Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Play the record - just play the record

I found an old Stooges CD this weekend – stuffed in a draw – it was Funhouse. All that energy tucked inside a draw. Is this how my children will discover sounds – in draws on scratched CDs or mini-discs piled up in boxes shoved at the back of a cupboard? Or the record boxes in the garage – or on USBs - or even on soundcloud as we remix the oldies and throw them up for the youth.

Actually don’t get me wrong I think Soundcloud is wonderful – there are talents and possibilities now. It’s not looking for a drummer amongst four friends or having someone in your band who has a perm and thinks that’s alright – it is a remix – reload and re-present in the most open way. You don’t form bands down your street you run rings around the world.

I chance upon sounds these days. I don’t actively search. I read about them but I never go and search them out like I used to. I guess I’m not as immersed [bothered] in the same way – don’t have the time to be honest.

I look at all that vinyl taking up space in my house [and my life] and wonder – like the books on the shelves will I ever get round to listening to or reading it again? And then I think how will they discover it – not through shops and racks but downloads and apps. They will look at the covers and type in the tunes.

Never listening to the full album as it stands – as it is presented.

There was a time when you would wait for a record’s release – a journey in and a journey out of town – not knowing whether they had it or not. And then purchased and placed in plastic and carried round town – if there were other visits to make –to the market, the library or possibly Fosters for a new t-shirt. And then later in the small shop fronts with different postcodes shopping uptown in Ladbroke Grove or centrally in Covent Garden. New releases and racks upon racks of records.

The act of playing a record - of watching it revolve is both comforting and pricked with anticipation. Have your heroes lived up to your expectations? I was going to write a line about pop stars never being my heroes and then I remembered the long list of names and styles I have followed and appropriated over the years. I am currently devoting much time and energy to the mid 1970s Brian went to bed look. There are hundreds of these moments to mine – I think getting The Queen is Dead by The Smiths was a big un – all gatefold sleeve and grandiosity. From the opening chants to take me back to dear old blighty to the closing guitar refrain from Marr as we discovered that some girls were bigger than others - this was a successful purchase from Record Village and would not be returned.

There’s a scene in Control – the film about Ian Curtis – in fact it’s the opening scene after the bit about all hope and ending an that – that’s a bit depressing innit? There’s Ian walking through the concrete jungle of Macclesfield – all flares and purpose. A record tucked tight under his arm. Aladdin Sane by Bowie sound tracking the colour in this dreary landscape. But that was it – the impact of the 12inch piece of plastic. As Curtis takes his drag on cigarette laid on his bed as Bowie plays in his room – it’s clear he’s thinking. And all those grooves can make you think. Perhaps music doesn’t much these days – for me. It might for you. That scene, it taps into the power of the record – right there. I’ve said it before and I will continue to write it down. Immersing yourself in sound should be through conscious choice not passive and futile in its approach.

Turn the fucking radio off.

But I was reading about the Kaiser Chiefs all future technologies and that – you know come down our shop and pick a few tunes – you take the effort to make the album because we can’t be bothered. We can’t make decisions like you. So choose your top ten songs from the twenty or so on offer and we’ll throw in a cover so you can recognise it on the ipod.

And then the listening experience becomes removed from everybody else. Because Frankly Mr Shankly will not end and I know it’s Over begin. Because I put it in a different order – I bought different songs to you - in fact my The Queen is Dead opens with Panic.

So it will be odd to witness the ways they listen – because when I was growing up the world wouldn’t listen – well not to our tunes – our selections. The Clouds didn’t get a TOTP performance – nor BMX Bandits. But I was meant to be discussing the ways in which the whole experience of listening is caught up in the grooves of the vinyl – the breaks in between before the sound surges and wraps itself around the room. For every pulsating hit record comes the filler - side two of Parklife anybody? So what if you don’t return to it or you lift the needle and pass it by – you know it’s there. That song you didn’t quite like – but you might find it again – you might stumble on it and suddenly there’s a whole open road ahead – it happened with The Beach Boys for me. I had purchased a straightforward sounds of the sixties Beach Boys compilation, by its very nature it should have been the hits anyway – all killer – no filler. Yet once played it sounded weak, light and conservative. I wasn’t dazzled by the production, the harmony – none of it. Then a chance suggestion and a purchase of the Pet Sounds led to discovery and returning and retuning my ears to listen again – listen with brother.

And I’m not certain that those non single tunes will ever be listened to in the ways they were meant to be. Sometimes you have to make the effort to break on through to the other side. I once met a man – the owner of Glendevon Enterprises – on Broadway in Ashby. A place that has resisted change so much that even its shoppers rock a seventies look. Glendevon Enterprises is no more. He must have sold up, taken the Alsatian out the cot and dropped all the rot in a skip. It was a tantalising, illicit sort of place – all books and fag ends, electrics and magazines deep in the back – on a rack. Paul and I would go there and sell stuff – to make up the coppers for the records we wanted – selling this and that for £8 or a fiver. He ripped us off – it was daunting in there. But he liked his tunes and he told us – with a serious look on his face and no twinkle in his eye that he was saving the second side of Dark Side of the Moon for when he was truly depressed – because he marvelled at the majesty of the A-side and knew the B-side could bring him down from the ledge. Paul and I thought he was a daft fucker for missing out – you know - what if he died without listening to it. But there lies the power of all the songs on a long player.

The bands put them on for a reason.

They at least made the effort – so I think it’s worth a listen.

Not something to be skipped over because it wasn’t a hit. So getting back to that Stooges CD – Funhouse. I hope that at some point when Constance is digging through the crates and she comes across it – she doesn’t just skim over it. Rather she has a listen in full. Gives it a go. Like we had to and not resort to typing the stooges into a itunes and picking the hits.

Saying that did the Stooges really have any hits?

I’m not saying that there isn’t a whole heap of filler on the slabs of plastic in my house. But I do think I’ve given them a fair chance. That’s all I’m saying – give them a chance.

Here’s to the songs that follow the singles.

Loose The Stooges – coming after the single Down on the Street. It’s the second song on Funhouse.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Sounds from the overground - solitary rants from the listening man No.2

I have been using ‘garageband’ to recreate Stereolab tunes.

I made three new CDs for the car – they all jump.

I want to own the Housemartins albums in a digital format as I can’t remember where they are in the house.

I saw the animosity and boredom on Alex Turner’s face as the crowd sang ‘Mardy Bum’ and he couldn’t be arsed to dwell on all that old romance.

I uploaded various tunes – including ‘Slip inside this House’ by The 13th Floor Elavators.

I had a cup of tea in my Jonny mug.

I watched some of the Wu-Tang Clan’s set on i-player

I listened to Esmerelda’s Kite Vampire Girl.

I am still waiting to give the Oliver soundtrack to my daughter

I grabbed a handful of records and brough them downstairs

I looked at a photograph of my friend’s night out in Brighton with the Rhinestoned Immaculates

I wanted to get my hair cut

We played the pink vinyl 7inch of Candyfloss

I listened to the first Pink Floyd LP and got down to Interstellar Overdrive

We danced to the Machine Soul Funk Vol 1 EP on Rotters Golf Club

Friday, 8 July 2011

and we all stand together

Standing at the front of the stage – after allowing a Japanese woman to move into the space at the side of me and slightly in front of me ,so she could get a better view of Norman Blake – I found myself revelling in the joy of the ‘live experience’. And of course this meant I had a secured a Jonny ticket this time – as I said - I had gotten round to it a lot earlier than before. Not that this changes the way I felt way back then when I didn’t get a Jonny ticket.

Nonetheless – the guitars were set up – Euros with stickers of travels made – Norman’s simply signed by Daniel Johnston. A micro Korg, a Casio MT100 – possibly – and then a drum kit and Fender Mustang bass. Simple rock set up for a simple rock set. And as the other 40 some things started to feel the anticipation of the evening – the impending [non] stardom of the event – we all simply got down to it.

Not judging just jumping.

A glance at the set list – opening with Bread - already I had explained its love in this house to Euros as I overpaid for a mug in light of the fact I had not paid anything for my download of Pantiago at the National Elf Library – hands up for those who make Bread. We sing it often. We sing a great deal I have realised and although I find the moans come easily – my children have taken to asking who wrote the songs we play in the car and the house – and now could happily make a compilation tape – or should that be ipod playlist - featuring The Small Faces, the Beatles, Euros Childs, The Move , The Troggs and of course Jonny.

I would have loved to have taken my daughter to this gig. But in time she will find her way and hopefully it will be beyond the tastes of her father. She might even find Beefheart entertaining – because I haven’t as of yet – but it’s not over – give it time. I remember we got A Love Supreme on cassette by Coltrane – we could get into the first minutes but then it was like heavy – heavy load stuff. But over time I can dig it. I’m hep like that.

But there’s a humour in all of this that is lost by lots of other performers. I had witnessed the shitness – not the fitness - of the Glastonbury circuit as performers reached out to make a connection. You want to make a connection – play smaller gigs. See the whites of their eyes and stop pretending that this is your moment – your perfect moment. Perhaps it’s the music you make that allows for that connection – or perhaps it’s because you don’t take yourself so seriously. As I have to – all stiff suited and polished and booted as I walk the walk and often forget the talk. I experienced that another gig I managed to tear myself out the house for – a new band, a hip hop troupe called Inkrument. All humour but talent – putting on a show and not making one – as I am want to do on many occasions. I’ll write about INKRUMENT at another time when I’m feeling the hip hop bop – but they are a remarkable band.

They do hip hop better than most. They should be listened to more.

But back to this standing (and delivering) I’ve written about the mob – the throng, the feeling that you’re right at the heart of the action. And a few weeks ago I was wading through the past – and came across a whole heap of concert tickets. Those entrances to good times. It was odd to be back at the Borderline – I’d been there several times before but forgotten how intimate the whole thing is – I remember when Rob had graduated from the racket of The Williams and Scunthorpe tension to Adorable and sonic pretension and me and McGee watching the show and then moving on to The Gardening Club for a dose of the old plinky plonk via taxis and laughs. Or when Frank Black had taken the stage and left us all reeling with his command and craft. A truly awesome show guys – really like awesome.

Going to something live stays under the skin. And those tickets are the last hopes of tapping into the memories of the night. All the understated moments – I once fell in love over a weekend as me and a friend waltzed through the Wedding Present, Ian McCulloch and The Jesus and Mary Chain and ended up walking the distance home holding hands and smiling. It may have been ‘Lover, lover, lover’ by Mac that did it – all northern scowl and (this) charm (ing man). But you know what I mean the incessant rush of adrenalin as the song you wanted kicks in – I remember telling Paul before we watched the Smile concerts in London that it wouldn’t matter if Smile didn’t quite come off as long as Wilson played Time to get Alone.

They opened with it. It blew my mind.

I’m not certain where all of this is going – it started with me waiting for Jonny to come on in a small room in London and has reawakened the dormant gig goer in me. I know I’m forty now and perhaps I shouldn’t be hanging around in dark rooms waiting for young things to come and wow me – but Norman Blake is easily my age – a touch older to precise and it felt right. From the first concert to this there’s always been a thrill in seeing people make music.

Saying that the first concert I ever saw was Wham – on the Club Fantastic tour in 1983. Edinburgh Playhouse on the 11th October – packed with screaming scots and two northern brothers, DJ Gary Crawley warming up the house as they waved cheap silk scarves in the air and chanted George and Andrew in wild abandon. I have to admit I was caught up in the thrill of it too. It felt like my own introduction to Beatlemania – it was a frenzy man – a real frenzy. Emma’s brother has worked lots of these gigs over time – the boyszones and the westlifes – he says the front rows are full of piss afterwards.

I did not piss at the front of the Borderline stage.

Despite my excitement. But I did want to scream.

So here’s to Wham for starting it all off.