Sunday, 23 November 2008

Manfred Mann Chapter Three: Volume 1

Months of badgering the Record Store Guy at Rebound Records in York paid off this weekend as I finally landed myself a very battered, but perfectly listenable copy of this top-drawer jazz / prog rock LP from 1969, Manfred Mann Chapter 3: Volume 1, the third release on Vertigo. Consistently funky (the opening bars of Snakeskin Garter - for my dollar the stand-out track -are pure hip-hop), packin' a ton of flute, Chicago Transit Authority-style brass, thudding fuzz-bass, hammond organ, and the stoned, rasping vocals of Mike Hugg, the LP has been high on my wish-list for a couple of years. Fans of modern drone / stoner rock like Black Mountain or Dead Meadow would be sure to dig it. Alotta late 60s / early 70s prog stuff I pick up is for the sake of one drum break, and the rest of the album I can pretty much take-or-leave - but this is a solid listen from beginning to end, save for occasional explosions of skronking free-jazz, which I can't even be bothered to pretend to like anymore.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Macca discusses possible release for "mythical" / "lost" / "probably a bit of a druggy mess" Beatles track

All Fab Freaks, Beatle Buffs and Pepper People will be aware of "Carnival Of Light", an unreleased piece of experimental music recorded by The Beatles in 1967 duing the vocal over-dubbing session for Penny Lane. Listed in 'The Complete Beatles Chronicle' as lasting just under 14 minutes, the free-form 'freak-out' was instigated by Paul McCartney, who had been asked to contribute some avant-garde music for a festival of electronic sound (The Million Volt Light & Sound Rave) held at the Roundhouse in London. Beatles scholar Mark Lewishom reported in his 'The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions' that the track consists of "distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'" Plans for 'Carnival Of Light's inclusion on Anthology Two were apparently scotched by Harrison and Starr, and it remains the numero uno lost Beatles Holy Grail. Personally I ain't holding my breath, but Macca has made noises recently about a possible release, and you can hear him discussing it, in interview with Radio 4's Front Row...HERE

Worst 'Mojo' Ever

Metallica! Grace Jones! Mellencamp! A 'free' CD of some people covering Leonard Cohen! I mean, whatever, I'm sure Grace Jones did some good stuff, and I know Metallica are menna be like a big deal if you're intothatsortofthing, and John Cougar Mellencamp..well, I don't know anything about him to be honest, but I'm sure he has his fans...still, this has gotta be the luh-amest Mojo cover in the magazine's history. These 'Covered' CDs they keep going with. Who needs 'em? Who is sat at home listening to a Leonard Cohen record thinking "gee, this is pretty good, but imagine what a real singer like Josh Ritter could do with it?" Man. I don't even care about Leonard Cohen, I don't own a thing by him, but I'm sure the dude doesn't deserve Katie Melua et al trampling all over his song book.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

My 15 Point Winter Survival Plan

.1. GZA - 'Liquid Swords'
.2. Gin and Tonic
.3. Old Batman comics
.4. New black suede Beatle boots
.5. New Yorker magazine
.6. Bootleg Hendrix LPs
.7. Calvin & Hobbes anthologies
.8. My fiance's homemade Mexican chilli
.9. The Star Wars Trilogy on ITV
.10. Good coffee
.11. A black Pea Coat
.12. Trying to follow the Knicks
.13. The Guy Fawkes Inn, York
.14. The Ackhorne Pub, York
.15. Christmas shopping in London

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Solid Wig Flippers: The Records That Changed My Life # 1

Jimmy Smith - Root Down (Verve, 1972)

Jeez. Thinking 'bout how many years have passed since I bought this album has really put the spook on me. I'm 28 now. I musta got my mitts on this back in '98. Ten years, man. A lifetime ago. Well, not a lifetime. Maybe like a cat's lifetime. Whatever - it's a long-ass time, and one half of my brain is telling me it seems like a hundred years longer, and the other half is telling me it's gone in the blink of a lamb's tail. (Aside from a telescoped-perception of time, that side of my brain also has a problem with mixing its metaphors.)

I ordered this album from Track Records in Doncaster; they didn't have it in stock but the dude said they could try getting it in.Looking back, I don't even know why I'd got it into my head that this was an album I had to hear - the regular reason a young kid would set about digging in the crates for Root Down would be that they'd heard The Beastie Boys sampled it, but I didn't get into The Beastie Boys for years after I bought this. In my whole life I've only ever ordered one record from a shop, this album, so there musta been some reason why I broke with tradition here...but I don't recall what. Whatever the reason, I'm super glad I did.

Jimmy Smith's Root Down was probably the very first 'proper funk' record I ever bought, and it's a hell of a place to start. Before this I'd bought compilations - including the incredible 4 CD 'Big Payback' box on Sound & Media, which I'll cover later - and bits and bobs elsewhere, cheap Funkadelic best-ofs and the like - but this album was just on another level entirely. This was a proper, relatively obscure LP, a live album from 1972, on a jazz label I knew next to nothing about, and the (sort-of) title track was an absolute monster of an instrumental Hammond workout, over 10 minutes long, a ton of wah-wah, bongos, drums...The Real Deal. I've played 'Root Down (And Get It)' so many times I couldn't even begin to count 'em, and it's never once failed to fill me with anything less than complete, funky, head-nodding joy.

As a DJ I have found 'Root Down (And Get It)' indispensable. It's a slow-burner. If you're dealing with a hip-hop crowd, or a funk crowd, they know the score from the opening, tentative bass figure, and the reaction, the dancefloor action, is instantaneous. That's cool. But play it to Root Down virgins and it's a whole other story, and I love it - at first, there's a tentativeness - like, this is kinda groovy, but I dunno about dancing to it...Root Down always wins 'em around. It's relentless, just keeps on going and going, this hypnotic groove, ebbing and flowing, 'til the whole room is a mass of smiling faces and liquid limbs. That's the power of Root Down.

I spent alot of my teen years deep in existential introspection and self-involved heavy navel-gazing; I guess that's par for the C. Joy Division played their part, and I sort of resent them now because of it. Albums like Root Down flipped the script on me, made me realise something vitally important: dark and doomy music makes Jack a dark and doomy boy. Joy Division weren't good for me. And like bad food, fags or any other toxin, if you wanna get better, you gotta get rid. Get rid, and replace 'em with something that's good and will do you good. The fact that I can't even fathom why I decided that I needed this out-of-left-field album in my life speaks to why I love it, it's like, on some genetic level, I just knew I needed it...or maybe Root Down sensed I needed it, and found me.

Bought: Christmas 1998 /CD /Track Records, Doncaster.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Credit Crunch Fatigue And A Culture Of Hysteria: Is it me, or are we all just a little too easily distracted at the moment?

The thing is, the credit crunch is not just depressing, it's dull too. My capacity for mortally depressing news has its limits, but my tolerance for news which combines the depressing with with the brain-crushingly dull is much lower. The economy is fucked: I get it. Or rather, I don't get it, however much the Today show on Radio 4 wants to bark at me about it every single morning as I struggle to drag myself from my bed into the bleak landscape of job insecurity and spiralling utility bills they're describing, and because my level of Actually Understanding It Or Whatever extends to "People Like Me Are Going To Be Poorer For The Next Few Years Because Some People In 'The City' Are Greed Crazed Douche-Bags", I really find it difficult to engage meaningfully with the story.

The way the news cycle in this country has been working recently suggests many other people are on the same page. If it isn't news about the credit crunch, we're absolutely mad for it. In hindsight, The Ross & Brand Controversy was perhaps the first of this At Least It's Not Another Story About The Credit Crunch wave. Would this ludicrous debacle have been the monster of a story it was if we weren't so eager to talk about anything other than a financial crisis we don't understand? The story became something other, something more than it really was; there was a feverishness, a wild, desperation to the whole affair which was, by any rational standard, way out of proportion with the event itself. I mean, was it really the era-defining referendum on decency it apparently became? Did people have to be forced from their jobs? Was it necessary for the Prime Minister to comment on the affair?

Then we have the case of Baby P, a story blood-chillingly awful and shocking in a variety of ways, and absolutely worthy of our attention...but again, the perceived scale of national outrage, the outpouring of grief...I heard somebody on the news today suggest that the story has brought about a period of "national soul-searching", again, as though this were some 'defining moment' in the nation's psyche, a 'Diana moment'. As terrible as the story is, history will not record Baby P and the failures of Haringey Council in such epochal terms, and rhetoric of this nature has more to do with Credit Crunch fatigue than a rational reaction to the story itself. I guess what I'm saying is that the Baby P story has taken on a significance it would not have had in a different climate.

Finally, we have the insane amount of mainstrean media coverage afforded to two stories based around reality tv shows; Laura's ejection from The X-Factor a couple of weeks back, and the failure of the public to eject John Sargeant from Strictly Come Dancing. It's not as though these are even major stories by regular reality TV 'news' standards; there was never any real question that Laura's eviction was illegitimate, there was no accusation of vote-rigging or even panto-style foul-play by the judges, and Sargent's continued success is simply the latest in a tradition of the show's token 'comedy' contestant being understandably well supported by the public. It's not like we're talking Race Row In The Big Brother House here.

What is ultimately most revealing about these stories is that they disappear from the news cycle as quickly as they appear; we forget them quickly, because such a huge part of their 'appeal' is their novelty value, the quick fix, the new-kicks-now, anything but the dreaded Crunch, they sustain themselves a matter of days beyond their natural limits and as they're stretched to breaking point, the media has hammered up some new scandal, and the nation throws itself into the next whirlwind of despair. Seems like when it comes to the Crunch, the British people, and the media, would rather talk about anything else.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Barack Obama: A Promise Fulfilled

Tons of typically brilliant / insightful / East Coast elitist-communist-gay-jew stuff about Barack Obama and the final stages of the US Presidential elections in the Nov 17th issue of The New Yorker, of particular note being David Remmick's excellent article looking at the role race played in Obama's campaign:

'Speaking at a church in Selma, Obama was not a patriarch and not a prophet but the prophesied. "I'm here because somebody marched," he said. "I'm here because you all sacrificed for me."'

I like this idea, this idea that our joy at the election of Obama is, at it's core, the joy of a great promise fulfilled; that Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement promised something in the 60s, an ideal, a grand vision, and 40 years later Obama was able to step forward as the delivery of that promise...and now, here he is! Not a prophet, but the prophesied. I like that simple distinction.

What really hits home in his quote is the way he says "you all sacrificed for me"...well, of course, that isn't true in a literal sense, their sacrifices weren't made for him, their sacrifices were made so that it might be possible for somebody like him to get "here"...but his phrasing recognises that this is irrelevent: he has become The One, The Embodiment Of Their Dream. I guess the thing is, if the guy does have a bit of a Messiah complex, he has more reason than most.

Anyway, you can read Remmick's article HERE, and then go check out all the other wonderfully written, heathen, liberally biased journalism at the New Yorker while you're there.

The Pitch

Nick 'Grimmy' Grimshaw

USP: He's slightly less irritating than most of the other presenters on 4Music.

USP Score: 7/10. Strong. Our basic expectations of "younghipgunslinger" music presenters have been persistantly eroded over the last few years, a trend which began with the pretty/vacant/inept/desperate Alex & Alexa "replacing" Oliver and Amstell on Pop World (a bit like "replacing" Coke with Tab Clear), and the never-ending cycle of marble-mouthed new-ravey kids who Channel 4 have hired on a strict trouser-width basis, rather than on the basis of them possessing any of the actual qualities which made Amstell & Oliver the authors of wonderful pop television. By being (a) frequently successful in his attempts to form coherent sentence structures and (b) generally tolerable in short bursts, Nick Grimshaw, or 'Grimmy', is - by current 4Music standards - a broadcasting giant. He'll be commentating on state funerals before the end of the decade, with breaks for The New Single From Kanye West and an interview with Kelly Osbourne.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Scouting For Girls: 'James Bond'

Scouting For Girls have a new pop disc out now called "James Bond". It is very, very bad. Infact, it is the second worst song ever recorded, in a Top Ten Worst Songs Ever Recorded list which now consists solely of records by The Wombats and Scouting For Girls records. "James Bond" by Scouting For Girls is about how the doofus sports science singer wants to be James Bond. It isn't a metaphor for something else. It's just literally about that. The lyric mentions having gadgets up his sleeve, having a girl in every port, and blowing bad guys away. The middle eight goes "I've a licence, I've a licence, to kill". Yes, doofus sports science singer, but where did you get your licence to be really shit? Of course it is no surprise that The Scouting For Girls have recorded a song about James Bond. James Bond movies are enjoyed by exactly the same people who enjoy Top Gear*, Robbie Williams, having a really big telly, and Scouting For Girls. Perhaps Scouting For Girls next single will be about buying the Bourne Trilogy on "Blue-Ray".

*"Oh, but it's changed, you don't even have to be interested in cars to enjoy it." No, but you do have to be interested in offensively opinionated, dull men operating within a mid-90s 'zoo' TV format.

Three non-brave children based observations about last night's Pudsey In Need telethon

.1. Tess Daley is so bad at presenting she makes Ferne Cotton look good. Like, Cotton is Walter Kronkite compared to Daley. I was actually relieved when Daley 'threw' (or bungled awkwardly) to Cotton. I have never experienced 'relief' when Cotton has appeared on the television before. A desire to sink into death's cold, numbing embrace, yes. But not relief.

.2. Was I dreaming, or did Steven Fry defer to somebody elses knowledge during QI last night? The Wogan / Fry Battle Of The Broadcasting Giants was always likely to produce some interesting telly, but who knew that Fry would allow himself to be corrected by the Tog-Father. Of course, the topic was Eurovision - a topic only an insane fool would question Wogan's authority on - and the show was being conducted in the spirit of Pudsy bonhomie, so one cannot presume this will set a precedent. Fry got his own back with the kangaroo thing later in the show anyway.

.3. Whoever is dressing Duffy, an engaging, likable and highly watchable young performer, as a drunk middle-aged hooker, needs to stop. (Wasn't sure about her new single at first, quite like it now.)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Girls Aloud: The Promise

Of course, every single person on planet Earth now accepts without qualification that Girls Aloud are by far and away the Greatest British Girl Group Of All Time, and that during This Difficult Economic Climate their ridiculously brilliant slice of 7" retro-pop perfection, 'The Promise', is for many of us The Only Thing That Makes It Worth Even Getting Up In The Morning. And even though all The Girls Alouds do a predictably aces job on 'The Promise', I wanted to give a special WWJB Shout Out to Nicola Girls Aloud, aka The One Who Genuinely Seems Kinda Bored By The Whole Thing, Not Even In An Elegently Aloof Sorta Way, Just Plain Bored, whose vocal ("Are you watching me bay-yay-bee", 2:37) is Her Best Bit On A Girls Aloud Single since she nailed the perfect role-defining Nicola-ism ''Cos frankly I don't even care" at the end of No Good Advice.