All posts by durutti244

About durutti244

House husband, creator and consumer of both food and music, sometimrs interesting, frequently not.

Endless Summer

So far, this year – to put it bluntly – has been weird. You don’t need me to tell you how weird, you know what’s been happening. Either that or you’ve been living in a cave for the past nine months in which case hi how are you and have I got news for you…

Anyway, this year. I’ve not been listening to much new music this year. Lockdown hasn’t been conducive with music for me. I think subconsciously I didn’t want music to be associated with what was happening. The exception to this rule at the start of lockdown was “Head Sounds” by Super 8, an album of homespun jangle pop from the heart and soul of Paul Ryan aka Trip. Somehow his gentle version of “Across the universe” became a totem of normality under the strangest of circumstances. “Nothing’s gonna change my world” indeed.

Now a few months on from that release and Super 8 have another album on the blocks, this time a collaboration between Trip and Lisa Mychols, a California native who has been creating sun drenched power pop for nearly two decades. The musical marriage of Trip and Ellie (as Lisa is known to her friends) is made in pop heaven.

The music has a ramshackle charm all of its own, and the mix of Trip’s casually brilliant musicianship and Lisa’s spot on harmonies and both their songwriting skills merge perfectly – it’s as if the Free Design had a collaboration with Emitt Rhodes (RIP) Sun baked California soft pop with a Beatles-ish lilt. Perfect.

The album kicks off with two theme songs – “What will be?” will be familiar if you’ve listened to Beth’s Indie Lounge while “Trip and Ellie’s Music Factory” has the feel of a children’s TV show theme tune (this is in no way a criticism, think of a theme song from a kid’s show in your childhood, see how well you remember it…) I could be wrong but it may have a homage to “Fakin’ it” too 😎 “Timebomb” – their initial collaboration from last year – is a groovy rocker, somewhere between “Bohemian like you” and “Rocks” but with plenty of charm alongside its bite. “You and me, me and you” is sweet as candy and instantly catchy too, as is “Honey bee” (love the reference to a cherry red Gibson 335 – my dream guitar).

There are two covers on the album which fit perfectly into the flow. “Peaceful” by Kenny Rankin is a long time favourite song of mine and I’ve yet to find a bad version of the song (I can recommend Bobbie Gentry’s version alongside the original). Trip and Ellie make it their own, building from acoustic guitar to a full on arrangement and back again, a lovely performance. “Witchi Tai To” is beautiful too – highlighting Lisa’s vocal skills, and is a match for the gorgeous version by Harper’s Bizarre. These covers are respectful and show their influences on the music. The West Coast soft pop vibes continue through the latter half of the album with “Laguna nights to remember” and the dreamy “Your summer theme”.

The two highlights of the album are what would have been the side closers if there was a vinyl equivalent – “Flying close to the sun” and “The arms of water”. Both songs extend the sunshine pop into a more psychedelic experience – the songs are expansive and take swerves in odd directions and Trip throws in some sound effects, field recordings and backwards guitars. These songs highlight how perfectly Trip and Lisa work together – you’d never guess they created this music thousands of miles apart. The album is full of sunshine and the perfect music for slowly emerging from lockdown, hanging out with friends you’ve not seen for ages and chilling out. Put your worries behind you, relax and let Trip and Ellie soundtrack this weird summer.

The Super 8 and Lisa Mychols album is available now via Wally Salem’s fantastic label The Beautiful Music.

Wally has impeccable taste – witness his ongoing project of Television Personalities covers – and TBM has issued great albums by Dot Dash, Armstrong, The Irony Board, Skytone, The Yellow Melodies and many more. Wally was kind enough to send me an advance copy of a forthcoming album his label will be releasing in August, thinking I would enjoy it and he was right, I loved it.

I must admit I’ve not come across Exploding Flowers before (and a quick Google tells me about the photographic process to explode a flower) but it seems the members of this four piece band have been around the LA underground scene for many years. All this experience shows in the music on “Stumbling Blocks”. If Trip and Ellie’s album is the sound of two musicians bonding over a long distance internet connection, Exploding Flowers is the sound of four musicians playing together in a room as a band. That might be quite an old fashioned idea in the 21st century but it does create some timeless music.

Exploding Flowers tip their collective hats towards some intriguing music. Sure, the twelve strings chime like the Byrds in flight as you would expect but there’s a plainly chorded organ harking back to the Chills and numerous US 60s garage bands or even the early sides by the Sea Urchins (think “Sullen eyes”). There’s hints of psychedelia too and not just the 60s variety – some songs here could easily fit onto the renowned New Psychedelic compilation “A splash of colour” and there’s a Paisley Underground vibe as well. Third hand psych? Not at all. The sound is fresh and vivid, and the songs are superb too. Highlights include the rollicking title track – that insistent guitar lick drives into your head and sticks there – and the perfect pop of “Far but never gone” (some cool backing vocals on this) and “Billions just like you here today”. There’s almost a ska feel to some of the organ parts on these songs, filtered through a New Wave sensibility.

As great as the uptempo songs are, my favourite songs here are when the band slow down a little and stretch out on midtempo songs. “Timing is everything” is 100 seconds of bliss, leading into my two album highlights. “Imagine all the possibilities” is a minor key gem, 12 strings chiming, descending chords and some beautiful unexpected melodic swerves. You would hardly notice the lyric sung so sweetly is a political diatribe worthy of Stereolab. The following song “Amongst burnt out stars” is just as good, descending arpeggios of guitars in the verse leading into a forceful verse, with more melodic swerves (regular readers will know I love a good melodic swerve). Towards the end of the album “Mirror to mirror, face to face” makes the most of its two chords and stretches out with a sax solo at the end, while “Are we so disposable?” is a melancholic closer, built on tympani drums and toy piano – not so much a Wall Of Sound as a Partition Of Sound. Basically if you cherish albums by the Barracudas, the Liquor Giants and Diableros then this album will fit nicely in your collection. The music will draw you in and the lyrics will intrigue you and you will sing these songs all summer.

Both the Super 8 and Lisa Mychols and Exploding Flowers albums have different takes on how to soundtrack these strange times with jangling guitars and melodies and thought provoking words. Both albums will repay repeated listens with great rewards and are well worth your time. Give them a chance to soundtrack your endless summer.

Both albums are available at www.thebeautifulmusic.com and Wally will probably throw in some other goodies for you if you order through him. Tell him a goldfish sent you 😎

Days of waking, phantoms in branches

Thoughts on “The World Is A Bell” by The Leaf Library

How quickly can you fall in love with music? I mean… Is it an instant reaction sometimes or does it take time? I suppose it’s like all kinds of love, there’s instant attraction and then over time you explore depths, highs and lows, and find out what lasts longest, what will endure, and that is true love.

The Leaf Library have created an album which will instantly attract the listener, but has so much depth that the listener can wallow in it for hours, days, months and not get bored. And once the exploration days are done, the true beauty of this music will be shown.

Am I making sense? I doubt it. This is how “The world is a bell” makes me feel. Confused, but pleasantly confused, and willing to be confused again and again until the puzzle is solved. Over time, the music here has sunk into my life, the melodies worming their way into my subconscious, appearing when I don’t expect them. There’s so much beauty in this music it’s almost unbearable.

Some facts (take one). I don’t know many facts about The Leaf Library. I first came across them when they recorded an introductory jingle for Pete Paphides’ radio show on Soho Radio. He may have played their music too, I’m not sure. But that 30 seconds of lightly arpeggio-d guitar, in the style of Vini Reilly, made me notice them. I was intrigued. That’s all the facts I know about The Leaf Library. Maybe I should do some research? They have a very British sound, if that helps. It doesn’t, does it? British is such a tainted word at the moment. Sorry. Do you need facts to enjoy the music? Do you need to know where they’re coming from or where they’re at? No. You need to use your ears and listen.

Some facts (take two). “The world is a bell” is the second full album by The Leaf Library, after many variations on their debut album “Daylight versions” in 2015. It will be released on 25th October 2019. This album features collaborations with a number of people of whom I’ve never heard of. You may have heard of them, I don’t know. So much for facts. Facts don’t do what I want them to. Thanks David. Still waiting.

I have said this many times before and I will probably repeat it many times again, but I am a great believer in the idea that music reflects the seasons, somehow the musicians know instinctively when the music will be issued and it becomes seasonal. “The world is a bell” is autumnal in nature, greens turning to burnished orange, gold, red and brown, nights drawing in, wondering which day we will turn the heating on for the first time since April. It starts bright, like a crisp Autumn morning. “In doors and out through windows” could be a calmer less guitar centred Bark Psychosis or a clearer late period Talk Talk – a 7 / 8 rhythm keeps the listener on their toes, slow layers building up, drums, a muted brass section, vibes and piano before the bass arrives for propulsion after two minutes. There’s dots and loops here (and maybe a hint of “Dots and Loops”) but all naturally created. Or if they are looped well it’s incredibly skillful because it does sound very natural. “Hissing waves” is an early favourite, definitely echoes of Insides here (not a problem at all, new Insides music would be most welcome around Goldfish Towers). Whereas Kirsty Yates whispers of truths and secrets, Kate Gibson and Melinda Bronstein’s multitracked harmonies maybe point to the album’s own creation – “An endless looping cycle” – or a more abstract thought. Afternoon shadows, days on fire…. Relentless and building, a song which could happily go on forever. “Whatever I say, we are”. An early highlight.

“Patience” builds up from a simple synth sequence – as simple as the opening on “I hear you now” – while drums roll and guitars jangle, and again the slow build is beautiful, a melody snaking around the song. A chord change comes as a shock ninety seconds into the song. There’s no hurry about the performance, again a brass section grounds the song like a colliery band, while Gibson and Bronstein’s multitracked vocals trail off – “So long, see you tomorrow”. Beautiful. “Larches eat moths” is a more ambient track, eerie droning noisescapes, echos and cries, spooked and tense, a voice in the distant. And … Er…. I know I gave up biology in the third year but don’t moths eat larches? Is there some backwards logic there? It darkens the flow of the album, but it works well as a palate cleanser for a two part masterpiece.

“The world is a bell” resounds around a bell-like electric piano figure of a G note played across an octave, while pizzicato strings become harshly bowed, increasing in quiet fury. (Quite first album PCO, this one, I’d say, or early Rachel’s). This flows into “Bright seas” where that G note repeats but now there’s percussion and deeper instrumental textures, rolling tom tom drums and heavenly vocals are sung into a reverb haze. It’s lovely indeed, memories of Virginia Astley at her most pop-like, pastoral and pure. Again layers upon layers build almost without the listener noticing (where did that string section arrive from?), until finally cocooned in the music’s flow. The centrepiece of the album and one of my favourite pieces of music this year.

“Bodies carried off by bees” – it depends how small the bodies are, I suppose – is another ambient diversion, found sounds and fog, not a piece of music to whistle along to, but to feel and appreciate like “Sulliday” on “69”. (Simon Reynolds on “Sulliday” – “it is a piece that should be listened to not as a musical or lyrical sequence but as a succession of moments… Be supine before it” – that’s how I feel about “Bodies carried off by bees.”) Again the build up is subtle yet dramatic.

“An endless” is motorik electro passed through a post-rock filter, the insistent snap of the drum machine and rumble of bass, a haunting vocal melody, and again more layers and layers, vocals call and response, guitars and synths and pianos, each element beautifully adding its own melody. So rich in texture. Maybe I was wrong, maybe this is a highlight. Around five minutes everything stops briefly before real drums take over, more sequences and that bell chiming like a clock, a glorious build up again. Fabulous. I never want this to end and it never overstays it’s welcome. “An Endless” is perfect. I could get lost and swept up in its ebb and flow forever.

“More than half asleep” is a quiet short piece reminding me of an Eno short on “Music for films” or the second half of “Lauft…heisst das es Lauft Oder es kommt bald” by Faust and is a prelude to the final song here, the 20 minute “Paper boats on black ink lake”. A slowly tapped cymbal (or gong perhaps?), slow chord changes on bass and guitar, as tense as Mogwai, again a slow build, a string arrangement to die for, four chords circling and building, so lovely. Around seven minutes, the strings hold on to a static chord, the percussion drops away, it’s holding on for something, the tension is unbearable. And then an clarinet (?) sings in the distance, a fog horn through the mist of strings and static. And finally the tension is broken by feedback, bass and drums, like Swans on holiday in the Lake District. A final release for the tension across the album, grinding onwards and onwards to the close. Dramatic and fulfilling.

What exactly is “The World Is A Bell”? Music to wallow in, music to soak up, music to explore without a map, music to enlighten, music to spook, music to darken the day, music to think about, music to wash away the world. This is beautiful music. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, sometimes I wasn’t even sure if it was my cup of tea, but persistence has prevailed. There are so many moments of absolute beauty here that you, dear reader, need to listen to. It may take time but the effort is totally rewarded.

“The world is a bell” by the Leaf Library is available here…

https://theleaflibrary.bandcamp.com/

Fifty At Fifty

In case you had missed the teaser campaign on TV, the billboards and the hour long tributes across all BBC Radio stations, today (24th May 2019) is my fiftieth birthday. Admittedly it’s also Jacob Rees-Mogg’s 50th birthday too, so you’re more likely to read about his half century of achievements than mine, but let’s leave the ghost of a Victorian workhouse owner out of these celebrations.

So yeah, my fiftieth birthday. A time for reflection, a time for looking ahead (at last, I can sort out a Sun Life Over 50s Plan), and a time to… I dunno. There should be something there but my brain is turning to mush and I’m getting forgetful. I’m 50, yet I feel about 25 in my head. I’d like to thank everyone who got me here (friends, family, workmates, bands) and especially those who say I don’t look 50. Well I wasn’t until today anyway so…

Originally I planned to put together (because “curate’ is a stupid word) a Goldfish Radio show or two with a song from each year, but I didn’t really have to time for that. Instead I’ve made this 50 song Spotify playlist which does indeed have a song from each year. There were rules, of course. Each song has to be from the year, and must have been part of my life in that year… Let me explain… It would have been easy for me to pick a song from “Another green world” for 1975, but I wasn’t listening to “Another green world” in 1975, it was still ten years before I heard it. This invalidated a few choices along the way – I had “Tubular Bells” a year after it was released, ditto “Keep on Wombling” (I’m not joking, I would have happily included music from both these albums if possible). So now you’re looking at the playlist thinking “So how come “Get back’ is there then?” Well firstly it was number one when I was born and as my parents were both Beatles fans it was part of my life at that point, though technically it wasn’t part of the Morgan household until 1970 when they bought “Let it be” but rules are there to be broken… So yes the early songs on the playlist are more my parents taste than mine, but each song here had a specific memory attached to it, whether it be “Misty Roses” and staring at the cover of “One Year” in the front room in Leeds, or “School’s out” being my “Starman on TOTP” moment (it’s my first memory of watching the show)

So the 70s have me listening to my parents’ music and enjoying it, and towards the end of the 70s starting to develop my own taste, hence the synthesised sounds of “Magic Fly”, and “Are ‘friends’ electric?” (TOTP performance forty years ago today, fact fans!). By the early 80s I had my own radio / cassette player and was listening to Radio One constantly, and by 1983 I was buying my own records and well you can read the old Goldfish posts for that story. Some – if not all – of these songs have specific memories attached, happy times, sad times, drunken times, weird times, uncertain times, hopeful times. I could go through each of the 50 songs, but some memories aren’t for sharing. I wish there was a wider spread of genres but then I’m kinda limited in my tastes, and those tastes have become narrower over time. It’s a fair reflection, I suppose. Unsurprisingly two songs are 17 minutes long.

But hey, enough of my yakkin’. Whaddaya say, let’s boogie…

Rhymes of goodbye

A few years ago, BBC Four broadcast an old episode of “Top Of The Pops” from late 1981. The Teardrop Explodes were making their second appearance to promote “Passionate Friend” which was obstinately stuck in the mid 20s of the chart, even though it sounded like the most perfect pop song ever, an endless climb of melody tied to words which made little sense, unless you knew the singer was singing about having a secret affair with the sister of his arch rival. But even so this was a very different Teardrop Explodes to the band who had appeared on the first performance of “Passionate Friend” a few weeks before. That first performance has become legendary simply through the telling of it in Julian Cope’s first volume of his autobiography “Head on”. Cope is off his head standing on a white grand piano, played by Jeff Hammer, while bass player Alfie Agius does his nerdy bop dance which always got the teenybopper girls squealing. But that was then, Agius and Hammer had gone, now Dave Balfe was playing bass, and for some reason Cope was away from the rest of the band – singing from a stand across the audience from Balfe, Gary Dwyer and Troy Tate. And Tate here was the revelation – a perfect mop top of tousled hair, shades and an enigmatic smile, while playing Cope’s beautiful cherry red Gibson 335-12 guitar. In fact Tate looked like he had been beamed in from the future – three years from this performance Johnny Marr would show the same mix of attitude and cool on the same stage. And don’t forget that Marr and Tate worked together – Tate produced the first version of the Smiths’ debut album in 1983, almost all of which was dumped and rerecorded.

But before the Teardrops exploded onto the TOTP stage, the show’s host Mike Read introduced the band with the line “It’s always nice to have a fellow Scott Walker fan on the show….” This is of course a reference to Cope and his much heralded fondness for Walker… by this point he had licenced some Walker songs for “Fire Escape In The Sky – the godlike genius of Scott Walker” on Zoo, which introduced Walker to the post punk audience who had either forgotten him or ignored him. However Mike Read also had participated in some kind of Walker revival. As a regular listener to Read’s breakfast show I had heard him spin a few Walker Brothers tunes along the way, though I remember him enthusing more about “l’ll keep on holding on” by The Action more. He also played “First love” by The Walker Brothers a lot, as part of a feature on first loves he had on his show and I knew that song because my mum had the first Walker Brothers album . By 1982 Midge Ure had hit the charts with a synthetic cover of the Walker Brothers’ mid 70s hit “No regrets” which itself was a Tom Rush song. And I didn’t know it at the time but Ultravox’s “Vienna” bore some resemblance to “The Electrician”, the highlight of The Walker Brothers’ final album “Nite flights” from 1978. Even without reading the music papers, I had the impression that Scott Walker was this maverick hermit who made some great records in the sixties and then disappeared. He was a genuine legend and he never issued any music at all.

So I was a little surprised when he issued a new album in 1984. I was an avid reader of Melody Maker by then, and devoured every page of every issue every Wednesday. Even if I didn’t know anything about the acts I just read it anyway. So I read “Julian – a suitable case for treatment” – an interview with Julian Cope to support “World shut your mouth” which mentioned Scott Walker. I was intrigued. And then the man himself turned up on “The Tube” interviewed by Muriel Gray, both looking uncomfortable. The video for the new single “Track 3” was shown too, but it didn’t sound like a hit single. Mike Read played the single too, but only once, and returned to playing “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore” because that was what he expected Scott Walker to sound like. The album “Climate of hunter” came and went, to a puzzled review in MM, and then life moved on and nobody seemed to care. It was like a ghost from the past, dropping by, saying hello and disappearing again.

But the name Scott Walker kept being dropped all the time. Certainly by Julian Cope, but also by others too. Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney mentioned the album “Scott 4” as one of his favourites yet that album didn’t appear in my copy of “Guinness Hit Albums” besides Scotts 1, 2 and 3 which were all top three albums. How had 4 disappeared? The mystery deepened and so did the myth. There were rumours of Scott working with Brian Eno and that intrigued me even more.

Finally I bought a Scott Walker album. During the long grim silent summer of 1986 I chose “Climate of Hunter” from that quarter’s Gema Records list and hoped for the best. Gema Records was a peculiar mail order record store – every few months they’d send out a closely typed list of all the records available, we would pore over it with my magnifying glass, picking out gems and adding them to our order then post it off with a cheque and wait and hope and wait and hope. It was all a bit random, sometimes I’d get an avalanche of records, sometimes I’d get nothing at all. There’s a lot of Gema Records orders which had significant moments attached to them and I’ve mentioned them before on Goldfish (see the Durutti Column and Dalek I Love You entries). And again on 19th August 1986 a Gema Records parcel arrived smack in the middle of another dramatic day.

It was the day I returned to school to get my grade for my additional Maths “O’ Level, a halfway point through the two years of sixth form before moving onto my A Level in the upper sixth. Not a lot was expected of me, I’d had a dreadful report in July and had fallen into a deep dark hole of isolated depression, seeing no-one, writing and recording miserable songs and plotting … At school friends were picking up their results and saying “I got a U” or “I got an E”. I was expecting the worst. Don’t forget a week before this my brother had picked up his A level results and failed all three quite dismally.

So I nervously opened my envelope and read my result. I had a ‘C’. I looked again to check it wasn’t a mistake. No, definitely a ‘C’. I couldn’t believe it. I’d passed. I was over the moon. I returned home like a conquering hero. Then my brother said “Oh Brud the Gema Records order has come” and handed me three records – “Banal” 12″ by Bill Nelson, “Da Capo” by Love and “Climate of hunter” by Scott Walker.

It looked strange, to begin with, even before placing the record on my turntable. Scott with his hand in midair, as if in mid conversation with a friend (or the listener), and on the reverse a long list of credits, mostly names I didn’t recognise except for two – Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler. At the time, the former was having hits like “When the going gets tough” and “Caribbean Queen” and the latter was leading Dire Straits around the world on the back of the multi platinum “Brothers in Arms” album. And they were working with Scott Walker? A genuine What The Fuck moment. And the song titles…. Half the songs don’t have them, just “Track 3”, “Track 5″… And opener “Rawhide”…. Will Scott really start singing “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin'”? (Hat tip to the Froncos here, which will make at most two readers laugh)

No, he wouldn’t. A cowbell saunters across the stereo field as if a solitary cow is walking around the studio and then… it just starts. And stays there. So much of the album is static. Not white noise static, but stationary. The music hovers in midair, like Scott’s hand, never landing or ascending higher, a permanent statis. Strings don’t soar, they hum. The bass couldn’t be more mid 80s, sliding like Pino Palladino (but it isn’t, I discovered the other day the bass is played by the bass player in Ice, a late 60s Decca act who made two melancholy organ led psychpop beauties. Oh and he played in other bands too like Affinity. But Ice, man!) And then Scott sings at last, his voice sonorous and rounded. “This is how you disappear”. Yes Scott that’s my summer in five words. I’m not going to analyse the words too much, because whatever sense they achieve is beyond me. They have their own internal logic and it’s not for me to comment. Is he singing about a cow? Does it matter? Considering the piss taken out of Cope for his cow metaphor on “An elegant chaos”… Yeah but this is Scott. Slowly the song builds up, the tempo increases, the strings stir up but there’s no crescendo, it just returns to its initial hover state.

And that’s how most of the songs on the album progress. Hover to lift to hover again. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. “Dealer” hovers in mid air for five whole minutes. Drugs? Who knows. The only movement comes from the bass guitar. The first chord change appears after 90 seconds. Strange trumpet noises from names I didn’t know then. What the hell was going on? “Track three” was the single, so it’s kind of fast, but starting with a synth discord which runs through the whole song… Scott and Billy Ocean (a colleague from the mid 70s Brothers reunion – they were on the same label) harmonise, but Ocean’s harmony is so sharp and desperate and painful. A single? Are you kidding?

The side closes with “Sleepwalkers woman”, and this is probably the closest to what I was expecting a Scott Walker to sound like. Sumptuous strings and a harp and Celeste playing slow arpeggios, but still static – rising so slowly and changing so slowly. But the voice, oh the voice, oh the voice. It sounds gorgeous, even if I couldn’t work out what the words meant. It’s beautiful. Tears? Oh of course. Then and now.

Side two and three tracks without titles. “Track five” seems to encapsulate the whole album in one song, starting slow and moody, guitar harmonics and brushed percussion, uneasy synths, focusing on the vocal. After a minute the drums and bass burst in and while the song has propulsion the chords don’t exactly move far, Scott is almost shouting, it seems to link back to “Rawhide”. At two minutes strings and horns arrive, and suddenly there’s chord changes every four bars, which is a surprise giving everything else so far.

“Track six” is more uneasy listening, slow and dark. Actually I’ve just realised this album is.balanced – the songs on each side balance each other in mood and tempo (this applies to “Loveless” too if you ignore “Touched”). And at the first chord change what sounds like a flotilla of seals start chattering and continue to annoy. I’m presuming this is Evan Parker’s saxes (if Marcello is reading, please confirm). “Track seven” begins like background music for “Bergerac” – moody synth chords, before the gated drums kick you into the mid 80s, chugging guitars, and a wailing guitar solo. This is pure 80s. Even chord changes. It drops back and forth but this is probably the most normal song on the album. Still a mile or so from whatever else was happening in 1983. Ray Russell’s guitar wails as the song fades.

And finally after all the electricity, a plain acoustic guitar. Unmistakably Mark Knopfler, sounding tentative but deliberate if that’s possible. “Blanket roll blues” is the only song ever written by Tennessee Williams, and Scott and Mark make it their own. It’s quite beautiful. And today it’s making me cry. Is it the memories of the day? Or the song itself? Or the knowledge that Scott has crossed the river now? Even just ending the song on that discord is perfect and links back to the other discords on the album…

So that was “Climate of Hunter” – inscrutable, strange and oddly alluring. A puzzle within an enigma. No wonder the reviews were dismissive, even though it’s barely 30 minutes long it’s an album it could take a decade to fathom out. Thirty three years on it still baffles me, but I still love it. For one thing it reminds me of that August day, an unexpected glimmer of hope, and what would come after it. Even in my diary I mention it as “weird and great”.

I wanted more Scott Walker and in September 86 I found two albums in Kelly’s Records in Cardiff market but only had enough money on me to buy one. On one hand, an original mono copy of “Scott”, looking a bit battered around the edges. On the other hand “The best of Scott Walker”, an early 80s attempt by Philips to capitalise on the renewal of interest in Scott after Julian Cope had compiled “Fire escape in the sky” for Zoo Records. What did I choose? Fucking hell I chose the wrong one, didn’t I? Leaving “Scott” in the racks and hoping it would still be there the next time I looked (hint – it wasn’t) I took “The best of Scott Walker” home and gave it some in depth listening, while also checking the credits and getting confused.

You see back in those days there wasn’t a lot of information around on Scott Walker. The general story went Walker Brothers Scott 1 2 3 4 flop disappearance Walker Brothers reunion disappearance again Climate Of Hunter. There weren’t books or biographies around, and if the NME had profiled him then it was way before I started reading the music press. So I was mightily confused by the credits on “The Best Of Scott Walker”. If he had disappeared in the 70s how come “The me I never knew” had a copyright date of 1973? Also presuming Scott 1 was 1967, 2 was 1968 and 3 and 4 were 1969…. Were “The impossible dream” and “If you go away” (dated 1969) on 3 or 4? I did not get it, not one bit at all. Great music, great songs, but was this the Scott Walker I expected or the Scott Walker that the record company wanted me to think was Scott Walker? I mean… Some of these songs were like show tunes. How did the brassy glare of “Will you still be mine?” fit in? And how come Scott drops in little hints of his own in there, about Julie Christie and a self-mocking reference to singing in tune? It’s like he’s playing to an audience…. Of course not long after I bought this album I found “Scott Walker Sings Songs From His TV Series” and realised there were gaps in the discography and that’s where some of these songs came from.

Even still there was enough on “The best of Scott Walker” to make me beg for more. Even if the tempos are generally slinky and low, the arrangements obvious and a bit middle of the road… But then that was the dichotomy of Scott Walker, he may have been striving for importance and moving his music forward but he still had an audience of teenage girls and a weekly BBC show to produce. And probably a record company and manager breathing down his neck, as they always do. So “The Best of Scott Walker” is more Jack Jones than I expected. But I still loved it. Don’t forget that this was the period I was also delving into the Andy Williams back catalogue too. In fact I distinctly remember comparing Andy’s version of “The Impossible Dream” with Scott’s version and found Scott’s wanting. But that’s another story and I must not get distracted.

The best songs on the compilation were inevitably the songs I would eventually find on Scotts 1 to 4 (or 1 to 3 as it would turn out). “Montague Terrace (in blue)”, ‘Jackie”, “The lady came from Baltimore” and “If you go away”. “Baltimore” was weird, it sounded like country rock, but with Mellotron flutes. I only knew one other Tim Hardin song at the time, Rod Stewart’s version of “Reason to believe”. Or Andy Williams’ version. Don’t get me started again on that. But somewhere there was a kernel of truth throughout the songs which struck me in my situation of leaving something huge behind (see other Goldfishes). September 86 was empty like that. Of course the one song which hit home the hardest was “If you go away”, and that song ended up on so many compilation tapes for friends. And yes I did suppose it must be on “Scott 4” based purely on its brilliance and copyright date. Yes I was a fool, but only as good as the limited knowledge I had at the time. Jesus that song chills the heart.

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As the 80s became the 90s, Scott’s name was dropped more frequently. His absence was just considered to be normal. Would he return? Who knew? Meanwhile Scotts 1 to 4 increased in value and scarcity, legendary albums you never heard but heard a lot about.

Then Phonogram under the Fontana label began a reissue programme for the CD age. First of all were two compilations – “Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel” (all his Brel covers, obviously) and “Boy Child”, concentrating on his self written material across his first five solo albums (if we ignore the BBC album). For a start this was a surprise, there were more albums? But this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise really. I had come across a CBS cassette of his 1973 “Stretch” album on a market stall in Leeds in 1989 (I didn’t buy it, I bought a tape of “Crumbling the antiseptic beauty” and “The splendour of fear” instead) and was confused again… This wasn’t on Philips, he was smiling on the cover… And it was 1973. But “Boy Child” put the spotlight back onto Scott and his songwriting.

Now this is where it gets odd. My brother bought “Boy Child” around the same time he bought a new hifi in the summer of 1990, and I remember listening to it, but honest to God I didn’t take the blindest bit of notice of it because I can’t remember any of it actually engaging with my brain. Admittedly I had other things to think about musically that summer (I’m looking at you “Temple Cloud”, “Snowball” and “Skywriting”) but either I didn’t listen properly or … I dunno. It just passed me by. I wasn’t ready for it.

But the next summer I was totally ready for it. My brother’s copy had disappeared with him back to wherever he was at the time (somewhere between Hull and Stockport) and it was the best summer ever, a combination of perfect weather, an easy job, a ton of money to spend on a ton of records and finally a place in town to feel at home and oh yeah there was someone else too who I was trying not to crush on because it was going to spoil a good friendship. And in the middle of that I bought “Boy Child”.

Was it the revelation I was expecting? Yes it was. I won’t go through it song by song here because I will be repeating myself. But what I will say is that “The Bridge” hit me like a ton of bricks. So slow, so taut, so graceful… Even listening now takes me straight back to that summer. The surge into the chorus always brings tears, and the “before the bottle dulled my eyes” lines too. It was that kind of summer. In amongst all the great new music I was listening too (and summer 91 was great, don’t deny it) this music struck chords and pulled heartstrings and somehow felt totally relevant and part of that era. And there were connections too… Hearing the opening of “The war is over” – “Everything still, everything silent, as after the rain…” and realising that Eyeless In Gaza stole the entire line for “Lie still, sleep long”. And later that year hearing “Reprise” by Moose and realising it’s an amalgam of loops from “The war is over”, “Such a small love”, “Boy child” and many more.

The first four Scott Walker albums were finally reissued on Fontana in 1992, in groups of two if I remember correctly. Or I may be wrong in that one. I know there was quite a bit of publicity around them, and they received good reviews from the music magazines who cared or noticed. Maybe I think the albums came out in twos because that’s how I bought them that summer, and they fitted into my life quite snuggly.

Because the summer of 1992 was a time of great change. I’d finally found a decent job – a computer programmer in the Stats Office in Newport – and was one of two groups of trainees, one bunch of ten started in June, the second in July. I was in the first batch, and immediately started crushing on one of my fellow trainees. (I should point out that I have a tendency to crush on people when I’m in a new situation, like a new workplace or something like that. Of course it doesn’t happen any more) Then once the July trainees arrived I started crushing on one of them too, slowly but surely…. I’ve mentioned this before, right? Anyway that summer was finding my feet in a new town in a new job spending 90 minutes travelling back and forth and listening to a lot of music. And it was in the early stages of this that Scotts 1 to 4 arrived.

“Scott” – as I’ve already said – was his debut album from 1967 and he was already chafing at the chains of stardom around him. What other album cover from that psychedelic year would feature a black and white photo of the singer, hiding behind shades and a scarf, looking downcast? It looks like a surveillance photo, through a long telephoto lens. And in a way the album feels like that too, glimpses of Scott from far away, not quite in focus yet.

“Mathilde” is a rollicking opener, setting the stall with blasts of trumpets in a fanfare and an uptempo jog, the first of Scott’s Brel covers, and a perfect fit. He sings like he’s already at the end of his tether – “Mama, can you hear me tell? Your baby boy’s gone back to hell” is such a moment. There’s a brilliant clip of him performing this on the Dusty Springfield show where he seems to collapse exhausted at the end of the song. Already the listener knows he means it, maan. The first sign of Brel. “Montague Terrace (in blue)” is lovely, Scott’s own pen sketching glimpses of fellow tenement residents stomping and shagging and dreaming, exploding into a chorus where hopes and dreams seem so close. A beauty. “Angelica” is another favourite, even though it seems nobody mentions it, Scott sings this heartbreaking tale with all the passion it deserves, he really inhabits the forgetful yet regretful lover, and I love it. “The lady came from Baltimore” is country rock before such a thing existed. “When Joanna loved me” is Scott doing Tony Bennett, he’s still the consummate entertainer. And then the second Brel song “My death”. And … Cough .. I don’t get it. It’s all very dramatic but it doesn’t move me. It’s a bit hammy, overacted and overplayed.

Side two then kicks off with “The big hurt” and frankly this sounds more like it. Even the arrangement has some nice touches, and Scott sings beautifully. “Such a small love” sees the arrival of a Scott trope, the hovering static string arrangement later seen on “Sleepwalkers woman”, and the song is great too. Images of a friend’s funeral (I presume), and the song only enlivens towards the end when happy memories start to swirl around the narrator. “You’re gonna hear from me” and “Through a long and sleepless night” are fine enough but nowt special, Scott’s vocal can make anything worth listening to, but these are just fine. They pass the time. Scott’s final self written song “Always coming back to you” is better, more memories of a past love, glimpses of happiness in rainfall, always in rainfall, and tossed off asides vocally, slowly building to the crescendo of loss. Finally “Amsterdam” and Brel and I still don’t get it. Sorry, Brel lovers, and Scott singing Brel lovers. But for now this does nothing to me. But bear with me, dear reader, because (spoiler alert) I promise I get some Brel eventually.

So that was the debut. About as unpsychedelic as you can get. It still reached the top three in the album charts. That was good enough to carry on, and “Scott 2” emerged a year later. This time the front cover is a shot of Scott in action, on stage (presumably), while on the reverse there are moodier shots of Scott looking pensive, and a sleeve note from “his friend” which we shall return to after examining the album itself.

It starts, as did “Scott” with a galloping Brel song. “Jackie” was already quite infamous, Scott’s debut solo single from 1967 and banned by the BBC, though I presume it was played on whatever was left of pirate radio. And he appeared on the Frankie Howerd show on ITV. But generally it wasn’t a huge hit so placing it at the start of the album was either a misguided attempt at selling it again, or a reminder of what could have been. All of which distracts from the song which is a wild romp. Though of course really he should have called it “Scotty”. (Momus got this right with his version “Nicky”). It’s still a breathless and rather funny tale. Straight into “Best of both worlds” which gives an idea of how a 60s Scott Walker Bond theme would sound. The arrangement here is lovely, there’s already progression from the debut album, more subtlety, and the song suits him well. “Black sheep boy” is another Tim Hardin song and has a similar feel to “The lady came from Baltimore”, and another tale of outsiderdom. Quite lovely. “The amourous Humphrey Plugg” is the first Scott written epic and moves gracefully, some verses narrated by the protagonist’s partner (I think) while others are the protagonist’s own words or thoughts or fantasies. An escape from the humdrum drone of life, dreams of seduction and sin. “Pavements of poets will write that I died in nine angel’s arms” is such a great line. And where is Channing Way? Bradford??? “Next” comes – er – next and suddenly I realise why I’m not fond of some of these Brel songs. It’s down to my brother playing Bowie’s “My death” and “Amsterdam” over and over when I was younger (and I never really had that Bowie moment everyone else had has, but I did have the Scott Walker moment …) And “Next” of course is my brother playing the Sensational Alex Harvey Band version at me over and over. And I can’t get past that. Scott does his best and screams and hollers but I still don’t like it. Maybe I’m a prude. Hmm. “The girls from the streets” almost makes up for it, another night of sin, being led astray… Admittedly from this distance it’s a bit dodgy. Even so, “don’t look sad, things aren’t so bad, they’re just more wrong than right” remains relevant under any circumstances. The move from thumping verse into the waltzing chorus is glorious. There’s a lack of morality amongst these songs, no denouncement of what happens, another outsider viewpoint on life, making no judgements but observing.

“Plastic Palace People” used to be disturbing, it certainly was for a long time until I realised… Billy is the balloon, isn’t he? The gentle rise and fall of the verse is lovely but slightly unsettling. God I still can’t listen to this, it’s still making me tear up. You see I can’t do metaphor, analogies and personification. I take everything at face value. The chorus is more traditional, those high static string lines again. And then at the end of the chorus it goes even more unsettled, Scott’s voice gets a delay effect and the song collapses… No, I can’t listen to this still. I do like how the song swirls into its own kaleidoscope of sound as it fades out, a hint of psychedelia, which hasn’t been touched at all so far in Scott’s music. “Wait until dark” is quite lovely after that, a gentle breeze of a song. Notice how the orchestrations have become richer but also there’s slightly more emphasis on guitar and drums. “The girls and the dogs” is my favourite Brel song so far, partly for the joyous music and the tongue in cheek lyrics, even with some quite terrible rhymes. And Scott absolutely smashes this one, his singing is so spot on and funny, as is the arrangement, as noted by Tim Worthington as “the Terry Scott Falls Through A Chair comedy trombone” at the end of the song. (Read Tim’s excellent Scott post here)

The change over from the jocular to the serious then for Bacharach and David’s “Windows on the world” is quite something. This song is one of my favourite Scott covers actually, the arrangement is sympathetic and quietly paced, Scott doesn’t over-emote, and the delicate glockenspiel figures which conclude each chorus are heart stopping. And the song itself is quietly stunning too – are there references to the call up in America in the second verse? And the third a reference to Vietnam? That it is followed by “The Bridge” – another emotional song for me – this final trio of songs killed me. (Have I mentioned I split 12 song albums into 4 groups of three songs?) Yes “The Bridge”… Sudden thought, is the name “Madeleine” an oblique Proust reference? Oh lord this song kills me. “Come next spring” is a hopeful end to the album, which needed to be after the last two songs.

In the sleevenotes written by his friend, Scott says of the album “it’s the work of a lazy self indulgent man. Now the nonsense must stop and the serious business must begin”, and in a way I feel he was right. At this point his songwriting has stepped up a gear, and the song choices are better but there’s still an angle of all round showbiz entertainer on the album, even if the emotional depth of the songs – original and covers – is greater. The next album would be self written, with three Brel songs at the end.

So “Scott” and “Scott 2” arrived in my life on the same day, and I loved them so much I wanted 3 and 4 as soon as possible. I ended up buying both in August on a trip to Bristol, where I also bought the first single by Medicine and a Jasmine Minks album (I’d bought “Creation Soup vol 3” the week before and was so impressed by “Cold Heart” that I wanted to hear what an album of theirs was like). By now the crush was establishing itself, slowly and surely and I was quietly besotted. Not that this has any relevance to Scott Walker, but it might have had an impact on how I listened to these songs.

“Scott 3”, a close-up of an eye with Scott looking pensive in the eye of the storm. And a pretentious sleeve note. Let’s just look at the music…

“It’s raining today” and the static dissonant strings hover, gentle strummed guitars… Loves lost and found and lost and memories of “summer and you”. Those strings don’t bloody move. Scary. A sudden stop and the song turns … Normal, Scott remembers and moves on, but the static returns and nothing is changed really. Let the rain fall. “Copenhagen” is more hopeful, built on harps and pizzicato strings. The surges are ecstatic, the music falls like snowdrops. Again the song stops before the chorus, and Scott feels innocent and warm and in love, the children’s carousel at the end feels light headed and giddy. “Rosemary” is already heartbreaking in its sadness, even though the music is upbeat, a savage string arrangement. Remembrances of a dalliance, memories of a incipient dream which have been dashed… The final lines where Rosemary speaks herself are so true. So true. “Big Louise”… I mean I know it’s about a transvestite but Christ almighty it’s so much more universal than that, is it just me who empathises with this song? Jesus I can feel myself welling up on the lines “because the world’s passed her by”. Christ this song HURTS. So many chord changes which twist and turn and hurt like hell. Sorry, I think “Scott 3” will be like this. Didn’t time sound sweet yesterday? That line. Absolutely slays me every time. How can people listen to this and not be moved? “We came through” is a strident blast of hope, though there’s so much death and despair in here. A fatalism worth fighting for. The fireworks at the end are surely ironic. (Whispers) I don’t really get this one. We’ll come back to this soon. “Butterfly” is a gentle song, a happy interlude here. I can hear Andy Williams singing this. Lovely. “Two ragged soldiers”, oh here we go again. Tears again. Thumps the bed with his fist. So many twists of the musical knife. Memories and the past shared by two. The last verse again is a killer. This could be the tale of any two friends. I can’t see the screen I’m typing on. Sorry. Stunning. I’m not doing well here. Sorry. “30 Century Man” is such a shock after all the strings and drums – just Scott and his guitar. Play it cool. I actually find this quite funny, but am I meant to? “Winter night”… Here we go again. Tears. There are so many little parts of the arrangement which kill me. He’s singing about someone who is frozen and it should be me. It should be me. I’m supposed to be the rock, the Asperger’s making me unemotional, but this stuff KILLS ME, absolutely kills me. I can’t explain it either. It just hits nerves, the music and the words… Even the surge around the minute mark turns to melancholy with “But I’ll never light them up again”. After this “Two weeks since you’ve gone” is just as bad, frankly. More heartbreak and pain and yes tears and haven’t we all been here? And those chord changes. “And if I walk these streets long enough will you happen to me once again?” The move to that section is amazing, the introduction of bass and distant piano. And the change from “walk these streets” to “close my eyes”, just the remembrance and hope is there, and the song fades out on the piano and strings waltzing into the distance. And here is one of the most perfect song changeovers ever, as “Sons of” starts with almost the same waltzing piano in just about the same key and it’s perfect. Now we are into the three Brel songs and fuck me if I’m not already in tears by the end of the first verse of “Sons of” and I didn’t know why then and I think I do know why now. I think it’s called growing up. “Sons of” builds up beautifully, a perfect arrangement, and so gently sung. Fantastic. An ending which still surprises. “Funeral Tango” is dark humour at its finest, and considering how I didn’t like “Next” I think this is far better. Well I think it’s funny. And to follow this with “if you go away”, amazing. Have I mentioned how this song kills me too? Yes? It’s an emotionally draining performance at the end of an emotionally draining album.

“Scott 3” is such a huge leap onwards from the first two albums, the Brel songs match the darkness of the original songs and there’s a consistency across the arrangements and performances. Just ignore the sleeve notes. “3” was issued in March 1969, while Scott’s TV show was on the BBC, and songs from the album were performed on the show – “Winter night” and “We came through” surrounding two Dudley Moore Trio songs on the 11th March, “Big Louise” and “Funeral Tango” surrounding “Girl talk” by Maynard Ferguson on 1st April. But the exposure must have helped the album which reached the top five again in March. It was followed in July by the “Songs from his TV series” LP and then “Scott 4” was issued in November and disappeared almost immediately.

“The Seventh Seal” sets out the album and already there’s a difference, the mariachi trumpet, spaghetti western feel and emphasis on thumping bass and drums and guitar show this is a different Scott to the orchestra led numbers on his previous album. Sure there’s a string arrangement here but it’s not foregrounded, and the insistent tambourine leads the way, along with the Russian boatmen chorus. And Scott basically provides a synopsis of the film, with numerous key changes. And .. oh god…. I’m not really that impressed. Again, we will get to this later. “On your own again” is a beautiful miniature, gentle acoustic guitars and Scott singing close and intimate, and the surge at 50 seconds is quite gorgeous. What exactly is going on here I’ve never figured out, really. There’s so many personal pronouns involved it makes it hard to follow, you and ours, he and I… Still the final line is a killer “I was so happy I didn’t feel like me”. Yep, know that feeling. “The world’s strongest man” is Scott at his most vulnerable, a bed of wobbly organ and a soaring string arrangement on the chorus and oh look the tambourine is back. Of course Scott isn’t strong, and that makes the song more human, and it brings shudders – “And I need your love, you know, I can’t pretend it any more”. Scott scats away as the song fades. “Angels of ashes” is stunning, it just is, and it’s another song to induce tears. I have no idea what it means, but sometimes you don’t need to have meaning, you can just feel the emotional resonance. So many great lines here, I’m not going to quote. Oh my. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I feel like I’m a fraud writing this stuff, you’ve waded through thousands of words and I can’t even tell you what the songs mean, but I can tell you what they mean to me. Or maybe I can’t even achieve that. But I try. Is that ok? I hope so. “Angels of Ashes” is perfect. Is that ok? Oh damn, I’ve got “Boy child” next. “Boy child” is like “Sleepwalkers woman”, static and silence, spaces and emotions, you don’t need me now, do you? It’s just heart stopping. Emotionally exhausting. The lyrics seem metaphysical, I suppose. Vague but close enough for the listening to make their own interpretation. “Hero of the war” at the start of side two is quite a change, rapidly strummed acoustic guitars, tribal drums and that tambourine again. There’s a lot of bass guitar on “Scott 4”, you notice. Is this deliberate? Scott of course was the bass player in the Walker Brothers. I do like the phased string arrangement. All of which diverts from the fact the lyric is a bit heavy handed and obvious. Scott scats again. “The old man’s back again”… Listen to that bass again. Oh I feel bad about this, you know.. I love so many songs on “Scott 4” but this and “Hero of the war” and “The seventh seal” aren’t my favourites. I think I find them too obvious, I don’t enjoy them as much as the more personal songs. Maybe it’s because I want escapism, I want something which touches me on a personal level, not someone talking about a film or a news story. I guess I’m just simple really, I’ve not read the books, seen the films, got the references. But sing about love or a relationship and it touches my soul. Case in point – “Duchess”. Absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking. It’s almost Dylan-esque, just around the corner from “Sad eyed lady of the lowlands”, and with as much florid language. And of course the final four words turn the whole song on its head. “Get behind me”. Who, the devil? The past? It’s whatever you want to escape. It’s some strange AOR music, female backing singers must be wondering what the hell they’re singing about. The queasy minor to major changes shift beautifully and the bizarre bass jumps up and down and fuzz guitar soars. Sounds like “Throw down a line”, in a way. “So we won’t feel the gravity of time” – trying not to grow old, trying to move on. Passionate performance regardless. And finally “Rhymes of goodbye”. Another song which can bring me to tears and I don’t know why. It just kills me.

Every three years I would make up a top 40 songs and put them on a tape, 1983, 86, 89, 92. September 9th, if you must know. “Rhymes of goodbye” was a top ten entry in 92 and it’s still up there in my favourite songs ever. Up there with “Statues”, “A winter’s dawn”, “All that love and maths can do”, this is hallowed company for me. I must dig out the tapes for 92, it’s a classic. But remember I’d only had the album less than a month and it made such an impression that it was a top ten song. It’s weird, it’s another song I don’t understand but I feel like I get comfort from it. A warmth, an understanding glow. This is my interpretation, it’s how it reflects on me. And it kills me. Absolutely every time.

It’s weird, looking back…. The songs on the four Scott albums had absolutely nothing to do with what I was going through at the time, how could they reflect that? And that’s what the Biff Bang Pow albums were for. And yes I’m over it all. A long time ago. Listen to “Past caring” and “Spoiling the grand design”. But the albums seemed to paint the atmosphere a dark shade of blue, infuse my life and thoughts with deeper meaning, even if they didn’t directly attach themselves to memories.

Of course “Scott 4” wasn’t the end of the story. At some point in 1992 my brother bought a battered copy of “‘Til the band comes in”, what could have been “Scott 5”. I was slightly less impressed. When it’s good it’s great – “Little things”, the title track, “Long about now”. I knew the latter from the Fatima Mansions version on “Bertie’s Brochures”. But the cover versions were ropey, and again Andy Williams does a better version of “It’s over”, Scott phoning it in while Andy makes you believe the world is over. Was I interested in lacklustre cover albums from the 70s? No. Was I happy to find a copy of “Nite flights” and finally hear Scott’s four songs there? Damn right I was.

But new music? That was a bolt out of the blue. “Tilt” in 1995 was so different, so strange, so alien… Again it felt like a lifetime’s worth of energy went into it, and it would take a lifetime to unfathom it. Scott appeared on “Later…”, alone with a guitar, passionate and deeply into his performance. And then disappearance again, though not fully. There was always music on the sidelines, on film soundtracks, Dylan covers. And like Halley’s comet a new album every so often, each time deeper and more serious and more impenetrable, but still that voice and that power. Always moving on to something new.

And now he’s gone. Two weeks since he’s gone and I feel like an idiot for not writing this before. I started this post years ago, actually the day after that 1981 Top Of The Pops broadcast. His music has touched my heart and soul like the best, most loved music in my life. The memories are there, the music is there. I may not be clever enough to understand it all, I don’t know my Camus from my Sartre, I’m as existential as a penguin. But when it cuts to the heart of the human condition, songs like “Big Louise”, “Sleepwalkers woman”, “Duchess” and “The Bridge” will always be there for me. Thank you Scott and goodbye, I trust the angels of ashes are taking good care of you.

Street scenes and absent friends

Thoughts on “Hex” by Bark Psychosis, twenty five years on

For me “Hex” is the sound of an unfamiliar town as a cold winter turns into a slightly less cold spring. Dark nights, catching buses which take odd turns into housing estates I have no idea about, feeling uneasy, paranoid – where ARE we going? I don’t recognise this street, can everyone see the panic on my face? I’d only been living in Newport for a month or so, slowly settling into my new house. I didn’t know the town, only how to catch a bus in to the bus station and a bus out to work. If anything happened differently I was lost. One day it snowed and all the buses stopped, I tried to walk to work and got completely lost and ended up having to ring in to work from a call box to admit defeat and say I wasn’t coming in. My parents brought my cat Bez to live with me and he hated it – he missed his three feline playmates in Penarth, he didn’t like being stuck inside the house all the time and spent most of his days sat on top of my wardrobe miaowing at me. He went back after a week. It wasn’t that easy for me.

And “Hex” by Bark Psychosis is that feeling put into music.

Released 25 years ago today (that’s Valentine’s Day 1994) “Hex” was a debut album which had been four years in the making, and in a way was a culmination of a trend in music, and for all the times it has been referenced since, it stands alone and outside of everything.

Bark Psychosis were formed by Graham Sutton (guitar and vocals) and John Ling (bass) in 1986 when they were both 14, and became more of a going concern with the addition of Mark Simnett on drums and Daniel Gish on keyboards. They started gigging in 1988, playing live sets characterised by noise and aggression, hence the band name. After an initial appearance on a flexidisc free with Clawhammer fanzine, they signed to Cheree Records – home of The Telescopes and Whipping Boy – to issue their initial singles in 1990. Debut single “All different things” defined an early template for them – quiet tension, deep reverb, haunting minimal vocals then loud explosions of noise to release the tension. “Nothing feels” / “I know” was quieter still, all hushed whispers, heartbeat drums and atmosphere in spades. They were noticed in the music press and the likes of Simon Reynolds waxed lyrical on them in Melody Maker.

After a move to Third Stone Records, a new EP was issued in 1991 – “Manman”. This was progress… There was more emphasis on rhythm, a solid bottom of throbbing bass on the title track, a propulsive movement. But the following songs were even better. “Blood rush” is far from that, gentle waves of tremelo guitars, lightly brushed ride cymbals, Sutton’s subtle vocals, and then slowly the song rises over seven minutes, before merging into “Tooled up”, a brutal rhythm, again more tension and threat. Again more kind words from the music press…

And then there was “Scum”, an absolutely extraordinary single issued late in 1992. It felt like music was constantly striving for something greater, longer, more expansive at the time – singles like “Avenue”, “Gravity grave”, “Lazarus” and “The Blue Room” were pushing boundaries, and “Scum” was right up there with those singles. It was recorded in a church and sounded like it, so much natural reverb, so much space… nothing happened for minutes on end, just sound. Then drums in the distance, then a strummed chord of guitar, baseline throbbing and those whispered vocals again…. “don’t tell me that we’re all free”… (A response to “Everybody’s free to feel good” apparently). And it kept on building to a crescendo over minutes and minutes before floating back to silence. Over twenty whole minutes. Stunning.

That’s where I picked up on Bark Psychosis. I was intrigued by the rapturous praise from Melody Maker and bought the single and it was as good as they said. I couldn’t find any of their old records though so I just waited and waited for something new.

The first and last single from “Hex” was “A street scene”, and I bought the ten inch red vinyl from Diverse Records – one of my first purchases after moving to Newport in January 1994. It was almost a normal song, had dynamics and a tune but the slowing down coda was beautiful. And the b side “Reserve shot gunman” was more rhythm and threat with a squealling guitar solo. What would the album bring?

I bought “Hex” on the day it was issued, Valentine’s Day 1994. Not that I had a valentine that year. When lovers everywhere indulged in meals and chocolates and huge inflated prices for roses, I spent the night listening to the new Bark Psychosis album.

It’s not a conventional rock album – it was after all the album that gave rise to Simon Reynolds’ term “post-rock” – but it is mainly played out on conventional instruments. it was recorded meticulously and sequenced in places using whatever now-primitive technology was available at the time, but it all sounds natural. It doesn’t sound synthetic at all. There’s lovely tremelo guitar, bass and drums, piano sometimes in chords and patterns, sometimes just notes. The music ebbs and flows naturally, quiet to loud to quiet, the drums are brushed rather than hit hard, spaces in the music… And Graham Sutton’s whisper of a voice telling secrets and truths – “It’s gonna work out anyway”, “You turn my world upside down”, “And that’s the biggest joke of all”. Everything about the album is perfectly placed, not a note or second jarring or spoiling the late night atmosphere. And it does sound completely natural, you’d be hard pressed to hear the technology at work, the year spent working on samplers and sequencers was worth it to make it sound so much like a group of musicians playing together in a room (or a church)

Somehow it feels wrong to take the album song by song, dismantle the magic there and try to describe what happens. “Hex” is such a perfectly formed piece that I don’t want to do that. Each song is magnificent, moving along the pace deliberately and carefully. Each song means something special to me, those memories, those times. How about highlights then? The entrance of the Duke Quartet over the piano on “The Loom”, the gentle deceleration in the coda of “A street scene”. The twinkling guitars and synths which take over the second half of “Absent friend”. The night drive around town of “Big shot”. Then the closing two songs. “Eyes and smiles” flows from one section to another, that guitar pattern, cymbals keeping time, occasional bass, keyboards like a sunrise, moving across eight minutes of logic and beauty, rising to a crescendo as the musicians slowly increase the pressure, the drums swing around, the bass juts in, wild Miles Davis style trumpets blatt in, the levels increase and Sutton finally lets loose, shouting “And you’ve got to go on!”. After that – no more words. “Pendulum man” is a nine minute drift of guitars and synth washes, making the most of the echoes in the church being used to record the album. A great closer, relieving the tension building up to that point.

As I keep saying “Hex” felt like something ending and in a way it was. It was effectively the end of Bark Psychosis as a band, members were dropping out as the album was recorded, leaving only Sutton and Simnett as the members. But also it was the end of a trend in music too. Bands like Seefeel, Insides, Spoonfed Hybrid, Pram, Disco Inferno and Butterfly Child has been pushing the boundaries of music, integrating technology and sampling into their sound, and Bark Psychosis were part of this. When Simon Reynolds used the term “post-rock” when reviewing “Hex” he included all these artists in the same breath – there was a Melody Maker article on this around the same time. And somehow it felt by naming it the spirit of adventure was sullied in some way, and by 1995 post-rock was no longer what these artists had achieved but was moving towards America, towards Tortoise and La Bradford and instrumental textures. Nothing wrong with that, but the spirit of adventure in the British music was slowly dissapating. But that’s another tale. Bark Psychosis issued one more single “Blue” – a heartfelt and passionate New Order homage – before disappearing, Sutton moved on to jungle and Boymerang and a career as a producer with an incredible ear for space and sound. Bark Psychosis would return in 2004 with the album “Codename : Dustsucker”, an excellent follow up to “Hex” but it was a Sutton solo project.

But “Hex” has had an interesting afterlife. I always thought Scott Walker’s “Tilt” album had hints of Bark Psychosis in it. Certainly Slowdive were listening because “Blue skied an’ clear” on “Pygmalion” owes a lot to “Hex”. And as time has passed songs appear which are in thrall to Bark Psychosis, by bands like These New Puritans, Mogwai, Doves and Trembling Blue Stars. “Hex” became a touchstone for other artists or fans to mention in awe, alongside “DI go Pop”. A reissue and remaster two years ago was welcome. Of course now it’s seen in the lineage of experimental rock music alongside the later Talk Talk albums (whose own use of silence and noise must have had some influence on Bark Psychosis). It’s also an album which stands outside of time – nothing in the sounds datestamps the music to a particular year, no synths or drum machines to date the music. Timeless.

But let’s not forget the album itself and that moment in time – “Hex” was issued on Circa Records, a subsidiary of Virgin, and I clearly remember a lot of promotion going into it – the single discounted in shops, album displays in HMV and Virgin, posters all over Corporation Road for “Hex” (and that’s another memory I would rather forget), songs appearing on Virgin samplers – “A street scene” on “Signed sealed delivered” compilation, “Pendulum Man” on the 3rd “Ambient” collection. The label really pushed “Hex” and maybe there was a hope it could become mainstream. Who knows? A major label took a chance on such an odd record at such an odd time. Those days are long gone.

So turn off the lights, watch the night fall with the curtains open and let “Hex” weave its magical spell. Try not to get lost

Fear of an imperfect voice

Thoughts on “Why hasn’t everything already disappeared?” by Deerhunter

Sometimes it’s good to approach an album knowing nothing about the artist. Sometimes it’s better to approach an album having misconceptions about the artist which can be destroyed by listening to the album. I don’t know where I got the idea that Deerhunter were some weird Avant Garde act, I may have even confused them with Deerhoof, but I know it was based on a live review I saw in an old issue of Mojo many years ago and quite frankly I don’t see the point in investigating that one. But let me be perfectly clear on this – whatever I thought Deerhunter were, I wasn’t expecting this.

Ignorance is bliss too. I’ve tried to avoid as much information about the album so I can assess it just on how it sounds and how the words come through. You know, listen without prejudice. There are stories of inspirations for some songs, but I feel they get in the way of the songs. Do I need to know the genesis of “No one’s sleeping”? No, I can pick up the unease from a cursory listen to the song.

And so to the album itself, or rather a second attempt at the album. A first attempt was so pitiful that I binned it so I’m trying again…

You see, I’ve been making a case for this album that yes maybe it’s about darkness and death but you can’t really tell that from the music alone. But that’s a lie really. Of course you can pick that up. Maybe I’m just naive, or I don’t listen closely enough. As soon as I started to analyse the songs the darkness was overwhelming, I couldn’t help spotting the references. This annoyed me, not because it went against my own argument, but because listening to the music alone I didn’t pick up the darkness. Or maybe I’m just a bit shallow and don’t listen properly.

So yes lyrically there’s darkness and death and fear. “Death in midsummer” (death, Rob, death, it’s there right in your face) has Bradford Cox singing “Your friends have died… They are in graves now” and in the quiet coda he looks on sadly at the world “Look around and you’ll see what’s fading”. And that’s just the opening song. There’s more, a lot more. “Element” seems to be describing an apocalypse, “Threads” in a pop song (not an original thought, but nuclear dread is so 20th century). “Curtain call for all those lives spent surviving for that final day”. “No-one’s sleeping” due to a great unrest, and even the village greens aren’t safe any more. (I’m trying to avoid the subject matter on that one because it does touch nerves). “Futurism” seems to hinge on Cox almost stopping the song to deliver the final word on the line “Call it what you want dear, I call it ‘Fear'”. I don’t know… And what does happen to people? That’s a question asked on here, why do they change? From idealism to … What exactly?

But behind the darkness the music is rich, colourful and far from melancholy. “No-one’s sleeping” ends with a glorious instrumental coda, “Element” has Chamberlain strings and autoharps buzzing, “Futurism” and “Plains” are deceptively upbeat musically. This isn’t minor chord sadness, if it is apocalypse that Cox is facing, then he’s facing it with a grin on his face.

There’s a few detours along the way. “Greenpoint Gothic” is pure cusp of the 80s Gary Numan, those Vox Humana PolyMoog sounds are complimented nicely by gamelan piano and marimbas. “Tarnung” again points to the early 80s, a marimba pattern repeats with high and lonesome monosynths and pattering drum machines, an oriental tone. There’s hints of Japan, the quieter side of “Deceit” era This Heat and the clanking background noise on early Eyeless In Gaza songs. Spooked to say the least.

And then there’s “Detournement” which unsettles the flow of the album. Not musically, the slow build of layers of guitars, pianos and synths makes sense. But the vocal … It’s a spoken word piece, placed through some peculiar electronics to harmonise and pitchshift, to smear and smudge the words. And it still freaks me out. I don’t know what the words are trying to say, it seems like a travelogue around the world. But the effect on the voice unsettles me, I find it uncomfortable to listen to. I’ve always been this way, from “Fitter happier” backwards to “Radioland”, it sends shivers down my spine.

The closing song “Nocturne” has a similar effect. A slow crawl with electric pianos and a stumbling drumbeat, Cox’s vocal is cut up and smeared, dropping out here and there, making it impossible to understand (the lyric sheet is the same, missing letters and words). Again it’s uncomfortable, sense is abandoned, though Cox’s passion to express himself is evident. But the cut out vocal has an unfortunate effect of invoking the memory of Norman Collier, which probably isn’t the idea. So the voice is imperfect again but at least I can get past it now. Thankfully once the vocal is abandoned after two minutes, the tempo is doubled and everything rights itself – a piano thumps out a regular chord sequence, drums are clattered, and waves of synths add melody upon melody. Another 1981 reference – it sounds like an outtake from “Anywhere”, New Musik’s marvellous second album. And this continues for about four minutes, with a few changes along the way. It’s like sunlight after the rain, a joyous return to normality, or a final ascension to heaven. Either way, it’s a great way to close the album.

Does “Why hasn’t everything already disappeared?” reflect life? Depends how life is. Does anyone have this much to worry about? Probably doesn’t reflect Bill Gates’ or Theresa May’s lives. They may have other worries than those expressed here. But it may reflect life for you, if you think deeper than me. Maybe that’s why I’m a goldfish. Walk around and you’ll see what’s faded.

An album for a year

It’s the time of year when everyone gets their lists out and everyone else goes “Oh come on, what about …. And …. and…. ” We’ve all done it. Looked at lists and thought “I don’t know half of these” or “Half of these are shit” or “I swear they’ve made these up” or “But is the Low album that good?” (Answer – yes it is actually).

I’ve made up lists before and I probably will again, but this year I don’t feel like it. I’ve consumed as much music as last year but I don’t feel like it has nourished me as much as it did last year. Maybe that’s me, who knows? Music has gone in and gone out, and there haven’t been that many albums which have stuck around in my mind or my iPod or phone or whatever playback method I have chosen. There have been some, but not many.

But one album has remained constant this year from the moment I heard it. I’ve not removed it from my phone since the Summer, and I’m still listening to it now in December and still finding new corners and ideas and lyrics….

That album is “DejaVu” by Matty.

It’s all Colin Newman’s fault, to be honest. I wouldn’t have discovered the album if Newman hadn’t included it on his Bakers Dozen article in the Quietus in the summer, July 17th to be honest. Newman’s comments mentioning Todd Rundgrun, Emmit Rhodes and other 70s soft rockers piqued my interest and the next day I listened to the album for the first time, and immediately downloaded it. It certainly made an impression, I even remarked on my Twitter feed about one song going full on skronk at the end.

And then I kept listening to it. Not all the time, not obsessively, but every few days I would return to it, listen in full and start to recognise the songs in order, hear lyrics which resonated, and feel like I was knowing the songs more. That hasn’t changed from July to December. I’m still listening to the album every few days. A week certainly hasn’t past where I haven’t listened to it. I’ve probably banged on about it on Twitter to anyone and everyone and all my followers are probably sick of it, in which case this post is a chance to get Matty out of my system once and for all.

So who is Matty? Matty is Matthew Tavares, of Toronto. He is the keyboard player in Badbadnotgood, and I’m not going to pretend I know anything about them because I don’t. It seems that a year or so ago Tavares had some kind of burn out, took time away from the band to create “DejaVu”. There may have been some other things happening in his life at the time, the lyrics indicate some heartbreak and disappointment in relationships. But that’s just my reading. Whatever happened, he channelled his feelings into the album and it shows.

The album opens with “Embarrassed”, a midtempo loping song, already setting up the general parameters within which most of the album will operate. Simple drums and bass (played by other members of Badbadnotgood) anchor the song while washes of synth chords swirl around the listener, and an insistent keyboard melody makes an impression. Matty’s vocal seems to be about social embarrassment – “it’s why I keep the conversations small” – but as the song progresses it becomes clear the “other” voice – the “you” in the lyric – is his own inner voice, the one telling him uncomfortable truthes.

“Verocai” (I have no idea what that means) is the closest here to the Rundgrun / Rhodes 70s soft rock the album was billed as. The melody and chords are all piano based, the tune slipping and sliding with occasional dropped beats (there’s no percussion at all on this song), but as the chorus draws near, more instrumentation comes into view – a synthetic string arrangement which enriches the song immensely. I’m really not sure what the lyrics are trying to say here – harking back to a past before a relationship started maybe – “When things have gone too far there’s always a way to go backwards” – but the heavenly lift of Matty’s falsetto on the chorus, alongside the sudden string arrangement, brings an early album highlight. In a way this reminds me of early Plush, so it’s 70s soft rock third hand in a way. Still lovely though.

“How can he be” is a breezy pop song which owes a hint towards “Hey Ya” (to my ears anyway), maybe it’s the snappily strummed acoustic guitar chords. The words however have a ring of bitterness – he’s seen her with someone else who looks like him and it’s tearing him up, possibly through his own lack – “the flames of love stifled through insecurity”. Two verses and choruses pass by before you even notice and the quiet coda leads nicely into the next song, but this may be the most instant song on the album.

“I’ll gladly place myself below you” is the heart of the album for me. So many contradictions and so much self doubt, it’s almost painful to listen to the words, and yet they are sung so sweetly in such a world weary manner too. The song itself is quiet, clanking sounds like partly working machinery around four repeated chords and minimal drum machine, but there are layers added as the song moves on – marimbas and more. The whole lyric is so heartbreaking, each line adding another shovel on dirt on a relationship which is clearly toxic, nobody is happy, nobody is getting what they need, lines end with a world weary “oh man….”. And in the middle a line so perfect it makes me gasp for breath each time I hear it – “Here in the mystery of what can make me content”. So much to unpack in those ten words, and yet they are followed by the coruscating “I guess the only thing that’s left to change is my intent …But I won’t“. Each line cuts deep. Around two minutes the song builds up, wordless high harmonies, more keyboards and drums finally appear, rolling onwards to a crescendo of painful truth, for everything to drop out after a final chorus, two keyboard parts weave around in the air, and an instrumental coda feels like the calm after the storm. A stunning song.

“Clear” is anything but, except for the music which is pure bliss. In a way, the music is close to yacht rock here – not too fast, a slight swing to the beat, but not to begin with – Matty sings the first verse over a bed of synth chords. He’s in a new relationship but there’s ghosts of the previous relationship hanging over him – “If you’re the one I needed / Why does her memory still creep in?” Yet the music is lovely, lots of wordless high harmonies and the second half has peculiar half sung vocals over the squelchy synths and stumbling drum fills.

“Polished” has a bass drum and hi-hat pulse rushing through it with softly strummed guitars and odd synthetic orchestral instrumentation. The lyrics seem to be about seeing the perfection in someone but there’s a distance here, a reflection, a vision once removed. Once the singing stops a sax of some kind wails away, starting in a melodic manner but getting more and more “out there” and skronky as it progresses, until a dead stop.

“Nothing, yet” is complicated yet simple. The music is uptempo in the verses before moving to half that tempo in the chorus, a bright and breezy little three chord tune, sung so sweetly. Yet the words take in so many aspects, moving through another dimension in death, personal philosophy on life, bitchy statements on other people…. It hurts but is sung so gently, even the work “motherfuckers” slips down easily. And in the middle of the second chorus “I’m too afraid of always bein’ rejected / Or accepted too“. In which case basically he can’t win, can he? Harsh.

“Butter” sees Matty stop looking inward and looking outward to his family. He gives glimpses of his mother, father and brother with small vignettes of their existence but none of them seem satisfied, “How can life be beautiful without it being pitiful?” But the chorus brings it into focus – “Life is always weird and hard” before a plea for love. But “Butter” is one of the loveliest songs here, I hear hints of “You showed me” by The Turtles amongst the bass guitar samples, strange noises clashing and a rich string arrangement, half pizzicato plucking. And it’s so ridiculously catchy too. Another highlight.

And finally the album reaches the title track. It starts with a simple bass drum pulse over which various layers of keyboards bang on one chord, and stay on that chord for nearly two minutes before hovering around to other chords, drum machines join in, piano chords add dissonant tones, yet the movement around the song is minimal… The pulsing gets more insistent even though the chord changes are few and far between, allowing the listener to focus on what different layers are being faded in and out. By four minutes it seems the chords have stabilised into one place and a rattling cheap little drum machine is slowly introduced, and finally at 5:30 it drops to just the cheap drum machine and a bass pulse. And Matty decides to sing, and it feels like he’s worked out his feelings at last.

I was kind to everybody
‘Cause I needed love so badly
That I traded happiness
At my own expense

Slowly layers are added, keyboards add melody here and there before dropping away to a piano playing three melancholy chords as Matty sings

So I guess this is goodbye
To my previous lies
Thanks for all the wasted time
Not that I was regrettin’

Has he found some solace? It’s ambiguous – he doesn’t regret wasting his time, but the music (now richer, repeating those melancholy chords) does not give resolution either, and in the wrong mood can induce tears in me. Don’t know why, maybe it’s the bittersweet nature of it all. Either way, the full eight and a half minutes of “DejaVu” have become my favourite song of the year, played on repeat, added to mixes, mixed in against other songs like “Heads” by Medicine which has a similar pulse and poise.

One other thing about the song… And I may end up sounding like an idiot here…. Have you ever come into a song halfway through a beat or a bar, so the whole rhythm sounds off kilter? Does this happen to other people? To start listening to a song on the third beat of a bar and your brain can’t quite process where the bar is supposed to start and the song takes on a new dimension of wrongness? Just me then. Oh. Anyway, this happens a lot with “DejaVu”, it’s easy to mishear the start of the bar and to be swept along in the song hearing it in the wrong way, and it’s only when the song drops down to drum machine at five minutes that the brain snaps back into the proper rhythm. Amazing when it happens.

So that’s “DejaVu” by Matty. It seems he has returned to Badbadnotgood now and it’s possible the album was a chance to express feelings felt at the time, and once the expression has been made there’s no need for a solo ‘career”. But this is still my favourite album of the year, a one off, a unique event. There’s touches of other music here – I’ve seen mentions for yacht rock and Tame Impala’s modern psychedelia, and Tavares coats his vocals in a double tracked reverb haze, and the music is suitably hazy in places. But this is refreshing, melodic, invigorating and with depths and layers within the music and the words. If Tavares produces no more solo material, I’ll be happy that he produced this one record and made my life better through it.

Well this has been fun, my first Goldfish post in over 18 months. Maybe I should do this more often. I may put together another playlist of my favourite songs of the year. Watch this space.

Kraftwerk – human after all

Regular Goldfish readers will know that I love Kraftwerk, I’ve written about them here and here and I’ve also written a Toppermost post on them. I have loved their music for over 30 years now and they are up there with The Beatles and The Durutti Column and The Kingsbury Manx in my pantheon of perfect music. New music from Kraftwerk is very rare so has always been greeted with much reverence and attention.

I can still remember that first listen to “Electric Cafe” in the Autumn of 1986, scouring the sleeve for clues, why did it sound so pared down, where were rich European melodies? There were hints – a moment in “Boing boom Tschak” where a counterpoint bass line appears two minutes into the song, and I thought “Oh this is where it gets going” only it didn’t. There was too much emphasis on rhythm tracks and not enough song craft for me back then, the balance between the two had slipped in the wrong direction.  Of course “The Telephone Call” was wonderful, and “Sex Object” had a peculiar grandeur to it, but my main memory of that first listen was the section of “Techno Pop” where Ralf or Florian play a sequence over and over while paging through presets on their DX7. Later I changed my mind, realised that the rhythm was where electronic music was heading and

When “The Mix” album was issued in 1991 it became part of the soundtrack of my finest summer, bought in June on CD, my first Kraftwerk CD, which then encouraged me to buy the rest of their catalogue in that format (it was “Trans Europe Express” and “The Man Machine” bought a week later alongside “Cupid and Psyche 85” in a HMV three for twenty quid offer, my CDs still have the stickers on then). Even the “Tour De France” CD single all was greeted with joy, even if it didn’t contain the original 12” mix. “Expo 2000” may have been little more than a jingle but the remixes were special. By the time the “Tour De France Soundtracks” album had been issued in 2003, I was a member of an online music forum which went nuts on the album and I wrote some pertinent words which people seemed to agree with, which I found strange. People usually didn’t agree with me on music, now I was in a community which loved and cared about music as much as I did, and I still speak online with some of the people in that community thanks to Twitter, and consider them to be friends. You know who you are. But after 2003, new music was not forthcoming. They played live, the shows were spectacular, the live album “Minimum Maximum” was rather good, but there was nothing new. Even welcome remasters of the back catalogue in 2009 just brought more frustration – why the move away from the original sleeves? Why were the credits changing? After Florian Schneider left Kraftwerk in 2008, Ralf Hutter turned Kraftwerk into an artefact – playing their eight albums in consecutive concerts in art galleries and special places, such as the Museum Of Modern Art and the Tate Modern. Even so, I never thought I would get the chance to see Kraftwerk live – the Tate Modern shows sold out ridiculously fast. I heard bootlegs and dreamt of the amazing 3D visuals.

I was surprised and excited then by the announcement of a proper UK tour during June 2017. Kraftwerk weren’t playing in Wales, well why should they? But Bristol is near enough for me. So when the tickets went on sale in October 2016 I was poised over the refresh button at 10am ready to purchase my dream ticket. But come the moment of reckoning, the tickets sold out within 10 seconds, the time it took me to choose where I wanted to sit in the venue and how many tickets I wanted. Those damn ticket buying robots had beaten me to it. Ten seconds and gone. I almost cried, my chance had been missed. A few days later my good friend Ray from Country Mile Records told me how he had purchased two tickets directly from the venue but again by the time I checked the Colston Hall website they were gone.

I settled for the next best thing – I ordered the “3D Catalogue” 8 CD set and waited for it to arrive two days after my birthday at the end of May. This box set was live recordings of their eight albums as they had been played during their “Catalogue” concerts, and I couldn’t wait to hear them, to hear songs from side two of “Autobahn” in the new format, or even the songs from “Electric Café” like “Sex object” and “The telephone call”. How would these songs be adapted? Would there be audience noise like on “Maximum Minimum”?

It has been tricky explaining the 3D set to people who don’t know or care about Kraftwerk. For a start, there are people who just don’t understand how important Kraftwerk are. How their visions of the future back in the seventies – totally electronic music, people communicating by computers, the robots in our lives, the man and machine in ‘perfect’ harmony – are now so commonplace that we don’t even think about them. Also how much influence they have had on music, from the electro pop of the 80s, through hip hop, techno and beyond. While Kraftwerk have not issued any new music since 2003, they have continued to reinvigorate their back catalogue, as the live shows have demonstrated, updating the songs to be played with the latest technology at their disposal.  It’s a hard analogy to explain. While some artists have recreated individual albums for live concerts, there have been few examples of an artist playing their entire catalogue live (I can only think of Sparks doing this beside Kraftwerk). Other electronic pioneers have reinterpreted some of their albums – Tangerine Dream were notorious for this, and more often than not any later version of “Phaedra” just didn’t have the same atmosphere as the original 1974 version, those charmingly out of tune Moogs and mellotrons. Surely Kraftwerk wouldn’t fall into the same trap?

The 3D box did not disappoint. OK, a little more information would have been useful – for instance where the albums or tracks were recorded other than a list of venues they have played. But once the car door slams at the start of “Autobahn” on CD1, the listener is immersed in Kraftwerk’s world. I did try and listen to all eight albums in one sitting but it didn’t seem fair – I felt I should devote myself to each album a little while to pick up nuances and differences. For a start, the music is shiny, gleaming and perfect. The quality of the sound design is faithful to the original albums in places but updated in different ways. “Autobahn” is still an emotional journey, I’ve found myself moved to tears during the final part of the song itself, while the four songs on side two merge into a lovely medley – “Kometenmelodie 1” stills sounds abstract and a link back to the three albums before it, while “Kometenmelodie 2” is as good as pop instrumental as you’ll find. “Mitternacht” merges into “Morgenspaziergang” nicely, and maybe it is the first time I noticed that the melody of the latter is slightly adapted from one of the sections in “Autobahn” – and how long have I been listening to the “Autobahn” album? “Radioactivity” is a revelation – each individual piece is brilliant anyway, but some of the new interpretations are startling and wonderful, not least “Airwaves” which now shows how much Giorgio Moroder took from Kraftwerk back in the day. I would have liked “Transistor” and “Ohm sweet ohm” to last forever, quite frankly, “Trans Europe Express” is possibly the weakest of the new interpretations to my ears, the medley of “Franz Schubert” into “Endless Endless” into “Europe Endless” works well, and Hutter’s voice cracks on some lines here, But here the new versions aren’t different enough, or maybe that’s just me. “The Man Machine” and “Computer World” though are perfect – the right combination of sounding like the originals but with new elements. These are the most played albums in the set for me, and frankly I can’t find much to say about them. They are respectful but modern, which is a hard trick to pull off successfully. “Neon lights”, “Home computer”, “The man machine”, “Computer love”…. the “It’s more fun to compute” / “Home computer” medley is absolutely spellbinding. There’s a slight hint of something not quite right about “Pocket Calculator” which I think is an extra beat in the rhythm track but what the hell, I’m splitting hairs here. “Techno Pop” is a revelation – the beats are stronger, the music richer… “The telephone call” losing its vocal (but then that was Karl Bartos who hasn’t been a member for many decades), and “Sex object” gains the original insistent bassline from the unreleased 1983 version. “The Mix” set is especially designed for headphones, being a 3D sound design exercise and is excellent, and also includes “Planet of visions” – the new version of “Expo 2000”. Finally “Tour De France Soundtracks” is the most similar to its original version, but still sounds fantastic – “Vitamin” has been given a spring in its step, “Aerodynamic” is full of propulsion and “Le Forme” is graceful and mournful. Much like the closing “Golden slumbers” medley on “Abbey Road”, this song feels like the last piece of music the band will make and has a strange emotional pull for me. All in all, the 3D boxed set is a success.

A few days after receiving the 3D set, I happened to take a look at the Colston Hall website and was amazed to see they had a few tickets available. I didnt hang around, I bought one, and then waited patiently for the ticket to arrive. Had it all been a strange fever dream? Was it a con? Had I paid money for nothing? Eventually the ticket arrived and it was true, I was going to see Kraftwerk after all. I arranged transport with Ray and counted down the days until Saturday arrived. I still couldn’t believe it – I had loved Kraftwerk since 1983, and now I was going to see them. How would I cope? There was a sense of anticipation outside and inside the Colston Hall, we were handed our 3D glasses on entry and I found my seat in the stalls and settled down, taking the obligatory shot of the glasses and putting it on Twitter. I felt quite young, looking at the audience. There were fans dressed up like the “Man Machine” cover – red shirts, black ties. The man beside me asked if I’d seen them before, I said I hadnt. He told me he saw them in Poland – “Prepare to be amazed”.

At 8pm, the lights dimmed, and the vocodor introduced the band in the dark, the curtains swung open, revealing the four workstations and the numbers started, literally. 12345678 12345678. The numbers flashed onscreen and swung over our heads, the beats kicked in and Kraftwerk strolled on and stood at their stations and we were off. While nobody was expecting much in terms of showmanship from the Germans, the 3D visuals made up for it. Admittedly I didnt get the full benefit as I only have vision in my right eye, so I had to take everyone else’s word for it about what was happening, but the audience reaction let me know that the visuals were an absolute blast. Having absorbed the 3D box, I knew how the music would sound but even still there was room to improvise, beats were louder and stronger, sections were extended, melodies changed and melded. “Home computer” was brilliant, even better than the recorded version. “Computer love” had a natural ebb and flow, “The man machine” swung, “Neon lights” was awesome – Hutter’s vocal was awestruck, as if he was seeing the lights for the first time. “Spacelab” had amazing visuals, a satellite flying over the audience’s heads (eliciting a huge “whoooo” from the crowd), then a spacecraft flying over Bristol. “Autobahn” seemed to be marred by problems, Hutter looked like he was battling his workstation, filter sweeps appearing the wrong places, were there problems with the machines? “Autobahn” was swiftly dispatched, losing its melancholy closing section which was a shame. “Airwaves” was a shock, a surprise and an absolute blast, while “Radioactivity” had sub bass to die for, and blasted away any remnants of worry. “Electric Cafe” was also a pleasant surprise. “Tour De France” merging into “Etape 1” was marvellous, the sprint of “Chrono” sounding better than ever. Finally “Trans Europe Express” and more problems – there were no vocals at all (bar a few vocodor interjections), a purely instrumental version, had Hutter’s microphone failed? He didn’t look happy at all. The curtains closed for the end of the main set.

Next came “The Robots”, and even these were slightly different to the version on the box set. Were the members of Kraftwerk playing instruments behind the scenes while we watched their robotic counterparts? Who knows. Still a startling vision of pop without human input. The curtains closed again.

As the curtains reopened, Hutter spoke to us – “Life is better with a microphone”. “Aero Dynamic” was a thrilling encore, Hutter clearly enjoying himself, the bass throbbing out. “Planet of visions” was almost unrecognisable (unless you knew the DJ Orlando mix), sounding like a new piece of music, and the members were clearly revelling in it, adjusting the sounds and the visuals to reflect their happiness – all four members were tapping their toes and shaking their legs as the song heralded the links between Germany and Detroit. Finally the “Boing Boom Tschack” / “Techno pop” / “Musique Non Stop” medley which frankly could have lasted forever for me, i never wanted this to end. The ending of the concert will stay with me forever, I won’t spoil the pleasure for those who have yet to see it. The standing ovation from the crowd was well deserved, and the band seemed touched by the response to their music. Hutter took a bow, touched his heart and sent out a kiss, the man machine was human after all

Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Was it one of the best concerts I’ve seen. Absolutely. Will I remember it forever? Absolutely.

Kraftwerk deserve their place as innovators, both in music and as a visual show. They have made themselves into a work of art and should be treasured. Enjoy them while they are still here.

A Crack In The Clouds

September 1986.

A time for a change of scenery, somewhere different, stuck in the same place for six years, starting out as success then gradually sinking to the bottom, uncared for, spurned by friends, ignored by everyone else. .. start again, no history, fresh start, clean slate, see what happens.

My first year in the sixth form had been an unmitigated disaster. Any hopes of passing any A Levels were thrown out of the window. Either I didn’t understand the questions or I wasn’t going to ask for help and my mind was befuddled by girls and music and God knows what else, but I was sinking and hated it and didn’t really know how to stop it. The escape route was shown by my brother – a year older than me, he sat his A Levels in the summer of 1986 and comprehensively failed them. Everyone went nuts, the school was blamed and he was found a place to resit the A Levels in New College, a fee paying school in the centre of Cardiff. After a little bit of shuffling, it was agreed that I should transfer there as well to complete my second year of A level studies.

So September was a chance to say goodbye to the old school and hello to the new college. No more uniform, no more useless teachers, no more staring at crushes across the common room. I returned to school for one brief moment, mainly to say goodbye, stick two fingers up at people and tell the teachers to piss off (except for one,  who had tears in her eyes). After this supposedly triumphant exit from the state school system, I felt like a bit of a arse for being so horrible but it did feel good at the time. I then settled down to life at New College.

As it was in Cardiff, my brother and I would have to travel by train every day to get there. Luckily my father worked in Brunel House, the enormous building next to Queen Street station, so caught the train from Penarth to Queen Street every day and we simply joined him. It was quite a novelty, leaving the house together, picking up reading matter in the newsagents (always NME and MM for me) and standing in the recently built red metal shelter on the platform, squeezing on the multiple units, the train jogging down the hill towards Cogan, then through the many tracks around the Grangetown works area, into Cardiff Central where we may alight or on to Queen Street… It was a very different Cardiff then,  out of Central I would walk behind the Central Hotel (where I would regularly buy bootlegs at record fairs), along Bute Terrace beside the railway line to get to New College, a lovely 18th century building full of oak floors, dark corridors and cosy classrooms. Leaving Queen Street, I’d head past the Tandy store on the corner onto Churchill Way, past the British Gas building and along to what used to be the British Gas building before the redevelopments of the eighties, back when Mill Lane went somewhere….

And I settled in quickly, made a few friends, realised that being in Cardiff everyday would be detrimental to my bank account if I was to buy all the records I saw. September brought “Brotherhood”, “The Pacific Age”, “Spacemate”, “Filigree and shadow”, “Gone to earth”, “Talking with the taxman about poetry”, “Blood and chocolate” (the Virgin branch on the top floor of Debenhams had the cassette made to look like a bar of Bourneville chocolate)… I hardly bought any of these at the time…. Two albums in fact, and we won’t discuss either of those now, because it wasn’t just albums in September 1986, there were singles too and one in particular….

September 1986

A time for a change of scenery, somewhere different, stuck in the same place for six years, starting out as success then gradually sinking to the bottom, uncared for, spurned by friends, ignored by everyone else. .. start again, no history, fresh start, clean slate, see what happens.

Julian Cope had signed to Phonogram Records in 1980 at the behest of David Bates who thought Cope could be a pop star and in the six years that followed, his career path had peaked and troughed quite mightily. The singles “Reward” and “Treason” had placed his band The Teardrop Explodes in the spotlight while he was fracturing his psyche with an alarming quantity of mind altering chemicals. Commercial failure for the second Teardrops album led to a slow form of collapse for the band, shedding members every few months yet still creating marvellous music along the way. Cope’s solo career had garnered little critical acclaim and even fewer sales, but his cult loved him and the music, and cherished nuggets from his two solo albums “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Fried”. But in 1986 there was a change – he moved from Phonogram to Island Records, paid off the debt to the former label through a new publishing deal and set about a new phase of his music. No new music had emerged since the start of 1985 – the b sides to “Sunspots” which were clearly in the same mould as “Fried”, and the songs recorded for Janice Long at the end of 1984, a session I remember had confused me a lot at the time. But in 1984 I wasn’t that aware of his catalogue, of course that would change in 1985 (see many previous Goldfish posts). By September 1986 I had bought all the back catalogue I could (I think only the first two Teardrops singles in Zoo had eluded me at that point) and had a few bootlegs of unreleased Teardrops, Cope live shows, Cope radio sessions, all kinds of things. And I was certainly ready for new music from Julian Cope.

Of course I bought the twelve inch of “World Shut Your Mouth” on the day of release. There’s an immediate advantage to being in Cardiff on Mondays. I didn’t have to hang around for the weekend to buy my favourite records. And I was very happy with the new music too. The title track was simple, a “Louie Louie” and “Hang on Sloopy” for the 80s, sharp pop with an edge, but still a little more glossy than even the poppiest moments on “Fried”. The song stuck in your head after one listen, it had a chorus you could easily make your own, a cracking little guitar solo, loads of key changes as the song proceeds to its close. What was there not to love? It sounded like a hit record.  Admittedly it sounded like very little else in the charts but it did sound like it belonged there.

There were still four other new songs on the twelve inch,  and I knew from experience that Cope liked to have decent b sides. “I’ve got levitation” was a 13th Floor Elevators song and sounded like it was cut from the same cloth as the lead song – simple riffs, a raw performance, rather brilliant, but then at this point I didn’t know the original. “Non alignment pact” originally opened Pere Ubu’s debut LP “The modern dance”. Obviously Cope can’t compete with David Thomas’ unearthly shriek and there’s no squealing synth noise to delight / distract, otherwise entirely creditable. “Umpteenth unnatural blues” is a cracking little song, some very neat lines and a cool yet simple arrangement, but my diary records that I thought it was somewhere close to the greatest song on earth. It’s not that great, but it’s pretty good. Lastly “Transporting” is a psychedelic groover, sounding like the band aren’t quite listening to each other (which turns out to be close to the truth) and features a rather nifty riff which I would promptly steal for myself.

“World Shut Your Mouth” was a big deal. And this time it would be unavoidable. For once the media loved him, and welcomed him back with open arms. He was there on “Wogan”, the Irish broadcaster looking slightly baffled by Cope hanging off his green mic stand / climbing frame contraption. He was there on “Number 73”, the band playing live and sounding spot on. And best of all he was back on Top Of The Pops, after five years absence. The song was all over the radio, it sounded like a huge hit, it felt like a huge hit… and it slowly climbed the charts to reach number 19 in October, a very slow crawl. But somehow it felt like it was a much bigger hit than that, the video was always on TV and the new fangled video jukebox which took over my local pub The Railway that Autumn.  I remember it being played a lot there, alongside “To Be A Lover” by Billy Idol. Both songs harkened back to classic songwriting tropes and stood out in the charts.

And this should have been my moment. I had spent the previous year trying to get my friends interested in Cope’s music and nobody had listened, except Nigel who was always receptive to whatever I recommended, and this was around the time he bought his prized copy of “The wrong people” by Furniture and he would play me “She gets out the scrapbook” and we would both sigh wistfully. But nobody else listened to me, and now people I knew who had ignored me were buying the latest record by my hero. This should have been the time I made compilation tapes for Beverley and Jeremy and anyone else. “You like him now? Try this…” Erm I was seventeen, remember. Of course this didn’t really happen, partly because I’m too shy to ever do that, and partly because I’d bloody well left the school behind where all my friends knew I was a Cope freak, and was now in a college where nobody knew me. I did still see a few friends at the Railway but I was still keeping my head down there after being thrown out for underage drinking that summer (again, see previous Goldfish post).

But the fact that nobody knew me in New College could be turned to my advantage. I had no past, no burden of knowledge of previous stupidities. It was a chance to start again, without any taint or trace of my former actions.

(I would learn many years later that this is a typical Aspergers trait too. The need to compartmentalise my past and my present so the two never meet. There’s other traits which we will get to soon enough…)

But for the Autumn of 1986, I was happy. My hero was back, making great music, all over the media and in the charts. He had promised an album called “Saint Julian” in an interview with Melody Maker back in early 1985 and it looked like it was going to happen in the spring of 1987. I had a lot to look forward to.


January 1987
I had a small circle of friends at New College. So small it could be counted on one hand, but that was enough for me really. Manoj was in my Computer Studies class and was a good laugh, and Meg and Anji were two friends from the lower sixth, inseparable and always hanging around the computer room playing “Thrust” on the BBC Micros there. (“Thrust” was an anti-gravity game as I recall – you had to fly a lunar module on rocky terrain using thrusters and the ability to spin your craft – like “Asteroids” without the asteroids. picking up fuel and flying away, it was as much fun as you could have with 32K). Together the four of us hung out and chatted about all kinds of things, nothing of much importance. Chris Jones – our computing teacher and also a weekend DJ on Radio Wales at the time – thought the four of us were trouble but we never were. We just helped each other out if one of us got stuck on some tricky coding in BASIC. Nobody asked about my past and I wasn’t about to tell anyone either, it wasn’t relevant and nobody was bothered. Life at New College was good. I had a parents evening in January where my teachers all told my parents they loved me, which is better than I would have had at my school. “But your maths teacher is a bit of a wimp” they added.

January brought a flurry of record buying, some second hand records (“Neu!” on United Artists in the bright red sleeve, £2 from Jacobs Market, a Troy Tate 10” EP on Why Fi) but more importantly it was the second single by Julian Cope on Island. I’d heard “Trampolene” on the radio just before the new year and called it “more complex”, which isn’t hard really. I bought the 12 inch EP on the day of release (5th January) and absorbed four new songs. “Trampolene” was superb, yes it was more complex than “World Shut Your Mouth” but it felt like it was jammed full of hooks, enough to explode all over the radio. It sounded great on the radio too, big drums, chiming guitar licks and rocking riffs, another simple chorus, a lyric with more to it than “WSYM” and again key changes at the end to ramp up the tension, finally exploding on a drum roll and a long sustained fade out on the final chord. It screamed hit single, it screamed play me again, and this time a bit louder. It sounded fantastic to me. Two other songs on the EP were great. “Disaster” is a bit of a sea shanty, a tale of a ship’s journey, a song full of incident and change. Or maybe it’s an extended allegory for a relationship? My favourite part is towards the end,  Cope is contemplating some kind of shipwreck – “We are listing needlessly, won’t you come and marry me?” – a fantastic non-sequiter – before everyone drops away, a guitar plays a riff and slowly more instrumental layers chime in, pounding out the prime riff, as some raucous guitar lines are thrown over the top, all chugging along on a one note riff . A personal favourite still. “Mock turtle” is slower, more considered and instantly familar – the opening chords and melody are from “Flipped out on LSD”, a legendary 15 minute piece recorded towards the end of the Teardrop Explodes’ life, supposedly released as a twelve inch by La Place De La Concorde but available on a few bootlegs. And that’s just the start. The rest of the song works as a modus operandi for Cope at that time – unsure what he was doing and where he was going but trying his best. “Mock turtle” is a rare slice of direct honesty and is a hidden gem. Which is more than can be said for “Edward the Kingmaker” which is just a clattering noise.  But three great songs out of four ain’t bad.

Again, Cope was everywhere to promote the single. My diary records each incident – front cover of the NME, on “The Tube”, a children’s TV show, the first episode of late night chat show “The Last Resort” (“being interviewed by a prick”, says my diary) and all over the radio. Island did their best to make multiple versions of the single available and by God I bought the bloody set.

I started with the twelve inch on the day of release, then I wanted the seven inch with the gatefold sleeve, which I bought on 12th Jan. And it snowed the previous day, so we all had lots of fun walking to the station in the snow, then walking through Cardiff to find hardly anyone was there. Meg and I slipped and slid our way to HMV to buy the gatefold seven inch that day, and she bought a game for her BBC micro from a shop on Churchill Way. Nobody else was around, it was nice. A fond memory. A week later there was a second twelve inch, a remix of “Trampolene” which extended all the right parts, plus a sticker with it. So I had to buy that. And a week later a 7 inch EP in a cardboard box with a poster, so I had to buy that as well. Manoj would say to me “Haven’t you bought it enough times yet?” each time I would return from HMV. It became a bit of a joke – had I bought another Julian Cope record that week? Manoj, Meg, Anji and I would hang out and chat about all kinds of things, strolling to Wimpy – never McDonald’s as Meg was a vegetarian and she had to have Wimpy spicy bean burgers…  See, I bet you can all see what’s coming, can’t you? Anji and Manoj tried to arrange a night out at the pictures for the four of us then agreed to not go so Meg and myself would be alone,  together. But we all got cold feet. It turned out we were both happy to be friends, and to stay that way.

Meanwhile, I watched the charts to see how “Trampolene” was progressing. On the first week it entered the chart at 33, and I was ecstatic. Then it stayed there for two more weeks, before climbing to 31 in its fourth week before falling out of the top 40. Clearly this wasn’t what anyone expected, least of all me. I’d bought into this single four times, why wasn’t it a bigger hit? Cope has done his bit too, he had been unavoidable. What did he have to do to get a decent hit?


March 1987
Tensions are running high. The A Levels were looming for both my brother and I, and I don’t know about him but I was feeling the strain. I’d always struggled with the Maths A level material, it just made no sense to me. Vectors, differentiation, equations that just looked like nonsense on a page – it completely blew my mind. We sat some final test papers in March and hoped for the best. We were also heading off around the country to look at universities and polytechnics – for me it was Liverpool, Salford, Sheffield, Bath, Trefforest…. I was slightly freaked out at Trefforest because Meg and Anji were there, they kept passing me in corridors. It turned out Meg’s father was a lecturer there, and they were trying to wind me up. They didn’t need to, I was already wound up anyway…. the interview there had turned into a shambles, somehow the interviewer thought my visual impairments were worse than they actually were and had asked a lot of patronising questions about my mobility and disability. God knows why they thought that, I suspected my old school had become involved in the UCCA / PCAS application process. Paranoia was running high.

Some relief was provided by the release of “Saint Julian” on March 2nd. HMV had some signed copies for sale but I wanted to play my records, not keep them as artefacts. (A ridiculous statement considering how many times I’d bought “Trampolene”). I bought the album on the day of release and took it into the computer suite where Manoj ripped the piss out of the cover – “Christ in a scrapyard – Christ on a bike more like”. I wasn’t put off though, I devoured the sleeve and the insert and the little poem (“Saint Julian ain’t Julian” should have been the warning sign) and couldn’t wait to get the album home.

“Trampolene” kicks the album off quite gloriously, and I still couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a hit. So many hooks, so many sections, was it too much?  There’s a cleanliness to this rock, not a horrible distortion, just enough to make me smile. The song was a hymn to an impossible imagined female and frankly I liked that. “Shot down” continued the rock theme, this was taut, lean stuff – not a moment was being wasted. There’s even a tense middle eight with stops and starts. God knows what the song is about though. And it rocks. There’s some odd lyrics about war and uniform (which harks back to lyrics on his debut album) but it works nicely. Are there some sexual references? Could be. “Eve’s volcano” is lightweight fluff after that, a mid tempo melodic joy. Immediately I thought this should be the next single. If that couldn’t reach the charts there was no hope… I suppose all the “ba-ba” and “Do-do-do’ become a little annoying after a while, but this is the closest Cope comes to a Teardrops singalong. Another sexual reference? I’m spotting a theme here. “Spacehopper” had been around a bit, it was mentioned as an early Cope / McCulloch song from the Crucial Three / A Shallow Madness era in Mark Cooper’s “Liverpool Explodes” book. It was the simplest riff, the simplest groove and it sounded great. Why did it fade out? I wanted it to go on longer. Not another sexual reference too? It’s daft as hell, but rather funny too. Closing side one was “Planet Ride”, which was supposed to be a collaboration with Troublefunk – fellow Island label mates and at that point hot as hell at the forefront of go-go. But no, Cope’s band were playing it, a kind of stiff white funk which tried its best to swing. Still, I liked it, even if it seemed to be about sex. Nothing wrong with that. God, how many sex references are there here? This isn’t as stiff (sorry) as I remember it, and once Cope shuts up the musical interplay is rather cool.

Side two then starts with the “big” hit single “World shut your mouth” which is the only song you may hear on this album these days. But in this context, yeah that’s fine. “Saint Julian” is next and this is an odd one, Kate St John is back on cor anglais, it sounds like a “Fried” song after a shave and a haircut, but the lyrics are cutting – a bit anti religion in places but each to their own. This song may be the key to the album, the reference to Ankerside Shopping Centre in Tamworth, but we’ll get to that soon enough… “Pulsar” is the song that confused me in 1984, I didn’t get it at all, it was just a stupid riff…. what did I know? Three years later it made sense in the context of the rest of the album, another stupid riff but bloody hell what a wonderful stupid riff! A song which begged to be played loud. And the lyrics were fantastic too, I would quote them extensively – “And I was quite in love, ‘cos you told me so”, “Don’t have to tell me honey, that’s the way I feel”… yes this was quite a song for me. Next was “Screaming secrets”, an old old song… the Teardrops had played it all the time in ’81 and ’82, they had even recorded it (quite badly) for a Richard Skinner session in 1981, there was a fantastic version on a Whistle Test live concert from 1982…. and it fitted it perfectly now. Sure Donald Ross Skinner couldn’t quite match Troy Tate but there’s enough energy here to get by. And frankly it was great to finally have a favourite song recorded at last.

And finally….

“A crack in the clouds” is an epic. There wasn’t much precedent for it in the back catalogue at the time, and there isn’t really much like it in the rest of Cope’s extensive career, and it’s a shame because this song is gorgeous. There’s storm clouds and sound effects, a disquieting guitar arpeggio, a descending bass line and Cope singing of strange things… After two minutes of disquiet, the band comes in and the chorus is glorious… I mean I don’t know what the song means even now, there’s images of water and floating and maybe I think I’m the wrong person to write this sort of thing. But between the tense quiet of the verses and the triumphant choruses, this song soars. There’s a glorious string arrangement which rises up through the song, and once the final chorus is out of the way, there’s a change to the music, a resolution to the harmonies, and it continues to soar higher and higher and I love it to bits. I’m sorry, I love this song, it always makes me cry and I’m doing a crap job again…. Yet maybe it’s down to a single line… “A quiet village boy takes leave of his life and walks off into the mountains…” Yes, maybe it’s that one dream of escape.

Of course years later I read Cope’s second autobiography “Repossessed” and learnt more about the album. How someone had shyly offered to write songs for him after a meeting at Ankerside Shopping Centre, how that had inspired the batch of songs on “Saint Julian” to be one step removed – Cope imagining how someone else would write songs for him. And there’s the birth of the Two Car Garage Band around Donald Ross Skinner, James Eller and Chris Whitten. And if I had known the b sides to “World Shut Your Mouth” had been recorded in Caerleon not that far from Penarth I would have gone completely mental. But that’s just the way I was.

Of course I played the album a lot when it came out. My diary notes that the CD was issued a week later, on the same day as “The Joshua Tree” and “Men and women”, two albums I didn’t buy…ah the days when a CD release wasn’t always a given. There was also another edition of the LP with an interview disc and I bought that and played it probably twice (but a sentence from the interview ended up in the introduction to “Falling away” many years later). March progressed… I had an interview at Sheffield Poly which lasted all of three minutes, I bought “Angels in the architecture” because it was cheap (£1.99 on tape), I bought tickets for Julian Cope at Cardiff Uni in April, I checked out midi hifi systems with CD players in Laskys  (Laskys!), I worked hard but not hard enough… oh and BBC showed a Cope concert from Westminster Hall earlier in the year, and our Betamax video chose that time to self destruct.

April brought joy and pain. There was tension around my maths, I still had no idea what I was doing and I was struggling but I wasn’t telling anyone. I spent a lot of time in the computer lab working on my computer programming assignment, creating flowcharts and all kinds of useless bollocks on paper for a program about which I can remember absolutely nothing. And then something stupid I did came back to bite me on the arse…

Back at the very start of my diary (Feb 1983) i had written the Teacher Files where I wrote a one sentence put down of all my teachers up to that point. As my diary was being read by my English teacher at the time, she went mental, ripped the pages out and told me to respect my teachers. Immediately my diary became notorious and my friends wanted to know what was in it. Jump ahead to early 1987, I was deeply paranoid about my old school as they seemed to be interfering with the college applications and I was pissed off with my friends for some reason – probably they hadn’t turned up at the Railway when I’d arranged to. So I wrote pages and pages of horrible notes, both the Teacher Files and The Pupil Files. 95% of it was pure invective and vitriol. Hardly anyone came out of it well, except about two teachers and three friends. And foolishly I gave these notes to a friend in my old school, who proceeded to sit down in the common room and start reading them. Soon he wasn’t the only one. The notes ended up pinned to a notice board, got distributed around all of the sixth form, and a few teachers too. And unsurprisingly nobody was happy about what I’d written. Jump ahead a week or so, I turn up at the Railway and find that all my friends are ignoring me. I thought it was a bit odd, then someone tells me that everyone was pissed off with me because of the things I’d written. I dash up to my friend’s house where he tells me what happened and I laugh and cry a lot. I then return to the Railway and apologise profusely for my stupidity. Turns out most people forgave me and eventually saw the funny side. I still have the Teacher and Pupil Files and they really are rather horrible, I can understand why everyone didn’t like me for it.

(Again, this kind of attention seeking behaviour is also typical Aspergers. Or maybe I’m just an idiot. You decide. Maybe I’m just an idiot for even mentioning it now)

Meanwhile, I was gearing up for the Julian Cope concert. “Eves volcano” was issued as a third single, slightly unnecessary I thought unless it was meant to promote the tour. But it received a good review on Peter Powell’s Pop Panel (“Sounds like Passionate Friend” said one reviewer, with a long memory) Still, I bought the CD single, and the twelve inch, and the twelve inch remix with the poster. After all, the twelve inch had a voucher to send off to get a three song live video from the Westminster Hall Concert (I’ve still got the video too, somewhere). And this was my first CD single, even though I’d not bought a CD player yet. As for b sides, “Almost beautiful child” was a looping instrumental which was pretty and idiotic, there were two live songs and the full five minute version of “Spacehopper” which didn’t fade out but came to a natural conclusion.

So I was ready for the live experience. I’d seen OMD a few times at St David’s Hall but this was going to be different, this was at the hall in Cardiff University, this was a standing only gig and I wanted to be standing at the front. Nigel and I took the train to Cathays station and popped into a corner shop to buy some alcohol. We bought a can of Tennants Super each, and kept hold of them. We were amongst the first in the queue so got to the front for the gig, and there were two support acts. First was Crazyhead, then riding high in the indie charts with their single “What gives you the idea that you’re so amazing baby?” My diary recalls that I wasn’t impressed. Lots of leather, lots of feedback and noise, “45 minutes of Crazyhead was more than enough”. What my diary doesn’t say is that the bass player Porkbeast kept shouting into his mic for beer, which of course prompted the audience to throw beer cans at him. These were lax days for security, we had both walked in with our tins of Super in our jacket pockets and kept hold of them throughout the gig. Next were The Faith Brothers, politically correct but a little bit boring live. “Tears For Fears with guitars” said Nigel. They ended their set by covering “Biko”, a very worthy thing to do in 1987. We’d let some female Faith Brothers fans into the front row but now we moved back into the front for the main attraction.

And the main attraction was a total blast. I was in the front row, to the left of me was James Eller on bass, about six foot to the right was Cope himself, on his mic stand climbing frame (blue, if you’re interested) and that beautiful red Gibson 335 twelve string. A fantastic set too (“Trampolene”, “Pulsar”, “Eves volcano”, “Strasbourg”, “Non alignment pact”, “Bouncing babies”, “The great dominions” – chills down spine there – “Shot down”, “Planet Ride”, a new arrangement of “Read it in books”, “Spacehopper” into “World Shut Your Mouth”… )  Cope told us they’d been on a “hippie trip” at Rockfield Studios that day, and from then on referred to the audience as hippies – “How are you doing, hippies?” Encores were “Someone like me” (promised as a forthcoming single) and “Reynard the fox” where Cope leant into the crowd on his mic stand, then fell off and rolled around the floor before destroying the stand.

It was awesome, and Nigel and I were stunned afterwards – deaf too. I bought a t shirt and we walked back into Cardiff drinking our warm cans of Tennants Super which tasted like treacle.  A fantastic night, which was a sharp contrast to what happened the next day or so.

It’s all a bit vague at this distance, and my diary for once isn’t particularly helpful, but this is how I remember it. I’d fallen out with the Maths teacher in New College and somehow I’d said I didn’t trust him or want him teaching me any longer. I’m not sure what happened after that,  but on the day after the concert I was “invited” into the head teachers office where he came down on me like a ton of bricks and made me feel like a piece of shit for daring to question one of his teachers. Then I had something similar happen at home and was told in no uncertain terms that I had to work my socks off to pass my A level maths. It was a bit fraught and I was a bit fragile and I hid myself away. My parents found me a maths tutor who actually helped me make sense of vectors and I revised like mad and did my best before the exams at the end of May.

On the last entry of the year’s diary – 23rd May 1987 – I wrote “I may never see Meg again”. There was more to it than that…. we had a sort of emotional break up on Cardiff station. Anji and Meg and I… They were getting onto a train up the valleys on platform six, I was heading for Penarth on platform seven… Anji was looking at us waiting for either of us to acknowledge we might be upset about it, but we didn’t.  It was very British, very stiff upper lip. Maybe she didn’t like me after all, I sort of liked her but never said it, she never said anything to me and we went our own ways. And that was that.

Only it wasn’t.

Jump ahead to June 1991, the start of the best summer of my life. I was working in Brunel House with my father at BT after completing my third attempt at my second year at poly. The first attempt in Sheffield was a disaster where I left or got kicked off the course (and we will get to that eventually). Then I’d tried again at the Poly of Wales but the issues I had from Sheffield hadn’t been addressed so I flunked out again (and we won’t get to that, ever) so I tried again, a third attempt, I tried my best and did the coursework and attended all the lectures and got bullied mercilessly for sitting at the front of lectures squinting  (so much so that one day when I was absent the lecturer told the class off for it – I also suspect that during this year I met my future brother in law but I’m not sure to be honest). Anyway, come that June day it was time to get the results. So I caught the train from Cardiff Queen Street up to Trefforest and wandered up to get the results. My name was on a list to see the course tutor at a given time, so I headed to the common room to have a sit down and wonder what was going on.

As I sat and pondered, there was a tap on my shoulder. “Hello Rob, how are you?” it was Meg, popping in to see her father who was still lecturing at the Poly of Wales. I was amazed – she looked lovely and she still remembered me, even though I now had a beard (another reason for bullying at the Poly, if I recall correctly).  She asked why I was there, I said about my results and she was sure I’d have done ok. We chatted for about five minutes, catching up with where she was and Anji and Manoj, she was still in touch with them and I’d drifted away into my own world. Then she kissed me goodbye and good luck and disappeared again. I then went to the course tutors office where he told me I’d failed everything, I couldn’t try again, and “You’re on the scrapheap now, you’ll never amount to anything. Goodbye”.

Then I returned to my work at BT for the afternoon, kept my head down, wondered about my future, and wrote a song called “True life story” about meeting up with Meg on such an inauspicious day. This became the start of my first album called “Songs about girls”. I recorded it later that Summer and it is still a scared and scary reminder of a bad day. You can find it at the bottom of this post, hopefully.

Oh my A Levels?  I got a C in Computer Studies, a D in Physics and scrapped an E in Maths which is a minor miracle. Those grades seem really shit now, when kids get five A* grades in their A Levels but a lot of blood sweat and tears – very much tears – went into those grades.

As for the “Saint Julian” era… it’s sort of ignored now. Sure “World shut your mouth” turns up on just about every 80s compilation going, but when did you last hear “Trampolene” on the radio? (Fair play to Josh Meadows on Main FM in Castlemaine, he played it on his show It’s a Jangle Out There last week as I finalised this piece and I have it on good authority that Adam Jeffery will play it on his Indie show this week)  Maybe it was over glossy, an attempt to get noticed which backfired. It was a dash for the mainstream and buffed up a good set of songs into a clean rock sound. But maybe it’s worth going back and investigating again – I certainly hadn’t played “Saint Julian” for a long time before I started writing this and it’s better than I remembered. There wasn’t much around which sounded like it at the time – Echo and the Bunnymen were falling apart and blanding out, U2 were about to become massive on a global scale, there was The Cult with their dictionary of rock moves, the indie section was still going through its shambling phase of lofi, The Smiths were in their own imperial phase before they fell apart… it was unique within its own parameters, it was a clean rock sound that Cope would never return to, but it sounded like nothing else at the time and so sounds timeless (except for the drum sounds). It certainly gained Cope new followers and raised his profile but probably set standards within the management at Island which he would never maintain. He was always destined to be a cult artist but it was always a pleasure to see him orbiting within the pop media as he would again in 1991. But “Saint Julian” is a worthwhile brush with the mainstream, bringing it’s own ideas of garage rock, Stooges simplicity and early Alice Cooper snarl to a pop audience. Have a listen to “Spacehopper” and try not to grin like an idiot – you can’t do it. As for the mainstream, Cope will never go back there, but it was sometimes fun while it lasted. A bit like my year at New College then.

Christmas And Other Trivial Pursuits

Christmas 1986 and I’m seventeen, halfway through my second year of A Levels and quietly happy. The reasons for feeling contented will be explained more in the next Goldfish post but for now just accept that for once life seems to be swinging my way for a change. As Christmas swings around I’m happy and not worried about anything and for once didn’t write a long and detailed Christmas list of what records I wanted and where to find them, which I had for the previous few years. This meant that my presents would actually be a surprise and I wouldn’t spend Christmas Eve predicting what I was going to receive the following morning. Genuine surprised face all round then when the presents were opened. 

OMD “Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane” video 

Echo and the Bunnymen “Pictures on my wall” video

You know how some people make the wrong choice every time? Well that’s me and my family. Remember how Lancia gained a reputation as rust bucket death traps in the late 70s? We had one. I bought a Blackberry phone just as they stopped being good, ditto Windows Phone just as Nokia and Microsoft ditched the idea. Oh and we had one of those Vauxhalls which caught fire. And one of those Hotpoint tumble dryers which also caught fire. But the biggest wrong decision made by the Morgan household was the purchase of a Betamax video recorder in the summer of 1984. Even then we knew it was the lesser option. We would pop into the video rental shop at the top of Plassey Street next to the chip shop, gaze at the walls of videos to rent, pick one up, take it to the desk and ask forlornly “Have you got this on Betamax?” The shopkeeper would laugh and reply “Nah, only got these on Beta” and point to a small display of outdated films. Yes the sound and picture quality was fantastic, yes I had tapes which still looked great 20 years on (I ditched my last Betamax machine about ten years ago, I just had too much good stuff to lose it all) but bloody hell it was hard enough to find videos for Betamax in 1984, so how the hell did I end up with two of them for Christmas two years later? I still don’t know really.

As for the contents of these two videos they can’t really be faulted. The OMD video was reissued as part of a package with “Architecture and morality” in 2007, a CD and DVD package which was nice to see again, except that was the sixth time I had bought that album (and the fourth time on CD). As a concert experience it’s great. It’s OMD in December 1981, just cresting their wave of popularity and playing songs from their first three albums. It was the only chance I could get of seeing them perform “Statues” live and probably still is. Then there’s “The new stone age” and “Mystereality” and “Stanlow”….  There’s also some odd announcements from Andy McCluskey, some comment about “Just because the royal family come here doesn’t mean we can’t come here and have a good time” (the Royal Variety Performance had taken place in the same theatre a few days before the OMD show) He also sniffily announces “Enola Gay” as “a pop song”. Ouch.

It’s a fantastic historical document really. The audience is fascinating. The men wear suits with skinny ties and dance very awkwardly (McCluskey introduces “Motion and heart” saying “This is for those wearing thin ties”) The women have Princess Di hairstyles and wear a lot of frilly blouses. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Watching the video in 1986 was odd, I had seen OMD twice by this point and it was a far more professional band I had seen – lots of Emulators and a Fairlight on stage, a brass section and some chunky jumpers to replace the skinny ties and shirts. Back in 1981 everything looked like it was held together with sellotape and string, hardly any kind of stage show, the focus on the music and McCluskey’s dancing. Looking at it now is like stepping into a time machine. But bloody hell the band put some energy into these performances, tempos are high, they tear through “The new stone age” in the middle of the set, this electronic music is really quite human.

The Bunnymen video is somewhat different to their Liverpudlian neighbours. It’s a compilation from 1984 and contains a variety of music and forms – there’s some live footage from “Shine so hard”, their debut Top Of The Pops performance with “The back of love” from 1982, some promo videos and more. The major difference is that the Bunnymen have a mystique that was there right from the start and they’re going to maintain it no matter what. Will Mac smile at any point? Hell no. There’s lots of smoke, camouflage netting, lights from behind, shadows, coats, misery, serious and important stuff. The early live footage is great, the impressionistic film for “The puppet” and “A promise” is a little boring. The TOTP performance is fascinating – Mac can’t decide if he wants to mime or not, Pete De Freitas drums like a demon and the audience look bewildered. There’s moody videos from the Iceland trip which gave “Porcupine” a cover image. There’s a few songs from the Royal Albert Hall Concert in 1983 and a few videos from “Ocean rain” to finish with. All fine and dandy but there isn’t much personally being projected other than an aloofness which sometimes seems unfriendly. The glimpses of the audience during the RAH footage shows a very different crowd to OMD – a lot of serious young men, one female fan dancing crazily while everyone else ignores her. But the vibe given off by the whole video is “We’re special, we’re dark and moody, we’re serious” and frankly I may have enjoyed that when I was seventeen but thirty years on it’s a bit tedious. OMD seem to be having a lot more fun.

“The Smiths” – The Smiths

Now this came as a surprise. Someone must have looked at my record collection and realised that I didn’t have the debut album by the Mancunian miseries. I hadn’t told anyone I had wanted it, remember, but this was a welcome addition to the collection, even if it seemed quite old fashioned already two years after its release. After all, The Smiths of 1986 were a huge rock monster,.Johnny Marr playing a Les Paul, a second guitarist  (who had just been sacked, as it turned out) and anthems like “Panic” and “The Queen is dead” filling up the Festive 50. So listening to “The Smiths” would be a reminder of those more innocent times. But it just wasn’t like the old days any more.

The problem with “The Smiths” was the same in 1986 as it is now – the songs are great but the production is a little flat and grey, and there’s alternate versions on “Hatful of hollow” which are brighter, more sprightly and just generally better. Take album opener “Reel around the fountain” – on “Hatful” the song is in a higher key and slightly faster and Johnny Marr’s guitar shimmers like sunlight on water. On “The Smiths” the key is lowered, it’s a little sluggish and Paul Carrack adds Hammond organ and piano fills which are completely unnecessary and quite distracting. What should be the defining opening song of the debut album just drones a lot. “You’ve got everything now” also had these odd organ rolls which get in the way. On the other hand Carrack’s organ on “I don’t owe you anything” sounds more integrated into the song and works beautifully so I can’t dismiss Carrack’s contributions completely.

There are a number of elephants in the room really. There’s the lacklustre production for a start and there’s the lack of “This Charming Man” too. Yes it was on the cassette – I remember a friend showing me the tape in early 1984, as we were the only two people we knew who liked them then. And then there’s the material itself. There’s a lack of variety on offer, too many songs taken at mid tempo, too many arpeggios from Marr. You could flip the argument and make it a positive – a linear grey drizzle which is the perfect aural metaphor for the ennui and lack of drive of those lives stuck in Whalley Range and other parts of Manchester. At the time I didn’t know there was an alternate version of the album recorded with Troy Tate, and frankly if I had known I would have moved hell and high water to find a bootleg of it. As it is, the few songs issued with Tate at the helm (“Jeane”, “Pretty girls make graves”, “Reel around the fountain”) show he had a far better idea of how to layer guitars than John Porter. But then I was a huge Teardrop Explodes fan and was collecting up Tate’s excellent solo releases at the time so I would say that.

Er, where was I? Oh yes I suppose I should mention the actual album rather than what’s not there.

As always it was very easy for me as a teenager to associate myself with Morrissey’s lyrics. God damn it I would have killed for 15 minutes with whoever I crushed on at the time (again, more on that next time). There’s something very sexual about the early Smiths songs but a lot of it is thwarted by Moz’s awkwardness – he is impelled to give in to lust on “Pretty girls make graves” but he refuses, he’s too delicate for that and bloody hell yes I sort of identified with that too. “Still ill” feels like a manifesto of some kind, and I had to laugh many years later when I saw a preacher in church quote the first four lines of this song. I actually prefer this version of “Hand in glove” which must make me in a minority of one. “I don’t owe you anything” is wonderful and worth the price of admission alone.

Oh I don’t know…. I just find this album unsatisfying, a glimpse of a great album seen through a dark window. The songs are mostly great (only “Miserable lie” fails), there’s dark humour and dark thoughts and chilling thoughts and uncomfortable songs but it’s not as good as it could be. Better was to come, and even with a perspective of two years I knew they had done better. However I didn’t realise within another year they would no longer exist.

“Arthur Lee” – Arthur Lee

In 1986 I had bought “Forever changes” and “Da Capo” by Love and adored them both. I was quite happy with what I’d heard and was in no hurry to explore the rest of Love’s catalogue, or Arthur Lee’s solo work. Clearly my brother thought otherwise.

This album was recorded and issued by Rhino in 1981 and issued in the UK by Beggars Banquet. There’s twelve songs and intriguing notes from Lee himself on the sleeve. It’s an odd album this – I thought so at the time and even more so now. It’s an album out of time really. Knowing more now about Lee’s career trajectory from 1968 onwards the stylistic variety makes more sense, and I feel far more generous to this album now than I did back in 1986 when I listened a few times and consigned it to the “interesting” part of my record collection.

For a start, it’s better than I remember. “Happy me” and “One” would fit nicely onto “Four Sail” or one of the Blue Thumb albums Love made around the end of the sixties. There’s some delicate moments like “Do you know the secret?” There’s some ill advised reggae like “One on one” and “Mr Lee”… actually this album sounds like it’s been compiled from about four different recording sessions. There’s no need for Lee to rerecord “Seven and seven is” or to tackle “Many rivers to cross”. On the other hand “I do wonder” is an absolute gem, which isn’t surprising as the song was written and recorded for “Forever Changes” in 1967. It must have been hard for Lee to sit on a song as good as this for so many years.

I don’t think this album has been reissued since though I’m willing to be corrected on this. It’s a lot better (in places) than I remember. Belated thanks to Andy, only 30 years late.

“Back in the DHSS” – Half Man Half Biscuit

Could I have received a more indie present that year? Maybe “C86” but then I hated all that jingle jangle shit which clogged up half of Peel’s shows at the time. Even if HMHB had appeared on that tape, nobody really considered them to be part of C86. Sure, they shambled and were as ramshackle as the next bunch of amateurs with three chords and a mistuned Telecaster but HMHB were different …

I’d first heard them on Peel of course, it was “Sealclubbing” which ended up on the tape from early 86 with the Yeah Yeah Noh and Microdisney sessions. Then there was an appearance on “Whistle Test” breezing through “Trumpton Riots” and rumours of them blowing out “The Tube” because it clashed with a Tranmere Rovers game – this band weren’t going to be playing the fame game by the usual rules. Then there was the strangely melancholic Peel session with songs like “I left my heart in Papworth General” and “Reasons to be miserable” – “And I don’t know anyone who puts peaches on their corn flakes either” – and a farewell single of “Dickie Davies Eyes” and they were gone, for four years anyway.

But “Back in the DHSS” was their debut album, recorded for £40 to test out a friend’s recording studio, according to the tale at the time, and frankly it showed. There’s rough around the edges and there’s this – tape hiss, a band playing live with no time or facilities to remove mistakes, but a lot of charm. And of course there’s the songs.

This album became a totem for me and my friends. We would learn the songs off by heart and sing the lyrics when we were drunk down the Railway or hanging out in each other’s bedrooms, checking out each others record collections – “Oh, you’ve got this too?” and then ten minutes of quoting lines to each other accompanied by raucous laughter. It wouldn’t take much to set this off. My friend Nigel would look at me in the Railway and ask me “What did God give us Rob?” to which I’d reply “God gave us life, Nigel” and off we’d go. This was our Monty Python, this was our Young Ones, this was our “The Jerk”, this was OURS. The songs were fermented in a mix of minor celebrities from crap TV shows and sports programmes, children’s TV, a life of idleness in front of the worst of seventies and eighties TV, while smoking rather good weed and waiting for the next dole cheque. It could have been dreadful, but the attention to detail was so right, the references were so spot on that it made it hilarious, and not just once but over and over again. There was a form of impotent rage about the shiteness of mid 80s life within these grooves, but with humour too. There was still melancholy – which is why “Reflections from a flat” is my favourite song on the album – but there isn’t much of a hint of what they would become, which is national treasures.

Of course my main memory of this album was Christmas Day itself. My dear old Gran was with us, she was living in our house while she waited to move into a nice retirement flat after selling her house in Canton. When I opened this album, she said “Oh that looks interesting…” and starts to read the song titles. I hastily grabbed it off her because I didn’t want her to see “Fucking hell, it’s Fred Titmus” on there…. sorry Gran, you wouldn’t have understood.

Trivial Pursuit 

Gordon Wood was a work colleague of my father’s from BT, as far as I know they’d worked together for years. Maybe his family had made the same journey we had to find our way to South Wales from Leeds, I don’t know. (Maybe I should ask my Dad before I write these things). However in 1986 the Morgan family had met up with the Wood family a few times and every time we had ended up playing Trivial Pursuit. That’s how 1986 was.

The first time was in June. Andy had gone trainspotting and my parents were going over to visit the Woods in Whitchurch  (I may be wrong there) and I was looking forward to a night on my own, but then I changed my mind and went along. The Woods had two daughters, one about the same age as me and one slightly younger, both of whom had the initial of M. And of course I sort of crushed on the eldest daughter M1 as soon as I saw her. Fuck knows what she thought of the thin geeky idiot trying to impress her. So I looked through their record collection and spun their original mono copy of “Help!” and after a few drinks had loosened everyone up, Trivial Pursuit came out and Mum and I got thrashed at it. It was deemed so successful we did it again in July when my penfriend was over from Germany and again we played Trivial Pursuit and again I got beaten quite heavily, but boy was I crushing on M1. I even made an obscure reference to her in the sleeve note to my album from September 1986.

Trivial Pursuit was the big new game of the mid 80s and everyone was playing it. Admit it, you’ve played it at least once. Maybe on a phone or computer, a DVD game or maybe on a pub machine. You could even play it on a ZX Spectrum. It’s expanded out a bit, this one. You know the score – dash around a board answering questions across six categories to win six cheeses then back to the centre to win outright. Everyone was playing it, there were lots of expansion boxes of questions and frankly I can’t think of much more to say about it. It’s a game, we all played it. End of story.

Naturally Trivial Pursuit was under our Christmas tree, not just the game but an additional question pack on entertainment. This would make us all very welcome at any parties because we could add extra questions into the pot…. oh whatever. It did come in useful as we made another trip to the Woods household for New Years Eve and yet again I crushed on M1 and yet again lost badly at Trivial Pursuit. I blame my team mate, of course. (Note, I know who my team mate was thanks to my diary but I’m not telling). Then we stayed up til midnight, toasted the new year with champagne and I fell asleep on a camp bed around 1:30 am. And that was the last time I saw the Wood family. Anyway, this was all a distraction….

And other stuff…

According to my diary there was a red jumper and some chocolates and other stuff. I know someone was hoping the chocolates were Harlequin but they were After Eights which were (and still are) my favourite. There were probably blank tapes (I was fond of the silver BASF chrome c90s) and stuff like that. My diary doesn’t record what we actually did on Christmas Day itself, I was probably hiding in my bedroom playing records. Was this the year of Dirty Den dishing divorce on Angie? Well I remember watching that. The rest of the day? Probably fighting for the video recorder and the TV. Happy days.

(With thanks to Tim Worthington whose own post on Christmas 1986 inspired this post – have a look here , it’s very good, you could even buy his books too, the ones I’ve read are excellent)

Next time – we have fled from disaster…