Monday, 27 October 2008

Levi Stubbs (1936 - 2008)

And so another one departs this life. Levi Stubbs, lead singer with Motown evergreens, The Four Tops, died this week. Once upon a time, popular music stars only died young because they were young whereas now many of them die naturally of old age and you begin to realise that time has caught up with us all.

My personal musical memory starts around about 1963 and it was then that Berry Gordy’s Motown enterprise was gathering speed. Even here in the UK, the ‘voice of young America’ was on our radios and on our TV screens fighting for airtime with the Beatles and the Stones. Holland, Dozier and Holland were churning out great pop hits and Levi was very much a part of that revolution. ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ were touchstones to my youth which fuelled my burgeoning interest in popular culture. But the acceptance of black American music into my largely middleclass white society is an interesting case

I look back with much amusement to my schooldays around the early 1970s when there was a war raging between my peers as to which was better; ‘Soul’ or ‘Prog’. There were two main protagonists in this divide and the one rarely saw eye to eye with the other so quite how the great LP swap experiment ever got off the ground is a minor miracle. Nevertheless, it was agreed that each would choose a representative album for the other to borrow. In the red corner, weighing not very much and sporting a finger-in-the-electric-socket hairstyle was the prog devotee. His choice was ‘Close to the Edge’ by Yes. In the blue corner, having a considerable height advantage and floppy blonde hair was our soul expert, whose considered choice was ‘Cloud 9’ by the Temptations. Albums were duly exchanged on the Friday and the multitude waited in hushed expectation on the Monday morning for the verdict.

In books, each would agree that the other’s choice was tip-top and they would tousle each others’ hair and depart for tea and buns, firm friends. But real life has a habit of getting in the way and after a nervous few minutes when neither would admit to anything concrete, the insults started to fly and only the end-of-break bell headed off what could have escalated into a nasty incident. Frankly, I doubt either got past track 1 so the whole experiment should’ve been declared null and void. Kids eh?

But the fact that this discussion arose at all shows that Motown held its own in exalted company and the likes of the Temptation, Supremes and Four Tops were recognised as international acts of stature. It is a rare achievement and one which Levi should justifiably be remembered.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Lush, My 100th Post...and an Apology.

Sometimes time can show you just how wrong you can be and hold you up as a solid gold liar. No matter how sure of yourself you were once upon a time you can virtually guarantee that the passage of time will come and bite you where it most hurts, in the ego! I am and always will be, a huge fan of so-called shoegazers, Lush, a band who operated between 1989 and 1996. As this is my 100th post, I felt they ought to feature. Their first recorded effort was a 6 track EP named ‘Scar’ and it just blew me away with its jagged rhythms, soaring harmonies and endlessly modulating melodies. After a few stunning singles and what seemed an eternity their first proper album finally arrived in 1992 – ‘Spooky’ and I was straining at the leash to hear it.

And that’s where the trouble started. The difficulty with ‘Spooky’ stemmed from the fact that it had been produced by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and he had given it an effects-drenched maelstrom sound close to that of his own albums. There immediately followed a wave of fierce criticism from critics and fans alike directed at Guthrie’s dense, impenetrable production on what should have been, after all, Lush’s first triumphant foray into the world of albums and when I first bought it back in ‘92, I was one of the most vociferous. How dare he mess about with one of my most favourite bands? Why were the vocals drowned in the mix? Where were the dynamics of the band? I was so disappointed that the potential of Lush had been utterly ruined that I pontificated about how crap Guthrie was as a producer and how I’d never look at a Cocteau Twins album again. So there!

However, it pains me to admit that from a perspective of over fifteen years now, my view has mellowed somewhat and on continued listenings, I find that actually, this is a very fine album indeed.

Its dizzying dream pop, so characteristic of the prevailing shoegazing genre of that time now sounds nostalgic and exhilarating. Whilst many reviewers bemoan the fact that Lush’s contrived atmospherics were inferior to the efforts of others such as the aforementioned Cocteau Twins and the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Ride, I think they are missing the point. Lush were primarily a band that created great pop songs and then submerged them in swathes of effects, rather than following their peers and developing aural landscapes for their own sake.

‘For Love’, ‘Covert’, ‘Untogether’, ‘Fantasy’ – pop songs all. Add to the basic premise of a good song their effortlessly intricate vocal harmonies and their lightness of touch despite the layers of guitar noise and you have a concoction that sounds a bit like The Beach Boys meets The Cure at a Trance workshop. Or, in other words, music that satisfies both the head and the heart.

In retrospect, it’s stunning stuff from one of the most underrated bands in the history of underrated bands. Sorry Robin.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Authors Promoting Authors

Take it from me as an impoverished author, trying to sell a self-published book is akin to pulling teeth so when I chanced upon a comment from ‘Authors Promoting Authors’ whilst perusing one of my favourite blogs, A Novice Novelist, I was intrigued.

Further investigation revealed that APA is Tina-Sue Ducross, an author promoting her first book, ‘No Shadows Left Behind’ and her blog has been set up to publicise books from self-published and independently published authors. To cut to the chase, she agreed to post my book details and in return, I am promoting her site with this post.

So if you fancy reading a selection of up and coming new authors, check out ‘Authors Promoting Authors’ and have a browse. To get you in the mood, here are details of Tina-Sue’s book and the most recent post on her APA blog:


'Broken lives can be mended; joy can be found.Terrorizing dreams, panic attacks, and everyday interactions bring back a past this teacher thought was dead and gone. And now, Melissa sees signs that one of her eighth-grade students, Christy Kade, may be in an all-too-familiar situation... of incest.
Christy lives in silent fear, dreading her father's "secret, special games."As she gains a desperately-needed friendship, Christy begins to believe in herself and to find the courage to reach out for help. The school year progresses and both Christy and Melissa make attempts at trust, each of them drawing on inner strength to navigate their lives. As our heroines open themselves up to the lessons taught to them by their loved ones, they grow in ways they’d never thought possible.
Ugly things do happen behind closed doors, but help—and hope—exist.'


'Daydreams in Mermaid Grass began in its conception in a dream. What happens when we sleep, before we fall into those deep moments that we cannot wake from, where we have no recollection of what has taken place but awake with a heightened sense of something, something that cannot be defined? This uniquely transcendent collection of poetry offers a peak into an imaginary world where the wildest dreams and nightmares culminate into a whirlwind ride where all else is forgotten.The title is metaphorical for a dream state; when all time stops and you enter before sleep unimagined things reach from another world to take you and you slip, floating, softly into the unknown.The fantastical world of Bracken written in poetic verse spells a hypnotizing read for all. The world, populated by fantastical creatures mesmerizes the reader from beginning to end. Serpent dragons with mirror hides that reflect all wrongdoing journeying on quests, princesses clothed in darkness and only lit by the creature known only as Speaker are only some of the treasures that await you inside. Hold my hand and let this magical sleep take you into the world of Daydreams in Mermaid Grass'

Buy 'Daydreams in Mermaid Grass'

Visit Natalie Williams' website

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

White Wedding

To date in my long career as a certified, I have been known on occasion to buy one or two LP/CDs. In fact, if truth be told, it is probably closer to one or two hundred and not far short of one or two thousand and it would be safe to say that I enjoy listening to the majority of them. Of course, there is a small proportion that represent mistakes that never get played, but as a rule, I have a copy of all my favourite songs. However, it struck me the other day that there are many albums or individual songs that I like immensely but yet I have never owned.

One song that immediately springs to mind is ‘White Wedding’ by peroxide blonde, Billy Idol. I love ‘White Wedding’ but have never owned a copy of it and am at a loss to explain why. It is all the more strange because my first inkling of the late seventies punk invasion was carried my way by Idol’s band, Generation X and their debut single ‘Your Generation’, a rumbustious anthem which renewed my interest in the singles market after years of ‘albums only’ mentality. I actually snuck out and purchased a seven-inch picture sleeved vinyl copy of ‘Your Generation’ and hid it from my earnest music peers which is why I still have it today. I saw Generation X play live twice – once at the cramped, sweaty and now defunct Marquee Club in London – but somehow never got around to buying anything else from the Idol stable, including his subsequent solo releases. Why does this happen?

Could it be that I have the attention span of a goldfish (allegedly)? Well, this is always a possibility, as the late 70s and early 80s was a golden time for me when my LP buying rate went through the roof on the back of my first proper employment and a multitude of great product to choose from. During this heady period of solvency linked to the delights of Punk, New Wave and New Romanticism, I was bit like a child in a sweetshop, scampering backwards and forwards from one counter to the next. Much of the stuff I bought generally didn’t get the attention it deserved and much was ignored altogether especially by 1985 when the feeding frenzy was sated and ‘White Wedding’ appeared.

But the more I think about it, the more there are; ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ is another song that I don’t own and if I thought harder, I’m sure there are others.

Anybody else got any favourite songs that they never bought?

Friday, 10 October 2008

Garage Rock

The end of the 1960s signalled many things, the end of The Beatles, the first falterings of the hippy dream and the beginning of an extended period of the most tasteless period in fashion ever, but for me it signifies moving house for the first time. In the winter of 1970/71 our family moved out of the house I grew up in and moved to a newer, chalet style semi not half a mile away. The reason for all this inconvenience was that the new house had a sheltered, sunny south facing aspect which was infinitely superior to the dark, windy north-east facing old one and for my mother, in her last 6 months of a losing a battle with cancer, a warmer sunnier last few months on this earth.

The house also boasted an integral garage which was eventually converted to a bedroom for me thus saving me from having to share with my brother. I’m sure he felt the same. A new stand alone pre-fab garage was built on land to the side of the house to compensate for the loss of facility. The new garage was fundamentally a long thin tube of grey granite blocks with a flat roof and an up-and-over door. Usually, it housed our car and a load of junk but during the school holidays it was devoid of the car during the day and it was then that it served as a base for garage cricket (2 players only – pat pending).

My younger brother and I had devised the rules for our 2-hand garage cricket a year or so before at our previous house, but this newer, longer garage was perfect for its execution. Basically a batsman’s wicket was set up inside at the closed end and the bowler bowled into the garage from the driveway. The batsman could be out by being bowled or caught or LBW if we could ever agree, in the normal way. Scoring was achieved by hitting the ball against certain items along the interior walls of the garage such as the lawn mower (2 runs), the garden spade (3 runs) and a pair of wellingtons (4 runs). To hit the ball back past the bowler into the road counted as a six.

Luckily, the new garage had a power line run from the house terminating in a single socket on the wall. Into this could be plugged my portable record player thus we could also have music whilst we played. Thus my abiding memory of these games is linked with Argent’s ‘In Deep’, their forth and in my opinion best LP and I can remember rockin’ along to ‘God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You’ and ‘It’s Only Money (parts 1 & 2)’ whilst racking up yet another unbeaten half century score with a spectacular on-drive against the lawn mower.

Who said sport and rock don’t mix?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Keep on Drummin' (part 2)

There has been much chat about drummers and drumming following the anniversary of John Bonham’s death and if his passing has done anything at all, it has increased the stock of drummers everywhere. As a generality, most people tend to ignore drummers and talk about their favourite singer or guitarist. But now we have reason to pause and think about their skills and what they bring to the mix.

OK, let me state upfront that ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘The Mule’ are maybe not my favourite ways to spend 10+ minutes of my life, but two examples always spring to my mind and they are probably not the obvious ones. The first is the role of eighties heart-throbs A-ha. The eighties was a lean time for drummers as their position as timekeepers in bands was seriously under threat from the dreaded new chip on the block, the drum machine whose upkeep was minimal and whose timekeeping was relentlessly metronomic. Most of the electro-pop outfits of the day like Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and even megagoths, Sisters of Mercy dispensed with a live drummer in favour of the much cheaper and easier-to-control-on-a-night-out drum machine. But not A-ha. They deliberately employed a real live drummer (albeit playing an electronic drum kit) to back up their generally keyboard driven sound to inject some human excitement into proceedings and the result was awesome. Try imagining what ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ would sound like with a plodding drum machine instead of the existing exhilaratingly human drum track.

It is interesting to note that some of the biggest ‘technology’ bands of that period refrained from booting out their drummers (and guitarists come to that) and instead embraced them wholeheartedly. In particular I am thinking of New Order who rose from the ashes of Joy Division to create an epic synthesized dance/rock sound which embraced new technology like there was no tomorrow yet still found room for Stephen Morris’s pounding rhythm work. Again try ‘Sunrise’ from the album ‘Lowlife’ and imagine no Stephen in the mix.

The second example is Blondie, whose drummer; Clem Burke has always impressed me as one of rock’s finest skinsmen. Listen to most Blondie songs now and you are struck by the lack of emphasis on harmony playing from guitar and keyboards. The main thrust of much of their work is based around Debbie Harry’s vocals and Clem Burke’s drumming and on occasion, very little else, which propels their material along at break-neck speed. Perhaps drummers are the heart of rock ‘n’ roll and not guitarists?

Let's face it, all the best bands have a proper and talented drummer. In fact the more I think about it, there are many drummers I love to death. The list would include Terry Chambers (XTC), Keith Moon, Budgie (Siouxsie & The Banshees), Bill Bruford, Stewart Copeland, Ian Paice, Mick Fleetwood, Phil Collins and many more.

Drummers. I love ‘em.