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.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Classic Album Review: Half Man Half Biscuit - Back In The DHSS (1985)

Craig Stephen is back with another guest review. Bravely going places your blogger doesn't dare ...


Last year I wrote, on this very blog, a review of the then new album by Half Man Half Biscuit. You can read that review here.

It’s a fine piece of work, in keeping with the tongue in both cheeks at the same time attitude of the Wirral lads and their irreverent look at life, and in particular, paying attention to the minutiae of the world we live in. That being minor celebrities, low-league football referees, small item retail, daytime television and pedants, of whom there appear to be many.

Since their debut in the mid-80s the four-piece have changed little, and so it seems an opportune time to revisit that first album, that revelled in unemployment: the DHSS of the title being the acronym for Britain’s then Department of Health and Social Security, and “back in the DHSS” was a way of saying someone was signing on the dole again. Such was life in Thatcher’s Britain.

Anyone unlucky enough not to have come across the Biscuits before would have soon enough grasped through the titles alone that this was a band that wasn’t looking at life in the same gormless way as the lovelorn divas and popstars that were pumping out endless radio-friendly hits at the time.

Hence, ‘The Len Ganley Stance’ celebrated snooker referees and the rigid posture required by the tuxedo wearers who acted as the man in the middle at The Crucible: 

Keep your arms as rigid as a juggernaut/ Clench your fists, point your knuckles straight ahead/ Do your best to look like a teddy bear/ Then try and pretend to look vertically dead.”

And it’s fair to say that the plump Irishman was a true exponent of the stoic umpire pose while mastering the art of controlling those who dared rustle a crisp wrapper or sneak off to the toilet break during a century break: “Brush the baize and keep the crowd in check.”

Ganley became an unlikely cult to the doyens of British daytime TV, and with three million on the dole during Thatcher’s reign there were certainly the numbers to feed the fledgling sport.

At the opposite end of the celebrity love-in a scouse actress had her own, ahem, tribute from the band: ‘I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)’, although it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the one-time star of The Liver Birds. It merely seems to be a chant of anger in the same way that ‘ohm’ might elicit the alternative feeling.

In a similar vein, ‘God Gave Us Life’, laments some of the “stars” that God has given the world, such as Una Stubbs, Matthew Kelly, Little and Large and Keith Harris. If you are unfamiliar with any of the above, do not, I repeat, do not feel the urge to check them out on YouTube.

Time Flies By (When You’re the Driver of a Train) is one of two tracks that reflect the band’s obsession with children’s television programmes (in this case Chigley) with the other appearing on The Trumpton Riots EP (more of which later). In the Biscuits world, however, here’s an opportunity to turn the childish innocence of the song The Little Steam Engine into altogether less wholesome pastimes: 

“Speeding out of Trumpton with a cargo of cocaine/ I get high when I'm a pilot of a plane/ Touching down in Camberwick/ I'm stoned out of my brain.”

And why not take the opportunity to mimick Syd-era Pink Floyd: “Under bridges, over bridges, to our destination/ Careful with that spliff, Eugene, it causes condensation.”

While Radiohead were chided for their use of the Trumptonshire brand by a relative of the creator in 2016, it seems that the Biscuits’ obscurity relieved them of such controversies for far greater crimes.

‘Fuckin’ Ell It’s Fred Titmus’ describes the shock of encountering the famous cricketer in everyday situations, such as at a supermarket or a railway station. Nigel Blackwell drops in references to the fabric conditioner Lenor, links Stevie Nicks to kleptomania, and notes that Dracula came from Transylvania (you’ll have to listen to it to understand the context).

The album also has references to other C and D list of celebs: ‘99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd’ and ‘I Love You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves)’ – which as you may deduce is a parody of a song by Reeves, ‘I Love You Because’.

The 2003 CD reissue includes the 1986 EP, The Trumpton Riots, with the title track absurdly portraying Trumptonshire as a place of striking firemen, militant socialism, and military coups, where popular characters are instigators or part of the problem: 

“All this aristocracy has really got to stop/ We can overthrow the surgery and kidnap Dr Mopp/ And Chippy Minton’s Socialists could storm the Market Square/ And make plans to assassinate our autocratic Mayor/ Windy Militant leads his Basque-like corn grinders to war/ With windmill sails and bombs with nails they smash the town hall door/ But Snorty and his boys arrive with one big erstwhile crew/ Whereupon they bring about a military coup.”

If only.

Equally magnificent is that homage to Scalectrix and Subbuteo: ‘All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’, which as everyone knows is a Czech football team that reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1967.

Continuing the football theme, a track on the EP, ‘1966 And All That’, name checks Ferenc Puskas and Lev Yashin while also, somehow, getting in a reference to milk of magnesia. You could write an article on its own about former footballers featuring in Half Man Half Biscuit songs.

To win a free pen pilfered from a high street bank, tell the blog what Ali Bongo did …