Friday, 25 November 2011

George Gently and The Cream

I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve found watching the last two episodes of TV cop drama ‘Inspector George Gently’ a profoundly unsettling experience.  Now set in 1966, at which time I was a lad of 10 summers, it is a bit like watching your own childhood pass before your eyes.  Whilst the stories and acting are well up to the usual BBC standards for this type of drama, it is the period detail that really gets to me.

Like the cars.  A blue Ford Corsair similar to the one used in the series, used to sit on a neighbouring drive during those long ago childhood years and most of the other makes and models pressed into ‘Gently’ service would drive up and down our road regularly.  Then there are the boxes of Subbuteo left carelessly in a child’s room and the Airfix planes and…ooh, all sorts of other bits and pieces that are immediately recognisable.  It’s all a bit spooky.

And, of course, there is the music.  1960s music is so recognisable.  It has an aura all to itself and it proclaims a time when the UK music business was booming.  The programme is littered with fragments of English beat boom and American soul classics that threaten to divert your attention from the plot.  There was a moment towards the end of the second episode, ‘China’ where it did just that.  In the background was a strange wailing sound appended to a mildly oriental sounding backing and for an instant I couldn’t place it - but then a burst of fuzzy Clapton electric guitar put me right.  It was ‘We’re Going Wrong’ from the amusingly titled Cream LP, ‘Disraeli Gears’ from late 1967.  OK, so it was a little out of the correct period but somehow its haunting quality complemented the scene perfectly.

It made me think a bit about Cream, who as the first supergroup, bestrode the earth in the mid to late sixties like the most evolved dinosaur of their time and reconsider their place in the scheme of things.  Whilst their music was undoubtedly rooted in the Blues, there was a strange experimental side to them.  As a band very much of their time, they took Indian, African and oriental influences and fused them with the western attributes of harmonic progression and odd melodies.

‘We’re Going Wrong’ is a prime example of this side of their nature – a rather disconcerting keening vocal from Jack Bruce swoops over an atmospheric backing from Messrs Baker and Clapton.  In fact, you might almost say that Cream are the band most representative of the second half of the sixties, more so that the Beatles who tended to have a more scatter gun approach to musical styles.  A fusion of the past (Blues) and the future (Prog) was at the core of Baker’s primal, mystical percussion, Clapton’s wah-wah drenched rhythm playing and Bruce’s melodic bass and experimental writing.

Somehow, when I listen to them now, and especially if it is the 1968  ‘Wheels of Fire’ album, the music just screams ‘1960s!’ and you cannot help but be transported to that era.  As period pieces go, they were the Cream.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

So finally the Brothers Grimm have gone head to head.  Ever since Noel flounced out of Oasis we have been waiting for this moment.  Liam got his shot in first with Beady Eye’s ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ released earlier this year and now we have brother Noel’s offering, ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’.  So now we have both to compare and contrast, how do they fair?

First up, let me say how respectful Liam has been in gathering together the remnants of Oasis and rising from the ashes in a different guise, that of Beady Eye.  It would have been all too easy to carry on using the Oasis brand with all the global goodwill that entailed.  Lesser persons would have done just that but a clean break, at least in name, has opened a new chapter and avoided a whole heap of prolonged legal grief.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out to plan as DGSS is dangerously close to being just what they were trying to avoid, the reheated leftovers of a once-great band (at least for a couple of albums, anyway).

I’m afraid that despite one or two decent moments, I can’t really get on with DGSS and find it rather insipid.  Overall, it all sounds a bit tired and a tad dated.  Whilst the songs are entering new territory, the sound of the band is, well, a bit Oasis-like and not being a huge fan, I’ve had enough of them now.  I need something different.  Perhaps Liam would’ve been better off gathering some fresh talent around him?

Which, of course, is what Noel has done.  OK, so most of them are old friends, but at least they are not Oasis.  Noel has the opposite problem in that although his band doesn’t sound too much like Oasis, his songs still do.  I suppose he can’t really help that but then when Paul Weller left The Jam, his next project, the Style Council sounded nothing like his old band, so it can be done.

Nevertheless, NGHFB does have a bit more verve about it.  There are the classic Gallagher trademarks – the ‘on the one’ up-tempo numbers and the epic ballads but there is a grandeur about it that sets it aside from Liam’s more down to earth rock ‘n’ roll.  It’s as if he was straining to create something worthy to get back at his irksome brother.  In a way, this album reminds me of The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Wilder’.  It too was Julian Cope’s attempt to broaden his horizon with brass and string arrangements yet still retaining the epic nature of his own song writing.  Cope also was a big believer in the ‘on the one’ backbeat (exhibit A ‘World shut Your Mouth’, m’lud).

Although this probably isn’t it, I feel it in my bones that Noel has one great solo album in him.  There is a sense of development in his song writing that implies different things to come.  Let’s hope he can break a few of his own self-imposed barriers and pull it together in the not too distant future.

In conclusion, neither DGSS nor NGHFB is a classic but I’m hovering in the Noel camp for the time being.