The passage of my life is measured out in shirts…

A musical epiphany, a moment when you finally understand/hear things in a new or different way.

For years I had been on the prog-rock bandwagon, occasionally with detours to rock or metal on those days when i felt the need for the acceptance of my peers. I had also managed along the way to pick up an unhealthy fascination in folk-rock and for some reason The Clash and The Stranglers.

The said epiphany happened sometime in the 80’s as I staggered from the library with three cassettes, I was weighed down by the weight of the music I guess. All of them products of the 70’s, and none of them having anything particularly in common, although you could probably find a connection if you wanted to or tried and probably this would involve Fairport Convention.

Wishbone Ash’s Argus, Brian Eno’s Before and After Science and Real Life by Magazine. I have no idea why I picked these three albums. I may have been just determined to play something I had never heard before. I knew the name Eno from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I had not paid attention to producers at this time outside of Genesis it seems so the connection to Bowie had not occurred, but the others were a mystery. All had been recorded in a 5 year period and showed some progression of popular music I guess. They all have ridiculous or elusive lyrics and a definite attitude in what they are, a swagger, stance that is mainstream but twisted. They all three have striking and memorable covers.

This day of sitting down on the last summer in my parents house while they were out to listen to these three albums though is a moment that has stuck with me. It was the realization that things were not going to be the same. I was leaving home and had no intention of going back, my life was changing and evolving and maybe would make less sense. I can still smell my parents house, lavender and cut grass with the ever present scent of tea.My cassette player propped in the corner as they had got rid of the radiogram and I had packed the stereo up to go to college.

threeIt was an uncomfortably hot day, they were gone for the weekend so volume was not an issue, especially as the neighbor was deaf. On they went and my ears were opened up. The Wishbone Ash was melodic prog without the keyboards, hints of folk and a whimsical fantastic lilt to the lyrics about kings and warriors. It was and remains a favorite when I am feeling a bit down, like chicken noodle soup it satisfies without filling you up.

Magazine would now be considered post-punk I suppose. Back then it was confusing to me. Hints of prog that made me feel comfortable and then the attack of punk would pop out. It had more in common with Calvert era Hawkwind though, Devoto had a sneer in his vocal that was comforting and there were keyboards and solos.

The real mess with you moment was the Eno though. I had no idea what this was supposed to be, funk, punk, pop. It was a mess, but a good mess. Side One was upbeat, rocking and loud, Side Two was more reflective and and quiet and hinted at other things to come for Eno. It was as if Lou Reed had a sense of humor, it was revelatory for me, it was a cold distanced sound but immediate. Fripp and Collins were there but this was not prog, Paul Rudolph was there but this was not Hawkwind and what the heck was that folky Dave Mattacks doing on the drums. How did one man manage to gather such a menagerie of musicians.

To this day Eno’s music that involves vocals has always caught my attention. It seems revolutionary, subversive and totally original while referencing other styles of music and subverting them to his own designs.

I guess these three album in one afternoon managed to take me from the safety of Wishbone Ash to the safely dangerous with Magazine and ending with the truly unique Eno, who after this album went on to influence rock music for decades while producing ambient music under his own name.

Maybe we ain’t that young anymore…

In a horrific dream I was transported back to 1985 as a young man named Russell  stood on the roof of a long boat on the Birmingham canal. He was bellowing the words to Born In The USA and throwing bad Springsteen shapes as the boat wallowed along the canal.

It was the year of Live Aid and the mega growth of Springsteen and the resurgence of Queen as a monster rock act. U2 managed to get some credibility and Jagger and Bowie gyrated, pouted and managed to unselfconsciously out embarrass the world as they danced in the streets.

All of this was brought on by my managing to find a copy of Bruce and the E-Streeters Live 13178760_10207978034362594_4119009996198978640_n1975-85 box-set of joy. I really dig Bruce, he is all machismo and sentimental sincerity. You get the idea he is probably a lot of fun to hang out with, worries about the little man and is a little embarrassed by his wealth as well as surprised at his popularity. It is a massive undertaking to listen to all five albums and I bet I have to stretch it out.

I did however find myself losing myself in the big sound of the E-Street Band and the Boss as they stroll though some of the best songs committed to record. Some of the mid song banter is a little cringeworthy, although my understanding it is this aspect of the Springsteen show that can really whip the crowd into a frenzy as he works them like a baptist preacher or snake oil salesman.

MI0003521606My biggest problem right now and then is getting the sight of that skinny white dude with the permed blonde hair in too tight, too short shorts dancing on that cheesy boat. At the time it was summer holidays and we thought it would be fun to putter up and down a canal. Russell managed to bring along hours of Live Aid he had copied from the TV. Everyone else forgot music and we had to put up with this onslaught. Until we pulled into a small town that had a WH Smith where I managed to find a copy of World Shut Your Mouth in the sale rack. Kolly Kibber’s Birthday never managed to drown out the memory or sound of Radio Ga Ga and Born In The USA though. It was however more successful than those slightly stretched live tapes at attracting the young ladies of the Midlands, it was also the first  and last time anyone ever said to me you sound just like the Beatles in the UK.

As I hit side 4 of the box set I am wishing a bit I had found the Cope album as it is a classic but my guess is almost impossible to find in the wild in Oregon.

 

Sometimes I don’t know where this dirty road is taking me Sometimes I can’t even see the reason why…

There are some albums that hit you hard, they make you think, they make you cry, sometimes with their beauty or their perfection but more rarely some are just so honest. Townes Van Zandt Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas is one of those rare honest albums.

A man, a guitar and an audience. That rare thing a performance captivating and magical. Van Zandt sounds strong and honest when singing and insecure and shy when telling his awkward jokes or faltering introductions. A unique and flawed talent that burned brightly despite the self destructive elements and mental illness.

townesThere is  more rock’n’roll on this four sides of acoustic songs than on many a rock album of testosterone fueled peacockery. You get the feeling Townes had lived every one of these songs and his liver and lungs and emaciated body bore the scars. Standing in the sunlight through the window  on the cover like a cowboy version of Iggy Pop, there is a fragility to the image of Townes that truly speaks to the power of the songs. Townes doesn’t sacrifice his body to the power of the song like Iggy but bares his soul and comes out bloody and bruised just the same.

I met Townes once after a gig in Southport. It was a good gig and I hope I did not embarrass myself too much. I was drunk and so was he. We sat and drank from a whiskey bottle on the steps of the Southport Arts Center for an hour. I have no idea what we talked about but his gentle spirit and generosity is what I remember and the sight of that tall lanky Texan taking off into the dark with a guitar case in hand. I hope he made it to wherever he was going that night.

His songs have carried me through some dark times and happy times. He has managed so often to capture the thought or idea that was eluding me and sitting and listening to him is always an experience.

Year of the Dead set and reckoned with…

Grateful_Dead_-_Dead_SetOne afternoon in the mid 80’s I was asleep on my bed with the door open and Feel Like A Stranger blaring out into the hallway. Snoring away and oblivious to all around I woke to a small elfin redheaded creature sat in the chair who declared herself Delia from Poughkeepsie New York. She had been walking around the dorm feeling like a stranger when she heard the Dead. This to her was the sign of a kindred spirit and a natural friend. It was also the first time she had heard the Grateful Dead playing in the UK.

Dead Set was the album playing and I had borrowed it from Dave as he tried to convince me of the brilliance of the Grateful Dead and I tried to convince him Julian Cope was the new Sky Saxon as I loaned him Fried. Dave had also loaned me the companion album Reckoning.Grateful_Dead_-_Reckoning Set was the electric album and Reckoning was the all acoustic set. Both albums were fun and had a lot to offer although Reckoning was the better as it did not have that 80’s synth sound pervading it and avoided the disco-Dead tendencies.

Both had stellar album covers and continued to enhance the image of the band in my eyes, but why did they have to sound so safe.

Now in all the best stories this would be the beginning of a whirlwind romance that would be wild and outrageous and involve a roadtrip of discovery and joy. It may also involve a brush with the law and or a chase across the Yorkshire moors in the dead of night.

In truth it led to a close friendship as she found herself way more attracted to my friend across the hall, although we would sit together in the dark slightly befuddled and listen to the Dead into the early hours until he came home from work. She had seen the Dead live and I was in awe of their image but slightly confused by their music. There seemed very little danger apart from the jamband anarchy that went along with them stretching out songs to their limits.

I introduced her to Roy Harper, Fairport Convention, Hawkwind and Bert Jansch and John Martyn, she convinced me Neil and the Shocking Pinks was a work of genius and Dr. John had mystical qualities and that Capt. Beefheart deserved my attention. Eventually she went back to New York and I went east and then south leaving Liverpool for a number of years. I gave Dave back his Dead albums and tapes and wallowed in Bowie, Bolan, R.E.M. and a post punk fog, although I was still convinced that the Shocking Pinks album had the secret to the universe if only you listened to it during the dark of the moon wearing blue suede shoes and an alligator skin belt.

I have to admit I streamed these albums as there is no way I can afford to buy all those Dead albums ever.

 

Dirty old man…

papaThe sole purveyor of funk fiddle, Papa John Creach. This man plays like satan being chased from a whore house by Ted Cruz and his evangelical gangsters. He is an esteemed member of the Airplane/Starship and Hot Tuna and  in no uncertain terms an unashamed dirty old man.

The cover pictures Papa in his pimp outfit sitting on a lawn chair in the junkyard.

This album should come with a parental warning, it will cause licentious thoughts amongst the most devout and puritanical. Papa has a filthy mind which and not only does he know it he celebrates it. The album is titled Filthy and it heads for the innuendo gutter and stays there with a groove that is indescribably funky, Stax meet the Airplane via the Temptations in their best psychedelic mode, it will never be a classic but it is unforgettable. Yes that really is Keb Mo’ on guitar as well.

I was as I am sure you are all aware too embarrassed to type the song titles so here is the back cover.

back

You’re very nearly human you’re so well disguised…

I remember one sunny spring day sitting in my French mock O. Level at school, understanding that I had no idea what I was writing and yet doggedly continuing. Madame Rimmer had not managed to beat French into me after four years of failure to remember French vocabulary and in this moment I was actually going to do bad enough that I would not have to take the final test.

My mind was on the number 10 bus that would take me to town to buy the newly released copy of Church of Hawkwind, which was going to be much better than trying to understand what was happening on the test.

A half hour after the fateful bell ring and three record stores later I could not find a copy of my desired Hawkwind album. It seemed that the rabid mob of fans had descended on the stores earlier than me and had their copy leaving me with none, no special booklet and new Hawkwind music. Determined to not go home empty handed I grabbed a copy of PXR5 which had one of the worst covers ever and went home.

pxr5There is something so attractive about the Calvert Albums with Hawkwind. They are humorous and have a pop sensibility that is almost dance friendly, well in the sense that you can throw yourself around with abandon. They also often had titles that influenced my reading. So from PXR5 I had to read High Rise by J.G.Ballard and Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows and delve further into Asimov’s Robot series.

PXR5, is one of those built to suit Hawkwind albums, part live, part studio, part Dave Brock solo album and yet it still holds together as a whole album. Cohesive in that shambolic way that only a Hawkwind album can be. Filled with classics and obscurities it never the less manages to captivate. The almost Bowie sound of High Rise, the chaos of Uncle Sam’s On Mars, the punk of Death Trap and the out and out throwback sound of Robot.

 

On reflection I dodged Church of Hawkwind which may have reached new lows for a Hawkwind album at the time. You can argue it was more of a Brock solo electronic experiment but you would have to be stretching pretty far to do that.

 

Too hot for the band with a desperate desire for change…

There is something about early Elton John that is truly captivating. I can say that now even though it took me until my forties to actually buy an Elton John album. I have no idea if it was prejudice at the thought of owning an album by a pop artist or the costumes and glasses. It may also be that Elton had become a parody of himself by the time I started to pay attention.

In my formative musical years he was in my truly monumentally arrogant opinion a lightweight compared to Bowie or Bolan and would be blown over by the parping saxes from Hawkwind. It could also be that I was a pretentious ass of a teenager who as I said before always new he new better.

There is however no doubt that Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is a truly mesmerizing experience from start to finish. Many a musical reference and a truly biographical album that manages not to be pretentious. A classic especially Someone Saved My Life Tonight.

Also in these days of downloads you just don’t get a package like this with lyric book, scrapbook, gatefold sleeve and fan club membership form. I desperately want to fill the thing in and send it in, would anyone reply, is there a wizened Elton employee manning the address to reply to the tardy fan?

Half of my life, I spent doin’ time for some other fucker’s crime…

“Half of my life, I spent doin’ time for some other fucker’s crime”

It’s this line that may have convinced me the Dead were tough, this and Mama Tried. The truth is far from that as they were in reality as far as I can tell fairly privileged navel gazing hippies. Which is to say like most of American youth at the time. Yes I am jaded today, I may have tried to watch the debate and am wondering what happened to that sixties generation.

Skull and Roses Front+CoverSpoilt rotten, all the same they could make some great records when the weather was good and the acid kicked in and life was mellow. 1971 saw them release the album they wanted to call Skull Fuck but is more popularly known as Skull and Roses. In the great tradition of bands more intent on playing than recording much of the album is live with some overdubs I am sure, the Dead never got the harmonies that close live is my guess.

It is the first time I actually bought the America’s jukebox tag they get, songs by Merle Haggard, Buddy Holly, Kristofferson and Luther Dixon all on one album, along with the joys of Wharf Rat and Playing In The Band. It sometimes gets a bad reputation from some people but if you want a Dead album that hits all the high points of the early 70’s Dead you could do worse, and if you hate it the gatefold album looks cool hanging on the wall in your office, man cave or even the outhouse. My copy has no cover, it is probably hanging on some suits wall as we speak, he probably had no more need for the music but thought the cover was cool.

There was a time I would argue that this album, American Beauty, Workingman’s Dead and Europe 72 were all the Grateful Dead albums you need.

Ok I admit it the Grateful Dead fill me at times with equal measures of joy and confusion/disdain at the same time. They are simultaneoulsy awe inspiring and annoying it’s the dialectic in action man.

I’m starting’ to see a bigger picture…

roamAfter all that Hawkwind it has really been time to calm down a little. So I took a breath and reached for Room To Roam by the Waterboys just to get my head straight.

It’s the younger brother of Fishermans Blues and sometimes to my mind may actually be slightly better and more relaxed. Traffic may have got it together in the country in the 60’s and early 70’s, The Waterboys managed to cause it all to fall apart in the Irish countryside in the 80’s.

It’s a shambolic affair and at times doesn’t quite work out completely but I have always enjoyed Mike Scott’s idea of navel gazing.

Sometimes I need you wild…

Transported to a strange place by the stark compositions on Songs from A Room. Sitting in the dark with only the faint crackle of the 47 year old vinyl as the stylus creates the sounds to fill the space.

roomI have to admit this is the very first Leonard Cohen I have ever listened to in it’s entirety, I am on my third play and every listen is as fresh as the first which is really a novel experience in a jaded world of downloads and streaming. There is no brick walling of the sound and it seems that Laughing Len is in the room with me mumbling his exotic lyrics in my ear.

Truth be told it’s just a great album and the back cover captures a time and a place so well as Marianne sits in that stark otherworldly room in Greece.

It’s a truly powerful experience, go for it turn the lights down and huddle with Len as he narrates his stories into the dark.