Friday, 23 April 2010

Broadcasting on your frequency

Years ago I was walking along the Embankment with my dad and looking across the river I commented on the ugliness of the South Bank. My dad, with a faint smile, said that the war had just finished and they'd all needed cheering up at the time. Since then I've taken a great liking to the place and when I saw that Broadcast were playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall I bought up some tickets (after a bit of dithering that meant we ended up sitting on the very back row).

I only got into Broadcast through their most recent album "Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age". It topped Wire magazine's 2009 run down and it's got a really cool cover and that was good enough for me. I've listened to it a lot during my commute. The extremely varied tracks come and go so quickly - there are some I'm not mad on but mainly I wish a lot of them lasted longer, ones like "One million Years Ago"and "Let It Begin".

While I can think of half a dozen things that may have influenced them it's still the most original album I've heard for years. I was walking along the other day when my right headphone konked out, "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" continued to grate into my left ear but the other was getting the sounds of a car alarm and some passing children and the high street in general. Maybe that sounds terrible (try it) but it was not dissimilar to one of the less great tracks on the album. It's the same with bus brakes and the start of "Never Understand".

Anyway, the concert. We got there just in time to hear the remaining support act furiously sawing away at his cello for about thirty seconds before the lights came up and we spent the next half hour in the bar. Broadcast started off facing each other over dimly lit consoles that they tweaked to produce a heavy track that went on for a bit too long really, a good ten minutes at least of electronic vipp noises with percussion that sounded like some huge wooden sprocket and treadle.

After that the male half of the band picked up one the guitars that I had assumed had been positioned on stage for feedback purposes only. The track they then played was "Corporeal" - good enough for me to be buying its album.

From this point on the music got more interesting with the noises becoming more intricate and Trish Keenan's vocals more focussed than the earlier portentous wailing. The guitar got another outing for a naggingly familiar riff. It did my brain in until I finally placed it - it was from "I Could Be Happy" - the bit where the guitar really breaks about halfway through into an oriental sounding cascade. I hadn't expected that.

Visually the show was dominated by a continuous flow of images onto one screen - it started off with what seemed like footage from an old black and white sci fi film giving a distorted, alien's eye view of the planet. Other images in conjunction with some effects-channelled vocals often gave off an eerie vibe - which I'm sure is their aim. The Wicker Man, at the instigation of the likes of Jonny Trunk and Bob Stanley, seems to have been seeping through this corner of indie for years.

Probably the most effective image was when the singer cast a stark shadow onto a brightly coloured backdrop for the duration of an almost lullaby-ish song. Standing in front of the black space of her own shadow, bathed in the multi-coloured projection, it looked as though she'd stepped out of the image.

Then all of a sudden it was over, and I knew we weren't going to get an encore. Brilliant.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Imitation Pixie songs

I was going through the Ike and Tina Turner clips on youtube recently (prompted by a post on Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop) and I was drawn to one entitled “Ike and Tina Do The Pixies”. I think I was probably expecting some kind of late sixties tv appearance in the vein of Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” or something. Instead I found an insanely catchy and brilliant pastiche of the Pixies song “River Euphrates” as if performed by Tina Turner. The video’s a bit rubbish so I haven’t posted it. But it did lead to a website with more Pixies covers.

Like the Bob Dylan “Green Eggs and Ham” I’m not totally sure how I feel about this type of thing. I don’t regard myself as too serious but a little voice somewhere seems to cry out, “Fake, fake”, trying to spoil my enjoyment. On the other hand I can’t stop listening to it – which I normally take to be a sign that I think a track is brilliant.

Some of the others:

“Levitate Me”, a not very good Pixies song is, it turns out, a great Beach Boys song. The first minute or so of this is probably the most disconcertingly spot on and, if found out of this context, might have had me wondering if I should check the credit on “Come On Pilgrim”.

“Vamos” – vies with “River Euphrates” as my favourite Pixies song. This version is let down a bit by the slightly unconvincing Jimi vocals but still a good match of song to performer.

Finally Elvis and “No.13 Baby” – like “Vamos” you’re never going to be fooled for even a second that this could somehow, somewhen be the real Elvis – but it does demonstrate that it is so an Elvis song.

Friday, 16 April 2010


I discovered the missing link between The Shaggs and The B52s the other day. As you can imagine I’m pretty pleased with myself. I can’t take all the credit though, it was a MOJO cover cd featuring “Outta Reach” that put me onto the scent. I loved that track and nearly bought the album on the strength of it but I didn't, and then it wasn’t available any more.

Years later I decided to treat myself to a slap up record buying expedition into central London. The usual thing happened though, the moment I strode over the threshold of Sister Ray’s I completely forgot the content of my wants list and just started to flip aimlessly through the racks. In this random manner I found, and snapped up, Ace Record’s bumper retrospective: “She Wants A Piece Of You”.

She: Like A Snake

She: Hey You

The record buying expedition got off to a wobbly start - I popped into Slam City Skates intending to go down the spiral staircase into Rough Trade records, but the way was blocked by a bench and when I peered down it looked very untidy. I was informed by a haircut that the shop had moved to Brick Lane, "like about two years ago, dude". I felt like Rip Van Winkle.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Excerpt from a teenage record collection

In the deepest, darkest recesses of my teenage memories lurk a load of old shoegazing tunes. And in the same trawl of old tapes that produced the post below I found "Walking 5th Carnival", which featured on many a mix tape back in the day. It's from "Ichabod and I" which the Boo Radleys were later a bit disparaging about about. I can see why - cool name, excellent psychedelic sleeve but a disappointing album. It was a present though so I can't complain.

However, this track is exactly the kind of thing I loved when I was 18, I still do really - mainly on account of that expanding guitar noise. Is it just a wah wah pedal?

Boo Radleys: Walking 5th Carnival

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Have lungs, will travel

At the weekend, fooled by the sunny weather, I went for a walk in a nearby park. I've mentioned before how great it is and this visit only added to my liking for the place. Graffiti is normally depressing but on the walls of the park hut there I found a collection of funny little drawings. This one was the best I think - it looks like an early tetrapod (maybe). Anyway, a nice change.

And then the cafe had apple and blueberry cake. Exceedingly good.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Is there still dimples?

Probably recorded in the summer holidays in 1992 this is the only surviving mix tape I did for the winsome philosophy student who later became my wife. All the others were taped over by her younger sister (mainly with stuff like the Levellers and the Wonder Stuff). I'm slightly surprised that I've mentioned as many as six of the tracks in posts gone by.

Speeding Motorcycle - The Pastels
Jet Boy, Jet Girl - The Damned
Buzz, Buzz, Buzz - The Primitives
Sit On It Mother - The Pastels
Bed & Breakfast Man - Madness
Love Is The Drug - Roxy Music
You're Wondering Now - The Specials
Stupid Marriage - The Specials
Change In Speak - De La Soul
Human Fly - The Cramps
Shimmer - Jesus & Mary Chain
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - The Animals
Today - Ride
Feel A Whole Lot Better - The Byrds

I'm Losing More Than I Ever Had - Primal Scream

Little Doll - The Stooges
I'm A Believer - The Monkees
Freakscene - Dinosaur Jnr
The Nile Song - Pink Floyd
Biding My Time - Pink Floyd
Bike - Pink Floyd
Good Lovin' - Tammy Wynette
Treasure Trip - Primal Scream
Are You Experienced? - Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Crab Song - Faith No More
Jerusalem - The Fall

Breaking the no-two-by-the-same-band rule within the first four tracks and I think I must have stepped out of the room for a while after cueing up "The Nile Song". I stand by the choices. Except perhaps for "Stupid Marriage", which is just not a very good song. The most pleasant surprise was probably "Buzz, Buzz, Buzz" - I'd forgotten all about the Primitives.

Because he was the standing up drummer of the Jesus and Mary Chain Bobby Gillespie was, by default, cool. But after years of reading interviews with him I finally realised the man is an almost total dick: "Bomb the Pentagon", "Make Israel History", "Black man innovator, white man imitator" (er..Bobby, I don't know quite how to tell you this...), and their greatest hits album that left off all the songs from their soppy first album phase. "I'm Losing More Than I Ever Had" is the best thing they ever did, but still not enough to justify twenty years of hype.

And finally Jimi - have you forgotten how good this is?

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Message in a bottle

The Scottish holiday brought out the Edwardian gentleman in me - kippers, haggis and single malt whisky. And that was just for breakfast. Special mention must go to Ramsay of Carluke Haggis. They are the best I've had - and as an Englishman who has tried three different brands of Haggis I regard myself as an expert. The whisky was Jura - selected on the grounds that it was going for £16 a bottle in Tescos. And what a lovely bottle it is too. A few weeks ago I was loitering in the serious booze aisle of my local supermarket and I noticed they've changed the Drambuie bottle - it's sleeker and far more boring now. My faith was restored by the Lamb's Navy Rum bottle. Still hexagonal. Stops it rolling off the table during a storm you see.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Last Thursday I achieved one of my little adventuring ambitions by visiting the island of Staffa. I'm sure I've been vaguely aware of its existance for ages but it only came fully to my attention on my first visit to Scotland a mere three years ago.

I was staying in a cottage about twenty miles south of Oban and the journey to Staffa took just under six hours and involved hopping over Mull and Iona to get there. I'd been to Mull before, but to Tobermory and on that occasion the weather was dull and the scenery I didn't think was up to much (a very dry driver though - "Tobermory... probably best known for... the womble of the same name"). On the way to Fionnphort the driver was silent but the view from the window was amazing (especially along Loch Scridain) and I've never spent a more enjoyable hour on a coach. At Fionnphort we took a much smaller ferry to Iona and from there we sailed on a tiny little boat called the Ullin of Staffa, which I think sounds like the name of one of the dwarves in The Hobbit.

After a nauseating hour in the Ullin we arrived at Staffa and, without any pushing or shoving, I was first off the boat. I almost ran to Fingal's Cave - I didn't hang around for long though because I'm not great at heights. You're not very high up really but health and safety hasn't reached Staffa yet and there's nothing there to stop you plummeting into the waters below - a situation which, while perhaps not fatal, would be extremely trying.

After that I doubled back towards the jetty and up some (rickety) steps to the roof of the island. I'd come for the basalt but the views from here were worth the journey and impossible to capture on my camera. Until recently sheep had been ferried across from Iona to graze on the island but now the grass had been allowed to grow quite long and has been formed by the wind into funny looking mumps - very Dr Seuss.

Despite the time it took to get here Mull still loomed massively to the east. Much more intriguing were the Treshnish Isles - probably even more desolate than Staffa, I really wanted to go on and visit them. Very unlikely that I ever will, I think you'd have to hire a boat specifically. I might go back to Staffa at some point - later in the year puffins stay there. And puffins (along with badgers) are high on my list of animals that I'd like to see in the wild.

We were only there for an hour - I spent about twenty minutes walking up and down this colonnade - it really is a perfect thing and reminded me of the columns of the temples at Paestum.