Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 3 … The Green & White Brigade - The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic (1968)

Taking the blog out of its comfort zone to explore something a little bit different this time. An album that taps into my love of football and my love of Celtic FC way more than it does my love of music. An album handed down to me by my Dad, much like my love of football and Celtic FC. A rarely played but very precious gem within my collection.


Some background: In 1967, Scottish football ruled the roost. That year, Celtic FC became the first British club to win the European Cup - yesterday’s equivalent of today’s Champions League - and it did so with an all Scottish playing eleven, with every player being born within a short driving distance of the club’s home ground in Glasgow. A month or so earlier, the Scottish national team had beaten the then World Champion English national side at Wembley to claim the British Home Championship, and a week or so after Celtic’s Cup triumph over Italian giants Inter Milan in Lisbon, the club’s bitter rival, Glasgow Rangers FC, narrowly lost the second tier ECWC Final against crack German outfit Bayern Munich. These were halcyon days for Scottish football. Never to be repeated, although Celtic would make another European Cup Final in 1970, and semi-finals in 1972 and 1974. 

Released in to commemorate Celtic’s phenomenal 1967 success, The Green & White Brigade’s The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic is essentially a collection of the terrace songs and accordion-led Irish rebel tunes so beloved by the club’s supporters ... many of whom identify strongly with Ireland; although based in Scotland, the club and its forefathers had - and still have - strong links with the Emerald Isle … it’s complicated, and deeper explanation of that scenario would require more than just a separate blogpost, it would require a whole book. 

Musically, it’s an acquired taste, obviously. I have no idea who The Green and White Brigade are, other than the fact that they clearly have great taste in football teams. The singing isn’t anything to write home about, but if you like Irish “folk songs” with um, tribal elements at their core, or if you feel the need for more accordion in your life (who doesn’t, right?), then this may just be an album for you. 

Includes timeless masterpieces such as ‘Hail Hail, The Celts Are Here’, ‘We’re All Off To Dublin’ (in the green, naturally), ‘The Soldier’s Song’, and ‘Sean South of Garryowen’, plus of course a couple of obligatory medleys. Just sing along in private, and make sure you don’t get arrested. 

In these days of mass marketing of football, where all manner of paraphernalia is available - replica kits, books, CDs, posters, club magazines, unofficial fanzines - it’s perhaps easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this, and an album like The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic would have been a relative rarity 50 years ago when it was released. A forerunner of things to come. For me, the music is hardly important, but purely as a keepsake, passed down from father to son, it means the world. 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Album Review: Kool Aid - Family Portrait EP (2019)

If you type the name “Brian Tamaki” into Google, you’ll doubtlessly be directed to a plethora of pages relating to the self-appointed pastor/leader – and confirmed xenophobic homophobe – of New Zealand’s own ridiculously cultish Destiny Church. 
Little wonder then, that the band formerly known as Brian Tamaki and The Kool Aid Kids (previously blogged about here) have decided to dump the satirical and more offensive elements of that moniker to now go by the far more palatable and manageable name, Kool Aid. It’ll certainly help to cleanse the murky waters for any newbie searching for information about the Christchurch-based band.


The name may have changed but the band is essentially the same group of musicians and thankfully there’s been only minimal tweaking of the indie-meets-psychedelia modus operandi found on past work. 
The Family Portrait EP is the band’s third release of note; following on from the 2014 album Hot Buttered Blasphemy, and the seriously good 2015 EP, The Enchanted Castle. It amounts to six songs of lo-fi goodness, with three-pronged fuzzy guitar, infectious mellotron, and shared his and hers vocals – from Luke Towart and Violet French – at the core of everything the band offers here. Plus, there’s some trademark humour to be found in a generally strong set of lyrics. 
Although it’s not a Flying Nun release, it’s exactly the sort of sound that particular label specialised in. It may just be a Christchurch thing. And while nothing here, for my money, is quite as instantly catchy as ‘Eating Glue’ (from The Enchanted Castle release), all six tunes offer something different and the EP has no obvious weak moment. In fact, it’s a great listen … grab it below:



Sunday, July 14, 2019

Classic Album Review: The Boo Radleys – C’mon Kids (1996)

For a brief period in the mid-Nineties, Liverpool band The Boo Radleys strode across the indie landscape like a colossus thanks to the success of its critically acclaimed 1993 album Giant Steps. Having emerged from the so-called shoegaze scene via Rough Trade onto the Creation label, pop credibility was theirs following a run of relatively successful singles, most notably ‘Barney (& Me)’, ‘Lazarus’, and ‘Wake Up Boo!’ … and the widespread critical praise for the albums which spawned them.


However, the 1996 release C’mon Kids catches the band three years on, five albums in, and occupying rather uncertain terrain. This is the sound of a band struggling to find their place in the natural order of things. C’mon Kids is supposedly the band’s anti-pop album in so much as main man Martin Carr had a distinct reluctance to embrace all of the bullshit that came with that whole Britpop thing. And for a while his band seemed very much in danger of being lumped in with all of the other faux Sixties prototypes frequenting that particular scene. 

But if you proliferate your album with Gallagher-esque vocals, and add trippy little Sgt-Peppery interludes into the middle of tracks, then you really are just inviting trouble. 

Having said that, this isn’t really anything like any of the instantly accessible polished muck that dominated the charts for much of 1996 either. Combine the aforementioned poppy elements with walls of grinding guitar, copious amounts of feedback, lots of fuzz and distortion, then turn the vocals right down in the mix, and what you end up creating is something far too left of the mainstream to even threaten the charts. 

It all leaves me wondering what exactly the band had hoped to achieve on C’mon Kids. What they end up with is like some kind of psychedelic sludgy Britpop/grunge pick‘n’mix assortment. 

Ultimately though, it’s the layers of buzzsaw guitar that give the album its overall feel, and even beyond their short flirtation with pop stardom, it’s clear that the band’s instinct for shoegaze had survived. 

Maybe that’s its problem? … 

Three years and one album later, The Boo Radleys were no more. 

I picked up C’mon Kids on the (very) cheap but it’s nowhere near as bad as I first thought it might be. That doesn’t mean I’ve worked out what it is supposed to be yet. 

Highlights: most would say the title-track (also the opening track), and/or ‘What’s In The Box’ (a single and the album’s centrepiece), or maybe even ‘Everything Is Sorrow’; but I’d reckon ‘Bullfrog Green’, ‘New Brighton Promenade’, and ‘Ride The Tiger’.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 2 … The Gordons – The Gordons (1981/1988)

An interesting one this. I have a vinyl reissue of the classic 1981 Gordons debut album released in 1988. Not to be confused with The Gordons compilation album also released in 1988 – which included additional material from the band’s Future Shock EP of 1980 – or the second self-titled Gordons album of 1984 (aka Volume 2). This 1988 reissue was released on Flying Nun (FN099) after the first version of the debut was self-released by the Christchurch-based band (GORDON2). Same album, different release, different catalogue number. Clear as mud, then ...


Whatever version of the album you listen to, it’s guaranteed your ears will be ringing. It’s likely your eyes will start watering. And there’s a fair chance paint will start peeling from the walls. Even if you don’t have paint on your walls. It is, put simply, a cacophony of guitar-led noise; seven blistering tracks featuring fuzz, feedback, full tilt grinding guitar, with pulsating and frequently chaotic rhythms underpinning everything. All topped off with punky vocals of varying degrees of clarity and adequacy. Don’t ask me what the songs are about. I probably won’t be able to hear you. And who even knew a three-piece could create this much of a racket? 

There was nothing else quite like this album when it was first unleashed upon an unsuspecting local record-buying public back in 1981. Other than perhaps the band’s three-track EP released a year prior. Sure, there was punk and post-punk, both local stuff and releases from overseas, but this album defied all attempts at labelling, and it somehow managed to create a genre all of its own. It was territory nobody else occupied, although the similarly inspired Skeptics would give things a fair old crack later in the decade. 

The Gordons – Alister Parker, Brent McLachlan, and John Halvorsen – would eventually morph into Bailter Space (aka Bailterspace), a band with a much wider commercial flavour and appeal, even if the trio’s basic modus operandi didn’t really change all that dramatically. 

The album was belatedly but deservedly honoured with the inaugural Taite Music Prize ‘Independent Music NZ Classic Record’ award in 2013. 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Classic Album Review: The Pogues - Peace and Love (1989)

Craig Stephen's been listening to The Pogues ...

***

By 1988 The Pogues had released three excellent albums, each one surpassing the other. 
Regardless, Peace and Love is, for this writer, the finest moment of the London-Irish act’s career. No mean feat it has to be said, but I appreciate that there won’t be a swathe of fans agreeing with me. 
In some ways, it is a peculiar component of the Pogues’ canon, receiving bemused reviews in Britain, although the response was generally better in the United States.
The demo sessions apparently went well, but by the time they got into the studio Shane MacGowan’s acid and alcohol intake had reached peak levels, affecting his voice. Producer Steve Lillywhite, however, used his technical magic to hide its flaws. The theme slanted toward London rather than their spiritual homeland Ireland, a move that did not endear them to everyone.


Regardless of all of this, it’s an album I can play over and over and not become tired of. Peace and Love has a timeless quality; it beguiles and bewitches. It can also be infuriating, but this doesn’t detract from its depth. 
One of two standouts was penned, not by MacGowan, but by veteran folkie Terry Woods. ‘Gartloney Rats’ adjoins ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’ (off Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash) for its numerous references to alcohol, with the tale of a village band that would “never get drunk but stay sober”. It clocks in at 2:32 but feels much longer given its pace and endless lyrics that Woods rattles off sharply. 
Woods and Ron Kavana’s ‘Young Ned of The Hill’ is in the same vein, the speedy winger of the piece, and one with some bite, cursing Oliver Cromwell who “raped our Mother Land” but finding that, in the likes of “gallant men” like Ned Hill, Ireland will always have an iron will. 
MacGowan’s ‘Down All The Days’ is about Christy Brown, “a clown around town”, who types with his toes and sucks snout through his nose. Suitably, the song begins with the clatter of a typewriter. The final verse includes the lines “I’ve never been asked, and I never replied, If I supported the Glasgow Rangers” in reference to the black and white nature of the green and the blue of Scotland’s largest city’s twin towers of football. 
‘Boat Train’ returns to binge drinking as MacGowan’s drunken character brings up most of the booze on the gangway and requires help to get on the boat, before indulging in songs and poker games as he somehow makes his way to London. 
As with If I Should Fall From Grace With God, the album released the year previous, the musical influences hop from one area to another, with the opening instrumental ‘Gridlock’ easing out of jazz central; ‘Cotton Fields’ has a suitably calypso/Louisiana feel; ‘USA’ – again set in the southern States – has a taste of banjo but neither of the latter tracks are what you would consider indigenous music as the Pogues very much put their own stamp all over it. 
And then there’s the tale of lost love in the magnificent ‘Lorelei’, written by Philip Chevron with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals and the mournful ‘Misty Morning, Albert Bridge’ – both of these songs are among the best the band ever did. 
Given the discord that clouded over The Pogues in 1989 it’s remarkable that Peace and Love is as good as it is; but perhaps this bedlam was what the band thrived on. 
It was, in effect, the last hurrah: yes, 1990’s Hell’s Ditch was better than the critics would have us believe, but even then it couldn’t touch any of the four previous albums. And that was effectively it, MacGowan was too fucked up to carry on and the band plodded on, but really it was all over. 
And before you leave take a peek at the cover featuring the brylcreemed Scottish boxer, who never made it out of the bottom of the undercard, and his right hand. 
***
PS: (Intrigued by Craig's closing salvo, I did some research on the story behind the cover photo and found these comments from MacGowan and Chevron – Ed) 
Shane MacGowan: "Nobody seems to know who it is. He obviously wasn't very good cause he didn't get very far (laughs). I like boxin', watchin' it. I don't like doin' it! But anyway somebody, I forget who, found this glass negative of this boxer with no name and we put peace and love on his fists. So he's like sayin' Peace And Love or I'll bust your fuckin' head in.” 
Philip Chevron: “I'm a bit foggy on the details, but I think Simon Ryan, our designer, got the picture from a photo library. The guy turned out to be a Scot, by then elderly, but still alive and apparently not greatly chuffed by his new fame.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 1 ... Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (1980)

A quite wonderful, stripped back, minimalist slice of early 80s indie out of Cardiff, featuring Alison Statton (vox), and the Moxham brothers, Stuart (on guitar and keys) and Philip (on bass). Relatively unique for its time, Colossal Youth was an album without drums, and despite its ethereal atmospheric bedroom/DIY feel, as a debut release, it has stood the test of time rather well. Essentially a collection of songs about bedsit living and life on the fringes of Thatcher’s society-less* Britain. Songs like ‘Searching for Mr. Right’, ‘Music for Evenings’, ‘Wurlitzer Jukebox’, ‘Salad Days’, and ‘Credit in the Straight World’ were all the more compelling for their simplicity and understated beauty. The latter tune was eventually covered by Hole, and Kurt Cobain himself was a notable high-profile fan of the album. Released on Rough Trade, Colossal Youth charted on the official album charts here in New Zealand (reaching number 20), the only country where it achieved such exalted “mainstream” status. Although it also hit number 3 on the UK independent album charts.


Young Marble Giants toured with Cabaret Voltaire during their pomp, and there have been a number of post-millennium reunion gigs without any new recorded material being released. There was a 2007 reissue - released as Colossal Youth and Collected Works - which came with additional work from the era, including Peel Sessions, singles, and the like. Statton later formed the jazz-orientated Weekend, which eventually morphed into the popular Working Week. These days she works as a chiropractor. 

I’m currently in possession of my second vinyl copy of Colossal Youth, and although I remain uncertain of the whereabouts of that first copy, I’d like to think it is in good hands. Hopefully hiding away in a bedsit or student flat somewhere. 

* Margaret Thatcher … ''They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.'' 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Here’s ‘Credit in the Straight World’ … 


Thursday, June 27, 2019

10 Irish Bands Who Didn’t Want To Be U2, The Corrs, Boyzone, Westlife et al

Following on from his comprehensive lists on Scottish post-punk bands who saved the world (they actually did), and Australian bands who didn't stink like a decomposing wallaby (a much shorter list, obviously), Craig Stephen had a date with some Guinness and found a bunch of Irish bands who didn't give a flying feck about fame and fortune ...

***

Yes, Ireland has given the world some of the biggest as well as some of the worst in music over the decades and the headline only scrapes the surface.
Here are some of the bands that didn’t sell four million copies of their ninth album.
Stiff Little Fingers
Originally a Deep Purple covers band, they saw the light when punk arrived, changing their name to that of a Vibrators track. The Fingers now sounded as raw and uncompromising as their Belfast environment with a singer Jake Burns who sounded like his throat was on fire.
The first two singles and the debut album are as good as anything you’ll hear from the era. ‘Suspect Device’ and its killer flip, ‘Wasted Life’, was followed by ‘Alternative Ulster’ and an album Inflammable Material, which was certainly the case. 
However, their rock roots couldn’t entirely leave them: the riff at the start of ‘Suspect Device’ is a direct lift from American rockers Montrose's ‘Space Station #5’ (true, I’ve listened to both) and others have suggested they borrowed from the likes of The Wailers and (other) Irish compatriots.
That matters little, as there’s original sounds popping out all over Inflammable Material and subsequent releases.
Sadly, one of their best moments, ‘Safe As Houses’, from the 1981 album Go For It! has largely been forgotten about.
The Divine Comedy
Neil Hannon's witty songs, with their blend of upbeat poppy tunes and romantic melancholia, have established their own place in Britpop history, peaking in the late 90s when every student in the country seemed to know the words to ‘National Express’.
I’ll remind you of some: “On the National Express there's a jolly hostess/ Selling crisps and tea/ She'll provide you with drinks and theatrical winks/ For a sky-high fee/ Mini-skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle/ Back in '63 (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)/ But it's hard to get by when your arse is the size/ Of a small country.”
Collaborators have come and gone but Hannon’s talent for clever wordplay and grand orchestral arrangements has continued, and he’s just released Office Politics, which is worth buying (on vinyl, naturally) for the cover alone. 


My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine have become one of the most namedropped bands in the world. No one sounds remotely like them. 
They formed in Dublin in 1984 around Kevin Shields and Colm ó Cíosóig, and after burning off their twee indie pretences, were Creation Records’ stars when they headlined above the House of Love and caused ripples with Isn’t Anything (1988), the Glider EP (1990), and Loveless (1991).
Brian Eno claimed the track ‘Soon’ "set a new precedent for pop" and deemed it the vaguest piece of music ever to get into the charts. Can’t argue with that.
A House
The Dubliners went down the traditional route of indie/alternative acts and after a series of singles, EPs, and two albums, signed to Setanta and teamed up with Edwyn Collins. This work produced perhaps their most memorable moment, the single ‘Endless Art’, where the lyrics were almost entirely a list of deceased, talented artists, among them Turner, Warhol, Henry Moore, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Ian Curtis, Sid Vicious and Mickey Mouse.
The list was entirely composed of men, causing the predictable kerfuffle, which resulted in ‘More Endless Art’ where all the talent were women (Emily Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, Woolf, Shelley etc).
The Undertones
Teenage Kicks isn’t even their best song. That honour could belong to ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’, ‘Wednesday Week’, ‘Here Comes the Summer’, or their biggest selling single, ‘My Perfect Cousin’, which celebrated both Subbuteo and the Human League.
Hailing from Derry, the Undertones were Mars Bar-chomping spotty working class teenagers when they kicked off and while they matured over their six years together, culminating in Top of the Pops appearances and several great albums, they always had a daft wee laddie attitude to them.
I must also mention That Petrol Emotion which included the O’Neill brothers but suffice to say that this was the natural progression to more adult subjects (ie, the situation at the time in Ireland), and a meatier sound.
Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey had a No.1 solo hit then retired to be a suit, becoming chief executive of the British Music Rights.
The Sultans of Ping FC
To get a picture of the Sultans (the name mocked a Dire Straits single) here’s a sample of lyrics from ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’ …
“I met a groovy guy, he was arty-farty/ He said, ‘I know a little Latin: anicus anicae’/ Said, ‘I don't know what it means’, he said, ‘Neither do I’/ Eat natural foods, bathe twice daily/ Fill your nostrils up with gravy/ Don't drink tea and don't drink coffee/ Cover your chin in Yorkshire toffee”.
A Cork version of Half Man Half Biscuit with better tunes and songs called ‘Riot at the Sheepdog Trials’, ‘Eamonn Andrews (This Is Your Life)’, ‘Kick Me with Your Leather Boots’, ‘Back in a Tracksuit’, and the album, Casual Sex in the Cineplex. They dropped the “FC”, then dropped “Of Pings” to become just the Sultans (yawn).



The Stars of Heaven
Stars of Heaven played melodic, guitar-based rock which combined elements of country, Britpop and psych. An unusual mix that was influenced by the Byrds, Gram Parsons and the Velvet Underground, but one that worked well, with John Peel frequently playing their songs on his show. They signed to Rough Trade and someone at MTV Europe clearly liked them too. 
I obtained their second album Speak Slowly (1988) in a bargain bin knowing nothing of the band at the time, but it proved to be an essential purchase. They were a band not of its time: the 1980s wasn’t a time to be playing stripped-down, guitar-based rock music so their audience was, sadly, limited.
The Pogues
If you’ve ever listened to the radio over Christmas you’ll be familiar with the following lyrics: “You scumbag, you maggot/ You cheap lousy faggot/ Happy Christmas, your arse/ I pray God it’s our last.”
Suitably, Shane MacGowan’s caustic lyrics were sung by Kirsty MacColl as a woman down on her luck and at the end of her tether.
Putting ‘Fairytale of New York’ aside, The Pogues were one of the illuminating lights of the 1980s, alongside The Smiths, New Order, and Half Man Half Biscuit.
They were part Irish, part Londoners, formed in 1982 as Pogue Mahone (aka “Kiss my arse”) but if you really need me to tell you anything about the band you haven’t been paying attention.


Rudi / The Outcasts
Grouped together because they were both punk bands, performed in the same era, and were on the same label, Terry Hooley’s Good Vibrations.
Rudi predated the Fingers by a good couple of years, but were initially a glam rock act. The arrival of the first Ramones album soon sorted them out.
In April 1978 the quartet released its finest moment, ‘Big Time’, which received promising reviews and quickly sold out.
Things were looking good until the police division the SPG moved in to clear the punks out of Clapham in London where they were now based, arresting both Ronnie Matthews and Graham “Grimmy” Marshall, on driving offences, jailing them for a week before they were ordered to return to Northern Ireland - or face a six-month jail sentence.
They released three more singles before splitting.
The Outcasts’ birth came about around the same time as SLF with three brothers, Greg, Martin, and Colin Cowan, and Colin Getgood.
Debut single ‘You're A Disease’ was followed later in 1978 by the poppier ‘Another Teenage Rebel’.
On a shared EP with fellow local acts, Rudi, Spider, and The Idiots, they contributed ‘The Cops Are Comin'’ about killing a girlfriend and having sex with the corpse. Yep.
They did release an album, Self Conscious Over You on Good Vibrations in 1979 which was more mainstream than the singles.
Fatima Mansions
An art rock group formed in 1988 by Cork singer/keyboardist Cathal Coughlan, taking their name from the infamous flats in Dublin.
The band’s lone foray into the world’s attention was their version (needless to say, a somewhat different take) of Bryan Adams' ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’, which was one half of a double A-side with the Manic Street Preachers' version of ‘Suicide is Painless’.
They opened a European leg of U2's Zoo TV Tour in 1992, and almost started a riot when Coughlan insulted the Pope. In Milan. Released a brilliant single ‘Blues For Ceausescu’ about the dead Romanian dictator.
Honourable mentions: The Frank and Walters, Into Paradise, the Boomtown Rats, Microdisney, The Pale, Schtum, the Virgin Prunes, The Chieftains, Sweeney’s Men, Andy White, the Saw Doctors, The Cranberries and Christy Moore.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Vinyl Files – Introduction

For the blog’s 600th post (yay me, etc) I want to introduce a new “series” focusing on the small but precious set of vinyl records in my collection. I plan to roll out a post per week, over the next few months, looking at ten of the best or most important records within that collection. But first, some context … 

We all consume music in different ways. I’m not much of a fan of Spotify. I don’t have the premium option and therefore don’t “store” albums for future streaming. I only occasionally check into Spotify for one-off album previews and only rarely check out the odd playlist that platform offers. It isn’t that the cost of premium is prohibitive or anything like that, far from it, it’s just that Spotify doesn’t really hold much appeal for me. Other members of my family swear by it.


I’m relatively old-school, and most of my current music collection consists of CDs and mp3s (albums downloaded). My collection in each of these formats is extensive and varied. Some might say its huge and rather excessive. The mp3 option, for all of its flaws – compression, variations in bitrate quality – offers the portability I crave in a way that still allows me to “own” a copy or file of the music I listen to. The CD option appeals because I like to collect “physical” things and stack them on a shelf. 
Having said that, purchasing CDs is a less frequent indulgence these days, and the vast majority of new additions to my music collection in recent years have arrived in the form of album downloads/mp3 files, which are meticulously tagged and filed away with all the pedantry of a particularly speccy and spotty OCD librarian. 
In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, when I first started collecting music, it was a combination of vinyl records and cassette tapes. By 1992, my collection was extensive and – in the wake of CDs becoming the most fashionable form of consumption – largely redundant. Desperate for cash, and determined to embrace the CD format just as soon as I could afford it, I sold virtually everything I’d spent the previous 15 years collecting – vinyl and cassette tapes, the vast majority sold in bulk to a trader on Wellington’s Cuba Street. Sold for peanuts. It broke my heart. 
Well, it did, and it didn’t. It did because they were my life; the only tangible thing(s) I had to show for more than a decade in the workforce. And it didn’t because my life was undergoing major change and I desperately needed the money to fund long-yearned-for overseas travel. And hey, I couldn’t fit that little lot into the one backpack I left the country with, could I?

It just made sense (at the time) and it made even more sense that when I was flush with the green stuff, I’d be able to rebuild the collection – replicate it, even – in the form of CDs, which had fast become the mainstream poison of choice. And that's exactly what I eventually did … but I also held on to a number or tapes and records I couldn’t or simply wouldn’t give up. I stored them at my parent’s abode for the duration of my travels. The most precious and sentimental stuff; the first vinyl record my Mum ever bought me (Glen Campbell’s Goodtime Album, 1970). Something passed down to me by my Dad (The Green & White Brigade’s The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic, 1968), and naturally enough, a childhood first love, 1978’s Solid Gold Hits Volume 22. Plus a few others, which I may or may not get to in future posts. 
Among the handful of cassette tapes I couldn’t bear to part with were The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ (1980), and New Order’s ‘Movement’ (1981). Those albums remain firm favourites today, although I tend to listen to each of them in a newer format nowadays. 
Since then – since The Great Purge of 1992/1993 – I’ve purchased very little in the way of vinyl, but I have added a few records here and there, and I’ve “inherited” a few albums to add to that small core set. Last Christmas, when I was gifted a very cute and portable “record player” I had yet another purge because it was clear that some of the vinyl I had was simply unplayable – badly scratched, tatty, and/or filthy – and I figured there wasn’t much point in keeping them or trying to salvage them. Which means my collection today is even smaller (about 40 albums and a handful of singles) but rather more selective. I can play what remains and what remains tends to be those records I value most. That’ll be my focus in this series of blogposts. 
With new vinyl so much more readily available than it has been at any time across the past couple of decades, I also harbour sneaky plans to add to this wing of my wider music collection. But for now, it strikes me that the most unique or more interesting works in my post-purge music collection exist in the vinyl format, so I’ll try to cover off ten of the best in the coming weeks, with a short post about what makes each one so special.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Introducing ... Black Market

Black Market is a US-based dub producer who caught my attention a few years back when he started releasing top notch name-your-price dub downloads on Bandcamp. I say he’s “US-based” because he’s more than a little mysterious and relatively low profile. His Twitter profile suggests he’s working out of Los Angeles, while his Bandcamp page suggests he’s based in that bastion of hardcore dub vibes, Nashville, Tennessee.

Let’s just say he flies well beneath the mainstream radar, and his location is probably not all that important anyway given that he’s easily enough found on the internet. In fact, you can find all of his Bandcamp releases here and his Facebook page here.

What’s most important is the music, with his latest work – Complete Clash – offering five dubby remixes of tunes by The Clash. What I like most about this one is the fact that we get less obvious Clash numbers, and these edits reek of someone who is a genuine fan of the band.

Being honest, I’ve been less impressed with his reworking of the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson, although his Bowie stuff stacks up well enough.

Best of all though are his themed releases on the X-Files, Twin Peaks, Star Trek, and the Twilight Zone, where he cuts up narrative from those shows to create whole new dimensions of his own. Anyway, enough from me, this blurb from his Bandcamp page pretty much covers it:

What would happen if The Beach Boys had The Wailers as their backing band instead of The Wrecking Crew? What if David Bowie spent the summer of 1975 in Kingston, Jamaica with King Tubby instead of Philadelphia? Michael Jackson meets Lee Scratch Perry? These questions are the basic thesis of Black Market. Listen loud, dance, enjoy, and share. I make these albums for free but accept donations at blackmarketdub.bandcamp.com 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Album Review: Blabbermouth - Hörspiel (2019)


Craig Stephen returns with another guest review ...

***  

Blabbermouth – now there’s a band name and a half – are two Englishmen with a long history in diverse and enigmatic acts. Lu Edmonds has appeared in two versions of Public Image Ltd with John Lydon as well as The Mekons and Billy Bragg’s band; Mark Roberts is a former member of The Godfathers and has also played, ahem, with the Bay City Rollers. Thankfully, there’s none of the Tartan boy band poppycock on Hörspiel (which translates as radio drama in German). 

It’s more interesting perhaps to note the guests, including throat singer Albert Kuvezin, Mekons vocalist Sally Timms and “the Blabbermouth Voice-Robot Ensemble”. 

Over nine tracks you will hear singing or audio in Russian, Turkish, Spanish, Japanese and even English as well as French-Canadian and Tuvalan (from an obscure area of Siberia), and the ‘voices’ of Marx, Stalin, Eisenhower and Tony Blair.


It’s an album that I don’t imagine being played on Radio Happy; but it is an album whereby experimentation and challenging notions abound. 

The concept is a world, not too far in the future, where artificial intelligence - AI - and robots have become our new rulers. It’s not a new idea as sci-fi has been toying with the threat, if you like, for decades, but the notion of humans being a helpless minority in a world of advanced, and fearful, technology we have ourselves created, isn’t one that often gets much traction in the music world. 

Appropriately, Edmonds and Roberts use industrial, post-punk, ambient and world music using everything from accordion to Hawaiian guitar. It has a “let’s throw it all in and see what happens” feel about it. 

So, onFacts Don’t Lie’, the duo delve into weapons of mass destruction and the fake-news underbelly via a cut-up of the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s role in the illegal war on Iraq that concludes with the irritating tones of ex-British PM Tony Blair. And ‘Maschine-Fragment’ dissects the supposition that the last freedom in a world of pervasive and invasive AI is art. 

It isn’t by any means an easy listen, with Kuvezin’s throaty modus operandi difficult to adjust to. And yet its pursuit of the notion of a post-human world is intriguing and frightening; the usage of such diverse musical instruments and sub-genres as well as the concept of “guest appearances” from the dead and the living make for a body of work that ensures it will never be afforded the status of a throwaway pop album.  

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Gig Review: Herbie Hancock, MFC, Wellington, 5 June 2019

Maybe I expected too much. Maybe the slow build anticipation of seeing a living legend perform up close had set me up for disappointment. Maybe if I’d been able to stand and sway rather than be forced to endure the rock-hard all-too-compact seating at the Michael Fowler Centre, Herbie Hancock’s set at the opening night of Wellington’s Jazz Festival would have been far more bearable for me. Enjoyable even. 

Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above, but whatever it was, my own enthusiasm for “jazz” had been well and truly diluted by the time I left the venue last Wednesday night. My gig-going companion was far more upbeat about it all, and I’m quite certain the vast majority of the sold out crowd enjoyed the gig a lot more than I did.


The band - Herbie Hancock (piano, keys), James Genus (bass, orgasmic facial expressions), Lionel Loueke (guitar/various vocal FX), and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) - was fantastic, polished, and thoroughly professional throughout the near two-hour set. That wasn’t the issue. No question, these guys are all world class musicians, and it was a privilege to be in their company. 

But I’ve got to be honest; there just wasn’t enough “funk” for me, and the entire set was an excursion into the trippy excesses of what might otherwise be called prog-fusion. I knew enough about Hancock - a spritely 79 years of age - to know that work from 1983’s Future Shock album was always unlikely to feature, but most of his best material has always featured horns/brass and there wasn’t much of that on the night. 

We got variations on ‘Actual Proof’, ‘Chameleon’, and ‘Cantaloupe Island’ (during the encore), and some great Afro-fusion-vocal stuff from Loueke at various points, plus a raft of other work this jazz-pleb struggled to identify, but it was clearly more about an appreciation of the “vibe” for most in attendance, and I was having some difficulty with that. A little bit of variety, and a little more wiggle room might have helped. 

In his review for the Dominion Post, learned scribe Colin Morris, a man who knows a thing or two about this stuff, called it “a contender for concert of the year” ... so what do I know?

Maybe it was just me.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Book Review: Backstage Passes, by Joanna Mathers (2018)

I’m usually quite easily pleased when it comes to books of this nature. Local music stories with a grassroots and historical bent are right up my proverbial alley. I’m always game for some of that. It’s fair to say then, I had high hopes for Joanna Mathers’ Backstage Passes, “the untold story of New Zealand’s live music venues 1960 to 1990” …


Mathers’ background includes journalism work at the NZ Herald, writing business stories and lifestyle columns, so she’s no mere novice, and it therefore came as something of a surprise that Backstage Passes proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. There’s some good, some average, and a little bit of ugly. 

The Good … for the most part, that untold story gets told, and Mathers’ informal pub-chat writing style ensures that the narrative is never boring. We move through the decades effortlessly, chronologically, and all key locations - the four main centres: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin - are covered off in detail. We’re only occasionally transported out to the regions, which is fair enough. All of the most relevant stuff tended to happen in the cities where the population is, or was, large enough to sustain a vibrant live music scene. The book is crammed full of first-hand accounts from those who were there at the time; venue owners, promoters, musicians, and punters alike. And there’s plenty of photos on offer to supplement those words. Mathers clearly dug deep to source anecdotes, quotes, and photos (all black and white). 

Of specific interest to me was coverage of the late 1970s and 1980s, because that’s the era my own earliest gig-going experiences align with. This was the good oil for me, and it was heartening and nostalgic to see boxes ticked for important venues like Mainstreet, the Gluepot, the Windsor, and Zwines in Auckland, the Hillsborough, the Gladstone, and the Dux de Lux in Christchurch, plus the Captain Cook and the Empire Tavern in Dunedin. Near the end, in a section titled “Now”, which takes us beyond the timeframe outlined in the book’s title, Napier’s Cabana is quite rightly acknowledged (if a little belatedly), and the recent closure of popular Auckland venues like Golden Dawn and the King’s Arms is justifiably lamented. 

The Average … the book feels a little front-loaded and we’re nearly halfway through its 190-odd pages before the 1970s come into view. I found the coverage of Wellington in the 1980s (in particular) to be very lightweight and it almost felt like the author was paying mere lip service to the capital. We learn a little bit about key venues like the Last Resort and Bar Bodega, for example, but the iconic Terminus pub only gets a very short paragraph, the Cricketers Arms gets even less than that, and there’s no mention of places like the Electric Ballroom, the Clarendon, or the Clyde Quay, all of which were important venues during the era. 

And how hard would it have been to include an index for reference purposes? 

The Ugly … there are several glaring errors in the book. It really does - rather surprisingly - fall short on a few basics in the area of proofing and editing. Simple things like getting spelling and some names correct. Miramar becomes “Mirimar”, Lambton Quay becomes “Lampton Quay”, Bodega owner Fraser McInnes becomes “Fraser McGuinness”, Dave McArtney is twice referred to as “Dave McCartney”, and there’s a mix up between onetime Wellington mayor Fran Wilde and pioneering punk turned film producer Fran Walsh. Mathers gets Walsh’s name right in a later chapter but only after referring to her band as the “Wallflowers”, when its actual name was the Wallsockets. Meanwhile, a fan account or extract on page 50 is titled ‘Pretty Things in Palmerston North’ yet the content within that account deals only with a Pretty Things gig in New Plymouth, without any further reference to Palmerston North whatsoever. 

These may only be minor flaws, but they were enough to (OCD alert!) undermine my enjoyment of the book. Near the end, I found myself questioning nearly everything. After all, if I could identify a few basic errors regarding the (mostly Wellington-related) stuff I already knew about, then could I really trust the detail around the other stuff I knew very little about? 

A few years back, after my own poorly written but nonetheless popular “scene” piece on Wellington nightclubs in the 1980s was published on AudioCulture, I was contacted privately by a fellow site contributor who offered the sage observation that when you write an overview of something small-town or regional that nobody else has previously written about, your account needs to be as accurate as possible because it more or less becomes the definitive account by default. 

To be fair to Mathers and Backstage Passes, much of this has been written about before, and she makes no claim to have written a definitive account. In fact, in her Final Word, she states … “this book is a tiny snapshot of those days. The stories contained in here do not claim to represent historical fact” …  which may, or may not, be taken as something of a disclaimer. And for me, the point about accuracy still stands, and if this is supposedly the telling of an “untold story”, then why not ensure all of the minor details are absolutely spot on? 

Having said all of that, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that the good here does indeed outweigh the average and the ugly. Thanks mainly to the rich reserves of subject matter and the small fact that we all love a bit of nostalgia. 

So yeah, it’s probably just as well that I’m usually quite easily pleased when it comes to books of this nature, and Backstage Passes gets a pass mark … but only just. 

Published by New Holland Publishing 
ISBN: 9781869664879 

You can buy a copy of Backstage Passes here

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Classic Album Review: Mi-Sex - '79 - '85 (1985)

Mi-Sex were a late Seventies/early Eighties band from New Zealand who spent so much time across the ditch, misguided Australians would eventually try to claim them as one of their own.


Fronted by the late Steve Gilpin, an excellent vocalist, Mi-Sex were hardworking pub rockers who jumped aboard the “new wave” bandwagon to morph into a relatively successful - within a local context - chart singles act. All of the band’s best singles feature on this '79 - '85 compilation. 
An almost perfect blend of power-pop guitar meets synthpop, undermined only by patchy lyrical content, a couple of dodgy latter period tracks, and the fact that cheesy futuristic new wave hasn’t aged especially well. 
A time and place thing, then, and even though you’re more than likely to find this one hiding in a bargain bin, if you can find it at all, it’s definitely the only Mi-Sex album you’ll ever need. 
Highlights: ‘But You Don't Care’, ‘Falling In And Out’, ‘People’, ‘Computer Games’, ‘It Only Hurts When I'm Laughing’, and ‘Space Race’.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Album Review: On-U Sound - Pay It All Back Volume 7 (2019)

I’ve got to be honest: I’m generally such a committed fanboy of just about everything the On-U Sound label releases, I fear I can’t really review this album objectively. I’m concerned that my love for the work of (producer) Adrian Sherwood - across something close to four decades now - will blind me to anything other than its most obvious flaws or shortcomings. But I’ll do my best ... and if I can’t be totally objective, then at the very least I can offer some information about what you can expect from Pay It All Back Volume 7.


The main thing you need to know that it’s the latest release in a long-running series of sampler compilations for the On-U Sound label. It was released in late March, some 23 years after the release of Pay It All Back Volume 6. 

Yet, even after such a lengthy period, many of the same artists who graced the first six volumes - which covered work from the early 80s to the mid 90s - feature again on Volume 7. See, for example, offerings here from label stalwarts like African Head Charge, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Mark Stewart, Little Axe, Doug Wimbish, and Sherwood himself. 

But it’s far from retro-centric; it’s not a nostalgia document. It’s a sampler to showcase new, recent, or forthcoming On-U Sound releases, Sherwood mixes of material not exclusive to the label, and/or previously unreleased stuff that never found a home elsewhere. 

As such we get a genuine hybrid of musical styles (except generic rock and pop) with the one common denominator being that everything here has, to one degree or another, been touched by the hand of Sherwood. That’s the glue that binds. 

Highlights include: the Play-Rub-A-Dub mix of Horace Andy’s classic ‘Mr Bassie’, Neyssatou and Likkle Mai’s version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ (see clip below), Denise Sherwood’s ‘Ghost High’, Congo Natty’s ‘UK All Stars in Dub’, Sherwood & Pinch’s ‘Fake Days’ (featuring LSK), Little Axe’s ‘Deep River’, Ghetto Priest’s ‘Slave State’, plus the Coldcut/Roots Manuva collab, ‘Beat Your Chest’, which closes the album … and of course, there’s the understated magnificence of ‘African Starship’, which is a typically eccentric taster from the now 83-year-old Lee Perry’s 2019 album, Rainford ... climb aboard with “Pilot Perry” if you dare! 

The aforementioned flaws and shortcomings are few. Only a couple of tracks (of 18) leave me feeling a little cold, but I guess that’s the nature of sampler compilations. And, in my experience, so far as On-U Sound compilations are concerned, those tracks are just as likely the ones I’ll be listening to most this time next year. 

My own purchase was a rare foray back into the world of the compact disc - my OCD preventing me from deviating from the format I collected the first six volumes in. The supplementary booklet not only offers a plethora of information about the tracks included on the album, it also provides a comprehensive year-by-year guide to the label’s entire back catalogue.



Sunday, May 19, 2019

Film Review: The Chills - The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillipps

Craig Stephen watched The Chills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillipps, in Wellington …



The first time we see Martin Phillipps, the one continuum of The Chills since its inception in 1980, is at a hospital in Dunedin, where he is being prodded, scanned and injected for a series of health tests. Phillipps has Hepatitis C, which he contracted by accident from a dirty needle (listen up kids: don’t do drugs) during his substance-hoovering days (of which there were many). 

The prognosis isn’t good. Phillipps’ liver is 80 percent defunct and he has a 31 percent chance of surviving beyond the next 6-9 months if he doesn’t go teetotal. The check-up takes place at the end of 2016 and we travel with him throughout his brave bid to free himself of the disease, and cleanse himself from the demon drink (listen up kids: don’t do booze, well not whisky on the rocks for breakfast anyway). 

While this conjures up images of a hellraiser, which aren’t exactly dispelled by the singer, we soon see a side of him that we may not have expected - the hoarder, with a huge collection of DVDs, records, CDs, books, artefacts, and toys. Yes, toys. Phillipps lives alone and his collecting obsession, he admits, is partially to compensate him for the isolated living situation. 

As part of the cathartic experience of trying to save his life, Phillipps embarks on a mission to rid himself of some of this collection. Among this extraordinarily vast collection - some of which is included in an exhibition in Dunedin - are mummified cats which he paints then sticks on boards before hanging on the wall. He has also kept a tray of decapitated eggshells which he has painted. 

Interspersed with this personal illumination on a somewhat eccentric character is the story of The Chills, undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s most influential bands. In four decades, The Chills have gone through 21 different line-ups and more than 30 members. In that sense alone they have an historical link to The Fall, led by another hard-drinking eccentric.



Phillipps hasn’t always treated his colleagues terribly well, and near the end of the documentary confesses to having failed some and apologises (if not effusively it has to be said) for not supporting them when he could. One such sad tale is that of the multi-talented Andrew Todd. The keyboardist bailed when it was clear he was getting neither the respect from his colleague nor job satisfaction from what he was doing with the band. Todd isn’t interviewed but many others are, including Terry Moore, who had three spells with the act, and one extremely unlikely member, Phil Kusabs who had a background in death metal acts before joining the “twee indie band”. 

We learn of the death of an early band member, Martyn Bull, who before he succumbed to leukaemia, gave Phillipps his prized leather jacket, leading to The Chills’ legendary ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ single. There was a serious car collision with a truck on a small bridge, in which everyone remarkably survived, personality clashes, and debt. Phillipps comes across as personable and driven, but also possibly narcissistic. 

Director Julia Parnell also talks to former managers of the band, as well one of the few musical superstars from Aotearoa, Neil Finn, who offers rather little insight other than a few platitudes. 

Around 1990, The Chills were making inroads into America and the album Submarine Bells was a massive hit. But it soon fell apart, and Phillipps was back in Dunedin left to ponder once again another incarnation of the band. 

The fact that there have been numerous versions of the same band since, and The Chills recorded their finest effort for many years, Snow Bound, in 2018, speaks volumes for the toughness and commitment of Phillipps and the musicians who have stood by him. 

Near the end of the film Phillipps returns to see the same medic in the same hospital and is informed that there are now no signs of Hepatitis C. Onwards to the next Chills studio album. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

New Zealand Music Month, AudioCulture, and All That Jazz ...


New Zealand Music Month has its critics. For many it represents little more than an inward-looking self-indulgent “pat-on-the-back” fest, and I understand that argument without necessarily buying into it. My own point of view is that NZ Music Month comes from a good place, has good intent, and if we – as New Zealanders – don’t celebrate this stuff, then nobody else will. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t all that long ago we had to introduce quotas just to ensure New Zealand music was played on local radio. 

For this May’s annual celebration of New Zealand Music Month, I’m posting a series of classic (and some not so classic) local music clips on the blog’s Facebook page. You can check out the page and perhaps even give it a 'like' or a 'follow' (steady on!) here

But it also seems timely to once again celebrate the ongoing contribution to the rich tapestry of New Zealand music history currently being made by the AudioCulture site (click here), which documents artists, bands, scenes, venues, and just about every other conceivable angle on pop culture in this part of the world – archiving stuff from days gone by right up to the present day. There really is nothing else like it. The “noisy library of New Zealand music” is an incredible resource that will only continue to get bigger and better as more boxes are ticked, as more artists/bands are profiled, and as more scenes and venue histories are explored.

I feel lucky to have been a part of it, and to have been paid for being a part of it, with site content dudes Simon Grigg and Chris Bourke having indulged a few of my own ramblings about various things near and dear to my own nostalgic heart. With – gratuitous plug alert – my “scene” contributions about nightclubbing in Wellington in the 1980s (here), the fabulous Soul Mine record store (here), the long-running retro Atomic and 24-Hour Party People club nights (here), and my band profile of early 90s Wellington funk-rockers Emulsifier (here). 

I appreciate that I’m not a particularly great writer or wordsmith, but these articles are born from a passion I can scarcely contain, one driven by a love of all things “us” and local, and I’ve always felt that unless those of us who were there at the time (pre-internet, pre-Social Media) make an effort to document the regional grassroots stuff, much of it will fall between the cracks and be lost forever. 

It’s also something I try to achieve on this blog. I take some heart from the fact that as I approach the blogpost number 600, all lack of direct feedback aside, everythingsgonegreen is fast closing in on some 250,000 unique page hits. Small beer in the wider context of things, I know, but it may surprise you that local or specifically New Zealand-based content accounts for three of the four “most read” posts. The most read being a very niche piece about 1980s um, nightlife, in the sprawling metropolis that is Palmerston North. Who knew nearly 13,000 readers even cared? 

So I guess people love nostalgia, especially smalltown/local nostalgia. Go figure. 

Finally, just quickly, I also want to give a shout out for NZ Musician magazine (see here). Writing various bits and bobs (features and reviews) for that publication (unpaid) over a five-year period – although I’ve contributed very little of late – has been a pleasure, and I guess it gave me the confidence to write that other stuff for AudioCulture. 

Things don’t get much more grassroots than NZ Musician. It really does dig deep, and although it too has come in for some unwarranted criticism over the years, specifically for being unable to pay its contributors, so many artists and bands have received an important leg up from the exposure provided by that particular mag for the 30-odd years its been doing its very funky thing. Long may it continue … online or otherwise. 

When all is said and done though, the absolute best way to celebrate New Zealand Music Month is to find some time this month to go to a local gig. Pay on the door. Support young up and coming bands. Buy something local from Bandcamp (or elsewhere if you can find an actual store). Buy something direct from the artist or band itself … and keep doing it, not just across May, but all year long. And tell your friends to do the same.