Friday, 29 March 2013

Martha Johnson (without The Muffins)

Clearly, Canadians are a sociable bunch.  It must be those wide open prairies and long cold winters that instils a sense of connection to their fellow man.  Not only that, they drive on the left right and remember to put a ‘u’ in colour.  As evidence I offer Adrian du Plessis, manager of singer Allison Crowe, and regular commentator on this blog almost since its inception many years ago.  And now I can add to the list, Martha Johnson, she of the Muffins and ‘Echo Beach’.

Long time readers will remember that I included my seeing Martha and the Muffins in a cramped, sweaty music pub back in 1980 in my top ten list of all-time favourite gigs and subsequently approved their ‘comeback’ album, ‘Delicate’ in 2010.  To bring the saga up to date, I find that Martha has left a comment on that post advising of her current project, a solo album to be entitled, well, ‘Solo One’.

Like a growing army of artists these days, she has taken the route of asking fans to ‘pledge’ money to fund the production of the album.  This effectively means that the production costs are covered by pre-selling the product.  I remember Sing-Sing doing this in a fairly low key way via social media about 10 years ago so that their 2 albums could be brought to fruition.  Today, it has become more of a business and there are specific websites set up for artists to try their luck.  This is true democracy at work as supply of the eventual product depends entirely on demand and the buying public’s willingness to fund the project.

From a fan’s viewpoint, an up-front payment guarantees you a copy of the album at the very least and a whole host of extras ranging from signed CDs to skype sessions with the artist depending on the level of your pledge.  Comfortingly, you stand to get your money back if insufficient funds are raised and a proportion of any ‘profit’ goes to charity.  The downside being that you are never quite sure what you’re going to get, but then that is the risk with all investment.

In true ‘Dragon’s Den’ style, I’m in for a small investment of 10 Canadian Dollars  (about £6.50) which gets me a download of the album assuming the project goes ahead.  If you, too, wish to invest in ‘Solo One’ or any of its associated pledge packages, follow the link below.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Side 4 - Was it Really Necessary?

How exciting!  In April, I am going to meet up with some old friends to see the Genesis tribute band, ‘The Musical Box’ play the whole of the ‘Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ show, complete with costumes and back projection, at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Our little band of gig-goers first met up in the mid-1970s during the Genesis prog years but never saw them in their original line-up with Peter Gabriel, so this should be an interesting exercise in nostalgia.  Watch this space.

In fact, the anticipation prompted me to dig out my Genesis Archive 1967-1975 Box Set and listen to the live version of the Lamb recorded at the Shrine Auditorium, LA on their ’75 tour of the USA.  I say ‘Live’ but many of the vocal and some guitar parts were re-recorded to replace indistinct or error-strewn originals.  Egos eh?  As a double studio LP, I always felt that ‘The Lamb…’ was a bit front loaded, with all the good stuff on the first 2 sides and the remainder waning towards side 4 where it ends on the less-than-impressive ‘It’.  Which got me thinking about other studio double LPs – those much maligned products of the vinyl age.

Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ suffers from the same malaise whereby each of the first three sides has an ambience and continuity all their own but the fourth is a bit of a dumping ground for a rag-bag of left-overs.  And don’t get me started on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ which is great for three sides then after ‘Run Like Hell’ descends into pseudo-operatic boredom on side 4.  Some doubles are a little short of material, full stop.  Joni Mitchell’s ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ is barely 16 minutes a side and those Dutch instrumentalists’ magnum opus, ‘Focus 3’ runs out of steam on side 4 with just the drum solo and reprise continuing from the previous track on side 3 and an old unrelated song (left off the CD reissue!) bolted on to make up the running time to about 14 minutes.  Hmm.

Even The Beatles weren’t immune from the falling off side 4 syndrome as the inclusion of ‘Revolution 9’ on side 4 of the White Album shows.  In fact, barring ‘best of’s’, I can’t think of a single double album where side 4 is the best.  It may be a deliberate ploy by the record companies, knowing that no-one ever gets as far as side 4 so why put all your best stuff there?  It begs the question: is the natural length of an extended musical work is nearer to three sides than four?  Since the advent of the CD this assertion has legs, as many albums issued since the mid-80s have a running time of 50-55 minutes, approximately equivalent to three sides of vinyl.  Q.E.D.

Friday, 1 March 2013

A Cherished Moment

Today is my 'sort of'' birthday.  When there is no 29th of February, I usually opt for 1st March as a substitute.  It is a time for getting a bit misty eyed and nostalgic for the ‘old days’.  Actually most of the old days were rubbish but with my newly acquired age-related rose tinted eyesight that matters not and amongst the wealth of good times one or two fond memories sit above the rest.  Most of my best moments have a music based foundation but not the one I am about to relate.  This has to do with football and no rose tinted sight is necessary here.

I am about 10 years old and it is roughly 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  I am sitting on the cold parquet flooring of my junior school classroom by the shoe racks putting on my football boots.  Why?  Because it is a school match day and I am captain of the rabble we call our school football team, about to take on another rabble from the local school a mile or so away.

My heartbeat is quickening and my breathing getting shorter as adrenalin floods through my body.  The anticipation is almost unbearable and I love it.  If I was to pick the best feeling in the world it would be this moment.  Not only am I about to miss French/English/Maths on offer that afternoon (strike out those that do not apply), I am about to do the one thing I love most in the world – play football for my school.

Outside, it is late autumn and a watery sun tries in vain to penetrate the mist that hangs around the football pitch, now carpeted with autumnal leaves from the towering Elms that line the school field.  The morning dew still clings to the grass and sends up a halo of wetness as the sodden leather ball zips across it.  I am proudly wearing a school football shirt (with real cuffs and collars – that dates me) of pillar-box red with white sleeves, the same as the Arsenal in those days and feel a million dollars.  We line up and the match starts…

We probably won that day – we normally did, having a half decent team which finished top of Division 3 that year and won promotion to Division 2.  It was a time of youthful exuberance and a certain naivety about life to come.  No baggage, no regrets.  Whilst I can still feel the heady exhilaration of those times, I know that I will never recapture them.  It was a time that only the young can experience.  When I look at the 10 year old me now, I see an enthusiasm that I no longer have and a head full of dreams of playing forever.

The dream ended abruptly the following September when I transferred to secondary school.  A rugby playing school.