Sunday, July 30, 2017

Magazines of my time Part 2: The 1970s … Shoot! and Tiger

I must have been about nine years old when I signed up for my first magazine subscription. It was 1973, or perhaps 1974, a standing order for Shoot! magazine, a British football weekly. Once a week, I’d race down to collect the magazine from the local newsagent at the Awapuni shopping centre, which was a five minute bike ride from my home in the sprawling metropolis of Palmerston North … four minutes, if traffic was kind.

It was all very exciting. I came to love the smell of newsprint, there was a cardboard folder behind the counter with my actual name on it, and I think the cost of the magazine was around 35 cents local currency, which was about half my usual weekly “pocket money” (or allowance). Although the ship freighted magazines arrived some three months after publication in the UK, I’d pore over each new issue as though it contained all the hidden secrets of the universe.

It might as well have. Football was more or less my whole world at that age. My Lanarkshire-born immigrant father played it at a high local level, representing Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, and the NZ Combined Services team (he was in the police) at various times throughout the 1960s and 1970s. I trained most evenings myself, and my weekends were consumed by round ball activity – Saturday mornings for the school or (later) club teams, Saturday afternoons watching Dad's games, which often involved travelling to different North Island towns, and by 1976, my Sundays were taken over by my own representative/Manawatu age group team commitments.
If I was really lucky I'd manage to catch the LWT-produced Big Match on television once a week. The main drawback being that this hour-long highlights package of games from the English top flight of a week earlier, had an often inconvenient Sunday lunch broadcast slot. This was, of course, in the days prior to the VCR, or the scarcely imaginable option of saving a TV programme to something called a hard drive.

As for local newspapers covering British football ... forget it. The Wellington-based broadsheet, the Evening Post, offered weekly league tables, printed on a Monday, but any coverage in Palmy's Evening Standard was a rarity, and very much a bonus if it happened at all. So in this tiny isolated rugby-obsessed corner of the globe, Shoot! magazine was a godsend, my weekly bible, and my only way of keeping up with all the news on the global game. It was an escape into another, hugely exciting, world.

Once a year, in late July or early August, at the start of every new football season, Shoot! had a removable cardboard league ladder feature, where each division in England and Scotland had its own set of slots, and each team had its own tab which could then be inserted, removed, and reinserted on a weekly basis as the teams jockeyed for position, up and down the various tables as the season progressed. Not having regular access to the Evening Post, I’d try to keep my own tables up to date by listening to the early Sunday morning reading of the British football results on national radio (from games played overnight), calculating the weekend tables accordingly. But it was usually a forlorn task, as those pesky midweek games often went unreported, and in truth, I probably wasn’t as good at maths as I thought I was.
Shoot! also had a "star-studded" line-up of feature writers (or at least, ghost writers representing them) – the likes of Alan Ball, Gerry Francis, and Kevin Keegan being the most memorable from that mid-1970s period in terms of the English game. But as a fan of Glasgow Celtic, I had a special relationship with the game north of the border, and I was always drawn to what the “tartan talk” columnists had to say – the likes of Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish were, as Celtic players of the era, particular favourites at the time.

Other features in Shoot! included ‘Football Funnies’, which included a short comic strip called Nobby, ‘Ask The Expert’, which offered £1 for every letter published, and ‘You Are The Ref’, where the reader is presented with a rule book conundrum to resolve, and a chance to play the role of the “bastard in the black”.

I especially enjoyed the ‘Club Spotlight’ sections, usually two per issue, which included a team photo of the featured club(s) and short player bios. And the ‘Focus On’ section was always good read, where one top player was asked a series of questions from the professional to the personal, but in a very digestible/snapshot format.

I was supposed to be saving up for a “racing bike” (to get me to the shops faster, right?), but usually, if I had any spare money leftover, I’d more than likely spend it on a comic called Tiger. Tiger was also a football-centric UK-based comic, the original home for the famous Roy of the Rovers strip, prior to Roy Race and his Melchester Rovers club becoming popular enough to demand an entire comic of their very own.
Alongside Roy of the Rovers, Tiger had strips like Billy’s Boots and Hot Shot Hamish, along with a Motor Racing/Formula One strip called Skid Solo, and a wrestling one featuring a giant American Indian dude called Johnny Cougar. Tiger merged with a rival comic called Scorcher, before disappearing completely in the wake of Roy Race’s rebranding.

I occasionally flirted with a more highbrow monthly, the illustrious World Soccer (magazine), which I sourced from second-hand bookshops. Or I found myself the lucky recipient of used copies that Dad had somehow found for me. It’s funny, because although Dad often frowned upon me spending so much time reading about football when I “should be outside practicing”, he did tend to support and feed my obsession.

World Soccer was a much more challenging read however, with a lot more emphasis placed on the international game, and Shoot! was my main poison of choice throughout the mid-to-late Seventies.

It was all rather fascinating stuff for a pre-teen come pre-pubescent teenager living on the other side of the world to where all the action was (clearly!) taking place, but things were about to change, and by 1978 or 1979, I started to develop a healthy (or unhealthy) interest in music and pop culture, one that stays with me to this very day.

The origins of this newly discovered horizon, or soon-to-be obsession, can perhaps be traced back to an older sister, who also had a couple of magazine subscriptions of the same era – I’m fairly certain her sub was for a girl’s mag called Diana, or it may have been Jackie magazine. Each of those publications had pull-out posters, of (then) teen idols like David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, through to more serious artists like David Bowie and um, Gary Glitter … but I’ll cover some of this off in the next post as we journey into a far less innocent time and place …

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Magazines of my time Part 1: Introduction

My name’s Michael, and I’m a recovering collect-aholic. For much of my life, I’ve been obsessed with collecting music, books, and magazines.

In recent years, while music and books still remain very much at the forefront of this personal form of OCD, I’ve been relieved of the need to collect magazines. But for a while, peaking perhaps in the late 1980s, magazines were the most important thing of all. Mostly magazines of the music and pop culture variety, but also magazines relating to sport – football, cricket, boxing (specifically The Ring) … even the odd bloodstock glossy relating to the thoroughbred industry (Blood Horse rules ok!).

The recent demise of NZ Musician magazine – in its printed/magazine format – was at least understandable, but also a little disturbing for someone with my affliction, and it got me thinking about all of the great magazines that have come and gone throughout my lifetime. There’s been a few.
So I’ve decided to dedicate a series of blogposts to the genre, a handful of posts about the magazines, incorporating music “papers” and the odd comic, that have been important to me across the past four decades or so. Little bursts of nostalgia, with some context and detail around why each publication meant something to me.

Thanks to the way we now consume news, information, and infotainment, magazines will never again have the influence, or carry the gravitas they once bore. These days, there is less need – or desire – for tangible copy. Everything is available in an instant, on a hand-held device, no less. All the news and information we’ll ever need can now be accessed within a few seconds, and be discarded just as quickly. And that’s fine too.

When I was growing up, during the 1970s and 1980s, it was inconceivable that such an option could ever exist, that technology could open up so many possibilities, and I’m certainly not about to dismiss that level of accessibility in any “oooh, it were way better in my day, lad” kind of way.
But I do feel a little sad for my children, in that they’ll never experience the thrill of a weekly magazine subscription. Not for them, the rush of excitement as they walk into the newsagent and spot the new issue of something they’ve been looking forward to, sitting up there on the rack, in pristine condition, in all of its colourful glory. It’s quite probable they’ll never really understand the catharsis that can come with sitting down to casually flick through the latest issue of a magazine they’ve been forced to wait a few weeks for.

One of the goals behind everythingsgonegreen is document some of this stuff from the past, purely for posterity, or else it’ll be allowed to fall between the cracks. When my children can post online, for all of the world to see, from now until eternity, what they’re about to eat for dinner, then surely it’s up to my generation to record some of the pre-internet tidbits relevant to our own otherwise undocumented grassroots existence … and clearly, my former OCD-level need to collect, has now been surpassed by my self-indulgent need to document the trivial. If it’s not recorded, or written about, it surely didn’t happen, right?

I’ll break the series up into several parts … part 2 covering the 1970s, part 3 will look at the first half of the 1980s, part 4 will tick off the second half of that glorious decade, part 5 will look at the 1990s and beyond, leading into the slow steady demise of the printed glossy in the ever less functional world of everythingsgonegreen …

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Album Review: Ebola Babies - Ebola Babies (2017)

I wrote the following album review for the NZ Musician website, but I very much doubt it will ever see the light of day. Listening to the album was a complete waste of my time. I only wrote the review out of obligation because I’d been sent a CD and given a deadline. But I completely understand if the website chooses not to use it. I don’t think the band concerned is worthy of any coverage whatsoever – good or bad – on that particular platform (this blog is far less widely read, however, so it makes no odds). A couple of things first though – I’m generally not a fan of writing negative reviews. I’m never comfortable criticising someone’s “art” … I tend to post reviews on everythingsgonegreen only because I want to share the good stuff in my world as a music consumer. That’s the driver. The second thing is that I’ve seen Ebola Babies described as a “fun” band, but the truth is there is nothing at all “fun” about their music, or its bigoted/sexist/misogynist themes. Quite the opposite. Punk rock is supposed to be clever, and this certainly isn’t that. The third thing is that Ebola Babies is a fantastic name for punk rock band in 2017, what a shame it’s wasted on these guys.

Review below:

The thing about punk rock is that, for the most part, it sets out to make a point. Be it social, political, or even something of a slightly more philosophical or experimental bent. That's been my experience, regardless of the variable levels of musical aptitude offered alongside the requisite attitude. And while the Ebola Babies probably think they're punk rock - I can't think of any other excuse for their borderline musical ability - they offer none of the genre's aforementioned redeeming features. These guys don't even have the wherewithal to pass any notional humour test. If you think that's harsh, I ask you to consider these lyrics: "Show us yer knickers, do you want it hard, do you want it rough" (on 'Red Light District') ... "I didn't mean to sleep with this girl, I didn't mean to suck her tit, I didn't mean to lick her clit"  ... repeat etc (on 'Tequila'). A puerile collection of tales about drug deals, caravan life, vampire sex, and gimp men. With a gravel voiced guy whose vocabulary rarely extends beyond variations on the F-word, screaming at us over a series of sludge rock dirges. And those lyrics are just tasters. A small sample of the depths plumbed in order to sate the band's apparent need to try to shock us. I don't know what sort of "music" fan is likely to want this self-titled debut, but it's not likely to be anyone you know. Well, hopefully not anyone you know. When all is said and done, this album is crammed full of horrible, no filter, pre-pubescent misogynist crud trying to pass itself off as something worth listening to. Don't waste your time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Corvus Frugilegus

I’ve known Brendan Conlon on and off for close to 35 years. Through a shared passion for music. When I first met him he was playing Killing Joke covers in a Palmerston North pub. When I last saw him, he was playing Cure covers in a Wellington pub. And for all the years in between he’s been doing a whole lot of original stuff under a variety of names (Remarkables, Urchins, Burt Real, and Black Wings, for starters). This week Brendan has released an album of intimate/personal acoustic tunes on Bandcamp. It’s well worth a listen:

(Incidentally, Corvus Frugilegus is the scientific name for the Rook, with the artwork on this release created by Wellington artist Izzy Joy).

... and you can explore some of his work with Black Wings here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Album Review: Fazerdaze - Morningside (2017)

Iggy Pop loves it, the NME raved about it, even the notoriously hard to please rock snobs over at Pitchfork gave it the big thumbs up. So you probably don’t need me to tell you how good the Fazerdaze full-length debut is. But I’m going to do that anyway …

Before I do, however, I should say that Morningside has been the source of some confusion for me. Mainly because when I saw Fazerdaze live and up close earlier this year, the set was played by a four-piece band. Yet, from all accounts amid the hype and hoopla surrounding the album’s release, and there’s been a lot of that, I keep reading that the album, with the exception of the odd bit of help here and there, was written, recorded, and produced in its entirety by Amelia Murray.

Which is quite something else altogether, and it really does mark Murray’s card as an exceptional talent. The whole thing is immaculately produced, pristine pop music, from start to finish. And yes, hindsight is wonderful, I now fully appreciate that it’s impossible for Murray to front these tunes in a live environment without a little helping hand. But for all intents, Fazerdaze is Murray’s project.
When an album is still in its post-release infancy – which Morningside surely is – there are a couple of key pointers which can help establish whether or not the work is going to stand the test of time.
The first is when you realise that the advance single releases – in this case ‘Little Uneasy’ and ‘Lucky Girl’ – aren’t actually any better than the rest of the material on offer. It means the quality control filter was set high enough, and it makes for a nice even no-skip listening experience.
The second key indicator is when it sounds better and better with each and every subsequent listen. Where you pick up little things, sounds that weren’t obvious before, when you hear something new every time you play it, and the album is able to bed into the subconscious with little or no effort at all.
Morningside ticks both of these boxes.

So what does it actually sound like?

Without wanting to single out specific tracks (see above), it might just about be the most highly polished thing ever released on Flying Nun. To date, at least. The attention to detail is next level, with ten tight crisp melodic power pop earworms all vying for the honour of being labelled the best thing on the album. Most of it is at the dreamy hazy shoegaze(y) end of the indie pop spectrum, but there’s also some darker fuzzy DIY moments to keep it sufficiently earthy.

But don’t take my word for it, or that of Iggy, just grab a copy and judge for yourself.

Check the clip below - 'Little Uneasy' ...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Untouchable, and Remarkable ...

I’ve been listening to the album, The Very Best of The Topp Twins, because the CD was just sitting there, in my partner’s car, begging to be played, as a viable alternative to yet more scratchy and scarcely palatable talkback radio. And naturally enough, after giving the Topp Twins a whirl, I now feel the need to share a few thoughts about this remarkable sister act.

Firstly, I’m a bit of a fan, and I've managed to catch the Topp Twins performing live twice so far in 2017. The first time was a mid-summer outdoor event, with the twins co-headlining January's Wairarapa Country Music Festival, alongside the hugely underrated present day King of Aotearoa Country, Glen Moffatt. The second gig was a more recent set they performed at Southward's Theatre in Paraparaumu back in May, as part of the duo's Heading For The Hills tour. On both occasions the set was a mix of comedy and music – with characters like Ken and Ken, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, and multiple others, sharing the limelight with the twins in their most organic guise, as authentic country music artists.
And on each occasion it struck me how genuinely diverse the audience in attendance was – from youngsters to the blue rinse brigade, from rural people to city slickers, and from traditional hetero couples all the way across the spectrum to those within LGBTQ communities. Despite their own highly unique starting point, it seems that Jools and Lynda Topp speak the language of the common everyday person. The language of laughs and song, something distinctly Kiwiana, yet also something that’s universal enough to transcend generation, gender, and genre.

Such is their current day status as much loved New Zealand entertainment icons, it’s probably quite easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. Or particularly easy for them. During the early to mid-Eighties, when the Huntly-born sisters first emerged on the live music scene with their unique brand of local country-flavoured music, it’s fair to say they were viewed with some degree of suspicion by more conservative elements within New Zealand society, not least within the rural communities they’ve come to represent.
Denim-clad, mullet-loving, openly Lesbian, twin sisters, intent on agitating and shaking up the status quo, as keen environmental activists who also challenged mainstream stereotypical (and backward) views on gender and equality, the Topp Twins had a lot of barriers to breakthrough in order to be heard, let alone get some kind of message across. With many of those barriers being of the more invisible and unspoken of variety. Stuff that our aforementioned “everyday person” rarely thought of, back in those less enlightened times.
I think we’ve come a long way (as a society), and while I’m tempted to say that the Topp Twins have also come a long way, they’ve earned their acclaim without changing a thing. Without compromise. It’s usually the artist or performer who has to tailor their position, their act, or performance in order to achieve crossover success, and I don’t think the Topps have done that in any way whatsoever. They’ve held their ground and waited for the rest of us to catch up. And that’s a rare and remarkable thing.

As for that CD, the “very best of” album, I can’t recommend it enough – no comedy, just music, guitar, yodelling, harmonies, and an hour or so of homegrown goodness … from their seminal ‘Untouchable Girls’ through ‘Tomboy’, ‘Nga Iwi E’, ‘Shepherd’s Farewell’, all the way to the near standard ‘Honky Tonk Angel’ … even if their music draws a lot of inspiration from that most American of forms, country and western, collectively these tunes represent something close the perfect encapsulation of what it means to be this thing called “Kiwi”.