The past is a different country

Many years ago, way back in the 1980s, I recorded a number of songs with a good friend of mine, Ed Robinson.  I have to confess that Ed was the real musical talent and I was, for most of the time, hanging on to his coat tails, as it were.

Under the name The Socks That Dempsey Wore, we recorded two collections of music: Out Of The Closet and Now That’s What I Call Dempsey.  I wrote and sang on a number of the songs and there was one that I was particularly proud of. It was written at a time when South Africa was still in the thralls of apartheid and Mandela was many years from being released, and with the news of the death of the great man, last week I thought it would be nice to put together a video to accompany the song, and it to share it with you all, as my personal tribute to ‘Madibi’.

WARNING: This song was recorded in the 1980s – and sounds like it was!

Stuck in the middle with you…

Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been nine months since my last ‘Spill post and since then I have done all manner of bad things.  But let’s not worry about that for now…

I have a car.  And in that car lives the world’s worst sound system. The radio works when it wants to which is infrequently at best and the sound quality is virtually non-existent.  The CD player was fine until about three months ago when it swallowed a CD which it now steadfastly refuses to spit out.  Driving back from Canterbury the other night, it suddenly started playing (which scared the bejeezus out of me, going at about 50 in the fast lane in the dark and the torrential rain) and much to my delight, the CD turned out to be Ben FoldsRockin’ The Suburbs.

And here’s the point of this post.  It still refuses to allow me to eject the CD but it’s now happy to play the CD which makes the car a one-CD car.  Thankfully, it’s a CD that I love but having now listened to it about twenty times in the past week or so, I’m just beginning to yearn for a change*.

What I’d like you to do is imagine that you are in the ToffeeMobile (or a similarly musically-handicapped vehicle) and that you have a CD stuck in the player. What would you like that CD to be?  Remember, you will never be able to change the CD – this is it for the rest of your life – you will never be able to listen to another CD in your car, ever!  So what’s it going to be?  Over to you…

* Please don’t suggest that I do something about fixing the CD problem.  I know…

A Richard Hawley Retrospective

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I was walking through the park the other day and I saw a Sheffield United season ticket nailed to a tree.  I took one look at it and thought to myself, ‘I’m having that.  You can never have too many nails…’

As well as being a musician and songwriter of the highest calibre, Richard Hawley is well-known for the dry, laconic wit with which he delivers his inter-song links during his live shows. He would have been in his element at the recent 2012 ‘Spill Awards ceremony and I like to think that he would have shared some of that laconic wit with us on Friday evening – possibly making a reference to his two unsuccessful Mercury Prize nominations and his one successful ‘Spill Album of the Year prize and the relative importance of each in his life…

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Hawley’s rise to fame came via a somewhat torturous route.  The release of Cole’s Corner in 2005 first brought him to the attention of the record-buying masses but this breakthrough came after more than twenty years in the music business.  From his formative years in Treebound Story (a band formed when he was still at school – pictured above) via the relative success of Britpop band Longpigs, and a short spell in Pulp (Hawley and Jarvis Cocker have known each other since the early 1980s), Hawley had always been on the fringes of whatever it is that constitutes ‘success’.  His decision, in 2001, to begin recording as a solo artist was a risk – described by Cocker in a 2002 interview in the Independent on Sunday as a ‘last throw of the dice’ – but it was a risk that paid off.  Seven solo albums down the road, Richard Hawley has become an established and hugely respected artist – perhaps not quite a household name but I guess it’s safe to assume that he makes a fairly decent living out of his music.  And surely no one can deny that he deserves that much at least.

He’s an unlikely pop star and it’s safe to say that nothing about his appearance or his musical background quite prepares you for his voice.  Essentially, he’s a 1950s/60s-style crooner who also happens to play a mean, twanging, country-tinged guitar and write some stunningly beautiful pop songs.  I love the guitar, I love the arrangements, I love the compositions but it’s the voice that does it for me – it’s clean and pure with just the occasional hint of a growl thrown in for good measure.  It gets into your soul and sits there, warming parts of your insides that you didn’t even know you had.  The music is as simple as it can be without being in any way anodyne, bland or insipid.  Many of his songs are four, three or even two-chord tricks and Hawley’s skill is in creating the variety, the light and shade, through his subtle use of strings and guitars (and that voice) to build layers of sound – the songs often reaching almost orgasmic crescendos (or maybe that’s just me!).

I had a great response to my original post with a nice range of Richard Hawley nominations from the ‘Spill collective.  Several tracks were chosen more than once and I’ve tried to include all of those while attempting, for the benefit of the uninitiated, to provide an interesting and representative cross-section of the Hawley oeuvre.  I was umming and ahhing about whether to include any material from the pre-solo career and I decided in the end not to.  It’s merely of historical interest and doesn’t really add anything to the listening experience.

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So my starting point was 2001’s eponymous debut mini-album from which I’ve chosen the track Sick Pay and I followed that up with Something Is… from Late Night Final, the first ‘proper’ album.  Both of these tracks show signs of what’s to come – nicely understated, simple arrangements with gorgeous, wistful melodies that you could listen to all night long.

Next up, from the 2003 album, Low Edges, I give you, Oh My Love – and for the benefit of DarceysDad, it’s the live version from 2008’s Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, the distorted guitars suggesting that Hawley’s love of the Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound’ predates his most recent album by some considerable time.

Then we come to Cole’s Corner.  I’m desperate to avoid accusations of hyperbole here, but it’s hard not to come across as too gushing when it comes to this wonderful album.  It would be among the first records that I’d choose to take with me to my Desert Island.  It’s a rare example of an album without a weak track.  Alex Turner famously opened his 2006 Mercury Prize acceptance speech with the words ‘Someone call 999. Richard Hawley’s been robbed!’  It’s clearly not just Alex and I that feel so passionate about Cole’s Corner: no fewer than six tracks were nominated by various ‘Spillers and the title track alone was chosen by four different people.  It would therefore be wrong of me to leave it out.  So I haven’t.  I’ve also gone for barbryn’s choice of The Ocean which is a fine example of Hawley’s slow build technique in action.

Cole’s Corner was never going to be easy to follow but Richard Hawley made a pretty good fist of it with 2007’s Lady’s Bridge.  The bishbosh and DarceysDad nominated Valentine and CaroleBristol’s choice of Tonight, The Streets Are Ours are the two tracks I’ve chosen here, the latter neatly representing the more up-tempo side of Hawley’s work.

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It took a while for Truelove’s Gutter (2009) to grab me but I would now rate it as highly as Cole’s Corner.  It features Open Up Your Door which, quite rightly, made it onto the recent RR Songs About Doors list.  I was personally disappointed that makinavaja beat me to the nomination but this was more than made up for by John Dennis quoting my “one of the greatest songs of the 21st century” dond in his write up.

I’ve included the song here, as no Richard Hawley playlist would be complete without it and I’ve also gone for Remorse Code (nominated by glasshalfempty, sessionblogger (who he/she?) and DarceysDad (again. Good taste that man!).  Finally, from Lady’s Bridge we have the beautiful, Abba-esque For Your Lover Give Some Time, another choice from our Bristolian friend Carole and one of Hawley’s greatest lyrics.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge was somewhat of a departure for Richard Hawley featuring a much noisier sound with distorted guitars fulfilling the role previously occupied by orchestral strings to achieve the distinctive wall of sound.  The album evidently struck a chord with the ‘Spill Massive as it was the clear winner of the 2012 ‘Spill Album of the Year award.  I know you’re all going to go out and buy it (if you haven’t already done so) so I’ve just chosen one song here, Before, which probably best serves to illustrate the psychedelic noise fest that the latest album is.

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I’ve ended the playlist with three extras.  First up we have a lovely version of Hushabye Mountain, a duet with the lovely Lisa Hannigan, as nominated by the lovely shoegazer. Bishbosh wanted to include Hawley’s cover version of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Some Candy Talking and who am I to deny his request?  And finally I’ve indulged myself by including a personal favourite of mine.  It’s a live cover version of The Arctic MonkeysThe Only Ones Who Know which features Alex Turner himself on lead vocals.

Finally, a big thank you to maki for putting the playlist together for me.  Hope you all enjoy it…

Richard Hawley – the overSpill…

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Richard Hawley first came to my attention when his 2005 album Coles Corner started getting rave reviews, culminating in its nomination for the 2006 Mercury Music Prize.  A friend recommended that I give it a listen and I was instantly hooked.  I’ve loved the three albums produced since then and I’ve gone back and introduced myself to the three earlier releases.

If you’ve been concentrating you’ll know that I’m a great admirer of the melodic pop tune as exemplified by such popular musical combos as Prefab Sprout, Belle & Sebastian, Death Cab For Cutie, The Go-Betweens and many more.  But what usually appeals to me is the way that the songwriters in question manage the trick of making what is actually a highly complex composition, sound musically simple.  Richard Hawley goes one step further: his compositions really are assimple as they seem to be.

So there must be something else that makes his songs so special and it’s that mysterious ‘Ingredient X’ that I want, with the help of the Spill Massive, to attempt to identify.  What is it that appeals to you?  What qualities make Richard Hawley, with no fewer than six lifetime Festive Spill nominations, our official number one artist of all time?

All-in-all, we have a fine body of work to consider: seven studio albums plus numerous live recordings and collaborations with acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Elbow and Lisa-Marie Presley!  And those us of a certain vintage might also want to delve into the output of Hawley’s Britpop also-rans, The Longpigs.

So, here’s the plan.  I’d like those of you who are already converts to Sheffield’s finest croon-rocker to nominate a track or two from the oeuvre to represent all that is great and wonderful about the man and his music.  I will then put together the ultimate Richard Hawley overSpill playlist and post it sometime after Christmas for the edification of the class.  How could that not be a Good Thing?

I’ll start the ball rolling by putting forward the following for your consideration…

Grace Under Pressure – an Elbow Retrospective

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The Little Band That Could; swirling, giddying, disorienting, romantic majesty; near made me cry; great; a teensy bit overrated; a national treasure; turning into Henry VIII; too many songs that rely on suspended fourths; big hooky hooks; Manchester’s Bury’s finest; better than black pudding! 

That’s what YOU said about Elbow!  And now that the Christmas fairy dust has had time to settle, the brussels sprouts are nearly finished up and the trifle is but a distant memory, it’s time to present the final Elbow spillOVER playlist for your edutainment.

I asked for your suggestions and I got more than enough.  As a bonus, there were plenty of instructive comments and some enlightening debate which kept me entertained for much of the day on Christmas Eve.

Trawling the long history of the ‘Spill (well, OK – I shoved the word ‘Elbow’ in the search box) I found sporadic references to Elbow starting as early as July 2008 with a blimpy/snadfrod item, which largely concerned the volume at which The Seldom Seen Kid should best be played, followed soon after by a gem of a shoegazer post requesting our nominations for best album by every artiste ever, which, as far as Elbow were concerned generated one vote for Cast Of Thousands and one for The Seldom Seen Kid.

Then, on 9 September 2008, DarceysDad posted his celebration of Elbow’s Mercury Prize victory – a post which is well worth a revisit:
http://thespillblog.co.uk/2008/09/09/e-is-for-elbow-and-for-eeebahgum-theyve-dunnit/

On 4 January 2009 came the announcement that Seldom Seen Kid had won the far more significant 2008 ‘Spill Album of the Year award and this was followed by snadfrod’s effusive review of Elbow’s 2009 gig at the Bridgwater Hall, Manchester accompanied by the Hallé Orchestra:
http://thespillblog.co.uk/2009/07/09/hallbow/

What I was really searching for (and didn’t find) was a post which I’m sure I haven’t imagined from an unknown ‘Spiller suggesting that Elbow might be the Band That All Spillers Like Or At Least No One In These Parts Actively Dislikes.  Whether Elbow represent this much sought after Eldorado (or should I say Elbow-dorado?) [No. Ed.] (‘Spilldorado?) [Still, no. Ed.] or not, it was perhaps significant that there wasn’t a serious buke to be heard – perhaps (in time-honoured ‘Spill fashion) Those About To Buke kept their collective heads below the parapet.  My hope is that they will now take the time to listen to this playlist and perhaps (like everyone’s favourite Deadhead) re-examine their Elbow-related feelings.  Of course, this list may have the opposite effect and convince Chris and others who hoped to be converted that Elbow are not for them after all.

A few notes on my selection. I decided to allow each ‘Spiller just one nomination.  I wanted to include one collaboration and one cover and after much deliberation I went for Murder of Birds with Jesca Hoop and Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel) to represent these two categories.  I loved the Elbow version of Independent Woman (which I hadn’t heard before – thanks shoey!) but didn’t feel that it was quite in keeping with the mood of the rest of the selection.  I also wanted to reflect one regularly-mentioned feature of Elbow – namely, their remarkable live performances: I have therefore included a couple of these in the list at the expense of the studio versions.

I think it’s fair to say that Elbow have long been on the ‘Spill radar and an overview such as this is arguably well over due.  I thank everyone for their contributions, hope that the final list meets their expectations (which of course are ‘great’) and, with a promise to spend more time on the ‘Spill in 2012, wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

(Thanks to maki for making the playlist work and to tfd for offering to do the same.)

Track listing:

From: Asleep In The Back
01. Powder Blue – fredflinstone
02. Newborn (live in Amsterdam) – garethim
03. Scattered Black And Whites – DarceysDad

From: Cast of Thousands
04. Fugitive Motel (live on Jools Holland) – exodus
05. Grace Under Pressure – barbryn

From: Leaders of the Free World
06. Station Approach – saneshane
07. Forget Myself – blimpy
08. The Everthere – shoegazer
09. Great Expectations – ToffeeBoy

10. Murder Of Birds (Jesca Hoop) – barbryn

From: The Seldom Seen Kid
11. An Audience With The Pope – tincanman
12. The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver (live at the Mercury Prize awards) – glasshalfempty

13. Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel) – alimunday
 
From: Build A Rocket Boys
14. The Birds – ShivSidecar
15. Lippy Kids – bishbosh

Elbow – the spillOVER!

This is almost certainly the wrong time to be doing this.  I’m sure most of us are otherwise engaged with pre-festive period activities such as shopping, cooking, visiting aged relatives or getting slaughtered at the office party and thus ensuring that the New Year’s resolution has a ‘never again’ theme to it.

But I’ve chosen to ignore all that as this is about the only free time I have all year and if I don’t do it now, I probably never will. 

Here’s the idea, as promulgated by saneshane, of this parish…

Everyone who wants to play puts forward a track by Elbow, by way of a YouTube clip or a Spotify link or whatever means you have for sharing such things with the ‘Spill class.  I then, as Spillmaster, select the best ten (or 15 or 20?) to put together the ultimate Elbow playlist for the edification of those who wish to learn the finer points of Manchester’s Bury’s finest!

There are five albums to choose from plus numerous singles with interesting B-sides and a handful of pre-major label EPs.  Any live recordings?  Obscure collaborations?  Let’s make this the Elbow compilation to die for!

I’ll start the ball rolling by throwing out my current favourite taken from their breakthrough album, The Seldom Seen Kid. 

Listening to new music – the long way round

This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. How do we listen to new music? And by ‘new music’ what I mean is ‘music that is new to you, the listener’.

The digital age has almost certainly changed the way that we approach this. The concept of an album is now very different to what it was in my two most active record buying periods – 1975-1987 with vinyl LPs and 1987-2000 with CDs. In fact, the impression I get from the young people in my life (i.e. the two LittleMissToffees) is that the very idea of an album is now somewhat blurred. In ‘my days’ it simply wasn’t possible to own an album track without owning the album from which it came – I suppose you could tape it from a friend but it would be odd to do so without copying the whole album.

Anyway, that’s just a side issue. What I really want to explore here is how, in whatever format we listen to music, we approach something new to us. I have to confess that I find it difficult. It’s not often that a song, never mind a whole album, grabs me instantly on the first listen. And on the rare occassion that it does, I have the underlying concern that a song which is too easy on the ear, isn’t going to stand the test of time. One instance of this that springs to mind with me is The Thrills’ One Horse Town. I fell in love with this song the very first time I heard it but now I can barely listen to it.

For me, a really good song, has to have musical nuances and complexities – within a conventional ‘pop’ structure’, of course! And it’s these nuances and complexities which usually prevent me from ‘getting’ a song, straightaway. One of the things I find most difficult about RR and the ‘Spill is that I genuinely don’t enjoy listening to music that I’m not familiar with. I know!!!

It might take five, ten, twenty or even more listens until I feel comfortable with a song and it isn’t until then that I feel I can pass judgement on whether it’s a song that I love, like, don’t mind or dislike.

So when I’m presented with a new album, I struggle. Nowadays, I very rarely listen to music, other than on my iPod. I have my iPod on as I’m going to sleep and I have it on at breakfast and in the evening in the dining room. I generally choose music which the other members of the Toffee clan will enjoy but I can’t deny that I take every opportunity possible to indoctrinate the little ‘uns (OK, they’re 19 and 16 now!) into the joys of what I consider to be ‘good music’.

Thankfully, iTunes has come to my rescue and provided me with a method of gradually getting to know a ‘new’ album. I create a playlist consisting of similar music (preferably previous albums by the same artist) and slip the new tracks in to the mix. And it works! After a number of listens to the playlist, I usually have the confidence to listen to the album ‘naked’ and to enjoy it on its own merits. The standout tracks standout and the others are at least familiar to me.

Another side issue. I often find that I enjoy an album best, a year or so after I’ve gone through this process. This is true of two albums which I bought some considerable time ago: Prefab Sprout’s Let’s Change The World With Music (released September 2009) and Badly Drawn Boy’s Born In The UK (October 2006). It may seem like a long way round (see what I did there?) but I’m just about to listen to the latter on its own from start to finish for the first time ever. Wish me luck …

Challenge 31b – aka The ‘Spill Weekly Song Challenge – Week 8

Well what with one thing and another, I very nearly forgot that I had made a commitment to do this bloggy thing.

Apologies if the spiel is a bit rushed but I’m sure we all know how it works by now so I’ll get straight to it.

What I want from all you good folk out there in ‘Spill Land is:

A Song By Someone You Know

I’ll get the ball rolling with this little ditty by an ex-football buddy of mine:

I’ll allow you to come up with your own ideas for what constitutes ‘knowing’ someone – be as creative as you like – but of course what we all really want to know is, how do you know the person in question? Did you go to school with them? Did you date them (is that what we call it nowadays?)? Do you still know them? Do they have a restraining order out on you? Dish the dirt and, of course, ‘Spill the beans …

Gil Scott Heron – RIP

I woke up this morning to the sad news that Gil Scott Heron had died yesterday.

I was first introduced to his music by a friend whose dad was a big jazz fan and I was instantly captivated by the wonderful mixture (dare I say fusion?) of jazz, soul, rap, poetry and even – yes! – pop in his work. His warmth, humour, passion and sincerity shone out from everything he did. It’s a huge shame that we will hear no more from the great man.

His live double album Tales of Gil Scott Heron is never too far from my iPod’s play list and I think I’ll spend most of today listening to it. Here a few highlights from Gil Scott Heron’s long and varied career.




I hope you all know the most surprising piece of Gil Scott Heron trivia: his father played for Celtic.

Gene genius …

Well, perhaps genius is going a tad too far … but, nonetheless, fans of 80s Britpop contenders, Gene, will be excited to hear that erstwhile lead singer, Martin Rossiter, is recording and touring again, as a solo artist.

I’ll be one of the thosuands of fans witnessing Martin’s return to the stage at The Bloomsbury Theatre in London on Thursday, 5 May. I’m genuinely excited and even more so having heard a sneak preview of a couple of new tracks, including this beautiful piece which I heard for the first time, just a few minutes ago.

I have to admit to having a personal connection here – I used to play football with Martin back in the day, and as a result of a piece of trickery when up against me about 20 years ago, the disgustingly talented old bastard is responsible for my dodgy back. He was running towards me with the ball, droppped his shoulder and went past me with ease – half of my body went one way, the other half went the other way, and SNAP – my lower lumbar region has never been the same since …

Of course, I’m having my usual problems sorting out the supposedly simple task of embeding a video so we’ll have to make do with a link until someone intelligent comes along …

Seems to be working now.

Good things come to those who wait …

Q. What do Dean Friedman and sonofwebcore have in common?
A. They’ve both played with Half Man Half Biscuit!

Regular RReaders will know of my strange, some might say misguided, affection for the whiny singer/songwriter from the 1970s (that’s Dean, not webbie by the way) and my attempts to convince the rest of the world of his virtues (or at least the rest of the woRRld) have so far fallen on comparatively deaf ears (one B-lister in three and a bit years of trying is scant reward for the effort I’ve put in).

I’m on a Dean Friedman mailing list run by Dean himself (he’s that kind of person) which keeps his fans up to date with gigs, new releases and other Friedman related trivia. A recent despatch from him warmed the cockles of my heart and I thought the good people of ‘Spill City might enjoy the story.

Many years ago (in 1981 to be precise) Dean recorded his third album, Rumpled Romeo. His previous two had won him a fair degree of commercial success. He’d had a number of hits – Ariel, Woman Of Mine, Lucky Stars and Lydia to name a few – particularly in the UK where he’d developed a significant following.

So he had high hopes of his third album. Personally, I think it’s his best – it features his usual mix of light-hearted love songs (some with a fairly strong comedy element) and several songs with a more serious, sometimes much darker air.

One of the standout tracks is a pure pop gem called McDonald’s Girl. It’s a simple teenage love song about the young narrator’s love for the girl “in the polyester uniform”. It was the first single from the album and I’m pretty sure it would have been another big hit. Unfortunately, our friends at the BBC scuppered Dean’s plans for world domination. It was banned by the Beeb simply because it mentioned the name of a certain fast food chain.

The upshot of this was that the single flopped and ultimately Dean was dropped by his record label – it was to be seventeen years before he recorded his fourth album.

But it doesn’t end there because the song seems almost to have a life of its own. The Barenaked Ladies recorded a live version of it which became a hit on a Toronto radio station and helped to launch their own career. Then The Blenders released a version which went to number one in Norway!

Over the years a number of other bands have recorded versions and the song’s become a bit of a You Tube phenomenon with student bands at the forefront of the McDonald’s Girl movement!

Now, the story’s taken a whole new twist as McDonald’s themselves have adopted the song using a version with vocals provided by The Blenders.

And here’s Dean himself performing the song live.

I just hope that Dean is benefitting from the use of his wonderful composition. Altogether now:

I’d like an order of fries
A quarter pounder with cheese
I love the light in your eyes
Will you go out with me please?

You might also enjoy:

Disclaimer: This blogger neither supports nor condones the activities or the products of McDonald’s Corporation. So there.

Jojo-a-gogo

This post needs no introduction. This clip, however, gets one from the late, great Ivor Cutler …

And now for the music. I’ve followed maki’s instructions on posting music on the ‘spill to the well-crafted letter and if this doesn’t work, I may as well give up!

Cover yourself – in glory?

One of my favourite albums of the last few years is God Help The Girl – the album (and much more) from Stuart Murdoch’s side project of the same name. God Help The Girl

I particularly like the re-working of the track Funny Little Frog which originally appeared on Belle & Sebastian‘s The Life Pursuit and here gets a funky face lift, turning it into a sort of soulful torch song.

I always find it interesting when an artist takes another bash at an old favourite of theirs – and I don’t mean a remix or an acoustic version – I mean a whole new take on a song. Same lyrics, same chords but with an entirely different feel to it.

Diana – Prefab Sprout

Version one appeared as an extra track on the double-pack 7″ single of When Love Breaks Down. About five years later, a much slower and more downbeat version turned up on the Protest Songs album.

Diana
Diana

Felicity – Orange Juice/James Kirk

This early live favourite from the floppy-fringed, Glasgow art-school pospters first saw the light of recorded day in February 1980 when a live version appeared on a flexi disc given away with a fanzine. A slightly more polished version turned up on the band’s debut album, the seminal You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever in 1982.

Orange Juice are thought by many to be synoymous with Edwyn Collins – and of course Edwyn was always at the forefront of what made Orange Juice great but it would be wrong to underestimate James Kirk’s contribution to the band: a contribution which included penning Felicity.

Many years after Orange Juice‘s demise, James Kirk embarked on a solo career, the highlight of which was the 2003 album You Can Make It If You Boogie. And the album included a reworking of Felicity - a less-frenetic, more thoughtful version, I think you’ll agree.

Pop trivia: when The Wedding Present recorded their own version of Felicity, David Gedge introduced it with the words “this is a William Shatner song” – a reference to the songwriter, James (not T) Kirk.

Felicity
Felicity

You’re The One For Me – Jonathan Richman

In 1990, Jonathan Richman recorded a whole album of Country songs under the title Jonathan Goes Country. Alongside some Country & Western classics, he reworked a number of his own songs, including You’re The One For Me, a semi-autobiographical song which had originally appeared on the 1983 album, Jonathan Sings.

Both versions are fab …

You’re The One For Me
You’re The One For Me

Funny Little Frog – Belle & Sebastian/God Help The Girl

The inspiration behind this post. I had known the original B&S version for years before hearing the more soulful version which features on the God Help The Girl album.

Funny Little Frog
Funny Little Frog

And here they all are in one handy clickable thingy:

So there you have it. I've chosen four examples from my own collection which (I hope) illustrate what I'm wittering on about, but I know you've all got your own favourite reworkings …

Mad, Bad & Dangerous

I’ve never been one to hold musicianship in particularly high regard – I mean, not as a primary reason for liking a piece of music. What I mean is, I’m not drawn to music by the musical proficiency of a particular artist – I can admire it, in much the same way that I might look at a new brick wall and admire the craftsmanship, but that’s not what attracts me to the music in the first place and it’s not something that I usually spend a lot of time thinking about. Personally, I feel that musicians can sometimes get in the way of a really good song but that’s probably just me.

And when we had the question a few weeks back about our dream band the names I chose (with the possible exception of Johnny Marr) weren’t people who are in any way renowned for their musical virtuosity. They merely represented bands that I liked and I felt that they might have some sort of collective synergy (if such a thing can be said to exist).

The point of all this apparently mindless rambling (not to say, work avoidance) is that a friend of mine has just written (and had published) a book all about drummers and it got me thinking about the whole issue of musicianship and why it doesn’t grip me in the way that it clearly grips most ‘music fans’. I know that lots of ‘Spillers feel very differently about this so tell me – am I missing something?

The Shameless Plug

I haven’t read my friend’s book yet so I can’t give it an unreserved ‘go-out-and-buy-it-immediately’ type of recommendation but from a brief skim through it seems to be a damn fine read – particularly if you’re of the same sort of vintage as me (i.e. a child of the late 60s/early 70s).

Anyway, the author’s name is Spike Webb and I’ve known him since the aforementioned early 70s. Here’s an Amazon link to the book itself:

Mad, Bad & Dangerous

Available, as they say, in all good book shops, now …

Finally, here’s a fairly random Cozy Powell video.

PS. Apologies to tincanman for not taking part in the Drummers thread from a few days ago – for what it’s worth I would have supported maki’s – oops – magicman’s Steve Gadd shout.

Don’t Wop

The Flamngos

The Flamingos

Welcome to the latest in an occasional series, popularly known by the jaunty title ‘Spillers Post Music That You Wouldn’t Really Expect Them To Post, Knowing Their Musical Tastes Just A Bit, As You Do‘ – or words to that effect.

This time around it’s the turn of … well, I was just about to use a term which I suspect I really shouldn’t use. I understand from certain inhabitants of these parts that it’s a term which wasn’t used until many years after the music to which I’m referring, was popular.

So I’m going to bestow up on it the catchy sobriquet “Fifties Vocal-Based Rhythm & Blues Music”, largely because I can.

I realise that I am getting dangerously close to RockingMitch/RollinDanny territory here – by the way, what is it with those guys? Are they brothers or something? I suspect it’s only a matter of time until their sisters HipSwinginHatty and FingerClickinFreda jitterbug their way into town – and, as with the other similar posts I’ve done in the past (featuring Hip-Hop and Jazz) the experts in the field may well feel that my selection is too populist for their liking.

And if that’s the case, then so be it. All I know is that this sort of music has given me many, many hours of pleasure over the years and that several of the tracks in this playlist would stand a good chance of making it into my Desert Island list.

I noticed while putting this selection together that I have a large amount of this sort of music on those one foot diameter vinyl thingies up in my attic. So I was limited to the few recordings I have on CD – which might just have added to the whole populist bent. Anyway, this is my offering – let me know what you think.

Oh What A Nite – The Dells
Blues In The Letter – The Flamingos
Maybe – The Chantels
There Is Something On Your Mind – The Hollywood Flames
Please Send Me Someone To Love – The Moonglows
For All We Know – The Orioles
Stay In My Corner – The Dells
Daddy\'s Home – Shep & The Limelites
Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight – The Spaniels
Just Walking In The Rain – The Prisonaires

There you go. I got all the way to the end of the post without mentioning the words Doo Wop.

Doh!

And here (thanks to makinavaja) is the whole playlist in one handy clicky thing …

Goodison Bound

The Toffee Family is on its way up to Edinburgh next week and we’ll be stopping off in Liverpool to take in the momentous Everton v Everton (Chile) match at Goodison Park on Wednesday evening (4 August).

I’m meeting two of Merseyside’s greatest luminaries (sonofwebcore and tincanman) for a glass of ginger beer on Wednesday afternoon. If anyone else fancies joining us you’re more than welcome.

Album Of The Moment – The Bhundu Boys – Shabini

Well isn’t that just typical?  You wait six months for a ToffeeBoy post and then two come along right next to each other …

So here we have it, by popular demand, this week’s Album Of The Moment (however long that moment in time may be)  is The Bhundu Boys classic 1986 release, Shabini.  And I’ve thrown in a live recording of Hupenyu Hwangu for your audio-visual pleasure.

Baba Munini Francis

Hupenyu Hwangu

Pachedu

Zvichatinesta

Kuroja Chete

Hatisitose

Manhenga

Shabini

Dai Ndakaziva

Wenhamo Haaneti

Let’s hope the links work. If I’ve done it wrong (or if someone can tell me a better way to do it) please let me know.

And, as if by magic (well thanks to the wonderful, one and only, makinavaja) here’s a properly coded version of the same. I don’t pretend to understand how it works – I suspect there’s some sort of witchcraft involved …

Oh Captain, My Captain

We’ve been over on WordPress for many months now so it may come as a surprise to some of you that this is my first post since we moved into the new place.

It was my choice for the Toffee Family Sunday evening film this week and I chose the wonderful Dead Poets Society – a film that I haven’t seen for over twenty years.  I was very impressed by how well it’s dated (yes, I know it’s a period film) and the two (not-so) Little Miss Toffees were suitably impressed and inspired.

Now, my previous choice was Steve Martin’s The Jerk – and I was hugely disappointed to find that it hadn’t dated well at all.  The girls laughed dutifully at the correct points but I could tell that they were finding it hard going.

So, the question to all you ‘Spillers is what good and bad experiences have you had when revisiting favourite old films?

PS. Now that I’ve mastered (I hope) a basic post the Bhundu Boys Album Of The Moment can’t be too far away.

PPS. Wow – it worked!

ToffeeBoy In Da Hood


I’m sure you all remember the jazz post I did last year and that you’ve all bookmarked the page so that you can refer back to it as and when you need to.

No?

Well, nevermind. Here I give you the second episode of this occassional series which revels in the excitingly snappy title Regular ‘Spillers Post Music That You Wouldn’t Really Expect From Them, Knowing Their Musical Tastes A Bit As You Do*.

This time, I’m posting a few of my favourite rap/hip-hop … errr … favourites. I’m sure they’re all painfully mainstream for all the homeboys (and girls) who love this sort of stuff but what the hey. And for those who are unconvinced of the merits of rap/hip-hop (and if these are actually two different animals then I apologise) this could provide an easy way in. Or not. Who knows? Or, indeed, cares?

Say No Go
Fight The Power
Mr Wendal
Ms Jackson
Can I Kick It?
I Wish
Gravel Pit
Jump Around
Lose Yourself
Television, The Drug Of The Nation

* We came up with lots of ideas for similar themes last time out – none of which have materialised. Pull thy fingers out, please.

It may be winter outside …

Just got home from my last day at work – ever! Well, at that work, anyway. So it’s time to sit back and relax and enjoy the festive season with a huge weight lifted from my shoulders and a spring in my step. Or at least there would be a spring if wasn’t for this stupid cold that I’ve had for over three weeks (featuring, a cough which has lasted for a fortnight and has gone down to my chest and every time I cough, my whole body aches from head to toe). Bless …

Anyhoo,I know we’ve all got loads to do and lots of music to listen to already (courtesy of the extraordinary festive ‘spill lists) but if you need a bit of inner warmth in your life, this playlist may just be the answer. I’ve been listening to nothing but Christmas music on my journeys to and from work over the past few days and this is just a small sample of the stuff I’ve particularly enjoyed. It’s full of cheese (of course) but it’s the sort of strong aromatic cheese that goes so well with a glass of red wine drunk in front of a roaring open fire – or, better still, some port. Or in my case ginger beer. Or in fact, since I don’t eat cheese …

This also allows me to wish every darned wonderful one of you a stress-free, fun-filled festive season. Enjoy every moment – I know I will.

Are You Coming Over For Christmas?
Driving Home For Christmas
Winter Wonderland
Stop The Cavalry
What Child Is This Anyway?
Süsser Die Glocken Nie Klingen
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It’s Spring)

The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy – #12 Dean Friedman

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friends I’ll say it clear
I’ve stated my case of which I was occasionally certain
I’ve lived a year that’s full (foolish?)
I’ve travelled each and every (pop-related) highway
And more, much more than this, I think you’ll all agree, I did it my way

Exactly eleven months ago today (on 20 January 2009 to be precise) I embarked on a task (or rather a series of tasks) the stated aim of which was to “to convince those of you who need convincing … that pop music needn’t be clichéd, sickly sweet, overly simplistic, or anodyne”. Whether I’ve done so or not is difficult to say. The first few tasks certainly inspired some fascinating debate on the subject of what exactly pop music is. I don’t think we ever reached consensus on this matter but the lively discussions helped me to focus on the task(s) in hand by giving me a better understanding of what people think they mean when they talk about pop music.

An unlooked for benefit in posting these monthly instalments has been to allow me to rationalise what it is that I personally find attractive in music. It may not necessarily be a good thing to analyse these matters too much but I think I can now say categorically that, for me, good music should have as many as possible of the following attributes/qualities:

1. A pleasing melody
2. A tune that sounds simple but isn’t
3. Intelligent lyrics
4. An element of light and shade
5. A sense of sincerity

There may be more and some of them may be at best difficult to define and at worst, highly subjective, but for me those are the important ones and I can look at each of the acts that I’ve included in this herculean effort and without fear of contradiction state that each one of them ticks all of those boxes.

I have deliberately chosen acts which had generally speaking failed to trouble the Marconium so the list is hardly representative of my broader taste in music. I didn’t consider bands such as 10,000 Maniacs, The Go-Betweens, Belle & Sebastian, Cocteau Twins, etc. etc. – all of which would appear on the list of my all time favourite bands – of all time – because they’re all well represented on the A-List. Something I was trying to get to the bottom of was, why were the acts I had in mind being ignored. Was there a perceived lack of coolness? Did they not fit the typical Guardian reader’s image of grown up music? Or were they simply not as well known? I really didn’t know, and to be honest, I’m none the wiser now. It’s a mystery to me, why certain groups or artists with an extensive body of work – groups who consistently produce songs with intelligent, thoughtful lyrics about real people, living real lives – should have failed to achieve even one A-Lister while Metallica (for example) have three RR hits. Go figure …

Let’s have a reminder of the acts I’ve chosen for your consideration – the figures in brackets represent the number of A-Lists achieved pre-task:

1 – Microdisney (0)
2 – Everything But The Girl (2)
3 – Coldplay (1)
4 – Steely Dan (2)
5 – Aztec Camera (0)
6 – Ben Folds (1)
7 – Crowded House (0)
8 – The Blue Nile (1)
9 – Prefab Sprout (1)
10 – Shack/The Pale Fountains (0)
11 – James Taylor (0)

Everything But The Girl and Steely Dan have each added one to their totals since I posted their particular task (and I would say that I’m not claiming any responsibility for these additions but of course the EBTG A-List was from my own nomination a couple of weeks ago so I have had an impact but not as a result of the tasks). However you look at it, a collective total of 10 A-Lists from those acts is simply not good enough.

All of this brings us very neatly on to the latest task in hand [Eventually! Ed.]. I’m not sure when I first considered Dean Friedman as the subject of the final Task of ToffeeBoy (almost certainly on one of the frequent occasions when I’d posted a Dean Friedman nomination on RR only to see it greeted by the inevitable dondless silence) but I think it would be fair to say that I’ve left the toughest task till last. At least that’s what I thought until two weeks ago, when our current guru Mr MacInnes pulled the rug from under my feet by including my (very lighthearted and ever so slightly tangenital) nomination of The Deli Song (Corned Beef On Wry!) in his B-List for the Meat topic. Which rather undermined the point I was planning to make: namely, that Dean Friedman was almost certainly a lost cause as far as RR was concerned – maybe there is hope after all.

Despite this slight hiccup, I stand by my assertion that Dean Friedman is a tough task. Six albums in 33 years is almost Blue Nilean in its paucity so for a start there’s not a huge amount to choose from. Most of you will know one or more of his hits (Ariel, Woman Of Mine, Lucky Stars and Lydia) and although I think there’s much to admire in these four songs, they’re by no means representative of Dean at the top of his game. Each of the albums (with the notable exception of the ‘adult comedy’ album Squirrels In The Attic which to be honest is best avoided) also contains a number of songs of rare beauty and depth, suggesting to me at least that there’s an immensely talented songwriter struggling to get out. But what makes my task so hard is that there’s another side to Dean Friedman – the man who was capable of writing the painfully (almost disturbingly) moving Song For My Mother and Shopping Bag Ladies has also perpetrated some intensely annoying novelty songs on his adoring public (the track Special Effects on his third album is frankly unlistenable). There’s an unfortunate lack of quality control going on here.

On the surface, Dean Friedman doesn’t have a lot going for him. He’s not going to win any beauty contests and, I’m sorry mate, but your voice is at times a little too whiny (even to a fan like me). But when he gets it right, I really do believe that he’s up there with the very best in the business. Real songs about real people living real lives with sincerity oozing out of every pore. Most of the songs sound like they’re based on real incidents in his life (The Letter must surely be – I sincerely hope that Song For My Mother isn’t) and you get the impression that he genuinely enjoys the process of making music and sharing it with his fans. Anyway, that’s enough from me – listen to the music and judge for yourselves. Oh, and if you buy only one Dean Friedman album, let it be the eponymous debut.

The music
Ariel
The Letter
Song For My Mother
Rocking Chair
Shopping Bag Ladies
The Deli Song (Corned Beef On Wry!)
Are You Ready Yet?
The Lakelands
No One Knows
Don’t Mourn, Don’t Cry
The Wind Blows
One Autumn Afternoon
Fuck Buddies

The links
Official website
Wikipedia – checkout the Half Man Half Biscuit story!

ToffeeBoy Goes Jazz!


I’ve been listening to quite a lot of jazz recently and as I’m feeling utterly uninspired by the carnivorous theme set for us this week, I felt that a little diversion might be in order. So here is, what I hope will be the first in a long-running series, which I’m calling, Regular ‘Spillers Post Music That You Wouldn’t Really Expect From Them, Knowing Their Musical Tastes A Bit As You Do*. Catchy, ain’t it?

So, I will share with you just a small sample of the sort of jazz I like to listen to – I’d be interested to hear what others think – particularly non-jazz fans (although of course I want to know what you think too).

Two artists I particularly like are Dexter Gordon (who will be known to most) and Sahib Shihab who probably won’t. The latter was introduced to me (no, not personally) by a friends’ father who used to play drums in a jazz three-piece. I’ve included two tracks by each of these artists, not including my friends’ dad but definitely including Dexter Gordon‘s Cheese Cake which is probably my all-time favourite jazz piece of all time. There’s also one on the list, the discovery of which I owe entirely to Herr ‘Hachi. So here goes nothing:

Another Samba – The Sahib Shihab Quintet
Soy Califa – Dexter Gordon
The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan
So What – Miles Davis
Diamonds & Pearls – Marcin Wasilewski Trio
Look For The Silver Lining – Chet Baker
Moanin’ – Art Blakey
Who’ll Buy My Dream – The Sahib Shihab Quintet
Cheese Cake – Dexter Gordon

* Future posts will include:
DarceysDad presents: It’s A Rave!
CaroleBristol’s An Hour With Coldplay
treefrogdemon and ejaydee’s collaborative playlist Death Metal: A New Perspective
RockingMitch introduces: The Beatles – Fuck Yeah!
Maki Does Disco
Sampling with Zag
DaddyPig presents: The Spandex Years
Over-dramatic Pop Ballads (Like Wot They Do On X-Factor) With Special Emphasis On Those Containing A Key Change: An Hour (Or More If You Really Insist) In The Company of Chris
magicman welcomes you to the Battle of the Century – The Killers v U2 v Bartok
tincanman’s Guide To The Peruvian Nose Flute

So what would you be least likely to post? I’ll add them to the list – but bear in mind that you may have to do them …

The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy #11 – James Taylor

At last, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel – however, as our good friends Half Man Half Biscuit were good enough to warn us, said light could well be that of an oncoming train! Anyhoo, the pointless task which I set myself at the beginning of 2009 is now nearly complete, this being the penultimate one.

Back in January I drew up a list of possible contenders to share with the class which I then almost immediately lost and couldn’t quite bring myself to recreate. All I know for sure is that the current taskee was on that list. Over the very nearly two years since I first posted in these parts I’ve almost come to terms with the idea that my taste in music (which I had always thought of as mainstream) doesn’t quite fit into the RR mindset. I did quite well under Maddy’s tenure but with the other gurus (Dorian included) it’s all gone very quiet. I’m currently stalled on 5 A-Listers with only one of those appearing in 2009! So it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to me when I note that one of my favourite artists has so far drawn a blank in RR-land – Martin Stephenson, The High Llamas, Dean Friedman, Microdisney, Gene and Crowded House for instance are all currently languishing in the null points section – but I have to say that I was shocked (shocked, d’ye hear?) to discover that the subject of this month’s task has failed to trouble the RR scorers.

According to the Mighty Marconium Koko Taylor’s made it once and R Dean of that ilk has two hits to his name – but their younger brother James? Nada. Nichts. Rien. Not a sniff. Now, I’m prepared to accept that the other artistes named above are (largely) best described as peripheral as far as the history of popular music is concerned but surely no one can deny that JT is a significant artist? This year sees the 40th anniversary of the release of his eponymously-titled debut album. Since then he’s released another 15 studio albums, ten of which have reached the US top ten, and ten of which have gone platinum (no I don’t really know what that means either). There have also been countless EPs, singles and ‘Best Of’ compilations – all of which add up to a considerable body of work.

The list of artists that James Taylor has collaborated with over the years reads like a who’s who of British & American popular music. Here’s a small sample of the names: Michael & Randy Brecker, Neil Young, Valerie Carter, David Crosby, Steve Gadd, Art Garfunkel, George Harrison, Don Henley, Carole King, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Carly Simon, Joe Walsh and Stevie Wonder.

But none of this really matters; my point is that, as a song writer, if nothing else, JT is right up there with the very best of them. I love his plaintive voice, his lyrics are honest and often self-referential and to top it all he’s an exceptionally accomplished guitarist – but above all, it’s about the melodies. I’m less fond of his rockier numbers – he really should stick to the more folk-tinged acoustic sound – but at his best, he is undoubtedly one of the best around. So why has he never made it to the A-List? F*cked if I know. Doesn’t make any sense at all to me …

The last few tasks have met with generally favourable comments – with this one I fear that I may once more have to face up to the dreaded accusations of … M.O.R! So anticipating such comments let me just say this: No. You’re wrong! Look beyond the (admittedly) relatively easy-on-the ear music and you will find depth and beauty. These are the songs of a troubled man and his hurts and his pain can, at times, clearly be felt – but they’re also the songs of a very funny and entertaining man. I’ve never seen him live but I’ve seen plenty of concert footage and believe me, it’s good stuff.

OK: confession time. Of the 15 albums released by James Taylor, I only have six – and five of them are from the 70s. Hmmm… Hardly representative then, I hear you say. Well … you’ll just have to take it as you find it. Of course if any of you have any other JT recordings that you’d like to share …

If you buy one James Taylor album it should probably be Sweet Baby James – personally I prefer In The Pocket but SBJ is arguably a more ‘important’ album. There are also some very good ‘Best Of’ collections to choose from.

The Music
Something In The Way She Moves
Carolina In My Mind
Country Road
Fire And Rain
Riding On A Railroad
Mud Slide Slim
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
One Man Parade
Walking Man
Mexico
I Was A Fool To Care
A Junkie’s Lament
Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream
On The Fourth Of July
September Grass

Bonus track to get us all in the mood for the upcoming festivities:
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Links
Wikipedia
Official website
Unofficial website