms lying vacant in the East wing. I don’t even own every Beatles album. Luckily, some of my favourite bands have not produced a huge amount of material so it is relatively easy to collect the whole set but my general rule is that I tend to start buying from the early days and then tail off unless they are very special indeed.

Over the years, I have accordingly ignored many later albums from those artists I once followed and it often comes as a bit of a shock to stumble on one of these ‘passed over’ albums much later and find that they are blindingly good.

Such an album is ‘Ultraviolet’ by All About Eve.

I always felt AAE were a cut above the rest when I first heard ‘Our Summer’ on an Indie compilation back in the 1980s and this view was ratified after having purchased their first two albums in the late eighties when they presented a face which matched Julianne Regan’s cut-glass vocals with the then prevalent goth metal/mystic folk sound. However, I became a lapsed fan after guitarist Tim Bricheno left and never looked back, so it was with no little degree of trepidation that I approached their ‘Keepsakes’ 2CD compilation which boasts large chunks of later albums that I failed to buy.

But I needn’t have worried. Whilst all the best moments from the first two albums ‘All About Eve’ and ‘Scarlet and Other Stories’ are present and correct, it is the later material from the albums ‘Touched by Jesus’ and the much maligned 1992 effort, ‘Ultraviolet’, the ones I didn’t buy and now wish that I had, that have really surprised me. The dense, dreamy, shoegazing-meets-psychedelia style tracks from the latter are magnificent slices of post Pink Floyd aural architecture, particularly the trance-like ‘Phased’ and ‘Infrared’ which could be the offspring of a coupling between Syd Barrett’s ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Echoes’. And to think I nearly missed out on this stuff.

Unfortunately, ‘Ultraviolet’ was an unmitigated disaster in the shops and MCA dropped AAE and promptly deleted the album from their catalogue soon after its release (thus keeping eBay in funds for years after). More fool them for it is an enjoyable listen and even Julianne jokes that AAE were a great band ‘70% of the time’. The 70% must cover this album. It is still unavailable, but 6 of the 11 tracks are available on ‘Keepsakes’ which certainly is available, so give ‘em a listen.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Sam Phillips...No, Not That One!

Fate moves in a mysterious way. You just never know how one thing will lead to another – but sometimes you can have a pretty good guess.

It was in 1991 that I accompanied my wife, a registered Elvis Costello addict, to his concert at Hammersmith Odeon, London. Let me state here and now that whilst I like a lot of his early stuff (and particularly his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet on the ‘Juliet Letters’) I am not his greatest fan so I wasn’t expecting too much from the evening. Anyway there we were watching the support act, a rather gawky female singer, and I was thinking, actually she’s quite good in a very left field sort of way. She had some quirky songs, indulged in a bit of self-deprecating patter between them and couldn’t dance for toffee. I’m a bit of a sucker for odd people as my record collection will attest and so rather than shun overt marketing in my normal manner, I accepted her free cassette, exerpts from 'Cruel Intentions' by Sam Phillips, being handed out on our way out of the building at the end of the evening and played the three songs it contained the very next day.

Much as it pains me to admit, this simple marketing exercise had the desired effect and I subsequently bought ‘Cruel Inventions’ and liked it a lot. It is produced by her husband-at-the-time, T-Bone Burnett and comprises a series of catchy, unusual melodies with slightly kooky, yet acutely observed lyrics. The production is sparse and rings with treated guitar figures and percussion giving a slightly edgy, spooky aura designed to complement the dark lyrics. I still like it to this day, but as with so many others, never bought anything else by her so thought I’d check her out.

A bit of research reveals that she began life as Leslie Ann Phillips and was well known in Christian circles before changing her professional name to Sam and moving record company to avoid being promoted as the ‘Christian Cyndi Lauper’. With future husband T-Bone, she then fashioned several well received albums in the 1990s which is where I came in. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t know about her previous existence as religion and I don’t often see eye to eye and she was probably justified in distancing herself from the ‘Cyndi Lauper’ promotion. No wonder the devil has all the best tunes.

The reason she has risen to the top of my consciousness is that I became aware of a new album ‘Don’t Do Anything’ coupled with a retrospective best of ‘The Disappearing Act 1987-2008’ advertised on Amazon. I might just investigate both.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Live and Unexpected

Unbelievably and perhaps inevitably, The Spice Girls beat Led Zeppelin to the ‘Best Reunion’ prize at the Vodafone Live Music Awards. Where will it all end eh? Said Emma Bunton, ‘The thing is, when you go to a gig, you go for fun and entertainment and a night out.’ Clearly, it’s not much of a fun night out going to see Led Zep!

Funny old things, live dates, you never quite know what you’re going to get. I remember some high profile gigs that I busted a gut to get to turning out to be the worst night on record (you know who you are, T’pau, Monochrome Set etc) and others, where I was dragged kicking and screaming, which were magnificent. Leaving a comment on Layla’s blog recently prompted a memory of one of my most enjoyable live music experiences.

Having left University in the late 1970s, I move home to St Albans for a short period. St Albans boasts one of the best Live Music Pubs in the district in the Horn pub (or Horn of Plenty as it was then). I used to walk there in the evening once in a while for a pint and a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. On one particular evening, I turned up to see a local band (sorry boys, can’t remember the name) and settled down with my beer to watch the show. They were OK in a competent-but-a-little-uninspiring sort of way. Until about half way through their set when an older balding man shuffled on stage and strapped on a guitar. I did a double take and thought to myself, ‘That bloke looks a bit like Andy Powell. No, can’t be. Bloody Hell! It is!’

He played with them for the rest of the set and it was mesmerising. It was the combination of low expectations being wildly exceeded and the fact that there was the Wishbone Ash axe-man playing to a largely disinterested audience of regular pub-goers and their dogs that made it such a great event. And it was free!

These types of experience are all to do with expectation. The bigger the star and the bigger the venue, the greater the expectation – and the potential for disappointment. I always liked to frequent the smaller venues when I attended gigs regularly in order to see second division acts as they always tried harder and often were unexpectedly good. I remember being blown away by an unknown college band playing a note perfect version of Yes’s ‘Roundabout’ at a Hall bash during my University years. Much cheaper than the real thing but virtually as entertaining!

I don’t get to live gigs much these days but I still reckon I’d go for the smaller venue complete with second division band and hope that I’d discover another pearl.