I’ve done things I know you’ll never understand…

Some days are just so weird, a day of interviewing therapists and all the odd questions that entails, boundaries, philosophy, modalities and other made up words that defy meaning outside the jargon encrusted books of the ‘ologies.

How to deal with this, pick something left field and go for it.

img_5758In 1985 Neil Young was having something of an odd moment. He was extolling the virtues of Ronald Reagan and declaring that he had given up the rock and was becoming a country singer. Now those who had been paying attention may declare that he had always been a country singer. Thankfully this decision had more to do with pissing off David Geffen than anything else and he picked old black up again and grunged out within possibly weeks.

What this left us the fan with was one of the funnest records of Young’s lost Geffen years in Old Ways. Featuring contributions from Waylon and Willie and a piano player called Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Marty Robbins and Bela Fleck turn up plucking away we have here a joyful celebration of what country music sounds like if you are Neil Young. It’s kind of twisted and yet familiar and sounds like a whole lot of fun, especially if you can find a copy of the live album released of the tour A Treasure.

Misfits makes the whole album worthwhile. It’s a nightmare song that is more psychedelic than country. It’s a nightmare of the world seen through the eyes of a jaded rock star ending with the forbidding lines:

The voice of Houston callin’
Brought them back to the scene
Except the sky is fallin’
Do you know what that means?

No Neil we do not know what it means but it is terrifying. There were four more odd albums waiting for the fan before Neil finally found his way again, but those strange wilderness year albums of excursions and detours are still compelling listening. It requires a willingness to switch genre sometimes in the same song and a belief that something good is lurking there and the knowledge that eventually there is Freedom on the way.

Happy Trails indeed.

Don’t let me down…

“I was born six-gun in my hand.” only if there is a sudden influx of guns to Middlesborough. This line has always jarred with me, now there’s some nice imagery in it all moody and long live the western hero, “Bad Company ’til the day I die “and all that type of thing.

So I just got back from watching the remake of The Magnificent Seven, which seems to have intentionally removed all depth the original may have had and replaced it with a shoot ’em up fest that barely holds your attention. I was in need of purging my brain of all that was there now, they even took classic lines from the original and made them pap.  So in order to help the purging I went for some class rock ‘n’ roll that has been sitting on the shelf for two weeks since I found it.14457411_10209077145639689_8166761008197857994_n

The album cover looks like it has been through several drunken parties when it was used as a coaster for a whiskey bottle, there are some concerning scuffs on the vinyl and it looks like it may be a noisy album. However it plays just fine with some light surface noise, cue John Peel quote here. It looks exactly as a Bad Company record should look, slightly the worse for wear, as if it has been played and heard.

Bad Company for my entire life have been a kind of guilty pleasure, not as hip as Free and then Rodgers went on to mess with Queen, who’s ideas was that travesty but they are grown men they can do that type of thing. However as a band they produce exactly what they should, melodic rock that can be both heavy and soulful, enough testosterone on show to keep the meatheads happy and lyrics that can either make you grimace or smile. The perfect band to purge the crap from your head that life can put there. Now if I was twenty years younger I may be on my fourth or fifth shot of whiskey by the time it came to flip the album, nowadays I just get the faint desire to do that and realize I have to be up for work tomorrow, in the old days I would be planning on calling in, how life has changed me.

Not much to say here apart from, don’t go to see the Magnificent Seven, I did so you don’t have to, watch the original instead and get your rocks off with a little Bad Company it’ll do you good in a relatively safe if slightly confusing way. Those English boys and their six-gun fascinations.

You’re drifting off to sleep…

I remember the scene, two Northerners stuck just north of Brighton because they thought living in the south may be fun for awhile. We should have known everything would go wrong on the basis that they put the Northerners in the same flat, keeping us away from the rest. The whole place was not surprisingly filled with people from the south except for Billy from Wales and Tony from Newcastle, who only came down during the school holidays. Then there was me and Dave, he was from Newcastle and I was from Liverpool. The four of us along with Billy’s partner Vince who visited occasionally made a little Northern enclave in the south.

All this provincial thinking and paranoia was very real in the late 80’s as we tried to figure out collectively what the hell we were doing with our lives and ourselves. The first night in the local pub the landlord moved the ashtrays as the Northerners may steal them, and welcomed us with “so you’re the two who got on their bikes.” He also I think raised the price of beer and would not let us keep a tab, he did however allow us at the lock ins until we took too much money from the locals playing darts and bar billiards. He liked to keep us in the public bar not the lounge thereby ensuring the local sensibilities were not hurt. It all seemed good clean fun at the time but was it really, we found reasons not to like our neighbors and they apparently had no trouble disliking us on a daily basis. This was all veiled in an attempt at humor. With the time and distance that has happened I am able to say that we probably caused this as much as being victims, in fact there is no probable about that.

I spent a lot of time traveling on trains at this time. The only way of listening to music portably was a walkman and cassettes to play on it. Dave and I began something of a joint cassette collection, luckily we enjoyed much of the same music and somehow managed not to buy the same albums too often. The problem was really we could never really remember who bought what very well. This did result in some confusion when the inevitable move happened for the first of us. Eventually it was all decided by a long drawn out drunken conversation about who bought what when and there may have been arm wrestling.

I became adept at the Liverpool to Haywards Heath journey and could manage to not raise myself above ground in London as I passed through. Making no eye contact and keeping the headphones up loud so nobody was inclined to start a conversation. After Dave left the job I was eternally reminded of my Dads parting words as he dropped me off on the way south, “you’ll be back,” funnily when I made the longer trek from Liverpool to Oregon he never said the same thing, rather mumbling “we’ll be over “instead.

14333002_10209002776380504_8145638475938881710_nOne album we never argued about who it belonged to was Green by R.E.M. This was mine, not because Dave didn’t like it but because it became so important to me that Dave had to go get his own copy. In the end we had two cassettes, two L.P.s and then eventually two C.D.s. It was very likely the most bought album in the Our Price records in Haywards Heath on the strength of our buying alone.

It was not so much that we were big R.E.M. fans, we just for some reason connected with that album. It was joyous, cynical and determinedly serious in a truly funny way. Tonight as I played it again for the first time on vinyl in many years I was taken back to that dingy damp smelling flat we shared and relived the fun of Green. It was the album that lifted the spirits of two northern boys in the south so far from home, it was the album we danced to and laughed over and for visitors was one of the most accessible things we were listening to at the time. It used to get played to the uninitiated and those who made it past the Crass singles and Bob Calvert marathons. It raised our thoughts after the claustrophobia of the Talk Talk listening parties with the bass on You Are Everything alone.

Along with the Waterboys and whisky it eased the tensions of a hard night working with difficult kids and on the weekend would allow us to let loose. To this day I have never owned another R.E.M. album, for me everything I needed was in that one album. I know I am undoubtedly missing out but it may be too late, although I am now tempted to go ahead and get more.To this day when tracks from Green come on I will smile and take the time to listen all the way through. I know the running order of songs but not the names and I can still remember that goofy drunken dance we taught people on a Friday night in the pub as we took over the jukebox.

 

Remember me…

I find Mr Lydon a little insufferable, I got the joke and then it stopped being funny.

There was a time that listening to PIL was intolerably hip, many people did it because you were supposed to do it, it made you appear a little more smart than the average early twenty year old. About now is the time I tell you some story about an attractive and yet serious young woman who would stare into the middle distance as she smoked her roll ups and swigged out of a stolen red wine bottle as the  fire sputtered in the fireplace burning old pallets that barely warmed the damp squat we shared with her sartorially inelegant pals.

Tfullsizerender-2here may really be a story there but the thing is it is all bull, the real truth is when you heard Jah Wobbles bass on Metal Box, or Second Edition as I just found it, and you grew up on Hawkwind and Amon Duul you managed to connect with PIL on a guttural level. It’s the missing link a sprawling mess of a missing link that has all the idiocy and social commentary necessary to be serious with a nod and a wink, it’s art rock for the working classes. It’s minimalist with maximum bass.

There really was a serious young woman in a donkey jacket and shrink to fit levi’s. We were going to change the world in the struggle against Thatcher and the fascist state she was creating, we went to festivals, hitched around the country and slept in ditches, sometimes sober. We listened to all the right records and went to all the right gigs, well the ones we could afford, we did dumb stuff together. Then she decided to become an economist and eventually a banker and I went on to run a non-profit for disadvantaged teens. I bet she votes conservative now.

Funnily enough now my need to impress is gone I really  need to hear Jethro Tull now the glorious mess that is Second Edition is over.

There’s no time to think…

It’s been an interesting few days/weeks/months/years.

I’ve been wrestling with what to do next in that all too familiar mid-life crisis way. I completed my fiftieth year on the planet not so long ago, actually in February so at the rate the months are currently passing, it was a lifetime ago. This coincided with me beginning to buy records again, I thought I’d make a list of records I had to own and go from there, fifty seemed a good number. Seems nostalgia and self reflection are two things that grab us at a certain point in life, they are also two things that are difficult to wrestle with together.

So I have been curating this list for over a year now, adding albums, removing albums and dithering and considering. Just today I realized there was no Dylan and maybe that Beatles album should be replaced with Rubber Soul. It’s as if it is impossible to get to what will be the 50 albums that will represent me on some level, is my mind and taste really so restless and fickle. I’m looking at the list and there is no Fleetwood Mac, Stones, Zeppelin or Black Sabbath and Purple are nowhere to be seen, damn where is the Whitesnake not to mention UFO or the glorious Scorpions. It is almost as if the metal years are no longer there, but the mighty Hawkwind make it twice and it could have been four.

It seems there are constants and then the albums that come and go. When I play Quicksilver Messenger Service or the Grateful Dead it seems that is all I want to hear but they are not on the list. Since January I have been listening to the Dead every week, at least one concert and yet they still have never made the list, Uriah Heep are on constant blasting rotation in the car but nowhere to be seen, yet Manassass are on the list and it has been months since I played the record, however great the album is. It seems to be the more important and familiar you are with an album the less you almost need to hear it.

It seems that the list may be more defined by what is not on it some days than what made it. It is maybe a reflection of my shifting musical memory, songs and albums coming into focus as memories emerge and comfort me or at times discomfort me. Around my wedding anniversary time Matthews Southern Comfort are important and later in August Fairport Convention as I pine for Cropredy or the connections that make that festival important even though it is never what I hoped for.

Then there is the question that as on some level this began as a buying guide can you add an album that you don’t own. I desperately want Solid Sir by John Martyn on there but I don’t think I will be able to afford a copy in the near future, unless I suck it up and spend the money on a reissue, which I hear is really worth the money. Lists are by there nature limiting and the question is do I want to be limited? Or as my wife would I am sure agree maybe I need to be limited.

This list has now become an albatross. It is something that is now apparently becoming consuming of too much thought. Am I ever going to get to that 50 albums or should I go for 100, 1000 or maybe more. As I look at the list in front of me as I write I am thinking I should add some more bands, maybe if I limit my choice to only one album by each band I can increase the variety. Is that though really an indicator of what I truly see as defining myself, do I want to define myself or am I happy to constantly change the list as the ever shifting playlist in my head is going all the time.

I am thinking of the time as a teenager heading out on vacation to Wales I would be happy with three records and a stack of books for two weeks. Really taking the time to listen and stare at the scenery. So in the interest of my sanity you will not get the list but here is a picture of where I spent most of my holidays as a child watching the Irish Sea, swimming, reading and listening to the few records I had. Nothing says the Llyn Peninsular like a morning pie apparently.

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I don’t want to be one wave in the water…

So I got to the beach a day before everyone else and there I was walking on the sand as sunset was getting close. I was strolling along and all I could think about was a Plague of Lighthouse Keepers by Van Der Graaf Generator as I approached the mournful lighthouse disappearing into the mist.

It would have made sense if I had taken a picture of the lighthouse but it was too far away and misty so here are some pretty rocks.

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It was truly beautiful as I strolled and thought about that song, I have to admit I am not that familiar with it so couldn’t really figure it out and I had deliberately left the headphones at the house to enjoy the sound of the beach. Sometimes there can really be too much noise in your head or at least your ears for your own good.

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I had walked about 5 miles along this long beach when I noticed this was happening. I looked around and realized I was a long way from where I should be. I had also not taken note of any landmarks, that would make sense in the dark. Immediately I panicked, I was convinced I was going to die here on this idyllic Oregon beach. Or be captured by natives and perhaps forced to drink micro-brews and eat organic produce. At some point some person would discover my phone next to a stew pot and look at the last picture. So here is what it would have been if that had happened.

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About this time I figured I should turn around and walk back or I would never hear a Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. It’s a monster of a track by the way, probably way too overindulgent but that can be fun.

I was helped back by my neighbor who I recognized with his camera and tripod on the beach as I ambled back in the near dark.

 

They know who they are…

Some artists have a hold over us. Either it’s a period of time or an ability to connect with us on a level that is so real, close, uncanny even that it is as if they see into our deeper darker recesses. It is something that goes beyond an admiration for the music or poetry, it’s something that talks for us not to us. This type of artist has not just written a song we love but has a whole catalogue of material that connects with us and can make us pause.

This is what I was thinking as I pre-ordered three vinyl reissues by Roy Harper, Flat Baroque and Berserk, Stormcock and Lifemask, I saw them advertised a couple of days ago and managed to hold out for some time, actually about three days. Eventually crumbling and hitting the order button to finally shut the voices in my head up. These three albums are part of my history, my growth as a human being and at times almost an obsession.

They are not the only Harper albums that have a hold on me. They are however three albums that are astonishing in their ability to make me pause and listen. But more of that for when they arrive I guess.

I have been looking for a copy of Stormcock I could afford for a long time. The reissue of all three is slightly less than good copies of Stormcock are selling for so what’s to lose really. Now I am trying to figure out how long I have to wait until they are in my hands.

They are here if like me you can’t resist: Harper albums.

Harper is not particularly easy to like. A deeply flawed individual, arrogant, abrasive, haunting and brutally honest he can be a difficult listen. My experience of him in person has always been positive, the few times I met him he was incredibly kind to a somewhat gushing and flustered fan, luckily for me. So how does that go with his writing and his reputation for unpredictability, I have no idea.

As I sit here and listen to his last album Man and Myth, I realized something. Harper is one of the few mainly acoustic musicians that needs to be played loud and very loud at that. Which when you consider this is an album that is looking at life from the perspective that time is running out is pretty amazing. The music is big, all encompassing overwhelming almost. It is at times delicate, brutal and IMG_5505terrifying. Simultaneously incredibly intimate and fearlessly public. Harper like his music at the best is a force of nature. He is often seen as a folky but has as much in common with Zeppelin and Bowie in the drama and grandeur of his music. He is also one of the few musicians of any genre that has truly managed o integrate the orchestra into his work.

It seems at some point he has influenced many musicians who went on to greater success because they were willing to compromise. He however, forever uncompromising remains the ultimate obscurity and underground sensation. Lauded by many of his contemporaries and current musicians he continues to forge his own path and stand alone as a truly unique force in music.

Over the years I have sat and pored over the lyrics, searching for truth about the man and the human condition. Sometimes shaking my head at the lunacy of the whole stupidity of the music and lyrics or smiling at the cynicism and then in the very next track marveling at his ability to capture the fragility of life in a way that hits you in the gut and then he writes something that may shock and cause you to pause, closely followed by moments of beauty in a fragile song recounting the end of a relationship.

So what have I taken form Harper? Well I stopped wearing a watch, I always tell my love that I love her and I always try to speak my mind, sometimes when I should shut up. Also if it’s good turn it all the way up and don’t worry about the neighbors they need some culture.