I'm immensely honoured to contribute to a post on someone else's very fine blog today (thank you, Martin), in which I fantasise about what would happen if a Mod hero was on the receiving end of a little feminine touch down amid the tangled trees. Well, erm, something sort of like that....
To find out more, please click here and take a look (and a listen).
I don’t like football so the idea of a fantasy football
league doesn’t mean a thing, but ‘fantasy cover versions’? Love it.
Thanks to Martin at the excellent blogNew Amusements, I’ve been
ruminating over ideas for these all week…
Please take a look at his introductory post to
see what it’s all about and his first suggestion - anyone can join in.
I’ve picked something I’d love to hear covered by an artist I particularly admire, which is due to feature on New Amusements next week.
And Rol from the brilliant My Top Ten has come up with something truly inspired.
It’s become a talking point here at SDS Towers too. Mr SDS suggested he’d like to hear KaceyMusgraves singing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ (imagining it sounding similar to
the great Dixie Chicks’ version) – but on looking it up he found a live version
she’d done with Lady Antebellum, so it wouldn’t really count (it has to be true fantasy!) Would still like to hear a studio version,
though (so, if you're reading this, Kacey?!) He was also reminded of a
colleague from years ago who’d once said he fancied hearing Nirvana tackling
the La’s ‘There She Goes’. I can imagine that too, stretching Kurt’s
voice nicely and perhaps delivered in the manner of the MTV Unplugged sessions. See - once you start thinking
Please go drop Martin a line via his blog if you fantasise
about such things too. I'd love to see more.
Dear Mr Fantasy, play us a tune
Something to make us all happy Do anything, take us out of this gloom Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy
It’s five to 4. The man in long khaki shorts has just come out of the portacabin in the car park and is picking up the
pavement sign. Typical.
The one time I’ve finally decided to stop and take a detour on my way to
the Co-op to venture inside for a look and now I’m too late.
“Oh, are you closing...?” I ask. I’m aware that I probably sound
disappointed. “Well, should close at 4, but it’s
okay, I can stay open - no hurry,” he replies, looking at his watch. Actually he seems keen that someone is
interested. So, once I’ve checked that
it really is alright, and he definitely doesn’t having to rush off for anything
(“stay as long as you like!” he offers merrily),
I enter the portacabin and have a good
There are a couple of tiny ornate Roman brooches which catch
my eye. They are delicate and beautiful,
and all the more captivating for just knowing they’re over 1000 years old. Next to them, a small collection of musket
balls. These look familiar – I’m sure I’ve
found something that looks very similar in my garden, and I’ve kept it in a
saucer along with a selection of broken crockery pieces, the ubiquitous pieces
of clay pipe, flints - next to a bowlful of bird skulls. Other
items here in the Heritage Centre include Iron Age tools, Georgian coins, Roman
buckles. I love these things. Little pieces of history, tiny remnants of
lives left behind. It’s nothing out of
the ordinary, probably not even of value, and it’s around us all the time, beneath
us, maybe not that far below the surface.
“It’s fascinating! I’ll
come back when there’s more time,” I
tell the man, and I will.
Continuing on my way to the Co-op with these archaic finds in
my mind, my thoughts turn naturally to my
current favourite TV series, ‘Detectorists’.
There’s so much to like about Mackenzie Crook’s charming comedy based around two
men hoping to find the remains of a Saxon ship and ancient gold with their metal detectors (and even the word ‘comedy’
doesn’t quite do it justice): the pace, the humour, the pathos, the acting and characters. But as much as anything for me is the beautiful cinematography and my
additional personal connection to the familiar mellow landscapes of its
setting, as it was filmed not far from here.
I pick up some Fairy Liquid and a bag of Bombay Mix and head
home, the back way this time, by the allotments. A Red Admiral settles on the path in front of
me, spiky leaves of globe thistles rub against the sunflowers, I notice a dead
woodpigeon in the brambles, I drift along in a world of my own… make sure I don’t
sprain my ankle again…. wonder if I’ll see the chickens, there’s a coop just
along here… must check that musket ball thing I found when I get home, I'll be on the look-out for more now ….and then my thoughts
are broken by a sound. A strange, whiny,
uneven sound, a bit like a gate swinging back and forth on rusty hinges, but
not regular enough, too extreme. It’s coming
from the other side of the allotment, behind the trees, I think. A sort of whistle but, no, not a whistle,
more synthetic… sort of beeping… where’ve
I heard that before?
It only dawns on me as the path ends and joins up with the
car park again at the back of the Heritage Centre that I’ve just heard a metal
detector. Or should I say: detectorist. Perfect.
(I wonder if they found anything. Or (to quote) fuck all...)
A saucerful of secrets. My equivalent to the 'Finds Table'.
If I ever win something on the Lottery (unlikely, I don’t do it), or come into some inheritance (unlikely, no-one still around with anything to leave),
or you're a generous philanthropist reading this now (lovely to meet you!) – there's something, not too out-of-this-world, I'd just like to do.
It's fairly modest: a kind of art project - travelling around Europe photographing windows. Not any old windows, though; I know what I’m looking for - ones that, soon as I
notice them, have a strange, déjà-vu effect, as if I’ve been on the inside of them, looking out. I’ll be out of harm’s way, in
the open air, but I’ll know that, on the other side of their small, dirty panes, up high and out of reach (always up high),
all manner of unspoken danger and supernatural wickedness lurks. I'll know because I’ve been behind these windows many times, in dreams.
The recurring theme (probably a common one?) is that I’m wandering through a building – often an old house with paneled walls and narrow staircases, like you see in creepy 1940s films, but sometimes they're industrial or 1970s office blocks – and I go higher and higher. Everything's fine until I step into the very top room or space with that window, and then I feel ‘the malevolent presence’. Sometimes I'm trapped, peering out at a normal world I can't get to. I
never see the source of my fear, just sense something very sinister in the room. I'm sure a psychoanalyst would have an explanation. I might not want to hear it, mind.
Anyway, maybe I'd overcome these disturbing dreams by
capturing the physical image of the windows themselves? It would be great just to have enough freedom and funds to go
travelling with a cool high-tech camera (once I've learned how to use it) and then I could click away to my heart's content (in between eating linguine in Tuscany and visiting the Louvre in Paris. Perks of the job). Let me know if you fancy doing the driving.
I s'pose that's what dreams are for, the daydreams anyway... that's where things start, tho' in this case it started with nightmares.
I'm unlikely to have time/money to fully indulge in something pointless like this, though. Who does? It's a shame, isn't it - all the things we might do if only we could just suspend normal life for long enough and take off with no other concerns. Not major life changes or ambitions, just 'projects' - things that really are possible, but need a bit more than you have.
Meanwhile then, I took a short stroll locally (before I sprained my ankle!) and found a few high windows, the best I could do with limited time, anyway. Here are just three crappy, furtive pics to try and show what I mean. (I had to tell the owner of one that I was photographing a bird on his roof as I didn’t want to let him in on the unspeakable paranormal malevolence in his attic.)
Are they a bit creepy, or is it just me? I mean, just imagine yourself, trapped behind them, where no-one can hear you scream....
Don't be misled by the pretty gable around that spooky top window
Even the alarm won't protect from the evil presence in that attic room
The tiny ancient window up there on the left offers no escape from the terrifying ghosts within
How is it that sometimes the slightest of injuries can cause a disproportionate degree of pain? Like paper-cuts. Ugh.
had a fairly innocuous injury yesterday afternoon when I sort of ‘fell off’ a strappy sandal and twisted my ankle . The sudden spraining hurt but then it
went all warm (actually felt very nice) and I carried on. We were at our village’s annual Summer do and
hung about to watch a band (surprisingly good), no problem to
stand while they played their Who and Cream covers, didn’t feel a thing. We enjoyed that special smell
of trampled-on grass combined with deep fat frying that you only ever get at
these events, then walked the half-mile back home, all was fine for an hour, and then, unexpectedly, the pain really kicked in.
It got worse, so intense I couldn’t put any weight
on my ankle and had to crawl up the stairs to bed on my hands and knees (very undignified). Lying there with my foot propped up trying unsuccessfully
to get to sleep my thoughts went off on a dark dismal walk of their own. My ankle was never going to be the same, I’d have to give up going out – going anywhere at all - and we’d need to
leave our little home because we couldn’t fit a Stannah Stair Lift. I’d get so fat through immobility that I’d
have to be hoisted in and out of bed and end up featuring in a Channel 5
programme about the dangers of strappy footwear: ‘My Sandals Ruined My Life’. Oh, the shame.
Those dark nights of the soul are bastards, aren’t
they? I’ve had them before, where a
hairline crack in the bathroom wall ends up with the whole terrace collapsing, and with it the entire
fabric of your life.
I heard the milkman's bottles clinking at 3.30 this
morning and next door’s dog barking at his footsteps...
...The first cars of the day crunching on the tarmac on their way to the 6am shift at the factory
down the road.
As the darkness of the night started to subside, so did the worst of the pain, and so did the thoughts. Resting the foot today, in between hobbling. Throwing out the sandals.
Blimey, I'm finally managing to write again! Thanks for your encouragement and understanding. But hope you'll forgive some retrospective indulgence... It could even turn into an occasional series, tho' that might be over-ambitious. Anyway, this started because I was thinking about a gig I was at on this exact day many years ago - hence 'anniversary' - and it dawned on me just how much has changed, although the band in question are still performing (albeit not the complete original line-up). More on them in a mo.
First, time to forget everything we now take for granted about modern
technology. Rewind to an era when we weren’tall connected, forget having a home computer and transmitting words and pictures like I'm doing now. I'm back to a time when we still had £1 notes and had to get photos
developed at Boots and wait two weeks. I
won’t go on, you were probably there too.
So I'm in the early '80s, and 1981 in particular. How was it for you?
The music I think of first is that post-punk / embryonic goth thing because I was really into those bands I’d heard through John Peel, like Modern English, Psychedelic Furs, Positive Noise, the Cure...
There were other new sounds too - I loved the first New Age Steppers album with its dub
...and still had allegiance to the anarcho-punk of Crass who released 'Penis Envy' that year. I don't recall ever enjoying that in the way I did others, but it had its place.
These were varied times musically; I could play New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ alongside Dead Kennedys ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ and Radio 1 could play Bucks Fizz next to theJam. So much was going on. Then, thrown into
the mix, was something altogether different: electro ‘machine music' from a German band who’d already been
around for over half my life. Kraftwerk.
Kraftwerk seemed pretty old in '81 (in their 30s!). I knew this because my sister already had Radioactivity in the dark ages of 1975, a record she'd been given by a German boy during a Town Twinning week. I was 12 in '75, I liked Showaddywaddy and guinea pigs. So, yes, they were ancient but, at the same time, so ultra-modern.
On Friday 3rd July 1981, I saw them at the Hammersmith
Odeon. It was the first time I’d
been to a gig venue with seats. I was used to black-painted halls with sticky floors and being close enough to a band to look
up the nostrils of the guitarist and count the hairs. Down there on stage – a long way away, no up-nosing for me - were
four figures who looked more like androids than
people, each producing synthetic sounds from a personal console,
behind them a huge screen projecting the kind of digital graphics I’d only
really seen on Tomorrow’s
Honestly, this is what I mean about forgetting what we know
today because back then it seemed so futuristic. Like when we were little and tried to
picture what life might be like in the year 2000 (all jet-packs and holidays on the moon),
the computer world that Kraftwerk envisioned wasn’t one
I could imagine living in.
Now, as I type this using familiar technology, their version seems retro, like Gameboys and
Space Invaders do too. But in 1981 we were still gawping at magic flashing signs
on the motorway telling us we were too close to the car in front as we travelled down to Hammersmith in P's Vauxhall Viva.
I’m not sure quite how Kraftwerk fitted in to my
musical taste, they just did. Seeing them felt like witnessing something special. The sophistication of sound and imagery
took us to an other-worldly place, where our hosts didn't seem fully human. How different from the gigs I'd been to before. At the same time it was highly
accessible, especially in songs like the wistful electro-pop of 'Computer Love'.
We were enthralled for two hours by four automatons, but just occasionally they let slip their robotic façades and smiled, and we loved them for it. They filled our senses. It was such a memorable and awe-inspiring night.
And unlike gigs I’d been to before, the ones with sticky floors, there was no real fashion style dominating the audience - there were all sorts there, with no aggro. P wore a black cape! I don't know why - or perhaps I do - I mean, this was an era when many of us
aspired to be vampires, at least part-time. K was wearing brand new purple creepers from Shelley’s. I donned my moth-eaten black lace dress (my mum’s from the 1940s), my hair deliberately tangled.
In the foyer
on the way out we spotted Toyah! ‘I Want To Be Free’ was in the charts - she was going to turn this world inside out
and turn suburbia upside down. I'm not sure how she got so far with that voice, but she did have the look.
queued to leave the car park, we were amazed to hear a tape of what we’d
just listened to being played back – someone must’ve recorded the set on a portable cassette machine. Maybe smuggled in
under a cape.
Possibly still dazed from the Kraftwerk experience, P took a wrong turn as we headed home and started driving West instead of East. We didn’t
know as we drove towards Southall that something serious was
happening there that night.
The first we heard was in the papers the next day - there was nothing then to
tell us what was going on in real time, no tweets, no rolling
Luckily we turned around in time, oblivious to what was unfolding further down the road. Petrol
bombs were being thrown and a pub set on fire when a violent conflict erupted after a number of Oi bands booked to play the Hambrough Tavern brought many
of their racist supporters to an area with a high Asian population. That was another
side to the hot Summer of 1981: riots.
It's weird to think of Oi bands, riots and Kraftwerk in the same breath. I’m so glad I’d been in the company of the
latter that night. I don’t think Oi fans would’ve taken kindly to seeing us dressed in cape,
creepers and lace, singing 'It's More Fun To Compute' out the car windows, and laughing at the ridiculous idea of that ever becoming a reality.
As for Kraftwerk, they're touring again with 70-year old Ralf Hütter as the only original member, and by all accounts their performances are not that dissimilar to the one I enjoyed 36 years ago today. Whereas so many other things have changed...
Developed at Boots, July 1981
In the digital age, July 2017 Thought it was about time I said hello properly!
Oh dear, this is odd, I seem to have lost the ability to
write a blog post. Even typing this feels like an upward struggle and I’m not sure why but, of course, the more I think about it the harder it gets. I’m thinking about it far too much
now, I know, aargh. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried and then scrapped an
idea . How many times I’ve backspaced - even now when I’m writing about it – I
mean, I just backspaced there without anyone knowing and took half the original sentence
out. There have been those paragraphs I’ve
composed in my head in that sort of stream of consciousness way when I’m doing
the washing up or brushing my teeth which seem to make sense – “Yes!” I think, “quick,
write it down! ("Yes, when I've dried my hands!") but then when I try, the words just won’t co-operate.
So really, just to say – after a disproportionate
amount of time and effort to even string this much together - that I’m still
here and all is fine but I’ve come up against a bit of a block at the moment
when it comes to blogging. As soon as I can
kick it out of the way, I’ll try again.
Sort of hoping that just saying this will be a start.
So excited to get the new Jane Weaver album 'Modern Kosmology' last week - I'm indebted to a couple of fellow bloggers for pointing me in her direction (so a BIG thank you, I think you know who you are!)
It's great (sorry for such an unimaginative adjective) - one of those that just gets better the more you hear it, the more you tune into the detail, the mood, the femininity.
Whilst I'm not a music blogger as such, I don't have a lot to say on other subjects right now, so will just keep to the song and keep it brief today. 'Did You See Butterflies?' is the new single; it's gorgeous (shades of Lush and Stereolab, as mentioned by others before) and I know that because I'm in love with it, I just want you to be as well! Funny how music has that effect, but it's a good thing.
I did see a butterfly yesterday too.... not many around here just yet.
Long-time friends of this blog will know that I lost a very dear friend, who also happened to be a close neighbour, last year.
Whilst personal memories live on in our own minds, when someone is as creative and special as he was, it's really meaningful for those who knew them to see their talents continue to be celebrated and shared in their absence with a wider audience
So I just wanted to spread the word, as I'm aware many of you may already know his sleeve artwork from your own record collections, that there is a lovely feature about him/interview with brother Matt in the new edition of Classic Pop (issue 29) - available from all good newsagents from today.
As I'm drifting off to sleep Monday night, Mr SDS joins me having
stayed up a little later, and tells me the breaking news he’s just read online. Details are still sketchy, but
Oh no. Your heart
sinks, just sinks. The world is a
flawed, fractured place, full of twisted, tortured souls. You shield yourself from it as much as you
can, you try at least to be kind, caring, in everyday life. It’s
not hard to be those things, not really - is it? To just get on with your own life and let
others get on with theirs, peacefully? We're lucky here, imagine life elsewhere... but still. I
slip back into a restless slumber, these thoughts swirling around, wondering
what nightmare reality I’ll be reading about on Tuesday, things most of us
will never be able to understand.
I’m due to go into central London in the morning too. “Don’t go”, Mr SDS pleads. “Don’t go if you don’t have to”. But I
do have to. I’m very aware that I live
much of my life – out here in the quiet countryside - inside a cosy bubble. There’s the irony: probably the biggest danger I face on a daily
basis is that of an insidious, creeping paranoia about the world outside
it. I must defy that paranoia as much as anything
else, I must go because I want to go.
So I get on the train to London, and on the tube, mingle with
travellers in crowded carriages; there are extra police around, there
are serious faces, I don’t think that Manchester is far from anyone’s
mind this morning. But there are smiley faces too - cities are gutsy places and they remind you: most people
are alright, most people want the same basic, harmless things. In the city of strangers I’m one of them, not
going to give in to fear.
I have such a good day, meeting with lovely friends I haven’t
seen in years – catching up over tea and cake and paintings. I’d have missed all this had I let stupid paranoia win. It's over too soon, and I walk
back to catch my train through the metropolis, lapping up its sharp contrast to my usual habitat,
here where the sirens are my screaming swifts and starlings, and office blocks
and cranes pierce the sky instead of oak and poplar.
“This train does stop at Colchester, doesn’t it?” My solitary daze is broken as the woman with two huge
pieces of luggage, almost as big as her, asks me this. I've just boarded too. Yes, it’s the right train, so she sits across
the aisle from me and continues to talk.
“I’ve been travelling all day...,” she says, “...come down from Manchester…”
Weird how one particular word, on one particular day, can
carry so much weight and meaning and, right out of the blue, it unites us.
I’m drawn to her face, and in a split second of silence I’m
reading her expression. I need to talk, it says. I need to
talk about something. She has the air of someone who’s been awake all
night, with a body tired but brain still buzzing.
Her bright blue eyes are a little watery. Then she starts to tell me that she’s in the
army, and she’d been called on duty in connection with the Manchester Arena incident.
As other people start to board the train, filling up the
seats around me, I could just withdraw from the conversation with the
woman across the aisle. But instead I find myself moving seats, to be with
her. She needs to talk. She needs to talk about something.
And so I spend the next hour in unbroken conversation with a
complete stranger, who’s been awake for 37 hours and who, in spite of having
been stationed in Afghanistan and served as a medic, tells me
how intensely affected she feels by the night’s events. By what she’d seen and heard, what she knew so
far, what lies ahead too. I let her talk. My eyes are a little watery.
But we speak about other stuff too, and some stuff I never
knew, because I’ve never chatted to someone who’s in the army, it’s a world
away from mine - a world away from my cosy bubble. I’m so glad I stepped out of it today; I learned so
much more than I ever bargained for.
There’s no punchline to this, no big revelation… I just want
to express it. My train companion is
going to stay in my mind for a very long while.
She needed to talk, and I’m so glad I could listen.
Just heard news of the death of Geoffrey Bayldon yesterday, at the age of 93. One of my favourite actors, he was best known, I'm sure, for his fantastically animated and utterly convincing portrayal of Catweazle, the eponymous time-travelling character in what has to be one of the best children's TV programmes ever made. Who could forget electrickery, the telling bone, Castle Saburac and Touchwood the toad? And "Nothing works"! I'm sure its magic rubbed off on many of us of a certain vintage and may explain a lot...
He was known for many other parts too, not least the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge as well as a teacher in the superb film To Sir With Love; he even played the role of a butler in the tea party scene in Marc Bolan's Born to Boogie.
Just a quickie today, but had one of those moments yesterday hearing something on the car radio and I'm sure you'll know the kind I mean: Mr SDS was driving and we were nattering away, but when the intro to this song started up I had to tell him to "Shhh!" "It's almost a bit like power pop!" I said, "...'78/'79 jangly power pop! I need to know who it is..."
Tuning myself in, what I heard was actually sweet, shameless, modern pop. The kind that just makes you want to smile because it's simply pure and real and catchy.
We then got stuck behind a maintenance lorry at some roadworks 'cause Anglian Water were digging up the pavement and I was so pleased because it meant I could hear the rest of the song without it having to battle against the engine noise (the joy of a start-stop system!) It will now forever be associated in my mind with that little section of the A131.
Anyway.... it was Declan McKenna with 'Brazil'. He was just 16 when he wrote and recorded this. He looks so young in this original video, aww! (It's since been updated - I much prefer this earlier one posted below). But reading up about him reveals a maturity beyond his years; he self-released this as his first single in August 2015 and, in spite of his lightness of touch musically, his lyrical content is darker and political - a criticism of FIFA awarding the World Cup to Brazil in 2014 without addressing the effect of the huge degree of poverty on its people.
He's touring this month and has an album out in July. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, he helps restore my faith in....oh dear, do I really have to say it like this?!.... the 'youth of today'...
Well, at least there’s one good thing about the threat of
nuclear Armageddon; it isn’t half inspiring. I mean – the cover art on this pamphlet drew me in
Fabulous graphics! I found it on the floor of one of the rooms
in my late aunt and uncle’s house whilst having a final look around on Friday before the
house clearance people come. It was next to a copy of this, a little bit of light reading from 1948:
and some other literature which I just had to save – like this (far
more cheerful) 1951 programme from the Folies Bergère.
I can’t resist this kind of ephemera, I love
the history as well as the aesthetics, the connection to an intriguing past I
don’t know. But the ‘Death Stands At Attention - A Protest against the
H Bomb Tests’ leaflet – created and distributed 60 years ago (and what have we
learned?) - seems particularly, chillingly, apposite for today. Click on images to enlarge for reading, if you dare.
Not that I’m wanting to dwell on it, but the idea of nuclear
holocaust has been prominent in my psyche before now – if you were hanging
around in the anarcho punk scene with Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in the
early 1980s, as I was, it was pretty much mandatory. However, perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable tunes to come out of the doom and gloom of imminent radiation
poisoning was from a far more melodic post-punk band, Scars.
There was something really charming about Scars. They formed in Edinburgh in the
late ‘70s, recorded a session for John Peel in 1980 and a second one in 1981,
when they also made just one album, Author! Author! It was a great album, but sadly the following
year the band ceased to be and there were no more releases.
I remember listening
to Author! Author! and in particular this song (first put out as a flexi disc that came free with the style
magazine, i-D) and really getting the heebie-jeebies; it still sounds
incredibly disturbing now. But proof that the prospect of the end of the world is, as I said earlier, very creatively
inspiring, so it's not all bad, eh - every mushroom cloud has a
silver lining. I just hope with all
my heart that this post isn’t too what you might call... erm... 'timely'.
I saw the strangest thing in my village street yesterday: a little Paul Weller lookalike.
He had the whole feathery hair thing going on – the
too-short fringe and the too-long bits in
front of the ears, and he was wearing a nasty beige jacket and smoking something
smelly which barely concealed the scent of an also rather nasty aftershave. As our paths
crossed I could see quite a facial resemblance: the slenderness and pointed
jaw, close together eyes, a longish nose – although it was kind of like viewing
Paul Weller in a Hall Of Mirrors.
I assume he’s a fan and not getting paid for it, although I s'pose he could front a Jam tribute band . It
got me thinking, though… as a lot of fans do like to look like their idols,
which comes first? Do people remark that
you remind them of someone and then you consciously assemble
everything from there – not just the whole look, but wanting to buy their
records and go to their gigs too? Do you
have to convince yourself, maybe even force yourself, to like the output of the artist you so naturally
resemble? Or is it pure coincidence
that you’re already a fan and just happen to look like them too? Almost like there’s something in the genes –
for example, statistics show that 93% of
people with Elvis-type (‘Elvine’) features also have an innate penchant for The
King’s music. But I may have just made
When I was working in a record shop, one of our regulars was
a Gary Numan fan, who really did look like his idol. Of course the dyed hair and the black and red
outfit helped with the illusion, but he already had the basics covered in his
facial features. Siouxsie lookalikes
were also a common phenomenon in the ‘80s, but probably not too hard a look to
achieve if you have the right make-up and some hair crimpers. I’ve seen Princes, Rod Stewarts and even now
there’s an assistant at our local B&Q who’s a slightly shorter version of Elton
John. I’ve often wondered if she’s an Elton fan.
I should’ve asked them those questions. Which came first, looking alike, or liking a look?
Anyway, I saw the Modfather lookalike again this morning,
getting his fags at the paper shop. Well,
there was something about him - I just knew from his demeanour that it would really make his day to hear a
stranger say to him, “Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you – you’re the
spitting image of Paul Weller?!” or,
better still, “Erm, hello…. you’re Paul Weller, aren’t you? Wow!” Oh,
he would be so chuffed! So, feeling uncharacteristically
callous, I’m afraid I didn’t say a word.
The fabulous Lee Hazlewood is a name which has cropped up more than a few times on several of the music blogs I love to read. Whenever it does I'm unable to resist mentioning how I'm equally unable to resist a man with a deep voice. Mmm.
When I heard a striking song by a man with a deep voice last year I scribbled it down hurriedly in the back of my notebook.... and then forgot about it for a while, until rediscovering it recently (and being just about able to interpret the appalling scrawl...)
Only thing is I don't remember the source - was it on the radio? Was it on a blog? Was it on your blog? If it was then I'd like to thank you! I love this song. It's kind of cinematic, dark and brooding with shades of John Barry and as if from another era - the additional female vocal from Marie Munroe (Hilde Marie Kjersem) made me think of Lee and Nancy, the whole mood made me think of film noir.... well, it made me think of many things.
I'd never heard of Sivert Høyem before but a quick search around reveals that he's Norwegian and used to sing in rock band Madrugada. Following a number of solo releases (including the 2016 album 'Lioness' from which this track comes) he has formed a new band called Paradise with Rob Ellis (notable for his work with P J Harvey, Bat For Lashes, Laika and others) and Rob McVey (Marianne Faithfull). I'm not sure that anything else he's done will match up to 'My Thieving Heart' for me, but sometimes one song is all it needs.
“Geeks,” I said,
“Geeks! That’s what you need in your
I was trying to explain to my friend as we sat in the pub
why I think she would benefit from having some people in her life who don’t
follow the crowd. Why it might be good
to surround herself more with the type of people who, just as a ‘for instance’, would prefer to dig up dirt and find Iron Age brooches than to dig up the dirt
on perceived love rivals on Facebook.
This had followed on from a long and animated conversation
about all the bad influences in her life, and then led to us drinking a toast
to how, actually, we don’t really like 'people'.
To quote Charlie Brooker from the back cover of his excellent book, ‘Dawn Of The
“I don’t get
people. What’s their appeal,
precisely? They waddle around with their
haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles. They’re awful.”
Of course I know not everyone’s like that – I
know you’re not, for a start. But we all
know what Charlie means by ‘farting skittles’ and sadly, in her self-proclaimed
bid to ‘fit in’, my friend has allowed herself to be drawn to their world.
I sense that many of the people with whom she wants to fit
in are also desperate in their bid to fit in. They are full of insecurities disguised as
material aspirations and boob jobs. To
fit in to what they see as ‘normal’ – to meet the expectations of others, the irony
being that those ‘others’ with their expectations are also doing the same thing
and so it goes on and on and the most shallow social stereotypes get reinforced. To be true to oneself, to embrace one’s funny
little ways, quirky interests, tastes and obsessions, to accept one’s
imperfections and to have a different
perspective in a world full of farting skittles (I’m getting to like that term
more and more) – well, it makes you a
bit of a geek.
I realised I was a bit of a geek from quite an early age; there
was that time at primary school when my best friends were the ones who hated
sport but loved reading - plus, they were boys.
Andrew and the two Ians (one with
an extra ‘i’) shared my interests – we all liked drawing and tortoises and the Wombles
and playing in the sandpit with our Itty Bitties. It was a happy time in my life, but I
realised that Andrew, the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i') and me were not quite like
the majority of our classmates. Later,
my close girlfriends were the ones who went through punk with me, we revelled
in being in a minority in our neighbourhood, and in our school, we liked the
music no-one else did and the look that people ridiculed. But then on Tuesday and Saturday nights we’d
go down to our local gig venue and fit in effortlessly with all the other misfits. We found our niche.
My friend said that ‘fitting in’ and 'wanting to be normal' had always been her desire,
even in childhood. She must be one of
the few people I know who didn’t have a teenage rebellion. But through not just going along with the majority, you find your own crowd of like-minded others,
don’t you? Work and broader social situations
may require compromise, but there’s no point in trying to change yourself into
the type of person who’s never going to ‘get’ you anyway.
I'm hoping my friend will embrace the true geek in herself, and then she'll find some others who will embrace it too. It's about time.
Several boxes of CDs recently came our way through a
friend. He used to sell CDs, so in
amongst them are some multiple copies of one or two items.
This means there are six copies of ‘Authority Confrontation’ by the band whose
name contains one of the most reviled words in the English language (with the
exception of ‘Farage’). This is a word I don’t have a problem with, but I know and understand that a
lot of people do. (Should you be interested you can read my - and others' - more in-depth thoughts on why it deserves a place in our vocabulary here: Something beginning with C - and I'm sure it goes without saying that both post and comments contain a few expletives.)
Back to being given several boxes of CDs - well, I know that sounds exciting - and it was, until we opened them. Oh, the thrill of the unknown! Surely a veritable smorgasbord of new sounds to
investigate… a glorious cornucopia of audio surprises? What marvellous gems could be in there, just waiting… waiting for our gasps of delight when we find them hiding amongst their less interesting neighbours, free them from
the bondage of their plastic enclosures before succumbing to their shiny shiny charms and falling desperately in
love? Sadly none.
We’ve gone through them all and there are very few we want to keep, so we're bagging most of them up again now to take to the charity shop. But at least that feels good; I love the way
charity shops work, everyone’s a winner.
Here comes the dilemma.
Can you take six copies of a CD by Selfish Cunt to a charity shop? Would they even dare put it on display in Age Concern or Barnardos? And if they did, would anyone dare buy it?
Umm. At the moment
they are still here. But if you would
like to own a free copy, all six are up for grabs, that’s more than enough to go
round, surely?! It could be like a competition! Just tell me the most selfish thing you have
ever done. Or the least selfish thing….
…and it’s yours.
Feel free to swear.
UPDATE: In light of Rol's and Swiss Adam's suggestions in the comments, it doesn't seem quite right to send a Selfish Cunt CD to someone who clearly isn't one. Or at least not to accompany it with something else a bit nicer. So if you have a lovely tale of unselfishness to share, I shall look in the box of CDs for other prizes. You never know what you might get!
My chosen theme for an important Art exam is one of the finest
examples of futuristic technology in
existence. It’s interactive, revolutionary,
progressive. I’ve picked something
ultra-modern, a reflection of the fast-moving times we’re in.
I’ve decided to portray a Space Invaders machine. It is
1980, after all. Space Invaders are
taking over the world, or at least the pubs of the world.
And I’m going to draw it in oil pastels.
Only, trying to draw a stupid Space Invaders machine in a stupid hot studio at college, with no previous
experience of these stupid smudgy colour sticks I’ve bought is a bit like
trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with lipstick. We’re up against the clock too, this being an
exam. I keep having to leave the room to
spray it with fixative which is a right pain, and gives a whole new
meaning to the phrase “getting a fix” – or perhaps not. The fixative smells like hairspray mixed with
nail varnish, Evostik and vodka. It can
kill 30,000 brain cells in one sniff, or something like that, and if we knew all
about CFCs and the ozone layer it would be banned, but we don’t - at least not for
another nine years or so.
Anyway, every time I go out into the college corridor to
sniff the fixative, Kirk is already there, sniffing his. Kirk is one of my best friends. He is tall, skinny, geeky, excruciatingly
shy, a Sci-Fi fan with a dry, caustic wit, and he looks a bit like a young Catweazel,
if you can imagine that. I swear he eats nothing
but cream buns and he wears those Cornish Pasty shoes. He is also super-talented, an incredible young artist. On a large piece of card he is portraying a
wonderfully bizarre view from a window, abstract and full of dreamlike atmosphere,
and it is a masterpiece - skillfully, expertly rendered – in oil pastels. Even after several sniffs of fixative spray I
think we can safely say he still has a lot more brain cells than me.
When the exam is over, Kirk has produced a piece of art good
enough to hang in the Louvre. Me, I’ve
produced a piece of shit not even good enough to hang in the loo.
I scrape by with a
‘C’ in my ‘A’ Level Art for a stupid
smudgy picture of a stupid arcade machine being played by my disembodied
hands; the whole thing looks more like a patterned jumper knitted by Aunt Ada after the malfunctioning sausage machine incident of '74. However, I’m very happy to say that Kirk is awarded an
‘A’ for his magnum opus. Not only is it
a brilliant piece in its own right, but it’s also an homage to another
fantastic artist, René Magritte.
As you may know from the first part of this series, Magritte is one of my
favourites, so this is where the cover art theme comes in, as it turns out that there are an awful lot more examples of Magritte's inspiration than Kirk's 'A' Level Art triumph and a Jackson Browne album sleeve.
Such as this…
Styx: The Grand Illusion
Roger Daltrey: One Of The Boys
Funeral For A Friend: Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation
Some are slightly less derivative, but still clearly inspired by Magritte...
Heart: Greatest Hits
Gary Numan: The Pleasure Principle
There are also the covers which simply use original Magritte artwork, like these
Gladys Knight & The Pips: Visions
Jeff Beck: Beck-Ola
Alan Hull & Radiator
How brilliant and influential is Magritte?! Far too many examples to compare and contrast this time, I'm sure you'll agree. Mind you, I wish I could see Kirk's 'A' Level picture again and show it to you here; I have no doubt that it could still be a favourite...
I had my first, proper tongues-included kiss to Rod
Stewart’s ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’. It
was with an identical twin and it was awful. Not that those two things are
connected. But they were both slobbery.
It was Spring 1977, I
was thirteen, liberally doused in Charlie perfume and wearing a cheesecloth
blouse in pale blue to match my eyeshadow, unaware that my little white padded bra beneath
it was illuminated like a neon sign in the ultraviolet lights of the local
disco. The twins – who seemed really
old, I mean they must’ve been about fifteen - flirted clumsily with my friend and me and then
when Rod’s ballad came on one of them grabbed me and the next thing I
knew we were doing that weird, awkward, rotating thing they call a slow dance. Halfway through he asked me if I’d ever kissed
anyone before. I told him I hadn’t. What followed was a lot of mangling of lips,
teeth and tongues and some unpleasant exchanges of dribble. I’m just glad I'd taken both my dental braces out earlier that
night or there could've been some serious injury involving wire and
tonsils. But I was off the starting
So whenever I hear that track I’m there again, uncomfortable
and naïve, French kissing a boy I didn’t fancy one iota but feeling strangely proud for
trying it, even if it left me slightly traumatised and in need of water, a bit
like taking part in a chili eating contest. I’d been practising it on the back of my hand
for months, after all, so it was about time I tried it on something that moved and, mainly due to her 'beef chunks in jelly' halitosis, the cat was not really an option.
What I didn’t know about that song at the time was that before being
released as a double A side with ’I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ and
reaching No. 1 in the singles chart, it had appeared on Rod’s 1976 album ‘A Night On The Town’.
What I also didn’t realise at that time because my familiarity with impressionists did not extend beyond Mike Yarwood, was that the sleeve art for ‘A
Night On The Town’ was a pastiche of a famous piece of
art from 100 years earlier: ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Just like identical twins (oh the
connections keep coming!), they were superficially alike but not exactly the same.
Now which one do you prefer?
Renoir’s beautiful depiction of Parisians dancing and feasting on a Sunday afternoon, an Impressionist masterpiece full of life and joy, with its richness of colour and the incredible sense of light, dappled through the trees, almost flickering off the canvas, and all those shapes and forms fitting together so well, so organically?
Or the same scene as painted by Mike Bryan, so self-consciously copied that the lines and brush strokes look rigid, that lovely fluid quality that Renoir achieved is sadly missing, the softness of the faces hardened, the figures flat, the illuminated hues of a balmy afternoon now duller and more like a morning in February?
And its pièce de résistance - grinning out at us from underneath an ill-advised straw boater (I know he just wants to fit in with 19th century Paris but the mullet is a giveaway, he’d make a crap time-traveller) is Rod himself - looking more like a schoolgirl from St Trinians than a raspy-voiced ladies' man.
I'm not saying that I could have painted a copy any better, I couldn't - just that, like Morris Dancing and incest, some things in life are best left untried.
It's a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.
Still, it gives me an excuse to include a far superior version and great live performance of ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ (written by Cat Stevens), sung by PP Arnold in 1967. I do like this rendition and the good thing about it is that it helps me to disassociate the song from the snog. Let's just say, the first kiss was not the deepest…
There’s a series of paintings by Magritte which I love:
L’empire de Lumières (Empire of Light). I love them because they’re impossible.
The sky tells you it’s daytime, but
everything else shows it’s night. At
first it looks like some kind of twilight scene, but the sky is full of light and the light should go somewhere - it doesn't. Instead the trees and ground are in darkness, the
buildings illuminated only by a streetlamp.
Magritte’s art is full of the unexpected, of little visual tricks
and playful combinations that don’t go together naturally. I had no idea that I’d ever be saying the same thing about Jackson Browne.
But here it is – the cover art to Jackson’s album ‘Late For
Thanks to it being featured
at Rol’s very fine blog My Top Ten, it was the first time I've taken notice of the
sleeve which I must’ve flicked past in record shop racks many times before now. But the picture is
brilliantly inspired by the Magritte series, this time a photographic sky of vivid daytime blue with bright white clouds which could only be
lit by strong sunshine so, like the painting, everything else should be too - but no. Clever, innit? I still prefer Magritte, though.
Anyway it got me thinking… about art and album covers and how there are others that also take their influence from well-known paintings. One
of them sprang to mind straight away.
Bow Wow Wow:
See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy! 1981
It's still controversial because we're aware that Annabella Lwin was only 15 at the time of the photo shoot. When asked in later years if she realised how 'shocking' the image was she replied that she didn't and that the difficult part for her was really just the act of sitting there naked in the middle of nowhere on a cold early morning with her clothed male band mates. The original Manet painting had also been thought of as offensive (though for different reasons) and was rejected by the official art exhibition (the Salon) in France at the time of its creation in the 1860s. It wasn't the nudity itself that was the problem (hardly unusual in art!) but something about the context.
Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe 1863
However this wasn't the first time a painting of nude women in the outdoors with clothed men had been exhibited in France so it seems a bit hypocritical. Manet was influenced by this one on display in the Louvre, painted over 300 years earlier.
It's not known whether this is by Giorgione or Titian Fiestra Campestre, 1510
At Bow Wow Wow's peak anyone buying their records was already familiar with seeing photos of Annabella without many clothes on, and I don't remember this cover seeming as outrageous in 1981 as it probably would be now, although it still ruffled feathers - just as Malcolm McLaren intended it to. The publicity worked - the album quickly made it to No. 1 in the charts - but a less happy outcome of that cover was a rift it caused between Annabella and her mum.
But I know I readily accepted it - as art, I suppose - at the time of its release, when I was just 17 myself. I might have done the same as Annabella at 15 and I doubt I'd have ever thought of it as anything dark, especially with band mates - more just embarrassing, but also rebellious. Perhaps the fact that it was an obvious pastiche of a painting made all the difference? Also I can't help thinking about how the photo shoot must have felt in real terms, all waiting around for the right light and getting the technical details in order whilst hoping your, erm, goose pimples don't show, a bit like life modelling with a broken fan heater.
I've been looking at other album covers inspired by famous paintings too so I've some lined up for future posts (oh, another series!) As in the thoroughly enjoyable one over at Charity Chic Music where we get to weigh up a wide selection of cover versions with their originals (the outcome for Bob Dylan was victorious but we've yet find how it’s all going to pan out for Bruce Springsteen) I found myself wanting to rate which one I preferred. Most of the time it's the original painting but I'd have to give my points to Bow Wow Wow for this one - the lushness of the setting and Annabella's typically defiant expression take me right back to this great song (which I can't embed because Blogger won't let me - censorship all over again? - so here's a youtube link)